by Rafael Henry

Chapter 35

Aching for affection.

Wulff, aka Polly, stops playing when Otta shows his face in the doorway of the Music Room. It's upstairs down the corridor from the 'Cubes', the small individual rooms that become a boy's private space to lie and think, feel angry, read, cry, and be alone with his thoughts, should he feel the need, and eventually to sleep.

The boy sits on one of those piano stools designed for duets, so it's wide enough for two bodies to sit together. The boy looks at Otta. Otta's nervous that he'll get an earful from him, but the boy just stares giving Otta no clues. Nothing. Then he looks back at the sheets of music above the keys, rests one hand on the keyboard and begins to make sounds again. Soft sounds that have nothing to do with Mozart, but everything to do with his aching. His aching for affection. The boy has a very intimate knowledge of how he feels. He knows where he came from, but not where he's going. Otta has other ideas.

'May I come in?' The man-boy says to the boy. The boy ignores him, so the man-boy, as Wulff sees him, ignores the non-gesture and goes in. Yes, half boy, half man.

'What are you playing?'


'But you were. We heard you. It sounded interesting.'

'It was shit.' The boy says, sharply, and just to finish things off nicely……

'What the fuck do you know about it anyway.'

Not so much a question. But let's fight back a little. Just a little.

'More than you do.'

The boy stops his tinkering and looks straight into the face of man-boy, wordless, aggression very slightly moderated.

'I could teach you?' Says the man-boy.

' How will you?'

'I don't know. But where's there's a will, there's a way. Isn't there?'

'Is there?'

'Yes. May I sit down?'

'You can fuck off. That's what you can do. Like all the others.'

'Alright then, I will, but not yet. I'll wait until you've finished. I'm not leaving you. I'm staying.'

'I'm shit. So are you.'

'No you're not. And I'm not leaving you. Not until you're ready.'

'Ready to what? Why are you looking like that? Weirdo.'

I suppose he might have expected that reaction. He knows that it will be a while for the boy to process anything new. Whilst Holland House has done everything possible for him, his situation remains the same. The daily round of difficulties, the sameness of everything, the misunderstandings, the frustrations. Holland House offers all the love it can, the opportunities, but there are limits of course. The love Wulff needs lies beyond anything here at Holland House.

He reaches for the magazine, Finlandia, he found lying around in the Reading Room. It's one of those travel company brochures. Fat chance of ever going to one of those places. He looks at the boy on the beach. He's so pretty holding the ball, with his cute ash blond hair, smiling at him. If only he could reach out and touch him. He's about his age too. There was a boy here, here in Holland House who looked a bit like that boy in the magazine. He let him touch him but then they stopped it. You can't be friends with him Wulffy. Not in that way, even when the boy wants to be. He runs his finger over the smooth glossy paper that smells nice and new. What would the boy smell like? He'd smell of the sea and seaweed maybe. He'd smell of fresh air and sunshine. He would love that boy. But there is a way of loving him now, right now in his bed as he studies the image again. He feels and he's ready now. And so he begins, slowly at first, and then faster, breathlessly, until it's over quite suddenly, beautifully, with him and the boy on the beach. They played in the sand together, sometimes touching sun warmed skin on skin. They're in love now. He and that boy. They'll go home together, go to school on a bus and come home and have dinner and watch television like all the other normal boys do. They'll go to bed together and talk about love. They'll laugh together and giggle and cuddle. And then they will love again. But not here. He'll never do that here. Not any more.

He puts the magazine carefully under the bed with the books he borrowed from the library, and lays his head back on the freshly laundered pillow. That smells nice too. He turns over and thinks about the man-boy who came to listen to him playing tonight. The man-boy who stayed to talk to him for so long. He thinks about how rude he was to man-boy, how he must have upset him, but he still didn't leave him. He didn't leave him? Why not? Everybody else leaves him. Everybody else that he ever thought of loving, or did love, left him. They always do. Always.

There's a voice in the boy's head. A soft voice he's not heard before. How odd? Lots of voices talk to him, persuade him to do things he knows he shouldn't. Like the one just now that made feel bad again. Guilty as charged. But this voice is different. It's a voice of kindness. It's a voice that smells of the sea and sand.

He puts his hand on his tummy. And then lower. It's there again. That voice in his head. Perhaps man-boy meant what he had said to him? Perhaps he'll come back again to hear him play? He said he would. He said anything is possible if you really want it badly enough. Liar. They all lie and promise things that never happen.

Perhaps that's because Wulff won't let it happen. Perhaps he just wants to hurt himself by not letting good things happen. Perhaps this is just one more promise. Why should he trust man-boy?

Then there's that voice again that won't go away. It's a gentle voice that strokes his head and whispers in his ear. He rolls over onto his tummy and finds his head buried in the pillow that smells of the sea. They won't hear his weeping like this. He's going to let it happen this time. Usually when he feels like this, he doesn't let it happen. The voice says it ok this time. It's ok to hope. Just this once.

I had a good talk to Peter, although I'm not part of all this. It's Otta's do. We went for a stroll in the very pleasant garden in front of this lovely house that was given as a philanthropic gift to the Foundation that is Holland House. I want to know how all this works. Boys come here from the age of eight up to sixteen. Otta and I are very familiar with boarding institutions and we know all about the potential problems involved with running a show like that. These boys are experiencing additional difficulties in their young lives which must make matters more complicated. I'm interested how Peter and his dedicated team, which I'm convinced they are, cope with it all.

'The answer to that Jon is with a huge amount of patience, skill and boundless energy, and love for the boys we care for. Each boy who lands here has to be convinced that they are loved by us all. We do that by teaching them academic skills, and social skills and anything else that will help them to fit successfully into the society they find themselves adrift in. We provide a safe haven and an anchor. When they leave at sixteen they are still very young and often still very vulnerable, so we encourage them to come back as often as they can to see us, and talk to us, and talk to the boys here. We have had several 'old boys' who have, or are fostering kids from here. Even adoption is possible. It starts with days out, then a weekend out. Do that a few times and see how it goes. Anything is possible Jon.'

Peter turns towards me. I'm slightly embarrassed.

'I know. It's hard just thinking about it isn't it? We have to do our best Jon. But it's just that kind of sensitivity that we need here. I have staff crying in my office every single day. I have a box of tissues on my desk. It's easy to turn your back on these kids, but I have to somehow keep kind people here. It's not easy.'

'Wouldn't it be better if you were co-ed Peter?'

'In an ideal world, yes I suppose so. It may be marginally easier, simpler, this way. Sex is a big issue here, as it can be in any residential situation Jon. Eight and nine-year-olds play happily together. By the age of ten, boys begin to see their bits as something pleasant to play with. A fifteen or sixteen-year-old boy wants to do something with himself that involves someone else. You can't stop girls and boys having sex. There are no girls on offer here, so an older boy may notice a pretty youngster as a suitable substitute for the girl he hankers after. The younger boy likes the attention he's getting, so he goes along with what the older boy wants. It's really a matter of dynamic supervision and constant counselling. At night we have a team member on duty all night, and we keep the younger boys apart from the older ones as far as we can.'

'It's the same in ordinary boarding schools I'm sure Peter. If any boarding school can be considered ordinary. Both Otta and I are products of that system. We know. That's how we met. But genuine romance is possible?'

'Yes, up to a point. Take Wulff as an example. If boys can fall in love, then he has a couple of times. We have to manage the boys' relationships as best we can, including those kinds. You discuss their friendship with the two boys concerned, when it becomes apparent, and we manage it so that the boys stay happy. Wulff's sexual relationship with his very loving friend was managed, but limited. An opportunity and a place was provided by us so they could have sex together safely and comfortably. We don't want boys nipping into other boy's cubicles for consensual sex Jon, or worse, non-consensual sex. We have to manage everything here otherwise there would be mayhem. So the boys, especially the older ones, have to get rid of their urges somehow. Materials are available if needed. The library has a section for older boys, books and magazines for them to borrow. Everything is about successful management here Jon. You have to be realistic……pragmatic. An eight year- old doesn't want to wake up with a big boy's finger stuck up his bottom does he?

Doesn't he? I don't think I would have minded, much depending on whose finger it was.

'So how and when did Wulffy appear?'

'Oh he arrived as a ten-year-old from a very dysfunctional German family, all terribly creative and crazy. He arrived in a large Mercedes, and when he emerged, he looked like a twentieth century Appollo in a pair of pink shorts and inappropriate underwear, and a Metallica tee shirt, and bare feet. His hair has gone darker now, but it's still as long, like it was when we first set eyes on him. More than half the staff here are women, and they couldn't take their eyes off their darling Appollo, as they called him. Me too. He'd prance about half naked most of the time, showing himself off, and completely naked the rest of the time. The boys would just stand there and stare at him. You're familiar with the wolf whistle Jon? Well his golden appearance gave a whole new meaning to the term. We had to tell the boys to stop doing it. Not that Wulff minded. He loved the attention. He's a precocious boy Jon, in lots of ways. You said you met Otta at school?'

'Yes. We live together now as a couple.'

'Right. That's nice. As it happens, I'm in your camp too.'

'Is that a problem for you?'

'Not professionally, no. Inclusivity.'

'Do the boys get out……..ever, other than official visits?'

'Oh yes. We try very hard to get the boys out into families on a short-term basis as much as possible, and as far as I know, there are no restrictions on who can have them. You know, a day out at a time. Then they might get asked for a whole weekend if things went well. All things are possible. If we can get one placed permanently , then there's a space for another quite possibly urgent case.'

'Or a critical one?'


A pause for thought. Then Peter turns towards me, smiling.

'Otta's been a long time in there.'

Poor old Otta. He feels things deeply, and the combination of music and a very obvious need will get to him every time. But can he bring that wolf cub round?

My bet is that he can.

Oh my goodness. Am I going to lose him to a wolf cub?

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