The telephone rang that night and I barely lifted my head off the pillow for long enough to hear it being answered.
I hoped to God that it wouldn’t be for me.
Dropping my head back down into my pillow, which was still damp from the tears of fear that I had cried when I had arrived home, I remembered the sweating and the cold panic of earlier in the day. It was something the likes of which I had never before experienced, as far as I could remember. And it scared the shit out of me.
Ben knew I was gay. I knew I was gay. But that was where it ended. And the thought of anyone else outside of that little circle of two knowing it, for the moment at least, chilled me to the bone.
Footsteps came echoing down the hall and I buried myself deeper into my pillow.
‘Tim? Darling, Ben is on the phone,’ my mother said, sticking her head around my bedroom door.
‘I don’t want to talk to him. Just tell him I’m sick, or something, please,’ I said, rolling over and turning away from her.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked me.
I didn’t answer.
The door closed and I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling.
That grin on Guy’s face this afternoon. That had said it all.
I thought he might have been interested in me, but now . . . now, I didn’t know what to think. That grin looked almost like one of triumph, like a victor would flash when looking down on the defeated.
And Ben? How could he have been so fucking stupid?
‘Shit!’ I said aloud, slamming my fists into the mattress on either side of me.
Moments later the door opened again and my mother’s head once again appeared.
‘Tim? What’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ I said.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Ben really wants to talk to you. He sounded upset. Did you guys have a fight or something?’
‘Don’t worry about it. Just leave me alone please.’
I rolled over and turned my back to her again.
‘Do you want dinner?’
The door closed again and I listened as the footsteps echoed down the hallway, growing softer and softer until they were no longer there.
* * *
Somewhere in the night I managed to fall asleep. I had no idea at what time that was, but it couldn’t have been all that late.
I dreamt of Guy. Tall. Good looking. Even beautiful.
He was dressed in the uniform of a Roman Centurion.
I was lying on the ground. Naked and helpless, and he had one foot on my stomach, pinning me there. He was holding a spear, which was pointed at my chest.
He had me right where he wanted me. And I was sure I was going to die.
Suddenly my eyes opened and all I saw was darkness.
Sitting up, I wiped my hands over my face and looked around me. Then, feeling a shiver run through me, I suddenly needed to pee.
From under my bedroom door there was a pale light showing, with further light coming in through my bedroom window from the street lamps outside.
Someone was still up, so it couldn’t have been too late.
Swinging my legs over the side of my bed, I let my feet touch the floor and then I stood up and shuffled towards the door, still dressed in my school uniform, which was now crumpled.
I went out into the hallway, making it to the bathroom without being seen, where I drained all of my tensions and flushed them away.
Then, as I was washing my hands and face, I looked up into the mirror and noticed the boy who was staring back at me.
He looked tired. He looked frightened.
With a shock, I suddenly realised it was me, which forced me to step sharply backwards.
With trembling hands I switched off the light and headed back down the hallway to my bedroom, thankfully making it there without anyone seeing me, then once inside I shut the door. Glancing at my digital clock I noticed that it was 10.18 pm, then I stripped off down to my boxer shorts and climbed into bed.
* * *
The sun came in through my window the next morning, bright and early, as it always seems to do in summer.
The clock radio came on not long after that.
Apparently there wasn’t going to be any escaping this day.
I had dreamt about Guy again, so it wasn’t surprising that I woke up with a hard-on.
I thought about doing something about it. You know? Something like taking matters into my own hands. But what was the point?
Aaarrgghh! Man, this day wasn’t going to be easy!
It took me a little while to think about what my morning routine was. Shower. Get dressed. Breakfast. Walk to school.
It was a simple routine, but I did finally get it all together, although it didn’t come easy this morning.
Mum said, ‘How are you feeling?’ when I walked into the kitchen.
‘Fine,’ I answered.
Dad just looked up at me from his morning paper and grunted, before burying his head once again in the sports pages.
And to my brother and my sister it was like I didn’t even exist, although that in itself was nothing out of the ordinary.
I scarfed down some toast and orange juice, then headed out the door as quickly as I could for the short walk to school.
Ben was waiting on the corner for me, four blocks from my house, just like he had been doing for the past four years.
I kept walking, just like I always did, waiting for him to fall in beside me, but he stayed where he was and I had gone about ten paces past him before I realised that he wasn’t beside me.
I stopped and turned around to face him.
‘And a good morning to you, too,’ he said to me.
‘Hi,’ I replied, rather coldly.
‘You want to tell me what all that was about yesterday?’
I walked back and stood directly in front of him.
I was still furious with him for his little slip of the tongue.
‘How could you have said that?’ I demanded. ‘Did you forget that little “your secret is safe with me” promise that you made me?’
‘I’m sorry. I really am. It was an accident. I tried to call you last night to apologise, but your mum said you were sick.’
‘Look, I’m sorry, Tim. You have to believe me,’ he said, grabbing one of my arms as he did so.
I looked down at his hand and he immediately dropped it away.
‘Now Guy knows,’ I said to him.
‘He knows about me! Don’t you understand?’
‘I thought that was what you wanted?’
‘Yes. No. Oh, shit, I don’t know,’ I said, getting frustrated.
Ben smiled at me.
‘What’s so fucking funny?’ I demanded.
‘You, doofus. Come on, let’s get to school.’
We walked on in silence, with Ben looking over at me every now and then, with this huge grin on his face.
I tried to ignore him, but in the end I gave in and smiled back. Well, I couldn’t stay mad with him forever, could I?
‘That’s better,’ he said to me, as he placed his arm on my shoulder.
‘What happened when I left yesterday?’ I asked him.
‘We finished our milk shakes,’ he answered, but as hard as I tried he wouldn’t say anything more.
When we reached the school grounds we noticed Guy’s car in the car park, wedged between an old Ford and a VW.
There was no sign of Guy however, not until we had sat down for our first lesson of the day.
Ben and I were sitting at the back of the classroom, where we always tried to sit if we could, when we noticed Guy come in.
He looked around the room and saw us, but made no move to come near us, preferring instead to sit in the last vacant seat which was available in the middle of the row furthest from us, giving me a clear view of him for the entire period.
I was as nervous as all hell when I saw him come into the room. He knew about me now, and I had no idea what his reaction had been. I was so nervous that I didn’t even know if I would be able to talk to him.
And to make matters worse, Ben hadn’t been any help either when I had asked him about Guy’s reaction while we were walking to school.
Throughout the lesson Ben tried telling me to relax, and to some extent I was able to, but every time I looked across at Guy and saw him smiling I just tensed up again.
When the class was over I got out as quickly as I could, brushing past Guy without even saying a word and hurrying along the corridor. Looking back briefly over my shoulder, I saw him and Ben exchange quizzical glances, but I kept going.
I don’t know why, but suddenly I needed to be as far away from both of them as I possibly could.
Once outside, in the fresh summer air, I once again felt free.
I stopped and leant against a wall and breathed in for a few moments, after which Ben came out and joined me.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
I looked at him with what must have been an expression of disgust or anger, because he quickly took a step backwards.
‘Christ. What’s wrong with you?’ he asked.
I shook my head and looked away, before saying, ‘I don’t know.’
‘Listen,’ he said to me. ‘I think he’s okay with it. Really!’
‘And will my secret be safe with him too?’
‘I told you that was an accident. What have I got to do, stand up in front of the whole fucking school and say . . . “I’m sorry everyone for telling the whole world that my best friend is a fag?”’
This time I did look at him in anger.
‘Okay. Look. I’m sorry Tim. I really am. But Guy is cool about it. He hardly said anything yesterday afternoon after you left the Milk Bar. And today all he’s done is ask me if you were all right. Just go and say hello to him or something. That’d be a start.’
‘I don’t think I could even manage to do that,’ I answered.
‘All right. How about I get him to come and say hello to you?’
‘I’d probably only run away again.’
‘Christ mate, I’m trying to help you out here. What else can I do?’
‘I don’t know. Come on, we’ve got to get to English.’
* * *
The rest of the day went pretty much the same way.
I saw Guy in every lesson, plus at morning tea, lunch time and after school, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get up the nerve to go and talk to him.
A couple of times we found ourselves staring at each other, and each time his face broke out into this beautiful smile, but every time that happened all I could do was bury mine back in a text book.
‘Pathetic,’ was how Ben described us both, which wasn’t far off the mark if the truth must be known.
And was it just my imagination, or was Guy staring at me all the time now?
I had noticed it more and more as the day wore on.
Earlier, it had only been furtive glances, followed by a knowing grin.
Throughout the afternoon however, the glances had become stares. But the grin was now gone, replaced by a gradually deepening sadness.
Then by the end of the day we were both feeling pretty low, and I could now see this despondent, almost depressed look in Guy’s eyes every time I saw him staring at me.
At the end of the last lesson I had made up my mind to go and talk to him. I had to. I owed it to both of us. But as soon as the final bell rang he was out of his seat first and moving quite quickly.
I tried to follow him, even leaving my books and bag with Ben, but he had disappeared into the crowded corridor and the last I saw of him for that day was when he hesitated and glanced back over his shoulder just before he went out the far door.
I don’t know if he saw me standing there or not. If he did, he made no sign of recognising me, then he was gone, replaced by throng of students all eager to get out and get home.
When Ben and I made it outside we headed straight for the car park, but there was no sign of his vehicle. The space between the old Ford and the VW was now empty.
‘Shit,’ I said as I kicked the nearest fence post, which only earned me a sore toe and a reproachful look from one of the teachers.
‘Come on lover-boy,’ Ben said to me. ‘He’ll be back tomorrow.’
So reluctantly I followed him, cursing myself for being such a stubborn jackass all day.
* * *
I was waiting by the car park early the next morning, having rung Ben the night before and told him what I had planned.
‘You want me to meet you there?’ he had asked me.
‘No. It’ll be all right, thanks. It was me who fucked up so I would prefer to just apologise to him on my own.’
‘Suit yourself. I’ll see you in the morning.’
It wasn’t a good night for me. I had tossed and turned for just about all of it, but when morning came I was showered, dressed and heading out the door with toast in my hand by about seven thirty, which was about an hour earlier than normal.
‘What’s your problem?’ my father asked me as I gulped down some coffee.
‘Got some homework I need to do at the library,’ was all I said, then I was gone, leaving both of my parents standing there with bewildered looks on their faces.
On this morning I almost ran to school, which is something I have never done in my life. I was keen to make up for my errors of the day before and talk to Guy.
I needed to let him know I wasn’t angry with him or anything like that, but I also needed to know what his reaction actually was.
I sat by the path which led from the car park to the school buildings and all I could do was watch as the hands ticked around on the face of my watch.
Slowly the car park filled.
Students. Teachers. Staff. They all arrived, just as they did every day. But there was no sign of Guy and his white sports car with the red stripe up the side.
Ben joined me just before nine, at about the time we were due to be heading inside for our classes, and there was still no sign of Guy.
‘What time did you get here?’ Ben asked me, as he propped himself against the fence.
‘About eight,’ I answered.
‘And he still hasn’t shown?’
I just shook my head.
He came over and placed his hand on my shoulder, giving me a gentle squeeze as he did so.
‘Come on mate,’ he said. ‘Let’s get to class.’
I looked up at him and noticed the almost fatherly expression he wore on his face. He was a good friend and I knew that I didn’t deserve him.
Getting to my feet, I slung my bag over my shoulder and followed him up the path toward the school buildings.
It was going to be another depressing day. I could feel it coming on. But at least I still had Ben.
* * *
The day dragged on. Worse than any other it seemed.
But we somehow made it to lunch time.
Ben and I sat at our usual spot, on the edge of the verandah which overlooked the school quadrangle, and silently ate our lunch.
Around us kids were playing handball, or basketball, or were sitting in groups laughing amongst themselves.
Laughing was something I didn’t really feel like doing at the moment, and having to listen to this incessant banter was driving me crazy.
Finally I decided I had had enough of them and said to Ben, ‘I’m going to the library. At least it’s quiet in there.’
He didn’t answer me. He was staring at someone, or something, which proved to be Rosie, the school secretary, walking from the school canteen back towards her office.
She was an attractive girl in her early twenties and as far as I knew, I was about the only guy in the entire school who didn’t lust after her.
‘Are you coming?’ I asked him again, shaking my head at what I knew must have been going on inside of his.
‘What? Oh, yeah. Listen, you go on without me, I’ll be there in a minute,’ he replied, so I left Ben where he was and wandered across to the library, where I pulled out some of my text books and tried to do some studying. It was useless though. My mind was everywhere but here.
But at least it was quiet, as I was the only person around.
A few minutes later Ben sat down at the table across from me, wearing the biggest grin I’ve ever seen on him.
‘What’s your problem?’ I asked him.
‘Oh, I don’t know. I do a guy a favour and all he can do is put shit on me,’ he said.
‘What the fuck are you talking about?’
He simply thrust a piece of paper towards me, and kept on grinning.
I picked it up and read it. It was an address, I could see that much.
‘What’s this?’ I asked him.
‘Who do you reckon lives there?’
‘Stuffed if I know,’ I answered.
‘Idiot. It’s Guy’s.’
I looked at the piece of paper again, then back at Ben.
‘How did you get it?’
‘I just used the old Ben-a-rooney charm on Rosie, didn’t I?’
‘Fucking hell. I could kiss you!’ I exclaimed.
‘Err . . .’
I laughed, then said, ‘Don’t worry mate. I won’t.’
I think it reassured him, but he was watching me quite warily after that!
The rest of the day simply flew by. When Ben and I walked out of the school gates that afternoon, I could hardly even remember what the last lessons for the day were.
‘Do you know where that place is?’ Ben asked as we crossed the creek lands, heading for the middle of town.
I was holding the piece of paper in my hand, just looking at it as we walked along.
‘Isn’t it one of the streets that run off the highway through the middle of town?’ I asked him.
He just shrugged and said, ‘I don’t know.’
‘How can we find out?’
‘A real estate agent, maybe. They have maps don’t they?’
‘I guess so,’ I answered. ‘Let’s try the one in the mall, near the court house. It’s closest.’
When we reached the other side of the creeklands we headed towards the shopping center, where we soon found the office of Upton and Company and managed to obtain a map of the town.
We sat down on a bench, in the shade of a half grown tree and started studying the map.
‘I knew it,’ Ben said to me.
‘Oh . . . ummm . . . okay then, you were right,’ he replied.
‘Aren’t I always?’ I asked. ‘You want to head up there now?’
‘Don’t give me that shit. Come on. We’re going to see him,’ I said, as I dragged him to his feet.
‘How far is it?’
‘Only about six blocks. Come on. Let’s go.’
It was a warm summer afternoon but I didn’t notice it at all, while we headed towards Guy’s place. I was so hell bent on getting there that Ben was having trouble keeping up.
‘You look like a man on a mission,’ he said when he caught up to me on a corner, panting slightly.
‘He better be home,’ I just said to him.
‘Come on, only another block or so to go.’
We crossed the road and kept going and before long we were standing outside of 117 Campbell Street.
It was on older style house. Weatherboards, which had been freshly painted. With a white picket fence and a nice garden.
‘Are you going to stand here all afternoon?’ Ben asked me.
I looked at him and saw him smiling.
‘Man, you’ve got it bad,’ was all he said.
I smiled back and then pushed the gate open and headed for the house, hearing the gate squeak shut behind me and Ben following me up the path.
We climbed the few steps up onto the verandah and walked across the boards then I knocked on the front door.
Somewhere inside I could hear people talking. It was a television, I thought.
No one answered. So I knocked again, only louder this time.
‘Someone is home,’ Ben whispered beside me.
‘Yeah. I just hope it’s Guy.’
Then, just as I was about to knock again, we heard footsteps coming up the hallway from inside.
‘Finally!’ Ben said.
Through the frosted glass in the door I could see someone coming, then finally the door opened.
At first Guy looked unhappy. I guess he thought it was going to be someone trying to sell him something. But then he looked from Ben to me and back again, and smiled.
‘What are you guys doing here?’ he asked.
‘We were worried about you,’ Ben answered.
Guy looked directly at me and asked, ‘Were you?’
‘Yeah. I was.’
‘You going to invite us in, or what?’ Ben impatiently asked.
I quickly elbowed him in the ribs, to which Guy just laughed.
‘Yeah, of course, come in,’ Guy said, opening the door up wide and stepping back to let us pass.
Ben pushed past me and headed straight down the hallway, towards the sound of the television.
‘Is he always like this?’ Guy whispered to me.
‘Sometimes he’s worse,’ I answered. ‘But he has a heart of gold.’
‘Hmmmmm . . .’
‘We missed you at school today,’ I said to him.
‘Did you? Really?’
‘Yeah. I did. I wanted to talk to you. I waited by the car park this morning, but you didn’t show.’
‘I . . . ummm . . .’ he started to say, but he was soon cut short by Ben, who was standing outside one of the doors in the hallway and looking inside the room.
‘Holy shit, is this your room?’
‘Yeah,’ Guy answered.
We all walked into the room and I was suddenly amazed.
Guy had his own double bed. His own television. His own stereo. A desk, upon which sat his own computer and printer. And a huge bookcase, which was filled with books of all types.
Ben and I could have only ever dreamed about having a room like this. It completely blew us away.
After a few minutes of admiring Guy’s stuff however, Ben suddenly said, ‘I need a piss. Can I use your toilet?’
‘Errr . . . yeah, sure. Down the end of the hall. Last on the left.’
‘Thanks,’ Ben answered, before adding, ‘Besides, you guys need to talk.’
Guy and I just looked at each other, with our faces both saying it, ‘We do?’
Then Ben disappeared and shut the bedroom door as he left.
‘He’s crazy,’ Guy said to me, as we both sat down on his bed.
‘Yeah. That’s about right.’
‘Do we need to talk to each other?’ he then asked me.
I looked across at him, took a deep breath, and said, ‘I’m sorry about yesterday.’
‘No need to be. I’m the one who should be sorry.’
‘I guess I was freaked out about what happened in the milk bar the other afternoon.’
‘That’s understandable, I guess.’
‘Are you okay with that? About what you . . . ummm . . . now know about me? What did you tell Ben after I had left? He wouldn’t tell me anything.’
For a long while he didn’t say anything. I could feel my heart thumping. Shit, I could hear it thumping!
Finally he smiled, then reached across and took hold of one of my hands.
‘I told him that it didn’t matter to me if you were gay. I come from the city remember. There’s a fair few gay guys down there, even in school.’
I looked down at my hand, nestled snuggly in his. He ran his thumb gently over the back of my knuckles.
‘What I didn’t tell him, though, was that from the moment I first spotted you, last week in the mall, I wanted to get to know you.’
I looked back up at him.
‘I . . . ummm . . . does that mean that you’re . . .’ I stammered.
Guy just smiled and nodded.
‘And Ben doesn’t know yet?’
He nodded again.