Not Always Easy
Chapter 8 - Dan's Story (Part 1)
Author's Note on Chapter 8
At this point it would be helpful to give more information about Dan's background and his interactions with Steve. This is information that Paul gained over a period of time, but for cohesion and convenience it is presented in this chapter and the next all together as Dan's story. The story will return to Paul's point of view in Chapter 10.
The small boy ran into the toilet and locked himself in one of the cubicles. There were a couple of boys at the urinal, and another couple washing their hands, but Dan hadn't taken any notice of them because he was too busy escaping his tormentors, who had chased him from the playground. His pursuers banged on the cubicle door and threatened to just wait there until he came out, so he resigned himself to staying locked in there until the end of the lunch break.
"What's all the noise for? You nearly made me pee on my shoes!" said one of the boys at the urinal.
Dan peeked out through the gap where the door was hinged, but all he could see was the back of one the three boys who'd been chasing him. The boy who spoke was out of sight.
"Little-Danny-nanny's-boy-is-a-scaredy-cat," chanted Philip, using a well-worn insult that someone probably once thought was clever.
At eight years old, Philip was two years older than Dan and one of the biggest boys in the Lower School. He had short blond hair and blue eyes, though he was just a little bit over-weight. Dan never knew why Philip, more than any of the other kids in the school, should have taken such a strong dislike to him.
"Yeah, he's spoiling our fun and won't come out to play," said another of Dan's tormentors.
"Well maybe you should leave him alone so we can pee in peace."
"Hey Steve," said one of the boys who had been chasing me, "we're only having a bit of fun with Nanny-Danny."
"Chasing little kids isn't very nice fun," replied Steve.
He must have finished peeing because he moved into the view that Dan had through the slit in the doorjamb. That was when Steve came into Dan's life and everything changed completely. Steve was in the year above Dan, and because his birthday was in November he was one of the oldest and biggest boys in his class. He was much bigger than Dan and appeared to be bigger than two of Dan's attackers, but he was a bit smaller than Philip.
"Sez who?" asked Philip.
"Sez me," Steve responded.
Even though Dan was relatively new to social interactions between other kids, he could tell that a confrontation was brewing.
"So what ya gonna do about it?" Philip challenged.
Steve didn't say anything, but just moved round until he stood with his back to Dan's cubicle door. The movement was so quick it took the others by surprise and they didn't have an opportunity to stop him. When Philip reached out to grab him, Steve knocked his hands away and Dan thought there was going to be a fight.
"Not here, Philip," one of the smaller tormentors said. "We'll get into trouble."
"Yeah, you're prob'ly right," Philip said to his henchman. Then he turned to Steve and added, "I'll be waiting for you after school!"
With that, the three bullies left the room, and Dan, still afraid, stayed silently locked in the cubicle. Steve also remained silent, and as he turned to watch the other boys leave, Dan got his first good view of him. He was tall and quite muscular for his age, with short hair that was such a light shade of brown it was almost blond. From Dan's hiding place he couldn't see the colour of Steve's eyes, but later he found they were a warm and friendly hazel.
As soon as Philip disappeared from view, Steve washed his hands and went out of the toilet, leaving Dan where he was until he heard the bell that signalled the end of lunch break. During the rest of the afternoon Dan cursed himself for not thanking Steve and he worried about the possibility of him getting into a fight with Philip after school. Dan felt that it would be all his fault if Steve got hurt. As he left school to go home, he kept a look out for either Philip or Steve, but still hadn't seen them when Nanny whisked him away in her car.
Even at just six years old, Dan realised that he didn't really fit in with the other children at school. He was an only child living on the outskirts of town, so opportunities to spend time with other children had been rare until he started attending junior school. His mum, a pharmacist, had stayed home to care for him until he was five, so he wasn't at all lonely as a child because not only did he have his mum for company but he also joined her when she socialised with her friends.
When Dan was five and started going to school, his mum went back to work and arranged her schedule so she could take him to school in the mornings. In the evenings his parents hired a retired nanny to pick him up and stay with him until one of them got home. Nanny Lewis was a lovely old woman and she enjoyed playing games with him, so he was very happy with the arrangement.
Being almost exclusively in adult company, he was quite precocious and totally unprepared for socialising with other children at school, so from his first day it seemed he was marked out as 'different'. He spoke more like an adult than a child, and his reading and writing skills were more advanced than the other children his age. In his first interactions with other kids he started out expecting them to behave as little adults, so it was a nasty shock when he realised that kids were often unreasonable and sometimes very cruel. The fact that he was the only child being picked up from school by a nanny became the source of many jibes and insults.
The first six months of his school life were hell, and he spent much of his time alone, sitting quietly in a corner of the classroom or hiding in the more distant parts of the playground. Sometimes he locked himself away for a whole lunchtime or playtime in the toilets to escape from the other kids. Apart from the taunts there were some physical attacks, but fortunately they were mild, just pushing, pinching, and such like.
He was small for his age, but he was never attacked by the really big kids, probably because he was beneath their notice. Also, the school was split into two buildings, a Lower School for ages five to eight and an Upper School for ages eight to eleven, so he wouldn't normally have contact with kids over eight years old. Unfortunately, his main tormentor, Philip, was one of the oldest boys in the Lower School.
The teachers didn't seem to notice when Dan was being bullied, or if they did notice they weren't sympathetic and seemed to believe that it was partly Dan's fault for being aloof and antisocial. He never told his parents about his problems because he didn't want them to think of him as a weakling who couldn't look after himself. When he mentioned it to Nanny, she said if he ignored the insults the kids would get bored and stop tormenting him.
By Christmas of his first year of school he wondered if Nanny might be wrong, and by February, a month after his sixth birthday, he wondered how long he could wait to see if she was right. The incident in the toilet took place in March, and after six months of it seemed to Dan that ignoring the insults didn't make the bullies get bored, but instead it made the bullying more physical. Although Steve's behaviour had shown that there were some nice kids in school, Dan still expected his life to remain miserable.
As soon as Dan arrived at school on the day after being chased into the toilet, he saw Philip, who had clearly been in a fight. Apart from an angry glare, Philip totally ignored him, but Dan still kept out of his way. At lunchtime Dan saw Steve in the playground with a couple of his friends and he, too, looked as if he'd been in a fight. In fact he looked as if he'd been hurt worse than Philip. Feeling that it was all his fault, Dan felt totally miserable and edged his way closer, intending to wait till Steve was alone so he could apologise to him. Steve, who'd noticed him hovering around, said something to his friends and then left them to go over to him. Dan was so scared and embarrassed that began to cry silently and he nearly ran away, but because Steve was smiling at him so nicely he stood his ground.
"Hey, Danny! This is the first time I've seen you cry, even when the bullies were really getting at you. Why are ya crying now?"
"I'm sorry," Dan said, dabbing his eyes with the sleeve of his pullover. "It's all my fault. You shouldn't have got hurt just cos of me. You're the only nice person in this whole school and you shouldn't be hurt."
"I'm not the only nice person, ya know," Steve said with a laugh. "Don't cry. I'm fine, and Philip won't bother you any more."
"Ya mean you won?" Dan asked, smiling through tears.
"Course! What did ya think?"
Dan didn't say anything, but his smile got bigger and his tears stopped.
"D'ya want to come over and meet my friends?" Steve asked.
That was the start of Dan's new and happier life at school. Steve was his hero and everything Dan wanted to be. He was strong, kind, clever, considerate, amusing, and best of all, he seemed to like Dan. Why Steve liked him Dan couldn't understand, but even though he was only six years old, Dan knew he loved Steve. That day, and almost every day from then on, Dan got Nanny to give Steve a ride home after school.
"Thanks for the ride," Steve said as he got out of the car that first time.
"Thanks for, erm, everything," Dan replied.
"That's okay, Danny." Steve looked down, a bit embarrassed, then after a brief pause he added, "It's what friends are for."
"There's just one thing, if we're friends," Dan said with a huge smile. "Please don't call me Danny. I really hate that name now. Call me Dan, okay?"
"Okay, Dan!" Steve said with a big grin. "See ya tomorrow!"
From then on Steve and Dan were best friend, and because neither of them had any siblings they became like brothers. Over the years they did everything together and spent as much time in one another's houses as they did in their own. Their families also got on well so they became almost like one big family. As soon as they were old enough, they got their parents to buy them bikes so they could get together without relying on their parents to provide transport.
At school Dan was no longer bullied and was accepted into Steve's circle of friends. Dan quickly acquired the social skills appropriate for interacting with other children and he no longer stood out as being 'different'. Even before the fight between Philip and Steve, Dan had learned not to use the word 'Nanny' at school, so gradually the other kids forgot it. From then on, the woman who picked him up from school was referred to as 'Miss Lewis', who was his mum's friend.
Despite that, Dan was still grateful when his parents decided that after his tenth birthday he could come home from school on his own, though Nanny was still there waiting for him. She died when he was thirteen, which made him very upset, and for a long time afterward he missed her a great deal. However, he was relieved when his parents decided that he was then mature enough to be trusted to stay home alone in the evenings until his parents returned from work.
When Steve was eleven and moved up to secondary school, there was only a minor dislocation in their constant companionship and they were still together practically every day outside of school hours. Soon after Dan started at secondary school, they acquired the nickname of 'Batman and Robin'. Dan didn't remember exactly when it started, but it was probably when he was about twelve and there was the biggest difference in their body sizes. At around that time, Steve had entered a major growth spurt, so at one stage he was almost nine inches taller than Dan.
Growing up so closely together it was almost inevitable that the boys would get to know one another's bodies as well as one another's personalities. By the time Dan was nine, they'd played 'doctors ' and had seen each other naked often enough not to be shy together. So when puberty began to hit Steve, they both followed its stages with equal interest, wondering when Dan would catch up. Even before puberty they had occasionally shared the pleasant feelings of playing with one another's 'willies', and when Steve had his first ejaculation it was only natural that Dan's hand was providing the stimulation that produced it.
By the time Dan was thirteen and Steve was fourteen, they'd graduated to oral sex, and most days they had at least one wank together. They loved one another as brothers, and they enjoyed the physical intimacy and pleasure of sex, but they were never 'in love'. Perhaps one reason for this was that Steve was beginning to develop an interest in girls whereas Dan's sexual interest was exclusively directed toward other boys. When Steve and Dan discussed this, it seemed that Dan was the only boy that aroused him sexually, whereas there were at least a dozen girls at school who could get Steve excited.
Over the next year or so, they still had their sexual 'fun sessions' two or three times per week. Steve assured Dan that he never thought about girls, or any other boys for that matter, during those sessions. He occasionally had sexual flings with girls but he never went 'all the way' with them, just as the two boys never went 'all the way' to anal sex. Steve never had any sort of sexual contact with any boy apart from Dan, and they concluded that whereas Dan was exclusively gay, Steve was mainly heterosexual with a slight tendency toward being bisexual, but only with Dan. However, even at that age, they were both suspicious of such labels.
Maybe if Dan hadn't known that Steve was mainly interested girls he might have allowed himself to fall in love with his 'big brother', but as it was, Dan knew that someday Steve would meet the right girl and fall in love with her. Of course Dan was sad when he realised this, but he had the consolation of knowing that they would have their 'brotherly love' forever. As things were, they were both comfortable with their sexuality and comfortable being together.
Shortly before Dan's sixteenth birthday, Steve started seeing a girl from school on a regular basis and sexual interactions between the boys stopped. Neither of them needed to discuss it because they both knew that once one of them got involved in a loving sexual relationship then it was only right that they end the sexual fun they had together. As Dan had been expecting this for some time, it didn't cause me too much distress, and he was comforted by the fact that they still saw one another almost as often as they ever did.
Dan sometimes wondered if it was a mistake to be so dependent on one person, but he knew he couldn't have chosen a better person to depend on. Though Dan knew they would be best friends forever, he also knew that at some time in the future he had to look for a loving sexual relationship elsewhere. Steve's acceptance and support had made Dan so confident about his sexuality that he decided to come out to his parents.
Of course he knew that coming out was not a compulsory part of accepting his sexuality, but at the time it was something he felt he ought to do as soon as possible. Unfortunately he just rushed into it without giving it much thought beforehand. So one Friday evening, as they were finishing dinner, and without any preamble Dan just made the announcement.
"Mum, Dad, I'm gay," he said bluntly.
For several seconds no one moved and the only sound was the ticking of the clock. At first both parents looked blank, then surprised, then his mum appeared shocked while his dad looked horrified. His dad cleared his throat and left the room and went upstairs without saying a word. Dan, surprised by his dad's reaction, was lost for words and looked at his mum, who grabbed his hand and squeezed it so hard that it hurt.
"Are you sure this isn't just a phase?" she asked.
"Yes," he said firmly.
"And I suppose you've thought about the consequences?" she asked sadly.
He nodded, though he wasn't exactly sure what consequences she was talking about. Suddenly he felt very small and a bit afraid. His mum clenched her jaws, and then sighed.
"Then we'll just have to deal with it together," she said as she squeezed his hand again. "I'd better go and speak to your father. It would've been better if you'd told me first before announcing it to him just like that."
She gave him a strained smile, then got up and left him alone in the dining room. As he cleared the table and walked past the foot of the stairs, he heard his parents' voices. Although he couldn't make out the words, he could tell that it was a heated and emotional discussion, and anger was one of the more obvious emotions in his father's voice. Dan knew it was a cowardly thing to do, and maybe he should have stayed to discuss things further, but he decided to leave the house immediately. After leaving a note to say where he was going, he rode his bike over to Steve's house.
As he'd previously arranged to see Steve that evening, he thought he'd just arrived earlier than expected. However, as soon as he saw Dan's face, Steve knew something was wrong and that Dan was upset. After announcing Dan's arrival to his parents, Steve led him straight up to his room, where Dan told him what had happened.
"Last time we talked about this," Steve said, "I thought you'd decided to wait until you either got a boyfriend or you went to Uni before telling your parents."
"I know," Dan replied, "but the last few days I just felt this pressure building up until I thought I would burst. It just seemed so unfair that I have to hide such an important part of myself. I've been getting on so well with Mum and Dad recently, and it seemed we could talk about anything else, and everything seemed so happy and relaxed at dinner. So I just told them."
"And your dad took it badly."
"Well, I guess it could have been worse. At least he didn't scream or shout," Dan said. He didn't mention or even think of the possibility of violence because he'd never, ever, seen his dad violent and neither of his parents had ever hit him.
"But your mum seemed okay?" Steve asked.
"I guess. Though she seemed to think it was some sort of problem," Dan said, feeling very sad and vulnerable. Just then it occurred to him how much worse he'd feel if Steve hadn't been there for him.
"Don't you think you should go back to see if they need to talk to you about this?"
"Maybe I should, but I can't face it just now. I'll phone in a few minutes to see how things are."
As it happened, Dan didn't need to phone home because his mum phoned Steve's house to see if he was all right. Apparently in his rush to leave the house he'd forgotten to take his mobile phone. When Dan asked her if he should go home to talk to her and his dad, she told him that his dad wasn't ready to talk about it yet. Dan asked if he could stay overnight with Steve, and she agreed.
When Dan returned home the next morning, his mum looked as if she'd been crying and his dad, a lawyer, was at the office. He almost never went to the office on a Saturday, so Dan knew the situation was not good, and as it turned out it had been decided that his mum would talk to Dan alone before he saw his dad. His mum was basically okay with him being gay, and the main reason she was upset was because his dad was upset.
"So why's Dad so upset?"
"Mostly he's worried for your happiness and safety. But he has other problems as well."
"Such as?" Dan prompted, trying not to seem belligerent.
"Well, for example, you know he's an only child and he'd like some grandchildren to keep the family name going. Also, he was brought up to believe that homosexuality was unnatural. He's afraid that if you really are gay, you'll live a lonely life and possibly die of some sexual disease. Besides all that, you aren't even sixteen yet and he thinks you're too young to be sure that you're gay. He says that as long as he thinks there is even a remote possibility that you might end up in a relationship with a woman, then he won't even consider the possibility that you might be gay."
"Is that all?" he asked sarcastically, causing his mum to frown.
"Look, Dan, your dad loves you and won't turn his back on you, but you need to be patient with him. Show a bit of give-and-take until he can get used to things."
"What sort of give-and-take?" he asked suspiciously.
"Well, for the time being, don't talk about being gay in front of him. If you want to talk to someone about it, or about anything else for that matter, you know you can talk to me anytime. As far as your dad is concerned, if you don't bring the subject up again, everything will be as if you'd never made your announcement. Try this just for a while to give him time to get used to the idea." She looked at her son and waited for a response.
"Okay, I guess that's fair." He wasn't very happy with the situation, but he felt he had no choice but to accept the arrangement.
"Is Steve gay, too?" his mum asked after a brief pause.
"No! Definitely not!" he replied heatedly.
She then gave him a long lecture about sexual diseases and safe sex, and warned him to beware of predatory older men who would just want to use him. What she didn't mention was the possibility that some of those predators might not be much older than himself. She finished off by asking if he had a boyfriend and if he'd had sex yet. Dan blushed and stuttered with embarrassment, and because he assumed she was referring to anal sex, he answered 'no' to both questions. When his dad came home for lunch and behaved as if the previous night had never happened.
The next time the two boys met up, Steve said he was sure that his parents would be very comfortable with his sexuality if Dan were to come out to them. He suggested that as Dan's parents and his were such good friends, they might be able to help Dan's dad to accept the situation. After thinking about it for a couple of weeks, Dan followed that suggestion and it all went as Steve had predicted. A few months later, Dan's father, under the gentle influence of his wife and Steve's parents, had more or less come to terms with his son's sexuality. However, he was not exactly happy with it and he was obviously still uncomfortable when the subject was discussed.
Once Dan had come out to his parents, the next item on his 'gay agenda' was to look for a boyfriend. That may sound naive and simplistic, but he wasn't quite sixteen at the time, and as sexual interactions with Steve had ceased, he was permanently horny. However, it wasn't just sex he needed. He could see his straight friends hugging, kissing, and being affectionate with their girlfriends, and he knew that he, too, needed to love and be loved.
As soon as he was sixteen and was old enough to go to pubs, though still not old enough to buy alcohol, Dan started to find out where he could meet other gay people. The first two places on his list were the Gay and Lesbian Youth Group (GLYG) and The Castle, a gay pub. One Friday evening a couple of months after his sixteenth birthday he summoned up all his courage and set off into the town centre. Because the decision was made on the spur of the moment and because GLYG only met on Wednesdays, he went to The Castle.
Before going out, he told Steve his intentions. Worried for Dan's safety, Steve tried to talk him out of it, and when that failed, he tried to persuade Dan to wait for a different night when he could go with him. He couldn't manage that particular night as he'd already arranged to go out with his girlfriend. Dan thought it was wonderful that Steve offered to go with him, but he didn't want to drag his straight friend to a gay pub. Besides that, the whole idea was to become less dependent on his best friend. Dan told his parents, who would be playing Bridge with Steve's parents that night, that he was meeting with some friends in town.
When Dan got to the pub at a little after eight o'clock, the place was almost deserted. There were fewer than a dozen people, all nicely dressed males ranging in age from mid twenties to mid forties. The decor was a quite pleasant Mediterranean style, a little like an Italian Bistro without the dining tables. As he'd never been inside any sort of pub before, he didn't know if the decor was different from a straight pub, but in any case it was an exciting experience, made even more exciting by the fact that, at least so he presumed, the other people in the pub were also gay.
The few people there, including the barman, all followed him with their eyes as he walked from the door to the bar and asked for a Coke. The barman was probably the youngest person there and Dan thought he was quite nice looking. When he'd been served he went to a small round table in a corner near the door and sipped his drink. During the course of the next hour or so, he got another drink and watched as more people arrived. The vast majority of the later arrivals were men, but there were six women who all arrived together and stood in the far corner near the bar.
Between about nine and ten o'clock the pub did get full, and during that time four different men came over to Dan's table and started chatting to him. One of them seemed nice and the others seemed a bit creepy, but he answered them all politely when they asked him questions. None of the four stayed for more than a couple of minutes, maybe because Dan was shy, or because they thought he was boring, or perhaps it was because it was obvious Dan didn't fancy any of them. Dan wasn't sure what he'd expected to happen that night, but he was feeling disappointed and the whole experience seemed to be an anticlimax.
By about ten o'clock he decided it was time to go home. As the bus ride home would take at least forty minutes he decided to use the toilets before leaving. To get to the male toilet he had to go behind the bar and along a dark, narrow corridor. At the end of the corridor was a rear exit from the pub, and to the left of this exit was the door leading to the toilet. As he was about to enter the toilet, a huge man came out. He was about forty, well over six feet tall and very heavily built.
"Hello, sweetie," the man said as he stood in front of Dan and blocked his way into the toilet.
"Hi," Dan replied, feeling very uncomfortable and not knowing what else to do.
The man just looked at him and didn't move.
"Excuse me, please," Dan said.
"Okay. In a minute," the man replied, his voice a drunken slur. "I just got into town. Driven my truck all the way from Dover."
He paused and looked Dan up and down in a way that made his skin crawl.
"I'm stayin' overnight and it would be nice to have some company. Let me buy you a drink."
"Nnnno, thanks," Dan stammered, trying to back away from the big man, but he succeeded only in backing into the wall.
"Go on. Just one drink."
The man leaned over, placing his large hands on either side of Dan's head making it difficult for him to get away. Dan could smell the alcohol on the guy's breath and as there was no one else in sight, he was terrified. Suddenly, an idea came to him, and he nodded his head toward the other end of the corridor.
"Oh, there's my boyfriend," Dan said.
It's doubtful the man believed him but he looked anyway, and as he did so Dan ducked under his arm and ran out of the rear exit. He didn't stop running until he reached the bus stop and it was only after he got on the bus that he realised his bladder was still full. By the time he got home his bladder was so painful that he thought it would burst.
Dan's parents were still out, so at least he didn't have to deal with any awkward questions. On entering his bedroom after emptying his bladder, he noticed that he was shaking, but it wasn't with cold. In fact he felt hot and was sweating and he felt incredibly dirty, so he immediately stripped off his clothes and went for a shower. Then he went straight to bed, curled up into a foetal position, and tried to go to sleep, but when he closed his eyes, images of the truck driver kept appearing in his mind. When sleep eventually did come, it was disturbed by dreams that were not quite nightmares.
The following day Dan got up early because he'd offered to make lunch for his parents and had invited Steve to join them. When he got to the kitchen his parents were having breakfast, and when he greeted them his father gave me a strange look.
"You look like you've got a hangover," he said accusingly. "I hope you weren't drinking alcohol with your friends last night."
"No, Dad," Dan replied, surprised by the weariness in his own voice. "Not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips since the wine we had with dinner last Saturday. I didn't sleep well last night. Just some bad dreams."
"Just as long as the dreams aren't a sign of a guilty conscience," his dad said.
Dan wasn't sure if his dad had meant that to be a joke or not, but such comments had become more common ever since Dan had announced his sexuality, so Dan just ignored it. When Steve arrived a couple of hours later, the French onion soup was ready and Dan was preparing the ingredients for Spanish omelette. His mum went to the door to let Steve in and then returned to her husband in the living room while Steve joined Dan in the kitchen.
"You look like shit!" Steve said as his friend turned to greet him.
"Gee, thanks, pal," Dan replied with sarcasm dripping from his voice.
"No, seriously, Dan. You've got black bags under your eyes and you look like a zombie. Something happen last night? Something bad or maybe..." he paused and gave an evil grin, "something good?"
"Bad. But I'll tell you later when it's more private."
Steve looked concerned and all through lunch he was obviously itching with curiosity. When they finished eating they all helped clear the table and Dan's parents got ready to go out shopping while the boys went to Dan's bedroom and sat on the bed. Once there, Dan told him all about the previous night. As he began to speak about the truck driver Dan became upset, so Steve put his arm around him and hugged him as he continued with the rest of the tale.
"You mustn't go there alone anymore," Steve said after Dan had finished his story. "Next time you want to go anywhere like that just let me know and I'll go with you."
Even though his voice was gentle and caring, it was clear that this was a command and not a request.
"But I can't drag you along to gay pubs!" Dan protested.
"Why not? They don't ban straight guys do they? And even if they did, how can they tell? Will they ask to see my credentials?" He emphasised that last word and laughed, making Dan giggle. Steve always seemed to know what to say and do to make him feel better.
"Anyway, it's not fair to waste your time like that. Maybe I shouldn't go to any more gay pubs," Dan said with resignation.
"Well that's up to you, but we've got to find you a boyfriend somehow. Didn't you mention a gay youth group? Might be safer." It was typical of Steve to say 'we', thus making Dan's problems his own.
"Yeah, on Wednesday evenings."
"Okay, we'll go next Wednesday then," Steve said with determination.
"We? Why should you go? There won't be anything there for you."
"You'll be there, and I'll get to make sure that my best friend is safe and happy."
His arm had stayed draped over Dan's shoulders all through their talk, and now he gave a gentle squeeze.
The following Wednesday, Steve almost had to drag Dan to the meeting of the Gay and Lesbian Youth Group, and when they got there he seemed totally oblivious to Dan's nervousness. Dan was worried that his straight friend would feel out of place surrounded by gay people, but Steve seemed quite at ease whenever anyone came over to talk. He never told anyone he was straight, but then he never told anyone he was gay, either. Everything was so new and like a big adventure, so at first it never occurred to either of them that people would assume they were a couple.
At the next GLYG meeting, however, they got talking to a lesbian couple, who asked them how long they'd been together. Dan was too embarrassed to say anything and was surprised when Steve answered that he'd known Dan for a very long time. The women told the boys that it was just as well they were a couple because otherwise 'some people' would be chasing after one or both of them. As they said this the women looked disapprovingly over at a young asian man. When the women drifted off to socialise elsewhere, Steve couldn't contain his amusement any more and burst out laughing. He made a joke about how he and Dan made such a lovely couple, and then he got more serious.
"See, I'm protecting you even here," Steve said. "But what happens if a potential boyfriend is put off cos he thinks we're a couple?"
"Maybe this way I'll meet someone as a friend first and not just someone who wants to get into my pants."
"I thought you wanted someone to get into your pants?" Steve said with a wicked grin.
"Of course!" Dan laughed. Then, blushing, he added more quietly, "But I mainly want someone to love me."
Seeing Dan's wistful appearance, Steve became a little sad.
"I'm sorry I'm not right for you... in that way." he said, his voice just audible.
"Don't be sorry!" Dan protested. "That's silly. Neither of us can help the way we are so there's nothing to be sorry for. You're the best friend anyone could ever have."
"Well, as soon as you see someone you like let me know and I'll make myself scarce, okay?"
"Okay," Dan said and gave Steve a hug.
Dan found that it felt really good to be able to hug his friend in a room full of other people, and it didn't occur to him until later that by doing so he'd just reinforced everyone's impression that they were a couple.
Over the next few months they went to other GLYG meetings, and when Steve didn't have a date with his girlfriend they even paid occasional visits to The Castle. Dan's confidence grew and there were no more horrible incidents. They even made some new friends, some of whom were very attractive, but Dan never met anyone that he felt he could fall in love with. One of these new friends, Adam, was eighteen and in the Upper Sixth Form at their school. Though Adam was physically attractive, Dan had no romantic feelings toward him, and as it later turned out, Adam was not a friend at all.
At one particular GLYG meeting Dan took a trip to the toilet, leaving Adam chatting to Steve. When he returned, Steve was fuming with suppressed anger and Adam was nowhere in sight. Dan asked Steve what had happened and was told that Adam had tried to get him to dump Dan and go off with him. Of course Steve had flatly refused the suggestion. At first Dan thought that was amusing, because they weren't really a couple and Steve wasn't gay, but then Steve told me why him was so angry.
Adam had said that he supposed Steve was really bisexual because he knew Steve had a girlfriend at school. This wasn't too much of a shock to Steve, but what Adam said next really kicked him in the guts. Adam asked what might happen if Steve's girlfriend and the rest of the school found out that Dan was his boyfriend. Steve took that as a poorly veiled threat and he told Dan that it took all his self-control to keep from hitting Adam there and then. Instead of hitting him, Steve merely pointed out that if Dan got outed at school then Adam would be outed as well. Then, before walking off in annoyance, Adam commented that Steve and Dan would still be at the school for at least another year, whereas in a couple of months he, Adam, would be doing A-levels and leaving the school forever.
For the next couple of weeks the friends were a little concerned about Adam's threat but when a month had passed and they'd heard nothing more from him, they thought the potential problem had gone away. Toward the end of the summer term Dan's formal classes had ended and he was revising for his GCSE exams, though he still had to be in school for some revision classes. A-level exams had already started and students doing those exams were not required to be in school except for taking part in them, so it was unlikely they would ever see Adam at school again.
One Wednesday lunch time Dan left the school library where he was revising and was on his way to meet Steve for lunch. They intended to go out for something to eat and so had arranged to meet by the school gates. To get from the library to the meeting place, Dan could either go through the corridors of the main school block or go outside and take a path which led round the side of the main building, then through the narrow passage between the main building and the newer science block. The external route wasn't much of a shortcut but he took it anyway because he preferred to be outside on such a beautiful summer day.
When Dan left the main building he didn't notice that there were two boys and a girl following him, and even if he had noticed them, he probably wouldn't have given them a second thought. When he reached the narrow passageway, Dan heard footsteps hurrying up behind him and felt a hand grab his right shoulder, taking him by surprise and spinning him around. The boy who'd grabbed him then pushed him forcefully backwards against the wall, banging the back of his head so hard that for a moment he wasn't fully conscious.
On returning to his senses, Dan found that there were two boys holding him firmly against the wall. Both were bigger and heavier than he and one was over six feet tall, with the build of a professional wrestler. They were in his year but not in his class, so the only one he knew by name was Gerard, the larger of the two. Most of the school knew Gerard because of his reputation for violence and bullying. He pulled Dan away from the wall and grabbed him from behind, putting his huge right arm round Dan's neck his other arm held Dan's arm twisted behind his back. The agony in Dan's arm added to the pain in his head, which somehow he'd not really noticed until then. As Gerard's arm pressed even harder on his neck, Dan found he could hardly breathe.
"Hey, poof!" Gerard growled in Dan's ear. "We hear you've been tryin' to mess around with normal lads!"
"Wha'?" Dan gasped, totally confused and not knowing what the bigger boy was talking about.
"Don't pretend ya don't know, fag. We know you've been tryin' to get Steve Walker to be yer boyfriend."
As Gerard said this he squeezed Dan's throat and twisted his arm harder. Dan would have yelled out with pain, but the forearm across his throat was cutting off his air supply.
"We're gonna teach ya to stick to yer own kind, queerboy!" Gerardd hissed into Dan's ear.
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