by Andrew Foote

Chapter 33

We stayed under the tree for ages, just talking and enjoying the tranquillity of the place.

Ali and Jus were deep in conversation when Katie wandered over to me.

"Alex? Tell me it's none of my business but what exactly is the significance of this place, nice though it is?"

"Well, I don't suppose there's any harm in telling you but I need you to promise me something Katie."

"Go on. I can keep my word?"

"Whatever I tell you stays between the four of us. I'll tell you after Jus's tie-burning ceremony but I do need both you and Ali's word not to go telling anyone else."

"I'll give you mine right here and now and I can't imagine Ali will do anything differently but you can definitely stir up a good mystery!"

"Oh, there's no real mystery! It's just something that's really personal, not only to Jus and I but also to my Mum and Dad."

"Now I feel guilty asking you."

"Please don't. We're friends aren't we? Good friends, close friends even, so no, I've no problem in sharing it with you."

"You wanna know something? You're really sweet and if you and Justin weren't………..and Ali and I………….well, I'd have you as my boyfriend in a heartbeat!"

I blushed for England!

"Likewise! You guys are really special!"

Katie giggled.

"Well if nothing else, we've got two hunky guys who will look out for us when we drop the bombshell about our relationship! "

"You're going to tell everyone? Really, are you?"

"We decided to take a leaf out of Jus's book. Hey? You don't mind us calling him Jus do you?"

"No! You go ahead! It's reserved for friends anyway!"

"Well, the school has gone seriously crazy about the bullying thing since the episode with Jus so we talked about it and as most of our joint friends know, well we thought 'why not?' Let's do it!"

"You're very brave."

"There's a saying, who said it? Not a clue but it goes like 'To thine own self be true.' So that's how it is, not just to ourselves but to each other."

"'Tis likened to a gathering tempest, the sum of which knows no limits, no boundaries, true only to its own unwavering path. Be that tempest, for ever to thine own self be true.' Shakespeare. Macbeth or was it that tragedy……… oh damn…….I've forgotten what it's called……..King Leer!"

"Wow! And I thought you said you wanted to be a scientist!"

"I do and English Lit is probably my weakest subject but Shakespeare I love. The way he was able to manipulate words, totally amazing!"

"How do you remember it all though?"

"I guess if you love something enough, you never forget. It becomes a part of you, almost like a reason to live somehow. If, God forbid, you lost Ali for whatever reason, do you honestly believe you would forget her no matter if you found somebody else?"

She thought for a moment before replying.

"No. She's my first real love. I could never forget."

We cuddled for a moment then held each other's hands, a recognition of our friendship and respect for each other. No sexual engagement here, just a mutual bonding, one soul to another.

Jus and Ali broke off their conversation and came and joined us. Jus looked refreshed and happy.

"Shall we take a wander back? It'll be almost dark by the time we get there and to be honest, I'm starved! What are you going to cook tonight Alex?"

"Curry! I've not been shopping and neither has my Mum! Hope that's okay with everyone?"

Back on board, Jus opened up the stove to allow more heat into the boat then gave Kate and Ali a quick guided tour while I started to prepare supper, A few minutes later Katie joined me.

"Can I give you a hand doing anything?"

"No, you're okay thanks. I've just got to finish frying off the chicken, the sauce I've already done so it's a case of letting that lot simmer, boil the rice and I'm done but you could open a bottle of wine? They're in that cupboard over there along with some glasses."

"Your parents allow you to drink then?"

"Actually it's them who buy it! I'm like my Dad in as much as I'm not good at handling alcohol so a couple of glasses is all I ever drink so they know we're not going to get silly and get drunk or anything. It's just a nice way to relax."

"So your father doesn't drink much either then?"

"Umm, he might not be able to handle it but that doesn't stop him from trying! You should see the state of him in the morning after he and Sir George have been on a bender!"

Following supper the girls elected to do the washing-up and once we were all sitting down Jus took his old school tie out of a plastic bag and sat it on the table. For some reason he had coiled it up so I asked him why.

"I didn't want it to dry out. I want it to burn slowly. I want it to suffer the way I did."

He opened the stove door and made a brief speech.

"This is not directed at you personally tie but you represent everything that has been wrong with my life these past two years. Your burning slowly symbolises the eradication of all the pain and suffering I had to endure, the mental anguish, the physical beatings, the fear, the loneliness and with your passing I am able to embrace my new life in the company of good friends and especially Alex, a boy who I can honestly say I love more than I love life itself. I hereby consign you to the flames." and with that he tossed the tie onto the fire and for a moment, watched it burn before closing the door.

The silence was deafening. The only person not showing signs of emotion was Jus.

"Hey! Come on, cheer up you blokes? You have no idea how good that made me feel!"

We all of us sniffed back the tears and realising the significance of his words, we managed a smile. Jus was definitely back on form.

"C'mon! I think this is cause for celebration! Grab that other bottle Alex. Let's get pissed!"

Later that evening Katie reminded me that I had promised to tell them about the 'family tree' and its significance.

"So you see, like I told Jus, even if he hadn't pulled through and I'd eventually found someone else, there is no way I could've taken them there. As my Mum and Dad did, I lost my innocence there, I realised I was able to accept love and love in return."

Not for the first time that night, everyone turned silent before Ali spoke up.

"Oh wow. That's one heck of a story Alex. Is that the reason you went there that night Jus?"

"I don't know. So far as I'm aware I didn't go there deliberately although I was very groggy but it was like some unseen entity had guided me there. You've seen how the dog's react to the place so actually, maybe it's a good job I don't understand otherwise it might totally weird me out!"

"Spooky but nice spooky!"

That night in bed we lay there listening to Ali and Kate in muffled conversation and the occasional peal of laughter.

Jus was on his side with his head on my shoulder, my left arm around his waist trying to avoid his ribs.

"They're nice girls don't you think Alex? Maybe you can understand why their friendship was so important to me at school."

"I never doubted it. They're such easy company and that coming from someone who doesn't even understand anything about girls let alone fancy them! Somehow it is how I've always thought that having a close sister might be, you know, no sexual undertow but really friendly and well, able to share personal stuff without feeling awkward."

"Yeah. Just like that but I don't wish to sound unkind but it'll be nice to have 'Spook' to ourselves again! We can't………you know?"

"Randy toad! Not very much we could do anyhow what with your broken ribs! Don't sweat it! We've a lifetime to enjoy each other!

Umm…….I bought the rest of the wine in with me. Shall we finish it? It might help to take our minds off………..you know?"

The following morning it was business as usual.

We left the girls to sleep in and went aboard 'Casio' for our studies.

At ten o'clock the girls came and said good-bye and by one o'clock with our heads buzzing with the intense workout the morning had provided, we left for the mill with the dogs. As usual Joe was hard at work, this time painting the floor with a thick grey paint.

"Whoa guys! Don't go walking on that just yet. It'll take overnight for it to cure off."

Jus studied the paint tin.

"Some type of special floor paint then?"

"Yeah. We have to keep the production area as dust free as we can, the injection moulder doesn't like dirty environments. We had the service engineer round this morning so Tim went into Reading and bought some of this stuff on his recommendation and as soon as it's dry, the engineer will install the machine and train us in its operation."

"Train you more like. We're a bit busy studying for exams at the moment. We'll learn from you later. Okay with that?"

I suddenly remembered about the modifications that had to be made.

"Did he mention anything about the alterations to the mould?"

"Yes he did. All been done apparently, tested on our machine while it was still installed at the University so he recon's that once we are happy about driving it, it'll be all systems go! We should be in production by this time next week."

"Great stuff! Get some stock on the shelf then as soon as the patent goes through we can market it."

Joe laughed!

"Don't you and your Dad talk to each other then? So long as you put 'Patent applied for' on the packaging, nobody can copy it. Okay, if we didn't get patented then anyone could steal the design but that's not likely so in other words, you can go ahead and sell them!"

"The bastard! He never told me that! He's got some explaining to do now!"

"Ouch! You're starting to sound like a Company Director now! Have you thought about how you're going to market it? The reason I ask is that a friend of my Dad owns the pet shop in Caversham and he might be interested in stocking a few."

"Not really something I'd even thought about Joe but leave it with me. My Dad or Sir George might have ideas but it might be a good jumping off point."

Up until now Jus had kept quiet but all the talk of selling got him going.

"It's a shame we weren't ready before the regatta. We could've had a stall maybe even a demonstration area between races. I bet we could've sold hundreds there!"

Joe was quick off the mark.

"Well as a dog owner, I would've bought one but most of the out-door events have finished for the season now, even 'Crufts' doesn't happen for months."

Jus looked thoughtful for a moment.

"No, not all of them Joe. Sheepdog trials. Rounding up the ewes before lambing is happening all over the country as we speak. They used part of the grounds at Down House to stage one of them, it was even televised. Hey! That could work!"

I had a job controlling my emotions at this.

"You're not serious Jus? You'd go back there already?"

"Not as a pupil I wouldn't, you'd have a job getting me as far as Thatcham but to rub their noses in something we created? Try and stop me! Next time the girl's call or Joe, maybe you could get them to find out if it's going to happen this year and if it is, then I'm definitely up for it!"

I was really taken aback by this but conceded to Jus's new-found confidence.

"You're nuts! Totally off your trolley but yeah, fuck it, it might just work! What time are calling it a day Joe?"

"About now. Got to leave this to dry overnight. Why?"

"Come down to the boat and have some supper, maybe a glass of wine. We need to talk strategy and our way forward.

Are you excited about all of this?"

"I'm like a dog with two dicks! This will work! I know it will!!"

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