The Challenge That is Tony

by Pedro

Dogma With Shorts

Mid May, Year Eleven

"Morning, boys. The usual?"

Maria, Simon's mum spots us as we enter the cafe.

"Morning. Yes, please," Tony and I chorus in reply.

We are in unison again as we say 'hi' and tell Simon we have ordered as we pass him – he's clearing tables – on our way to our favourite seats.

We must stop doing the unison thing. We'll be finishing each other's sentences next!

"Here you are, boys," Maria says when she delivers our drinks. We thank her.

"Simon fallen out with us?" I add jokingly.

"No, no. I told him I was running out of crockery and asked him to empty the dishwasher then re-load it. I want him out of the way while I ask you something."

Tony indicates Maria should sit on one of the spare chairs at our table.

"No, I'll stay standing if you don't mind. That way I can watch for customers. But more importantly Simon won't suspect anything if he sees me talking to you."

Intriguing. We both sit straighter to give her our attention.

"It's Simon's birthday next week and, although it wasn't planned that way, Thomas's is a few days later. The boys don't know it yet, but Tom and I are organising a bit of a do for them in the park next Sunday afternoon. We thought it would make a break for Simon from revising for his GCSEs. Will you two be able to come, please?"

"Thank you for the invitation," I reply. "Of course, we'll come," Tony adds to complete our acceptance. It will be a break from our revision, too. We ask what time.

"About three o'clock. On the flat area near the tennis courts. We thought it would be fun to have some silly games like 'egg and spoon' and 'three-legged' races. So don't wear anything smart." Maria looks around the cafe to check all is well and that Simon is still in the kitchen before continuing. "I'm sure Simon would want you to come but I have my own ulterior motive for inviting you."

I'm wondering what the catch is going to be. At least Maria is smiling, and her tone isn't serious, so I guess it won't be too onerous.

"We'll be putting on some light refreshments. The people at the Italian restaurant have agreed we can use their tables and chairs. You've helped me out here before. Would you give us a hand setting up, please? And muck in during service if necessary?"

There is a gate into the park from the yard behind the Italian restaurant. Maria has probably arranged to use one of the outbuildings in the yard to store stuff before it is needed.

"Sure!" we agree.

"Thanks, boys."

Maria bustles off just as Simon comes out of the kitchen with a tray of clean crocks.

The day looks suitable for shorts so I can wear the lederhosen that Paul gave me last month. I think they are brill. They might be hand-me-downs but there is plenty of wear left in them. In fact I suspect they are pretty much indestructible. It was really kind of Paul to think of me when they no longer fit him. Mind you, he did take the opportunity to tease me about my always wanting to get into his pants when he left them with me.

The shorts will be ideal if everyone is making fools of themselves at Simon's party. They'll not get damaged if I fall over in any of the races Maria has planned for us. Since she said Tony and I might also have to help with the catering, I dig out the polo shirt Dad got for me one time he visited Raj's uncle's market stall. It has a bit more class than the t-shirts I normally wear when I'm not at school. As Maria is also going to have us moving furniture around, I put on my walking boots. They will give my feet more protection and support than sneakers.

Tony comes round to my house at about half past two. We had agreed with Maria that we would go down to the park a bit early to get as much done as possible before people started arriving.

Tony greets me and hands me a piece of cloth.

"It's my spare Scout neckerchief. I thought it might be useful as a sweat band round your head or neck when we are helping Maria."

I can see it will also be useful if we get roped into a 'three legged' race! I roll it up and put it round my neck.

"I've brought mine as well." Tony gets his own scarf out of his pocket and puts it on.

We say goodbye to the 'rents before wandering down to the park to find out what Maria wants us to do.

"Hi, boys," Maria greets us by the gate to the Italian. "Thanks for coming down early to help. Would you get the tables from the store in the yard and put two on that side of the gate, please." She indicates the area towards the tennis courts and the school. "We'll use those for organising the games. The rest of tables want to be on the other side, please. They will be for the food.

"Bruno, the son of the restaurant owners, should be in the yard and can show you where the tables are stored. You know Bruno, don't you? He goes to your school."

"Yes, we know Bruno. He's in our year," Tony replies. "He's one of our mates," I add.

We find Bruno. He is stocking up the little bar they have in the corner of the yard. He must be expecting some of the adults will want a drink. Tom and Maria won't want to put booze on with their refreshments when there are kids about, never mind what it would cost!

"Just bottling up," Bruno says when we interrupt him. He shows us where to find the tables.

It is something of a work-out, carrying and setting up the tables. I hope we have time to recover before the races start.

"Where's Simon? And Thomas?" I ask Maria when we report that we have finished with the tables. I've noticed guests are starting to arrive.

"They should be here in a minute. They've gone with Tom to fetch the props for the games and some other bits and pieces." Maria thanks us for dealing with the tables and then asks if we would be kind enough to help when it's time to put the food out. We agree and ask when. "Probably about four o'clock," Maria tells us. "If you check with Bruno now, before it gets busy, he can show you their chill room where the food is being held."

We do as instructed. There seems to be a mountain of food. I ask Bruno if he knows how many people are expected .

"No idea, but there will be Simon's and Thomas's friends and I know some have been invited from the church and the youth club. Maria also said there would be a few regulars from the cafe. And as the boys will be joining our school next September, she asked me to invite some from our year and some from what will be Thomas's so they have a chance to get to know us before they start. I've asked Cath, of course, and Paul, Mel, and a few others. There might be some staff coming as well."

"I guess that will be Miss Rutherford; she helps at the youth club," I say. Tony suggests Mrs O'Reilly and maybe David Morgan; they were there on the night of the wrestling match.

When we go back into the park, far more people have arrived. We find Tom and Simon putting some boxes on the tables that we had put out for the games. There is younger kid with them. We've not met him before, but it is obvious he is Simon's brother, Thomas, even without the introductions we get from Tom. They are so alike. No doubt, in a couple of years, Thomas will be eye-candy for boy-watchers, just like his brother.

Tom tells the boys to go off and talk to their guests. We hang back to ask if there is anything else he wants help with.

"Not at the moment. Thanks," he replies. "But I will send one of the boys for you when Maria wants help with the food, or if I get in a mess and need assistance! Go and enjoy yourselves."

We wander off to see if we can find any of our friends, but our search is interrupted by a voice behind us.

"Excuse me, guys."

We turn towards the voice. It's Thomas.

"Hi, Thomas. What can we do for you?" We are in unison again!

"I want to thank you for giving me my brother back. Simon has just told me who you are. You're the guys who got him away from that bloody shit, Jefferson!"

"Er, it wasn't just us," I stammer. "Several of our friends were involved and some of our teachers."

The kid's compliment has made me a bit bashful, and I miss the cue to tweak him about his language. Tony doesn't.

"I'm not sure your parents would approve of your language," he says with a smile. "But you're not wrong. From what we found out, Jefferson is a right shit!" Thomas gets the joke and giggles.

"Seriously, though," Tony adds. "Your brother needed to recognise his situation for himself to be able to make the break."

"He did say something about a cat being the catalyst."

"Ah, yes. Merkin, the school cat." I decide to give Thomas advance warning. "Simon says you are joining our school next year. You need to be careful around the cat: she looks cute but can be vicious. Tony and I both have scars! Most of the pupils do."

"It's all right. I'd keep away from her anyway as I'm allergic to cats. But thanks for the tip."

We talk with Thomas for a while until we see some kids from our school who will be in the same year as Thomas. Although we don't know them well, we make what introductions we can and the three are soon chatting amongst themselves. We leave them to it.

"Thomas seems a canny lad," I say once we are far enough away not to be overheard.

"Geordie or Standard English?" Tony asks, trying to wind me up. Expecting me not to know the difference.


Tony grumbles his agreement.

Tom gets everyone involved in at least one of the various competitions he had planned. Tony comments that Tom is mixing people from the different groups of guests as an icebreaker to get people talking to each other and not just people they know.

Tony and I get roped into the races. We both complete the egg-and-spoon race without dropping our eggs, but neither of us win. The less said about the three-legged race the better – we fall over! When we get ourselves untied and upright again, Tom asks us to go and help Maria fetch out the food.

It so happens that the first thing I put out on the table is a tray of tuna sandwiches. When I return with another tray of food, I can see that Merkin is sitting under the table, sniffing the air. I point her out to Tony.

"She's probably hoping someone will drop one of those tuna sandwiches," I say.

"I wouldn't put it past her to trip up someone to make sure!" he replies.

Tony is still fetching the last tray from the chill room, when Simon appears. He has someone with him. A man wearing a cassock and clerical dog collar and, er, what seems to be a French sailor's beret. What's that about? Simon introduces him as Father Dawkins, one of the priests at his Catholic church.

"Pleased to meet you at last. I don't think I'm breaking any secrets of the confessional when I say I asked Simon if I could meet you. I wanted to thank you personally for being there, last October, to support him and his family when they needed it."

I go bashful again and mumble something about it being not only me; Tony and several others were also involved.

"Ah, yes. Tony. Your partner in the dynamic duo. Helping at both the cafe and the school. I would like to meet him as well, if I may?"

I am getting a bit flustered. I'm concerned about how much he seems to know about us. Okay, so it's probably common knowledge to those around us, but he's a priest, a Catholic one at that. I haven't had much to do with religion and priests, but I know they aren't keen on gays. The Catholic Church in particular.

Fortunately, Tony arrives next to me. I can see Simon is temporarily distracted – Merkin is sitting in an empty space on the table behind the priest and has him feeding her some tuna – so I'm about to do the introductions but the priest beats me to it.

"Hello. You must be Tony. I was just telling your, er, friend here how everyone appreciates the support you gave Simon when he needed it."

It's Tony's turn to do bashful and he turns that interesting colour he always goes when embarrassed. He also looks confused about who is talking to him.

"This is Father Dawkins. One of the priests from Simon's church," I inform him. "The enlightened one."

Oops! Where did that come from? Yes, Bruno told me about the two priests last October, and I know I can be tactless at times. But I'm not normally that bad!

A movement catches my eye. Merkin has stuck a leg out and started grooming herself. There is that air of fake innocence about her that cats do so well.

It is Father Dawkins' turn to blush.

"I'll take that as a compliment, and I'll admit my colleague, Father Robinson is somewhat conservative." He glances in Simon's direction and chuckles. "I wouldn't go so far as saying he's the reactionary old fossil I've heard some of you young'uns call him!"

Working in the cafe, Simon has become immune to being tweaked, but he does colour up at the priest's comment. Probably because his attention is still mainly focussed on the cat. Which he confirms with a Freudian slip.

"Well, he is!" he mutters, loud enough to be overheard.

Tony steers the conversation away.

"Pope Francis seems to be more progressive than most. Doesn't he talk about working with Marxists to help the poor? I understand that has upset a few."

"Yes. The Church in the United States in particular."

"Isn't helping the poor supposed to be a core Christian teaching?" I ask. Am I being gauche again?

"Er, yes." The priest takes my question as a criticism. "Alas, one of many teachings more often ignored than observed. The practical reality is that most Christians, Catholics included, are quite content with the theory but don't want to bother with the practice!"

Tony returns to discussing the Pope.

"Nearly all the Popes have been from Italy, and the rest from Europe or the Mediterranean basin. He's the first from Latin America, the home of 'liberation theology'. He'll have brought a different perspective."

"He has." Father Dawkins pauses. I look at him expecting him to elaborate. Tony and Simon do as well. He continues. "Although not aligned with liberation theology, there is no doubt he has been influenced by the movement. As a consequence he has been accused of being a Marxist. Which he has countered by saying the Marxist ideology is wrong, but that he has met many Marxists in his life that are good people and therefore he is not offended by the accusation."

Simon re-joins the conversation. "He's also the first Jesuit Pope."

"They haven't always seen eye-to-eye with the Vatican," adds Tony.

"You're right again. There is a feeling that Francis' election has brought about a rapprochement between the order and the communion as a whole." The priest's tone suggests that this is not universally accepted. Tony picks up on it.

"But perhaps not with reactionary elements in the Curia in Rome?"

Father Dawkins turns to look more directly at Tony. I guess he senses Tony is the most informed of the three of us.

"I assure you he is making reforms there, too. Of course, there is resistance from some of the more conservative elements."

"Which presumably explains the mixed messages from the Church about homosexuality. He, at least, appears to be in favour of a more conciliatory approach."

"The Holy Father has said that gays should be accepted as humans on equal footing in God's family and has called for an end to anti-gay laws." The priest looks uneasy at the direction the discussion is going.

"But he hasn't yet annulled the edict from the third Lateran Council. Do you think he will ever be able to do that?" Tony queries.

"No. Not impossible but it would very difficult to make the change. It's settled dogma." The reply sounds uncertain.

"Exactly, it's only been the dogma since 1179. Less than half the life of the church! I read that there was even a rite blessing same-sex relationships before then."

Father Dawkins looks even more unsettled.

"Where did you read that?" Simon asks. I want to know too.

"A piece * summarising the work of John Boswell of Yale. His books were called something like 'Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe' and 'Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality'."

I know my boyfriend is smart, but where does he get this stuff from?

"Have you heard of him, Father?" Tony challenges.

"Yes, but I can't comment."

I get the thought that he is probably not allowed to.

For some reason, I have to ask, even if I show myself up. "What was the third Lateran council?"

"Correct me, Father, if I'm wrong," answers Tony. "It was a council of bishops and others called by the Pope. Alexander the third, I think. At the time the Pope was in dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor about the influence of the secular power over the Church or the Church over the state. Most of the canon, or church, law decided at the council concerned the primacy of the Church. But there were other provisions including the one against homosexuality."

"I'm sure the Church wouldn't describe it quite that way, but near enough," The priest remarks.

"So, if most of it was about power politics, could the homosexual provision be as well? What if some of those opposing the Pope at the time were gay, or thought to be?" Er, when did I get to be so cynical?

I see the cat yawn an d stretch but nobody gets to answer my question as we are interrupted.

"Ah, there you are Merkin. I've been looking all over for you."

With uncanny timing, Mrs O'Reilly, our art teacher arrives. She is dressed in the bohemian outfit she wears when she does fortune telling at the school fete. Complete with a weird hat.

"Good afternoon, boys. Good afternoon, Father. You look as though these boys have been giving you a hard time. Not too bad I hope." There is malicious amusement in her voice. Just enough to tease the priest, not enough to be unkind.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. O'Reilly. Alas, they've been grilling me on the Pope and the third Lateran council." Father Dawkins' manner towards the teacher is more wary than casual courtesy.

"Ah, the Third Lateran. Power politics: like most things to do with organised religion!" She turns to Simon. "Thank you for the invitation to your party. I am enjoying myself. I hope you are, too."

Simon mumbles something appropriate before the teacher picks up the cat.

"Come along, Merkin. I need you to help me win the funny hat competition." She looks at the hat on the priest's head. "Are you entering, Father? I'll see you over there." Wearing the cat on her shoulder, she walks over to talk to Tom at the games tables.

The priest points to his beret. "I don't think I'll win with this against the cat. I suppose I'd better follow her over there. Nice to meet you, boys. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon."

We watch him go across to Tom and the other hat contestants.

"He might have had a chance with his biretta, but I suppose that's his work uniform," Simon says, before he, too, leaves to talk to some of the other guests.

"You were more antagonistic talking to Father Dawkins than you usually are with adults," Tony says to me once Simon has gone.

"You definitely were! Challenging him over homosexuality and the Lateran council. Got him a bit flustered there. Where did that come from?"

"When Miss Rutherford told us Simon was a Catholic, I asked the 'rents about it. I got lectured at dinner: Mum and Dad have always discussed stuff over meals. These days, I'm expected join in. If need be I do research to be able to hold my own. But you know all that."

True. I've eaten there often enough. His parents always drag me into the conversation. I always learn something. Usually about something I've never heard of!

"He wasn't the only one flustered, though."

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"You! I saw you doing that thing you sometimes do when you get nervous: rolling your arms up into your shirt." Tony chuckles. "You should probably get out of the habit though. You put Dawkins off guard. When I arrived I could see him looking at your bare stomach above those sexy shorts Paul gave you. His ears were starting to go red."

Is that's why he slipped and nearly called me Tony's boyfriend? He would have been right, of course.

* See, initially, the link on this site to Christianity Doctrines.

© Copyright Pedro January 2024 All rights reserved


This story is part of the 2024 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Jamboree". 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 - Jamboree

The picture is provided here under the doctrine of 'fair use' which is believed to apply. It is not the site's intent to infringe copyright. Copyright owners considering that this does not apply to their work should enter into dialogue with the webmaster by email [for their convenience they may use the submissions email address]. Items where copyright is asserted will either be taken down, or attribution made, at the copyright holder's choice.

Dogma With Shorts

You may tick as many statements as you wish. Stories my also be discussed in detail on the Literary Merit forum

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

Current Results

Talk about this story on our forum

Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.

[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead