The Price of Friendship

Chapter 9

Peter was making such a bad impression that I decided to activate my reserve plan. I didn’t mind looking like a fool, as long as it was for a good cause and I didn’t lose friends in the process.

“Who’s up for a round of DDR?” I asked, dragging everyone’s attention away from Peter, giving him a chance to reclaim some composure.

“DDR? But you’ve got a broken ankle!” Joe said.

I grinned. “I’ve been practising, though. I think I’m a lot better now. I might even be good enough to beat Peter.”

I hoped no one else heard Drew’s muttered comment. “I think a two-year-old could beat Peter at the moment.”

“How are you going to do all that jumping around when your leg’s in a cast?” Angus asked.

“Why don’t you challenge me and find out?” I clambered upright and waited while those who were still seated got to their feet.

“This I’ve got to see. You’re on!” Angus grinned at me and then stared at Peter. “Coming, Peter? Your reputation’s at stake.”

“Maybe I should go…” Peter mumbled, his head bowed.

Angus grabbed Peter’s arm. “No, you don’t. You’ve got to put this upstart in his place.”

While Angus, with the help of Joe, got Peter moving, Claire moved up next to me. “Do you know what you’re doing?” she whispered, casting a worried glance to where Sharon was looking amused.

I shrugged. “Not really. But since I’m the one who invited Sharon, I’ve got to try to make Peter look good. He’s pretty spectacular at DDR, and once he gets his mind off her, I’m hoping he’ll show that.”

“It’s worth a try.” Claire glanced at Drew standing next to me. “Do you think you can lose to Peter, if needed, Drew?”

Drew shook his head. “I won’t cheat for him. I may not try my best, but if he stuffs up, I’m not going to take a fall. It wouldn’t be right.” He glanced back at the rest of the group. “But I think we need to do something. DDR’s a good idea, Rick, but don’t hurt yourself.”

I smiled. “Don’t worry about me. This part I can do.” I headed towards the arcade games to avoid more questions. My claim about practising had been a lie, but I had an idea that I thought might work.

When we got to the games, Claire took Sharon aside, away from Peter. I guessed that she wanted Peter to be relaxed and playing DDR before she and Sharon rejoined us, so I hopped over to the quivering mass of jelly and issued my challenge.

“Best of three, Peter?”

That took a couple of seconds to sink in, but then I saw a spark. “You can’t play. You’re on crutches!”

I grinned. “I know.” I hopped onto the machine and balanced on my good leg in the middle. The machine was going through a demo cycle, so I watched the lights and used the crutches to hit the dance pads. That was the best I could do with only one good leg.

“That’s cheating!” Peter said as he leapt onto the machine next to me.

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Scared I’ll beat you?”

“No way!” Peter glared defiantly at me, but I saw something else in his eyes. I thought it was an expression of thanks.

The first game, an easy routine, was closer than I had expected. Peter was still distracted and not playing at his best, though he did win. He was more relaxed for the second game, and completely humiliated me. I laughed when we finished. “Okay, I need to practise more.”

Peter grinned. “Your sense of rhythm was a bit off, but you weren’t doing too badly. Thanks for the game, Rick.”

“My pleasure.” I glanced around and saw Drew waiting.

“You’ve had your warm up, Peter. Now it’s time to make you sweat,” Drew said as he took my place.

I waited a moment to see if Peter would start to stress, and when he didn’t I glanced around for the others. Sue and Joe were playing one of the racing games, and based on the giggles from Sue, they weren’t taking it seriously. I spotted Claire, Sharon and Angus in the corner. Sharon and Angus were talking animatedly, but Claire didn’t look happy.

* * *

“Dad, can you come and pick me up?”

“Sure, but it’s not even nine. Weren’t you going to stay out late?”

I glanced at Claire and Drew, who were waiting with me just inside the shopping centre entrance. They didn’t look any happier than I was. “I know, but I’m just not in the mood. Drew may come back with me.” I saw Drew nodding at my statement. “But I’ve had enough of being here.”

“Okay, I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes. Where will you be?”

I gave my father the details and then hung up. I was almost willing to let Drew give me a hug, even though we were in public, because I was feeling depressed. The night had not gone well.

“Claire! Just the person I was looking for.” Angus slid to a stop next to us.

“What is it, Angus?” Claire sounded resigned.

“I know Rick’s going to Drew’s place tomorrow for a barbecue. Are you going, too, or are you free tomorrow night?”

Claire’s forehead wrinkled. “I’m free. Why?”

“Sharon, Brandon and I are going out, and I didn’t want to be a third wheel, so I thought you could come too and make it a sort of double date.”

Drew crossed his arms. “Why don’t you ask Peter, too?”

Angus had the decency to blush. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“Why ever not?”

Angus didn’t bother answering Drew’s rhetorical question. We all knew the answer. While Peter had a crush on Sharon, it turned out that Sharon had a crush on Brandon, and Angus was doing what he could to help her out. Peter wasn’t impressed, so the two guys had almost come to blows before Joe and Drew separated them. Peter then stormed off, Sharon said it was time for her to go, and the rest of us decided to call it a night.

“Well? We’re thinking of dinner and just hanging out, but we might go to a movie if there’s something that all of us want to see,” Angus said.

Claire sighed. “Okay, but only because I’d like to see Brandon with a girlfriend. Don’t think it’s because I want to go on a date with you,” she finished with a glare.

Angus winced. “I know. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. Peter doesn’t have a chance with Sharon, so even though Peter’s got his nose out of joint because of it, I don’t want Brando to miss this opportunity.”

“Have you spoken to him?” I asked.

“Yeah. I managed to get hold of him earlier.”

“And did you tell him who he’ll be going out with?”

Angus made a face. “Ah… no. I didn’t think that would be wise. He might back out if he knew it was going to be a date with the girl Peter’s hot for.”

Claire and I rolled our eyes.

“Trust me, Angus, surprises don’t always work,” Claire said. I thought she was understating the situation.

“Sometimes they do.” Angus smiled. “Thanks, Claire. I’ll be in touch with some details tomorrow.” He headed back into the shopping centre.

A few minutes later, Dad pulled up. I glanced at Claire before I hopped towards the car. “Would you like to come back to my place? Just to hang out for a bit?”

She smiled. “Thanks, Rick. Only for a short while, though — I think you and Drew should have some time together without me hanging around like a wet blanket.”

“You’ll never be a wet blanket,” Drew said.

Claire gave him a wry smile. “I heard about last Friday night and the sprinkler you turned on. When you’re around, Drew, wet blankets are always a danger.”

Drew had the audacity to look surprised. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

While we were talking, Dad got out of the car and approached us. “Do you need any help, Rick?”

“No, Dad, I’m fine.” I glanced at Claire. “Dad, this is Claire, another one of my school friends.”

Dad smiled. “Pleased to meet you at last, Claire. Rick’s told us a lot about you.” Dad turned to me. “I’m sorry to be a pain, but I’m illegally parked. If you could finish up your goodbyes, I’d appreciate it.”

“I’ve invited Claire back to our place. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

Dad seemed uncertain, though his response was positive. “Sure, Rick. Your friends are always welcome.”

A few minutes later, we were on our way. I was sitting in the front with Dad. I noticed that he kept flicking worried glances at me.

“What is it?” I asked.

Dad glanced at the rear-vision mirror before responding. “I hope it wasn’t anything your mother or I said that’s messed up your evening. We thought you’d be staying out a lot later, since you were so insistent about going.”

It took me a moment to realise what he was talking about. I had been concentrating so much on the disaster with Sharon and Peter that I had forgotten about the situation at home. I also realised that Dad had probably wanted to talk about it while driving, but had been put off balance by Claire’s presence.

“Nah, it’s okay. It was other things — nothing to do with that stuff.” I recalled something from earlier in the night and twisted to look in the back seat. “Drew, can I ask you a question?”

Drew grinned. “If it’s a proposal, the answer’s yes.”

“Claire, can you elbow him for me? I’m being serious.” I caught my Dad’s startled expression and realised that he wouldn’t know who was aware of Drew’s orientation, or mine. I decided to leave that until another time.

“Gladly.” Claire followed up with an appropriate action that had Drew rubbing his chest, though his grin didn’t slip.

“What is it, Rick?” he asked.

“Earlier tonight, Mum seemed insistent on kicking you out of the house. A few minutes later, she seemed okay with you spending time with me in my room. What happened between you two?”

Dad opened his mouth, and then shut it. I suspected he knew the answer to the question, but I wanted to hear it from Drew. I saw Dad flicking glances at the rear-view mirror. He seemed to be trying to watch Drew while driving.

Drew’s grin dropped away. He turned to stare out the car window. “Let’s just say that we found a point of common interest that took priority over other matters.”

“And that was Rick,” Claire stated, rather than asked.

Drew nodded and looked at her, then at my dad, and finally at me. “We agreed that Rick’s the most important thing in our lives. He scared both of us, and that made us realise that some things aren’t really worth worrying about. We’ve still got issues to resolve, but making sure Rick’s okay comes first.”

I couldn’t take any more. “Stop the car!” When Dad gave me a surprised look, I glared at him. “STOP THE FUCKING CAR!”

I didn’t know whether it was the yelling or the out-of-character swearing, but Dad pulled over. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

I fumbled with my seat belt, and then opened the door. I grabbed my crutches and clambered out. Claire had been sitting behind me in the car and was waiting when I got to my feet. She didn’t say anything, but indicated silently that she was there for me. Drew arrived a second later, having raced around the back of the vehicle.

“What is it, Rick? What’s wrong?”

I turned my back on him. “Leave me alone.” I winced at how that sounded, so I looked over my shoulder. “Please? I just want to be alone.” At that point in time, I felt like I was better off with no friends. The pain of deceiving the ones I had was worse than the pain of having none.

“If that’s what you want, okay,” Drew said slowly, “but why don’t you get back in the car and let your dad drive you home? I can walk home from here, if you don’t want me around.”

He didn’t realise he was making things worse. I wanted him around, but not in the same way he wanted me. I couldn’t leave him thinking I didn’t like him, so I compromised, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do. I glanced around to get my bearings. “Go home with Dad, Drew. I’ll be there in maybe fifteen minutes. I just need to be alone for a bit.”

Drew was hesitant. “Are you sure? I can walk you home if you like.”

“Please, just go.”

Dad had been watching us from where he stood just by the driver’s door. “I don’t think you should try to walk home by yourself, Rick. Not with your leg in plaster.”

“I’ll walk with him, if he doesn’t mind,” Claire said.

I was deceiving her, too, but not as badly as Drew. “Okay.” I saw Drew’s whole body slump, and I knew that I had just kicked him in the guts — rejecting him but accepting Claire. I wanted to open my mouth and tell everyone the truth, but it wasn’t the right time or place to do that. “Drew, please. Just wait for me at home. I’ll be there, I promise.” I smiled to try to reassure him. “Just go with Dad. I’ll be there soon.”

Neither Dad nor Drew looked happy, but they left Claire and me by the side of the road and drove off. I sighed and started making my way home. I was trying to build up the courage to come clean, because the situation was tearing me apart.

“If you want to talk about it, I’m here. I won’t say anything to anyone.”

Claire’s softly-voiced offer drifted through my brain for a few seconds before I rejected it. I couldn’t tell her unless I was able to tell everyone, because it wouldn’t be fair to have her keep the secret from her friends.

“Thanks, but I just need some thinking time.” It was more steeling myself to face the music, but I was glad for her presence. I felt happy when she was around, though the desire to tell her how much I liked her made me uncomfortable at times. I suspected it was a bit like the way Peter had felt around Sharon.

A few minutes later, I found that having Claire there was messing with my mind. I kept finding excuses not to say anything, because I didn’t want to risk losing her by hurting Drew. I didn’t have her, not in the sense I wanted, but the possibility of losing what I did have scared me.

I gritted my teeth and forced that out of my thoughts. I had to tell Drew the truth before things went any further. To help me build up my nerve, I tried to think of all the times he had annoyed me, and of all the times when he had made me uncomfortable. There were only a few things like that to remember, but I tried to hold onto them.

My time estimate had been wrong. It was more than twenty minutes before Claire and I arrived at my house. The outside light was on and Drew was waiting. Dad was nowhere in sight, so I guessed he was inside with Mum.

I took a couple of hops forward before I realised that Claire hadn’t moved. I looked back at her in surprise.

She smiled “I’ll wait here until you and Drew have had a chance to talk. Call me up when you’re ready.”

I nodded and turned back to where my best mate was waiting. I then mentally kicked myself for thinking of him in that way, because it made me remember all the times we’d gotten on so well. How he made me smile, and how he had welcomed me as a friend even before he thought I was gay.

I forced those memories away and stiffened my backbone. It was time to do the right thing.

Drew met me halfway.

“Drew…” I started

“Wait, please, Rick. I’ve got something I want to say.” Drew took a deep breath. “I know I’ve stuffed up, and while I could promise not to do it again, I know myself well enough to know that I’ll stuff up again.”

“Drew, it’s not…” Getting a word in edgewise when Drew was on a roll wasn’t easy.

“Let me finish.” He reached out, rested his hands on my shoulders, and stared into my eyes from only a few inches away. “Twice, tonight, you’ve made me aware of how much you mean to me. I know it’s only been a week, but I’m scared that you’re going to walk out of my life. I’ve been alone for a year, and you’ve filled a hole that I didn’t realise was hurting me. I don’t even want to think about what it’ll be like if you’re not my boyfriend, so…” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box of chocolates. He held them out to me. “I know they’re not much, but it was all I could find on short notice. Your dad was really good about driving me back to the shops so I could get them. Please don’t leave me, Rick. I don’t think I could stand it if you did. I’m sorry for what I did earlier, and I’m sorry for anything else I’ve done to annoy you, but please don’t be angry with me.”

I stared at the box. It wasn’t much, but the fact that he went to the effort hit me hard. I hadn’t received a gift from anyone except my parents for years. I felt some tears start to form and I knew I couldn’t do what I should do. I dropped one crutch and held out my arm. Drew accepted the offer and I gave him a hug, all the time knowing I was just making things worse.

But I couldn’t hurt my best mate. He needed me.

* * *

“It’s really nice to meet you at last, Claire. Rick’s been talking about you almost as much as he talks about Drew,” Mum said as she poured the soft drinks.

We were all sitting around the kitchen table. I sensed that Drew wanted to head to my room, but I wasn’t ready for that — I was already regretting not telling Drew the truth earlier, but the chocolates had caught me by surprise — and it would also have been rude to exclude Claire. It might have been different if Claire had been the one who wanted to go to my room with me — a thought that brought a wry smile to my face at my hypocrisy. The smile faded as I noticed that Mum still wouldn’t look at me.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Wakeland. I’m sorry I haven’t dropped in before now. I’ve been meaning to, since it’s partially my fault that Rick got hurt.”

“No, it isn’t! It had nothing to do with you. You couldn’t have known Phil was going to be waiting for me.”

Her return smile was weak. “Still, if you hadn’t walked me home, you wouldn’t have a broken ankle and a broken rib.”

“The rib’s fine now,” I said. It still needed to be strapped, but I wasn’t getting the twinges I had earlier.

“Rick’s right, Claire. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Drew grinned at me. “Just like I happened to be in the right place at the right time when I met him.”

I wondered if my injuries were the universe’s way of punishing me for being a major liar. There was a certain amount of poetic justice in the way things had turned out.

“Regardless, I’m sorry he got hurt. If there’s anything you need done around the house while he’s injured, please let me know. I’d be more than happy to help out.”

Mum looked startled. “Thank you, Claire. There’s nothing that needs doing, but I really appreciate the offer.”

“Thanks, boys, too, for setting up the Internet connection and wireless network. I noticed the main computer is connected, but I’ll need the password to hook up my laptop,” Dad said.

“The password was Rick’s idea. I had nothing to do with it,” Drew said before I could say anything.

I gaped at him. “Nothing to do with it? Why you lying little…” I cut off what I was going to say and started to laugh. I had caught the twinkle in Drew’s eye and I knew I was being set up. With everything else that had happened, the matter of the password was small potatoes.

“You picked it, not me. I suggested some quite reasonable passwords, but you had to select one of your own.”

I grinned and looked at my dad. “The password is ‘Drew’s got a dirty mind’, which will probably give you an idea of why I rejected all of his ideas. I’ll type it in for you later.”

“Are you trying to besmirch my good name?” Drew asked in mock horror.

Claire laughed. “Drew, I know you, and I’m going with Rick’s version. We all love you, Drew, but that doesn’t mean we have to believe you.” She looked at my mum and dad. “Drew’s a wonderful guy, but he’s got a wacky sense of humour. You can ask any of his friends, and they’ll all agree.”

“I think we’ve met most of Rick’s friends now, except for Peter, I believe it was.” Dad gave me a questioning glance and I nodded to indicate he had the name right. It also reminded me of the other crisis of the night. I didn’t know what to do about that, but I wanted to find a way to make up for the disaster I had initiated. As an absolute minimum, I wanted to patch things up between Peter and Angus.

“There are two others, Sue and Joe, but you’ll meet them tomorrow. Sue’s my next door neighbour and Joe’s her boyfriend,” Drew said.

“Do all of you know about… you know?” Mum asked Claire.

“About Rick and Drew? Yes, Ma’am.” Claire smiled at the two of us. “And we all think it’s great.”

I didn’t think Brandon would agree with her, and I suspected Peter probably hated my guts, but it wasn’t too much of an exaggeration.

Dad turned to me. “Rick, you haven’t had a party for such a long time. While you were out, your mum and I were discussing the idea of having a house warming party, but we’d like to know what you think. Would you like to invite all your friends over one weekend soon?”

I just sat there while the memory of the last party I had attended flashed through my mind. I wanted to say yes, but I was terrified that I would do something wrong. I didn’t know what a teenage party was like, anymore.

“That sounds great!” Drew was enthusiastic as he turned to me. “We can set up your sound system for the music, and I know my mum would help out with preparing food. We can…” He must have seen something in my face, because the flood of words stopped. He paused before he continued in a much slower and gentler tone. “But it’s your choice, Rick. If you’d like to have a party, I’d love to help out, but that’s up to you.”

“It’s a good idea, Mr. and Mrs. Wakeland. There are a lot of others that Rick hasn’t really gotten to know, and a party would be a good chance for him to meet some of our other friends.” Claire smiled at me. “I’d love to help, too, if you like.”

“How many others are we talking about?” Mum asked nervously. “We don’t want something like what that Corey kid did. We don’t want a large party.”

Corey Worthington gave teenage parties a bad name. In an event that made the international news, five hundred teenagers descended on his parents’ home. They were away on holidays, but Corey had stayed home with the excuse that he had to work.

“You set the numbers, and we’ll make sure we don’t go over,” Drew said. “We’ll also make sure none of them bring alcohol.” Drew grinned at me. “We’ll make Angus and Brandon the bouncers, which should ensure everything stays kosher.”

I glanced at Claire and I could tell that she wanted me to say yes, so I turned to Mum and Dad and smiled. “It sounds like a great idea. Thanks, Mum. Thanks, Dad.”

As the conversation shifted to the planning, I watched Mum interacting pleasantly with both Claire and Drew. She seemed keen to have the party, and was making a point of trying to ensure that it would be what I wanted, and not what she and Dad wanted.

The thing that bothered me was that while she would chat pleasantly with Claire and Drew, in all the times that she asked for my opinion, she only looked at me once. And that look seemed to be one of fear.

* * *

“It looks like we’ve just made it. The game’s about to start.” Dad grinned at me as we made our way to the boundary fence. The football ground was well attended, though it was only a couple of suburban teams playing. I estimated that there were more than a hundred spectators standing around the edge of the oval. I had promised Drew I would watch him play, and Dad had been keen to go, too.

“Rick, Ian, over here!”

I glanced in the direction of the yell and saw Drew’s dad waving to us. We headed over to join him.

Dad and Mr. Canter shook hands. “Good to see you again, Ian.”

“Same here, Ken. I’m a bit surprised to see you, though. I thought you’d be getting ready for tonight.”

Drew’s dad laughed. “Besides the fact that someone had to bring Drew, I’m using this as an excuse to avoid all the cleaning up that’s going on back at home. Rachel likes everything to be just right when we have visitors.” He glanced at the teenager next to him. “Isn’t that right, Will?”

I guessed that that was Drew’s younger brother, which made him fifteen, though he looked more like seventeen.

Will rolled his eyes. “At least she let us go. I thought I was going to have to start sorting the leaves into size order.” He stared at me past his father, returning the contemplative look I was giving him.

Mr. Canter chuckled. “Will got to tidy up the garden this morning while Drew was working. He’s looking forward to when we let him get a job, as he thinks that’ll mean he won’t have to do as many chores.”

Will ignored him. “You must be Rick. Come on, let’s leave the two old fa… folks and find a better spot to watch.” He turned and started to walk away.

I remembered Drew’s comment about his younger brother, about how he had no thought as to the consequences of his actions. Given what I had subsequently learnt about Drew, that statement either meant Drew was blind to his own faults, or Will was ten times worse. Either way, I would have to watch out, but I couldn’t see any problems with finding some other location to watch the game.

“Bye, Mr. Canter. See you later, Dad,” I said before heading after Will.

I lost sight of him a couple of times, but the crowd wasn’t large enough to hide him for long. He stopped about a third of the way around the ground, near where a group of teenage girls were standing. Will was positioned where he could surreptitiously watch them, while pretending to be paying attention to the game that was about to start. It was only because I was close enough to see where his eyes were looking that I realised what he was doing.

I had to grin, but I wasn’t going to spoil his fun. I glanced over the girls and saw a number of good-looking ones, but none as pretty as Claire. Most were younger, closer to Will’s age, though there were a couple of older girls.


I turned at the call to see Drew jogging over to us. I moved up to the boundary fence to greet him. “Good luck with the game, Drew.” We high fived each other.

“Thanks, mate. It should be a good game. The last time they beat us by three points, so we’re out for revenge.” The umpire's whistle turned Drew’s attention back to the centre of the oval. “Got to go. I’ll see you later!”

The first quarter of the game went well. Will was good company, in that he spoke to me enough to be polite, while not pestering me with questions about myself. He also asked my opinion on some of the girls, though he prefixed the question with the statement, “I know you’re not really interested, but…”

Rather than being offended, I found myself amused. Will had a charm similar to Drew’s, and I could see that he was going to cause some girl’s parents heartburn in a couple of years. A few minutes later, when I saw his tongue hanging out while a good-looking blonde walked past, I revised that estimate. The parents of the local girls could be in trouble at any time. Will appeared ready for action, if he could get any.

At quarter time, Drew came over to chat for a few minutes. I made appreciative comments about his game, even though I had to pick my words carefully. He wasn’t a bad player, but he wasn’t a great one. He was one of the essential middle rankers that just got the job done. It didn’t matter; he was having fun and it showed in both his grin and his enthusiasm.

The second quarter was pretty much the same as the first. It was a good, hard fought game, and I was enjoying it. Will’s asides about the girls he was perving on just added to the atmosphere. Drew came over at half time to speak to us, before he was called back by the coach to discuss the plans for the second half. They were only four points up and one straight kick by the other team would put them behind again.

“The redhead looks like she’s lost something. Maybe I should go help her,” Will said, as his focus returned to what he considered the more important things in life.

I smiled. “Why don’t you do that. You never know, there may be a reward for finding whatever it is that she’s lost.”

Will grinned. “I can always hope. I’ll see you later.” He jogged off, the gallant young knight to help the damsel in distress. At least that seemed to be the impression he was trying to project.

I chuckled as I turned my attention to the grounds. It looked like the game was about to resume.

After the centre bounce, one of Drew’s teammates kicked the ball out and Drew collected it on the second bounce. He raced towards his team’s goals, before kicking it to one of his teammates who snapped a quick goal, putting them ten points in lead. Drew glanced in my direction and I clapped my hands above my head to show that I’d seen what he had done. He waved back before returning his attention to the game.

“He’s not bad when he gets a chance.”

I turned to the slightly familiar voice to agree, but the words got stuck in my throat when I saw who it was.

James gave me one of his lazy smiles. “G’day, Rick. I have to say I was quite surprised to see you here.”

“Drew asked me along. What are you doing here?”

A shadow came over his face as he stared out across the ground. I didn’t need to follow his gaze to know he wasn’t watching the game. He was watching one player. “I haven’t missed a game for two years. I don’t stand on the boundary any more, cheering him on, but I still come.”

I had a million questions, but there were too many people who might overhear something I didn’t want them to know, so I turned and hopped over to a nearby empty picnic table. I sat so I could still see part of the ground through the crowd. As I expected, James joined me, sitting on the opposite side.

“I thought you two broke up a year ago. Why are you still watching him play?”

James didn’t answer immediately. He rubbed his chin while staring at me, as if he was trying to work out what to say.

“I could give you a number of answers to that, but I know which one you want. Will you answer a question from me first?”

“No promises, but ask away.” I was suspicious, and I was also aware that Drew had asked me not to speak to the guy, but there was something going on that I didn’t understand.

“What do you know about the reasons why Drew broke up with me?”

I was surprised, as he made it sound like there had been more to that than I had been told.

“You were cheating behind Drew’s back. You were just using him.” I knew I was using Drew, too, but not in that way.

James winced. “Guilty on the first charge. Not guilty on the second.” He crossed his arms on the table and rested his head. He wasn’t looking directly at me. “I made a mistake, possibly the biggest mistake of my life so far. It was at a footy club function — a boys' night out — and I had had a few drinks. One of the under eighteen players made a pass at me. I turned him down, but he kept on flirting whenever Drew wasn’t there. I have to say I was flattered — I was barely sixteen at the time and this good looking stud wanted me. I had Drew, though, and I liked him. Heck, I’ll say it — I loved him. But Colin was persistent, and I eventually let him give me a blow job.”

“And you got caught,” I said.

“No. Not that time.” James sighed. “One thing led to another. He was just sex, and I was just sex to him, too, I think, but we both enjoyed it. Drew and I… well, we did things, but not a lot. Colin did more, and it was fun.

“The fun ran out, eventually, though, and yes, we got caught.” James lifted his head and stared at me. “I lost more than you can imagine that night. I lost my friends — all the ones that counted, at least — but most of all I lost the guy that I loved.” He paused. “The one I still love.”

I blinked a few times as I took in his last statement. I had a moment of hope that maybe I could get Drew and James together again, and that would solve my problems, but sanity prevailed and I knew I probably had more chance of winning the lottery. And I wasn’t old enough to buy a ticket.

James’s expression was open and pained, not like the nonchalant facade he normally wore. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have all of your friends suddenly ignore you? To treat you like you don’t exist? To have someone you love act like you’re not there?”

I made a face. I knew too well what he meant, even if my circumstances hadn’t been the same. “So why are you telling me all of this?”

James stood up. “So you don’t make the same mistake that I did. I love Drew too much to see him go through that a second a time.”

My eyes went wide. “What are you talking about?”

James looked back at the football oval. “I’ve been watching Drew play for two years. For the first year, he would always come over to see me at every break. For the last year, he’s not done that for anyone, not even his other friends or his family. Today, he did it for you.” James turned to stare down at me. “I’ve noticed how happy he’s been recently, and now I know why. You and Claire had me fooled, but I know Drew, and what he did today’s a dead giveaway.

“Congratulations, Rick. You’ve got a great guy. Don’t fuck it up, or I’ll make your life a living hell. Make Drew happy and… well, I won’t be happy, but I’ll be content.

“And now, maybe I can move on and find someone of my own.”

Copyright Notice — Copyright © January 2009 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.