The next couple of days passed fast, though Simon had mixed feelings about being back at school. Unexpectedly, his mum and dad offered him an opt out—staying at home for a few days to properly ‘recover’ if he wanted to.
He had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, he really had no desire to see Toby Skerrit, yet if he stayed off, it was just going to invite difficult questions from the rest of them. At the same time, home had become oppressive, so he decided in the end to get in Luke's car on the first day back to school.
What he did accept from his mum was a letter excusing him from any and all sport during that week and—if he had his way—several to come.
They were in the big gymnasium that first day, though nobody wore their kit. Even though his new timetable should have had them over at the sports block playing football that morning, they were gathered for another reason. In fact, the whole school had squeezed in!
It was only the second year—as far as Simon knew—that the Academy students and staff had assembled like this; not just the high school, but hiddle and elementary too. All the bleachers were packed, and the floor in the middle was filled with chairs. Even that wasn’t quite enough and many of the younger elementary kids sat cross-legged on the floor right at the front, mostly looking around themselves curiously and fidgeting.
The last of the massed round-up were squeezing in, and on a platform at the end, the principal was getting ready to speak.
Around about Simon on the bleachers, his classmates, now sophomores, preened themselves as they waited for the usual drivel to do with ‘achieving’ and ‘community’. They were towards the back on the left and were able to look down at the rows of mere freshmen with disdain. Life had moved on a year and they weren’t the ‘kids’ in the high school anymore. With amusement, they studied the new batch, fresh out middle school in their pristine high school black jackets; they were kids who would shortly find out that the homework schedule was about to go up several gears!
Across the other side on the opposing bleachers, Simon spotted Luke, Ryan and Todd and the rest of their friends—this year’s juniors. They were smiling and talking and seemed confidently at ease. Then, the general chatter began to diminish as the principal turned towards the microphone, set in front of a formal podium, ready to address them all.
Down at the front, some little kid with short trousers and curly hair suddenly stood. Apparently unaware that you didn't do that when the principal was about to hold forth, he had a bright grin on his face as he waved enthusiastically—presumably to some older brother.
The older brother in question seemed to be squeezed into the row right below Simon.
"Oh my God," snickered Marco, flicking Danny Gillespie—who was in the row in front—on the back of his head with his fingers. "Is that Ben? Don't tell me we've got another one now!"
The Elf waved back down toward the front, as unconcerned as his little brother that the whole school seemed to be watching them in bemusement. Under the cover of smatterings of laughter, he chuckled, "He just started elementary. Go Benny! Cool start!"
A rather hassled-looking elementary teacher hurried over to the young lad, and under the bristling glare of the principal, got him seated. It was hilarious and it all went pear-shaped for a few moments until order was restored. Even Simon found himself grinning.
Another Gillespie? Did the Academy have any idea what they were letting themselves in for?
Two rows below on the bleachers, Toby turned in his seat, glancing up through the middle of the outbreak of humor, trying to catch Simon’s eye.
Simon looked away. Toby had tried to talk to him on several occasions that day already, but there was nothing to say. The crowd settled down, and everyone tuned off as the principal began to drone.
* * *
Just over two weeks later, Simon passed yet another slow sports period in the library.
While his classmates were out on the football pitch, he'd been coming here for those periods since school started, getting his mum to write excuse note after excuse note for him. Hard contact would be dangerous he'd told her the first few times. After that, he'd pleaded that he just wasn't ready; still didn't feel a hundred percent.
It had got him out of going to anything that was linked to the locker rooms. Each time, he'd taken his letter of excuse to the main desk, and they'd issued a temporary exemption that, instead, required him to pass the allotted time in the confines of the school library.
That particular day, he spent the time glowering at a textbook, uptight with the knowledge that his mum had put her foot down. ‘This is the last one,’ she'd said, handing him the signed note. ‘And don't tell me you're afraid of getting hurt,’ she'd added as he'd tried to interrupt. ‘It's been more than long enough since your operation, and you wear a protective cup anyway! Enough is enough...it's time to just get on with it!’
She'd been firm without getting mad about it. She probably thought it would help him move on and get back to normal! His thoughts were dark, and he turned the page roughly. It ripped in the process further adding to his foul mood.
The two weeks had steadily gone downhill. He just couldn't get into a groove, and he’d lost his rag with Mason by the second day. And Mase wasn't the only one. By the middle of the second week, Simon picked up his first ever detention. It had been because of a math test on something none of them had done before that semester, for which they'd been given the weekend to get themselves up to speed for a full-on test on the Monday morning. He tried, but he just couldn't concentrate, and whenever he started looking at the equations, his mind started drifting.
When they got the test back a couple of days later, he was appalled to see he got one of the worst results in the class. Even Fontana had done better!
Almost all of them had started laughing when the teacher picked on him, bemused that Simon Summers—the math king—had bombed out! Even Skerrit dared to smirk!
Simon had lost it. Throwing the paper on the floor, he'd let loose at them all—and would have to spend the next three lunch breaks in detention as payment.
Afterwards he'd stalked out of the class, and ignored anyone who came close.
Another week passed, and after yet another lonely lesson in the library, he rejoined his class, keeping his head down as he slipped through the desks to take his seat. In comparison, off the back of what appeared to have been a rowdy game on the football field, the rest of them were full of jubilant energy. They seemed so together, and he so alone; more an outsider now than he'd ever been when he first joined this class.
The next day would be the annual tri-school sports day, and the event was on everyone's agenda. Expectations were high, and those who would be competing were being built up and encouraged. He’d never competed himself but was always vocal on the sidelines, giving his friends every ounce of his enthusiasm.
"So what's wrong with you this time?" Gabe Larsson swiveled at his desk and skewered him with an appraising glint. "Why weren’t you on the field? That's at least the fourth one you've missed!"
"What part of mind your own fucking business don't you get?" Simon’s reply was angrily short as, off to one side, he could see Toby watching him through lidded eyes.
Around them, an uneasy silence followed another of his outbursts.
Gabe's eyes flared in anger. He paused a beat, and then his face narrowed as he kept a lid on it. "Sorry for fucking asking then," he said, his voice devoid of emotion. He turned his back and shut the door.
At once, Simon felt angry—not so much at Gabe or the others—but at himself. The back of his neck flushed as he could sense those that used to be his friends watching him. He kept his mouth shut, but inside he screamed. Everything he did was wrong. Everything he said drove a wedge between him and them. He was cutting himself off, but he just didn't know how to stop it.
Back home at the end of the day, he escaped the confined space of his brother's car as quickly as possible and hurled in the front door.
"Simon?" As soon as he was through the door, his dad appeared out the kitchen. It was a surprise he was home so early on a Wednesday.
"Can you come in here a minute?"
Simon was immediately wary. "I only just got in, can't it wait?"
His dad held the door. The expression on his face gave the impression he felt it couldn't.
“Do you want me, too?” Luke’s puzzled voice carried from just behind Simon.
Geoff shook his head. “Mum and I just wanted Simon for a few minutes. Nothing bad…just to talk about something.” He continued to stand at the door, waiting.
“What? I didn’t do anything.” Simon couldn’t hide his irritation at their cloak and dagger approach as he came into the kitchen. He studied them warily as his dad closed the door behind them.
His mum was sitting at the table, waiting, and she said, “Nobody said you did. Dad and I were just talking about a few things, and we thought you should hear what we’ve got to say.” She patted the chair next to her, invitingly…and meaningfully.
Feeling even more nervous, Simon came and sat. This was worse than his recent visit to the doctors! His dad sat at the end of the table, hemming him in on the other side.
“We heard that you were in detention last week,” she said. It came out of nowhere, though her tone wasn’t angry.
“Who told you that?” Simon said at once, though he guessed it had to be Luke. The bastard should mind his own business!
“It doesn’t matter,” she said carefully. “What matters is that there are lots of people who are really worried about you.”
Becoming sullen, he dropped his eyes, wondering where she was going with this.
His dad said, “Mum and I think it’s time that you talked to somebody.”
“If you want to,” she added quickly. “Nobody’s forcing you, but maybe it would help?”
Simon suspected what they were referring to. He bet they meant a shrink…therapy! He bristled and said “Why? Just because I got a detention? There’s nothing to talk about!” Even so, his stomach twisted. Did they really think it was as bad as that?
“No, not just because you received the detention,” she said, steadily, watching him carefully.
“Can I go now?” Simon’s eyes flicked towards the door. This wasn’t anything he wanted to talk about.
“It’s there if you want it,” she said, not answering his question. “But it can’t hurt. All we’re saying is think about it.”
“Sure.” Simon’s voice was gruff. He’d give it a second’s thought. “Can I go?”
She nodded and he left, and headed straight upstairs to his room. He met Luke on the stairs and glared at him but said nothing. Fucking tell-tale!
Throwing off his jacket once he got to his room, he dumped his backpack into the corner, and it was only then that he noticed the package that had been left on his bedside table. Curious, he picked up what looked like a roll-on deodorant bottle, and turned it over in his hand, trying to get a measure of what it was. He read the label, frowned, and then read it again. Within moments, his anger boiled over.
Astroglide? What the hell were they fucking playing? How dare they! The provision of the bottle of ‘personal lubricant’, which even he knew was the kind of stuff people used for sex, wasn't even discreet! So, he was a whore now? A wanker? Livid, he stormed back downstairs.
They were all in the kitchen. His dad was still sitting in the same chair, and his mum had started mixing a salad by the sink. Luke was searching the fridge. Simon's anger broke the easy atmosphere that had prevailed as he slammed the Astroglide on the table.
"What the HELL is THAT?"
His mum turned and the reprimand was already in her face, even before she said, "Excuse me?"
"Si..." Luke sounded uncomfortable and his eyes betrayed that he knew more than he was letting on. "Sorry...I said I'd....well, I was going to try to explain—" He fumbled over his words and began to flush.
"Explain WHAT? How to jack off?" He glared at Luke, who flushed even deeper.
"Simon..." Geoff's growl held a clear warning.
"Just calm down," said Lucy. She wiped her hands on a towel and remained composed as she offered her own explanation. "If you want to know, I got it for you. Dr. Tiberius recommended it for both you and for Luke."
Stepping up to the table, she picked up the bottle, and slid it quietly into a draw. "It wasn't my intention to embarrass you, and Luke was just trying to help. If you don't need it, that's fine. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?"
"Bloody right I don't need it!" Simon glared at her. Now he had something to pin his anger on, he was unable to rein it in. "I haven't touched my fucking dick like that since you cut it, and I never will again. EVER!"
He spat the words at them and pointed an accusing finger at Luke. "If he likes to jerkoff so much, give the stuff to HIM!"
Spittle flecked his lips and he was breathing hard as their eyes widened at his outburst. He still couldn't stop. Pressure that had been building up over weeks became a force that cracked the wall of his self-composure. All at once, he exploded. "In fact if you think I'm such a wanker, why didn't you just go get me CASTRATED while you were at it? I can’t fucking use them anyway!”
He panted into the aghast silence that took the kitchen, no longer caring what they thought.
It was his dad that responded first.
"GET OUT!" Geoff stood suddenly and loomed over him, tall and angry as the gentle probing nature of their earlier talk evaporated. His eyes blazed, and the words snapped out like a whip. "How DARE you speak like that to us? Go to your room, and stay there! I don't want to even see your face right now!”
The enormity of what he'd just done came crashing down, and Simon flinched. He thought his dad would hit him, he looked so mad. His mum stepped in between them.
“Just go to your room!" Her tone was just as harsh as she pointed to the door. "We’ll talk about his when you’re ready to apologize!”
Simon turned on his heels, stalked out of the kitchen, climbed the stairs, and banged his door as he shut it. If it was meant to be some sort of a victory, it was hollow. In fact, he felt more of a failure than ever. And scared.
How had he allowed that to happen?
Of course, it wasn't over by any means, and his dad came and ranted at him for an age. Then his mum. And Luke? Luke was far too pissed with him even to talk. Head down, stoically he bore it without making eye contact.
They can NEVER know, he kept reminding himself. Nobody could EVER know...
Finally, they left him to ‘have a long careful think’ about his behavior, only to join the family again when he was ready to apologize.
Alone, he cried at the injustice of it, and then tried to dry his eyes as, several hours later, after a family dinner that he wasn't invited to and couldn't have stomached anyway, he came downstairs.
They must have heard him on the stairs as they were all in the lounge sitting in an awkward, brooding silence when he came and stood before them.
An outsider now, he didn't belong. There was no encouragement, no compromise. He hung his head, his intention to do nothing other than make his apology and then return to the dark thoughts that weighed him down. They would hate him, but no more than he hated himself.
"I'm sorry,” he started. “It won't happen again."
He tried so, so hard to remain strong, but he couldn't help it and started crying again as his frame became racked with shuddering, uncontrollable sobs. He could see all kinds of alarm bells ringing in her face as his mum pushed up from her seat and moved towards him.
"Simon...you have to tell us what's wrong…" Her voice was laced with worry as she reached for him, but he backed off.
"I'm just sorry," he mumbled. He went back to the script. "I've been horrible, and it's my own fault. It won't happen again."
He turned and hurried back upstairs to his room, where he retreated into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Maybe he should have just told them everything, and so much of his normal self screamed that that was what he should do. But where could he begin—and more importantly, where would that path end?
I have—had—a boyfriend?
The same one that…?
They would hate Grace, though it wasn't her fault, and he couldn't bear the thought of how ashamed they'd be of him. The comforting hugs like the ones it would start off with would soon go, replaced by awkward disapproval. They would take his computer, and everything he was would be put under the microscope and judged. Every comment. Every passing glance.
He. Just. Couldn't.
Again he buried it, forcing the truth down until it was deep enough to seal it, and the tears, away. The last thing he needed was anyone’s sympathy. He just wasn’t strong enough for that.
They followed him upstairs, and voices called for him, but he ran the water and told them he was having a hot bath.
He lay in the hot water, totally exhausted by the emotions that had overwhelmed his world in a flash flood, and tried to take stock. He couldn’t go on like this. Something had to change. However messed up he felt, he needed to do more than nothing.
It had been nearly three weeks since he’d sat in this same bath and taken the bandages off. The marks, though healing now, were still visible as a circumference of infuriated ants tucked close under the head of his dick. There was no two tone of remaining foreskin.
Some might have called it neat, the result cosmetically pleasing. An unmarked shaft with little to no blemishing scars. To him, his complete and reckless unhooding was an act that had left him crushed.
He was soft just then, but was still taunted by erections from time to time. However, the joy he used to find at that jaunty arousal had gone. Now, if a boner came for whatever reason, all he had to do was remember Toby and the anger and shame was more than enough to make it pass. What he had said to them downstairs was true; he hadn't masturbated since the day it had happened.
Since his circumcision, his appearance had changed radically. The shaft appeared thicker and, without the benefit of his extended foreskin, the three and a half inches had reduced to three. Perched over it, a bulbous acorn was still red, and shiny with indignation. He couldn't change it now, but there was nothing about it that brought him any sense of pleasure anymore.
Everything was different. Even his own family didn't like him anymore. Still, he knew he had to change something...just to move on enough to survive.
He added more water and closed his eyes.
* * *
Not long after it appeared that Simon had taken a bath, Luke had left them to go upstairs too. It had become awkward in the lounge, however now that it was just the two of them, Geoff and Lucy could speak freely.
He’d been as shocked as her by Simon's outburst, yet now, having just observed him break down like that, Geoff wondered if he’d really had mishandled the whole thing, and had an uncomfortable feeling that all he’d gone and done by blowing up was to make it a whole lot worse.
Lucy shook her head in bewilderment as she continued her muted conversation with him. “I mean having the procedure worked out well for Luke didn’t it?” she said.
“But don’t forget, Luke wanted to be circumcised,” he countered. “Simon didn’t. Even then, I don’t see how we could have done anything differently.” It was all old ground they'd covered before. He shrugged, but felt as uptight as her. “Stretching seemed the right way to go.”
“And maybe we should have just left him alone in the first place. Was it really that bad?” She paced, arms wrapped around herself though it wasn’t cold by any means. “I got him the lubricant because I thought it would help…I never thought he would…”
Tears spilled out of her eyes and Geoff reached to comfort her. He had no answers, but recriminations didn’t help either.
"We really do need to get him help,” she said. "I sure as hell don't seem to be able to get it right!"
“Me neither,” he said. “I really went off the handle! But what if he doesn’t want to? We could make him go, but that doesn’t mean he’ll talk about it.”
They’d started discussing the possibility of getting Simon to talk to a counselor the previous day. Geoff wasn’t keen; it sounded so drastic, but the way things were going, the need for that option was escalating fast.
She said, “What about somebody he knows? Maybe Grace could help—that’s what she does, after all.”
Geoff shook his head. “Don’t you think it needs to be a guy for something like this?”
“Oh…” She grimaced as she settled on the chair arm. “I guess you’re right.”
“Let me have another go at talking to him first,” he said. He really didn’t like the idea that his son needed a shrink. Surely it wasn’t that bad? In fact, the more he thought about it, the more having a ‘man talk’ seemed like a good idea. He probably should have done that ages ago.
"If he's still no better in a couple of days, then you're probably right. We should find some help. I'm sure Grace could recommend someone," he added as an afterthought. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that, though Simon's outburst still reverberated in his ears. 'I haven't touched my fucking dick like that since you cut it, and I never will again. EVER!'
The more he thought about it, the more worrying it was.
He had no doubt that both boys masturbated—at their age he was at it hammer and tongs! They were teenage boys, and that’s what they did! But if Simon had tried and found he couldn’t anymore, at least in the way he was used to, that would certainly be bad news. Tiberius knew his stuff, so he was probably right—lubrication was probably a good thing, and it seemed Luke appreciated it well enough. But what if Simon felt awkward about relying on something like that?
If that was what the problem really was.
What they did know was that for a month—ever since the operation—Simon had almost completely shut them out. It wasn't getting any better and it was hard to know what was going on behind those frequently sullen eyes these days.
He waited until he could hear Simon get out of the bath, and gave it a few more minutes. Then he went via the kitchen and retrieved the bottle of lube from the drawer. Maybe Simon just needed to get his confidence back—and to know that it really was okay to use a little help down there if that’s what he needed?
Upstairs, he tapped gently at the door of Simon’s room. He would probably be in bed now. “Simon?” He waited, hoping he might receive an invitation to enter, but none was forthcoming. He sighed. Either way, he wasn’t going to just leave.
He opened the door to a gloom filled by the remains of the late summer's day, seeping through the blinds. Opening the door further spilled enough light to see Simon in his bed, turned away to the wall with the sheets pulled around him protectively. It didn’t even cross his mind to believe his son was asleep.
Crossing the room, he turned on the bedside light and then went back to close the door to give them some privacy, before settling on the edge of the bed. Lightly he rubbed the back of Simon's head and murmured. “Hey there...how’ya doing?”
There was no answer, and, softly, he tried again. “Come on…what’s up?”
“I said sorry, didn’t I?” Simon’s reply was low and empty. “I’m tired. I just want to sleep.”
“Me and mum are just worried for you, that’s all.”
“I thought you said you didn’t want to see my face again.”
Geoff sighed. If what he suspected was true, then no wonder Simon had gone off the deep end. The kid was probably pretty anxious! “I’m sorry too. I was angry. I shouldn’t have said what I said.”
Note to self—again—remember that there was always a bigger picture! He thought he'd learned that lesson with Ryan!
There was no response, so he stood and moved around to the other side of the bed where he could see his son’s face. Simon’s eyes were open, but he didn’t make eye contact from where he lay scrunched into his pillow.
Geoff said, “Whatever this is, we can fix it, you know.”
Simon remained set in stone.
Geoff pushed a little harder. “Am I right in thinking that since your circumcision, you’re finding things a bit difficult?”
Ah well – in at the deep end then… “Sunshine, I don’t know what you’ve read or what other people say, but there’s nothing wrong with masturbation.”
At the word, Simon blinked. His eyes briefly darted upwards and he flushed. Geoff took it as a sign he was on the right track, though still Simon remained tight-lipped. He thought he knew what he wanted to say, but he still had to choose his words carefully.
“It’s perfectly normal for guys your age.”
Though Simon kept his eyes averted, Geoff knew he was listening.
“If you’re finding it a bit more difficult because of trying to get used to being circumcised, there’s no shame in getting a bit of help.”
“I don’t want to talk about this.” Simon’s tone was evasive. "Just leave me alone."
“And has not talking about it helped at all?” Geoff inquired, letting a little irony flow into his tone. For the first time, it seemed that Simon let slip his control as he swallowed. His face seemed lined with discomfort.
Geoff lifted the bottle of Astroglide into Simon’s line of sight. “All I’m saying is use it if you need to. Don’t suffer if you really don’t have to—it might just get you back on track again.”
He put the item down on the bedside table. “Enough said about that. Is there anything else that’s bothering you? Anything you want to talk about?”
Simon shook his head. “Can I go to sleep now?” He sounded distant once more and Geoff sighed. It was hard to know if they'd made any progress as he tussled his son’s hair and got ready to leave. Maybe he really should be making some enquiries with Grace.
“Sleep well, then,” he said, and he turned off the bedside light. Walking back to the door, it was the first time he’d ever hoped that any of his kids would beat off before going to sleep! Simon really needed to find his way forward, and there wasn’t a lot more he could do to help.
At the door, Geoff swung around. In the semi-dark, Simon was sitting up in bed. Geoff smiled at him in anticipation of the grateful words of a relieved son.
Simon picked up the bottle from nearby and lobbed it Geoff's direction. “I don’t need this. I don’t masturbate,” he said. With that, he turned away and pulled the sheets over himself.