Nate’s life couldn’t be better. He’s living with his rich boyfriend, Cameron, in New York while being wined and dined all over the city.
But when Nate decides to visit his friends back in Sydney, Cameron suggests they break it off for a while. Cam’s cross-dressing butler is not impressed, and with the help of his lesbian aunt, they drag Cameron down-under to sort out his relationship and take in the sights of Mardi Gras!
With Nate at a loss to what went wrong, he faces the dim reality that love may have run its course.
EXCERPT: (Nate meets Cameron’s parents for the first time)
“You Australians have such a quaint accent,” said Cam’s mom. “It’s kind of British, but it’s kind of not.”
“Don’t patronize the young boy, dear,” her husband reprimanded.
“I’m not. I’m not patronizing you, am I, Nathan?”
I shook my head.
“See? I know the type of man my Cameron would pick.” She studied my face. “You’re an earth sign, aren’t you?”
“I’m a what?” I asked.
“An earth sign. Let me guess. A Taurean.”
“I’m a Virgo.”
“A Virgo. You can’t be. Not with those ears.”
“Another drink, Mrs. Charlton?” Roger asked. He’d already slipped another cocktail in my hand.
“Yes, dear. Can I have a martini?”
“Right away, madam.”
So there we were, seated on the modular lounge. Mr. Charlton sat on the edge of the bit that juts out, with a scotch on the rocks in one hand and his smartphone in the other. He kept checking the electronic device as if it beckoned him through mental telepathy.
But what I couldn’t take my eyes off was his comb-over. It was as if somebody had drawn straight lines across his scalp with a permanent marker. Surely, with his money, he could have visited a hair replacement clinic.
Mrs. Charlton was charming. Ditzy, but charming. She finally got my name right after five attempts, mistaking me for Mark, Maverick, Norbert, and Niles, in that order. She had a habit of smoking indoors, saying she didn’t respect all these new rules and regulations. And she had Cam’s smile. Cam’s mesmerizing smile that made me feel at home in her presence.
“You’re leaving Cameron?” she asked me.
“Only for a month,” I replied.
“What have you done to this poor boy?” she asked her son.
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“Oh, there’s no marital problems if that’s what you think,” I said.
“Well, there must be some reason such a gorgeous man like you is leaving my son for such a long time after… How long has it been?”
“Six months,” Cam replied.
“Six months of freeloading in our son’s apartment,” said the father. His eyes were glued to his phone.
“Dad. Dad, look at me when I’m talking to you. You know Nate and I have gone into business.”
“You call that a business?”
“Designer T-shirts are a business.”
“And we’re making good money,” I said. “We’re making several hundred a month after paying the local artists, but we’re going to expand to online after I make my trip back to Sydney.”
“You see, you’re going back to Sydney,” Mrs. Charlton interrupted. “Why, Cameron? What have you done to this poor boy that he has to leave you so soon?”
“My friend, Lucy, is interested in opening a Sydney version of our store. She currently runs a coffee shop, but with her expertise, the new Art-Wear Shop should be up and running by the time I return to New York.”
“The Art-Wear Shop down under. How sweet. Isn’t that sweet, Carl? And a trustworthy Virgo is going down there to make sure our son’s business is a success.”
“It’s not just my business,” Cam said, correcting his mother.
“Shouldn’t you set up the online store first?” Cam’s dad asked. “Before large Sydney rents add to your ongoing budget!”
“Now, Carl. You used to be so kind and supportive to Cameron when he was growing up. You listened to his dreams and encouraged him. You wiped his tears when he was fearful. What happened to the man I married?”
“What happened is that we all got older and wiser, some more than others.” He looked back to his phone. “And in my own way, I am being supportive. I’m just saying that the next logical step is an online store. Their current local shop only makes a few hundred a month, which is nowhere near enough to cover commercial rent in Manhattan. And now they’re thinking Sydney? Yeah, go boys! A second version of a store that is already losing money.”
And so the parents went on. At some stage, Roger oversupplied Cam and me with cocktails, as both of us realized we had a drink in each hand. I downed one and drank half the other. As the parents droned on, we were saved by Roger’s alter ego.
His continuity error to the evening was disruptively noticeable, yet it was a godsend. The butler was now Rowena in a backless cocktail dress, appropriately black in color, and a dark wig that could rival Marge Simpson’s in height. She wheeled in a stylish drinks trolley and continued mixing more concoctions than we could drink in one night.
“Tell me, Nathan,” Cam’s mom said in an obvious effort to change the subject. “Tell me about your past loves.”
I looked to my boyfriend.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “She always asks everyone she meets.”
“Yes, I do. You can learn so much about where a person has been and where they are headed to.”
I looked to Cam again for a way out, but he smiled and gave me an approving nod.
“I’ve had a few that are hardly worth mentioning.”
“But they wrote the story of Nathan. A Virgo’s story.”
“Go on, Nate,” my boyfriend said. “Tell my mom about Elliot.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I don’t think my wife is sure about anything.” The father was still glued to his phone.
“Nathan, tell me about Elliot,” his mother bade.
“Well, Elliot was different to Cameron. Queenier, if you like. And he had a heart as big as the world. But he knew how to cut through the bullshit. You see, he could console you when you were down, but if you were ready to give up, he’d slap it out of you with his words. That’s why we all loved him. That’s why the sun shone through the clouds just for him. Or why the world would grin back as he smiled. Why that blond curl in the middle of his forehead—”
“Oops!” Rowena spilled scotch on Carl’s skull. Strands of hair were now covering his face like dangling spider legs. It was the most expressionless he looked all night.
“Oh dear,” was all Cam’s mother said.
Like a trooper, our cocktail-dress-wearing butler used his sleeve to wipe Carl dry. Yet Mr. Charlton continued sitting perfectly still, even as the strands found new paths across his face.
“Is something burning?” my boyfriend asked.
“I can’t smell a thing,” I reported.
“The couch is singed,” Rowena replied.
“Oh, sorry. It must have come from my cigarette ash!” Cam’s mom proclaimed.
“What are you talking about?” the father grumbled. “My wife is clumsy but she—”
Our hired help picked up the soda siphon and aimed it at the scorched material. She somehow slipped, missing her target.
Cam and his mom were drenched. Droplets dripped from the bottom of Mrs. Charlton’s dangly earrings, and Cam couldn’t see a thing as the water covered his glasses like spray paint. He stood, untucked his shirt, and wiped them, only smearing the droplets over the lenses.
Mr. Charlton grunted like a moody ape while Mrs. Charlton chuckled like a hyena. I started giggling too, somehow from the floor. Why am I stretched out on the carpet? Cam saw the joke and slowly worked himself into a full belly laugh. As his laughter subsided, he looked to Rowena who simply sighed in relief.