The Scholar's Tale

by Mihangel

Part 1, Chapter 7 - Correlation

Back at school for our second summer term, we graduated to separate studies, although we were almost as often to be found in the other's as in our own. With exams imminent, I was pretty busy. So was Andrew, who had spectacularly made it into the school under-sixteen cricket team and was much occupied with practices and matches. My exams came and went: no need to bore you with details (though there was a question on the Athenians at Syracuse). When in June the pressure came off, I had more leisure to sit back and do some thinking, about both the past and the future. I took stock of the last four terms. Academically, my career had been meteoric. While my own abilities, I had to admit, had contributed, Yarborough deserved much of the credit. Its teaching was far superior to my prep school's, and it fostered an independence of thought which contrasted refreshingly with my parents' dogmatism. My personal progress, too, had been phenomenal. I would always be a relative loner; but, thanks to Andrew, the growth of my self-esteem and confidence had been remarkable.

This had been underlined by a recent incident. As I've said, as a new boy I was occasionally at the receiving end of offensive remarks, and once - when Thorne pushed me into the gorse bush - of physical bullying. But there'd been none of that since. Word of Andrew's reply had got around, to general approval, for Thorne was not a popular member of society. But one evening as I was leaving the bog, I found Thorne in the changing room, where he'd pinned a new boy called Hitchcock in the corner and was prodding him in the chest. "Hitchcock, Hitchcock" - prod - "Lovely name for a sexy boy." - prod - "Bet you hitch your cock every night" - prod - "and think of ..."

"Stop that!" I bellowed, bristling, "What the hell d'you think you're doing?"

"Keep your hair on. Only teasing this twerp. Bit of fun."

"Was it fun?" I asked Hitchcock gently. He was quivering, and shook his head dumbly. "Right, Thorne. It wasn't fun for him, even if it was for you. Anyway, why make fun of his name, which he can't help? Any more than you can help yours. Want me to remind the whole house that you're a Thorne in the flesh?" Hitchcock clearly hadn't heard that one, and I saw delighted surprise on his face.

Thorne was sullen. Evidently the jibe still rankled. "You'd better not."

"I won't. So long as you leave Hitchcock alone. Got that? Hop it." Thorne went out morosely. "You OK?" I asked Hitchcock. "Let me know if he tries that sort of thing again."

Smile. "Thanks, Michaelson," and he went too. Leaving me to ponder my new role as a protector. I'd put Thorne down, and he was senior to me. Maybe he was still scared of an invisible Andrew. Or, coward as bullies are, he was actually scared of me? Had I matured that much? Did I actually carry an air of authority? If so, an intriguing thought.

As for the future, plans had already been laid for the summer holidays. The Goodharts had come over for Speech Day (one prize for Andrew and three for me, plus my customary tip - Bach cello suites this time) and arrangements were finalised. All four parents were attending the Plato Conference in Athens in August, a major and lengthy affair which would take them away from home for a fortnight. The benighted cat demanded my presence in Cambridge, but my parents must have had a glowing report from the Goodharts of the Sicilian trip, for this time they agreed without too much reluctance that Andrew should stay with me. Whether they'd forgotten our conversation about homosexuality, or harboured no suspicions, they didn't raise the subject. For better or worse, their absence would span both our birthdays, which we'd have to celebrate by ourselves.

The prospect of two weeks with just the two of us, alone, raised both my hopes and my fears. I'd found that my love for Andrew, which I'd once thought complete, was still growing. I still sensed, more strongly than ever though I couldn't put a finger on how I sensed it, that he loved me. But I still dared make no open move. This was one area where my timidity and lack of confidence had not been eliminated. Not only was I terrified of a rebuff, but I'd no idea of how to set about so momentous a step. I was clearer than ever that whereas once I might have settled for plain sex, I'd now be content with nothing less than real love on both sides. But how to confirm it? How to declare it? I was at a loss to know. Then, quite unexpectedly, the last few weeks of term threw up a series of chance events which offered most of the answers with little effort and little anguish on my part.

One balmy Saturday afternoon Andrew was playing for the house under-sixteen team, and I was there to watch, lying alone on the boundary, with nobody nearby, and with a book should things get boring. Our side was put in first, and Andrew, who batted about halfway down the order, came to join me.

"What's the book?" he asked, flipping through it.

"Martial. Epigrams."

"Who's Martial?"

"Poet. First century AD."

"What are epigrams?"

"Poems. Any subject, but short and witty. Punch line. Bit like limericks."

"Oh, I see, Latin on one side, translation opposite." Pause. "Why's this translation in - Italian, isn't it?"

"Ah. That's one of the rude ones they didn't dare put in English."

"Rude? Really? You mean dirty?"

"Yes. Obscene. Pornographic."

"Blimey. About girls? Or boys?"

"Both. They were pretty bisexual then."

"Gosh. What does this one say?"

I'd never talked real dirt with Andrew. It wasn't our way. Dirty jokes, yes - we shared good ones, of course, like the fortune-tellers. Nothing more than that. But I was at ease today, and felt inclined to take minor risks, though I had to obtain some clearance first. "Andrew, do you want it uncensored, unedited? Some of these are pretty filthy."

"Gimme the works. I'm not that shockable." He was probably expecting something like a rude limerick, on the lines of 'There was a young fellow of Buckingham.'

"On your head be it." So I looked round - nobody in earshot - and down at the book. "Actually you've got a fairly tame one here." I worked out a punchy version. "Written to a girl. 'Rumour says you've never been shagged, and there's nothing chaster than your cunt. But when you go to the baths you don't even cover up the part you should. If you've any modesty, put your knickers on your face.'"

Andrew laughed heartily, glowing like the Greek god he was. "Good God! You don't do this book in class, do you?"

"Grief, no. We do Martial, but only in selections fit for our modest eyes. This book is my parents'."

"Cor. Better than The Cruel Sea." This, or the few juicy bits in it, was the nearest thing to pornography that was generally available in the school, pallid though it may seem to later generations. If anyone knew of the existence of hard-core stuff, they wouldn't have known how to get hold of it. We were pretty innocent; but access to my parents' library made me less innocent than many. "Give me another."

"Let's see ... Try this one. This is to his wife. 'When you caught me with a boy, you slagged me off and reminded me that you had an arse too. Stop giving masculine names to your equipment. Just get it into your head that you've got two cunts.'"

'Christ! You mean he ..."

"Seems so." Noises off as a batsman was bowled. A nasty thought struck me. "Andrew. Keep this under your hat. Please. That I've got this stuff and can translate it. Otherwise everyone else'll beat a trail to my study. I don't want that. Only you."

"Right. Understood. I won't tell."

"Thanks. More?"

"Please."

"Umm. Well. Same sort of thing again. 'Labienus, when you shave your chest and legs and arms, when your prick is surrounded by hair trimmed short, we all know you do it for your girlfriend. But who is your shaved arse for?'"

"Leon, this is wicked. Dirty old Romans." Applause. Another batsman was out. "Lord, I must get padded up." He climbed to his feet, and as he brushed grass off his trousers I noticed something. And took another risk.

"You'd better do something about that hard-on before you put your box on."

He looked startled, then amused. "You mean it'd be a jack-in-the-box! Don't worry. It'll go down as soon as I've left your stimulating company," and off he loped to the pavilion, leaving me to ponder what was happening. Not for long. Our batting was collapsing and Andrew, most untypically, was bowled first ball. Soon he came trotting round to me again, grinning unabashed and still matching my skittish mood.

"Bad luck," I said. "Eye not on the ball, eh? Or eye on Elliott's balls?" Elliott was the bowler who had just demolished him, a notoriously beautiful boy.

"Michaelson is possessed of a particularly filthy mind," he pronounced in good imitation of the headmaster's ponderous voice. He looked round, but nobody was watching. "Not eyes on balls, Leon. Balls on eyes." I was lying on my back, and he straddled me and briefly and gently lowered his bum on to my forehead, balls over my eyes, giving me a tantalisingly sexy whiff of essence of boy.

As he got off, the bulge in his trousers knocked my glasses askew. "Now I'm cock-eyed," I said.

He giggled helplessly for a while. "Oh. Leon, I love it when you talk dirty. I was wondering" - he turned more serious - "Leon, where did you pick up these dirty words? I mean, I heard them from my friends, but you say you never had any friends before."

I hesitated, as I was obscurely ashamed of the answer. But it was a fair question. "Oh, a couple of years ago I had to go to the bog. A public one. For a crap," I added, in case he got hold of the wrong end of the stick. "And the walls were covered in these graffiti. I spent ages reading them. They taught me a lot." I didn't add that I'd then noticed an eye peering through a hole in wall, and had fled in panic without even buttoning up. "Pretty sordid, really."

"Yes, I know, I've seen some. Sordid, like your poems, but not so neat."

We watched a may-bug droning past. Another opportunity. "D'you know the other name for those things?"

"No. What?"

"Cock-chafer."

Andrew giggled again. "Leon, you've never been like this before. Must be your Roman pornography turning you on. Sing us another one."

I leafed through the book. Right. Try this. "'Hyllus, you've often got only a penny to your name, and it's more worn than your arse. But it won't be spent on food or drink, but on someone who can boast a massive cock. Your wretched belly envies the banquets your arse enjoys: the one is always empty, the other stuffed.'"

"Whew. That's hot. Read me another."

"You sound like a little boy at bedtime." Umm. That might be misinterpreted. The next one was in the same vein too. "'Gallus, you sleep with well-hung boys, but what's stiff on them isn't stiff on you. What do you want me to deduce? I'd like to think you're a pansy, but I know that you're not the one underneath.'"

Andrew's brow furrowed as he worked it out. "Does that mean he couldn't get a hard-on? Poor sod. Hope that never happens to me." Amen. Or to me. "Any more?"

More searching. Ha. What will he make of this? "'Polycharmus, you like to crap after fucking. What do you do after you've been fucked?'"

"Yeeow. Leon ..." Burst of clapping, our side all out. "I must go. But Leon, does the ... stuff stay in your arse, or leak out?"

"No idea. You'd better go."

I didn't take much notice of the rest of the game, and can't remember who won. Probably them. I had plenty to think about. Andrew had seen a new side of me, and I had of him.. He went back with the rest of the team, I by myself.

Next day was Sunday. Day of rest, relatively speaking. After chapel, Andrew came to my study. I was still in my frisky mood, but he was more thoughtful. "Leon, I was thinking last night about your Martial bloke."

"I bet you were!"

He smiled, but only faintly. "Clot. We're supposed to be pure and pious today! Even so, Martial. Was he the only one who wrote that sort of thing?"

"Well, there weren't many others who wrote epigrams. Whose works have survived, anyway. But there's Catullus. Bit earlier. Much the same."

"Have you got it?"

I had. In this respect if no other, bookworm parents were a blessing to a bookworm son. Not so many poems to choose from in Catullus. Found one. "Andrew, this one's filthier still."

"Go on."

"'Gellius, why are your rosy lips whiter than the winter's snow when you leave home in the morning, or get up from your afternoon siesta? Something's up. Is it true you suck men's erections? That's it. It's proved by Victor's battered cock and by your lips smeared with the cum you've milked.'"

"Christ almighty!" He didn't look amused, or excited, but almost disapproving. "And did the Greeks write the same sort of thing?"

"Yes, probably more. Best source is the Anthology." I rummaged on the shelf for the volume, the only one I had, containing Books XI and XII. But the bell rang for lunch. "Look, walk this afternoon?" We had to be out of the house for an hour on Sunday afternoons. Anywhere.

"OK."

"Right. I'll bring it with me."

We walked out, reached open countryside, sat in the sun on the grassy bank of a quiet road, and opened the book. Same layout, but this time Greek on one side and English on the other, or Latin for the juicy bits.

"Right. Some of them are much the same as Martial. Like this. 'Is Favorinus fucking or being fucked? Yes. He's fucking his own mouth.'"

Andrew was startled out of his thoughtfulness. "Does that mean he was sucking himself?"

"S'pose so."

"He must have had a monster. Couldn't do that myself. Doubt if Richardson could either," referring to a sixth-former who was enviably well endowed.

"Huh." If Andrew couldn't, I certainly couldn't. "Here's another. 'There were two on the bed being fucked, and two fucking. You think that makes four? No, three. The one in the middle was doing both.'" Andrew was startled again, but kept quiet as he worked out the mechanics of it. "And there are more here about boys rather than men. After all, the Greeks were into boys - sorry, pun not intended. 'Girls don't have a tight arsehole, a straightforward kiss, a naturally fragrant skin, good dirty chatter, or an unambiguous glance. They don't learn so fast. They are frigid behind. Most important, there's nowhere to put your wandering hand.'"

"Yes," he said, so quietly I could barely hear him, "that I can understand."

Again a pause, so I flipped the pages once more. "Another thing, they liked their boys young. Certainly not hair on chests. Like this. 'Your leg, Nicander, is getting hairy. Take care it doesn't cover your arse, or you'll find out how rare lovers are. Remember that youth can't be called back.'"

Our socks were rumpled down and our trouser legs ruckled up, so that patches of shin were visible, his with a distinct covering of darkening down, mine smooth as a baby's bottom. I saw him looking at both. "Yes," he said quietly again, "it's a pity we get hair." He lay back with an air of finality and gazed unseeingly at the starlings wheeling in the sky. "Leon, I don't want any more. Thanks for reading them, though. I like them, in a way. They make me horny. Good material for jacking off, you know what I mean." His sideways glance was positively shy. "But in another way I don't like them. They're like the scribbles on the boghouse walls. Like you said, sordid. Casual sex. That last one - the bloke ditching his boy as soon as he gets hair on his arse. If I was that boy, I'd be getting ditched now. I'm getting hair there."

He heaved a big sigh, and I waited. This was another Andrew that was new to me, and one that I longed to know better. The sun picked out highlights on his blond curls, and his blue eyes were half closed against the glare as he sifted his thoughts. "Leon, that's not what I'd like. Not short-term affairs. It's not really love, is it? What I'm after ..." he corrected himself and started again, slowly. "If I were to love, and be loved, I'd want something permanent. Stable. Deep. Not just casual sex, here today gone tomorrow. Chuck one out, find a new one. Am I being a prig?"

"If you are, I am too." I doubt he heard me, he was so far away.

"And to love someone properly, I reckon you've got to know them pretty well. I don't see how you can fall in love, proper love, at first sight. At first sight you can only see their face, their body. What matter's is what's inside. And proper love can't come till you know the inside. Properly. And that takes time. And how do you know - know for sure - that you're right? And haven't made an awful mistake?"

All this was addressed to the sky, not to me. But now he looked at me almost shamefacedly, as if realising that he'd been laying bare his soul. He'd made it crystal clear that he wasn't interested in girls. Only boys. And though he hadn't referred to me at all, there was little doubt I was the one he was interested in. No way was this an appeal to a third party for advice. I was knocked back on the ropes. His thinking exactly mirrored mine, and he'd worked it out entirely by himself, and better than me. I thought I'd fallen in love with Andrew at first sight, over a year ago. But he was probably right. He was right. At that stage it had been merely lust. Proper love had come later. Yes, all right, faster to me than to him. Perhaps because I was more desperately in need than he was. But right now he needed reassurance, or what little I could offer him. Even so, don't rush it, I reminded myself. You might spoil everything. Festina lente. I drew a deep breath.

"Andrew, I reckon you're absolutely right. Love should be permanent. It should be equal. Symmetrical on both sides. Reciprocal. It can't be shared between more than two. Look at the Greeks." This was my territory: I knew about them from my reading, especially of Plato. "They're a bad example of love, on the whole. Lots of sex with women, of course, but they were reckoned inferior, not men's equals. And quite a bit of sex with men, or rather boys. But even there it was a matter of status. Men were older and therefore superior, boys were younger and inferior. To shag was superior, to be shagged was inferior. But once a boy became a man he was superior too, so it wasn't right for him to be shagged. It's like that last poem. Not what seems right to you. Or me. Impermanent.

"But there's another side to it. There were permanent partnerships too. Not many. There's a marvellous book by Plato. The Symposium. About a party where they all talk about love. All sorts of ideas are thrown up, most of them crap. One of them's the standard line of the day, justifying it all, that the lover, the man, educates his boyfriend in all the virtues." This made me think of Andrew, educating me. "Another bloke called Pausanias draws the distinction - and I reckon it's dead right, too - between physical sex, what he calls common love, and proper love of what's inside, what he calls heavenly love.

"And there's another I specially like. Plato puts this in the mouth of Aristophanes, the comic poet. According to him, all humans are originally double. Made up of two individuals joined together - four legs, four arms, two heads and so on. Either two males, or two females, or one of each. Then they're cut in two, separated, and have to look for their lost half, their other half. And when they find it - if they find it - they're reunited for ever, sharing their life again as equals. Absolute equals. Homos if they were originally both male. Lesbians if they were both females. Heteros if they were one of each. All pre-ordained. Of course things can go wrong. If you think you've found your other half but you've actually got the wrong one, you break up and start searching again. It's only a made-up story, of course. An allegory, illustration. But it strikes a real chord with me.

"And how do you know you've found the right one? I'm not sure. But I'd guess that if you spot a likely candidate you need to get to know them, like you said. And the better you know them, the closer you get. And it's like - look, I'm making this up, Plato doesn't say it - it's like a jigsaw. You build it up in two halves, one for you, one for the other person as you get to know them. And if the two halves fit together, if the picture's continuous, if all the pieces interlock, then it must be right. You'll know it's right."

Lord, what a speech. Probably the longest I'd ever made. But it seemed to do the trick. Andrew had emerged from his brown study and was listening intently. "I like that. I like that a lot. Makes sense to me. Have you got this book? I'd like to read it."

"I'll see if I can find a translation." This was a slight evasion: it was there on my shelf, but I thought we'd gone far enough for one day.

"Thanks, Leon. You got me thinking yesterday, and trying to sort things out. So thanks for listening to my blathering. You're a wise man." He put his hand on my knee: we were sitting up by now. Festina lente, I screamed to myself, and he took his hand off. "And - I've said it before - you're a damn good friend too. Hey, look at the time. We'd better get back."

So we walked home in companionable silence. Damn good friends, but still not openly in love. At the house, he went to his own study. "Sorry, I've got a bit of writing to do." Perhaps his letter home, though the post had gone. Or his diary. He was the only boy I knew who kept one.

An hour later he appeared in my study, pen in hand and still thoughtful. "Leon, that sermon this morning." He paused, head cocked, listening to the record I was playing. 'What's this?"

"Bach cello suite. Casals. From the money your mum and dad gave me."

He sat down to take it in. When it was finished, "You know, Leon, you've taught me a hell of a lot of things. One of them is that the Comets, Bing Crosby, most popular music come to that, is like quick sex. Short-lived. This sort of stuff is like proper love. Deep. Somehow pure. Permanent." He was indeed a sensitive soul. But he came back to business. "Leon, that sermon." It had been a visiting preacher, a little ball of a man who had bounced around as if on the end of a spring. I'd wondered if he'd bounce clean out of the pulpit. "He was going on about faith, hope and love. You know, Corinthians something. I thought it was faith, hope and charity."

"So it was, in the Authorised Version. But he was quoting from the new translation, the Revised Standard. It's called 'love' there."

"Is that the same love that we were talking about?"

"No. Dreadful word, love, it can mean so many things. The Greeks had several different words for it. Sexual, well, erotic desire is eros. Friendship, affection, like between us, or between you and your parents, is philia. In Corinthians the word's agape, brotherly love, general love for your fellow men. Different from what's now called charity, like giving money to the Blind Institute or the dogs' home. Even so, I reckon what Paul says could just as well apply to the love you're talking about. Let's have a look." I found my RSV. "Yes, look."

He leant over my shoulder to read, and I felt his breath getting ragged on my cheek. He stayed there far longer than it could possibly take to read the passage, and finally said, "Yes, I see what you mean. Thanks. Can I borrow this a minute?"

"Course." He went out, no doubt to copy it into his diary.

Love was blatantly on his mind. And, it seemed to me, the two halves of a single unit were on converging paths. I thought over St Paul's words again.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Substitute 'Andrew' for 'love,' it occurred to me, and it would be equally true. It all fitted. Please God it would happen. But don't rush. We're not there yet.

Throughout prep that evening I mused on about sex and love. At Yarborough, boys, especially older ones, often talked about sex with other boys, how they'd like to bed this one or that. But it was a superficial, almost a fashionable, pose, readily accepted for what it was. But, unless you count wanking which was doubtless widespread, astonishingly little physical sex took place in the school. There may of course have been cases which didn't reach the grapevine, but it was pretty efficient. In all my five years there, out six hundred-odd boys at any one time, I only ever heard of about five instances, in two of which the culprits had been caught and summarily expelled. One of those, later and in another house, hardly counted: a boy was found having it off with a maid. The other was in my own house, only a few months before, when Derek Jones was caught with his trousers down and his cock in a younger boy's mouth. If there was that little sex going on, I was pretty sure that there was nothing like a real love affair afoot in the school, other than my own.

If so, my feelings for Andrew were a mighty rarity. My love for him needed, in my mind, no explanation, no justification. It was simply natural, given that he was so lovely in soul and in body. But what the hell could he see in me? I was lovely in neither department: a weedy and narrow-minded bookworm with a face like a cross between a mouse and an owl. True, poor old Derek who'd got the boot had been no oil painting. His face had been a wilderness of spots and craters, like a miniaturised battlefield on the Somme. It evidently hadn't put off the kid who'd been pleasuring him; but that, surely, was a matter simply of sex, not love. True again, I was now vastly more at home with my inner self; and Andrew had actually said that what matters is inside. True once more, I was now growing fast. Not only upwards, but filling out significantly too. But the fact remained that the outside was still essentially in its old shaming form.

The very next day my eye lit on an advert in the paper. It appeared almost daily, but I'd not really taken it in before. Plugging Charles Atlas's body-building courses, it featured some poor sod reportedly saying 'I once was a six-stone puny weakling,' and was illustrated with before and after photos of the aforesaid sod. I had no desire to turn into a muscle-bound lout; but it put a thought into my head, which rapidly hardened into a resolution. It could do no harm to try to - I can't remember what words I used at the time, but in modern terms it was to repackage Leon. I could do something to improve my body and, if the gods were willing, I could do something improve my face. So, to general surprise, I started swimming as often as possible to build up some muscle tone, and even sought the advice of the PE instructor on exercises. Andrew seemed pleased but not surprised, and encouraged me all the way. It was knackering work, but that was the price that had to be paid.

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