Not Always Easy

by Kit

Chapter 3 - A Friend In Need

The next week at school was the last before our Easter holidays, and although I kept a lookout for Rob, I didn't see him. This did not surprise me as the Sixth Form classrooms are separate from the rest of the school and, apart from Chess Club and practice with the orchestra, in which I played trumpet, I spent much of my breaks and lunch times in the Sixth Form common-room. Rob wasn't in the orchestra and I'd never seen him in the Chess Club, so it was unlikely we would meet by chance that week, and there could be no reasonable public 'excuse' for one of us to seek out the other.

On the Friday evening Mike came over as usual. We were both happy to have finished the school term and looking forward to three weeks away from classes. It was a pleasant, though cool, spring evening so Mike and I decided to go for a walk round the local park before dinner. The park was only about a mile from our house, and when we were children it had always been one of our favourite playing areas. In the middle of the park there was a small man-made lake that attracted lots of swans and ducks, which we loved to feed when we were kids. Our mothers were always warning us to be careful near the water, and this always amused us because the maximum depth of the water was only about two feet and anyway, by the time we were ten both Mike and I were good swimmers.

As we were leaving the house, John asked if he might join us, and though we were mildly surprised we gladly agreed. Although John and I were quite close when we were much younger, during the last three years or so he'd become more independent. We still got on quite well but he had his own group of friends and interests so recently our lives hadn't overlapped very much. In fact, for the last couple of years John had seemed closer to Mike than to me. However, since I got my car for Christmas, my duties as family chauffeur had brought us together more often and we spent a lot of time talking on our way to school.

As we walked and chatted, Mike and I were feeling especially happy and carefree that Easter holiday because there were no major exams facing us next term. The previous year we had GCSEs and the following year would be A-levels, but this year was a relatively easy cruise with the added advantage of having all the privileges of being Sixth-Formers. John, however, seemed relatively subdued.

"So, John, to what do we owe the honour and pleasure of your presence this lovely eventide?" asked Mike in a mock-formal tone.

"Don't know what ya mean," John replied, not at all amused.

"Well, when Paul and I hang out on Fridays you're usually off somewhere else with your mates."

"Well Alex has gone on holiday with his mum and dad, and James is out with his girlfriend."

At that time Alex was John's best friend, although before that James had held that title.

"Anyway, why d'you ask?" John continued after a brief pause. "Don't you want me around?"

"Course we do, sport," Mike quickly reassured him. "It's just like the old days when we were little kids. It's nice when we're all together again."

"You sure?" John asked then glanced sideways at me before turning back toward Mike. "You and Paul have always been best friends and it always seemed like I was just 'little brother' tagging along."

We all stopped walking and stood under the trees by the lakeside. Mike and I looked at John.

"No! You've always been part of the gang!" Mike said then he looked at me. "Hasn't he, Paul?"

"Yeah, of course!" I contributed as enthusiastically as I could.

My lack of enthusiasm was not because I disagreed with Mike but because I was beginning to feel a bit guilty. I'd never given it any thought before, but now John had introduced the idea, it seemed obvious why he might have felt excluded. Of course sometimes I might really have felt he was just 'little brother tagging along', but on reflection I realised that the exclusion John felt was not deliberate on my part. The real cause was probably the fact that when I was with Mike it just seemed like all other people, even my own brother, faded into the background. I wondered if it was wrong of me to love my brother less than my best friend, but wrong or not, I those were my honest feelings.

"Why didn't you ever say how you felt?" Mike asked John.

"I knew that if I did you would just be nice and say you wanted me around even if you really didn't."

John looked out across the lake, and I could see that Mike, like myself, was struggling to think of something to say.

"Anyway," John continued, "I thought it was about time I got my own friends."

"But John, we are you're friends as well!" Mike exclaimed.

John gave me that sideways glance again and I began to wonder if I'd accidentally done something to hurt my brother. I certainly wouldn't have hurt him deliberately.

"Maybe, but we all grow up," was John's cryptic response.

All three of us seemed lost in thought for a moment. John was looking at the lake, Mike was looking at John and I was just staring blankly at nothing in particular.

"Did you come with us tonight to talk about this?" Mike asked.

"No. I wouldn't have mentioned it if you hadn't asked why I came along, and I didn't expect you to ask that."

"Don't get me wrong, we like having you with us, but why did you come along?" Mike asked.

"Can't I just want to be with you guys?"

"Course you can! But you've obviously felt like this for a while, so why tonight? Why not ask to join us last year or the year before?" Mike persisted.

"Well, since Christmas I've been spending quite a bit of time with Paul in his car, and we talked more in the last couple of months than we have in the last couple of years. I realised how much I'd missed being together as friends and it seemed sad that my brother's best friend cared more about me than my brother did. And then Paul's been talking about going to University, so I thought if we don't become friends again soon it may be too late. "

John looked at his feet as he rushed the last half of this mini-speech so quickly that it was almost like one long word. His voice was getting thick, and it seemed that he was fighting to hold back tears while he said what he needed to say. I couldn't remember ever before hearing such a long speech from John. A lump in throat stopped me saying anything, but after a few seconds I swallowed hard and was able to speak.

"John," I said, "I always thought we were friends as well as brothers. I'm really, really sorry if I did anything to make you think I wasn't your friend. Now you mention it, I realise that I've been neglecting our friendship, but I thought that with your own friends and stuff you wouldn't want a big brother looking over your shoulder all the time. I was worried that you'd think I was interfering or that you'd be embarrassed in front of your friends. Please don't be upset. All three of us are friends and we'll keep it that way."

"You're my friend because you're you, not because you're my best friends brother," Mike added, "and I've always thought of you as my own little brother as well. If we do go away to University, you'll still be our brother."

There was a long and embarrassed silence, but then I had an idea.

"I know,' I said, "let's go home and see if the parents will lets us order some pizzas, then we can all camp out in my room and watch 'The Matrix' while we eat."

This suggestion was a peace offering to John because I knew he loved pizza and that 'The Matrix' was one of his favourite movies.

"Yeah, great idea," Mike said. "What d'ya think, John?"

"Okay, I'd like that."

John, who'd been looking down at the grass, looked up and smiled. He wasn't crying, but his eyes looked very shiny and moist. We didn't say much as we walked home, but it seemed like John was feeling happier than when we set off and, as expected, Mike was his usual cheerful self. I was still feeling a little guilty and a little shocked to realise how easy it was to take even a brother for granted, and I was determined to do better in future.

As I got ready for bed on the following night, Saturday, I wondered how Mike's date with Sue had progressed and I also wondered how Rob was doing at Ben's party. Normally I turned off my mobile phone before I went to sleep, but that night I left it on. Maybe it was just luck or maybe it was because I'd been thinking of Rob. Whatever the case, it seemed I'd hardly fallen asleep when the phone rang. As I fumbled to pick it up I noticed that the bedside clock showed it was almost two o'clock.

"Hullo?" I grunted.

"Hi, it's Rob."

His voice was slightly hoarse, he sounded miserable, and I could clearly hear sniffles, so I guessed that he'd been crying.


It wasn't a brilliant conversation but it was the best I could manage after being woken up at that time of the morning.

"Paul, I'm really sorry about this, but I need help and don't know who else to ask." He paused and I could hear him take a deep breath before he continued, "I'm really stuck and I don't know what to do... and you did say I could phone anytime."

"Okay, what's the problem?" I was more awake now and could guess 'the problem' would be something to do with Ben.

"I'm stranded near Ben's apartment. I managed to find this pay-phone but there's no all-night bus round here and I don't have money for a taxi." His speech was still punctuated by sniffs, and he became even more hesitant. "Do you have a car? Can you come and pick me up? "

"Yeah, sure, I'll see you in the car park outside Ben's place in about twenty five minutes."

"Don't you need me to give you the street address?" Rob sounded surprised.

"No, I know my way. I'll set off as soon as I get dressed. See ya soon."

"Thanks, Paul. Thanks a lot! Bye."

Before going out I left a note stuck to my bedroom door where my parents could see it if they woke up and wondered where I was. I knew that they wouldn't mind me going out under such circumstances and that they'd realise that I wouldn't go out in the early hours of the morning without a very good reason. Taking care to close the front door quietly as I left the house, I got in my car and drove across to the other side of town. When I reached the car park outside Ben's apartment building, I saw Rob sitting on the kerb, hugging himself and shivering. Fortunately it was a dry night, although it was quite cold, and I noticed that Rob was wearing just a lightweight grey bomber jacket over his shirt and jeans. When he got in the car I could see that he looked miserable, though he was no longer crying.

"Thanks, Paul." he said, trying to smile. "Sorry for putting you to so much trouble."

"No problem. As long as you're okay, that's what matters... You are okay, aren't you?"

"Yes, thanks, I'm fine."

His attempted smile was almost hidden by a look of overall misery and his body language told me he was probably also feeling shy and embarrassed. Of course I was curious about how he'd got into such a situation, but it obviously wasn't a good time to question him about it.

"You look like you're freezing," I said, trying to put him more at ease. "I just put the heating full on, so hopefully you'll soon warm up."

"Yeah, I was getting really cold. I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't come for me. As we hardly know each other I didn't know if you'd come... but you seemed so nice when you gave me your phone number, so I thought you might."

"Of course I came. But what about you're parents? Surely they would've come for you?"

"They've gone away for the weekend... to my grandma's with my sister. I thought I was lucky cos it meant I could stay out all night when Ben..." He paused, choking back a sob. "Ben said I could stay overnight with him after the party..."

His voice cracked and trailed off then he started crying, so I reached over and held his hand, which felt like a block of ice.

"Hey, Rob," I said as gently as I could, "you don't need to tell me anything, but when you want to talk, I'm here. What we need to do right now is get you home so you can get properly warmed up. Where do you live?"

There was no reply, and he was just looking at his knees, so I started to massage his hand with both of mine. Really, I just couldn't think what else to do, as I'd never been in a situation like this before, with a crying, half-frozen teenager in my car in the early hours of the morning. Apart from Rob's sobs and sniffs, the silence seemed to stretch on forever and I was just about to ask him again where he lived when he spoke.

"I'm sorry for being such a nuisance, but I really don't want to be alone, and if I go home I'll be all on my own."

Considering the options, it seemed to me that there were only three: stay in the car all night, an idea I discarded immediately, take him home and stay with him for awhile, or take him back to my house. It occurred to me that my parents would be worried if I stayed out all night and if Rob were at my house then it would be easier for me to look after him, so I decided to take him home with me.

"Would you like to come back to my house?"

"Could I?" he asked, looking up at me and smiling through his tears. "That would be really great."

"Hey," I said, feeling a little embarrassed by his obvious gratitude, "you're the only other gay guy I know of at school, so I couldn't leave you to freeze to death on the streets."

When we arrived at my house I settled Rob in the living room on the sofa, where he sat wrapped in a blanket, knees huddled to his chest, while I made us each a nice hot mug of tea. At first, as we both sipped our teas, neither of us said anything and as he looked into his mug, I took a closer look at him. He had stopped crying and appeared to be lost in thought. Looking from this angle I noticed for the first time that he had remarkably long and delicate eyelashes.

"I s'pose you're wondering why I was stranded outside Ben's place," he said eventually, breaking the silence.

"Well of course I'm curious, but as I already said, you don't need to tell me anything unless you really want to."

"I want to. And you've been so kind that you deserve an explanation."

Rob then went on to tell me about the events that led up to him phoning me.

A couple of days after he was invited to Ben's party, Rob had mentioned it to his parents and asked if he could go. His parents had assumed the party was organised by some school friends and as they didn't know he was gay, he didn't correct that assumption. They said he could go if he was back by midnight and didn't drink any alcohol, and he agreed to both conditions. Rob then checked the times of the buses and found he could catch the last bus home provided he left Ben's apartment before eleven thirty. As the party was due to start at eight, he expected to have plenty of time to socialise.

A couple of days before the party, his parents announced they were going to visit his dad's mum on the Saturday and as it was a three hour drive each way, they would be staying away from home overnight. This was good news for Rob because although he didn't intend to stay out all night, it meant that they wouldn't know if he didn't keep to the midnight curfew.

On arriving at Ben's apartment Rob was pleasantly surprised when he was greeted warmly with a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. He was also surprised to find that there were only about six other guests, and when he mentioned this to Ben, he was told it was a small and 'select' party. Ben offered him a drink and seemed disappointed when he politely refused anything alcoholic. Then Ben introduced Rob to the other guests, who were all gay and around Ben's age. Everyone was very friendly and Rob thought they all seemed so sophisticated was he listened to their conversations. Rob was also flattered that Ben seemed to spend much more time with him than with any of the other guests. Several times during the evening Ben told Rob that he was welcome to stay overnight if he wished.

By eleven the other guests had all left to go to a gay nightclub in Manchester and Rob, still intending to catch his last bus home, also prepared to leave. While he was saying goodbye, Ben hugged him and begged him to stay, or at least give him a goodnight kiss. Rob was tempted, and at agreed at least to the kiss. It was his first ever tongue-in-mouth kiss with another guy and he got very excited, especially as he not only fancied Ben physically but also thought Ben was a great person.

Rob, who had never had any sort of sexual contact with another male before, became very aroused when Ben kissed him and told him that he was very cute and attractive. He realised that if he stayed with Ben he would almost certainly have some sort of sexual experience, and with his parents being away they would never know he'd been out overnight. Normally, Rob would not have deceived his parents like that, but his hormones just took control of his brain, so he agreed to stay.

Ben took his hand and led him to the sofa, where they started kissing and fondling one another. They'd just got their cocks out of their pants, but were not yet undressed, when someone came in through the front door. Ben swore and tried to put his cock away, but didn't succeed before a tall guy in his mid twenties entered the room and began shouting and swearing.

At this point in his story, Rob burst into tears again. He seemed very young and vulnerable, and I couldn't resist the urge to reach out and comfort him. I felt like crying myself, and put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed it through the blanket. He turned his red lined eyes and tear stained face to me.

"Hold me? Please? Hold me?" he said.

There was such a pleading look in his eyes that I couldn't have refused even if I'd wanted to do so, but of course I did want to hold him. I wanted it very much indeed, so I moved closer to him, put both my arms around him and squeezed.

"I'm here, Robbie, I'm here. You know you don't need to tell me any more if you don't feel like it."

"It's okay. I want to finish now... I want to," he said as he got his sobs under control.

I gave him an encouraging squeeze and then rested my head on his shoulder while he continued his story.

He told me that after the young man entered and caught Ben and Rob in such a compromising position, there was a screaming row between Ben and the new arrival. While Rob was putting his now shrivelled penis back in his pants and making himself decent he was in total shock, but he still managed to get the gist of what Ben and the other guy were yelling at one another. Apparently the guy, who obviously had a key to the apartment, was Ben's boyfriend, but Ben hadn't expected him to turn up that night.

By the time all this had begun to sink into Rob's stunned brain, this boyfriend was demanding that Ben 'get the little bastard out of here'. Before Rob knew what was happening, Ben thrust Rob's jacket into his hand and dragged him toward the door, which the boyfriend was holding open. They both pushed Rob outside and the boyfriend then shut the door in Rob's startled face. For some time Rob just stood there trying to get a grip on the situation while the muffled sounds of the continuing argument came from the other side of the door.

As the shock began to wear off, Rob started crying and wondering what to do. He certainly didn't want to even try getting back into the apartment and he knew he'd missed the last bus. He felt in his pocket, and found a small amount of change, which he'd set aside for bus fare. Looking through his wallet he realised that he didn't have enough money to pay for a taxi, but he did find the piece of paper with my phone number. He wandered out to the street and realised that waiting four or five hours for the first morning bus to arrive wasn't a desirable option as it was very cold and looked as if it could start raining at any moment.

Then he tried to decide if he should try phoning me or just start walking home. He guessed that walking home would take at least two hours and probably three, but in any case he thought there was a good chance that he'd get lost. Still, he felt bad about the idea of phoning up someone he hardly knew in the middle of the night and asking them to come and rescue him. Why should they come out on a cold night just for him? On the other hand, Rob's heart was telling him that he needed a friend and not just some transport, so he followed his heart and phoned me.

As he finished this tale, I felt very angry with Ben for hurting this gentle and trusting boy, and I wondered if I could have done anything to stop Rob being hurt like this. I wondered if I should tell him about Ben and me so that he'd realise that he'd actually had a lucky, though emotionally painful, escape. However, on balance, I decided that if I were to tell Rob at all, tonight would not be appropriate. By this time Rob's tears had ceased to flow and he seemed to have thawed out from his wait in the cold car park. He was quiet and relaxed in my arms and looking over at the clock on the wall, I saw it was just after five. I was weary and I guessed Rob was also tired, and in fact when I looked at him he appeared to be dozing.

"Rob. Robbie... are you awake? It's about time we tried to get some sleep."

"Mmm... Okay. Can I stay here?"

"Yes, of course. I'm too tired to drive now anyway, but I'll take you home tomorrow before your parents get back. There's a spare bed in my room that will be more comfortable than this sofa," I said, thinking to myself that my parents might get a surprise if they found a strange boy on the sofa when they got up.

"Yeah, that's great, thanks."

While he was in the bathroom preparing for bed, I wrote a few more words on the note I'd stuck to my door before collecting him. The addendum stated that a rescued friend was staying overnight, that we'd need to sleep in late, and that I'd explain everything in the morning. When Rob returned I pointed out the spare bed and told him to make himself comfortable while I used the bathroom. On returning to my room closing the door, I saw that Rob was under the duvet in the spare bed and was curled up on his side facing my bed. His eyes were closed and I couldn't tell if he was asleep or not, so I decided not to risk waking him by saying goodnight. I wasn't used to undressing in front of almost-strangers, so even though I wasn't sure he was awake I turned the light off before getting undressed and getting into bed. I'd just snuggled down and got comfortable when he spoke.

"G'night, Paul."

"G'night, Robbie. Sleep tight."

There was silence for quite a long time and I was almost asleep, when I heard Rob's voice, barely above a whisper.

"Paul... Paul... I can't sleep... can you hold me again? Please?"

His voice came from nearby and I realised he was standing just beside my head, so he must have left his own bed without my hearing him. Had I not been more than half asleep, I might have hesitated, not least because I was, as usual, naked in my bed.

"Mmm, okay," I said, moving over and flipping up the corner of the duvet.

He climbed into my bed, leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.

"Thanks, Paul," he whispered.

Then he lay on his back next to me and I moved to hold him as he had requested, but I was careful to keep the lower half of my body from touching his because apart from us both being tired, any form of sexual contact was the last thing either of us needed just then. As I placed my arm over his chest I was surprised to find that at such a young age he had some soft, furry chest hair. Then, after such a long, busy and emotionally draining day, I dropped off to sleep immediately. During the night I woke briefly a couple of times and found myself cuddled up to Rob's back with my arm still hugging his chest. Feeling as well as hearing his deep regular breathing, I could tell he was asleep, and I quickly returned to my own sleep.

When I next opened my eyes it was full daylight. As was usual for me, return to full consciousness from sleep was a long process, not fully complete until I had my first cup of tea. While I was gradually coming round, I slowly stretched, and the movements made me realise I wasn't alone in bed. My back was to Rob and he was cuddled up behind me with his arm around my stomach.

"Morning sleepy head," he said while my memory of the night's events was still returning.

Being used to Mike, I'd learned to tolerate people who were bright and cheerful in the morning, so I gave a polite grunt in reply. Taking this as confirmation that I really was awake, he spoke again.

"Actually, it will only be morning for another few minutes."

Turning on my back, I found him propped on one elbow and looking at me. He seemed much more cheerful than when we went to bed, and he also seemed much less shy and much more confidant. I tried to focus on his fascinating eyes, trying to work out if they were a blue-green or maybe a green-blue.

"Wha' time's it?" I mumbled.

"Nearly noon. Sounds like your family's been up for awhile."

"How long have you been awake?"

"Oh, more than an hour," he replied.

"Why didn't you wake me?"

"Well, after depriving you of your sleep last night, it would have been cruel to disturb you while you were catching up."

"Mmm, thanks."

Before my morning tea, that was the closest I could get to a sparkling conversation.

Pondering the idea of getting out of bed, it occurred to me that my nakedness and morning stiffy, currently hidden by the duvet, would be on display as soon as I got up. Had my companion been Mike instead of Rob, this wouldn't have concerned me, but I'd only known Rob for a few hours. The only idea I could come up with to avoid my embarrassment was to get him to get up first so that I could quickly get out of the other side of the bed and put on my boxers while he was distracted with his own dressing. I'd noticed had something on his nether regions when I woke up cuddling behind him during the night, so I hoped he would feel like cooperating when I suggested that as he was more awake than me, he should start getting dressed while I rested a bit longer.

As he jumped out of bed and began dressing, I caught glimpse of his bright red briefs before I dived out of my side of the bed and lunged for my boxers. Judging from the speed we both dressed, I guessed we were both a little embarrassed. Strangely, once we were dressed Rob gave me a little smile, which seemed to indicate he'd returned to his shy persona. Well, that was one problem out of the way, so now I had to decide what to tell the parents, preferably avoiding any lies.

"Rob, I'll scout the way and make sure the bathroom is free. If I see Mum or Dad I'll tell them you're a school friend and got stranded after a party. You missed the last bus and called me for help. It's all true so we won't need to fib, and hopefully they won't ask for details. If they do, I trust you to be discreet cos my family don't know I'm gay yet. Anyway, if the bathroom's free I'll come right back here and let you know."

"Okay, but before you go, though...." Then as his voice trailed off he crossed the short distance between us, gave me a tight hug and whispered into my ear.

"This is for being so good to me. As far as I'm concerned you're now my best friend."

With that, kissed me on my ear and stepped back, looking as if he was a little afraid of my reaction. I was startled, but gave him a big grin to show he had nothing to worry about, and in response his face lit up with a broad smile.

"Thanks, Robbie. I'll try to be a good friend... but don't you have a best friend already?"

His smile flickered and he looked a little wistful.

"No, I don't think I've ever had a best friend... not for a long time, anyway."

After that cryptic remark, I left the bedroom on my scouting mission. Not only was the bathroom free but in fact there was no one in the house, so I guessed they must have all gone to eleven o'clock Mass, in which case they could be home at any minute. My guess turned out to be correct, and by the time we'd gone down to the kitchen with the intention of making tea and toast, my family had returned. They welcomed Rob when I introduced him then Mum took over breakfast preparations and made us all her famous Sunday breakfast fry-up. Rob pleased my mum not only be being very polite but by eating all his food with such obvious enthusiasm.

Over breakfast I gave the edited version of Rob's tale, saying he'd missed his bus and not had money for a taxi, and that I'd gone to rescue him. I added that I brought him back home with me because his parents were away and he didn't want to go back to an empty house. As far as it went this was the truth, and my parents accepted it happily without questions. However, John kept giving me and Rob strange looks all through breakfast, and it occurred to me that while the story might be good enough for my parents, John went to my school and so would see there was something odd about my story.

I realised that John, knowing that there was little chance at school of a Sixth Former becoming friends with a lower Former, would almost certainly wonder how I met Rob. As John knew all my friends, at least by sight, he would also wonder how Rob and I could become close enough for late-night rescue missions without him being able to recognise Rob as a friend. Fortunately John didn't say anything and went straight to his room after breakfast.

As I drove Rob home, he was so effusive with his thanks that I was beginning to feel embarrassed.

"Ya know, Paul, whether or not you saved my life last night, you certainly saved me."

At first I was unsure how to respond, so I concentrated on driving until I thought of something to say.

"What? I don't understand," I said eventually.

"Well, you won't know this, but I don't have many friends. I'm not really attractive or clever..."

"Of course you are!" I interrupted. "Don't be so down on yourself."

"And when Ben took such an interest in me... well, it really gave my ego a boost," Rob continued as if I'd not said anything. "Then when he threw me out last night I just felt like a totally hopeless and useless piece of shit."

"Robbie!" I interrupted again, feeling upset and dismayed.

"No, Paul, please let me finish... when I phoned you, I don't know why I did cos I didn't expect you to come. You hardly knew me, so why should you get out of bed and drive to the opposite side of town? But you got out of bed in the middle of the night and came for me. You didn't just offer to take me home, but you showed you actually cared about me by taking me back to your own house and being so kind to me. Only my family have ever cared for me like that... I've never had a friend who really cared for me so much."

"Aaawww, Robbie, I'm your friend now, ya know."

"Yes, I do know, and that's why I said you'd saved me. I'd hoped Ben cared for me... I really, really wanted him to care for me. And when he threw me out like a piece of unwanted rubbish I just felt so bad that I thought maybe I was worthless and I didn't deserve friends. Then you came along, rescued me and looked after me and never asked anything in return. You made me feel that I was worth something as a person... Like I said, you saved me."

He sounded as if he was nearly in tears and I know that I had that dreaded lump in my throat. I didn't know what to say, so I just reached over, grasped his hand and squeezed gently. When we got to his house, he could tell his parents weren't home and asked me if I wanted to go inside. After what he'd just said, I could hardly decline.

The house was quite unusual as it was two old stone Victorian artisans' cottages, renovated so that they became one house. It was very nice but to be honest, after awhile the low ceilings made me feel a bit claustrophobic. We shared a coke, had a brief chat about families, school and suchlike. Then it was time for me to go because I didn't want to be there when his family arrived back, and in any case I had to check in with Mike. Before Rob opened the door, he gave me a big hug and a briefly touched his lips to mine.

"Ya know," he said, stepping back and looking into my eyes, "apart from Mum and Dad, you're the only person who calls me Robbie."

"Oh. Don't you like it?"

"Mmm... usually I don't like it much cos it makes me feel like a kid, but when you say 'Robbie' it makes me feel warm and comfy."

"Okay, if you like it I'll keep using it," I said as he opened the door.

"Can I phone you later?" he asked shyly, blushing and looking at my chest.

"Of course you can. We're friends and you can phone anytime, but I must admit I usually turn off my phone before going to bed!" I said and grinned.

"So I was lucky last night?" Rob said and gave me a quizzical look.

"Well, I guess I just had a premonition."

"Anyway, I'm grateful. Thanks again," he said and gave me a warm smile.

"Talk to ya later!" I said as I got in the car.

"Yeah. Byeeeee!"

As I drove home, I remembered that John might still be wondering how I knew Rob, but I decided to see if John raised the matter himself before I talked to him about it. When I got home I spent a few minutes chatting to my mum, who was in the kitchen making preparations for our evening meal, then I went up to my room with the intention of phoning Mike. Having turned off the phone when Rob and I went to bed the previous night, I'd forgotten to turn on again when we got up that morning. When I did turn it on, I found that Mike had called a couple of times, leaving messages that were just simple greetings.

Just as I was about to phone Mike, there was a knock on my open door and I looked up to see John.

"Hi. Are you busy?" he asked.

"Well, I was just going to phone Mike."

"Okay, later then. I just wanted to ask you something about Rob."

"Well, if it's something quick, you can ask now."

I thought that it might be best if I dealt with this quickly and I'd already decided to say I met Rob at a party given by some friends that John didn't know very well, so before he could respond I spoke again.

"Were you wondering how Rob and I became friends?"

"Yeah...well that as well. But the main question was... did you know that there is a rumour in school that he's, well... errmm... gay?

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