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This chapter is dedicated to two of my friends. Sean was in a car wreck recently. He went through the windscreen of the car he was in, then the windscreen of the other vehicle. I learnt of this today, 6 August 2000. Sean is an a coma in hospital. I know he should have been wearing a seatbelt. So does Dennis, his long term formal partner. But life is full of "should have beens". Dennis has lived in the hospital at Sean's bedside for the last month. Praying, talking to him, doing everything you or I would do for the person we love dearly. And it is working. Very recently Sean, unconscious, gripped Dennis's hand. Dennis was in the crash, too. He hasn't even spoken of his own injuries. He has just asked me to pray for Sean. But this is a prayer for each of them, for they are two, not one. Dennis isn't a religious man. His faith is more "open". A prayer in your own fashion is all I ask for. Nothing formal. If you would, if you choose, when you have read this, go to http://www.iomfats.org, and follow the link to the MESSAGEBOARD. Please simply place your wishes for Sean there. And for Dennis. Be anonymous if you wish, and do not expect a reply. Dennis is keeping a vigil, not replying to messages. If age makes a difference, they are only in their twenties. And so in love you can taste it when you talk to them. As you will see from the next chapter, Sean did not survive. A prayer quietly, in his memory is appropriate.
I thought back in the glow after he'd said he'd marry me. I thought back to the day Carol had taken me to his house, to give me away to him. I'd asked him then, really. All those days ago, before term had started, before that awful scene with my mother. It had been a sort of understood reply from him. But now he was going to marry me. Two boys, getting married. To each other.
"Penny for them?" Nigel was lying beside me, looking at me as dreamily as anyone can with a black eye.
"I'm in heaven."
"So am I." He kissed me on the forehead, being over careful about my nose. "You have no idea how much I'm in heaven with you." He kissed me again. "Chris?"
"What?" I was drifting with the happiness of it. It was a sharp contrast to the attack of droop, too. Made it all the more exquisite.
"No-one can hurt us, Chris, especially now. Whatever they do or say, it's not Christopher Jenkins or Nigel Cropper. It's not even Christopher Jenkins and Nigel Cropper. It's a unit. I mean it's us. It's Chris and Nigel, Nigel and Chris. A couple."
"You're talking scribble!" It was one of Mum's phrases, that. Meant volumes in three words.
"Yeah. But you know what I mean?"
"I do. I really think I do."
"We're engaged, Chris!"
"We are. Yes. I want something to show it. Well to show it to you, anyway."
"So do I. Only I don't know what."
"Not rings, no. Too poofy."
"Poofy? Yuck. I fancy a ring though, in a way."
"It'd be too obvious. I mean people would notice two rings," he said. "Rings don't appear suddenly. Not on boys, anyway. And not on the finger I'd want to wear it on."
"Possible, yes. But I don't know anyone who wears them. We might get called 'Medallion Man' or something."
"The Medallion Boys!" He was laughing. "It'll come to us. Er, does this make you my fiancÚ?"
"It does. And it makes you my fiancÚ as well." I paused, wondering. "You know, I always somehow thought it would be Carol... "
"Me, too." He kissed my cheek. "Chris, I can't quite believe it. It is real, isn't it? You did just ask me to marry you? I'm not dreaming? I don't mind if I'm dreaming, it's a good dream, but I don't want it to be a dream."
"I'm in the same dream, then. And if it's a dream, then it's my dream, not yours!"
"Oh good. Good. Good." And he sank into my arms, and I sank into his. Nothing sexual, just so cosy. Skin to skin, arms folded round each other, breathing together, snuggling together, sleepy, almost, yet wide awake. Comfortable in each other's company. Unpressured. No need to do or say anything. A huge and safe feeling.
I know I dozed in the end. Not sure if Nigel did. If he did, the he woke before me. What woke me was his gentle stroking of my cheek with the back of his fingers. "Mmm, that's nice." I stretched.
"I was just looking at you," he said. "Thinking how lucky I am. Well I suppose I should be thinking how lucky we are, but I was thinking how lucky I am."
"I thought you had a funny look on your face."
"Idiot. I was thinking something else, too. How I need to make the most of stroking your cheeks."
"How so?" Not just sleepy, but a bit thick as well.
"Won't be long before this bum fluff turns into a beard."
"I do not have bum fluff."
"Course you do. I do, so do you. And we'll both be shaving soon enough."
"Doesn't sound too much like fun. I like your cheeks soft."
"Like I said, we need to make the most of it. I was just realising, looking at you, that we aren't boys any more. Not men either. But we're changing. Hope it doesn't happen too fast."
"What's the matter, Nigel? You sound, oh heck, I'm looking for the right word. It's like wistful. No, not like wistful. That's the word."
"I dunno. Not really. I was looking at you. And I got to thinking I s'pose. About us. And about you. I thought I was going to lose you in that fight."
"A bit over dramatic?"
"No. Not over dramatic. I felt it. I think I understand a bit more what Dad says when he gets all soppy about weepy films. I really felt something weird. It pulled me towards you. Not like kids' fights. I had to be there to make sure you were safe. Pulled, yeah, pulled."
I was lost for words. No-one had ever cared for me like Nigel. Cared about me like Nigel. I kissed his fingers. It seemed a very personal thing to do, to kiss them, suddenly.
"Do you think I'm being daft, Chris?"
"A little. I mean they weren't going to do more than hurt me, you know."
"Not them. About you. About needing to protect you with my life if necessary. About wanting to keep each moment of being with you frozen in a frame, to keep for later, to remember for ever. About, oh I don't know... "
"Then, yes, if that's what you mean, I do think you're daft. Nice-daft, though. I love you, Nigel Cropper. If I die today I'll die happy."
"Don't you dare die today! I've nowhere near finished with you yet."
"Don't intend to. Haven't finished with you either." I was musing gently, though. "This all seems pretty mature stuff, you know. I don't feel ready to be mature yet. Only I do, as well."
"I know. Me, too, kind of. It's why I was stroking your cheek." He stretched. Luxuriously, like a cat. Nigel could look luxurious sitting on a rock. "Oh. Er, have you seen the time?" He sounded less relaxed.
"Shit! My parents'll be home five minutes ago! We'd better get tidied up!"
"Dressed, too. You sort the bathroom, I'll open the windows. I know your Mum's being very matter of fact about us, but finding us stark naked with all this bed-stuff in wild disarray is going to freak her, I reckon."
We made it. Not even in the nick of time. We rushed around so fast that we even untidied tidy things by accident in the rush. Putting a flat, unfitted sheet back properly on the bed is almost impossible when you're in a hurry. We'd scrumpled everything up so well that the first time we tried it exactly ninety degrees wrong. Had to start again. At least the duvet just needed shimmying into place and the pillows fluffing up.
There was even time to put the kettle on, put tea ready in the pot, and milk four mugs ready to welcome Mum and Dad. Well, they'd each come separately, of course, since they each worked in different places, but they usually arrived home within a whisker of each other.
Mum and Dad liked the idea of tea when they got home. Mum did a bit of fussing about how my nose was and how Nigel's eye was. They weren't much changed. There was something that had changed, though. I couldn't work out whether to tell them. No it was how to tell them I couldn't work out.
"Dad?" It seemed safer somehow to start with Dad. I know Mum was trying hard, but how would she cope? Mind you, she'd coped with a whole lot already. I took a moment while she was out of the room
"Mmm?" Dad looked tired. "What?"
"We have some news. Well, not really news. And I want, we want you and Mum to hear it. Nigel's parents, too."
"You're not pregnant, are you?"
"OK, sorry, it was funny when I said it."
"Wasn't, you know. I mean I know you think you have a sense of humour, but it's very weird!"
"OK, I give in. Let me grab Mum from the kitchen."
As he left I turned to Nigel. "You don't mind, do you?"
"Idiot, of course I don't mind. I love you. I want all of you. I almost want the world to know."
"Yeah, almost. Only not yet."
"Exactly." He gripped my hand. Was still holding it when Dad brought Mum back.
"So, this news?" Dad asked.
"Well," I said, sort of hesitantly, "This afternoon, er.."
"Chris asked me to marry him. And I said yes," Nigel broke in. "I said yes. And, and, we're..."
"Engaged." I managed to finish. "We're going to get married."
Then we shut up. Wondering what reaction we were going to get. I was worried about Mum, in case she had a fit again. I didn't think I could cope with a scene.
"I don't know what to say, Chris, Nigel, boys," she said finally.
"Please be happy for us, Mum?"
"It's not that. I am. Well, I think I am. I mean it's perfect if, no, since you're sure. Only I wasn't expecting it, and you're both only fourteen, and I, well I suppose I'm a bit scared."
"What of, Jean?" Dad asked her, gently. "It sounds wonderful to me. Unusual, but wonderful"
"I think it's just all so fast. Chris was my baby a very short while ago. Now he's becoming a man. And very quickly. He'll have to grow up so fast. Boys, you'll both have to grow up very fast. Too fast. That's it, I think. Mostly."
"Mum, it isn't that we're both boys, is it?"
"No, Chris. Well, maybe a little, but that's just the practical stuff. Like the world. It's not that you're both boys, it's that you're fourteen."
"It's not what you think. Hear me out for a minute."
"Look, it would be the same if Nigel were a girl. Fourteen is very young to be sure, and to commit to someone else. And I truly hope it's permanent and perfect for ever. I do. Because you love each other, and because I love you, Chris, but I'm still a little scared. You've a lot to face as a couple of young men. Stuff that a conventional couple... "
She was interrupted by Nigel. Not with words. With a hug.
Then with words. "I promise it's for ever, Jean. For ever. I know how much I love Chris. I can't love anyone any more than I love him, and I'm so lucky that he loves me as well. And that he's got such great parents... " he tailed off.
Dad got a word in. "I think they're strong enough, Jean. Together these two can take anything the world can throw at them, I think. Especially with support." He turned to us. "I don't know if you want or need our blessing, but you have it. Fully and properly."
Mum had come to be beside him. Squeezed his hand. It still cost her. I could see it cost her. But she looked happy. Well as happy as any traditional mother can be when her only son has asked another mother's son to marry him. "Yes, boys. Not just Dad's. My blessing as well. I'm sure you mean it. Certain. So I'm for it. Yes. Mine, too."
"Thanks, Peter." Nigel was back holding my hand. Hugging Mum had been just the right thing to do. He seemed to have an instinct for how to handle her. The hug had already thanked her, somehow. "We'll need a lot of support, though. I think Jean's right about the problems of not being, well, conventional."
There was a lot more said by all four of us. Mostly said in total silence. I could see that Dad was concerned about us. Oh, he was certainly happy for me, for us, but he was still concerned. I wasn't too clear on how to move forward myself. I mean, what happened next?
Being engaged to Nigel was one thing. Working out how and when and where we'd be married was another. And it was over three years until we were both eighteen.
It wasn't that we wouldn't still be deeply in love. I knew we'd be in love. I knew we'd be together. It was being able to last three years of school without bursting under the strain if hiding it. And then university. And getting a job. And finding a flat, or a house. How did you do all that? How?
Dad was reading my mind. "I was thinking, lads. I don't know how we sort out the logistics, but there are a load of things to get right on the way. Afterwards too, come to that. It doesn't change a thing today about how you act and behave at home here, but I reckon you know that anyway. We still have to be very careful about things like that. We daren't have some nosy parker ask Social Services to look into what goes on between you, so you have to be very discreet. And I'm afraid that means until you're both eighteen. At least I'm pretty sure it does. Unless they change the age of consent for young men. And even so, I'm not wholly in favour of that."
"What d'you mean, Dad?"
"I don't reckon now's the time to go into my personal views on age of consent. Anyway, it doesn't apply in my mind to boys of the same age. I'm more concerned about other people, not us, Chris, and not your parents, Nigel. Oh... "
"What is it, Peter," Mum asked.
"Nigel's parents. Nigel, have you told them?"
"I only just told Chris! And you of course."
"Phone them. Ask them to come over. If you like, that is. And tell them here. Oh, unless you'd prefer to do it more privately?"
"What d'you think, Chris?" Nigel was looking at me, I could see he wanted to tell them as soon as possible. He was bursting.
"You choose. Here is fine. Private at your place is fine."
"Bastard! If you're going to marry me you need to help me make decisions!"
"Yeah, right. No this one, though. This one's yours."
"Well, I think I'd prefer to tell them at home, but that means either I go home without you, or we go to my place and your parents don't see you tonight. And I know we have to be up for school in the morning, so it's here, please. If we can celebrate a bit, all of us."
"So phone them, Nigel," Dad said.
He did. Seemed like no time at all when he was off the phone. "They'll be here in about ten minutes," he said as he hung up.
"Do you mind if I phone someone, while we wait for them?" I wasn't asking anyone in particular.
"Going to tell the world?"
"Idiot boy." I kissed his cheek. "I think Carol deserves to know."
"Agreed. Won't be the easiest call you ever made, though."
"I know. But she deserves to know. And she has to hear it from me. Not second hand. I need her to know for sure not to wait for me to get tired of you."
"Wait for you to get tired of me?"
"When she came with me, helped me find your house, came and gave me to you, that day she made me promise to tell her. She said she'd wait through an infatuation, a phase, but that I was to tell her to stop waiting."
"And you haven't done so yet... " He was trying to look menacing. And failing.
"I should have. But I haven't. No. Anyway, I want to ask her something, if she will."
"Well, I owe her so much. And I do love her. Not like you. But I do love her. If she'll agree, I want her to be, oh heck, there isn't a word for it. A lady Best Man. My Best Man. Kind of. I was hoping you might ask John, too."
"Are you matchmaking?"
"No. I just like him an awful lot, too. Up to them if they get together. But I can't think of anyone better for either of us, can you?"
"I can't either, no. Listen, you ask Carol now, on the phone. I'll ask John tomorrow in school. I like the idea. A lot. Specially if you do."
"Can I use the phone, Dad?"
"Of course. Go on."
I left them together and called Carol. I never needed the phone book for her number. It was engraved in my mind. Mrs Anderson answered. I asked for Carol, and soon heard her voice. "Chris! Are you all right? I was going to call you tonight to find out."
"I'm OK. Don't worry. Broken nose and a bit battered. Nigel got a black eye, too. I, er, hit him by accident."
"Oh Chris. You sweet nit. John told me a bit about it. You were pretty brave, he said."
"Nothing of the sort. Listen, I have something I simply have to tell you. We can talk about the other day when we see each other tomorrow, but I want to ask you something."
"Tell me? Or ask me?"
"Tell you. And ask you." Suddenly I wasn't too sure how to go on. "Er, you remember what you said when you took me to Nigel's that day. About not knowing if it was serious and stuff."
"Yes?" She was hesitant. I suddenly realised I might be letting her jump to the wrong conclusions.
"It is. Serious. That's what I wanted to tell you. I asked Nigel to marry me today. Properly. And he said yes."
"Oh. Er, congratulations, I think." She sounded less excited than I hoped.
"Carol, I owe you everything. I've just learnt a lot about me, and who I am. You gave me the freedom to learn it. It would have been too easy to simply carry on being your boyfriend. But we both know, I think, that it wasn't right. Not after, well, not once, er, oh heck... "
"I wish you still were, Chris. I still love you with all my heart. I don't think I'll ever stop loving you."
"It would be so much simpler. And I do love you. Only, it isn't the same, oh I'm sorry. I'm doing this badly. Carol, I still need you in my life. And I want to ask you to be my, er, there isn't a word for it. Best Man isn't right, and I sure as hell don't want a bridesmaid, but Carol, will you, please? Be my Best Person?"
"Because I love you, Christopher Jenkins, because I adore you and love you enough to want you to be happy, then yes. Yes, please. Yes, I will. If you can think of a better name than Best Person." She sounded happier. Well happier-ish. "Chris?"
"I'm so glad you will. I don't want anyone else to do it. There isn't anyone else. You know there isn't. You mean a whole lot to me. What?" I'd suddenly realised that she had a question.
"How do two boys get married? And what will you be? Husband and husband?"
"No idea. I just want to make a public promise to Nigel for ever."
"We'll both need to be eighteen I should think, so we'll be ready to be public. I want it to be really special, Carol. Really special."
"You're a soppy, romantic, daft, wonderful boy, Chris. I just wish you were mine, not Nigel's. I always will. I don't think I'm jealous, but I do envy you both. I thought maybe that one day... " I heard the catch in her voice.
"I did, too. Only I've learnt that I'm someone different. I'm not straight, Carol. It wouldn't have worked. Us. Nigel just turned on a switch that was waiting to be turned on. That sounds so corny. It's true, though. One day I'd have found it. Even if we'd been married for forty years, one day it would have happened."
"I suppose. Yeah, I know. You're right. Somehow I thought it was a choice. With Nigel I can see it isn't. I can see how he can't be, how he isn't attracted to girls. But you are, or were. And that makes me feel sad. For me, I mean. Because I can't have you. I almost had you. Only I still love you, that's all." I felt her take hold of herself, as though she'd suddenly climbed a long hill, and reached the top. "Wow! Engaged. Heck I can't even tell anyone."
"Tomorrow you'll be able to talk to John about it. Nigel's gong to ask him the same thing."
"That's good. Chris, I could like John. Quite a lot, I think. You wouldn't mind, would you?"
"He's nice. I like him too. No, I don't mind at all. Rather pleased. For you and for him. He deserves a really lovely girl. And you deserve him. He's thoughtful, caring, loyal. Nigel's best friend. Apart from me, I mean." The doorbell went. "Carol, I have to go. Nigel's parents are here. They don't know yet. I'll see you in school tomorrow."
"Tell Nigel congratulations!" She just got it in before I hung up.
Very mixed feelings. I was certain about wanting Nigel, about being wrong for Carol. But certainty was tinged with just a hint of 'what if?', and it was a strong feeling. It was an old feeling, too. Well, as old as the start of it all a very few weeks ago in France. It wasn't so much that I felt that my future was with Carol. It was more that I felt it ought to be with Carol. Or with a girl. But there had only been Carol. Sure, other girls were pretty. Well, some of them were. Other girls were sexy, too. Not always the pretty ones, either. Come to that the pretty ones weren't often the sexy ones.
Looking over them in my mind, I was sure of it, though.
When Carol and I'd started going out, we were each slim. Neither of us had started any sort of growing. And boys and girls look pretty similar at that age. And sex wasn't even on my mind. We were two really good friends hanging around together at first. No curves. And I hadn't even looked at curves then, anyway.
Like all girls, she'd hit puberty first. And curves had arrived. Pretty good curves. They suited her. Kind of well defined without being overdone. In a swimsuit she looked divine. And I'd thought that was what I wanted. It had been. It had on the beach in France. It had been on the train down to France.
Now, it wasn't. I did a mental photograph of Carol's body and Nigel's. Both strong, both athletic, both slim. Only Nigel was, hmm, different. Not the obvious. I was 'looking' from behind, anyway. I couldn't find the word. The feeling was easy, but the word wasn't. 'Tough'? No, not tough. 'Firmer'? Almost. It was his bum. The way his waist didn't curve in at the sides before his bum started. The way it wasn't an upside down heart, but was a pair of firm, curved hills. The way it dimpled in at the sides. Carol was so female, so feminine. Nigel was all boy. Broader shoulders. Stronger shape. Harder, no, more defined.
'Urgent'. That was it. Nigel was more urgent than Carol.
"Chris, are you off the phone yet?" Urgent when he called for me as well.
"Almost!" I wanted to finish the thought. With Nigel I felt as though he needed me more than he needed himself. Felt him powerful as he kissed me, or I kissed him. Carol felt soft, yielding. Female. That was it. Nigel was urgent. I don't think Carol could ever be urgent. Even on the beach in France she'd not been urgent.
"Answer the door, Chris!" Dad was calling, now. I realised that my whole set of jumbled thoughts hadn't taken any time at all. The bell went for only the second time, and my hand was on the catch as it was dying away, and opening it to see Claire and James.
"Come on in," and I led the to the kitchen. We always took people to the kitchen first. Even though we'd not been in there when I told Mum and Dad, they'd somehow all gone back to the kitchen. Everything happened in the kitchen in our house.
There were the usual greetings and mumblings and stuff. I could see Nigel was bursting to tell them. Dad saved the day. If it needed to be saved. "We ought to go to where we can sit down." He was smiling. Mum was, too. I noticed that particularly. Mum was smiling. Meant a lot to me, did that.
We arranged ourselves in the living room. Claire saw my swollen nose for the first time. We had a short conversation about how it must hurt and would soon be all right. " ...just as handsome as before," she ended.
"Mum!" Nigel was bursting even more now.
"Sorry, Nigel. What's so important that you asked us to come over?"
"Chris asked me to marry him!"
I was watching her face. Claire. The mother who could handle anything.
"And I said I would, Mum. We're engaged."
I looked at Nigel, too. Radiantly happy. I wondered if I looked as happy. Smiling hurt, pretty much, but I could feel an idiot's smile all over my face. Ear to ear.
Then I looked back at Claire. Back at the wonderful woman who'd found us in bed together, at the woman who helped us both actually be able to speak about who we were and become comfortable with it.
And I saw a tear start its journey down her face. Then another spilled as she tried to keep the smile there.
"Mum?" Nigel had seen them, too. I knew he had. "Mum? You're crying? I thought you'd be happy? I mean... "
James had come over to hug Nigel. "She'll be fine, soon, Nigel. She's been awesome. It's just so, well, final. I don't think she was expecting it. That's all."
She was weeping gently now. Mum had gone over and was talking to her so quietly that no-one else could hear.
"I thought she was happy for us, Dad? I don't understand... " Nigel's face had fallen. He looked on the point of crying himself.
"She will be. And she is happy. Nigel, and she supports you. Both of you. I think it's just the surprise, sort of."
"I still don't understand."
I was sitting there, wondering what to do. I could see, feel what was happening. Odd. My Mum seemed to be becoming happy, and Claire seemed to be having what Mum had at first. Only milder.
"It's, oh Nigel, come and hug me," Claire's voice came damply from the other side of the room. "It isn't that I'm not happy for you," she said as he arrived. "It's just that you're growing up so fast."
"It's not just that, is it, Mum?"
"No, Nigel. It isn't just that. But I am happy for you. Truly. It just isn't what I imagined when you were a baby. It just isn't."
"Mum? He's all I want, Mum. I love Chris." I could hear Nigel starting to sound desperate. "I'm not like other boys, Mum. I'm not ever going to love a girl, Mum. Only Chris. I'm gay. Queer. Homo. And I love him so much it hurts."
She was stroking his hair. I wanted to be doing that. I found Mum was holding my hand. "That's how you feel, isn't it?" I asked her.
"Shh, yes, but not now," she replied, giving my hand a squeeze. "It's all right now, Chris." She was whispering. "It really is. I can see you're in love with him, and I'm getting used to it. Properly, I mean. I think Claire's just having it catch up with her."
I sighed. "I wish it didn't seem so odd to you. To both of you. We just love each other, Mum. And I want to be with Nigel for ever."
I heard Claire again. "... so permanent." It was just that. The permanence. I could see what she meant, even at fourteen. I felt it was permanent, too. Only I liked the permanence. Needed it. I think that need was what made us unusual. Not both being boys, unusual as it was, but knowing who we wanted to be with for ever. That was the unusual thing. The odd feelings, doubts, if you like, when I spoke to Carol just underlined how much I needed Nigel.
She looked at me. "It's all right, Chris. Really. I'm just being a mother, I think."
"I love Nigel, Claire. With all of me. There's nothing I wouldn't do for him. I'll never hurt him." I was running out of words. I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to tell her about all the marriages that end in divorce, and how Nigel and I never would divorce. I wanted to tell her about people who had affairs and how Nigel and I would never let each other down. Only the words would have sounded wrong. "It's a good kind of permanent. I love him."
"I think I'm just a bit scared for you both. There's so much the world's going to throw at you. You're both going to need to be so strong, especially at school, especially if it becomes public knowledge. Very public, I mean."
"I think it may be a lot more public after the other day," I said. "Nigel told you why I waded in?"
"To help Andy? Yes, he told me," she sighed. "You're going to have to learn to be selfish, Chris, and only fight your battles and Nigel's. Not other people's as well."
"I couldn't. It felt as though it was Nigel in the middle of those kids. Well, not as though it was Nigel, but I imagined it, somehow. I couldn't leave Andy to be bullied by them. He's one of us. Oh."
"That's what she means, Chris," Dad said. "It shouldn't be 'us' except for you and Nigel."
"Andy's a bit special, Dad." And I went on to tell him how Andy had told Nigel all about Mike, and how marvellous Nigel had been with him. And how we were both Andy's big brothers now.
As the conversation about Andy dwindled, and Claire stopped looking like a wet weekend in Wigan, James said "Are you going to wear rings or something?"
"Don't see how, Dad. They'll look kind of obvious."
"Not that you two look anything other than obvious anyway," James smiled.
"Do we?" I could hear the surprise in Nigel's voice
"Well, to me you look pretty obvious. But no, I suppose you don't to other people."
"We can't think of what to have, James. We want something that looks manly, but is special to us. Can't think what to have."
"Will you trust me to find something for you? I'd like to," he said. "Unless you want to choose for yourselves?"
I looked at Nigel. He looked at me. I nodded. "Yes, Dad. Yes, please."
"Good," he said. "Because I have something in mind. I'll see if I can get it organised by the weekend."
"What is it?" Nigel had his pleading puppy expression on.
"Wait and see," James said. "I think you'll approve. Both of you."
"Not medallions, please, James."
"Not medallions, no, Chris. I don't like medallions."
"Phew! I'll trust you, then." I wondered what it would be, but I had an idea that asking would be unproductive. James had changed the whole mood of the gathering from weird and unexpected back to what I'd thought it was going to be. Just by talking about us as a sort of matter-of-fact way, and being truly pleased for us. I liked James. He didn't seem to talk much, but when he did, then he added something to anywhere he was. Claire did, too. I supposed Mum had been right, and that it was just all catching up with her. My son marrying a boy wasn't my idea of an ideal set-up either. My son. If I had a son.
If we had a son.
That seemed pretty unlikely. And a long way off. It could wait until after university; until we both had jobs; until we had money. It wasn't the first time it had flashed through my mind. It was something I'd have to talk to Nigel about. Not today, though.
"Does anyone have any idea how we can get married, and how old we have to be?" Nigel asked no-one in particular.
"Let's see," Dad said. "In England the age of consent is eighteen, so it seems logical that is the youngest you can be to be able to be making formal promises. Plus it's the age when you can each sign a legal contract for yourselves."
"This age of consent thing sucks," Nigel replied. "It should be sixteen, like for boys and girls."
"For you two, yes," Dad said. "Yes, it sucks. I don't think it was designed with your situation in mind. To me it's more a sort of safeguard, to make sure a kid doesn't get seduced by an older man who then says in court that it was the kid's fault, or that the kid agreed. But that's a long debate. Rights and wrongs on both sides. Heck, some boys aren't mature enough, or girls mature enough at forty, let alone eighteen! Anyway we can't change it whether we want to or not, so we need to work within it. The law, I mean."
"So, we probably have to be eighteen in any case. That's ages." Nigel looked a bit pissed off. Then "This 'contract signing' thing, what's that about, Peter?"
"I was thinking out loud, really. Thinking about legally binding contracts. About stuff you'll have to do if there's to be a chance of the law recognising each of you as the other's partner. The legal bit doesn't matter a damn, really."
"What d'you mean?"
"It's simple Nigel. To marry each other. As far as I can see there isn't much you need to do. Unless you want to find a vicar and stuff?"
"Not sure about that. We don't go to church and stuff, but I do want to make real promises to Chris. Unbreakable ones. Public ones."
"It's up to you, boys. But it seems to me that you could each decide on the promises you want to make, and then just make them. Do it in front of as many or as few friends as you want, and do it in writing as well if you want. And each sign the paper and have it witnessed. It means nothing legally, but it would mean everything to you and the people you made the promises in front of."
"How old would we have to be to do that, Dad?" I was interested in this. Very interested.
"Well, since I don't see that it could mean anything in law, you could do it right here, right now. No, I'm not suggesting it. I think there are reasons why not, too."
"Reasons why not?" Nigel looked at him square in the eye, almost ready to be hostile.
"Stop bristling. I don't mean from me, not from any of us. I was thinking more of Social Services and other nosy parker people."
"Where do they come into it, Peter?"
"If you get this right, then they don't. Not ever. A simple question for you, Nigel: If Chris were a girl, and someone told the Social Services that you and he were having a physical relationship, what do you think they'd do?"
"OK, I understand. They'd interfere. Reports. The 'At Risk Register', all that kind of shit. People asking questions. Maybe counselling, but I don't see what there could be to counsel. And because Chris isn't a girl, then there'd be more, wouldn't there?"
"I reckon there'd be much more. It'd hit the courts, the newspapers, the lot. I think being over sixteen is vital, though I don't know why, quite. And being over eighteen is advisable. They can't touch you when you're over eighteen. Not once you both are."
"That works for me, Nigel," I said. "As far as I'm concerned we're married anyway. We can wait. For the promises and stuff."
"Yep, it'll do me. I can see the reasons. And I don't want to have Social Services get between us. Now guys, can we celebrate or something? Please? I know we can't exactly have an engagement party, but can we do something?"
"Chink-away?" Claire asked. "Our treat." She said fast. I think she knew how far money had to stretch for us. The Volvo made it kind of obvious.
Dad did the 'we must share the bill' stuff. So Claire did the 'next time' stuff in return. In the end they compromised. Claire ordered by phone and paid on plastic, Dad went to pick it up, and picked up a handful of bottles of fizzy Spanish white. As near Champagne as made no difference. It turned into a pretty good party. Well, for everyone except Peter, who got stuck with driving home. I'd never had anyone celebrate anything about me before. Well, my birth, I suppose. And the usual thing at baptism. Except I wasn't exactly conscious of either of those. I managed to blag enough wine to get tiddled. So Dad told me the next day, anyway. Tiddled enough, he said, to grab Nigel on the doorstep as he was leaving, and to plant a huge kiss somewhere near his mouth. Then apparently I was talking non-stop as they aimed me at my bedroom.
"Who cares, Dad?" I asked as I was getting ready for school. A little bleary, but fine otherwise. "He's mine. And I love him."
"And you're mine, and I can tease you," he said. "Oh, is Nigel going to ask John today to be his best man? I really do approve of Carol being yours."
"I hope so, Dad. I don't really want to wait until we're eighteen, though. It seems so far away. Over three years. Only I daren't let people know, either. Just those who know already."
"I'd certainly not go telling anyone who doesn't need to know," he said. "You don't need the hassle of having to explain things to busybodies."
"I may need to talk to Miss Campbell today, though. Can she phone you at work if she thinks she needs to? I think I'm going to have to explain about Andy and why he's being bullied. And that he has friends if he needs them." I'd already told him about Section 28 and the PSE lessons when he'd been in hospital visiting me.
He gave me one of his business cards. "Give her this. I don't know why they give them to me. I never meet anyone to give them to. It's not as if they let me meet customers and important people." He was smiling, but he sounded a little strained about it.
"Don't want to frighten too many customers off, Dad. That'll be why they keep you well hidden."
"Rotten child! So you don't want a lift to school this morning, then?"
But I got one. It was always a bit too early to arrive if I got a lift, but it didn't matter. I decided not to hang around at the gates waiting for Nigel, so I went and dumped my stuff at my locker, and went for a nose about. I wanted to see if any of the scrawl about Andy was still around.
Not obvious, anyway, if it still was there.
I did get bumped into by Mrs Wilding, though. "Hello, Chris. Glad you're back today."
"Sorry, Didn't mean to make you jump. I thought you'd seen me."
My heart calmed down to its normal rate. "I was miles away, Mrs Wilding. It's all right. I didn't know anyone was about."
"Your nose looks a bit better. Vastly impressive, though."
"Thanks." I reckoned I knew where this small talk was leading. I was right.
"Do you feel able to talk to me today, Chris, or would you like to talk to Miss Campbell first? Or instead?"
"I don't suppose I can just say 'no thank you', can I?"
"Well, you can, yes. It depends on how strongly you feel about bullying. I'm not going to force you to talk to anyone. I'd be bullying you myself if I did. That'd almost be worse than a group of pupils doing it. No it would be worse. I'd be using my position as headmistress to make you do something that felt wrong for you."
"Mrs Wilding, if I talk to you, can everything I say be completely confidential?"
"There are certain things, Chris, that I can't be confidential about."
"Oh dear, look, walk with me to my office and I'll explain there, as we go, and in private. No, it isn't an order, it's a request."
"Well, OK." So we started to walk.
"If a pupil comes to me, Chris, and says something like 'My dad beats me up each night', then I have a problem. Part of me says that I should be a sort of aunt, and listen, and try and help them to sort it out. Part of me says I must get this awful behaviour stopped. Protect the pupil from the father. And it gives me a huge problem."
"How would you get it stopped?"
"That part gives me the biggest problem. If I involve a social worker, then things can move pretty fast. But I worry that they don't always go in the best direction. I really don't like kids being taken away from their parents into care. You hear of horrible things happening in children's homes."
"So what do you do?"
"That's just it. I have to involve Social Services. Now it isn't as dramatic as you think, because it depends on whether the child is already known to be in danger."
"If they aren't? In danger?"
"Then usually a social worker goes and talks to the family."
"It sounds dramatic. Not nice."
"I don't suppose it is nice. But if you were the child, and it stopped you from being hit, how would you feel?"
"Because I'd betrayed my family. It'd be my fault."
"Now you see my problem. It wouldn't be your fault, but it would feel like it. And it would feel as though I'd let you down badly."
"I can see that, yes. If I talk to you, how do I know what can be confidential and what can't?"
"I think you have to trust me to tell you when to stop."
"And if I say too much about something, how do I unsay it?"
"That depends on two things, Chris. One is whether someone is in actual danger, and the other is whether there is anyone else in the room with us."
"Anyone at all? Including one of my friends?"
"Anyone at all, yes. I have to be seen to be correct by the law as well as by you."
"If I give an example, about someone you can't know? Will you assume you know who I'm talking about?"
"Not if you're clever about it, no. If you make it too clear, though, then I won't be able to help it." She looked at me. A soft look. "Chris, can you tell me what you're scared of?"
I thought for a while. "Not easily. I'm not scared about school, nor bullies. I was when I was new. I got bullied for my dinner money. Not now, though. Not for me exactly."
"You asked to talk to Miss Campbell. Chris, if it's drugs, you can trust me to be fine. We have a simple service with a medical centre that helps... "
"It isn't drugs. I hate them. The idea of them. It's more an ethical thing. Like you said about being confidential and sometimes not being allowed to be. She was talking about that yesterday, no, oh what day was it? In PSE."
"You do know that she can't be any more confidential than I can?"
"I suppose." I was wondering what and whether to tell her. "Look, can we just see if whatever it is happens again? I mean it probably won't. But if it does, then I think I'll need someone's help. It's not about me, Mrs Wilding. I don't think I've got the right to talk to you about it. Not yet at least. It's another person's problem. I, er, I don't think I need Miss Campbell, though. Thanks. You've helped."
"I'm not just a headmistress, Chris. I'm a mother too, you know."
That gave me an idea. "Could I talk to you as a sort of aunt, not as a headmistress?" I felt stupid the moment I'd said it.
"Too difficult. I'd like to say yes, but I can't. What if you told me something as an aunt that I would have to act on as a headmistress?"
"Yeah. It's OK. I realised as soon as I asked."
"You know, Chris, I sometimes hate my job when it means that people can't confide in me. I started teaching to help people, not just teach them. But rules sometimes stop me from doing what I'd like to do." She looked at the clock. "Heavens, it's nearly assembly time. Are you sure you've asked me everything you need to know?"
"One thing more, I think. Miss Campbell was talking about Section 28 yesterday. And how it stopped kids from asking teachers when they need help, or information, or guidance or something. Does it really mean that someone who finds he's gay can't ask a teacher for help?"
"Complicated, that. Do you need a full answer?"
"I don't know about needing it, but let's say a friend needed to know stuff, and couldn't tell his parents. Could a teacher help?""
"I just need to get Miss Coker to take assembly for me. Then I'll do my best to answer you, Chris." She was gone, then back. It took her about a minute. "Before I even start to answer, is this something you're trying to tell me without telling me?"
"Not really." I was sweating. It was warm in her office. "If it were me, I could tell my parents. I mean it might be a shock at first, but I think they'd be fine. Not, it was this graffiti thing that got me thinking."
"Right, so you want a hypothetical answer to a hypothetical question?"
"I mean, your question is theory, so you want to know, in theory, what the answer is."
"Oh. Yes." So that was what hypothetical meant.
"I think it depends. This Section 28 stuff isn't helpful, but it isn't the problem some people think. It just means that we can't teach about homosexuality. But then I don't think anyone should be taught about it, exactly. They should know what it means, and learn that homosexual people are just people who are attracted to the same gender, and that it isn't easy. Socially, or for the person who is homosexual. Those are things I believe we should teach, and those are things I think it stops us from doing. It doesn't stop us answering private questions truthfully. But most teachers know next to nothing about the answers. I'm not too good on the answers myself. Let's keep it simple first."
"Well, what if a kid thinks he's gay, and needs a friendly ear?"
"No problem. A good teacher should listen in confidence, and keep the confidence. It's only if sex is involved and those involved are under age it gets complicated."
"Then what happens?"
"We get back to having to involve Social Services."
I felt my blood run a little cold. I needed to know this, but didn't want to. "So it's not a Section 28 thing?"
"Not at all. It's back to our duty of care towards our pupils."
"What if the kids are happy to be together, and just needed to tell someone? If there is physical sex and stuff?"
"I hate to say it, but they shouldn't tell a teacher any of it. Chris, I'm not making any assumptions about whom you're talking about. They are completely theoretical. If it's real people, please don't tell me. Not unless they're in trouble. I've completely forgotten about any graffiti, OK?"
"Doesn't seem very fair on the kids. Nor you. But thanks. Er, if I were ever to have a friend ask me whom to tell about something like this, I'd know how not to help them now, at least. I think parents are best. Well, I know mine would be. Thanks Mrs Wilding."
"Chris, I have one question to ask you. You don't have to answer it. Is this conversation related to the fight the other day?"
"I don't think I heard the question, if that's all right," I said. I found I was looking her straight into the eyes. My bad one had started to open.
"I don't think I asked one," she said, meeting my gaze. "You'd better get along to lessons. I don't want you to be late. Oh, Chris?" She paused briefly. "Thank you. For trusting me to answer your questions, I mean. The answers don't mean that you need to avoid me if you need help. But you can ask me whatever you need to know in a round about way. I mean that."
"Thanks Mrs Wilding. I used to be frightened of you, you know."
"I'm sure I can still frighten you, if I need to! Now you'll be late. And so will I"
I reached my locker just before the outpouring from assembly. I wanted to bump into Nigel. Urgently. I wanted to tell him about Mrs Wilding, how she wasn't a dragon after all. And I wanted to see him anyway. I wanted to be there when he asked John to be his Best Man.
The throng descended. I managed to say hi, but that was it. Lessons. I could see Carol all right, but not talk to her. Well, except on the way from classroom to classroom.
"Your nose, Chris. Oh heck it must hurt. Oh you poor thing." She peered at me.
"It does, a bit. Probably will for a week or two. I'll mend."
"But... Oh heck, I just never knew you'd fight for someone else. And just a kid, too. I mean he's two years below us, and you got hurt... "
"Look, I'm not going to say 'it was nothing', or stuff like that. But I just had to do it. It was important. And I was scared. It was horrible. Then we had to go to Mrs Wilding's office. Me and Nigel. I passed out. Listen I'll tell you all the details later." We'd arrived at double chemistry. Mr Munson took chemistry very seriously, so there was no talking except the job in hand. "I have to see Nigel and John at break. Will you come, too? Please?"
I had to wait for more than a nod and a smile as an answer. I wasn't Carol's partner for chemistry. Didn't even sit at the same bench. The torture ended eventually. Well, I liked the lesson. Chemistry's one of my favourites. But my mind wasn't on it. I got a bollocking from Mr Munson for leaving the stopper of the conc. sulphuric acid on the bench instead of holding it properly in my hand when I used the bottle. I never normally got bollocked for stuff like that - I usually could see him coming and get it right just in time. Not that Thursday, though.
The gap between lessons was long enough to get Carol's attention again. I only got a brief moment. She would come, yes, at break. Then it was into geography, and real tedium before break.
I hadn't arranged to meet Nigel. I just reckoned he'd know I wanted to be there with him. I hoped he'd approve. I was walking back to the lockers with Carol, and we found John. One out of the two was a start.
"You seen Nigel today?"
"Not yet, Chris, no."
"I wouldn't mind finding him. Well, I wouldn't mind all of us finding him. I want to tell him something. Oh, how's Mike taking the stuff about Andy?"
"Not really sure. I mean I know he thinks Andy's weird. Me, too. I mean don't get me wrong, certain people are cool. But Mike's my kid brother, and it's different. Well, I can't explain it, but it is. Andy needs to find someone else. Mike's straight. Well he says so, and that's good enough for me."
We were wandering outside to where he and Nigel usually hung out. Ah, there he was. But surrounded. A friendly crowd, but I wanted him on his own. He must have been being grilled about the other day.
" ... and Chris was getting the worst of it, so I got him out. They may have been little kids, but that little Tranter shit's an evil little sod. He started the whole thing. The Andy loves Mike stuff, too. I don't reckon there's anything in it. Heck, they're just kids. Oh, hi Chris, John. Oh good, Carol, too." He broke away, his fan club splitting to let him pass through. I was very envious, suddenly. But then I was engaged to the owner of the fan club, so what the heck! "John, can we get somewhere quiet, I want to ask you something."
We all walked to the perimeter fence. "John, something happened yesterday. Something important, and Chris and I hope you'll be part of it. Carol knows already."
"This is like pulling teeth!" John was smiling at him. "Get on with it, or it'll be lunchtime first!"
"I want you to be my Best Man. Chris asked me to marry him yesterday. And I said yes."
"Er? Boys can't get married, Nigel."
"These two can," he said. "It'll have to wait until we're eighteen, but we will get married. And I really would like you to be part of it. You're my oldest friend, John. I don't want anyone else to be Best Man for me. Just you, John"
"What do I have to do?"
"No idea. Better ask Carol. She's Chris's. Probably have to make it up as we go along."
"Right. I'm up for it. Proud to do it. Hey, wait a minute, shouldn't I be congratulating you both?"
"Well, yes!" Nigel was laughing. I mean you don't have to kiss the bride or anything."
"Yeah, right! So which one's the bride?" He collapsed into giggles. Nigel and I were each pointing at each other, and Carol was pointing at both of us. "Oh shit. I asked for that one. OK, so who's going to pucker up first?"
"I am," Carol said quietly. "You get to kiss me. They get to kiss each other. Well, unless you want to kiss either of them, of course!"
"You know, Nigel, John is rather cute," I was struggling not to crease up, "I think it might be nice to be kissed by him?"
"Oh, me first," Nigel was having the same trouble. "He was my friend first!"
"Bastards! I'll stick to Carol, if that's all right with you!"
"Not in school you won't," she said quickly. "Now afterwards, then you might just stand a chance. Of course, you might have to kiss these two first!"
"Hmm." John had a wide smile on his face. "If it's a promise, and if it's going to be a good kiss, just you and me, Carol, then I'll kiss any number of frogs first!"
"He called me a frog, Chris. Are you going to stand for that?"
"He called me one, too."
"Does that mean you'll turn into a prince if I kiss you?"
"Damn. You mean I don't usually?"
"Idiot! Total idiot! Oh shit! We need to get back in. The bell's about to go."
"So, I don't have to kiss you first?" John asked.
"Might do!" Nigel, when he was flirting, was amazing. I was willing to bet he'd always flirted with John, and John had never noticed.
We headed back to the lockers. Two lessons to go before lunch. Best 'Men' were sorted out. Better, they seemed quite keen on each other. Mind you, it was all getting a bit schmaltzy. I'd never read any Barbara Cartland novels, but it sounded as though John and Carol might be featured in one. Didn't quite see how Nigel and I could be, though. One day, though. One day someone would write a romantic novel about two boys in love.
"Queer lover!" It broke into my thoughts. I wasn't sure I'd heard it. The it came again. "Queer lover!" A shrill voice. A nasty little voice. "Fucking queer lover!" It was like a little sharp knife. "Yeah, you. Queer lover!" Little sharp jabs. Little twists. Only they didn't hurt. Instead of hurting they just sounded pathetic.
If you liked this chapter, If you like the story, find more at my website http://www.iomfats.org/, and from there also link to the Teenage Gay Boy Love Stories Webring where we have gathered authors who write fact and fiction about teenage male romance. And if you are an author yourself, please don't hesitate to go to the Webring Signup page at http://www.iomfats.org/ringmaster.htm and submit your own website for consideration for membership. Our Webring gets in excess of 3,000 hits a week. We must be doing something right! Click here for the list of TGBL Webring Sites [if your browser does not show this link, simply visit my website's links page].
Section 28 of the United Kingdom Local Government Act 1988 MUST go. Those who want it kept say that it stops our kids being "taught to be homosexual". Well I have a son, a teenage son. If you read my life story on the website you'll see and understand. My son knows I am gay. It hasn't made him want to try being gay out. You don't try it out, however well informed you are, you just don't. And he's well informed, because I answer any questions he asks me. Being unstr8 is one thing; choosing to be unstr8 is quite another. Of course it must happen, but it is so rare as to be statistically irrelevant. Section 28 is about scaring good teachers away from helping the kids who need their help. This is a bad UK law. If you want to join the campaign against it, there is a page on my website, accessible from the home page. Please join this campaign. Whatever country you live in, please join the campaign.