Summer Term 1969
The following September Pip soon succumbed to the temptation to make contact with Sacha from his new school. His longing to keep in touch with the younger boy remained and had not dimmed as he hoped it might do with a new school and a new set of friends. Finding himself alone on the third weekend of term, Pip decided to write to Sacha. No one could stop him now. He was beyond the reach of Captain Porter, but what to write? After a couple of attempts he decided on a bland approach, no hints of anything, no reference to some of what had occurred. After all, who might get to read the letter other than Sacha? There was a strict rule against reading other boy's letters at The Rocks, but Pip no longer put total faith in that sort of code now. In the end he wrote:
I hope you are well and enjoying your final year at The Rocks? I miss the place terribly, particularly the sea and being out in the country. Here we are stuck in the Home Counties, no water and no escape. The only good thing about it is that there is a railway station so you can get out. The School is huge and seems obsessed with making all the boys into military types. I have to do CCF (Combined Cadet Corps) every Friday; it's a real bore what with all the kit cleaning and kit inspections.
Anyway, tell me your news."
Pip waited for a reply. It didn't come immediately as he had hoped. Perhaps the letter had not arrived? Perhaps someone had stopped Sacha from seeing it or replying to it? Worst of all, Sacha had seen it and just not responded?
Each succeeding day Pip's heart sunk further, but still each day he checked for the next two weeks. 'It's the weekend' or 'the post can be very slow from Cornwall' and a myriad of other excuses came to mind.
His hopes slowly dashed, Pip stopped checking his pigeonhole closely. However, one day about three weeks later, Pip noticed a small envelope stuck at the back. It had been hidden from his gaze by a circular about the house play. He checked the handwriting, small, neat, noticeably childlike, but recognisably that of Sacha's. Pip rushed into the toilets and locked himself in a cubicle. The first thing he noticed was how light the letter was, only one piece of paper, but he stopped himself; his letter had been similarly brief.
Thank you for your letter.
Sorry it took so long to respond, but I had letters from Sam and the parents as well. Letter writing can be a bit of a chore sometimes and now I am Head Boy like Peter there are so many things I have to do. Apart from being Head Boy, I am also Captain of the First Team; we are not very good.
Mr Barnes is retiring at the end of the year. Must go. We are still swimming in the sea at the moment."
Pip immediately responded. This time he wrote far more. He was acting in a play and was learning to play the guitar.
Another long wait, a very short response.
"I have lots of extra work to do. Captain Porter wants me to do the scholarship for my next school. My father is very keen and is insisting that they 'stretch' me. It is as bad as it sounds. I am only allowed out one day per weekend now and have to do extra French tuition with Mrs Porter."
Pip wrote another longer letter. What would interest Sacha? He tried a couple of subjects. Films? No good. The Rocks was nowhere near a cinema that showed anything interesting. Sport? Sport just brought back a dry list of results. Over the next term and a half the two boys exchanged the blandest of correspondence. Pip dared not hint at any of his feelings for Sacha. The letters in return became shorter and more formulaic, a plea that extra work for his scholarship exams was important given as an excuse. Finally Sacha responded to a letter towards the end of the Easter term.
Next term I have to concentrate all my time on my exams. They really are important as I keep being told by everyone. I am hardly going to have any time until they are over. So please don't expect me to write until after they finish. I've got too many things on just now. Perhaps after the exams (last one Friday, June 13th)?
Pip wrote a response in haste and with a mix of alarm and anger. He feared that Sacha was avoiding and even rejecting him. He had kept all the letters and reread them. In reality there was very little in them. The couple of times he had suggested visiting, Sacha had simply said 'no' as he was not allowed out. Pip waited until the morning and re-read his letter. He took one look at the long, pleading contents and decided to throw it away. Instead, he chose to stick with the glimmer of hope hinted at the end of Sacha's letter and take up Sacha's invitation to write after his exams were over. Sacha had mentioned the date of his final exam in his last letter. So on June 12th, Pip wrote to him, hoping to catch Sacha in the period of post exam euphoria.
I think your exams are over now? You must be so relieved and now you have four weeks to do pretty much what you want. I wish I did! Our year exams are right at the end of term and I am not looking forward to them at all."
Pip passed on a few more pieces of not terribly exciting news and then made a plunge for what he really wanted.
"Now you are free, I can come down any weekend other then the second one in July. We could meet in Penzance. I am sure you would like to get out of school. You always used to, remember?"
The response came quickly. Pip saw that as a good sign. The letter was just the usual few sentences, but Sacha had noticeably softened his response.
I have been stuck in school all this term, but yes, now I am free. We could meet, but I am Captain of the First XI at cricket. So that does knock out most weekends. Still, June 28th, it's a week Saturday, could you do that? It will have to be short as we are having our Sixth Form party that evening. You do recall the Sixth Form party last year? As Head Boy I can't allow anything to go wrong this year. So no diving from Parson's Leap.
I can meet you at 11am at Penzance Station; I can say I am meeting Sam. So it should be okay."
In the long nights in his public school dormitory before the proposed meeting, Pip worked out the meeting in detail. They would meet at the small café beside the station in Penzance. Then they would go for a walk, similar to the walks they had done in the past. Given the options, Pip picked the walk between Mousehole and Lamorna as his ideal choice. Pip sent a short note confirming the time of his train and said no more. He was frightened that he might put Sacha off if he mentioned any plans.
Before he set off from his school, early that Saturday, Pip checked himself in the mirror. He was growing. He knew he looked and felt much older than he had done the year before. He was broader and taller from playing endless rugger, but he had lost some of his tan from his days at The Rocks.
Pip duly set off by train. He had needed special permission to leave so early, but fortunately the mention of a supposed aunt cleared the way.
The train journey was long and tedious, longer than he remembered it, but then he was travelling on a Saturday along with the early holidaymakers. The train was a slow one stopping all the way, or so it seemed. Pip could feel the tension build as he neared his destination, passing the station at St Erth. Perhaps Sacha would get on? But the train was worryingly late. Besides, the bus went nearer to the school and was cheaper. The boys always took the bus so long as it was convenient. Above all else in Pip's mind was how was Sacha going to be? How would he behave towards Pip? Would he be warm as he used to be or cool and distant as Pip knew he could be if he wanted to?
The train wheezed into the station at Penzance nearly an hour late. Normally Penzance station enthralled Pip, being as it was, the end of the line with the waves lapping almost up to the station itself. However, this time, due to his late arrival, Pip found himself not savouring the view of the sea and St Michael's Mount, but instead anxiously weaving his way through the thronging masses of holidaymakers and their suitcases, his heart in his mouth as he left the station to find Sacha. Would he still be there or would he have given up?
Pip rushed to the agreed meeting point, the café next to the station, heart in mouth. Would Sacha still be waiting? To Pip's immeasurable relief, in the corner was the familiar sight, a slightly older version of the red headed boy Pip remembered so well.
Sacha had his head down, concentrating on something in front of him. Sacha did not look up even when the bell over the door tinkled as Pip entered. His head was down, concentrating on the paper in front of him. He was drinking a mug of tea in the corner, wearing a plain white tee shirt and shorts made from last year's jeans, slightly undersized. Sacha was very tanned, fewer freckles showing than last year. On closer inspection Pip could see Sacha was leaning over a copy of the Times , deep into the cryptic crossword. Over the last year he had developed a passion for crosswords with the encouragement of Mr Barnes and Captain Porter.
There was a queue. Pip hoped Sacha would see him, but he kept his head down as the single middle-aged woman on duty slowly served the people in front of him. Eventually it was Pip's turn. He ordered a squash. He couldn't stand Coke and still did not like tea or coffee. Once he had the squash and some fruitcake in his hand he walked over to the corner where Sacha was sitting at a table by himself.
"Hello, Sacha." Sacha looked up and scanned Pip from his head down, taking in a year's growth and Pip's gangly teenage appearance.
"Oh hello, Pip, made it at last?"
"Yes, sorry, the train was late."
Pip sat down, putting his glass and plate on the small amount of space not occupied by Sacha's newspaper. Most of the crossword puzzle was done.
"I know. I looked at the arrivals board when I arrived. Fortunately there are not that many trains and all of them were late. It's a nuisance. Still, no real harm."
"No, thanks. I have had some toast already."
Sacha continued looking at the crossword puzzle. "Medicinal dose - falls."
"The clue begins with D. It's almost the last one. Silly really, only five letters."
"Oh right, I am not really good at crossword puzzles."
Sacha concentrated on the puzzle. Pip felt he was a bit of a distraction in comparison. Uncomfortable he realised that Sacha was keeping his guard up and not being that welcoming towards him. A boy who clearly wanted to be somewhere else, but who felt an obligation to be there.
"Think of some medical doses, you know, pills, spoonfuls, that sort of thing."
"Doses, five letters beginning with D."
"Silly, it can't be. They gave that in the clue, but you are right about the S. Hang on four down: fruit mixed with oil for victory in Europe."
Sacha hardly paused for breath. "Oh easy, Olive as in oil, O L I and V E for victory in Europe. That just leaves the doses."
Pip struggled to keep up with Sacha's thought processes; meanwhile Sacha twirled his pen a couple of times in thought.
"Oh, wait, I know. Drops." Sacha filled in the clue triumphantly. "Done."
He folded the paper up, finally lifted his head and smiled. "How's big school then?"
Pip, glad to be acknowledged at last painted a picture of the school.
"Oh, much bigger than The Rocks. It's urban, all sorts of boys and the place is run by the prefects really. Can't say I like it much, but it does have advantages. The cinema in town for instance that we can go to, so long as it is not out of bounds of course."
"I think I prefer it here."
"You like it now?"
"Oh yes, being in the Sixth Form is good, especially since the exams finished."
"How is Peter?"
The two boys exchanged awkward pleasantries, family; Peter was at another school and it was 'okay' apparently. Sacha turned to his tea and Pip to his squash. A silence began to settle in. Pip felt awkward, a need to get things going again – a change of scene?
"Come on, let's get out of here. It's a nice day."
"Oh, okay. Yes, let's get away from here."
Sacha picked up his plate and mug and took them up to the counter. Awkwardly Pip returned to the table to retrieve his glass and plate and followed suit. The boys left the café and walked outside.
"Where are we going then?"
All Pip had on offer was a walk, but time was now too short for his original plans. Pip detected a slight edge to Sacha's question. He would have to play safe. He thought quickly.
"We can walk along to Newlyn, and see where the Scillonian sails from."
It was hardly original, but Sacha could not complain. Pip really wanted to take the bus to Mousehole and walk to Lamorna, but they had left it too late for that. Sacha weighed up the offer. Newlyn he felt comfortable with. "Okay then."
The two boys walked, or rather trudged off along the promenade, which to start with ran alongside the busy road to Mousehole, so busy it made conversation tricky. The road noise was probably just as well as the awkward silences continued; so many subjects were out of bounds or could lead to areas, which neither boy wanted to discuss. Pip took a sidelong glance at Sacha. Sacha had grown a bit; he was probably nearing five foot now. His hair, surely longer than allowed, was turning from his signature copper red to a darker chestnut colour. It was going to end up dark brown like Peter's, Pip decided. Impulsively Pip found himself reaching out, just to touch his companion. It was the lightest of brushes to Sacha's hair to one side to check if he was developing sideburns. He was not.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
Sacha glared at Pip and put a full yard between the two of them, running his fingers through his hair to bring some order back to it.
"I was just checking to see if you were getting any sideburns. I am. See?" Pip brushed his hair to one side; the beginnings of a sideburn could be seen.
"Well, don't touch. Honestly!"
Sacha was making very clear his ground rules for this day.
"Sorry, I am sorry. I don't know why I did it."
Pip moved closer to Sacha, but not as close as he wished as Sacha walked quickly to keep some distance between the two of them.
"I won't do that again, really, but look, see I have had a bit of a growth spurt."
Pip was proud of his new growth, the hairs on his legs. Sacha still looked young even though he had grown and looked more like his brother.
Sacha stopped and looked at Pip, in animosity, in shame, but most of all in embarrassment at the sheer stupidity of Pip's touch. The boys stood in the middle of the pavement. Sacha paused until an elderly couple walked around them, muttering to themselves at the rudeness of the younger generation.
"Look, if that is all you want to do, I would rather catch the next bus and go straight back to school. Do you understand?"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done it. It was dumb."
Pip was desperate. Sacha was clearly intent on carrying out his threat if Pip said one more wrong thing.
"Subject closed. I won't do anything like that again."
Sacha weighed up what Pip was saying and looked into Pip's eyes. He could see that Pip would probably stick to his word. Sacha paused. This was really not how he wanted things to be. He did not want to be unfriendly, but equally surely Pip understood. Last year was last year. Things were different now.
Pip looked anxiously at the younger boy, trying to read a message in Sacha's stern stare. Sacha was disappointed that anything like this had even come up. In the intervening year he had softened his view of Pip and lulled himself into thinking that what happened on Trendrine was just a one-off thing that would not be repeated. Sacha had been relieved that he had not seen any mention of anything in any of Pip's letters. So he had mistakenly believed that Pip had moved on. He dearly hoped he had.
Sacha sighed. "Well, come on then."
Sacha turned and began walking towards Newlyn again. Pip realised that he had been given one more chance, followed and then slowly caught up with Sacha. For the moment they were still friends.
There was a long awkward silence as they walked along the somewhat faded Front at Penzance. Pip plunged into a chasm of shame and despondency deep in his own thoughts. Sacha was far too sharp for him now; he picked up any nuance and interpreted it his own way. He was now independent of any guidance from someone like Pip. Sacha gradually calmed down, glad he had not stormed off. He had feared what Pip might do. However, Sacha felt he was in control of the situation now in this public place. Pip was in fear of Sacha walking off at the slightest provocation. Pip realised he had so nearly blown the whole day in the short length of just one stupid and ultimately unimportant act. His act was undoubtedly stupid beyond belief in Sacha's eyes.
After a minute's silence as Sacha slowed down, Pip tentatively introduced a new subject.
"He got into terrible trouble last week for letting off a firecracker in Mr Barnes's class. Can you believe that? Fancy getting into that much hot water in your last weeks at school."
"That sort of thing will never happen to you will it? I mean getting caught."
Sacha paused. "That's not true. I just never get caught - well except with you and that wretched cake. I thought I was going to get it for that. Fortunately a clean record helped. I just got a long and rather boring lecture."
It was not how it felt at the time, reflected Sacha, but that was how he portrayed it when asked about it by Peter later.
"Captain Porter was good at that. The lectures that bored."
Sacha smiled at their shared intimacy. He was becoming more relaxed, more like his old self, safe on old ground where he knew he had bettered Pip. Underneath his placid appearance he was intensely competitive. He was kicking gravel in front of him in the maddening way he used to do when he went walking with Pip at The Rocks.
"You are no goody-goody, are you? In fact you were a major mischief at times, weren't you? Remember Parson's Leap?"
Sacha blushed. "Well, Parson's Leap only really got me into trouble with Peter. He was furious. The cake was nothing really. Captain Porter has teased me about that ever since. It was the other thing."
Sacha stopped and looked at Pip.
"I didn't really understand at the time, you know, you and me, why Captain Porter stepped in between us. I only really found out about some of what was being said afterwards."
Pip took advantage of the opportunity offered. "That was all my fault. I am sorry, things just got… I just let things out of control."
There was an uncomfortable silence.
"At the time I trusted you totally. I idolised you, I guess. You took advantage of that." Sacha looked for affirmation from Pip. "You did, surely? Then Captain Porter somehow worked it out that something was going on. He asked me. I never told him anything. To try and explain it would have been worse, far worse."
Pip tried to defend himself. "But I never meant to get you in any sort of trouble," but Sacha wasn't listening. "Even before I entered his study about the cake thing, I think Captain Porter was suspicious that something was going on between us."
Sacha paused, blushing. He had never discussed the nature of what had happened between him and Pip with anyone as directly as this, not even Peter, not even Sam, although both had had awkward conversations around the subject with him afterwards, Peter accusatory, Sam conciliatory.
"No one else ever knew the full truth. They tried to dismiss it, a passing phase and 'crush' as Sam put it."
Sacha's eyes glinted. He had always been made to think of himself as the one in the family around whom lots of arguments revolved. Arguments that made him run up to his bedroom, slam the door and bury his head under his pillow. Right from the day he was born, Sacha had been deemed demanding and difficult at times, reducing his mother to tears of frustration. In the end Sacha's mother was diagnosed with post-natal depression. In time Sacha's mother eased out of her depression, but by then the damage was done. Although his mother doted on her youngest, Sacha had become a difficult highly-strung child who could be moody and guaranteed to disrupt the entire family whenever he so wished. Peter, desperately insecure owing to his mother's periods of depression, was the quiet occasionally withdrawn middle child. Sam the perfect oldest child had by then escaped to boarding school in England.
The events at school last summer had scarred Sacha, the first time he had felt that his life was not fully in his own control. Being 'led astray' was probably what most people thought had happened to him. Peter had said as much even though he had shouted at him for being 'beastly' on their return to Hong Kong.
"You are just too naïve to be let out of the house, Sacha. That's your problem."
Sam stepped in. She stopped Peter from raising the subject with their parents.
"You're to say nothing. If you do, it will make it worse for Sacha and might make things difficult for you too."
Peter, despite his anger, realised that his sister was probably speaking sense and bit his tongue. To his parents their main concern was Sacha's sudden drop in performance during the latter half of the summer term. Captain Porter had covered for him, expressing the view that the move to a new school had unsettled the boy. Despite the temporary dip in Sacha's academic record, all the adults stuck to the generally accepted view that Sacha was going to go far, further even than Sam. Already his father had placed a lot of expectation on his shoulders. In turn his mother placed a lot of worry on Sacha, his occasional emotional fragility, his difficult moods, rarely seen outside of the Morgan family home, his contrariness and self-destructive behaviour on occasions.
Pip stayed silent. Sacha was aware that Pip was expecting more.
"Captain Porter asked all sorts of questions. He asked me about friends and such. I think he was expecting me to say something, confess to us being up to something, but I didn't say anything. I don't think he was fooled. He told me to be more friendly with boys in my year and not hang around with you."
Uncomfortably Pip recalled the same conversation with Captain Porter, the strict instructions not to speak to Sacha for the remainder of the term. "But there are only six months between you and me in age. There are more like ten months between me and Clancy for instance and no one said anything about that, did they?"
"So you thought no one else noticed, did you? In a boarding school you really thought that no one would notice, Pip? Peter, Jonathan and the Johnson twins were saying things about us, how we kept sneaking off together. It was doing the rounds of the Fifth and Sixth Formers. They even said we were boyfriends and yet you didn't realise, did you?"
It was Pip's turn to kick some gravel to hide his lack of awareness of the hurt he had caused to Sacha. He did not have an answer to Sacha. Now he was beginning to realise why Sacha changed so much after the cake incident.
"I am sorry. I didn't realise. I thought we had kept it hidden, that no one knew."
"The twins started to talk after the first three weeks of my first term at The Rocks according to Peter, after we started sneaking out together every Sunday. Then there was the night in Ardvasar. Finally Jonathan followed us that one time we disappeared during cricket. He followed us and told Peter."
"We would have heard if he was close. Surely he didn't see anything?"
"We were alone together for nearly an hour hidden in the bushes. He could have a good guess as to the possibilities. You had done something similar with Jonathan himself the term before I turned up, hadn't you? In the toilets, I mean. Peter told me about that one. So it was not a first time for you, was it?"
Pip was miserable. "He knew about me and Jonathan too? When we nearly got caught? We were only there for five minutes."
"He guessed, put two and two together. Jonathan had been up to no good with the Johnson twins too and they were not the only ones."
Pip sensed something.
"In what way?"
Sacha realised he had said too much in the heat of the moment, but perhaps if Pip realised he was not the only one, it might be better.
"Me and Jonathan" Sacha responded quietly, as if ashamed of his confession.
Pip felt betrayed. Sacha for only one time in his life decided to be explicit.
"On the day of the cake, before we met you. It was just fooling around in the shower after we played tennis."
Pip felt a sense of betrayal. Sacha was his alone.
"I didn't know that."
"Of course not. Neither of us planned it. It just happened between us. Jonathan led the way, but I followed."
"But between you and me it was far more," Sacha paused. It had to be said. "The things we did."
Sacha could not bring himself to say more. He had tried to blot the memories of the specifics from his mind. Pip was uncomfortable; yes it had been very different to his own experience with Jonathan. What happened with Sacha would never have happened with any other boy. Sacha stayed silent for a moment. Really he wanted to change the subject, but he just had to get through to Pip.
"Jonathan must have told Peter. He wanted to get back at you. He was jealous of our friendship. Peter had a real go at me, said you were a…" Sacha stopped and swallowed the next word. "A queer and that I would become queer if I kept being friends with you. He tried to make me tell him exactly what we did together, everything, down to every single last detail. He nearly broke my arm doing it. You try lying your way out of that sort of thing to your older brother." Sacha looked at Pip accusingly. "I didn't even know what he meant, you know – 'queer'. Clancy told me in the end. Our friendship was the talk of all the Fifth and Sixth years and you didn't even know? Didn't Owen or Clancy tell you?"
"No, no one said anything to me."
Owen and Clancy were too loyal to Pip to have confronted him on his relationship with Sacha. Pip struggled to say some more. Sacha was angrier than he had ever seen before. "I am sorry. I never meant to hurt you like that. Why didn't you say something?"
"Because I didn't want to. I liked you. I felt you were my best friend, but then I was also frightened of you. You wouldn't take no for an answer, I knew that."
"I thought it was just a friendship, a special friendship, that's all. We were closer than other boys, but that was all, but I felt guilty. I felt I had done something wrong with you."
Pip felt he could say nothing. Sacha clearly needed to say these things to him because he could say them to no one else.
"I was overwhelmed at first. The thought that a Sixth Former was interested in having me as a friend. You were always friendly to me and stopped me being lonely when I arrived. I just wanted to go back to Hong Kong. I just wanted to go home. I hated the school at first, Peter picking on me, the way the twins chucked me under the shower. I wanted to go right back home to Hong Kong then, but you looked after my watch and you got the towel to dry me. I knew had a friend then."
Sacha glared at him, a fierceness Pip had never seen before. Then his voice softened.
"That was why I was loyal to you. You were my first real friend at The Rocks."
The boys were nearing Newlyn, but instead they stopped on the front as Sacha still had things to say and what he wanted to say he did not want overheard.
"Ardvasar and then our time up on Trendrine." His voice trailed off. Sacha still could not say some of what he wanted to say. "It wasn't right, was it? I never want it to be like that again. I am not a queer. I am not going to end up like Mr Barnes, a queen."
"What do you mean about Mr Barnes?"
"How do you mean? He's always after Mrs Prince."
"And any pretty boy in the school like you, like Jonathan and like me. He liked you above all. You could tell. He let you off anything."
"That's not true, Sacha. Honest it's not."
"He knew we were going to be alone together. He practically encouraged us to go, Pip."
Pip thought, had Mr Barnes guessed? "That might be true."
"Peter says you used to go to his room when you were in the First Form."
"Really? That's not right. I mean I only went the once. We just fed his budgerigars. That's all. He only kissed me once, just once, nothing more."
"And how many more boys did he kiss and how many masters do you think kiss boys? Think about it."
It was Pip's turn to be defensive. "That's just not true. I don't believe that Mr Barnes has ever done anything to any other boy, honest."
"How do you know? You are just guessing. I never heard of anything else. So I am guessing he hasn't, but what about previously, at other schools? We just don't know."
Pip silenced himself. He could not come up with any further defence for Mr Barnes. He sighed and looked at Sacha. As usual Sacha's deep-set eyes gave little away. Sacha watched Pip in turn silently, his eyes piercing Pip. Pip took a deep breath. He had to ask one final question.
"I don't want you to have to run off from me or make endless excuses. If you don't want to see me anymore, just say so. That's all."
Challenged, Sacha felt he had to be honest. What was the point of prolonging things? Nothing was going to change, get better between them. Being polite, he had tried to keep Pip at a distance all this year, but Pip had ignored the hints and kept writing. Sacha knew he had to be direct. Pip needed to understand that for Sacha things were changing. Pip needed to know, to be convinced.
"I've got a girl friend now, Felicity, from the tennis club in Hong Kong. She's the younger sister of one of Sam's friends. She's my first girlfriend. I think I'm her first boyfriend too. We write to each other all the time. We are allowed to go to the cinema, meet for a Coke in Central, that sort of thing, but the thing is, every time I go near her, when she wants to kiss, I think of you. I feel I am betraying her, feel guilty and I feel guilty because of you and what we did last year. I am never sure. Am I doing the right thing with her or is it a con? A deception? Until you came along, I had never thought about it, girls, and boys. Then there was you and then I thought that was it, but Felicity's changed that. She's proved it isn't true." Sacha paused. He realised he had to spell it out. "Sorry Pip, we have to stop. That was why I agreed to see you. This is the last time we meet. You have to realise that. That's what I am telling you. This is the last time we see each other. No more. No more visits, no more letters, nothing, ever. You asked. Now I am telling you."
Desperately, Pip tried another tack. Perhaps there was a way back?
"Oh, but why the double dare, the midnight jump? Was it really a test or was it something else?"
Sacha thought for a moment before answering. He kept his eyes down when he finally did so.
"I don't know. I hadn't planned it. It just came to me suddenly, this thing, to prove that I could do it, to do more than anyone else, to make that jump. Even if the jump had gone wrong, it would still have been the right thing to do. Frankly I didn't care what happened when we jumped."
"You can't possibly mean that."
"I do. I didn't care. Peter was making my life horrible. I wanted to get my own back."
"And take me with you, if necessary?"
"Yes. Strangely, yes. It seemed important that you were with me, whatever happened."
Pip was stunned into silence. He realised he did not understand Sacha at all at times. Naïvely he had hoped for a chance to pick up with Sacha where he had left things, but Sacha had put a stop to it that afternoon walking between Penzance and Newlyn.
"My sister Sam called what we had a 'crush'. She told me all about crushes. It happens between girls too, she said. I guess I enjoyed it at the time, but afterwards I always knew it was wrong. It wasn't right then. It certainly isn't right now."
"I suppose you're right. It could never work."
There was only one answer. Pip let it out, a barely audible whisper.
There was no going back. Pip knew that. Sacha was determined that this was the end of the matter.
Sacha sighed. There was a minute or two of silence between them. Sacha sat on a wall looking out at the empty dock of the Scillonian. Pip sat alongside Sacha. There was a distance between them now, a distance that had never been there before. Things had changed now. Pip understood. There would never be another occasion. The future agreed, there was not much point in the boys saying more to each other. The silence spoke a grudging acceptance by Pip of Sacha's ultimatum. Sacha eventually broke the silence.
"Come on, Pip. I'm hungry. There's a place that does pasties by the crossroads."
Pip followed Sacha inside numbed as they ordered two pasties and lemonade for themselves and then went out and sat down on the jetty, side by side, where the fishing fleet tied up, watching the circling ever hungry seagulls.
As they sat side by side, a chaste gap between them, the two boys were lost in contemplation, sadness on both sides. If they had just been friends, on the playing fields, in their free time, it would not be like this. Sacha felt the sadness that he had to break with someone he had once liked intensely, but he could not see any happiness coming from keeping up with Pip. When he had first arrived at the school, lonely and upset at being forced into the shadow of his brother Peter, Sacha had yearned for his own circle of friends. He was conscious of having lots of acquaintances at school and at the club in Hong Kong, but they were compartmentalised away from each other and apart from Peter, no one had ever really got as close to Sacha as had Pip. Sacha had always kept much of himself in reserve despite being popular with almost everyone. The only person who could get close to knowing what went on inside Sacha's head was Peter. Peter knew his weaknesses, his vulnerable spots, things that could still make him cry. That was how Peter controlled his brother, the brother who he knew would overtake him in time. In a naïve attempt at sibling control Peter would often try and crush his brother using physical might and shafts of mental torment to upset and weaken his brother. Yet at the same time this was the brother he loved and who he felt closer to than anyone else. That was the paradox of Peter and Sacha. Amidst their sometimes tempestuous and violent rivalry they shared a very strong bond of sibling support, united when their father or mother took them to task for something at home or at school.
At home Peter felt himself becoming the black sheep of the family because he was never going to achieve the great heights that his father, himself a self made man, so desperately wanted. Sacha and his older sister Samantha took after their mother, who was a doctor. Both were destined for great things in the future. Peter's banishment to The Rocks was the act of parents trying to improve his chances and also to reduce the number of flare-ups that were happening between their two warring sons. That their two sons who had been so close were now often coming to blows was of great concern to both parents.
To Sacha, however, his spats with his brother were comparatively minor. He knew from a young age that he would eventually catch up with his brother, if not physically (there seemed no chance of that as a young boy) then with mental agility and his ability to fit in. Peter, lacking the guile of his brother, had sought to try and hold his brother back and prevent him from overtaking him. Ultimately Peter knew he would never succeed in that. Sacha would eventually outpace him. At a superficial level Sacha could blend easily with others. He knew what everyone wanted and was eager to please, a trick he had learnt at an early age when he was in competition with Peter for attention. Peter had deeper friendships, but in common with his younger brother, always kept some distance between himself and even the closest of acquaintance. Sacha's friendship with Pip was coming between Sacha and Peter. Peter had never before found himself facing a rival in his relationship with Sacha. Since the day that Peter had set Sacha up for the cold shower initiation, Pip had been there in what Peter felt was his natural place, protecting his younger brother. Instead Pip had unwittingly stepped in between Peter and Sacha and built up an absolute trust with Sacha. Absolute trust was something that Peter could now never have with Sacha, having so publicly betrayed his younger brother any number of times at The Rocks. The final straw for Peter had been when Sacha and Pip had started to spend increasing amounts of time together alone. Sacha himself felt that the events since the trip to Skye were not totally in his control. Perhaps it had been the accident? Sacha had never been one not to be in control of himself and that night, for the first time in his life he had felt control of himself passing to another.
The following occasion on Trendrine with Pip meant Sacha could not claim to himself that he was entirely passive in what had occurred. He had actively participated. Once Pip had left The Rocks at the end of last year, Sacha had hoped things would move on. His hopes of a clean break had been shattered by the arrival of Pip's letters. Sacha did not want to hurt Pip. Instead he had cut down contact, hoping it might fade away. He did not want to tell Pip straight off, as he knew that Pip would be hurt and that was not what he wanted. Sacha still had fond memories of Pip even if in later life he would erase some elements of their relationship from his memory. Sacha knew he was growing up and Pip was just a phase he had to go through, brought on by being in an all boys' school.
In Pip there was a difference. He had taken an interest in some of the boys around him since almost the first day he had started at The Rocks. Then he had taken an instant interest in the twelve-year-old captain of the football team when he had first glimpsed him changing during that first term. Then there had been Jonathan who taught him things no one else had. Sacha's arrival from Hong Kong changed Pip's life completely. Pip had almost instantaneously been drawn to Sacha like no other boy before or since. The fact that Sacha had initially been very keen for friendship led Pip to misinterpret what Sacha felt for him. Pip refused to accept that it was he who was different, not Sacha. He found it even harder to accept that Sacha was at heart a typical boy, more sensitive than most, but still very much a normal boy. Sacha always knew he would conform, that he would eventually fall for a girl. He knew from the tennis courts in Hong Kong, when he sometimes played with Sam's friends, that there was a definite mutual attraction between him and some of the girls he played with. That something stirred between Sacha and some of Sam's girlfriends even though he was several years younger was no great surprise. Sacha's relationship with Jonathan was one of mutual respect. Just the once they had shared an adventure that many boys their age had done before and since. With Pip there was a difference. Neither could pretend it was just a game. It was something far more dangerous than that. Both had been left with guilt and a feeling that things were out of control, with Pip misreading Sacha's emotional insecurity and need to be accepted at his new school.
Pip and Sacha may have been only six months apart in age, but Sacha had been totally in awe of Pip from almost the first day at being in the school. Now, as he had matured and as Pip had been distanced, Sacha could see the dangers in his relationship with Pip, dangers that had been spelt out to Sacha by Captain Porter and others, not least Sam. Sam, tipped off by Peter, had come down to The Rocks on Sports Day to make sure her younger brother was safe. Better Sam to try and warn Sacha than have their rather straight-laced parents find out. That would have led to Sacha being taken straight back to Hong Kong never to return.
Sacha's painful task of having to tell Pip the unvarnished truth over, he felt sorry for Pip. Sacha still thought of Pip as his friend even though that friendship had to be broken for the sake of both of them. Sacha decided to fill Pip in on what was planned for his future after The Rocks.
"I am going to Sam's old school. Sam thought it better for me to go to a mixed school. Well, you can understand her thinking. Sam was pretty keen that I went to a school near where she is. She's in her second year now, doing medicine. She managed to convince the parents that it would be good for me. I think Captain Porter also thought I might be happier in a mixed sex environment. So he supported the idea. It's great, a clean start and no one from The Rocks there. Otherwise I think I was going to go back to Hong Kong. There have been some awful rows at home about where I went apparently." Sacha paused. "Going to a new school is going to be a complete change, a new start. I have made a decision. I am going to stop being known as Sacha."
"What do you mean?" Pip had no inkling what Sacha was talking about.
"I am going to use the shortened version of my proper name Alexei. I am going to let myself be called Alex."
"But you can't just become a different person. It's not as easy as that."
"Not at The Rocks, no, but at a new school, yes I can. Of course they will always call me Sacha at home, but at my new school and elsewhere, Alex will be my name."
Pip was numb at this news, this very obvious decision by Sacha to cut himself off from the past, to move on, start again. Now he understood the decision about the school and why it was important that no one else was going there. A new beginning, that was what Sacha felt he needed.
"Being Alex will be good, moving on, no history, no burden and no expectations."
Pip thought for a minute, brushing some crumbs off his trousers. "But you know you will always be Sacha to me."
Sacha smiled his generous smile. "I know. I will always accept that from you."
Uncomfortable Pip looked to change the subject.
"I haven't really thought about university or anything. We've just started looking at the O level syllabus. That's enough. They wanted me to drop art and made me keep Latin. It's not what I wanted, but apparently only the duffers give it up and I am supposed to be in the top stream, but I had to choose between geography and history. I wanted to do both, but that's not allowed."
"So what did you choose?"
"I would have chosen history."
Somehow this difference saddened Pip. Any difference between him and Sacha upset him. He wanted Sacha to be exactly like him, but then he drew back and realised it wasn't going to be like that. Life never is.
"And then what?"
"Oh medicine, I hope. It's in the family. My mother's an anaesthetist."
"I haven't made in plans at all. I don't know what I am going to be. I would like to do art, but I don't think they will let me."
"Oh, I am sure you will think of something. Most people do. Even Peter. I am going to jump a year at my new school - I am not sure whether Peter knows yet that I will be in the same year as him."
"That puts you in the same year as me as well."
"But at different schools."
"Yes, different schools."
"It doesn't matter. It's not like it's a race. We are not going to know each other's results, are we? And after that, well, the parents want me to go to Oxford or Cambridge. My mother did."
Pip was still coming to terms with the facts. Sacha was moving on. Somehow he didn't think he was himself. He had not even thought about university, never mind which one.
The pasties were finished. Pip and Sacha started the walk back to Penzance station mostly in silence. Pip knew he had met his match in Sacha. In the deepest part of his soul he knew there was another, darker, emotion driving his behaviour towards the younger boy, that of jealousy at a boy being so bright, so good at everything he chose to do and so popular. Some of Pip's behaviour towards Sacha had not been about his wanting him as a friend, but about punishing him for being so perfect.
As they walked on towards the station, Sacha briefly went ahead to let other pedestrians pass in the opposite direction. As he did so, Pip had a moment's red lust come to his head. He still wanted Sacha, but he instantly drew back. That could never happen now.
The moment passed. Sacha was alongside him again. Pip realised that he preferred the parting to be one of a peaceful separation, on friendly terms even if the terms meant that this was the end of it all, today, this afternoon.
At the station the train was already waiting. Sacha got on so he could catch the branch line train to St Ives at the first stop. He could have taken the bus direct, but decided to stay with his old friend for the last time, as some sort of reward for finally understanding that it was all over.
The boys walked to the very front, the wrong end for St Erth, but it would guarantee them an empty compartment. Sacha got up just as the train departed.
"I am just going to amuse myself."
Pip knew Sacha would never have phrased it like that last year. The boy was changing. Sacha went to the toilet at the end of carriage. Pip knew there was no invitation in what he had said. It was perhaps Sacha's way of avoiding any possible last minute conversation. Sacha came back in a minute or so just at the train pulled away from Marazion Bay and headed inland towards St Erth.
There was a silence as both boys looked at the scenery contemplating their divergent paths to the future. Sacha despite his sun-kissed appearance, his tee shirt and too small cut-off jeans, still looked the prep school boy and still looked considerably younger than his thirteen and a half years.
Pip's face was drained of colour, held like a mask. For the first time Sacha realised the strength of the pain Pip was suffering. Pip's feelings for Sacha had more to it than their few shared moments together last year. Pip had experienced a crush, his first real relationship, with Sacha. That moment had come too soon, before he was able to absorb or understand his own adolescent passions. That Sacha could not reciprocate as he only saw Pip as a platonic friend made it worse for Pip who had fallen into a one-way relationship. Sacha's understandable adolescent curiosity had fooled Pip into thinking that his feelings for Sacha were being reciprocated. They were not. For Pip there was to be no easy path. It was unlikely that he would have the same intense feelings as he had for Sacha with another ever again.
In his darkest hours over the next few years Pip would dream of meeting Sacha again, but then he knew that Sacha had moved on. What would happen? He feared rejection more than anything else. So the plan remained solely in his mind. The longer it remained in his mind, occasionally in his dreams, the more the fear rose. Sacha would be very different now. No longer the small boy, now a teenager, no longer easy to dominate, instead the free spirit able to accept or reject friendships on his own terms. Pip had no contact with anyone from The Rocks after leaving, not Jonathan, not Owen, not even Clancy. They had all moved on in their own separate lives and so, eventually, would Pip.
The train was gliding into the station at St Erth, where Sacha was going to change trains. Rather than make a long drawn out affair, both boys kept it simple and understated. It was less painful that way.
"Well, I had best be going. Don't want to miss the connection."
"Yes, sure, see you sometime. Bye." Empty words as they both knew.
As Sacha got off the train, Pip leaned out of the carriage door window. They repeated their inane goodbyes a second time.
"Well, see you sometime."
"Yes, okay, that will be good. See you Sacha, bye."
Sacha walked down the platform. Pip's eyes followed him, watching his schoolboy form walk away from him for the last time. Sacha did not look back once. He was certain in his path. Instead Sacha kept walking away from Pip. Still a small schoolboy, just, but not for long. Pip knew it was how he would remember Sacha. In his heart he knew this was the final parting. Pip kept watching the diminishing form walk down the platform as the train pulled out, hoping that Sacha would turn around just the once, but he did not. Pip waited for a few moments until the train rounded a curve and he was absolutely certain there would not be another glimpse. Pip could feel tears in his eyes at the finality of it all.
The last two terms of the previous year had been the happiest period of his life. Just to get a glimpse of Sacha during the day meant so much to him and to share private moments together had been pretty much all he had lived for. Everything else, friends, ambitions, hopes and fears had melted away once Sacha had come into his life. Now, rapidly approaching fourteen, Pip realised that he would never see or hear from Sacha ever again. He was certain of that.
Pip's vision blurred, conscious of the tears in his eyes. He ran to the toilet to hide his grief before anyone spotted him. Once he returned to his seat, he spent the rest of the journey facing Penzance as if looking for another glimpse of Sacha. Even the briefest of glimpses would have lightened his heart all over again, but of course, he knew it could never happen.
Scholarship is a work of fiction, but many of the incidents within the story do come from my own experiences of being at a prep school in the 1960s.
Clancy, Owen and Peter all existed. Peter was Sacha's older brother and they really did have a love hate relationship. Kit and Robbie are a combination of a number of boys, two of whom were identical twins.
Jonathan is a combination of three real life friends from that era.
Mr Barnes and Mrs Prince also existed. They remain my two favourite teachers.
Captain Porter and the other staff are all loosely based on teachers from my prep school.
There was a Sacha. I fell for him almost the first moment I saw him, but then, within a year it was over. I did reach a sort of reconciliation with Sacha a year later, but it was clear that our relationship could not continue as we moved onto separate paths. We lost touch in our early teens when I moved away from the area.
My fondness for him remains to this day.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]