Simon lay in his bed and tried to go back to sleep, but found he couldn’t. His bedside clock read eleven-twenty and he’d come to bed just after ten. He’d changed into his usual nightwear, an old t-shirt and boxer shorts, climbed into bed, and was soon asleep. He'd found this happening often lately. With everything going on in his life he was very tired when he went to bed each night. But that night he’d only slept for an hour or so before waking up, about five minutes earlier.
All he could think that had woken him was his bladder. It wasn’t so full that it was uncomfortable, but it was full enough to be an annoyance. It was a presence there in his lower abdomen. Some nights he could ignore it and fall back asleep, though he’d often wake up in the morning with a full bladder. But tonight wasn’t one of those nights. He knew he’d have to get up and go to the toilet to empty his bladder. But he didn’t want to just yet. He was warm and comfortable, and the toilet was always cold, so he would wait a while longer.
Freddie had been as good as his word and had called Simon back about ten minutes after they’d ended their first call. EastEnders had finished and his mum and Niki were watching a Channel 4 documentary about how awful Donald Trump was. Simon wasn’t really watching it, he’d read enough online about Trump’s homophobia and he didn’t need to know more. Instead he was scrolling through his Instagram feed. He followed many handsome men on it who posted photos of themselves, usually shirtless, and often nearly naked. His mum and Niki were sitting on the other sofa and were paying him no attention. Simon had stopped to admire a picture of a gay actor, who was naked and happily showing off his buttocks to the camera, when his phone had rung again. As the ringtone rang out, his phone showed that it was Freddie calling him.
“Simon!” his mum hissed at him.
“Sorry,” he replied as he jumped up from the sofa and rushed into the kitchen to answer it.
“Hi,” he said as he answered Freddie’s call.
“I’ve just got off my phone to Jake, and God he’s got a memory like some super-computer. He remembers everything,” Freddie said.
He rapidly told Simon what his cousin had told him. While Jake’s parents were divorcing, he’d been interviewed by a social worker. He’d been asked who he wanted to live with, how he was doing at school, how important his friends were to him, and what his relationship with his mother was like. The social worker had written a report that was sent to the judge. Jake then had a meeting with the judge, an elderly woman, who had asked him similar questions as the social worker had, but had taken half the time. There was then a court appearance, which Jake and both his parents had to attend. There Jake found out that the social worker had also interviewed both his parents. The report recommended that Jake lived with his father and the judge had agreed.
Simon had been surprised at how easy Freddie had made it all sound. All he had to do was tell a social worker, and maybe a judge, that he wanted to carry on living with his mum, and they would agree with him. Could it be that easy?
Once he’d finished the phone call he’d rushed back into the sitting and hurriedly said to his mum and Niki:
“I was speaking with my friend Freddie, and his cousin’s parents divorced and he got to live with his dad, even though his mother told the court that she wanted him living with her.”
Then he almost babbled out everything Freddie had told him, his words tumbling out of his mouth in his excitement.
When he’d finished his mum had just replied:
“It’s not that easy.”
“But he’s got the right idea of what happens,” Niki said. “I spoke to my friend Maureen, in Children’s Services. She said that since the 1989 Children’s Act, a court has to take into consideration Simon’s wishes and what will be best for him. He’ll be interviewed by a social worker, who he needs to tell that he wants to stay here. Also that he’s gay, all about Matthew’s homophobia, and how Matthew has said that he’d stop Simon finishing his course. You need to tell the social worker the same thing. Kate will send them and the judge copies of all those texts and emails Matthew sent Simon. The social worker will also interview Matthew and his mother. They wouldn’t be able to shut up about their homophobia. God, those papers he served you said you were ‘corrupting’ Simon by being in a relationship with me. Matthew will shoot himself in the foot with all his homophobia, he wouldn’t be able to stop himself, and he’ll show himself up as the unsuitable parent he is.”
“Matthew is going to have those lawyers from his church behind him,” his mum shot back.
“Matthew’s church is notorious for this type of shit,” Niki said. “Maureen said she’d lost count of the times they tried to interfere in child protection cases. They like to take the side of any Christian and believe them unquestioningly. Maureen is sick of them, especially when they make parents unrealistic and untrue promises.”
“Why didn’t you tell me all this in the car coming home?”
“Because you were already in a mood by then,” Niki replied.
“You two make it all sound so easy,” his mum announced. “That’s all about divorce and Matthew won’t even give me a divorce. He’s taking me to court because he says I’m an unfit mother.”
“It’s the same,” Niki protested.
“I just want to watch the television and not think about it all for one evening. But you two won’t shut up about it. Just leave me in peace for five minutes, won’t you?”
He could see his mum was on the verge of tears. In reply to her outburst, Niki had pulled away to the far end of the sofa, her body shrinking away from his mum’s. Simon knew he had to remain silent now. He’d thought it was good news. He thought it would cheer her up and lift the dark mood hanging over her. He’d got that wrong, so all he could do was with draw into silence. He didn’t care what Niki had said the other evening. He hated his dad now. The man was selfishly trying to pull Simon’s family apart.
He stretched out in his bed but it was no good, his bladder had now become uncomfortably full. Had it filled up with urine so quickly, or did laying there and waiting make it seem worse? He didn’t know. But he did know he had to empty it now. Reluctantly he sat up in bed and swung his legs over the side. He just wanted to go back to sleep, or at least lay in comfort and try to sleep, but his bladder wouldn’t let him.
Quietly he stood up, walked the few steps to his bedroom door, and silently opened it. He liked to move around the house as quietly as he could, as he didn’t like to disturb his mum or Niki. He didn’t want to wake them, especially his mum who would often quiz him the next morning about why he was going to the toilet in the middle of the night. She seemed to see that as a direct symptom that he had a urinary infection, though he didn’t know what the other symptoms were.
He quietly walked out into the hallway. His mum and Niki’s bedroom door was open, just a crack. He stepped slowly and quietly across the carpet. As he drew level with their bedroom door he heard his mum’s voice clearly say:
“I’m not! I’m not being homophobic!”
He froze. Had she really said that?
“You just said you wished Simon wasn’t gay.”
“I said I wished he wasn’t gay because it’s still a difficult life. All the prejudice and everything,”
“And that’s why you wish he was straight? That’s no excuse.”
“I said I want him to be happy and it’s so much easier if you’re straight. Life is hard if you’re gay, still. That’s all I meant. I want him to be married, have children and be happy.”
“He can get married and have children now. He doesn’t have to be straight to do that anymore,” Niki’s voice hissed back.
“And if he was straight it would be a lot easier for him.”
“Don’t start. You’ve always only had gay relationships. I left my husband for you and I’ve seen for myself how different it is. It’s so much easier to be in a straight relationship. I see the looks I get when people find out you’re my partner. I never got those looks when people knew I was married to Matthew. I don’t want that for my son.”
“But to wish he was straight…”
“You’re not a mother, you don’t understand where I’m coming from.”
“That’s so shit,” Niki’s voice quietly replied, though he could hear the anger in it.
He didn’t want to hear anymore, so moved silently to the bathroom. He slipped through the open door, and slowly and carefully closed it behind him. He was careful to turn the door handle, pulling in the latch before the door reached the doorframe and the latch made its tell-tale click. Only when the door was snuggly home into the doorframe did he slowly release the door handle, allowing the latch to silently slide into the lock.
He didn't want to pee standing up in the dark, as the sound of his urine splashing in the water in the toilet bowl would alert his mum that he was using the toilet, and he didn’t want his pee hitting the seat again. So he slipped his boxer shorts down and sat on the toilet. It took a long moment to empty his bladder but it was also a physical relief. He didn’t immediately get off the toilet the moment he finished. He just sat there, his mum’s words still bouncing running around inside his head.
Did she really want him to be straight? He knew his dad felt that way. But his dad didn’t try to hide his homophobia. he almost wore it with pride. He hadn’t thought his mum was the same, but was she? She had said she’d wished he was straight. She had said she wanted him to be happy, and being gay was still hard. But he certainly knew that. Was she unhappy that he was gay? She hadn’t seemed all that happy when he first told her he was gay. But she hadn’t said that she didn’t want him to be gay, not until now. But he couldn’t remember her saying that she was happy he was gay either. Was she really unhappy with him being gay? Or was she just wanting him to be happy?
He didn’t know how he could talk to her about it. He’d have to admit he’d overheard her talking to Niki and she wouldn’t be happy about that. If he brought the subject up, out of the blue, she could just deny it. Or else it could lead to another argument, and he hated them.
He stared at the back of the bathroom door. He hadn’t turned on the bathroom light, not wanting to disturb his mum and Niki, but there was enough yellow light from the street light at the end of the street, coming in through the window for him to see clearly. There was the brass hook on the back of door, where you could hang up your dressing gown when you had a shower, but it was empty now. The blue paint was chipping away from the cornices that decorated the door, like all the other doors on the first floor. The door handle was damaged too, a large split in the top of wooden ball that made up the handle, as if the wooden was damaged by some mysterious injury.
He didn’t know what to do about what he’d heard, but he did know he was tired. His limbs felt heavy, his back was beginning to ache, and he felt his eyelids were closing, as he found himself taking longer and longer slow blinks.
Standing up and pulling up his boxer shorts, he slowly closed the lid of the toilet seat, but didn’t flush it because the cistern would make a loud noise. Equally as slowly and carefully as he had previously closed the door, he now opened it and stepped back into the dimly lit hallway. His mum and Niki’s bedroom door still stood open a few centimetres, but no noise or voices were coming from behind it. Lightly and quietly he walked back to his bedroom and slipped through the partly open door. With a few more quiet steps he reached his bed and climbed back between the warm and welcoming comfort of the bedclothes. He felt so safe in there as he pressed his face into his still warm pillow and stretched his body out into the available space there.