A Level was never as easy as it always appeared in works of fiction, and while there were accurate elements, often the whole was dredged in unlikely or impossible features. Akthar, sitting at his desk alone at nine fifteen at night and staring at the blank page with an almost alarmed look in his eyes, wondered when his own life had become something that could only reasonably be called ‘fiction-like’. It was non-fiction to say that Posner fancies Dakin. It was non-fiction to say that Lockwood flirted with everything that moved. Apparently it was non-fiction to say that he had a crush on every single one of his peers.
And here he was, staring at the page with the specific intention to put these thoughts to words with the vague hope of getting them out of his system. If he didn’t then P.E tomorrow would be a nightmare. If he did then he might actually be able to look Rudge in the eye.
He put pen to page, leaving it to bleed through the paper, then rested his forehead on the paper along side, sighing.
It was going to be a long night.
Timms started this whole fiasco off about ten years ago, a few weeks after Akthar first met him. He was around seven at the time, and Timms was either seven or eight. Either he or Scripps has their birthday the week before his and he could never remember who it was.
He distinctly remembered the scene - Timms to his left and Posner to his right, both close enough for their thighs to touch and for their arms to brush. It meant nothing then, but did soon.
Scripps sat opposite with Lockwood and Dakin.
“It’s really quite interesting,” he said, voice comically high in comparison to his current drawl, “I’ve been thinking of reading about it more, and might even join the church group near me-“
“Only you would want to join a church, Don,” Dakin said, lounging in a way that lent his entire back on Scripps’ side.
“It’s not because I believe in it,” he hurriedly went to say, “I just- mum says it’ll come up a lot when we study stuff in Secondary. Like Shakespeare.”
“Get a load of this guy,” Lockwood said, “you’re going to attract all the birds with your talk of Shakespeare. How old do you think we are? You won’t need that for another five years, Donald.”
Akthar chewed his jam sandwich, content to listen. Posner did much the same.
“Well Scripps,” Timms said, and if Akthar had known him better at the time he would have been able to prepare himself for what Timms was about to declare, “if you feel like you need lessons on ark building for the future, I Noah guy!”
Akthar then proceeded to inhale his sandwich.
“Woah,” Posner laughed, slapping Akthar on the back in some vague attempt to help him out, but Akthar wasn't really choking on the sandwich, and instead stumbled over his laughter. Lockwood had no such problem, leaning back and laughing at Akthar’s reaction.
“It wasn't even that funny!” Scripps said too, laughing along with it.
Timms, meanwhile, looked as pleased as a cat in a warm bed, the chubbiness of his face doing nothing but make him look even smugger that his joke had gained such a reaction.
“Don't let it go to your head, Timms,” Dakin warned, one eyebrow raised as his mates giggled, “The last thing we need is it going to your head.”
“Oh like you're one to argue, Dakin. Leave off.” Timms said, and then he went to pat Akthar on the shoulder, appreciatively.
For Akthar then it was nothing, but as the increase in terrible jokes increased it slowly developed and matured into something downright embarrassing to him, his heart fluttering whenever Timms so much as brushed past him, or even when he made a particularly unfunny pun. It was tiresome, but not nearly as tiresome as what came next.
So far his scribbles seemed okay, and he’d only mentioned his own reactions once, which would improve his chances of survival, should any of the other lads, or even his siblings, found these. He doubted that they would, seeing as he was fully planning on hiding them in an old French copy of ‘Les Miserables’ as soon as he was done with this.
He pulled the page from the book, folding it in half with perhaps more force than necessary and chucked it on the bed, thinking about putting it away now just to make sure that no one would ever find it.
Crowther was the next step up. At this point in time he wasn't really a part of the group so much as he was someone we occasionally talked to if we happened to be in the same place. He had some similar interests to Akthar - football, The Beatles and Chinese food to name a few - but what really stood out between them was their ability to complain to one another.
Out of all of them, Akthar knew him best, and their weekly Friday meet ups to complain about their teachers was one of the best things about his week.
“Did you have that substitute for geography? Mrs. Lewis?”
Crowther nodded, shoving his hands into his jacket and trying not to let his teeth chatter. “She was supposed to cover our history class too, but Mr. Scott stood in, thankfully. She wasn't the brightest.”
“She handed out some sheets and told us to fill them in, then sat at the front desk and read ‘Emma’ for the rest of the hour. I bloody felt like walking out, seeing as I finished the thing in ten minutes.”
Crowther laughed, strained from the wind but still genuine, “I wish you had. It would have been so funny to hear of it through the grapevine. It always gets so distorted.”
Akthar snorted, kicking the dirt and watching as a small cloud of dust rose with it. If they were older, he thought, then they would be smoking. They might have even looked cool doing it if they weren't just waiting for the bus after their shared chess club after school. He supposed the lack of the cool factor also came with them being twelve, as the only ones that could possibly find them cool were people their own age, and even then boys like Scripps or Dakin would be more likely to rib them for it rather than praise them.
“I've been meaning to ask,” Crowther broke the silence, “Do you want to come around and watch Dr. Who tomorrow? I recorded the special that was on yesterday if you're up for it.”
Akthar looked at him then, wondering if Crowther had just said what he thought he had. Talking with him in the hallways and at the bus stop was an entirely different thing to being around his house, and further, an entirely different thing if none of the other boys were there. “I’ll have to ask my mum,” He said instead, “She’ll be able to drive me over, if I can go.”
Crowther went to rummage around in his bag, and then he made a noise as he pulled something free. Without hesitation he grabbed Akthar’s hand, pulling it and Akthar closer. He pushed up his sleeve, and just as Akthar went to demand what he was doing, Crowther scrawled a phone number up his arm, his hand holding his arm steady. Akthar froze at the contact, his eyes not tracing the numbers but where their skin met.
“There,” he said, snapping the other boy from his trance, “When you know for certain, give me a call, yeah? My dad’s working late tonight and my mum is going for bridge with her friends, so it’ll definitely be me picking up the phone.”
“Oh, um. Thanks,” Akthar drew his hands back, admiring the stark black numbers against his skin. Crowther then put the pen away and looked to the end of the street.
“It’s here,” He said, waving the bus down, and the moment was dropped.
Akthar wasn't entirely sure how he would survive tomorrow if he did end up at Crowther’s house.
Although it wasn't as if he wasn't looking forward to it.
This one was a lot more concise, and the symptoms of his crush came from something more obvious, and thus more avoidable. Since it was triggered by touch, he just had to avoid it. It wasn't like with Timms where it was totally out of his control, but it was still difficult trying to juggle two handfuls of those feelings at once. Little did his past self know that juggling three was even harder.
Up until now Akthar hadn't put much thought into the changes that came with age. Since his two elder sisters had gone through it before him he assumed it would be much the same, although in slightly different ways. He would become taller, get bad skin, and get hair in creepy places. Easy. He knew what was coming.
When it came to others, however, it was a totally different story. Alex Evans from the girl’s school a few streets away were an excellent example of something he hadn't considered. He hadn't known her name until she told Dakin to shove it where the sun didn't shine, and after that point he was floored. It appeared that in the same way his body was changing, his interests were too. Alex Evans was one of these interests.
He knew he wasn't the tallest, or the broadest, or the bravest of the boys, but for all that he lacked he made up for in planning. He didn't scheme like Dakin, or dream like Posner, but he planned.
But unfortunately, like with all plans, there was always going to be a flaw.
“I mean, you're cute, but Ria is more my type. Sorry.”
Losing his first confession of love to his older sister was a blow that even he couldn't take alone, and so he sucked up what was left of his pride, said goodbye to her, and speed walked to Posner’s house.
As ever, his friend was pleased to see him.
“Mum baked some banana bread this morning. I can't decide whether I like it or whether I should mail the recipe back to her cousin Barbara. Some things deserve to stay in America. You’re welcome to it if you feel up for it.”
“I-no. I need to talk to you about something.” Akthar said, wanting to pull the conversation out of the kitchen where Mr. Posner could obviously hear them. “It’s, um, you know-”
“Oh!” Posner covered his mouth, “Right. We’re going upstairs, mum!”
And so they went, Posner leading the way through the too big house and opening the door to his offensively neat room, where the only part that could even be suggested of being messy was his desk near the window. Posner sat on the bed, but Akthar opted for the chair at said desk.
“Is this about…?” Posner hazarded a guess, leaning on his elbows at Akthar.
He sighed. There was no use avoiding the subject now. “She fancies Ria.”
“Wait, your sister?”
“Yeah.” His voice cracked, and he hung his head. Posner immediately went to comfort him, sitting on the desk and putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Oh Akthar, I’m sure you’ll find someone eventually. It’s not like you really knew her anyway, so you won't even care about what you're missing in a few weeks.”
“I will if she bloody chats up Ria.”
“Hasn’t she got a boyfriend?”
“She did. They haven’t talked to others about them ending it yet.” Akthar sighed, “I honestly thought she was it, you know? She’s everything that I’m not and more.”
“Opposites attract, I suppose. But maybe it’s someone else you're looking for. Whenever I look at someone and think that they’d be perfect for me, I always see someone better. It might end up being the same for you.”
“When was the last time you felt like that?” He asked, unintentionally reaching for comfort, even if outside he stayed still. Posner leant back a little on the desk, paying no mind to how the wood creaked and his back brushed a pile of notebooks.
“Well,” he said, voice becoming a little higher. Akthar didn't realise it in the moment, but thinking back on it he could only assume it was embarrassment. “I used to fancy someone else. They didn't go to our school or the girl’s school, but they were around our age, I’d suspect. Off-blonde hair and cute face. Then I considered Dakin, and, well, I thought to myself, ‘At least I know Dakin’, because at that point I hardly knew the other person.”
Akthar’s nose turned up at the mention of their fellow classmate. “I don't understand your interest in Dakin, Pos. If you're not careful he’ll catch wind of it and be insufferable. I don't see what you see in him.”
“It’s the attitude, mostly,” Pos mused aloud, one of his legs straying and nudging Akthar in the arm, “It’s as if being by his side makes his confidence rub off on me. Do you ever feel that? Being by someone’s side can make you say anything?”
Akthar felt like he had been dragged into reality. “What? Oh-” He stumbled over his words, trying to backpedal a bit. “I, uh, yeah. Sometimes. It’s, you know. Sometimes friends, like you,” He knew he was fucking this up terribly, “Make me able to say things that I might not in front of the others.”
Posner remained oblivious, “Oh really? Like what?”
“I wouldn't go to Dakin to bemoan failed relationships, now would I?”
Posner hummed, “No, I suppose not.”
Crisis averted, he thought.
Posner had to have known in the end. He had an uncanny ability to see things that were not entirely obvious, like Dakin’s false bravado or Rudge’s utter lack of care towards drama within their group.
(Rudge would always put his say into their matters, as one would when surrounded on all sides by arguments, but it was always with the intention of ending the conflict rather than settling it. When Lockwood and Dakin accused one another of being gay, instead of picking a side he told them both to stop bitching like girls and get their act together. Although the insult is week to us, the reader and writer respectively, to a fourteen-year-old boy in the 1980s it was devastating. Soul crushing, even. To the rest of them it seemed like Rudge thought them both gay instead of just one of them, but to Posner the true meaning was obvious.)
Akthar, however, wasn't so interested in the technicalities that came with immature arguments, and instead threw the few pieces of paper that he had written on Posner and followed this sudden creative stream into the hardest thing to talk about of all his crushes.
The battle on two fronts, if you will.
He was sixteen and puberty was back with a vengeance.
All of the boys were taller, broader, gaining new voices and confidence. Akthar may have still been one of the shortest among them, but he wasn't about to complain as it did have some benefits.
With the awkwardness of teenage-hood came the inevitable awkwardness of P.E, with getting changed in a communal space and trying to act casual the entire time. No one paid attention to Posner, not even him, and Posner in turn kept his eyes away from the others. He knew deep down that he didn't care if Pos’ eyes strayed to him (mostly because he was more likely to break the rules than Posner ever was) because he knew that Posner wouldn't be looking at him in that sort of way anyway.
Lingering on someone for more than a moment could set an entire barn ablaze, with accusations being thrown at every single little slip of the tongue.
But this was where Akthar’s advantage came into play. Because he was shorter it was easier for him to go unnoticed. He didn't use it, abiding the unspoken rules, but sometimes, briefly, his eyes flickered to two unfamiliar bodies.
Scripps and Rudge.
Out of all of them they were the two who he could call the most ‘manly’, with clearly defined muscles and heights a good few inches above his own. There was something more than their physique that attracted him however, and that was their calmness - Scripps was ever listening and sure, while Rudge was steadfast, and instead of pausing to contemplate his next move when things got sticky, he just barged his way through. There was something admirable about that, he thought, even if it did sometimes leave a bit of a mess behind.
Scripps was someone he could trust with a secret, he knew from experience. Rudge was someone he could trust to speak honestly.
He hated himself sometimes for it, but Akthar was only human. Further, he was human and horny.
There was something so appealing about lusting over something, or ‘somethings’ (sometimes together. Sometimes without him. Sometimes on either side. He was getting off track) that he knew he couldn't have. Scripps was both celibate and Christian, while Rudge was straight enough to talk to Dakin about sexual techniques with women.
While he wouldn't admit it, Akthar made a habit of listening in, just in case his special someone out there was indeed a woman.
He was sixteen, human, horny, and currently trying to avoid Posner’s piercing gaze.
“You’re not getting out of this, Akthar. We both know you're interested in men as well as women. Now come on! If you had to fuck someone in our year, who would it be?”
Akthar shrivelled, Fiona laughed.
Fiona wasn't helping in the slightest, seeing as her laugh made something flutter inside him as well. Posner was acting as a buffer of sorts, making Dakin all right with her having a social life.
The fact that he was so scared that Akthar could steal her away from him was telling. It was almost like Fiona was better than him or something.
“Yeah, Akthar. Who would you fuck?” She laughed.
“Mate,” He began, putting up two hands as if to deflect the question, “That’s not something I want to answer.”
“Oh come on. I want to know! You already know my choice, so it’s only fair that I know yours.”
“And you know who I’d pick,” Fiona conquered, “If Dakin wasn't in the picture.”
“I’m not going to say!” He protested.
“We’ll worm it out of you. We’ll keep guessing until you blush and then we’ll have the satisfaction of gloating. You don't want that, right?”
There was only one flaw with this plan. Akthar’s face was already red.
“If it was only sex?”
Fiona perked up, “Yeah. No strings.”
“And it has to be one of our group?”
“Of the six without us.”
Akthar looked around the room.
“It’s a tie,” he admitted, not quite admitting the whole truth.
“Between?” Posner egged him on.
“I don't-” He took a settling breath, putting both hands on his face. Fiona laughed at him.
“Come on! Spit it out.”
His voice got progressively quieter as he mumbled, “Scripps and Rudge…”
Posner, who had leant forward to actually hear what Akthar had been mumbling, leant back now and let out a cackle. Fiona seemed to be considering this now, too, although with less manic laughter and more of a polite giggle. Akthar wished that he were wearing a hat or a scarf or something so that he could drag it to cover his face since both of his hands were not really doing the job. Fiona put an arm around him to stop him from bolting downstairs and out the door.
“There’s two I wouldn't have pegged,” She said, and then looked at Posner, “Although thinking about it I can kind of see it. Is it because they're tall?”
Akthar buried his face in his sleeve.
“That’s a yes,” Posner grinned, “And Fiona, I can honestly say that Akthar would suit everyone in our group, apart from maybe Dakin. You prefer someone that’s a little more subtle, don't you?”
“Fuck off, Pos.”
“I’m not going to lie,” Fiona said, “I was expecting Lockwood or Crowther.” Akthar looked up at her, watching as she went on to say why. “They’re taller than you for a start, which I now know is something you're interested in, and just as confident as that little persona you put on at school, and Lockwood is trying to get fitter, so if you're interested in muscle you now know who to aim for.” Akthar looked away, considering this. “And I know for a fact that Lockwood is interested in both men and women.”
Posner looked up, eyes sharp. “What?”
Fiona smirked, “He went out with me for a little while before Dakin, and I once had to break up him and another student in the year above when they were grinding behind the sport’s shed.”
“From school? Who?”
She shook her head; “I’m not going to tell you because he’s left the school now. Managed to get into Bangor, the poor sod. Wales was never for me - could hardly understand the people there.”
“But all the boys look like sheep farmers.”
“How is that a bad thing?”
Fiona and Akthar gave Pos a look, and the conversation was dropped.
And finally, the easiest love he had ever had.
Lockwood was flawed, without a single doubt in his mind Akthar could say that. With his eczema around his knees and acne in year nine, with the grease in his hair when the budget was too tight for shampoo and the hair with split ends, Lockwood wasn't perfect.
Lockwood was still beautiful.
This was the first of any of his crushes where the object of his affections wasn't in contact with him, didn't have the best body, and wasn't the other person understanding him, but instead the pure way that Lockwood carried himself. It was the classic case of the ‘yeah I have bad hair, so what?’ attitude, and the ‘I will share my lunch with you if you forget yours’ gratitude that he fell in love with.
For a blink called a moment Akthar had thought that he was in love with Dakin, which simply wasn't true - Dakin was a dickhead. He eased Posner along like a god would deny a parched man water, he talked about Irwin like he degraded Fiona, and he attempted to do the same with him.
Akthar at this point knew what love was. He knew that Dakin back then wore a mask made of lies and hair gel, but that didn't stop the attempts.
“I hear you like Lockwood.” He said, verbally pinning him to the wall.
“Fuck off,” Akthar spat, crossing his arms.
“I’m guessing he doesn't know? I could tell him.”
“No, Dakin. That’s not on.”
“Who else have you fallen for? I saw you making eyes at Scripps not too long ago. And Rudge.”
“You’re taking this too far, mate,” Akthar said, fully willing to throw fists, but thankfully before he had the chance (at the time he was looking forward to it more than anything) a voice broke out.
“Dakin. I don't think that’s wise.”
At the end of the path was Lockwood, hands on his hips and face stern. Dakin didn't seem to really care about being found out, instead more focused on the fact that his attempt at squeezing a truth out of Akthar had been disrupted.
“He’s not telling me the truth, Jimmy. It’s not on.”
“What truth?” both Lockwood and Akthar said at the same time, then looked at one another.
Dakin glared, “He fancies someone.”
“I don't!” But at the same time -
“That’s his secret to keep.”
There was a pause with Dakin looking between them both in consideration. Akthar was aware of how thin the moment was, with Dakin fully in a position to blurt his secret to the one man he wanted to keep it from, but thankfully for his sanity, Dakin resisted.
“Fine. But don't come squealing to me when you haven't sorted yourself out when this comes to light in fifteen years.” And with that, like smoke, he was gone.
Lockwood turned to him, “What was that about? I haven't seen him that predatory since Rudge dated his ex.”
“I don't fucking know,” Akthar said, still bitter, “it’s like he thinks he owns the world or something. Deserves all the secrets in it.”
“Maybe he thinks that he does, the bastard. I’d like to see some of his secrets out there so that he knows the feeling of it.”
Akthar smirked, “Maybe not. I know I wouldn't want to go through it, so why would I want him to?”
“I guess, but still. You alright though?”
Lockwood was looking at him, eyes lidded in a relaxed sort of way that Akthar couldn't help but associate with a cat, but his face was nothing but serious.
“Yeah, just pissed off is all.”
He chuckled, “Me and you both. Anyway, I best be off. See you tomorrow?”
And with that Lockwood was gone. The longest conversation he had ever had with the other lad was about nothing, caused nothing, and somehow made him feel prouder than ever to know him. He was certain, however, that if he continued to talk to Lockwood casually like this he would inevitably catch even more feelings, perhaps even worse than with the others before. It sometimes felt like the only one of the boys he was immune to was Dakin, unsurprisingly, and he intended to keep it that way.
A platonic relationship with Lockwood could end up being one of the most precious things in his one-sided love life, if only he could actually work up the confidence to start a decent conversation when the other lads weren’t around.
Akthar threw his pen down on the desk, letting out a relieved breath now that some of the hardest writing of his life was over. Irwin’s essays couldn't hold a candle to how awful that experience was, dredging up memories from the sea floor of his mind and having a good look at the monsters he had found. It wasn't something he was keen to repeat any time soon, and so he grabbed the pieces of paper on the bed, put them in order of first to last, and then folded them neatly once before slipping them into the middle of ‘Les Miserables’.
Now, he thought, they would never see the light of day again.