by The Composer

Nick - Allegro ma non troppo.

I could never have imagined that something that could tear your life apart could have started from something so trivial. It was such a small beginning, yet it was to shape us for years to come.

Can you remember those hot, slow, sunny summer afternoons when you were younger, one of those afternoons when there is too little to do, and too much time to do it in? It was a day just like that. With nothing better to do, I leaned on my windowsill, gazing idly out of the study window across at the school playing fields; white flannelled cricket players dotting the grounds. There was also the occasional figure to be seen walking from House to House, languidly, in the heat of the sun. Too hot an afternoon to hurry. Too hot an afternoon other than to stare aimlessly at the view.

Life at school could be like that. Sometimes too much time, sometimes, too little. This was one of those times when the afternoon, like life, seemed to stretch out endlessly. An afternoon of heat and idleness.

Another figure caught my eye below me as he walked out from the front door of the House. I could see only the top of his head. The hair dark, and slightly spiky. As he came out into the sunshine, a bright white shirt. It took me a minute or two to work out who it was. Ashley. A year below me. One of those poor sods working away for their GCSEs. But by now most of their exams were over. Some of the Fifths had already gone home for the summer, others were hanging about waiting for their last papers. That was all behind me - I had been there, done that last year. Thank God. But next year, the big one, the A levels - they were still to come. Well, that was twelve months away. Still time enough yet.

Ashley stopped, turned. Someone else came from below and walked towards him. They stood for a minute or two, talking in the sunshine, then slowly walked together down the path into the trees. Going for a smoke? I didn't care. I wasn't one of the prefect types, eager to bust offending juniors.

Then, with a bang at the door, the peace of the afternoon was shattered. I turned from the window. James pushed his way in and flopped down on the bed, looking up at me, as I stood leaning back against the wall. The entrance was typically James in style.

"Being idle again?" he asked. It was a rhetorical question.

James was perhaps the closest friend I had at school, yet he was unlike me in almost every possible way. He was tall, mature, athletic, bright without being academic. I am none of those - perhaps bright, certainly academic. I don't know how we had become friends, being such an unlikely combination, but starting at a new school together, in the same House, four years ago, probably had had a lot to do with it. A bonding experience, to use modern jargon. And when you were new in a school, your circle of possible friends was fairly circumscribed. More so still, with our House system.

"Well? You're not being your usual athletic self this afternoon," I replied.

"Dropped from the team," he said briefly.

"I'm sorry." To someone such as James that was important. I had never been in any games team, so it wouldn't have meant much to me. But James, mature when he arrived, had been in the A team from the start, had sunk to the Bs in the Fifth Form, and now, apparently, was even out of that. His slower growing contemporaries had finally caught up with him.

"Yeah, well, whatever."

There was silence for a minute or two. I was comfortable with silence. Then James started on what was by now his favourite topic: girls, and which of the many myths surrounding them were true. It wasn't really a conversation, more of a monologue. I just had to mutter the right things at the right time. This was a topic that come to obsess many of my contemporaries.

School was not a place where you became acquainted with girls; instead, you learned too much about the less desirable habits of teenage boys. Six hundred of them, all cooped up in one small space. And more intimately, with the habits of the sixty boys in House, cooped up in an even smaller place. Not always a pleasant experience.

James was not exactly what I would call a party animal, but I knew that in the holidays, he went round to parties at various friends' houses, and he seemed to have a wide acquaintanceship where he lived. Being at boarding school was odd: you became great friends with someone for weeks at a time, then when the holidays came you never ever saw them. James, for example, lived fifty miles from where I did. I had never got to know many people around home: being away at school for nine months of the year didn't help. We lived in a fairly remote spot, and I hadn't the same social ease as James.

All of which meant I wasn't as experienced as he was with girls; indeed, it would be fair to say that I had had no experience with girls - or, rather, what experience I had came vicariously from his stories. So there was little I could contribute to the conversation - or monologue.

James talked on, and I listened to him with half an ear. As I stared across the grounds, I noticed Ashley and his companion coming out from the trees, walking leisurely back to House. I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes. Certainly time for a cigarette. Then I recognised who he was with: Giles.

Giles had a reputation in the House - an unspoken reputation, but the vibes were there, for all that. He was certainly good looking, indeed handsome: blue eyes, floppy blond hair, slim, all the rest of it - almost a walking cliché of the public schoolboy. In this cloistered environment, he was the target for a lot of subliminal lust. And in a curious way, he didn't go out of his way to dispel this image. He also had a natural charm and grace that in one way re-inforced the image; in other ways, helped dispel it. What else had he and Ashley been up to in the trees, I wondered?

Then I thought that I was perhaps reading too much into an innocent stroll into some concealing woods for the sake of their nicotine addiction. They were friends as James and I were; they were of the same year, the same House. Indeed, with most of the Fifths now away after their exams, he and Ashley were about the only ones of their year left in the House. So it wasn't really surprising that they spent time together. It was perhaps my dirty mind. For deep down I knew that Giles had the same effect on me that I guessed he had on others. Not that they would ever have talked about it or even hinted at it: to be called "queer" was one of the more ultimate insults available, almost the nuclear option, and no one was prepared to risk that. Yet, I could sense, in the back of my mind, that many friendships in this environment went deeper than they might have done, even if neither of the two friends either quite realised how deep. And without girls around, boys like Giles became something of a substitute. Not that he was effeminate, far from it; but his good looks conspired against him.

Then James' next question caught my attention again. "Done the History essay yet?" he asked, dragging me back to the mundane. Two thousand words on the reign of Henry VII.

"Half of it. I'm saving the other half until prep tonight, since I've nothing else to do."

"Lucky sod. Be thankful you haven't got Woods for Geography." Woodie was well known for all the work he set to his Sixth Forms. "Done the reading for the essay?" I nodded. "I haven't done that either. I'd better go and start it."

Below me, Ashley and Giles were just entering the building.

"It's fairly straightforward stuff," I told him, "but there's quite a bit of it."

"Right. I'll go and wade my way through it. See you later."

I next saw Ashley and Giles at supper. I was supposed to be in charge of their wing of studies in the House - an easy enough job, as they were all quite reasonable characters. There were no real trouble makers in their year. It meant doing duties such as keeping them quiet during prep, and keeping order in general. I knew that with another group of juniors I wouldn't have coped so easily. Indeed, in the unlikely event of my being asked to be a prefect next year, I would do the unthinkable and refuse. I didn't want to waste my time trying to impose my non-existent authority on a bunch of recalcitrants like the Removes.

As part of the job, I was also in charge of one of the Fifth Form tables in the dining room. But now there were only the three of them left: Ashley, Giles, and Tom. It meant that there was often too much food as a consequence, which we didn't complain about, although the quality often left something to be desired. The consensus was, however, that Tom's four helpings of pudding at lunch were excessive.

I finished the History essay easily enough during prep, but James was still struggling, and, not for the first time, asked for some help. The trick was to give him ideas that were good but weren't too close to my own - our History beak was expert at sniffing out collaboration in essays. It was late when I got back to my study. James wasn't the fastest of workers.

In the gathering darkness I saw Ashley and Giles again coming from the woods. None of my business, I thought. If they want to make themselves nicotine addicts, that was their affair. I had already waged my war with tobacco.

The freshness of the evening air brought some relief from the heat, but even so, I didn't sleep. Tired of staring into the darkness, I eventually got up and switched my desk lamp on, and read for another hour or two. Then, book finished, switching the light off, I felt the need for a pee.

I opened my door quietly and glanced casually along the wing. A figure further down caught my attention in the darkness - my eyes hadn't yet adjusted from the brightness of the desk lamp. I couldn't see who it was. I stood and looked for some moments, waiting for my sight to adjust.

Someone was standing right at the very end of the wing, by the window. He had his back to me. He seemed as if he was half turned towards the window and half turned towards the door of the end room. I knew that room belonged to Giles. It was late for someone still to be around. Barefooted, I padded down the wing to investigate. Getting closer, I realised it was Ashley. He wasn't moving - just standing there, motionless.

I got closer still, and reached out to him, then drew my hand back. He was wearing only boxer shorts, and the upper part of his body was sharply delineated against the faint light of the window. I couldn't work out what he might be doing.

"Ashley?" I whispered, barely audibly.

He jerked round - "What?" - then saw me, and relaxed fractionally. "Oh. Nick. It's you."

"What's the matter?"

He said nothing for some moments, then: "Nothing."

He moved a pace away from Giles' door.

"Couldn't sleep?" I asked.

He considered this for a moment then nodded. "That's right."

"Neither could I."

He nodded again and turned to make his way back to his room. The door was open and the room relatively bright; the curtains weren't drawn, and so close to midsummer the sky was still light. A half moon hung above the horizon.

I paused in the doorway and looked in. His behaviour was certainly a little odd. "Are you OK?" I asked. Everything was so quiet and still that I found myself whispering.

He nodded. "Yeah." But he stood in the middle of the room, again not moving, head down.

I came in slightly further into the room, and again would have touched him, but a gesture which would have been acceptable fully clothed suddenly took on a new dimension, seeing him standing there in only his shorts. Suddenly, I recognised from those indefinable gestures of body language that he was aroused: the heat seemed to radiate from his body, his lips were parted, his eyes unfocussed, his nipples now visible in the light from the window, hard. His arms were hanging loosely by his side, fingers half curled. I swallowed - I could feel my own body responding. I didn't know quite how to handle this one.

He turned half toward me. I stood, fixed, waiting.

"It's OK," he eventually said. "I'll be all right."

"You don't seem all right," I ventured, cautiously.

He moved slightly toward me. I had an overwhelming impulse, not to seize him, or molest him, but just to reach out and touch his arm. The heat radiating from him was even more powerful now.

"It's ..." he stopped.

"It's what?"

Again he shook his head. "Nothing."

And again he moved toward me, but now I could sense the moment had passed.

"I'll be OK," he said eventually. "Thanks anyway."

I lingered, but then turned away.


"Night," he said, and I shut the door behind me.

I leant against the closed door, the wood hard and cold against my back, making me shiver. I needed that contact: my own body's reaction was leaving me shaking - but not with cold. The attraction of Giles was easy to rationalise - he was pleasing almost in an aesthetic sense, as almost a work of human art - but Ashley, standing there in his room, had had a raw sexual appeal that I had never experienced before. Not like this. I knew I was a late developer, unlike James who had arrived at the school fully physically mature, but never before had my hormones assaulted me in this manner.

It was a long time before I fell asleep, lying staring once more into the darkness, those images of Ashley flooding my mind.

I felt like death at breakfast. Ashley, looking as if he had a hangover, kept his head down over his cereal bowl, not making eye contact. Giles tucked into his breakfast, fresh and innocent looking as usual. Innocent? Probably, despite the attentions he sometimes received, and which were not entirely repelled. Tom was apparently oblivious to any atmosphere; stolid, chunky, recovering from acne, and not the most aesthetically pleasing sight. His body hair attracted much attention, with expressions of revulsion and references to the other hominids from his contemporaries.

James looked at me as we came out of Chapel and stopped. "Are you OK?"

I felt a role reversal: I had asked the same question of Ashley last night. I gave the same reply.

"Yeah. Fine."

He looked at me again. "You don't look OK. More like death warmed up."

I shrugged. "Maybe. Didn't sleep too well last night. Too hot. You know what it's like."


But much of that heat had come from the interior.

The morning's lessons passed in something of a blur. I handed in the History essay. I felt detached from the world about me. Conversations went on around me, whilst I contributed not a word. But being quiet anyway, this didn't arouse much comment. Lunch was a torment again. Adolescent angst, I told myself. It'll pass.

That afternoon I stood at my study window yet again, looking out, and saw Ashley and Giles make their way once more across to the woods. The memories of last night came back hotter and sharper: the silhouette of Ashley against the light from his window. His body, with its shoulders broadening out. His legs now more muscled, not as boyish as it had been only a few months ago. His boxer shorts, now slightly too small for him, and what they had outlined.

At lunch I had watched his hands, his wrists emerging from the cuffs of his white shirt, the brown of his skin contrasting against the brightness of the sleeve. I knew then that I was in love - or at least, in lust. Or perhaps at that time the word didn't cross my mind. Boys didn't love other boys. There was sex, but in the mind of adolescents sex was divorced from love. Love was what happily married couples shared. Your mother and father might be in love, but the idea of them having sex seemed unimaginable. Sex was physical release, the urging of the body. And now my body was urgent. Those hormones had finally caught up with me, and I was in a daze of heat, my mind swimming with erotic images which were trying to become more and more solid.

But I knew with a cold rationality at the back of my mind that the situations my over heated imagination was beginning to set up belonged to the world of fantasy. Ashley might be driven to Giles - indeed, I could, all too easily, imagine them now, writhing in bed together - but to Ashley, I was authority, the Wing Monitor, older, someone removed from friendship by position. I turned away from the window and the sight of the two of them, desperate for a diversion of some kind.

I rummaged in my locker, and picked up my towel and swimming costume. I was no athlete, but the coolness of the water was always welcome, and I could swim up and down the pool in my own time, making my clumsy strokes.

And the pool was deserted, the rest of the school outdoors at cricket, or just enjoying the sunshine. I could take my time, enjoying the buoyancy of the water. After ten lengths, my own personal standard, I stood up in the shallow end, relaxed by the exercise. Then came voices and noise. Half a dozen Removes came from the changing room, pushing each other around in horseplay. I knew most by sight, but no more. They saw me in the water, but ignored me, carrying on with their fooling around.

Then, for me, the most appalling thing happened. I looked at them, at their bodies in their swimming costumes, and was aroused by them. Not now just Ashley, or even Giles, but the adolescent body in general. Quickly, and in disgust with myself, I lowered myself into the water for its coolness to take effect.

They were splashing around in the water now. As if they were not there, I swam slowly to the other end, and climbed out, not glancing or looking at them. Their noise followed me through to the changing room, which, thank God, was empty. I sat on the bench, dripping water, my head in my hands. I felt worse than I had before. I changed slowly, and walked back to House lightheaded in the sunlight.

Back in my room, at least the exercise had had one beneficial effect, tiring me out, so much so that I lay down on my bed and went out like a light in a deep and dreamless sleep. It seemed like just a moment later when James burst into my room: "Are you OK?" he asked yet again that day.

I sat up, groggy from the sleep. "Sure, why? I was just dozing."

"You've missed supper."

"God." I looked at my watch. Twenty past seven. "It must have been the sleep I missed last night catching up with me."

Jack looked relieved. "I've been worried about you today."

"Why's that?"

Momentarily he looked embarrassed. Then: "You've been acting odd all day. Then missing supper like that. I thought something might be wrong."

I stood up. "Thanks. Nothing wrong really. Put it down to adolescence. Growing up and all that."

He smiled slightly. "You always were a little behind the rest of us."

"Hmm. And now I'm catching up. Is it worth it when you get there?"

Now he looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"Being grown up, I mean. Is it worth it?"

He was out of his depth now. "What do you mean? We're not exactly grown up yet."

"Never mind."

The prep bell went, which dug me out of the hole I was getting into.

"Better go," said James.

He was Wing Monitor for the Removes, an unenviable task given that lot. But he had the natural authority to cope with them. I realised then that he would probably be Head of House next year.

I gave him a smile. "Sure. I'll be OK - see you later."

He lingered a moment, then left. Duty called, and James was a great one for duty.

I sat down at my desk, and shuffled the pieces of paper scattered there. I had work to do, but was in no mood to even start on it. Instead, I gazed across the fields without seeing anything. By the end of prep I had done no work at all, my latest essay unwritten.

Crashing out like that in the afternoon meant, of course, that I couldn't sleep that night. I lay on my bed once more staring into the darkness. Then, impelled by memories of the night before, I got up and walked out into the corridor, down along the wing to the window at the far end. Giles' room was just to my left. The moon illuminated the trees, the leaves unmoving. I stood there for a long time, sightless.

Then there was a noise behind me. I swung round. Someone was behind me.

"Who's that," I whispered, spooked.

The figure came slightly closer. "Ashley," it replied.

I leaned back against the wall. The brick was cool against my back.

"Are you OK?" he asked, standing a little way away, uncertainty in his voice.

Role reversal yet again. I nodded. "Yes, I'm OK."

"You were standing there for a long time."

"Yeah, well."

We both stood there, a few paces apart, staring at each other, neither of us moving, neither of us speaking, and time seemed meaningless. Then I sighed, and slowly, I began to pad back down the wing. Ashley fell in alongside. We stopped at the open door of his room.

"Sure you're OK?" he asked again, looking at me in the dark.

"Not really."

He touched my arm. This is where words fail. There are no words to describe the feeling he produced in me - or perhaps there are words, but they have been cheapened by over use. All I can say is that the effect was truly electric. I couldn't help the intake of breath, the quick shudder of my whole body. I shook; my knees weak. His fingers stayed there.

Then they gripped my arm gently. I followed him into his room. He was standing very close now. Although I couldn't see him clearly, my mind drew every outline of his body. I could imagine his boxer shorts, and how he filled them. I closed my eyes. But the image was still there.

Now I could feel the heat of his body once again. He was even closer now - his breath brushed my cheek. Still I could not move, nor would I have wanted to. Now his body was touching mine. I could feel the skin of his shoulder against mine. Involuntarily I moved towards him, so we were pressed together. I stood, unable to move, holding my body as straight as I could. I was scared to go any further, yet I was scared of what I might miss. His groin against my leg. Hot again. He pressed himself against me, again, harder, then shuddered violently, gasping.

"Oh ..."

I could feel the sudden wetness through the thin cotton material. He leaned against me, the tension gone, his breath panting. He gasped for air. I held him for a few moments. Then he pulled away, his breathing harsh.

"Sorry," he said, his voice panicky. "I didn't mean ... that ... to happen. I'm really sorry."

I found I was holding his arms again. "Don't say sorry."

"What?" confused.

"You don't have to apologise."

"But," his voice miserable now, "that was a horrible thing to have done."

"Don't apologise. You couldn't help it."

"I suppose."

He hadn't pulled further away from me. I was still holding him.

"It happens to all of us."

"But ... like that ... it's embarrassing." His voice changed, less uptight. "And messy, too."

"Yeah, well."

He did pull away now. And then I realised he was pulling his shorts down, inspecting himself, wiping himself. He threw the boxers into the corner of the room. There was a sharp smell in the air.

Now he was standing there, nude, only a pace or two away. Was this an invitation? Should I reach out again? I hesitated, unsure, scared again. Scared of what his reaction might be if I did. Then he turned away from me, and rummaged in his locker for fresh shorts. He wriggled into them and turned back.

"Look," he said, slowly, awkwardly, "sorry about that. I didn't mean it to happen. It ... just did."

"It's OK. Don't worry. Forget it."

"Yeah, well."

He stood there, and now I realised he was waiting for me to go. I was an embarrassment to him, and the moment had gone. There was no bringing it back. I opened the door.

"Good night."

"Night." Not that I slept. Instead, my mind was filled with what had just happened. Should I have made a move toward him? Part of my mind regretted not having done so, another part was horrified by the idea. I tried writing in my mind the essay I should have written during prep, but without success. My thoughts came back to Ashley time and again. And how could I face him at breakfast the next day? The sky was light before I managed a restless sleep. And then at half past seven came the sound of Tom, going down the wing, knocking on the doors to wake people. His hammering was unmistakable.

The next morning's lessons saw me on automatic pilot. I muttered answers to James' questions. I sat through lessons unthinking. Macbeth interested me not. At the end, we were asked for our essays on the imagery of the witches' scene, that which I had left undone. I had to raise my hand.

"I haven't done it, sir."

The eyebrows came down, then back up in enquiry. "Why not?"

"I don't know, sir."

Knight looked perplexed, uncertain. Was I being insolent?

"I'm sorry, sir. It's not ..."

"Not what?"

I took a deep breath and started again. "I'll do it this afternoon, sir, and bring it to your study."

"OK. At least you've told me. Honesty is the best policy. My study, before five."

"Yes, sir."

At least the essay would occupy the afternoon.

James was back into the cricket team now, and had to hurry off after lunch to nets. I sat down at my desk, ignoring the view, the sunshine, and anything else, immersing myself in Shakespeare. If nothing else, it served to take my mind off other things, and by five, I had finished the last sheet of foolscap.

I took it down to Knight's study - he was our Housemaster, as well as teaching us English Lit - and knocked on the door.

"My essay, sir."

"Oh, right. Put it there with the others." He looked at me. "This is not like you. You're normally very punctual with your work."

I stood, silent, with nothing to say.

"The adolescent silences. Do you want to tell me about it, whatever it is?"

How could I, even if I had wanted to?

"Not really, sir."

"Hmm. Is it private then?" I nodded. "Too private to talk about?" Another nod. "Not home?"

I looked at him, meeting his eyes. "No, sir, not home. Just as you say - adolescence."

"Well, it happens to all of us. I thought you had escaped."

There are some things you cannot escape from. I shrugged, becoming the archetypal sullen teenager.

"Ok then. Thanks for the essay. Don't let it happen again."

I left him to go back to my room, passing Giles on the stairs, who gave me a quick smile as he went by.

At least at home you could avoid people. Here, you were forced into close proximity with them. And did I really want to avoid Ashley?

That night saw me at the end of the wing once again, standing by the open window, the night air cool against my skin. I stood there a long time before hearing a noise behind me, the noise I had been hoping for, the noise of a door opening. Ashley was standing in the entrance to his room, staring at me. I looked back. He took a couple of steps down the wing, and I found myself walking toward him. We stopped a few paces apart, looking at each other in the faint light. His hand came out to touch my arm once more, and I followed him into his room.

Again we stood there, very close, the only sound being the sound of our breathing. He came closer, and we touched, then steadily he pressed his body against mine, touching almost from head to toe, his breath warm against my ear. We were both shaking a little.

I put my arms round him, my hands on his back, his skin warm. His hands gripped my shoulders. He pushed harder. His breath was faster, more ragged. Then he took his hands away, and I could feel him tugging at his shorts. Now he was against me again, and there was only the thin cotton of my own shorts between us. Not believing what I was doing, I put my arms round him, feeling the smooth skin of his back. I pulled him closer. Ashley, nude, holding me like this. And me holding him. The substance of my dreams - made flesh.

"Oh, God. You don't know what you do to me," he gasped.

His hands reached for my shorts, clumsily, and I pulled them off myself, as he pushed me down onto his bed.

He was on top of me now, almost panting, his arms clutching my head. His erection felt enormous against my belly, hot and rigid. He started moving up and down, and I gripped him, moving in response.

He cried out now. "Oh God." The motion of his body quickened, and I felt the hot wetness, and myself responding, an orgasm such as I had never experienced before. He collapsed onto me, gasping for air, his whole body limp across mine.

And I lay there under him, my own muscles unable to respond after such relief.

I don't know when it was that Ashley stirred again - we must both have fallen asleep. He muttered an apology. "You must be squashed flat."

"No, it's OK."

Not true. Parts of me ached ferociously at being pinned down, but I wasn't going to let him move unless I had to. I moved my arm up, and nearly put it on the back of his neck. Too intimate a gesture to make. That sounded stupid, with our two bodies pressed together as they were, but, as I knew, sex and love were two different things. And sex was what had impelled Ashley - me too, if I were honest. He might understand what we had just been doing, but not a lover's caress.

But he stirred, then almost giggled. "We're probably stuck together now."

I could feel his organ, limp now against my belly. We had certainly both come hard enough to cement us together for life.

He rolled off me, and put his hand down to his belly, and I to mine. No longer sticky now, but I could feel the stiffness of our dried emissions.

"That was immense," he said, with a touch of awe in his voice.


His head turned towards me. "Were you waiting for me out there?"

"Yes," I admitted.

"I thought ... " He stopped.


He changed tack. "I'm sorry about last night."

"I told you - don't be. You couldn't help it."

"But tonight - I wanted to do that. I needed to."

"So did I."

He was silent for some minutes, then sat up. "It's four o'clock."

And the early dawn light was beginning to come through the curtains. I knew when it was time to go. I sat up too, then started groping for my shorts. Ashley laughed softly.

"I was ready to rip them off you."

"You nearly did."

Another silence, and I stood up, pulling on my shorts.

"I'd better go."

"Yeah ... OK."

When this time Tom came hammering his way down the wing, I woke almost instantly, awake, alert. The world seemed a brighter place. I didn't know it then, but I was falling in love. And that always makes the world seem brighter. I showered briskly, and made my way down to breakfast, happier than I had been for days. James was at the entrance to the dining room and saw me.

"You look a good deal better this morning."

"Thank you."

"You looked like death yesterday."

"Felt like death. Still, I feel a good deal better today." I didn't say why.

He looked at me more closely. "Something's happened to you."

I shrugged then smiled. "You think so?"

"Well, you're back on form again. Welcome back to the land of the living."

Breakfast wasn't as bad as I had feared. My mood was too buoyant. Ashley tackled his cereal as usual, head down, not talking to anyone. I could sit there and afford the luxury of an occasional glance.

But my state of mind must have communicated itself to the others. Giles looked at me.

"Who rattled your cage this morning?"

I looked at him and smiled. "Down, boy."

Giles looked disconcerted. Tom glanced up and then stared at me, a long stare. Then: "You could almost swear he's in love."

I would never have expected such an insight from him. I stopped chewing for a moment, and could feel my face going red. I was without words. Ashley took the opportunity to carry his cereal bowl away, and leave the table. Giles looked at me, quizzical.

Attempting bravado, I looked back. "Don't worry, you're safe - it's not you."

He flushed slightly and looked down at his plate.

I turned to Tom. "And you can mind your own business." I surprised even myself with the authority in my voice.

Breakfast was silent after that.

That evening, I lay in bed, wondering when and how to make the next move. How to plan a repeat performance without seeming too eager. But all my anticipation was in vain: I was so tired that I fell asleep whilst still thinking about it.

I didn't sleep that long, though. I was wakened by the sound of the door opening. Still only half awake, I was trying to work out what was happening. I stirred, sat up. Then Ashley slid under the covers next to me. He had removed his boxer shorts first.

Who says it isn't as good the second time round? Perhaps less urgent, but more relaxed. More comfortable with the feel of each other's bodies, more comfortable with the touch of skin against skin. We had lost some of our inhibitions.

And afterwards, Ashley lying on top of me, I stroked his back. He lay relaxed.

"I couldn't wait for you," he murmured.

"And I had fallen asleep. I'm glad you came."

He lifted his head up, although I couldn't really see his face in the dark, staring down at me.

"I'll come again," he said, amusement in his voice at his own wit.

"As often as you can."

I could feel his body stirring against mine again.

"This is so good," he murmured. "I wish it could go on for ever."

"So do I. So do I."

This time the sun was almost up by the time he slipped out of bed to return to his own room.

In lessons, I could hardly keep awake. Lost sleep was trying to catch up with me. I could feel James' sideways looks, but was too happy to care. I could crash out in my study in the afternoon, making up for the sleepless night. And looking forward to what might come later.

That night Ashley visited me again, and our inhibitions faded further. By now I knew his body, by touch if not by sight, almost as well as he did. I knew what excited him, what would make him ask for more. Not just sex now, but perhaps love as well. But, as the dawn came, he sat up and told me: "I can't come here tomorrow night. I'm sorry."

"Why's that?"

"I've got my Greek exam the day after. It's the last one. I'll need the sleep."

"Fair enough."

"I'd better go now." He put his hand on my chest. I thought he was preparing for one last time, but he took his hand away again, and reached down for his shorts.

"I'll miss you," I said.

"I'll miss you too. But I'd better go. See you," he whispered, and padded through the door.

I could live without Ashley for one night. Perhaps. But there would be other nights - wouldn't there?

But survive I did - the next night I was able to sleep the sleep of the innocent. And at breakfast the next day I wished the three of them well in their last exam.

It was during History in the afternoon that the thought struck me. If he had finished his exams, would Ashley now be going home for the summer? After all, there was nothing left officially for him to stay for. And when would he be going home? Today? He hadn't said anything at all about it. I had a sick feeling of apprehension. The thought of being without him - perhaps for the rest of term, perhaps for ever - made me hollow and sick.

As soon as the bell went, and we were dismissed, I picked up my books, ready to dash. James wanted to talk to me, though, something to do with the arrangements for prefects for next year. I answered him almost monosyllabically, not hearing what he was saying, tearing myself away, leaving him staring after me. I ran from classroom to House, bumping into people on the way, ignoring whatever was said to me. Up the stairs, along to our wing.

Ashley's door was open. I went in, still clutching my History books. He was sitting on his bed, his trunk open in front of him, putting in the last of his belongings, ready to go. His room was bare, the books off the shelves, the posters off the walls, the bed stripped.

He looked up briefly. "Hi."

I stood there looking at him. "You're packing?" A stupid question.

He nodded. "Mother's coming for me at six."

I sat down in his chair, disbelieving. He looked up at me again. His face, which I had hardly seen in the dark. His body, concealed by the white shirt. Neither of us said anything. He was staring at his trunk again, head down. I looked at the top of his head. What was there to say? How could we say it?

There was no chance of arranging to meet in the holidays. That which had seemed natural enough in the dark of the Fifth Form wing, in the hothouse environment of the school, would seem shabby, or worse, in the daylight of the world outside. The arrangements we would have to make to be alone together ... boys didn't make dates with boys. Ashley was beginning to look more and more embarrassed. But I couldn't just leave things there. I couldn't just let him leave, not without a future of some sort to look forward to.

He cleared his throat. "We could always ..."

Then the door swung open, and Giles was standing there. "That Greek paper - it was a complete swine ..."

He stopped what he was saying when he saw the two of us sitting wordless. Neither of us said anything in return. Then he sensed the atmosphere. He stood looking at the two of us, each wrapped in thoughts of the other.

"Hmm," he said finally, "my word, Tom was right. You are in love." He looked at each of us in turn. Was there a hint of jealousy, of envy, of malice, of spite, there?

Ashley made an incoherent noise of protest.

"Going home then, Ashley? Summer holidays?" he asked.

Ashley nodded. "Being picked up at six."

It was difficult to hear his voice. It was difficult to hear anything.

"Oh. Right. Pity about that. We'll miss you, won't we, Nick?" Then he looked over at me with a gleam in his eye. He paused, then: "I'm staying on to the end of term."

His meaning was obvious, the message clear but unspoken. Ashley looked over to me, a hint of anger in his eyes. It was my turn to look down, not knowing what to say to either of them in reply. There was nothing coherent I could say. It was too painful to stay any longer.

"I'll be in my room," I muttered, getting up. Neither of them moved, then Giles stood away from the door. I brushed past him, out into the corridor, leaving them together, as I walked down the wing, back to my study.

Six o'clock came and went. No one came to my room. I saw a car below, but couldn't look. Couldn't bear to see whether it was Ashley driving away. Then seven o'clock, and time for supper.

"You're looking like death again," said James, as I passed him. I couldn't stop, I couldn't reply, I couldn't say anything. And now, at our table, there was just Giles and myself. Well, three of us really: Giles, myself, and the knowledge we shared between us. He tried making conversation, but got no reply from me. Just as supper was ending, he said: "Well, don't forget I'm around - if you get lonely later."

I would have sworn at him, but, as usual, he had timed things just right: the bell was rung for the end of the meal. He left, smiling.

That night, in the dark, hating myself, I made my way along to Giles' room. When I went in, he was asleep, his back to me. I slid off my shorts, and slipped into his bed.

"What?" He turned. Then: "I was expecting you."

And under the bedclothes he too was naked.

He rolled onto me and took my head in his hands. He kissed me. My first kiss from another boy. Ashley and I had never done that. I had been wrong - Giles was more experienced than I thought. More skilled at sex too. But as he brought me to climax, his hands sliding up and down me, slippery with the cream from his bedside locker, I yearned for the raw sexuality of Ashley, for the innocence of sex that he had possessed. Giles might be more expert in the ways of the body - but there was a hole in my heart that he would never fill.

Ashley - Andante, pastorale.

The drive home back from school was dreadful - I was so mixed up about things, and I couldn't sort them out in my mind. A lot of it is too embarrassing even to think about - particularly now I'm back home again. Half of me can't believe the things I did - we did - together. Or the things he did to me. Half of me wants to carry on doing them again and again. Half of me thinks it was all horrible, and never wants to do them ever again. That's too many halves, I know, but it's so confusing. There's another half too: shame at how I treated him, not even telling him I'd be leaving early or anything.

But now I'm home I can't apologise to him, or see him again, and we couldn't ... well, I tried not to think about that. For two minutes anyway. Then the memories would come back, and I would think about them for what seemed like for ever.

Unless I rung him at school. And what would I say? I could say I was sorry, I suppose. But as to the rest of it ... I mean, I don't even know where he lives, or anything else about him. Apart from his hands and his arms and ... No! Stop. And during the holidays - suppose I had go miles to see him ... and what would we do when we did meet up? I mean, doing the sorts of things we did in daylight somewhere. I'd be too embarrassed even to know where to start.

And I can't believe what Giles had said to him. Unbelievable. He was ... offering ... himself to Nick. I know he does, with other boys - but like that. Right in front of me. It was horrible. And Giles was supposed to be a friend of mine. He must have known how we felt about each other. To do what he did was unforgivable.

Perhaps I could write to him. But I wouldn't know what to say, or how to say it. Anyway, how do you talk about something like that on paper? When someone else might read it, as well? It was too dangerous apart from anything else.

In the car driving back home I was too knotted up about it all to talk, and Mum asked me why I was so quiet. Tired, I said. Exams - they take a lot out of you. She seemed to accept that.

"How did they go?"

"Oh, you know. Can't tell really. We'll find out in August."

Being in bed with someone all night takes a lot out of you as well.

I know I should have said goodbye to him. He said he was going to be in his room all afternoon. But Giles came in and sat down, and started talking, and obviously wasn't going to go. He kept looking at me, and there was something in the way he was looking at me which I didn't like. I didn't want to talk to him, but I couldn't just throw him out. It took ages to get rid of him. I just wanted to be by myself, to try and think about how I felt. Then Mum came early than she said she would, and so I never had the time to go and see him. I should have said something to him, though, even if it was only goodbye.

Well, I did it. Posted a letter to him, that is. Just a plain piece of paper with my phone number on. No name or anything, just a number written in the middle of the page. I hope he'll work out who it's from. I'm sure he will. Will he recognise the writing or not? Will he ring even if he does work out it's me?

He called two days later. It was in the middle of the afternoon, and, thank God, Mum was out. I didn't think it would be him, so I just rattled off our number.

"Ashley?" came his voice.

"Nick. That you?" My pulse rate went up.

"So it was your number on that letter. I didn't recognise the writing, but I didn't know who else it could be. I thought I'd try it just to see."

"Yeah." There was a pause. "Look, I'm sorry about ..."

He cut in: "I've told you before - don't apologise."

"Oh. Yeah. Even so."

"You don't have to."

"If you say so."

"I do."

"Look, is there anyone listening your end?"

"No - there's just me in the house. You?"

"I'm calling from a phone box in the village."

"Right." I took the plunge and asked him: "Where do you live? Your home, I mean." He told me. "That's only about twelve miles from here." I suppose I couldn't keep the excitement from my voice.

"Where's that?"

I told him. Another pause. Then he said cautiously, "Term ends next Saturday."

"I know. Look ... do you want to come over here one day ... in the hols? I mean, if you want to, that is. You don't have to. I'd understand if you didn't want to."

"Sure. I really would like to."



"Give me a ring when you get home, and we'll fix a day."

The pips went in the phone box.

"Ashley ..."


He started to say something, then changed his mind. "I'll call you, OK? It would be good to see you again."

"Yeah. Call me."

"Better go."


I put the phone down. I wasn't sure whether I'd done the right thing or not. But it was too late to back out now. I couldn't do that to him a second time.

He rang on Monday evening. And, of course, Mum answered.

"Ashley?" she called upstairs. "It's for you. A friend of yours from school."

I ran down. "Thanks," I said, and I took the phone from her. I didn't know whether she would be still in earshot so, cautiously, said: "Yes?"

"Nick here."

"Right." I kept my voice flat.

"Someone listening?"

"Might be." I turned, but Mum had gone into the sitting room and closed the door. "No. It's OK. We can talk."

"You said something about meeting up?"

"You'd really like to?"


"Do you want to come round here?"

"Can do."

"Mum's up in London all day Thursday, and Dad's out at work."

"So there'd be just you there?"


"What time?"

"There's a bus at ten ..."

"I know - I've looked them up."

"Right. You'll catch that one?"


"It takes half an hour. When you get off ..." and I gave him details as to find the house.

"OK then - Thursday. Just before eleven."

"That's right."

"See you on Thursday."

"Thursday. It'd be good to see you again."


He hung up. I felt a bit shaky - and I could feel the receiver sweaty in my hand. I wiped it before I put it down. And then I had to invent a cover story for Mum.

If I said I didn't get much sleep on the Wednesday night, don't get me wrong. I mean, it was one thing to have done what we did at school, in the study, at night, in the dark, and another to have him walk in at home and go upstairs and ... well. I mean, what do you say to each other? It's not exactly as though we talked it through before we did ... well, what we did at school. And I was determined to save myself up for it, if that's what we were going to do. So that meant I had a great big hard on which I didn't allow myself to touch. Not the way to get to sleep.

Apprehension, that's the word. This could all be a big mistake.

Mum was catching an early train up to London, and she woke me before she went. I sat up in bed as she went through what there was for lunch, where she had written a contact number down, her train back, and all the rest of it. Then at last she went off. I heard the front door slam. I looked at my watch: 7:30.

When I woke up again, it was after ten. Hell! I dashed out into the shower - essential, I thought - then threw on jeans and a T shirt. A quick breakfast. Make the bed - tidily. 10:45. I stood at my window, watching the drive, waiting for him. He should have been here by now. Perhaps he wasn't going to come after all. It might be his way of getting me back. I would feel such a fool if he didn't turn up after all. And I wanted him to come.

But a few minutes later I saw him, walking past, checking the names on the gates. Then he stopped, looked at ours, then up at the house. He looked different, somehow. Then I realised he too was in jeans and T shirt. I'd been used to seeing him in blazer, tie, school trousers. It made seem him younger and slighter. He seemed to hesitate, then opened the gate.

I ran down the stairs and got to the front door just when he did. I opened it: he was standing there with a tentative smile on his face.


"Hi," I replied.

He stood there, uncertain. I held the door open wider. "Come on in."

He walked past me, head down, then looked round the hallway, and back at me. He still looked slightly unsure of himself.

"Your mother's out?"

I nodded. "In London for the day. And Father's at work."

"Oh." Then another slight smile.

"Come on up."

I closed the door, and he followed me upstairs. He stopped at the doorway and looked round the room.

"I recognise some of the posters," he said.

"Yeah, well, some of them, I've got two copies. One for school, and one for here."

He nodded, still looking round the room, then back at me. He was as nervous as I was. That was some relief. I didn't say anything, and he took another step into the room.

I moved towards him, and we looked at each other properly for the first time. It had been dark before. This sort of thing was easier in the dark - less embarrassing. I had closed the curtains a little way, but I didn't want to seem to be too blatant.

I suppose we were about a foot apart now. I knew that I had a real hard on. I didn't want a repeat of that first time. That had been truly awful. One of those things that when you think about it afterwards, you wished the ground would swallow you up. The next day, at breakfast, I had been shit scared that he would say something, make fun of me in front of the others, tell them all about it. I could imagine what they'd have said then. I just didn't know how he had taken it, whether he'd minded or not. I couldn't tell. Then the next night it had been OK.

His hand went out slightly. I stepped forward, and stopped about an inch from him. His hand touched mine. Then I seized up the courage to pull him toward me. We pressed against each other. His hands were clutching my back, and I could hear his breathing. It was easier than I had thought. And my mind had been running through all sorts of fantastic scenes last night.

I hadn't tucked my T shirt in - deliberately. And I felt his hands go down and under, pushing my shirt up, and the feel of his hands on my back ... I pushed harder into him.

"Careful," he whispered.


"I don't want you doing what you did the first night."

"Bastard." I pulled away and looked at him. But he was smiling faintly. I smiled back. "You won't let me forget that, will you?"

"I can't forget it myself. I couldn't believe it. I nearly ..."

"Nearly what?"

He looked down. "When you took your pants off after, I nearly made a grab. But I was too scared."

"I was scared about it afterwards too. I thought you'd go round telling everyone what had happened."


"That's why you were waiting for me on the next night."

He nodded. "I hoped you would come back. And you did."

"I know."

"Are you glad you did?"

"How's this for an answer?" Slowly, carefully, I lifted his T shirt, still looking at him. His had been tucked in, but then he had had to come all the way from home in the bus, so perhaps he had an excuse. I had to tug it out of his trousers. He raised his arms but it sort of stuck half way. He wriggled out of it.

I had seen him before without clothes - in the bathroom at school - but that wasn't the same. You weren't supposed to look at other people at times like that. And I hadn't been interested in him then. And when we'd been in bed together, it had been too dark to see him properly.

I looked at him. Although he was as tall as I was, he was thinner, narrower round the shoulders. His collar bones stuck out. His nipples were small and tight.


"Well what?"

"Having a good look then?"

I suppose I blushed. "Yeah, well. Never really seen you properly in daylight before. I mean, not like this."

He reached out for my T shirt, and tugged it up. Now it was my turn to wriggle out. He threw it onto the bed on top of his own. Then he looked at me.

It was embarrassing to have someone inspect you like that. I know his hands had been all over me, time and again, but this was different. More ... public, somehow. I pulled him back toward me. Our hands moved up and down each other's backs.

He made a noise, a bit like a sigh.

"What is it?"

"You don't know how many times I've imagined this."

"Me too. Last night was a bit difficult."


"Well, I knew you were coming, and ..." I stopped, then said it ... "well, I had a massive hard on, and I was determined not to touch it."

"I know. I was the same."

He moved away slightly, and put his hands on my chest. I stiffened, determined not to move as he slid his hands down my belly. He had an evil look on his face.

He stopped at the top of my jeans, and fumbled with the popper. I looked at him, our eyes fixed on each other. I held myself rigid, still determined not to flinch at his touch. His fingers found the zipper, and pulled it down. That did it. I grabbed his hands. For a moment he looked confused, uncertain. I took his hands away, then reached for his jeans. The expression on his face changed almost to amazement as I touched him. I unzipped him, then we both struggled out of our jeans. I had cheated - I was barefoot, whereas he had to struggle with his shoes. Our boxers didn't conceal much.

I pulled him down onto the bed, and we wrapped ourselves round each other. Daylight didn't matter now: memories of those nights in bed took over.

I think I only came to again when I was lying on top of him, exhausted. I knew I was hot and sweaty, and grateful I had had that shower. I rolled off him, and looked at my belly, wet and sticky.

"My God, you must have been saving that up for a long time," he said.

"What do you mean?"

He ran his finger in a circle round the sticky patch.

"How much of that is from me, and how much from you?"

"I don't know." Then: "I like us being stuck together like that."

He looked at me, slightly surprised.

"Sorry," I said, "I know it sounds a bit yucky." But I did.

"No," he answered, slowly: "I like being stuck to you too."

I propped my head up on my arm, and looked down at him, then I reached over and ran my finger round his belly too. He hadn't any hair there - actually, he hadn't that much hair anywhere. Not like Tom. I held my finger up, and he held up his. We rubbed them together.

"I was a bit worried about today," I said.

"Why's that?"

"Well ..." I was a bit lost for words. "It's not like being in our rooms back at school in the dark. And phoning up, and having to make arrangements, and so on. It wasn't the same somehow. And I was worried that it wouldn't work out."

"You mean it's not as spontaneous?"

"I suppose."

He could always put things so much better than I could.

"And you don't want to let daylight in on the magic."

I was even more confused. "If you say so. All I mean is ... it's not the same as it was at school."

"You don't regret asking me round?"

"God, no. Not after this. I mean, what do you think?"

"I thought, well, after you left like that last term ... well, I don't know what to think. I mean, you might have wanted to forget all about it."

"I know, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that. It was cruel."

"I was worried that you'd think - well, that I'd taken advantage of you, or something. Being older, and more senior, and all that."

"You mean ..." I groped for the words "... something like: older boy seduces young innocent?"

"Something like that."

"Well," putting my hand back onto his chest, "actually, I think I might have seduced you. Remember? Each of those nights it was me who started things. Innocent? Yes: you're the only one I've done anything like this with."

He turned his head to look at me. "Seriously? Am I the only one?"

I nodded. "That's right. Honest. The only one."

"But that night - the first time I saw you - you were outside Giles' room."

I think I blushed. In fact, I know I blushed. "I know. I was thinking about going in. Giles - well, I know he does it with some of the other boys. He tried it with me once, but I stopped him." I looked at him, remembering that last afternoon, and a horrible thought occurred to me again, one that I had spent a lot of time wondering about. Could I ask him about it? "Nick?"


"After I left, did you ...? I mean, well, with Giles?"

This time he flushed, a deep red. He tried to say something - I think he was going to say no - then he stopped, and changed his mind.

"Yes," he said, very quietly.

"Oh." I didn't know what to say, or what to think about that.

He turned and looked at me again. "It was different with Giles. You know, that time with you at school - it was the first time with anyone for me too. I was an innocent too. Then you left, and Giles ... well, as you know, he gave me a pretty clear invitation."

"Yeah. That's right. It was a really nasty thing for him to have done." I paused. "Was it ...?"

"As good?" he finished. He thought about it, looking up at the ceiling. "Different. Giles - well, he's more ... experienced. But it wasn't like being with you. Not at all like being with you."

I couldn't help asking. "In what way?"

He looked back at me. "Giles is sexy enough - you've only got to look at him. But with you, sex is different. When I'm with you, like this, it's better than anything I imagined sex would be like."

"Nick ..."


I didn't really know how to put this, but I tried. "Is what we're doing, well, queer?"

He sighed. "God knows."

"I mean, do you go for girls as well?"

He was quiet for a minute. Then: "You know James?" I nodded. "He's good with girls, he can talk to them, get to know them. I've hardly spoken to any. And you don't get much practice at a place like ours. I don't know how to talk to them, what to say."

"But do they turn you on? I mean, like I do?"

"I don't know. I've seen plenty of naked boys in the last four years, but no naked girls. James has these porn mags, but they all seem unreal. He goes glassy eyed over them, but a lot of them look like freaks to me. I mean, the ones you see in the mags are hardly the sort of girls you meet round here."

I didn't know what to say.

"So," he said, turning to look at me, "what's your score rate with girls?"

I must have looked embarrassed. "None. I mean, as you say, I never really meet any. I haven't had much of a chance to try."

"And the porn mags? Don't tell me the Fifths don't have any."

"Some of them, yes. They're sexy, in a way, I suppose. But not to ... to wank over like they do. I know Tom does - all the time."

"So what do you wank over?"

How do you answer a question like that?? "Well, at first nothing really. You know ..." I stopped.


Talking about it was really difficult. "It was Giles really. When he tried it on with me. I dunno, I was scared or something, and I told him to piss off. But later, I was thinking about it, and well ... I got hard. Thinking about him, and so on. And I found myself thinking about him that night when, well, you know."

"Which is why I found you outside his room."

He read me too well. "Yes ... I mean ... I knew that if I went in, that he wouldn't throw me out, if you see what I mean." He nodded. "I just wasn't sure whether I wanted to go in or not. I was scared. Then you came along. And things sort of went from there."

"And do you regret that now?"

I pretended to punch him. "Stupid. Why do you think I sent you my phone number like that?"

"You were lusting after my body?"

I looked down at him, lying naked beside me. Not the body beautiful of Giles. Narrow shouldered, and skinny. Yet I had run my hands up and down that body, felt it, stroked it. Done other things, too.

"I thought not. You were just after more sex, weren't you?"

He had embarrassed me once more. "Honestly, you don't know what you did to me, that night in my study. I mean, wanking is one thing, but when I came like that, even that first time ... nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I never knew that it could be as incredible as that. And you were so good. You seemed to know exactly what to do; what really turned me on. It was amazing."

"That's because you do have a very sexy body. It does turn me on. What turns me on is you being turned on, if you see what I mean."

"I think so."

I lay back, looking at the ceiling, thinking. God, this was so complicated.

"Deep thoughts," he said.

"Yeah, well."

"OK, you can stop thinking for now," he said. His hands were stroking me again. His fingers moved up and down my hard on. He stopped for a moment and rummaged for something in the pocket of his jeans, lying by the side of the bed. He was smearing cream over me, squeezing gently. I put my hands above my head, and could feel my whole body arch upwards, every muscle becoming rigid. This was something else. This wasn't like being wanked - this was something out of this world. And it went on and on and ... I could hear myself whimpering. Then "God ... Nick ... Nick ... please ..." I splattered everywhere, and he didn't stop, and still I came, until I had to yank his hand away. I was gasping for breath, I could hardly see anything, I was helpless. He leaned over and lay on top of me, rubbing our bodies together, sticking us together once more. I managed to put an arm round his neck, pulling his head down next to mine.

It was minutes before I could even move. My arm flopped to one side as he lifted his head to look at me. "Good?" he said softly. I couldn't even talk - I nodded wordlessly, and pulled his head back down to mine. I just wanted him there.

I think we fell asleep. Anyway, when I looked at the clock again, it was nearly half past three. I didn't know whether Nick was awake or not. My other arm had gone numb. I tried to move - he had been lying on top of me for the last hour or two - and he stirred. He rolled off me, and we lay side by side.



"It's half past three."


He sat up. I couldn't resist running my finger in a circle round his belly button. "Do you want a shower?"

"Might be a good idea."

He swung his legs off the bed, and sat, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands.

"Are you OK?" I asked him.

"Yeah. Just ... wiped out."

"I know what you mean."

I stood up and went over to the window and stared out over the garden. I turned back to Nick. He was looking at me intently, staring at me.

"What is it?"

"I'm just trying to remember every detail of you."

"Oh." I suddenly felt, well, shy.

He stood up. "You said something about a shower."

"Yeah. Through here. You go first."

I watched him. Funny. I had seen lots of boys showering at school, but I had never watched one before, not like this. This was the first time I had wanted to watch someone. He turned the water off and came out, rubbing his hair.

"All yours."

I enjoyed the feel of the hot water. I sluiced down, and turned round. Nick was waiting for me with a towel. I stood there dripping. He started rubbing my shoulders dry, then: "Lift your arms up."

He rubbed the towel under my arms and over my chest and stomach. He knelt down and towelled my legs. Then he stood up and reached between my legs, slowly rubbing me with the soft material.

"You bastard," I said quietly. He looked at me, a slight smile on his face.

I pushed his hands away. "If you start on that, we'll be here for a few more hours. Besides, my dick is sore enough already."

He smiled again, and hung the towel over the rail. "Fair enough."

"Come on," I said, and feeling daring, took him by the hand back to my room. We pulled our clothes back on. I watched him lacing up his shoes. He stood up, and looked at me. We gazed at each other wordlessly. I reached for him and hugged him.

"That was great. I mean that."

He pulled back and looked at me with a slightly twisted smile. "Yeah."

I look down and shuffled my feet, then: "Next Thursday?"

He nodded. "Yeah. OK."

We walked downstairs, and I opened the door for him. He looked at me again, and reached out, touched my hand. "Same time next week," I said. What else do you say to someone after you'd been doing what we'd been doing for the last few hours? I couldn't think of anything else that didn't sound stupid or awkward. He nodded, without a word, and went out down the path.

I watched him close the gate as he went out of sight down the road, then went upstairs for a quick tidy round of the bathroom. Clean towels. Quick wipe round the shower. I opened my bedroom windows wider, tidied the bed, and grabbed a book. Another hour before Mum would be back. I'd better make it look as though I'd been quietly at home all day by myself.

I went out into the garden, and sat down in one of the recliner chairs. I don't think I read more than the first few lines of the book before falling fast asleep.

Mum woke me.

"Hi," I said sleepily.

"Had a good day?" she asked, standing over me.

I held up the book. "Been reading - and sitting in the sun." I said that with a straight face! "How was London?"

"Fine. You must be tired, to be still sleeping like that. I thought nothing was going to wake you."

"Still recovering from all those exams."

"Do you want something to eat?"

Food had been the last thing on my mind that day. We hadn't stopped for anything to eat or drink. And we'd had, well, quite an energetic time. I was ravenous.

"Yes, please!"

Giles - Scherzo.

God, you wouldn't believe how boring these holidays can be sometimes. Stuck in a small smug boring English town - and they don't come much smaller and smugger than this one. Or more boring. It's times like this that even school is preferable - and that really is saying a lot. Well, I know there's a month in the Caribbean to look forward to - but there's ten days yet before we go. Ten days more in this hole. Then sunshine and action. Can't wait.

I walked into Smith's for the third time this week to have a browse through the shelves. No chance they had any new records. That would be too much. Might be some mags worth looking at. And - hey, who's that over there? I recognise that figure. Let's give him a surprise. I walked up quietly behind him and whispered in his ear.

"Hi, Ashley."

He whirled round and almost knocked me over. I certainly wasn't expecting that. I grabbed his arm, and, roughly, he pulled it away again.

"Hey, steady. What's with you?" I asked, taken aback by his reaction. This wasn't like the happy smiling Ashley I'd known.


"What have you got there?"

I plucked the magazine from him. A boring bike mag. I put it back onto the shelves and looked at him. He was staring back at me, a funny look in his eyes.

"What do you want?" he asked.

"You're a bit uptight, aren't you? What gives?" I asked him.

He shrugged and looked back at the rows of magazines. "Not much. What is it to you, anyway?"

I ignored that last bit. "So you're enjoying the summer holidays as well? The excitement too much for you then?"

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, there's not a lot to do in this place, is there?"

"I suppose not."

"Know of any action?"

"No, I don't," he said, abruptly, almost rudely.

He turned away from the magazines, and from me, and began making his way to the door, and I followed him. Despite his manner, he may yet have been company on a dull afternoon. There was sod all else to do. We stood outside in the High Street, blinking in the sunshine. He didn't walk away like he did before, but I didn't get the feeling he was particularly eager for my company.

"So what are you up to, then?" I tried again.

Once more the shrug and "Not much." He slouched, half turned away, not looking at me.

"Hey, such excitement. It sounds if you're having a real good holiday here."

"Yeah, well." He kicked at the pavement.

"Do you want to come over?" I live about ten minutes away from the town. When we were younger, Ashley used to visit a lot. That had dropped away in the last year or two.

He turned and looked at me. His eyes were shaded in the sunshine; it was difficult to read him. His face gave nothing away. He was obviously thinking it over.

Then: "OK. Why not?"

"Ashley, you knock me down with your enthusiasm for my company."

There was a faint smile. That was better. "Sorry. OK. You're right - there's not a lot happening here."

"So let's make it happen at my place."

We strolled out of the town. Talking to him was hard work - all I got from him were monosyllables. "Yeah." "Suppose." Even once: "Sounds OK."

I knew Mum would be in the greenhouse, and when she was there, she was there for hours. We went up to my room, and I put a record on. I'd known Ashley since we were nine, long before we went to school together - we'd hung out here many an afternoon when we were younger. I sprawled across the bed, but he stood by the window, staring out. Against the light, I could only see his outline.

After five minutes of silence, I'd had enough. He hadn't moved from the spot, hadn't so much as moved his head. I stood up and went over to him. He was still staring outside, and I looked sideways at his profile. A nice profile, but set in something of a sullen pout. He stared straight ahead.

"What is it, Ashley? What's the problem?"

Only then did he turn and look at me. His eyes were dark and still unreadable. "What do you mean?"

"You're moping," I said bluntly.

He shrugged. "I don't know what you're on about. There's no problem."

"Standing there like that. Making such brilliant conversation. Being such good company. Really entertaining."

"Yeah, well ..." Another pause.

"Just like that."

This time there was a flicker from him, a slight upturn of the lips.

"You certainly are moping," I said. "Still in love then?"

That certainly provoked a reaction. He swung round at me. "What do you mean?" His eyes were hot, his face twisted.

"My word, you are. Well I never." I had hit a nerve there. Perhaps my tone was too mocking.

He stared at me intensely. "What do you mean, in love?" His eyes were furious.

"In love, Ashley, in love. Lurve. You and Nick. End of last term. Remember?"

His face twisted. "You can be horrid at times."

"Hmm?" I raised my eyebrows.

"Yeah. Like at the end of last term. That day I left. The way you ... offered ... yourself to Nick. It was revolting ..." he broke off in disgust.

"Yeah, well. It was pretty boring after the exams, with nothing to do. I needed some entertainment. He looked in need of consolation after you'd left him high and dry. And he accepted the invitation, you know."

"I know."

I raised my eyebrows again. "Really? Then you've seen Nick again?"

He went white, then bright red. "Well? What of it? So what if I have?"

"My, my, Ashley, you've certainly changed these last couple of weeks. You're not the innocent Ashley I used hang out with."

I looked at him: attractive even like that. Then, on an impulse, I leaned forward, took his head in my hands, and snogged him hard. His mouth didn't respond at first, then his lips tightened on mine. He pulled away, staring at me. I didn't say anything. He didn't say anything. He stared at me for a long, long time. "Oh, God," he whispered. Then he moved forward, and tried kissing me back. He wasn't very good at it.

I held his head again, and kissed him gently, then harder. As he broke for air, and pulled back, his mouth open, I moved forward again, running my tongue round his lips. I could tell he didn't know how to take all of this - whatever he had got up to with Nick, this hadn't been part of it. I wasn't going to give him time to think it over.

I suppose we stayed there about five minutes, completing his education. By the time I'd finished with him, educating him, he was really turned on. Hot where once he was cold. He looked at me once more, then I felt his arms go round me. He pressed his body against me. Seduction complete. Now for the enjoyment.

I leaned back slightly and started unbuttoning his shirt.

"Is anyone home?" he whispered.

I shrugged. "Mum's in the greenhouse. She'll be hours there. Besides, she never comes up here."


"Positive, Ashley. No-one's going to come in - don't worry. No-one to interrupt us."

I ran a finger down his chest, down his stomach, then pulled his shirt from out of his trousers. My word, he had a good body. I put my hands flat on his belly, and started sliding them up. I could feel him shuddering under my hands. He was pinned up against the windowsill, and couldn't escape from me. When I reached his shoulders, I slipped his shirt off. He stood as still as before, eyes closed now. I started unbuttoning my own shirt, and reached for him. He was beginning to learn the art of snogging.

I broke off, and kissed his neck, then his shoulders. That was a step too far.

"Oh my God," he said, and tried to pull away. I gripped him firmer.

"What is it, Ashley?"

"I can't do this, Giles. I can't."

I kissed him on the lips again, then tasted him with my tongue. "You are, Ashley, you are."

Now it was more than just a casual seduction - I really did want him. He had a body to die for. And he was sexy in a way he wasn't aware of - yet.


"Don't prick tease."

Kissing him again, I reached down, pulled the popper of his jeans, and unzipped him. He tried to squirm out of my grasp.

"No, Giles, please. Don't. Don't."

But I had my fingers on that hard-on of his, stroking it with my nails through the thin cotton cloth. His body arched back against the window ledge.

"Giles, please ... Oh God!"

His hands pushed down to stop me. Too late. I could feel his pants hot and soaking as he came. My word, how he came. He shuddered for what seemed like an age before collapsing forwards against me, and I held him again, supporting him, as he went limp. He was panting hard, almost whimpering.

I pulled down his trousers and shorts - it was like undressing a rag doll - and laid him down onto the bed. Then I saw the tears in his eyes.

"Hey, Ashley." I stopped.

He turned his face into the bed. I stroked the back of his neck.

I tried turning him over, but he resisted me, his face pressed hard into the bed covers. I could see his shoulders heave. God, what had I done now?

I gave him a couple of minutes, stroking his shoulders. I wanted him - but not like this. Eventually, the sobs seemed to have stopped, and, resignedly, I reached for the box of tissues.

"OK, Ashley, sit up now and blow your nose."

The nursery treatment worked. Slowly he rolled over, and I saw his face, blotched and puffy round the eyes. I pushed a tissue into his hand.

"Sit up and blow."

He did - long and hard. I took the tissue from him and tossed into the bin, and gave him another. He dabbed at his nose, sitting there, shaking, wordless, a picture of misery.

I sat next to him and put my arm round his shoulders, rocking him gently.

"OK, tell Giles all about it."

That produced a small, slightly shamefaced smile, but no reply. It looked as though this was going to be agony aunt afternoon. Here I was, arm round one of the sexiest boys I knew, sitting next to me stripped naked, and instead of seducing him, acting as father confessor. Wonders would never cease.

He laid his head on my shoulder. That was better.

"I'm sorry, Giles. I shouldn't ..."

"Shouldn't what?"

"Have led you on like that."

"You? Led me on? I don't think so."

"I knew ... well, what you wanted when we were back in town. I shouldn't have come back here with you." He sniffed, loudly.

"Hey, it wasn't intended to be any big deal."

He took his head off my shoulder and stared at me. "Oh - so I was an afternoon's entertainment, was I?"

That rocked me back a bit. Too much of the truth about that one. Relieving the boredom with a bit of casual sex. Well, yes, up to a point.

"Well, I thought you might enjoy it too, you know. Takes two, and all that."

"Yeah. I know. That's one of the reasons I came with you. I thought - what the hell? Why not? Then ..." he snivelled again.

"You've got some big hang-ups, you know. Me, I like sex. Girl or boy. If I can, I will. If they're sexy, like you, all the better." That produced a slight smile. "And if they are people I really like, that's even better still."

"You like me?"

"Yes, Ashley, it might surprise you, but I do."

"No, I mean - like me as in not just for sex?"

"That too," I told him.


"Cross my heart."

He looked at me again. The tears had gone, but his eyes were still a little puffy. "And you like girls as well?"

"Yes. Not many of them around at school, though, so I have to make do with you lot. Is that your problem - worried you're queer?"

"Part of it," he admitted. "You're lucky - not being worried about it, I mean."

I shrugged. "As I said, I enjoy sex. I suppose ... " - I had never been this introspective or analytical about it before - " ... I suppose I don't have hang-ups about what sort of sex. Anything nice and hot."

"So how do you get girls?"

"Relentless, aren't you? Do I have to tell you all my secrets?"

He looked down. "Not if you don't want to."

"Actually, it's no secret. If she's a pretty girl, and she looks at me the right way, I kiss her. Sometimes that's it. Sometimes you know you can go further. So I do. Just like with boys, really."

"Just like with me in the High Street, I suppose."

"In a way."

"You make it seem so simple." He stared down at his hands.

"I don't think about it - I don't work it out like a plan of campaign. If it happens, it happens."

"I wish I found it so easy. But don't you ... well ..."

"Well what?"

"Fall in love?"

"Well, yes, I suppose. But not deep deep in love. At least, not yet."

"You're lucky."

"Ah, that's it. You think you really are in love with Nick, don't you?"

He nodded, miserably. "Giles, how could you have done that, last term? I mean, couldn't you tell? How it was? Between him and me?"

I shrugged. "I guess I didn't think you were so serious. And I knew it was going to be bloody boring, being the only Fifth left in the House. As I said, I suppose I wanted some entertainment."

"Entertainment? Yeah, I suppose."

"OK, I'm sorry. I apologise. OK?"

He nodded. "I dunno - I shouldn't have taken it out on you like that."

"It's one of those things. It's over now. Past and forgotten. Well, not forgotten, anyway. Do you forgive me then?"

He looked up at me again. "Yeah. I forgive you. Sorry." His eyes went down again. "I suppose I've spoiled your afternoon."

"I don't know. You certainly haven't been boring, that's for sure."

A smile. "Maybe not."

"So." And I hugged him again. He blushed. Part of Ashley's charm was his naiveté. I think he had just realised that he was sitting next to me with no clothes on. And had just remembered how he'd come so profusely in his pants. "You're really in love with Nick?"

He hesitated. "I dunno. I suppose. How do you tell?"

"But you've never kissed him?"

He looked at me, surprised. "How did you know that?"

I laughed. "When I took hold of you, it was obvious that you'd never kissed anyone before."

"Oh." He looked down, then back up, shy again. "Would you show me how?"

The naiveté of the boy. "Sure. But there's a snag."

"What's that?"

"We don't want Nick knowing who you learned it from, do we?"

He was confused. "What do you mean?"

"If I teach you to kiss the way I taught him, he'd guess where you've been."

"Oh." This time he went a deep red. "You mean, you and Nick ...? You taught him that as well?"

I nodded. "He obviously hasn't passed the lesson on."

He wasn't sure whether to be horrified or not. "You mean ... you and him ... you really did all that?"

"Don't worry. He was as ignorant as you are."

Again: "Oh."

I hugged him again. His lips really were delicious. I tried a kiss. I could feel him respond.

"I think I could enjoy this," I told him.

"Giles ..."


"Be kind to me? Please?"

"As gentle as you like."

I leaned over and took his head in my hands once again. Shyly, he reached out and began undoing the rest of the buttons of my shirt.

Slow, gently, yet passionate: how sex should be. He let me explore his body before I stretched out over him. Afterwards, he reached up and brushed the hair away from my forehead.

"Was that good?" he asked softly.

I smiled at him. "Very, very good. Nick is a lucky boy." He continued looking up at me. He would break many hearts in years to come with a look like that. And it worried me too.

"Ashley," I said.


"Do you and Nick really love each other?"

"Yes," he said, simply.

"In that case, be very careful."

"What do you mean?"

I tried again. "Love can mean getting hurt, you know. And you will have to be very careful. Other people don't always understand about love. With someone like Nick, I mean."

"Oh, we'll be careful," he said.

But I don't think he took my meaning at all - and I didn't think he had any idea as to what he might be letting himself in for.

James - Finale, Presto.

It was a funny thing about Nick, the way he turned down being a house prefect. I mean, he was never an obvious choice in the first place, but to have turned it down like that! When Knight asked me to be Head of House, I didn't go, hey, wow!, but I would never have turned it down. I know his grip on the juniors wasn't up to much, but even so. I'd never heard of someone doing that before.

Mind you, he had been behaving very oddly at the end of last year, just before term ended. But everyone goes through the teenage bit - I remember Mum telling me when I was fifteen how unsufferable I was. I couldn't see it myself, but then you never do. And at the start of this term, he was a bit remote, standoffish. I couldn't work him out, and I'd known him for more than four years. I suppose I was the closest friend he had in the school - which shows, in a way, how alone he must have been at times.

He was lucky though: Knight decided to give him prefectorial privileges in return for doing all the House admin. I was grateful for that - I knew that being Head of House would soak up a lot of my time, and I knew as well that I'd have to work to get the grades I wanted. So I put Nick in the study next to mine, which meant I could offload all the jobs I didn't want onto him. There was another ulterior motive too: he was useful with the work - when I needed help with an essay, he always had ideas.

The other prefects weren't too pleased though: there he was with the privileges, but he didn't have to take Adsum, or do all those other disciplinary things that takes up the prefects' time. I told them if they wanted to make out all the room lists and fagging rotas and games lists, they were welcome. They shut up then.

And he was good at it. He wasn't neat and tidy - his writing was a mess - but he drew up legible and well set out lists. He would write out notices well. He had a certain style, a way of putting things, which I knew I hadn't. So, it all seemed as if things would work out nicely.

But I wish I hadn't had to do it. That's one of the really difficult things about being Head of House - running people in when they've broken the rules. Even more difficult when it's someone in your own year. Even more when it's a friend. Like Nick.

It was the most difficult thing I'd done in my life. And no-one comes up to you afterwards, and says, hey, you did a good job there. Ruined a couple of lives. Well done. Not even the powers that be. They're grateful for you having cleared the shit up, but that's where it stops. As for the others - well, there were those who thought the two of them deserved what was coming to them. Others who thought I was a heartless bastard.

When you're running a House, you find out things that you don't necessarily want to pass on to the powers that be. You can deal with them yourself. Sometimes you get given things by the Housemaster that are too tricky for him to sort out. This one - well, by the end, I found myself in way over my head.

And it was me who pushed the first pebble in the avalanche. I'd no idea at the time. I'd been up late finishing one of those interminable geography pieces set by Wood. It was past midnight when I came out of my room to go for a shower. And then I saw someone go into Nick's room, closing the door behind him. But there didn't seem to be any light on in the room. The corridor was pretty dim, and I would have expected to see a chink of light. And because it was so dark, I couldn't immediately recognise who it was. I waited for two or three minutes, but no one came out. I shrugged, and went for the shower. It was too late and I was too tired to do anything about it.

It was at Adsum the next morning I realised who it had been, more from the hair style than anything else. Ashley Rees. And all he'd been wearing was shorts. I know people wander around fairly casually at night sometimes, even though they're not supposed to, but I didn't like this one. There was no plausible reason for him to be going into Nick's room like that. Certainly not at that time of night. And I didn't want to speculate about what they might have been up to. Well, I thought I'd leave it. Perhaps I'd been reading it wrong. I don't know how I could have thought that, but perhaps it was the easy way out. A mistake. A big mistake. Mind you, I don't think it would have made any difference in the end.

The next pebble was started rolling about a week later when Rog came to see me. Roger is another of the prefects in the House; quite a useful guy, and the mainstay of the House football team. He came in, and the way he shut the door behind him alerted me - he had a problem. But he seemed reluctant to tell me about it. He never was the world's most coherent. He muttered a few things first, then I said: "You've got something on your mind."

"Yeah - well, it's about Nick."


"Well, last night, I got up for a pee. It was late - about four o'clock in the morning. And ..." he hesitated "... I saw Ashley Rees coming out of Nick's room."


"He hardly had anything on. He didn't notice me at first - almost walked straight into me. And, without thinking, I said to him - what have you two being doing? Having it off?"

"What did he say to that?"

"He just said "Yes", and walked on down the corridor. Just like that. I didn't know what to do."

"Oh, my word."

"I mean, I know people do stuff, sometimes, but Ashley - he's a year younger than Nick. It's not right."

"Yeah." I stared at my desk. What the hell to do about this now? "Look, Rog, can you leave it to me? I'll talk to Nick about it, and tell him to lay off."

"I don't want to run him in officially, if you know what I mean. But it's not right. I don't know how long Rees'd been in there, but it was pretty late when I saw him."

"I know. Don't worry. I think I can talk to him about it."

"OK. Thanks."

This wasn't going to be an easy one. In fact, this was going to be bloody embarrassing. I got up, and went next door. Nick was at his desk, busy writing away.


He looked up and smiled. "Hi, James. Nearly done it."


"Next week's games' programme."

"Really? Good. Actually, though, there's something else I want to talk to you about."

This was going to be difficult, if not bloody awkward. I closed the door and walked in, perching on the desk. Nick moved his chair back, and looked at me. There was a wariness in his eyes.

"Go ahead," he said.

"Look," I said, then stopped. I started again. "About a week ago, I saw Ashley Rees go into your room. About midnight. He didn't come out again." His expression didn't change. "And last night, I gather Rog saw Ashley coming out. It was pretty late - about four o'clock. What's going on, Nick?"

Suddenly he looked very tired. And older. Not at all like a teenager any more. It frightened me.

"Yeah, you're right. About both of them."


"Well?" he shrugged. "What else do you want me to say?"

"You don't have to say anything else. Just - don't do it anymore."

He sighed. "I just wish it were so easy."

"Look ..." - again I was awkward. "I know that people in the House do this sort of thing from time to time."

"Do you?" He looked at me quizzically.

"Yes, Nick, I do. Even me, once." I felt myself going very red. His look changed to one of surprise. "I suppose ... I suppose I enjoyed it in a sort of way, at the time. But I didn't want to do it again."

"Yeah." He looked down at his desk, then back at me again. "But the snag is - we do."

"Maybe you do, but you know as well as I do what people would say if it got out. And what might happen to you if Knight ever finds out."

"Don't think I haven't thought about that either."

"And there's more to it as well. I mean, it's not as though it's some one your own age. He's a year younger - Lower Sixth."

"That makes a difference?"

"Yes, I think it does. Other people do too. And, Nick?"


"It's got to stop. I've found out about it. Rog knows. Sooner or later someone else'll see you or him. And if they do, it's going to get out all over the House in no time. I've been able to keep it quiet so far. But Knight'll find out then, and then there'll be all hell to pay."

"Yeah." He gave me a sort of twisted grin. "I suppose we were lucky to last this long."

That took me a bit by surprise. "You mean ..." I groped a bit for words ... "it's serious?"

He nodded. "Yes, it's serious. It's serious, I'm afraid to say."

"How long has it been going on then?"

"Since the end of last term."

"When you started behaving so oddly."

"Yes, I know. It's called falling in love."

That shook me too. Cautiously, I said: "Love?"

"Love. What is love? I don't know. But, yes, OK, love."

I didn't really know what to say to that. It was something outside my experience. Then: "Look, Nick, as I said, boys here often ..."

"... mess about with each other. Yes, I know."

"But it needn't mean much than that."

He shrugged. "It seems to for us."

Again, I didn't know what to say to that. Then another thought hit me: "The end of last term? The holidays too?"

"Yes, James, during the holidays too."

"I had no idea what was going on."

"Purity is in the mind of the beholder."

I didn't quite understand that, but let it pass.

"You've got to stop, Nick. Both of you. Talk to Ashley. Tell him it's got to stop. Understand?"

"Oh yes, I understand," he said, sadly.

And I left it there. I thought that was it - problem solved. Another job well done. No such luck. A few days later, hot gossip was going around the House. Ashley seen again going into Nick's room. Hell and damnation. I stormed in to see him again. When he saw my face he knew what was coming.

"I thought I said to cut it out." This time I had no sympathy; I was just plain angry.

"Oh yes, I did," he said, unmoved.

"Then how come there's this new rumour going round?"

"It's Ashley - it's he who won't stop. He still comes in. I don't go to his room." He shrugged, then looked at me agonised. "I can't ... can't ... throw him back out again when he comes in."

"It's all over the House. Everyone knows about it now. Which means Knight's bound to hear of it. And you know what that could lead to."


I looked at him. He had been my friend - still was, dammit. I had to do something to try and rescue him. "Look, I could forestall things, if you like. Go and tell Knight now, and we'll see what we can do."

"Will that do any good?"

"I don't know. But better that than he hears it as gossip."

"I suppose." He sighed. "Go and do it."

It was going to be a tricky half hour. I went in to Knight's study after supper.

"We've a problem," I told him, after the niceties.

"Oh? Tell me about it."

"It seems that Thompson has developed ..." How do I put this tactfully? " ... a relationship with another boy."

"With Rees?"

He'd heard. "Yes, sir."

"The rumours are circulating. Some of them are fairly wild."

"That's why I thought I'd better come and see you."

He looked at me carefully, closely.

"Thompson's a friend of yours, isn't he?"

"That's right, sir."

He stared at me thoughtfully. "Had you any idea of what was going on - before these rumours, that is?"

Awkwardly, reluctantly, "Yes, sir." He looked at me in silence. The silence stretched on. "You know, sir, that some things are better sorted out before they become ... well, official."

"Before I get to know, you mean."

"Yes, sir."

"I appreciate that. That's what a good Head of House is there to do. Only this time ..."

"This time, sir, I failed."

"Seems so. So, what are we going to do?"

"Do you want to make it official, sir?"

"To make it fully official might mean expelling Thompson, mightn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"So can it be sorted unofficially? I'll do anything necessary. Thompson doesn't deserve that, I think."

"I have one idea, sir."


"Well, in a sense, one of the problems hasn't been with Thompson. It's Rees that goes to his room."

"Thompson made out the room list, didn't he?"

"That's right, sir."

"I've been looking at it. Rees' room is rather close. Deliberate, do you think?"

Did Knight know about last term? "Don't know, sir." If in doubt, plead ignorance.

"OK. We'll let that one pass. So what's your suggestion?"

"Move Thompson up to Parsloe's room, sir. In the Attic."

The Attic was an out of the way part of the House where non-prefect Upper Sixth were often put. Parsloe had been in hospital for some weeks - his parents had cleared the room, and so it was empty.

Knight pondered the idea. "That might work," he admitted. "But you'd better tell both of them that one more whiff of scandal, and goodbye. I can't tell them that, since it's not official, though I might have a quiet word with each of them, but you can lay it down the line. Do you think you could do that, James?"

I nodded.

He leaned back in his chair. "You've been a good Head of House so far, James. I know this is a difficult one for you, particularly with Thompson being a friend of yours. But I don't want it to go wrong - and I'm giving you a lot of responsibility on this one."

"I've spoken to Thompson already. I'm going to have to tell them - anything else I hear goes straight to you."

"Fair enough. OK. Go ahead and try it."

So that's what I did. Went straight back to Nick's room, told him to pack everything, and move up to the Attic.

"What'll they say about that in House?" he queried. He was standing staring out of the window.

I shrugged. "Let them talk. There is no official line. You've moved rooms, that's it. Full stop. Any gossip about you and Ashley - well, you're going to have to cope with that on your own."

He looked round at me. "Fair enough. And ..." awkwardly " ... thanks. I'm grateful for you covering me like this. You didn't have to."

"That's OK. We're friends. I shall miss not having you next door."

I got a grateful glance for that. "Right. I'll start moving now."

"It'd be a good idea."

So, I thought, that would be that. It was a long way from Ashley's room up to the Attic, and any route he would have take to get there would be a very public one. I wondered if Nick had indeed engineered things so that they would be close. Not worth asking, though.

Should I talk to Ashley? I had to, really. Couldn't be avoided. I sent for him during prep.

He came in, not looking at me, head down, standing by the door, slouching.

"You wanted to see me?" he said.

"Yes, I do, Ashley. And I think you know why I want to talk to you."

His head came up, and I saw his eyes for the first time - sullen, bitter. The same expression was writ large over his face. He was taking this hard.


"Did Nick talk to you? That first time?"

He nodded. "Yes - he did." His head went down again.

"And he said it had to stop?" He nodded. "And you didn't?"

"No." It was a whisper.

"So to stop it happening again, I've decided to move Nick up to the Attic."

It was a bomb to him. His head snapped up. "What?"

"He's moved rooms, on my suggestion. Up to the Attic."

I could see him working out the implications of that. There was no way he'd be able to make his way up there undetected, even late at night. He'd have to make his way almost the whole way across the House from where he was.

"He's moved already?"

"Yes. Don't go and visit him again, will you?"

The sullen eyes now blazed at me. And behind that, I could also see misery. Whatever happened now, we had two damaged teenagers. Last term, Ashley had been a happy, outgoing sort of individual. Now I could see the sullen slouch, the teenage angst, the hidden anger at the world. It twisted his face unpleasantly.

"Look, Ashley," I said awkwardly, "it's him I'm protecting, not you. There's gossip all over the House. Even Knight's got to hear of it. I persuaded him not to do anything about it - yet. If this gets out of hand, it's going to be Nick who's going to be expelled. Think what that would do to him - and his parents. And if it did all come out in the open - could you still stay here? How would your parents take it?"

He swayed forward - I almost thought he was going to hit me, and he was becoming a big lad. Then he stopped and blinked, then wiped his hand across his eyes. I think they were tears of frustration as much as anything. This had hit him hard. He half turned away from me, his body tensed up. He stood there for a moment or two, then rushed, stumbled, blundered, out of the door.

"Ashley!" I shouted. But he didn't come back.

There were some nasty bits of gossip still going around, but even they faded with time. So. James congratulates himself on a job well done, sorting things out. Just shows what a fool I was. Or, perhaps, how strong love can be, if that indeed was what it was. Or whatever else it was driving them.

It was after Exeat when Ells came to see me. Ells was another School Monitor, from a different House, and I didn't know him very well. He dropped in during prep.

"Hi, sorry to disturb you."

"No problem. Take a seat."

He sat down on the bed. "I've a problem that I'm dumping on you."

"Gee thanks."

He said, slowly, "Well, it's a difficult one. What happened was this."

He'd been patrolling the grounds after lunch, on one of those smoking patrols School Monitors are supposed to carry out. He'd been going through the woods, the usual smokers' haunt, when he came to the Scout Hut, which is a pretty dilapidated sort of place. Scouts were practically moribund, but it had one or two members, who had signed up mainly to get out of the Corps. From a distance, he'd seen a couple of people going in. Normally the place was locked, and hardly ever opened, even on supposed Scout days. Naturally, he thought: smokers.

"I walked round, trying to look in, but the windows are so filthy and those woods so dark you can't see a thing. So I went up to the door and marched in. They hadn't locked it after themselves." He stopped, obviously embarrassed. "There were two of yours in there. Thompson and Rees."

Then I knew. The thunderbolt from out of the clear blue sky. Dear God.

"They were ... well, let's say they hadn't many clothes left on. And ..." his face twisted " ... they were snogging. And when I say snogging, I mean it. Really going at it." He paused.

"I mean, in another five minutes I've have found them ..." he shook his head " ... doing God knows what."

"So," I asked quietly, "what did you do?"

"Well, when they saw me, they froze, of course. And then I told them to get dressed again. I think I was bloody rude to them. And then I told them to get the hell out. Oh, and I got the key back from Thompson."

He dropped it onto the desk. It clattered down. I looked at it - that bit of metal. And the cause of so much pleasure - and grief. If only they had locked the door after themselves.

"When did you find them?"

"After lunch. About half past two. I wasn't sure what I should do. I thought it might be better if you told Knight rather than me. I came to see you about three, but you weren't here, but I then got caught up with something else. Sorry it's taken so long."

"Right." I tried to choose my words carefully. "So you want me to make it official?"

"Official? What, tell Knight? Sure I do. I mean, Thompson's a year above Rees, isn't he? And it wasn't just a couple of boys wanking off - I mean," again his face twisted in disgust, "they were really ..."

"OK." If I didn't tell Knight, he was going to. "Thanks. Or not, as the case may be. Anyway, leave it with me. I'll deal with it."

He stood up, looking relieved. "Would you?"

I nodded. "No problem."

When he was gone, I picked up a squash racket and hit my bed very, very hard, several times. "Shit. Shit. Shit." I threw the racket into a corner.

But I'd have to act on this now. I had no choice. I walked out along the wing, then ran up to the Attic, and opened the door to Nick's room. It was dark, and I flicked the light switch on. For a moment, I was confused, bewildered. The room was completely bare. No posters. No books on the shelves. No paper on the desk. Even the bed was stripped. A trunk was sitting in the middle of the room. And Nick, sitting there alone, staring out into the darkness. Then he turned his head. He looked ghastly. I hated to see him that way. But there was nothing else I could do.

"Ells has been to see me," I told him, rather unnecessarily. He said nothing. "I can't leave it, Nick, I can't. I've got to go and see Knight and tell him about what's happened."

"Yeah," he said, standing up, scraping his chair back. He stood looking at me, white faced. He was almost swaying. "Yeah, let's go and see Knight and get it all over and done with."

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