George and the Boys

by Ivor Slipper

The Meeting

He thought he heard a voice calling his name, "Ben," but it seemed very, very far away. Then he heard it again, "Ben," but this time it seemed a little closer. The voice came again, "Ben, wake up Ben, please?" It was definitely much closer now he told himself. Perhaps it was time to get up and get ready to go to school. But it was so comfortable here he didn't want to make the effort. "Ben, please, please, wake up," he heard this time, even closer still. He struggled to move and open his eyes. Now he could feel someone holding his hand. It felt nice. 'Jake?' Yes, must be Jake he said to himself. But then he realised the hand in question was too big to be Jake's, so whose was it?

He opened his eyes and everything was extremely bright. He couldn't focus at first and blinked several times.

"Ben, you're awake!" said the voice, sounding incredibly pleased.

He knew that voice. It belonged to his father, so was it his father who was holding his hand? That would also explain the size of the hand, but why would his father be holding his? He was much too old to have his hand held by his father. And why was he sounding so pleased?

Slowly his vision became less blurry and he could now make out that he was in a room of some sort but it definitely wasn't his bedroom. And yes, his father was there, but sitting in a chair beside the bed. But it wasn't his bed either as this one had little rails round it. The light was hurting his eyes and he wanted to close them.

"Ben, don't go back to sleep, please. Try and stay awake. Try and talk to me. Do you want something to drink?"

Ben could sense his mouth was unbelievably dry and a drink sounded a great idea. He tried to say 'Yes, please," but it was a struggle to get the words out.

"Nurse, he's awake! Will you get someone to call my wife. I don't want to leave him."

This was very odd indeed Ben said to himself. What's a nurse doing here? And where indeed is 'here'? And why doesn't he want to leave me?

His forced his eyes open again and this time the focus was much better. It was indeed his father sitting there and holding his hand, but why would he have thought it was someone named Jake? He didn't know anyone with that name. He managed to look round the room and it dawned on him when his eyes saw various pieces of medical equipment, that he must be in a hospital. But why?

His eyes came back to his father, who looked as happy as he'd ever seen him and yet he had tears running down his face. Another puzzle.

He felt like he wanted to close his eyes again, but his father gripped his hand tighter and the pain of that stopped him from doing so. Just then a lady in a uniform came into the room, spoke to his father and handed him a very small cup of what he assumed was water. She helped him raise it to his lips and never before had he tasted such nice water.

"Ben, how do you feel? Does your head hurt?" the nurse asked when he'd finished drinking.

Ben tried to reply, but only odd noises came out.

The nurse smiled at him, "I'll go and fetch the doctor so he can have a look at you. Try and stay awake until he gets here. You'd best talk to him until then, Mr Travers."

He heard his father laugh, "I'm not sure I've got anything left to say after all the talking to him I've done over the last few days."

That made no sense at all to Ben.

"Do you know where you are, Ben?" his father asked.

"Othpitle," he croaked.

His father chuckled again, "Yes, hospital. Do you know why you're here?"

Ben tried to shake his head, but wasn't sure it moved. "No," he managed to say.

"So you don't remember when you were coming home from school last Friday you slipped on an icy patch, fell, and hit your head on the pole of a street sign?"

That was all news to Ben. So, how long had he been here he wondered?

"You were unconscious, but luckily didn't break any bones. They rushed you here in an ambulance and either your mum or I have been sat by your bed ever since waiting for you to wake up. They said we should talk to you even if you didn't respond, so we did. I've been reading stories to you most of the time."

'Stories' – that word seemed to mean something special as if it was trying to ignite a spark in his memory.

"Whassa day?"

"Oh, what day is it today you mean? It's Tuesday which means you've been unconscious for almost four days. Mind you, the doctor did tell us it might be four weeks, or even four months, so I guess we're lucky."

That made no sense at all to him. How could anyone be unconscious for that length of time?

Just then the door to the room opened. A man in a white coat came in, closely followed by his mother. She rushed to the side of the bed where his father was sitting. He stood up so she could sit down and she grabbed hold of Ben's arm and started crying and babbling incoherently – at least Ben couldn't understand what she was saying. Slowly she calmed down though and more or less repeated what his father had said.

Meanwhile the doctor had gone to the other side of the bed. He took hold of Ben's wrist and checked his pulse, took out a little torch and shone it into his eyes and finally asked if he had any pain. Ben managed to indicate that he didn't and the doctor turned to Ben's parents.

"We told you he could wake up at any time and I'm pleased that has happened so soon. Much less chance of any long term problems. We'll need to do another scan, but if that shows nothing untoward, we can start taking steps to get him out of bed and mobile again. All being well, he should be coming home on Thursday. How does that sound?"

Ben thought it sounded great. His mother thought it was far too soon and that he should stay there much longer, but his father said they should go along with what the experts recommended.

And so Ben came home on Thursday. His mother fussed over him almost constantly which being so unlike her normal behaviour he found rather disconcerting. He was quite happy to sit and read a book and go for the occasional short walk. The first time he did that his mother insisted on coming with him which he found embarrassing, especially as the weather had warmed up a lot since the previous week and there was now no snow or ice to be seen.

On Sunday he told his parents he was going to go back to school on Monday. His mother said it was much too soon; his father said it was a good idea, but they would give him a note to take in to say he couldn't do any sport or PE that week. That suited him down to the ground as they were most definitely his least favourite subjects. He wondered how long he might continue to be excused from them – the longer the better he thought.

So come Monday morning he got up at the usual time and did all the necessary pre-school things. Having had his cereal and toast he put on his Heathfield School blazer, over which, at his mother's insistence, went an anorak, and then set off for school.

Because he had hardly any friends at school he always tried to time his arrival close to that at which the doors were opened to allow pupils to get books from lockers and make their way to their home-room for registration. He also suspected that nobody would really have noticed his absence during the previous week.

He took from his locker the books he'd need for his first couple of lessons, slipped them into his backpack and made his way to his home-room. There was still some time before the bell sounded, so the room wasn't yet full. On looking round though he was surprised to see another boy sitting at what he considered to be his desk. Ben thought he knew the boy from somewhere as his face was vaguely familiar, but at the same time he was sure he hadn't been in his home-room when he was last at school.

As he walked towards his desk, the boy who had been reading a book, looked up and a smile crossed his lips. He had light brown hair that came down over his forehead but he was otherwise unremarkable, being dressed in the Heathfield School blazer, red striped tie, white shirt, dark grey trousers and black shoes. As Ben arrived at the the desk the boy spoke to him.

"Are you Ben Travers?"

"Yes," Ben replied.

"Guessed you must be the way you walked straight to this desk. I only started last Monday and Mr Evans said I could sit here because you were likely to be off for a while. Seems it wasn't as long as he expected it would be though."

Ben was still puzzling about the boy. Now he'd spoken even his voice seemed vaguely familiar.

"Err, no. I got better quicker than expected."

"That's good. Look, I'll move into the desk next to you if that's alright, but it's not in as good condition as this one which was why I asked if I could sit here."

"Yes, that's fine. I could go there myself though."

"Why should you? I'm the new boy. Only started here last Monday," he said as he stood, picked up his book and backpack and moved across to the next desk. "I'm Jake by the way, Jake Wyatt."

Ben grabbed for his seat and sat down quickly before his legs gave way. "Do you come from Exeter or Truro?" he asked.

"Exeter. But how would you know that?"

Ben shrugged, "And do you have a dog?"

"Yes, I do! He's called 'Rover' and he disappeared for a few days just after we'd moved here. Luckily someone found him and took him to the vet and because he's microchipped they contacted us. But how would you know I had a dog? Have you been spying on me since we moved here?"

Before Ben could answer the door of the classroom shut and looking up Ben saw a master standing there who he didn't recognise.

"Who's that?" he asked Jake quietly.

"That's a temporary replacement for Mr Evans. He had an accident last week so will be off for a while. This is Mr Washington, but we all call him George behind his back."

"Yeah, we all used to call Mr Evans 'Good' behind his back!" Ben replied with a little chuckle.

Jake also gave a little chuckle, "I gathered that last week. Oh, Mr Evans set us an exercise in English last week before he had his accident. Mr Washington is also taking English and he wants them handed in on Thursday. Expect you'll be excused from doing it though. It's a bit strange anyway, which was why I was reading that book."

"'Compose an email to send to the author of a story you read and liked," said Ben.

"How the hell did you know that as you weren't here?" Jake exclaimed, drawing a disapproving glance from Mr Washington who was just opening the register.

"Umm, I just did. Same as I knew, more or less, where you've moved from and that you've got a dog. I even knew his name and that he'd gone missing after you'd moved here."

"Holy shit!" hissed Jake. "I wanna know more, but I've got a feeling it will be a long story and I'll want to hear it all at once. How about you come to my place for a sleepover on Friday?"

Ben had never been invited for a sleepover. Indeed he'd hardly ever even visited any other boy's home. Ben smiled as something told him his life was about to change – for the better.

"I like the sound of that. I want to meet 'Rover' and your parents, but I sorta feel like I know them already.

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