"Come on, Pip, you'll be late again!" My mother's voice intruded. I counted to ten and heard the front door slam. I was still in that wonderful half-awake and half-asleep place that most of my friends seemed able to ignore but I would give everything to be able to visit at whim. I rolled over and drifted off again.

I woke to Barnaby shaking me, and sat bolt upright.

"Quickly!" From his tone and the look he gave me I gathered there was something wrong. He didn't even let me go to the bathroom, just propelled me out of the bedroom and down the stairs, dragging me to the inside door to the garage, which was shut.

I had a gut feeling, a little ball of fear that was getting larger as the seconds ticked by.

"Open the door now, Pip, quickly."

I pulled, but the door refused to budge. I could smell exhaust fumes, and looking down I saw wisps of vapour seeping under the door frame, curling lazily around my bare feet.

"It's locked!" Panic didn't come close, and I felt my bladder begin to loosen as the ball of fear grew ever larger. I ran into the kitchen and picked up one of the new chrome stools my mother had proudly brought back from the sales the week before. Back at the door I swung it sideways with all my might at the opaque glass panel, which exploded into the garage in shards. I watched them rain down upon the car, seemingly in slow motion; saw my father slumped over the steering wheel, before the cloud of carbon monoxide enveloped me.

"DAD!" I screamed, and Barnaby, bless him, took me by the shoulders and swiftly hugged me.

I cut my wrist putting my hand through the panel to unlock the door, and I cut my feet getting my father from the car and out into the open air. His lips were blue, but last term we'd completed a Red Cross training course, and I finally got him breathing again.

I felt like praying, but didn't. I didn't because I was convinced that no God in his right mind would have tested me in such a cruel way. Worst of all, I had no idea why. Why would my father, of all people, try and kill himself … why?

My father didn't speak when he came to; he just looked at me pathetically and started weeping. I'd never seen him cry, and it was all too much, all too weird. I started to cry as well. It helped us both, I think.

Finally, after Barnaby helped me to clean and bandage my feet and wrist, I got my father to his feet, back into the house and upstairs into his bedroom. He was still woozy and flopped down on the bed, though he said nothing. I covered him with the counterpane and fetched him a bottle of water from the fridge. He didn't bother with the glass, just drank the entire litre and went straight to sleep.

We stood there watching him. I glanced at Barnaby standing beside me and saw that he was wearing a … well if I had to describe it, it would have been 'a lovelorn expression'. Barnaby and I get on wonderfully most of the time, even though there are occasions when he seems to be old well beyond his years, and this was definitely one of them. I sighed.

"I must call mum."

"No, please don't, just wait until he wakes."

"Barnaby?"

"Shh Pip, let him sleep … it's finally come to a head, and he needs to come to terms with it. Stupid boy."

"Stupid? … I'm stupid?"

"No, dolt," he smiled at me, "not you, your father."

"Oh …."

Though it was patently sensible, I still felt awkward checking my parents' room for drugs and anything else that my dad could use to … well, complete the job. I glanced at Barnaby, who wore a sort of sad, wistful half-smile as he studied my sleeping father. It made me feel peculiar; after all, Barnaby is my age, and I'm just sixteen. Finally, locking the door behind us, we went down to the kitchen to make some breakfast, before I realised I was only wearing underpants.

Typically, Barnaby laughed. "Lucky you've no neighbours to oversee your heroic efforts, Pip, 'cause most heroes have costumes, and those that do have underpants, have them over snazzy leggings."

I swotted him on the head before running up to my room to get dressed.

I've known Barnaby forever. I had an accident at the swimming lake when I was six in which I apparently drowned and was rescued and brought around by Barnaby's father. You'd think that something like that would bring families closer together, but not ours. Our parents won't have anything to do with one another. Of course Barnaby's dad is a lot older than mine, and mine is ancient at thirty-two. I think it's odd. Not that we talk about it. It's just that if we do, Barnaby just shrugs his shoulders and says, "There are stranger things in the universe, Pip."

We'd just finished breakfast when there was a banging on my parents' bedroom door. Barnaby looked at me and grinned, a happy sparkle in his eyes.

"Just be gentle with him, Pip, please." I looked back quizzically.

"I …."

"Pip!" my father called. I rolled my eyes, and Barnaby chuckled as we went upstairs.

"Dad," I spoke through the door, "Are you ok?"

"Umm yeah, Pip, but I really have to pee, and I have to pee now … please."

I unlocked the door and he pushed by me, ruffling my hair, and strode to the bathroom, totally ignoring Barnaby as usual. I stood on the landing, unsure of what to do. I heard him peeing, and as he finished he sighed, and then flushed before running a sink of water.

"Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm gonna go downstairs, will you …." I trailed off unsure what I should say or do.

"I'll be down in a minute, would you put some coffee on? 'cause…," I heard a hitch in his breath, "because I have a few things I have to tell you."

The kitchen was flooded with late morning light, and by the time my father came down, I had a pot of coffee on the table and some croissant in the oven. The wonderful smells belied the vaguely surreal atmosphere. My father avoided the chrome stools at the breakfast bar and sat at the table, getting up swiftly to retrieve a packet of Marlboro lights from his weekend jacket in the hall closet, and pulling the guests-only ashtray out of the cupboard over the sink. I was open-mouthed.

"But you don't smoke, Dad," I said. Stupid, really. He smiled at me wanly.

"We all do things we say we won't or don't, Pip …." He took one of the cigarettes out and smelt it deeply before placing in the ashtray, unlit, "…and honestly I'm no different to the rest." He closed his eyes, and as he did, I felt Barnaby take my hand and squeeze it reassuringly.

My father has beautiful eyes, and I've learnt to tell a lot of his moods just by managing a glimpse of them. When he is happy they are sparkling iridescent blue; when he is unhappy or cross they become stormy, almost grey. This was the colour they were when he opened them and looked directly at me.

"I can't do this anymore, Pip, I can't live the lie I've led for the last seventeen years …."

"Lie! What lie, Dad?" Barnaby squeezed my hand again as my father looked out of the window at the late October weather. The wind had started to pick up and leaves were blowing wildly over the lawn.

"Do you remember the man who saved your life at the swimming lake, Pip? Mr Fotheringay?"

"Yes" I whispered, and clutched onto Barnaby's hand even tighter. "Barnaby's father."

"Yes … that's right." He paused and I watched as he sniffed and wiped his eyes, "well, I went to school with him, Pip, I met him that first day and we became the best of friends, it was like we were meant to be." I said nothing as my father got slowly to his feet and went into the living room. I heard him clinking in the drinks cabinet, and he came back a couple of minutes later with a bottle of single malt and two glasses. I'd never seen him like look like that. He was pale, bleak, and weeping as he put the bottle and glasses on the table and collapsed back into his seat.

"I loved him, Pip, I fell in love with him when I was fourteen, and he, he fell in love with me …." Barnaby was comforting me now, as he knew better than anyone how my father's admission was affecting me.

I was shocked speechless. My father had fallen in love with Mr Fotheringay, a man who must have been his teacher. How could he, how could he possibly. I felt sick to the stomach with disgust. My father poured a stiff measure of whisky in a glass and slid it across to me, and then poured himself a huge slug too. I was too shell-shocked to say no, and took a sip, the pale amber liquid burning a trail down my throat, and making me cough. Barnaby patted me on the back and I smiled at him gratefully.

"…but he was from a very religious family, and they frowned upon anything out of the normal, anything that veered from their narrow view of the world." My father continued, slowly. "He had incredible pressure to conform and just after my sixteenth birthday he took a girl to the Halloween ball …." My father was sobbing now, his words hard to catch, and the image I had of my sixteen year old father watching Mr Fotheringay cavorting with a woman and being jealous was almost too much to bear.

"But Dad, I …."

"Shh," Barnaby whispered, stroking my hair, and his presence was so reassuring I kept my opinions to myself and let my father continue.

"He slept with her that night, just that one time, and he made me promise never to tell anyone. The last time I saw him he was going to confront his parents and tell them that he'd had enough; he was going to live the life he wanted, not the life they wanted him to live. He was going to tell them he was … he was gay and he was in love with me!" My father broke down sobbing.

Awful though the picture of my father in love with an older man was, I grieved for him.

"He kissed me goodbye before he drove off … and … and … I never saw him again. The wreckage of his car was found at the bottom of Scaffold Pike Tor the next morning." My father was a ruined wreck and I started sobbing in sympathy at his obvious pain. I stumbled up, walked around the table and wrapped my arms around his shoulders.

"I'm so sorry, Dad, I'm so, so sorry."

"Oh Pip, please, it's me who should be sorry. I've tried to hide who I am all these years and I can't do it any more, I just can't live with it …."

"Dad," I interrupted, "I've been building myself up for months to tell you, but I'm, I mean you're not … I mean …." My father looked at me quizzically, sniffing loudly and wiped his eyes on the tea towel.

"You're what, Pip, whatever it is it can't be much worse than me." It was a weak attempt at a joke, but I gave him his due, a bright smile, and took a deep breath.

"I'm … I'm gay too, Dad … and I'm in love with Thomas Smaith."

"Oh Pip! Finally! I'm so glad you told me. Thomas is such a nice lad and your mother and I were wondering … we should have talked about it ages ago." He hugged me and kissed me on the cheek, his stubble rasping uncomfortably, as out of the corner of my eye I saw Barnaby sitting on the window seat with a huge grin on his face, giving me the thumbs up.

"Dad, I don't mean to pry, but I was wondering …." I flushed, almost too embarrassed to go on. My father pushed me away so he could see my face properly.

"Wondering what, Pip?" he asked. I gathered my courage. It was a question I knew I could only ask once.

"I was … I was wondering how you could fall in love with a man twenty years older than you, and if you really loved him … how come you married mum and had me?"

He looked at me with a shocked expression.

"Fotheringay! no, no Pip, it wasn't Mr Fotheringay, it was Barnaby I was in love with, and …."

"It can't be," I interrupted, "'cause Barnaby's only sixteen, the same as me." My father gripped my arm so hard it hurt.

"Pip," my father said in a whisper, his eyes glistening. "Barnaby died in the wreck at the bottom of Scaffold Pike Tor sixteen years ago. Barnaby was your father."

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Many thanks to my friend and original editor, Kitty. She wasn't keen on this (sophomoric was mentioned, though what my sofa had to do with it still perturbs). That was one reason it was buried for so long. The other was I lost it in a pile of antiquated hard drives, which is not surprising since I originally wrote it in 2006.
I'm hoping, that like a fine wine *falls off chair, laughing*, it might have improved....

*****

Feedback would really be appreciated!
Email me at: Camy.Sussex[@gmail.com]

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