In this chapter Jeremy gets some advice on personal relationships and then finally decides to unburden himself to someone he thinks is likely to be sympathetic. Unfortunately, however, there's something that Jeremy does not know about one of his closest friends...
Tuesday dragged by for Jeremy: he only allowed himself to work on his model for an hour or so at a time so that he wouldn’t finish it too quickly and then have nothing to do. He’d already finished two books, and was more than half-way through the third and last one he had brought with him, and once that was finished he really would be at a loose end. He didn’t dare go outside during school hours, just in case someone saw him, so he spent a lot of time lying on the mattress daydreaming.
As four o’clock approached he found himself looking forward to a visit from Sim and Uzzy, but in the event Sim appeared without Uzzy but accompanied by a delegation of boys Jeremy had never met before. Jeremy looked at him nervously.
“It’s okay,” Sim assured him, “the… these are our friends. You wanted thomeone to talk to – try thith lot. You can tr… trust them. That one’s Colin (he indicated a very small boy with bright red hair and large glasses) – he’th in my form. The others are all ss… seniors. That’s Timmy, and Stephen, and Graham.”
Jeremy thought Timmy looked small for a senior: he was the same height as Sim, and had delicate features and floppy blond hair. Stephen was taller and muscular and looked more like a senior, and Graham’s face bore faint signs of acne, suggesting that he was more mature than the others, even though he was the only one of the three older boys wearing short trousers.
“Hello,” said Jeremy, uncertainly. “What’s Sim been telling you about me, then?”
“Nothing much,” said Colin. “He just said you had some sort of problem and needed someone to talk to about it, and as these three are older than me and Sim we thought they might be able to help. Sim’s right, by the way – you can trust us. We’ve all got secrets of our own, and we know how to keep them.”
He went and sat on the mattress, and Graham followed him over and sat next to him. Colin promptly leant against him and Graham put his arm round the smaller boy, and that suggested pretty strongly to Jeremy that they were aware of the nature of his problem and wanted to show solidarity with him.
Timmy and Stephen collared the two chairs, so Jeremy took the milk churn.
“I can’t really hang around tonight,” said Sim. “Ith there anything you need from the shop?”
“Probably not – if Tony comes round tonight like he said he would he can always go for me.”
“Well, okay – but the shop won’t be open after half patht five, remember.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure Tony will be here before that. If he gets here too late it’ll be too bad, but I’ve probably got enough to last me through tomorrow, anyway.”
“Okay. I’ll come back tomorrow evening.” And Sim went out, leaving him with his uninvited guests.
“All right,” said Jeremy, addressing himself to Colin. “As I’m pretty sure Sim’s told you, I... well, I think… I think there’s something wrong with me, okay?”
“Well… see, I…” Jeremy swallowed: he had never envisaged talking about this with total strangers. Obviously in one way it was better to unburden himself to boys he’d never have to speak to again, but broaching the subject still wasn’t easy.
“I… I think I’m in love with another boy,” he managed to say.
“Okay,” said Colin. “And..?”
“And it’s wrong,” said Jeremy, looking at the floor. “It’s disgusting.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Timmy. “That’s just what you’ve been told.”
“How old are you?” Colin asked him.
“I was twelve on Sunday.”
“Well, then, it’s far too soon to know what you’re really like. See, I spoke to my dad about it – he started wondering why I was spending so much time with Graham, and he told me it’s quite normal for boys to like other boys, and even to explore… you know, sex and stuff, with them, before they reach puberty. It doesn’t mean they’re always going to only fancy boys. I’m only just starting puberty, so it’s too early to know what’s going to happen in a year or so. Actually, I find girls sort of interesting, but I really enjoy having sex with Graham, so maybe I’ll end up liking boys and girls.”
“I’m not sure about that,” said Stephen. “I’m already interested in girls, but I haven’t really started puberty yet. I mean, I’ve done a little bit with my friend Tom, but he’s really more like a brother – we’ve just tried out a few things together. I think girls are more interesting, though.”
“I’ve got a boyfriend,” said Timmy. “I’m nowhere near puberty yet, so maybe I’ll change my mind later, but I don’t think so. I want me and Christy… sorry, Stephen, I mean Christy and I – to stay together for ever.”
Jeremy looked at them. “Does everyone in your class know how you feel?” he asked Timmy.
“Good heavens, no – we’d get teased to death. Probably Graham and I are the only two in our form who like boys…”
“I don’t know,” interrupted Stephen. “What about Rodgers and Thompson?”
“Well, we don’t actually know they fancy each other,” Timmy pointed out. “They might just be good friends… anyway, we don’t talk about it in class, only when we’re with people we know we can trust.”
“I know people wonder about me and Graham,” said Colin, “because we’re together so much, but we’re careful not to get too close in public. It’s only when we’re on our own, or with our real friends, that we can relax a bit. But I certainly wouldn’t tell the rest of the class about what we do in private – they’d give us a really difficult time.”
“Anyway, what we’re saying is that there’s nothing wrong with liking another boy, but that you should be careful who you tell,” said Timmy.
“But Stephen knows about you, and he’s normal,” Jeremy pointed out. “Didn’t you think he’d tell everyone?”
“I’d never do that,” Stephen replied. “These are my friends. Besides, there are things about me I wouldn’t want the rest of the class finding out.”
“Well, okay – but that isn’t the real problem,” said Jeremy. “Even if I accept that it’s okay for me to like another boy, the question is, should I tell him?”
The older boys looked at each other.
“I’d say yes,” said Graham. “If I’d been honest with Colin from the start it would have avoided a whole heap of nasty stuff.”
“Yes, but if you’d just come up to me last October and told me that you fancied me, I’d have told you to get lost,” Colin pointed out. “We’re only together now because of all the nasty stuff that happened first.”
“I suppose that’s true,” admitted Graham.
“I’d say yes,” said Timmy. “But it would depend on how well you know him.”
“I’d say no, unless you’re pretty certain he won’t react badly,” said Stephen. “I mean, it’s a pretty serious thing to tell someone – and Colin’s already said how he would have reacted if Graham had told him the way he felt.”
“I’d have been wrong, though,” said Colin, “because now I know what it’s like having a boy as a girlfriend, and I’m really glad I got a chance to find out.”
“True, but you’d still have turned him down if he’d asked to go out with you back in October, wouldn’t you?” insisted Stephen. “That’s why Timmy’s right – you’d have to know him pretty well and have a good idea that he wouldn’t throw a wobbly if you told him you fancied him.”
“I don’t suppose that helps much, does it?” said Colin.
“Not really, no. But I suppose it’s good to know that not everyone thinks I’m a disgusting pervert for wanting to do things with another boy.”
“What sort of things are you talking about?” asked Colin. “I mean, do you want to kiss and cuddle with him, or have sex?”
“Well… both, I suppose.”
“But which is more important? If you had to choose, would you want him to enjoy kissing and cuddling with you, or would you prefer sex but without any kissing and stuff?”
“Kissing, I think,” said Jeremy. “I mean, sex would be brilliant, but I’d sooner be able to hold him and kiss him and… and have him kiss me…”
“Ah, you’re in love. Well, maybe that’s easier, because if he likes girls but is still your friend he might be okay about hugging you sometimes. But if he likes girls he probably wouldn’t want to have sex with you. Although I reckon I might still want to have sex with Graham even once I’ve started going out with girls… anyway, I reckon you’ve got more chance of a hug than you have of doing sex stuff with him.”
“You could be lucky,” said Timmy. “Maybe if he really likes you he might be prepared to try doing… you know, other things, with you just to see what it’s like. And if you’re really lucky he might enjoy it and want to keep doing it.”
“And you could be unlucky,” said Stephen, who seemed to have taken the position of Mr Pessimist, “in which case he’ll tell you to sod off.”
“Still not much help, are we?” commented Colin. “How long have you been friends with this boy?”
“Years. We’re really good friends.”
“Then he’s less likely to tell you to sod off, I think. Still, it’s not an easy thing to hear if you’re not interested in boys, that your friend wants sex with you… if you’re friends already, maybe you should be prepared to settle for that… Look, Jeremy, it’s really hard to advise you properly without knowing the other boy, and I wouldn’t want to give you bad advice that ends up hurting you… maybe you’d be better not telling him. What do the rest of you think?”
“Tell him,” said Timmy.
“I don’t think you should,” said Stephen.
“Tell him,” advised Graham. “Otherwise you’ll look back and think about what you might have missed. I was lucky to get a second chance with Colin. You might not.”
“So there you are,” summed up Colin. “Two of us think you should tell him, and two of us don’t. So I suppose what we’re saying is that we don’t know and you’ll have to decide for yourself. I suppose you think it’s been a complete waste of time talking to us, don’t you?”
“No,” said Jeremy. “I’m glad you came – it’s given me some stuff to think about. And at least I know there are other people out there like me – at least if I tell him and he says he never wants to talk to me again I’ll have someone to talk to about it before I kill myself…”
“Don’t do that,” said Graham. “Sometimes a second chance does come along, remember?”
“I ought to go,” said Stephen. “My mum will be wondering where I am.”
“Okay. Thanks for coming, anyway,” said Jeremy.
“Any time. And good luck if you decide to tell him.” And Stephen got up and left.
“Just out of interest,” said Colin, “what sort of stuff would you want to do with your friend if he said he was willing to try stuff with you?”
“I don’t know,” said Jeremy. “I mean, I’ve sort of imagined… you know, touching each other, and maybe even… well, rubbing it for each other – but I’m not sure I’d really want him to touch me – well, I would, but I’d be ashamed… See, I’m… I’m not very big, and I think if he saw how small I am when it sticks out – he already knows it’s pretty small soft - he’d just laugh at me and walk away.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” said Timmy, firmly. “Christy’s still my boyfriend, even though mine’s really small. He says it doesn’t matter.”
“Bet it’s not as small as mine,” said Jeremy, morosely.
Timmy stood up, removed his blazer, undid his belt, pushed his trousers and pants down to his ankles and lifted his shirt out of the way.
“This is what ‘small’ looks like,” he said. “And I’m thirteen, remember.”
Jeremy stared: Timmy seemed to have no balls and only a tiny bump of pink flesh where his penis should have been.
“Okay, it gets a bit bigger when we… you know, do stuff, but not much,” said Timmy, lowering his shirt. “So unless yours is smaller than mine, you’ve got nothing to worry about. Is it?”
Jeremy shook his head slowly. “Gosh, Timmy,” he said, “that’s got to be the smallest one I’ve ever seen… I mean… how can you let us all see it? Doesn’t it make you feel… well, bad?”
“Not really. Colin and Graham have seen me undressed before, and I thought it might help you to know that you don’t have to have a huge one to enjoy... well, you know…” He got dressed again and sat back down.
“Yes, but… I mean, what sort of thing can you actually do with your boyfriend? I mean, I’m not trying to be rude, or anything, but… well, you know.”
“Oh, we manage to have fun,” said Timmy, grinning at him. “It does get a bit bigger when I need it to, but Christy makes me feel good even when he doesn’t touch it.”
“That’s true,” agreed Graham. “Colin can make me get the good feeling without ever touching my cock. Of course, I like it when he does touch me…”
“How? I mean… how can you get to feel nice if you don’t actually touch each other?”
“Oh, now he wants sex education classes,” said Graham. “”I think we might have to charge extra for those…”
“Don’t worry about that for now,” said Colin. “It’d be great if you needed to find out other ways to have fun together, but I think you’d do better to see whether or not you’re actually going to be able to do anything together first. One thing at a time… Anyway, we’d better go. Come on, Graham, you can carry me over the brambly bit again.”
“Hey, I’m wearing shorts, too,” the older boy pointed out.
“Tough,” said Colin. “You’re bigger than me, so you do the carrying. Bye, Jeremy – and if you need to talk to anyone again, just tell Sim. Even if our advice is rubbish, we’ll still at least listen to you. Good luck!”
He slung his school bag over his shoulders and followed Graham out of the door.
“Do those two really… you know, do stuff together?” asked Jeremy, once they had gone.
“Yes – at least, Graham says they do, and I’ve no reason to disbelieve him, especially since it’s pretty clear from what he says that it’s Colin who decides what they’re going to do. And it’s obvious that Graham would do absolutely anything for Colin, so whatever Colin says goes. And they both seem pretty happy with things that way.”
“Yes, but what do they do, exactly?”
“Well, it’s up to them to tell you that, if they want to. I don’t know for sure, anyway – I only know what Graham’s told me. If you ask them next time you see them they might tell you, but it’s their business, not mine.”
Timmy put his blazer back on, picked up his bag and headed for the door.
“Good luck, anyway,” he said. “I hope it works out for you. If it doesn’t and you need someone to talk to, tell Sim and I’ll come round – I don’t have to rush off to catch a bus because my mum never gets home till about seven, so I can come any evening.”
“Thanks,” said Jeremy. He watched Timmy heading up the drive and then went back into the garage and sat down to think. He speculated on the relationship between Colin and Graham, wondering how it was that the younger boy, who was also almost a foot shorter, was in charge of their relationship, and it what it actually was that they did together: how on earth could Graham get the sex feeling without his thingy being touched? And then he put that to one side and returned to his main problem, which was what to do about his feelings for Bilal. At least now he didn’t feel quite so isolated: it helped to know that other boys felt the same way that he did. But their conflicting advice left him no closer to deciding what he ought to do about it.
He’d been expecting Tony to appear long before this – it only took about twenty minutes to cycle here from Poundford Spa – and he was starting to wonder if something had happened to prevent him from coming. But eventually, at around quarter past five, the door opened again and Tony walked in. He was carrying a large pack on his back and had a small plastic bag in his hand, and when Jeremy saw what was in the bag he immediately forgave Tony for keeping him waiting.
“I stopped at the chippy in Fraycastle on the way,” Tony told him. “That’s why I’m a bit late – it doesn’t open until five o’clock.”
“Tony, you’re a genius,” replied Jeremy, grabbing one of the packets and opening it on the table to reveal a large piece of cod and a massive pile of chips.
“I thought you might be hungry, so I got extra chips,” said Tony, opening the second packet and parking himself on the milk churn. “And I’ve got some Coke in my bag, too – hang on a moment…”
He delved into his pack and retrieved two cans of Coke, one of which he passed to Jeremy, who already had a mouth stuffed with chips.
Neither spoke for the next ten minutes or so – Jeremy was so happy to have a hot meal that he just wanted to enjoy it before it went cold, and Tony was quite happy to nibble his own chips and watch Jeremy stuffing his face.
Eventually Jeremy finished eating and sat back, looking thoroughly contented.
“Best meal I’ve had in ages,” he said. “I’ll have to ask Sim if he can get to the chippy for me sometime later in the week… so, what’s happening at home?”
“Well, they’re now looking for you properly,” Tony told him. “We’ve already had the police round to the school, and your mum came round to talk to mine yesterday evening. I’ve even seen Adolf wandering about looking for you.”
“He probably just wants to give me a really good thrashing,” said Jeremy. He was feeling a little guilty about worrying his mum, though, and wondered if he ought to phone home and let her know that he was okay.
“Maybe. Anyway, what have you been doing?”
“Not very much. I’m about half-way through building my Lancaster, I’ve read two and a half of my books, and I’m fed up with looking at the ceiling.”
“Then let’s go out for a bit. There’s bound to be some trees we can climb in the wood…”
So they walked up the lane to the wood and went exploring, finding several climbable trees and then stalking and hunting each other through the undergrowth for a couple of hours. Then they went back to the garage and Tony pulled a pack of cards from his bag.
“Want to get me back for tickling you on Sunday?” he asked.
“Okay – let’s play strip poker. If I lose you can tickle me as much as you like.”
“What if I lose?”
“Then it’ll probably be you that gets tickled instead. Cut for deal.”
They started playing. It was a fairly even game, with neither player getting more than one item ahead.
“Tell you what,” said Tony, when they were both down to their trousers and pants, “let’s make it interesting: whoever loses has to stay naked all night.”
Jeremy hesitated. He’d have accepted like a shot if it had been Bilal making the suggestion, because he knew Bilal wouldn’t tease him about his size, but Tony was quite capable of making snide remarks all night long if given the chance. Of course, if Tony lost he’d be on the receiving end of the snide remarks…
“You’re on,” he said, gathering the cards ready for the next deal.
“Brilliant! Prepare to suffer…”
Tony lost the next hand, but Jeremy lost the next two after that. Sighing, he put the cards down, stood up and removed his underpants.
“Tickling time!” cried Tony, grabbing him and pushing him onto the mattress.
Jeremy wriggled and struggled but still ended up pinned under Tony’s body, and once he was immobilised Tony started to tickle him. Jeremy writhed and gasped and begged, but it didn’t do any good, and when Tony stopped after three or four minutes he was red in the face and out of breath.
“You wait,” he promised. “Next time I’ll win, and then I’ll tickle you till you piss your pants.”
“Now there’s an idea,” said Tony. “Except… you’re not wearing any, and I’ve got to sleep on this mattress. Perhaps I’ll do that to you in the morning, before I go to school… depends how you behave tonight. If you snore and keep me awake I’ll definitely do it.”
He let go of Jeremy and wriggled up to lie beside him. Jeremy sat up for a moment to check that his ribs were still all intact and looked at Tony, who was lying hunched up beside him.
“Straighten your legs, or there won’t be room on the mattress for me,” he said.
“Tough,” replied Tony.
“No, seriously, Tony, I want to lie down, and there isn’t enough room.”
Tony tried to wriggle to one side without straightening his legs, but in the process Jeremy saw why he was reluctant to move.
“You’ve gone stiff!” he accused.
“So what?” retorted Tony, straightening his legs now that the secret was out and adjusting his underwear. As he was only wearing a small pair of pale blue briefs his erection was now obvious.
“I don’t know, it just happened. It happens a lot, in fact. Don’t tell me it never happens to you, ‘cos I won’t believe you.”
“Well, yes, it does – but usually only when I’m thinking about… well, you know.”
“Well, mine does it whatever I’m thinking about,” said Tony, though he was unable to look Jeremy in the eye as he said it.
“Let’s see, then,” said Jeremy.
“No! I won the game!”
“Yes, and I’ve already agreed to stay like this all night. I just want a quick look at yours, just to see if…”
“Well… if you’re bigger than me.”
“I am, and that’s all you need to know.”
“Prove it, then. Come on, Tony – don’t be chicken…”
Tony sighed. “Okay, then, but you’ll only be jealous,” he said, and he raised his bum and slipped his pants off, tossing them over his head onto the table.
Jeremy looked at him: being freed from the confines of the clothing seemed to have made it get harder, because it was rigid and twitching. It certainly did look a little larger than Jeremy’s own, and Tony’s balls looked larger, too. But it wasn’t abnormally huge, and at first glance there didn’t seem to be any hair, either, and that made Jeremy feel a little better.
“It’s not that big,” he said. “Remember that you’ve never seen mine hard.”
“Go on, then, show me.”
“Just because you know you’re smaller…”
“Well, you are older than me.”
“Only by six months.”
“You’re still older, so you should be bigger.”
“OK, let’s not argue about it. Fancy another game? We don’t have to play strip this time – well, you can’t, anyway, because you haven’t got any clothes left. Let’s just play for fun for a bit.”
Tony stood up, and now Jeremy could see his genitals more clearly, because they were now level with his head and only about a foot away from where he was sitting on the mattress. Tony’s balls hung down quite low, and now that he could see it close up Jeremy noticed that there was the finest hint of down at the base of the penis – certainly nothing that could be called ‘hair’ yet, but a sign that some was on the way. He felt small and inferior again.
Tony helped him to his feet, and they sat down at the table once more, Tony not bothering to put his clothes back on, and they played knockout whist and cribbage until it got too dark to see the cards properly.
“I’m going out for a pee,” said Tony, standing up and putting the cards away. “Is there anywhere in particular you go? I don’t want to pee on the garage in case it makes the place smell…”
“I’ll show you,” said Jeremy, leading him out into the darkening garden and a short distance along the path that led to the back of the house. There was a wider bit about half way along, and he pointed to the left.
“I’ve been watering that bush,” he said. “Give me a call when you’re finished, ‘cos I need to go, too.”
He retreated as far as the garage and waited, and when Tony came back he took his place at his impromptu urinal and watered the plants some more.
Back in the garage Tony had pulled a sleeping bag from his pack and was holding it against the one Sim had lent Jeremy.
“Same type,” he said. “Shall we zip them together? Sim said something about the cover slipping off if we only use one.”
“Okay,” said Jeremy. “But if you snore you can take yours out in the garden.”
“Like to see you make me,” said Tony, zipping the bags together. He had also brought a small pillow, which he placed on the mattress next to Jeremy’s cushion.
“Aren’t you going to put your pants back on?” asked Jeremy, wriggling into the sleeping bag.”
“Do you want me to?”
“I don’t mind. I suppose it would be nicer if we’re both the same, but it’s up to you.”
“Then I’ll stay as I am, so you have to keep seeing how much bigger I am than you all night.”
In fact Tony’s erection had completely subsided, and now his penis didn’t look all that much bigger than Jeremy’s, though his balls were still appreciably larger.
“We’re going to be in a sleeping bag, dumbo,” said Jeremy. “I can’t see through material.”
“Watch it, or I’ll stuff your head down inside the sleeping bag, and then you’ll be able to see perfectly.”
“No, the smell would kill me first.”
Tony grabbed him and started to tickle him, and Jeremy retaliated in the same way. It wasn’t easy wrestling inside the sleeping bag, but they did their best, jabbing each other in the ribs and trying to make each other submit. But after a bit Tony stopped fighting, and Jeremy relaxed and rolled on his back, putting his hands behind his head. Tony propped himself up on one elbow and looked at him.
“How long are you going to stay here?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“I don’t know.”
“Only, I’ve been thinking about what’s going to happen when you get back,” Tony went on. “Do you really think things will be better, or will Adolf just be even madder at you for running off like this and getting the police involved?”
“I don’t know,” said Jeremy again. “But I had to do something.”
“I know. It’s just… well, I’m scared things won’t work out for you. I wish…”
“Go on, what do you wish?”
“Well… I wish you could live with me instead. It’d be brilliant if we were like brothers – you could share my room, and we could do whatever we want…I’ve always wanted a brother…”
“You wouldn’t want me. Who’d want a scrawny, ugly weed for a brother?”
“Don’t talk about yourself like that,” said Tony, seriously. “You know I don’t think you’re like that, Jeremy. You’re my best friend, and I… it’d be brilliant if you were my brother…”
“You’d pretty soon get fed up with me, though.”
“No, I wouldn’t! Why do you say shit like that?”
“Because… I’d get fed up with me if I was stuck with me as a brother. Christ, Tony, it’s not just that I look like an ugly eight-year-old – I’ve got a rotten temper, too. We’d fight all the time, and you’d end up hating me.”
“I would never hate you, no matter what happened! And the only reason you keep losing your temper is because you have to live with that arsehole Adolf: anyone would lose their temper with him.”
Jeremy shrugged. “Well, it’s not going to happen, is it, so we don’t have to worry about it.”
“Yes, but… what I was going to suggest was, if things get too bad at your house you could always come and stay with me for a bit. I know my parents wouldn’t mind…”
“Thanks, Tony… that’d be great… but probably I’ll have to try to sort things out with Adolf – if I can, of course - and then stay at my house. Still, if things get really bad maybe I’d do that.”
“I’d really like that,” said Tony. He lay down on his back beside his friend, and for a few minutes neither of them spoke.
“Thanks for coming,” said Jeremy, quietly. “I don’t know how long I could keep this up if I was on my own all the time. I’d end up going mad and talking to myself.”
“What do you mean, ‘end up going mad’? You’ve been mad for years.”
Jeremy jabbed him in the ribs, and Tony retaliated, and they had a brief wrestle, and when they stopped fighting Tony kept his arm round Jeremy’s shoulders.
“Seriously,” Jeremy resumed, “I sometimes think my whole life is a pile of shit. When I was stuck in the spare room last week I even thought about killing myself…”
“Don’t you dare talk like that!” cried Tony, shaking him. “For God’s sake, Jeremy, there’s more to life than bloody Adolf! You’ve got loads of other stuff going for you – you’re brainy, and… and good-looking – and you’ve got friends who really… I mean, who… well, who care about you…”
“That’s crap – I’m not brainy, and I’m ugly and… well, okay, I do seem to have a couple of friends, but still…”
“You wouldn’t be at The Grove if you didn’t have a brain, you’d be at Mitchells or somewhere like that. You passed the eleven plus, didn’t you?”
“Just about. Chandlers wouldn’t take me, though.”
“Who wants to go to Chandlers? They’ve got a stupid uniform and they have to hike miles to get to their playing fields – and, besides, if you went to Chandlers I’d never have met you…”
“Well, okay, maybe the Grove isn’t that bad. But I’m still ugly.”
“How are you ugly? Have you got sticking-out ears, or a squint, or massive front teeth, or a stupid birthmark on your face? Do you have to wear a bloody brace on your teeth? There’s nothing wrong with you, Jeremy – I think you look really good…”
Jeremy bit back a defence of Bilal’s birthmark, realising that it would make his feelings too obvious. Instead he said, “Do you really mean that, or are you just trying to cheer me up?”
“Of course I mean it, stupid. You’re really good-looking, and it annoys me when you keep slagging yourself off all the time.”
“Then I’ll try not to do it any more, at least not while you’re here. Thanks, Tony.”
Jeremy rolled onto his side and settled down to sleep. Tony would have liked to keep the conversation going – it felt good sharing a sleeping bag like this and he would have liked to prolong the experience. But he realised the Jeremy was tired and so respected his decision to settle down. He put his arm back round his friend’s shoulders and went to sleep himself.
Jeremy woke up first the following morning and found Tony cuddled up close beside him, still asleep. He looked into his friend’s face, which was partially obscured by his long hair, and decided that there was nobody who would be able to give him better advice than Tony, who had known both him and Bilal for ages and who, Jeremy was now sure, would be sympathetic: the way Tony had supported him since this episode had begun, and had even managed to find a way to come to keep him company overnight, suggested that this was a friend he could really count on.
“Morning,” said Tony, sleepily, opening his eyes and seeing Jeremy’s face a foot away from his own. “Did you sleep okay?”
“Yes, thanks. You?”
“Not bad. You don’t seem to snore, anyway.”
“I never thought I did. Look, Tony… I need some advice.”
“Well, okay, if I can. I’m really not sure how long you should stay here, though, if that’s what it’s about.”
“It isn’t. This is something else. See, what it is… I think…
This wasn’t getting any easier, Jeremy realised: even going into this speech for the third time still felt like trying to find the courage to jump from the highest diving board at the swimming pool, something he had never yet dared to do.
“What?” said Tony, encouragingly.
“Well, I think… I think I might be queer, Tony. I’m starting to fancy other boys.”
“Okay,” said Tony. “Well, that isn’t so bad…”
“Do you really think so? Thanks, Tony – I thought you’d probably hate me if I told you…”
“Of course I don’t hate you, stupid: you’re my friend, you know that,” said Tony, moving a little closer and putting his arm round Jeremy’s shoulders. “So, who are these boys you’ve started fancying?”
“Well, it’s not ‘boys’, really, just one particular boy, only I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to tell him, and wondering what he might say if I did – and it’s made me so scared…”
“You don’t have to be scared,” said Tony, softly. “Just say it.”
“Do you really think I should?”
“Of course I do, you pillock. Don’t you think he might feel the same way about you? Just say it.”
“Okay, I will,” said Jeremy, making up his mind in the face of this support. “I’ll tell him the next time I see him. You’re right, Tony, we’ve been friends for absolutely ages, and I have to tell him how I feel. Except… you don’t suppose there might be a problem with his religion, do you?”
“Well, he’s a Moslem. What if it’s forbidden by his religion?”
“Bilal – he’s a Moslem, isn’t he?”
“Bilal,” said Tony, in a flat voice.
“Yes, Bilal – who did you think I was talking about?”
“You mean, you fancy Bilal – our Bilal, the one with the birthmark,” said Tony, his voice even deader.
“Yes, of course, our Bilal. How many other Bilals do we know?”
“And you fancy him.”
“Yes! Isn’t that what I’ve been telling you?”
“I’ve got to get to school,” said Tony, climbing out of the sleeping bag and starting to get dressed.
“But… don’t you want any breakfast?”
“No, thanks,” said Tony, shortly, dressing as quickly as he could.
“Oh, okay. But you think I should tell Bilal how I feel?”
“Do whatever you want. It makes no difference to me.”
Tony grabbed his bag and ran out of the garage, his shirt unbuttoned, his tie stuffed in his pocket and his shoelaces untied, and slammed the door behind him. And Jeremy stared at the door feeling as if his world had suddenly collapsed around him.
Oh,dear, now the excrement has really hit the fan... poor Jeremy, for not being able to see what's right under his nose, and poor Tony, for not seeing the wrong punchline coming at the end of the story. It looks as if this is going to result in people getting badly hurt, but we'll have to wait for the next chapter to find out exactly what happens next.
By now you know perfectly well everything there is to know about the magic address firstname.lastname@example.org so I shall say nothing further on the subject. Well, not until the end of the next chapter, anyway.
Copyright 2008 – all rights reserved. Please do not reprint, repost or otherwise reproduce this or any part thereof anywhere without my written permission.