The morning after the incident with Chris and Nick in the woods, Chris wasn't
at the bus stop when the school bus arrived. On the journey home that
afternoon, Tom was alone when he got on the bus in Moreton. After we
greeted one another with a smile and a nod, Tom surprised me by sitting next
to me on the back seat. From the looks he got from the older students
on the other end of the seat he also surprised them. If he hadn't been
Brian's brother I'm sure they would have done something about the younger
boy's invasion of their territory.
There was a brief silence, during which he studiously ignored the glares
cast in his direction, then Tom spoke quietly, presumably so that he wouldn't
"Chris wasn't in school today so I phoned him at lunch time."
I wondered why he sounded so concerned about Chris missing just one day of
school and why he should express his concern to me. Although I couldn't
answer the first question, it occurred to me that perhaps he had come to
regard me as someone he could talk to. That thought made me happier
than I would have predicted just a few weeks earlier. Then I wondered
if Chris's absence was related to his experience in the woods the previous
day. However, my musings were interrupted when I noticed that Tom was
looking at me expectantly. Only then did it occur to me that he was
waiting for a response to his statement.
"Is he okay?" I asked.
"He said he just had a stomach ache."
"Nothing serious then," I said, relieved.
"I don't think so, but..."
He didn't go on to finish the sentence so prompted him.
"But unless he's really ill he usually phones me if he's going to bunk off
school... and the 'stomach ache' excuse is usually what he tries on his mum
when he wants to take the day off."
"Does that work?" I asked, knowing that my dad would insist I saw a doctor
before he'd accept such an excuse for me missing school.
"As long as he doesn't use it too often," Tom said and smiled, "His mum's
a bit soft like that, especially after his dad died."
I hadn't known about Chris's dad, and this piece of information made me realise
that I knew almost nothing about him.
"What happened to his dad?"
"Accident at work about five years ago. A steel beam came loose from
a crane and fell on him."
"Ouch," I said without thinking.
Tom gave me a frowning look before he responded.
"Ouch, indeed. But then you must know what it's like when a parent
goes out one day and never comes home."
Even if I hadn't been preoccupied with controlling the emotions raised by
his words I doubt that I would have known what to say.
"Anyway," Tom continued, "I'm pretty sure Chris was lying about the stomach
"Well I know him so well. We've been best friends since we were tiny
and our mums used to babysit for one another. I can tell when he's
"Everyone has secrets," I said, "Maybe there are some things people don't
want even their best friends to know."
"I know that," he retorted, apparently a little irritated by my statement
of the obvious, "and I know that Chris doesn't always tell me everything.
He has a right to keep some things private, but if it's something bad enough
to keep him off school then I'd like to know."
"Considering what he has to put up with," I said wryly, "I'm not surprised
he needs a day off occasionally."
"Yeah, but he's stronger than he looks and he can put up with the usual crap.
I'm worried that something not-so-usual must have happened."
Of course, I suspected that I might have witnessed this not-so-usual
event. However, even if I was sure that was why Chris had stayed
home, I'd promised him that I wouldn't tell anyone about the incident with
Nick, and as far as I knew 'anyone' included Tom. In any case, our
conversation was terminated as we approached our stop, and when we got off
the bus, Tom immediately went to Chris's house
Usually when I got home from school I had a snack and then either started
on my homework or watched TV while I waited for Dad to get in and start heating
up whatever Mrs Crawford had prepared for our dinner. That evening,
about an hour and a half after I'd arrived home, I was in the living room
watching the news on TV when the doorbell rang.
As we lived in such a rural location and some distance from the village we
rarely had visitors and the only people who came by without advanced notice
were Mrs Crawford and Brian. Thus, when I went to open the door I fully
expected to see Brian, but instead I saw Tom standing on the top step and
still wearing his school clothes. This took me completely by surprise
because he rarely came up to the house. In fact, apart from the time
he helped me move my bedroom furniture he'd only been in the house on a handful
of occasions, and on all those occasions it was to see his mum.
"Hi," he said, smiling shyly.
"Erm, hi," I responded, then with my mind still clouded by surprise I added,
"Your mum's not here."
"I know," he said and his smile broadened, "I just saw her when I dropped
my bag off home... Can I come in?"
"Oh, yes of course!" I said, embarrassed that I hadn't invited him in before
Not having much experience as a host it was only after we were seated, he
on the sofa and I on one of the easy chairs, that I remember my manners and
leapt out of my seat.
"Sorry, I should have asked," I said, "do you want anything to eat or drink?"
"No, thanks. I just came to talk to you."
"Oh?" I said, sitting down again.
I don't know why, but for some reason I was so nervous that I found myself
gripping the arms of my chair.
"I just had a long talk with Chris and wanted to come and thank you."
"Thank me?" I echoed.
Actually, my apparent stupidity was not only a result of my nervousness but
also because I was stalling for time. Having no idea what Chris had
told Tom I had no idea what I could say without breaking my promise.
Although Tom's expression was one of mild amusement, possibly at my obvious
discomfort, his eyes were firmly fixed on me. I'm sure it was only
an illusion brought on partly by his unusual eyes, but it felt like he was
trying to read my mind or search my soul.
"Yes," he replied, "for rescuing him from Nick yesterday."
"Oh, that," I said, trying to give the impression that the incident had completely
slipped my mind.
He laughed in genuine amusement and his gaze became less piercing, allowing
me to relax a little.
"Chris told me you promised not to tell anyone and it's good to see that
you keep your promises.," he said, causing me to blush, "But don't worry,
I already got him to tell me everything."
"So he didn't have a stomach ache then?"
"No, but he's got a sore bum," he responded with a grin.
I was startled by such directness from someone who was, in my experience,
always so reserved. Not knowing what to say, I just sat in silence
hoping my face didn't look as red as it felt. Then just as I thought
my blush was fading, his expression became more serious and his next words
caused me to blush even more.
"Ya know,: he said, "what you did was very brave."
"I'm not really brave," I said, trying to make light of it, "In fact I was
so scared I almost puked. Nick's a big lad, so I'm really glad he decided
not to make a fight of it!"
"Just because you were scared doesn't mean you're not brave. And apart
from the fact that you risked being hurt by Nick, you're brave for risking
your reputation by helping out the local queer boy."
He studied my face closely as he said the words 'queer boy', apparently assessing
my reaction. Whatever he saw, it was unrelated to those words because
I was too busy worrying how he might react if he found out how close I came
to running away and leaving Chris to be raped by Nick.
"Reputation?" I said eventually, "As a newcomer I didn't know I had a reputation
to risk. Anyway, after what he did, I doubt that Nick would want to
say anything and I'm sure that you and Chris won't."
As I said that, my heart sank as it suddenly occurred to me that if Chris
decided to report Nick, maybe to the police, then I might be called in as
"No," Tom said, "Chris wouldn't tell anyone. It was hard work getting
him to talk to even me."
The sense of relief I felt at his words made me relax back in my chair as
he continued speaking.
"Chris told me you were very nice to him when you walked him home afterwards,
even though you know he's gay."
"I try to be nice to people... unless they give me a reason not to be."
"So you don't mind gay people then?"
His question took me by surprise and made me tense up again.
"Erm, no. Of course not," I said, "Why should I?"
"Most of the village lads despise gays," he said with a hint of bitterness,
"and they don't need a reason to do it. Even my brother... Remember
you asked me once why Brian and I don't get along and I told you it wasn't
just about the box I got from Miss Vicoria? Well Brian despises gays
just like the rest of them and he's always trying to stop me being friends
"Maybe he's not quite so bad as you think," I said, "Maybe he was just worried
about your reputation..."
"Hah!" he interrupted me, anger adding to the bitterness in his voice, "That's
no excuse for the way he treats Chris. He has no right to make someone's
life a misery just to protect my reputation!"
"Not just yours but your whole family's," I said, feebly trying to defend
Brian who was, after all, a friend.
Tom went quiet and his angry expression began to fade as he became more thoughtful.
His eyes, now less piercing but not less bright, stared into mine as he seemed
to reach a decision.
"Yeah," he said eventually, "that's the only reason I don't let people know
about me. Dad's so concerned about his precious reputation that he'd
It took a couple of seconds before I realised, or at least thought I realised,
what he'd just said. However, I wanted to be sure before I said anything
"Let anyone know?" I asked.
"That I'm gay as well," he said, giving me a look that was half defiant and
"Oh," I said.
The tone with which I delivered my favourite all-purpose word was intended
to be as neutral and emotionless as possible. However, my thoughts
and emotions were in complete turmoil. There was a kind of elation
at finding out that the object of so many of my wank fantasies was also gay.
There was a hint of jealousy when I thought that maybe he and Chris were
boyfriends. There was an urge, quickly suppressed, to say that I too
was gay. Then there was an illogical feeling of resentment that he
had, probably unknowingly, put pressure on me to tell him about my sexuality.
"Is that all you've got say?" he said, sounding disappointed, "Just 'Oh'?"
"Sorry," I said, feeling guilty, "it's just that you took me by surprise...
it's still sinking in."
"Surely you're not really shocked, are you?"
"Shocked? No, I don't think shocked is the right word," I said unhelpfully,
then before he could respond, I added, "Presumably Chris knows... have you
told anyone else?"
"Chris and I came out to one another almost three years ago, but apart from
you the only other person I've told is my mum."
"Your mum? When? How did she react?"
"A couple of years ago," he said, the corners of his lips lifting into a
smile, "She wasn't happy about it at the time and made me promise not to
"Is she happier about it now?"
"Not exactly ecstatic," he replied drily, "but she's got used to the idea
and she's always been very protective. She says her main worry is my
happiness and that it will be more difficult for me to find true love."
His last few words were said in a tone that implied he was quoting something
that his mother had repeated to him several times.
"So..." I said hesitantly, "you and Chris aren't boyfriends?"
For a fraction of a second he looked startled, them he burst out laughing.
"Good grief, no! Whatever made you think that?" he said when he'd suppressed
his chuckles, "He's my best friend, but we don't fancy one another.
We grew up together... it would be like incest."
"So you... erm, never did anything together... like mess around?'
By speaking out loud the question in my mind I think that I shocked myself
more than I shocked him. Whatever the case, we both blushed deeply.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" I stuttered, "it's really rude of me to ask such personal
questions... it's just I've never talked to a gay person like this before..."
"S'okay, I don't really mind... the only person I've talked to like this
is Chris, and of course he's never asked me that!"
We sat in silence for a few seconds, recovering from our mutual embarrassment
and I thought that he'd decided not to answer my impertinent question.
"We did, ya know, examine one another's tackle when we were little," he said,
breaking the silence, "and made comparisons when we started growing down
there, getting hairs and stuff. When he discovered how to produce cum,
he showed me and we did it together for awhile... just wanking... then we
"Oh, I see," I said.
Actually, I don't think I really did see, but at the time it seemed like
the right sort of thing to say. I crossed my legs to hide the erection
produced by my thoughts of Chris wanking with Tom, and as surreptitiously
as possible looked over to see if there was a bulge in Tom's school trousers.
Unfortunately, the loose fitting trousers and his posture conspired to hide
any evidence of a stiffy. Still curious, but also nervous of offending
him, I dared to ask another question.
"I thought that Chris and Nick would hate one another.. Did you know
they were doing stuff together?"
"Not until tonight... and they weren't doing stuff 'together'.
Nick was just using Chris to get blow jobs and never once even touched Chris's
"So why did Chris let himself be used like that?"
"He told me that it started a couple of months ago when Nick started blackmailing
"Couldn't he get out of it somehow?" I asked, "After all, once Nick had got
Chris to suck him off, he was in a position to be blackmailed as well."
"Apparently Chris found he enjoyed it and didn't really want to get out of
it. Until yesterday when Nick tried to go too far."
"Did Chris tell you what the blackmail was about?"
"Yes... but that's his secret, not mine, so I can't tell you. If you
really want to know, maybe you could try asking him."
Even if I hadn't run out of questions to ask, I would probably have stopped
there. Firstly because I didn't want him to think I was interrogating
him and secondly because I was afraid that I might give away too much about
myself if I showed a lot of interest in Chris's and Tom's sexuality.
In any case, just then we heard Dad arrive.
"I'd better get going," Tom said as he stood up.
We emerged from the living room into the hallway just as Dad was taking off
his coat. He quickly hid his surprise at seeing Tom and greeted him
"It's good to see that Mark's started inviting his friends up to the house,"
Dad said to Tom, "Hopefully we'll see you more often in future."
Tom gave me an amused look and I'm sure we both had the same thought.
The fact was that I'd not invited Tom, but neither of us would tell my dad
that. Dad then asked Tom if he was staying for dinner, but he declined,
saying that his mum was expecting him home.
"Thanks again," Tom said as I opened the door for him to leave.
"Thanks for coming," I responded politely. Then as he walked down the
steps I added, "Ya know, you can consider yourself invited to visit anytime."
He grinned and nodded, then set off down the drive. As he disappeared
into the darkness I found myself wishing that he'd stayed for dinner and
hoping that he'd come again soon. Also, I half-regretted the fact that
I'd been too cowardly to tell him I was gay when he was being so open about
himself. He'd trusted me with his secret, so why could I not show equal
Maybe I'd just missed the best opportunity that I'd ever have to open myself
up to someone I cared about. That last thought jolted me because for
the first time I realised, or perhaps just admitted to myself, that I really
did care about Tom. Indeed, the fact that I cared about him so much
made me very uncomfortable.
After Tom left, a worrying thought occurred to me, and that thought kept
returning to haunt my mind for some time afterwards. Mrs Crawford knew
Tom was gay, and ever since it became clear we were going to move into Prospect
House she had seemed very keen on Tom and I becoming friends. Did that
mean she suspected that I too was gay, or did she merely think that being
a 'city boy' I would be more tolerant of him if I discovered his sexuality?
My concerns were compounded by the fact that Tony had suspected I was gay
and probably now knew it. Therefore it occurred to me that if
Mrs Crawford suspected as well, then maybe I was subconsciously giving out
signals that others would also detect. Although I kept telling myself
that the 'city boy' hypothesis was much more likely, my usual paranoia prevented
me from completely dismissing the other possibility.
When I went to bed that night I hoped for, and half expected, to hear the
tapping that would begin one of the intense erotic episodes. However,
that didn't happen but I did wank myself to orgasm a couple of times before
sleep. The first orgasm was the culmination of a short and almost frenzied
wank as I imagined myself in Chris's position, growing up and 'exploring'
Tom. The second orgasm was the result of more relaxed and leisurely
stimulation while my mind toyed with images of the blow job Chris gave to
Nick followed by mental pictures of Tom exchanging blow jobs with me.
In the early hours of the morning, however, I was made to pay for my pre-sleep
pleasure. The nightmare started as usual with the escalating feelings
of sadness and loss, then the heavy weight on my chest and tightness round
the throat. Then, instead of immediately blacking out as I did on the
previous occasion during Tony's visit, I experienced a combination of the
sensations of choking and falling. Eventually, after what seemed like
an eternity of this choking fall, I lapsed into blessed unconsciousness.
The sound of my bedside alarm dragged me back to wakefulness and I immediately
became aware of having a very sore throat. Swallowing was extremely
painful and my neck was tender and very sensitive to touch, but when I looked
at myself in the bathroom mirror there were no marks on my neck. However,
my eyes appeared sunken and there were dark and puffy pouches under them.
Apart from the soreness of my throat, all my joints ached and I felt totally
exhausted. I certainly didn't feel fit enough to go to school, so I
didn't bother dressing and just put on my dressing gown so I could go and
tell Dad I needed to take the day off. As soon as he saw me enter the
kitchen, he commented that I looked awful and when I tried to respond I could
only produce a squeaking croak.
Dad took my temperature and looked at my throat, and although they both appeared
normal he told me to go back to bed. A few minutes after I crawled
back into m bed, he brought me some tea and crumpets with jam. Before
he left he told me to try and sleep and that if I felt any worse I should
call him, or get Mrs Crawford to call him. Although I was quite hungry,
swallowing anything solid was far too painful, so I just licked off the jam
and I managed to sip my tea only after it had become tepid. Then I
fell into a deep sleep.
A little after eleven o'clock I was awakened by a gentle knocking on my bedroom
door and presuming it was Mrs Crawford, I tried to say 'come in' but my voice
was just a rasping broken growl. I doubt that she heard me, but after
another gentle knock she came into the room carrying a glass of what appeared
to be home-made lemonade. I sat up, taking care to hold on to the duvet
so that it still covered me up to my neck.
"Now don't try and say anything, pet," she said as approached, "Your dad
stopped by on his way to work and said you were off ill with a bad throat."
"Here," she said, handing me the drink, "I made this for you. It's
from an old family recipe. Lemon, honey and special ingredients from
our Tommy's herb garden. Guaranteed to make your throat better!"
The liquid in the glass was warm, and smelled of lemon with a hint of something
like a patented cough medicine. Although the smell wasn't unpleasant
I was reluctant to drink it, not only because swallowing was still painful
but also because I've always detested the taste of honey. However,
Mrs Crawford was looking at me expectantly so I felt obliged to have a sip
and was pleasantly surprised to find that it tasted much better than I expected.
"There," she said with a satisfied smile, "it's not so bad is it? Now
you sip the rest of it slowly and I'll go back to making you a nice chicken
broth for later."
At the mention of the broth I realised how hungry I was and my stomach rumbled.
As she turned to leave, I had a thought.
"How's Tom?" I asked.
Well, that was what I intended to ask, but it came out as a combination gargle
"What was that, pet?" she asked, "You really shouldn't be trying to talk,
As there was nothing to write with in easy reach, I felt very frustrated
at my inability to communicate. Then I had an idea - if my voice was
the problem then maybe I could bypass it by whispering.
"How's Tom?" I repeated in a whisper.
My idea worked and my feeling of triumph was disproportionately huge for
such a minor victory.
"Oh, our Tom's in bed as well with one of his migraines. He had a really
bad nightmare last night and woke us all up with his shouting."
She paused and frowned thoughtfully before she spoke again in a more concerned
"Over the last couple of years he was having them less and less, and I really
thought he was growing out of it, so I hope they don't come back like they
used to," she said, then continued a little more cheerfully, "Still, at least
he'll just have a migraine for a few hours, but he'll be right as rain by
tea time... Now, you remember to sip that slowly and I'll expect to
see it all finished by the time I fetch your broth."
When she left I did indeed sip all of the lemon drink, not only because Mrs
Crawford's commands were not to be ignored lightly but also because it really
did seem to be soothing my throat. Furthermore, my mind was distracted
from the drink by thoughts about Tom's nightmare. Yet again we'd both
had nightmares on the same night and it was difficult to convince myself
that it was mere coincidence. As his had started long before I arrived
at Prospect House, the idea occurred to me that maybe something about the
house itself was the common causal link.
Just after lunch, while I was catching up on some sleep, Dad phoned Mrs Crawford
and although she reported to him that I was improving, he still decided to
come home early that evening. By the time he came home I was feeling
much better though my throat was still sore and my talking was still confined
to whispers. After asking how I was and taking my temperature, Dad
concluded that I probably just had laryngitis. He also decided
that as I was apparently recovering there was no need to see a doctor, especially
as the nearest doctor was at least fifteen minutes drive away. Though
he didn't say so, I think that his decision was also influenced by the fact
that as the following day was a Saturday, I wouldn't be going to school
While our evening meal was heating up, the phone rang and Dad answered.
"Oh, hello, Tony," he said into the phone, "Yes, but he's getting better.
Just a second."
"It's Tony," he said, turning to speak to me, "Think you can talk to him?"
I nodded, stood up and went over to take the phone from Dad.
"Hi, Tony," I croaked, my voice breaking.
"Hi yourself," he replied, "You sound terrible."
"How's this then?" I whispered.
"Well, it sounds better, but I can only just hear you. Anyway, don't
bother trying to talk cos I heard you were ill and I'm just phoning to make
sure you're okay."
"Yes," he interrupted my question, "I just got an email from Brian.
Anyways, now I know you're not at death's door, I won't keep you talking.
Just email me later, okay?"
I whispered my agreement then we said our goodbyes and hung up.
For our dinner, Mrs Crawford had prepared a shepherds pie in which, she assured
me, there was nothing lumpy or hard enough to hurt my throat. She proved
to be correct, and although there was some pain when I swallowed, it was
not sufficient to counteract the effects of my hunger and I managed to eat
a generous portion.
After dinner, while we were still clearing up the dishes, the doorbell rang
and Dad went upstairs to answer it. A couple of minutes later, he returned,
accompanied by Brian.
"My, you are popular tonight!" Dad said cheerfully, "Here's someone to see
you. Why don't you be a good host and offer him something to eat and
drink while I go and catch up on some work."
Dad went back upstairs and before I could say anything, Brian spoke first.
"No need to do your host thing," he said with a grin, "we just finished eating
and I'm not thirsty. Anyway, Mum told me you can't talk much, but I
just wanted to come and see how you are."
"Just a sore throat," I whispered.
"Well, I hope you're better by Monday," he said, "Cos I was stuck waiting
for the bus this morning with just Chris to talk to."
"You talked to him?" I croaked, my surprise making me forget to whisper.
"Well... we said hello," he replied sheepishly, "and when he asked where
you and Tom where, I told him... That's about it, really."
I didn't say so aloud, but it occurred to me that their conversation, though
short, was a lot more substantial than the brief greeting they usually exchanged
even when Brian acknowledged Chris's existence at all. When I asked
how Tom was, Brian informed me that his brother had almost completely recovered
For a few minutes he chatted about various topics with me making occasional
whispered comments, then he told me he had to go and get ready for a night
out with the twins and a couple of other friends.
When he left, I wondered if Tony had asked him to come and see me and whether
Brian would later be sending an emailed report of his visit. On reflection,
I found that the possibility of their collusion didn't irritate me as it
might have in the past. Instead, I felt a warm glow that Tony, and
maybe even Brian, would care enough to bother colluding.
The following day, Saturday, the weather was cold and grey, with a light
but drenching drizzle precipitating from the low clouds. As I looked
out of the kitchen windows while sipping my breakfast tea, the wooded hillside
was invisible in the mist and I couldn't even make out the far edge of the
rear lawn. However, despite the gloominess of the day, I was in very
good spirits. My throat was much better with only a slight tenderness
when I swallowed, my voice was almost back to normal as long as I didn't
speak too loudly, and I felt cosy and safe inside the house.
Around mid morning I was on my bed with my head and shoulders propped up
on pillows, reading a sci-fi novel when the doorbell rang. Knowing
that Dad was working in the old library, I didn't bother to go down to open
the door, though I did stop reading and listened to what was going on downstairs.
Although I could hear Dad speaking to someone who had the voice of a younger
male, I couldn't make out the words. The conversation was brief and
when I heard someone approaching my room a few seconds later I deduced that
it was either Dad coming to report or a visitor coming to see me.
Sitting more upright, I looked expectantly at the open doorway, but the footsteps
in the hall hesitated, then stopped. It occurred to me that the visitor
was either nervous or was unsure which room to go to, so that ruled out my
dad. As Brian wasn't the nervous type and both he and Tom knew where
my room was, I was intrigued. I was just about to get up and investigate
when the footsteps resumed and then Chris appeared in my doorway. As
he'd never been to the house, at least not since I'd moved in, and as he
wasn't exactly a close friend, I was somewhat surprised to see him.
"H-hi," he said hesitantly, smiling sheepishly.
"Hi," I replied.
Feeling a little vulnerable in my recumbent position, I swung my legs off
the bed and sat perched on the edge.
"Your dad said it was okay to come up?"
The statement sounded more like a question and he made no move to cross the
threshold into my room, so I assumed that he was waiting for my permission
"Come on in, then, and take a pew," I said, gesturing vaguely toward the
I tried to sound reassuring, but I too was a little nervous and not completely
comfortable with this surprise visit. He came a couple of feet into
the room, but then stopped and made no further move toward the chair.
"It's just that Tom... Tom said I should come to see how you are."
"Tom told you to come?" I said, feeling a little confused.
"Yes... I mean I wanted to come when I heard you were ill, but... well,
I didn't know if it would be okay. But Tom said you wouldn't mind..."
His words came out in bursts separated by hesitant pauses and at the end
his voice trailed off and he looked down at the floor. The fact
that he was so nervous made me feel a little embarrassed. After all,
it's not as if I was some ogre. Still, I thought to myself, he had
taken the trouble to visit, and my duty as host was to try to put him at
ease, even if I too felt uncomfortable.
"Of course it's okay," I said reassuringly, "It's good of you to come, though
I'm really feeling much better now."
"That's good," he said, looking a little happier and more at ease.
"Oh, he's fine now. I just went to see him, but he was getting ready
to go into Newcastle with his mum and suggested I come and see how you are.
He said he'll probably see you tomorrow... if that's okay?"
I assured him that Tom's visit would be welcome and again invited him to
sit down. He accepted the invitation but politely declined my offer
of something to eat or drink. At first the conversation was a little
strained, but when we discovered that our tastes in sci-fi and fantasy were
similar we both grew more at ease and for the next half hour or so we chatted
After we'd been talking for awhile he appeared to become a little distracted
and I thought that he was about to make an excuse to leave, but then I realised
that he was just working up the courage to broach a particular subject.
"Erm, another reason I came here," he said, blushing slightly, "is that I
wanted to say thanks again... ya know... for helping me out with Nick and
for not telling anyone."
"That's okay," I replied, feeling a little embarrassed, "I guess you've recovered
When I asked the question I was referring to the whole experience, but from
his deepening blush and averted gaze it suddenly occurred to me that maybe
he thought I was talking about the 'sore bum' Tom had mentioned.
"Yeah, everything's fine now, thanks," he mumbled.
There were other things I would have liked to have asked him about, for example
how Nick had been blackmailing him, but I could tell that it would probably
be a long time, if ever, before we could discuss such intimate topics.
Instead, I diverted the conversation by asking what he knew about Tom's nightmares.
However, if he knew anything more than I'd already discovered from Brian
and Mrs Crawford, he kept it to himself. Then he announced he had to
go home for lunch and I escorted him to the door.
The following day I had a nice long lie-in and awoke feeling refreshed and
with my throat completely recovered. I was in the kitchen having
a late breakfast and looking out at another grey, dank and misty day when
the doorbell rang. Dad was, for a change, relaxing and watching TV
in the living room, so I stayed where I was and let him answer. In
view of what Chris had told me, I was not at all surprised when I saw Tom
coming down the stairs.
"Hi, Mark," he said as soon as he saw me, "How're ya doing? Brian said
you could hardly talk on Friday."
"I'm fine, thanks," I responded cheerfully, "Back to my usual self."
His beaming smile as he walked across the room toward me showed that he was
happy with my news, and I must admit that just seeing him had brightened
up my day. Not for the first time I was captivated by his beautiful
eyes. As he sat down at the breakfast bar he gave me a strange look
and I realised that I'd been staring at him with a stupid grin on my face.
"I'm just finishing breakfast," I said, pulling myself together, "Can I get
"I had breakfast ages ago!" he laughed, "And it'll be lunch time soon...
but I'll have a coke if you've got one."
"Help yourself," I said, waving at the refrigerator.
While he got himself a drink I finished my last piece of croissant and washed
it down with some tea. He returned to his seat and took a drink from
"I thought I'd go for a walk in the woods later," he said, "Pity the weather's
not so good."
"Your mum tells me you don't let bad weather stop you going out, so I'm surprised
you let it put you off today."
"Oh, it won't put me off at all!" he said with a grin, "In fact I think the
mist makes the woods... well, ya know..."
He seemed at a loss for words, so I tried to help him out.
"Atmospheric?" I suggested, "Romantic?"
The second of my suggested descriptions seemed to cause him a little embarrassment
and when I thought about it for a second the word also made me a bit uncomfortable.
"Anyway," I said hurriedly, "if the weather doesn't bother you, why did you
say it's a pity?"
"Ah," he replied, then hesitated before continuing, "If it was nicer I thought
it might be, erm, nice if you came along... that is, if you wanted..."
This took me by surprise because his mum and Brian had both told me that
Tom always insisted on being alone when he 'went wandering the countryside'.
As his voice trailed off it seemed he was deliberately trying to keep a neutral
expression on his face. I looked out of the window, assessing the situation.
I was touched by his offer of sharing with me something that was obviously
so private, especially after he'd already confided in me that he was gay.
Also, I slightly surprised myself when I realised just how eager I was to
spend more time with him. After all, up until then Tony had been the
only person of my own age whose company I really enjoyed.
"Maybe the weather's not too bad," I said, "and it might improve by this
Although I'd said it indirectly, the return of his smile showed that he had
understood that I did indeed want to go walking with him.
"Nah," he said thoughtfully, his smile fading a little, "it will probably
rain later, and even if it doesn't the trees are still dripping and wet from
yesterday. And with you just being ill, you don't want to take risks.
How about next weekend?"
"Yeah, that'll be great!" I agreed happily.
We chatted generally for awhile about school, family and similar topics,
and as it became clear that we were feeling very much at ease with one another,
I gradually worked up the courage to ask a question that had been on my mind
for some time. Eventually, I found the opportunity to raise the matter,
though I was prepared to divert rapidly from the subject if he reacted negatively
"These nightmares you have..." I said tentatively, "Ya know, like the one
your mum said you had on Thursday night?"
The atmosphere between us became suddenly a little less relaxed, but it became
more alert rather than tense.
"Yes," he said cautiously, "what about them?"
"Well, your mum said you've been having them since you were little," I said
even more tentatively, "And I was wondering... if you don't mind talking
about them... what they were about? Are they usually the same?"
Although my questions were left hanging as he looked at me thoughtfully,
I was greatly relieved that he didn't appear to be annoyed or even irritated
by them. Eventually, he seemed to reach a decision.
"They started when I was eleven," he said, "and they come in two varieties...
bad and very bad."
He paused, studying my expression as if to make sure I was really interested
in hearing more. Although I was losing myself in his eyes, I managed
to give him a small nod of encouragement.
"In the bad ones I'm in some sort of hole in the ground, and it's totally
dark, but I know there are other people near me even though I can't see them.
At first it's not too bad, but then I start feel really sad and I feel as
if I've lost something... or someone... that's really important to me.
Then I wake up crying."
When he mentioned the feelings of sadness and loss I noted the similarity
with my own nightmares and a shiver went up my spine.
"That sounds pretty bad," I said, trying to hide my emotions, "and you say
some are even worse?"
"Yeah," he laughed without humour, "the really bad ones wake me up screaming
and the next day I always have a migraine... can't stand any sound or light."
He paused and I wasn't sure if he was going to continue. Although I
didn't want to push him, I tilted my head and raised an eyebrow to indicate
that I wanted more details.
"They start off like the not-so-bad nightmares," he said eventually, "but
just as the sadness starts there is the sound of thunder and I feel really
scared. The thunder gets nearer and nearer and I'm so frightened that
I want to run away but I can't. Then there is a very bright flash of
light, a huge bang, then total blackness. I can't breath and I struggle
and fight for air, but I can't move... That's when I wake up screaming."
As he recounted those details his face became paler and he seemed to be panting
"I'm sorry," I said, feeling guilty that my curiosity had caused him distress.
He looked at me questioningly.
"I'm sorry you have such terrible nightmares," I added, "And I'm sorry for
asking about it."
"That's okay," he reassured me, the colour returning to his face, "I'm almost
used to them by now and when I'm outside in the fresh air it washes away
the bad dreams."
His smile returned and he appeared to have recovered his good sprits, so
I decided not to ask him if there was anything that triggered his nightmares.
"Anyway," he continued, "after I became friends with Miss Victoria I didn't
get the nightmares so often."
This, of course, raised even more questions in my mind, but again I decided
that it was best to suppress them for the time being. Tom's piercing
eyes sparkled and when he spoke again I had the eerie feeling that he'd read
"If you like," he said, "we can talk about it more when we go for our walk.
I'd feel better talking about it when we're outside... and anyway, it's time
I went home for lunch!"
After he departed I was left with a lot to think about.
Since Dad and I moved to Prospect House our relationship had been improving
and although we weren't as close as we'd been in the couple of years after
Mum died, we were getting along better than we had for a long time.
As Dad was often busy working and settling into his new job we still didn't
spend a lot of 'quality' time together, so we both looked forward to our
evening meal as a chance to catch up. That night, however, dinner was
very quiet, mainly because my mind was preoccupied with the possible connection
between Tom's nightmares and my own. If Dad noticed my distraction
he didn't show it and he seemed to be more interested by the number of people
who'd been to see me that weekend. As we were finishing dessert, he
brought the subject up again.
"I'm glad you're making new friends up here and that you seem a bit more
sociable now," he said, "Before we moved the only person you ever had round
to visit was Tony."
Perhaps I was being a little too sensitive, but from his paternal tone I
also had the impression that there was an unspoken message - that he'd been
right to insist on moving and I'd been wrong to oppose him. Of course,
if he'd actually said that, then as a matter of principle I would have disagreed
with him, but as it was I didn't respond. Instead, I put the final
spoonful of chocolate tart into my mouth.
"Anyway," he continued, "it's getting to the time of year we need to start
making arrangements for Christmas."
I groaned through my food, rolled my eyes, and swallowed. Dad knew
I hated Christmas but every year he, Gran and Auntie Kath would insist on
trying to get me to 'join in the spirit of things'. If things progressed
as usual, this would be just the opening salvo of the battle, the big guns
being wielded by Gran and Auntie Kath.
"You mean arrange to see Gran?" I said, "I think it's best if she visits
us this year. We've got much more space and it'll be more comfortable
than staying at her place."
I didn't add that it was easier for me to retreat from the 'festivities'
if I was in my own home. However, I'm sure Dad had a pretty good idea
what I was thinking.
"Yes, your gran and I already agreed on that... but there was something else
I wanted to talk to you about."
"Oh?" I said, my multifunctional word this time expressing my deep suspicion.
"As you appear to enjoy socialising more now and as this house would be ideal
for it, I thought we'd throw a big Christmas party."
He must have guessed how I would react because as I dropped my spoon onto
my plate, he rushed on before I could voice my protest.
"You can invite anyone you want. Tony can come up for a few days and
it will be a great chance for me to meet your new friends."
"But you already know them," I protested, "There's only Brian and Tom."
After I said that I wondered if I should have included Chris, but although
I knew him better than anyone else apart from Tony, Tom and Brian, I'm not
sure that I could honestly count Chris as a friend.
"Well you can get to meet my friends and colleagues from work," Dad said,
"I'm sure they'd like to meet you."
"I'm sure they wouldn't!" I mumbled to myself.
Although he probably heard me, he chose to ignore it and continued with what
I began to suspect was a well-planned argument.
"Look, Mark," He said in his most persuasively reasonable tone, "in my new
job it's important that I make connections, 'network' as they say, socially
as well as at work. Having a party here would be a great way to do
that... and I really would like to show off the house. And if you don't
like calling it a Christmas party then why don't we call it a house-warming
"Call it whatever you like," I said sulkily and stood up, "It's your house.
Just let me know when you're having the party and I'll stay out of the way."
"It's your house too," Dad said pensively and a little sadly as I walked
to the doorway.
As I went up upstairs I wondered a little at my strong reaction to what Dad
must see as a very reasonable suggestion, and by the time I got to my room
I was already beginning to feel guilty for my childish behaviour. Without
bothering to close the door or switch on the light, I lay on my bed and stared
up into the darkness, trying to work out why I'd reacted so badly.
Eventually, I concluded that it wasn't just my usual aversion to Christmas
but also the fact that I now considered Prospect House to be my home.
I felt I belonged here and despite the nightmares and weird experiences,
I felt safe here. The idea of filling the house with strangers seemed
like an invasion of my privacy. Even so, I realised that my reaction
had been stronger and more emotional than I would have expected of myself.
After reaching that conclusion, my eyes closed and I began drifting into
a half-sleep. As I did so, I had the eerie impression that someone
strongly approved of my resistance to the proposed invasion. I must
have dozed off for a couple of minutes but I awoke with the feeling that
someone was patting my head and stroking my hair, just as if I were a pet
being shown approval by my owner. At first I wondered if my dad had
come into my room, but then I thought it must have been a dream because when
I opened my eyes and looked around there was no one to be seen.
In later days I found the memory of my hair being stroked by an invisible
hand was very disturbing, and even now the thought of it sends a shiver down
my spine. However, at the time it happened my whole body was suffused
by a warm glow and my mind seemed to be incapable of any independent thought.
Had I been a cat, maybe I would have purred, but as it was I just felt extremely
Again I dozed for a few minutes and this time woke up with the feeling that
I was being watched. Looking around, I saw my dad silhouetted the open
doorway, leaning with his right arm against the jamb. With the hallway
light behind him, I couldn't see his facial features, but I got the strong
impression that he was feeling weary. Seeing him like that and remembering
my earlier behaviour in the kitchen, I was pricked with a feeling of guilt.
"Hi," I said sheepishly, propping myself up on one elbow.
"Hi to you, too," he replied, taking his arm from the door jamb and standing
"Look," I said, "I'm sorry I made such a fuss. You know I don't like
Christmas and parties and stuff like that, but it's not fair for me to try
and stop you enjoying yourself."
"Mark, let's forget about the party for a moment. Let's talk about
why you have this phobia about Christmas."
I groaned inwardly and leaned back against the headboard.
"We talk about this every year," I said wearily, "And it's not a phobia.
I just don't like Christmas."
He crossed from the doorway and stood just a couple of feet from my bed,
looking down at me. Now that he didn't have the light directly behind
him, I could see an expression of genuine concern on his face.
"What you mean is that every year I try to talk about it and every year you
either make up excuses or completely refuse to discuss it. In the past
I've let it slide, hoping you'd eventually feel like opening up, but you're
sixteen now, almost an adult. Some people may dislike Christmas and
avoid it, but you seem to hate it so much that it makes you miserable."
This was a conversation I really wanted to avoid, but I couldn't see a way
out of it. Memories of the last time I saw my mum rose up my mind and
I tried to suppress the emotions they brought with them. I was angry
at my dad for bringing these emotions to the surface and almost breaking
the control I'd so carefully cultivated after Mum died.
"I've told you before," I said, trying to sound calm, "I don't like all the
commercialism, false niceness, religion... the whole thing."
"And it's nothing to do with your mum and little sister dying just before
Christmas?" he asked gently.
"Well... maybe... a bit," I admitted, squirming inside.
"Don't you think I feel the same?" he asked, "Don't you think I miss them
all the time? Don't you think they're in my thoughts even more at Christmas?
But life goes on."
My emotions were churning so much that I doubt that I could have spoken,
even if I could have thought of an appropriate response. Instead I
looked away from him and stared blankly upward, toward the darkened ceiling.
"Before the accident you used to love Christmas," he continued, "and I know
that your mum would want you to keep on enjoying it, even when she's not
here with us."
Again, I was so busy dealing with my emotions that I couldn't respond, and
in the lengthening silence I felt he was trying to read my thoughts.
Eventually, he spoke again.
"Mark, it just happened to be close to Christmas when your mum died.
You just associate the two in your mind, but there's nothing wrong with Christmas."
"Yes there is!" I protested vehemently, at last finding my voice, "Would
she have gone out in the snow that day if she hadn't been Christmas shopping?
People want things at Christmas. They expect things like presents,
special food, and all that stuff..."
I paused, overwhelmed by an anger which had no specific target but was directed
at the world in general, including myself, Dad, Mum and the whole concept
of Christmas. At that stage I was as close to crying as I'd been in
a long time, but as the tears began to rise a lid seemed to slam down and
shut them off. I didn't really want to talk about this, but I wanted
Dad to understand why I hated Christmas so he wouldn't keep going on about
it every year. After taking a deep breath, I continued somewhat less
"That day... Before she went out I sneaked a look at her shopping list.
It was all Christmas stuff... including the Gameboy I'd asked for!"
I turned my back on him, lying down to face the wall. 'There,' I thought
to myself, 'now he knows'.
Because I half expected him to just go and leave me alone, I was startled
when I felt the movement of him sitting on the edge of me bed and my whole
body tensed up when his hand squeezed my shoulder.
"It's not your fault," he said, so quietly that I could barely hear him.
"It's not my fault. It's nobody's fault.... Sometimes bad things just
happen, even at Christmas."
There was a long silence during which I felt closer to my dad than I had
in a long time, but despite that closeness I couldn't bring myself to turn
and face him again. If I had done so I might have given in to the urge
to throw my arms around him as I had done when I was just a little kid, especially
immediately after Mum died. However, I was no longer a little kid and
I couldn't allow myself to lower my defences.
After several minutes Dad sighed, gave my shoulder a final squeeze, then
stood up and left the room.
The following Saturday morning was sunny but cold and through the kitchen
window I had a clear view of the wooded hillside across the crisply frosted
lawn. The previous evening Tom and I had agreed that if the day was
fine we'd go for our walk together after breakfast. As I waited for
him to come and collect me I was excited, but also a little nervous, so even
though I was expecting him, the ringing of the doorbell made me jump as if
I'd been given a mild electric shock.
Although I was well wrapped up in a thick dark grey coat and black woollen
scarf, as soon as I left the house I began to feel the cold and so, hunching
my shoulders, I pushed my hands deep into my pockets. Tom, however,
didn't seem to notice the freezing temperature and his blue quilted jacket
was zipped up only half way. We didn't say much until we crossed over
the stream, by which time I could no longer contain my curiosity.
"I've been thinking about your nightmares," I said tentatively.
Tom slowed his walking pace and looked at me with a small knowing smile,
obviously having been expecting me to raise the subject.
"Yes?" he said, "What about them?"
"Do you know what causes them... what triggers them?"
"I don't know if anything triggers them," he replied with a slight shrug
of his shoulders, "Mostly they just sort-of happen, but sometimes I think
they may be more likely to happen when I'm ill or very tired...."
He came to a complete halt and gave me such a searching look that I got the
somewhat paranoid impression that he was judging me to determine if I was
worthy to receive more information. Then he gave a little laugh as
if he'd had an amusing thought.
"As for what causes them..." he continued, "it depends if you believe Miss
"What's that?" I asked, intrigued.
"Well, she knew Tommy, the relative I'm named after, and she said that I
look and even sound exactly like him..."
He paused and appeared to be a little embarrassed and I wondered if he were
having second thoughts about telling me any more. I was beginning to
guess what Miss Victoria's theory had been but I wanted him to confirm my
"So," I said to encourage him, "what was her theory?"
"Miss Victoria thought that Tommy had been reincarnated in me," he said,
then before I could comment he continued, his words rushing out, "She believed
in spiritualism, you see. It was very popular in Victorian times.
According to her, my nightmares were some of Tommy's memories of the war."
He looked away, as if he were worried about what my reaction might be and
was afraid to see it. Actually, my feelings were so mixed that I'm
not sure what he would have seen on my face. My initial reaction was
to dismiss the reincarnation idea out of hand. I'd never believed in
ghosts and even had doubts about the existence of souls. However, my
recent strange experiences made me less certain about those opinions.
"Do you, erm, believe that you're Tommy?" I asked after a few seconds thought.
"No! Of course not!" he replied heatedly, frowning at me.
I was startled by the vehemence of his response and when he saw the expression
of shock on my face he calmed down and became almost apologetic.
"No, I don't believe in reincarnation," he continued quietly but firmly,
"I'm me, Tom Crawford. I'm not Tommy or anyone else but myself."
Suddenly, it occurred to me why Tom got upset when people called him Tommy.
"So if you don't believe Miss Victoria's theory," I asked, "do you have any
idea why you keep getting the same nightmares?"
"Hmm, maybe... but you probably think it's daft."
"But maybe I won't, so tell me anyway... please?" I pleaded.
"Well, it's obvious that genetically I've got a lot in common with Tommy
so I wondered if we were so similar that I could sort of pick up some sort
of signal that he sent out when things really affected him... ya know like
a radio that picks up the station it's tuned to..."
"Signals sent out nearly a hundred years ago?" I said doubtfully.
"See!" he said, sounding a little hurt, "I told you that you'd think it was
a stupid idea."
I didn't respond immediately because I was mulling over his 'radio signal'
theory and though there didn't seem to be any logical connection, I wondered
if a similar theory might explain my mini-visions. However, I quickly
set aside that thought. After all, his nightmares were much more extreme
than my little waking dreams and there was at least some tenuous reason why
Tom should be able to 'pick up' Tommy's most extreme experience.
"Anyway," Tom said, breaking my train of thought, "why are you so interested
in my nightmares?'
Because I'd always been accustomed to revealing as little as possible about
myself, my first reaction was to answer his question with some vague generality
about just being curious. However he'd been very open and trusting
with me, so my second thought was that he deserved an honest answer.
"Well," I said, "as it happens, since I moved into Prospect House I've been
having nightmares that start off a bit like your not-so-bad nightmares with
the feelings of sadness, but then they get much worse than just being sad."
"How do they get worse?" he asked, "How often do you have them?"
I went on to answer his questions and describe my nightmares in more detail,
but I didn't mention the tapping or the associated erotic feelings.
When I told him about choking and being unable to breath he looked startled
but didn't say anything.
"So you think your last nightmare caused your sore throat?" he asked when
I'd finished talking.
"Yes, I'm pretty sure it did."
"Mmmm," he said pensively, "and it's odd that I had a bad nightmare that
"What's even odder," I said, trying to lighten the mood by deliberately mangling
the English language, "is that from what I was able to gather from your mum,
you seem to have had a bad nightmare every night that I did."
"So you think they may be linked?" he asked in a tone that indicated he was
reluctant to believe that hypothesis.
"Possibly. Maybe it's something to do with the house."
He frowned and was clearly giving the matter some thought, then he appeared
to reach some decision or conclusion.
"Okay," he said, "when we finish our walk we can go to my house... there's
something I want to show you."
"Why not go to your house now?" I asked impatiently.
"Because I wanted you to come to the woods to see a couple of my favourite
Before I could respond to that, he started walking at such a brisk pace that
I had to hurry to catch up with him.
Before long I realised that Tom was heading straight for the hidden clearing
that I'd discovered the first time I'd been exploring these woods with Tony.
My curiosity was further aroused when I recalled how Tom had reacted later
that day when he heard my description of finding it. Although there
were now very few leaves on the trees, the clearing could still not be seen
from the path.
When I followed him through the gap between the trees and into the clearing
I lost my balance. This was caused partly because my foot slipped on
a tree root but mainly because I was overcome by a feeling of dislocation
instantly followed by a wave of dizziness. As I pitched forward I put
out my hand to cushion my fall and I must have also cried out because Tom
turned and tried to arrest my fall by grabbing my hand in his.
As soon as our hands touched I felt a shock, like a massive discharge of
static electricity, and for the next few seconds my sense of reality became
blurred. On my knees, I looked up to see Tom holding my hand, but this
Tom had longer hair and different clothes. Furthermore, the air was
warm and there were summer leaves on the trees. Although I was confused
and a little disturbed by these differences, I also felt comforted by a feeling
I can describe only as a sense of 'rightness'. Then I fell into blackness.
"Mark! Mark! Are you okay?"
Tom's worried voice brought me back to reality and I looked up to see his
concerned face with its usual hairstyle framed by the cold blue of the winter
sky. Further inspection revealed that he was wearing his blue quilted
jacket and that the surrounding trees were bare.
"Yes, I'm fine," I said, sitting up.
In truth, I felt more than fine; I felt wonderful, joyful, and as relaxed
as if I'd just had the most restful sleep of my life. When I realised
he was still holding my hand, I felt even happier, even though his grip was
a bit too tight to be totally comfortable.
"It's a good job I managed to break your fall," he said, sounding relieved,
"The ground here is frozen pretty solid."
I was tempted to ask the cliché question 'how long have I been out'
but as he didn't mention any lack of consciousness on my part, I assumed
the time involved had been too short for him to notice. When I started
to stand up, his grip on my hand tightened and with surprising ease he lifted
me to my feet.
"Thanks," I said, looking straight into his fascinating eyes.
Though I was now standing unaided, I was reluctant to release his hand and
it seems that he shared that reluctance because for several long seconds
we stood there face-to-face and hand-in-hand. Then, almost simultaneously,
we both averted our gaze and let the other's hand drop. From the blush
rising in his cheeks I suspect that he felt as embarrassed as I did.
"You sure you're okay?" he asked.
"Yes," I reassured him and laughed briefly, "Never felt better!"
He looked at me for a couple of seconds with an odd expression on his face.
I couldn't tell if he disbelieved my reassurance or if he thought it wasn't
really a laughing matter.
"Good," he said eventually, "I thought you'd been zapped by the static!"
"You felt it too?" I asked?
"Of course! It nearly knocked me over," he replied, "I've never felt
static like that before... Must be the cold dry air."
I wanted to ask him if he'd experienced anything else as well as the electric
shock, but I didn't want him to think I was crazy. Instead I settled
for asking a question to which I already knew the answer.
"So," I said, "is this one of your special places?"
"Yes," he replied, then with a little smile he added, "but I think you may
have been here before."
I blushed and nodded my agreement, but didn't know what else to say.
"I'm sorry I made such a fuss when Tony mentioned it," he continued, "but
I didn't know you then and this has always been a sort of, well, very private
place... even before Miss Victoria told me about Edward and Tommy."
"What about them?" I blurted out.
"I'll tell you later," he said, teasing me, "but I brought you here to share
it with you and to make up for how I reacted when I thought you'd discovered
it.... Oh, and I do realise it's your dad's land now, but it's still important
to me, so I really appreciated it when you told my mum I could still go wherever
Making that little speech clearly embarrassed him , and I couldn't think
of an appropriate response. Although I usually try and avoid physical
contact with people, I had an urge to give him a big hug. However,
I suppressed that urge and instead returned my attention to my curiosity.
"When are you going to tell me about Edward and Tommy?"
"When we finish our walk," he said, clearly amused that he'd got me so intrigued.
We left the clearing and made our way back to the stream, where Tom again
took the lead, walking at a brisk pace. After going up stream along
the narrow path he turned left and went uphill, following a small tributary.
Immediately I suspected where he was heading and a few minutes later my suspicions
"Here we are!" he announced, stepping aside to allow me to pass him.
Here was the little glade with the spring flowing from the brown rocks where
I'd seen Tom basking naked.
"I really love this place," Tom said in a hushed, almost reverential tone,
From the way he said it, he clearly used the word metaphorically rather than
literally, but it occurred to me as I looked around that it would not be
too hard to believe that this place was truly magical. This winter
scene, with the gauntly bare trees and the ice-frosted ground was very different
from how it had been when I saw it in summer. Even the sound of the
water splashing into the pool was different, being harder and more crystalline,
but despite all that, the same magical aura filled the space.
"It doesn't matter how often I come here or what time of year it is, this
is always my favourite place in the whole world."
Tom's words startled me, not only because they broke into my reverie but
also because they uncannily reflected my own thoughts. It was almost
as if he'd read my mind.
"You prefer this to your other special place?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," he said, "Definitely. That little clearing is special mainly
because of Edward and Tommy, but this place... this place is mine... it's
special just for me. Whenever I come here it's like..."
He paused and his brow furrowed as he searched for the right words.
"It's like the opposite of my nightmares," he continued, "The nightmares
seem to drain all my energy, but spending time here is like charging up my
His voice as he spoke was filled with a quiet passion and his eyes seemed
to glow with an inner fire that held my attention so strongly that I couldn't
speak. Apparently misinterpreting my lack of response, the enthusiasm
faded from his face to be replaced by a mixture of embarrassment and mild
defiance. He sighed softly.
"I don't suppose you understand what I mean," he said, unable to hide his
"Actually, I do understand!" I said earnestly, "I felt the same when I came
here in August..."
My speech ground to a halt as I realised that in my haste to reassure him
I'd given away the fact that I'd been there before and that it wasn't the
secret Tom thought it was.
"You've been here before?" Tom asked, surprised and almost shocked.
"Just the once," I admitted quietly.
"Did.. did you see anything?" he asked nervously.
"Just the beauty of the place."
This wasn't actually a lie, I told myself, but I hoped he wouldn't press
me for something closer to the truth. Obviously I didn't want to admit
that I'd seen him here, lying beautiful and naked on the rock. Fortunately,
he seemed content to let the matter drop, but I could tell that he was disappointed
that this wasn't my first time there. I reached out my hand and gently
squeezed his arm.
"Thanks for bringing me here," I said sincerely, "It may be my second visit
but it's my first visit in winter, and you're right, it is just as magic
now as it was in summer... and... and I really appreciate the fact that you
shared your favourite place with me."
This little speech had already become more emotional than I was comfortable
with, so I didn't go on to say what I also felt - that this special place
was made even more special and magical because he was here with me.
"We should be going now," he said after a short silence, "There's something
else I want to show you before lunch."
His voice was gruff with emotion, but I couldn't tell which particular emotion
or emotions. He had a last glance around the glade then turned and
left, with me following close behind.