Simon was sitting on the sofa, scrolling through the texts on his phone. There were texts from Freddie and Jeff, many more from Freddie than Jeff. There were texts from his mum, and even from Niki. But the vast majority of them were from his dad. So far that day, his dad had sent him six texts, all of them about the lecture that he wanted to take him to the next afternoon. It would be delivered in a church near to his dad’s own by some man from The Release Trust, who claimed Christianity had turned him straight. The texts were full of positive statements about the lecture, but each one had made Simon’s stomach sink with dread. He hadn’t even looked at the three emails his dad had sent as well that day. The subject lines had told him enough.
He didn’t want to go to The Release Trust lecture. He’d had enough of his dad’s church’s homophobia in the four years he was forced to endure it whilst living in his Grandma’s house. He didn’t want to have to listen to all that homophobia again, with the additional claim from The Release Trust that they could turn him straight. Not to mention the added pressure of his dad expecting a reaction from him; and a positive reaction at that. He didn’t want to hear all the homophobia. That would be depressing enough, but his dad’s expectations would be worse. The man demanding to know how much Simon believed what he heard, and when would he be changing. He didn’t know how he could cope with the pressure. He didn’t know if he wanted to cope with it.
The thought of the next day had been playing hard on his mood all day. At lunch he’d barely said a word as the four of them had sat around one the tables in the canteen. Freddie and Vee had been arguing about a television program about the assassination of Gianni Versace, and whether or not it was homophobic; though Freddie still found the leading actor attractive. And Jeff was throwing in comments in an attempt to wind up both Vee and Freddie. The conversation had been interesting and sparkling enough, and usually he would have enjoyed it and taken part by asking questions along the way. But his mood had been too heavy to either enjoy it or to join in.
As they were leaving the canteen and heading off to their different classes Jeff had quietly asked him:
“Are you okay? You seemed off over lunch.”
“I’m just tired,” Simon lied. “I didn’t sleep great last night.”
He had wanted to tell Jeff the real truth. But he didn’t want to burden him with it. It was his problem to deal with. Also he didn’t know exactly how to explain it all, and didn’t even know if he wanted to. Especially not to nice and handsome Jeff.
He tried to concentrate on his afternoon class, but during it he’d received two texts from his dad. Though he didn’t read either of them he knew what they contained. His dad seemed stuck on the same subject, and just the presence of them on his phone turned his stomach. He would have to face the realities of those texts and emails the next day, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to close his eyes and make the whole nauseating nightmare just go away. But it wasn’t possible. He didn’t know what to do.
As he normally did nowadays he caught the bus home with Freddie. As soon as they sat down on the nearly empty upper deck Freddie demanded:
“Right, spill the tea. What’s eating you up?”
“Nothing’s the matter, I’m just tired,” Simon said, falling back on his default lie.
“Bullshit!” Freddie hissed back. “You’ve had a face like a slapped arse all day. Something’s eating you up. You can tell me. I’m not just a pretty face, you know.”
“It’s my dad.”
“What’s the twat done now?”
“This,” Simon replied as he took his phone out of his jacket pocket. He opened the message app and clicked on the texts from his dad, starting with the most recent one he’d received that afternoon. He then just passed the phone over to Freddie.
Freddie took a few moments to read the texts, occasionally letting out a “Shit”, “God” or “Fuck” in a quiet but intense tone, his face twisting up with a concerned and concentrated expression, and his forehead falling into a serious frown.
When he handed the phone back he simply said:
“Fuck him. Don’t have anything to do with the fucking bastard.”
“I can’t. He’s my dad.”
“All this shit is fucking with your head, and he’s threatening to take you to one of these ex-gay shit things.”
“He’s not threatening, he’s already planned it.”
“I have to spend every Saturday with him. Him and my mum agreed it when she left him to live with Niki and I went with her.”
“I’m spending tomorrow with him and he’s going to taking me to that Release Trust thing. He’s going to be breathing down my neck after it. He's going to want to know that I’ve changed. That I’m straight. I feel sick thinking about it.”
“Then fuck him.”
“Fuck him. Don’t go out with him tomorrow. He’s fucking with your head already, even before taking you to that shit organisation,” Freddie said, a sharp edge of determination in his voice.
“But it’s agreed that I spend every Saturday with him,” Simon found himself protesting, but with a sad resignation.
“You’re sixteen. He can’t force you to go to that thing tomorrow. If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to. And if you don’t want to spend tomorrow with him, then you don’t have to. You can’t be forced to. You're not a little kid, you're sixteen and old enough to make your own decisions.”
“I thought you had to be eighteen to do that.”
“You’re legally an adult at eighteen. But at sixteen you’re old enough to make your own decisions. My cousin Jake was sixteen when his parents divorced. His mother wanted him to live with her but Jake wanted to live with his father. His father, my uncle Harvey, is a great guy. Anyway, the judge at their divorce said that Jake was old enough to make his own decisions at sixteen, agreed with his decision, and let Jake live with his father. His mother was fucking pissed. I was only twelve at the time, but I remember it. Now, whenever my parents give me grief about one thing or another, usually about doing something gay, then I tell them at sixteen I am old enough to make my decisions, and the judge told Jake that. You should see the looks my mother gives me when I say that.”
“Are you sure?”
“God, yes. Ask your mum’s girlfriend, she’s a Social Worker, isn’t she?”
“Yes, Niki is.”
“And tomorrow you can come and spend it with me and Jeff.”
“Yes. Jeff’s father is away working up Glasgow or something. Anyway, I’m going around to Jeff’s tomorrow to keep him company. We’ll watch some DVDs or Netflix, order in some pizza, that sort of thing. You’re really welcome to join us. I know Jeff will be happy if you join us.”
“Will Jeff’s mum be okay with me being there too?”
“Jeff’s mother fucked off when he was seven. It’s just Jeff and his father. His sister Sian moved to London two years ago. Jeff’s father is a really cool guy, but he’s away. It’ll just be Jeff and me tomorrow, and we’ll both like to have you there too. It’ll be far better than all that ex-gay shit.”
Freddie’s words had been playing on his mind since he had arrived home. The more he thought about it the more he knew that Freddie was right. Why should he put himself through all this stress and fear just to please his dad? It wasn’t as if the man ever listened to him. He would always put his beliefs before anything Simon wanted to do. He had dragged Simon to endless church services, church rallies, church social events, anything to do with his church, and never once had he paid any notice to how bored and unhappy Simon was. Now he wanted to take him to a lecture that would deny his sexuality. That would demand that he changed his sexuality or else. When all he really wanted was to hear his dad tell him it was okay to be gay. Why should he have to endure a day of homophobia just to make his dad happy, when his dad didn’t care about his own happiness?
As he looked at his dad’s texts, at the homophobia that poured out from them unchecked, he knew he couldn’t endure all of that in person. It was bad enough just reading the texts, which, by themselves, were making him feel depressed. He knew he could not endure that amount of homophobia in person. And he didn’t want to.
Finally, sitting there on the sofa, he knew he just couldn’t see his dad the next day. The prospect of what he had planned for him was making him feel physically sick. He couldn’t do that. But now he had to wait for his mum and Niki to return home so he could tell them of his decision. He couldn’t spring it onto them the next morning just before his dad arrived. He couldn’t do that to his mum and Niki, he had to tell them now. But he also knew that his mum wouldn’t be happy about it. He didn’t want to upset her, to be on the receiving end of her anger again. But the prospect of what his dad had planned for the next day was much more frightening. He had to just screw-up his courage and face his mum. And to do it as soon as she arrived home, because if he left it any later he would be swept up in the events of the evening. His mum and Niki talking about their day at work, the preparing and eating their evening meal, watching television and… and all his courage would have evaporated. He had to tell them as soon as they were home. But they weren’t home yet.
He glanced at the clock on the opposite wall. It was nearly six o’clock and he was still the only person in the house. Where were they? Why were they late? His courage was waning, making him more nervous. Just sitting there and waiting was making him more and more anxious. Why couldn’t he just control those nerves? Would they rob him of his courage? He should put the television on as a distraction. But he didn’t want to. He just wanted them to come home, and then he could face them with his decision.
He tapped his foot nervously on the floor. They must be home soon, they must, he told himself.
Finally he heard the key turning in the front door. Turning to look at the door his nerves jumped up into his throat, and his tongue and the roof of his mouth suddenly felt dry.
The door swung open and Niki swept into the room followed by his mum.
“There’s two or more packets of sausages in the freezer, we really should eat one of them tonight,” Niki said, turning her head back to speak to his mum.
“You know, I haven’t had sausage and mash in ages,” his mum replied.
“That’s settled then,” Niki said as she walked across the sitting room. In the next moment she saw Simon sitting on the sofa.
“Are you all right?” she asked him.
“What’s the matter?” his mum also asked as she turned to face him.
Simon swallowed the saliva that seemed to have stuck to the inside of his mouth and pushed his courage to the forefront of his mind. Tell them, tell them, he told himself.
“I don’t want to spend tomorrow with dad.”
“Simon, you know you have to. It’s what we agreed,” his mum said.
“I’m not spending tomorrow with dad. I’m not.”
“Don’t be silly. Your dad is expecting you tomorrow. He'll be here tomorrow. He’ll be so angry if you don’t spend the day with him. You know how he gets.”
“I don’t care. I’m not seeing him tomorrow!”
Simon could feel his voice raising with all the emotions inside of him. She was just ignoring him again.
“I’m not arguing with you. You’re spending tomorrow with your dad and that’s it,” his mum said.
She then started to turn away from him, beginning to take off her coat.
“I’m not going! I’m not!”
Frustration pushed up the volume of his voice. She wasn’t listening to him. She wasn’t.
“Simon!” his mum snapped back, with a loud annoyed tone in her voice. A tone she used with him when she was obviously angry.
“Why don’t you want to see you dad?” Niki asked as she sat down next to him on the sofa.
“Niki, don’t give in to him,” his mum said, exasperation heavy in her voice, as she finished taking off her coat.
“Simon has never refused to see Matthew before,” Niki said to his mum. “What’s happened?” she asked, turning her attention back to Simon.
“He wants to take me to a Release Trust meeting tomorrow. He says he wants to save me,” Simon said.
“Jesus Christ!” Niki exclaimed. “You’re not going. I’m with you.”
“God, Niki!” his mum protested.
“You don’t know what the Release Trust is, do you?” Niki asked.
“It just sounds like another one of Matthew’s religious groups. Harmless but boring.”
“They’re an ex-gay group,” Niki told her.
“They are these Christian organisations that try and force Lesbians and gay men to turn straight. They use the most awful emotional and psychological abuse. Telling people they’re guilty and diseased and disgusting and all that shit just for being gay. Telling them they’re going to hell just for being gay. And of course, those people can’t turn straight, you can’t go against your natural sexuality. When they can’t turn straight, these ex-gay groups tell them it’s all their fault and that they’re a failure. They do a really disgusting mind-fuck on those poor people.” Niki's voice had a cold, hard edge to it, as if she was just about managing to hold her anger in check.
“Oh,” his mum replied obviously taken aback for a moment. She just stood there, her coat draped across her arm.
“Why does your dad want you to go to this Release Trust thing?” Niki asked, a concerned expression on her face as she slightly leaned into him.
“I sort of came out to him last Saturday,” Simon quietly admitted.
“Oh, Simon!” his mum exclaimed.
“What happened?” Niki asked.
“He was going on at me about not having a girlfriend. He said there are lots of nice girls at his church, and if I went to his church I’d easily find a girlfriend.”
“For God’s sake, pimp your church out,” Niki said.
“I lost my temper and told him I’m gay, then I stormed out of there and got the bus home.”
“God, Simon,” Niki said. “Well that was a bit of a cock-up.”
“It was,” Simon agreed.
“Simon,” his mum said, as she sat herself down on the other sofa. “Can’t you just ignore all that ex-gay stuff and spend the day with your dad?”
“Rosie!” Niki exclaimed.
“If Simon doesn’t spend tomorrow with Matthew, he could take me to court. He’s threatened to take me to court before. That's why I agreed to this stupid Saturday thing. It’s not that I want to see Matthew’s smirking face every Saturday.”
“God, Rosie!” Niki exclaimed. “Matthew can’t afford a lawyer with his shitty job. He doesn’t even pay you maintenance. He’d never be able to afford to take you to court for anything.”
“There’s enough lawyers who go to his church and they’d love to defend him against me, his wife who left him for another women. He’s said it enough times in those texts he’s been sending.”
“He’s been sending me texts too. Lots of them after last Saturday,” Simon told them.
“What sort of texts?” Niki asked.
“Ones telling me that I’m going to hell for being gay and that I have to turn straight to be saved, and all that stuff.”
“Did you keep them?” Niki asked.
“There’s no point in keeping Matthew’s texts. They're always full of the same nonsense,” his mum said.
“Yes, I kept them and I kept the emails he sent me, too,” Simon told Niki.
“Can I see them?”
Simon pulled his phone out of his jean’s pocket, opened his home screen, opened his message app, pulled up all his dad’s texts, and then passed it to Niki. She took a long moment to read the texts, the only movement her finger repeatedly sliding down the screen. She didn’t speak. She didn’t even mutter under her breath as she read. But her face was set in a stern, almost angry expression, with her mouth drawn closed in a scowl, while her eyes stared intensely at the screen.
Simon’s mum, in almost contrast, was slouched back on the other sofa, her coat lying discarded next to her.
Finally, Niki stopped reading the texts and turned towards her.
“Rosie, these are disgusting,” she said, her voice cold with anger.
“Let me see them,” his mum said, holding out her hand for the phone.
Niki passed her Simon’s phone and she quickly glanced over the texts, taking a fraction of the time to read them than Niki took, before handing the phone back to Niki, who passed it back to Simon. He glanced down at his phone as he quickly closed the message app. He didn’t want to look at his dad’s texts again.
“They’re no worse than the ones he sends me,” his mum said.
“God, Rosie!” Niki exclaimed. “He’s sending them to your son. Matthew is cyber-bullying his own son. And his homophobia is disgusting. He wants to send his own son to one of those fucking ex-gay groups. And he won’t stop at one visit. He'll keep taking Simon back until he gets the result he wants. Which is never. Rosie, Matthew is homophobically bullying his son. What kind of shit does that?”
“All right, all right, Niki.” She slumped down further on the sofa.
“I don’t want to see dad tomorrow. I’m not going to that Release Trust thing,” Simon protested. He could feel the panic rising in the back of his throat. His mum still wasn’t agreeing with him.
“All right, Simon. I get the message. You’re not going to see your dad tomorrow,” his mum said, annoyance high in her voice. “I’ll call your dad first thing in the morning and tell him.”
“No, call him now,” Niki insisted.
“Because if you call him tomorrow, he could turn up here anyway. If he’d left home when you called him, he isn’t going to turn back. I don’t want him turning up here tomorrow morning in one of his foul moods. He’s bad enough in a good mood.”
“True, true,” his mum agreed. “I’ll call him now. Get it over with.”
She reached over and pulled her coat into her lap. Pulling her own phone out of one of the inside pockets, she dropped the coat back into her lap. It took her only a few moments to dial his dad’s number. She then pressed her phone to her ear. A long time ago Simon had noticed that his mum rarely used her phone on speaker.
She seemed to wait a long and awkward moment for her call to be answered, and everyone in the room sat in an expectant silence as they all waited. Out of the corner of his eye Simon could see Niki watching his mum intently.
“Matthew…” his mum finally spoke into her phone. “No, I need to talk to you… Matthew, stop this!... It’s about Simon… He doesn’t want to spend tomorrow with you… I don’t care!... Niki has told me what The Release Trust is… No it isn’t… I don’t want him going to it either… He’s only sixteen!” Simon felt himself inwardly wince when he heard his mum refer to his age. She made him sound like he was still a little child. “He’s not going to that awful thing tomorrow… He doesn’t want to see you, he certainly doesn’t want to talk to you… Matthew, spending Saturdays with you is stopping… From now… I don’t care… He’s my son too!... She has no say in it… Matthew, I won’t be threatened like this… I’m his mother… Don’t talk to me like that… Because it’s one of the many reasons I left you… Right, I’m hanging up…”
His mum pulled her phone away from her ear and angrily tapped at its screen.
“Your dad isn’t happy,” she said, aiming her words straight at Simon.
“Matthew is never happy,” Niki shot back.
“He’s threatening to take me to court. He says he knows lawyers.” Her anger and frustration were plain in her words.
“And if he does, we’ll fight him,” Niki said.
“What with? Lawyers are expensive,” his mum said as she stood up from the sofa. “I’m going to get changed, I hate sitting around in my work clothes.”
She briskly marched out of the room and up the stairs to her bedroom.
“Don’t worry,” Niki said, lightly placing her hand over Simon’s. “You don’t have to go with your father tomorrow. No awful ex-gay groups.”
“Thanks,” he smiled back at her, but his heart wasn’t in that smile.
He should have felt relieved. He didn’t have to spend tomorrow with his dad and visit that ex-gay thing. But he just felt guilty. He’d felt so afraid and fearful about the prospect having to go to that lecture. Now that threat was lifted, and all he felt was guilt. He had caused this mess; it was all his fault. If he’d just kept his mouth shut when his dad pushed him about girlfriends. For years he had learnt to be very good at keeping his mouth shut. He'd had to while living in his Grandma’s house. But in one stupid moment he’d outed himself to his dad, and now his dad was reacting very badly, as if he couldn’t have seen that coming. It was all his own fault and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Let me go and start dinner,” Niki said, as she pushed herself up off the sofa.