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"I can't learn it."
It was lunchtime, and I was sitting with Carol. "The French? It is pretty hard, that vocab list."
"Aggravating sod. You used to be able to read my mind."
"You've got John for that." I was grinning at her.
"You get more aggravating every day, Christopher Jenkins!" Carol's eyes were flashing and she was smiling at me. "The part! Not the vocab list! Juliet! Romanoff and!"
"You haven't got long."
"Oh sweet! Don't remind me! It's only a week and I still haven't got it. And I've got to kiss Geoff Tranter in the last act!"
"I won't. It's a huge part." She looked at me, all disapproving. "Stop giggling. Your mind's all dirty now you've got a boyfriend."
"Shh!" We were in the school canteen.
"No-one can hear. Anyway I can always say I'm rehearsing my lines."
"Yeah, right. Isn't John helping you?"
"Kind of. Well, he will tonight."
No-one else joined us that lunchtime. It was nice having Carol to myself, just to chat to. I still wondered sometimes what it would be like if Nigel and I weren't together, if Carol and I still were. It would've been safe, cosy, comfy, certainly. But would it have been exciting, fiery, vibrant? "I'll help you a bit of you want."
"You'll make Nigel jealous." Those eyes were full of mischief. And she was a very beautiful girl. Very beautiful indeed.
"I could kiss you and make John jealous."
"Funny, isn't it?"
"Well, if you and I kissed here, now, neither John nor Nigel'd be jealous, and only the four of us'd know why."
"Six?" She thought for a second. "Oh yes. Six. Andy and Mike. Rather fun having a secret isn't it?"
"Meaning I want to tell the whole world. Everyone. Teachers, friends, the lot. I want to stand on the stage at assembly and announce it to everyone, and then to kiss him in front of everyone."
"You'd get a round of applause."
"Not from people like the Tranters I wouldn't."
"I remember. The little one was the little shit that went for Andy, wasn't he?"
It seemed so long ago, half a lifetime. I wasn't remembering what Billy had done. I was remembering the look in his eyes, the look in Geoff's eyes, the feeling that somehow I was no longer afraid of Geoff Tranter. I shivered. Must have shivered outwardly as well.
"God this is repetitive. I ask what and you ask what back. I mean what? You shivered."
"Well, Geoff used to bully me when I was new here. Dinner money and stuff. Then he and one of his loutish mates picked on me and Nigel on a bus and in the cinema just after we got back from France."
"Doesn't matter that much. I think somehow he guessed, or wanted to guess or something. Or maybe he fancies Nigel, or maybe me, come to think of it, since it was me he used to bully. Anyway that's not the point, not really."
"So what is?"
"Not sure. It's just... No. I'm not sure."
"You're so infuriating, you know that?"
"Don't mean to be. It's just something odd, something I can't place. I saw it when he came over to thank me for not beating the crap out of Billy after that mess over Andy. Something odd in his eyes. Heck, I'm out of my depth here. I mean it may be nothing. But if it's something then I don't know what it is. And whatever it is looks deep and personal. Private, behind a bank vault door."
"Don't go there, then." She didn't sound as light as the words she used.
"I wouldn't know where to start." I did though. Not start, know where to start. It was a matter simply of taking action.
Lunch was over as I made up my mind to take the action. We had a while before lessons started again, and Carol was looking for John and 'somewhere quiet to learn my lines,' which I believed totally, of course. I was heading for the school office.
I had second thoughts as I turned into the corridor, then third thoughts as I saw the door was ajar. I'd like to say that I walked up resolutely top the door, knocked and walked in. What actually happened was that the person I wanted to see came out through the door and saw me. "Hello Christopher."
"'Chris'. We agreed on 'Chris' Mrs Wilding."
"Sorry. I file people by the name I first knew. Takes me ages to unlearn it." She was smiling. "Did you want me?"
I could have said 'No.' Instead I nodded. "Yeah."
"I have to tell the English staff that we need a supply of consonants. Well, sibilants, really. No, that's cheap of me. We know each other better than that. Sorry."
It was daft, but I was shuffling from foot to foot. "I need to talk to you... Please... "
"Right. Pop inside, and give me a minute to sort something out?" I popped. As I did I heard her asking someone to tell someone she'd be late.
"I don't want to make you late... " I was mumbling as she came back in.
"Christ... Sorry. Chris, people here come first. Especially when they look as worried as you do."
I felt worried. I was about to say something I didn't even understand. "I'm not sure this conversation is going to be one of those that you can forget about. I mean I hope it is, but I don't think it is. At least I don't know. And I don't know how to start, and I don't even know what I'm going to tell you and... "
"Start in the middle, then."
"Well, I find with difficult things that the middle's a pretty good place to start, and then get to the beginning and the end later."
"I don't know... "
"Can I ask questions, then?"
"Will you tell me before I get to a part you have to remember?" This was so difficult. I wasn't even sure.
"I suppose I could just say 'what have you come here to talk about?' But that'd be pretty useless. Chris, I can see something's worrying you. Is it about you or someone else?"
"Not even about anyone I like much. Well, one a little, the other not at all. Not about me, that's certain."
"Is it anything to do with the fight that you got hurt in at the start of term?"
Wow, she was astute. "Yes and no."
"The boy who you helped?"
"No, the one who started it." I hadn't meant to blurt it out.
"I know who that was Chris. You may think I didn't have any idea, but I end up knowing most things in the end."
"That helps. A little anyway. It's not just him... " Was she tricking me into telling her? Didn't matter if she was. I made up my mind. "It's him and his brother. Both of them."
"You told me about bullying and dinner money?"
"Not that." 'Don't assume, please don't assume,' I was thinking.
"You'll think I'm silly."
"Then we'll both laugh and say nothing more about it."
I got tongue-tied again. "I dunno... "
"I'm going to take a risk with this. And no, I don't even remember the question I'm about to ask you, far less the answer you're going to give me." She took a breath. I watched her eyes. They were looking at the blotter on her desk. "Chris, are you being bullied because of your friendship with Nigel? By the Tranter brothers? I'm using the word 'friendship' very carefully."
"NO!" Oh shit. She knew. She knew about me and Nigel. Mrs Wilding knew. We'd been so careful and she still knew. She knew. I was sweating suddenly. I'd shouted the word out; taken by surprise, I'd shouted. It was as good as admitting it. My eyes were downcast, too. I felt welded to my seat. "No." Calmer. "No. No-one's bullying me." Stronger now. "Nigel wouldn't let them." She still knew. "How?"
"Chris, I don't remember the question, and you certainly never shouted at me. Let's just say I know that you're very good friends, and that I think some good friendships are a good idea, and that I think you're both good for each other. And discreet, too. And I want to make sure the Tranters aren't bullying you, either of you... "
I was sort of hearing what she was saying, but trying to divert her. "How? Look never mind." I wasn't calm yet. How would I tell Nigel that she knew? I mean we had no secrets. This seemed a difficult thing though. "We aren't, I meant they aren't. It's not that. I don't know what it is, but there's something wrong. Not me, nor Nigel." That felt so odd. I stopped.
"I'm not remembering any of this conversation yet, Chris. So far we're just talking about the weather. Nothing to even think about remembering so far."
"Now, what do you mean by 'wrong'?"
"That's just it. I don't know. It was a look. When I, er, spoke to Billy back then, and later when Geoff came up to thank me for not hurting Billy back. Something in their eyes."
"Can you try to be more specific? Even a little. I can't help if I don't understand."
That was hard. "When they mentioned poofs. Their eyes, looked, odd. Like there was something bad... I don't know! I just know something's wrong."
"Hmm." There was a long pause.
"Well, I'm thinking. About what I was going to ask next. Only I don't want you to yell at me."
"Try me." I was still nervous. No, not nervous. On edge. That's what I was. Trying to be very adult and feeling like a little kid.
"Well, think carefully before you answer this. Do you think the look was in their eyes or in your head?"
"What d'you mean?" I was trying not to bristle.
"Right. Let me try this differently. I'm not going to listen to anything you say about yourself. Nothing. I mean you could say 'Mrs Wilding, I'm gay' and I wouldn't hear it. Deaf, you see, at times. But if you were to say that, if, and then you said 'That isn't what I saw. It was in their eyes. It wasn't me feeling weird because they hit a raw nerve.' That is something you could say easily. Do you know the part I'd hear?"
"'It was in their eyes, Mrs Wilding. Not in my head.' I think that's what you mean."
"You know the only thing I'm going to remember from this conversation, Chris? No, don't look so worried. "I'm going to remember that the Tranter boys need some help, but I'm not sure what kind, nor what made me think it."
"What happens now?" I was worried. Worried that I shouldn't have spoken, but remembering the flashes behind their eyes as something was remembered, and then they shut down.
"From your point of view, nothing does."
"No, think. You don't want to be anywhere near whatever this is. If it's nothing, then you don't want to be involved. If it's something, then you certainly don't want to be involved. Especially since, if you're involved, then someone's going to ask you a lot of questions, not easy ones. My problem now, Chris. Mine."
"Yeah. Makes sense. Er, Mrs Wilding?"
"How? Did you know, I mean?"
"Let's just say I have a nose for these things?"
"We aren't... "
"Do I need to know?"
"No. But I do. Is it obvious?"
"Only if you know what you're looking at. No. Not obvious at all."
"Would it matter if it were?"
"Didn't we talk about this before?"
"Got you. You're pretty cool, you know."
"Not everyone would agree with you. Thank you, Chris. For coming to talk to me. It means a lot to me. And I'll do what I can. But, and this is important, I won't tell you anything at all. Nor will I ever have had this conversation with you."
"Can I ask why?"
"Apart from the obvious? I'm a mother."
"Well, if you were mine, I'd hug you." Wow. I never expected to hear myself say that. Wow. Offering to hug my headmistress. Wow!
"If you were my son I'd hug you, too. Only teachers aren't allowed to hug pupils, especially in private offices. Now, afternoon lessons?"
I was hearing a bell dimly in the background. "Yes. Er, thanks."
"Just before you go?"
I turned on my way to the door. Didn't need to speak, just met her eyes again.
"Please, Chris, please don't do anything to make me worry about you."
"I don't think I will, Mrs Wilding."
"Good. And Nigel Jenkins. You do understand what I mean, don't you?"
I did. Thought I did, was pretty sure that I did. "Thanks. Yes. I still don't know how you know, but thanks."
I went slowly back about my business, thinking hard. I really had no idea what'd made me go and see her, and I wasn't totally sure that I liked knowing that she knew about us. Except something said she wasn't going to let anything hurt us either. I'd meant it when I surprised myself by telling her I'd hug her. I reckoned she meant it , too, when she said she'd return the embrace. Nice lady. It'd been a shock though. It'd have to wait until later to talk to Nigel, though. The only real problem was that I didn't want to share the rest of the conversation with him. It wasn't my property, somehow. Not easy having no secrets when you feel that you need to be confidential.
I had the whole afternoon, well the whole school afternoon at least, to think it through. Didn't pay any attention to the lessons, though. Half of me wanted to tell Nigel everything and the other half to tell him nothing at all. After all, Mrs Wilding wasn't going to approach him exactly.
Come three-thirty I'd decided. Nothing. Some things needed to stay secret. It wasn't secrets between me and Nigel. It was business between me and Mrs Wilding. I still wasn't sure what I'd achieved, I didn't even know if I felt better. I was half scared about what might happen next. But it hadn't been a nice 'something' I'd seen in the Tranters' eyes.
"Ow! Watch where you're going!"
"Sorry." Autopilot acknowledgement as I walked head down round a corner into someone. I stopped to help her pick up a load of dropped stuff. I was still miles away. "Wasn't looking. Sorry." I finished handing her the books and stuff back.
"I don't suppose you're doing anything this afternoon?" Two dark brown eyes were looking at me from under an elfin haircut.
"Er, not really."
"You don't fancy doing your nothing really over a coke in the café do you?"
It was a lovely smile, too. A little nervous. My brain's wheels scrabbled for grip. "I don't know." I was playing for time until the wheels found traction. A pretty girl, too. Janine Hopkinson, a year below me. Dead cute, slim.
"I've, I, well, oh. It's just, well, oh heck. You don't, do you?"
I was being chatted up. Being asked out. That hadn't happened. Well it had. Nigel had! But not a girl, not ever. Not even Carol. She and I'd sort of gravitated together ages ago. Janine was doing make-up for the play, I knew that much. Didn't know anything else about her though. I'd never had to let someone down gently. And oddly, she was pretty, and was attractive. "I, er, I'm not really ready for another girlfriend." That was the truth, certainly. "Not since Carol and I broke up."
"It'd just be a coke." She was looking directly at me, meeting my eyes. "You owe me, for knocking my books out of my hands."
I didn't owe her. Not at all, let alone not really. Only I couldn't see any way out. "Can't stay long." I weakened and agreed. I wasn't meeting Nigel that afternoon, no stage crew were needed at the rehearsals, and that was where Carol was. I truly had no excuse, no reason not to go, except not wanting to. Only, well, she looked so determined, and so sweet, and somehow I felt I did owe her.
"Cool. I'm heading for my coat. Come with me?"
I was bewildered. I'd never been picked up before. "OK." Nothing else to do. Anyway a coke was a coke. I was still a bit of a hero, even almost a whole term after wading in after Andy Giles, too. That had to be it.
We reached coats and lockers. I didn't have my bike at school. Some days I walked, some days cycled. Usually it depended on how unpleasant the weather was, and today was damp and cold. Crisp and frosty cold was bike weather. Damp wasn't. It crept in through the clothes into your bones, did damp. Pity. Something to push, an excuse not to stay too long, that kind of stuff would have been useful.
The usual people were around the lockers. Nigel was somewhere with John, or doing something rugger oriented. And I felt weird. Half guilty that I was being picked up, even when I was truly only going for a coke, and half oddly excited. Janine was very good looking, that was easy to see. Slim, curves in all the right places, but not so curvy as to be deeply Marilyn Monroe kind of curvy. More sylph-like. And her eyes were gorgeous.
"How long ago did you break up?"
"You said something about since you and Carol broke up. She's gorgeous. She's with John Simpson now isn't she?"
"Yep. She and John've been going out since the start of term."
"That's my answer, then. You broke up then, I suppose."
"During the holidays, really. Anyway I don't want to talk about it." We were heading for the gate, coats on, homework being lugged in my case in an old Waitrose carrier bag, and in her case in a woven string thing.
"Must've been odd, though. I mean you two've been an item since before I moved to this school. Famous for it!" She moved closer to me as we walked, changing her bag to her outside hand, shoulders almost touching. "A lot of people were dead jealous of Carol, you know."
I didn't know. "No way!"
"Oh they were. I mean John's dishy, but you, Chris, she had quite a prize in you." I could sense that she was nervous, though, even though she sounded confident. I'd never picked anyone up, never had the need to, nor the nerve to.
"Don't be daft." I meant it. I had the most gorgeous boy in the whole world as my lifelong boyfriend, but I couldn't see that I was good looking in any way.
"Not being. Well, I was jealous anyway. I've... " She tailed off.
"Must be something."
"Well, if you must know I've been trying to make you notice me all term. Tried to work out ways of getting you to look my way. I'm always behind or in front of you in the lunch queue. Damn. I feel stupid now."
"Don't. I'm sorry." I couldn't think of anything to say except 'sorry', but the word wasn't right. We reached the café. A bit of a 'greasy spoon', but lots of kids from school were in there most days. That day was not exception. I just had enough cash for cokes. We found a table. And sat, cans open. Drinking.
"I had to kidnap you, you know. When you knocked the books onto the floor, I mean. It was like too good to be true. All term trying to get you to notice me and you crash into me." She was talking fast, too fast.
"Janine?" I was trying to work out what to tell her, how to tell her. And, I admit it, I was also finding her very attractive. Not all consuming like Nigel, not comfy like Carol had been, but different. Hard to explain. Impossible to explain.
Her words jolted to a halt. It was a nervous glance across the table to me. "Yes, Chris?"
What could I tell her? I was even getting hard. She was exciting to be with. But, oh heck. "I'm... " I couldn't think how to go on. I couldn't say 'I'm married to Nigel Cropper,' could I? Not a chance. "I'm really not ready for a girlfriend." It was lame.
Her face fell. "I know. You said." Her eyes bored holes in the formica table top. "It's just cokes. It is. Honest."
Something made me reach over and touch her hand. Not loving, just kind. I brushed the back with my fingers where it was on top of the smeared surface of the café table. "If I were ready, Janine, if I were, then... "
"Yeah, I know. It'd be me." Her voice was resigned, half sarcastic.
"It's just that I'm not." I looked up. Her eyes were unnaturally bright. No, were wet. I could see she was fighting not to cry. I didn't want to hurt her, didn't know what to do. I knew I could get this wrong in so many awful ways. Awful for her. I wished I could tell her the truth. The silence seemed to last for ever. Interminable. It must have been at least five seconds, but it felt like five years. "I hurt myself pretty badly." Wonder where that came from.
"I wouldn't hurt you, Chris. I wouldn't."
"Nor did Carol. I hurt myself. No-one else did." Shit. I thought I'd been inspired. Now I was digging a hole for myself. I was great in a relationship, it seemed. Outside one I sucked at conversation that involved me and secrets. It would be so easy if we were allowed to be gay. By society, I mean, not by authorities or anything.
"Don't want to talk about it. I mean it's not life threatening or anything, it's just private, OK?" Private! That was it all right. And private or not, this wasn't exactly the place to talk about it, even if I'd known her well enough to trust her.
I felt guilty then. Two guilts. One because she was being very brave, well in my eyes she was, and I couldn't be honest with her, and the other because I liked her. Well, to be fair I found her more than pleasant. She was cute and lovely and I was aroused by her, too. Which was scary. All I could think of to say was patronising crap. All I wanted to say was that I was Nigel's, now and for ever.
The cokes were getting warm.
"Would you walk home with me. Please?"
That was truly no hardship. "Sure." So we did. Neither in Nigel's direction nor mine, we set off towards her house. "How far?"
"A mile or so. Maybe more." She was walking close to my shoulder again, on my left. "I feel pretty stupid, you know."
"Don't be. It's lovely. No, really lovely," she was trying to interrupt, "to be told you're dishy is pretty cool you know. You're pretty good yourself."
"Isn't that. D'you believe in love?"
"Oh yes. Definitely." I felt a dreamy expression cross my face, the expression that was always there when I thought of Nigel.
"Well, I don't know how to say this, but since it isn't going to go anywhere, you and me, except cokes and a walk home, I'm going to."
"To tell you. Chris, I think, no I know, I'm in love with you."
"Ah." Well no-one would have expected that. No-one.
"'Ah'? That's it? 'Ah'?"
"Well, no. Not it."
"Do you know what it's like to be in love? I mean really know?" Her eyes were downcast, looking at the cracks in the pavement, between the paving slabs.
"Yes. I do." Then, before I could stop myself, "It's why Carol and I split up."
"You mean you love someone else? I thought you weren't ready for love yet!"
Fool. Totally deep, unclimable, inescapable hole. I was digging deep and pulling the earth in on top of me. "I can't. Can't talk about it. Won't. Not now."
"Sorry. Didn't mean to upset you."
"Didn't want to upset you either. You're nice." She was. Very nice. "Please don't love me, Janine, please don't. It can't happen, not ever."
"Not ever." I wasn't saying it sternly, just matter-of-fact.
"Oh. It isn't true is it?"
"Never mind. I shouldn't have asked."
"You have asked now," I reminded her
"It's just a silly rumour. I never believed it anyway."
"That you're gay. That's what some people are saying. That's why you hang around with Nigel Cropper so much. He's gay, they're sure he is. Never had a girlfriend, not that anyone knows of."
Twice in one day. Twice. Twice. I had no control over my face. None at all. It blushed crimson. It had to be giving me away, had to be. What to say. Admit it and Nigel suffers, deny it and I lie about who I am. Lying is preferable. Except how to lie convincingly? How? "I think... "
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I do, you know. Love you."
Got it. "Janine, I don't think Nigel's gay." That was the truth at least. I didn't think he was. I knew he was. "And I'd know if I was, wouldn't I?" Not a lie either. I did know. Well, thought I did, apart from the stirrings she created in me. "I don't mind. Well I do mind, but I won't mind that you said it. I just can't be what you want."
"Once. Would you kiss me once. Just once? First and last time?"
I didn't see the harm. I took her in my arms, well, arm. The other arm had homework in a bag on the end of it. And I held her to me and kissed he, full on the lips. It wasn't like kissing carol, nor like kissing Nigel. Janine was almost as strong as Nigel to hold, and almost as yielding as Carol at the same time. It lasted longer than I expected. It was wonderful, too.
"You're not gay," she said.
"Oh good." I knew how she knew, though, because I was captured inside my underwear and was rock hard, and had been pressing into her as we kissed.
"I think I'd like to go on alone. Chris, don't make fun of me at school? Please?"
"I promise. If you promise not to avoid me. I'd like, well, to be friends, if we can, that is."
And she was gone. Amazing how easily you can vanish into the distance even at walking pace.
I had a lot to think about on the way home. And ages to go until 6 o'clock and cheap phone rates to cal Nigel and tell him what had happened. I was wondering how to tell him, what to tell him, and I walked the unfamiliar route home from maybe halfway to wherever Janine Hopkinson lived.
I'd almost finished my homework by six. I was beaten to the call by the phone's shrill double ring. Mum answered it. And settled down to a long natter. Which left me on tenterhooks, because I wanted to talk to Nigel and somehow couldn't finish the homework while waiting for her to get off the phone.
I thought maybe I should go over and see him. I wanted to tell him about Janine. Though in an odd way I was nervous, too. In the end I decided to go back to my room and finish off the work rather than wait for Mum to finish the call.
Dimly through a maths problem I heard the front door bell, and Mum opening it, presumably still on the phone. And then footsteps on the stairs. And then my door opening, and Nigel coming in. "Oh good. I was going to call you when Mum got off the phone." Then I looked at his face. He'd been crying. Eyes red, eyelids puffy, cheeks tear streaked. What's wrong?"
"Janine fucking Hopkinson is what's fucking wrong."
"What's she done?"
"Done, nothing. What've you been doing? Walking her home, kissing her. What's going on, Chris? Does this mean nothing to you, this pair of bracelets, our promises? Nothing?"
"It's not how it looks... "
"Yeah, right. I've seen TV programmes too. They say that all the time."
"It isn't. I was going to call you, to tell you... "
"What? That you like girls after all? That I mean nothing to you?"
"Please listen. Please Nigel. Listen."
"If this bracelet had your name on I'd throw it at you! I don't want to listen. I trust you. Trusted you. And you've been kissing Janine fucking Hopkinson. Go on, deny it?"
"I can't. I did. But... "
"But nothing! How can there be a fucking 'but'? A kiss is a kiss." Tears were falling all the time.
"Nigel! Stop. I can explain."
Only he didn't. He ran down the stairs and out of the house.
And slammed the front door.
If you liked this chapter, If you like the story, find more at my website http://www.iomfats.org, and from there also link to the Teenage Gay Boy Love Stories Webring where we have gathered authors who write fact and fiction about teenage male romance. And if you are an author yourself, please don't hesitate to go to the Webring Signup page at http://www.iomfats.org/ringmaster.htm and submit your own website for consideration for membership. Our Webring gets in excess of 3,000 hits a week. We must be doing something right! Click here for the list of TGBL Webring Sites [if your browser does not show this link, simply visit my website's links page].
Section 28 of the United Kingdom Local Government Act 1988 MUST go. Those who want it kept say that it stops our kids being "taught to be homosexual". Well I have a son, a teenage son. If you read my life story on the website you'll see and understand. My son knows I am gay. It hasn't made him want to try being gay out. You don't try it out, however well informed you are, you just don't. And he's well informed, because I answer any questions he asks me. Being unstr8 is one thing; choosing to be unstr8 is quite another. Of course it must happen, but it is so rare as to be statistically irrelevant. Section 28 is about scaring good teachers away from helping the kids who need their help. This is a bad UK law. If you want to join the campaign against it, there is a page on my website, accessible from the home page. Please join this campaign. Whatever country you live in, please join the campaign.