The Observer

by Rafael Henry

Chapter 9

It's the last week of the summer holidays for one boy…..James. The state schools year begins roughly a week before the private sector does. Mathew is still nice and relaxed, while James is showing signs of tension. I have a rule that I've stuck to, mostly, about James staying over here. Mathew can have him here for a maximum of two nights a week. As Jane is away quite a lot, that works out pretty well on the whole. I deliberately use the 'have', because Mathew is treating James like a possession these days, and James, being the boy he is, is revelling in that role. There's no doubt, if there ever was any, that Mathew my dear son, is 'enjoying' James. I know he is.

It's a new school for James…..new people to relate to, new clothes to get, a new atmosphere in a far bigger establishment which will be a challenge for our little flower. He's coming from the gentle delights of a very small city school to the hurly burly of a town campus populated by all sections of society, albeit a tad brighter than their high school counterparts. It's a grammar school which requires a certain academic standard before you can get through the front gates. There are bright thugs in Ashford….bright bullies……and no doubt lots of very nice bright boys too, and a few not so bright who have got through the net by an ongoing dose of private tuition. James has led a comparatively sheltered life, but he's about to enter the real world. Not only that, but he's joining the school in Year Nine when almost all the others joined two years earlier in Year Seven, aged eleven or twelve.

Jane and I took him to the specialist shop in Ashford to get his uniform, PE and games kit sorted out. That was easy enough……nice dark blue blazer in durable material, with badge. Dark and light blue diagonal striped tie, and the other stuff all from the M and S in the town…..smart mid-grey trousers just a little too long, grey socks, six white shirts, lots of plain white tee shirts, and of course new underwear. There was a little discussion about that. Mathew had warned him that he should fit in with regard to what he should look like in the changing room. He wanted what he was used to….simple, practical, easy to dry on the radiator. That sort of thing looks very nice on him. With Mathew's words of advice still ringing in his ear, we compromised…some and some. One sort on PE and Games days, the other sort on the days he didn't have to undress in front of a crowd of nasty boys.

Of course, at Mathew's insistence, we had to have a fashion parade when we got back to Rye. We found him half way down Market Road, having left Jane waiting for the bus back to Winchelsea. James is staying tonight apparently. Mathew is in charge of 'arrangements' these days.

I think there's a bit of the exhibitionist in James. He appeared to enjoy showing us his new school kit. Unfortunately, we had picked up the wrong sized pants. The boxers are fine, but the 'knicker' type slips were the wrong size……15/16 years, not 11/12 [although 'skinny hips' is thirteen]. James is not big for his age, in any department thus far, so the first item of clothing to be put on looked a little too big, but both Mathew and I agreed he looked rather endearing in the loose bright white garment which rather emphasized his penis which had responded just a little to the excitement of the occasion. Mathew chuckled, I remained poker faced, and poor James went very red. You can't rely on that thing to behave itself. Anyway, he looked great in the completed ensemble. The perfect English Schoolboy. I approve of the Games kit too. I was expecting nasty nylon shorts down to the knees, but it was tasteful and traditional cotton, white with school logo sewn in, and leaving knees and a decent amount of thigh still exposed. Shamefully, I found watching the undressing and dressing process very engaging. When Mathew stood up, it was clear that he had too. That's boys for you. I told James to fold up his uniform neatly after he had taken it all off in Mathew's bedroom, and without Mathew in attendance. As you might have guessed, their relationship has developed shall we say, and is now approaching the overt. On several occasions I have had to tell him…..

'For goodness sake Mathew, leave that boy alone for five minutes, will you?'

He would smile, and say nothing.


James in his voluminous pants…….what an amusing pleasure. Mathew's, same make and model as James', are in contrast unseemly tight in my view, which I suppose they need to be to keep what he has under control. The last time I saw it, it looked remarkably like a Lincolnshire sausage. Mathew hasn't worn pyjamas since he was about ten, as I recall, preferring to wear just a tee shirt in bed. Watching television in the evening, he puts a bit more on. When James is in residence, he does likewise. The two of them occupy the very comfortable sofa, designed for three, and make a very comfortable 'nest' for two. I'm relegated to an armchair which I have at an angle so I can keep one eye on the boys. If they misbehave, I can tell them to desist. There is a limit to what I'm prepared to put up with, and no more. Mathew has a tendency to push the boundaries of propriety. I think it was Jane's fault. She is very aware that James' sex education should be thorough, and also aware that the school staff hadn't done the job beyond the perfunctory. She had had a go, but James was very awkward about it. I don't mind dealing with that stuff. Mathew and I have always had a very positive working relationship, and that subject was dealt with in full. There was nothing about sex and relationships that we couldn't discuss. I actually enjoyed talking to him about such matters, as I know he did. I told him that I had been asked by Jane to talk to James. He asked if he could be there too.

I chose one evening whilst we watched television. That seems odd because you would think that a distraction, but sometimes it's quite useful to have a distraction. The whole thing becomes more casual……less formal, more relaxed and with breathing and thinking spaces along the way. I had warned the boys what to expect.

We covered the usual stuff quickly as they were aware…..things like std's, the proper words for things, odd bits of biology, and organs like the prostate, which curiously they were not aware of. They had heard of it in another context, but not as part of the reproductive process. Surprisingly, it was the relationship side that they seemed most interested in. I put the TV to standby. We had got into a proper discussion.

I know that Mathew and James are playing sex games with each other. Exactly what they are doing I don't know. I can tell to some extent by the noises I'm hearing through the wall. They are making each other come. That I do know……mouths as well as hands are probably involved. That's fine. We never did mouths when I was a boy, but they do things earlier these days. We certainly didn't do bottoms, as far as my friends were concerned, at least I'm pretty sure they didn't. I can't imagine Mathew and James are doing the bottom thing. The other thing, and the most important, is that I know they are both very fond of each other, which I think is really rather lovely.

Encouraged by their mature response, I asked them a straight question......

'I need to ask you both a question.'

They looked at me expecting the worst.

'You may be having some form of sex together. If you are, then that's ok, but I need to talk to you both on your own.'

No answer was the firm reply, but their silence was the confirmation that they are.

'Ok. Mathew…..can you go out for a moment please? I need to talk to James.'

I sat next to little old baggy pants. I paraphrase what followed.

'James. The things that you are doing with Mathew. You must tell me if you don't want to do those things, or if Mathew is making you do those things, or you feel it's wrong in some way…..or if anyone else has asked you to do things you didn't want to. I need to know James. It's important. Do you understand?'

'Is it wrong then?'

'No, not if you are both perfectly happy doing those things, and it's safe for both of you. It's very important that you are not going to hurt one another, physically, or emotionally.'

I asked Mathew the same question, which is only fair, and I'm happy with the outcome. Neither of them fully understand their own emotional response to the other person because they lack the experience. After all, you've got to start somewhere……and I need to be reassured that James isn't getting fucked senseless by an older boy against his will. No, they're playing gentle games with each other, and enjoying what their own bodies have to offer. I don't see that as irresponsible or wrong. I encouraged them not to be afraid of committing themselves emotionally to each other, and not be afraid to show it.

'I'm not going to mind if you put an arm around each other.'

'But people will think we're weird Dad.'

'Then just do it here. I'm sure that James would like you show him that you care about him, and not just when you're alone together, and vice versa. Is that right James?'

They thought that was funny. Earlier I thought James was close to tears when we discussed what a deep friendship was, and how valuable a thing that could be. Now the mood was lighter and positively playful. Mathew normally occupied the corner of the sofa, with a minimal gap between him and James. Not anymore. I'm looking at James now. He's leaning into Mathew's chest. Our discussion has in some way liberated them. Mathew has both his arms around James' bare tummy. James is not watching the television. His head is to one side. He's listening to his friend's heartbeat. Mathew pulls his friend closer to him. James responds by placing a hand on Mathew's shoulder. James looks serene and as beautiful as ever, as he absorbs the love of his friend into his body. He's not embarrassed as he responds to this moving show of affection from Mathew. I have to look away. This is a private moment shared by two boys together, and I should not be looking.


I insisted on paying for James' season ticket on the train to school. The girls are at the equivalent grammar for girls, but the opposite end of town. Jane is working today, so I volunteered to go with James on his first day. I met the girls and James at Rye station. All three looked like youngsters do on their first day back…..all neatly pressed and shiny. It's a half hour ride across the Romney Marsh which is famous for its smuggling history and the tens of thousands of sheep scattered across the flat open fields stretching away to the North Downs in the distance. Another two boys boarded the train at Appledore, then a few more at Ham Street, finding their seats as the diesel motor accelerates and we move off once more.

Ashford station is busy at that time of day, with noisy announcements filling our heads, as people quickly pass by with cases knowing where they're going, and cutting it fine if they want to catch the 08.32 to Charing Cross.

I leave James at the school gate, as boys of all sizes make their way up the driveway to the collection of flat roofed buildings……rather tired ones……nineteen fifties vintage by the look of them. A member of staff stands guard, identification hangs on a blue and white lanyard to tell everyone he's official. There was none of that at the Priory. I'm worried about his first day, remembering my first day. Oh deep dread. How fearful we are of the future.


I need not have worried too much about James. He seems to be coping fine, and I think being a new face has rather gone in his favour. The interim report that all new entrants will get a couple of weeks into the term was very positive. It remains to be seen how things pan out in the longer term, but as of now, he appears comfortable with his new life. Long may it last.

The arrangements for looking after James made between Jane and I are flexible, as they have to be to accommodate her working life. As an orchestral musician, she has to be here or there according to the orchestra's schedule of performances. Jane is given plenty of notice when she is required for four days in Manchester for example, or even a trip abroad. The BSO are a busy organisation, which means that James is with me about two days a week on average. I might not see him at all for three weeks, and then have him to stay for six or seven days on the trot.

Mathew is back in Canterbury, and on familiar territory. We won't see him, or rather James won't see him until half term. The summer holiday was intense in terms of their friendship, so there's some adjustment needed by James on two fronts, but he's handling it well on the whole. There have been a couple of wobbles, mainly about his school work……..mathematics in particular. Again, I'm pleased to say I have been helpful. I have an 'A' level in it, so Year Nine maths, albeit rather different these days, is something I can do aided by a couple of revision books with the answers in the back. I sit him at the kitchen table to do the rather unreasonable amount of homework he has to deal with on a daily basis, weekends included. I watch him, head in hand and pen poised over an exercise book. He looks so sweet, and still the boy I have got to know so well since those first moments on the train. I must not distract him, but of course I want to. I want to tell him how much he means to me, and how much I look forward to his visits, and something else……something that I know must remain unsaid.

James and the girls are usually on the same train back to Rye. They run hourly, so they would rather not miss the 16.25. On Tuesdays, James has Youth Orchestra, but not being sporty in the team sense, that's his only late night. If he's coming to me, I try to meet them at Rye station as it's a chance to see the girls for a few minutes over tea at the Apothecary. The girls are both in Year Eight, as they are twin sisters. They understand the situation James is in, and treat him like a family member. They are good girls.

James and I take the familiar path home. It takes us through Church Square through falling leaves in the breeze, and coloured light through the stained glass windows of S. Mary's church. James always wants to see the view of the river as it curves its way to the sea a mile away at Rye Harbour. We sit on the bench in the Gun Garden next to the row of black painted cannon pointing towards France, the old enemy that pillaged and burnt the town on a number of occasions. We just have their visitors now….armies of children holding clipboards and biros. Watchbell Street is cobbled, thus awkward to walk on. I follow James on the narrow pavement thus avoiding the neatly laid and grouted flints. His hair is looking untidy. I make a mental note to make an appointment at my barbers.

We get in, and James does his usual……..blazer on the peg, black school shoes on the rack, bag on the floor, and it's up to my room to shower. I follow him up as I always do, to fold his trousers and take his other clothes from him as he undresses. He's tired today. I find him a fresh towel and watch him go into the shower. He leaves the door open. That's fine because it's big enough to contain the splashes of water. It means I can watch him as he washes himself……hair first and then everything else. With his back to me now, he bends to attend to his feet, and as he does so he is exposed to my shameful scrutiny once again. He turns towards me and smiles because he knows what he has done. I smile back and gently shake my head. His smile broadens. As he steps from the shower, I enclose him in the towel.

'Would you like me dry you James?'

'Umm, yes please.'

I sit on the bed and James stands before me. I dry him, hair first and then the rest of his body.

'Is that nice?'

'Yes, it's lovely.'

I lay the towel beside me on the bed. James stands before me waiting. He reminds me of a Rodin model, standing with one leg slightly forward of the other and hands held behind his back. He's looking down.

'What's the matter James?'

'Am I alright Otta?'

He has enjoyed the soothing warm water, and my attention to him. He knows so much about me too. He has never commented or questioned me.

'Am I alright Otta?'

That's a silly question. I look at him. I admire him. I reassure him……and he's pleased with my words.

With the absence of Mathew, I occupy the corner of the sofa in the evening. I would not have done, but James insisted that I should sit there after all the work is done for the day. He needs to be close.

'Can I lean on you.' he asks.

We hear the sound of the machine in the kitchen washing the day's clothes for both of us. He's wearing one of Mathew's tee shirts, and that's all. It's eight thirty and we watch what is left of this evening's 'Morse' repeat. He's leaning in to me and the white material of his shirt fails to cover his middle completely, which as you might imagine I find endearing…..the innocence of it all. He turns towards me, not interested in the television. He's tired and sleepy. From time to time his hand drifts down to gently comfort his middle. I follow him into Mathew's bedroom. I settle him into bed, and wish him goodnight. He has a question……..

'Do you miss Mathew?'

'Yes of course. Do you?'

'Umm. It's funny without him isn't it.'

I go back into his room a half hour later. His shoulders are uncovered and he lies on his side facing the door, and his breathing tells me he's asleep. I lift the duvet because I'm always curious. His fingers and thumb enclose the almost flaccid penis. There's a tiny bead of moisture at the very tip, perhaps a quarter the size of a pea. I suspect he's not had what he wanted.

In the morning when we are on our own, James likes to be woken gently. I go in to his room at seven fifteen, sit on the bed and look at him, and wait. Very often he's already awake. This morning he's not. I run my fingers through his hair and feel his ears before my hand comes to rest on his shoulder. I know where his hands are……the place where thousands of boys' hands are at this moment as they wake from sleep. James' eyes gradually open. They are far away.

'Shall I come back in another ten minutes?'

He smiles and nods his head. If he wants to, that will give him time enough.

Naughtily, I go back after five. James is lying on his back. The duvet has been put aside and his tummy is exposed. He hasn't finished yet. He hears me, slows, and turns his head towards me……..

'Don't go.'

I sit on the bed. I look at his face and smile. He asks……..

'Can I?'

And I answer 'Of course.'

Two minutes later he finishes, gripping my hand hard at the last. I won't let go of his hand. I look at the clock…..seven thirty now.

I stay and watch him rise from his bed, and make his way to the bathroom. I hear the loo flush and the sound of water filling the basin. I find clean clothing. Soon he'll be ready. Like yesterday morning, and like every morning, I watch him dress. It's a chance to talk about the coming day.


Of course James is at home when Jane's not working. About twice a week Jane and I meet at the Apothecary for tea about three in the afternoon. We walk for a half hour or so, and then we go back to Watchbell Street. We both know why we are going there and for what purpose. It's an arrangement that we have. We have an hour at least. Both of us need and want sexual contact, so this is a way. Neither of us want penetrative sex each time. It's too complicated. I lay her down on the bed and undo all that needs to be undone to gain access to her body, and what I have to do so she can access mine. We don't undress. We kiss just a little, and just enough. This is what we have both waited for. It's an agreement. We have saved ourselves. I find that Jane is already wet and responsive. She's been thinking about this for a while no doubt. She guides my fingers to the precise location for her pleasure.

'Just there Otta.'

'Is this right Jane?'

It is right. Her grip on me is perfect too, and it's a sweet sensation. She comes surprisingly fast in a series of gasps and pants which get me closer still. I love the sounds of an impending orgasm. She turns as I lie back and pull my clothing upwards to expose my tummy and chest. Her technique is no match for mine of course, but the uncertainty and the delay involved I know will make the final outcome more intense. I guide her hand nearer to the head of my penis.

'Is that better now?'

I nod, breathless.

I turn my head sideways and feel James beside me. I feel his face with my mouth and I feel the warmth of his body against mine. He guides my hand……..

This is forbidden. This is shameful. Moments later it starts. It continues on. Jane knows not to stop until the very end, and beyond. What happens never ceases to surprise her it would seem. There's a little gasp of delight as I'm aware of the first splash of warmth arrives on my skin.


James isn't with the girls when the doors of the train open and the dozen or so figures emerge. Then he appears at the far end of the platform. He's not alone. He walks next to another boy in uniform…….the same uniform. The two boys part with words….……

'See you tomorrow!'

'Yeah, see you!'

The girls stand with Jane and I as James approaches. He looks happy. I'm curious.

'So who was that then James?'

'Just a friend.'

'Oh. That's nice.'

No further questions please.

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