Cesare's Cabinet

Almost Never Disclaimers & Chapter Index

New Planet.

Manchester wasn't much different from Dublin, just-- more. More rain, more people, more city. A bigger school full of more prats to tolerate while Stuart Alan Jones impressed his teachers and bided his time.

The move couldn't have come at a worse time for his older sister Marie, who was still flouncing around the new house, dramatically furious. It was her last year in school and she'd had to leave behind all her useless little friends; she wouldn't shut up about it. Their parents were at wit's end with her. But Stuart hadn't minded moving. A couple of years earlier, it might have bothered him, when he'd been a little younger, a little less certain. But at fourteen, nearly fifteen, he knew exactly who he was. Where didn't matter any more.

Besides, Manchester had an interesting reputation. It was the subject of a few offhand jokes he'd heard: laughing comments about a Village, about clubs and shops on Canal Street. People flipped their wrists, rolled their heads around like broken-necked chickens, and spoke in shrill voices when they mentioned Manchester's Canal Street, all imitating some Platonic notion of homosexuality that only seemed to exist in the minds of straight people.

Straight people even made those jokes to him sometimes, seemingly oblivious to the plain fact that he was not of their ilk. He found it inexplicable. Stuart wasn't camp, but he was out, way out, in his own mind at least. He dressed better than any straight boy his age ever would, he knew place settings and furniture groupings, and he openly sized up good-looking blokes practically everywhere he went. And yet, mothers ruffled his hair and talked about what a clever well-mannered boy he was, what a good catch he'd make for some lucky girl. His own mother talked about what a good catch he'd make some girl someday, while Stuart gritted his teeth and smiled and smiled.

The only conclusion he could come to was that most straight people were stupid. He'd held that opinion for a good long time, but then, after meeting enough gay men to have a healthy statistical sample, he'd had to revise his judgement. As it turned out, most people were stupid, full stop.

Certainly that idea was borne out by the morons at his new school in Manchester. He hadn't been there a week and already they were living down to his lowest expectations, all twittering like idiots over some upcoming dance or another.

He'd been cruising the halls, but most lads seemed to take his roving eyes as some sort of sinister Irish challenge, a call to arms for all these young English patriots. They made nervous jokes about him looking for trouble, teased that he was an IRA terrorist. No one seemed to twig that he was gay; two girls asked him to the dance.

Stuart had tagged the blokes at his school into No's, Maybe's and Definitely's; so far he had six Definitely's, four of whom were too camp for his tastes, and nine Maybe's. Some of the Maybe's had real possibility. A couple of them were in track and field, and they were marvelously appealing when he saw them on their way to practice after school. He'd noticed a sleepy-eyed bloke in his English class who had amazing long legs. In geometry, there was a boy two seats over with china blue eyes who looked quite sweet, if a bit timid. And then there was one of the footballers, broad-shouldered, monosyllabic, with a fabulous arse and a swaggering walk that had just enough subliminal swish in it to put Stuart on his scent.

Maybe's were more interesting than Definitely's, he found. Something about the risk. Putting himself on the line. In the past year of actively cruising, he hadn't put a foot wrong yet. Not that he'd stepped up to the plate all that often, but he'd been with five men so far. Not bad for year nine.

The lunch bell rang, and Stuart pushed himself up from his desk and headed toward the cafeteria. As soon as the doors swung to admit him he frowned up, muttering, "What the fuck is this?"

A huge floor space had been cleared, and a group of giggling girls were tottering on ladders, stringing up foil stars and paper streamers. It was that idiot dance; they were decorating. That meant there were half as many tables as usual, less places to sit. By the time Stuart had got through the line, there weren't any empty tables left. He'd have to double up with one of the other loners who'd grabbed seats to themselves.

Stuart stood, tray in hand, looking out over the cafeteria negligently, as though unsure which table to grace with his presence. He spotted the blue-eyed boy from his geometry class sitting off on his own. That would do. It was a big table, he could sit at the other end, avoid having to talk to the other lad. That boy seemed so shy he'd probably never speak a peep to Stuart anyway, which suited him fine.

He walked over, set down his tray, and took a seat far down the table without speaking a word. The other boy glanced at him nervously, looked down at his lunch, stole another look, swallowed. Finally he leaned over and rooted around in his satchel, came up with a book, opened it, and began to read. Or pretended to read. Stuart got the sense that the blue-eyed boy was just staring at the page to have someplace else to put his eyes.

Stuart smiled down at his tray. So geometry boy had to stop himself staring, did he? That was a nice feeling. And another schoolmate in the Definitely category. Good to know.

Cafeteria food. Jesus Christ. Stuart poked and prodded at his lunch, disgusted. The peas had impenetrable armored jackets, the carrot sticks were limp as raw bacon, the hamburger was grey and looked like it'd been boiled.

"Oi, Tyler, whass'at?"

Stuart looked up. One of the boys on the track team from year ten, a Maybe, Gerald something, had stopped on his way to his mates' table.

"Nothing," said the boy from geometry, his grip tightening on the book.

To no avail; Gerald reached over and plucked the novel from his hands. "Stranger in a Strange Land," he read off the cover, and laughed. "That's you, that is."

Tyler stood up. "Give it back," he said grimly.

"Go on, what is it, then?" Gerald asked in mocking tones.

"It's a book, you stupid git," the younger boy replied, his weary tone clear evidence that this sort of thing happened to him rather often, "though it's no surprise you don't recognise one when you see it. Give it back to me, you'd get no use out of it."

Stuart raised his eyebrows and sat back in his chair, openly watching the other two now.

His attention seemed to anger Gerald further. "Have it then, y'bloody poof," he said, tossing the book back on to the table. "I ought to kick your arse, but you'd probably enjoy that."

"Piss off!" said the other, his face getting red.

Gerald looked over at Stuart. "You ought to keep an eye on this one," he said. "You hang around him and people will get ideas. And if you get too close he'll probably make a grab for your backside."

Geometry boy opened his mouth to deny it, but Stuart was quicker.

"Really," he drawled, pushing his chair back and standing up. "Well. In that case..."

Lightly Stuart pushed his tray along the tabletop until it rested right across from the blue-eyed boy's chair. He dropped into the seat opposite the boy and gave him a smile.

"You should've said," he told him. "I'd've been over here earlier."

Gerald gaped at him, floored. Stuart turned the smile on him and openly looked him up and down. Gerald paled; Stuart's smile widened by the second. With every moment that ticked by he was more and more sure he'd been spot on, and he knew for certain when the older boy turned and fled to his mates without another word.

Definitely. Number eight.

The boy from geometry sank into his chair, staring at Stuart. "Oh my god," he said. "You're going to get us both killed."

Stuart grinned. "He won't say anything."

"He will!"

Stuart shifted his gaze to Gerald and found the older boy quickly looking away from him. He laughed soundlessly. "He won't. Look at him. He wants it."

Those blue eyes widened.

"Give it a few weeks," Stuart added, emboldened, enjoying this immensely. "I bet I could have him."

Geometry boy blinked down at his tray, shaking his head.

"What's your name, then?" Stuart asked.

"Tyler. Vince. Vince Tyler."

"Long name."

The other boy smiled wanly, still looking down. "Vince," he said.

"I'm Stuart."

"Yeah, I know," Vince said, then flushed. "Uh, they introduced you. The first day you came. To class. From Ireland."

Stuart let that pass. "What's the book?"

Vince looked at him sheepishly. "Science fiction," he said, apparently a bit more embarrassed by that than by anything Gerald had said about him. But he soldiered on, "It's a classic. It's brilliant. About this human who's raised by Martians, then he has to come back to Earth and he tries to understand what it's like. It's by Robert Heinlein. I love his books. I've read them all. Starship Troopers, that's a good one. Big space war against these aliens that're like bugs--" he caught the amused look on Stuart's face and trailed off. "S'alright," he said uncertainly.

Stuart nodded. "Science fiction. Quite like that, now and then. Blake's 7. Star Wars."

"I love Star Wars," Vince answered enthusiastically.

"Yeah." Stuart gave Vince a sly grin. "Harrison Ford," he said.

Vince's eyes automatically swept around to make sure no one could hear, but his smile grew to match Stuart's. "Yeah," he said softly.

"And in Raiders of the Lost Ark," Stuart suggested. "With that hat and those leathers."

"All sweaty and stubbly," Vince agreed.

"In that ripped shirt..."

"Out of that ripped shirt."

They grinned at each other.

Stuart ran his finger along the edge of his tray. "I hear there's clubs and stuff around here."

"The Village," Vince said, then smiled a little wider. "I think it's brilliant how they call it that. Makes me think of The Prisoner. You see that?"

"I think so. Summer reruns."

"Yeah. It's mad. It's great, but it's mad."

Stuart was far more interested in Canal Street. "You been there?"

"No. It's all bars. Gotta be eighteen."

Nodding slowly, Stuart paused and looked the other boy over assessingly. "You ever...?"

Vince glanced down, chuckled nervously, as though he found the idea ludicrous. "God, no." He glanced up at Stuart, frowning. "You?"

Stuart smirked, his eyes drifting over towards Definitely Gerald. Gerald jerked away from staring at him again. "Oh, yes," he breathed.

"Cor," Vince murmured.

He turned back to focus on Vince again. "You walk home, yeah? West side?"

"Yeah. I live by that ice cream place, it's on the corner across from my block."

"That's on my way," Stuart said. "You could wait for me by the bus stop. We could talk on the way home."

Vince grinned. "Yeah," he said.


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