The Boy With the Golden Eyes
by London Lampy
"Being sent to an orphanage stinks." Adrian said as he raised a bottle of apple brandy to his lips, the gangly butchers son was one of Jack's oldest friends. "Why don't you just run away or something?"
"Number one, I don't have any money, number two, I don't know how to do anything much except milk goats and dig vegetables, number three, I can't just leave the others to go by themselves." Jack counted the points off on his fingers in the early evening woodland gloom as they sat around the bonfire they had built.
Jack was pleased that at least the youngest four of Nanny's children had found homes among the villagers. The miller and his wife had taken in Ben and Kate, the couple couldn't have children of their own and at the ages of three and four they would grow up seeing the two as their mother and father. Six year old Lilly was going to live with an older couple whose own children had all grown and left home, they wanted another child to fill the silence, and sensitive eight year old Tommy had been adopted by Mr Harper and his wife, with Mr Harper joking that one more would hardly be noticeable. Which left nine year old Gary, the ten year old twins and Jane, Dana and Jack to be dispatched to the Parnell orphanage tomorrow.
"Aw Jackie, I'm going to miss you." Marni lent over and ruffled his curls, and Jack was sure that she deliberately gave him a flash of her recently blossomed cleavage as she did so. Adrian then passed him the bottle and he wiped the top on his sleeve then took a swig of the throat burningly strong liquid.
"I'll miss you lot as well." Jack said once he'd swallowed, looking across at Marni's brother Sam who was sitting on the other side of the bonfire chewing on a thumb nail and staring into the flames.
"I can't believe you're going so soon." Marni sighed, moving closer to him and leaning her head against his arm.
"Father Gregory went over to Camber and sent a wire from there, they replied straight away that they had room for us, worse luck." Jack put his arm around Marni's shoulders and gave her a small hug.
"You do get to go on a train though." Adrian pointed out as Jack handed the brandy to Marni. "My uncle went on one and he said it went faster than a galloping horse."
"Father Gregory is a shit." Sam suddenly uttered.
"Sam!" Marni said, her voice shocked. "You can't say that, what would Mother do if she heard you using that kind of language, and about a priest too?"
"Well he is." The blond boy retorted. "He's sending Jack away."
"It's hardly his fault Nanny passed." Marni chided her brother.
"I asked my father if you could come and live with us." Adrian added, his voice slurring a little. "But he said we didn't have the space, which is stupid because since Granddad died we've had an extra room."
"Thanks for trying Ade." Jack sighed, hating that this was going to be the last evening he spent with his friends. He glanced at Sam again, who caught his eye and then looked away.
The first time he had kissed Sam had been on the night of the Spring Festival. The two boys, escaping from a sudden rain shower had found themselves alone in Sam's father's hayloft, and emboldened by drink and the darkness had ended up in one another's arms. Jack had kissed girls before, including Sam's sister Marni, and while he hadn't found it an unpleasant experience by any means kissing Sam was entirely different, it made his whole body catch fire and he never wanted it to stop. That night they had ended up using their hands on one another, and since then they had done very much more, things Jack wasn't sure they should be doing but that felt so good they couldn't put and end to it.
When Jack first started arriving home with tell tale purple marks on his neck Nanny had taken him aside and spoken to him at length about the importance of not getting a girl into trouble, and how to prevent it. He had briefly considered telling her then that this was something she need not worry about, but thought better of it. He was aware that Nanny held quite different opinions to most of the villagers on a whole range of subjects, from happily conceding to Dana's refusal to wear skirts and dresses like a "decent" young woman should, to never taking them to chapel. Nanny failed to see why worshipping the gods should be done once a week under a roof and led by a human appointed man when you could just as easily stand among the hills and trees and pray as you went about your everyday life, but he wasn't sure even she would be able to accept the things him and Sam were doing together.
"Are you ever going to come back?" Adrian asked, passing the bottle to Sam and stifling a burp.
"I don't know, Mr Harper told me that I only have to stay in the orphanage until I turn sixteen, but that's a few months away and the farm will probably belong to someone else by then, and everyone will have most likely forgotten all about me too."
"We won't." Said Marni sadly.
"I'll never forget you." Added Sam, giving Jack a meaningful look.
Over the next hour the bottle emptied, the bonfire burned down and the sun set as they talked about the past and the adventures they'd had together as they grew up. They laughed a lot at the memories, but all of it was cut through by the constant knowledge that this was the last time they would all be together, and by the time brandy was gone an air of melancholy had settled over the small group.
"We need to get home before Mother starts to worry." Marni finally said, standing up and brushing down the back of her dress.
"She can worry, I don't care." Sam muttered, refusing to move.
"Please Sam, come on, I don't want us to get into trouble for staying out late again, you know what Dad's like." She stepped over to her brother and frowned down at him. At seventeen she was a year older than him and took her role of big sister seriously.
"Hey Sam, I'm going too." Jack got to his feet. "I don't want to get on Mr Harper's bad side." Mr Harper had been letting the children who were being sent to Parnell stay at his inn until they left.
"I don't think Mr Harper's got a bad side." Adrian laughed. "Remember the time he caught us scrumping plums from his tree? All he did was tell us not to eat the green ones."
They walked back to the village slowly, Adrian was the first to leave, his house being closest to the woods. He gave Jack a handshake that turned into a backslapping hug as he bid his friend goodbye. Once they reached the inn Marni threw her arms around Jack and started to cry against his shoulder.
"I just can't believe we might never see each other again." She sobbed into his jacket. Jack well knew that of all the village boys he had always been her favourite, and he was pretty sure that she had begun to entertain fantasies of one day becoming his wife. He stroked her back trying to soothe her, and when her sobs had receded into snuffling hiccups he looked over at Sam who was leaning against the inn wall with a stricken expression on his face.
"Sorry." She said, stepping away from Jack and scrubbing her face with her hands. "I got your jacket all wet."
"Don't worry Marn, I'm sure it'll dry before tomorrow." He attempted to lighten the mood.
"Marni." Sam's voice was hoarse. "I want to say goodbye to Jack alone."
"I won't tease you if you cry, I promise." She gave her brother a wan smile.
"Please Marni, go home, I'll catch you up."
"Why? What do you want to say that you can't say in front of me?" She asked, sounding puzzled now.
"Please." He whispered desperately.
"Go on Marn." Jack squeezed her shoulder. "I don't want my last night here to end up in one of you and Sam's epic rows."
She gave Jack another quick hug then set off, looking back at her brother with a quizzical expression.
Once she was out of sight Jack led Sam down the side of the inn and into its shadowy back yard. Without saying a word he backed Sam up against the wall and kissed him, starting out gently but ending up hard and desperate, trying to put all the things he felt into the kiss. Sam was a good bit shorter than him and he ended up hoisting him up and holding him up against the wall with the blond boy's legs wrapped around him. Sam unbuttoned Jack's jacket then started on his shirt, the night air was cold against his skin but Jack barely registered it, Sam's body was warm and he could feel Sam's arousal rubbing against his through the fabric of his trousers.
"Jack, I want to do it, I want to do it with you one last time." Sam whispered.
"Where?" Jack managed to ask as Sam sucked on his ear lobe. It was too cold for the outdoor encounters they had been enjoying all summer.
"My father's barn?" Sam suggested, rolling his hips and making Jack groan with pleasure.
Jack was about to voice his agreement to this when the door to the yard suddenly opened spilling golden light into the shadows.
"Daddy is just going to smoke his pipe, then he'll come and play horsey with you before you go to bed." Mr Harper's voice floated out, followed by him.
Jack let go of Sam as fast as he could without actually dropping him and stepped back.
"But Daddy!" A child's frustrated voice came from inside.
"I'll be back soon." Jack watched as a matched flared then was touched to the bowl of the pipe. Mr Harper sucked hard to draw the flame and get the smoke going, making the tobacco glow red, then he looked up and finally spotted the two boys.
"Jack...Sam." He said in surprise. "What are you both doing out here?"
"Hello Mr Harper." Sam said, his voice unsteady, as Jack pulled his jacked closed around his body, trying to hide the fact that his shirt was open.
"We were saying goodbye." Jack added, suddenly finding the toe of his boot very interesting.
"Ah, yes." Mr Harper peered at the pair of them in the darkness. "Sam, where's your sister? I'd have thought she would have wanted to bid young Jack farewell too."
"Um...yes, she did. She's gone home now." He replied while Mr Harper puffed on his pipe thoughtfully.
"Well, if you're done you'd better get home too, and Jack, you'd better get inside. It's a cold night and you've got a long day ahead of you tomorrow, we don't want you coming down with a chill."
Jack nodded helplessly, feeling Sam's gaze on him but unable to look round. For a moment no one moved then Mr Harper spoke again.
"Sam, I expect your parents will be worried about you when you don't return with Marni, be a good lad and get going." He said this kindly but with meaning, gesturing to the street with the stem of his his pipe.
"And Jack, perhaps you can do me a favour by letting my Sally play horsey you for a bit, your knees will cope with it better than my old ones can." He stepped forward, reaching up to put one hand on Jack's shoulder and ushering him toward the door. Sam drew breath, wanting to say something, but he didn't know what he could say so he turned and entered the inn without a word.
Once the yard was clear of the two of them Mr Harper drew on his pipe again then breathed out a plume of smoke into the dark night. He knew that her parents had always believed Marni to be a little sweet on Jack, and as she had turned from a girl into a young woman it had become something of a concern to them, but, he mused, perhaps their concern had been aimed at the wrong child. He decided not to trouble them with speculations over why their son been in his yard alone in the dark with Jack, why they had both worn expressions that reminded him of the ones his own younger children wore when caught stealing cakes from the kitchen, or even why the larger boy's shirt had clearly been unbuttoned. However he felt that it was almost certainly for the best that Jack would soon be gone from the village for good.
Jack lay awake in the dark listening to the sounds of the other three boys asleep in the bed. He himself was on a mattress on the floor having readily let the younger boys take the bed, he hadn't wanted to be disturbed all night long by constant jabs from bony knees and elbows.
Mr Harper had kept him occupied for the past two hours, getting him to bring in firewood and beer barrels from the yard, and Jack got the feeling that this was more to keep him from going out again than from any real need. His suspicions were confirmed by Mr Harper making a remark about "it not being the sort of night anyone should be out and about on" as Jack was heading upstairs for bed. In truth he had considered sneaking out to find Sam again, but it was late now and he couldn't just turn up at Sam's farmhouse and ask his parents if he could see him, and besides he was pretty sure Mr Harper was periodically patrolling the corridor outside.
He felt a wave of anger wash over him and he clenched his fists, digging his nails deep into his palms to attempt to still it. Nanny had taught him various ways to try to control his temper, some of which worked better than others. His temper was slow burning rather than quick and hot, but when he lost it he had a tendency to lose control of his actions too. As a small child this was less of a problem as he simply wore himself out in a tantrum, but as he grew and it became clear that he was becoming larger and stronger than other children the old woman had done everything she could to help him master it. He knew that it was her gravest concern for him that he would do serious harm, or worse, to someone in a fit of rage, and she had made sure that he understood this.
Jack pushed down the rising tide inside of him with difficulty, knowing that making Mr Harper the focus of all his frustrations would be a terrible thing to do. The man had been good to him and the others, and despite his efforts to keep him away from Sam he was one of the few adults who actually seemed to care about the fate of Nanny's children beyond simply being seen to do the right thing. He rolled onto his side and tried to will himself to sleep in the unfamiliar room, but it was a very long time until all the racing thoughts in his head slowed enough to let him do so.
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