by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 3


'Everything's on track, Zeno, we're going to visit Mr. Schwartz. Bring your stuff.'

Zeno followed the Principal down the back steps and across the yard to the gymnasium. For a change it was empty of shouting kids practising gymnastics or karate or basketball. They entered, locked the door behind them and crossed to the poky office.

'Wait here and listen,' Mr. Noble whispered before knocking and entering, leaving the door ajar.

'Jarek, have you made up your mind or still thinking it over?' he asked.

'I've finished thinking' he said soberly. 'The plan's great. Exactly what I'd love to do, but there must be two reliable and trustworthy adults, not just me. No responsible parent would let their kids go away for a week with only one teacher and a senior student—especially not one of ours! The parents know them and their families and, quite frankly, they're trash. I couldn't work with any of them!'

'I told you to consider all the students from both senior years...well?'.

'There's one, but I can't imagine he'd be up for spending six weeks living with me and packs of mongrel misfits. Apart from anything else, he's only sixteen and his exams are too important.'


'That guy who arrived a few months ago—Zeno.'

The Principal opened the office door and called Zeno in. 'Did you hear that?'

'Yes.' Zeno grinned shyly at Jarek's astonished face. 'Sorry for eavesdropping.' He shot out his hand as if to ward off anger.

Jarek Schwartz took it and held on, staring into Zeno's eyes as if waiting for him to shout, 'Only joking, nig-nog! As if I'd want to spend six minutes with you, let alone six weeks!' When that didn't happen he frowned and asked seriously, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'

A bizarre feeling of paralysis overcame Zeno preventing him from freeing either hand or eyes. Slight vertigo accompanied a feeling that he was being sucked into the darkness beyond the teacher's brown eyes into a pool of lonely sadness.

Jarek looked away.

Zeno breathed again and retrieved his hand, experiencing an unexpected twinge of melancholy as he did so.

'Zeno doesn't know the plan yet, Jarek, I decided not to tell him until I knew you wanted him to assist. I'm sure he'll agree.'

'What plan?' Zeno was becoming annoyed with what seemed like cloak and dagger nonsense.

'The plan that all year eight and nine boys will have a week with you and Jarek; hiking, swimming and getting to know themselves and nature. There are six classes and seven full weeks left till the end of the year.'

'A week with us where?'

'I've a friend who has a cabin on several hectares of forest where he used to take his kids and friends on holidays and at weekends. There are three bunk rooms each sleeping four; an outdoor, covered kitchen area with a wood-fired stove; a small shower room with a couple of cold showers and washbasins; a decent sized recreation room for indoor games in case of rain; and a separate bedroom for the parents. He's now my age, his kids have quit the nest and the place hasn't been used for a few years. He's letting me have it for nothing as long as we tidy it up, make any minor repairs and leave it in good condition. He also owns a people-mover/minivan thing that could carry the whole family and their gear. It's still in good order but he seldom uses it so we can borrow that too.'

'That's seven weeks and six classes…what happens on the seventh?'

'That comes first. You and Jarek will spend the rest of this week getting the place ready for the first group of ten lads that you'll pick up next Monday morning. It'll be a rush for me to organise this end, but as they aren't asked to pay a cent for the week, only provide their kid with sheets and a blanket, I don't envisage any problems.'

'What happens to the girls?' Zeno asked.

'While the boys are sweating it out in the bush, they'll be enjoying female activities, whatever they are. I'll dump that problem in Ms. Medlar's lap. She'll moan about girls missing out, so I'll promise they'll be going next year. Let the next Principal sort out that can of worms.'

'What about the classes the boys are missing?' Jarek demanded.

'When those who aren't at the camp would normally be doing Physical Education, they can catch up on the subjects they miss while away. As every junior class has different exams, they're no problem.'

'How old are these kids?'

'Thirteen and fourteen.'

'They're not going to pay attention to me when they learn I'm only sixteen.'

'So we'll tell them you're eighteen. You look it, doesn't he, Jarek?'

'Yes, he does. I had to check your records twice before I could believe it, Zeno. How come you're so young?'

'After seeing the results of my entrance exam my first High School said I'd be wasting my time in year eight; but that's not the problem; what about my study and exams this year? Zeno demanded.

'I'll get you a copy of all teacher notes so you can study in the evenings, and Jarek will invigilate your exams, which we both know you will pass. Does that suit you?'

'I hope my parents will approve.'

'Once you tell them you've been expelled they'll realise it's better than sitting at home all day. How about you, Jarek, are you going to miss your girlfriend?'

'Fuck no!' Jarek exploded. 'It's a toss up what's the most attractive part of this exercise—getting out of school or having the perfect reason to ditch the bitch. She's been putting pressure on me to get married. Hell, she can't cook, she's messy, doesn't wipe the shower down, doesn't stick to the agreed jobs schedule! Certainly not what I'd describe as life-partner material.' He glanced sideways at the Principal, grinned to himself and added, 'The sex also hasn't been up to much for a long time. This is a brilliant way to get out without causing tears and recriminations. She needn't know I won't be coming back for weekends, and you'll promise to tell no one, especially her, where the camp is?'

'I promise, as long as you keep a few spare batteries for your mobile phones. There's no electricity or phone up there. I'll ring you every morning and evening. I agree there must be no visitors. It'd be a disaster for the kids to have stray adults arriving at odd times, any rapport you'd built up would vanish and they'd become self-conscious.'

Jarek turned to Zeno. 'How about you, Zeno, are you happy to spend six weeks stuck out in the bush with me?'

Zeno had been studying the teacher. Still in his P.E. Gear he looked lean but not mean. Natural tan. Thick black hair cropped like a helmet on a well-shaped head. Small ears. Strong square jaw. Prominent cheekbones. Thick black eyebrows. Dark eyes separated by two frown lines. Hooked nose. Determined lips. Heavy five o'clock shadow. Short black hairs covering arms, chest and legs. 'I can't wait to get there,' he grinned. 'Can I call you Jarek?'

Jarek's laugh sounded a little wild even to himself. He'd given up hope of the boss's plans ever coming to fruition, but now everything was falling into place his heart sang. He'd be out of the school for the rest of the year! He draped an impulsive arm round Zeno's shoulders and a faint smell of fresh sweat and an odourless gust of breath set Zeno's pulses racing. Jarek was healthy, clean and intelligent. This was going to be a zillion times better than school.

'And as you're now one of the staff, Zeno—albeit unpaid, you can call me Stephen,' the Principal said shyly.

'Wow! That's an honour, Sir—I mean Stephen, thanks!'

'Just makes me feel a little less ancient. OK, men. Time is of the essence so I suggest that as it's only three thirty we drive to the property so I can show you around—that's if we can use your ute, Jarek? The wife's commandeered mine as usual to ferry her tame nuns around or whatever she does.'

'Sure thing, Boss.'

'Then on the way back I'll introduce you to the owner. He wants nothing to do with this, so will leave you totally alone and expect you to do the same with him. As I mentioned, he's also prepared to lend us his minibus as long as we service it. You can check it out later in the week. Then tomorrow you can take your gear and any tools you'll need and start preparing the place for the first ten kids to arrive next Monday.'

While Jarek donned a tracksuit, Zeno rang his parents to tell them he'd be late.

They piled into the front seat of Jarek's mud splashed 4WD jacked-up utility truck in which he went bush most weekends, and forty-five minutes later turned off the sealed road onto a rough track that after a couple of kilometres ended at a small, overgrown parking area. Behind a dense hedge a track led about fifty metres to a substantial building nestling in a small clearing among giant rainforest trees and dense undergrowth.

'This is no cabin, Stephen,' Jarek said with a laugh.

The tall square structure constructed of rough sawn logs and roofed with tiles, was flanked on one side by a lean-to kitchen attached to a covered area for eating. On the other side a verandah protected the three doors of the bunk rooms.

'What do you want to do first? Inspect the buildings or the land?'

'You said there's a swimming hole so let's check that out first. I need to flush away the residue of all those sweaty kids.'

'Excellent idea,' Zeno agreed.

Stephen led them about a hundred metres down an overgrown sandy path to the swimming hole - a wide, placid, deep pool at a bend in the creek with a sandy beach on the nearest side and steep rocky banks on the other that dropped straight into deep water. The creek was a tributary of the river Zeno had been swimming in before his brush with Adele Nimffo. Rainforest regrowth that surrounded and overhung the pool would have suited Tarzan. There was even a rope attached to a high, overhanging branch.

'Come on Jarek! Race you!' Zeno left his school clothes in a heap on the sandy beach and raced into the water. 'It's great! Come on you two.'

Jarek hesitated.

'What's the matter?' Stephen asked.

'No togs.'

'It didn't worry Zeno.' Stephen seemed almost disappointed at the teacher's modesty.

'Didn't want to shock you,' Jarek muttered.

'I'm shocked that a guy who's proud of his bush skills and fitness thinks twice about skinny dipping in a place like this! Where's your sense of adventure?'

'You're right, I'm a fuckwit,' Jarek mumbled as he stripped and hurled himself into the water, swimming strongly across, then clambering onto the far bank to pose on a rock like a god, before diving in again. Zeno dived, grabbed hold of Jarek's foot and dragged him under. They chased each other through the water like kids, onto the sandy beach where they wrestled, then back into the water where Jarek escaped his pursuer's clutches by grabbing hold of the rope and hauling himself to the top using only his arms, then screeching like a monkey before diving cleanly back causing scarcely a splash.

Years of teaching and counselling had given the Principal a fair insight into the minds of both pupils and teachers. Jarek's manifest lack of interest in females, and Zeno's frank admission of similar feelings pointed to an obvious conclusion. Equally obvious was that neither realised. Normally this would not be a problem, but as they'd be together twenty-four hours a day and sharing a bedroom, Stephen thought it should be discussed sooner rather than later. The question was, how to broach it? With a sly grin he gathered up the young men's clothes and called, 'I'll go and open up the cabin. Don't be too long.'

Jarek and Zeno swung on the rope a few times, decided it was safe for the kids, swam a bit more, then reluctantly returned to dry land.

'Where are our clothes?' Jarek frowned.

'Stephen must have taken them.'

Back at the cabin Stephen told them he'd put their clothes in the ute. 'Didn't think you'd want to put them on till you were dry. Anyway, forget clothes, you look better without them,' he joked uneasily. 'Come and inspect your home for the next seven weeks.'

Jarek had no problem being naked, indeed it was his preferred state when alone; he simply felt awkward being naked with other people and was on the point of going to the utility truck for his gear when he saw Zeno blithely wandering around looking more comfortable than in his baggy school shorts and shirt. Silently he berated himself for his insecurity. It was pathetic to let ancient schoolyard bullying prevent him from doing what he wanted ten years later! Surely it was time to get over being called an ignorant savage? He used to wish his parents had never left Mauritius—until he read letters from relatives who remained there.

The warm air caressed his skin, his thighs caressed his balls, and a feeling that something good was on the way began to swell in Jarek's chest, only to shrink again when he reminded himself that nothing good happened to antisocial, self-conscious idiots like him. He knew that if he didn't change his behaviour he was doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past, but feared he had little hope of doing that despite three years of Stephen's praise and encouragement.

Deep in his soul lay an acid bath of memories telling him he didn't deserve success because he was unable to stand up for himself. For the last three years he'd toed the line in a job he'd grown to hate. Acted respectable—not that he wasn't. Always feeling as if he was negotiating a path through quicksand—one false move and he'd be sucked in and drowned. He hadn't told his girlfriend to pack her bags because he didn't want to hurt her feelings. He shook his head as if to dislodge an irritant and told himself not to be a fuckwit, but grab this chance to be himself, whoever that was. With a grin he slammed his fist into his other hand. 'Yes!' a soft voice whispered in his head. 'You're going to do and say exactly what you please! You're going to be honest! You're going to…' He laughed aloud. 'Perhaps I can't change completely,' he muttered, 'but I can at least modify my dopiness.'

'What's the joke?' Stephen asked.

'Me,' Jarek admitted. 'I'm laughing at what an anal-retentive-wanker I am.'


'And I'm going to loosen up.'

'Your anus or your attitudes?'

Zeno roared with laughter and gave Jarek a friendly shove into the large, high-ceilinged room, empty except for a couple of chairs. There'd be plenty of space for games if the weather turned sour, and there was loads of light thanks to high windows that encircled the room just below the ceiling. Doors pierced the centre of each wall. The one on their left led to an ablutions area containing two showers, two hand-basins and, through a door in the end wall, access to a small shed with a composting toilet. The door directly opposite the entrance to the recreation room opened onto the verandah of the three bunk rooms. Each could sleep four people, having bunks on either side of the door. The ablution block and the bunk rooms were in need of a good scrub, but apart from one broken window everything seemed sound. Even the mattresses that had been draped over the rafters to air were clean and not at all musty.

Returning to the recreation room Stephen opened the fourth door. 'This is your bedroom,' he announced with a flourish. It was a tiny space with just enough room for an old-fashioned double bed complete with mosquito-net frame, and a chest of drawers.

'A double bed,' Jarek said with a frown.

'If it worries you, I'm sure we could find a couple of singles,' Stephen offered.

'They'd never fit,' Zeno grunted, wandering to the outside door and opening it. 'It's a relief to see that all rooms have an emergency exit,' he observed.' Great view of the hills.'

'The view's not important if you're sleeping,' Jarek snapped.

'What's the matter, Jarek? Are you worried I'll snore or fart in bed?'

'No, it's just that I've never shared a bed before.'

'Not even with your girlfriend?' Stephen was laughing.

'I meant with another guy.'

'Well, if you're frightened I'll rape you in the night, I'll sleep in one of the rooms with the kids, there'll always be at least one spare bunk,' Zeno snapped, clearly thinking Jarek was being stupid.

'No, you won't!' Stephen stated firmly. 'It'll spoil the atmosphere for the boys if they have an adult too close. They'll think you're checking up on them.'

'Sorry, sorry, sorry. I'm being stupid, as usual,' Jarek muttered. 'Of course we'll share!' He threw himself onto the bed and patted the mattress beside him. 'Come on, partner, mark out the boundaries. Which side do you like?'

Relieved, Stephen wandered outside to sit and gaze across the valley to the far hills, remembering the happy days spent here with his friends before marriage and responsibilities and his wife's contempt turned his life into drear days of disillusion. He knew he'd never be fit and young again, but even when he had been he hadn't realised how precious and transient it was. Youth had definitely been wasted on him. He sighed at the ache that invaded his chest whenever he saw fit and healthy young people filled with energy and innocent hope. His life had been circumscribed by religious parents, relations, what the neighbours might think, educational expectations. Then when he became a teacher the demands of principals, and now other teachers and pupils. His whole life, he realised, had been lived obeying the whims of people he often didn't even like or respect!

As if that wasn't enough, the drab, narrow tunnel of his life became further constricted by the burden of a demanding and eternally dissatisfied wife. His approaching retirement was a double-edged sword; he'd be glad to leave teaching but couldn't face the prospect of spending more time with Violet. 'No wonder so many blokes my age top themselves,' he muttered sadly. He sighed impatiently and tried to relax using deep breathing exercises he'd found on the Internet. Eventually he drifted into a light doze.

The Principal's departure left Jarek and Zeno acutely aware of the proximity of the other's body.

'Do you wear pyjamas?'

'No, Grandma reckons they're unhealthy. You?'

'Don't own any, they always feel as if they're strangling me.'

'Yeah, me too.'

'So what happens if we accidentally touch each other in the night?' Jarek asked, unsuccessfully trying to sound unconcerned.

'Then I guess I'll have to kill you.'

'Ha! You may be slightly taller and heavier, but I'm leaner, meaner and stronger.'

'I'll knife you in the guts.'

'Is this religion speaking?'

'No way! I'm a freethinker.'

'That's a relief. So what does a freethinking sixteen year old reckon we should do if we accidentally rollover and touch each other during the night?'

'Being sensitive souls, it will be a dreadful shock to our psyches, so I guess we ought to prevent irrational reflex reactions that could result in maiming or death of the perpetrator, by desensitising ourselves.'

'Sounds verbose and flowery enough to be possible, but how?'

'Start with something we're used to and gradually move into uncharted waters until we learn to control our revulsion and violent spontaneous responses?'

'The only times I've touched men is to shake hands, or in sports like gymnastics and the occasional game of rugby. I've never touched a naked man.'

'We did battle in the swimming hole and wrestled on the sand only half an hour ago.'

'Ah, yes. I didn't notice. Enjoying myself so much I forgot we were starkers. But it's scarcely the same thing.'

'OK, let's start with hands.'

They sat facing each other cross-legged on the bed and held hands. After a minute their initial embarrassment dissipated and they were able to explore each other's fingers and palms, then move on to forearms, elbows and upper arms.

'OK, my nausea seems under control, so let's touch each other's heads then move on down.'

They leaned forward and ran fingers through hair, down over ears and around necks.

'I love your heavy beard stubble,' Zeno said dreamily, stroking Jarek's cheek. 'It looks so virile.'

'Thanks. But you're just as masculine. Are you sure you're only sixteen?'

'Sweet sixteen and never been kissed—by a man.'

Jarek frowned.

'What's it feel like to have a hairy chest?' Zeno said quickly to break the tension.

'Feel it and find out.'

'It feels sexy.'

Jarek suddenly twitched.

'Ha! Your nipples are as sensitive as mine. Fuck they're hard, like little steel points. Make mine hard too?'

'Like your tool?'

Zeno looked down and giggled. 'That's amazing; it never got as stiff as that with Ms Nimffo, or when my girlfriend sucked me off. 'Hey! You are too. Bet mine's harder!'

They tested the relative tumescence of their organ pipes then moved on to adjacent bits and pieces. When Stephen silently re-entered the room they were lying on their sides, gently masturbating each other while lightly brushing lips.

The Principal stopped, took a deep breath and regained control of his rational mind. There was nothing wrong with what the young men were doing. It was perfectly legal. He had always been outspoken in defence of minority rights, including sexual minorities, and had frequently abused both staff and pupils who vilified someone for their perceived sexual orientation. Surely, therefore, he had to act as if what they were doing was normal? If they were a man and a woman he wouldn't think twice about interrupting a bit of petting. Taking a deep breath Stephen said with a calmness that astonished himself, 'It's getting late, guys, I guess we'd better head off. I'll see you outside.'

'Fuck,' Jarek said when they were alone. 'Stephen saw us. He'll think we're queer.'

'Well we're not! We're adventurous children of nature. Come on. Let's get going.'

'What do we do with these?'

'Too late for a quick wank to reduce the tension so I guess we'll have to grin and bare them. Pun intended. If he wasn't shocked before he's not going to be now. Come on.'

It took an effort, but Stephen remained true to his recent vow and behaved as if two naked young men wandering around with rigid rods was normal, chatting calmly about plans while they locked up, returned to the ute and dressed. Then, as they drove away he realised with a shock that after a few seconds it hadn't been an act! He honestly did feel their behaviour had been normal! The understanding provoked a tiny smile of pride.

Misinterpreting the smile, Jarek's tension returned and caused him to ask nervously, 'Stephen, were you shocked when you saw us kissing and…and stuff?'

'The complete opposite, Jarek. Very, very relieved would be nearer the mark.'

'Relieved? Why?'

'Because it means you guys are going to have something to do in the evenings when all the kiddies are asleep. Because it means you like each other. Because you are both handsome, young, and energetic. Because you both looked so attractive together on that bed, swimming in the river, wandering round the hut that I felt like weeping—both from being in the presence of beauty, and from regret that I've never been like you. Never dared step outside the mould of other people's judgements.'

'Compliments will get you everywhere, Stephen, but you're much too hard on yourself. You're a really nice guy and an excellent Principal, and the kids like and admire you.'

'Kind sentiments, Zeno, but not shared by most staff members. If I'm honest I don't like myself much—at least not my prospects. But this isn't about me, it's about the two most promising young men I've had the pleasure of knowing.'

'You're not only a great Principal, but an A-1 guy, Stephen,' Jarek said with feeling. 'I'd never have lasted here without you. You're incredibly generous, and we really appreciate it, don't we, Zeno?'

Zeno secretly wiped away a tear and nodded. Too moved by Stephen's words to speak.

'It's bloody confusing, Stephen,' Jarek said slowly, determined to say exactly what he intended and remain true to his vow to loosen up. 'We want to continue doing… what we were doing... but we don't feel we're gay—we feel exactly like we did before—completely normal.'

'That's because you are normal! Get that into your thick heads! I've been a 'kids help-line' telephone counsellor for twenty years and there aren't many books I haven't read on the subject of homosexuality, because thanks to religious bigotry that's the most common problem of kids, and the most frequent cause of suicide. Unfortunately, because of my position as Principal I've kept a low public profile until recently, but now I'm about to retire I feel secure enough to speak publicly, as you'll know if you've been reading the 'Letters' page in the newspaper. Despite all the hype from gays as well as their supporters, there's no such thing as a gay person. Gay is just another pigeonhole to shove people into so politicians and administrators and red necks don't have to think. It let's them pretend same-sex-oriented people are all the same and not quite human or deserving of all the human rights accorded to heterosexuals! There's no such thing as a gay type, a gay mentality, or even a gay community.'

'That's a relief—I think,' Jarek said with a frown.

'I've attempted to counsel loads of depressed young men with homosexual leanings and they're all different. All just human sexual animals who, depending on the circumstances, can gain pleasure, comfort and courage from sometimes sharing themselves with other guys. Sane, healthy men have always done this. How do you think sailors coped at sea for years at a time, or hunters away for weeks? Soldiers on lengthy campaigns? For at least two hundred thousand years men formed loving bonds of friendship and trust with other men. Bonds often reinforced by sexual pleasure.

'Contrary to popular belief, these relationships strengthened the bonds of marriage with women and were instrumental in human survival when life was dangerous. If the husband died then his lover would take on the responsibilities. Women too formed deep mental and physical bonds with each other for similar reasons. '

'You're a fountain of knowledge, Stephen.'

'I've always been interested in social science and a recent article I read declares that sexual repression causes violence. Societies in which sexual exploration and activity is permitted from the outset of interest at about the age of twelve or thirteen, are the most peaceful. The reverse is also true. Thus the U.S.A., being the most sexually repressive democratic society is also the most violent and warlike. Sexual relations between men have been the norm in most societies until the dreadful plague of Judaism and its offshoots—Christianity and Islam—reared their evil heads.'

Stephen lapsed into silence, depressed by the truth he had concealed from himself all his life; he too occasionally desired intimate contact with another man. Not sexual, just an arm around the shoulders, the occasional brotherly hug would be enough, He had no doubts about his heterosexuality, but a sexless marriage with one jealous and overbearing woman had been a constant torment. He shook his head as if to clear it, then fearing he had been misunderstood restated his case. 'All I'm saying is that a healthy, normal man needs some form of intimacy with another man to feel complete. Women still allow themselves intimacy with other women; they are always touching, hugging, kissing, even sharing beds. Foolishly, men have let themselves be persuaded that male to male touching, friendship and love is sinful, and because they're denied easy intimacy, men retreat to the solitude of their sheds and alcohol; far too many descending into depression, impotence, misery and early suicide.'

They continued the drive in companionable silence, each digesting Stephen's words. Two consoled and excited; one in danger of sinking into a dangerously deep depression.

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