This story is a revised version of Not Always Easy, the original of which was posted to the Nifty Archive a couple of years ago.
This is a story about a gay teen male and may involve sexual activity
between males, so if this is likely to offend you, or is illegal where you
live then do not read any further. All the events and characters in
this story are fictional and any resemblances to real people are purely coincidental.
The story is copyright of the author and may not be distributed or placed on any web sites without written permission from the author.
I would like to thank my editor, Richard Lyon, for his hard work and encouragement and also Richie Ryan for his moral support. Any remaining errors are purely my own fault.
If you enjoy this story then you might like to take a look at my (quite
different) second story, 'Tapping', which is currently also being posted
in the gay/highschool section of the Nifty Archive.
Chapter 9 - Dan's Story (Part 2)
Gerard stood behind me with his right arm round my neck, and with his
other arm he held my left arm twisted painfully behind my back. Using
my one free arm I tried to reach back to grab his hair or attack his face,
but as soon as I made any contact with his head, he squeezed on my throat
so tightly that I nearly blacked out. To keep my airway open, I was
forced to use my free hand to try reduce the pressure of his arm on
my neck. I wriggled and struggled to break free of his grip but he
was much stronger than I was and when I tried to kick out with my feet I
just ended up suspended by my neck and arm. Apart from my physical
difficulties I was still dizzy and disoriented as a result of my head having
been banged so hard on the wall, so my attempts to defend myself must have
seemed rather pathetic.
"We don't want queers like you in our school," Gerard growled in my ear.
"Filthy faggot!!" the other boy said, and spat in my face.
"C'mon, Stu, hit the little perve!" shouted a female voice from outside my field of vision.
Stu, the smaller of my attackers, punched me hard in the stomach and I would have doubled over if it hadn't been for the arm around my neck. As it was, I nearly puked.
"Again! Harder!" screamed the same female voice.
This time Stu punched me in the mouth, and strangely, I tasted blood before I felt the pain. I tried to kick out at Stu, but he easily evaded my foot and hit me again in the face. I'm sure his blow would have broken my nose if I hadn't twisted my head, and although the blow did hit my nose and hurt like hell, the main force was deflected onto my cheek. Stu's next couple of punches hit me in the ribs, and through the haze of pain I noticed that with each blow Stu had been shouting words like 'fag', 'poof', 'queer' or 'perve'. Each of those words was echoed in my ear by Gerard, as if this was some kind of ritual.
"I don't...ugh...know what...ugh...yer talking.. ugh.. about..." I tried to shout between blows.
Stu must have understood me because he stopped hitting me for a moment and looked in the direction the female voice had come from.
"Course he knows," the female voice said, "remember what Adam Richardson told us!"
Stu turned back toward me, spat in my face again, and punched me in the left eye, but I twisted my head away from the next punch, which hit my left ear.
"Leave him alone, you bastards!"
Even though my head was ringing and the voice was not close, I was sure I recognised it as Steve's. Gerard released me and I dropped to the ground, where he kicked me hard in the ribs.
"Mind yer own business!" Gerard shouted, "unless yer his boyfriend... then we'll do you as well."
I was lying on the ground, curled up in a ball and my left eye was too sore to open, but through the tears in my right eye I could see Steve run up to Gerard and push him away from me. Steve was a little bigger than Stu but considerably lighter than Gerard and so my relief at Steve's arrival was suddenly replaced by the fear that he too would get hurt. Gerard aimed a punch at his face, but Steve dodged and fortunately it became only a glancing blow to his cheek.
After side-stepping another blow from Gerard, Steve hit him in the stomach, but it didn't seem to have much effect. Stu was about to join the fight but I managed to grab his left leg with my left hand as he moved away from me, causing him to trip over. He twisted on the ground and kicked my hand, loosening my grip. Gerard was only sparring with Steve, obviously waiting until Stu joined him so that the two of them would have an overwhelming advantage. However, before Stu could join the attack, four more Sixth Formers came running up behind Steve. Seeing that they were now outnumbered, Stu and Gerard ran off.
Steve, his face flushed and tears in his eyes, ran over to me, knelt on the ground and cradled my head in his arms. I was so happy to see him that I smiled, but the pain from my split lips turned the smile to a grimace.
"Oh, God!" Steve moaned, "Just look at you!"
"I'm OK, now you're here," I mumbled through my sore mouth. "Thanks..."
After that, everything became hazy, though I didn't actually lose consciousness. Ambulance, hospital, probing of injuries, lights being shone in my eyes, all blended and blurred together. My next moment of clarity was when I was lying in a hospital bed in an open ward with my mum sitting on the right hand side of the bed and holding my hand. Dad was standing next to her and Steve was standing on the other side of my bed, and all three of them looked concerned. Apparently I'd been drifting on the edge of consciousness for some hours, and I didn't even remember being taken for X-rays.
Every part of my body seemed to hurt, especially my head, and my left eye wouldn't open. Mum was first to notice that I was fully conscious and she leaned over, kissed me on the forehead and asked how I was feeling, which seemed like a silly question to me. When I tried to speak, all I could manage through my sore lips was a croak. Steve tried to hold my left hand, but the four fingers of that hand were bandaged together, so he just touched me gently on the wrist. I noticed Steve had red marks and scratches on his left cheek as well as on his knuckles.
From Steve I learned that Brian, a friend in my class, had seen Gerard and Stu grab me, but being no match for them he wisely ran to get help. Fortunately, the place where I was attacked was not far from the gates where Steve was waiting for me, and knowing that Steve was my best friend, Brian told him what was going on. Steve sent Brian to get more help from the nearby Sixth Form common room while he rushed to rescue me. I asked him if he saw the girl who was encouraging my attackers, but he hadn't noticed any girls there, so whoever she was she must have disappeared when they heard him shout and saw him approaching. While Steve was kneeling with me on the ground he used his mobile to phone an ambulance and then he called my mum at work. Mum in turn phoned Dad at his office and they all met up with me at the hospital.
My parents and I thanked Steve profusely, and he modestly said that he was only one of the people who had helped me. I pointed out that he was the only one who risked himself and got hurt on my behalf. Then he joked that a similar thing had happened ten years earlier, so if this was going to become a habit, then he'd best make sure he was close by when I was twenty six. He, Mum, and Dad laughed at this little joke, but for me it seemed to be too close to the truth to be funny.
My injuries, though painful, were superficial. I had no broken bones and I didn't need any stitches, but because of the bump on my head I had to stay in the hospital overnight for observation. As it was only a couple of weeks until my GCSE exams it was fortunate that I'm right-handed and the two badly-bruised fingers were on my left hand. Having made sure I was going to be okay, my parents and Steve had to go home as none of them had eaten or been home since breakfast. Mum said she'd be back in the morning to take me home and Steve promised to visit me after school. Dad leaned over to kiss me on the forehead before leaving and as he stood upright again he spoke very softly.
"This is the sort of thing I was worried about... See you tomorrow, son."
Then he gave me a sad but loving smile and left the room. His voice and whole expression told me that this cryptic statement was not intended as a way of saying 'I told you so'. It seemed to me that it was more likely that he meant it to be a partial explanation, or even apology, for his negative attitude toward my sexuality.
Mum took me home the next day and soon after we arrived, Dad phoned Mum from his office to see how I was. He also told her that my headmaster, Mr Blaine, had phoned him and asked to see both my parents at school the following day. After discussing it, they agreed he would contact the headmaster and arrange to meet with him at nine the next morning. Steve came over straight from school, bringing spare clothes with him so that he could stay overnight with me. My mother greeted him warmly and thanked him again for going to my rescue. Steve was horrified and concerned when he saw the state I was in because the bruises looked even worse than when he'd last seen me, so I tried to ease his mind by pointing out that it looked much worse than it really was.
While Mum was in the kitchen preparing dinner, Steve and I sat in the living room, and although the TV was on, we weren't actually watching it. Had I been my usual self I would have asked him immediately about what had happened at school, but I felt as if most of my emotions were switched off and as if my mind was shying away from any thoughts involving the beating I'd taken. Steve too was quiet and I thought he seemed to be upset, so eventually I asked him what was wrong.
"As soon as I got into school," he said, "I got a message saying that I had to report to the headmaster immediately. When I got there he was all jittery, red-faced and flustered, and asked me what had happened. So I told him all I knew... That I was told you needed help and when I got there you were being beaten up by Gerard and some other guy whose name I didn't know. When he asked me if I knew why they had attacked you I said no, I didn't."
He looked at me with a smile that was belied by the sadness in his eyes.
"Anyway," he continued, "Blaine said he knew who the other attacker was and that they had not been in school since they had run off. He'd contacted their parents and asked them to come and see him, but had not contacted the police as he wanted to speak to your parents first."
Steve took a deep breath and I saw a flash of anger in his eyes.
"Then Blaine told me that he was considering suspending me for calling the ambulance without consulting a teacher and for leaving school to go to the hospital without permission."
"What!?!" I yelled.
My shout was so loud that Mum came running from the kitchen to see what was going on. When I told her she was furious at first, then when she calmed down she had a very determined look on her face and told us not to worry as my dad would take care of the situation. When Mum went back to the kitchen I was shaking, mostly from anger but also because the memory of the previous afternoon suddenly came flooding back. For several seconds I tried to speak, but instead I choked on my tears and Steve put his arms around me. There were so many different emotions all mixed up together and filling my mind that I couldn't think. I couldn't even sort out one emotion from another and the rest of Steve's report had to wait till Dad got home.
Mum spoke to Dad as soon as he arrived, then Dad phoned Steve's parents while Mum served up our dinner. I really had no appetite, but joined my parents and Steve at the dinner table. That was one of the quietest and most subdued meals I can ever remember, and I felt sorry for Mum because no one seemed very interested in the food she had prepared. Dad told us that Steve's parents would be coming round after dinner and that to avoid too much repetition we should hold off further discussion about what had happened at school. Seeing Dad in his 'lawyer mode' at home was an extremely rare event and I found this business-like manner quite intimidating, even though he was on my side.
Once his parents had arrived, Steve told everyone what he'd already told me, and then went on to say that neither Gerard nor Stu had appeared in school all day. Predictably, Steve's parents were also furious about Blaine's threat to suspend him. Dad told us that the headmaster had phoned him at work that morning and asked him and Mum to go in to school to discuss the possible involvement of the police. As he and Mum were going to see Blaine at 9am the next day, Dad promised he'd 'sort out this suspension nonsense' at that time.
I brought up the subject of the girl who had been encouraging Gerard and Stu to attack me. Steve said that no one had admitted to seeing her and although there were a few rumours, no one could say definitely that a girl had anything to do with the attack. I pointed out that as far as I was concerned they were not 'rumours', and that she was just as guilty as the boys who hit me. When I asked Steve if the rumours had mentioned any names, he told us he hadn't heard any names and that in any case we couldn't accuse anyone based just on gossip. Apart from what I'd heard the girl say, there was no evidence about Adam's role in all this. Even from what I heard there was no evidence that he'd intended for me to be attacked, and outing someone isn't a criminal offence or even against school rules.
The next part of the discussion, which occasionally got quite heated and emotional, centred on the possible involvement of the police. Dad felt strongly that Gerard and Stu should face criminal prosecution and both Mum and Steve supported him. Steve's parents were initially neutral and said it was up to me and my parents.
I'd spent much of the day thinking about this and I was torn between two sets of opposing arguments. On the one hand, prosecution would be compatible with my desire for revenge and maybe decrease the chances of it happening again. On the other hand, I just wanted to forget the whole thing. Every time I thought about it I started shaking and wanted to curl up and hide away from everyone. Also, if there was a prosecution, I feared the consequences of publicity in the town as well as at school. The idea of being outed in the local newspaper was not very attractive, and although Dad said that because of my age the newspaper could not legally use my name, I was sure that my name would rapidly 'leak' from the school to become general knowledge in the town.
Steve pointed out that, like me, my attackers were doing GCSE exams in a couple of weeks and everyone knew that Gerard at least was unlikely to do well enough to get into the Sixth Form. Therefore there wasn't much the school could do to punish them in the short time they had left there. So if they weren't prosecuted then they would, in effect, get away with it. The discussion went back and forth with me occasionally bursting into tears. The final outcome was that I should be allowed to decide, but that I should sleep on it and not make a final decision till the morning.
By the time this conclusion was reached everyone, especially me, was exhausted even though it wasn't yet ten o'clock. After Steve's parents went home, Steve and I got ready for bed while Mum and Dad continued talking quietly in the living room. Before I came out to my parents Steve and I had always shared my double bed when he stayed overnight. However, after I told them I was gay it became clear that my dad was uncomfortable with the idea of us sharing the bed, so Steve had started using one of our two spare bedrooms. That particular night, however, Steve asked if I needed company and I happily accepted his offer. The idea of any sexual activity was not considered by either of us and the sole purpose of sharing my bed was for affection and mutual comfort. Though I was the one who received most of the physical injury, it was for mutual comfort because what happened to me hurt Steve emotionally a great deal. Also, for both of us, the world we always thought was safe for us had suddenly become dangerous and frightening. All night we huddled together like two scared children, which I suppose is just what we were.
Neither of us slept well, and more than once I was disturbed by nightmares, but we were both glad of the companionship. I was kept awake not only by the nightmares and the discomfort of my injuries, but also by the decision I had to make. When the alarm went off I was already wide awake and had made my decision. It may not have been the right decision, but as far as I could see, whatever I decided would be bad in some way. Maybe it was cowardice on my part but I chose the path which seemed to have the least potential for pain and hassle. I'd ask Dad to try to avoid getting the police involved.
Although many parts of my anatomy were quite sore, I was mobile enough to move around the house without help, and Mum decided to go into work after she and Dad had seen the headmaster. They each drove their own cars to school and Steve went in Mum's car. I just pottered around the house all day, unable to work up any interest in anything, especially the studying I should have been doing for my imminent exams. I spent most of the day staring at the TV with no idea what program was on, and strangely I didn't feel bored. Instead, I was just drifting mentally and feeling detached from life. It felt as if all this must be happening to someone else or as if it was all a dream.
When the doorbell rang, announcing Steve's arrival, it seemed to me that it was only a few minutes since he'd left and it occurred to me that I didn't even get around to having lunch. He smiled when I first opened the door, then he winced when he saw my face. I smiled as widely as I could without opening up the cuts on my lips, then led him inside where we helped ourselves to some orange juice. He asked how I was but otherwise he was very quiet and seemed deep in thought as we sipped our drinks.
He said that he'd not seen or heard from the headmaster all day, but he expected my dad would have sorted things out. When I asked why he seemed so glum, he hesitated for awhile, then told me that he'd split up with his girlfriend. When I offered my sympathies he said he didn't really mind and that it was all for the best. It occurred to me that he'd never introduced me to the girl he'd been seeing for the last couple of months, but then he'd never made a point of introducing me to any of his past girlfriends either. Maybe he thought it would make me feel uncomfortable if he introduced a girlfriend or perhaps he just felt more comfortable by keeping different parts of his life separate.
As usual, Mum arrived home before Dad and told us that everything went well with the meeting at school but that we should wait for Dad to give us details.
"Awww, Mum," I whined, "can't you just tell me?"
"No Danny, your dad did most of the work dealing with the headmaster and so it's only fair we let him tell you about it."
I had long ago given up reminding her that I didn't like to be called 'Danny'. Among my friends and family, she was the only one who still called me by that name, and because she was my mum I'd learned to tolerate it.
"So you won't tell us anything at all?" I asked.
"All I will say now is that I'm very proud of your dad and you should be proud too. What your dad did this morning shows that his love for you is much more important to him than his feelings about you being gay."
This was all Mum would say before she went off to start making dinner.
Dad arrived home, and after a quick shower and change of clothes he sipped a gin and tonic while he gave us a report on their meeting with the headmaster. As soon as my parents had exchanged greetings with the headmaster, it became clear to them that Blaine was keen to avoid any police involvement because of the implications to the reputation of the school. Dad, being a smart lawyer, realised immediately that this could be useful if he needed some leverage during the discussion, so he didn't let Blaine know that I didn't want to get the police involved either.
On the other hand, Blaine knew of the rumours about my sexuality, and thought that the risk of my exposure might give him some leverage in his discussion with my parents. However, Dad held a trump card and told Blaine that if it turned out that I was gay, and Dad emphasised the 'if', then not only would the criminal assault become a hate crime but Dad would start a civil action against the school for not protecting me from discrimination. Dad wanted my attackers to be expelled and not allowed to take their exams, but Blaine said that their parents would appeal, producing more unwanted publicity, and that during the appeal the boys would probably be allowed to sit the exams anyway.
Eventually my parents and the headmaster reached an agreement, and Blaine was surprised when my dad insisted that the agreement was written down and signed. The important points agreed were: We would not involve the police, and no disciplinary action would be taken against Steve. Gerard and Stu would not be allowed in school except for exams, and no matter how well they did they would not be allowed into the Sixth Form. They would be told that if they asked the school for any references or recommendations, any such references would mention the attack. No member of staff would make any reference to my sexuality and the headmaster would make it clear to the whole school that no form of discrimination would be tolerated. The school would also take particular care that I was not subject to any more bullying.
Before my parents left the headmaster's office, my dad told him that if I was ever physically harmed in any way at school, then my father would immediately sue both the school and Blaine. Dad ended up by telling me that personally he would have chosen to have my attackers prosecuted but that he would support the decision I'd made. Steve, Mum, and I all applauded and Dad blushed. I don't remember ever seeing him blush before.
From then until the end of term I did all my revision and studying at home, going into school just for the exams. When I did go into school I was a bit afraid of how people would react to the rumours about me being gay, but it seemed my fears were unfounded. All those I thought of as friends behaved just as if they hadn't heard any gossip at all, and although a couple of acquaintances asked if the rumours were true, I just ignored them. A few people I didn't know gave me strange looks but said nothing, and occasionally there were some whispers or hostile looks, but nothing overt.
The fact that Steve had broken up with his girlfriend so soon after I was beaten up seemed more than just coincidence to me, but when I hinted at this to Steve he became uncomfortable, and after all he'd done for me I didn't want to force the issue. I knew his ex-girlfriend was in my year but not in my class, and apart from that, I didn't know anything else about her. So out of curiosity, one day as we came out of exams I began casually asking friends if they knew anything about his ex-girlfriend. One of them pointed her out and although she was a considerable distance from us, she certainly seemed attractive.
One other thing I learned as I made those enquiries of some of my closer friends was that she had been telling people that Steve was never really her boyfriend. Also it seemed that since the attack some people had begun to think that Steve probably was in fact my boyfriend. After my friends realised that I didn't mind talking about the rumours, I discovered something else. When people asked Steve about the rumours surrounding him and myself, whether the questions were out of curiosity or hostility, they always got the same answer. His reply was that it didn't matter if I was gay or not and that it didn't matter if we were boyfriends or not, but if anyone tried to hurt me again he'd hurt them far worse in return.
During the long summer holidays I recovered from all the physical effects and most of the mental effects of my beating. The day the exam results came out I found I'd done better than expected, and while we were celebrating at my house I thanked Steve.
"Ya know, Steve," I said, "if it wasn't for you I probably wouldn't be celebrating and maybe wouldn't be here at all."
"What else could I do?" Steve said, blushing slightly. "We're best friends and we look after one another."
"Yeah, but it seems most of the time you're looking after me..." I said, "and now that people think you may be my boyfriend, you're gonna find it more difficult to get a girlfriend."
"Maybe sometime in future you may have to look after me, and anyway, if my chances of a girlfriend from our school are not so good, there are lots of girls at other schools. This time next year I'll be away from that place forever and I'll have a brand new start at university. And I bet the university girls will be more fun anyway, so maybe everything will work out for the best after all!"
He gave me a wicked grin, then looked a little more serious.
"One thing though," he continued, "who's going to look after you when I'm at uni?"
"Who sez I need looking after?!" I said, frowning with indignation.
Steve just raised an eyebrow at me and smiled.
"Okay, maybe I did need looking after in the past, but I'm a big boy now..."
"Well, I've not seen it for awhile so maybe you are a big boy now..." he interrupted and I punched his shoulder.
"Ya know what I mean!"
I tried pretending to be annoyed, but couldn't stop myself from smiling.
"Okay, he said in a businesslike tone, "so presuming you can avoid being beaten up or molested, we still have to find you a boyfriend to give ya some luurrve. And preferably before I go to uni."
"Mmmm," I said dreamily, "That'd be nice..."
We continued going to GLYG meetings two or three times a month and occasionally went to a gay pub, usually The Castle, but the cute guys I saw were taken, or too egocentric, or just didn't fancy me. If they did talk to me we often just didn't get on, and although a few guys became our friends or at least acquaintances, there were no romantic possibilities. Occasionally Steve pointed out someone he thought I might find cute, but his taste in guys was so terrible that it was just as well he wasn't gay. Fortunately, having seen his last girlfriend, it seemed his taste in girls was much better. Anyway, I thought to myself, if Steve is going to wait until he gets to university before looking for a girlfriend, maybe I can wait until I get to university before finding a boyfriend.
Everything was fine when we went back to school after the long summer holidays and if anyone remembered the rumours they didn't mention them to me or to Steve. I started in the Lower Sixth Form and Steve started in the Upper Sixth, his final year at school, so he started looking at different universities and courses and thinking about which courses he wanted to apply for. Of course I wished the best for him, but I also hoped that what was best for him wasn't too far away.
A couple of weeks into the new term I had a very disturbing and unpleasant experience. School had just finished for the day and I was on my way from the Sixth Form building to meet Steve, whose last lesson was a lab class in the science block. As I left the Sixth Form building I caught a glimpse of Steve's ex-girlfriend, who was chatting with two other girls on the far side of the courtyard. They were too far away for me to hear anything until she shouted out something about homework to a boy a few yards in front of her.
As soon as I heard her shout I froze and was overcome by a mixture of fear and anger. It was the voice of the girl who had been encouraging and inciting my attackers. I couldn't move or speak, or even have a coherent thought until she and her companions turned the corner and moved out of sight. Then I found I was shaking, and suddenly I felt very nauseous, so I staggered over to the line of bushes that were planted along the walls all round the courtyard, and I heaved out the contents of my stomach. My knees felt so weak that the only way I could remain standing was to prop myself up on both arms, leaning against the wall.
Eventually I regained enough control to go and meet Steve, who was waiting patiently by the main entrance to the science block. As I approached he could see I wasn't feeling well, and looking very concerned, he asked me what was wrong. I just told him I'd been sick, possibly with some sort of food poisoning. What else could I say? 'Your ex-girlfriend was partly responsible for me being beaten up'? That wouldn't do any good and would probably only hurt Steve. Also, apart from recognising the voice, there was no other evidence of her guilt, so how could I be totally sure it was her and not just someone who sounded like her? After all, during the beating I was so terrified and in so much pain that I couldn't be one-hundred-percent certain.
So I didn't tell anyone about my experience of hearing her voice that day. Whenever I saw her after that, I'd feel the same anger and fear, but I kept as far away from her as possible and gradually those feelings faded. Now when I see her I just feel very uncomfortable and keep my distance from her.
One Wednesday toward the end of October, Steve and I were at a meeting of the GLYG when I saw a boy about my age slip quietly into the meeting room and hide himself away in the far corner. There was something about him that caught my attention, but I couldn't say what it was. From that distance, there was no particular feature which stood out, but the overall impression I got was very pleasing. His medium-brown hair was cut quite short, and he was about my height but with a slightly heavier build, which was good because I think I'm too thin.
Steve saw me staring and followed the direction of my gaze until he saw the object of my interest. He nudged me with his elbow and winked theatrically at me. He didn't speak because one of the meeting organisers was making some announcements about safe sex booklets, free condoms, and various sources of help and advice.
"You think he's cute then?" Steve asked as soon the social part of the meeting started.
He grinned and stared at the boy in the corner
"Don't stare!" I hissed as I felt my cheeks beginning to burn, "You'll embarrass him... and me! And yes, he's certainly very... interesting."
"Well, go over and say 'hello' then."
Steve pushed me gently toward the corner, but I resisted, trying not to draw any attention to us.
"Don't be daft!" I said, "He's obviously new here... we should let him settle and get comfortable before going over and scaring him off."
I turned away from the newcomer so that he wouldn't suspect we were talking about him.
"Looks like you're as scared as he is," Steve teased, "and anyway, if you don't talk to him soon then you-know-who will get there first..."
"Oh shit!" I said.
I turned to look toward the object of my interest and my heart sank right through my stomach as I saw that I was too late. Ben was headed straight for the newcomer.
The facial expression of the boy in the corner changed from apprehension to a shy smile as Ben approached him, and seeing that smile made my heart melt and my knees turn to jelly. There was just something about this stranger that made me want to be close to him, so I edged toward him. Steve, looking both amused and bemused, followed after me. From the look on the new boy's face and the smile that lit up his features when Ben spoke, it became clear that the he was really taken with Ben. I suddenly felt very depressed and disappointed, as if I'd got the winning numbers on the lottery and then found that the ticket was out of date.
For the next hour or so, when Steve talked to me he frequently had to repeat himself because my attention and vision was constantly drawn toward the boy talking to Ben. Bearing in mind that Steve was giving up his time just to look after me and keep me company, I felt guilty and I expected Steve to be annoyed at me. On the contrary, however, Steve seemed very happy and kept staring at me as if I were a strange but amusing alien creature. Then when Ben escorted the boy from the room and didn't return, I suddenly crashed down to earth and felt very depressed.
"C'mon, Steve," I said dejectedly, "let's go home."
"Okay, if that's what you want," he replied, and we headed toward the door.
For the first few minutes as we walked toward the bus stop neither of us said anything and I tried to work out why I was feeling so down. A guy had entered the room, there was nothing particularly remarkable about him, and yet I couldn't take my eyes off him. Then I saw that he had a huge variety of smiles which could indicate apprehension, shyness, pleasure, embarrassment, happiness, laughter, thoughtfulness or admiration. Each time I saw one of those smiles I wanted, needed, to get closer to him.
"You've really got it bad!" Steve said, shaking his head and smiling as we stood waiting for the bus.
"Luurrrve, Dan, luuurrrve!" he laughed.
I wondered how he could be so happy and gleeful about my clearly deranged mental state.
"Can't be," I said with certainty, "I've never even spoken to him. He's only an ordinary-looking guy and probably not even a nice person."
"C'mon, man, from where I'm standing it looks like a classic case of love at first sight!"
He had a half-serious look on his face and I wasn't sure if he was just teasing me.
"I don't believe in it," I said. "There ain't no such thing. How can anyone fall in love with someone they've just seen once and never spoken to?"
"Maybe you'll speak to him next week..."
"Hah!" I snorted. "Get real! He went off with Ben. What're the odds of him turning up next week?"
"Well, maybe we'll see him in The Castle then. This isn't a very big town, ya know."
"Yeah, and maybe pigs'll start flying!"
"Suit yerself," said Steve with a shrug, "just trying to cheer you up."
"Sorry, Steve. I know I'm being stupid. Just ignore me, okay? Prob'ly it's just a hormone thing!" I said with a smile, trying to make a joke of it.
During the next week I gradually regained some control over my feelings, telling myself how silly it was to get emotionally entangled with a stranger. Despite the fact that I had convinced myself that I'd probably never see the boy again, I was still disappointed when he wasn't at the GLYG meetings the next couple of times we went. When Christmas arrived and we still hadn't seen him at the GLYG or The Castle, I gave up hope entirely. Of course Ben was almost always there and sometimes I really felt like strangling him.
My seventeenth birthday was early in January, and despite the usual genuine efforts of my parents to make it special for me, coming so soon after Christmas it felt a bit anticlimactic. For various reasons, which included the horrible weather, we didn't go to any GLYG meetings between mid-December and mid-January, though we did pay a brief visit to the New Year party at The Castle. There we saw Ben with another guy, and when we exchanged polite nods with Ben the other guy introduced himself as Sam, telling us he was Ben's boyfriend. Sam, who appeared to be a bit older than Ben, was rather drunk and Ben seemed unhappy that he was talking to us. Almost as soon as we introduced ourselves, Ben dragged Sam to the opposite side of the pub. Steve seemed very amused by the incident and wondered out loud if Sam knew what Ben got up to at the GLYG meetings.
The next GLYG meeting we went to was the third Wednesday in January. I was day-dreaming, well almost dozing, through the 'business' part of the meeting, which was just drawing to a close when Steve nudged me to full wakefulness.
"Look who's here!" he whispered in my ear.
I looked around and near the back of the room I saw 'dreamboy'. Yes, I had indeed dreamed about him a few times, and more than one of those dreams could be classified as X-rated. As soon as the social part of the meeting started, Steve stood up, grabbed my elbow and dragged me to my feet.
"Go on then... go and say hello before someone else grabs him!" he said quietly, so that only I would hear.
Suddenly I felt so shy and embarrassed that I couldn't move.
"I... I can't!" I hissed in his ear as soon as I could bring myself to speak.
Steve looked at me pityingly.
"Well I'm going over to say hello and if you don't come with me I'll tell him you fancy him and you want him to come and talk to you."
"You wouldn't dare!" I hissed as I began to panic.
"Just watch me..." he said, and started walking toward 'dreamboy'.
I had no choice but to follow him, if only to make sure that he didn't say anything to embarrass me even more. At first Steve made all the conversation, but then I started to join in. It turned out that 'dreamboy' was actually called Paul, that he was the same age as me and that he was in the Lower Sixth at the Catholic boys' school. I noticed that he had beautiful hazel eyes and a lovely musical voice and that his repertoire of smiles was even more impressive when seen close-up.
Ben and his tendency to monopolise new guys became the subject of discussion, and somehow I found myself saying indirectly that I thought Paul was cute. This embarrassed me and Paul but gave Steve much entertainment. Paul's embarrassment quickly turned to shock when Steve mentioned that Ben had a boyfriend. At that stage I had a pang of jealousy when I realised that Ben had probably had his 'wicked way' with Paul. Still, I thought, Ben and Paul are avoiding one another now, so at least they weren't involved together any more.
The more we talked the more I felt I was becoming attached to Paul, so when the meeting ended and everyone started moving toward the door it felt like someone had thrown a bucket of cold water on me. I was desperate not to say good-bye, so I asked if he wanted to go to the pub with us. Steve looked slightly surprised because we had intended to go straight home after the meeting, but he quickly guessed what was on my mind and backed me up with the invitation. I was devastated when Paul declined and with a cheery wave set off to his car.
"Guess we're not going to the pub then?" Steve asked with a wry grin.
He knew perfectly well that my only reason for suggesting it was to have a little more time with Paul.
"Nah, let's go home."
"Don't be so down... there's always next time." Steve said as we walked to the bus stop, then he smiled as he squeezed my shoulder and added, "From the way he looked at you I think he likes you..."
"So why didn't he come to the pub then?"
"Maybe he doesn't like the pub or maybe he had to get home."
He stopped walking and so I also stopped and turned to face him. He looked me in the eyes as he continued.
"Or maybe it's because he thinks we're a couple. He seems like a very nice a guy, and not the sort of person who'd try to break up a couple. I think next time you see him you should just tell him the truth."
"Mmmm.... possibly. But won't he think that's a come-on? I mean, I don't want him to think I'm chasing after him!"
I started walking again and Steve followed, quickly catching up with me, was barely able to suppress his laughter.
"Aren't you?" he teased.
"Well, I guess so. But I don't want him to think so, cos if he's not interested I'll feel really, really stupid."
The next couple of weeks when we went to the GLYG meetings, Paul wasn't there and I felt very dispirited. Obviously he wasn't interested in me or he would have gone to the meetings to see if I was there. My parents noticed my depression because I'm usually a very happy person, and to escape further questions I told them that maybe I was coming down with flu or something. If it hadn't been for Steve always there to cheer me up I know that things would have been much, much worse.
I became so discouraged that I virtually gave up going to the GLYG meetings. Then just before Easter, Steve and I were eating lunch together at school and he reminded me that there was a GLYG pre-Easter party on the next Friday. He pointed out that as it was a special meeting, Paul might be there, but even if he wasn't then there might be other cute guys. I felt guilty dragging him out to something that couldn't possibly interest him, but he told me he enjoyed meeting new people and in any case he enjoyed my company. After he said that, there was no way I could refuse to go without seeming churlish.
When we arrived at the party there was no sign of Paul, but it was still quite early so it was too soon to give up hope. We started on the nibble-food and got chatting with Kate and Helen, a young lesbian couple we'd become friendly with just before Christmas. They were fun people and I think Steve rather fancied Kate, even though he knew that he'd have no chance with her. Anyway, if he did fancy her then he hid it very well if even I wasn't sure.
Around nine o'clock Paul entered the room and I was very pleased, not only by his arrival but also by the fact that the first thing he did was to come over and greet us. We had a pleasant chat for a few minutes, then I found I was staring so much into Paul's lovely eyes that I lost track of the conversation. Before anyone could notice me staring, I looked around the room and saw Ben chatting to a boy I'd never seen before.
"I see Ben's up to his usual trick," I said in an effort to excuse my inattention and to restart the conversation.
Paul looked over toward Ben and saw the new boy. It didn't take me long before I realised that I hadn't restarted the conversation at all, but instead I'd just caused Paul to be totally distracted by the guy chatting to Ben. For the next few minutes the conversation did continue, but it was clear that Paul had other things on his mind. He must fancy the guy with Ben, I thought, though I couldn't see why. Apart from his unusual shade of ginger-brown hair there was nothing particularly interesting about him.
Later, when Paul went to the drinks table he was looking intently at the ginger-haired boy and suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. He stood there for what seemed like ages and after a while, when Ben left the room, Paul wasted no time in dashing over and chatting to the boy. Obviously they got on well because as Ben came back into the room Paul scribbled something, probably his phone number, on a piece of paper and gave it to the boy.
Clearly Paul was much more interested in this new boy than he was in me, but even through my bitter disappointment I couldn't help admiring Paul's boldness and determination to get what he wanted. This was the second time I talked to Paul, and both times he'd shown that he wasn't at all interested in me, so I gave up hope, turned to Steve and suggested that we go home. Because Steve had seen what Paul had been doing and had seen my reaction to it, he immediately agreed. As we went to put on our coats, Paul came over to us and, just for one last try on my behalf, Steve asked him if he wanted to go to the pub with us, but again Paul declined our invitation. As we left the building Paul waved good-bye and I felt completely dejected as Steve and I went to our bus stop.
Over the first couple of weeks of the Easter holidays, Steve and I were together most of the time because we knew that once the new term started he would be studying hard for his A-level exams. He'd been offered a place at Manchester University, provided he got good enough grades, so at least he wouldn't be moving too far away. Steve was really good at cheering me up and much of the time I managed not to think about Paul at all. In a way, the fact that I lost all hope at the Easter party was a good thing because now I knew there was no chance that Paul could be interested in me, so now I had more motivation to forget him and move on with my life.
One evening during the second half of the holiday there was a male stripper booked to perform at The Castle, and never having seen one before, I decided to go. Though Steve wasn't at all interested in the stripper, he offered to go with me but I told him that I didn't want to inconvenience him. I also pointed out that just as I'd feel uncomfortable watching a female stripper with him, he would probably feel uncomfortable watching a male stripper with me, so I'd prefer to go alone. Although he was clearly concerned he agreed with me, and like an extra parent he told me to take care of myself.
When I got to the pub I found there were actually two strippers that night, the first one was at nine o'clock and the second was scheduled for ten o'clock. The first stripper had a nice face and looked to be in his mid-twenties, and although it was quite exciting to see a young guy like that stripping in public, he was a hunk with great bulging muscles so he was really my 'type'. In between the two acts a very drunk guy came over to my table and I recognised him as the person who had once introduced himself to me and Steve as Ben's boyfriend, Sam.
Sam was getting a bit too friendly for my liking, so I thought I'd put him off by asking about Ben. He told me that they'd split up and that Ben was probably studying for his final exams, though Sam didn't know for sure and didn't really care. Certainly Sam didn't seem upset about the break-up and when I questioned him about that, he told me that they would have had to break up soon anyway as Ben would be returning to Malaysia after his finals. Then Sam appeared quite gleeful as he told me that Ben would be entering into an arranged marriage as soon as he got back home. Shortly after that the second stripper came on, and as an excuse to get away from Sam, I moved away to get a better view.
At the start of the last week of our holidays Steve began to show more anxiety over the looming A-level exams and decided he should stay home and study. It was Saturday, the weather was nice, and I didn't want to stay at home so I decided to go for a wander round town. While I was browsing through CDs in Virgin, I looked up toward the cashiers' counter and saw the ginger-haired boy from the GLYG Easter party. I idly wondered what had happened after I'd last seen him with Ben, then as my eyes drifted away from the boy, I noticed Paul standing by the exit and my heart began to beat faster.
Standing next to Paul was another boy who appeared to be a slightly younger version of hin and when I saw them both laugh I could see they had identical smiles. I guessed that the younger boy was Paul's brother and that they must have been waiting for 'Ginger-hair' because he went to join them and then all three left the shop together. This may seem creepy, but I couldn't resist the urge to follow them. I wanted to speak to Paul, or even just be close to him, but I was afraid of rejection, especially as any rejection would be even more embarrassing in front of Paul's companions.
Paul showed no sign that he'd seen me, and I followed at a discreet distance as they walked along the crowded street. Many thoughts and emotions fluttered through my head like a cloud of butterflies, and I tried to capture some of these thoughts and hold them still long enough to examine them more closely. Paul had given 'Ginger-hair' his number and now they were out shopping together. Were they boyfriends now? My heart sank at the thought and I nearly turned away from them to go home, but I carried on following them and examined more of my thoughts.
Maybe Paul and 'Ginger-hair' were just friends, but that still wouldn't mean that Paul might be interested in me. On the other hand, Paul seemed to have enjoyed being with me and Steve, so maybe Paul would want to be my friend even if he already had a boyfriend. I decided that I wanted to try to become friends with Paul, even though I really wanted to be much more than just friends. Yet how would it feel to be just his friend if I knew we could never be more than friends? Well, as Steve often said to me: 'we won't know until we try'.
My best opportunity to approach Paul came when I saw him drop behind his two companions as they pushed on through the crowd ahead of them. Almost running, I closed the distance between us as quickly as I could and tapped him on the shoulder. I couldn't read the expression on his face as he turned around, but whatever it was it turned into a smile of greeting, and I was relieved that he seemed genuinely pleased to see me. We started talking and I quickly found out that Ginger-hair's name was Rob, so when Rob turned back and approached us I quickly introduced myself. The most pressing thing on my mind was to see if Rob was Paul's boyfriend, and maybe if I'd been more sensible and patient I would have waited for a discreet way of finding out. However, without considering the possible rudeness of my inquiry or what the implication of my question might be, I just asked straight out if they were together. Looking back, I wonder if either of them saw the relief in my face when they said 'no'.
Then Paul introduced me to his brother, John, who up until that time had been keeping himself in the background. Suddenly I was horrified by my lack of discretion in asking Paul about boyfriends when his younger brother almost certainly could hear me. Maybe I had inadvertently outed him to his brother. 'Oh god!' I thought to myself, 'me and my big mouth!'. Fortunately, John already knew all about his brother and though he wasn't gay himself he seemed very comfortable with Paul's sexuality.
I was very pleased when Paul invited me to join them for some tea and cakes, and I happily took part in their search for a suitable cafe. Having found somewhere we sat chatting while we waited for our order, and it seemed to me from the way Paul looked at Rob that there was some special bond there despite the fact they denied being boyfriends. Paul explained that Rob and he were at the same school and the reason he'd gone over and given Rob his number at the party was because he was worried about the possibility that Ben might hurt Rob.
Rob told me that he'd been to a party at Ben's apartment, that Ben had kicked him out on the street in the early hours of the morning, and that Paul had driven across town to rescue him. As Rob said this it was clear that he thought Paul was a hero and I could see Paul blushing. I was very impressed that Paul should go to so much trouble to help out someone who at the time was almost a stranger. Not only did I find Paul physically attractive but I was falling more and more in love with his personality. I decided then and there that I definitely wanted him as a boyfriend, but even if I couldn't manage that, then I would try as hard as I could to become close friends with him. The only question now was how to make that decision into a reality.
When I told them about seeing Sam in The Castle, I was too embarrassed to mention the strippers, and both Paul and Rob seemed pleased with the idea that Ben would soon be returning home to an arranged marriage. As we continued to chat, they told me they were in town looking for birthday presents for Paul's best friend, Mike, who I was told was not only at my school but also in my year. At first I had to think about who they meant as there were more than 150 students, half of them boys, in my year. However, as soon as they described Mike I knew who he was and realised he was one of the cutest boys in school. Mike and I were in different classes and we had different groups of friends, so he was someone I'd never spoken to except to exchange an occasional 'hi'.
Then I remembered the last few times I'd seen Mike and that on those occasions he was with Steve's ex-girlfriend, Sue, the very same girl that I was still pretty sure had been involved when I was beaten up. Really, I should have thought before I spoke, but I just blurted out that it was a pity that Mike was involved with a girl like her.
John immediately challenged me and I knew that it had been really stupid of me to say anything. Paul, John and Rob were clearly very close and I was an outsider, so there was no way I could get across my point of view without antagonising them. After all, they didn't know about me being beaten up. In fact they didn't know anything about me or even what sort of person I was, and I had just insulted their best friend's girlfriend! John was annoyed, Paul was frowning and Rob looked surprised. Here I was, trying hard to make friends and instead I seemed to be making enemies, so I decided that rather than explain my remark it would be best to soothe them with an apology.
Fortunately things calmed down and as we enjoyed our cakes we seemed to become much more friendly. Paul and Rob went to the toilet while we waited for our bill and I took the opportunity to try to be better friends with John and maybe make him an ally. I also wanted to pass on a message for Paul before he and Rob returned, so I wrote down my phone number on a paper napkin and gave it to John, asking him to give it to Paul when they were alone and to tell Paul I'd like him to call me.
At first John glared at me and that made me think he didn't like the idea of me trying to get closer to his brother. Then he said something about me being nasty about Sue, so I quickly assured him that my reasons for wanting to talk to his brother were nothing to do with her. I realised that one way to convince him was to be open with him and show I trusted him enough to take him into my confidence, so I told him that I liked his brother a lot. I added that I not only fancied Paul physically but I emphasised that I liked Paul as a person very, very much. John seemed to be amused by that, and agreed to pass on my number and my message, so at least I'd not messed up too badly. Then Paul and Rob returned and Paul again showed how sweet he was by offering me a ride home.
That night I was so nervous that I couldn't keep still and could hardly eat dinner. I kept wondering if Paul would phone me and how he would react to the message I sent via John. As the I evening wore on and I still hadn't heard from Paul, I even wondered if John had passed on my message. When my phone did eventually ring my heart skipped a beat and I answered immediately. The sound of Paul's voice produced butterflies in my stomach but also made me so happy that my voice must have sounded like that of an excited schoolgirl.
Very early in our conversation I confessed my feelings for him, though I was too scared to actually use the word love. His first reaction was to ask about me and Steve, and despite what I'd told John, it seemed Paul still thought that Steve was my boyfriend. Perhaps John hadn't passed on that part of our conversation, so I tried to briefly explain the situation between me and Steve. However, I knew that it was too complicated to deal with over the phone and that I needed to talk to Paul in person so that I could explain things. For some reason I felt an incredibly strong urge to tell Paul everything about myself and to share myself with him in every way possible. It was probably naive and unrealistic, but I felt that if he knew more about me and if he really understood how I felt about him, then maybe he would return my feelings.
When I asked Paul if we could meet soon he seemed hesitant, then told me he was in love with Rob. On hearing that I was completely devastated, but tried to keep my feelings from showing in my voice. My heart rose a little when Paul explained that Rob didn't love him in return, but then I felt a bit like a traitor. Yes, I felt like a traitor because I knew I should want my beloved Paul to be happy, yet I secretly rejoiced that Rob didn't love him. My spirits were lifted further when Paul said that if he were not in love with Rob then he might be able to have feelings for me. So I still had hope, and I wasn't going to give up trying to win Paul's love until every last shred of hope had disappeared. Yes, I know it was probably stupid of me, and it was certainly pathetic, but my heart wouldn't let me give up.
The next day, Sunday, Steve came over and we spent ages talking about my phone conversation with Paul. In fact, my analysis of what Paul had said lasted far longer than the conversation itself, and I knew that Steve must have been getting incredibly bored with the subject. As usual though, he was extremely patient with me and he never gave any indication of boredom. On the contrary, he seemed not only interested but also rather concerned that I might get emotionally hurt.
That evening, I phoned Paul and just hearing his sweet, musical voice made me feel happier. Right at the start of the conversation I wondered to myself what it would be like to hear him singing, and for some reason the thought nearly sent me into a fit of giggles. Probably that was just a nervous reaction, and fortunately I managed to control myself so that Paul wouldn't think I was mentally unstable. Anyway, I was desperate to see him again so I invited him round for lunch the next day, and when he accepted the invitation I almost jumped for joy. This was going to be our first meeting alone, and I was determined to do my best to impress him.