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I was out of my depth. I knew I was Lying on the twin beds, unashamedly pushed together to make a double bed, lying on top of one of the two duvets, holding on to a tight little body. Little body. He'd almost shrunk. He was lying peacefully enough, but curling up gradually into a foetal position. And he felt so tight to the touch.
Stroking him made him tighten up more. He didn't speak, nor did he make a sound. No discernible movements except his breathing. And his beautiful face looked so tired and empty. I wished he'd shout, or cry, or hit me, or push me away, or anything at all.. And all I could do was to stroke his hair.
Speaking, talking to Nigel seemed inadequate, somehow.
But he'd been able to help me when I'd felt all locked up inside. And I couldn't reach. Couldn't get to where he was. He was somewhere deep inside a terror. I knew that. It didn't take a genius to spot it. But I couldn't reach in, couldn't get to him.
Ten minutes passed.
As I held him close, time rolled on.
Eventually half an hour had trudged past, wearily, heavily. And Nigel hadn't moved or spoken.
Alone and afraid.
Even with me there he was alone.
And I couldn't see the full reason for his terror. But I hadn't spoken to John for half an hour on the phone, either. There must have been something. Something to get under his guard.
"Don't move," I said, almost redundantly. "I have to get something."
He didn't seem to notice as I slipped away.
Quietly I went back downstairs and into the living room.
"Wondered where you'd got to," James exclaimed. "Do you both want a cup... What's the matter, Chris?" His face had changed. I must have been looking really worried.
"I'm not sure." I wasn't. But it wasn't the most helpful thing to say. "Can you come upstairs? Quietly?"
"What is it?" Claire was on her feet in an instant.
"Nigel had some bad news on the phone, and he's... " How could I explain what he was? I didn't know what he was. I didn't need to.
Mothers in full flight are not to be disobeyed. I ran back upstairs, and sat by Nigel's head, starting to stroke his beautiful hair. "He's just been lying there. And I don't know what to do. Since he got off the phone."
"Nigel," Claire said softly, "what happened?"
The silence got louder.
James said "Chris, what can you tell us?"
So I told them. It was all jumbled up. I mixed our being found in bed by Andy in with Andy loving Mike, or saying he did, and Nigel trying to be his big brother, and trying to stop him from telling Mike, and how Mike had told John, and that Mike had been shocked, and how I couldn't catch Andy on my bike before he got home, and how Nigel had told Andy it was OK and he may not be gay. And somehow they understood. Well most of it. I made a real mess of telling them. I had silent tears on my cheeks before I was even half-way through. It seemed to take for ever to tell them. I felt I was in a hurry, as though I needed to give Nigel first aid and the story was only in the way.
But it wasn't. In the way.
It was the reason he was lying there, almost trance-like.
"So," James said, "this poor kid Andy has been suffering like Nigel used to."
"I suppose, yes."
"And he rushed things, and he wasn't as lucky with Mike as Nigel was with you."
"Well, yes. It sounds simple when you put it like that."
"But the problem is, what has he said to Mike about how he found you and Nigel, and what has Mike told anyone else." James sounded as though it was really simple. The problem was simple. The solution wasn't. Like those telephone lines on Thursday night.
"I think Nigel is terrified of what might happen now. I think he thinks he's to blame, or something," I added lamely.
"Well we have to help him see that he didn't do anything wrong," Claire said. "Oh it would be so much simpler if people could just be free to love people and didn't force their views onto others. Nigel wouldn't be worried then. Well not as much, anyway."
"He's very brave, Claire." And I told her how he'd got me through being scared in France, making me run. Run! Me! And then forcing me to swim. Naked. On the beach!
"I think he's used 'brave' up for a bit," she said. Then, "James, I need some Aconite."
"What's Aconite?" I asked her as James slipped away.
"It's a remedy for shock," she said. "Homeopathic remedy"
"It would be homo-something."
"Well, the root is the same. The 'homo' bit means 'the same'. The other bit is Greek, too. We'll look it up, maybe."
James got back with two small brown glass bottles "6C or 30C?"
"30, please." And she tipped a small, white tablet into the lid. "Right Nigel. Aconite. Mouth open, please."
And he did. Which amazed me. And she tipped the tablet in.
"Doesn't he need water to wash it down?"
"It dissolves in the mouth," she said.
"Yuck!" I was thinking of the bitter taste of paracetamol.
"It's slightly sweet, and nothingy," she said to me, softly. "Now stroke his hair and wait and see."
I'd seen on 'All Creatures Great and Small', the reruns, how a cow with milk fever was instantly all right after a calcium injection. So it was with Nigel and the Aconite.
"I'm sorry, Chris," and the tears he'd been holding back started down his cheeks.
"Don't be. It doesn't matter what happens tomorrow. I love you."
"Even if it goes all round the school that we're gay?"
"If you love me enough, I can cope with anything. Even that."
"I've been so scared of it getting out when I didn't even have your love. If it gets out I'll feel responsible for hurting you... "
He was babbling. I wondered suddenly if the silence had been better.
It hadn't been.
James and Claire were still there. Just being quiet. Not interfering, not intruding, but I was pleased they hadn't gone.
Claire said, "Chris, I'm not trying to get rid of you, but one of us needs to make a cup of tea. And I think we all want to be here, too."
"It's OK. Of course I'll do it."
The kettle took for ever to boil. And I couldn't find the tea for ages. It seemed like the longest five minutes ever before I was back upstairs. I admit the tea was weak. I'd rushed. It hadn't had time to brew. But I'd remembered to dose Nigel's with sugar.
"We waited for you to get back," James told me as I went back into the room.
We spent ages sorting it out. As far as it could be sorted out, that was. Not a lot we could do, really. No-one could phone Andy in case his parents didn't know. Phoning John was out of the question, too. So we talked it through and helped Nigel see that he'd done right. Well, perhaps we shouldn't have been in the same bed at John's house, but no-one had realised that Andy or Mike would have had to walk through where we were to go to the loo.
We went round the loop several times, though. The guilt loop.
And reached a point where it wasn't going to matter what ever happened. If it went wrong at school then James and Claire were going to team up with my parents and speak to the head about us and the need to protect us and others like us from people who didn't or couldn't understand. 'People like us' didn't sound very nice. Almost grubby. We spent a while talking about 'people like us', too. Only we didn't know any.
"I think coming downstairs would be a good thing," James said, finally. "It's almost ten o'clock. I reckon you need a bit of time to unwind, don't you?"
"I suppose." Nigel got off the bed, and we all headed for the stairs. Claire reached them first.
"Ice cream?" she asked us. "I was planning it for dessert, though it might be a bit late?"
"You can twist my arm if you like, Mum!" Nigel had cheered up. Cheered me up, too.
"There's mint choc chip," she said. "And chocolate."
"Both!" Nigel's mood had swung completely from black to carefree. "With chocolate sauce."
"Me, too, please." I gave his hand a squeeze. "Good to have you back."
"I'm sorry, Chris. I suppose it was a bit like you and the shower, and the rain?" He was asking himself the question really, not me. "I sort of got fixed inside myself. Lost."
He didn't need an answer. There wasn't any time. Four bowls heaped with ice cream had arrived. Two heaped far bigger than the other two. "I'll never eat all this, Claire!" I was awestruck by the amount.
"I bet you anything you like you do," she teased me. "Chris, it is good to have you here. I just wanted you to know that you're really welcome. I mean really welcome."
It meant a lot. I couldn't answer. Mouth was too full of freezing cold ice cream for a start. But I held her gaze. She knew what I was thinking. I still wasn't sure how Nigel's parents had managed to accept us, me, so easily. But they just did. They must have loved Nigel a whole lot.
What with the upheaval from the phone call, and the fact that it was already pretty late, we were dead beat.
"This match tomorrow," James was asking, "What time do you have to be there?"
"Mr Nicholls said to be there, changed, and in track suits forty five minutes before the start."
"OK, we'll set the alarm for eight, then. It's probably time you both went to bed."
Earlier in the evening that would have sounded great. Just then I was wondering. I mean with a match in the morning, and all the stress between, I wasn't sure that I didn't want just to sleep.
"In a minute, Dad." Nigel looked tired, though.
"Do you have your kit here, or at school," Claire wanted to know.
"I brought it home. I'll go ready changed, I think."
"It's too late to wash it now if it's dirty. Where is it?"
"I haven't worn it yet, Mum. It's as clean as when I took it to school on Thursday."
"You'd say that even if you had worn it, you awful boy!" and she ruffled his hair.
"Gerroff!" But he was laughing. "Too late even if I had!"
I loved his giggle. Infectious. Silver. It caught us all, that giggle. A little haven of silliness after an evening that had gone wrong. "Get up those stairs! You aren't having a bath are you? A shower after the match instead? Oh sorry, Chris, do you want a bath? I forgot you weren't playing."
"It's OK, James. A wash'll do me fine, thanks." I'd have preferred a shower with Nigel, but that wasn't on the cards.
"If you're sure. You aren't just being polite, are you?"
"Bed, then. Give us a shout when you've both finished in the bathroom."
Something grabbed me. Before I knew it I'd gone over to Nigel's Dad and hugged him tight. "Thank you, James. Just thank you." I was a bit lost for words. And a bit surprised at myself. But it felt good, too. It didn't feel so much as though I was the one doing the hugging as much as being enveloped in the hug. It felt really good. A final squeeze. Did I give it, or did James? No idea. Then I broke off and hugged Claire. And kissed her cheek. "Same goes for you. You both make me feel like family."
"You are," she said. "You are." She paused, both of us enjoying the closeness. "Now get along to bed!"
"Night Mum, night Dad."
And we were heading for bed.
Truth to tell, we didn't speak until we were both snuggled down in the bed. Or was it beds? Companionable silence. No hugging, no kissing, no words.
"Nigel?" This was after we'd been lying for a little. I'd been listening to his breathing. Soft, almost silent.
"May I give you a cuddle?"
"You're feeling all soppy too?"
"Your side of the bed or mine?"
"Come on over then?"
"No, I said 'mine'."
"Yeah, well this side is mine. Come on over!"
"You're meant to come over to me!"
"Oh yeah." And he did.
I was lying on my back, and he slid across, over the bit where the beds were pushed together, and came and laid his head on my right shoulder, on top of my arm. Toothpaste. Spearmint toothpaste. And soap. I still marvelled at how clean he smelt. And through the clean the scent of Nigel. Indescribable. That smell, not sweat, yet a very particular smell. Musky, yet not. Slightly dusty the smell of his hair. I found I was stroking his hair with my left hand, moving if from his eyes, looking at his against the light of his bedside lamp, one of those globes which changes from physical to political geography when you turn the light on. Details again. I tried to burn each moment of Nigel into my brain with details. I could have described each one of his toenails in minute detail. And I found I was kissing his nose tip again. "I love you so much. You make my heart want to leap out of my chest. You scared me earlier." Why was I talking about earlier? I didn't want that subject back. Surely I didn't?
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. It just all jammed, I suppose. I felt frozen. It was like a dream. It's OK, I know nothing will go wrong now. Or I hope it won't." He was stroking my hair, too. "I love the way your hair goes down the back of your neck. And curves under your ears. The way it's so soft. I've spent so long just wondering what it would be like to touch it, let alone stroke it. Now I know." He was stroking. I sensed him inhale deeply. "And you smell so good."
"I always think that about you! Even when you should be sweaty and awful you smell clean. And there's something that just smells of you."
"Idiot. I was looking into the deep shadows where his eyes were. I knew he was looking into my soul. I meant there's a scent that is just you!"
"Ah. Yes. I see. I think there's something that just smells of you, too." Naively I thought he meant the same as I did. A certain scent. Then I found what he meant as he said "I think it's this bit." And placed his right hand so gently between my legs, cupping my balls so gently with it. And he pressed his lips onto mine and forced his tongue into my mouth. "I need you, Chris," he said, coming up for air. "I need you so much, so badly. I've been thinking of almost nothing else." He was stroking my cock as he spoke, and it was urgent. And I'd been worried that the evening had wrecked it all.
"I... " But his mouth had clamped down on mine again, and I was fighting to force my tongue into his for a change. Tasting toothpaste, smelling Nigel, feeling his hand so urgent yet so gentle bring me to full arousal. And his hand was inside my pyjamas, stroking, no grabbing me. I fought to get rid of his pyjamas, all the while wondering why we'd put them on.
"I want to feel you inside me, Chris. I need to feel you inside me. I want you to fuck me. Not make love to me, I want you to fuck me. And the only reason I want you to stop is if it hurts like last time. And I don't think I want you to even then." And we were in a welter of bedclothes and abandoned clothing.
"Just a sec, it's in my washbag."
"What is?" And he released me to get it.
"This. Dad got it for me." And I held up a blue and white tube. "It's called 'Kye Jelly'," I said, trying to pronounce 'K-Y', which would have made me sound really stupid if he hadn't been as ignorant as I was. I unscrewed the cap and squeezed the tube.
"Let me try?" Nigel snatched the tube. "Idiot - it's sealed. Give me the cap a sec." And he did what I should have done. Inverted the cap and pierced the seal with the point. "Oooh, it's cold," he said as he put some on his fingers, and put his fingers between his legs. "Slippery, too. I'm going to like Kye Jelly. Feel?"
Did I need a second invitation? I was already putting my fingers between his wonderful thighs, reaching deep between them to find his hole. I felt it so smooth and slippery that my finger slid inside. Almost as though it was the first time, I felt the outer band of muscle, the outer ring, and moved my finger so gently around it, cautious, just testing to see if he was healed, to see if anything made him flinch. And I found that I was having to pull my hand away, because he was pushing his weight down onto my finger, forcing me inside, past the second, stronger band of muscle, breaking into the velvet soft, hot emptiness that was mine.
"Aaah." His face was a picture. I could see it now in the light from the lamp. Smiling as he knelt in the bed beside me, smiling like the cat that knows there is more cream on its way, even after finishing the first bowl. "Aaah. Oh. Oh Chris. I've missed that feeling. Oh deeper."
"No, deeper. Please. More. Now. Oh Chris, don't stop." His cock was straining ceilingwards, the foreskin drum tight, the tip just forcing the skin open a little. I loved the way the tip just peeped out, all moist and pink. Loved the scent each time I drew that parchment skin back for the first time, that strong scent of musk and boy.
I didn't stop, but I drew my finger back and then joined it with a second, pushing so gently to get past those twin rings of muscle, and then both fingers were inside. And he squeezed them. Squeezed hard with the ring muscle, crushing my hand with his cheeks, too. "Hey!"
"Sorry. It felt too good." And he relaxed enough to let my hand breathe. I want your cock inside me, Chris.
"I know. I don't want to hurt you, though. I want to stretch you, make it easy. I don't want you to get damaged again."
"I don't care!"
I ignored him, working, kneading, probing with my fingers, keeping clear of his gorgeous cock, not wanting to do anything to give him any relief. And he relaxed more and more. I was so aroused I was almost there myself. "Ready?"
"Jeez, Chris I've been ready for hours!"
"Not love, but a really hard fuck?"
"Yesssss. Oh yessssss. Pleeeeease!"
Oh wow. So did I. "Lie on your back. I want to see your face. I want to kiss you, too." And as he did I parted his legs and raised them. Another day I'd have time to savour what I was doing, savour the view of his smooth ballsack, his cock all erect and taut, his smooth thighs, all muscled with those long muscles, seeing them move under his skin. Not then. Then I placed the tip of my cock on his beautiful hole, and pressed. Not hard at first. Just firmly. And gradually moved my weight so gently, all the time watching his face, watching his beautiful face, seeing his eyes on mine, watching his mouth open, hearing him gasp as he opened to receive me.
As though all resistance was gone.
I felt the same as I was taken completely inside him. "Niiiiiiiigel!"
"Wait a moment, " he whispered urgently. "Stay still."
"Is it OK?"
"OK? It's amazing. But wait. Just until it eases." I could see from his face that it was tight. I could feel it gripping me, feel him gripping me, a tight band round me. Hot.
"Tell me when you're ready." I wanted to start to drive into him, wanted to kiss his lips. I held back, raised on my hands, Nigel with his knees almost pressed back to the bed. I was deeper inside him that I'd ever been, and I was scared I'd rip the fissure, or cause a new one. "But Nigel, I want to check if you're bleeding first."
"It doesn't feel sore, just awesome. But tight."
"I have to check. I love you. When you're ready."
"Now, then. Do it now. And then fuck me, Chris." We were both whispering. It would never have done to disturb his parents. I mean they knew what was likely to be happening, but they didn't need to know for sure.
I had to pull out. Slowly I pulled out, so slowly. No red. I put more of that Kye stuff on my fingers and slid one gently into him. Pulled it out. No blood. Then I charged. "Now, Nigel?"
It was so slippery, so relaxed, that I was in and driving, leaning between his thighs, using my weight to penetrate him so completely, hitting his prostate with every thrust in and pull out, seeing his face now contorted, now open mouthed, now smiling. Hearing him grunt, feeling him press up towards me, meeting my own thrusts. Oh his eyes. Oh those blue eyes. Sucking me towards him, pulling me in, drawing me towards him, making my body tense. Kiss him? I couldn't reach down to kiss him. Oh I wanted to, but I couldn't, and the way he was jack-knifed beneath me, he couldn't reach up to kiss me either. I wanted to pound away on his cock, too. Not a chance. It was all I could do to balance as I fucked him so hard. Pistoning in and out of him, tensing, feeling my rhythm getting shorter and shorter, my cheeks clamping together, feeling the pressure building inside me, feeling it build. I needed this as much as Nigel. Oh I needed it. I heard his grunts getting closer together, but I couldn't wait. Couldn't wait. Didn't care, needed to finish, needed to, had to. Was. Suddenly, pulsing, driving hard into him, feeling my balls slam into him with each stroke in, feeling it lift all the way from inside me to the tip of my cock so deep into him, feeling it build and build and build and release as I shuddered hard into him, cumming into him, inside him, pulsing again, again, again, again as I collapsed on his chest, his legs falling forwards and apart to receive me.
Knowing he hadn't finished. Feeling selfish, yet not caring about feeling selfish. Breathless, panting my heart out, sweating, suddenly caring about him again. Unable to move. "Sorry."
"What for?" he asked.
"Sorry for fucking me so hard you got lost and came? Sorry for doing what I wanted?"
"Yeah. No. What?"
"It was fantastic. Still is."
"Give me a moment or two. I've something I want to do for you."
"No rush. You felt fantastic. It feels fantastic." He was whispering in my ear and I was sweating all over his chest, my breathing slowing. "Stay still. I love feeling you inside me. I don't think I need anything else. Awesome." He was holding me onto his chest, running his hands down my back. "You felt so strong, so powerful. Everything I imagined all the time I was too scared to talk to you. I love you. You did something just now I've wanted for so long."
"I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"Chris I've wanted to be taken by you, powerfully, just feeling you in me, seeing you tower above me, making me feel helpless, powerless. And it was wonderful. Truly awesome."
We lay there, with me pressing down on him for ages. I could feel myself slipping slowly out as I softened.. Finally I had to wriggle, and we separated. "I have to move."
"Yeah. You're a bit heavy, too. Was nice, though."
Instead of rolling off, I slid downwards, kissing my way down his chest, kissing to his navel, and down to where his cock had wilted. "You may not need this, but I do." And I took him, all soft into my mouth, almost managing to get both his balls in before his cock stiffened and forced me back. I could taste the precum already. I put my lips against his foreskin and pressed it back, feeling the head pop into my mouth, all uncovered and new. I could almost see it, it felt so vivid to my tongue. I ran my tongue tip round the rim, and heard him sigh, no gasp, with each touch. I was trying to think how to do it in a new way, how to make him feel as good again as he just said I had. I put my lips just under the rim, relaxed them around it and sort of twisted clockwise and back. Not fast. Militantly gently. Teasing him, almost. Not touching him in any other way, twisting and sucking. Twisting. Touching the very tip with my tongue. Trying not to speed up, nor slow down, tasting drop after drop of him as he leaked into my mouth. And then I felt it, felt his back arch, felt him lift himself and me off the bed, felt the head swell in my mouth, almost get red hot as he came hard, hot fiery into my mouth. More and more, as he filled my mouth with his seed.
And I heard him struggle to stay silent in case his parents heard. Only he couldn't. Not completely, "Oorrrrrgggghhhh! Oh. Ooorrrrghhhhhhhhhhh! Aaaaaaarghhhhhhh! Ahhhh! Shit. How? Oh! But! Shit."
"Who taught you to do things like that?"
"Damn, I'm a good teacher!" All this between heavy gasps for breath, and all at a whisper level. "Remind me to do that to you next time."
"Well, there might be something special I want you to do first."
"Anything. I'll do anything for you."
"Make do with kissing me, just for the moment. When you can breathe, that is!"
And I inched up to be beside him, both of us lying on our sides, face to face. And started to explore his jawline with my lips and teeth, and nibbled his earlobe as well. And dry licked the sweat from his neck, like a mother cat for a kitten. The flavour, salt, sweet. The scent, shampoo, soap, mush, and a faint hint of spearmint. And before he could kiss me I heard his breathing change, hear it soften as he relaxed, and heard it start in the rhythm of sleep. I loved that soft sound, loved watching his chest rise and fall, seeing his face all relaxed. I could see it all because his lamp was still on. I could see his eyelashes softly together, see them curl, all blond and long. I spent ages just looking at him and listening to his breathing. I studied his eyebrows, each single hair a joy to look at. I could have looked at him all night and not become tired of it. But we needed sleep. Him especially. Tomorrow on the rugby pitch he'd need his strength back.
I eased out of the bed, and tiptoed to his side, where there was more space. And took a long last look at him before covering him with the duvet and turning off the light. He was almost unbearably beautiful. And so vulnerable. And so damned sexy. And I kept the picture in my head as I snuggled down where he should have been sleeping, and lay on my back thinking about my love for him, and how wonderful he was.
And lapsed into sleep, with weird dreams about cats rowing boats across the Atlantic towing a steam train.
I won't pretend I was well rested in the morning. It came too soon. It was hard to get used to a knock on the door and two mugs of tea being brought in by one or other of his parents. James had the job that Saturday morning. He opened the curtains and threw the window wide. To his credit. "Morning," he said, a little too cheerfully.
"Yeah, me too," Nigel grunted back.
"We left you as long as we could. Are you going to eat breakfast before the match"
"Not a good idea, Dad."
"I thought not. You'll have some toast or something, Chris?"
"OK, down in five minutes?" And he'd gone, leaving us with that usual parent created problem, how to drink a mug of hot tea and get ready and downstairs, all in five minutes. At least we didn't have to shave yet!
We made it, though. Minimum conversation, no time for more than a very brief hug, and we made it, hair all wet where we'd each tried to comb it neatly. Nigel had got straight into his rugby kit. And it suited him. Red and white hooped shirt and dark blue shorts. Very brief shorts, long black socks with red and white stripes at the top, so his lovely thighs were exposed. Exquisite. The he spoilt it by putting his track suit over the top, and we were downstairs, tea only half drunk.
No-one mentioned the events of the last evening. Mind you I'd remembered, and I knew we were meeting John. Couldn't really not, since he was scrum half. All too soon we'd set off for the pitches. They weren't in the school grounds, but in a sort of desolate area of playing fields common to a lot of schools. With cold brick built changing pavilions with warm and cold running water. Well I was guessing the last bit. I was never likely to need to shower there with my total lack of sporting prowess.
We had to hang around for ages, James, Claire and I. We watched the team assemble in dribs and drabs, and a few spectators. Most of them seemed to know James or Claire. A couple of brothers of, or sisters of, dragged along because there was nothing else to do with them while the match was on, and more than one push chair with a grizzling toddler in it. All the things that made me unenthusiastic about sport were there. At least it wasn't cold, or raining. At least one of the sets of parents was traipsing from pitch to pitch because they had more than on son playing. I recognised the Simpsons standing on the other side of the pitch. Mike was with them. And I really wondered what had gone on in his head when Andy'd phoned him. No time to wonder about that. The teams were on the pitch, and the referee had blown to start the game.
Nigel was playing on the left wing, and from my touchline they were playing left to right, so I couldn't see him too clearly. Just as well. Every time he got the ball my heart was in my mouth. I wanted him to be the hero, to score all the tries, to make all the moves. And I was so afraid he'd get broken in a hard tackle. And he was tackled often.
We were evenly matched against the opposition. I didn't even know who they were. I was just there to watch my boyfriend. No-one else mattered. Well, except Mike. I thought about him every so often, wondering if I could get to talk to him.
It wasn't a high scoring match. They were as good as we were. When the ref blew for half time the score was thirteen-eight to them. Not a huge difference, not too hard to recover from. The oranges went on in segments on plates covered in cling film, and came off sucked. The teams changed ends, and the ref blew to get the second half going. Our kick.
We held their score to thirteen for ages. They held ours to eight. Ages.
The Simpsons had come round to our side of the pitch, and were standing by us. "Hi, Mike."
That was it. The sum total of our conversation. Nothing to read into it either way. I was never good at just making conversation, so I didn't force it. I turned my mind to the game. All through the first half supposedly knowledgeable fathers had been shouting all sorts of words of wisdom at their sons. Almost all of it useless, almost all at huge volume. It got louder as we approached the final whistle. A lot of it was coming from John's father. By comparison James was almost silent. He was just cheering for the school. Much more civilised. I liked James more and more.
Then we had a scrum, 5 metres in from the touchline, just to our right. Our forwards won possession, and John whipped the ball away and fed it not to the fly-half, but to Nigel on the left wing. Blind side. No support.
I saw his face. Smiling happily, he gathered the ball close to him and flew between the breaking scrum and the touchline, racing towards their right winger, and their scrum half.
The scrum half dived towards him, and then I saw it. Slow motion. A huge grin, I watched it spread from ear to ear, Nigel skipped upwards, skipped, no other word for it, and over their scrum half, who twisted in the air to try to grab him, landed left footed and swerved inside their right winger, and bolted for the line, no-on except their full-back in his way, possibly able to stop him. And boy did he try to stop him.
Nigel had no support. He'd outdistanced all of our team even though they must have been expecting the move, and there was no-one to pass to. I was there in my head, seeing out of his eyes, running with his legs. I could see the full-back coming towards him, feel his fingers nearly touching his shirt, feel his breath on the back of Nigel's neck with ten metres to run, smell the sweat and hear his feet pounding as he tried to catch Nigel, and through the back of Nigel's head I could see his grin, see his eyes sparkle as he just knew he was going to score. But it was so close. He dived over the try line, ball in front of him, flying the last two metres, landing ball first.
I was shouting. Shouting. No idea what. It was beautiful, wonderful. I'd never seen him play before. Oh I was one of his fans now. I could taste the adrenaline. The action replay was amazing. No-one else saw it, of course. It was in my head. The smile, the face, the eyes, the grin, the skip, the sprint and the dive. I was out of breath. He was walking back calmly, almost without a hair out of place. The score was even at thirteen. I wanted to kiss him. John hugged him. And I wasn't even envious. Well perhaps a bit. "Does he always play like that," I asked James.
"He's wonderful!" He was.
"No argument there, Chris."
Jim Martin, our full-back, was the kicker. I was willing him to make the conversion.
It would be a huge kick. Nigel had scored almost by the touchline, no time to centre it. The posts were a narrow target at that angle. Jim had converted a few from this position before, but when he was fresh, not at the end of a hard fought game. And we were so close to the end of the match that there wouldn't be another chance to score. He teed the ball up carefully, wiping it on his shirt to clean the few specks of grass from it, measured his run up pacing backwards from the ball, shuffled sideways, and ran.
As his foot made contact I knew.
We all knew.
Up, up, speeding towards the posts.
But sliced. The look on his face told it all. He didn't even wait to watch it curl badly our side of the posts. "Sorry, Nigel." He was close enough for me to be able to hear him.
And the whistle blew for no side. Thirteen all. Honours even.
"Bad luck," Nigel had gone up to him. "You didn't stand a chance from there, not really." And he put an arm round his shoulder. And he drew him back to the team, still smiling. And Jim was starting to smile again. And John as captain went and shook Jim by the hand. Then as home side our team went and made the traditional tunnel at the pitch side to clap the opposition off the pitch, and they peeled away to make the second tunnel to clap our side off. It was a fair result. In truth. Hard fought match, and two evenly matched sides. Honours even was the best result, even if inconclusive.
I felt out of it, though. A spectator, looking at Nigel's world. I wanted to be the one with my arms round him, the one to share the shower with him after the match, the one to congratulate him. Later.
He did get a moment to walk over to me before they went in to get changed. "That was for you," he said. And walked on before I could get my breath enough to say a thing.
I was left feeling all silly and breathless. I'd melted when he'd made the run, scored the try, and I melted all over again as he spoke to me. I felt very small. And totally loved. And so fucking envious of him, that he could do that, that I was nearly angry. Weird cocktail.
"Are you OK?" Claire asked me, as she walked back to where I must have been rooted to the spot.
"I think so. He's awesome!"
"Yes. He is. But I've never seen him play like that before. That was because you're here, I think. Good? Yes, I've seen that before. Inspired? Never."
We milled around with the other parents until the teams were changed. No-one I knew except the Simpsons. John's mother talked to me briefly, but then she hardly knew me, and it was just politeness. I still couldn't manage to talk to Mike. But I had no idea what to say in any case. Eventually they came out. As I'd expected Nigel and John were deep in conversation, and I went over to join them.
They were talking about the match, and the tactic that they'd planned that had paid off and evened the score. "Hi."
"Hi, Chris," John was smiling.
"Hell of a good match." Actually I had no idea what to say.
"Yeah. Nigel was awesome," John smiled at Nigel. "Awesome."
"Heck it just needed a good ball," Nigel replied to him. But he was glowing.
"Well for what it's worth I reckon he's, was, awesome, too." Heck, had I gone too far? This wasn't declaring my love was it? I wondered if John had noticed my slip.
"Chris," said John, "Can I grab Nigel for a few moments. I've got something I need to talk to him about." Then, "Rugby stuff," he added a little hastily.
"I was at Nigel's place last night, John. If that helps."
"Chris is cool, John. He's fine about this sort of stuff."
"Well, look I don't want my family stuff spread around the school, guys."
"He's cool, John." Nigel was quiet, but definite.
"Well. I don't know. Chris, you aren't the kind of person to gossip?"
"No. Not at all." Well I wasn't. Besides it was too close to home to gossip about. What if it came back and bit me in the backside?
"OK. What do you know, Chris?"
So I told him the little that Nigel had said about the phone call. "What I really want to understand," I said, trying to pick my words carefully, "is what Mike actually thinks about the situation. I wanted to ask him, but I didn't know how to bring it up."
"I only know what he's told me, that he and Andy are good friends, and that Andy rang last night and told Mike he loved him. He doesn't normally talk to me about stuff like that. Well he's only twelve. I mean maybe he was about to start talking to me, you know?"
"I don't have brothers or sisters, I really have no idea," I told him. "What do you feel about it?"
"That's just it. I don't know what to feel. I'm not anti gay or anything. But it's about my brother. And for him I feel anti. Does that make sense?"
"Maybe. But doesn't it depend on what he wants? Come to that doesn't it depend on Andy?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Andy was brave as hell last night, I reckon. Can you imagine telling another boy you love him?"
"Not what I mean. What I meant was, if you loved another boy, can you imagine how brave you have to be to tell him?" Something was inspiring me. Nigel was that something.
"Yeah. See what you mean. It wouldn't be easy. And it would go all round the school just like that if it were the wrong bloke."
"Yeah. I reckon Andy's scared stiff right now. I mean Mike may be shocked, but Andy'll be terrified"
"In case Mike tells everyone?"
"I don't really know."
"Can you get him not to?"
"I suppose I can try. But what do we do about it?"
"Does anything have to be done?" Nigel asked. "If Mike doesn't feel anything for Andy, neither love nor hate, maybe it'll just blow over? Or maybe I can talk to Andy to suggest he... No I can't see how it would, not if he is in love." He paused. "When you said Mike was shocked, what did you mean exactly?"
"Well, he came to me after the call, all wide eyed, and said something like 'Andy just told me he loved me.' He repeated it a couple of times."
"Did he say anything else?"
"I don't know, John. I was trying to work out how he'd taken the news, that's all."
"Well, he seemed, sort of bewildered."
"Not surprised. Heck, he's only twelve. But you said he was shocked when you called me last night."
"Well yeah. Maybe I exaggerated, I don't really know. I know I was shocked. He's my kid brother, Nigel. I look out for him."
"He isn't in any danger, you know."
"Well it isn't normal, is it? You have to admit that. I mean a boy telling another boy he loves him?"
"Perhaps not. At least unusual. But not dangerous. You don't hurt someone you love. He's safe you know, your brother. Not even any need to worry."
"I suppose I was more shocked than Mike was, really. I mean some boys do, er, muck about with others, don't they. It was the word 'love' that got to me. A partner for a quick wank's one thing. But love, that's serious stuff. Heck, I've not been in love. It's for later, isn't it, that sort of stuff?"
"Hits different people in different ways I suppose. I was wondering, John, what made you call me?"
"You spent a while talking to him on Thursday and Friday, didn't you?" John was looking at Nigel. This was getting dangerous.
"A while, yes. He kind of needed a big brother."
"You knew, didn't you?"
"We both knew, John. Both of us, didn't we, Nigel?" I felt the need to give Nigel some support.
"We both knew, John. Tried to talk him out of jumping in with both feet on the way home yesterday."
"How did he trust you enough to tell you?" We were standing a little apart from the group of parents, and John had a wide eyed expression on his face. I was glad we were a way away from the rest.
"Because we started talking about it at your house the other night," Nigel answered him.
"When? I don't understand? And that doesn't answer my question, either."
Nigel was looking at me, I was looking at him. How much did Nigel trust John? I hardly knew him. He seemed OK. He'd said he wasn't anti-gay. But this was his kid brother and another guy we were talking about. It wasn't a 'some of my best friends are gay' situation. Well it was of course. But John didn't know that.
"When he came through the snooker room at about five o'clock for a pee. That's when we had a chat about it. He was worried I suppose." Nigel was trying to side-step the issue. "And I tried to reassure him a bit. Well, a lot."
"But why did he talk about it? And why at that time of night? I mean he hardly knows you." I was sure I could hear cogs racing inside John's head, see a pile of rust on the ground under him as the wheels ground fourteen years of disuse away. It still came down to Nigel, and how much he trusted John. It seemed inevitable that he would soon put two and two together and make fifteen.
"John," Nigel said carefully, "you know you just said how it could go all round the school if someone told the wrong person he loved him. Or her come to that?"
"Yes. They'd never live it down. It'd be awful. But what's that got to do with it?"
"A lot. How long have we been friends, John?"
"Since primary school."
"You're my best friend, John. I trust you."
"I trust you, too, but where's this leading?"
"Listen to me, John, I know what it's like to take that risk."
"I don't get you?" Oh jeez he couldn't be thick? Nigel was risking everything for both of us and this boy wasn't taking it in. Not a word.
"The risk of it going all round the school, John. When you tell someone you love him. I took that risk John. I know how it feels."
"You know how it feels to tell someone you love him. Yeah, sure." John was laughing. "Now pull the other one! You aren't gay, Nigel! No-one who plays rugby like that can be gay!"
"How do I make him understand, Chris?"
"You could kiss me, I suppose. Or I could kiss you." My voice was very quiet. But firm.
"You're both teasing me! Come on guys, the joke's over. It's a good one. Chris was Carol's boyfriend for the last two years, you play rugger. Fat chance. I said it before. Pull the other one. You had me going for a while there."
"John," I said quietly, "Andy found us in bed together that night. Nigel and me. In bed. It's how he felt brave enough to talk about it."
"Yeah, but you were fooling around, right? You knew he was going to have to come through there, and you did it to tease him."
"John, I'm, we're, not teasing you. Not teasing anyone. I've never been more serious. Except when I told Chris I loved him. Apart from Carol and Andy you're the only person to know, and I want to keep it that way. Carol knew because Chris was her boyfriend. Andy because he found me asleep with my arms round Chris. I'm telling you something that you can destroy us both with, and I'm doing it because you're my best friend! And I'm doing it because I want you to understand about Andy, and help Mike to understand. And it's such a fucking great risk, and you think I'm teasing you. We. Are. Not. Teasing."
I'm not going into the rules, tactics or techniques of Rugby Football. There's bound to be a website to explain scrums, tries, conversions and the positions on the field. But you don't need the rules to know that Nigel played a blinder. Damn shame Jim didn't convert it, but the target gets very small when the try's scroed right by the touchline. Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, South Africans, French, Italians, and a few more nations understand the game well. If you know American football, think of rugger as faster, and without body armour.
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