I was twelve or thirteen when Timothy let me in on his secret, probably thirteen. I’d been friends with him since nursery. Three years old and were inseparable. The best of friends. I’d met Vanessa first, but that was through each of our Mum’s. As much as I got on with Nessa, it wasn’t quite the same as Tim. I chose to be friends with him. We were in the same class as school.
We would have been thirteen and on the way home from school. Normally we split at the bus stop and went straight home, booted up a game and chatted until dinner. This time though, he didn’t want to split straight away. He said he had something he wanted to tell me. He waited for everyone else to get off the bus and say their goodbyes. Once the roar of children became a dying hum he asked if we could go to the park. I said sure, thinking he wanted to play football or something. Maybe his parents were getting divorced. They wouldn’t be the first couple in the town to do so.
“What’s up?” I asked once we got to the quietest part.
It was late afternoon, about half four. The sun was clocking out for the day, waving goodbye to us and leaving an orange glow in the autumn evening. I remember being slightly cold, not that I would ever say anything, that would be admitting that Mum was right and I needed a coat. There were some children playing on the swings and climbing frame in the distance. Tim climbed up a tree and I followed. Our legs dangling and swinging freely as we sat on one of the branches, looking out onto the horizon. From up there we could see past the children, past the outskirts of the park and onto the road. Cars flowing in both directions but the sound didn’t reach us.
“I wanted to tell you something.”
We sat in silence for a while. He wasn’t looking at me, his eyes going between the ground beneath our feet and the enduring sun light.
“I need to tell someone. That’s what I’ve read on the internet. It’ll help me if I tell someone.”
He went quiet and shut his eyes. The world around us moved on. I could see him concentrating on slowly breathing. In and out.
“What?” I said, with a small laugh.
“Yeah. At least I think I am.”
“Dude, no joke. That ain’t funny.”
“I’m not laughing.”
“You serious. Wow. How do you know?”
“How do you know you’re straight?”
We sat in silence for a while. I was feeling uncomfortable. He’d just told me this massive secret and my first reaction was to just laugh. I didn’t mean to laugh. It wasn’t funny. And I didn’t have a problem with him being Gay. Back then I would call things, like games and films, gay. But that’s just what we said. It wasn’t a bad thing. I know it doesn’t sound like that now, but the world has changed a lot since then.
It seemed like the whole world had shut down, the children playing seemed to be further away. Their screams fading into the distance. The only sounds were the birds sitting in nearby trees, tweeting at one another. The wind rustled along, moving between us. Slowly the sun started to lower behind the buildings leaving an orange tint over the world. The dying rays spread over us.
“Dude,” I said. “I need to start heading home. My dad’s going to kill me.”
“I know, go on. I’m fine, I just want to sit here for a while.”
“Are you sure your okay? I don’t think any less of you or anything. Your still my mate. I mean that. I know some people would think you’re weird, or something. But I don’t. It doesn’t matter.”
“Thanks, mate. Go. Your dad will kill us both.”
I half smiled, jumped from the tree and landed with a thud on the floor. Getting up I ran all the way home. Dad was going to be mad, he would be even madder if the sky went black before I got home. He didn’t like me out on school nights. Especially when it got dark so early. I don’t know what he was worried about. Sure, Westmeadow was a rough place, but it wasn’t like that. As long as you kept to yourself everything would be fine. The older kids always left me alone. I didn’t do anything to them. I got enough beatings at home.
“Where the hell have you been?” He roared as I stepped into the living room.
“I was just with Tim. We were at the park.”
“At the park? You know your supposed to come straight back home. Especially when it gets dark. Your dinner’s cold. You’re still going to eat it. I have to go out tonight so we’ll talk about this later. You come home late again and I’ll give you something to cry about.”
That was his favourite saying. I’ll give you something to cry about. He used to say it whenever I cried as a child, and then didn’t stop as I grew up. It always made me wince, knowing what was coming next. I could tell he was already drunk, his words slurring as he spoke.
He pushed past me, grabbed his coat and left me in the house alone. My whole body shaking, knowing that he was going to come home drunker and angry than when he left.
The food was sitting on the side in the kitchen, chicken and oven chips. Yay. That was pretty much the usual. Chicken that supposed to be crispy, and yet uncooked and floppy. Chips, that tasted like death itself. On top of that it had been sitting there for a while, so it’ll have to go in the microwave which doesn’t really add greatness to the flavour. Dad wouldn’t let me make my own dinner, I don’t know why. If I asked for him to leave it in a little longer he would tell me that burnt food was bad for me. I didn’t want it burnt I just wanted it fully cooked.
I half-choked, half-ate the food and then went to my room to play a game. Hoping that dad would just go straight to bed when he got home. Maybe he wouldn’t even make it upstairs. I could just sneak into bed and let tomorrow begin a new beginning. As time drew on my mind left my Dad and went to Tim. I wondered how he was doing. I didn’t know any openly gay people and while I’m sure there were some in the town it was still not common. He must be scared, I would be. I don’t think I would have been able to tell even him.
But he told me. And I ran away. That’s why he told me then though, I couldn’t get weird with him if I had to bolt straight away. I texted him asking if he was okay. I got a generic response, probably testing the waters. I told him I was here if he wanted to speak. That everything was good between us and all that stuff. I didn’t know what to say. I could tell he was having a hard time, and I didn’t want to make things worse. I was just going to act normal when we got back to school and not mention it again. Show him that things won’t change.
I couldn’t sleep and Dad hadn’t come home. The head of my bed was close to the window, I could look up and see under the curtain and watch the stars. A lot of things went through my head that night, as the still stars shined on.
I spent what seemed like two days, tossing and turning, listening out for the front door and watching the moonlit sky. There was no noise coming in through the window and I couldn’t even turn the TV on for company. Dad would have gone mental, wasting electricity. Especially if I fell asleep with it on.
Eventually Dad came back home, he stumbled in through the front door and shook the house when he slammed it shut. I winced at the sound and retreated further under the quilt. He didn’t come into my room straight away, so maybe he’d forgotten about me being late home. It wouldn’t have been the first time. I shut my eyes and pretended to sleep, hoping he wouldn’t want to wake me if he came in.
My heart stopped as I heard his feet thud up the stairs. I didn’t know what to do. I curled up and turned towards the wall, eyes shut. Each thud louder than the last. It was probably in my mind but I could smell the booze as he got closer to my room. I didn’t know what to do. My whole body was shaking. He was reaching my room. If only I could curl up and hide under the bed. I knew he was going to come in. I could feel it. His drunk breath screaming at me. Tears flowing.
But he didn’t. He walked past the room, slowly thudding down the corridor. The next thing I hear is the sound of him going to the toilet. I sigh in relief and stretch my legs out. It’s over. He won’t mention it again tomorrow, he won’t even be awake when I get up for school. Maybe I’ll actually get some sleep now. I turn onto my back and lower the quilt a little. Sticking one leg out the side I smile, and start to relax.
I hear the chain flush and the door to the bathroom opens quickly. He didn’t wash his hands. Nice. The thuds are a bit quicker now, and lighter. I’m not paying that much attention. Shuffling a little I try to enter the land of nod.
My whole body jumps as my bedroom door swings open. I can see a silhouette against the landing light. Slowly Dad stumbles over to the bed and looms over me.
“Don’t think I’d forgotten about you boy.” He slurred.
I didn’t say anything. It took all of my energy just to keep eye contact. I was shaking under the quilt. Dad leant over me, holding himself against the wall.
“Well, why were you late?”
“I was hanging out with Tim. I didn’t see the time.”
“You know better than to lie to me boy. You know the rules. You come straight home after school. It takes you long enough to get home, I don’t need you running about the place. You could get hurt. You know better than to do that. So what was it? You not scared of your old man any more? Don’t think I would teach you to follow the rules? I’m not your mother boy. I’m not soft. I will teach you to listen.”
“It was Tim,” I said, trying to hide under the welcoming duvet. “I said I needed to come home.”
“So you’re a girl then? Scared to stand up for yourself and just do as your told. Pathetic.”
There was no slurring in his voice now. Just anger. I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. Looking back I know it’s no excuse but I wasn’t thinking at the time. I just wanted that moment to be over. I didn’t like my Dad shouting at me. He was scary. I just wanted to go to sleep and pretend that it never happened. I just wanted my legs to stop shaking, having their own earthquake.
“He’s gay. He told me and I was trying to be a good friend.”
I think I knew how Dad was going to react. It wasn’t going to be good. I knew he was a little homophobic. Shouting stuff at the TV whenever an openly gay celebrity made an appearance. For the next couple of years I tried to convince myself that I told him thinking he would understand and even think I did the right thing. It never worked. There were so many sleepless nights because of that one moment.
There was a moment when I thought everything was going to be okay. He stood back up and seemed shocked. Taken back by my statement. A stillness took over the room and everything calmed. The anger that had been swirling around stopped and then left.
“You let that low life into this house? You brought him in here?”
And then everything got worse.
To be continued…