by Jolyon Lewes
I tried so hard to be brave as Dad drove me to Heathrow but the news he'd just given me that Frederic was critically ill was too much to bear and I alternated between periods of tense, forbidding gloom and bursts of weeping. When I asked what was wrong with Frederic Dad wasn't sure but thought it was a rare form of leukaemia. I asked him how long he'd known.
"Well, old chap, it's the reason they had to cancel their visit to Oxford, because Frederic was in hospital for tests. His father expressly asked me not to tell you then because Frederic was adamant that you weren't to be worried."
This had me crying again - crying for Frederic and his concern for me. I remembered that morning in Mistral when he came to see if I had a headache; it was the very moment when our love for each other sparked into flame, a flame that had since grown stronger and stronger.
When I'd quietened down, Dad told me to prepare myself to see a different Frederic this time. "He's terribly weak, old chap. He wants to see you but he may not be fully conscious. Needless to say, the Caribbean trip is postponed until he's well again."
"But will he get better, Dad? Will he?"
"I really don't know, old chap."
Mum was there at Heathrow and gave me a big hug before telling me we were due to take off at 17.30 and would be boarding very soon. As I sat in my school uniform, waiting for the summons to board, an overwhelming feeling of numbness developed. I'd cried all the tears I had and just sat, hearing nothing, seeing nothing and completely unaware of the bustle around me. Passing before my glazed eyes was image after image of my darling Frederic. Each time he was looking into my eyes and his expression was one of ineffable sadness. His sweet brow was knitted more tightly than I'd ever seen it. Oh, how I wanted to be near him and to touch him, to feel his warm, smooth skin beneath my fingertips and to know he was safe.
I remember nothing of the night flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle, nor of the taxi that sped us to the private clinic where my darling friend was being treated but I'll never forget the walk to his ward, clutching my mother's arm, fearful of what I would find and filled with dread.
Frederic was in a room by himself, a room that had the minimum of medical apparatus hanging off the walls. Through a window I could see the Eiffel Tower, brightly illuminated in the dark, December sky. I'd expected Frederic to be hooked up to all manner of things, and tubes to be passing into his precious body but he just lay between crisp white sheets, propped up on two fat pillows. He was asleep and beside him sat his mother, ashen white. His brow was perfectly smooth, with not a crinkle to be seen.
Frederic's mother stood to embrace first Mum and then me. She gave me a long, silent hug and I reciprocated as best I could. While this was going on Mum was stroking Frederic's hair but there was no reaction from my darling boy. Then Frederic's mother said I could sit and talk to her beloved son, that he might be able to hear me and so I should talk about our times together.
"If he responds to anyone, it will be you, mon petit . He talks about you so much. Never anyone else, just you."
I knew my tears were perilously close to shedding but I knew I must be strong. The two ladies left me with my sleeping friend and I sat down beside him. I reached for his hand and I don't know how I didn't choke to death with emotion as I at last touched his perfect skin and folded my fingers gently around his. He was breathing but so lightly his chest was hardly moving. Looking round, I saw the door was closed so I was completely alone with Frederic and I began to speak, very quietly.
I recounted the times we'd had in Mistral and at Seaford. I mentioned Serge the steward and Troy the skateboarder and how in their different ways they'd both appealed to us. I talked about some of the pompous millionaires we'd had to be polite to in Monte Carlo and at Glyndebourne. I didn't say anything about the fun we'd had in bed because to do so would have been indelicate and in any case, I would have collapsed into sobs. I paused for minutes at a time, just holding his hand and watching his still beautiful face for any signs of wakefulness.
I was absolutely heartbroken but I didn't cry because I felt if I carried on talking he might just wake up and see me there and that would be a huge reward. I was running out of things to say and began to pick on the more trivial things we did, like when in Seaford he chose to have the fried fish with no chips. I reminded him that he'd said 'Mmmm, tasty' and how that had become our catch phrase.
"Mmmm, so tasty!" I repeated. Tears were now filling my eyes.
I could now see only a blurred image of his face and it was a tiny squeeze of his fingers on mine that told me he was conscious. Wiping my eyes with my free hand I saw he'd moved his head very slightly and that his lovely eyes were half-open. Yes, he was actually looking at me!
"Oh, Frederic, my darling boy, have you any idea how much I love you?" I said, at normal volume, immediately panicking that someone else may have heard. But the door was still closed and I was alone with my beloved Frederic.
He squeezed my fingers again, a little more firmly this time.
Looking into his eyes, I began to say what we'd do when he was better again. Camping in the Lake District, skiing in the Alps, maybe another visit to Seaford to see if Troy was still there ...
Realising I was babbling away and not giving him a chance to speak I stopped talking and just looked at him, to see his eyes were nearly closed. His fingers had relaxed and were no longer exerting any pressure on mine.
"Oh Frederic, please don't leave me!" I beseeched him. "I love you so very much!"
His eyes opened again and his dear little tongue peeped from between his lips, just briefly, did a little wiggle and then retreated. His eyes fixed on mine and his mouth opened slightly, just for long enough to whisper "Mmmm, so tasty...."
Then his eyes closed and he lay still.
I was enveloped in a cold, paralysing darkness. It seemed to last ages but it probably wasn't long because people rushed into the room and I was ushered outside and into the arms of my mother. In her warm embrace my feeling of numbness dissolved and I convulsed into fits of uncontrollable weeping that went on and on as I realised the significance of what I'd just witnessed and that I'd lost the dearest friend I'd probably ever have, however long I live.
That night I slept in the same room as my mother as I couldn't bear to be alone. We flew back to London next day and went home to start the Christmas holiday. Except at night, I was hardly ever physically alone but sank into a dark little world of my own, numb to the festivities going on all around. My parents let me remove the Christmas card which pictured poor Frederic. The more I looked at it the more sorrowful seemed his expression, as if he knew what was happening to him. I hid the card in my bottom drawer.
I tried to cope with Christmas but thoughts of Frederic never left me. How long had he known he was ill? He'd told me he'd stopped using the gym. He'd tired quickly when we were walking on the cliffs near Seaford. His mother had cried when he was playing the piano. He'd said we should never look too far ahead. Were these signals I should have spotted? And what about his father making him wear shorts in the Paris winter? What if, instead of toughening Frederic up it had actually made him ill? A dislike of Frederic's father kindled in my head and even though I knew deep down that I was being irrational it soon became a burning hatred. I wanted the merger of his company with my father's to fail. It's just as well we weren't asked to attend the funeral because I would have let Frederic's father know exactly what I thought of the way he'd mistreated and humiliated his son.
One of the worst things about that Christmas was that I had nobody to talk to about my love for Frederic. Mum was brilliant when I had my first, hysterical outpouring of grief but I could hardly sit down and tell her - or anyone else - about why Frederic meant so much to me. I just kept it bottled up and lay in my room for hours on end, thinking and crying. I felt utterly empty.
Just before New Year I was persuaded to join my parents and sister for a trip to London to see a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. We'd go by train to and from Waterloo. Inevitably, there were important friends to meet for pre-concert supper in one of the private meeting rooms and I'd have to be formally dressed.
My father was tentatively broaching the subject of what he hoped I'd wear when to his surprise I said "It's OK, Dad. I'll wear the concert suit. I'll do it for Frederic's sake."
That night I dreamt I'd be meeting Frederic at the concert and when I awoke I tried to ignore reality and continue the dream throughout the day. I knew I was kidding myself but it gave me something nice to think about. While changing for the concert I saw some new little hairs on my legs. 'Frederic won't like to see those! ' I thought, so I hastily scraped them off with my razor before steeling myself and putting on those little tweed shorts. I pulled the braces over my shoulders and glanced in the mirror. My thighs had never looked so bare.
As you've probably guessed, I regretted my actions. In the train and at the Festival Hall it was impossible to continue with the fantasy and I felt nearly as self-conscious as I'd always done when wearing one of my concert suits. I say 'nearly' because I was still feeling numbed to my surroundings - I can't remember anything of the concert or of people staring at me - but my skin was not numbed to the sensation of that awful tweed scratching away so cruelly. Add to that the irritation resulting from dry-shaving my legs and you can guess that my fingernails were hard at work all evening, much to my embarrassment and probably to the annoyance of people sitting beside me. I was so glad to get home, shed my clothing and rub Nivea Creme into the area where my legs join, where the unlined tweed had caused most distress. I slept badly that night; my little fantasy had crumbled and I lay there with what seemed like a great weight on my chest. It was a sense of loss deeper than I could possibly have imagined. I wanted to fall asleep and never wake up.
I stayed in my room for almost the whole of New Year's Day, 1993. My grief was as profound as ever. At home there was nobody I could talk to and it would be the same at school, just a week away. Nobody there had even heard of Frederic. Mum came up with some sandwiches and cakes and said I must eat something or I'd waste away.
"Seeing Frederic go must have been truly awful, darling," she said. "But I know you'll make new friends and one will become your best friend. That's what'll happen."
Oh, what did Mum know? What did anyone know? Only Frederic and I knew what we felt for each other and now he'd gone. The tears were rolling down my cheeks again.
An hour later Mum came upstairs again. "Sorry, Mum," I said, "I was just going to bring the dirty plates down."
"That's alright, darling, I haven't come for that. I've just had a phone call!"
She looked so bright and cheerful. I wondered why she thought the news was worth telling me. Nothing could change the way I was feeling.
"It was Mike Beresford. I told him last month he'd always be welcome here and he's just said he might be passing tomorrow and could he call. I think it would do you the world of good to have someone about your own age to talk to so I invited him to stay the night and he accepted! He's coming tomorrow about lunchtime and he can sleep in the little room next door - if you don't mind him using your bathroom."
"Thanks, Mum but I won't be very good company," I said.
Alone again, it dawned on me that Mike was the one person I could talk to about my sweet Frederic. I'd told him after he'd rescued me from that Oxford hospital about the way Frederic and I felt for each other. He'd seemed to understand. He might even be the same way inclined. Oh yes, I could talk to Mike! I drifted down to join the family for the rest of the evening.
Mike arrived at noon the next day, in the funny little Peugeot he called Doris. He gave Mum a big bunch of flowers. He looked younger than I'd remembered from our first meeting but I suppose it was because then he came as a knight in shining armour to rescue me, look after me in his aunt's cottage, listen to my woes and then lend me clothes for my journey home, whereas now he was just an eighteen-year-old boy who'd called in to say hello. Roughly my height, he wore moleskin trousers and corduroy jacket, had brown hair and blue eyes and was very good-looking.
"Your mother told me about Frederic," he said, having beckoned me into the hall. "I'm most dreadfully sorry, Richard. I know you and he thought so highly of each other. Look, after lunch, can we go for a walk or something?"
He drove us to Box Hill, a local beauty spot on the North Downs. It was a cold, bright afternoon and perfect for a brisk walk. We walked to the viewpoint known as Saloman's Memorial and looked southeast over The Weald. The trees were bare and wood-smoke hung in the air. Above us a vapour trail made a curved line in the pale blue sky. The low, wooded hills went on for miles, as far as a high ridge in the hazy distance - the South Downs, which led eastwards to Seaford and Beachy Head, where Frederic and I had been so deliriously happy only five months earlier. Somewhere, just over that ridge, was the hotel near Lewes where I'd spent the best three nights of my life.
Mike saw the tears rolling down my cheeks and put his arm around my shoulders. "You can tell me all about it, you know," he said. "Get it off your chest. Nobody else can hear."
As we walked slowly along, my streaming eyes gazing blearily towards the South Downs, I told Mike about my sudden visit to Paris, about the time I'd spent alone with Frederic, about my criticisms of Frederic's father, about my feelings of despair and my terrible sense of loss. I didn't tell Mike about what Frederic and I did in bed or about our catch-phrase, 'Mmmm, so tasty!' Some things were too private for anyone else to know.
Mike's gentle presence somehow encouraged me to talk about things I'd never shared with anyone, things like Frederic's way of knitting his brow, his brilliance at the piano, his laughing at my boxer shorts, his pretending to fancy Troy and his utter contempt for the incredibly short trousers he was made to wear, even at seventeen. It helped so much to be able to let out my thoughts and I'd by now stopped crying. Mike still had his comforting arm round my shoulders. He stopped walking and gently turned me to face him.
"What you've told me is sad beyond compare, Richard but it's a very beautiful story. You told me some of this at my aunt's cottage so what you've said about your feelings for Frederic haven't surprised me too much. It seems certain he felt the same about you. Love is a wonderful thing and your memories will never leave you. I wish I could say something constructive and helpful but I just don't have the words. It's a privilege to be taken into your confidence and I'll always be ready to listen - whenever you need me."
"There's nobody at school I can talk to like this, Mike and obviously I can't tell my family. I already feel better. It's a miracle, you turning up like this!"
Mike now had both his hands on my shoulders and was looking straight into my eyes. "Not quite a miracle, Richard. I've been meaning to visit you and your mother very kindly asked me to pop in and even stay the night. The thing is, and please don't take it the wrong way, I just had to see you again. The night I met you was fraught with drama of all kinds and we didn't have time to say all we wanted to. And now there's this terrible business with poor Frederic. I just want to help, if I can."
I was so caught up in my own distress that what Mike said about having to see me again didn't mean much until later that evening. We had a cosy family supper and I'll admit I was more cheerful than at any time in the last twelve days, or maybe I should say less withdrawn and tearful. Not for a moment did the image of Frederic in his last moments leave me but knowing that Mike understood my feelings helped hugely. I was really glad he was staying the night.
After supper we all watched TV for a while but it wasn't long before I said I wanted to go to bed, as I could feel myself sinking back into melancholy and didn't want to burden everyone with my misery. Mum got Mike talking about his aunt so I didn't feel rude and went up to my bedroom. After all, it wasn't as though it was I who'd invited Mike to stay - it was Mum. Alone for the first time for about ten hours, I felt the now familiar blackness descending and I flopped onto my bed for a good cry. Would my life always be like this?
After an hour of grieving I undressed for bed. My only New Year resolution was that I'd say goodbye forever to boxer shorts. Frederic had only ever worn briefs so that's what I'd do from now on. So, clad only in a pair of the skimpy briefs I had to wear with my concert suit, I went to my bathroom to clean my teeth and blundered straight into Mike, who was in pyjama trousers and looking at himself in the mirror.
"Oh, sorry!" we both said. I wasn't used to people using my bathroom but Mike's room led straight into it so of course he had every right to use it.
"I should have knocked or something," I said. "Sorry, Mike, I'll come back when you've finished."
"No - don't go," he said. "I've finished anyway. But I'd hoped to see you, just to wish you goodnight. And now I can."
I'd only seen Mike fully clothed up to that moment but now he was naked from the waist up. I'd regarded him as so much older and wiser than me but now he looked like an ordinary boy of eighteen, smooth-chested and with just a few hairs on his arms. For a few seconds we stood looking at each other and not saying anything. I felt embarrassed to be wearing only briefs and when he cast his eyes down to look below my waist I felt the same self-consciousness I'd felt so many thousands of times before, when wearing my prep school cords or either of my concert suits.
"Oh, Christ!" said Mike. "D'you mind if I say something, Richard? I think I can see what Frederic saw in you. You're beautiful! There, I've said it. I'll leave in the morning and you'll never have to see me again." He opened the door to his bedroom.
I didn't plan what I was to say next - I must have been on autopilot. "No, Mike, don't go.... you've made me feel so much better today and I want to tell you more tomorrow - if you'll let me. And I'm glad you like me. I really need someone to like me now that Frederic's .... gone."
" Like you, Richard? I bloody adore you!"
Mike came up to me and I didn't resist when he put his right hand on the small of my back. Like me, he was nearly six feet tall and unlike dear Frederic, he didn't have to go on tiptoe to kiss my cheek. It was the gentlest possible kiss and that's all we did. I could just catch the pepperminty smell of his toothpaste but I wasn't about to taste it too, because even if he'd offered, I didn't want a French kiss. That privilege was Frederic's and Frederic's alone. I did, however, feel Mike's rigid cock pressing against my thigh as he leaned close to execute his kiss and it made me a little excited.
"Please can we go for another drive tomorrow?" I asked.
Mike seemed a bit shy at breakfast next morning. "It's OK, Mike," I said. "About last night, I mean." Our eyes met and we held each other's gaze. He looked relieved so I spoke again. "Have you got to rush off or is there time to take me for another drive?"
His eyes lit up. "You mean it! I've all the time in the world? Fancy a trip to Wisley?"
"What's at Wisley?" I asked.
"The Royal Horticultural Society. The gardens are marvellous to walk in and they'll be pretty quiet today. We could talk our heads off and nobody'll be around to listen."
In many ways Mike seemed more than two years older than me. For one thing he was at university and I hadn't even got to the Sixth Form. He had a car. He liked things that grown-ups like, like jazz, real ale and gardening. One interest we shared was classical music but whereas I liked the most well-known composers like Beethoven and Chopin, he knew about more modern composers like Poulenc and Prokofiev. He even knew something of politics and talked about John Major. Yet when I looked at his face I saw a boy like me, in full-time education, not a man of the world. I was growing to like him very much.
At Wisley we walked around the vast gardens, almost the only visitors. Mike encouraged me to talk about Frederic and although I kept the more intimate details to myself, words just tripped off my tongue. Considering Frederic and I had enjoyed each other's company for only twelve days it's amazing how many little memories I was able to recount. Mike was such a good listener. Again, he seemed much older than me; I felt like a little boy telling his favourite uncle about all the animals he'd seen on a visit to the zoo. He bought us coffee and buns in the restaurant and I felt even more like a youngster treated to a day out, not that he was in any way patronising, just kind.
Later on, walking in the parkland, among tall trees still sparkling with hoarfrost, I became more sombre. There were one or two trees and shrubs that had succumbed to disease and died, just as poor Frederic had. Mike detected my change of mood, put his arm around my shoulders and offered wisdom beyond his years.
"You must always be proud of your friendship with Frederic, Richard. There'll be many people who won't understand how you felt for each other - or won't want to. Forget them, they're not important. Your parents know you loved him and so do I. You and he had something unique and really beautiful and you must never forget it."
"Have you felt like this, Mike?" I asked. "You say such lovely and wise things; it makes me think you've been through this yourself."
"Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved, Richard. Yes, I had a friend at school; he had a terrible accident playing rugby. Broke his neck. It was two years ago. I'll never forget him ..."
Mike stopped talking and I thought he was going to cry. I wanted to ask his friend's name but dared not invade Mike's privacy. So I stopped walking and looked at Mike's face. He was staring with watery eyes at the grey sky. Then, as he walked on, he answered my unspoken question.
"His name was Mark and I worshipped him."
We walked on in silence until I asked him if he'd had anyone he could talk to after Mark's accident. He looked at me sadly and said 'no.'
I couldn't think of a suitable reply so held my tongue. A little later I asked him if he'd been able to get over his loss.
"I'll never get over it, Richard. All I can do is learn to live with it."
It struck me I'd been selfish to expect Mike to listen to me talking nonstop about Frederic so I asked him to tell me about Mark but he didn't want to say much. I did learn that had Mark lived, he'd be the same age as me. Privately, I wondered what sort of things Mike and Mark had done in bed. Of course, it might have been a purely platonic friendship but considering what Mike had said and done in my bathroom, probably not. Whatever, it's not like me to pry so I didn't pursue the subject.
A pale sun managed to break through the cloud and as there was no wind, the day seemed less cold. Mike took off his gloves and sat on a bench overlooking the gardens and I seated myself beside him, very close.
"You know, Richard, the last time you came and sat down beside me, on my left, was last month, watching Billy Budd ."
"Except in the car," I said, actually managing a little chuckle.
"Oh, that doesn't count," said Mike. "I was just thinking, in the theatre you had your concert suit on and were pretending to be a young French boy."
"Well, that little ploy didn't last long," I said, feeling a blush coming on. "Do we have to talk about that bloody concert suit?"
"OK, no, but there's one thing that intrigues me. When we were sitting in my aunt's cottage I couldn't help noticing that your thighs had no hair at all in some places but little patches of hairs in others. I put it down to a skin condition but last night, in your bathroom, I noticed the patches had moved." Mike put his finger on the side of my right thigh."One had been here but now it's up here!" He moved his finger six inches further up my leg. "You haven't been using a razor, have you?"
Now I was blushing hard."Oh God, Mike, was it that obvious? I didn't think a boy of thirteen would have hairs on his legs so tried to shave them all off. And I wore the bloody concert suit a couple of nights ago so had to have another go. A dry shave this time and it itched like hell."
"Well, at least I know you haven't got a skin disease!" said Mike, grinning broadly. "I can understand your motive but next time try to do a thorough job - you missed the backs of your legs completely!"
"There won't be a next time; I never want to wear that thing ever again! Oh, hell - now I feel ridiculous!"
I turned to look at Mike's smiling eyes. He was seeing the funny side and my only option was to do likewise. "Well," I said, "I hope there won't be a next time but if there is, maybe you could come and do a thorough job on me!"
"Your wish is my command," he replied, slapping his hand on my thigh and leaving it there, which I didn't mind. "I'll buy some good razor blades!"
The business of my shaved legs created a turning point in our friendship. Up till then we'd been so serious but now we had something to laugh about and when I'd realised I'd shaved only the parts of my legs I could actually see I recognised what folly it had been in the first place. Preferring not to think about the other people who'd spotted what Mike had seen, I laughed at the ridiculous sight I must have presented.
"Don't worry, Richard," said Mike. "Only those with an eye for such things would have noticed and there aren't many of us about, thank God!"
"Remember the Novice in Billy Budd who got whipped!" I said. "D'you think the person who made him up and put on those horrible whip-marks had to shave him first? He did look remarkably smooth. I got a hard-on."
"So I noticed, you sweet boy. You were rubbing yourself like crazy!"
"I was scratching where the tweed cloth was hurting!"
"Rubbish! You were pummelling your cock!"
"OK, I give in. But why were you watching me and not the stage? I can't have been that interesting."
"Oh yes, you were!" said Mike, sliding his hand along my thigh.
By the time Mike left us that afternoon to drive home he and I had reached an understanding. I knew he was gay and fancied me and he knew I was gay and needed gentle treatment. He knew I'd be having lots of bleak moments in the weeks and months ahead and said I could phone him any time and he'd understand and be ready to listen. It made going back to boarding school much better than it might have been and I phoned him on the first night back. He answered within two rings.
"Hi, Richard, I knew it'd be you," he said. "How's it going?"
I told him about the other boys boasting about their skiing holidays and sexual conquests and he said "Forget 'em, my dear young friend. You've done something far greater - you've learnt about life and death and you've matured more than you realise. Let them brag and you can even pretend to be interested but they wouldn't understand what you've been through so don't try to tell 'em. When you feel sad, which you will, far too often, just remember the good times with Frederic and smile. It's what he'd have wanted you to do. Trust me."
My regular calls to Mike became a sort of lifeline and gradually I became sort of reconciled to the loss of my darling Frederic. I'd go and sit in the school chapel sometimes, all alone, to think and have a little weep. Although not really a believer, the beauty and serenity of the place gave me comfort and the paintings on the walls inspired me. I thought I was getting over the worst of it when in tea one day I heard a boy say 'Mmmm, so tasty!' and it threw me back several spaces as if my life had become a game of Snakes and Ladders and I'd just slithered down the longest snake on the board. I phoned Mike again that evening.
My parents never made me wear the concert suit again but I kept it in my wardrobe and looked at it sometimes because of its strong links with Frederic. I have it still and its rough texture always sets my nerves on edge. My friendship with Mike grew because although we rarely met, he remained the only person with whom I could discuss my feelings for Frederic. Instead of going with my family to Juan-les-Pins for the summer holiday I went kayaking on the Pembrokeshire coast with a party from school. Afterwards Dad told me the merger had failed so there'd be no more invitations to Mistral . I was mightily thankful for this, as I would never again have to see Frederic's father, for whom I still felt contempt.
I devoted myself to schoolwork and my friends must have thought me rather distant but I didn't care. Privately I still worshipped Frederic and my chats with Mike helped to keep the flame burning. After my seventeenth birthday I went to visit Mike in Cambridge and he delighted in showing me around. We heard Choral Evensong in King's College Chapel one day and were both reduced to tears by the beauty of the singing and by the magnificence of that fabulous building. It was almost a year since Frederic's death and I thought I was learning to live without him but that evening, Mike put on a newly acquired jazz CD.
"Just listen to this track and tell me it isn't the coolest jazz you ever heard!" he said.
Well, the track was Peace Piece, played by Bill Evans. It was the tune Frederic had played on the piano in our drawing room and which had made his mother cry. I hadn't dared to play my copy of the CD since he'd died and hearing it in Mike's rooms sent me crazy with grief. I screamed "Turn it off!" and then burst into tears and poor Mike was very alarmed.
That night was the first time I'd slept with Mike. There was no sex; there never had been. I was so distraught Mike just held me in his arms and tried to comfort me. I needed a strong person to look after me at a time like this and Mike fitted the bill. For the millionth time I recalled how Frederic had submitted to me in his Mistral stateroom and I began to think I should submit to Mike, to whom I owed so much.
The following Easter, Mike took me to the Lake District for a week's fell-walking. We shared a twin room in Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Great Langdale. One of the waiters there was an attractive boy with extremely tight trousers, dark hair and saucy eyes who seemed to take a shine to Mike. He reminded me of Serge and I couldn't help smiling at him but it was Mike he was interested in and didn't Mike like it!
I realised I was jealous and next morning put on the scarily brief denim shorts Frederic had worn at Seaford and waited for Mike to react when he came out of the bathroom.
"Hello, sailor!" he said. "Showing a bit of leg, I see! I like it!"
We had a strenuous morning, walking up to Three Tarns and thence to Crinkle Crags. When we stopped for a rest I lay on the grass with my knees drawn up and saw Mike looking at me. I knew the frayed hems of my shorts would have ridden above where my bottom starts because they'd done so with Frederic, who was shorter than me. Mike put his hand on my knee and rocked it from side to side. History was repeating itself. Mike told me how much he enjoyed my company.
"Well, leave the waiter alone, then!" I said, instantly regretting it. "Oh God, Mike, I'm sorry. It's him that's doing the flirting, not you."
Mike let go of my knee and we continued our walk, not mentioning the waiter again until a few hours later, when we went down for dinner.
"He's dead cute, Richard, but not my type," said Mike.
"I'm glad to hear it!" I replied.
At dinner, we both ordered steak and ale pie. When the saucy waiter served Mike he purred into Mike's ear "Here you are, Sir. Mmmm, so tasty!"
After the meal Mike asked me why I'd been so quiet.
"It's the waiter - he said 'Mmmm, so tasty.' It's the catch phrase Frederic and I made our own."
That was the first night I let Mike do more than cuddle me. I put on some tiny little silk briefs I'd bought from a company called Figleaves and lay on my bed in a submissive pose, arms outstretched and knees up.
"Bloody hell, Richard!" said Mike when he emerged from the bathroom. "Do you have any idea how sexy you look?"
In reply, I silently took a piece of Kendal Mint Cake (having none of the peppermints Frederic had used) and popped it on my tummy button. "It's yours, Mike but you've got to keep your eyes closed. And no hands!"
Like me, Mike was wearing only briefs. He knelt on the floor beside me and, with hands behind his back, lowered his face onto my tummy. I grabbed his brown hair and tried to pull his head away from its target but very soon he had his teeth on the chunk of concentrated carbohydrate and drew it into his mouth, making exaggerated sucking noises.
"Is that it?" he asked. "Do I win a prize now?"
"Well," I said, "this bed's just big enough for two healthy boys ..."
The sex we had that night wasn't better than it had been with Frederic; it was different. Like Frederic had done, I tried to take the lead but it was usually me on my back, being submissive. Mike said he was amazed at my repertoire - considering I'd been with nobody else but Frederic. I told him Frederic was extremely imaginative and had taught me lots. After a couple of hours I'd taught Mike lots and he seemed deliriously happy.
Later, as we lay quietly with our legs and arms enfolded, I felt a little sorry for Mike. He'd be twenty in a few months but this was the first time he'd had real sex with anyone, whereas I'd learnt these techniques at only sixteen, thanks to the wonderful inventiveness of dear Frederic. Fearful that Mike might be put off me, I decided to make it clear that he was in charge of our relationship; he called the tune. That's the way I wanted it. I liked taking orders.
Next day, I wore those dangerously revealing cut-offs again, in a flagrantly blatant gesture to show Mike I enjoyed being his boy, his sexpot. I wanted him to dominate me. On the mountain, he was cross with me for accidentally sitting on and squashing our lunchtime Mars Bars and I hoped he'd put me over his knees for a spanking but of course, he didn't. He was far too kind.
Our walk that day was the longest we'd done and took us to Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in all England. It was wonderfully exhilarating to be on the summit but there were lots of other walkers sharing our experience so we left and headed down to Esk Hawse and then to Angle Tarn, an idyllic spot to rest after our considerable labours. Once again, I adopted the Frederic pose of lying on my back with my knees drawn up and once again, Mike responded by standing over me and waggling my knee.
"You're a cheeky young scamp, Richard," he said, looking pointedly at my entirely bare legs. "In more ways than one. I'd like to celebrate our visit to Scafell Pike by having a special night together. A really good meal, to start with. In fact, let's have some wine this evening. And I think you should look smart for your Uncle Mike. There are some unsightly hairs on your legs and I propose to get rid of them. I trust you have no objection?"
"No, master," I said, grinning and pretending to make light of it but inside, I was thrilled that Mike wanted to rule me. Oh yes, I wanted to be subservient to him.
Back in our room. Mike took his razor to my legs but left the regions covered by my skimpy briefs. "I don't want us to be too kinky!" he said. The job didn't take him long as my legs weren't very hairy to start with. "You're not wearing those indecent cut-offs at dinner so you can wear your Rohan shorts. At least they properly cover your bum and I don't want that waiter getting ideas! But Richard, my boy, I wish you'd brought your concert suit!"
I hate the simpering poofter stereotype so when we went down for dinner I simply tried to be like a younger boy being treated to a slap-up dinner by his older cousin, after a strenuous day on the fells. Well, Mike was virtually family so it wasn't far from the truth. I knew people were looking but instead of feeling self-conscious and humiliated I rather enjoyed the attention. As I sat at the table, I pictured what dear Frederic might now have looked like, had he lived. Probably still quite a bit shorter than me, still smooth-limbed at eighteen, slim and incredibly sexy. His brow would be sweetly knitted.
Mike and I had another night of sex. He seemed to enjoy his new role as dominator but his kind nature made it impossible for him to be rough with me. Again, he was amazed by the little things (and the big things) Frederic and I had invented during our time at Lewes. "How did you discover how to get your tongue down there? You could write a book, you know!"
The next year I turned nineteen and Mike twenty-one. We were meeting more and more often, albeit only about once a month but they were classy meetings, sometimes in Cambridge and sometimes in pubs and youth hostels in areas good for walking. He'd given up The Foreign Office as a career and instead was aiming for journalism. For my part, Dad knew I had no interest in taking over his company but wanted to make a living in design and in October 1995 I managed to get a place at Bristol University. My family was delighted and so was Mike, because he'd graduated and secured a post with the BBC in Bristol. Having come into some money he was renting a very smart flat in Clifton and he hoped I'd come to live with him. There was a room I could use as my own study and the bedroom had a king-size bed far too big for one person. In January 1996, with my parents' blessing, I moved in with Mike.
Mike had a framed photo beside his bed of Mark, his friend who'd died and in my study I had on my desk a photo of Frederic. Mike knew I thought of Frederic a lot and would often say "You must never forget him, Richard; he was your first true love."
I thought Mike had forgotten about 'Mmmm so tasty!' as he never used the expression and nor did I, (except in my thoughts) but after we'd been living together a few weeks he gave me a gift that was not only very generous but extremely thoughtful. He'd exchanged Doris for a new car, a VW Golf and I had a nearly-new Peugeot 206, a gift from my parents. Mike poured me some wine and presented me with a flat parcel.
"It's personal number plates for your car," he said. "I hope you like 'em but don't unwrap them yet. I wanted a combination that means something to you and when I saw RCS 2T for sale I couldn't resist it. Can you guess what it stands for?"
"Well, it's not my initials ..." I thought hard. "No, no idea."
Mike was now grinning broadly. "It stands for 'Richard's Concert Suits, Two Times.' Well, you had two of the damned things; the first was what attracted Frederic to you and the second one is what first caught my attention. You ought to be grateful to them! By the way, it's high time I saw you in the tweed one again!"
After all this time I could see the funny side of my awful concert suits and I'd long realised that each had been instrumental in the formation of the two great friendships in my life.
"I'll wear it if you want me to, Mike, but only in the privacy of the flat."
"Excellent!" said Mike. "Because I've bought a CD of Billy Budd and I thought we could listen to it after dinner tonight, with you sitting on my left, in your concert suit. How about it?"
"Well, if I must .."
"Excellent! But I decided against RCS 2T and bought you something I hope will have a deeper meaning. I hope you think it's, er, tasteful. Now you can open the parcel."
Intrigued, I unwrapped the number plates; they read MST 17 . 'MST' - that was how Frederic and I used to sign off our letters and e mails.
"Mmmm, so tasty?" I said.
"Yes," said Mike. "And seventeen was Frederic's age when he was taken from you. I never want you to forget him and I know he'll always mean more to you than I will."
"Oh, Mike ..." I felt the tears coming and went to Mike for a hug. After a bit I composed myself enough to say "Thank you, Mike. It's a very sweet idea and I'm sure Frederic would approve. Yes, I want to have those plates on the car as soon as possible. And you can have your way with me tonight!"
Mike had another surprise for me and as I was in the habit of submitting to him I accepted his proposal without complaint. Before I put on the concert suit I had to have my legs shaved and, just as he'd promised me that morning at Wisley, he'd do it himself and would do it thoroughly. When he'd finished, my legs were perfectly smooth all over and in those bizarre tweed shorts I looked like a thirteen-year-old boy. I still needed the braces to stop the shorts from falling down and Mike tightened them until I felt that horrible tweed ramming hard into my crotch. Poor Frederic must have felt like this on countless occasions.
There was a distinct feeling of déja vu as Mike and I sat together for the opening bars of Billy Budd but this time Mike didn't keep his hands to himself and was soon stroking my bare thigh. Before I knew it, a massive erection was trying to force itself out of the leg of my shorts. I could see we wouldn't be concentrating too hard on the music.
"What's that funny smell, my darling?" said Mike. "Did you turn the cooker off?"
Before I could answer the fire alarm went off and smoke was coming under the door from the communal landing. We were on the fourth floor.
"Come on!" yelled Mike, grabbing my hand and pulling me up.
"Not like this!" I squeaked.
"Yes, just like this! Unless you want to fry! Come on , Richard!"
Sitting on the low wall beside the road, surrounded by residents from the other flats, I felt as embarrassed as ever I'd felt. Most of the people knew me by sight and even the frantic activity of the fire engines wasn't enough to divert their attention from my ludicrous appearance, in shirt and tie, black shoes and socks and a tweed suit that hardly reached the top of my thighs. I was oblivious to the biting cold and just wanted to hide.
The fire chief spotted me and came over. "You goin' to a fancy dress party, Sir? Cor! Let's 'ave a look at yer!" Filled with shame, I shook my head and the man turned to Mike and spoke to him. "In that case, Sir, you are a very lucky man!"
Quick as a flash, Mike said "Of course we're going to a fancy dress party! Teachers and pupils. Why else d'you think my friend's dressed like that?"
When the wretched man had moved on I said "Oh, Mike, please take me away from this place! I'm dying of shame!"
"Now, where have I heard that before?" said Mike, unable to stop smirking.
"Excuse me," said a lady from one of the other flats. "You look frozen, you poor boy. Here's a blanket."
With a tartan rug over my knees I waited with the others for clearance to go back indoors. The fire had been caused by a short circuit in the lift well and there was no damage to any of the flats so quite soon Mike and I were back in his flat and I made for the bedroom to rip off the concert suit.
"I'll let you off this time," called Mike, pouring us each a drink. "But I want you back in that suit when we get another chance to hear Billy Budd . And now I want to ravish your gorgeous body!"
When Mike came into the bedroom I was lying on the bed in just my tiny silk briefs, my knees drawn up and arms outstretched on the giant duvet. He took my right knee and began to waggle it. I offered no resistance.
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