RENEGADES & OUTLAWS
By Pink Panther
All the usual disclaimers apply.
Things seem to have finally worked out for Josh, Tommy and Daniel, but Peewee is in a very bad place. With Terry having disappeared, he’s lost his source of income, and he certainly won’t want to go back to being the dirt-poor kid that other kids made fun of.
As always, feedback will be more than welcome. Please send your comments to email@example.com and I’ll reply as soon as I can.
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN
Tommy and Daniel’s move back home took place the following Thursday, directly before the Easter weekend. As soon as he arrived, Tommy felt Karen’s eyes on him, watching him suspiciously. He was gay or at least he thought he was; his mum didn’t like gays. She didn’t say anything, but it was something of an uneasy truce. It would have been so much easier to have lied or to have evaded the issue, but he knew deep down that he’d have been caught out eventually. Facing up to it now had been the right decision.
Karen was very conflicted. Of her four children, Tommy had always been by far the easiest to handle. Her older two had been troublesome from an early age. Daniel was very charming and in many ways her favourite, but although he never meant any harm, he was inclined to get into mischief. Tommy, by contrast, was quiet, hard-working and for the most part easy-going. He’d done well at school, despite the lack of support, and apart from getting into a couple of fights, had never been in trouble. To find out that he might be gay was a serious disappointment. It seemed so unlikely; he didn’t have any of the traits that gay guys were supposed to have. And despite all that Chris had said, she was still finding it hard, even to accept the possibility.
Tommy remembered Chris’s advice; he’d just have to stick at it for however long it took. He’d had great support from elsewhere, Mr. Russell at school and the guys at the football club had been brilliant. That certainly helped, but he hadn’t actually told any of them he was gay. As far as he was aware, Gary and Peewee were the only ones that knew.
His other big supporter was Daniel. Daniel had always looked up to Tommy, but after the attack by Kevin and their time together at Hayfield, Daniel’s admiration for his older brother had grown to something approaching hero-worship. He wouldn’t hear a word spoken against Tommy, which put Karen in an even more difficult position. But she continued to watch, still worried that Tommy might do something he shouldn’t.
On Easter Sunday, Tommy went to watch Newton Valley Colts, as he had for the two previous weeks. It was an away match, but Gary’s dad had offered to take him, and so it was no problem. Once more, he was warmly received by his team mates and their parents, who all seemed pleased that he was only a week or two away from being able to resume playing. The one exception was Peewee, who hardly spoke to him while they were travelling to the match, and never said a word on the journey home. Tommy was worried. Something was wrong; he just didn’t know what.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
At quarter to ten the following morning, Tommy was striding along Whitcombe Drive, finally climbing the steps to Peewee’s flat and ringing the doorbell. After around a minute, Peewee answered it.
“What are you doin’ here?” he asked, sounding none too friendly.
“I’ve come to see you, man!” Tommy said. “Can I come in?”
Peewee ushered him inside.
“So what’s goin’ off, man?” Tommy demanded, parking himself next to Peewee on the sofa.
“You know!” Peewee shot back, giving Tommy a resentful look.
“Peewee!” Tommy protested. “I don’t know unless you tell me! I ain’t a fuckin’ thought reader!”
“I’ve got no money,” Peewee said baldly. “Well, I’ve still got a few quid, but that’s all. I haven’t earned in three weeks, yeah? It’s okay for you; you’ve got Josh’s family lookin’ after yer.”
Finally it all made sense. Frank’s mate, who’d fixed Peewee up with all his punters, had done a runner, so Peewee had lost his source of income. Tommy hesitated, trying to think what to say.
“So what am I gonna do?” Peewee demanded. “I’m not goin’ back to how it was before; I can’t do it, man!”
“We’ll think of something,” Tommy temporised.
“You know some guys, don’t yer?” Peewee questioned.
It was the suggestion that Tommy had been trying to avoid. He could have solved Peewee’s problem in an instant. He’d retrieved his phone from Josh’s house. The numbers for Steve and Martin were still in there; he hadn’t got round to deleting them. Fix Peewee up with one of those guys, job done.
Only he couldn’t do it. He wasn’t going to go back to the rent scene, and he didn’t want Peewee doing that either. Peewee had got far too involved; apart from the bit of football he played, it was the only thing he did. If he carried on like that he was going to get hurt.
“Sorry,” Tommy lied. “I’ve lost contact with them. I had to scrub them off my phone when the coppers started askin’ questions.”
“There’s this one guy, yeah,” Peewee said, “Gave me his phone number. Said I could go and live with him if I ever needed to.”
Alarm bells rang in Tommy’s head. “You mean leave home and go and stay with a punter?” he snapped. “No way, man! You can’t do that!”
“So what then?” Peewee asked. “You take me to that café place?”
“No chance of that, either,” Tommy responded. “I can’t be seen round there again.”
There was an uneasy silence; Tommy couldn’t think what to do. He hated it when Peewee was like this. He’d have to talk to Josh, see if he could think of anything. He took a deep breath.
“You’re gonna have to leave it with me,” he said quietly. “I’ll get something’ sorted, I promise.” He paused for a moment. “You still goin’ out with Claire?” he asked, changing the subject.
“We still hang out together,” Peewee said, “but I haven’t been able to take her anywhere cause I haven’t had the cash. So I ain’t been gettin’ any, if that’s what you’re wonderin’. Mind you, I think she’s a bit worried about that anyway.”
“Worried about what?” Tommy asked.
“That I’ll get her pregnant,” Peewee said casually.
“Oh, so can you cum then?” Tommy asked.
“Yeah, the last time we did it, I came inside her,” Peewee said. “She got in a bit of a huff about it; said if we do it again I’ve gotta use a condom.”
“So she’s not on the pill then?” Tommy enquired.
“Dunno,” Peewee said absently. “So you gonna help me out, yeah?”
“What?” Tommy queried.
“I’m fuckin’ horny, man!” Peewee said, grinning.
“You’re always horny!” Tommy shot back.
“So d’you wanna do it, or what?” Peewee demanded.
“Yeah,” Tommy responded. “Where’s your mum?”
“Out,” Peewee said. “Won’t be back till this afternoon.”
“Okay then,” Tommy agreed.
They strolled through into Peewee’s bedroom. Peewee put his hand on the front of Tommy’s jeans.
“Seems like I’m not the only one who’s horny,” he commented. “Come on; you know what I want.”
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Josh led Tommy upstairs.
“I need to talk to you,” Tommy said quietly.
“What about?” Josh asked, shepherding him into his bedroom.
“Peewee,” Tommy said.
“Okay, best leave the door open in case mum thinks we’re up to something,” Josh said, stretching out on his bed. “Pull the chair up.”
Tommy did as he was asked, quickly outlining his conversation with Peewee.
“You said we’d have to be there when he needed us,” he finished. “so what are we going to do?”
“Depends,” Josh said, screwing his face up. “I’m glad you didn’t give him the numbers of those guys you used to go with. Have you got the phone with you now?”
“Yeah,” Tommy admitted.
“Get it out then!” Josh instructed.
“Now delete them,” Josh told him.
“Sorry, Tommy said sheepishly, deleting the numbers. “I forgot about it. So you got any ideas?”
“Well, we can only help if he’s willing to try changing things,” Josh said calmly. “We haven’t got a magic wand to make things right for him.”
“You mean like joinin’ the swimming club or the athletics club?” Tommy queried.
“Yeah, and making a bit of effort in school,” Josh confirmed. “From what I’ve heard, he just dosses about the whole time.”
“It’s gonna be hard,” Tommy said, looking uncomfortable. “Peewee’s never worked at anything. Nobody’s ever expected him to.”
“Well, if he wants us to help him, he’ll have to start,” Josh said sharply. “You work, I work; why shouldn’t he?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Tommy conceded.
“Okay, let’s think,” Josh said, screwing his face up. “D’you know any of the kids in the swimming club?”
“Yeah,” Tommy said, “Not very well though. But they’re mad. They have to get up at five o’clock in the morning and do two hours training before they go to school. There’s no way Peewee’s gonna do that!”
“No I wouldn’t either,” Josh agreed. “What about the athletics club then?”
“Gaz was talkin’ about goin’ down,” Tommy said. “He does javelin; he’s not bad.”
“Sounds like that might work,” Josh said. “Gaz is okay, yeah?”
“Oh, yeah!” Tommy confirmed. “He knows about us. If I tell him something’ on the quiet, he’ll take it to the grave with him.”
“Okay,” Josh said. “Tell him what you have to, see what he says. I’m going to call Mark. I think he might help, you know, buying Peewee some athletics kit, that sort of thing.”
“Mark and Peewee fell out cause he didn’t like what Peewee was doin’,” Tommy said.
“But if Peewee agrees to give it a go,” Josh suggested. “Well, it’s worth asking.”
“He’s gonna need some help with the school stuff,” Tommy said. “He can’t even read properly.”
“We’ll do it,” Josh asserted, “you know, each of us do one afternoon a week after school. You want to be a maths teacher so you can do that. I’ll do the reading and writing. Mark might help out too: I’ll ask him.”
“So how’s this going to work?” Tommy questioned.
“We all need to talk to Peewee together,” Josh said. “The problem is where. We don’t want anyone asking us what we’re talking about.”
“There’s the café bar at the leisure centre,” Tommy suggested. “It’s pretty quiet most of the time.”
“Yeah, okay,” Josh said.
“So who’s gonna be there?” Tommy asked. “You, me, Gaz, Mark and Peewee?”
“Gary doesn’t know about Mark, does he?” Josh asked.
“Nah, don’t think so,” Tommy confirmed.
“Better not have him there then,” Josh said. “Just check that he will be going to the athletics club and that it’ll be okay for Peewee to go with him, yeah?”
“Okay,” Tommy agreed. “So when are we going to do it?”
“If we want Mark there it’ll have to be an evening,” Josh said. “Tomorrow or Wednesday; I’ll call him and see what he says.”
“Okay,” Tommy said shrugging. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Tommy arrived home at quarter to six. Karen was surprised to see that Josh was with him, unloading stuff out of Chris’s car and carrying it inside.
“What’s all this?” she demanded.
“Oh, we’re going to paint Tommy’s room,” Josh said brightly, giving her a big smile. “We’re bringing everything over now so we can start straight away in the morning.”
“I hope you’re not going to make a mess!” Karen said sternly.
“We won’t!” Josh assured her. “We’ve got dust sheets and masking tape, and dad’s shown us what to do.”
Karen raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Tommy’s room did need redecorating, and as long as they didn’t get paint over everything they weren’t likely to make it worse. She’d wait and see.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
The following morning, Josh arrived at Tommy’s house at half past nine. They immediately set to work, moving furniture and covering everything up before starting to paint. Karen resisted the temptation to interfere, but by eleven o’clock her curiosity had got the better of her. She poured out two glasses of coke and carried them upstairs, almost dreading what she might find.
“I’ve brought you something to drink,” she said, popping her head round the door.
She was amazed by how organised everything was. The carpet and all the furniture had been covered. They’d even put masking tape over the light switch, the light fitting and the power socket. Josh was standing on a step-ladder, Tommy on a chair, and they were getting on with it.
“Thanks!” the boys chorused, carefully putting down their paint rollers before collecting their drinks.
“Where did you get those from?” Karen asked, indicating the old, oversize shirts the boys we wearing.
“Oh, they were dad’s,” Josh said brightly. “He said to put them on so we don’t get paint on our clothes.”
“Well, I’d better leave you to it then,” she said, smiling.
She headed back downstairs. She was impressed; they certainly weren’t making the mess she’d feared they might. And Josh wasn’t what she’d expected either. Although he spoke quite posh, he definitely wasn’t a snob. More than that he was a worker and obviously didn’t mind getting his hands dirty. She really didn’t know what to make of it.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It was lunchtime. “I’m doin’ egg an’ chips!” Karen called up the stairs. “Do you want some?”
“Yes, please!” Tommy shouted back.
Five minutes later they divested themselves of their improvised overalls, and after quickly washing their hands they trooped downstairs. They strolled through to the kitchen. They each collected a plate of egg and chips, taking it into the lounge room to eat.
“Okay?” Karen asked as she came to join them.
“Great, thanks!” Josh said between mouthfuls, giving her another trademark smile.
“How come you’ve got paint in your hair and he hasn’t?” Karen enquired.
“Oh, I was painting the ceiling,” Josh explained. “Tommy was doing the walls. It doesn’t matter; it’s only emulsion paint. I’ll have a shower when I get home; wash it out.”
“So have you done this before?” Karen persisted.
“Oh, no,” Josh said nonchalantly, “but dad showed us what to do, didn’t he Tommy?”
Tommy nodded energetically.
“It’s pretty simple, really,” Josh concluded.
“Tommy tells me you play the piano,” Karen said, changing tack.
“Yeah,” Josh said casually.
“I love music,” Karen went on. “I didn’t do a whole lot when I was at school, but I did sing in the choir.”
“I was in the choir last year,” Josh said, “but I got kicked out when my voice started to break.”
“He plays in the school rock band, yeah?” Tommy interjected.
“Really?” Karen said.
“Some older kids asked if I wanted to play keyboards with them,” Josh said, “so I did. It’s great fun!”
“Oh, I see,” Karen said thoughtfully.
She resumed eating. Gay or not, there was something about this kid she couldn’t help but like.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
At half past four, the boys re-appeared in the lounge room.
“We’ve finished for today,” Tommy said. “Josh is goin’ home now.”
“Let’s have a look then,” Karen demanded.
She followed them upstairs. The furniture had been put back and the neatly folded dustsheets were on the floor by the window. However, the masking tape was still in place.
“We’ve still got a bit to do,” Josh explained. “The wallpaper pattern is still showing through a bit, but another coat should fix that, and we’ve got to do the skirting board and the door frame.”
“You won’t get paint on the carpet will you?” Karen asked.
“Oh no,” Josh assured her, picking up a roll of masking tape. “We’ll mask it up before we start. Dad says it’s easy if you prepare properly.”
“Well, you’ve done a good job so far,” Karen commented. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”
“Oh, it’s okay,” Josh said, smiling. “I can walk.”
“Not with your hair full of paint,” Karen objected. “You look like nobody owns you! I’ve got the company van outside; I’ll drop you back.”
“Thanks!” Josh said.
“You keep an eye on Daniel,” she said, turning to Tommy. “I’ll be ten minutes.”
Josh followed Karen out to the small van, getting into the passenger seat. They set off.
“So tell me about playing the piano,” Karen suggested.
“Not much to say really,” Josh said modestly. “I started when I was five; I’ve been playing ever since.”
“Tommy says you want to be a professional musician,” Karen prodded.
“Yeah, I’d like to be,” Josh said quietly.
“So you do exams and that?” Karen asked.
“Yeah; I did grade eight back in February,” Josh said.
“And did you pass?” she asked.
“Yeah, I got a distinction,” Josh said. “I was pretty pleased with that.”
“I should think you were!” Karen said firmly. “Isn’t grade eight pretty high?”
“Yeah, it’s the top one,” Josh said, “before going on to music college stuff.”
“Oh, I see,” Karen said. “Tommy says you‘ve helped him a lot, letting him do his homework at your house.”
“It wasn’t anything much,” Josh said quietly.
“Well it might not have been,” Karen asserted, “but there’s not many who’d have done it.”
“It was Kevin’s fault that he couldn’t work at home” Josh said. “He made it impossible for Tommy to get anything done.”
“I never did take to that kid,” Karen said, looking disgruntled. “There was always somethin’ sneaky about him.”
They arrived outside Josh’s house. “Thanks for the ride!” Josh said brightly, getting out of the van.
As Karen drove home, she found herself re-assessing her ideas. She’d imagined Josh as a posh little gay-boy who’d spend all his time talking about himself. The reality was totally different. Back at the house, she found Tommy in the lounge room watching television.
“Josh isn’t anything like I expected,” she said. “He seems a really nice kid.”
“That’s what I told you,” Tommy said, smiling.
“He’s a good worker, isn’t he?” Karen said.
“Tell me about it,” Tommy said, grinning from ear to ear. “People think he’s soft cause he’s pretty useless at sport, but he’s not. If he’s set his mind on doing something, he just works away at it until he gets there.”
“So I guess some of that’s rubbed off on you,” Karen suggested.
“He’s helped a lot,” Tommy said, “you know, making me believe in myself.”
“Well I’ve no problem with you being friends, as long as you behave yourselves,” Karen said, her tone far more conciliatory than it often was.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Mark parked the car and headed up to the Leisure Centre café bar. He bought a drink and sat down. A couple of minutes later, Josh joined him.
“Thanks for coming!” Josh said brightly.
“I’m not sure how much good it’s going to do,” Mark cautioned. “When I was going with him he wouldn’t listen to a word I said. He seemed to resent me telling him anything.”
“Well, lets’ see how it goes,” Josh said, smiling. “He should be here in a minute; Tommy’s gone to get him.”
Right on cue, Tommy and Peewee came through the door. Mark called them over.
“Get yourselves something to drink,” he said, handing Tommy a two-pound coin.
The boys collected their drinks and sat down. It was ideal; apart from a couple of guys on the far side of the room, they had the place to themselves.
“Okay,” Mark said quietly. “Josh and Tommy have told me the situation you’re in. I understand you’re thinking of going to live with some guy that you met at this house you used to go to.”
“I’d just like you to think about that,” Mark went on. “First of all, you don’t even know if the offer’s genuine.”
“Well, he said I could go and live with him,” Peewee protested.
“What you need to understand is that some of these guys are full of shit,” Mark said gently. “He may have said that just to impress you. Then when you call him, he’ll have all sorts of excuses as to why you can’t go there right now.” He paused, allowing time for his words to sink in. “But let’s suppose you could go and live there,” he continued. “What d’you think your life would be like? At your age he’d have to keep you under wraps, so you wouldn’t be able to come and go as you please. You wouldn’t be able to go to school, so you’d have no friends your own age. Is that really what you want?”
Peewee didn’t answer, squirming awkwardly in his seat.
“Now let’s think about what happens when the guy gets bored with you,” Mark prodded, “because he will. You’ve just turned thirteen. Do you think he’ll still want you in a year or two’s time?”
Peewee was looking more and more uncomfortable.
“Oh, I don’t think it’d be too much of a problem,” Mark added, “not at that point. You’re a good looking lad; you’d soon find someone else. And when he got bored you’d just move on again. For a few years you’d do very well, clothes, drugs, money in your pocket. But by the time you’re sixteen or seventeen, it’ll be getting difficult. You won’t be the new kid on the block any more; everybody will have had you. And if you keep going the way you have been, by that age you’ll have a drug habit you’ll no longer have the money to feed. What d’you think you’ll do then?”
Peewee was staring at the floor, looking seriously under pressure.
“Well let me tell you,” Mark said. “It’ll be stealing, dealing drugs or pimping younger kids, maybe all three. And if you go down that road, the next place you’re going to end up is jail, if you don’t die of an overdose first.”
“A couple of guys have already asked me if I know any younger kids,” Peewee admitted. “You know, who’d want to make some money. I said I didn’t.”
“So you know how it works then,” Mark said gently. “That’s why we’ve asked you to meet us, because we don’t want that to happen to you. You’re better than that; you’re an excellent swimmer and from what I’m told, you’re a superb athlete too. You need to use those talents, try to make something of yourself.”
“Bein’ a good athlete won’t get me a job, will it?” Peewee argued.
“Not directly,” Mark said, “but it can certainly help. There are always jobs in sports shops and in places like this, and the employers definitely favour kids who take part in sport themselves, even if they haven’t done that well in class. Of course, they would expect you to have done your best.”
Peewee gritted his teeth, silently fighting against it.
“So here’s what we’re suggesting,” Mark continued. “We’ve ruled out the swimming club; to swim competitively you have to pretty well give your life to it, and we don’t expect you to do that. But athletics isn’t like that; at your age you’d only have to train two or three times a week. So what we’re asking you to do is go to the athletics club and give it your best shot, and to get down to working at school. The three of us will help you get on track with your school work, and I’ll make sure that you have what you need. Clothes shouldn’t be an issue for a while, but whatever you need for your athletics, plus some pocket money. Obviously it won’t be as much as you’ve been used to, but enough that you can have as much of a social life as most boys your age do.”
“You won’t have to go to the athletics club on your own,” Tommy added. “Gary’s going and his dad will take you. It’ll be okay, man!”
“And you needn’t worry about not fitting in,” Mark said. “All they’ll be interested in is how good an athlete you are.”
“If I say I’ll do it,” Peewee asked, “when we’ve got a match, would you come and watch me?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Mark responded, not hesitating for a moment.
In truth, attending Peewee’s various athletics competitions might not be a straightforward matter, but he didn’t want the boy to know that.
“Okay then,” Peewee agreed, though appearing far from convinced. “I guess can give it a try.”
They quickly worked out the scheme of tutorial sessions. Josh would work with him after school on Mondays and Tommy on Tuesdays. Mark would see him on Wednesday evenings, collecting him from the leisure centre and dropping him back.
“So when are you back at school?” Mark enquired.
“Next Tuesday,” Tommy told him.
“Okay,” Mark said, “that’s when we’ll start. Do you know when the athletics club train?”
“Gaz says it’s Tuesday and Thursday evenings,” Tommy answered. “They train Sunday mornings too, but we’ve still got football for a couple more weeks.”
“That sounds good,” Mark said, smiling. “Now just let me emphasise, we’ll help you as much as we can, but we can’t do it for you. You’ll have to put the work in, okay?”
“Yeah,” Peewee mumbled, nodding. “There is one other thing. Can you stop calling me Peewee; I hate it! My name’s Peter.” He shot a look at Tommy. “You know why!”
Tommy blushed bright red; he did know.
Mark suspected that he did too. “I think that’s an excellent idea,” he said quietly. “It marks a break with the past; a new name to start a new chapter in your life.”
It was all agreed. They stood up and prepared to leave.
“You’re making the right choice,” Mark said quietly, putting his hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Just give it your best; we’ll help you as much as we can.” He slipped some money into the boy’s hand. “I’ll see you outside here a week tomorrow, half past seven.”
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
“Mum likes you,” Tommy confided as they lay snuggled up on Josh’s bed. “She says she doesn’t mind us being friends as long as we behave ourselves.”
“Which is pretty much what my mum said,” Josh responded, giving Tommy a mischievous grin. “So we’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t find out that we aren’t, won’t we?” He paused for a moment. “Tommy,” he asked, “what d’you think about when you wank off?”
“You, of course!” Tommy said, grinning back.
“Every time?” Josh queried. “Don’t you ever think about anyone else? I don’t mind; I’m just curious.”
“Well, I do think of Peewee sometimes,” Tommy said. “Sorry, I mean Peter.”
“So have you ever done anything with him?” Josh probed.
“Yeah, a couple of times,” Tommy admitted. “He’s fuckin’ horny, man! I’m not surprised the punters liked him; he loves getting it up the bum.”
“Really?” Josh questioned. “I thought he was supposed to be straight.”
“He is,” Tommy said, “but he still likes gettin’ fucked. We did it with him lyin’ on his back with his legs sort of wrapped round me so I was kissin’ and fuckin’ him at the same time. It was wild, man!”
“Ryan tried doing me like that,” Josh said. “I found it really uncomfortable.”
“Peter’s a lot more supple than you,” Tommy explained. “He can tie himself in knots, man! So what about you? Who d’you think about?”
“Well, most times it’s you,” Josh whispered. “But sometimes I think about Romano, the Italian kid. I’d messed about with Ryan before we went out there, but it was Romano that . . . you know.”
“Popped your cherry,” Tommy completed, stroking Josh’s hair. “That’s fair enough. Anyone else?”
“Mark,” Josh said.
“So have you been with him then?” Tommy asked excitedly.
“Yeah,” Josh admitted. “I’ve been with him a few times when me and Ryan have gone over there.”
“So he’s doin’ Ryan as well?” Tommy probed.
“Yeah,” Josh conceded, “only you’re not supposed to know that.”
“Don’t worry,” Tommy said, grinning. “I’m not goin’ to say anything.”
“But it’s just you and me now,” Josh probed, looking right into Tommy’s eyes.
“Yeah, sure,” he said, licking Josh’s nose, “just you and me.”
Tommy’s brain was spinning. It had been only four days since he’d had sex with Peter without so much as a second thought. He loved Josh to bits, but turning down opportunities to have sex with other boys he liked was going to be very difficult. And then there was the business of anal sex. He and Josh loved to fuck better than anything, but it was the one thing they had been specifically told they weren’t to do. Up to that point, they’d observed the restriction to the letter, mainly out of respect for Josh’s dad. How long they’d be able to keep it going was another matter; it seemed unlikely that they’d be able to deny themselves indefinitely.
On the other hand, Tommy was subject to one compelling imperative; he could not risk getting caught. That could spell total disaster. His mum might reject him and have him taken into care. In a ‘worst case’ scenario, he might even end up in a secure unit, like the one Kevin had been taken to. If he thought about it sensibly, nothing was worth that sort of risk. But where sex was concerned, ‘thinking sensibly’ was proving to be anything but easy.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
It was Saturday afternoon. After a very productive session at the rehearsal studio, Mark and Ryan headed back to the flat. A few minutes later, they were stretched out on Mark’s bed.
“I need to ask you a favour,” Mark said quietly.
“Yeah?” Ryan queried.
“I’ve agreed to help Peewee get his life sorted out,” Mark went on.
“Why are you helping him?” Ryan questioned. “I thought he was a dosser.”
“He has been, pretty much,” Mark explained, “but we’re trying to change that. He’d got himself involved in all sorts of shit; if he carried on as he was doing he was going to end up in lots of trouble.”
“So has he been here as well?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah,” Mark conceded. “About a year ago; he came here a few times.”
“Oh, I see,” Ryan said, scowling slightly. “So is that why you’re helping him?”
“Not exactly,” Mark said quietly. “I haven’t told you this before, but when I went to Ukraine two years ago, I met a boy called Viktor. He was living on the street; when I picked him up he was filthy. I had to give him a good scrub . . . , you know, before we could do anything. He had absolutely nothing. I told myself that if it was possible I’d have brought him home with me and tried to give him a new life. I couldn’t, of course; I wouldn’t even have been able to get him out of the country. So this is like a test. There’s a boy that I am able to help; I just feel it’s something I need to do, you know, to prove that what I told myself back then wasn’t just words.”
“So will you be . . . you know?” Ryan queried.
“Definitely not,” Mark said. “He has to understand that I’m not helping him as a way of getting into his pants.”
To have said “not for the moment” rather than “definitely not” would have been closer to what he actually thought. If things went well, having sex with Peter would be a more than inviting prospect.
“Oh, I see,” Ryan said absently. “So where do I come in?”
“Peewee’s joining Westgate Harriers,” Mark explained. “Athletics is one of the few things he seems to be good at. He asked me if I’d go and watch him when he’s competing. I said I would, but it’s a bit awkward. When they have matches, Ashley will be in the team which means his dad will be there. It’ll look a bit strange if I turn up on my own, you know. He might start asking awkward questions; that’s the last thing we need. I wanted to ask if you’d come with me.”
“Yeah, as long as I can get my homework and everything done,” Ryan said nonchalantly.
“The problem is that the matches are on Sundays,” Mark went on. “It’ll mean missing your rehearsal with the rock band.”
“Actually, that’s not a problem,” Ryan said, smiling. “We won’t be rehearsing on those days anyway. Damian competes for Westgate Harriers; he throws the discus; Greg says he’s really good.”
“Oh, excellent!” Mark responded, smiling back. “That makes sense, tall and strong, long arms, big hands; so it won’t just be Ashley you’ve gone to watch. That’s good!”
“Actually, I think Greg might be there too,” Ryan said. “He said something about doing the shot.”
“Even better,” Mark said. “And thanks.”
“Well, I couldn’t say no, could I?” Ryan said, grinning. “Not after all the help you’ve given me.”
“Well I still appreciate it,” Mark said. “And just one final thing; he’s making a fresh start, yeah? He’s asked us to stop calling him Peewee and to call him Peter instead.”
“Yeah, cool,” Ryan said, nodding. “I’ll remember that.”
“So what d’you want now?” Mark asked quietly.
“The same as I always want,” Ryan told him.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Mark drove towards Newton Valley Leisure Centre. He was hoping that Peter would show up and that he’d be on time. He was by no means sure that he would. He turned onto the car park and checked the time. It was 7:27. To his surprise, Peter was there waiting for him. He swung the car around. Peter strolled across and got in.
“Great to see you!” Mark said as he drove away. “How’s it going?”
“Okay,” Peter said, sounding very non-committal.
“Been to the athletics club yet?”
“Yeah, went last night.”
“And how did it go?”
“So what were you doing?”
“High jump; I’m going to be doing hurdles tomorrow. I’ve never done that before.”
“I think you’d be good at that.”
“Dunno. I’m gonna need some spikes and I’ll have to buy a club vest. They said somethin’ about high jump shoes too.”
“We can get you some spikes at the weekend,” Mark said, “And I’ll give you the money for a club vest. D’you know how much they are?”
“Twelve quid,” Peter told him.
“That’s no problem,” Mark said quietly. “And see if you can find out about high jump shoes; I’m not sure where you’d get them.”
“Yeah, okay.” Peter said.
The conversation dried up; Peter seemed as reluctant to open up as he ever had. This was not going to be easy, Mark realised, though he’d never thought it would be. They arrived at the flat and took five minutes over having a drink, the atmosphere as tense as it had ever been. Finally, they settled down to work. The scale of the problem was immediately apparent; Peter could hardly read at all.
So was he dyslexic, Mark wondered? He asked Peter to write down a few things. Though rather slow, he managed the task okay. Mark was puzzled. Peter wasn’t the brightest, but he didn’t seem to be that bad. He should have been able to read. There was clearly a problem, but what was it?
After forty minutes, Mark called a halt. Such concentration as Peter was capable of had been completely exhausted.
“So are we gonna have some fun now?” Peter asked, grinning and rubbing his crotch.
“No,” Mark said firmly, “because you’ll think I’m only helping you so I can get into your pants.”
“So why are you helping me?” Peter asked uncomprehendingly.
“Well, because Josh and Tommy asked me,” Mark said. “That’s one reason. But think about why we fell out last year.”
“Cause you kept sayin’ I should do this and shouldn’t do that,” Peter said, grinning.
“And that was because I wanted you to try making something of your life,” Mark said, “and I still do. And now it seems you’re willing to give it a go.”
“We could still have sex though,” Peter protested.
“Not at the moment” Mark insisted, gently putting his arm around Peter’s shoulder. “First show me that you’re serious about getting your life sorted. Then we’ll see.”
And he very much hoped they would see. A few inches taller and with his voice having acquired a delightfully husky timbre, Peter was an even more appealing prospect than he’d been the year before. But it was one step at a time; he wasn’t going to get ahead of himself. If the project to help Peter get his life sorted didn’t work out, having had sex with the boy could leave him with a commitment that he wouldn’t want.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
The following Monday, Josh met Peter by the school gate. The reports from Mark and Tommy on the previous week’s tutorials had not been encouraging. Peter’s writing and basic maths were both well below average, but the real problem was his reading, which was desperately poor. That didn’t make sense, Josh considered. How could he write stuff if he couldn’t read?
The walk back to Lancaster Avenue was awkward for both of them. Josh tried to initiate conversations, but Peter’s replies were monosyllabic at best. Josh could tell that he was facing a very tough challenge. They arrived at the house. After collecting cold drinks from the fridge, they headed up to Josh’s room and began work.
Josh began by slowly dictating a couple of simple sentences for Peter to write down. He stumbled over a couple of spellings, but other than that it wasn’t too bad. He was a bit slow and the writing was rather large, but it was neat enough. They could work on that.
Josh passed Peter a children’s story book, one that he’d read when he was about seven. The problem was obvious, Peter was struggling horribly. Josh moved his eyes from Peter to the book and back again. Suddenly it clicked.
“Of course you can’t read it!” he snapped. “You can’t see it properly!”
Peter squirmed in his chair.
“You can’t, can you?” Josh demanded.
Peter shook his head.
“But you must have had eye-tests at school?” Josh queried.
“Yeah, but mum never bothered,” Peter explained, “and I wasn’t bothered; I can see fine the rest of the time. It’s just when I have to read stuff.”
“Well I’m bothered,” Josh said firmly. “Leave that for now,” he ordered. “We need to get this sorted. Come on!”
“Where are we goin?” Peter asked as Josh ushered him out of the house.
“You’ll see,” Josh told him.
Five minutes later they were in the village and striding into Boots. Josh navigated his way to the reading glasses.
“Okay, try reading the letters on here,” Josh said, indicating the chart adjacent to the display. Let’s see how far down you can get.”
Peter began to read. On the fourth line he hesitated, misreading a couple of letters.
“Right!” Josh said. “That says you need glasses strength 2.0. Find some you like and give them a try.”
Peter picked out a pair of plain rectangular ones with a minimal frame and slim side pieces. He put them on. This time he read right to the bottom of the chart.
“Great!” Josh said smiling. “You’ll need a case to put them in cause you won’t be wearing them all the time.”
They selected a Burberry-check case, taking both the glasses and the case to the counter. The total came to £23.98, which Josh paid with a plastic card.”
“You’ve got a credit card?” Peter queried.
“Debit card,” Josh corrected. “I can only spend what I’ve got in the bank.”
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to pay you back,” Peter said, looking embarrassed.
“Don’t worry about that,” Josh said, smiling. He put the glasses into the case and handed them over. “The important thing is that you use them, in class, and tomorrow when you go to Tommy’s and Wednesday at Mark’s yeah?”
“Yeah, I will,” Peter said, allowing himself a faint smile. “Thanks!”
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
“I wasn’t expecting to hear from you,” Mark said, picking up the phone. “No problems, I hope?”
“No,” Josh said excitedly. “Actually, I think I’ve solved one. Peter couldn’t read because he couldn’t see properly. I’ve got him some reading glasses.”
“Really?” Mark said. “So that’s what it was! I should have spotted that. How much did you spend on the glasses?”
“Twenty four quid including the case,” Josh said.
“I’ll give it to you at the weekend,” Mark said. “I said I’d get him anything he needed, and reading glasses are obviously part of that. And well done; that should make a big difference.”
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Almost two weeks had passed. On the Sunday, Ryan drove to Rachel’s house. He was taking Ryan to watch the Young Athletes’ League meeting, the first of the season. He was looking forward to it. His last two tutorials with Peter had gone much better. There was still a huge amount of work to do, but the boy was definitely making progress. More important, his attitude had improved; it seemed that he was finally starting to believe in himself.
Mark collected Ryan a little after midday. The match was being held at a stadium thirty miles away. It was due to start at half past twelve, but the first event that they wanted to watch was Peter’s high jump competition which was scheduled to begin at half past one.
“Got all your homework done?” Mark questioned as they headed towards the motorway.
“Yep!” Ryan said proudly. “Homework, guitar practice, piano practice; all sorted!”
“Excellent!” Mark said. “So now we can enjoy our afternoon out.”
“I’ve been asked to be in the school athletics team,” Ryan said, grinning.
“Really?” Mark queried.
“Yeah,” Ryan went on. “We were throwing the discus. Most of the kids couldn’t throw it at all, but I wasn’t bad, so Mr. Sherwood asked me if I’d like to take part in the district championships. It’s a week on Thursday.”
“So are you going to do it?”
“Yeah,” Ryan said. “Mr. Sherwood’s okay. I asked Mr. Allingham and he said it was alright, so I said yes. It’s not like being in the rugby team. There’s the district championships and we have three matches against other schools; that’s it.”
“Yeah, it was about like that when I was at school,” Mark said. “It wasn’t a major commitment so I didn’t mind doing it. And of course Ashley will be in the team; I guess that helps.”
“Yeah,” Ryan agreed. “Did I tell you Arsey’s left?”
“Don’t think so,” Mark answered.
“Yeah,” Ryan said, grinning. “End of last term, he just went.”
“Sounds like he was eased out,” Mark said. “It was obvious he and the new head didn’t agree about the way he ran things. There was only ever going to be one winner in that situation. So who have you got now?”
“Mr. Sherwood’s in charge for this term,” Ryan said, “and we’ve got this temporary teacher Mr. Blackledge. We’ll get a new senior games master in September; that’s what I’ve heard.”
“Makes sense,” Mark said. “I guess you’re glad to see the back of Mr. Thomas.”
“Everybody is,” Ryan asserted. “Even the rugby players didn’t like him.”
“And how’s the band going?” Mark asked, changing tack.
“It’s good,” Ryan said, smiling. “Zac’s written a couple of new songs. They’ve got more of a ‘rock’ feel to them so I get to play a bit more.”
“Sounds good,” Mark responded. “So you’re preparing for your gig at the end of term?”
“Yeah,” Ryan confirmed. “I’m looking forward to getting up there again.”
They arrived at the stadium just before one o’clock. They made their way inside, heading for the area where the Westgate team had congregated. Peter seemed genuinely pleased to see them, almost as though he’d been worried that they wouldn’t show up. Mark guessed he was used to people letting him down, which made it all the more important for him not to do that. Ryan wandered off to talk to his other friends.
“I’ll be jumping against boys a year older than me,” Peter said.
“No worries,” Mark encouraged. “Just do your best. I’m sure they wouldn’t have put you in the team if they didn’t think you were good enough.”
At half past one, Mark and Ryan moved onto the grassy bank overlooking to the high jump fan. The competition started quite slowly, a couple of boys from other clubs not even managing the opening height. As the bar went higher, more boys were eliminated. When the bar reached 1.70 metres, there were just six of them left, including both the Westgate boys.
“I’m going to watch Ashley’s race,” Ryan said. “He’s on in five minutes.”
Mark was torn. He’d have liked to watch Ashley too, but he was here to support Peter; that had to take priority. He’d have to watch Ashley as best he could in between Peter’s jumps. He watched intently as each of the boys took their first attempt at the new height. Peter’s team-mate and a boy in a green vest cleared it first time, the other three failed. Then it was Peter’s turn. He took his time, studying the bar carefully. Finally, he ran in, clearing it easily.
“Well done, Peter!” he shouted. “Great jump!”
Peter smiled across at him before putting on his training bottoms. The three boys who had failed tried for a second time. One of them cleared it. The other two made a third attempt and failed again, leaving just four of them in the competition. Mark noted that the other three were all bigger than Peter; they looked older too.
As the bar was reset, the gun sounded for the start of the under-13 boys’ fifteen hundred metres, the boys heading off along the back straight towards the bend at the far end of the track. After their initial three hundred metres, they ran through the finish line before setting off on their first complete lap. As they skirted the perimeter of the high jump fan, Ashley was running in the pack alongside his team-mate, looking easy and relaxed. Mark was entranced. In their running vests and skimpy shorts, the slim, leggy fifteen hundred metre runners were a most enticing collection of pre-teen boyhood. He’d have happily fucked any one of them.
The boy in the green vest and Peter’s team-mate both cleared 1.75 metres at their first attempt. The other boy failed. Before Peter could take his jump the runners were back. The leading group was down to five, with Ashley still in a good position. As they disappeared along the back straight, Peter made his attempt. He failed narrowly, brushing the bar off with his heels. That left two of them to try again. Peter’s opponent went first, making a clumsy attempt which didn’t come close to succeeding.
The bell sounded for the final lap of the fifteen hundred metres. Ashley had broken clear, striding out magnificently, the other runners trailing in his wake. With the last of them safely past, Peter ran in for a second time. Mark held his breath as the boy soared upwards, clearing the bar by the narrowest of margins. Seconds later, Ashley delivered a comfortable victory in his race. Although Peter failed three times at 1.80 metres, which his two opponents both cleared, he’d still done very well. He strolled across, smiling and clearly pleased with himself. The only time Mark had seen him smile like that was during and immediately after sex.
“You did great,” he said warmly. “Third overall is excellent, competing against older boys.”
“It was good, man!” Peter said enthusiastically. “I won the ‘B’ string, yeah?”
“Excellent!” Mark responded. “And your hurdles race is at three o’clock?”
“Yeah!” Peter confirmed.
“We’ll be here!” Mark assured him.
Just before three, the boys assembled for the start of the eighty metres hurdles. Mark and Ryan watched from their position in the stand, close to the finish line. Mark’s heart was pounding. Peter was new to this most technical of events; how he would get on was anyone’s guess. They were called to their marks, then to the set position. The gun sounded and they were away.
“Come on, Peter!” Mark called in genuine excitement.
He was awestruck. Peter wasn’t just fluent and graceful like Ashley was, he moved with speed, poise and precision, skimming over the hurdles as though he’d been born to it. Though beaten by a bigger, older boy, he performed well beyond Mark’s expectations. If anything ever epitomised poetry in motion, that was surely it. If circumstances had permitted, he’d have taken Peter back to the flat and had sex with him right then, but that, he told himself, was for later.
Peter’s smile as he returned to the stand was even broader than it had been after the high jump. It was a smile that said “I’m starting to enjoy this”. It was the breakthrough that Mark had hoped for.
“You did fantastic!” he enthused. “You looked like you’d been doing it for years!”
“Leon, my coach, says I’m a natural,” Peter said casually. “He didn’t really have to teach me much; I just did it, yeah?”
“Amazing!” Mark breathed. “It looked like you enjoyed it too.”
“Yeah,” Peter agreed. “It was wicked, man! Just for a few seconds you have to concentrate really hard. Sorry, I need to go and talk to Leon.”
He wandered off.
“Are you ready to make a move?” Mark asked, expecting to find Ryan eager to get away.
“Damian will be throwing in ten minutes,” Ryan responded. “Can we stay for that?”
“No problem!” Mark said, smiling, somewhat surprised by Ryan’s interest.
It was definitely worth the wait. Damian was one of Westgate’s star performers, his winning throw of almost forty five metres beating his nearest challenger by a considerable margin. It was time to go. Westgate were winning the match comfortably, and with Greg having scored useful points in the shot and Gary in the javelin, it had been an excellent day. After saying their goodbyes, they headed for home.