Swedish backpacker Tommy arrives in Australia ready to start a new life.
|When Tommy meets Adam during a backpacking trip in Australia his life takes on a gradual but drastic change. Two very different worlds meet and in each other they find a potential life partner, one they didn't even know they were looking for. But the road ahead is a rocky one and the fight for a future together is full of challenges. Will they stay together to the end?
Chapter 1: The Arrival
Tommy placed his heavy backpack on the floor in front of the reception desk. The hostel was shabby, cheap and sticky hot, but it was all that he needed. The flight had been long and the jetlag was real. He saw the opera house and the top of the harbour bridge in passing as he walked from the train station to the hostel, but the landmarks would have to wait. He was never able to sleep on flights, not properly anyway. And if all went according to plan, he'd have plenty of time to explore the city in the coming months. Right now, he just wanted to rest.
The receptionist looked up and gave him a friendly hello. He had half expected a cheeky "G'day mate", but realised it was probably a bit cliche. She was beautiful, had long brown hair and a crystal white smile to die for. He didn't notice though and hardly looked up when he handed her his passport, already opened to the photo page. He hated that photo. His blond hair was longer back then, covering the ears, and his blue eyes and nose looked a lot bigger than in real life.
"You're staying for three nights I see?" she said half asking, half stating.
"Mm. I might extend that later if that's possible, not sure yet."
"It should be, we're not full. Just come to reception whenever you want." The teeth could light up a room. "Have you been to Sydney before?"
"No, first time," Tommy said with his eyes down on the desk.
She typed away on the computer. "Are you just staying in Sydney or are you doing the full Australia backpacking experience? The Gold Coast is amazing. You have to see the Gold Coast!"
"I might, in a couple of months. I've done a few months in Asia already, now I'm here to find a job and save up. I haven't decided where to go after that."
"Well, life's full of surprises. Who knows, maybe you'll stay forever." She laughed loudly. Tommy gave her a polite smile.
"I actually promised my grandmother I wouldn't. Her biggest fear is that I meet someone here and that she can't make the wedding."
"Well, Sweden is kind of far," the girl said and leaned on the counter holding the passport and a key. "If you do meet someone, make sure you get married back home, for your grandmother's sake."
"I don't think my partners' grandmother would be too thrilled about that," Tommy joked.
"Don't worry, I don't have one," she grinned and pointed down a hallway. "Your dorm is through there, first door on the left, bed number 6. I gave you a bottom bunk. Sheets are already on it."
"Thanks!" Tommy grabbed his backpack and went straight to bed. It was ten thirty in the morning and he passed out in seconds.
Tommy woke up to the sound of two people talking, a boy and a girl who seemed to have the adjacent beds in the corner of the room. They were in their 20's, she looked Asian while he spoke with a German accent.
Tommy grabbed his phone and opened the wifi settings. A strong signal. "Hello," he said to the boy and the girl. "You wouldn't happen to know the wifi password?"
"It's the name of the hostel," the girl said and smiled.
"Thanks!" Tommy replied and leaned back down on the bed.
It was one in the afternoon. Tommy browsed a map to get his bearings and plan where to go for the evening. His idea was to apply for a reception job in a hostel or hotel, though certainly not this one. He preferred something bigger and busier, something that would keep him challenged. He had chosen this hostel to stay at based on price entirely, not reviews.
The wifi suddenly died and Tommy sighed. He tried to log back on but it was gone. So were the boy and the girl.
Tommy got up and packed his day bag, a smaller backpack to fit his laptop, charger and a bottle of water. Perfect timing to go somewhere more comfortable, where he could spread out and look for jobs and a place to live for the next six months. His visa allowed for temporary jobs of up to six months as a way of financing further travels.
The girl behind the reception desk was on her phone. She heard him coming and quickly stood up. "Hey," she said. "You okay?"
"Yeah, the wifi went down," Tommy said.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I'll restart it for you to see if that helps."
"I'm going out anyway," Tommy smiled. "Do you know any good coffee shops around here, somewhere I can spread out for a bit and that serves food?"
"There's one just around the corner," said the girl. "They have a food menu, and great cinnamon buns. Try them!"
"Thanks, will do." Tommy walked out the door and disappeared like a silhouette into the bright sun outside.
Tommy scrolled through the ads on an accommodation site. There certainly wasn't a lack of choices. There were two in particular that he was fond of. The first was a family of five in Waverly, towards Bondi Beach, who had a secluded guest house in their back yard. The second was a man and his brother in Lilyfields to the west of downtown Sydney, who had a single bedroom that wasn't being used and which was close to the light rail line. They were both low-budget but had everything that Tommy was looking for: a bed, a decent location with good public transport connections, and basic facilities like laundry, a kitchen and wifi. In both cases all bills were included in the rent.
He replied to both of them to schedule viewings, leaned back in the coffee shop chair that he was occupying and stretched his arms high in the air. The jetlag was still taking its toll. The Philippines, where he'd spent the past two months, was only yesterday but felt like forever ago. He took out his phone and browsed some pictures, thinking back on the memories he'd made.
What if he were to meet someone and could stay with them for a few days, until he found his own place, to get away from the hostel life? He'd grown tied of it. Before the Philippines there was Thailand, before that there was China and Vietnam. It had also been a few weeks since he said goodbye to a group of travellers he met in Vietnam, and who joined him for Island-hopping in the Philippines. He had been alone since then.
He opened a dating app on his phone. Sydney was a busy city with lots of people, and sure enough, there was no shortage of singles around. The closest one was 75 meters away, then 143, then several people between 200 and 300 meters from the coffee shop. He scrolled through the profile pictures, not really sure what he was looking for. He opened a few, read their profiles, but found nothing of interest. He put the phone away, took a bite of his sandwich — he was saving the cinnamon bun for desert — and checked for replies on the viewings for the rooms. Nothing. He spent the next hour writing a journal, something he'd done almost daily on his trip.
The view from the harbour was just as stunning as he'd imagined. The opera house was bigger than he'd thought, enhanced by the open area surrounding it and the large staircase leading up to it. The skyline of downtown Sydney was beginning to light up behind him as evening slowly descended on it like an invisible cloth. The harbour bridge was in plain view and a large cruise ship was just undocking to head to new destinations. There was a lot of people around him and a lot of noise, but he found it oddly peaceful as he leaned on a railing and admired the view. The ship moved slowly, passengers strolling around on deck and waving down at the people in the harbour. He already knew that he would like it here, he could sense it.
Back at the hostel the room was busier than before, with nearly all of the ten bunk beds occupied. Some people were sleeping, others were going through their luggage and whispering to each other as to not disturb anyone. Tommy had seen it all in hostel dorms and right now everyone seemed oddly respectful.
He wasn't tired. He lay on his bed and kicked the blanket to the side as it was way too hot to sleep with one. The wifi was back up and there was a message on the dating app. An Asian man, Adam, 32 years old which with a bit higher than what Tommy would usually go for, but he had a good body. The profile picture didn't show his face, but his posture was steady and confident.
"Hello," was all the message read.
Tommy replied, half out of boredom: "Hello. How are you?"
"I'm good thanks! You?"
"I'm good too."
Not really an inviting reply, but he wasn't in a mood for chatting. He knew he wouldn't be able to fall asleep though even if he tried.
"Up to much?"
"Not really. Laying on my hostel bed, trying to decide whether to go to sleep or go out for a midnight walk."
"A tourist? Come over."
Tommy hesitated for a moment. He was laying on his back, the phone in one hand and an arm behind his head. He let his hand and the phone rest on his stomach while he stared at the bed above him. It squeaked as whoever was in it rolled to the other side.
"Got any more pictures?" Tommy replied.
Adam sent two, both revealing a handsome face, short pitch black hair and a pair of large, black rimmed glassed. He had a nice smile. In one of the photos he was wearing a dark suit, in the other he was in a t-shirt and shorts at some beach. He was cute.
"Alright," Tommy replied. "Where do we meet?"
The apartment was only a few streets away from the hostel. Tommy waited for a green light and crossed a large but sleepy road while reading the street signs looking for Crown St. He had taken a screenshot of a map and was looking for the address that Adam had sent him. He had been told to wait outside as they'd have to pass a reception desk to get upstairs. The area looked nice, a quiet residential area just a few hundred meters from Hyde Park, right in the heart of Sydney. He turned a corner and a tall, fancy-looking apartment building with a well-lit reception entrance and a fenced property presented itself. It must be at least thirty stories high, Tommy thought. The balconies were all curved, like waves moving slowly in a breeze.
A man was standing outside leaning against a wall. Tommy recognised him immediately by the glasses, but then again the street was dead quiet so why else would a man be lingering on the footpath like that? He didn't know what to expect but knew that he could always leave if it didn't feel right.
Adam pushed himself away from the wall and started walking towards Tommy. They smiled as they made eye contact, and Tommy said hello.
"Hello," Adam said with confidence, confirming that he was the one. They hugged.
"You live here?" Tommy asked and looked up at the tall building.
"Yes I do," Adam said. "I know it's a bit much, but it's a nice place."
"Penthouse?" Tommy smiled.
"Hah, no, the 25th floor," Adam replied.
Tommy did his best to look convincing as they walked through the lobby towards the lifts. Adam greeted the well-dressed receptionist in passing. The receptionist pretended to be busy as he watched them press the button and wait for the lift to descend.
"So how long have you lived here?" Tommy asked to make conversation.
"A few years. I work in a hospital near central. It's walking distance, that's why I chose it."
"Really? What do you do to be able to afford this?"
"I'm a surgeon."
"Cool. What kind of surgeon?"
"General surgery. It's basically from the chest to the torso."
The ride up was smooth. Adam looked even better in real life and could easily pass for several years younger. He was wearing a plain white t-shirt tucked into a pair of jeans. White tennis shoes, no socks. His voice was squeaky but not to the point where it was annoying, and this surprised Tommy as he, perhaps unfairly, hated the stereotypical gay act that so many he had met seemed to put on. Tommy was even proud of the fact that people were often surprised to learn about his sexuality. It made things easier, somehow.
"Holy shit!" Tommy exclaimed as they walked through the apartment door. He was greeted by a long corridor with a vast, open living room and kitchen to the left. The room seemed to lacked a wall on two sides and instead had windows all the way around, and sliding glass doors leading out to the curved balcony. The light in the room was dimmed which made the city lights in the distance all the clearer. Closest to the door was a heavy-set oak dining room table that could easily seat ten people. Further in there was a kitchen island with a black marble top, white cupboards and more windows, facing away from the city centre. In the corner, closest to the balcony door, there was a seating area with a spacious sofa, a glass coffee table and two black leather chairs. Tommy took off his shoes and immediately headed for the balcony.
"Can I check out the view?" he asked.
"Sure," Adam replied. The sliding door was already open with a cool breeze entering the apartment.
Tommy leaned out at the edge of the balcony. To the left was Hyde Park, an almost black hole at this hour surrounded by a sea of light. Tommy had reacted to the name when he researched Sydney prior to his arrival because of the park with the same name in London, a city he lived and worked in for a few years before his backpacking adventure. Just behind the park there was the city skyline with the iconic round Sydney Tower at the center, a mere five minutes walk away. The apartment building was in the outskirts of the glass and concrete jungle that was downtown Sydney, with a perfect view of the cathedral that towered at the north-east corner of the park.
Straight ahead was the opera house, clearly visible from this vantage point, just behind the Royal Botanic Gardens. Slightly to the left of that was the harbour bridge. The lights of a train raised up on a bridge pierced through a residential area far below, headed towards Circular Quay, the local train station near the opera house.
Tommy looked straight down. A few cars on the street he had been crossing moments earlier seemed to move at a slow pace from up here. There was also a community pool with a sole person swimming in it, identified as a small silhouette moving at a snail's pace against a bright green backdrop created by the underwater lights.
"That building to the right of the pool is a gym," Adam said and pointed down onto the rooftop of an extension of the apartment building. "Residents only. And if you look far to the right to where the city lights end, that's the ocean and Bondi Beach. You can see it better from the kitchen window."
"Wow, this is amazing!" Tommy said.
"I know, right?" Adam said with a big smile. "It's pretty comfortable."
"So, what do you want to do?" Tommy asked as he turned his back on the view and leaned on the balcony railing.
"I don't know, what do you want to do?" Adam countered, both clearly having thoughts but neither wanting to make the first move. "I have a bottle of wine if you'd like some."
"That would be nice," Tommy said.
"Red or white?"
Adam grabbed a bottle that was neatly placed on a wine rack on the kitchen counter and took a cork screw from a drawer. They sat down with a glass each in two sun chairs on the balcony, admiring the view while chatting casually. It felt nice, to both of them.
"You haven't shown me the bedroom yet," Tommy finally said to move things along in the direction they both knew they were headed.
"Alright," Adam said with a smile and got up, his half-empty glass still in hand. "It's this way."
They walked through the kitchen and living room back into the hallway, and turned left away from the front door. There were three doors at the other end.
"We have two bathrooms, one is straight ahead and one can only be entered through my bedroom. This door is to my house mates room," he said and pointed on the one to the left. "And this is me."
He opened the door on the right. The room was as dimly lit as the rest as the apartment, though messier with clothes thrown on a chair in the corner and the sheets on the queen sized bed undone. There was a large wall-to-wall window with a view in the same direction as the kitchen window. The bathroom door was open with the lights on and Tommy peaked inside. A shower, bathtub, toilet and large sink. Laundry was hanging over the bath tub.
"It's a bit messy, sorry about that," Adam said.
"I don't mind," Tommy replied. "Your place is really nice."
He put his wine glass on the bedside table. "Where's your house mate?"
"He's on a business trip. He'll be back tomorrow. We have an agreement never to bring people over when the other is home. We're actually friends and go way back so living together works. He pays rent for the other room."
"How did you meet?"
"At medical school. I'm from New Zealand but came to Sydney to study."
"Cool." Tommy looked around the room, then turned to Adam and moved closer to him. He grabbed Adam's glass and put it down on the bedside table next to his own, then went in for the kiss.
At one thirty in the morning Adam came out of the bathroom wearing only a pair of black boxer shorts. He leaned on the door frame and crossed his arms, observing Tommy who was lying under the covers on the bed.
"I'm so sorry I have to kick you out like this, but my housemate is coming back in the morning."
"That's okay," Tommy said with a big smile. "Thanks for inviting me over, I really needed the company."
He got up and got dressed. They kissed goodbye at the front door and Tommy assured Adam that he knew how to find his way out. Adam asked him to walk quickly past the receptionist as to not raise any suspicions. Back at the hostel, Tommy fell asleep almost immediately.
The sun was burning in mid January when summer was at its peak in Australia. Tommy was cool and comfortable, seated in the same spot in the coffee shop as the night before. A man was working at the counter, serving the only other customer who was in. Everyone else was either at work or out enjoying the weather.
Both the woman with the family of five and the man with the brother had replied to Tommy's messages. He scheduled viewings with both of them, one for two o'clock and one for a quarter past four. He was currently browsing job ads and had found three that he liked. One was in a four star business hotel just across the bridge, one was in a small hostel not unlike the one he was staying at, and the third was at The Maze, a large hostel with over five hundred beds very close to the central train station, just south of Hyde Park. The business hotel could fit in an interview in half an hour. Tommy could just make it before the two o'clock house viewing.
He agreed to the meeting and finished his lunch rapidly. It took him twenty minutes to walk to the bridge, and another five minutes to cross it and find the hotel. It was small but looked nice. He introduced himself to the receptionist who was dressed in a bright green uniform and was asked to take a seat. The manager was running late and arrived twenty minutes past the agreed time, but Tommy brushed it away when the manager apologised for the wait. The interview lasted only fifteen minutes, both of them in a hurry to be somewhere else. His rushed attitude made Tommy feel like this wasn't going his way, though he still had his hopes up.
Tommy jogged to the nearest train station and took the train back across the bridge. It was only one stop before he got off at central. From there, he switched to the light rail line heading west. In the city centre the line was like a tram line, turning left on the street immediately after exiting the train station, driving past China town and continuing past the Harbour Side shopping centre before finally turning into a separate light rail system with the tracks disconnected from the roads. He enjoyed the cool air-conditioning, still sticky from the jog.
Lilyfield was a quiet station in a residential area with a park just before the stop, and quiet little streets with cute houses on a slightly hilly landscape. Only one other person got off before the train continued further into the suburbs. Tommy walked up a set of stairs to the main road and looked at the screenshot he had taken of the map. He crossed the bridge under which the train went, turned left onto Lilyfield Road and found the side street that he was looking for on his right. His destination was number 18 Trevor Street. He was only five minutes late.
The small brick houses all looked idyllic as they lined the road like a set of stairs going up a light slope. Little picket fences surrounded several of the small yards. Number 18 had a curved path leading up from the road to the stairs beneath the door. It was old and worn, but looked cosy and inviting.
Tommy knocked on the door. Patrick opened and introduced himself as the one who had posted the ad. He was in his thirties, very skinny with frizzy hair, glasses, a black t-shirt and jeans. He invited Tommy inside and showed him around.
The house was small with a living room at the heart of the building containing a sofa, a small wooden table and a TV set. The floor had a grey wall-to-wall carpet. The bathroom was right by the living room, featuring a dirty bathtub that was also the shower, a toilet with a broken seat and a mirror and sink with rust and stains here and there. To the left of the entrance, before the living room, there were two bedrooms. One was a larger room that belonged to Patrick himself — strictly off limits, he said — and the other was the one he wanted to rent out. It was fairly spacious with a large bed taking up most of it, a desk and a chair which was important to Tommy, and a tall mirror standing on the floor leaning against the wall. There was a window opposite the door facing the brick wall of the adjacent house.
Past the living room there was a third bedroom, the smallest in the house. Patrick explained that it was occupied by his brother and his wife, who lived elsewhere but who usually came over during the weekends or when the brother was working in the area. His name was Peter, a plumber and the older of the two. The brothers, as well as the wife, were Irish but had been living in Australia for the past ten years.
The kitchen was tiny and as worn and dirty as the bathroom, though the dishes were clean and neatly stacked to try next to the sink. Despite the quality of the place Patrick seemed to be a clean, decent guy who cared about keeping things tidy, something Tommy valued and which was another important checkmark on the list.
Finally, through the kitchen there was a door with an insect net leading out toward the back yard. The yard wasn't big, but it had some grass, a barbecue, a table and several plastic chairs. There was shed in one corner and several unkept bushes against a tall wooden fence secluding the yard nicely from the surrounding houses. A couple of toys were scattered on the lawn.
"My brother's son," Patrick explained. "He's 11 but I swear, that kid is all over the place."
The rent was just within Tommy's budget. Patrick seemed pleased with Tommy and wanted to come to an agreement then and there. Tommy thought for a second, then decided to go for it. The siblings sounded like nice people and it would feel good to live with someone rather than to stay in a house separated from the family. He informed Patrick about his other viewing but said he would cancel it. They agreed on a time the following day when Tommy could bring his stuff and get a key.