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Not Always Easy

by Kit

Chapter 19 - Friends Help Friends

The morning after the revelation that James was in love with John, my alarm clock awoke me from a troubled sleep. As usual, I came around slowly to full consciousness, and by the time I glanced over to James' bed, he was already standing and straightening out his duvet. The previous two mornings that he'd been with us he'd stayed in bed when I got up, so this was the first time I'd seen him in his underwear.

I mumbled a 'good morning' and he turned around with a smile, apparently oblivious to the bulge his morning stiffy made in his dark blue briefs. From the outline it appeared that his erect cock was probably almost the same length as mine, although considerably thinner. My stare must have brought it to his attention though, because immediately after he returned my greeting, he looked embarrassed and turned away from me to get a towel.

"Do you want to use the bathroom first?" he asked, keeping his back to me.

"If you don't mind," I said, grateful for his consideration. "I've got to leave a bit before you and it takes me ages to get myself organised."

"Course I don't mind," he said as he turned toward me, covering his front with the towel.

"How're you feeling?" I asked, sitting up and rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

"Fine, thanks. Much better after we talked last night."

"That's good. Maybe we can talk more tonight if you'd like."

"Yeah, I'd like that. Thanks."

Taking care to cover my own morning erection, I grabbed a towel and left the room.

While I showered, I thought that if James and I were going to share a room for any length of time we were going to have to get used to seeing the occasional morning bulge. Also, as I washed my cock, it occurred to me that most mornings, especially when it wasn't a school day, I had a wank before I got out of bed, and when I was alone I almost always had a wank before going to sleep. Since James had moved in I'd not felt able to indulge in either the morning or the night time relief, which might explain why I'd cum in my pants so easily with Dan the previous evening. With thoughts of Dan in my mind, I stroked my cock and quickly brought myself to orgasm.

A few minutes later, I returned to my bedroom to dress while James went for his shower. Just as I was finishing putting on my school uniform, he returned from the bathroom with a towel round his waist, and as he leaned over to pick up his clothes, the towel fell to the floor. Of course, I couldn't help looking and the first thing I noticed was that the bruises, now turning yellow and brown, covered almost all of his body, including his small, cute buttocks. As he grabbed for the towel to cover himself again, I noticed that his soft cock with its long foreskin was quite cute. Although he was fifteen, he didn't have much pubic hair, and his balls seemed smaller than mine were at his age. Seeing him like that was quite arousing, and as I discreetly adjusted my growing stiffy, I thought to myself that if I wasn't already in love with Dan, I could be tempted to try to get something going with James.

John and I left for school before Mike came to collect James, and during the journey John was quieter than usual. He seemed to have something on his mind, but I decided that if he did have something to say, I would wait until he was ready. Eventually, about half way through our journey, he spoke up.

"I know we talked about this for a bit last night, but I've still been wondering why James prefers to talk to you rather than to me," he said with a note of determination in his voice.

"Oh?" I said warily.

"Is it cos he's gay too?" he asked, his words tumbling out.

"What makes you think that?" I asked, playing for time. "That's rather a big conclusion to jump to just because he wanted to talk to me. Besides, he had a girlfriend didnt he? That doesnt sound very gay to me."

"Had a girlfriend!" he said, emphasising the first word.

I glanced across at him to see he was looking at me with a deadly serious expression. Although I knew I couldn't betray James' trust, I really didn't want to have to lie to my brother.

"Whatever," I said, trying to sound unconcerned.

"Well, is he?"

"Even if he is gay, and even if I knew about it, you've got to know I couldn't talk about it."

Of course John knew me well, and I realised that because I'd not actually said that I didn't know, he would assume that in fact I probably did know. Logically, he would then conclude that if I knew about James' sexuality and refused to speak about it, then James must indeed be gay.

"Okay," he said with a sigh. "If he is gay, I hope you'll tell him that it's fine with me and that he can talk to me about anything."

"I'm sure he knows that," I said, not sure that I really believed what I said.

As we approached the school car park, I wondered if James would ever be able to tell John that he loved him, or if it would be a good idea to tell him, even if he wanted to.

That evening when we got home from school, Mike and James were already sitting in the kitchen and drinking orange juice. Mum had given James a spare house key, but they would have been there in any case because Mike had his own key and knew he could come and go as he pleased. After a brief chat, Mike went home to get ready to go out with Sally, and John went for shower, leaving James and me alone.

"Have a good day?" I asked as I put the kettle on.

"Okay, I guess," he said with a frown. "Mike hovered around as much as he could between classes, almost as if he thinks I can't be trusted on my own. In fact, you all seem to be making sure that I'm never on my own."

"That's cos we're concerned for you. You've had a tough time and we want to make sure that you're alright."

His frown deepened as he considered what I'd said, then he smiled and seemed to glow a little. For a couple of minutes we didn't speak, then after I poured my tea and sat beside him, he frowned again.

"Before John went for his shower he gave me some strange looks. You haven't told him anything have you?"

"No, but he's been wondering why you've been talking so much to me and not to him. I think he might suspect that it's because I'm gay."

"Oh, shit!" he moaned with misery in his voice and panic in his eyes.

"Hey, don't worry! He won't care whether you're gay or not. He's just sad that you can't talk to him. Actually, I think you can tell John and my parents everything, and you already said you trust Dan. I think you can trust Mike and his mum as well, and you'll need to tell Dan's dad if you want him to help you."

After spending a minute or so considering my words, he still appeared a little doubtful.

"Everything?" he asked.

"Well," I replied with a smile, "if you mention that your dad found a gay mag or book in your room, instead of saying 'gay stuff', then my parents wont necessarily think its porno. Also, you should keep private what you and John did, and no one needs to know that you're in love with anyone."

"Okay," he said, returning my smile. "Will you be with me when I tell them?"

"Of course," I replied, placing my hand on his.

"I guess we can tell your family at dinner, then."

"You won't be able to tell John then, cos he's going over to Marie's for dinner tonight. In fact, I'm taking him over there when I go to pick up Dan. Didn't I mention Dan's coming here tonight?"

"Er, no."

"Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you. Anyway, he usually comes here Tuesdays and Thursdays."

"Okay, I'll stay out of your way, then," he said with a forced smile.

"Out of my way?"

"Yeah. Dan's yer boyfriend, so you won't want me around."

"Of course we want you around!" I said squeezing his hand. "Just because I have a boyfriend doesn't mean that I don't also enjoy being with my friends, and if we want to be alone we can go off somewhere. Anyway, with John and Mike out of the way, it will be a good opportunity for you and Dan to get to know one another better. After all, you're my other little brother, so it would be nice if you became good friends with my boyfriend."

Because I'd been talking with James it was a little later than usual when I arrived at Dan's house, and as I waited for him to put on his shoes, his dad drove up outside the house. Although I wasn't really into cars, I thought his Jaguar XJ8 in British Racing Green looked very nice indeed. Dan and I were ready to leave just as his dad entered the house.

"Hello, Paul," Mr Harris greeted me. "Running a bit late?"

"Just a bit," I grinned waiting for him to move clear of the doorway.

"How's your friend, James?"

"He's a bit better now, Mr Harris, but I think he's still going to need your help."

"In that case I'll see what I can do," he said with a smile. He paused before adding, "I suppose you'll be coming for dinner tomorrow?"

"Presuming I'm still invited," I joked, looking and Dan.

"Of course you are!" Dan said with a huge grin as he threw his arm over my shoulders.

"And I think that by now you can just assume you're invited," his dad said with a wry grin. "Anyway, why don't you bring James along tomorrow, and after we've eaten I can get his full story?"

"Okay, I will. Thanks, Mr Harris," I said.

Dan and I said goodbye to his parents and set off back to my house. On the way I told Dan all about my tearful talk with James the previous night.

"Told you he needed a hug," he said with a hint of smugness.

"He's going to need several," I said grimly, "as long as he's in love with John."

"Mmm," he replied thoughtfully as I pulled up outside my house, "yes, I bet that falling in love with a straight boy hurts even more than falling in love with a gay guy who thinks they love someone else."

Although there was no sign of resentment or bitterness in his voice, I looked at him guiltily and was relieved to see nothing but love on his smiling face.

Mum was almost ready to put food on the table when we got in, and before she could remark on my late appearance, I apologised. Within minutes we were all sitting down to eat, and the first thing I did was to ask if I could go to Scotland with Dan and his parents. As expected, there was no objection at all. I also remembered to tell James that the following night he was invited to dinner at Dan's house and that Mr Harris would talk to him to see how he could help. Observing James' concerned expression, Mum told him not to worry because Dan's dad was a 'lovely, kind, and clever man'. Dan blushed as my dad added his agreement with this effusive compliment, and for a few moments no one spoke.

"Erm," James said breaking the silence and clearing his throat, "you've all been so lovely, and it was really good of you to be patient with me when I didn't want to tell you what happened. Well, I've talked with Paul and I'm not so worried about telling you now."

After pausing to take a deep breath, James went on to tell my parents everything that had happened since he went to the party that previous Friday. Even though I'd heard the story before and had already summarised it for Dan, we all listened intently, and as James spoke four pairs of eyes remained fixed on him. I was mildly surprised when neither of my parents interrupted his story to ask questions, but when he finished speaking there were several questions, which he answered more than adequately. Then Mum caught him by surprise.

"Well," she said, "I think that explains everything that's happened over the last few days, James. I know it must have been hard for you to be so honest with us, so thanks for telling us all that. You know we don't think any worse of you because you like boys, and as I told you before, you can stay here as long as you like."

James smiled at her, but knowing Mum, I knew she was going to say 'but'.

"But," she continued as I'd expected, "while you are living in this house you mustn't drink alcohol except on special occasions and with our permission, and even then only in small amounts."

James blushed and looked guiltily down at he plate, and Mum could see he was embarrassed.

"We know you were upset after your argument with Paul and the others," she said. Then she smiled, and in an attempt to lighten the mood, she added, "And we also know how your father can be enough to drive anyone to drink, but now that's all behind you."

Again Mum paused, and it seemed that everyone, including Dad, was feeling a little uncomfortable with the atmosphere around the table. James, who was sitting next to me, was still looking at his plate, and Dan, who was sitting opposite to me, was trying to look innocent as he stroked my leg with his foot. Mum was still looking at James, and I could tell that she intended to say something else.

"There's still one thing I don't understand, James," she said. "Why did you stop coming round? I mean, for years we saw you almost every day, then suddenly we wouldn't see you for weeks at a time. What happened?"

James' body stiffened as his head jerked up, and I could almost read his thoughts. What could he say? Certainly not the truth, that he'd felt guilty that not only was he in love with John but, even more sinfully, had touched him sexually. He looked at me with a mixture of panic and pleading in his eyes, and I racked my brain trying to think of a way to help him. The outline of an idea began to form in my mind and I leaned over toward James.

"Trust me!" I whispered.

Seeing me whisper to James, Mum and Dad turned their gaze from him to me, and I cleared my throat.

"James has already told me everything," I said, "and I think I know why he doesn't want to answer that. It's difficult for him to talk about, so maybe later I could tell you and Dad privately, okay?"

Panic filled James' eyes, and he seemed to be terrified that I might tell my parents about him and John. He struggled to say something but before he could make a sound, I leaned over and whispered in his ear.

"Do you trust me?" I asked.

He hesitated, glanced around at the others, then frowned and looked into my eyes for a couple of seconds. Eventually, with an expression of resignation, he sighed and nodded 'yes'. I smiled at him as reassuringly as I could and looked at Mum and Dad, who both nodded at me. We carried on with our meal, and by the time we were finishing off dessert, the earlier relaxed atmosphere had almost returned, though James shot me occasional anxious glances. At the end of the meal I suggested that Dan and James might want to go up to my room and watch TV while I joined my parents for coffee in the living room. When we were seated in the living room, with Dad in his favourite chair, my parents waited quietly for me to speak.

"I s'pose you both noticed that it was after his mum died that we stopped seeing so much of James?" I asked, and they both nodded. "Well, I only recently found out what his dad was like. Did you know?"

"We knew he was a bit obsessed with religion, sin and that sort of thing," Dad replied a little defensively, "but apart from the one episode with Tim we didn't think he was violent."

"But you knew he would be brainwashing James with his attitudes to sex and sin," I said, not really intending it to sound like an accusation.

"Brainwashing is a strong word!" Mum protested. "And it really wasn't our place to interfere in someone's religion or how a parent brings up his child."

"Well, anyway," I said, maybe too dismissively, "when his mum died, James was just a kid and he was just beginning to think that he fancied boys. Because of his brainwashing, he thought that her death was a punishment for his evil feelings."

When they heard me say that an expression of horror crept over Mum's face, and Dad looked at me with a mixture of shock and disbelief.

"How could he believe that?" Dad asked frowning.

"He was a kid and he'd been brainwashed all his life," I said bitterly, deliberately repeating and emphasising the word 'brainwashed'.

"And he felt too ashamed and guilty to talk to anyone, even us," Mum said, beginning to understand James' plight.

"Worse than that," I said, so sad and bitter that my voice was cracking, "he lost his mum, the only person who ever hugged him, and there was no one to comfort him, not even his own father. He was full of grief and guilt, and he was too ashamed to talk to anyone, but none of us noticed his pain."

"But he seemed to be dealing with it," Mum said, "and you can't notice pain in someone who doesn't visit anymore."

"We were his friends and his second family," I said, almost in tears, "and none of us made any real effort to get him to talk to us."

"You can't force someone to talk if they don't want to," Dad said gruffly.

I could see that they were each in their own way as upset as I was, and I regretted the direction our discussion had taken.

"I'm sorry," I said. "Apart from James' dad, I didn't mean to blame anyone, at least no more than I blame myself."

"That's silly!" Dad said. "If James wouldn't talk to us, how could we know and how could we help?"

"Whatever," I said, shrugging my shoulders and sighing.

I felt defeated, not by my parents or by our discussion, but by the fact that despite all our best intentions, our loving, caring family had failed someone so close to us.

"Anyway," Mum said after taking a deep breath, "what matters now is not what we might have done in the past, but what we can do now and in the future."

As she'd done so often before when I'd worried myself to a standstill, she'd cut through to the important and practical aspect of a situation. For some unfathomable reason I felt a wave of relief wash over me.

"Yes," I smiled, "what James needs now is not just somewhere to live, he also needs affection."

The three of us looked at one another in silence, embarrassed because as a family we didn't often show our love and affection. Mum might occasionally hug John and me, but Dad had hardly ever hugged us. In fact he rarely hugged even Mum, at least not when I could see them.

"We'll just have to see what we can do!" she said with determination.

That was obviously the end of the discussion, and I stood up and went to join Dan and James in my room.

When I got to my room and saw James and Dan sitting close together on my bed and deep in conversation, I was surprised to find that I didn't feel even a tiny bit jealous. They both smiled and greeted me as I entered the room, and James looked very comfortable, though a little embarrassed. Dan raised his arm in invitation, and when I sat next to him, he put the arm over my shoulder. Ignoring James' presence, I kissed Dan lightly on the lips.

"What did you say to your mum and dad?" James asked anxiously.

"I told them everything except about you and John."

"And they were okay with it?" James asked, looking relieved.

"Of course they were."

"Thanks, Paul," James said, smiling shyly. "I don't know how I would've handled that if you hadn't been there."

"Hey, no problem!" I assured him. "Anyway, what've you two been doing?

"Just talking," Dan replied, and when I raised a questioning eyebrow, he continued, "I was telling him that God couldn't possibly object to people loving one another and showing that love, even if one boy loves another boy."

"Yeah," James said in a voice tinged with doubt, "showing someone you love them might be okay, but what about having sex?"

"Sex can be one way of showing love," Dan said, then turned to look into my eyes, "but when two people love one another they can show love in lots of different ways. If you love someone you can show it by cooking them a special meal, or phoning them when they're lonely, or sharing pleasure through sex. Then it's called making love, and there's a big difference between making love and having sex."

Understanding what Dan was trying to say, I blushed and kissed him on the cheek, then glanced at James, who looked confused.

"When people say 'making love' it's just a polite way of saying 'having sex'," James said defensively.

"No," Dan countered, "making love is a special way of having sex."

James remained silent, apparently deep in thought as he sat with his body rigid and not quite touching Dan. I guessed that he was still concerned about the possible sexual implications of physical contact and that this concern was struggling against his yearning for physical affection and cuddles. Gambling that my guess was correct, I got up and moved to sit next to James, then put my arms around him and squeezed gently. At first his body remained unresponsive, then he melted against me.

I looked up at Dan, who smiled his approval at me and rested his hand on James' shoulder. We stayed like that for several minutes, and for a while James was so still and limp that I thought he might have fallen asleep. Then James sighed, sat upright and gave me his special smile.

"This is really very comfy," he said, "but I'm dying for a pee!"

We released James from our embrace, and after he got up and left the room, Dan wriggled closer to me, pulled me toward him and kissed me deeply. Instinctively I returned his kiss, and without thought I allowed myself to fall backwards onto the bed, pulling him with me. The sound of James clearing his throat brought me back to reality, and I looked up to see him sitting on the other bed, looking at us with an embarrassed expression.

"Sorry, James!" I said, sitting up and blushing.

"No need to apologise," he said with a little smile. "It's your room and it looks like you two really love one another."

"We do," Dan said with a cheesy grin as he sat up and put an arm around my waist.

James' smile faded into a sad and wistful expression, which made me think about his feelings for John.

"Erm, James," I said hesitantly, "are you still in love with John?"

He nodded 'yes' and blushed.

"And you don't think it's just, er, brotherly love?" I asked.

"Nnno, I don't think so," he replied, then after a couple of seconds of thought he added, "no, definitely not. Brotherly love is how I feel about you and Mike, but it's different with John."

"Well, before I fell in love with Dan, I thought I was in love with another boy, but later I realised that it wasn't the real thing."

"Are you saying I don't know real love?" James asked with a hint of anger.

"No," I said soothingly. "I'm saying that until a few weeks ago I didn't know what being in love was really like."

"Well, I do," he said with a frown.

"You do know that he's not gay, don't you?" I said as kindly as possible. "He loves you like a brother, but he's not even bi, so he can't ever return your feelings."

"I know," he replied very quietly, with deep sadness in his eyes, "but what can I do?"

"All you can do," Dan said, "is allow you heart to accept what your brain knows, then get on with your life until you find someone who can return your love."

"Ha!" James said bitterly. "Easy for you to say!"

"Yeah, I know it's easy to say," Dan replied with a sigh, "and I also know it's not easy to do."

"But remember," I said, "we're here for you, and we'll help and support you however we can. We may not be related by blood, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm your brother."

"Yes," Dan added, "and if you'll have me, I'll be your brother as well."

James nodded 'yes' and smiled, and I guessed from the tears beginning to brim in his eyes that he was too emotional to speak, and for a few minutes we all sat in silence.

"Ya know, James." I said eventually, "when we were coming home from Alton Towers and when I talked to you in the den, you seemed to think that being gay is something terrible. D'ya still think that?"

"It seems okay for you and Dan," he replied hesitantly after a long pause for thought, "but I wish I fancied just girls and that I was in love with a girl. It's awful loving someone who can't love me."

"But even if you were in love with a girl," Dan said reasonably, "there's no guarantee she'd love you, so you could be just as unhappy as you are now."

"I s'pose," James responded without conviction, "but if I loved a girl I could at least tell her how I felt."

"Mmmm," I said doubtfully, "I'm not sure that would always be true, but I see what you mean. Would you feel better if you could tell John how you felt?"


"Hey, that's okay," I said soothingly. "I was just asking. Of course Dan and I won't tell him anything, but what if he finds out anyway? After all, he's already asked if you're gay, and he's going to know for sure soon that you're bi."

"Yeah, I'll have to tell him that at least," James said nervously. "And Mike as well, as soon I as I get the chance, but that doesn't mean he'll guess how I feel about him."

"Maybe," I said, "but John's pretty bright, and once you tell him you like boys he's going to ask who you fancy, and probably if you're in love. If you lie he might see through it, and if you don't answer, he might wonder why. He wants to be best friends like you were before, so it might be difficult to hide things from him without pushing him away. And it will hurt him if you push him away."

"But he'll hate me if he knows how I feel about him," James said miserably.

"No he won't!" I protested. "You thought he'd hate you for being gay, and you were wrong about that as well. I've known John all his life, so you can trust me when I tell you that the worst that will happen is that you might both feel uncomfortable for awhile, but you'll get over that."

"Well, I still can't tell him. I just couldn't."

"Okay," I said, "but how about if he asks you a question like if you're in love, will you tell him the truth?"

"Dunno," James replied uncertainly after pausing for thought. "Maybe. I'd have to think about it."

"If John knows how you feel about him," Dan said, "maybe it will help you to accept that you need to look elsewhere for love. And speaking of looking elsewhere, as you fancy both boys and girls, the next time you fall in love might be with a girl."

"At the moment," James said mournfully, "I don't really care, cos I don't want to fall in love with anyone. It hurts too much."

"It doesn't always hurt!" Dan said, looking at me and grinning.

"Anyway," I said, "whether you want to fall in love or not, you need to get on with your life, and meeting some new people will help. It's amazing how meeting just one or two people can open up whole new possibilities and all sorts of new connections. For example, John met Marie because I know her brother, and you know Dan because I met him at the GLYG."

"Glig?" asked James, pronouncing it as I had done.

Dan and I smiled at the puzzled expression on James' face.

"Sorry," I said. "G. L. Y. G. It's the Gay and Lesbian Youth Group. They have meetings on Wednesday evenings, and that's where I met Dan. That's also where I first spoke to Rob."

"Hey!" Dan exclaimed, looking at James. "Maybe next week we could all go to a meeting together? I mean, you already know how to meet other straight people, so this way you'll get to meet gay and bi people as well."

"I already said I don't want to fall in love with anyone else," James said with a frown of irritation.

"You can just go to make new friends and see that there are lots of other non-straight teens in town. If you go along you'll see that you're not alone and you don't need to feel isolated."

"I know I'm not alone now," James replied. "I've got you, Paul, John, and Mike as my friends, and you two are gay, so I don't feel isolated."

"Still," Dan persisted, "it never does any harm to have more friends. Anyway, in just over a year from now, Paul and I will be going to uni, so it might be nice to have some more gay friends. So, will you go with us?"

James didn't reply, and I was concerned that perhaps Dan had been pushing things too hard. Still, at least James seemed to be thinking about it, so Dan and I gave him a little space for his thoughts. After a few minutes of comfortably relaxing in Dan's arms, I was taken by surprise when he broke the silence.

"It's about time I was getting home," he said quietly and apologetically.

As Dan stood up and began stretching his muscles, I looked at my watch and saw it was after ten o'clock.

"Are you alright?" I asked James.

"Yes thanks, but I'm feeling knackered. I think I'll get something to drink, then have an early night."

The three of us went downstairs, and while James went to get a drink, Dan said his farewells to my parents. By the time we got to Dan's house, we had time only for a quick snog in the car before I had to go back home, where I found that James had already gone to bed. I chatted to Mum and Dad for a couple of minutes, then went to bed and quickly fell into an exhausted sleep.

The next evening, John and I got home from school to find Mike was sitting at our kitchen table drinking a Coke. In response to my enquiry he told us that James was upstairs having a shower and getting changed out of his school clothes.

"James told me he had a long talk with you and Dan last night," Mike said.

"Yeah, James seems to get on well with Dan," I replied.

"Well, whatever you said to James, it seems to have done a lot of good. Walking to school and back today, he seemed to be almost his old self."

"Why is it everyone, even Dan, seems to be getting on with James better than me?" John asked, sounding rather irritated.

"Well, you were out. And anyway, Dan gets on with everyone," I said to placate him.

"And I go to school with him," added Mike.

John was still frowning and looking generally unhappy, so I decided to change the subject.

"Have fun last night?" I teased Mike, flashing him my most salacious grin.

"Yes, thanks," he replied, smiling enigmatically.

"Hey, tell us more!" John said, sensing potential gossip.

"Why not tell us about your evening with Marie?" Mike countered, matching John's grin, "Did you get up to anything?"

"Ha! Chance'd be a fine thing," John retorted. "Her parents hardly leave us alone. We can't close the door if I go to her room, and if we stay downstairs, Rob keeps appearing and making a nuisance of himself. The only chance we get to have a good snog is when we go to the movies, and that costs money."

"Aw, didums," I teased.

"Don't you start!" John snapped, angry and frowning. "It's not fair. They let you be alone with Rob, and now you can even spend the night with Dan."

I could see he was frustrated and annoyed, and I detected a hint of jealousy.

"Well, maybe when you're sixteen..." I began, trying to defuse the situation.

"Marie's parents probably won't leave us alone even when we're eighteen," John interrupted with a snort.

"Will you still be together that long?" Mike asked, trying to make a joke of it.

"Just because you can't keep your girlfriends doesn't mean I'm going to break up with mine!" John shouted, and stormed off upstairs.

"What was all that about?" Mike asked, raising his eyebrows at me.

Seeing the hurt in his eyes and guessing he was thinking about Sue, I knew that I should say something, but I wasn't sure exactly what I could say, so I just shrugged, sighed, and gave the matter some thought.

"Well, apart from the fact he can't be alone with Marie," I said eventually, "I think he's feeling left out because James has been talking to Dan and me more than to him."

"Yeah, I was wondering about that as well, cos it looks like you've become James' best friend in the last few days. D'ya think that's got John upset?"

"Probably," I replied with a sigh. "Before his mum died, John was closer to James than anyone, and I think John is just now realising how much he's been missing that closeness over the last couple of years."

For a few minutes we sat in silence, each lost in our own thoughts and toying with our drinks. I hated the tense atmosphere that had developed between John and me over the last couple of days and I wanted to make things better. Neither John nor Mike knew about James' sexuality or why his dad had thrown him out, and I thought the sooner they found out the better it would be for everyone.

"You don't have to rush off, do you?" I asked.

"No, why?"

"Well, if you hang around a few minutes, I hope you'll find out."

I stood up, smiled at a very puzzled Mike, then went upstairs to John's room and tapped on his open door. On hearing a mumbled 'come in', I entered and saw him on his bed, lying on his back with his arm over his eyes. I walked across the room until I was just a couple of inches from the bed.

"You weren't very nice to Mike," I said quietly.

"I was pissed off!" he replied, his voice taut with suppressed emotion.

"He was only teasing, and we've always teased each other. You're annoyed about other things and you took it out on Mike by saying something deliberately hurtful. That's not like you, John. You're a much better person than that."

He didn't say anything and rolled over on his side, facing away from me.

"Look," I continued, "I know Marie's parents are a bit, erm, overprotective, and I know Rob can be a pest when he's teasing her, but there's something else eating at you, isn't there?"

He remained silent and motionless, so I went to sit on the edge of his bed and reached across to grip his shoulder.

"You realise how much you've missed having James around," I continued gently, "and you think I'm stealing away you're best friend."

He turned to look at me with moist eyes, though he wasn't actually crying.

"Not stealing him," he said hoarsely, "but he just seems to prefer you, now."

"That's just how it seems," I said gently, "but when James tells you what he told Mum and Dad last night, you might understand..."

"Yeah, but he still hasn't told me anything," he interrupted me in a sad voice.

"He would've told you last night if you'd been here for dinner, and he'll tell you and Mike now if you go down to the kitchen."

He rolled over and sat up next to me. Then, as I stood up, he gave me a sheepish smile.

"I'm sorry for being a bit of a prat," he said, more than a little embarrassed.

"It's not me you should apologise to," I said with a smile. "Mike would never say so, but you hurt his feelings just now, and you should go down and apologise to him."

He stood up and we both headed toward the door where I bowed and gestured playfully, allowing him to exit before me. I was rewarded by a big grin and a mock salute. John went downstairs and I went to my room, where I found James was sorting through his clothes. His frown was replaced by a relieved expression when he saw me, and I noticed that he was smartly dressed in button-down blue shirt and black trousers.

"Ah, Paul," he said, flashing me his little smile, "I was just coming to look for you. I don't have a decent tie and I wondered if I could borrow one of yours."

"You can borrow anything you like, but what d'ya want a tie for?"

"I want to make a good impression on Dan's dad. After all, he promised to help me, and as he's a lawyer I thought I should look smart."

"You're smart enough without a tie," I said with an encouraging smile. "And he's doing it more as a friend than as a lawyer, so I think a tie would be overdoing it a bit."

"You're sure?" he asked with a small frown.

"Course I'm sure. Anyway, I want to ask you to do something..."

"After all you've done for me recently," he interrupted with a deadly serious expression on his face, "I'd do anything for you, Paul."

"I'm just being a friend, so you shouldn't feel you have to do anything for me," I said and blushed, "but while Mike's here, I wondered if you could tell him and John what you told Mum and Dad last night?"

He frowned and looked uncomfortable, then slowly nodded his head.

"Look," I said, feeling a bit guilty at putting pressure on him, "I know you're going to be going over it all again tonight with Mr Harris, so I'll understand if you don't want to tell John and Mike just now. But you should tell them sooner or later, so just think of this as a practice run for later tonight."

"Okay," he said and took a deep breath. "I'll go down and talk to them."

"Thanks, James, but can you wait just a couple of minutes, cos John needs to talk to Mike first."


"They just need to sort out a little disagreement," I said, responding to his questioning look.

Realising that was all I was prepared to say, he sat on his bed and began polishing his shoes. He appeared to be very nervous, so I went to sit next to him and put an arm over his shoulders.

"Ya know, you've already got the shiniest shoes in the house," I joked. "If you keep on polishing them you'll wear them away."

"I want everything to be just right for when I see Mr Harris."

"He's just your friend's dad," I pointed out with a smile, "so there's no need to be nervous."

He returned my smile and we sat in silence for a few moments, then he raised his head and looked into my eyes.

"Is Dan really my friend?" he asked shyly. "I've only known him a few days, and I wondered if he was being nice to me just because I'm your friend."

"Yes, Dan's nice to all my friends, but I know that he likes you because of the sort of person you are, not just because you're my friend.

After a couple of minutes of comfortable silence, I squeezed his shoulders and stood up.

"Why don't you go down and talk to Mike and John now," I said, "and I'll go for my shower."

"Aren't you coming with me?" he asked with panic in his eyes.

"You talked to my parents last night, and this is only Mike and John. They're two of your closest friends, so you won't need me. Anyway, if I don't go for my shower now we'll be late for dinner."

He sighed, stood up, looked at me as though I was abandoning him, and went downstairs.

Later, from the friendly tone of the animated discussion that I could hear before I even entered the room, I presumed that James' revelations had been well received. I fervently hoped that now John would see why James had confided in me before talking to him. The three of them greeted me with smiles, but we didn't have time to chat because James and I had to leave immediately in order to avoid being late.

"I gather everything went well with Mike and John," I said to James as we fastened our seat belts.

"Yeah," he smiled. "You were right. They don't care about me fancying boys and they said they're glad the Gang of Four is back together. John actually looked happy when I told them, and Mike said he'd punch my dad's face in if he beat me again... ya know, I think he'd really do it."

"Probably," I laughed. "But Dan's dad will fix things, so Mike won't need to do anything."

James was clearly very impressed and a little intimidated by Dan's house, and despite our attempts to engage him in conversation, he hardly said a word throughout dinner. After the meal, Mr Harris led us all to his study, where James recounted his tale, which by now was well rehearsed and flowed smoothly. My boyfriend's affable dad became the businesslike lawyer who listened to the whole story before asking questions and probing for more details. When James talked about being beaten by his father, I noticed that Mr Harris' face flushed and his jaw muscles bulged. Dan's mum also looked angry, but her anger was mixed with sadness.

I was pleased that Mr Harris accepted that James was telling the truth, though I could see James beginning to look uncomfortable when the questions were related to his sexuality. One question that was asked was the name of the firm of accountants that employed James' dad. I hadn't expected the question, and I certainly hadn't expected Mr Harris' response to the answer. He gave a slow smile, which I can only describe as predatory, and I was suddenly glad that he was on our side.

"Right," Mr Harris said at the end of the interrogation, "I think I see several lines of attack."

The use of the word attack, the ferocity in his eyes, and the mirthless smile, sent a shiver down my spine, and I made a note to myself never to get on his wrong side.

"Now, Paul," he continued. "Before I make up a plan of action, I need to speak with your dad. Is he home tonight?"

"Erm, yes," I replied. "At least he didn't say he would be going out."

"Good, then I'll phone him and you boys can go and entertain yourselves for awhile."

After his interrogation, James seemed incapable of further speech, so he just nodded. I smiled and thanked Mr Harris on his behalf, although I wasn't exactly thrilled at being called a 'boy'. While Dan's mum went to make coffee, we three teenagers went up to Dan's room, which impressed James still further.

"Wow!" I said to Dan. "Remind me never to annoy your dad!"

"Yeah," James breathed, "you can say that again."

Dan looked from me to James, then back again with a puzzled expression before he burst out laughing.

"Dad's a big softy, really. We don't often see him in official lawyer-mode when he's at home, but I guess it is impressive."

After a few minutes, during which James examined Dan's computer, TV, and stereo system, Mr Harris came up to see us.

"Well, boys," he said, looking very self-satisfied, "I've talked to Paul's dad and we've agreed on a plan of action. All we need now is James to agree."

Most normal people might have wondered what the plan was, but as my mum often says, I'm a 'strange child'. Instead, I wondered why I found it so irritating when Mr Harris called me 'boy', even though I hardly noticed when my own parents did it. Anyway, my wandering thoughts were brought back by James.

"I'll agree to anything as long as I don't have to live with Dad."

"In that case," Mr Harris said with a smile, "how would you feel if Paul's dad became your legal guardian until you're sixteen?"

"That'd be great!" James said with a grin. His grin dissolved into a frown when he said, "But I doubt that dad will agree. Anyway, it's not fair to expect Paul's family to pay for my food and stuff."

"We're going to be seeing your dad on Friday evening," Dan's dad said with a smile, "and when he signs the guardianship papers we'll get him to sign a standing order for maintenance payments."

"Ha!" James snorted, then blushed. "Sorry, Mr Harris, but I doubt my dad will even talk to you, much less sign any papers."

James looked sad and disappointed, but Mr Harris' smile became a grin, and he looked like the cat that got the canary.

"Oh, I phoned him after I spoke to Paul's dad. Your dad's already agreed to see us," he said triumphantly, "and I'm sure he'll sign the papers."

He paused there, clearly confident of victory and relishing this announcement. The three of us looked at him, Dan with confidence, James with an expression of doubt, and myself with curiosity.

"Though I don't like to boast," Mr Harris continued in a tone that made me doubt the total truth of that assertion, "I'm a senior partner in the biggest law firm in town, and as your dad's employers are the biggest firm of accountants here, we do a lot of business with them. Not only that, your dad's boss is a friend of mine, and we often play golf together."

He paused again, giving us time to guess where this was leading, and considering his earlier anger at James' dad, I supposed he was savouring the moment.

"You were right, though," he said to James, "because when I phoned your dad and told him he has a legal duty to support you, at first he refused to see me, and his words were not at all polite. In fact, he was about to hang up on me when I told him who I am, and then he remembered writing several business letters to me. Then I pointed out that we had evidence and witnesses that he'd beaten you, and that we could get the police report for that night to show that the marks everyone later saw were not on you when the policewoman took you home."

Mr Harris sighed, and shook his head before continuing.

"I'll say this for him, though, he doesn't give up easily, and he claimed he was justified in 'punishing' you as he put it. So I told him that if the possibility of a criminal prosecution and resulting publicity was not enough to make him behave reasonably, then we could easily get a court order to make him pay maintenance. Just in case that wasn't enough to persuade him, I also wondered out loud what his boss would think when I mentioned, during our next game of golf, that he not only beat up his son but that it required a court order to get maintenance. Anyway, that was enough to make him surrender."

"So you're going round on Friday to make him sign the papers?" James asked, smiling and hopeful.

"That had been my original intention, but after I spoke to him I thought it better to make him come to my office. He doesn't deserve the courtesy of a visit, and just in case he wants to be troublesome, being in my office will give us a bigger psychological advantage."

Dan went over and hugged his dad, who looked very pleased with himself, and I thought that if his plan worked out then he certainly deserved his moment of triumph. James appeared to be happy but a little dazed, so I went and gave him a quick hug, and after a little hesitation he returned my embrace.

"Well done, you!" Dan said to his dad, his voice filled with pride.

"One other thing," his dad said, "Paul's dad suggested we try and get in touch with Tim. What do think about that, James?"

"Oh, wow! I'd love to see Tim again, but how do we find him?"

"Unless he's changed his name," Mr Harris said confidently, "the easiest thing will be to look in the telephone directory, and if that doesn't work there are other ways. Just leave it to me."

James' face showed happiness, but I sensed that he still had a twinge of doubt and that he wouldn't allow himself to believe that all was well until all the papers were signed. However, knowing James' background, I supposed that it might be difficult for him to believe that he could have some good fortune for a change.

Dan's dad went back downstairs and left us to come down from our euphoric high. Before we had recovered enough for much sensible speech, Dan's mum called up to remind me it was getting late. As always, I was reluctant to leave Dan, but that night was worse than usual because it had been forty eight hours since we'd last had 'quality time' alone together. James impressed me with his sensitivity and consideration when he said he'd wait for me downstairs, so at least I got a few private minutes with my boyfriend.

The first thing James did when we got home was to thank my dad for agreeing to become his guardian. Dad was embarrassed by the enthusiasm that James showed in expressing his gratitude, but I could tell that both he and Mum were very happy with the arrangement. I'd hoped to talk to John alone before going to bed that night, but there was no convenient opportunity.

Actually, I went to bed before anyone else, in the hope that I'd get the chance for a quick wank before James came upstairs. Ever since my few moments alone with Dan, my cock had not been less than semi-erect, and the anticipation of a wank made it as hard as a rock before I even finished brushing my teeth. When I got into bed I pushed off my boxers and had just begun to pull my foreskin backwards and forwards when James came in to the room. Even though the lights were off and I was under the bedclothes so he couldnt see anything, I stopped my wanking and moved on to plan B. My plan B, to wait until he went to sleep before starting again, also failed because I fell asleep before he did.

Sometime during the night I woke up with a start, and as my senses began to return, I heard moans and small whimpering cries. Looking over toward James' bed, I could only see the vague outline of his body in the darkness. If he was moving at all, I couldn't see it, but the noises got louder and seemed full of fear. Concerned for James, I quietly called out his name but it had no effect, and not wanting my family to be woken up, I got out of bed and went to look at him.

Standing at his bedside, I could see him lying on his back, his head making little twitching movements, and whimpering sounds escaping from his slack lips. I kneeled down and gently stroked his head, strangely delighted by the soft velvet texture, then I spoke his name quietly four or five times. He slowly came out of his nightmare but wasn't fully awake, and a few times I heard him whisper something that sounded like 'sorry, mum'.

After a few moments, I thought he was sleeping peacefully, so I stopped my stroking and was starting to stand up when he turned his head toward me.

"Don't go," he whispered.

"I thought you were asleep," I whispered back.

"I had a nightmare."

"I know. Are you alright now?"

"Mum used stroke my head after a nightmare," he said, ignoring my question, "and when I woke up and felt that again..."

His voice trailed off but I guessed what he was going to say.

"Are you alright?" I repeated.

"Yes, I won't cry."

"You can if you want," I said, wondering why he made that statement.

"My dad says men don't cry."

"You shouldn't believe what he says," I said, then in a lighter tone I added, "And anyway, you're not quite old enough to be a man."

He didn't respond, and I was getting uncomfortable in my kneeling position, so I started to stand up again, using my hands on the side of his bed to push myself up. When I reached a half-crouched position he grabbed my wrist.

"Please, don't go yet," he pleaded.

"It's a bit uncomfortable like this," I said in a joking tone.

"You can get on the bed," he suggested plaintively.

As I sat on the edge of his bed, I suddenly realised that in my sleepy state I hadn't put my boxers back on and I was totally naked. Fortunately, my cock was completely soft, but I still hoped he wouldn't notice my nudity.

"Mum used to stroke my hair till I went back to sleep," he said almost inaudibly.

I smiled, thinking to myself, 'Okay, I can take the hint!', and began stroking his head again. He was lying on his back with his hands resting on his stomach outside the bedclothes, and as he relaxed toward sleep, his hand slipped down onto my naked thigh. I froze, as did his hand, and I heard him breath in sharply as he returned to full consciousness.

Instead of pulling his hand away as I'd expected, he allowed it to fall further until it came to rest in my crotch, and at his touch my cock began to swell rapidly. His fingers lightly skimmed over and explored my genitals for just a couple of seconds, and my cock became rock hard. I was paralysed, wanting to move away, but held there by the lack of sexual release that had built up inside me during the previous two days. In the space of one breath, he grasped and squeezed my cock, then took his hand away and put it back on his stomach.

"It's okay, Paul," he said softly but with certainty, "I know you wouldn't want to do anything with me."


That was the only sound I could force through my constricted throat, partly because I wasn't quite as certain as he seemed to be.

"I know you love Dan. I've seen you together, so I know you're not interested in anyone but him. And I'm sorry, I shouldn't have touched you, erm, there, but I just was curious and you seemed so, erm, safe."

Although I wasn't sure exactly what he was curious about, I didn't really feel like asking him. I stood up and moved to my own bed, then cleared my throat to make sure my voice was working before I tried to speak.

"I thought you believed that, well, that sort of sexual contact was wrong," I said, giving it the intonation of a question.

There was a long pause before he answered, during which I climbed into bed.

"I've seen you and Dan," he said slowly and thoughtfully, "and I've seen how both your families and Mike treat you. I've seen more love here in the last three days than I've seen at home since Mum died. All my life I've heard my dad say hateful things about those he calls sinners, and if I have to choose between the love I see from those he believes to be sinners and the hatred Ive seen from people like him, then I'll go with the sinners. Mum never stopped loving Tim, even though Dad said he was a sinner, so I think Mum would still love me even though I love a boy. So, touching someone you love like that can't be such a bad sin, can it?"

As he spoke, my eyes grew moist and I was surprised how much he'd changed in just three days. This James was a very different person from the one I found in the den, and I hoped that he would continue to recover from the effects of living with his father.

"Touching someone you love can never be a sin if they want to be touched," I said as I snuggled down into my bed.

"I love you, Paul," he said after a few seconds, "just... just not like the way I love John."

There was silence for a few minutes, and as I relaxed a thought crossed my mind and escaped from my lips.

"Loving Dan the way I do would have stopped me doing anything with you," I whispered, "but it didn't stop me wanting to."

There was no response, and I don't know if he heard me, so I drifted off into sleep.

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