(Out of print in paperback)
Love Is What Happens When You're Making Other Plans...
Five years after arriving in Australia, Jason Stuart is finally embarking on the dream that brought him Down Under: going on "walkabout" in the Australian Outback. But Jason is not that fresh-faced and untried boy from Canada anymore. Jason is a man with half a decade of bad memories and worse nightmares. His friends think he's crazy, or possibly just plain stupid, but Jason needs to make his dream real in order to face his past.
Everything changes when Jason picks up an unexpected travel companion. Suddenly, it's not his past that Jason needs to confront, it's his future.
Part coming-of-age tale, part romance, part travel yarn, Adagio paints a heartwarming picture of a fledgling relationship between two very different men against the lush backdrop of Australia's natural wonders.
The hostel was in an area of Sydney called Kings Cross, surrounded by restaurants, bars, and neon lights that advertised everything from fast food to naked girls dancing seven nights a week. The hostel was cheap, the beer cheaper, and Jason leapt into the freedom of being away from home for the first time with a vengeance. He met a lot of people, some fun to party with, lots fun to have sex with, and then he found the crowd to get high with.
It was almost a month before he realized he'd been out of the hostel and crashing on couches in assorted flats for days on end. He'd counted the money he had left and gathered himself up enough to head out to the Outback, to get on with his plan, but along the way he ran into some friends and it got put off.
Somehow, it got put off time and again. He didn't paint, although he did sketch a lot, and he waited tables. His money went to beer and drugs and then he had to find a place to stay. Things got a little crazy just after that, but the party never stopped. There were pills to take and pot to smoke and always another body to lie with. If the body left cash behind, that was okay; it meant a day to sit in the sun and sketch, instead of waiting tables.
He was doing just that on the day he met Alex. They sat at a table just outside a coffee shop and talked for hours about art and Canada and Sydney. Jason had been straight and not even a little hung over; Alex later told him that he shone that afternoon, that he'd been funny and charming and that he'd drawn picture after picture, not stopping all day. Alex said, months later, when Jason was shaking in his arms and resisting the urge to go back to that very shop for far different reasons, that Jason's real life was what he'd seen that day. Jason's potential had been there for everyone to see, and Alex had been the one graced with it.
But Alex thought going on walkabout in the desert was dumb, and Jason had stayed there, in Kings Cross, in the city, until his visa had expired. Then he'd gone to Indonesia just long enough to get a new one and come back.
He'd managed to avoid getting sucked back into the bright lights and dangers of Kings Cross by being intercepted at the airport by Alex. He'd been taken, clean and shaky, to the suburbs, and given a real shot at making a life. Alex had been the one to pull him out; Alex had saved him from returning to the streets and wrecking himself, body and soul.
With Alex's time and money Jason had tried to make a life, something tangible that meant he could look at himself in the mirror every day. Some days were easier than others, and gradually it had dawned on him that the good days were marked by the paint smears around his mouth from where he chewed on the end of his brush. The bad days, the ones when he shaved as fast as he could and never looked into his own eyes, were tempered with the smell of cigarette smoke and someone else's spunk and the bruises on his arms.
It took him another six months to get his shit together and move into his own place. By that time, thoughts of his great Australian odyssey were lost in the grind of getting enough money together to pay for rent and paints and canvas and film. His flat had good light and he would cover the walls with photos of people and spend long hours recreating life on his canvases. For money, he pulled beer or waited tables. There was never enough money, never enough time to paint, and he lost job after job because he'd get lost in the brush and the light and lose track of time.
But he sold a painting, and then another, and he could live off that, after a fashion. Not well, and he couldn't party, but that was good. That was what the color and the splash were for, that was his new escape.
For four years he moved from one low-rent/good-light flat to another--Newtown, Camperdown, Marrickville, Enmore. He'd drag his easel and paints in, make the place his own, and settle for a time, paint and scrounge and mooch off of Alex; all the while the desert calling him, a sing-song voice in the back of his head.
Alex always laughed at him. "What the fuck do you want to go out there for, mate? Nothing to see but a big rock and termite mounds. Just watch the ABC and you'll get it all."
He couldn't make the Australian see what he did. How a kid from Canada could get lost in the heat, push the snow back by dreaming of the open land that spread for kilometers in every direction, the landscape dotted only by the odd kangaroo and the occasional sheep. How to him it was Mecca, a place without the cold bitterness of Portage and Main, somewhere where he could feel the heat of the land and really feel the space around him. He tried, but Alex was a city boy, never wanting to leave Sydney other than to head up to the Gold Coast for some fun and playtime in the waves. To Alex, Australia was a barren place except for the coast, and the coast was only good for pretty boys wearing nothing but their smiles.
For Jason, though, it was so much more, and he'd lost that. Worse, he'd gotten to the point of burying and repressing and just making do for so long that he'd stepped over the edge and done the one thing that could mess up even his friendship with Alex. His sheets still smelled of Sylvain, and Jason had once more screwed up his life. The blank ceiling above him mocked him, and all that was left for him to do was wait for the fallout.
"Fuck that," he said to himself, rolling over to face the wall. "I'm twenty-six, not sixteen. It's time to make some changes."
Sometimes love is complicated.
Copyright 2016 Chris Owen