I was packing up after my last class on Tuesday.
“I think we need to talk,” Brandon murmured, startling me.
I hadn’t seen him approach, but I nodded. We had been tiptoeing around each other for two days, and it had been noticed. Drew hadn’t mentioned it, but I could tell he was wondering. Claire, Peter and Angus had, individually, been blunt in asking me if there was something going on. None of them had been happy when I told them nothing was wrong, but they hadn’t pushed.
We waited until everyone was out of the classroom.
“We can’t stay here too long, or Drew will come looking for me,” I said. Drew had stated he would be walking me home each day that week, with the warning that he would ring my mum if he thought I was struggling. Getting home on Monday had been a challenge because of the lack of strength in the leg I hadn’t used for three weeks, but I wanted to do it. I was sure it would get easier the more I worked at it.
Brandon frowned as he glanced around the empty room. “I don’t think we should talk here, anyway. Is Drew working tonight?”
“He’s supposed to be.”
“Then how about I go home with you and we can talk after he’s gone?”
I quickly agreed, believing that Brandon’s walking home with us would relieve Drew’s concerns, and I was sure he would pass on that news to the others at his first opportunity.
We were leaving the room when I thought of something I could safely say. “Do you remember what you made me promise if I was going to be calling you ‘Marlon’? I promised to be there for you, no matter what, but I can’t do that, Marlon, if you don’t let me.”
Brandon paused for a moment and then glanced at me. “Thanks.”
I wasn’t sure what he was thanking me for, but I hoped it was for saying that I would stick to that promise.
As expected, Drew was waiting by the main entrance. His eyes opened wide when he saw who was with me, and he grinned. “I was just about to come and get you, Rick. Thanks for bringing him, Brandon.”
I wanted to bristle at the implication that I needed an escort, but I couldn’t. Drew had been concerned about the apparent tension between Brandon and me, even if he hadn’t said so, and he was visibly relieved to see the two us together.
Brandon shrugged. “No problem. Rick and I were just chatting when we realised what the time was.”
Drew raised an eyebrow at me, but I didn’t rise to the challenge. I let Brandon’s excuse stand and changed the subject. “We’d better get a move on, or Drew’s going to be late for work.”
Drew picked up his bag and we left the school grounds. He glanced at Brandon when he continued with us. “Aren't you going home?”
Brandon shrugged. “It's been a while since I've been to Rick's place. I've got some time free, so I thought I'd check to make sure he's still exercising properly and hasn't been slacking off.”
Drew seemed to accept that excuse and turned back to me. “I’ve been thinking of quitting my job, or asking for less hours. Work is really cutting into my personal time.”
“You can’t do that! I’m going to need a job soon, and I was hoping you’d help me get one working with you,” I said.
“That’s right, I did promise that.” Drew looked thoughtful. “That was before Phil, which seems such a long time ago. So much has happened since then.”
“It certainly has,” Brandon said. “Things have changed a lot since Rick showed up.”
Drew asked what he meant, but Brandon just gave him a cold look. I realised that that created the opposite impression to what I had hoped the walk home would give, because Drew gave us a worried glance. I needed to change the subject.
“How do you think you’ll go at training on Saturday?” I asked Brandon.
His face lit up and he gave us a rundown on the other members of the state squad that he would be competing against for the final places on the team. That conversation kept us occupied until we arrived home.
My mum was in the kitchen, cleaning up after baking. She laughed when she saw her Danish pastries start to disappear into three hungry mouths.
“These are really good!” I said as I grabbed at a third.
Mum slapped my hand lightly. “That’s enough for now, or you won’t eat dinner. I’m glad you like them, though, since I was planning on making them for the party. I was just testing the recipe to see if they would turn out okay.”
“They’re definitely okay!” Drew said. He reached for another one, and then pulled back as he caught my mum’s warning glare. “I’ve got to go to work, but could I have one more, please, to stop me from wasting away on the way to the supermarket?”
Mum chuckled at Drew’s attempt to sound forlorn. “Okay, one more.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Wakeland!” Drew grabbed a pastry and then gave me a peck on the cheek. “See you tomorrow!”
He waved goodbye to my mum and Brandon and then headed out the door.
After complimenting my mum again on her cooking, Brandon and I went to my room. I hesitated, and then closed the door. Mum would be wondering what was going on, but I knew Brandon and I would need some privacy.
Brandon stood by the window, staring outside. I moved up next to him just in time to see Drew disappearing around the corner.
“You really want him,” I said.
Brandon’s lips twisted as he turned to face me. “I can’t have him.”
“Why not?” I could foresee problems, but it would resolve a lot of issues.
Brandon’s eyes narrowed. “Are you fucking stupid? Even if there weren’t other issues, he’s with you!”
“Yeah, but you and I both agreed I’m not good enough for him. I’ll stand aside for you, if you want.” I knew Brandon would refuse, but I had to make the offer.
He looked away and bowed his head. “I was wrong.”
I stared at his back for a moment, wondering at the change of mind, and then moved next to him. I put an arm across his shoulders and gently guided him towards the bed. “We need to talk.”
I wasn’t sure how much I would tell him, but I needed him to understand that my offer was serious — if he really wanted to be with Drew, I didn’t want to stand in his way. I didn’t know if Drew would take to Brandon as a boyfriend, but nothing would happen if Brandon didn’t try.
We sat together, and I kept my arm around him. Drew had taught me that sometimes you need someone to hold you.
Brandon spoke first. “Are you saying you don’t love him?”
I was careful with my reply. “I’m saying I love him enough that if there’s someone I think will make him happier, I’ll stand aside for them. I think you could make him happier than I can.” For starters, he would be more willing to do certain things with Drew than I would ever be. Sex is only part of a relationship, but I was sure Brandon could also do the rest.
Brandon started to twist away, but I pulled him back. If he had really wanted to go, I couldn’t have stopped him, but he didn’t fight me. “I can’t. I just can’t!”
“I understand, but things will change. You just can’t come out right now. Angus told me about your cousin and your family.”
Brandon stared at me. “Who?”
“Your cousin.” When Brandon looked blank, I continued, “The one who died when you were ten. Angus explained how your family never mentions him because he was gay. You can’t come out while you’re dependent on your parents. I understand.”
I was surprised when Brandon looked sheepish. “Oh, him. Ah… there’s a simpler explanation of why my family never mentions him. He doesn’t exist.”
It was my turn to look blank.
Brandon gave me a wry grin. “When I first defended Drew, I thought I needed an explanation why, one that wouldn’t make people suspect I’m gay. I made up the story about a cousin to give myself an excuse for protecting Drew. I realised soon afterwards that I didn’t need a reason for what I did, that most people just assumed I did it because it was the right thing to do, but the story was already out there by then.”
I had to laugh. “And Angus still believes the original story?”
“Yep. I couldn’t take it back, so I just encouraged him not to tell too many people.”
Brandon and I exchanged smiles, smiles that faded as we returned to the main topic.
“But your family is still the main reason you can’t come out.” I made it a statement, but left it open for him to refute.
“Yeah.” He sighed and bowed his head again. “My stupid, fucking, messed up family.”
“Is it really that bad?” I knew it was a stupid question when I asked it. I had only met Brandon’s father once, but that had been enough.
“Worse. You have no idea the pile of expectations my dad has placed on my shoulders, and being gay is definitely not one of them.”
I could grasp, intellectually, what Brandon was talking about, but I didn’t feel it, because my parents had never placed such a burden on me.
“You can’t meet those expectations, so why not come out and get it over and done with?” I knew I was being hypocritical, but I wanted to be sure of Brandon’s reasons.
“Because I don’t know what will happen!” Brandon looked up at me, his eyes moist. “I’ve got two good things in my life. One is my friends. The other is rugby. If I come out, I could lose both.”
“Rick, you have to understand. You and the others are the main things keeping me sane. Rugby’s my only safe release for this anger inside me. If I lose either one, I don’t know what will happen, but I’ll probably snap. I don’t want that!”
“He can’t take your friends away from you. We’ll be there at school, even if we can’t see you on weekends.”
Brandon’s reply was bleak. “He can move me to another school. He can refuse to take me to rugby. With the possibility of making the state team, I’m even more dependent on him because I’ll need his signature on I don’t know how many forms.”
“What about your mum?”
Brandon shrugged. “She’d probably be okay if I told her, but Dad runs roughshod over her. I think he married her partly because it meant he was always in control. She’s got her own mind, but she never stands up to Dad. It’s just not in her nature.”
“Do you think she might, for you?”
Brandon shook his head. “I don’t know, and I don’t want to take the chance.”
I sighed. “Okay, you’ve confirmed what I thought was your situation. I’ll say I’m not happy to know my guesses were right.”
Brandon snorted. “You’re not happy? How do you think I feel?”
I gave him the response that I had learnt from Drew. I hugged him.
Brandon was stiff for several seconds, and then let himself relax into me. I just held him, waiting for him to pull back. I felt shudders run through his body as he started to shake. That shocked me, because I never expected Brandon to break down in that way. I then realised he had a lot of emotions bottled up, and I had given him a chance to let them out.
It was a couple of minutes before Brandon pulled away and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “Thanks for that.”
I smiled. “I made a promise, but I would’ve done that even if I hadn’t.”
“Besides the fact that you can come to me whenever you want to vent, let’s go through some options. Can you move out of home?”
“Where would I go? And would my dad let me?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know what he would do, but it’s something we can check out. I can’t make promises, but my parents like you and we’ve got a spare room. It’s something to explore, at least.”
Brandon’s mouth dropped open. “Would they do that for me?”
I shrugged. “I won’t know until I ask.”
Brandon grabbed my arm. “Don’t say anything!”
I tried to not let Brandon know how much his grip was hurting. I reached up and pried his hand off my arm. “I’ll be discreet, and I certainly won’t even hint at the real reasons you need to move out, but I’ll ask the question. I’ll even try to keep your name out of it, at least until we find out if it’s a possibility. I’ll have to wait, though. Mum’s not stupid. If I ask tonight, she’ll know it’s you I’m asking about. Do you mind if it’s a week or two before I get you an answer?”
Brandon gave a bitter laugh. “I’ve waited this long. What’s another couple of weeks? Take as much time as you need.”
“We also don’t know if your dad can force you back home. We’ll have to find that out, too. I know some people move out of home at our age, especially if they’ve taken up apprenticeships, but their parents probably let them go.”
“Leave that one with me. Looking into that will keep me occupied.” Brandon smiled. “Thanks, Rick. You’ve given me a small ray of hope. Even if nothing comes of it, I know I’ve got someone I can talk to.”
“Okay, the next thing I was thinking about: why not have a secret relationship with Drew? You don’t have to come out to be his boyfriend.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind? That’s impossible!” Brandon seemed angry, but there was no hint of Bad Brandon hiding in the wings. His anger wasn’t directed at me.
“Why? Because I know Drew. How long did it take him to out you to your family, and then the whole school? I’ll give you a hint: you’ve known each other for less than a month.”
“Oh.” I felt small at Brandon’s righteous pointing out of one of Drew’s little character flaws.
Brandon grabbed my chin and made me look him in the eye. He stared for a long moment. “You’re serious. You want Drew to go out with me and not you. What’s up?”
There was an edge to Brandon’s tone that told me he was suspicious. I tossed up on a couple of options, before settling on my response.
“I love Drew, but not in the way he wants. Don’t tell him that, because I don’t want him hurt, and I’m doing what I can to be who he wants me to be. But yeah, I think you would be better for Drew than me. I think you can love him the way he deserves to be loved.”
Brandon blinked a couple of times and then let me go. “I think you’re crazy, but you’re being honest — I can see that. I’ll tell you now, as someone who’s wanted Drew for two years, that you’re a lot better person than I am. Drew is definitely better off with you than me. I’ve realised that over the last couple of weeks, which is why I’m trying to move on.”
He nodded. His shoulders slumped. “I like her. I really do. I’m trying to do the right thing by her, but she’s not the one I really want.”
“How far do you think you could go?” I asked, knowing I was on the other side of the same coin.
Brandon gave me an angry glare. “I’m not going to fuck her around, if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m honestly happy being with her. It’s just…” He shrugged.
“She’s the wrong sex,” I said quietly. “That wasn’t what I was asking. I could tell you like her, maybe even love her, but how far do you think you can take it? Is it going to be a long term relationship? I think that’s what she wants.”
Brandon buried his head in his hands. “It’s just so fucking complicated!”
I put an arm around him. “I know. A relationship can be complicated, as I’m finding out. And it can be even more so when the person you’re with is not the one you want.”
Brandon sighed, leant into me for a moment, and then stood up and moved to the window. “What’s your opinion on what I should do?” he asked, while staring outside.
“Why are you asking me? You know I don’t know anything about relationships. I’m still getting reacquainted with the idea that I can have friends!”
Brandon turned around. A small smile played across his lips. “I know what you’ve told me, but you still seem to be able to see things more clearly than I can. Maybe it’s because you’re looking at everything fresh. I really would like to know what you think I should do about Sharon.”
I stared at the floor because I didn’t want Brandon to see my face as I spoke. The questions I was going to ask him were for myself as well. “The easy thing would be to tell you to be honest with her, but I’m not going to do that. For you, in your situation, that’s too dangerous. It all gets back to the core point I asked you before: how far do you think you can go? Do you love her enough to have a real relationship with her? If the answer’s no, then you need to work out how to let her down gently, because otherwise you’re going to hurt her big time.”
While I waited for Brandon’s response, I worked on my own. Yes, I loved Drew enough to have a real relationship with him, but I wasn’t sure if I should. I didn’t know if I could keep it up long term, and I knew that if I couldn’t, we would both be better off breaking up. If that was to happen, it needed to happen soon, and I had to find a way to do it that would hurt Drew as little as possible.
I smiled at my thoughts. I was procrastinating, having an each way bet on which way to go. I still hadn’t made up my mind whether to go all the way or to back right off. I suspected sex was going to be the decider. If I could go through that with Drew, my major reservations about the relationship would be gone.
Brandon’s reply was hesitant. “I can’t answer, Rick. I’m just too confused about what I want and who I am. I know I’m gay, but I know I really like Sharon. Can I be gay and love her?”
I looked up. I was confident I knew the answer to that one, since I’m straight and I loved Drew, but I didn’t want to tell Brandon that. “I think so, but loving her and having a long term relationship with her are two different things.”
Brandon’s shoulders slumped again. “I know that in my heart, but my head tells me to give it a go.”
I knew what he was talking about. “Just try not to hurt her, Brandon. And, if you ever need to talk about anything, you know where to find me.”
“Thanks, mate.” Brandon’s sense of relief was obvious.
* * *
“Are you okay?” Drew asked as we sat down in the shopping centre food court and waited for the rest of the Friday night crowd to show up. For once, we were the first ones there.
“I’m fine!” I heard the edge to my voice that put a lie to my statement, but it wasn’t the time or place to explain.
“Are you sure? It’s just that you’ve been tense and distracted all day. Are you worried about the party?”
I smiled with relief. Drew had given me an excuse that allowed me to hide my main concern. It was true that I was nervous about the party, but I had a bigger worry that was preying on my mind.
“Yeah, a bit. I’m sure it’s going to be okay, but I haven’t had a party for such a long time…”
“And the last one you went to at your old place turned out to be a disaster,” Drew finished for me. He gave me a quick hug. “It’ll be fine. There won’t be a birthday girl for you to spill your drink over, and I won’t mind if you tip a drink over me. As long as I get to strip naked for you while you find me some clean clothes.” Drew was giving me his angelic innocence look.
“I’m not going to spill anything on you!”
“Not even if I ask? Pretty please?”
Drew was hamming it up so much that I had to laugh. “If we had a pool, I’d consider throwing you in to cool you down. Unfortunately, we don’t.”
Drew shuddered. “It’s way too cold to go swimming. I should’ve remembered your fondness for freezing things, like ice blocks in the morning.”
I smirked at the memory, but the smile slipped away as I recalled my main problem.
After Brandon had left on Thursday night, I had given our conversation a lot of thought. I had slowly come to the conclusion that while it was okay for Brandon to pretend to be straight, I couldn’t justify the pretence on my side. I couldn’t be what Drew wanted me to be, and I didn’t have the excuse of protecting myself to keep up the charade. I’d take a knock to my social life by coming out, but it would be better for everyone, especially Drew, if I came clean. That was what had kept me edgy all day.
I had to find a way to tell him the truth, but it was so hard. It was much easier to find excuses not to say anything.
“Seriously, just relax. Even if things don’t go perfectly, you’ll be with friends. It’ll be okay,” Drew said.
I gave him a weak smile. The more he talked about the party, the more it made me nervous. I had almost convinced myself to explain things to him that night, since he would be sleeping over in my room, but his comments were making me reconsider. Maybe it would be better if I told him after the party.
Drew stood up and waved a hand. I glanced around and saw Claire and Angus approaching.
Before they arrived, Drew smiled at me. “Now relax. The whole point in coming out is to have fun, so forget about tomorrow and live for today.”
I gave him a wry grin. “Is that your philosophy on life?”
He shrugged. “Close enough, except at exam time when worrying about tomorrow is the norm.”
“All right. I promise I’ll try to have fun.”
Drew put on a serious face and gave me his best Yoda impression. “Do or do not. There is no ‘try’.”
I laughed. Drew was good for me — he always seemed to know exactly how to kick me out of whatever mood I was in.
* * *
“Good night, Mrs. Wakeland, Mr. Wakeland,” Drew said, smiling amiably.
“Night, boys.” Mum wasn’t relaxed, which showed in the fact that she didn’t ask Drew to call her by her first name, but she wasn’t saying anything about the fact that he and I were heading to my room to spend the night together. “If you need an extra blanket or two, Drew, just call and I’ll bring them in.”
“Thanks, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. And thanks for setting up the air bed, too. Rick and I had intended to do that ourselves.”
We had found the room already set up for the sleepover when we returned from the shopping centre. Drew had expressed surprise that my parents had gone into my room when I wasn’t there, but it didn’t bother me. It was only in the previous couple of weeks that they had started treating my room as a place they needed permission to enter.
She gave him a wan smile. “That’s okay. Ian and I had plenty of time while you were out, so we thought we’d do it.”
I walked over and gave Mum a kiss on the cheek. “See you in the morning.”
Dad frowned slightly at Drew and me. “Remember the rules, Rick, and have a good night’s sleep.”
I rolled my eyes. “Isn’t my promise enough? Nothing’s going to happen.”
Dad had the decency to look guilty. “Okay, Rick. We’ll see you both in the morning.”
I considered slipping an arm around Drew’s waist to annoy my parents, but I resisted. Drew helped by maintaining a modest distance between us while we headed to my room. He seemed to realise it would be a bad idea to show any sign of affection at that point in time.
Once my door was closed, though, he grabbed me and gave me a long, hard kiss. I let him have his way for maybe a minute, and then I gently pushed him away.
I smiled to show I wasn’t upset. “Steady, Drew. It’s late and we’ve got a busy day tomorrow. How about we get ready for bed?”
He grinned. “Sounds good to me. You do remember that I sleep in the nude?” He pulled his shirt over his head.
My smile slipped away. I had forgotten that fact. “Uhm… would you mind if you slept in your underwear tonight?”
He tossed his shirt to the side and gave me a quizzical look. “Any particular reason? It’s not like you’ve never seen me naked.” He kicked off his sneakers as he spoke.
I picked up his shirt and put it on my desk and then moved his shoes up against the wall. “Please? Think about what it would look like if my parents happened to peer in.”
“I didn’t think they’d do that.” He sat on the edge of my bed and removed his socks. He was about to toss them away, but he must have seen my expression, because he dropped them on top of his shoes, instead.
“They probably won’t, but humour me, please.”
He grinned. “Okay. Anything you want.” He undid the button on his jeans, and then paused. “Aren’t you going to get undressed?”
When I had originally asked if he could sleep over, the intention had been to find out how far, excluding sex, I could go with Drew. But, since I had made the decision that I had to come clean with him, I found myself uncomfortable. Even the kissing when we came into the room felt wrong, because I was continuing to lead Drew on. I was concerned that getting undressed in front of him would take things even further down that road.
I sighed and started to strip. The situation was my own fault and I didn’t want to take it out on Drew. He was expecting his boyfriend to spend the night with him, even if sex wasn’t on the agenda, and I had to go through with it. I thought about coming clean there and then, but the party the following night had me nervous, and again I pushed back the time for honesty.
A couple of minutes later, we were both down to our underwear. Drew’s boxers had an ominous bulge that he didn’t hide. I tried to not look at it.
Drew laid down on my bed and patted the spot next to him. I joined him, lying on my back and wondering what was going to happen next.
Drew snuggled up to me. He reached over my body and took my right hand, but when he moved it down to the bulge in his shorts, I jerked it away. “Drew!”
He just grinned. His left hand began to lightly stroke my bare chest, sending a tingling sensation through me.
“Drew, stop it. That tickles.”
He continued to grin. “Okay. If you’re ticklish there, I’ll move my hand.” He slipped it lower, still running it gently over my skin.
I grabbed his hand when it started to reach regions I wasn’t comfortable with him touching.
He seemed hurt. “Why not? It’s just some harmless fun.”
“We promised we wouldn’t do anything.”
“You promised. I just nodded my head,” he said, seriously. “You don’t have to do anything — just leave it to me.”
“Drew, I’m not ready!” I started to panic.
“When do you think you’ll be ready?” There was an edge to Drew’s tone that told me he expected it to be soon.
“I don’t know!” I did know — the answer was never — but I couldn’t tell him that until I had told him the rest. I told myself I would explain everything after the party.
Drew rolled so his back was to me. “Can you hold me, please, Rick?” He sounded sad.
I slipped one arm under his body and the other around his chest. I brought myself up so our bodies were touching from my thighs to my chest. I then realised that that was what he had done for me on the day he outed me to my mum.
“Can I talk to you about something, Rick? You have to promise to keep it absolutely private.”
“Sure.” He was sounding depressed. I knew he had wanted to have sex, or at least start some sexual play, but it didn’t make sense that my rejection of the idea would have resulted in such a mood change.
“You can’t tell anyone. Not even my boyfriend.”
My eyebrows shot up, before dropping back into a suspicious line. Drew was up to something, but I couldn’t work out what. “Not even your boyfriend,”
“It’s him that I want to talk to you about. You know him better than anyone does.”
I was confused at Drew’s strange separation of me from his boyfriend. I thought we were one and the same. “What’s bothering you?”
“It’s just… This is going to sound weird, so you’re not to say anything until I ask you a question. I want to get it all out before I ask for your opinion.”
“Okay.” Drew had me guessing at what he was doing, but he seemed serious.
“It’s a whole lot of little things about him. Like how, apart from one time that doesn’t count, he’s never kissed me. I’ve always kissed him and he’s responded. At first I thought he was just shy, since he’d been in the closet, but even since he’s been out that hasn’t changed.”
“Some people are just shy, Drew.”
“I asked you not to say anything!” He didn’t sound angry, but his tone was forceful.
“Sorry, I’ll shut up.”
“Thank you. As I said, he wouldn’t initiate things. He was shy when I first met him, but he opened up after he got to know me and my friends. That is, he opened up on everything except when it comes to us a couple. He still waits for me to start things. I’ve been getting concerned because he won’t kiss me. I have to kiss him first.”
I thought I knew where he was going. He was going to ask me to be more active, to do more things with him, with the eventual goal of sleeping with him. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t kiss him until I meant it, but I hadn’t realised that that was causing him to worry.
“Then there are other things. Even after all this time, he’s never said he loves me. I know some people may not think it’s been that long, but I know I love him, and I think he loves me, but he won’t say it.”
I didn’t speak, but I gave him a squeeze. It seemed to help, because he moved my hand to his lips, before returning it to his chest.
“I didn’t really like it when he told me he wanted to be friends with James, but I tried to trust him, and he lived up to that trust. He never showed any inkling that he was attracted to James. That’s when something started to bother me.”
My confusion got worse. How can he be bothered by the fact that I’m not interested in James in a sexual way?
“I went back over a number of things. I remember his mum saying that he talked about Claire almost as much as he talked about me. I also started watching him closely, and noticed it was Claire and the other girls his eyes would rest on when we were in a group. I thought I was wrong, but I can’t remember him ever saying he’s gay.”
I opened my mouth, but closed it without saying anything. He was still leading up to something, and the way he gave my hand another kiss seemed to imply he wasn’t angry.
“At first I thought he was bisexual, but he never watched the other guys, even the super good looking ones. I finally noticed he never even watched me that way. I couldn’t believe it, but the evidence was mounting up. The thing that confused me was that I couldn’t work out why.
“I was there when he told his parents that he wasn’t sure he was the right one for me. It took me a long time to work out what he meant.
“Rick, do you know why a straight guy would pretend to be gay?”
That question caught me by surprise, and I didn’t want to wreck everything with some ill-conceived answer. I stalled for time. “Do you have any ideas?”
He shook his head. “It can’t be for a laugh — he cares for me, I know that. I just can’t work it out. I’m hoping that I’m completely wrong, but the thought just won’t leave my head. I think my boyfriend’s straight.”
I have to say I loved Drew at that moment, totally and completely. He had worked out what was going on, but was giving me a chance to explain it by pretending that I wasn’t his boyfriend. I squeezed him and gave him a kiss on the back of his neck.
“Do you know much about him from before he arrived at your school?” I asked.
“Not a lot. I know he didn’t have much in the way of friends at his last school.” Drew sounded puzzled. “He’s told me about a disaster of a birthday party, and how a couple of girls screwed him around, but that’s about it.”
“Did you know that he ended up with no friends at all, and didn’t have a friend for over two years? That his social life outside of his family consisted of being ignored or spat on?”
Drew pulled my hand up again, but this time he rested it against his cheek. “He was desperate for friends? So desperate that he was willing to be gay, if that’s what it took to have one?”
“He made a new friend, you, and then you introduced him to a lot more people. He learnt about you being gay at the same time that it was made clear to him that your friends wouldn’t like him if he hurt you. He could risk another two years of having no one, or… he could try to be gay.”
Drew rolled over. Our faces were almost touching, and I could see that his eyes were moist. “But what about after, when he knew that it would be okay to tell people?”
I made a face. “By that stage he cared too much to want to hurt you. He’s been looking for a way out that wouldn’t cause you pain, but he hasn’t found one. In his own way, he loves you. Just not in the way you want him to. I’m sorry, Drew, I really am. I’ve tried, but I can’t be gay.”
“Can I ask, gay guy to straight guy, for one last favour?”
“Anything, Drew.” I owed him that much. I wouldn’t like it, but I was even willing to consider sex.
“Will you kiss me? I want one last special time with you.”
I smiled and leant forward to place my lips on his. I took control and kissed him to the best of my ability. He was a guy, but he was also someone for whom I had a lot of affection. Someone I wanted to be happy.
I did to him all the things that he had done to me that I had liked. I even slipped my hand down the back of his boxers and gave his bum a squeeze. I tried to drag things out, to make sure he had the best time I could give him.
It must have been good, because he suddenly pushed me away and jumped off the bed. He was panting. “Rick, unless you really want to turn gay, I think it’s time I stayed over here. Otherwise, I’m going to be stripping you naked and having my way with you.”
I smiled. “That probably wouldn’t be a good thing. But thanks, Drew. I really do love you, but only as a friend. You’re my best mate and I hope you’ll stay that, but I understand if you would prefer me to keep away.”
Drew looked away and raised a hand to his eyes. He paused for a moment and then got under the doona on the air bed. “Rick… I…” He shook his head.
I watched him from the edge of my bed, not sure what to say. I was about to open my mouth when he finally continued.
“It’s going to be painful to have you around, but I’d like to be stay friends, too, if I can.” He stared at me. “I don’t think you understand what you’ve done to me.”
I grimaced. “Probably not, but I know I’ve stuffed things up, and I’m really sorry. Words don’t make any difference, but please believe me. I never intended to hurt you.”
“I’ve never had any doubts about that, which is why this hurts so much. It would be easier to handle if I thought you were just a callous bastard.” Drew’s tone was bleak.
“If you want me to stay away, I will. I’ll do whatever you want.”
A piece of the old Drew resurfaced. “How about sex?”
I had to smile, even though I thought it was inappropriate for the circumstance. “Not that. You know I can’t.” The time when I had considered it was gone. To do as he asked would have sent too many wrong signals.
He gave a sad chuckle. “I know, but I thought I’d ask.” He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “Can you do me one favour?”
“Sure.” I wasn’t quite ready to agree without knowing what it was, because Drew was just as likely to ask for a blowjob, or similar, but I would do what I could. I owed him too much.
“Will you tell our friends you’re bi? That way we won’t look like a complete pair of fools.”
I smiled. “I can do that. It’s not too far off the truth.”
He turned his head so he could watch me. “How close is it?”
I considered the question before answering. I had to be honest. “Very close. I’m not attracted to guys, but you mean a lot to me. I gave the idea of sleeping with you a lot of thought before I decided I couldn’t do it. That’s what I was doing looking at those gay sites — trying to figure out what I could do and what I couldn’t. If you were a girl, I’d have no problem at all.”
He looked shocked. “I’m not changing sex for you!” I could see some movement under the doona and guessed where his hands ended up. “There are some things I like too much to do without.”
I grinned. I almost made a comment about him not loving me enough, but I shut my mouth without saying it. I couldn’t say that Drew didn’t love me enough, and to imply it would be wrong.
Drew’s lips formed a playful smile. “So, it’s Claire?”
I nodded. I didn’t want to say anything, because I worried that Drew would take offence that there was someone else I desired.
He grinned. “I thought so. You’ve started acting a little jealous whenever Keith’s around, which was another hint as to what was going on. What are you going to do about it?”
I swallowed. “I don’t know,” I said in a small voice.
“She’s a good person. If I have to lose you to a girl, Claire’s one I can’t complain about. I think you’d make a good couple, but I think she and Keith would make a good couple, too. It’s going to be her choice in the end.”
“I know. I’ve already told myself that just because I like her, that doesn’t mean she’ll like me back. Peter and Sharon taught me that.”
Drew smiled gently. “She likes you. Even I can tell that, but that doesn’t mean she’ll like you the right way. Don’t come to me for advice, though, mate, because I know nothing about girls. You’re on your own for this one; that is, unless you want my help eliminating the competition.”
I chuckled. “While tempting, I’d like to do this one honestly.” I was horrified as soon as the words left my mouth. “I’m sorry, Drew. I really am. I didn’t mean it like that!”
Drew sighed. “I know, Rick. I know. I still don’t understand why you had to pretend to be gay, though. Why couldn’t you just say you’d like to be my friend?”
I gave a snort of laughter. “I never had the chance. Before I knew it, I was your boyfriend, and I was being threatened with dire consequences if you got hurt. I’ll admit that I’m a little thick when it comes to people, but I never picked up on the hints you gave me about being gay, and you told Sue we were a couple before I found out.”
Drew looked blank. “When was that?”
“That first Friday night we went to the shopping centre. You told Sue privately at some point, and then when she and I went to get the pizzas she told me not to hurt you. That was the first time I realised you’re gay.”
Drew laughed, though there was an edge to it. “So we’re a pair of fools. Me for assuming that you’re gay and you’d be my boyfriend, and you for going along with it.”
I was quiet for a moment. There was something I wanted to say, but I didn’t want to get the words wrong.
“Drew, I don’t think I’m a fool for knowing you. I don’t even think I’m a fool for having been your boyfriend. If I’ve got regrets for what’s happened, it’s that I couldn’t be the person you wanted me to be, and that I’ve put you through this pain in the first place. You deserve better.”
“I had what I wanted,” Drew whispered, almost to himself.
Drew seemed to gather himself together. “Time to look around for a new boyfriend. Finding one to match the last one’s going to be tough.” He grinned at me. “Though maybe the next one will be better in bed.”
I threw my pillow at him. He laughed and threw it back, and followed it with his own. It was only when we realised that we were making a lot of noise that we stopped the long-range pillow fight. It wasn’t the time to have my parents check up on us.
We calmed down and laid back on our beds.
“What about James? Do you think you’d date him again?” I asked.
Drew shook his head. “It’ll be a long time before I trust him again, if ever. I can stand being friends with him — the recent times have reminded me how much fun we used to have — but I can’t be boyfriends with him. Anyway, his date with Matt seemed to go well last weekend, so he might be taken.” Drew paused and then shook his head. “Nah.”
Drew grinned. “I was just thinking Matt was easy on the eyes and maybe I should try to steal him off James, but I can’t do that. I still like him, even after what he did to me.”
There was another awkward silence. I didn’t know what to say. I felt like talking about those things, but I suspected that would be like prodding at an open wound and would only hurt Drew more.
“What are we going to tell the others?” Drew eventually asked.
“Whatever you like. I’ll tell them I broke it off, if you like. It is, after all, my fault.”
Drew looked thoughtful. “I’ve got a better idea, even though it makes me the bad guy.”
“You’re not the one at fault here. I’m the one who should be blamed.”
Drew grinned. “You haven’t heard my idea, yet.”
I started to get nervous. “Okay, what is it?”
Drew put on his expression of angelic innocence, which made me worry even more. “I was thinking I could tell them that we tried to have sex tonight, but it didn’t work out.”
That was close to the truth, but I was suspicious. “And?”
“And it turned out that you’re impotent, and I’m too selfish to deal with that, so we’re breaking up.” Drew grinned.
“I’m not impotent!”
Drew leered. “Prove it.”
I relaxed and grinned. “Nice try, mate.”
He shrugged. “It was worth a go.” He smiled. “I do love you, Rick. Even after this, I still love you and because of that I’ll do whatever I can to get us both out of this mess. That’s what mates are for, after all.”
My sight went blurry as I realised what he was saying. I got out of my bed and laid down next to Drew — me on top of the doona and him under it. “You really are special. Someone is going to get a really great boyfriend, one day.”
Then I kissed him. He deserved it.
* * *
The party was going well. Claire had shown up early in the afternoon to help set up, and Will arrived soon afterwards with a load of food and drinks from his mum. Between the four of us, we had the main living room set up, and a semi-sheltered area out the back where people could congregate if the weather held off. Will and his dad also brought their fire bowl and some wood. We set that up in the back yard to provide some warmth and atmosphere for those who preferred to be outside.
I was nervous as the time for everyone to arrive approached, but Claire, Drew and Will got me involved in a game of cards. Drew had suggested strip poker, but that idea was quickly vetoed.
Claire and Drew managed to keep me moderately calm until the party started. I was waiting for Drew to say something about the previous night’s revelations, but he remained silent on the subject. We had talked about it for a while before we went to sleep, but neither of us had come up with a good way to tell everyone. Drew did say that there was no rush, but also he felt that the sooner the truth came out, the easier it would be.
Will made a few leading comments about our night together, while we played cards. When neither Drew nor I responded, he asked outright how the previous night had gone. Drew grinned and said, “Mindblowingly.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure it was your mind that was blown? Because that went a long time ago.”
Claire wrinkled her nose, but didn’t say anything. Drew caught it and scowled at his brother. “Cool it, Will. If you want all the gory details, I’ll tell you tomorrow in private.”
Will seemed puzzled. “What’s going on? You’re not biting, and that’s not like you. Did something happen?”
I glanced at Drew. I wasn’t sure what my expression was like, because I didn’t know what I wanted said. I was half hoping he would say something and half hoping he wouldn’t. He smiled at me before turning to Will. “Yes, something happened, and you’ll find out about it soon enough, but not now.”
Will tried to get more information out of us, and even Claire made an effort to find out what was going on, but Drew and I kept our mouths shut. The one thing we had decided the night before was that we should try to tell everyone in as short a space of time as possible, and preferably all at the same time. We didn’t want any of our friends to hear things second hand.
The result was that Claire and Will alerted all our friends as they arrived, so there was an air of expectation as the party moved into gear. I wasn’t happy, but I thought that the added pressure might help me get it over and done with quicker.
I was so nervous that I wasn’t even annoyed when Keith arrived. I knew that he was going to be there, because I hadn’t been able to find a legitimate excuse to not invite him after Claire asked me to. I had thought I would be gritting my teeth, seeing him hanging around her, but I had too many other things on my mind.
Once Sue and Joe showed up, Drew caught my eye and I headed over to join him. We were quickly joined by the rest of our friends and a number of other partygoers that I knew in passing from school.
“What’s going on?” Sue asked. “I’ve just been told there’s some sort of big announcement to be made.”
Drew grinned. “Not a particularly big announcement, but I suppose it’s news. Joe, try to restrain yourself. Better still, Sue, hold his hand and don’t let him go.”
Joe looked at him, and then at Sue. He then shrugged and took Sue’s hand. “This has better be good.”
“Rick, can you come over here?” Drew asked me, pointing to the spot on his right.
I took up the assigned position and let Drew drape an arm across my shoulders.
“Rick and I have something to say.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “Spit it out! Some of us are hungry and you’re keeping us from the food.”
I was nervous, but I let Drew lead.
“After due consideration, and appropriate discussion, my best mate and I have decided to call it quits. Joe, hold yourself down and remember you’ve got Sue — I’m single again.”
About half of the people looked shocked. The rest seemed amused. Brandon just nodded his head as if he had been expecting the news. I suspected our chat earlier in the week had led him to the conclusion that Drew and I might break up.
“Yeah, right. Now, how about the truth for a change?” Will said.
I glanced at Drew and he prompted me with a smile.
“It’s true. We broke up last night,” I said. It was a start, though the toughest job was still to come.
“But… why?” Claire asked. Her gaze was flicking between us, as if she was uncertain who she thought would explain.
Drew dropped his arm from around me and took a half step forward, drawing everyone’s attention to him.
“Well, you see, it’s like this…”
Will raised his voice slightly. “Look out, everyone. Here comes another Drew classic.”
Drew seemed horrified. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Will rolled his eyes. “You might as well tell us, but don’t expect us to believe it.”
Drew ignored him. “It seems that Rick’s got this little disability…”
My mouth dropped open. He’s going to use the impotence story!
“I’ve tried to ignore it, but it came to a head last night and I just couldn’t cope. Rick’s delusional, and I could see that it was only going to get worse, so I thought we should call things off now, before we went too far.”
“I’m not delusional!”
Drew gave me one of his angelic looks. “Yes, you are. You think Collingwood’s the best team in the league.”
“Collingwood is the best team in the league!”
Drew shrugged. “And there’s your proof, everyone. Now, be nice to him — he can’t help it, he’s a Collingwood supporter after all, but I’m not strong enough to put up with it any longer, and that’s why we’ve broken up.”
There was a general smattering of laughter and most of the crowd drifted away. The core group remained.
“Okay, now spit it out. What’s the real story?” Joe asked.
Drew crossed his arms. “You don’t think that him being a Collingwood supporter is reason enough? Rick’s got his own reasons, but that’s the only story you’re getting from me. Like it or lump it. We both agreed it was time to end it, and we’ve accepted it’s over. That doesn’t mean I don’t wish things could be different, but once a Collingwood supporter, always a Collingwood supporter.”
“Yeah, right.” Joe rolled his eyes. “You’ve told some bald-faced lies in your time, but this one takes the cake. Do you really expect us to believe you two have broken up?”
Claire and Peter looked at me questioningly. I nodded. “It’s true. We’re still friends, but we’re not a couple anymore.”
Sue gave me a searching stare, and then repeated it on Drew. She put a hand on Joe’s arm. “Leave them alone. You said you were hungry, so let’s find something to shovel into that bottomless pit of yours.”
Joe looked hurt. “It’s not bottomless. I’ve just never eaten enough to fill it.”
As the two wandered off, Claire came up and gave first Drew, and then me, a kiss. “I’m sorry. I take it that it was just one of those things where it just wasn’t working out?”
I glanced at Drew but he seemed content to let me answer. “Yeah, I guess it was. We tried, but, while we’re both hoping we’ll stay great mates, there was something missing. We just didn’t have that right connection.”
That wasn’t too far from the truth, and it was good enough for general consumption.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll both find new boyfriends soon,” Claire said.
Drew shook his head. “Rick’s told me that I’ve ruined him for other guys. He thought he’d try the other side of the fence next time.”
“What are you talking about?” Claire seemed confused.
“Rick likes girls, too, which is another thing I can’t understand, but since he’s a one-person-at-a-time guy, it wasn’t a problem for me. But we talked about it last night and he thought he’d try having a girlfriend next.” Drew gave me a nudge. “Go on,” he whispered.
Claire gave me a perplexed smile. “Okay. That’s nice…”
My palms felt sweaty, but Drew gave me another nudge. “Uhm, Claire? I was wondering… Are you doing anything next Saturday night?”
Her eyes opened wide. Her gaze flicked to Drew, who was obviously being supportive, and then back to me. When her eyes narrowed I thought I had lost, but then she smiled. “I’m not doing anything. What would you like to do?”
“How about a movie? I’m not sure what’s on, but there must be something worth watching.”
She moved up and slipped an arm through mine. “Or not watching, as the case may be. That sounds wonderful.”
I felt a foolish grin on my face, but I didn’t care. It was early days, but I had a chance. I knew I would still be competing against Keith, but I only had one guy to beat to win Claire. I glanced at my rival and he seemed stunned. He narrowed his eyes before smiling and nodding his head at me. I could tell he wasn’t giving up, but everything was out in the open. It would be up to Claire to decide which one of us she preferred, if she wanted either of us as a boyfriend.
I saw Brandon and Angus having a whispered conversation. I felt I owed Brandon a lot for how he’d helped me sort out my own mind. He didn’t realise what he had done, but it had made a difference. His situation was different to mine, though there were some similarities. I kept my fingers crossed for him, that everything would work out in the long run. I needed to talk to my parents about the possibility of Brandon moving in with us, but that would have to wait. I could make some initial inquiries, but Brandon needed to find out if he could escape home safely, first. In the meantime, I hoped he wouldn’t get in too deep with Sharon.
Brandon shoved Angus forward. Angus stumbled but quickly recovered.
“Ah… Claire. If you’ve started dating again, I’ve got two tickets for a concert on a couple of weeks' time. Would you like to go with me?” Angus asked.
Claire’s mouth dropped open. Mine probably did the same.
Angus looked down and started twisting a toe into the floor. “Well, you were with Phil before, and then you said you didn’t want to date, so I’ve been waiting, but I was wondering if you’d like to go out with me?”
Claire glanced at me, then Keith, and finally back to Angus. “The concert sounds nice, but I’m not rushing into a new relationship.”
Make that two guys I had to beat.
Thank you everyone for reading the story. I know there are lot of loose ends, but I always saw the story ending when Rick finally came clean with Drew. There is always the possibility of a sequel, because Brandon is still in a difficult situation, but I’m not promising anything at the moment.
Copyright Notice — Copyright © May 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.