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"Two burgers, please, one with onions, and an apple Fanta." The queue had been at least 20 minutes, and the burgers looked good. I'd been wondering about sausage or burger as the past four or five people were being served.
"We're out of burgers just now, there's a wait. You can have sausage or bacon though?" The barbecue was manned by scouts and helpers. The motherly lady behind the trestle table looked mildly harassed.
"Burgers, please." Odd, isn't it, how you fix on one thing? I'd been fixed on it for a while. I was actually afraid I'd fixed on the wrong thing, or maybe relieved in case it was the wrong thing. "I don't mind waiting."
We were at the May Fayre in our village. Well I was. My sister was with me, looking at a sheep being sheared. It's a sprawling sort of village with two centres. One centre is around the minor public school that shares its name, and the other is more villagey. We live in the villagey bit, and I go to the local comp; started there at Easter.
Well, I say 'live', I should say we just moved there. We live in one of the new houses by the little primary school, just on the way in from the field where they're parking all the cars for the May Fayre. Not, thank god, the one with the ramshackle blue decking in the front garden. That almost put us off buying, Dad said.
While I was queuing I was watching the 'Beat the Goalie' stall. The goalie was blond, close cut hair, no suntan yet, with legs that made me wonder if I could cope with fancying older boys. They looked very appealing, probably. He would have stood head and shoulders above me if I'd been next to him. He was good looking, though. Small, round face, tight body, and when he dived for the ball his shorts rode up and his thighs were long, sleek, and gently muscled. I wondered, as the queue shuffled forwards, wondered if, just once, someone I wanted would want me.
I was gazing around, bored. We moved forwards, stepped back to let a family with a pushchair, enormous mother holding a fat embryo chav by the hand through, squished forwards again. I forgot them faster than they forgot me. 'Cousin It' I thought, looking forwards. Shoulder length wavy hair, dirty blond, blown over a face. Just the tip of a nose peeping out. I giggled. 'Must tell Emma,' I thought. She was probably still watching sheep.
But, as I got nearer the head of the queue I'd worked 'Cousin It' out. 'Cousin It' was almost a girl, but something said not. Painfully thin, almost, but a wiry strength that girls arms didn't have. Not a female face. Not much over about thirteen, I thought., and the hair was unkempt, rather than windswept. I looked away. Couldn't be seen at all of fifteen to be perving on a thirteen year old. Couldn't be seen to be looking at a boy anyway.
"Two burgers, one with onions?" came a voice from my left. And Cousin It handed me the burgers. The thing was, I hadn't expected such a deep voice. I'd been studying him while waiting for the burgers to cook. I'd expected an unbroken voice. "And an apple Fanta?"
My old problem; whenever I've seen a flash of cuteness, whenever it's said to me 'he may be the one,' well, not the one, but certainly that he was interesting enough to want to get to know, whenever the chemistry started running, that was the time I was tongue tied.
"No, not that one, it's holding the price list down," he said to a very small boy who'd appeared in front of him and was shuffling cans"
"Nice to have an assistant?" I caught his eye. Behind all that hair I couldn't see what colour, but I knew I'd caught it. I was astonishing myself by talking and smiling at the same time.
"Yeah," but his eyes vanished, swept away suddenly. "That's £3 for the burgers and another 70p for the Fanta... I handed him a fiver. £5, Ok that's £1.30 change" He was smiling, though lord knows why. What's to smile at with change? It wasn't even hard mental arithmetic.
I didn't want mustard, or ketchup, but I stayed and mustarded and ketchupped. I wanted to see if I could learn more. Of course he was busy. I did learn more, though. His name. The little kid called him Jack. I'd never met a Jack. It seemed to suit him, though what did I know?
OK, I had my burger, and I had Emma's burger. I had my drink. Ah. "Sorry, I need another can of drink." I fished the £1 coin out of my pocket and grabbed a can of 'mum-cola'. You know the sort. You ask for coke and your mum buys a supermarket own brand. Anyway he gave me my 30p change and that was that.
Well I hoped it wouldn't be, but I couldn't see how to even say hello. But I had to take Emma her burger. If I could find her, that was. I hadn't forgotten the goalie's legs though. Obviously Jack would be busy for ages, and I'm shy anyway, so I wandered via the goalie to find Emma.
Still watching sheep. To be fair the sheep shearing was really interesting. We'd learnt all about wool at school ages ago, but seeing the huge fleece and comparing it with the rather weirdly small shorn sheep, that was quite a surprise.
"Burger, Em," I said when I found her.
"Not a lot of talent here, is there," she said.
"Oh, I don't know. There's the goalie." It was out of my mouth and ringing in the air long before I'd noticed I'd even spoken. Odd how I hadn't mentioned Cousin It. But then he wasn't talent. Well not for Emma. After all, she's a year and a bit older than me. Even the goalie would be a bit of a stretch for her. She was aiming and first year university boys, not schoolboys.
"That's a pretty basic question, even for you, Em. The clue's in the name. There's a football goal over there, and it's called 'Beat the Goalie', so it's really the stall next door but one, selling cuddly toys."
"Brat! Who'd be landed with younger brothers?" She looked around. "I've had enough of sheep. Show me your goalie."
"He's not mine." I was starting to wish I'd never mentioned him, though she wasn't trying to embarrass me. We're not like that, Emma and I. And no, she had no idea. Well, I only just did myself. We wandered over. And he was cute, well handsome, well spectacular. And I looked. After all, no-one was stopping me from looking. I tried to imagine what it would be like. Undressed him in my mind, and found I couldn't.
"You're right. He's a hunk," Emma said. "I think I'm going to stand here and drool for the rest of the day. You've got a good eye little bro.
"Not so much of the 'little'!"
"Well, compared to tight shorts boy over there, you're little." She'd caught his eye. Staring does that. "I'm going to have a go. It's only four shots for a pound. I reckon I can beat him."
"Yeah, right. Kicking like a girl!"
"I may kick like a girl, but I get to aim at the cute goalie!"
I wondered if there was any point in my having a go. Then I looked at the way the goalie, not the bloke who was meant to be placing the ball, but the goalie came over and set up the first ball for her. And how she played the silly girl to get him nearer. Every time I watched her on the pull it amazed me how easy it was. It looked like a simple formula. Eye contact, puppy dog eyes, helpless look and bingo. Or in his case 'boing' - the shorts had filled out some!
She hit three shots without even troubling him. One huge sky shot. A dribble to his feet, and she tried a feint to the left an a kick to the right and went totally wide. 'The excitement in the stadium was building; would her final penalty...' Well, no it wouldn't. But she was going to get her guy. I wandered off before she could tee up her final shot.
There's never a chance for me. It always felt like that. I plodded aimlessly round the ground switching between two thoughts. One that Emma either hadn't noticed or maybe hadn't cared that I had an eye for handsome boys, and the other about how there's never anyone for me. Or if there is then it has pigtails. Except girls don't have pigtails nowadays, thank god. The image of pigtails was too much to stand.
"The May Queene" I assumed that 'queen;' would have an extra 'e', will enter the arena in five minutes". Enter the arena, indeed. That was quite some pompous announcer. "It's Amanda Hawlings, and she's accompanied by her sister Devon."
Why do parents do that? One perfectly decent name and one atrocious name. 'Amanda' was ok, but 'Devon'? And why just that county? Why no sturdy little boys called Cumbria, no willowy girls called West Midlands?
I watched absently as an embarrassed girl of about 12 was whisked round the arena in a horse and cart wearing an improbably purple frock and a diamante crown. She was pretty in a pretty girl kind of way. I looked at here, saw a nice face and wished, wished, wished that I fancied her, even a tiny bit. Nothing stirred at all. My brain kept coming back to Cousin It. Well, to Jack.
Skinny, almost painfully skinny, with a khaki T-Shirt that hung on his shoulders and bagged all the way down. Tanned arms. Impossibly narrow waist. I imagined bony knees. I'd no real idea if he was good looking or not, but he was striking. Given the choice of Amanda Hawlings or tight shorts boy, I'd gone off him enough to think it was maybe 50/50. But Jack won hands down. But so many problems between knowing he was attractive and getting even to talk to him. And if I talked to him, what then?
It was our village, too, not just his, or anyone's. I was still getting used to the fact that we lived somewhere else, now. And I could always join the Scouts, couldn't I? It was a Scout stall he was manning, and that meant he was a Scout. Or I supposed it did. But the others were wearing uniform and he was wearing a T and cargoes. I'd no real idea if he went to the comp, either. Or if he did, what year he was in.
There wasn't much at the Fayre, not really. The main arena with sheep shearing ring just off it, the never shortening queue at the barbecue stall, the goalie, probably now exchanged phone numbers with Emma, a few alleged craft stalls and the fire brigade doing their 'exploding chip pan' routine. But it was sunny, and it was a good enough way to pass an afternoon.
There was a mountain bike display team. Two lads, a few years older than me, all the way from 'oop north' with a couple of bikes and a load of obstacles to jump over. Dangerous obstacles. They were being announced. Only one was in the loo. His mate teased him all the way to the arena over the PA system. They were pretty special, too. I never knew it was possible to jump a bike across a rubbish skip from rim to rim. Or to ride over the top of a moving car.
I'm good on a bike, but rubbish compared to those two. I can do straight lines and bends. They can do jumps!
I had my mouth open much of the display - they were amazing. Come to that one of the demo team was a bit of a hunk, too. Too old for me. I kind of don't like, don't think I like, don't want to... Only the idea's a bit unformed. I think I don't want to be out of my depth. I mean one day I'm going to have big muscles and stubble, and thighs like oak trees. I hope I like all that then. I really hope I like that then. I wish I liked pretty girls.
I thought of Amanda Hawlings in her purple frock, with her pretty face and I thought of Jack, who probably wasn't half as good looking, who was skinny and a bit awkward, whose face was hidden behind a load of hair, and who was so sexy, all for no reason. And I wished I could get turned on by Amanda Hawlings, by any girl.
I wouldn't be out of my depth with a girl my age. Well, I would. Girls grow up so fast. I wouldn't be out of my depth with a girl a year or so younger. Or I would. Because I've never been able to talk to girls. Only Emma. She and I fight a lot, but we get on really well. I often wonder if I could ask her... And I probably could.
I thought of Jack again. He really wasn't special. Or he was special. I kept not daring to look at him in case he saw me, which was pretty stupid because I wanted him to see me and want me. 'Want me' - what did that mean exactly? 'Want me' meant sex. And I wasn't sure I wanted... No, that's not right. I like sex. I've had loads of sex. Not that anyone else's been involved, not in any real sense. But I love sex, well, what I've found out at least. I've even touched... well, you know... me... there. Behind, I mean.
What's the use of that if you can't even talk about it? Don't even really want to do what gay people are meant to do. 'Arse Bandit', 'Bum Boy', 'Batty Boy' (thanks, Ali G, a new insulting word). I don't think I want to. I think that's why older boys scare me. God I'm such a wimp. But I don't just want to kiss and cuddle. I don't. I want to bury my nose in Jack's hair and feel his chest against mine. I want to be held tight and I want to hold him tight... Wait. Jack. Why Jack? There are loads of boys at school, loads at my old school, loads at the big posh school at the other end of Bradfield, so why Jack?
Why Jack? Well, he's... I want to... It's not that I want...
The display finished ages ago I noticed. I'd been there for a while and a bloke came with some birds of prey and flew them and lost a couple. I like the birds, they're beautiful. Only right then I felt a bit like the kid in 'A Kestrel for a Knave'. We'd done that at school. Wasn't the same stuff, but I suddenly knew how he felt. So I mooched off purposefully in no direction at all.
I practised in my head, "Hi, I'm Peter". Dweeb! "Are you a Scout?" Dork! "Want to come round to my house and look at some cute puppies?" Dirty Old Man. Ok it was half funny. But it was ridiculous. How the heck do you bump into someone at a May Fayre, introduce yourself, and go off skippily hand in hand for ever? Maybe we're at the same school. I haven't been there long enough to know, not really. But... How old is he? He looks young, but his voice is broken. He could even be older than me. My class is full of little kids who're older than me, and big kids who're younger, if you see what I mean. Anyway that doesn't matter.
Unless he's too young. I don't mean age of consent stuff, I'm not old enough either. I mean too young. Too young to hang out with, too young to have anything in common. Too young to want an older friend, boyfriend, just like I'm too young for one. Christ I sound like a whining little kid!
I wondered how Emma was getting on with the goalie. If I walked over I could glimpse Jack again. That's all I'd do, glimpse. Eyes in his direction just long enough and then down or away fast in case he caught me. But why did it matter if he caught me?
He wasn't at the barbecue stall. So that was that. I'd probably never see him again and die a sad old man. Ok, irony. Anyway Emma was still standing drooling over the goalie when I got that far. "Catch your fish?"
"Course I did. We're going for an ice cream in a few minutes."
"What's he like?" I wasn't really interested.
"Dreamy!" She rolled her eyes at me. "Actually I've no idea. That, brother of mine, is why we're going for an ice cream. Well Piers and I are. You... are not."
"'Piers'?" 'Good grief!' "Good grief!"
"He can't help it. He's at Bradfield."
"I really don't think all Bradfield pupils have stupid names."
"You know that's not what I meant. (a) He can't help it and (b) He's at Bradfield."
"He has (a)s and (b)s now, does he?"
"Peter Pearson you can be a total dork of a brother at times. You wait until you get a girl you're interested in. I shall so get you back."
"Like that's going to happen any day soon."
"There are plenty of girls. Look around you. Loads of them. Some are even pretty, and a few others are slim!"
"Someone should tell the girls round here that waists are meant to be concave if on display! Not rolling over the top of the tight trousers! Anyway it never seems to happen." I wanted to tell her. That wasn't the time. I knew she'd be Ok with it. Only how do you tell your big sister you're gay if you haven't ever really told yourself? Maybe when we got home. Only mum and dad would hear. I mean they'd be all right with it, wouldn't they? Come to that, was I all right with it?
Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed. Long hair, not as tidy as a girl's, khaki and cargoes. My head swivelled as slowly as I dared. And as I turned I saw Piers - it's no good, that name just does not work for anyone who expects to be taken seriously, even if he is cute - trot straight into him and trip over while he was presumably trying to impress Emma with how cool he was. Jack went flying. Piers lost all dignity. Emma doubled up with laughter. Piers went very red in the face and started to make angry noises. "Go on, Em, go and salve his wounded pride."
I took my own advice. Only it was Jack I went to salve. He was a bit the worse for wear. It may have been a grassy field, but he must've found the only sharp thing in it to fall on. His left arm was grazed and dripping a bit. And he looked winded. "I suppose 'are you Ok?' sounds a bit stupid?"
As I spoke he dropped his gaze to the grass. "S'all right." I knew that sound. Trying very hard not to show how bad it hurt. Too old to cry, too young not to. Just like me. "Big twat should look where he's going!"
"Yeah." Oh great. Now I meet him I'm at a loss for words.
"You breathe Ok yet?"
"Just about." He was holding his arm where it was bleeding.
"Come on, let's give the St John's Ambulance something to do."
"Yeah, but they like practising." I don't quite know how, but as he got to his feet I sort of steered him with an arm round his shoulders towards the St John's tent. Wasn't far, just halfway across the field.
"Should you have your arm around me?"
"Yup. Until we get to the St John's tent anyway. No telling who you'll run into... Ok, bad joke!"
"Was quite good, actually." I caught the hint of a smile in his voice. "I don't think I need the tent."
"Nor do I. But a bit of disinfectant you do need, so to the tent we're going."
Oh it was wonderful. The St John's guys flapped and fussed and disinfected with rubber gloves on, and put a great big sticking plaster on his arm, and made him sit down and wait until they were sure he was Ok. It was the best fun they'd had all day. And I saw his face as he pushed the hair back.
I liked it. I smiled. I was smiling at him and looking him in the eye. Smoke blue eyes. I could tell the disinfectant made it smart just from looking at them. But I could see a smile in them, too. I was blushing a bit, too. And this time I didn't look away. And nor did he. I hoped that was good. I had no idea, but I hoped it was. I realised that I'd walked halfway across the field with my arm round a rather cute boy, and that everyone had seen if they cared to see.
"I owe you an ice cream," he said after fighting to get away from the tender ministrations of St John.
"You don't, but I'll have one with you."
"Do you often do the 'knight in shining armour' bit?" He wasn't looking at me, not away either.
"Never been known to happen before. Just lucky, I guess." Why did I say that? Actually why not? What could I lose? Anyway it wasn't as if Jack was likely to be gay or anything. The odds are always so stacked against things like that.
In all the stories I've read, this is where the object of our hero's affections says something like 'No-one else round here likes me because I'm gay' and they both fall into each other's arms as realisation dawns. There's a beautiful sunset, and they ride off into it, riding tandem, of course.
"Well, I feel lucky. So thanks. You local? Not seen you around before."
I explained we'd moved in just recently, where I lived, how that blue decking nearly meant we hadn't moved in, how I had an older sister, two guinea pigs, 3 cats and no budgerigars all in the space of about no minutes flat.
"That's all very well, but what's your name?"
"Peter. Pearson. I mean Peter Pearson."
"P-squared. I like that. I'm..."
"Er, yes. But how'd you know that?"
"You served me some burgers earlier..."
"And an apple Fanta. Aren't they revolting? Tango's so much better." He giggled. It was like quicksilver running over pebbles. "But you remembered my name?"
"Yup. The little kid called you by it. Your assistant."
"Kid brother. Quite a pest. But you remembered it?"
"I never met a 'Jack' before. I liked it." He'd bought us each a 99 by then and we were mooching round licking the cornets.
"I hate it." His mouth showed disgust
"Suits you. It's a tough name. Stands for no nonsense." I though for a moment. "How on earth did you remember the apple Fanta?"
"Dunno. Guess you smiled at me or something?"
What did he mean? Did he mean anything at all? Were we flirting? How does flirting work? Was I imagining this or were there signals here? The more we talked the more it was as if we'd always known each other. And we seemed to be pretty close to each other. Better yet we had the same interests. Well, so far at least. But what next? Where is the 'how to chat up a boy you wish were gay' manual when you need it? But then, what was I really risking? Ah, wait. We might be in the same school. But did that matter?
"I'm glad I met you. I don't know anyone much in the village yet." It sounded pretty banal, but it wasn't.
"We can soon fix that. You know me now."
"Yeah, I go in for waifs and strays. Seriously, apart from school and stuff I don't know much about what's going on. I only noticed the May Fayre because people kept trooping past my front door, near enough. And because Emma grabbed me by the paw and said 'We're going!'. And now I've got a new friend." Now that was lame. That's a 'how gay is that!' thing to say. I was looking at him as I was talking. He seemed so uncomplicated. Not perfect at all, but, just in my eyes perhaps, as near perfect as made no difference. I was resisting hard being pulled in to kiss him. I just knew that would frighten him off.
He was so scrawny. It was almost as though his skeleton had only enough flesh on it to make the bits hang together. His chest was aching to be hugged and I wanted to nuzzle his hair and neck. I had no idea what after that. Anything else seemed to be... unnecessary. Only it felt very necessary, too.
"How gay is that!" He was grinning.
"What you just said!"
"Well it's true. I have. Or I hope I have. And anyway what if it is? And would it matter if it was?" I was colouring up a bit. I'd opened my mouth to speak and there was more in there than I'd expected.
"Slow down there, soldier." He was grinning. "It is, you have and I didn't mean it like that, well I did. But no. No, it wouldn't matter."
"It wouldn't? That's good, I think." Sheep and lambs. "Or I hope it wouldn't because, I, er, well erm... I'm not sure if... I may... Oh fuck it!"
"Me too. Probably. Anyway, enough. And do you mind getting to the end of a sentence?"
"Me? A sentence?" I was flabbergasted. "I have, often. You too? You too what?"
"Me too, been tongue-tied and wished I hadn't been and wanted to meet someone. I got run over today because of that."
"Me. I got run over."
"No." I was very shy suddenly. "No. The person you wanted to meet. Who was that."
"I've met him. He picked me up off the grass. You."
"Which brings me back to sentences. You just told me, not in so many words, that you're gay. I'm telling you in precisely so many words that I don't mind that at all."
"And that I like you a lot already. And that I haven't got a boyfriend. And I never have had" He drew breath. "God this is scary." And another breath. "And that, if it works for you, it would be great to see if we like each other enough to be boyfriends. And it was because I was trying not to be caught looking at you that I got flattened. I wasn't looking where I was going. And then I felt so stupid. And then you had an arm round me and I..."
"I'd like that a lot. And right now I'd like to go somewhere far less public than this field and find out what kissing feels like. I like you a lot too. There's never been anyone for me before." I had tears in my eyes and was grinning like a total idiot.
"Nor for me. I may only be sixteen, but I'd given up hoping."
"You're a bit older than me. I turned fifteen in February"
"Yeah. I forgot to grow or something."
"I didn't mean it like that. Actually I don't know what I meant. And Jack?"
"I like you fine the way you are. Even if you look like Cousin It when your hair blows forwards! I could only see the tip of your nose in the burger queue."
"Lord, I'm meant to be back there..."
"Well, let's go and say you can't because the plaster's the wrong colour for food hygiene, and then we can go and find somewhere that's just us."
"'Cousin It' indeed! I'll give you 'Cousin It'!"
"Is it silly to want to hold hands?"
"In the middle of this field, yes. Well to do it is. I want to as well."
"Well, let's find somewhere to talk. And hold hands. And, Jack?"
"I want to kiss you."
It seemed like no time at all later, under an oak tree in the shady corner of a field Jack and I'd walked to for what felt like ages, that we untangled ourselves. Kissing was good. Wet, but good. But it was holding and being held; that was the best part. And smelling his hair and his scent. And being with someone like me, someone like me who liked me. And talking about nothing while just touching. We'd get to sex. Of course we would. Just not yet, not today. His eyes were wet, just like mine. And his face was a smile. And we were fast becoming boyfriends, if we hadn't been all that afternoon already.