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A lot of rushing around followed, and what followed that was the audience starting first to trickle, then to shuffle into the hall. Mumblings, murmurings, someone's baby crying. There's always someone's baby crying, and they never have the brain to take it out. It's just like the proud Dads at primary school nativity plays videoing the thing instead of watching the play. Well, no it isn't. It just annoys me.
It was going to annoy me that night, especially if it put Nigel off. I'd really landed him with a tough job, and my hero was going to give it his best go. And he was going to be a star. At least I was happy that his parents were definitely coming to that performance. No-one had had the chance to call them, so it was just as well they were coming. Mine were there too, somewhere, but that night his mattered, and mine didn't. I was very proud and very nervous.
Mrs Wilding had remembered I was now going to be alone to do my not much backstage, and had sent John to join me. He'd been there with his parents the previous night, so she'd been lucky to grab him from some club or other in the after school clubs and persuade him to go backstage. "I didn't take much persuading," he said. "Carol was wondering how to get me into the party afterwards, now I can."
"Sounds cool. You and she get on pretty well, don't you?"
"I'll tell you what, I'm damned pleased you're gay." He was smiling at me. "I was so envious of you before."
"And now you're not even a little envious?" I was teasing him.
He took it seriously. "You know the weird thing? I am a little."
"Nigel's mine!" I was giggling as quietly as I could.
"Not of you and him. Well, of the thing you have going between you, yes. The way he and you are so cool together, each seeming to know what the other's thinking. That's what I'm envious of. I really like Carol. I think I'm in love with her." He paused. "I can't believe I'm telling you this! It's so personal, but somehow with you, Chris, with you it's all right to say stuff like this."
"Carol's a very special girl. I know I hurt her, probably badly. I don't know if she's ready to love anyone again for a while."
"I hope it's me she loves when she's ready, then. I know parents don't think we think about stuff like this at our age, but I hope, half hope, that she'll fall for me. I think about her all the time."
"I wish I could help. I know she likes you, and you go well together. I thought I had those feelings about her until, well, you know."
"You're cool, Chris. I never had a gay mate before. I like it. It's sort of comfy."
"You did, you know."
"Nigel. He's gay too."
John's mouth fell open. "So he is! Now I feel stupid. I mean I just think of him as Nigel, like I always have."
I wasn't going to get all offended, not even in play, even if it was tempting to tease him rotten. After all, the only thing John'd known about me before was the same as everyone else, and really the same as I'd known. That I was Carol's long term boyfriend, and that I was good at schoolwork and crap at games. It wasn't as if I'd ever socialised much with anyone except Carol. "That's just what he is. Me too." I gave his knee a squeeze with my hand. Nothing sensual, just a squeeze.
"I'd rather you didn't do that." He'd jumped, literally jumped.
"Sorry. Didn't mean anything by it, well except to sort of say 'you're OK'. I won't if it bothers you that much."
"Shit. I should be the one to apologise. I can cope if it's you or Nigel. Sorry, Chris. I'm sort of... "
"Homophobic?" I wasn't serious. Dammit I was like that myself before Nigel.
"No. Yes. No. Bugger. No, not 'bugger'. Oh bollocks. You know what I mean."
I did. "Doesn't matter, John. I think it's a lot to get used to. You were amazing when we told you. I'm used to touching Nigel, you're not used to being touched by another boy. I don't mean anything by it, I just found how nice it is to touch, and to be touched back."
The hubbub on the other side of the house tabs suddenly fell to zero. I was getting quite proud of starting to know theatre expressions. Not that anyone had been able to explain why they were called tabs, of course. Phil Bowker was doing lighting and sound, and he'd dimmed the lights ready for curtain up. I wondered idly why it wasn't called 'tabs up'. And then we were off and running, or whatever theatrical people call it.
And it was going well. Very well. Romanoff and Juliet has a pretty daft plot, but it got good laughs. And Nigel looked awesome as Igor Romanoff. And Carol was as gorgeous as ever as Juliet Moulsworth. And he didn't trip over the scenery or drop anything. To be fair he wasn't as good as Geoff had been, but then Geoff had been rehearsed and Nigel had just had one run through as well as watching the entire set of rehearsals. But he was good enough, plenty good enough, and the play went well all the way to the interval.
And then, on again, all the way to the final scene. There was an incident with the tape recording of the cock crow heralding dawn. It just didn't work. Instead there was a loud moan from the tape machine and then silence. Phil looked as though he was sweating, but the cast managed it well enough.
Both John and I sneaked to the rear of the stage to watch the final scene. I remembered Nigel saying to me 'Chris. I know for sure I'll never kiss a girl.' He had, of course, back in France. Or I remembered he had, or thought he had, that night when Carol had crept into our room. I was sure he'd kissed her, or tried to kiss her. I had the feeling that the scene was going to be awkward for him, however gorgeous Carol was.
It may have been, but it was amazing.
Igor and Juliet clinched. Not Nigel and Carol. Igor and Juliet. And each looked radiant.
It wasn't a school stage kiss. That they'd done at the run through. It was a real kiss. I mean really real. And profile on to the audience, too. I saw Nigel's mouth dart to Carol's ear, and whisper something, and then his lips brushed hers, and I saw what it must look like when he kissed me.
Tender, hands holding her back lightly, and at the same time pulling her with power into his embrace, his lips met after the first brush, and locked. And I knew, just knew, that he was kissing her with passion, not with pretence.
And so did the audience. The applause started after ten seconds. They were going to make this kiss last and last, I could tell. Twenty seconds and the audience was wolf whistling. Thirty seconds and the place was in an uproar. And when they broke, I swear they looked into each other's eyes and smiled with their whole bodies at each other.
I wasn't jealous. I could see there was something that wasn't an act, but I wasn't jealous. Something had transpired between them on that stage, something that, planned or unplanned, made a very special link between the girl I loved as a friend and the boy I loved as my lover and lifetime partner. And I found my cheeks were wet and my nose was running.
And then the curtain went down for the last time after all the curtain calls and the hubbub in the stage increased as that in the hall decreased. And we were heading for the cast party. Well, we had to tidy the set first, and John and I set to that with a will. I saw his face was damp as well. I wondered if I should mention it. Didn't need to.
"That was amazing," John said as he rushed past carrying something or other. "That kiss... It was something else."
"Yeah. Got to me, too." I found I was wiping my eyes again. "They're a bit special, those two."
"Yeah... " I swear I heard John sigh.
The party was all pizza and sausage rolls, and a half pint of beer or lager or cider. One half pint, controlled by a raffle ticket so we couldn't have more than a half. And I was so wanting to take Nigel and kiss him and tell him how awesome he'd been.
Mrs Wilding and Miss Cranham both spent ages congratulating the cast and making sure they felt special as well as Nigel feeling special. It was one heck of a triumph. He'd stepped in at no notice and not actually forgotten the lines or fallen over. And that kiss. That was the clincher. No-one had kissed like that on our school stage ever before. Everyone was too shy.
"You gonna kiss me like that later?" I whispered into his ear as we passed.
"You were fucking awesome."
"I was, wasn't I!"
"Well you didn't fall over the set!"
"Bastard! I'll get you later!"
I got my reward. A major wink. A grin, and a flash of those blue eyes as he swept his fringe out of his eyes with his hand. That had really grown. I was a sucker for long, soft, silky hair. The feel of it as he tickled my skin with it was indescribable. Not like the awful Mr Huxtable at all.
I didn't get between John and Carol during the party. I did nip over and give her a peck on the cheek, though. "One heck of a kiss, Carol"
"Well, Nigel's one heck of a guy," she smiled. "He said 'let's go for it,' so we did. And he's a fabulous kisser, too."
"Not just kisser."
"I am so not sure I want to know." She had an expression of mock disgust in her face. "You'll do, you will, Christopher Jenkins."
The whole party was a bit artificial, but I managed to get three raffle tickets and so managed a whole pint and a half all to myself. No chance to extract Nigel, and probably not wise to. He was deep in the circle of the cast, chatting, being congratulated on letting it be a success. With rehearsal he'd have done really well. As it was he'd let the play go ahead. Until the kiss. That was his. Well Carol's too, but she'd said it was really his idea.
About three quarters of an hour and parents started arriving to take us all home. Loads of people shook Mrs Wilding's hand and Miss Cranham's, and a good few shook Nigel's and Carol's too. Nigel was still fizzing and bubbling in the car as his Dad drive us both back for the night. It was about 11pm when we got there. I was fizzing too. When Nigel was excited about something, I was excited about something, and no, it wasn't that we were to spend the night together I was excited about. It was my hero, pure and simple, my beautiful Nigel, my gorgeous god with the silver hair shot with gold and those eyes that could see into my soul. I'd suggested it and Nigel had saved the play. Not only saved it but got thunderous applause, especially for the clinch with Carol. I was looking forward to a very similar clinch.
"Hot chocolate?" Claire was leading the way into the house. "It'll help you sleep after all the excitement." She'd done the congratulatory stuff in the car. She was dead proud of him. She'd talked about chorus lines and stage managers made good and everything. She'd been totally bewildered when the cast change was announced with no fuss before the performance. It was a slip of paper in the programme. 'Geoff Tranter is unable to appear tonight, so the part of Igor Romanoff will be played by Nigel Cropper, who has stepped in from the backstage crew at no notice' is what it had said. It wasn't signed, it was just folded into each programme. I could see that Claire'd collected several of them and several programmes.
"May I have a set of those, please"?
"Of course you may, Chris. I'm going to be a standard 'proud Mum' and frame a set. I'll frame one for you if you like."
Money reared its head again. I know it was a stupid thing, but I could accept hospitality, food, drink, but accepting a simple gift like that was hard, especially when I'd asked to have it. Fourteen, nearly fifteen years of training at home and being careful about money, and not asking for things we couldn't afford had done that. "I'd like to pay for it, please." Not that I knew where the cash was going to come from.
"So would I," she told me definitely. And I'm bigger than you."
"You aren't!" I giggled. "But thanks. Thank you. Very much."
"No-one's said anything about hot chocolate?"
"Please, Mum. Make some for Chris too. For us all."
So we sat in the kitchen, all four of us, four steaming mugs of hot chocolate, looking for al the world like a Cadburys advert. The perfect family, Mother, Father and twin sons. My total sense of the ridiculous had me giggling about it.
"What?" Nigel was looking as though the giggle was contagious.
"It's silly," I managed to gasp out. "We look like the OXO family, all sweet and demure. I mean who'd know we're, well, I don't know how to describe us exactly."
"I do," James said. "Family. Unusual, yes, but family anyway." And his hand reached out and held mine, just briefly, across the table. "We love you, Chris. You're as much ours as Nigel is."
I hadn't expected to cry. Not cry exactly, but to have full eyes, eyes that overflowed and spilt rivers down my face. It had been quite a day, and not all of it was good. The stress of seeing Billy in hospital , of having Geoff needing to be held, of talking to Mrs Wilding, and of the excitement of the play, of Nigel jumping into the breach and holding it all together. It was just the last straw of a roller coaster day. "I'm not crying, not really," I managed, as Nigel's hand reached mine. "It's just been a very weird day. I'm happy. No, I am." James was trying to make 'it's all right' noises. "James, you and Claire and everyone are so nice. Mrs Wilding is, too. Yeah, even for a headmistress."
"She knows about us, You said so. Earlier. Before the play you told me she knows. And you said something about it being all right, about her being cool about us." He was looking urgently into my eyes.
"It's fine. It really is. She just guessed. She knows about people, Nigel. She's fine. I so need to tell you all about it, but I'm so tired, and I need a cuddle, and to be asleep. Only I don't want you to worry, not any of you."
"Tell me enough to stop me worrying?" He'd relaxed, but not totally.
I blew my nose on some kitchen roll that Claire's passed to me, and smeared my wet face. And then told him the five minute version of going to see her to talk about my worries about that indefinable something I'd seen in each Tranter brother's eyes, and how the conversation had led and how she'd found an odd compulsion to trust me over things she wasn't allowed to trust me with. And then about the hospital and Geoff needing to be hugged, and how she'd said that other boys would have found it gay. And how I'd said that I was.
"There was a lot we talked about," I told them. And I went into my worries about being gay and wondering if that meant I'd abuse boys later. That started the tears again. I mean I knew it wouldn't, but it was very late at night, and worries and tears come easily as tiredness increases. I listened as they said the same words, near enough that she'd said. "I know," I said. "I realised it pretty much straight away. But I'm so tired... "
"Not desperately used to beer either," Nigel said.
"You managed as much as I did."
"True. You're a bit bristly, you know."
"Well, it was a bitch of a day until the play... "
"Bed!" Claire was insistent. "Hot water bottles and bed. You go up, I'll bring the bottles. I think a pair of showers might be a good idea too. Nigel you still have heaps of yuck in your hair and on your face from the makeup, and Chris, you need something to wash the day away."
"I do like your parents," I told Nigel as I got under the shower as he was getting dry. We'd got to the stage where we could have a shower together to get clean as well as other showers which were much more fun. "They seem to understand things quietly, and make everything all right even without saying anything."
"You won't, you know."
"I will. I do like them."
"Not that. You won't abuse boys. It's not what being like us is about."
"I know." I was towelling myself dry. "I do know. Only a load of things came and got me all at once."
"Not surprising. You've had about the weirdest day I could imagine. Do hurry up and get dry. I want to snuggle down with you."
"Almost done." We headed for bed. "Ow wow! Clean sheets. I love the feel of clean sheets." And I wriggled luxuriously as he landed beside me and put his arms round me.
"Eww. You're still damp!"
"Well, you did want me to hurry up."
"Idiot. I meant hurry up and get dry, not hurry up and come to bed all damp."
"Soon be dry now. Anyway you're not so dry yourself." And dry or damp his arms around me were so wonderful that I snuggled in to him and put my head on his shoulder, my tummy resting against his right side, stretched softly all along him, touching inch for inch from his shoulder almost to the tip of his toes. "Are you as tired as I am?"
"Does that mean I couldn't interest you in something?"
"Insatiable child. I thought you were exhausted."
"I am. I sort of really need a cuddle, kind of. Only I do love you so much and I love feeling the things you do for me." I was too tired, really too tired. Only we'd never spent a night together without making love first, and I wasn't sure how to go simply to sleep.
"Me too. I've an idea," he said. "I'm too sleepy, really am." I fell this hand worming its way towards me, felt it surround my cock, which hardened to greet it. "Hold mine, too. Just hold it, nothing else."
I did, and was rewarded with the same reaction. I felt connected without feeling urgent. No need for anything, no need at all. I don't know if I even spoke, I just felt so close to him as I drifted so far into sleep. Comfy. In love. Untroubled by anything the world had to throw at us. "Been quite a term." I wasn't expecting a reply. I wasn't even sure I'd spoken the words out loud.
"All good, though?" a half worried sleepy voice near my ear asked me.
"Mmm. Well, almost all." My mind headed back over the Billy Tranter incident with Andy, and then back to earlier in the day. "There's two things I'd have missed out."
"You're brave as a lion, Chrissy. I love you so very much you know." I heard him sigh softly. "I'm so glad you're as nice as I imagined you'd be, hoped you'd be." He snuggled into me, skin to skin, no pyjamas any more, no cloth between us. No more words. I had my eyes open, and was looking at his cheek just there in front of me in the darkness, watching him going to sleep, feeling his breathing alter subtly as first drowsiness and then the start of sleep took him over.
I'd never watched him actually fall asleep before. Watched him while he was asleep often enough, but I'd never watched him relax and switch off and sleep. It was a small thing, really, but it made me very quietly happy. There I was, half asleep myself, with Nigel Cropper in my arms, hands holding something very important of each other's, and he was breathing softly.
I found my thoughts heading for the future. I was wondering how we'd manage the rest of school, how university and stuff would work, how we'd manage if we were outed at school, how often I'd have him go to sleep in my arms. I was starting to realise that we could take on the world together because we loved each other.
I was worried about Billy, though. Poor kid. I knew his troubles weren't over, even if his father was stopped from going near him ever again. I wondered if he loved his father as well as felt, well I don't know what he'd have felt, but I wondered how you cope if someone you love does things you don't want to happen to you.
Lots of thoughts as I dropped gently into sleep, some simple, some, like about Billy Tranter, complicated and beyond me. 'I'm going to make sure Billy's all right, though,' I told myself. 'From the others at school at least, if they give him any trouble.' I thought he wouldn't be back in the few days before the Christmas holidays though. And that was the last thing I remember before sleep claimed me.
This is the final chapter of the second volume of Chris and Nigel. There will be a third volume.
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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.