by Mihangel

The story is copyright 2001 by "Mihangel". If you copy the story, please leave the credits, and the web address of http://iomfats.org present, and also the email address of mihangel@iomfats.org. I'd love to receive feedback.

"You wanted to see me, sir? I've only just got in." As house captain, I was often summoned to the presence. No inkling that this occasion was anything but routine. Until I spotted on his desk a paperback copy of Othello, the owner's name visible. My name. I smelt trouble ahead.

"Sit down, Gavin." Even more ponderous than usual. "A very serious offence has been committed, all the more serious if committed by a boy in a responsible position. The finger of suspicion points at you."

Forebodings multiplied. "Sir?"

"A quarter of an hour ago Mr Tate was passing the window of the pavilion storeroom when he noticed two figures inside, engaged in - urrm - the ultimate form of sexual activity. He went round to the door, but they must have heard him approach, for they ran off, knocking him headlong. He was unable to identify them in the twilight and, by the time he had recovered his breath and his spectacles, pursuit was hopeless. He therefore searched the storeroom for evidence, and on a pile of cricket nets found this book, with your name in it. He brought it to me immediately. I have just telephoned the groundsman, who assures me that it was not there half an hour ago. Now, what have you to say?"

For the moment, nothing. It had come like a punch in the solar plexus. It raised problems far too complex to solve off the cuff. That I hadn't instantly pleaded innocence was tantamount to a confession of guilt. I needed time, time to recover and to think.

"Well? I am waiting."

"Would you give me a minute to consider my reply, sir?"

His eyebrows rose. "Does it require thought to conjure up the truth? Very well. Think."

I put my head in my hands, and tried. Right. I could indeed tell the truth, both halves of it. The first half was my alibi. Rock-solid. I'd been at the church, talking to the vicar about bell-ringing. No problem there. It was the other half which would deliver Justin straight to execution.

Justin. A year below me. The school's white hope at cricket, a potential county - even an England - player. A superb scholar, with shining academic prospects, tipped for a First at university. Godlike in body as in mind. And we were lovers. Yes, the works. Or rather we had been lovers. For months, until he'd fallen for this casual copulation. Small wonder I was winded. Small wonder everything seemed lost.

But hold on. Hold on. Surely not everything. All right, his love for me must be in smithereens. But mine for him was merely battered, not beyond repair. And older loyalties were intact. He was still Justin, my friend of years. Flawed and fickle maybe, but still my beautiful, brilliant Justin, too precious to destroy. He may have betrayed our love. But I couldn't retaliate. I couldn't betray our friendship and wreck his career. I simply couldn't disclose the second half of the truth. That he'd borrowed my Othello, which he'd now so carelessly lost. No way. The whole truth was a non-starter.

Well then, what about a half-truth? Present my alibi, but profess ignorance of who had my book. Oh shit, no. That's a lost cause. Why, I'd be asked, had so simple a statement required so much thought? No answer possible. And the book's history would be investigated. For weeks it had been on Justin's desk, its eye-catching cover in full view. Plenty of people had seen it there. And would say so, blissfully unaware that they were signing his death warrant. No, no future in this half-truth either.

That left a different half-truth to tell. I sighed as I pondered. Like Othello, I'd loved not wisely but too well. No way were we equals. I was Watson to his Holmes, Sam to his Frodo. Not a high flyer at anything. Just a plodding, humble, devoted side-kick. No question which of us had most to offer the world. Which deserved to win. Which to lose. I sighed again. Ah, well. So be it.

"Yes, sir, it was me in the storeroom."

"I am bitterly disappointed, Gavin. The penalty can only be expulsion. And who was the other boy?"

"I can't tell you that, sir." That at least was true. My ears stayed deaf to his demands and threats. It was stalemate. The thumbscrew being out of fashion, I had nothing more to lose. And now that the book was accounted for, he had no more clues to follow. Only Justin and his nameless paramour knew the truth, and there was nothing else to implicate them. Frustrated, he put me in quarantine, to avoid infecting others.

A few shocked friends were admitted for a brief farewell. No sign of Justin. I couldn't really expect it, could I? So next morning, en route home to New Zealand, I wrote to him from Heathrow:

Dear Justin - I'm desperately sorry about yesterday, and to have lost your love. But I stand by you as a friend. I won't see you again, which perhaps is just as well. The best of luck, and thanks for everything. - Gavin.

End of story? Not quite. A letter's just arrived, posted the day I left school:

Dear Gavin - There's only one sacking offence, so I know what you've done. I'm heart-broken to have lost out. But thanks for your love, while it lasted, and good luck. I doubt we'll meet again. Just as well, perhaps. But I'm sorry I couldn't say goodbye - did you hear I'd broken my leg at rugger? - Justin.

P.S. I meant to return your Othello. But I'd lent it to Bailey for an essay, and now the bugger's lost it.

The bugger. The fucking bugger.

* * *

What was it Tennyson said?

'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

Yes. Yes, I suppose it is. But it's tough. Extra tough when you needn't have lost at all.

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