This is a story about (mostly) gay men doing (occasionally) the sorts of things gay men do. If this is going to shock or upset you (and really, if you're in the Nifty Site, you've only your own curiosity to blame) then please read something else. That being said, you won't find much in this story to offend your eyes. It's mostly about love, actually. If you're under age, and your jurisdiction thinks you need protecting from this sort of thing, well, perhaps you ought to read something else too.
At the end of this chapter, there is a short accidental very mildly erotic encounter between an 18 year old and a 12 year old. Let me state now that this story is not about sexual relationships between adults and children, a concept which the writer deplores. Just so there's no mistake! :-)
DANCING TO THE MUSIC OF THEIR HEARTS
THE SCOTT SAGA
by Nick Turner
Chapter 1. All about John's youth and how he came to leave home.
John Scott cycled home from school as the evening darkened; he took his time, as he always did, since this and the journey to school were the only times that he felt he had truly to himself. The journey was about eight miles, and passed through Liverpool suburbia and some moderately pretty Lancashire countryside which at this time of year was full of the scents of decaying leaves and the sharp tingle of early frost; if John timed it right, he could spend a little time watching a football game in the public park on his route, where the local lads in shorts and jerseys would kick a ball around untilat this time of year anywayit was too dark to see anything. This evening he was in luck; there was still about another quarter of an hour of light left, and the game was in full flow. Four of the lads had, out of bravado, stripped off their jerseys to make goals, playing barechested in the already chilly autumn air. John, standing astride his bicycle, felt his heart flip with pleasure; he watched in particular one large youth with well-defined muscles and open, friendly, face surmounted with dark hair, and felt, as he watched, his moment of euphoria sink as usual into a sort of despair.
‘Why couldn’t that be me?’ he asked himself quietly. ‘Why can’t I be like that, a normal guy, with normal mates, playing normal football?’
Suddenly, the object of his scrutiny miskicked an awkward pass, and the ball arced through the air towards John, who flinched away timidly as he usually did on such occasions, and staggered backwards, hampered by the bicycle frame between his thighs. He fell akwardly to the ground, still astride his bicycle.
Oh fuck, oh fuckity fuck, he thought. How embarrassing!
The dark-haired lad came bounding towards him, all full of vigour and incipient manhood, the panting breath from his bare chest emerging as discernable vapour in the cool air.
‘Sorry about that: You okay, mate?’ he said to John in a thick Liverpool accent.
‘Yeah, I’m fine, thanks,’ said John, surprised that he could speak, because he noticed that, close up, the lad had heavy eyebrows, almost joined together in the middle; for once it was really becoming, enhancing the startling blue of his eyes, recessed under deep brows, evidence of an Irish heritage, not at all uncommon in that part of England. ‘I just feel a bit of a bloody fool!’ He grinned up at the footballer wryly, and the footballer grinned back.
‘You wanna join us, mate? There’s still a few minutes left before we have to go in, and our side could do with a bit of help.’
‘Er, er, thanks, but I’d better not; I’m in this bloody school uniform.’
‘Well, you’ve already got it muddy now, ya can’t do it much more harm, can ya?’
The footballer squatted down and lifted the bicycle upright so that John could crawl from under it. As he did so, John could see a little way up the leg of the lad's nylon shorts (though not as far as he wanted) and could smell his erotic scent of grass, sweat and general wholesomeness; it made him nearly sick with jealousy.
‘You don’t know my Mum!’
‘Yeah, right; I understand. Fair enough; me own mam’s a bit like that, but I’ve got three older brothers, and now she’s more or less given up. But I’ve seen ya here watching us before, and thought ya looked kinda lonely. Why don’t ya ride home in your sports kit tomorra, and then ya can come on our side.’
‘Okay, great’ said John. Like bloody hell, he would, he thought.
‘See ya, then’ said the lad, as he jogged off with the ball.
‘Yeah, thanks,’ said John, ‘See you.’ He watched the shapely back of the lad receding towards the other players, defined muscles playing under the skin, and sighed. He got on his bike and pedalled off uncomfortably, an erection now tenting out the front of his black school trousers. Fuck! That was one pleasure ended; he would have to find another route home tomorrow that didn’t involve passing the park. He was hopeless at sports, and terrified of the rough affection that the boys had for one anotherand at the same time, incredibly attracted to itno, there was no way that he would be able to face them again.
‘Why, God, why did you make me like this?’ he asked himself. ‘Why, why, why couldn’t I be like him? Is it really too much to ask? Simply to be normal.’
He put his bike in the garage, slung his bag over his shoulder, and rang at the door. He still was not allowed a key of his own, lest he sneak in or out without his parents’ interrogation and inspection.
‘It’s open!’ shrieked his mother from somewhere in the depths of the house. He walked in to the purified, artificially scented sickly air that he associated with home, dumped his bag and hung up his jacket; looking at it, he was relieved to find there was no mud on it, though his trousers were a mess. He tried to sneak in without making a sound, but his mother called to him,
‘Where’s my kiss, darling?’
John suppressed a grunt of annoyance, and went in to find his mother lying on the sofa propped up with cushions and watching childrens’ television. No change, then.
‘There you are, dear. Did you have a nice day at school?’ she said in a bored voice.
‘Yes, Mum.’ And he went over to kiss her powdered cheek. As he did so, she slid her hand over his bottom as she often did. He tensed resentfully.
‘Please don’t, Mum.’
‘Why? You used to be so affectionate, Johnny. We were such great friends when you were little, and we played together.’
Even though there were no witnesses, John was mortified at this, though not surprised; it happened too often, and even in front of strangers. And he had no memories of ever being friends with his mother.
But she was quickly distracted, for she had found mud on her hand when he pulled away from her. Her lips tensed into a thin line.
‘Do you think I don’t have enough to do?’
Yes, thought John. Why are you sitting here watching childrens’ television, then?
‘Honestly, Johnny, you’re hopeless! Those trousers and that shirt were clean on this week. And look at the state of those shoes, all scuffed!’
John reflected quietly that some people were allowed clean clothes every day. Sometimes he ran out of clean socks and underwear and would have to wear the same ones for as long as a week, while the dirty laundry festered and awaited a time when his mother would not be too busy with the television. In the summer heat he could even smell his own odour, and he knew that behind his back the other boys called him Tramp. He tried washing things by hand, but his mother once caught him and took it as personal criticism. It took days for that one to die down.
She was still talking, just getting into her stride. Her fat cheeks wobbled with indignation,
‘Well, I’m not slaving away washing just so you can roll in the mud with your friends…’
What friends? he thought.
‘…so you can just wait until the mud dries and then brush it off as best you can.’
‘Why can’t I use the machine myself, Mum?’
‘You’ll only break it, you don’t know how to.’
‘Well, can’t you show me? I’d rather do my own washing anyway. I know you have lots to do…’
‘Are you saying to me that you are dissatisfied with the level of service in this house, you ungrateful boy? Do you know how long it takes to keep this house clean and tidy, with food on the table…’
‘No, Mum!, I was just thinking…’
‘Do you know what I have done for you, over the last sixteen years, while your useless father was playing with his business, and with that…… ? Well, never mind’
John groaned inside himself. Well, at least this day was pretty much like any other day. His mother was never happy unless she was smothering him with kisses or with bitter reproaches.
‘Okay, okay, Mum. I’ve got to go and do my homework now.’ And he fled.
Once in the privacy (or relative privacyhis mother had had the lock removed) of his own small room, he breathed a sigh of relief. Here he could be himself. His mind returned with urgency to the footballer in the park, his deep brows and bare muscular tanned torso, so after a minute or two John stripped off all his clothes and pulled out of a drawer a pair of blue shiny nylon football shorts, into which he stepped. He took off his ugly National Health spectacles so that he would not see his unattractive body so clearly, then, squatting down in front of a long mirror, and imagining himself in his blurred vision to be as well muscled as the soccer playing lad, he masturbated vigorously into the shorts until he had relief.
Then he lay down on the thin carpet and sobbed bitter tears of misery and self-hatred.
Half an hour later he stirred uncomfortably and felt the drying semen pulling at his skin and pubic hairs under the stiff front of his shorts. He got up (‘ow, ow’) and cautiously opened the door. Nobody in evidence, so he limped quickly across the landing to the bathroom and shut the door. He got into the shower still in his shorts and turned on the taps. The water was freezing, and refused to warm up; his mother was obviously on another economy drive. He washed himself and the shorts as quickly as possible, then got out and dried himself off vigorously, returning to his bedroom and dressing in the clothes that his mother bought him; replicas in a smaller size of the polyester checked trousers and viscose jerseys that his father wore.
There was time for him to finish his homework before his mother called,
‘Johnny, darling!’ It was time for dinner.
The endearment was only out of habit, for the atmosphere at the table when John arrived was glacial. Worse than usual, in fact. John’s father sat silently as usual, forking in huge mouthfuls of the uninteresting food, and avoiding the eyes of his wife who regarded her husband with her usual mixture of hostility and reproach. After the bland pudding, still not a word had been said, until John’s mother spoke to her husband.
‘Terence, something very serious has come up.’
Terence, John’s father, looked shifty.
‘It’s that son of yours. This has got to be dealt with.’
John’s heart sank. When he was described as his father’s son, he knew he was in serious trouble. It was the worst insult that his mother could think of. His heart sank further when she produced with a dramatic flourish a letter which could only have come from one place…’
‘Look at this!’ she said triumphantly, waving it in the air.
‘What’s all this, Peggy?’ asked John’s father, wearily.
‘Just you listen. “Dear Mr Henry. Please excuse my son John from playing rugby today as he has an infected finger. Yours sincerely Peggy Scott.” And look at this.’
She waved triumphantly a bandage that had been wound into a finger shape, clearly capable of being slipped on and off.
‘Not only is that son of yours absenting himself from rugby, but he has lied about an injury, and worst of all, forged a letter from his own mother!’
John, who rigorously avoided all eye contact with his parents whenever possible, happened to be looking at his father when he caught, suddenly, a glance of sympathy from that man whom he had never suspected of having any affection for him whatever.
There was an uncomfortable silence, and then Peggy slammed the table.
‘Well, what are you going to do about it? Aren’t you even going to tell him off?’
‘Yeah, I suppose. That was very wrong, John, please don’t do it again.’
‘Is that it, you useless idiot? I can see I shall have to take matters into my own hands.’
John’s father suddenly changed tack.
‘Peggy, where did you find that letter and bandage?’
‘In his jacket pocket of course!’
‘Why “of course”? Do you make a practice of searching John’s pockets.’
‘“Of course” I do. I do it regularly. I’m his mother! Who knows what he might be getting up to!’
‘Don’t you think the boy is entitled to a little privacy?’
‘I don’t believe I’m hearing this. You’re ganging up on me, both of you. Have I no respect, even in my own home? Well, see how I’m going to deal with this: I’m going to ring this Mr Henry in the morning and let him punish John as he deserves, seeing as you have no inclination to do so. And why am I not surprised as to that…?’
John’s heart sank even further. Mr Henry, a very handsome and fit young man, was the one teacher with whom John had a good relationship. In fact, John had a terrific crush on him; besides teaching physical education and rugby, he would teach history, dressed in his track suitor shorts in the summer, revealing his beautiful muscular legs. And he was the one teacher who never made him feel bad for not being good at sports, but was unfailingly friendly. Now his mother was even proposing to destroy this one good relationship.
The usual words came:
‘Johnny, darling, you know we love you, and this is all for your good…’
John wanted to strangle someone, preferably himself……
When the meal was over, John escaped quickly to the relative safety of his room. Looking blackly out of the window at the night, he saw the figure of his father crossing the yard to his shed. John slipped quickly down after him.
It was warm in the shed, and cosy with the comforting scent of sawdust and paraffin from the little stove which sat in the corner. Terence had some piece of carving held in a vice, and he was gently rubbing at it with a wood chisel while little shavings fell away softly onto the bench.
‘I wanted to say thanks.’
‘For standing up for me to Mum.’
‘I shouldn’t have done it.’
There was a pause.
‘Because she’s your mother.’
‘I hate sports.’
‘We all have to do things we don’t like. At your age I was good as sports; I can’t understand what’s wrong with you. Why are you such a wimp?’
John received this with silence. But on the whole, despite the wimp thing, he was encouraged. His father had never before stood up for him, and perhaps this might be a good time to bring up another matter. So he quietly said,
‘I get bullied at school.’
But John’s father pretended he hadn’t heard that and went on rubbing at the carving, only the cuts went deeper and deeper into the wood until a piece broke off.
‘Fuck it!’ said Terence. John was shocked; he had never heard his father swear before.
‘Can I help, Dad, perhaps I could hold it steady for you?’
‘No, John, you’d only ruin it. Haven’t you got something to do indoors?’
‘Well go and find something!’
Disconsolately, John left his father alone in the shed. Terence sat down on some old boxes, put his face in his hands and sighed bitterly. Then he picked up what was left of his carving and flung it against the wall.
John, listening carefully for signs of his mother’s presence, crept upstairs to his room. He saw his shorts drying on the lukewarm radiator, and briefly gave some thought to masturbating again, but he was too depressed and fearful of what the morrow’s interview with Mr Henry might bring. So, longing for escape, he turned once more to his favourite author, Arthur Ransome, and ran his finger along the dozen or so books that his hero had written, now rather tattered, dusty and stained, settling finally on The Picts and the Martyrs, one of his favourites. It told of how two children, Dick and Dorothea, took refuge from an elderly great aunt in a hut in the woods, and looked after themselves and had wonderful times sailing, despite the most unpropitious home situation. Escape was all John dreamt of, and this way he could at least escape in his mind…
He had stumbled across the first book of the series, Swallows and Amazons when he was twelve, and had become immediately hooked on the stories that all revolved around sailing. He loved to flee in his mind to the Lake District, where those lucky, happy, children had everything that he lacked; affectionate and trusting parents, brothers and sisters, friends, and so much else. The oldest boy was even called John, and our John used to imagine himself the John Walker in the story, commanding his own little dinghy boat and sailing up and down the lake, camping on the islands and having all sorts of wonderful adventures.
Even his father had taken a brief interest.
‘You really seem to like those books, son.’
‘Yeah, Dad, they’re really fantastic.’
‘You’d recommend them to others, then?’
‘Oh yes, definitely.’
But that had been the end of the matter, and though John had hoped that a chance to go sailing might be the result, this was never forthcoming, and the family holidays continued to be to his mother’s family home in Dublin, where his aged grandmother and surviving uncles and aunts used to treat the boy with the only bit of real family affection he ever got.
And now John was sixteen, and still reading the Swallows and Amazons books with the same intense pleasure they had given him at twelve.
John’s alarm rang at five thirty as usual, and he sprang out of bed; getting up early had never been much of a problem to him. He dressed quickly in shorts, t-shirt and added his tracksuit and a wooly hat, for the morning was chilly. His breath condensed into a cloud in front of this face, and he could see how the trees, now growing bare of leaves, had all their branches outlined in white; the first frost of the season. John shivered, the sight was beautiful, but it was too cold to stand for long, so he got his bike out of the garage and pedalled off hard to the newspaper shop to begin the morning delivery.
This job was a lifeline for him, for he was paid one pound fifty a week for his workslave labour, he knew, but it was infinitely preferable to the fifteen pence he used to receive from his parents, (‘if you really need something, you can always ask us, John’) at a time when his contemporaries at school would receive an average of five pounds pocket money. That had been another reason he had no friends, since he could not afford to visit them, the school being at such a distance from his home, and such acquaintances as he had living at an equivalent distance the other side, and even if that were possible, he could never be able to keep his end up with the various purchases that boys like to make. But the newspaper round made a bit of a difference; it gave him just that little measure of freedom to buy, for instance, books, or the not-too-unfashionable tracksuit and training shoes he was wearing now. The elderly newsagent liked him, because John was reliable and always friendly, and, sensing that he was not like the other boys, he would slip him the occasional bag of sweets, and at Christmas gave him a crisp new twenty pound note.
Once the delivery was finished, John cycled home. In the interim, his father would always have eaten breakfast and left for work. His mother would not be awake for a while yet. John loved this time of day because he had it to himself, though he did not have long; he prepared himself some breakfast, and ate it while reading the newspaper that his father had left behindit was always the Financial Times, the business sections of which John found unbelievably dullmaths was never his strong suitbut the rest was bearable and sometimes even interesting. He would scan the sports pages, fooling himself that he was looking up the football results, but in reality he was hoping for some pictures of handsome, preferably barechested, athletes. Then it was a quick change, with a shower if there was time, into school uniform (‘oh shit, my trousers are still muddy!’) and then off to school on the bicycle.
John’s school was a large all-boys Catholic Comprehensive, the St Thomas More School for Boys. For those readers not familiar with the British system of schools, in the UK there is an arrangement (won from the Government by Cardinal Hinsley after the second world war) where state schools can belong to, and be partly funded by, religious bodies; the Catholic Church has the largest body of denominational state schools in the country. The state picks up most of the bill, so that the schooling, though with a certain religious input, is free. John’s school, then, had its own priest chaplain, and he used to celebrate Mass for all those interested every day. John’s first job at school was to serve this Mass at 8.40, and this morning, as most, he arrived, out of breath, just in time to get the altar ready. He grabbed the priest’s sleeve, just as he was about to put on his vestments.
‘Erm, I need to go to confession.’
The priest suppressed the sigh of annoyance that tried to emerge from his lips. He thought he’d escaped today.
‘Okay, John, lets go over here. Kneel down now.’
And John confessed once again to hating his parents, and hating himself, and to lustful thoughts, and to masturbation.
‘John, lad, you say the same things every day. Every single day.’
‘But doesn’t everybody masturbate? Gerard Thompson says…’
‘…er, well, let’s just say that it’s not unknown’ said the priest.
So not everybody masturbates, thought John. It’s just me being particularly wicked. And he hated himself that little bit more. The priest went on,
‘Honestly, John, at your age it really isn’t something to worry about much, just don’t let it become a habit, eh?’
Fat chance of that, thought John; it’s already a habit. The priest was still talking.
‘Actually I’m much more worried about your relationship with your parents. If you only tell me in the context of confession, there’s nothing I can do about it, because I can never break the seal of confession. Won’t you please speak to me at some other time; perhaps we can talk to them together……’
‘And that’s exactly why I’m only speaking of it here, Father,’ said John firmly, deciding to forestall any further conversation on that subject. ‘What did you say my penance was?’
‘I didn’t’ said the priest, sighing. ‘One Hail Mary, John. And now make a good Act of Contrition…’
Patrick (‘Pat’) Henry, the physical education teacher was very angry indeed. He sat in his little office off the school gymnasium amid the smell of sweat and rubber, having just spoken to Peggy Scott, John’s mother, about John’s forged sick note. He swore sulphurously and hit the wall with his fist. Mistake. He only succeeded in adding scraped and bruised knuckles to his list of grievances.
He was a very handsome man in his early thirties, who regularly played rugby for an Irish international team as scrum half, though he himself was born and bred in Liverpool, of Irish parents. He had light brown hair, and a strong high-cheekboned, actually beautiful face, and a well-built muscular body. He was also, in case you’re wondering, definitely straight, with a wife and several beautiful children. Nor, you may care to note, does he turn gay in this story, though he is an important character. And now he was angry. Very angry indeed.
He consulted his timetable, then looked outside his office into the gym, and called to one of the lads doing a pre-school workout.
‘Oy, Symondson. You’re in John Scott’s class, aren’t you?’
‘Where would he be now?’
The boy sneered. ‘At Mass, I expect, sir. That’s where he usually is.’
‘Don’t be snide, soldier: perhaps it might do you some good to go sometime. It’s not only muscles that matter, you know.’
The boy looked puzzled. ‘Sir?’
‘Oh never mind. Just go and get Scott, will you, and ask him to come and see me during first period.’
‘But we’ve got double maths with old… er, Mr Myers; Scott’s crap at maths, and Mr Myers hates him.’
‘I’ll sort out old… er Mr Myers. Just do as I say, please, now!’
John was pleasantly surprised, as he was taking off his cassock and cotta, to see Symondson, a handsome lad, wearing only training shoes and shorts waiting for him in the little sacristy by the chapel when Mass was over. It was an unusual juxtapostion; earthy, muscular, almost nude, beauty amid the rarified scents of incense and beeswax. John was less pleased when he heard the message that he was to come immediately to Mr Henry’s office.
‘And I’m warning you, Scott, he looks really pissed off!’
John really didn’t think his heart could sink any lower, but somehow it managed to do so. Symondson had sprinted off, not wanting to be seen in the company of someone so uncool as John Scott, and John dragged his scuffed plastic-shod feet over to the gym, as to his execution. Now, he thought, the one man who has been decent to me here hates me too,
Pat Henry was waiting in the little office for John.
Symondson was right, John thought, he does look pissed off. But even then, he could not ignore the fact that his hero was wearing a tight white polo shirt with his (John’s) favourite blue adidas tracksuit trousers.
‘Come in, John, and sit down’ said Henry. John immediately felt better; it was most unusual to be called by one’s Christian name in the school, and highly unlikely to be the prelude to being beaten. The teacher went on drily,
‘I’m pleased to see that your infected finger seems to have repaired itself overnight.’ John looked up fearfully, but saw that there was the trace of a smile at the edges of the teacher’s mouth. His eyes, though, stayed angry, as he continued,
‘But I had a most peculiar phone call from your mother this morning, John.’
Here it comes, thought John. There was a silence in the office, and John listened to the thuds, oofs and grunts of the athletes doing unspeakable things to their bodies in the gym outside. The teacher spoke, uneasily.
‘John, forgive me for saying this, and no doubt this is really unprofessional, but she strikes me as being a real number-one bitch. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to offend, I know she’s your Mum, but she acted like she was judge and jury, and I was the executioner. She wants me to knock ten types of shit out of you for the note you wrote, and frankly, I’m not prepared to do that. Look, you’ve always struck me as being so unhappy; I’ve seen the way the others treat you here at school, bullying and so on, and in my own way I’ve tried to protect you…’
‘I know, sir, you’ve been really great…’ John began to choke up ‘…Actually, I don’t know what I’d have done without you.’
‘It’s now striking me that things may be just as bad at home. Tell me, John, are they?’
John’s mind was in a whirl. Suddenly things had changed very much for the better; somebody finally seemed to understand him, at least a little bit. He felt tears suddenly in his eyes, and the careful carapace he had constructed over so many years finally cracked; it had all become too much. He gasped, and a massive sob escaped him.
Pat Henry was a father himself, though his children were still all small. But he could see a distressed child before him, so he did what he always did when one of his own children were unhappy; he opened his arms. And John instinctively ran across the office and flung himself into those arms, weeping bitterly into the strong muscular shoulder of his hero. It smelt strange, of deodorant, of sweat, of washing powder, and the faint elusive scent of something feminine. His wife, no doubt. Still with his arms around him, Pat pulled the boy close as he poured out the story of his life so far. A sentimental man, Pat was not far from tears himself when, with a final hiccup, John finished.
‘Look, soldier,’ Pat told John ‘we’ve got to find a way to make things at least a little better. I’m on your side, and I’ll help all I can. I can’t see that I can do anything about home, but perhaps we can make school a little more bearable for you.’
‘How, sir?’ said John, taking off his steamed-up glasses, and wiping them on a dirty handkerchief.
‘Well, I think a little more street-cred would do you the world of good.’
‘I’m not going to argue with that, but they don’t sell it by the pound!’
‘Look, Myers isn’t expecting you at all this morning, so that means we’ve still got an hour left. Have you got your sports kit with you?’
‘Yes sir,’ said John, his heart sinking.
‘Well get changed.’
‘Yeah, why not? I’ve got to change my shirt as well; thanks to your tears and snot it’s disgusting now!’
John was horrified; how was he going to actually change in the same room as Pat Henry without disgracing himself by springing a stiffy? But there was nothing for it. He turned his back, and pulled down his trousers and boxers, relying on his shirt tails to hide anything that might be visible. He quickly pulled up his nylon shorts over his stiffening cock, and stripped off his jacket, jersey and shirt, when he heard Pat behind him say
‘Damn; I haven’t got another clean shirt with me; we’ll have to do without. Better, anyway; there’s more freedom of movement. You leave your shirt off too, John; it’ll save you getting it sweaty for P.E. later today.’
John was appalled by the lack of clothing; without a long shirt to hang down, how was he going to keep control of himself? It wasn’t as if he could rely on a jock strap to preserve his modesty, for it was forbidden at this school to wear anything at all under sports gear; seeing and having to deal one-to-one with Pat Henry shirtless was going to pose a real problem. And then his problem doubled, because Pat proceeded to strip off his track suit trousers until, like John, he was wearing only training shoes and nylon gym shorts.
‘Come on, John, lets get started.’
They went into the echoing gymnasium hall, John trailing disconsolately behind. What torture now?
The hall was still smelling of male sweat and rubber, erotic to some, but to John just another reminder of his inadequacy. Pat looked concernedly at John.
‘Okay, your problems are really pretty basic, aren’t they?’
‘Yeah, I’m crap at all sports.’
‘Well, all sport we do here at school, anyway. Why do you think that might be?’
John just shrugged, so Pat continued,
‘Look, almost all our sports are ball-based and/or co-ordination based. If you’ve never learnt to catch a ball, you’ll always have problems in both these areas. Did your father ever play catch or football with you when you were a nipper?’
‘Right, it’s one of the most basic skills that any boy has to be taught from the word go, otherwise he’s never going to cut the mustard when he’s older. If you can’t control a ball, you’ll never stand a chance at most sports.’ Pat was angry with John’s father, but he fought it down for John’s sake.
He took a heavy ‘medicine ball’ from a rack and threw it strongly at John, who flinched timidly. It hit his shoulder hard and bounced away into the corner of the room.
‘John, you’re supposed to catch it; it won’t hurt you! Did that hurt you?’
John was profoundly hurt (though not in the least injured) and was hating every moment; he almost came close to hating Pat for forcing him to go through this humiliation. Certainly, erotic thoughts had been pushed far away from his mind, and his cock hung down in his shorts, flaccid, and bounced around as he chased after the heavy ball. Pat on the other hand, was seeing just how deep the problem was; the lad was a sissy, afraid to get hurt and seemingly uncoordinated. This was going to take time. But Pat was not one to give up too soon, and after experimenting with a number of balls, he found that the best approach was the least threatening. A frisbee. So for forty minutes, he and John threw a frisbee back and forth to each other across the gym, and finally John began to relax and for the first time in his life actually enjoy the game. At the end, when they were going back to the office, Pat noticed that John was breathing rather more heavily than a lad of his age ought to be, and so he suggested that John go to the health centre to get checked for asthma; that, too, would be a contributory factor in John’s dislike of physical sports.
John was sent off to shower, but before he left, on an impulse he put his hand on Pat’s arm and simply said
Pat was a little suprised, but touched by the sudden affection.
‘You’re welcome, soldier. And we’re going to do this every day. I’ll work out a timetable so that it’ll be possible for us both to have the gym to ourselves, then nobody but us two will know. Oh, by the way, your mother said, amid her tirades, that she won’t be home when you get back; she’s got a hospital appointment.’
‘There is a God!’ said John. ‘You know, I thought this was going to be one of the worst days of my life, and already it’s one of the best.’
Pat laughed, and caught John around the neck, mock wrestling him. This time, with the feeling of bare skin against bare skin, John felt the familiar stirrings in his groin, so he wriggled out of Pat’s grasp, and ran off laughing.
John pondered as he cycled home whether to go by the park and attempt football with the other lads, but he decided against it. Don’t run before you can walk, he told himself. It was still just light when he got home; the house was in darkness and locked up, so he sat on the step and waited for his mother to return.
She was a very long time, and when she finally appeared, John was cold and hungry. Fortunately it hadn’t rained; on those occasions, he would have to take refuge in the garage. Peggy saw John, but said nothing. Odd; normally she would demand a kiss and a cuddle before telling him off about something. What had he done now?
Peggy opened the door and turned on the hall light. She turned to her son, who gasped in shock. His mother was pale white, and her eyes were red.
‘What’s the matter now, John? Cat got your tongue?’
‘Mum, what’s wrong?’
‘What do you care? Neither you nor your father give a damn about me!’
‘That’s not true.’
‘Just go to your room, John, I can’t deal with your problems now.’
This was not the normal querulous tone his mother employed; she sounded depressed, tired, defeated.
‘Can I take something to eat?’
‘No, just… Oh all right, make yourself a sandwich. Just get out of my sight.’
John did as he was commanded, being subdued and prepared to be acquiescentwhen ever had he not been so? He tiptoed up to his room and began his homework. It was much later when his father came into his roomunlike his mother, Terence always knocked.
‘Er, John, I’ve got some bad news, old son.’
John’s mood declined again. What now, for God’s sake?
‘It’s, er, your mother. You know she’s being going to the hospital rather a lot recently?’
‘Yeah, for tests and things.’
‘That’s right. Well, it appears that she has, er, cancer. Apparently, it’s inoperable.’
‘You mean she’s going to die?’
‘Months, they say. Perhaps six.’
There didn’t seem any more that could be said. Father and son looked at each other, both confused in their feelings. They knew that they ought to be feeling grief, sorrow, whatever, but neither of them could feel anything much.
‘Well, good night, John.’
‘Good night, Dad.’
And Terence left. John let out a long exhalation of breath, and wondered what the future might hold. He took down Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday from the shelf.
DANCING TO THE MUSIC OF THEIR HEARTS
THE SCOTT SAGA
Peggy Scott died slowly and painfully over the next few months. She paid a last visit to Dublin, for the funeral of her own mother, but would not allow John or Terence to come with her.
‘One thing at a time,’ she said.
What surprised everyone was the courage, strength and dignity with which she faced the end. When finally she was moved into the hospice, she carefully took her leave of everyone. Naturally, John and Terence were the last.
They walked into the artificially cheerful atmosphere, and breathed in the hospital scents of disinfectant, excreta and air-freshener. Some children from a local school had done some scrawling pictures that were supposed to cheer up the dying and their families; instead, everybody just felt an added burden of somebody else to thank…
Peggy was on large doses of morphine, but on this day of her husband and son’s last visit, she asked for the painkillers to be withheld, as she had something to do and wanted a clear mind. John looked at the yellow and wrinkled face of his mother, and felt revolted, and at the same time, a strong pity welled up in him.
Without any preamble, quietly, and with dignity, Peggy asked John to forgive her for being a poor mother,
‘Mum, of course, but you haven’t been; you’ve been the best Mum in the world!’
He was in automatic mode; this was normally the way to handle her. Lie, lie, lie until she shuts up.
‘John, don’t lie to a dying woman. I haven’t, I know that. I haven’t the energy to argue; you and I both know it’s true. Terry, I’ve behaved like an unforgiving bitch to you, and I’m sorry for that, too. I know it’s too late for love to return, but for the sake of the love we once had, please make more of an effort with John. You’ve not been a good father to him, either; we have each been so absorbed in our resentment of the other, that we forgot the effect we were having on him. Now give me a kiss, both of you, and please don’t forget to pray for me. Go now; I may not have shown it much, but I do love you both.’
As they left, they passed Father Meredith from St Teresa’s Church, who explained that Peggy had asked him to come today to hear her last confession and anoint her; he was just going to see her now.
Peggy died in the early hours of the following morning, all alone.
The funeral, at St Teresa’s church, was a small affair. An elderly uncle and aunt came from Dublin, but other than that, it was just Terence and John, until there was a commotion at the back of the church, and Pat Henry came in with his wife surrounded with a gaggle of five small children, Rory, the smallest, clutched to Pat’s chest, with his arms around his father’s neck. John’s heart warmed. Pat was wearing a suit; it was almost the first time that John had seen him dressed in something other than sports gear.
As the funeral progressed, John suddenly felt a little sad for his mother, and a tear or two trickled down his face for what might have been, especially as he looked across at the Henrys, the little ones buried sitting on their parents’ knees with their faces in childrens’ Mass books as Pat and his wife pointed out to them what was going on in the ceremony.
Terence leant down to his son and whispered into his ear, ‘Bloody disgusting!’
‘Bringing small children to a funeral. They should be ashamed of themselves.’
John’s chest suddenly filled up with indignation; nothing had obliged the Henrys to come at all; it was purely out of the goodness of their large hearts, and not hiding things from their children, but helping them understand… it seemed to John to be the most natural thing in the world.
When it was all over, and the relatives had departed, Terence and John sat in a silent house saying nothing, each busy with his own thoughts. Terence finally spoke.
‘Well, lad, it’s just you and me, now.’
His father trailed a finger along a dusty shelf; during the last months of Peggy’s illness, she had been incapable of housework. Terence spoke again.
‘Bloody place is filthy.
‘Yes Dad, yes Dad; haven’t you got anything else to say?’ Terence mocked.
‘God, you’re useless! I need a drink.’
His father poured himself a moderate whisky, then looked at his son and poured another. He thought again, and poured the second drink back into the decanter. John, whose heart had lifted for a moment, not because he wanted the whisky, but simply because his father was at last making a human gesture towards him, sank down into the armchair he was standing by and began to weep.
‘Oh fuck, waterworks!’ his father said. ‘Look, I’ve just lost my wife here, all right? I want a little consideration, give me a little space, will you?’
John didn’t move.
‘Look; that’s English for Go to your room, John. Now!’
Well, it was nothing new. But in his room there were two envelopes and a small parcel that he had picked up that morning just as they were leaving for the church; all three items carried handwriting that was all too familiar to John from the red ink in his history workbooks. Pat Henry again. He decided to open the envelopes first. The first was a sympathy card, drawn by one of Pat’s children, in which Pat, his wife, and all the children had put little messages. Two in particular touched John; the first was simply signed Siobhán, aged 6.
I’m so sorry you lost your Mummy. If you want, you can share mine.
The other was from Pat.
Sometimes people die, John, so that others may live. It’s time for you to come to life. Give meaning to your mother’s death.
John now wept openly. After a while, he brought himself to open the second envelope. It was a birthday card; somehow it had escaped even his memory that today was his seventeenth birthday. Again, the whole Henry clan had signed it (and in some cases scribbled all over it). The small parcel followed next; inside was a t-shirt bearing the motto ‘Street-Cred’, and a baseball cap with the motto of the New York Yankees on the front. For the first time in a long time John found himself laughing, then crying a little, then laughing again. When he had recovered himself, he wondered how the Henrys had found out about his birthday, then remembered that it must be somewhere in the school records. Fancy going to all that trouble!
Now finally with some content in his heart, John picked down Arthur Ransome’s Swallowdale from the shelf, and read contentedly, his soul flying before the mast of a small dinghy as it tacked down a Cumbrian lake on a breezy sunny day.
John, while still strongly attracted physically to Pat Henry, as over the next months they interacted in the gym on a daily basis, grew to like and respect him personally more and more. And eventually it burgeoned into lovenot romantic love any more, but something more akin to close family love. He would have been surprised to know that Pat increasingly returned this love, thinking of John as a particularly beloved nephew, or even a son. He had always understood and liked the lad; there had been something vulnerable and needy about him, but at the same time he admired how the very considerable problems arrayed against him had never succeeded in really pulling John under. There were real strengths there, which only Pat could see, and he was determined to help John have a happy adulthood, even if his childhood had already been wrecked. Pat, when he heard that after school John often had to wait on the step of his home for several hours before his father returned home from work, started taking John to his own home where he would be fed with the large Henry tribe, and could do his homework until he judged it time to leave in order to arrive shortly before his father.
The gym sessions continued every day, Monday to Friday, and moved out onto the playing fields in the summer, where, shirtless, the two worked on their tans. They had progressed from catching frisbees, via soft tennis balls, to hard cricket balls, then, about the time of Peggy’s death, began kicking footballs. John, to his own amazement, found not only that he had a good eye for a ball, but he was even beginning to enjoy himself, and each day to look forward to what he had once blackly called his ‘remedial P.E.’ classes. Pat began to involve some other boys who needed a little extra encouragement, and they began to play football together every day not just during Pat’s sessions, but also during their lunchbreaks and whenever they had a free moment. The breakthrough was when Pat started boxing with John, and found that suddenly the boy could give as good as he got. Pat’s heart warmed.
John actually noticed that with his growing skills, he performed better in class sports and hence was bullied a lot less; eventually it stopped altogether. The last occasion was when one of his worst persecutors, a lad called Steadman, passing him in a corridor, slammed him into a wall with his shoulder. A small insultJohn was accustomed to such on a daily basisbut this time he was no longer prepared to take it. He ran after the bully and pulled his shoulder.
‘Why did you do that?’
The other lad looked suprised.
‘You were in my way. Fuck off.’
‘Don’t do that to me again.’
The boy started to laugh. ‘I’ll do what I like!’ and shoved John into the wall again.
John surprised himself by making a fist and hitting the bully on the jaw. The lad staggered back against the wall, and nearly fell, shocked. John quietly commented
‘As I said, don’t do that to me again. Next time, I’ll hurt you.’
Unknown to all the individuals concerned, Pat Henry had been watching through a window, and he smiled to himself, knowing that John had finally overcome his fear and would now be fine.
Cycling home that evening, John was wearing his sports kit, as he had had an after-school boxing session with a proud Pat Henry in his family back garden. On a whim, he decided to take his old route, and passed the park where, many months ago, he had last watched those lads play football. It was now high summer, and the park was bathed in strong sunlight, so all the players were shirtless today. John stopped in his old place and watched. The lad whom he had seen before ran over to him.
‘Hi; I’ve not seen you in a while.’
‘How you been doing?’
‘Er, great. Erm… last time you said I could join in the football. Is the offer still open?’
‘Yeah, of course! Come on in.’
And John pulled off his shirt like the others, dumped his bike on the turf and jogged over to start living.
As usual, there was nobody at home when John arrived. He thought to himself; Thursdaythat means hoovering the stairs and dusting the bookshelves. So he set to work. His father had put the care of the house into his hands since, he said, as an overworked business man he could not do any of it himself. John had timidly suggested that they employ someone to come in to cook and clean, but his father had asked scornfully if he thought that he were made of money. So that was that. When John had done the housework as best he could, he looked at the clock, took two ready-made meals from the fridge and put them in the microwave. With all the physical activity, he was hungry, and so after waiting for twenty minutes after the meals were ready, he ate his now cold and clammy dinner, and cleared up after himself. He turned on the oven, and put his father’s dinner to keep warm for his return.
Terence returned very late indeed at about ten o’clock. John was lying on his bed, reading Missee Lee when he heard his father’s angry shout.
‘Oh shit, what now?’ he said to himself.
He came downstairs to find his father holding a cremated lump of black goo.
‘Is that supposed to be my supper?’
‘O God, Dad, I’m sorry; I must have set the oven too high.’
‘All day long, I’m out slaving to put the food on the table, only to find that my useless son has burnt it! And he couldn’t even wait for me.’
‘I’m really sorry, Dad; I’ll put another one into the microwave now…’
‘I’d rather eat shite!’ And Terence reached back his hand and hit John hard on the face with his closed fist, then marched to the sitting room, where he poured himself a large tumbler of whisky and flung himself, aggrieved, into an armchair. John was flung to the floor, where he stayed for several minutes.
The lad was stunned. His father had been cold and formal to him, but had never hit him before. He couldn’t even cry, he was too shocked. Instead, when he had found his feet, he went upstairs to the bathroom and examined his face. There was a gash, not too deep, presumably from his father’s signet ring, but he was going to have a lovely black eye tomorrow. He sighed. Today had really been the best of days and the worst of days.
In the morning, the side of his face was black and blue, and one eye was nearly closed. There was no hiding it. He would have to go to school and brave it out. The moment Pat Henry saw him, he called him into his office.
‘What happened, John?’
‘Oh, I just walked into a door. Stupid, eh?’
‘Bollocks, soldier! That’s the oldest excuse in the book. Someone hit you. Was it Steadman?’ Steadman was the bully that John had hit the day before.
John looked directly at Pat.
‘Well who, then? Your father?’
‘No sir!’ John looked away.
‘It was, wasn’t it? You’re a terrible liar. John, look at me: Did your father hit you yesterday?’
John couldn’t lie again to Pat.
‘Mm. A little bit.’
‘A little bit? He really laid into you. Was there any particular reason?’
‘Yeah, it was my fault; I burnt the supper.’ and John explained. Pat was shocked.
‘You do all the cooking?’
‘Yeah: my Dad works really hard.
‘What else do you do?’
‘I clean a bit.’
‘Washing, dusting, hoovering, that sort of thing. It’s not too bad.’
‘Yeah, that too. But that’s good; at least I get clean clothes now.’
Pat knew very well what that referred to, but tactfully he changed the subject.
‘I see. Well, you can’t play football today with that eye shut, so we’ll leave it until after the weekend, then.’
John was relieved at the sudden change of subject, and thought that that was that.
On Sundays, after Mass, Terry would treat himself and John to a pub lunch; it was the only properly cooked meal of the week that they ate. Terry would drink several pints of beer, and John would then nervously have to drive the car home, having only recently passed his driving test. That Sunday, about six o’clock, when Terry had just woken up with his usual Sunday evening hangoverwhich would usually be cured with several trips to the whisky decanterthere was a ring at the door. Fortunately, Terry was more or less sober, if a little the worse for wear.
‘Who’re you?’ he greeted the visitor.
‘My name is Patrick Henry…’
‘I remember you; you came to Peggy’s funeral with all those screaming children.’
‘That’s right; I’m a teacher at the St Thomas More School.’
‘That’s where your son goes.’
‘It is? Is the little shit in trouble?’
‘Look, can I come in?’
Terry led the way inside, and the two men sat down. Terry addressed his visitor:
‘Look, Mr, er… I usually have a little glass of whisky about this time. Can I offer you one?’
‘No thanks; it’s a bit early for me.’
‘Suit yourself; you don’t mind if I do?’
‘Not at all; of course not.’
There was an awkward silence, then Pat started to speak;
‘Erm… This is really difficult for me; I’m a sportsman, and not the most diplomatic bloke in the world, so I’ll come straight to the point. I’m concerned about your son, John.’
‘What about him? What’s the useless shit been up to now?’
‘Oh nothing bad…’
‘Shame; I might almost have found something to like about him if he had. He’s always been a spineless little sod. I was hoping for a moment that he might have found something characterful to do at last.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘He’s always been a namby-pamby little kid, since he was a toddler. Before I was three, I was out kicking a ball around with my brothers; by seven I was making things with my hands, and by twelve I was selling them. All he’s ever done is sit up in his room and read.’
‘Why, do you think?’
‘I don’t know. He’s useless, that’s all. Can’t do anything right.’
‘Did you ever kick a ball around with him when he was small?’
‘Where the fuck did that come from? I thought we were talking about his misdemeanors, and now you’re asking if I played football with him when he was a kid. For God’s sake; I’m a businessman. When would I find time to kick a ball with him?’
‘So who would there have been to do it? Who was there to teach him, if he has no brothers, and no father to do so?’
‘I dunno, neighbours’ kids, whatever. Surely he should have found out somewhere. Look, is this going anywhere?’
‘Did you ever try and find out?’
‘Look, what the fuck… sorry, what the hell is this? Some sort of interrogation? Look, I may not have been the best of fathers to him, but he’s been a disproportionately sore disappointment to me!’
‘You don’t think the two may have been connected? But let’s go on. You were making things with your hands. Who taught you?’
‘I don’t see that it was any business of yours, but it was my father; he was a carpenter.’
‘So he took the time to teach you. Did you try and teach John?’
‘No; he had no inclination; he’s clumsy, cack-handed, he’d break anything he touched, as a kid.’
‘That’s what kids do; I should know, I’ve got a house full of them, and there’s hardly a plate left in the place. But John is not clumsy or cack-handed.’
‘How would you know?’
‘Mr Scott; I teach PE, physical education; I know when a lad is co-ordinated or not, and John is very well co-ordinated. But until a few months ago, he couldn’t even catch a ball!’
‘That’s my son, all right. Useless! So you’re saying it was deliberate?’
‘You’ve lost me.’
‘You’re saying that John is being deliberately obstructive and awkward?’
‘No, not at all. Look, I can see I’m going to have to be blunt. I’m saying it’s mostly your fault.’
‘My fault? I know my wife could be difficult, but I was never near the boy long enough for it to be my fault!’
It took a long time, but eventually Pat Henry succeeded in convincing Terry that boys do not grow up and educate themselves; if John was never allowed to make mistakes, he would never learn, and never develop any self-confidence. It was now evening, and Terry was feeling contrite. He was still on his first whisky, something of a record for his recent history, and when the two men finally drew breath, Pat felt encouraged to ask
‘Is the offer of a whisky still on the table?’
‘Yes, of course. Here.’
And they got talking. Terry agreed to take more of an interest in John. He was not a bad man, just a busy one, and a very unperceptive one, a trait he was to pass on to his son.
‘…if it isn’t too late, and he doesn’t hate me.’
‘I don’t think so; John isn’t the hating sort of person. In fact, given everything he’s been through, he’s a remarkably affectionate lad. Look, on another matter, I really think that a lad of seventeen ought not to be doing the housework on his own. You say you’re in business; what exactly do you do?’
‘I’m a C.E.O.’
‘And you’re saying that there isn’t enough money for a housekeeper? You’ve made the lad……’ Pat fell silent, outraged.
‘Yeah, well, I thought it would teach him some responsibility. He’s got to learn not to take life for granted.’
‘And I take it you give him some money for this work, for being your personal domestic drudge?’
‘He gets his food and his clothes; what else does he want?’
‘What about when he wants to go out with his friends?’
‘He hasn’t got any friends!’
‘And why do you think that might be?’
‘You’re not saying that’s my fault, too?’
‘Oh yes I am. Did you ever let him bring friends home?’
‘I wouldn’t have minded, but Peggy couldn’t abide mess in the house.’
‘Did you ever let him go to friends’ houses?’
‘He has chores to do, and homework. It’s all part of his responsibility; he has to grow up; he has no sense of responsibility.’
‘Look, you’ve got a year before he goes off to University. Frankly, you’ve got this little bit of time to try and make contact with your son, or I predict that you will never see him again. You have simply not equipped him for the adult world; if he has no sense of responsibilty, it is because you never gave him any responsibility, encouragement, praise, love, attention; and you and your wife, God rest her, made it impossible for him to get it from others in his own age group. I think I may very well be the first person to see what a genuinely lovely person John is, and it really grieves me that he has had such a deprived childhood.’
‘Deprived? I resent that. He had everything he needed! I was deprived as a kid; I had to go to school with no shoes.’
That was a lie. Terence had been to Whitefriars, an expensive public boarding school. Pat commented:
‘Shoes or not, I’ll bet that he would have swapped places with you without a murmur. But John is very strong, very resilient; I suspect he takes after you. Some kids would have tried to kill themselves before now, especially boys; I’ve seen it happen. But he has something special, and that is why I am taking such an interest. Look, I mean it. You’ve really got to do something soon, or you will lose him. I’ll help; it’s time he knew what a normal family is like, and I and my wife are willing to do as much as we can.’
And that was how it worked out. Terence saw at least a little sense, and saw that Pat was genuinely concerned and probably right. So, from Monday to Friday, John lived with the Henrys, and returned home at weekends to his father, who had now engaged a housekeeper to look after the domestic side of life. John loved living with the Henrys from the very start; Pat’s wife, Bernadette was a beautiful young woman from County Clare in the West of Ireland, with long Irish blue-black wavy hair and blue eyes; she welcomed John with a huge hug, and told him he was to think of himself as being completely at home. Pat wryly put in that he hoped John would like it better than that! John was to share a room with Conor, the Henrys’ oldest boy, an affectionate, very physical, rascal of ten, who loved to wrestle and run, and who kept John awake late into the night with chatter, and would then suddenly go out like a light. Sharing a room was entirely new to John, who was very self-conscious at first, but eventually came to love the contact with other friendly human beings and came to adore those he began to think of as his younger siblings. There was another boy, Seán, eight, and two little six-year-old twin girls called Siobhán and Aisling. Finally there was the toddler, Rory,
‘And he does roar,’ Seán assured him.
John from the start was a great help with the children; he would read to the younger ones every night after their bathtime, the twin girls curled up against him, taking turns on his knee, while Seán would sit on the floor, leaning against his legs; Conor would hover in the background, pretending to be too grown-up for the stories, but nonetheless avidly listening as he built and demolished lego castles and warred with his Action Men. As for John himself, he thought he had died and gone to heaven. The easy and natural affection that the family had for each other touched his heart, and he threw himself utterly into everything they did, even kneeling down with them all each evening to say the rosary together, which was a new thing to him.
Bernadette was a wonderful cook, and even Pat was pretty good. Together they started to teach John how to cook and look after himself, and he surprised everyone, especially himself, by showing an aptitude for the kitchen, once he had been shown what to do.
And John was able, in a small way, to repay the Henrys for their kindness, by babysitting for the adults when they went out together, which they were now able to do once a week. Their romantic evenings together, however, had an unexpected result, because Bernadette announced one evening over supper that she was pregnant again.
‘Okay, okay’ said Pat. ‘Who’s the father? I think it must be John.’
John went bright red and started to splutter with embarrassed denial, but the adults just laughed.
‘’Twas either him or the milkman,’ said Bernadette. ‘Or perhaps the postman. Then there was Father Thompson last week, when he called in…’
By contrast, returning to his father at weekends was depressing, though things undoubtedly were better. The new housekeeper was efficient and discreet, and Terence made an effort to be friendly to his son. He sensibly did not try to duplicate what Pat was doing, but thought that perhaps he might help John to integrate into adult society. So he took him to restaurants, started to educate his taste in wine and even took him to the odd rugby match, a game for which John could never conceive a liking, remembering all too clearly what it was like to be pounded on the field. And Terence began to moderate his drinking. John finally found himself beginning to warm to his father, and to see his good points. And more to the point, Terence began to like his son. He started to see what Pat had seen in him, how resilient, reliable and uncomplaining he was, how good-natured and tolerant.
How did that happen? he wondered. Peggy and I never gave him that.
One fateful weekend, as the school’s summer term closed and the holidays began, John and his father took a trip down to London. John had never travelled much; Dublin had been the farthest reach of his young life, and that was practically West Liverpool. London was something utterly outside his experience. The train ride down on the Intercity 125 train thrilled him to the marrow, watching the fields and houses flying past the window at a speed he had never thought possible. London completely blew him away; Liverpool at that time was still awaiting its renaissance, and was dirty, overcrowded and unhappy. But London had still all the buzz and insouciance of the centre of an empire; its buildings were clean and impressive, and during the long taxi ride through the rush hour, John stared out of the windows at all the sights they passed. Terence grinned to see his son’s open mouth, and tapped on the window to ask the driver to take the tourist route. Suddenly he had found pleasure in being a father; suddenly educating his son was as much fun for him as for John. Finally, he had understood what Pat had been talking about. His eyes filled with tears, and he reached across the cab’s leather seats and for the first time in his life hugged his son and really meant it. John was full of the city’s excitement, and though he automatically returned the hug, (he had become more accustomed to hugs in the Henry household) missed the significance of the moment. Terry, for the first time didn’t mind; he was enjoying his son’s pleasure too much. He tapped on the driver’s window again and changed the destination; sod the expense, this was too good. A top hotel was called for.
‘Hyde Park Hotel, please, driver. And go via Parliament Square, please.’
‘Right you are, guv.’
John gasped as the Houses of Parliament came into view, with the great clock tower. Terry told John self-importantly:
‘People think the tower is called Big Ben; actually its only the bell inside that is called that. And look; that’s Westminster Hall, where St Thomas More was tried for his life and condemned to death. And here’s Westminster Abbey, where the Queen was crowned.’
Then there was Victoria Street and
‘That’s Westminster Cathedral, Cardinal Hume’s church.’
Both father and son made the sign of the cross as they passed, John gawping upwards at the huge red brick building in its alien Byzantine style of architecture, with its unusual high single slim bell tower. Then there was Buckingham Palace and finally Knightsbridge, with the Hyde Park Hotel. As they arrived, a man in a top hat and tails opened the taxi door. John thanked him gravely, and the man gave him a wink. Terry handed to the taxi driver what seemed a lot of money, and a slim young man in a tight uniform with stripes down the legs grabbed their luggage, preceding them into the hotel.
Terry went over to the desk and talked urgently with a friendly black woman there. She looked regretful for a minute, until Terry pulled out something from his walletit wasn’t money, but looked like a business cardand suddenly all doors were open. He and John were conducted with all ceremony to a suite of rooms high up in the building with an amazing view of Hyde Park. John had never seen such luxury. When the porter had deposited his bags in his own room, his father having tipped the lad handsomely, John asked,
‘Dad, how can we possibly afford this?’
‘John, we can easily afford this. Don’t worry about it a bit. It’s time we enjoyed ourselves a little.’
And that was that. John was puzzled, but there was nothing further to be said.
The following day was really wonderful; they ate a huge fried breakfast in the hotel restaurant overlooking Hyde Park, watching the joggers and horses out for their morning exercise. Just as they were finishing, there was a stir, and two figures came and sat down at the next table. It took all of two seconds for John to work out who they were: Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Hiring videos was one of the favourite pastimes of the Henry family (though John had never been permitted them at home), and John had long lusted after the slim handsome figure of Cruise, with his heavy-browed Irish looks. John was suddenly struck with how small the man waseven I’m taller than he isbut the actor saw John staring and gave the boy his famous broad smile. John lost his heart, and smiled back. Somehow he managed to say
and Tom said it right back, then settled down to his breakfast. Terry chose just that moment to stand up and leave, to John’s chagrin and embarrassment, for the lad was sporting a huge erection which he had managed to hide under the table. He scooted after his father as quickly as he could, hoping that nobody had noticed.
Terry took John to all his own favourite places in London, and John loved every moment. After he had written an anxious postcard to the Henrys, they toured everything that could be done in a day; the Tower of London, Madame Tussaud’s (‘overrated’, they both thought), some of the Museums, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, and finally they were tired. Over a good meal in an Italian restuarant, where Terry hugely enjoyed showing his son how to eat spaghetti without a spoon, and without covering his clothes with sauce, they chatted about life.
‘John, are you happy?’
‘I am now. I wasn’t, though,’ John replied seriously. He wasn’t prepared to let his father off the hook that easily.
‘No, I suppose you weren’t. And I must frankly admit that a lot of that has been my fault. I can see now not just what you’ve missed, but what I’ve missed, too. Perhaps we need to start again, son. Will you give me that chance?’
John nodded seriously. ‘Yes Dad. But you can’t turn the clock back; it won’t always be easy for me. And I don’t want to stop staying with the Henrys.’
‘No, I understand that. Actually, if it weren’t for Pat Henry, I rather suspect we wouldn’t be having this conversation now, so I’d like to keep in touch, too.
‘I’m so sorry, John, I was so full of my own sorrows that I forgot about you. I wanted, you know, to send you to my old school, Whitefriars; it’s a really good public boarding school, as you know, and perhaps you would have been happier away from home.’
‘Yes, I probably would have been. Why didn’t you send me there?’
‘Your mother wouldn’t hear of it; she fought like a tiger against it.’
‘Well, partly because Whitefriars is a long way from Lancashire; it’s just outside London, in fact. She really loved you, you know; she just had a funny way of showing it. She wanted you to be perfect, which is why she nagged. Anyway, the reason she gave for opposing Whitefriars is because it isn’t a Catholic school. I thought that was an advantage; it certainly helped me to sort out my ideas on my faith. But, if the truth be told, her real reason was simply because I wanted you to go there, really badly, and thwarting me gave her great pleasure.’
‘Look, what was it between you two?’
‘One day I’ll tell you, John, when you’re older. Let’s just say for now that I hurt her very seriously once, and she never forgave me. Not until that last day we saw her in the hospice. I think she did then.’
‘Actually, you don’t, but you will one day. Anyway, let’s go back to the subject of school. Would you like to go to Whitefriars now, this September?’ Terence looked hopefully at his son.
John thought a little, and said ‘No, Dad. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve only got a year to go at St Thomas More’s. And as I said, I don’t want to be separated from the Henrys after all they’ve done for me. And actually, now we seem to have got our stuff together, I don’t want to be separated from you either.
Which cheered Terence up enormously. When he had paid the bill, the two returned to the hotel, retiring to their separate rooms in their suite and slept more happily than either had done in a long time.
They had breakfast in the morning, and Terry said to his son,
‘John, as it's Sunday, we’re going to Mass in one of my most favourite churches in the world.’
‘No, its just down the road. It’s called the Brompton Oratory.’
‘Weird name. Is that a Catholic church?’
‘Oh yes, definitely, though you might find it a little unusual.’
He certainly did. The Mass at eleven was in Latin, for a start, which John had never encountered, it having become outmoded in the Church some ten years before his birth. And the music, ceremony and spectacle were truly amazing. John had never imagined Mass could be like this, and he really wanted more of it. After lunch in a nearby restuarant, they visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, and returned to the Oratory for Vespers and Benediction at 3.30. Then it was ‘home’ to the hotel for a brief siesta. John lay on his bed, incapable of sleep, and thought about the events of the weekend. He began finally to think that he might perhaps come to love his father; the two of them had achieved a deep rapport and found that they could be not just related, but perhaps friends. Simply, they made each other laugh; in the evening, after a heavy dinner at the Ritz (‘The Ritz!’) Terry had bought a cheap ball from a vendor, and they kicked it around together in Hyde Parkone or two other lads joined in, and John recognized the slim young porter from the hotel. Years of resentment and unhappiness rolled away from the father and son as they chased the plastic ball and sweated and muddied their good clothes.
Shoulder to shoulder, John and Terry walked the short distance back to the hotel. Neither had ever been happier in their lives.
Back in the suite, Terry reminded John that they needed to start early to get the train back to Liverpool, and so to be awake on time. He then kissed him, and pulled him into a hug.
‘Son, I want you to know how much I love you.
‘I love you too, Dad.’
They both meant it.
John’s alarm rang at six, as planned, and he hopped out of bed and into the shower. When he was clean, he wrapped a towel around his waist, pulled his glasses on and went to ask his father whether they had time for some breakfast. He could hear an alarm clock sounding from Terence’s room, and so he grinned to himself; clearly his father had been tired out by the football and was, improbably, sleeping through the insistent and irritating bleeping. John knocked loudly on the door, and when he got no response, went in anyway. His father lay still in the bed, his eyes closed. John went across to the alarm and turned it off, then put his hand on his father’s shoulder to shake him. Strange, Terence felt weirdly stiff. John touched his hand to his father’s forehead.
It was cold.
Even John knew what that meant; he remembered his mother’s cold brow when he had seen her in the undertaker’s parlour.
Deeply shocked, he sank to the floor and sat there, his mind a complete blank.
Now what do I do?
He began to cry, not just in sorrow, but more in panic and confusion.
What the fuck do I do now? Oh God, I wish Pat Henry was here!
Phone him, you idiot; he’ll tell you what to do.
John went back to his own roomit was a relief to be away from the corpseand, fumbling in his diary, found Pat’s home telephone number. With trembling fingers he dialled the number and listened to the ring.
‘This’d better be good!’ came a sleepy voice. ‘This early on the first day of the holidays!’ It was Bernadette. She was a sleepyhead at the best of times.
‘B…B…Bernadette; I’m so f…frightened and I d…don’t know what to doooo…’
John broke down into tears again.
‘John? What’s wrong, darling? John?…John?…I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s the matter.’
Bernadette was suddenly awake, all her maternal protective instincts in overdrive.
‘Do you need to talk to Pat?’
‘Y…yeah, please. My Dad is d…dead and I don’t know what to doooo!’
‘O God, John, I’m so sorry! God rest his soul. Pat’s out for his run, honey… no, I hear him coming in now. PAT, PAT, PICK UP THE PHONE, LOVE.’
‘Hello?’ Pat’s urgent voice came on the line, and John started feeling better. In a broken voice, much puncuated with tears he filled Pat and Bernadette in on what had happened. Pat was immediately helpful and practical, his calm voice soothing John as it always did.
‘Look, John, I’m coming right down to London; it’ll take a few hours, but I’ll be there as soon as I can. You stay put, but there are a few things you’ll need to do straight away. Have you got paper and pencil? Good; make a list. First, get a priest; the hotel reception should have phone numbers. Second, tell hotel reception what has happened; they should be able to deal with the rest; the police will need to be called, and a doctor, and an undertaker. Third, book your room for at least one, say two more nights. Is there room there for me, too?’
‘Okay, soldier, you’ll be fine. Now be strong, and I’ll be there as soon as I can. Where are you?’
‘It’s called the Hyde Park Hotel’
‘Bloody hell! You’re slumming it bit, aren’t you? I hope your Dad paid in advance!’
‘Shit, no, he…’ and John started to panic again. Pat cut in
‘Look, don’t worry about that now: we’ll sort it when I come down.’ Pat began to panic himself; accomodation in the Hyde Park Hotel cost a great deal more than he could afford on a teacher’s salary.
‘Thanks so much; I owe you two such a lot.’
‘John, it’s nothing, we both love you, sweetheart’ said Bernadette. ‘We’ll see you soon.’
The phone went dead.
John was feeling a lot better now. He remembered that he had taken an Oratory magazine yesterday, so he phoned the number it gave for emergencies. Ten minutes later, a middle-aged priest, who introduced himself as Father Matthew Smith, was with him, and together they went into Terence’s room, where the priest gave conditional absolution and anointed the cold body. Then he said some prayers with John, who had started to weep again. The familiar words began to give him some strength and restore him to a sense of himself. The two went into the suite’s luxurious sitting room, and the priest asked John,
‘Now, have you told anyone else about this?’
‘Only a teacher from school; I phoned him earlier, and he told me to phone you.’
‘A teacher? Isn’t there anyone else? Your mother?’
‘My mother’s dead, too. And Pat’s more than a teacher; in some ways he’s been more of a father to me than my Dad was.’
‘I see. I’m sure that was the right thing to do, then. What else did he tell you to do?’
‘He said to speak to hotel reception, and they would sort everything else out.’
‘That’s good advice. Shall I come with you, and we’ll tell them together?’
‘Would you, Father? I’d really appreciate it.’
The young man on reception was clearly startled to have a death on his hands, but he quickly covered up and became efficient. There was obviously a procedure for this eventuality, and John and Fr Smith found themselves simply hanging around waiting for things to take their course. A doctor came first, examined Terence’s body, and issued a death certificate; he behaved professionally and sympathetically, and confirmed what John had suspected, that his father had suffered a massive heart attack in the early hours of the morning. Two police, a man and a woman, arrived before the doctor had left; they too were very sympathetic and helpful, and confirmed that in their opinion there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death; John could proceed to call an undertaker, and the hotel could clean the room.
Reception again were helpful, and arranged for an undertaker to collect the body. Fr Smith suggested gently that perhaps John would prefer not to be around when they came, knowing that the sight of a loved one being zipped up in a body bag was not the most comforting thing at a time like this. He told Reception where they would be, and took John out to a late breakfast in a little café called Patisserie Valerie, near the Oratory. There they sat among the faux posters and attempted Parisian atmosphere, (the establishment was actually run by Italians, most successfully) and chatted about nothing in particular; the priest was trying to take John’s mind off it a little, so that he could eat something. It worked; John ate a hearty breakfast, and just as he was starting on his toast and marmalade, a familiar tracksuited figure entered the café. Tears started again in John’s eyes; he sprang to his feet, knocking over the chair, and flung himself into the strong arms that had opened for him.
‘Pat! Oh thank you for coming!’
Pat hugged John until the sobbing had subsided, then pulled up a chair, introducing himself to Fr Smith. They all sat down again, and Pat called over a waiter.
‘I want everything you’ve got, please; the unhealthier the better.’
John looked in surprise at Pat, who winked.
‘Well, Bernie’s not watching me now, is she. While the cat’s away…’
‘Right, sir’ said the waiter. ‘One heart attack on a plate coming up.’
He whisked away, and so missed the appalled looks on the faces of Pat and Fr Smith. John smiled at them, and then suddenly laughed; the others, a little anxiously, joined in; suddenly things looked a bit happier.
Fr Smith left shortly afterwards, saying that he would celebrate Mass later on for Terence, and both Pat and John said that they would be there. They thanked the priest, and when Pat had finished eating his most unhealthy meal, made their way back to the hotel.
‘How did you get here so quickly?’ John asked as they walked.
‘I took a plane; I thought I ought to come as soon as possible; there was no planning that the priest or the hotel would be as helpful as they actually were. The reception in the hotel told me where to find you.’
‘Where’s your baggage?’
‘I left her at home with the kids.’
John hit Pat on the arm, so Pat laughed and clarified
‘Oh, my gear you mean. Well, what you see is what I have. I was out for a run, and when you phoned, I had a lightning shower, and put my kit back on again, grabbed my wallet and sprinted. It’s not really Hyde Park Hotel style, is it?’
‘It is if you’re famous; Tom Cruise is in the hotel, and he’s dressed pretty casually too. Just tell them you’re Brad Pitt! You look quite like him. Anyway, I’m glad you came like that; you’d look odd in normal clothes.’
‘Yeah, I suppose I do dress like this most of the time. But I think it might be a good idea for me to get a shirt and pair of trousers for this evening, though perhaps it’d be a bit extravagant to buy shoes. Trainers will have to do.’
‘You could take my Dad’s clothes; it’s not like he’s going to need them.’
‘I don’t think somy waist is 31 inches, and your Dad’s must be at least 40. But perhaps his shoes might fit. Anyway, I must buy a toothbrush; I’ll beg some toothpaste off you.’
The normal talk was making John feel better, and he suddenly felt immensely grateful to Pat.
‘Look, Pat, I really appreciate you coming like this; I just didn’t know what to do, and actually I still don’t.’
‘Long-term, or short-term?’
‘Well, long-term, you can come and live with us full-time. Bernie told me to tell you that before I left, and I’m in complete agreement. We both love you like our own. Medium-term, we’ve got to sort out your Dad’s affairs, but that can wait until we get back home. Short-term, we’ve got to register his death here, and we’ve got to go and see the undertakers, and make arrangements for the funeral. I assume you want to take his body back home?’
‘Yes, I suppose. Though I don’t know anybody he knew, but I guess there must be colleagues from work and so on who would want to be involved.’
‘Do you know what the name of his company was?’
‘Not the slightest idea. I only know that he was a businessman, and not a very important one.’
‘Not very important? How did you work that out?’
‘Well, he was always working, and there never seemed to be much money around. I’m really surprised at him coming here; I wouldn’t have said we could have afforded it for a minute.’
‘John, your Dad told me he was the C.E.O. of a company, so I think that probably the money was not a problem.’
‘What’s a C.E.O.?’
‘The Chief Executive Officer; the man at the top.’
‘Oh.’ John was surprised. ‘I never knew.’
‘Come on, lad, let’s get the day over with.’
The first trip was to the chilly registry office to register the death. Then they went to the Mass that Fr Smith celebrated at the Oratory, and followed this with a quick lunch, which Pat paid for. Then they went back to the hotel; they needed to pick up one of Terence’s suits to take to the undertakers, since the body had been taken still in its pyjamas.
The choice was easy, because there were only two suits, and one of them was covered in mud from the last evening’s football game. John grew sad again, and as he held the muddy jacket, he told Pat about the wonderful time he had had with his father such a short time ago. Pat listened sympathetically, while he wondered privately whether it was that very football match that had led to Terence’s death; a very unfit man suddenly over-exerting himself.
John felt a large lump in the jacket inside pocket, and reached to see what it was. Suddenly he felt guilty; it wasn’t his own suit…
Pat intercepted the look.
‘John, everything your dad owned is yours now, you can go right ahead.’
That hadn’t struck John.
‘The house and things?’
‘Well I should be very surprised indeed if they weren’t yours too. But don’t worry about it now, soldier; it can all wait until we see your Dad’s solicitor.’
So John slid his hand into the breast pocket of the jacket and withdrew what he found inside. It was a wallet, a very fat wallet. John looked inside and gasped; it was stuffed with high-denomination banknotes, amounting to several thousand pounds.
‘Well,’ said Pat drily, ‘It looks as if that’s the hotel bill covered, then.’
‘But where did it all come from?’ Wild thoughts flashed through John’s mind; was his father a drug smuggler or something?
‘As I said, John, your father was a C.E.O. Top brass get paid a lot more than tea ladies, and I imagine there may be a heap more money where that lot came from.’
They took the other suitit was a very good oneto the undertakers, and John looked at the catalogue of coffins and tearfully chose one. Pat kept his hand on John’s shoulder, which the boy found a huge comfort. It was arranged that Terence’s body would be transferred to a Liverpool undertaker as soon as could be managed, and so the business was concluded.
On their way back, Pat bought himself a suit in a sale‘always strike while the iron is hot, John’and a shirt and tie. Terence’s shoes had fitted Pat perfectly, and so John gave him all the excellent-quality footwear that his father had in his case.
When they got back to the hotel, they were asked to wait to see the duty manager. What now? thought John. The manager turned out to be a beautiful Asian lady, who was very sympathetic, but had a request. It turned out that a honeymoon couple were arriving from the States late that night and had booked the very suite that John was in some months before. Would he mind changing to another room? There would be no charge at all for the night. John was actually relieved. He wanted to get out of that suite which was so full of memories. The manager consulted the computer, and found that there was only one room free. Would they object to sharing?
‘Not at all’ said Pat; ‘especially if it’s for free.’
The manager told them to go in and have tea, compliments of the hotel, and the staff would transfer all their belongings over to the new room in the meantime.
When they finally went up to the new room, they saw, to John’s suprise, that there was only one double bed instead of the twin beds he had been expecting. He didn’t know whether to be excited or horrified at the prospect of sleeping right next to the man whom he worshipped. Perhaps the floor would be safer…
Pat was already stripping off his tracksuit.
‘I think we should both have a shower, soldier.’
John’s mind was elsewhere. ‘Together?’
‘No, not together, idiot. I won’t be a minute.’
John was mortified and embarrassed at his slip. What was he thinking? And then his penis hardened in his boxers as he saw Pat strip off his polo shirt and shortsclearly used to sports changing rooms, he had no embarrasment whatever about appearing naked in front of John. And John, noticing that Pat wore nothing under his shorts at all, grabbed a bag and held it as casually as he could in front of his flies.
Really discreet! he said to himself.
Trying to dissemble his interest, John tried to engage Pat in conversation about where they might eat that evening while he drank in the sight of the beautiful naked body before him, with its smooth chiselled torso tapering down to a slim waist and hips, fronted by six inches of flaccid penis and low hanging balls between long muscled thighs. When Pat turned to go into the bathroom, John nearly gasped at the perfection of the muscular back and beautifully rounded buttocks.
O God, quick, quick.
The moment the bathroom door was closed (Thank you, God, that he didn’t leave it open) John stripped off all his own clothes, throwing them anyhow on the bed, and pulled on Pat’s discarded blue nylon shorts. Taking some tissues from the box by the bed, he pulled his steel-like penis out of the leg of the shorts, and, squatting down, frantically wanked himself off.
The sound of running water ceased.
Oshitoshitoshit. What do I do with the tissues? And the smell…?
John ran to the window and threw it open. The smell of car fumes wafted in. Better. And he hurled the tissues out as far as he could, then breathed again. The tissues struck a jogger on the side of the head, but John didn’t wait to see the results. He turned back into the room.
Shit; the shorts! He tore them off, and threw them onto Pat’s discarded tracksuit just in time, as his hero opened the door and walked out, his tanned body still glistening with moisture. He saw that the usually bashful John was completely naked, and if he noticed that John’s penis was rather plump and red, he said nothing. But John was profoundly turned on at the sight of Pat’s moist shining torso, the water bringing out even more clearly the musculature under the tanned skin. He completely forgot to be shy about being naked, and, blushing deep red all over, hurled himself into the bathroom, shutting the door before his erection became too noticeable. Within seconds he was hard again, so he got into the shower and under the running water masturbated a second time.
When he came out, a towel around his waist, Pat was still naked, but this time John was more in control of himself, his passion spent down the drain of the shower. Pat was picking with nail scissors from John’s washbag ‘you don’t mind, do you?’at the price labels and tags on his new suit until finally he had removed them all. He then asked John,
‘Can I borrow some socks? I forgot to get some.’
‘Yeah, sure.’ John threw him a pair. ‘Wouldn’t you prefer to wear a pair of Dad’s?’
‘No, not really. Dead men’s shoes are one thing; socks are a little more intimate. Anyway, your feet look about the same size as mine.’
He pulled the socks on while John pulled on some boxer shorts under his towel. Pat looked faintly amused at the modesty.
‘You weren’t so shy a minute ago when I came out of the shower.’
‘You rather, er… took me by surprise, that’s all.’
‘Come on; I’ve seen you starkers loads of times at school.’
‘Somehow a bedroom feels a bit more… intimate, to use your word.’
Pat pulled on his new trousers directly over his bare backside. John was taken aback;
‘Don’t you want to borrow some boxers too.’
‘Nah; if I wore yours, I’d be singing soprano! Anyway, I’m clean, aren’t I?’
John rather liked the look of Pat in a suit; he had expected to be disappointed, since he loved seeing him in his sports kit. But he suddenly had an assurance about him that John found very appealing; less sexual, perhaps, more almost an inkling of family love. He looked like a dad, trustworthy, safe. Besides, the thought that he was going commando was very erotic indeed.
They went out to eat in a nice restaurant, and it gave John a real thrill to insist on paying.
‘Please let me, Pat; I’ve never been able to before, and I really want to do something to thank you for your amazing kindness; not just today, but over the last year or more. You’ve really made me a happier person, and you were even responsible for the way my real dad and I got together again, after all this time.’
‘What do you mean by ‘your real dad? Is there any other sort?’
John took a breath. ‘Well, really you’ve been everything that my dad ought to have been, and I have come to love you and Bernadette and the children more than my real family. Until very recently, there was only a biological link with Dad, but I love all of you so very much. I told Dad that I woudn’t go to Whitefriars, his old boarding school, because I wanted to stay near you; preferably with you in fact. I can’t mourn Dad very much, because really there wasn’t very much between us. There might have developed something, judging by these last few days, but there wasn’t the chance. So, to put it briefly, when I think of what the word ‘dad’ means, I think of you, Pat.’
Pat’s eyes were moist; he got up from his chair, went around the table and kissed John on the top of his head.
‘And, in all truth, I have come to love you like a son, John.’
They got back to the hotel late, and both a little drunk; they had both had a really fun evening, despite the unpromising start to the day. John said
‘Pat, that was a wonderful evening. You’ve really taken my mind off all the horrible things that happened today.’
‘Don’t mention it. Anyway, you bought dinner. And, much as I worship my wife and kids, I have to say that it’s fun to get out and play occasionally. Perhaps you and I could do it sometimes?’
‘Nothing, and I mean nothing, would make me happier.’
Pat put his arm companionably around the shoulders of the lad he now thought of as his foster son, and they walked together along the Brompton Road back to the hotel.
In the room, they stripped off their clothes, and both pulled on pairs of shorts. Pat got into the bed, and John took a blanket from the cupboard and lay down on the floor. Pat called out
‘What’re you doing, soldier? There’s plenty of room here.’
John was torn; if he insisted on staying on the floor, he would have to explain the reason to Pat; there was no cogent explanation other than the truth, and there was no way he could tell Pat that his foster dad made him randy as all hell! So he got up and pulled back the covers of the bed, staying as far away from Pat as possible. But as soon as the lights were out, Pat’s arm reached out and pulled John towards him in the bed, until the lad’s bare back was held tight against his own bare chest.
John knew that there was nothing sexual in it; he could feel the silky front of Pat’s nylon shorts against his own nylon-clad backside, and knew that there was no erection there; it was the pure spontaneous physical affection that was typical of the man. John himself, on the other hand was massively erect, and so, all his muscles tense with arousal, he resigned himself to an uncomfortable night.
Pat could feel the tension. ‘Are you thinking about this morning again, John?’
‘Mm,’ John lied.
‘Poor lad. I suppose it’s inevitable, soldier. Try and relax; we’ll say the rosary together and see if that sends you off. We can count on our fingers.’
Relaxing and praying were the last things that John was able to do, but he said the words, and they had hardly completed two decades, when he succumbed to sleep, safe in Pat’s arms.
The funeral was a much larger affair than John’s mother’s had been. There were many of his father’s business colleagues and workers. John cried a little, but he was more worried about the future than grieving for his loss. After the ceremony, all these strangers returned to the house where John had grown up, where Bernadette, now heavily pregnant, had with a few of her friends arranged a reception. John’s mind was in a whirl as all these strangers introduced themselves to him; many said they were his father’s friends. In particular, at Pat’s prompting, John took the opportunity to speak his father’s solicitor, who turned out to have been at Whitefriars School with Terence. He gave John a card and arranged to see him in a couple of days’ time. When it was all over, the last guest had gone, and the last glass and plate washed up, Pat found the water main and the electricity meter, and turned everything off. John put his few belongings into a couple of cases, pride of place going to his Arthur Ransome books, then went around the house taking a souvenir or two, finally locking all the doors and windows. He went home, ‘really home’ with Pat and Bernadette, and never returned to his childhood home again.
The next day he worried about how he was going to get to the solicitors.
‘I’ll take you, of course’ said Pat. ‘It’s a good job that we’re in the summer holidays. I couldn’t expect you to face that on your own.’
‘Pat, I say it again. I really don’t know what I would have done without you and Bernie. You’ve been a real good Samaritan to me. How can I ever repay you?’
‘Good Samaritan, eh? Well, think how that parable ends. Can you remember?’
John found his Bible, and after a little searching, found the passage.
‘It says “Go thou and do likewise.”’
John had expected the solicitor to be intimidating, but in the event he couldn’t have been friendlier. He sent for some coffee for Pat and himself, and a Coke for John, which was very welcome. The little domestic kindnesses set John at his ease, and he warmed to the man.
‘Now, John’ the solicitor began ‘your father’s will is pretty complicated, but that’s my problem, not yours. The part that concerns you is quite simple. The oversight of all your affairs has been left in my hands until you reach your eighteenth birthday. I suppose this is only a formality, because you will be eighteen in, what, six weeks? Now, as to where you are to live, I assume that you would like to live with Mr Henry here and his family?’
John nodded vigorously.
‘And, Mr Henry, am I to assume that this would be in order with you and your wife?’
‘Oh yes, definitely.’
‘Good; well then, I am happy to endorse that arrangement; where you were to live, John, had been concerning me, thinking you might have had to live alone. So, you will make that your home at least until your eighteenth birthday, in six weeks’ time. I will arrange for suitable funds to be transferred to Mr Henry’s account, if you will kindly give me the details, for your upkeep.’
‘That’s not necessary’ put in Pat.
‘Mr Henry, John can well afford it, as I will now relate. Now, John, in the will, your father’s house, all its contents, the car and so forth, come directly to you. So does the valuable company known as Scott Construction and Haulage, which I will administer during the next six weeks, and then, when you reach eighteen, you can tell me what you want done with it. There is a large sum of money tied up in investments of various sorts, which I will also continue to manage; again you can tell me in six weeks whether you want me to continue doing that after your birthday. Finally, your liquid assets amount to about twenty two…
‘Money in a bank that can be used right away, John. Though I will also control that…’
‘…I know,’ said John with a smile, ‘for the next six weeks.’
The solicitor, liking John, smiled back. ‘Quite so.’
‘So’ Pat clarified, ‘John has the house, its contents, the car and so forth, some investments, and twenty two thousand pounds in the bank. I suppose that’s more or less what I expected. What, roughly, are the investments worth? I imagine that’s where the bulk of the money is.’
‘Dear me, no, Mr Henry. Not twenty two thousand pounds, but twenty two million pounds. And the investments are worth about another forty to fifty million. As I said, John can easily afford to pay you the cost of his keep, several times over.’
Both John and Pat were struck suddenly dumb. Finally, John spoke,
‘I had not the slightest idea we were so well off. We were always economizing at home.’
‘Being careful about money is the way you become rich, John. Now, I’ve set up a bank account in your name, and transferred into it the sum of five thousand pounds. I think that somehow should see you comfortably through the next six weeks!’
The phone on the solicitor’s desk rang then, and he answered it. He handed the receiver to Pat.
‘It’s for you, Mr Henry; it’s your wife.’
Pat almost snatched the phone.
‘Bernie; what’s wrong?’
John could hear the buzzing of Bernadette’s voice on the other end, but could not make out a word. Pat tensed, and said
‘We’ll be right home, love, as quick as we can.’
John panicked, all thought of his new riches driven out of his head. ‘What’s wrong, Pat?’
‘Nothing at all, John,’ he grinned. ‘Baby’s on the way.’
Half an hour later, baby Brendan John Henry was born on the stairs in the house; the labour was so swift that there was not even time to get Bernadette to hospital. In fact, Brendan was delivered into Pat’s own hands before the midwife arrived, John assisting in wonder. When it was all over, Pat took his youngest son and laid him in John’s arms while he went to comfort his exhausted and rather shocked wife, still lying on the stairs. John looked down at the ugly little creature yelling his distress, and clutched the bloodied and wrinkled little body to his white-shirted chest, crooning gently and weeping copious tears of joy and wonder.
The bloodied carpet had to be replaced, but this was, in Pat’s words, not even worth taking into account compared with the joy of the new baby. Three weeks later, Brendan was baptized in St Teresa’s church, and John was the proud godfather.
John’s eighteenth birthday was a wonderful celebration, though it was on a small scale. The only participants were the Henry household, but it was the best birthday that John could ever remember; in some ways the first one that had really made him feel special. Pat and Bernie had made it clear to everyone that John was now an adult; they had, for instance, given him wine to drink with the meal, which Bernadette had never permitted before, though Pat had not been above slipping him a drink from time to time. When the meal was over, and the dishwasher had been loaded up, Pat sat late with John, both sipping brandy, and chatting like old friends.
That night there was a terrific thunderstorm. When eventually John went up, more than a little tipsy, to bed, he found Conor awake with the light on, and petrified with fear. It suprised John to see Conor like that, for he was always a cheerful, happy-go-lucky boy. John undressed quickly and changed into his shorts, rushing to the bathroom to brush his teeth as quickly as possible so as not to leave Conor alone for long. He rushed back, pulled the covers right off the bed, because the hotness and stickiness of the air was still unmitigated by the storm, then jumped onto the bed, switching off the light as he did so. There was a little squeak of terror from Conor, which made John smile to himself, and he turned over to go to sleep.
There was a terrific crash of lightning, followed immediately by an enormous clap of thunder. Conor squeaked again and called out:
‘John, John, are you awake?’
‘What?’ John was a little irritated.
‘Can I get into bed with you?’
‘Well, would you get into bed with me?’
But it was all too much for Conor, who on the next stroke of lightning hopped out of his bed and onto John’s in a couple of seconds. John hadn’t the heart to push him off, but was alarmed to feel the boy’s smooth chest against his back. Conor had started to imitate him by wearing shorts in bed. He could feel the flutter of his terrified heart and the rapid sobbing motion of breath against his neck; John suspected that the lad had been crying, and this was confirmed when he felt moisture between his shoulder blades.
John, repenting his hardness of heart, turned over to face Conor, and put his arm around him. Conor breathed more easily and snuggled into John’s embrace. Neither of them could sleep, however, Conor because of the thunderstorm, and John because he was finding the boy’s presence more than a little stimulating. As soon as he could discreetly do so, he tucked his erect penis up under the waistband of his shorts; it was rather uncomfortable that way, but Conor was less likely to detect his excitement than if it were poking him directly in the thigh.
John had to admit that even apart from the erotic sensations he liked having Conor in bed with him; he smelt fresh and clean, though his skin was damp from perspiration in the humid night and from worry, and his hard little outdoors body already showed that he was going to be a man very like his father when he grew older. There was also a natural affection between Conor and John; Conor had always wished he had an older brother; he was not a natural leader and the responsibilities of being the oldest in the family sat uneasily on him. He had begun to idolize John and imitate him in all sorts of waysJohn found this by turns amusing, irritating and touchingsomehow, again as with Conor's father, John’s rather un-sporty nature didn’t seem to be an issue. Conor just frankly and simply gave his love unconditionally. And John realised all of a sudden that he returned that love. He would have loved to have kissed the boy’s forehead, but thought that he had better not risk it.
After fifteen minutes or so, the thunderstorm passed away into the distance, but John could tell by the sound of shallow breathing that Conor was still awake and thinking. After a while, Conor spoke.
‘This is nice.’
‘Being here with you. I wish we’d done it before.’
‘Mm’ said John again, noncommittally.
‘Have you done this before?’
‘Shared a bed with someone.’
‘With whom, you mean. I was with your dad; it was the night my dad died.’
‘Oh. Did your willy get hard then?’
‘My willy gets hard all the time. When I think about things I like, and even when I rub it. It’s hard now, and I didn’t even have to rub it.’
There was not the least hint of sexuality in what Conor was saying; he was just being matter-of-fact and frank in his usual way. No doubt his father was like that at eleven, too. But it was having a most unfortunate effect on John, whose penis hardened further and sprang forth from the imprisoning elastic back down into the shorts and was therefore unmissable in the dim light that came in through the cracks in the curtains. He bitterly regretted having thrown off the bed covers.
‘Ohhhh’ said Conor, reaching down and grabbing it through the nylon. ‘Its huge!’
‘Well, about average for my age’ said John without thinking. He grew suddenly alarmed; nobody had ever touched him there before. ‘Look, Conor, that isn’t the sort of thing that guys do to each other. Leave it alone please; leave it alone!’
‘Why?’ Conor was now fascinated, and was drawing John’s cock out of the leg of his shorts. ‘Wow! Will mine be like that when I’m your age?’
‘I expect so. Your dad’s is a good size.’ John really was not thinking. The brandy had loosened his tongue alarmingly.
‘Wow’ Conor said again. ‘I’ve never seen his. I’ll ask him tomorrow.’
Oh fuck! thought John to himself. The kid probably would do just exactly that, and then God knows what would happen.
Conor was still inspecting John’s hard-on, and it felt wonderful. John, rather unconvincingly said
‘Look, I said leave it alone.’
‘Why don’t you stop me? Does it feel better than rubbing it yourself?’
‘Yeah, a lot.’ John admitted.
‘Would you rub mine, then?’
‘Oh, oh, oh!’
Suddenly the friction of Conor’s fingers was too much.
‘Oh shit! Here it comes,’ swore John, and ropes of semen shot out from his penis all over Conor, who was simply flabbergasted. He knew, as every British child knows, all the basic facts of life in theory, but nothing had prepared him for the reality of male orgasm. When John recovered, he could see in the dim light that Conor’s eyes were huge and his mouth a sort of large O.
For once, the boy was speechless. John found it almost funny.
‘Are you all right, Conor?’
‘Was… was that… was that supposed to happen?’
John decided that frankness was probably the best solution. The more answers John gave him now, the fewer he would seek from his father in the morning.
‘Yes; it’ll happen to you one day.’
‘What is is?’
‘It’s semen, sometimes guys call it spunk. It contains the seed for making babies.’
‘Wow! Did I make it happen?’
‘Sort of. Your rubbing caused it to trigger; the penis is very sensitive, as I suppose you know. Look, let’s get us both clean; this stuff gets very sticky and horrid. We can’t have a shower, or we’ll wake everyone.’
In the end John cleaned Conor down with his discarded boxer shorts, and then did the same for himself. Not very efficient, but it would have to do until the morning.
Conor, by now sleepy, went back to his own bed, and fell asleep within a few seconds, as was his way.
John lay awake for an hour or more, thinking about how wonderful Conor had felt beside him, and how that orgasm had been the best of his life.
The following day, when they awoke, John started worrying almost immediately. Last night he had been tipsy, but now he was stone-cold sober and far more scared by what had happened than Conor had been by the thunder. The first thing to do was to make sure Conor would say nothing to anybody about this. He shook the lad awake; waking him could sometimes be difficult, but once awake, Conor was always fully alive and running at top speed within seconds.
It took some doing, but finally John managed to make Conor understand that he must say nothing to anybody of what had gone on the night before, and that he would understand why when he was John’s age. Conor started to feel guilty that he had done something very naughty; he was an open, truthful boy, and always told his parents everything. It distressed him that he couldn’t do so in this case, and John felt even more guilty, as if he were compounding his own sin. He knew that Conor had been entirely innocent in the whole matter, but the consequences of telling Pat could be horrible, and he wanted to think it all out.
So, when the family left later for an outing to Morecombe Bay, John declined to join them. Pat and Bernadette were suprisedJohn had been looking forward to the tripbut John said truthfully enough that he had some things to sort out, and so he was left with the house to himself.
He needed to get out, so he went to where his father’snow his owncar was parked; a nearly new Volkswagen Golf. A nice car, but scarcely normal for a CEO. He took off out of town, and drove up onto the moors, forgetting his troubles, ecstatic with the sense of freedom that overwhelmed him. He travelled for about thirty miles until he came to a spot high in the hills with a stupendous view all around. He parked the car and got out, the wind pulling at his hair and threatening to blow his glasses away all the way to Ireland.
There was just one other car present; it belonged to a small family with a boy, about Conor’s age, who was playing happily with a kite in the stiff wind. The boy’s father hung onto the string, too, to prevent the lad being pulled off his feet. The little domestic scene touched John and, as the family packed up and got into the car to go home, John found his mind turning to Conor and that incident last night. To his horror, he began to get hard in his trousers.
‘He’s only a child!’ John hissed aloud, suddenly realizing what this was all about.
He got back into his car, and started to cry with fear. He had heard lots about men who had sex with children, and none of it was good.
‘Am I a pædophile?’
John’s eyes dried; it was too horrible to contemplate. He started the engine, and drove rapidly to St Thomas More’s School; he needed to speak to the chaplain, needed to go to confession, needed to… oh, too many things.
The chaplain was not there. But the headmaster saw him ringing at the priest’s house, and came to help.
‘Hello, Scott. Not had enough school then? I’m not sure we can find any teachers to set you some work; they’re all on holiday too.’
‘Isn’t this where Father Trevor lives, sir?’
‘Er, no, lad. He… er… is isn’t around now.’
‘I really need to talk to him.’
‘That would be difficult, John.’ The headmaster’s voice grew quiet. ‘I don’t think he’ll be coming back to St Thomas’s.’
‘Oh no! What’s happened? Where is he?’
‘I’m afraid he’s in prison.’ The head spoke bitterly.
‘Why? He’s a nice man!’
‘Too nice, it seems. Look Scott, er… John, I suppose you’re old enough to know the truth; everyone will know in a day or so anyway. Fr Trevor, it seems, was too over-fond of patting boy’s bottoms, and one too many parents reported him to the police.’
‘Patting bottoms doesn’t sound very serious.’
‘No, it doesn’t, does it? But it counts as sexual assault, and if the person involved is a minor, it counts as pædophilia, a most serious charge. The law does not distinguish between patting a bottom and violent anal rape in these cases. No doubt if he were not a priest, he would simply get some community service as a sentence, but just at the moment, simply to be a Catholic priest is to be seen as being automatically guilty of multiple infant rapes. Look, John, are you all right, lad? You’ve gone all white.’
‘Oh my God, oh my God! I’m really sorry, sir, I’ve got to go.’
And before the head could enquire any further, John had sprinted off to his car.
It was now mid-afternoon, and John was shaking with fear. If merely patting a bottom could land you in prison, what about what he had done with Conor the night before? He couldn’t risk another night in the Henry household… He would have to be ruthless, absolutely ruthless. He was eighteen now; he could make his own rules, live life the way he needed to in order to protect…
In twenty minutes, he had formed a sort of plan. It was extremely drastic, but it would have to do. Calmer now, he drove himself to the solicitors, and asked to see the kindly man who had dealt with his affairs. Fortunately, he was available. Over the next hour, by dint of some serious shouting at the solicitor, who was most reluctant to co-operate in what he thought was a hare-brained scheme, he got his way. His family home would be sold, with all its contents. So would his father’s construction company. The solicitor was to see to both these things. He was not going to back to school, nor to the Henrys. The solicitor was instructed to arrange for a large sum of money to be paid each month into the Henrys bank account, and if asked, to confirm that it was from John, out of love, but he was not to disclose John’s whereabouts to them, or to anyone else, without consulting John first. Finally, John directed that a generous sum of money was to be paid into his own bank account regularly, to enable him to live.
The solicitor was white and very tight-lipped. He had no idea what lay behind this adolescent tantrum, but John would hear no objections to what he wanted, would not listen to reason. The boy was being unbelievably rash. Of course he did not know the blind panic which lay behind what John wanted. Finally John said firmly
‘Look, stop arguing, just do it. I hate to say this, but that is what you are paid to do.’
He had never spoken to anyone like that in his life before.
‘Very well, Mr Scott,’ said the solicitor coldly. He no longer called him John. ‘But if you wish me to continue to manage your affairs, your stocks and shares and so forth, then you will need to let me, at least, know where to get hold of you.’
‘I don’t know where that will be, yet. I haven’t even thought about it. I’ll write to you when I’ve settled somewhere.’
‘Will it be in this country?’
‘Yes, I don’t have a passport yet.’
‘Very well, Mr Scott. I think that concludes our business. Please excuse me; you’ve given me a lot of work to do. My secretary will see you out.’
The solicitor did not even shake hands, but bent down over his desk in disgust.
John hated having to bully the kindly solicitor, and there was a worse task ahead of him, but he muttered to himself
‘Ruthlessness, absolute ruthlessness!’
The Henrys were still at Morecambe Bay when John returned to the house, and were likely to be so for another couple of hours. So John grabbed three black plastic rubbish sacks and piled all his belongings into them. Into his school bag he put all his beloved Swallows and Amazons books, then, on an inspiration, he took them out again and laid them on Conor’s bed. That gave him an idea, and he sprinted to the nearby shops and bought gifts for all the family, which he left on each of their beds.
Then finally he sat down at the kitchen table and wrote the most difficult letter of his life.
Dear Pat, Bernie, Conor, Seán, Siobhán, Aisling, Rory and Brendan.
By the time you read this, I will have been long gone. This is truly terrible for me, and I can only pray that you will one day forgive me and understand why it was necessary, but I can’t tell you now. All I can tell you is that I am going because I love you all so very very much; you rescued me when my life was dark and bitter, and saved me from goodness knows what fate. And that is why I can’t stay now. I have discovered things about myself that truly frighten me; I need to get away to be Dr Jekyll, so that the Mr Hyde that lurks within me may never hurt those whom I love so very dearly.
I can’t tell you where I am going, because I don’t know myself yet. But it will be a long way away.
I will pray for you every day, and have also arranged for money to be sent to you every month. I know you won’t want it, but I can’t think of any other way to show you that I haven’t stopped loving you all.
Again, my love, forever.
He sealed it, and left it propped against an empty milk bottle on the kitchen table, then threw his bags in the car, started the engine, and, crying, drove away into the late afternoon, to begin his new life.