SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
Justin had only been home a week when Nathan began to notice something different about him. They had gone shopping at the Waitrose supermarket in Ipswich, and as Nate was filling up their trolley with the junk food he could not wean Justin away from, he saw his partner chatting and laughing further up the aisle with a young mum. Justy had picked up and was cuddling a small boy who had fallen down and hurt himself while his mum was tangled up with a demanding baby. Nathan was struck by the tender expression on his lover’s face and the gentleness he was showing to the child. He had seen the tenderness there before as they hugged and stroked in the afterglow of sex, but never in this sort of context. The old Justin had talked of kids as ‘brats’, and scowled and more often than not swore at the local boys who occasionally tried to use their car park for soccer.
Nathan kept his eyes and ears open after that. Justin was on his mobile a lot, often talking to someone called Tanya. Nate only knew one Tanya: Justin’s old case officer in Haringey Social Services when the two boys had first met in their mid-teens. Although Nate was not naturally nosy except where his Justin was concerned, he began to harbour surprising suspicions. Something was going on. This Tanya … was Justin looking for a surrogate for them to have kids? Why hadn’t Justy discussed the idea with him first? This was all too odd.
One evening while they were lying together in front of the TV after a particularly long phone call, Nathan broke his gaze from Hollyoaks long enough to ask Justin gently, ‘So what was all that about, little mate?’
‘All what, Nate?’
‘The long phone call.’
‘Might have bin security stuff.’
Nathan raised his eyebrows. ‘It wasn’t though, was it.’
‘Why do you need to know?’ There was no mistaking the rise in Justin’s voice. He was now force 4 on the Surly Scale, and the glass was falling.
After so many years with his fiery boyfriend, Nathan knew exactly what to do. He shrugged. ‘I don’t,’ was all he said.
As expected, after only five minutes of silence, Justin began his explanation. ‘OK, Nate me mate, it’s like this. It goes back to when I was nearly killed by that maniac Anson. I got off a lot more lightly than poor Terry, but I knew I might well have died there. You think a lot about things after that happens to you. It took a while to sink in, but y’know what kept on coming back to me?’
‘What, Justy mine?’
‘I knocked up this girl when I was fifteen, or at least she said I did. Just after that I was taken into care, and then I met you. So I had a lot of distractions to contend with. I know she had a kid, but I never saw him. Now here I am, twenty-two, worth an amazing amount of money and living the high life – or at least some people would say so – yet I have a son who has no idea I’m his dad. I doan feel proud of that.’
‘So you’re back in touch with Tanya Thompson, and she’s helping you find the unknown Macavoy.’
‘I doan even know what surname he’s carrying, Nate. How sad is that?’
‘So what has Tanya found out?’
‘Not a lot, really. As far as she can find out, Jade Gardiner has disappeared from the face of the earth. But, from the Whittington Hospital records, she was able to tell me I may have a son called Damien, who is six years old.’
It was hot in the back lot of the garden centre that June afternoon, and the sun beat down on Danny as he was watering the bedding plants. He put down the hose and stripped off his polo shirt, leaving himself in just shorts and flip-flops. He might not have had the sort of face that turned heads, but there was no doubt about the beauty of his body, which was well-proportioned with a sculpted abdomen. His bum had already been remarked upon by Nate and Justy as they watched him at work. The fine spray of the hose made his torso slick and wet. He was a sight to turn any gay’s head.
Danny in due course noticed that he was being watched, the way you almost telepathically know you are. He looked over his shoulder to see Gus staring fixedly at him from amongst the display of garden gnomes.
When he looked back as he started a new row of plants, Gus was still staring at him. It was beginning to creep him out. The kid was seriously weird. Danny finished off the spraying, coiled the hose and retrieved his top. On his way inside again he passed Gus, who was now aimlessly retrieving the small coins which kids persisted in throwing into the central pool in the gnome display.
‘Can I help you in any way, Gus?’
‘Gussie,’ he replied abstractedly. ‘No, I’m very well, thank you.’
‘It’s just that you seemed to be looking to say something to me.’
‘You were mistaken, I’m afraid.’
Danny went in shaking his head.
At lunch time, he and Gus were alone in the staffroom. Danny had some sandwiches and crisps his mum had provided, while Gus seemed to have no food. Danny offered him a sandwich, apologising that it was only peanut butter.
Gus looked startled for some reason, almost affected. ‘You’d give me your own lunch?’
‘It’s only a sandwich … I could stretch to a few crisps if you’re really hungry.’
‘Thank you. It’s very kind, but not at all necessary. But I do appreciate the gesture very much.’ He hesitated and then said in a rush, ‘I think you are a very kind person.’
Now it was Danny’s turn to be startled. ‘Er … thanks,’ was all he could think of to say.
Gus was clearly contemplating saying something else, but then looked down. His face was bright red, but not the red of anger that Danny had first seen on it.
Gus was a pale boy, rather taller than Danny, quite chunky in build but not fat. Some people would have found him good-looking, apart from his perpetual air of puzzlement. It was perhaps his wide blue eyes that made him look dazed, as if someone had just smacked him on the back of the head with a saucepan and he was looking around to see who had done it.
Danny meditated on Gus while watching him surreptitiously over the top of Justin’s Sporting News. The boy had gone off on one of his frequent reveries. Danny suspected he was seriously bright and highly intellectual. That would account for some of the abstraction he displayed. Gus was also a youngest child, and such children were often weird. The social hesitancy and disengagement, however, had to have deeper roots, and Danny was beginning to think he knew what they might be. When Gus’s eyes refocussed on him and a shy smile greeted his gaze, he was pretty certain Gus had some sort of crush on him – but was Gus just desperate to find a friend, or was he really gay?
‘Gus?’ he finally asked.
‘This friend of yours, the one who called you Gussie and left to go to another school. Tell me about him.’
Gus stared at him with his cold-fish look, which gradually dissolved into sadness. ‘His name was Christopher. We were best friends from year 4, in fact he was my only friend. He was so funny. He was the only boy who could ever make me laugh. We would spend all our time together, and then in year 9 his parents transferred him to Oundle, to be nearer their new home.’ Gus’s look went from sad to despondent. ‘I cried at night for weeks, I missed him so much. I didn’t have any other friend. People think I’m a bit odd, y’know.’
‘I’d never have guessed.’
‘It is, however, true.’
Danny thought how to get closer to what made this weirdo tick. ‘So, er, do you keep in touch, e-mail and stuff?’
‘No. We just lost contact. There was talk of my spending the summer with him and his family in the Maldives, but things got in the way and then it was forgotten. But I have his picture with me always. Would you like to see it?’
‘What? Well, yes, I suppose so,’
Gus handed him a snapshot from his wallet. Danny was a little surprised. He had expected another weirdo, but Christopher turned out to be a handsome and cheeky-looking boy of thirteen or fourteen. There was a touch of Justin about his mischievous green eyes.
‘Very good looking,’ Danny observed.
‘Yes, he is. The most handsome boy I ever met, and he was such a friend to me. I loved him very much.’
Danny was startled. Did Gus mean what those words implied?
‘When you said “loved”, did you mean that …’
Gus seemed unfazed by the implications of what he was saying. ‘I mean we were very close. I think he loved me too. We never did anything about it, but yes, Danny. I think we were attracted to each other physically.’
‘Are you gay, then?’
‘I think so. When I saw you just now only in shorts, I couldn’t help noticing how perfect you are. I’m sorry if that bothers you, but you are beautiful, so it is your fault.’
Hmm, though Danny. Just like the upper classes to put the fault on someone else because of the way he looked.
Danny stared hard at this boy who had come out directly and told him that he was homosexual and was attracted to him as well.
Danny’s own sexuality was a puzzle to him. He certainly drew girls effortlessly, but had never had the urge to do anything more with them than chat and flirt. He had been thinking for some time that he was missing something, though as yet he had never felt any attraction to a particular boy. Now one had expressed an interest in him, which gave him an alarming shiver, even though it was only Weird Gus. The shiver was his first clue that he could be reached sexually, and by Gus of all people!
He shook his head. ‘Does Nathan know?’
‘I don’t think so. You’re the only person I’ve said it to.’
‘Well why me, mate?
Gus hung his head a moment and then looked up. ‘You make me feel the same way as Christopher did, Danny. I get the same thrill in my stomach when I look at you. And you are very nice. Not everyone is as nice to me as you are, especially my brothers. Oh, it’s alright. I know you’re not gay. I don’t want you to be … like that. But I would like to be your friend. Can I be?’
And Danny, looking into those wide, candid and innocent eyes, surprised himself by smiling and saying he’d like that. And as he gazed into Gus’s eyes, the shiver came again, and there was a stir in a region of his groin that confirmed for Danny a suspicion about himself.
From that day forward, the relationship between Gus and Danny changed in quite a surprising way. Gus remained hard work, but Danny finally realised his frigid aloofness was simply shyness and his pedantic precision was the consequence of a superb if disengaged mind. Gus needed to have jokes explained, and irony usually washed over him. But he had a delightful innocence and a total lack of side about him. He could even be prodded into merriment at times, though his abrupt laugh when he did get something could be startling.
They reached a milestone their second week when Danny asked Gus – whom he refused to call Gussie – to take the bus with him to Ipswich on one of their off days.
Gus asked why.
‘It’s called hanging.’
‘You sort of hang around the shops and the malls. You look at stuff and meet people you know.’
‘But what do you do?’
‘Well … nothing much.’
‘Do you buy anything?’
‘The odd tee-shirt and CD, usually.’
‘Is it a social thing then, Danny?’
‘Yes, Gus, it’s a social thing.’
‘Then obviously it is important. It may only be ritualistic, but you cannot underestimate the importance of rituals in social bonding and formation.’
‘You can enjoy it too if you really try.’ Danny laughed, and got a broad if vague smile back from Gus.
As they talked on the bus, it was Gus’s total ingenuousness that took Danny by surprise. He thought he knew where it came from. Education at boarding schools and a childhood behind the walls of a stately home had closeted a naturally solitary boy from the wider world, in which he was not all that interested in any case. But dealing with Gus was at times like dealing with a visitor from another planet.
‘So do you watch much telly, Gus?’
‘TV? Not really. Not since I was little.’
‘Soap operas. Er … long-running serials set in communities like the East End of London or suburbs of Chester, with a range of character interaction.’ Christ almighty, thought Danny to himself, I’m beginning to sound like him.
‘No, no soaps. There was a very good documentary I accidentally watched last week on the formation of the Solar System. The information was a little outdated, but it was very well presented.
‘Great,’ muttered Danny, still searching for common ground. ‘How about the films?’
‘Not really. I can’t find the enthusiasm to trail into the multiplex.’
‘Not even to see The Lord of the Rings trilogy?’
‘Yes, Justin admired it very much, I understand. He said I should get out and see it. But I read the books instead. I enjoyed the quality of Tolkein’s writing, though I found his realisation of female characters rather ineffective. It took a good deal of the interest out of it for me.’
‘Oh. How do you get on with Justy?’
‘I find him very difficult to understand at times.’
‘I imagine he says the same about you.’ Danny caught himself. That was a bit insensitive, he thought. But instead of annoyance in Gus’s eyes he saw puzzlement, which turned abruptly to merriment. Gus’s loud laugh barked out, causing everyone on the bus to turn and stare at them. The two boys were still smiling at each other ten minutes later when they reached the terminus and headed to the city malls and Tavern Street.
It was a good day. Somehow, having this lumbering innocent following him around made Danny look at everything in a new way. The world seemed fresh and interesting. Slowly but surely he realised that Gus was actually quite full of fun in his ponderous way, and had very little sense of self-consequence. He seemed pompous only because of the precision of his diction.
Danny enjoyed himself explaining the current music scene to Gus, while his friend listened earnestly and questioned him closely in his usual way. Gus would never despair of the power of words to explain any concept. It was a little heroic.
Afterwards they looked at clothes, and Danny made a few suggestions. Gus wore country casuals which he might have borrowed from his father’s wardrobe. Danny forced him to buy some new tops and a couple of pairs of cut jeans, and then obliged him change into them. Danny felt a lot less exposed to comment as the bus took them back home.