Not Always Easy
Chapter 7 - An Acquaintance or a Friend?
What little sleep I had that Friday night wasn't very restful, and I couldn't relax enough to enjoy my usual Saturday morning lie-in. Around nine thirty I gave up on sleep and decided to get up, and even after my morning shower I didn't feel very refreshed. When I went downstairs Mum and Dad were making final additions to the weekly shopping list while John was chattering away and making sure they included all his favourite foods. I managed to smile when Dad told John that if he wanted to make sure nothing was forgotten then he was welcome to join their shopping expedition. John immediately, but temporarily, went quiet.
My mood began to lighten when I realised that I was lucky to have a brother like John. We got on better than most brothers I knew, and he was the sort of person I'd be happy to have as a friend even if we weren't brothers. He was loyal, considerate, sensitive, intelligent, dependable, and fun to be with. I supposed that if I'd been an only child like Mike, I might have had to do what he did; find someone to 'adopt' as my brother.
By the time my parents had left the house I was beginning to feel almost awake, and John and I started to discuss Mike's imminent birthday.
"Ya know, I've been thinking about your idea of the ring," John said, "and I think it would be good."
"Well, it's the best thing I've come up with so far. Maybe I'll go looking around some shops this afternoon. Have you had any ideas yet?"
"Yeah, well, I had an idea that I wanted to run by you and see if you thought it was too cheesy."
"You? Cheesy? Never!" I said and laughed. "Go on, then. What is it?"
"Remember the photo that dad took of me, you and Mike on New Year's Eve? The one that everyone said was a great shot of the 'Three Musketeers'?" he said, and I nodded to indicate that I did indeed remember. "Well, I thought I'd have it enlarged and framed and give it to Mike as a present. I could just about afford that and it's something personal, ya know?"
"Yeah, that's a great idea!" I said. "I'm sure Mike would appreciate that a lot. But why d'ya think it might be cheesy?"
"Well, when I thought about the photo it got me thinking of the little chat we had a couple of weeks ago. Ya know, when the three of us went to the park. And I thought maybe I could put an inscription on the frame. I thought just two words would describe the picture, " he said, then paused, looking embarrassed.
"C'mon, spit it out! What two words?" I prompted.
"Friends Forever," John said. "Well, what d'ya think? Too cheesy?"
"Nah! It's really great. In fact it's such a good idea I wonder... would you mind if I borrowed the idea and had the same two words inscribed on the inside of the ring?"
"Inside the ring? Is that possible?"
"Yeah, I think so, if it's small writing. I'll have to check."
"Okay," John agreed, "then we'll have presents with a matching theme."
We both grinned and gave one another a 'thumbs up' sign.
As it was approaching noon I decided to phone Rob, but before I could act on the decision, the doorbell rang. I opened the door to find Mike, who in his usual bright and cheerful manner just breezed in without waiting for an invitation. This behaviour was not impolite on Mike's part, and in fact ringing the bell at all was a polite gesture because he was such a part of our family that he'd had a key to our house since he was twelve. We joined John in the kitchen.
"Hey, guys," Mike said. "Wotcha cooking?"
"I'm doing some hotdogs. That lazy sod," John said, nodding in my direction, "has just had breakfast."
"Any going spare?" asked Mike.
"Yeah, I'm sure I can do a couple extra," John replied.
"Doesn't your mum feed you any more?" I joked.
"Yeah, she gave me breakfast then went out shopping," Mike replied, "but I'm a growing boy and I need to replenish all the energy I used up last night... know what I mean?"
Mike winked suggestively at John and gave me a nudge.
"I guess you had Sue's house to yourselves last night, then?" I asked and raised an eyebrow in Mike's direction.
"Yeah," Mike grinned. "At least until just after midnight when her parents got home."
"Lucky sod!" John said, looking envious.
It seemed as if he might start drooling and I couldn't help giggling at the thought.
"What's so funny?" Mike asked.
"Nuthin," I said, taking pity on John and not wanting to embarrass him too much. "Anyway, I thought you usually help your mum when she goes shopping?"
"Usually. But today she wanted to go alone. Maybe she's getting me a birthday present!" he said with a grin, then he looked from me to John. "You've not forgotten it's my birthday soon have you?"
"We might have," I said trying to tease him a little. "But of course we'd only be interested in your birthday if you're having a party... are you?"
"Yeah, next Saturday. Mum and I decided on the weekend before my birthday cos it's before school starts back," Mike said, then tried to put on a serious face. "Ya know, I might even invite you guys if ya bring me some nice prezzies!"
"Nah, sorry," John said, looking equally serious. "Paul and I have plans for that night, don't we?"
I nodded but didn't say anything because I knew that if I opened my mouth to speak I wouldn't be able to contain my laughter. For a fraction of a second Mike's face fell, then he realised we were joking and punched John's arm.
"Seriously though, guys," Mike said, "Sue and I were talking about the party last night..."
"Talking?" John interrupted, pretending to be shocked. "You get the house to yourselves and you spend the time talking?"
"It's rude to interrupt your elders." Mike said with equally pretended outrage. "We were talking about the party and Sue pointed out that there weren't many girls on my guest list. She said she didn't want to be the only girl in a house full of guys. But she wasn't happy when I suggested inviting all my ex-girlfriends."
Mike gave us a wicked grin, then continued.
"So I said she could invite a couple of her friends, and I thought I'd see if you two wanted to invite any girls," he said, then looked at me. "But I don't think Paul here knows many girls and our little brother John is too young for girlfriends."
"I'm not too young!" John protested. "I'll be fifteen in about five weeks!"
"Well feel free to bring your girlfriend then!" Mike said, then laughed, turned to me and added, "D'ya want to invite Rob?"
"Are you implying he's my boyfriend? I already told you he's not!" I said, sounding and feeling more upset than I intended or expected.
"Hey, calm down!" Mike said. "You can invite him cos I like him. Well, what little I've seen of him. So you can just bring him as a friend... he is still your friend, right?"
"Yeah, sorry. We're still friends." I said, feeling a bit embarrassed. Then I had an idea and added, "And if you want more girls, maybe he can bring his sister?"
"Is she cute?" Mike and John asked almost in unison, then looked at one another and laughed.
"Well, I'm hardly the one to ask, am I?" I replied. "But on an objective level I think she's very nice looking."
"Well, then, she's invited!" Mike said decisively. "Now what about lunch?"
While Mike and John tucked into their hotdogs I went to my room and phoned Rob telling him about Mike's birthday party and that both he and his sister were invited. His reaction was one of complete surprise and he said he'd be happy to accept the invitation. However, he wasn't sure about his sister, who was very shy, and in any case his parents might not want her to go because she wasn't fifteen until July.
"Paul, remember you said you'd help me study for my exams, especially maths?" Rob asked.
"Of course," I said. "I guess we'd better fix up a timetable and get started on that soon. They start in about five or six weeks."
"I've been thinking... you don't need to feel you have to do it now. Ya know, with how ya feel about me... and me not being able to feel the same."
"Don't be silly. That doesn't stop me helping a friend," I said.
"But won't it make you feel a bit, erm, uncomfortable?"
"I s'pose it might. But what sort of person d'ya think I am? D'ya really think that I'd refuse to help out a friend just because I might be uncomfortable?"
"Nah, I guess not." he replied, then paused before continuing, "Ya know, I've never had a friend like you before. I mean, I could tell you were hurt when I told you I wasn't in love with you, so I was a bit surprised when you still wanted to be friends."
My parents had brought me up to be loyal to my friends, and my friends had always been loyal to me. So I felt amazed by what he'd just said, and at first I was even a little insulted that he'd think that I'd abandon him so easily. Then I remembered some of the things he'd told me about himself and remembered that his closest friend had abandoned him after they'd been seen hugging in the park.
"Look, Robbie, you can't help who you do and don't fall in love with, just as I couldn't help falling for you. Neither of us wanted to hurt the other, so we shouldn't give up on a friendship over something that's accidental. You'd have to do something much, much worse than that before I'd stop being friends."
"Oh? Like what?" he asked.
"Dunno really. The situation's never cropped up. Maybe if someone deliberately hurt me or betrayed my trust... Maybe that would end a friendship."
"Well, I hope we stay friends forever," Rob said, and for a moment I thought it sounded a bit like a prayer.
I asked Rob if he had plans for the afternoon and told him that I was probably going shopping for Mike's present. When he told me he had no plans we agreed to spend the afternoon together in town and I said I'd meet him at his house in about an hour. Then I went back to the kitchen to find Mike and John drinking Coke and having a belching competition.
"You straight boys can be soooo gross!" I said in mock disgust.
"Yeah, well we have an image to maintain," Mike said and we all laughed.
"What are your plans for the rest of the day?" I asked both of them.
"I promised Mum I'd help with some chores when she got back, and anyway I want to be home when she's unpacking her bags," Mike said.
I looked at John questioningly.
"Nuthin planned," John said. "Why?"
"D'ya want to go into town with me and Rob?" I asked, then to tease Mike I winked at John and added, "And do some special shopping?"
"Okay!" John said happily.
"Sometimes I really hate you two!" Mike growled then spoiled the effect by smiling.
"Well, I guess I'd better get back home," he continued, standing up and flashing his patented cheeky grin. "I'm going to the movies with Sue tonight so I'll see you guys tomorrow, okay?"
John and I nodded, and Mike went to the door, but before he left he had one last parting shot. "Don't forget to take lots of cash for your shopping!"
When we arrived at Rob's place he must have been looking out for us because he came out of the house even before the car stopped moving. He looked a bit surprised but not displeased when he saw John was with me, and he greeted us both warmly when he got to the car. Instead of getting in with us, however, he asked us to go into his house as his parents wanted to speak to me about the party. Apparently Marie hadn't yet decided if she wanted to go and in any case her parents wanted to find out more before they gave their permission.
Rob led us into the house, where we found Marie and their parents in the living room. I introduced John to them and Rob's mum offered us tea, but we declined and I told her we had some shopping to do. His dad then asked lots of questions about the party and, apparently satisfied with my answers, he turned to his daughter.
"Have you decided if you want to go yet?" he asked her.
"Yes," she said very quietly, and smiled. Then her parents looked at one another and they both nodded.
"Right," her dad said, "then you can go. But Rob has to keep his eye on you and I'll phone Paul's parents to ask them to look out for you as well. And we'll come to collect you at eleven o'clock."
When everything was agreed Rob, John and I said goodbye and returned to my car. John, who had been sitting up front with me when we arrived, surprised me by immediately getting into the back of the car. Usually if there were any other passengers apart from himself he would try to arrange things so he could ride 'shotgun'. As we put on our seat belts I noticed first that John was smiling thoughtfully, and second that Rob was grinning and kept casting knowing glances at John.
"Okay, what's going on? I have a feeling I've missed something here," I said as we drove off.
"Ya know," Rob said, apparently ignoring me and turning his head toward John, "she seems to like you."
John didn't say anything, but in the rear-view mirror I could see him blush. Whereas I blushed frequently and easily, it was quite rare to see John blush, so I was immediately intrigued.
"C'mon, Robbie," I pleaded, "don't keep me in suspense! What did I miss while I was busy chatting to your dad?"
"Well, if you'd had eyes in the back of your head you'd have noticed how John and my sister were looking at one another. John was almost drooling and Marie was fluttering her eyes and trying to look bashful. Then when Dad asked if she wanted to go to the party she said 'yes' straight away. I'm pretty certain she would've wanted time to think about it if John hadn't been there with you."
"Oooo, John," I teased, "are you plotting to make Marie your first girlfriend?"
"Shut up, both of you!" John growled.
He folded his arms over his chest and looked out of the window.
After a couple of hours looking in various shops and jewellery stores, John had decided that he was going to get an austere but attractive stainless steel frame for the photograph. I still had to decide which of three possible rings I was going to buy, so I thought I'd return to town on the following Monday to make my purchase. Rob had decided to get a Virgin gift voucher, and after he bought that I suggested it might be a good idea to find somewhere for tea and cakes before going home.
As we walked around to find a cafe that wasn't too full, which is not an easy task on a Saturday afternoon, I felt someone tap on my shoulder. At first I thought it was John fooling around, but when I turned to look I saw Dan. His shiny black hair was slightly curly and I thought he'd had it cut shorter than when I last saw him. He looking even better than I remembered and his skin seemed to have a slightly darker tan, but maybe it was because this was the first time I'd seen him outdoors in full daylight.
"Hey Dan!" I said and smiled, hoping he didn't notice me staring too intently into his deep brown eyes. "What's up?"
"Nuthin much," Dan replied. "I just got bored and thought I'd wander round town for a bit."
Rob and John, who'd been walking in front of me and by now were a few yards ahead, suddenly noticed I wasn't with them and started walking back toward me.
"Oh, that's the guy who was with Ben at the GLYG meeting, isn't it?" Dan asked me as he caught sight of Rob approaching.
"Yeah, that's Rob, but I doubt you'll be seeing him with Ben anymore," I said. Then in response to Dan's questioning look, I added, "Loooong story!"
At this point Rob joined us but for some reason John was hanging back a little.
"Hi Rob, I'm Dan," he introduced himself. "Maybe you saw me at the GLYG meeting a couple of weeks ago?"
"Yeah, I think I saw you."
Rob, smiling but looking a little uncertain, moved to stand very close to me, and when Dan noticed Rob's movement, his smile faded slightly. Maybe it was my imagination, but he seemed disappointed.
"So, erm, are you two, er, together now?" Dan asked hesitantly.
Rob laughed and I tried to give an indifferent smile.
"Nah, just good friends," Rob said. Then he added proudly, "Actually, Paul's my best friend."
"Oh. Right," Dan said. "Sorry, I didn't mean to seem nosy."
He was obviously embarrassed, but there also seemed to be a hint of relief in his voice. Maybe I was just imagining it, but there seemed to be something going on that I didn't understand. In fact recently, as my life was getting more complicated, there seemed to be many occasions when I didn't understand what was going on. I wondered if Dan was attracted to Rob, but then I thought that Dan already had a boyfriend of his own, so why should he care if Rob and I were together? Suddenly it occurred to me that I hadn't introduced John, who had been listening intently to our conversation.
I introduced John to Dan, but probably because trying to interpret the earlier part of the conversation had distracted me, I neglected to mention that John was my brother. There was a brief pause during which Dan looked from me to John and back again.
"You're brothers, aren't you?" he said, more as a statement than a question.
He smiled proudly, as if he were a detective who'd made a brilliant deduction. John and I both nodded, and because we were so used to people commenting on our physical likeness, it was no surprise when Dan guessed that were related. Immediately after he spoke, Dan's expression shifted from his proud smile, through what appeared to be horror, to embarrassment.
"Did you just hear that whole conversation?" Dan asked John
That's when I realised that Dan was afraid that he'd just outed me to my brother.
"Hey, Dan, don't worry. John knows all about me. More even than you do!" I joked.
"Phew!" Dan said, looking relieved. Then he whispered to John, "You're not, erm, ya know... too?"
John smiled, looked around as if he were part of a great conspiracy, and shook his head. Rob understood what was going on and laughed.
"John's lusting after my sister!" Rob said.
John, clearly embarrassed, looked down at his shoes, and feeling a bit sorry for my brother I thought I'd change the subject.
"Actually," I said to Dan, "we were just about to find a cafe. D'ya want to join us?"
"Yeah, that'd be great," he replied, apparently very happy with the invitation.
Purely by chance we ended up in the same cafe where we'd met up with Sue the previous day. This time, however, the place was much busier and the only spare table was in a corner near the back of the room. We found out from Dan that Steve was at home studying hard for his A-level exams, which would start about four weeks after we all went back to school. In a quiet voce Rob, obviously feeling relaxed among friends, gave Dan a summary of what happened during and after Ben's party, and I could feel myself blush when Rob described me as the hero who rescued him.
"Ah!" Dan said, "now I understand how Paul became you're best friend so quickly. And I think I also understand why Ben and his boyfriend broke up."
"Broke up?" I said, probing for more information. "How d'ya know?"
"Well a couple of nights ago I was in The Castle, on my own cos Steve didn't want to go that night," Dan said. "Ben's ex-boyfriend, Sam, was there. Of course at that stage I didn't know they'd split up. Anyway, Sam came over and started talking to me. He was very drunk and obviously trying to pick me up, so to put him off I asked where Ben was, and Sam said he didn't know cos they'd split up."
At this point he paused and looked round the table at us, possibly to ensure we were still interested.
"Sam told me he expected Ben was studying for his final exams," he continued, "and that in any case when Ben graduated in a few weeks he was going back to Malaysia. He may even have to leave before his twenty-first birthday in July, so he won't have the big birthday party he was planning. And guess what? When he gets back Ben's parents have arranged for him to marry a girl he's not seen since he was sixteen!"
Dan and Rob laughed, I smiled, and John didn't show much reaction.
The conversation drifted around to what we were doing in town. I told Dan we were getting birthday presents for our friend, Mike, and I mentioned that Mike went to the same school as him. Dan looked very thoughtful, and then asked me what Mike looked like. When I answered these questions Dan grinned and said that Mike and he were in the same year but not in the same class and they didn't really know one another very well.
Dan also said it was a pity that Mike was straight because he was extremely cute. After he said that, it suddenly occurred to me that apart from the colour of their eyes and the fact that Mike was taller, Dan and Mike were quite similar in appearance. I wondered why I hadn't noticed it before, especially as I found Dan so attractive? There were implications there that I didn't want to explore any further, so I felt a small sense of relief when Dan spoke again. However, what Dan actually said wasn't very pleasing.
"Pity that your Mike's got himself involved with someone like Sue," he said, shaking his head.
"What d'ya mean?" John asked before the meaning of Dan's statement had reached my consciousness.
I could hear an edge in John's voice, and knowing how he felt about Sue, I was worried that he'd get angry if Dan said something bad about her.
Oh, well," Dan said, sensing that he was on dangerous ground, "haven't you met her yet?"
"Yeah," John replied, "and I think she's really nice!"
"Okay, okay," Dan soothed, trying to placate John. "I guess it's just a matter of taste. Some people get on together better than others, and it's not for me to say anything about your best friend's girlfriend. Let's just forget it, alright?"
When John nodded and began to calm down I breathed a sigh of relief but couldn't help wondering what Dan might have said if John hadn't become so defensive.
While we waited for the waitress to bring the bill, Rob and I decided we'd unload our bladders before we started on our journey home. As we returned to our table after our visit to the toilet John seemed to have forgiven Dan for his comments about Sue because the two of them seemed deep in conversation. When we reached the table their conversation stopped abruptly.
On leaving the restaurant, John and Dan seemed very friendly and I wondered what they had been talking about while Rob and I were absent. When I offered Dan a ride home he explained that even though he lived on the same side of town as I did, his house was right out at the edge of town, almost up in the hills. I pointed out that was an even better reason why I should drive him home, especially as none of us had anything special to do for the next hour or so. I was again surprised that John immediately got into the back of the car. Dan sat next to John and Rob sat up front with me.
Following Dan's directions, I drove out of town and up toward the hills until we reached a very attractive and expensive residential area. Dan's house was not visible from the road because it had a long driveway that led through a small wooded area. The driveway continued past a large lawn up to a parking area at the front of the very large stone house. A smaller driveway led behind the house, where Dan told us there was a double garage. Needless to say, I was very impressed. Dan invited us in, but as evening was approaching I declined and told him we needed to go home.
Taking Rob home meant driving almost past my house, so I offered to drop John off on the way, but he said he preferred to stay with us. When Rob got out of the car, John moved from the back to take his place up front next to me, and while this switching of positions took place I noticed Marie appear at the front door. Rob and Marie started chatting, and as we drove off both of them waved to us before they went indoors.
"Now I wonder why Marie waved to us," I said, deliberately teasing John. "She's never waved goodbye to me before."
John, clearly irritated, punched me on the arm.
"Hey! Don't you dare keep going on about Marie! I've not even spoken to her yet, so you're making something out of nothing," he said, then paused. When I took a sidelong glance at him I saw a mischievous grin on his face as he continued, "Anyway, if you keep trying to tease me I've got something new on you now and I can easily get my own back."
"What d'ya mean 'something new'?" I asked, intrigued. "I thought you knew all my secrets ages ago?"
"Yeah, well this secret is so new that even you don't know it yet!"
John sounded like he was really enjoying himself now and didn't say anything else, no doubt hoping that I'd start begging to know this secret. Of course, he was quite right, and after a couple of minutes my curiosity got the better of me.
"C'mon, John!" I whined. "Don't keep me in suspense. Tell me!"
"Well, you have to promise no more teasing about Marie," he demanded.
"Ya know I can't honestly promise that," I said, trying to avoid making the promise, "something might slip out accidentally without me thinking."
"Then you have to promise no deliberate teasing and try to control yourself."
"Okay, I promise that," I said. "Now tell me this secret. And it'd better be good or the promise is off."
"Deal!" John said triumphantly. Then he paused to keep me waiting as long he dared before he continued, "Ya know when you and Rob went to the toilet at the cafe? Well Dan wrote his number on a paper napkin and asked me to give it to you as soon as I got you alone. He wanted me to ask you to phone him when you got the chance."
"That's not much of a secret!" I said, feeling cheated.
"No, well wait... When he first said that I was a bit annoyed cos after what he'd been saying before, I thought he wanted to tell you something bad about Sue. So I told him that if he was gonna slag off Sue then I wouldn't be passing any messages on for him. Anyway, he promised it was nothing to do with her. He must have known I wasn't sure about believing him, so he told me why he really wants to talk to you."
He paused again, keeping me on tenterhooks for as long as possible. Just as he saw I was about to explode he continued.
"He likes you. He likes you a lot, and he admitted that he really fancies you!"
"But he's got a boyfriend already!" I said, totally astounded.
"Yeah, well after hearing you talk to him about Steve I was also wondering about that, so I asked him if Steve was his boyfriend. After all, I don't want to see you getting hurt by a two-timer!" John said, sounding very protective. "Anyway, Dan said that I shouldn't worry cos his situation with Steve was complicated, but they definitely aren't boyfriends and he can explain everything when he talks to ya later."
When we got home Mum and Dad had been back for some time and had already stored away all the shopping. We mentioned Mike's party and they said that they'd already discussed it with Mike's mum, so we asked if they'd bought a present for Mike yet. They said they and Mike's mum were giving him a joint present, so I guessed it must be quite expensive. Once all four of us had sworn the others to secrecy, we told our parents what we were giving Mike and they told us that they were contributing to a course of driving lessons for him, and maybe give him a CD or something as well, just 'so he'd have something to open' at his party.
That evening I decided to wait until after dinner before phoning Dan. There would probably have been enough time before dinner, but I was both too excited and too scared to phone immediately. There were so many things to think about. Even if Steve wasn't Dan's boyfriend, I still had strong feelings for Rob. If I started seeing Dan that would mean that I'd totally given up all hope of getting Rob to become my boyfriend. As so often before, I thought myself into a state of paralysis.
Even after dinner I delayed phoning by spending several minutes just staring at the napkin with Dan's number on it before entering it into my phone's memory. Then it occurred to me that maybe subconsciously I'd already made some decision. After all, why would I program his number into my phone unless I intended calling him more than just once? I took a deep breath and made the call.
"Hi Dan, it's Paul."
"Oh! Hi! " Dan said, sounding as if he'd just won the lottery. "John passed on my message then. I wasn't sure he would."
"If John promises to do something then you can always rely on him," I said.
"Anyway, it's really great to hear from you. Thanks for calling."
An uncomfortable silence followed, during which I wasn't sure what to say, but I felt I ought to say something.
"Erm I was a bit surprised when John gave me your number."
"Hope it was a pleasant surprise," he replied. "But why were you surprised?"
"Well, not so much that ya wanted me to phone, but, erm, what you told John about why you wanted me to phone."
"Ah, yeah, well it's true," he said. Then with such determination that it sounded almost like a challenge, he added, "I really, really like you."
"We've only met and talked about three times. How can you really like me that much?"
There was a long pause, then I heard him sigh, and when he spoke again it seemed as if he'd made a decision.
"The first time I saw you I thought you were, erm, cute, but you were with Ben all night so I never got a chance to talk. Then I was really disappointed when you didn't turn up at the next couple of meetings. The next time I saw you we got talking and I thought that you were not only cute but also a nice person."
At this point it was just as well he couldn't see my face, because I felt it burning red.
"Then today," he added, then paused briefly before continuing, "Well Rob obviously thinks you're a hero, and hearing how you rescued him in the middle of the night, I agree with him. And on top of all that, not only were you great fun to be with today but you drove me all the way home. How could I not like you?"
"But what about Steve?" I asked, a bit guilty for dampening his enthusiasm, but I felt it needed to be said.
"Ya know, we never told you that me and Steve were boyfriends did we?"
"No, but I saw the way you both behaved together. And you never said ya weren't, either."
"There are complicated reasons for that. We've been friends for ages, but never boyfriends, and part of the act at GLYG was to discourage people like Ben. Trouble is, it discouraged you as well. Anyway, it's a long story and I'd really like to meet with you soon so we can talk about it in person."
"Okay, I can understand why you'd want to discourage Ben, and I'd really like you and me to be friends, but there is something you should know before you decide if you still want to meet... You see, at the moment I think I'm in love with Rob, so I don't know if you and me could be more than friends."
"Oh," he said, sounding hurt. "I thought today you and Rob said you weren't boyfriends?"
"We're not, but that's because he's not in love with me and doesn't want us to be boyfriends," I said, "but if he changed his mind... well I don't know."
"Rob must be an idiot if he rejects you," he muttered, then added more loudly, "D'ya think he'll change his mind?"
"Honestly? I doubt it."
"But you still hope?" Dan asked in a tone that he was trying to keep neutral.
"I guess so... stupid, aren't I?"
"Not stupid. I know exactly how ya feel," he said, sounding sad. "But if Rob won't ever fall in love with you, surely you should start looking for a real boyfriend who will return your love."
"Yeah, of course you're right. I know that I'll just have to get over my feelings for him and move on. It's just, well, I need a little time before I totally give up hope. You understand?"
"Definitely. I totally understand. And if, when you give up on Rob, d'ya think ya might, ya know, get to feel something for me?"
He sounded so sad, hopeful, shy, and cute that if he'd been in the room with me at that moment I would certainly have hugged him, and possibly kissed him as well.
"Dan, I'll tell you this. If my heart was totally mine to give just now, you would be the first person in the whole world that I'd offer it to."
I hoped that just from hearing my voice he could tell that I really meant what I said. He didn't reply immediately, and I thought I could hear a sniff.
"When can we meet up?" he said eventually. "I'd really like it to be as soon as possible."
"Well tomorrow's Sunday, and I'm doing stuff with the family, but I can definitely manage Monday. How about you?"
"That would be great! Can I call you tomorrow to make arrangements?"
"Yes, fine, I'd better give you my number..."
"No need. I already got it from the caller ID," he said, clearly amused and proud of himself. "When can I call?"
"Phone any time ya like," I said. "If I'm asleep or it's not convenient I just switch my phone off."
After I hung up I was tired. and it was getting late, so I switched off the phone and said goodnight to my family. While I was getting ready for bed I knew that there were a lot of things I needed to think about, but for some reason I felt that sleeping would be much easier than it had been the previous night. My usual bedtime fantasy that night started off with memories of my experiences with Rob, but then after a couple of minutes Dan's face began to take centre stage, so that by the time I reached orgasm I wasn't sure which of them was the main feature in my fantasy.
As usual when I wasn't at school, the next morning my family had finished breakfast long before I got out of bed, and as I ate breakfast alone I reflected that during the last three days a lot had happened and my emotions had been on a roller-coaster ride. First I was elated at having sex with someone I really cared for. Then I was hurt and depressed when I found he wasn't in love with me. Now, though I didn't know how or why, the sadness was mixed with a feeling of equilibrium and balance. Of all the weird things in my life, maybe I'm the weirdest.
At our house, lunch on Sundays was the big meal of the day and was usually between two o'clock and three o'clock, so the evening meal was usually just a light supper. Mike and his mum joined us for lunch so that we could all help with arrangements for his birthday party the following Saturday. During lunch Mike kept trying to trick us into telling him what we were getting him for his birthday, but after all these years we were wise to his little tricks.
After lunch Mike, John and I went to my room to listen to some music and catch up on the latest news and gossip. I told Mike that both Rob and Marie would be at the party, but I left it up to John to decide if he wanted to mention his interest in Marie. As I wasn't sure what, if anything, Mike knew about Dan's sexuality, I decided that it wouldn't be fair to mention Dan at all until I'd talked to Dan about it.
That evening, after Mike and his mum had gone home, Dan phoned me and invited me to go over to his house the following day so that we could talk privately. I told him that sometime the following afternoon John and I wanted to go into town to buy Mike's presents and arrange for the inscriptions.
"Tell you what," Dan said, "why don't you come and have lunch at my house? We can have a talk, then you can pick John up on your way into town. Maybe, if it's okay with both of you, I could go into town with you. I've not much else to do."
"That sounds like an excellent plan to me," I said. "So I'll see you about noon then?"
"Noon's fine. What sort of foods do you like?"
"Er, more or less anything except liver, kidney or shellfish. But you don't need to do anything special. At home we usually just have a simple lunch. Maybe bread and soup, or hotdogs, or sandwiches."
"Oh," he sounded disappointed. "I wanted to show off my cooking skills. Cooking's one of my hobbies."
"Well, if it's something you really enjoy doing then of course I'd be honoured if you want to make lunch for me."
He sounded really happy, and I wished that I could make other people as happy so easily.
As I got ready for bed that night I reflected that since Dan's phone call I'd spent more time thinking nervously about having lunch with him than I'd spent thinking about Rob. That realisation made me feel a little guilty, though there was no logical reason for that guilt. I still felt I was in love with Rob, but he didn't feel the same about me, so I was hardly cheating on him by thinking so much about Dan. Although there was no reason for me to do so, I felt badly about myself and wondered if I was just a fickle teenager who didn't know what real love was. Anyway, I thought to myself, having lunch with Dan wasn't like going on a date with him... or was it?
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