Simon sat on one of the hard concrete benches that evenly flanked the college’s main entrance, and waited. The bench was as hard and uncomfortable as all the other benches around the college. It was also identical to all the other ones, the ones in the courtyard, the ones stretching along the back of the college, and those facing the basketball court and five-a-side football pitch. Had they bought a job-lot of these benches when the place was being built? Simon wondered. It was one of the thousands of unanswerable questions his mind would wander to in times like this, when he had to wait for someone. That afternoon he was waiting for Freddie.
At the bus stop, situated out on the pavement just beyond the college gates, was another crowd of lads and girls all jostling for attention and status. They were all behaving as they always did, grouped together in their different cliques, pushing themselves forward. The lads egging each other on, physically jostling each other, and displaying their masculinity as if they were cock birds displaying for hens. And the girls clumped together in their own cliques, pretending to ignore the lads, but also preening themselves and displaying their femininity as if they were hen birds wanting cock birds to notice them. The lads and girls were always displaying to each other, like birds looking for a mate. Simon had noticed this ages ago when he’d watched the kids around him at school starting to behave like this as soon as puberty had hit them. Simon knew that he should have behaved like that too, even Harrison and Phil had started to behave like that, especially Harrison when he started to lust after the girls around him. But Simon couldn’t bring himself to do so. It always felt so false to him, to behave like that, to wear his masculinity like a false disguise, as if he was trying to do a bad impersonation of a stereotype. And he also knew that failing to do so could single him out as a target for bullies. Fortunately, he’d had Harrison and Phil as a screen he could hide behind.
“DON’T BE A FUCKING QUEER!!” a lad’s voice suddenly rang out from the crowd around the bus stop. Simon felt himself wince inside when heard it. At least sat where he was, on the concrete bench, no one was paying him any attention.
At the end of lunch, but just before Freddie and Vee had left to go to their afternoon lesson, Freddie had found out Simon caught the same bus home same as he did, the 330. He’d exclaimed:
“Meet me outside the main entrance and we’ll get the same bus together.”
“If that’s all right,” Simon replied.
“Vee walks home and Jeff gets the 28 from the playing fields entrance, so we’ll be Bus Buddies. It’ll be cool,” Freddie smiled at him.
“Great,” Simon replied.
After Freddie and Vee had hurried off, Jeff said to him:
“And we can be Study Buddies. My next lesson is Library Time, too.”
“Sure, great, if you want to,” Simon replied, trying to hide his nerves. He felt so stupid having these nerves around Jeff. Yes, Jeff was handsome but they were just friends, so he shouldn’t be so nervous.
“It’ll be cool to have a Study Buddy. I always find Library Time hard. I can never study for the full time and usually bunk off before the end,” Jeff said.
“Me too,” Simon smiled back at Jeff.
The two of them had spent an hour, sitting side-by-side at one of the library’s long wooden tables, and they had actually studied. Simon had first studied his anatomy and physiology text book, even though it was the driest of all his text books, and he’d managed to read it for half an hour. Next he moved onto his NHS policy text book. This one he always found easier to read because the book was actually a history of the NHS, which in itself was interesting, and it was written in very journalistic style with a lot of attention put on making it interesting. In that hour Simon found that he’d read several weeks’ worth of lessons ahead of what he’d already been taught.
At the end of the hour, Jeff had whispered to him:
“God, I’m bored. How about you?”
“I could do with a break,” Simon replied.
“Let’s get one in the canteen?”
“Sounds good,” Simon said.
In the canteen they had each bought a cold drink, sat down together at a one of the small round tables and started to talk. At first, they had talked about their love the Doctor Who TV series, and had found it was a shared love. They chatted excitedly about their favourite episodes. From there they branched out into talking about their favourite science fiction TV programs, and then just their favourite TV programs in general. Simon had loved that conversation. It had been so long since he just talked about his favourite television. His mum and Niki rarely liked the same programs as he did, and his dad always took such a judgemental view of television, as if he’d never enjoyed watching it. Since leaving school he’d not had a conversation like this, a simple conversation about television or music or books. He’d missed this type of simple friendly conversation more than he’d wanted to admit, and for a little under half an hour he revelled in it.
When the time came for them to go to their final lessons of the day Simon hadn’t wanted to leave. He'd wanted to stay there talking with Jeff. Reluctantly he’d headed off to his last lesson of the day, leaving Jeff to do the same but heading to Block B, the opposite direction to where Simon was going.
Yes, Jeff was handsome and his good looks had fascinated Simon, but he enjoyed just talking with Jeff much more than staring at his good looks. It had been such pleasure just talking and Simon had actually felt down as he had to pull himself away from it. Had he been that lonely?
Simon looked around himself but there was no sign of Freddie. Had Freddie forgotten about him or just got himself delayed with something or other? The latter sounded the most likely. Or at least he hoped that the latter sounded the most likely.
The crowd of lads and girls were still preening themselves, showing off for each other, especially for the opposite sex, and jostling each other. But the crowd seemed to have developed more kinetic energy to it. Was impatience and waiting driving up their energy levels?
In the next moment he wondered what Max was doing now? Was he trying to sell someone some electronic item they didn’t need or didn’t fully understand? The thought had startled him. It was the first time he’d thought about Max that day. Previously, it had felt like that he’d been thinking about Max for more than half of any day. He’d be almost constantly wondering what Max was doing, how Max was feeling, was Max even thinking about him? The last question always received the same, negative answer. If Max was worried about him then Max would have been in contact with him. And Max had been coldly silent since a little over a week ago when Max had dumped him.
He had not thought about Max all day. Did that mean he was over Max? Or was it because he’d been actually been distracted by real people? Was he finally making friends? He so hoped so.
“Hey Bus Buddy, you waited!” Freddie’s voice called out.
Momentarily, his eyes quickly scanned the crowd of lads and girls around the bus stop, but none of them seemed to react to Freddie’s loud voice.
He quickly turned towards Freddie and smiled broadly at him, as he strode over towards his bench and dropped down onto it, next to Simon.
“Sorry I’m late, our bloody tutor wouldn’t let us out early. Why the fuck do we need to know book keeping? You can get a computer program that will do all your book keeping needs. Vee’s mum does all her book keeping via this computer program. It’s a fucking awkward program to use though,” Freddie babbled on, his voice bright and lively. “Anyway, how was your afternoon.”
“Studying with Jeff was great,” Simon replied.
“Yes, Jeff is really easy on the eye.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Simon replied as he felt the embarrassment prickling at the back of his neck. “Just having someone else to study with really made me study.”
“I know, I always get Vee to study with me when we’ve got library time,” Freddie smiled back at him. “She can be a real terror, and she fucking gets me studying. Last week she had a go at me for taking a phone break in the library. I mean, checking my Facebook is a basic human right.”
“Should we go and wait for the bus?” Simon asked.
“God no! Let the Neanderthals crowd on the first bus like some cattle truck. We’ll get the next bus and have it to ourselves.”
“Won’t we have to wait ages?” Simon said.
“No. There’ll be another bus in a few minutes. It's four o’clock,” Freddie told him.
“Are you sure?” Simon had missed a 330 bus and had to wait up to twenty minutes for the next one enough times in the past not to trust the bus' punctuality. He now arrived at college half an hour early most mornings because he would catch an early bus just to avoid being made late by the bus’s poor timekeeping.
“My mum works in the scheduling department of the bus company and she’s always going on about the bus schedules. Between three-thirty and four-thirty they put on a load of extra buses for school and college closing times. That’s why I always let the Neanderthals get the first bus, because they all pile onto it. There’ll be another soon after and that’s always empty.”
“I didn’t know that,” Simon felt a moment of stupidity. He’d been attending this college for over half a year and had never realised that.
“That’s why I’m here, to make life so much better,” Freddie laughed.
The next moment a bright green 330 bus pulled up at the bus stop, and with a rush of noise and movement, the crowd of lads and girl swarmed around its door. As the door opened the crowd rushed onto on as if they were rushing away from something dangerous. In a matter of moments, the crowd had moved off the pavement and boarded on the bus, leaving the bus stop once again empty. The doors closed and the bus slowly pulled away from the stop.
“And the cattle truck moves off,” Freddie said.
“I hate taking that bus,” Simon added.
“Yes, Neanderthals all breathing down your neck,” Freddie said. “We can go and wait at a peaceful bus stop.”
Barely two minutes later another bright green 330 bus pulled up, but this time it was almost empty. The two of them jumped onto it as soon as the door swept open. Simon automatically followed behind Freddie as he bounced up the stairs to the upper deck. The upper deck was empty and Freddie dropped down onto the first double seat next to the stairs, Simon sat next to him as the bus started to move away.
“Right, spill the tea. Tell me about yourself,” Freddie said, smiling at Simon.
“There’s nothing really to say. I’m not that interesting,” Simon replied.
“You’re not a Neanderthal, I can tell, so you’ve got to be interesting. Have you got a boyfriend, or even a girlfriend?”
“I had a boyfriend, but he dumped me,” Simon said, but he couldn’t keep a note of disappointment out of his voice. He hated the disappointment he always felt over Max now.
“What a stupid bastard, dumping you. What happened?” Freddie said, his voice dropping in volume as if there was someone else nearby, listening in on them.
“I was supposed to meet him for a date. He always picked me up from the main road, two streets away from my home,” Simon explained.
“God, I hate closet cases,” Freddie exclaimed, his voice returning to its normal volume.
“He wasn’t in the closet, he said he was out to his parents.”
“Did he ever take you to see his parents?”
“That’s the first thing I do with a new boyfriend is get him to meet my parents. It fucking winds up my parents.”
“You do?” Simon exclaimed. That seemed so brave of Freddie.
“Well, I’ve only had two boyfriends and I fucking made sure they met my parents. My dad was all uptight about it, trying to behave like this was the most natural thing and failing, and my mum just went on and on about bus schedules. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so terminally sad.”
“Max never did anything like that,” Simon said, he couldn’t keep the note of disappointment out of his voice.
“That’s a big sign that he’s a closet case.”
“Are there any others?” Simon asked Freddie. He was beginning to hear a lot of recognition in Freddie’s words, Freddie was opening his eyes to Max.
“Did he take you anywhere?”
“We went for a few coffees together and we went to the cinema a few times, but mostly we had sex on the back seat of his car.”
“You fucked in his car. God how heterosexual,” Freddie said with mock distaste.
“He seemed to know where to park so we wouldn’t be disturbed or found doing it,” Simon said. He realised what he said didn't actually contradict what Freddie was saying.
“He must have done it before,” Freddie said, the mock tone gone from his voice.
“He must,” Simon agreed. “We never really talked about it. He never said anything about previous boyfriends, but he knew how to have sex.” This was the first time he’d really talked about Max and, as he talked with Freddie, he began to see Max in a new light.
“Did you meet any of his friends?” Freddie asked.
“Did you go anywhere gay?”
“Like where?” Simon asked.
“Like Hades or Scarlet O’Hare’s? There’s the Corner House Coffee Shop, but that isn’t really gay just dead arty.”
“No, none of those places. He said he’d didn’t really like gay clubs, he said they were full of phonies,” Simon replied.
“You were going out with a real closet case,” Freddie quietly said.
“Shit, I was,” Simon said. Freddie was right. Max wasn’t out to anyone, and he hadn’t wanted to be. Max hadn’t even wanted to show off their relationship to his closest friends. Simon’s stomach felt heavy with the realisation. Had all he meant to Max was sex on the backseat of his car?
“Did you have any big fight or anything?” Freddie asked him. “Both my boyfriends broke up with me after we had huge rows, and because of different things. Jeff says I can drop myself into it with my big mouth, and he has a point.”
“We didn’t really have a row, as such,” Simon replied.
“Max kept wanting to do more, you know, sexually,” Simon quietly said.
“Do more? What like?”
“He wanted us to have anal sex,” Simon again quietly replied.
“He wanted to fuck you up the bum?” Freddie replied, his voice dropping in volume.
“Being fucked can be real fun. I did it all the time with my last boyfriend Liam. Fuck, it was all we did.”
“I know, I’ve seen enough porn. But I didn’t want to lose my anal virginity on the backseat of a Volkswagen Golf Mark 4,” Simon said.
“Oh God, no!” Freddie’s voice rose with indignation. “You want a bit of romance, a lot of lube, and a decent sized bed. For your first time anyway. Thank God Liam had his own flat.”
“He did?” Simon asked. How could someone their age afford a whole flat to themselves?
“Yes, he was twenty-five. I had myself an older man,” Freddie said, an obvious note of pride in his voice. “Shame he was such a total twat. What happened with your Max?”
“We were supposed to meet for a date, but he didn’t show up. He didn’t reply to any of my texts and when I tried to check his Facebook page to make sure he was all right and such, he’d gone and blocked me. I haven’t heard from him since.”
“The bastard went and Ghosted you,” Freddie replied.
“Yes. He doesn’t have the balls to tell you that he’s dumping you. He just blocked you on social media and his phone and waited for you to take the hint.”
“That’s what he did. I feel so stupid,” Simon said. And he did feel stupid. He’d wanted so much from Max, but in only a few minutes Freddie had cut to the bone of Max’s personality. Without meeting Max, Freddie had summed up all Max’s negative characteristics, all the things that Simon had been ignoring about Max. Or just couldn’t see.
“All men are pigs,” Freddie said.
“I thought he was my way into the gay world, that he’d show me what being gay was,” Simon said.
“He would be your way of coming out?”
“Yes, sort of. But all he really showed me was how to suck cock on the seat of a Volkswagen Golf Mark 4.”
“I mean sucking cock is important but honestly there’s more than that to being gay.”
“It’s so hard to work out on your own,” Simon said. He really wanted to say what a huge and daunting prospect it all seemed.
“You don’t have to do this on your own, you’ve got me and Jeff and Vee and we’ll do it together. It’ll be fun,” Freddie said, his voice bright and almost excited.
“Jeff and Vee are gay?” Simon asked. It was the question he’d wanted to ask for most of the afternoon. Freddie wore his gayness for almost all to see, but with Jeff and Vee it was different. He had wanted to asked Jeff during their study time together but hadn’t known how to, and, anyway he thought to ask it would have sounded crass and rude. So he’d left the question unasked.
“Jeff’s gay and Vee is sexually fluid, which means she like who she likes. Boys, girls whoever. She’s had a few flings, whatever, two girls and a boy, but nothing serious. Jeff had a boyfriend, Karl, but it all went tits-up. Karl dumped him and left Jeff a real mess. I could have fucking killed that Karl, but this face is too beautiful for prison.”
Simon laughed along with him.
“Have you had just one boyfriend?” Simon asked. He was feeling much more confident now. Freddie’s company didn’t just relax him but it also made him confident. He felt he could ask Freddie anything and Freddie would answer.
“I’ve had two,” Freddie said proudly, “and they were both dicks.” His voice deflated with the second part of his sentence. “Ryan was a complete fucking closet case. All he wanted to do was fuck. He lived with his parents and I still do, so we had to find all these places to fuck. He didn’t want to do anything else, didn’t want to meet my friends, didn’t want to go out together, nothing but fuck. It took me ages to realise he was a fucking closet case and just using me.”
“Yes, I know,” Simon said. Freddie was summing up his relationship with Max and Freddie had never met Max. It wasn’t a comfortable thought.
“Liam was different. He took me to meet his mum also the second week after I’d met him. Thing was…” Freddie’s voice took on an almost melancholic tone, the brightness dropping out of it. “Liam was all romantic and stuff. He was nine years older than me and suddenly he wanted us to settle down and get engaged and everything. I wasn’t ready. God I’d just started college and everything. He didn’t like that and… It was a mess and I hate being dumped. It’s a bitch.”
“It is,” Simon agreed.
“Listen to us, whingeing like old women,” Freddie said, his voice suddenly returning to its bright tone. “We need to find you a boyfriend, get you back in the saddle.”
“I don’t think I’m ready for another boyfriend,” Simon replied.
“I mean a proper boyfriend, not another closet case.”
“I still don’t know,” Simon replied. Was he ready for another boyfriend? He hadn’t asked himself that question, instead he’d allowed his mind to fester on Max.
“Well get shagged at least,” Freddie said. “We can’t live without a good shag.”
Before he could reply his phone let out its tell-tale beep, announcing the arrival of another text. As Simon pulled his phone out of his pocket, Freddie asked:
“Who’s your secret admirer?”
Simon glanced down at his phone and saw it was just another text from his dad. He didn’t need to open it to know it would be another one of his dad’s homophobic rantings.
“It’s just my stupid dad,” he replied, pushing his phone back into his jacket pocket.