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Cockatoo Part 7Cockatoo Part 7Shane stuck out an enormous hand and I instinctively shook it, hopingfor 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 thedock but I couldn’t be sure. I know you said you were leaving today, butwho would have guessed we would be on the same ferry. I didn’t knowmyself 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 thebus. 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. Hadto leave me mates behind. They’re over from Aus for a break so I camedown to see ‘em. Did you see that blue up on the pier? The cops jumpedon that guy pretty sharpish. I reckon it was d**gs, big problem all overhere. 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 sawyou 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 andshook 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 thoughtof a cover story. ‘We go see my family in Bangkok, Jamie my friend, she come with me seereal Bangkok. We work in hotel in Samui.’Nicely done Nin, I thought. She was laying the accent on thick because Iknew she spoke nearly perfect English, but I guess she thought allWesterners expect Thai people to speak in pidgin.‘Yeah, look I love Bangkok. Best posting I’ve had. Was in bloody Kabullast. bloody iffy place that is, I tell ya. Hey, do you two fancy atinnie? I’ve got some in me pack.’Shane rummaged around in the bag at his feet and pulled out three cansof Leo beer. He offered one to Nin who shook her head and then offeredone to me. I desperately wanted one to settle my nerves, but I shook myhead. ‘Awww, come on girls, you can’t leave a man to drink with the flies, canya?’Nin looked completely baffled and Shane said, ‘Sorry, I meant drinkalone.’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 beerto 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’salright.’‘No worries, Jamie. It’s my pleasure. I was dreading this journey, butnow I have the company of two lovely ladies.’I thought he must have had too much sun in Kabul if he thinks I’m alovely lady, but I took his beer and said cheers as we knocked our canstogether. ‘So, Jamie, what brought you to Samui?’The last thing I needed was a bored and chatty Aussie to spend the nextfour hours with.‘I came out to Thailand for work, fell in love and decided to stay. Ifound 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 passover his face. I noticed for the first time how blue his eyes were; notthe vivid blue or the ice blue you see sometimes, but a clear light bluethat held my gaze. I remember reading somewhere that people with blueeyes have a higher threshold for pain and alcohol than other people.Bizarrely, I found myself wondering if that had anything to with hischoice of security as a job.‘Is something wrong?’ I asked.‘No, no. just I broke up with someone before I came to Thailand, took mea 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’sgoing 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 likea woman? I turned to Nin who had been watching Shane and me, and shesmiled as if she knew something I didn’t. ‘What?’ I said. ‘Nothing, Jamie, nothing. I try to get some sleep.’ She curled up in herseat and was asleep in a few seconds.A couple of hours had passed and I read my book and listened to somemusic, but I couldn’t relax enough to sleep. Nin was fast asleep,probably one of those lucky people who could sleep anywhere. Me, I needa good firm bed to be able to get a proper sleep. Shane had dozed offand had been snoring gently. I realised he had stopped snoring, and Iglanced 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 waswhispering as Nin was still asleep.Shit, here it comes I thought. I just hope he won’t make a huge fussabout 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 wasexpecting.‘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 bitof 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 fallenin 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 hadgot this far without a problem and now it was all going to come tumblingdown. He must have seen in my eyes how scared I was.‘Don’t worry, Jamie, I’m not going to say anything. I wondered lastnight and then today I was sure. You look great, but I have a friend whostarted to transition a while back, so I know a thing or two about itall.’ 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 gotthe 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 wastrue.‘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 awoman with a man holding my hand. I bent my head towards him, ‘Thankyou, Shane, you’re so sweet.’ He let go of my hand and for some strangereason, I missed him holding it. I had to sort what to do after this, soI excused myself and told him I had to go the toilet. I squeezed pasthim and found the toilets at the back of the ferry. I was heading forthe 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 aqueue. The toilet was pretty filthy, and it didn’t encourage me tolinger. I looked at myself in the mirror and decided I didn’t look toobad but freshened my lipstick anyway. It was then that I realised thatif Shane was going to stick with us, then I wouldn’t be able to changebefore we got on the bus as we planned. Shit, that meant I would have tostay as Jamie until we got to Bangkok. I cursed Alex and Areeya withevery 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 waveand I stumbled, falling into his lap. It took me a few seconds to get upagain 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 musthave dropped off to sleep at some point because I woke up to find myhead resting against Shane’s shoulder. As my head cleared, I realised hewas asleep too, and his hand was resting on my thigh. Oh shit, what isgoing on? I gently removed his hand from my leg, trying not to wake himand dug Nin in the ribs until she woke. ‘Come with me,’ I whispered, andwe 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 atyou.’‘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 ofher grin.‘What did you say to him?’‘I told him we were friends from work. But then he said he knew I wastransgender.’‘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 zonguldak escort Australia whotransitioned.’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 upwith.’‘Maybe that why he likes you, Jamie.’I couldn’t believe it, but it would explain things, ‘No, Nin, I can’tcope with that.’‘What choice we have? It will be just for a few hours, Jamie. When weget 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 aman who wants to get inside my knickers on top of everything else. Icursed Alex, Areeya, Kritsada and Jandaeng in equal measures for gettingme 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 theferry? It seemed to be too much of a coincidence that I would run intohim last night and then again today. I desperately wanted to get amessage 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 toShane and pretend it’s all OK.’ we made our way back out seats and Shanewas now awake and we both squeezed past him. This time, I made sure Ididn’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 hadin that bag of his. The announcement that we would shortly arrive came afew minutes later and all around us the other travellers began to getthemselves ready. We waited a bit to let the others get off first andthen we climbed out onto the deck and saw the long pier at Chumphonalong which we would have to walk to get to the bus. First of all, wehad to collect our cases from the ferry and Nin and Shane told me to siton a bench whilst they tried to find them amongst the piles of casescoming off the ferry. I saw Shane pick up a big rucksack and swing it onto his shoulder. Hestood next to Nin, and she looked a c***d compared to him. I saw Ninpick up her bright yellow bag, and I expected my case to follow, butthere was nothing. Nin seemed to be having an argument with the crewunloading the bags, and they were making that arms outstretched andpalms turned up gesture that means the same everywhere – there’s nothingleft. Shit, I thought, my bag has to be there, it has all my maleclothes in it. Nin was shouting furiously at the crew who just waved heroff. 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 crewsay it must have been stolen.’Shane said, ‘I looked in the hold and there’s nothing left inside. Areyou sure it got loaded on Samui?’‘We put both our cases on the trolley at the ferry pier with everybodyelse. If Nin’s is here then mine should be too.’ ‘I asked crew to contact Maenam to see if case left behind. Theychecking now,’ said Nin.Shane put his hand on my arm and said, ‘Look, Jamie don’t worry, I’msure it will be found.’ At that moment, one of the crew membersreturned and said something to Nin. She raises her eyes to the skies andI know from her look that my bag is not at Maenam either. Nin turns tome 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 sofrustrated and angry with what was going on I felt like getting back onthe ferry to go back to Samui. Shane took me by the hand and saidgently, ‘Jamie, there’s nothing we can do here. It’s gone, why don’t wego on to Bangkok and you’ll have to get some new stuff there. Do youhave insurance?’ I shook my head. There wasn’t much in the case, as we had planned tocome straight back, but the loss of my male clothes was the mostpressing 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 agood half hour trying to find my case. We trudged down the pier but aswe approached its end, we saw two buses pull out and speed off up theroad trailing clouds of dust. There were no other buses left, and I knewwith a terrible sinking certainty in my stomach that we had missed thebus to Bangkok. Nin ran up to the bus park and was arguing with someone there. We caughtup 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 togo, even if we have ticket.’ She said something in Thai, which by thelook on her face involved cursing the bus drivers and their entirefamilies too. ‘When is the next bus, Nin?’ Shane asked.‘Tomorrow morning, no more buses tonight. He say there normally train atone o’clock in morning but cancelled because landslide on track.’ At that moment, we heard the ferry’s engines roar as it pulled away fromthe jetty. We were stuck here for the night. ‘I don’t believe this, how can something go so wrong?’ I was tired andangry, and my back was starting to hurt because of the extra weight ofthe breast forms. I wished I could just take them out and stretchproperly. My feet were sore from the rubbing of the sandals against mytoes. 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 hereand then get the first bus in the morning.’ He threw his arm around myshoulder and squeezed me. It felt like I was being hugged by a bear, butjust the gesture made me feel better. I was now beyond frustration andanger 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 textthem now.’I nodded, realising she meant she was going to text Alex. Shane said, ‘Ineed to let my people know too.’ They both began texting, and it gave mea moment to try to sort out what was going on. It seemed to be almostbeyond belief that so much was going wrong. Could it be coincidence orwas there something more sinister at play here? That’s the trouble withparanoia; 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’sprobably 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 theirlove and hope we are well.’So, Alex and Areeya were at least aware of the situation, even if theycould not do anything about it. Shane came over and said, ‘I’ve got somegood news, the embassy have said that they will pay for a taxi for me toget to Bangkok, so we can all pile in one and get on our way. We mighteven 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,’ Isaid, and without thinking I gave him a kiss on his cheek. He blushedscarlet 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 wereabout to set off in a Thai taxi, probably driven by a madman, in thedark for an eight-hour journey to Bangkok. My knuckles tightened at thevery thought of it. A Toyota minibus appeared out of the darkness,thankfully with two drivers, which in my view, significantly improvedour chances of surviving the journey. We climbed on board and I headedfor 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 meon the back seat. Nin boarded last, gave me a look and sat down on oneof the other seats. I glanced at Shane who grinned back at me,apparently happy that he would be spending the next eight hours sittingnext to me. I just prayed that he would keep his hands to himself on thejourney. We pulled out of the ferry area and onto the road. Nin said it wouldtake a little while to reach the main highway towards Bangkok but thenwe should be able to make good time. It was now pitch black outside andall we could see were the houses next to the road, most of them garishlylit with fluorescent tubes. We passed motorcycle repair shops, bars,fruit stalls and all kinds of businesses by the side of the road; lifeis often lived in the open in these rural areas of Thailand. There was ahypnotic quality to watching this pass by the window and I could feel myeyelids begin to droop as we drove on. The radio was playing Thai popmusic, and I could hear Nin softly singing along when the driver saidsomething 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 soundednervous. Nin turned towards us, ‘He says it is very unusual here, Ithink he escort zonguldak scared.’Shane moved incredibly quickly and was at the side passenger door in aflash.‘You two, stay in your seats and don’t move.’ There was an authority inhis voice that made me do as he said without question. The driver sloweddown and came to a halt. ‘Nin,’ Shane spoke quietly, ‘tell the driver to lock the doors.’ Nin didas Shane asked, and the driver, visibly nervous, nodded. We heard theclunk as the driver activated the door locks. We could see two torchescoming towards us and the headlights of a car behind them. ‘Jamie, turnround, 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 andall we could see was the light from the torch. Whoever was holding thetorch said something and Nin began to translate in a quiet voice. ‘Heask for driver’s papers and where we going. Driver say people missedferry and going to Bangkok. He ask driver to unlock back door, he wantto 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 theback, and we could hear him pulling at the bags. So far, it seemed to bejust 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’sdoor. Nin said, ‘He say it not there.’ Immediately, a gun was pokedthrough 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 thiswas 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 theopen door pointing his gun at Shane and shouted something in Thai. ‘Hesay get out and kneel on ground, hands behind head.’ Nin said. Shane puthis hands up and edged towards the door. He stepped down and we couldsee the man waving his gun around in Shane’s face. Shane didn’t take hiseyes 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 shoutedto Shane who slowly dropped his gaze. Nin was looking at Shanewide-eyed, obviously scared, but I was angry that once more, someone waswaving a gun around in front of me. I had to stay calm, I knew I mighthave only one chance to make something happen, and I didn’t want to missthat chance. The guy from the front came round to the open door, pointedhis 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 onthe back of his head with the gun. ‘Shut up,’ screamed the one with hisgun on me. It had a been a blow that would have dropped an ox, and yetShane was only down on his hands and knees shaking his head, trying toclear 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 nothere.’ ‘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 youwant it?’The man guarding Shane looked over to see what was going on in the minibus and like a cobra striking, Shane stood up and hit him under the nosewith 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 thebus 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 outof his hand. He fell out through the open door and Shane stamped on hishand before picking up the gun. He bent down, stuck the gun in the man’sear and said, ‘Listen, we don’t have the bag, it was stolen on theferry, 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 thegun.The taxi drivers were jabbering away in Thai and although Nin was stillshaking 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 Shanefrisked them, removing their phones and wallets. He threw the guns intothe darkness and said to Nin, ‘Tell the drivers to wait while I disablethe 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 thewindscreen, 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 theriver over there. They won’t be going anywhere soon.’He jumped in, closed the door and the taxi driver floored theaccelerator and we shot off. Shane reached out and gave Nin’s hand asqueeze, she smiled at him but I could see she was still shaking. I wentto sit next to her, and I hugged her tight.‘Nice move Jamie,’ said Shane, ‘I’m not sure I could have reached him intime 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, forsome other time. What do you think this was all about?’‘I can only guess but I think someone slipped d**gs into your case whileit was on the trolley in Samui. Happens a lot, innocent travellers canbe used as unwitting mules for carrying d**gs. You got unlucky. Maybethe guy they caught on the pier was a diversion. I think it all wentwrong, though. You were meant to collect your bag, and then it wouldhave disappeared, maybe on the bus. I guess one of the crew members gotgreedy, stole your bag on the ferry, took whatever was in it andprobably chucked the bag overboard. It threw the reception team overhere off guard and they had to pull this stunt to see if you had stolenor hidden the d**gs yourself.’Nin had stopped shaking by now, and as I looked at her I couldn’t resistgiving her a quick kiss. She smiled and said, ‘Kap kun ka, Jamie.’ Shesnuggled closer into my arms and I saw Shane giving us a glance. Thetaxi drivers were talking quietly to each other and Nin was not able tohear what they were saying. We had just arrived in a small town whenthey pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine. Thedriver turned to Nin and said something that obviously wasn’t goodjudging by the dark look on her face. She turned to us and said, ‘Theyrefuse to take us any further, they too scared. They think we are badluck and want to go home. They say hotel here or get new taxi, theyturning round now.’ Superstition is never far away from everyday life inThailand, so if the drivers had decided we were bad luck, that was anend of it as far as they were concerned.The second driver was already unloading Shane’s and Nin’s bags from theback of the minibus and it was obvious that this was the end of the roadfor the two drivers. We all got out of the bus and stood there as thedriver spun the wheels and headed back to Chumphon. We looked at eachother, all of us thinking the same thought, could this journey get anyworse? Shane and I sat on the bags whilst Nin went in search of anothertaxi. I was surprised to see that even as tired as I was I hadremembered to hold my wrap-around skirt properly and I sat there with myknees together.‘Shane, if you’ll tell me, where did you learn to take guys down likethat?’ He didn’t reply immediately but then looked at his boots and said,‘Australian Special Air Service, two tours in Afghanistan. Then intoprivate 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’thear me.He picked up a stone from the roadside and started to turn it in hisfingers. He played with it for a few moments before looking at me andsaid, ‘How did you know?’‘Easy really. You seem to like me but you know I’m transgender. I thinkthe friend you talked about who transitioned was more than just a friendby 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 alwaysknew I was different, but I grew up in a shit hole mining town inWestern Australia and there you couldn’t be different.’ He madeexclamation marks in the air with his fingers as he said the worddifferent. ‘I left as soon as I could to join the army, I really thoughtit would put me on the straight and narrow.’ He paused and tossed thepebble into the road. ‘It didn’t work, of course. I could play the machorole as well as any of them. You had to, especially when I got into thespecial zonguldak escort bayan forces, but I knew inside I was still different. I suppressed ituntil one day in Afghanistan I got shot up, not too badly, but I had tospend some time in the base hospital. One of the nurses was a guy fromSydney and we kind of hit it off. There was some clumsy fumbling andkissing behind the hospital area and we got caught, of course. We wereboth offered the choice of resigning or being discharged. The militarywas pretty uptight even recently. The irony is that it wouldn’t happennow.’ He blinked and wiped something away from his eye, He coughed onceand continued. ‘Niall and I got together when we got back to Aus and fora 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 gotfed up waiting for me to sort my life out. He always wanted totransition, and he went ahead and started the process. I couldn’t copewith it and joined a private security outfit who didn’t ask too manyquestions about my background. Ironically, I was sent to Kabul and thenonto Bangkok. Of course, Niall was unwilling to compromise, and we splitup. I don’t blame him at all. He, or rather she, is Emma now. Doing welland having SRS this year.’I reached out and touched his arm, ‘I’m sorry Shane, I didn’t mean tomake 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 thelook on her face. ‘Don’t tell us, no taxi?’ She shook her head. ‘No taxiin this shitty town. We can get one in the morning from next town. Goodnews there is hotel, bad news they only have one room.’ Shane and Iburst out laughing and Nin looked puzzled. ‘Just when we thought itcouldn’t get any worse,’ I said.‘I guess that’s it then girls,’ said Shane, ‘I don’t think I snore, butif I do, I apologise in advance.’ We traipsed up to the hotel whichdidn’t look too bad, but I was prepared to put with pretty much anythingto have some rest after what we had gone through. The room they showedus was basic, but it had air-con and a clean looking bathroom. It hadone large double bed and a none too comfortable looking chair. Wedropped 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 scabbyhorse.’Nin looked alarmed. ‘He just means he’s very hungry,’ I said, and shelooked relieved. ‘There is restaurant down the street, I don’t know howgood.’ I realised I hadn’t eaten properly since breakfast and suddenly Iwas ravenous. We found the restaurant, and the food was good but veryfiery. Nin was in her element but Shane and I had to have some limecucumber raita to cool things down. A couple of Leo beers each roundedoff the meal. By the time we got back to the hotel we were all prettymuch spent. Shane reversed the chair and propped it up against the doorhandle. ‘Habit,’ he said as explanation.‘Nin, don’t you think you should just let your mother and father know weare OK, but might be a bit later now?’ I wanted Alex and Areeya to knowwe were OK, the details could wait until later. It was then that Irealised how much I missed them, and how much I wanted to be back withthem. Nin looked up from her phone with a grin. ‘My mother and fatherunderstand delay and hope we are well. Father says Scarlett should becareful.’‘Scarlett?’ Shane looked puzzled.‘My nickname,’ I said hurriedly, ‘no idea why.’Shane pulled some clothes from his pack, spread them on the floor, andput 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 Itook off my blouse and skirt and hung them, although they were lookingpretty crumpled by now. I decided to keep the bra on but put on a freshpair of knickers from my shoulder bag. I wrapped a towel around me andcame back into the bedroom. Someone had turned out the light, so I hadto feel my way in the dark and managed to kick Shane on the way to thebed. Nin was under the covers and already fast asleep so I slippedinside the sheet and said ‘Good night Shane and thank you for what youdid 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 Ijust lay there staring at the ceiling in the dim light. I wished thatAlex and Areeya were here, I wanted to hold them and to feel their warmbodies 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 forasking.’’That’s good.’ My throat was dry and I could barely say the words, ‘CanI 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 downthere, 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 adeep breath, checked that Nin was still asleep and slid off the bed ontothe floor. I pulled the towel closer around me and crawled over to whereShane lay. I found the edge of the sheet, reached out my hand in thedark 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 meslide in. I moved over and shuffled right up against him. He was layingon his back and I could feel his warmth through the towel I was wearingover my bra and knickers.‘You OK there Jamie?’ he said. I couldn’t see but I suspected he wassmiling 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 whatthe hell I was doing. I wanted to feel someone lying next to me, but wasit more than that? If it had been just that wouldn’t I have cuddledclose to Nin? Shane was a lovely guy and I owed him big time for whathad happened tonight, but what did I really feel about him? Aside froman adolescent crush on a school friend I had never been attracted to aman. I was in love with Alex, but surely that was something completelydifferent? With her, I had cast aside my British middle-classinhibitions about what was and wasn’t normal. Between Alex and Areeyaand Pao, I had done things which I would never have thought myselfcapable 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 wereany.Shane was gay, at least bi, and yet here I was, laying next to him, withhis arm d****d over me and feeling good about it. I knew he wasattracted to me, and there is always something exciting about findingout that someone likes and wants you. I had told him I was TG so none ofthis would be his fault. If anything happened it would be because Iwanted it to happen. So, what did I want to happen? Did I just want justto be held because I was tired and alone and scared? Or was I curiousabout what might happen? Was dressing as a woman for a couple of daysall it took to change my perspective so completely? I decided I wasoverthinking 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 Iwondered what he was thinking.I was lying facing him and I put out my hand onto his chest. It felt ashard as granite under my fingertips and he flinched a little at mytouch.‘Sorry,’ I whispered.‘No need, babe. I enjoyed it.’My fingers found a hard ridge of skin where it should be smooth. ‘Wasthat where you got shot?’ I asked as I followed the ridge across hischest. ‘Yeah, it was an ambush. I was lucky, the bullet caught me as I wasturning and it went straight across me. A few centimetres the other wayand 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 tothe fire base.’ ‘That’s where you met Niall?’‘Yep,’ he didn’t want to talk about it, that was clear. ‘Jamie, if youkeep 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 mighthave to do it back to you.’My fingers stopped, and I thought, this is it. I can stop and it’s allover, or I can go on and then I could never say I wasn’t warned. Myfingers started to move again, stroking Shane’s chest, he sighed androlled over towards me dr****g his arm over my hip and pulled me closertowards 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. Ihitched up my body, and the towel was pulled away leaving me in the braand knickers. His hand slid up my back and with the other he pushed backmy hair.‘You sure you want to do this, Jamie? It’s not too late to stop if youwant me to.’I say a word, just put my arm around his neck and pulled him towards meand his lips met mine. To be continued.

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