Not Always Easy
Chapter 12 - The Support Of Friends
When I arrived home from Rob's house, Mike was talking to John in his room. My parents were getting ready for bed, so at least I was home in time to say 'goodnight' before I went to join John and Mike. John was sitting on his bed and Mike was leaning back in the chair by the computer desk. Wishing to be discreet and save John from embarrassment, I decided to wait until we were alone before giving him the paper from Marie.
"Hey, you!" Mike greeted me.
"Hey, you, too!" I responded.
"Hi," John said with a salacious smile. "So ya decided to come home tonight."
"Why shouldn't I?" I realised he was probably only teasing, but I still felt a bit annoyed.
"Well, I thought maybe you'd get lucky," John said, and when my blush betrayed me he continued gleefully. "Ya did, didn't ya?"
Mike was clearly extremely amused but didn't say anything. I wasn't sure whether John was serious or just teasing, but in either case I almost changed my decision about discreetly giving him Marie's phone number.
"Not so loud!" I hissed at John. Then I decided to change the subject. "Are you going to be home tomorrow evening?"
"Yeah, why?" John asked.
"Yeah, why?" Mike echoed with a grin.
"Not you, Mike, I was asking John," I said, though I knew that Mike was just messing with me. "Anyway, I may as well tell you both. If Mum and Dad are in a good mood tomorrow night I'm going to tell them I'm gay."
I paused, remembering what Dan had told me, and continued, "Well, I'll tell Mum first and see how that goes before telling Dad."
"Good idea," Mike said.
"About time," John said, smiling playfully. "I'll be there for ya!"
"Would you like me to come round as well?" Mike asked.
"No thanks," I said appreciatively. "Anyway, aren't you going out with Sue tomorrow?"
"Well, we planned on meeting up in the afternoon, and Mum's invited Sue to have dinner with us. But for something so important I can always cancel."
"No need," I said. "I don't want Mum and Dad to think we're ganging up on them."
"But you'll call me when you've done it? We'll just be hanging around my house," Mike insisted.
"Well, I'd hate to interrupt anything!" I half-joked.
John and I grinned and winked at one another, but Mike didn't seem at all embarrassed
"Mum will be home all night, so there won't be much to interrupt!"
"Erm," I said hesitantly, "I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable talking to you about that sort of thing while Sue's there, even if it is just on the phone."
"Well, then," Mike said, frowning slightly, "phone me on my mobile, just say if you are okay and then I'll call you back as soon as I get the chance to be alone."
"Okay," I agreed.
"Anyway," Mike said, looking at his watch, "it's time I went home."
After I escorted Mike to the front door, I returned to John's room, where I found him sitting on his bed scanning through the channels on his TV.
"By the way, John, I've got something for you," I said.
He gave me a questioning look but didn't say anything, so I handed him the piece of paper that Marie had given me.
"It's a mobile phone number," he said and looked back at me.
I suspected he was just playing with me. Fair enough, I thought to myself, let's have a little game.
"I know that. Don't you want to know whose number it is?"
"Whose is it?" he asked, apparently indifferent.
I could tell, however, that he was just hiding his real interest. Being very intelligent and knowing where I'd spent the evening, he must have guessed whose number it was.
"Well, actually I'm not certain," I said, toying with him, but also telling the truth. After all, Marie hadn't told me what the number was, she just asked me to give it to John.
"Why give it to me then?" he frowned, but tried to hide his disappointment.
"Marie asked me to give it to you."
"Thought you said you didn't know whose number it is?" John said, getting a bit irritated and tired of our little game.
"She just gave me the paper for you and didn't say what it was. But if it's not her number, then it would be a really weird thing for her to do," I said and flashed him my most innocent of smiles.
"So she wants me to call her?" John smiled timidly back at me, with expressions of hope, excitement and maybe also some fear flickering rapidly across his face.
"She didn't say specifically, but I presume so. I mean, it would be rather odd to give you her number if she didn't want you to call, and she seems like a nice normal girl to me."
"Bit too late to phone tonight, though," he said with a hint of relief, looking at his bedside clock.
"Yeah, well there's always tomorrow!" I replied and grinned at him.
John looked happy and slightly embarrassed, not blushing but definitely flushed. He didn't say anything, so I continued, "So now we're even."
"Eh?" he said, distracted and lost in his own thoughts.
"You gave me Dan's number, and I gave you Marie's. We're even."
"Oh, Yeah, thanks. When d'ya think I should phone her?" he asked, switching into his 'asking big brother for advice' mode.
"Dunno. Whenever you think you both will have time to chat. I think she must be keen on you, so it'd be considerate not to wait too long. Maybe tomorrow afternoon or evening?" I paused, and he nodded thoughtfully. "If you've not used up this month's free minutes yet then you can call for free if you wait till evening."
"Alex has organised a five-a-side soccer game for us tomorrow afternoon, but if I call her in the evening I might miss the fun of you making the big announcement to Mum and Dad," he said, grinning at me.
"Fun?" I laughed without humour. "It might be fun for you, but I don't think I'll be enjoying myself."
I felt a heavy weight in my chest, and he must have seen my worried expression.
"If you can't enjoy yourself, who else can you enjoy?" he chanted in a vain attempt to lighten my mood. I just groaned at the old joke.
"Anyway, I'm sure we can fit both your phone call and me coming out into the same evening," I said, then paused and shifted the subject. "So you do fancy Marie, then? She seems to have a soft spot for you."
"She's cute," he said, sounding as if he were confessing to some crime. He looked toward the TV, avoiding my gaze then glanced back at me and asked, "What d'ya think I should say to her?"
"You could start by saying 'hello' and thanking her for letting you have her number. Ask how she is. Maybe mention Mike's party, then play it by ear. Anyway, I thought you and Mike spent the night talking about girls. Didn't he give you tips for chatting them up?"
Now he really did look embarrassed, and I raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Mostly we talked about what happens after chatting them up," he continued. "Ya know, kissing and stuff."
I was tempted to tease him by asking for more details about the 'and stuff', but I took pity on him and didn't want to embarrass him any further. Also, I wasn't sure that I really wanted to know any details. For a very brief moment I felt a twinge of jealousy that John had confided in Mike instead of asking me. On the other hand, I was relieved that Mike was another 'brother' because in such matters I wouldn't really have been much help to John.
He started surfing through the TV channels again, and it was clear that he didn't want to discuss Marie any more that night. I wasn't particularly tired and knew that if I went to bed I would just lie awake thinking about coming out to my parents, so I decided to take our conversation in a different direction.
"What time are you playing five-a-side tomorrow?" I asked as I sat on the edge of his bed.
John, clearly grateful for the change of subject, took his eyes from the TV and turned them in my direction. "Alex is coming round here after lunch and we'll meet the others in Hayden Park at two o'clock."
"Isn't James meeting you here?"
James had been John's friend, in fact our friend, long before John met Alex. The four of us, John, James, Mike and myself, used to spend a lot of time together when we were younger. In fact I used to think of James almost as another younger brother, but because he was the same age as John and they shared a passion for soccer, he was always much closer to my brother than to me or Mike As James lived just a couple of streets away, I would have expected him to meet John at our house rather than the park.
"Nah," John said, looking uncomfortable, "he sez he's going out with his girlfriend tomorrow."
"James doesn't seem to come round here much anymore," I commented, hoping John would want to talk about it.
He just shifted his position on the bed, hoewever, and began staring at the TV. I could tell that he didn't want to discuss this further, so I thought I'd leave that topic for the time being. I sighed and stood up.
"I'm getting tired. G'night John."
"G'night, Paul," he replied with a warm smile, tinged with relief.
I went back to my room and started to get ready for bed, but I wasn't really tired and kept thinking about the next day. Of course I knew that I didn't have to come out to my parents the following day and that I could postpone it if I wanted. However, I'd decided that it was best to do it sooner rather than later, and now I wanted to get it over with. For what seemed like hours I rehearsed in my mind the possible ways I could make the announcement, but I wasn't really happy with any of my imagined scenarios. Tossing and turning, I resigned myself to a sleepless night.
Though it wasn't very restful, I did manage to get a few hours sleep in between bouts of worrying, but when I woke on that Wednesday morning I was tired and aching. I'd spent most of the night wrestling with my own thoughts, but it felt as if I'd spent the night wrestling with a gorilla. I showered and dressed without my usual agonising over what to wear, and when I went downstairs it was still not yet ten o'clock. John was at the kitchen table reading a magazine, and when I entered the room he looked at his watch, pretended to be shocked, shook his watch, looked at the clock on the wall, and gasped.
"Ha, bloody ha!" I said in response to his visual 'joke'.
"Don't ya know we're still on holiday?" he asked through his giggles.
"Tread carefully," I warned, only half joking. "I've not had my morning tea yet."
"Actually, you look awful."
"Thanks," I said sarcastically as I filled the kettle. "Want some tea?"
"Yes, please. So wotcha gonna do today?" he asked, looking a little concerned.
"Dunno. Stay in and read, I s'pose. You're going out, Mikes got a date with Sue..."
"Why not go and see Rob?" John interrupted.
"He's got lots of studying to do," I said, though I wasn't sure that was the only reason I didn't feel like seeing him.
"How about Dan?"
"That's an idea. Maybe I'll call him after breakfast," I said, realising that I really didn't want to spend the day alone with my thoughts.
John turned his attention back to his magazine, and while the tea brewed I sliced some bread and put it into the toaster.
"Decided when you're gonna call Marie?" I asked mischievously as I sat down opposite him.
"Prob'ly after dinner. I guess you'll have made your announcement by then?"
"Prob'ly," I said without enthusiasm.
John continued reading his magazine and I, still half asleep, stared into space while I ate my breakfast. After breakfast, I left John still reading and went back to my room to phone Dan., who picked up after just two rings.
"Hi. I see you have me listed on your caller ID," I said, smiling to myself.
"Of course! I'm glad you called cos I was thinking of calling you."
"Why didn't ya?"
"Well, it's not eleven yet and I know your reputation for sleeping late." His laugh indicated that the comment wasn't intended to be a criticism.
"Reputation? I didn't know my sleeping habits were the subject of common gossip," I said in a haughty voice, pretending to be offended.
"Common, I dunno, but gossip, yes. I had a good time chatting to John and Mike yesterday while we walked to the top of Summer Hill."
"Oh," I said, wondering if I should be annoyed.
"Which brings me to why I was gonna phone you."
"Oh?" I said again, this time with a different inflection.
"Yeah. While I was talking with John and Mike, I noticed you were chatting with Steve, and last night he told me what you'd been talking about."
"Oh?" I said with yet another different inflection. I wondered which part of my conversation with Steve he was referring to.
"Now I know why Mike and John said you weren't a morning person. Your vocabulary in the morning seems rather limited," he said and laughed again.
"Couldn't you three think of anything more interesting to talk about than me in the morning?"
"Well, I thought it was very interesting, but I also asked them about you at different times of the day, not just mornings."
"Oh," I said stupidly, then felt the need to change the topic of conversation. "So what part of my chat with Steve did you want to talk about?"
"Well, last night he stayed over and at breakfast he said he'd been thinking over something you'd said. Apparently you told him that he and I should talk openly about Sue, and he'd been thinking about that all night. Anyway, then he told me why he'd split up with her."
"And did you tell him that she was involved with your attackers?"
"Yeah, but it took me a while to get around to it."
"How did he react?" I asked, hoping that my advice hadn't caused any upset.
"He was shocked, but not surprised. Actually, that sounds weird doesn't it? But that's how he said he felt. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for your advice, cos now it's all out in the open I feel much better. And so does Steve."
"You're welcome. I find that secrets between friends can be very uncomfortable," I said, thinking of how I was keeping my knowledge of Sue secret from Mike.
"Oh, and both of us think that you need to be even more careful around Sue."
"As careful as I can. Is Steve there with you now?" I asked, wanting to change the subject.
"Nah, he went home to study. After taking yesterday off to go cycling he was beginning to panic again."
"D'ya have any plans for this afternoon?"
"No, d'ya want to meet up?" he asked hopefully.
"Yeah. I was planning on coming out to my parents tonight and I thought it might be nice to spend the afternoon with a sympathetic soul."
"Then I'm yer man! Where d'ya want to meet?"
"How about I pick you up at your house at about one o'clock? Then we can take things from there?"
"Great!" he said happily. "See ya soon!"
"Okay, see ya."
After hanging up, I decided that I'd better change out of my just-thrown-on casual clothes and look for something suitable for socialising with Dan. After all, we might end up going into town, so it wasn't as if I just wanted to impress him, was it? As usual when I need to make decisions, the time flew by, and when Id finally picked out some suitable clothes it was time to leave for Dans house. I was frequently grateful that we had a school uniform, otherwise I would've spent an even bigger chunk of my life deciding what to wear and would probably have been late for school almost every day.
As it happened, we didn't go into town, and just spent the afternoon at Dan's house, but I was still glad I was wearing something nice. When I arrived he offered me lunch, and expecting something like a sandwich or some soup, I accepted. However, knowing him, I should have realised that I could expect more than just a sandwich, and in fact, in what seemed no time at all, he had put together an amazingly good salad Nicoise.
Before I'd arranged to see Dan I'd been expecting to spend the afternoon fretting about what I was going to say to my parents. Surprisingly, however, I hardly thought about it at all, and it only came up a few times during our conversation. Apart from the impending announcement to my parents I can't remember any other particular topic of conversation that afternoon; it seemed we just chatted about anything and everything that entered our heads.
We had such a good time just socialising that I didn't notice the passage of time until suddenly it was almost five o'clock and time for me to go home. Then came the only uncomfortable part of the afternoon. Just before Dan opened the door for me, there was a strange moment as we stood there facing one another. I thanked him for lunch and for his companionship then I suddenly wondered how best to say goodbye. I felt we'd become close friends and something more than words was called for, but a handshake was too formal, and I wasn't sure if a hug would be appropriate. While I hesitated in my uncertainty, Dan stepped forward, gave me a huge hug, thanked me for a wonderful afternoon then opened the door before I could react. I felt a little dazed, so I just smiled, said 'goodbye', and went to my car. As I got in the car he waved and made me promise to phone him after I'd talked to my parents.
The pleasant feelings associated with Dan's company wore off quickly during the drive home, and as the time of our evening meal approached a sense of unease began to build up. My logic kept reminding me that my parents loved me and were always very reasonable with me, so I knew that they would accept my sexuality. My emotions interrupted those logical thoughts with feelings of 'but, what if?'
During dinner I was much quieter than usual, and I'm sure my parents noticed this, but John was very supportive and kept the conversation going sufficiently for both of us. After dinner, I saw my opportunity when Mum went upstairs while Dad watched TV in the living room. I followed her upstairs, and John, seeing what I was doing, tagged along behind me. Before I could pluck up the courage to say anything, Mum paused in the hallway outside her room and spoke to me.
"You've been very quiet tonight, Paul."
"Yeah," I said. "I wanted to talk to you."
"Strange child!" she said with a gentle smile. "You're quiet because you want to talk?"
"I s'pose it does sound odd, but I've been so busy thinking about what I wanted to say that I've not actually said anything."
We stood there quietly facing one another, while John discreetly waited three or four feet behind me. As the silence dragged on I hoped that Dad wouldn't decide to come upstairs as well.
"So, what is it?" Mum asked before the silence became too uncomfortable. "From the way that John's hovering around behind you, I suppose he's in on this? Have you two broken something?"
"No, Mum, we've not broken anything. John's just here for a bit of moral support."
"Do your morals need supporting?" she joked, clearly trying to lighten my mood.
"Remember you asked how I met Dan and Rob?" I said, ignoring her humour and jumping straight to my prepared opening gambit.
"Yeeees," she said, nodding her head.
"Well, Rob goes to my school, but I didn't really meet him there. I met Rob and Dan at a gay youth group," I said quickly, the words tumbling out all in one breath.
"Oh," she said slowly, then paused and took a deep breath before continuing, "Don't you think we should go downstairs and talk about this with your father?"
"Well, I wanted to get your reaction first and thought I'd better see if you suggested a good way to tell Dad."
"Yes, well, the way you just told me was a bit blunt, but I think it would do for your dad as well. Anyway, I think we should discuss this all together, especially as it seems this isn't news for John."
"D'ya think Dad'll be okay with it?" I asked hesitantly.
"Yes, I'm sure he will. We've already discussed the possibility."
"Oh?" I said, though after what John and Mike had said, I shouldn't have been so surprised.
"Let's all go down and talk to your dad, shall we?" Mum suggested.
The three of us went downstairs, and I must admit that I was feeling a little light-headed with the sudden release of the tension that had been building up over the last couple of days. Dad looked up from the TV and raised a questioning eyebrow when he saw us all entering the living room together, but he didn't say anything as Mum sat next to him on the sofa. I sat in the nearer of the two armchairs and John perched himself on the arm of the other chair.
"Paul wants to talk about something," Mum said, and they all looked expectantly at me.
"Dad, I just told Mum that I met Rob and Dan at a gay youth group," I said, and coughed nervously as I waited for a response.
"So you're gay then?" Dad asked calmly.
"Yes," I said, and took a deep breath. "You don't seem very surprised."
"Your mum and I have talked about the possibility a couple of times since we met Rob, and it did seem to be a possible explanation for your recent unusual behaviour. After all, Rob is a bit, erm, 'delicate' as your gran would say, and if we add that to the fact that you're not far off 18 and you've never had a girlfriend, or even shown much interest in girls..."
Dad smiled gently as his voice trailed off and he clearly felt that there was no need to verbalise the rest of the sentence. Mum, who had been smiling supportively at me since she sat down, reached out to hold Dad's hand.
"So you're both alright with it?" I asked.
"Did you think we wouldn't be?" Mum responded.
"I thought it would be okay, but I couldn't help worrying a bit."
"Well, I hope you know that your Mum and I will always love and support you, no matter what." Dad said. He glanced at John, and looked back to me as he continued, "From what I can see, John seems to feel the same way as your Mum and I"
"As long as you're happy and you're not hurting anyone," Mum added, "then we're happy as well."
"Of course," Dad continued, "I can't say we aren't concerned, but our concern is because there are difficulties and even dangers with being gay in present society. I'm sure you're already aware of at least some of the problems, but anyway, we can talk about that later. First, though, you know we respect your privacy, but we'd like to ask you some questions, and I'm sure you know the usual 'house rule' that applies?"
I nodded 'yes'. It was more like a 'house convention' than a 'house rule', but I knew he meant that I did not have to answer anything, but if I chose to answer then I wouldn't tell lies. This convention applied to my parents as well as to John and myself, and when Mike was here it applied to him, too. From the way both my parents were dealing with this, I guessed that they had already given considerable thought to my sexuality, and I thought that the forthcoming questions might even have been rehearsed in advance, so I mentally braced myself.
"How long have you known you're gay?" Dad asked.
"Known definitely? Only a few months, but I've wondered about it for a couple of years. How long have you suspected?"
"After we met Rob. Before that we never even thought about it," Mum replied. "How long has John known?"
"Just less than a month," John answered for himself.
"And I suppose Mike knows?" Dad asked. I nodded 'yes', and he continued, "Anyone else know?"
"Mmm, well, apart from others in the gay youth group, Rob's parents and sister, and Dan's best friend. I think that's all."
"How long have you been going to the youth group?" Dad asked.
"About six months, but I've not been very often, really."
"That's the one that meets on Wednesdays at the Technical College?" Dad asked innocently then grinned when he saw my startled reaction.
"How did you know?" I gasped.
"Well, your old Dad isn't stupid," he said smugly. "I read newspapers, and this is a small town, so once I thought you might be gay I knew what to look for."
"So you thought I'd been going to the youth group?"
"We thought you might have gone, but if you hadn't then we would have suggested that you give it a try," Mum contributed. Then after only a very brief pause she continued, "Is Rob your boyfriend?"
"No," I said with a blush, though the question was not unexpected.
"Oh," Mum said, sounding a little disappointed.
"John, maybe you could leave us for a bit," Dad said, "There are some. erm, more personal questions Paul may not be comfortable with if you're here."
John, who'd been listening quietly and intently to our conversation, looked aggrieved, but began to stand up.
"That's okay, Dad," I said with a grin. "I can't think of any questions more personal than the ones that he's already been asking me."
"Alright, if you're sure," Dad said as John gave me a big grin and sat back in his chair, "Have you, erm, been sexually active?"
My face burned and I'm sure it was bright red, though after Dad's asked John to leave it was obvious that the question was coming.
"Yes, a little bit."
"Safe?" my parents asked almost synchronously.
"Yes, totally," I responded, hoping that they would just accept it and end this line of questioning.
"Do you have a boyfriend?" asked Dad.
"Well," Mum said, "when you do, we want you to know that he will be welcome here and we'll treat him just the same as we'd treat John's girlfriend."
"I don't have a girlfriend!" John interjected.
"But you will one day, won't you?" Dad asked, as if he wasn't quite certain.
"Yeah, of course!" John responded.
"Don't forget," Dad added turning to me, "we like to meet your friends, and it doesn't matter to us whether they're gay or not."
"And finally," Mum said, "always remember we love you no matter what. We don't disapprove of you being gay, but even if we did, we'd still love you just as much as we always have. We just want you to be happy, so if you have any problems or just need to talk, then we'll always be here for you."
"Thanks, Mum," I said, barely able to keep my tears at bay.
She stood up, and everyone seemed to take that as the end of the discussion, so I went over to Mum and gave her a big hug. Dad, always a little embarrassed by such displays of affection, went toward the doorway.
"Anyone else for some tea?" he asked as he left the room.
"Yes, please!" the three of us chorused.
Drinking tea together in the kitchen and chatting about other things for a few minutes helped all of us to recover from the emotional effects of our discussion, though I still felt rather high and almost euphoric. Coming out to my parents had turned out even better than I'd dared to hope, and I felt almost foolish that I'd been so worried about it. However, knowing my parents, I realised that this would not be our last discussion on the subject. The happiness and well-being of their children was their main concern, and they were bound to think of other questions to ask me in future.
After finishing my tea, I went to my room to make the calls I'd promised, and the first person I called was Mike. It was about eight thirty so I guessed that he'd have finished having dinner with his mum and Sue.
"Hey, you," I said.
"Hey, you, too."
"Great!" he said happily. "I'll call ya later."
I said goodbye, hung up then called Rob.
"Hiya, Paul. That's a coincidence!" he said laughing as soon as I greeted him.
"Yeah, John just called Marie's mobile about ten seconds ago, and she dashed off to her room to talk to him. Anyway, how'd it go with your parents?"
"Even better than I expected. They were really great, though they did ask a couple of embarrassing questions about boyfriends, sex, and being 'safe'. But I guess that just shows they care."
"I'm glad things went so well for you. By the way, did you ask your parents about coming round for dinner tomorrow? My mum said it's okay with her, but it would be nice if you could let her know."
"Oh! Sorry, I forgot. Just hold on a minute and I'll ask now."
Mobile in hand, I dashed downstairs and found my mum and dad in the kitchen. They said it was fine for me to have dinner at Rob's place then Mum asked me if I was sure I didn't have a boyfriend. Because she knew I wouldn't have lied when Dad asked me earlier, I soon realised she was just teasing me, so I just went back upstairs without answering.
"Hey, Rob," I said as soon as I got back to my room.
"I'm still here," he said giggling and making me wonder what was so funny.
"Mum and Dad said it's okay."
"I know. You had your phone with you so I heard you talking to them. I also heard your mum ask you about boyfriends."
"Oh, so that's what you found so amusing!"
"Yeah, but I didn't hear your answer."
"That's cos I didn't say anything," I said, then rapidly changed the subject. "So I'll see you tomorrow afternoon. Is about four okay? That way we'll get in a couple of hours work before dinner."
"That's fine by me," he replied.
"Okay, I've gotta make some more calls now, so I'll see ya tomorrow."
We said our goodbyes and I called Dan. As usual, he seemed very happy to hear from me and was even happier to hear that my parents had taken my announcement so well. From there the conversation went on to a myriad other topics and I was enjoying our chat so much that I lost track of the time. Suddenly I noticed it was almost ten o'clock and realised that Mike might be trying to phone me back. I told Dan I had to go, and we finished the call. Almost as soon as I hung up, my phone rang, and sure enough, it was Mike.
"Been trying to call me for long?" I asked.
"Only about ten minutes, cos I just got back from taking Sue to the bus stop. From what you said earlier I guess everything went well with your mum and dad. Now tell me everything."
I gave him a detailed report of the discussion with my parents, with him occasionally interrupting me to ask questions.
"I'm glad your parents took the news so well," he said, "but I knew they would. They've always been so nice and caring and reasonable, even with me. No matter how much trouble I got into, they always made me feel at home in your house."
"But it is your home. You're part of our family," I said, totally serious.
"Yeah, I know, and that's meant a lot to me. Even before Mum and Dad split up. Anyway," he continued, obviously keen to change the subject, "now you've told your parents, are you planning on telling anyone else?"
"Nah, I don't think so. At least not for the foreseeable future," I replied.
I suddenly realised that not very long ago, even I wasn't totally sure I was gay, and certainly no one else knew. Even after I accepted my own sexuality, I had no definite intentions of telling anyone, but over a period of about six months the number of people who knew I was gay seemed to have increased explosively. I was a little scared by the fact that my life was getting more out of my control as it became more and more complicated.
"That reminds me," Mike said, interrupting my thoughts, "after Sue met you at the cafe, she asked if you had a girlfriend and I just said 'no'. She said she was surprised as you were so cute and polite."
He laughed and I blushed, but apart from any embarrassment, I wasn't comfortable with the direction this conversation might be taking.
"Anyway," he continued, "tonight my mum was embarrassing me again by telling Sue all about me when I was growing up, and of course that meant she was mentioning you as well. Then Sue asked my mum if you'd ever had any girlfriends, and Mum said not as far as she knew."
He paused and I began to feel not just discomfort but also the beginnings of a sense of dread. When he didn't receive any response from me, he carried on speaking.
"Later, on the way to the bus stop Sue asked me if you'd ever had any girlfriends and I wasn't sure what to say at first. I didn't want to lie, but I felt it wouldn't right for me to tell the truth, that I knew for a fact that you'd never had a girlfriend. So I just gave her the same response that my mum had. I said not as far as I knew."
He paused again, and still I did not respond.
"The thing is," he said, breaking the brief silence, "Sue gave me a strange look when I said that, and with her asking about girlfriends so much, I wonder if she suspects."
My sense of dread had grown, and I could hardly breathe, much less speak.
"Paul, are you okay?" he asked, sounding worried. "I didn't say anything wrong did I? I didn't tell her anything, honest!"
He was obviously concerned and seemed unhappy, so I knew I had to say something to make him feel better. I pulled myself together and took a deep breath.
"No, you didn't do or say anything wrong. You were in a difficult position and you did the best you could. I couldn't have handled it any better," I said truthfully. "And I'd trust you with my life, so of course I know you wouldn't give away any of my secrets."
"Phew!" he said, sounding extremely relieved. "I'm glad you're not annoyed at me. But you still don't seem very happy... Don't worry, she may not suspect anything at all, and maybe I just imagined it. Even if she does suspect, she won't actually know for sure, and even if she did know, it wouldn't be so bad would it?"
When I heard him say that, I began to panic.
"Mike, you've got to promise me you won't tell her about me!" I said, trying to keep myself from shouting.
"I already promised I won't tell anyone, and I won't," he said, sounding a little hurt. "Not even my mum, though I know she'd be okay with it."
"Yes, of course I know I can trust you. I'm sorry. It's just really important that you don't tell anyone, so I just panicked."
That's okay, man," he said soothingly. "I understand. Anyway, what're you doing tomorrow?"
"Going to help Rob with his maths at four o'clock, but nothing till then."
"Well how about we get together for awhile before you go out?"
"Yeah, that'd be great!" I said, trying to sound as cheerful as I could. "Come over for lunch. If John's around we can all eat together."
"Lunch time it is then," he agreed. "See ya then."
We said goodnight and hung up. It was only a little after ten thirty, but I felt totally exhausted and I decided to get ready for bed, even though I suspected that sleep would not come easily. After talking about my sexuality with my parents, I'd been almost light-headed with relief and had felt a great sense of freedom, but now my concerns about Sue made me feel almost sick with worry.
I realised that as Sue and Mike got closer it would become more difficult for me to avoid her without avoiding him as well, and I certainly didn't want to start avoiding him. Although I was sure Sue was homophobic and had been involved with Dan's beating, I couldn't prove it, and even if I had any proof, how could I bring myself to tell Mike when I knew he was already so in love with her?
Then I remembered she would be at Mike's birthday party in just three days time, and it would be virtually impossible to avoid her there. If she did suspect I was gay, she could start asking me some very uncomfortable questions, and I had no idea how I might respond. Those thoughts were still running through my mind when I eventually fell into a restless and fitful sleep.
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