Special Friendships - English Fashion Part 4
by N Fourbois
Over the next few days Ben and Lewis only saw each other at meals, passing on the landing, at communal lectures and for a quick cup of cocoa before bed. They were both clearing the decks for the following weekend. Ben finally admitted to himself that any reservations he had about accepting the post were a defence mechanism for the worst case scenario had he not been offered it. Admittedly he was surprised (that was just his natural modesty), but with hindsight the clues were there and all he had to do was to act sensibly. He wrote his letter of acceptance and delivered it personally. Now he could simply get on with his PGCE course and enjoy life.
Friday afternoon Ben got his work up to date and packed a bag. He knocked on Lewis' door and after a cup of tea together they picked up their kit and made their way across to meet Marc in his college carpark. Marc drove them out to Oddstones. It was still light as late winter was preparing to turn into spring. On arrival they climbed out of the motor, taking their kit with them, and were shown to their room. Not the loft this time, but the main guest room on the first floor, complete with a double bed. They had the floor to themselves as Marc was sleeping with Seb in his apartment while Elly was away. Seb had not yet got home from work.
So after freshening themselves up the three of them sat in the sitting room over a drink. It gave Ben and Lewis a chance to talk to Marc about their relationship, but Ben was still not ready to tell anyone else, particularly his parents. After all, Marc already knew and he had been in the same situation himself earlier in life. He ventured the opinion that they would be sympathetic and after meeting Lewis a fortnight ago they might not even be surprised. At that Seb arrived. He greeted them all with a hug and went to change into something a little more comfortable. Then they all put on their outdoor clothes and armed with torches walked along the country lanes to the village pub for dinner.
They all got on so well together that they were content just to sit and talk. Just before closing time they donned the outdoor gear once more and wandered, perhaps more noisily and maybe not quite so directly, back to Oddstones. Not ready for bed they got the Monopoly board out until the canny Scot had cleared the other three out of cash. Ben had a warm glow in his body as he stripped himself of all his clothes and climbed into bed. Lewis did likewise, switching off the lights except for his bedside lamp before snuggling down with Ben at his side.
It was nine oclock by the time Ben climbed out of bed. That was late for him. He pulled on a pair of shorts and a tee shirt and went down to the kitchen where he found Marc alone just putting the finishing touches to the Daily Telegraph crossword. Both brothers had a ruddy glow on their cheeks, the radiance of full health.
"How did you sleep?" enquired Marc.
"Not a lot, but very well when I did," countered Ben with a knowing grin on his face. "How about you?"
"Fine. Tea or coffee?"
The mood in the space-wagon on Monday morning was subdued. On the one hand it was an anticlimax after the excitement and activities of the weekend. They had all worked hard and played hard. On the other it had caught up with the three occupants of the car whose tiredness might otherwise be blamed on that Monday morning feeling. Fortunately Marc had no classes that day, but he felt that his new piece of research might not receive one hundred per cent attention and there was a faculty meeting late afternoon. Lewis' and Ben's bodies felt the aches and pains of their exertions and any ideas the PE student had that he was superfit could be summarily dismissed. Seb had disappeared earlier as he was working in London that week.
As the space-wagon crawled its way along one of the main commuter routes into Cambridge Ben lapsed into that halfway state between sleeping and waking. His mind went back to Saturday evening. After a physically strenuous day all four went back to Oddstones to relax before the evening's activities which had been organised by Seb. It was to be a fancy dress dinner and dance in his apartment, interesting for two reasons. First his apartment while quite adequate for him could not be described as other than small. Second no one had brought any fancy dress with them. However, that was the least of the problems for Seb had provided. Before he went off to start cooking he handed the participants a Lycra bodysock, each a different colour. Marc's was a sunshine yellow, Ben's a bright red, Lewis' a light green while Seb kept the turquoise one for himself. At a quarter to eight Ben and Lewis went up to change. They showered together to save water and time and dried each other off. Ben had difficulty at first getting into his bodysock and so he sat there watching Lewis slip expertly into his. He gave a sharp intake of breath when he saw how the garment clung to Lewis' buttocks and packet and quickly followed by putting on his.
They made their way to Seb's apartment. Marc was already there helping in the kitchen and rather than spoil the effect it was enhanced by the pinafores they were wearing over their Lycra apparel. Just before serving the pinafores came off and Ben's eyes grew large at the sight of the pair. Even his brother had taken his attention and he found life much more thrilling when the two joined him and Lewis for sherry on the three-seater sofa. The meal proceeded with the usual banter and conversation, but things hotted up again when they retired to the sofa for coffee. Coffee over Seb changed the music on the CD player and suggested they danced. Marc took Lewis in his arms while Seb embraced Ben. You can imagine the sensuous feeling of the Lycra clad bodies in an embrace, but before the excitement spilt over it was time to change partner until Ben was eventually dancing with his brother. He had always admired, even adored his elder brother, but in his twenty-three years this was the first time Marc had aroused any sexual feeling in him and while they tightly embraced he had to use all his self-control to prevent himself from kissing him for it would not have been the normal fraternal kiss on the brow or the cheek, but something more intense. Ben was brought back to reality as the space wagon jolted to a halt at the entrance to Marc's college carpark. He was pleased that Seb had allowed them to keep the fancy dress for a future occasion.
Lewis and even more so Ben had experienced a steep learning curve over the weekend to the extent that Ben felt he was bottom of the class. They had had long conversations with Marc and Seb together about the meaning of life. Ben had always valued his big brother's advice and experience and he felt that when the moment was right he could talk to his parents about his relationship with Lewis. Marc and Seb had also suggested, subject to Elly's approval, that he could spend the Easter vac at Oddstones. There would be no one at home during the day and little to distract him from his revision and dissertation. It was not long now until the end of term. A few days in Glasgow with Lewis to recover from term, a weekend with his parents in the west country, then back to Cambridgeshire for the duration.
Term ended. As promised Ben took Lewis to Scotland in his car. The flat was small, but sufficient for the two of them. Lewis had converted the other bedroom into a den, an office-study with an electric model railway and the wall covered with pictures and posters of gay icons, with a particularly large one of David Beckham while he still had his flowing blond mane.
"You didn't tell me you're a soccer fan, or that you had a model railway."
"Perhaps not a soccer fan. You would never get me to a Rangers match, and even less likely to Celtic," and they spent many an hour running trains between England and Scotland. At first they slept a great deal, but then Lewis was able to take him to see the sights of the city. Compared with Cambridge it was still winter. In the evenings they would go to the theatre or cinema, or perhaps choose a restaurant, then come back and chill out till the small hours of the morning and sleep in late.
Ben discovered what a meticulous person Lewis was. His flat was the opposite of a normal student's accommodation and its orderliness appealed to Ben. He also found out that Lewis was a dab hand at the kitchen stove, something he had little opportunity to discover at college.
Ben also had time to reflect on his conversations with Lewis. He readily acknowledged that family bereavement apart he had never had an unhappy moment in his life, but the last six months had given him added bliss, an extra dimension provided by Lewis' company and companionship. Privately he was dreading the end of the summer term, but that went unspoken.
Eventually that Friday morning came, Good Friday in fact, time for the journey south, but being a disciplined person by nature he accepted it stoically, said his farewells and climbed into his car. A74, M74, M6, M5. He would be home before it got dark. Home - that was an odd concept. Where was home? In the west country while he was boarding at Buckton and probably while he was at Durham. But during his year's teaching and two terms at Cambridge he had become increasingly more detached from his parents and their house and felt he was already putting roots down in Cambridgeshire. After all, most of the family were there. Now he had a job there and he could see his parents eventually selling up and coming to live over on the eastern side of the country near him, his brother and sister.
He had come to the inevitable decision that he had to tell his parents about his sexual orientation. For most of the journey south he pondered how. He thought back to his time at home when the family usually took a walking holiday over the Easter weekend. Now the fledgelings had all flown the nest and his parents felt they were too old for such exertions. He thought back to one Easter holiday before the time he had gone to board at Buckton College. Marc was home on holiday, but not in his usual happy mood. It was about the time he (Ben) met Seb for the first time. At the time Seb had seemed no more than just one of Marc's friends, someone who had come on holiday with them. He had not even found it strange that there was a difference in their ages. Seb had become a friend of the family, was welcomed by them. He seemed to be a member of the family until Jessica married Seb's brother Adam and he officially became one. He was very fond of Seb. Only later as he started to adolesce did he learn that Marc and Seb were in love with one another. The fact was accepted and no great fuss had been made. It had never struck him that it was unconventional, nor until he had gone to Buckton himself that it was a sexual relationship, but with years to get used to it it didn't worry him either. It was just part of his upbringing. Now the mantle of Elijah had fallen on Elisha.
His parents were pleased to see him. His mother commented how well he looked. On the Saturday evening his mother had some of her lady friends round for bridge. It was an ideal opportunity for father and son to go out for a drink. At first his father did most of the talking. He was keen to know about Ben's new job, where he would live. That was something he had given little thought to over the excitement of the past few weeks. Finally he felt he could direct the conversation.
"Dad, do you remember that Easter we went walking in the Peak District for the weekend, the one when Marc was going through a miserable time? And you know Jessica and I didn't really know what it was about, but we found out as we grew up?" His father nodded in agreement. Ben drew a deep breath. "Well, I think I'm the same as Marc. I'm gay, homosexual." He took a large sip of his beer and waited for his father's reaction. His father said nothing at first. He didn't even look shocked, not even surprised. Finally he spoke.
"And does that make you feel unhappy or discontent with yourself?"
"No, not at all. In fact quite the opposite, perhaps relieved even."
"Ill say the same to you as I said when Marc told me he was gay. Your mother and I are proud of all our children. We love you and we're proud of what you've achieved so far in life. We produced you and we made you what you are and we love you the way you are. I don't want you worrying about us. We just want your happiness and all the time you're happy and it's not at someone else's expense we'll support you." Ben heaved a sigh of relief. "Youll need something stronger than that to drink. Whisky or G & T?"
"A malt whisky please, Dad."
While his father was at the bar Ben could breathe again. He had shed a great weight. His father returned with two doubles. Fortunately they had walked to the pub.
"Here's to you, son, and to your future happiness." He went on to tell his father about Lewis and how he had spent the weekend with him and Marc at Oddstones and about spending a few days with him in Glasgow.
"Were really like Marc and Seb were."
"Do you want to tell your mother or do you want me to do it?"
"Can we do it together?"
"Well, its ten o'clock. The bridge party will be breaking up. We'll make our way home."
The bridge party was indeed breaking up as they went through the front door. When the ladies had finally gone Ben's father brought a glass of sherry and two more whiskies into the living room. Together father and son broke the news to mother. She had been there before, she who is unshockable. She simply raised her glass and said "Then we have something to celebrate." When the toasting had died down she said "I liked Lewis immediately I met him. Hes a good-looking lad, too." So Ben went to bed that night with a light heart, but woke Easter morning with the heavy head of a hangover. However, the three made it to church and Ben had recovered sufficiently to enjoy one of his mother's Sunday roasts afterwards.
After an early lunch on Tuesday Ben embarked on his return to Cambridgeshire and in the evening safely installed himself with his books, notes and laptop in Oddstones for the rest of the vacation.
Ben now felt at peace with himself and could consequently concentrate on his dissertation and revision. He had chosen as his theme the importance of physical education in balancing the academic curriculum and countering the couch potato society. During a break on his journey back to Cambridgeshire he had telephoned Lewis to say he had told his parents about their relationship, how reasonably they had reacted and how they looked forward to meeting him again. That evening he made a similar announcement over dinner to Marc, Elly and Seb who heartily congratulated him on the boldness of his decision, but he made it clear that for professional reasons he did not want to come out publicly, well not yet anyway. Despite having the law on his side he felt that independent schools could still react very insensitively, unafraid of any subsequent industrial tribunal, while the maintained sector had to toe the line.
Ben worked hard until the day before the University term began. He interspersed his revision with daily runs, visits to the college gym and of course calls to Lewis whom he encouraged to work hard at his revision. On that Monday he moved his kit back into his college room early in the morning, brought his car back to Oddstones, caught the bus back into Cambridge and waited for the arrival of his loved one. He knew the train journey from Glasgow was less than direct, but using the Internet he deduced Lewis' ETA and walked along to the railway station in the hope of being able to greet him as he alighted from the train.
At last the train drew into the station and as he he looked up and down the platform he eventually spotted Lewis. He ran up to him and without further ado Lewis dropped his luggage and they flung their arms round each other in a hug. Ben picked up one of his bags and they walked towards the exit. As they did they heard two voices behind them hailing them with a cheery hallo.
"Do you remember us?" said one.
"How could I forget," said Ben with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. "You're the twins I met when I visited your school a few weeks ago. Jack and Ted, isnt it?"
"Thats right," said Ted.
"Thanks for those photos you sent us." said Jack.
"Well, you were pretty sharp spotting who I was. You're the only people who have ever done that." "Introduce me to your fans," said Lewis, obviously interested. Ben reminded him of the story of his teaching observation at the local comprehensive he had visited and the penny immediately dropped.
"Weve left that school," said Jack and Ted in unison. "We're going to the Mythe School now." Two jaws dropped.
"Well, we might see you then," replied Ben, quickly regaining his composure. "We start teaching there again in a week's time." At this they parted company as the two youngsters went off to catch a bus.
"Thats something to look forward to," said Lewis. "Should make third form games interesting. Youve certainly got a gift for spotting talent." Ben blushed.
"It wasn't like that at all," but realising he was having the mickey taken out of him he knew any further explanation would be useless.
Back at college Lewis unpacked, informal dinner and then out for a drink to celebrate being together again.
"I haven't told you the good news yet, have I?" said Ben. "When I told Marc and Elly about us, they were so pleased, but the important thing was that they said that whenever we needed a break we could come and spend the weekend at Oddstones. You're to consider yourself one of the family which means as long as we're content to entertain ourselves we can go there whenever we want, even if they're doing other things. They're only a telephone call away."
They made their way back to college. Lewis had brought another bottle of one of his rare malts back from Scotland which had to be sampled that evening. Even without the alcohol they had the ardent desire to spend the night together, but realised that as the college was packed with those freshly returned for the new term they would have to bide their time. After an intimate hug Ben returned to his room, got ready for bed and relieved his yearning in the time honoured way.
Next day there was a special programme of lectures and seminars. The dissertations were handed in. Then two and a half days of examinations, a long weekend and TP on the following Monday. Ben and Lewis took full advantage of his brother's and sister-in-laws invitation.
It was interesting now that Lewis' and Ben's relationship was officially confirmed among the family. Seb had always been polite, welcoming and outgoing towards them, but now he started to take a real interest in the couple and would often take them off to his apartment for a drink and a chat. He played the rôle of big brother and father figure in one, and in a most delightful way, putting them at ease. Oddstones was to become their home from home.
Ben and Lewis walked off to the Mythe School together on the Monday morning. As a future member of staff Ben found a different attitude towards him from the colleagues. The pupils did not know. His maths commitment was doubled. He now had two forms which in all probability he would not teach when he started officially in September. He was also encouraged to observe sixth form classes. Lewis again disappeared off to the labs for his chemistry and would join Ben for third form games two afternoons a week.
The school was large enough to provide a choice. The cricketers were creamed off and they practised for inter-school matches, while over the term the rest followed a varied programme of team sports such as cricket and softball, or individual ones such as tennis, athletics or swimming. And this is where Ben and Lewis worked together under the supervision of the games staff. As a PE man officially, at least for the time being, Ben had responsibility for organising the various activities.
Lewis, of course, still had not gained a post and was tired of reading about the shortage of science teachers. He had made many applications, but at present was not even getting interviews. Ben jollied him along, quite easy from his position of strength, and would help him trawl through the Times Ed.
After their combined games afternoons the two lads would remain behind and thrash a ball about the tennis court. Ben could easily fit his runs into the teaching day, but Lewis felt he was neglecting his fitness. One advantage of this term's TP would be that they at least had the school half term holiday and they had plans for it.
The first week had passed quickly and on Friday evening after a game of tennis the two wandered back to college depressed at the idea of marking and lesson preparation for the following week plus a visit from their tutors. However, on arriving back there was a little light relief, for the workers returning from the chalkface were soon directed to the college notice board. The results of the theory exams were posted and both Lewis and Ben had passed. Whatever the workload this called for a celebratory drink after dinner. Ben was relieved since he only had to pass this term's TP and he had a PGCE and a job. Lewis had something else to add to his CV. Not only that, but he also had a letter inviting him to interview at the school where Ben had first met the Batty twins while on observation. He encouraged his friend by saying how impressed he had been with the atmosphere.
In the college bar there was the usual Friday night crowd, but of course not many of them were education students, many of whom had moved out to their boarding schools again and would not hear their results until the following day, or even Monday. Lewis got in the first round and the lads joined their friends, but it became clear that they really wanted to be on their own. So they drank up and went out to town to find a quiet pub. Some hope on a Friday evening, but they did manage it in the backstreets of Cambridge. Lewis possessed an uncanny ability of seeking out eating places and watering holes suitable for the particular mood or occasion. As they walked through the streets Ben slipped his arm round Lewis' waist and immediately experienced a tightening in his trousers which just added to his overall feeling of frustration. Despite the terms of the open invitation he did not feel he could at such short notice telephone his brother and sister-in-law and stretch their hospitality, especially as it was less than a week since their last stay there. In any case the work for school had piled up for both of them and it had to be a working weekend. Installed in a dark and quiet corner of the pub Ben disclosed his feelings to Lewis, quite unnecessarily as Lewis was not only in the same state, but had also correctly judged his friend's mood.
They drank slowly and quietly, often staring longingly into one another's eyes. It was all they could do to prevent themselves from behaving in an unacceptable way in public as their passions became roused. Eventually as last orders were called they realised how time had melted away and they made the decision to wend their way back to college. Ben invited Lewis to his room for a nightcap of cocoa and biscuits. Lewis went to his own room and divested himself of his outdoor clothes, quickly returning with his new bottle of malt whisky. As Ben was mixing the hot drinks Lewis came up behind him and took him in a hug. Any resistance he might have had disappeared in a trice and still in a hug he led him to his bed and they tumbled onto it.
When Ben woke he was freezing for his clothes were in a pile on the floor mingled with Lewis'. It was one o'clock in the morning. He slipped on his dressing gown, finished making the cocoa and took a cup to Lewis. He too felt cold and slipped his clothes back on. They slowly drank their cocoa, feeling like death warmed up, before Lewis finally stood up, kissed his lover on the cheek, picked up his untouched bottle of whisky and disappeared back to his own room with a whispered "Good Night."
The lads' Saturday squash game in winter had given way to tennis in summer. After today's game they parted company to do marking and preparation. From then on the weekend was unremarkable which is more than could be said for the following week. It appeared to start with Tuesday games, or at least that was when our two friends first noticed what was happening. It was one of those warm, still Spring afternoons that lull you into the illusion that Summer is beginning. Tuesday and Thursday games were the occasions when the four people involved came together. This particular day Ben and Lewis were organising a softball match and who should be in their group, but the Batty twins. So far, so good. Apart from the customary cheery greeting from each to each of the games staff there was at first nothing to pick them out of the crowd. As newboys they had integrated well with their classmates. They even already appeared to be well-liked. Ben divided the class into two teams with Jack on one side and Ted on the other, trying to make the sides equal according to their training and certainly not allowing the captains to pick in case the last two chosen should suffer the pangs of inferiority. From what followed it also seemed that he had divided the twins correctly with Ted in Lewis' team while Jack was in his. Both boys did what they could to be helpful in setting up the game, or to put another way to attract the attention of their respective team coach to the extent that Ben even remarked upon it to Lewis.
"So you noticed as well. It's not an unknown situation. I'll tell you about it later." Lewis went off to organise his team while Ben sorted out his. Then it happened, as if rehearsed and on cue. Just before the game was about to begin Jack and Ted removed their tracksuits, not just that, but by asking questions about the game they made sure they had the attention of their teachers. Jack was dressed in a white singlet and very short white shorts leaving very little to the imagination, while Ted wore a Linford Christie type Lycra running-suit which left absolutely nothing to the imagination, and to say the least both were very well developed boys. However, the remarkableness did not stop there for their gear was as near as possible to what Ben had been modelling in the pictures which he had sent them from his portfolio the previous term. No problem for Lewis. He just went on and answered the questions, but it was Ben who forgot himself, dropping his jaw and with his eyes popping out on stalks. Lewis helped his friend and colleague out by causing a distraction and anyway the cheers, clapping and wolf-whistles from the rest of the class saved the situation. Obviously Ted had done it for a dare.
Lewis clapped his hands and called everyone in for the toss-up and final instructions, but Jack at least, if not Ted as well, knew they had attained their first goal. Fortunately the other boys seemed oblivious.
The rest of the session went as planned. However, when the group was dismissed who should stay behind but Jack and Ted who wanted to help put the equipment away, or rather they wanted the undivided attention of their teachers.
"Dont forget your tracksuits," said Ben who after a whole double lesson had eventually got used to their appearance.
"Do you like the sportsgear, sir?" piped up Jack.
"It was a birthday present," Ted joined in.
"I think Ive seen something like that before," said Ben.
"Yes. You were wearing it in those photos you sent us when we were still at the comp."
"I know. That's why I looked so surprised," said Ben lying through his teeth, and the boys knew it. Lewis just looked away so they couldn't see the grin on his face as he almost choked suppressing his laughter.
"They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," he managed to splutter out. Jack and Ted were as good as their word in clearing away and with a typically cheery "See you Thursday, sirs" went off to get changed.
With a feeling of relief once they had gone Ben challenged Lewis to a jog round the playing fields which they interspersed with sprints and exercises. Since they had been back at the Mythe Ben had taken Lewis' complaint of losing his fitness seriously and they kept each other up to scratch physically. They went off to shower and change, collected their books from the Common Room and made their way back to college.
Walking along the main road Ben said "What were you going to explain later?" It was the first reference to the afternoon's amazing events.
"What? About those two lads?"
"Typical adolescent crushes. We used to do that sort of thing at school if we fancied a young master, especially if we thought he was gay as well. They've obviously got us sussed and I would say they were sympathetic rather than anti."
"So what do we do about it?"
"Act professionally. Dont react to their behaviour, but remain deadpan. Dont encourage it, but on the other hand don't avoid them or ignore them because that could lead to all sorts of trouble."
"It's all right for you to say that, but I've got a job here and I want to keep it." Ben was obviously troubled inside, particularly by the fact that he had found them both attractive. Despite his love for Lewis he still had not sorted himself out fully. There were depths in his make-up that even he had not as yet fathomed.
"Well, one thing is to make sure as far as possible that they remain with the group. Try and forestall them from staying behind alone and if they do, make sure there are other boys there with us." Meanwhile they had arrived back at college and they went for a cup of tea in Lewis' room.
That was fine on Thursday. The twins had been detailed off to play tennis while Ben and Lewis ran two five-a-side soccer games. By the time the following Tuesday session came round they had forgotten about the twins until Ben came to take their swimming session. Firstly he could not help but notice them because of their cheery greeting followed by an enquiry as to where Lewis was. But once they had made themselves stand out from the crowd Ben could not keep his eyes off them in their snug fitting swimming costumes, for while a good half of the class wore boxer type shorts Jack and Ted were among the minority attired in scrungies and theirs clung to and accentuated every nook and cranny of their lower anatomy. To make matters worse the pair stretched and posed whenever waiting on the side of the pool and Ben could not look away when Jack in particular clasped his hands behind his head, bent backwards and turned and smiled at him. After that he kept the boys in the water as much as possible until the changeover in activities halfway through the session in the hope that the effect of the cold water on their anatomies would give them less incentive to tart so outrageously, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. He was grateful no other member of staff was there to witness what could have been embarrassing for him. On the other hand he wasn't to know that they would not have behaved so outrageously had their regular member of staff been there.
After dismissing their classes Ben and Lewis met and as they were not on changing duty that afternoon they went for their run round the fields. The warm, late Spring weather was continuing and they had worked up a profuse sweat by the time they returned to the staff changing room in the pavilion. Lewis checked that everyone had gone before they stripped off and went for a shower, but imagine their surprise when walking into the shower for who should they find still there? None other than Jack and Ted. At first the two pairs stopped in their tracks. Ben, as naïve as ever, just stared open-mouthed. The twins just stared. A smile, or was it a grin, broke out over their faces as they made no effort to look away. Ben could not take his eyes off Jack. Yet neither could Jack tear his away from Ben. It was as if time stood still and when they eventually did look one another in the face they each saw on the other a wide-eyed picture of wonderment and admiration. Ben had never noticed such perfection of form in the beauty of a human being, a beauty that could not be surpassed by Lewis or Seb or even his brother. Jack was obviously in awe of how well developed Ben was, although neither twin could exactly be described as a eunuch, and meanwhile time continued to stand still.
Again it was Lewis who saved the situation saying "Shouldnt you have been gone ages ago?"
"Is it that late, sir?" remarked Jack.
"Sorry, we didnt realise. I havent got my watch on," said Ted, at which they slowly and deliberately in mock deference minced past and out of the showers with satisfied smiles on their faces and a cheery "Sorry, sirs.", "We wont do it again, sirs.", "Bye, sirs, see you tomorrow.", but in a manner for which they could not be reproached and just in time before Ben betrayed his genuine interest.
"How do you manage, Lewis?" Ben exhaled a long sigh of relief.
"Experience," came the reply.
They showered and changed, collected their books from the Common Room and made their way back to college. When they had arrived back at college they went for a cup of tea in Ben's room.
Thursday Ben made sure that he organised the session so that he and Lewis would be nowhere near the twins, but afterwards felt that he had cut off his own nose to spite his face for he missed them, something which Lewis coincidentally remarked on as they made their way back to college.
On the Friday school broke up for half term. They would return after ten days for the last two weeks of TP and their final assessment. Also Lewis had at last gained a job interview at the comprehensive after half term. However, first they were going on holiday and on the recommendation of Ben's brother and brother-in-law where were they heading for? Nowhere else but Mykonos.
Ben and Lewis spent the Friday night at Oddstones from where Marc took them to the airport early Saturday morning. Once on the aeroplane they could finally relax and look forward to a week of sun, swimming, other sporting activities and most importantly each other's company. They arrived at their hotel in Mykonos Town late in the afternoon. They vowed to do very little that evening. So after dinner they returned to their hotel room, chilled out for an hour and went to bed. They woke to bright sunshine, got up, showered and appeared for breakfast by the pool dressed in tee shirt and shorts.
The week passed quickly for Ben and Lewis. They didn't mind that there was little sight-seeing to be done on the island. They were happy to bathe and sunbathe, to play the various sports on offer. After a light lunch they would return to their air conditioned room at the hotel for a siesta during the heat of the day when they could lie in bed together and enjoy each other. Late afternoon they would swim in the sea or in the hotel pool and in evening eat either in the hotel or in one of the many bars where they met fellow British tourists with the same interests and with whom they sat and talked over a drink. It would be gone midnight before they finally climbed into bed and fell asleep in each other's arms.
Saturday they had to fly back to England and to make them feel the benefit of their week's holiday the weather was at its most dismal with rain on landing at Stanstead. Their first job was to ring Marc which meant that they had at best an hour to kill until he arrived. Rather than look back over the week they sat in one of the cafés and looked forward. Two more weeks of TP, then the long summer holidays. Ben had not given a thought to where he was going to live, probably because if push came to shove he could stay at Oddstones. Lewis still had no job, but he did have an interview. One more thought occupied Ben - the twins, especially Jack.
On the Monday Ben walked to the Mythe School alone. For Lewis this was interview day and Ben had left him at college after wishing him the best of luck and giving him some unneeded advice on his attire. At school there was a large stiff brown envelope awaiting him with a 'Do not bend' label stuck to the front. It had come through the post, typed address label and Cambridge postmark on the franked label. It was time for assembly. So he carefully put the envelope into his briefcase where it remained temporarily forgotten for the rest of the day. Ben had more important things on his mind. His tutor was coming to observe third year games on the Tuesday afternoon and he wanted to make sure he was well prepared. As the programme was his he made sure that the Batty twins would not be in his group, but delegated them to Lewis. He was going to spend the whole afternoon with the same boys on various athletic skills: sprint starts, baton changeovers for track events and long jump and triple jump for field. He cleared the programme with his mentor, made sure the facilities were available and retired to the 'quiet room' to write out his lesson plan. Fourth form maths and then the seniors for games in the afternoon. After the end of school he kept up his personal fitness with a run and a medley of exercises, then made his way back to college. He had been so busy all day that it was not until the walk home that he gave a thought to Lewis and how he had got on. He went straight up to his room and was surprised to find he hadn't returned yet. He spent the next hour luxuriating in the bath. Finally he got out, dried himself and dressed down in grandad vest and his faded 501s to face the rest of the day. Like his brother he could wear Levi's as if they had been personally tailored for him with them fitting snugly and emphasising his manly figure without ever appearing tight.
Once he had dried his hair he made his way across the landing to be met halfway by Lewis. He had no need to ask him how he had got on. His face told all. Ben took him in a hug and swung him round like a young child.
"But did you accept it?"
"I asked for a night to think about it. It seemed too good to be true and I wanted to search out the disadvantages. Anyway, it's chemistry or combined science throughout the school with a strong sixth form. A games commitment if I want it. A third form tutor group and no other responsibilities in my probationary year. I have until midday tomorrow to get in touch. How did your day go?"
"Ive been planning for my final assessment tomorrow afternoon. Can we discuss it after supper? And then a small celebration is in order. The drinks are on me."
As on most evenings it was informal dinner. Afterwards the pair went back to Ben's room to talk about lesson plans. He took his folder out of his briefcase and with it came the brown envelope.
"Oh, Id forgotten that. It was waiting for me at school." He took his paper knife, carefully slit it open and slid out a letter and some photographs. The letter was addressed to both him and Lewis and was from the Batty twins. Ben could hardly believe his eyes as he read the letter out. The photos were holiday snaps from the twins' Easter break. They had been offered as a thank you for the ones Ben had sent them at the end of last term. There were two separate folders clearly marked with Lewis' and Ben's names. Ben opened his. Inside he found two large colour photographs. The top one was of both twins in most revealing swimming costumes on the beach somewhere. Lewis had the same. The second one was of them individually - a picture of Ted in Lewis' folder and a highly provocative one of Jack in Ben's. Ben felt his blood pump faster round his body and when he could finally take his eyes off the subject and look at the background he recognised straightaway where the photos had been taken. The twins had spent their Easter holiday in Mykonos.
It was five minutes before Lewis could tear his friend away from the contents of the envelope. He could only take his eyes off the photos when he was reading and rereading the letter which incidentally ended with 'Your affectionate admirers'. Even Lewis' genuine interest faded into indifference when set besides Ben's. Finally Lewis took them gently out of his hand and put them in Ben's desk drawer. Woken from his dream at last Ben spoke.
"Lewis, before we go out we ought to make a decision about the weekend. I thought it might be a nice idea if we went to Oddstones."
"What about work?"
"Well, we can probably do that just as well there as here. Probably better as I'll be the only distraction and I promise to behave myself. Honest."
"Oh, thats a pity. Anyway, it's just that Ill be building up to my final assessment on the Tuesday after."
"Oh, you've got the date?"
"Yes, there was a note waiting for me when I came back from the interview." At that Lewis went back to his room to get ready and Ben hauled out his mobile to phone Oddstones. Marc answered.
"Yes, of course you can. No worries." Marc had obviously been watching too much Home and Away. "You know Elly and I are going down to see Mum and Dad this weekend, don't you? And Seb's in and out. So youll have the place to yourselves. Dont worry. Well do the Sainsbury's run and fill up the fridge and the larder before we go."
"No need," said Ben unable to hide his mendacity.
"So Ill pick you up Friday afternoon and get you back in time for school Monday morning. Is that all right?"
"Couldn't have planned it better myself. We're just off out to celebrate. Lewis has got a job offer and as I've spent all day preparing for my final assessment tomorrow, I need a break, even if it's only for lemonade and lime."
"Good luck for tomorrow."
"Thanks. Love to Elly and Seb. Bye." And at that point Lewis came back into the room suitably dressed down for a warm summer's evening. "Were on for the weekend," and with that they left for one of Cambridge's low spots.
As good as his word Ben bought all the drinks that night, all two rounds. Not that Lewis lived up to the reputation of a Scotsman. In fact he had a very generous nature. Also you had to listen to him very carefully to discover that he was Scottish at all, although Ben did notice on his visit to Glasgow he soon lapsed into the accent when he was talking to the natives. Perhaps that was self-preservation.
Settled into a quiet corner with a drink and sitting beside each other Ben said to Lewis "So what about this job, then?" He talked very enthusiastically about it, how he liked the school and the pupils he had seen, how concerned they were to help NQTs through their probationary year. He'd liked the staff and the atmosphere in the staff room. "So whats holding you back?"
"Its you, really." Ben looked genuinely shocked and Lewis realised it. "Or rather us." The look on Ben's face eased.
"What do you mean?" Lewis was searching for the right words.
"We talk a lot, don't we? But we never really talk about us."
"Weve never needed to. We just came together by chance, got on together by chance and discovered we shared the same interests by chance. I suppose we've just taken everything for granted. We have never needed to talk about us."
"I won't ask the question I want to ask, not yet anyway, and I think I know the answer, but I'll tell you what's on my mind." Ben sat back and took occasional sips of his lemonade and lime as Lewis spoke. "As I said, we came together by chance for this PGCE year and I have always assumed that at the end of it we would for good or ill go our separate ways, but " He paused. " youve got a job in Cambridge and I've been offered a job in Cambridge. I like the job and I'm also desperate to take it. It's late in the school year." He stalled. "I've grown very fond of you, Ben. We've had a lot of fun together, but I have never assumed that I have any claim on your life apart from the natural demands of friendship. My feelings, however, have gone beyond friendship and I have fallen in love with you."
Lewis waited for the shock to appear on Ben's face, but it didn't come. The more extrovert and therefore less introspective of the two, Ben, had never questioned their relationship. He had fully accepted it without concerning himself with the implications. After a short pause he simply turned towards Lewis, took hold of his hand, kissed him on the cheek and then whispered in his ear "I've known that for ages and I've fallen in love with you too. Only I've never got round to telling you, which now makes me feel awful." Lewis returned the kiss. Ben stood up and got the second round in.
After toasting their love for one another they sat back. Rationality had returned. They sat back and Ben began the conversation again. "I had to sort myself out and I could only start to when I knew I had a job and where it was. I haven't done much, but get tomorrow over I've got just under three months and no excuse. You've probably heard one of us say that Marc bought Oddstones out of a legacy. The legacy was from our grandparents, mother's parents, and was split equally between Marc, Jessica and me. Jessica's now got her home with Adam. I was under eighteen at the time and my share was invested, and invested very well. I can afford to buy a house and have some change left over. If you would like to, you could move in with me. You could help me choose the house." Lewis' face had become radiant.
"That's more than I ever dared think and if I sell my flat I can pay my share."
"We'll worry about that later. The important thing is - will you accept the job?"
"Youve taken all my reservations away. Of course I will. Now look, my first lesson's at ten tomorrow. Can you tell them I'll be in late, but in time to teach, as I've got to go back to the school? Then I can deliver my acceptance in person."
They drank up and made their way back to college. It was still light as the sun was dipping below the horizon and the day had lost little of its warmth. On the tortuous way back they passed through a narrow alley. As no one was in sight Lewis took Ben in a tight embrace, pressed him against the wall and gave him such a passionate kiss that it was to leave them both with a feeling of extreme frustration that night.
On the next day Ben's final teaching assessment went very well, although not without one hitch. Despite his best laid plans who should turn up in his group but the terrible twins. They had come to an arrangement with two other boys and sent them off to Lewis' group. They couldn't have known in advance how important this lesson was for Ben, not until they recognised his college tutor from previous sessions. He could not send them away and in the end it paid off to have them there. Considering that they had only been at the Mythe for just over half a term, and among people who had known each other for nearly three years they had been extremely well accepted. Though typical of the ethos of the school it was still quite a social achievement. Perhaps with their experience of peer group pressure from the comprehensive they knew how to run a class and although they had never used that ability maliciously they immediately noticed a place for it now. Not that Ben had ever had any difficulties with his classes, but he could tell the right atmosphere had been set among the pupils. They were attentive and they tried their hardest. Without going into any more detail the session could not have worked out better. Afterwards there was a discussion between him, his tutor and his school mentor at the end of which he was sent away with an invitation to sherry with his tutor before dinner that evening. Ben could only wonder at the purpose of that. It was informal dinner anyway.
By the time he got back to the changing room Lewis was just coming out of the shower after his sprints and jogs round the school playing fields. Ben faithfully reported what had happened including the way the Batty twins had swapped groups. Had they known something?
"Do you think they heard us talking in the changing room?" enquired Lewis.
"Then they must have reacted very quickly," answered Ben.
"They cant have picked anything up from before half term, or could they?" Ben went round to check the pavilion before he took his shower and changed. They collected their books from the Common Room and made their way back to college. When they had arrived back at college they went for a cup of tea in Lewis' room.
P E students were expected to wear a blazer when they were at school and not in sports kit and this is what Ben wore when he crossed the court to go to his tutor's rooms. After the formalities and the sherry had been poured he sat back in a deep armchair anxiously awaiting to hear the reason for this summons.
"Ben, it will take a little time before you hear this through the official channels, but I wanted to tell you personally how pleased your practice school is with you and with what youve done there. It certainly makes it easier for us to place another student with them next year. They're looking forward to your starting in September. Have you found somewhere to live yet?" Ben outlined his plans, leaving out one important detail. "Youve been an interesting student to teach. We rarely have anyone who is not PE trained and so there was a challenge for us, as well. You'll be pleased to know that we shall be awarding you a straight alpha for this term's teaching practice which with the previous TP's alpha minus and your meritable theory exams and dissertation means that you will receive your certificate and although there is no official class or honour you have performed most creditably. Congratulations and I look forward to seeing you on my future visits to the Mythe. Still, the enemy has caught up with us and it's time to stroll across to Hall. Good luck in your career and I hope you will enjoy teaching." Ben rose from his chair flushed with pride and enthusiastically thanked his tutor for all his help.
He could not wait to tell Lewis who was as happy as he was on hearing the news. Later in the week at school the Headmaster caught up with him and took him into this study. After congratulating him on gaining his PGCE he confirmed Ben's post from September and asked him to come in for a day during school exams to prepare himself for the term ahead.
On Friday afternoon Marc picked up Ben and Lewis and took them off to Oddstones. As they went in Seb walked out with a suitcase which he put in the boot of his car. All four joined Elly for a cup of tea. After greeting them warmly she said how pleased she was that the house would not be empty over the weekend. The 'boys' offered to wash up while she and Marc got ready for their weekend journey down to the west country. Finally with Seb already gone Ben and Lewis waved them goodbye, wishing them a safe journey and sending their love to the parents. Finally they could relax and plan their weekend of work for Lewis, marking and lesson prep for Ben with a little relaxation permitted inbetween.
On Saturday morning they slept in. After a late breakfast they spent their time on keeping fit with a run round the neighbourhood. They were getting to know the area by now and had found a route of public footpaths that would take them round the village and bring them to the main road on the Cambridge side. Just as they were running along the lane which opened out onto the main road they had to stop while Lewis bent down to do up his shoe lace. As Ben wandered around his eye happened upon a 'For Sale' notice and mindful of an earlier conversation he called across.
"Hey, Lewis, come and have a look at this." A drive led from the lane to a plot of land largely screened from any traffic by high hedges, but once they looked inside they saw two separate houses set back quite a way from the road and obviously with some land attached to each. Strangely both were for sale, but even odder was the fact that though they obviously belonged together, they were built in two entirely different styles. Both brick built, the larger one was a conventional detached house with obviously at least four bedrooms and a double garage. They could see no more from the front. However, it was the other one which intrigued Ben. The ground area was smaller, but unusually it was a cottage built in an L-shape with two wings. The garage was separate from the house. The other thing that struck him was that although architecturally different the two houses belonged together for there was little sign of their being fenced off. "What do you think of these, Lewis?" He pointed out what he had noticed. "Im quite taken with the L-shaped one. You dont see many of those." Lewis' mind was not really tuned to houses at that moment, but after a little consideration he agreed. Ben made a mental note of the estate agent's name. As he was based in Cambridge he could easily pop in on Monday.
They continued their run through the village and back to Oddstones. After a shower they decided out of sheer caprice to put on their bodysocks as these not only showed their bodies off to great advantage and the delight of the other, but the material enhanced any physical contact they had. Lewis disappeared up to the bedroom while Ben stayed in the sitting room to get on with their various tasks for school. Ben had volunteered to do the cooking to allow Lewis time for his work. They would snack at lunchtime and eat properly in the evening. Up to date with his tasks Ben took the newspaper into the garden and promptly dozed off on the sun lounger. In the afternoon Lewis joined him there and they simply relaxed. Once dinner was over and cleared away they slumped down in front of the television. At least Channel Four could be relied on for something reasonably stimulating on a Saturday evening.
For the meal they permitted themselves a bottle of wine from which they had just drained the last drop. It was already dark when suddenly over the sound of the television they heard a noise outside. They put their trainers back on. Ben grabbed a baseball bat left with the umbrellas by the backdoor and they both crept out. As they did the security lights came on. There was the sound of a motor and a van, its backdoors still open, screeched and with a skid start sped down the drive. The driver, however, left his unfortunate accomplice behind. He dropped the bag he was carrying and tried to leg it. With two against him he had nowhere to go and with two fit young men, one a qualified (almost) P E student, he would have stood very little chance had he tried to escape. Held in an arm lock by the other two the unfortunate was dragged indoors and forced to the floor by the telephone. Lewis dialled 999. Ben removed his balaclava and saw the frightened face of a youth much their own age, but with a variety of pustules and body piercing. Once Lewis was free, Ben said he had an idea. In the scullery he had seen some large plastic ties, the type used in the garden to tie trees to stakes. Once fastened they could only be cut off. With Lewis' help he slipped one round the culprit's ankles. Then he was roughly turned round and his wrists were similarly bound at the back. Now it was just a question of waiting which they did in complete silence to unnerve the burglar still further. Lewis then went and fetched two pairs of tracksuit bottoms which our heroes slipped on, feeling that a bodysock might not be the most appropriate attire to meet the police in. Within twenty minutes they could see the bluelight flashing outside. They quickly cut off the cable ties, put the baseball bat back in the bin with the umbrellas and let the police in through the backdoor. Once the intruder was in their custody Lewis went and picked up the bag he had dropped outside. The tools and the stolen property were enough to make his intent clear. The police made the arrest, took some details, were confident that they knew who his accomplice was and said he would receive a visit before the night was out. The detainee was taken away in handcuffs and quiet descended again on Oddstones. Fortunately because of the quick action by Ben and Lewis nothing had actually gone missing - the contents of the bag had been taken away as evidence - and the damage was limited. Incidentally some months later they did hear that the arrest of that villain, and later that night of his mate, resulted in a custodial sentence and a significant reduction of break-ins in the Cambridge area.
The following day went smoothly. Fitness and work in the morning. Sunday lunch at the village inn and a relaxing afternoon spent on the sun lounger together. By eight o'clock Marc, Elly and Seb had returned. Over a cup of tea Ben and Lewis described the adventures of the previous evening. Elly said how pleased she was someone had been there while they were away, or the burglary might have been much more serious. When they had finished Marc and Elly announced that they had some news of their own, which had been the purpose of their visit to the west country. Elly was expecting their first child to arrive some time in January. With congratulations all round Seb went and found a bottle of champagne in his fridge which for reasons of medical prudence Elly would not share.
The conversation in the space-wagon on the way to Cambridge that Monday morning was surprisingly animated. The events of Saturday night were still much to the fore, but when they had gone through the village Ben remembered his interest in the two houses and asked Marc what he knew about them.
"Theyre not that old. They belonged to one family. The parents lived in one house and the daughter and son-in-law in the other. Then they suddenly decided to sell up and go to New Zealand, except the houses aren't sold yet because of the recession. Why? Are you interested, Ben?
"We've got to find somewhere to live as we're staying in the area and I just liked the idea of the L-shaped cottage. It's on the right side of Cambridge for the Mythe and it's close for the family. Which brings me on to another thing. We've got to get out of college when the course ends. This is the last week of TP. I think we might be able to get a few days grace, but with all the excitement of the weekend and your news I forgot to ask if we could live at Oddstones in the interim."
Lewis had kept pretty quiet up to now, but chimed in with "You can always stay with me in Glasgow," which took the pressure off Marc to give a definite answer.
"As far as I'm concerned you can, but you had better talk to Elly, especially while you've got a few brownie points. Let me talk to her first. Then give her ring on Tuesday evening."
The lads got into college for eight and then it was back to routine for the last week of TP. Ben could not wait to finish school that day. Once he had a bee in his bonnet he was pretty single minded. By half past four he had visited the estate agent, been given the leaflets for the cottage, called The Nook, and had an appointment for the following evening to view. He just mentioned all this to Lewis, but did not want to distract him from his important task on the next morning.
As it was a Tuesday they had third form games together in the afternoon which meant he could get the full SP from Lewis. Apparently all had gone well. There was no need to say who had been in the class and who had been as bright as two new buttons. Unlike Ben he had received no official or unofficial clue to his performance overall, but his tutor seemed pretty satisfied. Ben asked him if he would like to come and help him view the Nook. Wild horses would not stop him. They organised an early meal and waited for the estate agent to pick them up at college. Even their after school run had gone out of the window.
When they were shown round the Nook they were surprised how spacious it was. Downstairs there were two large rooms, called reception rooms, a smaller study type room, the usual offices and a more than adequate kitchen. On the back was a conservatory which looked down a large garden that was mainly put down to lawn. The two upper floors were almost identical with three rooms each plus the bathroom. Even the loft had been converted and the whole was double-glazed, insulated and had central heating. The daytime rooms were at the back and with the garden faced southwest to get the most of the sun. Ben was obviously impressed and Lewis could not argue against him. As the previous occupants had emigrated they had left the carpets, curtains and fittings and a lot of the kitchen equipment to be included in the price. Although it was within Ben's price range he seriously underbid to be told by the agent that he would have to consult the owners. Finally he enquired about the other house. A couple with two children were being shown over it the following evening and they appeared to be serious.
Trying his luck Ben asked if he could pop into Oddstones on the way back to get his sister-in-law's advice. After persuading the agent, he could see Elly and find out whether she would agree to their staying there until they could move into permanent accommodation. Naturally the answer was yes and the agent drove them back to college content and with a further appointment for bargaining.
The rest of the week flashed past. Thursday afternoon games - who should be waiting behind, but the twins. Ben's mentor had told the games group that Ben and Lewis would be leaving at the end of the week and publicly thanked them for all they had done in the department. Of course he had also mentioned that Ben's absence would only be temporary as he would be returning in September and that while he was coming back as a maths teacher he would also be taking the U15 rugby squad. He could not help but notice two pairs of sparkling blue eyes light up even further, although nothing was said. After the others had gone home it was clear that Jack and Ted were doing nothing more than chatting Ben and Lewis up. Their teamwork was even more obvious. Although the conversation was mainly a collection of flattering remarks on both sides with thanks for making the lessons so enjoyable it was also dropped into the conversation that the twins had gone for county rugby trials and had gained their county caps as the two halfbacks. Being twins helped them to know what the other was thinking. The boys would not have gone home had not Ben and Lewis finally dismissed them in a kindly manner, for they still had their run to do. It was with a cheery goodbye that the boys left them, saying they would see them around tomorrow in school. After a thirty minute work-out they took a shower, changed, collected their books from the Common Room and made their way back to college. When they had arrived back at college they went for a cup of tea in Ben's room.
On the Friday they were summoned to the Headmaster's table for lunch during which he entertained them generally, but also made it clear that both of them had made a good impression. He knew Lewis had gained a post, but asked him to keep in touch with the school in case there were any future developments within the science department. He also enquired whether he had heard the result of his second teaching practice and on receiving a negative reply assured Lewis he had nothing worry about. In fact Lewis had an appointment with his tutor late that afternoon after school while Ben would be at the estate agent's. There would be no run after school that day. The twins were as good as their word and sought out our two heroes after lunch, waylaying them just as the Headmaster had finally shaken their hands and said goodbye. The boys were charm personified, even to having the common sense not to delay their ex-schoolmasters more than a couple of minutes.
Ben and Lewis met again at informal dinner. From the looks on their faces both of them obviously had something important to impart. Ben insisted that Lewis went first who announced that he had built his last TP grade up from a beta plus to an alpha minus. Ben felt a celebratory drink coming on and because he knew that most of the undergrads had gone down and that he and Lewis had the landing to themselves that weekend he also felt something else coming on. Ben on the other hand had come to an agreement with the estate agent acting on behalf of the émigrés and subject to the contract going through he would be the proud new owner of an L-shaped cottage some fifteen minutes away from Cambridge (outside the rush hour, naturally). If all went smoothly he could look forward to moving in during August.
As an area of high pressure was still dominating the weather they decided on a watering hole by the river. It was not just an evening of celebration but also one of earnest discussion about what they should do over the next week. They had won themselves a few more days in college before they had to vacate their rooms to American tourists or international conference visitors. The following Friday was their last day. They had to move their belongings out, not a great problem if Ben could secure a parking slot in college for which it was not difficult to obtain permission outside term. He also had to secure himself a solicitor, complete negotiations with the estate agent and untie his capital. Once the business was sorted out and the contracts signed they would disappear to Scotland, base themselves in Lewis' flat in Glasgow and if the weather looked settled, pack a tent in the car and take a short or a long tour of the Highlands, but before that Ben wanted to take Lewis down to stay with his parents for a long weekend to fulfil an open invitation they had been given.
It was already nearing eleven and time to return to college. They drank up and made their way back to college. It was no longer light as the sun had dipped below the horizon although the day had lost little of its warmth. On the tortuous way back they again passed through that narrow alley. As no one was in sight Ben took Lewis in a tight embrace, pressed him against the wall and gave him such a passionate kiss that neither of them would be left with any feeling of frustration that night.
Over that weekend there was absolutely no pressure on Ben and Lewis. In fact the college resembled a ghost town and they could not conduct any business anyway. Having secured his parking bay for the rest of his residence Ben took the bus out to Oddstones on Saturday morning to bring his car back into Cambridge. As he entered the drive he saw Adam's and Jessica's car parked there. They were all sitting in the kitchen over a cup of tea along with Seb. So it also gave him a chance to bring the whole family up to date about what was going on. Adam and Jessica had only heard snatches relayed by Marc and Elly about what Ben had been up to over the past few weeks and decided there and then it might be a good idea to invite him and Lewis over to dinner one evening before they went away, for despite hearing so much they still had not met Lewis and as they viewed him as an unofficial future 'brother-in-law' they were keen to vet him. Ben promised he would ring to confirm.
The next eight weeks we shall take in synopsis. Dinner was duly taken the following week with Adam and Jessica and Lewis received their seal of approval which Jessica confided to Ben by telephone the following day. Actually he hadn't thought otherwise for childhood experience had taught him that if mother had approved, his sister was bound to follow suit and Lewis had such a winning way with the people he liked. On the other hand Ben had no wish to try his luck on what for him was such a sensitive and important issue. By Friday morning he had got as far as he could with the house purchase and its finance. It was just a matter of waiting for the conveyancing to be completed. He and Lewis had moved their worldly goods from college to Oddstones and vacated their rooms. They were now officially resident in the loft which gave the siblings some privacy although the little time they did spend there was divided between Seb's apartment and the main house. Friday lunchtime they were well on the way to the west country where they stayed until Tuesday. Subtly Ben's mother had provided the guests with the twin-bedded room which had formerly been Ben's room as a child. Over the weekend Lewis was treated with the same status as Seb had been even before Jessica's marriage to Adam, that is member-of-the family status. The boys took mother and father out to dinner on the Saturday evening which the parents unexpectedly and tastefully turned into a celebration of their son's friendship and their own acquisition of a quasi son-in-law. Ben and Lewis felt no embarrassment whatsoever, mainly because Ben had seen how they had accepted Marc's relationship with Seb, which incidentally had only been strengthened by his marriage to Elly. Being at his parents' home gave Ben the opportunity to take his camping gear out of the loft in preparation for the coming holiday.
Tuesday morning the pair were on their way back to Oddstones. Once there Ben took a rain check on the progress of the house purchase. If everything went to plan it would all tie up for the 1 August when he could collect the keys. Six weeks to go. Seb had left him a message to say that his friend in the modelling agency had been in touch and would Ben contact them. This he did and they wanted to know if he was interested in some freelance work. He made an appointment to see them on the Wednesday morning. After all he could not have foreseen what the previous year's session had led to for one thing and another with moving house any extra income would be welcome. Also it gave him the opportunity to be away from Lewis for a few hours and gain some personal space. The weekend with his parents had given him one or two things to think about and he needed solitude.
At the meeting he made some appointments for after his return from Scotland, then he got into his car and drove off to Ely for lunch and visited the cathedral. He sat in the nave and delved into his own thoughts for so long that he could attend Choral Evensong, not a service he liked, but which on this occasion formed a suitable conclusion to his introspection. After a little shopping in the city he returned to his motor and headed back to Cambridge. On Saturday he and Lewis packed the car and headed north, spent two nights in Lewis' Glasgow flat, then they started out on the grand tour. Before they left Ben tried to focus Lewis' mind on what to do about his flat, but Lewis still had a rather uncertain feeling about the future. Ben on the other hand thought he perceived why and this fell in with his thinking in the solitude of Ely cathedral.
The pair were lucky with the weather. They had found that period when the Atlantic lows skirt round the north of Scotland en route for Norway. Eventually during the grand tour they found themselves in Fort William and decided the next day they would climb Ben Nevis. They had started out early and on reaching the top experienced a great feeling of achievement. When they arrived they found a small contingent of Air Cadets there who were undertaking the challenge of climbing the highest peaks of Scotland, England and Wales within twenty-four hours. They had a brief chat with them before the exigencies of their task meant they had to get back to their transport for the next leg in the Lake District. After their disappearance Ben and Lewis felt the abandonment, but Ben judged the time just right. He gave Lewis that look which signified his rising passion. Lewis responded and they clasped each other round the body, smiling, laughing and looking into each other's eyes when Ben finally summoned up the courage to say what he had been wanting to say for days, weeks, perhaps even months, and despite the thorough thought he still did not really know how to phrase it, but overcome by the moment he drew breath and in a half whisper said "Lewis, I love you. Will you become my partner for life?"
Lewis showed no surprise. He just said "Give me a kiss before I say anything." The kiss seemed to last a lifetime. They were just coming up for breath when they heard the approach, but some way off, of another party of climbers. With a whisper of "Why on earth didn't I think of asking you? Of course I will," a brief kiss sealed the pact and they separated before they could be seen by the new arrivals.
They bounced their way down the mountain, at times hand in hand when there was no one in sight, and reached the car. Over the next few days they talked about how their relationship should develop. They still did not want to come out officially for professional reasons, but they had decided to keep their decision private until they could organise a housewarming party just for the family. Once they had moved into the new home, Lewis would put his flat on the market. The holiday over Ben left Lewis in Glasgow and returned south. They agreed to meet again towards the end of July at Oddstones. Two whole weeks apart.
On his return to Cambridgeshire Ben checked with the estate agent. The contract was ready for him to sign and on the first day of August he could collect the keys. He would not move in straight away as he knew certain jobs had to be done. To be fitted into this programme were Ben's modelling commitments. With Lewis back they could decide on the final use of the rooms and carry out any decorating required. Also certain items of furniture would have to be purchased. Over the holiday they had discussed the practicalities of living together. They were well aware that even with their tight emotional bond they needed their own space at times and so they arranged to make the ground floor communal, the top floor of one wing was to belong to Lewis and the top floor of the other to Ben which gave them each a bedroom, study, spare room for guests and a toilet and bathroom. Where they slept would depend on mood and circumstances. Therefore there was plenty to be done and one other arrangement could not be overlooked.
On pledging to live with one another they had promised to exchange rings which had yet to be selected. On the 1 August Ben was to be found promptly at nine oclock outside the estate agent's office. The formality of collecting the keys lasted less than a quarter of an hour and then he was the proud owner of 'The Nook'. He could discover little about his potential neighbours but the fact that they had signed contracts and it was just a waiting game until they could move in. Then with Lewis he went to the jeweller's with the express intention of choosing identical rings, signet rings to be engraved with the recipient's initials. The jeweller was the height of discretion for it would have been natural curiosity to wonder at the purpose of the purchase, although the subterfuge of buying identical rings for oneself would have fooled few people. The engraved rings could be collected the following week. Over coffee in Ottakar's Ben and Lewis planned their campaign. Shopping finished they would travel straight back to the Nook and take possession. They joked about giving it another name, a combination of their own abbreviated names, but decided it wouldn't work. They named the 15 August as their official moving-in day in the hope that furniture and kitchen equipment would be installed by then. Housewarming the following weekend and a fortnight to settle before the start of the new school year. With a change of heart they also decided that their first night there would be the occasion when they would exchange rings.
By noon they had arrived. Ben insisted on Lewis holding his hand while it turned the key. They crossed the threshold. Electricity yes, gas yes, water yes, telephone no. Still that was of little inconvenience as they each had their mobiles. They explored as if they had been there for the first time. From the top floor Ben's bedroom looked north east, his study southwest over the gardens. The boundaries had been marked out roughly by the surveyors, for the previous occupants had needed neither fence nor hedge. Ben hoped it would cause no trouble, but would wait until he had met the new neighbours before taking any action.
Over the following fourteen days our two lads worked like beavers preparing the home that they wanted. Furniture and tradesmen arrived in dribs and drabs. The cottage was gradually becoming a home, one they both felt proud of. Then after a day in town tying up odds and ends they noticed on their return a Mercedes parked on the other side of the drive.
"That must be our new neighbours," Lewis remarked.
"Lets just get sorted," said Ben, "and well go and introduce ourselves and ask them over for a cup of tea." Ben went up to his study to empty his pockets and put the credit card receipts on his desk. As he heard the joyful shouts of children playing in the garden he peered out of the window. To say the least he was amazed at what he saw. "Lewis," he shouted, "come and have a look at this!"
"What?" said Lewis as he bounded up the stairs.
"Its our new neighbours."
"Well, take a look!" Lewis walked across to the window.
"My God, I dont believe it."
"Nor did I to begin with, but both of us have spotted them now." There, down on the back lawn wrestling with each other were the new neighbours' two children, none other than Jack and Ted.
Ben and Lewis were at a loss. They did not know whether to panic or cheer, to be embarrassed or glad. Should they go across right now? Well, time would not alter anything and they would have to confront the fact sooner or later. Why not sooner? And anyway what had gone unsaid was that they had not seen the twins for two months and they had sorely missed them. Lewis put the kettle on to boil before they both went across and rang at the front door of the neighbouring house. It was opened by the lady of the house.
"Hello," they said in unison, "we're your new neighbours." They felt rather foolish as it came across like a pantomime act.
"And I'm Lewis." It was getting worse. They almost giggled. Their neighbour broke the spell and introduced herself as Christina Batty. They'd obviously known that she was Mrs Batty, but couldn't say anything.
"We've just put the kettle on and wondered if you and your family would like to come across for a cup of tea."
"We'd love to. I'll just call my husband and the boys. They're in the garden."
Lewis could not help but notice that Christina was giving Ben a puzzled look. Ben tried not to notice. He just said "Come across when you're ready." Five minutes later there was a commotion at the front door and all four had arrived with a familiar and cheery "Hello, sirs" from Jack and Ted.
"You appear to have met before."
"Yes. It's our games masters from school. You know, the ones we told you about." Temporarily Mr Batty seemed to have been left out in the cold.
"Now I know where I've seen you before, Ben," said Christina. "Aren't you the one in the advert on the back of the buses? The boys have spoken a lot about you."
At this Mr Batty coughed to draw attention to himself and said "Im Phil. How do you do." They shook hands and all four were led into the kitchen.
Lewis busied himself making the tea, while Ben took out plates and cut up slices of Elly's home-made fruit cake.
"I can't get over this coincidence moving next door to you like this." The twins were pretty pleased as well.
"When are you actually moving in?" enquired Ben trying take the spotlight off himself.
"Next Tuesday the furniture van arrives and after that we shall be in residence," said Phil. "I've taken a week off work to try and get everything organised."
"Well, we're having our housewarming party on the following Sunday. You will be most welcome if youre free."
"Does that include us, sir?" piped up Jack.
"Of course. The more the merrier, and please don't call us 'sir' at home. It's Ben and Lewis. Otherwise we'll call you the Batty boys. Mind you, school's different. Okay?"
"Okay, sir, I mean Ben," said Ted, though it sounded like a piece of gentle mickey-taking.
The conversation continued in a lively manner as tea and cake were consumed in double quantities and each fought to get a word in edgeways. Once the food had disappeared, so did the boys.
"See you later, sirs. Sorry, Lewis and Ben," in unison.
Phil and Christina remained behind, mainly to get some peace and quiet. Proud of their efforts Ben and Lewis gave their new neighbours a guided tour of the house. They could tell that Christina was dying to know why they were living together and the separate bedrooms threw her off the scent although the double beds in each did not go unnoticed. There was no edge to her. It was just typical woman's curiosity. On the other hand she casually mentioned how the twins doted on each other. They were virtually inseparable and she could never see a girl splitting them.
"We love them dearly and they're a lot of fun as you'll find out if you haven't done so already." From what Ben had seen at school he sensed there might be a story behind it all, but thought it was too soon to enquire. He certainly had his own thoughts on the matter. He also noticed that the twins had inherited their brilliant blue eyes and fair hair from both parents.
After the Battys had gone and when our lads had finished what they had set out to do they climbed into Ben's car for the Sainsbury's run and stocked up so that they could move in on the next day and survive the weekend. Some flowers for Elly, then back to Oddstones for the last night. They could have moved in there and then, but they wanted to take Seb, Marc and Elly out to dinner in appreciation of their tolerance over the previous few months.
The next day, Saturday the 15th, Lewis and Ben put their final belongings into the car, tidied their quarters in the loft and said goodbye to Marc and Elly, leaving them a key to their new home, giving them an open invitation to call whenever they wanted to and reminding them about the housewarming. On arrival they noticed the Mercedes was parked there again, but just went inside. After all their hard work they spent a lazy afternoon in the garden until five when they went indoors, showered, changed into their bodysocks and set to work in the kitchen. Lewis was duty chef and Ben carried out all the ancillary work. Once the decision on head chef had been made they were very good at forming a team for meals and very rarely clashed on what they were doing.
During the preparations there was a sudden thump of a football against the side of the house, followed by shouts and running and finally two cheeky grinning faces at the kitchen window with a call of "Hey, Mister, can we have our ball back, please?" However, the grins soon changed to interested amazement when the twins saw their new neighbours dressed in bodysocks, bright red for Ben, light green for Lewis. At first they could hardly take their eyes off them until an involuntary "Cor, their packets are even bigger than ours," from Jack gained him a thump on the arm from Ted who called out "Thanks" as Ben and Lewis gave their assent.
"That'll do my reputation a lot of good next term," remarked Ben.
"I don't think youve got a lot to worry about. After all they saw us in the showers last term. I'm beginning to think that it's a case of 'People in glasshouses shouldn't throw stones'. I think that's one reason why they like us."
"And I think I tend to agree. I can"t help wondering whether it is pure coincidence they moved next door to us, though I can't see how it could be otherwise."
"Put it down to destiny. When you look back it's been a strange sequel of events altogether." "Careful," said Ben, "the spuds are boiling over."
Ben went to set the table in the dining room. He drew the curtains to avoid any curiosity from outside, although with the middle of August the nights were drawing in fast. On the table he placed a candlestick and lit the candle. In the centre stood two red roses in a small vase, a reminder of their first declaration of passion on St Valentine's Day. Finally the meal was served and they sat down. A claret had been chosen to accompany the roast beef. Not only was this choice of menu a favourite of our two young men, but it was a dummy run for the family lunch to be held as part of the housewarming the following weekend. After the pudding had been served and enjoyed they withdrew to the drawing room taking their glasses and the unconsumed claret with them and Lewis sat down on the settee. Ben put on a CD, quietly playing in the background, then filled the glasses with wine. They stood and Ben proposed a toast.
"To us and to a long, healthy and loving life together." They touched glasses and drank with their right arms entwined. This was followed by their taking the signet rings out of the boxes and placing them on the third finger of the other's left hand and together they declaimed "May we wear these symbols of our eternal love until our dying days."
"We'll celebrate the 15 August as the anniversary of our Day of Commitment," suggested Lewis. "Agreed," said Ben.
"Agreed," repeated Lewis and they drank from their glasses again, put them down, took each other in their arms and celebrated their spiritual union with a long kiss. The material of the skin-tight bodysocks enhanced the feeling as their bodies closed together in an intimate embrace and their feelings became aroused. They could control their passion no longer.
"Your room or mine?" said Lewis.
"I'll toss you for it," riposted Ben with a grin, and they only just made it to the top floor before completely losing control. In the morning they came down late to face the uncleared dining table and the washing up.
The following week passed unremarkably. Tuesday the Batty family duly moved in and our two heroes were on hand to provide refreshment if needed. All four of them worked like slaves to bring some order into the new house and neither of the twins shirked their tasks or sneaked off to play games in the garden. Friday Ben's parents arrived at Oddstones from the west country and in the evening came for a sneak preview of the house. Various parts of the family met and did things together on Saturday, but left the boys alone to get on with the important matter of preparing for Sunday. The house had to be hoovered and dusted from top to bottom, the food and the drinks bought in and the garden tidied, all in preparation for inquisitive eyes. On Sunday the whole family attended early Communion at the parish church. Ben and Lewis scurried back home for the final preparations and at twelve they were ready for the first guests. As well as entertaining they had to keep an eye on the Sunday joint, but were relieved when Jessica offered to take over.
From the noise you could hear that the party was going particularly well. Tony and Margaret were entertaining Phil and Christina Batty with stories of their various children and the way they had intermarried. Ben's parents were fussing over their children and children-in-law, particularly Elly. Meanwhile the twins had cut loose and cornered Ben and Lewis. Not only that, they exploited the opportunity of their parents' being busy talking to issue an instant invitation to come and view their den in the new house. When they reached the den, Ben and Lewis were amazed at the size of the room. In it everything was in duplicate: the desks, the chairs, the computers, the poster boards, the wardrobes and chest of drawers, everything with one exception and that one exception was the large double bed which dominated. Looking at the picture boards Ben was astonished to see in a prominent position the modelling photos he had sent them earlier in the year.
"If you like you can have a sample of this year's, that's if there's anything there you fancy."
"If there's anything we fancy?" chimed in Ted.
"Is the Pope Catholic?" retorted Jack. During the guided tour the conversation took a strange turn. Ben and Lewis could scarcely believe they were not dreaming it. Yet afterwards that evening they individually corroborated what the other remembered. It started something like this.
"We just loved those bodysuits you were wearing last weekend," started Jack.
"Where did you get them from?" enquired Ted.
"You'd better have a chat with my brother-in-law Seb," replied Ben. "He got them for one of our bachelor weekends."
"Can you get a couple for us?" asked Jack.
"We'll certainly try," said Lewis.
"But it will cost you," said Ben.
"How much?" asked Ted.
"Oh, not money," continued Ben, "but something in kind."
"What do you mean?" asked Jack.
"Well, just think back to the time when we first had games lessons together and you took off your tracksuits. Jack, you were sporting some fantastic white kit which fitted in all the right places, and you, Ted, were wearing a Linford Christie type Lycra running suit. We were so taken that we couldn't take our eyes off you, and not only did you notice, but we think youd planned it."
"Us?" said Jack turning to his brother.
"Not us," said Ted, both looking hurt in order to stifle their giggles.
"We'll swap you a bodysock each for photos of you in that kit."
"Easy-peasy," said Jack.
"Lemon squeezy," said Ted.
"Done," they said together. "We'll get the digital camera, put the pictures on the computer and then we'll print them to look as if they're on photographic paper however you want them done. We'll take them this afternoon."
Why were they so willing, Ben asked himself, but soon it all became clear. The conversation continued in a lively manner until Jack suddenly asked "Do live together because you're gay?"
"Why do you ask?" Ben enquired cautiously.
"Were homosexual," answered Ted.
"Incestuously homosexual," explained Jack.
"At least that's what Dad says we are," continued Ted. Jack took over.
"It's the twin thing, even though we're not identical. Maybe its even because we're not identical. We've always been together and we don't like being parted. It feels as if a bit of us is missing, and we've always slept together for as long as we can remember."
"Apart from when we're ill or away from home," added Ted.
"A couple of years ago Mum and Dad suggested we had our own rooms."
"But we said no."
"Then they suggested they would 'treat us' to new beds, which was code for single beds."
"But we then said an emphatic no."
"And we were a bit naughty and ganged up on them and as you can see we still sleep together and we'll say no more than that."
"I don't think you have to," said Ben with a knowing wink and a nod from Lewis.
"Is that why you went on holiday on Mykonos?"
"How do you know we went to Mykonos?"
"We recognised it from the photo," said Lewis.
"Mum and Dad thought it was just a Greek island. When we got there they didn't notice anything at first and so we got let off the lead," said Ted.
"When Dad became dubious it was too late. We enjoyed being chatted up." added Jack, "but remember we are the Atomic Twins - were difficult to split."
"But what about school?" asked Ben. "Do your mates know about all this?"
"Not as far as we know," continued Ted. "We've always made an effort to behave ourselves and anyway they dont know us well enough at the Mythe yet."
"But you seemed pretty popular," said Lewis.
"It's the entertainment value of being twins and we do in fact make a pretty good double act," said Jack.
"And the test will come next term when we go for the halfback slot in the rugby team after the same pair have kept it for three years," continued Ted.
"I ought not to be listening to this," said Ben.
"But we were the U12, U13 and U14 county halfbacks," reminded Jack.
"And the Mythe did send theirs to the trials last year," interjected Ted.
"Anyway, we'll make a bargain with you. If you don't mention my relationship with Lewis, I won't mention yours."
"You drive a hard bargain," said Jack.
"But done," said Ted and as they shook on it Ben both times felt the palm of his hand being stroked.
Changing the subject Lewis enquired why the twins had swapped schools and gone to the Mythe in year nine.
"That's another family secret, but you're bound to find out sooner or later," said Jack.
Ted went on "We never felt stretched at the comp and at times we misbehaved out of sheer boredom."
"Nothing serious," said Jack.
"And then," continued Ted, "earlier in the year our family fortunes changed. Mum and Dad won the National Lottery and so here we are: new house, new school, new car and Dad still insists on working." Ben looked at his watch and drew in a sudden breath.
"We've been here ages and we're supposed to be hosting a party. Its a good job Jessica's taken over cooking the lunch."
As they went down the stairs, Jack said "Whos Jessica?"
"She's my sister," replied Ben.
"What about the one who supplies the bodysocks?" asked Ted.
"Is he your brother?"
"No. You'll find it terribly complicated, but he's my brother-in-law."
"So he's Jessicas husband?" The twins were certainly tenacious in their inquisitiveness.
"No. He's Jessica's husband's elder brother, but he's also the elder brother of my sister-in-law Elly. So you see there's a double marriage in the family."
"So who's Seb married to?"
"Well, he's not and this is where it becomes even more complicated. Elly is married to Marc, my elder brother. Seb was and still is my brother's first boyfriend."
"So Marc and Seb are gay as well?" That was Jack.
"Not exactly," said Ben, fighting to keep his head clear on the matter. "Seb is gay, but Marc is bisexual."
"You must come from a very broad-minded family," said Ted.
"That's hard to say because you don't know what it's like in other families. I've grown up with it and we've always accepted it as part of our life and got on with it."
Meanwhile they were back at the house. They slipped in through the front door to find various people in various rooms, obviously enjoying themselves talking and drinking and the hosts and the twins hadn't even been missed.
"Introduce us to Seb," said Jack.
"We'd love to meet him," said Ted.
"We'll chat him up," said Jack. Lewis took the twins to find Seb while Ben peeled off to the kitchen to find Jessica looking radiant as she slaved over a hot kitchen stove.
"Sorry, Jess, I got waylaid by the people next door. Ill get cracking now."
"No. It's all right. You go and look after your guests and I'll grab you when I need some help." "How many are we?"
"Do you think we could squeeze in the four Battys?"
"It will be a squeeze, but if you can find the table space, the cutlery and crockery, I'll find the food.' "Cutlery and crockery are not a problem because Elly and Marc brought a whole lot across with them. I'll go and ask the Battys. Youre sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. How many years have I been a member of this family and we've never turned anyone away hungry yet?"
"Just yell when you want some help."
Ben went and circulated. He smiled to himself when he saw that the twins had first cornered Seb and were now leading him out of the front door, obviously intent on giving him the guided tour. They were smooth operators and so affable in their manner. Their parents must be proud of them.
Somehow fifteen people were seated round the table and fed. Fortunately Ben and Lewis had overestimated quantities when they had gone shopping. It was interesting to see the Batty family dotted about the table. Only the twins had remained unsplit and they were comfortably sandwiched between Seb and Lewis. Once the pudding plates had been cleared away everyone started relaxing at table over coffee when Ben stood up and without a word commanded silence. He asked Lewis to stand alongside him and they thanked the guests for coming.
"We also have a family announcement to make. As you all know, Lewis and I have been together for some time now and our relationship has never been a secret. Now that we are finally fully qualified and have gained useful employment we have come to the decision to dedicate our lives to one another." He could say no more as the family and their guests cheered and applauded, but notably all four of the guests. Seb was the one who took over then as he stood up and congratulated the couple on behalf of those assembled while Ben's father and Tony took their turn to stand up and welcome Lewis as a member of the family.
However, the celebrations were nowhere near an end for it was the turn of Adam to stand and ask Jessica to rise for the announcement that they were expecting their first child in the following March. After a shower of congratulations, hugs and kisses Marc in his turn begged silence and holding Elly's hand said that good things always came in threes and that they had a further announcement concerning their future, namely that it had been confirmed over the last week that Elly was now expecting twins. Again applause, congratulations, hugs and kisses, but those most affected by the news were surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, Jack and Ted themselves.
Lewis said that this called for champagne which they just happened to have in the fridge, bought two days ago for special occasions, but not thought to be needed so soon. Lewis and Ben rushed around and collected all the glasses they could find for an instant wash-up and within a quarter of an hour the champagne arrived, was uncorked and served.
The excitement over, the party started to break up, but not before Tony and Margaret had taken Ben and Lewis on one side to emphasise the words they had said about being full members of the family, wishing them all the best and offering any help they might be able to give. Marc said that there would be a drink for them at Oddstones from eight onwards if they had recovered from the party sufficiently to stroll across. The Batty parents thanked them for making them feel welcome so soon in their new home and although they did not know what or how they did already recognise that Ben and Lewis had inspired something in their sons. Suddenly it was quiet. Ben and Lewis just collapsed onto the settee and fell asleep. They awoke an hour later feeling like death warmed up and with the clearing up still to be done.