I watched Mum drive out of the school car park, and then I turned to Drew. “Do you really think there might be problems?”
Drew shrugged. “Not really, but it gave me an excuse to come to your place early. I’m still disappointed that you wouldn’t let me help you get dressed.”
I rolled my eyes. “The idea was to get ready for school. You wouldn’t have helped.”
“But we’d have had a lot of fun being late.” Drew’s grin slipped away. “Seriously, I don’t expect Peter to do anything, but I want to be with you when you meet him. I don’t mind you being with me when I meet him, either.”
I started to hop my way towards our usual before-school meeting place. “Do you think he’ll try to avoid us?”
“I honestly don’t know. He hasn’t spoken to anyone that I know of since Friday night. I’m getting concerned, and so is Claire. She went around to see him, but his mum told her he was busy. She told me she’s going to his place this morning, to try to walk to school with him.”
“Who else has tried to see him?” I knew I should have made an attempt, but I had kept putting it off.
“Angus hasn’t. He told me he wasn’t sure of the reception he’d get. I don’t know if Brandon tried after he left your place.”
When we arrived at our usual spot, we found Brandon and Sharon waiting. I felt that her presence ensured that Peter wouldn’t be showing up. As soon as he saw her, he would be going somewhere else.
“Guys, I’m glad we caught you. Sharon’s got some news for you,” Brandon said. He then smiled at Sharon. “Go on. Just tell them what you told me.”
Sharon seemed uncomfortable. “I had lunch with my cousins yesterday, and you came up in the conversation, Drew.”
“How did that happen?” Drew glanced at Brandon for a clue, but Brandon was watching Sharon.
“One of them played against your team on Saturday.”
Drew chuckled. “He didn’t like getting beaten?”
“No. Well, yes, but that’s not what it’s about. He doesn’t know you, but he knows of you. One of the things he was saying was how amusing your behaviour was at the game.”
“Amusing? He thinks losing is amusing?”
Sharon glanced at Brandon, who gave her an encouraging smile.
“It’s not that. He was talking about how you kept going up to chat with your new boyfriend at every change, and would wave across the ground from time to time, too.”
I felt cold as I waited for her to finish. When Sharon focused her attention on me, I knew what she was going to say.
“The guy that Paul, my cousin, assumed was Drew’s boyfriend was a blond guy on crutches. I’m sorry, Rick, but some of Paul’s team mates go to this school. The rumour will probably be making the rounds by lunchtime.”
“I told her the truth after she mentioned it to me. Sorry, Rick, but I thought she needed to know.” Brandon gave me an apologetic smile. “There’s a chance it’ll be treated as a joke. Just because you’re mates with Drew, that doesn’t mean you’re gay.”
Sharon shook her head. “I thought that at first, but then I started thinking about how often I see Drew and Rick together — more than I see Rick with Claire. Like this morning when they arrived here together. Even if some people don’t believe it, there will be some that will.”
“Damn! Sorry, Rick, but I thought I had cut that rumour off by telling my team mates about how you broke your ankle. I didn’t think of the other team.” Drew seemed to be angry with himself.
“It’s okay, Drew, don’t worry about it.” I hadn’t realised that Drew had told them about the fight as a way of implying that we weren’t a couple. I turned to Sharon and smiled. “Thanks for letting me know. I suppose it was just a matter of time before people found out, but I appreciate you warning me. Enough about that. How about filling us in on how your date went on Saturday night?”
Sharon grinned and slipped her hand into Brandon’s. His smile was more tentative, but Sharon was beaming as she started telling us about what they had done.
I tuned out, keeping only enough attention on what she was saying so I could respond when needed. I was more interested in my reaction to the news that I was likely to be ‘out’ before the end of the day. What I was feeling was… nothing.
It didn’t seem to bother me, and I wanted to know why. How other people thought of me was important to me. But I didn’t seem concerned about them thinking I was gay. It was as if I wasn’t that person and their opinions didn’t matter. I frowned as I revised that thought. Their opinions did matter, but given the support that Drew had in the school, I didn’t see that there was anything to be concerned about. A few people may have disliked me as a consequence, but I had a circle of friends who would stand by me and support me. At least until I told them I’m straight. I didn’t know what would happen after I finally came clean. As long as Drew wasn’t hurt, I was confident I would get through.
My musing stopped when I saw two familiar figures coming through the school gate. “Sorry to interrupt, Sharon, but Claire and Peter have just arrived.”
Brandon, Drew and Sharon joined me in watching the sorry-looking figure. Peter’s hair was a mess and his posture was slumped. His head was only raised enough for him to know what was just in front of him as he trudged along. Claire had one of his arms entwined with hers. I didn’t know if it was to make sure he didn’t escape, or to offer support.
Brandon and Drew exchanged glances and then Drew looked at me. I guessed at what he was asking and I nodded. They headed over to intercept Peter and Claire, leaving me alone with Sharon.
“So, you’re really gay,” Sharon said, as if she didn’t quite believe it.
I shrugged. “What’s in a label?” I couldn’t say it. I needed to keep a veneer of honesty about myself.
“You had me completely fooled. I was sure that you and Claire were an item. Brandon said that that was her idea. Was it?”
“Yeah. She’s still getting over Phil and didn’t want to be harassed by guys asking her out, so it seemed like a win-win for both of us.”
Brandon and Drew were talking to Peter. He seemed angry for an instant and then despondent. I wondered what had been said.
“Can I ask your opinion on something?” Sharon asked.
“Sure.” The three guys, Peter in the middle, started heading back to us with Claire trailing behind. It looked like Drew and Brandon were there to stop Peter from running away.
“Do you find Brandon intense?”
That sounded familiar, but it took me a moment to recall that that was the description Claire had used when she’d mentioned Brandon’s previous girlfriends. She had said that his earlier relationships had failed because he had been too intense for the girls.
“Focused is probably a better word. He throws everything into what he does, and he’s extremely loyal. If you’re looking for someone to protect you, he’s your man.”
“But what if you’re looking for an equal partner?”
We only had a few seconds before the subject of our conversation would be in a position to overhear. “I don’t know. I suppose it really depends on what you need a partner to be. No two people are truly equal. As long as they’re not dependent on each other, but want to be together, then I think it can work. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Two people can complement each other, or reinforce each other — both are fine. It’s when they don’t fit together that problems arise.”
“That’s not happening with us. We’re fitting together perfectly!” Drew grinned as he sat down next to me.
I smiled and then looked at Peter. He was staring at the ground.
“Hi, Peter,” Sharon said. She stepped forward, put a hand under Peter’s chin and lifted his head up so he would look at her. “I’m sorry. I like you, but not that way.”
I wished I had the courage to say the same to Drew.
* * *
Peter and I shared the same class just before lunch. I sat with him, but he only responded with grunts when I tried to chat. Despite the limited interaction, I had the impression he was depressed, not angry. It was as if life was too hard, which I could relate to.
When the lunchtime bell rang, I waited while Peter slowly put his books away. By the time he was finished, we were the only two in the room.
“You don’t have to stay,” Peter muttered as he slung his backpack over his shoulder.
“You didn’t have to stay with me last Monday, when I was still getting used to the crutches, but you did.”
“Drew asked me to.”
I didn’t reply, deciding to leave my echo unsaid. It wasn’t only Drew who had made a comment, though. There was a general consensus to keep an eye on Peter.
Peter snorted and gave me a weak smile. “Okay, I get the point. If you want to hang around a loser, feel free.”
“I wouldn’t mind hanging around a loser, but I don’t know where to find one. Can I hang about a great guy who’s going through a bad patch, instead?”
Peter shrugged and started towards the door. I followed but stopped when he hesitated at the exit.
“Rick, I…” Peter shook his head. “Never mind.”
“If you want to talk, I’m happy to listen. Claire tells me I’m a good listener.”
Peter slumped into the nearest seat. I decided to rest on the corner of a nearby desk, rather than sitting in a chair. It was easier for me.
“Why do you think Sharon doesn’t like me?”
“She does like you. I heard her say it this morning. She’s just got her eye on someone else.” That didn’t come out the way I wanted, and I hoped I wasn’t making things worse.
“I hated you for a while, but I realised that was childish. You weren’t the one who ruined things. You were just the one who made me face up to reality.”
I winced. “It didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. I really wanted to see you two together.” I paused. “No, that’s not right. I wanted to see you happy. I was trying to give you a chance to speak to Sharon and show her what a great guy you are. After that, it was always going to be up to you and her.”
“I know. That’s what I eventually worked out, too. I just don’t know why she doesn’t think I’m attractive.”
I needed to do something, so I gambled. “Peter, look at me.” I waited. “LOOK AT ME!”
He lifted his head.
“Do you know what I see? A guy who’s talented. A guy who’s smart. A guy who’s good looking. A guy who’s a loyal friend. You may not be what Sharon’s looking for in a boyfriend, but there’s certainly girls out there who will find what they’re looking for in you. We can’t control who we’re attracted to, but that doesn’t mean the ones who aren’t on that list are worthless. There are some great people who I’m not attracted to, but I would be more than happy to have them as friends. How about it, Peter? Friends?” I stuck out a hand.
Peter stared at it, then grinned and shook my hand. “Did you just say you’re not attracted to me, either? I’m heartbroken!”
I grinned back. “Accept it and get over it. You’re not my type.”
Peter clambered to his feet. He wasn’t back to his normal self, but he was more alive than he had been minutes before. “Come on. Let’s join the others. I still have to work out how to make Angus’s life a misery.”
“Why?” After his earlier statements, I couldn’t understand why he still seemed to blame Angus for what had happened.
“Because he’s expecting it. I can’t disappoint my friends.”
We were both chuckling when we left the room.
We were nearly at the exit from the building when the door was flung open and James rushed through. He pulled up just in front of us. “Rick! Just the person I was looking for.”
Peter scowled. “What the fuck do you want, loser?”
James’s gaze flicked between us a few times before settling on me. “Rick, can I have a private word?”
“There’s nothing you can’t say in front of Peter,” I said, wondering why James seemed disturbed.
“Though Peter would prefer it if you never said anything at all,” Peter said, crossing his arms and glaring.
“Are you sure? It’s about what we discussed on Saturday at the game.” James flicked a wary glance at Peter.
My eyebrows raised as I realised what he was hinting at. James wasn’t sure if Peter knew about Drew and me, and he didn’t want to out me.
“You spoke to this bastard?” Peter seemed shocked, then angry. “Don’t have anything to do with him, Rick. He’s bad news.”
“It’s okay, Peter. I’ve already spoken to Drew about it and he’s fine if I speak to James.” While Peter was picking his jaw off the floor, I turned back to James, who was also looking surprised. “If you’re going to tell me about a rumour going around the school because of what happened at the game, I already know about that. Sharon warned me before school.”
“I wanted to tell you, and to make sure you knew that I wasn’t spreading it. I told the person who told me that you were going out with Claire and that they had everything mixed up.” James cocked his head. “Did Drew really say he’s okay with you speaking to me?”
I glanced to my side to see Peter watching both of us suspiciously. At least he wasn’t being despondent. “Yes, he did, though he also said he’d like to be with me for the first few times we talk.”
James looked uncertain for a moment and then eased into his normal, relaxed persona. “In that case, I should go. I wouldn’t want Drew to get upset with you for speaking to me without him.” He grinned. “Bye, Peter. Let me know if you’re ever willing to change sides. I’m looking for a new boyfriend and I’ve always thought you were good looking.”
James headed outside while I watched Peter. I wasn’t sure what his reaction was going to be, though I was happy that he was taking an interest in things around him.
He stared at the exit through which James had disappeared for several long seconds before looking at me. “You weren’t making that up, were you? About Drew?”
“You can ask him yourself, if you like.”
Peter shook his head. “I don’t believe it. I just don’t fucking believe it.”
“Did you notice something about what James said?”
“Anytime you want a boyfriend, all you have to do is ask James.” I grinned. “Now you can’t say that no one finds you attractive.”
Peter shuddered. “There’s no way I would go out with James, even if I was gay. The guy’s a creep.”
“You’re calling your new boyfriend a creep?”
Peter opened his mouth to retort, then closed it and shook his head. “What’ll it take for you to never mention what James said to any of the others? Especially not Angus.”
“Hmm… let me see.” I tapped my finger on my cheek to give Peter the impression I was trying to think of something. “How about we get the old Peter back, the one who’s a wiz at DDR and who’s a great friend?”
Peter chuckled. “I’ll try.”
We headed out to join the others. I was happy that Peter appeared to be getting over his funk and that he was starting to sound like his old self.
As we rounded the corner of the building, I saw everyone waiting, including Sharon and two other people I didn’t know. They seemed agitated, and when Brandon and Drew ran up to meet us, I suspected it was to do with Peter.
“Is everything okay?” Drew asked Peter and me, though most of his focus seemed to be on Peter.
“We were just about to start looking for you,” Brandon added.
Peter chuckled. “Everything’s fine. Dr. Rick’s been psychoanalysing me, which is why we’re late. And speaking of psychos, we ran into James.”
“Is he still in one piece?” There was more than a hint of Bad Brandon in the question.
Peter glanced at me and then at Drew before answering. “Yeah. He just wanted to let Rick know that he hadn’t been spreading rumours. Apparently, he and Rick have been chatting.”
“I know.” Drew grinned at me. “Rick and I will be having a chat with him at some stage soon. It’s time I put some of the past behind me. I’ll never trust him again, but maybe I can learn to be sociable.”
It was definitely Bad Brandon that glared at me. “What have you and that bastard been talking about?”
I didn’t quail, but only because I was confident that Brandon would defer to Drew’s judgement eventually, if not immediately. “Drew, actually. He told me what happened, and what it meant to him. He then told me he had worked out that Drew had a new boyfriend, and who it was. He finished by warning me not to make the same mistake that he had.”
Drew draped an arm across my shoulders and stared back at Brandon. “Rick’s already told me all about it. I trust him. That’s the end of it as far as I’m concerned.”
To my surprise, it was Brandon that looked away first.
“Er, Drew?” Peter said, hesitantly. “People are staring.”
Drew and I glanced around. I spotted several people staring, with a couple pointing at Drew and me. I started to pull away as I realised what it looked like, but Drew had other ideas. He didn’t make it obvious, but he indicated he didn’t want me to move.
“If you jerk away, it’ll look like you’ve got a guilty conscience,” Drew said. He kept his arm where it was for a few seconds longer, before dropping his arm and stepping across to Peter. He then put his arm across Peter’s shoulders. “Now, how about you come and join the rest of us. I want to introduce Rick to Yvonne and Mike.”
Drew led Peter towards our waiting friends, while Brandon and I followed. I glanced to my side a couple of times, but Brandon’s expression didn’t encourage conversation. He seemed more closed than angry, but I caught a warning glare when I tried to talk to him.
I examined the two strangers as we approached. Yvonne was a medium-sized brunette, neither especially good looking nor plain. She had a pleasant appearance, though I spotted a flash of something stronger when she smiled at the guy. Mike was a tall but weedy guy with wire-framed glasses — an average looking guy, a year or two older than me.
I noticed that Angus had positioned himself on the far side of the group. He looked uncomfortable.
Drew introduced me to Yvonne and Mike. They were polite but a little distant. I wasn’t bothered, though, because I noticed that their focus was on Peter.
“How are you doing, Peter?” Yvonne asked. She stepped forward and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“I’m doing okay.” Peter was subdued, but he made an effort to try to smile. That failed when he glanced in Sharon’s direction.
“Cheer up. You’ll find someone, just like I found Mike.” Yvonne’s grin at her boyfriend lit up her entire face.
“And I found Rick. Just try to do a better job than us and don’t wait so long.” Drew grinned at me. “Not that he wasn’t worth waiting for.”
Yvonne laughed as she slipped her arm through Mike’s. “You’ve got that right. While I remember, you’ll be seeing more of Mike and me from now on. That play we were involved with has finished, so we can start showing up on Friday nights again.”
“That’s great news!” Drew winked at me. “Yvonne’s even better at DDR than Peter, so you won’t see him boasting as much as he has been.”
“I’m out of practise, so he’ll probably win easily.”
“I’ve heard that one before,” Claire said as she moved next to me and slipped her arm through mine. “Usually just before you beat the pants off him.”
Claire seemed to invite it, so I leant over and kissed her on the cheek. I suspected she was doing it as a quiet way of countering the rumours that were circulating, but I didn’t mind. She felt nice and warm as she snuggled up next to me.
I wasn’t the only one who caught Mike and Yvonne’s puzzled looks.
“Rick’s not out, yet, so Claire’s pretending to be his girlfriend,” Drew said. “She’s just not allowed to maul him without my permission.”
Claire didn’t seem impressed. “Really? Rick, prepare to be mauled.”
The next few seconds lasted about an hour. Claire was a lot better kisser than Drew, though I was probably biased. I was breathing hard when we finally came up for air.
Claire challenged Drew with a stare. “Well?”
Drew grinned. “Not bad, but if you really want him hot and bothered, slip a hand down the back of his pants as you’re kissing him. Works every time. He gets even more passionate if you slip a hand down the front.”
“DREW!” He had never done either of those things to me. The closest had been the running of his hand lightly across my back along the top of my jeans.
He looked apologetic. “Sorry. I really shouldn’t give out all our secrets. I’ll try to not do that again.”
I knew what he was doing. “I don’t mind you telling people what we do, if they’re really interested, but how about sticking to the truth?”
He used one of his angelic expressions. “Me? Lie? How could you accuse me of doing such a thing?”
Brandon grinned. “Give up, Drew. No one believes you.”
The chuckles from most of the others indicated that Drew was on the losing side in that argument.
Yvonne frowned. “I’m sorry, but did I misunderstand before? Did you say that Rick’s not out, because I’m sure I’ve heard a couple of people today talk about your new boyfriend, the guy on crutches.”
Drew made a face. “Yeah, well I stuffed up on the weekend and made a bit too much of Rick when he came to watch me play. Some people have put two and two together.” He glanced at me. “But there’s been no problems, right? You will tell me if you get hassled.”
“Or me.” Brandon cracked his knuckles. “Or even that fleet-footed fairy who’s trying to hide behind Mike. He’ll have your back, too.”
Angus stepped to the side. “I’m not hiding!”
Yvonne looked between Angus and Brandon. “Are you two having another argument about which sport is better?”
Brandon shook his head. “Nah, that’s settled. It’s rugby.”
Brandon’s grin looked evil. “I think it’s about time we had another couple of games. One of soccer and one of rugby, and we’ll see who wins.”
Angus looked wary. “The only problem with that is that you play soccer like you play rugby. If there was a decent ref, you’d be red-carded in the first few seconds.”
Brandon’s grin got wider. “Then it’s just as well that we don’t have a ref when we play.”
Angus glanced around, as if he was checking his escape route. “Normally, I’d play you anyway, but not today. I get the impression you’d be more interested in thumping me than winning.”
“Now, why would you think that?” Brandon’s mild tone was completely at odds with his expression.
“Brandon, go easy on him, he hasn’t done anything wrong.” Sharon put a hand on Brandon’s bicep. “For me?”
Brandon glanced at Peter. “Setting me up on a blind date, and not even telling me it was going to be a date? I heard that he and Peter almost came to blows, too.”
“Listen to Sharon. I was only trying to help you. I didn’t mean any harm!” Angus said.
Brandon smiled at Sharon. “Since you asked, I’ll hold off for now.”
Peter raised his head and narrowed his eyes at Angus. “So, it’s okay because you were only trying to help? Well, then, I think one good turn deserves another.”
“What do you mean?”
Peter ignored Angus and turned to Brandon. “I was just thinking that apart from myself, Angus is the only guy in the group who’s still single.”
“And?” Brandon asked.
“I was speaking to someone earlier who indicated they were looking for a new boyfriend. I think Angus would be a great choice.”
“Who is she?” Drew asked.
Peter’s smile was filled with anticipation. “The person we were discussing after you and Brandon caught up with Rick and me.”
“But that was…” Drew’s face lit up. “I think that’s perfect!”
Brandon laughed. “I agree. Angus, keep Saturday night free — you’ve got a date.”
I was a little slow. It took me a few seconds to work out who they were talking about. My first reaction was to protest that it wasn’t fair. I could see that Peter and Brandon wanted to pay Angus back, but I was worried that they were using James to do so. I decided to wait and see what was planned. It was possible that they wouldn’t go through with it, but were only trying to get Angus worried.
“We should check that his date’s free, first. They might have other plans,” Peter said.
“True. Who’s going to ask?”
“I’ll do it,” Drew said. “I know them well and they’ll probably do it as a favour to me.”
“Who is it?” Angus asked.
“Never you mind. It’s going to be a blind date. Just make sure you’re all dressed up — you’ll want to take them somewhere romantic,” Brandon said.
Peter laughed. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun.”
Angus crossed his arms. “I’m not going on a date until I know who it is. Scratch that. I’m not going on a date, full stop. I’m just not interested in having a girlfriend at the moment.”
Brandon nodded. “That’s fair enough. We’ll just do it the way you did it to me. We won’t tell you it’s a date until you show up.” He grinned at Sharon. “It worked out well for me and Sharon, so hopefully it’ll work out for you, too.”
Drew and Peter started laughing hard. Angus looked very nervous. Claire, Sharon, Yvonne and Mike were all puzzled.
Claire moved over to me and whispered, “Who is it? They’re not going to set him up with someone wrong, are they?”
I remembered her suspicions about Angus. “I don’t know if I can tell you who it is, but it just might work out for him. It may not happen, but if it does, I think they’ll make a great couple.”
James and Angus. It would be interesting if it worked out, though I wanted to make sure James knew that Angus wasn’t aware he would be on a date with a guy. As long as they weren’t using James without his knowledge, I was inclined to let Peter, Brandon and Drew have their fun.
Copyright Notice — Copyright © February 2009 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.