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"Phone's ringing," came the mumble from behind my head.
Odd. Until he mumbled I was just going to listen to the ringing. I was letting it sweep over me, not really noticing it. Then conditioning took over. It only rang twice more before I'd vaulted over Nigel, through the door, down the stairs, and into the living room to answer it. The little detail of sprinting stark naked past the front windows in full view of the neighbours if any had been looking, I thought of only after I replaced the handset.
A small voice, "Can I speak to Chris, please?"
Not a voice I recognised at once. Certainly not one who'd phoned me before. "This is Chris."
"Oh good. I don't like the phone much. Er, it's Andy Giles... " And the voice tailed off. Then, hesitantly, "I wanted to say thanks... " Poor kid. I don't suppose it was an easy call to make.
It wasn't too easy a call to receive, either. How on earth to answer him? "I reckon you'd have done it for someone else in trouble, Andy. No big deal."
"Well, it was to me. They scared me, Chris. I don't want to go back to school... "
"Not too keen on that myself at the moment." Then I realised what he meant. "Not because of them, I don't care about them at all. It just hurts a bit, you know... " That sounded lame. It was the best I could do to rescue the conversation.
"I'm scared of it. They'll never leave me alone."
"Mrs Wilding says she'll not let anyone hurt you."
"You haven't told her? You wouldn't?"
"No, I didn't need to." And I told her about the conversation she'd had with me and Nigel at the hospital, and how she'd worked out what was going on. And that I hadn't confirmed it, but, since she was a teacher I probably hadn't needed to. He sounded a little easier after that. "Andy, do your parents have any idea what's going on?"
"Why not?" Stupid question. There were a million reasons why not.
"Chris, will you and Nigel be back at school tomorrow?"
I thought for a moment. "What day is it today?"
"Wednesday, I think."
"Damn. If it had been Thursday, I'd have tried to take Friday off. I don't think anyone'll let me have two days more off for this. Yes. I'll be at school tomorrow. So will Nigel."
"I feel a bit safer with you two around." He may have felt safer, but he sounded pretty bleak. "You were amazing, Chris."
"I was crap. I got my nose broken, and I had to be pulled out of the mob. If it hadn't been for Nigel and John and Terry we'd both be pretty badly hurt right now."
"Have it your way, then. I still think you were amazing."
"I wouldn't mind knowing who busted my nose, though. I think it was the kid who stole your piece of paper."
"If it was, then it was Billy Tranter."
Oh shit. "Geoff's brother?"
"Dunno. I know he has a big brother who looks out for him, yes. Dunno his name, though."
"I had trouble with the big brother. Once. Nigel's pretty good at sorting them out, though."
"I wish... I wish... " He was trying to control his voice, "I wish I had someone like that."
What could I say? Trite words wouldn't help. Platitudes? No use at all. The truth. "I wish you had, too." No point in saying stuff like, 'you're young still,' or 'it will come with time,' or 'you may well find you fall for a girl, you know.' None of that stuff was any damn use. And I had no idea how to end the call, either. I knew he needed to go, and I needed to go, but it wasn't endable. At least not then, somehow.
"How did you find each other?"
I sensed he needed something more than I could give. It was so banal, the way we got together. But I was going to give it a try. "It was pretty simple. Well from my point of view it was."
"It doesn't seem simple to me. I want someone for me. A Chris, or a Nigel. Since I can't have Mike... Sorry, what happened?"
"Well, it'll sound pretty daft. We went on the French trip. I thought I'd gone with Carol. You know Carol?"
"Sort of. Well, I know who she is. She's very pretty. For a girl, I mean."
"She's absolutely beautiful. I still love her, you know."
"Wow! What does Nigel think about that?"
It seemed really strange. Talking like this, I mean. Not bad strange. Good strange. Being able to talk about feelings with another boy. Not like talking to Nigel, but like talking to a different kind of friend. "It's fine. I think it's because, er, well I reckon it's... I don't really know how to explain it. What I think I mean is, it's fine because I'm in love with Nigel. I simply love Carol, want her to be happy, and know I'm not the person who can do that."
"Sounds pretty heavy stuff."
"It doesn't feel it. But it does when you say it, I think." I paused for a moment. "I thought you wanted to hear how we met?" There was a smile in my voice. The fact that Andy was so much younger, and that age matters so much when you are twelve and fourteen vanished as we spoke, too.
"Well, yes, please?"
"It was in the room. We shared a room. Later Nigel told me how he'd organised it, or at least that he's organised it. Hardly knew him before that. And that night, at lights out, we got talking. And he seduced me without my even knowing he'd done it." And I went on to tell him about the kissing lesson, and how I'd gone along with it, and then discovered that it was good, and how I wanted to do it more, and how, suddenly, I'd found out who I was.
"Oh Chris, that's so lovely."
"It was scary, though. More for him than for me."
"Yeah. I can see that."
"The thing is, Andy, Nigel had been in love with me for ages before that. It was an all or nothing thing, I think. Only it was pretty low risk."
"What do you mean, low risk?"
"Just the two of us, and a pretty innocent ruse. Just enough to let him know there was something I returned to him."
"That's where I went wrong. With Mike. Oh shit. I do love him, you know."
I wanted to hug him, then. I knew. I could feel it coming down the phone. "I know."
"Thanks, Chris. Heck, my Mum's home! Gotta go." And the purr of the dial tone replaced his voice in my ear.
And then I noticed I was naked. Well remembered I was. And saw the expanse of bay window I had to pass to get back to the door. If we'd had net curtains it would have been easy. Half way through my hands and knees crawl back to the door, it opened.
"What are you doing?"
"Invading Russia. Can't you see my army all doing the same thing?"
"Yeah, bums in the air, all stark bollock naked. Very attractive."
"Idiot! I got trapped by the windows. I mean the phone's over there, and I rushed over to answer it OK, but I kind of noticed I wasn't wearing a lot when it was time to come back. So I decided to crawl."
"You could have just sprinted back. I don't suppose anyone would notice! You do look funny doing that. And you call me an idiot! Huh!"
"Yeah, well... "
"Who was on the phone? You were ages."
"Andy." So I told him about the call, and how Andy kind of knew Mike wasn't possible, and how he sounded lonely.
"Poor kid. Love sucks. Well it does when you can't tell, or if you get it wrong. You were worth the risk, though, Chris. Worth the wait and the risk. I never quite knew what being loved would be like. I'd have given and given and given if that was what you'd wanted. I didn't even need you to love me. Just accepting me, being kind to me, sometimes being with me would have been enough. Well, no, it wouldn't. But it was all I was hoping for. Well, more than I could have dreamed of."
"I hadn't even thought about it. I mean I was wrapped up with Carol. I'd always wondered, you know. About boys and stuff. There wasn't one I was attracted to. At least I didn't know there was."
"I was so scared that night. If it had gone wrong... "
"If it had, what would it have mattered? Who would have ever believed me? You were dead subtle. Just two of us, no witnesses, a ludicrous situation. No, you couldn't go wrong. Worst case, the conversation would have gone nowhere. Just maybe I'd have hit you."
"I suppose. Yeah, you're right. I hadn't planned it like that. I hadn't got further than sharing the room with you. I was just going to torture myself with looking at you the whole time. A bit like I am now."
"Well, you're at my feet, not a scrap of clothing on, and you just look dead sexy down there."
I blushed. Dammit I blushed! I think it was being vulnerable. At his feet was right. I was squatting back on my haunches, looking up at him, wide eyed. Well one of them, anyway. Come to that the view I had was dead sexy as well.
"I think," he continued, "I think I like you at my feet. I might have to get a collar and lead for you."
"You will do no such thing, Nigel Cropper!" I was on my feet, half indignant, half wondering. The I looked round. "Shit, get back into the hall. I mean one naked body is one thing, but two! And Miss Perkins over the road doesn't miss a thing. Nosy old cow."
He reversed through the doorway. "All right, I was joking. I just always wanted a puppy. Oww! No! Gerroff! Stoppit!" He was starting to giggle. You do when you're being tickled. "No! I surrender. No collar, no lead! No! Stop!" I let him get his breath back.
"No collar, no lead? Not ever?"
"No, not ever. If... "
"If you come upstairs and make love to me. Now."
"Done. Er, I need a bit of a wash first, I think. And so do you. I know what I want to do with you, and I'm not doing it after it's been where it's just been."
"Don't blame you! Nor would I!"
It's odd. As kid I used to wash quickly. Because Mum told me to. As a lover I was fastidious. It had to be so very clean. All of me. All of him, too. Soap and water didn't matter at all, coz the scent of Nigel always came through all of it, but I wanted nothing to get in the way of that amazing scent. Not one thing. It was something I'd never told him about. Liking his scent. Needing to smell him. Not raw armpits, not that scent. Something indefinably lighter and more personal. When he got hot while we made love it got so strong, so intense. I could almost make the smell in my nose by imagining very hard. It was strongest in the small wilderness that was just starting above his beautiful boyhood, but it was all over him, too. In the small of his back, on the backs of his thighs, in his hair, at the back of his neck. And it turned me on. I didn't even have to smell it to get turned on. I just had to remember it.
"What are you thinking about?" He brought me out of my daydream.
"That's a short word for a long think"
"Well I was thinking of how you smell."
"Not that sort, silly! I mean your scent. I adore it.
"Eh?" He was looking at me in amazement.
"You mean you've never noticed on me?" I kind of knew he hadn't, so carried on. "You smell of Nigel. All over you've a lovely scent."
"But I'm clean!"
"You smell better when you're clean. It's almost stronger. I love it." I was getting excited just talking about it.
"Wow, you do, don't you?" He was looking down at me. "But I've never noticed on you... Well I don't think I have. I kind of get carried away when I'm that close to you." And he got close to me. "This isn't hurting your nose?"
"You haven't started doing anything yet!"
"Idiot! I mean in general."
"It's tender as hell, if that's what you mean, and I daren't touch it with anything. And my eye hurts. And I need to be dead careful of at least one ear, coz I got a hammerblow on it. But I wouldn't be anywhere else right now, or with anyone else, or doing anything else."
"Aww! Nor me."
"Come to bed." He did. "Wow, it's a mess!"
"It is, a bit."
"If you lie down first, I can snuggle up to you without banging the wrong bits." And I followed him onto the bed after he lay down. I knew what I wanted all right. I wanted that part he'd been impaling me with so slowly. And I wanted it in my mouth. And I wanted mine in his.
Only something went wrong.
It wasn't my nose, nor Nigel's black eye. We didn't hurt those.
I just found I was lying there against him, that gorgeous scent filling my nostrils, admiring him at very close quarters, when it went wrong.
I hadn't noticed. Not really.
But my mind was elsewhere, a bit. Just elsewhere enough.
Just enough for Nigel to say "Chris?"
"It's gone soft."
"Yeah, I noticed." I found I hadn't just noticed, but my mind had crystallised what was wrong.
"Is it me?"
"Oh you silly boy, it's not you. It's... It's... Oh heck, I know what it is, but it's stupid... " I felt as though I was going to cry, suddenly.
"What is it, my love?" Oh even that sweet, soppy name couldn't bring me through it. Nor could his arms round me as he twisted round to face me.
"You'll think I'm stupid." I felt stupid. And I didn't feel quite a man, either, somehow. "And I feel I've let you down, well me down. No let us down." I was near to tears. I felt a fool. A real, huge fool. It was a near perfect afternoon, but I was about to cry like a baby.
"You're going to have to tell me what it is." Nigel was looking straight into my eyes. Well, eye.
"It's too stupid." I wanted to tell him. I did. But the words wouldn't come.
The tears did. The words didn't. Silent tears. Wet ones, but silent.
"There's nothing too stupid." He was holding me gently in his arms. I was pulling back, feeling a fool. "Is it something I've done?"
"Not you. Never you."
"What, then?" he paused for an answer. "What?" Another pause. "Chris, you have to tell me? Please?"
"It's stupid... " I was getting nearly able to tell him. It was stupid.
"Just start, OK?"
"It's still stupid... "
"Look, it doesn't matter what it is. I love you. If it's bothering you, then it's bothering me. And I'll be the judge of whether it's stupid or not. So speak."
"Well... It was the phone call."
"What did Andy say to you. If he's hurt you I'll... "
"He didn't. It isn't Andy."
"He told me who broke my nose."
"I don't understand? That's good news, surely?"
"Isn't. Not good at all."
"You're going to have to treat me as though I'm thick, Chris. I don't understand what you're talking about."
"Billy Tranter did it. The kid who grabbed Andy's piece of paper.. The kid who was starting the riot around him." And the tears hadn't stopped flowing.
"That name's familiar."
"His brother's Geoff. The bastard who used to bully me. The evil shit we met on the bus and in the cinema." It sounded stupid as I said it, too. But I was frightened of Geoffrey bloody Tranter.
"Well, OK, he's that shit's baby brother. I'm not sure why you're feeling like this yet."
"I don't know either. It's just I can't get him out of my mind... " and I tailed off, feeling useless.
"What did he used to do to you, Chris?"
"Oh, nothing special. Just hurt me and frightened me, and made me give him my dinner money. I mean it wasn't special. Only he scares me. What he can do to us, Nigel. To you."
"He can't. Oh Chris he can't do anything. Not to me, not to you, not to us."
"I said you'd think I was stupid. I told you it was."
"Nothing of the sort." And he was kissing my cheeks, just gently, like a mother cat washing her kitten. "It isn't stupid at all."
"Oh Chris, it's not stupid. It's just a memory crowding back."
"Well, I feel stupid."
"If you like! But you don't need to."
"It's really fine."
"It's embarrassing, though."
"Well, going all soft, and stuff."
"Isn't really surprising, though, is it?"
"I suppose... "
"Well, lousy memories don't do the randiness quotient any good, do they?"
"Yeah. You're probably right." I was feeling happier. "Oh shit."
"My nose is blocked."
"Aww!" And he hugged me tight. "Well that'll pass. I mean it was blocked before, right?"
"Not as badly as now."
"Daddy kiss it better then?"
"Bastard!" I was laughing at last. "Horrible, evil bastard!"
"Yeah, that loves you to bits."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"Don't see anything to apologise for. I mean you've been beaten up, had an attack of the heeby jeebies, got droop because of it. Doesn't matter except that you've been upset. Doesn't mean you've got to apologise to me."
"I love you so much. I just don't want anything to spoil it. I've, er, well, you know this, but I've never felt like this about anyone ever before, and it's so perfect, but it's so much work to keep it perfect. And you call me 'my love', and make me go all weak at the knees. And it isn't sex when we're together. Well, it is, but it's so much more. Beautiful, like you can see into my head and I can see into yours. And you make me feel so loved that I can almost taste it." There was so much more I wanted to say. So much more that I didn't need to say, too. "Nigel, I want you for ever. For our lifetimes. I want to be your, well I don't know the word for it, partner, for ever and ever. Even if people point at us and call us queers, and laugh at us."
"If you're asking me to marry you, then I will. Yes, Chris, I will. For ever. With proper promises to each other, in front of witnesses if you like. Yes, Chris, yes please."
"I think I am. Yes I am. I know I am." We were still on the bed, all crumpled together. I'd forgotten my blocked nose, and my tears, and my worries. "Yes. I'm asking you to marry me, to be with me for ever and ever. I don't mind about the ceremony part, but I do want to make promises to you, yes. Oh yes. Marry me, Nigel."
"Yes, Chris. Yes, I will."
He looked at me through his one and a half eyes, and I looked at him past a grotesque nose out of my one open eye. Our eye met. Singular. "Nigel?"
"How do we do it? Marry I mean?"
"I suppose we have to be eighteen. And find someone to do it. I wonder if it's legal?"
"Don't suppose so. Does it mean we have to be out to everyone?"
"Hmm. Only to those we want, I reckon. Only to those we want."
"Oh good." I sighed, and relaxed onto the bed. "Good."
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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.