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Thinking of Tom

Tom’s hair had been the first thing I had noticed about him and I still considered it his most striking feature, perfect white blond, the only natural bearer of that colour in the whole year, shortish at the back, trimmed neatly over his ears before coming to a perfect glossy fringe that flopped over his forehead, somehow adding a certain enigmatic quality to his deep blue eyes. I blinked, remembering where I was and what I was doing and allowing my common sense to give me a hearty slap across the face and bring me firmly back into the lunch break mentality. It wasn’t that I was afraid that my staring would cause him to catch on to the fact that I liked him, in fact I secretly wanted to give myself away with such carelessness, but we were in the middle of a game of cards and he would probably have jumped to the (far more logical) conclusion that I was trying to sneak a look at his hand. I also realised that it was my turn. Luckily we were only playing Uno and it wasn’t that hard to get back into the game after such a mental lapse.

I had told myself many times that I wasn’t made out to be gay, the pieces just didn’t fit. The reason that I had never actually got round to telling anyone, or at least the excuse I used to make myself feel better about it, was that I knew they wouldn’t believe me. A friend picked at random, say Stephanie, would most likely have frowned at me, evaluated the evidence, such as lack of dress sense, lack of cheesy pop albums on my MP3 player and, most of all, total lack of charisma and would merely assume that I was making an unsuccessful attempt at a joke. I’m not sure if I could take that incredulity. Then there were other things that bothered me, such as if my regularly falling head over heels in love with Aryans made me some sort of bizarre Nazi fetishist, that sort of thought can really make one feel odd. I had simply come to an executive decision that I was either going to keep quiet until I actually got a boyfriend or just leave my friends to figure it out for themselves from my slightly airy fairy demeanour and total lack of interest in girls, either those in the schoolyard or those on the pages of FHM and Nuts and other detestable male chauvinist publications, God I’d hate to be straight. Then, on the other hand, there was Tom, okay, sod it, Tommy. Pet names could never do any harm inside your own head. Everything about him, the way he dressed, the way he acted, it all seemed to fit. His MySpace page made the claim that he was straight, but I didn’t believe it for a second. I was utterly convinced of his homosexuality, though in truth I have been before and been wrong then. Maybe I was just so desperate that I’d inject the right hormones into him with a syringe to get him interested. Or perhaps he just hadn’t realised yet, that made sense.

There was of course the small matter of Stephanie, who rudely reminded me of her existence at that moment by proclaiming, “Uno!” The rumours had been circulating for at least a week now, she fancied Tommy, who could blame her, but couldn’t stump up the courage to ask him out herself. Hey, I know the feeling. The game carried on for a couple more rounds before Roger, possibly on purpose, put down an Uno card and changed the card colour to ,“Blue”, the colour of Stephanie’s last remaining card, as I would probably have been able to work out if I had been paying attention instead of gawping at Tommy (another slap in the face, this time from my guilt, closely followed by a third from my shame, funny how those two always work together).

There’s a chip shop just down the road from our school that does good deals at lunch time and, as long your name’s not on the dreaded ‘naughty list’ (We may have acknowledged to non-existence of Santa by then but that of Mrs. Marsh, self appointed head of school discipline and keeper of this list, was less easy to refute) nobody really minded you popping out of the school grounds to get your lunch from there. It was just possible that the chip shop had sensed the business opportunity that we represented and had put a little cash into the school to allow us this privilege. Every little helps. We had come to a decision, not a particularly hard one to make, that lunchtime couldn’t be lunchtime without lunch and had promptly set off from the common room with this chip shop in our sights. We looked fairly scruffy, a group of not altogether trustworthy 15 year olds, shirts untucked, ties askew, Roger at our party’s head in trainers instead of school shoes, but no one, not even the paranoid locals, could have called us threatening. I trotted along at the back of the group, subconsciously drifting quite close to Tommy. I smiled at him, he smiled back, my heart skipped a beat. Stephanie was just behind Roger, looking a little uncomfortable and glancing over her shoulder at us, well, at Tommy mainly, a little too often to be considered normal. Something was up.

I watched Tommy closely as he ordered his chips before stepping up to buy mine. The man behind the counter grinned manically, he was quite famous within the school for his exaggerated mannerisms and accent, a rotund chap who obviously thought that conforming to the British stereotypes of Chinese people could only help his trade. “Chips and curry please,” I said with a camp flourish, turning round to see if Tommy had caught it only to find that he had already left.

“One pound!” exclaimed the man behind the counter, pushing out his fist in slow motion in a mockery of a punch before twisting his wrist and opening his palm to receive the money. I sheepishly dropped a pound coin into it, took my chips and left. I stepped outside to find Tommy gone, but Roger and Stephanie waiting. Stephanie looked more even nervous than before. Roger also looked a little anxious.

“What?” I asked.

“Look,” started Roger. I raised an eyebrow, his tone sounded rehearsed. “You know what people have been saying about, you know, Steph and Tom.”

I nodded, making it quite plain that I wasn’t happy about it.

“Well.” Roger glanced sideways at Stephanie, who nodded in edgy encouragement. “It’s not Tom she likes.”

“It isn’t?” My face lifted, it was fantastic news as far as I was concerned.

“It’s you,” said Stephanie slowly.

“Oh,” I said, glancing up to see Roger walking off down the street towards the school and leaving Stephanie and I alone.

The five minutes that followed were among the hardest I had endured in my life, or that’s how it felt at the time. I suppose I was just being too d*mn sensitive, too d*mn caring about other people’s feelings. I didn’t feel ready to tell her, but I knew that I couldn’t risk getting involved with a girl, it just wouldn’t feel right. Turning her down was agonising, but only because I couldn’t tell her the reason that I wasn’t interested.

I sat alone on the bench next to the rugby pitch, mulling things over and sighing a lot in the process. Silence surrounded me, no sound wishing to intrude, how considerate. The guilt was of a level I had never known, clenching its muscular fist around my heart and squeezing, squeezing ever so tightly.

“Are you okay?” I looked up, blinking and realising that there were tears in my eyes, real tears, for the first time since I was 12, I think, possibly younger. They welled up and blurred the world, so that I couldn’t even see the boy that had appeared in front of me properly. Still, I didn’t have to see him to know who it was. For some reason, the moment Tommy sat down alongside me and put his arm around my shoulder made the tears worse. I buried my head in his shoulder, soon creating damp grey streaks down the front of his shirt.

“I heard about Steph,” said Tommy simply.

“Weird f**king love triangle, eh?” I stammered.

“What d’you mean?”

“She says she likes you, but she really likes me, but I have to turn her down because, because I want you. Go on, say you want her, make it complete.”

Tommy sighed. “I don’t want her,” he said. “I don’t.” He lifted my head and I could just make out those blue eyes amongst the blur. Then it happened, just like that. For the first time ever I realised that I didn’t care if anyone was watching, and sod’s law said someone probably would be. I won’t pretend that the technique was the best, in truth his tongue did most of the work, mine was mainly a spectator. But the feeling of joy, that more than stopped feeling inadequate about that. I drew my face away, felt the remaining tears wiped from my eyes and saw him properly for the first time. “Let’s not tell anyone,” I whispered. “Not just yet. It can be our little secret.”

“Bit late for that,” giggled Tommy. “I told Steph and Rog before I went to find you.”

I stared at him disbelievingly. “You bastard!” I chuckled. Needless to say, I didn’t mean any malice in the word. I almost didn’t know what to do. The feelings rushing around inside were a little too much to cope with, if I’m being honest. And somewhere, deep down, a little voice in my head, pride I think, said, “So, you were right all along, eh my friend?”
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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