Passing It On

by Ivor Slipper

He'd been delivering our daily newspaper for I guess about a couple of years now. Damn, I've done it again! It used to be our daily paper until just under twelve months ago when Eric died, so since then it's been my daily paper. But it is so hard to get out of thinking of 'our this' and 'our that' when we'd spent so many years together.

He had always looked a decent kid – if you know what I mean. Some kids are scruffy and walk around as if they have a big chip on his shoulder, but that wasn't the case with Colin. Of course I didn't know his name was Colin at first, only found that out just before the first Christmas when in addition to the paper one morning I found an envelope containing a card signed 'from your paperboy Colin'. He was obviously hoping for a Christmas box and he was going to have got one anyway, so he needn't have bothered with the card. Well, he was always on time with the paper come sun, wind, rain or even snow – he never missed a day and it always came before he went to school. He even delivered at the same time during the school holidays when I'd expected it to be later.

I had no idea how big a round he had, but he only lived a couple of streets away so I did see him out and about occasionally when we'd smile and say 'Hi' to each other. He also sometimes helped Mr Lane in the shop so I'd also see him there every now and again when I went to pay the bill or buy some sweets.

He'd grown and matured quite a bit during those two years and I guessed he'd be sixteen soon. No doubt when he left school or moved on to college he'd give up the paper round. I wasn't looking forward to that. You see since Eric had died I'd become rather lonely. We'd never had many friends and I guess we'd got pretty set in our ways. Once you got past seventy it was hard to even think about changing the habits of a lifetime. So I'd started making a point of being behind the front door on a Sunday morning when he arrived and opening it to save him trying to shove the extra large Sunday paper through the letter box. After I'd done that a couple of times – he was really surprised the first time – we got to exchanging a few words. As the weeks passed those few words turned into conversations and also spread to Saturdays.

I did wonder initially if he just felt sorry for me and maybe that had something to do with it. But I found out he was an only child and his only living grandparents, on his father's side, lived hundreds of miles away so he rarely saw them. As time progressed I thus suspected he saw me as a substitute and someone he could talk to who had no contact with his parents or anyone else he knew. Our relationship never developed beyond those door step conversations, but when we had an heavy overnight snowfall last winter he was kind enough to come round, unasked, after school and clear my drive of the six inches of snow that had accumulated so I could get my car out. When he'd finished we had a little argument before I could persuade him to accept any payment for a job well done.

Colin now stood just under six foot tall. He had a big mop of light brown hair, blue/grey eyes and a happy face that was fortunately free of acne. He nearly always wore the kid's uniform of today - skinny jeans with rips, a hoodie and Converse sneakers, although he had to change out of those on schooldays as they had a school uniform policy of blazer, grey trousers, white shirt and tie. Seeing the boys going to and from school dressed like that quite took me back to my own schooldays.

A couple of weeks earlier I'd done something I hadn't done since Eric died and that was go to the cinema in the evening to see 'Dunkirk'. When I came out afterwards it was at the same time as the audience was exiting from the other screen which was showing a sci-fi film, the title of which I can't recall. Anyway, there coming out was Colin and he was holding hands with another boy! Colin saw me, gave a slightly sickly smile but didn't speak – which was hardly surprising. The other boy looked to be about the same age and height with somewhat darker brown hair than Colin brushed forward over his forehead. He was wearing a white hoodie and blue skinnies. They made a good pair it seemed.

Today is Saturday and Colin has just delivered my paper. We had our usual little chat, but at the end of it he really surprised me. Just as he was about to turn away and walk down the front path he said,

"Mr Parks – can I come and see you this afternoon? I need some advice and I think you might be the right person to give it to me."

'Surprised' probably didn't do justice to my thoughts after he'd spoken. I sort of stammered in response.

"Why.....yes Colin.....what time?

"How about four o'clock?"

I agreed it would and after going back into the house and closing the door behind me, began to wonder what I'd let myself in for. Me, a seventy years plus old man inviting a teenager who apparently was gay, into his house? I could end up in all sorts of trouble and yet.......

I fingered the little topaz ring that had been Eric's which I now wore on a chain round my neck. I could almost hear him talking to me, telling me Colin was not that sort of boy and I need have no fears because he really did need my advice. I was reassured, at least until four o'clock drew close. I tried to engross myself in the latest Robert Goddard book, but his plots are so complex and demand your full attention, so this wasn't the right time. In the end I settled for reading more of the newspaper, although even that couldn't hold my interest and I must have dozed off. I was suddenly startled by the cuckoo clock announcing in its own special way that it was four o'clock. That damned bird! We'd bought the clock on a holiday to Switzerland many years ago. After a few months we'd both decided we didn't like it and we'd throw it away when it broke down. Of course, being Swiss made it just kept going!

Shortly afterwards the front door bell rang. I let Colin in and ushered him into the sitting room. There were two armchairs set either side of the fireplace. I told him to sit in one and was intrigued when he sat in the furthest one which used to be Eric's. I asked him if he wanted a drink and offered a choice including coke, a couple of cans of which I'd been to the shop earlier to buy. Bringing one of those back with a glass and a glass of lemonade for myself I sat down in the other armchair. As usual he was wearing skinnies, black this time, with a grey hoodie despite it being quite a warm day. I thought I'd better try and break the ice.

"Do you boys buy those skinnies already ripped or put the rips in yourselves?"

He gave a little laugh. "It can be either Mr Parks, but designer ripped cost extra."

It was my turn to laugh now. "Strange how times change. You'd not have been seen dead with a tear in your skin tight jeans back in my day."

I could see his eyebrows rise in surprise. "You had tight jeans when you were my age?"

"Probably a bit older than you, but thereabouts. With fashion it seems everything comes around again eventually, but it's taken over fifty years in this case."

He tried not to laugh, but couldn't help doing so.

"Mind you," I continued, "it was a bit different in my day. You bought them narrow leg, but you could also get what was called 'shrink to fit'. Those you put on and then sat in the bath for a couple of hours while they did what it said on the label."

Now he laughed and shook his head in disbelief.

"Hang on," I said, "I can't prove the shrink to fit, but I can show you a photo of me in a pair."

I got up and walked across the room to the sideboard returning with a photo album to show him an old photo of me in a pair of blue Levis that clung very tightly to my body.

"Wow, how old were you when this was taken Mr Parks?"

"You can call me Alan if you want, Colin. I think I was about eighteen then, just about to go to university."

"What did you study, Mr....Alan?"

"I did PPE – Politics, Philosophy and Economics to give it it's full title. But you didn't come here to talk about me – did you?"

Colin blushed and looked down at his lap where his hands were joined and he was twiddling his fingers. He raised his head,

"No, but it's embarrassing I guess and means I'm assuming something about you that may not be true. But I couldn't think of anyone else to talk to an' after you saw me an' Jake the other Saturday........." He paused and then took the plunge. "Are you gay, Mr Parks?"

I smiled at him. "That took nerve Colin. Yes, I am. Eric and I lived together for over fifty years."

"Phew! I wasn't sure – you could just've been two blokes sharing a house, but I'd seen you out in town a couple of times, an' I just thought it was more."

"Oh indeed it was – a lot more. But, what exactly do you hope I can do for you?"

There was a long pause before he spoke again.

"How did you tell your parents an' how did they react?"

So that was what the reason for him requesting this meeting I thought. Based on what he'd told me so far he didn't have anyone else to confide in, although I thought schools these days were supposed to have counsellors and such things. I decided to play for a bit of time and answer a question with a question.

"How old are you Colin."

"Coming up to sixteen in February."

"When exactly?"


Strange I thought to myself. "An Aquarius like me."

He looked puzzled for a moment. "Oh, star sign – yeah, don't take any notice of those."

"So it's GCSE next summer and then what?"

He shrugged. "Dunno really. May all depend on what my parents do when they find out about me an' Jake."

He looked worried and I decided it was time to answer his question.

"I never really did tell them, Colin."

"What! How come?"

"You have to remember things were a lot different back then. Homosexuality was illegal. If you were caught doing it with someone you could go to prison."

"Oh yeah, hadn't thought about that."

"No, gay sex was a long way off. It was almost the end of the sixties before it became legal."

"So, how did you and Eric manage?"

"We met at university and many things were possible there that weren't elsewhere. We fell in love very quickly. Luckily we were studying the same subject and we both ended up getting jobs in the same city. Nobody raised their eyebrows much at two young men sharing a flat as lots of young people did that for economic reasons. My parents didn't question things until some years later when I guess they realised I had no interest in girls while Eric and I were almost joined at the hip."

"So they just sort of found out?"

"Yes, I don't recall ever having the discussion with them. It was just accepted that I was gay. Eric had told his parents quite early on and they were pretty accepting considering the way things were then."

"Yeah, I suppose it is better now."

I laughed. "You're damn right it is!"

He smiled.

"So tell me about Jake – is he sixteen?"

"Not quite. His birthday's soon - early November."

"When exactly?"

"The fourth."

I swear the ring on the chain round my neck moved of its own accord, but I must just have shifted my position in the chair in surprise. November 4 th was Eric's birthday and February 15 th was mine.

"And how long have you been together, can I ask?"

He smiled. "About six months now, but I know he's the one for me."

The look on his face as he said that and the way his eyes sparkled told me all I needed to know.

"So how long have you known you're gay?"

"Probably since I was about twelve I s'pose. Never had any interest in girls. It was always boys I was thinking about when I....."

I gave a little chuckle. "Yep, that's how I knew."

Now he laughed. "Jeeze, I can't believe I nearly said that!"

"Can I be a pretend grandfather for a couple of minutes Colin?"

He looked puzzled. "I don't understand – what do you mean?"

"Can I ask you something you'd be very embarrassed if your father or mother asked you?"

"Oh, you mean have we had sex?"

Now it was my turn to blush.

"We've tossed each other off and had the occasional blow job, but that's all. Most of the time we can get together – which isn't that often – we're happy to just kiss and cuddle."

"So I don't need to give you the condom talk?"

"Nah, we've got some – they give 'em out at school thinking they'll stop pregnancies, but in our case that ain't a worry!"

"It wasn't something we had to worry about back in my day. Aids hadn't appeared on the scene then and anyway as long as you're faithful you don't have to worry about that."

I stopped to take a drink of my lemonade and he of his coke.

"I still haven't answered your question though, have I?"

"No." he said with a little smile.

"I think you just have to pick your moment. Easier said than done probably, but remember it is going to be much better if you tell them than they find out from someone else. If you and Jake have been together for six months I doubt it will be much longer before something slips. Do Jake's parents know?"

"Yeah. He told them a coupla weeks ago. Now he wants me to tell mine."

"And his parents were okay when he told them?"

"So he says. His mum cried a bit, but they both told him they still loved him. Thing is he's got an older brother an' sister. Brother is married with a little boy already and sister is expecting. So they're gonna have grandkids, but mine won't."

"Well, in this day and age there'd be nothing to stop you adopting, but that's a long way down the road."

"Hadn't thought about that!" he said smiling at the idea. "That's lit!"

He saw my puzzled look and laughed.

"Sorry Alan, that means it's awesome."

"I'll add it to my vocabulary." I replied with a chuckle. "Getting back to the point, perhaps you could tell your mum first and then your dad after – or perhaps she'll tell him – assuming it is your dad you're worried about."

"I think I'd prefer to tell them both together. Just gotta pick the moment. Thanks for talking to me Alan."

He went to stand up.

"Hold on a minute, Colin. I've got something for you."

I was wearing a shirt that was buttoned close to the collar and went to undo the top one. As I did so I saw a look of worry pass across his face.

"Don't worry. I've got something I want to give you." I said as I undid the clasp of the chain at the back of my neck before pulling it away along with the topaz ring. I extended my hand towards him.

"What's this?" he asked.

"It's the ring I gave Eric on his twenty first birthday."

"I can't take that - it's valuable and must mean a hell of a lot to you to wear like that."

"It does mean a hell of a lot but I don't think it's that valuable. But you see, Eric's birthday was November 4th and mine is February15th. That seems more than just coincidence to me."

"Wow! But even so......"

"I don't expect you to believe this, but when you told me the date of Jake's birthday after already having told me yours, the ring 'spoke' to me. It never has done since Eric died and to be honest, when I die there is nobody to leave it to so it would just end up in a junk shop somewhere. I'd sooner think that perhaps......."

I stopped because I could feel the tears beginning to form at the back of my eyes.

"I dunno what to say Alan. But I'll treasure it an' I know Jake will when I tell him the story."

"And one other thing. I'm sure you won't have any problems when you tell your parents – but if you know where I live."

"Thanks, Alan." and he pulled me into a hug. That felt so good after such a long time being without any physical contact with another human.

The following Saturday I was standing outside the door waiting for Colin and my newspaper. I spotted him turn the corner of my street and he was not alone. His paper bag was slung over one shoulder and his other hand was clasped by another boy who, based on the white hoodie and blue skinnies, could only be Jake.

They walked up the path together.

"I presume the talk with your parents went alright?"

"Yeah – there were a few tears from everyone, but they're happy that I've found someone special."

"An' I tagged along this morning to say 'thank you' for this." said Jake extending his right hand on the second finger of which was the ring. "I ain't ever gonna take it off." And then he stepped forward and hugged me.

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