RENEGADES & OUTLAWS
By Pink Panther
All the usual disclaimers apply.
Tommy has escaped the clutches of the evil social worker, but the situation is a long way from being resolved. How will it pan out? Read on and discover! Feedback will be as welcome as it always is. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll reply as soon as I can.
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX
Saturday was sunny and quite warm for late March. Tommy sat nervously in reception, waiting for Josh to arrive. Although he’d been to the house lots of times, spending several hours with Josh and his parents was a daunting prospect. For one thing, he’d never even met Josh’s dad. Suppose they didn’t get on?
Just before quarter past twelve, a dark blue Lexus pulled onto the drive. It was them. He went outside. The car drew to a halt. He strode across. Josh was sitting in the front next to his dad. Tommy got in behind him.
“Hi Tommy!” Chris said, turning round and smiling. “Pleased to meet you at last!”
“Hi, Mr. Banham,” Tommy responded hesitantly. “Thanks for inviting me.”
He sank back into the soft leather seat. That was the first hurdle overcome; the man certainly seemed friendly enough. Within a few minutes they reached the house and piled out of the car.
“Go and wash your hands,” Chris instructed. “Your mum will have lunch ready.”
Their ablutions completed, the boys strolled into the kitchen where a small buffet lunch was set out.
“Just take what you want and bring it through to the lounge,” Josh said casually.
Tommy followed Josh’s lead, selecting a chicken leg and two slices of pork pie.
“The rice salad’s really good,” Josh encouraged, spooning some onto his plate.
Tommy took a large spoonful and followed Josh into the lounge room. They flopped down on the sofa. Josh flicked on the television.
“What d’you want to watch?” he asked.
“Football Focus okay?” Tommy asked.
Josh selected BBC1. Tommy watched intently as they showed clips from recent matches, and listened to the pundits discussing them.
“Josh told me you’re a keen footballer,” Chris said, taking his seat in one of the armchairs while Kate sat in the other.
“Yeah,” Tommy acknowledged, grinning nervously.
“So what position d’you play?” Chris asked.
“Central defence,” Tommy told him.
“Football was never really my game,” Chris said. “I enjoy watching it though. Any news on when you’ll be able to play again?”
“Not really,” Tommy said. “I can run around, no problem, but it’s my ribs. They feel okay, but I can’t risk getting them knocked.”
“I guess you’re going to have to be patient then,” Chris said smiling. “D’you play cricket at all?”
“A bit,” Tommy said quietly. “I’ve never played properly though.”
“Help yourself to some more if you’re still hungry,” Kate interrupted, looking at Tommy’s empty plate.
Tommy hesitated, looking uncomfortable; he didn’t want to appear greedy.
“Come on,” Josh said, standing up and leading the way to the kitchen.
“Have as much as you like,” he said casually, selecting a couple more items. “You should see Ryan when he’s here. His mum calls him the human dustbin.”
“Thanks,” Tommy said quietly, helping himself to the last chicken leg and another piece of pork pie.
“Take some fruit for afters if you want,” Josh instructed. “I’m having an apple.”
Tommy selected a banana and followed him back to the lounge room.
“D’you fancy hitting a few balls afterwards?” Chris suggested. “It’s a great day out there. Don’t worry, I’ll only bowl slow.”
“Don’t you get him doing anything he’s not supposed to,” Kate cautioned.
“Oh, I’ll be fine doing that,” Tommy said, smiling.
Twenty minutes later, Chris and the two boys trooped out into the back garden carrying a cricket bat and cricket ball.
“You can help retrieving the ball,” Chris whispered in Josh’s ear.
Josh grinned and nodded; as long as he was involved, he didn’t much mind what he did.
“The lawn’s about twenty yards,” Chris said, “so it’s just about long enough to bowl over-arm.”
He made his way to the far end while Tommy got into his batting stance at the end closest to the house.
“Left-handed, huh?” Chris commented.
“Only for batting,” Tommy said.
Chris bowled to him. Tommy hit it powerfully, the ball thudding into the side fence. Josh scampered across to collect it, tossing it back to his dad.
“A good strike,” Chris commented, “but you hit right across the line. That should have gone through mid-off, past my right hand. Let me show you.”
He strolled down to where Tommy was standing. He took the bat.
“Foot out to the pitch of the ball, which you did,” he said, lifting the bat. “Then hit straight through the line of the ball,” he continued, bring the bat down in a swinging arc. “Lead with your right elbow and control the bat with your right hand. Now you try.”
Tommy rehearsed the shot several times, first with Chris guiding his arms, then on his own.
“Okay, let’s give it a try,” Chris urged.
He retreated to the far end of the lawn and bowled again, replicating his first delivery almost exactly. This time Tommy struck it in exactly the way Chris had showed him, the ball skimming smoothly across the turf and into the bushes beyond.
“Excellent!” Chris called. “We’ll try it again. This time, just at the point of impact, use your left hand to punch through it.”
Josh tossed him the ball. Chris bowled again. Tommy struck it beautifully, the ball fizzing across the grass a yard to Chris’s right and slamming into the wall at the end of the garden.
“Great shot!” Chris congratulated. “A classic off-drive; well done!”
They continued playing for almost two hours, with Chris teaching Tommy a whole range of shots, and Tommy hanging on his every word. Very briefly, Kate watched from the lounge window. She had mixed feelings. In one way, it was great to see Chris out in the garden playing with the boys; it was something he hadn’t done for years. Even Josh seemed to be enjoying himself. But for all that she was uneasy. She would never have said it, but she knew; in many ways Tommy was just the sort of son that Chris had always wanted.
Finally they made their way back indoors, heading into the kitchen where they helped themselves to cold drinks.
“I’m going to have a shower,” Josh announced. “I’m all sweaty.”
He padded off into the hall and up the stairs.
“Have a seat,” Chris said, indicating the large kitchen table.
They sat down, facing each other across the table.
“It seems that you and Josh have become very close friends,” Chris began.
“Yeah,” Tommy agreed. “Josh is the best kid I ever met; he’s helped me so much.”
“And we’re very happy for your friendship to continue,” Chris said quietly, “but as I’m sure Josh will have told you, Mrs. Banham and I know what was happening. And as I’m sure you also know, we are very concerned about it and we’ve said that you and Josh are not to have sex again.”
“So are you willing to live with that?” Chris asked.
“Dunno,” Tommy said, squirming awkwardly in his seat. “I guess we’ll have to, won’t we?”
“Hmmm, I see,” Chris said thoughtfully. “Josh tells me you want to be a teacher.”
“Yeah,” Chris said, smiling. “Maths and games.”
“That’s going to take a lot of work on your part,” Chris suggested.
“Yeah, that’s why being with Josh is so important,” Tommy responded. “He keeps me going, even when things are bad at home.”
“Well, I understand that you may well be back home in the next week or so,” Chris offered.
“I hope so!” Tommy said, grinning.
“I’m not sure if this would be possible,” Chris said cautiously, “but suppose you were able to stay here for a bit. How would you feel about that?”
“I couldn’t do it,” Tommy said, shaking his head. “I’m grateful that you’d even think about it, but as long as Daniel’s in the children’s home, I need to be there too to make sure none of the bigger kids are picking on him.”
“Fair enough,” Chris said. “I can’t argue with that.”
“I just want to get home so we can be a family again,” Tommy went on. “I know my mum’s not always got it right, but she does her best. She’s always worked. We’ve always been fed, always had school clothes and playin’ out clothes, even if it was cheap stuff.”
“I see,” Chris said. “So what does she do?”
“She’s an office cleaner,” Tommy said. “I know it’s not much, but at least she tries.”
“So who does she work for?” Chris asked casually.
“Olympic Cleaning Services,” Tommy told him.
“Oh,” Chris said absently. “So would you be interested in coming to the cricket club in the summer?”
“I could,” Tommy said, “but I haven’t got any cricket stuff.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Chris reassured him. “We can sort that out.”
“Thanks,” Tommy said warmly.
“Great,” Chris responded. “I’ll take that as a yes. You’re a talented young man and you seem prepared to put the work in. That’ll do for me. And if there is any other way we can help you, make sure you ask.”
“Actually, there might be,” Tommy said, squirming awkwardly in his seat. “I know Josh says I can keep coming here to do my homework, but we’re getting more homework this year and it’s getting difficult; it’s not fair on him. I was thinking, now that Kevin’s gone, there’d be space in my room to put a desk in there, maybe even a computer, so I could work at home. Daniel could use them too. I don’t know how to say this, but I do have some money, you know, from what I was doing. I spent some of it on clothes, but I saved quite a bit. I’ve got it hidden away at home. Would you be able to come to the shop with me so we could sort out what I need?
“How much money are we talking about?” Chris enquired.
“About six hundred pounds,” Tommy said sheepishly.
“Well, that should be plenty,” Chris said guardedly, “I’m sure we can work something out, as long as your mum agrees.”
“She’d have to know then?” Tommy asked.
“I’m afraid so,” Chris said quietly, “but don’t worry; I think investing the money in your education is an excellent idea. I’m sure we can sort it out somehow. Of course, I would like your assurance that you won’t be doing anything like that in the future.”
“There’s no way I’d do that again,” Tommy said vehemently. “I never wanted to do it in the first place. I was only going to do it the once, but it was easy money and the guy was nice to me, so I sort of got . . . you know, sucked in, yeah?”
“I understand,” Chris said, nodding. “It’s easy enough to see how it happened. And thanks for being so honest with me. Now there is one other thing I’d like to talk to you about. You know Jeremy Green, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Tommy acknowledged.
“I know Jeremy through the cricket club; good little batsman. I understand from his father that there was an incident at a football match a couple of years back after Jeremy got hacked down. Would you like to tell me what happened?”
Tommy blushed bright red. With great difficulty he stumbled through what had occurred.
“When the kid spat in my face I totally lost it,” he concluded, not even looking at Chris. “They had to pull me off him.”
“You know if you do something like that when you’re older you could lose everything you’ve worked for?” Chris asked gently.
“Yeah,” Tommy admitted. “That’s what happened to my dad.”
“Really?” Chris asked.
“It was when mum and dad were goin’ out. I think they were eighteen. He was doin’ okay; apprentice toolmaker, I think. But one night they went to a club and there was this guy there kept hittin’ on mum, wouldn’t leave her alone. Dad told him to stop it, but the guy just gave him a mouthful, so dad battered him, put him in hospital, yeah? Well dad went to prison and lost his job. When he came out, nobody would employ him. Well, he’d met some people while he was inside, yeah? So that was how he started, you know, doin’ robberies and stuff. It worries me. I don’t want to end up like that.”
Chris stood up, popping his head into the lounge.
“Kate, can we borrow you for a minute?” he asked.
A moment later, Kate came to join them.
“Now tell Mrs. Banham what you just told me,” Chris requested.
Tommy repeated the story.
“Well,” Kate said. “I think you’ve shown a lot of courage, telling us that. You really need to speak to Freda. She’ll be able to help you.”
“I was worried that if I said anything to her she might want to keep me in care,” Tommy said.
“Oh no,” Kate said reassuringly, “quite the reverse in fact. She’ll be very impressed that you know you have a problem and want to deal with it. I could speak to her for you, but it would be much better if you did it yourself.”
“Thanks!” Tommy said, “I’ll do that.”
A minute later, a freshly washed Josh appeared.
“Why are you all sitting around here?” he asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
“We were just having a chat,” Chris said, giving nothing away. Now you and Tommy scoot off for a bit; your mum and I need to talk.”
“Come on,” Tommy said, smiling. “You can play something for me.”
They headed off to the music room. Chris and Kate strolled into the lounge, sitting next to each other on the sofa.
“You really like Tommy, don’t you?” Kate suggested.
“You saw us out there,” Chris said. “It’s not that he’s talented, though he clearly is, but he’s so eager to learn, and he couldn’t stop thanking me for helping him. I think that’s remarkable, considering his background and everything he’s been through. He’s a good lad; with the right support he could do very well.”
“So what did you say to him?” Kate asked.
“I told him that we were more than happy for him and Josh to remain friends, but that we’d said that they weren’t to have sex again. I asked him if he was willing to live with that.”
“And?” Kate demanded.
“He said he was,” Chris said guardedly, “but how well he’ll manage to stick to it is another matter entirely. The problem is that the genie is out of the bottle and it’s simply not possible to put it back in. Given the experiences that they’ve had, expecting them to give up sex completely is a very big ask. I think Tommy will give it his best shot but I doubt whether Josh will.”
“Really?” Kate queried, raising an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”
“Tommy understands that he’s being given the opportunity to make something of his life,” Chris explained, “an opportunity he might well not have had. He’s prepared to make some sacrifices to ensure he doesn’t blow it. I know Josh works extremely hard, but making sacrifices isn’t really within his experience.”
“Most boys that age seem to manage well enough.” Kate countered.
“That’s because most boys that age are attracted to girls,” Chris explained. “The boys are keen enough but don’t know what they’re doing, and the girls aren’t ready to do anything anyway, which keeps the lid on things. For better or worse, these two are attracted to each other; they’re very keen and know what they’re doing.”
“So what are you suggesting?” Kate asked warily.
“That we ought to cut them a little slack,” Chris said.
“Chris, I really am not comfortable with that,” Kate stated.
“Fair enough,” Chris said with an air of resignation. “The ban stays. I’ll have a chat to them after dinner; make sure they understand what we expect.”
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
After dinner, Chris banished Kate to the lounge room while he and the boys cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher.
“Okay boys, take a seat,” Chris said quietly as they completed their chores.
Josh and Tommy sat on one side of the kitchen table with Chris sitting opposite.
“While you two were in the music room,” Chris said, addressing himself to Josh, “your mum and I had a discussion. We have agreed that you are both too young to be having sex and that you are not to do it. If we find that you have disobeyed this instruction, we’ll have to stop you seeing each other. It’s not what we want, and I’m sure it’s not what you want. I also think that after everything that’s happened, you both need some time to sort yourselves out. A year or two down the line, you may feel very differently about things.”
He paused, surveying the glum faces opposite him.
“I do realise that this is going to be very hard for you,” he went on. “I messed about when I was your age, as I’ve told you, so I know what it’s like. Of course, nobody ever found out.” He paused again, looking each of them straight in the eye. “At the risk of pointing out the obvious,” he continued. “you’re still going to have a great deal of time when your mum and I are not around to supervise you; we still have our work commitments and that’s not going to change. But if you do decide to go down that road, you’ll have to keep it very quiet. If anyone else knows what’s going on, your mum will find out. Don’t ask me how, but she will, and if she does, the roof will fall in and there will be nothing I can do to stop it. D’you understand?”
The boys nodded.
“So you’re going to have to be very careful. Limit yourselves to once a week, twice as an absolute maximum.”
Josh raised an eyebrow.
“That’s enough,” Chris told him. “How d’you think straight boys manage?”
The boys looked at each other, stifling giggles.
“Well exactly,” Chris said, reading their thoughts, “and that’s what you’ll have to do. What you need to understand is that growing up is very different for girls. Girls get interested in boys way before they want to have sex. That’s why your mum doesn’t get what you guys are going through.”
“Gary, my best mate from Junior School, has got a girlfriend,” Tommy said. “But they don’t do anything.”
“Which is the way it is for lots of kids your age,” Chris confirmed. “Nothing much happens because the girl isn’t ready for it and the boy’s scared of getting it wrong and making an idiot of himself.”
He paused again, giving time for his message to sink in.
“And remember your mum’s going to be watching out, so take care over the little things. “When you’ve finished, make your bed and don’t leave the room smelling like a brothel. Open a window or use some air freshener, okay?”
“No problem,” Josh said, grinning.
“Understand that you will still be taking a risk,” Chris emphasised. “If your mum finds out that there’s anything going on, there will be consequences.”
The boys looked at each other and nodded.
“One final point,” Chris said. “There is to be no anal sex. It’s dangerous and you are absolutely not to do it. Is that clear?”
“Yeah,” the boys responded
“If course,” Chris said blandly, “I’ve never said any of this. I told you that you were not to have sex and explained why; end of story. Okay, I’ve said my piece. Is the anything you’d like to say?”
“Thanks, dad,” Josh said meekly.
“Thanks Mr. Banham,” Tommy echoed.
“Of course, we shall expect you to keep working hard at school and all of that, “Chris said evenly. . “If your school work goes down, all bets are off, understand?”
“Yeah,” the boys chorused.
“Okay, that’s it then,” Chris said quietly. “I’ve told you what we think; now it’s up to you. Just remember what I’ve said.”
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
“What’s the time?” Tommy asked, disturbed by his room-mates’ activity.
“Quarter to eight,” a voice told him.
“Huh?” Tommy queried. “It’s only just getting light.”
“They changed the clocks last night,” another voice said.
“Shit! I forgot!” Tommy cursed, shaking himself awake.
After breakfast Tommy returned to the bedroom, stretching out on his bed. He’d got a problem. He’d agreed to meet Luke after supper, but after what Chris had said to them the previous day, he had mixed feelings about it. After all, he was supposed to be Josh’s boyfriend, wasn’t he?
Suddenly a thought struck him. With the clocks having gone forward an hour, at seven o’clock in the evening it would still be broad daylight. Doing it then would be far too risky; people would be able to see into the workshop. And they couldn’t leave it for an hour because at eight o’clock the staff began checking that everyone was there before sending the younger ones up to bed.
He got up and rummaged through his school bag. He found a notebook, tearing out a page. He scrawled a note: “Meet down by the shops in 10 minutes.” He made his way downstairs. Not finding Luke in the recreation room, he headed for the back garden. Luke wasn’t there either. He turned around, wondering where to look next. Suddenly, Luke appeared, walking towards him. He pressed the note into the younger boy’s hand and strolled through to reception.
“I’m just going down the shops,” he announced.
“Yeah, okay,” Barbara, the young care worker responded. “Don’t be too long.”
It wasn’t an issue. He’d been at the home for more than two weeks; the staff knew he wouldn’t run off. He strode out through the front door and down the drive, turning right towards the parade of shops a quarter of a mile away.
The five minutes he had to wait felt more like five hours. He emitted a sigh of relief when he finally spotted Luke heading his way.
“What d’you want to see me about?” Luke asked.
“We can’t meet this evening,” Tommy said. “The clocks have gone forward. It’ll still be light after supper; it’s too risky.”
“We could leave it till later,” Luke suggested.
“Can’t do that either,” Tommy said. “By the time it’s dark enough, they’ll have started rounding everyone up. We’ll be in the shit if we’re not there.”
“So what are we going to do then?” Luke questioned.
“There’s nothing we can do,” Tommy said. “I’ll be straight with you, yeah? If things go right I could be back home soon. I can’t fuck it up by getting’ caught with you. Sorry, but that’s how it is.”
Luke looked crushed.
“It’s not that I don’t like you,” Tommy added gently. “I like you a lot, but need to get back to my mum; help her look after Daniel, yeah? You do understand, don’t you?”
Luke nodded sadly. “It’s okay,” he said. “I won’t grass you up or nothin’.”
“Sorry,” Tommy said. “I know you’re pretty much stuck here. That’s bad; I just hope they manage to sort something out for you.” He paused. “I need to get back now.”
He walked steadily back to the house. He was annoyed with himself; he hated having to treat Luke like that. He shouldn’t have gone with him in the first place. It was stupid; if they’d been caught it would have ruined everything. The really sad thing was that nothing would be sorted out. Luke didn’t have anybody; he’d be in the care system until he was sixteen and it finally spat him out.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
From the outside, the house was scruffy, but Freda was used to that. She walked up the short front path and knocked on the door. A woman in her late thirties appeared. This had to be Karen, the boys’ mother. She looked okay, certainly not like she was seriously on the booze, despite all the time she apparently spent in the Newton Arms.
“Hello?” Karen said, eyeing Freda suspiciously.
“Hello,” Freda said brightly. “I’m Freda Jackson, Tommy and Daniel’s social worker. May I come in?”
Karen took her inside, leading the way to the lounge room. The furniture was old, Freda noted, and the place was in need of re-decoration, but it was clean. She sat down.
“I take it you met my predecessor, Ms. Robertson?” Freda queried.
“No, she never came here,” Karen said.
“Oh, I see,” Freda noted. “Well, as Mrs. Banham’s told you, there is a case conference on Wednesday to discuss the boys’ future. I’m keen to get them back home as soon as possible; that’s certainly what they want. The police have completed their investigation. They’re satisfied that you had no knowledge of what was happening. In fact, nobody seems to have had a clue what your partner was doing.” She paused. “Having said that, we are concerned that your older children got themselves into a great deal of trouble, so we have to make doubly sure that Tommy and Daniel are going be to properly cared for.”
“I was too young when I had the first two,” Karen admitted. “I wasn’t ready for the responsibility. With Harry in and out of jail the whole time I couldn’t cope. They went off the rails; I know that. I’ve been much stricter with these two; I don’t let them get away with nothin’. They’re always fed; they’re always clean. I thought it’d be good for them to have a man in the house and it certainly helped money-wise. Then this happens.”
“Well that certainly fits in with what the boys told us,” Freda said. “I am somewhat concerned though by the amount of time you and your partner seem to have spent in the pub, leaving the boys on their own.”
“It was what Frank liked to do,” Freda said. “And there didn’t seem to be a problem, so I went along with it. I never drank that much. I couldn’t; I have to get up at five o’clock to go to work. Funnily enough, he didn’t either. But you needn’t worry; I won’t be doin’ that any more.”
“That seems fair enough,” Freda said. “Please bear in mind that when the boys do come home, we will have to keep an eye on that. Is it okay if I have a look around?”
Karen stood up and led her into the kitchen. It was the same story in there. Though in need of redecoration, it was clean, the pots and pans were all washed and put away, and there was food in the fridge.
“They always had a meal cooked for them of an evening,” Karen said. “And not junk food either. And I never send them down the chip-shop; that’s a right waste of money. And there’s always apples and stuff for them to eat.”
“So what sort of things do you cook for them?” Freda asked.
“Spaghetti Bolognese, Chicken Casserole, pork steaks, that sort of thing,” Karen said. “Sometimes we have roast chicken at the weekends. I can’t do expensive stuff, of course, not on the money we get.”
“Sounds good to me,” Freda said, smiling. “Can we go upstairs?”
Karen led the way. Freda made a cursory inspection, finishing in the second bedroom.
“Is this where Kevin and Tommy slept?” she asked.
“Yes,” Karen confirmed.
“The one thing I have to say,” Freda said pointedly, “is that I haven’t seen a table in the whole house. Tommy’s been doing very well at school; from what I’m told, he works very hard. Where’s he supposed to do his homework?”
Karen grimaced, looking very uncomfortable. “I was never interested when I was at school,” she conceded, “certainly not by that age; I couldn’t wait to leave. Tommy seemed to be doing alright so I let him get on with it.”
“Well Tommy’s not like you were,” Freda pointed out, “and he needs your support. He’s been doing his homework at the Banham’s house; that’s how they got to know him. But that can’t go on forever; he needs somewhere at home where he can study. Now that Kevin’s gone, if you took his bed out, you could put a desk in here. It doesn’t need to be anything expensive, you can get stuff second hand, whatever, but he needs something.”
“I don’t know how I’m goin’ to manage that at the moment,” Karen said. “Money’s very tight. I’ll have to see what I can do.”
“You do that,” Freda said gently. “But don’t let it drag on; it is important.”
They headed back downstairs.
“So is Tommy gay?” Karen asked out of the blue.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Freda said. “Most boys who get involved in prostitution aren’t gay; they just do it for the money. I don’t know whether Tommy’s gay or he isn’t; I haven’t asked him.”
“Well I hope he’s not,” Karen said.
Alarm bells rang in Freda’s head. Karen hadn’t actually said that she didn’t like gays, but the thought was there; Freda could sense it. But there was no point in saying anything then. Tommy might not be gay, so the issue wouldn’t arise. She’d have to speak to Tommy, at least to warn him that it was an issue he’d need to be prepared for. She just hoped that it wouldn’t lead to a breakdown of relations between Tommy and his mother. That was the last thing any of them needed.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It was late on Wednesday afternoon, when there was a knock at the front door. Karen went to answer it, expecting it might be Freda again. Instead she found Kate standing there.
“How did it go?” Karen asked, ushering Kate inside.
“Very well,” Kate said. “Children’s Services will recommend that Tommy and Daniel should be allowed to return home. They will stay on the ‘At Risk’ register for the time being, which means that you’ll get visits from Freda periodically, but that’s nothing to worry about.”
“Oh, she was here the other day,” Karen said. “She seemed okay. One thing though; she said I needed to get a desk or somethin’ into Tommy’s room so he’d have somewhere to do his homework. I should be able to sort it in a few weeks time, but right now I just don’t have the money.”
“Well actually, that was one of the things I wanted to speak to you about,” Kate said quietly. “It seems that Tommy didn’t spend all the money he made . . . you know; he saved quite a lot of it. And that’s exactly what he’s asked for. He’ll give the money to us; we’ll get him what he needs and get it all set up for him.”
“Well, I don’t want to put you to any trouble,” Karen said.
“Oh, it won’t be any trouble,” Kate said, smiling. “Like Tommy, my husband is very keen on sport. He and Tommy get on like a house on fire. He’ll be more than happy to sort it out.”
“Well, if you’re sure,” Karen said. “I’ll arrange to get rid of Kevin’s bed so you don’t have that to worry about.” She paused. “Maybe my luck’s changing at last.”
“Really?” Kate queried.
“Went into work yesterday,” Karen said, “got called into the office; boss wanted to see me. I thought it’d be about me taking a couple of days off when all this kicked off, you know. But he said we’d got some new contracts come in so he needed to re-organise; said he was creating a new area team and asked if I’d be interested in becoming one of the supervisors. It’s more responsibility of course, but it’s more money, quite a bit more in fact, so I jumped at it.”
“Oh, that’s excellent news!” Kate said, smiling. “I know the boys will be pleased.”
“So what happens now?” Karen asked.
“We’re in court next week,” Kate said, “but that’s only a formality; the court will accept the recommendation from Children’s Services; they always do. As soon as that’s happened, the boys will be able to come home, so you should have them back for Easter.”
“Thanks,” Karen said warmly. “I’m very grateful for all the help you’ve given us.”
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It was Saturday morning. Mark and Ryan strode out of Rachel’s house.
“So we won’t be seeing Josh today,” Mark said as they got into the Mercedes.
“Nah,” Ryan said. “He’s helping Tommy with something; I’m not sure what exactly.”
“Fair enough,” Mark said. “Not as nice a day as we had last year. Any idea what this place is like?”
“Hilly, that’s what Ash says,” Ryan answered. “He thinks he might win it. He’s beaten Jacob a few times this year.”
“Well let’s go and give him a shout,” Mark said, smiling.
Five minutes later they were driving into the grounds of Wansford Park School, situated right on the edge of the built-up area. They parked close to the school buildings, looking down over terraced playing fields and the open country beyond.
“They run to the bottom of the playing fields then up into the forest,” Ryan said, indicating the woods which climbed away steeply on the far side of the valley. “Ash says it’s really muddy in there.”
“Sounds like fun!” Mark commented.
“You’re mad!” Ryan shot back.
“No girls today?” Mark questioned.
“Nah, just boys,” Ryan confirmed. “The under-12’s should be on in about five minutes.”
“If we go down to the bottom we’ll be able to see them as they go into the woods,” Mark suggested.
They wandered down towards the bottom of the playing field. As they approached the gate leading to the woods, the whistle sounded; the race was underway. Some sixty boys representing seven different schools ran across the top of the playing fields before turning right to head downhill towards the woods. As the runners approached the gate, a group of six or seven were leading the way, with Ashley and Jacob right on the front.
“Come on Ashley!” Ryan called. “Come on Jacob!”
“Good running lads!” Mark endorsed.
The leading runners flashed past, heading up into the woods. Ashley looked different from the way Mark remembered him from the previous year, stronger and more fluent. The course through the woods was in the shape of a letter ‘M’. After a couple of minutes, the leading runners thundered down towards the middle of the ‘M’. Ashley had opened up a small gap.
“Go on Ash!” Mark and Ryan chorused. “You’re doing great!”
Reaching the bottom, Ashley strode majestically through a large puddle, bounding out over a log onto a second, even steeper climb. He was muddy up to his knees.
“I don’t know how he does that,” Ryan commented as Ashley disappeared for a second time.
After what seemed an interminable wait, the runners came back into view, flying downhill towards them. Ashley was still in the lead, the gap having grown to fully thirty yards with Jacob clear in second place. A moment later, Ashley passed the assembled spectators, the mud now right up to his shorts, turning back onto the playing field for the long climb to the finish. He looked magnificent, Mark thought, the epitome of what a twelve year old boy should look like. As Mark and Ryan trudged back towards the school, John Holden was haring diagonally across the playing field, shouting himself hoarse. It was what dads did, wasn’t it?
Back at the finish, Ashley, with a hooded top over his running vest, was being congratulated by all and sundry.
“That was awesome man!” Ryan said, slapping hands with him.
“Thanks!” Ashley responded, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “It was fantastic out there! I loved it!”
“Thanks for coming,” John Holden said, addressing himself to Mark. “Good to see you again.”
“It’s been a pleasure,” Mark assured him. “Ashley seems to have come on a lot since last year.”
“Yeah, definitely making progress,” John agreed. “He’s still got no great change of pace, but he’s very strong now. That counts, especially on a course like this.”
“He looked superb,” Mark commented.
“Yeah, but we’re not getting carried away,” John cautioned. “We’re just working at it steadily. As long as he’s enjoying it, that’s all that matters, really.”
“How’s the work situation?” Mark enquired.
“Oh, it’s picking up,” John said guardedly, “but I’m keeping a grip on it. I don’t want to get as busy as I was before; I’m enjoying being able to spend time with the boys too much. And they seem to have benefited from it,” he added, squeezing the shoulder of the grinning nine year old standing next to him, “especially David here.”
There seemed to be little doubt about that, Mark reflected, as he and Ryan strolled back to the car.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
By eleven o’clock that morning, a computer and a work-station had been purchased, to go with the office chair that Chris had picked up in a second hand shop. They headed out of the store and packed everything into the car.
“Right, are we ready?” Chris asked brightly.
“Mr. Banham, could I ask you something please?” Tommy asked, looking uncomfortable.
“Yes, of course,” Chris responded. “Josh, just sit in the car a minute, will you?”
Josh shrugged and got into the Lexus.
“So what is it Tommy?” Chris asked.
“Last Monday, Freda, my social worker went to see mum,” Tommy said quietly. “Mum said something about me being gay. Freda said she didn’t know if I was or not. Mum doesn’t really like gays, so I wasn’t goin’ to say anything, but Freda says I need to deal with it, yeah? I wonder if you’d mind being there when I talk to her about it. She’s less likely to kick off at me if you’re there.”
“Yeah, of course I will,” Chris said reassuringly. “Just make sure you keep calm. And don’t worry; she’s not the only mum that thinks like that.”
An hour later, the workstation was assembled and the computer set up.
“All ready for when you come home!” Chris announced. “Right, downstairs, you two; I’m just going to set up the accounts. What year were you born, Tommy?”
“1995,” Tommy said.
“Okay,” Chris said. “I’m going to set it up with me as the Administrator. I’ll set up sub-accounts for Tommy with the password Tommy1995 and for Daniel, password Daniel1998, okay?” He turned to Josh. “We don’t want any more of the nonsense that we had with your computer! Off you go!”
The boys trooped downstairs.
“So what happened with your computer?” Tommy asked quietly.
“They let me set it up myself,” Josh said. That meant there were no parental controls, so I could see a whole lot of stuff I shouldn’t have.”
“Oh!” Tommy answered knowingly, trying to stop himself giggling. “So that’s where you got your ideas from!”
Five minutes later, Chris came bustling into the lounge room.
“Right, it’s all good to go,” he declared. “Just go and sit in the car,” he whispered into Josh’s ear. “Tommy and I need to speak to his mum.”
Josh made his way outside. Chris went into the kitchen where Karen was cleaning up.
“Can we interrupt you,” he asked, smiling, “Tommy has something he needs to tell you,”
She came through to the lounge and sat in one of the armchairs.
“Last week,” Tommy began, “you said something to Freda about me being gay. Well I don’t know really, but I know I’m not interested in girls.” He paused, visibly squirming. “And I do like . . . you know, doin’ things with other boys, older guys too sometimes.”
Karen’s face was like thunder.
“So you’re telling me Frank turned you queer?” she demanded.
“No, that’s not quite what he’s saying,” Chris interrupted. “What Frank did may have nudged Tommy in the direction of thinking he might be gay. Whether it will have made any difference in the long term is much more difficult to say.”
“You’re not goin’ to end up like Frank, are you?” Karen barked.
“No way!” Tommy protested. “I’d never hit on kids like he did! And you know what? Hitting on me wasn’t the worst thing he did.”
“What d’you mean?” Karen snapped.
“He trained Kevin to do the same things he did,” Tommy said. “He’s ruined Kev’s life.”
“Well I still don’t like it!” Karen declared. “I don’t like gays; I never have! I thought you were going to be a real man!”
“Mum!” Tommy pleaded. “Why are you being like this? I just try to be honest with you and you jump down my throat! When I went to watch the lads play football last Sunday, they all came up to me, said “great to see you”, “hope you’ll be back playing soon”. All the parents did too; it was great. Gary’s dad even said I’d be welcome to go round to their house. They know what’s happened as much as you do. D’you think they’d have said that if they thought I was some sort of perv?”
For a moment, Karen didn’t answer; she’d been painted into a corner and was struggling for a way out.
“You don’t have to worry,” Chris said quietly. “If Children’s Services thought there was any danger of him abusing other boys, he wouldn’t have been allowed home. It’s pretty clear to me that Tommy commands a great deal of respect among his team-mates and their parents. And remember that Tommy prevented the attack on Daniel, and got a beating for his trouble. I really think you ought to give him a bit more credit.”
“Well, I hope he’s not goin’ to be like that Graham Norton off the telly,” Karen said defensively. “He’s a right poof! I can’t stand him!”
“I have to say that Graham Norton’s not to my taste either,” Chris said, trying not to laugh, “but he’s a performer, camping it up in front of an audience. He probably isn’t like that in real life. As it goes, I don’t think there’s the slightest danger of Tommy being like either Frank or Graham Norton. Most gay guys aren’t. They’re just ordinary people doing ordinary jobs, no different from anyone else.”
“Well you needn’t think your goin’ to do any pervy gay things here!” Karen barked, turning to Tommy.
“I wouldn’t have done that anyway,” Tommy responded resentfully. “I don’t want Daniel knowing, well, not till he’s older.”
“So who are these boys you like, ‘doin’ things with?” Karen questioned.
Tommy looked at Chris, who looked back and nodded. Karen was on it in a flash.
“It’s your lad, isn’t it?” she snapped.
“Yes it is,” Chris said calmly.
“And are you happy with that?” Karen shot back. “I think it’s disgusting!”
“Let’s get this straight,” Chris responded evenly. “We only discovered what had been going on very recently, after Kate found out what had been happening to Tommy. We have made it clear to them that although we are happy for them to remain friends, they are too young to be having sex and they are not to do it. Whether or not Josh is gay isn’t an issue.”
“So how did Josh . . . you know, find out . . . ?”
“That was our fault,” Chris admitted quietly. “Two years ago we bought him a new computer. We made the mistake of letting him set it up for himself. He’s always been very sensible; it never occurred to us that he’d go looking for that sort of thing. But a few months later, when his body started developing and I wasn’t around to answer his questions, he went looking on the internet. We screwed up; that’s all there is to it. People like us make mistakes too.”
“So how did you and Josh . . . ?” Karen asked, turning her attention back to Tommy.
“Dunno, really,” Tommy replied lamely. “It just sort of happened.”
“Six of one and half a dozen of the other from what I can tell,” Chris interjected. “I don’t think we need to go into the details. You need to understand that their relationship isn’t all about sex. If it was, we’d have put a stop to it. Josh and Tommy having been working together and helping each other for eighteen months; we think that’s been good for both of them.”
“Freda said Tommy had been doin’ his homework at your house, cause he’d got nowhere to work here,” Karen said.
“That’s right,” Chris confirmed, “but don’t think it’s been a one-way street. Josh has benefited too. He’s an only child; it’s done him good to focus on helping someone else instead of just thinking about himself. I also happen to know that a year or so back, your ex-partner ordered Tommy to bring Josh here so that he and Kevin could have sex with him. Tommy refused and took a beating for his trouble. I don’t know about you, but that’ll do for me.”
“Is that true?” Karen demanded.
“Bastard!” Karen muttered.
“It’s amazing how deceptive appearances can be,” Chris said pointedly. “From what I’ve heard, everyone thought he was a ‘real man’.”
“You said you’re not bothered about Josh being gay?” Karen queried, quickly changing the subject. “You’re not gay, are you?”
“No, I’m not,” Chris said calmly. “Kate is the love of my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But one of my friends at school was gay, and I have to tell you that he was the best friend I ever had. If I needed someone to back me up, he’s the one I knew I could count on. We played cricket together for years, and in terms of courage, he was the best, much braver than I ever was. I’d have definitely wanted him on my side in a war and the same goes for this young man.”
Karen didn’t respond; there simply wasn’t anything she could say.
“In any case, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves,” Chris added soothingly. “Tommy might not be gay. I understand that he’d having counselling to help him come to terms with what happened, so we’ll have to wait and see. But I think you should be prepared for the possibility that he might be. Meanwhile, he’s going to need your support.”
“Well, I suppose we’ll have to manage as best we can,” Karen said rather ungraciously.
“Great!” Chris said, smiling. “We’d better be going. Josh will be wondering where we’ve got to.”
They made their way outside.
“Thanks for standing up for me like that,” Tommy breathed. “She’d have ripped my head off if I’d done that on my own.”
“No problem,” Chris said, grinning. “I was happy to be able to put her right on a few things. No second thoughts about coming home, then?”
“No,” Tommy confirmed. “I’ve got to do it; she’s still my mum. And I need to be here for Daniel.”
“Well, it won’t be easy,” Chris warned, “especially at first. You’ll need to give it time. Just be yourself, be helpful around the house and don’t get into arguments. You’ll be fine. If there are any serious problems, you know where I am.”
“Thanks!” Tommy said, and got into the car.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Mark and Ryan lay stretched out on Mark’s bed. Their practice session at the rehearsal studios had gone well; though not spectacular, Ryan’s progress was steady and consistent.
“You heard what happened to Tommy?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah, Josh called me,” Mark responded. “That’s bad; I’m no saint but I don’t like to see things like that happening.”
“Tommy’s sound,” Ryan said. “I hope he’s going to be alright. I wouldn’t want to get stuck in a children’s home.”
“Oh, Tommy’s a great kid,” Mark said unthinkingly, regretting it as soon as the words were out of his mouth.
“I didn’t think you knew him that well,” Ryan commented.
Mark grimaced. He’d made a faux pas; trying to finagle his way out of it was just going to make things worse.
“Let’s just say that he’s been here a few times,” he said quietly.
“So how did that happen?” Ryan questioned, raising an eyebrow.
“We were at the pool about six months ago,” Mark said. “He asked if I’d like to meet him some time. I wasn’t going to turn him down, was I?”
“That’s weird, man!” Ryan said.
“He thought I might be able to help him out,” Mark explained.
“So did you?” Ryan asked.
“I did what I could,” Mark said, cryptically. “He’s from a very poor family as you know, so I was able to give him a little pocket money. We did have sex, of course, which he was well up for, but we spent most of our time together just talking, you know, about school, what he hoped to do in the future, that sort of thing.”
“You mean like you do with Ashley?” Ryan suggested.
“Yeah, I guess,” Mark said. “Tommy’s pretty shy about talking in front of other people; he opened up a lot more when it was just the two of us.” He paused, sucking in air. “So you and Ashley still getting on okay?” he asked, changing the subject.
“Yeah, great!” Ryan confirmed.
“Still just once a week?” Mark enquired.
“Yeah,” Ryan said thoughtfully, “but that’s better in a way; it means we’re both really up for it.”
“I thought he looked superb this morning,” Mark commented, “really fluent and graceful.”
“Yeah,” Ryan said. “He’s really growing up now.”
“Mmmm, I had noticed,” Mark quipped.
“Perv!” Ryan teased.
“So can he cum?” Mark asked.
“Yeah, he gets us . . . , you know, all sticky!” Ryan said, grinning.
Mark could picture the scene perfectly.
“Sounds wonderful!” he cooed, licking Ryan’s ear.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It was five to eight when they dropped Tommy back at Hayfield. Chris drove away, Josh sitting next to him.
“Tommy says his mum’s got a better job,” Josh said. “Was that anything to do with you?”
“What makes you think it might be?” Chris queried.
“Tommy said you asked him who his mum worked for,” Josh responded.
“You don’t miss much, do you?” Chris said, grinning. “Ken Bartlett, who runs OCS, is one of my golfing buddies. I just thought it would make it easier for her to bring Tommy and Daniel up if she had a job that paid her a decent wage. So I put a word in, but I’m sure Ken wouldn’t have offered her a promotion if he didn’t think she was up to it.”
“Thanks dad,” Josh said, smiling.
“Well, my business contacts do come in useful sometimes,” Chris said quietly, his grin having spread right across his face.
“Tommy said you were brilliant when he tried telling his mum he though he might be gay.” Josh said, moving closer without even thinking about it. “Dad, you’re the best!”
It was an important moment, for Chris especially. After almost thirteen years, he and Josh were finally beginning to understand each other.