Monday morning. The end of the week is the end of term and two weeks holiday. Normally that would be great, except now it wasn't at all. How could things be great with all the trouble and most of all, without Matty? Being early was not my usual practice, especially not on the first day of the school week. Thing is, I didn't sleep well, and was up before it was even light. John Boy was always early. We met up walking down the road to school.
"Good weekend, Alex?"
"Probably the worse weekend of my life."
John Boy was captain of the rugby team and I'd known him a long time. We were good friends, but I'd never told him I was gay. Hell, I hadn't told anybody! If someone found out, it happened out of my control. Like with my little brother guessing, or with Edmund. No, I was so far in the closet you would never ever find me hidden in there. Now though it was time to change things, time to change me, to have a bit more courage.
"Do you wanna talk about it?" John Boy put his arm around my shoulder. He was a genuine caring guy and a person you could trust. He had a lot of integrity.
"I think it's about time I opened up," I glanced at him.
We walked together over to the science lab where John Boy had to set up the class ready for the first lesson. But we had loads of time, easily twenty minutes, and setting up the class wouldn't take that long. I helped him get all the material, Bunsen burners, test tubes etc., out of the cupboards and into place on the work benches. Then we sat facing each other, each on one of the tall wooden stalls. I gave John Boy the whole Ryan history, just the same as I had told Michael, missing out the stuff about Jake. I filled in bits that John Boy wouldn't have known and I told him Matty and I were a couple.
"That's quite some story," he said when I got to the end. "Not just what happened with Ryan, but you and Matty."
"Yeah, it is. Now you know why it was such a crap weekend."
"You know we're friends," he paused to look me straight in the eyes. "I hope you know that you being gay changes nothing between us."
"I think I know that. That's why I feel safe telling you all this."
"Well you can count on me," he told me, but he needn't have, I already knew that. "But you're gonna have to tell the truth. You're bound to get called to see the Principal and despite what Ryan's done, you can't let him be accused of gay bashing." I nodded agreement. "If you don't give the whole story then it will look like bullying. Ryan will get expelled. It won't be just a suspension for fighting. It's already looking bad for hitting Edmund. Then holding Matty's head down the toilet. It’ll be a close call for him."
I've got to admit I'd not thought much about Ryan at all. I was entirely pre-occupied with myself and Matty. I hadn't even considered being called in to explain things to the Principal. That probably meant my parents being involved. John Boy was right though, if it happened I had to tell it like it was. I needed to say something to my folks before they got a call from the school.
Leaving John Boy in the science lab I headed off to my first class of the day. I had no idea what I would tell my parents. I couldn't concentrate on school work because I kept thinking about it. By going home time I was no nearer an answer. I didn't know what to say so I said nothing to them that evening. I talked to Michael about what John Boy had said, that was all. I was getting myself in a mess. If only I could talk to Matty but there wasn't any way to do that.
I slept badly again. In the morning I arrived at school early, feeling knackered. This time it wasn't John Boy I bumped into, but Edmund who was looking for me. He told me Matty would not be coming back to school, he was being kept at home and then he was going away to stay at an aunt's.
"At his aunt's?" Edmund’s news puzzled me.
"Yeah, that's what his mum said."
"But why, his aunt lives just ten minutes away?" Had Edmund got his facts straight?
"Must be another aunt, because it's way up in the north somewhere, I don't remember the name of the place she said."
So now Matty is being exiled. This is all too much.
"Why did his mum call you? Just to tell you he's going away?"
"No, she said they are seeing Mrs Whitley and the Principal today, and that I would no doubt be asked to explain what had happened last Friday."
John Boy was right. Now I knew I had to talk to my folks, because I was sure to be involved. What I wanted to know though, was where Matty was going to be sent.
"Edmund, could you find out the address of this aunt? Like, maybe after you see the Principal, you could call Matty and if his mum answers you could tell her you told the Principal everything you know, but you'd like to keep in touch with Matty, so could you write him. That way you get to find out his new address."
"Okay. I can try."
The day passed with me thinking about nothing else other than Matty, and more immediately, what I was going to tell my parents. On the way home I was trying to work out what I should say. I remembered Jake said some time ago, 'Just walk in and say this is my boyfriend,' but that would never work, obviously. No, I had to sit down with them and do the 'coming out' thing. But there was more, because I had to explain about me and Matty. I have to tell them about Ryan and probably being called to see the Principal. It all looked so bad.
Everyone was home for supper that evening and when it was finished I took the plunge. "Mum, dad, I have to tell you something very important. Actually a few things, but the first is real important... no actually they are all important. But it's not easy to say. I should maybe have told you before and..."
I think I was physically shaking. I'm sure my hands were trembling. This was so far from what I'd prepared in my head. Michael looked kind of surprised. My mother reached across the table to hold my hand and my father looked concerned.
"Alex," my mother began. "Whatever you have to tell us it's alright. Take your time. But we can't help you if we don't know." She looked over to Michael. "Michael, would you go and do your homework please."
"I don't have any. It's the last week of term," he replied.
"Well just find something to do... in your room," she told him, giving him her firm look.
He got the message, stood up and left the three of us around the dining table.
"Well then Alex," she smiled her mumsy smile and squeezed my hand.
I launched into my explanation of all things, starting with. "I'm gay."
There was no reply. They both just waited, my mother still holding my hand. My dad nodded. You know, the kind of nod when you're thinking about something. Trying to absorb the news, not a nod of agreement.
"Before you say anything. Don't ask me, 'Are you sure?' because, yes I'm sure. It's not a phase I'm going through. When I was nine or ten maybe, I started to realise I was like this. At Michael's age I knew for sure. I like boys and that's how it is. I know I should have told you this before. But I'm a coward. It's not easy, and well, I probably wouldn't even be telling you both now if I didn't have to."
"Alex," My dad spoke for the first time. "It’s okay. We still love you exactly the same. It’s a bit of a revelation," he smiled, "but of course we love you no matter what."
When he said those words I burst into tears. The emotion, everything just suddenly overcame me, I couldn't stop it. I was crying and shaking. My mum got up and came to sit next to me. She hugged me and stroked my hair. Just like she used to do when I was a little boy and fell over and grazed my knee. In that moment, I was that little boy whose mum would make everything better, and the tears kept coming, rolling down my face.
I think Michael must have come back downstairs because I heard my dad tell him 'it'll be alright, just leave us for a bit.' Finally, after what seemed like ages, I managed to pull myself together enough to carry on talking. And so I explained that Matty and I were not just best friends any longer, but we loved each other. I explained how his mum wouldn't let me see him. How he got injured, and the whole Ryan story. But, of course, I never talked about Jake. That was one secret I would never share.
In their different ways they were both pretty supportive. My dad said that he didn't see I was in any trouble with the school, but I was right that Ryan shouldn't get accused of bullying. In fact, he said exactly the same as John Boy had said. When it came to Matty, he was a bit more circumspect. He said they would need to talk to Matty's parents and whatever happened we had to respect their decision. If they decided it was best to send Matty away to live with his aunt, then I had to accept that, it might not be a bad thing. That hurt, my dad feeling like that. He was talking about me being separated from the boy I loved. Maybe he didn't think it was serious? My mum was physically very comforting, but all she really said was that she would have to talk things over with my father. She wanted to know how much of all this Michael knew and I told her he knew almost everything. Nothing was anywhere near being resolved, but for the first time in ages I slept well that night.