James was cold as he lay with a small group on the cool beach under the dark sky. He was cold and tired, and peeved at the lack of progress the group had made. Beside him lay Tom, but not too close. He wished all four of them would just huddle together, that way at least some of them might be able to get warm. Another group slept in the open a few metres down the beach; one boy's snoring could be heard across the dark divide but only appeared to keep James awake. A third group were sleeping on the edge of the forest in their makeshift hut. Craning his neck and glancing in that direction he could see nothing, not even the stars shed any light on the shack; the walls muffling any sound coming from within.
When Henry had returned, his stooges carrying a large chest and he just a handful of tools, all hell broke loose. He had appointed himself the leader and now he had the trappings of power. He never let up on Sophie, who had taken it upon herself to form an expedition party to find fresh water, and those that went with her all found themselves marginalised. Despite their best efforts to smooth over the situation, James and Tom merely appeared, to Henry at least, to take the girls' side. James sensed an uneasiness among the others as some started to inch away from them, distancing themselves from the four outcasts.
Taking firm control over the group, Henry instructed Sophie, Katie, James and Tom to dig out some latrines. No one else in the group argued against Henry, everyone stayed silent as he barked his orders. He was the one who seemed most confident and the other boys just clung onto him, trying to curry favour, the girls keeping to the sidelines.
Turning to Craig, Henry passed him some empty bottles he had found in the chest and told him and Perry to fill them with water from the waterfall Tom had found. Sophie reluctantly pointed them in the direction they should go and glared at them. Henry merely battered them away in a general direction and to start digging when they found a suitable spot.
James and Tom were glad to be away from the rest of the group as they grew weary of the male posturing from Henry and his cronies.
Away from the rest, James, Tom, Sophie and Katie made a good team. As they walked into the forest they each bellowed an impression of Henry and each adding to an ever growing list of what they think his problem might be.
"Dropped on his head as a baby." Katie said.
"Only child syndrome." James ventured.
"Well if you've just given birth to that, you wouldn't try for any more." Sophie nudged James' arm as they walked. "My money's on penis envy. You guys suffer from that, don't you?" She added.
"Whose penis, ours or yours?" Tom laughed at Sophie telling her she probably had more balls than Henry.
She had shown herself to be quite strong in standing up to Henry, although not as confident as him, she pushed herself to avoid being trampled on by him. Too many people had trodden on her in the past and she was determined to at least try and put an end to it. Those who watched and listened to her soon realised that underneath beat quite a sensitive and insecure person. James instantly recognised the type.
"Well, I think this is where we are supposed to dig." Tom stopped at an obvious clearing. Strewn on the newly cleared area were pieces of driftwood, flotsam and thick creepers, ripped from the trees.
"I think they've just about left us everything we need." James commented. "I thought we were supposed to be looking after ourselves. They've made it too easy."
"Well, did you really think they'd leave us with nothing? This is just to make our life easier and their stupid programme better. Do you really think the likes of those wet nursed wankers like Henry would stay here if they really had to do everything for themselves." Sophie glared at James.
Katie moved among the debris, lifting it up and seeing what was there. "Hey look." She called the others over and retrieved and piece of paper, hidden under a large plank. "It some instructions."
"What the bloody hell is this. An island sponsored by bleeding Ikea." Sophie took the paper from Katie.
"Well, if it is, I can live with that. It would be even better if we had room service." Tom made the others laugh.
Sophie readily admitted she was useless with her hands and had never built anything that stayed upright for more then two seconds. But she was willing to try and helped Katie use the makeshift spades to dig a trench while James and Tom set about collecting the wood and lashing it together with the creepers to form sturdy walls.
As they grew hot and sweaty, they took a break. Tom pulled off his shirt to allow his sweat to dry and lay it on a wall he had recently built. Sophie and Katie frowned as they saw his bare chest. Tom looked over at James, wondering if he would do the same. Even though he just as hot, James felt a little more reserved.
"Well you girls can do the same if you wish." Tom winked at them.
"You wish. Besides, I know how easily distracted you boys can get so I think we'll stay covered up." Sophie turned to Katie who just smiled and looked away from Tom and his gleaming chest. "Oh bloody hell, Katie. One bit of skin and you go off like this. I'll tell you this girl, these boys are going to do far worse in the days to come."
"Oh, like what?" Tom butted in.
"I know boys, you'll be in you're underwear or trunks in no time and some of you little exhibitionist will probably have speedos." James smiled at her comment, hoping that his suitcase would was ashore so he could show her. "You boys seem to live your life according to what's between your legs."
"We're not all like that." James said in an even tone. "Just the likes of Henry."
James' serious tone silenced the group and gave them a few seconds to reflect on what they had said.
Katie broke the silence. "I can tell you two are different. You're a laugh and I'd never thought I'd be having this much fun after how that twat Henry had behaved. Fuckin' hard work, but at least we're having a laugh."
"Katie!" Sophie brought he hand to her mouth in mock disbelief. "You hardcore swearer you. Just you be careful or you'll get thrown off the island."
"And they'll tell your Mummy." James and Tom called in unison.
"Fuck. Fuckety. Fuck. Fuck!" Katie bellowed into the sky at the top of her lungs. "Now let's get back to work."
The air was warm and humid and heavy as they pulled the sides of the shack together around the two deep pits they had dug. The difficult part was tying the corners tight enough to stabilise the three walls. The door and roof were long and light twigs interwoven with fern fronds. All four went inside and closed the door.
"Looking good to me." James said, and peered through the door. "You can hardly see a thing through this, very private. Bet you can't see anything inside from out there."
"It's quite nice in here." Sophie tilted her head to the roof. "Nice and cool too, away from the sun. Pity we have to turn it into our bogs. It'd be good to stay here away from that bunch."
"Come on, let's finish it off." Tom opened the door and went back outside to carry one of the two industrial looking containers. They got out of his way as he dropped one into a hole in the hut. "Well, I'm not doing everything. You get the other one." He panted at James as the container hit the ground with a thud."
James brought the other one over and placed it in the other hole. "Not so difficult." James said to Tom, hardly out of breath.
Tom smiled grimaced at James, but they were both roughly pushed aside as Sophie and Katie carried the long wooden seat into the hut, rested it on the containers and clipped it in. "There. They've thought of everything. Lock and load." Sophie said.
"Well, who's going to be the first to try it out?" James teased.
"I will." Tom went up to the hole and fiddled with his shorts. "Just kidding, do you really think I could with you lot watching? I've got shy kidneys."
"Pillock." James pushed Tom aside.
The heat and exertion made them thirsty and tired. Sophie tried to persuade Tom to go back to the water hole and fetch her some water, but with nothing to carry the water in, he couldn't even if he wanted to. With some heavy sighs, the four carried themselves to the waterfall to cool down, have a drink and rest a while.
"Oh." His mother stood open mouthed and looking at Martin. "I was hoping you could do a few things for me while I was at work."
"Well I have arranged to meet someone." Martin felt guilty at not being able to help. "But I suppose I could help out a little. What did you want?"
She reeled off a list from shopping to fixing a catch on a cupboard, which she knew very well he couldn't do but only mentioned it to make the list sound longer and more impressive. Then the list continued with the outside, cutting the lawn, weeding and clearing the gutters. "But," she smiled, "all I really want is for you to do a bit of shopping. We've got no bread and need something for tea."
Martin felt relieved.
"Who are you meeting anyway? You don't normally go out this much."
It was normal for him to stay home most of the holidays and catch up with some reading, or preparing for the next academic year. On the occasions he did go out it would invariably be with James, so this summer his mother expected him around the house as usual.
"Just my friend from college."
"Oh yes." This illusive friend, thought his mother. She wanted to meet him, if only to satisfy her own curiosity.
"What with studying and exams we haven't seen each other lately and so thought we could spend the summer catching up."
There was a coded message in there telling his mother that she shouldn't expect him around the house as usual. She knew what he was trying to say and left it at that. If she pried too early he would clam up and so she decided to give him the space he wanted.
"Well." She rummaged in her handbag and gave him some cash. "All we need is bread, milk, cereal for breakfast and something for tea. I'll be able to get to the supermarket at the weekend so just need it to tide us over till then."
Martin looked blank at her.
"I'll make a list." She went to the kitchen and wrote the list on the back of the envelope her credit card statement came in the previous morning.
He looked at the list and the last item "What do you mean, `something for tea'?"
"You're a big boy now, you make the decision. But be warned, you've got to cook it. And bring something everyone likes. Don't just bring something you like to wind up Tony. And you haven't forgotten about him have you."
"No, Mum. Pick him up from his mates house at five-ish as you don't like him walking all that way on his own."
"Your dad dropped him off on his way to work and I'm off now. So you've got the place to yourself. Except..." She paused. "Just lock up on your way out and be careful."
"Be careful." Martin mouthed to himself when the front door slammed shut. He wondered what she meant but quickly shook his doubts from his head as he had a decision to make, what he going to cook for tea.
Sitting in the front room, Martin looked at the television, the sound of the programme hardly registering with him. He was eager to see Phil but just took a few moments to himself.
The weather was warm as the sun shone through the cracks in the clouds. Martin wore his jacket out of habit rather than need, always prepared for that unexpected rain shower.
His heart pounded in his chest as he knocked on the door. He'd expected Phil to be waiting for him, like yesterday, but this morning he had to wait. Through the small frosted panes of glass he could make out the shadows cast by the hall furniture, but no movement. He inched closer to glass hoping it might suddenly clear and jumped back when a shadow moved and heard the faint sound of footsteps on the stairs.
Opening the door, Phil looked a mess. Dressed in only some loose pyjama trousers, his chest looked wet and sticky with stale sweat. With his eyes, red and half closed with fatigue he beckoned Martin inside and shut the door.
"Is everything alright?" Martin asked.
"I'm going back to bed. It's freezing." Phil turned and slowly climbed the stairs. "I've been up all night with a fever. Been sick god knows how many times and I feel like shit."
"Oh dear." Martin followed behind cursing himself with such a remark. In his head he imagined himself an old lady walking around a parochial village bleating at the many insignificant annoyances which came her way.
As Phil slipped back into his bed and pulled his quilt tight to his chin, Martin felt the staleness of the air hit him. The curtains were still drawn and let in little light, his window closed shut to keep in the heat in an attempt to stay warm and his discarded clothes strewn on the floor.
"You need some fresh air in here."
"Don't you bloody dare, it's as cold as hell."
Martin went and sat on the bed. Placing his hand on Phil's forehead he felt the hot. His skin clung to his hand as he tried to pull it away. "Is there anything I can get you?" He asked.
"Just a new `ead `cause this one is splitting."
"What about paracetamol? Have you had any yet to get the fever down?"
Martin noticed a bottle on his bedside table with a glass of water, both were untouched.
"My Mum brought them up just before she left." Phil noticed Martin looking at the pill bottle. "My stomach hasn't felt well enough for me to take them yet."
"Come on, you should. It'll make you feel better." He leant forward and grasped Phil's arms. "Now sit up so you don't choke on them."
Phil shifted in his bed and raised himself so that his head and shoulders rested on his headboard. Martin fiddled with the bottle cap and held out two white pills in the palm of his hand. "Here." He said, thrusting the pills under Phil's nose with one hand and the glass of water with the other.
Sucking in a breath, Phil took the pills and gently placed them on his tongue. His eyes looked at Martin as he brought the glass to his lips and took a sip of water. Closing his eyes he knocked his head back and swallowed. Martin watched as the unshaven chin rippled, his rounded Adam's Apple raised and lowered as the white pills suspended in the water fell into his stomach. With the pills gone, Phil screwed his face up, desperately trying to keep them in his stomach. He fought the urge to lurch and heave, the sensation drifting from him as his empty body accepted the drugs. Martin grasped his hand to offer some comfort.
"I think they'll stay." Phil relaxed and looked at Martin, confident he was not going to vomit.
"I'll just open the curtains a crack, let in some light. It might make you feel better." Martin opened the curtains a little and surreptitiously cracked open the window. He felt a rush of fresh air enter the room. Taking a deep breath of the clean air he returned to the bed where Phil had slumped down again. His eyes were closed and appeared to be drifting off to sleep. Martin sat down and held his hand; his other stroked the damp strands of hair away from Phil's eyes. At his touch, Phil moaned, content and whispered. "I'm glad you're here."
All that could now be heard was the laboured breathing as Phil drifted into a fevered sleep. Martin stayed with him, holding his hand until he stirred.
"You've been asleep for about an hour." Martin whispered as he saw Phil's eyes flicker open.
He felt a little better, the paracetamol had kicked and his fever had come down. "You've been here all the time?"
Martin nodded and Phil gripped the hand which he felt on his and brought it to his lips.
"You really don't have to, you know."
"I know." Martin said. "Do you feel up to anything to eat yet."
"No. But perhaps a cup of tea with a little sugar in it and not too much milk."
Martin smiled at the specific instructions and pulled his hand back.
As Martin went downstairs to make the tea, Phil sat up in bed and allowed the quilt to fall from his chest and onto his lap. He felt the fresh breeze against his clammy skin and sucked in a lungful. He did feel better, not sure if it was the rest, the fresh air, the pills or Martin. Whatever it was he was grateful.
As Phil slowly slurped on his sweet tea, Martin made himself busy. He opened the curtains wide to allow the light in and pushed the window wider to catch more of the light summer breeze.
"You don't have to pick up after me." Phil said when Martin began to pick up his clothes which were strewn on the floor.
"I don't mind." Martin looked around for a dirty linen basket.
"It's in the bathroom." Phil commented and watched as Martin left with his old clothes bundled in his arms.
After pushing the dirty clothes into the wicker basket by the sink, Martin washed his hands and went back to sit on the bed next to Phil.
Phil leant into Martin and rested his aching head on his shoulder. Martin raised his arm and pulled him closer, Phil's head now falling onto his chest.
Passing his mug with the remaining dregs of tea to Martin, Phil snuggled in closer to Martin. "Thanks, love."
Thank you for reading.
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