Dad has hardly said a word since he got home. Now, as we sit having our evening meal, he looks at me and his face is goes red and sweat appears on his brow. There is a determined look on his face as he swallows the mouthful he has been chewing. I can see him gearing up to say something. I just know it will be aimed at me. He takes a drink of water to calm himself.
"This is a grand curry. It's one of yours, lad, isn't it?" he asks.
I smile and nod to acknowledge the praise. I have been helping Mum with the cooking, especially curries, since I had some tutorials from Raj and Naveem's mother last year.
"You certainly learnt your lessons well from Mrs P. at the corner shop," Dad says. "Pity you don't learn your lessons so well at school."
I think that is a bit unfair given that even he has noticed that I have been doing better since Tony and I got together and Tony helps me with my homework. I am about to protest when I notice Dad's grin. He was pulling my leg and I nearly rose to his bait.
However Dad is not really his normal self and is quiet for the rest of the meal. I find out why when we sit down and relax while Mum, since I cooked, sorts out the dishes.
"I'm sorry, lad," he says, "but I have to go in to work tomorrow. Would you do me a favour and cut the grass please?"
Normally I would agree with only a token 'Aw, Dad!' for form's sake. After all some of my friends have grass cutting as one of their chores. Tony and Paul for instance, although Paul doesn't think it a chore since his dad bought a ride-on mower. It is not one of my chores. I think Dad likes to do it to give a physical contribution to his household and not just the financial one of his pay-packet. I help out in other ways, like cooking and the ironing I somehow volunteered myself for because of those camouflage trousers. I do help Dad do some of those little repair jobs around the house and after I decorated my bedroom he was impressed enough to say I can paint the upstairs window frames when we do outside this summer. He said it was because I have a steadier hand than he has. Mum said that, with having me for a son, Dad has lost his sense of balance and isn't safe up a ladder any more. I think she was only joking.
Even though I know Dad often has to work extra days at this time of year, this time I am less than happy. We have a sports match against two other local schools tomorrow and Donny and I have been picked for the athletics team for the eight hundred and the four by four hundred relay. Tony and Paul are on the tennis team.
"Aw Dad!" I protest. "You know I'm on the team tomorrow. You and Mum were going to come and watch me race. Can't you do it on Sunday?"
Will I get away with trying to push the job back to Dad? No chance!
"No! You can't do it on Sunday," he says. "We've promised your mother we will go and visit her sister."
I am about to volunteer to stay at home and do the grass when he continues.
"And, no, you can't stay here on Sunday. I need your support to cope with your Aunt Doris and you wouldn't like it if I said I would stay here and let you face her alone."
Although I have to agree with that point, I am not in the mood to do so gracefully.
"Can't it wait 'til next weekend?" I ask more in hope than the expectation of agreement.
"No," Dad replies. "It's already a fortnight since it was last done and if it gets any longer it will be much harder work with the mower."
"Only because you won't buy a power mower," I grouch, forcing myself to omit the words 'you're too tight'. "Anyway I don't know why we bother with the little patch we have. It always looks yellow and threadbare compared to Tony's and Paul's."
"Lad. We bother because your mother likes it." From Dad's tone I can tell he has moved into teaching mode, so I wait for the lesson. "You will learn that in a relationship, with Tony or whoever, it is not worth arguing over something like our little bit of lawn. If you are constantly bickering over the small stuff, it makes things harder to patch up when something major happens."
Once again I am caught out by Dad's implied acceptance of Tony as my boyfriend and all I can manage as a reply is to nod.
"Moving on. I was speaking to Bert the other day." I must have a blank look on my face because Dad stops and looks at me before saying "Bert, Tony's dad."
That has me worried. I didn't know they talked to each other.
"What were you talking to him about?" I ask. Somehow I sound guilty.
"Apart from you and Tony?"
I can see Dad is trying to suppress a smile. He knows he has caught me off guard.
"I was going to tell you when you interrupted. Bert was complaining about how much weed-and-feed he had to put on the lawn to keep it looking nice and green and how much it cost. I hadn't the heart to tell him I don't bother and that is why our grass is a bit yellow and only needs cutting every fortnight. How often does Tony do theirs?"
"Once a week," I say. "Maybe more if conditions are right."
"There you are then," Dad says, lapsing back into his lecture voice. "The grass might be greener on the other side of the fence but it still needs mowing, and probably more often."
I decide not to press the point about a power mower. There certainly wouldn't be room on our little patch to turn one like Paul's around. I still try one last shot.
"What about my athletics match? I don't want to be tired before it starts."
"Well get to bed early and have a good night's sleep," he says.
I should have seen that coming, and he hasn't finished.
"Then you can mow the grass in the morning. Walking around our bit of lawn won't even be a warm up exercise for a runner like you. And pushing the mower should be good for your arm and shoulder muscles, something you don't get by running."
No sympathy there then.
When I am having my breakfast, I find a note from Dad. He wishes me good luck in my races. He also reminds me about the grass saying I will be on the high jump squad as well if I forget. He has drawn a little smiley to show he is only joking. Good job that he has reminded me though, as I had forgotten.
Our patch of grass is that small, fetching the mower out of the shed beforehand and cleaning and putting it away after takes almost as long as the actual mowing. A power mower isn't really appropriate.
I have to admit Dad is right. It is nothing more than a warm up exercise. It also helps to keep my mind off the races.
After a light lunch, I walk down to school to get changed into my athletics kit ready for the match. Mum promises to follow along later to support me and the rest of the team.
The school playing field is next to the park. As it doesn't have its own tennis courts, the school uses the ones in the park and there is a gate in the fence for ease of access.
On the far side of the courts there is another gate in the park fence. This one leads into the rear courtyard of the Italian restaurant run by Bruno's family. When the weather is suitable and there are enough folk about they open the gate and put out some tables and chairs so that they can serve people watching or playing tennis or anyone else using the park who wants a drink or something to eat.
When I check in with 'Brussels' Sproat, our games master, he tells me someone hasn't turned up and I am doing the high jump as well as the two races I was picked for. I am not very good, but Brussels says I am about the only one available in my age group who has even the slightest idea of technique. Dad will have a laugh when he finds out. I did the grass and still ended up in the high jump squad.
Mum is one of only a handful of parents from any of the teams who have bothered to turn out in support. She thinks it is a poor show that parents are so disinterested in what their kids are doing. I am secretly proud that she has made the effort.
Brussels appreciates her support too. With both athletics and tennis matches to supervise, the games staff are fully stretched, so he asks Mum to sit with the athletics team to offer encouragement and to mind our track suits and other kit.
It always seems that there is a lot of hanging around in athletics matches, waiting for your event to come up on the schedule and if you are doing a field event, like the high jump, you have to wait between jumps while the other competitors have their turns in each round.
I always have butterflies in my stomach before a race, but today is worse because I have to do the high jump as well, something I have not done for the school before. Mum picks up on it.
"Are you worried about something?" she asks. "You're looking a bit green."
"Yeah. The high jump. I've not had to do it in competition before."
"If you're new to it, that means you are green." I knew she wouldn't be able to resist teasing me a bit.
"Don't worry," she says, now sounding supportive. "They know you're not the best jumper in the school or you would have been picked before. All they want you to do is to try your best. I know it is hard, but as I'm always having to remind your father - you're paid to care, not to worry."
I have to smile at that. No chance of us being paid to be on the school team.
Mum has helped me relax enough to get through the first round with my first jump. That in turn gives me the confidence to go on and beat my personal best. Out of six, I am the third to be knocked out, so I gain useful points for the school.
After I am knocked out of the high jump I can start to think about my races. For me, the four by four relay doesn't require much prior analysis. Run as fast as I can and don't drop the baton or make a bollocks of the change-overs. The eight hundred is a bit different. Not only am I running for the school, but Donny is also in the team and he is better than me. Even though he has a cute bum that is nice to watch if he is in front of me, it would also be nice to beat him for once. So do I try to run a tactical race to help Donny win and hope to come in high enough myself for us to win the event for the school, or do I hope the other runners will hold Donny up enough for me to get past and beat him. In practice, I know that what happens will be completely different to whatever I plan to do because the other runners also have their own ideas.
Having come to the conclusion that there is no use worrying about tactics beforehand, I sit near Mum and the pile of kit she is supervising to wait for the eight hundred race. I start to watch the events happening around me. Well, it would be more correct to say I am watching the boys taking part in the events. Some of them are seriously cute, especially those in running shorts like mine.
It is not long before I realise that Mum is watching me. I turn towards her and she has an amused look on her face.
"There are some good looking kids here," she says. "But not many as cute as Tony or even as cute as you."
I think I have been busted for boywatching. I try and brazen it out.
"Even me?" I ask, trying to sound insulted. "Is that supposed to be a compliment?"
She gives me her old-fashioned look, and beckons me closer so that we are not overheard.
"Young man," she says. "I might be cabbage looking but I am not green. I saw you admiring some of the other athletes."
I play at being indignant and hiss "Mum!" at her then turn to look the other way.
The other way is in the direction of the tennis courts. My eyesight is good enough to see that Tony is sitting at one of the tables put out by the Italian restaurant. He must be between matches. He must also have remembered to bring some money with him as he has a partly drunk glass of milk in front of him.
As I watch him I can see something has got his attention. He is engrossed in whatever it is that he can see, judging by the look of concentration on his face.
Then he starts to do that cute thing of his. He picks the gap between his two front teeth with the nail of his middle finger. The actual action is gross, but it becomes cute when you understand it is a sign he is flustered. I get that look and action whenever he comes to visit me at home and he catches me undressed or in the shower.
Does that mean he is watching another boy and likes what he is seeing?
I can feel myself tense up as I look down into Tony's lap for further evidence to support that idea.
Yep. It is not just my idea that is supported. Judging by the way Tony's tennis shorts look filled, his jockstrap must be supporting his stiffy.
I am wondering if I have time before my race to go over and confront him about whoever he is looking at, when I hear Mum's voice in my ear.
"Is that Tony over there?" she asks. She must know it is, like all mums and their kids, her eyesight is better than mine.
"Yes," I snap back.
"I thought so. You've gone green again."
"I'm not nervous about my race," I grumble. "Anyway what's that got to do with Tony?"
"Different colour green," she says then pauses enigmatically, before continuing. "This time it is the colour associated with the little green-eyed god of jealousy. Am I right?"
I have to admit she is right. Why are parents always right? I nod in reply to her question.
"Remember what your dad said last night - don't sweat the small stuff. You've just been watching the boys, so why shouldn't he, if that is all he is doing."
I am about to challenge her for listening to my conversation with Dad, but she must have read it in my face.
"We do discuss what we have said to you, you know." Her sly grin tells me she thinks she has won a point. "We have to make sure we are singing from the same hymn sheet."
"A little bit of jealousy adds a certain frisson," she goes on. "But don't let it make you over- possessive, you will drive him away. Your dad would have felt straightjacketed if I had picked on him every time I caught him looking at another girl, and I don't think he has any idea how often I was looking at the boys. I still do. That's how I knew what you were looking at. But that is all we ever do - look. It should be easier for you two to talk about as you are both looking at the same thing. I have to guess what your dad finds attractive in the girls he looks at."
I am beginning to calm down as Mum's comments sink in.
One of the juniors comes over to summon me to my race. Mum has to have a last word before I go.
"Think of how you can ask him to share what he was looking at with you without challenging him. That way he will know he has been spotted, but won't feel threatened. If you are still feeling angry channel it into your race. Good luck."
I am still angry enough for it to fire me up for the race. It makes me set a fast pace that I feel confident I can maintain. By four hundred I have left the pack behind. All except Donny, who I sense is maintaining a position a stride behind me. I still haven't shaken him off at the mark for the last two hundred and as we round the last bend he draws level with me.
"You know, you have a nice arse," he says.
I haven't got the spare breath to reply and I would be wasting it anyway. He is away, striding out down the final straight, and I am once again left looking at his cute bum. It is then that I realise I have nothing left, and the chasing pack is closing fast. I do just manage to hang on and struggle across the line before I am caught.
Donny is there to meet me and thank me for a good race.
"It's true," he says.
"That you have a nice arse. I haven't had the opportunity to study it before. You've always been behind me."
Is he flirting with me? I sometimes wonder if Donny plays for the same team as Tony and me. I say the only thing I can think of in reply.
"Well, you have a nice bum too and I have to study yours in every race."
The times are posted and we have both done PBs.
There is just time for me to recover before the four by four hundred relay. It is always the last event.
My leg goes smoothly and the squad wins the race to confirm our school as winners of the meet. The split times show that I achieved another PB, so I am dead pleased with myself.
As I walk over to join Mum after the race, I can see that Tony is with her. He must have finished his match and come over to see how the athletics team was getting on. I give him a point for that.
"Well done," Tony says. "Your mum has told me you got a personal best in the eight hundred and you got roped in to do the high jump and got another there. How did you get on in the relay? I watched the team win."
"Another PB." I reply. "How did the tennis go?"
"I won one and lost one," he says, "and we drew the match."
"I think a bit of a celebration is in order," Mum chips in. "While you two go and get showered and changed, I'll call at the Indian for some snacks. You're going to come round Tony, aren't you?"
Did Mum wink at him? Since Tony only manages a blush and a nod in reply to her question, I think she must have done. But why?
I am not so tactless as to ask Tony in front of Mum. Fortunately Brussels comes over to congratulate Tony on his matches and me on my performances, especially in the high jump. When he turns to thank Mum for her support and help, we head for the changing rooms.
"That was dead embarrassing," says Tony before I can ask him about why he blushed. "Your Mum must have noticed me doing that tooth picking thing I do. She said it made me look cute and asked me what I was thinking about at the time. She even asked if I was boywatching. How did she know?"
I silently thank Mum for getting me out of asking the question myself. I must remember to thank her in person.
"She probably guessed because she had caught me at it only five minutes before," I confess. "I think she only caught me because she was doing it herself."
"Your mum boywatching? That's gross."
"Why shouldn't she?" I ask. "It's no different to our dads admiring one of the girls, Virginia for instance. As long as they are only looking."
We reach the changing rooms and there are other people about so I decide to wait to ask him what he was looking at until we get back to my house.
Mum has just had time to unpack the snacks when we get home. She has put some on a plate for herself and the rest on a tray with some drinks for us to take to my room.
"Thanks for everything, Mum," I say and wink at her so she knows I also mean for asking Tony about his boywatching.
When we are in my room, I remember Mum's lesson and instead of immediately asking Tony about what he had been looking at, I tell him about Donny.
"That Donny has a cheek," I say.
"Why?" asks Tony.
"He was running behind me for three quarters of our eight hundred race then when he passed me on the final bend he said I have a nice arse."
Tony's middle finger goes to his teeth again. Is he thinking of my arse?
"Well, you do," he says. "What did you say?"
"When I crossed the line, he came up to me and told me he hadn't had the chance to study it before because he is usually in front of me. In reply, I told him he also has a cute bum, and, because he always beats me, he makes me look at it in every race."
"Mm." I can see Tony thinking about that. "It is. Isn't it?" he says, and then giggles. "That means he has two cheeks."
I don't want more jokes like that so I feed Tony a bit of my samosa to shut him up. He feeds me a bit of onion bhaji in return. When I have licked his finger I ask what he was looking at when Mum spotted him.
"I noticed that you were picking your teeth as well," l add. "You looked enthralled."
"I was watching Paul playing tennis, except it wasn't his tennis I was watching." His finger is back to his teeth as he tries to visualise the scene. "You would have been sucking on your pinkie, like you do, if you had seen it."
"The pocket billiards match going on in Paul's shorts. He had in those baggy shorts he used those first few weeks in the wrestling. Now Paul has grown a bit they are shorter on him but still baggy. You could tell everything was jiggling about as he played. I was behind the base line and every time he bent down I got a good view of his tackle."
"Wasn't he wearing a jock?" I mumble from behind my little finger. I too am trying to visualise the scene.
"Nope! All hanging loose."
No wonder Tony popped a stiffy while he was watching. I pop one just thinking about it. Is that what Mum meant by a little mild jealousy followed by a mutual discussion of the cause adding a little spice to a relationship?
More spice is added as we feed each other the rest of the snacks.
I won't say what that leads into. It might make you green with envy.
© copyright Pedro April 2018, All Rights reserved
This story is part of the 2018 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Waiting". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 22 June to 12 July 2018 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.
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