The Price of Friendship

Chapter 6

“Mum, stop fussing! I’m going to be fine.” I tried to glare at her, though I knew she wasn’t deliberately trying to embarrass me. I was glad there weren’t a lot of other kids around.

My mum couldn’t seem to resist one more piece of unnecessary advice. “If you don’t feel well, just tell the teacher and go see the nurse. Remember, the doctor said to try to keep your ankle elevated as much as possible, so if you need an extra chair to rest it on, just ask your teacher. Don’t be a martyr, Rick.”

“Yes, Mum.” The rolling of the eyes must have been what finally stopped her from telling me what to do.

“I’ll just open the door for you.” She got out and walked around to the passenger side, stopping to get my crutches out of the back. I was perfectly capable of opening the door, but if it made her happy and stopped her from harping on and on, I was willing to let her do it.

I grabbed the crutches and prepared to swing myself out of the vehicle. The last thing I needed was to bang the broken ankle and have Mum go hysterical.

Dad had told me that they had started getting worried at eleven on the Saturday night, and that just before midnight they rang the police and the hospital. They were told that I had been admitted to the hospital a couple of hours before, but the staff only had my name from the credit card in my wallet, and we hadn’t been in the area long enough for them to be able to track down my address or home phone number from just that name. My mobile had a PIN lock on it, so they couldn’t use that to ring anyone, either. I hadn’t set up an ICE contact that could be used ‘In Case of Emergency’. I suspect my dad broke a few speed limits as he drove himself and Mum down to the emergency department.

I had woken before the ambulance crew arrived, but between the blow to my head and the pain from the ankle, I was dazed and not thinking properly. I was later told that when they asked for a phone number, I gave them the one from our last home, which got them a wrong-number message. I don’t recall doing that, but I’m missing a couple of hours of memory. It was early Sunday morning before I was properly compis mentis. By that stage, Mum and Dad were there with me, my lower leg was in plaster down to my toes, and I had bandages on my head and chest.

“Careful, hon. And don’t twist your body too much. You’ve got to let that broken rib heal, too.”

I gritted my teeth and waited until I was out of the car before I responded. “It’s a hairline fracture, and it doesn’t need any special treatment.”

“The doctor said you need to keep it strapped. That’s not ‛no treatment’.”

“Mum? Can I go now? School’s going to start soon.”

I had to put up with her fussing for another couple of minutes before she left. At least she helped me put my backpack on. I could have managed, but it was going to take some practise to pick things up while balancing on one foot with the crutches in my off hand.

I worked my way around towards the entrance where I would normally have gone in, hoping to catch up with someone, but nervous about what I would have to tell them. I wasn’t completely pleased with what I had done, even though I thought it was the best option I’d had.

Claire and Drew were sitting together as I made it around the corner of the building. Drew’s eyes were fixed on the gate, so Claire saw me first.

“Rick! What happened?” She jumped to her feet and raced towards me, pulling to a stop with her hands up, as if she wanted to embrace me but wasn’t sure if she should.

“Rick?” Drew looked shocked as he saw the cast on my leg and the bruises on my face. The long-sleeved top I was wearing covered the worst of the marks. “What the fuck happened?”

I pulled a face. “Phil. He and his buddies were waiting near Claire’s place and caught me after I dropped her off on Saturday night.”

“That fucking bastard! I’m going to kill him. I don’t know how or when, but I’m going to fucking murder him!” Drew glanced around as if he was trying to find Phil, so he wouldn’t have to wait.

I dropped my gaze to the ground. “The police are already looking at laying charges.” I glanced up at Claire. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know if I should tell them who it was, but I thought I had to.”

Claire stepped forward and gave me a hug. “You’ve got nothing to be sorry about.”

I winced. “Careful! I’ve got a cracked rib.”

She quickly let go. “Sorry.”

“So what happened?” Drew asked again. “Claire’s already told me about Saturday night, and about Phil showing up at the cinema. She’s also told me about the ‘boyfriend’ deal you two have going, and it’s fine with me.” He winked. “As long as I don’t have to share too much.” He stepped forward and rested a hand on my shoulder. “I’m really sorry. I thought about dropping into your place on the way to school, but I didn’t want to give you the impression that I was stalking you, so I came here to wait. But if you need me to help, please just say so. I’ll do whatever I can.”

“Thanks, Drew, but Mum’s going to drive me to and from school for the next few weeks, until I can get the cast off.”

“You said the police were involved,” Claire said. “Sit down and tell us what happened.”

I glanced past her at the seat where she had been waiting with Drew, but a couple of other students had taken it. Before I could say anything, Drew approached them, said something, waved in my direction, and, like magic, the seat was vacant.

“Thanks, Drew,” I said. I wasn’t used to the crutches and my arms were getting sore.

Once I was settled, I mentally ran through what I knew of the events, to decide how to tell them.

“After I took you home, Claire, I was walking back when Phil and his two mates jumped me. I tried to get away, but they tackled me, and one of them stomped on my leg — that’s when my ankle got broken. Phil started kicking me while I was on the ground, but I don’t think the other two joined in that. I believe I remember one of them telling Phil to stop, but I’m not sure.”

I looked at Claire. “Do you know a Mitchell Stafford?”

She nodded. “He was one of the guys with Phil that night. The other one was Andrew Bradley.”

“If you know how to get in touch with Mitchell, I’d appreciate it. He rang triple zero and got me an ambulance. I think he and Andrew must’ve pulled Phil off me. If they hadn’t, I don’t know what would’ve happened. Phil was drunk and out of control.”

“They stuck around until the ambos showed up?” Drew asked.

I shook my head. “They were gone. Mitchell didn’t leave his name, but I don’t think he realised his mobile number was recorded when he rang. The police tracked him down yesterday, but that’s as much as I know.”

“So what happened next?” Claire asked.

“I was knocked out for a bit, but I came to just before the ambulance arrived. The hospital took X-rays and found a simple fracture in the ankle, and a hairline fracture of one rib. Cuts, abrasions and bruises galore, but nothing serious. They kept me until I was over the mild concussion and they were confident that I was going to be okay. They finally let Mum and Dad take me home late yesterday afternoon. A lot of the delay was just waiting for a doctor to approve my release.”

“Why didn’t you call to tell us what happened?” Drew asked.

“You were grounded, remember? He couldn’t’ve rung you if he’d wanted to.” Claire fixed me with a worried eye. “But he could’ve called me or any of the others.”

I stared down at the stained concrete path. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was calling just to get sympathy.” I glanced across at Claire and let the words just shoot out. “And I didn’t know if you would be upset by my telling the police who attacked me. I made them wait a couple of minutes while I made up my mind on what to say. I thought about trying to ring you then, to see what you would think, but then I thought that wasn’t really fair on you. So, I made the decision and told the cops. I didn’t tell them about the earlier stuff, though, because I wasn’t sure if that would get Brandon in trouble.”

I held my breath as I waited. I didn’t know how much Claire still cared for Phil. Our conversation on Friday night had indicated that it was going to take time for her to get him out of her system, and so my reporting him to the police might break the relationship she and I were developing.

Claire blinked a few times while she absorbed the avalanche of words. She then smiled and leant over to kiss me lightly on the lips. “You can be so nice at times, Rick. An idiot, too — as if I would condone in the slightest way what Phil did — but don’t worry. After Saturday, I’ve got no feelings for Phil at all.”

Drew interrupted. “I do. Hatred.”

I caught his eye. “Drop it, Drew. Please? I don’t want you getting in trouble over this. Just let the cops look after it.”

“Look at what he did to you!”

“And he’ll be paying the price. I don’t want you in trouble, too.”

Drew was still simmering, but he didn’t say anything. I sensed that his anger had little to do with his ‛boyfriend’ being bashed, but everything to do with one of his friends being hurt. I admired that in him, but I knew I would have to try to make sure he didn’t do some stupid act of revenge against Phil.

“Brandon’s going to hit the roof, too,” Claire said.

Drew’s grin looked cruel. “That’s true. I think I’ll have to have a word with him.”

“DREW!” I was starting to get anxious.

Drew gave me one of his angelic looks. “Only about mutual dreaming on what we’d like to do to Phil, that’s all. Perfectly harmless.”

“Promise me you won’t do anything. Leave it to the police.” I reached out and put a hand on Drew’s shoulder. “Please, just let it drop.”

Drew didn’t look happy, but he nodded. “Okay, if that’s what you want.” He leant towards me and for a moment. I thought he was going to kiss me, right there in front of the other students who were waiting for school to start. He seemed to realise that would be a mistake, and gave me an awkward embrace, instead.

“What the fuck?”

We looked up to see Brandon and Angus approaching. Both looked shocked.

Claire answered Brandon’s question. “Phil and his mates were waiting near my place Saturday night and caught Rick after he dropped me off.”

Brandon narrowed his eyes at me. “How many pieces? Four? Six? Or more?”


“How many pieces do you want me to break Phil into?”

Drew grinned. “Six would be nice.”

“DREW!” I turned back to Brandon. “Leave him alone, Brandon. I don’t want you to get involved.”

“Too late. I’ve wanted an excuse to flatten the guy for a long time, and now he’s given it to me.”

“The police are looking after it, Brandon. Leave it with them.”

“The cops? I don’t trust them to do the job right. Phil’s gone too far, and it’s time to make him pay.”

I caught Angus’s eye and tried to project a plea for help.

“Brando, let it rest for now. We can see what the cops do before we have to make any decisions,” Angus said.

Brandon was fired up and didn’t seem to be in a mood to listen to reason. “Not this time, Angus. I’ve ignored too much from him for too long. I’m not letting this one drop.”

I swallowed once before I spoke, and hoped I wasn’t about to ruin everything I’d gained, but I had to stop Brandon from doing something stupid, especially as I knew Drew would tag along with him. “Don’t be a stubborn fool, Marlon.”

I heard Drew’s gasp and I saw Angus’s eyes go wide, but my focus was on Brandon. Bad Brandon hadn’t been far away, anyway, so I wasn’t surprised when he made his appearance.

“Don’t call me that!” Brandon’s fists were clenched as he glared at me.

I pushed myself upright and balanced on my good leg. “I’ll stop calling you Marlon if you stop talking about going after Phil. What will it be, Marlon? Are you going to be sensible?”

“Rick…” Drew’s voice was weak, as if he was having trouble speaking. I ignored him and maintained a staring contest with Brandon.

Brandon stepped forward until we were nose to nose. “Are you deliberately trying to piss me off?”

“If that’s what it takes to stop you, yes.”

We glared at each other for another few seconds before I lost my balance and started to topple back towards the seat. Drew leapt up to support me from behind and Brandon grabbed my arm to hold me upright. I winced from Brandon’s grip because he’d hit on one of my many bruises.

“Are you okay, Rick?” Drew asked, as he helped me sit back down.

I glanced up at Brandon, who seemed calmer. “Apart from being sore, I’m okay. Brandon? Are you okay?”

“No.” Brandon’s lips twisted into a wry smile. “But I’ll wait before I decide if I’ll do anything about the bastard.” He scowled. “I’m going for a walk. I’ll see you all later.”

He headed off. Angus started to follow, but a glare from Brandon stopped him. After watching his friend storm away, Angus returned to the rest of us.

Drew gave me a curious look. “Rick, I don’t know if anyone’s told you, but Brandon doesn’t like being called Marlon. Angus is the only one who can get away with using it.”

Claire laughed. “Angus, and now Rick. He called Brandon that on Saturday night, too, and stood up to him just like he did now. I’m not sure if that means Rick’s brave or suicidal, but he got away with it.”

I found my body shaking as the levels of adrenaline dropped. I hoped I had shaken Brandon off the course he had proposed, without damaging things too badly.

Drew must have noticed something. “Hey, Rick. Are you okay?”

I smiled at him. “You mean, apart from a broken ankle, a cracked rib, and more bruises than I care to count?” I glanced at my watch to try to avoid answering the real question. “I’m sorry, but I have to get moving. The bell’s about to go and it’s going to take me longer to get to my class than normal.”

Angus got to my backpack before Drew. He picked it up and slung it over his shoulder. “Then let’s get going.”

* * *

Most of my English class was heading out for lunch as I went through the contortions required to put my backpack on before picking up my crutches. I had tried it in the other order at the end of an earlier class, and that had been a disaster.

“Would you like a hand with that?”

I glanced up to see one of my classmates standing nearby. He gave a smile that projected an easy-going and relaxed attitude. “It’s just that you look so awkward.”

“Thanks. I’d really appreciate it. Can you just hold my pack for me until I’m on my feet?” I hope my expression conveyed my appreciation, because slipping the backpack on when I was standing was a lot easier.

“No problem.” He picked up the pack. “Did I hear the story right? Claire’s ex-boyfriend beat you up for moving in on his girl?”

I pulled a face. There were a number of variations on the story that I had been asked to confirm, some rather fanciful. At least that one was close to the truth. “Sort of. I think he was more upset about being dumped. And Claire and I didn’t start going out until she was already finished with him.”

Once I was standing, the guy helped me slip my arms through the backpack’s straps. “There you are. You should be fine now.”

“Thanks… I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name.” I gave him a smile as an apology while I shrugged my shoulders to help the pack settle into place.

He laughed. “That’s okay. You’ve probably had a ton of names to memorise. I think you’re probably a lot better for Claire that Phil could ever have been. The guy was an arsehole. Probably still is, looking at you.”

“You know him?”

“I’ve met him a few times, and I’ve heard stories about what he’s like. You can’t always believe what you hear, but in Phil’s case, you can.”

“Well, thanks. I appreciate the help.”

“No problem. I’m more than glad to help, anytime you want something.” He gave me another lazy smile. “My pleasure.”

I grinned. “It’ll help if I know who to ask for help, though.” I thought he’d forgotten he hadn’t told me his name.

“What the fuck’s going on?”

I glanced at the classroom doorway to see Peter walking in. He looked like he was ready to kill, and he was staring at the guy who had helped me.

“G’day, Peter. How have you been?” The guy didn’t seem bothered. If anything, he seemed amused at Peter’s demeanour.

“Why the fuck do you care, James? Rick’s a friend of mine, and I don’t want you anywhere near him. Got that?”

James? I stared at the guy who had to be Drew’s ex-boyfriend. Looking dispassionately, I could see why Drew had been attracted to him. James was certainly good looking, with the sandy-coloured hair that Drew seemed to find attractive, and his personality would make it easy to like him.

“You sound jealous. Are you trying to keep him to yourself? I didn’t think you were that way inclined.” James glanced at me and winked. I didn’t react — I couldn’t. I was still in shock. “Bye, Rick. I’ll see you around.”

“Fuck off, and don’t come back.” Peter glared after James until he had disappeared. He then turn to me, still angry. His expression caused me to back up, forgetting that that isn’t easy when using crutches. I tripped over a chair behind me and crashed to the floor.

I didn’t scream when I banged my ribs, but I could have. There was a renewed throbbing from some of my bruises, too.

“Rick? Are you okay?” Peter helped me up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I just go overboard whenever I have to speak to that bastard.”

“That’s okay.” I cautiously prodded my ribs while Peter retrieved my crutches.

He must have seen what I was doing. “Oh, shit. I haven’t made it worse, have it?”

I smiled, hoping to wipe the worried look from his face. “I don’t think so. I’m just being paranoid.”

Once I was dusted off, Peter and I headed out. There was a moment of confusion at the door, until I told Peter to go out first. It was safer for me — I had almost been knocked down leaving an earlier class because someone was running down the hallway to their next room and didn’t notice the guy on crutches coming out of the door.

I concentrated on just moving. My arms were tiring fast and I could feel the beads of sweat on my forehead. The cool breeze as we stepped outside was momentarily refreshing, but did nothing to stop the fatigue.

Peter stepped in front of me. “Whoa! Steady on, Rick. You’re going to kill yourself.” He glanced around and spotted a nearby seat. “Why don’t you sit over there and I’ll get someone to help out?”

“I’ll make it,” I said, gritting my teeth. “I’m going to have to get used to moving around on these things, since I’ll have them for a few weeks.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to do everything on the first day. Give it a rest and let me get some help.” Peter grinned. “I’m being selfish here. I’ll be in deep trouble if you kill yourself while I’m with you.”

I knew he was only trying to be helpful. “How about we take a break for a few minutes, and then we head on? You don’t need to get anyone for me.”

Peter considered it. He didn’t seem pleased, but he nodded his head. “Come on, then. We’ll rest over there under that tree.”

I had to admit that it felt good to sit down in the fresh air and rest my leg along the bench. The dark sky promised rain, but for the moment it was refreshing. I glanced at Peter and saw him biting his lower lip. I guessed what was bothering him.

“So that was James. He wasn’t what I had expected.”

Peter seemed startled. “You hadn’t met him before?”

“Nope. Friday night was the first time I’d heard his name mentioned. I didn’t realise who I was sharing a class with until you said his name. We hadn’t spoken before today.”

“He’s a bastard. He presents a good image, but his actions speak louder than words. I’d avoid him, if I were you.”

“That’ll be difficult if he’s in the same class as me, but don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”

“What were you two talking about, anyway?”

I sensed an edge to Peter’s question. It wasn’t just idle curiosity. “He started by just helping me with getting my backpack on. Then he mentioned he’d met Phil and thought he was a bastard.”

Peter snorted. “Takes one to know one.”

“He also said he thought I’d make Claire a lot better boyfriend than Phil.”

“He did?” Peter appeared thoughtful. “Well, he’s right about that. I suppose that means you’re safe, at least for now. If he thinks you’re straight he’ll probably leave you alone.”

“Leave me alone?” I didn’t understand what Peter was implying.

He glanced around to make sure no one could overhear us. “If he finds out you’re gay, I expect he’ll try to get you into bed. He’s that sort of guy.”

I blanched. I thought it would be easy to put off James, but I was still worried about when Drew was going to want to do the same. “I don’t think you need to worry about that. I’ve got no interest in sleeping with him.”

Peter grinned. “I didn’t think you would, but I thought I’d warn you he’ll try.” He gave me a once over. “Do you think you’re ready to move on again?”

I clambered to my feet. “I hope so.”

It took us five minutes to join the others at one of the tables at the edge of the sports fields. Everyone was there, but I was surprised that when I sat down Drew didn’t move. It was Claire who changed places to sit next to me. Drew was avoiding eye contact. I frowned at him for a moment, and then decided to let it slide. If there was something bothering him, I was sure he would tell me.

I chuckled at my thoughts. They seemed more like those of a boyfriend than simply a friend.

“What’s so funny?” Angus asked me.

“Nothing, really,” I replied, and then tried to change the topic. “Thanks, though. Everyone’s being so helpful with things today.”

“Yeah, including some people who you’re better off not accepting help from.” Peter spat on the ground. “Like James.”

Drew’s head shot up and he gave me a wide-eyed stare. I smiled back at him, hoping to let him know there was nothing to be concerned about.

“What the fuck did he want?” Brandon asked.

“He was only helping me put my backpack on. I didn’t even know who he was, until Peter showed up.”

“I want you to keep away from him, Rick.” Drew was glaring at me.

I blinked a couple of times as I realised I had to tread carefully. Drew was acting jealous, and if I said the wrong thing I’d be in danger of pissing him off.

“Easy on him, Drew,” Claire said. “He said he didn’t know who he was.”

“Yeah, but now he knows.” Drew stared at me. “Well?”

“I’ll do my best, Drew, but I’m sharing classes with him. I can’t avoid him completely.”

Drew dropped his angry posture and his body slumped. “Just don’t speak to him, okay? Please?”

“Sure, Drew.” I thought it shouldn’t be difficult to do that.

“Changing the topic, Brandon and I have been talking about something,” Angus said.

“About what?” Claire asked.

Angus gave her a sheepish grin. “You, actually. Well, sort of.”

“Me?” Claire glanced at Brandon, who looked away. When she turned to me, I just shrugged my shoulders. Peter seemed oblivious and, following his gaze, I could see why. Sharon O’Connor was in eyeshot.

There was something wrong with Drew. After his comments, he looked like he’d withdrawn into a shell. I caught Brandon’s concerned look, though Claire didn’t seem to be worried.

Angus nodded. “Yeah. We’re afraid Phil might try to do something. We’re going to be escorting you home from school, until we’re happy that he’s not going to try anything.”

Claire crossed her arms and glared at Angus. “And you and boy wonder have decided to appoint yourselves as my guardians, regardless of whether I want help or not?”

Even I got the hint, so I wasn’t surprised when Angus started backpedalling.

“We just want to make sure you’re safe. If you’ve got a better idea, then we’re happy to listen.”

“Really? But you didn’t think to ask me if I’d like your first idea, so why would you consider anything I have to say?”

I decided to jump in. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had put Claire at risk by not telling everyone, as soon as I was able, what had happened after I escorted her home. “Claire, they might be right. Phil was really pissed off when he attacked me.”

She put me in my place with a single glance. “You stay out of this.” She turned back to Angus and smiled sweetly. “Did you ever consider that I might know Phil better than anyone else here? That I know him well enough to know he would never hit a woman? That he waited until I was home before he jumped Rick, when he could’ve jumped both of us before we got to my house?”

Angus was visibly shrinking under the spotlight Claire was shining on him.

“But you may have a point.” Claire tapped her lips thoughtfully. “Phil could still try to do something.”

Angus grinned, mainly with relief, I thought. “So you’re happy if we walk you home?”

“Oh, no. Not me. Rick’s going to be getting a lift to and from school, so he’ll be fine. The only person who Phil might have a grudge against that’s still vulnerable is Drew.”

“Me?” Drew was startled. Angus and Brandon glanced at him and then back at Claire.

Claire continued as if Drew hadn’t spoken. “I think you and Brandon should escort Drew home each night. Maybe if the three of you hold hands, like little boys whose mummies are letting you walk home by yourselves, you’ll all be safe. Just make sure you look both ways before you cross the roads. Little boys can have accidents if they’re not careful.”

The snort of laughter from Peter showed that he wasn’t quite as preoccupied as I had thought. “Claire, you’re a wonderful, glorious person, but please tell me privately if it ever looks like I’m going to insult you. I’d hate for you to tell me off in front of my friends.”

Claire smiled at Peter. “Of course, Peter. I wouldn’t dream of humiliating you in public.” She turned to me. “So how’s your day going, Rick? No problems getting around?”

* * *

“Thanks for the dinner, Mum. Do you mind if I go back to my room? It’s been a tiring day.”

Besides being physically tiring, there had been a bit of emotional stress in the day. Drew had acted weird all lunchtime, and my promise to him wasn’t as easy to keep as I had thought. It turned out I had a number of classes with James, though it looked like there was only the one where none of my friends were present. I hadn’t realised the week before how thoroughly they had ignored James when he was in the same room.

“Sure, Rick. Be sure to elevate that ankle. Do you want any painkillers? The doctor said you could take them if you need to.”

“No, thanks. I’ll still try to do without.”

I didn’t like taking pills, probably as a consequence of one particular day, two years prior, when I had seriously considered taking too many at once. I was very glad I hadn’t gone through with that plan.

I retired to my room and stripped down to boxers and a T-shirt, having some trouble getting my pants off because of the cast. It was too early to go to bed, but I didn’t feel like doing much. I fired up the computer and picked a random shoot-em-up game. Something mindless was what I was looking for. I made myself comfortable on the bed with the wireless keyboard and trackball, and let my mind go.

It was sometime later that I was interrupted by a soft whistle.

“If this is the way you normally dress at home, I’m going to have to drop in unannounced more often.”

My head flicked around and I saw Drew in the doorway with a huge grin plastered across his face. He looked me up and down and licked his lips. I immediately glanced down, but I didn’t think anything was inappropriately visible. I rearranged things, anyway.

“Drew? What are you doing here?”

He glanced back down the hallway before stepping into the room. “That’s a nice way to greet your best mate.” He grinned to show he wasn’t upset. “Dad was giving me a driving lesson, and we ended up here.” He rushed over and gave me a quick kiss on the lips. I was surprised, so I didn’t kiss him back. Indeed, I was just glad I managed to avoid pulling away from him.

“Careful. My parents might wander past.”

He sat on the bed next me. “Relax. I checked and they weren’t in sight. Anyway, they’re occupied talking to my dad.” He sighed and rested his head on my shoulder for a moment. “I’d love to close that door so I can apologise properly, but Dad knows who you are and he wouldn’t be happy. He’s a bit of a prude at times. Even Penny and Scott have to play nice when he’s around. I’ve got to behave, especially here.” Drew rolled his eyes. “Since he’s busy inviting you and your family to dinner on Saturday, I don’t want to get grounded and have the whole thing called off.”

“Apologise? What have you got to apologise for?” I was quietly cheering for Drew’s dad. He sounded like a very sensible bloke, but I hadn’t met him yet. I thought I should pull those pants back on and hop down to say hello. It seemed the polite thing to do.

“For the way I acted at school today.” He shifted so he could look me in the eye. “Promise me you won’t get upset?”

“I promise.” I was wondering what it was all about. “But you didn’t do anything that needs an apology.”

“Well… maybe I didn’t do anything, but I thought it.” He reached out and took my hand. I glanced nervously at the door while he stared down at my hand and gently stroked it. “You see, I was beginning to have second thoughts about whether we could make it as a couple.”

I stiffened. I couldn’t help it. While it was what I wanted, I was scared that it would mean losing Drew as a friend.

He misinterpreted my reaction. “It’s okay,” he quickly added, as he glanced up and gave me a soft smile. “It was just that a couple of things had been preying on my mind and I blew them all out of proportion.”

“What sorts of things?” I was wondering if I’d be able to exaggerate them and maybe cool things off between us.

“Like how you got me to speak to Sue’s mum. And then this morning, when you asked me to leave Phil alone. I thought you were coming over as controlling, and while I tried to do what you wanted, I started having thoughts about whether you would keep on doing that sort of thing. You’re a wonderful guy, Rick, but you had me doing things I didn’t want to do.”

My mouth opened, as I almost gave him an indignant reply about him doing things I didn’t want to do, but the words stuck and nothing came out. That statement would have thrown a live grenade into the situation.

“Don’t worry. I had a good chat with Sue after school, and she straightened me out.” Drew gave me a lopsided grin. “Though not too straight.”

“Okay.” I didn’t know what else to say.

“She made me see that you were making me do the right things. I really should’ve apologised to her mum, and yes, I should leave things to the cops, but I resented you making me do those things.” He squeezed the hand he still held and looked me in the eye. “Will you forgive me? I promise I’ll be a good boyfr… best mate, from now on.”

“Sure. There’s really nothing to forgive.” My hopes were dashed, and Drew was back to being my ultra-best mate… who, at some stage in the future, was going to want to do things with me that I still had trouble thinking about.

He glanced at the door and then gave me another kiss, one that was going longer than the first one. I pulled back after a couple of seconds as I was scared we would be sprung.

“Sue told me that communication is the key to a good relationship. She told I have to be honest with you, or things won’t work. That’s why, when Dad said he wanted to come over here, I jumped at the chance. The driving lesson was just a bonus. I need to practise being more honest — if I don’t tell you what I’m thinking, how will you know?”

I gulped. Being honest was the one thing I wasn’t doing.

“Sue sorted me out, so we’re good again.” He stared at me anxiously. “We’re good, aren’t we?”

I didn’t really have a choice.

I smiled. “Yep. We’re good.”

Copyright Notice — Copyright © November 2008 by Graeme.

The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.

Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.

A special thank you to Ray, Kel, C James and Shadowgod, and also to everyone at The Mail Crew. The help they have given me with this story has been fantastic. Special kudos go to Aaron and Rain of The Mail Crew for doing a brilliant job of editing. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.