The Challenge That is Tony

by Pedro

Say Cheese

Mid May, Year Ten.

Dad puts his knife and fork together on his plate, signifying he has finished the main course of our Friday evening meal.

Loading my fork with my own last mouthful, I can feel his eyes on me. I look up as I chew. Yes. I am being inspected. I can guess what he is thinking, so I return the scrutiny until I can swallow, allowing me to speak.

"Yes, Dad. I'm going for a haircut in the morning, so there's no need to look at me like that." I decide to mount my own attack. "Are you going to come with me? You look about ready for a trim."

Mum doesn't laugh, but does something between a snort and a snigger that tells me I have been awarded the point.

"Actually," says Dad. "I was thinking your hair wasn't too bad. Not compared to your Tony's. His does need cutting. Best take him with you in the morning."

Dad's right. Tony's hair has got really long. Mum does her snort thing again for Dad's parry. Scores even.

"I can't," I reply. "Tony is away for the weekend. So, you coming with me?"

Dad grunts his agreement. Mum changes the subject by asking who wants apple pie and custard for afters.

"If we've got any Wensleydale, can I have mine with cheese, not custard, please?" asks Dad. "As they say in Yorkshire 'apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze'."

"With custard for me, please," I say. If Mum has done custard, the pie will be fresh out of the oven. Like Dad, I like Wensleydale, occasionally, with cold apple pie, but prefer custard when it is hot.

Mum brings in our servings of pie. Dad's has a chunk of cheese with it.

"I'll have my kiss and squeeze later," Mum chortles as she passes Dad his plate.

Ugh! Too much information.


While we are sitting in the barber's, waiting our turns to be shorn, Dad asks me what my plans are for the afternoon.

"Not a lot," I reply. "I thought I would text Paul and see if wants to go to the park and kick a football around for a bit. Why? Do you need me to help you with something?"

"No. Not this afternoon. But if you have any homework still to do, I suggest you do it sometime today. Don't forget we are going to see your Aunt Doris tomorrow. I'm told we're staying for lunch. You know what that means…"

"She's got some job she wants us to do!"

"Exactly! And if Tony comes round after he gets back from wherever he's gone this weekend, I doubt you'll be wanting to do homework." Dad pauses just long enough for me to blush. "By the way, where has he gone?"

"They are visiting an aunt and uncle in Lancashire for some special event. He wouldn't say more than that."

Dad gets called to the chair, and I text Paul while I am waiting for my turn.


Paul and I meet up in the park at the time we had agreed. We spend some time just kicking the ball around and practicing our passing skills, then change to tackling practice. Although we are better than we were last year, we still fall over each other's feet from time to time and end up wrestling on the grass.

One time when we crash together, we find ourselves in a sort of hug as we fall to the ground. Disentangling and picking ourselves up, we hear some giggling close by. We look around.

It's Mel, from our year, and Virginia, who is in her last year at school. They are still grinning as we walk over to them.

"You're a fast worker," Virginia says to me.

"Almost as speedy as Tony," Mel adds — with heavy emphasis on 'speedy'— at which they both dissolve into giggles again.

Are they giggling because they are winding me up or are they just being girly? With these two, almost certainly winding me up. I must have a blank look on my face. I have no idea what they are talking about.

Virginia adds to my confusion.

"Trying to get Paul to be your new boyfriend, hugging him like that."

Why would they think I need a new boyfriend? And why would I pick on Paul? We all know he is straight. Somehow the space between Paul and I increases by about ten centimetres.

"In his dreams!" Paul exclaims.

If I wasn't so confused, I would blush at the remark. He is in my dreams occasionally, with his long legs and blond hair.

"Why do you think I need a new boyfriend?" I ask when I have my brain in gear.

"Just something we saw on Tony's social media feed. Don't you follow it?" says Mel.

"I don't use it much," I reply. My parents' cautious approach to social media must have rubbed off on me.

"It may be nothing, but you'd better have a look." Virginia's tone tells me she realises she and Mel have both put a foot in it. She changes the subject. "Come on, Mel, I need to get something from the shop."

Virginia leads them away. Paul turns to me.

"What was that about?" he asks.

"I don't know, but I got the impression they think Tony has dumped me."

"Has he? Have you fallen out?"

"Not as far as I know."

The conversation with the girls has spoiled the mood, so Paul and I decide to end our practice session.

"I hope things work out for you," Paul says as he leaves for home.

I chew over what the girls have said as I start to drag myself home. I can think of nothing I have said or done that might have caused Tony to dump me. We haven't had any arguments lately. Nor can I think of anything that with hindsight would suggest I was going to be dumped. Although, he has been a bit secretive about what he is doing this weekend.

Just to add to my downer, I lose control of my ball as I am on my way out of the park. It rolls down the slope and into the duckpond, ending just far enough out that I have to wade out to get it. The pond might be only paddling deep, but the bottom is super shitty.

I pull off my sneakers and socks as soon as I am through the door at home. I am filling a bucket to use to clean my shoes when Dad comes into the room. He sniffs the air and grins.

"Duckpond?" he asks.

I grunt confirmation.

"We're having supper early. Your mother says there is a feature-length episode of one of her favourite programmes on the telly," Dad reports unenthusiastically. I manage another grunt. It'll be something neither of us will want to watch. "You've got just about enough time to get those shoes and yourself cleaned up. You'd best rinse those socks out too."

Although Mum has done one of my favourite meals — a cottage pie with a nicely crunchy cheese topping — it doesn't improve my mood. I grunt my way through supper. Tony would say I was being monosyllabic, but at the moment I don't give a fuck what Tony would say.

As soon as Dad and I have sorted the washing up, I retreat to my room. I sit at my desk and boot up my computer. I want to see what Tony has posted and why the girls think I have been dumped. I am about to open my browser when there is a tap on the door. It will be Dad. Mum was already settled in front of the telly when I came upstairs. I grunt for him to come in. He wanders in and props himself against the window sill.

"I can't be watching that drivel, so I thought I'd come and see what you were up to." Dad pauses to look me over. He must have seen something in my body language. He gets to the real reason for his visit. "You seem a bit down tonight, lad. I thought at first it was because you had had to go paddling in the duckpond, but it's more than that, isn't it?" He doesn't wait for me to reply. "Is there 'trouble at t'mill'?"

"What do you mean?"

"Are there problems between you and Tony?"

"Oh, Dad! I think I've been dumped." There is a hitch in my voice and I can feel tears starting to form in my eyes. Dad comes over and pulls me into a hug. It is enough to stop the threatened flood.

"Now, why would you think that?"

"We bumped into two of the girls from school in the park. They said they had seen it on social media." I sniff back the last drips of my runny nose.

"Huh! Social Media. Got a lot to answer for!" There is no disguising Dad's dislike. Contempt even. "Have you seen it for yourself?"

"Not yet."

"And you haven't done anything silly, like text Tony with an accusation, have you?"

"No, I haven't had time. We had supper as soon as I came in and got cleaned up."

"Good." Dad steers me back into my chair. "Now, let's see what all the fuss is about. Find what he has posted," he instructs, then he puts a comforting hand on my shoulder. "You'd probably prefer I didn't, but I am going to stay. To stop you reading too much into whatever we see."

It doesn't take me long to find a picture that the girls must have been referring to. As soon as he sees it Dad bursts out laughing. I'm not sure I see the joke.

"Sorry," Dad apologises once he has regained a semblance of self-control. "But that's so cheesy. You've got to admit they look a right pair of wallies. Especially Tony dressed as Robin. That mop of hair is totally wrong for the character."

" S'pose so," I concede grudgingly.

"Who's the other character in the picture?"

"That's what I want to know!"

Dad picks up on my tone.

"Do I detect an element of jealousy?" He gently squeezes my shoulder to indicate I should relax. "Remember what your mother said to you the other week at your athletics match — a little jealousy adds some spice, but don't overdo it. Don't go finding it in things that probably have a perfectly innocent explanation."

Aargh! Do all parents swap notes?

"What I meant," Dad resumes, "was what character is he supposed to be? I don't recognise it."

"I don't either," I admit.

Dad has me surfing the net to find the character. Probably to distract me while my emotions calm down. We find out that he is the sidekick to 'Green Arrow', a DC Comics superhero. The kid is called 'Speedy'. So that's what Mel was getting at!

"It looks like they are at some event where they dress up as comic characters. I think it's known as cosplay." says Dad. "I wouldn't have thought your Tony was into that sort of thing. Too level headed. He's never mentioned it?"

"No."

"You said he was being cagey about the event. Perhaps it isn't his scene and he is embarrassed about having to take part and that's why he didn't tell you more."

"Could be." I start to feel a bit easier.

"You also said he was visiting an uncle and aunt. Speedy could be a cousin. Has Tony ever mentioned cousins?"

"Several. Not as bad as Raj and Nav from the shop with their lot in Brum, but I still lost track when Tony told me who they all were."

Dad must think everything is explained because he moves back to prop himself on the windowsill.

"Are you going to text Tony now?" he asks.

"I was going to call later." Of course I mean when Dad has left my room.

"I suggest you text. If you call, apart from possibly interrupting something the family are doing, you might accidently let slip you thought Tony had dumped you. That kind of conversation should be face to face — if you have to have it at all. When you text, review and edit before hitting send. Ask him how his day was, and which cousin Speedy is, but keep it cool."

"Yes, Dad," I drone to show I've got the message. Dad starts to chuckle.

"If you want to wind him up a bit, tell him I said it's time he got a haircut. He looks like Shaun the Sheep."

I can't resist a smile. Dad notices and knows his task is done. He goes to the bedroom door, but stops with his hand on the door handle and turns to look at me. I can see he is in teaching mode.

"Now do you see why I dislike the public nature of social media and why I am always urging you to be careful ? Tony probably thought it an innocent picture and yet you were ready to use it to bite him in the arse. Imagine if the picture was less innocent and a future employer, or someone who wanted use it against him, got hold of it."

As Dad turns to leave the room I hear him muttering to himself.

"Ugh. I wish I'd not thought of that."

"What was that, Dad?" I shout after him.

"Your biting Tony in the arse," comes the reply from halfway down the stairs.

Well, I did ask!


Dad says he wants some help getting some tools out of the car when we get to Aunt Doris' place. Since we didn't bring any, it is an excuse to talk to me alone.

"Did you text Tony last night?" he asks.

"Yes."

"And? All sweetness and light?"

"I think so. He only sent a short reply as he was with the family when he got my text. He says he will call in when they get home later today. Probably about tea time."

"Right, we'd better get on with what your aunt wants done or he'll be there before us."

Our tasks for the day include turning the compost heap. Dad says it would have been better done before winter. That might be the case. What I do know is that I needn't have bothered cleaning my sneakers yesterday. They are just as mucky again after we finish. Dad and I would have brought our wellies if Aunt Doris had thought to tell us what she wanted us to do beforehand.

Mum and her sister keep out of the way, gossiping in the kitchen. At least with Mum involved, lunch will be edible. Aunt Doris isn't the world best cook for meals.

After lunch we are given an unexpected reward for our efforts. While Mum has been preparing lunch, her sister has baked us a fruitcake to take home with us. She might not be any good at meals, but she bakes a wicked fruitcake. Mum says with the amount of booze she manages to smuggle into the mix they should be good. Dad is already drooling in anticipation.


Tony arrives about ten minutes after we get home from Aunt Doris'.

I ask Tony if he has had a good time but before he can reply, Dad spots that he has had a haircut.

"I see you've been shorn," he says. "Did you get much for the fleece?"

Thankfully, Tony is used to the 'rents sense of humour and laughs along.

"I'm glad to be rid of it," he says. "I only grew it long as a disguise. I knew we would be going to the cosplay event and I didn't want to be recognised if anyone took photos. It didn't work though, did it? Not after my cousin Wallace uploaded that photo to my account so that it was obvious it was me. Paul texted to say Mel and Virginia spotted it straight away."

"What was the cosplay event like then?" I ask.

"More fun than I expected, but still cheesy. I suppose it's a bit like a giant fancy dress party or a 1940's weekend — all dressing up in uniforms — or one of those groups re-enacting Civil War battles. Except the organisation seemed much more commercial. I think that's what made it seem cheesy and less spontaneous."

"Whose idea was it to go to the event?" Mum joins the conversation.

"Wallace's. He wanted to do something different for his birthday. All the cousins were invited and any uncles and aunts that wanted to join in. Thankfully, he only posted the one picture, the one of him and me, to my account.

"Wallace is a keen archer. Honestly, I think he just wanted an excuse to dress up as Speedy!"

"I thought that looked like a real bow," says Dad. "Is he any good?"

Tony reports on how good an archer Wallace is. He then admits that when Wallace let him try the bow, he only just managed to draw the bow, never mind hit a target.

When it is time for a change of subject, Tony hands me a paper bag with something solid in it.

"I've brought you a present. I thought it appropriate," he says with a grin.

I open the package. It's a chunk of cheese! I thank him, of course.

"I'm afraid they didn't have any creamy or tasty in the shop, so it had to be crumbly Lancashire. It's a bit sharper than the others."

"I know just the thing to go with that," says Dad who has been paying attention. "Doris' cake!"

Mum and Dad go off into the kitchen to make tea and get the cake.

"I was going to get you something anyway," says Tony when we are alone. "but Paul's text said I should bring a peace offering. I didn't understand what he meant until I got another from Virginia apologising after telling me how she and Mel had upset you. Are we good?"

"Yes," I reply just before the 'rents come back with the tea, cake and a knife for the cheese, stopping me from saying more.

"Yes, very good," I repeat, mumbling through a mouthful of cheese and fruit cake.


Tony's cousin being called Wallace gives me an idea for a nickname for Tony. It's quite appropriate for my smart boyfriend but I won't use it. I remember how much I disliked it when he called me a tribble last October. I will keep it in reserve though!

© Copyright: Pedro December 2021

Voting

This story is part of the 2021 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: A Grand Day Out". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 17 Dec ember 2021 to 7 January 2022 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.

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2021 Inspired by a Picture Challenge - A Grand Day Out

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Say Cheese

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