by Andrew Foote

Chapter 20

We lay there for about another half-hour just talking, we did a lot of that!

We had just become a couple, Jus had taken my virginity and despite my decent usage of the English language, I can still cannot find words sufficient to describe how I felt at that time.

A mixture of total happiness, complete adoration, fear of the future but most of all love, love for the most wonderful human being that had and will ever walk the earth.

Looking at the clock, we reluctantly separated ourselves and while Jus boiled some water for a mug of tea each, I fired up the engine for hot water, both of us stinking of sex and in need of a shower.

I cooked us a light breakfast. Jus would be eating in the refectory that evening and like as not, I wouldn't be allowed to be by myself for longer than was necessary, my dinner would be provided for me, of that I was sure and once we'd cleared up, Jus volunteered to fill the water tank while I vacuumed around and generally tidied up, finishing at about the same time.

Another mug of tea which we took and sat down on the couch together.

"I know this might sound horrible but I want today to hurry up Alex."

"It's alright, I know what you mean. A bit like waiting to see the dentist. You don't want to but better to get it over quickly!"

"Are you still coming with me?"

"What, to school this afternoon? Yes of course I am. Why do you ask? Don't you want me too?"

"I want! I was just thinking about what we said, hugging and stuff, that's all."

"Well…..I won't if it's going to make life difficult for you. I want you to have as easier time as possible."

"It was just bravado talking before, a brave idea if a dangerous one but last night changed everything. I really feel you're mine now and I want the world to know!

Do you have a problem if we stick with 'Plan A'?"

"It isn't going to make much difference to me either way but for you? I want you to be safe! If you want to go for it then okay, I just worry it will make things worse for you."

"Whichever way it's going to be hard so why not let it happen for all the right reasons? No more lying, no more pretending I'm not what I am, face facts and be proud of the fact I've found you. I don't want to live a lie anymore Alex? Can you understand?"

"I'm trying to. It's just different for me. It's all up front, I don't have to be brave like you."

"I know it but will you support me in this?

Before we met, I could just pretend it was a one-off, something that happened that got misunderstood even though it was pretty innocent but now? Now I know what I want, who I want and as that person is you, I want you to be with me in this."

"Then there's no argument. I'm right behind you in every way possible. There's nothing I will not do for you!"

"Cuddle and kiss me in front of the other boys?"

"Oh man? I can't wait to see their reaction!"

Jus made his way up to the house at the appointed hour and got dressed into school uniform. I locked the boat and followed him a short while later.

Seeing him dressed that way kind of sent mixed messages to my brain. In one respect he looked very smart, almost business-like as the uniform was understated. Black leather shoes, charcoal grey trousers, light grey jacket, white shirt and the only indication it was indeed a school uniform was the tie.

The other message was that it made him look 'like a schoolboy'. I know that sounds stupid but I'd become so used to seeing him in shorts and a tee shirt, not really thinking about his age, now he almost looked younger, slightly vulnerable.

While Jus was saying his Good-bye's I helped my Dad lift the trunk into the boot of the Bentley and once done the three of us got into the car and with one final wave we were on our way.

The journey was a quiet one. My Dad had raised the smoked glass partition between him and the rear seats leaving us some privacy but anyway, we didn't talk very much, Jus had his head on my shoulder and I just watched the passing countryside through the windows.

After about an hour, Dad spoke over the intercom.

"We're almost there boys, perhaps another ten minutes."

Jus leaned forward and pressed the answer button.

"Thanks Tim. We're as ready as we will ever be."

"Okay Justin. This how it goes.

I understand you have porters to take your trunk. I will remove it from the boot then will act as the perfect chauffeur and remain in the car until Alexis is ready to leave so I'll say my good-bye's now.

Just remember we're all of us here for you mate! Any problems then either telephone you're Grandparents or your Uncle Rolly, got it? One way or the other, someone will come running!

All of us hope it won't come to that but remember, it isn't just Alexis who loves you, it's all of us and we will all be thinking of you."

Jus studied the floor before replying.

"Thanks. I know you will and you can have no idea how much that means to me."

He giggled,

"Thank you 'Timothy-the-chauffeur!'"

We motored down the avenue towards the school. I never liked it the first time I saw it imposing as it was but now it took on a completely different perspective. My Justin was probably going to be very miserable here and I fought back tears.

Jus looked stoic, almost resigned to the situation. He didn't cry, he didn't smile, his face totally without expression and the terrible thought, the memory of his attitude when we first met took a grip of me. Was he building barricades already?

I took hold of his hand. He didn't reject it but also he didn't return my grip and that frightened me. I didn't question it, I just kept a hold on him until we'd parked up at which point his removed his hand from mine, waited for my Dad to open the door for him and stepped out.

I followed him and waited until the porters had taken his trunk away then waited for him to say good-bye. It never came.

He shot me a half smile, shook his head and walked away.

I sat up front next to my Dad on the way back trying so hard not to cry but it was impossible. One moment and I was holding it together, the next I collapsed in a fit of near hysterics. Dad pulled into a layby and cuddled me, rocking me in his embrace.

"I saw it Alexis and I'm not sure what to say to you."

"He didn't even speak to me Dad? He just looked at me and walked away! WHY!! Tell me WHY??"

"I don't know mate. Nerves, frightened of the other boys reaction maybe? C'mon we none of us can really understand what was going through his mind right then?

Obviously he has concerns and it is unfortunately down to him to deal with them in his own way."

"Yeah right!! Like he did before you mean? Fucking lot of good that did!!"

"Normally I'd bollock you for using language like that but in this instance…….I cannot but try and temper your anger with reason son. I realise you've never been to boarding school, any school for that matter but both Mum and I have and there's like a protocol, an unwritten rule book and step over the line, act outside the boundaries, your fellows will pick you out as an easy target if for no other reason than to hide their own shortcomings, shield themselves from their own activities.

It has nothing to do with Justin as an individual son? It's just he was put into a spotlight and they, whoever 'they' were, took advantage of a situation that suited their purpose."

"So that makes it alright? Is that what you're saying?? That's bollocks Dad and you know it!"

"That's not what I'm saying at all. He has to survive there, we don't, so try and at least see it from his viewpoint."

"I'm trying and yes, I hear you but that is no excuse for not just saying something? Well is it??"

"I don't know. There is a part of me that understands. Perhaps he thought that to do and say absolutely nothing might draw less attention but then again? To completely blank you was a bit unnecessary.

We don't know what he was thinking. If it was he was only just holding it together, maybe by merely opening his mouth he was frightened of ending up in the same state as you are now, then perhaps he made a wise decision.

Pretty much nothing my Dad could come up with satisfied me. I was totally devastated, numb to the point where I couldn't even cry anymore.

We got back to the house and mouthing an apology I wandered back to 'Spook', made up the stove and went to bed even though it was only seven in the evening. I needed to be on my own. Completely on my own.

At some point during the evening my Mum must've come to check up on me as in the morning there were a dozen eggs and a note sitting on the galley counter.

'Came to make sure you were alright. Justin telephoned to say he was okay and asked if you were there. When we told him how upset you were he asked us to tell you how sorry he was and he would explain next weekend when he came back. Try not to worry, just keep that thought to the fore. Mum.'

I think it must've helped me because yes, I wasn't very cheerful but neither was I upset, sort of an in between mood but by Wednesday and quite clearly unable to concentrate on my studies, my Dad came up with an idea.

"This is a pointless waste of time Alexis. You're hardly listening to a word I say!

Is your water tank topped up?"

"Yeah. I did it yesterday. Why?"

"Because you and I are going to go out for a couple of days with 'Spook', that's why! Get to understand how she ticks and so when you and Justin decide to head out by yourselves you will know what you're doing. Plan???"

For the first time that week I was animated!

"Oh right on! Where are we going Dad?"

"Your boat, you choose. We can either go south to Henley or north towards Beale Park. It's up to you."

"Definitely Henley! Oh WOW! We're really going out?"

"Come on! Let's get packed up here, five minutes to tell your mother and we're off.

Why don't you go and get her started so everything's ready but one small detail. You want to go to Henley? That means transiting through Caversham Lock and you, my boy, are going to do all the work!"

The weather was quite good. A bit of a breeze but dry and for the time of year, pleasantly warm.

Dad, true to his word, sat up on the well deck while I untied and reversing away from the jetty, made a neat turn midstream pointing us in the direction of Caversham

'Spook' was shorter than 'Casio' which made her easier to manoeuvre but dear God did that Lister develop some thrust!! She fairly shot through the water and I really had to think about my engine speed to stop her from disobeying speed restrictions.

As I approached Caversham Lock I started to get a bit nervous.

I'd never locked through on my own and already other boaters were eying me suspiciously. A kid helming a narrow boat without supervision? I could see their point but Dad wasn't in any hurry to help me, instead he just sat out front, beer in hand as if I had been doing it all my life.

I throttled back and let 'Spook' gently into the bank, I jumped clear, centre line in hand and tied her off.

Walking up to the lock, I saw another boat ahead of me who was also waiting to lock through.

This one was a cruiser, clinker built but very expensive and as I continued on up the towpath I was joined by its owner.

"Are you people locking through as well young man?"

"Yes. I was just going to speak to the lock keeper."

"Well you go back to your boat and tell your father that I will see the lock keeper and that he should follow me in once the lock is set."

"That's very nice of you but don't you think it might be better if we entered first? We're sixteen tonnes of steel and your boat is made of wood."

"Nonsense! I was here first, I will enter first! Now hurry along, we haven't got all day!"

I got back to the boat and told my Dad about this encounter. He had not only had a few beers but had obviously been 'smoking'.

"Yeah well. That's his funeral isn't it. Just go for it son!!"

I watched until I saw this cruiser edge away from her moorings and followed at a safe distance, waited until she was against the empty lock wall before entering myself.

To my undying pride, I made a perfect entrance never touching the lock wall or the other boat but the look on that guys face was priceless!

"I thought you said that your father was bringing the boat in? What on earth does he think he's doing letting you helm!"

"He's not keen on driving and anyway, I didn't say anything of the sort. You just assumed."

He walked up the lock side and proceeded to have a go at my Dad.

"What the hell are you playing at! How could you be so irresponsible as to allow a young boy to helm your boat!"

"Hey man? Relax, chill out! It isn't my boat, it's his so his boat? He drives. I'm just here catching some rays baby!"

Now I knew my Dad was stoned! He had a beautiful way with words when he'd been smoking and our new 'friend' was clearly taken aback.

" His boat? He's far too young to own something like that!"

My Dad looked at him, giving him a disarming smile.

"No he isn't. If you care to check the registration with the British Waterways Board or Thames Conservancy you will discover that the registered owner is a certain Alexis Greening" then gesturing in my direction, "and that is he."

"Who may I ask are you?"

"Tim Greening. I'm his father."

"Well Mr Greening, I will be reporting your totally irresponsible behaviour to the authorities!"

"Oh alright but to save you any embarrassment when you do, you may as well get it right. It's Doctor Greening, not Mister."

Now despite my Dad's calm exterior, I now knew he was a touch angry! He almost never used his professional title, I doubted even Sir George was aware of it not withstanding their friendship but on this occasion it did serve to defuse things.

"Doctor Greening? You're a medical man?"

"No, no! I'm just an academic, my field is Mathematics."

"Here at Reading University I imagine."

"I work independently in conjunction with a number of University faculties and yes, Reading is one of them but also Oxford, Manchester and London."

"Oxford you say. Very interesting. You have probably heard of Professor Hall then."

"Chris? I've not only heard of him, I know him very well as it happens!"

"Oh I see. Umm……well I think I should be getting along now. Our lock keeper is getting impatient. Goodbye" and then looking at me, "and you take it steady young man. I still believe that boat is too big for you to handle." With that passing shot, he climbed back on board his boat, made his exit from the lock, opened up his engines and sped off down the river.

As we made our way out, Dad gave the lock keeper a cheery wave and came aft to join me.

"Too big for you to handle my arse! What a horrid little turd! Did you hear that line he shot me about your Uncle Chris? He was testing me! He didn't believe me!"

"He'd got a point though Dad? It must look a bit odd someone like me driving."

"Whether it does or not isn't the issue here Alexis. You should never judge a book by its cover.

Some years ago I saw a boat that was at least as big as 'Casio' and the lad who was helming her couldn't have been much more than about ten. He even had to stand on an upturned milk crate to see over the deckhouse but his boatmanship was flawless. Yeah, he was really something to watch!"

We continued on our way following the river as it meandered its way through the Thames valley, my Dad had again made his way back up onto the well deck but then reappeared, navigation map in hand.

"See this bend coming up? Stay close to the right hand bank. It says here that it can get a bit silted up and there's a risk of running aground if you stray too far across."

With that piece of information I did as instructed and took the wider turn but halfway around we spotted our friend from the lock, his boat listing to one side and the owner frantically trying to pole his way off the sandbank. Dad smiled.

"Oh look who we have here! Payback time! Slow right down son, bring her to a stop if the current will let you."

Dad then reached across me and hit the klaxon, the man turned and held his arms up in mock surrender.

"You only draw about two foot under the keel, my guess is he's more than three so make your way VERY slowly towards him and if you hear yourself grounding, you stop. I'm going up front and if we can get close enough, I'll throw him your bow line. Maybe we can pull him off."

Very gingerly I inched 'Spook' towards the stranded boat until I heard the grating of metal on shingle at which point I brought her to a standstill.

From where I was standing it looked as if we were a good eighteen feet away from the cruiser but Dad coiled my bow line, studied his target and launched the rope into the air. He missed.

The second attempt did however find the mark and before the weight of the now saturated rope pulled it back into the water, our man grabbed it and tied it off onto a mooring stud.

Dad indicated for me to go astern and as we moved backwards the rope tightening sending droplets of water cascading back into the river but then I came to a halt.

I increased the engine revolutions sending clouds of blue smoke into the atmosphere but then I felt 'Spook's' hull tremble beneath my feet and slowly, very slowly we inched backwards dragging the cruiser into deep water. Once the rope was released and with nowhere to moor up, we waved out goodbyes and continued on down to Henley arriving at just gone six in the evening. We spotted a vacant mooring directly outside a rather posh looking pub and bringing 'Spook' about, I headed back upstream, brought her alongside and tied off.

"There's only one problem mooring here Alexis. We can't stay here and not use their facilities!"

"Oh I am so, so sorry Dad! This is going to be a great hardship for you being teetotal and everything!" he playfully swatted me round the back of my head and laughed. "The older you get, the more I love you! Have you got something a bit smarter to wear?"

"Yes but the question is, do you?"

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