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Jay Mandal

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Knockout from the short story collection Slubberdegullion
By Jay Mandal
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by Jay Mandal
· Last Time in Bruges from the collection A Different Kind of Love
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A humorous look at a teenager crush.

"Oh, no, not you as well!" exclaimed Trevor exasperatedly.
"Not me as well what?" asked Rob, his eyes locked onto Alex.
"You haven't got the hots for him, too?"
"Alex." Alex was Trevor's older brother. School prefect, captain of the football team, devastating. The only flaw was his almost complete lack of imagination. He was a cert for his English 'A' level.
"Oh. How did you guess?" Rob said.
"Well, we've been standing here for five minutes while you rifle through your pencil case. My brother emerges, and suddenly the need for whatever it was simply vanishes. Your eyes fasten onto him as if he'd got two heads and we start following him at a discreet distance. No doubt we shall be ducking into doorways if it looks as though he's turning round like we did yesterday. It's a bit like that game you play when you're young. 'What's the time, Mr Wolf?' It's either a crush or you've taken up sleuthing."
"You don't mind?"
"Because he's my brother? No, I'm used to it even though I find your taste more questionable than usual. Of course, it's usually girls that fancy him. They say a change is as good as a rest. I just hope you're bearing in mind the fact that he's boringly straight. Sometimes I wonder if we share the same parents," Trevor added glumly. "He's got the brains and the looks."
"That's not strictly true : you're just as intelligent."
"Doesn't seem to get me very far. And don't think I didn't notice the omission."
"And you're the champion of the underdog." Rob tried it again to the tune of 'Champion the Wonder Horse'. "Why else would you hang around with me?"
"No, you're just nice."
"'Nice.' That's really a turn-on as far as girls are concerned." Trevor did not share Rob's sexual preference. Strangely enough, despite his friendship with Rob, no one thought he did. Both used humour - sometimes tongue-in-cheek - as a form of defence against the world: Trevor because of unwanted comparisons to his brother to whom all things came effortlessly; and Rob because of his fear of rejection.
"You'd prefer it if I found you sexy?" Rob asked.
"If you don't find me sexy, what hope for anyone else!"
"Meaning I'm desperate?"
"Well, if you fancy my brother, you must be! What a way to spend your time - loitering outside school waiting for him. The really sad thing is I'm here with you. Maybe I'm a late developer."
"I'll have a look if you like."
"Thought you weren't interested?"
"You know me. Anything for a laugh."
"Charming! Last time I hang my gym bag next to yours."
"It's funny, that. There seems to be a certain reluctance to undress near me, and no one seems to know which way to turn in the shower. If only they knew!"
"You're a closet heterosexual?" Trevor asked in disbelief.
"No. I'm more embarrassed than they are. Haven't you noticed how I'm always first out of the showers?"
"I assumed that was just a natural antipathy towards soap and water."
"And how quickly I dry myself?"
"I thought you were scourging yourself for impure thoughts."
"Chance would be a fine thing," Rob complained.
"Have you ever you know?"
"No. Have you?"
"I can hardly wait until I can get into Heaven."
Luckily Trevor knew that Rob was referring to the nightclub rather than professing a desire for the Hereafter. "I'm glad they've brought the age of consent down to sixteen." Both Rob and Trevor were sixteen; they had just begun studying for their 'A' levels; Alex was in his final year.
"The rate I'm going, they needn't have brought it down from twenty-one!" Rob said ruefully.
"Is it just er that's illegal?"
"I'm not sure. I don't suppose they'd clap me in irons for holding hands."
"Is that all you've done?"
"Well, a bit of groping," Rob admitted.
"Anyone I know?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"Oh, come on. I won't tell. Who?"
"It's embarrassing."
"Go on. I promise I won't tell. It's probably not illegal, anyway."
"Oh, what I've been doing certainly's not illegal. It's strictly on a one-to-one basis," Rob said.
"Oh. Light is beginning to dawn!" Trevor grinned. "Does that mean I'm bisexual?" he mused. "Well, even if I am, rest assured that our relationship is purely platonic. Or do I mean non-platonic?"
They reached the parting of the ways.
"See you tomorrow," said Trevor.
"You don't fancy coming back for tea?" Rob asked innocently.
Trevor frowned. "Is this the 'You-don't-fancy-coming-back-for-tea-so-that-I-get-a-return-invitation' ploy and 'By-the-way-will-your-brother-be-there?'?"
"Now would I be so devious? Deviant, maybe. But devious?"
"Mindreader! Well, how about it?" Rob said.
"Let's get it over and done with. Why not come back with me now? If you see him in his own surroundings, it might cure you of this ridiculous infatuation."
"You mean it? I mean, now?"
Trevor nodded.
"How could I pass up such an offer? Don't worry. I'll tell your mother you're not gay."
"Whatever you do, don't tell her that. We're a very liberal household. Knowing my mother, she'll be assuring me that it's all right to be gay, and that they love me and just want me to be happy. I'll end up admitting that I'm homosexual just to shut her up!"
A couple of their contemporaries who were just passing caught the last remark and turned to jeer good-naturedly at him.
Trevor jeered back.
It was a very progressive school they went to; in fact, it was a standing joke that if you didn't fall into one of the bullying categories (homophobic bullying came about third on the list) then you really were a nonentity and not worth bothering with.
"So it's not just a phase?" he asked Rob. "You remember the English teacher we had when we were twelve?" he continued.
"Mr Shepherd?"
"That's the one. Well, I had a crush on him for two terms."
"Yes, he was nice. No, it's not a phase. If it was, I should be in the Guinness Book of Records by now. Anyway, it makes sense."
"Single-handedly you're out to reduce the world's population?"
"Not just that," Rob admitted modestly. "No, there are more men than women. There's no point being straight and miserable when you can be gay and -"
"- Gay?" Trevor suggested. "Despite the shortage of females, you always seem to be surrounded by them."
"They think I'm one of them."
"They know you're one of them!" Trevor corrected, with a subtle change of emphasis.
"Anyway, it can't be a crush. You were only a boy. I'm a man," Rob finished proudly.
They looked at each other.
A group of thirteen-year-olds passed them.
"Typical," said one. Sixth formers were all the same.
"So undignified," said another, as Rob and Trevor fell about laughing.

Trevor kicked Rob under the table. Rob had been sitting in a mesmerised silence ever since Alex had come in. Luckily for Trevor, his mother was out.
"Sorry?" enquired Alex.
"Good game on Saturday," Rob said.
"We lost 4:0."
"I meant it should be a good game next Saturday," Rob improvised hastily.
"I didn't realize you were so keen." Alex sounded a shade surprised.
"Er yes," Rob lied, avoiding Trevor's eyes.
"You saw last season's game then? That was close. We only just won. Of course, this time it's even more vital."
"Oh, yes," said Rob, trying to ignore Trevor who was staring at him as if he couldn't believe his ears.
"Well, the Cup, of course."
"Of course," echoed Rob. What Cup? he wondered. Did you get cups now for losing 4:0?
"You're coming?"
"Wouldn't miss it." He sounded as eager as if Alex had asked him for a date.
"You can be one of the cheerleaders," Trevor muttered caustically. He knew if Rob went, then he'd be roped in, too. He could do without being forced to witness his brother's prowess on the football field.
"Good." Alex stood up. "Well, better get ready. Cinema," he explained.

Rob trooped up to the bathroom and opened the door. "God!" he whispered, torn between reverence and terror.
In front of him stood Alex. Alex, in all his glory, an Adonis just stepped out of the bath.
"Oh, did I forget to lock the door again?" Alex smiled, unconcerned.
Rob just stared. He felt his eyes drifting downwards. "Sorry," he said, and rushed from the room.

When Rob finally returned from the downstairs cloakroom to the kitchen, his face went bright red on seeing Alex already there.
"God, he's got it bad," muttered Trevor.
Alex looked up sympathetically. "Yes. That curry we had at lunch gave me the trots, too."
Trevor stared in amazement at his brother. Was Alex really that thick? Surely Rob's eyes had been opened? One look at Rob convinced him otherwise. This hero-worship was getting out of hand. Rob had to be saved from himself one way or another. He, Trevor, was going to have to do something

A plan began to form in Trevor's mind that Saturday morning when Kevin phoned to say he'd got flu and couldn't act as substitute for the match.
Alex frowned and ticked off his list of possibles. Two were already down with flu, another had just had his appendix removed, and Scott would be at his mother's wedding. Again.
Trevor looked up. "There's always Rob. He'll be at the game. I'm sure he'd do it like a shot if you asked. Probably won't need him to go on, anyway."
Alex pondered the idea. "I didn't know he played. Is he any good?" He'd never seen Rob in practice - not surprising, considering Rob did everything he could to get out of it.
"I'm sure he wouldn't want to let you down," Trevor answered truthfully enough.
Alex took his reply at face value. "OK. Have you got his number? Then I can let him know."
"Oh, don't worry, I'll do it!" Trevor jumped up and headed for the hall.

There was a worrying moment on the sidelines when Alex caught sight of Rob apparently not changed. Then his frown cleared. "That's right, keep warm!" he shouted.
Rob beamed a radiant, if confused, smile back at him.

The early morning mist had cleared, and it was now sunny but cold. The ground had turned to wet, sticky mud, and the players were soon caked in it. Trevor was just beginning to regret his scheme when suddenly it was forced to become operational: Leroy, one of their defenders, was taken off after an encounter with an enthusiastic striker and Rob was on. Or he should have been, if only he'd known.
"You're on!" Alex shouted. It was nearly half-time.
"As sub."
"But what about Kevin? He's usually the sub, isn't he?" Rob cast around vainly trying to find Kevin.
"Flu," said Alex. He turned to his brother. "I thought you said -"
"Couldn't get through," said Trevor, cutting him off.
"But I haven't got any kit with me."
"Leroy will let you have his spare kit. Won't you?"
"S'pose so," said Leroy grudgingly.
"Trevor will do it, won't you, Trev?" pleaded Rob piteously.
"Sorry. The boots wouldn't fit."
"The Cup's at stake," said Alex. "Think of the team. Won't you do it for me?"
That did it. Rob capitulated.
Sidney Carton must have looked thus.
Leroy stomped off. Well, as much as someone who's twisted his ankle can stomp.

The poor sod looked half-frozen. Only last week, Rob and Trevor had discussed why a cold weather sport like football required shorts and a t-shirt, whilst a game played in summer, such as cricket, meant you donned full-length trousers and a long-sleeved shirt.
"Try and keep on-side," shouted Trevor encouragingly in an effort to raise Rob's morale.
Rob just stared at him blankly. Surely even Rob knew about the off-side rule? Poor bastard looked catatonic.
"Just wishing you good luck."
"Oh, thanks." He smiled bravely. Trevor felt like a heel.

Rob stood out as the only one wearing a clean shirt and shorts, but not for long. Unused to Leroy's boots, he tripped and lay sprawled in the mud. The referee, suspecting a foul, awarded a free kick, despite protests from the opposition and Rob himself.
Rob did his best but he wasn't really cut out for football. Everyone seemed bigger than him. He tried not to go offside and he tried, on the few occasions the ball came his way, not to pass it to the opposition. Luckily, most of the play was confined to the other end of the pitch.
So it came as a shock when Rob realized that the ball was heading his way. The opposition had outrun his team and were passing forwards. Suddenly the ball was in the air coming perilously close to him. Rob looked about for another defender. There was none. But one of the opposition was bearing down on him to challenge.
"Aaargh!" screamed Rob, automatically bringing his arms up to protect his head, as his opponent leapt to head the ball.
"Well done!" Alex said, patting a bemused Rob on the back. The attacker had been so disconcerted by Rob's reaction that he'd missed the ball which had then gone out of play, leaving Alex's team with a goal kick.
Next time he'd try, he really would, Rob decided. What would Alex have said if he'd actually got to the ball?

After another furtive look at his watch, Rob began to relax. Only five minutes to go. He began to drift upfield in the direction of the pavilion. So it would be a goalless draw and they wouldn't win the Cup. He didn't care. Just as long as it was over.
"Yours!" someone yelled at him, before kicking the ball at his head with apparently lethal intent.
"Wanna bet?" A defender glared at him. Rob had wandered into the other side's penalty area and was only on-side by chance.
He steeled himself to die for King and Country. Or, rather, Queen and Alex. Thinking about it, which he didn't have time to do until later, Queen was quite apt.
From the left, he launched himself at the ball.
From the right, the defender also launched himself at the ball.
Then two unexpected things happened.
First, the ball shot into the back of the net.
Second, Rob thudded to the ground, rendered unconscious as their heads collided.

Rob came to within seconds to the cheers of his own team who all seemed intent on telling him either that he'd scored a goal or that he should lie still.
Trevor sighed. The best laid plans Life was going to be insufferable. He wondered idly when the cricket season began.
Rob looked up adoringly into the eyes of his beloved who stared back with equal fondness, albeit owing to somewhat different reasons.
"I did it!"
Trevor looked down at him. "Hey, kid," he said laconically, "you were a knockout!"

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