Phil was quiet and shocked, when he heard Martin declare his love for him down the telephone. He knew Martin felt something for him but wondered if it was just the infatuation in the idea of having his first boyfriend. In those few moments, Phil tried to work through exactly how he felt and more importantly, how he should respond to Martin. Instinctively, because the admission came as shock to him, Phil knew this could turn out bad and that is the last thing he wanted. He desperately tried to find the right words.
Martin felt his stomach lurch as the silence ate through him. He was now scared and had not anticipated this reaction.
He heard Phil stutter down the phone. "Wha...wha..." but Martin stayed silent, trying to keep his composure. He felt like he wanted to hang up the phone, run a long way to be alone and burst into tears.
As he stifled a tear, he finally heard Phil speak. "Oh god, Martin. I never expected you to say that so soon. I knew there was something between us but..." He trailed off again. "But I think I love you too."
This time Martin could not hold back his emotions and let his tears flow freely.
Phil heard him down the phone. "I realised a few weeks ago when I couldn't stop thinking about you. But I didn't want to scare you." Phil waited for Martin to speak but just heard an occasional sniffle. "Martin, don't cry. It's wonderful. We both love each other. We should be happy that we feel the same way."
Through his emotions, Martin managed to speak a low, "I know."
"Can I see you?" Phil asked. "I want to see you, to hold you, to let you know that I do love you too. This didn't go well. Please, let me make it up to you."
Martin grunted his consent.
"Why don't you come down here, I've got the place to myself."
Martin agreed and they hung up the phone together. He washed his face in cool water and dabbed his red and puffy eyes with the towel.
Martin didn't have time to knock before the front door of the house sprang open and Phil stood at the threshold beaming a smile at him.
Once inside, Phil shut the front door and kissed Martin hard on the lips. "That is just so you know that I do love you."
Martin leant forward after Phil broke off the kiss to touch his lips again, which parted slightly to invite Phil's tongue into his mouth. As he felt Phil's moist tongue touch him, Martin brought his hands round and pulled Phil's body tight against him. Groaning, Martin rubbed his hands down Phil's back, his hands resting on his buttocks, kneading them and pulling his crotch harder against his.
Coming up for air and slightly breathless, they parted and looked into each other's eyes.
"Cup of tea?" Phil smiled.
"Thought you'd never ask."
Martin felt more secure now he was with Phil. Doubt ever crept around his mind when they were apart, wondering why someone as nice as Phil would want such an awkward boy as Martin as not just a friend, but a lover. No one had ever loved him in this way before and it confused him, forced him to look into himself and find something about himself that others might find attractive. But when he looked he could only dwell on his flaws and failures. Things were worse; he had fallen in love with Phil which brought its own feelings. His love for Phil made him feel vulnerable and it scared him. Being apart increased his insecurities as he felt naked without him, Phil knew more about him than any other person and, although he was not concerned with Phil letting their secret out, he was more scared about what would happen. He'd seen love often enough around him at school, college and on television to know it could be transitory, and when it left you were left with a gaping hole. As long as he was with Phil, Martin felt safe and more importantly loved. Loved and needed.
They carried their mugs of tea into the sitting room, and without the distraction of the television or the radio, sat on the sofa. Martin snuggled against Phil as they sat in a brief silence, slurping their tea.
"This is how I want us to be. Just you, me and a cup of tea. Alone."
He felt Martin press his head firmer into his chest, his arm reached round and held him close.
"Are you missing James yet?" Phil asked.
"Yes." Martin croaked. "I also miss you when you're not with me."
Phil leant forward and place a gentle kiss on Martin's fringe, tasting the citrus shampoo he had used.
"I always miss him when he's not around. We've been together for so long. But this time I think I'm actually worried as we don't really know what he's got himself into."
"He'll be alright, you know that. They won't let anything happen out there." Phil tried to reassure him. "How come you guys are so close?"
"Don't know really. I suppose we just have a lot in common, plus we've shared a room since we were little and have always played together. He used to like his plastic toy soldiers and would always bombard my lot with cannon fire. It was so funny how he used to jump around whenever he knocked any of my men down. I know he's younger than me but I never felt like I always had to beat him at everything and so he used to love it whenever he beat me. I was never any good playing soldiers."
"Good. You're too sweet to enjoy killing people, even if it's only pretend." Phil replied.
"James was never really good at it either; I was just terrible. I must confess that I did enjoy it when he won. He got so excited. But then he was about seven at the time."
"You probably compliment each other." Phil said.
"Oh yeah, I'm always saying how nice his hair looks." Martin said sarcastically.
"No, you dope. You're different but are similar, if you know what I mean."
"He's got this sense of adventure and is outgoing; you're very serious and insular. But in essence you both want the same things and he feeds off you. You calm him and bring him back to reality and his enthusiasm opens you up to more than you would experience on your own."
"Charming." Martin sat upright, breaking all contact with Phil. "You're basically saying I'm boring."
Phil protested. "No, serious, intense," Phil paused, "and passionate, very passionate." He leant over and kissed Martin's cheek. "You have different adventures. They all happen in here." Phil ruffled Martin's hair roughly. "And those adventures can be much more fun and exciting."
Shrugging off his touch, Martin batted his hair back into place.
"Don't do that, you look cute with your hair all over the place. Makes me think you've just got up and we've spent the night together."
Martin curled up slightly at his words, the implied intimacy between them embarrassed him and his cheeks blushed. He knew there would be a time when they became more physical, but Martin was still reluctant to take that step.
"Don't worry, I'm not about to ravish you. We'll get to that when we're both ready. And I don't think we are yet. Besides it's been so long since anybody has ever given me a cuddle.
"No it hasn't, it was about ten minutes ago." Martin smiled and snuggled back onto Phil's chest, his hands easing round his body and pulling them tight.
"I like it when you hold me." Phil whispered.
Martin decided to have an early night when he got home. He wasn't too bothered in sitting with his parents or brother, especially after he had received an angry call from his mother wanting to know where he was and that she was worried. Time had just stopped while he was with Phil but the phone call brought him home to his dinner which was almost ruined. He ate the dry and congealed meal in silence, the mood of his mother still hanging in the kitchen even though she left him alone.
His mother seemed most concerned as it was unusual behaviour for Martin, staying out all day without a word. But he calmed her down explaining that he was just with a college friend and lost track of time. His mother sighed, half glad that he was behaving like a normal teenager.
Inside his bedroom, Martin sat on his bed trying to read his book but found his mind too distracted. Across the room was an empty bed, made by his mother that morning, the sheets and quilt unruffled and the pillow plumped, showing no evidence of the head that used to lay on it. The bed waited for James to return.
Martin missed the inconsequential banter they had before going to sleep and recently he would miss the intense sessions where James sat, Martin painted and they opened up to each other more than they had ever done in the past. That time was therapeutic for both of them and gave each the freedom to express who they think they might be or what they might become. But the empty bed also cried out to Martin and reminded him of what he'd suggested to Phil. As soon as the words flew from his lips he felt guilty and uncomfortable with another body taking the place of James. But Martin got caught up in the idea and a chance to do what normal kids have always done, except boys wouldn't usually invite their boyfriends for a sleepover. Phil's face glowed as he almost jumped up with excitement declaring how much fun it would be and how they could finally get the time and space to get to know each other. But Martin soon got reticent when Phil mentioned that he would finally get to meet his parents.
Meeting the parents, thought Martin, was a serious step. He had only just come out to his brother and now the thought of his parents meeting his boyfriend, even if they didn't know he was just that, unnerved him. They were not stupid, they would surely twig something was between the two. Pick up on the little looks which would pass between then, the occasional touch more intimate than mere friends would be. The stilted and uncomfortable conversation when asked how they met or what they do. The more Martin considered it, the more he regretted making such an impulsive remark.
But it was the thought of disappointing Phil which kept the idea alive. Martin wanted to spend the time together as much as Phil and decided to himself that they would work through all his fears. All he had to do now was tell Phil what worried him. Before they could agree anything else, Martin's phone vibrated against his leg and squawked out its ring tone. His spoke softly to his mother and tried to explain, he became nervous and felt like a naughty schoolboy being caught out late. Martin almost whispered his final good bye to his mother as he saw the frown grow on Phil's face. Martin thought back to Phil's final few words, 'you're seventeen damn it, term is over and you deserve some fun.' But he knew he needed to be there for his mother. She had just said good bye to James, he didn't want her to have to say good bye to him too. He knew how much he would miss James and supposed it worse for her. He knew it was time to pull away from her, have his own life, and thought it best to do it gradually.
Phil seemed intent on showing Martin how to have fun and become more independent. He wanted Martin to start to be his own person and not just someone who always behaved so other people would feel better. He saw glimpses of the real Martin and tried to hold on to those moments for as long as he could, feeling the tinge of regret when he would go back to his old self. The summer was upon them and they should live out this precious time to the full as they would both be studying hard as soon as term started again. At least that is what Phil said. For the moment, Martin felt content with being swept along with Phil's enthusiasm and energy.
It reminded him so much of James and how he would encourage them to do ever more daring things. Martin considered the time when he and James went scrumping in the small orchard of a house a few streets away. It backed on to barley field and so was well hidden but Martin felt his heart race when he heard the sounds of Wellington boots on the gravel path and a gruff old voice. The old man grumbled to himself about pruning and Codling Moth maggots. Martin was on the ground, catching the apples dropped by James he sat astride a thick branch. On hearing the old man, Martin dropped the few apples which he had and, expecting James to follow, scampered back through the privet hedge. From the camouflaged safety of the hedge, Martin watched as James carefully stuffed some apples into his pockets before dropping to the ground. Martin heard the heavy thud as his feet hit the soil and felt his stomach rise into his mouth as the old man got closer. Surely he had been heard them. But the old man kept grumbling and Martin watched as James scurried over to the hedge and just managed to squeeze through a smaller hole made by some of the younger neighbourhood kids. Martin heard some muffled cries as James forced himself through the tangle of branches and leaves. As the old man came into view they both crouched as low as possible, holding their breath. For a moment the man stood quiet and looked around but as soon as he started his grumbling and what appeared to be a tune from a throaty hum, the two boys crept away as silently as possible. As soon as they were a safe distance, James started to jump up and down screaming in pain; Martin saw the red gashes, grazes and cuts on James' legs and arms caused by the hedge.
After dusting himself down and making sure the cuts were just scratches, he started to delve into his pockets and pulled out four apples. When he asked Martin how many he had got, James' looked disappointed when told that he threw his apples to the ground in a rush to get away. James stood and said because Martin was such a wimp, he would not get any of his and teasingly crunched into one. Martin watched as he chew on the flesh. On seeing the brown hollow trail left by a grub, James' violently spat everything out of his mouth, spraying the ground with bits of apple and saliva, he continued to spit until satisfied that no apple remained and all he could now taste was the acrid sweetness of a tainted fruit.
Smirking, Martin watched James throw the other apples hard to the ground splitting them in two. It was well worth it, he told James and skipped away, unharmed and not having nearly eaten a grub.
At thirteen, Martin enjoyed these little scrapes his brother got him into. And whenever he looked upon them realised that whenever James tried to do anything like this it never ended well. They scrumped for diseased apples and Martin laughed when he remembered how James almost choked on a penny chew he stole from the local Post Office. But he did pay for the other nine in his bag, just not the one in his school trouser pocket.
The book lay open and unread on Martin's lap as he brought his mind back. He heard a thump up the stairs as Tony strode up two steps at a time having been told to go to bed. Martin waited a while for Tony to stop banging around as he got into his pyjamas and went to the bathroom. Having washed and cleaned his teeth, Tony quietly closed his door. Martin imagined his young brother getting into bed and snuggling into his warm quilt, content that he'd let the house know he was going to bed and was not going to go quietly.
Dog-earing the page on his book, Martin slapped it closed and stood up. He retrieved his cotton pyjama bottoms from under his pillow where his mother had neatly folded them and undressed. Bare-chested, he went to the bathroom to wash his face and clean his teeth.
Before getting into bed, Martin went over to James' side of the room and sat on his bed. The pristine sheets were now creased, now Martin could relax without the unnatural neatness screaming at him that there is something missing. He delved under the mattress and pulled out James' diary. It fell open on the last page on which he had written. Martin imagined fresh writing appear as the diary told of what its owner needed to write. Blinking, the fresh ink faded and he slid the diary back.
Turning off his bedside light, Martin got into his bed and tried to sleep but his curiosity just grew about what was happening on the other side of planet. Is it night time there, Martin wondered.
Forcing the what-ifs from his mind, Martin finally drifted to sleep.
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