THE SCHOLAR'S TALE
[Click the chapter to jump to it!]
Chapter 1 Initiation
Chapter 2 Acclimatisation
Chapter 3 Exploration
Chapter 4 Deflation
Chapter 5 Consolidation
Chapter 6 Tribulation
Chapter 7 Correlation
Chapter 8 Approbation
Chapter 9 Confirmation
Chapter 10 Anticipation
Chapter 11 Consummation
|This story contains explicit descriptions of sexual acts between the
characters in it. Although the characters are teenagers who may be below
the age of consent in the country or state where this is read, nothing
written here should be taken as approval of, or encouragement for, sexual
liaisons between people where such liaisons are either illegal, or objectionable
for moral reasons. Although this story does not include safe sex practices,
it is everyone's own responsibility to themselves and to each other to
engage only in PROTECTED SEX. It is a story.
The story is copyright 2001 by "Mihangel". If you copy the story, please leave the credits, and the web address of http://www.iomfats.org present, and also the email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to receive feedback.
This is my first attempt at writing in this vein, and I am hugely grateful to Its Only Me from Across the Sea for giving me the hospitality of his site in the first place. And if you want to have early notice of a new story being posted on my host's site, fill out the little form here:
A lover of the ordinary sort, who loves the body rather than the soul, isn't worth having. He isn't constant, because what he loves isn't constant. Once the bloom of the body, which is what attracted him, begins to fade, he disappears ... But whoever loves a person for his character, simply because it's good, remains constant for life, because he's united with something constant.
I owe it a lot, so I may be biased. But I reckon Yarborough was a pretty good school. It had its weak points, of course -- what school doesn't? But overall it wasn't at all bad. Its staff ranged, inevitably, from the excellent to the lousy. It kept a fair balance between the academic and the sporty. It encouraged independence and tolerance. And it offered that respectable degree of privacy which growing boys need. The dormitories had individual cubicles closed by curtains, and in theory everyone had his own study, though growing numbers meant that for the first year one had to share. We're talking, by the way, about fairly ancient history: starting in 1956, to be precise.Chapter 1
I joined the school at the beginning of the summer term, at the age of thirteen. I found I was sharing a study with the only other new boy in the house, the main entry being in September. More of me in a moment; his name was Andrew Goodhart, and in almost every way he was the complete opposite of me. Outgoing, full of good nature, hair blond and curly, eyes clear blue, face combining a classical beauty with a wicked smile, voice already broken, body sturdy and athletic. The proverbial Greek god, in fact -- Apollo, I thought. Though not a scholarship boy, he was well above average at work, and at games he excelled.
Our first meeting must have been a bitter disappointment to him. Andrew was friendly and bubbled with questions. Easy at first. Then questions which any ordinary boy could have answered without embarrassment, but left me wallowing.
Where did I live? -- Cambridge.
When was my birthday? -- August, exactly a week after his.
What county did I support? (cricket, I found he meant) -- None.
What did I think of Bill Haley? -- Uh?
Had I heard Satchmo's latest record? -- Er, no.
Did I prefer Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Loren? -- Who?
"Gosh, you're really not on the ball, are you?" he finally said. "What do you like?"
And my mumbled reply that I liked reading and classical music can hardly have satisfied him either. But, for the time being, he left it at that, and we moved on to deciding who should have which desk and where we should put our things.
So there I was, installed as a public school boy, and not in the least enjoying the prospect. I'd long since grown a thick shell, both as a protection against the knocks which life had always brought me and as a screen from behind which I could cautiously peer at the world outside. I knew all too well that I was a swot, a drip, and a weed. I'd better explain how and why, though it's a complex story which will take a bit of time.
I was the only child of a scholarly family. Both my parents were high-powered academics, Professor Gerald and Dr Mary Michaelson, and both of them had been only children of academics too, which probably explained a lot. They'd met during the war in the military hospital at Alexandria, Father as a patient, Mother doing her patriotic duty as a nurse. They married out there, and I duly appeared. Judging by their later attitude to me, I'm virtually certain I was an accident. The war over, they both found good jobs at Cambridge. They were specialists in Plato and his philosophy, and lived for all things Greek. Father, having been wounded defending Greece against the Germans in 1941, evidently felt an affinity with Leonidas, the Spartan king who died defending Greece against the Persians in 480 BC. Hence my name. Leonidas Michaelson, for heaven's sake. No surprise that I kept it as quiet as I could, and tried to be called Leon.
Mother and Father, it has to be said, were not good parents. That's putting it mildly. They weren't exactly cruel. They just knew damn all about children, and had little love and affection in their repertoire. What they did have they showered on their bloody Siamese cat (all right, I was jealous of it), leaving none whatever for me. As far as I was concerned, their cranky mentality showed up in three ways. First, I was a nuisance at home, a waster of their precious time. So they put me first in the care of nannies and then, at the earliest possible moment, pushed me off as a boarder at a bad prep school, where I was bullied. Constantly and badly, verbally and physically, and the staff didn't give a damn. Even in vacations Father and Mother spent most of their weekdays in college -- he was a fellow of Selwyn, she of Newnham -- and usually dined there at high table, leaving me to fend for myself.
The second aspect was that, as scholars, they automatically expected me to follow in their footsteps. Which was no doubt another reason why they sent me away to school, because a local secondary school, though free, couldn't possibly offer the level of teaching they required. And follow in their footsteps I did, whether by nature or nurture, or both -- it hardly matters. I was top of the form in most subjects, and won a scholarship to Yarborough, which would look after most of my school fees. They heartily approved such achievements (anyway, I had no others), and would reward them in cash. Moreover, books being the stuff of learning, I had open access to their splendid personal library, provided they weren't in it themselves. They also made me free of their account at Heffers, where I could get any book I wanted that they didn't already have, though I might be called on to justify the purchase when the bill came in. And on the rare occasions they had colleagues in for dinner they would parade me to show off my erudition. They treated me, in fact, rather like a promising young racehorse. No expense was spared on training me to win races, but it left me totally unfitted to do anything else.
The third aspect was that, except where cat food, books and rewards for scholarship were concerned, they were pathologically miserly. They did buy my school uniform and games kit, but gave me no pocket money at all. In effect, they paid me by result. The theory, I suppose, was that the harder I worked, the greater my income and the more I could spend on myself. In practice, the budget hardly balanced. Whatever clothes I wore at home I had to buy myself, and were permanently scruffy and threadbare. If my spectacles broke, I paid if I had the money or used sellotape if I didn't. Virtually never could I afford a luxury; but dedicated apprentices didn't need luxuries, did they?. They refused to employ a cleaner or a gardener, or to do such menial and time-wasting work themselves. Instead, my unpaid job in the holidays was to remove months-worth of accumulated dirt from the dingy house in Grange Road, to do the washing and ironing -- they sent it to a laundry in term-time -- and to reduce the wilderness outside to a semblance of order. In short, my parents were a highly intelligent and accomplished couple professionally, but in most other departments of life they had a screw loose. Quite a number of screws, to be honest. Their fellow academics were doubtless accustomed to eccentrics, but to anyone else they were strange and unlikable people. In retrospect, they were in dire need not only of a course in parenting but of psychiatric help as well.
I was therefore lonely and miserable. Maybe that's not wholly accurate, since misery almost implies a lost happiness, which was something I'd never enjoyed. Likewise loneliness implies a memory of what it's like not to be lonely. But solitary I certainly was. I occupied myself, between bullyings at school and hard labour in the holidays, in reading: poetry, novels, history, and especially -- chip off the old block -- Greek and Latin literature. All I had to live for was books and music. Somewhere along the line, though no musician and totally ignorant of modern and popular music, I'd picked up a love of classical and especially baroque music. And when my parents graduated to an electric record player and 33s, I rescued their old wind-up gramophone and scratchy 78s from the dustbin, and listened endlessly to them when I was at home. All in all, then, I was indisputably precocious, but hardly pampered.
I was painfully aware that, although academically a high flyer, in all other departments I was a disaster. Pompous and pedantic in speech. A squeaky voice. A duffer at games of every sort. A body to despair of, small for my age, gawky and weedy, arms and legs like matchsticks. If my face didn't look quite like the back end of a bus, I'd certainly never win any beauty competition. My nose was long, my chin narrow, my hair straight and mousy, my nondescript-coloured eyes sheltering behind a pair of large spectacles. My equipment down below, at this barely pubescent stage, seemed by comparison with others at prep school to be microscopic. I'd learned to put up with these deficiencies and, when they aroused derision or indifference in others, I simply took refuge in my shell. Except in my work, I'd never had any encouragement from anyone.
I could respond without embarrassment to adults -- to teachers, even to my parents and their colleagues -- about work and scholarly matters. But with youngsters I had nothing in common. The upshot, inevitably, was that I was painfully shy, gauche and unworldly, and never had any friends. The best I could claim were the few boys at prep school who'd been tolerant enough to put up with me. Never having had any practice, I had no small-talk, no social graces, and on the rare occasions when my parents dragged me out to social events, any of their colleagues' offspring who tried to talk to me soon drifted away in boredom.
My only friend, in fact, was between my legs. I communed with it a lot, dreaming about inaccessible boys. Yes, boys. I'd met few girls and could see nothing in them, but boys were a different matter. From behind my shell I worshipped them, even if they bullied me. I inwardly smouldered that I could never reach them, never emulate their looks or athletic bodies or simple joie-de-vivre. In thought, though not in deed, I was already a queer, a homo, and knew it. But it wasn't thoughts of mere sex which tormented me. My theoretical background was already extensive. Knowledge of Latin and Greek, and access to my parents' books, opened up a whole world of literary pornography and philosophical enquiry which was available to few boys of my age. So, from the philosophy, I appreciated the essential difference between sex and love -- `common' and `heavenly' love as Plato called them. From the pornography I knew about the mechanics of sex, both homo and hetero. The ancient pornography had been updated by an entirely legitimate visit to a public convenience and what I read there. The philosophy had been confirmed by reading Mary Renault's marvellous novel The Charioteer. It was understated (inevitably, at that date) and needed to be read between the lines, but it clearly distinguished between the depths of honest love and the treacherous shallows of most queer relationships. There was no shadow of doubt where my preference lay. The brittle and unstable world of camp pansies in The Charioteer and the sordid and shifty world of one-off copulations recorded on the shithouse walls turned me on, of course, and helped fuel my nightly activities. But in truth, in that form, they disgusted me, and needless to say I had no practical experience of them. Nor had I ever received a jot of love of any sort from anyone. Or given it. But that was what my solitary and idealistic soul really yearned for: love of soul, not just love of body. Sex I regarded as an optional (if highly desirable) extra, not as an alternative.
So much, then, for the pathetic specimen that was Leon Michaelson at
the time I joined Yarborough School, where I was expecting a repetition
of the hell on earth that had been my prep school. Or worse.
Once I was at Yarborough, Andrew Goodhart became my prime object of desire; indeed I fell in one-sided love with him at first sight. Greek god that he was, it could hardly be otherwise. Moreover he proved quite astonishingly friendly, infinitely more so than anyone at my prep school. It goes without saying that he made many friends in the house and on the cricket pitch, while I did not. But in sharing a study we were thrown together willy nilly. Far from writing me off as irredeemably boring, as he might very well have done from our first encounter, he went to endless pains to draw me out. He was my salvation. At first he steered tactfully clear of the yawning gaps in my experience and concentrated on my few strengths. Then, almost imperceptibly, he started introducing me to new ideas and guiding me towards a degree of social acceptability. He performed the miracle of getting me to communicate -- small things at first, admittedly, but you have to start somewhere. It was all done so delicately that I was unaware of it at the time. Only later, in hindsight, did I come to understand his strategy. Goodness of heart was his nature, and he couldn't have had a more appropriate surname. Within a week of our first meeting it wasn't merely his body that I lusted for and dreamt of as I jacked off. I began to love him for his soul.
All this may make him sound like a goody-goody. But he was sight more than that. He was not only a strong and original character in his own right, but a bit of a natural rebel as well; and it was in this respect, in our very first week, that I inadvertently went up in his estimation. During a maths lesson -- we were in the same set -- it turned out that I didn't have the right textbook. When Jerry Lloyd the teacher, a pompous man, asked why, I replied "I apologise, sir, the supply was inadequate and I was unable to procure a copy." Lloyd threw me a very sharp look, but moved on.
Afterwards Andrew buttonholed me. "Blimey, Leon, you were pretty smart in taking the mickey out of Lloyd!"
"Uh?" I was bewildered. "What's wrong with what I said?"
"Well, anyone else would've said `Sorry, sir, the shop had run out' or something."
What Andrew didn't know was that that was my natural way of talking formally to people like masters, though I'd learnt that only ordinary language meant anything to my peers. Instead, he assumed that I had a healthy disrespect for authority, just as he did. Wrong: I was the most respectful and law-abiding boy imaginable. But it taught me a lesson, and thereafter I was careful not to be pompous at all. Which merely confirmed to him that I had been taking the mickey.
Since all I heard from my parents was occasional curt bickerings, I rarely wrote home. But Andrew did regularly. In his first letter he'd reported that he was sharing with Leon Michaelson from Cambridge. His parents replied that I must be the son of philosophical friends of theirs whom they knew well professionally, though not so well personally. Andrew relayed this, and I confirmed it. Which set us to comparing parents. He too was an only child. His mum and dad were the exact counterparts of mine at Oxford, but in every other way, it sounded, as different from them as Andrew was from me. From all he said, they were warm, affectionate and tolerant, and he spoke of them with love in his voice. When I haltingly described my father and mother and my life with (or without) them, I could feel sympathy wafting from him. It was a sweltering day, and he suggested going to the buttery for a fizzy drink. I declined, not because I wasn't thirsty but because I was almost broke, though I didn't say so. He looked at me shrewdly but kindly. "Go on, have it on me."
"Thanks, Andrew, but no. I'll never be able to pay you back."
"That's not the point. I reckon I get more pocket money than you." And he said how much. A fortune, by my poor yardstick. "Look, it isn't my business, and you don't have to tell me anything. But is that more than you get?"
"A lot more?"
"Right, then. Have a Vimto on me. And forget about repaying."
I surrendered. Generosity was a phenomenon new to me, and I could have hugged him. So we swigged together. The gift was repeated at intervals. But not too often. He was aware that there's a limit to the charity one can comfortably accept.
We found, too, that we had similar senses of humour. Andrew was always cracking jokes and puns, which I enjoyed, though at first I didn't dare reciprocate in case I was laughed at the wrong way. Unlike some boys who were pretty foul-mouthed, though, he was a modest chap who rarely used dirty words or cracked dirty jokes, at least until we got to know each other much better. But I found he wasn't averse to mildly risqué fun. Another day in our first week I actually dared to initiate a conversation and share a joke. "Did you hear what Larry wrote on Griffiths's essay?" Larry was our form master, a delightful man who was also full of fun.
"Well, Griffiths wrote something like `When I wake up in the morning I stretch and feel rosy all over.' And Larry wrote in the margin `How nice for Rosy.'"
Andrew hooted with laughter, and I giggled like a maniac too. Heady stuff. I couldn't remember anyone laughing with me before. Only at me. That particular inhibition dissolved.
Next day we were introduced to baked beans for lunch. "Good show," said Andrew, "I like beans." He tucked in heartily, while I, not being over-fond of them, ate modestly.
What our neighbours didn't tell us -- we later heard that new boys were traditionally left to find out the hard way -- was that house beans were the most vicious in the known universe, and most people gave them a wide berth. That evening, over prep in our study, Andrew was fidgety. "Leon, I'm sorry, I've just got to fart."
Practice in this respect was variable. Some boys farted in company at the drop of a hat. Most followed polite adult convention and contained themselves, and both Andrew and I, modest creatures, were of this persuasion. But asking to go to the bog during prep was heavily frowned on -- `surely you can last an hour?' So I understood Andrew's dilemma.
"Don't mind me, as long as you open the window."
He did, and let fly, fortissimo.
I risked a pun of my own. "Brilliant! Fart of the year! Anus mirabilis!"
He chortled. "Yes, ace of farts!"
And we giggled helplessly like the two schoolboys we were.
In our studies we were allowed wind-up gramophones but not electric ones, and I'd brought mine from home. When Andrew saw it, he had his parents send over his collection of 78s, and we shared the gramophone. He was as unfamiliar with classical music as I was with popular, and we tried to educate each other. He had little success: try as I would, I simply couldn't see anything in his crooners and rock and only a little in his jazz. But he was a sensitive chap and -- this was about the first non-academic success of my life -- it cost me little effort to open his ears to the glories of Mozart symphonies and even the stark purity of Bach cantatas. In the same vein, there came the audition for the concert choir (as opposed to the much smaller and more proficient chapel choir). If your voice was unbroken, they automatically roped you in unless you were totally tone-deaf, and though I'd never sung before I was glad to be enrolled. Of broken voices, having many more to draw on, they were much more selective. But when Andrew showed a reluctance to try, I daringly prodded him to give it a go, and he agreed, and got in. Another minor triumph for Leon. So twice weekly we went to choir practice together, treble and tenor, and with great pleasure thundered out the choruses of Israel in Egypt.
Our first week, then, was not only full but bewildering, as we learnt the complex pattern of where we had to be when, doing what, with whom. At the end of it, sitting in our study drawing breath and looking back, I realised to my astonishment that I'd actually enjoyed it. And much of the enjoyment, I saw, had arisen from Andrew's presence, from his veiled encouragement, from his support. But some, yes, definitely some, had come from my own initiative. My shell was already being loosened, which allowed me to interact more with the outside world, which further reduced the need for the shell. It was a slow process, but it was visibly under way. What's more, I'd hardly been bullied -- only a few disparaging remarks, and no nasty tricks or violence at all -- and I concluded that Yarborough was a much more civilised place than my prep school. The whole atmosphere was a sight better. But I also felt subconsciously that I was under Andrew's wing. He never gave me the corny `It's OK, kid, I'll look after you,' or anything like it. But somehow he seemed, in the background, to be doing just that. And this in turn helped me to open up to him, if not much yet to others. As all this went through my mind, tears began to ooze. Tears of relief, tears of gratitude.
Andrew saw, and was concerned. "Leon, what's up?"
I had to tell him. "Sorry. Nothing up. Happy. Happier than I've ever been before. Thanks to you. Can't think why you take any notice of me. I know I'm a swot. A drip. A weed."
"Leon. Look at me." He fixed me with a stern but kindly eye. "Leon, you're wrong, completely wrong. You're not a swot, you're a scholar. You're not a drip, you've got far too much gumption. And if you're a weed, you'll grow out of it. Get that into your head."
I gawped at him. It wasn't easy to get into my head. But such words
from such a paragon couldn't be ignored, and presently my massive inferiority
complex shrank several sizes.
Before long, life settled into routine. Andrew spent time with his friends, but he always found time for me as well, and not merely during prep and other occasions when he had to be in our study. The rehabilitation of Leon continued, and I found myself being accepted by Andrew's friends, and even made a few tentative overtures towards making friends of my own. And by pure chance I got to know Andrew, and his body, in a more intimate way. Nudity was standard, of course, in the changing room and showers, and nobody -- or few -- thought anything of it. I was still ashamed of what little I could show, but since I could do nothing about it I stoically bore my shame. The point is that close encounters with another boy's body were definitely not on the approved agenda.
But Field Day came, when the whole cadet corps spent the day playing soldiers. You couldn't join the corps until you were fourteen, after which there was no way of escaping it, as long as you had two legs and two arms (ownership of a head was not obligatory). The under-fourteens were entertained for the day with team games under the eagle eye of the PE instructor, in a nearby meadow since the proper games fields were all occupied by would-be soldiers on exercise. During a relay race, Andrew trod awkwardly on a tussock, twisted his ankle, and sat down squarely in a fresh cow-pat, to a mixture of sympathy (for he was already popular) and hilarity. He was invalided out; and because I was the rabbit which no team wanted, the instructor told me to take Andrew back and have him patched up and sanitised. Hanging on to my shoulder, he limped fragrantly back to a completely empty house. The cow-pat had soaked through his shorts, and a bath or shower was the first essential. A good wash being easier in a bath than a shower when one leg is out of action, that's what we opted for.
But he still needed my help, and my baser instincts made me mentally lick my lips. He took off his shirt as he sat on the bath edge and revealed his chest, muscular and smooth, and quite hairy armpits. I knelt to remove his shoes and socks, getting a close-up view of sinewy legs already sprouting a fair crop of soft hair. I unbuttoned his stinking shorts, and he raised his bum off the bath to allow me to manoeuvre them carefully down past his swollen ankle. My face was now abreast of his cock: not massive, but far in advance of mine (which was already hard inside my shorts), and crowned with a good bush of fair curly hair. He put one hand on each side of the bath, and with his powerful arms swung himself up, over and down into the water. "Thanks, Leon. Don't go away, please. I've got to get out and dried too." He washed himself all over, except for his middle which was under water, and sat there, obviously wondering how to tackle that.
I was so entranced that I couldn't prevent myself. "Want me to do the rest?"
He gave me a slightly frightened look. "Leon, if you do, I'll go hard. I'm bound to." Pause. "Do you mind?"
"Course not. Anything to help."
"Yes, but don't help too much. You know what I mean. Please. Trust you?" As I've said, he was a naturally modest boy.
"Of course." Disappointed in a way, but not showing it.
So he lifted himself again and supported himself, bum above water, on his arms and his good leg, and I took the soap and lathered him with my hands, scrubbing carefully over his cheeks. Fair game there: had to get the cow-shit off. His cock immediately stood to attention, and I lathered that too, and his balls. Not quite forbidden territory, but there only on sufferance. Three thoughts battled in my mind. Lust wanted to take advantage of this golden opportunity, caution knew full well it could ruin our friendship, idealism dismissed quick gratification without love. Lust was defeated, and I prevented my hands from lingering. Both our faces were red. I don't think I breathed during the whole operation, and I had almost come in my shorts. Andrew lowered himself, and swilled water around to rinse off the soap.
"Thanks, Leon. That was ..." I thought he meant `tactful' or `restrained,' but I may have been wrong. He was now done. He swung himself back on the bath edge, and towelled himself dry. Except his bum, which he couldn't reach because he was sitting on it. So I got him to stand on one leg, arms on my shoulders, while I knelt and dried his crack. He was still stiff as I eased clean pants and trousers on to him, and he did the rest. I acted as his crutch to Matron's room, where she strapped up his ankle, and down to our study, where we sat down to listen to music until the soldiers should return and routine go back to normal. We'd said very little during the whole proceedings, but thought much -- at least I had -- and now he turned to me and said quite simply "Thanks, Leon, I knew I could trust you. You're a good friend." While things hadn't gone as part of me might have liked, I nevertheless felt a glow of genuine pride. I still had no idea what turned him on. I don't mean feeling up his private parts -- that would give anybody a hard-on. But what did he think about when he jacked off? I assumed he did jack off, just as I assumed everyone did. He'd never said anything about girls, other than film stars and singers, but that was no real guide because few boys of our age did anyway. Nor had he shown any sign of being interested in boys, let alone in me. I had no reason even to hope that he might love me as I already knew I loved him. His friendship -- and that was real -- would have to be enough.
He hobbled for a week, and in a fortnight was back in full working order. A little later, on Speech Day, I had a further insight into what made Andrew tick. We didn't have a half-term break, and my parents never came to visit me, not even on Speech Day to witness me being awarded the form prize and the junior Greek prize. They merely sent a modest reward in cash. But Andrew's parents did come, although he had won nothing. Except my love. They invited us both out to lunch at the Red Lion where they were staying. His mum was tall, fair and serenely beautiful: easy to see where Andrew's looks came from. His dad was short, dark and cheerful. Easy to see that Andrew's good nature came from them both. They shook my hand and studied me with interest.
"Leon, how good to meet you, after all we've heard about you." I looked at Andrew in enquiry and some alarm.
"Don't worry," he said, laughing. "None of it's bad."
"Indeed not," said his mum. "It's all very good. Andrew's a fan of yours, Leon."
"A fan of mine?" I was bemused but disarmed. As I said, I found no difficulty talking with adults, especially such kindly ones as these. "It's the other way round. I'm a fan of his, Dr Goodhart, Professor Goodhart. You've no idea how good he's been to me. When I came here I was petrified. But he's made it tolerable. No, not just tolerable. Great fun."
"Two points there. First, yes, I think we do have some idea. We know our Andrew. Second, titles and surnames are such a mouthful. Why don't you just call us Jack and Helen?"
Unheard of, in those days, and on such short acquaintance. I'd never dream of calling my parents' colleagues, whom I'd known for years, anything but `Professor Cavendish-Skellingthorpe' or whatever, or maybe `sir' for short. Before I could think of a reply, they whisked us in to a damn good lunch, and allowed us a glass of wine apiece. Unheard of again. They plied me with questions. Andrew had clearly primed them on my home life, or lack of it, for they said nothing about it directly, and used the utmost delicacy when they even approached it. But they were open in their congratulations for my prizes, and open in their interest about my classical background and about our life at school. Andrew said little, but seemed to be observing with approval from the sidelines. By the time lunch was over I was utterly captivated. Here were two human beings I would most willingly have for parents. I was aware that under their friendly probing I'd revealed a lot of myself, and got the unfamiliar feeling that they'd liked what they saw. When the time came for us to leave to watch the cricket match, as we had to, they invited me to stay with them in Oxford during the coming holidays. And gave me a tip. I looked at them in blank amazement. Though I hadn't experienced it before, I'd heard from other boys about parents tipping their sons' friends, and knew that a bob or two was par for the course. But Jack and Helen had given me exactly the same amount as Andrew got in pocket money for the whole term. Coincidence? I doubted it.
"But I can't ... You can't ..."
"Yes, you can, and yes, we can," said Helen. "Go on. Pocket it. With our love."
"Oh gosh." I had tears in my eyes, and no words to thank them. So I hugged them, in turn. I couldn't remember hugging anyone in my life, or being hugged. "D'you know what I'm going to spend a bit of this on? A record. Bach chorale, Nun danket." They understood, and smiled. And from that point on I could meet Andrew on financially equal terms, and treat him back.
"Andrew," I said as we walked to the ground, "your parents are splendid. I wish ..."
"That yours were as good. Yes, I know. I'm lucky. I only wish you could do something about yours."
But I couldn't. All the time the Goodharts were free to have me in August, my parents were booked to attend a variety of meetings and conferences throughout the country. It was therefore my duty, I was told, to stay at home and look after the cat. This was standard practice but, because there was now an alternative attraction, I felt rebellious. I ventured to suggest that Andrew should stay at our place instead. The reply was brusque and final: his presence would interrupt my work, and his parents would need him at home. Nothing doing. Andrew was as mortified as I, but we were powerless.
So the holidays passed in boredom, as usual. Only two actual events are worth recording. First, my voice broke. I said goodbye to Mother and Father in my usual treble, and five days later, to my utter confusion, found myself welcoming them back, on my fourteenth birthday, in a brand-new bass. I hadn't spoken, or even seen anyone to speak to, in the interval. Otherwise, as usual, I cleaned the house, did the laundry, worked in the garden, read, and listened to music. But I had occasional letters from Andrew, and it buoyed me up no end to know that I wasn't forgotten. I had something quite novel to think about. So I spent a lot of time dreaming, reliving the past term, anticipating the future.
It was this anticipation which prompted me to take my courage in both
hands and ask my parents some very tentative questions by way of testing
the water. They were a pretty conservative couple, both in outlook and
in politics, but Cambridge had a number of dons and some undergraduates
who were known to be homosexual, and so long as they didn't flaunt it too
publicly they were generally tolerated, and even accepted and respected
for their other qualities. I needed to know Father's and Mother's attitude
towards homosexuality in general. So I broached the question as delicately
as I could, by naming two individuals who were known to be queers (though
I didn't mention that) and asking my parents what they thought of them
as scholars. "Fair to middling," was Father's answer. "But their pernicious
relationship will ruin any reputation they may have. They're a disgrace
to their college. They deserve to be stripped of their fellowships." He
beetled his eyebrows at me. "You seem to be reaching sexual maturity. Should
you ever contemplate practicing such obscenities, let me warn you that
you will never practice them in this house. We will not tolerate iniquity
and scandal." Well. A clear-cut answer, and I now knew where I stood,
even if I didn't like it one bit.
September saw the start of the new term. Andrew had had a more varied time than me, swimming, cycling and larking about with his local friends. But one thing had thoroughly got his goat. A gang of them had been playing impromptu cricket in South Park when Andrew had hit the ball clean through the stained glass window of a nearby house. All his friends had scarpered, leaving Andrew alone to face the irate owner. The cost of repairs was considerable. His parents chipped in generously, but his pocket money was mortgaged for weeks. His friends refused to contribute on the grounds that he'd hit the ball, not them. Their case was at least arguable. What Andrew found hard to forgive was their deserting him in a crisis. His sense of loyalty was outraged. So was mine, on his behalf, and I told him so. And since I was temporarily the better off, I could treat him at the buttery from time to time. At first he demurred, so I threw back at him the argument he'd used on me before, and he gave way.
We had both automatically moved up a step in school, into different forms where I specialised in arts and particularly in classics, while he was moving into the sciences. He had the right sort of probing and practical mind, and was often to be found tinkering with gadgets like a radio set he was building, or even conducting mildly chemical experiments. The next episode worth recording gave a foretaste of the successful research scientist he was ultimately to become. A local shop got in a large batch of whoopee cushions, a novelty to us, which were eagerly snapped up and widely employed, at least between friends (and enemies) of the same sort of age. Andrew, indeed, ventured to instal one on the chair of Jessop, a sadistical and unpopular prefect. Unfortunately he'd forgotten that he'd written his name on it as a mark of ownership. He was rewarded with the unduly hefty punishment of a week's confinement, which meant that, except for normal school and house routine, he couldn't leave our study without permission, even for a pee. But as with most crazes, the novelty of whoopees soon wore off. One day, soon after Andrew's sentence had expired, I sat on one that he'd put on my study chair.
"Y'know, these things are getting old hat now," I said, not in the least surprised. "I mean, they make a pretty convincing noise. But when anyone sits on one, everyone knows it's only a whoopee. If only it made the right smell too, what'd people think then?"
"That's a thought. That is a thought." Andrew put his chin on his hands and gazed at nothing with a calculating look.
"Penny for them," I said after a while.
He looked across with his devilish smile. "Leon, you're a genius."
"You've given me a brilliant idea. How to get a whoopee to make a pong. Listen. I'm going to need your help." And he told me how. I couldn't fault him on the technical side but, timid and law-abiding citizen that I still was, I was aghast at what he proposed to do with the finished product. But his enthusiasm swept me along.
The plan went smoothly ahead. He waited for a day when the infamous baked beans reappeared for lunch, and scoffed his own and the rest of the table's. He spent the late afternoon and early evening in increasing discomfort, fighting against premature explosion. At last, during prep, he waddled off in distended agony to his statutory twice-weekly bath, carrying hidden in his towel a funnel and jar he'd borrowed from the chemistry lab. At this stage I couldn't help: to be caught present when another boy was bathing was disciplinary suicide. He came down again, considerably more comfortable, clutching his achievement, a firmly stoppered jar full of gas. The next step, in the quiet of the study, did need my help. With the assistance of a bowl of water and a bicycle pump we transferred the contents to a whoopee cushion, and the first half of the job was done.
Next day was Saturday, when we had lessons only in the morning. Andrew's last class was to be French, and his chosen victim was Buggy Butterworth, the French master and the most despised member of staff. He was ineffectual and weak, ragged unmercifully and lacking the balls to do anything about it. As it turned out, this weakness was not to be tested. As the boys streamed into the classroom, a couple of his mates whom Andrew had let into the secret kept cave while Andrew installed his lethal device under the stuffed cushion on the master's chair. So far so good. But sadly it wasn't Buggy who came in, but Doc Fellows, a firm disciplinarian and highly popular besides, who announced that he was standing in for Mr Butterworth, who was ill. Andrew spent the period with his heart in his mouth. But miracles do happen, and Doc never once sat down. Andrew had only to retrieve the whoopee and all would be well. Alas for fond hopes. While Andrew hovered on tenterhooks in the background, Doc remained beside the chair, haranguing some boy on some totally different matter. Until the school porter came round to lock up the classrooms for the weekend, and shooed them all out, including an empty-handed Andrew.
We were stymied, and spent the weekend in anxious debate, with no practicable ideas at all. The porter's key cupboard was inviolable, neither of us could pick a lock, and we couldn't find out who used that room for the first period on Monday. We had to get in before then. But when we tried the door immediately before assembly, it was still locked: the porter evidently unlocked it during assembly, and for us to miss that would be death. Assembly over, the headmaster swept out first, as always, and we fought to emerge as fast as we could. We got to the right corridor just in time to see the headmaster's back disappearing into the room, followed by one of the sixth forms about to receive, we later heard, its weekly dose of religious education. All hope faded, and we crept to our own classes with our tails between our legs. If Buggy was the most despised member of staff, the HM was unquestionably the most feared.
Later we heard what happened next. The HM spent a few minutes writing on the blackboard before plumping his portly frame into the chair. It's pleasant to report that the Goodfart Blaster Mark I, on its first and last test run, performed with devastating success. The noise was perfect. So was the smell, which reached four rows back. The HM turned beetroot red. History doesn't record what went through his piggy mind, but one can guess. First, he had to identify himself as a victim, not a perpetrator, and so he got up, fished the whoopee out and uttered something like "Ptchah" before dropping it in the bin and opening the window. Then his mind began to move, detective-like, along the lines of opportunity, motive and suspects. He recalled the porter's routine and his own progress from assembly to classroom, swept his eye around his stunned but responsible audience, and said, "I presume none of you is responsible for this. Are you?" Deathly silence. And he carried on with the class.
The news, disseminated at break by gleeful sixth-formers, spread like wildfire. Andrew's classmates who were in the know immediately leaked his name as the criminal. We both quaked.
"Don't you worry, Leon. Nobody knows that you're involved."
"Come off it. If you're caught, I'll go down with you," I replied staunchly. I'm not sure he believed me.
In the event, he (or we) escaped scot-free. Doubtless the HM concluded that the crime was committed on the Saturday, but found the trail too cold or the possible suspects too many to pursue. Nobody ratted. Andrew was too popular in the lower half of the school, and not even seniors liked the HM. Among the boys, it was a nine days' wonder, and Andrew's standing was never higher. But the main beneficiary was our relationship. Companionship in crime and adversity forges a marvellous bond.
Not long after, Andrew had his shoulder muscles pulled in a rough tackle at rugger. Rather than submit to Matron's unsubtle ministrations, he appointed me his physiotherapist. For a week, whenever we had the time, he'd take off his shirt in the study, and overall I spent hours massaging, kneading, and applying liniment. More than once I strayed, not entirely by accident, as far as his nipple, and though his baggy school trousers were an effective screen, more than once I thought I saw signs of movement down there. If so, neither of us remarked on it.
Mid-way through the term, Andrews parents came over again. Same drill, same tip. This time I bought Monteverdi's Vespers. It began to look as if they were deliberately and systematically funding me. And we had some discussion about the Christmas holidays. Andrew was determined that the fiasco of the summer should not be repeated, and this time the Goodharts interceded directly with my parents by writing to ask if they could steal me for at least part of the time. Confronted with this appeal from respected colleagues, Father and Mother grudgingly gave way. Partly, I suspect, because they would necessarily be at home over Christmas and were happy enough that I should be out of their hair. Something much to be looked forward to by all concerned.
Our study was a content and happy place as our friendship consolidated,
with only brief spasms of discord, as when I accidentally sat on his favourite
record or he spilt his Tizer over my book. We talked, played music, helped
each other with homework, simply larked. My horizons broadened. My shell
was steadily dissolving; almost entirely with Andrew if more slowly with
others. My self-esteem had never been higher: I no longer felt myself the
lowly worm, the downtrodden insect. I don't mean I got cocky. I hope --
I'm sure -- I didn't. If I had, Andrew would have slapped me down. He was
still my mentor, supporting, encouraging, yes, educating me too. He didn't
drop his other friends; I just seemed to have priority. His confidence
and poise were rubbing off on me, and I never ceased to thank the fates
for throwing us together and giving me a purpose in life and a love, however
secret, to strive for.
Towards the end of term there was a house cross-country run. Not a race. Just leave when ready and run the prescribed route. I hated the things. No muscle, no stamina, no wind. No alternative, either. So I ran. Was overtaken by lots of people. Through a gate, sharp left along a hedge, stop, got to stop. Stood there, stitch in side, hands on knees, face scarlet, lungs heaving. Through the gate ran Thorne, not much bigger than me but wiry. Ratty. A nasty piece of work, my biggest bugbear. Not even puffing.
"Ha. Michaelson, might have guessed it. Only a mile and you're knackered. So weedy you can hardly stand up." And to prove it he pushed me on the chest. I stepped back, tripped on something, and sat down hard in a spreading gorse bush, thick with end-of-season needles, sharp and brittle. But even as he pushed, someone else appeared through the gate. Andrew. He took in the scene, grabbed Thorne by the shirt, and Thorne quailed. Understandably: I wouldn't like to be grabbed by an angry Andrew either.
"Thorne, eh? There's only one cure for bullies like you. A taste of your own medicine." And he pushed him backwards into the gorse alongside me.
"Right, let's have you out of there, Leon," and he held out a hand and hauled me out of my prickly perch. No need to worry about Thorne blabbing. If it was Andrew's word against his, no contest. Andrew then surprised me. He pulled Thorne out too, but instead of letting go of Thorne's hand he shook it sedately.
"Nice to meet you, Thorne. In the flesh. Now scarper."
Thorne scarpered painfully, muttering, while Andrew and I hooted helplessly, despite my bum feeling as if it was on fire.
"Thanks, Andrew," I managed to say. "You're a brick."
"Don't mention it. I enjoyed that. Now, what about you?" He looked. "Hmm. Your shorts are like a hedgehog. Is your bum too?"
I slid a cautiously exploratory hand down inside my waistband. "Yes. Feels like it."
"Lor. Hardly do much about that here. We can't even brush the prickles off without pushing more in. D'you think you can walk like that? Try keeping your shorts away from your skin." I tried, and with judicious waddling it wasn't too painful. So I waddled home, Andrew beside me.
"You can't sit down like that. You'll have to go to Matron."
"Oh Christ, no, not her." Matron was no doubt a qualified nurse, but her bedside manner, so to speak, was unsympathetic and, worse, she was notoriously ham-fisted. "Would you have a go, Andrew?"
"Well, I reckon I owe you a favour." His impish grin was in full play. "But where?" I knew what he meant. If a boy were to be found in close communion with another boy's bare bum, eyebrows would go through the ceiling. To put it mildly.
"I reckon we'd best be above board," he decided. "Clear it with Doug Paxton" -- the house captain, and a damn good one too -- "so that if anyone sees us they'll know I'm not seducing you." I could think of nothing better, but could hardly say so. But he was right. Massaging a naked shoulder was one thing. Nobody would comment, and nobody had. It was the waist that was the frontier. To cross that legitimately, one would need a passport and visa. So we applied for them to Paxton, explained the problem, and exhibited my hedgehog backside as evidence. He was graciously amused, refrained from asking what I'd been doing in a gorse bush, and no doubt calculated that the chances of Andrew wanting to play hanky-panky with an ugly runt like me were nil.
"See your point about matron," he said. "OK, go ahead. Use your dorm as an operating theatre."
I gingerly removed my shorts, pulled up my shirt, and lay down, skinny buttocks upmost, on Andrew's bed. (God, naked on Andrew's bed!)
"Yes, you are a hedgehog. Quite a lot of scratches too, but nothing bad."
He got to work pulling out spikes, the longest ones first, from my thighs and cheeks. "Right, I think your thighs are clear now, but you've got some pricks deep in your bum." He was giggling as he said it, and so was I.
"Stop shaking. Surgeon can't operate when you're shaking." He found his Swiss army knife which had a pair of tweezers, and tweezed for a while.
Then, "There are some broken off at the skin. I'll have to excavate." He got out a needle and very delicately poked, levered and squeezed.
At last, "Right, that's all I can see. But you went down with your legs apart, and there may be more inside. Bring your knees up."
This opened my crack, and he peered into it. "Yes. There are some in there, some quite close to your hole. And a few on the back of your balls." Back to work. I had long since got a raging hard-on. Couldn't be otherwise. But now that his fingers were working around my hole and on my balls, and his hand was resting on my cheeks, pressures began to build up nearby. Rapidly. Urgently. Unstoppably.
"Sorry, Leon, I can't do this without feeling you up. But these bloody needles have got to come out." He was clearly aware of my state. "D'you want me to stop?"
I didn't answer directly. Burning with embarrassment, I could only mumble desperately, "Andrew, sorry, I'm going to come. Quick, towel or something." He grabbed his towel and spread it under my raised belly. Just in time. I came, came on Andrew's bed, without him even touching my cock, grinding my head and shoulders into his blanket, groaning in a complex mix of emotions. Oh God! First things first. I squeezed my cock, already deflating, to empty it. Wiped it. Rolled up the towel. Dead give-away evidence of seduction, to anyone else. Only then could I look up, red in the face and tears not far off.
"Andrew, sorry, I'm sorry. Didn't mean to. Just couldn't control myself."
He was concerned. "Who could? Look, Leon, don't worry. Don't be sorry. It's me should be sorry -- I didn't realise you were so far gone. I'm sure I'd have come if you'd been handling me like that. That's why I was so cautious in the bath. Remember, when you were washing cow-pat off me? All the same" -- there was more than a hint of a smile and even a touch of pride -- "that's the first time I've made anyone come!"
Oh no it's not. You've made me come often enough before. But once again I couldn't say it. I was mixed up. Coming was such a private thing, coming by accident was if anything worse. True, far better it should happen with Andrew than anyone else (Matron? Christ almighty!). But whatever my innermost thoughts, I was still bashful, still far from ready to contemplate deliberate sex with him. Because I still had no notion where he stood.
"Well, yes, thanks. It won't happen again, as long as you're quick. So finish your evil work." I was trying desperately to keep it light.
So he finished his evil work. "No, stay there. Your bum looks as if it's got measles and been in a cat fight." He fished out a tube of antiseptic ointment from his bedside drawer, and with gentle fingers anointed me from thighs to lower back, high on the mountains and deep in the valley. And though I was in heaven, I didn't turn a hair. Not that I had many to turn.
"Right, that'll do," and he slapped me lightly on the buttocks. The whole operation had taken over an hour. "But you smell. You haven't had a shower yet. Nor've I." So I dressed enough to get to the shower, and we showered together, everyone else having long been and gone, and he gave me the ointment. "You need another dose of this, but you'd better put it on this time, not me." And we ended up back in our study, where I lowered myself gingerly on to my chair.
I had to say a bit more. "Whew. Andrew, thanks. Look, I was dead embarrassed by what happened just now. But thank God it happened with you, not somebody else." I deliberately echoed what he'd said to me after his bath. "Because you're a good friend."
His look showed that he appreciated it. "Well, that's what friends are about, isn't it? And I don't think it quite qualifies as seduction." He was grinning.
"Umm. No, not quite." I needed to match his mood. "But it reminds me of a joke I heard someone telling yesterday. Have you heard it? About fortune-tellers?"
"Don't think so. What?"
"Well. Fortune-tellers have crystal balls. So they can tell when they're coming."
Andrew rocked with laughter. "That's a good one. Reminds me too of one Jim told me this morning. About the boy who said, `My dad says French letters don't work.' That's pretty clever, when you thi -- Leon, what's the matter? What've I said?"
I felt as if I'd been punched in the solar plexus. I'd hardly given them a thought for months, but now my ancient sorrows suddenly returned, out of the blue. "Oh God, sorry. Not your fault. You couldn't know."
He came close and put his hand on my shoulder. "Tell me, Leon," he said gently.
I wasn't in tears, or anywhere near them. It was more like being winded. I replied tonelessly. "It's just that I've always reckoned my dad's French letter didn't work."
"I don't understand."
"Andrew. I was an accident. I'm sure. Not planned. Not wanted. That's why they don't love me."
"Oh my God." He was clearly appalled, and scrabbling furiously in his mind for a crumb of comfort to offer. "Leon, they may not want you, not love you, but there are other people who do." He blushed, as if aware of what might be read into that.
"Yes. Thanks. I know. It's just that when I compare them with your mum and dad ... And it still hurts. Not as much as it did, but when I'm reminded of it."
He sat looking at me, deep in thought. "Leon, you like my mum and dad, don't you? And trust them?"
"Why, yes, of course, they're wonderful."
"Look, I feel out of my depth here. For helping you, I mean. So may I tell them about this? They'll be much better with this than me. After all, they are parents. They've got the experience. Can I tell them?"
I looked at him. Yes, it made sense. I'd only met them twice, but already I'd be willing to trust them with my innermost secrets. To treat them as the parents I didn't really have. "Yes. Yes, please do. I'd like that. Thanks." So it was left.
By the end of term my love for Andrew had grown more pressing. I took great care to hide it, for I had no real evidence at all that it was, or would be, returned. We'd had no more semi-sexual encounters and he'd displayed nothing beyond his usual friendliness and consideration. None the less, after that afternoon, I began to sense -- I couldn't for the life of me say how -- that his friendship was moving towards something more than friendship. I sensed, if it really was love, that it was still young, that he was feeling his way and still had quite a distance to go. If it is love, Leon, I said to myself, foster it, feed it, strengthen it. But don't try to force the pace. Don't rush. It's too delicate and too precious to risk. The emperor Augustus had a motto, festina lente, make haste slowly. I commandeered it for myself. Patience became my middle name
So I went to Oxford for Christmas, for ten days of unalloyed delight at the Goodharts' elegant house in Park Town. School apart, I'd never been away from home before. To my relief and his, we met up with none of Andrew's faithless friends. Rather, he showed me round the university which, I reluctantly admitted, was not inferior to my Cambridge. We went to the cinema -- another first for me -- to see Danny Kaye in Hans Christian Andersen. We attended the carol service at Christ Church. Andrew even taught me to ride a bike. I'd never touched one before, but now found myself on his small cast-off one, wobbling uncertainly beside him through the University Parks.
And we wallowed in the warmth and love and generosity of the Goodhart home. It was a constant stimulus and a constant haven. On Christmas Day, apart from eating ourselves into a torpor, I was bowled over by their presents to me: a record of the Allegri Miserere from Andrew, and a three-volume set of the Lord of the Rings from Jack and Helen. Modest enough by many standards, but charged with meaning for someone who was a stranger to generosity, other than theirs. There was nothing from my parents, who didn't believe in such fripperies. And one evening Helen and I found ourselves alone together in the living room, with a blazing fire in the grate and the illuminated Christmas tree in the corner, and we sat side by side on the sofa.
"Leon, dear, Andrew's told us that your unhappiness. About your birth. That you were unplanned and unwanted. Would you like to talk about it?"
I looked at her, and saw love and concern. "Yes please. Yes, I would. The point is ..." I paused to get my thoughts in order. "The point is, if my parents had wanted me in the first place, I reckon they'd have loved me. But they never have. Not like you love Andrew. Nothing like. It feels ... this sounds silly, but it feels as if I was adrift in the middle of the sea. Ready to drown. No land in sight. Nothing to hold on to. Or rather it did feel like that, often. Until I met Andrew. He's been ... yes, that's it, he's been a lifebelt, keeping me afloat. Giving me hope. I don't get the feeling nearly so much now, but it still comes back occasionally. Specially in Cambridge. That nobody loves me. Nobody at all."
"Oh, Leon. How dreadful for you. I can imagine, or I think I can. But there are two points there, aren't there, which are slightly different. One is being an accident. Unplanned. That's something that's totally outside your control. Always has been. You can't do anything about it, however much you may want to. It's rather like the colour of your eyes. Or whether you're right- or left-handed. Or whether you love women or men. Or whether you're an early or a late developer. Or whether you were born in Kamchatka or Timbuktoo. You might wish it were otherwise, but it's a fact you can't change. So there's no point in agonising about it. Are you with me?"
I was. Very much so. It was a comfort, hearing it put so clearly. And one thing she'd said was very relevant in another way. Did she suspect, even know, that I was queer? No, she couldn't. But it was a huge relief to know that the Goodhart attitude to queerness was the complete opposite of the Michaelson one. She put her arm round my shoulder.
"And the second point, arising from the first, is being loved, or not loved. I find the total absence of love very hard to visualise. Oh, I'm not going to go all prim and proper and say that your parents really must love you even if they don't show it. That would amount to an absence of love, anyway. No, from all I've heard and seen of you, and from what I know of your parents, I fully accept that you were an accident and that they don't love you. Which must be very hard to bear. But the point is this. Even if you weren't loved once, you are loved, now. By at least three people. By my two menfolk, and by me. So you've got at least three lifebelts to keep you afloat. You know all about Andrew" -- and I understood perfectly well the sense in which we were using the word `love' -- "and Jack and I are always here if you want to talk about anything you feel you can't talk about with your parents. Or with Andrew. You do understand, that, don't you? And you'll come to us when you need to?"
I breathed a deep breath. "Oh, Helen, thanks. Thanks very much indeed. Yes, I will." A huge comfort, that. Stand-in parents whom I loved and respected far more than the real ones. She'd already succeeded in banishing my ancient sorrow and loneliness, I thought for good. And I swung round and hugged her.
I returned to Cambridge for a week of housework -- snow kept the garden
untouchable -- in somewhat bitter recognition of the variety of human behaviour.
The Goodharts had soared in my mental league table; my own parents had
plummeted. The difference, I reflected, showed itself in umpteen ways.
But it was encapsulated in the simplest of facts: whereas I had to call
my parents Mother and Father, Andrew called his Mum and Dad.
The Lent term saw me busier than ever. I had done so well in the previous term that, contrary to all normal practice, I was now moved up another step and quite unexpectedly found myself facing O-Levels in the summer, at the tender age of fourteen. It was hard work, and should have kept me out of mischief. But in February something happened which could not have been foreseen. Doug Paxton, the house captain, had sadly left and been replaced by the insecure Bill Jessop -- he who had confined Andrew last term -- aided and abetted by a weak bunch of prefects. One day a badly-phrased and thoroughly ambiguous notice went up on the house notice board. It meant to say that all boys who were not involved in other sports that afternoon were to go on a run. Most interpreted it that way, and ran. But a sizeable handful, including Andrew and me, read it to mean that we had the afternoon free, and we did our own thing. Of these, only Andrew had the bad luck to be seen by a prefect, and was called to account. In vain he pointed out the ambiguity of the notice: he was charged with deliberate disobedience and told in no uncertain terms that he was for it.
At Yarborough, within each house, discipline and punishment were in the hands of the house captain and prefects. Really heinous offences, of course, went to the housemaster, but this happened only once in a blue moon. Otherwise the prefects were judge, jury and executioner, and could mete out punishment to fit the crime: anything from trivial to quite severe. The system was part of the philosophy of `training boys to be men.' On the whole it worked well enough. But it was open to abuse if the prefects, and especially the house captain, were weak or tyrannical. The most severe punishment available to them was beating, and to administer a beating the house captain had to get clearance from the housemaster, who would listen to the prosecution's case and give his verdict. The accused was not present, nor was there a counsel for the defence. Beatings were rare: in my house they averaged one a term, if that, and in most cases, if one finds this sort of treatment acceptable, one could say that they were deserved, in the sense that the victim really had committed a fairly major offence.
On this occasion, then, Jessop applied to Wally MacNair the housemaster for permission to beat Andrew. Wally (as everyone called him behind his back) presumably listened to the charge and gave the go-ahead. He was a good housemaster, it has to be said, and respected, who interfered little in the day-to-day running of the house. But this time he found himself ensnared by the policy of trusting the prefects.
The ritual for a beating was that during prep the prefects armed themselves with canes and marched in convoy down the corridors, rattling the canes against all the study doors and radiators they passed, so that everybody knew what was afoot. When they reached the changing room the house captain bellowed the name of the criminal, who would slink up, listen to a shouted reprimand for his sins, bend over with his head among the stinking jockstraps in a locker, and receive one whack each from all of the six or eight prefects before being released to nurse his wounds. It was a humiliating business, and was meant to be.
As we sat in our study, trying with no success to do our prep, Andrew and I were well aware of what was to happen. He wasn't much bothered by the prospect of pain. Rather, he was seething with righteous indignation at a gross miscarriage of justice. I seethed with him. Both seemed powerless to stop the tide of events. At the last minute, I remembered Andrew's story of the cricket ball in August and of his betrayal, and saw at once what I had to do. Either he'd be spared humiliation altogether, or I'd be humiliated with him. My heart quaked, but if there was any occasion when timidity and awe of authority had to be overruled, this was it.
"Andrew," I said as the canes rattled past our door, "Andrew, I'm coming with you. I'm going to demand to see Wally, you demand to see Wally too, and we'll see him together. Got that? Trust me." Any protests or questions were prevented by a stentorian "Goodhart!" He went out to his doom. And I went with him.
In the changing room we found the posse of prefects lined up belligerently. The moment he saw me, Jessop shouted, "What the hell are you doing? I didn't call for you!"
"No, Jessop. But if you're going to beat Andrew you must beat me, because I missed the run too." I'm not sure how I got that out, my heart was pounding so hard.
"The difference is that he was caught and you weren't. Nobody's accused you of anything. Go away."
"In that case, Jessop, may I go and see Wally?"
Jessop's eyed bulged. But every boy had the right to see the housemaster at any time and for any reason, and not even the house captain could stop him. "Right. Go." And without waiting for me to go he rounded on Andrew. "And as for you ..."
"Please, Jessop, may I go to Wally with Leo?"
Jessop goggled. Nobody in recorded history had appealed against a beating. But he couldn't forbid it. So we went. On the way to the private side Andrew whispered, "Leon, you don't have to do this."
"No. But I stick by my friends." Pompous, maybe, but I meant it. "Andrew, explain to Wally what happened, first. He may let you off. If not, I'll have my say."
Wally was surprised to see us, and together. "What is it?"
"Sir," began Andrew stoutly, "Jessop wants to beat me for missing the run. A lot of people thought the notice meant we didn't have to run -- nine that I know of, including Leon here. But Jessop won't believe me."
"But I'm told that everyone else read it the right way, Andrew. And who are these others who didn't run? Who might back you up? Apart from Leon?"
"I'd ... rather not say, sir." Always considerate of other peoples' interests.
"Well, if you can't call more witnesses to back you up, you don't have a very good case, you know. Why not simply take your punishment like a man" -- yes, he actually said that -- "and then forget about it?"
"It doesn't seem fair, sir, that I'm not allowed to defend myself properly."
"There's a lot in life that isn't fair, Andrew. If you hoist that in, it's a lesson well learned. No, I'm sorry, I've given permission for you to be beaten, and I can't withdraw that." Understandable, in a way. He was under an obligation to support his prefects, right or wrong. But was that really more important than condoning injustice? "And I suppose you're here to back him up, Leon."
"Not just that, sir. I missed the run too, and if he's beaten, I should be beaten."
"Jessop said nothing about you, so presumably you weren't caught. That's your good fortune. I admire you for standing by Andrew, Leon. Let that be enough. Don't try to make a martyr of yourself."
"But, sir, if a criminal turns himself in and confesses to a crime, the police have to look into it, and if they reckon he's guilty they charge him." I found I could face semi-rational debate with authority more easily that I thought; more easily than Jessop's loud-mouthed bullying.
"I see your point, Leon. But on that analogy it's the prefects who are the police, not me. I am the judge. And a judge cannot condemn someone who has not been accused of a crime. I accept that you both disobeyed the notice. Andrew was caught and will pay the penalty. You were not, and you won't pay. That's all."
Dubious arguments, but final. We thanked him politely, I don't know what for, and made our way back. "Sorry, Andrew. But worth trying."
"Yes. Thanks though, Leon. It won't be so hard to take now."
He passed our study door, expecting me to peel off there. But I hadn't yet shot my bolt. I paused, and quietly followed him. He didn't even know I was just behind him as he entered the changing room. The prefects were lounging about, cheesed off at the disruption to the ritual.
"Well?" snapped Jessop.
"Wally says you are to beat me," said Andrew quietly.
"And me too," I added from behind.
Andrew swung round and gawped, but luckily Jessop was intent on me. "Did he now? Right, wait outside." And slammed the door.
I stood there and listened to Andrew being whacked. Hard, it sounded. Not a peep from him. The door burst open and he was pushed out, casting me an imploring glance as I was hauled in. They took their revenge for being monkeyed around with. It hurt. It hurt like hell. But I gritted my teeth. If Andrew could take it like a man, as Wally had told him to, so would I. I crept painfully back to our study. Andrew, too bruised to sit, was comforting his bum against the radiator and trembling with shock or outrage or both. I stood beside him, trembling too, and we looked at each other solemnly.
"Forget it, Andrew. Better shared than alone. And I reckon Jessop and his merry men will think twice before trying that sort of thing again. So may Wally, come to that."
"But Wally will skin you for disobeying him."
"Let him try. I think I'm on a pretty safe wicket." The adrenalin was still flowing and I felt I could take on the world. Far cry from a year ago. And I smiled at the boy who had brought about the change. He didn't return it. Instead, his face suddenly crumpled, and he broke into heaving sobs. And hugged me. The most handsome, the kindest, the most stout-hearted boy in the world hugged me. I was caught utterly off guard. My own eyes spouted, and I hugged back. After a bit, Andrew recovered enough to explain himself.
"Leon, the bastards hurt me, but I'm not crying for that. I'm crying because you shared it with me, when you didn't need to. You've no idea what that means."
"I can guess. And I'm crying because I'm glad to be able to repay you a little for all you've done for me." Understatement. But I knew, and knew that Andrew knew, that a new depth of friendship had been reached and accepted on both sides. A new depth of love, on my part, though I couldn't yet say so. And of love on his part, too, I now suspected more strongly than ever before, though he was still far from ready to reveal it. Boys don't find it easy to express emotions, and an awkward pause was broken by the bell for prayers. Prayers over, and the final half-hour of prep under way, we'd regained our composure, and lowered our pants to inspect the damage. Livid purple stripes criss-crossed his beautiful rounded cheeks and my skinny ones (pin-buttocks, Shakespeare calls them). We exchanged looks of sympathy. Luckily we were buttoned up again when there was a cursory knock and Jessop put his head round the door. "Wally wants to see you," looking at me. They'd evidently been talking, and the cat was out of the bag. Would Wally be furious?
He wasn't. He was blatantly puzzled and uncertain how to proceed, because he was in a trap, and knew it. "Sit down, Leon."
"If you don't mind, sir, I'd rather stand. It hurts too much."
He looked startled. "It's as bad as that? Very well, stand." Pause. "Leon, you have disobeyed me, and I'm not accustomed to disobedience. What have you to say?"
Adrenalin was flowing again, and strengthened friendship inspired me. "Only this, sir. In my book, despite what you said before, the same crimes call for the same punishment. Assuming we're guilty, that is. If we're innocent, as I know we are, then an unjust punishment is easier borne if it's shared with a friend." I could use that word `friend' with triumphant pride. "Trouble shared is trouble halved. I didn't like disobeying you, sir. I don't like disobeying anyone in authority. I didn't do it to make a martyr of myself. If anyone thinks so, that's their lookout. I did it from loyalty. In my book, equity and friendship outweigh blind obedience. If Andrew had misreported you to Jessop in order to escape a beating, he'd be in for the high jump. And rightly. But I misreported you in order to be beaten. I can't see that that's a very serious offence."
Nor, clearly, could Wally. He sighed, looked at me for what seemed an age, and visibly threw in the towel. And smiled. "All right, Leon. Don't let this go to your head, but you're a remarkable boy, and your sense of justice and loyalty is laudable. I've been in this house for fifteen years and I've never yet met anyone ready to go to such lengths. Tell Andrew from me that he's fortunate to have a friend like you.. No, forget that. You're so modest you'll disobey me again and carefully forget to tell him. I'll tell him myself -- send him to me, please. Oh, and you'd both better go to Matron for some Arnica before bed."
"Thank you, sir." This time I meant it. "Goodnight, sir."
I sent Andrew to Wally, who repeated the message. Andrew told me so. We went to Matron for Arnica before bed, and it helped. Rather against my will, Andrew broadcast news of what had happened, and opinion was divided. A minority thought me a masochistic idiot. The majority, on consideration, approved, and my standing rocketed. I overheard, for example, somebody say, "I used to think Leon was a drip, but that's one thing he's not. I wish I had the guts to do something like that." From the mean looks he gave us, we reckoned that Jessop had had a bollocking from Wally for the whole cock-up and/or for using excessive force on our bums. Certainly there were no more beatings that year. And indeed, years later when Andrew and I had worked our way to the top of the house, we conferred with Wally about punishments. He himself cited our beating and the predicament it had put him in, and readily agreed to our proposal to outlaw corporal punishment from the house.
I was writing home on another matter, and mentioned baldly that I'd been unjustly beaten. In return I received a dose of reproof on the lines that all punishments were deserved. But it turned out that Andrew, in his letter home, had spelled the story out rather more fully. By chance, his parents' termly visit fell due the next weekend, and as usual they fed us at the Red Lion. They winkled every gory detail out of us, in eager narrative from Andrew, in reluctant monosyllables from me: I wasn't accustomed to public praise. They were disturbed by the background, and I believe had a private word with Wally about it, but were touchingly grateful for my part. And tipped me again. Handel's coronation anthems this time. So, while I'd done what I did merely from an outraged sense of justice and loyalty, I found that the pain was far outweighed by the rewards. And I don't mean the financial ones.
All three Goodharts were going to Sicily over Easter to look at Greek antiquities, and were insistent that I go with them. Prolonged negotiations followed in which, thank goodness, I wasn't directly involved. Because my parents weren't going away themselves, they couldn't use the cat as an excuse for keeping me at home; and when the Goodharts offered to pay for my whole trip, and argued that it would be wonderfully educational, they capitulated. We had a marvellous time. I'd never been abroad before, nor flown in a plane, nor seen the site of any of the famous events of ancient history. We stayed in Syracuse, rich with Greek associations. I'd read it up, studied the maps. Here the Greeks had fought off the Carthaginians. The Athenians had disastrously besieged the city in 414 BC, and the Romans had captured it after huge efforts two centuries later. Here Plato had tried with total lack of success to convert the ruler to his ideal of the philosopher king. One day Andrew and I sat in the sun overlooking the Great Harbour, and I pointed out where the Athenians had built their siege walls, and described the course of the fateful sea battle which was their downfall -- how the army on the shore had swayed from side to side in silent anguish as they watched their fleet being destroyed, like the crowd at a football match when their side's in trouble. I pointed to the quarries where the prisoners of war were put to work. I explained Archimedes' ingenious machines which almost scuppered the Roman assault, and we had a fine debate about the mechanics of his crane for lifting ships bodily from the water and about the physics of his burning mirrors for setting Roman ships ablaze.
When we'd argued ourselves to a standstill, Andrew mused. "Lord, it's fascinating. I'm not much into history. As you know. I'd no idea it could be so interesting."
"Hear hear," said a voice behind us. We turned in surprise to see Jack and Helen sitting there.
"Hullo! Thought you were at the cathedral. How long've you been here?"
"It was closed for some ceremony," said Jack. "So we followed you. We've sat through the whole performance. Leon, in the course of a misspent life I've heard many people trying to explain ancient history on the ground. But never have I heard it done so vividly. And you've never even been here before." My face was bright red, not only from the sun, and I was on the edge of tears. They couldn't know how much it meant to be approved and appreciated professionally, so to speak, by intelligent and loving people, and to be almost a member of their family.
Or perhaps they could. Back in England, trying to thank them for the trip, I said, "I can't think why you're always so generous to me."
"Oh, that's easy," replied Helen. "Because you deserve it, and because
we love you."
Back at school for our second summer term, we graduated to separate studies, although we were almost as often to be found in the other's as in our own. With exams imminent, I was pretty busy. So was Andrew, who had spectacularly made it into the school under-sixteen cricket team and was much occupied with practices and matches. My exams came and went: no need to bore you with details (yes, there was a question on the Athenians at Syracuse). When in June the pressure came off, I had more leisure to sit back and do some thinking, about both the past and the future. I took stock of the last four terms. Academically, my career had been meteoric. While my own abilities, I had to admit, had contributed, Yarborough deserved much of the credit. Its teaching was far superior to my prep school's, and it fostered an independence of thought which contrasted refreshingly with my parents' dogmatism. My personal progress, too, had been phenomenal. I would always be a relative loner; but, thanks to Andrew, the growth of my self-esteem and confidence had been remarkable.
This had been underlined by a recent incident. As I've said, as a new boy I was occasionally at the receiving end of offensive remarks, and once -- when Thorne pushed me into the gorse bush -- of physical bullying. But there'd been none of that since. Word of Andrew's reply had got around, to general approval, for Thorne was not a popular member of society. But one evening as I was leaving the bog, I found Thorne in the changing room, where he'd pinned a new boy called Hitchcock in the corner and was prodding him in the chest. "Hitchcock, Hitchcock" -- prod -- "Lovely name for a sexy boy." -- prod -- "Bet you hitch your cock every night" -- prod -- "and think of ..."
"Stop that!" I bellowed, bristling, "What the hell d'you think you're doing?"
"Keep your hair on. Only teasing this twerp. Bit of fun."
"Was it fun?" I asked Hitchcock gently. He was quivering, and shook his head dumbly. "Right, Thorne. It wasn't fun for him, even if it was for you. Anyway, why make fun of his name, which he can't help? Any more than you can help yours. Want me to remind the whole house that you're a Thorne in the flesh?" Hitchcock clearly hadn't heard that one, and I saw delighted surprise on his face.
Thorne was sullen. Evidently the jibe still rankled. "You'd better not."
"I won't. So long as you leave Hitchcock alone. Got that? Hop it." Thorne went out morosely. "You OK?" I asked Hitchcock. "Let me know if he tries that sort of thing again."
Smile. "Thanks, Michaelson," and he went too. Leaving me to ponder my new role as a protector. I'd put Thorne down, and he was senior to me. Maybe he was still scared of an invisible Andrew. Or, coward as bullies are, he was actually scared of me? Had I matured that much? Did I actually carry an air of authority? An intriguing thought.
As for the future, plans had already been laid for the summer holidays. The Goodharts had come over for Speech Day (one prize for Andrew and three for me, plus my customary tip -- Bach cello suites this time) and arrangements were finalised. All four parents were attending the Plato Conference in Athens in August, a major and lengthy affair which would take them away from home for a fortnight. The benighted cat demanded my presence in Cambridge, but my parents must have had a glowing report from the Goodharts of the Sicilian trip, for this time they agreed without too much reluctance that Andrew should stay with me. Whether they'd forgotten our conversation about homosexuality, or harboured no suspicions, they didn't raise the subject. For better or worse, their absence would span both our birthdays, which we'd have to celebrate by ourselves.
The prospect of two weeks with just the two of us, alone, raised both my hopes and my fears. I'd found that my love for Andrew, which I'd once thought complete, was still growing. I still sensed, more strongly than ever though I couldn't put a finger on how I sensed it, that he loved me. But I still dared make no open move. This was one area where my timidity and lack of confidence had not been eliminated. Not only was I terrified of a rebuff, but I'd no idea of how to set about so momentous a step. I was clearer than ever that whereas once I might have settled for plain sex, I'd now be content with nothing less than real love on both sides. But how to confirm it? How to declare it? I was at a loss to know. Then, quite unexpectedly, the last few weeks of term threw up a series of chance events which offered most of the answers with little effort and little anguish on my part.
One balmy Saturday afternoon Andrew was playing for the house under-sixteen team, and I was there to watch, lying alone on the boundary, with nobody nearby, and with a book should things get boring. Our side was put in first, and Andrew, who batted about halfway down the order, came to join me.
"What's the book?" he asked, flipping through it.
"Poet. First century AD."
"What are epigrams?"
"Poems. Any subject, but short and witty. Punch line. Bit like limericks."
"Oh, I see, Latin on one side, translation opposite." Pause. "Why's this translation in -- Italian, isn't it?"
"Ah. That's one of the rude ones they didn't dare put in English."
"Rude? Really? You mean dirty?"
"Yes. Obscene. Pornographic."
"Blimey. About girls? Or boys?"
"Both. They were pretty bisexual then."
"Gosh. What does this one say?"
I'd never talked real dirt with Andrew. It wasn't our way. Dirty jokes, yes -- we shared good ones, of course, like the fortune-tellers. Nothing more than that. But I was at ease today, and felt inclined to take minor risks, though I had to obtain some clearance first. "Andrew, do you want it uncensored, unedited? Some of these are pretty filthy."
"Gimme the works. I'm not that shockable." He was probably expecting something like a rude limerick, on the lines of `There was a young fellow of Buckingham.'
"On your head be it." So I looked round -- nobody in earshot -- and down at the book. "Actually you've got a fairly tame one here." I worked out a punchy version. "Written to a girl. `Rumour says you've never been shagged, and there's nothing chaster than your cunt. But when you go to the baths you don't even cover up the part you should. If you've any modesty, put your knickers on your face.'"
Andrew laughed heartily. "Good God! You don't do this book in class, do you?"
"Grief, no. We do Martial, but only in selections fit for our modest eyes. This book is my parents'."
"Cor. Better than The Cruel Sea." This, or the few juicy bits in it, was the nearest thing to pornography that was generally available in the school, pallid though it may seem to later generations. If anyone knew of the existence of hard-core stuff, they wouldn't have known how to get hold of it. We were pretty innocent; but access to my parents' library made me less innocent than many.
"Give me another."
"Let's see ... Try this one. This is to his wife. `When you caught me with a boy, you slagged me off and reminded me that you had an arse too. Stop giving masculine names to your equipment. Just get it into your head that you've got two cunts.'"
`Christ! You mean he ..."
"Seems so." Noises off as a batsman was bowled. A nasty thought struck me. "Andrew. Keep this under your hat. Please. That I've got this stuff and can translate it. Otherwise everyone else'll beat a trail to my study. I don't want that. Only you."
"Right. Understood. I won't tell."
"Umm. Well. Same sort of thing again. `Labienus, when you shave your chest and legs and arms, when your prick is surrounded by hair trimmed short, we all know you do it for your girlfriend. But who is your shaved arse for?'"
"Leon, this is wicked. Dirty old Romans." Applause. Another batsman was out. "Lord, I must get padded up." He climbed to his feet, and as he brushed grass off his trousers I noticed something. And took another risk.
"You'd better do something about that hard-on before you put your box on."
He looked startled, then amused. "You mean it'd be a jack-in-the-box! Don't worry. It'll go down as soon as I've left your stimulating company," and off he loped to the pavilion, leaving me to ponder what was happening. Not for long. Our batting was collapsing and Andrew, most untypically, was bowled first ball. Soon he came trotting round to me again, grinning unabashed and still matching my skittish mood.
"Bad luck," I said. "Eye not on the ball, eh? Or eye on Elliott's balls?" Elliott was the bowler who had just demolished him, a notoriously beautiful boy.
"Michaelson is possessed of a particularly filthy mind," he pronounced in good imitation of the headmaster's ponderous voice. He looked round, but nobody was watching. "Not eyes on balls, Leon. Balls on eyes." I was lying on my back, and he straddled me and briefly and gently lowered his bum on to my forehead, balls over my eyes, giving me a tantalisingly sexy whiff of essence of boy.
As he got off, the bulge in his trousers knocked my glasses askew. "Now I'm cock-eyed," I said.
He giggled helplessly for a while. "Oh. Leon, I love it when you talk dirty. I was wondering" -- he turned more serious -- "Leon, where did you pick up these dirty words? I mean, I heard them from my friends, but you say you never had any friends before."
I hesitated, as I was obscurely ashamed of the answer. But it was a fair question. "Oh, a couple of years ago I had to go to the bog. A public one. For a crap," I added, in case he got hold of the wrong end of the stick. "And the walls were covered in these graffiti. I spent ages reading them. They taught me a lot." I didn't add that I'd then noticed an eye peering through a hole in wall, and had fled in panic without even buttoning up. "Pretty sordid, really."
"Yes, I know, I've seen some. Sordid, like your poems, but not so neat."
We watched a may-bug droning past. Another opportunity. "D'you know the other name for those things?"
Andrew giggled again. "Leon, you've never been like this before. Must be your Roman pornography turning you on. Sing us another one."
I leafed through the book. Right. Try this. "`Hyllus, you've often got only a penny to your name, and it's more worn than your arse. But it won't be spent on food or drink, but on someone who can boast a massive cock. Your wretched belly envies the banquets your arse enjoys: the one is always empty, the other stuffed.'"
"Whew. That's hot. Read me another."
"You sound like a little boy at bedtime." Umm. That might be misinterpreted. The next one was in the same vein too. "`Gallus, you sleep with well-hung boys, but what's stiff on them isn't stiff on you. What do you want me to deduce? I'd like to think you're a pansy, but I know that you're not the one underneath.'"
Andrew's brow furrowed as he worked it out. "Does that mean he couldn't get a hard-on? Poor sod. Hope that never happens to me." Amen. Or to me. "Any more?"
More searching. Ha. What will he make of this? "`Polycharmus, you like to crap after fucking. What do you do after you've been fucked?'"
"Yeeow. Leon ..." Burst of clapping, our side all out. "I must go. But Leon, does the ... stuff stay in your arse, or leak out?"
"No idea. You'd better go."
I didn't take much notice of the rest of the game, and can't remember who won. Probably them. I had plenty to think about. Andrew had seen a new side of me, and I had of him.. He went back with the rest of the team, I by myself.
Next day was Sunday. Day of rest, relatively speaking. After chapel, Andrew came to my study. I was still in my frisky mood, but he was more thoughtful. "Leon, I was thinking last night about your Martial bloke."
"I bet you were!"
He smiled, but only faintly. "Clot. We're supposed to be pure and pious today! Even so, Martial. Was he the only one who wrote that sort of thing?"
"Well, there weren't many others who wrote epigrams. Whose works have survived, anyway. But there's Catullus. Bit earlier. Much the same."
"Have you got it?"
I had. In this respect if no other, bookworm parents were a blessing to a bookworm son. Not so many poems to choose from in Catullus. Found one. "Andrew, this one's filthier still."
"`Gellius, why are your rosy lips whiter than the winter's snow when you leave home in the morning, or get up from your afternoon siesta? Something's up. Is it true you suck men's erections? That's it. It's proved by Victor's battered cock and by your lips smeared with the cum you've milked.'"
"Christ almighty!" He didn't look amused, or excited, but almost disapproving. "And did the Greeks write the same sort of thing?"
"Yes, probably more. Best source is the Anthology." I rummaged on the shelf for the volume, the only one I had, containing Books XI and XII. But the bell rang for lunch. "Look, walk this afternoon?" We had to be out of the house for an hour on Sunday afternoons. Anywhere.
"Right. I'll bring it with me."
We walked out, reached open countryside, sat in the sun on the grassy bank of a quiet road, and opened the book. Same layout, but this time Greek on one side and English on the other, or Latin for the juicy bits.
"Right. Some of them are much the same as Martial. Like this. `Is Favorinus fucking or being fucked? Yes. He's fucking his own mouth.'"
Andrew was startled out of his thoughtfulness. "Does that mean he was sucking himself?"
"He must have had a monster. Couldn't do that myself. Doubt if Richardson could either," referring to a sixth-former who was enviably well endowed.
"Huh." If Andrew couldn't, I certainly couldn't. "Here's another. `There were two on the bed being fucked, and two fucking. You think that makes four? No, three. The one in the middle was doing both.'" Andrew was startled again, but kept quiet as he worked out the mechanics of it. "And there are more here about boys rather than men. After all, the Greeks were into boys -- sorry, pun not intended. `Girls don't have a tight arsehole, a straightforward kiss, a naturally fragrant skin, good dirty chatter, or an unambiguous glance. They don't learn so fast. They are frigid behind. Most important, there's nowhere to put your wandering hand.'"
"Yes," he said, so quietly I could barely hear him, "that I can understand."
Again a pause, so I flipped the pages once more. "Another thing, they liked their boys young. Certainly not hair on chests. Like this. `Your leg, Nicander, is getting hairy. Take care it doesn't cover your arse, or you'll find out how rare lovers are. Remember that youth can't be called back.'"
Our socks were rumpled down and our trouser legs ruckled up, so that patches of shin were visible, his with a distinct covering of darkening down, mine smooth as a baby's bottom. I saw him looking at both. "Yes," he said quietly again, "it's a pity we get hair." He lay back with an air of finality and gazed unseeingly at the starlings wheeling in the sky. "Leon, I don't want any more. Thanks for reading them, though. I like them, in a way. They make me horny. Good material for jacking off, you know what I mean." His sideways glance was positively shy. "But in another way I don't like them. They're like the scribbles on the boghouse walls. Like you said, sordid. Casual sex. That last one -- the bloke ditching his boy as soon as he gets hair on his arse. If I was that boy, I'd be getting ditched now. I'm getting hair there."
He heaved a big sigh, and I waited. This was another Andrew that was new to me, and one that I longed to know better. The sun picked out highlights on his blond curls, and his blue eyes were half closed against the glare as he sifted his thoughts. "Leon, that's not what I'd like. Not short-term affairs. It's not really love, is it? What I'm after ..." he corrected himself and started again, slowly. "If I were to love, and be loved, I'd want something permanent. Stable. Deep. Not just casual sex, here today gone tomorrow. Chuck one out, find a new one. Am I being a prig?"
"If you are, I am too." I doubt he heard me, he was so far away.
"And to love someone properly, I reckon you've got to know them pretty well. I don't see how you can fall in love, proper love, at first sight. At first sight you can only see their face, their body. What matter's is what's inside. And proper love can't come till you know the inside. Properly. And that takes time. And how do you know -- know for sure -- that you're right? And haven't made an awful mistake?"
All this was addressed to the sky, not to me. But now he looked at me almost shamefacedly, as if realising that he'd been laying bare his soul. He'd made it crystal clear that he wasn't interested in girls. Only boys. And though he hadn't referred to me at all, there was little doubt I was the one he was interested in. No way was this an appeal to a third party for advice. I was knocked back on the ropes. His thinking exactly mirrored mine, and he'd worked it out entirely by himself, and better than me. I thought I'd fallen in love with Andrew at first sight, over a year ago. But he was probably right. He was right. At that stage it had been merely lust. Proper love had come later. Yes, all right, faster to me than to him. Perhaps because I was more desperately in need than he was. But right now he needed reassurance, or what little I could offer him. Even so, don't rush it, I reminded myself. You might spoil everything. Festina lente. I drew a deep breath.
"Andrew, I reckon you're absolutely right. Love should be permanent. It should be equal. Symmetrical on both sides. Reciprocal. It can't be shared between more than two. Look at the Greeks." This was my territory: I knew about them from my reading, especially of Plato. "They're a bad example of love, on the whole. Lots of sex with women, of course, but they were reckoned inferior, not men's equals. And quite a bit of sex with men, or rather boys. But even there it was a matter of status. Men were older and therefore superior, boys were younger and inferior. To shag was superior, to be shagged was inferior. But once a boy became a man he was superior too, so it wasn't right for him to be shagged. It's like that last poem. Not what seems right to you. Or me. Unequal. Impermanent.
"But there's another side to it. There were permanent partnerships too. Not many. There's a marvellous book by Plato. The Symposium. About a party where they all talk about love. All sorts of ideas are thrown up, most of them crap. One of them's the standard line of the day, justifying it all, that the lover, the man, educates his boyfriend in all the virtues." This made me think of Andrew, educating me. "Another bloke called Pausanias draws the distinction -- and I reckon it's dead right, too -- between physical sex, what he calls common love, and proper love of what's inside, what he calls heavenly love.
"And there's another I specially like. Plato puts this in the mouth of Aristophanes, the comic poet. According to him, all humans are originally double. Made up of two individuals joined together -- four legs, four arms, two heads and so on. Either two males, or two females, or one of each. Then they're cut in two, separated, and have to look for their lost half, their other half. And when they find it -- if they find it -- they're reunited for ever, sharing their life again as equals. Absolute equals. Homos if they were originally both male. Lesbians if they were both females. Heteros if they were one of each. All pre-ordained. Of course things can go wrong. If you think you've found your other half but you've actually got the wrong one, you break up and start searching again. It's only a made-up story, of course. An allegory, illustration. But it strikes a real chord with me.
"And how do you know you've found the right one? I'm not sure. But I'd guess that if you spot a likely candidate you need to get to know them, like you said. And the better you know them, the closer you get. And it's like -- look, I'm making this up, Plato doesn't say it -- it's like a jigsaw. You build it up in two halves, one for you, one for the other person as you get to know them. And if the two halves fit together, if the picture's continuous, if all the pieces interlock, then it must be right. You'll know it's right."
Lord, what a speech. Probably the longest I'd ever made. But it seemed to do the trick. Andrew had emerged from his brown study and was listening intently. "I like that. I like that a lot. Makes sense to me. Have you got this book? I'd like to read it."
"I'll see if I can find a translation." This was a slight evasion: it was there on my shelf, but I thought we'd gone far enough for one day.
"Thanks, Leon. You got me thinking yesterday, and trying to sort things out. So thanks for listening to my blathering. You're a wise man." He put his hand on my knee: we were sitting up by now. Festina lente, I screamed to myself, and he took his hand off. "And -- I've said it before -- you're a damn good friend too. Hey, look at the time. We'd better get back."
So we walked home in companionable silence. Damn good friends, but still not openly in love. At the house, he went to his own study. "Sorry, I've got a bit of writing to do." Perhaps his letter home, though the post had gone. Or his diary. He was the only boy I knew who kept one.
An hour later he appeared in my study, pen in hand and still thoughtful. "Leon, that sermon this morning." He paused, head cocked, listening to the record I was playing. `What's this?"
"Bach cello suite. Casals. From the money your mum and dad gave me."
He sat down to take it in. When it was finished, "You know, Leon, you've taught me a hell of a lot of things. One of them is that the Comets, Bing Crosby, most popular music come to that, is like quick sex. Short-lived. This sort of stuff is like proper love. Deep. Somehow pure. Permanent." He was indeed a sensitive soul. But he came back to business. "Leon, that sermon." It had been a visiting preacher, a little ball of a man who had bounced around as if on the end of a spring. I'd wondered if he'd bounce clean out of the pulpit. "He was going on about faith, hope and love. You know, Corinthians something. I thought it was faith, hope and charity."
"So it was, in the Authorised Version. But he was quoting from the new translation, the Revised Standard. It's called `love' there."
"Is that the same love that we were talking about?"
"No. Dreadful word, love, it can mean so many things. The Greeks had several different words for it. Sexual, well, erotic desire is eros. Friendship, affection, like between us, or between you and your parents, is philia. In Corinthians the word's agape, brotherly love, general love for your fellow men. Different from what's now called charity, like giving money to the Blind Institute or the dogs' home. Even so, I reckon what Paul says could just as well apply to the love you're talking about. Let's have a look." I found my RSV. "Yes, look."
He leant over my shoulder to read, and I felt his breath getting ragged on my cheek. He stayed there far longer than it could possibly take to read the passage, and finally said, "Yes, I see what you mean. Thanks. Can I borrow this a minute?"
"Course." He went out, no doubt to copy it into his diary.
Love was blatantly on his mind. And, it seemed to me, the two halves of a single unit were on converging paths. I thought over St Paul's words again.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Substitute `Andrew' for `love,' it occurred to me, and it would be equally true. It all fitted. Please God it would happen. But don't rush. We're not there yet.
Throughout prep that evening I mused on about sex and love. At Yarborough, boys, especially older ones, often talked about sex with other boys, how they'd like to bed this one or that. But it was a superficial, almost a fashionable, pose, readily accepted for what it was. But, unless you count wanking which was doubtless widespread, astonishingly little physical sex took place in the school. There may of course have been cases which didn't reach the grapevine, but it was pretty efficient. In all my five years there, out six hundred-odd boys at any one time, I only ever heard of about five instances, in two of which the culprits had been caught and summarily expelled. One of those, later and in another house, hardly counted: a boy was found having it off with a maid. The other was in my own house, only a few months before, when Derek Jones was caught with his trousers down and his cock in a younger boy's mouth. If there was that little sex going on, I was pretty sure that there was nothing like a real love affair afoot in the school, other than my own.
If so, my feelings for Andrew were a mighty rarity. My love for him needed, in my mind, no explanation, no justification. It was simply natural, given that he was so lovely in soul and in body. But what the hell could he see in me? I was lovely in neither department: a weedy and narrow-minded bookworm with a face like a cross between a mouse and an owl. True, poor old Derek who'd got the boot had been no oil painting. His face had been a wilderness of spots and craters, like a miniaturised battlefield on the Somme. It evidently hadn't put off the kid who'd been pleasuring him; but that, surely, was a matter simply of sex, not love. True again, I was now vastly more at home with my inner self; and Andrew had actually said that what matters is inside. True once more, I was now growing fast. Not only upwards, but filling out significantly too. But the fact remained that the outside was still essentially in its old shaming form.
The very next day my eye lit on an advert in the paper. It appeared
almost daily, but I'd not really taken it in before. Plugging Charles Atlas's
body-building courses, it featured some poor sod reportedly saying `I once
was a six-stone puny weakling,' and was illustrated with before and after
photos of the aforesaid sod. I had no desire to turn into a muscle-bound
lout; but it put a thought into my head, which rapidly hardened into a
resolution. It could do no harm to try to -- I can't remember what words
I used at the time, but in modern terms it was to repackage Leon. I could
do something to improve my body and, if the gods were willing, I could
do something improve my face. So, to general surprise, I started swimming
as often as possible to build up some muscle tone, and even sought the
advice of the PE instructor on exercises. Andrew seemed pleased but not
surprised, and encouraged me all the way. It was knackering work, but that
was the price that had to be paid.
Next Saturday Andrew was playing in an away match. He'd left early and would be back late. I got in from lessons to find a note in my study.
We've come over for the weekend on the spur of the moment, foolishly forgetting that Andrew's away today. We'll have to leave him till tomorrow. But if you've nothing else on today, can we tempt you out to lunch and for the afternoon? We've had a word with Mr MacNair and he's given you leave of absence. We hope to see you in the lounge at the Red Lion.
Helen and Jack
Strange. With anyone but the Goodharts it might have seemed sinister, but I followed them readily. Their room was pleasant: double bed, two easy chairs. They tried to get me to take a chair, but I preferred to sit on the bed facing them. Jack began.
"Leon, we're in need of your help and advice, if you will. To put it in a nutshell, we had a letter from Andrew on Tuesday." Ah, so he had been writing home on Sunday evening. "In it he told us some of his deepest thoughts. We've always encouraged him to talk to us, if he feels the need, on anything that's worrying him. He knows that we're here to help or advise. And he's always open and honest. The news in his letter didn't come as a total surprise to us. It said that he was in love with a boy, or more accurately that he was fairly sure he was but wasn't certain yet. He didn't name the boy. He said that he thought he was loved back, but that nothing physical had taken place. And he'd got to the stage where he wanted to know what our reaction was.
"Well, we put two and two together and made what we think is four. Quite an easy sum, really. We couldn't see that the boy was anyone but you. We know that you're the greatest of friends. To our eternal delight. We've seen how you look at Andrew, and very occasionally how he looks at you -- I think he's better than you at hiding his feelings. No, before you speak let me add one thing more. About our reaction. Love between males is unconventional, and it can be difficult, very difficult, and dangerous too, in a generally hostile world. It's also illegal. But we're not shocked. We think that homosexuality is a natural state, not a disease or a perversion. And we'll support him as far as we possibly can. We love Andrew. We love him deeply. And therefore we want him to be happy and fulfilled. Nothing else matters. But we need to know more, from both of you, about what you think love means. Not just because you're both boys. We'd ask the same if one of you was a girl. Or you both were, come to that. If this love of his is right, if it's laudable, be blowed to convention and the law." He smiled at me. "You see why we didn't want to talk about this in the lounge. And if we're correct and you're the object of his love, and if everything else is in order, then we couldn't ask for better. Not possibly. Now, what can you tell us, Leon?"
To gain time, I took off my shoes and brought up my legs to sit cross-legged on the bed. I was flabbergasted. But only because this had come straight out of the blue. It was no surprise to hear their view of male love. The news that Andrew did love me, or was well on the way to it, was new and very welcome, but I had long suspected it. Things were at last beginning to fall into place. And they fitted. Last Sunday he'd asked and received my advice. He'd now asked, and would shortly receive, his parents' advice, which in turn would be informed by what I had to say. There was total trust all round, and I owed total honesty to everyone.
"Wow. Jack, Helen. Oh, where do I start? Yes, your sum is right. At least I hope it is. He's never told me. But I know I love Andrew. I've not told him either. But I've loved him since we first met. I owe everything to him. I was in a dreadful state when I came here, and from the very first day he was my salvation." I raised a questioning eyebrow to see if they knew what I was talking about.
"Yes, we can take that as read," said Helen gently. "Andrew told us all about you. Much more than you imagine, I fancy. And he's kept us updated. In addition to what we've seen for ourselves."
"Well, my love for him's been growing all the time. As you say, he doesn't show his feelings much. But I think he's been in love with me since last winter. Or rather, feeling his way towards love. Slowly. It doesn't sound as if he's gone the whole way yet."
"You've hit the nail on the head. That's Andrew all over. On things that matter, his decisions take time. If it's a choice between a vanilla or a mint choc ice, he doesn't hesitate, because it's unimportant. But when we gave him his latest bike we looked at various models, he went back to the shop at least three times to look again, and he chewed it over for a fortnight before making up his mind. This is infinitely more important still, and so he's taking longer. Don't worry about that. But -- sorry to press you on a very personal matter -- what exactly do you mean when you say that you're in love?"
"Well, as Andrew told you, there's been nothing physical. No sex. In my book, there's the world of difference between common love and heavenly love. You know, Pausanias." No need to elaborate. They'd know the Symposium inside out. "I don't want common love without the heavenly. We were talking about this last Sunday, in an abstract way, not with reference to us. And he feels exactly the same as me, though he'd never even heard of the Symposium. So that's one side of it. The other side is the proper love. The heavenly. I stand by Aristophanes' allegory of the search for your other half. The search for permanence. Stability. Equality. I told Andrew about that too, and he liked it. Very much. He wants to read the Symposium."
"And have you shown it to him?"
"No. Not yet. I don't want to rush things. I was thinking of giving it him at the end of term, to read before he comes to Cambridge."
"Very sensible. Go on."
"Well, Andrew asked too about how you can be sure you've found your other half. All I could suggest was that it might be like doing a jigsaw." And I trotted out my analogy.
"But Leon, how could you possibly know?" This was Helen again, exchanging incredulous looks with Jack.
"About the jigsaw. The analogy. Where did you come across that?"
"I didn't. I made it up."
"Good God." Pause. "Look, Leon, when Jack and I first met, we talked about love in much the same way as you've just done. No great coincidence -- anyone who's read the Symposium could do so. But we also made up the analogy of the jigsaw puzzle. Just like you've done, quite independently. I know it's a cliché, but this is a classic case of great minds thinking alike." She said it lightly, with a smile, but she was absolutely right: we did think alike. "Leon, has Andrew ever told you that you're a wise man?" She was looking at me shrewdly now.
"Yes," I said in surprise. "He has. Why?"
"Good. Because you are. At least we think you are, and I'm glad he thinks so too."
"Well, thanks," I muttered, embarrassed. "But what I don't understand is what Andrew sees in me. I mean, anyone could love him, he's handsome, he's caring, he's bung-full of good nature. Everything I'm not."
"Oh, Leon, you're not only modest, you're wrong. You are everything you said."
"Me? Handsome? You're joking. All right, I am trying to improve my appearance. I want to be a bit more worthy of him. But, I mean, he's a Greek god. I know very well I'm not, and never can be." The thought of my emulating Andrew's looks was so incongruous I actually smiled at it.
"Don't be so sure of that. Remember, beauty's in the eye of the beholder. And on top of that you've got your inner beauty." What on earth could one say to that? Helen consulted Jack with her eyes, and on getting a barely perceptible nod she went on, "Leon, you've thought deeply about all this, you've explained it with splendid clarity, you're showing an impressive sense of responsibility. And we approve. Heartily. And we'll do everything in our power to help you on your way."
"Oh gosh, Jack, Helen. I don't know what to say." A lump was rising in my throat. "You're marvellous. Just marvellous. You've no idea what it means to have your blessing. But there's still one thing." I felt no embarrassment at all at raising the matter with these wonderful people. "You approve of the love. But do you approve -- will you approve -- of the sex?"
Again the eye consultation. "Yes," said Helen. "From all that we've been saying, that follows naturally. Provided both of you are considerate, and careful, and clean."
"But Helen! If we weren't, we wouldn't be in true love!"
Helen blinked, her maternal instincts having overridden her logic. And laughed out loud. "True, O Socrates, I grant you that. Yes. But there are still quite a lot of questions that'll need answering. May we ask, for example, have you any plans for breaking it to Andrew that you love him? Or will you wait for him to take the lead?"
"I don't know, Helen. I'll have to play it by ear. I don't think anything's imminent. School's hardly the right place -- there isn't the time, the privacy, it needs. Anyway, I don't know yet that he does love me. For sure, I mean. Nor does he. I don't want to do anything too fast. All the way through, my motto's been festina lente. But I'm hoping things may come to a head at Cambridge, when we have a fortnight by ourselves."
"Right, and good luck to it," said Jack. "But that raises two more questions. Holidays are one thing, but have you thought about how to handle it at school? From next term onwards? Assuming things turn out as you hope, of course?"
"Well, yes, a little, but I've no real answer. It's a tricky one. At the moment I'd rather not jump the gun. Andrew and I'll have to chew it over. And ask your advice too. Assuming things go right."
"Fair enough. But don't forget it. The other question is, what line do you think we should take with Andrew tomorrow? We'll have him for most of the day from chapel onwards."
Another tricky one, and I thought hard. "Does he know yet that you're here? Or rather will be tomorrow?"
"Yes. We replied briefly to his letter saying that we'd be over at the weekend."
"Look, Helen, Jack," I said slowly, "I think it calls for white lies again. Pretend you really did forget he'd be away today. Tell him you had me out to lunch, but not that we talked of anything important. Act as if this afternoon hadn't happened. And talk over what he said in his letter as you ordinarily would. I know it's not entirely truthful, and I don't like that much. But I think forcing the pace would be worse. I'd rather allow him to move ahead at his own speed."
"Very good point. All right. Yes. Understood. We'll do that." That was Helen. Then Jack: "Leon, one last thing. At least I hope it's the last. You know what our reaction is now. Any idea how your parents might react?"
My face dropped. "I can tell you that straight off." And I told them about the conversation of nearly a year ago, ending with those words that were engraved on my memory, `Should you ever contemplate practicing such obscenities, let me warn you that you will never practice them in this house. We will not tolerate iniquity and scandal.'
"Oh Leon, that is a blow. I'm sorry. That means you'll have to limit your, um, activities to Oxford. But at least you're welcome there. I mean it."
"And I second it," said Helen. Pause. "Right. Is there anything else we ought to discuss?"
"Helen, can I ask you something? When we were talking at Christmas, remember? You said that whether you loved women or men was a fact which couldn't be changed. Did you know that I was homo then? Or Andrew?"
"You don't miss much, do you? No, neither. We didn't know, or really suspect, about either of you But we did know that Andrew shows no interest in girls. And of course we'd seen your growing friendship, and we felt it was possible that it might blossom into something more. So I said what I said. If you weren't homosexual, it would do no harm. If you were, it might help you."
Wonderful people. "It did. It helped a lot."
"Good. Well, Leon, dear, we have to thank you for being so frank with us. You're so clear-headed about it. You've helped us beyond measure. And we're enormously grateful."
"But Helen, I'm just as grateful to you both. Always have been. I know it's still some way to the finishing post, but I'm much more optimistic than I was this morning. Thanks to you." I looked at them, a trifle shy about what I was going to say. "D'you know, ever since I met Andrew and you, I've thought how well you all fit your surname." The tears which I'd been fighting off began to trickle, so I got up and hugged them. And mumbled, as I buried my face in Helen's shoulder, "I wish you were my parents."
"If we were, we'd have a son to be proud of."
Surprise. "But you've got one already."
"Yes. We have. But we wouldn't say no to another." She was weeping too.
When we'd recovered, they saw me down to the entrance, and slipped me some money. The usual amount. "But you gave it me on Speech Day!"
"Speech Day was Speech Day. Today is today." I looked at them almost in despair. "Go and do your usual. Goodbye, Leon. And the best of luck." Words were beyond me, so I walked along the street to the music shop, blinking. Coming back ten minutes later, my business done, I was surprised to see them still at the door of the Red Lion. So I showed them my purchase.
`Mozart concert aria, Exsultate Jubilate,' read Jack. "Is that how you feel, Leon?"
"Yes, it is. I'm exulting, I'm rejoicing. I feel like singing it to the High Street!"
"Nice idea, if a little rash," said Jack. "We like your taste, Leon. We were never more surprised than when Andrew told us you'd converted him to classical music and got him to join the choir. He'd never shown any interest in that sort of thing before. But that's by the way. Leon, we've been having a quick talk, and something else has occurred to us. Would you mind coming up to our room again for a moment?"
We went. "This is a difficult question to ask, Leon," he resumed, his round face unusually anxious, "and probably difficult to answer. Maybe we have no right to raise it. But we'll take the risk. What are your feelings about your parents? You say they don't love you, and we can see no sign that they do, either. But do you love them?"
Lord. Disloyalty or dishonesty? I gazed out of the window. The sparrows were squabbling on the window-box. People, ordinary people, were going in and out of shops on the other side of the High Street, on their lawful business. Everything was normal, friendly even. And love permeated the Goodharts' room. My answer really needed no debate. My parents were not normal. They gave no love. I could give none in return. So I looked back at Jack. "No. I respect them for their scholarship. I'm sorry to sound disloyal, but I can't love them. I don't love them."
"Very honest. We rather thought so. In your shoes we'd probably say the same. I know it's not the done thing to criticise a chap's parents to his face, but may I be brutally frank? This is important." I nodded. "The point is, Leon, as you know all too well, that your parents are strange people, difficult people, who treat you in a very strange way. Not a way that commends itself to us. We find it very hard to understand what makes them tick. Now, Helen said a few minutes ago that we'd wouldn't mind two sons. She said it hypothetically, of course. But she meant it. I endorse it. Fully. And when you'd gone, it occurred to us that it might be possible to make it reality. Provided that you really would like to come to live with Andrew and us in Oxford. In one sense it would make little difference to you -- you could use our books just as you use your parents' now. In another sense you'd be helping us all. Not just yourself. Remember we said that what we want for Andrew is happiness and fulfilment? Well, I'm quite sure that if you lived with us Andrew would be happier and more fulfilled. So. Would you like to?"
Dawning anticipation, astonishment, puzzlement, but no hesitation whatever. "Jack. If I could, I'd come like a shot." Far too serious to notice double meanings. "But how on earth?"
"Well. Your parents' present attitude to you is ambivalent, to say the least. To them, it seems to me, you're a curious cross between a prize poodle, a minion, and a nuisance. Am I right?" I nodded. It was a very good description. "And in addition, if all goes according to plan and you declare yourself to them as a homosexual, you'll be anathema in their house. Wouldn't they then be glad to see the back of you?" I nodded again, slowly. "They might, of course, blow their top and send you for treatment, to be `cured,' in inverted commas. But from all that we know of them, they put a high value on their own good name, and we're pretty sure they'd just wash their hands of you, to avoid the stigma of having fathered a queer. Sorry, I know I'm putting this crudely, but I have to. So what we suggest, if you approve, is that we discuss the matter with them in Athens, where we'll have plenty of time to talk. And propose that they transfer you to our guardianship. Of course, we can't guarantee that they'll agree. But we're hopeful. And of course we'd need Andrew's agreement in advance. Though I somehow fancy that would be a mere formality. There. How does it strike you?"
I wanted to cry again, but it was too important for that, though it was hardly to speak coherently. "Oh God, yes. Please. Apart from Andrew's love, there's nothing I'd like more. But ... but there are two things. Don't do anything, please, before Andrew and I are ... I mean, if we don't, don't ..." The possibility was too horrible to contemplate, but in fairness to the Goodharts it had to be raised.
"Oh yes, understood. We'd make no move until you both gave us the go-ahead. What's the other thing?"
"Well, er, money. If they gave you guardianship, I can't see them funding me any more. They're as mean as Scrooge. I don't cost much at Yarborough, what with the scholarship. But I still cost something. Clothes and things. And there's the holidays. And then university. I hope. Who'd pay for all that? I mean, you're generous enough already. Far too generous."
"Oh, Leon," said Helen. "That's a perfect example of why we love you. And, I'm sure, of why Andrew loves you. You're always thinking of others. The answer is that we'd pay. That would be part of the bargain. No" -- I was trying to butt in -- "it's all right. It's really all right. We're not millionaires, but we're well enough off. We can easily carry two sons. And we want to."
The prospect, please God, of a true lover, and with it the prospect of new parents. I could hold out no longer, and collapsed again in heaving sobs. They hugged me until it was time for me to go back for tea.
Andrew returned too late for any talk, and next morning we had chance for no more than a brief exchange of news, heavily censored on my part, and he was hugely tickled by his parents' arriving a day too early. The Goodharts attended chapel with Wally, and afterwards collected Andrew and bore him away. I stood inconspicuously outside and, as I watched them disappear through the school gates, tried to transmit my love to them. Helen evidently felt it. She paused, looked back, and gave me a discreet wave.
Andrew was back for tea in a state of what seemed to be serenity. He
told me nothing, and I asked nothing, but I concluded that all had gone
The last day of term arrived. On my way to assembly I dropped in to Andrew's study, dumped my books on his table and had a quick chat, picked up the books, and off we went together. I forget what the first period was, but the second and (after break) the third were both with the senior classics master, who was also my form master, Steve Phillips. A splendid man, a born teacher, flowing with the milk of human kindness, who I suspect saw me as his star pupil. He was already a great friend, and my debt to him is eternal. The O-Level results had just that morning arrived -- they came earlier then than now -- and Steve handed them out with due praise all round. Impartial though he was, he seemed to beam especially at me. And I had indeed excelled myself, passing the lot with flying colours.
After allowing us time to absorb our results and chat about them, he turned to the last real business of the term, our final piece of homework, written translation of a bit of Euripedes. The practice was for each of us to read our version out in turn, while he commented on our efforts. He called on me to open the batting, so I found the place in the Greek text and took the notebook where I'd written out my translation. It opened automatically at the last page with writing on, and I pushed my specs up my nose, lowered my head, and opened my mouth to read. I got no further. I blushed to the roots of my hair and spluttered.
After what seemed an age I forced myself to lift my head, look at Steve, and stammer out, "I'm sorry, sir, I've brought the wrong book."
He gave me a shrewd look and said kindly, "Never mind, Leon. Can you get the right one in break?"
When I nodded dumbly, he passed on to the next boy and left me to be carried away by my whirling thoughts. I was no longer in classroom C3, still less in ancient Greece. What I had read -- to myself, thank God, not out loud -- was a sentence from Andrew's diary. It was easy to see what had happened. In his study I'd dumped my books on top of his diary, and in picking them up had picked it up too. All school notebooks were identical: cloth-bound and black.
But that didn't matter. What I needed was time, to try to think. For what I'd unwittingly read, at the top of the page, said in Andrew's angular writing "... end of term. But now that I'm sure at last, I still haven't a clue how to tell Noel I love him." The whole structure of my life rocked like a building in an earthquake. I'd been wildly wrong. Helen and Jack had been wildly wrong. Andrew was in love, but not with me. A gaping chasm of despair opened up, ready to swallow me. But even as I teetered on the brink, my critical faculties began to come to the rescue. Tiny question marks flickered in my mind. Hang on. Hang on. Can this be right? It doesn't make sense. It doesn't fit Andrew. It doesn't fit anything that's happened this term, or last. Andrew's never mentioned anyone called Noel. I don't know of anyone in the school called Noel. Who the hell is he?
The easiest way to find out was to read more of the diary. I'd seen only the one sentence. I'm not the sort of person to pry into things not meant for my eyes. It's not my style. But another quick glance offered a chance of resolving this awful conundrum. So I suppressed my scruples and looked again. "... end of term. But now that I'm sure at last, I still haven't a clue how to tell Noel I love him. Can only hope the right opportunity crops up at Cambridge." Cambridge? Noel lives in Cambridge? And Andrew's going to see him there? And all of a sudden the penny dropped, resoundingly. Of course he's going to see him in Cambridge. Because Noel is Leon. Spelt backwards. A simple code, protecting my name against idly prying eyes. Typical caring, considerate Andrew. Abject apologies for having doubted him, if only for a moment. My face was in a muck sweat, and I mopped it, heaving a great sigh. I came back to classroom C3 long enough to see Steve dart a quick glance at me before I soared off again on my thoughts.
Right. Try again. What matters now is that Andrew's long journey is over. He's taken the final step from uncertainty to certainty. He now loves me, full stop. It's there in black and white, or blue and white -- even in my turmoil I couldn't help being pedantic. For the first time in my life somebody wants me, somebody needs me, somebody not only likes me but loves me. That's something that needs savouring when I've time. But not now. It's clarified the picture wonderfully, but it's raised new problems. That need immediate attention. How do I make it easier for him to tell me? Or do I get in first and tell him I love him? But how? And when? At once, surely. Be honest, confess I've read his innermost thoughts. All very well, but when? Be practical. This needs time, plenty of time, together, and there is no time. It isn't something that can be done in five minutes, or even an hour. Andrew's playing cricket from midday till tea-time, we can't talk about it at tea with fifty-odd boys around, the evening's full of end-of-term events, tomorrow morning we leave at the crack of dawn. If I spring it on him, he'll be unprepared. Anyway, I need time to get my own mind in order. No, it can't be done. Not now. Festina lente is still the order of the day. Leave it till August. And that, by the time the period ended, was what I had decided on.
The bell for break brought me down to earth with a jolt, and as the others filed out, casting curious glances at me, Steve motioned to me to stay behind. He was well aware that I hadn't been with him for the last half hour or more, and I had to be honest with him, if discreet. "Sorry about that, sir. I had a shock, and needed to think it over."
"I'm not going to be nosy, Leon. I just hope it was a pleasant shock, not a bad one."
"No, sir. Pleasant, in the end."
"Well, none of my business. But good luck with it. And very well done for your O-Levels. I knew you'd come up trumps."
"Thank you, sir. And thank you for making it all possible. I'll go and get the right book now."
I didn't need to, as it had been in my pile all along, but I had to
return the diary. Not many boys went back to the house at break -- it was
too short to make it worth while -- and there was no sign of Andrew. So
I put the diary back on his table, and slowly wandered back to Steve's.
Still in half a daze I read out my translation and was commended, and the
morning finally wound to an end. Andrew was lunching in the pavilion. I
saw him briefly at tea, briefly before bed, and briefly in the morning
as we left for the school trains, long enough only for a quick farewell.
"Bye, Andrew. Thanks for everything. Look forward to your visit. We'll
be in touch." And, last thing of all, I handed him a paper bag containing
the translation of the Symposium and a note that he was to read
it before coming to Cambridge.
I didn't see him for nearly a month, but I thought of him nearly all the time. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Yes. At least in this case, it did. He wrote briefly, giving his train time and reporting that he'd read the book and -- bafflingly vague -- found it interesting. I wrote back confirming everything, but did not press for more. That could wait, and the omens were good. The Goodharts phoned me one day, by arrangement, at a time when both Andrew and my parents were out. They reported that Andrew was in good form -- alternately pensive and radiant, they described it -- and checked that their proposal was still acceptable to me. We ran over the timetable. Andrew was coming on Saturday the 16th, arriving on the 2.05. We'd get home by bus at say 2.30. My parents would leave by taxi at 3.30 to catch the London train and spend the night with friends before boarding the morning plane at the airport. There they would meet up with the Goodharts, who were coming direct from Oxford. If all went as we hoped, I was to ask Andrew how he felt about my joining his family ("surely a mere formality," Jack repeated), and I was to phone the news to the Goodharts either before they left Oxford or in their hotel in Athens. Once they had the go-ahead, Jack and Helen would open negotiations.
The arrangements, then, were simple. Meanwhile, I continued to repackage Leon. The major item proved surprisingly easy. My parents were pleased with my results. They'd expected no less, if not more, they assured me; but the size of the reward showed that they were happy enough. So I made a beeline for the optician and demanded contact lenses, which were then pretty new and pretty pricey, but within my budget. Mercifully I took to them, or they took to me, without undue discomfort. The next stop was the barber, or rather the hair stylist. I couldn't make my straight hair curl; well, not without a perm, and that was hardly on, given that perms weren't permanent. But I reckoned I could make do with what I had. I'd already let my short back and sides grow further than school guidelines liked, and I now got the stylist to replace my meandering side parting with a central one, and to adjust my hair accordingly. He did his best, and instructed me how to train the new parting to stay put.
Finally I continued with my swimming at the public pool, and joined a gym club for the month. It kept me out of the house most of the day. The rest had to be spent on housework and gardening, which I reduced to a finely calculated minimum, just enough to avert complaints. I went to bed knackered, but my schedule kept me largely out of my parents' hair, and them out of mine. But my transformation could hardly escape their notice. They were miffed that I'd spent my reward not on aids to scholarship but on personal adornment. Because they couldn't understand it, they were suspicious, and muttered about bad influences, modern youth and trendy fashion.
But the transformation was working, had worked. Looking in the mirror I saw no longer an owl -- understandable -- and for some reason no longer a mouse. Instead, I saw a boy who had shaken off his timidity and found a new confidence. No heart-breaker (as I saw Andrew), but a least a damn sight more presentable than before. My more manly chest, already broadening and adorned with some reasonable muscles, swelled with pride. My abdomen had acquired tone and definition and my arms and legs were no longer sticks. I was mercifully spot-free, and had gained a good tan from the open-air pool and the heat-wave. When I dropped my pants, too, there was less scope for shame. Things were definitely bigger down there, and I was halfway towards a decent bush. My armpits were beginning to sprout, though there was not a whisker anywhere else that deserved the name. But I felt happy enough with my body, happier than I'd ever been. No Charles Atlas, but neither a six-stone puny weakling any more.
So I counted down the days. Andrew was due on the Saturday. On the Friday evening, coming in from gardening, I found the cat lying by the gate, its hindquarters mangled, clearly run over by a car. Dead. When my parents got home from dinner in college I had to break the news to them. Messengers bearing bad tidings are rarely popular, and I was treated as if I was personally responsible for the cat's fate. There were tears, anguish, and almost literally tearing of hair. Father sat up half the night writing, and early next morning, on instructions, I dug the grave. The corpse was committed to the earth inside a large flower-pot in true Greek style, Father read the funeral oration he had composed, in Greek of course, the soil was replaced and herbs sprinkled on top. They planned, when they should return from Athens, to commission a classical tombstone from a sculptor friend. They'd had screws loose before, undoubtedly. Now I began to fear the whole machine was falling apart. High time to break free from this bizarre and malign house. God prosper what I hoped would happen later in the day. Mercifully the cat, the main reason for my staying in Cambridge, had died too late for plans to be changed. When the funeral was over and my parents went mournfully off to pack, I felt jaded and battered. But Andrew's arrival would -- should -- change the atmosphere dramatically.
In haste I made up the bed in the spare room. I didn't want Andrew to jump to conclusions, and anyway the spare bed was double where mine was single. Quite unlike my old boring self, I'd taken some care over clothes. I had a naughty little plan in mind, and for the purpose had bought, out of the accumulated residue of the Goodharts' gifts, some light-coloured slacks and a stylish pale green shirt, short-sleeved and open-necked. I wanted to test how different the new-style Leon was from the old, and my new and utterly un-Leon clothes would accentuate the difference. So I grabbed a bite of lunch and took the bus to the station, bought a platform ticket, and carefully positioned myself beside a pillar, not hiding, but not prominent either.
Duly at 2.05 the train from Oxford via Bletchley puffed in and spilled out its few passengers. There in the distance was a trim and sturdy blond figure swinging a large suitcase. The platform at Cambridge is said to be the longest in Britain, but I'd have recognised Andrew a mile away. Standing motionless, I saw him scanning the platform and failing to spot me. He moved slowly towards the exit, still scanning. Even when quite close his gaze swept over me without stopping. He was already a yard past me when he did a classic double-take, halted dead in his tracks, swung round and stared at me open-mouthed. By now I was grinning from ear to ear. "Hullo!"
"Leon! What the ... How ... Leon! You are a sw --." He stopped in blushing confusion. I wanted to hug him. But boys don't hug on platforms, so I decorously grabbed his hand instead, and pumped it. Still grinning: my little trick had worked a treat. His babbling subsided. "Your hair! Where are your specs? What's going on? You're so different!"
"It's still the same Leon inside, Andrew," I said gently, though as I said it I felt it wasn't entirely true. "Same Leon, but in a better box, I hope."
"I didn't think the old box was good enough," and silently added "for you."
He may not have read my mind, but as he gazed I saw wetness in his eyes. "C'mon," I said, to break the spell. People were milling around us, and it was no place for a heart-to-heart. "Let's find the bus." He followed meekly. We gave up our tickets, found the bus, stowed the case in the luggage hole, and sat nearby to keep an eye on it. As we trundled round Cambridge I filled Andrew in on the cat's demise and on my plans for things we might do. No, not those plans. Walks, swimming, museums and things. He kept darting sideways glances at me, but said little. From the bus stop we took turns to lug his case home.
Andrew had never encountered my parents before, and the meeting was not a success. Luckily it could only last an hour. Father was still put out by his bereavement, and his first reaction was to look us up and down -- Andrew was as smartly dressed as me -- and grunt "Huh. Pretty boys. Waste of money." I introduced them. Andrew was polite, Father cold and distant. Perhaps he'd never met a Greek god in the flesh. I dragged Andrew away for a quick cup of tea and a quick tour to show him the geography. Then Mother buttonholed me with a long list of reminders -- feeding the cat (crossed out), locking up, paying the milkman, cleaning the house, mowing the grass, etcetera etcetera.
Father came in, looked suspiciously at Andrew, and shot him a question in Greek. Andrew stared helplessly.
I tried to reduce the tension. "Father, Andrew has small Latin and less Greek."
"No Greek?" He sounded as alarmed as if I was being left alone for a fortnight with a homicidal maniac. "What is your subject, then?"
"The sciences. Chemistry, physics, some engineering.":
"`The work of the engineer, and the whole business of handling practical needs, is sordid and vulgar,'" said Father. Andrew, who could hardly be expected to recognise a quotation from Plutarch, flushed as if he had been insulted. As indeed he had. This was one of Father's many foibles, inherited from the ancient philosophers including, I'm sorry to say, Plato. In his eyes, nothing but mental activity was appropriate for honest men. Once, when we'd had a water pipe burst on Boxing Day, a plumber had come in immediately to oblige, only to be told that his was an ignoble trade. He left in a huff, and we were without water for a week.
Father's suspicions were reinforced. A Greek god who could not speak Greek. Who indulged in sordid and vulgar business. Who dressed like a pretty boy. As did his own son. You could almost hear the connections being made. "Leonidas. You will recall a conversation from a year ago, when I warned you about obscenities in this house. That warning still holds." At this point, thank God, the taxi driver rang the doorbell. Thank God, too, my parents' priorities were clear-cut. They were going to the Plato conference, whether or not the world was ruled by Sodom and Gomorrah. They supervised the loading of their luggage, climbed into the taxi, and were gone. Nobody had said goodbye to anyone.
We stood on the doorstep and watched them disappear down the road. I was mortified. "God, Andrew, I'm sorry. That was beastly. They've been getting worse recently, but that really takes the biscuit. If you ever think I'm getting like them, let me know and I'll cut my throat."
"I'm sorry too, Leon. I've always known you had a rough time with them, but I'd no idea it was that bad."
"Look, let's forget them. We won't see them for a fortnight, thank God." I had to lighten the atmosphere. "Now we've just got each other for company. Hope you're not regretting your rashness."
"No, I'm looking forward to it." His stilted words and strained smile
showed that he was far from his usual ebullient self. True, he was still
shocked by my parents' behaviour. But even before meeting them he'd been
patently unsure of himself. Visibly nervous. My own heart was beginning
to palpitate at the prospect of taking that last difficult and decisive
step. But at least I was on firmer ground. I had the advantage of knowing
that he loved me. He did not know that I loved him. It was up to me to
take the lead.
So I looked a him with a half smile. "Andrew, I think you want to talk" -- he nodded solemnly -- "and I know I want to talk. C'mon, let's talk in comfort." And I guided him by the shoulder to the living room, where we sat down side by side on the big sofa, not touching but half turned towards each other. He was recovering a bit of vitality, and actually opened the meeting, though with the easiest of the items on the unwritten agenda.
"Leon, you're so different," he repeated, gazing at my face. I grinned, and in mock Charles Atlas style flexed my biceps. His eyes widened when he saw what was emerging from my short sleeves. "Swimming?"
"Yes. And gym." I filled him in on the simple factual story, including the lenses and hair.
"There's more to it than that, though," he said, crinkling his brow. "You're different inside as well as out. More in command. More sure of yourself. What's happened?"
This was the moment of truth. At last. Festina lente finally went out of the window.
"Look. Oh, dammit." I couldn't say the most important words of my life when twisted sideways, so I flopped down to kneel between his legs, put my hands on his knees, and looked him square in the face. It was taut. Not with fear, but with uncertainty. "Andrew. I know a lot about you. You know a lot about me. And I know a few important things that you don't. Listen to me and don't interrupt.
"Number one. The new Leon is for you. The old Leon wasn't good enough.
"Number two. Remember that weekend when Jack and Helen came to see you? They told me what you'd told them, that you thought you were in love. They guessed it was with me. We agreed not to interfere. You needed time and space, to make your mind up.
"Number three. On the last day of term I picked up your diary by mistake. Saw what you'd written, that you did love me. Under the eyes of Steve and the whole class. Oh, don't worry" -- his eyes were staring wide -- "Nobody else knows. But I knew then that your journey was over. No, let me finish" -- he'd made a gobbling noise -- "In a way I'm sorry I read it, because I wasn't meant to read it. But it was pure accident. And in every other way I'm glad I did. Very glad. So that's item number three.
"And there's one more thing I know but you don't. Though I reckon you suspect it. I hope you hope for it. It's the most important. I love you too."
Andrew seemed still to be in a state of shock. He stared motionless at me, made little whimpering noises, and his lips quivered. Roughly and unceremoniously I pulled him bodily off the sofa till he was on his knees in front of me. I hugged him tightly, and in a moment his arms came round me too. And there we knelt, heads over shoulders, melding into each other, heaving with sobs, whole at last. Our souls had met each other, their other halves, in unique and matching love. After an indefinite time I pulled apart enough to kiss his wet cheek. Then, tentatively, his lips. Then, suddenly, he came to life, and pulled me back to him, and our tongues got lost in each other's mouths. Our bodies ground together, until they urged us upstairs, to the spare room, to the double bed.
I took the initiative again. Fumbled with his laces and fly buttons. Slipped off his socks and shirt and pants. Ran my hands briefly but firmly over his splendid body and legs. Avoided his cock, which was standing proudly at attention. He watched as I stripped off my own clothes, and gasped as he took in my tan and my new body. "Leon, oh Leon!" I lay down on my back, pulled him on top of me, and locked him in a long kiss, as cock squirmed against cock. My left hand stroked his back. He raised his middle, and my right hand slid between his legs to stroke his arse and bum, tickle his balls, and slide gently up his cock from base to dribbling tip. "Remember something about where to put one's wandering hand?" I asked as we came up for air.
"Leon" -- urgently -- "I'm not far off." Not the time for long-drawn out sensations. His need was pressing. So I scooted down between his legs, took his leaking cock in my mouth, and renewed my ministrations to his arse and balls. Four -- five -- six powerful thrusts deep into my throat, and he came. Generously. Typical of Andrew, always generous. A few minutes for him to recover, and we swapped places. He did the same for me, until I was in heaven too. Fulfilled, we just lay in each other's arms for maybe an hour, oozing tears, saying not a word. None was needed, and none was adequate.
Eventually I stirred and sought out his face. "Kiss again, please." He obliged. The fires were rekindled and we repeated the earlier performance, less urgently and more tenderly.
"Leon, oh, Leon. I knew it'd be good. But I'd no idea it'd be like that." He'd hardly spoken since we left the sofa. Nor had I, come to that.
"Nor me. Oh Andrew, I do love you."
"And I love you, Leon. Haven't told you that yet, have I? Not properly. Well, I do now." And we kissed deeply once more. "Leon, I'm sorry."
"What on earth for?"
"For taking so long. To decide that you really were my other half. Took me ages to finish the jigsaw. Didn't finish it till almost the end of term."
"I know. Don't worry. Helen said you didn't take important decisions in a hurry. I've known for ages that you needed time. Can't say it was easy to hold back. But I managed. Just."
"Oh God, Leon, you're a hero. Leon, this is for ever, isn't it?"
"Yes, Andrew, my love, it's for ever." Which reminded me that there were practical matters to be discussed. Quite urgently. "We've got to talk about all sorts of things. Like how we play this at school. But that can wait. First things first. Andrew, would you like me to come and live with you? In Oxford?"
He gawped. "Need you ask? Course I would. But how?"
"Your mum and dad asked me, that Saturday in the Red Lion. They're incredible. If everything panned out, if we both agreed, they offered to try and get guardianship of me. As soon as we gave them the go-ahead. They reckoned my parents would be glad to get rid of me. I hope to God they're right. In fact this afternoon's probably helped."
"What d'you mean? What was your father going on about? About obscenities?" I explained. "Oh, Leon, the bastards. Oh Lord. Sorry. Shouldn't have said that."
"Don't be sorry. They are. Just as much as Jack and Helen are angels. Point is, they already suspect we'll be spending this fortnight in torrid sex. For once in a way they'll be right." I grinned evilly at him. "Which'll make them even gladder to get rid of me."
He lay back on the bed, thinking it through, while I drank in my new acquisition. Firm muscles. Shapely cock drooping sideways. Darkening hair on his shins. Face changing from boyish roundness to a hint of angularity. Down on cheeks and lip -- first shave not too far ahead. Crowned by a mop of golden curls. Beautiful. Strong. Dependable. Caring. Loving. And I loved every inch.
"Oh God, let it work," he said at last, and smiled wickedly at me. "If I'm not allowed my ice cream every day, so be it. But if I can have it every day, I'd rather go for that!"
The light was fading, and the clock showed half past nine. "Look, let's phone your mum and dad and tip them the wink. And after that I wouldn't say no to a bit of grub."
So we rolled off the bed, went downstairs, and I dialled 0 and asked for the Oxford number. "Jack, it's Leon. It's all right. Everything's all right."
"Oh, thank God. That's the best news I've heard in ages. Hang on a mo." I heard him telling Helen. "Omnia vincit amor, eh? And we go ahead and open negotiations?"
"Please. But there've been new developments too." I explained briefly about the cat, how my parents were still further off their rocker, and how they suspected what was afoot between Andrew and me and would no doubt raise the matter.
"Right. Thanks for that. May we confirm their suspicions? It might well strengthen our hand."
"Yes, Jack. Once they know what I'm up to they'll kick me out anyway. In for a penny. We both want this. Really we do. Good luck, and thanks a million."
"You're a brave man, Leon, as well as a wise one. Good luck to you too. May I have a word with Andrew?"
I passed the phone over, and they talked for a long time. Finally Andrew handed the receiver back. Helen was on the other end now. "Leon, my dear. We're so happy for you. And excited. And we love you. Both."
"And I love you. Both. Have a good conference."
"And you have a good time. Cheerio!"
We did have a good time. Housework and gardening? Bugger that. We carried out some of the more formal plans. We visited colleges, we strolled on the Backs, we swam in the pool, we walked on the Gogs. I even dragged Andrew to the Museum of Classical Archaeology to introduce him to portraits of Plato and Socrates, and he made ribald comments about the equipment of the nude male statues. But we spent much more time talking, talking, talking. On the sofa, on the floor, in the garden, in bed. About souls, about love, about Plato, about the past four terms, about the future, about us.
One evening I remembered a question I needed to ask. "Andrew, when we met at the station, you babbled something about me being a -- what? A swot? A swine? What were you on about?"
He smiled his impish smile. "No, not a swot. Not a swine. A swan."
"It's a private joke with myself. Remember Hans Christian Andersen? When we first met, you reminded me -- sorry about this, but it's true -- you reminded me of the Ugly Duckling. In all sorts of ways. But when I looked a bit closer I reckoned you were more than that. Whatever you might look like. So I asked Mum and Dad what best to do. They suggested encouraging you. Drawing you out. Protecting you, if need be. And then I found you were doing exactly the same to me, off your own bat. It was obvious you weren't just an ugly duckling. You were on your way to something much better. And when I saw you on the platform, blow me, the change was complete. You're a very fine swan indeed!"
"Me? A swan?" I squawked, and we laughed. And cried.
Nor, when at home, did we explore only our souls. We explored our bodies too. Often. Intimately. Inventively.
We celebrated our birthdays in style. Andrew's first. He'd brought his presents from Jack and Helen with him, and I added mine. Nothing, of course, from my parents. But we nicked a bottle of their wine, reckoning they'd be sipping their Samian in Athenian luxury and that they owed it to us. That evening, the phone rang. "Mr Michaelson?" said the operator. "I have a call for you from Athens. Please hold the line." Click ... click. "You're through."
"How are you? Both OK?"
"Both fine, thanks. Having a whale of a time. Oh, Helen, we're in bliss. Want to speak to Andrew?"
"In a minute. But you first. Leon, we think things are going quite well. We've talked to your parents a lot. They're such strange people, we don't begin to understand them. But they're reacting as we hoped. They were outraged to hear about you and Andrew, but not surprised. I think, as you said, they expected it. But they don't intend to do anything about you. Report you to the police or council or anyone, I mean. That would bring shame and scandal on their good name. But the upshot is that they don't want you, don't want to see you. Does that upset you, now they've said it openly?"
"Not in the least. To be honest, I don't want to see them either."
"Right. Good. And they don't need you for looking after the cat, now that that's gone. As for your other jobs, they're beginning to talk about a part-time cleaner and gardener, who'd come in the daytime and not get in their way. So we're getting on. We think we're halfway there. At least. Leave it with us. We'll phone again. A quick word with the birthday boy now, please. All our love."
Hope refuelled. Our celebration in bed was even more tender and prolonged than usual.
A week later we duly honoured my birthday. Once more, nothing from my parents except, unknown to them, another bottle. But Andrew had again brought presents from Oxford. From Jack and Helen, a watch. From Andrew, a complete recording of the Magic Flute. How appropriate. A journey, through thick and thin, to eternal love, against a backdrop of human cruelty, with comic interludes. And the best music Mozart ever wrote, which is saying something. We played it right through, non-stop (except for turning the records over), two and a half hours. After we'd eaten, another phone call from Athens. Jack this time. Birthday greetings first.
Then, "Leon, it's all agreed, short of the legalities. They've done some careful counting of costs -- I've never known such a pair of Shylocks -- and reckon that what they save on your upkeep will cover a cleaner and gardener. So they're happy on that score. They'll transfer guardianship to us, no strings attached. They'll tell nobody about you. But as Helen said, they don't want to see you again. They've written you off. So this is the timetable. We get back to London on Monday morning, the day after tomorrow. All four of us go to their solicitors to sign and seal the documents. Then we buzz back to Oxford for the night. First thing Tuesday we drive to Cambridge and pick you up -- both of you -- and all your belongings. Could you be packed and ready by, say, ten? Your parents will spend Monday night in town and get home at lunchtime on Tuesday, so you won't overlap. How does that sound?"
"Jack. Oh, Jack. I can't believe it. First I've got Andrew, now I've ... got ... you." I broke down completely, and Andrew had to finish the call. He nursed me gently back to coherence.
We sat on the sofa, side by side, hand in hand.
Listening to Haydn's Creation.
Two fifteen-year-olds ready to face a brave new world.
When a lover, whether of boys or of anyone else, meets the very individual who is his other half, he's overwhelmed with unbelievable affection, intimacy and love. The pair of them don't want to be separated for a moment. People like this, who stay together for their whole life, can't explain exactly what it is they want from each other. Nobody could suppose they take such pleasure in each other's company merely for the sake of sex ... In fact it's because this was our original natural state, when once we were a whole; and what we call love is the desire to recover that wholeness.
Aristophanes, in Plato's Symposium
|This tale is largely fiction, but based on real places and to some
extent on real people. Parts of it, indeed -- I won't reveal which -- are
autobiographical. There's no point in denying the existence of Cambridge
and Oxford and suchlike, but all other modern names, needless to say, have
been disguised. I have tried, doubtless without complete success, to keep
to vocabulary appropriate to the 1950s, when `gay,' for example, was not
yet used in its present sense.
All translations are my own, except that from the RSV. The Symposium is available in translation in the Penguin Classics, other Greek and Roman authors in the Loeb Classical Library and elsewhere. Mary Renault's The Charioteer (1953) is out of print.
Corporal punishment in independent schools in Britain was banned by law only in 1999.