“WHY do you never mention your parents?”
“Hmmm?” I hadn’t been listening, too lost in the feel of Jack’s strong hands massaging my feet.
“Your parents. You never talk about them.”
I shrug indifferently, not really interested in talking about my family. “They threw me out.”
There’s a long pause before Jack says, “When?”
“When what?” He digs his clever fingers hard into the ball of my foot, and I hold back a yelp.
“When did they throw you out?”
“Five minutes past twelve on New Year’s Day, 2000.”
“How old were you?”
“Your parents threw you out when you were still at school?”
He’s silent for a minute and then more questions. I know there will be more questions. There are always questions if you are honest.
“Why did they throw you out?”
Reluctantly I open my eyes, because he has stopped digging into my feet and I’m not happy. “Why do you think?”
“Because you are gay.”
“Bingo. On the nose. Ding ding ding for the brainbox.”
“But you were a kid.” He sounds outraged for me.
“What’s that got to do with it? You know it happens all the time.”
“I thought that sort of thing didn’t happen over here. I thought we were all”—he makes air quotes with his fingers—“enlightened.”
I shrug again. “Obviously my parents missed that memo.” I wriggle my toes hopefully, but Jack doesn’t take the hint.
“What made them throw you out?”
“I just told you that.” I try not to snap, but we’ve been having a chilled evening on the sofa. Him, me, a bottle of wine, and a long, leisurely massage that was hopefully going to end in a happy ending. I was still hopeful that might happen.
No such luck. He tickles my foot enough to make me really yelp. “Tell me why they chucked you out, then.”
“Do I have to? It was a long time ago.”
“David.” I hear the warning in Jack’s voice. He isn’t going to be deflected, no matter how hard I try. Thirteen years ago I was a different boy, Danny, loved by his parents. Then it all changed.
I sigh and sit up, running my hands through my hair. “I kissed my boyfriend. Dad saw us and threw me out. End of story.”
“Your father threw you out of the house for kissing your boyfriend?”
“That’s what I just said. Can we stop with the interrogation now? Do you want a drink? I could make coffee, or we could get another bottle of wine. Do you want more wine? I won’t because I’ve got to get up tomorrow, but I could get you one.” I stop babbling long enough to stand up, but he pulls me back down, manhandling me so I’m straddling his lap.
“Please tell me what happened.” Jack holds me down with one hand and cups my chin with the other. I get lost in his expression, his eyes dark, the deepest forest green.
“I don’t want you to know.”
Jack kisses me softly. “I know you don’t, but I need to know. Tell me where you lived.”
My mouth is dry, and I lick my lips, trying to moisten them enough to speak. It’s so hard to talk about this part of my life. All I’ve ever wanted to do is forget about it. And there’s so much at risk telling him the truth. “South London still. About ten miles away from here. It was New Year. We had a party like we always did, and it was the millennium, so everyone was there.” The family had been there, as always, even old Auntie Peg and her farting Pekinese. But this time Dad had invited the whole street to see in the new century. “We had the telly on and heard Big Ben.” My dad insisted on seeing in the New Year with the chimes of Big Ben, just as he forced us to endure the Queen’s speech every Christmas Day.
“We were hugging and kissing. Everyone was at it.” I’d already been kissed by my parents and all the aunties and uncles, even old Tom down the road had pulled me into a hug so hard I’d had the breath knocked out of me. “Then Steve kissed me.”
“Steve was your boyfriend?”
“Yeah. My mum and dad thought he was my best mate. He was my best mate, but he was more than that.”
“Did you love him?” I hear the jealousy in his voice. I see it in his eyes. This is the first time he’s tripped over my past, my ex-lovers. My past is just that—in the past and forgotten. I wish to God I’d remembered that before I’d told him the truth.
“I thought I did at the time. Now, I dunno. We were kids.” Of course I’d loved him, with all the innocence and naiveté that a sixteen-year-old possesses.
“So you kissed him in the excitement and your dad saw?”
It hadn’t been quite like that. We’d wished each other a happy new century along with everyone else, and then he’d caught my eye, and we sneaked out into the back where it was dark and quiet. He’d pushed me against the wall and kissed me, saying everyone deserved a special kiss. Even at sixteen, Steve had known what to do with his mouth to make me horny.
“Something like that,” I agree.
“Then what happened?”
“It was just my luck Dad came out for more beer and caught us kissing. He went ballistic, yelling he didn’t want a homo for a son, and then he threw me and Steve out of the house.” I can see the pity in his eyes and I hate it, hate it. “Don’t look at me like that. I’m not a charity case.”
He strokes my face with his long fingers, and if I hadn’t been so pissed off, I would have purred. “I never said you were.”
“You were thinking it, though.”
“Maybe a little. What did you do then?”
“We went back to Steve’s.” I remember the shock I felt as we walked down the street, the numbness in my mind as I tried to get my head around what had just happened.
“At least you had somewhere to go.”
I nod. I had—for a while. We’d let ourselves into his empty house—his parents had gone away, which was why he’d been staying with me—and he’d bathed my eye, trying to staunch the blood. In addition to chucking me out, Dad had given me a parting present of a black eye and a split lip.
Unwittingly, he’s tracing a tiny scar on my cheek where Dad hit me. “Did you stay there after that or did you have family you could go to?”
I shake my head. “None of them wanted anything to do with me once my dad spread the news. They all told me they didn’t want a queer in their house. I stayed with Steve for a bit, but his parents didn’t want any trouble. They were having a hard enough time finding out their son was gay.”
“So what did you do?”
I look away, not wanting to tell him the truth. Not wanting to admit the shame in my past.
He grips my chin firmly and forces me to look at him. “David, what happened next?”
“I got taken to a halfway home and then I lived rough for a while.”
“How long? How long’s ‘a while’?”
“Over three years.”
“Jeez.” He lets out a shaky breath, and I can see his eyes glistening in the dim light of the lamp.
That’s it. I’ve had enough. I clamber off his lap and head for the bathroom, giving the pretense of needing a piss. Thankfully he doesn’t follow me, and I spend the time staring in the mirror, seeing the frightened little boy I’d been then rather than the man I’ve become. When I get back he’s staring at his hands. He looks up as I come back into the room, and gives me a wan smile.
“Why have you never told me this before? I’ve known you for over eight years. Why have you never told me about your past?”
“You never asked.”
“Don’t give me that. You know I did. I’ve asked you over and over what happened to you, but you never said, and Mary wouldn’t tell me.”
I smile at that. Mary wouldn’t. She’s very protective of her kids, even years after they leave her. Really, no one leaves Mary. I’ve got to know most of her charges, past and present.
He sees my smile and snaps, “It’s not funny, David.”
My smile fades. “I know it’s not funny, but what do you expect me to say?” I hang back by the door, unwilling to face his anger. This was my life, dammit, not his. What the hell right did he have to be angry?
He stares at me. “I met you when you were twenty. Why did you never tell me about your life? All those times I asked and you’d only just got off the streets?”
“Babe, I wanted to forget that boy ever existed. I still do.” That’s not me—even if I did just catch a little glimpse of Danny in the mirror.
I can see from his frown he doesn’t really understand. Taking a deep breath, I sit down beside him and hold his hand. Maybe now is the time to tell my story. Not all of it, of course. There are things I can never tell him. The things I had to do to eat, to survive. It’s a miracle I’m alive and not dead in some alleyway with a needle stuck in my arm. I didn’t contract HIV or the clap. I survived, and I can show him that. I’m not a victim and the sky isn’t dead.
I CAN’T remember the last time I thought about leaving my parents’ house with only the clothes I was wearing and walking to Steve’s place in a total funk. I don’t remember much beyond Steve pushing me up the stairs and into the bathroom. I remember him bathing my face with his flannel, washing away the blood from my lip. I catch sight of myself in the mirror. I’m a fucking mess. No one is at home, so Steve holds me for the rest of the night, stroking my head as I cry. I cry for a long time.
The next day he makes me toast and orange squash whilst I ring home. Mum tells me my clothes are outside the garage in bin bags. I put the phone down and stare blankly at Steve.
“What did she say?” he asks as he hands over the plate and glass.
“My stuff is in bin bags outside.”
He winces. “Oh fuck, Danny, I’m… that’s really fucked.”
I sit down and push the plate of toast away from me. If I eat, I’m going to barf. We’re still sitting there in silence when Steve’s parents come home. His mother takes one look at my face and starts fussing whilst his dad bellows at Steve for an explanation. He looks at me helplessly. I shrug. They are going to find out sooner or later.
His parents receive Steve’s stuttering explanation in stunned silence.
“You’re both… poofters?” his father asks weakly, latching on to the crux of the issue.
Steve looks at me before nodding.
“My son’s a fucking nancy?” Mr. Gillan’s voice rises, and both Steve and I flinch.
His mother is mouthing, “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” over and over.
Mr. Gillan slams his fist on the table, making the plates and mugs jump. “You are not queer.” He pushes his chair back and storms out of the room.
Steve’s mother looks at us with a helpless expression and then runs out of the kitchen after her husband. “Eric, wait,” she yells.
“Oh fuck,” Steve says. “Fuck!”
When it looks like no one is going to come and find us, we slink back to Steve’s room and watch TV. It’s nearly two in the afternoon before the door bursts open.
“You can stop whatever you’re doing,” Mr. Gillan starts, but it’s obvious that Steve is propped against the headboard watching TV and I’m down at the end of the bed reading a book. Steve’s feet had been on my back but he’d moved them hurriedly as the door swung open. Mr. Gillan coughs. “Good. Well, I’ve spoken to your dad, Danny. I’m sorry to say he hasn’t changed his mind. You can’t go home.”
I bite down on my lip to stop the tears spilling over. I’m not going to cry in front of Steve’s dad. “I could call my nan or my aunty.”
“You do that,” Mr. Gillan says.
“Can’t he stay here, Dad?” Steve asks.
The answer’s obvious before Mr. Gillan speaks. “No, he fucking can’t. That’s not appropriate. We can’t have the whole world knowing.”
“Knowing what?” Steve says heatedly. “That I’m gay? Is that your problem? The neighbors might find out?”
Mr. Gillan shakes his head. “Danny can’t stay here. That’s all there is to it.” He walks out but he leaves the door open.
“What the fuck?” Steve says, but then his mother is walking through the door.
“I collected your things, Danny.” She holds up two black bin bags.
I look at the two bags and it suddenly hits me my parents are serious. They really don’t want me home. The start of the new millennium and I am homeless. I make a choking sound and Steve ignores his mum to put his arms around me. I’m shaking so violently he has to hold me tight. His mother tuts but we both ignore her.
“Danny—” she starts, but Steve interrupts.
“Later, Mum, okay?”
“We have to talk,” she says but leaves the room.
I crumple into Steve’s chest, tears coursing down my cheeks.
He holds me, whispering, “It’s okay, Danny, you’ll be okay. Your nan will have you and your parents will come around.”
I accept the words for what they are—blind reassurance. It will be okay. It has to be.
It isn’t okay, and it never will be again. But thankfully I don’t know that as I cry in Steve’s hard embrace.
MY NAN and my aunt don’t want queers in their home. I’m sixteen. My friends all live with their parents. I don’t have anyone I can stay with. And Mr. and Mrs. Gillan make it plain I’m not welcome to stay with them.
Two days after the New Year, we are hiding in Steve’s bedroom again when there’s a knock at the door and Mrs. Gillan walks in with a woman I don’t recognize. From the look on Steve’s face, he hasn’t got a clue either.
“This is Miss Chalmers, from social services,” Mrs. Gillan says. “She’s come to find a place for Danny.”
I sit up in a panic. “What?”
Immediately, Steve is holding my hand. “What do you mean?”
“You’re taking me into care?”
The woman, a black woman with braided hair, nods. “Kind of. As you’re sixteen, we’re taking you to a halfway house. You get a room but you get to look after yourself, rather than be looked after.” She smiles at me, showing lots of white teeth.
I don’t want to leave Steve, but I know I’m not welcome here. Steve’s parents have made it very clear they don’t want me staying in their house a minute longer than I have to.
“You can’t go,” Steve says as I stand up. “Mum, tell Danny he can stay.”
Mrs. Gillan shakes her head. “He can’t, son. This is best for everyone.”
He glares at her. “Best for Danny or best for you? You just don’t want your son’s boyfriend in the house. Worried that you might get AIDS from him?”
The worse thing is the horrified look that comes over Mrs. Gillan’s face, as if that had never occurred to her.
“I don’t have AIDS, any more than Steve does. I’m still… we haven’t….” I turn away before I embarrass myself any further. I pick up the bin bags sitting in the corner of Steve’s bedroom.
“There’s some of your clothes downstairs,” Mrs. Gillan says. “I’ll go and get them.” She had been kind enough to wash them without complaining.
“I don’t believe this shit,” Steve mutters, finally letting go of my hand.
I kiss him on the lips, ignoring the social worker. “I’ll call, okay?”
“You’d better.” Steve sounds all choked up. “I’ll see you back at school?”
I make a noncommittal noise, because I don’t know what the hell is going to happen to me next.
“You’d better be there,” he insists. “I’m not doing that history project by myself.”
Steve walks me to the front door and kisses me long and slow, ignoring the noise of disgust from his mother.
I follow Miss Chalmers to her Nissan Micra. She seems friendly enough, but I don’t trust her. From the second my father made it clear I wasn’t welcome back, I had vowed to myself I would never trust anyone again, especially not a total stranger.
I watch Steve and his mum as we drive away. She has a look of relief on her face but he’s distraught, tears pouring down his face. The last thing I see is her putting an arm around Steve and him shrugging it away. I realize sadly that more than one family has been affected by a New Year kiss.
THE halfway house is euphemistically called Hope House. I soon learn the kids call it Hopeless House. It is an old house that’s been newly decorated. Ten kids are living there, from ages sixteen to nineteen. The theory is the older ones will help us younger ones cook and clean and learn to look after ourselves.
What happens in practice is that the older kids take whatever they like of our things and make us do all the chores. For a few months, as I get over the shock of my parents chucking me out, I deal with living in Hopeless House. I try hard to keep up with my studies at school, and Steve does all he can to help me. Even the school does its best to support me.
I try to fit in, I really do, but I hate living in the home. I miss my bedroom and my home, even Mum’s crappy cooking and my small bed. I share a room with Peter, an eighteen-year-old with bad acne and an even worse attitude. The day I get back from school to find my things missing is the beginning of the end of my stay at Hopeless House.
I don’t have much in the first place—my school uniform, some jeans and tops and underwear. Peter is already back from school when I enter our room. I promised Steve I would go round for an hour but I want to get changed first. So far I’ve managed to keep up with my studies, despite the extra stress. I just want to get through my A levels and then leave school and find a job. I know university is out of the question now.
Peter is on his bed, reading a magazine. He manages a grunt when I say hello. That’s about as much as I normally get out of him. I know something is wrong as soon as I look at the couple of drawers I have. They’re empty, and the few clothes that were there this morning are gone.
Taking a deep breath to hold back my anger, I grab the edge of the drawer, digging my fingers deep into the wood. “Where’s my gear?”
Peter doesn’t reply. If the git had nothing to do with it, you’d expect him to deny it or ask what the fuck I was talking about.
“Where is my gear?” I ask again slowly.
When he doesn’t reply, I rip the mag out of his hands. He sneers at me. “Where the fuck are my clothes? What did you do with them?”
“I didn’t do anything with them, arsehole.”
“What did you just call me?”
“Arsehole. Pussy, cunt, buttmunch. That’s what you are. You’re a fucking queer. Got caught being fucked by your boyfriend and got thrown out for being a homo. Should I be careful about bending over?”
Rage builds inside me. “Yeah. So what? I’m queer. Don’t worry, I don’t want your saggy arse. Fuck knows what I’d catch from you. Now, where are my clothes?”
Peter curls his lip. “Not gonna tell you a thing, poof.”
I leap on him with a scream, hitting him wherever I can reach. He’s taller than me and has longer arms, but I’m so angry I don’t give a shit. For a minute he’s startled, then he tries to hit back, but I’m laying into him for all I’m worth and I’m not going to stop until he’s fucking broken.
The noise must have attracted the social worker on duty, because the next thing I know I’m flying back across the room as she tries to separate us.
“What the hell is going on here?” she yells.
Peter holds his nose, and I take satisfaction in seeing it’s bleeding heavily. “Don’t know. The fucking poofter just went psycho on me.”
I’m panting, trying to get my breath back. “He’s a fucking thief. He’s taken all my clothes. I’ve got nothing left now.”
She looks between the two of us. “Let me get this straight. Your clothes are missing, so you accuse Peter of stealing them?” We both nod. “Then what?”
“He calls me an arsehole and… homophobic names, so I hit him,” I spit out.
“Is this true?” She glares at Peter, who shrugs.
“Well, he is a homo.”
“Where are Danny’s clothes?” she demands.
“How should I know?” It’s obvious to me he’s lying, and the social worker can see it too. She shakes her head.
“I’m going to get to the bottom of this if it’s the last thing I do. Peter, go and wash your face, and get some ice for your nose. Danny, you don’t start hitting before you find out what’s going on.”
Peter leaves with bad grace, mouthing homo at me as he shuts the door.
“He stole my things and called me names,” I say stubbornly.
“You don’t know he stole your clothes, but he obviously knows where they are.”
“He’s still a homophobic git,” I say.
She huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, he probably is. But you can’t hit people just because they call you names. You’ll get thrown out of here if you do.”
“I don’t care.”
“You should care. You don’t have a lot of options, Danny. You’re going to find morons like Peter everywhere. Hitting them isn’t going to help your case.”
I can see she’s serious, but I’m so angry I’m shaking. “What case? My parents threw me out of my home for kissing my boyfriend. This dickhead steals my clothes for being gay. I’ve got nothing left.”
She looks at me with pity in her eyes. “Keep your head down for a while. You’ll be fine.”
I stare at her and shake my head. “Whatever. I need something to wear.” I lie on my bed and roll over so I’m facing the wall. I hear her sigh but I don’t pay any attention.
SHE finds some of my clothes. Peter stops talking to me, as do all the kids in the home. Every time I join them I hear homo and poofter hissed by the older kids, low enough not to attract the staff. A couple of the younger ones catch me when we’re on our own and mutter that they’re sorry but they’re scared of being the next target. I don’t blame them. I’m scared of them.
I talk to the social workers to see if they’ll move me, but my options are limited. This is a short-term placement, and I’m expected to deal with it. Oh, they make the right noises, but the implication is I have to keep my head down and live with it.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of my life—meaning Steve—hadn’t gone to shit as well.
We try to keep it going, but it is clear his parents don’t want me anywhere near their precious son. Steve starts to make excuses not to see me. At first I believe him when he says it’s his parents, but I’m not stupid, and the rumor around school is that he’s got a girlfriend. He denies it, of course, and he makes love to me, fucking me behind the garage block until I’m sore and boneless.
Still, Steve is sixteen and he’s not that subtle. I see the way Julie Perkins looks at him, and worse, I see the way he looks at her. Now that we’re in sixth form, we can come and go when our lessons have finished, and he leaves before me most days.
I’m sitting in Business Studies when I look out of the window to see Steve going through the gate, his arm around Julie Perkins’ shoulders. I swallow hard against the lump in my throat at his betrayal. I’ve lost everything because of him. I have no home, no parents, no family… and no boyfriend. I don’t think about what I’m doing, just push back my chair and walk out of the classroom, leaving my backpack behind. Mr. Palmer falters, and then calls after me. I ignore him and the buzz of chatter from the other kids. All I can think is this is the end, there is nothing left to live for.
Not sure what to do with myself, I wander the streets until I’m bone cold and decide to head back to Hopeless House. Steve is loitering near the building.
“Danny. Where the fuck have you been?”
I shove my hands in my pockets to stop the urge I have to smack the bastard in the face. “What do you want?”
He hesitates, not looking me in the eyes. “I saw you as I left school.”
“Julie doesn’t mean anything. It’s just to keep Mum and Dad off my back.”
I grit my teeth so hard my jaw aches. “No?”
He shakes his head. “It’s still you and me, kiddo.”
“Have you fucked her?” I ask tersely.
Steve hesitates a moment too long.
“Is she a good fuck?”
“No! She’s just a cover.”
“Poor bitch,” I say unsympathetically.
“It’s only you, Danny. Just you.”
I look into his wide eyes and my heart crumbles into a million pieces. “Go away, Steve,” I say and turn my back on him.
I walk into the home, ignoring his calls, only to be shoved up against the wall, smacking my head against the plaster as a forearm is pushed across my throat.
“What are you doing here, fag?”
I wrinkle my nose at the stench of cigarettes on Peter’s breath. “I live here, arsehole.”
He presses his arm harder against my throat, against my windpipe. “Not for long. We don’t want a bumbandit living here. We’ll get AIDS.”
“We, meaning you?”
“All of us. So fuck off and live with your queer boyfriend.”
I am not going to break down and cry in front of this dickwad. “Can’t do that.”
Then his eyes light up. “Heard he doesn’t want you anymore. Got himself some real pussy, hasn’t he?”
There is only one thing in the rush of blood in my head. I punch him as hard as I can, the crack of his nose breaking very satisfying. He steps back with a muffled yell, clutching at his face.
“Danny!” The social worker, Susan, runs down the hallway. “What have you done?”
“He’b a fushing psybo,” Peter says, his words indistinct.
She pushes Peter down onto the chair. “Christ, what the hell is it with you two? You can’t stay here if you’re going to keep fighting, Danny.”
I watch her fuss with Peter, and the sick feeling in my stomach intensifies. I walk out the front door, ignoring someone calling my name for the third time that day. Steve isn’t there. He hadn’t even waited for a minute.
I walk down the street, swallowing hard against the anger and hurt threatening to spill over. I turn a corner and see a sign for the bus station. It’s time to get out of this shithole. I’ve got no idea where I’m going, but no bastard is going to throw me out of my home for a second time. From now on, it’s me and only me.