Love - Existentially

by John Teller

Part 20

Book Six - When Englishmen were boys

And did those feet in ancient time,
Walk upon England's mountains 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 these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land.

Stuart Begbie.

I can't help it as the tears flow from my eyes as the whole school sings our hymn on the last day of the school term at Denbridge High. This is the last day I will ever spend here with my beautiful Michael.

Last evening, Thursday, had been prize-giving. Mother and father had been with me and we met Michael and Alex outside the school, and then we all sat together in the Great Hall. I won two prizes; one for English Literature and one for Maths, which surprised me. On both occasions, Michael applauded me warmly, but Alex made me want to crawl under my skin as he yelled and whistled and generally created a hullabaloo as I went onto the stage to collect them, and when I returned to my seat, I gave him a fierce glare. He just winked at me, the cheeky sod.

Michael won a host of prizes, and the applause he received (not counting Alex's unbridled tumult) was unrivalled throughout the evening. Afterwards, when the Great Hall was almost empty, we met up with Mr and Mrs Bourne and other teachers, and we chatted for quite a while before we all headed for our homes. I managed just one moment alone with Michael, and that was a nod-and-wink planned visit to the toilet. Neither of us wanted a pee, and because we were alone, we managed an embrace and a few kisses. The last I saw of Michael was when Father tooted his horn as Mr Bourne was loading all Michaels' prizes into the boot of his car before he drove him and Alex home.

The Headmaster gives a long speech and a eulogy to those leaving the school, and assembly breaks up. Youngest out first – oldest out last is the order of leaving, and as I pass Michael's row at the back of the Great Hall, he looks at me, and I can see that he's upset, too. That sets me off again, and it takes a few digs in the ribs and some harsh words from my friend Daniel to sort me out before I make a blithering fool of myself.

At lunchtime, I'm on my own feeling utterly sorry for myself when Jenkinson of the fourth form comes to me. He places a hand on my shoulder. "Have you got anything planned for when Michael has left, Stuart?"

I don't move his hand. It's comforting to know that someone understands how I'm feeling. "Yes, thank you Jenkinson. We're meeting during the hols, and we've made plans to see each other while he's at Oxford. I'm just upset that this is our last day here together. The way I'm feeling now, I won't want to come back here next term."

"But you must! For me!"

I turn and look at Jenkinson, and he has tears in his eyes, and I'm amazed. "For you?"

Jenkinson drops his hand from my shoulder and takes my hand, and his pleading eyes look into mine. "Yes. For me. I want you to be my friend. Please?"

And then I realize the torment he is going through. Unlike me, he has not found the mutual love he seeks, and what is worse, my own-true-love is his, too, and I feel a deep compassion for this lonely boy. I squeeze his hand. "I think I'd like that. What's your first name?"

Jenkinson looks at me with relief in his eyes. "Stephen. Thank you Stuart. We can be friends and help each other. Who knows, maybe I'll find someone like Michael soon, and I'll gladly share my experiences with you. God knows I need an aide to share my feelings with. My mother and father are extremely bigoted, and I daren't even broach the subject that I'm a homosexual to them."

I smile at Jenkinson. "Well, you can to me, and we'll work things out for you. You're quite good looking, and somebody is going to love you one day."

Stephen squeezes my hand. "That's lovely of you to say so Stuart. I think I'd better go now."


Stephen nods, and points with his eyes. "Michael is coming."

I don't even see Jenkinson go away. All I can see is Michael walking towards me with a big grin on his face.

He comes to my side and leans against the wall. "What have you two been talking about?"

I look up at him and grin. "Mind your own business. I thought you were ignoring me."

Michael laughs. "Would I ignore the most beautiful young man in the world; the sexiest and cheekiest monkey who ever lived and who is never out of my thoughts for more than a few seconds? Anyway, the real reason I've come to you is to invite you to have sex with me later."

"I can't do that. I'll miss my bus."

Michael moves away from the wall. "Ok then. I'll see you again sometime."

I grin at him. "After school. On the church wall."

Michael grins. "Sex on the church wall. That should be fun! I'll see you later, Lover Boy."

And he's walking away from me back to his school chums. Halfway there, he turns and grins at me, and I give him the two fingers. He returns them from behind his back. And now my mood is much better.

Michael Johnson.

We leave my house and I accompany Stuart to the bus stop, and when the bus pulls in, he takes off his school cap and gives it to me. I bring the Magic Cap to my lips, look deeply into his brilliant blue eyes that enchant my soul, and kiss the cap. No words are necessary, and none are spoken, and I watch the bus disappear before I walk back to my home, and as soon as I get into the house I collapse in Dada's chair and bring the Magic Cap to my cheeks and bawl like a baby because I will never again be at school with Stuart. It's like part of my life has just been ripped away.

Stuart is touring France with his parents; their annual holiday. Although it was dated two days after he left, the first letter from him arrived six days afterwards, and was postmarked 'Le Mans. Sarthe. Français.' That letter said how much Stuart was missing me and how he was looking forward to getting back home etc, etc. The ones that followed almost every day, (on the odd days one didn't arrive, but because he wrote every day, two would arrive together) were in a similar vein, but as they progressed through France, I could read behind the words Stuart had written that he was hiding his hurt. I knew exactly how he was feeling; I was hurting as bad as Stuart was. After three weeks of Stuart being away, I receive one that had been written just over two weeks after they left, which reveals Stuart's true feelings; the one that breaks my heart.

My dearest heart, Michael.

I am crying as I write this. Being away from you is awful. Mother and Father are not too pleased with me because I'm sulking all the time. But I can't help it. I miss you so much, and every day I'm away from you makes me more miserable, and I'm beginning to understand what it is going to be like when you go to Oxford. Because I so much want you to get on in the world, I know that I was the one who made you go to Oxford, but had I known what it would feel like being away from you, I think I would never have done it. Yes, I know I'm being selfish, but I can't help it. I love you so much that it hurts more every passing day that I don't see you. I know you're going to be angry with me, but I am determined that I will not hide our love anymore. It's impossible for me to do so. I just can't live like this. This is a sample of what it's going to be like, and to be honest, my dearest, my life will be of no value to me if I can't see you often. So, I've made my mind up and I'm going to tell Mother and father tonight why it is that I'm so utterly miserable. I know that it's going to upset them, and it will probably make things even more difficult for us, but I cannot live without being with you. I really, really can't. So, my love, wish me well. I know my letters don't reach you for at least five days, so by the time you read this, it will all be over.

Please forgive me for what I'm going to do without talking to you about it, but I just have to do it. I love you so much, my dearest. The day I looked into your eyes when the Magic Cap landed at your feet was the most beautiful day of my life. Please hug and kiss the Magic Cap for me. My heart and soul is in there, and it belongs only to you.

I love you with all my heart.

Your ever loving,

Stuart. XXX

Ps. Give Trotter a hug for me and tell Alex I miss him like mad.

I hear Trotter barking and I know Alex is home. The door opens and Trotter flies into my arms, and I hug her and she licks my face as if she hasn't seen me for a month. I'm glad she's doing it; it will help hide the tears in my eyes.

Alex comes in and throws his haversack on the table. "What's for tea Kiddo?"

"I made a steak pie. It's in the oven. It will be ready in half an hour."

"Who's got the grumps then? What's up with you?"


"Nothing! You've got a face as long as next week! I know you're bloody miserable because Lover Boy is away, but what's he done now to make you this bloody soft?"

I can't help it, I get out of the chair and go into the kitchen and start to fiddle with the tea things, but the tears are flooding from my eyes as I'm doing it, and it's not long before Alex is by my side and has his hand on my shoulder. I slip my hand in my pocket and give him the letter, and he takes it and goes back into the living room. I put the saucepan containing the potatoes onto the gas hob, and then the carrots and the peas, and light the gas rings under them, and lean back against the sink... waiting. I don't have to wait long.

"You'd better come in here, Kiddo. We need to talk."

Alex's words send a chill right through me. When I go back into the living room, Alex is sitting by the table with the letter in front of him, and he points to the chair opposite to tell me to sit down. Although it's warm, I'm actually shivering now, and the stress I've felt all day is making me feel ill. I can't look at Alex. My arms are on the table and I'm clasping my hands. Alex's large hand settles on both mine, and he squeezes them. After a while, I look up at him. "I hope Stuart is okay."

Alex's hand squeezes mine harder. "He is okay. Meaning that he hasn't done anything daft. I would have known if he had. What are we going to do?"

"I'm made my mind up. I'm not going to Oxford. No matter what happens, I'm not going there now."

"What are you going to do?"

"If it's all over, I'm going to enlist in the army."

He stares at me for a long time. "And if it's not all over?"

I shake my head in despair and shrug my shoulders. "He's fourteen, Alex. His parents aren't going to take this lightly. They'll make sure we don't see each other again. And you'll probably get the sack and have to go down the pit again. He's ruined everything. I'm sorry."

Surprisingly, Alex's voice is soft and warm. "Let's take this one step at a time, Kiddo. I need to tell you something... Stuart's dad knows what you two are. He's known all along. He's not daft."

I look at him, shocked by his revelation. "How on earth could you know that?"

"Because, when he gave me the job he told me that he knew about you two. He's not going to be your problem, but Stuart's mother might be. We're just going to have to let this one play itself out. I spoke to the boss only yesterday. He rang while I was in the office. We had a chat and he didn't mention anything about you two that was in any way negative. He asked how you were, and when I said you were a miserable sod, he laughed and said that made two of you then." Alex picks up the letter. "This was sent five days ago. Why don't we wait and see what the next couple days bring before we go jumping to conclusions? I've got a feeling in my water that everything is going to be okay, so stop pulling your face and let's have some steak pie. I'm bloody starving!"

I'm still emotional when we're eating, but Alex's surprising words have given me hope, and some of the stress is slipping away. Alex misses nothing and slips easily into Alex-the-Joker mode to help me out of my melancholy. "What's this bloody Magic Cap thing? It sounds like a bloody Rupert the Bear story."

His comment makes me giggle, and I'm still giggling when I explain what it's about. "It was the first time I met him. He was playing with his chums and they were throwing his cap in the air. It landed by my feet and I picked it up, and he came to get it off me. It all went from there."

Alex laughs. "Love at first sight, eh? I'm glad it was. I love him as well as you, you know. And he loves his Alex."

That's it; I break down in tears and begin to sob, but the tears are ones of relief rather than sorrow. And through the tears, I smile at Alex, and I nod. "He loves you to bits."

Alex is grinning now. "Of course he does. What isn't there to love about your big bro?" He picks up Stuart's letter. "Wait till I see him! He's going to get some shit off me for writing love-letters like this one. He almost had me crying when I read it."

I don't make love to Stuart as I usually do when I go to bed. Instead, I hug the Magic Cap to my heart and pray that things will be okay. Then I hold it to my nose and inhale the scent of my lover's hair. My thoughts turn to tomorrow, and what his letter will say. Perhaps, after all, he hasn't said anything to his parents and everything will be the same. But knowing Stuart as I do, I know I'm fooling myself. My boy will have done what he said he was going to do.

"Right. I'll be off Kiddo, but I'm at the office all day today, so I'll be home at lunchtime. The Postie will have been by then. Come on Trotter! Let's go Girl!"

And Alex and Trotter go to work.

It's just turned ten when the letter arrives. Well, two actually. On one are written the words where the envelope is sealed: 'Open this one after the other if two arrive together'. So I open the other one first.

My Dearest Heart, Michael.

First of all, let me say that things are pretty ok. I've told them. Things were not as bad as I thought they would be, although Mother hasn't spoken to me since. Father seems resigned to what I told them, that I was a homosexual, and that I was in love with you, and you were with me. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Actually, because she demanded to know why I was spoiling the holiday, it was Mother who forced the issue. I wouldn't answer her for a while, but she kept on at me, and after we'd had tea and were sitting on the beach, she was angry with me, and I just blurted it out. If I could have parted the waves, I would have walked into the sea and disappeared. I expected an almighty row, but all I got was silence after Mother said she knew all along that there was more to our friendship than meets the eye. I got fed up with the silence and walked off down the beach. Strangely, I no longer felt guilty. It was out, and I didn't care anymore. Nothing could be as bad as hiding my love for you and being away from you for so long. I've cried myself to sleep every night for the last two weeks, and I've cried lots of times during the day. I can't stop crying because I love you so much and want to be with you and Alex. You and Alex are my family now.

Yes, I know all of the possible consequences of what I've done, and of course I've thought about what might happen to Alex now. I'd given a lot of thought about everything before I told them, but I love you so much, and I know you love me the same, that no matter what happens now, nothing can be as bad as not being together. It may happen that we are now forced apart, but if they do that, I will not want to live without you. So they can do their worst. I just don't care anymore. I really don't. Without you I am nothing. So, my beautiful love, I will have to wait and see what happens now. It's out of my hands and I will take the consequences of my actions.

I'm not crying now either. I am past that. All that exists is my love for you. I am yours, and I will be for evermore.

I love you with all my heart.

Your ever loving,

Stuart. XXXX

And I'm not crying too much either. Instead, my heart is full of love and admiration for what Stuart has done. He is the bravest of hearts, and I smile through my tears as I kiss the letter, and I know with absolute certainty that if anyone tries to part us, Stuart and I will die in each other's arms. There could be no other outcome, and even though Stuart has not said so outright, I know he is thinking as I am.

I open the second letter.

My Dearest Love, Michael.

Things are still very strained between Mother and I, but Father has come to our rescue. He told me that he needed to talk, and so we went for a long walk along the seafront at Nice. He's told me that he's known we were in love for quite a while, and he doesn't have any particular problems with it. But he's worried about Mother. She's so upset that she suggested to him that they send me to a boarding school as far away from you as is possible. Even to a school abroad if necessary. I told father that if they did that, I would never want to see either of them again as long as I live. I didn't tell him that if they did that, I wouldn't want to live without you anyway. But I think I made myself clear. I think Father understands the situation. I don't know why it is, but I've never known Father to be so loving and understanding and supportive, and that's strange. I always looked on Mother as the loving one before.

Anyway, my love, by the time we'd had our walk, Father said he would do all he could so that you and I would not be apart. And now I feel much better. I also realize that part of the reason why I'm so utterly miserable is because of the ambiguity of not knowing what will happen to us when you go to Oxford. Because of our situation, we couldn't make plans to see each other. It would have been when it was convenient for others, and not when you and I wanted to be together. As it was, we could go months without seeing each other, and I don't want that. I know now after being away from you that I cannot do that.

So, my dear Michael, our future is in Father's hands. He has promised that he will speak to Mother, remind her of 'certain facts' (whatever that means), and try to sort something out. It will be almost two weeks before I am back at home, and by then, we will know exactly where we stand. Please be brave for me. I need you to be that because I don't look on any of this as 'me', I see it as 'we'.

The one thing I'm regretting is that I didn't think of getting the telephone number of the phone box by your house. We could have arranged a certain time each day and I would have been able to ring you and to speak to you. There is one other thing. I told Father that I was worried about Alex's future now all this is out. He's promised me that whatever happens, Alex's job is safe. That has taken a load off my mind, because I gave a great deal of thought to Alex's situation before I told them about us. Had it been anyone else except Alex, I would not have cared, but I do love your brother. Apart from you, he's the most special person in my life, and when he's hugging me, I feel utterly safe. Don't tell him though, or he will make my life a misery if we get through this. I know what he's like.

I'll write again tomorrow and let you know what's happening. I know this will be worrying you to death, but if you love me as I love you, you will know how important it is that we sort things out properly.

So, for now, my beautiful lover, I send you all my love to keep you safe and strong.

Yours forever,

Stuart. XXXX

Ps. Give Trotter lots of hugs from me. I miss her so much.

There are no tears now; just thoughts as I make a cup of tea and re-read the letters over and over again. And then I think what Alex said about Stuart's father making an amusing comment that we were both unhappy. He wouldn't have done that if he was worried to death about the situation, and knowing him as I do, he's far too clever to take Stuart's words lightly. What was it Alex said? 'I spoke to the boss only yesterday.' So that would actually be two days after Stuart wrote these two letters. What could have happened to make Mr Begbie so at ease that he could joke to Alex about it?

Cameron Begbie.

It's just turned midnight when I come out of the shower and look at Anne. She's sitting on the sofa in the apartment we're renting for a couple of days, sipping at a G&T, and she looks really miserable. I ask her, "Is Stuart asleep, Darling?" She shrugs her shoulders. "Haven't you said goodnight to him?" She shakes her head. "Then I'll just check on him. I won't be a moment."

Very gently, I open the door to Stuart's bedroom and peer into the darkened room. I can't quite make out if he's asleep or not, so I leave the door open to give me light to see him and go to his bed. His head is thrown back and his mouth is open, and he's snoring gently. I sit on the bed and stroke his soft hair that is now bleached to a very light gold because of the constant sunshine we've had while we're touring the South of France. Even though he's my own son, there's no denying the beauty of him. Although I have no sexual tendencies towards him, being bisexual, I can well understand why Michael loves him so much. This boy before me is my pride and joy. I love him with every breath I take, and nobody is ever going to hurt him if I have anything to do with it. I love him so much that I will sacrifice my own happiness to ensure his, and given the way my wife is reacting to his brave decision to tell us he's a homosexual, I may have to do just that. But I don't want to do that. I've had to be very clever throughout my life to get where I am now, but this situation will test my ingenuity to the full. Very slowly, I bend over and kiss Stuart on his forehead, and then I leave the room as quietly as I entered it.

Anne's glass is almost empty. "Would you like another drink, Darling?" I ask. She tips up the glass and empties it, and then gives it to me, and I wander over to the drinks cabinet and refill it for her, add a slice of lemon and take it to her. "I think we need to talk, don't you?"

Again she shrugs her shoulders. "What is there to talk about? Our son is a homosexual, and I hate it."

I sit beside her and sip at the brandy I've poured for myself. "What do you think of Peter Shawcliffe?"

She looks at me as if I'm a fool. "What has Peter Shawcliffe got to do with anything?"

I smile at her. "You didn't answer my question. What do you think of Peter Shawcliffe?"

She takes a sip of her G&T. "He's a lovely man. He's very clever, too. He's good company, and if he wasn't such a Mummy's boy, he would be a good catch for someone."

Anne's comment makes me laugh. She's almost right about him though. He is clever. He's an executive in our company, and he's fun to be with. "Darling," I say, "he's not a Mummy's boy. He's a homosexual, and he lives with his partner."

Anne looks at me again, but this time, her look is one that says I'm an even bigger fool. "I don't believe you! He told me that he lives with his mother. Why should he do that? Why should he tell a lie?"

I shrug my shoulders. "Because he's a homosexual and he doesn't want anyone to know. So, he tells everyone that he lives with his mother, and nobody is any the wiser. These things can be hidden. It's all a matter of perception. You tell someone something they can believe, and there's no problem."

"And what has Peter Shawcliffe got to do with our situation?"

I consider my words very carefully before I answer her, but before I do, I put my arm around her and draw her close to me. I need to be intimate, because I am about to say things that are probably the most important things I've ever said to her since we met. Our future depends on the outcome of this discussion. "Darling, you've nurtured our son from the womb until now. You've done an absolutely magnificent job of it, and I'm really proud of you. You've given me a son to be proud of. Nobody knows Stuart better than you do. Not even me. The only thing that you couldn't possibly know was his sexuality. Had he been less clever, you would have known a long time ago what he was. But he is clever. In fact, he's inherited his cleverness from both of us. He will have known that he was a homosexual for a while now, but a few things have stopped him telling us. The first is that he would never have wanted to hurt us. The second was that he had never met anyone who he felt was worth hurting us for. The third is that even now he has met someone he loves deeply, he still thought he could carry it through without you and I knowing, and without either of us being hurt. But circumstances have changed. He may be about to be parted from that person, and he now knows how much that would hurt."

Anne turns to me. "Are you condoning all this?"

I shake my head. "No... but neither am I condemning it. I'm being pragmatic. We might be about to lose our son, and I'm trying my best to make sure we don't lose him... permanently. I actually believe him when he said he would never want to see us again if we part him and Michael."

Anne snorts. "He's only fourteen. He'll grow out of it and become normal."

Anne's words are self-denial. She's not so stupid as to believe what she said. Now I need to be gentle. "Darling, I want to ask you a question. Do you still love me?"

Anne looks into my eyes. "Of course I do!"

"Are you sure about that?"

"Don't be silly! Of course I'm sure about it! What a silly question. Did you think I don't?"

I smile at her. "No. I know you do, and I still love you immensely. I really do! I've loved you from the first moment I saw you. Can you remember when that was?"

Anne's eyes are misty now. "Of course. At the Clarks. You were wearing that silly blue jumper and green corduroys, and I told you that 'blue and green should not be seen, except upon a fool'."

I laugh, and kiss my beautiful wife on the lips. "That actually hurt me! You were so cruel!"

Anne laughs. "I know. I regretted it the moment I said it." Another kiss... and then a wicked grin. "But I made up for it later though, didn't I?"

"Our first kiss? On the porch and it was raining and the gutter had a leak and the water was running down my neck but I didn't dare say anything because it would have broken the spell. It actually ran right down my back and into my underpants."

Now, Anne is helpless with laughter. Another kiss, but this time it's a sexy one. "So that was the first time I got in your underpants, was it?"

I'm laughing now. "Indeed it was! Thank goodness it wasn't the last!"

Anne is in a much better mood now. "And what has all this got to with our boy?"

'Our boy'! Those words please me. "How old were you when we met? Thirteen?"

"You know I was. But that was different."

I lift Anne's chin and gently kiss her lips. "No it wasn't, my darling. Our boy has fallen in love with Michael at about the same age you did with me. The only difference between us and them is that they're sexually different from us. But let us just deal with our boy. He can't help being a homosexual. He is what he is. We created him, and we've loved him, and we've brought him up. He's ours, but we don't own him. He's in our custody. We can't just stop being his parents because he's sexually different to us. We don't have the right to delve or interfere in his sexuality, no more that he has any right to be involved with ours. I know you're terribly disappointed, but we're not going to change what he is. We don't have the power to do that, and if we don't support him, as sure as eggs are eggs, we're going to lose him. I don't want that, and I say that not only for him, but also for us. That's why I asked you if you still loved me. I still love you, but if we let Stuart's situation deteriorate, so will ours. It's no longer 'you and I'. Now, we are three, and if we're to remain as a family unit, we have to face this together. I know for a fact that Stuart is hurting terribly because of how you feel. He loves you deeply. He loves me, too. But if we break him and Michael up, he will hate us. He may even take his own life. Michael, too, I think."

"He wouldn't do that! They wouldn't do that!"

"Darling, you know me. I wouldn't be so cruel as to say a thing like that unless I thought it was a probability rather than a possibility. I want you to think back to when this all started. We knew something was strange about their relationship, and we've even laughed at Stuart's cunning to get what he thinks is best for Michael. It's only because we're clever that he didn't manage to keep pulling the wool over our eyes. But now we know the real reasons why Stuart did what he did, you can begin to see how deeply he loves Michael. Just think what our boy has achieved so far. He's introduced Michael to us, got Sir Clarence to arrange a buffet in Michael's honour, manipulated Les Bourne as his aide, got him a place at Oxford and a bursary to go with it, and last but not least, he's provided a first class chap to work for me. Our boy is a bloody genius!"

Despite the first words I spoke, Anne giggles at the whole of what I said. She looks at me. "He's like the man I love."

I kiss her. "And behind every great man, there's an even greater woman! I would not be where I am today without you being by my side every step of the way. And you know that's true. And now, if you can come to terms with it, you can do the same for Stuart and Michael. Remember, Michael has no woman behind him driving him on. All he has is a fourteen-year-old boy doing his best and a brother who is his rock. You and I and Stuart and Alex can create a being in Michael that we can all be proud of. He has so many raw qualities that it shouldn't be difficult for us. Together, we can hide what they really are. That's if you can get over your understandable disappointment."

Anne doesn't speak again for a while, and then she gets off the sofa and goes to Stuart's bedroom. I've finished the brandy I'd poured for myself, and am halfway through another when she comes back and sits by my side. I can see that she's been crying, and I put my arm around her and draw her close to me.

She turns her tearful face up to me, and nods. "What can we do?"

I kiss her lips gently. "I don't know yet, but I will think of something. I have to. For all of us." I smile at her. "He's beautiful, isn't he?"

Anne breaks into tears, and nods again. "I love him so much! Please, Cameron, sort it so we can be like we were. I think he hates me now."

I hug her even tighter. "No he doesn't. He's hurt because he's trapped. No matter which way he turns, he knows he's going to hurt somebody. Because he's not the kind of person who likes to hurt people, it must be awful for him. He's the opposite. I think that even if he hadn't fallen in love with Michael, he would still have done his utmost to help him. We've bred a beautiful person; you and I, Darling. And now we've got to help him. It starts here and now. No turning back; no regrets. Well?"

Anne smiles. "Here and now. Yes. It won't be easy for any of us, but we have to do it. I realize it now. You're right in everything you say, Darling. When shall we start?"

I smile at her. "Not 'we'. You! In the morning, I want you to give him the biggest hug you've ever given him, and then tell him that you love him and that we will do everything we can for him and Michael. Once you've done that, I promise you that we will never lose our son. Would you like to go to bed now?" I give her a cockeyed grin. "It's not too late to have another baby, you know!"

Michael Johnson.

Lunchtime; I'm sitting in Dada's chair and I hear Alex whistling as he comes up the backyard. He's working at the local depot today and come home for lunch. And then Trotter flies into my arms and licks my face before she bounds off to see if there's anything in her bowl in the kitchen.

Alex sits in the chair beside me. "Has Lover Boy's letter arrived, Kiddo?"

I hand him both letters; the second one underneath the first so that he will read them in sequence. And then I wait until he's read them. Alex gives me a big grin, and I ask him, "What are you grinning at, you ugly sod?"

"I told you that he loved his Alex. Anyway, these are old hat now. Things have moved on apace. You've got to come with me after lunch. Lover Boy is ringing you at two. The boss rang me this morning and ordered me to get you into his office to take a reverse charge call from Lover Boy. What's for dinner?"

I grin at him. "Did his father sound as if he was mad at me?"

Alex smirks. "He's not too pleased that you've almost ruined his bloody holiday. Anyway, more important, what's for dinner?"

I can sense that Alex is not telling me all he knows, and I can also sense that whatever it is... is good news. The fact that I'll be talking to Stuart in just over an hour is wonderful. He will tell me everything. I grin again at Alex. "Fish and chips. From the chippies... if you've got some money."

Alex goes into his pocket and gives me half-a-crown. "Plenty of salt and vinegar on mine, Kiddo. And see if they've got any fish bits for Trotter."

I go through the front door, wait until old man Harvey's horse and cart passes on his way home after delivering the milk to all and sundry in the district, cross the road, walk the twenty yards down to Mr and Mrs Friar's fish and chip shop, and go in. There's a small queue, and I wait at the rear of it to be served.

I love this place; the old frying range and the familiar smells. Mr Friar does the frying, and Mrs Friar serves. Although they're getting on in years, what they lack in speed is more than made up with routine. They're like a well-oiled machine. And everybody calls them Mr or Mrs Friar, not because we don't know that their Christian names are Jack and Doris, but because they have the respect of the community. They've earned it. They've served the growing population of our smallish conurbation since the end of the 1st World War. The sustenance of generations has been provided by this couple.

I look out of the window at the row of shops opposite: Rafter's paper shop; Brent's toffee shop; Harvey's children's wear shop; Doctor Turner's surgery, which nestles between those shops and The Wool Shop; Atkinson's fruit shop; Purcell's bakery; Brassington's ironmongers; Lee's butchers; and Dickenson's off-licence. Our community. And as I stare at them all, I experience my epiphany. I am of them. I belong to them. They created me, and now, as I'm about to go to one of the top two universities in this great land of ours, I want to pay them back for all they've done for me. I can do that.

"Fish and chips is it, Michael?"

"Yes please, Mrs Friar. Two large cod and two large portions of chips, please. Plenty of salt and vinegar. And some fish bits for Trotter if you have any, please."

"I think I can sort something out for that little lady. You look pleased with yourself. Have you lost a penny and found a shilling?"

I laugh. "No, Mrs Friar. I've just decided what subject I'll be taking at Oxford."

"And what will that be, Michael?"

"Politics, Mrs Friar. I'm going into politics to represent us."

"Labour, I hope?"

"Of course! I could never be one of them."

"Good lad. Your Dada would have been proud of you."

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