CHAPTER EIGHT - THE STARS ARE FUNNY
Brandon had been with the show trail for a month but had barely spoken a word to anyone. He would do his work and then disappear without a sound. His mood was always brooding and he had a permanent scowl on his face. But he was a hard worker, he just had a bad attitude.
I'm closing up the show bag van for the night as the last of the visitors slowly stream out the front gate. We are in the town of Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I like it up here. Even in the middle of winter it's always warm, well warmer than the freezing temps of Victoria. If I was to settle anywhere it would be on the coast in the warm weather. But I honestly can't see myself settling anywhere, despite not being found in the past 2 years.
The show grounds we are set up in are not far from the beach and I'm looking forward to going down there later to look at the stars. That's one thing I do miss about the community, apart from Tommy, is the stars you can see from there. Without the light pollution in the cities and small towns, the amount of stars in the sky are astronomical. I'd even witnessed the Aurora Australis, or the southern lights, on a number of occasions. The flashing green across the night sky was mesmerizing.
I lock up the van and wave to Bryan as I make my way down to the beach. The roads are paved with streetlights making it easy to see where I'm going, a stark contrast to the pitch black beach ahead of me. I follow the sound of the crashing waves as the roar gets louder. When my feet hit the soft sand I slip off my shoes and carry them in my hands as I make my way down the beach.
In the distance I see a tiny red light, the movement of it suggesting someone with a cigarette. I slowly walk along the beach towards it, not wanting to draw attention to my presence. As I get closer I can make out the shape of a man, I know instantly its Brandon.
I make my way towards him, the smell of the smoke wafting towards me on the cool breeze. It smells different to the cigarettes Bryan and Judy smoke. Sweeter, more earthy. As I get close Brandon looks up and watches my approach. I stop a metre away from him.
“What you doing?” I ask as I shove my hands in my pockets. He rolls his eyes. Did I mention his attitude problem?
“Smoking.” He states bluntly. I screw my nose up as the smell of the smoke gets stronger.
“It smells weird.” I say.
“That's because its pot.” He says in annoyance. I look at him confused, I'd never heard of someone smoking a pot before. He looks up at me like I'm an idiot. “Weed.... marijuana.” He continues. I shake my head, not having a clue what he's talking about.
“Fuck... where did you grow up?” he says annoyed. I shrug my shoulders.
“In a cult.” I reply honestly. He chuckles and shakes his head.
“You're funny.” He says, the first sign of a smile appearing on his face. Brandon raises the smoke towards me. “Try it.” He offers. I cautiously take the smoke from his hand and sit down next to him. I bring the butt to my lips and suck in the smoke as I'd seen him do. It tickles as it goes down my throats and burns my lungs. I cough hard and shove the smoke back at Brandon. He chuckles and pats my back as my coughing fit subsides.
“It gets easier.” He says confidently.
“Sure.” I reply, not at all convinced. My voice is hoarse from the coughing. Brandon hands me a water bottle and I take a sip.
“Nan says you're a runaway.” He tells me as I hand back the water bottle.
“Nan?” I ask, wondering who he is talking about.
“Judy...” he clarifies.
“Oh.” I say, wondering why he calls her Nan.
“So what are you running away from?” he asks. I shrug my shoulders.
“A cult…” I say again. He sits up quickly, looking at me with wide eyes.
“Fuck... you were serious before?” he asks and I nod my head. “Damn... what was that like?” I shrug again
“It was all I knew, so it wasn't too bad.” I say honestly.
“Then why'd you run away?” he asks. Brandon hands me the smoke again and I draw it in. It goes down smoother this time with only a small cough induced.
“Father was making me get married.” I say as I lean back in the sand and look up at the stars, feeling Brandon's eyes on me.
“How old were you?” he asks.
“Fifteen.” I say nonchalantly. We hand the smoke back and forth as we chat. I lay down flat on the sand, my body feeling light, free.
“That's fucked up.” He says and I giggle.
“It really is.” I reply. Brandon lays down next to me, our heads slightly touching.
“You think they are still looking for you?” I giggle more. I'm not sure why.
“Yeah... they'll never stop.” I say.
“Why?” he looks at me curiously and I laugh.
“Because I'm the chosen one.” I say with an eye roll making Brandon laugh.
“Why is that funny?” he shakes his head, though his mouth is turned upward into a smile. I laugh harder.
“I don't know.” I giggle as Brandon chuckles beside me.
“It's obviously gone to your head...” Brandon says as I roll my head to the side to look at him, confused. “The pot,” he says as if that clarifies what he meant. I giggle again.
“So why are you the chosen one?” he asks.
“I was born on the holiest day of the year... I was to lead the world to salvation.” Brandon laughs and I laugh with him.
“Is that why you came down here? To save me?” he says with a smirk. I laugh and put my hand on his chest.
“You're saved.” I say with as much seriousness as I can muster. Brandon chuckles loudly.
“Why thank you oh holy one.” He muses. We giggle together. Our laughing subsides and I stare up at the stars, my body floating towards them as I think of Tommy, wondering if he's looking at the stars at this moment. “So you would have been the boss?” he continues.
I shrug and nod
“Yeah.... but that's the thing about the queen bee... everyone thinks she just sits on her throne commanding all her drones.... when really she's just pumping out babies.” I say, remembering Tommy’s first words to me.
“Wow...” Brandon exhales. Silence descends upon us again as we contemplate the universe. I watch as the stars dance across the sky, their silent music creating the rhythm of their movements. I giggle at their movements.
“Stars are funny.” I say and Brandon laughs beside me.
After the night on the beach in Maroochydore, Brandon and I meet up after dark and stare at the stars. More often than not a smoke passed between us, or as Brandon corrected me, a joint. He's still the brooding man with a bad attitude around the show people but when it's just me and him I'm finding it hard to believe he was ever the trouble maker they claimed him to be. He's actually incredibly smart and very sweet. Not the badass guy I first assumed.
We're in the city of Bega on the south coast of New South Wales the day before their annual show is to start. Brandon and I are laying out in the paddock away from the main camp, passing a joint between us. We're mostly silent, enjoying each other's company while watching the stars. I ask the question that's been playing on my mind.
“Why does everyone say you're trouble?”
“Because I am.” He sighs.
“I don't see it.” I say in all seriousness. He simply shrugs and we go back to our star gazing. As the silence descends I think I won't really get an answer to my question when Brandon finally speaks.
“Mum was only 16 when she had me. For a long time it was just me and her.” He hands me the smoke and I bring it to my lips, not saying anything, just allowing him time to speak, though his first words remind me of Tommy. “When I was 12, she met Frank, my step dad. He was great, he used to watch me play footy and help me with my homework. I finally knew what it was like to have a dad.” I pass the joint back to him and he inhales before continuing.
“When I was 14 we moved in with him and mum and Frank got married. We'd moved a suburb over but I stayed at the same school.” Brandon grew up in Brisbane, that much I knew. “One day I was angry and I swore at Frank, he punched me, breaking my nose. I shouldn't have sworn but his reaction was a bit extreme.” I reach over and take Brandon's hand in mine as I see his body tense as he recalls that time.
“After that he just started laying into me, at first over small things I'd do, then it was just to keep me in line.” He squeezes my hand and I squeeze back, letting him know I'm there. “Mum told everyone in the neighbourhood that I was getting in fights at school. She told the school that I was fighting with the neighbourhood kids. They didn't know each other so they didn't question it. After a while I got a reputation as a bad kid. I started getting blamed for things like graffiti and property damage, even theft just because they thought I was trouble.” He lets out a cold chuckle.
“Truth is I've never been in a fight in my life. Not until I hit Frank back and ended up here.” He says, his voice full of frustration.
“And you never told anyone?” I ask. He shrugs and shakes his head.
“I was seen as a thief and a liar, a trouble maker. Who would believe me?” I rest my head on his shoulder.
“I believe you.” I say. He tilts his head to rest on top of mine, our hands still intertwined. “I'm sorry that happened to you.” I whisper.
“I'm sorry you grew up in a cult.” He whispers back. I smile and look up to the stars.
“Our lives are fucked, aren't they?” I say making Brandon chuckle.
“Yeah they are.” He agrees. Silence descends upon us again and I think about Brandon's life. Everyone assumed he was trouble because that's what they were told. No one took the time to form their own opinion of him. They believed what they heard and he was condemned by it. It made me realize that good and evil isn't always black and white. Those we perceive as good can be downright evil, and those who are trouble can have goodness in their souls.