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The end of term was a glorious triumph for Nigel. The play was amazing. Everyone said so. Not only rescued from disaster, but a great play anyway. And that kiss. Amazing. Nigel and Carol were famous through the whole school. Did us no harm in the heterosexuality stakes either, Nigel being known suddenly as an huge stud. Well, did him no harm. No idea where I came into it.
Except we weren't heterosexual.
Come to that he wasn't huge either!
I wanted to spend time with Nigel over Christmas. He wanted to spend time with me. We each wanted to be with the other on Christmas Day.
As it happened we were, sort of. And weren't, sort of.
"Windsor," Dad said at lunchtime on Christmas eve. He'd skived off from work early, like everyone else.. "We're going to St George's Chapel at Windsor for midnight mass."
"What?" We didn't go to church, not except for hatches matches and dispatches.
"Yes, Chris," Mum said, "midnight mass. Only it's not a mass, not a catholic one, it's a Church of England communion service. Except there's a sung mass and an orchestra and the choir and stuff."
"It's a long way to Windsor, Mum."
"Just down the A3, round the M25 and get off at the A30, and head across to Windsor at Runnymede, no big deal," Dad said. "Anyway, you don't have to drive, Chris. I do.
"I don't really want to. I'm not into church and stuff." I didn't. I wasn't. I wanted to be with Nigel.
"The Croppers are coming, too," Mum was smiling. "It was their idea really."
I gave in. I'd have Nigel with me. I'd be able to be with him and maybe whisper to him and maybe hold his hand, just a little.
Only I never went to church. Like not ever. I didn't even know what to do in one.
We had to get there for about ten thirty, we'd been told. There was a queue to stand in. So we met the Croppers in the Castle Hotel at around nine. I'd voted for a burger in Bugger King, but was outvoted by Dad, so we ate at home and then got into the car.
How the heck can you kiss your boyfriend in a hotel bar? How? I hadn't seen him for all of two whole days, and I was getting withdrawal symptoms. I mean it wasn't as though I couldn't remember what he looked or felt like. It was that I wanted to feel his touch, feel his cheek against mine, see his eyes sparkle with that special blue light that always seemed to shine out from the inside, not to be reflected in them.
We set off. A cold night, thin weather, damp, like rain but not raining. And we were well wrapped up against the weather, too. It would have been so much simpler if we'd had enough room in one car, but six of us used up all the seat belts and left one to spare. Mum was paranoid about seat belts, and she'd made me paranoid, too. She wouldn't even let anyone use the centre one in the back that was just a lap strap in case it killed them.
We did not get to the Castle Hotel at nine. Instead, at eight thirty we were standing behind some Armco on the hard shoulder waiting for the RAC man to come and fix the broken radiator hose. There'd been a cloud of steam behind us, and dad had pulled over 'just in time' to stop the engine seizing up. Or hoped he had. So we stood and stamped our feet and waited.
And then waited some more.
A welter of yellow flashing lights and a large container of water, and we were on our way again. Not their best response time, not their worst. But we were late. An hour later than planned, which did not help my mood. I was only going to see Nigel in the church, now. Well in the queue to get in. And if kissing him in the hotel bar was impossible, then kissing him in church was just not going to happen.
Parking, at least was mercifully easy. Dad found a space almost at once, up by the back of the castle, and we headed for the hotel. I guessed the Croppers would be waiting in front of the church, or would have left one of them at the hotel. Dad rushed ahead.
"They left a message behind the bar," he said. "They're queuing up outside the Castle gate, ready to be let in when it all starts. Go on, Chris, run on ahead and find them. I think Mum and I deserve a small glass of something to keep the cold out!"
"Dad!" I was giggling. I'd never giggled before Nigel. Somehow loving him made giggling normal. I ran on ahead, though.
Past the hotel, past the crooked house that's a teashop, past the teddy bear shop and saw the queue running down the hill past the castle walls and round the corner. 'Start at the front,' I thought. They'll be near the front.
I'm crap at identifying people out of context and all dressed up in warm clothes. I got to the head of the queue, failed to find them,, and turned and walked back twenty yards down the hill. Which is where Nigel was, hunched into his anorak against the chill.
"Where've you been? I was getting worried. I mean I thought you'd crashed or something awful... "
"Shh. We're, well I'm here. The car broke down is all."
"Your parents, Chris?" Claire asked, "Where... "
"In the bar. Dad needed a stiffener! Not often he takes Mum out to the pub, so I think they're making the most of it."
"Glad you're here."
"I think I am, too. It's freezing, though." Thick anorak or not the cold was getting through. "Will it be long before they let us in?"
"Someone said the gates will open at about ten to eleven," Nigel said. "So it'll probably be ten past."
Only it was ten to, or thereabouts. Mum and dad had only just joined us as the line started to move up the short, steep hill, and at quite a pace, too. "Will the Queen be here?" Mum asked.
"Not a chance. Liz and Phil the Greek go off to one of their hideaways at Christmas," James answered her. "It's just a rather nice service, or so I'm told."
"We're not much into church and stuff," Dad said.
"Well, no, nor are we, not really. Baptisms, weddings and stuff are our thing. I just felt, well, something special this year," James was talking as we walked. "It's just, oh, I sort of wanted the boys to feel blessed. If that makes any sense at all? Actually it doesn't make any sense, I don't think." He was having an argument with himself and losing. "And it does, too. I know religion isn't that popular, but I just wanted them to see that God loves them as they are, for what they are, not for what anyone says they should be. OK, Speech over."
That caught hold of me. It wasn't that I didn't believe in God and stuff. It was that I hated religion. I liked the idea. I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. I turned to Dad. "I haven't been confirmed." We were squeezing into a very narrow row of seats. "So I can't go and be blessed, can I?" I'd read the order of service. It talked about communion.
"Not communion, no. The Church of England says you have to be confirmed to do that. But you can go to the altar rail and bow your head and receive a blessing. Personally I don't think God will give two hoots whether you've been confirmed or not, but a blessing is perfectly good enough, if you want to."
"Nigel?" I turned to my, what was he, boy, man, partner?
"I want to. Next to you, Chris."
"Good enough for me, then."
To be fair the service itself was boring. I liked the carols, and the young boy who did the 'Once in Royal David's Solo' had an awesome voice. And there was a small string orchestra with a drop dead gorgeous violinist in it that played someone or other's mass that the choir sang along to. And then it was the communion. That wasn't something I'd ever seen before.
A factory production line of people walking up to the rail, row by row, kneeling and either being blessed or having communion.
We joined the queue, and shuffled railwards.
I felt awkward, like being in school, all new, and not knowing what to do or how to do it. I looked at Nigel. His eyes were on the floor. Unusual. "You OK?"
"I think so. But Chris, what if God doesn't approve?"
"Be a pretty spectacular thunderbolt, then, hitting everyone who's ever wanted someone they weren't meant to have!" I tried to smile. In truth I felt nervous, more and more nervous as we got to the front of the line. A very odd feeling. Inspiration grabbed me. And I grabbed it.
Nigel's right hand.
I felt him tighten his grip on mine in return as I took hold of his hand.
"Together, or not at all, " I whispered.
He had no time to argue. We were next. I led him to the rail, knelt and kept hold of his hand. I wasn't sure if it was for me or for him.
The bishop, he had to be a bishop, he was wearing splendid gold robes, headed down the line towards us, and I kept my eyes fixed downwards. Felt his hands on my head, heard him bless me, heard him bless Nigel, felt tears running down my face, felt my shoulders start to shake and knew I was going to cry totally if I couldn't control it. Didn't dare look at Nigel, but felt his hand hot in mine.
We got up, walked slowly, still hand in hand, back to the seats. I looked at his face as soon as I could control myself enough to do so. Twin tracks of tears down his cheeks too.
I think I was happy, only I didn't know how I felt.
All I knew was Nigel and I as one person had received two blessings and we just had to be approved of. Had to be, because no fire, no thunderbolt, not sulphur and brimstone had claimed us.
"So that's what Dad meant," Nigel said to me very quietly as we sat down. "I don't know what that was, but it was special."
"Me too, er me neither." I'd never been lost for words before, especially about something I'd had no respect for. "That was awe inspiring."
The rest of the service was a blur, really. A carol or two more, a prayer or two. I found myself saying over and over "Thank you, thank you, thank you," not really knowing whom I was thanking for what. One thing was for sure. Nigel and I were going to have our marriage, or whatever it was going to be, blessed in a church. In a way we already had.
I hadn't let go of his hand, either.
At the end of the service we headed past the collection plates. Dad'd given me a pound to put in. I added one of my own, too. Past the plates was whoever had blessed us. People were shaking his hand and saying "Happy Christmas" to him. I shook his hand too. I found myself saying 'Thank you' when I meant to say 'Happy Christmas'. "Something special happened. Thank you."
"Christmas is special," he answered.
I heard a voice beside me. "It was more than Christmas," Nigel's voice said. "Thank you." And he unclasped his hand and shook the churchman's hand with it.
"God loves you. Both of you," he said. "Go in peace."
He knew. I know he knew.
If he didn't know then he knew a split second later as we walked down the path to the main gate. Nigel stopped me. And kissed me, simply, gently, and on the lips. A short kiss of love, not erotic in any way, and yet the most wonderful kiss he'd given me ever. "I love you Christopher Jenkins," he said as his lips left mine. "Dad was right. It was special."
There we were, in the grounds of Windsor Castle, hand in hand, after a simple kiss, there, in view of the whole world, if they cared to look. And I felt as fizzy as the day we'd discovered each other those few short months ago, all our lives ago, in France.
What would have capped it all would been if it had started to snow.
No such luck. It'd got a little warmer, but was still damping at us. Not near enough to freezing for snow to fall, and the wind strong enough to make it feel as though it was well below freezing point.
"I suppose this is 'it' until after the festivities?" I didn't want it to be, but I knew it was probably going to be.
"I don't see how, do you? I mean Christmas is family stuff, and turkey and being visited and going visiting."
"I could visit you, or you could visit me?"
"Or we could make our parents happy by having a family Christmas, you know." He was smiling, half. "It won't be long, Chrissy, it really won't be long."
"No, I s'pose not. Only... "
"Only?" Nigel had a glint in his eye.
"Only I dream of waking up on Christmas morning beside you, in our home somewhere. A small flat, or a huge house, doesn't matter which. And being just you and me."
"And the maid to do the washing up, and the cook to do the cooking, you idiot! Plus what will we use for money?"
A big sigh. "You're right, of course."
"Would be wonderful, though." We were heading down the hill, oblivious to parents and anyone else. "Hey, where are you parked?"
"Over this way, I think."
"We're down by the river. Damn."
"Well I have to kiss you goodbye here, right in full streetlight glare."
"Your wouldn't dare?"
"Do I dare?"
I discovered I dared. He took me in his arms and parted my lips so gently with his tongue. His nose was icy cold, and his lips so soft and yet so firm that I felt absorbed by him and stung into wakefulness by his nose at the same time. It was a kiss of love. Deep, long, heartfelt, and safe. My Nigel made me feel safe, even by the statue where Peascod Street runs downhill from the castle, even in full, bright streetlight, and yes, even with a police car sitting just there, beside us.
"Go in peace," I said as he broke the clinch.
"Yes. I like that. Go in peace. Happy Chrissy."
"I've been waiting to say that all night!"
"Well I am happy. Mind you, I never thought of me as Chrissy until you. Happy Christmas Nigel Cropper."
It was like one of those phone calls. The ones where we each said 'goodbye' and waited not to be the first to ring off. We stood, almost walking, circling slightly round each other, not wanting to leave.
"Run away together?"
"Yeah, right. Where would we go that's any nicer than where we are right now?"
Only somehow we must have parted. And somehow we must have managed Christmas and the all too short remainder of the school holidays. Because suddenly it was freezing January, and a new term and all the hustle and bustle that goes with school.
New term, new year, and nothing new at all.
Same old faces, same kids same teachers.
Same old stuff.
A week into the term and I saw a sorry sight. Very pale, very slow, walking towards me was a battered, figure, trying to look proud, with blood streaming from his nose, and dragging a bag on the ground behind him. "What on earth... " I couldn't finish.
"Don't tell anyone. Please don't tell anyone."
"How? But? We need to get you to... "
"No. Please Chris. No-one."
I couldn't help myself. My arm was round his shoulders, and I picked his bag up. "The toilets, then. This needs cleaning and stopping."
"I daren't. They'll get me." He was trembling.
"No-one, I mean no-one gets a friend of mine. No-one."
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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.