It’s bad enough entertaining a total stranger for the Christmas holidays, but when that stranger turns out to be as loud and obnoxious as Justin Peasbody, Mathew knows he’s in for a rough time. Coming on the heels of Mathew’s year of self-imposed seclusion following his previous disastrous relationship, maybe Justin is precisely what Mathew needs to help him celebrate a really hot Christmas.
“It’s too friggin hot for Santa or any of that Christmas crap,” a loud voice complained.
The unpleasant sound grated on my sensitive eardrums. Yet another loud tourist complaining about how hot it was, and the guy had only just got off the plane.
I hate airports at the best of times, but especially at Christmas. Now Christmas was something to avoid at all costs, along with airports. Worse still, this time I was also suffering the humiliation of standing around looking like a jerk, holding a paper sign bearing the name Justin Peasbody. Who the hell could live with a name like that? I heard the voice again and then caught sight of its owner. Not bad, I thought instinctively, though I’d sworn off men. Without warning the stranger rushed up to me and all but tore the sign out of my hands.
“Do you want every friggin person in this Godforsaken country to know my name?”
So much for a friendly Hi, I’m Justin. I already knew I didn’t like Missus Peasbody’s little boy one little bit. I seethed, angry at my cousin for inflicting this friend of his on me for the holidays. Sure, I owed him a favour after he’d taken leave to drive me up to the Rockies for a ski trip, but really, Justin Peasbody was a bit too much for anyone to deal with.
“Welcome to Australia.” I struggled to sound as though I meant it. “I’m Mathew.” I held out my hand, which he completely ignored.
“How the fuck can you stand this heat, Matty?” Once again Justin had done his best to make certain everyone in the airport arrivals hall could hear him.
“It’s summer,” I informed him. “And we’re still in air conditioning—and my name’s Mathew, not Matty.”
“But it’s meant to be friggin Christmas.”
“This is Australia, it’s summer.”
He went on as though he hadn’t heard a word I’d said. “You know…it ought to be Santa, snow, Christmas trees and that sort of shit.”
“Somebody forgot to inform God of your requirements.” Did I sound snarky? I thought I did, and we’d only just met.
“I guess you’re a comedian for a living, Matty?”
“And you must earn yours by being a professional arsehole, Justy.” I watched Justin Peasbody turn and flounce his way in the general direction of the arrivals exit, the opposite direction from one that would take us to the carpark. I also noticed that he’d left his suitcase behind for me to drag. Cursing under my breath, I set off after him.
I live on top of Mount Simple, an extinct volcano, and I’d purposely taken Justin on the scenic route, the one with the steepest gradients, hairpin bends and sheer drops that had been known to make the uninitiated pee their pants.
“What the friggin…”
“Am I going too fast, Justy?” Repressing a smile, I concluded that Justin felt uncomfortable.
I saw him gripping the door handle in preparation for a quick exit as we plummeted over the edge into the abyss. His face paled, and I experienced a rush of guilt and eased my foot off the accelerator. “Sorry, mate. I guess I’m so used to this little hill that I sometimes forget that it can frighten first timers.”
“It’s not a friggin hill, it’s a mountain—and I’m not your bloody mate.”
“There’s only one more hairpin,” I reassured him. “Suicide Corner.” At least I’d made him break his silence and managed to put a temporary end to his sulking, a sulk that had lasted for the duration of our trip from the airport. “I never think how dangerous this road is,” I lied. “It gets a few every year…over the edge. You can see some of the wrecks if you look down.”
Justin shook his head. “You’ve got to be crazy living up here.” That said, he resumed his sulk for the rest of the drive.
“Is this it?” He stood next to the car and surveyed my humble abode. Justin wore a look of disdain, one he no doubt reserved for Third World hovels.
“It’s my name on the mortgage documents,” I snarled. The one thing I refused to do was apologize if my little mountain hideaway hadn’t met his expectations.
He huffed. “Well, are you going to let me in, or shall I just stand here?”
To be perfectly honest, I knew my place wasn’t exactly a palace, but neither was it a slum. I’d had it a year, and during that time I’d bucketed money and TLC, so now, my second Christmas in it, I could say I was bloody proud of the place. Once through the front door, I sensed from the way he’d looked around him that his worst fears hadn’t been realized.
“Couldn’t you manage a real tree?”
Together we looked at my artificial Christmas tree, proudly occupying a corner of my lounge, perhaps a bit mangy, a hand-me-down from my mother and a reminder of my childhood. “It looks nice when it’s all lit up,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows, but for once said nothing.
“I’ll show you your room so you can unpack.” Dragging his suitcase, he followed me to the guest room, and I stood back and watched him as he immediately crossed to its large picture windows that led out to the terrace. Finally, he spoke.
“Some view you’ve got.”
“Glad you like it.” I steeled myself for whatever bitchiness might follow, but none did. “I’ll let you settle in, then.” I left him to unpack and quickly set about fixing us some lunch.
Preoccupied with the task of opening a bag of supermarket salad mix and putting it into a dish, I thought about Justin. His initial vicious queen act for some weird reason didn’t sit right with me, and I’d been left with the suspicion that it was an act. The question was why?
“Do you need a hand?”