The Natural Couple

Chapter 12

By Richard Campbell

After he dropped Martin off Jimmy went to the George and Dragon. If not quite a regular, he was accepted as a fairly frequent visitor now and was on nodding terms with most of the clientele, including Joe and Steven.

They were standing as usual at the bar and he waited until the person they were talking to moved away, then leaving his table went to stand beside Steven who was ordering another pint. Watching his moment he turned and bumped Steven's arm as if by accident, causing him to spill some of his drink. He was profuse in his apologies and immediately ordered another round for both Steven and Joe and invited them to join him at his table. He had no worries about his offer being refused. Since he had started coming to the pub he had seen the discreet interest shown in him by both men, and was not surprised when his offer was accepted with alacrity. They introduced themselves and he was gratified to have it confirmed that Joe's last name was Jackson.

He made no attempt to get on intimate terms straight away but set out to be amusing, attractive, and just the tiniest bit flirtatious. He did'nt need to make too much of an effort, both of them were interested enough in him to make the conversational running, and all he had to do was listen to what they had to say. He found Joe charming in a casual sort of way and wondered whether Martin would ever be as light-hearted as his father appeared to be. Stevie, as he had introduced himself, was more of an enigma. He was much quieter for one thing, which wasn't difficult as Joe talked so much, and seemed to be a serious young man with depths that Jimmy found rather appealing. He obviously adored Joe, but was not above casting an appreciative eye over Jimmy in an unselfconscious and completely open fashion. He would be the one to work on. It didn't take Jimmy long to discover that although he didn't say much, when he did speak Joe listened and took on board what he had to say, and frequently turned to him for confirmation of his own remarks. They seemed to have a stable, affectionate and long standing association, and Jimmy felt a touch of envy. It was just the type relationship that he and Jon had been developing.

Listening to Joe's voice, Jimmy could imagine what Martin would sound like in about twenty years time though his use of words would always be better than his father's. He was far better read already and Jimmy doubted if he would ever develop the slight coarseness that seemed to be an integral, though not unattractive, part of Joe's personality.

Martin's bone structure too was much more fine than Joe's, but it was obvious from whom the boy had inherited his beautiful hair and skin. Joe had to be in his forties but his skin was as smooth and clear as Stevie's, who was a good few years younger. Martin, when he reached his father's age would look just like him Jimmy thought, but a neater, smaller and very much more refined version. Joe was the casting as it came directly from the mould. Martin would be the highly finished and polished final article.

He stayed in their company for an hour, filing away in his mind various bits of information, then went home satisfied that he had made a good start in getting to know them.

He went to the pub twice during the following week. They were not there the first evening so he left after finishing his drink but on the second occasion, when they seemed pleased to see him, he joined them at the bar for half an hour or so and had a long conversation with Steven when Joe was dragged off for a light-hearted game of darts by a couple of friends.

At the end of the week, Marion rang him for their usual weekly talk, very excited about Food Source.

"This friend of yours is very good," she told him. "I would really like to meet him so I can tell people one day that I knew him before he became famous."

Jimmy refused to be drawn on this but felt even more proud of Martin and his talent.

"Tim and I met Michael the other day," she went on. "He sends his regards and although he couldn't promise anything, he's going to show the story to someone he knows, a client who has something to do with publishing," she ended on an excited note.

Jimmy was silent for a moment, thinking. He was pleased, but at the same time it was going to be difficult to keep Martin a secret and he wished that he had never mentioned him or shown his work to Brian. He seldom made mistakes but it looked as if he might done this time, and it could become serious if he wasn't careful. A couple of years ago, he wouldn't have worried about it, but he had learnt caution since then. Sooner or later he was going to have to produce Martin for everyone's inspection and he still hadn't the slightest idea how to do it.

"What's wrong, Jimmy," Marion asked eventually. "I thought you'd be pleased."

"I am Marion, but ... "

"Jimmy, I told you I wasn't going to poke my nose in," she said, misunderstanding his silence. "I was only joking about wanting to meet him. No that's not true, I do want to meet him, of course I do. But only when you're ready. But I am pleased that you're picking up your life again and I can't help being a little bit curious. We all are."

The answer having been dropped in his lap so to speak, Jimmy played along. "I know, Marion and I understand how you feel," he told her. "But it's all a bit strange and I'm not really sure what I feel about it. Can we leave it at that for the moment? I'm a bit confused about things."

This was perfectly true. He liked Marion very much, knew that she was fond of him in return and cared enough to take an interest in everything he did. Inevitably she was curious. It was something he hadn't taken into account when he had engineered that first meeting with Martin, because he had never planned to get involved with the boy in this fashion in the first place.

"Okay Jimmy, I understand. You know we're here, all of us, if you want to talk to someone."

"Yes, I know and I'm very grateful. I just think this is something I need to work out on my own. I can't let you do my thinking for me all the time," he said, trying to make a joke of it.

"No of course not," she answered with a slightly forced laugh. "But do tell your friend about Michael won't you."

"Yeah, I can phone him this evening when he gets home. But on second thoughts, I think I'll wait until there's something definite before I tell him about it. I don't want to raise his hopes for nothing," he said.

Martin phoned after he got back from school on Wednesday, having wanted to do so on both the previous two days but not having found the courage. It was fine when he was with Jimmy, he felt confidant that Jimmy both liked him and wanted to have him around, but as soon as he was on his own he started to have doubts.

He sounded depressed to Jimmy but as usual denied that anything was wrong, though he did confess that he had bumped his spine which was painful again. By the time they had talked for twenty minutes or so, he had cheered up and when Jimmy ordered him to phone without fail as soon as he got home the next day, he said goodbye and rang off feeling very much happier.

He wasn't able to speak to Jimmy the following day because his mother came home early, but he called on Friday and was so relieved that it was the weekend again, he sounded positively cheerful. He diffidently asked Jimmy if they could meet the next day as his mother was having her hair done and he would be free all day. They couldn't meet on Sunday because she was taking him on a duty visit to an elderly aunt of hers, and no excuse on his part short of hospitalisation, would be considered.

To his relief, when she arrived home Martha herself suggested that he didn't come with her the next day. Occasionally she insisted on his presence when she did the shopping after her weekly hair appointment, but she was going on to meet a colleague she explained. He was to be home no later than six if he went out himself, she warned him. He was careful to efface himself after supper and when she checked on him later, was diligently doing his homework having forced himself to concentrate on it, rather than daydream about Jimmy.

He woke early the next morning, spent a delicious ten minutes luxuriating in the fact that it was Saturday and he was going to meet his friend, had a quick shower and was downstairs with breakfast prepared and on the table by the time Martha came down. To her impatient son she seemed to take an incredible amount of time getting herself ready, but left eventually after giving him not only his pocket money, but an extra pound as well. The only slightly sour note was her remark that it was high time that he had his hair cut.

After making sure that she had driven off, he rushed to the phone, arranged with Jimmy to pick him up in half an hour, did the washing up, hastily ran the vacuum cleaner over the carpets and was out of the house and waiting, five panting minutes early. Jimmy was five minutes late having been delayed by his neighbours as he left the flat, but although worried, Martin was becoming slightly less paranoid about whether their meetings would come off or not and greeted him calmly when he finally drove up. He didn't even react when, as he got into the car, Jimmy put an arm around his shoulders and gave him a quick hug while apologising for being late. He didn't, Jimmy noticed, lean towards him, but he didn't tense up and pull away either.

"I need to do some shopping if you don't mind," Jimmy remarked as he put the car into gear, "Is that okay?"

Tempted to say, anything is okay as long as I do it with you, Martin nodded and asked what Jimmy needed to buy.

"Well we need food, but I also want to buy something else and I need your help to choose it."

Martin raised an enquiring eyebrow at him, confidant enough in his company now to indulge in small gestures like that, and secretly thrilled at his use of the word 'we'. Jimmy thought he looked very cute, but refused to enlighten him.

"You'll find out," was all he would say.

"My mother's having her hair done so we'd better keep away from central London," Martin told him, taking it for granted that Jimmy would understand what he meant.

"Yeah I know. You told me last night," Jimmy reassured him. "We're going to Croydon."

Satisfied, Martin gave himself up to the pleasure of being in his company and settled back with a sigh of happiness.

They went to the supermarket and after leaving their purchases in the boot of the mini, Jimmy took him through the shopping centre to a side road which ran parallel to the high street and was full of small, interesting shops.

There were clothing stores, a photographic shop full of second hand equipment at which Martin gazed longingly, shops selling fabrics, others displaying furniture, cheap plastic toys and expensive continental camping equipment. The pedestrianised street itself was occupied by a large fruit and vegetable market, interspersed with stalls selling batteries, blank audio tapes, cheap radios, more clothing (especially jeans and anoraks), and all manner of small household goods. Jimmy was amused at Martin's fascination and had difficulty dissuading him from buying a small twelve volt fan for the mini. It was so cheaply made it would probably fall apart the first time it was used, if it didn't blow the entire electrical system first.

He put his hand on Martin's neck and walked him on saying, "We can come back later if you like."

Martin's instinct to pull away in case anyone was looking at them, but found that he enjoyed the feel of Jimmy's warm, strong hand. It's because it's him he thought, I'd be embarrassed if it was anyone else. He was quite sorry when after steering him from the bright sunlight into a dark and gloomy shop, Jimmy removed his hand saying, "Here we are."

Presumably Jimmy had brought him here to make the mysterious purchase that he'd mentioned earlier. To his astonishment, once his eyes had adapted to the dim light, he found that the shop dealt in second-hand office equipment.

There were desks, adjustable typist chairs, filing cabinets, plastic letter trays and all sorts of odds and ends piled up haphazardly anywhere that there was a space. There were even some old pre-decimal tills. But mainly, there were typewriters. Everywhere he looked there were machines balanced precariously on the desks, the chairs and the tables. They ranged from massively solid, old fashioned machines that looked as if they would need two strong men to lift them, to sleek, modern portables that made his fingers itch to try them.

Jimmy grinned at the avid look on his face and said, "Well, we need one and you're the typist, so choose."

Martin looked at him, too taken aback even to raise an eyebrow. "Jimmy, I don't know anything about typewriters," he stuttered. "I've used my mother's and the ones at school but," he looked helplessly around the shop, "There're so many, I don't know where to start."

"Well it’s got to be light for starters. I don't want to strain a muscle lifting it, so we can forget about those monsters." He indicated a desk groaning under the weight of three huge machines that looked as if they had been designed and built by a steam locomotive engineer. Martin, who had never seen anything like them in his life, was awe-struck. It was rather like coming face to face with a dinosaur he decided, and immediately wondered if he could do a story about a talking one that bemoaned the morals of the modern generation of typewriters and the sort of stories written on them. That way he could work in a dinosaur sort of theme he decided. I might even be able to make it funny he thought happily, starting to work it out in his head, but was recalled to himself by Jimmy's voice.

"What were you thinking about?" Jimmy asked curiously, thinking that he had the look of someone both happy and serious at the same time.

"Sorry Jimmy," he said guiltily, "But looking at those typewriters gave me an idea for a short story. What did you say?"

"I said, I thought maybe something more like this," Jimmy replied smiling and pointing to a modern daisy wheel machine sitting in pride of place on a low filing cabinet.

Martin walked over, looked at it, and fell in love. With difficulty he forced himself to be critical. It was a Japanese machine made by Brother, a firm he had never heard of, very neat, small, and amazingly light compared to his mother's ponderous machine. As he ran a tentative finger over the plastic case, the owner of the shop appeared out of the shadows as if by magic.

"Good morning. Are you interested in that one? I can plug it in, if you'd like to try it."

"Yes please," Jimmy said, smiling at the look on Martin's face. Martin was too busy gloating over it to do more than nod.

"It's one of the best machines for it's price I have at the moment," the man said, opening a small door at the back with clumsy fingers to take out the mains lead. Holding the plug in one hand, he gazed rather helplessly at a trailing socket that was already crammed with double adapters, into which had been plugged a positive bird's nest of cables. "You can see how neatly it all fits together," he went on. "Completely portable you know, just needs to be plugged in. I do have some golf ball machines over there, but they are a lot more expensive. Good machines of course, really excellent. But so very expensive," he added mournfully, shaking his head sadly at the folly of manufacturers. Martin, choking down a giggle, began to wonder how to work the man into his burgeoning story.

With the air of a Napoleon ordering troops into a battle that he wasn't quite sure they would win, the owner pulled out one of the adapters. Immediately several desk lights went out, plunging half of the already dimly lit shop into stygian darkness. Looking dubiously at the socket in the resulting gloom he finally managed, with some difficulty, to insert the typewriter's plug.

"You switch it on here," he told Martin, panting slightly from the effort. The typewriter made a soft chattering noise and the daisy wheel revolved briefly. "That's quite normal," he explained, seeing the boy's surprise. "All machines of this type do it. You soon get used to it," he added in a hopeful voice.

He fed in a piece of paper then stood back. Martin felt shy about trying in front of him and looked at Jimmy, who nodded encouragingly and said, "Go on, Mart."

He tried a few tentative keys then gaining courage, typed a sentence. It was an odd experience for one used to heavy manual machines. The keyboard had a beautiful feel, very light, but positive and responsive at the same time. It felt right under his fingers, but the daisywheel that actually printed the letters reacted quite slowly, and it took him a few minutes to realise that he didn't have to stop and wait for it to catch up with him. With increasing confidence his fingers began to move faster and he was astonished at how effortless it was. The lightest touch on a key operated the daisy wheel while a gentle press of his little finger activated the carriage return.

Full of excitement, he turned to his companion. "It's beautiful, Jimmy. You try it."

Jimmy smiled. "You'd show me up. I can't type at all."

Nevertheless, Martin was so enthusiastic he tried a few keys so as not to disappoint him.

In his eagerness, Martin quite forgot to be bashful and was asking the shop owner to show him the functions of the various keys, including an erase feature that he found miraculous. He was persuaded to try several other makes and models, but came back each time to his first love.

"If it were me and I could afford it, this is the one I'd take," he told Jimmy seriously. "It just feels so right to me. But you're buying it Jimmy, so you must decide."

"I trust you kiddo," Jimmy smiled, taking out his chequebook. "Besides, I have a feeling you're going to be using it more than me."

While he completed the transaction Martin switched off the machine. The owner had found it's original box and he carefully packed it away, delighted to see that even the instruction manual was there. As they left the shop, with Martin lovingly carrying the box, the owner was ineffectually attempting to get his lights working again.

He could barely wait, while Jimmy bought vegetables and fruit at the market, to get back to the flat. Taking pity on him, Jimmy hurried up, took him back to the car and they drove home with Martin positively chattering all the way.

While Jimmy made coffee, having replied to Martin's anxious enquiry that he was quite happy for him to unpack and set it up, Martin placed it carefully on the breakfast bar, plugged it into a convenient socket, and switched it on. Then his face fell.

"Jimmy, we forgot to get paper!"

"Idiot," Jimmy said, shaking his head at him. "Why didn't you remind me?" then laughed at his disappointed expression. He came over, ruffled his hair gently and murmured briefly, "Bedroom, chest of drawers, top left."

Martin pulled a face at him, shot out of the room and was back in seconds clutching a ream of white paper. Then he sat down and happily typed the first page of his new story without further pause for thought.

The typewriter was pure joy. His fingers flew over the keys, barely needing to touch them and he found a corresponding ease in expressing his thoughts. It was as if the typewriter, like a neglected puppy delighted at having arrived in a good home, was determined to make itself loved and wanted. Jimmy, looking at his absorbed face thought that he had never seen him look so relaxed. He is such a contradiction he mused, he has no self-confidence at all when he deals with people, yet he's working at that story totally sure of himself and what he's doing. I'm glad I got it for him. Quietly so that he wouldn't spoil his concentration he prepared a cold lunch, happy to let Martin work until his inspiration flagged.

After three quarters of an hour of single-minded concentration, Martin looked up to see a cup of stone cold coffee on the counter next to him and Jimmy sitting opposite, watching him. He looked guiltily at the clock and said apologetically, "Why didn't you say something, Jimmy? Look at the time. I'm sorry."

"There's no need to apologise, I didn't interrupt because I didn't want to stop you. How's it going?"

"I think it's quite good," Martin replied cautiously, "It's different to my usual stories. I'm a bit stuck at the moment. I know how I want it to end but I'm not sure how to go about it. But most of it's done."

"Leave it for a bit and have another go later," Jimmy said getting up and coming round to his side of the breakfast bar. "Do you still like the typewriter?"

Martin swivelled round on the stool to face him, his eyes shining. "More than ever. It's the best one I've ever used."

"That's good, because it's yours. I know that you can't take it home because you wouldn't be able to explain it to your mother, so I'll keep it here and you can use it whenever you like."

Martin looked at him steadily for a moment. He raised his arms and for a moment Jimmy thought he was going to put them around him, but changed his mind and dropped them again.

"Jimmy," he said, clasping his hands tightly together in his lap, "I can't take it. It's so kind of you and I really appreciate it, but I can't have it."

"Just tell me why not?" Jimmy demanded. "We'll call it an early birthday present if you like."

"It's too expensive, that's why. I can't let you buy me things like this. I, I just can't."

He got off the stool and took a step sideways to move past Jimmy. He felt close to tears and didn't want him to see. Jimmy moved in front of him and put both hands on the counter, trapping him between his arms.

"You listen to me Martin Jackson. I bought it for you because I wanted to. That's the first reason and as far as I'm concerned it's reason enough. But I did have another reason as well. I think that you're going to be a very good writer one day, in fact I think you're a very good writer already, and I want to help you get even better. I thought you needed something like this to inspire you and I was right, because I've been watching you while you were working. I don't know how good this story is until you let me read it, but I could see that you were enjoying writing it, and that's what counts."

He looked at Martin's unconvinced face and went on gently, "If I were your brother, would you accept it?"

"I suppose I would, but you're not my brother. Don't you see, I can't let you spend your money on me like this. You're, you're my ... " he swallowed hard, "My friend."

He looked down at his feet, feeling embarrassed thinking, I've buggered it up now, for sure.

Jimmy sighed and transferred his hands from the counter to Martin's shoulders. "Friends can give each other presents just as brothers can. Especially when they haven't got any brothers to give presents to."

Martin looked up, his face troubled.

"Jimmy," he said in a low voice, still close to tears. "I can't give you anything. That's the whole point. I don't have anything, except a bit of pocket money now and then. So what can I give you in return?"

Jimmy gave him a gentle shake. "You're such an idiot, and I love you for it." (Careful, he told himself.) "Don't you understand? You're going to give me presents, lots and lots of them. Every story you write on it is going to be a present for me. Presents don't have to be physical things, you know, there are other things. In fact giving people presents of money, or things bought with money, is very easy when you've got lots of money. But you're going give me really hard presents, because you're going to work yourself to death giving me my stories. What I've done is nothing compared to what you're going to have to do! You're my slave from now on. So smile at me kiddo, and say sorry."

Martin looked at him indignantly. "Sorry? What for?" he asked, his voice rising then cracking entrancingly on the last word.

Jimmy grinned. "For being so cheeky to your elders."

Martin gasped. "Me, being ... " then broke off and began to laugh, and found that without him noticing, Jimmy's arms had moved around him and he was being hugged. Somehow it didn't seem to matter, in fact it was the second thing that day that felt just right to him. "Thank you so much," he said softly into Jimmy's chest, capitulating.

"That's okay, kiddo," Jimmy replied, pulling his head against him as a distraction so that he wouldn't notice the top of it being kissed. One step at a time he thought, as he reluctantly released Martin after a very satisfying couple of minutes.

After lunch Jimmy asked if he wanted to carry on typing but Martin opted against it, so they went outside and sat in the sun in Jimmy's part of the garden. They talked for an hour until a cold wind drove them indoors again, decided that it was too chilly to go to the common and listened to some music instead. By then, Martin was ready to sit at the typewriter again and half an hour later had completed his story except for the title. He made some corrections by hand as he reread it while Jimmy was making coffee, then while they were drinking it, shyly offered it to him. At the top of the first page he had added the line, To my very best friend, Jimmy. It was the first time he had ever dedicated a piece of work.

Jimmy had only read three of Martin's stories, and they had all been on the serious side, hardly surprising considering the life the boy led. But this one was in a much lighter vein. It was clever, amusing and with an unexpected sting in the tail that took him completely by surprise and made him smile in appreciation. It didn't have the quality of Food Source, but in it's own way it was very good and showed it's author in a completely new light. He was astonished that it could have been thought out and written so quickly, and it illustrated how observant Martin was. He had set it in the typewriter shop and had noticed far more of his surroundings than Jimmy had. It included a brief word picture of the owner which was both amusingly exaggerated, and instantly recognisable.

Feeling a proprietorial interest as it had been dedicated to him, Jimmy made several suggestions for the title but nothing seemed quite right until he wondered out loud if they could make a pun out of it's dinosaur theme somehow. No sooner had he said it than Martin, thinking furiously, shushed him violently, raced to the typewriter and rapidly re-wrote the first five paragraphs under the title What Dino Saw, then added two more paragraphs later in the story. Reading what he had written, in spite of the difficulties of following the crossings out and arrows to show what paragraphs went where, Jimmy began to laugh in earnest and when he had recovered, Martin received another hug which left him smiling shyly, pink and breathless.

"We make a good team," Jimmy told him, his eyes dancing.

Martin smiled back and nodded at the typewriter, "The three of us."

From then on, they saw each other more often. Martin would take a bus to the flat several times a week to spend an hour or so at the typewriter and also, encouraged by Jimmy's gentle persuasion, took to doing most of his homework there too and as a result found himself getting on better at school. Homework, apart from English, had been a matter of supreme indifference to him previously but he found that working under Jimmy's interested eye was, if not a pleasure, at least less of a chore. He would frequently look up to see Jimmy regarding him and would smile before returning to his work. He would far rather have been talking to Jimmy or working at the typewriter, but without actually putting it into words, Jimmy had made it clear that homework had to be completed before he did anything else, and as he got into the routine of it, he found he was even starting to enjoy some subjects.

Jimmy had a very good ear and was reasonably fluent in tourist French and encouraged Martin to start taking the language seriously. They would sit watching a teaching video or repeating the vocabulary out loud when Jimmy put on one of the audio tapes that were part of a French course he had inherited from Jon, and in between times, would talk about his visits to France.

"If I didn't live here, that's where I would really like to live," he mentioned to Martin one day. "I like the people, I like their way of life, I love the countryside and the weather is so much better in the South."

Martin, listening enviously to his vivid descriptions, even started paying some attention in class and due to his quick mind and excellent memory, made more progress in a couple of weeks than he had done over the last three years. He did it to please Jimmy. It started off by being a small thing that he could do to thank him, but it soon became a pleasure in itself and he asked Jimmy to make a copies of the French tapes so that he could use them at home.

School was a little better too. Ross and company seemed to have forgotten about him for the moment and he was left in peace for some weeks. What he didn't realise was that in spite of his bravado, Ross was worried in case there were any repercussions after the episode in the toilets, and was simply biding his time until he was sure it was safe.

Martin was growing closer to Jimmy all the time and starting to think deeply about their relationship. There was no doubt that Jimmy was fond of him, though there were times when he would suddenly seem cold and distant. These moods never lasted long and he would shake them off, sometimes with an actual physical movement of his head, but they puzzled Martin who try as he might, was unable to account for them. He wondered if they were caused by the weather which after the warm and pleasant early spring had turned cold and blustery. He knew that Jimmy hated the cold, but he himself would happily have put up with far worse to be there in the flat with him, and would have considered the world well lost, had he ever come across the phrase.

Jimmy always made sure that he was home well before his mother was due back from work and never picked him up at the school in case word filtered back to her. They had a tacit understanding not to talk about her, and when they made the arrangement about the telephone, for instance, neither acknowledged that they did it to ensure that she didn't find out about them. Jimmy had good reason not to underrate her and had quickly realised that her phone bill was going to rocket if he allowed Martin to telephone him too often. They arranged that Martin would dial his number, allow it to ring twice, put the receiver down and repeat the procedure. That way he would know who was calling and that it was all right to ring back straight away. Martin jibbed a little at this arrangement, arguing that it wasn't fair for him to pay for their calls all the time, but allowed his objections to be overcome. Their conversations on the days when he didn't see Jimmy were far too precious to give up.

He did worry about what he was costing Jimmy. Not only did Jimmy feed him often, but there were cokes, petrol when they went out, and of course his typewriter as well. The only thing he could do until he was old enough to start earning a living, was to do his best to improve his writing. His tentative suggestion that he get a paper round was vetoed out of hand.

"You don't have time for that, kiddo," Jimmy told him firmly, "Because I want you under my eye writing stories for me, not getting up in the middle of the night to earn peanuts. I'm not an elephant and neither are you."

Martin had giggled entrancingly and justified his faith by writing a ridiculous story about a baby elephant who ran away from home (he lived in a circus) and because of his youth, could only get a job that paid in peanuts, when what he really wanted was money, so that he could buy a sports car to show off in.

Jimmy had laughed heartily as he read it, said, "I told you so," and from then on, Martin spent at least an hour a day working on something for him.

Forced by circumstances to write mainly by hand, when he came to type his stories on the Brother, the results were magical. The ease and light touch of the keyboard seemed to set his thoughts free and what appeared to be unpromising material sometimes turned out surprisingly well when it was typed. If only I could use it all the time he would sigh, then remind himself how lucky he was to have the use of it at all.

Little of what he wrote completely satisfied him, but he was learning all the time and improving his technique as his stories gradually took on a lighter and happier note reflecting his own improved spirits. As he had promised, he showed everything he wrote to Jimmy except for one piece of work. That was an erotic fantasy that he wrote one night in a fit of utter sexual frustration. Into it he poured all the repressed needs and desires that he was suffering from, and it was so explicit that he actually blushed when he re-read it.

He knew that it was good. Not as good as Food Source, but good. He also knew he could never show it to anyone, let alone the person who had inspired it. Not understanding, through ignorance, that he was entering the period in his development when his sex drive was at it's most powerful, he felt ashamed of the feelings that had provoked the story and wondered despairingly if he was some kind of sex maniac. Half an hour after satisfying his needs he would get another erection and have to do it all over again!

That the story would be considered pornographic he dismissed out of hand. To him it was simply an expression of the sexual side of love. But he had no illusions as to what people like his mother would think of it. It was dangerous to keep it but he couldn't bring himself to destroy it. It would be like destroying part of himself. So he concealed it in the old holdall on the top of his wardrobe under a pile of discarded notebooks, and hoped that his parent wouldn't be overcome by a fit of tidiness and go through his possessions.

While Martin was thinking and worrying about the sexual feelings their friendship was generating in him, Jimmy too was thinking seriously about what was happening between them. He had always been attracted to good looking people and Martin was a good deal more than that. In fact the more Jimmy saw him the more attractive he seemed, and he found that just looking at the boy was intensely pleasurable, if highly frustrating. He wanted to do a great deal more than look, and when he watched Martin working, a frown of concentration on his face, he longed to smooth the lines out and tell him not to worry about anything, to forget it in fact.

At the same time, he was experienced enough to know that he was treading on very dangerous ground by meeting him so often, and that one way to avoid attracting unwelcome attention was to ensure that Martin did better at school. Those in authority seldom bothered about a pupil unless things seemed to be going wrong, and his mother would be pleased about it and pay less attention to him as well.

He was still very reticent, but Jimmy thought he had pieced together a fairly accurate picture of his problems from what he had let slip from time to time. However, he would have been extremely upset had realised how much more serious those problems actually were. Martin, taking pleasure in his company and unwilling to discuss any subject that might diminish that pleasure, was deliberately shutting his mind to the less pleasant parts of his life and made little of them if he was asked. He would change the subject, because he genuinely didn't want to talk about it. Any of it. And that included his deteriorating relationship with his mother.

It had started simply enough when she had told him to get his hair cut. It was quite long, but not nearly as long as that of most of his contemporaries, and Jimmy had mentioned that it suited him, and that he liked it. That was enough for him. If Jimmy liked his hair the way it was, that was the way he was going to wear it, so he refused to go to the barber, the first time that he had actively defied his mother to her face. It was a small thing, but it reminded her of other acts of disobedience he had been indulging in lately, chief of which was his refusal to go to either confession or communion.

She had let this go for a couple of weeks, telling herself that it was just a phase that he was going through. But, when she eventually became irritated by his obstinacy and suggested that it was time he started behaving sensibly, she was genuinely shocked to be told that not only was he not going to take the sacraments, but was starting to think that the whole Church thing was based on lies, and that he didn't see why he should even go to Mass.

If she had realised how much courage it had taken for him to say it she might have paused for thought, but all she could see was a child pushing her to the limits of tolerance on a subject he knew nothing about. She lost her temper and used her excellent command of language to give him a tongue lashing that turned his knees to jelly and his face white, but failed to bring him to heel as it would certainly have done previously. Martin stood there, shaking inside and feeling sick, but with such a look of mulish determination on his face that she stopped in the middle of the tirade and glared at him. He looked exactly like his father she thought furiously, as she told him that until he turned eighteen, she would decide whether or not he went to Mass.

She may have won the war, he continued to go with her to Mass on Sundays, but she had lost the battle over confession and communion. Nothing she could say, no reminders of sin, damnation, or anything else, had any effect on him. They just made him more obstinate.

Staunchly Catholic in the old mode of total obedience to all the teachings of the Church (she didn't approve of the laxity of the modern Mass in English, to say nothing of the relaxation of the fasting laws many years before) she felt that he had let her down in a way that hurt her pride deeply. She had always been a prominent member of the congregation and knew that she had a duty to set an example to others. For her previously docile and obedient son to show her up like this was intolerable.

After a great deal of thought, she decided to consult the parish priest, who happened to be one of the chaplains at Martin's school. Father Jarrell had been hearing Martin's confession for years, knew him well, and would be able to advise her. It didn't strike her as at all strange that she, who never asked advice from anyone, should decide to talk to a man who had never had children himself and probably knew even less about adolescent boys than she did. Nor was she aware that he was the person who had triggered Martin's refusal to attend confession in the first place. She spoke to him on the telephone, outlined the problem and invited him to lunch on Sunday.

Father Jarrell was a priest after her own heart. Totally convinced that he was always right, he hid a weak personality by clothing it in the arrogance of the Church. Had he lived in medieval times he would undoubtedly have burned witches and assisted the inquisition with hypocritical self-righteous sorrow, for the good of the souls of the victims concerned. Get them into heaven any way you can was his philosophy, and especially watch adolescent boys in the throes of puberty. They were the ones most at risk of the fires of hell. Had he worked in a boarding school he would undoubted have checked the boys' sheets and underwear for stains, in order to confront them with the proof of their sins.

Martin was furious. He hadn't been able to see Jimmy the day before as planned because at the last minute Martha had insisted that he go shopping with her. She had admitted to herself that there was no real need for his presence, it was merely the application of a touch of discipline because he was getting so out of hand. Feeling sullen and ill used, when told after Mass that he was expected to waste the entire afternoon in the company of a man he detested, Martin's resentment knew no bounds.

He was surly during the meal, replied as briefly as possible when spoken too and didn't offer to do the washing up afterwards as he was expected to. Martha trying to hold her temper in check, shepherded he and Jarrell into the living room, served coffee with a false smile and left them together, saying tactlessly as she left the room that she would do the washing up because she knew that Father Jarrell wanted to have a word with him. Martin was even more outraged. He had to put up with the man in church once a week. That was more than enough.

"Your mother is worried about you Martin," Jarrell began in an unctuous voice, "And I must admit, so am I. I think it's time we had a little talk about it, don't you?" He ended on a rising note.

Martin glared at him, then looked sullenly down at his feet, determined not to answer.

"We haven't seen you at confession or receiving Holy Communion for some time now, have we?"

Martin, wondering if every sentence was going to end in a question, became even more determined not to speak.

"You do know that you may not be in a state of grace? If something, God forbid," he added piously, "Should happen to you, if you were involved in an accident perhaps, you would be facing an eternity of punishment. Eternity Martin, is a very long time. It means forever and ever. Of course, you might be able to make an act of contrition before dying but if you didn't have the opportunity, nothing would save you. But you know this of course, so don't you think it is time you that you behaved a little more sensibly? It's a terrible risk you are taking to endanger your immortal soul like this, and it's time you thought about it, don't you agree? You're not a little boy any longer, you're a young man and you should know better than to worry that good woman your mother, like this. She has worked hard all her life for you, to bring you up, to know the true church, to feed you and clothe you, send you to school and do the best she can for you. And in return she tells me, you are ungrateful and rude to her. Don't try to deny it, I have heard you with my own ears this very day, here in this very house. Do you think it's right, the way you have been behaving to her, my son?"

"I am not your son," Martin said coldly, spacing out the words for emphasis and almost adding 'thank God'. "What I do and what I say is none of your business."

"Now I don't think I can quite agree with that," Jarrell said with a sort of false reasonableness, "Nor would your mother agree I think. You're only, what is it, fifteen years old? You're not a man yet my son and nor will you be for some years. But even if you were, I am still your priest and your spiritual adviser you know."

"You are only my spiritual adviser if I let you be."

"My son, you were born Catholic, and as such you come under the guidance of our Holy Mother the Church, and I am your parish priest. You can't get away from that now can you."

"I didn't ask to be born, and I didn't ask to be born Catholic."

"Maybe not but you were through the grace of God, born and baptised Catholic, and like all of us, you are part of God's holy plan."

"Did God tell you what part of his plan I am?"

"Don't be silly my son, everything and everyone is part of His plan. But He doesn't tell us the details," Jarrell said in a patronising voice.

"Well," Martin said, knowing that he was being childish, but too angry to care, "If He hasn't bothered to tell you, perhaps you're wrong about it. Maybe I'm the one bit that doesn't belong in His plan and He doesn't give a damn about me."

"Martin, you shall not talk that way about God! You of all people should know better than that," Jarrell said, his patience wearing thin. "Show some respect."

Martin stood up. "I don't know why you think I should respect something I don't believe in anymore. And if I don't believe in your God or your Church there is no reason for me to go to your confession or your communion." He walked to the door, then turned, "And if you do see me in your church, it will only be to keep the peace!"

He went up to his bedroom and stood there for a minute, feeling reaction set in. His anger had sustained him during the interview but he felt no sense of victory. There was no way that this was going to be the end of it, his mother would make sure of that. Suddenly he needed to be with Jimmy. He made sure he had his door key and slipped quietly out of the house.

In the living room, Martha and the priest faced each other uneasily. Even after an hour's discussion, the only conclusion they could come to was that they had made the situation worse, though neither was prepared to admit it. Between them they had provoked the boy to defy his God, his Church, his Priest and his Mother, and they had nothing to show for it in return.

Martin found the walk to Jimmy's flat calmed him to a some extent. He went over the conversation with the priest in his mind and wondered where he had found the courage to say what he had. He certainly couldn't have done it a month ago, so what had happened to give him the courage now? He didn't know. He had been really angry at the time so maybe that was it. All very well, but now that his anger had died down he was starting to worry about the consequences, and his courage, if that's what it was, was beginning to trickle away. That the results of his defiance were going to be bad was a foregone conclusion. While it was one thing to defy the priest who had no real power over him, it was a totally different thing to defy his mother. He had to live with her.

Jimmy looked at his face when he answered the door, marched him up the stairs, sat down next to him on the sofa and said, "Tell me."

To Martin's horror, the sympathy in Jimmy's face made him burst into tears. It came completely out of the blue. One minute he had been worrying about what he had said to Jarrell, the next his throat had tightened, his eyes started streaming and he was crying. Without thinking Jimmy pulled him onto his lap and put his arms around him. For the next ten minutes, he made no attempt to talk or question Martin, he simply held him tightly. But this time, he told himself grimly, he's going to tell me about it if I have to force it out of him.

It took a long time. As he calmed down, Martin began to feel that perhaps it wasn't as bad as all that. He felt safe, comfortable and protected in Jimmy's arms, and would happily have just stayed like that, savouring the feeling, but Jimmy was questioning, then insistent, and finally adamant, and eventually it all came out. As he listened, Jimmy felt a strong urge to find the priest and punch him on the nose. The first priority though, was to hear exactly what had been said on both sides, then to advise and support Martin in whatever he decided to do.

"It's hard to know what you should do, kiddo," he said, breathing in the scent of Martin's hair, it hadn't occurred to either of them for Martin to get off his lap after he stopped crying, "But it seems to me that you have two alternatives. We'll forget about the confession and communion stuff, you've grown out of that but about going to Mass, you can either refuse to go and face the consequences which could be nasty, or you can keep on going to keep the peace as you said to him. I know," he continued as he felt the boy stir, "That would be giving in to them, wouldn't it? But does it really matter, except to your pride? I think that your mother probably sees the church thing as the most important, so why not use it as a lever to get some concessions out of her? If you don't go she could make things very difficult like taking you shopping every Saturday, and visits to relatives, or just keeping you in the house and staying there with you. I don't suppose she'd enjoy it any more than you would. But she could do it."

There was no need to emphasise that it would cut down their time together, Martin knew that as well as he did.

After a pause he went on, "I'll support you whatever you decide to do and you don't have to decide straight away. But you could think about agreeing to go to Mass, if she agreed that you can have all day Saturday to yourself. That way you trade a couple of hours of boredom on Sundays, which you're used to anyway, for a lot more hours the day before."

"I don't know if she would even listen let alone make a bargain with me," Martin said bitterly, "She just thinks I'm just a kid, Jimmy."

"Well you are one, Mart," Jimmy replied gently, "That's why I think that you've got to prove to her that you're growing up and you're not the little boy she thinks you are."

"If I go to church, she'll just think I've given in to her as usual," Martin said gloomily.

Jimmy had to smile. "Kiddo, you've been giving in to her all your life, so what difference is one more time going to make? Especially if it's all part of a cunning plan," he added theatrically.

"Just when I thought I was starting to stand up to her, you tell me to be a ... a wimp again."

"Mart, I'm not telling you to be anything. What I'm trying to do is point out your choices. You're the one who has to decide because you're the one who has to live with the consequences."

Martin was instantly contrite. "Yeah I know Jimmy. I'm sorry. It's just that I'm so tired of being a, a sissy. I'm fed up with being pushed around and bullied and having to do what everyone says. I wish I was tall like you," he said in a sudden burst of candour, "Then no-one would push me around."

"I like you the size you are, kiddo," Jimmy said tightening his hold momentarily, "And anyway, size has nothing to do with it. It's how you feel about yourself in here," he nuzzled the top of Martin's head, "And here," he went on, putting a hand on Martin's heart, "That is what's important. If you feel bad about yourself it shows to people, and they take advantage of you."

Martin was silent for a minute, enjoying the contact then asked, "Do you think I'm a, a wimp?"

"No I don't," Jimmy assured him. "I think that you've been told that you are, and you've believed it. But it isn't true.You don't have much confidence in yourself and really you should have. You've got a very good brain, you've got looks, you've got talent, you've got personality when you allow anyone to see it, and ... Jeeze kid, what more do you want?"

"I want to be like you," Martin said softly.

"Oh come on, Martin. I know I'm the greatest thing on two legs, tall, strong, brave, handsome. brainy, brilliant, and absolutely incredibly modest ... what are you laughing at you little brat?"

"Jimmy you kill me," Martin chuckled. "Stop it," he added as Jimmy tickled him, "Somehow you always make me feel better."

"Yes I know. It's because I'm tall, strong, brave, handsome ... " he broke off with an exaggerated gasp as Martin punched him lightly in the ribs, " ... and wounded! Seriously though, whatever people say to you, you're not a wimp, or a weakling, or a sissy or whatever people call you. You're a lot better than you ever give yourself credit for so don't listen to anyone except me, and believe what I tell you. I know you pretty well by now and a hell of a lot better than anyone else does, and I think you're okay. In fact I know you are. Trust me."

Martin heaved a sigh of content and nestled against him. "All right, I will. At least I'll try," he added cautiously.

When he faced his mother that evening, the faith that Jimmy seemed to have in him helped him to stand up to her. She was still very angry and immediately demanded to know where he had been. Tempted to say 'out', he managed to remain reasonably calm as she told him off although he had to concentrate hard not to start shaking. He waited until she had got it off her chest then told her that he had gone for a walk, to think.

"And am I permitted to know what you have been thinking about?" she asked sarcastically.

Again he had a mad urge to snap, 'no you are not!' but forced himself to reply quietly, "Yes. I was thinking that I didn't want to go to church ever again ... "

"Oh you were, were you?" she interrupted, "Well let me tell you ..."

It was his turn to interrupt as he nerved himself to say, " You didn't let me finish." It was the first time he had broken in while she was speaking, and it pulled her up short.

"What I was going to say was that although I don't want to go to church, I will if I can have Saturdays to do what I like. All day," he added, and waited for the storm to break.

His mother looked at him for a moment then said in a surprisingly even voice, "Don't think you can make bargains with me young man, you will do as you're told." She expected him to lose his temper or meekly give way, but he did neither.

"I'm not bargaining. I just think it's fair that if I do what you want about church, you should let me do what I want on Saturdays."

"And just what do you plan to do on Saturdays?" she asked. "I won't have you roaming the streets."

"I might go to visit friends or a see a film, and I was thinking I might try to get a Saturday job."

She didn't give him an answer, but as she hadn't rejected his olive branch outright he was hopeful that she would agree after she had thought it over. When he mentioned later, as casually as he could manage, that he was planning to visit a friend next Saturday, she simply told him he had to be home by six. He was so relieved that he made an extra effort around the house, and she was better pleased with him than she had been for some time.

Saturday was wet, blustery and far too unpleasant for anyone other than a masochist to go out, so he and Jimmy spent the day in the flat, talking and listening to music after Martin had finished his homework and spent a couple of hours at the typewriter. Jimmy had bought a book on touch typing and insisted that he spend at least half an hour working at the exercises before permitting him to do anything else.

Martin, who loved typing anything on the Brother, grumbled unconvincingly then set to and enjoyed himself so much that Jimmy had to drag him away from it by force when he brought him some coffee. Then he typed up what he had written during the week, but refused to show it to Jimmy on the grounds that it wasn't very good and he needed to work on it more. Jimmy ruffled his hair, he was finding it more and more difficult to keep his hands off him, and to his delight received a tentative hug in return.

After lunch, they debated again whether to go out or not, but settled for an afternoon in the warm flat. Jimmy was in a teasing mood and they were laughingly pushing each other about when Martin stepped back, caught himself on the corner of the breakfast bar, and yelped.

"Oh shit, Martin. I'm sorry, was that your spine?"

Martin nodded with his teeth clenched. The bruised muscles hardly troubled him now, but he had caught the bone which was still very tender.

"You'd better let me look," Jimmy said, leading him into the bedroom. "Lie down on the bed. No don't worry about your trainers, just do it."

Martin did as he was told and lay on his side facing away from him. Jimmy sat on the bed beside him, leaned across and undid his jeans.

"Roll over onto your tummy," he commanded, then carefully pulled them down followed by his underpants. The bruising, when revealed, was still startling. It had gone black, blue and yellow in parts. "Martin," he said worriedly, "Have you seen your doctor again about this?"

Martin shook his head. When Jimmy had ordered him onto the bed he had been sure that he would be embarrassed but he found he was enjoying the attention. Jimmy gently probed the area. It didn't seem to hurt except when he touched the last bone of the boy's spine which made Martin yelp again.

"I really think you should," he said, his hands resting on the small, firm buttocks. "You might have cracked something which didn't show up on the x-rays." As he spoke he began to massage the bruised skin gently.

"I'm okay, Jimmy. It's just sore where I banged it just now, that's all." His breathing had accelerated and his heart was pounding so hard he thought Jimmy would be able to hear it.

"Well I still think you should see someone about it. Shall I put something on the bruises?"

Martin was paralysed. This was the sexiest thing that had ever happened to him and he desperately wanted it to continue. His face went red as he forced himself to nod and mutter "Yes please." He was rapidly getting an erection and Jimmy, guessing what was happening to him had to forcibly restrain himself from turning the small body over so he could admire it. He went to the bathroom and came back with a bottle of embrocation, poured some onto his hands and very gently massaged it into the skin, carefully avoiding the bone.

Lying tense and hard under his caressing hands, Martin was relieved that his penis was bent over so uncomfortably. If it had been pointing at his navel with the ultra sensitive underside in contact with the duvet, he knew he would have exploded if he had made the slightest movement. As it was, if Jimmy didn't stop soon ...

At that moment the doorbell sounded, it's loud buzz shattering the silence between them. They both jumped. Martin didn't know whether to be pleased or sorry. To have squirted all over Jimmy's bed would have been so embarrassing he would have died, but the feelings inspired by Jimmy's hands had been so good and so sweet.

Jimmy in a similar state of erection was equally disappointed. The feel of the body under his hands had thrilled him in a way that astonished him. Go away he said mentally, trying to will whoever was ringing the bell to give up and disappear, but the bell sounded again, and then again. If it was someone who knew him they would have seen the parked mini and would know that he was in. Another ring of the bell seemed to confirm that it was a friend. Reluctantly he got up and went to wash his hands saying as he went, "I'd better answer it." He was conscious of the bulge in his jeans but Martin was too worried about his own state to notice.

As soon as Jimmy left the room, he lifted his hips to pull up his underwear and to his dismay, his released penis whipped up against his stomach. Though his jeans were not particularly tight it was going to show. Scarlet with embarrassment he decided that all he could do was leave his shirt hanging out to hide it. He hoped.

When Jimmy opened the front door, Marion was standing there.

"Hi Jimmy," she said, giving him a kiss. "I was beginning to think that you'd gone out for a walk or something." When he looked at her blankly she said with a frown, "I'm not interrupting anything am I?"

Jimmy came to himself with a jerk. "Sorry Marion. No, nothing like that. I've got a friend with me that's all." He hoped that Martin was presentable and thinking that it had to come sooner or later he said, "Come up and meet him."

Martin was sitting in an armchair with one leg carefully crossed over the other. Jimmy was relieved to see the loose shirt. His own bulge was still rather prominent and he hoped Marion hadn't noticed.

"Marion, this is Martin," he said as Martin got awkwardly to his feet. Seeing him through Marion's eyes, it suddenly hit him again how attractive Martin was. "Marion is my doctor's wife. And a very close friend," he added, smiling affectionately at her in spite of her untimely arrival.

She walked over to Martin holding out her hand. "Hi, Martin. Nice to meet you."

Her smile was so infectious, Martin found himself smiling in return as he took it.

Her mind seething, she openly appraised him. It can't be she thought, surely he isn't the person Jimmy told me he'd met? He's just a baby. Martin, his face flushed a delicate pink, looked about twelve years old. She turned back to Jimmy, still holding Martin's hand. "Golly, he's attractive," she said in such a natural tone that Martin flushed even more, though this time from pleasure. You couldn't suspect her of flattery, she obviously said the first thing that came into her head.

Jimmy smiled. "He is, isn't he. But you'll have trouble getting him to believe it."

Marion looked back at Martin, her head slightly on one side. "Maybe, but it's true all the same."

Martin who would bitterly have resented a perfect stranger discussing him as if he wasn't there found himself smiling even more broadly. Marion blinked.

"I'm in love with him already," she said firmly, linking her arm through his and walking him to the sofa. "Come and talk to me while Jimmy makes tea for us."

"He doesn't drink tea, he drinks syrup slightly flavoured with coffee." He grinned at Martin's injured look. Marion was about to pursue this when he went on, thinking he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, "He's the person I told you about. He wrote Food Source."

Marion stared at him for moment then turned to the boy beside her. "Honestly? That's truly incredible. When I read it I thought it had been written by an adult and now I find that it's you! How on earth did you do it?"

Jimmy went to the kitchen area, made coffee and put some biscuits onto a plate. He was surprised to find that by the time it was ready, Marion had put Martin so much at ease that he was explaining how he had come to write the story. When he thought how long it had taken to get the boy to open up to him, he could only look at her in astonishment. As he listened to them talking he was conscious again of a feeling of intense pride in Martin, and was pleased that he seemed to be making such a good impression.

Marion, listening to Martin with genuine interest was becoming more and more aware of his charm. He was attractive enough ordinarily but when he smiled he was really something, she decided. She could understand what Jimmy saw in him easily enough, but what he felt about Jimmy was a different matter altogether. For all his apparent openness, he seemed to have erected strong barriers around his feelings, and whenever they were approached too closely, he withdrew. Politely, but unmistakably.

As for Martin, he was enjoying himself thoroughly. To find a complete stranger taking such an interest in him was bliss and it had such an effect on his confidence that he only demurred out of politeness when Jimmy suggested that he show What Dino Saw to her. Jimmy's faith in the story was more than justified. She laughed hugely when she reached the end, and sincerely congratulated it's author. Only when Martin, drunk on her praise, innocently explained how the story had been inspired and then typed on the typewriter that Jimmy had given him, did Jimmy remember the dedication at the beginning of the manuscript. When she raised an eyebrow at him, he knew that he was in for a grilling as soon as they were alone. Meanwhile Martin had virtually dragged her over to the typewriter, sitting as always in pride of place on the breakfast bar, and was showing off its features.

"You can touch type," she said enviously, "All I can manage is two fingers and then I make hundreds of mistakes. Tim, my husband, is even worse than I am so I have to do all his typing as well. I wish I was as fast as you." This praise was so sweet to Martin that Jimmy, looking at him proudly, thought that he was glowing.

After Martin left, having refused Jimmy's offer to take him home, Marion wasted no time.

"He's a lovely boy Jimmy, I really like him. Where did you meet him?"

"I had trouble with the mini one day. It broke down outside his house and he got some water for me to fill the radiator. And like you, I liked him very much straight away and, well that's how it happened."

"Are you in love with him?" she asked bluntly.

For a moment he debated refusing to answer, then shrugged and said, "I don't think so. I like him very much and I think he's very attractive but ... Anyway," he went on, "How could I be in love with him, I was in love with Jon."

"Yes I know. At least, well I've thought about it a lot and sometimes I wonder if you were as much in love with him as you thought. No," she shook her head when he was about to interrupt, "I know you loved him, but it was the first time for you wasn't it. I mean, it was the first time you had ever fallen in love with anyone. So maybe it was what my grandmother used to call calf love. Something that only happens once in your life and is wonderful at the time because it's all new and overwhelming. But actually it's a phase that one goes through and then grows out of. It's nothing to be ashamed of and I think it happens to most people and is something that one needs to get out of one's system. I'm not trying to diminish what you and Jon had Jimmy dear, but I don't think it would have lasted forever you know."

"Marion, how can you say that. You know what he meant to me. I did love him, and he loved me."

"Yes I know. It was a first for both of you and in spite of everything that happened because of it, I'm glad it did happen. But whatever it was, love or not love, it's over now Jimmy. Nothing will ever bring Jon back and it's more than time for you to face it. I don't say that you will forget him, or that you should forget him, but he's a memory now my dear. A good memory and a mostly happy one, but still a memory. You must let go of him and start living again. And I'll tell you something else. If I'm right and it was calf love, it might have ended with both of you tearing each other apart. At least this way neither of you had to go through that, and it's something I'm truly thankful for."

Jimmy looked at her, pain in his face. "Marion, whatever way it was with Jon, even if it was what you think, it was still love. How then, could I fall in love with someone else? You can't love two people at once."

"I think you can in a way but I know what you mean. But think about this. It takes two people to love and if Jon were here now, yes, there would still be love between you. But he isn't here and he's never going to be here again. You have to face it Jimmy, and when you do, you'll be able to let him go, and be ready to love someone else."

Jimmy shook his head. "I don't know," he said slowly, "You've suddenly turned all my thinking upside down."

"Don't think about it then," Marion said quickly. "Let your subconscious do your thinking for you, as you're always telling me to do. It may take time but you'll see I'm right in the end. But if it's to be this boy, you will have to be very, very careful Jimmy, for his sake as well as your own. I get the impression that under that beautiful exterior he's very vulnerable, and he could be hurt very easily. Also he's ... how old is he actually?"

"I know he doesn't look it, but he's fifteen."

Marion smiled. "No he looks a lot younger. But I don't have to tell you he's under age just as you are. And the fact that you're older than he is won't help if things go wrong."

"Marion, nothing like that's happened," Jimmy said firmly.

"That's good. But if it does, like I said just now, be very, very, careful Jimmy."

Jimmy nodded and for the rest of her visit they spoke of other things. Only when she was leaving did they refer to Martin again when Jimmy said, "Are you going to tell Tim about him?"

"I don't keep anything from him Jimmy, he's my husband. But neither he nor I will speak to anyone else about it, not even Brian, unless you tell us we can. But it's going to be hard if he or Michael manage to get anyone interested in his writing. You won't be able to keep him hidden you know."

"I do know and it's been worrying me. You see he has a very hard time both at home and at school and it seemed important to me that people looked at his work, to encourage him if it was any good. And I was right, wasn't I. It is good."

"I think it’s very good, but whether it's publishable or not, I don't know. But I loved What Dino Saw, it was funny, and very clever."

"Well if his stuff is really good it will be worth it, though I hadn't thought about the difficulties when I sent the stories to Brian. Do you think we could say he's just a friend?"

"We'll do our best, I promise you," Marion told him as she gave him a hug, kissed him goodbye, and left.

She got home a great deal more worried than she had let on. Jimmy might deny that he was in love with the boy but he was undeniably attracted, and she knew from her husband something of the immense sexual pressures teenage boys were subject to. Something was bound to happen between them, but whether it would be a few simple acts, or become a full blown affair she had no idea. It would depend on the attractive Martin she decided, and as far as that was concerned, she hadn't the slightest idea what he really felt about Jimmy. He seemed to be very good at hiding his feelings.

She told Tim about it over supper, though he didn't make very much of it. He was simply pleased that Jimmy seemed to be getting over the traumatic events of two years before. He had always worried about the anger he had sensed in Jimmy after the trial, and hoped that he was getting over that as well. As for Marion's fears, he didn't feel that the two boys would come to much harm even if they did have a casual relationship. After all, many adolescent boys had them, grew out of them, and forgot them.

"But these two are different Tim," she argued. "Martin isn't a facile, uncomplicated boy with nothing but sex on his mind. He's highly intelligent and he obviously feels things very deeply. For heaven's sake, you read that story, do you think that it was written by a simple, unthinking teenager?"

Tim thought for a moment, frowning slightly. "No of course he would have to be a deep thinker to have written it, but that doesn't mean to say that he is going to feel deeply about Jimmy as well. It's probably just hero worship, which would be good for Jimmy. He needs someone to look up to him and for him to look after, and from what you've said it seems as if both things are happening. I think it's probably a good thing on balance. He deliberately cut himself off from people his own age after Jon died and has been alone far too much since then."

"I don't know whether it's hero worship or not that the boy feels, in fact I have no idea what he feels about Jimmy at all. But I'll tell you this Tim, and when you meet him I think you'll agree. When Martin is a bit older and more sure of himself he's going to be fairly awesome. And if he decides that Jimmy is the one for him, or even if he's not, Jimmy isn't going to have much say in the matter."

"Oh come on Marion, you don't even know if the boy is gay."

"Oh yes I do. I'm not sure if he knows it himself, but he is. Definitely. I could tell, just as I could tell about Jon when you first introduced him to me. There's a chemistry, a sort of spark that a women gets from a heterosexual man, or boy for that matter, but it wasn't there with Jon and it certainly isn't there with Martin. You can argue about it as much as you like Tim my darling, but in the end, you'll see I'm right."

Then she made sure that she had the last word by kissing her husband passionately on the mouth.

For some weeks Martin and his mother got on a little better. His docility about going to church in return for his Saturdays to do with as he pleased, soothed her immediate anger. But deep down that fact that he had dared to bargain with her in the first place, and got away with it, annoyed her. They were certainly no closer and they never really talked, but the house was more peaceful, which was a relief to them both.

Things were going on in that reasonably calm fashion when Martha, seeing the end towards which she had worked so long and so hard getting nearer, began to get more and more edgy, and consequently became more and more impatient with her recalcitrant son. There was nothing that she could really put her finger on, and that was part of the trouble. If she had found some major misdemeanour she could have given him hell and cleared the air. But there was nothing she could point her finger at, apart from his attitude towards his religion.

He was doing better at school, he was going to church, albeit reluctantly, and he continued to do his share, and more, of the housework. But there was something. A disinclination to jump immediately when she told him to jump, and a certain polite indifference in his attitude towards her which bordered on the insolent. He didn't treat the house like a hotel as her friends children seemed to do, at least to hear them tell it, but he was vague about what he did on Saturdays and was beginning to hint that he would like to stay with a friend for the whole weekend sometimes. But the thing that irritated her more and more, and was the only palpable thing apart from the length of his hair that she could really complain about, was that he still refused point blank to go to confession and communion.

Another interview with Father Jarrell had been totally unproductive. If anything it had hardened his attitude. He displayed less resentment at the presence of the priest at Sunday lunch than he had on the previous occasion, but when they both tackled him in the sitting room afterwards, he sat there without saying anything until they had finished, then calmly (although shaking inside if they had known it) stated that he was old enough to make up his own mind about it. Martha was convinced that it was sheer obstinacy, stared at him for a moment then lost her temper. She finished, after several blistering minutes which took the priest by surprise, by telling him that he was still a child and would do what he was told or she would know what to do about it.

Bracing himself, Martin stared back at her and asked in a slightly shaky voice if she was going to drag him into the confessional and then up to the communion rail in front of everybody. Had she seen the funny side of it and laughed, or even smiled, she might have been able to patch up some sort of agreement with him, but she took it as defiance and became so coldly angry that he was almost, though not quite, as afraid as he would have been several months previously. But he had grown up a lot since then, and in any case would rather have died than show any fear in front of the priest, who by now he cordially loathed. So he stood his ground.

Jimmy's acceptance of him as he was coupled with his open admiration buoyed him up, and he faced up to his mother without showing any of his inner perturbation, apart from his rather pale face. From that moment their relationship, such as it was, began to deteriorate past the point of no return.

Martin was soon to feel the effects of his defiance. Martha, worried about the image she was trying to present to her superiors and extremely stressed about her work in general, began increasingly to nag and bully him. She pulled him up for every minor fault and the fact that he seldom defended himself but merely, as she told him, looked at her with a smirk on his face, enraged her out of all proportion to his small peccadilloes. The net result was that his headaches started again, he began to look really worn down, and to make things worse, things began to go wrong at school as well.

As usual it was Ross who took the lead. Having decided that there were going to be no repercussions from the earlier episode and missing his daily baiting of Martin, Ross resumed his campaign, and to Martin's dismay, even recruited Alan into his ranks. It was quite obvious that every detail of the episode had gone round the school again, and as well as the vicious sotto voce remarks aimed at him by the hard core of his enemies, he had to put up with smirks, leers, and knowing grins from many of his contemporaries. Most of these ended with a glance at the front of his trousers and a not so quiet remark about his supposed enormity.

On a sensitive boy, unsure of himself and without the experience to know whether these remarks were true or not, the effects were devastating, and rapidly undermined his new-found confidence. The only respite in a life which between home and school was rapidly becoming intolerable was when he was with Jimmy. And even then, although beginning to accept Jimmy's frequent physical contact, a hand on the back of his neck when they were walking where no-one could see them, an arm linked through his or the occasional quick hug, he was unsure of what Jimmy really wanted from him, and even more unsure that he would be able to give it to him when he discovered what it was.

To shut out his problems, he threw himself into his writing, but the tone of his stories which had lightened and taken on an amusing twist began to darken again, and one or two that he was persuaded to show Jimmy, were downright vicious.

Then, just when he was feeling that he couldn't go on for much longer, Martha was invited to attend a conference in Birmingham. She would leave on Friday morning and not return until midday on Monday.

She explained to him how important it was to her career, and supposed he was old enough to look after himself while she was away. He noted cynically that when it suited her, he was quite old enough to do things that normally she wouldn't dream of sanctioning. In this he was being unfair to her. She had considered making arrangements for someone to stay with him, but had decided that he would bitterly resent it. She could though, have been a little more tactful about the way she put it. However Martin was so overjoyed at the thought of the amount of time he would be able to spend with Jimmy that he didn't really care, and even volunteered to go with her to visit her aunt, something which normally he had to be forced to do. He was careful though to hide his delight at her proposed absence, and to present his usual indifferent expression.

The intervening days were endless, and only the eager anticipation of the coming weekend got him through the increasing nastiness at school.

Martin's father and his partner had been pressing Jimmy to visit them for some time, and when Martin told him of his mother's impending absence, Jimmy decided to take up the invitation, mentioning casually that he might bring a friend with him. They were intrigued and assuming that he meant a boyfriend, suggested that they both came to tea on the Sunday. Steven decided to made a cake and to buy the ingredients for a meal in case the visit extended into the evening.

Jimmy also managed to get two tickets for Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier, an opera that Jon had loved and introduced him to.

With all preparations made, all that remained for Jimmy and Martin to do was to wait out the days until Martha's departure with as much patience as they could muster,

Martin woke early to bright sunshine on the Friday morning. There was the school day to get through, but he could cope with it, after all he did it all the time and today would be no worse. He had packed some casual clothes into his school bag, removing several books that he should have taken to school in order to make room. He had no intention of coming back to the house until Sunday night at the very earliest.

His mother was too busy with her own preparations to notice either his unusual cheerfulness, or that he had slipped his anti-migraine tablets into his pocket. He didn't think he'd need them but he wasn't going to have his weekend ruined by a headache if he could avoid it.

She reminded him (again!) about locking up carefully before going out, just as if he usually left everything wide open and an invitation to burglars pinned to the front door. He escaped at last, and went thankfully off to school enjoying the thought that Jimmy would pick him up the minute school was over. Neither of them intended to waste a single minute of their precious time together.

He got through the day without too much trouble and only the usual remarks and sniggers which he was able to ignore. And almost got away with it.

Then Ross came up to him while he was waiting near the gate for Jimmy, and slammed his head against the wall.

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