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Not Always Easy

by Kit

Chapter 22 - Concern For A Friend

Dan and I had intended to have a leisurely lie-in on the morning after James' birthday dinner, but the noise of the three extra houseguests getting up woke us before nine o'clock. However, we managed to grab a few minutes snuggling and kissing before there was a knock on the bedroom door. When Dan shouted out 'come in', James and John entered, each carrying two mugs of tea, and in response to their cheery greeting I just mumbled a slightly grumpy 'good morning'. As they both knew what I'm like in the mornings, neither James nor John was insulted by my lack of enthusiasm.

Having handed mugs to Dan and me, they perched on either side of the bed and started sipping their own tea. James appeared to be a little self-conscious, but John seemed very comfortable sitting on the edge of the bed in which his big brother was cuddled up to another boy.

"What time are you lazy sods getting up?" John asked cheekily. "We've already had our breakfast."

"Is there any hurry?" Dan responded.

"Well, we want to get home for a shower," James said with a shy grin, "cos we don't have any clean clothes here."

"And James wants to get his new toy home so he can try it out!" John added, grinning slyly at James.

"Yeah, well, that, too," James muttered, looking sheepish.

During all this I remained silently sipping my tea, sitting up just enough to avoid choking as I swallowed. As my mind was still emerging from sleep, it took me a couple of minutes to realise that the other three were all looking at me.

"What?" I grunted.

"You promised to drive us home this morning," John said patiently, knowing very well that I don't usually wake up fully until my second cup of tea.

"Can't my mum and dad give you a ride on their way to the shops?" Dan asked reasonably.

"They already left while we were having breakfast," John said. "Anyway, Paul did promise."

"Well, we're not getting up while you two are here!" I said grumpily.

"Why not?" John asked with a cheeky grin. "I know you're naked, but it's nothing I haven't seen before."

"You've not seen mine before!" Dan quipped.

James blushed and giggled, amused and a little embarrassed by the banter.

"Anyway," John said as he stood up, "if you don't hurry up and come down for breakfast Mike will have finished off all the bread."

"We have to shower first," Dan said as James got up and walked toward the door.

"Not together I hope!" John said with a smirk.

"None of your bloody business!" I countered with a smile, just beginning to wake up.

"We know it takes you forever when you shower together," John said pointedly, "so at least for this morning it is our business"

By this time, James had reached the door, and when he turned round to speak I could see he was blushing even more than before.

"Don't hurry just for me," he said with a shy smile before leaving the room.

"No," John added with a grin, "but you can hurry up for me!"

"Bugger off!" I retorted, pretending to be annoyed.

"Well, as long as you two don't 'bugger off'," John retorted, always keen to have the last word, "or we'll be here all day!"

With that, he left the room, neglecting to close the door behind him.

Despite John's admonishment, Dan and I did have our shower together, but we were relatively fast and just wanked one another off with our soapy hands. Then, without bothering with breakfast, I gave Dan a quick goodbye kiss and took the others home.

During the afternoon I found time to phone Rob to check that he and Tony were still going to the party, and he confirmed that they were. Maybe I was just feeling spooked that Tony looked so much like Rob's dead brother, but for whatever reason, I definitely wasn't looking forward to seeing him again. I also found time to go over to Mike's house and have a few private words with James while John and Mike were otherwise occupied. James was alone in the house and listening to his new stereo system, so I had to ring the doorbell a few times before he heard me. He was very pleased to see me, and he immediately dragged me up to his room so that he could show me the finer details of his new toy. It was great to see him so happy and enthusiastic, and I marvelled at how quickly his outlook on life had changed in just a couple of weeks.

"You and John seem to be okay now," I said tentatively when he'd finally run out of things to demonstrate.

"Erm, yeah, I s'pose it's alright," he replied, not seeming very sure.

"Is there still a problem, then?"

"Not really a problem," he said with a slight frown, "just that things don't seem as, erm, relaxed as they were before, as if we're always being careful not to upset one another."

"Still," I said, trying to sound as positive as possible, "at least you're both trying to get back to where you were, and I'm sure that you'll soon be just as comfortable as you were before."

"Yeah," he said with a more cheerful expression, "and at least I've got you to talk to as well."

"Course you have," I replied, feeling a bit embarrassed. "You can talk to me anytime, about anything."

We listened to a couple of his favourite CD tracks and chatted for a few more minutes before I went home to start getting ready for the party. In order to help with preparations, I'd arranged with Dan to arrive a couple of hours before the party started, so I gave James, John, and Mike the choice of going with me or begging a ride off my parents before they went out for their dinner. All three of them decided to come with me, and with their help we had all the preparations completed about an hour before the party was due to start.

As we had plenty of time to spare, John and James took up Dan's invitation to play games on his computer, while the rest of us, including Dan's parents, sat in the large rear garden and enjoyed the warm summer evening. I'd always liked Dan's mum, but I'd felt a little intimidated the first few times I'd spoken to his dad. However, more recently I'd grown much more comfortable with both his parents, and now I found it easy to chat with them. Despite that growing ease and the fact that his dad had told me I could address him by his first name, in my mind he remained either 'Mr Harris' or 'Dan's dad'. Mike, as usual, never seemed intimidated by anyone and always found it easy to make conversation, even with complete strangers.

"Well, Paul," Dan's dad said, "in a couple of weeks we'll be just settling into the cottage in Scotland. I hope you're looking forward to the holiday as much as we are."

"Yes," I replied with a grin, "it sounds like a great place."

"There's lots of beautiful countryside and historic places nearby, so even a town boy like Dan finds plenty to do," said Mr Harris, who'd apparently been concerned that I might become bored.

"And with you there as well," Dan's mum said, looking at me, "Dan will have even more to do."

Before I could react to that in any way, Mike started choking on his Coke, and as he recovered he flashed me an evil grin. At the same time I noticed Dan's face turn bright red, and only then did I realise how someone with Mike's mind might interpret what Dan's mum had just said. Both his parents stared at Mike, first with a bemused expression and then with the strained expression that people adopt when they are trying to suppress a smile.

"What are your holiday plans, Mike?" Mr Harris asked quickly, trying to distract us.

"Oh, erm," Mike said, clearing his throat and trying to look serious, "Mum and I are going to Ibiza for a week."

"Some Mediterranean sunshine, then," Dan's mum said pleasantly, "so no doubt you'll come back with a nice tan."

"Maybe an all-over tan!" I quipped, temporarily forgetting the adults.

"Maybe," Mike said with a smile and without even a hint of a blush.

"Which week are you going?" Mr Harris asked politely, ignoring his son's giggles.

"It'll be the second week that you're away."

"So the first week, with Paul's family on holiday as well," Dan's mum said, "I suppose you might get a bit lonely."

"Oh, he's got lots of other friends besides us!" I chipped in, thinking she was getting a bit too solicitous.

"And Sally's not going away that week," Mike added quietly with a grin.

After a few seconds of silence, Mr Harris re-opened the conversation by bringing up the subjects of school and possible careers, and for the sake of politeness we tried to seem interested. As soon as he could do so without seeming rude, Dan suggested that we refill our drinks and go upstairs to see what John and James were doing. When we got to Dan's room, the two boys had finished playing on the computer and were just sitting there laughing at something. Before we could ask how their game had gone or what was so funny, the doorbell rang and the first guests arrived, signalling the start of the party.

The first to arrive were Steve and Claire, and as the latter had never met James, Dan introduced them and pointed out that James was the guest of honour. Poor James, who was quite shy with girls, blushed deeply and almost fainted when Claire gave him a hug and kissed him on the cheek. By the time the first arrivals had been given drinks and had greeted Dan's parents, Sally had arrived, brought by her parents. Soon after that, other guests began arriving and the party was soon in full swing.

Among the last to arrive was the Streeter family, accompanied by Tony. As soon as John saw Marie, he went over, grasped her hand and led her towards the kitchen to get her a drink. As host, Dan went into the hall to greet the new arrivals, but I just hovered by the living room door and watched him say a few words to them. Mr Streeter said something I couldn't hear to Tony and Rob, neither of whom looked particularly happy or comfortable. Then he and his wife went to find Mr and Mrs Harris in the garden.

During all of this, Rob had been giving me the occasional shy smile, and Tony seemed to be studiously avoiding looking at me at all. Rob, looking a little sheepish, moved closer to me so that we could speak.

"Hiya, Paul. Why didn't ya come over and say hello with Dan?"

"Oh, I just thought that the hallway was getting a bit crowded," I answered unconvincingly.

"Tony says you don't like him," he stated baldly

"Er, whatever makes him think that?" I asked, shocked by his directness. "I've only met him once and we hardly spoke at all."

For a few seconds, we stood in an uncomfortable silence as he gave me a hard and doubting look.

"Well, I can't talk about it now," he said finally. "I've got to get us some drinks and take Tony to talk with Mum and Dad."

He grimaced as he mentioned talking with his parents, then he went off to the kitchen, emerging a minute or so later with a drink in each hand. He went over to where Dan was still talking to Tony, and as they both disappeared into the garden, I wondered if Rob's parents had noticed the resemblance between Tony and Chris.

"You seemed to be chatting to Tony quite a bit," I said when Dan joined me.

"Don't tell me you're jealous!" he teased.

"No," I replied with a chuckle. "It's just that on Wednesday you said that he made you uncomfortable."

"Yeah, he still does, but I was trying to see if his intentions toward Rob were, erm, honourable."

"And are they?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.

"No idea," he said, shaking his head. "He was very evasive and said as little as possible."

I was concerned, though not surprised, by what I'd just heard, but realising that there wasn't much we could do, I suggested we go and see how the guest of honour was getting on.

It was several minutes later when I noticed Tony and Rob come back inside the house and go to the kitchen, so I assumed that Rob's parents had been carrying out the usual interrogation of their children's friends. I wondered if Tony had been less evasive with them than he had been with Dan. Then Rob and Tony carried some drinks outside, presumably for his parents, who I guessed had decided to stay until the party ended. Shortly after that, Dan and I went to ask his parents if it was okay for us to let the guests start on the sumptuous spread of snack foods that Dan had lovingly prepared. Mr and Mrs Harris were chatting merrily with Rob's parents, and of the four of them I think that Mr Streeter was the only one who was completely sober.

There was no sign of Rob or Tony, and Dan's mum told us they'd gone to look round the garden. As it was getting quite dark, that implied to me that they would be engaged in something other than a closer examination of the vegetation. In any case, they'd disappeared into the dark recesses of the very large garden, and no one volunteered to go and find them to tell them that the food was being served up.

As host, Dan moved around among the guests and made sure they had sufficient food and drink, and for the most part I stayed with him. James appeared to enjoy being guest of honour, but I think he was a little embarrassed by all the attention, so most of the time he stayed quite close to me. Claire and Sally got on so well together that on one occasion when I was chatting to Mike, they suggested to their boyfriends that the four of them go out on a double date. For most of the evening, Dan's and Rob's parents stayed in the rear garden, just coming into the house occasionally for drinks or snacks and to keep a discreet eye on the proceedings. Rob and Tony made a brief appearance inside the house, just in time to ensure that they got some food, and a little later I saw them talking to Mr Streeter, who didn't look very happy. After that, I didn't see them again for the rest of the night. I later found out that Rob had persuaded his dad to allow him to get a taxi into town and then spend the night with Tony.

A little after midnight, as the party wound down, Sally's parents came to collect her and Mike got a ride home with them, then Steve called a taxi to take Claire home. John and James got a lift home with Marie and her parents, who were the last to leave. Eventually there was just Dan, his parents, and myself, so we cleared away the leftover food and drinks, did a little tidying up, and went to bed.

After a long slow lovemaking, we ended up in a sixty-nine position with me on top, and with Dan's finger internally massaging my prostate, I had one of the longest and most intense orgasms of my life. Then I turned round, licked what remained around his lips, and gave him a deep kiss. After gazing silently into his beautiful brown eyes for a few seconds, I scooted down and gave him the longest and most pleasurable blowjob that I could manage. My efforts were rewarded by his wriggles and moans of pleasure. A few minutes later his body stiffened and he whimpered as he shot his load. We snuggled up in our post-orgasmic glow, and as I drifted off to sleep wrapped in his arms, I was so happy and relaxed that had I been a cat, I'm sure I would have been purring.

We slept in quite late the next morning, and when we got down to breakfast just before noon, we felt guilty that Dan's parents had already cleaned up after the party. They didn't seem to mind, though, probably because there hadn't been much of a mess and the four of us had cleaned up much of it before going to bed. After breakfast we phoned Steve and Mike to see if they wanted to go cycling, but they both had other arrangements. so Dan and I went alone. Before we went out I tried to phone Rob, but his mobile was switched off.

As I'd not seen much of my parents since Friday night, and life had been quite hectic, I thought it would be nice to spend the evening quietly at home with my family. I also wanted to talk privately to John to see if he'd picked up any inside information from Marie about Tony and the Streeters. Dan also had some things to do at home, so we decided to spend the night apart with our respective families. When I arrived home in the early evening, I ate a light meal with John and my parents, and during the meal John mentioned the fact that Marie had phoned him that afternoon, but he didn't say whether or not she had mentioned Rob or Tony. After we'd eaten, John went up to his room, and a little later I went to join him.

"Did Marie mention anything about Rob and Tony?" I asked as soon as he invited me into his room.

"Like what?" he asked with a slight frown as he paused his computer game.

"Like what her parents think of Tony, what time Rob got home, or anything at all, really."

"Why're you so interested in Rob's love life?" he asked, looking slightly puzzled, then he smiled and joked. "You're not getting bored of Dan already, are ya?"

"Course not!" I said, blushing. "It's just that I'm worried that Rob may get hurt."

"You don't trust Tony, then?" he asked shrewdly.

"I don't know," I replied evasively, "but he is older and he's going to be going back to Brighton soon."

"Well, Marie doesn't like Tony, either."

"I didn't say I don't like him!" I protested.

"You don't need to," he said with a self-satisfied smile, "cos I know you so well, and you're not very good at hiding things like that."

"Anyway," I said, blushing even more deeply and trying to shift the conversation, "why doesn't she like him?"

"Oh, lots of reasons!" he laughed, "but mostly because she thinks he's arrogant."

"And did she say what her parents think about Tony?"

"Actually, she did," he replied and sighed. "She talked about Tony quite a bit and seemed almost as concerned about Rob as you are. So what am I missing here? Tony doesn't seem all that bad to me."

"I don't know if he's bad or not, but I'm not sure he's right for Rob. Anyway, what do her parents think about Tony?"

"Marie says they seem neutral, but she thinks they may just be pretending. She does know that they think Tony is making Rob happy, and they don't want to spoil that."

We looked at one another in silence for a few seconds, and I could tell that he was considering saying something more, so I waited for him to decide.

"Ya know," he said, his lips curving into a little smile, "Rob's parents thought you'd had such a good effect on him getting over his brother that at one time they hoped you and Rob would be more than just friends."

"Yeah, I'd sort of guessed that," I replied with a slightly sad smile, "but now I'm with Dan."

"And don't we know it!" he said cheekily, raising his eyes to heaven.

"Anyway," I said, ignoring his teasing, "what time did Rob get home? Is he okay?"

"Apparently he arrived home just before lunch and went straight to his room, saying he was too tired to eat, but Marie said he seemed quite happy."

"That's alright, then," I said, trying to sound relieved, though in reality I was still worried. "In that case I'll go and try phoning him."

He smiled, nodded his head, and turned back to his computer, so I went to my own room and hit the speed-dial on my phone. The number was busy, and I guessed Rob was talking to Tony, so I decided to call Dan instead.

"Hiya, gorgeous," he greeted me.

No matter how often he said that, it still made me blush, and for the umpteenth time it made me wonder what he could find attractive in someone as ordinary as me.

"Hi beautiful," I replied with total sincerity.

"I was just going to call you."

"Well, great minds think alike!" I quipped lightly.

"No we don't," he laughed, "cos I'm always thinking of you, and I'm sure that you're not always thinking of yourself."

I know that I should have responded with something equally complimentary and witty, but I was so overwhelmed with my feelings for him that I couldn't think of anything to say.

"Are you okay?" he asked, breaking the silence.

"Erm, y-yeah," I stuttered. "I'm just a bit concerned about Rob."

"Have you talked to him since you got home?"

"No, I've not been able to get through to him, but I heard that he got home okay."

"That's alright, then, isn't it?"

"I s'pose so," I replied uncertainly.

"Anyway," he added cheerily, "I've got some good news!"

"Oh?" I asked absently, still a little distracted by my concern for Rob.

"Well, don't sound so enthusiastic!" he chided.

"Okay," I laughed, putting Rob out of my mind. "What's this great news?"

"Dad's got a meeting in London on Friday, and Mum's taking the day off to go with him. Then they're going to stay down there for a romantic weekend."

"Er, good for them," I said, wondering why that was such wonderful news.

"Ya don't get it, do ya?" he asked with amused exasperation. "We get the house to ourselves next weekend, so we can have a romantic weekend as well!"

"Ah, I see!" I said as light dawned in my befuddled brain.

"They're leaving early Friday morning and not coming back until Sunday night. So if you stay over on Thursday night we can wake up together with the house all to ourselves."

His voice had the gleeful and expectant tone of a child discussing the imminent approach of Christmas, and his happy mood quickly spread to me as well.

"So lots of showers then!" I said suggestively.

"Why? Are you planning on getting dirty?" he joked.

"Only if you are!" I responded, and we both giggled like naughty little boys.

As our conversation continued, I marvelled at how quickly he could raise my spirits and how easily he brought out the 'little kid' in me.

When we finished talking and planning our weekend, I found it even more difficult than usual to end our conversation. Eventually, we both managed to say goodbye, and I hung up. Then I tried phoning Rob again, but this time his phone must have been switched off, so I just left a brief voice mail message. As it was getting late and I was tired, I went to say goodnight to John and my parents. While I was speaking to Mum and Dad, I asked if they would mind me spending the whole of next weekend at Dan's house. As expected, they didn't object, and I went to bed in a very happy mood. Before drifting off to sleep I thought about how much I was looking forward to a weekend alone with Dan. Then, with a sudden and complete certainty, I not only made a decision but I also formed a definite plan.

The next morning was unusual for me because I was up before nine o'clock on a school holiday and it took only one mug of tea to bring me to full consciousness. Despite John's teasing and making fun of my early appearance for breakfast, I remained in a very happy mood. After breakfast I sent an email ordering certain necessary mail order items, and by ten o'clock I was in the centre of town. However, as I walked around looking into the windows of several jewellery shops my euphoria began to fade a little.

My original intention was to look for something silver, but nothing I saw seemed quite right, so I ended up going inside the shops to ask for what I wanted. At first nothing they showed me seemed adequate, then I saw a couple of items in white gold that were just what I wanted. However, they were expensive, and if I bought one of them it would use up all the money I'd saved for my holiday. So, with a sigh, I decided it was time for me to go to meet Dan for lunch at his house.

As usual, as soon as I entered the house, Dan gave me a big hug and a kiss. Then he looked into my eyes and somehow immediately knew I had something on my mind.

"What's up?" he asked as he studied my face. "Still worried about Rob?"

"The only thing that's up is nothing to do with Rob," I replied with a smirk.

Although I was both happy and aroused to be with Dan again after almost a whole day apart, I was also feeling a little guilty that I hadn't given Rob a single thought since I'd gone to bed the previous night. My guilt was soon forgotten, though, when Dan kissed me briefly again and gently brushed his hand against my crotch.

"I see what you mean," he said with a smile as he looked into my eyes, "but I still think you had something on your mind apart from your little stiffy."

"It's no littler than yours!" I responded with a playful pout.

"Ya know what I mean!" he grinned, taking my hand and leading me toward the kitchen. "But you can tell me all about it while we eat lunch."

As soon as we finished lunch he returned to the subject that I'd hoped he'd forgotten.

"C'mon then, now that you've been fed you can tell me why you looked so distracted when you arrived."

"Oh, that," I said, thinking quickly. "I was just thinking about getting you all to myself for a whole weekend."

Well, it wasn't a lie, even if it wasn't all of the truth, and he apparently accepted it at face value.

"Yes, but what exactly were you thinking about?" he asked, with a cheeky smile. "After all, you have me all to yourself for the rest of the afternoon!"

Again he managed to bring out the little kid in me, and knowing exactly what he had in mind, I blushed and giggled.

"You have a one-track mind!" I said, suppressing my giggles. "And it's all dirt track. But apart from that, I was thinking that as you always cook for both of us, maybe I'd cook us a romantic dinner on Friday."

That was, indeed, part of what I was planning for Friday, but it wasn't all that I had in mind. For a moment he looked at me as if he was reading my thoughts, and I began to feel uncomfortable.

"And?" he asked.

"And the rest is a surprise," I said, feeling just a little peeved at not being able to keep my thoughts secret. "But now it won't be such a big surprise, will it?"

He laughed quietly, stood up and moved behind where I was sitting. Then he put his hands on my shoulders and squeezed before leaning over to kiss my ear.

"No matter how big or little the surprise," he whispered, "I'm sure I'll love it."

I turned to kiss him, then stood up, and we made our way upstairs to his bedroom, where we made slow and gentle love. Afterwards, we lay wrapped in one another's arms for some time before he spoke.

"You staying here tonight or shall I come over to your place?"

"I'll stay over here, if that's okay," I replied, "but I need to talk with Mum and Dad, so I'll go home for dinner and come back later tonight."

"Talk to your mum and dad?" he asked, slightly worried. "There's nothing wrong, is there?"

"Just because I talk to my parents doesn't mean there's anything wrong!" I laughed and kissed him on the nose. "If you must know, it may have something to do with the surprise I have in mind."

"Just may have something to do with it?" he asked, clearly intrigued.

"Look," I said as I poked him in the ribs with my finger, "I'm not going to tell you any more, but if you keep probing me then I'll cancel the surprise."

"Probing you, eh?" he said suggestively. "You didn't object to me 'probing' you a few minutes ago, even when I used two fingers!"

Remembering the pleasure of his fingers inside me, I blushed, and we both dissolved into yet another a fit of giggles.

"If my mummy knew what a rude boy you were," I said in my little-boy voice, "she wouldn't let me play with you anymore."

Dinner that evening was a smaller affair than usual; Mike and James had gone out to eat with Mike's mum, so there were just my parents, John, and myself. Immediately after dinner, John went upstairs and started getting ready to go out to see a movie with Marie, so I took the opportunity and followed my parents into the living room. Of course, Mum could tell that I had something on my mind, so she questioned me as soon as we sat down with our cups of tea.

"So," she said teasingly with a little smile, "to what do we owe the pleasure of your company this evening? You've not had an argument with Dan, have you?"

"No," I said, turning red. "Things are great with Dan. I just wanted to have a chat with you."

"Oh?" Dad said, joining the conversation. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing's the matter!" I said, suppressing my irritation. "Can't I just sit and chat with my parents?"

"Of course you can, dear," she said soothingly, "but you didn't have much to say during dinner, and you usually have much more interesting things to do than chatting to us."

I felt a little guilty, not only because I did indeed have an ulterior motive for wanting to talk to them, but also because I'd really not spent much 'quality' time with them over the last couple of months. I decided that the best thing to do was to be totally open with them.

"Actually," I said, "I have a favour to ask."

They sat in silence and looked expectantly at me, so I continued.

"Er, I wonder if you could lend me some money?" I blurted out so quickly that the words ran into one another.

"What for?" Mum asked. "I thought you said you'd saved up enough for your holiday."

"How much, and how will you pay it back?" Dad added before I could answer her.

"I'm pretty sure I have enough for the holiday," I said, beginning to wonder if I was going to regret starting this conversation, "but I need some money to buy something for Dan."

"I thought his birthday was in January," Mum said, sounding puzzled.

"It is," I said, feeling uncomfortable, "but this is a special present just from me to him."

"You've only been seeing one another since Easter, so it can't be an anniversary present!" she laughed.

I didn't share her amusement, not least because I wasn't sure how I could describe to them the purpose of the present.

"It's, er," I began feebly. Then I hesitated before continuing, "It's a sort of getting-together present."

"But I thought you've been together for almost four months?" she asked, perplexed.

I paused for a while to sort out my thoughts before I answered her.

"Not completely together," I said. "I mean we... I hadn't been ready for a final commitment, but now I am and I want to give Dan a token, a ring to show how I feel."

"You mean like an engagement ring?" Dad asked, startled and, it seemed, almost shocked.

"Aren't you both a bit young for such commitment?" Mum asked with a frown. "Especially as you've not known one another all that long."

"Long enough to know that I love him and he loves me!" I protested.

"Yes, but as your mum says, maybe you're a bit young to get so serious," Dad said with concern.

"But you know we sleep together," I said blushing and trying to be diplomatic on the subject of sex, "and I thought you wouldn't approve of that without commitment."

There was silence for a few second as we all considered my statement. Only after I'd said it did I realise that maybe I'd painted myself into a corner because I'd just virtually admitted that Dan and I had been having sex without a commitment. Of course, it wasn't really as simple as that, but I didn't really want to try to explain to them the discussion Dan and I had when we decided to start a relationship and see how it might develop.

"To be honest, Paul," he said eventually, "I'm not sure that approve is the right word to use. We don't really approve or disapprove, but we accept the fact that you'll probably have sex whether we like it or not, and we think it's best for everyone if you don't have to hide it."

Because my parents had been so supportive, I'd assumed that they had actually approved of me having a sexual relationship with Dan, but now I realised that they just accepted the situation. His statement had taken me so much by surprise that I couldn't think what to say, and Mum must have accurately read my expression, because she hurriedly spoke up.

"The important thing, Paul, is that we love you and we've grown to love Dan as well. We approve of him as a person and we approve of him as your boyfriend. We accept you sleeping together as well, but we're just a bit worried that you're both too young for a serious sexual relationship."

This whole conversation had definitely not gone how I'd expected or hoped. The worst outcome that I'd anticipated was that they couldn't or wouldn't lend me the money. Instead, I'd found out that my parents were not really comfortable with the physical side of my relationship with Dan. Surprise gave way to sorrow, and I became so upset that I couldn't hold back my tears. When Mum saw this, she immediately put down her cup, came over to sit on the arm of my chair, and put her arm round my shoulders. I cursed myself because I feared that my tears would merely confirm their opinion that I was too immature to have a serious relationship.

"Hey, hey," she soothed in her motherly tone. "There's no need to be upset. Just because we're concerned for you doesn't mean we don't trust your judgement. You just took us by surprise, and we didn't think your relationship with Dan was getting so serious."

"It's always been serious," I protested, choking back my tears. "Dan's been ready to commit himself for ages, but I've been holding back."

"Well, that just shows how sensible you are," Dad said, trying to placate me.

"But now I am ready," I said firmly.

I forced myself to take control of my emotions, and as I took several deep breaths, I began to calm down.

"I've thought about it a lot," I said, "and I'm sure that I want to be with Dan forever."

My parents looked at one another, but I was too wrapped up in my own feelings to read their expressions.

"I just wanted to get Dan something to show how I felt, and I just needed to borrow a bit of money," I added, a little bitterness creeping into my voice. "But if you don't approve, I s'pose there's no point in asking you for a loan."

"Look, Paul," Mum said, sounding very concerned, "I honestly don't think we're worried just because Dan is a boy. We'd be just as worried if you were thinking of getting engaged to a girl. You're only seventeen..."

"I'll be eighteen in three months," I interrupted.

"Well," she continued patiently, "that still seems too young to be making such deep commitments. We've always taught you that you shouldn't make promises unless you're sure you can keep them, and committing yourself to another person is a very serious promise. If you break a promise like that, then you could both be very badly hurt."

"I know that, Mum," I said, my voice tense with frustration, "and that's why I've been thinking about it for a long time already. The more I think about it, the more I'm sure that I want to be with Dan forever."

She sighed and looked at my dad, and this time I thought I could read their expressions. She looked worried and appeared to be appealing to Dad for help, while he looked resigned and a little sad."

"Alright, Paul," he said after thinking for a few seconds, "now we've had this little talk, why don't you think about it for just a little bit longer, and if you still want to buy a commitment ring then I'll lend you the money. And maybe you could consider giving him the ring just as a sign of love and not a sign of commitment."

As he was obviously making a considerable effort to be reasonable and find a mutually acceptable compromise, I slowly nodded my head in agreement. However, I knew I wouldn't change my mind, and I wanted to be able to give Dan the ring at the start of our romantic weekend together.

"Alright," I said slowly, "but I really want to be able to give it to him on Friday night. Remember you said it was okay for me to spend the weekend at Dan's house? Well, this will be our first weekend together all on our own, and I want to make it special."

As I thought exactly how I intended to make the weekend special, my cheeks began to burn, and I hoped that my parents wouldn't notice my blush or, worse still, ask me about it. I'm pretty sure Mum noticed my red face, but fortunately neither of them made any comment.

"So you have until Thursday to think about things..." she began.

"Well, that's cutting it a bit fine," I interrupted, "cos I want to get the ring engraved after I buy it."

"Right, then," Dad said, clearly eager to conclude the discussion, "why don't you sleep on it tonight and tomorrow night, then on Wednesday morning you can get up early and tell us your decision over breakfast. That will give you all day Wednesday and Thursday to do whatever you decide."

The corners of his mouth showed the trace of a smile as he mentioned seeing me at breakfast, and I wondered if he was taking some mildly perverse pleasure at the thought of me getting up so early during the school holiday. Although it had been more difficult than I'd anticipated, our discussion appeared to have reached a satisfactory conclusion, so I didn't begrudge him his small pleasure.

"It's a deal," I said, nodding my agreement.

"By the way," he added as I stood up to leave, "how much is it, and how will you pay it back?"

"Seventy nine pounds," I replied. "And I should be able to pay it back easily out of the cash I get for my birthday and Christmas."

He raised his eyebrows in surprise at the amount I was intending to spend, but I was relieved when he made no further comment. Having looked at my watch, I told them it was about time I was off to Dan's house. Then while I was saying goodbye, John appeared in the doorway and asked if I'd give him a ride into town 'on my way' to Dan's house. Smiling, I agreed, and didn't bother pointing out that Dan lived in the opposite direction to the town centre.

As I was leaving the room, I had a sudden thought and turned around to speak to my parents.

"Oh, you do realise that the gift is planned as a surprise for Dan, so I hope you won't mention anything to him," I said, and after a brief pause I added, "or his parents."

"Yes, dear," Mum said patiently, as if reassuring a small child. "We'd guessed that, and in any case we wouldn't talk about it to anyone until you've had time to make your decision."

I smiled and turned again to leave the room, only to bump into John, who'd clearly overheard what my mum and I had just said. He was obviously extremely curious/ In fact, he was so anxious to find out what was going on that he was hopping from foot to foot as he immediately began to question me.

"What was all that about?" he asked as we walked toward the front door.

"Private!" I replied, enjoying the air of mystery that had been generated.

"It's not Dan's birthday, is it?" he persisted as we stepped outside.

"Not until January."

"So what's the gift, what's it for, and what's this decision Mum mentioned?"

"I told you that it's private," I said playfully as I unlocked the car, "but if you're a good little boy then I might tell you after the weekend."

He gave me a disgusted look, and we both got into the car.

Later that evening, I was mildly surprised and relieved when Dan didn't ask me any questions about the surprise that he knew I was planning for him. He didn't even ask why I had needed to speak to my parents or how the discussion had gone. However, I was sure that he'd not forgotten about it, and that his silence on the matter was just another example of his patience and self-restraint.

When Dan's parents went to bed quite early, we stayed in the living room so we could watch a video, 'Get Real', on their large TV. Just as we were snuggling up together on the sofa, my phone disturbed us with its rather plaintive warble. I didn't immediately recognise the number in the caller ID, but Dan, with his head resting on my chest, could see it and informed me that it was James. Admiring his superior memory, I pressed the 'OK' button.

"Hi James."

"Hiya, Paul," he replied hesitantly. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"No, we're just settling down to watch a video," I chuckled. "I wouldn't have answered the phone if we'd been, erm, busy!"

"Well, I won't keep you long. I just wanted to know if you're going to the GLYG meeting on Wednesday and if I can go with you."

"You're always welcome to go with us," I assured him, "but I'm not sure if we're going, so I'll just check with Dan."

When I'd answered the phone, Dan had snuggled further down and was resting his head on my lap. While I was talking, I looked down into his deep brown eyes and gently stroked his shiny black hair with my free hand. On hearing me mention his name, he gave me a questioning look.

"Fancy going to GLYG this week?" I asked him.

"I assume James wants to go," he said with a knowing grin. "So tell him yes, we'd be happy to take him along."

I was about to pass on Dan's decision to James, but he must have overheard us, and he spoke first.

"Great! Thanks, Paul. And tell Dan thanks as well. I'll stop bothering you and let you get on with your video. I'll probably see you tomorrow. Byeee!"

Before I could protest that he hadn't been bothering us, he'd hung up.

"Seems like James enjoyed the meeting last week," Dan said as I put the phone on the arm of the sofa.

"Or he's just keen to find himself a boyfriend," I quipped, only half joking.

"Well, let's hope he's as lucky as I was, cos that's where I got the best and cutest boyfriend in the world."

"You can't have," I said, blushing at the compliment, "cos I got the best and cutest boyfriend in the world."

"Whatever," he grinned. "We both got lucky at the GLYG meeting, so maybe James will, too."

I started to say 'I hope so', but he silenced me by pulling my head down for a long snog. Eventually, we started watching the video.

Dan and I spent all the following day together, and I had a pleasant evening meal with him and his parents. Then after dinner, because I needed to speak to Mum and Dad early the next morning, I went home and slept alone. Of course Dan was curious about why I needed to talk to them at what was for me a very strange time of day. However, I refused to say more than that it was related to my plans for the weekend.

The next morning, I woke up early, even before my alarm went off, and easily managed to get downstairs in time to join my parents for breakfast. John, who was usually up early, nearly dropped his toast in surprise when he saw me out of bed at such an early hour twice in three days. His reaction made me smile, and it occurred to me that he didn't know anything about my agreement with my parents.

"So you still want to borrow the money, then?" Dad asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, please." I nodded.

"What money?" John asked, being his usual nosy self.

"We thought you would," Mum said and smiled as we all ignored John's question.

"What d'ya want the money for?" John persisted.

"A present for Dan," I replied, blushing less than I expected.

Surprisingly, and much to my relief, he accepted my answer at face value and seemed to lose interest. Before I could sit down at the table, Dad drank the last of his tea and stood up.

"I'll get my wallet then," he said as he pushed back his chair.

"You have the money already?" I asked. "I thought you'd have to go to the cash machine."

"As your mum said," Dad replied with a resigned smile, "we didn't expect you to change your mind, so I got the cash yesterday."

"Thanks, Dad. Thanks, Mum," I said as I followed him to the hallway, where his jacket was hanging.

"Remember," he said quietly as he took his wallet from the inside pocket, "you can still give him the ring just as a present, and it doesn't have to be anything more serious."

"I realise that," I said with a sigh, "but I think you and Mum know that I'm not going to change my mind."

He didn't reply in words, but merely handed me the money and ruffled my hair affectionately, as if I were a small boy to whom he'd just given some sweets. Normally, I might have been irritated by that gesture, but instead I just accepted it with an embarrassed grin. As he went upstairs to get ready for work and I returned to the kitchen, it occurred to me that no matter how grown-up I felt, in my parents eyes I was still their little boy.

Later that morning, as I bought the ring and asked the jeweller to inscribe it, my dad's words echoed in my head. I could still give it to Dan as 'just a present'. After all, I hadn't planned on giving him the ring until Friday night, so I still had a couple of days before I made a commitment. The jeweller offered to inscribe the ring while I waited, and as he took it into the back room I thought of Dan and how much he meant to me. Just thinking of him gave me a warm glow, and I cursed myself for my cowardice in reconsidering my previous decision.

After taking the ring home, I packed an overnight bag with some clean clothes and then I went to Dan's house, where I had a very pleasant lunch. The weather was fine and not too hot, so we decided to have a gentle walk through the local countryside before returning to his house to shower. As usual, our showering together involved more than just getting clean, and it took a considerable time as well as involving a lot of fun. By the time we finished and got dressed, we only had a few minutes left before his mum arrived home from work, so I helped him to start preparing the evening meal.

Immediately after dinner, we went to pick up James from Mike's house, and then drove straight into town, arriving at the GLYG meeting just after eight o'clock. It was reasonably well attended, and there were about forty people there when we arrived, about half of whom we knew well enough to speak to. Having not heard from Rob for a few days, I'd wondered if he was going to be there, but neither he nor Tony was in sight.

Several people tried to engage James in conversation, but he seemed to be too shy to do more than give short, polite replies. A couple of those who spoke to him were about my age and appeared to have more than just a platonic interest. Although I felt I should be pleased that James seemed so popular, I was also more than a little relieved when he didn't return their interest. Much of my reaction was probably due the fact that James was only fifteen, and he brought out my 'protective big brother' persona. However, if I was totally honest, my feelings may also have been tinged by a hint of jealousy.

The second person to make clear his interest in James was particularly cute boy named Simon. He had short, dark brown hair, hazel eyes, beautiful smile, and as far as I knew, quite a pleasant personality. As Simon walked away disappointed that James didn't return his interest, Dan leaned over and spoke to James.

"I thought you were keen on coming tonight," he said quietly, with a conspiratorial smile. "Didn't you think Simon was cute? He certainly seemed to take a fancy to you!"

James blushed and looked around to make sure no one could overhear before he replied.

"Yes, of course I was keen to come, but I think he was just being friendly."

"No," Dan said with conviction. "Take, my word for it, he was definitely looking at you with more than just a passing interest."

As Dan finished speaking, he gently nudged his elbow into James' ribs, causing him to blush even more deeply.

"Dan," I hissed, more harshly than I intended, "stop teasing the poor lad!"

"I wasn't teasing!" Dan responded with a tone of injured innocence. "Don't you agree that Simon fancies James?"

"Probably," I muttered defensively, "but you shouldn't interfere. Anyway, don't you think Simon's a bit old for James?"

"He's only about the same age as we are," Dan retorted, giving me a questioning look.

"Hey, I'm still here, ya know!" James spoke up, sounding mildly irritated.

"Sorry, James, we know it's rude to talk behind your back while you're still here," Dan said, attempting to lighten the mood. "But you didn't answer me. Don't you think that Simon's cute?"

"He's okay, I s'pose, but maybe a bit, er, tall."

"That's because he's older than you," I said, casting a smug look at Dan, "but in a couple of years you'll probably be just as tall."

Dan gave me a more penetrating questioning look, but before he could say anything, James spoke up again.

"Anyway, you know how I feel about, erm, someone, and I'm not looking for a boyfriend."

"Neither am I," Dan smiled, "but it doesn't stop me noticing if someone is cute."

Then, after a few seconds of thoughtful silence, Dan spoke up again.

"But as you're not here looking, why were you so keen on coming here tonight?"

"Well," James began uncertainly, "I think it's because I feel more, erm, free here."

He paused and frowned thoughtfully for a few seconds, then continued.

"Maybe that's not the best way of putting it, though. It's just that I can be me here and not feel different if I do look at an attractive boy. No one here will think I'm a freak."

"You're not a freak!" I protested, loud enough to draw glances from a nearby couple. "And no one at my house thinks you are. You can be yourself anytime you like."

"Yeah, I know, but that's at home with family. It's not like being myself in public."

"I know what you mean," Dan added, nodding his understanding, "cos that's how I felt when I started coming here."

As he was speaking, my eye was caught by movement in the doorway at the other end of the room, and I saw four people enter. One was Tony, and two of the others were slightly older guys I half-recognised as Tony's friends. However, my attention was dragged away from everything else in the room when I took a closer look at the fourth person and saw that it was Rob. His hair had been cut so short that it was barely even stubble, and he was dressed in an army-style olive green T-shirt and camouflage pants.

Rob glanced timidly around the room, and when he saw me staring at him he averted his gaze. By this time, my two companions had seen the look on my face and noticed me looking toward the door, so they, too, looked in that direction.

"Bloody hell!" James whispered. "Isn't that Rob?"

I nodded dumbly just as Tony turned from his friends and gazed directly at me. On the surface, his expression was just a smile acknowledging my presence, but underneath that he seemed to me to be gloating. He turned to Rob and whispered in his ear, and then Rob blushed and glanced back in my direction. The two of them exchanged a few words, after which Rob started walking towards us with a determined expression etched deeply on his face.

"Hiya, Paul," he said, almost as if he was issuing a challenge, before he turned to greet Dan and James.

"Er, what's with the new look?" James asked before I could think of what to say.

"Oh," Rob replied with feigned nonchalance, "Tony suggested that I try to look more 'butch' as he calls it, so he took me to his favourite barber and clothes shop this afternoon."

All this time, Rob had kept his eyes fixed on mine, clearly trying to assess my reaction.

"So," he continued in a tone that was half pleading and half challenge, "what do you think?"

"It's certainly a big change!" James said quickly.

"Yes, and once we get used to it I'm sure we'll like it," Dan added, less diplomatically than I might have expected of him.

At first, I was completely lost for words. Then I decided I would prefer to evade the question.

"What does your family think of your new 'butch' look?" I asked.

"They haven't seen it yet. I haven't been home since this morning."

Slowly recovering from the surprise of seeing such a changed Rob, I began to study him more closely. As he nervously turned and looked back toward Tony, the left sleeve of his T-shirt lifted slightly, and I thought I saw a freshly made bruise on his arm. When Rob turned back toward me and noticed the direction of my gaze, he blushed slightly.

"Anyway," he said, "I'd better get back to Tony, cos we're going to the pub in a couple of minutes."

"Okay, I'll talk to you soon, then?" I said hopefully as Dan and James just nodded silent acknowledgement of Rob's statement.

"Yeah," he replied, sounding a little relieved.

I couldn't tell whether he was relieved to be leaving us or relieved that I wanted to speak to him soon, but for a brief second I detected a shy smile. As he turned to go, I couldn't prevent myself from speaking out loud the question that was uppermost in my thoughts.

"But you are okay, aren't you?" I blurted out.

He just nodded, smiled briefly, and went to rejoin Tony and his friends.

As soon as Rob was out of hearing range, Dan and James began to discuss the drastic change in Rob's appearance. Dan wasn't too keen, and James was initially apparently more neutral, though he later added something about how Rob looked 'more exciting' now. Before I could be drawn into the conversation, I decided that I needed to go to the toilet and relieve the pressure in my bladder.

To get to the toilets I had to go out of the room through the main door, which meant passing close to Tony's group, who were just preparing to leave. As I walked past them, I gave them a brief smile and wondered why they'd bothered to come at all, because they'd only stayed for a very few minutes. Then it occurred to me that maybe they had come only to show us Rob's new look. Just before I reached the door, I had to get quite close to Tony, who was closer to the door than the others, and his proximity made me very uncomfortable. My unease was deepened further when he moved even closer and spoke to me in a voice that was hardly more than a whisper.

"He's mine now," was all he said.

The triumphant tone of his voice and the way he emphasised the word 'mine' sent a shiver down my spine, but I didn't react outwardly to his words. It was all over very quickly, and without pausing I carried on through the doorway while he moved back to his companions. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Rob give me a worried frown before I moved out of his line of sight.

Throughout my trip to the toilet and back, and indeed for the rest of that night, Tony's words echoed in my thoughts and filled me with dread and concern. In fact, over the next couple of weeks, even in my happiest moments those words often came to haunt the back of my mind. When I returned to the meeting room, Rob, Tony, and his friends had gone. If either Dan or James had noticed Tony speaking to me, they didn't mention it, so I decided not to bring up the subject. We stayed at the meeting for another hour or so, then I gave James a ride home before continuing on to spend the night at Dan's house.

As soon as we'd dropped James off, Dan spoke up.

"You've been very distracted, I'd say almost worried, since we saw Rob. He doesn't look that bad, and I'm sure we'll get used to it."

"Yeah, I s'pose," I replied absently.

"But that's not what's on your mind, is it?"

"Nah. Just something Tony said."


"Didn't you see him speak to me?"

"No," he said with mild surprise. "When?"

I told Dan about the incident by the doorway, but he didn't appear to think it was particularly sinister.

"Tony's just playing mind games," he said. "It's just a bit of one-upmanship."

"Maybe so," I muttered doubtfully. "But I hope he doesn't play mind-games like that with Rob."

I didn't mention the fact that Rob might be particularly vulnerable to such mind games, nor did I mention the bruise that I thought I'd seen on his arm.

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