By Mickey S.
As TR and I were dressing for our first dinner on the ship, I took a good look at his physique. Maybe I would grow more, as he said, but I was sure I'd never have a build like his. It just didn't seem possible that I could change that much. Besides, I thought as I looked down at my own body, I was quite sure he hadn't looked like me a couple of years before.
Dressing for dinner wasn't as bad as I remembered it. The first night it only meant a regular suit, but after that it was formal. When I was younger that had meant wearing a suit with short pants and I'd hated it, but now I was expected to dress like an adult. I was used to wearing a tie and blazer at school, so the suit wouldn't be much of a change. And while the dinner jacket and bow tie made me feel a bit stiff, I liked the feeling of elegance of a tuxedo. Even though Mother and Dad were far less formal than the rest of the Coopers, I had been well-trained to do what was expected of me socially and while I was sure I wouldn't want to dress like that every night, it was fun for a change of pace.
There was something about the grandeur of the first class dining room that I enjoyed, too. It was a beautiful room and the service and cuisine were great. As we were served our soup I looked up at the huge map and saw that we'd passed the end of Long Island and were off the coast of
I looked around the room at the other passengers. At a few tables novice travelers were given away by their formal attire. My eyes settled on the blonde that TR was interested in. She was sitting with a middle-aged couple I assumed were her parents and a younger version of herself who had somewhat curlier hair. She saw me looking in her direction and said something to her sister, who turned toward me and smiled. I quickly looked away, realizing as I did how rude that was.
By the time our entrees were served TR had located the object of his infatuation and was busy making eyes at her, so I spent the rest of the meal talking, or more accurately listening, to my parents. They'd noticed a few couples they knew socially across the room and Dad also knew of several newsmen who were on board as well, although they weren't traveling first class. So it looked as though my family was going to be busy throughout the trip and I'd be on my own, unless I was going to spend time with blondie's sister. If it were up to me, I'd choose alone.
TR had chosen the Garden Lounge for our lunch date. The Verandah Grill was more elegant but he said he wanted to keep it casual for the first time - the only time as far as I was concerned. The girls arrived just as we did. TR performed the introductions. The older blonde, his date, was Joan Fuller. She was seventeen, six months younger than TR Her sister was Paulette and had just turned fifteen, so she was nearly a year younger than me. After we'd all introduced ourselves and were seated I let TR take charge of the conversation. I had no real interest in the girls and wasn't as sociable as TR anyway, although I did make an effort to be polite.
The girls were from
"We were supposed to go shopping in
"There's a lot of history behind it," TR said. "The Great War left a lot of resentment on both sides and the Depression hasn't made things any better. And then there's that lunatic in
"Papa says it's not all his fault. He's just trying to get back what
"That's why his company is selling steel to both
"Well, half of
"That was a very different
"At last something we can agree on, TR. But let's not talk about politics, boys. That's all you hear from adults anymore. After all, none of that really has anything to do with us Americans, anyway."
I could see TR was practically biting his tongue over that last comment of Joan's but he allowed her to change the subject to our educational backgrounds. She was very impressed that he was starting at Yale in the fall. Joan and Paulette both attended a private girl's school in
After lunch we went up on deck and talked a bit more. By then Paulette realized I wasn't as enthralled with her as TR was with Joan and seemed to take it personally. I was hoping that she'd just come to realize that I wasn't a smaller version of my suave, charming brother and lose interest in me. After a while she decided to go find her parents and I took advantage of the opportunity to excuse myself as well.
I wandered back to the stern and stood at the rail watching the wake of the ship, thinking about the whole lunch experience. While I wasn't all that social, my parents had brought me up right and I usually functioned quite well in those situations. I knew the right way to act and the proper things to say so I could fit in and not embarrass myself or my family. But there was something different about this kind of thing. Maybe it was the sexually-charged atmosphere. Well, not exactly sexually-charged, although I liked that term. But Joan and TR were clearly attracted to each another and even little Paulette had been making eyes at me all through lunch. There was something going on with all three of them that I wasn't a part of. It made me feel more alone than I could ever remember.
I'd been looking forward to this trip with TR so much. He was going off to college in the fall and I knew our lives would never be the same. Because of the difference in our ages we hadn't spent a lot of time together at DeWitt, but he was always there for me. Just knowing that had made it all bearable. But now it looked like TR would be spending all of his time on the ship with Joan, and maybe even once we got to
After an hour or so of thoroughly depressing myself, I headed back to the bow of the ship. I was pleasantly surprised to see TR by himself, standing with his back to me. He'd changed his clothes so he must have been down to our cabin. That meant he hadn't spent all that much time with Joan. Maybe there was hope after all.
For as long as I could remember, TR had given me piggy back rides, except that he wasn't fond of being thought of as a pig, so he called them horseback rides. Even now in our teens, I'd occasionally leap onto his back and have him carry me around. It wasn't any harder for him now than when we were kids, since there was still a big difference in our sizes. Anyhow, when I saw him standing there by himself on deck I had the urge to jump him.
"TR! Horse!" I yelled, giving him my usual warning.
Then I ran the half dozen or so steps up to him and leapt onto his back, throwing my arms around his neck and lifting my knees on either side of him so he could grab under them. A split second before impact, a sense of something different, something wrong, flashed through my head. I hit him hard and he obviously hadn't braced himself because he pitched forward. Our right sides glanced off a wall as we went down. That gave him just enough time to get his arms in front of him to keep his head from slamming into the deck, but not enough time to catch himself. We landed with a crash, me on top of him, both of us stunned. I recovered first.
"Hey, sorry about that, TR. Didn't you hear my warning?" He didn't respond or move and for a second I was afraid I'd killed him, but then I felt him take a deep breath. His head was turned away from me so I lifted myself up a bit and moved over to see if his eyes were open.
As I glanced at his face, I gasped in horror. It wasn't TR! Whoever it was groaned and his eyelids fluttered a bit, then opened, allowing me to look into the deepest blue eyes I'd ever seen.
"Would it be too much if I asked that you please get off me?" He asked in a warm British voice.
"Oh gosh, I'm so sorry. I thought you were my brother."
"And is there some reason you want to kill your brother?"
"No, it's just a game we play." I rolled off him and sat on the deck as he turned over and faced me.
"A game? Aren't games supposed to be fun? Or maybe that was fun, for you anyway."
Now that I could see his face it was clear that aside from size and coloring, he looked nothing like TR. His eyes were a bit farther apart, his nose was smaller and slightly turned up and his lips were fuller. He hadn't yet smiled but I was sure if he did it would be beautiful. And he had a wonderful British accent, a bit different from Mother's. I knew I was staring but I couldn't help it. I also couldn't get a word to come out of my mouth.
"We're attracting a bit of a crowd sitting here on the deck. If we get up do you think you can restrain yourself from jumping on me again?" He grinned as he stood, proving me right about his smile, and held out a hand to help me up. I took his hand and rose as well, not wanting to let go. For a second our eyes locked, but he quickly looked away.
When he looked back a moment later he held out his hand again.
"Terrence Atkins. And you are...?"
"Woodrow Cooper. My friends call me Woody."
"Woody it is then. Now tell me about this little game of yours. It's over now, I hope?"
"Yes, the game is over. Are you sure you're all right, Terrence?"
"I'm fine now that I've had a chance to catch my breath. I may be a bit bruised tomorrow, though. You're tougher than you look."
"Not really, I just took you by surprise." I didn't usually find it easy to talk to strangers, especially males as good-looking as Terrence, but he had a way of putting me at ease as I explained about TR and the horseback rides he gave me.
"You may not be quite grown up yet, but aren't you a bit old for that sort of thing?"
"Maybe I am. After all, I'll be sixteen next week."
"That old? I wouldn't have guessed it. That makes you just three months younger than me. And while it's none of my business, being carried around on another's back at our age is a bit undignified, don't you think?"
"I'm not what you'd call dignified no matter what I'm doing. And I love horsing around, so to speak, with TR. He's a great big brother."
"He sounds like he is. If I had a brother I couldn't imagine acting like that with him, though. You Yanks are less formal than we English, I suppose."
"I think it all depends on the individual. My mother is British and she's quite down-to-earth."
"So you're only half-Yank, then. That's a bit better."
I knew he was teasing me but I couldn't let him get away with it.
"If you don't like us Yanks, what were you doing in our country?"
"I was kidnapped and taken hostage." He grinned again, dazzling me with his perfect teeth. "Seriously, my Uncle Geoffrey is with the Foreign Office and had some business with your government so he took me along. We spent a week in
"Only a few days? It takes a lot more time than that to even scratch the surface of
"I learned that fairly quickly. Maybe someday I'll be able to go back and spend some real time there."
"I could be your tour guide. I've lived in
"Don't be so sure. You don't know what my interests are."
"I'm sure I can show you around no matter what you're interested in. So your uncle works for your government?"
"Yes, though I'm not sure exactly what he does. All very hush-hush, you know. He was in the Army for years but retired not long ago. Now he does some sort of freelance work for the Foreign Office."
"You mean he's a spy?"
"Nothing so exotic, I'm afraid. I think he's more of a courier than anything else. He's just trying to keep busy and feel needed in his old age."
"Well, if he's not a spy maybe my Dad could interview him. He's a journalist doing research on the political and military situation in
"I don't think Uncle Geoff is important enough for anyone to want to interview."
"Maybe not, but I'm sure he knows lots of stuff Dad doesn't. We could introduce them anyway and leave it up to them."
I wanted to get to know this boy and if his uncle and my father spent time together that would be an excuse for us to spend time together. It didn't even occur to me that I didn't need an excuse. People met and got to know one another on ships every day. But deep down I knew there was something different about the way I was interested in Terrence, so I felt like I needed an excuse to talk to him.
"Maybe. Why don't we talk to them and see if they're interested? Maybe we could all have dinner together one night. You are in tourist class, aren't you?"
"No, actually we're in cabin class." I paused, feeling somewhat embarrassed.
He raised his eyebrows. "Newspapers must pay better in the States than they do back home."
"I don't know about that, but since it's a family vacation and we're going to be spending part of it with my grandparents, Dad decided to splurge on the crossing." For some reason I felt it necessary to almost apologize for traveling first class.
"I'm sorry, that was rude of me. It's really none of my business. But just because we can't all have dinner together doesn't mean we can't get together some other time."
"Of course. Why don't we meet back here tomorrow morning at ten? I'll talk to Dad tonight and you can talk to your uncle."
"I'd like that. And even if the old ones don't want to meet, we can still talk, can't we?"
"Absolutely. I think I'd like that, too." I blushed as I said that, afraid I'd given something away even though I'd practically quoted his own words.
It was a good thing I hadn't been able to arrange for Terrence and his uncle to join us for dinner because TR had made plans with Joan and her family. The four of them joined us that evening so we took one of the larger tables in the dining room. While the girls' parents were not much older than mine, they reminded me of my paternal grandparents. Their attitude was that dinner conversation was reserved for adults so TR, the girls and I were pretty much assigned the role of polite listeners. That was fine with me. I had very little to say to them. Listening to Mr. Fuller, I could see where the girls got their conservative ideas. Dad seemed to disagree with everything he said, but was tactful about it. A few times Mother rolled her eyes at me when she didn't think anyone else was watching. All in all, it wasn't much different from many of the dinners I'd attended in my life. Still, I was glad when it was over.
Afterward, we all adjourned to the lounge where the generations separated. That wasn't much better than at dinner, but at least it was more comfortable. There was no talk of politics, although the girls seemed overly obsessed with fashion and gossip. When talking about entertainment I could keep up with them on news from
As TR and I were getting ready for bed, I asked him about his attraction to Joan.
"You don't seem to have anything in common with her, so why are you spending so much time with her?"
"I'll admit she's a bit shallow when it comes to world affairs and she parrots her father too much, but that doesn't mean she can't be pleasant company for the rest of the trip. You'll have to admit she's easy on the eyes."
"I suppose. But shouldn't there be more than that? Mother is very pretty but there's a lot more to her that appeals to Dad than just that."
"I won't argue with you there, Woody, but I'm not looking to marry Joan, just spend some time with her over the next couple of days. I'm sure you'll understand that kind of feeling soon."
I thought about meeting Terrence that afternoon. All I knew about him was that he was my age, British, charming, had deep blue eyes and a perfect smile. Yet I sure wanted to spend more time with him. Maybe I was the one who was shallow. Or maybe it was just as TR had said about Joan. It wasn't necessary to be in love with someone to enjoy their company for a while. But it wasn't really like that with Terrence. After all, he was a boy. And boys don't fall in love with boys.
"But you're probably right about Joan." TR shook my mind from its wandering. "As beautiful as she is, I think a four-day voyage may be the perfect length of time to spend with her."
Over breakfast the next morning I told my parents about meeting Terrence (omitting the part where I threw myself on him) and asked Dad if he'd be interested in meeting his uncle. I don't think the idea appealed to him much but he humored me and agreed to go up on deck with me to meet Terrence. Even if Dad didn't want to do an interview, at the very least I was going to spend some time with Terrence while avoiding the Fuller girls.
Terrence was waiting on deck with a tall balding man about sixty. I introduced Dad and Terrence introduced his uncle, Colonel Geoffrey Howard. After we all shook hands and said the usual pleasant greetings, Colonel Howard turned to Dad.
"Are you the William Cooper who is with the New York Times?"
"Guilty as charged. You've heard of me?"
"I read your book on the flaws in the Treaty of Versailles about ten years ago and then looked up some feature articles you'd written. You appear to research a subject in depth before you write about it and then have quite a way with words."
"Thank you. I generally only write about something if I feel passionately about it. That makes the research easier."
"I'd be interested in hearing your opinion of what's happening in Europe now that much of what you predicted in your book has come to pass."
"I merely pondered some possibilities in my book. I make no claims on being able to foretell the future."
After a few minutes, the men excused themselves and went off to the lounge. Terrence turned to me and grinned.
"I thought they'd never leave."
He and I wandered about for a while before finally settling down in a couple of deck chairs, talking about our lives at home. He lived with his parents in a place called Finchley, somewhat to the north of central
"Your uncle is older than I thought he'd be."
"Well, he is Mum's older brother, though only by a few years. My parents had a childless marriage for over fifteen years before I came along and surprised them, so they're a bit older, too."
I told him a bit about my family, downplaying the money part although I was sure he'd figured that out. Because we were the same age I assumed we were in the same grade in school, but apparently they used different terms in
"It looks like teenage boys are the same the world over. The same thing goes on at Bancroft's, the public school I attend. The big boys pick on the little ones, and it's often class-related as well. I know if I were smaller or less athletic, I'd be a lot lower in the pecking order."
"Well, DeWitt is a private school so everyone is pretty much the same class."
"Oh, Bancroft's is a private school as well, except we call them public schools. I know, that probably confuses you but it makes perfect sense to us. Anyway, Draper's, the company that is trustee for Bancroft's, tries to maintain at least a trace of the original intent of the school, which was to educate poor boys, so they admit a number of those each year. While my family wouldn't be considered poor, we certainly couldn't afford a school like Bancroft's, so Uncle Geoffrey used his influence to get me in. My parents and I are determined that I be the first in the family to go to university, so this is a good start."
"I'm sure I'll be going to college but I have no idea what I want to do. I'm good at science so I'll probably go in that direction. Mother thinks I should be a doctor but I don't feel like I have a burning desire for that." At that age I believed that you had to feel a `calling' for important professions, and I hadn't felt anything calling out to me.
"I enjoy history but that's not something you can be guaranteed to make a living from. I'm leaning toward teaching for now but that's still a long way off."
We talked the rest of the morning about our dreams of an adult life. I actually hadn't ever thought of the specifics, although I liked to think of having an apartment high up with a terrace overlooking
The Colonel, as he asked me to call him, was somewhat stiff and formal, I assumed due to his military background, but he was nice enough. He'd enjoyed his talk with Dad and hoped to spend more time with him later in the trip. It was clear that he was very fond of Terrence. He'd devoted his life to the army and had never married or had children, so Terrence was a bit like a surrogate son to him.
After spending the afternoon wandering around the ship with Terrence, it was back to dinner with the Fullers. Mother and Dad had done us kids a favor and arranged a separate table for us. At least they thought it was a favor. On one hand, I didn't have to sit in silence while listening to Mr. Fuller spout his reactionary political beliefs, but I did have to listen to the somewhat inane chatter of the girls. And defend myself from my perceived slight of Paulette by skipping lunch with them.
"You didn't have to eat in a lower class dining room just to avoid me, you know."
"Now Paulette, TR explained that Woody had made a friend yesterday afternoon and was invited to lunch with his uncle." I wasn't comfortable having Joan defend me but I accepted help from wherever it came.
"Yes, it didn't really have anything to do with you, Paulette. After all, here I am having dinner with you."
"And as I said earlier, Woody hasn't quite reached the age where he's as fascinated by girls as I am. And that goes for all girls, not just you." I didn't think it necessary for TR to share that with them, but what could I do?
"Well, I'm sure if Princess Elizabeth invited you to lunch you wouldn't turn her down. And she's two years younger than me."
"Again, that would have nothing to do with you. Paulette. A request by Princess Elizabeth would be more like a command that I couldn't say no to. Not that it would ever happen."
"But we're Americans. Royalty has nothing to do with us and she can't command anything, only ask. So you could certainly say no."
"Maybe you could, Joan, but Woody and I are as much British subjects as American citizens. More, actually, since not only is Mother British but we were both born in
"I don't know about that. It looks like
"I think it's pretty clear that
Apparently Joan wasn't happy with the conversation being about anything not directly related to her so she started talking about the ill effect of ocean air on her hair. From then on I went on automatic pilot, staying out of the conversation for the most part and answering with polite murmurs when necessary.
Our last full day on ship I again spent mostly with Terrence. He was so comfortable to be with; it was as if I'd known him for years. Part of that was that he really did remind me of TR, and not just physically. He had the same basic self-confidence. He was comfortable with himself so he didn't have to assert himself and overpower others. He was just who he was. I liked that and it made me feel comfortable being with him. I usually felt good about myself when I was alone or with my family, but others often intimidated me. Terrence didn't. And he seemed sensitive to what was going on in my head.
"Yesterday when we were talking about our schools I got the impression you didn't like yours very much."
"It's not the school itself. The teachers are good and I do well in my courses. But I don't seem to fit in very well with the other boys. I don't have many friends and something keeps me apart from the others. I don't think I'm all that different, but they do." I again mentioned the episode near the end of the school year.
"I dread going back in the fall. The only thing that's made DeWitt's bearable was having TR there, but now he's graduated so I'll be on my own."
"You'll do fine, Woody. Just remember what a great fellow you are and whenever someone tries to insult you or degrade you, remind yourself that they're talking from weakness. Someone who knows he's strong doesn't have to pick on others to prove it."
"That's easy for you to say. You're an unbelievably strong guy."
"I have a feeling you have an inner strength deep down and maybe you're not aware of it yet. But it's there. Someday you'll see."
Mr. Fuller had somehow managed to get his family invited to the Captain's table for our last night's dinner so my family was spared their company. While no one came right out and said so, I could tell it was a relief to us all, even TR. He'd finally had his fill of the self-absorbed Joan. So it was just the four of us, which was what this trip was supposed to be primarily about anyway.
Saturday, Terrence, TR and I stood at the rail on deck as the ship eased into the port in
"So you're going directly to
"A couple of weeks. We're staying at least through my birthday next week. I think Dad's coming down to
"And where are you staying in
"Sure, it's where Dad always stays. Claridge's Hotel in
Terrence laughed. "Well, I guess we can dispose of the notion that your first class accommodations on the ship are your father's idea of a one-time extravagance. Staying at Claridge's is barely a step down from staying at
"I suppose it is expensive but it's very nice," TR said rather stiffly.
"Very nice. Just a bit of an understatement."
"Okay, so our family has lots of money. It's no big deal." I was getting nearly as defensive as TR. While we both took our financial standing for granted, we didn't think of ourselves as snobs. I didn't want Terrence put off by our money.
"I can see that you believe that, but some people do think money is important. Most of the chaps I go to school with have `lots' as you say your family has, but they place quite a bit of importance on it. Maybe it's your American upbringing that makes you seem more egalitarian."
"I think it's more our parents than anything else. We have cousins in
"I know Uncle Geoff was impressed with your father. I hope I get a chance to meet your mother when you get to
"I'm sure you will. I hope we can all spend a lot of time together this summer. You can be our tour guide, if you don't mind. And we won't even make you use the back entrance at the hotel."
"I'd love to show you around, Woody. You too, TR. And maybe I won't make you use our back door when you come visit me in Finchley.