by Rafael Henry

Chapter 1

Some self-awareness

The curtains glide apart to let in the morning light. Such a sweet sound they make too. Swish! The view from my bedroom window is interesting too, with a not-too-busy street just below me, and a view down the hill to Viking Bay, about a mile away. One of the local secondary schools in just up our road, and a primary school, so I can see those bods morning and afternoon traipsing along reluctantly to another fun day at the office, that's if I'm in a mood to watch their comings and goings. My school terms start later than theirs and end earlier which is why I get to observe; again, if I wish to. Frankly, there's not a lot to see, with one or two exceptions. Rather notable exceptions actually, easily picked out from the rest. They stand out a mile. 08.40 on the dot, Monday too.

There's plenty to do in the holidays, but not much involves boys I know, as we all live miles apart, and only converge for school. But there's the coast to explore, on foot, a swimming pool, a cinema, a couple of decent bookshops, and other retail businesses worth a second look. Plus assignments to get done before the new round starts.

I thought it odd that I'm an only child, and in many ways, inconvenient. I would have liked a brother to play with, but I'm pretty sure my mum had some sort of problem ages ago when I was quite little. Anyway, here I am; just me. Fair do's.

My mum and I are very close. Frankly, I don't want a man here. We are perfectly happy as we are, but we don't have much money. My father has to give my mother a certain amount each month, which mum says he does, and he pays for my expenses too, which as my mother reminds me every so often are not inconsiderable. She's very bright, my mum, and knows tons of stuff about lots of things. If I ever have a question, whatever it is, she can usually answer it. There are a few questions I need answering as I get older, and when we sit together cuddled up with her arm around me or under my bottom on the sofa, it's just the right place to be. We talk about stuff for ages in the evenings. Usually it's about my life away from home and what the boys and masters have been talking about at school. I'm not sure whether to believe all the stories I hear or not. At school we all share rooms to sleep in. There are six boys in mine. When the lights are out, in semi-darkness now, we talk about all sorts of things; sex mainly. You can see the bedclothes moving. They're all fiddling; well, all bar a couple of sexless individuals. Robbie talks rubbish mainly; about what he's doing or what he's done in some place or other. We just listen to his stories. I don't believe half of it, although I'm finding it more and more interesting, and some of it is happening to me. I've learnt quite a bit from the boys about what happens to us as we gradually grow up, painfully, what changes in us, and what girls and boys can do together given the chance. Books don't tell you everything, and certainly our teachers are not going to let on. If anyone asks them an awkward question, they just say 'ask your parents'. So I do; about those kind of things, mainly because my mum keeps asking me about those kind of things . She still comes in when I'm bathing, but doesn't dry me off like she used to. I liked that. I think a lot of boys, girls too presumably, worry about their bodies. I do about mine, so I'm always seeking reassurance. How am I supposed to know if I'm alright?

Mum and I were talking last night and I noticed a little warming inside my pyjamas for absolutely no reason at all. It just goes like that, often these days. I was sat in her lap and cuddled into her. Maybe that was it. I was feeling warm and loved. Mum looked down and smiled. Boys' pyjamas are open at the front which I always thought a bit odd. You can see everything if you're not careful.

'Are you alright Jon?' She says, giving me another comforting squeeze around my middle.

'I think so.' Then a short silence. I need to get a thought off my chest.

'The boys say lots of stuff. I'm not sure if they're true or not.'

'What sort of things darling?' She says, looking at me with that concerned look mothers have when asked something suspicious by their son. What could he be referring to? Better ask one or two questions.

I've got to that age, mum says. I'm to be open and honest about certain things; things that I must understand properly, otherwise problems can occur. I have my little concerns that every boy has. Principally, is it normal? Am I normal? To me it doesn't look at all normal. Not like Robbie.

'Is there something worrying you darling. Do you need to show me?'

I undid the string of my pyjamas, pulled them apart, and showed it to her. I pulled the skin right back and asked her if it all looked right.

'Should it look like that mum?'

'Yes, I think so. If you're worried, why don't you show the doctor next time you see him. Would you like me to make an appointment for you darling? I can easily?'

I mean, how would my mother really know for sure? How many has she seen? I've probably seen more than she has. My face feels very hot now. She smiles and says it looks perfectly fine.

'Should it be bigger than that mum?'

'No darling, it's perfectly normal. Everyone is different; I think. You must have noticed at school? Is it a bit uncomfortable for you darling. It does look a little irritated .'

I'm not about to tell her why. But this is interesting.

'Some boys have ones that hang down mum. Huge ones. With hair all around.'

'Do they? That's probably because they're older darling. Yours will too, maybe, one day; probably. Have you been reading your book at all? I can find you something for that sore place?'

The book is interestingly illustrated. One picture shows a row of six boys all naked, in ascending ages and sizes, left to right, and in their different stages of sexual development, just standing there. The first one is tiny, and the last one hangs down with hair around it. I try to place myself in the line. I reckon I'm somewhere to the left of centre.

'Thanks mum. Can I show you something?' I ask. The book in question is by my side.

'Of course darling. Is there something you don't understand?'

I showed her the pages, illustrated, that has confused me for a while now.

'What does this word mean?' I ask. Mum looks at the word and there's quite a long pause before she answers.

'That's what happens when a man and a woman want to have a baby. It's a wonderful feeling both of them have, and that's what he has to put inside her to make it happen.' She explains. Robbie doesn't use that word to describe it.

'So that makes it happen then? Do they both get that feeling at the same time?'

'Yes darling. Well sometimes; maybe. He does; the man does. He has to. The woman doesn't have to. Not to make the baby.'

'What, never? Doesn't she ever have that feeling? That's not fair.'

She points to the relevant illustration.

'He has this wonderful feeling inside him and at that moment it all goes inside her to find her egg and then turns into a baby. That's what that word means.'

Well, actually I knew that. Robbie knows all the words. What I'm not sure about is the question; am I normal ? Could I make a baby? Not according to Robbie. He reckons he could. He showed all of us one night. He let us put our fingers in it.

This seems to me to be the big thing about mothers. The boys talk about it all the time. But they're just boys. Some of them are doing it, but they're not doing it with girls. They're doing it all on their own, or with another boy. Tim does it with John. I've watched them. Leon's done it to me, and I've done it to him afterwards. Only once. He asked me if I liked it, and was I like that . I just nodded but I wasn't sure what he meant. Anyway I said I did like it. He laughed, but he never put his hand in my bed again. I really like Leon. Sometimes I feel like I want to kiss him, but if I did, he'd probably whack me really hard. I don't like it when he talks about girls. Boring.

'May I ask you a question now darling?' Mum says, pointing to the picture of the man's penis inside the woman, and what he's doing.

'Yes mum?'

'Has it begun? For you darling?'

'Oh mum! Really! I don't know any girls. We're all boys at school. You know that.'

I smiled broadly at her, and looked away. She gave me a big hard hug, and then she carried on reading her book. She looked quite pleased to have had a conversation with me, although I started it. Usually she has to do the asking. The interviewing . The embarrassing questions. I keep looking at my pyjama bottoms, and the thing that keeps twitching up and down like it has a mind of its own. Strange thing it is, and I'm amazed and rather thrilled about how big it gets from such a tiny little shrimp of a thing. Truly amazing. I wish it would behave properly right now. It seems to come and go just when it pleases. I love seeing boys get them at the wrong moment, like when they get called up to the master's desk unexpectedly. Other boys will have noticed too and there's some tittering going around the room. I remain expressionless of course, but inside I'm really rather excited. You know how it is. Mum keeps reading her book, but I'm not sure how much reading she's doing.

Ten more minutes go by, and my situation, my predicament, eases away as quickly as it appeared. And then my thoughts wander again and it all comes back again. It comes so easily these days. Mum looked at me again.

'Perhaps you'd be better off in bed darling?'

'It's too early mum. In the summer, are we getting another student?' I ask.

'Yes darling. Needs must I'm afraid.'

'Just one?'

'Yes, just one this time. I can't cope with two. Would you prefer a girl or a boy?'

'Can we have a boy this time? About my age?'

'I'll ask. He'll be here probably from May right up to September if we can get one.'

Gosh I hope so. Last year, Leila and Hannelore left a couple of days before I went back to school for the start of the new year. I quite liked Hannelore. Leila was very dull.

My mother works as a part time teaching assistant in a local primary school, the one up the road as it happens, so she has time to look after our annual Paying Guest, or Guests, and be back at home when he or she comes home from their Language School. She could get a far better job with her qualifications as a nurse but she likes this one. She used to work with sick children but gave it up. It upset her too much. She still cries when she talks about it. One day soon I hope she'll be able to go back to it. Those sick kids deserve her in my opinion. She's kind; and loving.

We have a nice house, with a garden, all financially maintained by my father, who of course used to live here before he went off with his Italian secretary. There's a high hedge right at the front of our garden where it meets the pavement. Sometimes the boys hide behind it and then jump out to frighten their friend. Of course the friend knows what's coming. That's quite fun to watch.

On the whole I don't much like women; apart from my mum. I think boys and maybe men too are much more reliable and don't let you down like women do. When I grow up I'm going to live with a boy; well, a man he'll be by that time I suppose. My dad lives about twenty miles away with this other lady. My mother says he's quite rich. I see him every now and again but it's always awkward with her around.

We won't know which person, if any, the language school will give us for another month probably. By that time I'll be back at school, worse luck. Not another girl; please! Mind you the last one, Leila, was nice enough but very boring. She had glasses and nothing 'up top' as the boys call those things they have. I don't like to see anything 'up top'. My mum has practically nothing there. I like her short hair too, like a boy's hair. She has loads of friends which is nice, all girls I think, or I should say…… women . They always make a fuss of me. There's one who lives far away and she stays. She comes quite often.

That girl Leila always fussed, poking me to try and goad me into poking her. She even tried to kiss me once, and touched me down there . Naughty girl. I told her I didn't want to play with her. She turned away and said there was something wrong with me. Mum said there was nothing wrong with me and why should I want to play with her. She said that boys grow up a lot slower than girls and to ignore her. One night the other girl, Hannelore, came into my bedroom. I could see her in the doorway, all lit up by the hall light. I was still awake. She was just in her pants, white with little flowers on, and just a tee shirt. She had nothing up top either but you could see very clearly where they should be. She had one hand right in front of her pants as if she was hiding something. She just stood there waiting, looking right at me. I turned over towards the wall and then the door closed. I suppose I ought to have beckoned her to come in but I didn't. But my penis was still stiff. I thought for ages why she hadn't come in? She has lots of pretty knickers. I've looked in her drawer when she was out at the language school. Then I did something quite naughty. Mine are quite boring, like all the other boys at school. We all have the same thing. It wouldn't be a good idea to be different. They would tease you for it.

I thought about what it would feel like if she gave me hers to try on? I think I'd like that. I kept thinking about it whilst I fiddled. I'm pretty good at it now, especially if there's something, or someone nice to think about. Like that boy at school I helped when he was new. Now there's something to think about. That's all though; just to think about. Nothing dirty or shameful. He's beautiful. His name's Otta. I told him that he had a lovely name. He looked up at me with his green eyes, smiling, and obviously close to tears for some reason. Maybe he wasn't used to someone being kind to him. He couldn't find the room where his next lesson was, bless him. Always a tricky thing for a new boy who is desperate not to get into trouble. Being 'new' is no joke. I remember being new and big boys looking down at me. Sometimes they can be kind and will help you find your way around.

'Please sir, do you know where room 40 is please?' I ask the tall boy in the different coloured blazer. A prefect I think he is. He looks down at me, almost smiling. I like him and try to smile but I can't. I'm too worried.

'I'll take you there. What's your name?'

I tell him. We walk along, me next to him.

'In there.' He says, pointing.

'Thanks.' I say, smiling up at him.

'That's alright Jon. I'm Ralph Goodman by the way.' He says, still looking at me. 'You can find me at Lamberts. If you need me again?'

I couldn't stop thinking about what he'd said for ages. One thing I know is that this new life can't really be real. Real life must start when you leave school forever.

I think that boy Otta noticed me looking at his legs. All brown from the summer holidays no doubt. The new boys' shorts are too short these days. They show too much. I'm sure mine weren't that short. Nice though. I thought I was going to faint on the spot. I'm wondering if I shall ever see him with nothing on, and what he's like, or even better than that, after Games or something in his sexy shorts. He's in a different House so I doubt if I ever shall have that pleasure, more's the pity.

If I was an artist, I'd paint his portrait tomorrow, today even, one of those when they are lying down with nothing on, smiling. I saw one just like that in the National Gallery in London when my mum took me there. It was of a street boy sitting on the pavement or whatever it was, by a Spanish painter whose name I can't remember. You could see his bottom quite clearly. They didn't wear pants in those days I suppose. When I say his bottom…..I mean the whole thing . That's funny……the whole thing? Sorry, that's very rude and disrespectful. But that boy has a fabulous smile. I could just look at it for ages. There was another picture by a mad Italian painter. He painted a smiling boy with wings that showed everything too. Amor, the Roman Cupid. I looked at it for ages. He had a thing exactly like Robbie's.

I feel quite guilty when I think about Otta in that way. He has dark brown hair which sounds rather ordinary doesn't it? I don't think so. Fair haired boys are nice. Very pretty sometimes. I think brown hair is very nice, especially Otta's which is quite long and wavy, a bit like a girl. It goes beautifully with his green eyes. I watched him as he walked away, hands in his pockets which he shouldn't have. There's a rule about that which everybody ignores. I thought if I could help him, it would be the best thing I could ever do. Just saying that now makes me weepy. Maybe I'll see him at the pool after school one day. Then I'll get a much better idea of what he's like underneath all that clobber. I think boys' bodies are nice. Maybe he hates swimming? Oh well.

My mum is friends with David's mum. That's where she got the idea of putting up students from. I know David because I used to be at the same school and he goes to our church. They don't have students now. The last one they had was a French boy called Julien. David wrote a great story about him and Julien and what they did during the summer holidays. I read it three times! Then his mother found the story, all ten pages of it, in his bedroom in his socks and pants drawer. Silly place to keep it. Oh dear. Bit of a disaster for poor old David. His mother had no idea. I think summer students are a great idea. David got very lucky with their student. So, you never know what might turn up one day?

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