A Prince and His Pauper

by Mark Peters

Chapter 1

All eyes were on the beautiful, yet haughty, young prince as he walked from the Great Hall of the ancient Castle of Geronia, in a scene accompanied by a trumpeted fanfare, while following in the footsteps of his father, the King. As light from the lanterns that lined the walls flickered and danced, their procession passed by their ever-faithful subjects, who bowed in reverence to their leader and his heir, with not another sound being uttered.

Every inch of this Boy who would be King demanded attention. From his polished black leather boots with golden buckles, to his spotless white tights and pronounced codpiece, his frilled, white shirt and elegant red cape, with its hand-tooled leather collar and golden chains to fasten it around his neck, every item was eye-catching. The long cape flowed smoothly across the cobblestones and the only sound heard was that of footsteps, or the occasional clink as the end of the scabbard which hung by his side, with its gold-hilted sword protruding, would come in contact with the stone floor.

Atop his head of longish, pale-gold hair there now sat a golden, bejewelled crown, as suited to one who bears the title of Crown Prince, with which he had just now been bestowed. It was a grand ceremony, an ancient custom which celebrated an heir having recently reached his sixteenth birthday.

With hair so fair and skin so smooth, skin that was coloured by the touch of the sun from all the outdoor activities in which he excelled, the prince was a vision of boyish beauty, unlike any other subject of the realm it was rumoured.

His almost elfin-like features were already legendary, more legendary it seemed than the bravery of his father, which had been proven time and again upon the battlefield, but apart from his beauty there was also his arrogance, which was equally well-known. Even if, when he walked by and looked down his nose at you – you, with your head bowed in deference and feeling as insignificant as the tiniest of ants – you already despised him for his well-known and well-deserved reputation, you couldn't help but be impressed by the vision of perfection before you. This was what his royal looks and bearing demanded.

And even if he had never been heard to mutter the words, ' I'm better than you and I know it' , to an unfortunate underling – and this was on more than just one occasion – it wouldn't be difficult to imagine him having said these words, for that was the image that was portrayed, carefully cultivated to ward off anyone wishing to get too close to the intensely private young man.

Yet, in that haughty expression with which everyone seemed familiar, or perhaps it was arrogance that some were seeing, I saw something else entirely. I saw beneath the mask. I saw the sadness that the boy held within, for I knew him better than most. As his servant and constant companion, I knew him better even than the King himself, for I loved that boy. I, and I alone, knew the real boy… the real Prince Elwyn of Geronia; the sadness that haunted him and the secrets he could not share.

My prince wasn't actually a real prince, of course, and his father wasn't a real King. Maybe a Captain… of industry that is. And his real name wasn't Elwyn. Jesus, who would call a kid that in this day and age, other than maybe a screenwriter creating some medieval drama for the silver screen? A drama that would take its young star to the pinnacle of his chosen profession and see him showered with accolades he could have only ever dreamed of.

His story… our story… begins a few years earlier, in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.

His real name was Charlie. Charlie Brown, in fact. But not that Charlie Brown, of course. He liked to be called CB, or even Charlie B., but he never liked to be called Peanuts though. That would really piss him off. And he could get royally pissed off if kids at school ragged on him about that, or about anything else that annoyed him.

We met at high school. Two lonely souls, twelve years old and cast into a crowded class on the first day of the new school year. It was a strange and daunting place to us, a place where neither of us knew anybody. When we both found ourselves alone in a bustling playground at lunchtime, I think we recognised in each other a certain kindredship and gravitated towards each other.

I was immediately struck by how good looking this small boy was, even as he gave the impression he was looking down upon all those around him. Maybe that's why everybody steered clear of him on that first day at school. Well, everyone but me anyhow.

Dressed in our new school uniforms of white, short-sleeved shirts, grey shorts, long grey socks and shiny black shoes, all of which were brand new and so far unsoiled by days or weeks spent roughhousing in the playground, we clearly stood out. Charlie was slim, blond, tanned and blue-eyed. Just the kind of boy I'd lately been dreaming about.

His facial features were almost effeminate, or like those of an elf, or a pixie; fine, somewhat pointed, yet at the same time, quite beautiful. I even wondered for a moment if the ears he had hidden under that unruly shock of blond hair may have had that shape that was unique to elven beings.

'So, you're new here too?' I asked him, as I sat myself down opposite him at a table in the playground. 'I'm Brayden.'

'I'm Charlie,' he replied. We gave each other a nod – no handshakes for us – then we sat in silence for a few moments, watching our new classmates as they played, while they cast curious glances our way from time to time.

Physically, Charlie and I were quite different. He was one of those little kids who hadn't really started growing yet, who looked like he still belonged in Primary school, while I was already sprouting upwards. I was taller and a little heavier, and I was sprouting in other places as well. And even though I had only just met him, and I could see he was so small, I couldn't help but wonder about him, and where he might be in that stage of our young lives.

Yeah, puberty was just beginning to drop its bomb on me, but I knew that was going to happen, as my older brother, Adam, who is now away at University, had told me what to expect. I was already noticing the changes. I figured Charlie, even though we were in the same grade and about the same age, might still be some way off having that happen to him yet. I wondered if he had a brother, or anyone else, who might explain these things to him.

We didn't become firm friends that day, but we were certainly friendly towards each other from that lunchtime forward. Charlie seemed to be a bit of a loner and largely kept to himself, while I wanted to join in with what the other kids were doing; playing sport and goofing off and whatever. I guess at the start I just went out of my way to try and become friends with those whom I thought were a little more like me.

I think some of the other kids thought Charlie was a bit up himself, like he was too good for everyone else. That's a classic Australian term for people who think they are better than everyone else, or know more than anyone else. I even heard one kid say one day that he thought Charlie had said, ' I'm better than you and I know it', but that was most likely the result of an overactive imagination, I think, as I never once heard Charlie say anything like that at all. Or maybe it was more likely an echo of something we had read in our English class when studying some ancient literary work that made no sense to us at all.

It wasn't until some months later when our friendship became real. That came after I caught another guy hassling him in the showers after sport one day.

'Look at little Charlie Brown and his little peanuts,' one of our classmates, Martin Collins, was saying, while laughing and pointing. 'Get it? Peanuts! That's…'

'Yeah, we get it,' I growled upon entering the showers right at that moment.

He had a naked Charlie bailed up in a corner, while a couple of his mates were also there. Fuck, why do bullies always run in packs?

All of them were laughing and tormenting Charlie. And they were all naked, just as I was when I entered the showers. Knowing instantly what was happening I went to Charlie's aid, pushing past the bullies and standing in front of Charlie, then straight away pushed Martin in the chest, pushing him back, even though I knew he was bigger than me.

'What the fuck!' he yelled at me.

'Leave him alone,' I yelled at him. 'Pick on someone your own size.'

His sidekicks stepped back as Martin stood there sizing me up.

I raised a fist and made as if I was going to hit him. He jumped back, colliding with one of his friends, who then proceeded to slip over on the wet tiles. The other henchman managed to save them from falling, but they all knew they had lost this battle, just as our PE teacher, Mr Hogan, appeared at the doorway, having heard the yelling.

Martin sneered at me. 'You haven't heard the last of this,' he spat.

'Actually, Master Collins, I think he has. Don't let me see a repeat of this, either in here or outside of this building, otherwise it'll be you who won't hear the last of it. Got that?'

'Y-yes sir,' Martin replied, before he and his friends backed away and then left the showers.

Mr Hogan looked at Charlie and me, but didn't say a word, then with a nod he turned and left us.

'Are you okay?' I asked Charlie as I turned to face him.

'Y-yes. I think so,' he answered.

'Did they touch you?'

'No, they just called me names. I'm kind of used to that, being a shrimp like I am.'

'That's no excuse. I fucking hate bullies, so from now on you stick with me.'


'You heard me. I hate bullies.'

'I don't need protecting,' Charlie protested, standing upright, his arms folded in front of him and defiantly sticking out his chin, a haughty expression upon his beautiful face.

I smiled down at him. I could see his little pecker was also sticking out, almost defiantly. If he wasn't so damned cute it might even be comical.

'Yeah, you do,' I replied. 'You're all of four foot nothing, skinny as a rake, and your face is way too cute to end up with a busted nose or something. So c'mon, let's dry off and get dressed.'

'Wait… you think I'm cute?' he asked, almost in a whisper.

I smiled at him then, and he nervously smiled back at me.

Martin and his pals had already left by the time we made it back out to the lockers. There were a few other stragglers who were still there getting dressed, but they paid no attention to us as we grabbed our towels and dried off, then dressed. Charlie kept casting furtive glances in my direction, but nothing was said, then once we were dressed, we left the shower block and headed outside into the late afternoon sun.

As sports had been our last period for the day all that was left to do was retrieve our bags from our lockers outside our home room, then head out the school gates.

'How do you get home?' I asked Charlie as we slammed our lockers shut. 'Walk, bike, bus or get picked up?'

'That depends. Today I'm walking.'

'Okay, I'll walk with you. Where do you live?'

He mentioned the address and I knew where that was, which wasn't too far out of my way, thankfully, even if that part of town was a bit more upmarket than my neighbourhood. Once we were clear of the crowded school gates and the smirks from Martin and friends, who were waiting for their buses, we set off, on what would be the first of many such trips, which would eventually cement our friendship.

Charlie didn't exactly make it easy to become friends with him. I had to wear him down, but it was definitely worth the effort. He had this thing about anyone getting too close to him. Not necessarily in a physical sense, more like in a personal sense. It took me a while to get to know the real Charlie B. and all his foibles. Oftentimes I wondered whether I knew him at all, with some of the things that would happen that would cause him to react outlandishly, or sometimes even withdraw into his shell.

It was complicated, and he was a complicated character. And it took some time before I started to figure out what was going on. He was hiding. Hiding his true self. And hiding a secret.

And for a long time I didn't know what to do.

That first day we walked home together we parted ways at the front of his house, which was an impressive two-storey brick affair with an equally impressive garden. It was definitely the flashiest house on the block, a mansion even, and by comparison I somehow even felt a kind of shame when thinking of my own home.

My parents didn't have anywhere near the kind of money that Charlie's parents obviously must have, but there was nothing I could do about that.

If, judging by this mansion, Charlie was a beautiful young prince, then I was definitely a pauper.

After standing in their driveway for a few moments when we stopped, Charlie looked up at me and rather sheepishly asked, 'Did you really think I was cute?'

'I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it,' I replied honestly, which earned me a dazzling smile.

'I guess… I guess I'll see you on Monday then?'


I wasn't invited inside, which didn't really bother me that much. He thanked me for coming with him, and then he was off up his driveway, leaving me standing there.

'Hey, Charlie,' I called out to him, after he'd gone about halfway.

He stopped and turned, and said, 'Yeah?'

'How far up the driveway would you now be if I hadn't stopped you?' I called out.

He simply grinned, gave me the finger, then continued on his way to the front door.

I remember thinking, 'You sure are one strange boy, Charlie Brown', then it was my turn to continue on my way home, with confusing thoughts swirling around inside my mind.

I really liked this kid, and a part of me was already hoping that we would become more than just friends. Even at just twelve years of age I knew my destiny. I just hoped that he would let me into his world.

In the days and weeks that followed we talked and hung out some at school, but as I was still keen on playing some sports at lunch with the other kids, I would usually do that while Charlie would sit on the edge of the quadrangle and watch us play handball, or sometimes he would just go to the library.

If any of the other kids hassled him, I didn't really hear very much about it, although there were often throwaway remarks made in the playground about him, which I did my best to nip in the bud. People knew that we were friends and that I wouldn't tolerate him being tormented like that, especially after my having stood up to Martin and friends in the showers that time, and eventually the trash talk seemed to stop, or at least quieten.

But somehow, someone had found out where Charlie lived and assumed that his family must be rich, so they naturally thought the worst about him because of that. He was the rich boy amongst a bunch of paupers at this public school. He was the golden child who had it all, the looks, the money, and was so much better than the rest of them, looking down on everyone else, or so they thought. And that all made him a target of their wrath.

Once, I heard a group of our classmates talking during a lunch or recess break, when one of the guys said, 'Just look at him, won't you? Smug prick! Who does he think he is? Just because his parents must have money!'

He was soon silenced however, when one of his friends motioned towards me, where I was standing directly behind the loudmouth.

I could see why they may have had that perception of Charlie, but that wasn't the Charlie B. I knew; the reserved kid who tried to keep to himself and tried his best to keep his secrets hidden.

Those misconceptions seemed to follow him around like a shadow, and I know that at times he felt their weight upon him. I could see the sadness in his eyes when a barb, carefully aimed and within earshot, would stick. And there seemed to be nothing I could do to help him with that, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how fiercely I tried to defend him.

We were friends, and we hung out – mostly at my place, as for some reason that was where he felt most comfortable, almost as if there was something about his own home that he was ashamed of – and the more I got to know him the more I came to like him. As we lay about in my messy room, he would look at me through those beautiful blue eyes of his and offer an impish smile, but that still didn't stop him pushing me away when things became too raw, too personal, too hard for him.

Man, this boy could be hard work at times.

Over time my feelings for him deepened, and by the end of that first year in high school I was thirteen years old and convinced that I was in love. The only trouble was that the object of my affections remained at arm's length from me, even when sitting right beside me on my own bed.

One thing I did discover about Charlie during our first year together was his love of drama, and of the theatre. It was the one place where he could cut loose, where he could be himself. And he was brilliant – at least in my eyes.

Drama classes, where the majority of us would try to hide and hope we weren't picked, would see him front and centre every time, and they usually proved to be a lot of fun. Hell, he even got me enjoying drama. But then the class would be over, and the old, quiet Charlie would return, and I would be scratching my head trying to figure out just what was going on in that head of his.

It took me some time, but I think I was gradually starting to figure things out. Figure him out. I could tell that there were things happening in his life, things he had no control over, but once the clues were added together a picture began to emerge.

The first of these was his reluctance to share any details about his family, or invite me inside his home. In that first year I think I only made it inside their house just once, and after that he told me he shouldn't have done that. I asked him what had happened, but he just shook his head and wouldn't answer.

I thought that was odd, but hey, some families are different to others, right? Perhaps he was just conscious of the fact they were better off than many others?

He knew how I felt about him, from my original comment that I thought he was cute and from things I had said after that, but every time I tried to get close, or every time I touched him, he tended to push me away. Maybe not straight away, as I could sense that he actually liked to be touched, or hugged, or held by another person… and I sure as hell tried to do that for him… but it always ended in the same way, with Charlie telling me that 'he can't' or 'he shouldn't'.

I began to suspect he was keeping his real feelings, which every now and then I would catch a glimpse of when he would let his guard down, well hidden.

Alarm bells should have been ringing by this time, but we were just kids, and shouldn't good kids simply believe everything that adults tell them, without question? Wasn't that what we were taught?

But then I began to notice the bruises.

The first was high up on his arm, which I had spotted after the sleeve of his t-shirt had pushed up one day when we were playing sport. It looked like he had been grabbed forcefully just below his shoulder and squeezed really tight, or been punched or something. The bruises were nasty.

I asked him about it, but he just brushed me off, saying he'd fallen against something in their garage.

Sometime later, while we were showering after another session of sport, I noticed some bruises on his ribs. When I asked him about them I was fobbed off yet again. I bit my tongue, but deep down I was beginning to worry.

It was about that same time when I sensed that Charlie was becoming less than enthusiastic about what was happening in our drama classes, which was quite unlike him. Of course, that got me wondering. He loved drama, so why was he turning away from it? Was somebody pressuring him? Was there something happening at home?

When I spotted the third set of bruises, a few weeks after the last lot I had seen, this time across the top of his buttocks when his shorts had slipped a little. It was one of the few times when he had joined in a game of handball at lunchtime one day, and I knew I had to say something. I just wasn't sure exactly what to say.

That afternoon, as we walked home towards my place, which is what we did most days, I finally worked up the courage to say something.

'You know I love you, right?' I said.

'That's a pretty heavy word. Are you sure you mean it?'

'Definitely,' I replied. 'But I also know how you feel and that you don't think you can feel the same way. And I'm cool with that, because I know that eventually love wins.'

'Where is this going?' he cautiously asked.

'I need to ask you something. And I don't want you to get pissed at me when I ask it!'

'Sounds even heavier,' he replied. 'So, what is the question?'

'I want you to tell me about the bruises,' I said. 'Are you okay? Is something happening to you? And I don't want you to just brush me off this time. I care about you, and I need to know you're okay.'

Without missing a beat he simply said, 'It's nothing,' and kept walking, but when he glanced at me a few moments later I could see the fear in his eyes and also in his expression.

'That's bullshit, and you know it,' I replied, as we stopped and looked at each other.

'Don't, Bray. I just can't…'

'Or won't?'

He simply closed his eyes and shook his head, then looked down at his feet.


'I said, don't!' he suddenly snapped at me. There was a fire in his eyes that told me I needed to back off.

But how could I?

I took a few deep breaths, then ploughed on, regardless of my own safety.

'If someone is…' I started to say, but that was as far as I got. I was suddenly pushed back, and with some force, colliding with a fence that was behind me and almost overbalancing.

'Just! Fucking! Leave it!' he yelled at me, then stormed off, leaving me speechless as he darted across the road, almost getting hit by a car in the process, and then headed back towards the street that would take him to his house.

'Charlie, don't…' I called out, but he was off.

There had to be something happening at his home, I reasoned, as I watched him run away from me, before eventually slowing to a walk. It wasn't until he turned a corner and disappeared from view that I continued on my own way home.

I had never met his father, and I had only met his mother a couple of times. She seemed like a nice lady. A typical suburban housewife, I guess. Charlie had told me that his father was involved in some major company that manufactured and sold stuff… though I couldn't recall what. I asked once why he went to this school and not some posh boarding school, if they were as rich as everybody thought. His reply was that his father had always said since he had gone to a public school, then that would be good enough for any kid of his.

I was definitely glad that he didn't go to a boarding school. I liked having him around. Even sometimes when he was angry he was still as cute as all hell.

That night after dinner I tried to call Charlie, as I did most nights, but his mother said he wasn't feeling well and had gone to bed early.

'Will you tell him I called?' I asked her.

'Of course, Brayden. He'll see you at school tomorrow,' she replied, then disconnected.

Later, as I was walking down the hallway to head off to bed, I noticed the light was on in my father's office so I stopped at the door. He was typing something on his computer, but looked up when he noticed me standing there.

'Hey, bud. What are you up to?' he asked.

'Can we talk?'

'Of course. Come in and take a pew.'

My dad always said odd things like that. It was just his nature. His other favourite was 'pull up a stump' . I had no idea what that actually meant, but it obviously meant something to him.

I sat myself down on the spare chair near his desk and looked down at my hands, as I twiddled my thumbs.

He waited patiently for me to start.

'You know my friend, Charlie,' I began. Suddenly dad was all ears. I don't know what it was that he thought I was going to say, but he looked concerned.

'Yes. What about him? Or is this about you and him?'


'Nothing… you just go on.'

'I think… I think something is happening to him.'

'Like what?'

'That's just it. I don't know. He's been getting these bruises on him… I've seen them when we've been playing sport.'

'Most teenagers get bruises, Bray. It's all that rough and tumble that you get up to.'

'No, it's not like that. He's not like the rest of us, he doesn't much get involved in that sort of playing around. And they are there before we play sport, not afterwards, if you know what I mean.'

'I see,' dad responded.

'And when I ask him about them, he gets angry. This afternoon he literally pushed me away when I asked him.'

'So, what do you think is happening?'

'I… I think someone is hurting him… and I…'

Dad raised his eyebrows at me.

'And I can't bear the thought of that, because I… because I really care about him…'

'I can see that, Bray.'

'No, I don't think you understand…'

The world stood still. Did I really just say that?

Holy shitballs! Was I really about to out myself to my father? Was this going to be that moment?

Dad stood up and took the few steps to stand in front of me, then took my hands and dragged me to my feet, before embracing me.

'I really do understand, son,' he whispered. 'Your mother and I, we've seen how the two of you are when you're together…'

'What?' I squeaked, as I leant back a little so I could look him in the face.

'We've known it for a while, and we want you to know we're fine with it. We weren't going to say anything, because we knew you would come to us when the time was right.'

Suddenly my legs felt weak and my knees started to shake. I collapsed back onto the chair and dropped my head into my hands. I never thought it would happen like this, but I guess we don't always get to choose when and how. I wanted to cry, but when I felt the reassuring hand of my father on my shoulder, somehow a calm seemed to surge through me. It was heartening.

'You're only thirteen, and a lot is going to happen before you head off and out into the world. You may not even end up together, but if Charlie truly is the love of your life, then you need to do everything you can to help him… even if he doesn't want you to,' dad added.

'But how do I do that? And how do I do it without him knowing? If he thinks it was me, he'll probably never talk to me again.'

'What about your teachers? Have they seen anything? Do they know?'

I simply shook my head.

'Hmmm…' dad mumbled as he sat back down in his chair.

For a few moments just sat and looked at me, his expression thoughtful, but kind.

'You shower after sport, right?' he eventually asked.


'And does your sports master, or anyone else, supervise that?'

'He comes in every now and then, but usually only if things get rowdy. He generally stays in the locker area. Apparently, it's not cool to watch naked boys.'

'Then have a word with him quietly beforehand… while Charlie isn't close by. Tell him you saw some bruises on Charlie, and he won't tell you how he got them and that you are worried. But also tell him that Charlie can't know you told him.'

'What can he do?'

'If they suspect that there is child abuse of any sort happening, they have to report it. So, if it's a teacher reporting it, you'll be in the clear.'

As it dawned on my what he was suggesting, I quickly realised the genius of his plan. Jumping to my feet I went to him and hugged him, giving him a kiss on the cheek as I did so, just for good measure.

'Thank you! That's brilliant,' I said.

'Any time, Bray. Love you.'

'Love you too,' I replied, then headed off towards my bedroom, feeling as if a great burden had been lifted. And with sport scheduled for last period tomorrow, I now knew exactly what it was that I was going to do.

Charlie was quiet the next day, but at least he was still talking to me, so that was a relief. Things were back to normal, kind of, but I still trod carefully.

I waited all day for my chance to talk to our PE teacher, Mr Hogan, and for a while there I was beginning to think I had missed it, but just before we went into the locker rooms to change Charlie said he needed to go to the toilet, so I took my chance and knocked on Mr Hogan's door.

'What can I do for you, Brayden?' he asked. I shut the door behind me.

'I'm worried about Charlie, sir,' I blurted out nervously. 'He keeps showing up with bruises all the time and he won't tell me how he gets them. My dad suggested I talk to you… because he said if you suspect something, you have to report it, but you can't let Charlie know it came from me… you just can't!'

I was a nervous wreck, trying to get it all out before Charlie came back.

'It's okay, Bray. I had noticed them at one point, but didn't think anything of it really. But if, like you say, it's been happening more often than just every now and then, I think I need to ask a question or two.'

'You can't let Charlie know it came from me though, promise me! Otherwise he'll never talk to me again!'

'Understood. Just leave it to me… I'll look in on you all while you are showering later, and if I see anything then I will talk to whoever I need to talk to. Now you just go and get changed and I'll see you on the field.'

'Thank you, sir!'

By the time Charlie joined me in the locker room I was dressed and ready to go. The strange thing was, he was also dressed. It appeared he had changed in the toilets. That was interesting.

'Was beginning to think you got flushed away,' I said as I watched him stow his school clothes into a locker.

He just gave me a smile and slammed the locker shut, just as Mr Hogan came into the locker room.

'Alright you lot, let's hit the playing field,' he commanded, giving his whistle a blow as he did so, which seemed to drill straight into my brain with it being so close and the room so small. Amidst complaints from almost everyone we shuffled out onto the oval for some soccer practice. I noticed Mr Hogan taking a close look at Charlie as he followed us outside.

After some warm-up laps of the oval we were divided into teams, and for the next thirty minutes we played a game of what some might have called soccer, but which the purists would have certainly frowned upon and labelled as something else entirely. The team that Charlie and I ended up on were the 'Shirts', while the others were the 'Skins' and ordered to take off their t-shirts.

It was hot and sweaty work in the afternoon sun, and we were relieved when Mr Hogan finally blew his whistle to end the game, before telling us to hit the showers.

As usual Charlie and I held back, while most of the others rushed in, gave themselves a quick rinse, and then rushed out again. Being the end of the day most of our class was keen to get going, so they could catch their buses. It was mostly just those of us who walked for which time was immaterial.

'Go on, you two. Showers for everybody after sport, no exceptions. I'm not going to be the one sending you all home after sport smelling like sweaty pigs!' Mr Hogan said to us.

Charlie stripped off, but once we entered the showers he kept a towel wrapped around him until the very last moment, then quickly hung the towel on a hook. We went to the farthest shower nozzles where we both hoped that nobody would notice his bruises in the corner of the steam-filled environment, but unfortunately there was always at least one smartarse who couldn't help but pick on Charlie, and when they spotted his bruises they made a thing of it.

Thankfully, Mr Hogan heard the commotion and came back into the room.

'What's going on in here?' he demanded to know.

'I think Peanuts likes his sex rough, sir!' said William Walker, Charlie's harasser on this occasion, otherwise known as William the Wanker.

'What's that supposed to mean, Walker?'

'Just check out all his bruises, sir!'

A couple of the guys scurried out of the showers just as soon as Mr Hogan came in, so we were now the last people left in the showers. Mr Hogan glanced my way, then told Walker to get out, get dried off and get dressed.

He then looked at Charlie, who was cowering in the corner and almost in tears. With Charlie standing side on to us, his hands covering his small cock, I could see the bruises across his lower back and buttocks, which were even more colourful than they had been yesterday.

'You too, Brayden. It looks like I need to have a chat with young Charlie here.'

I looked at Charlie and could see the pain in his eyes. I really didn't want to leave him, but Mr Hogan ushered me out of the showers and back into the locker room.

Placing a hand on my shoulder he looked down at me and quietly said, 'It'll be fine, Brayden. Just go and dry off and get dressed, and get everybody out of the locker rooms please. We'll be out shortly, just as soon as I have a chat with Charlie and he's had a chance to get dressed.

'Okay,' I said, but before I left I quickly went to Charlie and hugged him. 'You're going to be fine. I'll see you outside soon,' I whispered then quickly left the shower room.

Everyone had already dressed and left by the time I entered the locker room, so I quickly dried off and pulled on my clothes, then went and sat in the corridor, right outside the doorway, just to make sure nobody went back in.

I could hear some talking going on inside, but it only sounded like Mr Hogan doing it all. I didn't hear Charlie at all. I also couldn't hear anything of what was being said. About five minutes later they came out into the hallway and found me waiting. I jumped to my feet and faced them.

'Brayden, I'm going to take Charlie to see the student welfare officer now, so you may as well head home, I think,' Mr Hogan said.

Ignoring him I went to Charlie and hugged him once more. 'Are you okay?' I asked him.

'I dunno. Maybe, I guess… I'm just…'

'Charlie will be fine,' Mr Hogan said, though I didn't think he sounded very convinced by his own words. 'We'll get to the bottom of this.'

'I'll call you,' I said to Charlie and then picked up my backpack and left them. I didn't exactly have any other options.

It would be over a week before I saw Charlie again. A week with no contact at all with my best friend, a week spent tearing my hair out, worried sick about what was going on, and not being able to get any answers. As neither of us had our own phones as yet, I lost count of the number of times I tried calling his house, only for the phone to go unanswered. I walked by his house, even knocked on the door, but again, no answer.

I was beside myself, worried I would never see my friend again. It was only then that the enormity of my feelings for this boy hit home. Even though we were both only thirteen years old, I truly did believe I loved him, and life without him seemed impossible to comprehend.

The incident in the showers had occurred on a Friday afternoon. By Monday word of what had taken place was all over school, and the rumours were running hot. I tried talking to Mr Hogan, but he said that there were rules and he wasn't allowed to discuss it with anyone. By Wednesday I was distraught, with my father finding me in my room that night crying. He held me tight, telling me he understood how I was feeling, and that somehow things would turn out okay. I had to believe that, didn't I? The alternative was too bleak to even consider.

On Sunday afternoon I was in the yard mowing the lawn – anything to get my mind off what was happening – when a strange car pulled up outside our yard. I stopped and watched it for a few moments, until the passenger-side door opened, and out of it climbed Charlie Brown, looking somewhat unsure of himself, but it was definitely him. In the flesh. He was back.

I yelled his name and left the lawn mower running, then ran towards him, before jumping the fence and wrapping my arms around him and hugging him tight. Tears were flowing once more, but this time they weren't just mine. When we finally separated I found that there was a man standing nearby, leaning against the mudguard of the car, while my father was also there, standing inside our yard and watching the goings on.

'Man, are you a sight for sore eyes!' I said to Charlie. 'I was so worried you wouldn't come back! Are you okay? What happened? Where have you been?'

'I'll tell you all about it later, Bray. Right now though, I want you to meet my dad,' he said to me, while motioning to the good-looking man nearby. I guessed he must have been about forty… but what would I know about picking people's ages? The man was the spitting image of Charlie, just older, and with shorter hair.

Mr Brown stepped forward and held out his hand, 'It's nice to finally meet you, Brayden. I've heard so much about you that I think I know you already.'

I shook his hand, just as I'd always been taught to do. 'It's nice to meet you also, sir.'

He smiled down at us, just as my father decided to join in the conversation and introduce himself to Charlie's father.

'Tom Parkes,' my father said, as he thrust out his hand. 'You must be Charlie's father?'

'Ian Brown, and yes, I think the term these days is, you nailed it.'

Charlie and I both chuckled, while dad just grinned.

Good looking, rich and hip. Seems like Charlie hit the jackpot there.

'I'm sorry that the two of you haven't been able to be in touch this past week, Brayden,' Mr Brown said. 'I know you've left messages and have been trying to find out how Charlie was, but I took him away for a little break, just so he could try and get over what happened, which we think we also need to fill you guys in on, if you have a few minutes.'

I looked at dad and he nodded, then invited them up to the house.

'Fancy a beer?' dad asked.

'That sounds like a great idea,' Mr Brown replied.

'You want to grab us a couple of cans, Bray, and a soft drink for yourselves?' dad asked.

'Sure thing,' I said, as I grabbed Charlie's arm and dragged him into the yard with me.

Once Charlie and I had returned from our kitchen and we were all settled on the front verandah, Mr Brown began to tell their tale, which turned out to be something of a twist on what I had imagined might have happened.

'To be honest, it has been a rather difficult week,' Mr Brown said. 'You see, what happened to Charlie was something we've been dealing with for a while now. Charlie's mum, well, she has had great difficulty in understanding the… I guess, the type of things Charlie likes… and as a result she would take it out on Charlie, like it was his own fault or something.'

'I… I don't think I understand,' I said.

Charlie looked across at his father and said, 'Let me.' Once he received a nod in response, he continued the tale.

'Mum can't handle certain things about me… like the fact that I like drama so much… and that I like you so much…'


'Yeah, that I really like you… and sometimes, well, she would lash out.'

'Oh,' was all I could say.

I hadn't told Charlie about the conversation I'd had with my father about how I felt about him, as I didn't know how he might react. For that reason I certainly hadn't expected him to be so honest with his own father. I noticed a look pass between our parents. Our special friendship was no longer a secret, and I knew we could both now expect further conversations to follow this one. That was inevitable.

When I had realised what was happening to Charlie, I had actually feared that it had been his father who had done the damage to him. I never once thought it could have been his mother. How fucked up is that?

'It's not your fault, Brayden,' Mr Brown quickly added. 'So please don't go thinking that. Sometimes we grown-ups can get odd ideas in our heads, and we can do crazy things that can hurt the ones we love, and sometimes it can happen even without us realising it.'

I heard a sniffle beside me and glanced at Charlie. His head was hanging down as he wiped away a tear. I could see he was struggling with what he had told us, so I placed one of my hands over his.

'You're going to be fine, mate,' I whispered to him. He looked up at me and managed a sheepish grin. It was all I could do not to lean across and kiss that adorable face, but our relationship hadn't developed quite that far as yet.

'And what of Charlie's mother?' dad enquired. 'If that's not going too far?'

'She is receiving treatment, in a clinic,' Mr Brown answered. 'The prognosis is good, but there is still a lot of damage that needs to be undone.'

'I can certainly understand that,' dad replied.

'And Charlie is receiving counselling as well, but he will be returning to school tomorrow. His grandmother is visiting this week to help look after him as, unfortunately, I will be away on business for a few days, which is unavoidable I'm afraid. So, Brayden, that's why we wanted to come and see you; to thank you for being Charlie's friend and for caring about him, and to let you know personally about what happened. It's possible that Charlie might have some issues tomorrow and I hoped that you might be able to just watch out for him?'

'I always watch out for him,' I quickly replied. 'He's my best friend.'

'I know and it's easy to see you both care about each other a great deal. I want you to know that you are welcome at our home anytime and I would even be okay for you to stay over at some point, assuming your family were okay with that.'

'No problems from our end,' dad replied. 'And Charlie is more than welcome here anytime as well.'

'And he'll be fine at school tomorrow,' I added. 'Mr Hogan already sorted out the guys who caused the ruckus last week… they won't bother Charlie. And if they do, they'll have me to answer to.'

They left a short while after that, with Charlie giving me a hug before getting in the car, which seemed to last for quite a long time.

'I'll call you later,' he said.

'You better!' I replied.

Then he really surprised me by whispering, 'I love you.'

That was the first time he had ever said those words, and it meant the world to me.

As their car pulled away all I could do was stare after them, grinning, while me heart was doing backflips.

Charlie did call me that night. I took the phone into my bedroom, not wanting my parents to hear everything we talked about as we spoke for the next hour.

He filled me in on everything, all the stuff that had been left out this afternoon, right from when Mr Hogan kicked me out of the showers and into the locker room.

'He asked me what had happened, but how could I tell him the truth?' Charlie said. 'Then he told me that he had to report what happened, and what he suspected had happened to me, and while I begged him not to, he said he had no choice.

'So then he took me to see the student welfare officer, who rang a school counsellor. I wouldn't tell them how I got the bruises, so then the police were called in… because that's what always happens when it is reported that a student is in danger.'

'Holy shit,' was all I could manage to say.

'Yeah,' Charlie replied.

'So what then… did you tell the police how you got the bruises?'

'Not at first,' he answered. I could hear the emotion in his voice, but he was hanging tough. I was proud of him for that.

'I'm so sorry, mate.'

'It's not your fault. Mum was sick. I hope she can get better, but even if she does, do you think I'll be able to trust her again?'

'I can't answer that for you. I wish I could though… but you know I'm here for you.'

'Yeah, I know. And thank you.'

'Hey, what else are friends for?' I replied.

We disconnected shortly after that, after also arranging to meet at his house in the morning so we could walk to school together, then I took the phone back out to the living room.

'Everything alright with your friend?' mum asked.

'Yes. He told me everything that happened. I just don't understand how it could have happened. How could any mother do that to their own child?'

'That's one of the great mysteries of the world, Brayden,' mum answered, looking away from the television. 'Some people are brought up differently, and they just don't understand what some others might accept, or what they might like, or even be like. As you go through life you will see more and more of that, and especially if…'

She stopped there, and I didn't understand why. It was almost as if she was going to say something, but then changed her mind.

'Especially if, what?' I asked.

My parents looked at each other, but I couldn't read what they were thinking. Not this time.

'What?' I asked again.

It was dad who eventually cleared his throat, then beckoned me to join him, by patting the seat beside him. When I was settled down beside him, he put his arm around my shoulders and held me to him.

'What I think your mum was trying to say, was that things can be extremely tough out in the real world for guys who are… let's just say, guys who like other guys,' my father said.

It took a moment for that to register with me, but when it did, I simply said, 'Oh, right.'

'Do you understand what I'm saying? Guys who are gay will always be the target for people who don't understand, or who are afraid of them. Have you seen that at school? Kids getting bullied because other kids say things like, that kid's gay…'

'Yeah, or sometimes called even worse names.'

'Well, once they grow up those bullies at school often turn out to still be bullies as adults. Your mother and I both worry that if your friendship with Charlie develops into more than just a friendship, then as you go through life you may be targeted by people like those bullies at school.'

'You mean, like, if we were boyfriends or something?'

'Yes. You've already told me that you really care about him, and we could all see that today. Is that really how you feel about Charlie? Like he's your boyfriend? Or that's what you want him to be? Have the two of you talked about that? And is that how he feels about you?'

'He… he said he loves me,' I eventually managed to say.

'I see,' said my father. 'And is that how you feel about him?'

I looked up into my father's face, with tears brimming, and managed a nod. He looked down and smiled, then hugged me close, giving me a kiss on the forehead as he did so.

When I went to bed a short while later, after kissing my parents goodnight, my head was filled with thoughts and images that I didn't really know how to handle. The one thing that kept rising to the top, however, was an image of Charlie leaning in close, hugging me, and saying 'I love you'.

No matter what the immediate future might hold, we did have that.


This story is part of the 2024 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: I'm Better Than You and I Know It". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 29 August 2023 to 20 September 2023 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:

2024 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - I'm Better Than You and I Know It

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A Prince and His Pauper

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