Simon was the only person on the top deck of the bus, but it was already dark outside so there was barely any point looking out of the window. His phone was still inside his jacket pocket but he didn’t want to take it out as, although it might contain things on it he might want to read, he’d first have to ignore…
Well, it was easier to ignore it all with his phone still in his pocket.
Darkness had already fallen when he’d reached the bus stop. He’d not wanted to leave Jeff’s house, but he’d told his mum he’d be home before eleven, and Freddie had reassured him that if he caught the ten-thirty bus he’s be home before then. The area always felt different after dark, quieter and much more empty than during daylight. Jeff and Freddie had accompanied him to the bus stop, keeping him company, as Freddie said, and chattering away. With Jeff and Freddie he’d barely noticed the wait for the bus. It had just been an extension of their day together. It was only when his bus arrived and he boarded it that he was on his own again.
The top deck was quiet, so all he could hear was the bus’s engine and general noise of traffic. There weren't even any conversations from other people to listen to. Freddie was going to be staying the night at Jeff’s home, and Jeff kept repeating that, as Freddie would be sleeping in their guest room, Simon would have to return home. Since he’d arrived at Jeff’s home that morning he’d been wrapped up in company, and even on the bus he’d been talking to Freddie on his phone for part of the journey there. But now he was on his own, and he felt uncomfortable with that.
He'd arrived at Jeff’s house a little after ten o’clock. As he had walked up the street towards the house he’d been impressed by how suburban the area was. It was only a half hour bus ride from his own home, and yet the area looked much more like where his Grandma’s house was. Jeff’s house, like all the other houses on the street, stood back from the pavement, with a large garden between it and the public pavement. The garden was filled with a neat, green lawn with two mature trees growing in it. It was a semi-detached house, nestled closely up against the other house; two storied, but so large that it seemed almost squat, being far wider than it was high. The front of the house was dominated by a large front bay that rose all the way up both stories, providing bay windows to the ground floor and the first floor. It was also dominated by a large, brick built porch that covered the front entrance, made up of solid walls covered by a sloping tile roof, all forming a large, wooden, front door away from the house itself. Simon wondered if such an elaborate porch was designed to intimidate callers.
Jeff had opened the front door and warmly greeted him.
“You got here, great, great,” Jeff beamed at him before leading him into the house.
Inside the house was light, and brightly decorated in a very modern style. The walls were all painted in off-white or pale colours, while all the floors were covered in a pale, wood laminate floors, so smooth his feet made squeaking noises as he walked across them. The furniture was all very boxy and squared-shaped, even the sofas and armchairs, and all white or pale coloured, with pale pastel-colour throws draped over them. The whole house looked like it had been decorated directly out of an Ikea catalogue. (He knew all about the Ikea catalogue because Niki would regularly get a copy of it and then pore over it. It was her fantasy to furnish their home completely from Ikea, but she always complained that she couldn’t afford to.) Though the house was bright and furnished with light-coloured furniture, to Simon it seemed very warm and comfortable. Was Jeff’s warm and welcoming mood causing that?
He, Jeff and Freddie had taken position in front of the large, wide-screen television, on a large, three-person, pale grey sofa, in what Jeff had referred to as the “back sitting room” because it opened out onto the large back garden. Jeff had turned the television to the Netflix channel and asked Simon what he wanted to watch.
Simon had suddenly been stunned by the volume of choice in front of him. There seemed to be thousands of different television programs on Netflix, and he didn’t know where to begin.
“What do you want to watch?” Jeff asked.
“I don’t know, there’s so much on it,” he replied.
“Put Sense8 on,” Freddie said. “You’ll love it. I really did. It’s about this group of people who can read each other’s minds. There’s loads of naked men in it, and even gay shagging. It’s really good.”
“It’s by the same siblings who made the Matrix films,” Jeff added.
“But it’s so much better than that,” Freddie replied.
Freddie’s enthusiasm pushed Simon into agreeing with them. If Freddie seemed so excited about it then it must be good, Simon decided. And he wasn’t disappointed.
That day they had binge watched the whole first series of Sense8. That was something new for Simon and he’d enjoyed it, as he could just submerge himself in the whole story, and not have to wait a week for the next episode. It had been so enjoyable and had completely filled his attention, that the events of earlier that morning were put to the back of his mind. They had only paused their viewing to make bacon sandwiches for lunch, and to order a pizza for their evening meal, though they’d eaten the pizza while watching the television.
Simon had found the story fascinating. It revolved around eight people, from all around the world, who could read each other’s minds and share each other’s lives. The first series explored what this meant and how the people dealt with their lives. But it was also a very adult science fiction series. The characters were in relationships, had complicated lives, and had sex, a lot of sex. There was straight sex, but there was also gay and lesbian sex. There was a gay couple, two very attractive Latin American men, and a lesbian couple (one half of which was played by the actress who had played Martha Jones in Doctor Who. Simon had felt more than a flush of embarrassment to see Martha Jones having passionate lesbian sex and then discarding a well-used strap-on dildo). And there was a lot of nudity throughout the series.
The handsome, blond German actor had gone full frontally nude in one scene. He’d stepped out of a swimming pool, without any trunks on, and the camera had slowly panned down his body, not avoiding the full shot of his naked cock. Simon felt an almost gasp of surprise when the camera did not skip over the actor’s naked groin, instead the camera had panned down the actor’s pubic hair and clearly displayed his naked cock.
“Oh. My. God. Look at that!” Freddie exclaimed. “That could bring tears to my eyes.”
If he had been watching this with his mum and Niki he’d have been deeply embarrassed, and trying to hide away until it was over. He would be uncomfortable to looking at a naked man on television with his mum and Niki present. He couldn’t explain it, but he was always deeply self-conscious whenever he saw anything arousing in front of them. It was one thing that both women knew he was gay, but he didn’t want them witnessing what was the source of his sexual arousal. That seemed far too intimate and personal.
With Freddie and Jeff he didn’t feel that embarrassment or discomfort at all. He felt he could enjoy the sight of that naked, handsome man, with two friends who were also enjoying it. When there had been scenes of the two gay characters having sex, those handsome Latin American men enjoying each other’s bodies, Simon had felt a rush of excitement and arousal, but no embarrassment. Although he had laughed as Freddie shouted encouragement at the actors.
He’d felt a moment of disappointment when the last episode of the first series had come to an end, and the credits were rolling up the television screen. He wasn’t just disappointed that the program was finished but that also he’d have to return home. He had so enjoyed this afternoon with his two friends, just watching television. So often Freddie had shouted comments at the television, responding to something in the program, or Jeff had complained about something that he didn’t agree with or questioned about the plot. Simon had loved that. He'd loved the way they involved him in their viewing. But most of all he’d loved that being there with Jeff and Freddie took his mind off what had happened earlier in the day, though he barely thought about those events at all.
He’d felt a physical pull when it came time to leave. He’d wanted to stay, but he knew he couldn’t. He knew he had to return home and find out what else had happened while he’d been away. He’d turned his phone onto silent when he'd arrived at Jeff’s, so he wouldn't receive endless beeps as texts arrived from his dad to interrupt their television viewing.
As Simon was pulling his jacket on, finally readying himself to leave, Jeff had said:
“We’ll walk you to the bus stop.”
“It’s alright, I’ll have Freddie with me,” Simon said. He didn’t want to put Jeff out in any way, he’d been their host all day and Simon had so enjoyed his company. Jeff had always ended up sitting next to him on the sofa, and Simon had taken a silent enjoyment in that.
“I’m staying the night with Jeff,” Freddie announced.
Simon had felt his mind jump. Were Jeff and Freddie boyfriends? He’d not noticed any signs that they were, but he barely knew what signs to look for.
“In the spare room, like the friend you are. Now stop winding up Simon,” Jeff replied.
“Did you think we were secret boyfriends?” Freddie gleefully asked.
“If we had been, you’d have never kept that a secret.”
“Just joking,” Freddie smiled. “I’m staying to keep Jeff company and because my parents have gone to a Dinner Dance and won’t be back until late, whatever a Dinner Dance still is. And Tricia, my sister, is staying with her boyfriend for the weekend. And it seems I can’t be trusted alone in the house anymore.”
“And the last time they did leave you alone in the house, they came home to you and Liam, naked in your bed,” Jeff said.
“Bloody Liam. The only thing he was good at was fucking, and we fell asleep afterwards. Now the parents don’t trust me, again,” Freddie said. “It’s a saga. I’ll tell you it all next week, promise.”
“Sure,” Simon replied. He loved Freddie’s stories about his love life. They were always funny, and he always learnt something new about gay sex and dating from them, they were so educational. But he’d never tell Freddie that.
As he left the house Freddie had given him a quick and friendly kiss on his cheek, Freddie’s dry lips brushing over his cheek. Freddie was only the second man he’d kissed and this kiss had been friendly and gentle, no undertones to it, and Simon had found he’d enjoyed it. Jeff had given him a full and strong hug goodbye, Jeff’s strong arms pulling their bodies close together for a hug that was far longer than the few seconds that men’s hugs should be. Simon had loved it. He'd felt so safe in those few moments in Jeff’s arms. But he told himself it was just a hug of friendship, and not to read anymore into it than that.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Jeff whispered to him during the hug. “You’re welcome around here anytime you want. You can watch TV with me, hang out together. Whatever.”
“I will,” he whispered back.
He’d arrived at the bus stop still in Freddie and Jeff’s company, and hadn’t parted from them until his green and grey bus had loudly pulled up to a stop a handful of minutes later.
He glanced out of the bus window again but, as before, all he saw was his own face reflected back. So instead he took his phone out of his jacket pocket. He hadn’t checked it all day, and suddenly he was worried if there were missed calls or texts from his mum or Niki. A quick glance at the screen told him otherwise. There were ten texts plus two voicemails from his dad. Simon felt his stomach sink. They would all be about the same thing, and Simon didn’t want to hear any more of his dad’s preaching at him. For years his dad had only had one topic of conversation, his Christianity. But now that subject had seemed to narrow down even more. Now all he seemed to talk about was how “evil” homosexuality was, in his Christian blinkered eyes.
He pushed the phone back into his jacket pocket and stared straight ahead. But the next moment he took it out again. He had to at least listen to one of his dad’s voicemails, otherwise he would feel the phone burning away inside his pocket, demanding his attention. He turned the phone over in his hands. With a cold and sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he dialled his voicemail and pressed the phone to his ear.
“Simon, I’m very worried about your behaviour,” the message started. “I arranged for us to attend today’s conference because I am very concerned about you. You need to know the truth about homosexuality. Not all that PC nonsense your mum and her friend all believe, about everything being good for you. That is such a dangerous idea, it lies to you. It tells you that something that is actually really dangerous is good for you. Homosexuality is the most dangerous sin of all. It will corrupt you and rob you of your own soul. It's not normal or natural, no one is born homosexual, you’re corrupted into it. Living with your mum and her friend has twisted your morals, they are telling you that what is wrong is actually right. You have been corrupted by your mum’s lack of morals. I know you’re not homosexual. You’re my son and I know who you really are. I know these are ideas put into your head by your mum. That is why I want you to know the truth. I arranged for us to go together to this Release Trust conference so you would hear the truth about homosexuality, the real truth. They can explain it so much better than me. But your mum is again stopping me. She is having too much influence over you and it isn’t healthy. Her lifestyle isn’t healthy. The lack of real men role models in your life isn’t healthy. You need to see that. You do not have to say you’re homosexual to make your mum happy. Stand up to her lies and tell the truth. I am praying for you. The Reverend Kendrick reassures me that the whole church is praying for you. Don’t give in to your mum’s lies, God’s truth is far greater than her lies. If you can’t be honest because of all her pressure on you, you can always come and live with me and your Grandma, you know you’re always welcome…”
The message abruptly cut off there, obviously his dad had filled up the allotted space for his message, and Simon's phone sent him back to the automated menu, with the voice telling him how many un-listened to messages he had. One.
He quickly deleted the message he had listened to, leaving his dad’s other voicemail unheard, and exited out of voicemail. The first one had been bad enough to listen to. He returned the phone to his jacket pocket.
This was all so fucked up, and Simon knew it was all his own fault. If he’d just been able to keep his mouth shut, not shout his dad down that he was gay, then this all might have been a bit more bearable. He could bear all those Saturdays spent watching crap Christian films, church outing and social activities. But he couldn’t bear his dad trying to convert him and to try to save himself from himself. It had been bad enough when his dad had been trying to win him over to his side, against his mum. Now he’d told his dad too much and turned him against him.
It felt as if his dad hated him now. His dad must hate him to behave the way he was. His dad was not listening to him, not trying to know him, not really caring about him, just seeing him as someone to be won over. His dad must hate him, it was the only explanation. He’d turned his own dad against him, he’d been so stupid and ruined everything. Maybe he should have spent today with him, the way his mum said he should. But the idea of that Release Trust conference had made him feel sick.
Freddie had been right. The Release Trust would have fucked with his head too much, as would having spent a whole day at their conference with his dad breathing down his neck, demanding to know that he agreed with all the homophobia there. He couldn’t have done it, he couldn’t have kept his head down. He’d been right to refuse to go. But what next?
What would his dad do next? He couldn’t trust his dad to just back away. He would carry on trying to convert him, racking up the pressure on him. He didn’t know how he’d cope. His dad was attacking such an intimate part of him, such an important part of him. His dad was attacking him, and Simon didn’t know how to stop it.
He knew that if he had just kept his mouth shut last Saturday, if he’d just let his dad moan on and on, if… if… if… If he hadn’t come out to his dad then he wouldn’t have his dad trying to force him to the Release Trust conferences and sending almost hourly homophobic texts.
If he could just go back in time and stop himself from being so stupid.
He rested the side of his head against the cold glass of the window, and felt his mood sinking down, and down again. He’d had such a good and happy day. He'd got to spend a Saturday with people he wanted to, Freddie and Jeff, and he'd had a wonderful day. All that happiness and good feeling had been robbed by his dad’s stupid voicemail. He felt so down, so lost.
The bus would take ages to reach his home. The glass was cold and uncomfortable against the side of his face. But that physical discomfort matched his mood.
Then the thought struck him, like a sharp physical kick to his head. His dad could cut off his phone. Stop paying for it. He couldn’t live without his phone. He wouldn't be able call and text Freddie, Jeff, and Vee; he wouldn’t be able to access the WhatsApp group Jeff had said he’d set up for the four of him; he wouldn’t be able to read his eBooks and his favourite websites; he wouldn’t be able to read all his gay newsfeeds and listen to his podcasts… The thought was too much. He closed his eyes, trying to stop the tears that were threatening to fill up his eyes. What was he going to do?