Words of Love

by Rafael Henry

A pleasant surprise

Kit says………

Of course I see the lovely and unrepentant Bear in the playground most days, and we exchange smiles and furtive glances lest our 'relationship' be worked out by the psycho bully boys that society has to put up with it seems. When I see him, my tummy turns over and I find I need to take an extra breath of the city's air that surrounds our little enclave of learning and pomposity, what with those dons marching about in gowns thinking they're something very special and God's precious gift to the boys who idolize them. Actually, the boys do not idolize them except for maybe one…….or two.

After the drama of the discovery of Bear's heart-felt missive and the consequential deep thrill of taking him for a stroll along the river and receiving his deliciously warm and moist lips on my smooth and hairless cheek, things have remained much as they were. I daydream of him being my Bear, and by night I conjure up his image and we make simple boyish love in my bed. He's in my mind, and then with a developed image in place, I can act upon it. In reality, a relationship of that sort is not possible here. Love remains an unfathomable mystery to us boys who like and look at others, and any thoughts of consummation stay firmly in the night time imagination. But there's something between us, an intangible thread that binds us, that no man, no half-baked institution, no government edict, can take a pair of scissors and cut it in two. We are bound together in adversity, seeking the love of another. We have to accept love and affection where we can find it.

Sometimes I watch him across the tarmac playground, warmed by June's sun, and when he notices me, he breaks away from his friends to lean on the warm stone wall again, and watch me. We can stay that way for ages, sometimes making small adjustments to our positions, playfully, looking away that might suggest disinterest setting in and love fading, only to send again the unseen and unheard vibes of passion darting through talking groups of boys, some running in mindless circles, with pipey voices, others so innocent and alluring in their short trousers and brown legs and arms, some older and wiser and more learned, more formal and proper in longs discussing where they went wrong in the maths test, or went right, and how long would it be before they are made a prefect. But how I long to cuddle my Bear. I watch him in the crowd, as he notices, smiles, and teases.

I picked for him a drooping dandelion, and gave it to him by the old stone wall. No one saw me. Head on his pillow that night he still has it near.

There are weekends during term time, sometimes long ones that include a Monday Bank Holiday, when almost all of the boys go home from the Boarding Houses. Some of us can't go home for one reason or another. I live during term time in a House, one of several, catering for just fifteen boys of a similar age, all of whom desert the place on those occasions leaving me blissfully alone to roam at will, as I am one of those boys who cannot go home.

After the games session has ended on this Saturday afternoon, the boys are free to go, collected by their people, so by five o'clock I have the place to myself, not that there's much more to discover that I don't already know about. So, as I cross the busy road via the painted crossing point to my House where we sleep and socialize in the evenings, I'm not expecting to see this familiar face, a waiting and hoping face it looked, at the window in front of me.

The face is Bear Trace's face. I'm through the front door and I close it against the noise from passing traffic, and I'm aware that the House is silent, suggesting that the last boy, thankfully, has left for home. In the entrance hallway I turn right through another door into the communal room that contains the old TV, an equally old long brown and scuffed leather covered sofa, and several battered upholstered wooden chairs. The figure, in white games shorts and grey jumper, has his back to me and is still standing at the window looking out. Although he must have heard me, he hasn't moved. He's waiting for me. As I walk the few yards over to him, my heart is beating fast. When I reach him, I place my hands to the sides of his upper arms and press lightly. Moving my face towards an ear, I whisper…….

'What on earth are you doing here? Aren't you going home this weekend?'

'No.' He answers, turning round slowly. I replace my hands on his arms which hang by his sides.

'I'm not going home. My parents know I'm not going home.'

'But the School think you are. Is that it?'

'I suppose so.'

'So your House Master won't miss you because they assume you've been picked up and taken home. Is that it…..your crazy plan?'

'Yes, they'll assume I've gone home. So, I can stay here with you.'

'There's a check on us, silly. You would have to hide…… I'd have to hide you somewhere here. There will be Tutor on duty. Mr Henry is probably still here somewhere. He's bound to find you. You can't hide here for two whole days. That's daft. We'd both be for it. I'm serious Bear. I need to think.'

I'm amazed to see Bear in front of me like this, and also very excited. The thought of two days with him, alone and free to do what we want is mind boggling frankly. I haven't ever seen him like this…….and certainly not dressed like he is now.

When I poured cold water on his plan, his face literally fell……..head down, and then up as he looked back at me distraught. His plan is a ridiculously naïve one. Anyway, why would you want to hide away here for two whole days? There's no way you could get away with that. I need a couple of minutes to think of something. If I'm completely honest with our Mr Henry……..you never know. He might think of something. He's good like that.

I left Bear in the TV room at one end of the long sofa, curled up with his head resting on the arm of the sofa, and desperately disappointed in my reaction to his unexpected and totally illegal presence in a place he shouldn't ever be in. I stop for a few moments to study him, lying like he is. Even in his distress, or perhaps because of it, there's an elegance to his pose, his long legs almost completely uncovered save for the very tops where his white shorts are strained and taut, dividing taut buttocks……taut arms…..taut mind, awkward body……. his arms tucked in, almost foetal. I need to find Mr Henry.

I didn't need to because he found us. I was standing over Bear as he walked into the room. He looked like he just come from the tennis court, quite sweaty. His legs looked shiny with perspiration, as did his arms and face.

'Hello boys.' He says brightly. There's always something bright about Mr Henry. Something optimistic perhaps, like he can sort things out for people……make things better.

'And who is this then?' He asks quietly, looking over towards Bear, who hadn't moved, perhaps thinking that if he didn't move, he wouldn't be noticed.

'So we have a visitor do we?'

'Yes Sir. Do you know him Sir?'

'Indeed I do. You're not looking overwhelmed with joy at being with us Mr Trace. You had better tell me about it. Perhaps I can help.'

I could have cried when he said that.

Mr Henry speaks

The boys always amuse me, and can be delightfully complicated in their thinking. They think we don't notice what they're up to, but we do. I haven't been at this place that long, or any educational establishment come to that, but I've been here long enough to get the gist of life in a place like this, and not all of it is to my liking either. The one thing that shines through is the community spirit of the youngsters, and how they relate to each other, in good and sometimes not so good ways. They have great difficulty hiding their feelings, which is refreshing to me. To talk about their feelings is good for them, especially to one another, and even me I delighted to say. They are, and by 'they' I mean the ones that have to live here for a huge chunk of the year without the love and care of their parents, deprived of affection. I can't, or the very few of my like-minded colleagues, fully replace what they are missing, but we can do the best we can. Somehow he must get these privileged prisoners through their ordeal. What might become important to them must be nurtured and preserved, not prevented or wantonly destroyed.

I sat down with Bear who is a sweet boy. Maybe I shouldn't be using such a word to describe a minor for whom I am responsible, but I think it's apt in his case. That's what he is. As for Kit Harris, he's a decent kid too, a bit older than Bear, but not so advanced that they can't be friends.

The two boys are in a quandary……a bit of a fix……and they urgently need a way out of their problem. Kit has done the right thing. He's opted for honesty and I know he would have come to me for advice and help, but I've beaten him to it.

After due consideration, and in their presence, I tell them that my decision is that Bear Trace should stay here with us for the long weekend. I'll telephone his House and let them know he hasn't gone home due to a mix up of dates and he's here as company for his buddy. He's quite young and can and should be forgiven for the odd error of judgement. I'll probably come in for some stick for my decision, if it ever comes to light, but frankly they can go fuck themselves if they don't like it. I have a very shrewd suspicion that these two boys are trying to embark on one of 'those' relationships. Perhaps you have had one or two of those friendships. I know I did, and it did us no harm, or anyone else. I look back with some considerable pleasure, if not pride. I'm not going to stop Kit and Bear enjoying each other's company, if that's what they want.

'Kit, you'll need to sort out some essentials for Bear. Raid the linen cupboard if you need to. He can sleep in the bed next to you. Who is your neighbour?'

'Alex Harding Sir.'

'Ok. He won't even know a Bear has spent a night or two in his bed. I'll turn the shower on for you two.'

I like to see boys look happy, and when I announced my decision that Bear could spend the weekend here, after a short period of rather theatrical deliberation, I saw two happy and very relieved boys' faces. Bear looks towards Kit like a bride looks at her new husband at the moment of her marriage. I'm feeling quite pleased with myself.

I sent Bear to the showers to strip off everything he stood up in, ready for the washer. Boys always look better in clean fresh clothing, with the added advantage of not smelling. In the meantime I need a quick word with Kit while Bear's otherwise engaged.

'So you're friends with him are you……..I presume?'

'Yes Sir.'

'How long for?'

'Err, a while Sir.'

'And how did this come about?'

'I don't know Sir.'

Right. When they say 'I don't know Sir', that means they do know.

'So did you chat in the playground…..sit next to each other in the dining hall or something?'

'No Sir.'

'Well what then? Something must have happened. What was it?'

'Do I have to say Sir?'

'Well why not? I'm on your side here. It would just be helpful if you were honest about it.'

I have poor Kit well and truly cornered at this point. There's a short delay, and then I get the story, and it's the sweetest thing I've heard in a long time. Words of love indeed……..and fortune I'm sure will favour the honest and brave.

The boys are not permitted access to the shower controls, for obvious reasons.

'You can share one shower head boys…….the Earth's resources and all that. Ten minutes maximum and then out you come. I'll find towels.'

I, rather unfairly because that's me I'm afraid, called back after only six minutes. The palms of Bear's hands are moving shower gel around Kit's back and as he suddenly becomes aware of my unexpected presence, he hurriedly turns his back on me. I can't resist a wry smile when I see the slightly shorter boy's instinctive guilty reaction, but his attempt is too late I'm afraid. I am now fully acquainted with the image of this boy in one of his most intimate moments, and very pretty it is too.

'Two more minutes boys.' I say, cheerily, and not really meaning it.

I return with one towel between them, turn off the control valve on the wall and leave them to it.

None of us are much interested in Saturday night television, and I manage to convince the boys that what they really need, along with a steaming mug of hot chocolate, is an extension to their musical education to finish off the evening before bedtime at nine thirty. Kit has borrowed a dressing gown for his friend and the two boys sit together, my cultural prisoners, on the chintz covered sofa in the Housemaster's Sitting Room. I've already made a selection from my extensive collection of compact discs, and the entertainment ranges from The Rolling Stones and a compilation of my favourite Beatles tracks, Gilbert and Sullivan, and snippets from that highly emotional piece, Faure's Requiem Mass to finish us all off nicely. When Bear seems unable to control his yawning, I know it's time.

'Right, you're bedtime boys. Don't forget your teeth…….and I'll see you by eight thirty in the morning.' Thereby implying that I'll not be seeing them again this night. That's only fair to them…….at least not until I turn in around eleven. I will look in on them then as I have to. I'm sure they will be sleeping by then.

It's five past eleven when I gently push open the door to the room that contains the four beds. Three of them remain undisturbed from the time the boys made their beds, suitably aired, after breakfast this morning, hospital corners and all. Some daylight persist at this time of year and there's still light in the room, still warm from the evening air in June.

The boys are covered with just a single sheet and a plaid woollen blanket, and the two figures are uncovered to well below their shoulders. Discarded slumberwear lies on the floor. It's a tightish fit in a single bed, and one body, Kit's, is wedged hard into the other's back, both boys breathing evenly and relaxed in sleep, and lower still is an unseen arm around his Bear.

I stand in awe.

And now these three remain……Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of these, of course, is Love.

I wish, still I could smooth those half-moon ears And wet that forehead with my tears

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