Andrew

by The Composer

Chapter 11

Later in the week, I was stopped by a girl in our class. She was giving a party at the weekend – did I want to come? I said maybe, and she gave me a card with the address. I really wasn't very keen. I could imagine that the party would be full of people who would irritate me, or who I would despise. But Helen Summers knew that I had got an invitation, and asked me whether I was going. I shrugged.

"You should, you know. You're more popular than you realise, and it would do you good to mix with people out of school."

Again I said maybe, and I spoke to Charles. He was all for it. "It's what you need, to get you out of the house and mix with people of your own age."

"And what if I don't want to?"

"You'll enjoy it when you get there."

He insisted on driving me there, and I got out of the car rather reluctantly. "I'll text you when I want to come back," I told him.

"Don't rush it," he told me, and drove off.

I walked down the drive of this large house. The front door was open, and I could hear the thump of music playing in another room. I wandered in, and almost immediately bumped into Helen.

"Nice you could make it. Come through to the kitchen."

There was a gaggle of people there, most of whom I knew by sight at least. There was a large punchbowl, and sitting next to it, an empty gin bottle. I didn't really want to drink, but Helen passed me a glass, and I sipped it. I couldn't taste any alcohol. I wandered through to another room, where the lights were dark, and a stereo beating out some sort of rhythm. There were half a dozen people dancing away. I didn't really know how to dance, other than moving my body back and forward in time to the music. Helen gave me a little shove towards the dance floor.

"I don't dance," I muttered.

"Give it a go," she told me, and gave me another shove. I really didn't want to do it. But I stepped out there, closed my eyes, and began swaying back and forward. The music changed to something a little less harsh, and I slowed down in response. Suddenly, I became aware of someone behind me, and someone in front of me. I opened my eyes, and there was this boy very close to me. At the same time, whoever was behind me moved forward, and seized my hips from behind, and started grinding himself against my arse. The boy in front of me also moved into me, grinding his groin against mine. What the hell was going on? Then he leaned forward, and gave me a sloppy wet kiss. I pushed him off, and reached back behind, grabbing the other boy by the balls and squeezing. He gave a yelp. I looked at the boy in front of me, who was grinning. There were a lot of other people in the room by this time, all whooping and cheering. I had no idea what was happening, but I suddenly seized the other boy and pulled him into me.

"If you really want a kiss, this is how to do it."

I leaned forward and gave him a kiss he wasn't likely to forget. I sucked his face off, with my tongue in his mouth. I pulled away, and gave him a hard shove on the chest. "Amateur," I said in a loud voice.

It seemed as though the room was almost full by now with spectators. I turned to them as they all gawped at me. I pumped my fist into the air. "You like black boys?" I shouted. I put my hand down to my groin. "Big black boys?" I asked. I looked round at them all. "You want a kiss from this big bad black boy? Just queue up. Who's first?"

They were literally queuing up. This girl bounced towards me, and I pulled her in for a good snog. More cheers and shouts. "That's it," I told her. "Who's next?" Another girl, another snog. "Next!" It was a boy, and he had a grin on his face. "You want to do this?" I asked him, and he nodded. I pulled him onto a clinch. He was nice and warm and cuddly and very receptive. There were oohs and aahs as we snogged. Another girl. Then … Helen Summers. I looked at her questioningly, and she nodded. We went into a clinch, and I was … more gentle with her. More ooohs and aahs. She pulled away, red in the face, and I reached up a hand, and stroked her face. Aaah, went the audience. Then there was another boy, and I recognised him. He was the one who had been grinding his dick into my arse. I grinned, and pulled him towards me, then reached behind him, and did my best to stick my fingers up his arse, whilst grinding myself against him. He yelped, and I cried, "Payback!"

There were more and more, and I was getting rather tired of all this by now, and my lips had certainly suffered. "No more," I yelled, and there were great shouts of disappointment. "Come back next week," I shouted, and stumbled out of the room. I went out of the front door and stood out in the open, gasping for air. Behind me, I could hear the noise of the party. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned round. It was that boy who had first snogged me.

"Sorry," he said. I shrugged. "I just wanted to win the sweepstake, that's all."

"What?"

"The sweepstake."

"What sweepstake?"

He looked hesitant, then guilty. "You didn't know about it?"

"About what?"

"The sweepstake."

"What fucking sweepstake?"

He looked even more guilty now. "There's been a sweepstake going on at school. The first one to kiss you wins it."

I stared at him. "You're serious?" He nodded. "That's fucking sick."

The girl who had been giving the party came out. "I'm sorry, I'm really sorry … "

"Too fucking late," I snarled at her. I pulled out my phone and called Charles. "Please, collect me now."

"You're not going?" She asked, holding onto my arm.

"Too right I am."

I shook her off, and started walking down the drive. If it had all been a joke, I wouldn't have minded. That's how I treated it, as a joke. Now it turns out that it was some sort of bet, a sweepstake. Who can be first to kiss the bad black boy? The chav? The boy from the council care home? I felt sick.

I stood out in the road until I saw Charles driving towards me. He pulled into the side of the road as he saw me, and I climbed in. "Home," I snarled. He looked surprised, but he pulled away, and we drove back in silence.

When we got back, he parked the car, and we went into the house. He took me into the kitchen, and put the kettle on for his usual remedy, a cup of tea. When we were settled at the table, he looked across at me questioningly.

"Okay," I said, and related the whole sorry saga.

At the end of it, he gave a small smile. "You know, it is quite a compliment, having all those people queueing up for you."

"Were they queueing up for me, or because I was something different, a black boy, someone from a council care home."

"Both. But you underestimate yourself. I find you sexy enough, but I'm not the only one."

I stared at him. "I thought it was a joke at the time."

He shrugged. "I think for most of them it was a joke, and they were enjoying it, and so were you. Get over it. How many boys have people queueing up to snog them?"

"There's only one person I want to snog." After what had happened at the party, I was ready for more than just a snog. I looked at him across the table, and he knew what I wanted. We stood up, and I grabbed his arm, and I led him upstairs. Once in the bedroom, I took his head between my hands. "It's not boys I want, and it's not girls. It's you." I tugged at his shirt, and we almost established a record for undressing each other as fast as we could. He was as hard as I was. I pushed him down onto the bed. "It's you I want," I told him. He opened his body to me, and I took him. And for once, I was fierce with him.

I remembered that boy who had melted into my arms, warm and soft and pliant. If things had been different, we might have gone on from there. But instead, I had a lover of my own, one who could give me more pleasure than I had ever known in my life. And afterwards, we lay together, and drifted off into sleep, to wake again in the morning and wrap ourselves around each other and make love again, not harsh and frenzied, but slow and languid, and then afterwards to get up and go to the bathroom to wash not ourselves, but each other.

We went down to breakfast, and then we had to get dressed, for we had an appointment. Those people whose garden I had dug up. We had promised them that we would take them to a garden centre to look at plants for the flowerbed that I had dug over. We took them in Charles' car. I knew nothing about plants. The Pendleburys walked around, looking at all these plants in pots, and reading the labels, and talking to Charles. I pushed the trolley as they loaded it with plant after plant. We loaded them in the back of the car and took them to their house. Charles and I carried out these plants, and laid them out onto the path. There was a long discussion as to what went where. I took a spade, and dug holes where I was directed to, and was given plants to put in the holes. I pushed down the earth around the plants, and eventually we were finished. We stood back and looked at the results.

"You know it's going to take months before this starts looking respectable," said Charles.

Mrs Pendlebury nodded. "And we'll need some ground cover plants as well."

"Give it a bit of time first. And I think it will need a bit of weeding in the meantime."

We went in for the inevitable cup of tea, and both the Pendleburys were loud in their praise of our efforts.

"It's the least we can do," said Charles. "We're young and fit, and we can do these things, and we ought to help those who can't."

I was a little distracted; I still had that lurking feeling of irritation from the party the night before. I wouldn't have minded if it had been just a bit of fun, but to be a piece of meat in a sweepstake rankled. Still, it was over now, and there was no reason why I should go to any more parties like that. These people, the Pendleburys, had been good to me, and I didn't mind helping them out. I preferred this to any number of parties.

The old couple were obviously pleased to see us – I got the sense that they lived a rather solitary life. I promised to come round the next weekend, and help with the weeding. I still had a fair amount of work to do, so I pleaded homework as an excuse to leave.

I really did have work to do, and it was quite late by the time I had finished. The next morning I went in to school fairly early, because I needed to go to the library to return some books. I had eventually learned how to cycle, so I was using that old bike which belonged to Charles. I locked the bike and headed for the school entrance. Helen Summers was standing outside, looking even more distraught than usual. She almost skipped up towards me.

"Thank heavens I've caught you."

I looked at her in surprise. "Is there a problem?"

"I'll say there is."

"Okay. Do you mind telling me what it is?"

"The party on Saturday."

"What's it got to do with the school?" She was tugging me along. I could see that I was getting funny looks from everyone who was around. "Don't tell me," I groaned, "we're going to see Mrs Cox."

"You've got it." She knocked on the door and we went in. Mrs Cox was there at her computer, obviously dealing with emails and the like.

"James. Helen."

"What's this all about?" I asked, dropping my bag onto the floor.

"Saturday's party."

I looked at her, slightly bewildered. "A private party in a private house. So what has this to do with the school?"

"Did you know that people were videoing you?"

"They might have been," I said, slightly uncertainly. "I had other things on my mind. And if they were?"

"Are you on Facebook?"

"I've never bothered. Charles isn't either."

"Because," she said slightly grimly, "a large number of videos and pictures from that party, principally of you, have been uploaded onto Facebook, and probably other sites as well, with captions like 'Parklands School Students Party'. When I came in this morning, I found 73 emails from parents and from other people asking me about the party."

I leaned forward slowly and put my forehead on her desk. "You've seen them all?"

She nodded, and said, "Helen has made copies of all the videos and pictures she could find."

I looked at her. "Am I going to get all the copies?"

"I have a memory stick with all of them on," she whispered.

"Including you and me?" She nodded. I turned back to Mrs Cox. "You know how all this started? With the sweepstake? I was minding my own business when these two boys came onto me. I didn't start any of this. But after what happened, I just thought it was a bit of fun. I got really pissed off – if you'll excuse the language – when I discovered the business about the sweepstake."

"Some of the video is rather … graphic, to say the least."

"It was a party. It was Saturday night. And, no, I hadn't been drinking. Helen will vouch for that." I paused. "If anything, I'm the injured party. I was subjected to a sexual assault and harassment." I'm not sure how far I'd get with that one. "I'd like to break some more school rules whilst I'm at it. I want to ring my uncle." I pulled the phone from my pocket, and she nodded. I got a slightly harassed sounding Charles. "I'm sorry to bother you, Uncle, but I have a problem at school. It's to do with that party on Saturday. Apparently a lot of people were taking pictures and video and they have uploaded them onto Facebook and so on." I held the phone away from my ear as Charles exploded. "Look, do you want to speak with Mrs Cox?" Assuming the answer was going to be yes, I passed the phone over. Unfortunately, that meant that I got only one half of the conversation, but there was a lot of 'yes' and 'of course'. Eventually she passed the phone back to me.

"We can get rid of the Facebook material easily enough," Charles told me, "and I've got some very competent lawyers. There are going to be a lot of 'cease and desist' letters and emails going out. When people get letters from lawyers talking about abuse of minors then these companies do something about it. I'm going to trawl the web for any other material."

"Okay, thanks, and I'm sorry for causing you all the trouble."

"It's not you who has caused the trouble," he said rather grimly, "I'm going to find out who they were, in the full and certain knowledge that Mrs Cox will deal with it. I'll be in touch later," and he rang off.

I slipped the phone back into my bag. "Some good may come of this," Mrs Cox said. I stared at her. "It's a very good example of the misuse of social media. The people who posted a lot of this weren't being malicious, they were being thoughtless."

I shrugged. "How many of those emails were complaining that this nasty black boy was kissing these innocent white girls?"

Mrs Cox winced slightly. "There were one or two. I replied to say that if I had any more such comments from them, I would forward them to the police."

"Thanks," I told her.

"I'm sorry you two are going to be late for class. You had better head off, and tell your teachers that you been talking to me."

I had Media Studies next. I opened the door. I could see all the eyes turning to focus on me. I was getting tired of this. I looked at the teacher, and she stared back with some irritation. She and I did not get on very well.

"Sorry I'm late."

She looked at me in annoyance. "I would have thought that you had drawn enough attention to yourself already."

"I didn't draw attention to myself," I told her. "Other people did."

She obviously didn't like my tone. "Given that you've already missed so much of the lesson already, and given your current attitude, I think you had better report to Mrs Cox's office."

"I've just come from there."

"I'm not surprised. And you're still in lessons?"

"I am. Is there any reason why I shouldn't be?"

"Given your behaviour at the weekend …"

I was close to losing my temper. I bit back what I'd liked to have said to her. "That was a private party at a private house. I will agree with you on one thing. Those pictures should not have appeared on the Internet or anywhere else. My uncle's lawyers are working on that one at the moment." I turned round, and closed the door behind me. I had been tempted to slam it, but thought that might be one step too far.

I walked back to Mrs Cox's office. "James," she said in slight surprise as I came in.

"Mrs Butler and I have had a slight disagreement. She suggested I paid you a visit."

She looked at me steadily. "Were you rude?" she asked.

I shrugged. "I didn't use any" – I made air quotes – "'inappropriate' language. I was slightly irritated by her assumption that I should have been sent home."

Mrs Cox sighed. "All right. I'll deal with that later. I think you've already given me enough to keep me busy."

"I'm sorry. Is it all right if I go to the library?"

She nodded.

By the time I got there, I was seething. Okay, I need not have been quite so offensive with Mrs Butler, but after what had happened, I wasn't really in a mood to take any more hassle. I sat down in a chair intending to do some work, but got nowhere. The bell rang for the next lesson, and I picked up my bag. It was history, and the classroom was some way away. Most people were already there, and as I entered, the room went completely silent. I stopped in the doorway, and opened my arms out wide. "Anyone for a kiss?" I asked.

"Not me," said a voice behind me. It was Mr Patterson, our teacher.

I moved aside hastily. "Sorry, sir," I said.

He looked at me, amused. "The perils of social media?" I nodded. He gestured me to an empty desk.

He began the lesson by saying, "Richard the Third, Act one, Scene one, Line one."

Everyone blinked. I sat up and proclaimed:

"Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York; And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

"So I reckon we're going to talk about the Winter of Discontent of 1979, the General Election of that year, demise of the Callaghan government, and the election of Mrs Thatcher."

He looked at me, again with that amused look. "Do you want to take the rest of the lesson for me?"

"Sorry, sir."

Another smile. "It's me who should be saying sorry." I stared at him. "To mock the enthusiasm of a student is unpardonable. But you're quite right. That's exactly what I'm going to be talking about."

He did.


The next awkward moment was at lunch. When I joined the queue, I could hear everything going quiet, and I knew everyone was staring at me. I was tempted to do a repeat performance of 'Anyone for a kiss', but Helen was tugging my sleeve and hissing, "Don't!" I just gave everyone a wide smile.

But if I thought that I was going to have a peaceful undisturbed lunch, I was wrong. The first to my table was the boy who had snogged me, who had won the sweepstake. He looked very shamefaced.

He mumbled, "Sorry about Saturday night."

"It's okay," I told him. "So – what are you doing after school then?" He looked like a rabbit in the headlights. "I mean, after that kiss, surely we must be an item?" He just looked at me, and I took pity on him. "Okay, okay. Just piss off now and leave me in peace."

Next up was the boy who had ground himself into my arse. He looked terrified. I stared back across the table to him. "Have you seen the videos yet?" he asked.

I shook my head. "I'm saving that pleasure for this evening when my uncle and I are going to give them a viewing."

He went from terrified to horrified. "Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"It's just that" – he looked around – "my parents. If they see it …"

"My uncle is working hard to have it all taken down." I shrugged. "But once it's out in the wild – a copy will probably end up on some gay porno website."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"What can we do about it?"

"Not much," I told him. I looked at him across the table. "Are you gay?"

He looked really really embarrassed. "I don't know," he whispered. "It wasn't entirely my idea. Someone suggested it to me. And" – he looked away for a moment – "you are seriously sexy, you know."

"And spoken for."

"Really?"

"Really."

He gave me a little smile. "So I was wasting my time."

"It was fun. And it should have stayed private. I'm just pissed off by two things – the idea of the sweepstake, and the idiots who posted it all over all over the web." I paused. "You're forgiven – on one condition."

"What's that?"

"That you come along to our meetings of The Club each week."

He looked back at me. "Everyone knows that's for gay boys." I raised an eyebrow at him, and he went red.

"So, what would your parents say if they saw the video?" I asked casually.

"You're blackmailing me!"

"Yes."

He thought about that for a moment or two and then gave a sheepish grin. "Fair enough." He picked up his tray and disappeared. I picked up mine, and started heading out. There were a lot of people who were avoiding my eye.

The afternoon was relatively quiet, apart from an encounter with Kevin Saunders, the boy who had been bullying Alan, the boy I had confronted in the bus queue. He deliberately barged me in the shoulder, and if I had been carrying anything, it would have ended up all over the floor. I heard him mutter, "Black bastard," as he passed.

As soon as I got home, Charles was ready to greet me. "Everything okay?"

"I'm sorry," I said. "I've got both of us into a lot of trouble."

"Not your fault. As you said, a private party in a private house."

"I think the school's going to make an issue of this."

"In what way?"

I made air quotes with my fingers. "Misuse of social media."

"And they would be right."

"You seen it all?"

"Yes."

"I haven't, although Helen Summers has given me a memory stick. How much of it you think is going to end up on gay porn sites?"

He grinned. "I think you are going to be in for a surprise."

And I was.

There were at least three videos of my encounter with the two boys. There were umpteen photographs of me snogging both girls and boys. There were a couple of videos of my encounter with the boy who had rubbed himself against me, with my hand obviously disappearing down between his legs. I eventually sat back and looked across to Charles. "I'm sorry."

"Not your fault. As you said a private party at a private house. The culprits are the ones uploaded all of this."

The scandal took a few days to fade away, but fade away it did. My only problem around school was that boy Kevin Saunders, who took every opportunity to hassle me.

The Club met each week, and at every meeting, it was increasingly clear who was gay, and who was – shall we say, curious. Mrs Cox had stopped coming, as had Charles. Alan was becoming distinctly bizarre in his behaviour. He had given himself a buzz cut, and now had only stubble on the top of his head. I waited in trepidation for the day when he got himself tattoos. I took him aside at the end of one meeting.

"Are you okay?"

He looked at me in surprise. "Why do you ask?"

"You seem to be going from one extreme to the other. Can I talk to you after school?"

He shrugged. "Why not?"

We got off the bus after school and I followed him home. He used his key to open the door, and I followed him in. His mother came out to greet us. Alan shrugged his backpack from her shoulders, obviously ready to go upstairs. I touched his arm, and he turned to me.

"Say hello to your mother," I hissed. "And do it properly."

He looked a little guilty, and then turned to his mother. "This is James from school. You've met him before." I nodded towards her and she smiled. "We're just going upstairs for a little while."

He waved me to the bed, and sat down beside me.

"So what's going on then," I asked casually.

"What do you mean?"

"I know I told you to stick up for yourself, but you seem to be taking things a little far."

He was sitting gazing down at his hands, his shoulders slumped. Then he suddenly turned, and started pawing me. He launched himself at me, his hands all over me, and I knew he was trying to reach in for a kiss. I managed to grab hold of his arms and pin him down, and he struggled until suddenly he went limp, and started sobbing, in the saddest and most heartbroken manner possible. I picked him up and crunched him into my arms. He was still as limp as a ragdoll, and the sobbing went on for what like seemed to be minutes. I rocked back and forward in my arms, and did my best to comfort him. Eventually, the sobbing lessened, and he eased away from me.

There was a box of tissues on the bedside table – I didn't want to know why – and I took one and held it out to him. "Blow," I told him, and he blew hard and long and messily, then dropped the tissue into a bin.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

I ran my hand over that buzz cut. "What was all that about?"

He looked sideways at me. "Can't you guess?"

"Look, I've told you. I'm not available."

He sat there, twisting his fingers together. "I saw all those pictures of the party, with you kissing all those boys and girls. I wished one of them had been me, but I don't get invited to parties like that."

"As far as I am concerned, they can keep parties like that. Look," and I squeezed him again, "you'll find someone. Not me, but someone else. Maybe not today, maybe not next week, but you'll find him."

He looked at me slightly sceptically. "Yeah, right." He carried on looking at me. "So you're telling me you found someone." I nodded. "How?"

"Pure random fluke."

Again he looked sceptical. "You expect me to believe that?"

I shrugged. "It happens to be true. I can't produce you a boyfriend from a hat. But it will happen."

Tentatively, he reached out and took my hand. "I'm sorry about what I did," he said softly. "Just seeing all those pictures – a boy can hope, can't he?"

I stood up, and pulled him up with me. "You and I can be friends. But, sorry, that's it." I pulled him into a quick hug, then let him go. "I need to get home," I told him.

Together we went downstairs, and again his mother appeared. "Alan's a little upset at the moment. Look after him, will you?" I gave Alan a gentle push. "Give your mother a hug. You've only got one of them, and they are worth looking after." He looked up at me, and then slowly walked towards his mother, who wrapped her arms around him. She looked towards me, and our eyes met, and she gave me a half smile. I turned and opened the door.


That boy Kevin Saunders was still giving me hassle. One day, when he bumped me in the corridor once too often, I turned and gave him an almighty shove. He fell to the floor, and his books went everywhere. He scrambled to his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, "Black bastard." His vocabulary was a little limited. He was about to start a fight, when a teacher appeared. Given the language he had been using, the outcome was fairly predictable. He was on indefinite suspension, for which I was quite grateful.

The next evening I was on my way home. It got dark early at this time of year, and Charles didn't like me cycling in the dark. I got off the bus, and started towards home. As I turned into our road, I was aware of something happening behind me. Instinctively, I ducked, as something swung over my head. I had a quick impression of someone looming over me. I hadn't been in many fights, but I knew how to fight dirty. I reached up and grabbed his groin, squeezing his balls as hard as I could. There was a yelp, and whoever it was tried to pull himself free. I squeezed harder, before he was able to escape, and then managed to get in one smart jab into his stomach. He fell down screeching.

I looked at him. It was Kevin Saunders. That thing which had whistled above my head was an iron bar, which was lying on the pavement. I was panting hard with the adrenaline.

Someone came running across the road. He was a man perhaps in his thirties or forties. "I saw it all from across the road, and I've dialled 999." He paused and looked down at the iron bar. "Was that what he was trying to hit you with?" I nodded. I was too hyped up to speak properly. Kevin was still slumped on the ground gasping. "What did you do to him?" he asked curiously.

"I got him by the balls and squeezed hard," I managed to say. The man winced. "I don't play clean."

"Don't blame you," he said. "Look, I've called the police. I'll make sure he doesn't go anywhere."

I sank down to the pavement, and leaned against a lamppost. My knees were slightly shaky. In the distance, I could hear the sound of sirens. The adrenaline had left me now, and I was feeling shivery. A police car stopped, and I heard the slam of doors as they got out.

"On your feet, lad," I heard a voice say above me, and I looked up. There was a policeman looming over me. "On your feet." This time the voice was more impatient. "Before I pull you up."

"You've got the wrong boy," I heard the man say. "He's the one who was attacked. This is the one that did it," indicating Saunders. There was more arguing going on, but I tuned it out. Eventually I got to my feet and leaned against that lamppost. One of the policemen turned towards me and said, "You'll have to come down to the station with us."

"No." I told him.

"You'll do what you're told, lad."

One thing about living in care homes is that you learn your rights fairly quickly. "I'm sixteen. You need an appropriate adult." He didn't like that, but he couldn't really argue against a legal requirement. I pulled out my phone, and called Charles, and explained things to him.

"Stay there. I'll come and collect you, and if they want you down at the station, I'll take you."

I went back to the policeman. "My uncle will be here in a few minutes."

"Your uncle?" he asked slightly sceptically.

"Correct." I walked a little way away. The man who had called 999 had given his statement, and came over to me. "Thanks a lot for all your help," I told him. "It's just as well you called the police when you did. I'm very grateful."

He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder. "They're ready to jump to conclusions, that lot, aren't they?"

I looked at him slightly wearily. "So what's new?"

"You're lucky. If he had hit you with that bar, I think it would have been a hearse rather than an ambulance collecting you."

He shook my hand and then went back across the road to his home. I could see Charles arriving in the distance, and I waved him down. He pulled in behind the police car and stepped out. I was really out of it by now. I knew I could leave things to him. I went to the car and got into the passenger seat, and laid back. I could see a lot of argument going between him and the policeman, but by now I didn't give a damn. Eventually Charles got back into the car, muttering about incompetence.

"Do you feel up to going to the police station and giving a statement?" he asked.

I nodded.

It wasn't a long journey. The time wasting began once we were inside. It seemed to take for ever before we were sat in a small room without windows, and with Charles sitting next to me, I began my story. The policeman was a little baffled and wanted to know why Kevin had come at me in the first place.

"It's a long story, but I caught him bullying a smaller boy at school, and I stood up to him. He didn't like that."

"Bullying a smaller boy? In what way?"

"He was pushing him around, and calling him gay, and I later found out he had been demanding money."

The policeman's interest sharpened. "Demanding money?" I nodded. "How much?"

"I don't know exactly, but perhaps something like a tenner a time."

"How often?"

"I don't know. Maybe half a dozen times?"

"Where was this happening?"

"At school."

"Did they know about it?"

I nodded. "Kevin was suspended for a time, and after that, he started hassling me. We got into a scuffle at school, and he started shouting all sorts of stuff at me. That's when he got suspended a second time."

The policeman was writing all this down. "I think we're going to have to have a word with someone at your school."

"Do you have to?"

"I saw that iron bar," he said slightly grimly, "and if the fellow from across the road is right, you're lucky to be here." He leaned back in his chair. "I reckon that's it for the moment, but we are probably going to have to come back to you later." He nodded at Charles. "Take him home."

When we got home, Charles closed the front door and swung round and reached out for me, pulling me into him. Sinking into those strong arms was bliss.


I knew I had to be in school early the next morning in order to warn Mrs Cox about a visit from the police. I told her what had happened, and she was predictably horrified.

"I'm sorry I told them about the bullying of Alan," I told her, "but they want to know why Kevin would attack me in this fashion."

She sighed. "Not really your fault. After all, why would someone attack you out of the blue without any reason? At least forewarned is forearmed." I nodded and stood up, slinging my bag over my shoulder. "I'm glad you're unhurt," she said quietly.

"Thanks."

Walking down the corridor to the form room, I saw Helen Summers, and given the expression on her face, I nearly turned round and walked away again. "What is it?" I asked wearily.

"There have been all sorts of stories circulating about you."

I just looked at her. "What sort of stories?"

"That you had been arrested by the police for mugging someone," she whispered.

I started laughing hysterically, leaning back against the wall and slowly sinking to the ground. I looked up at her. "Really?" She nodded. I struggled back to my feet. "So who's been telling these stories then?"

"There's a boy called Jason Donnelly. His father's a policeman. Were you at the police station last night?"

I nodded. She stared at me. "Someone tried to kill me. So, where do I find this Jason Donnelly?"

"You're not going to –"

I sighed. "No, I'm not going to beat him up or anything else like that. Perhaps a quiet word though. Where do I find him?"

She told me where his form room was. I walked along and stood in the open doorway. There was a gaggle of boys and girls over on the other side of the room, and when they saw me, there was a deathly silence.

"Which of you is Jason Donnelly?" I asked.

One of the boys came out with a bit of a swagger. "I'm surprised you're in school this morning."

"It's a bit of a surprise to me too. Why is it a surprise to you?"

"They usually lock muggers up, don't they?"

"Quite right. And?"

"Well, I heard that you were out mugging someone last night."

"Who did you hear that from?"

"My father. He's a sergeant at the local police station. You were there last night, weren't you?"

"Your father is right about one thing. I was at the police station last night. How long he's going to remain a sergeant after receiving a phone call from my uncle's lawyers is another matter."

He stared at me. "What you mean?"

"It's slander, with it's verbal, isn't it? Libel is when it's written down. Accusing someone of being a mugger – that's fairly slanderous, isn't it?"

"Not if it's true."

"Not if it's true," I told him. I pulled out my phone. We weren't supposed to use them in school, and he stared at. At this stage I didn't give a damn about the rules. I phoned Charles.

"Apparently I'm a mugger," I told him.

"What?"

"There's a boy at school called Jason Donnelly. His father is a sergeant at the police station, and told Jason that I had arrested for mugging someone. Jason is here, if you want to talk to him."

"Now," said Charles grimly. I passed over the phone. Unfortunately I couldn't hear what Charles was saying to him, which was a pity, given the expression on Jason's face. Then I heard "Yes, Sir … At once, Sir." He finished the call and looked at me. "Can I use your phone to call my father?" I smiled and nodded. He quickly ran out of the room so that he could make his call in private.

I turned and smiled at the others who were staring at me. "Amazing how people jump to conclusions, isn't it? I hope none of these rumours reach anyone else in school." I sauntered out into the corridor. Donnelly came back a few minutes later and handed over my phone.

"Sorry," he muttered.

"I didn't quite catch that," I told him, loudly.

He straightened up and looked me in the eye. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said those things. And my father apologises too."

"It doesn't do to jump to conclusions, does it?"

The rumours had obviously spread quite quickly. When I went into my form room, again, everything went quiet, with people staring at me. I stopped in the doorway and held my arms out in front of me as though I were in handcuffs. "Beware the muggers that come out at you in the dark. Especially the chavs. Especially the black chavs."

"Okay," said Helen. "Tell us exactly what did happen."

"Someone tried to kill me," I told her nonchalantly. I got a stare of disbelief. "Kevin Saunders," I told her. Her eyes widened. I thought I had better tell the whole story.


What everyone just called The Club had settled down to a hard core of perhaps ten to twelve members. Not many were 'out' yet, but that didn't prevent a friendly and lively discussion on how to tell your parents. Alan was still one of the leading lights; Helen had rather faded out of things. He was still worried about being the wimpy little kid, and when he heard that Charles and I went to the gym regularly, he wanted to come along too. Charles was a little reluctant, but he had been going along to this particular gym for some years now, and knew it well.

"Most gyms have a gay subculture. The bloke who runs this one knows about it, and makes sure it doesn't get too obvious. I'm not sure it's the best place for him," he told me. I knew what Charles meant by the gay subculture in the gym. Blokes had come on to me from time to time when I had been there, and I had to politely show that I was not interested.

But Alan was adamant that he needed to build himself up. So the three of us went along one evening, and Charles introduced Alan to one of the trainers. The trainer looked at Alan and smiled.

"You've got a long way to go."

"That's why I'm here," said Alan.

We handed him over to the trainer, and Charles began his usual routine. I always regarded working out in a gym as unadulterated masochism, but started on the weights as something to do. At the end of an hour, I could see Alan, red-faced and sweating. The trainer was going on to him about the need to exercise at home, and Alan was nodding in response.

He showed more perseverance than I might have expected, and after a month or two he did actually look broader and fitter, although that might have been part of growing up. At the end of one session, though, he looked slightly smug. After we had changed, and were ready to go home, I asked him what that was all about.

"Never you mind," he told me.

The next time we were there, I made sure to keep an eye on him. Sure enough, there was someone 'helping' Alan with his exercises. I had seen him around before – he wasn't that old, but was taking a definite interest in Alan. I went over to talk to Charles, and pointed him in their direction.

"I know him," Charles told me. "He came on to me a few months ago."

"Really?"

Charles looked at me in amusement. "Am I that decrepit?"

"I'll tell you in bed this evening. But you and Alan – you're not exactly the same type, are you?" Charles shrugged. "You think we need to warn him?"

"It might be an idea if you let him know that we've noticed."

I tried tackling Alan about it when we got off the bus the next day. He was very matter-of-fact about it all. "He's called Dominic, he's twenty, and a trainee estate agent."

I was slightly taken aback. "You seem to know a lot about him."

"We've exchanged telephone numbers, and talked a bit." We walked on a bit further in silence, and then he stopped and turned to me. "We're thinking of meeting up at the weekend."

"You want me to tell you the obvious?"

"Like – meet somewhere public?" I nodded. "There's a coffee shop in that shopping centre not far from the marina."

"Marina?"

"In Southampton. That's where his flat is."

"Flat?"

"He has some sort of deal with the estate agents he works for." He looked up at me and gave a sort of smile. "As I once said to you, I don't put out on the first date."

I smiled back at him. "Okay. But be careful. And if he breaks your heart, I'll go over there and rip off his balls and stuff them down his throat."

He grinned. "Knowing you, that's exactly what you would do."

I shrugged. "I've a reputation to keep up."

The following Monday I passed him in the corridors, and he gave me a thumbs up sign. He seemed his usual self all week, and I knew he was going to see Dominic the following Saturday. On the next Monday, during the mid-morning break, he took my sleeve and pulled me to one side. There was a sly smile on his face.

"I'm not sitting very comfortably this morning," he told me.

It took a moment or two for the message to sink in. "Dominic?"

"Saturday afternoon. We went back to his flat. Things sort of went on from there."

"And?"

He wriggled slightly. "He was kind to me. It wasn't easy, but I wanted it. He did too."

I looked at him closely. "Promise me – promise me you won't get in too deep."

Again that sly smile. "It's Dominic that got in deep."

I knew that I was on a hiding to nothing over this. I could give him all the advice that I had to offer, but I knew it would be a waste of time. I remembered Trevor, from that care home in Gosport, who had told me that you can always give kids advice, and they will ignore it, and then they'll come back later, and they'll tell you that you were right. But by that time, it will be too late. I gave him a smile and walked on.

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