A Blush of Boys
by Jolyon Lewes
Malcolm's mother's messages were confusing. One minute she was hinting that Malcolm should dress in little denim cut-offs and look like Bruno and the next she was getting him to act like a young adult.
"Darling, some time before Christmas, I thought you'd like to have a little dinner party here. I'll do the food but Dad and I will keep out of the way. I thought four boys and four girls. Not black tie exactly but you boys could wear school uniform. And there'd be wine! What do you think?"
Malcolm sighed. He didn't want to be ungrateful but he didn't have any girlfriends and of all the boys at school the only one he really wanted to be with was Bruno. But his mother had the bit between her teeth.
"Obviously, Bruno must come, darling, and what about Jake? He's in your form, after all. And there's Jessica next door and her friend Alison. And I thought of that family that's just moved in at the end of the road, with sixteen-year-old twins, Robin and Emily. It'd be lovely for them to meet some local children. Then to make up eight we could invite Amber."
Malcolm could say nothing. His mother had obviously planned this dinner party and had even picked the guests. Thank God she wanted Bruno to come. The twins Malcolm had met only briefly but he'd liked the look of them, especially the boy, Robin. Jake, a rugger player, was a boy he'd had little to do with even though he lived just around the corner. As for Jessica and Alison, they seemed nice enough but Malcolm hadn't made any attempt to get to know them. Amber was a girl with whom Malcolm had been acquainted for years but he'd never liked her. He knew his mother well enough to recognise this as a fait accompli - she'd organise the whole thing, almost certainly with a view to Malcolm forming a firm friendship with one or other of the girls. After all, as we have seen, she wanted grandchildren, eventually.
Next day, Malcolm told Bruno about the dinner party. "I think it's just dinner and drinks and things. Four boys and four girls and no dancing or anything silly like that. But Mum wants us boys in school uniform. I really want you to come but how would you feel turning up in - you know - those shorts?"
Bruno blushed. "Would it embarrass you, Malcolm? I'd hate to embarrass you. As for me - I'm kind of used to wearing 'em but I'll never get used to the looks I get, nor to the way they never stop itching. Course I'll come - I just hope the girls won't laugh too much. Which ones are coming?"
"Oh, three girls from my road and one's got a twin brother called Robin. The fourth girl comes from the next road. She's called Amber and I really can't stand her but Mum insists. She's fifteen like you but the others are sixteen, I think."
"And I s'pose they'll all be in long dresses?"
Malcolm nodded. "Yeah, I think so. The girls, I mean." He chuckled at his joke.
"Well, at least they're not younger than me," said Bruno. "It's much worse if I'm the only one with bare legs when some of the other boys are younger than me."
"Hell, Bruno, if it wasn't mid-winter I'd suggest we all come dressed for tennis or something but ..."
"Don't worry, I've worse things to face. Like going on stage for the Christmas concert, dressed like an eight-year-old."
"Hell, yes. Don't you have any long trousers?"
"Yeah but really scruffy ones, for helping Dad in the garden and things. More like overalls, really. No, I'll have to wear my horrible little grey shorts. This pair's the longest - legs as long as seven centimetres - so I'll make sure I wear it for the concert - and for your dinner. I just hope I don't embarrass you."
"You won't," said Malcolm, shifting about as he tried to disguise his erection but he realised Bruno had noticed and now both boys were blushing. It was a blush of boys.
Next day the concert director told the boys there wouldn't be enough time for them to play the whole of The Dolly Suite. "I can't give you a whole half-hour. Could you just do the Elgar and the Arnold and keep a bit of The Dolly Suite for an encore, if needed?"
The programme was quite full - there was a choir of some of the youngest boys, some poetry readings and comedy sketches. Four of Malcolm's classmates had formed a jazz quartet and some younger kids would be doing a karaoke to pop records and they hoped the audience would join in. Bruno's father would play the piano accompaniment to some avant-garde thing the History Sixth had written. Inevitably, one of the older boys was going to be make himself look like Elvis and sing to a guitar. It looked like Malcolm and Bruno would be playing the only serious music and they hoped they wouldn't be howled down for being old-fashioned.
"Even if some kids think we're boring," said Malcolm, "the important thing is that we're practising for what we hope to do as a career. We're going to have to get used to performing in front of people, aren't we?"
Bruno liked Malcolm using the word 'we.' Was there a suggestion of a partnership that would extend beyond schooldays? Bruno fervently hoped so. Meanwhile, he was getting excited about the dinner party. As the only guest who didn't live within walking distance he'd been invited by Malcolm's mother to stay the night, sleeping in the guest room and going home the following day. The thought of sleeping in the same house as Malcolm thrilled him, even if he'd be in a different room from the boy of his dreams. Bruno was looking forward to the dinner party much more than Malcolm but had he known the full guest list he'd have felt very differently.
The dinner party took place on a Friday night, a week before the Christmas concert. Malcolm was dreading every aspect of it but one: Bruno was one of the guests and the only one staying the night. Malcolm hoped all the other guests would cry off but he knew they wouldn't. Mr Perry drove Bruno round at six o'clock and Malcolm had the pleasure of showing his young friend to the guest room. Sure enough, Bruno was in navy blue blazer, black shoes, long grey socks and tiny grey shorts. Malcolm put Bruno's rucksack on the floor and turned to admire his young friend, who'd taken off his blazer and was adjusting his braces.
"Mum's made me wear the shortest ones tonight," said Bruno. "I don't want the girls seeing my bum so I've got to make the bloody things hang a bit lower. How's that?"
"A bit lower," said Malcolm, feeling an erection forming. He caught the scent of Bruno's aftershave as the boy loosened his braces. "And a little more, if you can."
"That'll have to do," said Bruno, having further loosened the braces. "I don't suppose this Robin'll be in shorts, will he? How do I look now?"
"Fantastic!" said Malcolm, without thinking. Bruno's bottom was out of sight - but only just. "Somehow I don't think Robin'll be in shorts but I think you'll like him."
Much as Malcolm would have preferred to spend the rest of the night upstairs with Bruno, he knew his duties as host and escorted the beautiful boy downstairs to await the next guests. His father had made a fruit punch for the youngsters to drink before sitting down to dine. It contained a little alcohol. Jessica and Alison were next to arrive and began giggling within a minute of their first sip of punch but that was probably because they were so captivated by the sight of Bruno's long, bare thighs. Then, to Malcolm's relief, Amber phoned to say she couldn't come. Robin and Emily arrived next and were too polite to mention Bruno's attire but Robin could hardly take his eyes off him.
"I didn't realise it was fancy-dress," he whispered to Malcolm a few minutes later, "or I'd have come in my old prep school uniform, like Bruno!"
"It's not fancy-dress," whispered Malcolm, "and it's not his old prep school uniform. That's what he looks like every day."
"Really?" said Robin, putting a hand in his trouser pocket to do a bit of rearrangement. "Bloody hell! Does he like it?"
"No, he hates it but his mother insists, so please don't tease him," said Malcolm.
"Of course not," said Robin, smiling sweetly and going off to join his twin sister.
Malcolm was casting a longing look at Bruno just as Jake entered the room and he saw Bruno's face drop when he spotted Jake. Bruno moved to the far side of the room so that the dining table stood between him and Jake. It struck Malcolm that Jake might be one of the cruel boys who persecuted poor Bruno at school.
"Well," said Jake loudly. "It's 'Legs' Perry! You're in those microscopic little shorts again! Don't you have any long trousers? Not even for dinner parties?"
The others turned to look at poor Bruno who was standing awkwardly with his glass of punch, blushing scarlet.
"And you, whoever you are," said Emily, glaring at Jake. "Are you always so bad-mannered?"
"OK, everyone," said Malcolm, trying to take charge. "This is Jake. He's in the Sixth Form, like me. He plays rugby." Malcolm tried to put venom into the word 'rugby.'
Emily and Robin went to Bruno and chatted kindly to him while Alison and Jessica clustered around Jake. Knowing the evening was going to be a disaster, Malcolm watched to see if Jake tried to approach Bruno but Jake was wallowing in the admiration the two girls were giving him. Malcolm went to ask his mother if it would soon be time to sit down.
"Ten minutes, darling. Why don't you take this jug of punch and fill people's glasses? Such a pity Amber can't make it."
Malcolm grunted and was about to question the seating plan when his father came in, bearing two bottles of white wine. "These should see you through, Malcolm, once I've poured a glass for Mum and me. Here, take this one through and pop it on the table."
Malcolm's mother had put place cards on the dining table. Malcolm was at the head of table with Jake opposite him at the far end. On Malcolm's left were Jessica, Robin and Alison and on his right were Emily, Bruno and Amber. But Amber wasn't coming so Jake swapped her card for his. This meant he'd be next to Bruno and Malcolm couldn't do anything about it without making a scene.
Malcolm's parents had taken a great deal of trouble to make the evening a success and the meal was delicious. Apart from wheeling in a trolley with each new course they kept out of the way so that Malcolm could feel in charge. He tried to chat with Jessica and Emily but couldn't help looking to see if Jake was trying anything on with Bruno. He needn't have worried - at least not in the early stages for Jake was pacing himself and chatted happily to Alison while on his left, Bruno was permanently turned to Emily who proved to be a delightful dinner companion. Things weren't going too badly after all and Malcolm certainly liked Robin and Emily, identical twins with seemingly equal shares of good nature, good conversation - and good looks.
For pudding there was a choice between chocolate mousse and lemon posset and all the guests said how delicious everything was, making Malcolm feel proud of his mum, who'd done so much to make the youngsters feel grown-up and sophisticated. Having put a jug of coffee on the table she dimmed the lights and wheeled away the trolley. "See you in the morning, Bruno dear and Malcolm, could you pop into the kitchen when everyone's gone?"
Jake had been out of the room and when he returned, somewhat unsteadily, he saw Malcolm pouring coffee for his other guests, who were seated round the table in candlelight and chatting about movies they'd seen. Jake moved his chair very close to Bruno's and sat down, with a loud belch. Almost at once Malcolm saw Bruno shifting in his chair and looking uncomfortable. Bruno quickly put his cup on its saucer and moved his right hand down below his waist as if to defend his right thigh from a marauder. And that, of course, was precisely what was happening but what could Malcolm say? He could hardly throw Jake out of the house just because Bruno was fidgeting.
The conversation continued but Malcolm, Bruno and Emily were no longer participating. Suddenly, from under the table came the unmistakable sound of a hand striking bare flesh and Bruno made a sharp rebuke. "Oh, for God's sake, stop it, Jake!"
"Yes, stop it!" said Emily. "I can see you putting your fingers up Bruno's shorts and he doesn't like it!"
"Hey - calm down! I can't help it if you want to slap your own leg like that!" said Jake, before adding something that made Bruno visibly shudder. "Why don't we blow out all the lights - I mean candles - and play murders?"
"What - and let you carry on with your revolting behaviour?" cried Robin. "You're just a big bully and you like molesting boys!"
Alison and Jessica stared at Jake. Their big, beefy rugger player was gay!
Robin had more to say to Jake. "I think you should leave now, before you make matters worse."
"It's only a bit of fun, it don't mean nothing," said Jake, looking at Alison and Jessica for support but all they did was to purse their lips and look away.
Malcolm took charge. "You've tried to assault Bruno and you've embarrassed him and the rest of us. I want you to leave. Now!"
"The sooner the better," said Emily.
"Yeah," chorused Alison and Jessica.
Robin cleared his throat in a meaningful way.
Bruno sat staring at the table, his face scarlet with embarrassment.
"Oh ... well ... I'd better be off then," said Jake, rising to his feet. Now it was his turn to blush. "Got rugby training in the morning. Thank your mum for me."
After Jake had left there was silence around the table. The dinner party gradually petered out and soon it was just the twins with Malcolm and Bruno. The business with Jake wasn't mentioned and after a few minutes Robin made an invitation.
"We'd love it if you two came round to ours sometime soon," said Robin, "but without your friends!"
Emily nodded eagerly and added "It's been really lovely meeting you both but we ought to go now, it's nearly midnight!"
When Malcolm came in with Emily's coat he saw Robin in earnest conversation with Bruno and both boys were smiling broadly.
Malcolm helped his mother with the washing up, thanking her several times for the delicious meal but all the time thinking of Bruno and then at last he was free to go up to bed. How he wanted to nip into Bruno's bedroom to apologise for Jake and to give his friend a little cuddle but his parents were still up and about and he couldn't risk it. He went to undress in his bedroom and then spent a bit of time in the bathroom, in the vague hope that Bruno might come in but Bruno was in bed, wondering if those footfalls on the landing were Malcolm's and thinking how good it would be if Malcolm popped in to say goodnight. Bruno lay in bed waiting but nobody came in so he turned on his side and thought about Jake and his crude attempts at groping him. Such things were bad enough at school but to have a girl actually watching the whole thing was even worse and Bruno felt his face colouring as he recalled his intense embarrassment at the dining table. Still, Emily had been very decent and she'd been the first to put Jake in his place. Bruno decided that if he wasn't gay, he'd have liked Emily as a girlfriend. But, all things considered, his amorous feelings were directed wholly towards Malcolm and with that thought spinning around he dropped off to sleep.
Malcolm couldn't sleep for ages. Recalling the scent of Bruno's aftershave he realised he'd often seen a haze of downy bristles on Bruno's chin and upper lip; some days it was absent so Bruno must shave about once a week, more often than Malcolm had to. Malcolm pondered on the paradox of a young man old enough to shave regularly but who was obliged to wear shorts for a dinner party - shorts of shockingly indecent brevity. He fretted for Bruno's embarrassment. He felt loathing for the repulsive Jake, disdain for Alison and Jessica and a growing affection for Robin and Emily. But then he remembered Robin's apparent arousal when told Bruno always dressed like that and when at the end of the evening Robin and Bruno seemed to be chatting in a very friendly manner - almost over-friendly. Poor Malcolm's dinner party had been a disaster and Bruno, the boy he loved, had been utterly humiliated and would never want to visit Malcolm again. Lying in bed, Malcolm was riddled with jealousy. Had Bruno found a new friend in Robin?
Knowing that Bruno lay just across the landing proved too irresistible a temptation and Malcolm got out of bed and silently opened his door. All was quiet as he stole over towards Bruno's room - until he trod on a creaking floorboard he'd never noticed before but then he'd never had to make a covert mission to the guest room before. He froze for half a minute until sure he hadn't woken his parents. No slit of light under their bedroom door so on went Malcolm until he reached Bruno's door. He held his breath as he turned the handle and began to open the door. There was enough light to see Bruno's precious form in the bed; he was lying on his left side, his sweet little face was peeping from the duvet and he seemed sound asleep. Malcolm closed the door behind him and stood looking at Bruno, noting his gentle, even breathing He let his eyes adjust to the conditions. He saw Bruno's blazer draped over the back of a chair and then something on the floor that glinted in the dim light. It was one of the metal buckles on Bruno's braces and it sat atop a little mound of material that Malcolm recognised as Bruno's grey shorts.
Malcolm, now well-aroused, moved closer to the bed until he was looking straight down at Bruno's lovely head. He gazed down in enchantment. How tempting it was to kneel down and stroke the soft hair, how tempting to slip a hand under the duvet, how tempting to climb in beside his darling boy. But no - that would be behaviour almost as bad as Jake's. Malcolm pressed his hand on his erection, as if by doing so he was curbing his desire. He knew he'd have to return to his own bed but wanted to savour the moment a little longer. For how much longer would Bruno be his friend? Would Robin move in and would Malcolm be cast aside?
Malcolm was deeply troubled by these thoughts and decided to leave Bruno to his slumbers. But first, he put the forefinger and middle finger of his right hand to his mouth, kissed their tips then touched them lightly on Bruno's right cheek. When he'd safely made it back to his own bed he was surprised to find his eyes full of tears. He climbed into bed and hugged the pillow. That was when it dawned on him that until a minute ago he'd never even touched Bruno's sweet face. More tears followed.
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