“You’re clear on the plans for tonight, Rick?”
I grinned. Drew had been going over those plans with me for most of the week. “Nope. Sorry, I’ve forgotten.”
Drew rolled his eyes. “Dad’s giving me a driving lesson and I’ll pick you up near the end and take you to the shopping centre. Joe’s borrowed his mum’s car for the night, and he’ll take you home afterwards.”
“Does that mean Sue is going to have to walk home?” I asked. It went right over Drew’s head that I was playing dumb, but I could see Claire and Brandon grinning behind him. Angus was walking away — I thought he wasn’t able to stop himself from laughing.
“I told you yesterday!” Drew failed to mention he had also told me the day before, and the day before that. He was so keen to make sure the regular Friday night get-together would happen, even with my broken ankle, that he had become single-minded on the subject. “He’ll drop you off and then come back and pick up Sue. At least he’s got his license, even though he’s only allowed one passenger at a time.”
Claire couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing. Drew glared at her, and that set her off more. I joined in, followed by the returning Angus. Brandon was grinning but staying quiet.
“Drew, can’t you tell when Rick’s winding you up?” Claire asked.
Drew narrowed his eyes at her and then turned back to me. I knew I wasn’t good at keeping an angelic expression, but I tried. My semi-stifled chuckles ruined the image, though.
Drew glanced around before glaring at me. “If you weren’t so damn sexy, I’d get you for that.” He held the angry expression just long enough for me to start to get worried, and then he grinned. “So, you’re clear on what’s happening, then?”
“You really do have a suicidal bent, don’t you, Rick?” Brandon asked, before Drew could say anything.
“Possibly, but I think Drew will have a heart attack, first,” I replied.
Angus laughed. “No bet on that one.”
I was still very cautious, but I was becoming more comfortable with the group. I was less likely to be at ease with Drew’s wider network of friends, but I had spent enough time with Claire, Angus, Brandon, Peter and Drew to have a feel for how far I could go. I had also, despite Angus’s enticements, avoided calling Brandon ‘Marlon’ since that Monday morning. I was reserving that for exceptional circumstances.
“You are clear on what’s going on, aren’t you?” Drew asked.
“Drew, just settle down. You’ve got everything organised except for the make-out session at the end,” Claire said.
Drew blushed, which made Angus collapse in a fit of laughter.
“Okay, maybe you’ve got that organised, too,” Claire said dryly.
I didn’t say anything. It still wasn’t something that particularly excited me, but I was becoming used to kissing Drew. He had been going home with me after school and we’d spend some time together, even on the Tuesday and Wednesday when he had to rush off to work. Most of it was innocuous – doing homework, playing computer games, talking about school, music and whatever took our fancy — but he always found some time when my mum wasn’t likely to pop in to see if I was okay. There were times when I wished I was gay, so everything would be less complicated, but then I would remember Claire smiling at me or holding my hand, and that thought would vanish.
Somehow, I was going to have to find a way out of the mess without crushing Drew. I honestly liked the guy too much, but also, unfortunately, not enough.
“Speaking of making out, I’d like some alone time with my boyfriend,” Claire said. She smiled at Drew. “Especially since I believe someone else is going to be monopolising his time over the weekend.”
“You’re not seriously going to start kissing him here, in the middle of the schoolyard!” Drew looked horrified.
Claire raised an eyebrow. “And you wouldn’t, if you thought you could get away with it?”
Drew narrowed his eyes. “Yeah, but he’s not really your boyfriend, so what’s up?”
Angus walked over and put an arm across Drew’s shoulders. “Come on, mate. They have to make it look good, or people may get suspicious. Just don’t look, or you might throw up.”
Brandon chuckled at the dirty look Claire threw Angus. “I think it’s time to go, guys, before Claire starts looking for a castration knife.”
The three guys headed off, leaving me alone with Claire. My heart was racing as I wondered if she really did want to make out. We had kissed lightly a few times, but I had been a lot further with Drew than I had with Claire.
“About time,” Claire said. “I wanted to talk to you about tonight, and I couldn’t do it with them hanging around. Is everything still okay?”
My heart slowed down as I realised I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. “Tonight? I believe so. I spoke to her earlier and it all seemed fine.”
Claire glanced past me. “That little bastard. He is watching. Come here, Rick. Let’s make Drew jealous.” She put a hand behind my neck and pulled me forward.
I opened my mouth as her lips approached. For a moment, I thought we would kiss, but she moved just enough to the side that we didn’t connect.
“Just pretend for a few seconds. And then try to look innocent when he asks you about this later,” Claire murmured.
“Okay.” I was unhappy, but there wasn’t much I could do about that. At least I had an arm around her and could smell the fruity scent of her hair. I didn’t know what sort of shampoo she used, but I thought it was wonderful.
“You should probably tell Drew before tonight. He’ll be upset that we haven’t already told him, but he’ll be even more upset if he’s given no warning at all.”
“You don’t think he’ll blurt it out?” That was the reason Claire had suggested not telling him when I first had the idea.
“He won’t have a chance if you tell him after school. There won’t be enough time.”
“True.” My mind was only half on the conversation. The other half was trying to think of an excuse for going further with Claire.
She pulled back and smiled at me. “I think that’s enough for now. If it won’t gross you out, maybe we can infuriate Drew at some point by exchanging a proper kiss. Knowing him, he’ll probably get jealous and jump you as soon as the two of you are alone.” She winked.
“Er… well… I…” I wanted to say yes to the first part, but the second half of what she said had me worried.
She looked contrite. “I’m sorry, Rick. I shouldn’t have said that. We don’t have to kiss if you don’t want to.”
“No, no. I wouldn’t mind. Not at all!” I tried to give her a happy smile. “I just wouldn’t want Drew to get that jealous, that’s all.” Definitely not. Being jumped by him was not high on my list of desirable activities.
“You really are sweet.” She gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “It’s only at times like this that I realise you’re gay. Most of the time, I can’t spot it.”
I must have looked puzzled, because she chuckled. “I mean the way you’ve organised for Sharon to join us tonight, just to try to get Peter to talk to her. And the way you’re so careful of Drew’s feelings. That’s how I know you’re really gay. Sometimes, I have to say, I’ve wondered.”
I gulped once at her last sentence, but I wasn’t able to respond directly. “You mean a straight guy isn’t allowed to want what’s best for his friends? That straight guys can’t care for people’s feelings? Only gay guys can do those things?”
Her forehead wrinkled. “I’m sorry. You’re right. Some straight guys don’t, but some do. Brandon, Peter and Joe certainly show they care, even if they don’t do it all the time. Okay, I’m wrong. You’re right.” She smiled as she conceded. “Just don’t make a habit of it. And don’t mention it to anyone else — I have a reputation to maintain.”
I grinned. “What about Angus? You didn’t include him.”
She winked. “That’s only because I still think he’s gay. Otherwise, yes, he’s the same.”
“What do you think Peter will do tonight?”
“Before or after he wets his pants?” Claire grinned. “I’m hoping he’ll finally talk to her. We might need to give him a helping hand, though.”
I nodded. Inviting Sharon along was a risk, but I wanted to do something to thank everyone for what they’d been doing for me. I hadn’t worked out anything for anyone else, but I knew what I could do for Peter.
“You’re aware that she’ll probably find out about you and Drew. Someone will say something at some stage.”
I made a face. “I know, but I think I’ll take that chance. From what I know, I think she can be trusted.”
I’d had a few encounters with Sharon O’Connor during the week, as we shared some classes. She was always polite and had made some favourable remarks about Claire and me being a couple. After the first couple of times, I found a chance to speak to Claire about inviting Sharon to join us on Friday night. Claire was initially cautious, but quickly came around and had been helping me plan the surprise. It was her suggestion that the two of us should ask Sharon out, rather than me by myself, to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to hit on her.
“I think she can, too, but it’s your decision. Coming out’s not something that others should decide for you.”
Coming out wasn’t something that I felt I needed to do at all, apart from maybe eventually coming out as straight.
I glanced at my watch. “It’s time I started heading to my next class.” I picked up my crutches in my left hand and pushed myself upright.
“How are the ribs?” Claire asked.
I looked askance at her. “Better, but still tender at times.”
“Do you think you can cope with an arm around your back?”
I stared for a moment. I didn’t know what she had in mind. “Sure, but I can’t use my crutches if you do that.”
She smiled. “Use one of the crutches and use me as the other crutch. I’ll hold the spare one for you. What do you think?”
I didn’t know if it would work, but I was happy to give it a go. I grinned at her. “Let’s try.”
It took a little coordinating, but it worked, and it was a lot more enjoyable than walking on two crutches.
Drew was waiting for us when we got near the classrooms. He smiled at me. “That looks like fun. I’ll have to try that at some stage.”
I glanced around to make sure there was no one eavesdropping before I responded. “When we’re at home, I can’t see why not.” I didn’t think it would feel the same for me, but I knew Drew would enjoy it.
He raised an eyebrow. “What are you going on about? I was talking about snuggling up to Claire.”
I blushed, and then felt Claire’s soft chuckle through our embrace.
“I think you’ve paid him back, Drew. For now, though, he needs to get to his class. You two can arm wrestle later, for the privilege of snuggling up to me.”
Drew gave her one of his angelic expressions. “Arm wrestle? I don’t think so. There are forms of wrestling that are a lot more enjoyable than that.”
I let go of Claire and dropped my gaze to the path. I knew I had to be bright red.
Claire laughed as she handed me the other crutch. “I think that’s in the category of things I don’t need to know. Okay, Drew, you’re in Rick’s next class, so I’ll leave you to get him there safely.”
Drew walked alongside of me for a few minutes before speaking. “Did you know that wrestling was a big sport in the ancient Olympic games?”
I glanced at him suspiciously. “So?”
“They used to compete in the nude.”
“Are you sure? Wrestling has a long and illustrious history.”
Drew grinned. “We’ll see.”
* * *
“Are you coming with us, Drew?” Mum asked as she stored the crutches in the back of the car.
“If you don’t mind. I’ll have to head home earlier today, though. Dad’s giving me a driving lesson as soon as he gets home.”
“Of course I don’t mind.” Mum smiled at Drew as she headed around to the driver’s side. “You’re welcome at our place any time. Ian and I really appreciate what you’ve been doing for Rick.”
“Mum…” I didn’t like the way she was going overboard with the sweetness.
Drew laughed as he got in the back seat. “It’s no problem, Mrs. Wakeland. Rick’s a great guy and I’m more than happy to help him out. Indeed, the pleasure’s all mine.”
“Drew…” I wasn’t sure which of them was worse, and I didn’t want them to get into a battle to see which one could be more sickening.
“I think we’ve embarrassed him enough for now.” Mum winked at Drew as she sat down. “Unless you think we should make him squirm a bit more?”
I glanced back to see Drew giving me an evil grin. “Well, he was certainly teasing me earlier today, so I suppose we could continue a bit longer, just to even up the score.”
“Hey, you got me back, remember? I think we can end this conversation now.” I crossed my arms and faced the front of the car to try to make it clear that it was time to change the topic.
“We probably should let the invalid have his way,” Mum said. “Otherwise, he might throw a tantrum and hurt himself.”
“A tantrum? I don’t throw tantrums!”
Mum stayed silent. I twisted around to look into the back seat, ignoring the twinge from my rib, to see Drew with a suspiciously innocent expression on his face. I glared at him. He glanced once at the rear-view mirror and then mimed a kiss at me. I dropped back into my seat. “I think it’s time to go, Mum.”
Mum was grinning as she backed the car out and headed home. “Drew, I’ve got a chore for you to do when we get home.”
“Mum, he’s a guest. You can’t give him chores!”
“Well, if you want to wait until your father gets home before you get connected to the Internet, then okay, but I thought you’d like to do it straight away.”
Drew got in before me. “The modem’s arrived, then?” If his seat belt hadn’t been on, he probably would’ve jumped into the front seat, he was so eager.
“I think so. There are certainly a number of boxes that arrived today that look like computer equipment of some sort. Do you think you can help Rick put it all together?”
“You little beauty! Now that’s one chore I won’t mind doing.”
I was as happy as Drew. I would soon be able to chat online with him and my other friends. And, Drew had been telling me about some of the online gaming sites where we could team up. That would be a new experience for me.
Drew started talking to my mum about going out that night, and I just listened. I let the two of them talk about what to do if something happened to me while I was out. I knew there was no point in getting involved in that conversation — the two were in complete agreement that I was incompetent to make decisions on my own behalf. If I didn’t know that, in their own ways, they both loved me, I might have gotten annoyed.
The conversation faded into the background as I realised I had just thought the L word in connection with Drew, and that it had felt natural. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it made me uneasy. I tried to fool myself that it meant he loved me like a mate, but that didn’t work. I had to console myself with the knowledge that we had only known each other for a week, and if he could fall in love that easily, he might fall out of love just as fast. But, I would have to let him do that — I respected him too much to push him away. In my own way, I had some affection for him. It just wasn’t the sort that he was looking for.
“You can stay in the car if you want, but your bed would be a lot more comfortable. And I’ll need your help to set everything up.”
I returned to reality at Drew’s voice in my ear. My head snapped around to see if Mum had heard that comment, but she had already gone.
“Sorry. I just zoned out for a bit.”
Drew smiled down at me. “That’s okay. I told your mum that I’d help you in. I thought we could try that snuggling technique that you and Claire were working on.” He looked me up and down. “Though I think it’d work better if we both took our shirts off.”
“It’s too bloody cold!”
Drew chuckled, which told me I had been suckered. “Then we’ll have to get you inside where it’s warmer.”
I sighed and then smiled at my best mate. Despite all the complications, he was a good guy and I couldn’t stay angry with him. “How about you get the crutches out, then?”
He rolled his eyes and then glanced to the side of the car when they were already waiting for me.
“Okay, Drew. You win. Let me get out, and then you can help me up to the house.”
“Yes!” Drew pumped his fist. He then straightened and stepped back as he gave me a stern look. “But keep your hands above the waist, Rick. My mum’s warned me about boys like you.”
I laughed, and then winced as I irritated my cracked rib. “Hands above the waist, it is, then.”
“Ah… you’re no fun. You could’ve at least pretended to be disappointed.”
That sobered me up. I was still pretending to be something I wasn’t.
We managed to get inside the house without any problems. Drew kicked off his shoes at the front door, as he usually did, and then took me to the living room where a pile of boxes waited.
Drew rubbed his hands as I dropped onto the couch. “Okay, Rick. Let’s get started. Your mum said she’d stay out of our way until we’re finished.”
The next ten minutes were spent opening the boxes and checking the contents. I was surprised at how thorough Drew was in sorting out the parts. I had expected him to be the sort of person that would jump straight in and try to work it out as he went along. Instead, he sorted out the modem, the wireless router, something he said was the ADSL filter, and three wireless USB receivers, before he started putting anything together.
“Now, where’s that main computer you told me about?”
I pointed to the corner of the room where Dad had set up a desk. He had told me that he would be getting a laptop to use from his office, but the main server could be used as well. That would be the one Mum would probably use, on the rare occasions she would want to get online.
While I would have preferred getting my hands dirty putting things together, I recognised that I wasn’t all that mobile, so I let Drew take charge. It wasn’t long before he was running a cable between the router and the main server.
“I thought it was going to be wireless.” I was sure Dad didn’t want cables stretched across the room. I knew Mum wasn’t going to want that.
“It will be, but we have to configure the wireless, first. Otherwise, you’ll be leaving it open for anyone in the area to use. Have you given any thoughts to what password you want to use for your WEP key?”
I understood what he was saying, though I didn’t know enough to be confident in setting up the wireless security myself. “No, not really.”
“I’m pretty good at coming up with strong passwords, so how about I give you three choices, and you tell me which one you want to use.”
“Sounds good to me. What do you suggest?”
“What I usually use is a phrase that I can easily remember, but change a few letters into numbers or punctuation. Like a zero for an ‘o’, a one for an ‘i’ or an asterisk for an ‘x’.”
“That sounds straightforward enough.”
Drew glanced in the direction of the kitchen before lowering his voice. “Here are my suggestions.
“I want a blow job.
“You’re a sexy stud.
“Nude wrestling time.”
He grinned at me. “Just whisper in my ear which one you want to use.”
I just gaped at him. I knew I shouldn’t have let him make the suggestions. He waited patiently, with his grin getting wider.
“I think I should pick the password.” I reached for the keyboard.
Drew lifted it out of my way and danced across the room before dropping into one of the armchairs. “No way. This is my chore. I don’t think it’s fair for you to do it for me.” He smirked. “So, which one will it be?”
I couldn’t catch him in my condition, so I gave up. I would just have to work out how to change it before Dad got home. “Okay, you win. The third one.”
Drew shook his head. “Nope, you have to say it.” He beckoned me over. “Just whisper it in my ear. Though I think I would like it much more if you whispered one of the first two.”
I used my crutches and hopped over to where he was sitting. I put the crutches down and then sat on his lap. His grin showed me that I had made the right move. I leant forward to whisper in his ear, while surreptitiously stretching an arm out to the side.
“Better luck next time,” I whispered as I grabbed the keyboard.
He struggled for a moment, but then conceded. “If you weren’t injured, I’d be fighting, but I can’t afford to hurt you more. You’re a sneak, Rick.”
I grinned at him and then turned to enter the password I had chosen.
“There! That’s done. Is there anything else we need to do here?”
“Just plug in the receiver, set up the server with the same password, take the cable out, and then test it. Then we can go to your room and set up your PC.”
A few minutes later, Drew, who had hidden my crutches while I was putting the password onto the server, half-carried me down the hallway to my room. He then helped me onto the bed. I was glad we had a single-story house, because getting up and down stairs like the ones at Drew’s house would have killed me.
“I’ll just see if your mum’s got some snacks, and I’ll be right back.” Drew kissed me lightly on the lips before he dashed out.
I laid there, staring up at the ceiling as I thought about that kiss. Up until then, we had just been two guys fooling around. There had been a definite homoerotic edge to the play, but I had been able to ignore what it really meant. That kiss crossed that line.
“I’m back!” Drew slid into the room on his socks, carrying a large bag of corn chips. “Let’s get your PC hooked up, and then we can get you set up with email and chat accounts before I have to go.” He dropped the snack onto the bed next to me.
I smiled. “Sounds good to me.” Drew’s enthusiasm was infectious. I just wished he was straight. Or that I was gay. Either way, things wouldn’t be so complicated.
“Good. Now shuffle over and give me some room.” Drew plugged in the wireless receiver, grabbed the keyboard and trackball, and then jumped onto the bed next to me.
“Let’s get you set up. What’s the lame password you chose?”
I grinned. “Not telling. Passwords are supposed to be kept secret, remember?”
Drew shrugged. “In that case, you don’t get your PC set up. I can lie here for a long time, if I need to.” He smirked. “It’s no chore.”
I thought about it for a moment, but from what I knew of how things worked, I didn’t think he could do any harm from my PC.
“Okay, I’ll tell you. But you have to promise me never to tell anyone, or to use it without my permission.” I knew that was overboard, but then the whole situation was overboard.
Drew crossed his heart. “I promise. Now give.”
“Drew’s got a dirty mind.”
He laughed. “A fair and true statement. But I think you deserve to be penalised for being so cheeky. I hereby sentence you to ten minutes of tickling for spreading state secrets.” While he was talking, he was busy configuring my PC.
I grinned because I knew he wouldn’t do it. He had tried on Wednesday and had then regretted hurting my sore rib.
He seemed to sense what was going through my mind and glanced at me as he typed. “You think I’m bluffing? I assure you, I’m not. I’m just adding up the time for when you’re fit enough to take it.” He gave me an evil grin. “So far you’re up to twenty minutes, since I never got to finish the other day. I’m really looking forward to when I can give you your punishment.”
The grin faded from my face as I stared back at him. I didn’t think he was joking. “Any options apart from tickling?”
He glanced at the open door before responding. “Let me think about it. I’m sure I can come up with some alternatives that will be… let’s just say they’ll be mutually enjoyable.”
I wasn’t sure I liked the way he’d said that. “I thought we were taking things slowly.”
“We are. But if you prefer not to be tickled to death…” Drew lifted an eyebrow and gave me a lecherous grin. He finished up what he was doing on the PC and smiled at the large screen across the room. “All done. You’re online now, Rick.”
“Thanks, Drew!” I accepted the keyboard from him and grinned as I brought up the Google home page.
“Now, about your crimes…” Drew said.
“Can I pay out with good deeds, instead?”
Drew ran his fingers lightly along my arm. “Do I get to decide if they’re good deeds or not?”
“I’ve invited Sharon O’Connor to join us tonight at the shopping centre.”
Drew stopped what he was doing and stared at me. “You did what?”
“I asked her to hang out with us tonight. I thought it would be a good idea.”
Drew pursed his lips. “It might, if Peter survives the initial shock.” He grinned. “I think that may count as a good deed. Okay, I’ll take one minute off the tickle punishment.”
“One minute? It should be worth at least ten!”
Drew shrugged. “One deed. One minute.” He gave me a thoughtful look. “When did you ask her?”
“Claire and I asked her on Wednesday, just before the end of school.”
Drew frowned. “Claire? You mean she knew about this?”
I sensed that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. “Yeah. When I had the idea, I ran it past her to see what she thought of it.”
“So, you thought it was okay to talk to Claire about this, but not me? You’ve had two days to mention it.”
“I’m telling you now,” I said, realising that was a lame response.
“Why couldn’t you tell me beforehand? Aren’t I good enough to be told?” The volume was going up along with Drew’s anger. He took a deep breath before continuing in a calmer voice. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s not that, it’s just that I thought Claire would have a better understanding of what’s going on.” I wasn’t going to mention that Claire and I had had reservations about Drew’s ability to keep the idea a secret. We were sure that if Peter found out ahead of time, he wouldn’t show.
“Why? Because she’s a girl?”
“Well, yes. She’d have a better idea of whether Sharon would like the idea.”
“But why couldn’t you discuss it with me, too? Don’t you think I might be able to offer some advice on how Peter might react, for example?”
“It’s just that you’re…” I let my voice trail off as I spotted the trap I was about to fall into.
“That I’m gay? Is that what you were going to say?” Drew didn’t bother keeping his voice down. “You think that means I can’t understand how Peter feels about Sharon? That I wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be in love with someone? Well, for your information, you thought of it. You seem to understand. You’re capable of appreciating what Peter’s going through. And you’re gay, too!”
A dull thud from just outside the room interrupted Drew.
We turned to see my mum standing in the doorway, a bottle of soft drink rolling on the floor at her feet. The expression on her face implied that the glasses in her left hand might also be in danger of hitting the floor.
With a succinct eloquence that at other times I could have admired, Drew summed up the situation.
Copyright Notice — Copyright © December 2008 by Graeme.
The author copyrights this story and retains all rights. This work may not be duplicated in any form — physical, electronic, audio, or otherwise — without the author's expressed permission. All applicable copyright laws apply.
Disclaimer: All individuals depicted are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental.
A special thank you to Ray, Kel, C James and Shadowgod, and also to everyone at The Mail Crew. The help they have given me with this story has been fantastic. Special kudos go to Aaron and Rain of The Mail Crew for doing a brilliant job of editing. I can thoroughly recommend their website to all teenagers who are gay, lesbian, bi or not sure.