Trouble for Nathan
Nathan Deane reckoned life couldn't get much better. Since moving to Southwell from Canberra just six months ago he had met his best friend, Robbie White, and they had done so many amazing things together that it made Nathan's head swim just thinking about it.
Nathan and Robbie were now practically inseparable and because of this and the excellent work they did together some of the local people had started referring to them as the Super-Twins.
Nathan had learnt to drive cars and tractors and operate farm machinery. He and Robbie had built up their own car detailing business and were never short of Saturday work. They had also constructed the most incredible model railway, been hiking, bike-riding and boating, learned how to cook, enjoyed countless hours of reading and music together, arranged a holiday in Brisbane and joined a car club. The list seemed almost endless.
They had also trained together for long hours to keep fit and just today, Nathan, who had never considered himself to be any sort of athlete, had won both the eight hundred and fifteen hundred metres events for his age group at the school athletics carnival. It was a little sad, he thought, that Robbie, who really was a top athlete, hadn't been able to compete in the carnival due to recent surgery for a brain tumour. But Robbie didn't seem to mind and, with his remarkably rapid recovery, the future looked just as exciting as the past several months had been.
There was only one person, Nathan thought, who could spoil everything for the Super-Twins - and that was his father. Mr Deane had always been antagonistic towards their friendship and, in the early stages at least, had done his level best to break it up. He had never been able to find fault with Robbie but, for some unaccountable reason, was still suspicious of him. But it wasn't only Robbie that Mr Deane disapproved of - in fact he seemed to disapprove of virtually everything Nathan said or did. His most recent put-down had been his refusal to allow Nathan to accept the gift of a wonderful vintage Morris Minor car that his friend, Mr Johnson, had offered him.
It was the night after Robbie's sixteenth birthday and Nathan was recounting the highlights of the celebration to his parents over the dinner table. ''And on top of getting his Ls and some great presents,'' he said, ''he also heard from his music teacher that he got honours in his Musicianship exam.''
''Good news for him, indeed,'' said Mr Deane rather unenthusiastically. ''And, speaking of good news, I heard something rather exciting today, myself.''
''What was that, dear?'' his wife asked.
''You know that the church has been looking into the possibility of opening a Christian school in the area. Well, it seems it has finally received approval and building work will be starting within a month. Should be ready for the first intake of students at the beginning of next year. Of course, your name has been on the student list since day one, Nathan. ''
Nathan couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. ''You mean... You mean you want me to leave Springdale High and go to this... this new school,'' he blurted.
"Naturally,'' said Mr Deane. ''Next year will be your School Certificate year. Just imagine how beneficial it will be for you to be a in a small class with truly dedicated teachers and excellent, brand new facilities.
''Beneficial... beneficial! '' Nathan repeated angrily. ''You do realise, Dad, that I've just spent the last six months settling into a new school and now you want me to change again.''
''Oh it won't be so much of a change this time. It's not as if you'll be moving to another district. You'll know practically all the students already. All the young people in the church Youth Group will be there for a start. ''
''The Youth Group!'' said Nathan sarcastically. ''You didn't mention that it was a special school for juvenile delinquents.''
"That's quite enough of that sort of talk,'' said his mother, speaking for the first time. ''Your father and I are only trying to do what's best for you.''
"I'm sorry, Mum,'' said Nathan, ''but don't you think I should have some say in what's best for me, too? I'm doing really well at Springdale High but, quite apart from all that, there is no way I will ever agree to go to a different school to Robbie.''
''I'm afraid, my boy,'' said his father triumphantly, ''it's a little late to be worrying about that. Your name is already on list.''
''Well, you can just take my name off the list,'' said Nathan furiously. ''I'll be sixteen before the start of first term next year and if I can't go to the same school as Robbie I'll leave home and get a job.''
"Don't be ridiculous Nathan,'' said his father, ''you don't mean that.''
''Oh, really? You think I'm not serious,'' said Nathan through clenched teeth. ''Try me!''
''I think we've heard enough," said his father angrily. ''And if this little outburst is an example of what we can expect in the future, perhaps it would be better if you did leave home. Now, go to your room. We'll discuss this when you've calmed down."
"There's nothing to discuss," said Nathan quietly. "Either you let me stay on at Springdale High or I'm out of here."
His mother began to cry and Nathan's heart almost melted. But he managed to steel himself saying, "I'm sorry, Mum, but there's a simple solution to all this," and he stalked off to his room.
Nathan had never been sent to his room before. But, then, he had never really had an all-out fight with his parents before - although his father had pushed him to the limit on a number of previous occasions. "And there I was thinking what a great life I had," he thought to himself bitterly. "Should have known Dad would find some way to wreck it."
"And you really told them you'd leave home," said Robbie incredulously as Nathan poured out the story to him on the school bus next morning.
"Yeah - and I meant it, too. What else could I do? They're just not open to reason - especially Dad. I mean, I'm doing okay at Springdale aren't I?"
"Well, let's see," said Robbie. "Regional debating champion, best actor on play night, top of your year in English, history and geography, all-round nice guy according to students and teachers alike - you could be trying a bit harder, you know!"
Nathan grinned. Robbie's wry sense of humour could always cheer him up.
"Seriously, though," Robbie continued, "you know you can come and live with us if things get too bad."
"You reckon your Mum and Dad would really let me live with you?" Nathan asked.
"'Course they would. They think the sun shines out of you," Robbie replied. "But, hey, it won't come to that. It'll all blow over before next year. Your Dad usually sees sense eventually."
"I'm not so sure this time," Nathan replied. "He's really fired up. The sad thing is that in his own twisted way he actually thinks he's doing the right thing by me."
Despite his optimism and levity, Robbie was really fuming inside. He couldn't believe what a stupid man Mr Deane was. He had an absolute model son and couldn't see it. He really did need waking up!
"No matter what happens, it's not going to make any difference to us, though, is it?" Robbie said.
"You know, you're right," said Nathan grinning. "What does it matter so long as we're okay. I'm not even going to think about it anymore - but if I have to get tough, I will," he added darkly.
Not for the first time, Mr Deane got to hear about Nathan's latest achievements second-hand.
"I see that lad of yours has been starring again," his work colleague, Mike West, remarked at morning tea on Thursday.
Mr Deane gave him a blank look.
"You know," Mr West continued, "my daughter Janet says he blitzed the field in the middle-distance events at the school carnival."
"Oh, he never mentioned it," said Mr Deane, rather embarrassed.
"You amaze me, Arthur. Don't you ever talk to your son?" said Mr West incredulously. No one could ever accuse you of being over-proud, that's for sure."
"You never mentioned that you did well at the athletics carnival, yesterday," Mr Deane said to Nathan that night.
"Well, if you recall, Dad," said Nathan tersely, "I spent most of the evening in my room. Of course, if I hadn't gone to Springdale High I'd never have had the chance to do athletics as a sport or train with Robbie who just happens to be one of the fastest sprinters in the country. I don't imagine there are too many Christian schools that could offer me the opportunities I've had at Springdale."
Mr Deane looked angry but, somehow, he couldn't think of a rejoinder.
A weekend with a difference
"You know, he never even congratulated me," Nathan told Robbie as they were doing their regular detailing job on Saturday. "Never even said well done. I suppose I shouldn't have provoked him, but I've got to get through to him somehow."
"Has he said any more about you changing schools?" Robbie asked.
"Not a word."
"Then I think you're already getting through to him," Robbie said, "although a little reinforcement probably wouldn't hurt."
"What do you mean?" Nathan asked.
"Well, I reckon you should go and see Mr Stevens at school and tell him what your Dad's planning. You're one of his top students - there's no way that he'd want to lose you without a fight."
"You really think I should?" Nathan asked.
"'Course I do. Parent/teacher night is coming up next month. It would be good if all your teachers knew, as well," Robbie said. "And don't you think it's about time you rang your Gran and had a chat with her? You might just happen to mention that your entire education looks like being disrupted."
"I don't want you to get a swelled head, because I'm not going to make a habit of mentioning this," Nathan said, "but you really are a genius."
When they had finished their detailing job, they went off to visit their friend, Mr Johnson, to ask him to lunch the following day. He was delighted to see them and accepted the invitation enthusiastically.
"You'll be wanting to do some driving," he said to Robbie. "Would you like to take me to see my sister in Shell Bay after lunch on Sunday?"
"Great," said Robbie. "We'd love to, wouldn't we Nath?"
"Has your father said any more about the Morris Minor, Nathan?" Mr Johnson asked.
"No," said Nathan. "I think he's forgotten about that. He's far too engrossed in his latest plan to ruin my life."
"And what might that be?" Mr Johnson asked curiously.
Nathan explained all about the Christian school and the argument he had had with his parents. Mr Johnson couldn't help but smile when he heard what Nathan had said to his father.
"You certainly don't mince words, do you?" he said. "But surely your parents realise that you would never be happy going to a different school to Robbie."
"That's the whole thing, Mr Johnson," Nathan said bitterly, "you can see it, Robbie's parents can see it - but mine? No way!"
"Well, I'm very sorry to hear that, Nathan," said Mr Johnson sympathetically. "Perhaps it's time someone explained it to them. I can see how much it's upsetting you. I'm an old man and long past worrying about making a fool of myself: I might just pay your parents to visit in the near future."
"Excellent, Mr Johnson!" Robbie applauded.
"You'd really do that for me? Nathan said
"Of course," said Mr Johnson. "You're worth it aren't you?"
"Don't be so modest, Nath, Robbie said. "You know we're all behind you."
Nathan felt so much better and his self-confidence increased enormously. "Thanks Mr Johnson," he said. "I only hope my Mum and Dad will take notice of you."
Later, while they were having lunch back at the farm, Mr White said, "You boys can spread some hay for the cattle after lunch if you've got nothing else on. I suppose I'll have to think up a whole lot more jobs for you if Nathan is going to live with us full-time," he added with a wink.
"Robbie has told us about the problems you're having at home," Mrs White explained to Nathan. "It's rather awkward for us because we don't want to come between you and your parents. But you know you're always welcome here whenever and for as long as you like."
Nathan felt a lump in his throat. "Wow, thanks Mrs White, Mr White," he said. "I don't know what to say."
"You don't need to say anything, dear," Mrs White said. "You're like another son to us. Of course we hope you can sort out your problems and the last thing we want is for there to be any bad feeling with your mother and father; but we're here for you if you need us. Now, on a more pleasant topic, what are you boys cooking for Mr Johnson tomorrow?"
"We're cooking tomorrow!" said Robbie in mock horror. "You're such a slave-driver, Mum."
"Hmm... considering you'll be gallivanting off to Shell Bay straight after lunch and I'll be left with all the cleaning up, I reckon I'm more of a slave than a slave driver," Mrs White said.
"Okay, okay, we get the message," Robbie said. "I suppose we could force ourselves to sling something together even though it's very short notice."
Mrs White smiled. "Well, just so we don't overburden you too much," she said, "how about you do roast beef - which should be easy for you since you did a roast last week - and you can decide what desert you want to do, okay?"
"Come-on, Nath," said Robbie with a cheeky grin, "let's get out of here before they think up any more work for us."
They had spread hay for the cattle many times before and were quite expert at it, so they had the job done in very short order.
"This tractor is overdue for a service," said Nathan as they were putting the hay trailer back in the shed. Maybe we should do that this afternoon."
"You know, Nath," said Robbie, "I'm getting quite worried about you. You're becoming a real farm boy."
Nathan grinned. "I like to do things for your Mum and Dad," he said. "They're really good to me. You're so lucky..."
"Yeah, they're all right," said Robbie. "Let's get on with it then."
A Super-Twins service was much more than just a grease and oil change. Robbie and Nathan prided themselves on the quality and thoroughness of their work. Using the manufacturer's workshop manual, they had typed a checklist of all the things that needed to be done at each service interval and followed it meticulously. When that was done, they spent a couple more hours washing and polishing the paint-work and cleaning the cabin.
The satisfaction of doing a good job is its own reward, but it was a nice bonus to have Mr White say, "Well done, boys, it's great to have workmen who use their own initiative."
There was just time before dark for the boys to recommence their regular athletics training. Robbie was keen to gradually ease himself back into fitness while Nathan, buoyed by his successes at the recent athletics carnival, wanted to maintain the standard he had achieved.
"Take it easy, Rob," said Nathan "you know it's still not a month since your operation."
"Yeah, but I've got to get back into it as quickly as possible to stop you from stealing my crown," Robbie joked.
"Not much chance of that," said Nathan. "The only reason I won at the school carnival was because all the others were so out of condition."
"You always underestimate yourself, Nath," Robbie said. "Anyway I feel so good I'm going to try a hundred metres at full speed. Care to race me - usual handicap."
A life-threatening illness and a month with no training had taken its toll on Robbie. Nathan won the race by five metres and Robbie's time was over half a second slower than usual.
Probably still fast enough to beat anyone at school," Nathan said.
"But not for real competition," said Robbie. "I've got a long road back, Nath."
"I'll guarantee you'll be on form again within a month," said Nathan.
"Maybe," said Robbie sceptically.