The following day, the Summers clan made the traditional Sunday outing to worship at Longhorn, where as was often the case, Stacey was serving.
As they were leaving after the meal, and wanting to speak with her privately—and definitely not with the attention of a curious younger brother—Luke made an excuse to go back inside. He timed it so that the four of them were just outside the door, before declaring, "I think I need the loo—I'll see you at the van!"
Keen to be off to the lake as soon as possible, Simon grunted irritably. Luke ignored him, and as the others kept walking, he slid back through the doors and into the restaurant to look for Stacey. It was still quite busy and it took a few moments to spot her.
"Stacey?" He caught up with her as she was carrying a precariously-balanced tray of desserts to a table. "Have you got a moment?"
Stacey Wyeman turned in surprise, and studied him with speculative interest. "Sure—just let me serve these folks first."
He nodded and waited, hoping she would hurry as she unloaded her tray and restocked it with glasses ready for refills. Finally, she was done, but time had gone, too. He knew he would have to be quick as she rested the tray on the bar and turned to face him.
"So, how can I help you, Luke Summers?" she asked. She folded her arms and gazed at him inquisitively.
Luke felt awkward...what was it with her that she liked using his surname all the time? She seemed to be studying him, trying to read his intention. She was...oh... He blinked as it dawned on him. It felt uncomfortably like she was wondering if he was going to ask her out on a date!
Momentarily, a part of him even considered it. Maybe it was good idea? She was certainly nice—even his dad had thought that. Perhaps if he had a girlfriend, then some of this other...stuff...would go away? On the other hand, it was complicated and he didn't yet know what he really thought about the other 'stuff'. Why add to the confusion?
He said, "Actually, I was just wondering if you knew Owen Kear."
Clearly that was a curve ball, and not at all what she was anticipating. She frowned, but recovered quickly.
“Owen?" Her expression wasn't that enthusiastic, and she wiped her hands on her towel. "Sure I know him—he's at Creek. So how do you know him?"
He tried to keep it simple. "You know how it is, we Brits like to stick together."
She frowned again. "I thought he was from Wales?"
Luke shook his head, but let it go. Now wasn't the time to get into the politics of UK geographical subtleties! "He just needs a bit of help," he continued, but was interrupted by a voice from a nearby table trying to get Stacey’s attention.
Her eyes flicked briefly towards the interruption before she quickly scribbled something on her order pad. "I need to go, but call me," she murmured, pushing the phone number into his hand before turning away. Stuffing the paper in his pocket, he hurried out to the van, climbed in the back and slid it shut with a satisfying clunk.
Now that Luke had her number, he didn’t want to appear too 'keen', and he held off calling for a couple of days. Finally, he dug out the paper and dialled.
"Hello? May I help you?" A man's voice answered.
"Oh...errr...yes...errr…hello." Luke coughed and tried to get his spiel going. "Can I speak to Stacey...please?"
There was a pause. "May I ask who's calling?" To him, the tone sounded just a little wary. Luke guessed he'd got Stacey's father.
"Oh...mmmm...it's Luke. Luke Summers," he said, just in case there was a confusion with all her other Lukes.
Partially muffled by a hand, he heard the man call out, "Stacey! It's for you." There was a silence before the man’s voice abruptly returned to Luke’s ear. "She's just coming."
The phone muffled again, but he could still make out the words. "There's a Luke calling from the UK." Further words were exchanged, but Luke couldn't make out what was said. Listening intently, he jumped when it became loud and clear once more. It was Stacey.
"Hey there, Luke Summers!" He could hear the smile as she finally took the other end from her father. "Dad thinks your calling from England!"
"I get that all the time!" he joked, relieved to have got through to her at last—and he enjoyed hearing her laugh. "You can just call me Luke, you know!"
"But Summers is such a nice name!" she replied, playful and unrepentant. "So, how can I help you? I wondered when you were going to call..."
She left that hanging.
"Well, it's about Owen...." Luke said quickly, a little flustered once more.
"Ah, yes, you said. Owen Kear. What's he done now?"
"Nothing that I know of," he replied, though he was intrigued. "Why do you say that?"
"Oh, no reason.” Luke could hear the shrug in her voice. “Actually he keeps to himself much of the time. Never seems that happy...."
"Well, that's true. He's not." Luke went on to explain to her what Owen was going through. "He just needs friends,” he concluded. “Is there anything you can do there at Creek?"
There was a pause, and he waited. Maybe it was too much to ask, though on the other end of the line, she seemed to thinking.
"Maybe,” she finally said. “But it'll cost you!"
"What...how so...what will it cost me...?" He smiled, realising again that she was quite a character!
"Oh, I don't know." Her tone became a little sly. "I'll think of something."
They chatted a bit more before coming to an end, and he said, "Thanks, Stacey. I owe you one!"
"That you do, Luke Summers. That you do," she murmured, before hanging up.
That night Luke had another weird dream. He actually dreamt about Stacey! Somehow, in that dream, the two of them had got together and dated. And then they’d married and were blissfully happy. It was one of those dreams where the detail was fuzzy, but for those few moments just before waking, it felt as real as it could get! In fact, it was so believable that he almost felt like he should go and pick up the phone right away—middle of the night or not—and tell her everything was okay, and that he really did fancy her!
As he lay on top of the sheets, he sighed before going back to sleep. Perhaps he might even go back to the dream again? He drifted off, wondering whether there would be any kids, relieved that he was pretty normal after all.
* * *
For the young men of The Academy, another school week began to pass—in the same way as it did for teenagers worldwide—unnaturally slowly!
Simon sniggered as the expert flick of the damp towel caught Marco Fontana right on the bum as they made to exit the locker rooms just before the lunch recess on the Tuesday. Marco squealed and the Spanish expletive was probably untranslatable! The dark-haired Latino guy might have been born and bred in the States, but he still spoke Spanish like a native.
Marco twisted around, unsurprised to find who was persecuting his backside. “Gillespie—you little fuck!”
Danny Gillespie was irrepressible. The youngest in their class, he seemed to have boundless energy for anything and everything. Hardly a day went by when he wasn't up to something! He was a spark who shined brightly in both work or play—unlike Marco who was good at languages, but tailed off fast from then on!
Eyes blazing, Marco wrenched away the offending towel and whipped up a revenge. They all laughed as Danny hopped, jumped and squeaked his way out onto the field. Danny's towel finally ended up hanging high in the air off an old basketball hoop. The diminutive elf had to know that would happen, but as always, he hardly seemed to care as he waited for someone to give him a boost up to retrieve it.
Eventually, they all headed for lunch.
The school ‘restaurant’ as Principal Benton liked it to be called, or ‘cafeteria’ to everyone else, was one of a dozen stand-alone buildings scattered around the campus. Well-endowed with extensive kitchens and plush tables, chefs turned out a varied diet for those whose parents were willing to spend the money—and hey, once you’d paid the term’s hefty tuition fees, what was a few extra dollars a day?
Usually Simon and his friends ate hastily and left for better things before the afternoon lessons rolled in. That day, however, they remained gathered around the remains of a pretty decent meat pie that had been dressed with some rather less attractive rabbit food; in fact, they stayed much longer than normal, listening in to a lively discussion.
"Oh my God—that's just so gay!" Scott Landon smirked. “You have to wonder what they get up to in their meetings?”
Toby had apparently left, but Simon’s friends, Gabe, Danny, Jacko and Mason—along with most of the small crowd that had gathered that Monday in the school cafeteria—chuckled too. The topic around the table was the recent development at Creek: the new G.S.A—the Gay-Straight Alliance group.
"Maybe they sit around discussing which hole is better to stuff it in?" Ethan Parker suggested crudely. More raucous laughter spilt across the table.
Feeling discomforted by it, Simon stood on the outer rim, wishing he could be somewhere else. Not far from where he waited, he noticed Luke was laughing too and, glancing across to Ryan at the other side of the table, Simon caught him grinning as well.
Through the wisecracks, Simon caught Luke's eye. All at once, his brother faltered and looked uncomfortable.
It had been in the Sunday papers and it seemed that everyone knew about it—at least if they didn’t before, they certainly did now. Simon had read the article too, and whoever had written it had done their homework, unearthing G.S.A. school groups around the country, discussing them and making conclusions:
A school counselor in Maine summed up the view of many educators I spoke to when she conceded that her school was ‘totally unprepared’ for younger openly gay students. We always knew school was a time when kids struggle with their identity,’ she told me, ‘but it was easy to let anti-gay language slide because it’s so embedded in middle and high-school culture and because we didn’t have students who were out to us or their classmates. Now we do, so we’re playing catch up to try to keep them safe.’
Clearly, it wasn’t just high schools either and she’d gone on to note:
As a response to anti-gay bullying and harassment, at least 120 middle schools across the country have formed gay-straight alliance (G.S.A.) groups, where gay and lesbian students—and their straight peers—meet to brainstorm strategies for making their campus safer. Other schools are letting students be part of the national Day of Silence each April (participants take a vow of silence for a day to symbolize the silencing effect of anti-gay harassment), which last year was held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old gay junior-high student in Oxnard, Calif., who was shot and killed at school, by a 14-year-old classmate. Still, the younger they are when they come out, the more that youth with same-sex attractions face an obstacle that would be unimaginable to their straight peers. When a 12-year-old boy matter-of-factly tells his parents—or a school counselor—that he likes girls, their reaction tends not to be one of disbelief, dismissal or rejection.
“No one says to them: ‘Are you sure? You’re too young to know if you like girls. It’s probably just a phase,’ ” says Eileen Ross, the director of the Outlet Program, a support service for gay youth in Mountain View, Calif. “But that’s what we say too often to gay youth. We deny them their feelings and truth in a way we would never do with a heterosexual young person.”
The article was big news locally because it seemed that the school administration at Creek had tried to block the formation of a group, citing a belief that it was wrong to sexualize young children in this way.
The paper had discovered that the school’s principal initially balked when students asked to start a G.S.A. ‘She argued that it wasn’t age-appropriate, and worried about having to deal with negative editorials in the local paper,’ an insider said. But, because the school had other extracurricular clubs, ‘the principal was made aware that blocking a G.S.A. from forming is against the law.’
If the principal had wanted to avoid adverse publicity, she'd blown it, as a court order had been threatened, and could have easily been procured, maintaining the rights of the school children to form whatever group they wanted. It had hit the papers, and now everyone was talking about it.
"At least we'll never have such a fucked-up gay group here," Landon suggested, a malicious twinkle in his eye.
"And why would that be, Mr. Landon?" Heads turned to the source, and a hush descended.
Landon was unrepentant. He smirked at Carlton, one of the basketball coaches. Carlton was okay. A junior coach, he merited lowly tasks like cafeteria duty and was on hand that day. He wouldn’t stay at the Academy long—there were too many existing senior coaches for him to advance up the ladder that quickly. But to have the Academy on his CV wouldn’t do him any harm!
Either way, Carlton was okay. Pushed you hard, but was okay.
"No chicks, coach!" Landon grinned, still keeping carefully to protocol in addressing the teacher. "It would have to be the G.G.A. No girls here, so it would have to be a Gay-Gay Alliance!" he added, triumphant in his own logic.
Around them, there was a smattering of half-chuckles, probably wondering how Carlton would respond. The coach’s eyes narrowed and he gazed hard at Landon, who probably wondered if he’d gone too far this time.
Todd saved him. "I think Scott wants to start one, sir." He grinned and smoothed it over. "It seems right up his street! You go for it, Scott...maybe you'll get lucky?"
At that, even Carlton let go a small smirk before better judgment broke in. "Okay boys, break it up. I'm sure homosexuals are people, too." With that, one-by-one, everyone drifted away, leaving just Simon and his brother.
Luke looked guilty. "Si...." he began quietly. He sounded guilty too.
Simon shook his head. "It's okay, I've heard worse." He was hurt, but it wasn't really Luke's fault. Gay kids got no breaks.
"Come on, Luke!" Ryan, standing at the door of the cafeteria, shouted and waved.
"It's okay. You go—I'll see you later," Simon murmured. “I’ll take these.” He walked away, taking their empty dishes with him.
* * *
Luke watched his brother go, discouraged with himself, and then turned to head towards Ryan, who was still at the door and grinning like an idiot. It irritated Luke, and he scowled, disappointed that Ryan had joined all the others with the bout of crude, anti-gay humor.
You mean like you did, too?’ The voice in his head condemned him. He knew exactly why Simon had looked so down—it was down to Luke, because he'd gone and done exactly the same as everyone else and ridiculed gay kids.
He knew he'd let Simon down
‘But, you know how it works—if you don't play along, you'll get picked on, too,’ he argued back. So what? Even if that were true, he still knew exactly what the bottom line was. What it comes down to is that you’d prefer to leave Simon to face the crap and save your own hide?
Feeling low, he followed Ryan and the others outside into the bright sunshine. As they walked across the newly cut grass, back towards the main building, they noticed Kyle Prentice, a guy from the senior year that didn't hide the fact that he was gay. He was surrounded by a group, and it was hard to tell whether he was being picked on or supported. Luke didn’t really want to find out.
“Come on guys—let’s go have some fun!” chirped Landon, seeing an easy target and steering towards it. Still fighting his own demons, Luke froze as the group turned expectantly towards the action.
“Leave it, Scott." Unexpectedly, Ryan spoke out, and his tone was hard. "We’re not starting on Kyle.”
“I’m not saying starting on him—I just wanna talk to him a bit." The smirkiness on Landon's face was giddy. “You know—ask him about getting a G.S.A. going here.”
“I said leave it!” Ryan's reply remained stony.
Adam Miller leered. “Oooohhh…Ry! Have you got the hots for Kyle now?”
Ryan's face darkened as Luke, finding his voice and his values, jumped in at last. “For God’s sake, guys, Ry’s right—leave Kyle and the others like him alone! It’s not their fault. What if it were YOUR brother we were talking about?”
As soon as it came out, he regretted it and his mouth went dry. To him, it seemed inconceivable that they wouldn’t realise he was talking about Simon.
But then Todd spoke up and covered his rising panic. “I agree with Luke and Ry. Come on guys—we should be better than that!”
Something ugly flashed briefly across Landon’s face before he shrugged and backed down and they continued walking back to the main buildings.
Back home after school, and after they'd finished dinner, Luke was skipping though the TV channels to see if anything was on. Apparently looking for something in the lounge too, his dad started lifting cushions on the sofa, and going through the magazines under the coffee table.
"Where is it?" Geoff grunted.
"Where's what, Hon?" Lucy looked up from her book.
"Yesterday's AJC. There's something important in it."
Luke turned his attention from the TV. The paper? Was his dad looking for that article? Were they going to have a discussion about GSA groups? Simon wasn't there, but he wouldn't mind knowing what his parents thought all the same.
"It's already in the paper pile in the garage, Hon." Lucy sounded inquisitive. "What's important?"
"Something Daniel saw—he said I should look, too."
Daniel was one of his dad’s office friends, Luke knew. His dad went out, leaving Luke to consider what his parents’ opinion was going to be. Then he began to get agitated.
'What do you think, Luke? Do you know any gay boys?' they might say.
Like your youngest son, you mean?
'A filthy perversion. That's what it is.'
He shifted uncomfortably, considering what else they might say. He suddenly knew he didn't want to hang around for ANY of it, when his dad foiled his exit. He was holding the AJC in one hand, and a pair scissors in the other.
"Now, where is it?" Geoff started peeling away sheets. Luke stared at the TV screen, but had no idea what he was watching.
"Ah! Here they are!"
"Here's what, Hon?"
"There are some coupons." Geoff looked triumphant. "Good ones, too. Chilli's, and even one for Longhorn!"
"Oh, for GOODNESS SAKE!" Luke cried. He threw down the remote and, to their startled looks, stormed out of the room.
A couple of days later, after getting in from school, Luke walked into the house to find a letter waiting for him on the hall table. A small logo on the back of the envelope showed it was from the doctor's office. He picked it up carefully and examined the front and back in detail before opening it, appreciating that his mum hadn't just gone ahead and opened it on his behalf. She was, however, hovering—and he got the impression she expected to be reading it shortly!
The letter was a confirmation of his appointment date and time. It also contained a few photocopied pages that gave more information about the SmartKlamp, and he slipped those into his pocket to take upstairs to read more carefully, later. Additionally, there were some medical release forms that needed to be completed and brought on the day. Lastly, there was a covering letter with instructions on preparing for the operation.
He skimmed through it quickly and was quite relieved to read the following paragraph; 'As we will be using the SmartKlamp as discussed at the consultation, it will not be necessary for Luke to have to fully shave his pubic hair as is indicated in the information booklet you received. Nonetheless, in the interests of hygiene and to minimize the risk of hairs becoming trapped in the mechanism, it would be helpful if he could trim the hair reasonably well around the base of the penis.’
Thank God for that, Luke mused...well thank God he didn't need to shave! Trimming? Well, he was actually becoming quite motivated by the requirement—for medical reasons of course!
He went through the photocopied sheets in more detail later that evening. They explained the things he already knew—but with pictures! There was also a website by the company that produced the SmartKlamp. Well, at least he now knew what to expect, and in his head he ticked off the days one by one as the time slowly dwindled towards the allotted moment!
* * *
On the last day of that week, Simon was leaning over a large piece of thick art paper, that looked remarkably like a coal miner had sat on it—leaving behind some black—and rather indecent—markings!
Unlike Toby, the Art block was not Simon’s favorite destination! One of the dozen separate buildings on the campus, it was probably the oldest, yet received the least investment. Art was not high on the principal’s list, and if it had to be there, his approach seemed to be along the lines of it damn well wasn’t going to cost him too much!
The building itself used to be the home of the old cafeteria, and it had had the insides ripped out and some stud walling put in place, but not much more. The Head of Art, Marcus Daniels, didn’t seem to mind, and appeared quite happy that the principal kept out of his way.
Whilst Art was not Simon’s forte, he usually got by as well as the others who were similarly leaning studiously over their work that afternoon. Some of them were quite good—though none anywhere near as talented as Toby Skerrit.
Simon glanced around again at his classmates who came in all shapes, sizes and colors. There were only twenty of them (class sizes were a lot lower than in his school in the UK) and he pretty much liked them all. This class, and four others of a similar size, made up their year here at the Academy. Most of those around him had come up through the middle school, and before that had attended the elementary school that was located in a nearby campus.
At that Friday afternoon’s art lesson, the twenty of them were in the middle of a series exploring the use pencil and charcoal. For Simon, the end of the lesson couldn't come soon enough, as he just could NOT get the hang of it at all. He picked up the sheet and eyed the miner's arse (that was meant to be a piece of fruit) sceptically, wondering where he’d gone wrong.
Just behind him, a voice sniggered. "That looks like someone’s backside!" Toby had wandered over for a look.
Next to him, Danny had a giggling fit, which subsided when he caught Daniels' attention. Quiet discussion was okay—a giggling Gillespie was not! Piqued by both of his friends, Simon picked up the drawing and studied it once Daniels' lighthouse beam had passed.
“Shit…is it that bad?" He shook his head in frustration. Even Danny seemed to have got the hang of it, whereas he just could not get hold of the idea of using the subtleties offered by rubbing charcoal streaks with his fingers to add tone. Putting down the paper once more, he stroked some more charcoal onto the page, rubbed it down, and the miner’s bum miraculously transformed into a pair of cow’s udders!
"I give up!" he muttered. The other side of him on the long work table, Jacko reached across, and before he could stop him, marked a small tit on the end of the udder. Danny started shaking again.
Simon rubbed at it in irritation and picked up his masterpiece to stop any further maligning. Standing, he prodded Toby. "Come on then, let's see yours." Flicking the charcoal across the desk at Jacko, he followed Toby to his corner.
Toby had his own space in the art room. Not that it was his solely, but it was an area where he had access to a wider range of materials—specially provided by Daniels—to work with. Nobody else really minded. Frankly, why take on more to cock up if you didn’t need to?
Simon shuffled behind Toby’s desk and gazed at the Toby’s creation and pulled a face. Damn, it just wasn't fair! How did he do it?
Whilst most of them had been trying to faithfully represent some object on the desk in front of them, Toby hadn't bothered with such limitations. Instead of an apple (aka miner’s arse, aka cow’s udder), Toby, purely from memory and creativity, had beautifully mastered their tree house!
It was incredibly real, detailed and subtle. You could almost hear the breeze whispering through the branches, caressing the leaves and stirring them into movement.
And how the hell did he make it look like the sun was shining with charcoal, for God’s sake?
There was a person sitting with his legs dangling over the edge looking away into the distance. It didn’t need the detail of a face for Simon to know instinctively that it was him! He smiled inwardly at the way Toby shared this moment with him. He seemed to enjoy doing that, and knowing him, it was the whole purpose of the drawing.
Still, for the sake of personal pride, he tried to appear offhand. "My backside is better!"
"Really?" Toby smirked, allowing his eyes to go wide. He eyed Simon’s butt with a malicious grin and added in a passable British accent, "And you're comparing with whom may I ask?"
"Bog off!" Simon grunted, grinning affably. "I meant the picture!"
Toby studied it again. "That's your bum you drew?" He sniggered and looked horrified. "Shit Si, you need to see a doctor quick—you need some kind of cream!" Simon couldn't help it and sniggered too—much too loudly, drawing the beady glare of Daniels.
"Perhaps you would like to share your little joke with the class Mr. Summers?" Daniels could be real dry if he wanted.
"Oh - ah... no, Sir. Sorry, Sir…" Simon scuttled quickly back to his desk. Marcus Daniels was all right, but despite the fact that Toby was his star pupil (and, according to Toby, his mum spent much more time than was strictly necessary with the man), he would have no hesitation in handing out a detention to either of them if he felt it was deserved.
Later that afternoon as they waited for their lift, he laughed with Luke as he showed him his 'Fruit' drawing. He had it in his portfolio and it would be graded as part of the end of term exams, so despite his better judgment, couldn't just throw it away.
As they waited, he could see Toby slowly walking up the pathway, hefting a weighty bag over his shoulder. It looked like he would need a new jacket soon. He'd begun to sprout—as had his long messy hair, which was well down on his collar.
How the hell did Toby get away with that?
Unaware he was being studied, Toby stopped, tugged off his tight jacket and threw it over his shoulder. Simon didn't blame him. It had been a hot, heavy, sultry day, which had left everyone worn out. He was looking forward to getting home to change into something less stifling.
"He looks hot!"
The way Luke said it, Simon knew he didn't mean anything other than the obvious, but it sat there in silence between them until Luke pulled an awkward face. "Sorry," he murmured. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Nah." Simon kept it light to mask his deeper feelings. "Just a stupid crush." He grinned. "We are allowed them you know!"
It elicited a smile from his brother.
He was lucky, Simon knew. It would be total crap if you couldn't tell anyone how you were feeling—even just joke about it! A sly smirk crossed his mouth. "Actually, I've really got this thing for Wingy at the moment..."
"WINGY?" Luke barked with laughter.
He snorted too. Adam Wingford was in Luke's year, though not his class. To put it mildly, he was a guy who was big around the middle.
"More to hold on to!" Simon giggled as he creased up.
"What's this about Wingy?" Toby strolled up, looking curious.
Luke wiped tears from his eyes. "You do NOT want to know!"
"Awe…come on!" Toby turned his pleading tone to Simon. "Did he fall on someone and crush them?"
Simon screeched. "Oh God, I hope not!"
Luke started hopping around looking like he was about to wet himself.
Toby scowled and shook his head as they kept him in the dark. "You two are so weird at times!"
"Sorry." Simon tried to sound it.
"You're still coming over tonight, aren't you?" Toby demanded as Simon continued to struggle with a fit of the giggles. Finally he managed to put a lid on it.
"Of course I am," he replied. He turned to his brother, feeling the need to explain. "We're working on the treehouse, but maybe we'll come back over sometime tomorrow if we get bored."
On the school run that day, Toby's mom arrived and pulled into her usual spot on the parking lot. Simon climbed in the back seat of her beat up Nissan and, as usual, Toby quickly slid alongside him, leaving Luke to take the front. Both he and Luke wound down the windows. The air-con had busted a long time ago and Toby's mom didn't seem have the inclination to mend it. At least the blower worked—not that it helped much.
"Good day at school, boys?" Grace joined the line of cars waiting to pull out onto the highway that would take them home.
"Simon did an incredible charcoal in Art." Toby couldn't keep the smirk out of his voice. "Daniels thought it was amazing!"
"Really, Simon—good for you!" Simon could see Grace smiling encouragingly in the driver's mirror. He also noticed the corners of Luke's mouth turn up, but took it well. Grace added, "Maybe we should have Marcus round to dinner soon?"
Now it was Simon’s turn to grin as Toby sat up, a pained look on his face. It was so hard not to laugh! In the driver's mirror, he could see amusement in Grace's face. It was hard to tell with her. Was she really planning on asking Marcus Daniels to dinner, or was she just treating her teasing son to a bit of his own medicine?
Twenty minutes later, she stopped off at their house to let Simon and Luke out. For Simon, the overnighter at Toby’s had been planned for a while and she came inside to chat with his mum while he and Toby bounded upstairs so he could change and pack. Five minutes later he was ready, but by that time, Grace had a cup in her hand and the mums were catching up.
There would be no hurrying them, so he and Toby went out into the back yard. “We are working on the treehouse this weekend, aren't we?” he asked.
Toby nodded, the enthusiasm showing in his face, too. “And I’ve had some ideas.”
Simon grinned, unsurprised. Toby would keep having ideas until the day he died! “Okay—what is it this time?” Sitting on the back deck, they hardly noticed the time go as they talked about ways and means of getting what they were looking for.
* * *
“So—you still wanna do it today?” Toby asked.
Simon looked up to where Toby’s head had poked over the side of the bed, looking down on him as he lay alongside on the pull-out mattress. “The food lift for the tree house, you mean? You bet!” They’d spent most of yesterday evening in the treehouse. Eating. Talking. Planning. He yawned. "So what time is it?"
"I dunno. Nine?"
Simon stretched comfortably. It was a Saturday morning and neither of them was in any hurry to get up, though they could sniff tantalizing smells of cooking drifting down from the kitchen.
Their treehouse was a piece of real estate that had been a long time in the constructing. Even now, they were still working on various bits of decor and adding gizmos that contributed to the style and functionality of the build. They’d started on the project the previous summer, when Toby's mom had only one requirement: that it was safe.
'If you plan to do this,’ she’d said, ‘do it properly!'
And to give her her due, she’d backed that up with hours of long, hard slog, helping fix up the secure mesh of beams that straddled several huge branches up in the old oak. Satisfied at last that it wouldn’t go anywhere when the wind got up, she'd left them to it, and he and Toby were doing the majority of the on-going work. They worked well together, but when it came to the building, Simon led the way.
Toby was an endless source of intriguing and creative ideas, but not so good at following through to turn those ideas into working plans and action. This was where he, Simon Summers, excelled. He knew how to take fledgling ideas, add his flare, and then make them work.
With Toby's creativity and style, and Simon’s planning and practical skill, it was turning out to be one of the classiest tree houses in the state! They both loved it up there, way above the ground, hidden amongst the thick branches, and they loved being alone together to talk endlessly about life.
But if you were balancing stuff, trying to climb the rope ladder to get food up and down safely, then it was a problem.
The previous day, they’d decided they needed some form of lift mechanism that could be drawn up and let down—big enough, and stable enough, to hold plates and trays without tipping. During the evening they’d planned it. Toby drew it. Simon measured it. They were both excited about this new addition.
Lying on the pull-out mattress, Simon’s nose flared. “Is that you? God, that stinks!” He caught a whiff of a demonic odor that competed with the cooking smells.
Toby grinned. “Could be!” He wafted his sheets.
“Crap—stop! That’s making it worse!”
“Okay, okay—I’m going to the bathroom. I’m having a shower—do you want one?”
“After you,” Simon said. “Maybe after breakfast.”
Toby crawled out of bed and went to the window, opening the blinds to let in the sunshine. He was a guy who only wore boxers to bed, and the sun streamed around him, bringing to life the semi-translucent material and bathing him in light. Simon looked away, knowing it wasn’t helping him.
After Toby had gone, he got up himself and quickly exchanged the PJ bottoms for the clothing he’d brought. Then he began to tidy up the room.
Folding his sheet and blanket neatly, he set those and the pillow onto the chair and then shoved the mattress back under Toby’s bed. It fitted perfectly, and he liked that. It made sense. It was like a good complex equation—everything should be balanced and in its right place for it all to look tidy and work properly. Even simple equations were meant to add up…
XY = XY
SIMON = TOBY
But, however much he did the math, it just didn’t work.
It was an ache.
Standing at the recently vacated spot by the window, he opened the window to let in some fresh air and to look out across the backyard to their tree house. Despite what he'd said to Luke, there were good days and there were not so good days. There were days where he felt at peace, comfortable and whole. Then there were days when he couldn't shut out the sense of ‘missing-ness’—a void that even wind and sail couldn't fill.
It wasn't that he was just some crazy horny teen wanting to be fucked, sucked, or any other opportunity for some kind of sexual outlet. He only wanted to be wanted, and for whom—and what—he was, to make sense. Almost anything would be better than a bloody hot water bottle! He wondered which part his mum and dad would be more disappointed in if they found out—that he was fucking a rubber bottle, or that what he really wanted was another guy?
But why did it have to be Toby, when all he felt was guilty at every passing glance and wayward thought? Why couldn't it be someone else that didn’t matter—even someone famous on TV or something? Some other kid that he could have a happy, purposeless, crush on, and be satisfied with that? At least then he would have somewhere else to be to feel normal. As it was, Toby was a big part of his life and he was around him all the time.
And it didn’t help when Toby stood around in his underwear, like he was flaunting himself!
And why do you have to keep looking?
The words from earlier that week still chimed like death bells in his ears. 'Homosexuals are people too', Carlton had declared. Without someone to share stuff with, would he be condemned to only ever be half a person?
It couldn’t be helped, and it certainly wasn’t Toby’s fault. All he could do was…nothing. He opened the window wider and took a deep breath, then sighed to himself as he went through into the kitchen to see what was for breakfast.
“Morning, Simon! Sleep well?”
He studied her as she cooked. He liked her a lot and she’d tried to get him to call her 'Grace' endless times, but he just couldn't. It didn't feel right. Eventually, even she had given up!
“Toby’s in the bathroom,” he added, unnecessarily feeling the need to point out that he wasn't in there with her son, watching him shower.
He just nodded—further words might be incriminating. Seeing a pile of bacon being kept warm, he watched Grace turn on the plate in preparation for making pancakes, too. That was the worst thing for him…disappointing people. Lying to them. Toby’s mum was really nice, but only because she didn’t know what he was really like.
It was what he hated. The hiding and deceiving. It was when he despised himself the most. And if she knew that he was a homo who thought about touching her son, she would hate him too—even more than his own mum would.
Letting everyone down. He couldn’t bear that.
He sat quietly, watching the pile of pancakes grow. After a few minutes, Toby appeared, hair wet and still wearing only his underwear.
“Did you run out of clothes?” Grace asked, her tone dry, though Toby shrugged as he sat on one of the breakfast bar stools. “And did you wash your hair?” she probed, as she continued to add to the growing tower of pancakes.
He blinked. “Kind of…”
“What does that mean?”
“Well…it’s wet…” His gaze remained impassive, but his tone was a little more cautious.
She added another pancake to the pile. ‘It’ll have to do…you need it cutting!”
Her eyes flicked up and she didn't give the appearance of being ready to negotiate.
Toby pulled a face. “But we’re building in the tree house!”
“You either go and get it done, or I’ll do it here, for you. Your choice.”
Simon grinned. Some choice! He perked up a bit and added, brightly, “We can get some wood together at the same time.”
Toby turned and gave him a slightly weird look. Simon watched it become a smirk and he turned a shade of red, realising what he’d said. Grace was staring at him as well, and he had a terrible feeling she knew exactly what ‘wood’ was!
“Breakfast is in five minutes, Toby, giving you time to go and get dressed and make your bed.” Grace gave her son a piercing glare. “In the meantime, Simon and I will have a sensible conversation for a change!”
Toby slunk off, grinning, and she turned back to Simon. “Okay—now this lift you boys want to build. How is it going to work…?”
Simon smiled gratefully, and began to explain what he had in mind.