Love - Existentially

by John Teller

Part 14

Book Six - When Englishmen were boys

Stuart Begbie.

It's almost eight o' clock on Saturday night and I'm swotting in my bedroom when Mother calls to me to come downstairs and answer the telephone. I'm wondering who it can be. Maybe it's one of my pals wanting to meet tomorrow?

"The phone in the office, Stuart," says Mother.

I pick up the phone. "Hello."

"Hello Stuart. It's Mr Bourne. I just wanted to tell you that Michael won the race."

I'm stunned. "Michael won?!"

Mr Bourne chuckles into the phone. "Yes, he won. He's the Champion of ALL England now. I thought you might want to know."

I'm lost for words, but eventually I manage to stammer out, "I... I... can't believe it! Can I speak to him?"

"I'm afraid not Stuart. I'm calling from a public phone box and Michael doesn't know I'm ringing you. Is it just you and I on the phone?"

"Yes Sir."

"Good. I thought it wise for you to know now so that you don't go making a fool of yourself on Monday at school. You do have a tendency to overdo it regarding your emotions where Michael is concerned. I suggest you don't whistle too loud when he's called to the stage on Monday. You know what I mean, don't you?"

I giggle nervously. "Yes Sir."

"Good boy. Was that your gold chain Michael was wearing?"

"Yes Sir. I gave it to him before he left. Did he wear it during the race?"

"Yes he did. He wore it round his neck and he couldn't stop kissing it when he'd crossed the line. I thought you might like to know that. Best you go now and gather yourself over the rest of the weekend and then you won't act like a lunatic on Monday morning. I'm relying on you to do that. It's best for you both. Do you understand?"

"Yes Sir. And thank you. Can I tell my mother and father?"

"I don't see why not. Do they know about Michael?"

"Yes." I lower my voice. "But just that he's my friend. Sir, there's something I need to speak to you in private regarding Michael, and I'd like to do it on Monday if I can. Would that be possible Sir?"

The telephone is silent for a few moments, and then Mr Bourne answers. "Yes. Expect a call to come to me before lunch. We'll talk then. I'd best ring off now. My money is running out and I have no change left. Have a good weekend and don't overdo it with the celebrations."

"Thank you Sir. Goodnight."

"Goodnight Stuart."

Although I'm bursting with all sorts of emotions, I have to control myself. It takes me a while, but when I'm sure I'm ok, I wander into the lounge where Mother and Father are watching the television.

Mother turns and looks at me. "What did Mr Bourne want?"

I look at her. "Didn't he tell you?"

Mother looks puzzled, and Father is now paying attention when she speaks. "No. Was it important?"

I grin. "Michael Johnson won the race. He's the Champion of All England. That's not bad for a scarecrow, eh?"

Mother whoops with delight, and a massive grin comes over Father's face. I'm surprised they're so pleased. I'm even more surprised when Father says he's going to telephone the Lord-Lieutenant and tell him the good news. He gets up and goes into the office. I sit by Mother, and she puts an arm around me. "You really like Michael, don't you Stuart?"

I have to be careful here. "Yes I do Mother. He's a very special person. Well, I think so. Considering his background, he's done tremendously well and deserves full credit for it. I have little time for those who ridicule him because he doesn't have the best clothes, and those who look down on him because he comes from a poor family."

"Does a lot of that happen at school?"

I look her in the eyes. "To Michael, you mean?"


"Yes. Despite what he's achieved, some of the teachers still think of him as something they wouldn't scrape off their shoes. Mr Bourne is different." Now for the clincher. "Mr Bourne is more like us; benevolent to those less fortunate."

Mother takes my hand and gives me a Mother look. "I'm proud of you Stuart. Really proud! You're so grown up at times. I think I'd like to meet your friend. Rather than waiting for the Sir Clarence get-together, maybe we can invite him for dinner one Sunday?"

Before I have a chance to reply, Father returns to the lounge. He has a wide smile across his face. "Sir Clarence is delighted and says he'll get cracking on organising that tête-à-tête. Actually, I can't wait to meet the young man myself."

"Darling," Mother says "I was just suggesting to Stuart that we don't wait for Sir Clarence. Instead, why don't we invite him for dinner one Sunday? Like you, I think I really would like to meet him."

I interrupt. "I'm not sure that's a good idea Mother. Michael just doesn't have the... well; he would feel out of place."

Mother pushes her head back into her shoulders and gives me a severe stare. "Out of place?!"

I sigh. "Mother, Michael inhabits a different world than we do. He doesn't have the clothes to wear for dinner; he doesn't understand the etiquette, and I don't mean this in a nasty way, but you're so nice to our guests that even though it would be Michael coming to dinner, you wouldn't be able to not make it formal to a degree."

Father comes to the rescue. He sits by my side on the sofa and puts his arm around my shoulder. "Stuart, you can't protect Michael from everything. It seems as though he's going to make it in life, and he's going to have to learn how to survive in the world he will inhabit in the future. What better place for him to start than with friends who understand his background? How about we start halfway; sort of taking the mountain to Mohammed, rather than Mohammed to the mountain? We can dress down and Michael can dress as best he can." Father grins. "I'm sure you can have a quiet word and tell him which cutlery to use first. It's simple; start from the outside."

I giggle. "I think he already knows that, Father! He's not a troglodyte."

Mother laughs at that remark. "Just the four of us. No one else. Well?"

"Ok. I'll ask him if he'd like to come." Then another crafty thought flits into my mind. I look at Mother. "We could make it six. Michael and I get on well with Mr Bourne. Actually, Michael gets on very well with Mr Bourne, and if we invite him and his wife, Michael would feel more at home."

Father tightens his hug on my shoulder. "A splendid idea." He looks at Mother. "What do you think, Darling?"

Mother looks triumphant. "Done! Stuart, you invite Michael and I'll invite the Bournes. Next Sunday, I think. Is that enough time?"

I shrug my shoulders. "I'll ask Michael on Monday."

I strip off my pyjamas and throw them to the side of the bed. Already naked, Michael lies on top of me, supporting himself on his forearms so no weight is on my body. The gold chain is hanging from his neck. I take it in my teeth and chew my way along it until our faces come together. His beautiful soft lips open and caress my own. I can taste the spearmint from the gum he usually chews, and which, now, reminds me of his kisses every time I smell it. He smiles into my eyes and my heart misses a beat as I look deep into the soul of the man who loves me. Tears of love form in my own eyes when he tells me how deep that love is. Our tongues meet, and circle, and tease each other. Michael breaks the kiss and pulls slightly away, and kisses my teary eyes. My hands are on his strong back, and I stroke him from his neck to the firm buttocks, and then I push him onto his back.

I bite his neck and he winces with the pain. I am lost in the moment as I traverse his strong body... stopping at every soft place of him to bite him again. And then I arrive at My Destination. I adore IT, and as he has done to me many times, I devour his Presence. He struggles, trying to contain his feelings, but he is helpless to the caresses of my lips and tongue and the warmth of my mouth, and I am greatly rewarded by the voluminous essence of the man I love, and I greedily devour his Gift.

But my man is strong and he will not allow me to bask in the joys of what I have achieved, and he throws me onto my back and lifts my knees onto my chest. Now it's his turn to bite me, and the back of my soft thighs take the brunt of his fierce passions, and then he becomes gentle and his bites turn to soft kisses that he plants on the globes of joy that he adores. But I know he desires more of me, and I assist him by pulling those globes of joy apart so he can do that which he is aching to do, and which I cannot wait for. His lips and tongue become weapons of lust that penetrate my willingness and I squeal with pleasure at the sensations that take me to Nirvana. Haaaaa...mmmm...aaaaaaah. Oh my God! That was wonderful.

He is above me now... those beautiful brown eyes capturing my pleading soul. And then His Presence fills me completely. My eyes are closed when I feel his lips seek mine again. His strong mouth forces mine open, and he buries his tongue deep inside me. It's irresistible - that delicious tongue - and I suck on it until he draws it out of my mouth and seeks my own to do his bidding. My saliva is drawn from me as was his, and then our tongues are dancing the Dance of Love that disturbs every part of me. And then he takes me completely and again I am lost in the passions, and as he growls at his Moment of Release, so, too, I squeal as my own passions are satiated in this undeniably beautiful moment of mutuality. Haaaaa...mmmm...aaaaaaah. Oh my God! That was wonderful.

More gentle kisses. On my neck now. And then the softness of his lips on mine as we end our madness. Oh Michael... I love you so much that I cannot live without you!

I'm breathless as I remove the broom handle and think about what I've just done... recreated an almost exact replica of our last time at Michael's house. It seems almost impossible to associate the shy Michael I fell in love with and the Michael he is when we are sharing his bed. But some things about him are the same. Although he is masterful when he takes me properly, he is also gentle, doing only what he knows I desire most. His sharp teeth are an aphrodisiac to me, and that's why he does it. But I never make him do anything he also doesn't desire. Our mutual biting is primeval. We both want to eat each other. Everything else is also mutual. I take from Michael what I need, and give to him what he desires, and vice versa. I've come a long way from when I first discovered myself.

As far as I can recollect, I'd been pleasuring myself from about the age of seven; not about men, or anything else. Just the pure pleasure and that wonderful feeling at the end was all that mattered. I think I was about eleven when I began to fancy older boys. Yes, it would be that age, because that's when I went into secondary education and the school I went to had its own swimming baths and showers.

Boys' bodies began to fascinate me. Most I didn't like, but among them, especially the older boys with pubic hair, were bodies that made me feel sexy. Sometimes, if we'd had mixed age bathing because of a tournament or whatever, I got to see them, and then I had my first sexual experience with a boy – Tom Malkin. It was during the holidays.

He was fifteen and I was eleven. I went fishing with a group of boys and we paired off. Thinking back, he manipulated it by suggesting we go looking for bird's nests. It was a hot day in a dry period. We climbed a few stiles and walked through a few fields and came to a secluded, thick, copse of woodland and he suggested we try in there. He said he was hot and needed a rest, and he pulled off his shirt and lay down in the shade of an old oak tree. I lay down near to him. Not too close, but close enough to study his body and experience an arousal, so I rolled onto my front to hide it. He was lying on his back and I was astonished to see that he was also aroused, and he caught me looking at it and grinned.

I was even more astonished when he pulled the leg of his shorts up and pulled it out and showed it to me. I wanted to look away, but I couldn't. It was massive compared to my own. He lay back and began to masturbate. Then he stopped and looked at me. "Do it for me Stuart."

I shook my head.

"It's okay. All boys do this stuff. Don't you do it?"

I said nothing. He grinned, and then rolled over to get nearer to me until he was lying by my side, and then he began to rub my bum. My arousal got harder. I tried to stop him, but he just pushed my hand away and slid his hand up the leg of my shorts and I felt his fingers burrow into a place that he had no right to be. I squirmed, but he wouldn't stop. He was far bigger and stronger than me, and he had his free arm pinning me to the ground and one of his legs pinning my own legs. His finger went deeper and it became more persistent and I felt it enter me, and he began to wiggle it about. He was clever. That's all he did for about five minutes, and by the end of that time, I'd stopped trying to stop him.

His voice was gentle when he spoke. "You like it, don't you Stuart? It's okay. Just like the other side of you, this is part of your sex. Are you hard like me? Can I have a feel? Please? I just want you to feel nice. There's nothing to be ashamed about. If I let you go, will you turn over so I can feel at you?"

I felt him relax his hold on me, and when he rolled me over I didn't put up any opposition. That's all he needed. In no time, with more gentle persuasion, he had my shorts off and was masturbating me. And then I was masturbating him. And then he was lying on top of me. And it was then that I really discovered what homosexuality was about.

He lifted my legs back to my chest and kept trying to penetrate me, but I wouldn't let him, so, instead, he placed his hardness between my thighs, squeezed my legs together and did it that way. He began to pant like a dog, and then I had my first sight of what happens when an older boy does these things. It went all over my belly and chest. Then he rolled off me and grinned.

My legs went back down and I stared at the gooey stuff all over me. I didn't know what to do.

Tom did. He began to lick it off. Then he stopped and looked at me. "Do you want a taste?"

I shook my head, and he didn't push the issue. But Tom was not finished with me. The sight of what he was doing was enough to make me fully aroused again, and after he had grinned evilly at me, he provided me with my first ever experience of what it's like when one's arousal is in a hot, wet mouth. But more than that, that's when I experienced something wriggling inside me while he was doing it. It was only his finger, but I think that was the defining moment when a homosexual was born. The feelings he was creating in me made me feel sexier that I'd ever done in my life before, and when I did reach my Moment of Joy, it was a really noisy one, and a really long one, and Tom had caught me, hook, line, and finger-up-the-bum.

The 'affair' lasted a while, but it had to end sometime, and I think he tired of me and wanted some new young stuff who would give him just that bit extra... something I was not prepared to give him... the pleasure of his presence within me. After a while, it sort of teetered out, and then, one day, I saw him out with another boy who was even younger than me. That was it, and afterwards I just ignored him.

It was good while it lasted, and Tom taught me a lot, but there was never any emotions attached to the affair, unlike the one I'm having now with Michael.

I pull a spare pillow to my breast and kiss it. It's Michael, and he's in love with me, and I'm deeply in love with him, and I'll be seeing my true-love again on Monday morning.

When I board the school bus, I think I'm the only one who knows that Michael has won the race. But I'm wrong. Most of the talk amongst the boys is of how he has managed to become Champion of All England. The Jungle Telegraph has been working overtime. My best friend, Daniel Arkwright-Philips, catches the bus just a short way after I've boarded, and, as usual, he takes the empty seat next to me.

He grins at me. "Michael did it then!"

I grin back, but say nothing. Daniel, although he's never said anything to me about it, is, I think, the only boy who suspects what's going on between Michael and I. But Daniel is a super chap, and he keeps his own counsel. It's why we're friends; we understand each other, but only if any support is needed by either of us do we offer it. Right now, I don't need support, but Daniel's words and the way he says them tells me he's pleased for me, and that he understands how I'm feeling.

Our bus is slightly late, and when we all charge up the school drive to the playground so as not to be late, there are too many pupils there for me to search for Michael. Meredith blows his first whistle and everyone freezes. He blows his second whistle and everyone dashes into their lines. And then I see my lover.

He's doing his normal thing, organizing the first form lines into shape, and he has an unusually large smile on his face as each boy in turn congratulates him on his victory. A few, he gently scuffs around the ears. They are, probably, the cheeky ones. He doesn't need to look at me to tell me that he's thinking about me. One end of the gold chain is between his teeth and he keeps rubbing it with his lips. Finally, he does glance towards me, and, imperceptibly, I nod to him.

Again, assembly in the Great Hall. Prayers. Then the school song, sung only on Mondays, and stirring when eight hundred healthy young voices blast it out.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountain green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

The headmaster, Cecil Walkden, ambles to the lectern and looks over his pince-nez. "This morning, boys, once again we need to congratulate one of our own for a tremendous effort, which has brought more glory to our illustrious school."

This time, he's unable to continue because, as every head turns towards the back of the room to catch a glimpse of Michael, the whole room spontaneously erupts in a tumultuous roar. And then, to the accompaniment of stamping feet, the cry goes up... "Johnson! Johnson! Johnson!" It continues for a long time and only slightly lessens when my lover is pushed into the aisle between the boys and backslapped all the way to, and onto the stage.

Finally, the Head manages to restore some order and silence reigns in the hall. He continues... "On Saturday, at Chichester, Michael Johnson came first in The All-England Schools Cross-Country Championship. Unfortunately, the County Team was only able to manage a third place, but in no way does that detract from Michael's magnificent achievement. To know that here (he puts his hand on Michael's shoulder, who is standing beside him with his head bowed), we have the finest schools cross-country runner in this great country of ours is an honour indeed." He fiddles with the edge of the lectern before continuing. "The song we have just sung, Jerusalem, is the song of England. It's our school hymn, and the hymn of every great school in the country, and today we can be proud that we are amongst the finest schools in the country. So, as I did a few weeks ago, it gives me the great pleasure of presenting Michael Johnson with the magnificent cup he won for his achievement, and when I've presented it to him, he can say a few words to you all."

The headmaster walks to the table, picks up a big silver cup and gives it to Michael, who then stands at the lectern.

I'm literally shaking as I hear and watch all this, and when I see that Michael is struggling to find any words, tears start to build in my eyes, and when he looks up at the high ceiling and his face is twisting and contorting as he fights to hold back his emotions, the floodgates begin to open. I want to go to him and hold him and hug away the hurt I know he's feeling, because I know what's causing his pain – this great victory has come after the loss of his beloved Dada. Mr Bourne catches my eye and he puts a finger to his lips and gives me a slow shake of the head. Then I feel the hand of my friend Daniel grab my arm and his grip is tight because he knows that I want to go to Michael and to hell with the consequences. I can't help it when tears begin to flow freely from my eyes and down my cheeks.

The whole room is deathly quiet.

Very slowly, Michael manages to control himself. The twitches and contortions recede and are replaced with a look of defiance. And then, a sturdy half-smile. The cup is in his left hand, and he puts his other hand in his jacket pocket and his quiet, but steely voice cuts through the tense atmosphere. "Thank you all. I will say a few words. The last trophy I won, I dedicated to the school, and especially to Mr Bourne. This one I want to dedicate to a number of very special people in my life (Michael hesitates, and smiles), and a very special dog."

The whole room are hooked on his words, and the mention of 'a dog' eases the tension and a few laughs echo around the hall, and brings smiles to the masters on the stage

Michael continues. "I'll deal with the dog first. She's pretty much like me, a mongrel terrier. (More laughs.) I've had her since she was a puppy and she's called Judy, and I love her dearly. Michael lifts the cup. "So, this is for Judy."

The pupils join in with Michael's dedication, and again they shout, but this time its "Judy! Judy! Judy!"

Now everyone is laughing, including me, through my tears. When the amusement dies down, Michael becomes serious again. "Now to the people I mentioned." He draws his hand out of his coat pocket and dangles my gold chain. "Secondly, it's to the owner of this gold chain, a special friend with a heart as pure as the gold in this chain, and, if you'll forgive me for the moment, I'll keep that name to myself."

Daniel still has a grip on my arm. He leans over to me and whispers in my ear. "You should have sold that to me for a tenner when you had your chance."

I scuff him with my shoulder and knock him away. Wisely, Michael hasn't looked at me. I'm glad he hasn't, because the tears that are flooding uncontrollably from my eyes would have upset him. Anyway, there's no need for him to look at me, because we both know what he's saying, but I am a bit worried at his 'at the moment' part of what he said.

"And then there's my older brother, Alex. Salt of the earth is my brother. A collier who risks his life every day to keep your homes warm and your kettles boiled. And I love him dearly too." Again he lifts the cup. "So this is for you, Alex."

Now the chorus from the pupils is "Alex! Alex! Alex!"

Michael smiles at that one too. This is becoming a historic occasion that will go down as school legend, and every ear is hanging on his next words.

Michael's face is twitching and contorting again and he takes his time to compose himself before he speaks. "And finally, to the greatest man I've ever known, or ever will know. Some of you will know that I recently lost my father." Now, unashamed tears are pouring down Michael's face, but he doesn't heed them as he continues. "Even those who know of his death will not know of the man. He was a quiet and unassuming man, and he didn't court publicity; nor was he boastful. But he had every reason to be. My father, my Dada, Alexander Johnson, was a soldier; a Chindit in Burma; a Paratrooper, and holder of highest award for gallantry that this great country of ours can give: The Victoria Cross."

You can feel the atmosphere in the room now, and when Michael says that, there's a collective intake of breath that can be heard throughout the hall.

Michael holds up the cup, and the hand still holding my gold chain, and stops any repetition of a chant happening. "So, with our headmaster's permission (Michael turns to the head, who nods, even though he doesn't know what Michael is asking permission for), while I walk back to my place with my pals, and because my father was a passionate Englishman and so dearly loved his country, you could all do me a great honour by once again singing our school hymn as a tribute to him. Thank you everyone."

Michael is about to turn away to leave the stage when the Headmaster gets up and holds him by the arm to stop him, and he takes his place at the lectern. "Boys, in honour of Michael's late father, Alexander Johnson... VC, I want to hear Jerusalem sung in this hall like it's never been sung before. Are you all up for it?"

The atmosphere is crazy, and even my repeated and most deafening dog-whistles are almost drowned out by the tumultuous response to his request. The Headmaster holds up his hands and the room goes silent. He points to Mr Cranson, the organist, who is hidden down at the side of the stage, and the two drummer boys, one each the side of the room. And then the first bars of our famous hymn begin...

(It's at this point, dear readers, where I must break from tradition and speak directly to you. Some of the readers will know where I'm coming from, but those from different lands and different cultures will not understand the significance of the hymn, Jerusalem, to an Englishman. It was written by William Blake as a short poem called - And Did Those Feet in Ancient Times - and was a preface to his epic, Milton a Poem. Many Englishmen want it as their national anthem, but 'the powers that be' will not go against The Establishment. However, whatever they do, they cannot remove the pride every Englishman feels deep in their breasts when the hymn is sung, especially so in 1956, just a few short years after the end of the second world war when we still had great pride that we (with many other nations) had defeated the Nazi hordes and the Japanese. It's the most popular hymn sung at funerals, and most of the great schools of England sing it. One doesn't have to be religious to love it. So, for you to get a feel for the hymn, which will help you enjoy my story more, here is a link so that you can listen to the hymn while you're reading the story. Just copy and paste the link into a new browser while you're reading, or right click on it and select 'Open in new window'.

The link is realistic, sound-wise, as it was on that day in 1956 when Michael walked from the stage and every single person in that Great Hall almost burst their lungs in tribute to Alexander Johnson, VC.)

...and every boy and every man in that Great Hall pays tribute to Michael's father, and as our Headmaster had requested, the rendition of Jerusalem is historic.

Michael has to fight his way up the aisle, but he stops at the row where I am, about four boys in, and he throws the gold chain to me. I catch it. Our eyes meet for a brief moment of shared, tearful love, and then he continues his way to the back of the Great Hall. Unashamed, I place the gold chain around my neck. While I'm doing it, I know that we're both going to have to be accomplished liars for us to get through this, but, strangely, it doesn't bother me and my head is high as I continue singing.

Mr Bourne – Michael's teacher, and now adopted father.

The knock comes on the door and I shout for Stuart to enter. When he does come in, there's a certain pride and a fixed demeanour about him as he sits in the chair I've indicated he should sit in. "Thank you for seeing me, Mr Bourne."

"It's not a problem, Stuart. What is it you want to talk about?"

I listen attentively to everything Stuart tells me, and then I smile at him. "I reckon this is a fait accompli and I have little say in the matter? Providing my wife hasn't made alternative plans for this weekend and she's agreeable to come to dinner, then the Bourne's will be present and correct when the mountain meets Mohammed."

Stuart giggles at my little joke. "I think its Mohammed meets the mountain, Sir."

I laugh. "This is all getting a bit confusing. Whatever, we need to prepare Michael for the shock, don't you think? Or have you already done that?"

"No, Sir, I haven't. I... err... thought you might be able to do that for me."

I give Stuart my best astonished stare. "There are no flies on you Stuart! Leave the dirty work to Mr Bourne! So I've now got get to Michael in here and tell him that he's going to dinner with you on Sunday, just like that!"

Stuart is chuckling now. "He thinks a lot of you Sir, so I thought it would be better coming from you."

I narrow my eyes at him. "Why do I get the feeling that I'm being used here? You're a crafty little monkey, I'll give you that. If Michael is half as clever, there's hope for you two yet. Which brings me to another matter; how are you two going to get over the episode this morning at assembly? When Michael gave you the chain, you couldn't have made it plainer if you'd taken out a front page advert in the local paper that you're more than just acquaintances. As a matter of fact, Mr Walkden has already spoken to me about your friendship."

Stuart's face drops and he looks alarmed. "What did The Head have to say, Sir?"

"Just that he was surprised by your friendship and he wanted to know if I knew anything about it."

"And what did you tell him, Sir?"

"I told him the truth; that I was very much aware of the friendship and that young Master Begbie is a very benevolent young man and has philanthropic ideals about our boy Johnson. As a matter of fact, what we've discussed about Sunday will cement what I told him, and I'm sure he'll be even more impressed when I inform him later what you've arranged, and I won't forget to drop into the conversation that you've also arranged for him to be invited to a buffet with the Lord-Lieutenant. That should seal the deal, and if anyone ever mentions even a whiff of impropriety to Mr Walkden in the future, I'm sure he'll pooh-pooh them away with a wave of his hand, which is his usual way of dealing with fools. Anyway, is that it, or do you have more mercurial tasks for me to perform for you two rogues?"

Stuart laughs, and when he does, I can see the attractiveness in him that Michael sees, and I'm proud that 'my boy' has selected so well. And when, just before Stuart leaves the room and he turns to me and says that he knows now why Michael loves me, although I keep my cool and reward him with a grin and a dismissive hand, I feel I could burst into tears. I really do love Michael like a son. I have done since the first day he came to the school dressed in his terrible clothes and had to endure the taunts of his 'superiors'. Well, my 'son' and I have turned the tables on them, haven't we Michael?

Spencer, my understudy, willingly takes over my first class after lunch, and I wander along to Meredith's room where Michael is studying Latin. Bill Meredith, although he's purposefully cultured an aura of fear amongst the boys at the school, is quite a nice chap. I knock on his classroom door, and enter. He smiles at me. I go to him and in lowered tones so our conversation is private, I ask if I could take Michael to my room for a private conversation, which I'll tell Meredith about later when we are alone. Unlike some of the other schoolmasters, Bill has, as far as I know, never treated Michael badly, and he and I have a rapport. I intend to tell him of the invite from the Lord-Lieutenant, but not now.

He points a finger at Michael. "You... Johnson... out! Mr Bourne has a few things to sort with you! Don't be too long, boy! Your Latin is appalling!"

Bill turns his back to the boys and winks at me. I keep a straight face and make my way to the door and hold it open for Michael to accompany me. We walk side-by-side along the corridor towards my office. Michael asks me what's the matter? I tell him we'll speak in my office. We arrive at my office and I direct Michael to the same chair Stuart was occupying a short while ago. "Michael, we need to deal with a couple of delicate matters."

I tell Michael everything Stuart and I discussed. He remains silent while I'm talking, and only when I sit back in my chair holding my hands in the praying position under my jaw, does he speak. "This is getting very complicated, Sir. I don't want to join the army. I want to be a Physical Education teacher, like you."

I shrug my shoulders. "Three years at university is a long time."

Michael's defiant look passes across his face. "I know what I want to be Sir, and I certainly don't want to be like them."


"Yes Sir. Them! The Lord-Lieutenant's of this world and the uppity people who think they're better than everybody else."

Because I'm seeing the psychological damage they have caused, I need to keep a cool head and be on my toes for this conversation. "Michael, Stuart is one of 'them'. His parents are 'them'. Not all 'them' are uppity people who think they're better than everybody else. I know a lot of people at this school have treated you badly, but for every one of 'them', there's an 'us'. I look around me now and I can already see the class system dying out. In twenty years, when you're at the peak of your life, the world will be a far different place. Wealth will be the new class and the old system will die away. So, my job as your adopted father is to guide you through those years and lead you into the light. Connections in high places are good. The old saying, 'it's not what you know, but who you know' has been valid for centuries, and will be valid for many more."

Still the defiant look on Michael's face. "I don't need to join them, Sir. I can make my way in life without help from them. We've managed up to now without their nods and winks and secret handshakes."


"Yes Sir, We! Dada and Alex and me... and you."

"And Stuart? Has he not helped you too? Was he not part of that victory on Saturday?"

I can see the hesitation in Michael's eyes, and he thinks for a while before answering my question, and then he only nods.

I smile. "He's one of 'them'. Do you understand where I'm coming from now? He loves you very much, and he's wise for his age. He knows that if you're to be successful in life, at some point, and especially if you two make it, you'll both have to be clever and use whatever tools are available to make it happen. He wants it to happen, and that's why he's doing this. He's a crafty young beggar, and I've told him so."

Michael chuckles. "I know he is Sir. But I still don't want to join the army, and even Stuart won't persuade me to do that."

The atmosphere is far better now, so I continue with a smile on my face. "Stuart doesn't, for one moment think you're going to join the army. He's doing this so you can be together. And I think he's right, unless you want to keep sneaking around, lying through your back teeth all the time. Michael, you've taken a lot of stick in your time from 'them', but now it's time for you to turn the tables and to use 'them' to your advantage. In a way, this is your revenge. You're outwitting 'them'. I know it; Stuart knows it, and it's time for you to believe it. So, if I kit you out for this weekend, that will be the first part of your revenge because 'they' will be expecting you to turn up looking like a pauper, but instead you'll turn up looking like one of 'them'. Are you with me now?"

Michael smiles, and nods, and then a look crosses across his face that I expected to see. "But... Sir, you've already been too kind to me now. I can't keep expecting you to keep forking out to keep me clothed."

"Michael, my wife and I are childless. Because of that, we have two salaries that are far too great for our needs. Although we don't speak about it, I think you know that I love you like the son I never had, and it really would be my pleasure to kit my 'son' out with clothes that suit his status... an educated young man who is the Champion of All England." I can't suppress a giggle. "Together, you and I and Stuart could rule the world. So, do we do it... Son?"

I can see that Michael is close to tears. He gets out of his chair and walks towards the door. "I'm working Saturday morning at the butchers. Can we meet at Burtons the Tailors at two in the afternoon?"

I don't speak. Instead, I give him the thumbs up. He grins, and goes out of the room. When he's gone, my heart is filled with the joys of spring because I know that I now have the son I've always wanted. My wife, Angela, will be pleased for me. She's known for years of my affection for Michael.

The telephone on my desk rings. It's the school receptionist.

"Mr Bourne, there's a Mrs. Begbie on the phone for you. Can you take the call?"

"Yes, Helen. Put her through, please."

Michael Johnson.

As I walk back to class, my head is full of mixed emotions. I hate 'them' with every breath I take, and now I'm being turned into one. It doesn't sit right with me. I can never be one of 'them'. But at the same time, I know Mr Bourne is right. But is he right? Does he really know how deep my hatred is for 'them'? It goes to the very core of my being, and I'm not sure I can be one of 'them', not even for the boy I love.

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