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The Question

by Kit

Chapter 2

The next time I saw Teo after my unexpected conversation in the gym changing room, I told him about the arrangement to collaborate with Simon on the project. It didn't seem either appropriate or relevant to mention the circumstances of that conversation, and I obviously didn't even consider telling him about my yearning to be close to Simon. When Teo, who wasn't taking the same class, expressed his surprise that Simon and I knew each other well enough to work on a project together, I simply pointed out that Simon and I had been at primary school together.

That Friday Simon and I met after school and went to his house. I saw the inside of it for the first time, and although it was indeed very nice, it wasn't as luxurious as my imagination had painted it. However, I did envy his bedroom, partly because it was much larger than mine, with half of it being a combined entertainment and study area with a large desk. The main source of my envy, though, was that he didn't have to share the room with anyone. For almost an hour we discussed the project then he suggested that I return that Sunday afternoon to actually start work on it. In fact that 'suggestion' was made in such a take-it-or-leave-it tone that in effect it seemed that I didn't really have a choice.

When I got home that night, I phoned Teo to tell him that I had to cancel our proposed Sunday meeting. We'd planned to go cycling if the weather was fine or swimming if it wasn't, so I had to apologise and explain the situation with Simon and the project. My guilt was soothed a little by the good grace with which Teo took the news and immediately made alternative plans to meet up on the Saturday.

When I arrived at Simon's house precisely on time, freshly showered and dressed in my best casual clothes, he ushered me up to his room. While we were going up the stairs, he mumbled something vague about his parents being out and Robert, his nineteen-year-old brother, having gone to visit a friend. When we got to his room, I was surprised to find that the normally confident and self-assured Simon seemed to be almost as nervous as me, and after an uncomfortable attempt at conversation we sat down at the desk and started work.

We both enjoyed the subject and quickly became engrossed in the project, so it seemed no time at all before I looked at the clock display on his computer monitor and realised that more than an hour had passed. As if reading my mind, but more likely noticing the direction of my gaze, Simon sat back in his chair and spoke.

"Well, it seems like we've got the layout about right and we know who's going to do what, so all we need to do now is fill in the blanks."

"But there's an awful lot of blanks," I pointed out.

"Yeah," he said, "but we've got tons of time yet, and I've had enough for today."

Somewhat disappointed that my time with him had apparently come to an end for that day, I slowly stood up.

"When will we do some more on this?" I asked, trying to hide my disappointment. I expected that he, too, would stand up and escort me from the house, but to my surprise he just pushed his chair further from the desk and leaned back with his arms folded.

"Do you have to rush off now?" he asked. There was a hint of tension in his voice and his posture seemed a little less relaxed, but I couldn't detect any emotion in his facial expression.

"Er, no, not really," I replied. "I'm not expected home at any particular time."

"Good," he said and smiled. "We have time for a chat. Why don't you sit back down?"

"Chat?" I said a little apprehensively as I lowered myself back in the chair. "What do you want to chat about?"

My nervousness was increased as his smile turned into a grin that seemed to be more than a little predatory.

"We could start with Wednesday afternoon when you accused me of wanking in the bog," he said, making my heart skip a beat.

"No I didn't!" I protested. "I just made a joke. Lots of people make jokes like that."

His smile broadened, and he was obviously enjoying my reaction. "You're the only one who's ever said that while they were staring at my dick."

"I wasn't!" I protested even more defensively. "I wasn't staring at anything. I couldn't even see your dick."

"Ah!" he said triumphantly. "So you admit you were trying to see it!"

"No, of course I wasn't!"

My heart was pounding so hard and fast that I thought my chest would burst, and I stood up so quickly that my chair almost fell over. Simon, still in his chair and clearly enjoying himself, raised an eyebrow and gave me a look that made it obvious that he didn't believe me. Although I wanted to flee, I was frozen to the spot in terror.

Whether or not I'd actually been staring at him didn't really matter. If he told anyone else that I had been, then everyone would certainly believe him, and my life would be over. My school was not a pleasant place for anyone suspected of being 'queer', and being denounced by a popular boy like Simon would give rise to more than just suspicion. Suddenly, all the energy seemed to drain from my body and I had to lean on the desk to support myself.

"Please," I said weakly, not really knowing what I was pleading for.

His expression softened and his amused smile faded as he said, "There's no need to get your knickers in a twist. I was just winding you up. Being curious about another lad's tackle isn't so unusual."

The urge to run away faded a little and I collapsed back into my chair, where I sat in silence, staring down at my shoes and feeling slightly nauseous. Gradually, the thumping in my chest subsided.

"So you don't think it's queer, then?" I said without raising my head. "I mean, just being curious?"

"No, of course it isn't," he replied with conviction. "I'm sometimes curious and I'm not queer."

We both sat in a silence that seemed to me to be dragging on forever, though it probably lasted only a couple of minutes. Although I'd thought a lot about the possible significance of the slow stroking movements he'd made at the urinal that Wednesday afternoon, I thought it best not to mention it just then. Also, I hoped that if he'd seen the bulge in my trousers before I left the toilets then he'd be equally discreet and wouldn't mention it. When he eventually spoke, his words took me completely by surprise.

"If you're still curious," he said quietly with a small conspiratorial smile, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

I was gratified to find that in at least one respect I wasn't smaller than Simon.

During the next few weeks, things developed from 'show and tell' to wanking together, then to wanking one another, each stage in this progression being initiated by Simon. Of course, he always had my eager acceptance. Each time he initiated a new level of physical intimacy he made it clear that we were just 'two lads exploring, helping one another out, and having fun'. He said that it was only queer if we did 'soppy stuff like kissing', and at the time I accepted that assertion uncritically. Thus, secretly and deep inside myself, I began to realise that my suppressed longing to kiss him meant that I must be queer. He also made it clear than any touching of buttocks was not only queer but also completely sick, and at the time that point of view didn't seem unreasonable to me.

For the first month the excuse for our meetings was that we were working on the project, and indeed at least half of the time we spent together we did spend working on it. When the project, for which we both got an A+, was completed a couple of weeks before Christmas, I continued to visit him, initially under the pretext that we were studying together, but after a couple of months we didn't even bother making excuses. Much of the time during my visits we'd chat about school, TV programs, family and the usual schoolboy stuff. A couple of weeks after Christmas, when we'd graduated to oral sex, we even began talking about more personal topics.

Thus it was that without any premeditation I drifted into a sort of double life, seeing Teo just as much as before but also finding time to be with Simon. Fortunately, Teo never asked detailed questions about what Simon and I did together, which meant I didn't need to lie. I certainly couldn't admit to my pure, sweet Teo what I got up to with Simon. For his part, Simon never questioned the fact that I spent so much time with Teo, probably because he didn't really care. That situation, though it may have seemed superficially ideal, caused me considerable emotional turmoil. Often, usually in bed and late at night, I tried to sort out my feelings for the two boys who were now such a huge part of my life.

I was beginning to accept that Teo was more than just my best friend; I loved him in a way that was almost romantic, and he provided me with a great deal of emotional fulfilment. Simon provided sexual fulfilment, but our interactions weren't just physical, and our frequent chats had fostered an emotional connection. Sometimes I felt that I was falling in love with him, but at other times I thought that maybe loving him would be somehow disloyal to Teo, so I tried to convince myself that my feelings for Simon were just the result of having my lustful dreams fulfilled.

Of course, I knew that there were different kinds of love, such as parental love, romantic love, and comradeship love, but none of those labels really described how I felt about either Teo or Simon. The more I thought about it, though, the more confused I became, because it seemed to me that each type of love wasn't just one emotion but a combination of different emotions. Each of the boys engendered in me a unique mixture of feelings, and perhaps either mixture could be described as love.

At school, Simon and I still didn't socialise, and for the most part he still usually ignored me, though he occasionally gave me a brief nod of acknowledgement when our eyes met. If his friends noticed that, they gave no indication of it, and when I realised that Simon never invited me to visit at the same time as his other friends I was relieved rather than offended. So it seemed that Simon, too, was content to lead a sort of double life.

Teo quickly noticed and commented on the fact that my socialising with Simon outside school didn't appear to affect our apparent lack of friendship in school. When I mumbled something about Simon wanting to keep his life outside school private and that I wouldn't want to socialise with his rowdy sporty friends, Teo didn't seem totally convinced. However, much to my relief, he let the matter drop.

A few times, by accident rather than design, I met Simon's parents, who seemed distant but not unfriendly. He told me that their jobs kept them very busy and that as long as he did well at school and didn't get into any trouble they left him very much to his own devices. One thing that soon became obvious was that Simon always seemed to avoid having me round to visit when his brother, Robert, was at home. A couple of times he altered our meeting arrangements at short notice because Robert had changed his mind about going out.

Although I often wondered why Simon apparently took such pains to avoid me meeting his brother, I never had the courage to ask him about it. I speculated that perhaps he was ashamed of me or ashamed of his brother, about whom he was dismissive, refusing to talk about him even after we'd been chatting about my brother. When I mentioned having to share my bedroom and jokingly suggested that he should imagine having to share a room with Robert, his eyes widened in a brief expression of horror before he quickly changed the subject.

Sometimes I caught a brief glimpse of Robert, who was considerably bulkier than Simon, though only a couple of inches taller. Both of them had similar golden hair, but Robert had his cut much shorter. In appearance, they were obviously siblings, though Robert's features were not as fine as his brother's. Of course, I was biased, but it seemed to me that Robert was a somewhat crude prototype model and that Simon was the expression of the perfected final version.

The only time that I saw Robert close-up, and the only interaction I saw between the two brothers, occurred one Saturday afternoon shortly after I'd arrived at Simon's house. Robert had gone out before my arrival but returned unexpectedly, fortunately while Simon and I were still fully clothed and before we'd started anything sexual. In fact, we were in the kitchen just about to get drinks out of the fridge when we heard the front door bang and heavy footsteps going upstairs. Simon gently closed the fridge door and motioned me to keep quiet.

After a couple of minutes there were some banging noises from above, followed by the thud of feet descending the stairs, then Robert burst into the kitchen. After casting a dismissive glance at me, he glared at Simon.

"Ah, you're here!" he said. "Have you got any of my CDs? I promised Sarah I'd take some over today and they're not in my room."

"Why would I want any of your CDs?" Simon responded defiantly. Then he added contemptuously, "They're all such crap!"

From Robert's face and the tension in his body I could tell that there was a lot of anger smouldering just below the surface, and I feared that at any moment the anger might burst out and find physical expression. Perhaps Simon also feared this, because he spoke again in a placatory tone.

"Anyway," he said, "didn't you take lots of CDs to that party last weekend? Maybe you left some there."

Robert's anger appeared to decrease a little as he considered this suggestion, but then for some reason, maybe to save face in front of me, Simon risked igniting the situation again.

"After all," he muttered almost inaudibly, "sometimes you come back from parties so drunk you hardly remember your name."

If Robert heard that he chose to ignore it, and instead quickly glanced at me before returning his gaze to Simon.

"Who's this then? One of your little friends from school?" he said disdainfully. "Remember I told you to be careful with your friends there. These all-boy schools are full of queers. I'm glad I got out of the place!"

"Well, I'll se ya later, Salmon," Robert continued when his brother remained silent. There was a contemptuous emphasis on the last word. Then he turned to me and asked, "Has Salmon told you about the clever nickname I gave him cos he's so weird? He doesn't eat fish but he goes fishing all the time."

"It gives me some peace and quiet away from you!" Simon muttered angrily.

"Salmon-Simon!" Robert taunted.

Then, apparently feeling that he had scored some points, Robert smirked at us and strutted out of the room. A few seconds later we heard the front door banging shut. Simon and I looked at one another, and I could see that he was both irritated and embarrassed. For a few seconds we both stood in uncomfortable silence until Simon regained his composure.

"What was it you wanted to drink?" he asked quietly.

"Coke, please," I replied. Then, hoping for some clarification, I added, "I didn't know Robert used to go to our school."

"Yeah," he replied as he opened the fridge door. "But he left just before we started there."

His tone made it clear that the subject was closed, so I didn't pursue the matter. However, a bit of mental arithmetic told me that Robert must have left the school when he was about fourteen or fifteen, and I couldn't help wondering why.

The following Tuesday it rained all day, so Teo and I spent our lunchtime in the school Chess Club. Teo started a game with one of the better players and I was looking for someone closer to my own skill level when I saw an older boy with whom I'd played a few games over the past couple of years. I knew little about him apart from the fact that his name was Gary and that we were relatively evenly matched in our playing abilities. I was still curious about Robert, and it occurred to me that Gary would probably have been at the school long enough to have known him.

"Gary, I was wondering if you knew someone at the school called Robert Stratford?" I said as we set up the pieces on the board.

"There was a Robert Stratford a couple of years older than me, so I didn't know him. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, I'm a friend of his brother, Simon, and I'd heard that Robert left here when he was about fourteen or fifteen, and I was just wondering why."

"So why not ask your friend?" he asked, looking mildly puzzled.

Feeling a little foolish and not wishing to give anything away, I just shrugged my shoulders, so I was relieved when, after a brief pause, he spoke again. "Like I said, I didn't know him personally, but he did have a bit of a reputation as a bully. All I really know is that he beat up another boy in the gym changing room and was suspended from school. Then instead of coming back after the suspension he transferred to another school."

Over the next few months, Simon became the main object of my teenage lust, and I made sure I was available when he wanted to meet up. However, that turned out to be only two or three times per week, usually an hour or so immediately after school or a couple of hours at weekends, so it didn't reduce my time with Teo, with whom I felt more relaxed and comfortable as an equal. By contrast, when I was at Simon's house, I did everything in my power to ensure that I had his approval, like a little puppy that was following and worshipping its master.

My relatively submissive behaviour with Simon was actually very much at odds with my general character. Usually I wouldn't hesitate to stand up for myself, and I wasn't averse to having heated arguments with anyone, including parents and occasionally teachers, if I felt I was being unfairly treated. With Simon, however, it seemed as if I had a totally different personality. If what I felt for Simon was love, then that love seemed to be a form of temporary insanity.

My mental aberration at that time was probably made worse by the fact that I not only wanted to be with him but, if it had been possible, I would have liked to be him. Not only was he amazingly good looking, but he was also everything that I wasn't. He was popular, relatively wealthy, good at sports, could easily start a conversation with anyone, and it seemed to me at the time that he was totally self-confident.

Everything appeared to be going well until just before Easter, when for the first time I was asked the question that I learned to dread. Simon and I had rushed back to his house at the end of the last school day before the Easter break, and while we still had the house to ourselves we'd celebrated with a swift but enjoyable session of oral sex in his bedroom. After we got dressed again, he escorted me to the front door, and as soon as I stepped through the doorway I paused and turned to face him.

"When shall I come round this weekend?" I asked.

"This weekend?" he echoed vaguely as if his mind had been far away. "I won't be here this weekend."

"Oh," I said, trying to hide my disappointment. "When will you be back?"

"Just before school starts again," he said. Then, obviously seeing my shocked expression he added, "Didn't I tell you? I'm going to spend the holidays with my dad's cousins at their villa in France."

"B-b-but," I stuttered, too stunned to speak properly, "that's more than three weeks!"

"Yeah," he said with a slight smile, "I s'pose it might interrupt our fun for a bit, but I'm sure something will turn up."

Three weeks wasn't really such a long time, so perhaps my over-reaction was related to the fact that the glow of our earlier sexual activities was still fading. Perhaps it was because I was hurt by the casual way he'd made the announcement, or that he'd almost not told me at all. In any case, I was lost for words and just stared at him. He looked at me as if he were seeing me for the first time, and his brow furrowed into a confused frown, then it seemed that something occurred to him.

"Do you love me?" he asked without any discernible emotion.

If I'd been less naive I might not have been so shocked and disappointed by the announcement of his trip to France. If he'd not taken me by surprise, I might have taken time to think about his question, and I might then have been more circumspect in my response. My feelings both for him and for Teo were still confused, and I still wasn't at all sure what kind of love, if any, I did feel for him. However, in my desire to please him, I said what I thought he wanted to hear.

"Of course I do," I said, and immediately regretted it.

A wide range of emotions, all negative, flickered quickly across Simon's face, then his expression fixed into one of stony disdain.

"You're sick," he said quietly, and shut the door in my face.

I didn't see Simon again until the new school term started. All through the miserable Easter break there had been no communication from him, not even a postcard. The way we'd parted gave me no expectation of hearing from him, but I was still disappointed when I didn't. Every day I thought about him and cringed at the memory of our last meeting. Every day I mentally kicked myself for the way I'd answered his question and rehearsed all the ways I should have answered it or at least avoided answering it. I longed to see him again but I also dreaded it.

The thought of being hated and despised by Simon was unbearable, but to make things worse, the worry that he might make my 'sickness' known to others gnawed away at the back of my mind. The fear of exposure was intensified because I was terrified that Teo would find out about me. I was scared that even if he didn't share a dislike of queers, he might not want to be associated with me if I had a bad reputation.

Also, his brother was now at our school, so if he spread any nasty rumours back to their parents, I thought they'd ban Teo from being friends with me. Then I realised that losing Teo's friendship would be much worse than being hated and despised by Simon. So, although I saw Teo several times over the holidays, and although he noticed that things weren't right with me, I never even hinted at what had happened with Simon.

Sometimes I was angry with Simon for the way he'd treated me, and sometimes I was angry with myself for spoiling our fun by saying that I loved him. Sometimes I despised myself for being weak as well as for being 'queer', but I could never, ever bring myself to mention any of that to Teo. Always a relatively quiet boy, I withdrew further inside myself, and that put a temporary strain on my relationship with my best friend.

On the first day back at school, Simon looked right through me as if I didn't exist. Later, when he was passing out books in one of the two classes we shared that term, he avoided eye contact with me and just dumped the book on my desk. A couple of days later he was with a group of his friends when I passed by him, and he performed the remarkable feat of apparently not seeing me yet deliberately turning his back to me. Somehow I doubted that it was a coincidence that just at that moment, in a slightly raised voice, he began describing a particularly gorgeous French girl he'd met during his vacation.

For the rest of our time at school together, Simon pretended that I didn't exist, and I didn't have the courage to approach him. Of course I often wondered why his attitude toward me changed so radically and so suddenly. Although he'd never been actually affectionate with me, he'd occasionally showed signs that he cared about me, if only as a friend. So I couldn't really understand why my declaration of love should have had such a dramatic effect.

As it turned out, about a year after we left school, I got a clue about what might have been going on in Simon's mind. There was a report in the local newspaper about three men arrested for 'gay-bashing' another man in a pub car park. One of the arrested men was Robert, and it occurred to me that maybe that was related to Simon's attitude and behaviour. Perhaps that explained why he seemed so paranoid about the possibility that anyone might think he could be 'queer' and why he'd taken such pains to avoid me going to his house when Robert was there.

Although I never mentioned any of that to Teo, he must have sensed I was going through a difficult time. He was always there for me, always patient with my occasional moodiness, and never pressed me for an explanation. That, together with the fact that Simon showed no sign of exposing my sexuality, enabled me to recover relatively quickly.

On just one occasion, Teo did comment on the fact that I no longer met up with Simon. I merely said that it had turned out that Simon and I didn't have as much in common as I'd thought, and Teo was considerate enough not to pursue the matter. After a few weeks, Simon was no longer on my mind all the time and, more importantly, my friendship with Teo was better than it had ever been.

At lunchtime on a Friday in late May, Teo and I were in the chess club and playing against one another. Our games were never competitive because we were so unevenly matched, but we often played for fun, using such games as an opportunity for me to learn and, hopefully, to improve. When there was time after such games, he explained the reasoning behind certain key moves and pointed out my major errors.

"Mate in three," he said. The corners of his mouth were turned up into a tiny smile, but there was no tone of triumph in his voice. Actually, I'd already seen the moves he was referring to, but hadn't yet accepted that there was no possible way I could escape.

"Okay," I replied, grinning ruefully and tipping over my king. "At least I've learned more about the Dragon Variation."

"Maybe you'll get a chance to put that into practice when we play Stoneleigh next week."

"Maybe," I echoed without any confidence. Then, changing topics completely, I added, "Looks like the weather's going to be nice this weekend. Shall we go for a ride up to the Lagoon on Sunday?"

"Sorry, but I promised my brother I'd help him with his tennis practice."

Although we both had younger brothers, he was a lot closer to his than I was to mine. Maybe that was because there was only two years age difference between him and his brother, or maybe it was because his Polish family was very tight-knit. In any case, Teo's brother was a budding tennis star, and the whole family rallied around to help him develop his sporting skills.

"Never mind," I said, trying to hide my disappointment.

At that point the bell rang, indicating the end of our lunch break, so we made our way back to our classroom. For the rest of the afternoon we were too busy to have any real conversation, and at the end of the day's lessons he had rush home.

"See you on Monday," I called out just before he went out of the school gates. "Don't forget to bring the book you recommended."

On Monday mornings before classes, there was always an assembly for the whole school in the large main hall that also served the roles of theatre and concert room. Before classes started on other mornings of the week, our form master took roll call, but on Mondays that task was performed by a prefect, who then got us into line and led us to our assigned seating in the hall. As we lined up that morning, I was only mildly concerned that there was no sign of Teo.

As soon as the students had settled and all was quiet apart from the occasional cough or sneeze, the headmaster walked onto the stage. He looked serious and his brow was clouded by a frown, but there was nothing particularly unusual about that, especially as he often took the opportunity of these assemblies to berate us about something. However, without any of the usual preambles, he walked up to the podium and began speaking.

"Gentlemen and boys," he said with great solemnity. "It is with great regret that I have to announce the sad loss of a member of our school. Yesterday, Teodor Jaworski, one of our boys, collapsed while playing tennis. He died before he got to the hospital..."

Whatever he said after that was lost to me because my mind just shut down and I could no longer process any sensory input or assimilate any information. In fact, for a while I must have forgotten to breath, because the next thing I remember is finding myself gasping for breath. The rest of the day was just a blur, with just occasional flashes of memory, like the strange expression on one boy's face as he looked at me. Perhaps I was behaving oddly, or maybe he knew how close Teo and I had been.

That night I didn't mention what had happened to Teo to my parents, and indeed hardly said anything at all, even when Mum asked directly if there was something wrong. Later, she came up to my room and found me lying on my bed, staring blankly up at the ceiling. Because I had the top bunk, my head was approximately level with hers, but I deliberately avoided eye contact.

"Andy says you told him to get out of your room. I was just about to come and tell you that it's his room, too, but then I saw the local news on TV," she said gently and paused before adding, "I'm sorry to hear about your friend."

She probably intended to say more, but I rolled over, turning away from her and facing the wall. Thankfully, she got the message and left the room. It all felt like a bad dream, a horrific nightmare, and I was terrified that talking about it would make it real. Keeping my mind blank and not thinking about anything at all was my best defence.

I was still in the same position when Andy came into the room and started getting ready for bed, but I kept my back to him and didn't acknowledge his presence. After a while, he stopped moving around, and I expected to feel the usual slight shaking of the bed as he got into the lower bunk. However, there was no such movement.

"Ian?" he said very quietly and tentatively. "Ian, are you awake? You're not going to go to sleep in your clothes, are you?"

"Mind your own business," I replied gruffly.

After a long pause, he spoke again. "I liked him, too, ya know."

Too wrapped up in myself to understand what he meant, I turned and saw him standing there in his pyjamas.

"What?" I asked, frowning with a mixture of irritation and puzzlement.

"Teo. I liked him. When he came round here he was always nice to me. He never ignored me like most other big lads. He talked to me and seemed interested in what I thought about things," he said. Then, without waiting for a reply, he got into bed.

Even if I'd wanted to respond, I couldn't have thought of anything appropriate to say. Eventually, I merely said, "Goodnight, Andy."

The next day, tired from lack of sleep, I felt detached and almost floating, and even the knowledge that I hadn't done any homework didn't disturb me. The three teachers who were expecting me to hand in work were surprised by my unprecedented lapse, especially as my only excuse was that I'd forgotten to do it. However, there was no punishment, and I was just told to hand it in the following day.

One of them, perhaps trying to show some sensitivity, said that the whole school had been upset by the news of a student's death, but that life must go on. Had it been any of the other boys at school, I might have agreed with him, but Teo wasn't just any other boy. He was my best friend, and I couldn't admit to anyone how much I loved him, and just because he wasn't there anymore didn't stop me loving him.

For the rest of the week I was on autopilot, following my usual routines and interacting with others only when it couldn't be avoided. My parents were trying to behave as if nothing had happened, and my poor ten-year-old brother tried to keep out of my way as much as possible, creeping around as if treading on eggshells. On the Saturday morning, my parents took Andy shopping with them, leaving me alone in the house. That was when reality hit me like a punch in the guts and grief erupted in a long moaning, groaning wail. I dragged myself up to my room, curled up on my bed, and cried.

By the time my parents and brother arrived home, my tears had run dry, and when my mum sent Andy upstairs to ask if I wanted something to eat, I just told him I wasn't hungry and was lying down because I wasn't feeling well. During the rest of the afternoon and evening, Mum came to check up on me occasionally, and a couple of times brought me a mug of tea, which I didn't drink. However, I stayed where I was and wouldn't eat. Finally, when it was time for Andy to go to bed, Mum seemed to lose some of her patience.

"Look, Ian," she said as she stood in the bedroom doorway, "I know you're still upset about Teo, but you can't just stop eating. And you can't carry on being irritable with everyone all the time, especially not your brother. It's not his fault you're unhappy, and what happened with Teo isn't anyone's fault."

Her words set off a train of thought that occupied my mind so much that I hardly noticed when my little brother came in and started getting ready for bed. By the time he turned off the light and got into bed, I'd decided that surely it must be someone's fault if a fifteen-year-old boy suddenly drops dead. Surely I should be able to blame someone for the misery that was crushing my heart. The more I thought about that, the angrier I got.

Perhaps he'd pushed himself too hard playing tennis just so that his brother could practise better, so maybe it was his brother's fault. After all, Teo and I had gone on some quite strenuous bicycle rides, so it wasn't as if he wasn't used to exercise. If Teo had some medical problem before or during the tennis game, then his father, a doctor, should have seen something wrong, so maybe it was his father's fault. If no one else could be blamed, then it must be God's fault.

Up until then I'd just accepted that there was a God because most people around me seemed to believe it, but I'd never given it much thought and had no deep faith. As I lay on my bed, still fully clothed and fuming with an anger that was directed at the whole universe, including myself, I began to question my belief in God for the first time. I wondered how an all-knowing and all-powerful God could let such a good, kind person as Teo die so young. Surely I, with my unnatural lusts and unclean thoughts, was much more deserving of death than Teo.

My heart skipped a beat when it occurred to me that maybe being deprived of Teo was my punishment for committing sinful acts with Simon. I also wondered how an all-powerful God could make me fancy other boys and then make it a sin to act on my desires. Such thoughts went around and around in my head all night, until the first signs of dawn began to appear. With my mind weary from lack of sleep and my body exhausted by grief and anger, I decided that if God existed and was capable of allowing Teo to die just to punish me, then I'd have to hate Him. Therefore, it was preferable not to believe in any God at all.

As the weeks went by, I went through the routines of daily life like a sleepwalker. The anger gradually faded and, even more slowly, the sharp blade of grief became dulled. By immersing myself in my studies I managed to keep from dwelling on more painful thoughts. Whenever Kris and I saw each other at school, we both avoided eye contact, as if by doing that we might also avoid stirring up more unhappiness.

Despite the pain involved in thinking about Teo, I didn't want to forget him. However, I had few tangible reminders. The only mementos I had were the two French novels he'd given me, and a photograph of our whole class taken toward the end of Second Form, when we were thirteen years old. In that photo we were standing next to each other at the end of the middle row, with me showing a goofy grin while he had a slightly enigmatic smile. So at night I'd lie in bed remembering our times together, desperately afraid that if I didn't hang onto them tightly, those memories would fade away.

One way or another, I'd lost the two people who'd been my best friends as well as one whom I'd considered to be a good friend, and before me stretched a dull, boring, and pointless life. Self-absorbed and selfish, swimming in my own self-centred sea, I occasionally considered ending it all. However, I was a coward, and afraid of the pain involved even if I succeeded. Also, I dreaded the prospect that if I failed, there was a chance of making things worse, maybe by ending up paralysed.

So, although life wasn't pleasant, it wasn't miserable enough to be worth attempting suicide. However, for many nights I went to sleep hoping that I wouldn't wake up again. By the time the long summer holidays arrived, I no longer had that hope every night, and was instead left with just a total indifference as to whether I lived or died.

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