Boy on the Towpath

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 17

Another day dawned bright and warm. God how I loved summer! I was up well before Tom and had showered and had a mug of tea before I heard him trotting off to the shower room. A short while later he reappeared wearing just a sleeveless tee shirt and shorts.

"What's for breakfast Stu?"

"I'm just having a bacon butty for now but you have what you like."

"No that'll do for me as well 'cos we'll be stopping for lunch won't we?"

"Yeah I expect so. Are you okay with this mornings' arrangements? You sort the boat and help Craig with his and Anna and I'll go shopping."

"Cool. Don't forget to leave some cash for the diesel though."

I left Tom doing the washing up and met up with Anna, many bags in hand.

"Bloody hell Anna! You thinking of feeding the five thousand?"

"No just watering them, I know just how much you and Craig can put away when you get going!"

"And you don't then?

"I have my moments Stu."

The shopping trip went well even if I thought we'd over catered somewhat. It was a heavy load as well what with four cases of wine, around thirty-six cans of beer and other weighty items like milk by the gallon and a pile of food that would surely last the entire trip and beyond. I was somewhat pleased to see 'Movin' Home' still on the service quay as we wouldn't have to cart the shopping all the way back to our boats but rather bothered that there seemed to be something of an argument going on between some other boat owners and the harbourmaster. I pulled my truck to a halt just short of the dock and walked over to see what the problem was. Kenny saw me coming and gave a relieved smile.

"Look Stu there's nothing to worry about, really. These guys saw young Tom and Craig come in for the usual pump-out and diesel on 'Play with your Balls' and that was fine 'cos Craig was on the helm but when Tom came down with yours by himself these idiots freaked out! I've been trying to set their minds at rest. You'd better help me here!"

I marched into the throng of about ten or twelve men all of them having a go at Tom. Only Craig and Kenny seemed to be defending the poor lad. My voice carries if I care to let it, this time I used it to its fullest effect.

"Do we have a problem here gentlemen?"

Silence!! Then one guy spoke up.

"Well yes actually we do!"

"And what is that if I might ask?"

"This kid helming a 72 footer by himself! Well it shouldn't be allowed I say!"

"Why? Has there been an accident? Has he hit your boat or been a danger to anyone?"

"Not exactly but he could have been. He's too young and you're very irresponsible to allow him out by himself if you ask me!"

"I wasn't asking you. Aside from myself, I only trust one other person with my home and that's my son. I don't know what your problem is but let me reassure you. He's as good as they come and probably better than most of you will ever be. Did you see him make one slight error of judgement, one mistake?"

Again, just a few mutterings but no direct comment.

"Okay then! We will load up the shopping and I'll walk with you back to our pontoon whilst Tom takes the boat back. If you see anything that bothers you, tell me."

We loaded up the shopping, all the time Tom kept his council. Once we'd finished he spoke up.

"I didn't do anything wrong, honest! What's the problem?"

"There isn't one mate. You're good. Just remember that. I know I'm being a bastard but you take her back and show these arseholes a thing or two. Okay?"

"Oh shit! I'm nervous! "

"No need! Remember that first time when you Mum saw you? You were good then but now -- you're great! Go and show them!"

I walked off the boat silently hoping that nothing went wrong. That last time he was unaware he was being watched so intently but this time was different. He knew he was under examination.

We all wandered to the end of the service quay as Tom threw the bow of the boat into the marina pond, all of us watching. I think only Kenny and I were hoping for a faultless run. He made a tight turn and gently headed the boat up past the pontoons, all tightly packed with boats, onward up to our mooring. Just as he came adjacent to our pontoon the wind caught the bow and swung him starboard (right) but he countered this like a pro and manoeuvred the boat perfectly setting himself up for a perfect move astern and onto our spot. He'd done it perfectly! No even I couldn't have bettered it! Our critics were astounded and as Tom tied off the leader of the earlier unrest climbed aboard and shook Tom's hand.

"Young man. That was a masterclass in helmsmanship! I want to be the first to apologise for my earlier doubts and indeed my attitude! Very fine piece of work and no wonder your Dad has so much faith in your ability!"

Tom looked at me and grinned before replying.

"Thank you but I guess I know how it must have looked to you. I know I'm young but I've got the best teacher possible. -- My Dad."

With everything stowed away we headed out of the marina. I needed to make a point and had Tom master her through the entrance and into the canal system with a few doubters still watching us. He did a perfect job considering a rather stiff breeze. Craig wasn't as lucky and brushed the sides of the channel a few times. No shame in that, we've all been there!

We cruised onwards to Napton and were rewarded with a double spot almost directly opposite the 'Folly' pub. A hasty change of clothes and away for some food and a few beers.

Craig and I chatted about this and that but I couldn't help but notice the attention that Anna was giving Tom and I didn't know whether to be concerned that she was trying to get Tom to talk about the sort of relationship that he and I shared or if it was just friendly conversation.

I decided that it was probably innocent and put it to the back of my mind.

By ten o'clock we were walking back to the boats having made arrangements for an eight o'clock start the following morning as it was a fairly long haul to our next destination. We said our goodnights and got back on board our respective boats.

Tom and I sat down with a glass of wine each and as we sat there talking my curiosity got the better of me.

"You and Anna were very animated this evening?"

"Yes well I think she fancies me!"

I spluttered over a mouthful of wine.

"You what? Anna fancies you?"

"Maybe. Anyway you fancy me so what's the difference?"

"None I guess. Do you fancy her?"

"No! I want you dummy! But it's flattering none the less."

The urge to bundle him into my arms and take him to bed right then and there was almost too much to resist. I looked at him knowing that I could do anything to him and he wouldn't complain in the slightest. He wanted me just as much as I needed him. I had to hang in there but God it was difficult!

"You really mean that Tom?"

"You know I do. I'd let you take me right now but your rules and belief in what's right and wrong are getting in the way all the time Have you any idea how frustrating that is?"

"I do. I'm having first-hand experience of it right now."

"Take me to bed then. Make love to me!"

I got up from my chair and motioned Tom to stand up. I took him in my arms and kissed him, briefly at first but in a heartbeat our kisses were deep and meaningful, our tongues playing a love dance. I broke away and laid my head on his shoulders.

"Tom I can't. Not yet at least. Please I'm finding this very difficult at the moment but it will happen unless you change your mind. It's all about timing. You understand?"

I could feel him nodding his head. I stood up and looked at him, tears running down his beautiful little face. God how I loved this boy!

"Let's have another glass and then talking of bed, we'd better get there soon. We've a long day tomorrow. I really do love you more than life itself Tom."

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