Cockatoo Part 7

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Cockatoo Part 7
Cockatoo Part 7

Shane stuck out an enormous hand and I instinctively shook it, hoping
for the first time in my life that my handshake would be a little limp.

‘G’day girls. What a coincidence,’ he said. ‘I thought it was you on the
dock but I couldn’t be sure. I know you said you were leaving today, but
who would have guessed we would be on the same ferry. I didn’t know
myself until this morning. Had an urgent call to get back to Bangkok.
All the flights are full, so I had to scramble to get this ferry and the
bus. I’m in the security detail at the Aussie embassy in Bangkok.
they’ve had some kind of crisis, so they called me back from leave. Had
to leave me mates behind. They’re over from Aus for a break so I came
down to see ‘em. Did you see that blue up on the pier? The cops jumped
on that guy pretty sharpish. I reckon it was d**gs, big problem all over
here. d**ggies are stupid, never learn. Sorry, I know I talk too much.
You’re Jamie I know, so who’s this little Sheila with you? I think I saw
you last night too, didn’t I?’

Nin was looking wide eyed at Shane.

‘My name Nin, I with Jamie, we go to Bangkok.’ Shane leaned over me and
shook Nin’s hand which looked tiny in Shane’s massive paw.

‘Nice to meet you, Nin. You on vacation or seeing family or something?’

Nin glanced quickly at me but I had nothing to offer. We hadn’t thought
of a cover story.

‘We go see my family in Bangkok, Jamie my friend, she come with me see
real Bangkok. We work in hotel in Samui.’

Nicely done Nin, I thought. She was laying the accent on thick because I
knew she spoke nearly perfect English, but I guess she thought all
Westerners expect Thai people to speak in pidgin.

‘Yeah, look I love Bangkok. Best posting I’ve had. Was in bloody Kabul
last. bloody iffy place that is, I tell ya. Hey, do you two fancy a
tinnie? I’ve got some in me pack.’

Shane rummaged around in the bag at his feet and pulled out three cans
of Leo beer. He offered one to Nin who shook her head and then offered
one to me. I desperately wanted one to settle my nerves, but I shook my
head.

‘Awww, come on girls, you can’t leave a man to drink with the flies, can
ya?’

Nin looked completely baffled and Shane said, ‘Sorry, I meant drink
alone.’

Nin laughed and said, ‘OK, thank you, Mister Shane, I take one please.’

‘It’s Shane, Nin, none of this Mister stuff please.’ He handed the beer
to Nin and then said to me, ‘C’mon Jamie, will you join us?’

I nodded and leant towards Shane and said, ‘Yes please, if it’s
alright.’

‘No worries, Jamie. It’s my pleasure. I was dreading this journey, but
now I have the company of two lovely ladies.’

I thought he must have had too much sun in Kabul if he thinks I’m a
lovely lady, but I took his beer and said cheers as we knocked our cans
together.

‘So, Jamie, what brought you to Samui?’

The last thing I needed was a bored and chatty Aussie to spend the next
four hours with.

‘I came out to Thailand for work, fell in love and decided to stay. I
found myself in Samui and decided that was where I wanted to stay.’

Not entirely a lie of course. Shane nodded, and a cloud seemed to pass
over his face. I noticed for the first time how blue his eyes were; not
the vivid blue or the ice blue you see sometimes, but a clear light blue
that held my gaze. I remember reading somewhere that people with blue
eyes have a higher threshold for pain and alcohol than other people.
Bizarrely, I found myself wondering if that had anything to with his
choice of security as a job.

‘Is something wrong?’ I asked.

‘No, no. just I broke up with someone before I came to Thailand, took me
a while to get over them. I haven’t met anyone else yet.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘you will, I’m sure.’

He smiled and nodded, then said, ‘Look, I’ll let you get some rest, it’s
going to be a long journey.’

I touched his arm lightly, ‘Thanks, Shane, you’re sweet.’

Sweet! Why did I say sweet? Did dressing as a woman make you think like
a woman? I turned to Nin who had been watching Shane and me, and she
smiled as if she knew something I didn’t.

‘What?’ I said.

‘Nothing, Jamie, nothing. I try to get some sleep.’ She curled up in her
seat and was asleep in a few seconds.

A couple of hours had passed and I read my book and listened to some
music, but I couldn’t relax enough to sleep. Nin was fast asleep,
probably one of those lucky people who could sleep anywhere. Me, I need
a good firm bed to be able to get a proper sleep. Shane had dozed off
and had been snoring gently. I realised he had stopped snoring, and I
glanced up at him and found him looking at me with a smile on his face.

‘Look, Jamie. Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?’ He was
whispering as Nin was still asleep.

Shit, here it comes I thought. I just hope he won’t make a huge fuss
about it. I lowered my eyes to the floor and shook my head.

‘I just wanted to know if you and Nin there are an item?’

I whipped round to look at him, that wasn’t the question I was
expecting.

‘Er, Shane…’

‘Sorry, sorry, that’s was too personal. I’m sorry, Jamie.’

I smiled and touched his arm with my fingertips, ‘Shane, no it was a bit
of a shock, that’s all. No, we’re not together, at least not like that,
just friends. We work together as Nin told you. Why did you ask?’

‘I just wondered, you seem close to each other, you said you had fallen
in love, and what with you being transgender and all…’

‘What?’

My brain scrambled and I felt sick. Shit, what was I going to say? I had
got this far without a problem and now it was all going to come tumbling
down. He must have seen in my eyes how scared I was.

‘Don’t worry, Jamie, I’m not going to say anything. I wondered last
night and then today I was sure. You look great, but I have a friend who
started to transition a while back, so I know a thing or two about it
all.’

Hell, what should I say? I decided the only option was to play along.
‘Shane, you have to understand I’m really new to all this, I just got
the courage to start dressing fully, so it’s all a little strange to me.
I’m scared that people will make fun of me.’ Luckily, most of that was
true.

‘Jamie, I promise I won’t say anything, it’s fine by me. You look great,
honestly.’

He took my hand and squeezed it gently. Oh God, here I was, dressed as a
woman with a man holding my hand. I bent my head towards him, ‘Thank
you, Shane, you’re so sweet.’ He let go of my hand and for some strange
reason, I missed him holding it. I had to sort what to do after this, so
I excused myself and told him I had to go the toilet. I squeezed past
him and found the toilets at the back of the ferry. I was heading for
the one marked men when I realised I should be using the women’s toilet.
Luckily, people had settled down to get some sleep, so there wasn’t a
queue. The toilet was pretty filthy, and it didn’t encourage me to
linger.

I looked at myself in the mirror and decided I didn’t look too
bad but freshened my lipstick anyway. It was then that I realised that
if Shane was going to stick with us, then I wouldn’t be able to change
before we got on the bus as we planned. Shit, that meant I would have to
stay as Jamie until we got to Bangkok. I cursed Alex and Areeya with
every swear word I could think of for getting me into this.

I returned to my seat, and as I squeezed past Shane the boat hit a wave
and I stumbled, falling into his lap. It took me a few seconds to get up
again to find he had a big grin on his face.

‘I’m so sorry, Shane.’ I said, blushing furiously.

‘No worries, Jamie, It’s no bother. I’ve had worse things happen,
believe me.’

I sat down again, still blushing about what had happened.

‘Shane, I think I’ll try to get some sleep.’

He nodded, still with a big grin on his face. ‘Me too, Jamie.’

I put my earphones in and began to listen to my beloved John Coltrane’s
‘A Love Supreme’, which is always guaranteed to calm me down. I must
have dropped off to sleep at some point because I woke up to find my
head resting against Shane’s shoulder. As my head cleared, I realised he
was asleep too, and his hand was resting on my thigh. Oh shit, what is
going on? I gently removed his hand from my leg, trying not to wake him
and dug Nin in the ribs until she woke. ‘Come with me,’ I whispered, and
we managed to squeeze past Shane and walk to the back of the ferry.

‘I went to sleep and when I woke up he had his hand on my leg.’ I said.

Nin giggled, ‘I think Shane likes you, Jamie. I see how he looks at
you.’

‘Whaaaaat? He can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I’m a man for God’s sake.’

‘Jamie, look in mirror. You don’t look like man.’

‘Yeah, but he knows about me.’

Her eyebrows shot up and her mouth dropped open. ‘What?’

‘While you were asleep he asked me if we were together.’

She looked at me, obviously puzzled, ‘We are together.’

‘Yes, but he meant were we lovers.’

Nin’s eyes widened, she covered her mouth with her hand and giggled.

‘It’s not funny,’ I said. She stopped giggling but couldn’t get rid of
her grin.

‘What did you say to him?’

‘I told him we were friends from work. But then he said he knew I was
transgender.’

‘Oh, what did you tell him?’

‘I had to say yes. What else could I say? I couldn’t tell him the truth,
could I? We don’t know anything about him.’

‘What did he say?’

‘That he was OK with trans people. He has a friend in Australia who
transitioned.’

She frowned, ‘Hmm, maybe he has ladyboy girlfriend?’

‘He said that he had broken up with someone before he came to Thailand.
Oh God, it must have been his friend who transitioned that he broke up
with.’

‘Maybe that why he likes you, Jamie.’

I couldn’t believe it, but it would explain things, ‘No, Nin, I can’t
cope with that.’

‘What choice we have? It will be just for a few hours, Jamie. When we
get to Bangkok, you can change and then we can get back to normal.’

Damn it, I knew she was right, but it was the last thing I wanted was a
man who wants to get inside my knickers on top of everything else. I
cursed Alex, Areeya, Kritsada and Jandaeng in equal measures for getting
me into this spot. For a moment, I considered telling Shane the truth,
but then it struck me, was it purely a coincidence that he was on the
ferry? It seemed to be too much of a coincidence that I would run into
him last night and then again today. I desperately wanted to get a
message to Alex or Areeya but our burner phones wouldn’t work out here.
I decided I would need to careful about what we said to Shane.

I sighed, turned to Nin and said, ‘OK, you’re right, let’s get back to
Shane and pretend it’s all OK.’ we made our way back out seats and Shane
was now awake and we both squeezed past him. This time, I made sure I
didn’t end up on his lap.

‘All OK, girls?’

Nin smiled, ‘Yes Shane, we went get some air. Not long before we dock.’

Shane brought out another round of beers, and I wondered how many he had
in that bag of his. The announcement that we would shortly arrive came a
few minutes later and all around us the other travellers began to get
themselves ready. We waited a bit to let the others get off first and
then we climbed out onto the deck and saw the long pier at Chumphon
along which we would have to walk to get to the bus. First of all, we
had to collect our cases from the ferry and Nin and Shane told me to sit
on a bench whilst they tried to find them amongst the piles of cases
coming off the ferry.

I saw Shane pick up a big rucksack and swing it onto his shoulder. He
stood next to Nin, and she looked a c***d compared to him. I saw Nin
pick up her bright yellow bag, and I expected my case to follow, but
there was nothing. Nin seemed to be having an argument with the crew
unloading the bags, and they were making that arms outstretched and
palms turned up gesture that means the same everywhere – there’s nothing
left. Shit, I thought, my bag has to be there, it has all my male
clothes in it. Nin was shouting furiously at the crew who just waved her
off. Shane looked over at me and shrugged his shoulders as if to say,
it’s all a mystery.

I walked over to them and Nin looked distraught.

‘I am sorry, Jamie. Your case is not here. The boat is empty, The crew
say it must have been stolen.’

Shane said, ‘I looked in the hold and there’s nothing left inside. Are
you sure it got loaded on Samui?’

‘We put both our cases on the trolley at the ferry pier with everybody
else. If Nin’s is here then mine should be too.’

‘I asked crew to contact Maenam to see if case left behind. They
checking now,’ said Nin.

Shane put his hand on my arm and said, ‘Look, Jamie don’t worry, I’m
sure it will be found.’ At that moment, one of the crew members
returned and said something to Nin. She raises her eyes to the skies and
I know from her look that my bag is not at Maenam either. Nin turns to
me and confirms it.

‘Your bag not at Samui, Jamie. It’s gone.’

‘Shit,’ I said in a frankly not very ladylike manner. I was now so
frustrated and angry with what was going on I felt like getting back on
the ferry to go back to Samui. Shane took me by the hand and said
gently, ‘Jamie, there’s nothing we can do here. It’s gone, why don’t we
go on to Bangkok and you’ll have to get some new stuff there. Do you
have insurance?’

I shook my head. There wasn’t much in the case, as we had planned to
come straight back, but the loss of my male clothes was the most
pressing problem for me.

‘You’re right Shane, I’ll just have to buy some more clothes in Bangkok.
Let’s get going.’ It was now almost six o’clock, and we had wasted a
good half hour trying to find my case. We trudged down the pier but as
we approached its end, we saw two buses pull out and speed off up the
road trailing clouds of dust. There were no other buses left, and I knew
with a terrible sinking certainty in my stomach that we had missed the
bus to Bangkok.

Nin ran up to the bus park and was arguing with someone there. We caught
up with her and she turned to face us, her face dark with anger.

‘These people are stupid, they say the buses cannot wait, they have to
go, even if we have ticket.’ She said something in Thai, which by the
look on her face involved cursing the bus drivers and their entire
families too.

‘When is the next bus, Nin?’ Shane asked.

‘Tomorrow morning, no more buses tonight. He say there normally train at
one o’clock in morning but cancelled because landslide on track.’

At that moment, we heard the ferry’s engines roar as it pulled away from
the jetty. We were stuck here for the night.

‘I don’t believe this, how can something go so wrong?’ I was tired and
angry, and my back was starting to hurt because of the extra weight of
the breast forms. I wished I could just take them out and stretch
properly. My feet were sore from the rubbing of the sandals against my
toes. I was fed up with acting as a woman and I just wanted to go home.

‘C’mon Jamie,’ said Shane. ‘We’ll have to find somewhere to stay here
and then get the first bus in the morning.’ He threw his arm around my
shoulder and squeezed me. It felt like I was being hugged by a bear, but
just the gesture made me feel better. I was now beyond frustration and
anger as I realised there was nothing I could do about the situation.
Nin said, ‘I need to let my parents know what’s happening, I will text
them now.’

I nodded, realising she meant she was going to text Alex. Shane said, ‘I
need to let my people know too.’ They both began texting, and it gave me
a moment to try to sort out what was going on. It seemed to be almost
beyond belief that so much was going wrong. Could it be coincidence or
was there something more sinister at play here? That’s the trouble with
paranoia; once it gets its grip on your mind, it spreads like cancer,
infecting every thought and making every event seem like a conspiracy.
We have to play it by ear, I thought, take everything as it comes. It’s
probably just a run of bad luck after all.

Nin touched my arm, ‘My mother and father are sorry that we are delayed,
but we should press on to Bangkok as soon as we can. They send their
love and hope we are well.’

So, Alex and Areeya were at least aware of the situation, even if they
could not do anything about it. Shane came over and said, ‘I’ve got some
good news, the embassy have said that they will pay for a taxi for me to
get to Bangkok, so we can all pile in one and get on our way. We might
even get there earlier than the bus.’

I smiled and Nin gave Shane a hug, or as much of a hug as she could,
given the difference in their size. ‘Thanks, Shane, you’re wonderful,’ I
said, and without thinking I gave him a kiss on his cheek. He blushed
scarlet and Nin gave me a sideways look as if to say be careful.

Daylight was fading fast, and It was then that it struck me that we were
about to set off in a Thai taxi, probably driven by a madman, in the
dark for an eight-hour journey to Bangkok. My knuckles tightened at the
very thought of it. A Toyota minibus appeared out of the darkness,
thankfully with two drivers, which in my view, significantly improved
our chances of surviving the journey. We climbed on board and I headed
for the back seat, hoping somehow that it would be safer than the front.
Shane moved in front of Nin and climbed in after me and sat next to me
on the back seat. Nin boarded last, gave me a look and sat down on one
of the other seats. I glanced at Shane who grinned back at me,
apparently happy that he would be spending the next eight hours sitting
next to me. I just prayed that he would keep his hands to himself on the
journey.

We pulled out of the ferry area and onto the road. Nin said it would
take a little while to reach the main highway towards Bangkok but then
we should be able to make good time. It was now pitch black outside and
all we could see were the houses next to the road, most of them garishly
lit with fluorescent tubes. We passed motorcycle repair shops, bars,
fruit stalls and all kinds of businesses by the side of the road; life
is often lived in the open in these rural areas of Thailand. There was a
hypnotic quality to watching this pass by the window and I could feel my
eyelids begin to droop as we drove on. The radio was playing Thai pop
music, and I could hear Nin softly singing along when the driver said
something sharply to the other driver in the front.

‘Nin, what did he say?’ Shane asked.

‘He say police road block ahead.’

‘Ask him if that’s normal.’

Nin spoke to the driver, and as he replied even I could tell he sounded
nervous. Nin turned towards us, ‘He says it is very unusual here, I
think he scared.’

Shane moved incredibly quickly and was at the side passenger door in a
flash.

‘You two, stay in your seats and don’t move.’ There was an authority in
his voice that made me do as he said without question. The driver slowed
down and came to a halt.

‘Nin,’ Shane spoke quietly, ‘tell the driver to lock the doors.’ Nin did
as Shane asked, and the driver, visibly nervous, nodded. We heard the
clunk as the driver activated the door locks. We could see two torches
coming towards us and the headlights of a car behind them. ‘Jamie, turn
round, look out the back and tell me if anyone comes at us from behind.’

‘I can’t see anyone, Shane.’

‘Keep your eyes peeled and tell me quietly if you see something.’

Someone knocked on the driver’s window and the driver rolled it down and
all we could see was the light from the torch. Whoever was holding the
torch said something and Nin began to translate in a quiet voice. ‘He
ask for driver’s papers and where we going. Driver say people missed
ferry and going to Bangkok. He ask driver to unlock back door, he want
to see bags.’

‘Tell the driver to unlock the back door only, Nin.’

She did, and we heard the back door unlock. The second man moved to the
back, and we could hear him pulling at the bags. So far, it seemed to be
just a routine police stop, and I began to breathe a little more easily.
The guy at the back called out something to the one at the driver’s
door. Nin said, ‘He say it not there.’ Immediately, a gun was poked
through the window against the driver’s head. A burst of Thai followed,
and the thump of the doors being unlocked. It was obvious now that this
was anything but routine.

‘Shit,’ said Shane, ‘Try to stay calm. Don’t say anything.’

The door was pulled back and the man who had been at the back was in the
open door pointing his gun at Shane and shouted something in Thai. ‘He
say get out and kneel on ground, hands behind head.’ Nin said. Shane put
his hands up and edged towards the door. He stepped down and we could
see the man waving his gun around in Shane’s face. Shane didn’t take his
eyes off the guy’s face, and the man was getting wilder and wilder,
screaming at Shane for some reason.

‘He tell you to stop looking at him, he shoot you if not.’ Nin shouted
to Shane who slowly dropped his gaze. Nin was looking at Shane
wide-eyed, obviously scared, but I was angry that once more, someone was
waving a gun around in front of me. I had to stay calm, I knew I might
have only one chance to make something happen, and I didn’t want to miss
that chance. The guy from the front came round to the open door, pointed
his gun at me, ‘Where your bag?’

‘I don’t have a bag, it was stolen on the ferry.’

‘Don’t lie, where your bag?’

‘I told you, I don’t have one, someone stole it on the ferry.’

Nin said something to him in Thai, I guess telling him the same thing.

‘Take the bags, if that’s what you want,’ shouted Shane, and got hit on
the back of his head with the gun. ‘Shut up,’ screamed the one with his
gun on me. It had a been a blow that would have dropped an ox, and yet
Shane was only down on his hands and knees shaking his head, trying to
clear it.

‘We want your bag,’ he screamed at me, ‘where you hide it?’

‘I don’t have it, it didn’t come off the ferry. Can’t you see it’s not
here.’

‘Liar, tell me or I shoot your friend.’ He pointed his gun at Nin.

‘No,’ I shouted, ‘I don’t have my bag, there’s nothing in it, why do you
want it?’

The man guarding Shane looked over to see what was going on in the mini
bus and like a cobra striking, Shane stood up and hit him under the nose
with the flat of his hand in one motion. I heard the man’s nose break,
and he flopped like a sack of rice onto the floor. The guy inside the
bus turned to see what was happening, and I shoved him hard in his back,
his head whipping back against the door frame and the gun tumbling out
of his hand. He fell out through the open door and Shane stamped on his
hand before picking up the gun. He bent down, stuck the gun in the man’s
ear and said, ‘Listen, we don’t have the bag, it was stolen on the
ferry, tell your bosses to look at the crew, one of them has the case.’
The man nodded his head and Shane clubbed him over the head with the
gun.

The taxi drivers were jabbering away in Thai and although Nin was still
shaking she said, ‘They want to get away now, they really scared.’

The two men who had held us up were moaning on the ground and Shane
frisked them, removing their phones and wallets. He threw the guns into
the darkness and said to Nin, ‘Tell the drivers to wait while I disable
the car, then we can get going.’

‘Hurry Shane, they say they only wait a couple minutes.’

Shane sprinted over to the car and we could hear him smashing the
windscreen, and the lights died. He came back after a few minutes,
folding up what looked like a very serious knife.

‘Slashed the tires, ripped out the wiring and threw the keys into the
river over there. They won’t be going anywhere soon.’

He jumped in, closed the door and the taxi driver floored the
accelerator and we shot off. Shane reached out and gave Nin’s hand a
squeeze, she smiled at him but I could see she was still shaking. I went
to sit next to her, and I hugged her tight.

‘Nice move Jamie,’ said Shane, ‘I’m not sure I could have reached him in
time if you hadn’t done that. Took some guts.’

‘I’m sick of people waving guns at me,’ I said.

He raised an eyebrow at me and I shook my head, ’Long story, Shane, for
some other time. What do you think this was all about?’

‘I can only guess but I think someone slipped d**gs into your case while
it was on the trolley in Samui. Happens a lot, innocent travellers can
be used as unwitting mules for carrying d**gs. You got unlucky. Maybe
the guy they caught on the pier was a diversion. I think it all went
wrong, though. You were meant to collect your bag, and then it would
have disappeared, maybe on the bus. I guess one of the crew members got
greedy, stole your bag on the ferry, took whatever was in it and
probably chucked the bag overboard. It threw the reception team over
here off guard and they had to pull this stunt to see if you had stolen
or hidden the d**gs yourself.’

Nin had stopped shaking by now, and as I looked at her I couldn’t resist
giving her a quick kiss. She smiled and said, ‘Kap kun ka, Jamie.’ She
snuggled closer into my arms and I saw Shane giving us a glance. The
taxi drivers were talking quietly to each other and Nin was not able to
hear what they were saying. We had just arrived in a small town when
they pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. The
driver turned to Nin and said something that obviously wasn’t good
judging by the dark look on her face. She turned to us and said, ‘They
refuse to take us any further, they too scared. They think we are bad
luck and want to go home. They say hotel here or get new taxi, they
turning round now.’ Superstition is never far away from everyday life in
Thailand, so if the drivers had decided we were bad luck, that was an
end of it as far as they were concerned.

The second driver was already unloading Shane’s and Nin’s bags from the
back of the minibus and it was obvious that this was the end of the road
for the two drivers. We all got out of the bus and stood there as the
driver spun the wheels and headed back to Chumphon. We looked at each
other, all of us thinking the same thought, could this journey get any
worse? Shane and I sat on the bags whilst Nin went in search of another
taxi. I was surprised to see that even as tired as I was I had
remembered to hold my wrap-around skirt properly and I sat there with my
knees together.

‘Shane, if you’ll tell me, where did you learn to take guys down like
that?’

He didn’t reply immediately but then looked at his boots and said,
‘Australian Special Air Service, two tours in Afghanistan. Then into
private security work, close protection, and other stuff.’

I nodded, didn’t say anything, hoping Shane would say more. He didn’t,
so I said, ‘What made you leave the army?’

He looked away, and I knew he wasn’t going to volunteer the reason.

‘Was it because you’re gay?’ I said it quietly, half hoping he wouldn’t
hear me.

He picked up a stone from the roadside and started to turn it in his
fingers. He played with it for a few moments before looking at me and
said, ‘How did you know?’

‘Easy really. You seem to like me but you know I’m transgender. I think
the friend you talked about who transitioned was more than just a friend
by the way you spoke of him. A few other things, I don’t have a gaydar,
but it just seemed to explain things.’

He turned the pebble in his fingers a few more times, ‘I guess I always
knew I was different, but I grew up in a shit hole mining town in
Western Australia and there you couldn’t be different.’ He made
exclamation marks in the air with his fingers as he said the word
different. ‘I left as soon as I could to join the army, I really thought
it would put me on the straight and narrow.’ He paused and tossed the
pebble into the road. ‘It didn’t work, of course. I could play the macho
role as well as any of them. You had to, especially when I got into the
special forces, but I knew inside I was still different. I suppressed it
until one day in Afghanistan I got shot up, not too badly, but I had to
spend some time in the base hospital. One of the nurses was a guy from
Sydney and we kind of hit it off. There was some clumsy fumbling and
kissing behind the hospital area and we got caught, of course. We were
both offered the choice of resigning or being discharged. The military
was pretty uptight even recently. The irony is that it wouldn’t happen
now.’ He blinked and wiped something away from his eye, He coughed once
and continued. ‘Niall and I got together when we got back to Aus and for
a while it was fine.’

I knew there was a big but coming.

‘Niall wanted me to, but I couldn’t, or wouldn’t come out, and he got
fed up waiting for me to sort my life out. He always wanted to
transition, and he went ahead and started the process. I couldn’t cope
with it and joined a private security outfit who didn’t ask too many
questions about my background. Ironically, I was sent to Kabul and then
onto Bangkok. Of course, Niall was unwilling to compromise, and we split
up. I don’t blame him at all. He, or rather she, is Emma now. Doing well
and having SRS this year.’

I reached out and touched his arm, ‘I’m sorry Shane, I didn’t mean to
make you sad.’

He blinked a couple of times, looked at me and said, ‘Jamie, no worries,
it’s good to talk about it to someone who understands.’

At that moment, Nin arrived back, and we knew it wasn’t good news by the
look on her face. ‘Don’t tell us, no taxi?’ She shook her head. ‘No taxi
in this shitty town. We can get one in the morning from next town. Good
news there is hotel, bad news they only have one room.’ Shane and I
burst out laughing and Nin looked puzzled. ‘Just when we thought it
couldn’t get any worse,’ I said.

‘I guess that’s it then girls,’ said Shane, ‘I don’t think I snore, but
if I do, I apologise in advance.’ We traipsed up to the hotel which
didn’t look too bad, but I was prepared to put with pretty much anything
to have some rest after what we had gone through. The room they showed
us was basic, but it had air-con and a clean looking bathroom. It had
one large double bed and a none too comfortable looking chair. We
dropped the bags and looked at each other.

‘I’ll sleep on the floor, you girls can have the bed.’

‘No, Shane.’ Nin and I chorused almost as one.

‘No arguments, do you think there’s any food? I could eat a scabby
horse.’

Nin looked alarmed. ‘He just means he’s very hungry,’ I said, and she
looked relieved. ‘There is restaurant down the street, I don’t know how
good.’ I realised I hadn’t eaten properly since breakfast and suddenly I
was ravenous. We found the restaurant, and the food was good but very
fiery. Nin was in her element but Shane and I had to have some lime
cucumber raita to cool things down. A couple of Leo beers each rounded
off the meal. By the time we got back to the hotel we were all pretty
much spent. Shane reversed the chair and propped it up against the door
handle. ‘Habit,’ he said as explanation.

‘Nin, don’t you think you should just let your mother and father know we
are OK, but might be a bit later now?’ I wanted Alex and Areeya to know
we were OK, the details could wait until later. It was then that I
realised how much I missed them, and how much I wanted to be back with
them. Nin looked up from her phone with a grin. ‘My mother and father
understand delay and hope we are well. Father says Scarlett should be
careful.’

‘Scarlett?’ Shane looked puzzled.

‘My nickname,’ I said hurriedly, ‘no idea why.’

Shane pulled some clothes from his pack, spread them on the floor, and
put a sheet from the bed over them. He stretched out and laughed,
‘Welcome to the Ritz.’ Nin and I took turns to visit the bathroom and I
took off my blouse and skirt and hung them, although they were looking
pretty crumpled by now. I decided to keep the bra on but put on a fresh
pair of knickers from my shoulder bag. I wrapped a towel around me and
came back into the bedroom. Someone had turned out the light, so I had
to feel my way in the dark and managed to kick Shane on the way to the
bed. Nin was under the covers and already fast asleep so I slipped
inside the sheet and said ‘Good night Shane and thank you for what you
did today. I haven’t said thank you properly.’

‘No worries, Jamie, you did well yourself babe, G’night.’

I tried to sleep but there was so much flying around in my head that I
just lay there staring at the ceiling in the dim light. I wished that
Alex and Areeya were here, I wanted to hold them and to feel their warm
bodies against mine. I felt so alone and scared after what had happened,
and in desperate need of someone to hold.

‘Shane? Are you awake?’ I whispered, half of me hoping he would say yes,
and half of me dreading that he would.

‘Yes, Jamie, I am. What’s up?’

‘Just wondered how your head was, you took a big thump out there.’

He laughed, ‘It’s fine Jamie. My noggin is pretty hard, but thanks for
asking.’

‘That’s good.’ My throat was dry and I could barely say the words, ‘Can
I come down there?’

There was silence for what seemed an eternity. ‘Are you sure, Jamie?’

I wondered what he was thinking, and what he would expect if I went down
there, and what I was prepared to give.

‘I need to hold someone,’ I said.

‘Sure, Jamie, slide on down. There’s plenty of room down here.’ I took a
deep breath, checked that Nin was still asleep and slid off the bed onto
the floor. I pulled the towel closer around me and crawled over to where
Shane lay. I found the edge of the sheet, reached out my hand in the
dark and my fingers brushed warm skin.

‘You found me,’ he said.

I sidled a bit closer and realised he was holding up the sheet to let me
slide in. I moved over and shuffled right up against him. He was laying
on his back and I could feel his warmth through the towel I was wearing
over my bra and knickers.

‘You OK there Jamie?’ he said. I couldn’t see but I suspected he was
smiling as he said it.

‘Thanks, Shane, I just wanted to feel someone next to me.’

‘Happy to help,’ he said.

I could tell he was naked under the sheet and I wondered yet again what
the hell I was doing. I wanted to feel someone lying next to me, but was
it more than that? If it had been just that wouldn’t I have cuddled
close to Nin? Shane was a lovely guy and I owed him big time for what
had happened tonight, but what did I really feel about him? Aside from
an adolescent crush on a school friend I had never been attracted to a
man. I was in love with Alex, but surely that was something completely
different? With her, I had cast aside my British middle-class
inhibitions about what was and wasn’t normal. Between Alex and Areeya
and Pao, I had done things which I would never have thought myself
capable of only a few months before. My boundaries had been blown away,
and I was not sure where my new boundaries were if indeed, there were
any.

Shane was gay, at least bi, and yet here I was, laying next to him, with
his arm d****d over me and feeling good about it. I knew he was
attracted to me, and there is always something exciting about finding
out that someone likes and wants you. I had told him I was TG so none of
this would be his fault. If anything happened it would be because I
wanted it to happen. So, what did I want to happen? Did I just want just
to be held because I was tired and alone and scared? Or was I curious
about what might happen? Was dressing as a woman for a couple of days
all it took to change my perspective so completely? I decided I was
overthinking this and told myself to shut up and see what would happen.
I could tell Shane was still awake, his breathing hadn’t changed, and I
wondered what he was thinking.

I was lying facing him and I put out my hand onto his chest. It felt as
hard as granite under my fingertips and he flinched a little at my
touch.

‘Sorry,’ I whispered.

‘No need, babe. I enjoyed it.’

My fingers found a hard ridge of skin where it should be smooth. ‘Was
that where you got shot?’ I asked as I followed the ridge across his
chest.

‘Yeah, it was an ambush. I was lucky, the bullet caught me as I was
turning and it went straight across me. A few centimetres the other way
and I would have been toast. I got the little bastard who did it,
though. The rest of the guys dragged me out and I got choppered out to
the fire base.’

‘That’s where you met Niall?’

‘Yep,’ he didn’t want to talk about it, that was clear. ‘Jamie, if you
keep stroking my chest like that I might get the wrong idea.’

‘Do you want me to stop?’

‘That’s not what I said, babe. Just that if you keep doing it, I might
have to do it back to you.’

My fingers stopped, and I thought, this is it. I can stop and it’s all
over, or I can go on and then I could never say I wasn’t warned. My
fingers started to move again, stroking Shane’s chest, he sighed and
rolled over towards me dr****g his arm over my hip and pulled me closer
towards him.

‘I told you if you kept doing it, I would have to do it back to you.’
He moved his hand from my hip and tugged at the edge of the towel. I
hitched up my body, and the towel was pulled away leaving me in the bra
and knickers. His hand slid up my back and with the other he pushed back
my hair.

‘You sure you want to do this, Jamie? It’s not too late to stop if you
want me to.’

I say a word, just put my arm around his neck and pulled him towards me
and his lips met mine.

To be continued.

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