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I needed to talk to her. I had things I needed to say. But not in public, in the rain, in the High Street. And especially not with someone else listening. "Mum, I need to talk to Carol."
"Yes. I think you probably do. I'll see you in the library in a quarter of an hour."
"Nigel, will you give me a bit of space?"
"I was going to. Look, I'll wait inside Marks."
"Don't worry. I need to talk to her."
"Idiot, I know you do. I think I do, too."
I went over to the umbrella. Carol had been watching me. The someone else turned into Celia. Not one of her particular friends. I'd half expected it to be Natalie. Carol almost always went shopping with Natalie. Celia had her back to me. "Hello Carol."
"Chris." She sounded flat. I suppose I wasn't too surprised. She hadn't returned my call after all.
"Can we talk for a minute?"
"I, Chris, I'm. I'm shopping with Celia."
"Yeah. Only... Another time, eh?" I turned and started back to Marks to join Nigel.
"Chris?" Carol's voice was almost urgent.
I looked round. Met her eyes. "Carol?"
Her eyes dropped. "No. Doesn't matter."
It did, though. Matter. "I'll call you?"
"Yeah." The look on her face didn't say 'don't call me'. It was sad, wistful.
I didn't want to walk away. I couldn't walk back. She meant so much to me. And she'd promised. I heard Celia's voice as I walked away. "Have you and Chris finished?" I didn't hear Carol's reply. Maybe she didn't answer. Maybe it was hidden by the traffic and the rain.
I'd never broken up with anyone before. And I knew I still loved her. Only I hadn't known I'd loved her in time. Not in time to stop myself falling so hard for Nigel. Impossible to explain, but she still felt like a part of me. Not someone I could just ignore; not someone I wanted to ignore. Carol and I are, were, good friends. What were we now? We couldn't just treat each other as though we hardly existed?
It wasn't a long walk back to the store. But it was long enough for me to remember how she'd meant everything to me. How she'd fought Trunchbull in France because she'd loved me. How she'd actually made love to me. How soft her skin felt. Her scent. So different from Nigel. The different urgency in her kiss. Soft, yielding, yet strong.
It was a very odd feeling. Almost as though I was being drawn back, almost as though I wanted to be drawn back, wanted to turn the clock back, wanted to be back to the days before the trip. Back to the day Mum and Dad said I could go. Almost as though I wished I hadn't gone. Almost. And I felt all scrunched up inside.
"Not good, then?" Nigel was waiting just outside the doors, out of the rain.
"She didn't let me talk to her, If that's what you mean." Damn, I hadn't meant to snap at him.
"Oh." It wasn't what he said. It was the way he said it. As though I'd kicked him in the stomach.
I wanted to take his hands in mine, to put my arms around him, to tell him I was sorry, to tell him I loved him. But this was public, in the High Street, and you don't, can't hug your boyfriend in the High Street. You can't. "Look, don't take any notice of me for a couple of minutes, OK?"
"Yeah." Still flat.
"I, oh shit. Nigel I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you." It didn't seem like enough.
He faked a smile. "I should have expected you'd feel weird after talking to her."
"I didn't talk to her."
"After seeing her, then."
"Give me a minute or two?"
"Yeah. I just get so scared."
I knew what he meant. I was shaking like a leaf. Inside, that is. I knew how much I loved him. I loved Nigel Cropper so much that I could taste it. I could picture myself a man of forty, living with him in love and peace and harmony. Two great friends, two lovers. Husband and, er, well, husband, I suppose. And I could picture something else, too. Or I couldn't. Not exactly. I could feel what was going to happen once friends found out. I could taste that, too. Like when you get a punch in the mouth and can taste the blood. Sharp and salt. And I could picture a different life. With Carol? No idea. But with a girl. And kids. And a dog and a cat. And school runs and grazed knees. And Mum telling me how sweet Nigel had been 'But we won't talk about that time, will we, dear?' and how wonderful it was to 'see me settled'.
When I'd pulled myself mostly together, "Nigel I'm scared, too." His face. Oh no. His face. Crumpled. I didn't even know a face could crumple. His did. "Damn. We need somewhere private. I need to be held by you. I just have to have your arms round me."
"You're not going to leave me?"
"Why on earth would you imagine that? I wish we hadn't seen Carol." My voice was quiet. "Listen to me. It's important." I looked him directly in the eyes. "I am not going to leave you."
"Oh, Chris!" He sighed. Looked deflated and happy at the same time.
"Just to make sure you understand, I am not going to leave you. Not ever. Not even if you try to get rid of me."
"Then why... "
"Am I scared?"
He looked at me like a puppy. His eyes underlined with dampness. Clear and bluest blue. Huge. Windows into his soul. "Yes, why? What is it?"
"Life. I suppose. We're fourteen. Until I met you I felt pretty grown up." He tried to interrupt. "No, let me try to explain. I was confident about who I was. I feel so small, somehow. Not alone. I'm with you. But it's like alone. It's a lot like alone." His face was falling. This was impossible. I didn't know how to tell him what was scaring me without hurting him on the way. I had to get to the end without his losing it in the middle. "Nigel, listen. I've got to tell you what's come and got to me. I have to get to the end without hurting you, And I know you'll be happy when I've finished, but I can't get there if you lose it halfway. Please try to listen without assuming the end?"
"I'll try." He sniffed. Mum would have told him to blow his nose.
"Look, it's like this." And I told him about the pictures in my mind. I told him how happy he made me. How much I loved him. I told him about how Carol's being upset had unsettled me. I told him about wanting kids. Until then I hadn't even known that I wanted them. Not really wanted them. I did. I wanted children. I told him how I was scared shitless of school, suddenly. I didn't tell him about the picture of a girl. And how I knew, just knew, that Mum would do all that she could to protect us while wishing that he were a girl.
He listened. He kept his emotions intact all the way through. He smiled at the image of two forty something year old lovers. It seemed like a lifetime away.
"Chris, my love, I want those things too."
"Of course. Well, not of course. I mean I've never quite got on with cats. But if you want a cat, we'll have a cat. Can the dog be a red setter?"
"OK, we'll argue about that later!" He was smiling. The confident Nigel. The one who had made me run to the beach and swim naked in the dawn light. "Christopher," he never used my full name. I'd never heard him use it. "Christopher, look at me." I hadn't realised that I wasn't. His eyes drew me back. He looked serious for a moment. "I'm a bit, well, concerned about school."
"You are too?"
"I was as soon as I found out that I was different. And I'm not looking forward to next term. They're going to find out, Chris. About us. I could cope with keeping me a secret. It was only me that knew. And I dared to, had to tell you. And I trust you. I even trust Carol. But it's going to creep out."
"Not if we're careful." The taste of blood was back.
"Except that you've been with Carol for ever. And now you aren't. And you're gorgeous, and all the other girls will want you."
"I'm not. They won't."
"Take it from me. You are, and they will."
"Oh." It felt kind of flattering, but weird. "Yeah. I suppose."
"What I mean is, they'll wonder for a while why you split up. I do trust Carol, don't know why, but I do. She won't tell them anything exactly. But she won't be able to lie either." I think he saw my face now. Fall. "Look it may be a bit tough at first., but they'll get used to it when they have to."
"Yes." He sounded so strong and confident. "Really, they will. But only if we're strong. Like with those two shits in the cinema."
"You were so strong!" I remembered how he'd dealt with them. I'd been trying not to wet myself, and he'd stood up tall and proud and beaten them off with words.
"Only when I'm with you." He smiled at me. He could do anything with me when he smiled. It gave me power, strength, love. Everything came from that smile. The shaking was stopping. "I mean it, Chris. You give me so much strength. You let me be brave, make me brave."
"I was just thinking the same about you."
"I want to kiss you. Here. Now."
"Don't!" I was horrified. "I mean I daren't. Not in public."
"I don't dare either. But I want to."
"Phew! Er, I mean, oh. You're laughing at me!" He was. Well he was smiling at least.
"A little. Come on, your mum'll be waiting."
It would be good to have said that we walked past Carol and Celia, that we stopped and talked to them, that everything was OK. But they'd gone. I knew what Carol would have made of seeing Nigel and me in serious conversation, eye to eye. I wondered if Celia would have decided the same thing that Carol already knew. And then I realised that it didn't matter. Not anymore. Nigel wanted the same things that I did. And I made him feel like he made me feel. Ready to take on the world. And I loved him. That's what mattered.
It was hard to be nervous of anything with Nigel beside me, even getting soaking wet on the way to the library. Mum met us on the steps. She was with Claire, and they were both coming out.
"Where've you been? I thought I said a quarter of an hour?"
"It took a little longer than I thought, Mum."
"Never mind. We're going back to Claire's for coffee. All of us."
And we did. It felt really strange, but Nigel went back with Claire, and I went with Mum. I missed him. Even for a ten minute trip. Very strange. And I felt odd with Mum, too. "Chris?"
"Mum?" We both spoke at once.
"Chris, I love you, you know. Very much."
"I know, Mum." I did. I could feel it. "I love you, too, you know."
"He's a nice boy. I do like him." There wasn't much I could say.
"I want you to be happy, Chris.. It's all I want. It's all I ever wanted."
"Thanks." It sounded repetitive.
"It's a harder road you've chosen that I wanted for you."
"I love him, Mum."
"It'll be enough, Chris. I hope it will. But it won't be easy."
We'd arrived, and she was parking in front of the house. I don't remember too much of the coffee. Mum and Claire and Nigel and I all sat round the living room. We were told all sorts of clinical things about hygiene and stuff that they'd found on a medical dictionary. It was a bit embarrassing. Especially bits about bacteria and inflammations if they got into the wrong place, and using condoms to stop it from happening. Anal fissures were on target. No treatment apparently except common sense and cleanliness. We did get on to AIDS, and HIV and safe sex. Nigel and I'd agreed earlier that we'd listen politely, nod a lot and say 'yes' a lot whatever they said to us. And actually we learnt quite a bit of useful stiff.
One thing struck me during the chat. One very incongruous thing Only I couldn't talk about it then. I made up my mind to see what Nigel thought later. I was also wondering how we'd manage to spend the very last days of the holidays together.
As coffee turned into scrambled eggs on toast for lunch, I was still wondering. Small talk was going on. Sons in love with each other were being forgotten. Mum and Claire were getting to know each other properly. Nigel cleared the plates away, and we went to wash up.
"We seem to do a lot of washing up," he said. "I couldn't think of any other way of getting away."
"I don't mind."
"I do. I don't want to be washing dishes. I don't even want to be with them. I want to be with you."
"Yeah, well." I dried the last plate. "I've been meaning to ask you after that medical lecture. How is it?"
"It'll be OK. You got it right."
"Wasn't difficult. I mean it's obvious really. Clean and soothed and stuff."
"Yeah. I don't want that to happen again. While we're being practical, there must be a better lubricant. I mean there just must be. I just don't know how to find out."
"I suppose we could ask your mum?"
"Yeah, Chris. 'Mum, I have a sore bum. We wanted to know, is there a better lubricant than butter?' I can just see that."
"Well have you a better idea?"
"No, dammit. I have no idea."
"Hang on. I do." I did. "My Dad. I think I might be able to ask him."
"Well, he may not know, but I'll bet he'd help find out. He knew about us before we told him, right?"
"Right. So that means he'll be OK to answer that?"
"I think he might. I can't ask Mum, can I?"
"Well I'll try and ask Dad." The incongruous thing from the medical stuff came back to me. "I know. I've got something else to ask him."
"Well, you know when they were telling us to use condoms?"
"Yes." He sounded intrigued.
"Well, I don't think they'd be any use to us."
"You mean you don't want to use one!"
"Nor do you," I told him. "But that isn't what I mean."
"Well, condoms are made for adults, right?"
"And although I love that part of you, it isn't as big as an adult's, is it? Nor's mine!"
"And your point is?"
"Covered briefly! It'll fall off! Remember the one we saw in sex lessons at school, the right size for the banana?"
"Now you mention it, yes."
"Enormous. And it'd get pulled off when we're, er. You know. So I'm going to ask Dad where to get our size!"
"I bet you can't."
"I can. Of course I can."
"I meant get our size!"
For which he received a bear hug. From behind. "I want to take you upstairs and do very rude things to you." I nuzzled his ear as he stood by the sink. He always smelt so clean, too. "How can we get some time to ourselves?"
"I don't know. I don't think we can until night time."
"I want you now." I moved my hands down his front.
"Not now!" He wriggled round. "I think we'll get shot if we're even kissing if they walk in."
I didn't care. I nuzzled his neck as I was moving my hands lower. I needed to have him in my arms. To be in his arms. I wouldn't have cared if the Fire Brigade had come crashing through the kitchen. "Turn round. I'll risk being shot." I was still nuzzling his neck as he turned, sliding round in my arms. Nuzzling under his chin, smelling the scent of his skin, kissing his neck. Feeling the softness of his neck, the smoothness of his cheeks as I moved to his face. Tasting his warm breath. Pressing my lips against his. Lost in his kiss. Fighting his tongue with mine, pulling his tongue into my mouth, forcing mine into his. Pulling his body close to mine, running my hands hard up and down his spine.
I so wanted to feel his skin against mine. Wanted to undress him. Wanted to feel him all warm, no all hot, against me. Just press him to me. Hold him close to me. Make him part of me. For ever.
The door was opening. I saw it in the mirror. "Door!" it was a whisper as I pulled back from his mouth. We kind of sprang apart like scalded cats.
There was a throat clearing as the door opened. Claire. Good old Claire. Making sure that we weren't going to embarrass my Mum, probably. Or her, come to that. It was pretty natural for us to kiss, but it did seem a bit unusual, even to me, to think of two boys kissing. Certainly not something you see every day, anyway. And both mothers came into the kitchen.
"I don't know quite where the day's gone," Mum said. "It's coming up to two o'clock already. And I hadn't expected to spend more than the morning on town."
"I'm glad we could spend some time together, Jean," Claire smiled at Mum. "These two boys are going to need a lot of support at home from time to time."
"I was wondering," Mum said, "what they were going to do for these last days of the holidays."
"We'd like to be together, Mum." I thought she probably knew that, but it was worth saying so anyway. "Only... "
Claire finished for me. "Only it's a bit awkward to ask to be alone?"
"Er, well, oh."" I blushed. "Yes. Er, especially when Mum... "
"Doesn't like the whole idea?" Mum looked at me, neither approving nor disapproving.
"Exactly." My eyes were downcast. That strength I'd had when staking my claim to my lover had evaporated somehow. I suppose one was dealing with the right to love. This was more a please for privacy and tact and kindness.
"I think what Chris means, Mrs Cropper, is that it's pretty awkward if we're alone and people are thinking things about us. We do just spend time together. I mean we aren't... "
"You had better start calling me 'Jean' Nigel. I thought we'd done that?" Mum was going to be OK about it. I could feel it. Just that bit told me so. "Your mother and I've been trying to work that out. It's really not different from if you were boy and girl." She paused, frowned a little. "If you were less unusual, we'd still have the same problem. Neither of us wants to actually know what you do together."
"It isn't disgusting, Mum!" I was ready to object. Prickly.
"That isn't what I mean. Pull your horns in, Chris."
"Look, if it's what you both want to do, even if it gives me a problem, then it's got to be all right." She still looked as though she was struggling. She'd struggle with it all her life, I realised. "What I mean is, We want you to be able to feel that the time you spend together is private. Personal. No-one asking questions, even inside. No-one wanting to know, nor even seeming to question what you are doing. I want to be able to feel that you're listening to CDs or reading comics. That you're still, well, innocent, I suppose. And I want you to be able to feel that I'm thinking that."
"Mum, that can't work." I spoke softly. "Sometimes we will be. But we're also going to be cuddling and, er, stuff." I surprised myself. The red hot blush was still there. Hotter if anything. I was the boy who couldn't even let my parents see me naked in the bathroom. And I was talking, almost, about sex. Sex that I was having, planning to have, with Nigel.
She sighed. "Chris, if you were in your room alone with Carol, I'd want to feel that you were listening to CDs and doing other children's things. I mean that is what I thought you were both doing. And I imagine it's what Mr and Mrs Anderson thought, too."
"I suppose?" I was very doubtful, but I could see where she was going.
"Chris, I think your mother means that she knows full well that you are likely to do more than listen to music," Claire said. "But she isn't going to ask. And she isn't going to be concerned if you're both, well, tactful."
"This sounds OK, Chris," Nigel said to me quietly. "If we don't embarrass anyone then no-one is going to be awkward about us. Wrong word, but you know what I mean?"
"Well, yes." I knew. I could understand. It wasn't really any different from girlfriend and boyfriend stuff. It was just that I was still embarrassed, no uncomfortable, no concerned about loving another boy. "Sorry Mum. Thanks." I was still wondering how to actually leave a room with Nigel, though. In stories it was solved as if by magic. Enid Blyton would have coped. Well not with the sex of course. But she'd have had her characters go for a bracing walk to find their parents had gone out when they got back, with a note about having fun until supper time. Real life was so different. More stark. More intense.
"All this doesn't solve what you're going to do today and tomorrow," Mum said.
Not desperately possible to suggest that we wanted to go and listen to music in Nigel's room. And actually I did want to do just that. And lie on his bed with him and hold him.
"We'd just like to hang out together, I think," Nigel answered her. "Not do anything special."
There must be magic in real life at times. The phone rang. Claire answered the kitchen extension. Then passed it to Nigel. "For you," she said. "John Simpson."
"Thanks," he said. And then into the phone "Hi, John!" And there followed a long conversation about the trip and stuff. (It was obvious, too, that the conversation had turned to that afternoon. "Hold on a sec," Nigel said, putting his hand over the mouthpiece. Then to me, "Chris, John wants me to go round to his place this afternoon. Might be a good idea." Then back to the phone, "hang on, John, Chris is here. I was wondering if he could come over as well?" It must have been OK with John. Nigel's nodded a bit.
"Yeah, OK, if he doesn't mind?" Out of the house at least. Away from parents. Well away from ours, anyway.
It didn't take long to arrange it. Mum was happy about it. I wondered if she was thinking that we couldn't, well, do anything, with another boy and his parents about. If she was, then she was right. "Oh," Nigel said, into the phone. ""I don't know. I'll have to ask them. You OK to hang on again?" And he turned to the room. "John's asked us to stay the night. He says his mum just asked him."
"Nigel, have you checked that she knows that there are two of you?" Claire asked him.
"Yes, she knows. I heard her suggest it."
"Mum?" I turned to Mum and asked her.
"Well," she said, "I bought you some new underwear in Marks this morning, so I can pack you off with that, I suppose. And your shirt will do until tomorrow." There was a short wait. "Yes, go on, If you behave yourself."
"Right," said Nigel into the phone again, "if your mum's sure, then it's OK," He waited for the other end. "Yes, both of us." He hung up. "John's happy of we go over straight away. He was meant to be doing a cricket course, but it's rained off, and he's bored stiff. He's only just down the road," he added to Mum. "We've got waterproofs, so we'll walk."
We still got soaked though. Well our hair did. 'Just down the road' turned into a mile or so. It was good to be out of the house, wet or not. I didn't know John very well. I'd never been in his group. When I thought if it, he and Nigel had always seemed pretty close friends.
The air was cool in the rain. The downpour on my head reminded me of the shower. How I'd stood there, blasting myself with cold water. Almost trying to wash myself away. Not as fierce as the shower. But cold. I turned my face upwards, directly into the rain. Felt it dashing into my face, eyes tight closed. Felt the water trickling past the neck of the waterproof and down my back. Began to feel clean again. Except I hadn't felt as though I wasn't until I started to feel clean.
"What are you doing?"
I came back to myself. "Er?"
"You stopped walking. Just stood looking up to the heavens.. What are you doing?"
"I dunno. It felt good."
"I found you in the shower like that, Chris. What is it?" It was real concern that shone from his eyes. I felt bathed in it. I could see in my mind a soft, calm, blue light washing from him all over me. Pure imagination. There was no other way to describe it, though. An oasis of calm. Yet hypnotic.
"I really don't know." I thought hard. "I sort of cut out for a moment or two. Everything stopped. But it didn't."
"Are you sure you're all right?"
"No." My mind was half racing, half wading through treacle. All alert and half dead. "No. I'm not sure." I was still churning. All the emotion of the past days, almost no time at all since we'd got back, all the emotion was whirling around. Like watching a film of a tornado. Large chunks of ordinary stuff being pulled up and tossed away like so much trash. All trashed. "I don't like how I feel and I love it. Wait, that's not right. Not fair. Wait." Even in the rain we were looking into each other's eyes. I could see the water running down his cheeks; see it dripping off the tip of his nose. I'd never even noticed his nose before. A perfect nose. I saw his hair, plastered with the rain, a deeper colour when wet. All soaking rat's tails and running rain. "Oh Nigel!""
"I just never felt like this before. It's good. I mean mostly. But Mum... "
"Yeah. You love her a lot, don't you?"
"Yes." It was a simple statement of fact. "I've never fought with her before."
I looked at his face. I seemed to have this knack of knocking the stuffing out of him. I'd done it again. "Nigel?" His eyes had been looking at my feet. They met mine again. "I don't regret a thing. I'm all messed up inside, but I know I love you."
Some of the water running down his face wasn't from the rain. I could see that. "I've not felt like this before either," he said, when he could catch his tears and speak. "Loving you from a distance was awful. But it was safe, too." He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. What with the rain it made no difference. "This is all scary. I can't be apart from you. I can't. But I'm scared of everyone else knowing. Spoiling it all. I want it to be perfect. And it isn't."
"I'm brave enough if you are."
"I reckon I am too, then."
Before he realised it, before I realised it, I'd grabbed a kiss on his lips. In the street. Just a peck. I don't know what it did to his mood, but it helped mine a lot. "Come on, let's get going!"
"You kissed me!"
"Ah, you noticed that, then?"
"It's the street... "
"Yep. I felt like it. Scared or not, you needed it. Now come on!" Inexplicable mood swing. Very odd. I felt as though I was walking on air. Well water anyway!
Another couple of hundred yards and we were turning into John's front path. A big house, on a wide plot. I could smell money. Brand new SAAB on the drive, neat lawn, large tubs of flowers as well as flowerbeds, gravel drive. I wasn't intimidated by money. We all took having it or not having it as a fact of life. But even so I was surprised.
Two drowned rats stood under the porch roof, struggling out of waterproofs. I was pleased that my clothes were in a plastic bag inside a plastic carrier. Nigel's, too. Before we could ring the bell John opened the door.
"Oh yuck! You're soaking!"
"A bit," Nigel answered, as we went in.
Mrs Simpson took the waterproofs from us and hung them somewhere to dry, and we all three vanished upstairs. Oh wow! A snooker table. A full size snooker table. In a room of its own. And a game in progress. There were a couple of other kids there, a year or two younger than us. "This is Mike, my brother, and this is Andy Giles," John said by way of introduction.
They almost looked up and acknowledged us. But not really. They were engrossed in the game. And anyway we were much older. Well, Mike did say hello to Nigel, But Andy kept his head down and said nothing.
"I've just got a Playstation," John said. "Want to have a go?"
Did we ever? It was in the days before the graphics got really good, but it was a motor racing game, with two controllers, so that we could race against each other. It was dead hard to do. The steering was like a switch for left and right, and the accelerator was full on or not, and the brakes were the same. I kept spinning off the track. Uncontrollably.
It was fun, though.
Eventually we got a sort of league together. First John thrashed me. Then Nigel thrashed me. Then John and Nigel had a great race against each other. Then we did it again. By the end of the afternoon I had managed to stay on the track for one race of three entire laps, and come in so far last I was out of sight in the league! I wanted a Playstation!
Even the wet clothes I was wearing had dried. All was right with the world. I hadn't noticed why, but it was because no-one in this house knew about us. No-one was walking on eggshells to try not to upset anyone. It was lovely.
Tea, or was it supper, was sort of spirited in by Mrs Simpson. Nothing special. Mountains of sandwiches, crisps and cans of fizz. Five hungry boys can devour a mountain of sandwiches in an instant. We did. Plus a packet or three of biscuits
Then the evening was much the same as the afternoon. Mike and Andy mucked about together. At the same time we three got on really well. It didn't seem to matter that I hardly knew John, or that he and Nigel had been good mates for ages. At times the two younger kids got brave enough to join in with our mucking about. And we teased them each time. And the evening flew by. Nothing memorable. Just a really good time. Relaxed. I hadn't realised how tired I was when Mrs Simpson popped her head round the door and announced that it was bed time. It seemed that Andy was staying as well. I liked it there. It was a comfy rabble.
"Where do we sleep?" I wondered where three extra bodies were going to be put.
"Easy," said John. "These two sofas turn into beds. And Andy'll sleep in Mike's room. So you two guys'll kip here, they'll doss down together coz he's got twin beds, and I have the luxury of my own room."
"Cool." It just seemed so perfect. I could be with Nigel. There was one thing I hadn't realised, though. I didn't realise it until the next morning.
Tiredness swept over me as we unfolded the sofabeds, got the duvets and pillows form the linen cupboard, and did teeth cleaning and stuff. I know what I'd intended. I was going to get into my bed, which was just across the TV from Nigel's. When the house was quiet, when I could hear no more movement, I was going to creep over and snuggle down with him. I didn't have anything in mind except to hug him, cuddle him to sleep. Then I was going to go quietly back to my own bed. No way was I going to be caught by anyone waking us up.
That was what I was going to do.
I was getting ready to do it, too.
Only I can't have.
Because I was dreaming about forests when I felt something warm slide into bed beside me. And I felt a soft stroking on my shoulder as I snuggled deeper into the soft pine needles carpeting the forest floor. And it was safe and warm. I remember feeling soft breath on the back of my neck. And a mumbling voice saying that it loved me.
I don't remember any other dreams. Just that one, fading gently as the night deepened. A wakeless night. Soft, safe.
I woke to footsteps in the room, and gentle light through the curtains. And a voice saying 'Oh' quite softly. As my eyes focussed, I found I was looking at Andy. "What time is it?" I asked him sleepily.
Then I realised what he was looking at. Or I thought I did. Because I found that I hadn't been dreaming, and that I still had someone's arms round me. And that someone was beginning to stir sleepily.
"What do you mean, 'Er'?" I asked Andy. "Come to that, what are you doing here?" I was definitely wondering what he was doing there.
"I had to go through this room to get to the loo," he said. "I never meant to, er, I didn't expect, er, oh." He looked perplexed as well as sleepy.
By this time Nigel was thoroughly awake, and was looking over me at Andy. "Andy, it's OK," he said.
'OK'? How could it be OK? I didn't know Andy from Adam. I had no idea what he was thinking. Nor if he could be trusted. Nor if he was going to run round the whole school telling them that Nigel and I had been sleeping in the same bed. And there wasn't even an excuse for being in the same bed, because there was a second sofabed in the room, and it was made up with pillow and duvet for Nigel. And it was scary. And Andy was only about twelve, and I didn't know if he could understand, would understand. What could we say? That we'd been cold in the night and hadn't wanted to wake anyone to find blankets? Lies were flashing into my head and being dismissed straight away as impractical. I was trembling. I was actually trembling.
"It is?" He looked wide eyed. "Are you gay?" The directness of twelve years looked me and Nigel in the eyes, one after the other.
Nigel had obviously decided for us. "I don't know, Andy. I truly don't. But I know I love Chris. And that he loves me. And I wanted to hold him last night, so I crept into his bed." He paused to look at Andy's big saucer eyes, at his mouth hanging open. "Only I fell asleep," he added lamely.
"Do you fuck each other?"
Oh. Did we fuck each other? Oh great. Caught asleep together, when not one single thing had happened except a cuddle, and now this kid wanted to know if we fucked each other. I felt six years old, standing in front of the head teacher, and ready to cry. "Easy, Chris," Nigel said quietly into my ear. "Just take it easy. I can feel you trembling. It was bound to happen one day."
"What was?" Andy asked him. "What was bound to happen? And do you?"
"Andy," said Nigel, "We love each other. One day someone was going to find out. I just hope we can trust that someone, trust you, I mean, not to go telling the whole world. And yes. We do."
I didn't think eyes and mouth could open any wider. "Oh yuck. That's gross." His eyes opened and closed. "I mean that's really gross. It's dirty and stuff."
And my world collapsed.
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