Not Always Easy

By Kit

This is a story about how a gay teen male and some of his friends experience different types of friendship and different sorts of love. Some of those experiences involve sexual activity between males - if this is likely to offend you, or is illegal where you live then do not read any further.  This story is fictional and any resemblances to real people or places are purely coincidental.
This is the first story  I've ever written so comments, especially nice ones, and constructive criticisms are always welcome.
The story is copyright of the author and may not be distributed or placed on any web sites without written permission from the author.

Many thanks to Richie Ryan for editing this story since chapter 8. Any remaining errors in this chapter are purely my own fault.  Also, I highly recommend his story, 'What We Are'. Thanks also to David, the Nifty Archivist, for all his efforts with the Archive, for being so helpful, and for being patient with me when I mess up.

Thanks to my friends who have given me help, encouragement and inspiration with this story.  Many of them are themselves authors of stories on the Nifty archive.  Special thanks to Galacticflute  (Will & Tyler) - their friendship and encouragement were responsible for me starting this story.  Thanks also Charlie Smith (An American Dream) for being such a good friend. I highly recommend their stories, all of which can be found in the Gay/Highschool section.  Extra-special thanks to Davey for being so patient with me and for... being Davey.

Whether you like the story or not PLEASE let me know - the only way I know if anyone is reading this story is if you tell me!

Please send comments to:
I love to get emails and will respond to all comments, except flames.

Author's Note:
Apologies  for the longer times between recent chapters.  I've been very busy for the last few weeks, and I hope that the extra wait between chapters hasn't spoiled your enjoyment of the story.  There will be at least one more chapter after this one before the story ends, and I expect to get the next chapter out sometime in the next 2-3 weeks.


Chapter 20 - Friends Spring Surprises

The morning after I was awakened by James' nightmare, neither of us mentioned the brief intimate physical contact, but the atmosphere in our bedroom seemed much more relaxed than it had been on previous mornings.  For example, because it takes me some time to get out of bed, James was already up and moving about the room when I opened my eyes, and I immediately noticed that he was making no attempt to hide his morning stiffy.

When he later came back from his shower, I was still fussing with my hair and he didn't try to hide his nakedness when he was getting dressed.  I realised that I felt as uninhibited with him as I had always been with Mike, and I was wondering how this change in the atmosphere could be related to the previous night's events when he must have noticed that I was staring into space.

"Penny for your thoughts," he said with a shy smile.

"Oh," I said, smiling and blushing, "I was just thinking that you don't seem so shy about me seeing your bits today."

Now it was his turn to blush and he continued dressing in silence for a couple of minutes.

"It's strange, isn't it?" he said eventually. "I mean, before I went to sleep last night I was worried that I'd be embarrassed about... ya know, what happened, but when I woke up I didn't feel embarrassed at all.  Why d'ya think that is?"

"Not sure, really, but I feel the same way," I said thoughtfully. "Maybe it's because after what happened we both know where we stand.  Before that, we weren't sure about one another, but now I think we can see where our limits are.  Anyway, whatever the reason, I'm glad it's turned out like this, cos it makes things much more comfortable."

He didn't say anything, but simply nodded, smiled, and continued to get dressed.  The hair on the crown of my head was still sticking up a bit, but I didn't have time to fuss with it any longer, so I went down for breakfast.

On the way to school, John was back to his usual cheerful and talkative self, and with only two more days of school left, we both had good reason to be happy.

"I'm sorry I made a fuss about James talking to you first," John said as we drove through town.

"That's OK.  I could see you were feeling left out, but it wasn't up to me to tell you about James, and because of the way he was brought up, it wasn't easy for him to tell you himself."

"I know.  I just wish he hadn't locked himself away when his mum died, and I wish I'd tried harder to help him then, especially as it's partly my fault."

"How's it your fault?" I asked, though I already had an idea what he was thinking.

"If we hadn't, ya know... messed around, he wouldn't have freaked out.  If I'd known then that he was bisexual, I probably wouldn't have done it."

"We've discussed this before, John," I said in frustration. "There was nothing wrong or unusual in what you and James did, and the main reason he freaked out was because of the way his dad brought him up to think about sex.  Then his mum dying was a horrible coincidence that just made it worse."

I didn't add that James' feelings for John had also contributed to his extreme reaction to their mutual wanking session.

He didn't look very convinced, but I couldn't think of anything better to say, so instead I attempted to lighten his mood.

"Anyway," I said, laughing a little, "you were both only twelve, and I doubt either of you even knew what bisexual meant then!" .

"Yeah, we probably didn't!" he agreed with a chuckle. "And now I'm friends with three gay gays and a bi guy."

He said that last part proudly, as if he was boasting about a stamp collection.

"You may be friends with even more," I replied, smiling at his positive attitude, "but you won't know unless they tell you."

"Don't you think James is lucky to be bi?" he asked after sitting in silence for a couple of minutes.

"Lucky? Why?"

"Well, he can go for boys or girls, so he's got double the choice," he said in a tone he might use if stating the obvious to a small child.

"There's also double the chance of falling for the wrong person and getting a broken heart, and there's double the chance for things to get complicated," I said, trying to get John to think more deeply. "Anyway, James is such a nice guy that he wouldn't have a shortage of girls, so he doesn't need the extra choice of boys as well."

"Yeah, he told me about breaking up with his girlfriend cos she wanted to get more serious," he said with a hint of envy, "and as he fancies girls as well, you'd think he would have given it a try.  I mean, it would save him the hassle of trying to find another bi or gay boy."

"I s'pose, but people can't control who they fall in love with, it just happens.  You're straight, but you can't go out and see a bunch of girls and just pick one that you decide to fall in love with.  So James can't go out and decide that today he's going to fall in love with a girl.  And if he falls in love with a boy he's got all the same problems that gay guys have."

"Mmmm," he said, clearly not convinced by my argument.

"And do you think you'd be lucky if you woke up tomorrow and you fancied boys as well as girls?" I asked.

"Nah, not really, cos I'm happy liking just girls, and there's Marie..."

"There you are, then," I said triumphantly, "if you wouldn't be luckier being bisexual, why do you think James is luckier?"

He didn't reply, and I couldn't tell if he found my logic persuasive, but at least I'd given him something to think about.


That evening, Dan was at my house for dinner, after which he and I disappeared to my room while James and John went over to visit Mike.  I wasn't sure whether the trip to Mike's house was already planned or whether it was a result of the hints I had been dropping that Dan and I wanted some 'quality' time together.  In either case, I was glad that we could be alone for a couple of hours.

Over the preceding few weeks, we had become used to having at least one orgasm together virtually every day, but in the four days since James moved in, we'd only managed one, and that was an accidental mess in our pants.  So, as soon as we got into my room, I discreetly locked the door and pounced on him.  Unlike our more usual slow love-making, this was as close as we got to raw sex, and within a matter of minutes, we were naked on my bed in a 69 position and swallowing one another's cum.

Then our real love-making took place in the post-orgasmic glow, when we kissed, cuddled, and stroked all over one another's bodies.  After a few minutes, our exchange of loving words became a real conversation, though we didn't stop cuddling and stroking, and our talk was frequently interrupted by kisses.

"I really needed that!" Dan grinned.

"Me too!  With James here I've only been able to have a couple of wanks, and that was in the shower and the loo."

"Eeeewww!  Slippy, slimy floors," he giggled, "remind me to check before I get into your shower next time!"

"Is that worse than sticky sheets?" I said, pretending to be offended, but unable to suppress my own giggles.

"Well," Dan said when he'd calmed down. "you can get my sheets sticky all weekend... er you are spending the weekend at my house, aren't you?"

"Yes," I replied, then had a thought, "well as long as James is OK..."

"Oh, he will be.  Dad will sort everything out and he'll be safe and secure with your dad as his guardian."

Adopting his enthusiastic confidence, I smiled, and then I frowned when remembered that I still had to tell Dan about what happened with James the previous night.  Suddenly I was very nervous about how Dan might react, even though nothing had really happened and the touching was at least partially accidental.

"What's the matter?" he asked, having sensed my change of mood.

I told him everything, including my thought that if I didn't love him I could be tempted by the idea of doing something with James.  Apart from my fear of Dan's reaction, I was also a little troubled by the thought that sex with James would feel a bit like incest.  Much to my relief, at the end of my tale Dan just laughed and showed no sign of jealousy.

"What's so funny?" I asked.

"Just you looked so worried.  There's nothing wrong with lusting after other guys, as long as you don't do anything... even if the other guy is your little brother!"

He burst out laughing, and I squirmed at the thought that he was reading my mind again.

"James isn't my little brother!" I protested. "He's only like a little brother."

"Well, I'm still not worried," he said, smiling at my discomfort. "The thing is, I trust you, and as long as we have that trust, neither of us will ever need to worry."

As I smiled back at him, then began kissing him lightly all over his face, I wondered how a complex situation for me could seem so simple and obvious to Dan.

"So you are spending the weekend at I my house, then?" he asked.

"Yes, or at least the nights, cos we can't sleep together in my room now," I said, unable to hide the disappointment in my voice.

"Giving up a bit of privacy is a small price to pay to make sure a friend is safe."

"Of course I know that!" I said, mildly offended that he should feel the need to say it.

"I know you know!" he soothed, "I was just trying to make you feel better."

My irritation vanished and I smiled down at him before I began to lick his left ear.

"Maybe you could move into my house permanently!" he suggested brightly.

"Our parents might allow that in the holidays, but probably not when we go back to school."

"Well, this time next year we'll be getting ready to go to university," he said, always able to see the bright side, "and then we can live together forever!"

I kissed him deeply and passionately, rolling myself on top of him and grinding our crotches together.  We were both hard again, and we moaned gently as  I rubbed my cock on his.  It didn't take long for me to get close to cumming again, but I wanted to savour our precious time together, so I stopped my humping.  Again he seemed to read my mind, and he didn't complain when I ceased moving and paused my kissing so that I could gaze down into his gorgeous deep brown eyes.

"About James," I said, "I couldn't tell you downstairs cos Mum and Dad want to surprise him.  When we go away to Scotland, they are planning to take John and James to Bournemouth."

I had expected Dan to be pleased at the news that James would be having a lovely family holiday for the first time in years, but instead he frowned.

"They haven't told James, then?"

"No, silly, I told you that they want it to be a surprise!"

"They should tell him before they book anything," he said with a concerned expression, "Cos he may not want to go."

"Why not?  We've had some great holidays there."

"It's not the place, it's John.  I bet when you've been before, you shared a room with John didn't you?"

"Yeah, but that's OK..."

Then, my slow brain caught up with Dan's thoughts.  My parents would expect James to share a room with John, but how would James feel about spending two weeks sharing a room with the boy he was in love with?  I tried to imagine, as Dan had already done, what it would be like to spend fourteen days being close and intimate with someone I loved when I couldn't express my feelings in any way.

"Ohhhhh, shit!" I whispered. "I think Mum booked the hotel today!"

"I don't suppose you could get your parents to get them separate rooms?" he asked without much hope.

"Even if they could afford it, which I doubt, they'd want to know why."

"Then someone should check with James a soon a possible, just in case your mum hasn't booked...  or maybe there's time to change the booking."

"But if James doesn't want to go," I said, becoming even more concerned, "he'll still have to think of an excuse, cos he can hardly tell them the real reason."

"Hopefully, between the three of us we can think of something, and there's still almost four weeks before they're due to go, so maybe by then James won't feel so strongly about John."

I didn't want to burst his bubble of hope by pointing out that James had been in love for at least two years, so four weeks were unlikely to make much difference.  Looking at the bedside clock, I realised that our time together was getting short, so I began nibbling on his neck as I resumed grinding our cocks together.  After a few minutes we were both close to orgasm, and although we tried to linger on the edge, it was only a short delay and I shot my load over his stomach.  As my orgasm subsided, I carried on my humping movement and within a few seconds Dan's semen mingled with mine between our two bodies.

We had just finished cleaning ourselves up and getting dressed when there was a knock at the door.  I managed to spray some of my cologne around before I opened the door, but as soon as John and James entered the room they sniffed, looked at one another, and eyed me suspiciously.  Dan was sitting at my desk, trying to look innocent but failing to hide a satisfied smile.


After I'd taken Dan home, I returned to find James and John immersed in a car racing game which they were playing on John's computer, so not wishing to disturb them, I decided to have a shower and get ready for bed.  The next day was the last day of school before the long summer holiday, and I had just spent a pleasant few hours with my boyfriend, so I was in a very happy mood.

Although I don't usually sing in the shower, I couldn't resist the urge to hum one of my favourite tunes, 'Un bel di, vedremo' from Puccini's Madam Butterfly, an opera we had just heard as part of our General Studies class.  It occurred to me that some people might find it odd that I was humming an aria from a particularly sad opera when I was so happy.  Maybe I am a 'strange boy' like mum often said, but that tune made me feel full of hope and expectation.

As I dried myself, I remembered that in the opera, the hope expressed in that song had been sadly misplaced, and that train of thought made me think of James and his feelings for John.  This thought didn't destroy my happy mood, but it did turn it down a few notches, and I decided that before going to sleep, I ought to discuss the holiday plans with James.

Before getting into bed, I put on my dressing gown and said goodnight to my parents, then went along to John's room where I found that they had finished their game.  They were sitting close together on the end of John's bed and were chatting and laughing at some comedy on TV.  From their expressions and sounds I guessed that they were, like me, enjoying the happy thought that the next day was the last day of term.

"G'night, children!" I said with a grin.

John reached behind him, grabbed a pillow, and threw it at me, but I easily dodged it.

"Watch who you're calling children!" John said good humouredly.

"Don't forget it's still a school day tomorrow," I said, throwing the pillow back at him.

"Last day, though," John said gleefully.

"Still," said James as he stood up, "it's almost 11.15, so I s'pose I should start getting ready for bed."

"OK, spoilsport," John said, pretending to sulk but failing to suppress a smile, "I'll watch the rest of the show on my own."

James and I exchanged 'goodnights' with John, and I went to my room while James went to the bathroom.  Within seconds of getting into bed, my phone rang and I reached over to pick it up from its usual night-time position between the alarm clock and the bedside lamp.

"Hi, Rob," I said after checking the caller ID.

"Hi Paul.  Hope I didn't wake you," he said, sounding concerned and, I thought, a little depressed.

"Nope, you couldn't do that cos I always switch the phone before I go to sleep.  But you just about caught me in time tonight."

"I remember at least one time you didn't switch it off," he said softly. almost to himself.

"Yeah," I laughed, remembering the night of Ben's party, "but that was a special occasion!  Anyway, what can I do for ya?"

"Nuthin really.  It's just that I hadn't heard from you since Saturday and I haven't seen you for ages, so wanted to make sure everything was OK..." his voice faded and he sounded a little embarrassed as he continued, "I tried a few times last night, and earlier tonight, but you didn't answer."

"Sorry," I said, feeling my cheeks burning, "I was, er, busy with Dan."

"I should've guessed!" he said and giggled, "I thought it might have been something to do with your friend James.  John told me that you'd rescued him..."

"Not rescued, really, and anyway, it wasn't just me.  Dan, Mike, and I brought him home and my mum and dad let him stay."

"Is he OK now?"

"Well, he's a lot better, but there are still some problems to sort out with his dad and stuff like that."

"Is that why you've not been in touch recently?" he asked sadly.

"Yeah, I'm sorry Rob," I said, feeling guilty, "I've just been sooo busy that I just didn't get around to calling you.  And I guess I just assumed John had been keeping you up to date with things."

"He mentioned James a few times, but he doesn't talk to me much.  He spends most of his time with Marie and they don't like me being around."

"Maybe you shouldn't tease them so much," I said without thinking.

He did not respond, and I immediately regretted my words, even if they were true.  After all, Rob sounded sad and I didn't want to hurt him or harm our friendship.  While I was still trying to find the right words to placate him, he spoke again.

"Yeah, maybe you're right," he said, sounding very depressed, "but I've been so bored since I finished my exams.  You lot are my only friends, and you've been at school and even after school you've been busy.  So teasing them was just a bit of fun, and... and I was a bit jealous."


"Yeah," he said with a bleakness in his voice, "everyone seems to have someone except me.  You've got Dan, Mike's got Sally..."

"But didn't you say you couldn't fall in love?" I interrupted.

"Yes, but I'd still like someone to hold and cuddle and stuff," he said defiantly.

"Then you'll have to find someone who feels the same," I said with less compassion than I intended, "cos it's not fair to let someone love you if you can't love them."

There was silence, and I thought I'd offended him.

"Look, I'm sorry," I apologised sincerely,  "I didn't mean that like it sounded.  It's just that you seem to need love, or at least affection, but you can't return it..."

"I can give affection!" he protested.

"Yes, I know you can," I said gently and smiled to myself, "I remember you being very affectionate with me.  But you need to find someone who is like you and who isn't interested in falling in love."

"That's what I've been trying to do at GLYG."

"Well, you could keep trying, or... or you could get help... ya know, counselling."

"I don't need help!" he said indignantly.

"OK, OK," I soothed, "if you say so, but you don't seem very happy the way you are now."

"I'll be alright," he said firmly, "I was just feeling a bit bored and lonely cos I'd not heard from you for ages."

"Well, school finishes on Friday, so we can get together soon, OK?"

"Great!" he said, sounding a bit more cheerful, "And maybe I can get to meet James.  John didn't really say much about him, so I was wondering... is he cute?"

"Mmm, yes, I s'pose he is," I said, beginning to feel a bit concerned, "but he's a bit fragile just now, so I don't think you should, ya know, try to get, er, affectionate with him."

"Hey, I'm not like Ben, ya know!" he said, sounding genuinely offended, "I was just curious, and I wasn't planning on seducing him."

"I'm sorry, and I know you're not like Ben.  It's just that James has been through some really tough times and I'm feeling a bit protective, that's all."

"Yeah, I know what you're like," he said affectionately, "you're always rescuing strays."

After exchanging a few more words and reassuring him that I'd be seeing him again soon, I hung up and switched off the phone.  Within a couple of minutes after that, James came into the room, closed the door, and began to undress.

"I see you and John seem to be best friends again," I said.

"Yes," he said, smiling shyly and blushing a little, "he's really great, and I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is just to be with him."

"I thought you might feel uncomfortable, being so close to him and knowing he can't return your feelings"

"He likes being with me, as well," he said defensively.

"C'mon, James, you know what I mean," I said with a sigh and looked him in the eyes.

"Well," he said hesitantly and blushing deeply, "I s'pose it's sometimes a bit, errrm, frustrating.  I mean, like when I want to touch him, but know I can't."

"And if it's frustrating now, won't it be worse if you were even closer to him... like if you were with him all day and all night for a couple of weeks?"

He got into bed, propped himself up on his pillow, and frowned in thought before he replied.

"Worse, but I think it would be worth it," he said. "Anyway, why do you ask?"

"Well, Mum and Dad wanted this to be a surprise, so don't let them know I told you, OK?"

"OK," he said, then grinned, "I promise to act surprised."

"Ya know I'm going on holiday with Dan?" I asked, and he nodded 'yes', "Well, for those two weeks, Mum and Dad plan to take you and John on holiday to Bournemouth."

"Wow! That's going to be great!" he exclaimed, full of excitement.

"But you'll be sharing a room with John for two weeks," I said, smiling at his enthusiasm, despite my concern. "You'll be together most of the time and will have to get undressed around one another.  Won't that be too frustrating for you?  And, being so close, aren't you afraid that he'll guess how you feel about him?"

"Like I just said, being close to John is worth it, and I doubt he'll guess anything.  But if he does, maybe it won't be too bad... I was wondering about telling him, anyway.  What do you think?"

"Whoa!" I exclaimed, taken aback. "That's a sudden change from a few days ago when you were keeping away from him and didn't want anyone to know why."

"A lot's happened since then.  I've seen you and Dan together, I've lived with your family, and I've met Dan's parents... things just seem different now.  But, anyway, what d'ya think about me telling John how I feel?"

"Oh, I dunno about that," I said, scared of the responsibility and chickening out. "It's such a big step, that I really don't feel that I can advise you what to do."

"But how d'ya think he'd react?" he persisted.

"I've really no idea," I said, but when I saw the disappointment on his face, I added, "I know he can't return your feelings, but I also know he won't hate you, or deliberately hurt you."

He looked relieved, and I felt compelled to continue.

"But it might make him feel uncomfortable to be near you, and the two of you may not be so close anymore," I said, my natural caution becoming predominant. "You've not much to gain and quite a lot to lose, so maybe you should think about it a lot more before you decide to say anything to him."

"Yeah," he said and sighed deeply, "I s'pose you're right."

With that he snuggled down into his bed, and I turned off the light.


As usual, on the last day of school neither the students nor the staff expected to get much work done, and much of the time was spent emptying out our desks and getting together the personal stuff we intended to take home for the holidays.  After school, Mike, John, James and myself sat around our kitchen table drinking Coke and chatting.

We were all happy to be starting our long holidays, but the mood was dampened slightly by the knowledge that in a couple of hours James' dad would be meeting up with Mr Harris and my dad.  Although Mr Harris had been very confident of the outcome, we were all a little apprehensive about what might happen, especially James, whose immediate future would be decided at the meeting.

While John and I were arguing good-naturedly about who should get in the shower first, I noticed that James and Mike kept exchanging conspiratorial glances.

"OK, you two," I said to them, "what's the big secret?"

"What secret?" asked James, feigning innocence.

John looked on with interest as I stared directly at Mike, who was wearing a secretive smile reminiscent of the Mona Lisa.

"C'mon, Mike," I said, "ya can't hide anything from me.  I can read you like a book!"

"When we were coming home from school, James and I were just chatting about possible plans," Mike said vaguely.

"Possible plans?" I echoed.

"Yeah," James said, "but there's no point in saying anything now, cos it depends on what happens with my dad and Mr Harris.  And even then, I'll have to talk to Mike's mum before telling anyone else."

Despite our best efforts, John and I could not get them to tell us any more, and we eventually gave up in frustration.  Mike went home to shower and change out of his school clothes, promising to return as soon as he had finished so that he could be with us when my dad and Mr Harris arrived to report on the meeting with James' dad.

By the time Mum arrived home and started to prepare dinner, Mike had returned and we were all cleaned up and wearing casual clothes.  James was getting more and more nervous, so in an effort do distract him, John took him upstairs to play computer games, while Mike and I went to collect Dan.  On Fridays, I usually had dinner at Dan's house, but as we were not sure when our fathers would be arriving, and as Dan wanted to be with us when we found out what had happened, Dan had arranged to eat with us.

Mr Harris and my dad arrived just before 8 o'clock, which was even later than expected, and I could tell from their smiles of triumph that they had got what they wanted from the meeting.  Everyone was so eager to know what had happened that dinner was postponed a little longer and we all gathered in the living room.

"Mission accomplished!" Mr Harris announced with a proud smile.

"But not without difficulty," Dad added wearily.

"Yes, James," Mr Harris said, "your dad is one of the most stubborn people I've ever met..."

"Pig-headed, bigoted, and full of hate, you mean!" my dad muttered darkly.

"You could put it that way," Mr Harris continued, frowning slightly at the interruption. "The important thing is that despite much provocation, we kept our tempers and eventually he realised that his life would be very difficult if he didn't agree to our demands.  Actually, he didn't raise much objection to signing the guardianship document, but I had to apply a lot of pressure before he'd sign the standing order for the maintenance payments."

"And that didn't really matter..." my dad began.

"But it's the principle," Mr Harris interrupted. "He couldn't be allowed to evade his responsibilities."

 Although James had believed intellectually that Dan's dad would be able to sort things out, for the last couple of days he had been too afraid of disappointment to allow his heart to believe it.  While Mr Harris had been speaking, the apprehensive expression on James' face gradually dissolved, and now he knew for certain that his dad had signed the documents, a beautiful smile lit up his face.

"So I never have to go back to my dad?" he almost shouted with joy and relief.

"That's correct," Dan's dad said with a gentle smile, "but you're not totally independent, you know.  At least until you're sixteen, you'll be like Paul and John and do what their parents tell you."

"Ha!" Mum laughed, "If he behaves like my two kids, he won't take any notice of what we say."

"Muuuum!" John and I protested in chorus.

As James gradually allowed himself to believe that he was safe and free from his father, he smiled, and his grey-blue eyes seemed to get brighter.  He thanked my dad and Mr Harris so effusively that they both became a little embarrassed, which John, Dan and myself found very amusing.  After a few minutes of general light-hearted chatter, Mr Harris left to take his wife out for a celebratory meal, Dad helped himself to a gin and tonic, and the rest of us went to help Mum set the table for dinner.  As we left the living room, John threw and arm over James' shoulders.

"Looks like we've got a new brother," he said.

"Yeah," I added, grinning my agreement, "welcome to the family."

James  blushed, and although he was obviously happy, I sensed that he wasn't entirely comfortable.


As we sat down to eat, I smiled as I realised that the Gang of Four was reunited, and that with Dan and my parents, we were now an extended family of seven.  Of course, if Mike's mum hadn't been working, there would have been eight of us, but the fact that Mum was the only female at the table did not seem to worry her at all.  I wondered how long it would be before Mike or John would bring another female into our family.

I was going to spend that night sleeping over at Dan's house, so after dinner I went to my room to pack an overnight bag.  I just needed a few clothes as I already had a toothbrush permanently located in Dan's bathroom.  Dan stayed downstairs chatting to Mike, John, and my parents, but James followed me upstairs.

"John said you and Dan usually stay here on Friday nights."

"That was the routine for term time," I replied as I folded a shirt, "but now it's holidays we can make up a new routine."

"And now I'm living here you don't have your own room," he replied sadly, knowing that I'd deliberately not mentioned that point.

"Dan and I can find lots of places to be together," I said with a shrug, "and it's more important that you have somewhere safe to stay."

"Well, I still feel bad about it."

"But there's no need to," I said firmly as I stopped packing and looked him in the eyes. "You're family, and in this family we're all happy to adjust our routines to help one another.  We love you and we love having you here, especially John."

"That's another thing," he said quietly and lowered his eyes, "I think I need to tell John how I feel about him, and if I do that he might not be so keen on having me here."

"Are you sure you want to tell him?" I asked doubtfully.

He looked up at me again and frowned, then after a few seconds he replied with a note of determination in his voice.

"I'm not sure I want to, but I'm pretty sure I need to.  It's just too uncomfortable trying to keep it locked inside, and it almost feels like I'm lying to him.  And anyway, he's beginning to notice things..."


"Yeah, like when we were playing that racing game on his computer and I kept jumping and pulling away when he accidentally touched me.  I got so tensed up that I kept crashing."

"Well, I'm sure he'll be fine with it," I said confidently, "and he'd still want you to stay here."

"But maybe neither of us  will be comfortable living in the same house.  That's why I'm going to talk to Mike's mum tomorrow."

"Mike's mum?" I echoed as I began to guess what James was planning.

"Yeah, coming home from school I was talking to Mike about sharing your room and getting in your way..."

"You're not in my way!" I protested.

"But I feel like I am.  Anyway, of course I didn't mention how I feel about John, but I did say I felt guilty imposing on you, and Mike suggested that if his mum agrees then I could have the spare room in his house."

"You have to get my dad to agree too, now your dad's given him parental control."

"I know, but I didn't want to mention it to him until I'd talked to Mike's mum, cos if she doesn't agree then there's no reason to risk upsetting him.  After all, I don't want to seem ungrateful for everything he's done... everything you've all done."

"John will probably be upset if you move out, cos he's really been enjoying having you back as his best friend."

"Mike's house is only across the street, so I won't be far away, and we can still be best friends if he still wants to be.  And now he's got Marie, he won't need a best friend so much."

As he mentioned Marie, his voice and his face both showed sadness, and I thought I could detect a hint of jealousy.

"Of course he'll still need a best friend.  I still need Mike, and I don't want to give up my friends now I'm with Dan."

"Anyway," I continued when he didn't respond, "if you weren't going to tell anyone until you spoke to Mike's mum, why are you telling me now?"

"Well," he said, blushing and looking at the floor, "I wanted to make sure you knew that my wanting to move out had nothing to with... ya know, what happened last night."

"That was just an accident," I said, blushing as I remembered the intimate touch , "at least mostly, and I know you wouldn't go away just because of such a little thing."

"It's not so little," he giggled nervously, and I blushed even more.

While I was trying to think of a suitable response, Dan appeared at the bedroom door to see why I was taking so long to pack a change of clothes.  Seeing us both blushing bright red, he decided not to embarrass us further, and instead he waited until we were in the car before he asked about it.  When I told him, he just nodded and suggested that the situation between James and John might work out better if they were not sharing a house.


Although I may not be as sensitive as Dan, when we returned to my house just after lunch the next day, I could immediately detect a tension in the atmosphere.  Mum and Dad had just returned from the shops, and John was helping them to unpack, though I knew his real motivation was to see if they'd bought him any treats.  I was sure that they had because it was their tradition always to bring us back little things from their shopping expeditions, even if it was just a magazine or some of our favourite chocolate.  As we all exchanged greetings, I noticed that John was glaring resentfully at me.

"Where's James?" I asked.

"Over at Mike's house," Dad replied with a wry smile. "As you seem to know everything about James before anyone else, I suppose you know he wants to move into the spare room there."

"I presume Mike's mum said it's OK, then," I said, not quite answering the question, "and you agreed?"

"Yes, James talked to her first thing this morning and then they came over to talk to me and your mum..."

"No-one bothered to talk to me!" John interrupted grumpily.

"You were here when we all talked about it," Mum chided.

"But you didn't take any notice of what I said," John muttered just audibly.

"All you said," Dad responded, "was that you liked James being here, and no-one else thought that was enough to overcome the benefits of James moving.  There's more space at Mike's house, there won't be such a queue for the shower, and Mike's mum said the money she gets for rent and food will be useful."

"What's happening to the maintenance that James' dad is paying?" I asked.

"As I still have parental control, we decided that I take care of the money and pay Mike's mum for James' food and rent.  Then I can pay for other things he needs, and there should even be enough to give him some spending money," Dad said and gave a predatory smile as he continued, "And if the money runs out, Dan's dad will probably be able to get some more out of James' dad.  I'd like to see him squirming again."

We all smiled, except for John whose frown just became a little less deep.

"Cheer up, John," I said lightly, "James is only moving down the street."

"Well maybe he wouldn't move at all," John said quietly and sadly, "if he hadn't been wanting to give you more privacy."

"I never said I wanted more privacy!" I protested.

"Anyway," Mum said in her most reasonable voice to John, "that can't be the main reason James is moving.  After all, you offered to move the spare bed into your room, but it didn't change his mind.  Maybe James is the one who wants more privacy."

"Yeah, I s'pose," John said with resignation, "but it's been fun having him here."

"As Paul just pointed out," Dad said, smiling but sounding a little exasperated, "James will be just a couple of minutes away at Mike's house and I'm sure he'll be just like Mike and spend more time here than he does at home."

There was a brief and uncomfortable silence during which John appeared to be somewhat mollified but still not entirely happy.  Then I remembered some good news that I hoped would lift John's gloomy outlook.

"Are you expecting James back soon?" I asked my parents.

"Yes," Mum replied, "he just went to help Mike move a chest of drawers into their spare room, and then he was going to come back here and wait until you got back before moving his things."

"Good," I said with a secretive smile, "cos Dan had a brilliant idea and we want to tell all of you together.  In the meantime, who wants some tea?"

Mum, Dad, and John looked intrigued, but despite John's pleas and attempts at coercion, Dan and I refused to reveal anything.  I was pleased to see that John was looking more cheerful as he and Dan drank Cokes while the rest of us sipped our teas.  Before we had finished our drinks, James and Mike returned looking flushed and pleased with themselves.

"Phew!" said James with an excited grin, "Mike never told me that the chest of drawers would be so old and heavy!"

"It's solid oak, and it's an antique!" Mike protested cheerfully.

"Solid, definitely," James responded, pulling a face that made us all smile, "but old is not the same as antique.  Anyway, it was thirsty work!"

"You know you can always help yourself to drinks from the fridge," Mum said in response to his not-so-subtle hint.

"Right, folks," I announced as James and Mike sat down with their Cokes, "my gorgeous and clever boyfriend has had a brilliant idea, so I think he should tell you all about it himself."

Dan, who was sitting next to me at the table, blushed as all eyes fixed on him, and I threw my arm proudly across his shoulders.

"Erm, well, it's not all that brilliant," he said hesitantly, "but I thought that James', erm, escape deserves some celebration, and also he never had a party for his recent birthday.  So this morning I asked Mum and Dad if we could have you all over for dinner next Friday, then on Saturday have a little party..."

"And they said yes!" I continued for him. "So what d'ya think?"

I looked around the room and saw that everyone, was looking very pleased with Dan's idea.

"Friday is good for us, and it will be even more wonderful if Dan's cooking," Mum said looking at Dan, who turned a deeper red, "but your dad and I already have plans for Saturday."

"I presume your parents will be around to keep an eye on you at the party?" Dad asked Dan.

"Yes," Dan replied and laughed, "there's no way Mum and Dad would let me have an unsupervised party in the house."

"So what do you think, James?" I asked.

James looked at me with a huge grin, and he was obviously very happy, though I could see his eyes were misty with tears.

"All that just for me?" he asked in an unsteady voice.

"Of course for you," Dan responded, "but not so much of the 'just'.  You're our friend and you deserve a celebration."

"Yeah," Mike added, putting an arm over James' shoulder, "and we've also got to celebrate the fact that I have a little brother moving into my house."

"This suddenly reminds me of the return of the Prodigal Son," Mum said quietly to Dad.


As soon as we finished talking to my parents, Dan phoned Steve to invite him to dinner on Friday and the party on Saturday.  Steve already had plans with Claire, a girl he worked with, for the Friday evening, but both Steve and Claire would be at the party the next day.  While Dan was on the phone, I did a little mental arithmetic and concluded that  there would be ten of us for dinner; Dan and his parents, my family and James, as well as Mike and his mum.

When Dan finished chatting to Steve, we five teenagers moved James' belongings over to Mike's house.  Although my mum and dad had bought him some new clothes, he still didn't have much to move, and as the distance was small, I didn't bother using my car.

That evening, Mike and his mum joined us for dinner at my house, and as we ate, we all excitedly discussed plans for the following weekend.  Immediately after dinner, my dad drove John over to Marie's house, but before he left, John was reminded to invite Rob and Marie to the party on the following Saturday.  James  went with Mike back to Mike's house where he could finish unpacking and settling in to his new accommodation.  While Mike's mum was having coffee with my mum, Dan and I retreated to my room and locked the door.

As I stood with my back to the door, Dan put his arms round my neck and gave me his special loving kiss, his tongue dancing lightly over my lips, but he teased me by refusing to enter as my lips opened in invitation.  I put my right hand behind his head and pulled him toward me, squashing or lips together.  At the same time my left hand squeezed his rapidly hardening cock through material of his jeans.  He pulled his head away just enough to free his lips, and looked deep in my eyes.

"I don't think we have time," he said, smiling impishly and breathing heavily.

"Awww, Dan," I whined and showed him my most pathetic expression, "pleeeeease, I'm dying for it."

"But it's only about nine hours since I sucked you dry," he teased.

"Nine hours is plenty of time for my tanks to refill," I replied with the sexiest smile I could muster.

"James and Mike said they wouldn't be long," he said, trying to look as if he wasn't interested.

I knew he was just teasing though, because he was grinding his crotch into my hand, so I kissed him deeply and began to push him slowly backwards toward my bed.  He offered no resistance, and soon he fell backwards onto the bed with me on top of him and I began to grind my crotch into his.  He was correct that Mike and James would probably be back soon, so I wasted no time in undressing us both.

Although he didn't resist, and indeed he co-operated fully, he didn't actually remove any of his or my clothing.  In my haste to get naked, I didn't notice his apparent lack of enthusiasm until we were nude and I was on top him, rubbing our stiff and leaking cocks together.  Usually, he was at least as passionate as I was, so I broke the kiss and looked into his deep brown eyes.

"Is something the matter?" I asked.

"Nnno, not really," he said quietly after a long silence.

"That means 'yes'," I said, beginning to feel worried.

He pulled me back down and started to kiss me passionately, but I could tell that it was just a ploy to distract me.  I raised my head enough to separate our lips and saw what I thought was a look of unhappiness in his eyes.

"C'mon, tell me," I said, beginning to panic. "You've not gone off me, have you?"

He smiled and I was relieved to see that he seemed genuinely amused.

"Silly sod!  I love you more than ever," he said, then with a wicked glint in his eye, he reached down and grabbed my cock as he continued, "and I fancy you more than ever.  I'll never go off you."

"But something is bothering you," I said in a voice that would allow no contradiction.

There was silence for several seconds as we looked into one another's eyes, and I saw several expressions flicker across his face, too quickly for me to identify.

"Well," he said, then gave a deep sigh, "I really don't want to put any pressure on you..."

"But?" I added as his voice trailed off.

"But... maybe I'm just too insecure... but I was wondering how long it might be before you, well, ya know, want to commit..."

I looked at him and immediately felt guilty as I began to wonder how he must be feeling.  Weeks ago I'd told him that I wanted to see how things went and take things easy, and since then I'd been perfectly happy to let things drift.  I was still scared of committing myself, and for the past few weeks I'd had all the benefits of having a boyfriend without any real responsibilities or commitments.

"I'm sorry," he said sadly, interrupting my thoughts, "I know I said it was okay to wait, and of course I'll wait as long as it takes... but I was wondering if maybe..."

As his voice cracked and he stopped speaking, I could see tears begin to well up in his eyes.  I felt my own eyes sting and a lump form in my throat, and for a few moments neither of us could speak.  I kissed his eyelids and licked away the tears that began to slide down the side of his face.

"What were you wondering?" I asked gently.

"I know that if you make a commitment or a promise about something, you really stick to it," he said with a quavering voice.  Then he closed his eyes, squeezing out more tears, "and... and I wondered if you were just making do with me until someone better comes along."

His last few words tumbled out of his mouth so quickly and quietly that it took a couple of seconds for my brain to process their meaning.  When I eventually understood what he was saying, I was shocked and horrified, and tears began to blur my vision.  While I gathered the words to express my feelings, I covered his face with little butterfly kisses.  Then I propped myself up on my right arm and held his chin in my left hand.

"Dan, Dan look at me," I whispered, and he opened his eyes to meet my gaze. "No-one better will ever come along.   I love you more than anything in the world, and when we're not together I feel like I'm just half of a person.  I'm afraid of making commitments because it seems so... so final, and I'm just scared of hurting you if I can't keep to my promises.  That's not because of you, cos you're perfect and you're perfect for me, but I know I'm weak and I'm not sure I trust myself."

"But I trust you, and that's what matters to me," he said and tried to smile through his tears.

"And that would make it even worse if... if I ever did anything to hurt you."

"You'd never do anything to hurt me..."

"Not on purpose," I interrupted, "but s'pose... s'pose something more had happened with me and James on Thursday night?"

His brow furrowed in thought for a few seconds, but he continued to gaze deep into my eyes.

"Nothing did happen," he said eventually, "and I doubt anything would ever have happened, but... but if it did, then you'd tell me and I'd forgive you."

I couldn't think of an adequate verbal response to that, so I just lowered my head and kissed him deeply, with much more love than passion.  Our cocks had become less rigid as we spoke and I had lost much of my earlier sexual urgency, but I wanted and needed to show my love for him.  I broke our kiss and looked into his gentle and trusting deep brown eyes, then lowered myself so that my lips were next to his left ear and my whole body covered his.

"I love you soooo much," I whispered, "and I promise that I'll sort myself out soon."

Before he could respond, I began kissing and licking my way from his neck to his left nipple where I sucked and nibbled as he released a moan of pleasure.  Gradually, I kissed my way down to his navel, into which I plunged my tongue, making him shiver and giggle.  Then I quickly moved down and plunged my mouth over his cock, which was now rock-hard again, like my own.

Using just my lips, I pushed his foreskin all the way back and began licking the pre-cum which was leaking from the slit.  As he groaned and wriggled, I grabbed his shaft in my hand, pushed the foreskin back over the head, plunged my tongue inside it, then ran it round and round between the skin and his cock head.  I was surprised when, after just a few seconds of this, his body stiffened and he shot several loads of cum into my mouth.

I swallowed and moved up to kiss him, then he reached down and grabbed my cock, and I surprised myself even more when I immediately squirted my own load over his hand and stomach.  My orgasm was so intense that I would probably have screamed if it hadn't completely taken my breathe away.  The speed and intensity of the orgasm may have been caused by the emotionally intense conversation which preceded it, but whatever the cause, it left me physically exhausted.  Dan must have felt the same, because neither of us moved for several minutes, and I must have dozed off.

I was brought back to full consciousness by a knocking, and then I heard Mike's voice from the other side of the door.

"Hey, guys, it's almost ten and you've been in there for ages.  Are ya going to be coming out soon or shall James and I go back to my house?"

I could tell from his tone that he was only teasing, but I did feel a little guilty at neglecting my friends.

"Okay, Mike," I called out, "just a minute.  We just have to, errmm, tidy up, then we'll be right out... I'm dying for some tea, anyway, so why don't you go and put the kettle on for me?"

"Right, you tidy up," Mike laughed, and I thought I heard James giggle, "and we'll see you downstairs in a couple of minutes."

Dan and I looked at one another and both began to laugh, stopping only when I covered his lips with my own.  Then we wiped ourselves down, opened a window to let out the smells of sex, sprayed ourselves and the room with cologne, and got dressed.  When we got to the kitchen we were greeted with cups of tea and huge grins from Mike and James.  I was expecting one or both of them to make some comment, and braced myself accordingly, but the only words as I sat and sipped my tea came from James.

"I bet you're glad to have your room back now!" he said smugly.


That night I again stayed over at Dan's house, and the following day, Sunday, Steve, Dan, Mike and myself went cycling while John and James met up with Alex and a few other friends for a game of soccer.  Although we usually had a big family lunch on Sundays, John would be going to Marie's for dinner later, and as I was going out on my bike, Mum decided to take the day off from cooking and let Dad take her and Mike's mum out to lunch.  James and John said they were happy to help themselves to food after their soccer game.

We didn't talk much as we rode along, but when we stopped off at a pub for a late lunch, our conversation was non-stop.  Mike and Steve claimed that their relationships with Sally and Claire were not serious, but I had the strong impression that they were not quite platonic friendships either.  They protested when I referred to Sally and Claire as their 'girlfriends', and as I had no experience of heterosexual relationships, I wondered if they had sexual friendships similar to the one I'd had with Rob.

Late in the afternoon, after a strenuous ride, we were all tired out and we separated to ride directly to our respective homes, with me promising to drive round to see Dan later.  When I arrived home, John was in the shower and James was sitting in the living room talking to my parents and Mike's mum.  He obviously wasn't very comfortable being stuck with a group of adults, and there was a look of relief on his face when he saw me.

After I had exchanged greetings with everyone in the living room, I went upstairs and James excused himself to follow me.  As I sat on my bed, waiting for John to finish in the bathroom, James stood awkwardly in the doorway.

"You can sit down, ya know," I said with a smile, "just because you've moved out doesn't mean that this isn't your home as well."

"I'll be going back to Mike's house for a shower soon," he said as he smiled shyly and sat on the other bed, "but I didn't feel like going back to an empty house."

As I looked into his slightly-sad grey-blue eyes, I wondered how many times he'd gone back to an empty house since his mum died.

"S'okay," I said, "did you enjoy the soccer game?"

"Yeah," he said enthusiastically, "it's ages since I had so much fun."

He frowned slightly, and didn't continue, though I sensed an unspoken 'but'.

"But?" I prompted.

"Well, I don't think Alex likes me.  I mean, until we went to Alton Towers, I hardly knew him, but he seemed okay until... well, until what I said coming home in the car."

"Have you talked to him?"

"No, I never had a chance cos most of the time he pretended I wasn't there.  Anyway, what could I say?"

"How about that you made a mistake and that the rest of us understand?" I asked, then had an idea. "You could ask John to have a word with Alex."

"Nah, it's not worth the trouble."

Despite James' words, I made a mental note to mention it to John anyway.  Also, I wondered if Alex might not be feeling a little jealous that James was now back as John's best friend, and not for the first time, I wondered if a person could have more than one 'best friend'.

"There's something else," he added, interrupting my thoughts.

I raised a questioning eyebrow and waited for him to continue.

"Ya know you and Dan mentioned this GLYG thing, " he said, looking a little uncomfortable, "well, I was wondering when you might be going next, cos  I thought I might go with you."

Looking into his beautiful eyes, I could see several emotions coming and going and mixing together; excitement, nervousness, determination and defiance seemed to be uppermost, but I was sure I could also see signs of hope.  Whatever his motivation, I was pleasantly surprised that he had changed so quickly from his avoidance of anything non-heterosexual, and I wondered how different things might have been if he'd been brought up in a family like my own.  As far as I knew, Dan and I had no particular plans for going to a GLYG meeting, but if James wanted to go, then I'd be happy to take him along.

"Errr, there's a meeting on Wednesday if ya want to go."

"Yeah, that'd be great!" he said with a grin.

We sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes until I heard John coming out of the bathroom.  I then grabbed a towel and went for a shower, and James smiled goodbye before leaving for Mike's house.


Although Dad was going to be paying Mike's mum for James' food as well as rent, James ate most meals, except breakfast, at our house.  As Mike's mum worked shifts, this was neither unexpected nor unwelcome, and in fact Mike himself had been eating many of his meals with us ever since his parents divorced.  Indeed, for the last half of my life, 'my house' and 'Mike's house' had been merely geographical locations, and both felt equally like 'home'.

On Wednesday evening, James and Mike ate at my house, John was at Marie's house, and I had arranged to pick up Dan after dinner.  I'd told my parents that Dan and I were taking James to the GLYG meeting and they both approved, though Mum still had some reservations.

"You will look after him, won't you Paul?" Mum said as we were finishing off a dessert of strawberry shortcake and ice cream.

"Of course I will," I said with a note of exasperation, "but there's nothing to take care of.  It's just a group of young people with a couple of adults to act as advisors."

"Yes, but James is only fifteen," she persisted.

James looked embarrassed and opened his mouth as if to say something, then he presumably changed his mind because he closed his mouth again and just looked resigned.

"Well, Dan and I will make sure he's okay, and Rob will be there as well," I said, hoping that would end the conversation.

"And me as well," Mike added in a tone which was half question and half statement.

There was dead silence at the table and we all looked at him.  I don't know about the others because my eyes were fixed firmly on Mike, but I was surprised and almost shocked.

"Don't worry!" Mike laughed, looking at the expressions on our faces. "I'm not turning gay or anything, but I've nothing else to do tonight.   After all, Steve isn't gay either, and he told me he's been to lots of GLYG meetings."

My mind raced, and for some reason I tried to think of ways to persuade Mike not to go with us.  He was my best friend and the first heterosexual to know I was gay, so I have no idea why I was so panicked by the thought of him being at the meeting.  Apart from the fact that Mike and my family had met both Dan and Rob, up until that time I had kept the 'gay' part of life in a separate box, and at the time it seemed desirable to maintain that separation.

"Ahhh, won't you be bored?" I stuttered.

"More bored than staying home on my own?  I doubt it, and anyway, Steve said it was quite enjoyable."

"Steve's not been since I started going out with Dan," I pointed out with a hint of desperation.

"Yeah, but I'll be with my best friend," Mike said looking at me, then he looked at James and continued, "and with my little brother, as well as my pal, Dan."

"But s'pose someone, erm, chats you up?" I asked, thinking how good looking Mike was.

"Then it'll be just like being chatted up by a girl I don't fancy, and I'll just politely show I'm not interested." He paused and frowned at me, then added, "Don't you want me to come along?  I mean, if you don't want me..."

Seeing the hurt look on his face, I felt guilty and interrupted him.

"Course I want you to come along," I said blushing, "it's just that I didn't think you'd be comfortable there."

My parents sat in silence, looking both bemused and amused as they followed our conversation.  I felt a mixture of guilt and embarrassment because I could tell from the look Mike gave me that he didn't believe me, and that he knew very well that I was the one who was feeling uncomfortable.  We were both considering what to say next when James spoke up.

"I think it would be great if you came along Mike... that is, if you don't mind."

Mike looked at me, as if to ask my permission, and as I thought to myself, 'Oh, what the hell', I felt as if weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

"Yeah, Mike," I said with a grin, and surprising myself with my own sincerity, "if you really want to , then I'd really like you to come with us."

So, after clearing the table, Mike, James, and I went to pick up Dan and we arrived at the meeting just as the introductory announcements were being made.  There were about 30 people there, and Dan and I nodded greetings to those we recognised.  When the social part of the meeting began, I wasn't surprised, though I was strangely rather jealous, when a series of nice looking guys approached and attempted to start up conversations with Mike.  Mike clearly enjoyed the attention, but as soon as he could do so politely, he made it clear that he was not available.  Dan observed all this with an amused smile, while John, with a look of mild amazement, was looking around and taking everything in.

"I didn't expect so many people," John whispered in my ear after we'd been there for almost half an hour, "and everyone looks so... ordinary,"

"Everyone?" I asked quietly, raising my eyebrows and looking at one of the more effeminate guys in the room.

"Well, almost everyone," he replied, then looking embarrassed and lowering his voice even further, he added, "And even if he is a bit strange, he's quite errm, nice looking."

Before I could reply, I noticed Rob come into the room and I waved to attract his attention.  He came over to us with a huge smile on his face, and as I introduced the two of them, he gave James an appraising look.  Probably I was being unfair to Rob, but I was worried that he might think that James could tempted to some uncomplicated sexual fun, and I was concerned that James might get hurt.  As it turned out, neither of them showed anything more than just a platonic interest in the other, and indeed, James' main interest in Rob was based on the fact that he was Marie's brother.

For another half hour or so we chatted together as a group, and occasionally individuals came over to say 'hello' to me, Dan, or Rob, though their eyes were mainly fixed on Mike or James.  Then I noticed Rob was staring toward the doorway.  I looked to see a group of five latecomers there, though at first I couldn't see who in particular had grabbed Rob's attention.  Abruptly, Rob excused himself and walked rapidly toward the newcomers, and I for some reason had a feeling that I should recognise the young man he approached and spoke to.

I had a faint feeling of unease, though I didn't know why, but the rest of our group didn't seem to notice anything unusual.  When Dan put his arm round my waist and gave me a quizzical look, I just shrugged, smiled, and started to pay attention to the conversation between Mike and James.

As it was approaching the time to go home, Dan nudged me and whispered in my ear.

"Looks like Rob has a new friend," he said suggestively.

I followed the direction of his gaze and saw Rob holding the elbow of this 'new friend' and guiding him toward us.  The stranger didn't seem very enthusiastic about being brought over to meet us, and as he approached I had an opportunity to study him in more detail.  He was tall, at least 6', slim, with very short dark hair, and he looked almost military in his olive green T-shirt and khaki trousers.  As they got closer, I noticed his dark, almost Mediterranean complexion, and his brooding brown eyes.

The name of Rob's new friend was Tony, and as he was introduced to us, I suddenly knew why I had the feeling of half-recognition - he appeared to be exactly how I imagined Chris might have looked if he had lived an extra three or four years.  As I realised this, my heart sank, and for no clear reason, I had a feeling of impending doom.  I had no idea why Tony's resemblance to Rob's dead brother should make me feel so uneasy, and I tried to convince myself that I was just being foolish.

Of course, no-one else in the group, except maybe Rob himself, saw Tony as I did, and I felt isolated by my special knowledge.  While the others found out more about Tony, the information barely filtered through my feelings of unease.  He was 19, just finished his  first year studying Economics in Brighton, and was home for the holidays.  Dan nudged me, and I realised that Tony had been speaking to me.

"Pardon?" I said as I came out of my haze.

"I said that Rob's been talking about you a lot tonight."

Tony's voice had an impatient edge, and the look he gave me wasn't particularly friendly.

"Oh?" I said lamely and blushed deeply.

"I just told Tony how I first met you here," Rob said shyly, "and what a nice person you are, and that you're my best friend."

Tony cast me a glance that was almost a glare, and I got the feeling that he was not in the least impressed by Rob's opinion of me.

"Err, well, it's nice to meet you," I said nervously, "but we were just about to go home."

Tony received this information with complete disinterest, and the others seemed a little stunned by my apparent rudeness.  I felt an urgent and irrational need to get away, and to get Rob away from Tony.

"D'ya want a ride home, Rob?" I asked.

"No, thanks," he replied, giving me a strange look, "I'm going to the pub with Tony."

My heart sank further, and my feeling of defeat was intensified when I saw, or at least imagined that I saw, Tony give a tiny smirk of triumph.

"Alright, then," I said to Rob, trying to hide the desperation in my voice, "phone me tomorrow, okay?"

Rob nodded and smiled, then the rest of us made our way out of the room, leaving him chatting to Tony.