Grant Meadows is in love with Jerome Palmer but there's a problem for Jerome is under the influence of his parents' strict religious sect which prohibits any contact however tenuous with anyone outside the cult. But Jerome is obviously attracted to Grant and shows his willingness to associate with Grant though is afraid of a really close relationship. A life threatening accident after an episode in a deserted church brings the two together in a very physical way and the two are able to express their mutual love. The break with his parents is traumatic but with Grant's help, all ends happily.
We don’t have to do much to create tragedy, just leave it to our genes with a dash of upbringing thrown in. All we can do is protest. Sometimes that’s not enough but we have to try—and occasionally succeed.
Jerome Palmer was reading a book and seemed completely engrossed in it in spite of the buzz of conversation going on all around him in the 6th form Common Room. I was in love with Jerome Palmer.
The conversation around me was that of most young adolescents, Facebook, computer games, discussions about CDs, boy/girlfriends, telly, the latest DVDs, occasional complaints about school and in some smaller groups the more esoteric whispers about sex, crime, and drugs.
Everyone but me ignored Jerome’s studious form and I wondered how Jerome could disregard all that was going on around him, how he could concentrate on whatever he was reading. In fact, of course, I was doing exactly the same, though the object of my attention was Jerome. I studied his head, long and dolichocephalic, the high forehead, the planes of his cheeks on either side of his straight nose, the firm chin and lips parted in an almost-smile which just showed his two front teeth.
Not for the first time I was reminded of the artist, Modigliani, and the curious elongated forms he used in his paintings. The abnormally stretched neck, the pale extended fingers. Not that Jerome was in any way abnormal. It was just that I was doing art for one of my A level exams and had come across the artist in my work. On the contrary Jerome, in my eyes, was perfect in every detail. If only, I thought, Jerome would take notice of my worship for that was what it amounted to.
The light of the afternoon sun through the window caught Jerome’s eyes and he twisted away, his body even more resembling the technique of the artist. I wondered what the touch of Jerome’s skin would feel like, the skin that sunlight played on so carelessly and with such affection. If only I could do likewise.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t have other friends in the College. In general I’m quite a gregarious person. There were friends of both sexes I’d known since Junior School, remained on cordial terms into the Secondary stage and now into the Sixth form College. Oakridge it was called and it had a good reputation in the community. Quite a large percentage of its students would go onto University, mostly Redbrick, but occasionally to Oxford or Cambridge. This latter was an occasion of much self-gratitude by the school authorities. I had no such exalted thoughts, though I wouldn’t have minded going on to a nearby University, because I would be close to home. I would also be close to Jerome, who, I knew, had similar plans.
“Grant. Heh, Grant Meadows,” said a voice in my ear. I jumped and looked round almost guiltily. Had my constant staring at Jerome been noticed? “You coming to the pub this evening? A group of us are going. Meet up at seven at the Fox and Griddle.”
I shook my head. “You know I can never pass for eighteen. And I’m pissed off being turned out of pubs when I try to get in. It’s too embarrassing.”
Unfortunately at seventeen I still had that bloom almost of childhood on my cheeks. Blond, blue-eyed, I envied Jerome who, though the same age as me, was dark with black hair and, by the end of the week, even had the traces of a shadow on his chin and over his upper lip. Probably, I thought enviously, had to shave.
Not that Jerome ever went drinking. Did Jerome do anything that wasn’t study? He seemed to keep himself aloof from the mundane material activities of the other students, the sexual jokes, the concealed smoking, the casual swearing when a teacher wasn’t around. Was Jerome just a prude, I wondered, as the other students considered him. There was, I thought, a sensuality about his mouth that made me think, if only that surface veneer of stuffiness could be somehow got through, all hell would break out. I actually wondered what I meant by that phrase. Would he just start behaving like the other adolescent, and post adolescent guys who got drunk and made a general nuisance of themselves to the authorities? Or was there the slightest possibility, that he would fall in love with me?
I could scarcely understand the almost obsessive attraction I felt for Jerome. I’d no more than twice ever spoken to him and then the words had been of the most casual nature. I’d touched him just once. It was when Jerome had dropped his books and I had picked up one and held it out to him. Our fingers had brushed and I had felt such a surge of emotion that it almost seemed like an electric shock. Surely Jerome must have felt it too but the expression on his face had scarcely changed. There was a muted, “Thanks,” and Jerome had almost immediately turned away. I had stared after him, scarcely believing that casual touch which had made such an impression on me, had left him entirely unmoved.
The bell for the end of the last period rang and the students started filing out anxious not to miss the remainder of the sunny day. The form tutor ticked them off in the register as they left. He peered into the common room empty now except for me and Jerome.
“Come on, you two, or are you planning on staying here all weekend?” It was obviously meant as a joke. I looked at Jerome and smiled, but Jerome wasn’t looking at me. He’d marked the place in the book he was reading and now was packing it away carefully in the document case he always carried.
We went out together—or at least at the same time—through the school doors and down the paved path that led to the street. Jerome turned left, as I knew he would and I went with him, keeping up with him, shoulder to shoulder, even though my home was actually in the other direction.
Though September, the weather was still warm and a faint haze covered the sun. Along the road the leaves of the plane trees were turning brown and some had already fallen so that they lay in the gutters where the wind had blown them.
I scuffed them with my shoes. “I always used to do this when I was a kid,” I explained conversationally. “It used to be such fun. I can’t even see the point now.”
Jerome turned and looked at me. The expression on his dark, thin face showed surprise, almost as if he hadn’t realized I was still there.
“It messes up your shoes,” he said. I think these were the first words he had ever said to me except for, “hello,” “good-bye,” and “thank you.” The phrase was essentially trivial but I tried to fix it in my mind. I wondered whether it was supposed to be a reproof, the sort that a fussy house-proud mother would say to a misbehaving child, but Jerome’s tone had been completely factual. He was, of course, completely right; scuffing leaves did mess up your shoes.
“You don’t live this way,” said Jerome. Was his tone one of curiosity or just another of those bald statements of fact?
I was actually quite surprised. I hadn’t realized Jerome had been interested enough in my doings to know which way I normally went home. But it was something to cherish in my mind, perhaps try to analyze later. Or was I just letting my obsession get the better of me?
“Mum’s out,” I said, which was true. “I’m going to visit my aunt,” which was a lie. “Or I may go into town for a coffee.” I paused. “Do you fancy a cup? My shout, of course.”
For a moment I thought I saw a gleam of enthusiasm in those brown, lustrous eyes, almost a twist of a smile in the lips but then Jerome said, “I’m sorry. I don’t drink.”
I felt a spurt of irritation. “I wasn’t asking you for a booze-up, just a coffee—you know, as a friend.”
Jerome had the grace to look embarrassed. “I—we—I don’t take stimulants—of any sort,” he said. Then after a pause, “Thank you, it was nice of you to ask.”
“You could have had a Coke.”
“That’s just as bad. There’s more caffeine in a bottle of one of them than a cup of coffee.”
“Or a glass of water,” I said, attempting a joke.
Jerome laughed. That was indeed something of a breakthrough. I glanced at him. There was more animation in the thin face with the high cheekbones than I had ever seen before.
We were approaching Jerome’s house, an ordinary two up, two down brick built building. Most of the windows, I noticed, had their curtains drawn. At the gate he paused. “I’m afraid I can’t ask you in.”
“That’s all right. Got the plague?” Perhaps I was pushing my luck for Jerome didn’t laugh again.
“Er…My parents don’t like people who aren’t…” He stopped and again looked embarrassed.
“Human?” I said, trying to keep it light.
“Of the Faith,” said Jerome. It came out as a rush. Did I sense a hint of embarrassment?
Was Jerome a Muslim, I wondered. I tried to think back to my Religious Education lessons and those obligatory ones on comparative religions. Surely if he were, he’d have had to pray three times a day, wasn’t it, facing Mecca. Yet Jerome came into School Assembly even when there was occasionally a Christian religious slant to it. A prayer at least. Had Jerome gone out when the others, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs had? I was pretty sure he hadn’t. I waited for Jerome to explain but obviously he felt he had said enough, or perhaps even too much.
“Must go in.” Jerome opened the garden gate and closed it with a click of finality behind him.
I thought I saw a face peering past the curtains of one of the downstairs room. Then it was gone before even I could make out whether it was male or female just a pale oval shape.
Jerome turned to face me. “Perhaps…perhaps I could come to your house one day. What about—”
The front door opened and a woman stood there. She was tall, dressed in a long blue dress, almost like a robe. Her head was covered with another blue cloth but not like a Muslim because it didn’t entirely conceal her grey hair. “Jerome,” she called with what was almost a peremptory shout.
Immediately he turned away from me and walked, almost ran, up the path. The woman stood aside to let him through, gave me a sharp look, and then went in herself. The door slammed shut. I was left alone outside. I turned and made my way back to home.