The Natural Couple

Chapter 10

By Richard Campbell

A week off school would normally have delighted Martin, but the reason for his enforced absence was still so fresh in his mind he couldn't settle down to do anything, and with nothing to divert his thoughts, found himself going over and over it continually. The physical pain when he'd been dropped onto the base of his spine had been bad enough, but it was the events leading up to it that had left him both desperately ashamed, and terrified of the consequences. He'd invented a tale about slipping when getting out of the bath rather than describe the circumstances to the hospital staff and his GP, and stuck to it in the face of their unconcealed scepticism. But that wouldn't work at school, where already the truth would have been spread gleefully around the playground by his enemies.

It had been his own fault. He had been caught in what an adult would have called a compromising situation, and of course it had been Ross and two of his cronies who had done it. It hadn't occurred to him that Ross might deliberately follow him into the school toilets, and it certainly didn't occur to him as it would have done to Jimmy for instance, that Ross might have done so out of anything other than dislike of him.

Alan was a year younger than he was. Quite attractive, he too was something of a loner and had smiled at Martin several times when they came across each other in the playground. Martin was physically attracted but would never have made the first move, but Alan was one of those people who know what they want and have no qualms about setting out to get it. He had been standing at the urinals, when Martin came in before going home.

Martin preferred to use one of the cubicles, but most of the toilets were blocked and the stench was overpowering, so he went to the urinals, standing as far away from Alan as he could. As Alan had positioned himself in the middle of the group of five, this wasn't very far. Alan smiled at him as he unzipped but said nothing.

Because he was self-conscious his disobedient bladder refused to co-operate at first, and he had to stand there longer than he would normally have done before it condescended to obey him. Alan must have taken this as an expression of interest because when he finished, he saw that Alan had moved to the urinal next to his and was looking down at him quite openly. It was not the first time that someone had done that of course, but usually one lingering glance was enough to satisfy their curiosity and that was the end of it.

He had never had the courage to reciprocate and would not have done so now, except that Alan said softly, "How big does it get when it's hard? As big as mine?"

Martin was so taken aback that he looked down to see Alan gently massaging a very erect penis. He felt himself starting to blush but couldn't drag his eyes away.

"Lets compare," Alan said, turning slightly towards him and taking his hand away so that Martin would get the full benefit. He had undone his trousers, pushed his underpants down and was completely exposed. In spite of himself, Martin felt his own penis starting to lengthen as excitement took hold.

Unlike him, Alan's penis was uncircumcised and he watched with interest as the younger boy began to manipulate it, drawing the foreskin back to expose the swollen pink tip slightly, then releasing it so that it slid back of it's own accord. Martin wondered if it felt as good to do that as it looked. He moved his own hand to try but he didn't have enough loose skin.

Alan sidled closer to see better. "Let it go so I can see it all," he whispered urgently.

By this time Martin's penis had accelerated to it's normal forty five degree, ready to fire angle, and needed no supporting hand so he did as he was told. But Alan still wasn't satisfied.

"Undo your pants like me," he commanded, "Then play with it until it's really big and hard."

Martin felt that it was already as big and hard as it was ever likely to get, and was worried about undoing the top hook of his trousers. But helpless in the grip of sexual excitement he obeyed, looking nervously over his shoulder at the door.

"Don't worry," Alan told him confidently, "No one will come in. Everyone's gone home."

Martin had stopped thinking by then and took this at face value. He had to hold his loose fitting trousers with his left hand to stop them falling to his ankles.

In spite of himself, he felt a thrill of pride as Alan said with a touch of envy, "It's a lot bigger than mine. But you're older. Do it with me Martin."

He stepped back from the urinal and turned to face Martin, urging him to do the same.

Martin turned reluctantly. He wanted to do it as badly as Alan did but was still worried that someone, the caretaker or maybe one of the cleaners, would come in. Resolutely he took hold of himself and began to imitate Alan's movements. I hope he turns away when it happens he thought, I don't want his stuff all over my clothes.

Alan's own movement stopped and he used both hands to pull Martin closer. Although he was younger than Martin, he had long legs and Martin was so short their two organs touched, tip to tip.

"Nice, " Alan said making Martin jump as he held them together with one hand, the other still on Martin's buttock.

It was at that moment that Ross walked into the room.

Both boys froze.

"Look at the two fucking poofs," Ross sneered.

It wouldn't occur to Martin until weeks later that Ross seemed to be looking at his erection with as much interest and enjoyment as Alan had a few minutes earlier. Ross, after one contemptuous look at the younger boy's rapidly detumescing organ, concentrated his venom on the white faced Martin.

Martin had often come across characters in books who wished that the ground would open up and swallow them. He discovered that the description was based on truth. If he could have done it by sheer force of will he would have disappeared from sight instantly.

"It's lucky we come in when we did," Ross said, "Or they'd have been fucking each other up the arse, the way they were feeling their bums."

As he walked towards them, Martin had an instant before he became really frightened to resent the remark. It was typical that he was being made to take some of the blame. It was Alan who had started it and it was Alan who had been touching him, not he touching Alan. Then shame overcame him. That it should be Ross, of all people, to catch them was the worst.

Ross strolled closer, followed by his delighted mates. "Look at Jackson," he said pointing, "He's like a fucking elephant. He'd have split this bugger's bum pushing that thing in the little bastard"

Alan started to cry and Martin coming out of his shocked trance was about to pull up his trousers when on a signal from Ross, the larger of his companions quickly came behind him and held him by the arms while the other grasped the frightened, sobbing, Alan.

Ross looked at Alan with contempt for a long moment. "Let him go. We'll sort him out another time. Fuck off out of here, you little queer."

Without a word Alan pulled up his trousers and shamefacedly left the toilet as quickly as he could. He didn't look at Martin.

While understanding his action, Martin felt deserted and betrayed. It had been better when there were two of them. Now he was on his own and it seemed as if he was going to do the all suffering as usual. He felt more vulnerable with his trousers down than he had ever felt in his life, and would have gladly traded ten years of that same life just to pull them up and hide his deflating erection from Ross's sight.

After Alan left, Ross walked up and stood in front of him. "You dirty bumboy," he said viciously, "I'll teach you to leave little boys alone." The injustice of this was overwhelmed by pain as he flicked Martin's balls with his finger using the same action he would have used to flick a marble. Martin yelped and doubled over, almost pulling himself out of the grip of the boy holding him, the pain was bad. He was wrenched up by Ross who pushed him back against the boy's chest and with a muttered," Hold him," jammed one hand against his mouth and unexpectedly backhanded his still fairly stiff penis with the other.

Unable to bend forward this time, Martin's knees came up to his chest with such force that the boy holding him was unbalanced by the extra weight and dropped him. He landed heavily, right on the point of his spine, and after one searing, agonising flash of pain, fainted.

"I told you to hold 'im, you cunt!" Ross shouted angrily, but with a touch of fear in his voice as looked down at the unconscious boy.

"Christ Ross," the second boy said worriedly, "You shouldn't 'ave 'it him like that. Look at 'is dick, it's bleeding."

The ring Ross wore had scraped across the sensitive skin of Martin's penis and left a deep scratch.

" I don't care if the fucking queer's dick bleeds him to death. Next time I'll cut the fucking thing off," Ross said in defensive anger.

"C'mon Ross, we'd better get out of here. Suppose 'e tells."

"He's too fucking chicken to tell. He knows what I'd do to him."

"Yeah, but suppose 'e has to go to the doctor or casualty?"

"For Christ's sake, will you shut the fuck up! He don't need to go to casualty it's only a fucking scratch. He's not bloody dying is he? Look at him."

Martin was beginning to stir slightly.

Ross stared down at him. Martin had lost his erection but was still surprisingly large. "Fucking donkey," Ross muttered then walked out, followed by his friends.

As he came round, all Martin could feel was pain. It was severe enough to prevent him remembering how he had got it. He had a vague thought that he must have been hit by a car but it was odd that he was inside and not lying in the road. It was the cold striking up from the tiled floor against his bare buttocks that finally triggered his memory and he looked round, petrified that Ross might still be there. There was no sign of him but the relief was quickly submerged in another wave of pain. His balls ached and his cock hurt, but the worst pain was at the base of his spine.

Deciding that he could only deal with one thing at a time he looked down at himself. His penis was still bleeding slightly and looked worse than it actually was. A small amount of blood had pooled into his navel mixed with the pre-orgasmic fluid that had leaked from the deflating organ. He sat up slowly, then managed to get to his feet. The pain in his spine increased with movement and to distract himself from it, took a couple of tissues out of his pocket and cleaned himself up as best he could. But when he bent over to pull up his trousers, the pain was so fierce he thought for a minute he was going to faint again.

He never really knew how he managed to get home. His brain must have directed his feet by autopilot as he concentrated on walking in a way that didn't hurt too much, and to stop himself yelling when an unexpected unevenness of the neglected pavements jarred him.

When he reached the house he still had to face the stairs. But at least there was no-one to see him now, as he cried from pain and shock. While running a hot bath, he undressed slowly, immersed his bloodstained underpants in cold water in the basin, then climbed painfully into the tub. He felt a little better after a long soak and after he had dried himself got the Detol out of the medicine cabinet to disinfect the scratch. He hadn't expected the diluted solution to sting quite so much and was glad no-one was home to ask him why he'd cried out.

He had decided to tell his mother that he'd slipped while getting out of the bath, but when she got home she was not in a good mood and didn't notice that he was limping, so there was no need..

He woke several times during the night feeling more and more uncomfortable and was horrified when he dragged himself out of bed in the morning to see a large dark bruise at the base of his spine. He was barely able to walk and to add to it, was developing a severe headache. The only comfort in the situation was the fact that it was Saturday and he didn't have to go to school.

His mother hurried out early and he was too wrapped up in his misery to enquire where she was going. The pain got worse as the morning wore on and he began to wonder if he should go to the doctor by himself. Unable to make up his mind, he delayed so long that the emergency surgery hours were over before he realised that he was definitely going to have to do something about it, and all he could do was to go back to bed with a hot water bottle, hoping that his aches and pains, including the headache, would go away.

By the time his mother came home and came up to his bedroom in the late afternoon, the headache had turned into a migraine and he hadn't been able to keep anything down for several hours. Going to the bathroom when he had to throw up was agony and made him feel even worse.

Martha after hearing about his troubles had the grace to feel slightly guilty that she hadn't been at home with him, but pointed out that he should have had told her about it before she went out. As it was, if he was no better the next day she would take him to the hospital. Again, he spent a miserable night, only managing to snatch a few minutes sleep at a time before he was woken by pain or the need to go to the toilet to throw up again. Not that there was anything to get rid of by then.

Fortunately by the morning his headache was beginning to ease and he was able to keep down some paracetamol tablets which helped ease the pain in his spine but it was still bad enough for Martha to take him to casualty.

Here they were lucky and only waited for an hour before he was examined and sent up to the x-ray department. The various positions he had to assume while the photographs were being taken hurt him badly, but fortunately they showed only severe bruising of the bone, nothing cracked or broken. The doctor told him he should stay off school for a week and to be very careful not to bump the himself. Armed with painkillers they returned home and he went back to bed, and slept right through until the next morning,

He woke up feeling well enough for his mother to go back to work. She dropped him at the surgery where he was examined by their GP, and the week off school confirmed. The doctor, whom he disliked, asked him some searching questions about how he had hurt himself but he stuck strictly to his story. Eventually he was given a tonic, and a stronger prescription for his headaches and dismissed.

He was totally board by the end of the day. Day time television was uninteresting and after non-stop watching he was sick of it. He was not allowed to watch very much TV in the evenings because his mother didn't approve of it and seldom watched more than the news herself, so he had taken the opportunity while he was alone in the house to view enough programmes to make him cross eyed. He did this at the start of every holiday and each time, he told himself that he was never going to do it again. But he always did.

His school work was as sloppily up to date as it ever was, another bone of contention with his parent, and he had started several stories, none of which he had been able to complete. Re-reading them, he came to the gloomy conclusion that none of them had the slightest spark of inspiration and had torn them up, not at all surprised that no ending presented itself to any of them. They were so bad that he couldn't even bring himself to type them, a task he usually enjoyed.

He loved using a typewriter. There was something about the crisp black letters appearing as if by magic on the white paper that satisfied him, but only if what he was typing was any good. And what he had torn up so scornfully was very, very, bad. The truth was that he was suffering from a complete lack of mental stimulation. Although he hated school and was delighted not to be there, at least there was some interest to be had in his English classes, the only ones he enjoyed or took any interest in.

He had listened to music, his own choice rather than his mother's, but there was a limit to how much he could absorb and he wandered listlessly from room to room wondering what on earth was the matter with him. He didn't want to be back at school, but he was bored at home as well, and didn't have the money to go anywhere even if he had been able to raise the energy.

The following day was no better and the ringing of the doorbell halfway through the morning came as a welcome relief. Not that he was expecting anyone except possibly the postman, but even that would break the monotony. He opened the door to be faced by a tall stranger, a young man a few years older than himself. Looking enquiringly up at him, he saw a slightly freckled face topped by a neat crown of darkish blonde hair. Whoever he was, he was definitely not the postman.

"Hi. I'm sorry to trouble you but do you think I could have some water please?"

"Er, yes of course," Martin replied, slightly taken aback and wondering if he should offer fruit juice or perhaps a coke instead. No, not coke, he had only been allowed a couple because he hadn't been well and had drunk them both already. "Umn, please come in."

"Thanks," the blonde said with a smile as he followed Martin inside. "You see, the fan belt of my car broke and though I've replaced it," he looked ruefully at his hands, "Some of the water in the radiator has boiled away and I have to fill it before I can start the engine."

Martin looked at the hands. They didn't seem to be particularly dirty to him, but then he knew nothing about cars, only vaguely knew what a fan belt was, and would have been hard put to find it if he'd needed to.

"Would you like to wash your hands?" he asked shyly.

"Yes please, if it's no trouble."

"The bathroom's this way," he said, leading the way, still rather slowly, up the stairs. "I'll get you something to dry with."

He was so frequently in trouble because he left marks on his mother's delicately coloured towels, that in exasperation she had bought him his own dark brown ones. It didn't make much sense to him. After all they regained their pristine looks after he had put them through the washing machine, but life was easier when she had less things to complain about. He hated to think what her towels would look like after the blonde boy had finished with them. He got a brown one out of the linen cupboard and handed it over, making a mental note that he had better clean the basin as well before his mother got home. There was no point in asking for trouble.

"Is it okay if I use the toilet?"

"Er, yeah. Please do,"

He felt himself starting to colour as the boy with no sign of embarrassment, moved to the bowl, lifted the lid and seat and unzipped his well fitting jeans. He was about to leave the room because he was always too shy to do it in front of other people himself but before he reached the door, the blonde boy turned his head and spoke over his shoulder.

"I didn't really expect anyone to be at home at this time. Shouldn't you be at school?"

The sound of the liquid splashing into the toilet seemed very loud, and Martin wondered if he sounded just as loud to other people.

"I hurt myself," he explained, "And the doctor said I shouldn't go back until next week." He hoped that he wouldn't be asked for the details.

"What happened?"

"I, er, I slipped getting out of the bath," he replied, indicating it. He had repeated the story so often now it almost seemed true.

"That's nasty. Are you okay?"

"I'm better, but it still hurts."

"Well if it kept you away from school, that's something. Or do you like school?"

"Not much," Martin replied. Somewhat to his relief, the splashing had stopped and the blonde was shaking the last drops off. Then he turned to Martin and undid the waist band of his jeans.

"That's better," he said cheerfully. Martin suddenly felt overpoweringly shy, but at the same time couldn't stop himself looking as the boy slid his jeans then the front of underpants down to tuck himself away comfortably. For a moment, everything was in view before he rearranged himself and zipped up. Martin who had only just recovered his colour, immediately went scarlet again and forced himself, regretfully, to look at the boy's face. He seldom actually saw anyone else and would have liked to have caught more than just the brief glimpse of what seemed to be something rather large nestling in a tangle of blonde hair. The boy smiled, it didn't seem to worry him that Martin had been looking. "Thanks. I really needed that. Could I have the water now please?"

Martin nodded and led the way down the stairs to the kitchen, feeling rather out of breath and going over the scene in his mind. He wondered how the blonde boy had the courage to do it. He couldn't have done it himself if his life had depended on it!

"How much water do you need?" he managed to get out, his face still pink.
"About, I don't know, four litres maybe," he answered as Martin bent down to get a large jug out of the cupboard, "I really appreciate this."

"It's okay, you're welcome," Martin replied as he began filling the jug.

They went out to the car, the boy taking the container as Martin picked up his key from the shelf by the front door. He had forgotten it once when he was younger and had to wait outside in the cold until his mother came home three hours later. He hadn't dared to phone her about it. It had taught him a lesson.

When they reached a bright red mini standing with it's bonnet open, the boy looked briefly at the engine and said, "It's still too hot. We'll have to wait until it cools otherwise the block might crack. Hop in."

Pleased, because he had expected him to pour the water in and drive off leaving him to his boring solitude, Martin got into the car, wondering which part of the engine the block was.

"My name's Jimmy by the way," the blonde said, offering his hand. "It's really James, but nobody ever calls me that."

Martin shyly took the hand which clasped his firmly. It had a pleasant, warm feel to it. "I'm Martin. Martin Jackson."

Jimmy almost said, yes I know, but stopped himself in time. "Full name, Jimmy Evans. How do you do, Martin Jackson."

He was still holding Martin's hand, who wasn't sure if he liked it or not. It made him feel rather shy, but on balance it was rather a nice feeling. Jimmy gave his hand a slight squeeze then let it go.

For the next half hour they sat and talked. Or rather, Jimmy talked. He had an easy flow of conversation and didn't seem to notice, or mind, that Martin was too diffident to contribute much. He did manage to draw Martin out a little about his school, enough to confirm that he had problems there.

About his home life he would not be drawn at all but Jimmy was content to have made a start. There was plenty of time. He changed the subject to cars in general and his mini in particular, of which he spoke affectionately but with resignation for the vehicle's many foibles. He was amusing enough to draw several small smiles from Martin, smiles which changed his expression from something rather sullen to one that was boyishly attractive. Watching him without seeming to, Jimmy thought that even when his face was solemn he was an attractive person, and when he smiled he became almost beautiful. It would be some time before Martin would give him the benefit of his smile at full power, and when it happened Jimmy would find the experience rather unnerving.

By the time Jimmy decided that the engine, and it's mysterious block, were cool enough to fill the radiator, they were becoming friends and after the car started, rather reluctantly, Jimmy suggested they take it for a drive to make sure it was okay. And also to charge the battery which, or so he claimed, was rather flat.

Happily Martin returned the jug to the kitchen, double locked the front door as per standing orders and got back into the car. It was almost the first time since his father had left home that anyone had really bothered to talk to him, and Jimmy's tactful interest had the effect of making him feel at ease in his company.

Having made sure that no-one was going to miss him, Jimmy drove to a local supermarket and over Martin's gruff protests, because he had no money, bought various things for lunch, then took them out of London down the A3 to Ockham Common, where they had a picnic meal by the small lake. Martin felt himself relaxing more than he had for months and it showed in his face as Jimmy plied him with food and drink, doubly delicious because they were mainly items that his mother disapproved of and seldom allowed him to have.

Trying to do it without being too obvious he studied Jimmy carefully, liking his looks and in particular, his blonde hair and grey eyes. He had always wanted to be blonde himself but would never have thought of bleaching his hair. In fact his own pitch black colour suited him and contrasted nicely with his pale skin. Leaning comfortably against a tree, though being careful of his bruise, he allowed his gaze to follow the contours of Jimmy's body from his face downwards, ready to look away immediately if Jimmy looked back at him.

Conscious that he was being observed and to give the boy a chance to gaze his fill, Jimmy kept his eyes on a bunch of extremely inefficient wind surfers who seemed to spend far more time floundering about in the water than they did scudding nonchalantly before the breeze. He had taken note of Martin's quick, shy glance at him when he had engineered the scene in the bathroom, and was more than satisfied with the boy's reaction. It confirmed what his instincts, coupled with his observation of the boy over several weeks, already knew.

Martin would have been astonished if he had known how much Jimmy already knew about him, and would almost certainly have gone back into his shell if he had discovered it. Life had not so far encouraged him to be particularly trusting, and he would have wondered, quite correctly as it happened, what it was that Jimmy wanted from him. He had so little self-confidence he found it hard to understand why anyone, let alone this attractive blonde boy, seemed interested in him, but was so desperate for someone to talk to that he opened himself up to Jimmy in a way that surprised him when he thought about it afterwards.

When Jimmy finally turned to face him, taking his time so that Martin had the opportunity to look away, his enquiring gaze had inventoried Jimmy from his head to his feet and returned to the swell of his groin. Remembering what he had seen earlier he felt a stirring in his own region, and was relieved to be distracted before it became too noticeable when Jimmy suggested a walk.

Jimmy talked companionably and when they crossed the tiny stream that emptied into the lake, put out a hand to steady him. That there was not the least need, the stream being only about a metre wide at that point, didn't detract from Martin's pleasure in the small courtesy. He liked it too, when Jimmy held back branches as they forced their way along the narrow paths that ran through the thicker parts of the woods. In early spring the rhododendrons were coming into bloom, the beauty of flowers against the dark green leaves a pleasure that made him glad to be alive.

After a final drink of coke by the lake, Jimmy drove him home in the late afternoon and stopped outside the house where they talked for a few more minutes. Martin thanked him in the gruff voice he always used when feeling shy or tongue-tied, but Jimmy laughed it off.

"I really enjoyed it," he said, "It was nice having you with me. We can do it again if you'd like."

Martin who had been wondering if he had the courage to ask if they could meet again, and how to put it said, "Yes, please," adding, "Very much," in case it sounded too abrupt, and gave Jimmy his small smile.

Jimmy grinned at him. "Give me your phone number then, and I'll give you mine."

He wrote both numbers into his diary, tore out the page on which he had written his own and handed it to Martin.

"You're looking a bit tired, I shouldn't have kept you out so long when you're not well. Go in and have a lie down."

Martin shook his head. He was tired and quite sore by as well, but would happily have stayed with Jimmy much longer.

"Go in Martin," Jimmy said, putting a hand on his leg and giving it a squeeze, "I'll see you soon, okay."

Martin tensed slightly under Jimmy's hand, the firm muscles of his leg rippling, then relaxed as the hand was removed. "I'll phone you," he muttered, getting out of the car and giving Jimmy a token wave as he drove away, before letting himself into the house. He needed to take a leak badly (all that coke!) and went straight into the bathroom.

With his immediate needs satisfied he looked down at himself, thinking again of Jimmy and wondering how he compared. It wasn't easy to forget what Ross had said about him so he deliberately forced himself to think about Jimmy again. His penis was beginning to swell and still wondering about size, he went into his bedroom and stood looking at himself in the full length mirror on the wardrobe door.

By that time of course he was far too aroused for a proper comparison with Jimmy who had been soft when he had seen him. Gazing at his reflection he began to masturbate, still thinking about Jimmy and wondering what he would look like when he was hard. His excitement and pleasure was such that it wasn't until after an intensely satisfying climax that he remembered to feel guilty about committing the mortal sin. Yet again!

Then for the first time in his life, he said aloud in a determined voice, "I don't give a fuck," and had to smile when he recalled that he hadn't ever, didn't know how, didn't want to, and probably never would, given what he was. Physically relieved, he zipped himself up with difficulty, wiped the mirror then threw himself onto the bed on his stomach, still wearing his trainers. He was asleep within minutes.

His mother looked in on him as soon as she got home and was annoyed about the trainers, even though they didn't seem to have left a mark on the bedcover. It was so like him she thought irritated, but she let him have his sleep out while she went downstairs to start supper. The dirty basin and his unwashed breakfast things in the sink, which he had totally forgotten about in the pleasure of the day, didn't improve her mood and she was smouldering by the time he woke up and came downstairs.

All through the meal she complained about his thoughtlessness. After all, she didn't ask him to do very much. Just most of the housework Martin thought resentfully, though not strictly accurately. However, most of what she said went in one ear and out the other as he was too busy thinking about the day he just spent. Instead of feeling put down and inadequate as he usually did when she went on like this, he was paying so little attention that her remarks barely registered. He told her nothing about meeting Jimmy and went to bed early to daydream over a book, of which he absorbed not a single word.

Although Jimmy's looks and physical attributes made up the greater part of his thoughts with the inevitable effect on his body, he found himself dwelling, as soon as it was over, on the fact that someone had actually talked to him and seemed interested in what he had to say. He fell asleep hoping that Jimmy would call as he knew he wouldn't have the courage to do it himself.

When Jimmy phoned the following morning just after his mother had left for work (with a tart reminder not to forget the washing up), he was so pleased that he even managed to make a small joke about his mother's displeasure. He hadn't dared to hope that the older boy would call so soon, and although he went to meet Jimmy with the usual rather shut in expression on his face, inside he was glowing.

"Did you do the washing up?" Jimmy asked him with a rueful smile, "I don't want you getting into trouble again. I'm really sorry about that."

"I did, and I used the vacuum cleaner," Martin told him with an equally wry though much smaller smile. He had delayed Jimmy's arrival to give himself time to get it all done.

The older boy's quiet, unforced sympathy loosened his tongue a little and as they drove, he told him enough about his relationship with his mother to make Jimmy feel quite angry, although he was careful to keep his tone casual. He wanted to know Martin a lot better before he committed himself one way or the other, so after learning what he could, he changed the subject and asked him about his father.

The response was not much better. Martin hadn't seen him for five years apparently, had little affection for him and Jimmy detected a certain amount of hostility in his voice. He probed tactfully but as this soon made the boy uptight, he again casually changed the subject by asking him what he wanted to do.

Martin had no ideas, apart from certain unmentionable ones that made him colour up when he thought about them, so they went to a shopping centre and wandered around happily then had a snack lunch at a cafe. Martin insisted on paying for his share and ordered almost nothing, claiming not to be very hungry. Jimmy was fairly certain that the real reason was that he didn't have much money and managed to talk him into accepting a pastry and something to drink, but got nowhere when he suggested they go to a film. Martin was acutely embarrassed by the parlous state of his finances and determined not to give way, leaving Jimmy surprised at a streak of obstinacy quite at odds with his usual demeanour. On reflection, he thought that perhaps it was this facet of his personality that had enabled Martin to survive his mother's domineering attitude.

When Jimmy suggested they go to Wimbledon Common, Martin was so relieved that he made no objections when Jimmy stopped on the way to buy some cold cokes.

They parked the mini, admired the windmill and then Jimmy, who knew the common well, took him on a long walk past the golf course and into the wilder and less managed section. There they found a little clearing and sat and talked. Or rather Jimmy sat and Martin who's spine was feeling uncomfortable, lay on the grass on his stomach, occasionally leaning up when they spoke of anything that particularly engaged his attention.

As he gradually became more at ease with Jimmy, he found himself telling the older boy rather more about himself than he had ever told anyone. Starved for someone to talk to since his father left, he even hesitantly confessed his ambitions to be a writer. Jimmy not only listened with interest but was positively encouraging when he heard this and demanded details of what he had written so far. Fired by his enthusiasm, Martin launched into speech almost forgetting his shyness, his face becoming really animated for the first time in Jimmy's company. Watching his eager countenance Jimmy thought it a pity that so few people seemed to have seen this side of him. His conscience stirred uneasily for a moment but he ignored it in the interest of what Martin was telling him.

By the time he dropped him home, refusing to come in because he had no intention of coming face to face with Martha Jackson yet, he had learnt a great deal more about Martin than the boy realised and was developing a distinct admiration for the way he faced up to his problems. Wanting time to think about this and working on the principle that absence makes the heart grow fonder, he arranged to meet him on the Sunday before he returned to school. Three days would be about right, he calculated, for the boy to start missing his sympathetic ear. Accepting with apparent equanimity Martin's remark that his mother would be out that day so it would be all right, he said goodbye and drove home, thinking deeply about his next move.

As soon as he was in his bedroom, Martin moved the chair from his desk to his tall old-fashioned wardrobe, stood on it and groped around until he could reach the holdall that was pushed back against the wall. It wasn't a very good hiding place for his important stuff, but the best he could do. He scrabbled around and took out a couple of his many notebooks to find something to show Jimmy. Having chosen three of what he considered his best stories, he set up his mother's typewriter on the dining-room table and typed two of them from his rather cramped semi-shorthand. He had learnt long ago to save time and writers cramp by truncating the more common words when he was writing. The third story, which he considered was the was the best thing he had ever written, was already typed.

His mother didn't like him using her typewriter even though he was quite a good, if slow typist, but he had plenty of time to finish before she got home. It didn't take him long to produce acceptable copies with the aid of some correcting fluid. He put the machine away exactly as he'd found it then started the supper preparations, hoping to keep his mother in a good mood.

He was disappointed. Martha was having problems with a case she was prosecuting in front of a rather liberal judge, and was to remain ill tempered for the next few days in spite of his best endeavours. Fortunately he didn't see too much of her as she vanished into her office (she refused to call it a study) as soon as supper was eaten, and he was left in peace to think about his new (and only) friend, and to start work on a story that was forming in his head.

By the time Sunday morning arrived he was in exactly the state that Jimmy wanted. He barely managed to contain his impatience during Mass and the obligatory words with the parish priest whom he disliked, afterwards. Then had to wait while his mother spoke to several acquaintances before she drove away, without offering to take him home first.

As soon as he got home he rushed to the phone to tell Jimmy that he was ready to be picked up. Jimmy hesitated before replying and Martin's heart plummeted. He had spent the previous three days swinging, pendulum like, between looking forward to seeing Jimmy again, and a gloomy conviction that something would go wrong, as usual, at the last minute. Life had not so far given him much faith in people's promises, and he thought immediately that he had been right all along, while waiting miserably for Jimmy to tell him he wouldn't be able to see him after all.

When Jimmy said, "Fine Martin, I'll be there in about a quarter of an hour," his unruly heart did a somersault into his throat and stuck there making it hard for him to speak.

Jimmy's pause, in point of fact, had been caused by the diffidence in Martin's voice. For a brief instant he had felt a wave of pity wash over him and thought, poor little brat, totally unaware of the effect his momentary hesitation had had on Martin's fragile hopes. Although he felt he was coming to know how the boy's mind worked, he hadn't yet realised the true extent of his lack of confidence.

On a wave of pure happiness Martin floated up the stairs to his bedroom and packed his carefully typed work into his shoulder bag. For the last three days he had been putting it in then changing his mind and taking it out, putting it back then removing it once more, as his confidence waxed and waned. Assured now that they were going to meet after all, he told himself that he wouldn't offer to show Jimmy the stories, but if he asked...

Since he had last seen Martin, Jimmy had done a considerable amount of detective work and was certain that he had tracked down his father. He hadn't taken the man into account when he made his original plans, but a remark of Martin's quickly cut short, about the scene when his father left home had decided him to do some investigating. Martin hadn't said very much, it was obvious that the episode had been traumatic, however he had mentioned the name 'Stevie'.

Jimmy's quick intelligence told him it was unlikely that a casual acquaintance would have been present at what seemed to have been a very nasty confrontation, and had felt it would be worth finding out something about this Stevie. If he was still around. His sympathetic manner had elicited a vague address from Martin and he had spent the last couple of days checking it out.

When his patience was finally rewarded, the resemblance was unmistakable. A somewhat coarsened version of Martin's delicate features, taller and more heavily built than Martin would be at his age, but Jimmy saw at once who the boy had got his looks from. This was still a very handsome man, if beginning to go to seed slightly. He was accompanied by a younger man whom he addressed affectionately as 'Stevie'. It would be too much of a coincidence if he was not Martin's father Jimmy decided confidently.

He followed the pair into a local pub and ordered a pint, which he disliked, but it was not the sort of place to ask for anything else if you wanted to be inconspicuous. The clientele was predominantly Irish, and the man and his companion were obviously well known. Satisfied that he would be able to make contact if he wanted to, Jimmy left most of his beer and went back along the street to double check the building they had come out of.

He drove home thinking hard. His instincts seldom let him down and the way the two men had linked arms as they went into the pub pointed to a far more intimate relationship than mere friendship and one moreover, which was known and accepted by the drinkers in the bar. The pub on the whole did not have overtly gay overtones, but he was aware that he had been rapidly, if discreetly, appraised by one or two of the patrons when he went in. And there hadn't been a single woman in the place.

But if the man was that way inclined as Jimmy was pretty much convinced, what was he doing married to Martha? And even more important, how on earth had he fathered Martin? Unless he was bisexual of course, which would account for it. Jimmy's one and only heterosexual encounter had been more than enough for him, and he found it difficult to understand how anyone could go both ways, but it was the only answer that seemed to fit the facts. And if it is the case he thought pleased, there might be a lever there that I can use if I need to. He filed the fact away in his mind for future reference, while trying to imagine the man in bed with Martha and producing Martin as a result, but gave up. It seemed too incongruous.

Martin having come into his mind, refused to leave it and he spent a pleasant half hour thinking about him. Is it just me, or do others see him the same way? he pondered. He really liked the boy's looks, was convinced that he had a nice body under the ill fitting and frankly awful clothes he wore, and made up his mind to take him swimming one day to see what he really looked like.

Martin was waiting on the pavement when he arrived and gave him a small but much more open smile as he got into the mini. It transformed his face and made him look younger than his fifteen years. He would have been furious had he realised it. Because he was so small he was frequently treated like a little boy, and bitterly resented it when he was pushed to the back of queues by perfect strangers, who seemed to think that because he looked so young, he was young, and therefore of no importance. He never had the nerve to stand up for his rights and did his best to ensure that he was never put in the position of being humiliated if he could avoid it. If I'm going to be pushed to the back of the queue anyway was his attitude, I might as well go there straight away and not give anyone the satisfaction. Over the years he had become adept at hiding his true feelings and no-one had any idea of the deep canker of rancour that was steadily growing in him.

Jimmy had got an inkling of this, more from what was left out than from what was said, and had planned to talk to him about it, but decided that the time wasn't right yet. Martin would have to know and trust him much more before he could broach the subject, even though felt a stirring of real concern. There was a lot of kindness in Jimmy, and he didn't like the state that Martin seemed to have got himself into. He had obviously been badly hurt at some stage, and the indifference with which he was surrounded appeared to be leading him further and further into serious emotional damage.

He was surprised to find himself wanting so much to help the boy, and it struck him that maybe Tim Lake would be the person to talk to. Tim and Marion had been so good for him, he thought that they would be equally good for Martin. During the time when he had stayed with them he had come to appreciate Marion's warm and loving personality. She had always been ready to listen to him and while he had never confessed his deepest thoughts to her, both she and Tim had been patient and kind, even when he'd been at his worst. I'm lucky to have them as friends he thought gratefully, I just wish that I didn't have to ... He broke off, and turning to the boy beside him, asked if he wanted to do anything in particular.

"Not really. But I've got something to show you," Martin replied shyly, adding inevitably, "If you want ..."

Jimmy smiled, thinking there's something I'd very much like you to show me, but I might as well wish for the moon at the moment. "You can show me anything you like," he said glancing at the rear view mirror, "I'll pull over."

Martin looked at him astonished. "I didn't mean right away. Later on, when we're somewhere quiet." If he'd told his mother he had something to show her she would have told him she was busy and to leave it on the table for her to look at later.

Accelerating back into the traffic, Jimmy moved his hand from the gear lever to Martin's leg and gave him a pat. "I'm looking forward to it. How would you like to go to Chessington?"

"The zoo?"

"Mmn. I haven't been there since I was at school, but I remember it was pretty good. Hey," he said, as Martin looked worried, "What's the matter?"

"Won't it be very expensive? You see, I ... I haven't got much money," he confessed awkwardly. (He didn't have any!)

"Don't worry about that, I've got more than enough for both of us," Jimmy said, then went on as Martin still seemed unsure. "You'd like to go wouldn't you? We can go somewhere else if you'd prefer."

"It's not that, it's just that ... I can't let you pay for me all the time. It's, well it wouldn't be right. But thank you very much," he said with an odd sort of dignity that sat strangely on his youthful features. "It was kind of you to think of it," he finished formally.

"Martin, you do talk a lot of balls at times," Jimmy said with his quick smile. "I didn't ask you if you wanted to pay, I asked you if you wanted to go. All you had to say was yes or no, not give me a speech like the chancellor of the exchequer."

Martin had to smile at that and said with a flash of humour, "That's about the worst insult I've ever had."

"What, calling you a politician?" Jimmy grinned, "If you think that was an insult, you haven't heard anything yet! Now. Martin Jackson, would you like to go to Chessington or not?" then, when he still hesitated, "Make one major decision at a time baby boy, and don't try to run before you can walk."

"It's all very well you saying that, but if I say yes and I haven't got enough money you'll offer to pay for me, won't you. So how can I say yes?"

"You're something else, kid, do you know that? I've never met anyone who goes on and on and on as much as you do. Try answering the question which is, do you want to go to Chessington? You notice I said want. Not, can you afford it, or have you got enough money, or do you think it's a good thing to do, or have you got a guilty conscience about going? I just asked if you want to go. It means, would you like to go? Would it be fun for you? Do you have a desperate urge to take this mad, wild, action? Will you feel devastated if you don't go? Come on Martin. For once, please just answer the question."

Martin, who for him had been smiling quite broadly said, "You talk about me going on and on. I would like to go Jimmy, but ... "

"But, bollocks," Jimmy said grinning at him. "We're going, so shut up about it."

Martin struggled briefly with his conscience then settled back into his seat. "Well if you're sure... "

"I'm sure. You don't know much about me do you?" he said after a pause.

"No, not really. I do know one thing though."

"What's that?" Jimmy asked when it looked as if he wasn't going to say anything more.

"You're, you're kind, Jimmy," Martin said eventually in a soft voice, carefully looking out of the window. It helped not to look at people when he said things like that. Not that it happened very often of course, as he didn't have much reason to say things like that to anyone. Unusually, the thought failed to upset him.

Jimmy was slightly taken aback but hid it under a sigh of pretend irritation. "You're talking..."

"I know," he was interrupted, "I'm talking, ba ... well, that. What you said."

"What you mean is those," Jimmy said grinning, "More than one."

He glanced down, pleased to see what was something near a grin on his companion's slightly pink face.

"Yeah, lot's of them," Martin agreed. "But it is true though, you are kind Jimmy," he looked down at his feet and said softly, "You've been kind to me and, I'm ... Thank you."

"Jeeze, kid, I'm not being kind. Anything I do is because I like you. You know Martin," he went on with a touch of awkwardness, "You shouldn't make your mind up about people too quickly."

The younger boy looked him full in the face. "I don't," he said positively.

For Martin the day was pure bliss. The only cloud on his horizon was school the next day, but he ignored the thought whenever it tried to intrude, and took a headlong dive back into childhood, ably assisted by his companion. At this early stage of the season the place was pleasantly uncrowded and after going around the animal cages, they went on most of the rides without having to wait too long.

Martin was ambivalent about the zoo section, not liking the rather small cages. The animals looked safe but bored, and with nothing to look forward to but the next meal. He wondered if they had been born in captivity and therefore didn't miss a freedom they had never known, or whether there was some deep instinctive longing to get out and run. It seemed to him that the big cats in particular needed exercise. The best they could manage was an endless pacing behind the bars of their cages, and he was unhappy about it.

He discussed it with Jimmy as they ate the picnic lunch that Jimmy had mysteriously conjured from the boot of the car.

"I'm not sure myself," he answered, after some thought, "Because I don't really know enough about how their minds work. I don't know if anyone does. It's easy to imagine that their brains are exactly the same as ours and they think the same way as we do, but it seems to me that this can only be true to a certain extent. Take dogs for instance, which are probably the animals we know most about. Almost all people believe that their dog is a simpler version of themselves, except for it's body of course. But is it? The owner likes eating sweets and cakes and chocolate, so they give them to the dog too. And they don't like walking much so they think the dog doesn't either, and the poor thing doesn't get enough exercise, gets overweight and dies of a heart attack. But dogs, especially when they're young, always want walks and exercise and just running around and chasing things, but their owners don't seem understand it. They are really mean to their pets, some of them even though they claim to love them. You watch when they do actually take their dog for a walk. The dog wants to amble around and specially to stop and smell things. But because that's something the owner isn't interested in, instead of stopping and waiting until it's finished, they jerk it along impatiently so that they can get back to the TV or whatever as soon as possible. Dogs, aren't interested in TV, but their owners don't care about that or even think about it. They like it, so they think the dog does too, if they think about it at all. I think they try to turn their dogs into sort of second class people who don't answer back. They want the dog's love, but they don't give it much doggish stuff in return, just people stuff. If I was a dog I'd bite them on the leg."

"I see what you mean," Martin said, smiling between bites of his sandwich. "But dogs have lived with us for ages and must have got used to us by now. Surely truly wild animals are different."

"Again, I just don't know Martin, but I think you're probably right in a way. It would depend on what sort of animal we're talking about as well. If it's a predator like the big cats we were looking at, then I think in some ways they're very like us, or we're like them maybe. You've only got to turn on the news to see how an awful lot of humans are nothing but predators. They have no more feeling for their victims than a lion has for the animal it's chasing. To the lion it's not a victim, it's just a meal. There are no feelings of sorrow or pity involved, and there are an awful lot of humans who are just the same. They may not eat their prey, but being mugged or robbed can be just as bad for the victim in some ways. It's the human equivalent of eating them it seems to me. On the other hand, if you take the animal who is preyed on, how are we to know how it thinks? You would think that they'd be so worried about being killed and eaten that they'd be in a state of nervous breakdown all the time, yet obviously they're not. Once the latest victim has been despatched, the rest of them seem to forget about it. Until the next time of course. It would be fascinating to know what they thought, but also a bit frightening I think."

"Do you really think that humans are as bad as that?" Martin asked.

"I'm pretty sure of it. Oh, they call it good business, the sort of firms that rip people off, and they're not as blatant as the burglar who breaks into your house and takes everything you own, or the mugger who hits you over the head with an iron bar and robs you, but it comes to the same thing. Even governments do it you know. You can't do anything about them because your vote counts for nothing. And so they take your money away from you in taxes, and mug you if you try to resist by sending you to jail, but because they make the laws, it's all quite legal. And in return for this they say in effect, 'we'll protect you and look after you’, but you find out very quickly when you get ripped off or mugged or robbed or murdered that it's a different story then. Then suddenly it's all your fault and they want nothing to do with you and they're certainly not going to protect or compensate you.

“You can try protecting yourself, but if you shoot or injure the thug who is attacking you, then he becomes the victim even though he started it, and you're the vicious attacker who ends up in jail. The only way you can beat them is if you have lots of money or power. Then the law is on your side and everyone falls over themselves to look after you. But for people like us, forget it. We don't count except when it comes to taking money off us, and frankly I don't see much difference between the mugger who takes your money by force or the government who takes your money by force. Either way, you don't get a say in how they spend it, and you never get any of it back."

Martin looked at him with concern. Jimmy had got quite heated and he wondered if there was a reason for it. "That seems a bit cynical to me," he said, "You don't seem to have much faith in stuff like the law."

"I don't have any faith in it at all, Martin. Laws aren't something special made up by wise people after lots of thought about what's best for everyone."

"How do you mean?" asked Martin, whose entire life had been based on the assumption that his mother's profession was above criticism.

"Well laws are made by politicians and no-one in their right mind would believe that politicians think of anything other than getting themselves re-elected and staying in power for as long as possible. They're ordinary people except that they have a tremendous love of power. They have the same sort of hang-ups and prejudices as everyone else and that's what they base their laws on. Even lawyers and judges have prejudices and they interpret the bad laws the politicians make to suit their own prejudices. Magistrates and judges have incredible powers over anyone who breaks their laws, you know, and they use them too. When it suits them."

Martin was silent while he thought about it. Jimmy's words had suddenly illuminated his own thinking about his mother and her profession. Inevitably she had let things slip from time to time and they had made him uncomfortable. She seemed to be very much harder on some types of crime than others.

Watching him as he thought about it, Jimmy decided that he had probably said enough for the time being. It was obvious that he had given him plenty to think about.

They spent the next few hours going on the rides they had missed in the morning but as the afternoon wore on, it became busier and more crowded so Jimmy suggested that they call it a day. Martin was disappointed at having the afternoon cut short but perked up immediately when Jimmy suggested they go back to his flat.

"I want to see what you've written," he said.

The flat occupied the top floor of a small detached house set back from the road in a quiet residential street. A middle aged couple occupied the ground floor. It was an oddly designed but attractive conversion. The entrance was at the left of the building and led through a narrow hall, little wider than corridor, to the back door and Jimmy's half of the garden. The stairs started in an alcove on the right near the rear of the house and made a one hundred and eighty degree left turn over the hall to a small landing from which the door to Jimmy's flat opened into a spacious combined kitchen and living area. Immediately to the left of this door were the bedroom and a tiny bathroom consisting of toilet, shower and wash basin.

Martin fell in love with it at first sight. It was comfortably furnished (and rather untidy) in the living area, modern and up to date in the kitchen section. Martin who had to keep his own bedroom clinically neat at all times found it pleasantly relaxing. Jimmy was obviously fond of autumnal colours and the walls had been painted in warm, pastel shades with furnishings to match and occasional splashes of brighter colour in the cushions thrown haphazardly on the sofa and easy chairs.

He and Marion had spent many happy hours arguing over the colour scheme when he had decided to buy the property, and both of them were pleased with the result.

"Tea, coffee, coke?" Jimmy asked, "Or I think I've got some fruit juice if you would prefer it."

"May I have coffee, please," Martin replied, putting down his shoulder bag. "Do you need any help?"

"No thanks. Sit down and relax."

Martin went to the floor to ceiling bookshelves that flanked the bay window overlooking the front of the house and started reading the titles. Jimmy seemed to have a catholic taste in reading matter, the books ranged from novels to technical books on computing, music and electronics all jumbled together. Trained by his mother to keep books shelved in strict alphabetical order, he was amused at this and wondered how Jimmy ever found what he wanted. Picking out an anthology of Saki stories, an author whose caustic and frequently vicious wit he both enjoyed and envied, he noticed that the flyleaf had 'J Melton' written on it in a small neat hand, and wondered idly who it was.

"Do you take milk and sugar, Martin?"

"Yes please," he replied, reluctantly putting a copy Omar Khayam back where he found it.

"How much sugar?" Jimmy asked, spoon poised over the sugar bowl.

"Umn, four please," he said going to the kitchen area.

Jimmy looked at him dubiously.

"I know it's a lot," he admittedd looking guiltily, "But I'm only allowed one spoon at home, so I make up for it when I'm out."

"Okay, we'll compromise," Jimmy told him firmly, putting in two and stirring vigorously.

"How many do you have?" Martin asked mutinously, taking the proffered mug.

"None. So there. Come on."

Martin smiled reluctantly and followed him, sitting down on one of the comfortable chairs. It didn't surprise him that Jimmy had a packet of chocolate biscuits to offer, he seemed such an organised person where food was concerned.

"What time do I need to get you home?" Jimmy asked idly.

"I think I'd better be there by five. There will be a lot of questions if I'm not home when she gets back, and I don't really like lying."

"Would you feel that you had to lie?"

Martin didn't reply for a moment. This new friendship, still tentative and unsure, needed time to grow and become stronger before he exposed it to the gaze of anyone else, especially his mother. He felt he wanted to keep holding it to himself, gloating almost, as if it was something alive, something soft and furry but firm at the same time, something that needed protecting. He gave Jimmy a half smile, wondering how to put it without sounding like an idiot, or a wimp. Jimmy rescued him.

"Don't worry, if you don't want to lie we'll make sure you don't have to," he said in an offhand tone, "We'll keep that we're friends between ourselves."

Martin glowed a little at this hint of conspiracy. There was no real reason not to mention Jimmy to his mother but he had a feeling that it would be better not to, and in any case he was well used to keeping his own counsel.

While they drank their coffee, Jimmy told him about the flat, how he had first seen it when the conversion was half completed.

"I loved it straight away. I'd been living in a rented house but I wasn't happy there and this place came up at just the right time. So I pestered the builders and moved in the minute it was ready. The paint wasn't even properly dry."

"I don't blame you, it's really nice. How many other rooms are there?"

"Just the bedroom and bathroom," Jimmy said, putting down his empty mug, "Come on and I'll show you. They were going to put in a bath, but I told them I only needed a shower so we were able to save some space and make the bedroom a little bigger. It gave me room for a double bed," he said, ushering Martin in. "I've always liked big beds," he added, glancing at Martin who nodded in agreement, though he had never slept in one.

"I suppose the bathroom's in here?"

"Yeah. Shower, toilet and basin. It's tiny but after all, you don't spend much time in there and I would rather have more room in the living area. Even the bedroom is as small as I could make it. By the way, if you need to use the loo, go ahead."

Martin, who was beginning to need it quite badly muttered, "Thanks, I will," but made no move to do so.

"I'll leave you to it," Jimmy said understandingly and went out, shutting the door behind him. Martin was about to lock it when he thought that Jimmy might think it rude, as if he didn't trust him, and with a wry face stood over the bowl and unzipped. He aimed at the side so as not to make too much noise, wondering what he would have done if Jimmy hadn't left him alone. Thinking back he remembered that being watched hadn't seemed to worry Jimmy at all, quite the contrary in fact, and he had to admit that the idea of Jimmy watching him pee was rather exciting. If only I wasn't so shy, he thought despairingly. But then again, Jimmy might find him unattractive and turn away after one look, and that would depress him for days. It would be better not to put it to the test. Not that there was much chance of that, he decided gloomily.

He washed his hands, returned to the living room and was about to resume his seat when Jimmy said, "What was it you were going to show me?"

He immediately became defensive. "Nothing much," he said, afraid of boring him.

Jimmy waited for a minute then said with a smile, "Come on Martin, show me. Please?"

"It's not very good," he muttered. "You'll be bored."

"If I am, I'll tell you. But I won't know 'til I see it, will I," Jimmy said, with impeccable logic.

Reluctantly Martin went to his shoulder bag and got out the folder. Dammit, he thought uncomfortably, why did I put three stories in? He'll think I'm just a kid showing off. He wanted to put them back except for the last story, the best one, but Jimmy was holding out an imperious hand and he found himself meekly handing over the entire folder.

"You don't have to read them," he said, "I won't mind," knowing that it was a lie. He would be devastated if Jimmy took him at his word, and wished that he had never brought up the subject in the first place.

Jimmy took the folder, pulled him down onto the sofa beside him before he could escape to the chair, and opened it.

He wasn't sure what to expect. Martin certainly spoke well when he forgot his shyness, but as he knew from experience, it was a different thing entirely when one tried to write things down. He hoped that he wouldn't have to lie if the writing was really poor, sensing that Martin badly needed praise and appreciation. It would be a pity if his work didn't justify it.

He needn't have worried. The first page he read convinced him that here was talent indeed. It read smoothly and professionally. There were no rough edges, no faltering, in fact there was a maturity that was quite at odds with the boy's personality. It was as if he poured into his writing all that he was unable to express in speech and as the story flowed to it's logical conclusion, he glanced at the boy beside him, wondering if he had really copied it from someone else, changing it a little here and there. But one look at Martin's guileless face convinced him that this wasn't so. The boy simply did not have it in him to do anything like that. As he read the second story, it seemed to him that although the plot was a little forced, the actual use of words was better. He didn't know that Martin had carefully graded the three stories according to their merit in his eyes. Still without saying anything, Jimmy turned to the last item in the folder.

It was a science fiction story, very short, set in a not too distant future when earth had been invaded from outer space, and men were being kept like cattle. It was titled simply, Food Source. The victim rather than hero of the tale, was a boy of about thirteen who realised just as his voice was breaking that he was going to be castrated and made into the human equivalent of an ox. The writing was direct, descriptive, and brutal. Jimmy could almost feel the pain of the knife so skilfully had Martin set the scene in a few short sentences. The ending was horrifying on more than one level. Shaken, he closed the folder and turned to the boy beside him.

"Can I keep these for a bit?" he asked, "I want to show them to some friends of mine."

Martin nodded, not too sure what Jimmy really thought. Jimmy put the folder on the coffee table and took hold of Martin's shoulders.

"I don't know why you have such a complex about these stories, they're incredibly good. That last one especially. It made my blood run cold as I was reading it."

Martin looked at him, still unsure. "You really mean it," he asked softly, "You're not just saying that?"

"I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true. I do think they're good. In fact I think the last one is good enough to be published, which is why I want to show them to someone I know. He's my solicitor as well as being a friend and he might know someone who could help. I can't promise of course but I really would like Brian to read them. Is that okay with you?"

Martin felt too full of emotion to speak for a minute. The first time he showed what he thought was his best work to someone they thought it was good! He looked gratefully at Jimmy and said in a thickened voice, "Thanks, Jimmy. I would like that." It seemed very inadequate but it was all he could manage. This is what it's like to have a friend he thought as tears pricked his eyes, and he gazed rather mistily at Jimmy's chest, his head bent.

After some prompting, he told Jimmy how the idea had come to him after seeing a programme about abattoirs on television, and how he had sat down and written the story in one intense, passionate sitting. He had made only a few minor corrections afterwards, afraid that if he did too much revision, it might loose it's spontaneity.

"I read once," he explained ingenuously, "That genius is knowing when to stop. So with this one I stopped. Not that I think I'm a genius," he added quickly, "But the story just seemed right and that doesn't happen very often. Usually there are lots of things I don't like about them afterwards but I don't always know how to put them right, and when I try it make things worse."

"Well this one seems absolutely fine to me. Have you got another copy so I can keep this one?"

"Mn mn," he shook his head.

"Martin are you crazy? Suppose something happened and it got lost. Could you re-write it?"

"I suppose I could," replied dubiously. "I don't suppose it would come out the same though. You see I typed it straight off without writing it out by hand first as I usually do, and if I'd used carbon paper I'd have had to go very slowly because if you make a mistake it's hard to correct the copy. If I'd needed to think about the typing I wouldn't have been able to concentrate on the story. Also, my mother doesn't like me hitting the keys hard as you have to if you want good copies."

"Can't you just copy type it after it's finished?"

"It's not very easy Jimmy, she gets sick of the noise if I go on too long, and she doesn't like me using her typewriter anyway."

"Haven't you ever heard of photocopiers you idiot? We'll stop off at a newsagent when I take you home and get it copied. That will save you typing it again."

"I really like typing, though I'm not as quick as I'd like to be. I don't get enough practise you see," Martin said, unaware that he was chalking up another black mark against his mother as far as Jimmy was concerned. "I wish I had a typewriter of my own. I've tried to save my pocket money for ages but a good portable which is what I want, is really expensive, even second hand."

"Well if you keep on writing stories like this one," Jimmy replied indicating the folder, "I shouldn't think it will be very long before you can buy several if you want to."

"Do you really think so?" Martin asked.

"Of course I do. I wouldn't have said so if I didn't mean it. You worry a lot Martin, when you don't need to. It seems to me you have a lot of talent, so you should have more faith in yourself and be positive about it. Hell, I couldn't have written that story and nor could anyone that I know. It's really good. But you have to believe in it and not rely on what other people think."

"But Jimmy, I do think that what I write is good as soon as it's finished. But almost always, when I read it again later, it doesn't seem nearly as good as when I wrote it, and I want to tear it up. Mostly I do," he said sadly, "And then I wonder afterwards if it was really as bad as all that and maybe I should have kept it and tried to do something with it. It's really hard."

Jimmy began to wonder if some minor masterpieces had already been destroyed, but decided that if Food Source had survived this ruthless culling, Martin probably knew what he was doing when he tore up most of what he wrote. He didn't know much about how authors worked, but he did know that a keen sense of self criticism was essential in any artistic field, and Martin seemed to have that, and to spare. He just hoped that the boy wasn't too critical. From what he knew of him this seemed rather a forlorn hope and he registered a mental note to extract a promise from Martin to show him anything that he thought had any merit before getting rid of it. He might also look into the business of a typewriter sometime. It was typical of Mrs Martha bloody Jackson to put yet another obstacle in the kid's way, and with this in mind, he set out to discover what she thought about her son's writing.

What he heard added fuel to the cold anger he already felt towards her, while not surprising him in the least. Martin was not consciously disloyal, but in his pleasure at having someone listen to what he was saying, he let slip far more than he was aware of, and Jimmy was acute enough to read between the lines and fill in the gaps.

She didn't appear to have the slightest interest in his work, but in the same way that a person who wasn't fond of dogs might indifferently pat one if it presented itself, she would occasionally look something over if she had the time, and was not too occupied with other things. It was clear to Jimmy that she considered Martin's writing a waste of time which could be better spent in studying. In fact, although he wasn't to tell Jimmy this for a long time, Martin had never shown her anything that he thought had any real merit since that essay on his family five years earlier. So perhaps she had reason for her lack of interest.

She seemed to have a strangely ambivalent attitude towards her son. On the one hand she clearly expected him to work hard and do well at school, while on the other she didn't seem to give him any praise or encouragement to do so. It was no wonder the kid was such a mess he decided. It's going to be a real pleasure to do something about her, not just for himself, but for Martin as well. It's a shame I have to use him but there's no other way I can get at her, he decided. But if I can get Brian or someone else interested in what he writes, she obviously won't like that at all, and it will do the kid some good at the same time.

Having salved his conscience in advance as it were, he had no qualms about encouraging Martin to talk. While lending a sympathetic ear, he was careful to make no outright criticism of her or of his father. There would be plenty of opportunity for that later when he knew him better.

Although he had cut the strings tying him to his own parents totally and abruptly when it became clear that they were not going to accept him as he was, he could see that Martin would need a lot more confidence before he was ready to do the same. He'd do what he could to encourage him, and thought again that his friends would probably help as well, once they got to know him. But how to introduce him to Marion, Tim, Brian and Michael, was going to be a problem. They knew him well enough to recognise instantly that his plans for Martin included something a lot closer than mere friendship.

Brian and Michael, in particular, would be worried about him from a legal point of view. Although there had been campaigns to lower the age of homosexual consent for years, there seemed to be little likelihood of it ever happening under a government dominated by homophobes like the Party Chairman who had stated publicly that if he had his way, instead of the age of homosexual consent being lowered to seventeen, it would be raised to seventy! Jimmy had taken this into account when he had first started making his plans, but those plans had never included introducing Martha Jackson's son to his adult friends in general, and his solicitor in particular. How to do it was going to take a lot of thought, but he had no doubt that he would come up with a strategy when the time came.

The first thing to establish though was if the boy really was what he thought. He was almost certain, Martin's quick glance at him in the toilet the day they'd met could have been simple boyish curiosity, but he didn't think so. If that had been the case, Martin would have looked at him longer, in spite of his shyness, to check him out. All boys did it, it was part of growing up. The fact that Martin had turned away after the briefest of glances and then studiously avoided looking in that direction again, told the experienced Jimmy that he was afraid of letting his interest show in case it gave anyone ideas about him. It would do no harm to make sure though, so he lead the conversation on to girls.

He got no reaction from the boy beside him, and when the opportunity arose, started to talk about boys that he had known. Without actually saying so, he managed to let Martin know that he had had several male affairs, and was pleased to see him discreetly cross his legs to disguise the activity in his lap. Satisfied, he let the subject drop and encouraged him to talk about his writing again.

By the time they parted at Martin's gate, having parked the car some distance away on the pretext that he needed to walk a bit for exercise, Jimmy felt he knew enough about the boy to finalise his plans.

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