A bit more of the tale of urban delinquency, based on the kids we see every day. Like it? Tell me. Want more? Tell me. Don't like it? Tell me why.
Many stories like this one are set in a fictitious, imaginary world where the risks of AIDS, HIV, and STDs do not exist. In the real world, they do. Play safe, take care. Protect yourselves and your partners.
"RYAN?? HERE?? WHY??" I shouted. I sat down on the bed, or rather flopped down, having lost the ability -- or willpower -- to stand. Looking back, I'm amazed I didn't wet myself -- every other muscle seemed to give up the will to work. Dad turned round and stared at me.
"Would you rather him go into a home? Where else can he go?" he said in a raised voice. Good job I couldn't answer, I'd have got a smack round the mouth for what I would have said at that moment, by his tone.
"Now get off your backside and give me a hand. This desk over there. If we both lift, we can manage it."
"But why in my room, Dad?"
My father isn't the most patient of men. He can hold back most times, but it has to come out sometime, and I think that pushed it too close.
"Anthony, it's difficult enough for me to understand why you've become - well, what you are. You're my son, and you always will be, so I'm trying-" he said, looking me in the eye for the first time since coming home. "-I'm trying hard, but it isn't easy. If you're going to tell me now that you really don't want him here, like your Mother thinks you do, then fine. I'll cancel the bed, and he can go rot in a home for all I care."
"No, Dad!" I heard myself say. "But why here, with us?"
"I thought that's what you wanted? At least, that's what your Mother said."
I was out of the room and downstairs before he could draw breath.
"Mum! What have you told Dad about Rye an' me?" I shouted as I burst into the living room. I was angry -- no, more than that -- blazing.
"That you didn't want him taken off into care." she said, looking up from the telly.
"But I didn't say I wanted him here!" I ranted.
She stood up to face me. "He needs somebody, Anthony. He needs you. And you need him, although you deny it."
"Would somebody tell me what the hell's going on?" Dad said from the doorway. "Is he coming or isn't he?"
I turned my head to and fro between them, trying to decide, looking for help, trying to escape. Of course I didn't want him here, he's nothing but a pain in the -- but in a home? I've heard all about what goes on in those places, haven't I. The younger, smaller ones -- like Rye -- get, well, `used' to put it mildly, threatened and tortured by the older ones and I suppose that's what I've been trying to tell him he doesn't need. Why am I the one who has to decide? What the hell was Mum thinking about, telling Dad that I --
I looked between them both again. They were looking at me, as if I held the answer to everything in my hands. Waiting. None too patiently, either, by the look on Dad's face.
"Oh hell, alright then. He can come. But does he have to share my room with me?" I said.
"Are you saying you want to move out to the garden shed then, Anthony?" Dad said, seriously. He's the only person I know who can stab you in the back with a question.
"Where else is there? Damn it all, I thought you were his friend." He added, his anger high now, then looking at Mum added, "And something more than a friend, as well." Mum averted her eyes, then glanced at me.
"What!!!" I exclaimed at Mum. "Did you think we were -- that he was my -- No! For God's sake, it isn't like that at all, I mean we, er, that is I, er, well -- we're not serious, not like that. I mean, I know we've -"
"Spare me the details, per-lease!" Dad butted in. "Just tell me, are you prepared to help him? He's been through some pretty difficult emotional stuff, as you know, and that's going to scar his mind very deeply unless someone is prepared to care for him, and we thought you wanted to do that, Anthony."
"And I think you need him to care for you, too, Anthony." Mum said in that calm, knowing way Mums have. You know, that way that makes you think `She's right, I'm wrong, you're stupid not to understand it that way.'
"OK, OK, I said he can come. But I take no responsibility if he comes here with an attitude towards me, he's like that. And I'm not, under any circumstances, going to give up my room if he doesn't want to share with me." I said.
I frowned to show my disproval, but inside I felt -- what? Queasy? Annoyed? Anxious? Certainly I dreaded it, at least the first day. If he still felt like that about me, angry, hateful, then it would be a short stay, I'd make sure. But what about the other thing? He said he'd loved me, in the ward, and I felt -- that I'd lost something I'd never had. Whatever it was, I liked the feeling that gave me. A sort of `complete', a different kind of happiness than I'd ever known before. `A taste of an exotic fruit', I've read somewhere. That. Whatever it fuckin' was.
"Right. Now that's decided, let me tell you this, Anthony." Dad was firing all guns at me now. "It's my house, I'll be me who says who has the room, and I'm telling you now you'll both have it. You'll share, and not fight. You'll live together under my roof as if I were watching over you day and night, and not upset your mother, or I'll -"
"OK, OK. Lets just do it, shall we?" I said, tiring of the argument.
So we did. Dad had a major go at me about the amount of junk in my room, and made me sort out a lot of stuff I don't need any more, kids stuff, toys I hadn't touched for ages and that, after we'd moved the desk and my computer table. There was stuff I'd forgotten I'd got, haven't played with for ages. I didn't mind that too much.
I don't have that many clothes, and Dad told me to make room in my wardrobe and drawers for Rye's stuff, which I suppose was easy. I've never seen him in much different stuff anyway, A couple of tracksuits, and his school stuff. I'm sure he hasn't got much more. Even so, it's going to be cramped in here after what I've been used to. Perhaps it won't be for long. We'll see. I cleared a drawer, moving the socks to the underwear drawer, and slid the clothes on hangers along the rail. There was some stuff dumped in the bottom of the wardrobe that I'd worn once or twice, and wasn't dirty, but I stuffed it in the laundry basket in the bathroom for now. I'll sort it when it's been washed.
"I meant what I said about no fighting!" Dad said as we looked round the room, the cleanest it's been since we moved here.
"OK." I said, trying to calm him. "If there is, it won't be me that's started it." I added, trying my best to look honest.
"Just don't let it happen. Anthony." he said, and walked off downstairs again.
`Great!' I thought. `I've got to wet-nurse him, as well!'
I sat on the bed contemplating the space on the far wall where his would go. `I've just got to get him to agree that we'll keep our distance.' I thought. `here and at school' as I remembered he would be going back there as well, pretty well soon after he comes here.
`Head down, and ignore.' I thought as the best policy.
I slept badly that night, and woke at some dark hour with a start, sat up soaked in sweat. I remembered the dream, Rye running out in the road, and the lorry going over him. That kid who saw it's words ran through my brain, like a commentary as it happened.
"He looked as if he was waiting for a gap in the traffic to cross the by-pass, but he just stood there for a long time, all the time I was watching you, and then he just ran out in front of a lorry. I saw it. It went over his arms and legs, I thought he was dead, but then he screamed and screamed for ages."
I shook the image from my mind. "Because of you." A voice said in my head. "Because you got in his car and went off with him. Simon. Him, of all people."
`OK, OK, I know that.' I thought. `But it's not my fault if he's fallen in -- if he's got a - on me.'
I couldn't say the missing words, `love, and `crush', even in my mind. Fuck it, if he's stupid enough to think he's in love, that's his lookout. Not mine. No, not -- I shook my head to stop thinking about it.
I lay back down and willed sleep to come. It wouldn't, and I daren't think about it again. Because if I did -- and by fuck, that scared me too.
I kept myself to myself over the weekend, other than at the statutory mealtimes. "Listening to CDs, doing schoolwork, thinking, you know, trying like you want me to." was the answer when asked what I was doing. I don't suppose it satisfied them, but it kept them off my back. But the truth was -- that is what I was doing. That, and remembering that dream. Why should it matter to me? OK, I felt sorry for him, that he was hurt so bad, and I suppose I accepted that somehow, I was partly to blame. But what does he want from me? I care about him, yes -- but that's it, I think. Love? What the fuck's that anyway? If I like someone, OK. If I like them a lot, that's better. But how much am I supposed to like him for him to -- wait! Why am I thinking this?
"You'd better shower and get to bed, Anthony!" Dad shouted up the stairs. "And get your school clothes ready, you're going back tomorrow!" he added, like a final insult. Fine, I was bored here anyway, at least life would have some purpose again -- even if it was only school. And I would try harder, honestly I would.
The morning came, I showered and dressed. It was strange to come downstairs and find Mum and Dad there -- he was away so much I'd almost forgotten he lived here. I thought back to when I was younger, before he travelled away so much, when he would sit me on his knee while I ate my cereal, and secretly try to tickle me without Mum seeing, making me laugh and her frown at us. Why did things have to change? I was happy then, really happy. They were my world, Mum and Dad, and I used to go to school happy in the knowledge that they would be there when I came home.
"Here's a bacon sandwich." Mum said, shaking my memories away and handing me a plate. I sat down and picked the sandwich up, the warm flavour of bacon juices and brown sauce bursting onto my tongue as I bit into it.
"Er...no thanks, Mum!" I mumbled through a full mouth. A blistered tongue I could do without. Dad looked up from his paper, and frowned. Those old happy days were gone forever.
"I'll be off, then!" I said, standing and licking the last juice from my lips.
"Just make sure you come straight home!" Mum said, not turning round from the sink. I looked at them both, ignoring me.
"I will." I said, and walked to the front door. I looked down at my rucksack, bulging with the books that had been brought for me last week. It doesn't have to be like this, does it? I turned and ran back to the kitchen, right up to Mum, held her waist and kissed her cheek. "Thanks, Mum. For everything!" I said. She dropped a cup into the water, splashing herself, then turned round in surprise. I looked down at Dad, paper in hand, staring up at me. A blank look, neither loving nor hating, just looking at me.
"Sorry, Dad, honestly I am." I said.
"You'll be late!" he said, still watching me, and I took it as an order to go.
I picked up my bag, opened the door and stepped out into the world, a damp, misty one.
"OK, son, I'll close the door." Dad said behind me. I hadn't heard him come, but he was there, holding the door open. He watched me walk down the drive and onto the pavement, then was hidden by the neighbour's tall hedge. But he watched me go.
School was awful, as soon as I got there I was surrounded by kids praising me for getting rid of Mr. Terry, asking what he did to me, regarding me as some sort of hero. The kind of attention I didn't want right now, I just wanted to be left alone. Key walked up with a stupid grin on his face, and I knew it all had to stop, and stop now.
"Just fuckin' leave me alone, will you?" I shouted. "You too!" I added at Key, stopping him in his tracks and altering his grin to a look of shock instantly. "Just fuck off and leave me be!" I said, and walked away, into the school building.
I wasn't ignored, but nobody spoke to me all morning, not even the teachers. I never got asked a question in the lessons, and when I handed over my homework, all I got was a cursory "OK."
Then it started. At lunchtime, as I headed for the dining room, one boy in a crown going the other way coughed, and I heard "Fag!" in the cough. I turned and watched them walk off, one by one they glanced back at me. Suddenly I was knocked flying, and only just saved myself from falling. I looked round, and four others, ones I'd used to be friends with, were standing across the corridor.
"Sorry!" Sam Ledbetter said, sarcastically.
"It's OK." I said, and stood back to let them pass. They didn't, they just stood there looking at me. A crowd gathered, all eyes on me. I went to push through them, but they parted, as if to be touched by me was the touch of death.
"It ain't infectious, you know." I said. "You can't catch it!"
"What ain't, being queer or an assassin?" a voice called from the crowd.
I looked towards the voice and glared.
"Did he jump, or did you push him?" another said. I lunged towards the voice, but as I did --
"Boys! Stop that now!" I heard the headmaster shout, and suddenly everyone was moving, running away. Only me, and the boy who'd shouted were still, and I'd got him by the blazer lapels. Then I was hauled backwards, away from him by a hand on my blazer neck, and I slammed against a wall.
"Fuck off!" I heard a voice say, and the boy ran. I looked around for the Headmaster, but there was only me there, me and -- another boy, one I'd seen around, but didn't know. He took his hand from my collar.
"What -- where's - ?" I said, confused.
"Who? `Boys! Stop that now!'?" the head's voice again.
My jaw dropped. "I can imitate loads of people!" he smiled. I stared at him, tall, thin, very thin, dark brown straight shoulder length hair and squared glasses. I frowned.
"I thought you needed saving!" he said, by way of an explanation.
"I could handle them!" I said, annoyed that he might think I couldn't fight.
"I know. That's why you needed saving, you don't need trouble right now." he smiled. His face looked like he didn't smile very often. "Just keep yourself to yourself, it's the safest way." he said, and started to walk away.
"Wait a minute, who are you?" I called out.
"Someone who understands!" he called back, and turned off into a classroom. I stared down the corridor for a moment, trying to piece it all together. I couldn't, shrugged, and went off for lunch.
The week passed, much the same. Friends ignored me, idiots made comments. I made sure I always smiled at them, those who coughed `fag!' or worse, to let them know I didn't care. At least my work caught up, I did quite well in class. Most of the teachers were pleased with me, and a bathed in the glow of better marks.
Four weeks later, and everything had settled down a lot at school. I'd had to have a day out when Dad took me to the police station to make a statement about Mr Terry, and deny honestly any knowledge of where Simon was now, otherwise, things were looking good. Dad and I got closer again, he once asked a lot about what I got up to with the gang I hang -- used to hang - around with, I told him `just hang out, you know, walk about and chat'. He told me he was in a similar gang when he was young -- you never think of your parents being kids, do you -- and that they'd been called `teddy boys', whatever that was!
I asked if his parents were good to him, like he and Mum were to me, he only answered `yes', so I didn't push that subject again.
"What about you and this Ryan?" he asked one day. "Tell me about him."
"There's nothing to tell, Dad!" I said. he looked at me knowingly and smiled.
"I think there is, Anthony. I think there's a lot to tell. Look, I know you're -- you prefer boys to girls, I'm OK with that, I know a few gay guys and I know they can't help the way they are, it's the way they were born. I'm not angry with you about it, do you understand?"
"I'd be more worried if you weren't gay, in fact." he said. "You'd start messing about with girls, at least you can't get another boy pregnant."
"Dad!" I exclaimed, embarrassed that he'd assumed what I got up to.
"Anthony, I lost my virginity when I was fourteen." he said, "and we worried for weeks that she might be...well, you know."
"Yes. Well, she wasn't, but I taught me to be more careful in future. The point is, you're nearly that age now, so I imagine you and Ryan have, well, tried various things out, if you care about him like I think you do. Am I right?"
"Dad, Ryan's just -- a friend. One of the gang. He got a crush on me, and, well, it got out of hand. I like him, yes, but not -- well, not like that." I thought as I said that, `it's not true, you do like him -- like that and a lot more'.
"OK, son. Perhaps your Mum and I, we got our lines crossed a bit. We thought -- well, that doesn't matter now. You OK with him coming to stay?" he asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. "It'll be OK, I mean, it's not gonna be for ever, is it? We're friends, but we don't always get on that well, as you may have noticed."
"It's for two years, Anthony, his mother's only put him into care, he won't be up for adoption, so fostering or a home are the only options. We, well your mother really, thought you were, er, close, if you get what I mean. That's why we -"
"Look, Dad, it's OK, really. I mean, I don't want him to go into a home, but well -- he's a bit strange, really. Like I say, he's a friend -- well, perhaps a bit more if I were to be truthful, but I think he thinks more of me than I do of him."
"Anthony -" he looked me in the eyes, in a way he hasn't since he used to cuddle me and tell me everything would be alright if I fell down, or had a bad dream at night. "Don't let him down. He needs you more than you'll ever know, and, if you face the fact, I think you need him as well."
I looked shocked, I know, but dad just smiled. "Three weeks," he said "and he'll be here. Please don't start arguing with him, even if he still doesn't want to know you."
"That'd suit me fine!" I said. "I'm quite happy to leave him alone as much as possible!" Dad looked at me sideways, but left it at that.
The day of Rye's release from hospital drew near, and final preparations were made. Some new bed linen appeared one day, and the bed which had stood empty since its delivery was finally made up for him. Mum and Dad had been to the hospital a few times to visit him, during the day while I was at school, and they always made a point of telling me how he was getting on. I just pretended interest and let them get it over with. At least I wasn't included in the visits -- the ward Sister had made it quite clear that I wasn't to set foot on her hallowed ground ever again, and I was happy to comply.
Eventually the day came, I arrived home from school and he was there, sitting on one of the armchairs, in a dressing gown and shorts, his bandaged legs and bare feet stretched out and resting on a footstool. He looked up from the TV as I walked in.
"Rye." I said as a greeting.
"Ant." he replied. I walked into the kitchen and sat at the table, watching Mum prepare the dinner. Dad came home, kissed Mum on the cheek, nodded a greeting at me, and went off to the living room to wait for dinner. I heard the muttering as he and Rye talked.
"Set the table, would you please, Anthony?" Mum asked, and in a robotic, phased out way, I did. As she set the plates of food out, she said "Go and give Ryan a hand to come in for dinner, please. He can't walk very well yet."
I went to the living room, Dad had gone for a freshen up wash or something.
"I've got to help you come to the table." I said. "Can you stand?"
"I can stand up," he said, "But walking's difficult. Can you hold me? Or I can use my sticks."
Rye stood up, and wavered about. I held him round his back, and he held onto my back and arm as he pushed his feet into a pair of slippers. As we were about to move to the door, he turned to me, and being so close, I thought for a second he was going to kiss me.
"Ant, I know you don't want this." he said. "Me being here, and all. But your folks have offered, and I'd be stupid to turn them down. Nobody else would want me, I know."
I didn't answer.
"I'll keep out of your way, as much as I can." he said as we started off, his legs wobbling as they tried to take his weight.
"Too fucking right you will!" I said. "Too fucking right!"