A Younger Orogeny

by Mihangel




This story was first hosted by It's Only Me from Across the Sea, and is copyright 2002 by Mihangel. If you copy it, please leave the credits and the web address of http://iomfats.org present, and also my email address of mihangel@iomfats.org. Feedback is very welcome.

A draft has been read by RAL and by Grasshopper, and I am deeply grateful for their comments. Jack Rowan has kindly vetted the procedure in the cathedral choir. Geologists will find that I have taken a liberty or two when talking about orogeny, for which I apologise, but not very hard.

Some may find this tale larger than life. If so, it is deliberately so. When one has a message to put across, it can be more effective that way.





He was pretty sharp, was Dad, and we were close, close in a way perhaps only a single parent and a single child can be. He understood me as well as I did myself, or better. He trusted me, and I knew it. As far back as I could remember, he’d talked about things that really mattered. Not obsessively, but as they cropped up. Not preaching, but dropping hints from his store of wisdom. About one’s responsibilities as a member of society, to oneself and to others. About emotions, and love, and sex, at increasing depth as my comprehension grew. Here he never probed. He just gave advice, and let me know that his ear was there should I need it. I never responded much, not because I was embarrassed but because I’d experienced nothing of what he was talking about, or nothing directly. I simply stowed away what he said in the lumber room of my mind.

Until, that was, last April, when I broached the subject myself because I was getting worried. There I was, just turned seventeen, realising at last how much I differed from my friends at my all-boys school. Most of them spent most of their holidays socialising at clubs and raucous parties, awash in pop music, in some cases bedding their girls, in one case bedding his boy. They spent much of the term reliving it all.

That wasn’t my scene. I was quiet by nature, happy with my own company. My holidays I passed with Dad. Or by myself, listening to my music: classical music, especially baroque. Or playing it or singing it, mostly with older people. I did go to parties, occasionally quite rowdy ones, but they had a different agenda from my school friends’ parties. During term, I got on well enough with my contemporaries. We were thrown together willy-nilly and for the most part we shared no interests, but we respected each other’s qualities. The authorities saw fit to give me responsible jobs. I spent most of my spare time on music and acting, and whenever I wanted I could talk shop with other musicians and actors, staff and pupils alike. In this respect, I was content enough.

Yet I had this problem. What I told Dad at Easter was that I liked my friends, at home and at school, some of them very much. But never anything more than that. I’d met plenty of girls in the holidays, but none had turned me on. Nor had any boy. I’d never lusted for either. I had no preference for either. I wasn’t a prude, mind you. No way. My sense of humour was earthy. I listened to racy talk with interest, even envy. In swapping dirty jokes or playing with bawdy words I could more than hold my own, and enjoyed it. But it was all detached and theoretical. The only time that sex of any practical sort entered my mind was when I jerked off. Yet was even that sexual? I did it purely for the physical pleasure and, believe it or not, neither girls nor boys – nor men nor women – entered my fantasies. And all that, as I listened to my mates’ explicit prattle, made me feel an asexual freak. It began to worry me silly. But I told not a soul about it, until Easter.

Dad listened quietly. When I’d finished, he said, "Joe. I see why you’re worried. Compared to you they’re brash, they’re shallow, they wear their hearts on their sleeves, they expect everyone else to be like them. You’re under peer pressure, as the psychologists would say. But you’re too wise to imitate them, thank God. I’m not saying they’re wrong. Just different from you. That’s the point. Don’t think of yourself as different from them. Think of them as different from you. Much more positive. Because you’re not abnormal. You’re quiet and gentle, you care, you think, you don’t do things in a hurry. There aren’t so many of you around as there are of them, and not so obvious. But there are still plenty of you. You’re not alone. You know that.

"And don’t worry about sexual feelings coming late. It’s like physical development coming late. It’s not in your control. You can’t hurry it. Up to a point, I reckon the later one’s sexuality awakens the better. When it does come, it’ll be maturer. Same goes for love. But a word of warning. If you’re not looking for it, love can come down out of the blue and knock you extra hard for six. And your sexuality, if it’s lagging behind, may struggle to catch up with the demands of love. But one day you will find your sexuality. It may be straight, it may be gay, it doesn’t matter, so long as you get it right. And one day, I hope, you’ll find love. It may be a girl, it may be a boy, I don’t give a damn as long as it’s the right one. It may be tomorrow, more likely it’ll be years ahead. So don’t be worried. Not yet. I’m not."

He reassured me, and the summer term was easier.






It all started, as so many of these stories do, with the new kid next door. I was drinking coffee and getting ready to face a sunny Saturday in late July. From the CD of the Messiah, the bass was informing me – and a glorious omen it turned out to be – that the people that walked in darkness had seen a great light. Suddenly he was joined by another low-pitched rumble, and a glance out of the window showed that our quiet and neatly-trimmed suburban street was being invaded by a monstrous removal van and a more modest carpet-fitters’ van. Number 34 was about to be empty no longer. I went round to see if I could help. Partly out of curiosity, I admit, and partly because our street was a friendly community which took a genuine interest in its neighbours.

A woman was coming out of the front door. A striking woman, with a flaming mass of dark-carrot-coloured hair. In her late thirties, I guessed, with a capable but worried-looking face. "Hullo," I said, "I’m Joe Atkinson, from next door. Would an extra pair of hands be any use? I’m at a loose end today."

"Joe Atkinson!" She inspected me closely, and seemed satisfied. "That’s very kind of you, Joe. Well, if you’re sure, it really would be a help. I’m Sue, by the way. Sue Clayton, but please call me Sue." She dodged two removal men trundling a washing machine on a trolley. "There’s only Luke and me at the receiving end. Our priority’s the furniture and house stuff, and we’ve got to concentrate on that. So have the men. But there’s masses of small things for the garage – garden things, and the mower, and tools, and paint pots, and whatever – the men will show you where they are. Could you take them in and put them in some sort of order? There are plenty of hooks and shelves in there."

"No problem, I can manage that."

"Bless you, Joe. For this relief much thanks!"

A literary lady, it seemed, if she quoted Hamlet to strangers. And I could cap her quote. "Well, at least it’s not bitter cold, and I hope you’re not sick at heart!"

She gave me an odd look. Appreciative of my reply, yes, but also wary of it. She couldn’t be cold, not today. So perhaps she was sick at heart. But not much I could do about it, on so short an acquaintance..

My job was straightforward, and I set about it happily. I assumed Luke to be her husband or partner. But on my third trip in from the van, as I struggled with an unwieldy armful of gardening tools, I almost bumped into a boy of maybe twelve, small and slight. He was very obviously his mother’s son, with an arresting face not unlike Sue’s, a curly thatch of hair of an even brighter red, and eyes large and grey. He struck a faint and distant chord in my memory, and I found myself staring.

"Hi?" he said, in a treble voice with a question in it.

"Hi to you. I’m Joe, from next door. You must be Luke."

"S’right. How did you know? My flashing eyes, my floating hair?"

Good grief, an infant prodigy who knew his Kubla Khan. I laughed. "What else? I’ll weave a circle round you thrice, and close my eyes in holy dread. But not till I’ve dumped these things."

The grey eyes lit up. "So you know it too! But how did you know my name?"

"Actually, your mum mentioned it."

At that point a rake slid out of my grasp. "Did she rake you in to help? Haha – pun was intended." He grinned a cheery grin.

"Very clever. No. I’m a volunteer, not a conscript." I grinned back, hugging my burden tighter, so that a broom handle flipped in and hit me hard on the forehead. "Oh, bugger it! Sorry, pardon my French."


"Why what?"

"Why apologise?"

"Well, shouldn’t use, um, naughty words to strange boys."

"Strange, am I? Hmmmm. Not sure I like the implication. Anyway, I use, um, naughty words like that all the time." He was grinning provocatively now. "Well, in the right company."

"So I’m the right company, then? How can you tell, so soon?"

He paused, looking at me speculatively. "Obvious at first glance that you’re OK. But I think it’s more than that."

"What d’you mean?"

He evaded the question. "I’m going to like it here, with you … next door. Already better than our last place."

He picked up the rake, but so clumsily that the head swung in and the prongs hit him on the shin. "Oh, bugger it! Sorry, pardon my French."

I laughed out loud at his cheek, which caused a spade to escape my grip and clatter to the ground. "Dammit. I’d better take these in while there are still some left."

He picked up the spade as well, and followed me into the garage. As I unloaded my armful he gave me another long appraising stare which ended in a smile of what looked like relief. "Yes, I’m sure that’s right."

"What is?"

"That you fit. But there’s a long way to go. You don’t even know yet that two halves make a whole."

Though I didn’t understand him, he seemed to be getting at me. "Bollocks!" I retorted. What was I doing? I might use words like that to my contemporaries, but never to boys his age. I did have some sense of responsibility.

"Exactly what I mean," he said mysteriously. "See you later, alligator," and off he scampered. A likeable lad, I thought as I gazed after him, but strange indeed. He’d left me disconcerted three times over. I felt I’d seen him before, but couldn’t pin the memory down. Then he talked allusions, which I ought to be able to pick up but couldn’t. And I had this nebulous and wholly unaccountable feeling that someone important had just swum into my life.

After brooding for a moment, I shrugged the puzzles aside. There was work to do. Three trips later I met Dad coming up the road laden with shopping bags, and I put him in the picture. "Good work, Joe. Quite right. Look, it’s coffee time. I think I’m best employed in feeding the army, don’t you? I’ll dump this stuff and put the kettle on, and bring things round here. Coffee, tea or OJ. Will you take orders?"

I did. Sue was grateful. "Just what we all need. Thanks a lot, Joe."

"Including us, Dad, five teas, three coffees and an OJ," I reported through our kitchen window.

"Five, three, one. Righty ho. Here, take these biscuits back with you."

A few minutes later he came round with a large tray, and I made the introductions. "Sue and Luke Clayton. This is my dad."

"Colin Atkinson. Welcome to Sherwood Drive." They shook hands, and drinks and biscuits were distributed. The other men retired with theirs to their vans, no doubt for a smoke, Sue and Dad commandeered a couple of chairs that were loitering on the front path, and Luke and I collapsed on the unkempt lawn.

Our small-talk roamed around the neighbourhood, the local shops, the previous occupants. The Claytons said little about themselves, except that they’d come from south London and had made a killing on their former house. "I can’t believe how cheap houses are up here, compared," said Sue. "The difference has made my bank manager smile for once. Well, we’d better be getting on. Thanks a lot, Colin. Dunno about Luke, but that’s saved my life."

"You’re welcome. But that’s only starters. I’m manning the cafeteria today. Drinks whenever you want them. Bit of lunch in a couple of hours? Easiest at our place. And an evening meal. All included." Dad never did things by halves. "No, no protests. I remember the pains of moving, all too well. The troops have to be sustained, but the last thing you can be bothered with is cooking, or remembering where the crate of crockery went."

"But, Colin, we can’t impose that much on new neighbours."

"You’re not imposing," I stuck my oar in. "We’re insisting. We’ve been here longer than anyone else in the street. Oldest inhabitants have the privilege of insisting." Sue gave way gracefully and, one could tell, gratefully. "We’re not accustomed to such kindness," she said. And again I caught Luke’s considering gaze on me.

From time to time Dad lent a hand too, and by one o’clock things were progressing well. We had an al fresco bread-and-cheese-and-fruit lunch in our garden, Dad and I with a can of Boddy’s apiece while the Claytons plumped for OJ. But Luke eyed my glass. "We don’t have beer at home. May I have a sip?"

"Go ahead."

He took a gulp, not a sip, wrinkled his nose, suppressed a burp, and took another swig. "Thanks. Interesting. Watch out. I might become addicted."

"Have a can of your own," suggested Dad, raising an eyebrow at Sue, who merely smiled.

"No thanks, Mr Atkinson …"

"Oy, no. Call me Colin."

"Oh. Right. No thanks, Colin. I’d better stick to OJ. Today, anyway." And the polite but faintly conspiratorial smile he gave Dad pinned down my elusive memory. A few months back I’d seen him giving that same smile, at lunch, to my housemaster, though beer would not have been the subject then.

"Hey, Luke, I was sure I’d seen you before, but couldn’t remember where. It’s been puzzling me all morning. I’ve got it now. It was at Elliott’s, last May. You must’ve been taking the scholarship exam. Right?"

"Oh my gawd! You’re at Yarborough? And in Elliott’s? That’s totally weird!" He was gaping in astonishment and obvious delight.

"Yup. And did you get your scholarship?"

"Course." He said it matter-of-factly, not with arrogance.

"Well done. So you’re going in September? You’re thirteen, then?" He hardly looked it.

"S’right. How old are you?"


"So you’ll be starting your last year? At the top of the house?"

"Yup. For my sins, house captain. And captain of the school. You’d better watch out!"

"Wow! And you’re good at games too?"

"Well, I’m in the cricket eleven and the rugger fifteen."

He smiled as if he’d been proved right in something. Dad and Sue were smiling too, in surprise, amusement, and maybe pride in offspring. They fell to swapping tales of other extraordinary coincidences that had come their way, while Luke, his bread and cheese and Branston forgotten, plied me questions about school. Intelligent questions, too. Not superficial ones like getting-up and going-to-bed times, or how much prep one got, but the questions of someone who thought. I answered as honestly as I could, though I probably sounded a bit like the publicity bumph.

"How much does your, er, standing depend on how good you are at games?"

"Oh, only moderately – academic and artistic types get proper respect too So do ordinary blokes with no special talents. It’s reasonably egalitarian."

"Is there anything against younger boys talking to older ones?"

"Oh no. Though you’re inevitably thrown together with boys of your own age, specially in class and at meals."

"So the place isn’t full of silly rules and restrictions?"

"No, we’re pretty liberal and tolerant. We try to rule with a light hand – the staff and prefects, I mean – and we encourage people to do their own thing."

"It’s a happy place, then?

"Oh yes. I can’t say there aren’t any disruptive types – there always are a few – but on the whole people get on very well with each other."

"So it’s a, um, civilised place?"

"Yes, that sums it up very well."

Luke seemed relieved. "Good. Very good. I’m looking forward to it now." Sue chipped in with more queries, this time about clothes and suchlike practical matters. Then she declared it time to get back to work.

"What nice people," remarked Dad as we washed up. "Much nicer than the Fittons" (their grumpy and unsociable predecessors). "And how extraordinary that Luke’s going to Elliott’s. He seems a very competent lad. And how handy, come to think of it. Perhaps we can share transport."

I went back next door with Dad, who’d volunteered to mow the grass. As I finished the garage, the last boxes were coming in from the van, and Sue put me to work with Luke distributing kitchen equipment to appropriate shelves and cupboards. His method impressed me: he was decisive, neat and efficient, and he didn’t talk in riddles as he had in the morning. He was quiet, as if thinking hard, and I caught him stealing occasional glances at me.

The kitchen done, we went to work on his bedroom, heaving furniture into the right place, making up his bed, and dealing with his clothes. Modest in quality and quantity, and no sports gear. I unpacked, he stowed away. Then came his computer. We set it up on the desk, plugged it in, and set things rolling. Once we’d sorted out a few problems with btinternet, everything worked fine. He breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness for that. Couldn’t live without it."

"You use the net a lot, then?" I asked.

"Yes. Not for emails, much. Don’t know anyone, hardly. But I use the web a lot."

"You can go where you like, then? Your mum hasn’t put, um, a nanny guard on?"

"Lord, no. I go to … all sorts of sites."

"Well." I responded to his implication, not his words. "You’ll find things different at school, you know. All kinds of blocks there. It’s one area where they are restrictive – suppose they have to be, but they’ve got dirty minds. Last term for a Shakespeare essay I asked Google about Coriolanus. No hits. I asked about textual analysis. No hits."

"Oh, I see." He giggled. "Anus and anal. How petty. It’s going to take me a while to get used to school and routine and other boys again."

That sounded a bit odd. "Again?"

"Oh, I haven’t been to school for three years, and even then it was only a local primary. Rather different from Yarborough."

"What’ve you been doing the last three years, then?"

"Oh, Mum’s been teaching me at home." His tone discouraged further questions. "And of course I haven’t done any games. I’ve never played rugger, or cricket. It’s going to be … interesting, picking them up from scratch."

"Well, I can fill you in on the rudiments over the holidays, if you like."

His eyes lit up again. "Cool, I’d like that. Thanks."

"No problem. So you’ve never lived away from home, then? Yes, it will be a major change of lifestyle. Does the prospect scare you?"

"It did, rather. Not much, now. Just hope the other new boys are OK with me. It’ll be a challenge, but I’ll cope."

"You will. Don’t worry about that. And I’ve got to confer with Glad soon about who shares rooms with who, and I’ll make sure we find somebody suitably laid-back for you."

"Who’s Glad?"

"Why, Mr Bear, the housemaster. But don’t go calling him that to his face."

"But why Glad?"

"Short for Gladly. Get it?"

"Um. No."

"Well, he’s got a bit of a squint, didn’t you notice?"

"Oh I see! ‘Gladly the cross I’d bear’! That’s funny!"

"Well, we have a lot of fun. As I said, we’re really quite civilised."

"Bound to be, with you in charge."

Ho! Compliments! Touch of hero-worship? I wasn’t too happy with that. But, possibly feeling he’d gone too far, Luke dropped the subject. "Hey, we’re getting on well. There’s only books left to unpack. And CDs. Where’ve they gone? Oh, they’re still on the landing." He went out to collect them.

I opened a cardboard box full of books, and there on top was a collection of unexpected reading for a thirteen-year-old. Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy – OK, but impressive if he understood it, though it was supposedly a children’s book. But Forster’s Maurice? Angus Stewart’s Sandel? Plato’s Symposium? As Luke came back with his box of CDs I noticed my watch. "Lord, it’s half past six. Afraid I’ll have to leave you to it, Luke. I must grab a shower and give Dad a hand with the tea. You come round in an hour?"

"K. Thanks, Joe. For all your help. And for being here. I like you." For once, he sounded very young.

"And me you." It was no more than the truth. "See you soon."

Dad had things well under control, so I took my shower before laying the table and things. I was glad to see he’d had been generous with quantities, as I suspected Luke would have the appetite of a carthorse. Promptly at 7.30 they turned up, clean and shiny but obviously weary. I steered them past the smells emanating from the kitchen and into the living room for a drink.

"Just what we’re dying for," said Sue. "Joe, you’re an angel girt with golden wings." Milton this time, I suspected. "And Colin’s right. I couldn’t have faced cooking."

I offered her a sherry, which she accepted, and paused in front of Luke, asking an unspoken question. Luke looked expectant, and Sue nodded. "Lord, yes, he’s earned it. Not too much though – these glasses are whoppers. Matter of gradual education, isn’t it? Can’t have him under the table." Luke grinned happily. "What about you? D’you have free rein?"

"Oh yes." I poured one for him, one for myself, and one for Dad. "Dad trusts me not to go over the top. I only ever did once. At a party. Threw up, and was in hell next day. Best lesson possible. But I confess I sometimes pine for it at school. Scuse me, I’ll just take this to Dad."

But at that moment he came in, brandishing a spatula and glorious in his Wallace and Gromit apron. "Evening," he said, grabbing his glass and raising it in salutation. "God, I need this." He swigged half of it and dashed out again, complete with glass. "Five minutes, folks!"

It was a simple meal, but good. Chicken breasts in a spicy sauce, rice and salad, followed by cheese and fruit. Sue ate well, Luke (as I’d foreseen) even better. I lost count of how many times the wine went round, though Luke, after one glass, stuck to Coke.

"If you want," I told him, "I can lend you a hand with the rest of your room, or anything else, tomorrow afternoon. But not in the morning or evening, I’m afraid. Got to go and sing."

"Sing? Where?"

"Stow Cathedral. I’m in the choir."

"Woweee! Bass?" – I nodded – "D’you know, till last Sunday I was a treble in Southwark Cathedral choir."

"Well, I’m damned!" He must be good. "Look, d’you want to carry on singing? We’re desperately short of trebles. Thing is, it’s one of the least-known cathedrals in Britain, and Stow’s no more than a village. No choir school. And no girls, yet, though it might be forced on us. Fred – Dr Markham, he’s the choirmaster – would welcome you with open arms. We’re not a patch on the big cathedrals, of course, but we’re not bad, though I say so myself. And a friendly lot too. You’d be at home."

"But I’m not sure I’d be good enough."

"Hey, if you’re good enough for Southwark, you’re good enough for Stow."

"Cool!" He looked at Sue pleadingly, and she slowly nodded. "Great! Thanks, Mum. It’s something I thought I was going to miss out on. But it’s some way from here, isn’t it?"

"About fifteen miles."

"How d’you get there, then?"

"Oh, I drive," I said airily, but thought I’d better be honest. "I passed my test last week, by the skin of my teeth. Tell you what. Come to matins with me, listen in, and if you like the look and sound of us I’ll introduce you to Fred, and he’ll probably audition you on the spot. You could be in your cassock for evensong."

"No chance of joining for matins?"

"Well, I doubt there’d be time beforehand. No, wait. If you’re that keen – it’s Stanford in B flat and Palestrina’s Stabat mater tomorrow morning. Can you manage those?"

"On my head."

"Right then. I’ll give Fred a ring first thing and see if he can get in early. If he can, we’d better leave at, oh, say quarter to ten. OK?"

Luke glowed. "OK, Mum?" Sue nodded, smiling. "It’s a deal," he said. "Wheeee, thanks!"

We spent the rest of the meal comparing musical notes, and got on together like a house on fire. Our tastes coincided. And we both played as well as sang. I wasn’t at home long enough at a time for any serious music, but I played the trumpet in a local amateur baroque group, the Avison Consort, just for fun. Luke had been an oboist in a youth orchestra in London and was at Grade 7. And he was enthusiastic. The Consort would welcome him.

Over coffee they were yawning, and soon Sue made their apologies. "It’s been a long day," she said. "Thanks, Colin, Joe. You’ve been an absolute tower of strength, and we couldn’t have asked for a happier landing. But right now, I’m dead."

Yet she sent Luke ahead with the key and lingered for a minute. "Joe, I’m enormously grateful for the help you’re giving Luke. But please don’t feel you have to spend time on him. Four years is a big difference, at your age."

"Don’t worry about that, Sue. We’ve so much in common, in spite of the age gap. And I like him, very much. And I’m only too glad if I can help cushion the shock of his going to Yarborough. And his music needs encouraging."

"Yes, he is good. Though I didn’t hear him often enough when he was at Southwark. Joe, could I ask a favour? Could I cadge a lift with you tomorrow and hear him sing again? Assuming they’ll take him?"

"Not much doubt about that. Yes, of course, no problem. See you then. Good night."

"Thanks, Dad," I said as we cleared the table. "That was a great evening, and a great meal."

"And great revelations about young Luke."

"I like him a lot, already, Dad. I reckon there’s more to him than meets the eye."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, I reckon he’ll become a very useful member of society, at school. Can’t tell in what way, yet. But he’s got the intelligence and seems to have the confidence. Sue’s taught him at home for the last three years – did you know that? – yet he’s raring to get to Yarborough. Most boys who’d never been away from home would be scared stiff."

"True. But haven’t you noticed anything unusual about his attitude to you, Joe?"

"No. Well, I thought I spotted a touch of hero-worship at one point. But he doesn’t seem to go in awe of his house captain" – I grinned – "as most new boys would. That’s his confidence, presumably."

"That’s not quite what I meant either. You say you like him a lot, already. I reckon he likes you more than a lot, already. Look, Joe …" he paused, picking up the empty glasses with four fingers. "I’ve been watching Luke today. Yes, there may be hero-worship there, but I think it’s more than that. And I’ve been watching you too. With interest. Unless I’ve got completely the wrong end of the stick, you’ve been … almost making eyes at young Luke. I’ve never seen you do that before, to anyone. I get the impression that Sue’s noticed too, and is going tomorrow as a chaperone. So it crossed my mind to wonder if this might be what we were talking about last Easter. Yet you seem unaware of it. Search your soul, Joe."

Caught by surprise, I sat down again at the table to think. True, I’d had that strange sensation in their garage this morning, that inkling of the meeting of souls. But there hadn’t been a chance to analyse it. Were Luke and I really exchanging signals, which Dad had spotted but I was barely conscious of? Not impossible. As I’ve said, he was pretty sharp. Of course I remembered our conversation last April, about sexuality and love. But it had been general. Now that he’d raised the question again, with a specific gender and a specific name attached, it caught me on the hop. I hadn’t thought of Luke as an object of desire. Maybe I would have done before long, even without that prompting. But I hadn’t yet. In my inexperience, my lack of sexuality, had I simply failed to recognise the vibes coming from him and, even more blindly, vibes that I was instinctively radiating myself?

"Dad. I wasn’t aware of anything more than a liking, either way. Till you mentioned it. But now that you have, I begin see what you mean. I don’t know. I just don’t know. It’s too early to say. I’ll have to think about it. He may prove to be no more than a precocious brat." But it felt suspiciously like a betrayal, saying even that. Was it another symptom?

Then the thought of precocious brats made a connection in my brain. "Dad, wait. There was something, this morning. Luke said he liked me, and something mysterious like ‘But I think it’s more than that. You fit. But there’s a long way to go. You don’t even know yet that two halves make a whole.’ I didn’t understand him then. But this evening I saw that he’s got a copy of the Symposium. Isn’t there something similar in that?"

Dad’s eyes widened. "Precocious indeed. Yes, there most certainly is. About lovers originally being two halves of a whole, then being separated and searching for their other half again and, if they meet him or her, becoming whole once more. Yes, it does sound as if he’s got a crush on you already. Maybe more than that. Look, Joe. If it is a one-way crush which you don’t return, I suggest you play it sympathetically but firmly. Don’t encourage him. Distance yourself, if you have to.

"But if you find it’s two-way, that you – let’s be blunt – love him too, it’s a different ball-game altogether. If it was someone your own age, my advice would be to play it carefully. Take your time. First make sure you’ve got your sexuality properly sussed out. Then make sure that particular love is right. If it is, then away you go, and good luck to you.

"But with Luke there’s a crucial difference – he’s so young and vulnerable. OK, he’s mentally a prodigy, and it sounds as if he’s sussed his own sexuality out already. If it is love, proper love, sex usually goes with it, as part of the package. But is he really ready for sex, even if it’s sex with love? I’m not at all comfortable with that. If he weren’t so intelligent, it would be totally unthinkable. Quite apart from the fact that it’s illegal. OK, no doubt I’m jumping the gun. But whatever happens, if it is two-way love, it demands a great deal of extra care. It’s a much bigger responsibility. Follow me?"

"Yes, Dad, I follow you. And I agree, totally." We hugged, not something we did every day, only when we were specially close.

I went to bed very thoughtfully. Could he be right? Was this really my turning point, my awakening? I reviewed the relevant parts of the day, and it didn’t take long for my mind and body, in tandem, to supply the answer. For the first time in my life, as I attended to my nightly erection, my mind was filled with an image. An image of Luke. At first, in choirboy’s cassock and surplice. Before long, nude.