by Huw Jones

Chapter 23

There was no time for Huw to dwell on recent events, or indeed to give any thought to future plans. His every free moment was taken by revision for his exams which started only ten days later. He was well prepared and so, when he finished his final exam at the end of May, he was confident that he had done enough. He expected to achieve the grades necessary to study the subjects at A-level that he had chosen: History, Welsh and English literature. Life suddenly felt very flat after such a sustained period of study and so he spent a lot of time at the library reading about North Wales and its history ready for the move. It had the additional compensation that he was able to spend time with Valerie at the library.

Huw and Gareth now spoke on the phone at least twice a week, taking it in turns to phone so that the costs were shared equally. They arranged that he would spend a week with Gareth's family from the 10th of June. Huw's school had agreed that, as his exams were over and he was moving from the area, it was permissible for him to take the time off to visit his new school. He phoned to make appointments to visit both Gareth's school and the school at which Gwyn would be teaching.

He was delighted to see Gareth's face as his train pulled into Caernarfon station. He stepped off the train with his suitcase and was greeted by a huge hug from his friend. They chatted animatedly while they walked the short distance home from the station.

"That might be your last journey between Bangor and Caernarfon. The line closes just after Christmas. Before then we've got to put up with the jamboree at Caernarfon Castle when Big Ears is inaugurated as Prince of Wales in two weeks," said Gareth gloomily.

"I'm glad I'm going to be down south when that fiasco is taking place," said Huw angrily.

Both lads were opposed to the inauguration of the Queen's eldest son, Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in an expensive and contentious ceremony to be held inside Caernarfon Castle. Opinion was polarised in Wales, with people equally divided between being passionately in favour or violently opposed to the event.

Huw was greeted warmly by David and Beth and they went straight to the kitchen for a special evening meal to welcome him back. Over dinner, he told them that he had a 10am appointment the following day at Gwyn's school and 10am the day after that at Gareth's school.

Beth was concerned that he might still be fragile as it was only six weeks since his mother had died but he reassured her that he had done all his grieving for his mother over a year ago. That grief had been triggered when she was taken into hospital, when she was lost to him. That difficult subject having been dealt with, Beth asked what they planned to do with the rest of their time.

"I'm going to ask them at school if I can take a few days off now the exams are done. I'll say that Huw is moving to the area and I'm going to help him get to know it before he comes permanently." said Gareth. "If I tell them that he's choosing between my school and Llanrug, I bet they'll make me available!"

They all laughed and the lads talked about the places that they could go and visit. Gareth's enthusiasm for railways coupled with the rapid rate at which local quarry railways were disappearing made the boys decide they would use the remaining days of Huw's stay to indulge in railway nostalgia, and maybe do some mountain walks. They particularly wanted to see the Dinorwig Quarry railway as Gareth that said rumours were rife that it was to close imminently.

They finally went up to bed at 11. Gareth had put Huw's suitcase into the room already, so Huw now got his first view since arrival and was surprised to see a major transformation. The room had been redecorated in strong colours; three walls in Wedgewood blue and the fourth a much darker shade of blue. New curtains picked out the dark blue and there was new carpet in light brown with darker flecks that was perfect for the room. The furniture had all been renewed. There was now a white wardrobe and drawer unit. The two new beds had dark blue headboards and a couple of white nightstands with bedside lights.

"Wow!" said Huw. "No wonder you took my case up, you wanted to surprise me and be here when I saw this!"

"It's great, isn't it," Gareth said enthusiastically, "and I've got these new duvets too, much warmer and more comfortable than sheets and blankets." He lifted the duvet to show the bottom sheet below.

Huw looked sceptical. "Don't they fall off if they just lay on the top?"

"They don't, at least mine hasn't so far. You'll see."

Huw nodded and then smiled at Gareth. "Despite all this extra room, I see that you've pushed the beds together again."

Gareth's head dropped and in a small voice he said, "I'm sorry. I'll move them apart."

He started to move the bottom of one of the beds but Huw held his arm, "Put it back, bach, they're fine just where they are." Gareth smiled back and the boys prepared for bed.

The following morning Huw took the bus to Llanrug and had his first sight of the school where Gwyn would be working. He was wearing his Bath Road school uniform as he walked into reception and received some curious glances from pupils who were passing through. The school secretary showed him into the Head's office.

The Headmaster came round the desk and shook his hand. They exchanged greetings and the Headmaster got down to business. "I understand from Mr Evans, Huw, that you're deciding between coming here and attending school in Caernarfon with a friend," said the Head.

"Yes sir," he replied. "There are several factors I have to take into consideration. I'm not sure that I want to be at the same school where my foster-father is a teacher. It wasn't a problem in Reading but very few people knew that I lived with one of the teachers. This is a smaller community."

The Headmaster nodded and Huw continued, "The second issue is the courses you offer. I'm hoping to do Welsh, History and English literature at A-level so I need to check that you offer those options. The last thing is simply which school I feel most at home at, if I am able to make up my mind on that score in a day."

"That's perfectly reasonable," said the Headmaster. "First, I don't think the other pupils would have any problem with you being part of the family of one of our teachers. It often happens here. We already have four pupils with parents on the staff here. You'll be coming straight into our sixth form, as will a number of other people, so you won't be the only new boy. Second, we do offer the courses you want to follow, provided you reach the necessary grades in your GCE exams. Only you will be able to decide which of the schools feels most like home for you."

They chatted together for a few more minutes until the Headmaster escorted him back to the reception area where he stopped a passing pupil.

He spoke in Welsh, "Rhodri, this is Huw Jones. He's moving to this area from Reading and may be joining us here in the sixth form. Would you give him a tour and answer all his questions about the school, please." Huw and the Headmaster shook hands and the Head went back to his office.

"Do you speak Welsh?" asked Rhodri.

"It's my first language but I'm from South Wales which I'm sure you can hear," responded Huw in Welsh.

Rhodri smiled, "We try to be understanding of our deprived brethren from the South. You'll find us a friendly lot."

For the next 45 minutes, Rhodri took him round the school and answered all his questions. Rhodri, like Huw had just sat his GCE exams and clearly liked being at that school very much. When he left shortly before midday, he shook hands with Rhodri and knew that if he decided to come there, he would have at least one friend.

The following day followed almost exactly the same pattern. He liked the school and, like the previous day, found the Head to be both warm and caring. Most importantly, they were able to offer the courses he wanted. The choice was now simply between a short journey to a school where Gwyn taught or, a longer journey to school where he could be with his best friend. Unfortunately, he felt no closer to being able to choose and decided to talk to Gareth and his parents and to Gwyn and Janet to hear their perspective on the issue.

Over dinner, he chatted through the pros and cons with Gareth and his parents. Gareth thought it was obvious; Huw should join him. David and Beth were more constructive. They pointed out that transport was an issue -- a four-mile bike ride in the summer was very different from cold, dark wintry nights, and there was the cost of bus travel. He countered this by pointing out that he was planning on taking driving lessons when he was 17 on 17 th August. As soon as he passed his driving test, he would drive to school.

Beth was thoughtful for a moment. "You know, Huw, I think you've been looking at this issue purely in the light of your own history. Your anxiety is focused on the possibility that you might be bullied by the other pupils because you live with one of the teachers. In my experience, it's quite common for teachers to have one or more of their children at their school as the local communities that schools draw from are relatively small. What I think is more of an issue, is about you wanting to be yourself and not always feeling that other teachers might discuss you with Gwyn. If you were to go to Gareth's school you can be sure that you would stand or fall because of who you are and not because of who Gwyn is."

"Yes, the Head said that about teachers and their children being at the same school. I really like the idea of being independent though, Beth," said Huw thoughtfully, "I'll talk it through with Gwyn and Janet when I get back but I think I'll be joining Gareth in September.

"Oh well," said Gareth mournfully, "I never did have very much of a reputation at school and now it will be completely destroyed."

"In that case, I couldn't possibly damage your reputation so it looks like I'll be at Llanrug," Huw said mischievously.

"Oh no, that won't be necessary, I'm sure I'll manage somehow!" responded Gareth quickly.

Amidst much laughter, they finished their meal and moved to the living room to watch television for the evening. Eventually the boys went to bed and the conversation about Huw's school recommenced.

Gareth said shyly, "I'm so glad that you decided to come to school with me. When I left Reading, I was a mess. I couldn't get away from that place quick enough, especially to come back to Wales but it tore me apart to leave you behind. I'm not really religious at all but I prayed that God or whoever was listening would bring you back into my life again."

"To be honest, Gareth, I had made my mind up that I was going to come to your school unless they couldn't offer the courses I wanted or unless I hated the place. I felt I owed it to Gwyn to see his school as well but it didn't offer anything more than yours does. Beth's perspective tonight really helped. When you moved away I was torn apart too. You were my only real friend."

That was when he wriggled across the beds and under Gareth's duvet.

"You're right! These duvets do make life easier."

He put his arms round Gareth and gave him a quick kiss on the lips.

Gareth jerked back, "Huw, please don't tease me; you know how I feel about you."

This time Huw said firmly. "I'm a lot clearer how I feel about you as well. I'm ready to lower the barriers for us to move together slowly. I do love you. You are always in my mind... and in my heart."

Then Huw added. "But, please don't move too fast. I don't have any compass for where we're going and I have no idea what to do."

"That makes two of us," responded Gareth, "but there is one thing I do want to do." He put his arms round Huw and the lads kissed passionately.

The room filled with camera flashes, with lightning, with fireworks and with exploding volcanoes. They eventually fell onto their backs panting, trying to catch their breath.

"Duw!" said Huw, "If that is the starting point, the rest of the journey is going to be great!" He paused, "Is it alright if I stay over this side tonight?"

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