What We Have Now

By Simon Stone

This is a story involving gay males andas such should not be read if the subject matter is likely to cause youoffense. All comments or criticisms are welcome and will be answered. Many thanks to my editor Kit who's help and enthusiasm has been invaluable.

This story is copyright of the author andmay not be distributed or reproduced without the authors consent.

Please send any comments to: simon-stone@excite.com


Chapter 3

All thoughts of any potential embarrassmentI might face at being caught inches away from Jeff pretty much disappearedwhen I saw the look on Joanne's face. It hadn't even registered withher what I was doing, she seemed to have much more pressing concerns onher mind.

She rushed over to me and grabbed holdof my arm at the elbow.

"Come on. You've got to do something."

"Why, what's happened?" I asked,slightly worried.

Joanne could at times go over the top butshe looked really panicked and her fear was infectious. I was startingto feel a knot in my stomach.

"Just come on." She said as she startedpulling me towards the door.

As we moved I heard Jeff gasp. Ilooked back at him, he was staring at something outside the kitchen windowbut from the position I was in I couldn't see what it was he was lookingat.

Joanne tugged me forward, out into thegarden. The glare from the sun hit me straight in the eyes causingme to instinctively narrow them to a squint. With my vision impairedthe first thing I noticed when I stepped out onto the lawn wasn't anythingvisual, it was the noise, the terrible, disgusting noise and then momentslater the smell. I almost wished my vision wouldn't recover fromthe blast of sunlight but it did and I was faced with the sight I'd fearedfrom the moment I'd stepped outside.

All over the garden people were hunchedover vomiting. Sick flew everywhere in some kind of projectile firingcompetition. I immediately felt ill myself. The mere thoughtof other people throwing up was enough to make me gag, never mind the sightsand sounds which now surrounded me.

I slowly looked around the garden, almostunable to take in what I was seeing. The whole thing was like somekind of hellish version of a waterfall. Partially digested food hitthe ground with a splash, the sound of choking and coughing echoed allaround the garden.

I turned my head to look at Joanne. Her face had paled to a washed out shade of white. For a moment Ithought she was about to join the puking hoards. I readied myselffor a quick retreat, realising that my limits of friendship were reachedwhen faced with visible signs of illness. Florence Nightingale Iwas most definitely not. Luckily Joanne seemed to have so far avoidedwhatever plague had hit the other guests and was regaining her composure.

I pulled her to one side as from behindher staggered a man who looked like one of the neighbours from over theroad. I didn't move closer to check his identity, instead I steppedquickly away as he emptied the contents of his stomach onto the groundand unfortunately for him onto his shoes as well.

"What the hells happened?" I asked stillstartled by what I was seeing.

All over the garden people both young andold were repeating the same actions, throwing up, wiping their mouths andthen throwing up again. How could people have that much food insidethem? My stomach heaved again in sympathy for what I was seeing.

"I don't know, I think it's maybe foodpoisoning. I didn't have anything." Joanne said slowly, shelooked like she was reeling from what she was witnessing.

My mind scanned back, thinking over whatI'd done since I got home, had I had anything to eat. I didn't thinkso.

"Neither did I." I said breathinga sigh of relief.

It had to be food poisoning. Whatelse could it be? A nerve gas attack, the aftershock of a viewingof a sick photo, a very bad coincidence or just the worlds worst partygame?

I jumped as a hand clamped onto my shoulder. It was my dad, bent double and gasping for breath, his mouth dripping withthick slimy vomit.

"Call an ambulance." He moaned beforelurching forward and throwing up.

I felt ill as I moved away, I knew I shouldbe helping him but I was far too squeamish.

"I've already phoned for them." Joannesaid with concern in her voice. She went to help my dad but stoppedas he doubled over and vomited again. Her desire to help obviouslycurbed by the thought of having to deal with someone who was so visiblyill.

I looked around the garden which now seemedlike some kind of a warzone, casualties strewn everywhere. Couplesholding onto one another for support as they hurled over each others shoulders. Children being comforted by parents, all taking it in turns to be sickin a grotesque version of a Mexican wave.

Patricia was over in the far corner ofthe garden leaning over a large bush holding her hair back and readyingherself for the next wave of nausea. Things were so bad that I couldn'teven take heart from the fact she had been caught in the epidemic.

It was then that the thought hit me, peoplecan die from food poisoning. I scanned across the crowds mentallyadding up how many people seemed unaffected by the illness and how manywere obviously ill.

The lucky few who had escaped seemed tobe pinned against the fence which separated our garden from the neighbours,trying presumably to get as far away from the tidal waves of expelled fluidsas possible. Fortunately I noticed my grandparents among them. I breathed a sigh of relief. At least they were alright, so far anyway. My mother was off to one side crouched down, occasionally shooting glancesto the left and right at the people around her.

"I'm just going to check on my mum, canyou wait with my dad?" I asked Joanne who nodded her agreement.

I edged slowly over to her leaving Joanneto keep my dad company. Carefully picking my way through the guests,trying to calm my own feelings of nausea at what surrounded me. Ioffered an occasional inane comment like 'How are you'. or 'Helps on it'sway'. But I was largely ignored by people who had much more pressingconcerns on their minds.

I finally reached my mum, who seemed tobe retching without actually being physically sick. I knelt down,crouching beside her. She lifted her head looking me straight inthe eye, she had been crying and even now tears welled ready to fall.

"What happened?" I asked.

"The seafood suprise." She muttered hervoice breaking.

"Some suprise." I answered not meaningto make things worse but of course managing to do just that.

She began to cry again, sobbing at thethought of what had happened.

"Nobody will ever speak to me again. I'm finished." She sobbed.

"Who cares about that? You're notwell, just take it easy."

"There's nothing wrong with me. Ididn't eat any of it. I never eat what I cook I get too stressedout making sure it all goes to plan, I wouldn't be able to keep it down."

The irony of what she was saying hit herand she sobbed again.

"So what are you doing down here?" I asked, confused as to why she was acting like she'd been hit by the bugas well.

"What do you think people are going tosay if I don't get sick? At least if I'm one of them I've sufferedas well."

"You're pretending?" I asked incredulous.

"I had to, there aren't any of the shrimpsleft, I've looked everywhere. You didn't see any in the kitchen didyou?"

I shook my head in disbelief. Whoin their right mind would want to get food poisoning just so they weren'tleft out of the inevitable get together at the hospital.

As I stood wondering what could possesssomeone to fake illness, over staggered a huge man who presumably givenhis size and the fact that every inch of his overstretched shirt was coveredin vomit must have consumed more than his fair share of tainted snacks.

"Mary, if you think you are ever cominganywhere near any of our charity events ever again you are hugely mistaken. We don't need you solving world overpopulation by killing off the surplusand if you believe that the quickest way to get onto the board is to poisonit's chairperson you'll find my dead body is a very hard thing to crawlover." The big man seemed to speak at an accelerated rate, whilestill trying to emphasise every word.

Whether this was through a desire to makehis point clear or fear of being sick at any moment I couldn't tell. He was scarily full of his own self importance though, even while coveredin drying vomit and smelling like a pungent open sewer.

"It was an accident Kurt. It couldhave happened to anyone." Mum said as she slowly rose to her feet.

"No this was something only you could manage. A Mary special style screw up, yet another to add to the list but you'vereally outdone yourself this time haven't you. You will never livethis down. I'll make sure of that."

I felt like saying something, defendingmy mum from such an outright attack. But I knew from past experiencethat any objection would meet resistance from not only the loser who wasshouting his mouth off but also from my mother who felt that it was betterto just take the abuse than fight it.

I was sure that some of these people onlydid charity work for the kudos it brought, that and the chance to lordit over the less fortunate. It had nothing to do with actually helpingpeople.

As he ranted and raved I noticed my fatherheading over towards us, presumably he had seen what was going on and hadcome over to intervene. I felt strangely touched that he would dothis given the plight he seemed to be in, looking as he did like he couldkeel over at any moment.

He stumbled as he walked across the grassand for a moment I thought he might throw up but he didn't, instead heforced himself to carry on walking. Of my mother, Kurt and I, I wasthe only one who noticed his approach and I didn't say anything.

"All I can do is say I'm sorry. Whatelse do you want from me?" My mother asked Kurt, her voice pleading. He paid no attention.

"I just want you to disappear from my sightforever. That's all I've wanted for as long as I've known you andyet you never seem to manage it. Mistake after mistake after mistakeis all you seem capable of. You make it your goal in life to bringmy organisation into disrepute."

I was fuming now and so when my dad reachedme and almost collapsed to the ground I didn't just help him stay uprightI turned him like some kind of cannon and aimed him at the still complainingKurt.

The vomit fired out from my dad's mouthlike a water jet. It hit the not inconsiderable target full on theshoulder, spraying onto Kurt's face, neck and down his arm.

I afforded myself a sly smile as chunksof partially digested food splattered all over him, amazed at how somethingso revolting could take on a whole other aspect when put to good use. The effect of being hit by fresh vomit set Kurt off again and he droppedto his knees gagging. I smiled, victory was mine.

Perhaps it's true what they say about peoplecoping in a crisis, or maybe I just wasn't really as squeamish as I likedto make out, whatever the case I somehow managed to control my nerves enoughto at least avoid screaming 'Keep away', to the ill guests as I waitedfor the ambulance to arrive.

I even helped a few on board and chattedto the others while they waited for the backup paramedics to show up. These reinforcements were called for by the first driver as soon as sherealised they had an epidemic on their hands.

The only small mercy I had was that thingsdidn't get any worse, if anyone had collapsed or choked I don't know whatI would have done.

I didn't know first aid so all I couldhave done would be panic, pray Joanne knew first aid better than I didor keep my fingers crossed that my parents were influential enough to havebeen able to attract a few doctors to their get together. Preferablydoctors who abstained from shellfish and therefore weren't currently emptyingtheir stomachs onto the front lawn.

Another stroke of luck came via the factthat most of the neighbours were already at the party and so weren't peeringbehind their curtains watching the carnage and gossiping about it.

I was just listening to a couple complainabout their plight, offering sympathy and understanding while silentlylaughing at their tale of how they were committed vegetarians but believedanything with a shell couldn't be classed as an animal when I heard someoneapproaching from behind. I turned to find Jeff standing before me.

"Do you think this was divine intervention?" He asked with a smile.

He was obviously one of the lucky few whohad escaped the seafood suprise, strangely enough most of the escapeeswere people who had been in the vicinity of my Aunt Fiona during the party. She also seemed to have made it through intact and was now showing absolutelyno concern for the safety of her outfit while venturing near potentialdates even as they threw up. Presumably working on the basis thata sick man will agree to anything without realising it.

Perhaps she'd been so busy talking andher victims too busy plotting their escape that neither had been able tofind a moment in which to get something to eat.

"If this is divine intervention God hasa very twisted sense of humour." I replied as I smiled back at him.

"Can I give you a ride home?" Heoffered, the smile still there.

He did look nice but maybe that was justcompared to the ailing crowd around me. He obviously didn't realisethat I lived here and not wanting to admit to having played any part inthe disaster I didn't put him straight, instead I decided to just politelydecline his offer.

"No thanks, I'm with someone." Inodded in the direction of Joanne who was chatting to a couple, one ofwhom was my cousin George.

"Girlfriend?" He asked, his eyebrowsraised.

"She's a girl, she's a friend. Otherthan that no."

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulledout a card, handing it to me.

"Give me a call sometime. If youlike." He said casually. I tried to act equally coolly as Iglanced at the card and placed it in the pocket of my jeans but reallyI was scanning the area hoping nobody was watching this transaction. Luckily people seemed to have more pressing matters to deal with and sothere was no audience to make me feel embarrassed.

"Okay," I said slowly.

I tried to remain calm, not wanting togive away what I was feeling inside which was unadulterated excitement. Someone wanted me. I felt like shouting.

It was one thing to drunkenly flirt withsomeone, that could have all been in my head or a complete joke on hispart, but this was proof, I had his business card, he wanted me. It was all I could do to stop myself grinning like an idiot.

Late that night as I lay in bed, the daybehind me, I went over events. The illness of course, it had beenfood poisoning and luckily nothing too harmful, vomiting was as bad asit got. This was still pretty bad considering the garden now lookedand smelled like an explosion in a mayonnaise factory several weeks afterthe explosion had taken place when the mayonnaise had started to rot.

Still, I figured it could have been worse,at least nobody had to stay in hospital. My mum was still upset bythe whole thing but her mood had been slightly lifted by the news thatseveral other people had been brought into the hospital that day havingeaten shellfish bought from the same place so most of the blame had beenlifted from her shoulders.

Amidst all that though was the feelingthat something else major had happened today, I had met someone. I ignored, or at least tried to ignore the fact that he hadn't immediatelyappealed to me. The fact that he had appeared interested in me wasall that mattered. Surely it's better to be wanted by anyone thanno-one at all.

I thought about Martin and felt a twingeof regret at the fact that someone like him, someone I wished I could beinvolved with was out of my reach. Just a few hours ago he had beenthe perfect man and now here I was thinking about someone else.

I wondered for a moment if it was in factbetter to take what you can get or to hold out for the dream, but I quicklybanished these thoughts from my mind, telling myself I was just lookingfor a downside to things.

I'd probably never see Martin again, ifI did it would be in passing, I'd probably never even see Jeff again either,but that didn't make it the end of the world. It wasn't about meetingthe love of my life, it was about meeting someone who had liked me, someonewho I hadn't made too much of a fool of myself in front of and that alonewas worth celebrating. Maybe there was hope for me after all.

Jeff's number had been carefully placedin one of the books which lined a shelf on my bedroom wall. I hadn'tcalled him, didn't even think that I would, but it was there as some kindof artefact. Physical proof I'd almost been asked out.

I'm sure part of me knew it was hardlythe most earth shattering event in the grand scheme of things and it'snot like I was about to go running off to tell the tell the world, butinside I felt something good, a sense that I wasn't alone.

I drifted off to sleep with thoughts ofbeing held and holding onto to someone, cuddling into my pillow like somekind of love struck idiot pretending to hold a fantasy man in their armsas they dreamed about him.

A strange thought played out in my mindas the final waves of slumber drifted over me. A sports day, groupsof lads forming teams and me watching as everyone paired up and chose whowas going to be on their team. I felt relaxed, I didn't worry thatI wouldn't be chosen, that I'd be the last one left because I knew, nomatter what happened someone out there would pick me.

I woke late, which I guess I should haveexpected given the excitement of the previous day and the time I eventuallywent to bed. I had meant to set my alarm clock but forgot and insteadwas awoken by the sound of a car starting down the street. NormallyI would have just ignored it and turned back over, but something made meopen my eyes fully and sit up.

I looked over to my radio, my eyes focusingon the neon of the time display. For a moment I didn't believe itbut as the reality sank in I awoke fully. I wasn't just late, I waspractically ready to come home again.

I leapt out of bed, pushing down my stiffcock. No time to do anything about my morning erection. I rushedto get washed and dressed, no time for breakfast, no time even to checkto make sure I had everything I needed in my bag. Just up and out.

My mother, the only other person in thehouse who was up and about offered to let me stay off for the day. Her feelings were that witnessing the effects of food poisoning was almostas good as actually suffering from them.

Much as I was tempted to take her up onthe offer I couldn't. Not through any real sense of it being wrongto neglect my education, ordinarily I would have jumped at the chance butI had said I'd meet Joanne and walk in to college with her and it was nowfar to late to let her know I wouldn't be going in.

As I left the house, the door slammingshut behind me I thought of the other major reason for going in to classestoday. Mr Keyes big announcement regarding the new classmate. What with everything that had happened yesterday I hadn't given it muchthought. I guess it was pointless worrying about it anyway, therewasn't anything I could do to stop it and who knows they might be alright.

Joanne was waiting for me at the collegegates as I raced around the corner of the hedge which surrounded the collegegrounds. They'd been planted there to obscure the rather unattractivesight of the six foot high steel fence which circled the buildings givingthe impression of a prison rather than a school.

She didn't look annoyed at having beenkept waiting and so I wondered if it had been a waste of time sprintingthe last few metres to try and give the impression I'd ran all the way.

We walked down the path which led to themain college building. I had a couple of free periods but Joannehad English first thing and so I was walking over with her before I headedto the Art room.

As we strolled along I filled her in onwhat had happened since I'd last spoken to her. She had been draggedaway last night by her impatient father who was giving her a lift and didn'tfeel like hanging around a bunch of sick people while his daughter playedthe nurse in training.

She had missed the arrival of the secondambulance and the commotion which broke out when one guest accused anotherof jumping the queue. The resulting fight ended with my father breakingit up and consequently being thrown up on by both of the arguing parties.

I was just telling Joanne about my motherslate night brainstorming session over how exactly you go about cleaningthat much vomit up, when a familiar voice interrupted me.

"Steven, I hear you've been trying to poisonhalf the town."

It was Paul, Paul Johnson. My numberone enemy, actually my only enemy but in Paul's case one was more thanenough. I don't really know how we came to be such opposite forces,I'm sure it wasn't anything I did.

The only real bone of contention he seemedto have with me was my friendship with Joanne who he seemed to have claimedownership over due to the fact that their parents had once been friendsand he'd gone to a couple of her pre-teen birthday parties.

Joanne had sworn to me that she hadn'tinvited him to any of the parties and that she really couldn't stand him,damning condemnation indeed from a girl who liked everyone.

Sadly she was in the minority of two, everyoneelse seemed to love him, considering him funny and smart and confident. For me that translated into sarcastic, stuck-up and arrogant but nobodyelse could see it, or if they did they didn't have the nerve to say it.

Even Kelly liked him, a fact I tried notto hold against her. Her liking of me seemed to be another thingthat annoyed Paul. I'm sure he seriously thought I was going aroundstealing his girlfriends.

He was taller than me and bigger, muchbigger, if not for his height which balanced out the extra pounds he wouldbe considered fat, as it was he was what the polite call husky. Hehad short spiked blonde hair and glasses and his face in my opinion hadthe characteristics of a pig. Admittedly I was biased but he certainlywasn't what I would class as good looking, a fact he always ignored ashe flirted with any female in sight.

"Who told you that?" I asked defensively.

"I have my sources. So what was it,been buying cheap food again or did you just forget to wash your hands?"

I tried to ignore him but wasn't doinga very good job of it. He could tell he was getting to me and keptat it.

"You know what I think you still smellof it." Paul said as he sniffed the air, a disgusted look on hisface.

I blushed instantly. I was already feelingself conscious about it. I had felt sure that the rancid smell musthave somehow seeped into me and I wouldn't be able to tell because I'dbeen exposed to it for so long I was used to it

Joanne pulled next to me and whisperedin my ear.

"Don't let him get to you."

"Yes there's definitely something rankaround here," Paul said loudly.

"I think it's your aftershave. Youuse enough of it, what with all the skin you've got to cover," Isnapped.

He wasn't expecting that and for a momentwas silenced. I was normally polite to the extreme. Not, asI pretended, because I wanted to rise above it all and resist sinking toPaul's level, but because I was fearful of what he would come out withif he was challenged. I'd always had a terrible feeling that cruelthough he was he could do much worse if he wanted to.

Joanne looked worried. We had reachedthe double doors which led into the main college building, this was wherewe went our separate ways but I could tell she was unsure as to how I'dcope handling Paul on my own.

"I've got to go. I'm free after English,where are you going to be."

"Making some poor idiot wish they wereanywhere but in his company," Paul said before I could reply to Joanne'squestion. He laughed at his own joke and seemed even more pleasedwith himself once he saw the annoyed look on my face.

"What's wrong Steven, lost your sense ofhumour? I'm only joking you know." Paul said this like it wassome kind of disclaimer to excuse anything he said.

Joanne pulled open one of the doors andpaused there a moment.

"You like jokes Paul?" She askedwith a wicked glint in her eyes. I smiled, knowing this was nowherenear the innocent question it seemed to be. Paul seemed to guesssomething wasn't quite right and was obviously reluctant to answer her.

"I love jokes is it a good one?"

Joanne's face changed from a look of selfassured anticipation to one of disappointment as she recognised the voicewhich had just interrupted her.

It was Kelly, stepping out through thedoor which Joanne still held open and walking past her to take a placenext to me. She turned to face both Paul and Joanne.

"So come on, what's the joke?" Sheasked, smiling.

"Nothing,: Joanne muttered.

Joanne wasn't Kelly's biggest fan. Having said that most girls weren't, probably because of her popularitywith the opposite sex. Kelly was viewed as the ultimate competitionbecause up until now no girl had been able to beat her.

If Kelly wanted you, you said yes no matterwho you were involved with at the time. There wasn't anyoneclose to her in terms of male fantasy. At least no-one outside ofthe pages of a magazine or a movie screen and lets be honest what chancewas there of one of those appearing here anytime soon.

"I've got to go. I'll see you later?" Joanne said.

"Okay," I replied.

If she just gave Kelly a chance I'm sureshe would get to like her but that theory would have to wait for anotherday as Joanne headed off inside. The door slammed shut behind her.

Paul was now sliming all over Kelly whowas too polite to tell him to get lost.

"So when are you going to give up on thelosers you've been dating and give me a go?" He asked, nudging Kellyas he spoke.

If I didn't dislike him so much I wouldhave felt embarrassed for him, using such a dumb chat-up line.

Kelly just smiled, she never took Paulseriously, at least not when he was coming onto her. I think thatwas the secret of his success. He had a manner whereby everythinghe said could be interpreted as a joke. So he could say practicallyanything and if it went wrong he could just treat it as a bit of a laugh.

"I like my loser's." Kelly said.

"You hear that Steven? She likesyou." Paul laughed.

"If you're nice to me I'll tell you whatit feels like." I replied.

The smile disappeared from his face. Sensing the tense atmosphere Kelly tried to change the subject.

"Are you going over to the Art room?"

"I was thinking about it."

"Do you never mind being stuck out therein the middle of nowhere?" Paul asked.

From the way he'd almost turned his backon me if was obvious his question was aimed at Kelly.

"I quite like it. I think it justdepends on how you look at it. You say we're out in the middle ofnowhere away from everyone like it's a bad thing," Kelly answered.

"But when that 'everyone' includes unwantedguests it's definitely no bad thing," I said pointedly, hoping he'd takethe hint to leave. "I hate it when people outstay their welcome," I added.

"Well much as I'd love to tell you whenyou're in peoples way I don't really need a full time job right now," Paul said.

He adjusted the strap of his bag whichhung over his shoulder and stepped back.

"I'd better get going," he said to Kelly.

"About time," I whispered.

He didn't seem to hear me, but from thelook on Kelly's face, she had. She tried to stifle a laugh, turningit into a smile which she aimed at Paul.

"Say hello to Amanda if you see her willyou?" Paul added.

Kelly nodded as he turned and headed offinto the college.

Kelly and I started walking, heading aroundthe main college building to the path which would take us over the sportsfield to the Arts block.

"You really don't like him do you?" Kelly asked, laughing.

"Paul? He's my best friend. I'd do anything for him."

"Provided 'anything' means pushing himoff a cliff."

"No," I gasped faking shock at thevery thought of such a thing. "People can survive falls, it wouldhave to be something more permanent."

Kelly laughed harder and I laughed withher.

"I don't mind him so long as he stays wellaway from me," I said, which was the truth. It's not like Ilay in bed at night plotting against him. "Anyway forget about him. I know what I haven't told you."


"Someone new is starting in Art. Well they might be. Mr Keyes was going on about it yesterday, I forgotto tell you."

"I know, he told me last week."

"Last week? I find out the day beforeit happens and everyone else has known for ages."

"Not everyone, just a few of us. Anyway it was just a rumour then"

"It's still just a rumour. Well abit more than a rumour but not a certainty. I can't believe no-onetold me."

"Well I thought you knew. AnywayI've hardly seen you this week." Kelly said apologetically.

"Is that your excuse?" I asked.

"Yes. It's a good one and I'm stickingto it."

"I think I'll tell Mr Keyes how upset Iam he didn't tell me first. He might give me a higher grade."

"Probably. After he's finished crying. He'll beg forgiveness and pray he hasn't ruined your life."

"I know. He's not very good withjokes. So you don't know who this new guy is?"

"I didn't even know it was a he."

"So I wasn't last with all the news."

"Any other details?" Kelly asked

"No. Oh wait, he's already a studenthere. I thought it might have been someone new."

"I wonder if I'll know him?"

"I wonder if you've dated him?" Ijoked. Kelly didn't seem to find it funny but rather than give upI carried on talking. "He could be another Dominic."

"Don't even joke."

"Eight months doing a subject he hatedjust so he could be near you. That's devotion."

Kelly seemed to flinch at the memory. I instantly wished I hadn't brought the subject up, she obviously stillfelt bad about it.

"I'm sure he's not though. Mr Keyessaid they loved Art, they felt it was their calling," I lied, tryingto spare her feelings.

After an awkward pause during which timeI tried desperately to think of a way to change the subject, Kelly finallybroke the silence

"Hey we'll officially no longer be thesmallest class." Kelly said.

I breathed a sigh of relief that we weretalking again.

"I think that's why Keyes is celebrating. He's waited years for this moment. Just think, we'll be in the recordbooks as well, the most people ever crammed into the worlds smallest room."

We had reached the field now and decidedagainst risking a short cut across the grass where we faced either gettingour shoes wet or being smacked in the head by a football. Insteadwe took the long route and walked along the gravel path which circled theplaying field.

"You know I've got good news as well," Kelly said excitedly.

"Really, what?" I asked, not daringto hazard a guess.

"I decided to take your advice. I'mgiving Martin another chance."

"That's great." I said as calmlyas possible, trying to avoid giving away any sign of the excitement I feltat hearing this news.

I resisted the urge to make a joke aboutmen being at her beck and call. I was really too pleased about thenews to be anything other than enthusiastic.

"I figured, you're right. Maybe Ido judge people too quickly."

"He did seem nice," I said, trying to actlike I'd hardly noticed him at all.

"Which I probably mistook for being boring."

"So have you told him the good news?" I asked.

"Yes. I phoned him last night. Jonathan didn't take it well though."

"Who's Jonathan?"

"My replacement for Martin. I hadto tell him thanks but no thanks."


"Exactly. Anyway Martin wants tosee you."

"Why?" I asked. I was a littleworried at this news.

"He wants to meet the person who changedmy mind about him."

I couldn't decide if this was a good thingor a bad thing. On the one hand it was what I wanted wasn't it? The whole reason I had talked Kelly into giving him another chancewas so that I could see him again. On the other hand that was thetheory but the reality felt a little different. I remembered hownerve wracking it had been the last time I'd spoken to him.

"Don't worry, he doesn't bite."

"So that's why you wanted to dump him." I joked, trying to calm my fears.

We arrived at the Art room a few minuteslater. Mr Keyes was nowhere to be seen. In fact the whole placeseemed deserted apart from Stephanie, a fellow student who had called into pick up a book and was now on her way out.

"How long are you going to be here?" Stephanie asked as she opened the door to leave.

I looked at Kelly, not wanting to answeruntil I'd heard what she was going to say. I figured I'd try andhang around for as long as she was going to be there.

"All morning." Kelly answered asshe sat down at her desk.

"A couple of hours." I said.

"Well I might call in later." Stephaniesaid before walking out the room, the door swinging shut behind her.

We had been there for almost an hour beforewe finally saw any sign of our teacher. His arrival was pre-emptedby Stephanie's return. She hurried into the room, obviously anxiousabout something.

"Keyes' is on his way. With the newguy," she said sounding out of breath.

"Who is it?" Kelly asked.

Stephanie didn't have time to answer, beforethe door opened again and in stepped Mr Keyes. He was followed closelyby a guy I recognised but couldn't quite put a name to. I felt prettysure it was something like Rick or Ray.

Mr Keyes nodded at us as he walked overto the bookcase.

"Reece," he said to the lad following him.

That was it, Reece. I knew it beganwith an R.

I glanced over at Kelly and Stephanie whowere both watching Mr Keyes and Reece. I think we were all waitingfor an introduction.

Mr Keyes picked a large book from the topshelf and handed it to Reece.

"Tell Mr Maxwell there's no rush to bringit back."

Then, just as quickly as he'd entered theroom, Reece left. My attention turned to Mr Keyes who seemed unawarehe was being watched.

He strolled around the room, glancing atour work as we exchanged confused glances. Stephanie finally brokethe silence. You could always rely on her to make the first move.

"I thought that was the new student."

Mr Keyes looked suprised.

"Reece? No. He was just doinga favour for Mr Maxwell."

"So where is the new guy?" Kellyasked, saying what we were all thinking.

Mr Keyes pushed the sleeve of his shirtup and looked at his watch.

"He should be here any minute now actually. He just had a few forms to sign with the deputy, just to make it all official."

"So it's definite." I asked, slightlydisappointed with the news.


"So who is it?" Kelly asked. It felt like we were interrogating the man but Mr Keyes seemed to enjoythe attention.

"Excuse me." A voice interruptedthe conversation before Mr Keyes could answer.

My blood ran cold. I recognised the voice. I hadn't heard the door open, but there stood in the open doorway was Paul.

I couldn't believe my eyes, or rather Ididn't want to believe them. Paul couldn't be the new student, fatewasn't that cruel. Random thoughts passed through my mind, all withone message, if this was true my life was ruined.

It felt as though someone had pressed apause button and I was now stuck in this moment, the shock having frozenme. I could not be stuck in a class with Paul. Maybe in oneof the lessons with twenty or thirty students where sheer numbers wouldprovide me with enough of a buffer zone from him, but not here.

Even if I rode my luck and prayed I couldavoid him, it was still too close for comfort. He'd be best friendswith everyone here before I knew it, he already had Amanda on his side,how long before the rest joined her.

"Paul," Kelly said. She soundedsuprised.

"I thought Amanda might be here," he said, looking around the room. "Obviously not."

He was just here to see Amanda. Ifelt like laughing at my own stupidity. As if Paul would want tostudy Art. The more I thought about it the more absurd it seemed.

"No she's not here," Mr Keyes said. "I must say I'm a little disappointed by the turnout, everyone was toldwe had someone new starting today. I would have thought at the veryleast curiosity would have brought them out to welcome you."

"Well Amanda already knew,"

People were talking, I could hear them. They were talking and laughing but I couldn't make out what theywere saying. I was off in my own little world and I'd pushed realityto the wayside. I knew Paul was there, my new classmate. Mynew classmate, the thought still sent chills through me. I just couldn'tbelieve it, no matter how hard I tried, my mind would not focus on theprospect of being stuck here with him.

Mr Keyes was saying something to me. I frowned and shook my head slightly, trying to make out that I hadn'theard him. I tried to snap out of the daze I was in and focus onwhat he was saying.

"Steven could you move your things ontoanother desk," Mr Keyes asked as he cleared a space on the smallestdesk in the room. "Here, use this one."

"Why?" I asked, confused.

"Paul needs to use your desk."

I stared at Paul who had a smug look onhis face. I wanted to punch him but as usual I didn't have the nerve.

"It gets better light. It's goodfor my eyes," Paul said solemnly. If I didn't know him better I mighthave believed him.

"You don't mind do you?" Mr Keyesasked, although it wasn't so much a question as a statement.

I fixed a fake smile to my lips and actedgraciously. I knew Paul wanted to get a reaction out of me but Iwasn'tgoing to let him succeed.

"Of course not," I lied.

Kelly gave me a sympathetic look as I movedmy work onto the corner desk. It didn't even fit, the desk was sosmall the paper hung over one end. Not only was this no good formy picture but it meant there was absolutely no room for any paints orbrushes. I looked across to Mr Keyes, hoping he would see my plightand do something about it but he was too busy chatting to Paul and Stephanieto notice me.

I couldn't take any more. I had toget out of there before I said or did something I'd regret later. I just couldn't face watching Paul slide into the teachers good books,impress Stephanie and win over Kelly. I had to escape.

I was halfway across the field and I wantedto scream. I'd ignored the path and was just storming across thegrass, desperate to get as far from the Art room as possible. Theyhadn't even noticed me leave, not really anyway. A couple of half-heartedgood-byes and Kelly's promise that she would see me later with Martin. I felt so bad that even the thought of meeting up with Martin couldn'tlighten my mood.

I was furious with the world, angry withwhat had happened and what would surely come next. Lessons with Paul,it was like a nightmare brought to life and to make matters infinitelyworse he had been put into my group so I would have to spend at least onehour a week in his company. Life was just too cruel.

I felt like I had to take my frustrationout on something or else I'd just explode. Nothing could make mefeel better as there wasn't anything that could fix the situation, no magiccure that could erase Paul from my life forever.

I wasn't exaggerating, for a moment I hadthought that maybe I was, that I'd overreacted and I could find a way toget by with Paul. It wasn't like we had to be in class at the sametime, I could just work my schedule around him. But that was justwishful thinking. He would do everything in his power to make mylife miserable, a fact proven by his very arrival in the one class I enjoyed.

He had seen Kelly and me first thing thismorning, he could have told us then, but that would have spoiled his bigentrance. I wouldn't be suprised if he hadn't asked Mr Keyes to keepit all a secret just to prevent me from having time to put a stop to itall. It was too late now, he had his feet firmly under the tableand there was nothing I could do other than worry about what he'd do next.

I was so mad I almost stormed past Joanne. She had appeared out of nowhere and reached out to grab my arm and stopme. I had heard someone say something but I hadn't realised it wassomeone calling my name, luckily I recognised her just in time to pullup to a halt. At least I could tell her all about it, get some sympathyand advice from the one person I knew who would humour me and say I wasin the right.

"What's happened? You look like you'veseen a ghost." Joanne said with concern in her voice.

"If only. No my problem is very muchalive and kicking." I replied, sounding bitter


"Paul Johnson."

"What's he done now?"

"Remember I told you we had a new studentjoining the Art class?"

"He hasn't" Joanne said, her eyes widening.

"He has," I replied, nodding.

"You'd better sit down."

We took a seat on the steps which led upto one of the fire exit doors. It was sheltered and pretty secluded,the only people who could see us were a few lads on the field and theywere too busy playing football to pay us much attention.

I calmed a little as I talked to Joanne. She said all the right things, reassured me, joined me in hating Paul,did everything a good friend would. It was the thought that I hada friend as good as her that cheered me up a little. Let Paul dohis worst, I had Joanne on my side and that counted for a lot.

Still, no matter what Joanne did or saidshe couldn't make me feel completely better, just calm my fears a little. I still felt as though the bottom had dropped out of the one thing I enjoyeddoing. I don't think I'd appreciated how much I enjoyed my Art classuntil today. I'd always assumed it was just the things that wentwith the lesson, the extra freedom to come and go as I pleased, the lessstructured timetable, the fact I could listen to music and chat to Kellywhile I worked. All things that just weren't possible in other lessons. But the loss I felt now was more than the result of just losing an easyride through college. I was actually going to miss drawing.

I stopped myself in my tracks. Itwas one thing to complain about Paul but it was quite another to startthinking about not going back, that was a slippery road to nowhere. I couldn't even contemplate quitting just because someone I didn't geton with was doing the same thing as me. I had to get over this andfast, or at least find a way to cope.

I tried to at least act like I had cheeredup a little, if only to make Joanne feel that she had accomplished something. I asked her how her morning had been and nodded every now and then as shetold me about her forthcoming English exams and how her teacher had toldher she should do well in them provided she did some concentrated revisionand learned how to pace herself. In a way listening to Joanne didtake my mind off everything else, it was soothing to hear someone elsetell me about their problems, it made me feel like I wasn't alone.

The knot in my stomach was still therebut I was a lot calmer than I had been. I took a deep breath andlet it out slowly as I thought to myself, have I hit rock bottom?

"Watch out, here comes trouble." Joanne said quietly. She subtly pointed to her left.

Walking along the path which ran aroundthe sports field was Kelly, accompanied be someone I couldn't quite identify. I feared it must be Paul but even though I strained to get a better lookI couldn't tell for sure.

"Do you want to make a run for it?" Joanne asked as she got ready to stand up.

"No, we'll stand our ground."

With any luck they would walk straighton to the main building and not pass us at all. Of course I shouldhave realised that with my luck running the way it was they would walkstraight up to us and stop to chat, which of course they did.

I counted my blessings as I realised itwasn't Paul who was with Kelly, it was some guy I didn't recognise at all. I looked at Joanne who shrugged her shoulders, she didn't know who he waseither. Kelly smiled at us and I noticed the stranger with her hadhis hand around her waist. He was quite tall, a bit shorter thanme but not by much, thick set and with dark shaven hair, he looked likehe worked out.

"How's the plotting going?" Kellyasked.

"What?" I said with a quizzical look.

"One hundred and one ways to get rid ofPaul while making it look like an accident."

I laughed for the first time since I'dfound out the bad news. It felt good to smile again, Kelly alwaysknew how to make me smile. It was a skill she should teach to others.

"I'm up to seventy four."

"Are you helping him Joanne?" Kellysaid, turning her attention away from me for a moment.

I looked at Joanne who didn't seem toohappy. I was probably imagining it but I could have sworn she wasfrowning.

"I'm trying to."

Kelly turned back to me as she moved closerto the guy at her side, his arm slided further around her waist, his thumbtucked into the waist of her skirt. I was feeling slightly uncomfortable,how could she forget about Martin so easily?

"Well anyway I just wanted to introduceyou to, well you've already met haven't you?"

"No. I don't think so." I saidwhile trying to think if I had in fact met him before. I was prettysure I hadn't.

"Of course you have, this is Martin"

The guy nodded at me and grunted something. I was well and truly confused now, this wasn't Martin, at least it wasn'tmy Martin.

"No." I stated as I shook my headin disagreement

"Yes." Joanne insisted.

"That's not who I saw yesterday."

Kelly kissed this fake Martin on the cheekand pulled his arm away from around her.

"Go on to the car, I'll meet you there."

He left without a word of argument, leavingKelly free to question me more fully as we tried to sort out what was goingon.

"So who did you see yesterday?"

"I don't know, you said he was Martin."

"Tall, brown hair, that's Martin."

Joanne sat up straight and raised her hand. She looked a little confused which was understandable seeing as how I supposedlyknew what was going on and I was still lost.

"Can I interrupt here. If we're talkingabout men you know Kelly, it's a hell of a lot more than one dark hairedman."

"He was taller and his hair was longer. It was kind of curly as well," I said. I was picturing my dream manin my head. I knew he hadn't looked like a Martin.

"You mean Jonathan? What was he doingin the Art room?" Kelly asked.

"I don't know. Who's Jonathan?"

"The guy I dumped Martin for until youtold me to give him another chance."

That was it, this had officially becomemy worst day ever. First Paul ruins everything and then I find outthat the scheming I felt so bad about doing had all been in vain. I had actually succeeded in accomplishing the exact opposite to what I'dwanted. Kelly had chosen my dream man, she was going out with him,so what did I do? Get my wires crossed and make her dump him forsomeone called Martin who wasn't anywhere near as nice. What was I goingto do now?

"Well it was Jonathan I thought you shouldpick, not Martin. Go and tell him you made a mistake," I said witha hint of desperation in my voice.

"I can't dump Martin again. AnywayI quite like him now. Maybe this has all worked out for the best."

'No it hasn't' I thought to myself. 'This is a disaster,' I'd felt so good about persuading Kelly to give himanother chance and this is what happens. It was like someone wasplaying a series of jokes on me, what would come next?

"Don't say anything to Martin will you? He doesn't know anything about Jonathan. He thinks he's my firstserious boyfriend."

Joanne laughed out loud before quicklycovering her mouth and stifling her giggles. She struggled to controlher amusement at Kelly's revelation.

"Sorry. I didn't think there wasanyone in town who didn't know about you, my mistake." Joanne said,still trying hard not to laugh.

"But what about Jonathan?" I asked.

"Like you said, he's a good guy, he'llfind someone else soon enough."

I turned to Joanne, my brain working overtimeas I tried to think of a way out of this mess. I couldn't face twolots of bad news in one day, there had to be a way to turn this situationaround.

"Joanne, you're not seeing anyone."

"I very much doubt the kind of person whogoes out with Kelly would have the patience to deal with me." Joannesaid, she was obviously unimpressed by the idea.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Kellyasked defensively.

"You want a two minute thrill you go fora fast ride on a bike."

"You don't go for a slow walk through virginterritory?" Kelly said interrupting Joanne. "Look I'd betterget going, Martin's waiting. I'll see you around Steven."

Kelly headed off in the direction Martinhad gone. As she rounded the corner of the building Joanne stoodup.

"I'll have to get going as well. Are you going to be alright, with Paul and everything?"

"Yes," I lied. What was the pointin worrying Joanne.

"You know if you ask me that Jonathan,whatever his name was, he's had a lucky escape. She'd be finishedwith him in a week."

'Yes but it would have been a week I couldhave tagged along on' I thought.

I watched as Joanne got up and walked away. I had to get away from this place, find somewhere else to feel miserable. Somewhere to hide before whatever was going to go wrong next went wrong. These things come in threes don't they?

I had to think of something to take mymind off Paul and Jonathan and everything else. Either somethinggreat that would cheer me up or something so bad that the events of todaywould seem like paradise in comparison. At least then maybe I wouldn'thave this feeling deep inside me that I never wanted to see Mr Keyes orthe Art room ever again.

It was then that the idea hit me. I knew what I was going to do, something that would take all my attentionaway from losing my ideal man and the one subject I was good at both inthe same day. I was going to give Jeff a call. That would shakethings up a bit, my nerves were jangling already. The thrill I wasexperiencing was beating all my other emotions into retreat.

Call Jeff, it was the perfect plan. Forget everything and everyone else and take a chance, after all, my daycouldn't get any worse could it?