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He wasn't there.
I hadn't seen him in chapel that morning. We have chapel each morning. The school is one of those muscular Christian places that put you off having faith. And he wasn't in chapel. I looked out for him each morning. Not to talk to. Just to see. To look at. Gradually I'd worked out what his name was.
Well, I'd had to work it out. The school's divided into houses. Three day houses, eight boarding houses. Token house of girls in the sixth form. And we were encouraged not to mix between the houses. And his house was almost half a mile, maybe more, from mine. Both day houses. But separated by a huge gulf. And there was a second gulf, too. Two years. It was barely possible to talk to someone from another house even a year below. Talking to someone two years below was impossible.
And I wanted to talk to him.
No. I don't think so. No, I'm sure I'm not. It isn't like that.
It's just that he's fascinating. Awesome, too.
Summer term. Warm weather. Senior boys allowed to wear boaters and blazers, and open necked shirts. Junior boys wearing the same as normal. Blazers, sure. But not the finery.
Actually the finery is laughable stuff. But it sets us apart. The seniors. As well as being allowed to have our hands in our pockets and to walk across the grass. My last year at the place. My last term. And I wanted to talk to him.
He was beautiful. Sexy.
Not that I'm gay. But his beauty was startling. Everyone looked at him. Everyone. Oddly everyone except Ricky. And Ricky is gay. Well he says he is. And we believe him. Poor Ricky. I suppose it must be torture being gay in a school were ninety percent of the kids are boys. Like being in a sweet shop and not being allowed to buy anything. Because everyone sort of tolerates Ricky. But no-one admits to being his friend, far less his special friend. And Ricky doesn't look at him.
At my pretty friend.
Except he isn't my friend.
Pretty? Gorgeous. Svelte. And knowing. Not pretty. Awesome.
I was standing in the prefects' study. Looking out of the window at the Tuck Shop. It was break. We'd had three lessons. Break meant coffee and toast, made for us by our fags. Not the American word. The English one. Junior boys who acted as servants and were paid money for it. And enjoyed doing it. Not short for 'faggot' at all. Just kids in their first year who wanted extra pocket money. There were half a dozen of us there as prefects. Our job was to keep house discipline.
He usually went to the Tuck Shop in break. His house was too far away to go back to between lessons. He wasn't there though. Nowhere to be seen.
I could recognise him from the other side of the school grounds.
It was his hair, primarily.
Not mouse blond. Ash blond. I think that's what Mum would call it. Striking. Not all one colour. Several shades of brilliant, soft blond. Not albino blond. But towards it. Right hand side parting, with the hair swept across his forehead, but strong enough to stand out from his face as a sort of sun-visor. Not out of place, somehow. Not really ever out of place.
It stood out. Only one other boy had hair that colour, and his was cobwebby, not smooth and sleek.
I could recognise him in my sleep, almost.
I knew where he lived. The school address list showed that. And how old he was. An April birthday. And mine was July. I was heading for eighteen. He was already sixteen. He looked so fragile and so strong, too.
When I say I wanted to talk to him, I knew what his voice sounded like. I mean I'd spoken to him. But 'spoken' is not the same as 'talked'.
It was a soft voice, with a teasing edge to it. I first heard it before it broke. I'd been watching out for him since the first day I'd seen him. Since the first day he'd been in chapel, and I'd spotted that hair. Not just the hair. His face was lovely. Oval. Well long.
Shaded under that hair fringe were the most piercing eyes Blue. Piercing blue. Sapphires. Blond eyebrows. Pink cheeks. And his lips were always smiling. But his mouth was never still, either. Which is how I knew what his voice sounded like.
Well in part.
He knew I looked for him. Looked at him.
At lunch we sat in houses. I used to find an excuse to go and talk to some mates in his house. At their tables. And his eyes almost always met mine. And he smiled when they did. A knowing smile. In those days I just knew him as Metcalf. His surname. Fascinated by him. In awe of a boy two years my junior.
In awe of a rebel.
We had to wear white shirts. Compulsory. But his looked orange, or pink, or green. But they were white. He was a rebel, even at thirteen.
Metcalf. Blond hair, sapphire eyes and coloured shirts. Sounds a pretty feeble reason for noticing him. Only it wasn't.
I worked the shirts out. Coloured vests. So what did I do? Got Mum to buy me a set of coloured vests. Tee-shirts, really, only 'grandpa's vests' were fashionable then. So I wore grandpa's vests under my shirt, too. I don't know why.
Well, I do.
I wanted him to notice me.
I was walking towards him across the quad one break. That's when I heard his voice first. "Wotcha Bennett!"
I took no notice. My name isn't Bennett. I looked behind to see if Bennett was there. No-one was there. Odd
Again "Wotcha Bennett! Yeah, you!" And a giggle.
"I'm not Bennett," I said. I felt a little weird. This hugely gorgeous kid was talking to me.
"You look like a 'Bennett' to me," he said. "Bennett's a poof. With coloured vests. You're a coloured vest poof too."
He was gone before I could even reply. The injustice! The incongruity! Dammit, Metcalf was wearing a bright orange vest under his nylon shirt. It was almost incandescent, it showed through so well. And he was calling me a poof. And calling me Bennett. The little shit had the upper hand all right. He was walking with a group of kids from his house. There was no way I could even follow and talk to him.
And they were all laughing, too. At me? Well it felt like it.
It had been 'Wotcha Bennett; ever since. Every time we met. I'm not Bennett. Turner. That's me. Geoff Turner. The only Bennett I know is a dork in my house with dandruff.
I never put two and two together to make five. Metcalf wore coloured vests too. Was he a poof?
I'd said to him as we passed another day, "Who's Bennett?"
"He was at my prep school, coloured vest poof," he fenced back at me.
"Are. Poof. Coloured vest means you're a poof." His was bright green that day. He didn't seem to be talking about himself.
"But why do you call me Bennett?"
"You remind me of him." And he was gone again.
Intoxicating. Risky. Weird. Antagonistic.
And the look in his eyes. He knew he was affecting me. They gleamed. And he saw through to my soul. To the blackest parts.
To the parts where I thought I might just be a poof. Except I'm not gay.
I wanted to be near him.
I wanted to be near him and kissing him.
Not gay. Just mad. Intoxicated.
Today he wasn't anywhere to be seen. Not in chapel. Not in the Tuck Shop. He wasn't away from school often. I wished he cycled the same way I did each day. But he went the opposite way. I could have come past his house each day. Maybe even talked to him on the trip. Private. Away from his mates. From my mates.
He wasn't at lunch. I went over to chat to Pete at lunch. Pete's head of his house. We chatted about stuff for a while. "He's off sick today, Geoff."
"Paul. He's off sick."
Oh. Shit. Pete knows. "Why would I want to know that?"
"Because that's why you come over each lunch time. To talk to me, and to look at Paul Metcalf."
"Don't blame you! He's lovely!"
"Well, yes, er, he is, er, I suppose. But... "
"Don't worry. We all lust after him."
"Well, yeah! OK!"
"Mind you, Bennett, you're the only one he teases about it. Maybe you're in with a chance?"
"Bennett? Not you as well!"
"Sorry! It just sounds so cute when he says it!"
"Listen I have to say grace." Heads of houses had to say grace each day at lunch. The only thing was, Pete was Jewish. Orthodox Jewish. Which made the next bit very odd. "Benedicto, benedicata, per Jesum Christum Dominum Nostrum. Amen." We'd talked about it, too. He was having to say something he had no chance of believing in, wasn't even allowed to believe in.
I went back to my table and ate. But I thought about what he'd said, too. I hadn't realised how obvious I'd been. Odd. It didn't seem to matter.
And now I knew his name was Paul. I didn't know if it suited him. But I liked it. Odd. I'd thought of him as a 'Philip'."
He wasn't at school all that week. I looked out for him. Each day. I wanted to send him a card to say 'get well soon, I miss you.' But I didn't. But I wanted to. Stupid fool. I ran it round my mouth, trying it out. Paul Metcalf. Paul. Paul Metcalf. And I could see him in my mind as I did it.
Monday. A whole week since he'd been away.
Chapel. Watching them file in. My day for duty, keeping them all quiet. My house, anyway. Watching them all file in.
"Wotcha Bennett. Miss me?"
It was just behind me. His voice. "I wish you call me by my right name!"
"Yeah! Miss me?"
"Why should I miss you?"
But he'd passed by. Gone. Sitting in his pew. Talking to the boy next to him. Did he know? And come to that did I? But I wanted to be near him. My heart was doing star jumps. And he'd asked me if I'd missed him. He knew. The little sod knew.
Only he seemed to know more than I did.
And he would call me Bennett.
I found he was taking up all my mind during lessons. 'I love Paul Metcalf'. It escaped from my pen onto the desk. I hadn't even noticed I'd done it. It just escaped. On the right hand side.
Lucky I was on the right hand side of the room. No-one saw.
But I didn't obliterate it. I left it there.
For all to see.
I love Paul Metcalf. Wow!
I love him.
Slim. Grey trousers, blue blazer. Blazer too short. Very slim, almost painfully so. Erotic? To me, certainly. Wondering. Naked. What would he look like naked? His legs? His back? Yeah, and the rest? An inny or an outy? What would it be like to touch him? Would he let me touch him? Did I want to touch him??
Break. Back to the house. "You always at that window, Bennett?"
"You are, you know. I see you there each day. Bit hot for a vest?"
It was orange today. "No... " He'd gone. It was like herding cats, trying to talk to him. Paul. Nice name. Suited him. Those eyes. Twinkling. It was too hot for a vest. He was right, damn him.
I didn't go to 'talk to Pete' at lunch. Didn't dare. I felt I'd fling myself on him, if he talked to me. Paul Metcalf. Felt I'd take him in my arms and press his lips to mine, his body to mine. Out of control.
I realised how I must have fallen for him that day, that first day, when I saw him, all fresh and new and uncertain. Uncertain? Hesitant, at least. Finding his way around. No uncertain. Not he.
He made my guts churn.
I'm not gay.
I don't want to be gay. A poof. Coloured vest poof. Don't want to be.
I'm not, then.
But he does things to my mind. Paul Metcalf. Does things. Plays with my mind.
Or do I do that?
His sapphire eyes, they know everything. Everything. They mean he can see into my soul.
Grace. English this time. "For what we are about to receive, may The Lord make us truly thankful." Jim Rogers. Our head of house. 'For what we are about to receive... ' Was I about to receive a blessing, or a curse?
I imagined it at home. 'Mum, this is Paul. Paul Metcalf. We're at school together, and I'm in love with him.' Couldn't work. 'Mum, I think I'm attracted to a boy.' No! I can't. I can't tell her.
No. Dad hates poofs. Says so each time Kenny Everett comes on the television. Not possible to tell him.
Anyway, Metcalf. He was teasing me, surely? I mean he must have been. Ready to deride me again. Lunch passed.
It was muck anyway. I suppose someone in a famine would have been glad of it, but I couldn't quite see how. It was bulk, not nutrition.
After lunch I filed out. Well in a file of others. Lessons. The cricket. I hate cricket. It's so slow. So I keep score instead of play.
The day passed. The rest of it was Paul Metcalf free. He was in his house side. I was scoring for mine.
Tuesday I knew I'd been dreaming about him. Woodlands. Him and me. Holding him. Kissing his neck. The back of his neck. Fully clothed, but somehow making love to him. Somehow. And he wanted to. Asked me to. Smiled at me. Asked me.
Not a wet dream.
Just a dream. Only wonderful.
Wet dreams don't exist. They can't. I've never had one.
This was a lovely dream. Beautiful eyes, smile. Brushing his hair out of his eyes.
His eyes beckoning me to him.
Waking was sad.
I wished I was still asleep.
I stayed dreaming it as I cycled to school. I wanted to hear him call me Bennett. Fantasy.
And I fantasised that he loved me.
What he did was tease me. Paul Metcalf. Beautiful tease.
I didn't trust myself to look for him in chapel. Nor at break. But I saw him anyway.
I wasn't at my window at break. Toast and coffee in an armchair. Unusual?
I did go and 'talk to Pete' at lunch. He met my eyes. Pete noticed. "Play your cards right, Geoff, and you're in, there!" Pete was laughing.
Me, too. I had to, really. "Perhaps." I was giggling inanely. Maybe insanely.
I felt insane.
He filled my head.
"Not wearing a vest today, Bennett?"
"Brat!" Wow! I'd called him a brat. But my eyes were smiling. I was sending a huge wave of, what? Love? Lust? Sending it to him.
"Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee-oooooooooh!" That noise that signifies that someone's said a sharp thing, a witty, yet sharp retort. And he was talking to the boy next to him, not looking at me, almost at once.
Grace. "Heavenly pa. Ta!"
What? Did I hear that right? Pete. Deciding that the Jews could get their own back. Oh the look on Mr Wilkinson's face. Murderous. Pete was in for it. But I doubt he cared. His last term, too. Just A-Levels to go. Then he and I were out of there.
Out of there.
No Metcalf. I'd have been gone.
He wouldn't. He'd still be there. Isolated.
I'd be at university. I was expected to get good grades. Not good enough for Oxford. But good. He'd be at school.
And that dream. Amazing. Scary. Wonderful.
I was terrified all through lunch. Terrified I'd never actually talk to him. As in talk. Find out about him. Be at least his friend.
Out of lunch.
Tuesday. No lessons, just sport. Tuesday was sailing. A bus ride away. We went by bus to a reservoir. I like sailing. I'm good at it. Much better than cricket. So I went to the lockers for my kit, and waited at the back of the bus. I was looking forward to sailing. There was enough wind to make it worthwhile. Mind you I was in a world of my own.
I was sitting on the lower deck of the bus, thinking about what was going in inside my brain. Paul Metcalf was going on inside my brain. I'd put 'I love Paul Metcalf' on every desk I sat at. I did. Except I didn't know him. So I couldn't have loved him? Could I? Or did I just fancy him?
Funny word, that. Fancy. Not strong enough to express what I was feeling. Trivial. I didn't fancy him. I needed him. Something I'd never felt before about anyone.
I'm not gay. At least I don't want to be gay. A poof. Not me.
"Didn't know you sailed, Bennett?"
What? Paul? Could I call him Paul? "Always have. I didn't know you did?"
Odd. His eyes were downcast. "I, er, wanted to try." Then they flashed at me. "Gonna teach me? Got your coloured vest?"
"Me? Er, yes. OK. Sure." Mind racing. Heart pounding. "Let's get a lifejacket for you. Are you changed?"
"Swimming gear, that sort of stuff."
"Got it underneath the jeans."
"Have you sailed before?" I couldn't believe it. We were talking.
"A bit. I borrowed a Topper last Summer for a bit. I got wet a lot." He paused. "You're good, then?"
"Well, I'm on the team. Good enough, I reckon."
So we got a boat. Nothing special. A GP14. Built like a coffin, with too little sail area. Unresponsive, heavy, and built like a brick shithouse. Extra heavy duty for the sailing school we used. Got the boat in the water, pulled it along the jetty and got the sails up.
"Ready," he said, and stepped lightly in.
Hmm. Either he was a natural at balance, or he'd done more than he said. He took the jibsheet, backed the jib to port, paid us off towards the open water and sheeted home correctly. "You've done this before." Almost accusingly.
"Sorry. Yes. Well I did tell you about the Topper." He caught my gaze.
I was a bit busy. The wind was gusty. We were sitting out hard, toes under toestraps, the unresponsive pig of a boat misbehaving. "More than the Topper."
"Yeah. More than the Topper."
"Then... " I was confused. Really confused. Why would he come sailing? No, why would he ask to be taught? But this was real life. that couldn't be the reason.
"Shut up and sail."
So I did. We did. Sail. I bore away onto a beam reach, and we actually got the thing planing. He knew what to do all right. Tweaked the sheets, moved astern, and we were actually, well not flying exactly, but we got the old bitch up on the plane. And then the tiller snapped. Which was not altogether helpful.
At which point an extra gust hit, the hard chines of the hull bit into the water, we rounded up too fast into the wind, and the whole thing fell over and capsized.
Wet, too. We both ended up in the water, all mixed up with jibsheet, mainsheet, boom and such. Both looking at each other. "Why'd you do that, er, Bennett?"
"You are going to have to stop calling me that. 'Geoff' would be good."
"Are we going to get these sails down and work out what to do next? You're Paul, yes?"
"Yes. And yes."
Anyway we'd muddled the wet mess down, and righted the boat. Which wasn't the brightest thing in the circumstances. We were immediately blown onto the shore of the reservoir. Unprofessional. We'd have been better leaving it on it's side to wait for the rescue boat. Ah well. Some you win.
"You've sailed a lot?"
"Well, I suppose so," he said. His hair still looked lovely, even soaking wet. But his eyes. Bright. Cheeky.
"Then why the 'will you teach me' bit?"
"Ah?" I was wondering what was coming next. Was he going to tease me again? Make me squirm.
But the rescue boat arrived. And we got involved in explaining broken tillers and why we'd been blown ashore and all the palaver that goes with being towed back. We had to be towed alongside the inflatable since we had no steering.
After a bit, when we'd put the boat away, and sorted the wet sails out to dry, I asked him, "Paul, what were you about to say?"
"Oh," he said. "That."
"It's nothing." There was a long pause. "Except... No. Nothing." And that was it. Nothing.
Not for ages, at least. I was lost. In the water I'd been close enough to lean forwards and kiss him. Physically. Not mentally. Now I was as far away as ever. Maybe.
"Come on, let's get changed." And we headed up the steps to the changing room.
I did sneak a look at him while we changed. He wasn't unduly modest, not trying to hide himself, either. I'd never checked out another boy before. Never. It was embarrassing. Bewildering, too. I looked, but I didn't remember what I'd seen. Just a slim, gently muscled body, nicely proportioned. But he was a boy. A boy. And yet I felt the feelings from the dream. Tingly. Breathless. Weird.
"Paul?" He was dressed now. Me, too.
"You know you keep teasing me?" I was nervous.
"Is it because I... Well because... "
"Because I keep catching you looking at me?"
"Well, yes. I suppose." I have never been so nervous in my life. I had no idea where it might lead. No idea where I wanted it to lead.
"Sort of. I wanted to get to know you. Only I didn't know how."
He wanted to get to know me. I felt weak at the knees. Trembly. "Me, too."
He sat down. "Oh."
And I had no idea what to read into what he said. He stood after a while. There was no-one else in the changing room. He walked over to me. "Paul?" He looked me in the eyes. "I feel very odd when I'm near you. But I'm not a poof, Paul. I'm not. Not gay. Not a poof."
"You mean you feel it too?" He was running his hands through his hair, still wet. Looking petrified. "I'm not gay either. I'm sick of people making jokes about me."
I wanted to hold him in my arms. I knew it was the wrong thing to do. I think. "Does 'feel it too' mean you feel that about me, or that you feel that I feel it?"
"About you, Geoff. I feel it about you."
"Ah." We were getting to know each other. But where was it getting us?
"I... Oh I don't know. Geoff people tell me I'm good looking. I know that some of them fancy me. The boys. They make jokes about me. About wanting to fuck me, have me suck them. About me being their lover. I'm not like that, Geoff. I'm not gay. And I even found 'I love Paul Metcalf' on some desks."
"Love you. Paul I do love you. But I don't know what I want to do. Except to be with you. Be close to you."
"And I think I did the desks."
"I did the desks. I'm sorry, Paul. I think I wanted to get caught. I didn't think. I'm sorry."
"I wish you hadn't."
"I didn't know how to meet you. To talk to you. Get to know you." I looked at him. "You're crying!"
He was. "Sorry. I feel very confused. He was wiping the tears with his fingers. "Is this love? This odd feeling, this weird feeling, needing to be with you? Fascinated by you?"
"I feel like that when I'm with you, Paul. I want to take you in my arms. Stop you from feeling bad. Just hold you."
"I don't know! That's the problem. I don't know. Maybe. I dreamt about you. But it was a dream. Not if it doesn't feel right. No."
"I wish you'd stop saying 'oh', and 'ah. It's disconcerting."
"Sorry. You're being so nice. I was afraid... "
"In case you'd either despise me and call me a poof, or you'd try and do things, and I don't want to do things. I don't think I do, anyway."
"You kept calling me a poof, though."
"I had to get your attention. I liked being looked at, looked for by you. Wanted to get to know you. I didn't know how. It sounds so silly."
"Now you're doing it."
"Sorry." I had no idea what to do. To say. I touched him on the shoulder. "I'll never hurt you. Never."
"I know. Somehow I know."
"I want to hold you. Only I don't dare. I don't want to upset you, shock you."
"I'd like to be friends, Geoff. If we can. Not anything more."
"I love you enough to do that. Only... "
"When your hair's dry... "
"May I run my hands through it? Just once?"
"Just once. Yes. Just once."
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