A Boy Named James,

by Jolyon Lewes

Chapter 19

September 1965

My first evening on the narrow boat proved to be much less tense than I'd feared. The meal was delicious and the wine flowed and everyone relaxed and there was laughter. Even James looked happy. I didn't need to be asked to help wash up, I was only too keen to assist James in the tiny galley. By now it was nearly dark but he and I took a walk on the towpath.

"Have you missed me, Jols?"

"Of course I have! Wasn't it obvious by what I wrote in my letters?"

"Yes, I just wanted to hear you say it. I've missed you too."

"Did you see much of Sam?"

"Yeah and he's very nice but I think he fancies me."

"What's wrong with that? Loads of boys at school fancy you."

"Do they? I had to wear that bloody Continental suit for church last month and Sam was there and he came and sat next to me and I could tell he was having very naughty thoughts."

"Who could blame him?" I said, my willy yet again stiffening. "Look, I'm incredibly grateful to your dad and Dr Leahy for getting me the job. I like the people and I think it's going to be good."

"Just one problem," said James, "it's so far from school. We're going to have to find a way to meet. Hitch-hiking, probably."

After a bit more reminiscing we went back to the boat and to our tiny cabin. We pulled down my bunk and I saw James had been right - the gap between our two bunks was minimal so we had to take turns to undress for bed. I sat on my bunk and James prepared to undress. We had to speak quietly. He asked me if I thought his new brown shorts were indecent. "Not as bad as those starched tennis shorts you wore at the prize-giving but just as eye-catching."

James took off his shirt and the tiny brown shorts and right in my face I had those thong-like briefs he wore with the shortest of his shorts. His bottom, inches from my face, was as gorgeous as ever. I wanted to kiss it. The tan-line seemed to have risen. Now, instead of being at the top of his thighs it was an inch up his bottom.

"Your tan-line's moved up. Have you been wearing swimmers?" I asked.

"No, Jols, it's the shorts I've been wearing. My mother wants me to get best use out of them. That's why I have to use these stupid little briefs. Trust you to notice my tan-line! You haven't changed."

"Nor have you and your bum's as gorgeous as ever. I want to sink my teeth into it!"

"Not here! They'd hear my screams!"

"OK," I said, "I'll resist the temptation this time. I'll settle for a silent grope."

"Go ahead," he said, lying on his bunk in just his briefs., "but make it quiet."

It was so wonderful to stroke those magnificent thighs again but I took care not to tickle his inner thighs in case he giggled and the grown-ups heard. The night was too warm for sleeping bags so we lay uncovered on our bunks. We had a restless night. More than once I felt his knee in the small of my back and once his arm came over and rested on my chest and he sighed for a few seconds. He was like a little child having a dream. He seemed like a frightened boy in need of my protection.

But in the morning he was up and into his tennis shorts and polo shirt and out of the boat, onto the bank and off for a run before the grown-ups even awoke. Twenty minutes later he was back to urge me to stow my bunk and to help him make tea for everyone.

We cast off at around 9.00 am and motored gently away towards the next village. The weather was cool and overcast and rain was forecast. I was allowed a go on the tiller and found the boat relatively easy to control. One of the men stayed with me at all times to ensure I obeyed the rule of the road in the event of our meeting oncoming traffic.

At the village James and Joan hopped off to find the village shop to buy provisions, James going along to help carry the goods but also in the forlorn hope of finding a shop that sold trousers. Needless to say, he failed so it would be shorts for him for the next three days.

For lunch in the boat it was bread, cheese, fruit and a glass of wine and then the rain started. The voyage involved no locks so only the man on the tiller needed to be out in the open and he had a long waxed coat and sou'wester so was able to stay warm and dry. The other man had an umbrella but I had no rainwear so stayed indoors. James had a short, hooded anorak so he was able to go on deck to perform such functions as were delegated to him. Unfortunately his tennis shorts quickly became soaked, which I saw when he came into the saloon.

"Off with those shorts, James," said Susannah. "Being cotton they'll take ages to dry. You'll need your new shorts tonight so you'd better go and put your new trunks on." "Why can't I wear my other tennis shorts?"

"Because they're cotton too so would quickly get drenched. Now go and get those ones off."

His new trunks were iridescent blue in colour and only slightly more substantial than his funny little briefs, covering much less than 50% of his bottom. He put on his anorak and went out into the rain again. When we moored for the night at quite a busy stretch of the canal, opposite the pub where we'd be eating our supper, he made quite a spectacle because each time he bent forward to secure mooring ropes and so on he offered what was essentially a large, bare bottom to onlookers, some of whom looked quite astonished. Watching from under an umbrella I had a massive hard-on and once again felt the Schadenfreude creeping up on me.

Back in the saloon for a cup of tea, James, having shed his drenched anorak, sat beside me and I saw his thighs were covered in goose-pimples. He rubbed his legs to try to make them warm.

"You must be freezing," I said.

"It's only pain, Jolyon. It's giving me an appetite for a huge steak!"

A little later, after his shower, he came into the saloon in a clean shirt and his brown micro-shorts. He gave me a shy smile.

"I need a large beer and lots of food!" he said. "And I see the rain's stopped and the sun's come out."

While walking over to the pub I noticed another family making its way in the same direction from a narrow boat moored two along from ours. There were three children: two little girls in jeans and a blond teenage boy in extremely brief denim shorts. His body language suggested he was miffed about something. It didn't take me long to discover he didn't like his shorts.

"I'm fifteen," I heard him say, "so I don't see why I've got to wear shorts."

"Yes, Richard," said his father, "you're only a boy so you will wear shorts when we tell you to."

"But they're so short, " whined Richard.

Once in the pub our group stood waiting to be allocated a table. The other family were a little behind us and Richard was still whining about his shorts, this time to his sisters.

"Well, that boy's got shorts much shorter than yours!" said the larger girl.

I looked and saw she was indicating James.

"And look," squealed the smaller girl, "they're so short you can even see his bare bottom!"

At this James turned and saw the girls staring at him. I'd never seen him blush so vividly. He tugged on his hems and fixed his gaze on the floor. I heard him sigh "Oh God! "

No-one else in our group seemed to have noticed the little girls. In any case, James's sisters were used to seeing him in shorts of eye-watering brevity . We went to our table and James made for the end of a bench seat that was in a corner and waved me in beside him.

"Sit here and hide me, Jols," he said beneath his breath.

My Schadenfreude was going into overdrive. I wondered what the girls would say if they knew that this boy with his bottom showing was a young man of seventeen.

With his wondrous legs now visible only to him and to me, James relaxed and enjoyed his huge T-bone steak, washing it down with a pint of Mitchells and Butlers bitter. I never found it exactly onerous to sit beside James when he was in shorts. Seated on the bench seat made his thighs broaden and in those micro-shorts he presented a vast expanse of marble-smooth skin upon which I could surreptitiously place my hand for the occasional grope. He liked it but not as much as I did.

It was a most enjoyable meal, in convivial company but I couldn't help wishing it was just James and me, on an adventure. There was a minor crisis when James, on his way to the loo and tugging on his hems, had to pass in front of Richard and his family. I observed closely. The girls were quick to spot James.

"See - I told you so," said the smaller girl. "Look, Richard."

Richard looked at James and was afforded a good rear view. I heard him say "Blimey, I see what you mean!"

Back in the narrow boat we each had a couple more drinks and James relaxed again. The extreme brevity of his shorts didn't bother him with no strangers about. After all, some of his sports shorts were even more revealing and his sisters and I and probably both the men had seen him naked on many occasions.

We listened to the radio weather forecast. Sunday was supposed to be warm and sunny.

"That'll be nice for you two boys," said one of the men. "We should pass through the flight of locks quite quickly so you'll have done most of the hard work before it gets too warm."

"And then you can sunbathe on the roof," said Susannah. "Did you bring any shorts, Jolyon?"

I said I hadn't and felt a lead weight forming in my tummy.

"Well, in that case James could wear his trunks and you could borrow his tennis shorts! Or maybe the other way round."

"What a good idea," I said, while privately hoping for rain

In our cabin, James and I were getting ready for bed. I took off my trousers and sat down to take off my socks. James sat beside me on my bunk.

"Tomorrow we should get a chance to be by ourselves," he said. "We could walk between the different locks so we could be off the boat for two or three hours. We could make plans for the future."

"Yes, let's talk about this trip to the Black Forest I promised you. You'd look fantastic in Lederhosen!"

James was somewhat tipsy and gave a little giggle. "So would you - and the shorter the better."

I said nothing. The thought of having to wear Lederhosen brought back that lead weight in my tummy.

Suddenly he put his hand on my thigh and tickled it. "Hey, Jols, I can see more hairs on your legs. You're beginning to look like a grown-up and that will never do! Razors at dawn!"

"I hate hairy legs," I said. "Yours are so much nicer than mine. Can I have a feel?"

"Of course. Heaven knows when we'll get another chance to sleep together. Yours are the only hands I want touching my body."

That night we slept holding hands. We'd had some mutual groping but managed to my surprise to avoid any sticky results. We said nothing about what the future might hold.

The weather on Sunday was a vast improvement on the day before. James went on his morning run and returned with his face shining with perspiration. By the time he'd made tea for the grown-ups and me the sun was shining warmly and the air had the feel of a real summer's day.

After breakfast we cast off and headed towards the flight of five locks that we boys would work so that by lunchtime the narrow boat would be free to make its tranquil voyage to Penkridge.

Working the locks proved to be straightforward but quite strenuous. As the boat left each lock we walked to the next one, while the two men worked the boat and James's sisters sat in the stern taking in the sun and looking decorative. After the second lock James's face was once again shining with moisture.

Looking at me he said "I bet you wished you'd brought your shorts. Your legs must be steaming in those thick trousers."

The only shorts now in my possession were the two pairs of grey cord shorts James had given me; one would still fit me but the other was the pair he'd wrecked in February and I kept it as a souvenir. My other shorts were at my parents' house.

"Joan said I should wear your tennis shorts this afternoon but I'm sure you'd rather wear them yourself."

"I do have more than one pair, you know. Anyway, you'll look incredibly cute in my swimmers!"

"Don't you dare mention them again!"

The fifth lock was over a mile from the fourth so that gave us a 20-minute stroll while the boat chugged along behind us at slightly less than our walking pace. At last we had a few minutes to ourselves.

"Tell me about this trip to the Continent you keep promising," said James.

"When I've got a car," I said, feeling a little excited, "Dover-Calais car ferry, then straight into Belgium. Then along the autoroute to Brussels, then across country to Koblenz and along the Rhine to Baden Baden, which is the start of the Black Forest. We could camp the first night in Belgium then after that in Germany. How about it?"

"And who else would come?"

"Nobody! You don't want anyone else, do you?"

"No, but I'd be going abroad for the first time, alone with a strange man."

I gave James a playful punch. "You'll be an adult by the time I get a car so if you can't look after yourself there's no hope for you. Anyway, I'm not strange."

"Promise we won't have to meet anyone we know," said James.

"I'm not planning on it. Nor will there be any drinks parties where you have to hand out the nibbles."

"So I won't need my Continental suit then."

"Maybe not but I think you should bring the nice little brown shorts you'll be wearing tonight."

"But they're indecent."

"Precisely. They're just like what some German boys wear. You'll fit in beautifully."

We laughed and gave each other a playful punch.

After the boat had negotiated the fifth and final lock we went back on board. It was now lunchtime and the sisters had made a nice spread which we ate in the saloon and then, armed with a can of beer, it was time for James and I to take to the roof. Luckily, Susannah didn't repeat her suggestion that I wear either James's tennis shorts or his swimmers so I kept my trousers on. He and I lay side by side on the roof, basking in the sun. I asked him if he liked his blue swimmers and he said he daren't wear them again.

"They're too rude for words. You should have heard the comments I got yesterday from people watching me on the canal-side. I might as well have been wearing nothing but a jockstrap!"

"I heard some of those comments," I said, "and most of them were very complimentary. Did you hear those kids in the pub last night, talking about your brown shorts?"

"Of course I did! It was like kids like the Runt who laugh about my Continental micro-shorts."

"Well, I think you're sensible to try to tug the hems down, especially after you've been sitting. It's amazing how far those shorts ride up your bum. It can lead to people getting naughty thoughts."

"You're a dirty old man, Jols but I love you."

We lay on our backs in the warm sunshine and were soon joined by James's sisters, so from then on we were confined to small talk. The boat arrived at Penkridge and we helped to tie it up. The sisters went below to make supper. It would be an early meal as the grown-ups wanted to spend the evening playing bridge and I'd have to leave at about 9.00 pm for the train back to Wolverhampton.

I felt very sad that I couldn't spend a couple more days in the narrow boat. I got on well with the grown-ups and I knew James enjoyed my company and support; indeed, I think he needed it.

The sisters had made a light supper and when that was over the table was cleared and it was time for bridge. I had an hour before I had to go so after I'd thanked the grown-ups for their hospitality, James and I went to the village pub. In those days English pubs didn't open on Sunday evenings till 7.00 pm but we arrived after that and sat on a bench in the beer garden.

"I'd rather not be seen in these," said James, indicating his brown micro-shorts. "Oh God, why didn't I bring more long trousers?"

"If you had I wouldn't have enjoyed myself nearly as much, you sexy thing. I'll go and buy some beer. If you went in looking like that they wouldn't think you're old enough to enter a pub!"

"That's right, Jols, rub it in!"

We sat in a secluded spot and like many friends who are shortly to part, we said very little. I looked at my watch.

"I'm worried about a few things," said James, after a couple of minutes. "It looks like I'll be seeing a lot more of Sarah. Our parents seem to think we should get married. Not now but in a few years' time. Trouble is, I'm terrified of her. She treats me like some kind of toy, always patting my thigh or even worse, kissing me. And she's so bloody hairy! What can I do, Jols?"

I wanted to give him a big hug and probably a kiss. "I really don't know, my sweet boy. Stand your ground, say you've fallen in love with another girl, say you want to travel the world, join the Navy or something. I just don't know."

"Say you'll always be my friend, Jols, whatever happens. Call me your sweet boy again."

"I'll always be your friend, my sweet boy. I love you more than I can say. Oh God, I've got to go for my train. I'll walk you back to the boat. I don't want any strange men trying to pick you up."

I had one last grope of those fabulous thighs and if anyone was watching I didn't care.

As we walked back to the boat I wanted to say something meaningful but all I managed was "You will take care of yourself, won't you? You're very precious to me."

He said nothing in reply and we walked on until he stopped fifty yards short of the boat and turned to face me, holding out his hand to say goodbye. We shook hands.

"Jols, you've no idea how precious you are to me."

There were tears in his eyes. I wanted to hug him but the grown-ups might have been watching. So instead I said goodbye and set off for the station. After a hundred yards I paused and looked back at the boat. James was where I'd left him, looking at me. He looked impossibly young. He gave a little wave. It was such a sad little wave.

Mercifully, there were few passengers on the train. I cried all the way to Wolverhampton.

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