17 July 2011

Chapter 1

They say when you're dying, things go dark and then you see a light appear at the end of that darkness; the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. For me, dying was simply surreal; a moment frozen in time that had no meaning or substance. As the burning sensation in my lungs escalated from an uncomfortable ache to insufferable agony, a tidal wave of emptiness washed over me. My mind cleared, my body numbed and there was nothing, except those cold dark eyes staring right back into mine. There was no flashback of memories; no final thought of loved ones; nothing. I simply shut down and began to calmly slip away.

You see, sometimes, the good guy doesn't win. The hero can't rescue the helpless, and the underdog loses the game. I think it's for that simple, hard fact that I've always preferred British shows over American. They're full of ordinary people put in extraordinary situations, and they don't always win. For the most part in American shows, they're full of beautiful people and you know the good guys will win and the children will be safe. Ha!

The biggest irony of my kidnapping was that it was my dad's greatest fear for me but when it happened, I wasn't the intended victim. How's that for a kick in the proverbials?

I was named after my great great grandfather, Harry Tomley, whose entrepreneurial brilliance turned our regular family into one with great wealth. With healthy investments and good business sense, the money he accumulated grew through the generations, so I found myself as an only child with the entire north wing of our house to myself.

The house is two stories, built in a U shape. I lived alone in the north wing, with my own guest bedrooms, lounge, games room, gym and such. My folks still take up both floors of the south wing, and the front western wing is the communal area for meals, family time and more formal entertaining.

I'd be lying if I didn't say it was a comfortable life. I had it pretty easy, all things considered, although I tried my best to be "normal": I volunteered, I went to the football, I borrowed books from the library, and loved just dagging about the house in my track pants and old sweaters.

Running a big consortium of developers, my dad suddenly became worried I'd be kidnapped or targeted in some way. He never said why, but the next thing I knew I had plain clothed minders following me everywhere. In fairness, they were discrete but it's a bit hard getting it on with another guy in the dark corners of a nightclub when you know at least three pairs of eyes are watching you nearby!

I insisted on staging a few arguments and grumpy comments about dad's paranoia but in reality, if it meant giving him some peace of mind in his stressful life, it was the least I could do to put up with a security detail following me around. Surprisingly, it was mum that came up with the solution - why not hire me a full time bodyguard/companion - someone who could protect me but be by my side like a best friend. It made sense. Given our wealth, my friends were cautiously selected and consequently far and few between. Even fewer knew where and how I lived, so any kind of personal bodyguard would have to be someone who could also pass as a friend.

And so an arduous selection process began and two months later I was presented with a shortlist of three guys to choose from. I spent a day with each and they were all competent, streetwise gym junkies with fun personalities, but only one grabbed my full attention immediately. To say he was hot, was an understatement, but more importantly, we clicked the moment we shook hands.

Josh was a few years older than me but didn't look any older than my 24 years. Standing only a few inches taller than me, his big smile and perfect teeth topped a tanned, solid body that was perfectly proportioned behind his body hugging t-shirt and arse hugging jeans.

"So you know this is a live-in position, right?" I asked as we sat drinking coffee at a beachside cafe. "With your looks you could be a model. You must have girls falling at your feet. Why would you want to give all that up and be on 24-hour call for someone else?"

Josh laughed gently and his blue eyes twinkled with amusement.

"You don't know how many times I've been asked that question through this process," he chuckled, not the least bit bitter. "The fact is, when my folks died, I packed up and became a nomad. I don't have any relatives, and the friends I had just made it all the more harder to deal with the loss. No fault of their own, of course. They were just trying to help. But I wasn't ready to deal with being alone in the world when I was barely out of my teens. So I hitched a ride out of town and never looked back."

"Wow." It wasn't much of a response but I couldn't think of anything else to say.

"So I've been traveling around the country, getting odd jobs to feed and clothe myself. I've got no ties and no roots any more. Over the years I've lost touch with the people I knew back then. I'm a clean slate."

"So is this another odd job for you?"

He laughed again. I liked the way he enjoyed my frankness and took it without offense. I suspected my frankness was a trait he probably possessed himself given the openness of his answers.

"That's a fair enough question. But no - at least, that's not my intention. I think I'm ready to settle down again now. I've had enough being displaced. I'm starting to crave more stability in my life. This job is the perfect opportunity. I get an instant family - of sorts - and a place to live... all my expenses are covered so my wage goes straight into the bank...it's a fresh start for me while giving me focus in life and someone to care for again."

It was that last statement that struck me most: "Someone to care for." None of the others had been so personal in their answers. Josh didn't just want a job and home, he wanted to care about them too.

"What about you, Harry?" he asked. "How do you feel about having a faux companion hanging around all the time?"

Again, how do I feel, not what do I think. It was an interesting choice of words. I told him my thoughts and that led us onto a more general conversation about family bonds, travel, sports, and our mutual closeted claim to sci-fi geekdom. By the end of the day, I was sold.

"I hope we become friends," I said with all sincerity.

"So do I," he replied and I could see he meant it just as much as I did.

Josh moved in a few days later to begin a three month trial. He took up quarters a few rooms down from mine, giving enough space for privacy but keeping him close enough if I needed him. In reality though, his time was more or less his own at home. It was only when I left the estate that he was expected to drop everything and accompany me.

We didn't know it at the time, but his arrival signaled the beginning of the end for life as we both knew it. The wheels had been set in motion for the most unexpected, painful and fantastic twists of fate, and they waited just around the corner...

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