Simon was having a much better day than he’d expected that Monday. And he had a plan…kind of…
Maybe it was the talk with Luke the previous night, or maybe it also helped that Toby wasn’t on the football field that morning to spoil what he was hoping to do. Actually, Toby wasn’t at school at all that day, though nobody seemed to know why. He might have been sick, but a few thought it had something to do with the previous week’s fire that had left the Art block a smoldering mess.
In many ways, Simon knew it didn’t matter—he'd already decided about Toby some time ago. A month without him and he felt little yearning to be back there. Still, Toby being AWOL was just one less thing to worry about that day. This was about him now. His needs. His future. Making a stand to claim back his life and start living it again.
And he would make that stand on the football field.
In the locker rooms, the rowdy banter flowed around the benches as he and his classmates changed. He’d found a place some distance away from his friends, and it stung to discover how equally distant they had become towards him. Fed up with his behavior over the last weeks, they no longer bothered trying to engage him. It had been like that for a while, and the only person who’d seemed willing to give him the time of day that morning had been Jacko.
It was his own fault, he told himself, as the lively chatter excluded him. His, and Skerrit's. Keeping his head down, he followed them out wondering how he was going to make the morning count.
All four classes of their year were out on the fields that morning for games of flag football, and the coaches kept it simple, dividing each class to make teams of nine players to play another nine from a different class. Simon was happy to be on a team with most of his friends, though they remained ambivalent about him until he volunteered for a shot at quarterback. His team showed just how they felt about that as they circled him, eyes grinding into him through yet another shower of heavy rain.
"No fucking way, Summers!" Marco Fontana’s olive-skinned face glared as he stepped forward and snatched the ball away—Marco also liked to think of himself as a hotshot quarterback. Simon was just wondering if it was worth trying to push harder, when Gabe laid a hand on Marco's shoulder.
"Come on, Marco. Give a guy a chance at least."
"I agree," Mase seconded, stepping in surprisingly quickly, too. He wiped his already wet face with the sleeve of his shirt before planting his helmet on his head. He studied Simon as he did up the straps and seemed willing to be sympathetic. "If Si wants a shot for QB, then what's the harm? We can always swap around later, if we need to."
“I’m good with it,” Danny said.
Marco's shrug was a lot less generous—as was his dropping of the ball to the ground where he stood rather than passing it back to Simon, but at least he conceded.
As Simon picked up the ball. It felt like now or never, a one and only chance to redeem himself, even though it probably wasn't. He tried to conjure up some plays from his head as he tightened up his soft-shell helmet. In fact, as the rain spattered around them, they all kicked in with ideas and quickly agreed on a play.
He did his best to shut everything out—something he'd become good at the last month, though for all the wrong reasons. Now, he tried to blank out all the stuff that didn't matter, and he focused on the one task of getting the ball wide to Jacko. Simon knew he had a good arm, and the months he’d spent over the summer mostly single-handed on his boat had made muscle. Muscle that, as well as good for hauling in sail, was plenty good enough for throwing a football.
All he could do was his best, he reminded himself.
He muttered a silent prayer as the ball was hiked his direction. It was wet, but he held it firmly and dropped back. He quickly took stock of the charging forms around him. Twice he shifted in the pocket as his teammates sacrificed themselves on his behalf. Then he caught a glimpse of Jacko already into his run. Simon stepped up to buy himself an extra second, gripped the ball solidly, and sent it downfield.
It wasn't a perfect spiral—far from it as the ball wobbled in the air—but it had weight behind it and caught the defense on its back foot and Jacko managed to pluck it safely out of the air, to run some distance before being caught.
"Now that's what I'm talking about!" Gabe was ecstatic as Coach Peterson whistled the first down. Simon grinned inside his helmet. Twenty yards in the rain was a good start.
The next few plays went well and they advanced steadily to the point where it didn't matter when the defense slipped through and pulled Simon’s flag. There were no recriminations or frustrated glares, and in fact it really hadn't even been his fault. The score wasn't the prize, and he gathered himself and took to defense, satisfied with his attempt to begin to win back his friends.
It felt like he really had planted new colors that were different from the angry tones of the year so far, and in defense he threw himself into the game to the point where even the cup inside his boxers wasn't sufficient to keep the grimace from his face as his still-tender dick got caught up in the rough and tumble. He ignored the discomfort and drove his opponents into the mud. This fight was about living, and there was going to be no backing away from it.
Partway through the game, he spotted Luke's class passing by on their way back from the gym and towards the main building. He waved. Luke hurried over.
"How's it going?" Luke asked, though it was in bemusement as he studied Simon's soaking muddy kit.
Simon grinned. "We're winning!" He didn't really need to say much more and his brother looked as satisfied as Simon felt himself. Luke bounded off again.
The mood on the field, especially towards him, was a lot different from how it had been earlier that morning. As was the weather. Halfway through the game, the sun finally forced itself out from behind the clouds that hurried off west, defeated. After the drenching rain, it turned hot and humid as Simon's enthusiasm for the day drove him and his team forward to a resounding victory—a victory in which he'd been a player once again. A victory in more ways than one.
As icing on the cake, he was pumped to be declared MVP by Peterson, one of the new coaches who'd only just joined the school that semester. Peterson was a young guy, maybe in his mid-twenties. They'd had a lot of them like him; junior coaches who came through the school and who probably earned next to nothing. But they learned their trade for a year or so under the beady eye of pros like Coach Milton, before moving on to take better paid jobs at lesser known schools.
"So where have you been hiding, Summers?" Peterson studied Simon curiously as he walked with the muddied crowd back towards the sports block at the end of the game. "And is that an English accent?"
Simon grinned. "Yes, Coach—though we came over to the USA years ago." He hardly even thought he had an English accent anymore, and used to hate those regular 'what a cute accent you have' moments. On this occasion he didn't mind. The group of them paused at the entrance as boots stepped from the grass onto the hard concrete.
"I've been recovering from surgery, Coach," Simon continued. He caught the looks of surprise on a few of the faces round about him as they tracked back to the lockers and added, "Because of it I haven't been able to play for a few weeks."
He hadn’t planned it this way at all, but maybe it was best. Get it out there, and let them decide for themselves. Peterson, thankfully, didn't pry, but said, "Well, glad to see you're well now, mate—and great play out there." It was friendly and the ‘Brit-ism’ wasn’t lost on Simon. Peterson checked his watch. "Time for lunch then. See you all next time." With that, they parted company.
Marco wasn't one to beat around the bush. He was the type of guy that, if he thought it, then that would be it, and he would have to say it. If he was pissed off with you, he never bothered hiding it! Once Peterson was out of earshot, Marco didn't hang back, bearing down on Simon and throwing him a suspicious glare. "What the hell are you talking about, Summers? What surgery? Stop fucking making stuff up!"
"No. He's not," Jacko said at once. He moved between Simon and Marco, and his tone was clipped. "He had to have an operation. It's why he's not been playing all term."
“How the hell would you know?” Around about them, others were listening and watching as Marco hit back.
At first Jacko seemed caught up with his belligerent reaction towards Marco, but then he looked sheepish as though he'd let the cat out of the bag. He caught Simon's eye. "Luke told us."
Simon shrugged. "I know he did. He told me—it's fine." He knew he'd come a long way to be able to say that.
Marco scowled. "So what's wrong with you?" he said as they went inside.
"And if it was any of our business, he'd tell us," Gabe said, though Simon spotted the flick of his eyes below Simon’s waist. Yep—some of them knew alright!
They reached the locker rooms and began to change, and Gabe seemed to consider the matter closed as they stripped off their kit in silence in preparation for a shower. As the silence extended, Simon couldn't help but worry what they were really thinking. Thankfully, the awkwardness didn't last long.
"Holy crap—look at me!" Danny squeaked. "I must be wearing most of the flaming field!"
Simon chuckled with the rest of them, and it was true, Danny was caked! He was a good guy to have on your team, was the Elf. He didn't seem to care about danger and would throw himself at anything, whatever its size! And if he got driven into the ground, it was just another opportunity to laugh, bounce back up and get stuck in! He also had a knack for easing the tension when things got a bit heated, and as the awkward moment passed, their lively chatter rose up a notch.
Simon studied them as they included him in their laughter this time. Muddied too, and exultant at their win, he knew it still wasn't enough. As much as anything, it wasn’t enough for him.
He’d lived his life—for the most part—being honest with people round about him. He hated having to lie, and perhaps the most difficult part of being gay was having to be dishonest, and to hide it—especially from those closest to him. Other than Toby, Grace and Luke, that was...everyone else. He sighed to himself. Perhaps there was some dishonesty he would have to just live with—at least for now—but hiding the truth about being circumcised wasn’t going to be one. Not anymore.
It touched him that, after everything, they'd shown they were still willing to step up to the plate for him, and they deserved better. At the same time, he guessed he wasn't going to get a better chance than this to get the circumcision issue out of the way. Like Luke had said the previous night, it was probably best just to get it out there and tough it out until it stopped mattering.
He undressed as they did, though was still self-conscious enough to turn away as he slipped off his jock. Then he grabbed a towel, and draped it in such a way that it was enough to keep him covered for a few moments more.
As one, still riding the waves of success, they marched to the showers. Hanging up their towels on the multiple hooks, they pushed past others already leaving—some, like them, enthusiastic in victory, others more subdued. Inside, the water flowing down the drains had a muddy hue.
"Make space, guys!" Mason shouted as they crowded into one end. Space appeared as more backed out of the other end as a number took their cue to call time on the hot water.
Simon and his friends squeezed in, and it wasn't long before the pack dispersed into discreet clumps. He found himself grouped with Gabe and Danny. Nearby, Connor Delaney was getting enthusiastic about something else—another outing to Turner Field. Simon tuned him out. He felt quite strange being among them all—almost as wary as the early days when he'd first met his new friends.
"So, how's Benny doing?" he asked Danny. Again, it pained Simon that he'd never once asked after Danny's younger brother since seeing him that first day of school. He had so much to make up.
"Oh, the little monkey is doing just fine," Danny chuckled. He shook his head in bemusement. "He keeps telling me they're not doing enough fun stuff in class! Dad's trying to get him into the gifted and talented stream, so he’d be pushed a bit harder."
Simon grinned. Having met Ben Gillespie a few times, he wasn't surprised!
Under the cover of shampoo and celebration, he considered his two friends. Three months had made a hell of a difference! After weeks of hiding out in the library, it was his first time with them under the showerheads since the end of the previous semester.
"Thanks." He reached for the bottle of body wash once Gabe had finished, and kept his thoughts hidden as he poured some out onto his hand.
"So, what about you guys?" Connor turned to join them, bringing Mason and Jacko with him. "In for the baseball game on Saturday?"
"Probably," Gabe said at once. "Do you know if Nate said he was going?"
Simon continued to study his friends with a practiced eye as the conversation swirled around him.
"Finished with that?" Danny held out his hand for the bottle.
"Oh...sure..." Simon passed it quickly hoping he hadn't been caught staring. Danny, however, was already starting to pour soap and didn't seem to have noticed.
Danny had never been a big guy—even if he made up for that in plenty of other ways—though even he seemed to have picked up some muscle over the summer. And he wasn't alone as Simon's gaze strayed more widely. Some had shot up more than others over the summer, but they'd all changed. Even he had. Shoulders had become wider and muscle more well-defined. Below the waist they’d grown up, too. Dicks looked fuller and nuts heavier. Armpit hair abounded, and even Danny had pubes!
However, the real surprise wasn't that Danny's bush might best be described as 'a work in progress', but—not counting the hairy Delaney—he'd apparently progressed further than many of the rest!
Danny passed the bottle back, but almost immediately, Jacko's hand snaked in from behind Simon, asking, "Are you finished with that?"
"Oh—sure." Simon passed back the bottle he'd been gripping, before returning to let his eyes flick around to the friends he'd grown up with through puberty. It was pretty obvious that trimming apparently seemed to be still in. How long that had been going on he had no idea, but it felt like he was leafing through a book that had lost some important pages.
Most had resorted to a simple tidy-up style trim—straightforward and sensible, and nothing to particularly to write home about. On a second look, even Danny was less of a work in progress, and more one of regress as Simon was fairly sure he'd used a trimmer, too!
However, there were quite a few who'd taken it just a few notches further, and his eyes widened at Gabe's grade one, fair-haired, pubic trim that started at the base and flared out to a light stubble. In comparison to that well-groomed appearance, Simon’s own bush looked totally out of control!
But it didn't stop there, and there were even a handful, who after having scraped the previous term, had apparently decided to stay completely smooth. From where he was standing he could already count two of them: Jason and Jordan, both African-Americans. And from the amount of notice anybody seemed to be giving them, nobody apparently cared!
Holy cow! What had he missed? Had the whole 'Scraped' thing left more of a mark than he'd realized?
He'd hardly seen any of them over the summer—Toby had seen to that—and he regretted it now. Back then in their class, and to a man by the end of that week, even the most conservative had thrown caution to the wind, and had submitted themselves to the razor until not a hair had been left between them! ‘Scraped because we give a shit’ had had a serious point, but there had been something quite hilarious at the time about turning themselves into nearly two dozen depilated Dannys! There had been plenty of laughs, but one thing most were agreed on: it made their dicks look bigger—not an issue to take lightly when you were their age!
He and Toby had stayed smooth for a while, but Toby was too lazy to have to keep shaving all the time and stopped bothering. Simon had let it grow out, too. The bare look didn't particularly suit him, and he felt he looked babyish. Toby had said it was all about skin color.
Color? Simon grimaced as he recalled what he'd suffered over a tube of orange hair dye after letting them grow back the first time. It had all seemed funny at the time, but now it just added to the pile of things he regretted.
Under the showers, he shifted position to see what he could see in the other direction, and caught Jacko applying a handful of body wash down his front, rubbing it without any apparent inhibition into a completely smooth groin as he talked to Mason.
Bloody hell! Jacko, too?
The guy’s honey-cream skin gleamed flawlessly, yet any comparison to the fifth grade ended right there as Jacko and Mason chatted without any apparent awkwardness.
Simon studied Jacko out of the corner of his eye. For all Toby' faults, he was right about one thing—it was about skin color, and Jacko had always been on the fence on that one. His bush had never really decided what it was—neither black nor brown, but had ended up a shade of light toffee. That color was fine on the top of his head, but had always seemed a little out of place around his wanger.
The more Simon though about it, the better he liked the new look. It was a bold statement, but Jacko really looked like he could pull it off.
Actually, it was quite hot!
It all caught Simon rather off balance. For the last month, he'd chained himself to the belief that he no longer wanted—or cared about—anything to do with his—or anyone else’s—sexuality. He’d very deliberately detached his feelings and any personal needs that went with those. Maybe it was a way of not feeling the hurt? Now his eyes were flicking around, and his brain was firing on all cylinders!
"What the hell happened to you?"
Looking around at the displays of male grooming, Simon could see any number that he would have assumed the finger could be pointing at...until he realized that, from nearby, Connor Delaney was pointing at him.
Though Connor wasn't in their class, Simon knew the guy well enough, and he and his older brother Cole often joined the baseball outings to Turner Field. Like his brother, Connor was built for the football field, and Simon was glad it hadn't been him on the opposing team that morning. As well as Connor being old enough to be getting his full license soon, a powerful-looking wanger swung heavy over his nuts.
Connor was also pointing below the waist. Perhaps in normal times it would have been an odd thing to do—dodgy even—but Simon knew he hardly looked ‘normal’ down there yet, and it was going to be noticed. While the early, angry post-operative inflammation and smarting redness had passed, compared to the rest of them, he still looked like he was sporting an indignant strawberry lollipop!
"When the hell’s wrong with you?” Connor demanded, clarifying his question. “Got the clap or something?”
“Me, you mean?” Simon gritted his teeth and tried to keep his cool as he balanced too many thoughts that were competing for his headspace. "Nothing like that. I was circumcised…over the summer."
“Circumcised? Holy shit!” Conner bulldozed forward. "Like your brother? Cole told me he had some special operation on his dick.”
Simon cringed and just nodded. Connor wasn’t known to be particularly subtle.
"Well, fucking hell! Look at that!" Marco pushed in and couldn't help himself as he burst all over Simon’s uncomfortable moment. Most around them did exactly what Marco suggested, and there was a communal twisting in Simon's direction.
"What the hell did you want to go do that for?" Marco sounded aghast, and it was more than enough to draw further attention from those who began to edge around from behind Simon or push up from further down the lane for a look. It was all that Simon could do not to drop his hands to cover his junk—that, or and run and hide!
This wasn't how he hoped it would go, but it was out of his hands now. The muddy water had been sluiced away down the drains, and Simon knew they wouldn't stay under the sprays much longer. They deserved to know the full story, and he'd never get a better chance than now.
"The umm…" he said, raising his voice a little and making no effort to try to hide the impact of his skinning as they studied him with wide eyes, "I had to get it done for medical reasons. The operation was right before we came back."
He continued to wash himself to try to seem at ease, but inside, he was churning.
"Like your brother, then?" Gabe said. It felt like a prompt.
Simon nodded gratefully. "Yep, it's true. Luke had to have the same thing a few months back, too."
"Phimosis, wasn't it?" Jacko said. He too seemed to be ready to fill in the gaps.
Marco's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What the hell's phimosis?"
"Duh...it's a dick thing!" Danny laughed, and typical of him, he already had his own flaccid dick in his hand, studying it without caring what anyone might think, though its size matched the rest of him.
"Nice cut, by the way," Danny added. He was fingering the dark ring that circled his shaft as he compared it with Simon's, getting away with it in his own inimitable way. "You can't see any scar on yours."
Simon noticed more than a few eyes glance around in a circumspect way, checking if others thought this was kosher. There were a few shrugs, a grin or two and then an inevitable and communal turning down of eyes as almost everyone paused to study their own piece of anatomy. It struck Simon that there was something about Danny that made it okay. He might be the smallest in the class, but people trusted him. Still, it wasn’t totally new, and they’d covered some of this ground before. Being scraped before the summer break, had led to some quite frank discussions that probably would never have been possible otherwise. The subject of dicks had, for a small window of time back then, been fair game. Lots of questions came out—the stuff you always wanted to know, but was a bit tricky to ask another guy.
"Luke’s friend—the guy from Creek—you remember, the volleyball guy, explained it to us," Gabe said. "Phimosis is a problem with your foreskin—when it's too tight or something. It only affects guys who aren't cut."
“Never getting properly cut?” Marco sneered. "More fucking fool them, then!"
"Oh for God's sake, just back off, Marco!" Exasperated, Mason entered the exchange. He turned to face Simon. He looked frustrated with more than just Marco, and clearly wanted to know more. "So what happened? Did you have to go to hospital?"
Simon nodded, but felt awkward at being the center of attention in this way. Yet he knew he wasn't done yet. It was time to let it all hang out in more ways than one. These were his friends. At least he hoped they still could be.
"I was trying to fix it by stretching it...the tight foreskin, I mean. You can do that. To be honest, I know you guys are all done, but being cut was the last thing I wanted. Maybe that sounds weird to you, but..." He couldn't hold their eyes and dropped his gaze towards a still-pink head, and swallowed, feeling choked.
For God's sake, not now!
Gathering himself, he said, "Something went wrong and I had to be rushed into hospital. They had to operate, and...umm...."
It was the thing he'd dreaded; standing before his friends and having them see the outcome of all his failings. His confidence faltered. As the only uncut participant during the scrape, he'd smirked at them as they’d compared sizes and circumcision scars. Now he'd shrunk enough to wipe the grin off his face. And it wasn’t just about length either. This last month or so, he’d shrunk inside, too.
Would he ever get past it?
"I didn’t know about it until after…that they were going to do this, I mean. It was a bit of a shock.” They followed his eyes as he glanced downwards. “I was pretty pissed off about it for ages…with everyone…"
He tried to be honest with them without going into all the details. He didn't know how else to explain it, and hung his head. "It just really messed me up." Surrounded by a sea of faces that seemed taken aback by his confession. Even Marco knew enough to keep his mouth shut.
"Why didn't you just tell us?" Gabe asked at last. His eyes flicked around to the others. “We thought that…well I dunno what we thought, but it wasn’t this—”
"I know, I should have. And I've been a real bastard all term. I just wanted to say sorry."
It was Danny who broke the difficult moment in typical Gillespie fashion.
"D'ya wanna swap?" Danny asked. He frowned, still holding his own wanger up in comparison, and sounded quite earnest. "Yours looks a lot better than mine."
"Gillespie…you are such a total fucking goon!" Marco screeched as the shower lane erupted into laughter.
"No, I mean it!" Danny’s pleading rose over the noise as more heads poked curiously around the corner to see what was going on. "Does it come with a manual? Mine's pretty easy to work, but I can make some notes if you want." He grinned at his own humor. "It gets about a foot long though, just to warn you!"
"Oh my God…listen to him!" Marco moaned, shaking his head. Simon laughed with them as the tension broke, and with it, the power of fears that had been ruling him for far too long.
It was a turning point.
"I'm okay, Danny." He sniggered as a heavy weight lifted off his shoulders. "I think I'll hang on to it for now."
Danny pulled a face. “Aww, crap! What about you, Jacko?" As quick as a flash, he added, "No, scrap that, my dick would freeze if I swapped with yours!”
Jacko looked comfortable in his own skin, even if it didn’t have any hair on it, and grinned at the taunt. “Danny forgot to mention he went smooth for a while, too, but stopped when he accidently sliced off a half of his dick with the razor!”
Ouch! That was a maybe a bit mean, Simon thought. However, nothing ever ruffled Danny Gillespie, even small-dick jokes, and the Elf shrieked with laughter as he gave Jacko the finger.
Simon studied Danny's hand with interest. His fingers were quite small and delicate, and a ridiculous thought struck Simon out of right field. Was there a mathematical formula that related the size of your dick to the length of your middle finger—at least when soft? The idea amused him, and in his head, mini equations skittered into view. He smirked—maybe he should do some research! He glanced at Jacko anatomy and grinned.
"What are you laughing at?" Jacko said, chuckling.
"You! Well, you and a math problem!" Simon brushed it off. He was incredibly relieved. Now it was all out in the open, he minded less than he thought he would. It was no different to the time they'd all scraped—everyone got studied and nobody had bothered about being on show when they were all in the same boat.
Just like now.
For the first time, he was able to see his surgery from a different perspective. He wasn’t a failure, and what he now carried wasn’t a corrective punishment. It was just an adjustment, a different way of being. He could make adjustments too.
Going by what he could see around about him, he was pretty average in size, though his acorn was quite a bit redder than the rest of them. Even that was getting better as the weeks went by, and he hardly felt the stinging discomfort that had plagued him at first. Other than being a bit pink, his unhooded dick matched many of theirs.
There was a lot to be said for that, wasn't there?
Suddenly, that was it, and the impromptu party began to break up, and he was left talking with Jacko and Gabe as the others drifted away to go and dry off. After all the fretting Simon had done, it was almost an anticlimax. Maybe Luke had been right after all?
Jacko remained conversational. "So how long were you in hospital?" he asked.
"Just overnight...I assumed you knew."
"I knew?" Jacko frowned as he snapped the lid back on the bottle he was holding. "Why would I know?"
"I saw your dad in the hospital. He didn't do the operation, it was someone called Chowdry, I think, but your dad was around. I thought he'd tell you."
Jacko chuckled. "Oh my God—hardly! Dad can't even remember when dinner's ready—there’s no way he'd remember you were his patient!" It was a bit unlikely, but Simon got the picture. Julius Jackson knew how to keep his mouth shut.
“Who’s was this?” Jacko asked, holding up the body wash.
“Gabe’s I think."
Gabe nodded and held out his hand.
"Danny's right, though," Jacko said as he lobbed the bottle across to Gabe. He became reflective as went back to studying Simon’s dick as Gabe walked off. "It looks pretty normal. I know you said there was something that went wrong, but you wouldn't know."
"I guess. It's taken a bit of time to get used to it, though."
"I'll bet!” Jacko grinned, and his tone became teasing. “I didn’t even know they did it for older guys until we talked about it at Todd’s. Did they use the same thing as with Luke?"
It didn't seem awkward to keep discussing the subject, and Simon shook his head, realizing Jacko was referring to a SmartKlamp.
"No. They had to cut away all the foreskin during the operation and then they just stitched it." He pointed to the fading line of ants that had tramped a path close under his glans. "You can just see it here."
"I've only got a bit, too," Jacko murmured, studying himself thoughtfully as the water dripped off the end of a wanger that only had a centimeter of foreskin. And even that you had to look hard for, being disguised by the tones of his almond skin. "It looks like that, anyway, though I've never really thought about that before. I don't think it really makes any difference."
Simon covered a smirk. It wasn’t hard to figure out what ‘any difference’ one meant—he couldn’t be the only one who played with his wanger! Jacko was right, though, they weren’t that different—at least when it came to how they’d been cut—and he wondered how long Dr. Chowdry had worked at Northside. Jacko's dad worked there, so maybe Jacko was born there? Could Chowdry have done that one, too?
Shortly, the two of them were threading back through the showers to return to the locker room. Simon didn't hesitate in picking up his bag, which like him at the start of the lesson, had been relegated to some distance from his friends. Dropping it onto the floor near Mason, he scooped up his clothes and joined them.
"So, any idea where Toby is?" Mason glanced across to where Simon was toweling himself dry.
Simon shrugged. "No idea. Sick maybe?"
"In the slammer, probably!" Marco was typically abrupt.
"But did you guys hear what they’re saying about Daniels?" Gabe said, ignoring Marco, and adding to, rather than changing, the subject.
"Daniels?" Jacko paused his vigorous toweling. "What about him?"
"There's a rumor he's leaving. Some guys were talking about it earlier—that Benton doesn't want to spend money on a new Art block.”
“So what then? Nothing?”
“They say there’s going to be a new theatre, and a media center, instead.
“A media center?” Danny brightened. “Really? Like graphic design and publishing?”
“Wouldn’t that be cool, though!” Danny said, his enthusiasm growing. “And a proper theater, too! I don't mean there shouldn't be Art as well, but Benny loves that kind of thing. He's gonna be so pumped—“
“So, if that's true, where’s Art going?” Mason said, interrupting.
"Who cares," Marco said. "I'm with Danny, media and computer graphics is a hell of a lot more useful."
There was a pause and Simon got the sense that most were with Marco on that score. Finally, Gabe said, “Maybe that’s why Daniels is leaving?”
Mase shook his head. “Come on, nobody actually knows he’s going anywhere.”
“Actually, he is.” All eyes turned to Simon in surprise as he spoke up. “Mum heard it from Grace Skerrit. They all are, I think.”
“All?” Mason's surprise was evident. “Together?”
“I guess.” Simon shrugged. They all exchanged glances, most of which came to land on Simon, making him feel uncomfortable. Everyone knew that he and Toby were meant to be friends.
“Danny!” Alongside Simon, Jacko suddenly burst out laughing. “What the HELL are THOSE?”
Danny grinned. "These? These are what’s called, awesome!" He looked typically goofy in a pair of Kung Fu Panda boxer shorts! Simon was relived as the attention got switched.
“Benny thought it would be funny to get them for my birthday,” Danny added, laughing and turning to show off his colorful attire. “What do you think? Cool shorts, or what?”
Simon found it as funny as the rest of them as he slipped on his own boxers. His were new, too. Just before the weekend, he’d finally broken into the wedge of underwear—extracted from the back of the drawer—that his mum had bought for him several weeks earlier. They were cool and they were comfy and he wished he’d worn them sooner at those times when the loose scraping over his dick had really chafed.
Next to him, even Jacko was slipping into something that had plenty of color. Jacko eyes flicked to Simon’s waist. What with the energetic design that Simon had chosen from the drawer for that day it couldn’t have been a coincidence when Jacko said, "I haven't been sailing with you for ages. When are you next going?"
Simon's smile crept in—his friend’s enthusiasm was infectious. "This Wednesday, actually. Why? Do you want to come?"
"Wednesday? You bet!"
"Oh my God—what's this fucking class coming to?" Marco swore but it seemed good-humored. "Danny at Kung Fu classes, Si going sailing...what the hell next?"
"By the looks of you, coal mining!" Danny's come-back was pretty funny and Simon laughed easily. Danny added, "Come on, bud, you're going to turn into a grumpy old Republican git! Live a little!"
That was even funnier—everyone knew that Marco's father was running for office.
"You guys wanna come over to my house this afternoon?" Mason asked once they'd finished laughing and dressing. "If it stays warm, we could use the pool."
"I'm in, if I can," Danny said at once.
"And me," Marco said.
"Me, too," Simon added quickly. This was more like it. Sailing with Jacko on Wednesday, and all of them round at Mason's later that afternoon. It was all a whole lot better than how they'd been with him earlier that morning.
"Not me," Gabe said, lifting his backpack. "Chrissy's coming round later."
Chrissy—whoever she was—had been the reason Gabe hadn't come to the do at the Quinces over the summer. From the grin on Gabe's face, it sounded to Simon like they were still going strong. Good for him, Simon mused, though he hoped that not all his friends would start hitching up and no longer have time for guy stuff!
"Me, neither," Jacko said, though he sounded a little more reluctant. "Ryan and I are staying on at school to get some tennis in."
Simon hoped the dropouts didn't signal the death of an afternoon at the pool. "I can probably get Luke to run me over," he said quickly.
"Can you pick me up on the way, then?" Danny asked. He already had his phone out. "I'll just text Dad and check."
It was one of the things about Danny Gillespie that was easy to forget. There was no mom. She had died when Danny was young, and he'd been brought up by his dad. Simon knew he had only lost a slice of foreskin. There were worse things in life to feel shit about if you let them get to you! Danny definitely knew how to live! He nodded to the Elf. "Yep, I'm sure we can do that. I'll check with Luke at lunch."