Andrew

by The Composer

Chapter 10

She came for me the next day. Helen Summers, that is. She waylaid me in the lunch queue, and I was trapped.

"Mrs Cox has been talking to me," she said.

"Really? How extraordinary."

She ignored me. "We discussed the plight of minorities in the school, and what we could do for them."

"Leave them alone to get on with it?"

She ignored that as well. "I think it's a really good idea."

"What is?"

"To set up something which will help isolated people."

"And what has that got to do with you or me?"

She looked at me. "You're a minority."

"Yes. A minority of one. It's going to be a big club. Oh, and by the way, which minority do you represent?" I paused. "I've got it. The tolerant minority. Is that right?"

"We ought to have some sort of club where straights and gays and other minorities can mix freely."

"So straights are a minority, are they? And there's another problem – any gay boys that do come along are effectively outing themselves."

"And what's so wrong in that?"

I shook my head. "I admire your naiveté."

That really got to her. "And why shouldn't gay boys come out?"

"Well perhaps they don't like being shoved and pushed in the corridors, and people writing graffiti all over their books."

"It might have happened at the schools you went to, but it wouldn't happen here."

I put down my knife and fork with a clatter. "You really are deluding yourself. How many boys or girls do you know in the school who are out and proud?"

"What's that got to do with it?"

"Oh, Lord," and I nearly hit my head on the table. I raised it again and looked at her. "I'm just guessing here, but I would think that most boys of my age who think they are gay, don't want to admit it. They'd be afraid of what their friends would say, what other boys in the changing room would say. I gave another boy a hug at the bus stop – don't ask – and a couple of girls asked if we were gay boys. Gay is one of those all-purpose insults. Even you might have noticed that."

"So what should we do about it?"

"You tell me."

"Set up some sort of club. After all, you're a minority, and you ought to have some sympathy for them."

I suddenly lost it. "Yes, I'm the token black boy. I'm the token chav. They are the sort of things that you can't be in the closet for." I could see that I was getting nowhere with her. "Okay. I'll do one thing for you. There is a boy in the school who I know is gay. He is not out. If he is prepared to come along with it, then maybe I'll help. But I am not your token minority boy to be waved about to show how tolerant you all are."

I picked up my tray and walked away.


I knew Alan caught the same bus as me, and I had been relieved of the job of Bus Prefect at last. I cornered him after school. "I want to talk to you. Do you want to come round to my house, or can we go to yours?" He looked at me wide-eyed. "I said talk. Don't get your hopes up. Nothing else."

He squared his shoulders and stared at me. "I've come out to my parents."

"Really? Brave boy. What happened?"

His shoulders suddenly slumped again. "I don't think they really understand. I tried saying, boys, not girls, but they didn't really seem to get it." He looked up at me. "You can come round to my place. My mother will be in."

"As long as she doesn't think I'm your boyfriend. Just an ordinary friend visiting."

"I don't have any friends," he said.

I put my arm around his shoulders. "Can I be your friend?"

He stared up at me. "Do you really mean that?"

"Why not?"

"A gay boy loser like me?"

"You think I'm prejudiced?"

"No, but why would you want to hang out with me?"

"I think you have serious self-esteem issues." I knew all the social worker jargon. He stared at me. "Besides, I have a favour I want to ask of you."

"I don't put out on the first date."

"In your dreams."

We went out to the bus queue, and got on the next bus. I knew that we got off at the same stop, but I had no idea where he lived. I followed him as he walked down the road, and then he turned into the drive to his house. It was a fairly ordinary, rather large semi-detached. He went up to the front door and unlocked it, then turned to waved me in. A rather elderly lady came out, saw me, and turned to Alan.

"Hello, mum. This is a friend from school."

She stared at me, and it was a bit embarrassing. I'm not sure what she was expecting, but it wasn't someone looking like me. Alan plucked my sleeve, and took me upstairs to his room. I suppose it was a fairly typical teenage room, and he waved me to take a seat on the bed. He dropped his backpack down, and sat on the bed next to me. Slightly pointedly, I took a seat on the chair by the desk.

"So," he said, "you want to ask me a favour."

I looked at him steadily. "If you do what we would like you to do, you would be outing yourself at school."

"We?"

"Me, Mrs Cox, and Helen Summers."

"Helen Summers? What she's got to do with it?"

"Well, she's acting as apprentice to Mrs Cox, and needs a little more practice." "I could see him smile at that one. "They want to set up a club for" – I made air quotes – "minorities."

"So I'm going to the token gay boy, then?"

"Well, there may well be more than one in the school, and probably, like you, they are deeply in the closet. They don't know what they can do about it. There is no one they can talk to. If we have something where people such as yourself - "

"Gay boys," he interrupted.

"And girls. A place where minorities of any kind, even black boys and chavs, can get together."

"So what have gay boys got to do with black boys?"

I shrugged. "We're both minorities."

He looked at me sceptically. "Yeah, right."

"Okay. I've been volunteered to help out with this, and Helen Summers has been co-opted."

"Oh yeah? And what minority is she representing?"

"The tolerant minority."

He looked at me as he worked that one out, then gave a slight smile. "What do I have to do do?"

"Your name won't be on anything, but you have to help us organise it, and turn up, and be part of the whole thing. If you're really really lucky, some other gay boys will come along – "

"Yeah, right," he interjected.

"– and you'll find the love of your life."

"Yeah, right."

"Will you do it?"

"Can I think about it, and let you know?"

"Of course. Whenever."

I stood up. "I've a lot of work to get through for tomorrow. I'm going to head off," and I picked up my bag.

We went downstairs, and his mother was there, hovering.

"It's nice to see that Alan is making some friends."

"Your son is a fine young man. Would you do something for me?" She looked at me, wondering what I was talking about. "Boys only get one mother. Look after him." I turned to Alan. "You only get one mother. Make the most of her. You're lucky – I can't even remember what my mother looked like."

I set out on my way home. Charles was waiting for me, and I told him the brilliant new idea that Mrs Cox and Helen Summers had in store for me.

"Do you want to do it?" He asked me.

"I've really no idea."

"You could always call it the Geography Club," he said referring to a movie we have seen recently.

"Maybe."

I hadn't rated the movie, and neither had Charles.*****Helen Summers made a beeline for me the next day. "Did you speak to him?"

"Yes."

"And?"

"And he'll let me know when he's made his mind up." I could see the disappointment on her face. "What is it with you? Why is it so important?"

"Because …" She bit her lip. "I used to think that we were so tolerant in this school, and then you came along, and I saw how people reacted to you."

"It helps if you don't eat bananas in such a lascivious way."

She looked at me sideways. "You were testing us out, weren't you?"

I shrugged. "Something like that."

"And there was that boy who was being bullied, and no one did anything about it."

I looked sideways at her. "No one?"

She looked stricken. "I'm sorry. You took him on, didn't you, that bully?"

"Compared with people I've met before, that boy was an amateur."

"It doesn't matter - we should have been able to help him ourselves and we didn't. It took someone from the outside to see that there was a problem."

I nearly took issue with that one. "Well, we'll see if the lad in question is prepared to join us."


I got off the bus going home at the same time as Alan. He took my elbow as we walked away. He seemed more assertive. "I'll do it," he told me.

"Are you sure? It's a big thing."

He stopped, standing with his thumbs hooked under the shoulder straps of his bag. "I've got to do it sometime, haven't I? I might as well do it now, and if people don't like it, that's their problem." I raised my eyebrows at him, and he stared back at me. "What's that slogan? Out and Proud?"

"You need to be careful. There are people out there who really don't like gay people."

"That's their problem," he said defiantly.

"Make sure it's not yours."

He nodded at me, and turned and strode away. This wasn't that shy timid boy I had seen at the bus stop a few weeks earlier. I had told him that he needed to be more assertive, to stand up for himself, but you can take things too far.


Helen and I went along to see Mrs Cox. It was all very well saying, let's set up a club, but how exactly was it going to work?

"Can the school provide anything in the way of refreshments, because just coming into a room and sitting down is not the most exciting thing you can do after school."

"I have a small budget," she said, "and I can certainly raid it for the first few meetings at least. If it's not a success, then we won't need it anyway."

We agreed to keep Alan low-key. We would do the initial preparation and advertising. Trying to work out a good sales pitch was not easy. Why did we want people to come along? Because they were minorities. So why should anyone else come along? Helen was all for going down the solidarity route, but in my opinion, that would be a waste of time. It wasn't exactly advertising itself as a club for gays, but the subtext was fairly obvious. I think we should be more explicit and put in slogans like, 'Curious? Bi? Want to know what it's all about?'. Mrs Cox worried about being too explicit – too explicit in the school context. But eventually we agreed on what we would say, and Mrs Cox guaranteed a blitz of publicity.

When I told Charles all of this, he too queried the refreshment angle. "A cup of tea and a stale biscuit? Get real."

"Anything else costs money."

"I'll go to the supermarket and get coke and crisps and all that sort of thing."

I stared at him. "You can't do that!"

"Look, I think what you are doing is excellent, and it needs support, and I'll give you that support."


So, fast forward to the day when we were supposed to be having our first meeting. We were in a room which was not quite a classroom, but intended for meetings of clubs and things. We never decided on a proper name. We were just The Club. Charles insisted on coming in, and Mrs Cox was there and of course Helen and myself and Alan.

Alan had become a good deal more assertive. He got into an argument with another boy about the club, and it degenerated into a fist fight. Alan came out of it the worse, although he didn't mind. He was sporting a wonderful black eye, and between the end of school and the meeting, he had changed his school shirt for a T-shirt with the slogan 'Out and Proud'. I could see Mrs Cox looking at that shirt with some anxiety.

The first people through the door were two girls. They came in, took the coke being offered by Charles, and a bag of crisps, and went to sit down in a corner. A boy and a girl came in together, obviously a couple, and looked round. Another boy came in by himself, and I guessed him to be a closet case. He took the coke and crisps, and went to sit down in another corner of the room. I ambled over and nodded to him. He nodded back. I saw him look at Alan, and his eyes went wide at the sight of the black eye and the slogan on the T-shirt.

"I think he's making a statement," I said to him.

"So, what are you?"

"What do you want me to be?"

"I thought this was for – minorities – and people like that."

I sat down next to him. "And you don't think I'm a minority?"

He smiled at that. He was becoming a little more relaxed. He nodded towards Helen. "What's she then?"

"Miss Summers is in the category of her own." He grinned again. "But you might also say that she is part of the tolerant minority." Like everyone else, it took him a second or two to work that out, then he sniggered.

I haven't seen him around the school before – or at least, if I had, I didn't recognise him. "I'm James Forsyth," I told him.

"I know that." I looked at him, and he knew that I was waiting for him to tell me his name. "I'm Andy," he said slightly reluctantly.

"Come and meet my uncle."

He looked at me. "Your uncle?"

"That's him over there." I took him over. A few more boys and girls come in, and were standing about looking vaguely embarrassed. I knew if this was going to work then we would have to make people welcome, and get them to mix. Helen was going around, introducing herself, and I did my best to emulate her. I could see one or two of the boys eyeing other boys, and wondering, and speculating. Did Mrs Cox realise that we were running a dating agency for gay boys? Knowing her, she probably did.

For a little while, things got quite lively, then people began to filter out, and we began clearing up. Alan was bubbling away about the people who had come, and he started doing some speculation, until I hushed him. Charles seemed to think it had gone well.

As we were leaving, Alan turned to Mrs Cox. "Can I bring my parents next week?"

She looked at him in surprise. "I don't see why not, but are you sure you want to do that?"

He nodded. "Yes. You see, they really still don't get it. They don't understand."

"You think this will help?" He nodded again. "Okay then."


The next week was a little bit more routine. We sent things up as before, and people drifted in. They were a little less hesitant than before. The two girls I had seen last week also came in, and sat down, and watched. Why not gay girls as well as gay boys? The boy and girl from last week also came; they were obviously a couple, and I wondered what was in this for them. Then, slightly to everyone's surprise, Alan's parents appeared, looking slightly bewildered. Alan took them round introducing them to everyone. They were persuaded to sit down in the midst of a little group. The boy who had come with his girlfriend started talking to them. After a while, his girlfriend nudged him. "Tell them," she said quietly.

I could see that the boy – I had found out that his name was Adam – was reluctant, but his girlfriend took his hand and squeezed it. He had a story to tell, but was reluctant to tell it.

"Go on," whispered his girlfriend, "Tell them."

"The reason why we are here with you lot," he began, "is that I had an older brother. John. He was two years older than me. One day my parents found some porn in his room – or at least, a gay magazine. He was eighteen at the time. I remember they had a really big row, and there was lots of shouting. Eventually John went up to his room and slammed the door." He paused and took a sip from his glass. "John was two years older than me, but he was always good to me when I was a kid. He always took time to help me with things." Another pause. "When he didn't come down to breakfast the next morning, Mum went up to his room." Pause. "I'll never forget the scream. You see, he had hanged himself in the night, and she found him there. Swinging. It's really quite difficult to do that – to find somewhere strong enough to hang yourself from. And if you do it that way, it's not quick and clean. You're basically strangling yourself to death. I had dreams for months afterwards, of him dangling there, twitching and struggling. Not that I ever saw him hanging there, my dad wouldn't let me go in." There was a long, long silence. No one breathed. I could see him biting his lip.

"That's why I'm here. But …" I could see him biting his lip. "Sorry," he said, and stood up abruptly, and his chair fell on the ground behind him. It had been too much for him. He made for the door, and his girlfriend ran after him.

We were all completely dumbfounded. Helen and Mrs Cox stood up and followed them out.

I could see Charles' face. He was stricken. No one could listen to what Adam had told us without being knocked backwards. "So that's why he's come along here to support us," he said. He turned to Alan's parents. "Look after your son, you've only one of them. And you don't want to lose him."

I can see the expression on their faces. To say that they were stunned would be an understatement. "Uncle Charles is right." I nodded towards Alan. "Look after him, please." Alan himself was looking equally stunned.

No one else knew what to say. Helen Summers came back. "They are in Mrs Cox's office at the moment." She stopped, obviously slightly teary herself. "I remember John, even though he was two years above me. I have no idea, though."

"The statistics for gay teen suicides are horrendous," said Charles. "Don't do it, Alan." Some of the other boys were looking equally horrified. Charles looked at them. "How many of you are out?"

There was silence apart from one boy, who said, "What makes you think I'm gay?" We all looked at him, and he went red.

"Look," I said, "this is more than a dating agency." Everyone looked rather startled at that. "It should be a support group, where we all look after each other. Perhaps you're not gay, perhaps you are just 'curious', but I reckon if you do have problems, then you can talk to someone else here. Whoever it is. Even Helen Summers," and I gave her a half smile. I could see the two girls – Tricia and Tina – holding hands, and I gave them a smile too.

Adam and his girlfriend came back into the room, followed by Mrs Cox. He looked red eyed. He walked over to Alan, pulling him to his feet and hugging him. There were more tears on his face now. "Well done for organising this," he said, and looked round at the rest of us. "My brother hanged himself. Don't do it." He looked at Alan's parents. "Look after him."

His girlfriend took him by the arm and pulled him out. There was almost complete silence in the room. Eventually Charles spoke quietly to Alan's parents. "Take him home." Alan himself was very subdued. We cleared up in silence. I could see that Mrs Cox was almost in tears, and I went up to her.

"I knew John. I taught him for two years. I never knew …"

"This might sound harsh," I told her, "but some good might come of it."

"You may be right. But to die like that …"

"Nasty. Very nasty."

The room had been cleared and tidied. Everyone was very subdued and quiet. I left with Charles, and we drove home.

"Could that have been you?" I asked him, once we were back, and had supper.

He played with his fork, which was lying on an empty plate. "I never came out to my parents. In one sense, I didn't need to. When a young man comes out of university without having shown any interest in girls so far, it's fairly obvious. And my parents died quite quickly, within a year of each other. They weren't even that old. But I was an only child, born late in life. As to the rest of it – well, when I was at school, boys played around with each other. But it was nothing serious. Before I left, I realised I wanted it to be serious, but I knew that if I told anyone, it would be a disaster. The same at university." He shrugged. "By then, I had resigned myself to a life of solitary celibacy." He put down the fork and then looked at me. He gave me a sort of twisted smile. "Then I met you."

I could see him thinking about it. Then he went on, "You know, when I first saw you on the pontoon, I did have ulterior motives. One part of me was doing something any civilised person should do; offering help to those in distress. And you were a child in distress, and so I offered to shelter, and food. And one tiny little bit of me was saying, here's a young man. And if you are someone like me, you think there's a tiny chance of something happening. And I took you out sailing. In one sense I was taking advantage of you, because the last thing you wanted to do was to go back to that home."

He was silent for a long time, and I sat waiting for him. "But the rest of me knew that it was never going to happen. And that the last thing I should do was take advantage of a vulnerable child. I did have some sense of morality." He gave me another twisted smile. "And then you launched yourself at me. Apart from anything else, it was such a surprise. And then I thought, I mustn't. I shouldn't. This is wrong. And I had this – sorry, but it's true – wet naked rampant child pawing me. And – things went from there." He looked across the table at me. "I could never have believed it in my wildest dreams. Well, perhaps in my late night fantasies. But only in my fantasies. And why and how it happened I'll never understand."

It was my turn. "We have one thing in common. I was never interested in girls either. Other boys would talk about feeling up a girl's tits. I couldn't understand the fascination. And then, not long before I met you, I realised I was watching boys. That their movements and their faces could capture my imagination. If you had asked me whether I was gay, I would have said – rubbish. Nonsense. I'm not gay. But slowly it began to sink in. It was boys that I like looking at." It was my turn to be silent, then, "I told you. Boys like me, from my background, we're targets for all the perverts. And when I came on board with you, I was never quite sure. Were you just being kind? Or did you have something else in mind? But you never made any moves. And that moment, when I came out of the heads, and you were standing there – it was as though all my hormones were on overdrive. I just wanted you – mainly for sex, at least to begin with, but I also wanted you as a person. I liked you. You were kind to me. Maybe that was taking advantage, because no one had ever been kind to me before. But I wanted you. Does that make sense?"

He shrugged. "I still can't understand why. But here we are." He looked across the table at me. "I think that what you and Helen Summers and Mrs Cox and the school are doing is excellent."

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