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I had so been there before. It took me right back to the Summer. There'd been no reason then, either, except that again he didn't stop to listen. This time I was fully clothed and no pizza was coming. This time supper was coming.
My heart was screaming. I wanted to run and get my bike and sprint to his house. I'd no idea if he'd walked over, run over, got a lift over or what, but I wanted to get to his house as fast as possible, to grab him and make him listen to me.
I didn't even feel I had to explain myself. It wasn't as though there was anything going in between me and Janine. She'd made all the running, but she'd also been pretty cool about the fact that she wasn't going to get anywhere. And how the heck did Nigel know about it anyway? It wasn't a secret. It wasn't. I was going to have told him at six if Mum hadn't been using the phone.
"Chris?" Dad's voice.
I came out my room and headed for the stairs. "Yes, Dad?"
"Has Nigel gone already? I was just going to ask if he'd eaten. There's plenty... What is it?"
I'd burst into tears halfway down the stairs. Flung myself down them and into his arms. Couldn't speak. Then managed. "He's angry with me," I spat out between huge sobs.
"Why?" Dad had his arms round me in the hallway, holding me tight. "Come on. Kitchen. Drink of water. Small sips." He led the way, poured it and handed me the glass.
It took a while to calm down. I started to understand Nigel's fury, no his despair. "He, I, oh it's stupid."
"So tell me." I did. All about everything with Janine. Told him how she'd asked me to go for a coke with her, how she'd got me to kiss her.
"Oh Christopher," he said. "Oh my poor lad. I can see why Nigel's all in a state."
"I was trying to do the right thing." Tears were still falling. "I was trapped. Didn't know how to get out of it. Didn't know what to do. Thought I was doing it right."
"Now you have to put it right with Nigel, mate."
"Thanks for stating the obvious, Dad. That helped a lot."
"Sorry. Why not phone him and tell him all this?"
"Can I go over? I can get the bike out and go."
"Compulsory. Then I'll drive you over."
Whatever is was tasted like carpet. I supposed he was right. A full stomach was better than an empty one. Except I felt sick. I mean I knew I could get it sorted out, but it was the speed of the strike. In, bite and out, like a cobra. Nigel had knocked me sideways with his raid. It could only be described as a raid.
Mum and Dad gave me lots of advice during supper. I'm sure it was good advice, or it would have been if I could have heard it. All I could think about was the expression on his face, all fierce and betrayed.
The car pulled up outside Nigel's house. "I'll wait for you."
"I hope I'm going to be a long time, Dad."
"Well, after five minutes I'll beg for a cuppa from the Croppers, then."
The walk up the drive was long, seemed long, and the door looked dark and forbidding. I had humble pie to eat in large portions. I'd only been doing what I thought was right, but it'd gone wrong. I rang the bell.
I heard voices inside. "If that's Chris he can go away again." And a scramble of feet running up the stairs. And the door opened.
"Hello young man." Claire answered the door. "Better come in."
"He doesn't want to see me, does he?"
"What that son of mine says and what he means aren't always the same thing, you know. Come on. Kitchen."
"But he's gone upstairs?"
"And you're coming to the kitchen. He'll be down soon enough. Curiosity if nothing else. He'll know it's you already. He guessed anyway." So we headed for the kitchen.
"He hates me."
"If he did, why would he have been in tears all evening? He got a phone call and rushed out of the house. Seems to me you have something to clear up between you is all."
I didn't want to be in the kitchen. I wanted to rush upstairs and see him. "It's not what he thinks it is."
"Wait until he comes down, Chris. Whatever it is, it's for Nigel to hear, not me."
"Dad's outside in the car. He said he'd wait for me."
"What's he doing outside, silly man. James!" I heard a grunt of reply. "James, go and get Peter in from the car!"
There was the noise of doors opening and closing, and deep voices greeting and ushering into living rooms and stuff. And the kitchen door opening and closing.
"I am so seriously not happy with you." He wasn't shouting, not crying. Just flat. "Seriously not happy. I feel let down."
I didn't know what to say. I didn't feel too great myself. "I wasn't letting you down." My eyes were on the floor.
"You were kissing someone who wasn't me. I'm not happy. Like so not happy I don't know what to do with myself."
"It wasn't my fault... "
"Wrong answer." He paused. "Everyone on TV says that. Or says 'It wasn't what it looked like.' Or some other stupid excuse."
"I can tell you what happened. No excuses. If you'll listen."
"I'm not sure I want to listen. I trust you, trusted you. With everything. Everything Chris."
"If I start by saying I'm sorry?" I was sorry. I'd been unwise, foolish, stupid. I wasn't sure I'd been disloyal, but I could see how it looked.
"Go on." His eyes were boring into me, mine hadn't met his, not left the floor.
"Well, I'm going to apologise first. And last. I was taken by surprise, Nigel." I went on to explain in detail what had happened since I bumped into Janine round that corner. It was a long explanation. I didn't tell him that I'd been excited or anything difficult to hear, But I told him how I hadn't known how to deal with being picked up, that I'd never picked anyone up ever. "I wanted to call you at six. I needed to tell you. Mum was using the phone." My eyes were running rivers of tears. "Will you forgive me? Please? It was truly nothing."
"The phone was engaged," he said quietly.
"I wanted you to know straight away, well as soon as I was allowed to call."
"I don't know." Nigel sat down at the kitchen table. "I want to believe you."
"I can't prove anything to you. Janine fancies me, that's obvious. She's pretty, that's obvious too. I can't prove anything to you."
"How about to you, Chris."
"Can you prove to you that it hadn't crossed your mind to take it further?"
"No. Crossed my mind, yes. doing it, no." I was surprising myself. "Look, she's pretty. I used to have a girlfriend. It'd be pretty surprising if it didn't cross my mind. But I don't want her. I don't want any girl. Nor any boy. Just you."
"Easy to say."
It struck me suddenly that there was a way.
A scary way.
"Are you brave enough for me to prove it? Nothing stupid, but still a risk?"
"What do you mean?" He was still boring through me with his eyes.
I raised mine at last to meet his. I dared see the blue spears he was impaling me on. "Swap bracelets with me. Now. When you believe me, that I only want you, either swap back, or tell me that you believe me. That's the day I'll get yours engraved with what I want on it. The day you decide not to swap back. I may even get it engraved if we do swap back, just to prove it to you, to prove that I love you. Swap them now. And start to believe me." The blue spears were still sharp.
"We'll get caught, found out. Remember Gavin, the day we got them?"
"I remember perfectly." Was I pushing him too hard? It had been my fault. I'd had the free choice not to kiss Janine, I was the one who'd yielded to temptation. "I'm willing to take the risk. It's the only way I can think of proving to you that I'm yours now, yours the, and yours for ever." I was looking him right in the eyes, willing him to say 'I believe you. There's no need to do this. I believe you.'
I stayed looking at him, not like a puppy, not like an inquisitor, just as I was, as the boy who loved him, the boy who'd hurt him.
As I waited I saw his eyes change. I watched him trying to stay fierce.
Then a lightening.
I wondered if he was going to cry. I hoped he wouldn't.
He just made it. "Three answers. First, Christopher, if you ever do anything like that again I'll swing for you. Second, I'm game. I'll do it. Third, it isn't because I don't believe you that I'm doing it, it's because I do believe you."
I cried then. "I... I'm sorry... Ashamed... Sorry Nigel."
He was, too. Arms around me. "I wish... I'm sorry, too... I get all... I worry... I love you so much."
Then silence and tears and hugging. No kissing. But we hugged for ages.
After at least another age, the kitchen door opened. "Herhyumph!" And a pause. We untangled ourselves. "I think," Dad said, "that you each need to get your faces washed. I have to take Chris home then."
"Give us a minute, please, Peter."
Dad smiled at him. "Another minute! Ye Gods! Young love has stamina! OK, five minutes, no more.
"Right. Hand it over."
I did. It was scary, but I unclasped my bracelet. Then I kissed it before giving it to him. "No, wait" I clasped it round his wrist. Me. I did it. "Now, apart from washing and stuff, only I can take that off you."
"Deal." He looked at me. "I do, you know."
"Yeah, you said." I almost scratched my head. Almost. "Then what the heck are we doing this for?"
"Dunno. Only I like the idea."
"What if we're caught?"
"It was your idea, bozo! What if we are? You'll think of something."
"Oh Nigel... " We were back together. He was in my arms, and I in his. Not kissing. It wasn't a kissing thing. Holding. Holding tight.
Which is how Dad found is and prised us apart.
"So," he said to me in the car, "it's all back to normal again?"
"Stupid, stupid misunderstanding."
"Stupid, stupid Christopher, I think, really, don't you?"
The great thing about Dad is that he gets right to the heart of things.. The depressing thing about Dad is he gets right to the heart of things. "You might have put that nicer."
"Might have, yes."
"Why didn't you, Dad. It's been a rotten time."
"Because you need to remember this. Well, not this exactly, but things like this. Chris, people we love don't always see things the way we do. Nigel couldn't know what was in your head with Janine today, couldn't know you were being backed into a corner."
"Bloody good idea to prove that you love him. Just not sure about the... Bastard! Yeah, that's right, pull out in front of me!" It was an Astramax van, a white one, out of a side road. " ...way you chose."
"Don't you ever drive without yelling at someone?"
"I'm not sure about the way I chose either. It seemed good at the time."
We didn't talk for the rest of the short trip home. When we got home I was so tired I headed for a bath and bed. Sleep took a while to come. I had a lot to go through in my head before sleep would come. Not tossing and turning, more just lying there and worrying. Lots to worry about. Like what if I'd started something with Mrs Wilding that was wrong? But I trusted her. What about Janine? She had felt so good to hold, good to kiss? Only I wasn't interested in her, well, not really interested. Inquisitive, yes. Interested, no. And the bracelets. They were a worry, too.
Comforting to have Nigel's name on my wrist again. But a worry.
People were used to seeing them. We'd shown Gavin eventually, when he'd remembered. He'd liked them. The trouble was the good thing about them when we'd chosen them. They were so different. They'd stick out like a sore thumb.
It felt odd the next morning at the basin, brushing my teeth. I peered at myself in the mirror. A cold day outside, the windows were soaked with condensation. Dad was mumbling something about not having had central heating when he was a boy, and how the bathroom was always freezing, and wasn't it nice that I had the luxury to dawdle, and would I get on and come down to breakfast if I wanted a lift, and a load of other stuff. But I was looking in the mirror, first at the bracelet.
Second at a surprise. Well, not really a surprise as such. It was just that the peach fuzz on my face was beginning to get annoying. I'd been hoping it'd start to look manly. Weird really. We all teased Simon Dunstable rotten about his jet black bum fluff moustache and pseudo sideburns, and it looked unsightly. But somehow I wanted my blond fuzz to grow into a moustache and real sideburns at once. I wasn't looking forward to shaving. Everyone said that once you started it made the hair grow coarser. I couldn't see that. I mean hair's dead, so cutting it can't make any difference.
Still, nothing to be done about it that day. Except, well, how do you say to your parents 'I'd like a razor, please?' No idea. But I had to shave it before I got teased. "Down in a minute, Dad."
I reached into the cabinet for his razor. It looked easy enough, shaving did. I wet my face, found the gel and used three times as much as I should have, and at least six times as much as I needed. And put a Santa Claus beard on my face, hoping that no-one would see me. I felt really awkward. Bracelet was forgotten as I vanished under a white mass of perfumed goo. I wet the razor and started. Oww. It scraped and pulled. I had no idea how hard to press, or anything, so I worked carefully over my face doing my best. It wasn't easy to work out which direction to use, either.
Nor was getting rid of the excess foam. I felt silly; guilty, like I'd been caught wanking. Really stupid stuff, feeling like that, but I somehow wasn't ready to acknowledge shaving. It felt silly. A milestone we'd all looked forward to was the first set of wisps of pubes, not a scraped face.
It all went down the plug-hole eventually, the foam. I was dead careful to wash the basin out, too. Best of all no-one made any comments at breakfast, though I'm sure my face looked redder than usual, sort of scrubbed and scraped clean. It felt red, certainly.
Wasn't red any more when I got to school. Not scraped red, anyway. But I was pretty conscious of the 'wrong' bracelet, and was almost blushing each time anyone looked anywhere near my wrist, sort of just in case, which was pretty stupid.
No-one did notice. Not that I noticed anyway. And no chance to compare notes with Nigel. A thought was crossing my mind, though. How did he know about my excursion with Janine? Who'd told him? Why'd they told him? Who could know that Nigel would want to, no, not 'want', would hate to know? Was it a friend? Someone who suspected? An enemy? Just a fool? Janine herself? No, that was plain silly. Who?
Break came and went, and I was none the wiser. Nigel and I managed pretty well with an 'apart during school except by coincidence' routine, which meant we often met at lunch, and usually not much any other time. I managed not to be anywhere Janine was that morning, too. Janine who'd told me that 'everyone' was saying that Nigel was gay. Janine who was sure I wasn't.
Lunch and Nigel and I were at the same table, as usual. Carol was there, though not John, which was half a surprise, because they were becoming inseparable. I could see what we must have looked like as Chris and Carol. I wondered if Nigel and Chris had the same reputation. I wasn't worried about the bracelet in this company, just in other people's. Weird thing. I couldn't help staring at Nigel's upper lip.
"What d'ya mean 'what?'?"
"What I mean is, what are you staring at? Have I got ink on my nose?"
"No. Didn't know I was." I blushed. "Sorry."
"Ah, wait a minute. I've got it! Carol, do you see what I see?"
"What are you two talking about? You know, boys can be pretty exasperating at times. I mean I thought girls were pretty bad, but you two take the biscuit, you really do!"
Nigel was insistent. "Look at his sideburns."
"What about them. He hasn't got any. Never has had."
"Would you two mind not talking about me as though I'm not here?" I was starting to blush.
Nigel giggled. "You've shaved!"
Now I was blushing. "So what?" Damn, that sounded cross. "Sorry. Snapped by accident."
"So he has," Carol said. "Come here, I want to stroke you!" She reached a hand across.
"Gerroff!" I was bright red. "Rotten bastards."
"Aww, looks like puberty at last, Chris." Carol was teasing. I knew she was teasing. But it was damned hard not to react.
"Comes to us all. Oh bollocks to both of you! Why d'you have to tease me just coz I shaved this morning?" I was trying to be good natured, and wasn't succeeding very well.
"Oh shit, Chris, we're sorry. We are, aren't we, Nigel?"
"Yeah." Then to me, "Serves you right for yesterday."
"Sod. I suppose I deserve it. Only I don't."
"Yesterday?" Carol perked up. I told her about the previous day. All about it. It took a while. It took the rest of lunch. "Sorry," she said. Somehow it sounded more than 'sorry you got into a mess.'
"You?" I knew, somehow.
"Mostly," she admitted.
"Oh Christopher, you're a half-wit at times. Haven't you ever worked out that I still love you?"
"Kind of. But what? Why?"
"If you ever break up with Nigel, Chris, I don't want it to be for anyone except me. No-one else. I know you aren't going to, but I was jealous of Janine yesterday. And I phoned Nigel."
"You mean you followed me and I didn't see you?"
"Ten out of ten." She paused. "It was all right until she kissed you. That was the last straw."
"Ah." I had nothing else to say. Except "Well, I got trapped. It really wasn't how it looked. I've never been picked up before. I got confused, no, backed into a corner." I collected my thoughts a little. "It wasn't a very nice thing to do, Carol."
"Well, I was angry. For me and for Nigel."
I could have. Easily. I could so easily have gone for the jugular. I didn't. "Oh heck. Let's just leave it." It hurt. I mean really hurt. Inside. But I could see why she'd done it.
"I'm sorry, Chris."
And we all parted for afternoon lessons. Only not before I heard "I want to stroke those cheeks you know."
"I love you!" A fierce whisper back to him. "Meet you after lessons."
And that took ages to arrive. We had to be in school that night for a rehearsal. The budgets must've been kind, because school provided tea. I was half afraid that I'd bump into Janine. That was likely to be the next evening, though, at the dress rehearsal. Today, Wednesday, this was the final, final, final run through, with props, without makeup.
"How do we ever find the time to be alone?" Nigel asked me over a deeply unpleasant sandwich.
"Just coz you want to stroke my cheeks!"
"Well, yes. It's a novelty. I want to know whether it's stubbly, or smooth, and what it feels like."
"I just want to kiss you."
"Not a chance!"
"You couldn't stop at 'just kissing'. Nor could I." He smiled at me. "I think we've got away with it so far."
"Got away with what?" A voice I wasn't too keen on hearing, despite his grudging acceptance of me way back near the start of term.
"With skiving off Geoff." White lies had become second nature to me since Nigel. Geoff Tranter in person was difficult to cope with. He may have been a bully, but I could see why he was cast as the hero in the play, why he and Carol had that final clinch on stage. Both the Tranter brothers were very good looking.
Each Tranter was subtly different, but it wasn't handsome. They were pretty. Not girlie, but very, very pretty. Hard to put into words, but easy to see. Only I suppose I'd never seen it because I had eyes only for Carol, then only for Nigel. And they were blond and the Tranters were dark haired. Rosy cheeked, dark haired and long eyelashes.
"Not exactly sure, just general skiving off." Lying was one thing, getting my bluff called was another. I decided on a change of subject. "Know all your lines?"
"Bloody better by now. Dress tomorrow, then performances Friday and Saturday. Yeah, I know them." He was standing behind us. I got the feeling he was actually trying to be nice, not quite knowing how. "I get to kiss your old girlfriend, too. Pity she's going out with John Simpson."
"Join us?" Something made me extend friendship to him. I was a bit scared, especially after my talk with Mrs Wilding, but he'd no reason to know anything about that. Odd thing was he looked relieved, happy to be asked. And sat at the table with us.
It wasn't that we had anything in common, exactly. Almost the reverse, especially since he used to make my life a misery. But somehow that seemed to have vanished the day he collared me by the lockers with Billy and told me I was tough and that he liked tough kids. We didn't talk about much. Just stuff like the play, and how we thought it was funny, but wondered how the audience would react, and stuff. But he opened up. I found myself thinking how lucky Billy was to have an older brother to look after him. There was something about Geoff when you got up close and personal that wasn't what I'd seen at first. Something gentle.
"What's this new fashion for jewellery, then?" Geoff asked between bites of bun.
"Jewellery?" Nigel asked him.
"Yeah. This rash of name bracelets all over your year."
"Dunno," Nigel said. "Loads of us've got them. I think Gavin started it."
"My Dad'd never let me have one," Geoff said. "'Only for poofs!' That's what he'd say. I went him with a ring once. He threw it away. 'Only for poofs and Nancy boys, jewellery is!' He's always saying stuff like that."
It wasn't threatening. Or maybe it was that I'm not a poof, not a Nancy boy, that I'm just a boy in love with another boy, but it wasn't threatening. And his tone of voice was more regret than anything else. A bit macho, but regretful. "That's daft," I told him. "Nothing unmanly about wearing a bracelet. Nor a ring."
"S'what I said to him. He still chucked the ring, though. Beat me as well."
"He never! I mean that's not on."
"Yeah. Well I keep Billy knowing what not to do. So he's all right." Geoff was a real person. Opening up, soft centred. Crunchy on the outside, soft in the inside. Like an armadillo. Not like the adverts for Dime bars 'Soft on the outside, crunchy on the inside.' "Here, let's have a look at yours?"
He was pointing to my bracelet.
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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.