So Jeremy's taken the plunge and bolted. In this chapter we'll see how he's settling into his new home,and we'll be watching him celebrate his birthday in a less-than-orthodox manner...
Jeremy’s Saturday evening hadn’t been quite as boring as the previous night had been – now he was able to go out for a walk, and he had his radio to listen to and a book to read, and he could also eat when he felt like it, instead of having to hope that someone brought him something on a tray.
On the other hand, he did feel very isolated: it was extremely quiet in the garage, because there were no other houses close by, and the amount of traffic using the lane was minimal. He wasn’t used to being completely on his own for more than a short period: even when locked in the spare room he could hear his mother and Adolf moving through the house, and he could see other people through the window and hear traffic going past the house. Consequently as soon as the light started to fade (and this was comparatively early, because the garage had small windows and was largely surrounded by trees and the tall hedge behind it) he turned off his radio and got ready for bed.
This didn’t take long: he didn’t have a toothbrush or toothpaste, and he didn’t have any water to wash in, either, except for the small amount in his drinking water bottles. So he went out into the garden for a pee and then, after a last look round, returned to the garage to get ready for bed. He didn’t have any pyjamas, of course, but it was quite warm, so he simply took everything off except his pants and folded his clothes up neatly on the table. After a moment he took his pants off as well, folding them up and adding them to the pile of clothing: he’d never slept completely naked and wanted to know what it would feel like – and, of course, it was in line with his fantasies of the previous day. And, wishing Bilal was really with him and sharing the bed, he wrapped the blanket round himself and went to sleep.
There was no reason for him to get up particularly early the following morning, so after he woke up he simply stayed in bed and dozed. He was actually asleep again when the door opened and Sim came in.
“Hello, Jeremy,” said Sim, jerking Jeremy back out of his slumbers. “Did you thl… ssleep okay?”
“Yes, thanks,” replied Jeremy, sleepily.
“Good. I’ve found a… sleeping bag for you,” said Sim, pulling it from his bag. “It’th not very thick, but you probably don’t need a thick one in July, do you? You can open it right out and uthe… use it for a blanket if you want. Get up and you can try it.”
“Well… could you pass me my pants?” asked Jeremy, pointing at the table.
Sim looked at the pile of clothes and then at Jeremy. “What, you mean you haven’t got anything on?” he asked.
“Oh. Then I wonder what would happen if I were to…”
Sim grabbed the blanket and pulled, but Jeremy had been half-expecting it and tried to hang on. They had a tug-of-war for a few seconds, but Sim was standing up and found it easier to apply pressure, and eventually he was able to pull the blanket out of Jeremy’s hands. Jeremy squealed and curled into a ball, and Sim threw the blanket into a corner and grabbed Jeremy’s arms, trying to pull him towards the door.
“It’th a really ni… nice day,” he said, grinning. “Come and look!”
“No, thanks,” said Jeremy, doing his best to stay where he was. “Come on, Sim, you’re supposed to be helping me, not making me look stupid in front of everyone!”
“There’s nobody out there to look,” said Sim, though he stopped pulling. “And you don’t look… ssstupid, either.”
“I think I do,” said Jeremy, retreating to the mattress and holding the cushion in front of his groin.
“You look fine to me. Anyway, get up and we’ll try the bag.”
Jeremy stood up, still using the cushion as a shield, and Sim unzipped the sleeping bag all round and placed it on the mattress, outside surface up.
“Try that,” he said. “Even though it ithn’t very thick, it might thtill… sstill be too warm if you do it up. I think it’ll be okay like this, though.”
Jeremy lay down and pulled the open sleeping bag over him, and then put the cushion behind his head and wriggled about a bit.
“I like it better than the blanket,” he said. “I can move more easily with this. And it’s big enough that someone could share it, if anyone can get permission to stay out overnight.”
“I think that might be difficult – I mean, we can’t tell Mum and Dad we want to ssstay out for the night with you, can we? Ssso they’d want to know where we were going to thl… sleep.”
“I suppose so. Still, maybe someone can come up with a good excuse. Come and lie down beside me and we’ll see if there’s enough room for two on the mattress.”
“There’s only one pillow.”
“Then take some of your clothes off and use them as a pillow.”
Sim perched on one of the chairs and removed his shoes and socks, and then took off his shirt and jeans, rolling them up into a tube. He put this down next to Jeremy’s cushion and lay down beside him, pulling the sleeping bag over himself.
“Well, there’s just about enough room,” said Jeremy. “Can we try it on our sides? We’ll probably fit better like that.”
They rolled over to face each other. There was a brief clash of knees, but soon they got comfortable.
“If we had another bag like thi… this one, we could zip them together and make a double,” said Sim. “That might be better, ‘coth I think if we turn over a couple of times one of uth will find himssself out in the cold.”
“We’ll have to ask the others if anyone else has got one like this, then.” He paused. “Sim… I… no, nothing.”
“No, it’s okay, really.”
“Hey, we’re thuppothed to be friendth… friends, I mean. Come on, tell me what you’re thinking about – or don’t you trutht me?”
“Yes, I trust you… shit, Sim, of course I trust you – you’re helping me stay here, aren’t you? It’s just… I really need someone to talk to. If you had a problem, who would you talk to?”
“Well, probably my dad. If it wath… was something to do with school, perhapth I’d talk to U… Uzzy. Or maybe Colin – he’th clever and knows thtuff. But you can talk to me if you want – I’ll help if I can.”
Jeremy took a deep breath. “Look, I don’t know how… I mean, it’s really difficult, and if I tell you, you’ll probably hate me – but I’ve really got to tell someone…”
“I won’t hate you,” said Sim. “You’re my friend.”
“Yes, but you probably won’t be if I tell you. It’s… there’s something wrong with me, Sim.”
“I don’t care what’s wrong with you, I’m thtill your friend.”
Jeremy closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “See, what it is… I think… I think I’m queer, Sim.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean I’m… I’m…” He swallowed. “I’m a homo, Sim. I’m a dirty pervert. I… I think I’m in love with another boy.”
“Oh. Okay…” Sim paused. “And..?”
“Don’t you understand? I’m in love with Bilal, Sim. I keep wanting to kiss him. And… I think about… you know, touching him, too.”
“Oh, right. And what does Bilal think?”
“What do you mean? I haven’t told him, obviously – he’d probably hit me.”
“Do you really think ssso?”
“Of course I do. He’s normal, Sim – he’s not a disgusting poof like me.”
Sim wriggled forward until their knees were touching again and put his arm round Jeremy’s shoulders.
“I don’t think you’re at all di… di… oh, bugger it, disssgusssting,” he said. “Sometimes me and U… Uzzy hug each other and… stuff. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Have you ever kissed each other?”
“Well, no; but I reckon we could if we wanted to.”
“See? There’s loads of difference between just giving someone a hug and wanting to kiss them. And what about me wanting to… you know, feel his balls, and stuff? That’s far worse than hugging.”
Sim was silent. What he and Uzzy did together was private, and although he felt it might help Jeremy to hear about it, he didn’t feel able to talk about it unless Uzzy had agreed in advance. After all, feeling each other’s balls was the least of it: Sim wondered what Jeremy would say if he knew that he sucked Uzzy’s thingy two or three times a week, and that Uzzy had put it up his bum on a few occasions.
“See?” said Jeremy, misinterpreting the silence. “It’s not the same at all.”
Sim moved in closer and hugged him again. “SSSome of my friends hug each other, too,” he said. “And probably some of them do other things when they’re on their own. They’re ssstill my friends, like you’re still my friend.” And he hugged him again, and this time Jeremy hugged him back.
“Thanks, Sim,” he said, trying not to cry. “I thought everyone would hate me if I told them… you’re a really good friend…”
And now he did start to cry, though more from relief than anything else: at least one of his friends still liked him. Sim held him and did his best to comfort him until he managed to get himself under control once more.
Jeremy rolled over onto his back. “Look… you won’t tell anyone what I said, will you?” he said. “I mean, I expect I will tell some of them later, but… let me decide when, okay?”
“Obviously,” said Sim, and he slid across to lie on top of Jeremy. Jeremy’s arms came round him, and Sim put his cheek against Jeremy’s. “I’d never tell anyone your private thtuff. Not even Uzzy, and I tell him everything.”
“Thanks,” said Jeremy, hugging him.
They lay like that for several minutes. Their genitals were only separated by the thin material of Sim’s underpants, but neither went hard: Jeremy was still feeling relieved that Sim still liked him, but at the same time a little worried that someone else now knew his deepest secret; and Sim only wanted to comfort Jeremy and prove to him that he could count on his friends, whatever he might think.
Eventually Sim said, “Jeremy… if you want to… to practi… practise on me, I won’t mind.”
“You know, k… kissing, and thtuff.”
Jeremy looked at him, taking in the overly-large front teeth, the nose with the bump on it, the rather too pointy chin and the distinctly basic haircut… to be fair, he didn’t really think Sim was ugly, but all in all he could scarcely have been more different from Bilal…
“You could close your eyeth and pretend I’m Bilal,” suggested Sim, accurately reading Jeremy’s mind. “Hold on a moment…”
He rolled away and slipped his pants off, throwing them onto the nearest chair.
“Now we’re equal,” he said. “You can try anything you want.”
“Sim… look, thanks, really… but… well, I don’t really want to do this with anyone except Bilal. Kissing someone else… it seems sort of wrong, somehow.”
“Okay. What do you want to do, then?”
“Can we just lie here for a bit? It’s nice having someone with me, even if we aren’t talking all the time… it’s not really much fun being on your own all the time.”
“Okay.” Sim wriggled a bit closer and put his arm round Jeremy’s chest, and Jeremy smiled, wriggled a bit closer himself and closed his eyes.
They lay like that in silence for about ten minutes, and then Jeremy sat up.
“I’m hungry,” he said. “I’m going to have some breakfast. Do you want some?”
“No, thank you, I ate before I came here. You go ahead, though – I won’t mind.”
“Okay.” Jeremy stood up, no longer bothering to cover his nakedness, and walked over to the far corner of the garage where he had left the milk overnight. He collected the bottle and returned to the table, and Sim got up as well, folding the sleeping bag up before going to look for his pants.
“Did it hurt?” Jeremy asked, looking at him.
“Did what hurt?”
“When they cut your skin off.”
“Huh? Oh, that,” said Sim, glancing down at his penis. “I don’t know, I wath only a week old when they did it. Why?”
“I just wondered. I mean, Bilal had it done, too. Do you know how old Moslems are when they do it?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“It looks nice, I think,” said Jeremy. “I wish it had been done to me.”
“Why? Yours lookth fine to me.”
“Yes, but why do I need all this stupid spare skin?” asked Jeremy, pulling his foreskin down. “It just gets in the way.”
“You jutht want to look like Bilal,” said Sim, shrewdly. “I bet you never even thought about your thingy before.”
“That’s true,” admitted Jeremy, pulling his foreskin back up and smiling. “Stupid, isn’t it?”
“Very,” said Sim, pulling his pants back on. “Do you really think Bilal won’t like you if you’ve got th… skin on your thingy? Don’t you think there are more important thingth about you than that?”
“Yes, but he won’t like those, either: I’m short and ugly and stupid, and my thingy’s too small, as well as having skin all over the end.”
“Oh, shut up!” said Sim, coming and putting his arms round Jeremy again. “You’re the same height as Bilal, you’re not ugly – I am, but you aren’t – and I don’t think you’re thtupid. And there’s nothing wrong with your thingy, either.”
“It’s too small, and I haven’t got any hair yet.”
“Nor have I, and nor have motht boy… boys our age. Ssstop worrying, Jeremy – there’s nothing wrong with you, okay?”
Jeremy didn’t answer – he was convinced he was small, skinny and underdeveloped, whatever Sim might say. But it was nice being hugged, so he hugged Sim back and held him for a minute or so, and then broke free and pulled his pants on, followed by the rest of his clothes. Sim got dressed too, and then sat and watched Jeremy open the packet of cornflakes… and then stop, looking annoyed with himself.
“I didn’t think to bring a bowl – or a spoon,” he said. “How am I going to eat breakfast?”
“You can’t think of everything,” said Sim. “Wait there, I’ll go home and borrow a bowl and a plate and thome cutlery. I won’t be long.”
Jeremy sat and looked at the cereal packet, feeling stupid again: he hadn’t thought to pack anything he needed. How was he going to survive with no eating equipment, no washing kit – nothing, in fact, except a change of clothes? He decided to make a list of things he needed, only to discover that he didn’t have a pen, either. He slammed his hand on the table in frustration, feeling more of a fool than ever.
When Sim came back half an hour later he brought a plate, a cereal bowl and a set of cutlery with him, and so at last Jeremy was able to eat his cornflakes. The milk had survived the night, though it wasn’t as nice and cold as it usually was when Jeremy ate at home, and he didn’t have any sugar, either.
“Have you got a pen?” he asked, when he had finished eating.
“I’m afraid not. Why?”
“Because I’m such a useless prat that I forgot to bring loads of stuff I need, and I was hoping you could call Bilal for me and ask if he and the others can find some of it for me before this afternoon.”
“Oh. Well, tell me anyway, and I’ll try to remember.”
“Okay. Well, I need a toothbrush and some toothpaste, and some soap – though I don’t know where I’m going to be able to wash – maybe someone can find a bowl for me to use - and a towel, and a pen and some paper, and some toilet paper. And I’m going to need quite a lot more water, too, and some bottles to keep it in… See, Sim, I’m hopeless: I didn’t think of any of this stuff before.”
“Nor would any of us have done. Anyway, I think I can remember all that. I’ll call Bilal when I get home.”
Sim stayed a little longer and then went home for lunch, calling Bilal before he sat down to eat and relaying Jeremy’s message to him. Jeremy, meanwhile, had another cheese sandwich for lunch: already he was missing his mother’s cooking.
Being of a pessimistic nature he was convinced nobody was going to come and visit him that afternoon, and when three o’clock came round with no sign of anyone he was feeling almost suicidal, certain that nobody really cared about him at all. But about ten minutes later the door opened and there was Tony, a bulging bag slung over his shoulders.
“Sorry we’re a bit late,” he said. “We couldn’t set out until everyone was there.”
“Who’s come with you?” asked Jeremy.
“Everyone, of course. The others are putting their bikes away behind the house, so they can’t be seen from the road. I just dumped mine in the bushes, so I could get here first and grab a decent chair. So – are you okay?”
“More or less,” said Jeremy, as the rest of the Collection started to come into the garage. “But it’s a bit lonely out here, so… well, I’m really happy to see you.”
“That’s okay. Now, we couldn’t get everything you needed because the shops are shut today, but we’ve got some of it, and either Uzzy or Sim will drop the rest in tomorrow after school.”
“And we’ve brought some food for today,” added Bilal, who was carrying another bag. “We bought it yesterday, but I expect it won’t be too stale.”
It was the strangest birthday party Jeremy had ever had, but the best, too, even though there was no actual birthday cake and the surroundings were less than ideal: the garage was distinctly crowded with ten people in, and there weren’t enough places to sit: six people had to squash up together on the mattress if they didn’t want to sit on the floor. But Jeremy felt brilliant, surrounded by friends and with no Adolf looming over him, and even yesterday’s doughnuts tasted like heaven in those circumstances.
They didn’t have enough cups or glasses, either – that was something else Jeremy had forgotten to bring – but they passed the bottles around and drank straight from them, and nobody seemed to worry about hygienic considerations. They did things they would never have got away with had there been parents about, like holding belching contests fuelled by fizzy drinks, or seeing who could get a whole doughnut in his mouth in one go, and when they had finally polished off most of the food Owen (who had turned up as promised) led them up the lane and into the woods so that they could engage in war games for a bit. And then they found the field on the far side of the wood.
“Looks like we can play football this week after all,” said Kam, who had his football in his bag. “And we've got enough for a proper five-a-side game this week.”
The grass was a bit long, and the pitch had a decided slope, but that simply made the game more interesting. Owen wasn’t all that good at football, but nobody seemed to mind too much. The usual arguments about whether or not the ball had gone between the posts (jackets or shirts) or over them broke out from time to time, but on the whole everything went well. And then, inevitably, someone suggested a game of headers and volleys.
“Who’s going in goal?” asked Tony. “I think it should be the birthday boy!”
“I think the birthday boy should be allowed to choose who goes in goal,” countered Jeremy. “What about it, Tony?”
“I went in goal last time.”
“Okay, then – but I’ll just show you all up again…”
Actually, keeping goal here was fun: because they were playing on grass it was possible to dive about all over the place, and Tony made the most of it, hurling himself about like a lunatic and blocking almost everything that came near him. Jeremy had claimed birthday privilege to select the attacking team, but even with Kam, Miguel and Neil trying to set him up he found it almost impossible to get past Tony. He was determined to win this game, though: he liked the idea of making Tony streak, especially since Tony had tried to put him in goal.
Neil and Miguel managed to score one goal each before Jeremy miss-hit a volley that looped gently up in the air. Tony caught it one handed, just to show off.
“Double or quits!” cried Jeremy, optimistically, and so he was surprised when Tony said, “Okay then – but there are conditions.”
“You have to score all five goals yourself. If you do, we’ll let you off. If you don’t, you’re in trouble. Okay?”
Jeremy thought about it. “What about if Owen goes in goal?” he suggested.
“Er, no,” replied Tony. “I’m staying in goal. Chicken?”
“Obviously not. But if I do score five, I get let off and you have to streak instead.”
“Okay,” agreed Tony. “There’s no way you’re going to score five.”
He was right: Jeremy scored two, but then he hit a shot that Tony knocked up into the air, and he successfully caught the ball as it came down despite Jeremy’s attempt to foul him as he went for it.
“As it’s your birthday, I reckon we should let you off,” said Bilal. “It’d be a bit rough to have to streak on your birthday.”
“Sod that, he lost, he streaks,” countered Tony. “He’d have made me do it quickly enough if he’d won.”
“Too right, I would. But I lost, so I’m doing it. Where do I have to run to?”
“Down to the bottom of the slope and back should do it,” said Tony.
That looked a lot further than their usual run in the car park, but at least here there seemed no chance of anyone else being able to see, so Jeremy threw his clothes off and set off across the field.
It was a nice warm day, and the grass was soft beneath his feet, and it felt quite nice running naked – though of course at this stage he was running away from his friends and so didn’t have them all staring at him. He didn’t really want Bilal to see how underdeveloped he was, but he’d agreed to the game and so now he would have to make the best of it. If he could get his pants back on quickly enough, maybe Bilal wouldn’t notice.
He reached the fence at the bottom of the slope, turned and ran back up the hill to where his friends were waiting, and when he got there he found that his clothes were nowhere in sight and everyone was standing around trying to look innocent.
“Okay, Tony, where are they?” he asked, holding his hands in front of his groin.
“What are you talking about?”
“My clothes, moron.”
“I haven’t seen any clothes round here. Has anyone else?”
There was mass head-shaking.
“See? You must have come out like that,” said Tony, grinning. “Anyway, you said ‘double or quits’, I think – and as it’s your birthday I reckon it’s time we gave you the bumps. Grab him!”
He didn’t even get a chance to struggle as everyone came and grabbed an arm or a leg, and soon he was flat on his back on the ground. Then he was given the bumps, thirteen of them (including the traditional ‘one for luck’), at the end of which he lay spread-eagled on the ground trying to get his breath back.
Now, of course, there was no point in trying to cover himself, because everyone had got a good look while he was being raised and dropped thirteen times. So now Bilal knew what he looked like, and so did everyone else. He was a little surprised that nobody had teased him about it yet, and would have been amazed to learn that nobody actually thought that he was anything other than average for his age. He did notice that some of his friends didn’t seem able to stop looking at it, but nobody seemed to be laughing, which at least was something.
“Okay,” he said, getting up. “What shall we do now?”
“Don’t you want your clothes back?” asked Tony.
“It’s a bit pointless now – you’ve all seen everything I’ve got. Not that there’s much of that…”
“What do you mean?” said Miguel. “I think you look good naked… well…” He realised that this might make him seem a little strange and so decided to shut up, but even those few words had been enough to cheer Jeremy up a little.
“Don’t you think it’s too small?” he asked.
“No, it is good,” replied Miguel, trying not to blush.
“What about the rest of you? Be honest – it’s titchy, considering I’m meant to be twelve, isn’t it?”
Tony opened his mouth to make a snide comment but then realised that this was a big deal to Jeremy and so managed to bite it back just in time.
“It looks about the same size as mine,” commented Uzzy. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”
“Me neither,” said Bilal, and all of a sudden Jeremy felt ten times better.
“Really?” he said, looking into Bilal’s eyes and trying to tell if he was being honest.
“Really,” said Bilal. “There’s nothing wrong with you, Jeremy.”
“Apart from the ugly face,” added Tony.
“Look who’s talking, metal-mouth,” responded Jeremy.
Tony grinned and grabbed him, throwing him to the ground and sitting on his chest.
“Apologise, or you won’t get your clothes back,” he threatened.
Jeremy made a rude noise at him.
“Or we might go back to the garage and confiscate all your clothes,” said Tony, “even your spares. You’d be stuck here stark naked for as long as we decided to keep you here – unless you want to try cycling home in the nude, of course. And I’m sure Sim and Uzzy could bring all the boys in their class round to see you – and any girls they happen to meet, too…”
“They wouldn’t do that. They‘re my friends.”
“So am I, but I don’t have to put up with cheek from you. So, are you going to apologise?”
Jeremy made another rude noise, so Tony started tickling him, and this quickly had an effect: Jeremy was gasping out an apology within thirty seconds.
“You’re too ticklish,” said Tony, getting up and helping Jeremy to his feet. “So, do you want to get dressed?”
Jeremy shrugged. “Maybe I could stay like this and get a nice all-over tan,” he said. “But; on the other hand, maybe we should go and eat the rest of the cakes: all that exercise is making me hungry. So I suppose I’d better get dressed. Where are my clothes?”
“I can’t remember,” said Tony, grinning: he was really enjoying having a naked Jeremy in front of him and was reluctant to let him get dressed again. “You’d better come back to the garage like that. I’ll give you a piggy-back through the woods so you don’t step on any thorns.”
“Stop being an arsehole, Tony,” said Bilal. “Someone go and get his clothes.”
Kam climbed over the fence into the wood and returned with Jeremy’s clothes; which had simply been hidden behind the nearest bush. Jeremy got dressed and they went back to the garage to dispose of the food that had survived the first onslaught.
Eventually the rest of the Collection had to go home, but they promised they would get together the following weekend, if Jeremy was still here then. Bilal and Tony held back as the others left so that they could talk to Jeremy in private.
“Are you still going to be here next weekend?” asked Bilal. “I mean, how long are you going to stay gone for?”
“I haven’t really thought about it. It’s not as if I‘m missing anything really important at school, though, is it? Now that the exams are over it’s basically just filling in time, I’d have thought.”
“We’re still getting homework, though,” said Tony, gloomily. “I can bring some for you, if you like.”
“No, but seriously, you’ll have to come home eventually, won’t you?” persisted Bilal.
“Yes, but not yet. I bet Adolf hasn’t even reported me missing yet, has he?”
“I don’t know,” said Bilal, “but nobody’s been to talk to either of us yet, and if you were officially missing I reckon we’d be top of the list: everyone knows we’re friends.”
“Adolf’s probably hoping you turn up today, so he won’t have to explain why you did a bunk,” said Tony.
“He’s going to be unlucky, then. I reckon I’ll stay for at least a week, maybe two.”
“Okay. Then neither of us has any idea where you are, though we can probably give them a few ideas as to why you ran away,” said Tony. “I reckon we can make Adolf look pretty bad if the police come round asking questions.”
“Trouble is, though, you’re going to have to live with him afterwards,” Bilal pointed out, “so we’d better not overdo it – unless he gets put away for beating you up, of course…”
“He won’t,” said Jeremy. “I couldn’t be that lucky. Besides, it’s perfectly legal to hit disobedient kids, and it’s not like he put me in hospital or anything, is it? I’m just hoping my mum leans on him a bit after this so he treats me a bit better in future, that’s all.”
“Well, we’ll do our best,” promised Tony. “Anyway… look after yourself, won’t you? And, like I said, if you need anything urgently, call me – I can get here in about twenty minutes if I need to.” And he put his arms round him and hugged him hard. “I reckon I’ll be able to come and stay one night this week. I’ve laid the groundwork with my parents – they think it’s someone else from school I want to stay with, and they probably won’t bother to check with his parents because I’ve stayed with him overnight before. As long as you don’t mind, that is.”
“God, no!” responded Jeremy. “It’d be brilliant if you could stay here – I think it’s going to get pretty lonely here on my own all the time otherwise.”
“Good, then I’ll see you after school on… Tuesday, probably. And if you think of anything else you need in the meantime, tell Sim or Uzzy and I’ll bring it with me when I come.”
“Okay. Oh – if you can find another sleeping bag like this one, we can zip them together. Sim reckons if two people try to sleep under this one it’ll keep slipping off.”
“Okay, I’ll see what I can find.”
“Me, too,” agreed Bilal, and he gave Jeremy a quick hug, too. “And if anything happens at home we’ll make sure we tell Uzzy, and he can tell you. Good luck.”
Jeremy watched them carrying their bikes over the untrimmed part of the drive and then riding away, and then he went back into the garage, feeling a lot better than he had at the start of the afternoon.
Tony had left a bag behind, and this proved to hold some more food, a couple of water bottles like the ones on his bike, an unopened bar of soap, a towel – and, underneath the towel, an envelope and some packages done up in bright wrapping paper. The envelope held a card that everyone had signed and a short note from Tony, which said, “There’s some prezzies here – we thought you might want to open one a day instead of doing them all at once, to cheer yourself up a bit if you get lonely. Happy Birthday, mate!”
“Oh, wow!” thought Jeremy, who hadn’t been expecting any presents at all, at least not until he went back home. “But one a day? Forget that – it’s my birthday today…”
There was one large oblong package that rattled when shaken, one smaller one that was sort of lumpy, one that looked hideously like a tube of toothpaste, but which he was sure would prove to be something quite different – at least, he hoped it would – one about the size of a box of Swan Vesta matches, and one appeared to be a second card. As this was the most boring-looking he opened it first, and it proved to be a record token big enough to buy an LP.
On the inside of the card it said, “Sorry this isn’t very exciting, but we didn’t know what to get you. Bilal says you like music, so here you are anyway. Happy Birthday! Sim & Uzzy.” To prove that they’d both contributed they had each signed the card in different coloured ink.
Next he opened the matchbox-sized present, and found that it was… a matchbox. But inside it he found three pounds and a folded note that read, “I did not know it was your birthday so I did not buy a good present – but here is the money I brought to help buy food for you. Have a good birthday – Miguel Àlvarez.” Considering that he hardly knew Miguel he thought this was a pretty amazing contribution, and he made a note to say thank you properly as soon as he could.
Next he opened the one that looked like a tube of toothpaste, wondering which of his friends might have thought it was funny to present him with something like that. And again, when the paper came off he found it was a toothpaste packet. But inside it was a new penknife, bigger than the one he already had and with lots of interesting blades. It was wrapped in a note that said, “I was going to get you the toothpaste but thought you’d like this more. Better not use it on Adolf, though. Tony.”
“Brilliant,” he said, wishing Tony was there so that he could thank him properly – this was an excellent present.
The lumpy present turned out to be lumpy because Bilal had put a large packet of Jeremy’s favourite fruit sweets in with his main offering, an Airfix kit of a Mosquito fighter-bomber. Jeremy really liked the plane, but he thought it was a pity he wouldn’t be able to work on it here, unless he got Sim or someone to buy him some glue. But when he opened the larger present he discovered that his friends had thought of that: this one was a Lancaster bomber, and inside the box were a tube of glue, four or five small pots of paint and a couple of brushes. This one came with a note that said, “This is from me and Awais and Neil, but Bilal bought the paints and stuff so you could make it where you are now. Happy birthday, Kam.”
Jeremy sat staring at the presents, amazed at what his friends had managed to get for him: as far as he knew none of them was especially rich. And the only ones he knew well enough to swap presents with normally were Bilal and Tony, so getting stuff from the others was way beyond his expectations. Suddenly he felt deeply ashamed of the way he had doubted them earlier, when he had thought nobody was going to turn up. Having friends like that almost made up for being stuck with a step-father like Adolf…
Well, things could be worse for Jeremy: he's had a decent birthday, and he knows his friends are there for him. But he still hasn't resolved his feelings for Bilal, and the vanishing act has barely started, so he still has major problems to deal with... Anyway, in the next chapter we'll be seeing more of Sim and Uzzy, as well as catching up with Miguel's school life.
Mail address = firstname.lastname@example.org Full mailbox = happy author. Empty mailbox = I'm gonna get depressed, drink too much and then not be able to write because of a searing hangover – so if you want the next chapter to arrive promptly, you know what to do...
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