The Little Match Boy
by Jolyon Lewes
It's the week before Christmas. I'm on a rare visit to London to do research for my degree course and after a couple of days in the library at Imperial College I'm ready to go home again, my iPad laden with information. As I'm under 21, I have relatively cheap membership of a smart club in St James's and that's where I've stayed for the last two nights. I'm booked to Carlisle on tonight's Caledonian Sleeper and there's a few hours before I need to be at Euston so I'll cheerfully stroll about the West End before collecting my bag from the Club and heading to the station for the train. My parents live on the northern edge of the Lake District and that's where I'm spending Christmas and New Year. I've been a keen fell-runner for years and there's a couple of races on just after Christmas that I don't want to miss, so I'm staying at home all by myself while my folks jet off somewhere warmer. I'll be happy enough as I've got some studying to do and I'll meet my fell-running mates and Mum said she'll put plenty of meals in the freezer for me.
The sky is as dark as ever it gets in London and I'm watching skaters on the ice rink at Somerset House. A cold easterly is blowing and I'm chilled to the bone. I gratefully wrap both hands around a steaming mug of mulled wine. Music plays and the skaters hurtle round in circles. Well, most of them do: there's a muscular, blond hunk cavorting noisily this way and that. He's in denims cut off above the knee and his legs are well-bronzed. He can't have acquired that tan naturally, not in England, not in the winter. I see him as a surfer in the summer and ski bum in the winter. Come the New Year, he's probably off to somewhere like Meribel.
It would be fun to see bragging blondie come a cropper on the ice so I buy another mulled wine while watching him and his friends. I catch a South African accent. That explains a lot. Doubting I'll have the pleasure of seeing him take a mighty tumble, I finish my drink and wander into Covent Garden, weaving through the thronging merrymakers and Christmas shoppers. I'm surrounded by smiling faces. Next I'm in Leicester Square, where the new Bond film, Skyfall, is playing at The Odeon. People are queuing to get in. I'll wait for it to come out on DVD. My chest tightens as I spot a boy in the queue. Is it Simon? No, of course it isn't - Simon lives hundreds of miles from London. Still, I walk slowly and nervously around the Square so I can pass by again and make certain it's not Simon. The build, the hair colour, the cheekbones all fit Simon but no, this boy's unknown to me. He catches my eye as I pass and gives a slight smile which makes me shiver with emotion.
Tingling with memories of the real Simon, my first and - so far - only love, I walk on to Piccadilly Circus, thinking wistfully of our short but happy time together. I wonder where he is now. Dear, sweet Simon.
Come on, James - pull yourself together; you haven't seen Simon for over a year. Look to the future! My spirits lift as I walk along Piccadilly. Resisting the temptation to go browsing in Waterstones bookshop, I quicken my step as the pleasing prospect suggests itself of a visit to Fortnum and Mason. It's always nice to see what the rich are buying. Then I'll go to the Club for a light supper before taking the Underground to Euston.
Before reaching Fortnum's, however, I see the market stalls outside the Church of St James. Brightly lit and busy, the place is buzzing with people. I've always been impressed by outdoor stallholders who manage to stand for hours in the icy cold, cheerfully hawking their wares. Sure enough, here are ancient ladies in fingerless gloves, holding up their glittering necklaces and bangles and scarves and gaudy Christmas decorations, hoping to catch the eye of a shopper. There are men, too, sharing jokes and manning stalls laden with fruit, vegetables and a plethora of electronic gadgetry. The men all seem to have furry Russian hats with earflaps down to combat the chill wind.
Am I tempted to buy? No, but mellowed by mulled wine, I mean to mingle with the merry folk so work past a couple of stalls, my cheeks feeling the warmth generated by many people in close proximity. The stallholders are mostly old, the shoppers and browsers mostly young, confident and affluent. The rosy cheeks and dancing eyes of the girls examining the goods are pleasant to behold. Even some of their menfolk look animated; all are warmly dressed.
I'm beside a stall selling leather belts when I catch sight of a young face that looks anything but happy and animated. A dark-haired boy with a pale face is looking at everyone who passes him but nobody seems to stop to talk to him. I see his lips moving as he tries to speak to people jostling past. I find myself staring at the bare-headed boy, who's standing not amongst the stalls but virtually on the street pavement. He isn't in the warmth of the crowd but out in the cold. Is he a beggar?
I shuffle past some people to get a better view. He seems to be selling things from a tray slung in front of him and supported by a harness round his neck. He's wearing a fleece jacket zipped right up to his chin, the sleeves pulled down as far as possible over his bare hands. Keen to see what he's trying to sell I edge closer but before I can identify the contents of his tray I see with heart-stopping suddenness that he's not wearing any trousers!
Well, that's not quite true – he's in sawn-off jeans, dramatically shorter than the blond ice-skater's, reaching barely two inches down his pale thighs. He's wearing trainers and long, woollen socks pulled right up over his knees. He must be freezing! Who makes him stand here dressed like this in such cold and what is he selling?
I pull out my Underground map and pretend to consult it. Really, of course, I'm studying the unfortunate boy. He isn't very tall but seems perfectly proportioned. There's an anxious expression on his pretty little face. Edging ever closer, I at last see the contents of the boy's tray. He's selling matches. Not any old matches, but boxes of Bryant & May Extra Long matches. I don't recognise them at first because each box has coloured felt glued to it, leaving only the striking surface clear. Each box bears a festive design, in felt of different colours. Some boxes have a Christmas tree, some a reindeer's head, others a Christmas stocking. Two laughing girls select a box of each design and give the boy a five pound note. A flicker of a smile graces his sweet face as he thanks them.
He moves into a beam of light and I get a better view. I'm away from the mass of people now and feel the icy wind on my face. I'm well wrapped-up but I'm bloody cold. The boy must be freezing to death. I look down at his legs and see goose-pimples covering his hairless thighs. As if on cue, he begins to stamp his feet and pulls his sleeves down until only the tips of his fingers are showing. My heart's going out to this boy and it's not the only organ to express its feelings – I now have a formidable erection.
I must take hold of myself and move on. I'm a stranger here. This boy has nothing to do with me. He can surely go into the warm whenever he wants. It's time I went to the Club. Hands deep in pockets, I walk out of the market and onto the pavement.
"Like some matches, Sir?"
I turn to meet his eyes. His expression is of such sadness I can't help giving him what I hope is an encouraging smile. He offers me a box decorated with a reindeer's head in brown felt. There's a tiny piece of red to depict the reindeer's tongue.
"They're good matches, Sir. I made all the decorations myself."
He's unexpectedly well-spoken and I like his voice. I'd say he's about sixteen.
I can feel myself losing control here. I want to talk to this boy, to take him into the warm, to buy him a meal. But I'd be a laughing stock. He's probably just doing this for a bet.
"No, thanks, I've got a train to catch - and I don't smoke." I move on and make off along Piccadilly without looking back.
The Little Match-Girl, I think, remembering the Hans Christian Andersen story that had me in tears as a child. That boy is dressed like this to win the sympathy of the punters so they'll buy all his matches. Clever marketing. Damned good acting. I don't think there's much chance of him dying of cold in the streets this Christmas. It's 2012, after all.
Oh, God, he's bloody gorgeous.....
I reach the Club and leave my hat, coat and scarf with the hall porter. I need a drink.
It's warm in the bar and I stand with a large Bruichladdich, a malt whisky from Islay that I'm learning to enjoy. The boy at St James's has reminded me of a boy I met back in September. At the request of the local falconry centre, we were accommodating a Czech boy whose Scout troop had sent him over for a course in avian husbandry. Anton was a lovely lad of sixteen who was a pleasure to look after. He spent long hours with his birds of prey and I saw him only in the evening and early morning. Mostly he wore those dreadful cargo shorts that reach almost to the knee but chose on his last day to wear his Scouts uniform, as there'd be end of course photographs. He was a very beautiful boy with long, smooth, muscular legs and dressed as a Scout he looked impossibly sexy. His fawn shorts were terribly tight and only just covered his bottom, their hems several inches above the distinct tan-line just above his knees.
My mother asked Anton to stay in his uniform for his last night with us and at dinner I had real difficulty controlling myself. I asked him about Scouting in the Czech Republic and he showed me photos of his fellow Senior Scouts; most were in shorts as tight and mouth-wateringly short as his own ones. I wondered if those boys have to brave the Bohemian winter so dressed but dared not ask, in case Anton thought me too inquisitive.
Thoughts of Anton give me another erection and I realise it's imprudent to remain standing in the bar so I have my glass refilled and hurry through to the lounge to settle into an armchair and enjoy my thoughts in more privacy. Now my mind quickly returns to Match-Boy, as I now call the boy in Piccadilly. Is he still there? Do I really need to eat in the club? Not really. I could grab something to eat in the West End and maybe Match-Boy would accept my offer to join me. I bet he'd love to be in the warm and I have plenty of cash. I imagine him in Anton's Scouts uniform and then I try to picture Anton in snowbound Prague tonight, wearing Match-Boy's shorts and fighting his way over Charles Bridge in a blizzard.
Oh God - it's eight o'clock – I must have fallen asleep. Seized with desire to see if Match-Boy is still at his post, I book out of the Club and go to find him. If he's gone I can always walk to Euston – my bag is very light – grabbing a meal on the way, maybe in one of those little places near Seven Dials. My tummy is in knots as I hit Piccadilly and head towards the church. The street's still busy with late shoppers and office-workers homeward-bound after a few drinks. I slow down, nervous as hell. Will he still be there?
The stallholders are mostly gone but a few are still doing business. Will he be there? Who's that cowering by the door of the church? Yes, it's him! He's still displaying his wares but looks to have given up hope of any more sales. My heart thumping, I cautiously approach him, clutching in my gloved fist a twenty pound note I've already extracted from my wallet.
"Er, excuse me," I gulp, "I saw you earlier. I'd like some matches, please."
He turns to face me, face blue with cold, teeth chattering and the bitter wind teasing his hair. "Yes, I remember you, Sir. Thank you for coming back. I've still got some boxes left."
About eight boxes remain on his tray. I assume I'm supposed to choose but I cannot take my eyes off his lovely face. He's looking down though and with fingertips emerging from one sleeve of his fleece picks up a box.
"Christmas tree, Sir? All the reindeers have gone."
"I'll b-buy the lot!" I stammer, offering him my note.
"They're a pound each, Sir. I'll get your change." He puts his other hand in the pocket of his shorts but I tell him to keep the change.
"Ooh, thank you, Sir. You're very kind."
What am I going to do with eight big boxes of matches? "Look, I really only want one box but I'm happy to pay for the others, to make up for not buying any first time."
Match-Boy smiles and asks me if I really mean it. I say I do and find the courage to say "Look, feel free to tell me to bugger off but I've got over two hours to my train and I need a hot meal. Would you join me? You must know somewhere near here...." I hope by inviting him to choose the place it doesn't look like I'm picking him up.
"Well, I've finished here and there's a TGI Friday's quite close. Do you mean it, Sir?"
"I certainly do! If I've got a couple of hours to kill I'd rather do it with someone – er – nice – and you look like you need to be somewhere warm."
"Too right, Sir! I'm bloody freezing! Thank you very much. Can I go and dump this stuff in the church? I'll be back in a minute."
What am I doing? The boy will come out with a couple of heavies and I'll be spending Christmas in hospital – or a morgue! Common sense tells me to get out quick but my heart tells me to wait. What do I do?
TGI Friday's in Coventry Street is very busy and people are staring at Kevin's bare thighs but we find a secluded little table and sit, side by side. I haven't imagined it – his shorts really are incredibly brief. He's rubbing his legs to warm them. After we've looked at the menu I go to the bar to order food and return to our table with a couple of pints of bitter.
"Thank you, Sir." His pretty face, framed by longish dark hair, is slowly regaining colour.
"Don't call me Sir, for heaven's sake. My name's James – James Walker." I try to think of something else to say but if I ask him about himself I fear I'll sound like some social worker so I talk about my train journey.
"So you're actually getting the sleeper tonight?" asks Kevin. "I've never been on one of them. They sound fun."
Oh God, is he hinting at something? My erection returns. I must try to stay under control so I ask him if he's a student.
"Yes, I mean, no – I was a student but I'm not at college now. Nobody believes I'm eighteen but look – here's my CitizenCard."
His card has a PASS hologram and his photo on it. He's called Kevin Beecroft and he's eighteen. That's only a year younger than me! I don't want to ask him what happened at college so I ask him where he lives.
"Nowhere – I mean there's a hostel I doss down in but I hate it."
I don't ask him about family. He'll tell me if he wants to. So I ask him if he likes the beer. I shift round to sit opposite him. I can no longer see those bare thighs but I can look at his face without having to turn my head unnaturally. Oh God, he's so pretty!
The food arrives and Kevin tucks in with gusto. My helping's too much for me and he happily devours my leftovers. He drops his fork on the floor and asks to use mine. Oh God – it's been in my mouth and now it's in his! I go and get two more pints. I'm really beginning to like this boy. We'll order pudding in a few minutes. Let's just chat for a while. Will I have the courage to ask him why he wears so little in such freezing weather?
Midway through the second pint I ask Kevin what he's doing for Christmas. He doesn't give a direct answer.
"I like you, James, cos you haven't mentioned terms or anything. Most men, it's the first thing they ask but you, you just talk like we're friends. Christmas, well, I might get lucky. It'll depend on the weather. If it rains or snows there won't be many punters about and I'll have to make do with the bloody hostel, or try Centre Point. Don't want to think about it."
Did he just say what I think he said? Apart from selling matches, is he free of commitments at Christmas? What about these terms he says I haven't mentioned? Oh God, is he a rent boy? I have to find out. But why? Will it make a difference? I like him more and more every second. I don't want his body – I want to help him. I don't want him on the streets this Christmas, especially dressed like this. He could get picked up by any kind of vile filth.
We have another pint and some treacle pudding. I begin to realise Kevin and I share some interests, in music and books. To put it another way, he's not pig-ignorant and he doesn't bore me; far from it. I still haven't asked him about these terms he spoke of but surely, if he was a rent boy, he'd have started to flirt with me or something. It's actually me doing the flirting; I can't keep my eyes off his glorious face. When I nip to the loo I half expect to come back and find he's disappeared but no, he's sitting where I left him, looking more scrumptious than ever.
We chat some more and suddenly he's agreed to come with me to Cumbria and spend Christmas with me, news that reinvigorates my erection in seconds. Oh Christ – I've picked up a boy!
Kevin wants to collect some things from the church so we have to go back to Piccadilly. Does this mean he'll introduce the heavy gang and I'll end up spending Christmas unconscious in some gutter after all? But no, he emerges alone with a little rucksack and we head on down the street, our elbows occasionally nudging each other in a way I find exciting.
I suggest Green Park Station as it's on a direct line to Euston and soon we're passing Fortnum and Mason. This year's theme for the window decorations is Dick Whittington and here I find my emotions running amok. Tears fill my eyes as I watch Kevin gazing at the sumptuous display in one of the windows, his little shorts rustling in the biting wind. He looks so very young. I think of Andersen's little match-girl looking in wonder at the lighted shop windows before lying in the snow to die and I look at Kevin and I know I'm doing the right thing.
"Look at me, James!" he says, giving me a dazzling smile. "I'm Dick Whittington in reverse – with all my belongings in one small bag I'm leaving the streets of London and heading north to find fame and fortune in the mountains of Cumbria!"
I nearly crack up. I think I'm beginning to love Kevin. Yes, love. As we travel on the brightly-lit Tube, people are staring at his naked thighs, made even barer by the tendency of his little shorts to ride shockingly far up his legs whenever he sits down. I'm relieved when we get to Euston Station and go to buy his ticket to Carlisle. I provide the cash. It being so close to Christmas all the sleeper berths are taken but Kevin has a ticket to sit up all night in Standard Class. I have no intention, however, of letting him out of my sight.
The sleeping-car attendant needs to be persuaded that I require Kevin to share my cabin. Now rather shorter of cash than I'd planned, I find the two Bank of Scotland twenty pound notes I reserve for emergencies north of the border. That settled, Kevin and I move into our cabin, the upper bunk having been lowered into place for his use. The attendant takes our orders for coffee and bacon baps at 05.00, half an hour before the train's due at Carlisle. Then he adjusts the cabin heating control.
"This young man isn't exactly dressed for the weather, Sir, so I've turned the heater up."
He's seen how I'm tingling with excitement and as he departs he gives me a knowing wink.
Now I'm alone with Kevin. He's shed his fleece and stands there in checked shirt and those severely truncated shorts. I'm now able to see the shape of his sweet little bottom and that he's wearing a broad leather belt. He leans forward to push his long socks down to his shins so now I can see his knees and very nice knees they are. Indeed, the skin on his legs, like that on his face, is everywhere smooth and unblemished.
"I can tell you like what you see, James."
Oh God! My coat's off and Kevin can see how my erection is tenting my moleskin trousers! He knows I fancy him and I'm embarrassed. I quickly sit on the lower bunk and as I do so, the train begins to move.
"Well, we're on our way," I say. "Why not sit down?"
He sits beside me. I ask him if he's got any more clothes with him. He rummages in his rucksack and says "Only my working clothes; oh and here's your box of matches, James."
The rucksack's too small to hold much and I wonder what his working clothes are but dare not ask. Instead, I say I'll go to the bar and bring back some drinks for us. He smiles and says that when I get back he'll be in something more suitable.
In the lounge car I buy some wine to take back and a large scotch to enjoy now, as I try to take stock of what's happening. Have I really acquired a delicious young house guest for Christmas? Is he a rent boy? If so, do I want to rent him? I wouldn't know where to start. But that face – those legs – that bottom! When, since Anton, have I ever seen such beauty? I suppose when I get back he'll have changed into something more appropriate for winter and those bare thighs will be hidden from view. I look at the box of matches and study the little green Christmas tree on its red felt background. Sweet. I place it carefully in my jacket pocket.
When I re-enter the now warm cabin my eyes nearly pop out of my head.
"Those are your working clothes, Kevin?" I splutter. "Are you a rent boy or something?"
He stands facing me in a blue T-shirt too short to reach below his navel and if I thought the shorts he was wearing were short you should see what he's got on now! Shorts as tight as Anton's but even more revealing! Tattered blue denims that just manage to cover his crotch but with a V-shaped gash at each side that expose his hips almost entirely!
"No, I'm not a rent boy, James. I'm a spanky boy. I don't get buggered – I get spanked! Or caned, belted, slippered, whipped, what you will. That's what my clients pay for, only you've already been so kind you can do it for free!"
"But I've no intention of spanking you, let alone buggering you! I just want you to stay with me at Christmas!"
"Sorry, James but the way you were looking at me in the market .... I thought you must be interested. When you never discussed terms I thought I was wrong... but just now when you were looking at my bum you had such a hard-on I was sure you wanted to spank me."
"Oh, my dear Kevin – I am interested in you – as a person. True, I do find you incredibly good-looking – and very sexy – but I want to help you and keep you warm and give you good food. I want nothing in return!"
"I can't accept your kindness without giving something in return and I'd love a pain-free Christmas but it wouldn't be right if you didn't give me just a little spank, and more if you want to."
At last, it dawns on me what Kevin means about his working clothes. This is what he has to wear to satisfy the men who pay to spank him; horrible, perverted men who want to hurt dear little Kevin to satisfy their lust. This is all too much for me and I make Kevin sit beside me and drink some wine. He begins to tell me his life story and about how he plies his trade. Although he hates being buggered, he says it's sometimes part of the deal. I can't resist putting my arm around his shoulders and drawing him close. His neck smells sweetly of boy, just like Anton's.
"I'm only a year older than you," I say, "but I won't let anything horrible happen to you while you're staying with me. God, I feel like I'm a father to you."
"Don't you want to see what my business end looks like?" asks Kevin, standing up and turning away from me. "I hate being spanked naked so one of my regular clients made these shorts for me."
I feel my spine tingle as I realise his tattered shorts fail to cover his buttocks. I stare at his cute little half-naked bottom, quickly understanding the significance of the cruel-looking marks and ridges there. There's a particularly evil weal just below his crease. What kind of monster did this?
"Oh my dear boy – those marks are awful!"
"Would you like a feel?" asks Kevin, draining his glass. "If I lie over your knees you can see me in my working position!"
Before I know it, I have a small but beautiful eighteen-year-old over my lap and my right hand is gently exploring the ridges and welts on his otherwise silky bottom. There's a rip up the side of one back pocket which allows the denim to fall away, leaving his right buttock almost entirely bare. I ask him if he feels awkward not wearing underwear, a question I realise is stupid before it's even left my lips but he says he's wearing a thong. I hope he can't feel my throbbing erection.
"Want to give me a tiny little spank, James, just to see what it's like?"
"No!" I withdraw my hand from that bare right buttock, and find myself so excited I shout "No, Kevin, I don't want to spank you!"
The train even at speed is so quiet I wonder if my words have carried to other compartments in the sleeping car. I make to rest my hand again on Kevin's bottom then wonder if the attendant will come running, so reach to the door to make sure it's locked.
I cannot adequately describe the sensation of having this bundle of fun stretched over my knees, my left hand pressing on the small of his back and my right hand continuing its exploration of Kevin's almost bare bottom. Should I ask him why he became a spanky boy?
"Um, Kevin, you've got the most beautiful bottom. In fact, you're beautiful all over! How come you're only a year younger than me but manage to look not a day over sixteen?"
"Careful use of the razor, James. My clients don't like hairy bums - or hairy legs, either."
"I'd hate to meet one of your clients, Kevs, cos I wouldn't be responsible for my actions. Why are you a spanky boy?" "
"I like you calling me Kevs," says Kevin, avoiding my question. "It's kind of intimate. I'm really looking forward to having Christmas with you."
"Me too," I say, dreamily. "I hope you like drinking wine."
"Ooh, yes! It makes me feel very sexy! Has your house got a real fire? I love the idea of sitting by the fireside."
"You bet. We've got a huge log fire and I wouldn't light it just for me but if you're there..."
"Ooh, so romantic!" He wriggles sexily on my lap and I can feel his erection between my thighs so move my knees close together as if to trap his rigid cock and hold it captive.
"I've got some fell-running to do - can't spend all day indoors," I say, hoping to make Kevin understand that my plans go further than lying on a hearth rug, glopping wine and fondling my new young friend. "I could lend you some warm clothes and you could come up on the fells with me."
"That would be a change," says Kevin. "I've never been on the fells but I've heard of 'em. I could wear some of your running-shorts. Nice, short ones but not as rude as these stupid things! Can I take 'em off now, if you promise not to spank me?"
"Course you can!" I pull Kevin to his feet and he takes off the obscenely doctored shorts, leaving him in just a thong and his little T-shirt. I get him to sit beside me on the lower bunk. "I never want to hurt you, Kevs. Have some more wine. Are you warm enough? You could get into my bunk if you like."
He responds by shifting closer to me and making a little giggle as he holds out his empty glass.
The spanking starts shortly after we pass through Rugby. Well, it's more a thrashing than a spanking. Kevin finds his broad leather belt, folds it in two and hands it to me.
"I need a belting now, please, James. I deserve a really hard one, cos I've been leading you astray and keeping you up when you should be asleep."
"Keeping me up you certainly are, Kevs, you little tinker! I've been rock hard for bloody ages!"
Suddenly, I find myself standing up and ordering Kevin to his knees. "Lean your chest on the bunk and keep your hands out of the way!"
The rear strap of his thong is very narrow and passes deeply between his buttocks, leaving the cheeks of his bottom entirely bare and looking terribly vulnerable. With power I didn't know I possess I start to lay into Kevin's sweet little bottom and amaze myself at my accuracy. He quivers and groans on my bunk while I do my best to flay him alive. I am possessed with devils. My eyes are screwed up tight and my face is contorted with malice. As he screams in agony I lay mercilessly into this sweet little boy.
Gasping for breath I pause for a moment and look at what I've done to him. Distraught, I sit on the bunk and try to apologise. He's frantic with pain, staggering about the cabin and rubbing like crazy. Minutes pass. Gradually he calms down and kneels beside me. Tears are flowing down his soft cheeks and he's still sobbing quietly. I am devastated. What on earth came over me? Kevin turns his head to face me and, incredibly, there's a strange grin on his blotchy, tearstained face. No longer weeping, he launches himself at me and flings his arms around me.
"Merry Christmas, James!"
I can't believe the sounds we've been making haven't woken everyone in the sleeping car but nobody comes. Having wrenched my trousers off I take Kevin's shoulders and ease him down onto my bunk where we lie, my hairy legs entwined with his blissfully smooth ones. We embrace, kiss, stroke, rub and eventually we are spilling seed onto each other's tummy. Squeezed together on the bunk, we let our bodies relax. He falls asleep in my arms.
There's a knock on the door and the attendant enters with a breakfast tray and switches on the cabin light. But I locked the door - how come he just opens it and comes in?
"Good morning, Sir. We're running on time; Carlisle in thirty minutes. Sleep well, Sir?"
"Er, yes, thanks," I mutter automatically, wondering why the man has brought only one tray.
Where's Kevin? Why isn't his lovely body lying beside me? Christ! There's no sign of him. No little rucksack on the floor. The upper bunk is stowed upright. He's not here! I sit up in bed. My sheets have stiff patches so must be badly stained. Same for my pyjamas. Hang on, when did I put on pyjamas?
I've been dreaming! There's no broad leather belt, no tattered blue denim shorts. Only a couple of empty wine bottles. The reality hits me as I sip my coffee and munch my bacon bap. He never got on this train. He never came anywhere with me. He never existed! It was all a dream. But what a dream!
I'm standing on the freezing platform at Carlisle with a splitting headache; it's hours before dawn. Oh, how I wish Kevin were here! Oh, how I'd love to take him home and keep him warm, feed him, cuddle him and make love to him.
But no, he never existed. It's all been a dream. I look in my wallet; no credit card slips for TGI Friday's, none for his train ticket. Oh, but I paid cash, didn't I?
But speaking of cash, where are my two Scottish twenty pound notes? Ah, I must have spent them in the lounge car. My aching head and trembling hands seem to offer some evidence. I begin to walk slowly down the platform. Kevin was just a dream.
What's this in my jacket pocket? I pull out a box of matches. They're Bryant & May Extra Long matches and the box is covered in red felt, with a tiny Christmas tree in green felt. Tears fill my eyes.
Oh, where are you, Kevin? Are you somewhere on the train? No, you can't be. The train begins to glide out of the station, heading for Scotland. Clutching the matchbox I stare after the train and feel I'm about to start choking. Oh, wherever you are - Happy Christmas, my dear little Match-Boy!
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