A Boy Named James,

by Jolyon Lewes

Chapter 7

February 1964 (continued)

I awoke on Sunday morning and saw lying on a chair the PE kit James had lent me for the previous day's 'tuition' in the squash court. I felt a frisson of fear. Surely I wouldn't have to wear it again? Then I remembered it was there to be collected for washing. Thank God for that! James awoke and reminded me we were all going out for Sunday lunch. He said he hoped it wouldn't be at the local hotel, which was very old-fashioned and expected smart apparel.

"Does that mean school uniform?" I asked.

"For you, yes it would but for me it would have to be a dark suit."

"Is that the one you said was beyond belief?"

James gave me a wintry look and wouldn't answer when I asked him what made the suit beyond belief. He put on his grey cord shorts and this time a pale blue sweater, so looked a little less like the Wolf Cub he'd resembled on the past two days.

Breakfast was simple as we'd be having a big lunch. The weather had warmed a bit and instead of snow we had rain, lots of it but as we were reading the Sunday papers out came the sun. Mr Ellis told us the plans for the day. I saw James looking very nervous but when he heard his father saying we'd be lunching at The Plough his face lit up and he actually smiled. This wouldn't be the posh local hotel, then.

"The pub's about six miles from here, Jolyon," said Mr Ellis, "so as the weather's set to improve I thought you and James would like to walk home while the rest of us use the car."

My face must have lit up because Mr Ellis said "Oh good, you like the idea. Now then, supper tonight will be informal, just cold cuts in the kitchen. Then I'll need to take Joan for her train to London."

James looked at me and said the walk home would be on public footpaths through woods and fields. His father said I could stay in my black cords and pullover but told James to go up and change. James's face dropped. He beckoned me to go up with him.

He looked anxious as we entered his bedroom and swore when he saw what was lying on his bed. It was a tweed suit.

"I hate this bloody suit," he said, picking up the suit with a look of disgust. I saw that it had not long trousers but short ones. "Still, it could have been worse, I might have had to wear the other one."

"The one that's beyond belief?"

"Yeah," said James, looking at me with a look of despair. "I'd definitely have to wear it if we'd been going to church."

Pointing at the tweed shorts he said the material was hell to wear next to the skin as there was no lining. He took off all but his very skimpy briefs and put on a brushed cotton shirt, a tartan tie, long green socks and then the shorts. They reached only a quarter of the way down his thighs but he said they were by far his longest shorts and he wished they were much shorter. Finally he put on some brown brogue shoes and the tweed jacket. He looked like an advert for a well-dressed little boy in the Highlands. I wanted to give him a hug.

"All set for a country walk!" said Mrs Ellis to James as we assembled for the journey to the pub. "I expect you'll bring your tweeds next time you come to stay, Jolyon."

This sounded like a command but I just smiled. I was unlikely ever to have anything made of tweed.

James sat between Joan and me in the back seat while Mrs Elliot sped us to The Plough. James kept scratching those parts of his upper thighs imprisoned inside the very coarse tweed, and knowing my own allergy to wool, I could guess how he felt. Sure enough, I soon had another hard-on, thanks to the old Schadenfreude feelings. I felt very guilty.

"Oh, do stop fidgeting, James!" said his mother several times as we sat at table in The Plough, where we had a splendid roast lunch, followed by trifle and coffee. I was bought a pint of bitter but James had to make do with a half of shandy.

When lunch was over I thanked my hosts and James and I set off on foot for the six-mile walk home. It was good to be away from other people and James seemed more relaxed.

"This time tomorrow we'll be on the train back to school," he said, with a degree of relish. "I don't have to wear bloody tweed shorts there. Walking in them is bad but sitting in them is hell and my skin feels like it's burning. It's funny but I feel freer at school than I do at home."

"And you can mix with dodgy types and smoke and get caned," I said. "You don't really like smoking, do you?"

"No, but it gives me credibility."

"Only among that bunch of hard boys," I said. "You ought to mix with nicer boys."

"Boys like you?" said James.

"You wouldn't mind that, would you?"

Before he could answer and perhaps say something I didn't want to hear, I stopped walking and pointed to the western sky.

"Just look at that cloudscape!"

I was indicating a towering cumulonimbus cloud in the distance, its sharply-defined 'anvil' lit brightly from behind by the low sun.

"You see so much, Jolyon. You see beauty in so many things I don't even notice."

I looked at him and smiled. I certainly saw beauty in him. We walked on in silence, glancing often at the spectacular sky. Then, with only a mile to go, quite out of the blue he said "I wish you were my brother."

We were negotiating a flooded bit near a field gate and I was so touched by what he'd said I slipped and fell full-length into the mud. He had to help me up.

"Oh God, you're covered in mud! Let's get you home and you can borrow some of my clothes."

I staggered to my feet and stumbled squidgily the last twenty minutes home. While taking off my filthy clothes in the back porch we were met by Joan.

"Oh, you poor thing!" she said. "It's a bath for you and then some clean clothes. I've got just the thing!"

Something told me I was soon going to look like James's twin brother again. Panic gave way to the realisation I'd have no choice in the matter. Before I knew it, James had fetched my dressing gown and I'd offered my wet and muddy clothes to Joan who said she'd bring me something suitable to wear for the rest of the day. I went upstairs with James where he ripped off his tweed suit as quickly as possible and put on the prep school cords and the pale blue sweater.

"These may be horribly embarrassing," he said pointing at the grey shorts, "but at least they're comfortable. I was given this tweed suit in the autumn, for going on shoots and things but Mama thinks I should use it for all country pursuits - like walking home from the pub. The shorts would be almost bearable if they had a lining. You'd better go and have a bath."

After my bath I was standing in James's bedroom with a towel round my waist when Joan came in.

"Oh, darling," she said, "you look so sweet. I had to do some work on these shorts so James can get another year or two out of them." She handed me a pair of grey cord shorts. "The hems were a bit frayed so I had to take them up a bit. You'll look super in them!"

"It's very kind of you but I'd rather wear my school uniform," I said, beginning to panic.

"Nonsense, darling, we're not being formal tonight! Pa won't even be wearing a tie!"

I was getting the treatment James had had all his life. Joan was being very kind but I felt like a little boy incapable of making decisions. I took the shorts and said thank you.

When Joan had gone James said "Now you know how it is for me. I don't get a choice, I just wear what I'm told to."

He saw me rummaging in my case. "You can borrow one of my shirts and you'll definitely need a pair of my tiny briefs. And some long socks and in my green pullover you'll look like a Wolf Cub, an eighteen-year-old Wolf Cub! Go on, do it for me! "

So I did. I told myself I was showing solidarity with James and I looked like an elderly Wolf Cub for the rest of the day. The shorts were incredibly short, finishing miles above the mole on my right thigh I've mentioned before. I felt horribly self-conscious but James kept giving me little smiles so I knew I was winning points from him. He looked as angelic as usual, his behaviour impeccable and his legs, as ever, good enough to die for.

We sat at the kitchen table for supper, which was pork pies and salad. James sat to my left on one side of the table. While I was talking to Mr Elliot about my travels a curious thing happened. I felt a hand on my left thigh, near my knee. It was James's hand, obviously and he drew it slowly up my bare thigh until, right at the top, it reached the hem of the shorts. I carried on talking - what else could I do? Then he took his hand away.

Joan had to leave for London straight after supper and she gave me a nice goodbye kiss. Yes, it was nice but it made me feel even more like a little boy of thirteen instead of a young man only a year younger than she was. Soon James and I were alone in the kitchen, doing the washing up.

"What was all that about?" I said.

He tried to look as though he didn't understand me.

"Your hand on my leg," I said.

"Oh, it was just an experiment," he said. "I wanted you to feel what it's like when you're talking with grown-ups and a hand suddenly arrives on your bare thigh and begins to stroke it."

"I can see what you mean," said I. "You have to carry on talking as if nothing's happening. It wasn't easy even though I knew it was only your hand."

"Whadya mean, only my hand? It's a good hand and I've got another, just the same."

"Sorry, I didn't mean that. I meant it must be horrible if the hand belongs to some hideous old man."

"Yeah, it's vile and it can go on for ages." James shuddered at the memories he must have been harbouring.

To be trapped beside an old man like that must indeed have been vile and I felt so sorry for James and wanted to protect him, like I wanted to protect him from the hard boys at school who, as far as I could see, wanted him only as a mascot to be caned so they could afterwards inspect his bottom.

James said "It'd be funny if my parents had a dinner party and you were here as well, dressed like that. The dirty old men would be spoilt for choice, wouldn't they? And you do have smashing legs, Jolyon."

Thankfully, we didn't carry on with that conversation because the washing up was done and we joined James's mother in the drawing room. We were soon joined by Mr Ellis.

"Joan's train was exactly on time," he said. "Now, boys, as it's your last night here, how about a small drink?"

I was sitting beside James on the sofa, each of us in tiny grey corduroy shorts. We may not have looked exactly like twins but if James looked only thirteen so must I. I think I may even have pulled up the long grey socks James had lent me to make them look neat. Like James, I'd crossed my legs to limit the risk of exposing what lay between my legs. I felt extremely self-conscious. It was a bit like being interviewed by the headmaster but I'd never worn such short shorts at school, at any age. Luckily, he was a kindly headmaster with twinkling eyes.

"A sherry, Jolyon, or something stronger? I like a malt whisky."

I gulped and asked for a whisky. James was given a sweet sherry. Sitting in tiny shorts and looking like an elderly Wolf Cub I felt guilty sipping my whisky, as if any moment I might get caught by a prefect. Then I remembered I was a prefect and old enough to drink alcohol legally. But dressed as I was I looked like a boy of thirteen, and so did James, holding his sherry glass so elegantly.

James's mother wished us goodnight and as she departed she said "James, it's time for bed. Off you go."

So now I was left with Mr Ellis and I wondered what he'd have to say. Would he tell me it didn't look good that there was over two years age difference between James and me? I felt my face going red in anticipation.

"Jolyon, it's been good to meet you. James has said so much about you. It looks to me that you are ..." he began to cough and splutter. Was he furious with me? No, some of his drink had gone down the wrong way. "Oh, please excuse me," he said, wiping his mouth, "I must remember not to breathe in as I swallow."

I was very nervous about what he was going to say to me. Could he see I was infatuated with his son? Heart in my mouth, I clasped my knees and looked at my bare thighs.

"What I was trying to say, Jolyon, is that you seem to be a steadying influence on James. He's had little experience of choosing his own friends and I'm not sure he's mixing with the right sort of boy at school but you are different. Although quite a bit older you're not overbearing and it's clear you like each other very much. You'd be doing me a huge favour if you could keep an eye on him and lead him not into temptation but into the paths of righteousness."

I was somewhat relieved as I went upstairs. James was in bed and looked at me enquiringly. "Nice chat?"

"Yes, your father's given me his seal of approval. I was scared he was going to call me a cradle-snatcher."

"A cradle-snatcher? But you look my age, you act my age and in those clothes you look even younger and actually rather cute, said the Fourth-Former to the Upper Sixth Former! Oh, in case I haven't told you, you've got smashing legs!"

I went over and ruffled his hair. "Flattery will get you nowhere, my boy!"

Monday morning and in the afternoon James and I would be taking the train back to boarding school. The half term with him had been amazing in all sorts of ways. I'd had my first and probably last squash lesson, I'd slipped in some mud and needed a complete change of clothing and I'd experienced home routines very different from and much more formal than those I'd known before. But most amazing of all was to see that even in February James wasn't allowed to wear long trousers but shorts, varying from very short to spectacularly short.

Linda, the local girl who did the laundry, came into the bedroom with shorts for James to wear for the morning. Unsurprisingly they were more of his grey corduroy shorts and when he saw them he gasped and said he'd grown out of them years ago. Linda smiled and said they'd do for another few months.

I asked her if I could have the clothes I'd got covered in mud but she said they wouldn't be ready till lunchtime and that James's mother said I was to wear what I'd worn the evening before until it was time to change into school uniform for the train. So I had no choice but to look again like an elderly Wolf Cub.

Before he left for work, James's father gave each of us a pound note 'to buy something on the train.' He wished me luck with my A Levels and said he hoped it wouldn't be long before I paid another visit.

At midday James and I went up to his bedroom. His long-trousered school uniform was on his bed and mine was on mine, as well as the clothes I'd muddied, now cleaned and pressed. After a quick lunch James's mother sped us to the station, where I gave her effusive thanks for her hospitality. She saw us onto the train and waved goodbye as it set off.

We boys had a compartment to ourselves.

"I'm sorry if you found it awkward at home," said James, "but it was good to have a friend sharing my funny way of life."

"It wasn't quite what I expected," I said, "and I won't tell anyone at school about the shorts. But your parents were very kind to me, especially your dad. I'll nip to the buffet car and spend that pound he gave me. Beer and crisps?"

"Ooh yes, Jolyon, let's get drunk!"

Well, we didn't exactly get drunk on a couple of cans of beer each but James became more relaxed than I'd seen him for many days and even a bit squiffy. I was used to being myself when I went home and, as they say today, chilling out, but poor James was always on his guard, waiting to hear from his parents what he had to do. He was even at the behest of Linda, who told him what he was to wear.

I couldn't say the half term had been unalloyed joy but what I'd learnt about James's home life fascinated me and made me keener than ever to be his friend and protector. We each had secrets about each other to keep and I hoped this would draw us closer. He dozed off and I looked at him. After the last four days it seemed strange to see his legs clothed and not bare right to the top. I looked at mine; they too had been bare for much of the past twenty-four hours. I smiled at the memory of James saying I had 'smashing legs.'

I thought of my Sunday suit. One night, sometime in the future, I'd wear it again, on a solitary, secret bike ride, and I'd think of James, in little grey shorts whenever he was home from school. I allowed myself another smile.

"What's making you smile?" said James. I hadn't noticed he'd woken up.

"Oh, nothing."

"You were thinking of my grey shorts, weren't you? You looked good in them but your face when you saw how short they were was unforgettable!"

He came and sat beside me and put his hand on my leg, just above the knee and slowly drew it up my thigh, just like he'd done at the kitchen table the night before. My willy stiffened.

"Not the same with long trousers on, is it?"

I had no answer as the feel of his hand felt pretty good even though it wasn't skin on skin.

He went back to sit by the window. "Next time you come to stay you must wear shorts. It's only fair and it would be fun. There will be a next time, won't there?"

"I hope so," I said, "but I don't think I'd find it fun to be in the tiny little shorts I was wearing this morning."

"I'll have to be in shorts though. I might even have to wear the suit that's beyond belief. Then it'll be you getting all the fun!"

"Can't wait to see it," I said, my willy responding with embarrassing swiftness. I was aware that James had spotted my hard-on.

"You're having naughty thoughts again," said James, smiling sweetly. "I've noticed it happens quite a lot."

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