Things seem to be very much back how they were... but in this chapter Jeremy's going to taking what might well be the last step before finally talking to Bilal. Sim's going to see what he makes of 'The Hunting of the Snark', and Miguel will be trying to sort out his summer holidays...
Quite a lot had happened since the last meeting of the Collection in the car park at the back of the Hyde pub, but when they got together on this Sunday afternoon nobody was actually talking about it: all of them knew by now that Jeremy was back home and that his brief exile in Shortham didn’t actually seem to have achieved very much, as least as far as changing Adolf’s thinking was concerned. Only Miguel had not known about it before today, and as he had been one of the first to arrive Tony had been able to fill him in before Jeremy himself turned up.
Instead of discussing their leader’s misfortunes they had simply got straight down to playing football. Today the entire Collection was present, including Neil, so they were able to play a proper game of four-a-side football with a referee (“But we still really need one more player,” Tony pointed out. “Five-a-side is a proper game. Let’s see if we can recruit someone by the end of term.”)
They played happily for about forty-five minutes, and then suffered a misfortune: the ball ended up over the fence again. This of course was a fairly regular occurrence, and usually it was possible to retrieve it fairly quickly: there were loose planks in the fences around the pitch, and most of the surrounding gardens could be reached by climbing through the nearest fence. But there was one garden at the east end of the pitch that could not be reached through the fence: instead the only way to get the ball back was to go round to the house in question and knock at the door, and when they did that today they found nobody at home. And this was a terraced house, so there was no path down the side that they could use to let themselves into the garden.
“Well, I suppose that’s it, then,” said Kam, whose ball it was. “I’ll have to call round for it this evening, I suppose. Has anyone else got a ball we can use?”
But the only person who owned one was Neil, and he lived too far away to make it worthwhile going to fetch it, and so, after a few minutes’ standing around, they decided that they might as well pack up for the day. Of course, this gave Jeremy a chance to grab Kam and ask if he could speak to him on his own for a moment. Kam, who had been envisaging finding something to do with Neil to fill the rest of the afternoon, didn’t look enthusiastic.
“It won’t take long,” Jeremy promised. “I just need some advice, that’s all.”
“Well… it’s private,” said Jeremy, conscious that several of his other friends were still within earshot.
“Okay, then. Neil, if you wait at my place I’ll be back soon – and Awais, go and visit Robin or something for the next hour or so, okay?”
“Aren’t we going to be testing Simmy on his reading?” asked Awais.
“Well, yes – but we were going back to my house to do it,” Uzzy told him.
“Can I come? Please? I mean, you heard Kam – he wants me out of the way for a bit so he can talk to Neil and stuff… and I don’t think Robin’s at home this afternoon…”
Uzzy looked at Sim, who shrugged to indicate that he didn’t mind.
“Okay, then, as long as your mum says it’s okay,” he replied.
“Brilliant! I’ll run and ask her now,” and Awais dashed away. Neil, Sim and Uzzy followed him more slowly.
“Okay, so what is it about?” asked Kam, now that they had the car park to themselves.
“Well… it’s a bit… difficult…”
“Okay,” said Kam, and he waited
“Look… you see… shit, Kam, this is hard…. Okay, it’s about Bilal. Does he… I mean, do you think… has he got a girlfriend?”
“No, I don’t think so. He’s never said anything to me to suggest he’s found one, anyway. Why?”
“Because…” Jeremy took a deep breath. “Because I fancy him, okay, and I need to know… well… what would he say if I told him?”
“Oh, shit,” said Kam, subsiding onto the wall. “Bloody hell, Jeremy… I mean, as far as I know… well, Bilal likes girls.”
“Are you sure?” asked Jeremy, feeling sick.
“Well, pretty much… I mean, we haven’t really discussed it or anything, but he just says stuff from time to time that give me the impression he likes girls…”
“But you don’t know for certain?”
“Well, no… but…”
“So he might not… but then again, he might…” Jeremy sat on the wall next to his friend. “Should I tell him, do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“I mean, if I do, do you think he’ll tell me to fuck off and never speak to him again, or smack me one, or something?”
“I don’t think he’d do either of those things – you’ve been friends since… well, for yonks, anyway. But he might find it hard to handle… shit, Jeremy, why did you have to pick Bilal?”
“I didn’t really pick him, it just happened… look, you’re not going to tell me to fuck off now, are you?”
“God, no. Why would I do that?”
“Well… doesn’t it bother you, me being a pervert, and that?”
“Nope – even if you were, and I’m not sure about that. After all, you haven’t actually done anything with another boy yet – or have you?”
Jeremy shook his head.
“Thought not. And to judge from what I saw of you last week – which was pretty much everything, if you remember – you still haven’t started puberty, so it’s far too soon to start calling yourself a pervert – you might change your mind completely about boys and girls in a couple of years’ time. Of course, if you’re still having fun with boys when you get to my age, you can call yourself anything you like, but it still won’t bother me.”
“Really. Look, Jeremy, I expect I’ll end up going out with girls eventually, but right now me and Neil… well, we have fun together. It’s not like we’re in love, or anything, and we don’t kiss and stuff, but we really like each other and we do a bit of sex stuff sometimes. And neither of us thinks there’s anything wrong with it. Of course, we wouldn’t go around telling everyone about it – in fact, you’re the first person I’ve told, and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t told anyone – but I’m not going to beat myself up about it, and you shouldn’t, either.
“I don’t think Bilal will throw a wobbly if you tell him, but if he does I’ll talk to him and try to straighten him out about it. And me and Neil will still be friends with you even if he does tell you to fuck off – which he won’t, I’m sure…”
“Thanks, Kam – I mean, really. That makes me feel better… I think…”
Kam put an arm round his shoulders and hugged him.
“Whatever happens, you’re not going to lose your real friends over this,” he said. “Personally I couldn’t care less who you fancy, and I reckon most of the others will feel the same way. The worst that could happen will be Bilal saying no – the rest of us will still be with you.”
That was a ‘worst’ that Jeremy still didn’t want to contemplate, but at least if Kam was right he wouldn’t have to cope with the rejection on his own. And if Kam was prepared to… well, misbehave, with another boy, why shouldn’t Bilal?
“Thanks, Kam,” he said again, standing up. “Okay, I’ll tell him… I’m not sure when, but… well, I’m sure I can find a good moment sometime between now and the start of the holidays.”
“Good luck,” said Kam, standing up himself. “Look, let me know what happens, okay? If it does all go wrong… well, I’ll do what I can to help. Actually, I like the idea of you and Bilal going out together… maybe you could double-date with me and Neil!”
He grinned at Jeremy and strode off, and Jeremy sat down again to get his thoughts in order. He felt that he could hardly have asked for a better reaction from Kam, and he was totally taken aback by the idea that he and Neil were… well, at it. Still, that pretty much guaranteed that they would be in his corner when it came to the crunch. And with Kam and Tony both promising support, Jeremy felt that he really had no excuse any longer for not opening up to Bilal. It would just be a question of trying to find the right moment…
By the time Kam got back to his front door, where Neil was waiting for him, his brother had already got permission to go to Uzzy’s house for a bit, which pleased everyone: Kam and Neil were able to go up to the boys’ bedroom and shut the door, confident that they wouldn’t be interrupted (though they agreed to postpone their experiments with what Neil called ‘proper’ sex until their next visit to the garage, just in case), while Awais scampered up the path to join Sim and Uzzy, plonking himself on the carrier of Sim’s bike and demanding a ride to Uzzy’s house – “Unless you want to be spanked even harder than usual this week,” he added.
Sim didn’t mind, because it wasn’t far to Uzzy’s house and only a little bit of it was uphill, so he pedalled away while Awais delivered little slaps to his bum to keep him from slacking.
Uzzy took them up to his room and closed the door.
“You’ll have to try not to yell too loud, Sim,” he said, “or they’ll hear us downstairs. If you think you’re going to yell, bury your face in the pillow.”
“I won’t need to,” said Sim, confidently. “I won’t make any mi… mistaketh today.”
“That’s one already,” Awais pointed out. “Can I do the pin, please, Uzzy? It’s fun making him squeak!”
“Okay, but don’t overdo it. He’s still our friend, remember.”
“Obviously,” said Awais, in a tone of voice that suggested that Uzzy would have to be mental not to realise that he knew that. “I didn’t do it too much last time, did I, Simmy?”
Sim shook his head.
“See?” said Awais, putting his tongue out at Uzzy, who managed not to react.
“So why aren’t you getting undressed?” Awais added, glaring at Sim.
“Okay, I’m doing it,” said Sim, pulling his shirt over his head.
Soon he was bare and lying on his tummy with the poetry book in front of him. By now Uzzy had decided to get straight into the longest poem in the book, referring to it somewhat pointedly as ‘The Hunting of the Thnark.’
“’Snark’,” corrected Sim. “There’sss no sssuch thing ath... as a Thnark.”
“There’s no such thing as a Snark, either,” said Uzzy. “Okay, read. Let’s see… there are twenty-two verses in the First Fit, so I want to hear at least ten – and if you can manage eleven, so we’re halfway through, that would be even better. Awais, jab him every time he messes up.”
“Can we spank him if he makes five mistakes?” asked Awais, his eyes shining.
“I’m not sure,” said Uzzy. “It might be a bit too noisy if we do. Let’s hope we don’t have to.”
“Let’s hope we do!” contradicted Awais, grinning hugely.
Sim took a look at the first verse, noting three s’s in the first line alone. But he was more determined than ever to make a good job of this, just to show Uzzy – and Awais, for that matter – that they weren’t wasting their time with him. So he took a deep breath and started to read, more carefully than ever before.
“’Jusst the pla…place for a Snark,’ the Bellman cried, A… As he landed his crew with care, Supporting each man at the top of the tide By a finger entwined in hi… his hair.”
“Wow! Well done, Sim,” said Uzzy. “That’s brilliant! Keep it up!”
Sim contemplated the second verse: now he had to try to eliminate the hesitations, too, if he possibly could…
“’J… Just the place for a Snark! I have ssaid it twithe…’ oh, bugger!”
“That wasn’t too hard, was it?” asked Awais, happily. Sim shook his head and continued, “’That alone should encourage the crew. Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thri… thrice, What I tell you three times isss true.’
The crew wasss complete: it included a Bootsss, A Maker of Bonnets and Hoods, A Barrith… Barrisster, brought to arrange their dithputes – ouch!”
“Close,” said Awais, “but not close enough.”
“And a Broker, to value their goods,” continued Sim.
He got through the next two verses without error. In verse five he messed up the word ‘sailors’ and got jabbed, and in verse eight the word ‘clothes’ sabotaged him, but he entered verse ten with only four mistakes against him, and he really thought he was going to get there without the fifth slip-up…until he tripped on the word ‘forcible,’ to Awais’s delight and his own absolute fury at himself. Just to prove the point he read verse eleven flawlessly, except for the final word, which he turned to Uzzy and deliberately read as “Thhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhnark.”
“Hey, Sim that was brilliant,” said Uzzy, throwing his arms round his friend as he sat up. “You’ve never done that well before – you got five wrong out of…. I don’t know, seventy or eighty, I should think. I’m so proud of you…. I reckon by the end of the summer you won’t be doing it at all.” And he hugged Sim hard, and Sim hugged him back happily.
“He’s still got to be spanked, though, hasn’t he?” demanded Awais. “I mean, he did get five words wrong.”
“Oh, come on, Awais,” said Uzzy. “He was brilliant. Don’t you think we should let him off?”
“No!” said Awais, firmly. “Simmy needs spanking, and I want to do it.”
“He’s right,” said Sim. “I agreed to keep to the rulesss: I got five wrong, and that means I get punished. But it doeth… doesn’t have to be a sspanking, not if you think it’ll be heard downsstairss…”
“Then what do you think I… we should do to you?” asked Uzzy.
“Well… have you sstill got your feather?”
“Yes – but I thought you hated that?”
Sim shrugged. “It’s meant to be a punishment,” he said. “And I know you like doing it to me, and I think Awais will, too.”
“Okay. You’re right, I do enjoy it… stand up against the wardrobe, then.”
So Sim stood against the wardrobe and Uzzy, who had kept the loops of string he had used before, quickly tied him into position with his hands above his head and his legs spread. Then he went to his bedside cabinet and retrieved two feathers.
“What do we do with these?” asked Awais.
“This,” said Uzzy, pulling a chair close to the wardrobe and starting to tickle Sim’s already very stiff penis with the tip of the feather. “It drives him mad. Grab the other feather and have a go.”
“Okay,” said Awais, shoving the other chair into position alongside Uzzy’s. He touched the tip of the feather to Sim’s balls, which promptly rose up a little. Awais laughed and did it again, with the same result.
“Hey, this is fun,” he announced, doing it some more and watching Sim wriggling about and trying to get free. “Can I try doing it to his thingy?”
“Do it just under the tip – it’s really sensitive there,” advised Uzzy. “Oh, and round the little slit is good, too.”
So Awais tried that, and found that the stiff penis twitched away whenever he hit the really sensitive areas.
“Doesn’t it look funny?” he commented, giggling. “This is a really good game, Uzzy – how long can we do it for?”
“I think if we do it for too long he’ll go mad,” said Uzzy. “But I don’t see any reason to stop too soon – do you?”
“Definitely not,” declared Awais, touching the tip of the feather to Sim’s little pee slit once more and being rewarded with a massive twitch from the organ in question and a please for mercy from its owner – which, needless to say, was completely ignored.
They tormented him for another ten minutes or so, tickling not just his genitals but his armpits, his nipples, his belly button and anywhere else they could think of, and by the time Uzzy finally called a halt Sim was writhing about like a mad thing, pleading and begging for them to stop. His penis was rock-solid and straining.
“Now maybe we should be nice to him for a bit before we let him get dressed,” suggested Uzzy, untying Sim’s wrists. “He usually likes it when we do this…”
He led Sim to the bed and got him to lie on his back, and then he sat down beside him and started to caress his penis. Awais had to be restrained from being a little rough at first, but soon he too was making Sim feel really nice…
They stroked his whole body but naturally directed most of their attention to his genitals, and Sim lay back revelling in it: this certainly made the feather torture worth putting up with.
“I like doing this,” said Awais. “It feels really interesting. Does it feel nice to you, Simmy?”
“It’s totally brilliant,” said Sim, dreamily. “If I don’t make any misstakesss necth… next time, can this be my reward?”
“What, we’ll still be allowed to keep you bare and play with your thingy even if you don’t make any mistakes?” said Awais. “Great!”
A couple more minutes went by, and then Sim sat up. “I’ll have to go,” he said, looking at his watch. “And I think I need a pee, too, so we’d better ssstop before I wee all over your bed.”
“Okay,” said Uzzy. “I mean, I like doing this, too, so we can carry on for a bit if you want.”
“Better not,” said Sim. “I really need to go.”
“How are you going to point it into the loo?” asked Awais. “It’s so hard you’ll never be able to.”
“I’ll have to lie on the toilet on my tummy. I’ve done it before when it’s been all hard.”
He got up and threw on his pants and shorts, which bulged alarmingly, and then darted across the landing and into the bathroom, managing to shut and bolt the door just before Awais could follow him in. The younger boy retreated to Uzzy’s room, disappointed.
Sim came back a couple of minutes later, the bulge in his shorts only slightly less obvious.
“I didn’t need to go after all,” he said. “I was sssure I needed to… oh, well,” and he put the rest of his clothes on.
“Can we do this some more next week?” asked Awais.
“Okay,” agreed Sim. “But I won’t make any mi… mistakes at all next time.”
“I don’t know about none at all, but I’m really impressed about how quickly you’re improving,” said Uzzy, hugging him again. “I bet next term the boys at school don’t tease you any more.”
“Well, not about the lisssp, perhaps… but I imagine they’ll go on laughing at my teeth and bad haircut even if I talk normally.”
“You haven’t got a bad haircut… well, okay, maybe you should try growing it a bit,” said Uzzy. “But it isn’t really any worse than anyone else’s. And you know I won’t laugh at you, anyway.”
“I will,” said Awais, irrepressibly. “Simmy’s got tombstone teeth, Simmy’s got tombstone teeth…”
“Shut up, Jumbo,” said Sim, sticking his tongue out at him.
“Oh, I’m going to spank you so hard for that next time I get a chance,” said Awais.
“Pity you won’t get a chan… chance, then,” said Sim, making faces at him over Uzzy’s shoulder.
“You wait. You did so well today that I might decide to spank you if you only make three mistakes next time – and we’ll do it somewhere where nobody will be able to hear you yell, too. You’re definitely not getting away with it next time.”
Sim just pulled another face at him, and then broke free of Uzzy’s embrace and looked at his watch once more.
“I really ought to go,” he said. “Do you want a lift home, then, Jumbo?”
“Yes, please,” said Awais.
“Come on, then. See you tomorrow, U… Uzzy.”
He led Awais downstairs, helped him onto the carrier and rode back to Awais’s house, where Awais jumped off and hesitated.
“Hey, Simmy… are we still friends?” he asked.
“Of course we are! I mean, you didn’t break the rules, or anything: when I get it wrong, you’re allowed to do what you want to me.”
“Great! I just can’t believe you let us do all that bad stuff to you without getting mad at us, that’s all.”
Sim shrugged. “You’re my friend, and I reckon you’ll alwayth be my friend, whatever you do to me,” he said. “I really like you, okay, ssso th… sstop worrying about it.”
“Brilliant! Then I’m definitely going to spank you next week!” And Awais grinned at him and ran off down his front path.
Miguel got home to find that his father had some news for him. Every summer the family went back to stay in a small place about twenty miles up the coast from Algeciras, where Miguel had been born, for three or four weeks, and his uncle and his family usually came and stayed with them. But this year apparently that wasn’t going to happen.
“Your cousin Roberto has broken his leg,” Miguel’s father told him, “so they won’t be able to come on holiday with us this time. It won’t be as much fun for you without Roberto to play with, so we were wondering if you’d like to invite a friend to come with us. I know it’s very short notice, and probably most of the boys you know have already got plans for the holidays, but if you can find one who’s free you can ask if he’d like to come with us.”
Miguel immediately drew up a list. It wasn’t a very long list: he generally kept to himself and so didn’t have a large number of friends, but he hoped one of the select number of names on his list would be able to come with him, and the following morning he started working his way through them.
“Sorry,” said Andy, who was top of the list. “I’d really like to come with you, but we’re already booked. It’s a pity your stupid cousin didn’t manage to break his leg a month or so ago… It’d be fun if we could go on holiday together: I’d bring my cards and we could see how many kids we could make undress… oh, well… perhaps we can try to go somewhere together next year?”
At break he tried his next choice, and at least this one didn’t seem to have a family holiday already booked.
“So where are you going, exactly?” James asked him.
“It is on the south coast of Spain,” Miguel told him. “It is really good there – we spend all day on the beach, and the sea is quite warm, and the sun is hot. I always come back with a good tan. It will be really…” Suddenly he remembered who he was talking to, and his voice tailed off.
“Of course, we do not have to go to the beach,” he said, trying to recover. “I am sure there are other things we could do…”
“It’s okay,” said James, giving him a wan smile. “It was really kind of you to invite me, Miguel – but I wouldn’t really enjoy a holiday somewhere hot and sunny, whatever we were doing. I’d have to keep covered up all the time, and I’d get hot and uncomfortable, and you’d get fed up with me because you’d want to go to the beach, and I’d get bad-tempered because I’d be too hot, and we’d end up fighting. And I’d hate that because I really like us being friends and I don’t want anything to spoil it. Of course, if you decide to go somewhere nice and cool next year, like Greenland or Antarctica, I’d love to come with you… but southern Spain in August? Thanks, Miguel, but no.”
Miguel felt disappointed, though he realised he should have known better than to suggest a holiday spent largely in swimming trunks to a boy who had to stay out of the sun. He thought he would really have liked spending three and a half weeks with James, though…
They got up from their usual place under the trees – Andy was with them once again – and started to walk back towards the school buildings. And just before they got there they met a trio of James’s classmates.
“Oh, look, the leper’s found himself some little friends,” sneered the one in the middle. “Don’t they look sweet? What a pity it’ll be when they catch it and their ears fall off.”
“That is a stupid thing to say,” said Miguel, who was fed up with seeing James on the receiving end of nasty remarks all the time.
“Are you calling me stupid?” asked the boy, straightening up.
“If you really think James has got leprosy you must be stupid,” replied Andy, who was starting to like James as well and thought he ought to stick up for him. “They’d never let him come to school here if he had a serious disease.”
“What I think is my business, and I don’t like lippy little sods like you sticking their oar in, okay?” said the boy, advancing. “You must really like getting beaten up, or something.”
But at that point the bell for the resumption of lessons went.
“You’re lucky this time,” said the boy. “But you’d better not give me cheek again if you want to keep your teeth.” And he turned and walked away with his two friends.
“Now that’s a lot better,” said a voice, and Miguel turned and saw Kenji leaning on a wall watching them. “Not only sticking up for your friend, but doing it in front of older boys even when it was likely to get you hurt… maybe you were telling me the truth before after all.”
“If they had started to hit us, would you have helped?” asked Miguel.
“Probably not. It’s not my business, is it? But then again, I might have, because I hate bullies. I’m glad to see you two might not be bullies after all, anyway.” He gave them a smile and ran off.
“You shouldn’t have said anything,” said James. “They’re my problem, and I don’t want you getting hurt because of it.”
“You are our friend,” replied Miguel. “I will not let my friends be insulted without that I say something about it, okay? That would be cowardly.”
“It would be sensible,” argued James. “They’re bigger than you. But thanks, anyway – that’s the first time anyone has ever stuck up for me like that.”
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. When he got home after school Miguel got his bike out and rode round to Tony’s house: Tony was the only one of the Collection whose address Miguel knew. Tony was surprised to see him, because normally they only ever saw Miguel at the weekend football games, but he invited him in, and Miguel explained why he had come.
“And I do not know you all very well, but I still think you are my friends,” he concluded. “So I wanted to ask if you can tell me where Jeremy lives, because I would like to invite him first: I am sure that he would be glad to go away from his step-father for three and a half weeks.”
“I’m sure he would, and I reckon he’ll be really pleased to be asked. But I’m pretty sure he’s going to America to see his dad at the beginning of the holidays, and he’ll be over there for four weeks, so he probably won’t be able to come with you. You’d better check with him to be sure, though.”
“Oh. Well… if he cannot come, would you want to come with me?”
“I would, actually: I’d enjoy it a lot, hanging about with you and lazing on beaches and stuff… but I can’t, not this year. I’m going away with my family at the start of August. It’s really kind of you to ask, though.”
And when he got to Jeremy’s house Miguel found that Tony was right: Jeremy was flying to California three days after the end of term and would not be back for a month.
“I’m really sorry,” Jeremy said. “I wish I could come with you… look, Miguel, we don’t really know you all that well, but I’d like a chance to get to know you better, because you’ve been a brilliant friend lately. So if you want to come round and play at the weekend sometimes, that would be good. I reckon if I tell Adolf your dad works at the Spanish embassy – so he knows you’re not actually an immigrant – and that he used to work for General Franco – ‘cos Adolf admired him – he’d probably let you come and visit. And if not we can always go and do stuff outdoors.”
“That would be good,” said Miguel. “I will ask if I can come to see you sometimes.”
“Brilliant! Oh, and I’ve still got the money you lent me, because I wasn’t gone long enough to spend it. Hang on a moment and I’ll go and get it.”
“That was not a loan,” said Miguel. “That was a birthday present. If I had known I would have bought something good, but now you should buy something good for yourself with it. I do not want it back.”
“Are you sure? I mean, it’s quite a lot.”
“I am sure.”
“Well... thanks, then. I’ll probably find something to buy with it while I’m in America. I’ll tell you what when I get back.”
Miguel cycled back home. He really didn’t know where to look next for someone to come on holiday with him: the only members of the Collection he really knew were Tony, Kam and Awais, because they had been the ones to have actually welcomed him and introduced him to the others, and he didn’t think he could ask either Kam or Awais on holiday when he couldn’t invite the other brother, too. He really didn’t know the rest of the Collection at all well, certainly not well enough to ask them on holiday.
But by the following morning he had pretty much reached the point of thinking that anyone would do, since the alternative might be to end up moping about on his own. Of course, the other boys he and Roberto sometimes played with during the summer might be there again this year, but they might not, and he really wanted to be sure there would be someone to play with. So when he got onto the bus he simply waved to James and went and sat next to Kenji instead.
“Are you serious?” asked the Japanese boy. “You want me to go on holiday with you? We don’t know each other at all – in fact I don’t even know your surname, and I bet you don’t know mine, either.”
“It’s Àlvarez,” Miguel told him. “And I know you are nice, because you don’t like bullies, and I think we could be good friends…”
“You must be really desperate,” said Kenji. “I mean, you might be right when you say we could be friends, but it’s a bit early to be spending weeks on end with each other, don’t you think? We might find out we really don’t like each other at all. After all, I don’t know what you like doing, and you don’t know what I like doing – apart from martial arts, that is, and I know you don’t do that…”
“If we were on holiday together we could find out.”
“Yes, but if we found out we didn’t like each other it would be a really bad holiday. Okay, I think maybe you’re right and we would find that we could be friends, but it’s a bit of a risk, all the same. When are you going, exactly?
“From the first Monday of the holidays, and we are coming back on the 20th of August.”
“Then I can’t come anyway: I will be going away with my family for two weeks on August 2nd. But maybe we can see each other after you come back, if you really want to find out if we’ve got things in common.”
“That would be good,” said Miguel, masking his disappointment as he crossed yet another name off his list (though deep down he thought maybe Kenji was right, and it would be better to get to know him a bit more before going away for a month with him). “Can you play football?”
“Because sometimes I play at the weekend with some friends, and maybe you could come with me some time.”
“Maybe. But I think first we should just spend some time together, just you and me, so we can find out about each other. You’re strange, Miguel: not too many people would ask total strangers to go on holiday with them… but I think it’s a good sort of strange. Perhaps I can find out during the summer. Oh, and it’s Nakamura, by the way.”
“My second name. So now you know.”
Well, that was definitely progress of a sort, and maybe Kenji would prove to be an ideal addition to the Collection in the end, but it still left Miguel short of a holiday partner. So once he got to school he sat down with Andy and asked his advice as to who might be a good person to ask, and largely as a result of that advice he finally struck gold: at last he found someone who was not booked up elsewhere and who wanted to come with him.
Alex Hamilton had changed quite a bit since losing his first game of cards: not only had he stopped insulting Miguel in class, but he had actively tried to get the other class jokers to give it a rest, too. Of course, he could have been motivated by a fear that his small attributes might be made public if he didn’t try to put an end to the Manuel jokes, but Miguel didn’t think that was the whole reason.
Hamilton had badgered them into giving him a chance for revenge, and so the previous week they had taken him round to Andy’s house after school and played cards again, with exactly the same result: Hamilton had ended up naked once more, and had been subjected to another bout of teasing and molestation, though he didn’t seem to mind that half as much this time. He had taken it in good heart, not resisting or getting bad tempered about it, even though it was obvious that he really wanted to see Andy and Miguel without their clothes on. When he was finally allowed to get dressed once more he had simply warned them that next time he was going to win, and then they would really be for it.
“Are you sure? I mean, that’d be brilliant, Àlvarez… Miguel,” said Hamilton. “We’re not going away until right at the end of the holiday, and then we’re only going to Pevensey or somewhere for a week. I’d love to go to Spain with you… how much would it cost, though?”
“You would only need spending money,” Miguel told him. “My father said that he will pay for the ticket, and my mother will make all the food. But… have you got a passport?”
He was sure this was going to sabotage the whole thing, since there would almost certainly not be time to get a passport issued before they were due to leave, which was now less than two weeks away. But he was wrong.
“Yes, I got one when we went to Paris last year,” Hamilton told him. “So as long as my parents say yes – and I’m sure they will – I can definitely come.”
Miguel took his phone number to pass to his father so that the parents could talk to each other about it, but he felt optimistic that at least now he wouldn’t be stuck on his own all the time. Okay, Hamilton wouldn’t have been his first choice, and the old, pre-strip-poker Hamilton wouldn’t have been on his list of possibles at all; but the new, friendly, improved Hamilton might not be too bad. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a bad holiday after all…
So Miguel is looking forward to the holidays, and so are several of the others....but in the next chapter things are going to take a nasty downward turn, as we discover that Adolf isn't the only White Supremacist in town....
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