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Not Always Easy

by Kit

Chapter 13 - A Friend's Brother

When I went down to breakfast that Thursday morning the house was deserted. Of course I knew my parents were at work, but John usually stayed home in the mornings because his soccer games were mostly arranged for the afternoons. Still, I thought to myself, it was another lovely day so maybe he was out with Alex. I was eager to speak with John because I wanted to find out how his phone call to Marie had gone. However, I supposed it must have gone reasonably well because he was still talking with her when I went to bed.

By the time I'd drunk a couple of mugs of tea, it was approaching noon and I was almost fully awake. At least I was awake enough to be brooding about Sue and wondering if John would be home to have lunch with Mike and me. While I was sitting at the kitchen table debating with myself what to have for lunch, John and Mike breezed into the house together. Wherever John had been, he looked extremely cheerful and excited.

"You've not planned anything definite for lunch, have you?" John asked me before I could get beyond an initial greeting.

"No, why?"

"Well, I was hoping you might want to go and grab something to eat in town."

Mike, wearing a conspiratorial grin, was standing silently behind John.

"Where were you thinking of going?" I asked.

"Well, I was thinking of going to a nice cafe, but I was hoping you and Mike would be going somewhere else," John said with a shy grin.

He looked almost embarrassed, and I thought I detected a hint of a blush. Unlike me, John didn't blush easily so I quickly became suspicious.

"So, basically you just want a ride into town," I said accusingly.

"Yeah. Is that okay?"

"He's got a date..." Mike chipped in.

"With Marie!" I finished Mike's sentence, grinning at my little brother.

"Yeah, so are ya going to drive me into town? If not, I'm gonna have to set off to catch the bus soon." John said as he looked at his watch.

"Course I'll drive ya. What time do you have to be there?"

"One o'clock, at the bus station."

"And you two have been conspiring together all morning," I concluded.

"Yeah, John was over at my house before nine. I'd only just got out of bed," Mike admitted.

"I guess the phone call went well, then?" I asked John, who just smiled and nodded.

"Fast worker, isn't he?" Mike said as he winked at John.

"And he was so worried about what he'd find to talk about," I said to Mike. Then I turned to John and, teasing, asked, "So what did ya talk about?"

"Well, the real ice-breaker was talking about you and Rob," John teased me in return.

"Oh? And what were the two of you saying about us?"

"Well, it's private. But she did say you and Rob spent a long time behind a closed door on Tuesday night," John said with a wicked grin.

Mike laughed so hard that he had to sit on the nearest chair, while I blushed and wished I hadn't asked the question. As I was wondering how to change the direction of the conversation, Mike came to my rescue.

"By the way," he said, "have either of you seen James recently?"

I just shook my head 'no'.

"Not for almost two weeks, but we spoke on the phone last week. Why?" John asked.

"Well, I wanted to make sure he knew about my party on Saturday and ask him to come, but whenever I phone either no one answers or his dad says he's out. He said James doesn't have a mobile, so I was wondering how to get in touch with him."

"Not sure, really," John said. "I'll try phoning him, if you like."

"Yes, please. It'd be great to see him at the party. He was one of our best mates once and it's a pity that he just seemed to drift away," Mike said sadly.

"Okay, I'll try," John said, "but he seems to spend most of his time out with his girlfriend."

"Have you met her? What's she like?" Mike asked.

"Dunno. I've never seen her. Maybe he wants to keep her to himself," John replied.

"We should ask him to introduce us, cos none of us will want to steal his girl!" I joked.

"Yeah," Mike said to John, "if you talk to him, ask him to bring her to the party."

"Anyway," John said looking distracted, "I'd better grab a quick shower before we go out."

While John was upstairs, Mike and I chatted, mostly about John and Marie. I think I heard somewhere that gay guys like to gossip, and if that's true then Mike should have been an honorary gay guy, despite his undoubted sexual attraction to girls. Neither of us mentioned Sue or her possible suspicions, but there wasn't much that either of us could add to what we'd said on the phone.

We dropped John off at the bus station then parked the car and had lunch in Burger King. While we were eating, Mike tried a couple of times to get me to tell him about his birthday presents but I wouldn't even give him any hints. Then we went home so that I could get ready to go round and see Rob.

When I arrived at Rob's house his parents were still at work and Marie was still out, presumably with my brother. Rob refused to do any work until we'd exchanged all the gossip about John and his sister, but by four thirty I'd managed to get him concentrated on calculus.

Since our first study meeting he'd obviously being doing some revision because he had several specific questions to ask and he'd collected a few example questions that he wanted me to work through with him. In fact, I was surprised at how quickly he was learning and how rapidly he was progressing. My surprise was not because I doubted his intelligence, but because I'd presumed he had some particular problem with maths. His aptitude at the subject seemed to be as good as mine, and I knew that his maths teacher was good because I'd had the same teacher the previous year, so I wondered why he'd been having problems.

"You seem to be picking this up pretty quickly, Robbie. How come you didn't understand it in maths class? Too busy ogling the cute guys?" I teased.

"Nah," he said with a grin, "It's just that as soon as we started calculus I just got stuck with all the weird letters and stuff. Anyway, you must be a good teacher cos when you show me it seems so much easier."

"Thanks," I said, too embarrassed to say anything else.

Marie arrived home at about five o'clock and went straight up to her room, and Rob would have gone up immediately to question her about her date. However, I dissuaded him by telling him we still had a lot to do and that I didn't want him teasing her while I was there. After the events of my last visit, I didn't want his mum thinking I was conspiring to tease her daughter.

Rob and I continued working through example questions, and shortly after five thirty his mum came home and we heard Marie talking to her in the kitchen. I would have bet my last penny that their conversation involved John, but unfortunately they were deliberately speaking quietly, so we didn't hear what they were actually saying. Later, during dinner, Rob also tried to talk to Marie about John but she wouldn't say a word and her mum prevented Rob from pushing the matter. I intended to question John in a similar manner as soon as I got home, but I'd make sure my parents weren't around to interrupt my inquisition.

After dinner, Marie went straight to her room to make a phone call, and as Rob and I left the dining room we smirked at one another, knowing very well whom she would be calling. When we entered our study room Rob closed the door behind us, so it was no surprise to me when he started stroking my thigh a half an hour later. Yet again, I allowed my physical desires to overcome my nagging doubts, and it wasn't long before we ended up naked on the bed. We kissed and ground our crotches together for a few minutes, rolling around on the bed so that neither of us stayed on top for very long. He slowly licked and kissed his way down to my penis, teasing me by licking all around his target. I yelped when he sucked hard on my left testicle, so he stopped his ministrations just long enough to giggle and say 'shhh'.

Wishing to pleasure him as well, I moved round into a sixty-nine position. I felt his slippery finger running round my anus, so I put some saliva on my middle finger and did the same to him. I was in heaven and just about to reach orgasm when Rob stopped and left me almost screaming with frustration. He pulled away from me slightly and turned round so that he could place little butterfly kisses on the side of my face.

"I want you inside me," he whispered in my ear.

I didn't exactly freeze, but I went very still. The memory of my last encounter with Ben flickered through my mind and I wasn't sure how to respond. My body told me to 'go for it' but my mind told me I wasn't ready for what, to me, would imply an additional level of emotional involvement.

"I want you to be my first," he said while I was still trying to decide how to respond.

"I've never done it before," I said. "Won't it hurt?"

"Well if it does, it won't hurt you!" Rob giggled. "Anyway, I've put things up there before. Carrots at first, but recently I tried my favourite screwdriver handle."

I wanted to try it and I didn't want to disappoint Rob, but somehow I just didn't feel comfortable with the idea.

"I've got lube and condoms under the bed," Rob said while I lay silent and still.

"Nnnoo, I don't think so," I said as he began leaning over to reach under the bed.

He moved back to lie on his side next to me and gazed into my face. He was clearly disappointed and appeared also to be a little hurt. That wouldn't be surprising, though, bearing in mind that he'd just offered me his virginity and I'd rejected him. I felt awful and had completely lost my erection.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Well," I said after a few moments thought, "friends having fun is one thing, but I don't think my feelings are just those of a friend. I don't know what it'll mean for me if we do that. Ya know, go all the way."

"So you're still in love with me then?"

"Yeah. Well, I think I must be. I never felt this way before. I mean, I love you and I love other people, like John and Mike. But I've never had sex with them, and it would feel weird if I did. I've enjoyed the stuff we've done so far, but going all the way with you... I think that'd feel weird as well."

We looked at one another in silence, and I realised that for the last few moments he'd been gently stroking my chest and nipples. This wasn't really a sexual stroking, but from the look on his face it was more like the way one might stroke a cat while lost in thought. I don't know how long we lay in silence like that, but to me it certainly felt like a long time.

"I'm sorry," I said rather pathetically, no longer able to bear the silence.

I turned on my side so that we were lying face to face. He took a deep breath, as if he'd just woken from a sleep, though his eyes had been open.

"No, it's okay, " he said. "I think I understand."

He smiled at me, and I returned his smile as I began gently stroking his side. Gradually we began to build up our sexual excitement until we were again in a sixty-nine position, but this time the build up was less passionate and frenzied. Our motions seemed much more gentle and caring, so that it was not so much the expression of our physical needs but more the expression of a loving and caring friendship. The rise towards orgasm was slower this time, but there was a rapid completion, and I shot my load just a few seconds before Rob.

Afterwards, we cuddled in silence for several minutes, gently caressing one another with fingers and lips. Then he sighed and moved back a little so that he could look into my eyes, though our bodies maintained considerable contact. Yet again I was amazed by the shifting green-blue/blue-green colour of his eyes.

"Ya know, I think you're really loveable... I should love you... but I can't," he said, looking sad.

He saw my look of confusion and continued.

"Remember I said there was something I wanted to talk about?" he said, "Well, I think now is as good a time as any..."

I lay there, expecting him to start speaking again, but instead he stood up and started getting dressed. When he noticed me looking puzzled, he smiled, picked my clothes up off the floor and handed them to me.

"There's something I want you to see upstairs," he said enigmatically.

Still none the wiser, I got dressed and together we left the room. His mum and dad were watching TV as we passed the living room on our way to the stairs and they both looked up at us.

"Not going without saying goodbye are you?" his mum said to me with a smile.

"No, Mum," Rob said, "I'm taking Paul upstairs to my room."

His parents looked at him, then at one another with expressions that might have been surprise or even astonishment. I didn't have much time to observe or analyse their expressions any further because Rob grabbed my arm and rapidly pulled me up the stairs. He led me to the door with the 'Keep Out' sign and hesitated for a moment before opening the door and leading me inside.

At first glance it seemed to be a typical teenage boy's room, though it was rather tidier than others I'd seen, including my own. There was a bunk bed along the right side of the room, and there were Manchester United posters the walls, but only on one half of the room. On a dressing table at the far end of the room were framed photographs and a Manchester United supporter's scarf draped over a soccer ball. Then I remembered that Rob had never once mentioned an interest in soccer, not even when I told him that John was a soccer fanatic, and on the occasions when he'd met John, Rob had hadn't discussed the sport at all. The longer I stood there, the more it seemed to me that this just didn't feel Rob's room.

All the time I'd been looking around the room Rob was standing by my side in silence. When I cast a questioning frown at him, he took me by the hand and led me to the dressing table. He picked up one of the larger framed photographs and placed it carefully in my hand.

"That's my brother, Chris," he said simply and quietly.

The photograph showed a slim boy with very short dark hair, standing on grass and wearing a soccer kit. He appeared to be about fifteen or sixteen and was looking very happy, flashing a cheeky grin directly at the camera. From his build, his hair colour, and the dark tan of his skin, it didn't seem to me that this boy could be related to Rob, Marie, or their parents.

Without a word, Rob reverently took that photograph from my hands and replaced it with another, which showed Chris with Rob's family. Here, Chris again looked about sixteen but Rob looked younger, probably about twelve or thirteen. Although they showed all the 'togetherness' of a family in this photograph, Chris' physical appearance marked him out as different. Rob took the photograph off me and gently placed it back on the dressing table.

"We shared this room," he said. "The downstairs extension wasn't built then."

"Where is he?" I asked, though I feared that I already knew the answer.


Rob said the single word very quietly, in a voice that itself seemed dead. Then, while I searched for something to say, he began to cry silently, so I put my arms around his shaking shoulders and led him to the lower bunk, where we sat down, careful to avoid banging our heads. At first I was afraid to talk about Chris, but then I thought to myself that Rob wouldn't have brought me to this room if he didn't want to talk about his brother.

"What happened?" I asked.

Rob was quiet for a while as he began to control his emotions, and I wondered how many times he'd sat in this room and cried over the death of his brother. I squeezed his shoulders, and after a minute or so he took a deep breath.

"He was killed by a drunk driver," he said, his voice dripping with bitterness. "He was riding his bike, coming home from a friend's house, and the bastard just swerved into him. He died before they got him to the hospital."

"When?" I whispered as I began to stroke his back.

"Just over three years ago. He was only sixteen. The same age as me now."

When he added that last part it was as if he felt guilty for reaching the age of sixteen, then he leaned toward me and rested the side of his head against my chest. He sighed so deeply that it seemed all the breath left his body, then he gazed toward the dressing table, which now I could see was a sort of shrine.

"Erm, how come he looks different from the rest of you?" I asked a little hesitantly, hoping that the question wouldn't open any wounds.

"He was adopted. Mum and Dad had been trying to have kids for ages after they first got married, but it never happened, and they thought they couldn't, so they adopted Chris. Then almost three years later I came along and took them by surprise."

He'd stopped crying and was silent for a few moments. Maybe it was because of our physical contact or maybe I was just hypersensitive to his emotional state, but I had the feeling that a tension was building inside him. He seemed to be gathering his thoughts to say something else.

"Chris was the best brother anyone could have," he said eventually. "He was kind, funny, clever, strong, and he was always there for me. I still miss him. This is our place, and after he died I wouldn't let anyone else come in here. Mum and Dad wanted me to go for counselling, but I persuaded them I didn't need it. Apart from me, you're the first person to come in here in three years."

His words produced a strange mixture of emotions in me. Of course I was honoured and pleased that he could confide in me, but it also felt as if I'd been given a burden of responsibility. Besides that, I was wondering why he'd chosen to share this with me now, immediately after our discussion about love and sex. Then, as if he could read my mind, he began to speak again.

"I loved him so much, ya know."

"I know," I said soothingly as I stroked his back again. "I love my brother as well."

He pulled away from me so we were no longer touching, though he was still sitting next to me. He looked me straight in the eyes.

"No, I mean I really loved him. I was in love with him... am still in love with him."

He stared deep in my eyes, as if trying to read my emotions before I actually reacted to his words. There was anxiety in his eyes, and I thought I could detect fear as well. I knew he was sharing something with me that he'd never shared with anyone before. and I felt my next words and reactions would be terribly important.

"You were only, what, thirteen?" I said.

"You think that's too young to be in love?" he asked, looking hurt.

"No, but you didn't... didn't... with him?"

"Of course not!" he said, sounding shocked and irritated.

I was worried that I'd hurt him and disappointed him by saying the wrong thing, but then his expression softened and he gave me a small smile.

"I did think about it sometimes," he continued, "but I was too young to know what I would've wanted to do. And I never let him know that I felt that way about him."

I reached out and put my arms around him, hugging him to my chest. Rob had just exposed his innermost self to me, and apart from holding him in my arms I didn't know what else to do or say. To me, this sharing was much more of an honour and responsibility than the earlier offer of his physical virginity.

"So now you see," he said, "why I can't fall in love with you. I'm still in love with someone else. Someday maybe I'll get over it, but I don't know when or even if I will. But not now."

I hugged him tightly again and wondered if his parents weren't right to try and get him to see a counsellor, but it wasn't the time or the place for me to speak those thoughts.

"But we will still be friends, won't we?" he asked anxiously, looking up into my eyes.

"Of course we will," I said with absolute certainty.

He blushed a little, then smiled shyly and looked at his hands, which rested in his lap.

"And maybe sometimes have some fun? But not all the way?"

"We'll see," I said, smiling gently and stroking his hair.

Gradually, we leaned back on the bed until our shoulders were leaning against the wall and we were almost lying down. After a few minutes of quietly contemplating and relaxing together, a thought occurred to me.

"You and Marie don't have bikes," I said.

"Yeah. We used to have bikes, but we sold them. After what happened to Chris, Mum and Dad were scared for us," he said. He paused a moment before continuing, "They didn't actually tell us we couldn't ride our bikes, but they made it clear they were very unhappy when we did, so we just stopped using them. Marie never rode hers much anyway, and after Chris was killed I was always nervous."

As the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place in my mind, I gently kissed his forehead and the top of his head.

"I understand," I said.

"That's why Mum and Dad got me to invite you to dinner when I told them about you. After the accident they became really protective of me and Marie, and they wanted to know who my new friend was."

After a few more minutes of silent hugging and occasional tender kisses, I glanced at my watch and saw that it was almost eleven o'clock.

"I gotta go, Robbie." I said, feeling a little guilty at the prospect of leaving him so soon.

"I s'pose if you've got to," he said sadly.

"I'll call you tomorrow and see how you're doing, okay?"

"Yeah," he said, looking into my eyes and smiling. "Thanks. Thanks a lot."

"Thanks for what?"

"For being here, and for being my friend... and for being you."

I blushed and quickly changed the subject.

"And I'll see you at Mike's party on Saturday."

"Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. And so's Marie!" he said, flashing me a wicked grin.

I was pleased that he seemed to be cheering up, so I didn't want to spoil things by mentioning my worries about Sue. We disentangled ourselves, smoothed down our clothes and hair, and left the room. I noticed that Rob made sure that the door was securely closed before we went downstairs. When we looked into the living room to say goodbye to his parents, they glanced at us sharply. I wondered if they could tell that Rob had been crying and if they thought I was to blame for his tears. Perhaps Rob had the same thoughts because he took my hand in his and made sure that his parents noticed. Seeing this, the expression on his parents' faces softened, though they still looked a little concerned.

"Are you boys okay?" his mum asked.

"Yes, thanks," I said, feeling a bit embarrassed.

"We're fine, Mum," Rob added.

After I said farewell to his family, Rob escorted me to my car. He was still holding my hand while we were in the driveway, and I surprised myself when I realised that I didn't really care if anyone saw us like that.

By the time I got home, my parents were in bed, but John was still awake in his room with the light on and the door wide open. When he heard me come upstairs he came out of his room, clearly eager to see me, and I wondered if he'd been waiting up for me. We exchanged smiles and a quiet greeting then he followed me into my room and closed the door. He looked very excited, and I guessed that he wanted to be able to talk without disturbing our parents.

"Guess what!" he said.

"It's a bit late for guessing games, John," I said with a smile. "Can't you just tell me?"

"Marie invited me to dinner with her family tomorrow."

There were hints of both happiness and worry mixed in with his obvious excitement, and for some reason I couldn't suppress a fit of giggles as I fell back onto my bed. Of course there was nothing particularly funny about the situation, and my reaction was probably a result of all the tensions and emotions I'd experienced that evening. John, however, was not amused, but the look of annoyance on his face just made me giggle even more.

"What's so funny?" he demanded.

"Sorry, John," I said as soon as I could control myself. "Nothing's really funny. It's just been a strange night. And I've been there, done that."


"I've been through the Streeter family inquisition. Remember that night I came home and snapped at you? That was after my first dinner with Rob's family."

From the look in his face it seemed he was unsure whether or not I was just teasing him.

"It's not that bad, is it?" he asked, looking concerned.

"Nah. As long as you tell the truth they won't torture you too much," I said and started giggling again.

"C'mon," he said frowning. "Be serious. Please!"

"Okay. Seriously, they're nice people, but very protective of their kids. Just be nice and polite and it'll be fine."

His face showed relief, and he flopped down on the other bed.

"So you had a good time with Marie this afternoon?" I asked

"Yeah," he said with only a tiny hint of embarrassment. "She's really nice. And clever as well."

We stayed talking like that until long after midnight, and I was pleased when it became clear that John and Marie got on very well together. From the way he spoke, as well as the words he used, I felt confident that even if a romance didn't blossom, they would at least become good friends. Eventually, John wound down and went to his own room, and when I went to bed, I was so tired that I fell asleep immediately, with no time to worry or even think.

When I went downstairs late the next morning, John and Mike were sitting and talking in the kitchen. As I made and drank tea, I joined the discussion at the point where John was wondering what he should wear to dinner that night. Mike and I made some facetious suggestions, and John got flustered, so I changed the subject.

"I forgot to ask last night. What did Mum and Dad say when you told them about dinner with Marie's family?"

"Dad just made some crack about girlfriends," John said with disgust, "and Mum made a joke about how both her sons were being taken away by the Streeters."

I almost made a comment about his last remark, but managed to bite it back, and instead I changed the subject.

"D'ya need a ride tonight?" I asked.

"Well, Dad offered to take me, and Mr Streeter said he'd bring me home, but I'd prefer if you could take me. Would that be okay?"

"Yeah. No problem."

The rest of the day went quickly, with the three of us just messing around until late afternoon, when Mike went home and John went to shower and fuss over his clothes. As that was my first opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, I went to my room and lay down on my bed. Most of my best thinking has always been done when I was horizontal, and I often wondered if I'd do even better in my exams if only I was allowed to take them lying down.

The significance of the events of the previous night was uppermost in my mind, and as I mulled things over, I realised that my relationship with Rob had changed. In one way I loved him more than I had ever done before, but the type of love I felt was no longer a romantic love, and instead it was more like the love I had for Mike and John. I wondered if I'd ever really been in love with Rob in a romantic way, or whether my friendship-love had just been confused by our sexual activities. I didn't like the alternative thought, that I just might be fickle and unable to sustain my love.

Although I knew that sex could be just recreational for some people, it seemed that for me it produced a special emotional bonding. So, while I wouldn't criticise people like Rob, for whom sex could apparently be just fun, I realised that to avoid getting hurt in the future, I needed to be careful about the emotional effects of sex. In a way, I felt disadvantaged. I certainly had enjoyed sex, and it seemed a bit unfair that I couldn't have the enjoyment without getting an emotional hangover. Bearing that in mind, I decided that it would probably be best to avoid having sex with Rob, at least for the time being, though I didn't relish having to inform him of that decision.

Soon after I'd reached that conclusion, my parents arrived home, so I went downstairs to be sociable. Taking John to Rob's house and then eating with my parents left me little time for further thought until I returned to my room after dinner. Then my thoughts turned to Sue, her possible suspicions, and Mike's party. I realised that I'd not yet had the chance to tell Dan about the latest developments in the 'Sue problem'.

I decided to call Dan immediately, and I was very pleased to find him home. We discussed the 'Sue problem' for a while, and it turned out that he shared my concerns. However, we both agreed that there wasn't much I could do apart from enjoy the party and be careful. As we talked, I realised how much I was enjoying my interactions with Dan and that I missed seeing him in person, even though it was only a couple of days since our last meeting. I knew that I couldn't see him the following day, Saturday, as I'd be helping with party preparations. I'd have loved to invite him to the party, but of course Dan wouldn't want to risk seeing Sue there.

"What are you doing on Sunday afternoon?" I asked, so suddenly that I almost interrupted what he was saying.

"Er, nothing. Why?" he responded, obviously startled.

"D'ya want to come to lunch? I'd like you to meet my parents."

"Yeah, great!" he said enthusiastically. Then in a less confident voice, he added, "They know I'm gay, right?"

"Well I told them I met you at a gay youth group, so they probably guessed!" I joked.

"And you're sure they'll be okay with that?"

"Definitely. They said they like to meet my friends, and it doesn't matter to them whether my friends are gay or not."

"I must admit I'm a bit nervous about meeting them. Any particular reason you picked Sunday?"

"It's the soonest I could get to see you," I responded without thinking.

There was a brief silence, during which I wondered how he would interpret what I'd just said. I also began to wonder how to interpret my own words and feelings.

"Oh, so you want to see me soon, then?" he eventually asked.

He was trying to sound as if he was teasing me, but I could tell he was pleased and maybe a little excited. At first I wasn't sure how to respond, and indeed I knew that the question didn't really demand any response at all. My answer, when it came, was not the result of any conscious thought.

"Yes, as soon as possible."

"What for?" he asked with a note of concern.

"Do I need a reason?" I said. "I like you and enjoy being with you."

Again my response came without thinking, and I was surprised not only by the truth of my words but also by the fact that I'd expressed myself so openly to him. Dan seemed to have been shocked into silence. Neither of us spoke for several seconds, and I began to feel more and more embarrassed.

"Anyway," I said breaking the silence, "I'd like to talk to you after Sunday lunch."

"Oh, okay. What time shall I come over?"

"I'll come and pick you up at one o'clock, okay?"

"Fine, I'll see you then," Dan said, concluding our conversation.

I was excited and a little nervous when I went downstairs to check that Mum wouldn't be unhappy with me for inviting Dan to Sunday lunch without first consulting her. My parents were always pleased when my friends joined us for meals, and after my 'coming out' conversation with them, I was sure that she wouldn't be upset. As it turned out, she seemed to be as happy and as excited as I was.

Marie's dad brought John home a little after ten o'clock, and he came inside for just a few minutes to say hello to my parents. They seemed to get on okay, and I blushed when I heard Mr Streeter tell my parents that they had two fine sons. After he left, John came up to my room and told me that his 'inquisition' dinner had been much like the first dinner I'd experienced at the Streeter house. However, John seemed much less stressed by it than I'd been, and I wondered if it was just because of our different personalities or whether the fact that I was gay had made things more complicated for me.

The next day I was up early, and everything from my morning tea onwards was just one big hectic rush as we all prepared for Mike's party. In the morning Mum and Dad went shopping with Mike's mum, while John and I went to Mike's house to help him move furniture around. The afternoon was spent helping with food preparations, stocking the fridges with drinks, blowing up balloons, and suchlike pre-party activities.

By eight o'clock that evening we were all showered and dressed in our party clothes. My last task was to place Mike's presents and cards in the centre of their dining table, and after that much of our time was spent preventing Mike from trying to find out the nature of the presents inside the wrappings. Mum and Dad were bringing some food over from our house, Mike's mum was in her kitchen, and we three teenagers were sitting in Mike's living room when the first guest arrived. This first guest turned out to be Sue.

Mike greeted her at the door with a kiss then brought her through to the living room, where he offered her something to drink before putting her gift with the others on the dining table. Sue greeted John and me quite warmly, and maybe I was being paranoid, but I thought she gave me a penetrating and questioning look before she went into the kitchen to say hello to Mike's mum. Soon after that, Marie and Rob arrived with their dad, who spoke with my parents and Mike's mum for a couple of minutes before he left. As he was leaving he reminded Rob to keep an eye on his sister, at which point the Streeter children exchanged exasperated looks.

After that, the house filled up quickly, and soon a large amount of nibble-foods and soft drinks were rapidly being consumed. As it was a pleasant spring evening, the party spilled out into the rear garden, and while I was mingling outdoors with the other guests, I noticed that John and Marie were sitting very close together on deck chairs in the far corner of the garden. Even at that distance and in the semi-darkness, I could see that they were holding hands and were deep in conversation, so I smiled to myself and left them alone.

At nine thirty, Mike cut his cake while we sang 'Happy Birthday', and then he opened his presents. Mike got CDs from his mum and my parents, and was thrilled to find that his presents from them also included a course of driving lessons. He wasn't quite so thrilled when he opened his dad's present and found a tie and some socks. Sue seemed a little upset when he opened his presents from John and me before opening hers.

When Mike saw what John and I had given him, he was so pleased and moved that he was almost in tears when came over and hugged us. Such emotional behaviour in such public surroundings was very unusual for Mike, and at first I thought that was what had caused Sue to look even more unhappy. However, when Mike opened Sue's gift I realised why she was so upset.

She'd bought him a silver ring, which was not very different from the one I'd given him. Maybe it was childish of me, but I felt rather smug when I found out that there was no inscription on her ring. Mike thanked her with hugs and profuse kisses, but it didn't seem to make her any happier, and several times during the rest of the night I caught her glaring at me with intense hostility. Despite the bad vibrations from Sue, I enjoyed the rest of the party, and it didn't seem long before parents were arriving to collect some of the younger guests. When the Streeters arrived at eleven to collect their children, there were only a few guests left. Rob's parents agreed to let him and Marie stay another few minutes while they had some birthday cake with my parents and Mike's mum.

While Mr and Mrs Streeter ate some cake, Marie and John went back out into the garden. About a minute later, Rob took me by surprise by grabbing my arm and dragging me out of the back door. When we got outside, he silently pointed out a shadowy couple standing at the far end of the garden, and further inspection showed that it was John and Marie engaged in a deep kiss.

Rob giggled and pulled me round to the side of the house, where there was a dark, narrow passageway between the wall of the garage and the wall of the house. Before I could say a word, he put his arms round me and kissed me deeply, his tongue exploring my mouth, and I quickly responded. I enjoyed kissing him, so although I'd decided that in future having sex with him might be a bad idea, I couldn't see anything wrong with a good snog. After a couple of minutes we came up for a breath and both burst into giggles. Then, regaining our composure, we decided to go back inside before someone came looking for us. We returned to the living room just before John and Marie, both of whom were smiling and a little flushed, and within a couple of minutes Rob's parents emerged from the kitchen and took their children home.

By midnight the party was completely over, and the only people left were Mike and his mum, my family, and Sue, who had arranged to stay overnight. We decided to clear up the leftover food, paper plates and plastic cups, but leave the furniture moving and the rest of the cleaning until morning. As we gathered the rubbish, I again caught Sue glaring at me, but this time I thought that with the hostility there was also a hint of some other emotion, possibly smugness, or even triumph.

Before my family and I left for home, we all gathered in the kitchen while the adults drank tea. John and I were standing by the back door, and I was trying to tease him by using my lips to make smoochy-kissing noises on the back of my hand. My parents and Mike's mum sat at the kitchen table, enjoying the peace and quiet, while Mike and Sue were sitting on the far side of the room and holding hands.

John was making a deliberate point of ignoring my teasing, so I looked over toward Mike, who was trying to get Sue's attention. She seemed to be too busy staring at me to take any notice of him, then suddenly her glare turned to a sneer.

"I saw Paul snogging with that Rob boy," Sue said very loudly. "They're both queer!"

The quiet room became totally silent, and it seemed that everyone was holding their breath.

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