The Challenge That is Tony

by Pedro

Who's Marcus?

Late July, Year 9

Tony and I have been hanging together at school since Miss Rutherford volunteered us to be in charge of a chocolate fountain at the school f ê te. School is breaking up for the summer and I don't want it to stop us spending time together. Tony tells me the feeling is mutual. So we agree to meet on the first day of the holiday in what is becoming our favourite cafe: the one in the arcade with the cute waiter.

I am there first and grab a table that will allow us to see the flow people through the arcade. With school being out, there might be some boys to watch among the passers-by. I settle down to enjoy the view whilst also keeping a look out for Tony. My observation is interrupted.

"Hi. Are you ready to order?" It's the young waiter, the son of the owner. His school must have broken up as well.

"Not yet. I'm waiting for someone. They should be here in a minute."

"If it's your friend, I can see him coming into the arcade." The waiter smiles and lowers his voice. "Is he your boyfriend?"

Are Tony and I officially boyfriends? I don't think we've discussed the idea, never mind acted on it! I try scowling at the waiter as a denial.

"No need to answer," he whispers. "He's here now."

No, I don't need to answer. I can tell my face has gone red and signalled my reply.

Tony sits down next to me and we give the waiter our orders.

"Why were you blushing?" Tony asks when the waiter has gone.

"I didn't say anything, but he was asking if we are boyfriends."

"Are we?" Tony goes that delicate shade of pink that I think makes him look even cuter than normal.

"I suppose so," I reply. Ugh! I sound as though it's no big deal.

There is a pause before Tony smiles.

"What are you thinking?" I ask.

"That it's a bit of an anti-climax."

I give him a quizzical look, so he explains.

"The literature would have us involved in some long philosophical discussion and angst filled self-analysis before announcing to each other that we should be boyfriends. And you just go 'suppose so'."

'The literature'? I guess that means he has been reading stories similar to the stuff that I have found.

"It is a bit of a stereotype in some of the stories found online, isn't it?"

That gets a grunt in acknowledgement from Tony. The topic is closed by the arrival of the waiter with our order. We both watch the boy as he walks away.

"What do you think made him ask if we were boyfriends?" Tony queries, his eyes still following the boy around the cafe.

"He's probably noticed us both checking him out!"

As we sip our drinks we talk about what we have planned for the holidays. Or more correctly what our parents have planned for us and if that will still allow us to have time together. We want time together, if we are supposed to be boyfriends. Especially time to do boyfriend things!

"What do you want to do now?" I ask as we leave the cafe.

"It's a nice day. We could go to the park. See if there is anything going off there."

I get the idea for Tony to come to my house. He's not been there yet. Although we both go to the same school, we live in different parts of town.

"If we go past my home on the way, we could pick up my football. We could kick it around for a bit," I suggest.

When I point out my house to Tony, he seems withdrawn.

"Are your parents going to be there?" he asks.

So that's what it is. He's nervous about meeting my parents. I can't think why. I mostly get along fine with them.

"Mum will be there. She doesn't normally bite! If she says anything it'll probably be something to show me up. Anyway, she might have gone next door for a gossip." I'm not sure Tony is reassured.

Of course, Mum is in the kitchen when we go in through the back door. I am about to introduce Tony, but she beats me to it.

"Hello, Tony."

That puts me on the back foot. Tony must be too as he goes pink again.

"Er, how did you know his name?" I stammer out.

"Well, you did say you were off to meet him when you left the house," Mum replies with a grin.


"But it would have been an easy guess though. It's been 'Tony this' and 'Tony that' for the last week or so. I knew it wouldn't be long before you turned up with a Tony in tow!" Mum turns to Tony. "Welcome to Bedlam. Would you like some tea? I was just about to put the kettle on."

Probably from politeness, Tony accepts, although he does look like the rabbit we saw in our headlights one night we were coming home late after visiting Aunt Doris just before we ran it over.

Mum must have been shopping because she produces some fairy cakes, actually butterfly buns, to

go with the tea. She doesn't bake very often and these don't taste home-made.

The tea and buns are an excuse for Mum to engage Tony in conversation. Except it is more of a crafty interrogation. I recognise her technique having been on the receiving end many times!

Eventually, there is a break in the conversation and I can say that we came home to fetch my football before going to the park. Mum reminds me what time Dad is expected home and when our evening meal will be ready and tells me not to be late.

We fetch my ball from my room and make our escape.

"Sorry about Mum giving you the third degree," I say to Tony as we leave the house.

"I should have expected it. My parents would probably cross-examine you. I get grilled every day after school." Tony is smiling. Is he winding me up? Whether he is or not, I'll take it as a warning for when I do have to meet them!

We kick the ball around for a while. There are some other kids we know from school in the park and they join in. Eventually the group breaks up when Tony looks at his watch and declares he needs to go home as it is nearly time for his evening meal. "And don't forget your mother's admonishment not to be late for your meal either!" he adds. I should have guessed he would work a big word into his reminder.

Before he goes, we agree I should meet him at his house the next afternoon. I only know roughly where he lives so he gives me the full address and simple directions.

I have time to put my ball away and get cleaned up before Dad arrives home.

Over our evening meal, Mum tells Dad that she has finally met Tony.

"Seems a nice boy," she adds. "Intelligent, too,"

Dad grins. "Maybe he can help you understand your course work!"

Gee, thanks, Dad.

Although, on second thoughts, maybe it is a good idea. I do struggle sometimes.

After lunch, I walk across town to where Tony lives. The area where I live with Mum and Dad is nice enough, but this is more posh. The houses are more individual in style and the gardens are much larger. I guess that's one of the reasons this is part of the conservation area, which in turn is why some of the bigger plots haven't been sub-divided and smaller houses built on them.

Tony's house is not as big as some of the others in his street, but, as I walk up the drive, I can see it still has a large garden. It's immaculate, too. For example: the lawn is a really lush green with the edges nicely trimmed. Not like ours: a bit threadbare and yellowing after a spell of sunny weather. Judging by the house and garden, I'm glad that when I told Mum that I was going to see Tony and where he lived, she told me to make myself look presentable "… and not your usual scruffy self!"

I walk up to the front door and ring the bell.

It seems to be a long time before the door opens. Long enough for me to get anxious. Especially when I can tell through a frosted glass panel in the door that it is not Tony coming to open it.

It is opened by a woman who is obviously Tony's mother.

"Good afternoon. How can I help you?"

Taking my cue from my surroundings, I engage polite mode before answering. I wish her 'good afternoon' in return and introduce myself, explaining that I am in Tony's class at school. "… would it be possible to see Tony, please?"

I can see that I am being inspected as I say my piece. It makes me bashful. At least I don't feel myself blush.

"Very well, you'd better come in."

She holds the door open for me and I step into the hallway. I remember to slip off my shoes before I am ushered through a door into their lounge.

"I think Tony is in his room. Make yourself comfortable while I go and find him." Tony's mother pulls the door to as she leaves. No question, then, that I am to stay here rather than follow her to Tony's room.

I know I was told to make myself comfortable, but I don't want to sit down. I can't settle. I must be more nervous than I thought.

Instead, I pace around, looking at the stuff decorating the room. I notice a photograph standing on top of what I can tell is a nice antique desk. I take a closer look. It is of two boys lying on grass staring up at the camera. Although his face is upside down, the boy on the left I recognise as a young Tony, but his dark hair is much longer than he usually has it now. The other long-haired boy, in contrast, is really blond and has exceptionally bright blue eyes. As his face is also the right way up, he seems to dominate the picture.

The more I study the picture, the more intimate the scene seems. Certainly a kind of intimacy Tony and I haven't shared yet. I want that and more. Know what? I think I'm jealous of the boy in the picture!

"Clever picture, isn't it?"

I'm startled by the voice. Not only did I not hear the door open, but the speaker isn't Tony. When I have scraped myself of the ceiling, I turn and see a man who must be Tony's father. Thankfully, Tony had told me he works from home sometimes so meeting him is not a total surprise.

"Sorry, if I made you jump," he says, smiling. Is that to put me at ease or because he is amused that he caught me of guard? If it was my dad, it would definitely be the latter! Either way, I can see the funny side, which makes me smile back.

I'm wondering if I should introduce myself, when Tony's father goes back to discussing the photo.

"I like it, because it's the first photo by Tony that I thought had artistic merit, not just a snap."

I grunt as though I agree, but hoping he will say more.

"As an allegory for 'ying and yang'."

Allegory? 'Ying and yang'? I'm about to I show myself up by asking what he means, but he continues.

" 'Ying and yang', the ancient Chinese philosophy concerning the balancing interaction of opposites..."

Maybe he noticed my confusion.

"… for example, light and dark, which Tony has cleverly illustrated using himself and his blond friend, Marcus. Do you see what I mean?"

I do now, so I can truthfully answer yes.

"Good!" Tony's father sounds genuinely pleased with my answer, but he does not smile. "I think it more of an allegory than Tony realises. He and Marcus are very different characters. I've never said much to Tony, but I've never liked Marcus."

"So, sort of illustrated in reverse by their hair colour?"

That gets a smile. I guess I've scored a brownie point there. I also think I've got a potential ally if I need to be jealous of Marcus.

"Do you like it?"

I have continued to look at the picture as we have discussed it, trying to understand what Tony's father has been telling me. It has coloured my opinion.

"Not as much as I did before we talked about it," I reply.

"Interesting. Why's that?"

"You told me about how it is supposed to illustrate the balance of 'ying and yang'. Except it's not evenly balanced. I noticed it before. The blond boy dominates."

"And why do you think that is?"

Yes, I am being gently but firmly encouraged to think!

"I think it's the contrast with the background. The blond boy — did you say his name was Marcus? — his hair stands out so that you notice the whole of his head. On the other hand, Tony's dark hair blends into the background, making his face look smaller."

Tony's father is nodding along at my comments. "And?" he asks.

"It doesn't help that Tony is upside down. Marcus is easier to read in the photo."

"Anything else?"

Is this a general question or is he expecting me to find something else that he has seen? I could do with Tony here to help me out. Where the hell is he?

However my mention of reading the photo gives me another idea.

"We read left to right. Is there a tendency for our eyes to linger on the right of the image?"

"Very good."

It's been hard work, but I think I've just been given another point! But I'm not let off the hook yet.

"So what do you think we can do to improve it?"

If it's a digital image, I suppose the file could be photo-edited but that could be a lot of work. Dad is always on at me to try to think of something simple first and try that. If it doesn't work, it still might give a pointer to a solution.

Tony's father is waiting patiently while I mull it over.

Ah! There is something that can be done easily that might work.

"You could try turning it over. Then Tony will be the right way up and on the right, enhancing his position in the image. Hopefully the impact of Marcus blond hair will be toned down as well."

I am told to try it. I step closer to the desk and turn the photo upside down. I think it a significant improvement. I'm not the only one.

"Excellent! I'm glad it is not just me that prefers it that way. I turn it over every so often, but Tony keeps turning it back," his father confesses to me. Then he gives me a conspiratorial grin. "Let's see how long it takes him to notice."

"I suspect not long. Where is he by the way? I thought he would have been here by now."

"His mother has probably waylaid him and has him helping get the tea ready. You do drink tea?"

"Yes, please!" I could do with a calming cuppa right now!

I get my wish as Tony comes into the room with a tray laden with the tea things. The full works too: cups and saucers - yes, cups with saucers, not mugs - plates, paper napkins, teaspoons, small forks and a sugar bowl. He is followed into the room by his mother carrying another tray with the teapot and a cake. They put the trays down on the table that is in the middle of the room.

Before she starts pouring, Tony's mother looks at me.

"I'm sorry I didn't realise who you were when you came to the door. I should have guessed, Tony's been talking about you on and off for the last week or so." She turns towards her husband. "Bert, this is the young man who helped Tony with the chocolate fountain at the school fete and helped him get cleaned up after it was tipped over him."

So Tony's father is called Bert. He thanks me for my part in the incident.

Tony is delegated to hand round the cups of tea then plates with slices of cake. As he hands over his father's cake he looks across at the photo on the desk.

"Dad, have you turned the photo over again?"

"Wasn't me!" Bert replies. He winks in my direction.

Tony's next question shows he doesn't believe his dad, or, at least, wasn't listening to his answer.

"Why do you do it?"

"Because we both think it looks better that way up, don't we?" This time he is pointedly looking in my direction. Tony gives both of us some side-eye!

The conversation over tea is a mirror of the one with Tony and Mum yesterday. Except Tony was right. This is more of a forensic cross-examination than Mum's gentle interrogation.

They are forgiven though: that cake is delicious. It's coffee cake, too. My favourite! And I don't show myself up by eating it with my fingers. I use a small fork. See: I woz brung up proper!

Eventually Tony and I are dismissed and we go to his room.

"I think you've made a good impression," Tony says when we are out earshot of his parents. "Dad especially. What went on between you two with that photo?" The side-eye is back.

I tell him that his father was explaining the 'ying-yang' elements of the picture and that I thought it didn't quite work because of the prominence of the blond boy as you look at it.

"We discussed why and I suggested turning it over. Your dad said to try it. I think it looks much better that way up, and your dad evidently agrees."


"Anyway, who is Marcus? I don't think your dad likes him very much. Do I need to be jealous?" I try to make that last bit sound like a joke.

"No need to be jealous. Marcus was my best friend before we moved here. We've lost contact."

I had forgotten that Tony is from away.

"Why didn't your dad like him?"

"Marcus was a bit older than me and Dad thought he was a bad influence and abusing my trust. Taking advantage. With hindsight, I think Dad was right."

"Have you told him?"

"No. I suppose I should." Tony looks a bit down at the thought, but then he brightens. "That way he'll think I've learnt my lesson and not make the same mistake with you!"

I think that is a vote of confidence.

Tony changes the subject by rummaging around in his desk until he finds something. It's a digital camera.

"Let's try something. Push the door to, then stand in front of it."

I do as I am told. The back of the door has a green cloth pinned to it.

Tony holds up his camera and looks through the view finder.

"Should work," he reports. "Now mess your hair up, so it looks as though you are lying down."

Tony has to help messing my hair before he is satisfied. I find it very sensual and I know one bit of me that isn't satisfied! Watching Tony take my photo against the screen, I think he has the same problem.

"Open the door again," he says when he has taken the shot. "Don't want the 'rents to think we are doing something we are not."

More's the pity!

Tony uploads the photo to his computer. Then he also brings up the picture of him and Marcus.

I find it interesting to watch what he is doing as he manipulates the two photos. It doesn't take him long until he has them combined and my head replaces that of Marcus next to Tony's. He saves the new image and then prints it out.

We both look at the finished product.

"I was going to swap it for the one downstairs," Tony says. "But it won't work. You can see it has been edited and you look too old compared to me."

I have to agree.

"Still, it was a useful exercise with the green screen." He holds the paper out to me. "Here, do you want it?"

I thank him and take it.

I look at my watch. It is time I was going home. Where has the afternoon gone? We don't seem to have had much time together. Still, I have got that first awkward meeting with Tony's parents out of the way.

Before I leave, I say goodbye to Tony's mum and dad and thank them for the tea. Tony comes with me to the front door.

"Come to the back door next time. It's usually open."

"Okay. Thanks for the picture." I can't resist winding him up though. "What are you going to do with the old picture? Leave it upside down and make your dad happy?"

I get the response I expected.

Dad is home from work by the time I have walked back across town.

"Did you have a good time this afternoon?" he asks. "Did you meet Tony's parents?"

I give him a brief report.

"Sounds as though you got a grilling from his parents. Did it go all right?"

"Tony seemed to think so."

"So you will be allowed back and not just to apologise. What else did you get up to, or shouldn't I ask?" he teases.

"Tony is interested in photography. He showed me how he does some of his photo-editing."

I hand him the print. After a few seconds he starts to giggle.

"What's so funny, Dad," I grump at him.

"It reminds me of an old Schultz cartoon. You know 'Peanuts'?"

"Yes. I've heard of them. And?"

"Charlie Brown and Linus are lying on the grass watching the clouds roll by overhead. Linus says 'Don't you think the cloud look like states. There's Texas and there's Alaska, and Australia and…'

" 'I can see a horsey and a doggie,' Charlie Brown replies. I was thinking you are Charlie Brown, and Tony is Linus."

"Very funny, Dad. I don't think."

When I tell Tony what Dad said, it is his turn to laugh.

"That's exactly what my dad said when I first showed him the photo with Marcus!"

Do we need to keep our parents apart? We don't want them swapping notes, do we?

© Copyright, Pedro April 2024.


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

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.

Who's Marcus?

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