What a difference a day makes

by c m

Chapter 4

The following weekend, I'm ready and waiting at the gate at quarter past one. I barely have time to look down the road before the silver Merc that Ben's dad drives pulls up. Ben leaps out and puts my bag in the boot. He and I both get into the back seat. I can see a smile on his dad's face in the rear-view mirror.

'I know it's not far, but I thought we'd get something to eat on the way back, Toby, if that's alright with you.'

'Sure. Thanks. That would be great.'

For the next ten minutes Ben and I are too busy kissing to take much notice of anything. We are aware, however, of the car pulling off the road into a car park.

'If you two have finished trying to suck each other's faces off, we'll get some food.'

'Daaaad!' says Ben.

But from the smile on his face, I know his Dad is just happy to see us together.

He's chosen a steak house - which suits us both fine. We each get a steak, some fries and a salad. His dad also gets us both a beer. It's simple, but it's very good and forty minutes later we are back in the car and heading to Ben's house. Five minutes later we're there. As we go through the front door, I say hi to Ben's mum, but Ben has already taken me by the hand and is leading me upstairs.

'See you in a bit, boys,' she says.

In Ben's room we say hello properly. Forty minutes later we put our clothes back on and go down stairs. It's a lovely afternoon, and Ben and I sit in the garden and just talk. Eventually we get round to discussing filming ourselves. Ben is still keen and I guess it might be fun. Ben's parents have diplomatically arranged to go out for the evening, so we'll give it a go later.


Our first attempt is laughable. We both keep looking at the camera and we are awkward and artificial in our movements. The second attempt isn't much better - and the third, where we try adding some speaking, is even worse. We're about to give up when I suggest that we just turn the camera on and forget about making a film, just lie on the bed and talk to each other. Every other time we've done this we've always ended up having sex, so I'm sure that's what will happen , but with a bit of luck we'll have forgotten all about the camera.

This is a lot more successful. The first ten minutes or so is just like two friends talking. We kiss a bit and cuddle a bit and then slowly start touching and stroking each other. Fifteen minutes after that we've got our faces buried in each other's groin. Ben must have remembered about the cam as he pulls off me just before I cum, getting a full facial. The problem with this take, however, is that we inevitably end up moving around, and the...interesting bits...are not always fully on cam or in focus - or sufficiently close up. It is, nonetheless, quite erotic.

After we've watched it, Ben turns to me.

'The problem is, to do this properly, what you really need is a cameraman.'

'I'm not sure I want to - or even could - do what we do with someone else in the room, Ben.'

'I know. OK, let's forget the whole thing. It was worth a try though.'

Later that night, in bed, as he's idly stroking my chest with his fingers, Ben says,

'Let's just say for the sake of argument, Toby, that we DID have a cameraman, who could it be?'

'Definitely not Abe.'

'Agreed. Paul?'

'I don't think I could have sex with you in front of my bro.'

'Christian would think it was weird.'

'So would my friend Pete.'

'What about your wank buddy?'

'Mark? I think he'd see it as rubbing salt in the wound. And anyway, it would make me very uncomfortable.'

'OK. How about that boy who talked to you about coming out?'

'Chris Marshall?'

'Yes.'

I think about it. Purely theoretically, it would be an OK choice. He's gay, he's not in the same year, he clearly likes me and I'm sure watching two boys having sex would be his idea of a dream come true.

'He'd probably be jacking himself off so hard the camera would be wobbling all over the place.'

Ben starts to mime it. It's very funny. And we both end up hooting with laughter. But the idea of us filming ourselves having sex is put firmly on the back burner.

We enjoy a lazy Sunday. First we enjoy each other - at length - and then we enjoy a terrific late Sunday lunch that Ben's mother cooks. Roast beef and all the trimmings followed by a home-made apple pie. Ben and I offer to do the clearing up, and by the time it's all done, the clock tells us that it's nearly time for me to get back to school. Ben's mum is going to take us. She looks at her watch.

'I think we ought to go in about forty-five minutes. Is that enough time for you two to say goodbye?' She says it with a smile.

We look at each other and head upstairs, where we say a leisurely goodbye, kissing and cuddling on the bed in his room. We also think about when we'll next see each other. In three weeks' time it's half-term. I have a week off and I wonder if Ben would like to come and stay with me. We go and find his parents.

'Well, if your parents are happy to have Ben to stay, we have no objection. We can put him on a train at Reading if you can collect him at the other end.'

I get out my mobile and dial home. Mum answers.

'Hi Mum, I've had a lovely weekend with Ben and his family. Would it be OK if Ben came to stay with us for a few days over half-term?'

'I don't see why not. No, that's fine with us. We can pick him up on the way back after we've collected you and Paul.'

'Great. Thanks Mum. I'll tell them.'

'Mum says she can pick Ben up after they've collected me and Paul. So no need for a train.'

'Well, if she's sure, that would be lovely.'

With this to look forward to, going back to school doesn't seem quite so bad.


The next few days are unremarkable, but on Saturday afternoon, as I'm sitting in the study I share with Pete, there's a tap on the door.

'Come in,' I call.

The door opens and there's Matt Weekes. Matt is one of the openly gay boys in the school. I don't really know him, but what he most certainly doesn't know is that, before I came out, he was the object of a lot of my fantasies. When I wanked, it was Matt, more often than not, that I was thinking about. He is good-looking, fit and has a lovely smile.

'Oh hi Matt. To what do I owe the pleasure?'

Matt comes in and looks round.

'Is Peter out?'

'Yup. First XV rugby match.'

'Ah yes. The Neanderthals.' He stops and raises a hand. 'Sorry - I know he's friend of yours. And he's less Neanderthal than most, actually.'

He flashes me one of those smiles.

'OK if I come in? Have you got a few minutes?'

'Sure. Have a seat.'

He sits on Pete's chair. It has a swivel mechanism, and Matt turns gently from side to side.

'Look, Toby, it's just...well, you know I'm gay - and I guess everyone now knows you are too.'

That smile again. I swear it would melt iron.

'Look...I'm just going to say it. I think you're dead sexy - I always have, actually - and if you ever fancied, well, you know, a bit of gayboy type fun...I'd deffo be up for it.'

He looks at me. His eyes are liquid blue. Close up, he's not just good-looking, he's gorgeous.

Three months ago, I'd have said yes. In fact, I'd probably have torn his clothes off then and there. But then three months ago, he wouldn't have asked me. And three months ago I didn't have Ben.

And that's what I tell him.

'And when you're not with Ben, you wouldn't consider going with anyone else? You know, just a bit of no strings sex?''

I shake my head.

'Sorry, Matt. I'm not made that way.'

He smiles sadly.

'Pity. I'm not that...monogamous, myself. But I respect you for it, Toby. Ah well, can't win them all.'

He gets to his feet.

'Look...if you ever change your mind or...things don't work out...the offer will always be open.'

He smiles again. I get up too.

'Look Matt, don't think I'm not flattered. I think you're sexy as hell too. And you've been the centre of many a fantasy before I met Ben. And if anything changes you're certainly top of the list.'

I pause.

'Maybe...could we be...friends?'

That smile again. I'm definitely turning to goo.

'I'd like that, Toby. And did you really fantasise about me?'

I nod.

'That makes us even then.'

We both laugh. And then he steps towards me, a bit cautiously and holds out his arms a little tentatively.

'Is a quick hug permitted?'

I smile at him and step forward, wrapping one arm round his shoulder and one round his waist. I feel his arms close around me and he gives me a squeeze. He smells wonderful too. His cheek is against mine as we embrace. Then he pulls his face back so that our noses are almost touching, then very carefully gives me a single, light kiss on the cheek. There's a hard lump in his pants pressing against me - and I'm sure he can tell that I'm in the same state.

We break the hug and just stand there, smiling at each other. He holds out a hand.

'Friends, then?'

'Friends.'

One more electric smile and he's gone. I put a hand to my face where he kissed me. I wonder if he expected me to kiss him back. Perhaps it was a test. A test of my resolve. In which case I'm pleased I've passed. He's certainly sexy, and I'm looking forward to having him as a friend. But he's not Ben.

That evening I call Ben on Facetime and tell him about Matt.

'Well, you can't blame him for trying - and he clearly has exquisite taste. '

'I'm not sure about that,' I mumble.

'You truly have no idea how lovely you are, do you?'

'I'm just me, Ben.'

'Humm, well, thank you for turning him down.'

'It never crossed my mind not to,' I say.

'Oh come on...on a scale of 1 to 10, how sexy and gorgeous is he?'

'About a 9...'

'So you must have been tempted.'

'No, not really... you see, Ben, you're an 11. So why would I want a 9?'

Ben just looks at me. And then it looks as though he's wiping a tear away from his eye.

'I love you so much, Toby Miller.'

'Likewise. And only two weeks to go 'til half-term.'

'Can't wait.'


The school has a student-produced magazine that publishes twice a term. Philip Rushmore is the editor for this year. He's in the year above me and in a different house, so while I recognise him, I don't really know him. But he came up to me after lunch and asked if I could spare him ten minutes for a chat.

So here we are, in his study.

'Hi Toby - is it OK for me to call you Toby?'

'It's fine.'

'Great. Well, as you know I edit the student magazine. I know you decided to come out this term and I wondered if you'd consider - and there's no pressure at all - but I wondered if you'd consider writing a piece about it for the next issue? I think there are quite a lot of boys who'd love to know how your parents reacted, how your friends reacted, whether you feel coming out at school has been a good thing, a hard thing...whatever. Also be interested in your views on how the school or the other boys could make it easier for people to come out. Or anything else you'd like to say about it. By all means take time to think about it, but...initial reaction?'

I take a few seconds to think. I have a couple of questions.

'How much control would I have over what appears in the magazine?'

Philip smiles.

'Good question. I give you my word that what you write - if you decide to write - will be exactly what is published subject only to any necessary grammar and spelling adjustments. The only exception is that we can't allow personal attacks, or any encouragement to do something illegal - not that I think you'd do either of those things. That said, if you decide you need some help with it, just ask and I'd be happy to assist in any way I can.'

'OK. How long a piece would you be after?'

'That would be entirely up to you. Ideally, I'd like to run it as the main article so as a guide, 500-1000 words. More than 1000 is a long piece. Less than 250 would probably mean running it as a secondary article.'

'OK. Does the school know you're asking me to do this?'

He smiles again.

'Another excellent question. No. No they don't. I don't believe that they will have any objection, but I'd like to surprise them. Is that OK with you?'

'Let me think about it. Final question. Why me? There are several boys who are out.'

'First, because you are the one who has come out most recently. You are the most newsworthy in that sense. But more importantly because I like the way you've handled yourself. And I understand you have a steady boyfriend. I'm curious to find out how that affects things - if at all.'

I nod. But something is burning in my head.

'Philip...I know I said that last question was the last one but...can I ask one more?'

'Sure, Toby.'

'You don't have to answer this...and forgive me anyway...but...are you gay?'

He smiles.

'A final perceptive question. I hope you won't mind if I decline to answer - but only because I don't want to influence your answer to my request. Is that OK?'

It's a fair answer - if an evasive one.

'Sure. Umm...how soon do you need to know?'

'Within a week? Is that OK? I'd like to be able to publish - if we do - about half-way through the second half of term.'

'That's fine.'

'Not an outright 'no', then?'

'Not an outright no.'

'Great. Look forward to hearing your decision, Toby. And thanks for listening and thinking about it anyway.'

We both get up; he shakes my hand. I need to talk to Ben about this.

'Of course you should write it, Toby,' says Ben when I talk to him that evening. 'You've already had one boy come and ask you about this, and I bet there are lots more - well a good few anyway - who hearing your story would really help.'

'I suppose so,' I say, 'but I'm not much of a writer.'

'Just imagine you are telling someone about it and write what you would say. It doesn't have to be a literary masterpiece just a simple story from your heart. And you're good with words. I have the evidence. Remember the email you sent me? That was just words from your heart - and all the more powerful for it.'

'I think you're the one who's good with words, Ben. You seem to be able to talk me into just about anything.'

'Hmm, well, you don't seem to need much talking into most of the things we do.'

We both get a fit of the giggles.

'So you really think I should?'

'Yes. Definitely. Let me know if I can help - or write it and show it to me. Or maybe it's something to work on over half-term?'

'That might be an idea. OK, I'll tell him 'yes'.'

'Cool. Love you.'

'Love you too.'


I go and see Philip the next day. He's pleased.

'Fantastic news, Toby...and thank you.'

'Would it be OK to get you something after half-term? I'd like to involve Ben - my boyfriend - as well?'

'That's fine, Toby. If you can let me have something no later than a week after we get back, that will work just fine.'

'Great. Thanks.'

'The thanks are all mine.'


Having said 'yes', I find that my thoughts turn increasingly frequently to the article over the next few days. I start to write down some of the things I want to say as they pop into my head. I find myself looking for the right words to describe more precisely some of how I feel now and how I felt at the time. I find I'm enjoying the prospect of actually sitting down and writing something.

Then something happens that makes me feel that writing the article isn't just something I want to do, it's something I need to do. It happens in the changing room quite late one afternoon. I've been playing squash and as I'm preparing to shower I suddenly notice a figure hunched up on the bench in the far corner of the room. I'd thought I was alone. I walk across and take a closer look. It's Chris Marshall - and I've never seen a boy looking so unhappy.

'Hey Chris. Are you OK?'

He looks up.

'Oh, hi Toby. Yeah...yeah, I'm fine.'

'You don't look fine.'

He drops his gaze and stares at the floor.

'It's OK, Chris. You can tell me.'

'It's just...a couple of boys were talking about you. Saying some nasty things about gays. I stood up for you. I said you were a decent guy and the fact you were gay couldn't matter less. They rounded on me. Said they'd seen me talking to you. Said I must be your little bumboy. Asked me if I enjoyed being fucked and sucked by you. I said it wasn't like that. They just laughed. But...how can I ever come out if it's going to be like that?'

I sit down beside him.

'Would a hug help...or make it worse?'

He says nothing. But holds his arms out towards me. I give him a hug. I can feel him shaking and I hold him until it stops. I rub his back gently until I feel his grip on me slacken and his breathing return to normal. He finally lets go of me, and sits back up.

'Thank you for standing up for me, Chris. Who were these two? I need to know. I can't let them get away with this. It's OK...I just want to talk to them.'

'Mackriel and Robertson.'

Robertson. I might have guessed. And Mackriel is one of his mates.

'OK. Thanks for telling me..and thank you again for standing up for me...and it doesn't have to be like this. In fact, I'm determined that it won't be like this. Now, are you OK?'

'Yes. Thanks, Toby. And thank you for the hug.'

He attempts a smile.

'Don't worry, Chris. It will be OK.'


Mackriel and Robertson. I go hunting. I find them playing table tennis in the fifth formers common room. They look up as I walk in. Mackriel mishits his shot and the ball flies towards me. I catch it and put it in my pocket.

'I 'd like a quiet word, please. I understand you have a problem with my being gay.'

They are in an awkward position. I'm senior to them and they know the rules about homophobic words and actions.

'I don't have a problem with you being gay, I just don't like it. And that's my privilege,' says Robertson, 'It's a free country. I can think what I like.'

'True. But if you want to express your views, you might have the courtesy, not to say the courage, to express them to my face. Taking it out on Marshall is just cowardly.'

'He's another fucking pervert.'

'I see. Aside from the language which we'll come back to, what makes you think Marshall is a 'pervert'?'

'We saw him talking to you. Sitting beside you.'

'So you're saying Pete Knight is a pervert too?'

'No..why would I say that?'

'Because he talks to me all the time. We share a study together. Using your rules, that makes him very gay indeed. Shall we go and tell him?'

I see the boys look at each other. The last thing on earth they want to do is to cross Pete.

'And you said that Marshall was...what were the words?...my 'bumboy'...yes? So you're also accusing me of rape - given that he's only fifteen. Not to mention the fact that I have a boyfriend to whom I am faithful. I'm insulted by your words, attitudes and behaviour, but I'm downright angry about your accusations. And I loathe bullies. Perhaps we need to see what Mr. Grimes has to say about it all.'

The boys' truculence has now disappeared completely. They realise that their crude bullying has put them in real jeopardy.

'Please, Miller...don't involve Mr. Grimes. It was just a bit of fun...we didn't mean anything by it.'

'Just a bit of fun? Forgive me, I'm struggling to see the humour.'

'Sorry, Miller.'

'Yes, sorry Miller,' adds Mackriel.

'What is it you have against people being gay exactly? Why do you find it a subject to tease and bully people about?

'Well it's not normal is it?'

'It's certainly a minority, but that doesn't make it not normal. Does my being gay affect you in any way?'

'No, Miller,' they mumble.

'And just suppose for one remote moment that Chris Marshall was gay, would that affect you in any way?'

'No, Miller. Sorry, Miller.'

'Do you know why so many gay boys find it hard to come out? It's because of prejudiced, unthinking bullies like you. And I don't see how we stop it from keeping happening if people like you aren't held publicly to account.'

I can see that Mackriel is on the verge of tears.

'Please don't take this any further, Miller, please?'

'What do you propose doing to put things right, then?'

'Put things right?'

'Yes, put things right. With Marshall, with me and with your behaviour.'

'We'll apologise to Marshall. And there'll be no repetition, we promise.'

'You'll apologise properly and you'll ask him to forgive you. Though God alone knows why he should. And if there is any repetition of anything slightly anti-gay, I will take what you've done to Mr. Grimes. All you have to do now is work out how you're going to put things right with me.'

'But we've apologised.'

'Yes. That might not be enough.'

'What do you mean?'

'I might ask you to do something for me.'

'Like what?'

'I'll let you know in a couple of weeks' time - but it will likely involve you doing some writing.'

'Writing?'

'Yes...you can write I take it? It won't be onerous, but it will be mandatory. Will you do it?'

I see them look at each other.

'If we do, this goes no further?'

'Not unless you re-offend.'

'OK. '

'Good.'

I take the ball out of my pocket and throw it to Robertson.

'Once you've apologised to Marshall - and I will be checking up to make sure it is a full and grovelling apology - feel free to continue your game.'

I walk back to my study. I hate confrontation. My chest is tight and my legs feel like jelly. I have never, ever confronted anyone like I've just done before. It feels good to have done it, and right to have done it - but I have no idea where the strength came from to do it. Maybe I was channelling my inner Ben. As I flop down in my chair, my legs are actually shaking, and I'm taking deep breaths.

'You OK Toby?' asks Pete.

'Yes...yes....thank you. I'm fine.'

'Can I make you a coffee?'

I can hear the concern in his voice.

'That would be great, thanks.'

Pete disappears down the corridor to the Brew Room. Five minutes later he's back. He puts a mug of steaming coffee in front of me.

'Want to tell me about it Tobes?'

And I do. It tumbles out. Pete is by turns concerned, angry and surprised.

'The little toe-rags. Do they need sorting out?'

'No, Pete, no. That would make things worse. I think they're already worried shitless. And what I have in mind is more likely to make them change. That's what I want, Pete. I want people like those two to question what they think and say, and to change. Punishment usually just pushes feelings deeper down inside someone.'

'Blimey. Psychologist too, huh?'

'Just an intuition.'

'OK. If you're sure. But they better not say anything like that in my earshot.'

And that's Pete. Simple. Straightforward. Black and white. And sensitive enough, despite all appearances, to know when to give me some TLC.


When I tell Ben, he's ecstatic.

'Oh my word, Toby. That's brilliant. Wow. I'm so proud of you. Well done. How does it feel?'

'It feels good, Ben. And it makes the article even more important.'

'And what's the writing bit about? You know, for those two.'

'Ah, yes. I thought maybe a short piece from some homophobes who've had a chance to think about their instincts and hopefully change might be a useful addition. Just an insight into why they act like they act. I don't want to identify them or anything, just let people see how odd it looks when you put it in writing. I don't know whether they've changed, or if what they write will be usable, but I'm going to ask them to write it anyway.'

'What if they refuse?'

'In truth, I can't make them. But they might not realise that.'

'Would you tell your housemaster about what happened if they don't?'

'Probably not. I don't want them to become the victims in all this.'

'You're a smart cookie, aren't you Toby Miller?'

'Compared with some, I'm a bloody genius...'

'HOI! Just because I'm not there doesn't mean you can insult me.'

'Who said I was talking about you?'

'How can someone so smart and so cute be so irritating?'

'It's a gift.'


In the dorm that night, Robertson is understandably quiet and tries to avoid me. Chris Marshall can scarce contain himself and so I reckon he got the apology he deserved. That makes me happy. Well, happier. But I only get the full story the next day when he comes and tells me about it.

'Thank you so much, Toby. When they reappeared I was so worried, but they just came out with it and said sorry. I was so surprised. They even asked me to forgive them.'

As he said this, I permitted myself a little smile.

'And did you?'

'I asked them if they felt any differently about people who were gay. They said that while they still didn't understand how boys could be attracted to boys, they realised that if they were then they weren't doing anyone else any harm. That felt like they were seeing things differently. So I said in that case , of course they were forgiven.'

'Good for you, Chris.'

I held out my hand and we high-fived.

'Feel better about the prospect of coming out?'

'I still don't know if or when I will....but I'm a lot less scared now than I was. So thank you again, Toby.'

'My pleasure, Chris.'

'Could I ask a favour, Toby?'

'You can ask.'

'If your boyfriend comes to the school, could I meet him?'

'Can you be trusted with him, Chris?'

'Of course, I wouldn't...'

Then he sees the smile on my face and realises.

'Ohh, Toby...that was mean.'

'If there's a chance for you to meet, I'll try and make sure it happens. But I can't promise. Why do you want to meet him?

'I just want the other end of the story. His end of it. And his experiences in coming out too. Is that OK?'

'Sure it's OK, Chris. It's cool, in fact.'


Before I know it, half-term is here. Mum turns up and picks Paul and me up, and then we take the short detour to Ben's house. Mum is invited in for a cup of coffee. Paul, Ben and I are left to amuse ourselves for twenty minutes. There is a Plan A for when Ben and I have twenty minutes together, but unfortunately it is entirely unexecutable in the presence of anyone else. Including Paul.

'Don't mind me, ' he says, 'you two just carry on.'

Ben's eyes and mine meet. We are of one mind. We lock lips and start kissing. Paul's bluff is called.

'OK, OK...I'm out of here.'

We break apart long enough for Ben to tell Paul there's a TV room downstairs that's he's welcome to use. He leaves the room shaking his head.

Tempting though it is to do more than kiss, we agree to keep all that until later. We go back to kissing. I could do it forever - and the twenty minutes is gone in a flash.

On the journey home, Paul sits in the front with Mum, and Ben and I cuddle up on the back seat.

'Don't you two ever stop manhandling one another?' Paul says.

'Nope,' I say.

'Leave them alone, dear,' says my mother, 'it's lovely to see two people in love.'

'Nauseating more like,' says Paul

'You're only jealous,' I say.

And I think he is. A bit.


Once home, I show Ben round. Our house is a little bigger than his. It's a converted barn, the original bits of which go back to the 17th century, but it's been extended since and then fully-modernised whilst retaining a lot of the old features. I've always thought of it as lovely, but Ben is almost blown away. A large part of downstairs is open-plan, and the ceiling in the lounge part is full height, going right up to the original beams, with a sort of minstrel's gallery around two sides. There are four big double-bedrooms upstairs, three of which have ensuite shower rooms. My parents room has a full-blown bathroom and dressing room. I ask Ben if he wants his own room, or would rather share mine. For about half a second he thinks I'm serious.

'Well, I suppose I could bring myself to share with you. On one condition.'

'And that is?'

'That you molest me constantly.'

'I'll show you to your room, then,' I say.

'Why you little....it would serve you right if I jolly well did opt for my own room.'

'Don't you dare,' I say, propelling him backwards through the door and onto my bed.


The next few days are golden. We now know each other well enough and are sufficiently relaxed and sure of one another to become real, deep-down friends and not just lovers. That might sound weird; if you're lovers, surely that's more than being friends? But you know what, it isn't. We started out as friends and then became (OK, pretty quickly) lovers; but real, proper friendship takes time. That first friendship was a meeting of two boys who got on well together. The friendship we are now developing is much, much more than that. Sure, sex adds a whole extra dimension to our friendship, but it doesn't replace it. Being lovers AND friends is more than either of those things individually.

That's not to say that we don't have sex - a great deal of it - during Ben's visit. We are still horny as hell for each other, but it's not what drives us. We are at the point where we can be silent in one another's company and not feel awkward. A shared smile says all there is to be said sometimes.

And we also talk about the article I've agreed to write.

'I thought I'd start at the beginning by saying I sort of knew I was gay for a while, but that I felt scared of coming out. Scared of what mum and dad might think. Scared of what my friends might say. Scared that they'd shun me. Scared to come out at school for fear of being bullied. Scared of what being gay meant.'

'Sounds like a good place to begin; I guess there are other boys who would think 'that's how I feel', and that would kind of get them on your side...wanting to know more.'

'Yes...but I also want the straight guys to understand how it feels. Based on the evidence of what you and I experienced, most of them either don't think it's any surprise or else couldn't care less one way or the other. But I'd also like them to understand that their support is so important to counter the small minority who abuse and bully gay guys.'

'Sounds good. What next?'

'Well, logically I guess you'd be asking yourself 'so what changed?' to make you come out. For you, it was just natural, yes?'

Ben nods.

'I suppose so. My parents had always been open about saying gay, straight, bi is just a matter of how you're born. There was no stigma attached to it for them. So when I knew I was gay, it seemed natural to tell them. I know it was different for you, though.'

'It wasn't that I thought my parents were anti-gay - it was just something they never talked about. But I just knew I was different...and I suppose by nature I'm a conformist. So different isn't interesting, it's scary. And although I now know the antis are a small minority, it was their voices I heard at school when I was twelve and thirteen. '

'Then that's what you need to write as well. Did going to Public school change anything?'

'Well, that's kind of interesting. Having a wank buddy is normal. So I had the freedom, at last, to at least see if fooling around with another guy felt as good as I thought it would. Though I guess I have to thank Mark for initiating the relationship. I'm still not sure if I could have done that myself, but no matter. The fact was that I loved doing it. But I knew that I was experiencing sensations and feelings that went way beyond the boundaries of most wank-buddy relationships. And in some way that made it worse. I was now certain I was gay, but the only boy I was doing stuff with was the one boy I couldn't tell. And I still wasn't sure how my parents would react anyway.'

'And then little old me came along.'

I smile.

'Yeah. Little old you. And it was your challenge to me, you asking me if I was gay, that tipped me over the edge. Although I'd been afraid to admit it, once I did, it was such a relief. And it's that first person that is so important. Somehow telling my parents , whilst still not something I immediately felt I wanted to do, was easier. And having you there, rooting for me, was important too. The thing is, if I hadn't met you, would I be out now? Probably not. But that is a kind of depressing message for all those boys who would love to do what I've done but don't have a 'you' in their lives. How do I encourage them?'

Ben goes quiet. Like he does when he's thinking.

'Look, Toby...actually, I think the most important thing you can put across is not how or why you came out, but what happened when you did. The fact that it was fine. What most gay guys our age worry about is what will happen if and when they tell the world. If you can reassure them that not only will the sky not fall in, but they'll feel like the sky has been lifted off their shoulders - and that everything will most likely be fine - then that would be a wonderful message to have conveyed.'

I pause and think about it. He's right. I must be careful not to overthink this or get too ambitious.

'You're right. Showing that there have been no negative consequences is important.'

'Maybe you could get anonymous contributions - a sentence or two - from other guys, straight ones, about how they felt when they heard and saw that you were out?'

I think about it.

'Good idea. I need to start writing some of this down or I'll forget. But nonetheless, what if someone says that's all fine for me, I had you there, but they don't have anyone like that? I mean, I really hope that the article will generate questions that maybe I can answer in the next issue?'

'Alright. Fair point. So...what was the difference I made? OK, OK, so we really liked each other, but maybe it was just having someone, anyone, there for you. Maybe if you - and the other gay boys who are out - could just be there as a champion for anyone who wanted to come out but wasn't sure...would that help?'

'I don't know. But it's an idea. Maybe I should ask Chris Marshall how that would make someone like him feel.'

'Sounds like an idea. But...this is all turning into a bit of a production, isn't it? Maybe we should focus on the core message for now. If it provokes interest, you can always write a follow-up.'

I sigh.

'As usual, you're right. Let's write the heart of it and see what it looks like - and how long it is.'

'Excellent. But...as we've now got a plan and an outline...do we have to do it now...or is there time for....?'

'You are a wicked and despicable tempter.'

'Agreed. And?'

'Come here.'

We hug. We kiss. We wrestle each other's clothes off. We play hide the sausage. As usual we end up sweaty and sticky. We take a shower. When we have the time - like we do now - we've taken to each drying the other off. I don't know why, but having someone you love rub a towel over every inch of your body is incredibly arousing. I get aroused. Ben takes care of it. I ask him if he'd like a massage.

'Mmm...yes please, Toby.'

He lays flat on the bed on his front. I straddle his thighs with my knees and splash some almond oil on his back. I smooth it into his skin with both hands and then start to knead the muscles running across the top of his shoulders. From there I work my way down his spine and into the cleft between his buttocks. I run my thumbs back up either side of his spine and spread my hands out over his shoulder blades using circular motions, gradually increasing and then decreasing the pressure.

'Oh God, Toby, that feels so good.'

I use my thumbs to massage the back of his neck, moving them up into the hair on the back of his head. I feel him shudder with pleasure. I repeat the whole procedure.

'Turn over, Ben.'

He does. He's hard, but I ignore it, taking my time to work my hands over the front of his thighs, round the back of them and then down and over his calves. I can feel the light dusting of hair that's growing there. I run my hands back up the inside of his thighs, and allow them to brush against his balls. His cock twitches.

'Please, Toby.'

I know what he wants. I pour some more almond oil into my hand and use it to make him slippery. I masturbate him slowly, using my other hand to squeeze and massage his balls. He moans. I take my time. There is no hurry for this. I love the feel of him, hot and hard in my hand, every bit as much as he is enjoying what I'm doing to him. As he approaches his climax, he asks me to speed up. I do. He arches his back and a single rope of cum splatters across his groin. I lick him clean.


The next day, Mark comes round to visit. I introduce Ben and they seem to hit it off. Ben tells him about the article I've been asked to write, and asks Mark, straight out, how he reacted when I told him I was gay.

'First, it was no big surprise, and second it doesn't make any difference. I mean, I like Toby - yeah, I know, weird, but true - and the fact that he's gay doesn't change any of that. He's still the smart, fun, kind, and occasionally bloody irritating, friend he always has been. Nothing's changed; I'm still perfectly happy to be naked in the showers with him after we've played squash or gone swimming. It's not like he's gone from being a nice guy to some kind of predator just because he's come out is it? And if he'd rather it's a boy sucking his cock than a girl, why should I care...more girls for me.'

Mark smiles, and Ben laughs.

'I think you should put that in your article word for word, Toby. Would that be OK with you, Mark?'

'Sure. Be my guest.'


Later on, as I'm trying to make start on putting all the things we'd talked about into words, Paul wanders into my room.

'Hi guys...all OK?'

I decide to tell Paul about the article - but swear him to secrecy.

'Oh cool. I think it's a great idea.'

Then Ben speaks up.

'Look, Paul, I know that when you realised Toby was gay after you'd seen us kissing, that things didn't get off between you two on the right foot, but...what do you think has happened to Toby since he came out?'

'Yeah...sorry about all that.'

'Water under the bridge,' I say, 'forgiven and forgotten.'

'Thanks. Again. But to answer your question, Ben, it's amazing the difference it's made...it's like a butterfly has come out of a chrysalis.'

He turns to me.

'You're confident, feisty, funny. I love the new you, Tobes. It's like there was a weight holding you down, and now that it's gone, you're standing tall.'

Ben looks at me. Before he can say it, I get in first,

'Yeah...that goes in the article too. If that's OK with you, Paul.'

'Be happy to see it there, bro.'


I spend most of the next day working on the piece. When I've written a paragraph I show it to Ben. He's very supportive and helpful. He makes the odd suggestion - most of which I adopt. We take time out to cycle into town to pick up some things for dinner that mum has asked us to buy. We decide to visit Mark on the way back. The route takes us past the cinema. It's showing 'Call me by your name'. We stop and check the times. There's a show starting at 5.

'Want to see it?' I ask Ben.

'Sure. Has good write ups.'

I check my watch. It's 4.00. If we abandon the visit to Mark, we'll have time to take the food we've bought home and then cycle back again.

We're back at the cinema with ten minutes to spare. We buy tickets and popcorn and go through into the auditorium. There's hardly anyone in, but Ben and I take seats at the back and settle down. As the house lights fade, Ben puts an arm round my shoulder.

'Going to make eating popcorn difficult,' I say.

'Guess you'll just have to feed me,' he says with a smile.

So I do.

We enjoy the film, even if we both find the guy playing Elio's lover a bit unconvincing. But we both agree that we wouldn't kick Timothee out of bed. It's a bittersweet film, and even if my going back to school is hardly the same as Oliver going back to the States, we do know something of the pain of parting from someone who is both a friend and a lover.

It's the last night of Ben's stay and we enjoy each other to the full. I can't imagine ever getting tired of holding him, and kissing him and having him warm beside me in bed. He falls asleep before me, and as I kiss his forehead, he seems to half-smile.

'I love you, Ben,' I say.

His breathing falls into a slow, rhythmic pattern. It's all I need to send me into dreamland as well.


Back at school, I decide not to ask Robertson and Mackriel to write anything. The moment has passed and I see no need to re-open the matter. They've been fine since we had our discussion. But there is one final piece of research I want to do for my article before giving it to Phil. I ask four of the other boys who are openly out how things went with their parents and friends when they told them. I promise anonymity.

Mike Weatherby's story is much like Ben's; his parents had been open with him about sexuality from an early age. He was sure at 14 and told them. They accepted it without a murmur. And his best friend was the boy he first had sex with, so coming out to him wasn't news at all.

Andy Freeman effectively came out when his mother walked into his room to find him with another boy's cock halfway down his throat. As he put it;

'It was hardly the controlled explosion I had in mind, but in the end it was probably a good thing. God alone knows how or when I'd have got round to telling them. Dad was a bit shouty at first, but mum was on my side from the beginning - despite the trauma of what she'd seen. Dad soon calmed down, though. He ended up hugging me and telling me he loved me even if it wasn't quite what he'd had in mind for his elder son. My little bro was only nine at the time, so by the time he understood what gay was, he was used to seeing me with other boys. All in all it was OK.'

Rory Graham is different from the other three. He's more than a bit camp, and has decorated his study with coloured sheets that give it the feel of a harem. He's in a different house from me, but rumour has it that's blown most of the boys in his house - or all those who are up for it, anyway. Each to his own, I suppose. As I enter his study, he looks me slowly up and down. I feel as though I'm being mentally undressed. He sighs.

'They tell me you are simply achingly faithful. Such a waste. Now, what can I do you for you, you gorgeous thing?'

When I ask him my question, he throws his arms theatrically wide;

'God, dear, I think my parents knew I was gay before I did. Hardly a surprise.'

I laugh. And I now like him better than I did. So a win all round.

And then there's Matt. When I go to see him, he asks why I want to know. So I tell him, but beg him to keep it to himself.

'For you, Toby, anything.'

And then there's that smile that makes my insides go funny.

His story is different. He was outed by a friend whose inclinations he had misread.

'All the signs were there. Or I thought they were. He didn't have a girlfriend. We put our arms round each other's shoulders all the time. We'd been skinny dipping together and unashamedly checked each other out. When I'd pressed my leg against his in the cinema, he hadn't moved it. Christ, we'd even jacked off together. But when I tried to kiss him, he just exploded. Called me all the names under the sun and told his parents. Who told mine. I was fourteen. But they were amazing. They just said being gay was fine if that's what I was, but to be careful who I tried to kiss in future.'

He laughs - and so do I. There's a pause, and then those liquid blue eyes bore into mine.

'I don't suppose I could have a proper kiss with YOU by any chance?' he says.

'Sorry, Matt. And it's not that I wouldn't like to, but....'

'I know, I know. Iron self-discipline. But you can't blame a boy for trying.'

'If it helps, I enjoyed being asked - even if the answer's no.'

He smiles. I thank him for talking to me. He comes over and we share a hug.

'I'll look forward to seeing the article.'

I incorporate what I've learned into the piece and then email it to Phil. And then I wait. Twenty minutes later, my Ipad pings. Email waiting.

To: tobyornottoby02@icloud.uk.com

From: editor@stumag.org.uk

Subject: Article

Fantastic piece, Toby, well done! Can you spare ten minutes after prep this evening to discuss some details?

Phil

My reply is brief and to the point. I'll see him at 9. Then I forward his email to Ben. It takes just five minutes to get a reply.

To: tobyornottoby02@icloud.uk.com

From: Ben.Meredith2002@gmail.com

Subject: : Article

So I'm going out with Charles Dickens.

Love always

Your Ben

xxx

As I enter the building where Phil has his study, I see Kevin Machin leaning against the wall outside his study. He's in the year above me and not a boy I like very much.

'Hey, Rushmore,' he calls out, 'your boyfriend's here to see you.'

I stop. Old Toby would have blushed scarlet, hung his head, and hurried past. but not new Toby.

'I'm sorry, Machin, what was that?'

The fact that I've stopped and spoken to him takes him completely by surprise.

'What do you want you little poof?'

'Now we both know that 'poof' is not a word you should be using. By all means call me gay, though, if that helps. As for being Rushmore's boyfriend, I'm not. I have a boyfriend called Ben. Now if you'll excuse me....'

Several other boys have now gathered in the corridor, and are laughing. This only serves to enrage Machin more.

'You cheeky little shit. How dare you.'

He grabs me by the collar and swings me round. And then he is suddenly surrounded.

'Don't you dare touch him. Coming out means he's got far more balls than you.'

His eyes flick quickly around. Like all bullies, he's a coward inside.

'I didn't mean it.'

'It didn't sound like that to us.'

'I think an apology is in order.'

I can see the hate in his eyes. But through gritted teeth he says,

'I'm sorry, Miller.'

'Apology accepted,' I say.

He turns back into his study, slamming the door behind him. Two of the other boys clap me gently on the back, and then Philip Rushworth is there to show me into his study.

'I'm so sorry Toby. It's ironic, is it not, that that should happen in the context of you writing an article about your experiences of coming out.'

'I suppose so. But there will always be one or two.'

'Not always, let us hope. Anyway... to better things. This article is...excellent. Better than I could have hoped for. And quite well-written too, if I may say so.'

'Thank you. Ben helped me.'

I wanted to ask you two things. First, I have written an introduction to the piece which I would like you to see and say that you are happy with, and second, well first really if you see what I've written, would you be prepared to answer any comments and questions and feedback if we get it?'

He hands me a piece of paper. I read it through.

"This issue's lead piece is by Toby Miller. As I'm sure you all know, Toby came out as gay at the start of this term. I thought it would be interesting to hear his reflections on coming out. What Toby has written, however, is so much more than I expected; it is insightful and challenging. Whatever your views on being gay are, I urge you to read it. And then let us have your feedback. Toby has agreed to answer any questions and comments in the next issue."

'That's fine, Philip. And yes, I'd be happy to answer any feedback.'

'Excellent. Thank you.'

There's a pause. Then he continues,

'Last time we talked, you asked me a question that I declined to answer. I think the least I can do now that you've written the article is to give you an answer. You asked me if I was gay. Well...yes...yes, I am. But you are the first person I have ever told. Your article is what gave me the courage to tell you, and will, I hope give me the courage to come out to my parents. So I have to thank you not just on behalf of the magazine, but personally as well.'

'Thank you for telling me, Philip. I'm honoured to be the first person to know. And I won't tell anyone else.'

'Thank you, Toby. Thank you very much.'


The article is published a week later. It causes quite a stir. I'm in the small room that acts as a production office for the magazine, along with Philip and his deputy editor when there's a knock on the door. Philpott, a diminutive third former with a shock of red hair, enters.

'Please, Rushmore, the headmaster has asked if you and Miller would go and see him, please.'

'Now?'

'Yes.'

We walk across the quad together.

'Well,' says Philip,' I don't think we need guess what it's about, but I am intrigued to find out what line he takes.'

Outside his study, Miss Prendergast, the Headmaster's PA, asks us both to take a seat. She knocks on the Head's door and goes in. A moment later she re-emerges.

'Philip, if you'd like to go in. Toby, please wait here.'

As I sit waiting, Miss Prendergast smiles at me.

'I've read the article, Toby. It is most...enlightening. And brave of you, I think.'

'Thank you, Miss Prendergast. Do you know if the Head...approves.'

'I'm under strict instructions not to answer that question. But let's just say I don't think you need to worry.'

I feel a surge of relief wash over me. And ten minutes later, when Philip emerges from the office, I can see he has a sort of bemused smile on his face.

'He's ready for you Toby. I'll wait for you.'

As he walks towards me, I see that the hand he is holding in front of his stomach has the thumb pointing upwards.

The Headmaster's study is an ornate late Victorian affair. The Gothic windows are complemented by heavy, carved wooden panels. His desk is constructed along similarly grandiose lines. The Head himself, Mr. Benson, is in his early fifties. His hair is already grey but he cuts an imposing figure. He has a quiet authority about him. I have had little directly to do with him in my three years in the school to date, but I like him. I see that there is a copy of the magazine on his desk.

'Ah, Toby. Please, come in, sit down.'

He motions me to a chair. I sit down. He picks up the magazine.

'So, what persuaded you to take part in this venture?'

Hi tone is neutral. If I hadn't heard what Miss Prendergast had said, or seen Philip's thumbs up, I would be worrying about which way this was going.

'Philip Rushmore asked me to,' I say.

The Head smiles.

'A diplomatic answer, Toby. But I asked 'what' and not 'who'.'

I look Mr. Benson in the eyes.

'Because it's important, sir. I was scared to come out, but once I had it was such a relief. And I am a better, braver, more honest and complete person for having done so. I know that there are other boys in this school who feel as I felt three months ago. I thought that by writing this, I might help them.'

Mr. Benson smiles.

'And I thank you for doing so, Toby. I agree wholeheartedly with you. And may I say that I salute your courage. I know that we have rules about homophobic comments and actions, and I also know that in the darker corridors and the hidden places these rules are not always obeyed. Fear is the most debilitating of emotions. It stops people from doing and being what they should. I believe and hope that you will have helped a number of boys to conquer their fear. So well done. And if there is anything you think the school can do to make life easier for boys to be able to be true to their nature, or to do more to support them, please let me know. '

He pauses.

'Now, I understand from your housemaster that you have a steady boyfriend?'

'Yes, sir. Ben. He is the one who should be receiving most of the credit. Without him, I wouldn't have come out.'

'I'm sure that's a very generous thing to say, but the burden of any good that your article may do will fall on your shoulders - at least as far as this school is concerned. What I wanted to say, however, is that...Ben...is welcome on site here at those times that it is open to family. And if I happen to be passing when he's around, I hope that you'll introduce me. I admire the principled stand that I understand you have taken on the nature of your relationship. I will say no more. I have one final request to make. I would like, with your permission, to share your article with some of my colleagues at other schools.'

'Of course, sir. That would be fine. And thank you for allowing Ben to be onsite as well.'

'A pleasure. And well done again Toby. You are made of very sound stuff.'


Ben hoots with laughter when I tell him.

'Very sound stuff, eh? From where I am, you appear to be made of flesh and blood.'

It's the weekend. It's the second and final 'long leave' of the term. I'm at his house, sitting on his bed. I'm naked and he's kneeling between my legs.

'Albeit very hard and very yummy flesh and blood, I'll grant you.'

I run my hands through his hair and pull him to me. He takes me in his mouth and does his thing. His wonderful thing. His amazing thing. Ten minutes of pure pleasure follow. Satisfaction comes in a rush, and then I change places.

'So, he says, have you had much feedback to the article?'

'Yethth,' I say, indistinctly. It's hard to talk when your mouth is full of boyfriend.

Ben giggles.

'Oops...OK...I'll let you concentrate on what you're doing. Which feels terrific, by the way.'

I just nod. This is my favourite thing to do with Ben, and I take my time. The result is immensely satisfying for both of us.

With our immediate lusts sated, we sit beside each other on the bed.

'You were asking about feedback on the article.'

'Oh, yes...and...?'

'The magazine has had quite a few emails saying that they thought the article was interesting or challenging or different. Some saying it was brave. Some saying they were pleased to see the Mag publish something relevant and important. One saying it was not a suitable topic. But the more interesting thing is the number of boys - of all ages - who have come up to me and just said 'well done', or 'good article'. Some of them boys who I've barely passed the time of day with in all the time I've been there. And then there are the two emails to me personally. One anonymous and one not, from boys who have said thank you and that they feel able to come out. There have also been some questions; a couple of boys have asked if I'll say more about what actually happened to make me come out. As you know, all I've said so far is that I met a boy on holiday who gave me the courage to come out. Would you be comfortable with me telling the story in more detail?'

'Sure, Toby - if it will help.'

'Quite a few of the staff have also said 'well done' to me, which is nice.'

'So how does it make you feel?'

'I feel proud...elated...but that's wrong, isn't it? I shouldn't feel like that. I mean, without you I wouldn't have done it at all. I wasn't brave like people are saying. I was scared. I'm not some kind of shining beacon, I'm just a boy who loves a boy.'

Ben puts his arms round me.

'Of course you should feel proud. What's important is that you overcame that fear and didn't let it control you. And it is brave to write about it - to expose yourself and your feelings. And look at the result - isn't that something it's right to feel proud about?'

I nuzzle my head into his shoulder.

'I suppose so.'

'And I'm just a boy who loves a boy too. And that boy is you. And this boy is incredibly proud of him.'

And suddenly I'm crying. I don't know if it's an emotional dam that's burst or just that I love Ben so much or...whatever. But as my tears roll down Ben's chest, all I know is that he is holding me and telling me how much he loves me. And that's all I need.

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