The Observer

by Rafael Henry

Chapter 7

The beach is a relaxing environment for us. I answered Jane's question fully and frankly. Jane knows now what she can expect when James reaches the dizzy heights of adolescence, at least from my experience. I had watched over every aspect of Mathew's development, and there were no secrets between us, just as Amy, my erstwhile wife had done with the girls. There were no taboos in the family. Everyone had seen everyone else nude, which we considered a sensible approach, and there were no subjects for discussion that were off-limits. They would grow up with no sniggering or embarrassment…at least that was the theory. Of course nothing works perfectly in practice.

We had never supposed that Mathew would be interested in girls before his mid-teens, and thus far he hasn't shown any signs of involvement in that direction. He takes his friendships seriously, showing a mature and caring attitude in his relationships with his own sex. In short, he's a very loving individual, sometimes difficult like all teenagers, and not afraid of his own feelings towards people. He's grown up well used to physical contact with his parents, and at times, his friends too.

Jane and I watch Mathew and James at play. The two boys appear to be forming the sort of relationship that boys of a similar age will do whilst amusing themselves in this sort of recreational environment. What sort remains to be seen, but so far things seem to be going well, and I have to admit that I would like to see any such friendship, if that's what it will be, last beyond this day. Jane has more interesting observations.

'Do you see the dynamic beginning to take shape Otta? James is happy to take orders from Mathew.'

'He's trying to please him don't you think? He's happy for Mathew to take the initiative.'

It looked that way, but now and then Mathew seemed to be aware of becoming too bossy, so he encourages James to make some decisions. They clearly have decided that this project is complete, and abandon their castle. The small boy who has orbited their territory for some time, moves in to fill the vacuum. We see James turn to the boy who is looking up at him waiting for permission presumably. We don't hear what he says of course, but it looked like……

'You can have it now if you want. It's yours.' The boy smiles and turns to play in the large circular moat. Mathew and James walk towards us. Just for a few moments, Mathew has his arm on James' shoulder.

'Look Jane. Did you see that?'

'I did…….and did you see James' reaction?'

I did. Sweet boy, he was so pleased. James is one happy boy.

The dunes are a great play area, but there are hidden or partially hidden dangers in the form of sharp sections of submerged fencing, used to stabilize the areas of coarse grass that has colonized the huge sand hills. It's tempting to jump off a high point into the soft sand below. One just has to be careful not to land in the wrong place. Accidents fortunately are very rare. Back in the more appropriate and now dry swimming kit, the boys have left us to go exploring. Interestingly, James holds the towel for Mathew while he changes. I glance at Jane. Her expression tells me that she has also noticed. Then Mathew holds the towel up for James to do likewise. Jane shakes sand out of underwear, but they are unwearable now.

'It's strange isn't it Otta…….the difference between them…..physically speaking?'

'Not really Jane. One is a bit further on than the other.'

'Quite a bit further on by the look of him. You don't mind my commenting do you?'

'No of course not.'

'I think James is rather in awe of him don't you think?'

'Well, I expect we'll see in due course. He's probably a bit curious.'

'About what Otta?'

'About older boys.'

'What about them?'

'How they think….what they look like…….what they can do. All that sort of thing.'

Ten minutes later they were back. Mathew has noticed something……

'Can you see that person up there Dad? It looks like an artist. Can we go and see what he's doing?'

The boys were quicker than me up the sand hills. I watch James struggle to get purchase on the sand which gives way under foot making uphill progress difficult. As an 'observer', the sight of his body flexing and under tension as he made his way towards the top, was a delight to behold. Mathew was the first to reach the objective, standing a few feet away from the painter. Within a minute we joined him.

He didn't mind at all being watched as brushstroke was added to brushstroke, his head moving from the subject in the distance back to focussing on what appeared to be a roughly square piece of board fixed in the lid of the box supported by a photographic tripod. I wanted to comment……

'That's clever….the set-up you've got there.' I say, trying to sound knowledgeable.

'Does it bother you……being watched by people?'

The painter thinks for a moment, his eyes still fixed on the painting.

'No, not at all. You have to get used to being watched up here.'

I watched the boys' reaction. They had nothing to say, but I could see they were both interested, their eyes switching from the painted board to the artist's face, searching for information. It was a view of the dunes, with the beach below, and a distant landscape. There were no figures in it. Then James asks…….

'Will you put people in it?'

The artist laughed.

'Yes, when everything else is done. You have to be patient….wait until the right moment, and then strike!'

I like his sense of humour, and the way he's already relating to his audience. I watch James. I'm inches from him and he's endlessly fascinating to me. I'm overwhelmed by his beauty at this very moment. There are grains of sand stuck to the softly tanned skin of his face. I see the long curled eye lashes that most girls would die for. I watch the movement of his eyes. He's quite lovely…..everything about him. I could have melted into the sand at that moment.

He's not mine, but I'm proud of him. I remember him on the train…..the first glance at the boy looking out of the window at the passing landscape…..the delicately formed hands…..the hair trimmed neatly around his ears……the body I held firm and steady against the motion of the train…….the perfume of his head just below my chin.

The boys laugh as the artist brandishes his brush with a triumphant gesture.

'Who will you put in then? Those people down there?' demands Mathew, pointing to a girl and a boy playing in the dunes.

'You……if you're not careful.'

'Both of us?'

'Both of you.'


'No, not yet. In about half an hour? Do you see that chunk of grass over there? Go and stand behind it… you're looking out to sea.'

They did as they were told. They are sentinels…….their legs partly hidden by the spikes of long marram grass gently bending with the breeze.

'So, does this artist have a name?' I ask.

'David.' he answers.

He explained that he always painted figures in the flesh first, before superimposing clothing, which on the beach, was usually minimal, and just required a couple of quick strokes of the brush….just the impression of clothing. That's all that's needed.

James and Mathew were the perfect models, James in his orange trunks, and Mathew in his favoured navy blue. I wondered how David might react if I asked him to paint the boys nude, or more accurately, fail to add the clothing. He smiled and thought the idea 'rather nice'. I told him that if he did, I would like to buy the painting. The image of the two boys naked in the dunes overlooking the sea was one that rather caught my imagination.

David released the boys from their duty after fifteen minutes of his work on them. They didn't have to stand still all that time, but stay more or less 'put'. It all worked very well. I asked David how much he wanted for the painting. It didn't seem out of the way, and anyway, he could probably use the money. I liked what he'd done. The figures were not obtrusive, but an interesting presence in the landscape. It's so typical of what you see there. We agreed that he would add the finishing touches elsewhere, and bring the picture to Watchbell Street in a few days when it would have dried. It would be a cash sale.

After their modelling stint, the boys took to the water again. We had another hour so this would be a last bathe. With the tide approaching high water, we had a good view of the ducking and weaving boys as they enjoyed the slight surf, turning landward every so often to check that we were still watching them. It's clear that they are enjoying each other's company. That is indeed good news.

Fifteen minutes exposure to the sea is plenty in our climate. On warm days the English Channel feels even colder. Goose bumps were evident on the boys' skin when they reached our base camp, dripping. Jane was ready with a towel. She dried the boys as they stood together, wrapping them up like a human parcel, and giving them a final hug for good measure. That was a nice touch…a metaphor perhaps for what we both wanted…..that they would be friends. The canvas walls of the wind break gave the boys privacy as they handed their wet trunks to Jane. The difference between James and Mathew is again apparent as I observe the two naked figures……one still very pre-pubescent, and the other clearly marching from the slumbering tangle of boyhood into the bright light and the drama of youth. The boys arrange themselves on the large towel, faces down, heads turned towards each other and close. Their arms to their sides are touching, the soles of their feet white in contrast to tanned legs. Sun protection has prevented any redness of skin…….four buttocks white in contrast to tanned backs and necks…….and a warming sun brings peace to mind and body.

We had left the beach, each of us taking our share of the load. We occupied the four seats at the very front of the double decker bus, and upstairs too, which is the best place to sit to see the passing landscape. We were at the front of the queue for the Rye bus, so it was our choice where we sat. James and Mathew had one seat together, Mathew on the outside next to me across the centre aisle.

Mathew's suggestion had not occurred to me.


'Yes Mathew.'

'Can James stay tonight?'

Of course Jane agreed. We have spares of everything, so that would not be a problem. I'm thrilled as you can imagine. James is going to spend a night under my roof, and he will have the company of Mathew. Mathew will take care of him, just as I would. Mathew will clothe James in a protective cloak of friendship I'm sure, wrapped around a beautiful boy.

I cooked pasta for all of us. Mathew and James had bought four custard tarts from the Deli. It was fun. Jane left at nine in a taxi I had ordered. James went to the door with her. I couldn't quite catch her words as she gave James a hug, but it was something like……..

'Now you will be good won't you darling?'

It was no doubt an instruction rather than a question.

We hadn't discussed the issue of exactly where James would sleep. There is a spare bed….a single… my office. Mathew has a standard double in his room which I bought in case I had overnight guests. Mathew is away at school, and home for holidays and the occasional exeat. I decide to take the initiative before the boys' bedtime. To me it's a no-brainer.

'James……do you mind sharing with Mathew tonight? There's plenty of room for you both. I have some work to finish in the office so…..'

So there you are. It's a bit of a gamble, but on the evidence of the day, it's not much of a risk.

The boys had used my shower. I wondered if they would shower together. Two smaller bodies would fit in there with ease. They didn't. James sat on my bed waiting for Mathew to finish. He had a towel loosely drawn around his middle, which didn't cover him properly. He looks down and notices that he is partially uncovered. He leaves the towel where it is. I sit next to him while we listened and waited. I'm imagining what he's thinking.

'Are you ok James?'


I smile at him. He manages one back, before looking down. Knowing him, he's probably feeling a little anxious, and wondering how things will work out. When Mathew emerges naked from the shower, James stands up. He leaves the towel on the bed. Mathew is careful not to notice James. The shower is still running as he disappears into the cubicle and closes the door.

Later, the boys sit on the large sofa in baggy tee shirts as we try to watch television. There's a 'Morse' on. The boys aren't any more interested in it than I am. Normally I enjoy those things, but tonight it's different. James looks cute in his chosen tee shirt gleaned from Mathew's extensive collection. Mathew has also provided him with what he calls his 'holiday' underpants.......the less fashionable type that he won't take to school, and the kind that sensible James wears all the time. Over at Jane's house in Winchelsea, the opportunity arose for me to have a glance around James' bedroom. My curiosity was easily satisfied.

I suggest that it's bedtime, so I turn off the television and look towards the boys on the sofa. James has his feet up on the edge. He smiles at me, knees slightly apart…..enough to provide me with a lingering sight of him like that. One beautiful boy, and one very fortunate Mathew………perhaps…….if that is what he wants. If it is, then so will James.

David's painting hangs on my bedroom wall, and is a poignant reminder of that wonderful first day for all of us on Camber beach. David brought it to the house in Watchbell Street a few days later. Although I'm not a gay man, strictly speaking, I find David very attractive. I was never drawn to a reddish haired boy, and certainly not a man, but his freckled face is endearing…..not pretty, but enormously attractive. David has also said a couple of things that made me wonder……..

'Do you like them Otta……the boys?'

That's an odd question. Do I like the boys? On the face of it, he was referring to the figures in the painting. I answered in an evasive way. I was slightly stunned by the innuendo of his question that I honestly cannot accurately remember what I said to him, but it was probably along the lines of……..

'Yes I do.'

I have always held that honesty id the best policy. David also, at my invitation, had a good look around the house, ending up in my bedroom which overlooks the Rother estuary. After admiring the view, he commented on my bed, a king sized double, saying that it looked very comfortable. Another odd remark. Perhaps I should have said that it is indeed very comfortable, and would he like to test its structural integrity? I have never experienced a penis caressing the space between my buttocks and beyond, and as time goes by, the chances of doing so will presumably diminish along with my attractiveness to my fellow beings. Maybe I should invite him round for a meal as a thank you for the painting. That might tell the whole story, if there is a story to be told. I just can't make up my mind about it. Anyway, I parted with two hundred and fifty pound in cash for the painting as agreed at the beach. As he left, he said……

'If there's anything else… any time, just let me know. I don't have any firm commitments when I'm not at University.'

There you go again. Was that an invitation? I thanked him again as he left, and went to the sitting room to try to evaluate my thoughts of the last half hour. I tried to imagine him naked. He came in shorts and tee shirt, plus open sandals. As an 'observer' I make a point of looking for evidence of anything else that might be hidden from view. There was, and I rather approve. He looked handsomely made.

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