by Andrew Foote

Chapter 23

That night after supper I sat down and penned a long letter to Jus. Not only did I want to tell him about the day's events but also I needed to reassure him that he was always in my thoughts and just how much I loved him.

Looking back on it now, maybe I should've left it until after tomorrow mornings lessons as I was tired and feeling emotional and that was reflected in no small way in my letter but isn't hindsight wonderful!

I bunked down very early that night in order to be guaranteed to be up at first light so I could run down into Caversham, post the letter in the hope it would catch the first post and reach Jus the following day, the postal system being far more efficient than todays.

The following couple of days followed the same routine of morning studies and dog exercising in the afternoons, the only difference being on Thursday morning I had a letter back from Jus.

'Hello Boyfriend!

Thanks for your lovely letter although I did get a bit weepy as you sounded rather sad but with everything that went down at the University, I couldn't understand why you should be. Maybe you will tell me Friday afternoon but please, if only for my sake, try and keep positive thoughts just like your Dad told you.

Things here don't change much. I'm still the pariah but so long as I keep my head down, I'm left to my own devices.

It's odd though, I get along with the girls very well! No I don't have a girlfriend you idiot but they seem to accept me far better than the other boys (the crowd in my dorm being the exception). One girl told me that they don't see me as a predator! Most of the boys just want to get into their knickers but they feel they can relax around me, nice to have a boy my age that they can talk to without any sort of sexual undertow. I don't know if that's a good thing or not but if nothing else, I can honestly say I do have some friendly faces I can be around!

I hope we get the prototype for the weekend! I can hardly wait to try it out!

I recon the dogs will love it but I understand what your Dad said about keeping it under wraps and so with this in mind, I talked to the head of our sports department and he has given me a whole pile of old tennis balls, past their prime but good enough for us to use in the garden and it won't matter if we lose some in the river.

Funny really! He thought I was interested in taking up tennis!

Not so sure about that but we could always have a go on Granddads clay court. Might be a bit of fun?

I'd better close now or I'll miss the post.

I love you Alex? I want nothing more than to be with you, to hear your laughter, to take you in my arms, lead you to bed and make love to you again.

Please don't go having a wank?! Wait for me. Friday's not far away.

Jus. XXXX'

I had to smile at his comment about not having a wank as that was just what I was thinking of doing!

Oh well, I'll just have to think of another way to calm Willy down!

Instead of the remainder of the week dragging, it flew past and on Thursday afternoon my Dad had a telephone call from Professor Standish. Our prototype was ready and if we wished, we could go to the University the following morning, collect it and conduct tests with it as we'd done with the sticks.

Dad announced that so long as we put in extra time the following week, studies would be put on ice the next day so the morning could be spent at the University campus and then collect Jus in the afternoon. If the tests were successful, we could then apply for patent the following week.

The following morning we breakfasted together on 'Casio' then drove over to Whiteknights Park going directly to see Professor Standish.

"So young man, here is your prototype. It is how we designed it but with one slight change.

Here's the first one we made and as you can see, the hand grip is too flexible so what we did with Mark 2 is to insert a small aluminium bar inside the handle to make it rigid. The difference in weight is negligible but it makes a lot of difference to its overall effectiveness.

Actually I'd be very interested to come along and witness the testing that Alan's going to do with you if you've no objections, then if we need to make any further modifications, I'll have first-hand knowledge to help me."

"Yes of course you would be very welcome but I feel a bit guilty putting you to so much bother just for Justin's silly idea."

"Alexis. Justin's idea is far from being 'silly'. As your Father said, the simple and seemingly obvious inventions come from observations of other things we see around us. I would very much like to meet your friend and personally congratulate him on something that is or could be quite a business opportunity and all because he was able to think laterally while watching a game of Lacrosse."

Next we walked over to the 'Great Hall' and after Alan had cast his eye over the prototype, set his computer and indicated we were ready to begin testing.

This time there was no need to go into detail as to what we were going to be doing, we'd done it before so the first ball I threw by hand marked the datum for testing.

Alan had double-checked my arm length and again with the prototype in my hand and we were off!

The first throw sent the ball down the hall at a frightening speed and I didn't need a computer to tell me it had travelled a far greater distance than ever it had with the willow stick. Mutters of "Good grief!" came from the adults but I'd actually thrown slower than with my arm but four or five attempts later, that single whistle indicating an exact match.

The computer spat out its calculations and once Alan had finished reading the results, turned to me.

"I don't want you to guess distances Alexis but let us say that if throwing the ball using just your arm equals 'X', what would you estimate is 'X' to the power of using the prototype?

"Oh I don't really know. Umm X times 2.5 maybe?" I said more out of hope than expectation.

"Oh please Alexis! Get real??? Try X times 4?"

"Four times the distance?? You have to be kidding me, right?!"

"I'm a scientist. I don't kid around! Give, or in this instance take an inch, four times the distance but if it were possible to replicate your exact stance and posture, I think we could safely say you could possibly launch it a little bit further and if you like, I will put this in writing as an official University Calibration test so if you ever market it, it will serve as proof-positive that you are not making false claims when it comes to its capabilities."

"Wow! Thank you Alan and thank you Professor! I don't know what to say or even how to begin to thank you!"

Professor Standish smiled at me.

"No need to thank us Alexis but if you feel you want to help us in return, as and when you do market it and I will be very upset if you didn't, have it printed on the label or the packaging that it was your Companies invention but with help in its development from Reading University's Faculty of Science. It's like an advertisement, it might attract more work from industry and that helps us to invest in the latest technology."

"We will market it and we will definitely have that clearly displayed!"

"Good stuff! Also I will make one other promise to you. If we develop a better material, both Alan and I would both be very happy to work alongside you or indeed alongside Justin to help improve what is already a terrific invention and if you or he have any other bright ideas, come and talk them over with us as it's really nice to be in on the ground floor of something exciting!"

If that wasn't enough for one day, as we drove over to Down House, my Dad told me that he had gathered together all the necessary documents to file for patent and also to file with Company's House as a Limited Liability company, both of which we would discuss over the weekend.

"Do you really think it will sell Dad?"

"As sure as I can be about anything! The way that ball flew through the air was incredible! Justin is a very astute lad and so he deserves the chance to make something out of it."

"Taking of 'making' Dad? How are we going to manufacture it? The University can't be expected to go into full blown production can they?"

"No they can't but I've been talking with Sir George and we might've come up with a way around that little problem. I'm not going to say too much, it's really up to George to broach the subject so just be patient and wait to hear what he has in mind."

As we drove down the avenue towards Down House somehow everything seemed to be 'right' but my nature and past experiences as a family had taught me not to take too much for granted although there was no doubting my excitement.

As we rounded the bend into the carpark, Jus was already there and talking to a couple of girls.

Dad got out and opened the door for me in the time-honoured fashion and Jus beamed at me, rushed over and gave me a massive hug.

"So good Alex!! Come on, I want to introduce you to some actual friends of mine!"

We walked over to where the two girls were stood and Jus made the introductions.

"Alex, this is Kate and this is Alison. Really, really lovely people. Ali, Kate, this is Alex my, umm, 'special' friend!"

Alison looked at me and smiled.

"Well Alex? Justin has good taste. You're really cute to the point of gorgeous!"

I was slightly taken aback by this and I could feel my old problem returning. I blushed for England!

Kate giggled.

"You said he changed colour sometimes Justin! We're sorry Alex. We didn't mean to embarrass you but you really are awfully good looking!"

"Well……umm thanks! I'm sorry but I'm not used to compliments but if you're Jus's friends then he has taste as well. You're really nice too and I'm pleased that you are friends with him. Thing aren't easy y'know?"

I was able to speak as I did as my Dad and Jus were over by the car deep in conversation.

Alison spoke.

"Look Alex? Justin has pretty much told us everything. We know he's not exactly flavour of the month but we girls love him to bits. He is so good looking but also caring, his manner is so gentle and respectful, just about what every girl wants from a boyfriend but he's yours and I think you're really lucky."

"You mean that??"

"Oh yes! I really mean it Alex.

Look, umm……… both Kate and I live in Caversham and I was wondering if we could both come and visit you say……maybe sometime over half-term? He's told us about your boat, we'd love to see it?"

"That would be really nice! Have you mentioned this to Jus?"

"I love the way you shorten his name Alex! Yes he is okay with it but asked us to speak with you first."

"He shortens mine as well! My name is Alexis really but yeah, rock on! It would be great to see you.

Are you not being collected this weekend?"

Kate chipped in.

"No. We're in the same situation as Justin. Our parents all work abroad so it's full time boarding for us."

"Can't you get a weekend pass? Come over with us, spend the weekend in Mapledurham? Hey! That would be cool! You blokes are alright!"

"It's a bit late in the day to organise it for this weekend now but some other time would be good."

"Well so far as I'm concerned, any weekend is cool. I'm home tutored so I'm not going anywhere. Why don't you talk it over with Jus next week and sort out a date. Putting you up won't be an issue as there's plenty of room up at the house or………….I don't know whether I should even suggest the other option?"

"Go on silly! What's the other option?"

"Stay with us on 'Spook', that's the name of my boat by the way but I can understand if you're not comfortable with the idea."

"Can you sleep four on your boat Alex?"

"Yeah no problem there. Jus and I share the forepeak which is separated from the rest of the boat by a door but then it's an easy job to take down the table in the dinette to form another double bunk but it'll mean you guys crashing together."

"Well I prefer the boat option. How about you Ali?"

"Sure thing. Afterall we're not into each other, are we??"

"Not so as you would notice! Anyway, moving swiftly on, Justin's coming over."

Jus wandered over to where we were standing and nudged me in the ribs.

"Tim thinks it's time we made tracks Alex and sorry ladies, no disrespect intended but I need out of here!"

Ali reached out and pulled him into an embrace.

"We understand. Go on, get yourself back home. See you for supper Sunday evening."

With that she swapped Jus for me, giving me a hug and a kiss on the cheek followed by Katie hugging and kissing both of us.

"Hey Jus, what nice girls! I don't get to meet many around my own age but they seem really cool!"

"Oh they are, believe me! They've been like my lifeline at school, you know, almost inseparable but once supper's over we're not allowed to mix for obvious reasons."

"I hope you don't mind but I've extended an invitation for them to spend a weekend with us. Is that alright?"

"Alright? Shit Alex? That would be really cool! I'm so pleased you liked them enough to do that! I'm sure Granddad wouldn't mind having a couple of visitors."

"Ahh but they prefer the option of staying on 'Spook'. There's room enough and they, we get some privacy so I sort of agreed!"

"Super-cool! Party time! That's something I've found out. It's wonderful to have girl 'friends' rather than a girlfriend not that I'm interested but they're fun company and I know we'll have a blast!"

"Thank God for that! I thought you might object at sharing our time together with a couple of girls."

"They're not just a couple of girls Alex, they're mates! Ali is a bit of a Tom-boy but Katie is as 'sweet as momma's homemade apple pie'!"

"Don't go all American on me Jus? No, I liked them both, that's why I invited them but it's your job next week to sort dates, okay?"

"Yahs'm boss! Anythin' you say suh!"

"You are a prick when you put your mind to it Jus. Did you know that?"

"Yeah I've been practicing!"

Back in Mapledurham we sorted out the prototype. Jus gave it the once-over and pronounced it was fit for purpose, cheeky bastard!

He had managed to scrounge a whole net of 36 tennis balls so after kennelling the dogs we set to.

"Come on. You go first! Afterall it was your idea and I already know what it's capable of."

We went down and stood by the river bank, Jus stood there and eyed the opposite bank.

"Do you think I could get the ball all the way over?"

"Quite possibly. There is a bit of a knack to it though. Imagine your bowling a cricket ball, you know, keep your arm straight."

Jus placed a ball in the spoon, positioned himself then swung the thrower over his head with a considerable amount of force.

The ball cannoned away with so much speed we lost sight of it momentarily but then we saw it bounce probably three to four yards onto the far bank.

A young lad walking his dog saw it and picked it up then looking across at us, shrugged his shoulders and shouted to us.

"No way can I throw hard enough to reach you guys. Want me to leave it here?"

Jus cupped his hands to his mouth.

"It's okay. You keep it. We've got plenty more thanks."

"Groovy! Thanks!" and with that he ball threw the ball for his Labrador who eagerly chased after it, waved to us and walked on.

Jus looked at me and grinned.

"One happy kid and probably a soon-to-be knackered Labrador!"

"Wrong! Three happy kids and one soon-to-be knackered Labrador!"

We messed about with techniques for a while longer then Jus spotted the boy walking back with one very tired dog!

"C'mon Alex? You throw him another one!"

I put a ball into the spoon and threw it as hard as I could. It landed some six foot in front and about in line with him and on seeing it land, ran over to it and picked it up holding it aloft.

I cupped my hands a shouted to him.

"It's cool. Keep that one as well. Looks like your Lab enjoyed it!"

He briefly looked around him, checking there was no one else within earshot and shouted back.

"Hey thanks! Poor old Billy, he's shagged out! How do you manage to throw it so far?"

"It's a secret at the moment. Do you walk this way a lot?"

"Yeah. Twice a day. Once before school and again when I get back, that is unless it's pissing it down ha-ha!"

"Okay. I'll catch you another time, alright?"

"Cool and hey? Thanks for the balls!"

"You're welcome man!"

Jus turned to me.

"He's had a good day! He's got two balls."

"Unless I'm much mistaken, he's got four!"

That evening we ate our now routine fish and chips up at the house, the conversation mostly about forming a company.

My Dad's idea was for Jus to be the Managing Director, me as Technical Director as I would be more involved with the testing of future ideas (all assuming there were any!) and him as Company Secretary in control of all things financial and Sir George as the forth board member.

Jus seemed reluctant to be at the head of things but eventually relented but it was a very good idea to have a 'Doctor Tim Greening' and a 'Sir George Appleby' shown on company documentation as directors. We might be taken seriously once it had been set up.

We then set about the task of thinking of a suitable name for Jus's idea.

Various proposals were bandied around but then finally the penny dropped.

"We're calling the Company 'Armstrong Greening Limited', right?"

"That is what you decided on Alexis. Why?"

"What about 'Armstrong's Strong Arm' for the product name then!"

Stunned silence and then roars of laughter!

Sir George was almost beside himself!

"Excellent! Quite excellent Alexis! Are we all in favour?"

Hands shot up, even my Mum and Lady Eleanor's even though they were officially nothing to do with the yet-to-be Company! Jus looked slightly embarrassed!

"It doesn't seem fair that I should get a mention and Alex doesn't?"

Sir George took up his point.

"It's all about marketing Justin, not people? That's a name that people will remember, a product that they will go into the shops and ask for specifically rather than for alternatives.

Alex here will have to stay on top of his game, keep contact with the University, new materials, modified designs, new patents and so on but if an idea were to come along where 'Greening' was a more suitable marque then you would use it, correct?"

"Yes of course we would!

Okay, I agree."

"One further thing boys. I have an idea about the production of this idea but that can wait until tomorrow. I still have work to do regarding that, things I need to talk over with Tim so if you lads wish to adjourn, then go ahead and have a pleasant evening."

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