This chapter is set a week after the story's first chapter, also called Wednesday.
Simon sat slumped back on the sofa with his laptop balanced on his thighs. Tonight he had the house to himself. His mum and Niki had gone out on one of their Wednesday night date-nights. They had gone to Niki’s friends, Iain and Will’s home, for dinner. So many of Niki’s friends seemed to be gay men.
Having the house to himself for the evening Simon had intended to slouch on the sofa and watch television. For once he was on top of his assignments from college and didn’t have to spend half the evening catching up on one thing or another. So he’d promised himself an evening of just television watching, as it wasn’t as if he had a boyfriend to spend the evening with. The problem had been, once he was left alone in the house, he found there was nothing on the television he wanted to watch. The channels seemed all full of soap operas, reality TV shows, very cheap documentaries, or repeats of programs made before he was born and being shown for the nostalgia audience.
His mum had made it clear that they couldn’t afford Sky TV, with its film and premium channels, nor could they afford subscription TV either. Simon thought about asking his dad to pay for subscription TV for him, the way his dad paid for his phone each month, but he’d quickly rejected the idea before he’d even worked up the courage to ask. Subscription TV was on the list of things that his dad didn’t approve of. Simon knew what was on this list because his dad repeatedly told him about it. So Simon was left with the selection of free to view channels their digital television would pick up, and he could channel surf through them in a handful of minutes.
He turned off the television, turned his attention to his laptop and, doing what he always did when he was bored or had nothing else to do, he started to surf the internet. He loved doing that. He loved all the different information and details he could find on the internet, plus all the different pictures he could find online, even pictures of men without their clothes on.
It was through the internet he’d started to realise he was gay. He was twelve when his parents let him surf the internet on his own. Before that he’d always had to have one or other of them in the room with him when he did, and he’d been using it as long as he could remember for his school work. If his mum was watching over him then she would take a regular interest in what he was searching for and reading online. If his dad was supervising him then he’d take a much more casual approach, only occasionally glancing at what he was accessing, but with no real pattern to it. Which meant Simon couldn’t guess when his dad would actually look at his laptop screen.
At twelve he had already moved into his Grandma’s house, with his parents, and though his Grandma had a lot of rules about what he could and could not do, those rules didn’t stretch to the internet. The old woman seemed barely concerned about it. His mum had certainly become very relaxed about his use of the internet. With no more than a nod she would leave him alone in the dining room as he worked on his laptop, doing his school work. Soon he found there was no Parental Lock on his Grandma’s painfully slow Wi-Fi. He might not be able to access what he wanted to quickly, but he could access whatever he wanted. It was sitting at his Grandma’s dining table he’d downloaded his first pictures of naked men. He’d been surprised by the enormous number of pictures of naked men there were on the internet that were free to download. He knew there was porn out there but he’d thought you had to pay for it, having come across the membership websites, but a simple Google search had shown him all the free porn there was there too.
It quickly became his dirty little secret. He’d download pictures of naked men onto his laptop after he’d finished his school work while sitting at his Grandma’s dining table. And then, after he went to bed, he’d look at them. He always got such a thrill at looking at those pictures, even before puberty had set in. But, once his body hit puberty, the sexual thrill had run deeper and longer. Those pictures didn’t just give him a sexual thrill, they also fuelled deep sexual fantasies. Those men might have been nameless, and his sexual knowledge very limited, but he longed for those men. To be held and caressed by those handsome, naked men, and to be… He wasn’t too sure after this point. But more specific Google searches had soon filled in the blanks in his knowledge, giving him very technical information.
Though he revelled in his collection of pictures of naked men, carefully hidden away on his laptop, he also knew his attraction to those naked men wouldn’t be welcomed by the outside world. His school was a jungle at the best of times, with many different groups of kids fighting for top position. But the worst thing you could be labelled as was a fucking queer cunt. He’d seen lads get that label, and suddenly they became the victims of almost everyone else’s bullying and hatred. He’d seen lads’ lives made a living hell at school after they were accused of being gay or queer. He was already seen as an outsider or freak at school, which put him on the lower rungs of the popularity and power ladder. But at least it was far enough away from the those on the bottom rungs to be of little interest to the bullies and those in power. There were others beneath him to be singled out as the permanent victims of the bullies. If it became known at school he was queer, he would become a walking target of all the bullies there. Harrison and Phil would certainly not have protected him. Harrison’s love of homophobic jokes told Simon enough.
He didn’t feel safe letting anyone at home find out about his sexuality. He was living in his Grandma’s house then, and his Grandma was certainly negative whenever the subject came up. Sometimes it felt as if she blamed every ill in the world on homosexuality. Some days it felt as if all he heard coming out of her mouth was homophobia. Since his dad had become Born Again, his views were more and more echoing those of his Grandma. Her church certainly was deeply homophobic, with most Sundays there being one or two homophobic comments made during the worship service by at least one of the one of the church’s leaders or the vicar himself. But some Sundays it felt as if the whole service was devoted to the vicar’s homophobic views. And with each homophobic statement, his Grandma would proudly nod along to herself.
Simon’s mum had remained silent in the face of the homophobia displayed by his Grandma and dad that regularly bounded around their home. At first, he’d taken her silence as agreement, because usually she would be very vocal if someone said something she didn’t agree with. But faced with his Grandma’s and his dad’s homophobia, she remained silent. For Simon this felt like the biggest betrayal. His mum had always been the one he turned to for emotional care and support. But her silent acceptance of the household’s regular homophobia told Simon she was no longer someone he could safely turn to.
Simon had received the message loud and clear. The world was not a safe place for him. Homophobia was alive and well, and flexing its muscular arms, ready to strike. He couldn’t risk it, so he had kept quiet. But, more than just keeping quiet, he quickly learnt how to defect any questions about his sexuality. With Harrison and Phil he quickly learnt to pretend to like girls and be able to rate their looks. Harrison was always wanting to know which girls in their class, year, or even the whole school, were the most attractive, and who they most wanted to have sex with. Phil would gleefully join in, quick to give his opinions when Harrison raised the subject. And Simon had quickly learnt to join in too. Harrison and Phil’s comments had quickly given him guidelines to follow.
At home he’d very quickly learnt to stay quiet. He would react neutrally whenever his Grandma or his dad would start pouring out some homophobic comment or other. He’d quickly learnt to not even let his facial expression react when his Grandma broadcast her latest homophobic comments. This ability had stood him in good stead for keeping himself unobserved at his Grandma’s church, where the homophobia had a sharp and nasty taste. Some of the homophobia there was so laughable as to be easily ignored. But sometimes the homophobia would be so plausible sounding that it would easily get under his skin. A church leader or the vicar would make a homophobic statement and back it up with statistics they claimed supported it. And Simon would hear it and question himself, was what he was being told right? It was only when he was back at his Grandma’s house, where he could do another Google search, that he would find out it was just another set of homophobic lies.
In the middle of all this homophobia he’d fallen in love for the first time. Well, he’d had his first crush on a man he actually knew, not just another picture of a naked man he’d downloaded. This was a real man, and Simon knew his real name, so was able to find out many things more about him.
The object of his attraction was Brad Parry, the very handsome Worship Leader at his Grandma’s church. Each Sunday morning Brad Parry would lead the singing and music during the Worship Service. The church’s music was provided by a seven piece band, not an old pipe organ like a stereotypical church service, and Brad Parry was the leader of the mismatched band. He’d stand in front of the band, with his guitar and clear and strong singing voice, and lead all the singing, and usually sang one or even two solo songs during the service. But it wasn’t Brad Parry’s singing ability that had attracted Simon’s attention.
Brad Parry was very handsome. He was in his mid-twenties and his looks still had a fresh boyish quality. His light brown hair, with golden strands that almost made it look blond, fell across his forehead in almost two neat curtains to his fringe. It was fine, and parted down the centre, falling down to just above his collar at the back of his neck, framing his handsome face. Brad Parry’s face was dominated by his strong and broad features. A wide, full mouth, graced with bright red lips, with a strong and carefully shaped nose under two big and bright blue eyes; eyes that seemed to see all before them. Brad Parry’s body was tall and lean, though not the near straight up and down figure of a runner. His body curved with muscles across his chest, filled out his thighs, and his bum curved into two neat and perk cheeks. Simon could easily make out Brad Parry’s figure because he always wore snug fitting clothes, not tight, but clothes that fitted closely to his figure. He wore shirts that hugged close to the curves of his muscular chest and narrow jeans or trousers that always seemed to fit snugly over his pert bum.
Simon had felt a strong and sexual attraction towards Brad Parry, almost from the moment he’d seen him. During those awful church services Simon would long for the moments when Brad Parry would take his place in front of the music group at the front of the church, plainly on display on the raised platform. He would stand behind his microphone stand, feet firmly planted apart, legs in a wide stance. And Simon would feel his attention peak.
But Simon only got to see Brad Parry once a week, at those awful church services. And he wanted to see more of him. He’d heard other kids at school talking about cyber-stalking, and mainly about doing it, and so it had seemed very easy to him. He’d quickly found Brad Parry’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. And, just as quickly, he found that Brad Parry hadn’t set any privacy filters. So Simon could easily search through his social media accounts without having to friend or like him. Most of his postings were dull, so many of them were telling the world why it needed Jesus and why Jesus was wonderful in his life. But Simon found some posts especially interesting. The year before Brad Parry had been on a beach holiday to Spain, and he’d posted a lot of pictures online. The pictures that particularly interested Simon were the ones of Brad Parry at the beach, because he only seemed to wear small Speedo swimming trunks. They were so small and tight that Simon could easily see the outline of Brad Parry’s cock and balls through them. Brad Parry always wore his cock resting towards the right side, and Simon could also clearly see the curve and crease of his buttocks through those Speedos.
Simon already had a large collection of pictures of naked men, but those pictures of Brad Parry had a strange erotic pull for him. Though he wasn’t fully naked in any of them, they were deeply erotic for Simon because they were pictures of a man that he actually knew. The porn pictures he collected were all erotic, but they were pictures of men he didn’t know, complete strangers he knew nothing about. But he knew Brad Parry, even if just slightly, and that gave him a deep connection to those pictures.
The problem was that his real connection to Brad Parry was only very slight. He was one of many people watching Brad Parry, each Sunday. But that was the only connection Simon had with him, and it wasn’t enough. Stalking Brad Parry online soon became frustrating. Those pictures had been an amazing find but they soon proved to be a rarity. The vast majority of his online posts were telling the world about how wonderful it was being a Christian. Brad Parry posted so little personal details online, even his Facebook relationship status read Private. Simon had tried to watch Brad Parry, in the Church Hall were the congregation drank tea and gossiped, after Sunday morning service, but it hadn’t been easy. His father and Grandma were always hovering around him, and Brad Parry seemed very popular, being greeted by many people, moving from one group of people to another, but always on his own.
So he soon found his feelings for Brad Parry easing and dying out. Brad Parry was just as unknowable, just as much a stranger, as the men who had posed naked in all those pictures he’d collected. Soon the pictures of Brad Parry in his very small Speedo trunks had joined the rest of his collection of pictures of naked men, hidden away on his laptop. He could lust after unknown men, but he had to know more about a man for his emotions to run any deeper.
As he was experiencing his emotions for Brad Parry he was also watching the homophobia of the world around him. The country had equal marriage, an Equality Act, and every soap opera now had their gay characters, but still Simon didn’t feel his corner of the world was very welcoming to someone who was gay. He watched all the homophobia at school, that went mostly unchecked by the teachers. He heard all the homophobia preached at his Grandma’s church that no one seemed to question. He heard all the homophobia from his Grandma at home, all the agreement from his dad and the man’s own homophobia. And, loudest of all, he heard his mum’s silence in the face of it all. He knew the world out there wouldn’t welcome him if it found out if he was gay. It barely offered him any welcome as it was. So Simon knew he had to keep quiet. It was far safer that way. He found it easier to hide away, anyway.
When his mum said she was leaving his dad for Niki, another woman, Simon had felt a spark of hope. Could he actually come out to her? But her leaving had been his only way out of living in that awful house, a chance to escape all the homophobia he heard there every day. Moving out with his mum could give him a chance of a home life free from homophobia. If one part of his life was free from it then he could more easily endure the homophobia that filled the rest of it. Moving into Niki’s house had certainly given him that. Unfortunately, it didn’t give him the courage to come out to his mum. He was far too used to keeping his sexuality a secret. So breaking that habit was too hard and too difficult to do. He’d carefully crafted his defence against anyone finding out about his sexuality. It was far easier just to carry on as he had been doing. So that's what he did.
Simon minimised the internet browser on his laptop and stared at the wallpaper on his desktop; a picture of Brighton Pier late at night. He’d chosen that picture because he liked the look of it, with the different and brightly coloured lights shining in front of the dark night sky, and also because it was neutral enough that no one would ask him awkward questions about it, especially his dad. He closed the browser because he’d lost interest in surfing the net. He'd just not found enough websites to interest him, and his usual favourite ones hadn’t held enough new items to hold his interest either. He considered opening his hidden folder of naked men pictures. He would hear his mum and Niki returning home with plenty of time to close the folder before they entered the house. But even with that knowledge Simon didn’t feel any interest in scrolling through his collection. He didn’t know what he really wanted to do. He didn’t know what would hold his attention.
On his phone he had read a lot of different gay websites, it was his main outlet to find out what being gay was all about. He read the news items in all of them, and many of the feature articles in a lot of them. But there was one thing that jumped out loud and clear to him. Most gay men pictured there were handsome. Many of the articles were illustrated by pictures of handsome gay men, and often he suspected they were just models pretending to be gay. But they were so handsome. All the gay celebrities and personalities that were interviewed on those websites were handsome and well groomed. Rarely did he see a picture of a gay man, on any of those websites, who was less than handsome. His collection of pictures of naked men were all pictures of handsome men. Was there any market for pictures of ugly naked men? It seemed that you had to be handsome to be gay, or at least to be a successful gay man.
Simon certainly knew he wasn’t handsome. His features were plain. His hair was a mousy brown and, being curly, meant the only style he could keep it in was centre parted. Any other style and his hair would fight against it and win. His body was thin. Not so thin that his ribs could be counted, but thin enough that whatever clothes he wore hung limply off his body. He knew no one ever looked at him twice in the street, and that he never turned anyone’s head. His looks were nothing special. When Max had found him attractive, actually wanted to have sex with him, Simon had been filled with joy. Someone attractive was attracted to him. Simon had been too swept up by Max’s attraction to him to notice how much Max was using him, and for sex only. Then Max was gone from his life, and Simon didn’t feel any better off than when he’d first met him. Except now he wasn’t a virgin.
He’d read an online article, on one of the gay news websites he liked, about isolated young gay men joining gay dating apps to find some sort of community. Simon certainly felt isolated. He knew no other gay men and didn’t feel hopeful of finding any gay friends. Certainly he had no sense of community. The article suddenly gave him an idea, a help line out of his life. If he could find himself some gay friends then maybe he could begin to find out how he could be gay, and find a way into gay life. So he’d opened an account on the HIM dating app, lying about his age.
At first all he found were men wanting to have sex with him, many of them spending him pictures of their cocks and demands of pictures of his own in return. These men’s forward demands for sex had put Simon off. He’d told himself he would lose his virginity to the right man, or at least a man he felt comfortable with. And certainly not just some random man off HIM, whose first message to him often just started with a demand to know if he was a top or a bottom. Neither did the pictures of those men’s cock go any way to seducing him. Most of the pictures were badly taken, out-of-focus and/or at odd angles. He had more attractive pictures of cocks in his hidden porn collection. Certainly pictures that were far more erotic than the ones those men sent him.
Max’s first message to him had just asked how he was. Not a crude attempt at seduction, but a seemingly genuine question designed to open a conversation. They had messaged each other across the HIM app for several evenings before they had arranged to meet for the first time. And the rest was history.
In frustration at the boredom rapidly spreading over him, Simon turned the television back on again. Suddenly the start of the latest BBC crime drama leapt out of the screen at him. It was a program that Niki was interested in, they’d be watching it tomorrow night on the BBC’s catch up service. Niki had at least an internet TV, so they could watch all the free services. For a moment Simon thought about watching it, but quickly rejected the idea. The leading actor was handsome and did wear very closely fitting trousers, but he’d only have to watch it again tomorrow night. So he switched the television over to the internet channel and started to load the BBC’s iPlayer app.
Simon had considered reactivating his HIM account. Since Max had dumped him he was back to where he’d started. He hadn’t made any gay friends; he didn’t know much more about being gay. He knew how to give a blow job on the backseat of a Volkswagen Golf Mark 4, which was an act in itself because there was so little room there. Was that a skill all gay men must have?
There was the gay youth group in Vale Side, on the other side of the city, at least two bus rides away. He supposed he could go there, but what would to tell his mum? To go would mean that he would have to come out to her and was he ready for that? How would he explain not telling her for so long? And, if he did manage to get there, would they let him in? The group advertised itself for eighteens and over, and he was sixteen and looked younger.
There was Freddie Brockman at college. After watching him being on the receiving end of all that homophobia, and the way that Freddie Brockman had stood up to it all there was no doubt in Simon’s mind that Freddie Brockman was gay. So he did know one other gay man, apart from Max. But he didn’t really know Freddie Brockman all that well. He just knew of Freddie Brockman, and that wasn’t the same. Did he have the courage to walk up to Freddie Brockman and introduce himself? Being friends with him would certainly raise his head above the crowd at college, identify him as different, even mark him as queer or gay. But he hadn’t even spoken Freddie Brockman, so none of them were real questions.
Simon stared up at the ceiling, he needed to do something or just rot away.
He heard the sound of a key turning in the front door, and the sound of his mum and Niki’s voices. Looking towards the main door of the sitting room he saw them entering the room, both women smiling and talking.