Adam didn't come into school the next day. Or the day after. But when he did, he brought a black eye, two broken ribs and one hell of a revelation with him.
`Have you heard about Stanmore?'
`I can't believe it.'
`He's a batty boy.'
`Yeah, his dad beat the shit out of him for bumming some lad in their house.'
`He's telling people he's bi.'
`What's the difference?'
`I dare you to say that to him.'
`Piss off, he's built like a brick shithouse.'
And so on.
It turned out, after our heart-to-heart that Sunday morning, Adam had been soul searching. What he'd found was too heavy, so when his parents came home he unburdened himself on them. The brick shithouse had stopped giving a shit.
I don't know what he'd told them. I'm sure he hadn't gone into every minute detail, or maybe he had. But after what had happened next, it seems he'd stopped caring what people at school would think.
That's what he told me anyway.
He was waiting for me after the final bell in the staff car park. I always walked home through it. Less kids. More adults keeping an eye out for trouble.
I looked up from my phone to see him leaning against the side of the art block. The red brick made his tight, white school shirt brighter. Half of it, anyway. The shadow of a nearby tree in the pale, afternoon light covered most of his body. For six-foot-five he was good at hiding.
I walked over and said nothing. The sounds of cars and buses and their passengers at rush hour filled the air between us. I threw my bag down next to his. Books and stationary rattling in its case joined the din.
`I'm sorry about Sunday,' he said.
I put my phone in my trouser pocket. With an opener like that he had my full attention.
`Yeah,' he said, looking left to right. The coast was clear. `I'm sorry I didn't think about things from your point of view.'
Rolling my eyes I reached for my bag. He still didn't get it.
I sighed and stopped mid-reach. Straightening up we locked eyes again. The large, dark purple bruise spoiling his flawless face looked painful and a twinge of guilt pricked me in the stomach. I ignored it.
`I'm sorry I didn't help you when you needed it. That I stood by and let them do that to you.'
I hadn't expected that. In all honesty I hadn't expected to hear from him again at all. An apology was an interesting turn of events to say the least. A genuine one too by the sound of it.
Walking over to the tree I leaned against it so we faced each other. The brittle, cold bark dug into my back through my navy blazer and memories of the weekend tugged at my balls and my cock. I thought about his parents' bed. Firm and unyielding.
`So, what? You think telling everyone at school you suck cock makes up for it?'
His eyes widened. As much as they could anyway. He'd probably expected a different reaction from me. Perhaps he thought I'd be more understanding.
`Kind of,' he said, stroking his arm like he'd done four days ago when he told me all about Mr. Price.
`Now you're not the only one.'
`So it'll be easier for you.'
`And you believe that?'
`No it's not.'
`Yeah it is.'
`Look, Adam, I appreciate the apology. But just because you didn't make up a story for that shiner doesn't stop you from being the rugby captain. They won't treat you like they treat me. You're too much of a paradox.'
His brow wrinkled, as much as it could. With a messed up face he still looked adorable when he didn't understand big words.
`What do you mean?'
`I mean you confuse them. They'll talk shit behind your back, and you might lose a few mates. Hey, you might even lose your team, but no one's going to do to you what they did to me. Besides,' I said looking his weakened but still undeniably strong body up and down. `They can't.'
His gaze fell to his feet. Another point of view he hadn't thought about.
There was noise to our side. We turned in unison to see a year-seven turning the corner. He froze at the sight of us and fear filled his tiny, young face. He had a cello in a black fabric case on his back. It was almost bigger than him.
I turned away. Adam leaned back into the shadows. The kid walked on. Safe.
`My dad tried.'
Guilt again. Ignored again.
`Yeah I can see.'
`He's in hospital.'
`Fuck. What did you do to him?'
`Shattered his jaw. Fractured his skull.'
`I don't really remember. It was over before I knew what I'd done.'
A photo I'd seen on the wall of their upstairs hallway flashed across my mind. Mr. Stanmore senior was a big guy, as you'd expect, but not as big as Adam. It would have been clear to anyone junior had the upper hand.
But rage blinds, right?
`What did he do to you?'
`He punched me. Hard. I think he broke a finger because something cracked and the doctor said it wasn't my eye socket. When I didn't fight back he kicked me in the chest. Then it was definitely me.'
`Another thing we have in common,' I said.
`No.' I gestured towards the school with my head. `Broken ribs.'
We said nothing for a few seconds. Both reliving memories we'd rather forget. Adam broke the silence.
`It was when he went for the iron poker by the fire and mum started screaming that I blacked out. The next thing I know I'm standing over him and my hands are shaking. He's unconscious and his face is covered in blood. Mum said she thought I was going to kill him.'
Again we said nothing. He stared out towards the field behind me, once a lush, green playground now pot-holed and muddy and filled with uncertainty. I watched a group of teachers make their way to their cars. They looked our way, ready to move us on, but then their faces changed and they stayed quiet, muttering a word or two to each other instead.
`You find Mr. Price then?'
I jumped at his words and fixed narrowed eyes on him as adrenaline gripped my body, my heartbeat quickened and my muscles tensed. But his posture was timid. As timid as it could get. There was no aggression in his voice. There was no emotion full stop.
`Are you going to?'
I sighed. So stupid.
`What I do is my own business. Just like what you do is yours.'
`Alright, calm down. I was going to say, if you have, or if you are then whatever. Go for it. Hopefully he won't fuck up your head too.'
Another interesting turn of events. Very interesting.
`You've changed your tune.'
`Yeah, it's funny how quickly that can happen. I just don't care anymore.'
`Any of it.'
`You and me both,' I said.
He looked at me and smiled. Only one side of his mouth moved; the one opposite the bruise. The other side must have been too painful.
`What?' I said.
`I was thinking.'
`That's new for you.'
He gently kicked the side of my shoe. Gravel scraped under his foot and in the outside light his undamaged eye twinkled brighter and bluer than ever before.
`I was trying to.'
He laughed but regretted it immediately. Placing a large hand on his chest he took a long, slow breath.
`I was thinking you're right. It is different for you than me,' he said; his voice struggling through the pain.
`It doesn't have to be.'
It was my turn to laugh.
`What, you're going to set up a gay rights rally?'
`No, but I can watch your back.'
I wanted to laugh again but it didn't come. No one had said that to me before. My inner-cynic was silenced. Pushing myself off the tree I stood no more than half a metre from him.
`You'd do that? After everything I said to you?'
`Maybe not right now,' he said, with a hint of anger in his eyes. `But when I'm better.'
`I look out for you. You look out for me.'
The laugh managed to make its way out of my mouth that time.
`How exactly am I going to look out for you?'
He looked left to right again and came towards me. Placing a hand on my waist he pulled me into him.
`We could have a lot of fun together.'
I've said it before and I'll say it again: boys like logic, myself included. The hairs on my neck stood on end as his words vibrated into my ear. All kinds of possibilities began to stir and grow and take shape behind my eyes. He let go and leaned back into his hiding spot.
`Are you saying what I think you're saying?' I said.
He grinned his lopsided grin.
`What do you think I'm saying?'
I took a step forward and, checking no one was around, ran the back of my finger down the undamaged side of his chest and over the ridges of his thick, strong six-pack. The cotton of his shirt whispered against my skin until I felt the hard, leather of his belt.
`I think you're saying you enjoyed yourself on the weekend.'
`It wasn't terrible.'
`Then what do you reckon?'
`I think there's a flaw in your plan.'
`Where would we have our fun? My house is off limits, and I'm pretty sure yours is too.'
He folded his arms and smirked. A proper smirk this time. Through the pain.
`That's where you come in. In exchange for my protection you do what you do best.'
`Find some lads that would be up for it.'
I smiled. Big and wide. That was exactly what I was hoping he would say. Leaning back against my tree I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my recent messages. One, two, three, four possibilities. I could sense his eyes watching me.
`I dunno. It won't be easy,' I lied.
`That's ok,' he said leaning down slowly and picking up his bag. His eyes winced at the pain but stayed fixed on something behind me. Turning around I saw it: a silver BMW pulling into the parking lot. A worried middle-aged woman sat behind the steering wheel. `I'll be out of action for a couple of weeks at least. You've got plenty of time.'
I watched him hobble away slowly. Pained. Bruised. Beaten. But still Adam Stanmore.
`I'll think about it,' I said loud enough for him to hear.
Opening the passenger door he slid himself into the seat. The woman said something to him but he ignored her. He didn't take his eyes off me until the car started its three-point turn out of the lot.
Picking up my bag I decided I'd take the long way home. I had a lot to think about.
To be continued.
Head over to my website to learn more about Oscar's adventures, including new and exclusive content about my upcoming eBook Oscar Down Under, as well as an audio recording of Oscar, Part 8.
Copyright Jack Ladd 2016
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