Born Again

Short story
Michael Gouda

We don't have to do much to create tragedy, just leave it to our genes with a dash of upbringing thrown in. All we can do is protest and usually that's not enough.

Jerome Palmer was reading a book and seemed completely engrossed in it in spite of the buzz of conversation which was going on all around him in the 6th form Common Room. I was in love with Jerome Palmer.

The conversation was that of young adolescents, discussions about CDs, boy/girlfriends, telly, the latest DVDs, occasional complaints about school and in some smaller groups the more esoteric whispers about sex, crime and drugs.

Everyone but me ignored Jerome's studious form and I wondered how Jerome could disregard all that was going on around him, concentrate on whatever he was reading. In fact of course I was doing similar though the object of my attention was Jerome. I studied his head, long and dolichocephalic, the high forehead, the planes of his cheeks either side of his straight nose, the firm chin and lips parted in an almost-smile which just showed his two front teeth.

Not for the first time I was reminded of the artist, Modigliani, and the curious elongated forms he used in his paintings. The abnormally stretched neck, the pale extended fingers. Not that Jerome was in any way abnormal. It was just that I was doing art for my A level and had come across the artist in my work. On the contrary Jerome, in my eyes, was perfect in every detail. If only, I thought, Jerome would take notice of my worship for that was what it amounted to.

The light of the afternoon sun through the window caught Jerome's eyes and he twisted away, his body even more resembling the technique of the artist. I wondered what the touch of Jerome's skin would feel like, the skin which that sunlight played on so carelessly and with such affection.

"Grant. Heh, Grant Meadows," said a voice in my ear so that I jumped and looked round almost guiltily. Had my staring at Jerome been noticed? "You coming to the pub this evening? A group of us are going."

I shook my head. "You know I can never pass for eighteen," I said. "And I'm pissed off being turned out of pubs when I try to get in. Embarrassing."

Unfortunately at sixteen I still had that bloom almost of childhood on my cheeks. Blond, blue-eyed, I envied Jerome who, though the same age as me, was dark with black hair and, by the end of the week, even had the traces of shadow on his chin and over his upper lip.

Not that Jerome ever went drinking. Did Jerome do anything that wasn't study? He seemed to keep himself aloof from the mundane material activities of the other students, the sexual jokes, the concealed smoking, the casual swearing when a teacher wasn't around. Was Jerome just a prude, I wondered, as the other students considered him. There was a sensuality about his mouth that made me think that, if only that surface veneer of stuffiness could be somehow got through, all hell would break out.

I could scarcely understand the almost obsessive attraction I felt for Jerome. I'd no more than twice ever spoken to him and then words of the most casual nature. I'd touched him once, once when Jerome had dropped his books and I had picked up one and held it out to him. Our fingers had brushed and I had felt such a surge of emotion that it almost seemed like an electric shock. Surely Jerome must have felt it too but the expression on his face had scarcely changed. There was a muted, 'Thanks', and Jerome had almost immediately turned away.

The bell for the end of the last period rang and the students started filing out anxious not to miss the remainder of the sunny day. The form tutor ticked them off in the register as they left. He peered into the common room empty now except for Jerome and me.

"Come on, you two," he said. "You staying all weekend?"

I looked at Jerome and smiled but Jerome wasn't looking at me. He'd marked the place in the book he was reading and now was packing it away in the document case he always carried.

We went out together - or at least at the same time - through the school doors and down the path that led to the street. Jerome turned left, as I knew he would and I went with him, keeping up with him, shoulder to shoulder, even though my house was in the other direction.

Though September, it was still warm and a faint haze covered the sun. Along the road the leaves of the plane trees were turning brown and some had already fallen so that they lay in the gutters where the wind had blown them.

I scuffed them with my shoes. "I always used to do this when I was a kid," I said. "It used to be fun. I can't see the point now."

Jerome turned and looked at me. The expression on his pale, thin face showed surprise, almost as if he hadn't realised I was still there.

"It messes up your shoes," he said. Were these the first words he had said to me except for, 'hello', 'good-bye', 'thank you'? The phrase was essentially trivial but I tried to fix it in my mind. I wondered whether it was supposed to be a reproof, the sort that a house-proud mother would say to a misbehaving child, but Jerome's tone had been completely factual. He was right; scuffing leaves did mess up your shoes.

"You don't live this way," said Jerome.

I was surprised. I hadn't realised that Jerome was interested enough to know which way I normally went home.

"Mum's out," I said, which was true. "I'm going to visit my aunt," which was a lie. "Or I may go into town for a coffee." I paused. "Fancy a cup?" I asked. "My shout."

For a moment I thought he saw a gleam of enthusiasm in those brown, lustrous eyes, almost a twist of a smile in the lips but then Jerome said, "I'm sorry. I don't drink."

I felt a spurt of irritation. "I wasn't asking you for a booze-up," I said. "just a coffee - as a friend."

Jerome had the grace to look embarrassed. "I - we - I don't take stimulants - or any sort," he said. Then after a pause, "It was nice of you to ask."

"You could have had a Coke."

"That's just as bad," said Jerome. "There's more caffeine in one of them than a cup of coffee."

"Or a glass of water," I said.

Jerome laughed. That was something of a breakthrough. I glanced at him. There was more animation in the thin face with the high cheekbones than I had ever seen before.

We approached Jerome's house. At the gate he paused. "I'm afraid I can't ask you in."

"That's all right," I said. "Got the plague?"

Jerome didn't laugh. "Er . . . My parents don't like people who aren't. . ." He stopped and again looked embarrassed.

"Human?" I said, trying to keep it light.

"Of the Faith," said Jerome. It came out as a rush.

"The Faith?"

Was Jerome a Muslim, I wondered. I tried to think back to my R.E. lessons and those on comparative religion. Surely if he were he had to pray three times a day, wasn't it?, facing Mecca. Yet Jerome came into School Assembly even when there was occasionally a Christian religious slant to it. A prayer at least. Had Jerome gone out with the others, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs? I was pretty sure he hadn't. I waited for Jerome to explain but obviously he felt he had said enough, or perhaps even too much.

"Must go in," said Jerome, opening the garden gate and closing it firmly behind him.

I thought I saw a face peering past the curtains of the downstairs room. Then it was gone before even I could make out whether it was male or female.

Jerome turned to me. "Perhaps . . . perhaps I could come to your house one day," he said. "What about - "

The front door opened and a woman stood there dressed in a long blue dress, almost like a robe. Her head was covered with another blue cloth. "Jerome," she called.

He turned away from me and walked, almost ran, up the path. The woman stood aside to let him through, gave me a sharp look and then went in herself. The door slammed close.

* * * * * *

I couldn't really explain my feelings for Jerome - not even to myself. I certainly couldn't put them into words. In fact I was rather frightened of trying to put them into words; there was something not quite right about having such a strong emotion for someone of my own sex, though I couldn't see it as perverse. It was just there and felt right. I felt that me and Jerome belonged together even though - perhaps because we were so different. We had no tutorial groups together which was a good thing as I was sure that I would never have been able to concentrate on study if Jerome had been in the same room, or worse (no, better) sitting beside me.

As it was when I saw him at break time or across the room in the canteen, I would experience such a surge of emotion which made my heart beat faster, my throat go dry, my palms grow moist. And of course Jerome had done nothing to encourage me. He was so beautifully contained, so secure in his own surrounding that he obviously needed no one else. Which, in a way, was all to the good. Had I seen Jerome chatting companionably with anyone else, or worse, becoming friendly with another student, I knew I would have been wracked by the pains of jealousy.

And now, that final hurried and obviously secret (because forbidden?) piece of conversation - 'come to your house' and even the half suggested time broken off by the appearance of that blue-robed hag. I cursed her. Who was she that she had interrupted that whispered confidence? And what had Jerome wanted to tell me? Could it just be disappointingly the nature of the 'Faith', or, more excitingly a plea to help him escape from the obviously harsh regime of his home life.

I wasn't though going to find out, not yet anyway. I wouldn't see Jerome again until Monday and the weekend stretched to infinity in front of me. I tried to think what I would normally do on a Friday evening but couldn't think of anything in particular. There had been that invitation to join the others in the pub - I knew which one they would be going to - but my earlier refusal would make it embarrassing for me just to turn up. Anyway I was sure that I'd still get told I was obviously too young to drink and asked to leave - or more embarrassingly still - allowed to buy a lemonade or a coke.

The alternatives seemed to be the telly or, perhaps the worst choice of all, my homework, usually left until the last possible moment on Sunday evening. I imagined Jerome conscientiously doing HIS as soon as he got in and the thought of Jerome, his long neck bent over a book or writing pad, his dark hair falling over his forehead and perhaps being swept aside by an impatient hand, set me groaning with an almost physical desire just to be with him, just perhaps to watch. For what would I actually do if I was able to be alone with Jerome?

I couldn't imagine Jerome allowing anything more than the most casual of touches, hardly a return for my longing, - yet those lips, sensual, carnal - could they really hint at a voluptuous, animal response?

After the evening meal I joined my parents, rather to their surprise, watching television. I was scarcely ever in on a Friday night but they didn't comment. I stared at the screen and had no idea what the program was. I was just about to go upstairs when the telephone rang in the hall. "I'll get it," I said to my mother who was getting up to answer it.

"Probably for you anyway," she said.

"Is that you, Grant?" asked a voice when I'd given my number.

For a moment I couldn't place it and then, with a shock that made my legs weak, I did. "Jerome?"

"Can't be on for long. Can I come round tomorrow? 10 o'clock in the morning?"

"Yes, sure," I said. "Do you know where I live?"

There was a click on the line and a sort of hollow echo. Immediately Jerome's voice got louder. "Sorry, Grant to trouble you, but I've forgotten my copy of Johnson's 'Elementary Calculus'. Left it at school. I don't suppose you've got one, have you?"

For a moment I wondered whether Jerome had gone mad. He knew that I didn't take any of the subjects Jerome did. Much less Further Maths. In fact I had only just scraped through my GCSE in Maths and was hard put to work out whether the change I'd been given in a shop was correct or not. Then suddenly I realised. The click I had heard was someone else picking up an extension and was of course listening in.

"Pretty certain I've got it. I'll have a look," I said.

"Thank you. It was stupid of me to leave mine at school. I'll call in and collect it if that's all right."

"Sure," I said .

The receiver was put down, but before the dial tone started, I heard another click.

I lay on my bed fighting my imagination for I knew if I gave rein to it, I was sure to be disappointed the following day. Jerome's planned visit was obviously not for the excuse or reason he had given presumably for the benefit of the harpy in blue, unless there was a father also anxious to find out exactly what his son was doing. But if the calculus book reason was specious/spurious, then what was the true reason?

I tried to imagine Jerome in my room, sitting perhaps on the bed. Would he be interested in the computer - probably not. He wouldn't drink a Coke and I doubted whether there were fruit juices in the fridge. I imagined gently placing my own hand on Jerome's leg and being harshly rebuffed. I sighed. Perhaps our conversation would be trivial and soon completed. Yet the idea that Jerome would be round at my house, had expressed a wish (perhaps a need) to see me, excited me.

Despite myself and my self-appointed strictures, I found myself imagining the two of us lying together on the bed, confused images of me feeling his limp penis through the material of his trousers, kissing an erection through white underpants, the feel of his skin against mine, kissing that mouth, those lips and a hardness pressing against my own groin. Would anything be possible? With great self-control I decided to save myself for tomorrow and rejected the urgent need to wank.

* * * * * *

10 o'clock on a Saturday morning was not usually the time I was up and about but after an uncharacteristically sleepless night, I was down and having breakfast by nine.

"Good Heavens," said his mother. "What's up? And you're wearing a shirt and tie. It is Saturday isn't it?"

"Just felt like it," I said. I realised I was in a way trying to match the conventionality of Jerome. I didn't think he'd be wearing casual clothes. But my mother's comment made me realise that what I was wearing wasn't sexy at all. Tight jeans and a T-shirt would be more appropriate for a seduction. I realised that Jerome had never seen me when I wasn't wearing school uniform.

"Anyway," said my mother. "Do you want a cooked breakfast? You'll have to hurry because I'm off out in ten minutes. You'll have to get your own lunch. I won't be back until this afternoon."

"I'll make some toast," I said. "Where's Dad?"

My mother shrugged. "Out somewhere," she said. "I wouldn't count on him getting your lunch."

I didn't. I was only too pleased that both my parents were out and probably would still be when Jerome arrived. I decided I wasn't hungry so made a cup of coffee and went upstairs to change. After a short while I heard the front door bang. I was alone. I took a critical look at myself in the mirror. Was I, could I possibly be thought attractive? I could never be sure. Did I look too babyish, that blond hair which curled slightly, the blue eyes, aquamarine, I hoped, or were they just washed out? The jeans I was wearing clung tightly to my thighs and the outline of my cock and balls showed. Were they too obvious? Would they scandalise Jerome rather than turning him on? I arranged myself so that I wasn't too conspicuous. My chest wasn't too bad and the T-shirt showed off what muscles I had. Was white a good colour? Perhaps a blue which matched my eyes would be better. Another half hour and that was if Jerome was on time - though I couldn't imagine Jerome being anything but punctual.

The front door bell shrilled and I jumped away feeling slightly embarrassed at my narcissistic examination of myself in the mirror.

"Coming," I shouted as I ran down the stairs.

At the door I paused anxious not to be thought too eager. Then I smiled and opened it. The postman stood outside holding a package. My smile vanished.

"Name of Meadows," he said. "Package to be signed for." He thrust it into my hands together with a clipboard and a pen. It was for my father but I juggled with all three, managed to scribble a signature before dropping the package. As I bent to pick it up, I heard someone say, "Grant," and standing I saw Jerome had taken the place of the postman. I dropped the package again. We both bent down and our heads cracked together. It was not an auspicious beginning.

Jerome looked fine. He wasn't wearing a suit as I feared but a plain V-necked pullover and no shirt underneath so I could see a triangle of flesh below the tendons of his neck. His trousers weren't too baggy either though unfortunately not tight enough to see much. As I stood for the third time I was uncomfortably aware that my equipment had readjusted itself and was fairly prominent. I also think I was aware that Jerome had noticed this fact though his glance didn't linger.

He was though smiling. "Sorry," he said at the identical time as I said the same.

"Come in," I said.

He hesitated. "I just wanted to explain about yesterday," he said. "It won't take long."

My hopes plummeted. But I wasn't going to let him get away with it so easily. "Not on the doorstep," I said and, grabbing him by the arm, I hauled him inside. Much as I'd have liked to I didn't think I could take him upstairs to my bedroom so we went into the room my parents called the lounge and I though of as the front room. I sat him down on the sofa before he could choose a single armchair and plumped myself down beside him sitting closer than absolutely necessary. There was room for three but I didn't want a one-person space in-between.

I put on my best hostess manner. "I know you won't drink coffee or cola," I said. "What about a glass of milk?" I assumed there was milk in the fridge.

"Not for me," he said. No wonder the guy was so thin. No sugars, no fats. "I'll have a glass of water please."

"Right," I said "Sparkling or flat?"

He looked a little bemused, a small frown appearing between those dark eyebrows. I love eyebrows. I loved HIS eyebrows. I could scarcely stop myself from leaning forward and planting a light kiss on them.

"As it comes," he said, "from the tap."

I thought for a moment it was a joke and was prepared to laugh appreciatively but his face remained the same, serious, almost solemn so I sprang up. "Make yourself at home. Put your feet up, take off something." I laughed to show it was a joke, though of course it wasn't. And of course he hadn't when I returned with two glasses of water.

For a moment I considered spilling it onto his crotch and then insisting that he took off his trousers to replace them with a dry pair of mine, but naturally I didn't.

We sipped companionably. To me the water tasted of nothing, or perhaps slightly of chemicals. Jerome though finished half the glass. He must have been thirsty or perhaps he was nervous and his mouth was dry.

I was sitting close to him. Our thighs touched. I felt his warmth and then realised that I was getting an erection which would be immediately obvious so I put down my glass and folded my hands in my lap.

"OK, Jerome," I said relishing the name. "Tell me all."

Well, he'd said it wouldn't take long. In fact it did. There was first a hesitation as if he didn't know where to begin.

"The Faith," I suggested. Then he apologised for not being able to ask me in yesterday.

"I understand," I said. "Who'd want a layabout like me in a respectable person's house?"

He explained it was nothing like that just that his parents were very strict - and - and -

"The Faith," I said.

"Yes," he said almost gratefully. "I'm so glad you understand."

"But I don't," I said. "What IS the Faith?"

Eventually I got to the heart of the matter. The Faith was apparently a very strict religious Christian (I suppose in that it had Christ as its head) sect. It was composed of 500 people who believed that they were the Chosen, no more, no less. There were all sorts of prohibitions and injunctions which seemed to make it a dismal sort of lifestyle.

"Don't you have any fun?" I asked.

"Fun," he said as if the concept was unknown to him.

"And you're one of the five hundred?" I asked.

"After a great deal of training," he said, "I've been accepted. And of course my parents are members."

I immediately found a flaw. "If the children of members are accepted, even after a great deal of training, surely you'll soon exceed the limit."

"The old ones die off at the other end and find Paradise," said Jerome. Again I glanced at him to see if he was joking but there was no smile. "And if of course there aren't any spaces, we don't recruit."

"Are there any spaces now?" I asked out of curiosity.

"About fifty," he said. I could quite understand that. It couldn't be all that popular a religion what with all the 'Thou shallt nots' etc.

"But don't you ever get the urge to rebel." I asked, "like any normal teenaged guy?"

Get me, I thought, as if I knew what 'normal' was. Gay I might be but at least I didn't make myself miserable about it.

"Of course," he said. "That's my sin."

"And what about the lie about the calculus book? And what's going to happen when you get home without it? There was someone listening on the extension last night you know."

Jerome felt in the back pocket of his trousers and produced a slim volume. 'Elementary Calculus' I read, by R.J.S. Johnson.

"It was my father," he said, "and I'll confess in my prayers tonight, but I had to explain. It wasn't you. I like you."

He said it with all the simplicity of a child yet it evoked a feeling of great joy in me. I moved nearer and pressed his leg with mine. I noticed he didn't withdraw his. Could I even feel a little return pressure? I turned to look at him.

As I did so, he sprang up. "I must go," he said. "They'll be waiting for me."

"Do you have to?" I asked.

"I'm afraid so." He sounded genuinely disappointed.

"Can't you come over tomorrow?"

"Sunday!" he said almost horrified. "Sunday's the day of worship."

"All day?"

"Of course."

I watched him go down the path and turn in the direction of his house. Before he disappeared behind our next door neighbour's privet hedge, he turned and gave a little wave.

I almost blew him a kiss.


* * * * * *

So that was it. Nothing had happened and yet, I thought, something had. Jerome liked me. He liked me. He liked me. Now what did that mean? 'Like' was such a weak, ineffectual word. Now if he'd said, "I love you, Grant" or "I desire you" or "I fancy you" I'd have known what to do and I could have taken it on from there - but "I like you". And then he'd got up and gone away.

Now I wouldn't see him until Monday and then how would he react? Would there be a difference in the way he behaved? Could I bear it if he was exactly the same, contained, private, self-sufficient, with just a cool nod in my direction - or perhaps not even that.

I did my homework. It passed the time. I got through Saturday and then Sunday. I thought of Jerome in his cheerless 'day of worship'. But was it cheerless? Did he, perhaps, feel an overwhelming surge of joy as he praised the Lord - or whatever they did, compatible with the feeling I had when I saw him across a crowded room? I couldn't imagine it myself but perhaps it was so - and if so, what chance had I, with my puny human mind and body against the appeal of his Almighty? The only consolation I had was that Jerome and I were human, beings of flesh and blood, whereas God was numinous - whatever that might mean. Untouchable in a physical sense.

That was the one advantage I had.

I was terrified when I went into school on Monday morning. So terrified that I almost didn't go. I wandered around the back streets avoiding anyone in school uniform. I even thought about going into the Library but of course it wasn't open that early. Eventually I told myself not to be a stupid fucking arsehole and went into school.

It was of course worse than I'd expected. If I had got in early I could at least have hidden my (and Jerome's) reaction in a group of chattering students. As it was the class was in the morning form assembly and of course everyone turned to look at me as I tried to sneak in unobtrusively - some chance! My form tutor increased my embarrassment with some sarcastic comment about my arriving so late it was almost lunchtime.

"Sorry, sir," I mumbled.

Immediately I saw Jerome. As usual he was sitting alone with a spare seat either side of him looking self-possessed, alone but not lonely. Then he looked at me and smiled.

He smiled.

I crashed towards him, grinning like a lunatic, tripping over legs and causing some complaints which I ignored, then sitting down beside Jerome my shoulder and upper arm touching his.

"When you've finished disrupting the form, Meadows," said the tutor, but I didn't care.

I was sitting next to my beloved and he had smiled at me.

* * * * * *

And that was how it all started. Not that there was anything overtly physical about our relationship, not on his side anyway, but we'd spend break times together, casually drifting close and chatting, more often than not about my courses (History of Art, English, Politics - a failure that) rather than his. Physics, Chemistry, Further Maths meant nothing to me and though I longed to know about what was important to Jerome, I really couldn't comprehend such abstruse subjects.

Sometimes we'd just sit together and I'd watch him reading or working out some difficult mathematical problem in his notebook. I didn't stare, of course as that might have invited comment but I'd glance occasionally at him, see a frown on his forehead and wish I could kiss it away or look at those fine, attenuated fingers, surely more of an artist's than a scientist - though why a scientist couldn't have beautiful fingers I don't know - and picture them holding parts of me - well, one part of me really. And then I'd work myself into a state and have to hide it with a copy of Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' or Petronius' 'The Satyricon' (very appropriate whose character's name, Encolpius, literally means 'in the crotch') until I could control myself.

Occasionally I'd just follow him as he walked along a corridor, his body slim and elegant, his buttocks moving easily, athletically under the cloth of his trousers, his shoulders, broad, his waist, narrow. I knew sometimes that he watched me. I could feel those beautiful eyes fixed on me, though what part of me he saw and what he was thinking, I did not know. When I met his eyes, he'd smile and look away.

Once walking back after school towards his house, I put my arm casually around his shoulders - as close friends do. He didn't draw away; on the contrary he moved into me so that I felt his body down my side but a little later he gently disengaged himself.

"What if someone saw?" he said.

"They'd think we were friends," I said.

"Not ordinary people. What if one of the Faith saw?"

"Don't they like ordinary human companionship?" I asked.

"They're not comfortable with it."

You'd think we could see each other at weekends, but it wasn't the case. It wasn't that he wasn't allowed out, just that, he had to account for everywhere he went and anyone he saw. Members of the Faith were OK, but I was something different. A flippant, non-believer with, did they but know it, designs on their son, designs of the most carnal sort. Or perhaps they weren't only carnal. It was just that I loved him so much and the only way I could think of expressing it was through my body - and his, of course.

It was obvious though that Jerome was, to some extent at least, as unsatisfied as I was. He'd pause at the corner just before we turned to his house and delay leaving me, hanging back to continue a conversation which had really been well and truly finished some time before. He'd touch me on my chest with a finger to make a point. Sometimes in the common room, where there was a sofa which sat with comfort four, he'd insinuate himself next to me with a muttered 'Room for one more?' so that he and I would be touching all the way down and parts of him seemed to cover parts of me and I, loving it, grew anxious that his effect on me would be noticed by the others. But it wasn't. Perhaps they were having too much of a good time themselves.

"I wish we could go out together," I said on one occasion as we dilly-dallied, shilly-shallied on the corner of the road. "Like friends do, the films or something, even a walk into the countryside. Or the Literary Festival in Feltenham next month. Your parents couldn't object to that surely. It's study!"

He looked doubtful then, suddenly, his brow cleared. He'd come up with an idea.

And so our plan was formed.

To be honest it wasn't the sort of thing that I expected Jerome to think of, remembering his beliefs. Looking back on it I guess it told of his deep feelings for me though at the time I never thought of this. If it worked it would allow him and me to be together and that was the important thing, certainly for me, presumably also for him. The idea was that I was interested in joining the Faith. Anyone who knew me would know how ridiculous this was but Jerome's parents didn't know me. I looked like a very young, perhaps innocent blond boy, gullible and, at my age, just ripe for becoming a devotee of an esoteric cult.

If it sounds dishonest for me then surely it was more so for Jerome, already a believer. But perhaps he genuinely believed I could be converted. I was blind but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Of course his parents had to see me, vet me and I was invited to tea. (Tea was a misnomer). Nervously I sat on the edge of a very hard wooden chair - there seemed little of comfort in that grey house. There was a large unadorned wooden cross on the wall which seemed to dominate the room, a grey carpet with a very thin pile, a table on which some sliced bread with a scraping of margarine already spread and a jug of water,

"We eat frugally," said Jerome's mother. "There is too much self-gratification in the world."

Not here, I thought, but restrained myself with a sage nod.

There was a long grace before we were allowed to 'tuck in'. It was a good thing I wasn't hungry for there were only two half slices per person - I counted them.

Mrs Palmer was dressed in that blue robe and scarf over her head which I had seen earlier. She had once been a good-looking woman but her face was marred by a permanent frown and lines down the side of her face. Mr Palmer was tall like Jerome but seemed insignificant, entirely under the influence of his wife. Neither seemed overjoyed by their religious conversion. It seemed sad.

We ate in silence and finished up with another long prayer.

"I hear you are interested in our Faith?" said Mrs Palmer.

"Very interested," I said. "Jerome has been telling me about it, telling me of your beliefs. It seems a religion which is necessary in this sinful world." I wondered if I sounded sincere.

"It is part of the Christian religion," said Mrs Palmer, "though goes further. It is a naughty world. Most will not find paradise with our Lord."

I nodded, feeling there was little I could say.

"But do not think you will be allowed in easily. You must spend much time with Jerome who will instruct you."

"That is what I most devoutly wish," I said, for the first time telling the truth.

It seemed to go down well for she nodded and allowed Mr Palmer to speak for the first time.

"Jerome is a good boy," he said.

Mrs Palmer assumed that to be an expression of agreement - as did I. We were allowed out. "Show your friend out, Jerome," she said, "and then you must do your homework."

A little unnerved but with a light heart I went out with Jerome into the bare hall and then into the evening. Before he could open the door I reached out and grabbed his hand, holding it in mine, squeezing it, feeling his warm palm. I felt an answering pressure.

"Does this mean we can spend more time together?" I asked.

"Of course." Even in the gloom I could see his smile.


There was a sound of a chair being scraped back from the room behind us. Jerome dropped my hand and opened the door. Outside it was still warm and the air smelled fresh and clear. There was a hint of honeysuckle, though I don't know where it came from because the Palmer's garden contained nothing but a brutally shorn front lawn.

"Come out now," I begged.

"I can't," he said. "I have my homework to do."

"Tomorrow then."

The door from inside opened. A dark shape appeared in the doorway.

"Ten o'clock," he whispered. "I'll come round."

I danced down the street. Everything was beautiful. The sky had a pink tinge to it. I found the source of the honeysuckle scent, in next door's hedge, entwined through a crimson rose. But dark clouds piled in the south west.

* * * * * *

I didn't have to worry about what to wear that next morning. We had become so comfortable with each other that I didn't really care what he saw me in. I had a shower though first thing and then felt that a blue shirt and dark trousers was suitable. I'm not obsessed with clothes or designer labels and stuff but I like to look good.

"You look nice," said Mum. "Who's the lucky girl?"

"Jerome's coming round," I said. "We may go out later and meet some friends." I had to keep up the fiction.

"You'll get wet," she said.

I looked out of the window. A leaden grey sky hinted at the sort of rain that would go on all day. I wasn't to be put down though. "We'll think of something," I said. "What's a little rain?"

Dad was out - as usual. Mum didn't seem to know where either.

The first few drops of rain were falling making round marks on the pavement the size of penny pieces, when Jerome arrived, on time, of course. Because Mum was in the front room, studying for her Open University degree, I took him upstairs. It wasn't the real reason, but it was what I told him.

He looked around my room, staring at some pictures I'd framed and which were hung on the walls. I'd downloaded them from the Internet and they were all of handsome guys, not porn of course, but they sure were handsome and sexy.

Jerome didn't actually comment. He sat down on the only chair and I sat on the bed. "Do you want to look up anything on the computer?" I asked.

"I have things to tell you about the Faith," he said seriously.

"Do we have to, at the moment?"

"My mother insists," he said. "It is why we are together."

"OK." I said.

"First," he said, "the most important. Jesus saves."

"With the Woolwich," I cracked the old joke but realised immediately it was the wrong thing to do.

"You must be serious," Jerome said. "Otherwise I must go."


So he told me about the beliefs and practices of 'the Faith'. How it was only by following these that I could be saved (with the other 499 or at least as many as had joined at the moment). How I could attain 'inner joy' from belonging.

I wondered about his parents. Did they have 'inner joy'? It certainly didn't show outside. Now when I felt an inner joy, like when I was near Jerome, it always showed itself in an outer expression like laughing or just smiling, or feeling the need to dance around.

But I sat and listened and agreed where appropriate until I could stand it no longer. "Enough for today," I said. "I need a break."

Jerome seemed to understand. He smiled, almost seemed a little bit relieved, as if he had done his job and now he could have a bit of time off.

"Do you want some refreshment?" I asked. "Something other than water?"

"I'd like a glass of milk," he said.

I went downstairs, poured two glasses, grabbed some biscuits from the tin and went back up. I went in quietly and surprised him standing up and looking at the pictures on the wall. He looked a little embarrassed but I didn't comment.

"Come and sit here," I said, patting the bed next to me.

He did and drank the milk thirstily. I offered him a biscuit and tentatively, almost as if he'd never eaten one before (perhaps he hadn't) he took a nibble. Obviously he decided he liked it because he took a larger bite and, when he'd finished, accepted another.

I finished my milk, took Jerome's glass and put them both down. I laughed as I saw his appreciation of the biscuits. They were nothing special. just digestives, not even chocolate coated, but they might have been the most expensive delicacy in the world.

"Why are you laughing?" he asked.

"I'm just pleased to see you enjoying yourself," I said.

He looked so attractive there, on my bed. lying slightly back supported on his elbows. I couldn't help myself. I put my arm round his body and pulled him back.

"What are you doing?" he said, not struggling but obviously wary.

"Wrestling," I said. "It's what friends do. You're supposed to fight back, grab hold of me."

He did though tentatively at first and I remembered his reluctance to being touched. But then, when I got him in a hold and was almost lying on top of him, he struggled free, grasping me abound the waist. I was laughing and then so was he. Was he having fun as his body wound itself round and across mine, arms and legs grasping, parts of us pressed together for a while until we struggled free to try another position.

I was certainly having fun. I was getting excited. Wrong! I WAS excited. I had a real hardon though I tried to avoid pressing it into parts of Jerome as we twisted together. I could smell him and there were times when my face was into bits of his body, his neck, his armpit, once - whoops careful, in his groin. He smelled of clean soap and something special which was Jerome, slightly musky, sweet.

If anything we got closer, his body round mine, his groin pressed against my hip. I could not avoid pushing myself into it. There was a hardness, I swear. His leg was over me and he must surely have been able to feel my own erection.

Suddenly he clasped me even harder, pulled me, if possible, closer. He was no longer smiling or laughing. His eyes for a moment were unfocused. His body went rigid and for a moment I feared he was having a fit. Then he shuddered and gave a long drawn-out groan. For a further time we lay there, he clasping me so tightly that I could scarcely breathe, then he released me, got up off the bed and turned away.

"I must go," he said, almost a cry.

"It's chucking it down outside. You can't go now."

"I must go," he repeated.

"Tell me more about the Faith."

His answer was another groan and he turned, pounded down the stairs and was out of the front door into the driving rain.

I tried to find an explanation. Had he come? Or was he just on the point of coming and had stopped himself in time? Or was he nowhere near coming just had felt my erection and been frightened off? I didn't know, but I did know that my erection was there and needed the most urgent attention. I gave it what it required. And afterwards in a state of post-orgasmic lassitude, I wondered whether the experience had ended my friendship with Jerome for ever.

* * * * * *

Certainly there was a distance, a coolness when I saw him on Monday. He seemed reluctant to greet me. In fact when I met his eye, he looked away and when I went across to him he almost pushed past me and went out of the room.

But I wasn't going to let him get away with that. I cornered him at morning break. Actually I met him as he was crossing the playground. Younger kids were running about making a great deal of noise. Jerome looked very miserable and when a boy, running away from another and not looking where he was going, bumped into Jerome, I saw an uncharacteristic flash of anger cross his face. He even raised his fist almost as if he was going to hit the kid.

"Jerome," I called and he looked over to see me and looked ashamed. "What's up?" I asked. "Are you pissed off with me?"

He shook his head though didn't say anything.

"Was it what we did on Saturday. You know - the fooling around? It didn't mean anything. Just a bit of fun."

He looked at me straight in the eye and I knew that he was aware exactly what the 'fooling around' had been about.

"I'm angry with myself," he said. "I sinned."

"What is a sin?" I asked.

"An offence against the Lord Jesus."

I got cross myself. "In my view a sin is something that harms someone else. What we did harmed no one. We didn't even do anything."

He didn't reply.

So, for a day or two there was a slight constraint between us, but I persevered, reminding him that his parents had entrusted me to him. I feared I'd get the 'I'm not worthy' spiel but he didn't go that far, though he might have thought it.

Anyway I flatter myself that he wanted to be with me, that whatever had happened in that little wrestling match, was something that wouldn't be repeated, was something that he could control. Gradually we were back to how it had been before, though perhaps not quite as close. He wouldn't touch me though when I casually touched him, he didn't exactly shy away as if I was Satan incarnate. And he told me more about the Chosen Faith and how they lived and how they would find eternal joy at the end. 'Joy' I sometimes thought, but no fun.

And how did I feel? Did I believe? Did I love Jesus? I don't know. I guess I was looking for something to believe in as often adolescents are at that age, searching for an idealistic belief in something, someone other than myself. And if there had been a group of youngsters in 'the Chosen' I might have joined completely and unquestioningly. But the members, as I found when I attended one of their Worship meetings, were mostly old or middle-aged and, like Mr and Mrs Palmer, lacking in any of the external signs of joy. Only sitting next to Jerome, my Guide as they called him, made the experience bearable.

I loved Jesus through Jerome, or rather Jesus IN Jerome and if that sounds blasphemous, I'm sorry but it was true. Actually my physical desire for him was under control - though I'd have had him like a shot if the situation ever occurred - but I was prepared to be with him, without being overwhelmed by physical desire. Indeed, as time went by and, presumably when I showed no signs of flinging myself on him, Jerome and I would touch each other companionably - as friends (and footballers) do.

And it was then that we had the other great idea. Half term was coming up, the weather had developed into that strange little period called 'St Luke's Little Summer' where at the end of autumn when it should have been the start of frosts, there is a period of warmth, almost as if summer is returning for one last fling.

What would Jerome say to the two of us going for a camping trip into perhaps the Malverns or even the Black Mountains for a few days. More importantly what would his parents think of the idea; I knew mine wouldn't object and Dad had a little two-man tent stored in the garage which we could use, relic of some expedition he'd made years ago. I had a sleeping bag, and if Jerome didn't have one, Dad also had a spare one of these. We could go into the countryside, talk, commune with Nature - I wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but I used the phrase in my persuasive spiel.

To my surprise, the Palmers didn't object, were indeed quite supportive. It was Jerome who needed the persuading. I could see he wanted to come but I also noted a slight reluctance. Was it the fact that we'd be sleeping in such close proximity? If anything it was his parents' enthusiasm that made his decision. Perhaps they thought that this period of religious propaganda would be the final thing that made me suitable to one of the Chosen.

So it was decided.

We planned a route. I persuaded him that casual clothes and boots were essential, that pyjamas weren't necessary. Jerome blushed when I mentioned this so that I knew he usually wore these at home - probably had to sleep with his hands on top of the covers, or wearing boxing gloves. OK I still thought of sex but not all the time. We took a small spirit stove to cook on. I saw bangers and mash as an almost staple diet with occasional bacon and eggs and from Jerome's expression those apparently sounded to him like esoteric fare. We could take fruit for essential vitamins and sliced bread for bulk. I even managed to persuade him that decaffeinated coffee contained little if any stimulants but that we'd need a hot drink from time to time - other than hot water.

On the Saturday we set off.

Our town is small. You soon get into the country, and the day we started was a day of green and gold, gold buttercups and creeping masses of cinquefoil with their gold potentilla flowers, feathery bunches of bright yellow ladies bedstraw and overall the gold sun, shining through the leaves of the trees to make dappled shade on the grass. We walked along a path probably created and used by deer, found a bank, sat and ate our lunch. It was quite magical, the fresh, clean smell of the turf, the warmth of the sun and the presence of Jerome, leaves, grass and the last wildflowers of summer which wouldn't outlive the first frost.

The perfect day, and we found the perfect place for our tent, a field of pasture, luckily without cows or sheep, which led down to a river bordered with rushes and teasel. The farmer at the adjoining farmhouse was quite happy to let us pitch our tent fir a fiver. And we could use the tap and he even sold us some milk, still warm from the cows. I think that was strictly against the law but we wouldn't tell.

"Don't leave any mess," he said and we promised we wouldn't.

We pitched our tent which in itself was quite an adventure. Of course I'd done it before but a long time ago and I got all the guy ropes (is that what they're called?) muddled and it was Jerome, who'd of course never put up a tent before in his life, who sorted them out and eventually found that I'd actually been trying to put the bloody thing up inside out. Scientific mind, I guess.

As a reward I cooked the meal, really haute cuisine, bacon and eggs, fried in fat with some really greasy fried bread though nicely browned. I feared that Jerome would decide he was a vegetarian (strict - so neither pig meat nor unborn chickens) - see how little we knew about each other, mainly I suppose because our time together had been so limited - but perhaps he was just too hungry because he wolfed down all I put in front of him and then we had a weak coffee and biscuits.

Later, as the sun was setting, we walked along the river bank. I saw a water vole and pointed it out to Jerome. "Some people call them water rats," I said. "Of course it's 'Ratty' in 'The Wind in the Willows'."

Jerome had never heard of the book, so I said I'd get a copy the following day and read it to him. We made plans - but as somebody said (Burns?) 'The best laid schemes o' mice and men gang aft agley', or something like that.

It gets dark early at that time of the year, so we decided it would be best to get to bed as soon as it was really dark. We did have a couple of torches but didn't want to use up the batteries too early. Going to bed in fact was another adventure. Jerome wouldn't undress in the open air - and I decided not to, so we both had to strip inside the tent which was a bit of a crush to say the least. I guess we could have done it separately but I'd no intention of allowing Jerome to get undressed without me watching.

In the event it was 'fun' rather than stimulating. We got in each other's way, fell over onto the sleeping bags, especially in the removing of the trouser operation. Of course we didn't get naked. Even I didn't fancy sleeping au naturel. Even in St Luke's Little Summer it still gets pretty nippy at night.

I did manage to get quite a look at Jerome's bulge in his underwear, rather old-fashioned, sagging pair they were but enough to get my head singing. Whether he appreciated the true glory of my Calvin Kleins I don't know, but he couldn't have missed them because I paraded them quite ostentatiously before they, and everything else, were covered by the demure concealment of the sleeping bags.

We chatted for a while and Jerome said a prayer and I responded with a hearty 'Amen'. In fact I was indeed grateful to whatever deity had allowed me to spend this time with my boyfriend. Did I think of him as this? Perhaps in my heart of hearts.

I can't say I slept well; I was probably too excited. After a while I heard Jerome's quiet, regular breathing and knew that he was asleep - so much for the unspoken wish that he'd need comforting or something. However, I could live with that. We were together and that would have to be enough.

* * * * * *

The following morning, we were up early. It had suddenly turned colder and we shivered as we went with our soap and towels to the farmer's tap. Cold water of course and a shock to the system. The farm was up and busy and two collie dogs barked at us as we shouted and shivered at the icy water. The farmer's wife came out and told us we could use an outside lavatory which was useful as otherwise it would have had to be under a bush or digging a hole. We asked whether we could stay another night and she agreed.

The two dogs saw us off the premises though by this time they seemed quite friendly and wagged their tails. With the remains of last night's milk I made some porridge which was the sort of breakfast to see us through what was certainly going to be a much colder day than the one before.

Then we went into the village which was pretty but only had one shop which sold 'everything' except what I wanted - a copy of 'The Wind in the Willows'. It did have some children's books but they were of the calibre of 'The Adventures of Floog the Rabbit' and full of brightly coloured pictures. I bought some chocolate though and we had lunch there, a sandwich, the chocolate and some fizzy water from a rather dubious spa town.

Afterwards we walked back along a lane which had a sign post saying: To the Church. I'm not sure of the reason but quite a few of these little country villages have churches which are at least a couple of miles outside. Perhaps in times long past the villages were much bigger or perhaps the original village has now disappeared and is marked on the OS maps with that intriguing comment 'Site of Medieval Village'.

After a while we reached the church, a simple single building with no transepts or towers or apses or anything and I thought it would probably be locked up but it wasn't. A board outside marked with weather-eroded paint proclaimed 'The Church of St Magnus the Martyr'. We went in, turning the great handle and pushing open the heavy oak door. Inside it was dark, the windows being little more than narrow vertical slits with some plain glass in them, shrouded in the dirt of centuries. Disappointingly there was little to see. Some pews of almost undecorated wood, at the east end a rough table, entirely unadorned - a bit like the one in Jerome's house. In fact it was as plain and simple as somewhere taken over by the Chosen of the Faith.

Our footsteps echoed on the stone floor. I wondered if it was deserted and no longer in use. Then I heard Jerome gasp. He was standing in the centre of the nave and looking up.

I followed his gaze.

High up, fastened to a beam which crossed the full width of the church was a crucifix - not just a cross but one on which was a representation of the crucified Christ. I saw why Jerome had gasped. Though shrouded in the gloom it was astonishingly lifelike. Tall, thin, etiolated in suffering the body, naked except for a wisp of material about his loins, had something of the characteristics of a Modigliani. Tendons stood out as the figure arched away from the nails and tried to ease his distress; the face was a mask of despair and agony.

Jerome sank to his knees on the dusty floor and I joined him though I was looking up, a strange feeling of giddiness making my eyes blur. For a moment the face on the crucifix was Jerome's. I stretched out my hand and grasped Jerome's like a drowning man reaching for help. The warmth of his hand restored me to something like normality and I got to my feet, turned and dragged him out of that terrible place.

Outside we were both too cowed to say anything.

We walked around the untidy graveyard and out into the open country. Little by little the feeling of awe decreased until, by the time we reached the river and turned along the bank in the direction of our camp site, we were almost back to normal.

I tried to shake of the remnants of the feeling by doing silly things, jumping over ditches which were almost too wide to cross, doing cartwheels where there was an imminent danger of landing in a cowpat, chasing through a flock of sheep so that they scattered all over the field. The farmer, if he had seen me, would have been furious.

Gradually I persuaded Jerome out of the strange lethargy into which he had fallen and eventually he condescended to join me in my lunacy. We dared each other to do mad things, walk along a narrow wooden bar, straddle jump a five-barred gate. I don't exactly know what we were doing except that we were proving we were alive and fit after experiencing the death agonies in that church.

We must have spent longer than I thought in these stupid activities because it was getting dark before we could see our little tent. We could have gone straight to it but there was one last challenge I noticed. The river did a small ox bow and across it a branch from a tree had fallen making the straight side of a capital D as it were.

"Cross that if you dare," I challenged.

"I will if you will," Jerome said.

Someone, something should have stopped us but nothing did. I stepped onto the branch testing it for strength. It seemed strong enough though it bounced alarmingly. I knew I had to keep it as still as possible so I made my way along it trying to keep my weight steady.

In the middle I paused, aware that the bank looked a long way away and that the branch was bouncing again. I stopped until everything steadied down. The water under me looked grey and unpleasant. I continued balancing myself with my arms outstretched and reached the other end safely.

"My turn," said Jerome.

"Not worth it," I said. "It's no big thing."

Without saying another word, Jerome stepped onto the branch and I watched him. It was darker, the grey clouds covering the sky without a break. Everything was very quiet and no birds sang.

Jerome took two steps and the branch started to bounce crazily.

"Take it very easy," I said. "Try to keep your weight distributed."

He waited a little and then moved on. Then suddenly he lost it, his arms flailed, the branch twisted and flung him off. There was a splash and he was floundering in the murky water. I hadn't realised it was so deep, thinking it was perhaps only a couple of feet but he didn't seem to be able to find the bottom.

"Swim over here," I shouted.

His mouth opened, and I could see water flow in so that he coughed and choked. Suddenly I realised he couldn't swim. Splashing wildly, it seemed that he had moved further out into the river.

"Christ," I shrieked and flung myself into the water. It was bitterly cold and of course my clothes dragged me down, but I'm a strong swimmer and Jerome was only a few yards out. But he was panicking. One of his flailing arms hit me and pushed me under. I knew if he grabbed me he could drown us both. I surfaced and found I was a little way from him. "Keep still," I shouted. "I'll get you out."

His eyes were wide with fear but he heard me and for a moment he ceased in his wild struggling, just enough for me to grab him, turn him on his back and pull him towards me so that he rested on my chest.

"You're OK, Jerome," I said and backstroked towards land. Once he struggled when a wavelet flowed over his face but I held him strongly and he quietened. I felt solid ground under my back and was able to stand up, pulling him with me. We slipped on the slimy bottom but got out onto the land.

Jerome stood there, shaking probably with fright but also because of the cold, and I felt it too, seeping into my bones, my clothes a solid mass of water and freezing chill.

"Come on," I said and we broke into a limping run, making for the tent.

We reached it in a couple of minutes. Jerome was shivering and I felt the start of tremors running down my back.

"Take your clothes off," I said, and as he hesitated, shouted, "Don't be a fool, you'll get hypothermia."

He struggled with fasteners, zips, buttons which refused to undo in his numb fingers, so I pulled off his clothes, the sodden mass making it difficult. I got off his pullover and his shirt. Then I unzipped his trousers, dropping to my knees to undo his boots and wrench them off. "Sit down," I said and he sat, his teeth chattering, while I pulled off his socks and trousers and then his underpants. His cock was tiny and his balls had almost entirely disappeared. It wasn't how I had imagined stripping him.

Then I got the towel and rubbed him hard, rubbed him until he protested and his skin turned red.

Now the weight of my sodden clothes was having the same effect on me. I started to undress and Jerome made feeble attempts to help. Of only this had happened in the privacy of my bedroom and we had both been dry.

We had some spare dry clothes of course but I knew that both of us weren't likely to generate heat from ourselves, however much we put on. We needed heat from outside. Jerome's lips had gone blue again and he was shivering as if he had a fit, the skin moving as if it had a life of its own.

"Get into the sleeping bag," I said.

He started to obey but stopped when I said, "No, wait!"

With fingers that felt like iced cucumbers, and about as nimble, I zipped both our bags together making a large double sized one. "OK, now get in."

He did, disappearing into the bag and I could see the material shuddering. He tried to wrap himself in the folds.

"Hold on," I said. "I'm coming in too."

I wormed my way in, past his freezing body until I lay beside him. I held him, his back to me and I could feel his skin against mine. I put my arms round him and drew him as close was I could, everything touching, my chest against his back, my genitals (tiny and shrunken from the cold) against the crack in his arse, my legs wound with his and our freezing feet together.

I put my lips against his neck and breathed what I hoped was warm air onto him. It was a kiss, but one of succour and hope.

Together we shivered uncontrollably.

Then gradually I could feel some warmth creeping back between our two bodies. My arms were round his body and I moved my hands over his chest feeling his nipples standing out like sharp knobs, then I went lower, massaging the flat planes of his stomach. He pushed back against me and I felt my penis twitch.

My lips in the back of his neck whispered the words, probably unintelligibly, "I love you, Jerome."

Slowly our shivering ceased, replaced at first by calm periods interspersed by sudden short shudders. Eventually even these ceased and we lay together, quietly. "I love you, Jerome," I said into his neck. I knew I was better because my prick was full of blood. It nestled in his arse crack.

Suddenly he turned so that we lay face to face, chest to chest, groin to groin, hardness to hardness. His prick pushed against mine. His lips opened. "I love you, Grant", he said, almost as if the statement was pulled out of him. We kissed, first our lips, then my tongue found its way through, past teeth until it played with his tongue, warm and supple.

He groaned. "I love you, Grant," he said again.

My hands stroked down his back until they clasped his buttocks, one in each hand, fingers in the crack between and his did the same to me. We pulled each other even closer as if we were trying to get into each other, become one flesh. Gently I moved my hips against him and he returned the movement.

It took a long time. I guess we had been so chilled that the normal body functions were a bit out of kilter. Normally I come pretty quickly but this time it took ages, and we stayed together in that kiss, breathing each other's air almost as if we had no need for any other.

Again and again he repeated the same phrase, "I love you," and I replied.

Then at last, after a millennium of sweetness, of joy, of almost painful delight, I knew I was about to come. I tensed and he did too. Together we groaned or shouted, I don't know which or who did what, but I felt our mutual orgasms explode and warm liquid was between us.

Even afterwards neither of us moved or drew away.

And I felt myself drifting off to sleep, safe in the arms of my beloved and he in mine.

* * * * * *

The sun shining through the tent wall woke me. I stretched luxuriously and yesterday's events came sharply into focus. Jerome was my lover. I reached for him, but the other side of the double sleeping bag was empty and cold. Some time earlier he'd crept away.

I crawled out, kicking off the snagging material and looked outside. Jerome's and my wet clothes lay in heaps on the grass. I stood naked and called but no one answered. Diving into the tent I found my dry clothes and pulled them on. As I did so I saw Jerome's dry pullover and trousers still in his haversack so he hadn't put his on. He'd gone out naked.

For one horrifying moment I thought of the river and raced down. It stretched, broad and placid and I could see nothing. But surely his fear of the water, as evinced in the accident would have stopped him from that.

But why had he gone? Of course I knew the answer immediately. It was what had happened before after the wrestling episode when he'd felt he'd sinned - or was about to sin. Last night had gone so much further, He'd admitted his sexuality, his love for me.

Frantically I called but there was no reply.

I stood in the middle of the field in the beautiful, beautiful weather and cried with worry, tears rolling down my cheeks. Yesterday had been an aberration and now we were back to St Luke. The sun was shining and birds were singing. The air was sweet with warmth and the scent of cut grass.

Suddenly I thought of the church. He might have gone there, might be praying for forgiveness in one of those old pews and I could assure him that it would never happen again, that it was MY fault, that I was the sinner and he the innocent.

Running along the bank of the river and within a half an hour I saw the church. Surely it would be locked. Someone would shut the doors at night and perhaps open it later in the morning but as I wrenched at the metal handle, I heard the click of the latch and the creak of the rusty hinges.

After the sunshine, it was dark inside. For a moment I could see nothing and then I made out a pale crouching figure in the middle of the nave. Naked as he had been last night, as he must have left the tent this morning, he knelt under the figure of the crucified Christ. The figure below, though, was as much in agony as that above, on his knees, his back bowed so that his forehead touched the ground, he groaned a sound of such despair that my stomach twisted in sympathy.

Almost below the level of hearing, I heard his voice, and could just about make out the words. "I have sinned," he was saying again and again.

I put my hand on his shoulder and he flinched away with a scream as if I'd touched him with a red hot coal. His eyes were wide open but didn't seem to see anything.

There was nothing I could do. Somehow I would have to get someone who could take control, someone who could look after him. I knew they had won and I would never have my Jerome again.

I went out into the bright, cruel sunlight and phoned for an ambulance on my mobile.


Date started: 23, Saturday October, 2004
Date finished: 4, Thursday November, 2004 10:59 am
Words: 11,797