Not Always Easy
Chapter 4 - My Brother, My Friend
My heart skipped a beat then restarted at what felt like double its normal rate. My mind just seized up and went blank. I sat on my bed in silence.
"Paul? Did you hear me? Haven't you heard the rumours in school that Rob's gay?" John repeated his question.
For a few seconds I still couldn't speak, and I think that he was just about to ask the question yet again when I responded.
"No, I've not heard any rumours about Rob," I said, completely truthfully. "What are the rumours?"
"Nothing specific, but lots of people at school just assume he's gay cos he's so... erm... delicate."
He was using the word 'delicate' in the way that our grandma often used it, to describe effeminate or camp behaviour, usually in men she saw on TV. Rob had just told me he didn't have many friends, and now I wondered if that was related to the rumours. Actually, I hadn't noticed anything effeminate or camp about Rob in the short time I'd known him, so I didn't understand what might have given rise to these rumours. He was certainly gentle, quiet, shy and not at all aggressive, which may be feminine traits, but that didn't make him effeminate. From my limited experience, he did seem to cry very easily, but surely that wouldn't generate rumours about his sexuality. While these thoughts were going through my head, John seemed to be getting restless, waiting for me to respond in some way.
"Well, what do you think? Is he gay?" John asked, lowering his voice a little for the second part of the question.
"Would it make much difference if he was?" I said, stalling for more time to think how I should handle the situation.
I hoped Mike would call and give me an excuse for postponing the conversation, but the hope proved to be in vain. Meanwhile John was giving a little thought to my question.
"No, I don't think it would matter to me," John replied, "but he's your friend... would it make any difference to you?"
Now that was a tricky question. Truthfully it did matter, but it mattered to me in exactly the opposite way to the one that John almost certainly meant. In fact, had Rob not been gay I would probably have never even noticed his existence, and certainly knowing that I was not the only gay boy in school made a very big difference to me. My thoughts were in turmoil as I tried to find an answer to John's question, preferably without lying. After living together and growing up together for almost fifteen years, John knew me well and I could tell that he was getting suspicious of the long delays in responding to his questions.
"You don't want to talk about this, do you?" he said, taking me by surprise.
He paused to gave me an understanding and sympathetic smile, then continued, "I just thought I should mention it cos if some lads from school see you with him, they might start rumours about you as well."
Having said that, he looked as if he was about to leave the room, and I knew that he was offering me an easy way out. Suddenly I remembered our conversation in the park just two days before, though so much had happened since then that it seemed like a lifetime ago. John was my brother, and apart from Mike, he was still my closest friend, so if I couldn't trust him then I couldn't trust anyone. I knew he was very mature, even though it would be another couple of months until he was fifteen. He was clearly embarrassed by coming to me and telling me about the rumours but he did it anyway, showing that he was looking out for my best interests. He deserved my trust, and it occurred to me that if I ever discussed my sexuality with our parents, he could be a good ally.
"John, don't go.... Please shut the door and come and sit down."
He did as I asked, and unexpectedly the look on his face was one of relief and pleasure, as if I'd done something to make him happy.
"Look, John," I said, "on Friday you said that you felt we weren't as close as we used to be. Well, I think we've always been good friends, but if you want us to be even closer friends then I want that too."
He gave me a huge grin, and I had the impression that if we weren't sitting on different beds he would have hugged me.
"I'd like to trust you with a secret," I said, "but I need you to promise that you'll never, ever, tell anyone. Is that okay?"
"Aaaww, Paul, of course I promise. I won't tell a soul," he assured me, then with a knowing look he added, "but I bet Mike knows already, doesn't he?"
"Yes, Mike knows, but you will only be the second person that I've told... You see... I'm gay."
I looked into his eyes and waited for a response. For several seconds he sat in silence, several expressions flitting across his face so quickly that I couldn't read them. While he was assimilating my words his eyes never left my own, and we both held a steady gaze. After what seemed like hours, but was probably less than a minute, he heaved a big sigh.
"Phew! I don't know what secret I was expecting, but that wasn't it," he said, then took a deep breath and continued, "But I guess that's why you never had a girlfriend..."
"Neither have you."
My attempt to lighten the mood failed and he just frowned.
"But I'm still only fourteen, and James is the only fourteen-year-old I know who has a steady girlfriend. Anyway, I'm not gay."
He said that last sentence quietly, but with a hint of defiance.
"Never said you were. I was just trying to say that not having girlfriends doesn't give much of a clue about sexuality. So... how do feel about me being gay?"
"Doesn't make any difference to me," he said simply, then he frowned and added, "But you'd better be careful no one at school suspects or life could be unpleasant for both of us... Sorry, does that sound selfish? Really, I didn't mean it to come out that way."
"No, it doesn't sound selfish. You're right to remind me of the implications this has for other people. As it happens, I've no intention of letting anyone at school know about it. And I'm going to make sure they don't even suspect."
"Ya know," John said pensively after a brief silence, "I'm really glad you trusted me and told me, but.... Would you have told me if I hadn't asked you about Rob?"
"Yeah... of course! I was just waiting for a good time. It's only a few weeks since I was certain myself and it's not been long since I told Mike. You'd have been the very next person I told."
He seemed pleased by my reply, and then after another pause for thought, he spoke again.
"What about Mum and Dad?" he asked.
"Dunno... I thought I might tell them after I go to Uni.... Still, at least they have one son to give them some grandchildren," I said with a smile, again trying to lighten the mood. This time the attempt was more successful and John smiled.
"Not for a long time yet!" he said brightly, then he paused as if something had just occurred to him and continued, "One problem with you being gay..."
"Yes?" I said, a bit concerned.
"Well, when I first got hairs 'down there' you were the one who I asked about it. Then when I had my first wet dream you told me about wanking and how you did it. So when I get a girlfriend I was relying on you to give me advice about girls and sex and stuff... now what will I do?"
John was smiling as he said this, but I still decided to give him a serious answer.
"There's always Mike. He's almost a brother to both of us."
"Yeah, of course," he said and grinned. "He's spending so much time with Sue now that he's bound to be able to answer any questions I might think of."
We were both silent for a few moments, and I could tell that John wanted to say something else, so I just waited until he was ready.
"Errmmm... is Rob your boyfriend?" his asked, his face and body language showing a mixture of embarrassment and excitement.
"You're presuming he's gay? I never said that."
"Yeah, but with what you just told me and the rumours at school, that would be the most likely way that you got to be friends. So he is gay, isn't he?"
"That's not for me to say..."
"Anyway, I bet he is, but is he your boyfriend?"
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
He was enjoying asking these questions so much that he reminded me of a puppy playing with a cuddly toy.
"What is this, an interrogation?" I asked playfully.
"I'm just curious, that's all. You know I don't have a girlfriend, so it's not exactly a State Secret, is it? Do you have a boyfriend?"
"Have you ever had a boyfriend?" he said, continuing the inquisition.
"Not really." That slipped out before I considered the implications, which didn't escape John.
"Not really? What's that mean?"
"Depends on what exactly you mean by boyfriend and whether I just thought he was my boyfriend."
"Oh..." he said looking confused, then he had an idea and added, "You mean you had sex?"
"Hey, now you're getting a bit too personal... have you had sex?"
"No," John said without hesitation.
"Would you tell me if you had?"
"Yes... well, erm... probably," he said, trying to be honest.
"Well, think about it for a bit. If you can come to me and tell me truthfully that you'd tell me about your sex life, then maybe we can talk about this some more. Until then, I expect you to let me have the same sort of privacy that you'd expect me to give to you."
"Okay," he replied a little sheepishly.
"Are you going to let me phone Mike now?" I asked patiently.
"Yeah, okay.... don't be too long on the phone, though, cos it's almost time to eat. See ya later," John said as he got up to leave the room.
Heaving a big sigh of relief, I phoned Mike.
"Hello, you." I said as soon as he answered.
"Hello, you, too," came the standard response. "Forgot to switch on your phone today?"
"Yeah, it's been one of those days. Look, I've got loads to tell you but don't have much time before dinner and I prefer not to talk about it on the phone. Can you come over later?" I asked.
"Okay, sure. Now you've got me all intrigued... see you about seven?"
"That's great... by the way, did you have a good time with Sue last night?"
"Yeah, but not as good as we would've liked. Her parents stayed home and so did my mum, so we didn't have anywhere for private stuff, if you know what I mean."
"I think I know very well what you mean, you dirty little boy!" I said and laughed.
When Mike came round we were still clearing the table after our meal, so he spent a few minutes socialising with my parents and John even though I could see that he was dying to get me alone and hear my news. When we at last got to my room and closed the door, I told him all about Rob, the party, bringing him back here and sharing a bed, at which point Mike expressed surprise that nothing 'naughty' had happened. When I described my talk with John, Mike's first comment was, 'Holy shit!' followed shortly by, 'That's how I would expect him to react'.
Mike told me about his Saturday evening, the first part of which was spent at Sue's house. They had hoped Sue's parents would be going out, but the hope was in vain and after a an uncomfortable hour trying to make conversation with her family, he and Sue decided to go to a movie. Having gone into town they couldn't actually find a movie they wanted to see, so they went to the park and 'cuddled' until they got too cold, then went back to Mike's house and made out for a bit after his mum had gone to bed. Mike said he felt a bit frustrated that they couldn't get up to much with his mum in the house and thought I was lucky being able to have Rob in my bedroom without any problems.
"The other man's grass is always greener!" I said, and he laughed.
All the time Mike was speaking, I could tell his feelings for Sue were very strong, so I asked if either of them had used the word 'love' yet. He told me that he had told Sue he loved her several times and each time she'd said she loved him as well, so I was happy that all seemed well with them. Apparently his mum got on well with Sue, and had invited her to dinner on Monday, so everything seemed to be working out well with Mike's love life.
Then I mentioned some of the questions that had been going through my mind. For example: How did the rumours about Rob get started? Should I ask Rob about that? Should I tell John how I really met Rob? Should I tell Rob about my previous encounter with Ben? Of course Mike couldn't answer these questions any more than I could, but he did point out that it would be polite to consult Rob if I was intending to reveal everything to John.
Grateful we were on holiday, I slept in late the following morning, and even after waking, I luxuriated in my cosy bed, thinking random thoughts until almost noon. By the time I got downstairs John was preparing his lunch, and of course my parents had long ago gone to work.
"Hey, lazybones," he greeted me as I entered the kitchen, "I thought you were going to stay in your pit all day!"
"Just taking advantage of my first weekday of the holiday. Anyway, what time did you get up?" I retorted.
"In time to say goodbye to Mum and Dad."
"Pervert!" I said in my most disgusted voice.
John raised an eyebrow at me and smiled.
"If anyone's a perve, it's not me!" he said, good-humouredly.
I was glad that he'd taken the revelation about my sexuality so well and that he felt comfortable enough to treat it just as part of our usual banter. However, I did want to make sure that he would be cautious when other people were around.
"You will be careful not to give away any clues to my little secret, won't you?" I reminded him.
"Of course! Don't be so paranoid. I'm not stupid ya know."
At that point Mike arrived, saving me the effort of finding a suitably witty response. While John and I finished eating the three of us discussed what to do for the rest of the day. As it was a lovely spring day we decided to spend the afternoon wandering around the town centre and just revelling in the start of our holidays. During the general chatting, it emerged that none of us was looking forward to the next weekend, which was Easter. Mike was going to be spending the weekend with his father near Birmingham, while and John and I would be expected to help Mum and Dad play host to a series of family visitors.
After we arrived back from town, Mike went straight home to start getting ready for dinner with his mum and Sue. He didn't look exactly ecstatic at the prospect and was expecting an uncomfortable evening. My thoughts and sympathies were with him while I ate dinner with my family. Soon after eating I was in my room when my phone rang.
"Hi, Paul, it's Rob."
"Hi, Rob. What's up?"
"It's okay for me to phone isn't it? I'm not interrupting anything?" he said, sounding very hesitant and nervous.
"No problem," I replied. "I wasn't doing anything... Anyway, how are you?"
"I'm fine. My family got back late on Sunday, and as far as they know I enjoyed the party and got back by midnight."
"Have you recovered from the trauma yet?" I asked, half joking.
"Yeah, I think so," he replied very seriously. "Thanks to you."
"Hey!" I said, blushing. "That's what friends are for..."
"Am I really your friend, then?" he asked, his voice trembling a little.
"Of course you are!"
"So can we get together again soon?"
Apart from just meeting as friends, I wanted to talk to him about the rumours and to let him know what I'd told Mike. I also thought I'd better tell Rob what John suspected, in fact more than just suspected, about him. Therefore, I arranged to meet him in the town centre after dinner that Wednesday evening.
When I picked him up he looked as if he'd dressed to impress in what appeared to be brand new clothes, and as he got into the car I could smell a subtle and masculine aftershave that I didn't recognise but which I guessed would be expensive. Because I wanted privacy for our talk, I drove us into the hills that surrounded the town on three sides, and I parked in a quiet lay-by from where we had a good view over the town. We sat for a few moments as the sky darkened, watching the lights come on in the town below.
"With us becoming friends so quickly, there's a lot we still don't know about one another, but I'm looking forward to getting to know you better," I said, breaking the silence.
It sounded clumsy even to my own ears, but then I'd been rehearsing all day how I might start off this discussion and nothing I came up with seemed to flow smoothly.
"Yeah, me too," he responded, giving me a strange look.
"Did you wonder why I gave you my number at the GLYG meeting?"
"Cos I'm the only other gay guy ya know at school..." Rob hesitated, looked at his feet, and continued, "and maybe you fancied me?"
"Well, I guess a little of both those reasons," I said, a little embarrassed, "but the main reason was I thought you might need a friend... you see, I knew that you might get hurt by Ben."
As I finished saying this, he looked up at me, and I could see the light of understanding beginning to dawn in his eyes.
"So you already knew Ben and that's how you knew where he lived?"
"Yes," I replied.
"And is that why you had the 'premonition' to leave your phone switched on Saturday night?"
"Couldn't you have just told me... warned me about Ben?" he asked, frowning at me.
"What could I say? Before Ben's party you hardly knew me but you'd been chatting to Ben for ages. If I'd told you Ben had just used me for sex then dumped me when I wouldn't give him what he wanted... Well, even if you believed me, what would you have done?"
"Dunno," he said, looking thoughtful. "Probly I'd still have gone to the party."
"So... are we still friends?" I asked tentatively.
"Yes, of course we're still friends! Why wouldn't we be?" he asked, startled.
"Well, maybe you think I should've done more to warn you about Ben?"
"Nah! You did as much as you could, considering I was practically a stranger. And, more important, you were there for me when I really needed someone."
"There's something else I think you should know..." I said.
I proceeded to tell him about my discussions with John and the rumours at school and I assured him that I hadn't confirmed what John suspected about Rob's sexuality. However, I pointed out that John seemed to believe the rumours even without my confirmation. Then I told him that John seemed comfortable with me being gay and I trusted John not to tell anyone else. During the course of my little monologue, I thought Rob was blushing, but couldn't be totally sure because by that it was almost dark apart from the small amount of yellowish light from a distant street lamp. What I could see for sure was that his shoulders sagged and his eyes were cast downward, staring at his hands, which hung limply in his lap.
After I finished there was a long silence, and then I could hear him quietly sobbing. I turned in my seat and placed my arm over his shoulders, which shook as he cried. With my right hand I reached over to hold his hand.
"I'm sorry, Robbie, I didn't mean to upset you. I just thought you ought to know everything."
I squeezed his hand, hugged his shoulders and waited for him to calm down, or at least show some other reaction besides sobbing, because I had no idea why he was so upset or what I could say or do to make him feel better. He tried to speak, but all that came out was a wail of pain, which tugged at my heart and almost made me start to cry. When he eventually spoke his voice was unsteady, and interrupted by sobs.
"Oh, Paul, I didn't know the rumours had spread so far. I thought it was just a few snide comments from people in my class. I don't know what to dooooo!"
This last word became a heartbreaking wail.
"Hey, Robbie, I'm here for you. You know what our school's like for gossip. Some kids will say anything just to relieve the boredom. Your friends won't care about the rumours."
"What friends?" he asked bitterly. "I lost what few friends I had last year when the rumours started. And now you know, I bet you won't want to be seen in public with me, either."
"Well, if friends deserted you because of some gossip then they weren't real friends anyway... and I'm still your friend, no matter what."
As his sobs began to fade I reached over to the glove box, took out some paper tissues, and handed them to him. He dabbed his eyes then blew his nose.
"I bet you want to know how the rumours started, don't you?"
"Well, of course I'm curious... you don't seem effeminate or 'camp'... but you don't have to tell me anything unless you really want to."
"Yeah. I want to... I want to clear everything up so then you'll know everything and see if you still want to be friends. You already know I'm not exactly butch and tough, and I can't help crying a lot. Well, I used to be even more of a softy than I am now, and I was teased for that ever since I started school."
"But something special happened last year?" I asked.
"Well, it's really embarrassing, but I think you should know..."
After another pause and a huge sigh, he told me about the incident which sparked off the rumours.
One day, shortly after Rob's fifteenth birthday, he was walking home from school with a boy who at the time was his closest friend. As they walked through a small park they chatted about girls and sex, topics of conversation that are not too uncommon among teenage boys. Rob had accepted himself as gay for some time and, for some reason he himself never understood, suddenly decided to come out to his friend. The friend, who at the time seemed to take the announcement quite well, told Rob that they were still friends and promised that he'd not tell anyone else. Rob was so happy with this response that he hugged his friend and quickly kissed him on the cheek. The friend blushed and pushed him away, but they carried on walking home, chatting as if nothing unusual had happened.
All might have been well, and Rob's friend might have kept his promise, except that another boy, who was in the year below theirs at school, had seen the hug and the kiss. The next day at school both Rob and his friend were taunted with the accusation of being 'queer', which at our school was the worst thing that anyone could be accused of. Then Rob's friend was confronted by classmates who asked him if it was true that he'd been seen hugging and kissing Rob. Probably because of fear and an instinct for self-preservation, the friend told his inquisitors that Rob had hugged and kissed him against his will, and that Rob was the queer one. The 'friend' maintained that he himself was totally straight and from that day on refused even to speak to Rob.
During this sad tale Rob sometimes gave a sob or dabbed his eyes, but I made no comment, merely making occasional comforting noises. I couldn't think of anything to say but occasionally I squeezed his hand or stroked the back of his head After a while Rob began squeezing my hand, then after a few more minutes of silence, he looked up at me.
"We are still friends, aren't we?" he asked.
"Of course we are. How many times do I need to say it?"
"Thanks," he said.
Then suddenly he giggled and went into a fit of almost hysterical laughter, and I guessed it was some sort of emotional reaction. Anyway, it was quite painful for me as he was squeezing my hand really hard.
"Ow! What?" I yelped.
"Oh, sorry," he said, loosening his grip on my crushed hand. "I was just about to say thanks for a wonderful night, but with all the crying it seemed, well.... a stupid thing to say."
He stopped laughing and became totally serious, before continuing, "Then I thought that it really was a wonderful night. Not exactly pleasant, but still wonderful.... I've never had anyone to share that with before. For a whole year I've had no friends at all, and for a long time even before that I've never had anyone I felt was as close to me as you are... Ya know, to make a friend like you, it was even worth being thrown out by Ben."
"Aw, Robbie..." I said through the lump in my throat, "What a lovely thing to say."
"Anyway, thanks again," he said, then looking at the dashboard clock, glowing pale green in the darkness, he added. "All this has tired me out... and it's getting late."
"Want me to take you home then?"
We drove home in a comfortable silence, and in a way I think we were both feeling a little burned out. As we travelled, Rob had his hand on my knee and occasionally gave me a friendly squeeze. When we arrived at his house I turned the car around in his driveway, and then Rob leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. He was clearly the sort of person who was comfortable being physically affectionate and it was a pity that what should be a positive trait had actually sparked off those rumours and caused him so much trouble.
"Thanks again," he said.
"You're very welcome."
"What are you doing this weekend?"
"Lots of family stuff... it's Easter weekend."
"When can I see you again?" he asked, sounding disappointed.
"Anytime from Monday onwards... and you can phone whenever you like."
"Monday night, then?" he asked, hopefully.
"Yeah, that will be great," I agreed.
As I drove off he stood in his doorway and waved at me. On my way home I could still smell his aftershave in the car, and this triggered a host of thoughts that began to crowd my mind. My emotions were a little confused and some of my thoughts may have been rather silly, but I tried to separate the silly thoughts from the significant questions. For example, Rob said I was his best friend, but Mike was my best friend, and to me Rob was just an ordinary friend. Would Rob continue to think of me as his best friend if he knew that I thought of him as an 'ordinary' friend? Certainly I felt a strong connection to Rob, but it was very different from the intense connection I felt to Mike.
Physically, Rob was not the type of person that would be high on my list of cuties, but there was something so open and vulnerable about him that did attracted me to him in a sexual way. Mike was the most gorgeous person I knew but I very rarely thought about him in a sexual way. Could Rob become more than just a friend to me... maybe even a boyfriend? Later that night these new and slightly disturbing thoughts were still turning over in my mind when I was in bed and right up to the time I fell asleep.
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