by Ivor Slipper

Author's Note:

This story is a sequel to 'The Pick of the Bunch', so that really should be read before you read this.

Somehow I managed to get through it, although even months later I still really don't know how. When everyone started to emerge from the Chapel I wanted to run away, but Ren's mum spotted me and came over to me. She was trying to smile through her tears.

"Jake, I can understand why you didn't want to be in the Chapel for the service, but I want you to walk with us to the burial."

I nodded and trailed behind her to where Mr Renouf was standing with my parents and sisters. They positioned me between them and linked one of each of their arms into mine so I could still hold my lily, and we walked like that behind the coffin to the grave, with my parents and sisters behind us. I hadn't really noticed but my mum was carrying a small bunch of red roses and when we got to the grave she gave one of them to Ren's mum and dad and also to my own father and sisters. After the vicar had gone through the 'Earth to earth and ashes to ashes' bit we all stepped forward and laid our flower on the coffin before it was lowered in the ground. I couldn't hold in my grief any longer as the coffin began to slowly drop into the hole. I broke, dropped to my knees and howled.

Strong arms lifted me back to my feet and I came to realising my father was hugging me and trying to calm me. We stayed like that for some time while everyone else went back to the cars. Eventually I got myself under control and we started to walk away.

"Your mum has asked Mr & Mrs Renouf, the Head, your Art teacher and a few others to come back to the house. Do you think you can you face them or shall we go for a drive?"

I stopped to gather my thoughts for a few seconds. "As long as that prick Mr James isn't there. He's the one who gave out that Ren's name was Lilian and made his life a misery as a result."

"Jake!" my Dad exclaimed, "You know I don't like you swearing, but in his case I can understand," he added with a chuckle.

"I don't know why he was there anyway."

"Perhaps he was feeling guilty?"

"So he friggin' well should!"

Dad laughed again. "I'll let you get away with that one. So, what are we doing?"

"We go home. I know I'm never going to see Ren again. Seeing his coffin go into the grave finally convinced me of that. Somehow I've got to start my life again, but without him."

"That's right, Jake. Part of him will always be with you, but in your mind and your memories. You may only had had a short time together, but I know you loved each other deeply. We'll be here if ever you feel the need to talk and I hope you're going to keep visiting Ren's parents – they've lost just as much as you, perhaps even more."

Dad of course was right. I'd loved Ren, but his mother had carried him inside her for nine months and while his father was actually his stepfather rather than his birth father, I knew how much he had loved him.

So we went back to the house and found that fortunately Mr James was not there. Ren had died just before half term, but with the time taken before the Autopsy had been completed and then funeral arrangements made, school had started again. Thus he had returned to the school and taken most of the pupils with him in the school minibus. It did occur to me that perhaps explained why he was there, as the driver. It meant there was only the Head and Mr Gladwell, a couple of kids from our class who had been quite friendly to us plus a few people who I found out knew Mr Renouf from the Golf Club or his work. I just about managed to keep from breaking down again while they were there, but was glad to see them go.

In the end it was just Ren's parents left. I didn't want them to go, but at the same time I did. Aurelie and Richard – for those were the names they had for some time insisted I use when talking to them - had been very kind to me even prior to Ren's death. Since he'd died they'd insisted on me visiting them and made me welcome, even talking with me about the funeral arrangements. I knew they had to face going back to an empty house – yet again, but now I just wanted to escape to my room and play some of the music Ren and I had enjoyed. And that was what I did after they left. My parents let me get away with almost blasting the house down for the rest of the afternoon and early evening, until they called a halt when it was time for my sisters to go to bed.

Probably wisely Mum kept me off school for a couple of days after the funeral, but after two days I felt I was just sinking into a black hole with nothing to do except think, so I persuaded her to let me go back. The strangest and hardest thing about going back proved to be getting there. Since the original incident that had brought us together we'd always gone to and from school with each other, so riding my bike there alone was hard. I'd half expected I'd get kids coming up to me to express sympathy and feared that would start me crying. However, I should've known better. Neither Ren nor I were popular; we'd really just been an item for each other and thus I had very little contact from anyone, apart from some of the teachers.

The last period of my first day back happened to be Art. When I walked into the Art Room I saw a number of pictures on display and realised these were the other pupils' interpretation of 'The object that means the most to me'. Seeing those very nearly set me off as I immediately started thinking about Ren's portrait of me. Indeed I had a hard time holding it together during the period. I think Mr Gladwell sensed something was bothering me as he left me to my own devices until the period ended when he asked me to stay behind. After everyone else had gone he came over and sat down next to me.

"Jake, I'm glad to see you back. If you ever think I can help or just want to talk with someone, you know where to find me."

I looked at him with a new respect. I'd always liked him as a teacher, but now he was stepping beyond that role. "Thanks." I muttered. " I might take you up on that offer sometime, sir."

"There's also something else Jake." I looked at him, rather puzzled, wondering what was coming next. "You can see everyone else's projects on display. Did you complete yours? If you did I really should see it to mark it as it should count towards your grade for the term."

I managed a half laugh. "Yes, it was finished, but I don't think it's worth seeing."

"I don't believe that Jake. You always produce good work. Please bring it in tomorrow."

"Alright – guess I'll have to. It's at Ren's so I'll have to go round there and collect it."

There was a pause. I could sense he was going to say something, but was looking for the right words.

"I wasn't going to raise this, Jake, but as you've mentioned his name..."

I knew what was coming and a little sob escaped my lips.

"...did Ren complete anything?"

Now it was more than a sob, but I did manage to limit myself to just a few tears. I nodded and finally whispered, "Yes, he did."

There was a delay, but I knew what he was going to say even before he spoke.

"Would his parents agree to you bringing that in also? I'd really like to see it. I don't need to tell you he was very talented."

He'd started me crying again so there was a bit of a delay before I replied.

"I'll ask, although I doubt they'd agree. But they might agree to you coming round to see it. I'd like that and I reckon Ren would want you to see it."

And that was how we left it. I went round to Ren's house on the way home from school and had a talk with Aurelie to bring her up to date on what was happening in my life. When I asked her about Mr Gladwell coming round to see Ren's picture, she immediately agreed, provided I was happy for him to do so.

I took my painting to school the next morning and managed to hand it to Mr Gladwell before school started. He looked at it with a puzzled expression initially, but after a few seconds I saw a slight grin start to appear on his face.

"I wondered what this was at first, Jake. Not that I didn't recognise the school, but I was trying to see how it fitted the criteria for the project." He laughed. "Come to that I still very much doubt that it is the 'object that means the most to you' - indeed it is probably far from it. But I like the perspective you've achieved and it is a good effort. Makes me wonder what Ren came up with."

"Ah, yes sir. Mrs Renouf has agreed you can see it. Could you come round after school today?"

He took his diary our of his jacket pocket and consulted it, before confirming that he could. We agreed that I would meet him there at about 4:15 which would give me time to go home, change and get to Ren's house before he arrived. I'd phoned Aurelie during lunch break to let her know what was happening and when I got there she was ready for me, along with a glass of milk and some biscuits. We sat and talked for a few minutes until the door bell rang announcing Mr Gladwell's arrival. She went and opened it and ushered him into the kitchen. He declined her offer of refreshments and she asked if he was happy for her to be there when he saw the painting. Having assured her that he expected her to be, she asked me to lead the way upstairs.

It felt strange leading him upstairs. I paused at the door to the room where the picture was. It was closed and I had an odd reluctance to open it. Nobody apart from our two families had seen the painting. For various reasons we all thought it was excellent, but what would someone else think – especially an art teacher?

I opened the door and stepped into the room followed by Mr Gladwell and Aurelie in that order. I'd expected the painting to be on view, but someone – probably Aurelie – had covered it up so it was as we'd first seen it after Ren's death.

"I thought it would be right for you to reveal it to Mr Gladwell," Aurelie said, "so I covered it up again. Normally it is on view, so I can come and look at it whenever I want."

There was a distinct catch in her voice as she finished that sentence. I could well understand how she felt as I both loved and hated looking at it. I stepped forward and pulled the covering sheet to one side. As I did I heard a gasp from behind me.

"Oh my! Mrs Renouf, I don't know what to say. I knew that Ren had talent, but this is an extraordinary piece of work for someone of his age. It is so full of life and...." He paused to gather his thoughts before continuing. "It deserves a much wider audience, but I'm not sure the display of the students' work for the project would be the right place."

"Neither am I," replied Aurelie, "although obviously that was Ren's intention."

Mr Gladwell turned to me. "I'm going to do something Jake that I couldn't do if we were at school." and so saying he placed his hands on my shoulders. "I now understand what puzzled me at the funeral – how you were dressed. The painting has captured the clothes magnificently, far from easy with all that detail. Yet that does not detract from the subject in any way. You and his love for you, as well as yours for him, shine out."

I stepped closer and did something I shouldn't, which was to hug him and he hugged me back as I started to cry.

"Along with others I'd wondered if you two had a more than friendly relationship. This painting answers that. Bringing it to school would have let everyone know. I guess you were prepared for that?"

I mumbled something in response.

"Facing that situation together you could have drawn strength from each other, but if this appears at school you would have to face any comments – and I'm sure there would be some, despite the schools anti discrimination policies – alone. I'd like to see if I can get the picture shown at the local artists exhibition in the New Year. How does that appeal?"

"I think we need to talk about it, but in principle it sounds like a good idea. What do you think Jake?"

I pulled myself away from Mr Gladwell. "I think I'd like it to be seen so people can appreciate Ren's talent. I don't mind if it shows we loved each other. If that upsets anyone, that's their problem. But I guess keeping it out of school does make sense."

And that was how it was left. However, we had a two family conference the following night and agreed we were happy for Mr Gladwell to submit it for consideration to be included in the exhibition. A couple of weeks later he came and collected it and then returned it about a week afterwards. He'd already told me at school that it had been accepted, but he did suggest we should have it framed prior to the exhibition, which made good sense. Aurelie especially, but also Richard, seemed very happy that the painting was going to be viewed by a wider audience. I was happy for it to be seen in an exhibition as it I felt it was very unlikely that anyone from school would see it, although I supposed there was a chance some of those taking Art might go.

The rest of the term seemed to drag on interminably. I had a few good days but most of the time I was still in my black pit. I often went round to Ren's house. Aurelie was always welcoming; we'd talk for a while and then I'd go upstairs. Usually I'd sit in the 'art room' and sometimes I'd try to draw or paint, but my heart was never really in it. Most of what I did was incomplete and ended up in the waste bin. Occasionally I'd venture into Ren's bedroom. The first few times I'd hardly been able to enter, but it had become easier as the days passed. Sometimes I'd lie on the bed and press my face into the pillows hoping to smell him. I knew that was stupid and it was even stupider when at times I kidded myself that I could. Of course I could believe that because we both used the same body wash so I was really smelling myself, but the illusion was there.

As Christmas drew nearer I eventually reached a point where I became more bearable to live with – at least that was what my mum told me one day. I suppose it was 'tough love' when she did, but it made me think and I realised I had been spreading my black cloud over the entire family. My folks were better equipped to cope with that than my sisters and I decided I had to try and be more positive for their benefit as well as my own.

For a couple of weeks that seemed to be working until one day in early December. The school had a magazine that was written and produced by some of the pupils and came out three times a year, just before the end of each term. Everyone received a copy, handed out in home-room. As they were being given out I noticed that after opening their copy some of the kids were turning to look at me. I opened mine and … there I was on Page 3! Someone had taken a picture of me standing outside the chapel at Ren's funeral, holding that lily and now everyone in the school would see it!

I screamed, "Fuck! What slimy, fucking bastard took that!" And then the tears started and I ran out of the classroom. I wasn't even aware of where I was going, I just wanted to get away, but I ended up in the toilets. I sat there and sobbed for what felt like hours, until I had no more sobs left in me. Eventually I heard a tapping on the door and a voice that I recognised as Mr Gladwell.

"Jake, will you open the door and come out, please. I know you're very upset and I can understand that. Somebody should have talked to you and asked your permission before using that photo."

"Yeah – they fucking should! I'll kill him when I get my hands on the bastard."

"I understand how you feel, Jake but that wouldn't achieve anything."

"It would, I'd fucking feel better."

He gave a little chuckle. "I suppose you might, for a short while. I guess you only saw the photo and didn't read the article that accompanied it."

"No I fucking didn't. I suppose that's a right load of shit too."

"Jake, I'm ignoring your language because I know you are very stressed and upset, but please cut it out."

"I'm sorry. It just got to me. I dunno why. Guess I'd got to thinking that day was in the past and now it's all back in front of me again. And the whole school can see what Ren was to me."

"You're not ashamed of that are you?"

"Course I'm fucking not... Oops, sorry sir, that slipped out. I just wasn't ready for seeing it there like that."

"Well I think when you've calmed down and actually read it, you may change your mind."

I let out a loud snort. "Friggin' unlikely I'd say."

He gave me a slight smile. "Glad to see your language is improving." I couldn't help but give a little smile in return.

"Come out of this cubicle and wash your face. I don't think you're in any state to return to class. If I give you a pass, is there anyone at home? I don't want to send you home to be alone."

I thought for a couple of seconds. I didn't fancy going back to any lessons, but my parents would both be at work, however, "Aurelie – Ren's mum will be at home. I could go there as my parents will be working."

"I'd be happy about that, on one condition."

"What's that?" I asked.

"That you take the magazine with you and read it when you've calmed down. I think Mrs Renouf might also be interested to see it."

I managed to stop myself from swearing again and instead let out a noise which I hoped suitably expressed my doubts. I went to the basins, cleaned my face up a much as I could with paper towels and then Mr Gladwell walked me back to my locker so I could call Aurelie and check she was in. While I did that he walked away, signalling me to wait there and returned a couple of minutes later holding a copy of the magazine. He made sure I put it in my backpack and then we walked to find my bike.

Aurelie must have been looking out of the window for me because she opened the door before I could ring the bell. She led me into the kitchen and told me to sit down at the table.

"You told me part of what had happened when you called, Jake, but I'd like to hear the full story from the beginning. But before you start, would you like a cup of coffee and a croissant?"

That was an offer I couldn't refuse, so while she got those ready for us I took the magazine from my backpack. I read a couple of items while I was waiting, but refused to turn over the front page. When she brought over the coffee and croissants she moved a chair so she could sit beside me. Once we'd got comfortable and she had wrapped an arm around me, she asked me to tell her what had happened. I told her about the photo and how I'd reacted to seeing it. I was getting teary again while doing so, but Aurelie encouraged me to continue. When I'd finished we both sat there for a while sipping our coffees and nibbling a croissant, until she spoke.

"I do completely understand why you were upset at seeing that picture, Jake. It was an unexpected shock and very unfair. Do you feel up to reading the article? Perhaps that will explain it."

I didn't really want to read it, but knew I must. My fingers shook as I went to turn over the front page and then there was the photo again. I started to stand up in order to run away again, but Aurelie pushed me down into my seat.

"Jake, the picture is so, how do you say, poignant. It shows your pain and that is understandable. Let us read together what is written."

We did and we both had a few tears while doing so. But, the article was very good. It was a sort of tribute to Ren and his artistic abilities while also taking issue with the school over what had been allowed to happen to him because of his name. It was a condemnation of the way in which the school had failed to enforce its own guidelines on bullying and discrimination. It ended by comparing my holding that lily to someone lighting a candle in remembrance – which had both of us wiping our eyes.

When I'd finished reading I felt a lot better. I could understand that the author had used the picture in order to get people to read the article, which otherwise they might well have ignored. We sat and talked for a while, reminiscing about Ren, before Aurelie said she needed to go and buy something for lunch. While she was gone I went up to the art room and stood for a while looking at Ren's painting of me before getting out a pad and a couple of pencils to do some drawing. After a while Aurelie called me to come downstairs for lunch. Naturally being French she couldn't just make a ham and cheese toasted sandwich – it had to be a Croque Monsieur, and very tasty it was too!

Afterwards I went back upstairs and even ventured into Ren's bedroom. I guess I must have been mentally exhausted due to the earlier events because I lay down on the the bed and the next thing I knew was Aurelie gently shaking my shoulder. As I came awake I could see it was almost dark outside so I must have slept for at least a couple of hours.

"Jake, there is someone here who wants to see you. I think you should see him, but in the art room."

"Who is it, Mr Gladwell?"

"No, someone else, but I don't know his name."

That sounded odd, but I got up and went into the bathroom to tidy myself up before going into the art room. Once again I stood in front of the painting as I heard feet coming up the stairs.

"Holy shit!" said a voice behind me. "Now I understand everything."

I turned and in the doorway stood Martin Fisher. I had some classes with him, including art, but didn't know him that well. He was ginger, no make that red, haired with green eyes and a freckled face. He was about he same height and build as me and I knew he was one of the bright kids.

"What do you mean?"

He stepped towards me before saying anything more.

"Jake, that was my photo and article in the magazine...." I opened my mouth to say something, but he raised his hand to stop me. "Let me finish please and then you can say and do whatever you want. I should have asked for your permission to use that photo; I should have let you read the article before it was published. I'm so very sorry that I didn't. I was always puzzled by how you were dressed at the funeral, but now it is all so clear. You two really were in love. It's an amazing painting, Jake. It captures the real you, the one we don't see now. When did he do it?"

A few hours ago I'd wanted to smash his face – and probably would have done had I run into him. Now I felt differently, although I didn't understand why.

"You've seen my painting for 'the thing that means the most to me,'..." His laugh interrupted me.

"Oh yes, I thought that was very clever."

"Well, this was going to be Ren's entry."


"I think he finished it just before going to bed and then..."

I started to cry and Martin did something totally unexpected. He stepped forward, pulled me into a hug and stood there holding me while I cried on his shoulder.

I had been in a very dark place for most of the time since Ren had died. My schoolwork had suffered. I'd withdrawn into myself. Ren and I hadn't had any real friends at school, but we had shared a table with some others at lunch whereas now I sat on my own and had pushed away anyone who had wanted to be with me. The next day though Martin came over with his tray and asked if he could join me. I agreed and we began to talk of things other than Ren and school. I started to come alive again, thanks to him, but I felt guilty, that I was betraying Ren.

Aurelie was very perceptive – more so than my own mother, but she did have my sisters to keep her occupied. With Aurelie's agreement I'd invited Martin to the house a couple of times after school. I was surprised she agreed and even appeared to welcome him warmly. On the second occasion, after he'd gone, I asked her if she was really happy for me to bring him there.

"Jake, we know you loved Ren and that he loved you. But you can't grieve for him for ever, and he wouldn't want you to. You have a life to live and it is only right that you move on. We'd hate for you to spend your life alone thinking of what might have been. You have to go and face the future."

She was of course right and once Christmas was over I arranged with Martin to go up to London to spend a day at the National Gallery. We both enjoyed that and then Martin suggested we should go up again, but this time to the Photographers Gallery because photography was his main interest. So we did and it was good.

And then he did what I knew must have taken a lot of guts in the circumstances – he asked me if I wanted to have a sleepover on the weekend before school started again. His voice was shaky when he asked the question and I could understand why. We'd known each other only a short time and he knew by now how much I had been in love with Ren. He made it clear that he was only asking me as a friend and he'd be quite happy for me to sleep in the spare room if I wanted.

I accepted on that basis. I'd already met his parents who seemed nice people. He was an only child and they lived in a quite large modern house. Martin had a large bedroom with a double bed, large screen TV, computer and gaming system. It also had an en suite bathroom – pure luxury as far as I was concerned. His mother cooked a meal for us and we talked together fairly easily while managing to avoid the elephant that would have spoiled everything.

Afterwards we went upstairs. Martin showed me the spare room which was very pleasant, but I said if he was happy I was willing to share his bed as it would avoid the possibility of encountering his parents while looking for the bathroom. We settled on the bed and watched a couple of movies from his large DVD collection. It was well gone midnight when the second one ended and we were both struggling to keep our eyes open, so decided it was time for bed.

I had no idea what he wore in bed so was pleased when he said he'd have first shower. He emerged wearing just a pair of dark green CK boxer briefs. I couldn't help noticing they appeared to be well filled. That solved my problem, so when I emerged it was just in a new pair of blue Hanes boxer briefs that I'd been given at Christmas.

We said goodnight, Martin switched off the lights and we settled down on opposite sides of the bed. Although I was tired it took me a while to go to sleep; sharing a bed once again seemed strange. However, I eventually must have dropped off only to come to at some point with a feeling that something wasn't right. I wasn't alone and not only wasn't I alone I had my right arm wrapped around something, while my right hand was stroking...

Realisation dawned and I went to pull my hand away only to feel it gripped.

"Don't stop, Jake. Please don't stop. It feels so nice."

Martin rolled onto his back. "I've known I'm gay since I was about twelve, but I've never had any experience with anyone, I'm too scared. I thought you might be gay when I first saw you at school, but I was too frightened to say anything. And then you and Ren happened. I felt sure you were lovers, but you concealed it very well."

He rolled further so we were face to face. His left hand went to my butt, stroked it gently and then found its way to the waistband before snaking inside. He moved his face towards mine, his lips touched mine and his tongue came out to gently lick across them.

I was hard – and leaking. I didn't know where this might lead. It could be a one night experience or perhaps it could be the start of a new relationship.

Only time would tell.


This story is part of the 2019 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Light and Shade". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 8 March to 29 March 2019 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:

2019 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - Light and Shade


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I will seek this author's work out
It grabbed my attention early on
I had to know what happened
I identified with at least one of the cast
Gritty - it had an edge to it
Realistic - it could have happened that way
I found it hard to follow
Good characterisation
I feel better for having read it
It was romantic
It was erotic
Too much explicit sex
It had the right amount of sex, if there was any
Not enough explicit sex
I have read and enjoyed other work by this author

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