I was making my way along the crowded hallway that led to the main doors
of the school building when that yell assailed my ears at close range.
A fraction of a second later a hand grabbed my shoulder and, taken by surprise,
I spun around.
"Tony!" I said, recognising my grinning best friend and quickly recovering
my composure, "Bloody hell! You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
"Oh, Mark, don't be such a wimp! It's the last day of term and the
start of the Easter holidays!"
"Strangely enough," I responded, returning his infectious grin, "I already
"And there's no more school for two whole weeks," he continued, ignoring
my comment, "so let's get outa here!"
Tony had just turned sixteen, and although he was only a few months older
than me, he was almost 6 inches taller than my 5'7". With his tall
frame and long arms he easily maintained his proprietary grip on my shoulder
as we manoeuvred our way through the crowd. When we exited the building
his hand left my shoulder and we made our way toward our bus stop.
"Karl and David are coming over to my house tonight to celebrate the end
of term," he said as we walked. "Are you coming?"
"Afraid I can't," I replied, trying to sound sincerely regretful, "Dad
will be home for dinner and he said he wants to talk to me."
That was true, but I was glad of the excuse because an evening with Karl
and David was not on my list of 'fun things to do'. They were two of
our school's star rugby players, whose idea of a good time was drinking large
amounts of beer and talking about sex. Of course, at sixteen they
were too young to buy alcohol, but Tony's parents kept a large amount in
their house and didn't seem to bother keeping track of it.
"Wow!" Tony exclaimed and stood still, shaking his head and staring at
me in mock amazement. "You're dad's home for dinner?!"
"It's not all that unusual!" I protested without much conviction.
"He manages to get home early at least twice a week."
I resumed walking in the direction of the bus stop, and Tony effortlessly
"What's he want to talk about?" he asked, demonstrating yet again his
insatiably inquisitive approach to life.
"No idea," I said, shrugging my shoulders. "I've been thinking about that
By this time we had reached the line of boys already at the bus stop.
Surprisingly, the line was quite short, so I supposed we'd just missed a bus.
'Oh, well,' I thought, ' it can't be more than ten minutes until the next
"Still, at least you know you're not in trouble," he said.
"How d'ya work that one out?"
"Well, you're such a goody-two-shoes that you never do anything wrong,"
he replied, his bright blue eyes twinkling mischievously. "And if you ever
did anything wrong, you're too clever to get caught!"
I frowned, not knowing whether I should be irritated or pleased by his
"Well," I sighed, "it won't be long till I find out."
The conversation turned to different topics while we waited for the bus
and during our 20 minute journey. One of the things he talked about
was the fact that his parents would be out at least until after midnight
that night, and as his older sister, Sarah, was away at college, he'd have
the house to himself. When he mentioned in a lowered voice that Karl
would be bringing an 'interesting video', I was even more glad that I wouldn't
From the bus stop we went in different directions to our respective homes,
but before we parted company, Tony brought up the earlier subject again.
"Will you phone me after you've talked with your dad?"
"Won't you be busy entertaining guests?" I teased.
"Never too busy to talk to you," he replied, apparently a little offended
by my question.
"Okay, I'll see how things go."
With that, we went our separate ways.
As I walked the couple of hundred yards to my house, I wondered yet again
if Tony and I would have become friends if we hadn't travelled on the same
bus every school day since we were 11 years old. After all, it was
difficult to imagine how two people could be more different both physically
and psychologically. Whereas Tony was tall for his age, I was shorter
than average; although we both had our hair cut short, his was black and curly
while mine was light-brown and straight. His most striking feature,
at least to me, was the brilliant blue colour of his eyes, which contrasted
with my much more mundane hazel eyes.
Of course, such physical differences would not influence our friendship,
but our very different personalities might be expected to clash. Tony
was exuberant, popular, sociable, always getting into trouble, loved sports
and was not really interested in his studies. He was very intelligent,
as I could tell when we did our homework together, and his disinterest was
the only reason he did not get better grades. In contrast, I was reserved,
respected rules, avoided socialising, and thrived on my academic studies.
His semi-joking description of me as a goody-two-shoes probably held more
than a grain of truth.
Despite these differences, we became best friends. Well, to be honest,
he was almost my only friend. I got on with people well enough when
it was necessary and didn't have any real enemies, but apart from Tony most
people I knew were just acquaintances. To most people at school I was
just a nameless face - if they noticed my existence at all. Indeed,
although I'd met Karl a few times when I was with Tony, the last time I saw
Karl he'd forgotten my name and just referred to me as "Tony's friend".
So, it's hard to say why Tony and I were friends at all and even harder
to understand why we were such close friends. Maybe our opposite characteristics
complemented one another. Whatever the case, we enjoyed being together.
Sometimes I got the impression he thought of me as a little brother.
For my part, I thought of him as the sort of person I could easily fall in
love with. Probably fortunately, that train of thought was interrupted
as I arrived home.
Home was a four bedroom detached red-brick house, built in the 1930s and
situated in a leafy suburb just outside a large city in the English midlands.
The gardens, front and rear, were what estate agents might call 'compact',
but what other people would call small. This to me was good thing as
it was my job to mow the lawns, a task which I profoundly hated.
I had lived in the same house since I was three years old, and had lived
there alone with my dad since I was seven. Life there was comfortable
and we had arranged things to our mutual convenience. Downstairs were
living room, dining room, large kitchen, utility room and toilet. Upstairs
were four bedrooms, one of which Dad had turned into his office/study.
Dad's bedroom had an en-suite bathroom, which meant that in effect the
other bathroom was just for me. Theoretically, that left us with a
'guest bedroom', and the room did indeed have a bed in it, but as we almost
never had guests it was really used as a storeroom.
"Hello, Mark. Welcome home," Elaine greeted me, stepping out of
the kitchen into the hallway as I closed the door behind me.
"Hi, Elaine, something smells good."
Elaine, a thin red-haired woman in her late forties and about my height,
gave me one of her warmest smiles. I put my bag down by the foot of
the stairs and took off my dark blue school blazer. Before I could
hang it up myself, Elaine took it off me and put it onto one of the empty
hooks by the door. Long ago I stopped protesting when Elaine did such
little things for me.
"I'm making chicken lasagna," she said, turning to go back to the kitchen.
"As your dad's going to be here for dinner I thought I'd make something that's
a favourite of both of you."
"So he hasn't called to say he can't get back for dinner?" I asked sarcastically
as I followed her into the kitchen.
"O ye of little faith!" she responded and ruffled my hair. "He actually
called to say he'd be home by seven o'clock."
Ever since I was a small child, I've hated it when adults ruffled my hair,
and if it had been anyone else apart from Elaine I'd probably have protested
and stormed out of the room. As it was, I just gritted my teeth and
pretended not to notice. Of course, Elaine knew this, but she still
did it occasionally, probably just to show she could get away with it.
In fact, physical contact of any sort with other people made me uncomfortable,
the only exceptions to this being Tony and Elaine, and even with them it
was more a case of tolerance rather than comfort. Tony was an exception,
well, because he was Tony, and Elaine because she was the closest thing I
had to a mother. My real mother, together with my baby sister, died
in a car crash when I was seven - but that's something I spent many
years trying not to think about.
Officially, Elaine was our housekeeper and cook, coming in on weekdays
from 2 pm to 6 pm. She started working for my dad a few months after
Mum died and rapidly became an important person in my life. Her importance
was reinforced when I was 11 years old and had just started going to secondary
school. That was when Dad began spending more and more time at work.
Maybe the timing was coincidence, but I think it's more likely that Dad, a
university professor, thought I'd be more independent after starting a new
school. In any case, just a few months after that, he was promoted to
head of the Department of Pharmacology.
"You off in one of your dream worlds again, Mark?" she asked, breaking
into my thoughts. "Sometimes I wonder if you're totally in the same
world as the rest of us, or if you just pay us occasional visits."
Her teasing tone was gentle and kindly, so I just smiled and didn't take
offence. Also, her words were partly true as I found reading, especially
sci-fi and fantasy, was preferable to socialising with real people.
"Anyway," she said in a more businesslike way, "why don't you go upstairs
and change out of your school clothes while I make us a nice cup of tea?"
I went upstairs to my room, where I took off my school uniform.
As I wouldn't be needing it again for a couple of weeks, I tossed it on
the floor until I got around to putting it in the laundry basket. My
school was one of the very few in the area that still had a school uniform,
and unlike all the other local schools it was not a state comprehensive.
Instead, it was one of the few schools in the country which maintained its
status as an independent grammar school when most others became 'comprehensives'.
The school held on doggedly to all its old grammar school traditions,
including the uniform and fact that all the students, apart from a handful
of girls in the sixth form, were boys. This latter fact had proved
to be a blessing for me. Now, I'm not a misogynist and have nothing
against girls as people, but I just had no sexual interest in them.
As far as I could tell, this made me different from all the other boys I
knew at school, and that was something that I didn't want others to find
Most of the boys my age talked a lot about girls and sex. Many also
claimed to have girlfriends, but as the girlfriends were not at the school,
it would be difficult to check the truth of those claims. That's why
the absence of girls at the school was a blessing for me. As no one
was ever seen at school with a girlfriend, my lack of sexual interest in
girls could not be inferred just because I too was never seen with a girl.
Having stripped off my uniform, I began to put on some jeans and a comfortable
sweatshirt. Then, before I completed zipping up my jeans, I wondered
if I shouldn't put on something a little smarter. Despite what I'd
said to Tony, it was rare to have dinner with my dad more than once per week.
The only time we almost always ate together was Sunday lunch. So, on
this relatively special occasion, I didn't want to look too scruffy and decided
to wear a grey polo shirt and some black casual trousers.
My motives for this were mixed. I wanted to look nice for my dad
to show respect and give him a good impression because, unlike the apparently
typical teenager I'd seen on TV, I've always wanted to please him and make
him proud of me. However, despite my attempts to please him, most of
the time he hardly seemed to know I existed. This was possibly because
for the last couple of years I hardly ever saw him.
Although in recent times he hadn't been around much, in the couple of
years after Mum died he was always there for me. For months after
the car crash I'd have nightmares and wake up screaming, and he would always
sit with me, holding my hand until I could get back to sleep. Sometimes
I'd have those nightmares five or six times per week, but Dad was always there
for me and he never complained or even indicated that this was a burden for
Until I was about twelve Dad and I were very close. Then, for some
reason that was a complete mystery to me, he'd become more and more distant.
He remained kind, always polite, usually considerate, but he became less and
less affectionate and apparently not very interested in me. My caring
father had been replaced by a stranger who was just another kindly adult,
and I would have done anything to get my dad back.
Also, at the back of my mind there were also a couple of less praiseworthy
motives for my choice of clothes. First, Tony's faked amazement that
Dad would be home for dinner had stung me a little, so by dressing smartly
I hoped my dad would realise that I considered eating with him was unusual.
Second, despite what Tony said about me knowing that I couldn't be in trouble,
I wasn't so certain of that, so I wanted to present myself in a good light,
just in case.
True to his word, Dad was home before 7 pm and by 7.30 pm we were sitting
down to dinner. He and I sat at opposite ends of our large oval dining
table, and anyone seeing the two of us together would probably not recognise
us as father and son. He was a tall, muscular man with short dark-brown
hair and deep brown eyes. He also looked somewhat younger than his
45 years. In his youth he had been a keen rugby player, and even now
he looked more like a rugby player than a university professor. It was
obvious that my physical characteristics owed more to my mother than my father.
Whatever it was he wanted to talk about, he didn't bring it up during
the lasagna and salad. In fact most of our conversation revolved around
my studies and life at school, though it was clear he was just making polite
conversation and wasn't particularly interested in my answers. He took
it for granted that I would do well in my studies, and I didn't disappoint
him in that as I was almost always in the top three in my classes.
"Do you have much planned for the holidays?" Dad asked when we'd
almost finished our portions of Elaine's delicious chocolate torte.
As usual, his tone was cool and almost formal. Sometimes I felt
he chose his words as carefully with me as he did when giving one of his
professorial lectures. However, on this occasion I thought I could
detect a hint of genuine interest behind his question.
"No, not much... Apart from studying for my GCSE exams,"
Actually, I had nothing at all planned, and I wondered where this sudden
shift of topic was leading. He'd seemed a little uneasy all evening
and his body language when he asked the question indicated that he wasn't
just showing a casual fatherly interest.
"Yes, of course you have to do some studying, but I thought you and I
could take a holiday trip for a few days."
That surprised me so much I nearly choked on my last mouthful of dessert.
Every summer Dad took me on holiday for a couple of weeks, but I couldn't
remember ever going on holiday at Easter. Also, for the last few years
it seemed to me that he felt that taking me on holiday was part of his parental
duty rather than something he actually enjoyed. Once we reached our
holiday destination he usually go off and do his own thing and left me alone
most of the time. Always we planned together in advance where we should
go and we always chose somewhere we could both do things independently.
During our holidays he at least gave me more attention than when we were
home, but when we returned I always felt he was glad to return to his work.
Indeed, during our last holiday-related discussion he had hinted that next
time I might want to go with friends on some sort of 'adventure holiday'.
Another reason for my surprise at Dad's suggestion was that he never took
more than a couple of days off work for the Easter holidays.
"Well, what do you think," he prompted as I began to recover from my shock.
"Errm, sounds good," I said cautiously, almost certain that there was
more to this than just a vacation. "Where were you thinking of going?"
"Northumberland... lots of castles, cathedrals and a gorgeous empty coastline."
The rapidity of his response, together with the mention of some of my
favourite things made me realise immediately that all this was rehearsed.
Dad knew very well that I loved romantic ancient castles and medieval cathedrals.
He knew I hated crowded places and that could happily spend hours wandering
along deserted beaches and rocky coastlines. Suddenly I felt like a
fish, taking a taste of a baited hook; I could detect the bait, so where
was the hook?
"What's the matter?" he asked, looking slightly guilty as I just stared
"C'mon, Dad, you definitely know I'm not stupid and I think you know I'm
not a little kid anymore. What's really going on?"
He smiled and appeared to be a little relieved that I'd cut through his
"Okay, I admit that it's not just a simple holiday..." he frowned and
hesitated before continuing. "I was trying to find some way of breaking
the news gently, but I can see there's no point in beating around the bush...
I want you to help me to look for a new house."
I was stunned into silence as the implications of his words began to become
"In Northumberland?" I asked when I could eventually speak.
Of course, I knew what the answer would be, but I had to hear it from
him before I could believe it. He just nodded his head in a
"Why?" I asked quietly, still not quite believing.
"Remember a couple of months ago I went to that conference in Newcastle?
Well, while I was there I went a bit further north for a job interview with
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked, maybe a little too loudly as my shock
gave way to annoyance.
"I didn't know if I'd get the job and there was no point in risking upsetting
you about something that was just a possibility. I found out only yesterday
that I'd got the job."
"What's wrong with the job you have now?" I asked petulantly.
Either he had expected this question or he'd been rehearsing answers to
many possible questions. In either case, his answer came immediately.
"I've had this job a long time. I need a change and this new job
as Head of Clinical Trials is much more challenging... and much better paid."
Although my dad and I hadn't been exactly close for some years, I was
stunned that he'd made such life-changing plans and decisions without consulting
me or even telling me in advance. How could he uproot me and mess up
my life just for his career? How could he treat me like a piece of furniture
to be moved around to suit his convenience? My initial surprise and
shock were overtaken by anger.
"I don't want to go!" I said, glaring at him.
"You're just a boy and you have no choice. I'm your father and you
will go where I say you go."
His voice was quiet and almost without emotion, and his eyes answered
my angry glare with a cool determination. He was confident in his
position of power, but I wasn't going to give up without a struggle.
"I want to stay here!"
"And where would you stay?"
He spoke with the syrupy tone of an adult trying to reason with a small
child who was having a tantrum. However, beneath the syrup I could
detect a hint of acid sarcasm. Desperately I tried to find an answer
to his question, but as my nearest relatives were hundreds of miles away,
I was left with only one possible response.
"I could stay with Elaine," I said hopefully, my eyes pleading.
"I couldn't allow that," he said firmly, "it would be an unfair burden
to her. And what would people think if I left behind my only child?
No. Absolutely not."
"What about school?" I asked, though I already felt defeated and knew
I was clutching at straws.
"My new job won't start until July. By then you'll have finished
your GCSEs and can start sixth form in a new school."
He obviously knew I was upset and his tone was sympathetic and soothing,
but it was also firm and I could tell from his eyes that his decision was
"What about my friends? What about Elaine?"
Those words were not so much a question as a complaint made in a miserable
and barely audible voice. However, he chose to answer it.
"It's not the other side of the world! It's only about three hours
travel. Your friends can visit you and you can come back here to visit
your friends and Elaine."
From his tone I could tell he understood how I felt about Elaine, but
I'm pretty sure he also knew that I had only one other real friend.
Suddenly, I something occurred to me and I stopped thinking about myself.
"But what about Elaine's job here?" I asked.
"Mark, do you really think that Elaine has worked here all these years
because she needs a job?"
Dad's voice was tinged with soft sarcasm and he looked at me as
if I was some kind of simpleton
"Of course I pay her because that's only fair," he continued, as if explaining
the obvious to a small child, "but she doesn't need the money and I
bet she would have still kept coming in even if I didn't pay her. Her
husband brings home more than enough for them."
I sat in silence, beginning to realise what should have been obvious to
me for years.
"And how many housekeepers would have taken you into their own home and
looked after you when I had to go away?" he continued with studied patience.
"She was your mum's best friend and wanted to make sure you were looked after
Having never had experience of other 'housekeepers', I had nothing to
compare with Elaine. Indeed, to me she was just 'Elaine' and I only
referred to her as a housekeeper when outsiders asked about her. She
was an important part of my life that I took for granted, but I suppose I
should still have realised the situation. I felt guilty that all this
time I had been just a self-centred kid, ever since I was seven, not truly
appreciating all she'd done for me.
"Well, we can't just go and leave her!" I protested.
"She has her own family and wouldn't want to come with us...."
"How do you know?" I interrupted without thinking.
"I talked to her this morning..."
"What! You told her before you told me? She never said anything
when I got home from school!"
Although it was clear, even to me, that I was being illogical, Dad replied
as if I'd made a reasonable point.
"Actually, I wanted her advice on how best to break the news to you.
So I went to her house on my way to work this morning. She was obviously
a little sad, but she said it might be good for you to make a fresh start
somewhere else. She also said that now you're almost grown up she won't
be needed so much any more. In fact, she was thinking of giving up
the job when you're sixteen."
"Why not? Of course, she would've still come round as a family friend,
but someone else would have to do the housework."
We sat in silence for a couple of minutes. My mind was still trying
to come to grips with the situation and I couldn't think of anything to say.
He had effectively anticipated and countered every objection I'd made.
"Well," Dad said eventually, standing up, "you have a lot to think about,
so I'll clear away these dishes and leave you to it. You know where
to find me if you want to talk more about it."
When he went into the kitchen I went upstairs to my room, feeling the
need to be alone while I sorted out my thoughts.
When I got to my room, I didn't bother putting on the light, but simply
flopped onto my bed and lay on my back, staring upwards into the darkness.
My mind just kept screaming silently, 'I don't want to go! I don't want to
go!', over and over and over. I felt like crying, but I didn't and
couldn't. When Mum died I cried for days and days, and I think that
must have used up a whole lifetime of tears, because after that I could never
cry no matter how sad I felt.
Until that night I hadn't properly appreciated how much more Elaine was
than just a housekeeper/cook. Elaine had never told me she'd been
Mum's best friend, possibly because she knew that I usually avoided talking
about Mum . Now I realised that Elaine had become a point of stability
in my life, always being there to greet me when I came home from school.
All these years I never understood that, but now I did understand, I was going
to lose it.
Then there was Tony, my only real friend. So many times when I was
so immersed in my own thoughts he'd pulled me back to reality with his kindly
mocking words. He often made great efforts to show me that life isn't
always serious and that there's nothing wrong in having fun. No matter
how unsociable I felt, he always tried to include me in his social life.
Did he know how much I appreciated his efforts, even though I never told him
And... And...I'd never admit this to anyone, but did I dare admit this
even to myself? I loved him. Probably, if I allowed myself, I
could fall in love with him. Yes, deep down I knew I was gay, but how
could I ever let anyone find out? How much would it hurt Dad, who
had lost his wife and daughter, to know that his only child would never give
him grandchildren? And how would the so-obviously-straight Tony react
if he knew his best friend was 'queer'? .
My mind resumed the silent screams. 'I don't want to go! I don't
want to go!'
Eventually, my thoughts became more coherent and I tried to think about
positives. Elaine's idea of a 'fresh start' didn't convince me.
The prospect of starting sixth form at a new school, not knowing anyone at
all just terrified me.
Dad had mentioned some nice things about Northumberland and another thing
occurred to me - we'd be much closer to Gran and Auntie Kath. Gran
was Mum's mother and Auntie Kath was Mum's older sister. They lived
near Edinburgh, and so in Northumberland we would be somewhat nearer to them.
Where we lived now, we rarely saw them more than a couple of times per year.
However, on further reflection, I wondered if that was a good thing or a bad
That set my confused thoughts onto a sidetrack. Dad never talked
about his family and I'd never even met any of them. The one time I'd
mentioned them, when I was about twelve, he'd told me they'd disowned him
after he married Mum when they were both students in Liverpool. He
never said why and made it very clear he never wanted to talk about it again.
Oddly, despite all those thoughts spinning in my head, I must have fallen
asleep. The next thing I knew I was dying for a pee, and as I made
my way to the toilet I noticed that my bedside clock showed that it was 2
am. After relieving myself, I brushed my teeth, got undressed, and went
to bed. It occurred to me then that I hadn't phoned Tony, but maybe
that was just as well as I had no idea how to tell him the news.
The next morning, I awoke just after nine o'clock, still tired after a
restless night filled with disturbing dreams. By the time I'd showered
and dressed, I felt a little more refreshed and went downstairs to get some
breakfast. As I went from my room to the top of the stairs I noticed
Dad sitting at his office desk, looking through some papers. This was
a mild surprise as he often went into the university for a couple of hours
on Saturday mornings. My intention was to try to get downstairs before
he noticed me, but I was thwarted.
"Good morning, Mark!"
Dad's overly-cheerful voice brought me to a sudden halt.
"Hi," I mumbled, "not going into work today?"
"No, I'm officially on vacation for ten days."
"But you brought some paperwork home with you?" I asked, nodding my head
toward the papers on his desk.
"I did bring some home, yes, but this isn't work," he said picking up
some of the papers, "These are details of some houses that I thought we
might go and see. Want to take a look?"
"Mmmm, I'll have breakfast first," I said without enthusiasm.
I went downstairs to the kitchen and began preparing some tea and toast;
Dad joined me before the kettle had time to boil. He stood by the doorway,
his eyes on me but it seemed his thoughts were elsewhere.
"D'ya want some tea and toast?" I asked, just for something to say to
break the uncomfortable silence.
"Just tea... I'll make it," he replied and stationed himself by the kettle.
There was an even longer and even more uncomfortable silence, during which
Dad stared at the kettle and I stared at the toaster. He and I didn't
usually talk very much, but our silences were usually less strained than
"Are you okay?" Dad asked eventually, apparently concerned.
"Mark?" he prompted when I made no reply. "You're not sulking, are you?"
His question brought a flush of anger to my face. I wasn't sulking,
but even if I was, I felt I would have a very good reason to do so.
"No, Dad, I'm not sulking, just thinking... I don't really feel
okay just now... It's all been a big shock and I need time for it
to sink in..."
My voice trailed off and he nodded his understanding. We both went
to sit at the kitchen table, he carrying the teapot and I carrying my toast.
"I'm really going to miss Elaine and my friends," I said, but off
course, by 'friends' I really meant Tony.
"You'll l still be able to see Elaine and your old friends. After
all, it's not as if we're moving to Australia! And you'll make new
friends," he replied confidently.
I fought to suppress my anger at his superficial assurances and I wondered
if he had any idea just how hard it was for me to make new friends.
Of course I knew it was my fault for being so unsociable. How could
I make friends when I'd rather stay home and read a book or play on my computer?
Even at school I preferred to keep myself to myself.
"The idea of a new school and lots of strangers is a bit scary," I said.
By 'scary' I really meant totally terrifying. I was still hoping
against hope that he might see things from my point of view, although my
reason told me that nothing I could say would alter his decision.
"Yes, I can understand that, but it will either be a sixth form or a sixth
form college, so it will be smaller and," he added with a grin, "probably
more civilised than a typical large school. And don't forget, there
will be lots of times in your life, like going to university or getting a
job, when you'll have to got to new places and meet new people... Think
of it as an opportunity to make new friends rather than losing old friends."
I just sighed, nodded, and munched on my toast, not really wanting to
say that I wasn't sure I wanted any new friends. The rest of breakfast
was spent in a thoughtful and even more uncomfortable silence.
"Do you want to look at some house details now?" Dad asked hopefully when
I stood up to clear the breakfast dishes from the table.
"In a few minutes," I replied, "but I need to phone Tony first."
In truth, I was just putting him off in the hope that I could think of
some way of avoiding the disaster he planned to cause in my life. Even
if I couldn't think of anything, I wanted to slow things down make it as
difficult as possible for him.
"Well don't be too long," he said with a hint of irritation, "I want to
go up to Northumberland as soon as possible. Although we've got until
July to make the move, we still have to find a new house and sell this one.
Buying and selling houses can take quite a long time."
His mention of selling this house froze me in my position by the sink.
This house had been my home for as long as I could remember and almost all
of my few memories of Mum were located here.
"What's the matter?" Dad asked when he saw my reaction and the stricken
look on my face.
"Leave the house... Mum..." I muttered, hardly able to speak at
Despite my incoherence, he seemed to know instantly what was on my mind.
"Your mum isn't here in the house, she's here in our memories," he said
gently, tapping his temple with his forefinger. "No matter where we
live, she'll always be there."
Although my brain accepted his point, my heart wasn't convinced.
Somehow, no matter what my intellect told me, I often felt some residual
loving presence, especially when I was alone in the house. Maybe it
was imagination, maybe it was wishful thinking or maybe I wasn't quite totally
sane. Without another word, I went upstairs to my room.
When I phoned Tony it took him ages to answer, and I thought maybe I'd
just end up leaving a message on his voice mail. As it turned out he
did eventually answer, probably just a couple of rings before his voice
mail would have started up.
"Hullo, Mark," he said, sounding tired and a little shaky.
"Hi, Tony, wassup?"
"Oh, I just got up. I'm feeling a bit, erm, delicate today."
Yeah, ya know... hungover?"
"Oh, right. You had a good time last night, then?"
As soon as he's said this, I heard him hiss, as if in pain.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Just a bit of a twinge in my head... the pills haven't had time to work
"Maybe I should call back later?"
"Nah, it's okay... did you phone last night?"
"Wouldn't you have remembered if I had?" I joked.
"Oh, well, no I didn't."
"So what did your dad want to talk about?"
This reminded me of why I'd phoned him, and he enjoyment I always had
when chatting to Tony was somewhat decreased.
"Actually, it was something quite important, but I'd rather talk to you
about it in person. D'ya want to come over after lunch?"
"Can you come over here instead? I'm not sure I'm up to travelling
and I think I might be grounded."
"You think?! You mean don't know whether or not you've been grounded?"
I asked in amazement.
"Well, I remember Mum and Dad being very annoyed with me when they got
home, but I can't remember what they said, and I've not been downstairs to
see them yet." he answered sheepishly.
"Were Karl and David still there when they got home?"
"No, thank God!," he said, then hissed again with pain. "I'll tell you
all about it later, okay?"
"Okay, I'll be over about two o'clock."
"Fine, see ya!"
I hung up, and lay back on my bed.
Almost as soon as I hung up, Dad appeared in the open doorway of my room.
His rapid arrival made me wonder if he'd been listening in to my phone call.
"Ready now?" he asked.
"I've got a headache. I'm going to rest here for a bit."
"You'll have to accept it sooner or later. Why not co-operate and
make it easy on yourself?"
The complacency in his tone and assurance in his body language bordered
on arrogance and my annoyance boiled over into anger.
"You mean easy on you!" I snarled. "It's already as hard for me
as it can get and I can't think of anything that'll make it easier for me.
But maybe if I don't co-operate I can make things a bloody lot harder for
His face indicated first surprise then shock. He'd rarely, if ever,
heard me swear and he'd never known me to resist his will so vehemently and
with such bitterness. My behaviour was so out of character that it
was no wonder he looked at me as if I'd been possessed by a demon. Possibly
for the first time since Mum died, he seemed genuinely lost for words.
He turned on his heel and headed toward his office.
Only then did I realised that my whole body was shaking with the adrenaline
rush. I sighed deeply and closed my eyes, trying to calm down.
Slowly, my heartbeat slowed to a more normal rate and gradually my limbs stopped
Of course, I knew that I hadn't scored any sort of victory and that Dad's
apparent retreat would only be temporary. However, I felt a little
better about myself. No longer did I feel quite such a powerless victim.
Although I still might be powerless, I was damned if I'd become a victim.
As if to emphasise the hollowness of my apparent victory, Dad appeared
in the doorway. This time, he appeared a little less arrogant and a
little more thoughtful.
"Okay, Mark," he said firmly, "let's both admit that we can both make
life more difficult. There's no way you can change my decision, but
I agree that if you don't co-operate you can slow things down and make things
less pleasant. On the other hand, you must know that I can make your
life very unpleasant if I have to. But I don't want to."
He studied at me intently to see how I would react to his words.
If he expected me to speak, then he was disappointed, but no doubt he noticed
my angry glare was replaced by a less hostile expression.
"Look," he continued, "I know you're not a kid anymore and that you are
capable of being logical and reasonable. You must know that one way
or another you're going to living with me for at least a couple more
years. I'd prefer it if you helped choose exactly where we live, but
if I have to chose a house without your input, then I will."
He paused again, waiting for a response, but I remained silent and content
to hear him out. Realising that I was indeed listening carefully to
him, he continued.
"On the other hand, if you make an effort to get involved then it's more
likely you will enjoy living there. I promise that I'll take notice
of your opinions and that things like the locations of schools will be given
a high priority. Now, if you want to have a say in the new house, you'd
better come and look at the documents. Don't be too long making up
your mind. Time is limited and I won't wait forever."
He turned and went to his office, leaving me deep in thought.
It didn't take me long to conclude that he was right. Even if a miracle
happened and I didn't have to move to Northumberland, looking at a few houses
wouldn't do any harm. Indeed, it might even be fun, especially as it
would involve a few days exploring Northumberland. Then a rather evil
thought occurred to me: if I wanted to sabotage things, it would be much
easier to do so if I got involved.
When I got to Dad's office he had the grace and good sense not to comment
on my decision to take part in the house hunting. Instead, he got straight
down to business.
"Here's the information on the houses I thought looked interesting," he
said, pointing to the papers on his desk.
I pulled up another chair next to his, sat down, and began looking through
the stack of papers, all of which had at least one photograph attached.
There were more than a couple of dozen houses represented there and they were
located over quite a large area of countryside.
"How long are we going up there for?" I asked.
"I thought we might go up tomorrow and stay until Friday or maybe Saturday."
"Will we be able to see all these in less than a week?" I asked dubiously.
"I doubt it. That's why I wanted you to go through these with me,
so we can pick out about ten of the most promising. See if you can
find ten you like the look of. All of the ones here are in our price
range, so that's one detail you don't have to think about."
Before looking at any detailed information, I decided to get some sort
of overview by quickly scanning through all the papers in the pile.
Immediately, one thing drew my attention.
"Dad, aren't all these places a bit, erm, big? I don't think there's
one with less than six bedrooms and some seem huge."
"Houses up there are a lot cheaper than here and my salary in the new
job will be much bigger than I get now. We can easily afford any of
"Yes, but there's just two of us, why do we need such a big place?"
"Well, there are a few reasons... First, it would be a good financial
investment, and someday when it's all yours you might be glad of that.
Second, with a big house we could have rooms for visitors as well as our
own special rooms.... like an office, computer room, games room, music room...
I know how much you dislike me playing my jazz records so loud, so maybe
I could have a sound-proofed room."
From his business-like tone I couldn't tell whether or not this last comment
was a joke. However, as we were apparently in a state of truce, I decided
to respond politely.
"I don't mind it all that much," I protested without conviction. "It's
just that jazz isn't really my thing."
"And thirdly," he continued in a more solemn tone, "your mum and I always
dreamed of a big house in the country."
There was nothing I could say in response to that point, so I shifted
the subject a little.
"Some of these places also have huge grounds," I pointed out, "acres and
"Are you worried about having to mow the lawns?" he teased, his serious
look replaced by a brief smile.
"Well, that thought did occur to me," I replied, now just about relaxed
enough to return his smile.
"Then don't be concerned. If we go for one of those places we can
pay someone to look after the lawns... or maybe just borrow some sheep to
graze on them!"
We returned to looking through the property descriptions and after an
hour or so we'd each chosen ten we thought most promising. As it turned
out, six of my selections were also in Dad's top ten, so then we went through
together the four in each group that didn't overlap. After discussing
the pros and cons of each of them we found that we had a further five we could
compromise on. Thus we were left with a final list of eleven that we
decided we should visit.
By this time it was almost one o'clock and just time to grab a quick lunch
before going to see Tony. As I was getting ready to leave the house,
Dad switched on his computer so he could do some on-line booking of
hotel rooms for our trip. After that he intended to phone around the
various estate agents and arrange appointments to visit the eleven houses
we'd picked out.
I arrived at Tony's house a few minutes after two o'clock, and when I
rang the doorbell his mother opened the door. She was a tall,
pale, slim woman in her mid forties and with the same blue eyes and dark
curly hair as Tony, though of course her hair was considerably longer than
"Hi, Mrs Anderson!" I greeted her cheerfully, "Is Tony in?"
"Oh, hello, Mark. Yes, he is," she replied, frowning, "and he's
going to be in for quite a long time! He's grounded."
She just stood in the doorway and for a moment I wasn't sure if she was
going to let me see him.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know, " I said in the most grovelling tone I
could manage. "I'm going away with my Dad tomorrow and won't be back for
a few days... D'ya think I could see Tony for a few minutes before I go?"
"Oh, alright then," she replied, her frown being replaced by a smile,
"as you're the only friend he has who's a good influence on him, and as you're
already here, you can see him."
She stepped back into the hallway and held the door open for me to enter.
" He's in his room, so you can just go straight up," she said gesturing
with her hand in the general direction of the stairs.
"Thank you, Mrs Anderson!:" I said in my most politely-grateful tone,
then made my way upstairs..
Tony's door was open, so I tapped on it and walked straight in to see
him lying on his back on the bed with his right forearm over his eyes.
The couple of seconds it took for him to react to my presence gave me
the opportunity to feast my eyes on him. He looked very handsome in
his close-fitting dark blue sweater and black jeans. The way he was
lying on the bed made him seem a little vulnerable and even more attractive.
"Hi, Tony," I sad quietly, "how are you?"
"Much better than I was this morning," he replied, peering blearily from
under his arm. "They let you in then? I'm grounded till Easter."
"So it seems. Apparently they think I might be a good influence
on you," I teased.
"Maybe you are," he said very quietly.
He sat up, squinted at me, propped his back on the headboard and shut
his eyes again. Meanwhile I went over and perched myself on the end
of his bed.
"Why did they ground you? I s'pose they came home and found you
"Yes, there was that, but the clincher was that they also found the downstairs
loo covered in puke!"
"Eeuw!! So you were sick as well, then?"
"Not me! Probably Karl. He had twice as much pizza as me and
Dave... and more beer, too. Anyway, whoever it was, I didn't know about
the puke until Mum found it and started yelling at me!"
"You were lucky they'd gone before your parents got back."
"Yeah! Gone with half an hour to spare. So I took the blame
for the puke. Better than them finding out I had a drinking party."
"You had a good time then?"
"Oh, yeah, we had a great time!"
"Apart from the sore head this morning!" I joked.
"And the sore dick," he muttered.
Or at least that's what it sounded like, but I couldn't believe my ears.
"What was that you just said?!"
"Not so loud!" he hissed. "My head's still delicate and the door's
open. I don't want Mum and Dad to hear anything."
"Okay," I whispered and looked toward the door as if I were acting in
some melodrama. "What did you just say before that?"
He blushed a little and gave me an embarrassed smile, but didn't immediately
speak. I just gave him my most encouraging look, hoping that he knew
he could trust me with anything.
"I said," he whispered and leaned a little toward me, "that my dick's
sore. It got quite a workout last night."
"You had girls here as well?" I gasped.
"I wish! No, but the video Karl brought was really hot. I
got so horny that I spent most of the night wanking."
My mind was working overtime trying to picture the boy of my dreams wanking
all night. My heart was thumping and I thought my brain would blow
"How did you manage without the others knowing?" I asked with shaking
voice, "Keep going to the bathroom?"
"Nah, just did it. Sat on the armchair, whipped it out and just
He spoke very calmly and I could see he was enjoying the fact that he'd
managed to surprise and probably also shock me. The expression on
my face must have been amusing for him. Certainly, he seemed entertained
"You're kidding, aren't you?" I said when I could manage to speak.
"You're winding me up... You'd never do that with Karl and Dave there!"
"Actually, it was Karl who did it first. I told you it was a hot
video... and we were pretty drunk."
Again I was speechless and Tony sat smiling and amused as he studied what
must have been a whole series of expressions passing over my face.
My mind spun as I tried to picture the scene in his living room. Of
course I would have loved to ask a whole series of questions - what were their
dicks like, did they cum, etc. But I didn't dare to show too much interest
in case he might suspect I was gay.
"You shoulda been here," he said with a grin.
What, exactly I wondered, did he mean by that? And would I really
have wanted to be there? I quickly decided that despite the fact that
I didn't like Karl and David, I would probably have tolerated them for a
chance to see Tony wanking. I was quiet for so long that he must have
misinterpreted my reaction because he began to frown and look almost angrily.
"We're not queer, ya know!" he hissed. "We didn't touch one
another or even look at one another! We just happened to be in the
same room while we had a wank!"
He glared at me as if he expected me to challenge his assertion.
Maybe he really did think of me as a 'goody-two-shoes' and possibly regretted
taking me into his confidence.
"Hey, I know you're not queer, " I soothed, then added with a smile,
"even good little boys like me like to wank! And I do sort-of
wish I'd been here."
That must have made him feel better, because he relaxed and leaned back
against the headboard.
"Well," he said after a brief pause, "that's my news, what about yours?
What did your Dad want to talk about?"
My smile faded, and I sighed deeply before answering his question.
Having spent most of the journey to his house thinking of the how to tell,
him, the best way that I could think of was to come straight out with it.
"Dad's got a new job in Northumberland," I said simply. "We're moving
there when I finish GCSEs."
Now it was my turn to watch the kaleidoscope of expressions flicker across
his face as he sat in silence and digested my words.
"You're going to live in Northumberland?" he said, only partially
as a question.
"It's not like I'm going to the other side of the world. It's only
three hours travel, so I'll be able to come back easily. And you can
come and visit us anytime," I said, repeating what Dad had told me, then
I added with a wry grin, "We'll have plenty of space."
"But it won't be the same, will it?"
"No, I s'pose it won't," I sighed.
We both sat in depressed silence for awhile.
"Anyway, I'd better be going," I said standing up. "I don't want
to overstay my welcome with your parents. Sorry to have to break the
news when you've got a hangover, but maybe we can talk more when you've recovered?"
"Yeah, why not come over tomorrow?"
"Dad and I are going on a house-hunting trip tomorrow, but we'll be back
Friday or Saturday. And your grounding will be over by then."
"I'm sure Mum and Dad would let you visit even if I'm still grounded,
but phone me while you're away, okay?"
"Okay," I agreed as I moved toward the door. "Get better soon! See ya!"
As I looked back at him before leaving the room, I wondered if I looked
as dejected as he did and if he felt as miserable as I did.
When I got home I found that Dad, in his usual efficiently organised fashion,
had booked our hotel rooms and organised our itinerary for seeing the houses.
There were just two properties he hadn't yet arranged to see, but he
was confident that we could fit them into our schedule once we were there.
That night as I lay in bed, I couldn't sleep. It might be expected
that my insomnia would be due to worries about starting a new life away from
familiar places and people or maybe due to the excitement of looking for
a new home. However, none of those things played a major part in keeping
As I lay there, my mind was trying to form a picture of what Tony had
told me about his activities the previous night. I couldn't stop thinking
about him wanking with the other boys. I couldn't stop wondering what
their dicks were like, and I especially wondered what it would be like to
touch Tony's dick. By the time I did fall asleep in the early
hours of the morning, I'd wanked myself to three orgasms and my dick was sore,
just like Tony's had been.