I did sleep on the journey back. When we got home life seemed so empty. The familiarity of my own room was good, but it was empty without either of my two very special friends. I felt almost bereft.
Eventually I told mum and Dad that I would be going to camp with Mark in a few weeks, and that seemed to be OK, so there was something to look forward to.
The days dragged. The next weekend brought a card from the Evanses, signed by all three. On the bottom was written `I wish you were up here, love James.'
I wished so, too. Even more, I wish it was the week after next.
But then on the Tuesday...
And here is where the story gets told quickly, because the next six months or so were the worst I have ever experienced in my entire life. I don't want, now, to think about the details apart from my main actions and thoughts and agonies.
On the Tuesday my father opened a fat letter, and as he read it I could see his face get more and more serious. I caught him shooting a strange, rather worried look at me now and again and as this was a bit odd I became aware that more looks were coming my way. When he had finished reading he just sat there, looking blankly into the distance. Mum was in the kitchen at the time.
"Something wrong, Dad?"
"Er...Well. Yes. Er..."
I waited. At last he seemed to make up his mind.
"Martin, when you and Mark were together, did anything happen between you that you didn't like?"
"Anything. Did he do anything that made you feel...uncomfortable?"
"No. Is that who the letter's from?"
"No. Well, it's from Dr. Rogers. Look, something's happened. Oh...where do I start?"
He drummed his fingers on the table.
"Is Mark all right? Has something happened to him? I'm going camping with him in a few weeks, don't forget."
He looked at me sharply. "Martin, I'm sorry, but that's out of the question now. I know he was a good friend to you, but he won't be camping with you, I'm afraid."
"Why? He's not...dead, is he? Dad..." I was really scared by now. Mark can't be dead. No. Please God.
"No, it's nothing like that. Er..."
Another long pause.
"Dad, please! He's my friend. Tell me what's happened."
"Oh dear. Well... It seems that he was sent home from Scout camp last weekend because he was discovered...um...in an embarrassing situation with another Scout."
"What do you mean, an embarrassing situation?"
"Martin, you're not old enough for me to explain."
"Dad, I'm fourteen, and he's fifteen. If he can do it, I can understand it."
He looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
"Have you heard of masturbation?"
I'd never heard the word, and said so.
"I knew you'd not understand. It's what you do when you play around with your sex organs to make it stiff."
"Oh. Yes. I know about that."
"He was showing another boy what to do."
"Well, that's it."
"Is that all?"
"It's enough. You don't do that sort of thing in the Scouts."
"I thought everybody did it."
"What d'you know about it?"
"Hang on, do you mean he was showing him how to...how to..." I couldn't think of another word to call it which would make him angry. "...you know, make er..."
"Yes, that's what I do mean."
"And they sent him home for that?"
"Yes. The thing is, he's admitted to being attracted to other boys."
"You mean he's queer?"
"Yes. In a word. And that's why he obviously can't go on a camp with you, particularly on your own."
"But we were sharing a bed in a room, and he was fine with me."
"Maybe, but I just can't take the chance. You're sure he didn't do anything to you?"
"Yes. He wouldn't. We like each other too much."
"You see, I just can't help wonder if he was trying it on with you. You know, to get you to do...things with him."
"That's all right then. Thank goodness for that. But you'll obviously not want him as a friend any more."
"Why not? I still want to go to camp with him next week."
"Martin, that's out of the question."
"Because of what might happen."
"What might happen?"
"He might try something on with you."
"I'm not going on with this, Martin. You don't know it and shouldn't have to know it, but there are things that homosexuals do with each other that are disgusting. I'm not going to allow you to get near someone like that and put yourself in danger."
"But Dad, if he'd want to did something like that he'd have done it on the island."
"Just thank your stars he didn't. I'm not going to give him the chance of doing it to you."
"But what might he do?"
"I said, I'm not going on with that. Just count yourself lucky you've seen the last of him, that's all."
"But he's my friend. I want to see him again." By now I was getting really choked up with alarm at the idea that I wouldn't see him any more. Ever.
"No. I'm sorry. But there are times when you have to leave judgements like that to your mother and me. And on this, I am adamant. When you're older and can understand what homosexuals do then you'll also understand why I'm putting my foot down. But that's it for now. No more contact. I'll write to the doctor and set his mind at rest, and that'll be it."
"Can I see the letter, please?"
"No. I'm sorry."
"It's not fair. He's my friend and I trust him. You don't make my friends for me."
"Don't be rude."
"Well you don't."
"I think you'd better go to your room and calm down, old son. I'm sorry this has come as a shock, but you'll have to learn to live with it."
"Dad, it's not fair..."
"Off you go."
And even in my state I knew that when he used his Navy Commander voice on me I stood no chance. I ran upstairs, my throat choking up as I did so, and slammed the door of my room, and turned the key.
Tears. Sickness. Disgust. Abject sadness. Sorrow for myself and for Mark. A silent protest at the injustice of the adult world. A sense of tremendous loss. Desperation. Sickness. More tears. Loneliness.
I needed to see that letter. More, I needed the address. I weathered the next few days, a silent shadow of my usual self, mooning about the town, spending as little time at home as I could. Finally my parents decided to go out for a meal one weekend, assumed I'd go too, and were rather angry when I said I didn't want to go. But they had booked by this time and, not without some angry words, went.
Alone at home, at last. After a search I found the letter in my father's desk.
Basically it said what had happened, but went into more detail than Dad had done. He'd been caught just as he was wanking off another Scout, and both of them had been sent home in disgrace. He'd been talked to by both parents, had said that girls didn't attract him but that boys did, that he wasn't sorry, and he'd done no harm to either him or his subject.
They'd read the riot act, had banned him from Scouts, had grilled him about the times we'd spent together, but he'd said nothing. Only that we'd done nothing wrong or to be ashamed of.
I was so proud of him.
"Obviously," continued the letter, "you won't want Martin to continue his friendship with Mark. We've explained that to him, and of all the things we've discussed it's the one that made him go silent. I'm sure he has an attraction to your son, and of course we can't allow that to continue. In fact after we'd discussed Mark he went to his room and has been more or less incommunicado since. This of itself seems to indicate the level of danger to Martin should the two be alone together in the future.
"I am so sorry about this. Perhaps you could check with Martin that there were no unwanted overtures and that nothing else occurred. If it did please will you let me know since obviously we shall have to think again."
That was more or less it.
I didn't know what to think. Here was a doctor saying such awful things about his own son. Mark hadn't done anything to me, hadn't even suggested doing anything with me that I didn't want to do too. What was it that was dangerous that he might do?
I tossed the whole thing around in my brain all night. I must have slept, 'cos I didn't hear mum and Dad come back. But I knew that every time I woke up, which was frequently, I wanted Mark with me so badly that I felt sick and trembly again.
For two days I was really off beam, and on the third I'd made my decision. I was going to write to Mark and say I still wanted him as my friend so long as he didn't want to do anything to me that would be dangerous. It took me another few days to find the right words. Then it was Sunday, and I couldn't buy a stamp. The following Monday, before I could post it, a letter arrived for me.
`Dear Martin, You'll know what's happened and I'm sorry. More sorry than I can say. Since all this happened life at home has been awful, nobody wants to talk to me and they all treat me as if I'm dangerous to everybody. I don't know why. Nobody's asked me what I want, and if they did I'd say that all I want is to be your friend and somehow spend as much time with you as I could. I wouldn't be dangerous or make you do any of the things people say queers do. All I want is to enjoy having you with me as we were on the island.
"They're stopping me going anywhere now. Every time I go out they ask where I'm off to and when I'll be back and who I'm going to see. I can't stand this. They've even taken me away from the local school and all my friends are putting me in one the other side of town where I'm not known. For God's sake don't let them know you love me, as I know you must, or they'll do the same to you.
"Got to go. My few moments to myself are almost up. I'll write again. I love you. Mark'
"Anything interesting?" asked my father.
"No, just from a school friend." I made it sound as casual as I could. Inside my guts felt as if they were twisting up. I muttered my excuses and went to my room. I must have read the letter about twenty times, trying to get more words, more thoughts from it.
I re-read my own letter, and added something suitable to it, bought a stamp and posted it.
Two days later there was a phone call. All I heard was "Oh did he," from my father before the door shut and the rest was cut off. When he rang off he called me in.
"That was Dr. Rogers. He said you wrote to Mark."
"Yes, I did. Mark's a friend of mine and will stay so."
I was going to brazen this out. They weren't going to tell me who I could have as a friend. If they'd read my letter it was too late to save face, anyway.
"What did you write in the letter?"
"Didn't he tell you?"
"Don't answer me back. What was in the letter?"
"I said that I was still his friend."
"Is that all?"
"More or less."
"Martin, I've told you before you're not his friend any more. You have to accept that."
"I can't. Not when I know it's not true."
"I'm telling you to end the friendship."
"I can't. You always told me to be true to myself, and that's what I'm doing."
We stared at each other. I hated him at that point as I'd hated my mother when we were on holiday.
"Well, you're not to write to him any more. Is that clear?"
"He needs help, Dad."
"Not from you he doesn't."
"But he's being treated badly."
"How do you know?"
I thought, quickly. I wasn't about to tell them it was Mark who had written to me.
"You told me what started all this off. It sounds like a small thing to me."
"A small thing? Interfering with another boy? Don't talk nonsense. If you'd done anything like that I'd be so ashamed, just as Dr Rogers is. Mark deserves what he's getting."
"No he doesn't," I said, slowly and as positively as I could manage. "Nobody deserves that."
And I walked out of the room, up to my own room.
Well, I couldn't write. I couldn't visit. Or could I? Could I phone? No, they'd notice on the bill. We used the phone so rarely. I could try, and he could phone me back.
When they were out I tried, and kept getting one or other of the parents or Billy or Rose. I wondered if they were being horrible to him as well? I didn't find out, because I never said anything.
I made plans to travel up to London and try and find where they lived. I'd almost got round to telling my parents I would be out for a whole day when another letter arrived for me. His handwriting. Hastily I took it from the mat, went straight upstairs and tore it open, trembling once again.
`Dear Martin, It's just got too bad. They tried to get your letter from me but I escaped with it and had to flush it down the toilet before they could read it. I'm sorry. I really wanted to keep it, and keep it safe, too. But now this has gone on too long. I'm queer and I know I can't help it and I know I'm not going to harm anyone. But Dad's taking me to a friend of his who runs a special clinic. They're giving me electric shocks every time I look at pictures of boys and men, and all I think of is you, what a friend you are and how kind you were to me. I can't go on like this. All my friends have given up on me, the family have had hate mail, and even Billy and Rose have been laughed at because of me.
`I'm sorry, but I've decided that I can't go on. I don't know how I'll do it but I really feel I'm better off dead than like this. I shan't see you again, and please don't try and write because it'll get both of us into more trouble. Goodbye. Think of me some times. I still love you and now I know I always will. It was a good holiday. Mark.'
I read it again, the horror rising in me as if I was going to be sick. I remember shouting "NO!!" at the top of my voice, and then collapsing on the floor.
When I came to I was on the bed, my mother cradling me as if I was five again, and Dad sitting at the bottom of the bed, reading my letter. Weakly I put out my hand for it, but it wouldn't work properly. I couldn't keep it up.
"Phone them and tell them," I croaked. Dad looked at me. "Dad, just SAVE HIS LIFE, will you?"
He looked at me aghast, and then, to give him his due he rushed down to the phone.
We listened. "Hallo? Dr. Rogers? George Finch. Look, Martin's just had this letter from Mark saying that he's thinking of taking his own life. Listen, I'll read it to you...pardon?"
A long pause. Then: "Oh God. Oh no. Oh...Oh I'm so frightfully sorry. Oh... I don't know what to say...Yes...Yes...anything we can do...Yes, I'll tell him. Yes, I'll wait for you to call."
I knew what was coming. As he climbed the stairs my tears started. As he entered the room I turned and hid my face against the wall so he couldn't see.
"Martin...old son...I'm so sorry, but we were all too late. He took some pills yesterday and drank half a bottle of scotch...They tried to save him but couldn't."
I curled into a ball of misery and lay there for hours. They left me alone eventually.
I really can't describe how I felt. All that I felt before, but more, because now I knew that never meant never, that fifteen year olds could die: worse, they could commit suicide. As the days passed and I regained a little balance, the spark of anger against the Rogers parents started and grew into a strong flame. I knew that I had to tell them I blamed them for what they'd done.
He phoned Dad later in the week and told him that the funeral was the following day, and that if I wanted to go `in view of the friendship there was between them' then they'd be glad to see me. Friendship now, was it? That just fanned the anger into a blaze.
"I'm going," I said, as soon as Dad told me.
"Are you sure?"
"I said he was still my friend, and he was. I don't care if he was queer, he never did me any harm, nor would he."
So we went.
The whole family were there, and I sat and cried my eyes out with Billy and Rose. After the service and the burial I asked Dad if we could go. We quietly said our farewells and moved away. By the gate I stopped.
"Dad, can you wait here a moment, please? I need to say something to Dr Rogers before we go."
The doctor was comforting his wife, and had his arms round the two younger ones.
"Dr Rogers. Can I say something to you, please?"
"Martin...yes...of course...and thank you for coming to support us. What did you want to say?"
"Can I talk alone, please?"
"Alone? Oh...er...yes...one moment."
And he said something swiftly to his wife, then came over to me.
I wondered if I could carry this through. Then I remembered that letter, and pictured his dead face as I'd imagined it so many times, and compared it with that wonderful aura of life on the face that had kissed me and been my closest ever friend.
"Dr Rogers...why did you do that to Mark?"
He looked at me, his eyes tired and red from his own tears. I nearly gave up, but my love for his dead son carried me on. "Why did you make life so awful for him that he...threw it away?"
And I walked off, back to my father, and out of their lives.
In the course of the next few months things got back to normal. My relations with my parents improved to more or less what they had been. But I knew that I would never forget Mark or the torture he was put through, nor would I forget that my parents tried to make me give up a friend.
Towards Christmas we got a letter from the Evanses. My heart sank when I heard: I had visions of history repeating itself. It was bad enough: they were moving to Canada where Mr Evans had been posted.
Now there would be nobody who I loved left from that holiday.
James had written on the bottom of the letter: `To Martin, I'm sending a card. Love James.'
A week later it arrived. "To my big brother. Thanks for making the holiday so good. Sorry I wont see you next year. Hallo to the others for me. I'll send you cards from Canada. 'Bye, James."
On it was a picture of a ship, presumably the one they'd be travelling on.
Life became school, a few odd friends, parents and so on. I went on a canal trip with the school the next year rather than go to Amberdale. I couldn't face the islands without Mark. I went to school camp too, and managed to see almost naked the people I had wanted to see. But they weren't a patch on Mark.
Gradually I realised that I too was homosexual, and realised too that the reason I had so much enjoyed what Mark and I, and even James and I, had done together was down to this very fact. I hated myself for it. I felt I had let my parents down. I kept on asking `why me?' And from time to time the tears would flow as I realised that I would never be able to start a family and have a son to call me `Dad'. I would never have a real love, because love was with girls, and I knew deep inside me that none would attract me enough. Oh, I could see that some were pretty, had very nice curves, pretty faces, good, shapely tits, nice legs. But all those would be snapped up by the good looking boys, and I'd be left with...what?
But then real love was possible between boys. I knew that, and Mark would always be in my memory to remind me. Oh yes, I now had no illusions. Thanks to the reference library I found out what homosexuals are meant to do to each other all the time, and was disgusted. What Mark and I had done together was beautiful, and natural, and each of us was worshipping the other.
The fact that I had been attracted by little James ashamed me too. Someone my own age, yes; terrible but understandable. But this was a CHILD I'd found attractive. I couldn't get to grips with that for ages. But as time wore on it became less of a mental blot, and after a time -- a long time -- I got to an uneasy acceptance of it. After all, said my reasoning, he'd enjoyed everything we'd done, and I'd not ever forced him to do anything; nor would I.
All through school and the GCE `O' levels I went, ignoring completely the possibility that there could be any one else there like me, or who could like me. When others at school were going out together and, eventually, chancing clubs and discos and girls, I watched TV, went for walks on my own, and got used to my own company, and the company of one or two others who also seemed to be natural loners (if that's not too much of a paradox.). The only times I really got together with others was on the annual canal bash. I enjoyed this so much because it was so low key and quiet. In fact I went every year. After the `O' levels, when normally students weren't offered the chance of going on the trip I asked specially if I could go. They agreed, as I'd got really good at steering the awkward narrow boats and even manoeuvring them into and out of awkward corners.
It was reckoned that I could get to University, and who was I to disagree? It would get me away from home. Not that I really had anything against my parents, but I still had to put up with a child's lack of freedom in accepting visitors at home. Their home. Increasingly I felt as if I just lived there and that was all. And I was aware what would happen, even at nineteen, should I meet someone who I felt I could get on with and bring him home to sleep.
So I applied to various places, and got accepted by one, subject to good `A' level results. I came up trumps, and for the first time for ages was actively pleased with myself. Dad's business was doing well now, and he could afford for me to take a flat on my own, near the University, and to furnish it cheaply, but adequately.
I insisted on a double bed. Mark was still in my mind, five years on, as I chose it. Oh yes, I was now nineteen. My voice had broken, and it had happened shortly after Mark's death. I wondered at the time if it was the potency of his most personal gifts to me that had started my body really going. It was then that I started ensuring that the things that should still work, did, and even started recording measurements again.
Everything had been getting very satisfactory.
My move north was both exciting and sad. I was leaving behind my youth: parents, friends (not many), but that something apart from bricks and mortar that was `home'. If Mark had ever visited there it would have been worse, because his love would have made it even more of a break than it already was. But I settled in to my new pad with a sigh of relief and anticipation. Freedom. I was master of my own destiny at last. I even had a car, another gift from Dad. He must have been doing even better than I thought.
But night times were still lonely.
Three weeks before I actually started at the University the phone rang.
"Oh, hallo Dad. Nice to hear from you. To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Bit of a surprise for you. And a nice one, too, I hope."
"Go on then."
"You remember the Evanses we last saw at Amberdale about...what...five years ago?"
For some reason my heart missed a beat. Even after five years I remembered my little brother. I'd been more than upset that he hadn't written to us from their new home.
"Yes, of course I do. Peter, Doreen and James. We never heard from them again after they went to Canada."
"No. There was a reason for that. And you'd remembered them better than me. I couldn't remember the son's name, although considering all we did together I should have done. Anyway, they're back in England and Pete phoned last night." My heart missed another beat. "He has a business proposition for me. He'd suddenly found our address, remembered what I do for a living and a chance meeting with a friend of his has opened up some possibilities. From what he says, it could be something quite big, and I'm very interested. I'm going up to talk to him tomorrow."
"Sounds good to me," I said, genuinely excited, although not for the reason Dad thought. "It could be just what you need to make the firm grow. Would it involve any more investment from your part?"
"No. I don't think so. That's one of the beauties of it. They're working on a new idea, and one that I think could really catch on. That's what we're hoping, naturally. I'll tell you of the details when I've got it straight in my own mind, after I've met with Peter.
"He also says they've started doing the local lottery where they are, and in their second week came up trumps. Typical. We've been doing it here ever since it started, they do it twice and win. Anyway, it's not millions, but just enough to have a holiday plus a bit, and they thought about combining business with pleasure as all the meetings we'd have to go to are in the Midlands. They've come up with the idea of a canal holiday and they've asked mum and me to join them, especially as she and Doreen are needed at the meetings too. They asked if we thought you'd be interested in coming along too."
I thought for all of half a millisecond. Would James be there? Of course he would. "I certainly would. Give Mum something to think about, too. It's nice of them to ask me as well. I liked them. James was fun, too. He was tremendous fun on that holiday." I tried not to sound too enthusiastic.
"I thought you liked them. So did your mother and I. Anyway, about the canals. Pete mentioned Napton, where you've started from before. He said they'd contacted a firm there and they've got availability next week. It's still school holidays -- James is fourteen now, of course..." Fourteen! The age I'd been at Amberdale! What would he be like? Would he want my company still? "...so he can come too. So...can you get away?"
"I suppose he is." I said, in a rather unsteady voice. "I was fourteen myself when we were in Amberdale and we were both playing together like little kids...yes, he must be!"
"Pete says he is, and I suppose he should know. Anyway, he's made a provisional booking for those dates and asked me if I'd call you to see if you were available and wanted to go. There's a let-out if you don't, you see!"
"No, I'd like to go. I can get away. There'll be nothing to do here until Uni starts, and work on the flat can wait."
"Anything to avoid DIY! So I can call Pete and tell him we're all on for it, can I?"
"Yes. It should be good. I like the canals, and I like the Evans family. I'm looking forward to it already." To tell the truth, I was trembling on the other end of the phone. I was glad that Dad couldn't see me.
"So am I - I've heard what fun you've had on your trips. All right, I'll call Pete back and give him the good news. Strangely, he seemed to like you. Can't think why. And apparently James remembers you well, despite being only nine at Amberdale."
I thought back to everything we had done together and wasn't at all surprised he'd remembered our friendship. I recollected a small, thin little boy with light mousy hair...the idea of him at fourteen...what would have happened to that distinctive -- not overtly attractive -- face with its wide mouth and eyes, and that grin? Would the sense of humour and directness and his ability to love that was far in advance of his age still be there? Why had I never really tried to find the family from the new owners of their house in Britain? They must have left a forwarding address. Was it subconscious on my part -- part of the self hate I'd gone through about being attracted by a child? Or was it my desperation at Mark's unnecessary death?
On the other hand I'd often wondered why they never wrote to us after the initial message that they were going, but thought it was probably to do with the move and starting a new life. James probably had made friends of his own age, too. He wouldn't still have wanted to be lumbered with a friend as old as me, although he liked me well enough at the time...
"What do you mean, you can't think why he liked me? I'm Mr. Nice Guy, that's why!"
"And modest with it," said Dad, kindly. "Can I give them your number so they can come to you direct for any ideas about canal holidays? You've been on a lot, and you know more about what to look for and where to go."
"Yes, why not? I'd like to talk to them again." Him again, I substituted mentally.
"OK. I'll call Pete back now. He'll probably want to confirm the arrangements with the boatyard before he calls you, but I'm sure he will. Are you going to be at home tomorrow night?"
"Yes, I'll be here."
"I'll tell him. He'll probably call then. I'm sure we'll be talking before the weekend."
"Yes, indeed. Love to mum."
"And you, old son. Cheerio."
"`Bye, Dad." And I rang off, as usual wondering why my father still used such outdated words as `Cheerio'.
When my mind had regained as much equilibrium as it could given the thought of my little brother grown big, I went back to my TV programme and tried to pick up the threads. But my mind kept wandering back, first to the canals and the holidays I'd enjoyed so much with some of my school friends but also to Amberdale, and the Evans family. And particularly to the little boy who I'd thought was going to be such a millstone round my neck for the fortnight, but who'd turned out to be good fun, then to be such a genuinely wonderful friend, then to be my little brother. Despite my earlier thoughts on attraction to a child I could hardly wait to see him and be with him again. But then, if he was fourteen would he still want to know me, and in the way we used to know each other? I was once again turning back to my programme when the phone rang. "Dad, again," I thought.
"Hallo Dad. Now what's up? They haven't changed their minds, have they?"
And a young, just broken, voice said: "I don't think I'm quite old enough to be your father, Martin. But you can check your birth certificate to make sure, if you like. I'll wait."
I looked stupidly at the receiver in surprise. "You don't sound like my father, either, unless he's shed about fifty years in ten minutes...who is that?"
"And no, they haven't changed their minds, either."
I paused. Suddenly the penny dropped. "James!" I whispered hoarsely. "James Evans for goodness sake! How are you?"
"Fine, thank you, son. And how about you?"
"Yeah...great. But how..."
"Your Dad just phoned back asking for mine, but they both had to nip out to buy something, so he got me instead. He gave me the news and your phone number so I thought I'd phone and see if you were still the same guy as you used to be the year you suddenly rescued my holiday for me."
"Did I? How's that? I didn't realise that's what I'd done."
"Did you? I'll say you did. All I had to look forward to was a week on the beach or visiting stately homes. It looked like being as boring as I'd imagined, then this couple start talking to the parents, and their son comes and startles me out of a bush and starts chatting to me. And then, before I knew it, we were getting around, sailing, swimming, and doing...well...all sorts of things. And because there's someone around and we're meeting people and both enjoying the same things it made it ten times better. I enjoyed that holiday more than you'll know."
Could this really work? Could we get back to where we were? It sounded like it might just... "Funny," I said. "I've just been talking to my father and I've said something very similar to him. Yes, I enjoyed that fortnight very much, too. You know, it's great to hear from you again." And I meant it, and thought the warmth of my tone would tell him so. I thought I wouldn't tell him about Mark. Not yet.
"You too. When you never wrote after we'd sent that card I thought you were just glad to get shot of me after the holiday and get back to old people again - you know, your own age."
"Cheeky sod," I laughed. "If you were here I'd hang you up by the ears."
"You'll have the chance soon. But if you do, I'll push you in!"
Martin laughed again. "You and whose army?"
"I've got two armies of my own, thanks, and handies on the end of them. Why didn't you write back to me?"
"'Cos I never got the card or whatever. We were all surprised none of you wrote any more."
"Huh! Someone stole our address book, and we couldn't remember the road name or number. We guessed and sent some, but they can't have got to you. But then when we were packing to come back, Dad found the scrap of paper he'd written it on at Amberdale, so we phoned you almost as soon as we got back. But look, your Dad says you've been on the canals lots of times. Have you?"
"Quite a few. It's great; you'll enjoy it."
"From what Dad says it's very slow."
"Well, maximum speed's about four m.p.h., but there are locks and bridges to operate, things to see, a seven feet wide boat to steer through eight feet wide bridges, pubs to visit...no, you'll not find it boring."
"That's all right then. `Cos if I get bored you'll just have to take me on the swings again."
"Are you a mind reader, or what? When Dad called and told me about the holiday that's one of the things I remembered. Although I don't know why, compared to all the other things we got up to!"
"It's what finally persuaded me you were really an eleven-year-old in disguise, who just happened to have a sailing boat."
"I've grown up since then. I'm twelve-and-three-quarters and I've got a bike."
"Goodie. Can I ride it?"
"Only if you give me some chocolate."
"Martin, you're quite as much of a pillock as you were five years ago, and I'm looking forward to the canals very much."
"So am I, my friend, so am I."
"I'll see you next week."
"Too right you will. `Bye."
"Cheerio, as your father just said to me. `Bye."
I switched the television off, all hope of returning to my programme forgotten.
Our two families and I arranged to meet in Oxford, have lunch together, do the first bits of shopping and then set off to Napton in convoy if possible. A large store in a suburb of the City had seemed to be the best place to meet so as to avoid the traffic congestion, and as I lived the nearest I arrived there first. I thought I'd have a fair wait because there were the usual delays on the A40 which would affect my parents and the Evanses, so I settled down to wait by my car. I'd found a spot in a car park near the shop which was within sight of the entrance, so I could lean against its cooling bonnet and try to spot the Evanses before they saw me. I really wanted to size James up before we got talking as, apart from the phone call, I had no idea what he'd be like or even if I'd still like him.
I watched the area casually, as shoppers and summer visitors scurried around like ants. I tried to imagine what James looked like now, and realised that I probably wouldn't recognise him at all. To while away the time I started looking for any teenagers with parents attached. A ginger headed lad, about five feet...no...a tallish, thin kid, brown hair over his brow, pleasant face...could be...but no parents...a black haired kid, heavy features, about 17...no...a fat boy, wide eyes...dark hair swept back...hope not...tall lad, blond hair, incredibly good looks...I wish it was... I looked away, then realised that the tallish thin boy with the brown hair was looking at me with his head on one side. All of a sudden something struck a chord; perhaps something in the expression from five years previously.
Suddenly the face broke into a that grin, and James Evans was running towards me. I knew he'd have to have grown, I thought, but he's very far from the puny little lad he was! And what a distinctive face! He's turned into a good looking young man now.
James stopped two paces from me, suddenly shy. "It is you, isn't it?"
Suddenly I was confident. "I think so. I'll just check my birth certificate." I extended both arms to embrace him as if he were still nine. Suddenly realising what I was doing, I let my left arm drop.
"You've not changed a bit," said James and closed the gap between us to engage me in the bear hug I had thought I shouldn't use. "It's good to see you."
"And you too," I said when I'd recovered my breath. "I nearly didn't recognise you."
"If you say `Haven't you grown', like my aunts do, I really shall push you in the water when we get there."
I paused, only for a second: "Haven't you grown! You used to be such a nice little boy!"
"I'll remember that. Just wait 'til you're standing by the canal! Come on, mum and Dad are round the corner. We couldn't park any nearer."
As we walked off he said something else cheeky, and I responded, and we both laughed, and before long we were teasing each other as if the five years had contracted to just five minutes' absence. We crossed the car park toward the Evans' car. I heard later how his parents' conversation went as we approached.
"Just look at that, Doreen, it looks as though they've just come in from sailing at Amberdale!"
"I hope they get on as well as they did last time. Although James has changed a lot, got even more friends, I think Martin was always his special hero, even if they haven't spoken since."
"I shouldn't say that to him, you know. He is fourteen. And don't tell Martin how much he's grown!
"What do you take me for, dear? I'm not that stupid!"
"It's good to see you again," I said as I got within range. "Thank you for asking us along. I've been looking forward to this since Dad phoned. I say, hasn't James grown?"
"That's twice you're in," hissed a voice at my back.
Doreen and Peter looked at each other, then at my wicked grin, and burst into laughter. "I'm saying nothing," said Doreen.
"Just as well," said the voice behind me.
"Shall we go and see if my parents have arrived yet?" I said, conscious of having got all I could out of the situation to James' discomfiture. I looked at the latter, who glowered back as best he could with the unzipped grin half round his head, just as I remembered it, but this time with the more pronounced features around it that spoke of burgeoning manhood.
"Right. I'll lock up the car and we'll have a wander round. I could do with stretching my legs."
They followed me toward my car. James was waking ahead with his mother, and I looked at his back view, his muscularly rounded bottom, slim waist and broadening back, topped by already broad shoulders, still hardly able to believe that this good looking young man was the same person as the young child of five years previously.
"You know, when we first talked about this holiday, when we had our bit of luck, it was James who first suggested we contacted you all to see if you'd be interested. He was most insistent we told your parents you were expected as well. And he's been on edge over the last few weeks, waiting to see you again. It's all he could talk about. Exams? No, he had to have progress prised out of him. But mention the canals and sooner or later your name would come up."
I smiled, my heart warming to my little brother even more. "Seems to have taken quite a shine to me. He phoned me, you know, that evening you'd phoned my Dad and then had to go out."
"Yes, he said. He told us you'd not changed a bit. Although he's grown up a lot, he's still the same happy boy he used to be. He's one of the few of his age who don't seem to be moody. You can imagine how much of a relief that is! Ah, here's Mary and George!" as my parents passed them in their car, looking for a vacant parking space and waving as they did so much to the detriment of my father's driving as a car reversed out of a space immediately in front of him.
"Oh, no," I breathed as the tyres screeched to a halt.
"It's all right, Mart. He missed him," said James as he ran into the now vacant space to reserve it.
Dad recovered and soon was reversing into the space. He and Mum got out of the car and there was handshaking all round and a hug for me.
Mum found herself looking at James. "Oh, haven't you..."
"Don't say it, Mother. You know how I used to detest that. James is the same, you know."
"I'm sorry, dear. After all this time I should be used to the idea that people get bigger as they get older. But it's still a shock when you've not seen the person concerned for five years. Sorry, James. It's good to see you again. I see you've met my reprobate son again, and by the sound of it he's still on your side. He was delighted when we called him, and he probably won't say it but I know he's been looking forward to seeing you again."
"Mother! Don't let me down completely! You'll be getting the baby photos out next."
"Oh yes, Mrs Finch," said my cheeky friend. "I've got to see those!"
"If I thought you'd be interested I'd have brought the album, James. But now you mention it, I always carry one around with me. I'll try and find it."
"Mother, if you dare, I'll throw you overboard!"
"Yes, dear. I'm sure you will. Anyway, shall we get on and have some lunch? Your father and I haven't eaten since eight."
We found a table and had a light lunch, swapping reminiscences about the Amberdale holiday -- well, the publicly consumable ones - and some of what had happened since. I was glad that my parents didn't mention Mark or the others. Eventually, as so often happens, the two sets of parents, being about the same age, were leaving their sons out of the conversation, despite my being so much older than James. So I wasn't surprised when he raised his eyebrows at each other meaningfully, and we drew to one side to chat.
"I've been reading a lot about the canals, you know. Oh. Wait a minute, you haven't even seen what sort of boat we've got, have you? I know Dad's been talking to you about what to look for and ask for, but he's never actually shown any of you the result, has he?"
"No. And I must say I'm intrigued. All he would say was that he thought we'd all like it."
James waited for a gap in the flow of talk and asked for the boatyard's brochure. He thumbed through it, and held up the page for me to read.
"Sixty-five feet...two doubles and two lots of bunks in one cabin...dinette double conversion from the kitchen table...well, we shan't need that, and that'll be a relief."
"Why? I missed that."
"Well, if someone's having to use that as a bed it means that they've got to be first up in the morning so that anyone else can come in and make tea or breakfast. It's not too bad when it's only one person, but when there's a couple nobody likes to burst in on them, even if it's ten in the morning and they want their breakfast."
James grinned. "I see what you mean. It's all right me bursting into your hotel room wearing nothing, like at Amberdale, but I don't think I'd do it to your parents now!"
I flashed back to those holiday mornings, when an excited nine year old would knock perfunctorily on my bedroom door (sometimes) and come in like a whirlwind, wearing not a stitch, and climb into my bed. Those were the times when he wasn't already sleeping in it on the pretext of thunderstorms or just plain preference.
"I suppose you're going to do that this holiday too, are you? Or have you grown some decorum as well as everything else?"
"No, not really. And I might. It all depends on you."
"Right," I evaded automatically, my mind racing. Was he really saying or suggesting what I thought he was? Did he know what he was suggesting? Might heart thumped uncomfortably, and I had to make myself continue as if nothing had happened. "Anyway, looking at this brochure it seems to be a very nice boat, and a well organised firm. They certainly offer a lot."
"That's what Dad said. He was quite impressed."
"I hope they're a good as they look," I said, as we prepared to leave the table. "Peter's certainly done his best, anyway."
We shopped around for the groceries they thought they'd need for the first few days, then loaded up the cars. James asked me if he could join me in my car, so we continued the journey with two people in each.
At the boatyard we found turmoil. People coming, people going, people gongoozling (I had to explain to James that this was Canal-Speak for sightseeing.) and people arguing. That worried me a bit.
"Mr Evans, Mr Finch, it's good to see you." said a harassed looking man who we had managed to run to earth. "Before you start unloading, could you come into the office, please?"
"Yes, of course. Forms to sign and so on, I expect." James and I followed as he led the way into the office and closed the door before Mary and Doreen had a chance to get out of their respective cars.
"Gentlemen, I won't beat about the bush; I have a major problem." The manager looked worried. Peter and Dad looked at each other. "It's like this. The hirers who had your boat last week had intruders last night. They succeeded in smashing all the kitchen area up and doing a lot of damage before our clients were able to wake up and stop them. Fortunately, they're policemen - the hirers, that is - and actually arrested the two, and kept them there until the local police arrived. I'm glad they did, because the two men are known to us and, we think, have been doing a lot of damage to local boats.
"Well I'm glad they've got them, for our sake as well as yours," said Peter. "But what you're saying is that the boat isn't ready for us yet."
"Worse, I'm afraid. They managed to do so much damage to the gas lines that we're having to strip out all the kitchen on one side and replace the lot. It's going to take at least a week to put right."
"Oh dear," said Dad. "So where does that leave us?"
"My problem is that all our other boats are out, hired by clients who booked before you. Now, I know that's not your fault, but we had to find the most ethical solution, and it seemed fairest that those who booked first should, if you like, have their boat first. I couldn't see a better way out of it. However..." He paused, as if for breath. "We've got a solution you might consider, although it's not the sort of thing I like doing. One of the owners whose boat we look after has agreed to lend it to us to help out, if that's acceptable to you and your family.
"Now this boat is very well fitted out and has everything you'd want, in fact I dare say it's probably better than our hire craft. The drawback is that it's only got three double berths, and there's no provision in the kitchen for a berth as there is with ours. It's all very comfortable, though, and I'm hoping that you might be able to accept it and work round the accommodation problem somehow."
"Well," said Peter, looking at Dad. "What do you think?"
"I suppose the only two people who would be affected would be Martin and James. They're the ones who wouldn't have a bed each. What about it, lads?"
I smiled to myself at being described as a `lad' by my father, as if I were fourteen again. As I said, it seemed that once James and I were together again both sets of parents seemed to class us as being the same age. "Let's have a look at the boat, shall we?" I said. "James and I'll discuss it."
The manager started to look relieved. "Certainly," he said. "Thank you for taking it so well. I'll take you to look over her at your leisure. And...I'm sorry I ignored your wives, but I was so het up abut the whole affair that I just wanted to talk to you as soon as you appeared."
"That's OK. You can't help vandalism, we all realise that. But we do need to be sure the replacement boat is acceptable. And of course it'll be up to our sons here whether they're prepared to share."
"I quite understand that." And he led us out toward our cars where Doreen and mum were waiting, looking rather put out. Swiftly he apologised to them for his rudeness, and briefly explained the problem and his suggestions for solving it.
As he was talking, James nudged me . "So we're going to be sharing a bed for the next week, are we?"
I grinned at him, once again exulting. But then the common sense side of me thought again. Was this such a good idea? I knew that I was again attracted to him, very much more so now that he had grown into such a good looking lad, with a broken voice too... And at fourteen...
"Only if you feel OK about it after all this time," I said seriously. "It doesn't worry me, even if it is five years since we really knew each other. But sharing a bed isn't everyone's cup of tea if the other person's the same sex."
James looked thoughtful. "You've not changed a bit since Amberdale, well, not really. You've just got bigger." I looked at him sharply, but he appeared innocent. "You were okay then, so I don't see why it should be any different now. You're all right. I'm happy to go for it."
My heart started beating hard again. Wow! Was it my birthday or something? "So am I, then," I told him rather shakily. "We'll look at the boat, and then confess that we're happy to share. Well, I suppose we'd better not be too enthusiastic about it or Pete and Doreen will start wondering."
"Oh, they know you're a raving queen anyway. I've told them so."
For a moment I thought he was serious. But the unzipped grin said differently so I decided not to comment or show any feelings either way. "Now who's asking to be thrown in the water? It's nearer now, don't forget!"
We all looked at the boat that the boatyard manager was pointing to. It was certainly a trim craft and, as I said at the time, it was just the sort of boat I'd like to own. The interior was even better than the pictures of the hire boats in the brochure, and boasted a very comfortable sitting area, along with two master bedrooms and a plainer room, all with double beds; two bathrooms and a very well arranged kitchen. As Peter said to Dad, we'd be silly not to agree to it. They turned to James, who happened to be nearest.
"How do you view the prospect of sharing a bed with Martin, then?" asked my father. "Do you think you could stand it for a week?"
James looked as doubtful as he could. "I suppose I could give it a try," he answered. "Does he snore?"
"No, I do not!" I answered indignantly. "And how about my feelings about being asked to sleep with a snotty nosed kid?" I asked, keeping a straight face only with some difficulty.
"Martin!" exclaimed my mother. "That's not a nice thing to say!"
"It's all right, Mary. I happen to agree with him," said Doreen. "But I think he's trying not to laugh. I think they've talked about it and agreed between themselves already. Have you?"
"Well, James did mention that it would stop us having to cancel the holiday, and he's not such a bad sort really, I suppose. I think we can probably accept the idea, can't we, James?"
I think it was quite a good bit of acting, really.
We started the long job of unloading the contents of the three cars into the boat, and were constantly surprised at the amount of storage space there was. Having in the past left a variety of embarrassing things in hired boats I wondered if we'd remember to search everywhere when we left, but the time for that seemed far away. James and I had defaulted to the `guest' cabin, leaving the two really well appointed rooms to the parents. All my own luggage was installed in the various cupboards but there were very few of James' clothes in evidence. James had been missing for some time, too. I wondered where he was, and went to search, only to find him in the kitchen, watching a kettle that was nearing the boil. A row of teacups sat nearby, each primed with a teabag.
"What a player!" I said. "How did you know I was gasping?"
"`Cos I am. Good. You can tell me how your parents like their tea."
"Surrounded by a mug, usually, together with the milk and one sugar each."
"Ha, ha. Could you tell everyone there'll be a cup waiting for them in about two minutes?"
"Okay. Don't forget that you've still got a lot of gear to bring on board."
"It's in mum and Dad's cabin. I've got to bring it from there. If you're going down there, could you bring it back for me, please?"
"Since you've made me a cup of tea - and I have one and a half sugars, in case you're interested - it'll be a pleasure." I walked the length of the boat, past our own cabin and the first of the two toilets, past mum and Dad's cabin where I popped my head in to tell them about the tea, to Peter and Doreen's cabin.
"James is just making a mug of tea, when you're ready. And he says could I take any more of his stuff into our cabin, please."
"He's made tea, has he? That's more than he usually does at home! Yes, thanks Martin. Those are his two bags over there. But while you're here...Peter and I have been discussing the situation. Are you sure you don't mind sharing with him? Being a companion is one thing, but a bedfellow is a bit different!"
"I don't mind at all. After all, it's hardly as if he's a disgusting old man, is it? He's more likely to object to my being there, I'd have thought. He's either being very polite, or else he really doesn't mind."
"The day our son is polite, the sky will fall," said Peter. "He still thinks a lot of you, you know, so I imagine he's quite happy about the idea like he was at Amberdale."
"Well, it really doesn't worry me. A bit unusual, I know, as he's that much older now, and I think I'd not want it broadcast around University - and he certainly wouldn't want his school to know! But between us, it's okay."
"Good. That's all right then. We were a bit worried. We'll be along for this miraculous cup of tea any minute, you can tell him."
I dropped the two bags into the cabin, then saw James coming down towards me.
"Just going. So are your parents. Thanks."
"I've got yours here. Drink it while you unpack."
"I've already done that. That's when I realised hardly any of your stuff was here."
"You'll just have to watch me, then. Which side of the bed do you want?"
"Don't mind. How much are you going to drink?"
"Well, the more you drink, the more likely you are to get up in the night, and the nearer you'll want to be to the outside."
"I hardly ever do. I'm not incontinent, like you."
"That water's very close, you know."
James settled for the side nearer the bulkhead. As he stowed his clothes away I watched him, still marvelling how such an unexceptional looking child -- apart from the grin -- could be growing into such a good looking man.
"What's up with you?"
I jolted out of my reverie. "What d'you mean?"
"You're watching my every move. It's like being on stage."
"You told me to watch you. I always obey orders."
"Right. Jump in the canal."
"...Except when it means getting wet."
"That's it. I'm ready. Let's get going."
He followed me back to the kitchen where the parents were drinking their tea. They were just making jokes about framing their mugs as a rare production from James, when the boatyard manager joined us. He declined a cup of tea, even after hearing it was made by James, explaining that he still had a lot to do and all he wanted to do was to explain the boat's workings to them and make sure they could work locks. He looked at me and said "I understand you're the experienced one so far as canals are concerned."
"This'll be my sixth trip," I explained. "If you want me to explain things to them as we go along I'll gladly do so."
"Fine by me. It'll get me out of your hair, anyway. You know, I'm really so grateful to you all for allowing me to shunt you off onto a different boat, especially one that isn't really ours. And , by the way, bearing in mind it isn't ours, I'm obviously in your hands as to what state its kept in. My client's done me a big favour by lending it to us, and I wouldn't want to let him down. He made me promise to ensure that the people who were using it were a pleasant, responsible crew, and from Mr Evans' conversations with me you certainly seemed to fit the bill."
We assured him that we'd take special care of the boat, and that we were as responsible as he thought we were. Much gratified, he explained about the fridge, the heating system, engine and all the other points we needed to know about the boat, then asked us were we were going. Having heard about the parents' plans to visit business people in Birmingham and its area he checked that there would be someone on the boat at night, for security reasons. Having been assured that James and I would be on board, he wished us well and left.
"I'd better start on the tiller," I said, "but I'm not going to be there all the time, so you'd better come and learn at least the basics. There's quite a few bridges in the next few miles, so that'll be good practice for you."
"What's so special about bridges?" asked my father.
"Wait 'til you see a bridge hole...surely you've seen canal bridges, Dad?"
"Well yes. But obviously not from the view of a boatman."
Shortly afterwards I called them all to the steersman's position. "Bridge ahead!" I said. "Look, it's simple. Just remember that the boat swings round a point somewhere in the middle; the stern goes the way the tiller points and the bow swings the other way. Line her up in advance, steer straight and she'll not touch. Always keep power on, because it's the thrust of water from the prop that makes her turn. No power, no steering! Now, watch which way she swings, try and find the point on the boat that doesn't."
Before steering for the bridge, I made some rather exaggerated course changes to show what I meant, then settled the course down and went through the bridge hole as if it wasn't there. The fact that I was relieved to be able to do it for the first time in a new boat was neither here nor there. There was a sprinkling of small bridges from then on, and I got each of them to take a turn at steering. When we arrived at the first of the three Calcutt locks, I explained what to do, and told them to listen to the engine note as I manoeuvred so they could tell what I was doing to fit the boat into the lock and stop it moving.
With one or two problems, like having everybody one side of the lock chamber or the other when there should have been the same number each side to work the paddles, we navigated it successfully. I'd asked them to continue to the next chamber and prepare it so I could steer straight in, and was pleased to see that it was open for me as I left the first one. James was left to close the gates, then he ran on to help the others. After the third lock, I pulled into the bank and the others caught up.
"And that's all there is to it," I told them. "Who's taking her now?"4
"I'll have a go." James wasn't sharing the hesitation of his elders. Five years ago I'd taught him how to steer a dinghy. "Just carry on a little longer while I change into shorts, would you. I'm getting hot!"
So I carried on down the canal, and the remainder of them disappeared inside the boat. Both lots of parents reappeared at the bow, out of the way of the noisy engine. James reappeared a few minutes later wearing a pair of PE shorts which must have fitted him properly when he was eleven. At fourteen, they left things to the imagination, but only technically. He'd grown a lot. A child's shorts move over his body between the legs. James' didn't.
"That's better," he announced. "I was hot. I should have done that ages ago. Can I take over now?"
"Yes. We're on a straight bit. Make small adjustments only, though, and see how the bow swings. And by the way, I thought you were changing into shorts, not down to your underpants!"
"These are shorts. And I don't wear underpants in public. They show off too much!."
"Those nearly do. Anyway, most people wear underwear all the time, especially in public."
"Ha ha. Very funny. Anyway, these are proper shorts even if they are a bit small. Besides, if you've got it, flaunt it!"
"One thing I didn't mention," I said in a low voice, "is that because you're talking loudly over the noise of the engine, everyone can hear you on the front of the boat." I'd seen some rather astonished looks from George and Doreen who must have been unaware of their son's lack of inhibition when away from them.
"Oops," said James quietly. "Thanks for the warning. I'll remember that when I want to say something rude to you."
He took over the tiller, but I stood at his side to help if any problems arose. God, was I really going to be spending my nights sleeping with this boy? Do you know that fizzy, light, shivery feeling you get when you're really excited or anticipating something? Well, I felt that. All over.
He quickly learnt how the boat handled at normal cruising speed -- I'd impressed on all of them that to try to go faster than three or four miles per hour was pointless as the cross-section of the waterway just wouldn't let the water get behind the boat any faster, and all that an over-fast propeller did was to dig the back of the boat into the water and leave a bigger wake.
We passed through several more bridges before reaching Stockton where we had decided to moor for the night. As it was school holiday time most of the moorings near the pub were taken, and we had to continue almost to the top of the locks before we could find a vacant area of bank. Peace descended once the engine was switched off, and then everyone met in the kitchen.
"I'll cook," offered Doreen. "I've brought a ready prepared surprise, and it just needs heating up. If one of you men could peel some potatoes, I'll get busy. Don't all rush," she added as there was a silence.
"It's all right," mum laughed. "I know my two. They're just interested looking at the pub! Go on with you. Get out of Doreen's and my way. We're not going to be tied to the stove, though, so get used to the idea that each of you will be doing some cooking. And don't forget, whoever cooks doesn't wash up."
Three sheepish male faces looked at each other, then laughed. The youngest just looked thoughtful. "Come on, then, the men. We've got our pass out. Let's go and look at the local watering hole," said Dad.
Peter and I followed him, thankfully. After driving so long the last thing they were interested in was cooking. James turned to follow, then hesitated. "What am I meant to be doing?" he asked my father, who he was following.
"Coming with us, I imagine. Why, did you want to do something else?"
"No. Not at all! Dad's never taken me into a pub, that's what I mean."
"Peter," called Dad over my head, "James says you've never taken him into a pub before. Is that right?"
"Oh...Yes. I forgot his age! I just assumed he was one of the men that Mary and Doreen referred to... No, it's true I've never been into a pub with him, but then I not generally a pub person myself. It's just never occurred to me. Sorry, James. Do you want to come, or would you rather stay here?"
"No. I'm coming, Dad."
"Well, go and make yourself look older, then. You look about ten dressed like that!"
James decided not to object to that but just said "Give me two minutes, then," and vanished into the cabin. The fathers and I continued onto the bank and stood watching the deepening evening, quietly enjoying the peace. Soon James rejoined us, now dressed in quite smart trousers and a sports shirt.
"You've outdone us now, old son," his father chided him. "We'll all have to go and change!"
"Oh Dad! I can't win! First you say I look too young, then when I dress in something like you wear all the time that's wrong too!"
"He'll do! Leave him alone, Pete. We'll just send him up to the bar to get the drinks all the time."
Even James laughed at that. "If you do, they'll all be alcohol free, then! You wouldn't want me breaking the law, would you?"
We walked onward toward the pub. James dropped behind with me. "Don't worry about it," I said. "My parents were always on at me about how to dress, too. I used to take a lot of notice about their and other people's dress codes until I realised what it was really all about."
"What do you mean, what it's all about?"
"It's quite easy when you think about it. All the time you just need to be comfortable, you just wear what you find practical and comfortable. If you're trying to make an effect, dress accordingly. That way, you'll dress older for a pub, smartly for an office job, practically for a more manual job, as your aged aunts expect you to when you visit them, and in cricket rig when you play cricket. That's how you show people you're serious about things. Of course, when you're very wealthy, or old and eccentric, then you dress as you want to all the time and sod everyone."
He laughed. "And which of those categories do you come under, then?"
"Definitely old and eccentric, according to you."
"Thought so. How come you get away with it, then?"
"I said: I'm eccentric."
"And old... no. I won't accuse you of that at the moment. That'll come later. But at Amberdale you just wore shorts and T-shirt. Huh! Or nothing! ...and now, all you're wearing is jeans and T-shirt. Yet you get away with it. Why can't I?"
"You could have. Jeans make you look older than PE shorts. They'd make you look older than any shorts, probably, unless you've got particularly hairy legs which make you look of an age to drink alcohol. I noticed that you haven't... And don't look at me like that, I know it's not fair. But it's the way the world works. If you're not what you think people want you to be, either dress in a way to make them think you are, or else ignore their opinions if you can afford to, and impress them with your charm, wit, intelligence and above all, conversation."
"All right, I'll take that. But how come you regard me as ... well ... what? A kid who's got older since he last met you? A young wally who doesn't know his way around anything but his home town? Or what?"
I stopped. "At Amberdale, I got to like you as a person because you were entirely natural and what came over from you was something I liked. As a result, either I treated you as if you were fourteen or you treated me as if I were nine. We've been through that.
"Five years on, you're not a different person, you're the same character and you seem to see me as the same person I was. Most importantly, you seem to have accepted me as being the same friend at the some standard age that instinct seems to have worked out between us. It's personalities. We're lucky; five years ago it took just a couple of days to get there. Five years on and it's taken less than half a day to become...well, more than just acquaintances again. The clothes and acting bit doesn't come into it. That's only useful when you want to make an instant impression, or when someone expects you to be something else, as I said before. You could come to me dressed as the hind legs of a pantomime horse. I'd still know it's old James. It'd just confirm to me that you're mad."
There was a pause. They continued walking.
"You know," said James at last, "that's about the longest speech you've made to me"
"Did it make sense, though?"
"Yes. I think so. Give it time, and it may sink in."
"I bloody well hope so. Most of that took me years to work out for myself!"
"Didn't your parents tell you?"
"No. It'd never occur to them. Have yours told you?."
"True. I wonder what Dad would say if I told him all that as my opinion."
"He'd say: `Cor. There is life inside that idiot head, after all.' And who could blame him?"
We didn't spend long in the pub, just long enough to see what it was like and enjoy a pint. James, automatically given a Coke by his father, sampled my bitter once or twice and decided he liked it. "Can't you get me one without anyone noticing?" he asked his father.
"Oh yes. And where will you hide a pint glass when the police arrive and ask you how old you are?"
"I'll give it to you. Or say I'm eighteen. Besides, why did you tell me to dress older if I can't look as if I'm old enough to drink properly?"
"One up to you, James!" laughed my father, as his fumbled for an answer.
On the way back to the boat James was talking to his father about beer, and his attitude to James drinking it. He was fairly happy with the result, his expression told me as we arrived at the boat. I had had no part in the discussions, but was confident I would soon find out the outcome. We were welcomed back by a most wonderful smell of cooking: Doreen and mum had been busy. The table was set most attractively, even down to candles on the table in proper holders. "We found these in one of the cupboards," explained mum. "They seemed too good to waste. I hope you lot aren't full of beer, because Doreen has really gone to town on this meal."
We assured her we were hungry, which was true, especially after we had smelt what was in store for us.
James and I washed up, with help from Peter. When it was all finished and stowed away, James suggested a walk. We locked the boat and wandered along the towpath, toward the locks but in the opposite direction from the pub, much to James' disgust, especially since I was leading the way. We wandered alongside the locks, down the flight, to the bridge at the bottom. As we came out of the arch James saw another pub on the left and started edging towards it, hoping the rest of us would follow.
"Peter," exclaimed Doreen, "What have you been teaching James? He's turning into a boozer!"
"None of my doing," said Peter wistfully. "But its not a bad idea. How do the rest of you feel about a short to finish off a really excellent meal?"
We all agreed. I stood the round, and made a point of asking James what he wanted so that his father heard. "Bitter, please," said James firmly. Peter looked at me and raised his eyebrows, then nodded, but without James seeing him. We sat away from the bar. When Doreen saw James with a half-pint in his hands she gasped. "Peter! What on earth's got into you? You know he's nowhere near old enough!"
"I know, I know. But it's the middle of the countryside, he looks far older than he is - or so Martin tells me - and he's got to try drinking sometime. I'd want him to do that with us, rather than feel he's got to do it furtively."
"Well, I suppose you're right. But I can't help feeling he's too young."
"Oh, come on, darling. Look at him. Think of yourself at eighteen - he'll be entitled to vote then - and that's only four years away. All those nights as a baby when he wouldn't let us sleep the night through you were always saying `I wish he'd grow up!'. Well, now he has. We can enjoy his company on equal terms. Let's not put him off by imposing unnecessary restrictions, and perhaps we'll stay his friends, like Martin's done with his parents."
All this was music to James' ears, as his smug expression showed. I nudged him in the ribs. "Take that Cheshire cat grin off your face, or I won't thrash you at bar billiards."
So we left the table, and that was all the parents saw of us for the next hour as I explained the game to James and we played game after game. James won once or twice, and by the end of the evening was noticeably improving his ability. Eventually Dad came over.
"We're all tired and want an early start tomorrow. Are you coming with us, or are you going to stay there playing, oversleep and miss the first few locks in the morning? We'll have to go through them before we get anywhere."
"We'll just finish this, Dad, then we'll be along. Unless, of course, James is going to buy me a pint?"
So we finished the game and our drinks, then followed about five minutes behind the parents. James suddenly said "Did you know that pub was there before we got to it? Or was it just chance?"
"I knew it was there, all right, and I knew that you wouldn't be satisfied until you'd been into another one. I like a pint too, especially on holiday, so I thought I'd try it on with them."
"There's devious. Thanks. I'm glad you did, because I enjoyed that."
At the boat we found the parents getting ready for bed. Goodnights were said all round, and we two went to our own cabin. I sat on the bed and stretched, yawning loudly, anticipating being able to watch him get undressed and relishing the idea so much that my body was in danger of making it known.
"I hope you're not going to do that in the night, `cos if you do you'll punch me in the face!"
"Stretch like that." Was he talking about my erection?...no...ah, he meant the way I'd stretched my arms.
"Now that's a good idea."
James sat beside me and bent to untie his shoes. I started removing my T-shirt, then socks, and folded them on a shelf. When I next looked round James was standing dressed just in a pair of quite well filled Y-fronts, his clothing in piles around him.
"Untidy sod," I said, my voice unsteady again.
"Good, isn't it? Saves time in the morning."
"You'll not be wearing them in the morning."
"You think I'm going around in the nude all day? With my parents here?
"Would you if they weren't?"
"We used to, back on the island. And I did at home. But now and here is not such a good idea. All right. I'll be tidy."
As James was putting his clothes away, I couldn't help noticing his boyish back view which contrasted with the rest of his already well developed body. The shorts he had worn earlier had hinted at that. Once again I was astounded at the luck which was leading me once again to sleeping alongside this remarkable young man, but I warned myself that I mustn't rise to any temptation... What was natural and acceptable, and even eagerly awaited by both of us when at Amberdale, must be by now forbidden territory. Then we had both been children. Now, although I was the same person, he had changed into someone else. Not so much mentally, but the innocence of childhood seemed irretrievably lost.
I took off my trousers, folded them and went to put them away too. As James had quite naturally not just stripped off his underwear and climbed into bed naked as he would have done in my Amberdale room, so I left my underpants on too. As I stood at the wardrobe to put away my other clothes James tried to barge me out of the way with his hips.
"What's that for?" I asked.
"I need to get there and you're in the way. It's my way of asking you to move."
"I see. And if I do the same to you?"
"It's your way of saying no."
"A complete vocabulary of basic body language, courtesy of James Evans. Price $16.99. Never knew it existed. And what else is in this tome?"
"Oh, lots. Like: if you don't get to bed now, I'll dig you in the ribs until you do. Like this." And he suited the action to the word.
"All right, all right, I'm going." I lay on the edge of the bed, the side of it I had agreed was mine. "But the last one in switches the light off."
"Damn. Where is it?"
"Over here, just by the bed."
"Trying to be awkward, eh? That's another dig in the ribs. Just a minute... I'm on the inside, aren't I. I forgot that. You'll have to endure me climbing over you."
"Oh no, please not!" I said in mock horror.
And James knelt on the side of the bed, put one leg over my recumbent form and bounced on me as if he were still nine. "That's for being cheeky."
I put an arm each side of the boy's chest and dug in, holding on. James squirmed helplessly and rolled over onto his back. I hurriedly released him.
"You swine," panted James. "You remembered I'm ticklish!"
"Just testing, and getting my own back!"
"And where are you ticklish?"
"You think I'm going to tell you?"
"All right...let's see. Soles of the feet? Can't reach them. Under the arms, like you just did to me?" He tried. I lay there as impassively as I could. "I know one place where it'd work."
"Oh? Where's that?"
"Hmmm...no, I don't think I'll try that now. Perhaps later in the week."
I raised my eyebrows, mentally as well as physically. Did James really mean that? Was he really suggesting that we should start from where we had left off? Or was he joking? Or was he talking about something completely different from the way it seemed to me that he was thinking?
"I shall look forward to that," I tried.
"You might, you might. We shall see."
I reached down to pull the duvet up over us, more to cover up my body than to keep warm.
"Are you putting the light out, then?"
James was suddenly calmer. I think he was wondering if he'd gone too far. "Yes. Good night, Martin." I felt a hand come and grip his shoulder.
"Good night. Sleep well." I wondered whether to return the sign of friendship, for that's surely what it was. I decided to risk it, and gave the boy's shoulder a short squeeze: a far cry from the hugs we had shared in my hotel room. We both turned over, and it wasn't long before I heard regular breathing from the other side of the bed. I lay and thought for a while, still amazed at and thankful for the turn of events which had brought the two of us into the same bed again. My body was reacting in an extraordinary way to all this. I had no sign of the raging erection which, by now I would have thought inevitable. But my penis seemed to be leaking the fluid that comes before orgasm, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I was glad I was wearing underpants which would soak it up, and hoped it wouldn't continue while I was asleep. If it did, there'd be a major problem in the morning.
At last, euphoric, I drifted off to sleep.
Some time later I became conscious of movement as James climbed over me again, back into the bed having visited the toilet. I made no move or sign of being awake, though, just lay on my side, facing the middle of the bed. James' soft, sweet smelling breath blew gently against my cheek as he lay down facing me. I shivered with delight, and this time my blood supply decided it was time to divert, and my penis started to extend.
It grew quiet on the other side of the bed, then I felt a hand touch my shoulder again. Still I made no move. The hand was withdrawn, but a moment later I felt a warmth near the base of my chest, just over my waistline. The warmth turned into a touch, which extended as James' palm lay gently across my stomach. It stayed there for a short time, then moved slowly down to the top of my underpants, where I could feel a hesitation, and a slight trembling.
My mind was in turmoil. It was impossible for James to be asleep and doing this in his dreams - he'd only just returned to the room. No, I thought, it was quite intentional. I wondered what to do, if anything. Probably, if I said anything now it would embarrass him completely and ruin the holiday for both of us, and maybe even our friendship into the bargain. Yet I knew that would be the most innocent course to take. But it wasn't as if I objected to James touching me -- after all, he'd done so often enough when he'd been nine. And wasn't it what I wanted? Should I do the same to him, though?
Eventually I decided to do nothing. He was probably in a world of his own at that moment.
Slowly, he moved his hand down my underpants until he could feel the edge of the bulge was presumably his target. Slowly, and very gently so as not to make any sudden moves, he drew his fingers onto the top of it, where he thought the tip would be, and stroked them downwards. I felt my body start to react even further to the warm softness that was exploring me. He slowly curved his hand around until it was around the width of my penis. I could hear his breath, fast and shallow, as he grew excited at the delightful naughtiness of what he was doing. I wondered what state his body was in. In fact I wondered what his body looked like now. The more he did this, the more certain I was that I would eventually find out...
He must have been surprised to find that his hand was no longer holding as much of me as it had been, and that some of the throbbing he could feel was not in his own body, despite his excitement. The bulge he was trying to hold was growing. I suppose he must have wondered if I was awake and would discover what he was doing, because he hurriedly drew his hand away, and lay with it close to me but without touching me.
For my part, I didn't know what to do. I was still not convinced of James' intentions or desires - of what was driving him. I was aware now of the illegality of any move on my part, and of whose side anyone else would take if I tried to plead that James had made the first move. If I had thought this way at Amberdale there's an awful lot that would never have happened. Especially between Mark and me. Arghhh...!
So I still did nothing, except grunt and move, not to make myself more comfortable in the usual sense, but to bring my hands nearer to my underpants in order to relieve the pressure of tightened underwear. A few minutes later I felt James move again and wondered if he was going to continue his exploration. But he carefully sat up, and there was a pause. I wondered if I dared open my eyes a slit to see what was happening. Very carefully I did, hopefully without any noticeable movement. I needn't have worried. James was looking down at his own erect penis, protruding out of his Y-fronts and beyond his navel, its tip gleaming. He looked entranced, and I certainly was. It was a wonderful sight, more exciting than anything I'd seen for a long time, and I felt brotherly towards him again, delighted and amazed that the boy could have developed so much in five years. Although James's body was normal so far as my strictly limited knowledge of boys' bodies was concerned, there had been nothing particularly remarkable about him then. But there was now.
I watched as his hand wandered to the end of his own penis. Then he seemed to think better of it. He looked at me, and thankfully failed to notice my slightly open eye. Then to my surprise and delight a slow smile spread across his face as he gazed at me for a long while. If anything convinced me that James might really find me even slightly attractive, that did. I wondered whether to say anything, but he moved again.
He once again knelt on the bed. As he moved across my apparently sleeping form, I was rewarded with a closer view of his lithe, mobile young body, with its swollen, erect penis protruding from his underwear. Then he was once again heading for the door, where I heard him pause, open it and listen for signs of movement outside. Once he was satisfied on that score, he went out, closing the door quietly behind him, and padded next door into the lavatory.
Through the thin wall between it and the bedroom I heard a big sigh, then there was silence for some time. Soon, though, I became aware of a rhythmic sound and realised just how James was ridding himself of his erection. In the way he had learnt on holiday in Amberdale. From me! From me! Thinking back to the events of the previous few minutes I was suddenly angry with myself for not reacting in some way to James' actions. Perhaps by this time we might be helping each other... Impatiently, frustrated, I started to ape James' actions on myself. He was still audible softly through the wall. If I couldn't be there in body, at least I might in spirit. And the desire to do so was almost unbearable. But I realised in time, after only a few strokes, that I might well be discovered when James returned, and anyway I had nothing to clean things up with. I didn't want to give myself away now. All I could do was listen as my friend's -- my little brother's -- breathing grew deeper: there came a gasp and gave a soft moan, and the rhythmic sounds of reciprocating foreskin died away. Uncalled, my mouth gave a whimper of frustration and the desire to have been with him, to be with him still.
For some time there was silence, then I heard the rustle of paper followed by the toilet flushing. Once again a pause, and footsteps returned, the door opened and closed, and James once again climbing over me, the bulge in his underwear still large but not now visible over the elastic.
I gave a mock groan and as sleepily as I could opened my eyes just as James was once again sitting on the bed next to me. The boy's eyes were on me.
"Sorry," James whispered, sounding guilty. "Did I wake you up?"
"Mmm. Must have done," I mumbled. "You okay?"
"All right." And, still uncertain what to do, I reached out and squeezed his shoulder as he snuggled back into bed. He did the same for me, and left his hand drooping over my back. I saw no reason why I should take my hand away either, and we lay like that for a few minutes. Gradually sleep and the natural exhaustion following orgasm overcame James and he sagged forward, his arm slipping from my shoulder. Despite the turmoil of my mind, and my uncertainty over what my little brother (as I had started to think of him again) wanted from me, I too fell asleep. And there we lay, close, nearly touching, until morning.
When I woke I found that my arm was over his shoulders and our bodies were very close together. He was still asleep. I watched him for some time, thinking back to the early morning, and wondered what it was that gave the boy the courage - or foolhardiness -- to let his curiosity get the better of him. And what it was that made him want to rediscover something of how my body felt. I was sure he wasn't homosexual, and I didn't dare show that I was. The armour had to be tight, chink free. Was I glad he hadn't realised I was awake! I looked at him, wondering if he realised we were so close, and if he would object. I hoped he wouldn't mind -- after all, he had put himself there. I hoped he had enjoyed what he had done the previous night, but wished that he had made me wake up first so we could both enjoy it and bring matters to a mutual conclusion as we had all those years ago. I thrilled at the thought that he was no longer a little boy, and that he would enjoy a proper orgasm, and I could help him do so. I longed to enjoy the feel of his body and the feel of the touch of someone else's hands again... my body started to react again to this dangerous thinking, so I took away my arm and looked at the clock. Only 6.30! Oh well, we had wanted an early start.
I pulled at his shoulder, and succeeded in waking him at the second attempt. Blearily his eyes opened, and I thought back to the instantly awake nine year old who was so annoyingly active first thing in the morning. He focussed on me, and this unexpected, slow, happy, tender smile came across his face. I was captivated, and my damned body reacted too, with an excitement and a skip of the heartbeat. I smiled back, probably more gently than I normally would. "Hi," I said, and yawned.
James smiled back, all the usual banter returning to his brain. "Sleep all right, sexy?" he asked.
I looked at him, wondering if he was referring to his nightly escapades, but thought this unlikely. "Huh!" was all I could manage to say.
I laughed at the memory of my asking him the same questions so many times at Amberdale. He looked puzzled, so I told him why.
He laughed. "Seems like another life. What is the time, anyway?"
I told him. He shut his eyes gain in mock disgust.
"Too early...I suppose. I've got to get up though. Back in a minute."
I watched him as he stretched his legs apart to straddle me. All my best efforts failed to stop me focussing on one part of his body... He had no erection now, but his body once again struck me as being...complete. That of a young man. Potent. He balanced on his left knee and climbed out of bed, stretched, and padded over to the door. The crumpled bedclothes had left a pattern on his back. He went to the lavatory, and I lay back in the bed, wondering whether to deal with my troublesome body again. Another life! Well, I suppose it was for him. Five years from nine years old is over half your life span! And the mind and body change so much in those few years. It's not just getting bigger, it's the gaining of maturity. He would want no attention from me now. Or would he? Once again I thought back to his actions of the early morning.
It was just as well I decided still not to relieve my need as he was soon back. To my surprise he climbed back over me and into bed: no pausing to bounce up and down on me this time. He looked a bit down, I thought.
For me to stay there with him would have been asking for trouble, so I got out and crossed to the drawers where my clothes were, somehow conscious of his eyes on me all the time. There was the sound of an engine from an approaching boat, and there was me hoping to be on the move early. I found a pair of clean underpants, turned and looked at James and said "Come on, lazy! It's our turn to do breakfast!"
"Well, we'll have to some time. May as well get it over with today as we're awake early," and, not without some qualms stripped off my night-time underwear to put the clean on. The bow of the approaching boat came into view from the cabin window and I looked out with interest, to see who was up and on the go already at this time of the morning. As I saw the name "Merlin" on the bow recognition gripped me and I exclaimed: "That's the boat I had two years ago."
James struggled free of the duvet, sat on the bed and looked out of the window. I rushed across to it, forgetting my state of undress, knelt next to James and looked out too. We watched the full length of the boat pass, and even held up a hand of greeting to the steersman. But then I was once again aware of the closeness of my old friend, and remembered I was naked. I looked at him. He hadn't turned his head, but his eyes were firmly fixed on my body rather than the passing narrowboat. "Merlin" continued past, and it was perhaps fortunate that the steersman hadn't looked too closely into the cabin window.
"She looks just the same," I said, returning my eyes to the outside world, but with my heart singing that he was looking at me and really seemed to want to see more. I craned my neck in front of James as "Merlin's" stern disappeared from view, "even down to the dent where we were bashed by a load of idiots in a lock."
He was still looking at my body, and I wished that now...now he would touch it again whilst it was unclothed. His own, I suddenly realised, was letting him down badly, and as I drew back from the window, he made to pull up the duvet to hide his embarrassment.
I acted embarrassed. "Sorry," I said. "I was so interested in seeing her again that I forgot I'd got nothing on."
"Don't worry. I really don't mind."
I'm sure you don't, if last night was anything to go by. I put on the clean underwear.
"Come on, you. Help me with breakfast."
"I'll join you later."
"What, in an hour when it's all cooked, eaten and washed up? I think not!" I crossed again to the bed, gripped the duvet and pulled sideways. James, not expecting a sideways pull, still held the top; the remainder slid onto the floor exposing his legs and the thing he was trying to hide. I gave a short laugh, swiftly wondered what to say, and decided that the brave approach was probably acceptable.
"Hah! Jamesey's got a hard-on!" I said, looking at the large bulge in James' underpants.
"Shut up, Martin."
I didn't dare to stay looking at it. I'd start to react myself any minute.
"Don't worry," I said, tearing my eyes away. "It's just a morning mast."
"A what?" asked James, finding his voice.
"Morning mast. A phantom erection first thing in the morning. I thought you'd have discovered that by now."
"I thought it was just me. It's always happening."
"No, you can read about it in books. I have, so I know it isn't just me! You have them in you sleep, too, but unless you're woken from a really deep sleep you'll never know about them."
"It happened to me once. The phone rang - wrong number - and I wondered what sort of dream I'd been having. I felt totally disorientated for ages afterwards. Anyway, it's rather embarrassing."
"Don't let it be. As I say, it's quite natural. I'll probably have one, one of these mornings.
I wondered if he hoped so.
He climbed out of bed, the erection still stretching his underpants. I watched, covertly.
"You know in Amberdale, when we did everything together for a week?"
"Did you worry about it afterwards?"
"Good god, no. Why should I?"
"Well, it just seems...unnatural."
"Does it? Does it now? Did it feel it at the time?"
"Oh no. I loved everything about that holiday. And having you there as a big brother was the best of all. And I mean a brother. We seemed to just...click."
"Well, did you mind us both being...in the nude...together?"
"No. It didn't seem to matter to me at all. I enjoyed it. Didn't you?"
"Yes. Of course I did. Why d'you think it was unnatural, then."
He looked uncomfortable. "Well, there were you, being my brother in all sorts of ways. And there was I enjoying it, and proud of being with you. And then I got older and...well, it didn't seem right any more."
"But why?" I had to ask, although my heart was sinking and I knew I might be stirring up all sorts of mud.
He hesitated. "I don't know," he said, and looked away.
"James, I know you better than that. Somebody said something to you, didn't they?"
He looked at me wretchedly. "Someone said you were probably queer."
It was my turn to hesitate as that vice-like sensation seized my gut. "And what did you say?" I came out with eventually, as nonchalantly as I could.
"I said that if you were it didn't show, and that you were still my friend anyway. Then I hit him."
I had to laugh, more with relief than anything else. "And that started you thinking there might be something in what he said?"
"No, not really. I don't know. But it's just that he seemed to think that being naked in front of others was wrong."
"But we know better than that, don't we? I mean, think of what the doctor said... and think of all we did then"
"I remember. But that was when I was a kid. It might have been all right then, but now..."
"Now you're older? But they were a lot older than both of us. And how about my Dad?"
"I hadn't thought about that. Perhaps the guy -- the one I hit -- was more wrong than I thought."
"I believe he was," I said thankfully. "Being naked with someone who I'm at ease with doesn't bother me."
"Nor me. But how about now? I mean...not now, with me like this, but generally. It would be ... somehow wrong. Wouldn't it?"
"I don't see why. When all's said and done, we're still the same people. No, it doesn't bother me if it doesn't bother you."
"I'm just thinking of convenience," said James, a shade too quickly. "I mean, it'd take far longer in the mornings if we've got to put towels round ourselves just to change underwear, wouldn't it? And besides, I suppose it's a bit too late consider if I mind, after you've just forgotten yourself in the excitement of seeing Merlin."
"True, true. Anyway, I quite agree. We'll both wander around naked together. But only in private, I think."
James, encouraged, stripped off his own underwear, and his erection sprang free from the restricting material, despite its having subsided a little.
I'm going to have a heart attack, I thought. My heart's doing stupid things.
In the light he was absolutely perfect. Bigger than I'd been at fourteen, but not obscenely so. A patch of light, soft looking hair just above it. And below... I wanted to hold them, cradle them, marvel at them; these two young, soft, deep hanging testicles that stretched the delicate skin with their weight. With the long, slim thighs below and the flat stomach above, he was absolutely perfect.
"You're sure you don't mind?" he asked. Boy, you can stand like that all day if you want, and I'll look and worship... "No. A bit late now, anyway. How soon does yours go down?"... Do I ask him how he makes it to go down?... "Or do you encourage it?"
"Varies. What do you mean, encourage it?"
"I told you once. Remember?"
"Oh...you mean... well? Do you still?"
"Every bloke does, probably more when you're young than when you get older."
James registered amazement. "I thought it was just the two of us and the Doctor's family."
I was silent for a moment. Even after five years I didn't want to think about what the man had done. "I suppose everyone thinks that. But no, it's common. And couples do it for each other, too."
James digested this. "So is it all right, then?"
"It doesn't do any damage at all." Except when adults can't understand, interfere and make you feel it's wrong, added my mind.
"And you say people do it for each other?"
"Yes. I said couples. You know, man and woman. But I know that blokes do it for each other too, if they're emotionally close enough."
There was silence. I didn't want to hint again at the attraction of man for man, no matter under what title, especially as I now wanted him with me all week without any hindrance to our friendship or to our brotherhood, if that was still possible. It was obvious that James was thinking deeply as he crossed to the drawers to retrieve his clothes. We dressed in silence, and I wondered if I'd gone too far in mentioning close friends and hinting at mutual masturbation. But I felt that the subject was far from dead. Now was not the time to carry on discussing it, though.
And we hadn't mentioned Mark once.
The first thing that woke the two lots of parents were the mingling smells of coffee and frying bacon. Mum told me later that she was concerned that it was James's parents trying to set them an example.
Dad found us in the kitchen, where we had breakfast nearly ready.
"We were leaving it until the last minute just to cause our parents the maximum possible embarrassment." I explained kindly. "Go and get mum, would you? I don't care if she's washed or still in a dressing gown - we can't wait. James is just going to throw the same spanner in his parents' works, aren't you?"
"I'm going to enjoy it, too." And James set off down towards his parents' cabin.
Eventually we were all at breakfast, though James and I were hurrying ours in their anxiety to get going.
"We keep on seeing boats going the same way as us, Dad," said James. "Martin's recognised one that he'd hired before. We need to get going quickly to catch the first one coming up towards us."
"Why's that?" his father asked.
"If we do, the locks'll be ready for us."
"What d'you mean, ready for us?"
"Dad! You went through several yesterday. You should have realised! When a boat comes up towards us, it leaves the lock full for us. If we're there at the time it'll even leave the gates open. That saves time and water."
Peter thought for a moment, then understood. "It'd be the same, but different, if we were going up and someone else was coming down towards us. I see. Clever! And I suppose you two think you're going to have all the fun going down these towards last night's pub while we get up properly, wash up and tidy. Is that it?"
"We could do with some help, Dad. One to steer and one on his own to work eight locks isn't much fun."
"All right, you win. It was us who said we wanted an early start. How about it?" This last question was fired at his wife and my parents.
"What do you want to do, girls?" asked Dad.
"You and Peter can clear up; we'll throw some clothes on and show how locks should be worked, eh Doreen?
"Good idea. Give these men something to aim at."
"It's going to be one of those days, George. It always is if they gang up on you from the beginning!"
So James took the tiller, and I hoped he'd remember what we'd practised yesterday. Having done a lot of sailing all those years ago at least meant that he was used to steering a boat, even if this one was about six times as long as our sailing dinghy had been. Our mothers and I readied ourselves for a quick getaway, but not before I'd told them to take the stakes out of the ground before untying the rope, so they could get used to the idea of not leaving them there. The first few of my own holidays had seen too many lost mooring stakes for me to start forgetting now!
There was a boat coming toward us, two locks away. James had started the engine, after remembering on his own to do all the checks on it first. I was impressed by that. Seeing a boat about to come under the bridge some way behind us, he shouted to us all to cast off quickly and get down to the lock as we didn't want to lose it. There was a bustle, Doreen pushed the bow into midstream and all but fell in, then James opened the throttle just enough to move slowly down to the lock gates. The wind was gentle, fortunately, as it would otherwise have blown the boat back toward the bank, but I had warned him about that and he was trying to counter any possibility by oversteering a little. I called to him from the bank.
"Put her nose into the mouth of the lock, if you can, but gently."
James grinned at me and let the boat almost drift along. The following boat was coming up on us quite fast. From the bank I shouted to the steerer over the noise of the his engine.
"There's a boat coming up, about one lock away. We're letting them clear the top lock before we start going down - it's set against us."
The man raised a hand to show that he'd heard, and put his engine into reverse to slow down. I knew that our boat, at sixty feet long, couldn't share any but these wide locks we would meet, but I was determined to save water where I could by sharing now and ensuring we waited where possible for craft to set the locks for us.
I tied up at one of the bollards at the head of the lock while James held the boat steady. We waited patiently as the approaching boat entered the lock and rose steadily as the water flowed into the chamber. With our mothers helping me the heavy gates were opened easily and the other crew were thankful not to have to work so hard. As usually happened, the two crews passed the time of day with each other and their boats were admired. With the ascending boat clear, I slipped the rope from the bollard and James opened the throttle to push the boat into the lock. The following boat entered alongside, we closed the gates, opened the paddles at the opposite end and started the descent.
We dealt with the eight locks in fine style, the two boats keeping each other company all the way. I was intrigued to see that the crew of our companion boat was similar in age to their own, with two girls instead of James and me. Both girls were attractive, and more than once I wondered if some miracle would happen and I could catch the eye of the elder of the two as she worked at the lock paddles with her windlass. I tried striking up a bit of conversation with her about he heaviness of the gear, and soon -- to my surprise - we were talking about anything and nothing. It was such a rare occurrence for me that I was even surprising myself.
Once, when she and I were on opposite sides of the lock chamber, I looked at James who was still steering. His face looked grim. I didn't know whether to put it down to concentration or to something being wrong. He was ignoring me. As there was nothing he had to concentrate on at the time I wondered what was the matter, and if the younger girl had somehow offended him. But she wasn't steering the other boat. She was helping with the locks. Yes, it was true that James was looking in her direction occasionally, but no words were passing between them. Perhaps it's just that he's thinking, I thought. Then it was time to open gates and lower paddles again, and I thought no more of it.
We reached the bottom and "the workers", as Peter described us, were given a mug of tea to reward our efforts. He and Dad had been busy on the boat. All the washing up was done, they had swept it right through, and were now ready to face the morning. "Want a rest, James?" his father asked, as his son yawned and rubbed his eyes.
"Yes please," replied James, and disappeared into the boat without further comment. Peter looked rather surprised as he watched his son's retreating back, and I wondered if he sensed something wrong, too. I made sure that Peter was happy steering on his own, watched carefully by Doreen and mum, then excused myself on the pretext of the demands of nature. I passed through the kitchen and looked our joint cabin. No sign there. I sat on the bed, wondering what the matter was. The toilet flushed next door, James opened the cabin door, saw me, said "Oh!", and made to pass the door on his way to the back of the boat again.
"James...wait." I had to see what was wrong.
He came back into the cabin and stood with his back to the door, looking at the floor.
"What's up? Was it that other crew? Or have I done something?"
James shook his head, saying nothing.
I crossed the cabin to him, put his hands on his shoulders, and said quietly: "James...?"
At last the boy looked up. There was defiance in his eyes. "I made a mistake, that's all," he said in a slightly choked voice which made me wonder if tears were on their way. But no, he was fourteen, not nine.
"I didn't notice. What happened?"
"Nothing. It's not important."
"If it's knocked the smile off your face like that, it is."
"It's nothing. Really."
"What were you saying to that girl?"
What was he on about?
"You mean the girl in that other boat? Passing the time of day. Didn't you talk to the other one?"
"She wasn't near me."
"Oh. I thought you would have made an excuse to get off the boat and talk."
"D'you think I should?"
"It's up to you."
"It looked as if you were chatting the other one up."
"I don't really think that's how it was. It wasn't intended, anyway. But even if I was, so what? I thought you were probably doing the same with the other one!"
"I never really noticed her - I certainly didn't say anything."
"Well, I was just passing the time of day - being pleasant - with her. I mean, I'm hardly going to start a relationship between two boats in mid canal, are we?"
"I don't know. Probably not. It's just that I thought...oh, nothing."
"You weren't jealous, were you? If you were, don't be. Don't feel left out either. I would never do that, you're too good a friend. Don't forget there have been times already this holiday when I've done my bit in trying to make sure that none of the others treats you any differently from the way they treat me, and so far it's worked, hasn't it? Nobody's said that you had stay on the boat while everyone else goes to the pub, have they? If they did, I'd certainly object as strongly as you - in fact I'd probably stay behind and keep you company."
James looked up, a different look on his face. "Would you?"
"Yes. You're not a child. It'd be wrong to think of treating you as one. So don't feel left out. I may chat to other people, of any age or sex, and I'd be very surprised if you didn't do the same. It makes no difference to how I see you."
"How do you see me?" There. The question was out now. It was what he really wanted an honest answer to.
I knew perfectly well what the answer was that I'd like to give, but despite what had happened the previous night I was still cautious lest I had misunderstood what was going on in his mind. But at least I could be incompletely honest.
I dropped his hands from James' shoulders. "I don't know why or how, but you've very quickly got back to being that very special friend of mine, one of a kind. I don't know anyone else who I could be as open with as I can with you. You were my little brother back then, and you're my brother now. I know neither of us has a brother really, but I think I know what being a brother really means"
I'd said enough, and felt embarrassed. I pushed past the astonished youngster and made his way to the bows, just in time to see that we were about to enter a lock again. It was as near as I could come to saying that I loved him without using the words. With some composure recovered, I called to James that there was another lock, and jumped onto the side, where the boy joined me, his eyes telling that he was happy again.
We continued our journey northward on the Grand Union, stopping for a break only once before Leamington Spa. We'd forgotten it was Sunday, of course. I always do it. We tried find a shop in Radford Semele, but succeeded only in finding the pub. James was delighted. We spent an hour there recovering from our exertions on the canal's wide locks, then walked back to the boat and set off again. The canal passes through Leamington Spa, although it might be anywhere at all. Leamington had considered itself too posh to realise the probable benefits of having access to a major canal, and is one of the towns which ignored its presence. To a large extent it still does.
The next set of locks started after we left Warwick, just west of Leamington where we had decided not to stop. We decided a good place to moor would be Cape Locks (the presence of the pub there was sheer coincidence, James decided) and explore Warwick and its castle.
The city's hot, busy streets, even on a Sunday, came something of a shock, even after only twenty-four hours' cruising. Like many before us, we had got so used to a much slower pace of life that traffic and noise and speed was bewildering. But we enjoyed the castle, which not even I, the experienced canal traveller, had been to before. Afterwards we found a shop open and were able to stock up on the necessities for a meal that night.
As it was by then only about 5 pm, we considered carrying on and trying to conquer the Hatton lock flight that evening. But twenty-one wide locks make for an exhausting evening's work, and I was far from confident that we'd complete it before dark, even with the locks set for us and another boat's crew to share the work with. Also, it had been getting noticeably hotter as the afternoon drew on.
"We've not taken on water since we started," I suddenly remembered. "We don't know if the boatyard will have filled the tank or just put a little water in."
As there was a water point at Cape Locks we decided to stay there for the night. We all climbed aboard, thankfully, to change into cooler clothing. Doreen was given the job of moving the boat along to the tap, whilst the others shouted directions from the bank. After the usual search I found the boat's filling point and was waiting with the hose as Doreen finished her manoeuvres. James, once again wearing his PE shorts and giving me palpitations, was waiting in the bows, by the tank, ready to start filling. Dad had already turned on the tap so as to give the hose a rinse out, and as the bows came close to the bank I couldn't resist swinging it toward the boat, splashing James.
"Oy!" he said. "That was me!"
"Oh, sorry James. I'll try harder next time."
"It'll be you on the receiving end next time!"
"Not if I can help it! Anyway, you looked hot, so I thought I'd cool you down."
"I am hot. Aren't you?"
"Yes. Let me carry on cooling you down." So I put my finger partly over the end of the hose to make a jet, and pointed it directly at James, who shouted in mock anger as the cold water hit his chest. He tried to open the boat's front doors, but they were still locked, so the only means of escape was onto the bank, into the path of the water. Spluttering, he reached me and tried to wrestle the hose out of my grasp, as the four parents watched, laughing. I managed, with some difficulty, to grasp both James' hands in one of my own, then gasped: "What do I do with it now?"
"Put it down his trousers!" I looked in surprise at Peter, laughed, and turned to James who was still struggling, trying to get free.
"Are you ready for this?"
"Don't you dare!"
So I pulled at the waistband of his tiny shorts and inserted the flowing hose so that it pointed directly down James' middle. Then I released the boy who tore the hose free and immediately turned it on the middle of my own white shorts. I had been expecting the hose, but not the powerful jet that James was producing, and gasped as the cold water hit my tender parts hard. I doubled up, only to receive the force of the jet on my head.
"All right, all right...I'm sorry!" I cried, when my breath returned.
James took his hand away from the end. "Gotcha!" he said, triumphantly, then looked round at the others who were having hysterics. His hand moved back to the end of the hose again, and four people backed away hurriedly.
"Shall we try it on the boat now, do you think?" I asked.
"Why not?" came the reply, and James inserted the offending hose into the boat's water point. Mum and Doreen threw towels to us, and we dried ourselves off as best we could. Having got rid of the surface water we decided that as we were now pleasantly cool we wouldn't change into dry clothes. Fortunately neither of our shorts were the sort that go transparent when wet, and both us were wearing underpants, so we were quite decent.
It was James who soon after found the little dial near the top of the water tank.
"Look at this!" he shouted. "We've only just made it!"
Everyone crowded round. I'd never come across a water level gauge on any boat I'd been on and wondered why nobody had thought of such a simple idea before. Sure enough, it was registering almost empty. "With the force behind that tap it's going to take ages to fill," I said. "We may as well do something else for half an hour."
"Pub," said James.
Well, why not? We were all tired after walking around Warwick, so we sat down outside, having considered the effect of two dripping crew members on the pub's decor. A pint later, Dad offered to go and check the water level, and reported that it was about two-thirds full, so we all wandered back, having assured the landlord that we'd be back later. "Who's doing the meal tonight, then?" asked mum.
"It's our turn to surprise you two," Dad replied. "Pete and I have something up our sleeves. You go and sit down - we're in charge."
"We may as well use up some of this water, while it's here," said my mother. "I'm going to have a shower." And she disappeared towards her cabin.
""Well, with Peter and George cooking, and Mary in the shower, what are we going to do?" Doreen asked us.
We thought for a minute.
"Pub" said James.
"James, you're getting to be a drunkard. I don't know where you get it from."
"Dad, probably. Are we going back?"
"Come on then! Peter, can you keep an eye on the water as well as cook? We don't want to turn it off yet - Mary's showering and I'll replace her in there when she's finished."
"Okay," said Peter. "We'll see to it. You go and enjoy yourselves. Back in about an hour, please, or we'll feed yours to the ducks."
"I'm going to get dry first," said James. "It's all right with one wet layer, `cos it dries quickly when its as hot as this, but trousers and pants, both wet, are uncomfortable."
I agreed with him. I'd been just about to do the same. We followed Mary down toward the shower to fetch our towels, then went into the cabin to dry and change.
"No morning masts now," observed James, looking hard at me when they had both stripped off.
I laughed. "No. Everything's too cold down there for that!"
I covertly watched him again as we scrubbed ourselves dry. Once I'm sure he spotted my eyes on him, but I managed to make it look as if I was swinging the hair out of my eyes. For my part, I swear that James was doing the same to me. The idea of being watched by him attracted me. I wondered what he thought of me after my declaration of the morning. But anyway, it was he who had suggested that the two of us should pay no heed to being naked together, but I was still far from certain what his real feelings were..
My attitude to being naked was complex. This was the boy who I'd been to a naturist island with, played naked alongside there, had showered with, slept with and taught to masturbate. But he was now fourteen. He was also very attractive, and I was scared of having an erection in his presence -- at least, one that I couldn't explain away. But I was thrilled to have the youngster there and to be able to watch him and share his life for a week. To settle the problem for the moment, I dried myself quickly and dressed. James was in the meantime dawdling, drying himself slowly and looking out of the window, now paying no attention to what I was doing, for a change. He looked up eventually, and was caught out by my being fully dressed apart from footwear, and himself being still naked. That seemed to embarrass him, especially as I was looking squarely at him and about to speak.
"You're too quick!" he told me.
"Not at all. You're too slow! Come on, or are you going to the pub like that?"
"If you want to wander around in the nude you'll have to wait till later, when it's bedtime. Our assorted parents might ask what was happening if you came to the table with nothing on! Or do you do that at home?"
"Hardly. The only times I'm usually unclothed are in bed or in the shower. I shouldn't think mum and Dad have seen me like this since I was a kid."
He dressed swiftly, and we hung our wet clothes on the rail, in the sun, then joined his mother who was supervising the men in the kitchen.
"Tell Mary where we are when she's out, will you. She might like to join us," she said at last.
So we returned to the pub, surprising the barman, who hadn't expected to see us back so soon. I had a pint, but Doreen said that she and James would stick to halves. He complained, but not too vehemently. I think a pint looked an awful lot to him.
Eventually, mum joined us. "That's better," she said. "I feel a lot fresher now, despite the heat. Even if it uses as lot of water, it's worthwhile."
"Water!" I exclaimed. "It's still running! And we're moored across the filling point! Back in a minute." I rushed out, across the lock gate and up to the bows of the boat. Dad saw me through the window and came out to see why I was back.
"Lost something?" he asked.
"Only some water... Oh. Have you dealt with it?"
"Give us credit for some common sense. We realised when your mother came out of the shower that it'd soon be full, so we kept our eyes open. When it started trying to flood the boat we thought it was probably full. So we took it off charge and locked the hose and the tap away in their respective places."
"Thanks, Dad. I'd forgotten all about it. How's the meal?"
"Coming on, but we forgot that it's got to be in the oven for an hour. You'd better tell the others. It'll be some time yet, I expect."
"Oh Dad! You twit! We could have kept your surprise for another day, when it could cook as we're cruising."
"I know that now," he replied somewhat testily. "As it is, Peter and I will shortly be joining you over there" and he pointed to the pub.
"Okay, I'll wait and walk over with you both."
"Tired of James' company?"
"No. Not at all. In fact it's just the reverse. It's strange, but it's just not like talking to a fourteen year old. I forget completely that's how old he is."
"Yes. Still seems a nice little chap. And I'm glad he's still not boring you."
"So am I," said Peter, coming out of the kitchen. "Though why you put up with him I don't know. He's not so adult when he's with just us two, I can tell you!"
"Nor was Martin, Pete. Yet we heard from his friends' parents that he was a perfect gentleman so far as they could see."
"But I am, Dad. I am."
"Stop being modest, and come to the pub."
Later, mum told me what was said in the pub after I'd left. She asked James how the sleeping arrangements were, and hoped they weren't too embarrassing and that he got to sleep all right
His actual words were: `Oh, no. I mean yes. I mean no, they're not embarrassing at all and yes, I slept well, thanks.'
`It's not everyone of your age who would be as happy at sharing a bed with someone of their own sex so much older. I just wanted to make sure you were really OK about it.'
`Yes, Mrs Finch. It's really no big deal. I don't see Martin as being old.'
"Both of we mothers looked at each other and laughed," she told me. "We seem to think the same, most of the time."
She told him she was glad, and while she was at it, told him to call her and Dad by their christian names. Apparently James gave one of his slow and special smiles that lit up his mouth and wide-spaced eyes. "Thank you...Mary," was all he could say.
The meal was very late that night, we all had to spend far longer in the pub than we expected. When we finally got the call to return to the boat there were two bottles of wine already opened to drink with it. By the time it was over we were all rather merry. James was comical, and was starting to lose control of his diction. Eventually, his father told him quietly that he'd be better going to bed. He did so, without much argument. My eyes followed him all the way, hoping that he'd be all right, and wishing I could go with him and help him sort himself out.
As if it was a signal, Peter and Doreen moved from the table, too, and I was rather pushed into helping mum and Doreen wash up. When at last it was over, we were all ready for bed, and I thankfully headed off to our cabin.
I found James lying outside the duvet, still fully clothed, and very deeply asleep. I tried to wake him, but the only responses were grunts. James' eyes remained firmly closed so I gave that up. As I undressed, I wondered what to do. James was lying diagonally on the bed, which meant there was no room for me in it. He would have to be moved and, I thought, put to bed properly. As the boy was so far out of it, I thought it was probably safe to do it myself, and I have to admit that my heart warmed to the task.
Now in my underpants, I knelt by James' side and once again tried to wake him, but with the same lack of result. I looked at the sleeping boy, then gave up the struggle against conscience and common sense and slowly bent to kiss his lips. I thought I detected a reaction, and quickly pulled away. But the deep breathing continued, and James didn't stir. I gave his shoulder an affectionate squeeze, then slipped my arm round it to support him whilst I removed the shirt. Encouraging it over the drooping arms was difficult, and I had to use my knees to support the boy's back as I eased the sleeves off.
James had managed to take off his shoes, and the rather unpleasant socks came off without too much of a problem. I looked again at James' face, to see if there was any change to his state of wakedness. There seemed to be none.
I felt at James' waist for the top button of his jeans, undid it and paused. How many times had I longed to be in this situation since the holiday started? I grasped the top of the zip, and gently pulled it down, over the bulge that I longed to touch, and pulled it down to the end of its travel. By putting my arms around James' bottom I gained enough clearance to be able to ease the trousers downwards around his thighs, so that completely removing them was easy. I put his clothes on a shelf, then returned to the boy. To my surprise his body had been reacting to the sensation of being undressed. With him in this state, and as I'd been undressing him, I could hardly help myself now. I gazed, trembling slightly, at the growing bulge in his underwear. Almost of its own volition my hand stretched out towards him, and just as James had done to me the previous night, I traced the length of the boy's penis with my fingers, then around the sac of the testicles, then again up the length of his shaft. The erection had grown, as had mine, and each of us had an organ straining at the elastic of his pants. As James was unconscious I was surprised he was reacting, but more than pleased at the results. Still anxious to continue now I had committed myself and had the chance, I pulled the elastic away from James' waist, releasing the organ which rose into my hand. I pulled the waistband down, to expose more of it. Careless now, my hand continued exploring down, tracing the penis to its base.
I checked again that James was still not responding, except by his erection which seemed now to be at its fullest extent. Once again I put my arms at either side of his bottom so the underwear could slip down. This brought my face very close to the boy's manhood, and as I released his arms from underneath I let my lips rest on its tip for a moment. I brought my hand once again to James' testicles, and gently squeezed each one, exulting in the texture and warmth and lowness of them.
With a shock I suddenly I realised what I was doing. It was almost rape! It was wrong! How would I like it if someone did this to me? Another side of me kept saying that, if it were James doing it, I would not want him to stop. But common sense returned with a rush, and as if shocked by a high voltage I sat up, moved my hands away, and sat on the bed looking at my friend's inert body.
How would it be if I left him naked, and slept alongside him like that? I could tell James in the morning that I'd found him like that. Would he believe me? I thought so. So, once again, I put my arms around him, first around his shoulders to move them over, then his thighs. Then I thought for a moment, and removed my own underwear before climbing onto the bed alongside him. I pulled the duvet over us, turned out the light and tried to sleep. But for what seemed like ages sleep never came, so intense was the temptation to explore my sleeping partner's body again. But eventually the euphoria of desire, mingled with alcohol and natural tiredness, made me content with putting an arm around James as he lay there, and move as close to him as I could. I slept.
James had taken a great deal of liquid on board over the evening, and it was hardly surprising that he woke an hour later. I was sleeping lightly, despite the alcohol(!) and was aware of his movements under my arm which was over his shoulder. He eased the arm from him, and drew away before climbing over me out of bed. Quietly he started for the door, but must have been still rather giddy from the evening's excesses and stumbled. This gave me the chance to `wake up' and see him swaying, still naked, in the middle of the floor.
"You okay?" I mumbled.
"Huh? Yeah. Got to go to the toilet."
He lurched forward again, nearly missing the door.
"D'you need a hand?"
I prised myself upright, stood up, and crossed to where he was struggling with the sudden effort of being perpendicular on top of a brain full of unaccustomed alcohol. I put an arm under his shoulders and steered him toward the door. He fumbled for the catch, found it, and I was thankful that he remembered to pause to listen for sounds of movement anywhere else on the boat before venturing outside. With my support he stumbled around the corner toward the toilet. I kept him going in the right direction, then opened the toilet door, thankful that there was the shower room the other side of it to act as a buffer for any noise we might make.
I helped him in and paused. "D'you want me to stay?" I asked doubtfully.
He must have been too anxious to relieve himself. "Yeah... Got to go."
He stepped forward and nearly fell. I reached for him to support him. Feeling now the fullness of my own bladder, I held my penis with my free hand and we both stood in front of the toilet together like young kids, relieving ourselves.
As the pressure on him eased, James relaxed, and he nearly failed in his aim. I'd finished, and was in time to turn him bodily, to avoid problems. "Be careful, James, or I'll take it and direct it for you!"
"Can if you want," mumbled James, now almost asleep again.
His stream had died down now, and there was no real danger of his missing, but I couldn't let a comment like that pass. I reached down and replaced James' hand on his penis with my own. The boy sagged against me, and I was glad that my other arm was still acting as a support for him.
To describe my thoughts, my emotions... Just imagine it for yourself. Someone you love has just told you that you can help them in an extremely intimate, physical way. You are being trusted. They are saying that you are a real friend. Can you imagine the warmth, the tingle of love, the way a part of you feels fulfilled?
At last James stopped. I shook the boy's penis once or twice, squeezed the end and shook again, then did the same for myself. We turned, and I half walked, half carried James back to the cabin, then eased him back onto the bed. Freed from the need to try and keep himself upright, James' level of consciousness improved slightly.
"That's what friends are for."
I climbed in beside him. Suddenly, because of his obvious acceptance of what I'd just done for him I felt suddenly free of any hesitancy. "You okay?" I asked tenderly.
"Hmm. Mush better." And he turned on his side so we were face to face, then moved his body forward to touch mine. He put his arm around my chest, and was comforted when I did the same to him. His eyes opened, he smiled at me, then quickly kissed me on the lips. Before I could react, his head had receded into the pillow and his eyes closed. I looked at him for a moment, then bent over to him and once again after a five year gap, kissed his lips. To my relief, the kiss was returned. I put my own head on the pillow, my emotions in turmoil.
I woke first in the morning to find James still facing me, but his hand had slipped down and was lying between my legs as if to grasp my genitals again. I smiled at the memory of our night's encounter, and thrilled at the knowledge that James seemed as anxious that we should be intimate as I was, but I suddenly wondered how much of what had happened would stay in his waking mind. Perhaps none. If that was so, I mustn't assume that he'd automatically welcome any further attempts from me to be close, despite his own actions of the first night. I felt, most reluctantly, that I should discount the fact that I had helped the boy relieve himself, and that James had embraced and kissed me, and that his hand was even now in as intimate a place as I could wish for.
Aware that even that could be construed as taking advantage, I freed myself, looked at the clock and saw that it was nearly nine o'clock. I was about to shake James, but remembered in time that the two of us were naked. Instead, I put just a pair of shorts on, then became aware of the smell of breakfast cooking. Leaving James asleep, I glanced furtively into the kitchen, just as Doreen turned and saw me.
"Oh, Martin!" she said after a split second's hesitation as she took in the sight of my body. "I've never seen you wearing so little! I'm glad you're awake. Breakfast's almost ready and Peter and George are just sorting out the engine. They're eating on the move. We've made a phone call and there's got to be a bit of a change of plans. We'll tell you later - don't worry, it's nothing drastic."
"Morning, dear. What are you doing wandering around nearly nude?"
"Morning, mother. I'm not nude."
"Well, those shorts don't leave much to the imagination, dear."
I realised that the shorts I'd picked up were about my thinnest, a remnant from school, and that I was wearing nothing underneath. I looked down at myself and realised that parts of me were moving independently of each other...
"Oops, sorry," I said, and turned away, totally embarrassed. "I'll go and wake James."
"You'll give him a shock if you let him see you like that!" my mother chided. Little does she know, I thought.
I wondered what Doreen thought. The look she had given me was very calculating. Surely not... She was old enough to be my mother!
I returned to our cabin and crossed to James' still sleeping form. I watched him for a minute, looking at the boyish, adultish face, thinking back over the last few days, and then back further to THE holiday... Then I shook the boy's shoulder, and said quietly: "Come on, sleeping beauty. Time to get up. Come on."
James gradually awoke, to find me sitting beside him, dressed only in those ridiculously thin shorts which were even now threatening to expose the end of my penis to the world from the left leg. He looked down at it, stretched, then slowly sat up. The duvet fell away from him, exposing his chest and abdomen.
"You're nearly dressed in those you know, Martin," he chided as he pointed to the offending clothing.
"And you're completely undressed in nothing," I retorted as I twitched the duvet away to expose his body to the world. Suddenly I wished I hadn't. James would now realise I knew he had been sleeping naked. I needn't have worried.
"Yes, I know. Thank you for putting me to bed last night."
I was dumbfounded. How did James know? He'd been asleep all the way through! I feared the worst was about to come, and decided to try and duck the issue. "What d'you mean?" I asked.
"You might have thought I was out of my tree, but I was awake."
I was lost for words, and was panicking about what I'd done, and what would be said next. There came a knock at the door. James flicked the duvet back over himself and lay down quickly. "Hallo?" I said.
It was Dad. "We've got a problem, Martin. She's not steering well, and although she's leaving a hell of a wake we're going at no speed at all. Can you give us a verdict?"
Thankful for the opportunity, I slipped on some shoes, told James I'd see him in a minute and slipped back down the boat, giving Doreen another opportunity to admire me as I passed through the kitchen on my way outside.
"It's a good thing it's warm, Martin. You're not wearing very much," said my father as he looked at me.
"I know, Dad. I was late up and just put on the first things in the drawer. What's up?"
"It's like I said. At normal revs she's making a lot of splash and no movement, and on tickover nothing much happens at all."
"Sounds like weeds round the prop. Did you check this morning?"
George looked sheepish. "No... we did everything else, but not that. Do you think that's it, then?"
"Sounds like it. Can you pull into the bank? Then if you and Peter hold her, I'll delve around."
"Can't you do it in mid stream?"
"No. I'm not touching the prop when the engine's going! I'm quite attached to my fingers!"
"True. Okay, we'll pull in."
He manoeuvred to the bank and hopped out to hold the boat there on the mooring rope. James, now dressed, had realised what was happening and did the same at the other end. Peter went down to see him, to my alarm. I was all but sure that James would be telling his father how he had been stripped, then interfered with.
Trembling slightly at the thought, I opened the weed hatch and fished around. There was certainly something around the propeller, and it felt like fabric. Some of it gave way as I pulled. I asked for a knife and prodded around with that. Then the propeller turned completely a number of times as I unwound the remnants of a pair of knickers from it. There was a shout of laughter from the bank. James had walked up to see the results and he and Dad were laughing their heads off at me.
"I didn't know you were a cross-dresser, Martin," exclaimed James. "You must show me the rest of your wardrobe some time."
I said nothing. I was still worried about what he might have said to his father..
We started the engine again and continued on our way with Dad steering still, and the rest of us went to continue with breakfast. I was about to excuse myself to go and put some more clothes on, but was told by Doreen to sit where I was and have breakfast, or they'd never have it cleared up. I was just about to start when there was a shout from outside.
"Damn," said Peter. I forgot how close the first one was."
"Mary, do you think we can manage on our own again?" asked Doreen. "We've had ours, but none of the men have."
"Yes, why not."
So she and mum went to deal with the locks, leaving Dad's breakfast on the hatch in front of him where he was steering, and Peter, James and me eating ours at the table.
"Now, you two," started his Dad. By now I was really apprehensive, dreading what I was almost certain was coming. "I told Martin earlier that we'd made a phone call this morning. That was to the people we're going to meet on business. They've told us that we're booked into an hotel for two nights, and we've got to meet two lots of people. One of the pairs is from Holland. And, what's more, they want Doreen and your mother along as well. So we're going to have to alter our plans."
All the muscles in my body relaxed with the relief, almost to the detriment of my bladder control. Whew! It looked as if I was safe.
"We've got two choices. Either we can ask you two to get the boat back to the boatyard, and call it a day like that, or you can come up the canal toward Birmingham and we'll try to meet you there. We can give you a number where to contact us on Wednesday morning when we would be free. What do you reckon?"
I was still apprehensive about what James might have said to his father, and what he might have said to mine, so rather than immediately say that we'd want to continue, I waited for James to speak first. James seemed to be waiting for me, too, so there was a pause.
"Come on lads, it's not that much to ask, surely?"
"No..." James was still unsure about using the Christian name. "I vote to carry on to Birmingham. How about it, Mart?"
"Yes." I was relieved. James couldn't have said anything. It sounded as if he hadn't intended to, either, otherwise he would not have appreciated the idea of being alone on the boat with me. Suddenly I realised that we would no longer need to share a cabin - for two nights, at least - and my heart sank again. "Yes. We'll carry on toward Brum, as you said."
Conversation flagged as we ate their breakfast rather hurriedly. I finished first, excused myself and went to our cabin to put more clothes on. I had just taken off the shorts and was wearing nothing when the door opened and in came James.
"What's the matter, Mart?" he asked quietly.
I turned away so that James couldn't see my front view. "Nothing," I said, just as quietly.
James came round quickly to stand in front of me, stretched out his hands and looked straight at my eyes. "Please...don't treat me as if I'm a kid. I know something's the matter. And I was honest with you yesterday, remember."
I was still uncertain what was in his mind. I was embarrassed by James' closeness and the fact the I was naked and the boy wasn't. I shook my head, not knowing what to say.
"Is it something I've done...or could it be something you've done?" asked James, as if suddenly aware of what might be troubling me. "After last night..."
He was interrupted by his father's voice at the door, and a knock on it. "Come on, you two! The girls are struggling out there!"
"Coming, Dad!" Then quieter: "There's nothing to worry about, you know, if that's your problem. I did the same to you on Saturday night."
I turned away from him and found my underwear. It must be coming now, I thought. Pulling them on, I looked at James hard.
"Are you sure?"
"Martin...yes...it's between us. Don't go off me now, please." And he quickly left the cabin to go and help his parents.
I thought for a while, thankful that the air seemed to be clear again. Or at least, fairly clear. I still didn't know what was really in his mind.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent working up the Hatton flight. We were by this time accompanied by no other boats, and to start with all the locks were against us. Twenty-one wide locks, each operated by hydraulic paddle gear which had been installed because someone thought it would make life easier, actually make for exhausting work. We had to empty all but the last few before entering, so each had to be operated twice. But as we passed the Waterways workshops, four locks from the top, we were relieved to see a pair of boats working down toward us. We stopped for a cup of tea after the bridge before the winding hole and rested our tired legs and arms.
As the boats passed us and exchanged greetings, we set off again, anxious to reach the summit and look for somewhere to stop for the night. For by this time we had agreed that would be best - everyone was tired. At last we were there, and breathed a sigh of relief. No one mentioned that they would have to go through the same procedure on their homeward journey!
A quick discussion persuaded us to continue to Kingswood, where there was a station for the journey into Birmingham. It would also put the boat in the right place to continue northwards along a more interesting stretch of canal into the city, the northern Stratford. While James and I took turns to steer, our parents took turns to shower and change. They were ready to disembark, looking strangely smart, by the time their we two had moored at Kingswood bottom lock.
"Now, you two, no larking about, OK?"
"And don't forget you've got to look after the boat. And try to keep her tidy, will you?"
"And don't forget to phone tomorrow night to tell us where you'll be the next morning."
I paused. "Sorry, was the answer to that one meant to be a yes or a no?"
Dad laughed. "Just use your common sense and normal Martin-ness. That'll do. But don't forget to phone unless you want to leave us stranded in Birmingham."
They said their farewells, and walked off down the towpath, looking very out of place. I'd just known that mum would say all that, I just knew it.
Once alone, we sat in the main cabin, just glad to be at rest. At length, James looked at the clock and said: "Pub's open."
I laughed at him. "One track mind, you've got. Come on then. I've not got much money."
"I've got some. And I haven't got a one track mind. It has two."
"What's the other one?"
I raised my eyebrows quizzically, and my heart missed a beat. "You don't say. How much have you got?"
"Just a mo...about $3, I think...yes. $3.50."
"And in my little pocket I have...here, wait a minute. $1.20? That can't be right!" He paused. "Oh yes it can. I forgot I paid for the groceries the other day. Damn. I'll have to get some more out of the bank. But not here. There's nothing here at all."
"We've got $4.70 between us. Well, it's enough to quench our thirst, anyway."
We spent an enjoyable two hours in the pub, not drinking a great deal, but making good use of the bar billiards table. Back at the boat we shared the cooking and ate a simple meal, and after an argument, washed up. Once we were again sitting, the curtains drawn throughout the boat as it was by then dark, I suggested a game or two of cards. James readily agreed, and we played several games of rummy, the only one that each of us knew and more or less all I could remember how to play.
"I'm tired of rummy," said James, eventually. "It's all right winning, but...well...it's a bit pointless, isn't it?"
I had to agree with him. For the first time I had begun to look at our playing as just a means of entertaining James. I'm not an instinctive card player, and would rather have been in the pub playing bar billiards. But until I could reach a bank or a cash machine, spending money in the pub was not a possibility.
We sat in silence for a while. Then James piped up again. "How does strip poker work, anyway?"
I was astonished, although I suppose after Amberdale I shouldn't have been. "Why?" I asked, some of the apprehension about my attitude to James returning.
"Well, we're not worried about being undressed together, are we? It'd add a bit to playing cards all night, wouldn't it?"
Yes, I thought, it most certainly would. What's going on inside that head? "You don't really want to play that, do you? Besides, I don't really know the rules. I've never played poker, let alone strip poker."
"How about strip rummy, then?"
"Too long winded, I'd have thought. Pontoon's quicker."
"How does that work?"
I explained the rules to him, and we started to play. After about a dozen games, James said: "How does the strip part of it work, then?"
I had been wondering if I dared introduce the topic myself, but hadn't liked to. "Well, from a description I heard from a friend of mine who played strip poker once or twice, every time you lose a hand, you take off an item of clothing. It's as simple as that."
"You mean, nothing else? What happens when someone's taken everything off?"
"He said something about forfeits. The winner has to make him do something."
"Anything. I suppose it depends on what there is available and who's playing anyway."
"Well, there are games you can play together when you're in the nude."
"What, sex, you mean?"
"I don't know. You have to make it up as you go along."
"All right. I'm for it, if you are."
I looked at him, almost incredulous that James should want to play such a game, and should even consider forfeits afterwards. But then he'd always been the one to take off his clothes first. My mind somersaulted as I looked at him and thought of what he was suggesting.
"Are you sure about this? It can get very basic, you know."
"Yes. Why not? I don't mind at all what you make me do, so long as it doesn't hurt or do damage. And anyway, at Amberdale we did quite a lot together."
"I'm not going to make you do something you would rather not do."
"That's all right then. Come on, let's start."
"We'd better have some ground rules, then. Um... let's say that a pair of something counts as one item. Okay? And when we get down to forfeits, if either of us really doesn't want to do something, then he can make the winner choose again."
"That's good. That'll solve any problems. Who's the winner?"
"I don't know. I suppose it's the one who keeps most clothes on, or has fewest forfeits played on him."
"Right. You're banker, or do you want to start again?"
"I may as well carry on, unless you object?"
"No, go on."
I dealt again. James picked up two more cards, then said "Twist." I put a card on the table, face up. James said "Damn. Bust. What happens now?"
"You take something off."
James undid his shoes as I dealt again. He lost the next two hands as well, and took off his socks and T-shirt, then sat looking rather embarrassed, I thought, in just his trousers. Then he won a hand, so I took off my shoes, then dealt again.
"I was beginning to think you'd just started to play seriously!" he said. "I thought you'd be winning from then on and I'd be going all the way down to forfeits!."
"I was beginning to wonder myself!"
But he lost the next hand, stood up, and slowly released his trousers. I hadn't been there when he had dressed after his shower, so was intrigued --well, astonished -- to see that he was wearing a pair of red tanga briefs. These were cut very sharply up from the crotch, almost vertically, before joining a waistband of elastic which wrapped round him just under the navel. The arrangement exposed the top of James' thighs right round to a point halfway over each buttock, whereupon they dived once again to cover the cleft of the bottom.
"Good grief, James. They're a bit small, aren't they?"
"Yeah...nice and cool."
"Is that why you bought them?"
"No. Not really. But it's a good excuse. I realised I'd got them this morning, so I thought I'd try them on, and give you something to look at."
"Don't know what you mean. Come on, your cards are ready."
James picked them up, and gave a whoop. "Ha!" he said.
"What've you got?"
"I'll tell you when you've stopped."
I grinned, and dealt to myself, stopping when I reached eighteen. "Pay nineteens and above, flushes and pontoons," I announced as if at a casino.
"Pay me! Royal pontoon! That counts double, surely?"
"That's not in the rules, is it?"
"It is now!" And James watched as I removed my socks and shirt. He took over as banker and immediately lost again. Here goes, I thought.
"You can accept a forfeit, if you'd rather," I said quickly as I noticed him hesitate.
"Can I? I might. What have you in mind?"
There were all sorts of things I'd like to do, but I said "This is where it's a bit difficult. You see, I don't know what you'd be happy with."
"Martin, we both knew when we started this that we'd end up playing around. As this is all to do with being undressed first, it's going to have something to do with each other's bodies, isn't it?"
"I know, I know. But it doesn't make things any easier. You decide on a forfeit for yourself."
"That's hardly right!"
"I can't decide on something that'll make you...oh, I know." I chuckled.
"Go outside, walk the length of the boat and come in the back."
"What, like this?"
His giggle took me right back to Amberdale.
"All right. You're not going to lock me out, are you?"
"No," I said, "but it's a good idea."
"No, I promise I won't."
And I watched as he unbolted the front of the boat and looked out. The slightly `footballer's' legs, slim thighs, the rounded, soft/firm looking bulge of the still-boyish bum, the broadening back...all passed me, paused, and then vanished onto the bank.
Was the back of the boat unlocked? I almost ran up to it, found that it was bolted, and was loosening it as he pushed it from outside.
"Quick," he panted. "There's somebody coming."
He fumbled his way in, crowding against me, and for a moment his bulge was pressing against my leg.
We secured the boat again, and he sat down, grinning.
We both calmed down and played another hand. He lost.
"Forfeit?" he asked.
"I've got to think up another one?"
"Yes. A bit less embarrassing this time."
"The whole idea of forfeits is that they're embarrassing or sexy."
"Make it sexy, then."
"You can. I shan't mind, not with you."
And how do I take that, I asked myself.
"You pick another one," I told him.
"All right. I know...you remember last night when you put me to bed?"
"Yes..." I was hesitant.
"Do that again."
"Put you to bed?"
"No...don't be silly! You know, just before you'd taken my pants off."
"What was that?"
"I was awake, Martin. I told you that this morning. You know what happened."
"Are you sure about this?"
"Yes. Come on. I'm getting a ... mast ...just standing here."
I noticed that the bulge in James's briefs was indeed growing. I went round the table. James stood up and looked directly at me as I stood looking down at his swelling briefs. I wanted to kiss him, to embrace him, to tell him that we didn't need to play like this but just to enjoy each other's presence as we had five years ago. But there was still this doubt...
So slowly, I reached to touch the briefs where they covered his testicles and to massage them. I felt James's breathing quicken, and his erection started pushing at the briefs' waistband. Still watching, I felt up the length of the penis to the tip which was starting to push its way under the elastic. I let my hand lie there for a moment, then turned away to go back to the safety of my seat, my own erection now becoming uncomfortable.
James let out a sigh. "You did it on the skin last night," he said.
"That'll do. For now," I told him, shakily.
James composed himself and bent to sit down again. "Ow!" he said. His unyielding penis had suddenly won against the elastic of his ridiculous briefs which was now holding his foreskin back against the thrust of the organ. The edge of the elastic was rubbing against the sensitive glans and it was this which had led James to wince. He quickly pulled the briefs away, and replaced his foreskin, letting the edge of his penis protrude above the garment. I watched in fascination, as James noticed.
"Come on then," he said. "It's about time you were visible too." He dealt the next hand, which I tried to build into a five card winner. I might have done it and won the hand, but I needed to even things out a bit with him. I went bust deliberately, and removed my trousers.
"Now we're level," I said, my heart racing. My erection was keeping inside my underwear, unlike James' which was still exposed, although it was out of my sight behind the table.
"Not quite. I'm naked, more or less. Next one's the decider."
It sounded as though he didn't want to play any more after that, and in my disappointment I said nothing. I picked up the cards and played the hand so badly that I lost what should have been an easy winner. "You did that on purpose!" said James.
"No I didn't. I made a mistake, that's all."
"Go on, then. Off with `em!"
So I stood, and eased my pants over the swollen penis, which leapt up, glad to be free of the constriction. I dropped my underwear onto the floor, and stood there, naked, taken in a moment right back to the beach of the island off Amberdale.
"Not bad," said James, watching me critically "Not bad at all."
"I didn't know you were an expert."
"Hardly! Apart from Amberdale you're the only other person I've seen naked, except after sports, in the shower. And now I've seen you as a boy and as a man."
"I'm glad of that."
I sat down, in turmoil once again. I needed time to sort all this out.
Unperturbed, James dealt another hand. This time I didn't have to lose it deliberately. The cards were in James' favour.
"A forfeit, I suppose. What do you want me to do?"
"Let's see... yes. Just come over here and stand in front of me." What? What was he after?
I walked round the table again, James watching my middle like a hawk. His head was at the level of my abdomen.
"Legs slightly apart, please," came the command. I complied. James lifted his hand inside my left calf, and I could feel the hairs there being brushed upwards as the hand moved upwards onto my thigh. At last it lay between the top of my thigh and my scrotum. Then he brought his other hand up and cradled the scrotum in it, gently exploring my testicles with his fingers and squeezing them at intervals. His right hand moved to the base of the sac, under my legs, and traced a path between there and the start of the cleft of my bottom.
And he repeated the motions. The sensation was incredible.
He moved a hand from my testicles and felt slowly up my penis, whilst still massaging the testicles and under his legs. I gasped. James looked up at me. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," I gasped. "I've never felt anything like this!"
"You've got some already."
He was looking at the little pool of fluid at the tip of my penis. I nodded.
Avoiding the fluid, he gave more strokes to it, as if fascinated by its length and breadth and warmth, and possibly because, at only fourteen, he had an adult in his control. It was obvious to him that I was enjoying the sensations he was producing. My breathing was once again fast and deep, and my pulse was at speed, as James could feel through my penis's movement.
He stopped, removed both hands and looked up at me. "Nice?" he asked.
"Hmm." I was coming down from the clouds, full of emotion. I looked down and smiled as tenderly as I used to when he was asleep in my bed in Amberdale.
"Did you enjoy doing that?" I asked.
"Yes. It's the fist time I've really explored someone else's body."
"It sounds as though you don't want it to be the last. James; promise me something. If you ever have the opportunity to do something like that again, make sure it's with me. I...I can't stand the thought of you doing something like that for anybody else. You know you can trust me not to do something you don't want. There are so many evil people out there...I don't want you hurt."
What made me come out with that I don't know. Well, I suppose I do. It was just that I didn't want to lose him to anyone else, not now. And I was aware that after the canals we would see each other only occasionally.
He smiled at me. "I'm not going to make a habit of approaching strangers in the street to ask if I can grope them," he replied.
"Don't even joke about it!" I surprised myself, and him, by my vehemence. "Anyway that's not what I meant. Well, yes it is, but only partly. Even when you've known somebody for ages as a friend, you don't really know what they're like when it comes to intimacy like this. You're lucky with me. I wouldn't do anything which would hurt or damage you or which you didn't want. I promise. But not everyone is so trustworthy. Even in a few supposed lifelong relationships there's rape, sometimes, and violence. If I thought that what I've done had in any way made you expose yourself to that I'd ..." I paused. "I don't know. Come and rescue you, I suppose."
James looked at me again, surprise on his face together with a smile which faded as he saw how serious I was.
"Martin," he said, standing up, "I'm not interested in doing anything like that with anyone else. Thanks, though."
"I mean it."
"Do you want to carry on with the game?"
During our exchange, the physical excitement had died down a little. I wanted to give him the opportunity to stop matters there if he felt he could handle no more of this new experience at the moment. But then it wasn't a new experience really, was it? We'd played other, less complicated games before. I smiled at him again.
As I looked at him his erection grew again, and I felt shaky with the anticipation that I was entering ground I'd only trodden with him as a child.
"No," he said. "Let's carry on."
We sat down again, one either side of the table. James dealt, and quickly went bust. I wondered if it was deliberate.
James stood again, and I watched as he carefully eased the briefs over his erection and testicles, down his slim thighs and calves and onto the floor. He stepped out of them and stood for a moment.
I just wanted to rush round the table and embrace him. He's got everything, I thought. An attractive, distinctive face with that grin, a slim, well proportioned chest, slim legs with just enough muscle, and that soft patch of hair just sprouting above his penis. And his penis... well. Nearly as long as mine, not as wide, though, smooth, and with a nearly round glans, all supported by a low hanging, bulging scrotum that left the young testicles very evident and inviting. I couldn't believe this was happening to me.
James sat down, carefully, and dealt again. Once again, he lost the hand, looked at me and said, shakily, "Forfeit?"
I looked at him. "If you're sure."
"I lost, didn't I?"
"Yes...but... All right, but tell me to stop if you want. Come here."
James crossed to me, and stood in front of me. His erection was now starting to subside, perhaps because of uncertainty of what I was going to do.
"You keep on about being awake when I put you to bed last night," I said. "Were you really?"
"You know I was. I just did what you did to me then."
"Well, I was awake that first night, when you felt me, too. And I was awake afterwards."
He looked at me, and his face went white. The excitement drained from his body.
His mouth opened as if he was about to speak, but no words came from it. I let him go on as long as I could stand it, then rose and put my arms round the boy, looking him in the face. I felt my protruding organ touch James' limp one, and was happy to feel him press his belly towards me. Slowly, I kissed his forehead, then stopped and looked down at him. Shyly, it seemed to me, James lifted his face towards me and kissed me on the lips.
He still looked confused. He had just been told that I knew about his actions, and it hadn't seemed to strike him that they balanced out my own of the previous night.
We stayed like that for some time, and James seemed to accept my closeness.
"Aren't you disgusted with me?"
I just looked at him. "Why should I be?"
"Well, it's not right to...do that."
"Why not? We've talked about that anyway. And we did at Amberdale. And as to fondling you, I did last night, and you did it to me that first night. What's right for one is right for the other. Did you enjoy it?"
"Yes. I was sorry you stopped."
"If you want to know, I only stopped because I thought it wasn't right."
I gave him a bear hug, then broke away. He looked surprised and disappointed. "Is that it," he asked.
"Didn't you like it?"
"Yes." And James came back to me and put his arms round me, pushing his body close so that I could once again feeling the warm hardness of our touching penises. His was stiffening again, and its growth against my body was beautifully intimate. "But I thought there'd be something...more."
I looked at him in surprise. "I was anxious not to...do too much."
"I did more to you, just now. And that first night."
I looked at him again, entranced, and once again kissed him. My hand slipped down his back onto his bottom, and stroked his buttock gently. Drawing my head away, I looked at the boy, saw the smile on his face and the closing eyes, and checked the question I'd been going to ask. My other hand moved to the other side of his bottom, and stroked there too.
James thrust his hips forward so that he was leaning slightly back, bringing the length of his penis against mine. He was by now again fully erect. I could see his foreskin had started to ease back over the glans, and fluid was covering it. I could feel his wetness against my own erection, and eased a hand around between us. I held the tip of my own penis and then thought again.
"James," I whispered, "do you want to pull my foreskin back, too?"
James looked at me and smiled, moved his hand onto the tip of my penis and put a finger either side on the foreskin. He pulled gently downwards so that my foreskin expanded down the his swollen glans, and I gasped as it finally cleared the ridge at the bottom and settled beyond it. I grasped James', in turn, and gently eased it further back, expecting at any time to be told to stop. James said nothing, and I was surprised that the foreskin rode back so easily until it, too, lay behind the ridge of the glans.
We stood like that for some moments, the wet glans of each resting on the other's. It'd been a long time since I'd felt so naked. I felt as though another layer of clothing had been stripped from me. Had it been anyone else apart from James -- or Mark -- that I was with, I'd never have allowed it. In fact I had never found anyone apart from those two who I wanted to be at all intimate with anyway. But I already knew him so well. It was as if five years had been stripped away between us and we could have been back in my hotel bedroom. Apart from the wonderful developments that had happened to his body, of course. And to mine to, I supposed. I was aware I'd not been very advanced at Amberdale. Certainly nothing like as advanced as this boy was. At last, emotion overcame me, and my body closed on James' to embrace him again. As I did so, his glans slipped from mine and hit the belly with a thump.
"Ow!" he said, backing off.
"What's the matter?" I asked, concerned that I'd hurt him.
"I hit it against you. It hurt."
"You're very sensitive there, I can see. Have you ever tried holding it there?"
"No. It hurts."
"Not so much when it's wet, like now. Try it."
"It hurt when it hit against you."
"Yes. That's a hit, not a touch."
"You do it for me."
I was beginning to think that nothing James could do or say would surprise me. But the trust the boy once again had for me flattered me greatly. How could he trust me not to hurt him when he was anxious about doing so himself?
I sat on the floor, and gently pulled James down beside me. "If I hurt you, or you want me to stop, just say so."
James just looked at me and closed his eyes. "I'm going to lie back, Martin," he said.
I made room for him, then sat at his side. I stroked James' shaft with my left hand, then squeezed he length of it. As a drop of fluid appeared at the end, I lightly smeared it around the top of the glans. He was producing a lot, so I hardly needed to squeeze it from him. Drop after drop appeared, and was gently stroked all over the glans until it was completely covered. James lay still, his body rigid as I circled my palm around the glans, touching it all over. He shuddered, and I expected him to tell me to stop. But he said nothing. I moved my hand gently up and down the wet organ, and James wriggled on the floor with the sensation, so like pain, yet so unlike it in its acceptability.
I continued for some minutes, James wriggling on his back as I did so, then brought my other hand up to massage his testicles. James moaned, and became still again. I looked at him. There was no sign he wanted me to stop. His body was still producing a flow of fluid, enough to lubricate the organ against friction. I continued his double handed treatment for James, conscious that my own erection was still very hard and wet.
James' breathing was becoming faster as I continued. Suddenly he gasped "Martin!", and arched his back as his penis ejaculated a stream of semen over my encircling hand and my arm. It was followed by another, and another...six in all, then he gradually subsided, his penis still jerking in my hand as his orgasm subsided.
"Shall I stop?" I asked, quietly.
James nodded, unable to speak. I did so, and lay by my friend's side as he rested, exhausted, his erection now also beginning to subside. I wondered whether to do the same for myself as I had for James, just to relieve the pressure of on me.
But James stretched his hand down to my penis, and stroked it gently. He looked at me and saw me watching him, tenderly. He sighed deeply and slowly closed and opened his eyes.
"Shall I do the same for you," he asked.
"Do you think you can, after that? Do you want to?"
"Yes." And he grasped my uncovered glans in his hand, rather rougher than I had done for him. I winced.
"Sorry," he said. "I forgot yours was back too. Pull it up if you'd rather."
"You trusted me not to hurt you James. I trust you to pull it back again without hurting me, if you want to."
"No, you'd better. Perhaps some other time..."
So I gripped my foreskin and manoeuvred it with some difficulty past the ridge. James took the end of my penis between three fingers and started to exercise the foreskin. With an effort he brought his other hand over to my testicles and gently cradled them, then let his hand wander under my legs, just as he'd done when he first explored my body. I was so ready for an orgasm that it was not long before I felt the familiar sensations starting deep within me. I gasped, and James's arm, in turn, received the streams of my his semen as they burst from me. He continued his strokes and his fondling until my ejaculations stopped and my penis had finished jerking in his hand, and once again lay back next to me to rest, just as I was doing.
We rested for a short while, and I dropped off to sleep, as did he. When we woke we were cold, and, in some places, wet. I looked at him, suddenly anxious once again.
"Are you all right, James?"
"Yes. Very all right. That was wonderful."
I was rather embarrassed about all this, although pleased that I'd apparently done the right things for him and continued something else from the Amberdale holiday. We'd made each other come again. I had enjoyed his attentions more than I could say. "You're pretty good yourself," was all I could manage.
"Well I should be. You taught me!"
I looked sharply at him, then grinned. "I did, didn't I? But you must have had a lot of practice since then."
"Only on myself."
"Yes! What d'you think I am? Anyway, what about you?"
"What about Mark?"
I was silent.
"Come on. You must have done. The more I thought about you two afterwards, how you were always with him when we were on the island, and how you ignored me when you were together... You must have had a crush on him."
I was still silent.
He looked at me, I suppose sensing there was something wrong. I don't know how my face appeared to him: I don't know what the expression on it said to him. What I do know is that he hoisted himself onto an elbow and wriggled towards me, then put an arm over my shoulder.
"You still love him, don't you? Go on, you can tell me and I'll understand. I'll be sorry, but I'll understand. But please...just be honest with me? Please?"
I still looked at him, and he went misty as the first of the tears filled my eyes. After all this time, and now, I was crying for Mark again. He held me, looking at me gravely, until eventually I regained control of myself.
"He's dead," I said at last.
He looked at me, aghast. "But he was only a year older than you!"
"I know," I sniffed like a child. "But it's not even as simple as that." And I launched into the full story of what happened to Mark.
When I had finally ended there was a long silence. Then:
"Oh christ," he said.
It took an age for the indignation, the fury, the injustice to register with him fully, and he said a lot, then, of what I had felt at the time. And more. For he ended by saying this:
"And all he did was to do exactly what you'd done for me."
I breathed a sigh. "Yes," I said. "And there is no way that either of us thought that was wrong at the time, and there is no way I feel it was wrong now. What do you think about it? Was I wrong to teach a nine year old how to wank?"
"I never thought it was wrong at the time," he said slowly. "Since then I've heard people talk about wankers, and thought there might be something wrong. And then in church they said once that this guy Onan, who spilt his seed on the ground rather than let himself go with someone else's wife, was wrong. That made no sense to me. I looked in the dictionary and that describes it as being `self-defilement'. So Onan, a biblical chracter, defiled himself, did he? Wrong -- if he had, it'd not be in the Bible. Then I read a scientific report that said that almost every male does it, and that no bad effects come from it. And I thought, and wondered. And carried on doing it. And nothing bad happened. And I thought that if it was self defilement then ordinary sex must be defilement of somebody else, or by somebody else. And if that was wrong, then the whole thing about starting babies must be wrong too. And that didn't make sense. So I thought that if the world eventually made up its mind whether it was right or wrong then I'd take notice. But until it did, I'd enjoy myself."
There was another long silence. Then I kissed him.
We lay back for a few more moments, each busy with our own thoughts. I was the first to stir.
"I'm cold. And wet. I've go a mixture of yours and mine on me."
James sat up. "Oh...sorry," he said. "I wasn't exactly aiming!"
I smiled. "I don't mind. Want some back?"
"Not really. What I do want is a shower."
"So do I. Shall we have one together?"
James paused. All those showers we had taken together, I thought... The idea hadn't occurred to me until then.
"As if we'd never gone away from Amberdale."
"Yes. That really would be special"
"I hope so."
He reacted like a child of nine again, to my delight. Naked and wet with each others seed and sweat that we were, we walked into the cabin, at last once again completely unashamed, gathered our towels and went to the shower room. The first rush of water was cold, something James forgot as he stood under it. I was carefully out of the way. He gasped as the water hit him, and quickly dodged out of the flow. I laughed at him, just as he had laughed at me in the same circumstances five years previously. Used to seeing the boy's hair in its dry state, when the front was raised a little from the mane of thick, healthy hair, I was intrigued to see how much younger he looked when it was flattened by water.
Once the water was temperate I beckoned him under the flow. We entered it together, and I once again put my arms round him, and he did the same to me. We looked at each other's eyes like lovers, each trying to fathom what the other was thinking. I remember doing the same with Mark, a lifetime ago, and it suddenly struck me that, had James been fourteen at the time, and like this, poor old Mark wouldn't have got a look in. The idea made me feel even closer to James than I had thought.
"Why did you like me, back then?"
I paused before answering.
"Dunno. It started off with the fact that you were always there. Then it was the way you took to sailing. Then it was the way you trusted me. Then it was the way you came to me for help in that storm. And it sort of went on from there."
"How about now?"
What do I say? Do I tell him that I fancy him like hell, that I want him in my arms for ever? And he'll say he doesn't like queers, and that'll be that.
"I need notice of that," I said, and laughed. "Am I doing you first?" Anything to alter the subject.
"If you like."
"Right. Get yourself wet, then turn round with your back to me. I'll do that first."
James did so, without hesitation, and stood facing the wall. I soaped my hands, and wash his back from hairline to waist. Then I turned my attention to his chest, and paid special attention to the sticky areas where his semen had landed. My hands resoaped, I progressed slowly down his belly, noticing the erection start again as I entered the pubic hair and started to soap his genitals. Soon the erection was complete, and I soaped him there again and again. Suddenly James gasped, and turned back into the flow of water, his hands on his penis.
"Got soap inside the foreskin. Hurts," he bubbled from under the water. He pulled back his foreskin, yelped again as the force of the water played on his uncovered glans, and dodged out of the flow again.
"Wait a minute," I said. "I'll see if the spray alters." I twisted at the shower head, and produced a much softer spray which I held under James' smarting penis.
"That's better," he said James, as I turned the spray this way and that, rinsing the soap from his organ.
"Sorry, I should have thought before I put so much on you. It's my fault."
"No, I should have thought myself. But it felt so nice, and you were obviously enjoying yourself.. I didn't like to stop you!"
"Very considerate. Do you want me to continue?"
"Yes, but no more on that, please. Round about it, yes, but not on it."
So I soaped my hands once again and re-established James' erection by soaping over his testicles and half way up the shaft of his penis, then under his legs and up between his buttocks. He squirmed in front of me as my soapy hand washed deep inside the cleft.
"Didn't you like that?"
"Don't know. It's strange."
"Shall I do it again?"
"Um. Yes, but I may ask you to stop."
So I again soaped my hand, put it between James' legs to feel his testicles again, then slowly brought it back under the legs and deep inside the cleft. I stopped there and slowly worked the hand up and down. James wriggled again.
"No, stop it please. It sort of tickles, but it's...funny. Like it's so close to me that it's dangerous."
I thought I knew what he meant. I withdrew my hand and rinsed it, then held the boy's buttocks cheeks apart to rinse out the soap.
"Martin...that feels the same."
"Do you want to do it?"
So James took over rinsing his bottom, doing just what I had done, as I told him.
"Yes, but that's different. I don't know. Perhaps I'll get used to it."
"Only from me, please James. Remember what I said."
"I know, I know. You don't need to worry about that!"
Feeling rather as if I'd been warned off massaging him any further, I swiftly washed his thighs, then knelt to do his calves and feet. At last I looked up, rewarded by the nearness of James' manhood to my face. The temptation to take him into my mouth was almost overpowering, but I controlled myself with difficulty and stood up.
"There. That's you done."
"Okay. Let me rinse the soap off, then it's your turn. Do you want me to do that to you?"
"Do what you want." I hoped it hadn't sounded like a dismissal.
So he stood at my back, washing my back and chest and stomach. I could feel his penis against my buttocks. Then he came round the front and washed down my belly and came to the mounting erection. I was pleased to be massaged there just as I had done to him. He washed underneath me gently as I separated my legs, and started to delve into my cleft, then paused.
"Yes. It's nice."
And James spent quite a few moments slowly ploughing between my buttocks, then reached round the front of me again and moved his body closer. I could feel his warmth close to my cleft, and wondered what the boy was going to do. I felt the tip of his erection touch me high on the cleft, then the rest of his shaft pressed against it, as James pushed his body close to mine. His hands massaged my genitals again.
I was almost beside myself with pleasure. James had done something, given me a sensation I had never experienced before. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, that I wanted to share his life with him...but I realised with a shock that was impossible. The boy was only fourteen years old; his parents were looking after him and doubtless wanted to continue doing so; they certainly wouldn't let James go and a live with a man because that man happened to love him. I doubted whether James would want that kind of life anyway. Faced with reality, my euphoria almost collapsed.
He may have felt there was something wrong, for he stopped the treatment, turned me round and, in his turn, knelt to concentrate on my legs and feet. As happened to me, when he finished he found himself at eye level with my genitals. He paused, half glanced up at me, then slowly brought his mouth forward and upward until it was directly over the penis, which by now was only half erect.
My entranced state deepened again, my penis reacted as it best knew how, and, as James' mouth stayed there, it rose to touch his lips and then to pass through them into the boy's mouth. James moved his head downward, feeling the shaft travel slowly through his mouth and touch the back of his throat. The words `deep throat' that I'd heard at school went through my head. He hesitated, possibly wondering what to do next. As the organ pushed at him, it made up his mind for him. He swallowed, and immediately found he couldn't breathe. He pulled away slightly, took a few deep breaths and swallowed again, this time letting the shaft go down his throat until his lips were against my pubic hair. His hand came up to my testicles which were just underneath his lip, and he managed to put out his tongue to massage them and brought his other hand high inside my thighs.
He was able to keep this up for a moment or so, then withdrew with a gasp and knelt there panting. He stood, and met my eyes, and if he didn't see a look of ecstasy, and love, and tenderness in them then he couldn't read human emotion. Any comment he could have made was frozen on his lips. Momentarily we stood there again, each just looking at the other, then James hesitantly embraced me, and kissed me again full on the lips, a lingering embrace that seemed to last minutes. I pulled away, at last, my heart full, but knowing that this wonderful thing there was between us would once again end when the holiday did, or soon after. Glad that the shower was washing away the emotion in my eyes, I stopped, my hands on his shoulders.
"What do I say now?" I wondered out loud.
James just gazed at me, saying nothing for a long time.
He was the first to speak, though, and then he was hesitant. "I don't know if that was...going too far...if it was, I'm sorry. It felt that's what I should do at the time. What I do know is that...you're special to me." He stopped, embarrassed, unsure of himself.
"Oh, James. What the hell do you think I feel?" I burst out. "Why do you think I couldn't speak just then? I love you..." I stopped, scared stiff by my own recklessness: afraid of laughter, of ridicule.
James said nothing, but turned off the shower.
"I think I must love you, too," he said quietly. "I don't know, because it's never really happened before. At Amberdale I loved you as a brother, and I still do. But there's more. There may have been more then. But I'm glad...so glad...we're back together. And this time I'm not going to let go. I'm going to be visiting you whenever I can after this, and when I can leave school I'm coming to live with you..."
It was his turn to stop, embarrassed. But I was full, spiritually. Absolutely complete. I was as happy as I ever was with my poor Mark, and a bit more because this was my little brother grown big, the one who had come to me for help, who had been my bedfellow, my confidant, my pupil. And now he wanted to be my love.
But there was one more thing. The last barrier.
"James, do you really know what you're saying? Do you know what that means you'll be called if we do?"
"What d'you mean? It's not if I do, it's when I do. Unless you don't want me."
I just gathered his dripping body to me and held it. "Don't even think it. I want that more than you can know. But you do know what it means, don't you?"
"What, that we're both queer? I knew you were at Amberdale. I knew I was when I realised eventually that you were all I could think of to compare other boys to, and none of them ever measured up. But don't give anything away to my parents, or yours, please. And exactly how we're going play it after the holiday's over, I don't know."