Simon lay stretched out on the sofa, with his feet resting up on the armrest and his head and shoulders on the pile of cushions at the other end. His laptop was balanced on his lap and he was watching a YouTube video that Freddie had told him about. The YouTuber was Dante Mann, and Freddie had raved about how Simon should watch his videos. Dante Mann posted videos about his coming out stories, but they were far more interesting than him just endlessly talking into a webcam. He narrated his own videos but, in between him talking to the camera, they were full of photos, phone camera videos, and even fine pencil drawings, all illustrating his story. Dante Mann had a pretty face, a smooth and sexy voice, and was only a few years older than Simon. In the video Simon was currently watching Dante Mann was talking about his first relationship. He had met his first boyfriend through a dating app, and the relationship seemed to be little more than sex, with his boyfriend having been very much in control of it all. And then his boyfriend dumped him without any explanation, cut off all contact, and "ghosted" him. Was this the reason why Freddie had wanted him to watch this video? If so, then Simon had already learned this lesson. Some first boyfriends can be shits, and Simon just wanted to move on from Max. But Dante Mann did have a relaxing voice. And his videos were interesting to watch.
When he had left the Fire Station, he’d texted Niki and his mum to tell them the film was over and he was heading home. The reply had come from Niki:
“Your mum & I had our meeting with Kate. Went sort of well. Your mum & I are going to have a meal together. ‘Date night’. Have whatever you want out of the freezer. We’ll be home about 9.”
He’d texted her back, just a bland and neutral text telling her he’d enjoyed the film and that he’d be getting the bus home with Freddie. He hadn’t asked what he’d really wanted to ask, which was how the meeting with Aunt Kate had gone, and did his mum really mean what she had said the night before? But he hadn’t. He knew there were times when he couldn’t ask certain questions, and those times seemed so many.
As they were catching the same bus home, Simon and Freddie had said goodbye to Jeff and Vee at the Fire Station. Vee had given him a tight hug and whispered in his ear: “We’ll pick a more positive film next time,” while Jeff had given him a stronger hug and told him: “We’ll have that gay film day at my house real soon.” He’d nodded his head in agreement, enjoying that brief hug too much.
On their bus ride, sat on the upper deck, Freddie had chattered away about different gay films, telling him that he must see a film called Love Simon because that one had a great ending. Simon had enjoyed Freddie’s constant chatter, as his stream of words had filled his mind and stopped him having to think about other things. Freddie had so many opinions that he could chatter away about anything.
Simon’s stop had been first, and he’d reluctantly left Freddie and his distracting chatter. But, as soon as he had got off the bus, he’d dropped back into his own thoughts. The thoughts that had been plaguing him most of the day.
All day, until he’d settled down in the cinema with the others, his mind had been turning over and over the conversation he had overheard between his mum and Niki. Did his mum really feel that about him? Did she really wish he was straight? He needed to know the truth, but he didn’t know how to find it. If he asked his mum then he’d have to tell her how he knew. Then she would go off the deep end about him listening in at her bedroom door, and he’d suddenly find it was all his fault again. He could talk to Niki, but she made a big deal about personal space and privacy. And she would be angry too when she found out how he knew, which she was bound to ask. But he had to know how his mum really felt.
He couldn’t misunderstand his dad’s homophobia. He wore it almost as a sash of pride, and made his views plainly known. He felt painfully rejected by it, shouldn’t his dad love him no matter what? But at least it was there without any question to its meaning. But what he’d heard his mum say was different. Did she really mean she wished he was straight? Or did she mean something else? And if so, what?
His mum lived with Niki, lived with another woman, lived in a gay relationship, and yet she’d said that.
He’d thought he knew her. He’d chosen to live with her, though anything would have been better than carrying on living in his Grandma’s house. But he’d chosen her over his dad. He’d lived with her for two years, in Niki’s tiny house, almost on top of each other. He’d thought he’d really got to know her. But was he wrong? Was he so wrong about her?
The doubt had been plaguing his mind all day. He thought he knew his mum. But she hadn’t been that happy when he came out to her. His mind just kept going over and over what he’d overheard her saying. Did she really mean it? How could he ever talk to her about it? What could he do about it? Did he even know his mum? Those doubts were the worst, because he couldn’t find any answers to them. But that didn’t stop the questions running around in his mind almost all the way through the day.
He turned his attention back to his laptop. Dante Mann was talking straight into the camera. God the man was pretty, Simon thought. He had strawberry blond hair that was swept back from his face in smooth and soft waves. There was a dimple in each cheek which showed whenever he smiled. And he did smile a lot, displaying his neat and very white teeth. He certainly was eye candy, just as Freddie had promised.
When Simon had arrived home he had cooked himself fish fingers and oven chips. The empty house had greeted him, and suddenly he desired comfort food. The food that he’d always looked forward to as a child. At his Grandma’s house he hadn’t been allowed fish fingers and oven chips when the old woman was around. She maintained that all meals should be home-made, and anything else was seen as slovenly and disrespecting her home. But whenever his Grandma and dad were out of the house, which was often because there were so many church events for them to attend, his mum would make him a chip supper, as she called it. Sausage and chips, chicken burger and chips, frozen pizza and chips, but his favourite was always fish fingers and chips. So tonight, greeted by the quiet and empty house, he’d wanted the comfort of fish fingers and oven chips.
He'd sat at the kitchen table, eating them with lots of vinegar and ketchup off a very full plate. The chips were crisp and full of flavour, not the oily flavour of the chips that came out of Niki’s fryer. The strongest flavour of the fish fingers was their crunchy outer coating, and he loved that crunch followed by the soft, hot fish inside. The meal had given him a warm and comfortable pleasure, just as it had always done when he was a child. And he had felt in need of that warm comfort .
He glanced back down at his laptop. Dante Mann’s video had finished and YouTube was gearing up to play another one. He quickly tapped his finger on the touchpad to pause the video. Dante Mann might be attractive, but Simon didn’t want to watch another of his videos. No matter what had happened to Dante Mann, the video would always have a happy ending. The one about his first boyfriend, the one from the dating app, ended with Dante Mann telling about meeting his current boyfriend at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party, and how wonderfully happy they were together. In his current mood Simon had had enough of happy endings. He clicked away from YouTube and onto one of favourite gay news sites.
He'd been barely surfed through a few pages when his phone rang. He pushed his laptop to one side and picked up his phone. The screen told him it was Jeff.
“Hi,” he said as he answered his phone.
“I thought I’d just give you a call,” Jeff’s voice replied.
He hadn’t been expecting the call, and hearing Jeff’s voice lifted his mood.
“How are you doing?”
“I’ve got the house to myself. My mum and Niki are having one of their date nights. So I’m just trying to find something to watch.”
“But how are you?” Jeff asked.
“You seemed a bit not yourself today.”
“You weren’t yourself at lunch. I know Brokeback Mountain wasn’t what you were expecting. Freddie made it sound like the greatest gay love story every, but you seemed really let down by it.”
“I was disappointed by it.”
“But you seemed really let down by it all.”
“It’s just everything that’s going on and…” He was on the verge of telling Jeff that he was just feeling tired, but that was his go-to lie, and it wasn’t really true. He couldn’t lie to Jeff, not Jeff.
He wasn't sure how to explain things.
“What’s the matter?” Jeff asked, his voice warm and open.
“I overheard my mum last night.”
“That could be really awkward. What happened?”
“It was gone eleven o’clock and I needed a pee. I went down the hall to the loo. I had to walk past my mum and Niki’s bedroom, and… And their bedroom door was slightly open. I heard her and Niki talking, they were talking in bed. My mum said… She said she wished I wasn’t gay. She wished I was straight so I could marry a woman and have kids.”
“I know. I mean, if it came from my dad I wouldn’t be surprised. He is such a homophobic twat. He’s actually said he wants me to turn straight.”
“Like you can do that. Like turning a switch from A to B.”
“But I didn’t expect that from my mum. I mean, she lives with another woman and everything. I thought she was better than all that. Then I overheard her and… Why would she say that? Does she really want me to be straight?”
“My father said the same thing when I came out to him. He didn’t say it to me, he said it to my sister, Sian, but he said the same. He told her that he wished I was straight.”
“He did? What did you do?”
“Nothing because Sian didn’t tell me at the time. She told my father off, though, told him not to be stupid. That I could easily be happy and be gay.”
“That’s what Niki said.”
“And she’s right. Look, last year after Karl dumped me, my father asked me if I was happy being gay and I said yes, because I am. It was then that he told me that he’d wished I could be straight when I came out to him. He said he now knows he was wrong. He’s not homophobic, not like your dad.”
“I won’t want anyone to have a dad as homophobic as my dad.”
“He told me that he feels really stupid for feeling that way, but he’d never imagined having a gay child. Most straights don’t. They imagine having straight children like themselves. That’s what he did. Suddenly he was faced with a gay child and all he could think was that he wished I was straight, like him. Now he’s really okay with me being gay. He just needed time to see that I’m happy being gay and its right for me.”
“But my mum’s bi.”
“Doesn’t mean she hasn’t got internalised homophobia too. How many gay relationships has she had?”
“She said she had a couple of sort of girlfriends when she was studying to be a nurse, but nothing serious. Then she met my dad and they got married as soon as he finished university.”
“So Niki is her first, serious girlfriend?”
“So don’t expect her to be a flag waving gay straight away.”
“Give her a chance. She’s reacting the way many straights do. She’s being living in the straight world all her life, most of it anyway, so give her a chance. Niki didn’t agree with her, so that’s good. Hopefully Niki will talk sense into her.”
“I’m sure she will.”
“There you go.”
“My mum was saying that she knew that being in a gay relationship is much harder than being in a straight one because of the way people treat her when they find out she’s with Niki.”
“So there are arseholes out there. Does that mean you shouldn’t be with who you want to be with?”
“No, of course not.”
“Your mum’s having a reality check. There’s homophobia out there.”
“She was married to my dad for so long and everyone saw her as straight.”
“She needs to see beyond that. Give her time. It worked with my father.”
“Should I tell her what I heard her say?”
“Fuck no! You’d have to tell her that you were listening in on her and no one likes to hear that.”
“I thought so. That’s what made me feel so trapped. There was no way I could talk to my mum about what she said and I couldn’t talk to Niki either.”
“Niki’s got this big thing on privacy and personal space. Our house isn’t very big and she’s always going on about us all needing our own personal spaces. I can’t tell her that I was listening in at her bedroom door.”
“You can always talk to me.”
“Even if I overhear something you say?”
“I’ve got no secrets. I’m not like that.”
“How do you know all this stuff?”
“I read a lot and I like to watch and listen to people. I’ve found that if you listen and let people talk, then they’ll tell you so much about themselves. Though I find computer code far more easier to understand than people, and code always does the same thing each time, even if it’s not what you want it to do.”
“I don’t understand computer code but I want to understand people. I really like my course and when it’s finished I want to go on and work in healthcare, or train for something in healthcare, and you need to know people if you want to work in healthcare.”
“And what do you want to do in healthcare?”
“I don’t know yet but I’m thinking about it.”
“Good for you.”
“Do you still want to go onto university and study computing?”
“Yes, I want to do coding and programming. I love writing code.”
They fell silent for a moment, as if both of them had suddenly run out of things to say. Simon found his mind suddenly scrambling for anything else to talk about, to keep Jeff on the other end of the phone.
“You’re there on your own, aren’t you?”
“Yes, my mum and Niki won’t be back for ages yet.”
“Do you want me to come over and keep you company?”
“No, I couldn’t put you out.”
He was lying, he was so deeply lying. He would love for Jeff to come around and just spend time with him, and be his sole entertainment for the evening. Even if all they had done was talk he would have had Jeff’s attention, and he would have basked in it. But he knew he couldn’t ask that of him. He couldn't ask him to come all the way from his home at this time of night, and by a very unreliable bus route. He couldn’t ask that of Jeff. Even though his emotions were almost demanding it.
“Are you sure? There’s a bus I can get right to yours.”
“That bus is dead unreliable, especially this time of night. You’d spend more time waiting for the bus than being here. I can’t ask that of you, I just can’t.”
“If you’re sure?”
“Yes. Talking to you has been great. You’ve helped me see how it is. I was so worried about what my mum said. I hadn’t thought about what you said.”
“I’m glad to help. You can talk to me about anything, really anything.”
“Thank you, you’re a mate.”
“And you’re my mate.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow at college.”
“I’ll see you there. Bye.”
Simon stared at the screen of his phone for a long moment after Jeff had ended the call. Jeff’s call had been just what he needed. His sensible analysing of what had happened had eased so many of those troubled thoughts that had been in Simon's head. But another part of him felt deeply frustrated and disappointed. He’d felt so excited and happy to hear Jeff’s voice. But Jeff’s offer to visit him had torn him. Yes he wanted Jeff there with him but, in the same breath, he couldn’t demand that Jeff make the awkward journey to get to him. That would have been too selfish. But he could have had Jeff there with him, even if all they did was talk.
He pushed his phone back into the pocket of his jeans. He was being stupid again. He and Jeff were just friends. Maybe good friends, but that was all. He needed to stop mooning around after him. He was just being stupid. He should just enjoy being friends, and forget all those other feelings.
He leant back on the sofa, his laptop ignored on his thighs. Jeff was so handsome and…
God, he had to stop being stupid!
He sat up again on the sofa, reached for his laptop and clicked the mouse onto the BBC iPlayer Icon on his Desktop. Watch some television and try and distract his mind, he told himself.