by Andrew Foote
Completely oblivious to the tension inside the house, we continued to play in the garden with the dogs and it was only once they started to tire did we take a break, walking back down to 'Casio' to get a cold drink.
"Something really heavy is going on up there Alex. I can almost feel it."
"You can't be sure, I mean they could just be catching up on things for all you know."
"Nah. Not a chance of that! Grandfather isn't exactly the biggest fan of my Father you see and Mother? Well she can live under Father's shadow if you know what I mean.
Father is the big 'I am' and so she finds it difficult to be assertive around him, you know, she lets him rule the roost rather than cause any upset and that's the main reason why I'm not particularly hopeful that things are going to work out."
"What about your Granddad's promise to put pressure on him?"
"I don't know. I am his son so I assume what he says goes no matter what Grandfather says or does. Its gone four o'clock and they haven't even come to say hello. Why? Tell me why Alex?"
"Hey Jus? Calm down. Tears aren't going to help anything, okay?
Look. Maybe they're having such a ding-dong up there that nobody thinks it's right for you to be with them.
Sorry. That isn't very helpful is it?"
Jus fought back the tears and laughed.
"It is actually! You tell it how it most probably is!
I just wish Kaz and Tim could get involved. That would set the cat amongst the chickens!"
"Yeah big time! We would really be fucked if they did!
Dad is right, we both know that. It is a family thing and interference by outsiders wouldn't go down at all well."
"I know it. I just want to know what's happening."
Out of the corner of my eye I spotted movement, two people walking across the lawn in our direction.
"I think your wish might just about to be granted Jus. Your Grandmother and I think your Mum are heading our way."
Jus turned to look and a big smile came to his face!
We both stood up as they approached, Jus's Mum held out both her hands which he willingly grasped pulling her into an embrace.
Why I should tear up at this beats me but Lady Eleanor spotted my plight and gave me a hug of my own whispering,
"Hold on Alexis. Believe you me, we are progressing."
Jus and his Mother broke away from the clinch but continued to hold hands then after a few moments she looked first at me and then to Lady Eleanor, quite obviously waiting for an introduction.
God she was a beautiful lady! To my young eyes, almost perfect and I could see who Jus had inherited his looks from!
Lady Eleanor made the introduction.
"Julia dear, this young man here is Alexis, a friend of Justin's but also of your Father and I.
Alexis? My daughter Julia, Justin's mother."
I extended my right hand which she accepted with hers.
"It's very good to meet you Mrs Armstrong. Justin has talked about you on many occasions."
"It's very nice to meet you as well Alexis but I was led to believe you called my son 'Jus'? Am I right?"
I blushed ten shades of red but managed to answer.
"Well yes but I thought you wouldn't approve. I thought it better this way."
"Oh please don't concern yourself! I'll tell you a secret. At school they used to call me 'Jules'. I liked it but now in the diplomatic circles we move in there has to be an element of dare I say it, 'correctness and protocol'! All such a terrible nuisance!
Mother tells me you live on your own boat. Is that right?"
"Yes Mrs Armstrong. Dad bought it for me a few weeks ago. He thought it was time I had my own space."
She turned to Lady Eleanor,
"Mother? Why not take Justin up to the house. I would really love to see Alexis's boat if he will allow a visitor?"
Lady Eleanor and Jus walked back up to the house while I led the way to 'Spook', opened the hatchway and stood back to allow her entry.
"My word! This is so wonderful Alexis! So clean and tidy, so well appointed, I can hardly believe this is a boy's space! I can only imagine your mother spent a lot of time with the duster this morning!"
"Umm not exactly. The arrangement is that I do all the housekeeping, take care of myself and last night I even cooked supper for Jus and I."
As those words left my mouth I was sure I should've been more circumspect as to my choice of words, letting the cat out of the bag as I had.
Mrs Armstrong noticed that I thought I'd overstepped the mark.
"Sit with me Alexis please? Let us talk about a few things and please don't be frightened of me?
It might seem to you that we're uncaring not allowing Justin to travel with us but the opposite is the case if you did but know.
Are you aware of his situation, what happened at his school?"
"Yes. He told me that he befriended another boy there who had been traumatised by the death of his sister, tried to help him cope but their friendship became rather……"
"Yes Alexis. It became physical if that is what you're trying to say.
Now you must promise me something, alright? What I'm about to tell you has to remain forever a secret between the two of us.
Are you willing to allow me to share this with you upon the promise it is never mentioned in the future?"
"I always keep a confidence Mrs Armstrong. You have my word. I will say nothing to anyone."
"I believe you Alexis and on that promise I'll tell you.
Both Justin's father and I attended boarding school. There has to be no doubt they can provide a first class education but slip up and your life can become a misery both from the attitude of the teachers and fellow pupils so what I'm trying to say is, if you transgress, make sure you never get caught.
As I explained, both Gerald and I have first-hand knowledge of what goes on. It's the natural product of placing pubescent adolescents under the same roof for long periods and what you should also know, this isn't a phenomenon which is the sole preserve of boy's schools, it occurs at girls schools as well.
I understand you might be shocked but think carefully about it.
If you were to see, walking around Reading, two girls, arms around each-others waists or hand-in-hand, what would you think and what would be your reaction?"
"It happens all the time. It's natural and I probably wouldn't think anything about it."
"Very good but if you were to see two boys doing the same? What then?"
"I….would be....surprised I think?"
"Why would you feel that way Alexis? Are not boys allowed to feel that close to each other whereas girls are?"
"This is very difficult Mrs Armstrong. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say."
"Our promise works both ways. Please tell me? I won't say a word to Gerald? I just need to know so I can help."
"Please? I'd rather say nothing rather than cause more problems? Jus and I are very close. Can I just leave it at that?"
"I love him!!!" And with that I absolutely dissolved into floods of tears.
My crying episode seemed to put me into some sort of trance. I cannot remember being so overwhelmed with emotion but I eventually came back to normality in Jus's mother's arms, gently rocking me like a baby.
"Alex it's alright. Everything is going to work out I assure you.
My father has said as much as you've just told me so I know you were telling me the truth and that's all I needed to hear. I needed you to tell me before I go on the offensive just to confirm his understandings.
I called you Alex. Is that acceptable to you? I need us to be close if we are to win through and we don't need barriers."
"That would be nice but….."
"No but's. I know that Justin has been a problem boy over the last twelve months. Last Christmas was a nightmare. He had turned into the type of child I'd always despised and disliked but now it would seem he has come full circle and by all accounts it is largely if not wholly due to your relationship one with the other that this complete transformation has come about. While it may not be acceptable in the eyes of the wider community, I find it very difficult not to give your, how shall I phrase this delicately, your 'special friendship' my blessing."
"But it isn't right though is it? Even I know that how I feel about him and how he feels about me is wrong."
"Who of us are qualified to judge Alex?
You see we have been stationed in many countries over the years and some of them believe that such relationships are perfectly acceptable.
If you study Greek philosophy you will know that it was a very normal part of their culture for men to take a young boy as a lover. Now whether that's right or not is debateable but that isn't the point I wish to make.
I am a Christian and the Bible teaches us that all of us are made in God's image or more simply put, God has installed in us his own character traits so it would follow that for the two of you to fall in love with each other is a part of his will, a part of his wider plan and your destiny.
I find it inconceivable to think that we as mere mortals should question God's will."
"I don't understand Mrs Armstrong. I mean if you take that to its logical conclusion then thieves and murderers should go unpunished. Couldn't it be argued that they are the way they are because of the will of God?"
"That is a highly intelligent argument Alex and undoubtedly a very solid one but there's one very big difference. Do you know of the Ten Commandments?"
I nodded my head.
"Then you will know that they're the rules as laid down by God as to how we should live our lives during our time on earth.
To take another's life, to commit adultery, to lie, to steal and so on are specifically set down in the Commandments as going against the will of God and his teachings but there is no mention of who we are permitted to fall in love with and I would go as far as to say, I'm unaware of anything written in the Bible that outlaws any such a relationship as yours."
"Try to look at it like this.
All the things set down in the Ten Commandments which we none of us should do are things, actions that would bring pain and suffering to others.
The only person that love hurts is perhaps you if that person you've fallen in love with doesn't return that love and vice-versa and it is with this in mind, my belief is that God has granted us the freedom to express our true feelings of love, unfettered by any kind of constraint.
Do you believe that what you feel for each other is wrong?"
"I don't but other people will do."
"Then I would venture to suggest that it is they who have a problem, not you! After all it is God you will ultimately be answerable to, not them.
Now perhaps you would be kind enough to walk me back up to the house Alex."
As we walked, Mrs Armstrong linked arms with me.
"I hope you don't mind Alex but it's so nice to be on the arm of a very handsome and intelligent young man."
I definitely liked her! It didn't prevent me from blushing though!
"No actually I love it. It's nice for me to have the arm of a very pretty lady!"
"That is a really sweet thing to say. It's been a few years since anyone referred to me as 'pretty'."
"Oh but you are though. As soon as I saw you I could tell where Jus got his looks from."
"So do you think he's pretty then?"
"I'm sorry but yes I do. I actually told him as such which didn't go down too well either!"
Mrs Armstrong chuckled and gave my arm a squeeze.
"Good for you Alex! Tell the truth as you see it and no one can criticise you."
As we neared the house, we spotted Sir George and another man who I correctly guessed was Mr Armstrong.
"That's my husband Alex. Remember what I've just said about the truth? No matter how awkward the question, please answer honestly. He's a stickler for the truth."
"As are my parents Mrs Armstrong. I will, I promise."
"Gerald? I'd like to introduce you to Alex with whom I've just spent a very enjoyable hour on his boat."
I held out my hand which he briefly took.
"Boy? I was led to understand your name is in fact Alexis, not Alex?"
"That's correct sir, it is but some people, especially my friends tend to shorten it to Alex."
I briefly looked at Sir George who was trying very hard to suppress his laughter. The words of my Mum rang in my ears. 'Don't go gobbing off' and 'don't appear to be too cock-sure.' I moderated my tone.
"It's a privilege meeting you sir."
"Well Alexis, it remains to be seen whether or not I am able to say the same but I have grave reservations."
Sir George looked slightly annoyed.
"Come now Gerald. Let us go inside so you two can get better acquainted"
Mr and Mrs Armstrong led the way into the drawing room, Sir George put his arm around my shoulder by way of trying to defuse the tension that was building up inside me.
I also noticed that Jus was nowhere to be seen which actually came as something of a relief because now I would be able to concentrate on whatever was to come without the added pressure of seeing his reactions.
Everybody took a seat but I remained standing, unsure as to what I should do but Sir George came to my rescue yet again.
"Please take a seat Alex. Make yourself comfortable my boy."
Mr Armstrong clearly was not amused.
"I'd prefer you to remain standing boy."
Sir George all but exploded.
"For God's sake Gerald! Who the hell do you think you are! Alex is a guest in my home, not yours and if I offer him a seat, he is free to accept it if he so wishes.
He isn't on trial, this isn't a damned court martial for Christ's sake so just cut out the bullshit and be reasonable man!"
Mr Armstrong looked ruffled, probably unused to being talked to in such a manner.
"Very well George? If that is what you want?
Sit down boy!"
"And you can cut out this 'boy' absurdity as well. His name is Alexis or indeed Alex to his friends. The choice is yours!"
Now I was unused to arguments. They simply never happened between my Mum and Dad, not that they didn't disagree from time to time, they did but it never came to anything like this and I was considerably unnerved by it.
The desire to stand up and walk away from this conflict was almost too much to ignore but then all Mrs Armstrong's talk about the Bible sparked something in my head.
I was not nor ever have been religious, firmly in the agnostic camp me but I remembered the story of Peter's inability to acknowledge Christ before he died and somehow that thought made me sit tight and more than that, it gave me courage.
"Please Sir George? It really doesn't make any difference to me what I'm called. I'm happy to answer whatever questions Mr Armstrong wishes to ask me no matter how they're phrased."
"I applaud your attitude but I will not allow my son-in-law to treat you with disrespect under my roof Alex."
"Thank you Sir but this isn't about me is it? My world will keep turning no matter what. This is about Justin and I want to be here to try to ensure his world turns alongside mine."
This we too much for Mrs Armstrong who stood up, handkerchief to her eyes and walked out of the room. I noticed a single tear roll down Sir George's face, also noticed by Mr Armstrong.
"So it would appear I'm on my own in this debacle. Answer me this if you can. Why do I believe this to be the case, Alexis? "
"Most likely sir, it is because you are on your own."
"My God! You impertinent little whipper-snapper! How dare you talk to me like that!"
"Settle down Gerald. You asked young Alex a straight forward question to which he gave an equally straight forward answer and if I might add, a very truthful one to boot."
"How old are you boy, I mean Alexis?"
"I'm thirteen sir."
"So 'thirteen-year-old-Alexis', you think you can take me on in a dual of words do you?"
"No. I'm sure you would slaughter me but I am prepared to answer your questions, honestly and truthfully and if in so doing I have to fight my corner, then I will and I will always look you in the eye while I do so."
"The bloody cheek of it! 'Look me in the eye' will you? I have never heard the like!"
Sir George once again came to my aid, better able to and old enough to be just a little insulting.
"Never heard the like Gerald? Might I suggest you get out more?
Enough for today I think.
Go get yourself a very large Gin and Tonic while I show young Alex out. Oh, and pour me one as well while you're at it."
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