One of Us

by Richard Campbell

Chapter 10

That first day was the pattern for the days that followed. They would get up late and have a leisurely breakfast before heading to the beach, unable to decide, when they reached the path whether it was better to park on the left or the right hand side of the road. One side was shaded in the morning while the other was in shadow in the afternoon. In fact it didn't seem to make a great deal of difference. Thanks to the exceptionally warm weather the car was always baking when they returned to it.

After a couple of days Mark's muscles adapted to trudging along the sandy paths and up and down the dunes, and even his swimming began to improve.

He loved it when he and Peter struck inland to wander over the vast heathland whenever they felt the need to get away from the crowds and be alone. Everything fascinated him from the clean white sand and flowering gorse, to the sight of a ferry leaving Poole Bay for the crossing to France. The heath itself was an unspoilt area of natural beauty where he admired the scores of butterflies and made friends with the beautifully coloured dragonflies which, to his delight, occasionally settled on him briefly. Once they even came across a flock of tiny, endearing long tailed tits among the trees that bordered the lake, calling to each other as they moved agilely among the branches, their sweet, soft cries almost drowned by the sound of the distant surf.

The dune close to the sea became very crowded as more and more sunseekers took advantage of the good weather and Mark couldn't avoid seeing naked bodies wherever he looked. There were just too many to ignore. The families tended to congregate on the beach or settle on the nearby dune where they could keep an eye on the children playing on the sand. Scattered among them were inconsiderate young heterosexual males, leering at every female in sight, invariably dressed in baggy and unappealing swimwear, and unable to survive a single second without the life force of deafening pop music. Inland from there were gay men, sometimes in couples or small groups, but more often on their own, sitting on the sand, lying in the sun, or standing up to survey the passing talent. It didn't take Mark long to recognise the various areas.

The further inland one went the more openly gay the area became until the point was reached where, as Peter explained, the habitués were only interested in meeting for sex.

As they passed through the various zones on their exploratory trips both boys received a profusion of appreciative looks. Mark had no interest in the unspoken invitations but the tribute to his attractiveness did wonders for his self esteem as Peter had hoped. He was always telling his small companion how beautiful he was but understood that Mark felt he would say that anyway, and hoped that the admiration of perfect strangers might actually convince him it was true.

Forced to see male genitalia wherever he looked, even on rare occasions partial or complete erections on prominent display, he became used to, and then to enjoy the sight, confirming, as if it were needed, his own nature. It didn't stop him, though, from blushing at the more brazen displays.

There were plenty of women on the beach but he observed them out of curiosity and never with the feeling of excitement that he got from scrutinising the men. He hadn't been particularly aware of the differences in shape between male and female because he'd never had the opportunity to compare them. But now, able to do so freely, he found that the breasts and broad hips of the average woman did nothing for him, and once his curiosity was satisfied, rather turned him off.

Peter's sculpted chest, narrow hips and muscular rear were infinitely more attractive and the principal cause of his frequent, rapid, and embarrassing erections. He knew the effect that he and Peter had on each other, but to see something of the same result on a youth or man who had never set eyes on either of them before, was both surprising and complimentary.

Once they were sufficiently far inland to be sure they were unobserved, they would strip and Peter, who true to his promise was slowly going a deep and attractive bronze, would keep a careful eye on the time and as soon as he judged that Mark had been exposed to the sun long enough, would apply the sun block, being particularly (and enjoyably) careful of the area normally covered by his costume. As he said, giving him a gentle smack, I don't want you with a burnt bum! True to form, Mark went pink. Peter wasn't having him that way at all, and he was beginning to wonder what it would be like if he did.

Had he known it, many of the gay males who saw them wondered about it as well. It was patently obvious to everyone of their persuasion that they were hopelessly in love, and Mark would have been astonished, and extremely embarrassed, had he realised quite how many fantasies he was the basis of. No-one made a specific approach but after a couple days, most of the people they met, women as well as men, would smile and say hello. Mark put it down to being in the country where people were more friendly, but the worldly wise Peter knew that it was principally his companion's good looks, and to a lesser degree his own, that elicited the greetings.

He didn't mind in the least. Sure of Mark's love, and proud of him for all sorts of reasons, he was delighted to show him off whenever he had the opportunity. Mark's smile, his politeness, and the good manners that made him stop and talk briefly to anyone who greeted him made him a popular figure and did much to overcome his shyness with strangers. He still blushed at the smallest provocation (to his irritation!) but this only added to his charm in the eyes of his admirers. Peter was widely envied for his possession of him.

Simon who had quickly become a friend was half in love with them both and spent much of his time, when not indulging in his numerous affairs, in their company. But their midday retreat from the sun was sacrosanct. Realising that their first retreat was too close to the ever increasing crowds they had found a place a considerable distance away where they could strip and move from sun to the shade as the mood took them with little chance of being disturbed.

Mark treasured those times. They would lie closely together and talk and, inevitably, it would lead to sex, sometimes casual, sometimes intense depending on their need and mood. At times they would spend an hour caressing each other or, if one or the other couldn't wait, there would be a quick delicious surrender to the urgent demands of their bodies. Sex in the sun seemed to have a different flavour, rather like the way food tasted so much better in the open. Mark loved their sessions in the intimacy of the tent at night, but lying in the heather with a gentle wind blowing and the sun hot on his bare skin gave him an extraordinary feeling of freedom and well being. It was as if he was making love to the whole world as well as to Peter.

Peter, applying the sun block, caressing him, or just holding him tightly, would study Mark's every feature, admire the way his pale skin was slowly turning a delicate gold, and feel his heart overflowing with love for the trusting boy in his care.

Mark continually surprised him. Sometimes he would be gentle and compliant, happy for Peter do whatever he wanted, but he could be sexually aggressive and demanding as well, making Peter tell him what he wanted then putting his heart, soul, and considerable intelligence into giving him more than he asked for. Only one area was never touched on, and although he could feel that the time was coming, and often wanted to bring the subject up, something held him back. Like Peter, he had decided it would happen when it happened, and it was a measure of his newly acquired confidence that he didn't worry about it.

He was much more at ease and comfortable with Emily and Victor as well. Whatever Victor had said to him on that first day had made a tremendous difference. Respecting his privacy Peter hadn't asked what it was, Mark would tell him sooner or later, but the outcome had been startling. The boy, who wouldn't even have considered, let alone had the courage to do so previously, frequently put an arm around them and talked without any sign of strain as long as there were no strangers in the vicinity. In fact, Peter thought with a grin, he was almost becoming a chatterbox. Comparing him to the quiet, unsure and nervous boy he had been a few months previously, Peter could only marvel at the change and bless his foster parents for bringing it about. In an odd fashion it had brought him closer to them as well, as if Mark's love had made them all love each other a little more.

Their happiness as a family was so marked that they were widely envied by parents struggling to get their own embattled offspring to make peace when quarrels broke out amongst the children on the beach.

The twins, Jack and Tom Shand, made a beeline for them when they returned to the campsite and there would be no peace until Peter, who had become Jack's hero, had been dragged away to organise a football match, collecting on the way a motley bunch of boisterous boys whose parents were delighted to be rid of them for an hour or two. A couple of the adults came to watch at first but as it was abundantly clear that Peter was firmly in control and Mark was there to come for help if needed, they were happy to leave the kids in their care.

Simon, who was staying at a campsite just up the hill, frequently joined them and relieved Peter of his duties as referee. Both he and Peter were far too good to get much out of it when they were talked into playing, but the kids liked having them and, with Mark as a totally inept referee, a good time was had by all. It amused Peter and Simon to watch him attempting to justify his more outrageous decisions to a bunch of angrily gesticulating youngsters, and though his knowledge of the rules never improved he learnt, as a matter of survival, how to defuse the situations he inadvertently provoked. Even the most critical of his players agreed that as he never got anything right they all suffered equally. He could never understand why they wanted him to referee in the first place!

He found it interesting how quickly, after they trailed a hot, sweaty and worn out bunch of boys back to the campsite, those same kids recovered their energy. Then, after being firmly repulsed by Peter, they would get up games of their own and rush around the site, shouting at the tops of their voices and in imminent danger of tripping over the guy ropes and collapsing the tents on their resigned owners.

He came to enjoy the noise and activity and became, in a quiet way, almost as popular as Peter. His gentleness appealed to the smaller children who would come to him for sympathy when they hurt themselves and needed instant attention and comfort. With practice he also became quite adept at soothing hurt feelings, acting as judge and jury in the disputes that sometimes broke out and, occasionally, even managed to get bitter enemies to become friends again.

Of the twins, Tom, the less outgoing of the pair became particularly fond of him just as Jack had found Peter a suitable figure to admire and they would have spent all their time at the Doran's pitch had they been permitted to. They were usually the best of friends in spite of being completely unalike in looks and temperament, but they fell out occasionally and each twin would attach himself to his favoured older boy, glower at his brother and pour all their troubles into what they confidently believed was a sympathetic ear. They never came to blows but were even more wearing when they were enemies than, when full of active and noisy high spirits, they were friends.

Their parents would collect them when they felt that they had outstayed their welcome but Mark and the Dorans enjoyed their company in spite of the fact that Jack, in particular, was so scatter brained. Tom always brought a game in the hopes of wheedling Mark into taking him on at draughts, Ludo, or snakes and ladders, and was in heaven if he could persuade Emily and Victor to play as well. Jack on the other hand would demand that Peter kick a football with him, or teach him to do handstands, or promise to show him how to swim properly the following day. Anything, so long as it was something physical. He seemed to have boundless energy. Peter was very patient with him but had usually had enough by the time they were dragged back to their own tent.

"He wears me out almost as much as you do," he whispered sleepily one night when they were talking quietly after having satisfied each other several times.

"Yes, but you enjoy it more with me," replied Mark in a smug voice.

Peter agreed, thinking that a few weeks ago Mark would have added, don't you? in an uncertain voice.

Lying in his arms Mark broached the subject that was still worrying him, apart from his eventual return to his own home. Peter had been particularly fidgety that day and had received a hurt look from 'his' twin when he was uncharacteristically impatient with him. He had apologised straight away explaining that he had a headache. Jack had thought no more of it and even managed to restrain his exuberance for all of five minutes. But it reminded Mark to worry about Peter. He never had headaches.

He had got to his feet remarking that he and Peter were going to shower then go to bed early as a way of tactfully sending the twins to their own tent. Unfortunately it backfired badly. Jack and Tom immediately decided that a shower was just what they needed as well. Recalling the threats their parents had to use to get them anywhere near the shower block, Mark cast his eyes up to heaven. There was no way that he was going to risk showering with two inquisitive and curious twins in close proximity. Even worse, they would probably insist on coming in with us, he reflected.

Fortunately Mary and Ian Shand arrived at that point and after a glass of wine, marched their offspring off to the shower block despite a sudden discovery by the aggrieved pair that they weren't in the least bit dirty after all.

Peter had laughed as the sounds of argument died away. "Talk about luck. You nearly got us stuck with them for the next hour and you would probably have ended up scrubbing them, too."

Mark smiled in turn, knowing that the twins' idea of becoming pristinely clean consisted of getting as little of themselves wet as possible, and treating the washing of ears, hair, or between the toes, as irrelevant. "I'd have left them to you. You're the one who keeps them in order."

"No way! If those brats need to be scrubbed their parents can do it. I've enough to do scrubbing you!" Belatedly recalling that they weren't alone he went as red as Mark often did.

Emily and Victor went into peals of laughter and in spite of the fact that his own face was crimson so did Mark. He was unable to keep his delight at the expression on Peter's face to himself. It wasn't often that he saw him discomforted.

"Why is your face so red, Pete?" he demanded innocently.

"I was going to say scrubbing the dishes," Peter responded lamely. "And stop laughing at me, Markie. I got sunburnt today."

"He's such a liar! He's been bragging for days that he never gets sunburnt and listen to him. I've really learnt something about him today and all this time I thought he was so truthful and innocent."

"You'll learn something else about me if you don't stop," Peter told him in a threatening voice, and tried to change the subject.

He wasn't successful. Mark, in his element and feeling euphoric about it, managed to drag the subject back into the conversation several times before they went to bed. He didn't manage to get Peter's face to change colour again, but thoroughly enjoyed trying.

His triumph didn't last past the two of them sliding into the sleeping bag. Peter, feeling he had something to avenge, rapidly reduced him to a quivering mass of frenzied lust and refused to give him any relief. Sitting on his thighs and holding his arms so he could do nothing about it himself, he made Mark beg, grovel, and agree never to bring the subject up again for the rest of his life. Then he took him into his mouth and in ten blissful seconds, showed him what he would miss if he didn't obey.

Clutching him, while recruiting his strength for his own purposeful assault, Mark found himself thinking that not only did sex get better and better, but the more he got, the more he wanted. He imagined the two of them staying in bed all day, only getting up to eat and perform other necessary functions, before falling on each other again for another session of pillage and rape. Though they could forget about the pillage bit (whatever it was) he decided happily, and had a quick practice on the second in order to get into training.

It was when he was lying locked in Peter's arms afterwards that he brought up the subject that was worrying him. "I wish you'd eat more, Pete. You eat even less than I do and you used to eat lots more."

"I'm just not very hungry at the moment."

"You need to keep your strength up."

"I keep everything up enough for you, don't I?"

"That's for sure. It's still up," Mark agreed, carrying out a rapid check in case he was mistaken.

"Well that's all we need to worry about. I rape you often enough, don't I?"

"I don't know about that, there were at least two hours today when I was unraped," he stated in a mournful voice.

"There's no such word."

"Yes there is, I just made it up. And anyway, I wouldn't have had to if I had been which I wasn't because you didn't."

Peter blinked and shook his head. "Say that again."

"It doesn't make any more sense the second time," he complained after Mark obliged. "I ain't never known no-one what couldn't not mangle English like what you do. You want to learn to talk proper, me old mate. Anyway," resuming his normal voice, "Do you expect me to rape you in front of everybody at the beach?"


Peter pushed him away so that he could focus on his face. "Are you, my shy, bashful, timid, modest little Mark, actually telling me that you want to be raped in public with everyone watching?"

"Well, not exactly, but you could drag me into the bushes where no-one could see more often."

"Oh yes, I can just see it," responded Peter scornfully. "Me, with my huge slavering chopper trying to bludgeon its way out of my costume, leaping on you, slinging you over my shoulder and carrying you off into the bushes while muttering about raping you! You don't think people might be suspicious, and maybe talk a little?"

Mark who had collapsed into giggles at the thought replied, "One look at your costume and they wouldn't be suspicious, they'd know! Not that it would be any different from the way it usually is."

"Perhaps you'd like me to take my costume off first so they'd know exactly what you were going to get?"

"Oh no! If you did that you'd be the one to get raped before you could get anywhere near me. No way. That bludgeoning thing is mine and it's going to stay completely hidden so that no-one knows what it's like and is tempted."

"That goes for you too, little boy. Don't you realise that if we both took our clothes off everyone would go for you and I'd be trampled in the rush and left with no-one to rape?"

"Pete, do you think I haven't got eyes? I can tell when someone's looking at you and wondering what you look like without clothes. Even Jack does it sometimes."

"Oh come off it, he's just a baby."

"I don't suppose that he thinks of it as sex but I know he'd love to shower with you. And I bet he'd say, in a perfectly innocent voice, that his mum or dad washes him and ask you to do the same. You must have noticed that he thinks you're wonderful. If he was a bit older and really knew what was going on he'd be even more jealous of me than he is already."

"You're joking! What makes you think he's jealous?"

Mark smiled a little ruefully. "You haven't noticed? Well watch him next time he's with us. Whenever you start talking to me he comes up and asks you something, or wants you to play with him or tries to show you something. Anything to get your attention away from me. You think he's just a nice friendly kid so you haven't seen it."

"Are you telling me he's gay? At his age?" Peter asked incredulously.

"I don't know. But it wouldn't surprise me."

"All boys like to hang around with other boys when they're young. I did, you did, all of us did. It's the way boys are."

"I know. But think of the football kids and compare them to him. They like you, Pete, all of them, but they don't hang on to you and want to touch you like he does. Remember how he always wants you to wrestle with him? He does it so he can touch you, and you can touch him. It gives him a little, um, erection sometimes. I've spotted it, even if nobody else has."

"Christ Markie, do you know what you're saying?"

"I don't suppose he knows why it happens but I'm really glad his voice hasn't broken or he would definitely know the reason. But you, well both of us, need to be careful with him."

"I never even thought about it. I'm not interested in kids his age."

"I know that, for goodness sake, but there's nothing to stop a kid his age being interested in you. Kids often hero worship older boys and that's what he's doing, except, I think it's more than that. In fact I know it is. I wasn't completely sure until this evening, but I am now. He was the one who decided that they wanted a shower, not Tom. Tom just went along as he always does. Didn't you notice?"

"I didn't, and I still find it hard to believe. What should we do about it?"

"I think we should talk to Em and Vic. Maybe they could speak to his parents or something. At any rate. they should know about it, if they don't already."

Peter nodded. "How are you so observant all of a sudden?"

"I suppose it's being here and seeing so many gay people and how they act that has made me think about things more. The one I feel really sorry for is Tom."

Peter stirred. "You're not going to tell me he's the same, are you? Because if he is, it's definitely you he's attracted to, not me."

Mark shook his head. "I don't think so but I really don't know. They are twins, though, and aren't twins supposed to be very alike? What I do know is that he loves Jack. Maybe more than brothers usually do—though how would I know?—but he does love Jack and he's hurting about this. It's probably," he went on in a thoughtful voice, "The first time that Jack has ever been more interested in someone else than in him."

"Has he said anything to you?"

"No, but he doesn't need to. Don't forget I spent a long time handling things on my own and I know how he's feeling and what he's going through. It's not as bad as it would be if he were older, but he is upset though he pretends he isn't, and I'm really sorry about it. Probably it's why he comes and sits with me so often when you're all playing football. He'd love to play but he can't bear to see you giving his twin so much attention. He tries not to watch but he can't stop himself."

"Do I pay more attention to Jack than to the others?"

"A little maybe, but it's enough to upset Tom though I don't suppose he knows why. He just feels miserable."

"Oh Markie, you're making me feel awful."

"It's not your fault. You did nothing to make Jack like you specially, except to be you."

"Maybe not, but I should have seen it. My empathy has really let me down."

"You don't mind if I do what I can for Tom do you?" asked Mark, a little anxiously.

"Of course I don't. But you be careful as well. I don't want you getting into trouble over him. He's not your responsibility."

"I know he isn't but I can't just stand by and do nothing, even if all I do is talk to him, or let him talk to me."

"I know. You're too sweet to do nothing and I love you for it. But please be careful my love. You're important to me as well."

They spoke to Emily and Victor the following day after sustaining an exhausting visit during breakfast, exhausting because Jack was brimming over with energy and high spirits. In contrast his brother was much quieter than usual, Peter noticed, now that Mark had pointed it out.

He was content to leave the talking to Mark who outlined the situation in a surprisingly assured and confidant manner.

"Jack is a little toughie and I'm not worried about him," he finished, "But I am worried about Tom. He's such a nice kid, but he's miserable at the moment and doesn't know what to do about it. I've been unhappy myself so I know what it's like and I hate seeing him like this."

"What do you think we should do?" Victor asked gently, feeling his heart twist at Mark's casual mention of being unhappy, as if it was a normal part of life.

"I'm not sure if there's anything we can do. We could stop the football games but that wouldn't stop Jack coming here and pestering Pete, and I don't suppose it would help Tom either. I don't even know if having Tom with me helps, come think of it. I don't really say anything, all I do is play games with him and let him beat me most of the time. Sometimes I'd like to give him a hug but I'm not sure if I should."

"Don't sell your instincts short, Mark. I'm fairly certain that you do give him what he needs otherwise he wouldn't come to you the way he does."

"But is it enough, Vic? Wouldn't he be better going to his mum or dad?"

"Possibly not. Sometimes people are better off with a comparative stranger, someone who doesn't expect too much from them. Family members almost always expect a great deal."

Emily said thoughtfully, "I agree, and like Vic, I think you should obey your instincts as far as Tom is concerned and if you feel he needs a hug, give him one. Just make sure you do it in public. No-one will give it a second thought if they see you comforting him because he's hurt or upset, but it would be different if they thought you were doing it on the sly. And I would certainly not let either of them shower with you."

"It's just that we don't want anyone talking about you," Victor added. "Not because we don't trust you."

Mark smiled briefly. "I know that. Do you think there's a way to talk to their parents without upsetting them? Maybe sort of hint that we're tired of having Jack around."

"What about Tom then?" Peter objected. "We can't have one and not the other."

"Oh hell, I don't know what to do. I know you said last night that Tom isn't my responsibility, Pete, but I can't help feeling a little responsible and wanting to help. If we say that they can't hang around us he'll feel even worse than he does now. I don't want that to happen."

"No. We mustn't put more on him than he is coping with already," agreed Emily. "You two start tidying up and we'll send the twins to help which will keep them out of the way while we talk to the Shands and see if we can work something out."

"Mark is developing a feeling of social responsibility," Victor said, linking arms with her as they strolled across the campsite.

"I think he always had it, he's just never had a reason to use it. I imagine he sees in Tom something of himself which is why he's particularly sympathetic. Do you think he's right about Jack and the way he feels about Pete?"

"I hadn't noticed anything before he mentioned it, which he did extremely well I thought without ever once mentioning the word sex, though he did stumble over 'aroused'. I saw him considering several synonyms before he settled on it. There are surprising depths to that boy. I'm continually finding new ones."

"I know exactly what you mean." She was silent for a minute then said impulsively, "I'm so glad Pete met him. When I remember some of the lads he fell for…!"

Victor smiled understandingly. "That's about the greatest compliment you could pay Mark. You never thought anyone worthy of Pete before."

She smiled in turn. "Sometimes I wonder if Pete is worthy of him."

He chuckled. "That's a turn up for the books, my love. But I think that you're wrong. They are both good for each other. Pete is just as good for Mark as Mark is good for him. They just naturally go together."

"Will it last, Vic? They will have such problems to contend with."

"None of us can tell, Em, not even the cleverest and most experienced of us all."

"James," she concurred.

"It's up to them. All I can say is that if love and determination count for anything they should be okay. James obviously thinks so or he wouldn't be going to so much trouble."

"He always did have a soft spot for Pete."

"I think in time he will have an equally soft spot for Mark. He was very impressed by him as you know and he's not a person who is impressed easily. I suspect he will always take an interest in Mark, however things turn out."

"Do you think that it will be alright, I mean if Pete…" she broke off and looked around, but there was no-one within hearing distance.

"That's up to him. He knows the rules and he and Mark must decide between them how far to go. We have no right to interfere."

"I used to think that Mark was too young to be faced with a decision like that, but since we have really got to know him, I'm less certain."

"I imagine it was growing up alone and having to cope with that father of his that has shaped him. However sad we feel about the love and laughter he has missed, there's no doubt it has moulded him into something rare. That's what James sees in him."

"I think everyone sees it without perhaps being able to put their finger on exactly what it is. But going back to what I said earlier, do you think our paragon is right about Jack and his feelings for Pete?"

"I wouldn't be at all surprised. In fact, on thinking it over, he could well be right."

"The child's very young. He can't be more than eight or nine."

"What difference does that make?"

"None I suppose. When they reach puberty one is forced to think of children as sexual beings but until then it doesn't cross one's mind because they seem so innocent. But obviously crosses it their minds, and a lot earlier than people like to believe. Why does it happen, Vic? I mean, what causes boys, and girls too of course, to be attracted to their own sex?"

"I don't think anyone really knows. If we did we could do something about it, though I'm not convinced that we would have the right to. I have wondered if it's nature's answer to overpopulation, but there would have to be a great deal of research to see if there is any correlation. I read an article once which stated that male rats kept in very overcrowded conditions show the same tendency but it would be extremely difficult to get accurate statistics because of the abhorrence in which it is held."

"The researchers would fudge the figures to get the answers they wanted?"

"You know as well as I do that it happens so frequently it's almost a cliché. But no, I was thinking more of the problem of getting the gay population to be honest about themselves. They would be too afraid that anything they said would be used against them and, unfortunately, they would be right to be scared. Can you imagine what the police would do with a list of names and addresses?"

"You think they would take advantage of it?"

"Come on, Em, you know they would. I don't say that things are quite as bad as they were twenty years ago, but we have heard enough from gay friends to know what goes on. The police will always pick on small and friendless groups—they wouldn't have joined the force in the first place if they didn't have an almost psychopathic hatred of the nonconformist. Only what I call the Gestapo type, those who enjoy pushing people around, become policemen, my dear. No ordinary every day person does, it's not in them to even want to. So yes, I'm convinced that they would use the information, and enjoy using it while telling themselves that they were only doing their duty and protecting the public. They're no less hypocritical than the society they pretend to serve."

"You're frightening me, Vic. What would happen if our two fell into their hands?"

"They would throw the book at Pete if they discovered the truth, and I shudder to think what they would do to Mark. Informing his father would be the least of it. We can protect Pete to a certain extent but at present we have no power to shield Mark. As well as making certain that he had no contact with either Pete or ourselves for the foreseeable future they would keep him under observation until he turned twenty one 'for his own good', at least that's how they would justify the cost of keeping it up for six years, then put him on their books as a potential adult sex offender. For the rest of his life if he so much as looked at a boy they'd haul him in for questioning. They have very long memories and there are many in the force who would be delighted to harass him at every opportunity—and in the present climate they wouldn't even need an excuse to do so. As for his father, can you imagine the sort of life he would lead until he was old enough to leave home?

Her face was as troubled as his was bitter. "You make me ashamed to be English," she said quietly.

"Over some things, I have been for years," he replied shortly.

"Should we start learning another language?"

"I've been thinking about Dutch. We've only visited Holland briefly so far."

She sighed ruefully, thinking of the garden which Mark had helped her make so happily, and all the gardens she had made over the years for others to enjoy. "Well if we must, we must."

"If things work out as planned and the boys are careful we can still have a few more years," he said, knowing what she was thinking. "But there will be an opening in Amsterdam in a couple of years time. James mentioned it the other day."

"He said nothing to me."

"I think he's preparing the ground just in case. Sometimes I think he can see into the future."

"I'm almost certain of it," she agreed, adjusting her face into a smile as Jack caught sight of them and rushed over, followed more slowly by Tom.

"I was afraid they might be becoming a nuisance," their mother said ruefully after the twins had been despatched to help Peter and Mark. "They usually do sooner or later, or rather Jack does. He can be a bit overpowering at times. Please apologise to Peter for me, I know how irritating the younger brother type can be to a teenager, and tell him I'll try to keep Jack away from him. We can always move to another campsite if the worst comes to the worst."

"It's not as bad as that," said Emily, laughing, "And it's not as though Peter minds having him around. He's very good with kids just as Mark is. It's, something else that we're a little concerned about."

The twins' mother looked at her. "I'm having problems with Tom," she said, apparently speaking at a tangent. "When we discovered I was expecting twins I read up on the subject and the thing that everyone stressed was that they are usually very close. They want to dress alike, have the same toys and do the same things, at least while they're young. But sometimes it goes the other way and they can't stand the sight of each other. Until recently I was happy that ours were the usual type and got on so well, apart from the usual squabbles, of course. But I have been wondering lately if it is such a good thing. Jack is growing away from Tom, but Tom isn't growing away from Jack and it's happening much earlier than I thought it would. I expected it to start when they were about the age of your two, and by that time Tom would have developed his own interests and independence and been more able to cope. As it is, I think he sees Peter displacing him in Jack's affections. He's bewildered and doesn't know what to do so he withdraws into himself, which is the wrong thing to do because it makes Jack impatient with him."

Victor nodded. "Yes, Mark told us something of the sort this morning. He felt that something like that was happening."

She looked surprised. "That was clever of him but I suppose he would be the one to notice, considering how he feels about Peter. I'm sorry," she said hurriedly, noticing their arrested looks. "I hope I'm not speaking out of turn but it's quite obvious to me. I've watched the twins you see,"

"What have the twins to do with Peter and Mark?" Emily asked carefully.

"Oh dear, I wish I hadn't mentioned it, and if I'm wrong I hope you'll forgive me and forget what I said." She thought for a minute. "When you have twins I imagine that you watch them more closely than you would ordinary children because it's so interesting to see how they grow up. Whether they learn to walk the same way, whether they start talking at the same time and even the first words they say. You want to know if they're going to have similar interests and whether their minds will work the same way especially in the case of our two who are so different in looks that no-one realises that they are twins. What I'm getting at is that you watch them more closely than parents normally watch their children and I've known for some time that Jack is more attracted to boys than to girls. I know what you're going to say," she said quickly, "That it's much too early to tell and he's simply going through a phase as boys often do.

"That's what my husband believes, but I don't think he's right. I feel that there's more to it than that, and from what I have read, it is something that is fixed at a very young age, if not at birth. And Jack is precocious. He knows what he wants and goes all out to get it. Tom on the other hand is different and I simply don't know if he is the same way. He's much quieter for one thing and if he doesn't want you to know something, he's very good at keeping it to himself. What I do know is that he loves Jack, perhaps more than is good for either of them, and I think he sees Peter almost as a rival. If I'm right," she went on slowly, "I don't know what to do about it.

"Ian says that we should ignore it and let them work it out in their own way but he doesn't take it very seriously in the first place. I'm not saying that he doesn't love Tom, he does, but Jack is very like him in many ways. They get on particularly well and Ian thinks the world of him. How he will react if Jack turns out to be what I'm afraid of is another thing don't know. It's something he will find hard to come to terms with, although," she added with a wry smile, "I have no doubt that Jack will manage him when the time comes. He always does. It's Tom I'm worried about."

"It's not going to be easy for any of you if you're right," Victor said understandingly. "I agree that Tom is going to feel it most and I would say he's the one you need to concentrate on. But I'm glad you've told us about Jack because it was exactly that which has been worrying us. We don't want you to think that Peter has encouraged him in any way, or that Jack wouldn't be completely safe with him. But at the same time, Jack is precocious, as you mentioned, and although we didn't notice anything, Mark did, which is why we decided to speak to you."

"Mark isn't, er, jealous of Jack, is he?" she asked anxiously, "Because there's no need as far as I know."

"Not at all," Emily shook her head. "But Tom comes to him for sympathy and Mark is perceptive enough to know what he's going through. He doesn't have a happy home life himself, so he's sensitive to that sort of thing. But he knows he has no need to be jealous. Peter simply isn't interested in boys Jack's age. He never has been."

"So you do know about him then, what he is, what they both are?"

Emily looked at Victor, signalling that he should answer. "Yes, we know. We've known about Pete right from the beginning. We found him one freezing winter evening on the Thames embankment in London. You wouldn't want to know about the state he was in," he went on in a bleak voice. "I had never thought a child could be so abused in this day and age."

"If we hadn't come across him when we did," Emily said into the sudden silence, "He wouldn't have survived. As it was, we only just got him to the hospital in time." She was silent for a moment, her mind going back to the time when Peter's life had hung by the thinnest of threads, and only one thing had kept that thread from parting.

Mary Shand looked at them with horrified eyes.

"We adopted him some months later. I'm telling you this so that you understand how protective we are about him," Emily went on. "We know what Pete is and have always accepted it. He is what he is and we love him for what he is. Neither of us are able to have children and we think of him as truly our son, so when Mark came into his life instead of being upset as most parents would have been, we were happy about it. Of course we were concerned because Mark is very young, but once we understood that Pete meant as much to him as he did to Pete we stopped worrying. Well most of the time. We're already beginning to think of Mark as another son, and the fact that our sons are not related to each other or to us, and are, well, sleeping together, doesn't worry us in the least."

"Which is not to say that we encourage them, but we don't discourage them either. We believe that they are physically and emotionally mature enough to decide for themselves," Victor added with a faint smile, "But you can understand why we would rather it was kept quiet. Both boys have lived through some very hard times and we feel they deserve whatever happiness they can find."

"I think you are incredibly understanding, and both Mark and Peter are very lucky to have you."

"We're lucky to have them," Victor replied, "Although we haven't actually got Mark yet. But we're working on it and hope to accomplish it soon. That's why we would rather you didn't mention this to anyone. When it comes to court," he continued, stretching the truth because with Sir James in charge there was nothing more unlikely, "We don't want there to be the slightest suspicion about their relationship, other than that they are close friends and look on each other as brothers. We could lose the case if the truth came out. Once Mark is legally ours it will be different and we needn't worry quite so much, though there is still the law of course."

"I won't even tell Ian. But when it's all over, if it turns out as you hope, would you consider letting me know? Ian admires Peter tremendously and I think when the time comes, if it does, and he has to face what he will see as an unpleasant truth about Jack, it might help if he knew about Peter and Mark."

"We're hoping to have it sorted out fairly soon," Emily looked questioningly at her husband, "And of course we will let you know. But please speak of it only if you have to. Mark and Peter could still be hurt if it was generally known. But that's for the future. In the meantime, what are we going to do about Tom?"

Recalled to her most pressing problem Mary thought for a minute while pouring another cup of coffee for them. "If Mark really doesn't mind, I would like to feel that Tom could go to him when things become too much for him. He won't talk to either Ian or me. If I bring it up he denies that anything is wrong and I don't like to press him. I know it's a lot to ask, but we were planning to take them on the steam train from Swanage tomorrow. Jack loves that sort of thing but Tom isn't really interested. Would you, would Mark and Peter, mind if we left him with you for the day? Please say no if you think he would be a nuisance but it would be good for him to see that he can spend time without his twin."

Emily smiled at her. "If you trust him to us and the boys don't mind, that would be fine, though they'll probably spoil him to death. Please don't misunderstand, but we do need to speak to them first then go with whatever they decide. It's their holiday as much as ours and they don't get a lot of time with each other normally."

"I'll understand if they don't want to have him, please tell them so when you talk to them. I don't want any of you to feel obliged."

Walking back to their own tent Victor remarked, "She's a nice woman, and very sensible, I'm glad we spoke to her. I feel more comfortable about the twins spending time with Peter and Mark if she knows about them."

"It's clear that she suspected, but that's different from actually knowing. I hope she'll be discreet."

"She will be. She's already beginning to realise that she's going to have her hands full with her twins and it will make her careful of what she says. Talking of which, do I detect sounds of altercation?"

Peter, inside the smaller tent was saying in an exasperated voice, "Jack, if you don't keep out of the way I'll, I'll, hold you under a cold shower. Can't you see I'm trying to sweep?"

"I'm helping," Jack's puzzled voice reached them clearly.

Mark who was performing the same function with the quiet assistance of Tom smiled as they came up. "I'm glad I have Tom helping me, he's much more sensible," he remarked, putting a hand on the little boy's shoulder. "We're nearly finished. It's taken them ages and they're still not done."

"Thank you both, it looks spotless." Emily gave Mark a quick kiss and ruffled Tom's hair. "No matter how hard we try, most of the sand from the beach seems to end up in the tent."

Tom smiled. "It gets in ours too. Jack brings most of it because he never bothers to get it out of his trainers and socks like I do."

"Sounds just like Pete," Victor commented, then was sorry when he saw Tom's face close up slightly.

"They'll both grow up and become sensible like you and Mark one day," Emily said smiling at them.

"I doubt it," Mark replied as he and Tom went to fetch the furniture they had taken outside so he could sweep the tent. "Even in a hundred years time Pete will be just the same."

"No he won't, he'll be dead," Tom told him.

"We all will," replied Mark cheerfully. "But I bet you Pete will still be the same."

Tom smiled and carefully helped him carry the table in.

Mark is good with him Emily decided, watching without appearing to do so as they replaced the furniture. He forgets his own problems when he's dealing with someone else's troubles, or is it simply that he and Tom are rather alike so he knows how Tom thinks? She thought it was more than that. I'm so glad we were able to bring him with us, she mused, and I want him with us permanently so much, though before that can happen…Well, Pete knows what he has to do and it's up to him to handle it as he sees fit. But as she looked at Mark, and realised how deeply he had worked his way into both her and Victor's affections, she hoped with all her heart that Peter wouldn't make a mess of it. She looked up to see Victor regarding her with a faint smile on his face and smiled back. He knew exactly what I was thinking, it's a bond we all share to some degree.

She moved to his side and put an arm around his waist. I'm so lucky she mused dreamily, I have a husband who loves me unconditionally, and two of the best boys in existence. How many women who can't have children can say the same? And with these two, I don't even mind that I didn't actually bear them.

As they drove to the beach she put Mary Shand's request to the boys. "I know that you like to go off on your own and although we could suggest that he stays with us, I'm sure he would prefer to be with you. But there is no reason to have him at all if you'd rather not. His mother insisted that we made that clear to you."

Mark thought for a minute. It would be a sacrifice. He and Peter treasured the time they spent in the shade of their tree, apart from what it usually led to, but it would only be for a day and he did feel sorry for the kid. He recalled how Tom had followed him around in the tent that morning, helping when he could, and keeping out of the way when he wasn't needed. "I'm happy to have him with us," he said at length, "But only if it's alright with you, Pete. If you don't want to, we won't have him."

Peter stared. He'd assumed that Mark would be more soft hearted. "Do you really mean it? If I say no, you'll agree?"

"Yes. I do feel sorry for Tom and I don't mind having him with us, just for one day, but you're more important, and if you say no, I say no."

"Do you mind, Em?" Peter asked, and before she could ask exactly what it was she was to mind, he kissed Mark.

She chuckled. "No I don't mind. A fat lot of good it would do anyway since you've already done it. But there's something that I think you need to be aware of. Mary knows about you. It's alright," she said when Mark looked worried, "She had already guessed, just as she'd guessed about Jack. She understands that he's completely safe with you Pete, but I'm going to tell you the same thing that I told Mark this morning. While you enjoy teaching him judo holds and so on, and I don't think you'll be able to get out of now that you've started, don't ever do it where you can't be seen by other people. And I think you should try to have a few more kids taking part as well. They all like you so it shouldn't be difficult."

"How on earth did I get involved in this? Now I'll have to look after every boy in the place and when I've taught them hundreds of vicious judo moves they'll riot, become terrorists, take over the entire campsite and hold everyone to ransom. Then when a state of emergency is declared and the army is sent in, I'll be blamed!"

"How much Judo do you think you know?" Mark asked in an interested voice.

"Enough to handle, you little boy, so less of your cheek. And don't say 'you and who's army' either because I don't need an army to deal with you." Peter gave him a discreet pat on his shorts that made him squirm indignantly.

"I take it then, that in your obscure, muddled and roundabout way, you are saying that you don't mind if we have Tom with us tomorrow," remarked Victor, smiling at him in the rear-view mirror.

Peter sighed elaborately. "It's so hard to get people to understand what you mean," he confided to Mark, "Even if you speak plain English and use words of one syllable. It's a hopeless task. Sometimes I wonder why I bother."

"So do we!" Victor retorted.

They turned onto the main road and were approaching the outskirts of Swanage when Peter gave a shout. "A funfair!" he exclaimed excitedly as they passed a field, vacant the previous day, on which trucks, trailers and caravans were parked amidst a veritable hive of activity.

"Oh no," Emily and Victor groaned in unison. "Not a funfair!"

"Party poopers! I love funfairs," Peter explained joyfully to Mark. "I go round the stalls, go on all the rides, and I never get sick like some people," he added with considerable scorn.

"We're saved, Vic," said Emily happily. "Mark can go with him and be sick instead of us. You won't mind, will you Mark? You'll do it for us, won't you! We'll make sure that we take lots of paper bags with us just in case. It won't be a problem. Oh I am glad you're with us. What a dear, good, child you are. Thank you ever so much, we'll be grateful to you for the rest of our lives!" She turned to Victor and added in a stage whisper, "If that doesn't persuade him, nothing will!"

Mark collapsed into giggles before he could tell her that he'd never been to a funfair in his life and had no idea whether or not he would be sick as she seemed to expect so confidently. He couldn't speak. Each time he tried the thought of being solemnly sick into a brown paper bag while she and Victor thanked him politely sent him into fresh paroxysms.

"I don't know why you're laughing so much," observed Peter, "Only babies get sick at funfairs, not proper people. And even if they do, they're careful not to get sick over other people," he finished gloomily.

This set Mark off again. "You, you, weren't really sick on him were you?" he managed to stutter.

"Of course not. Well, only a little."

"It may have been only a little to you but it was a lot to me!" remarked Peter bitterly.

"It was entirely your fault. I warned you over and over that I'd be sick, but you took no notice and insisted I went with you. You even claimed that I'd enjoy it! Never was anyone more wrong," she told the delighted Mark.

He was still giggling at Peter's expression when they took the path to the beach.

By the end of the afternoon the funfair was almost set up and a large sign proclaimed that it would be open the following evening. In spite of Peter's increasingly desperate pleas Emily refused to stop and buy tickets, insisting that she didn't have enough money with her.

They called in at Swanage to do some shopping, then wandered around the small seaside town. It was very busy, though not as crowded as it would become later in the summer, Victor disclosed. It was fun to explore the small shops. Many of the goods on display were tacky seaside toys and cheap souvenirs, but in a shop that specialised in semi precious stones Mark spotted and fell in love with a small glass ornament that seemed perfect for Emily. It was pricey but despite that he would still have enough money to get something for Victor and something for his mother. When they passed a cash machine he asked Victor if he could let him have some money which he would return as soon as they were back at the campsite.

"No problem. How much do you need?"

He and Peter returned to the shop where he made his purchase and had it gift wrapped by a kindly assistant. Peter wanted to share the cost but he refused, wanting it to come from him. Understandingly Peter gave way and helped him choose a present for Victor. They settled on a key ring, from which hung an attractive polished stone, which Peter said was exactly what Vic needed for the car.

They rejoined Emily and Victor, commenting enviously on the boy and girl couples who were holding hands (and going quite a lot further!) without raising a single censorious eyebrow. At least we're together Peter consoled himself as he bumped into Mark because the narrow pavements were so crowded, and I'll take him for a long walk tonight and hold hands all the way.

In a shop that sold tea towels, amongst other items, Mark bought a couple that he knew his mother would like. That only left Peter to get something for, he thought happily, deciding to look around the next time they were here. His sixteenth birthday was approaching, but he had plenty of time to think about that.

The minute they reached the campsite the football boys, who had been waiting impatiently, ambushed Peter and demanded that he organise a match for them. Now! Tom didn't want to join in but was persuaded to bring a board game and play against Mark, though he didn't really have his heart in it. He was even more quiet than usual and Mark wondered if anything had happened between he and his brother. When he asked Tom if he would like to come to the beach with them the following day, the small boy accepted with such alacrity he was even more convinced that something was wrong.

When they went back to the campsite Tom walked next to him instead of flitting between him and his brother as he usually did. Mark pretended not to notice and encouraged him to join a couple of older boys when they good naturedly invited him to have a go at flying their kite. With Peter fully occupied by his judo class, which he had moved to an open space surrounded by several tents on the pretext that the ground was softer there—it wasn't!—Mark went to the Shand's tent to let them know that Tom wanted to stay with them the following day.

They offered him a coke and he sat with them for few minutes, finding it easier to talk when he was speaking about Tom rather than himself. During the conversation he learnt that the twins had had a serious quarrel. Ian Shand was dismissive but he could sense that Mary was unhappy about it. She accompanied him when he left, taking a plastic container to fill at the water tap, and made a point of thanking him for agreeing to have Tom.

"It is good of you Mark," she insisted when he demurred. "And if you change your mind between now and then you must say so."

"We won't do that, I'm just worried that he might be bored. I'm not used to children," he confided, making her smile.

"He'll bring toys with him and a couple of books as well. He loves reading. I would appreciate it if you don't let him get too much sun though. He burns more easily than Jack does."

"Don't worry. Em, Vic and Pete take care of my skin and won't think twice about keeping an eye on Tom as well. I'll look after him too," he promised, taking the container from her and placing it under the tap.

"You love them very much, don't you," she stated in a gentle voice.

He looked up from the stream of water and his special smile swept over his face. Like everyone else who saw it, she caught her breath.

"More than anything in the world," he said simply, and looked down again.

"You're very lucky."

He nodded. "I know. I'm so lucky to have them."

It was her turn to nod. "I hope it will always be like that for you. But let me tell you something, Mark, they're lucky as well, to have you."

He coloured. "Thank you," he murmured, "I don't know why you should think so, but thank you. Is this enough water?"

"Yes thanks, that will be fine. It's too heavy for me if it's filled up to the top."

"I'll carry it back for you." He released the spring loaded tap as he spoke and screwed the cap onto the container.

"That's alright thanks, Tom will help me." She smiled at the panting boy as he trotted up. "How did the kite go?"

"Not enough wind. Mum, is it alright if I go to the beach with Mark and Peter tomorrow, please?"

"Yes, if you would rather do that than come on the train."

He nodded and turned to Mark. "You won't forget, will you?"

Mark smiled. "We won't."


"Cross my heart and hope to die," Mark told him with a twinkle in his eye, wondering what he would make of it.

"I've never heard of that. Just say, I promise. And don't cross your fingers!"

"Tom that's rude. I haven't heard that saying for a long time."

"The Dorans say it sometimes. I picked it up from them."

"I wasn't being rude," insisted Tom, "I just want to be sure."

Mark held out his hands, palms upward. "See? No crossed fingers," and smiled as the boy grabbed them to be on the safe side. "I promise we won't forget you tomorrow. Come to our tent as soon as you've had breakfast."

Tom released him and grinned. "Okay. Come on mum." He lifted the water container and staggered off calling, "See you tomorrow," over his shoulder.

His mother smiled after him then turned back to Mark. "Thank you again. We'll see you in the morning."

He went back to the tents and sat with Emily and Victor who gave him a small glass of cold wine.

"All fixed?"

He chuckled. "He'll probably have breakfast in the middle of the night and turn up before we're even awake. I don't understand it. It's only a day at the beach and they go nearly every day anyway. Why is he so excited about coming with us?"

"Well almost everything is exciting at his age," Emily told him, "And when you first start to do things on your own, without your family I mean, you feel very grown up which is exciting in itself. I'm glad he really wants to come with us, he'll enjoy it so much more."

"I expect we'll have to build sand castles. That will be fun for me too, I've never done it."

"Well between you I expect something pretty spectacular," she responded with a smile, though inwardly angry that Mark had not had the opportunity to enjoy so universal a childish pleasure. "Do you remember the castles Pete used to build in France, Vic? He always had the most grandiose plans for walls and turrets and moats, more like cities than castles and covering acres of beach. But even when he'd roped in everyone in sight to help, he never managed to get them finished before the tide came in and demolished them. I don't remember him completing a single one."

Mark laughed as he visualised Peter coercing complete strangers into becoming his willing slaves. He would love to have seen it. Talk about twisting people around his little finger! "Did he get grownups involved as well?"

Victor nodded. "No-one escaped once he'd set his heart on it."

I might have known Mark thought, and repeated it out loud.

"They enjoyed it too," Emily laughed. "They were good times."

They sounded very good he thought wistfully.

"There was only one thing wrong with them, not that we knew it at the time," Victor smiled, "We didn't have you with us."

Mark went pink with pleasure.

"Here's to you," Victor saluted him with his glass. "Thank you for coming with us."

Smiling mistily as they raised their glasses to him, unable to speak but knowing that they would understand, Mark took a sip of his wine. Not that he needed it. The blood was already singing in his veins.

After supper Peter decreed that they needed to take Mark for a long walk because he was getting as fat as a pig. He forced the indignant boy to change into jeans and bundled him into his anorak, promising to carry it for him if he got too hot. He and Mark led the way out of the site, across a couple of styles then onto the public footpath that meandered through sheep filled fields, sometimes becoming a road, sometimes a track, more often simply a narrow path, until it crossed the well maintained coastal path that ran parallel to the sea a mile to the south of the campsite. Once they were out of sight of the tents, they linked arms.

They were about halfway to their destination when Peter spotted a tiny rabbit on the path just in front of them, pulled Mark to a standstill and pointed silently. Perhaps it had become separated from its mother, it certainly looked too small to be out on its own. Petrified it crouched on the ground hoping to escape detection by immobility. The only movement came from the ruffling of its soft grey fur by the evening breeze. Mark thought at first that it was dead until he saw the sun glinting on the large and very alive eyes. He was as touched by the little creature as he had been by the ducklings earlier in the year, and mixed up in this were his feelings for another small creature, Tom, who seemed equally vulnerable and just as appealing.

The moment didn't last long. Peter made an incautious movement and the spell was broken. The minute rabbit came to life and shot into the bushes so quickly that they could hardly believe it had been there at all. One minute it was there, the next it had vanished, with only the flash of its white tail to remind them of its existence.

Peter laughed softly. "It must have been thinking so hard it didn't notice us until we were right on top of it. Like you," he added.

Mark smiled, struck by the wonder of being so close to a truly wild creature. He would have loved to pick it up and stroke it.

The footpath led them down a steep drop towards a cove where the hill terminated abruptly at a chalk cliff which fell to a series of flat rocks a little above high water level. Over the years the sea had worn pools into them, those above the level of the tide being filled and renewed by the constant spray as the waves surged and swirled amongst the broken rocks below. The small pools were full of life and the boys joined a family of children who were investigating them. Peter, as a matter of course, instantly made friends with the kids who were disappointed when their parents told them it was time to go. Mark felt for them, it was a long walk and with a steep hill to climb first.

Gradually the remaining people, some of whom had been swimming among the rocks, packed their belongings and left. Emily and Victor who had strolled along the coast path called out that they were returning to the campsite. The boys waved, then scrambled a little way up the cliff and settled themselves with their backs against a sun warmed rock where they could see anyone approaching.

Leaning against his shoulder, enjoying their closeness, Mark took Peter's hand, kissed the palm, then entwined the fingers into his own. They sat quietly admiring the sun as it slowly extended a magical carpet of light over the sea, changing lazily from bright gold to red as it drifted down to the horizon. The sound of the waves, the calls of the gulls, and the occasional bleat from the sheep dotting the hillside were soothing. I could sit like this forever, he reflected, holding hands with Pete, watching the sunset, and feeling the open sky above us. I will miss things like this when we go home, he thought a little sadly, but resolutely turned his thoughts away. Time enough to worry about it when it happened. Until then he would enjoy each day as if there were weeks and weeks in front of him.

"The sea is beautiful," he murmured after a long silence.

Peter nodded. "It's calm today. But I was here once when it was really rough. The waves are tiny now, but that day, I tell you Markie, I wouldn't like to have been in the water. There's no way you would survive in a storm, you'd be hurled against the rocks and killed. I thought then that if I ever wanted to stop living, that would be the way to do it. It would be quick."

Mark turned to him worriedly. "Pete, don't say things like that, even in joke."

"I wasn't serious, it was just a thought. Do you want to swim? There's no one around so we don't need costumes."

Mark shuddered. "No thanks. I don't think I'll ever get used to how cold the water is. Is it the same everywhere?"

"It was just as cold, sometimes even colder, where we lived in France on the Atlantic coast. But the Mediterranean is warmer and the sea around Greece even more so. Unfortunately it's very polluted."

Mark felt sad. He had seen pictures of the Côte D'Azure and had thought how attractive it was. Maybe he'd get there one day. Polluted or not he'd love to see it.

"Are you happy, Pete?" he asked as they climbed the hill on their way back to the campsite, still a little worried by Peter's earlier remark.

"Why do you ask?"

"I was thinking while we were sitting there how happy I was and wondered if you were happy too. I think you are, but I worry about you."

Peter who had been following him up the steep path put his hands on his waist and squeezed gently. "There's no need to worry, and yes, I'm happy. You must know that."

"I suppose I do, but I like to hear you say it so I'm sure. I wish…"


"I wish there was something I could do for you, something to make you feel well like you were when I first met you. I'm sure there's something, but I don't know what it is, and you won't tell me."

"You give me everything I need."

Mark shook his head. "I don't think so. There's something. I don't know what it is, but I know there's something. Pete," he turned and held Peter's head in his hands, "You know I'd do anything for you."

Peter slid his hands around his back and pulled him close. He was very tempted, but at the last minute pulled back, afraid, as he had been all along, that Mark wouldn't understand and might even reject him. "I know you'd do anything for me but at the moment there isn't anything you can do I'm just going through a sort of phase. It won't last. Truly."

"It seems to have lasted a long time already. Too long. Maybe you should go to the doctor?"

"He would only tell me what I know already, that there's nothing really wrong me so it would be a waste of time."

Mark wasn't convinced but allowed himself to be walked on. If only Pete was alright, really alright, I would be the happiest person in the world, even though we can only walk like this where nobody can see us because we're both boys. He didn't want to be a girl (what boy would want that?) but life would be so much easier if he was.

He felt a flash of anger at the people who set themselves up to judge him. Policemen, politicians, clergy, even ordinary people who thought of themselves as decent, tolerant and kindly. They don't go around telling boys who sleep with girls that they're doing wrong, and if the girl gets pregnant they're annoyed but not enough to pass laws against them. They just say it's natural. Well what Pete and I do is natural to us, and we won't get pregnant either. The thought of a pregnant Peter being sick in the mornings, then having his baby, made him chuckle and cheered him up.


Peter laughed when Mark told him what he'd been thinking and added that he hoped it wouldn't happen because any baby, no matter how tiny, would have a tough time getting out of him.

"I don't know," responded Peter boastfully. "You're always telling me how big I am."

"You're not as big as that!"

Any thought of Peter's magnitude turned him on and he stood still, checked that there was no-one in sight and without any warning, tugged Peter's shorts and underpants down in one quick movement.


"There's no-one around and I need to check in case you get pregnant. A bit small at the moment but getting bigger fast," he confirmed, assisting the expansion with skilful fingers.

"Jeeze Markie, sometimes you drive me mad. Where did you learn to do things like this?"

"From you. You taught me everything I know. Hmn, too small for a baby to come out," he said judiciously as he studied the result of his manipulations, "Though I don't see why what makes a baby should have any problems, but I'd better make sure."

"You know damn well that there isn't a problem." Peter's voice lacked conviction.

"Don't swear," Mark told him with a grin. "You might have changed since I last tested and anyway, I want to watch."

"You'll be able to if you keep on doing that," Peter muttered as Mark's knowing hand began to work its magic.

"Don't just talk about it, show me," he commanded, moving behind Peter and savouring the warm solidity in his hand. Putting his free hand on Peter's stomach he pulled him back against himself, saying inconsistently as he felt the muscles tighten, "Don't drip on your clothes, push forward."

"How can I when you're holding me like this?"

Mark smiled and keeping his left elbow pressed against Peter's body, cupped his hand under the tip of the straining organ. "I'll catch any drips. Go on Pete. Show me how far you can shoot. Do it now!"

Overwhelmed, Peter trembled in the grip of orgasm until his sperm, tinged pink by the final rays of the setting sun, curved out from his body in a series of satisfying spurts.

He sagged against the smaller boy, enjoying the relief that always followed a session with Mark. It has to be because I love him, it was never like this with anyone else. he recalled, evaluating the intensity of the orgasms that Mark induced so effortlessly. Even a quick wank like this was better than any of the elaborate sessions he'd enjoyed in the past. He twitched as Mark, after licking his sperm spattered hand, turned him around and took the swollen head of his penis into his mouth.

"Gently please," he breathed, "It's still sensitive."

Mark released him them drew a finger along the underside to coax out the last drop.

"Well it seems to be big enough after all, and in good working order, too."

"You make it work better than anyone else ever did. How about I do the same for you?"

Mark gave him a mischievous grin. "Peter Doran! Here in public where anyone could see? I'm surprised at you."

"Not half as surprised as I was when you pulled my pants down!"

"I don't like you to get, complacent!" Mark replied, pleased to have found exactly the right word to make Peter laugh.

"Come on, I want to do you. And don't tell me you don't feel like it because I can tell."

"Later in the tent," Mark told him, content for the moment.

"You're so hard on me," Peter began, then laughed. "Okay you don't need to take me up on that, I know exactly what you're going to say."

Mark laughed in turn and hindered rather than helped Peter pull up his clothes, giving the head of his penis a final lick before it disappeared from view. Then slipping their arms around each other's waists again, they resumed their walk.

"Pete," he enquired in a conversational tone, "Are you a virgin?"

"Markie, you say the weirdest things sometimes. Why do you ask?"

"Because I want to know of course. Well, are you?"

"No, Markie, I'm not. Are you?"

"I've only ever done things with you so I must be."

"True, at least as far as girls are concerned. What made you think of this all of a sudden?"

"I just wondered what it felt like to do it with a girl. What was it like?"

Peter shrugged. "It was okay. But I'll tell you something, it didn't feel nearly as good as having a wank with you does."

Pleased, Mark pulled him closer. "How many times have you done it?"

"Twice. The first time was because wanted to see what it was like."

"But you must have enjoyed it if you did it again. Was it as good the next time?"

"Well there was this neighbour and she wanted me. I didn't really want to but was too polite to say no. So she had me. But I decided afterwards that it wasn't as good as doing it with a boy and that I wouldn't do it again. And I haven't. Like I said it was okay and I enjoyed the feeling when I came but it wasn't all that great even though I hadn't had much sex to compare it to."

"How old were you?"


"Jeeze, Pete. Were you old enough to, I mean did you have any, you know, stuff then?"

"Spunk you mean? Yes I did. Not a lot, but enough. And before you ask, yes, my cock had grown by then. She even told me it was big."

Mark thought about it. It was hard to imagine him doing it with a girl.

"I don't think I want to do it with a girl, but it sounds so stupid being a virgin, like I'm a little kid or something. No matter what we do, you and me, I'll still be a virgin won't I?"

"Yes you will. But does it really matter? Don't forget that you and I are getting a lot more sex than anyone else at school. They claim to be having it off with their girlfriends all the time, but they're lucky if they get it once a week."

"I know, but it makes me feel like a baby that I've never done it."

"Well, you're the sexiest baby I've ever seen and it doesn't worry me at all."

"But then you've done it and I haven't," Mark pointed out. "Pete, if I did do it with a girl, would you mind?"

Peter thought for a moment. "If you wanted to do it out of curiosity or to stop being a virgin I'd try not to mind, but underneath I'd mind like hell. I sort of feel that your cock belongs only to me, and the thought of you putting it into a girl and her enjoying it upsets me. But I love you and because of that I'd put up with it. In fact I will put up with it if it's what you want."

Mark came to a standstill and clutched him. "I don't! I only wondered how you'd feel about it. I don't really want to do it. I don't think I'd even be able to get a, well, to get hard."

"You would. Anyone your age would even if they're gay. After all, I'm gay and I managed it."

"Yes, but then you can do anything," Mark declared with total conviction. "You know, when you said that you'd done it I didn't mind at first, I was only a bit envious. But now, the thought of what you said about me," even in the dusk Peter could see that his colour had deepened, "You know, that stuff about the girl enjoying it, well suddenly I'm jealous that anyone, any female, should have felt yours like that."

"I promise you that no female, as you put it, will ever feel it again. Not that the two who did got very much out of it."

That was a small white lie. The woman had wanted him badly, enjoyed it, and it had been his pride in giving her an orgasm that had triggered his own. But he wasn't going to tell Mark that and had been completely honest when he assured him that he didn't have any inclination to do it again. In fact, having satisfied his curiosity earlier, he wouldn't have done it at all if she hadn't first flattered him, then challenged his masculinity in such a way that he felt obliged to prove her wrong. He had been too inexperienced to realise it was a well practised technique specifically aimed at the seduction of boys proud of their burgeoning manhood.

Pleased that Peter would be jealous of anyone who wanted him, male or female, Mark allowed the subject to drop, hugging to himself the knowledge that Peter felt that his cock and balls belonged to him exclusively. He felt exactly the same way about Peter's parts and was very tempted to pull his pants down again, but by then they were too near the campsite to risk it.

True to Mark's prediction Tom arrived very early the next morning, complete with costume wrapped in a towel, his beloved board games, several books, a bucket and spade and anything else that he could think of to stave off boredom during a day at the beach. It was fortunate that he hadn't burst in ten minutes earlier, Mark reflected when Tom, sure of his welcome, unzipped the tent and erupted excitedly inside. Given the slightest encouragement he would have laid out a game of draughts but Peter, aware that both he and Mark were not only naked in the sleeping bag but still partially erect and probably smelling of sperm as well, managed to get rid of him tactfully by asking if he would mind filling the small water container so they could make coffee.

As soon as he was out of the way they dressed and while Peter started on the breakfast preparations, Mark sat with Tom and was soundly beaten in three games of snakes and ladders. His mind wasn't on the game. The long sleep and all their sexual activity didn't seem to have done Peter much good. His movements were jerky, he was unusually clumsy and dropped one of the eggs he was about to break into the frying pan. He stood looking at it, swearing at himself under his breath.

Saying quietly, "May I borrow your spade for a minute, please Tom," Mark got up and scooped the mess into the rubbish bag, noticing as he did so that Peter's hands were trembling slightly and his face looked white and set. Not wanting Tom to notice he took him off to the tap to wash the spade then dumped the bag into the one of the containers that stood near the shower block.

When they returned Emily and Victor were up and had taken over the breakfast arrangements. They had no fixed routine, whoever felt like cooking did so and the others let them get on with it, lending a hand if needed. But Victor had taken over the frying pan and Peter was sitting on one of the chairs talking quietly to Emily, his hands clenched tightly in his lap. Oblivious to any tension Tom sat beside him and Mark was glad to see that keeping the boy entertained seemed to do Peter some good.

With enormous gusto Tom tucked into fried eggs, mushrooms and sausages in spite of having already consumed a glass of coke and a cream cake for breakfast, as he confessed naively. The four of them shuddered. In between mouthfuls Tom chattered away, in better spirits than he'd been for a couple of days, which made Mark glad that they had agreed to have him for the day.

Thinking back to what he and Peter had been joking about the previous evening, he thought it would be nice (though impossible) to have a son like Tom one day, but consoled himself with the thought that it might turn out to be a girl instead. Observing Peter, whose head was close to Tom's as he listened to what he was saying, he decided he would make a very good father. I suppose that would leave me to be the mother, he concluded with a smile, and after all I said about not wanting to be a girl too!

Looking up Peter returned his smile. I bet he doesn't know what I'm thinking this time, he mused, happy to see that Peter seemed to have got over whatever it was that had affected him earlier.

Unfortunately, at the beach Peter obviously felt unwell again. When he played with Tom, teaching him to do handstands, cartwheels and, when they went into the water, swimming strokes, or when with the help of some other youngsters they planned and started building an elaborate castle in the damp sand, he was fine. But as soon as he stopped doing things he became uncomfortable and Mark, knowing from his own experience what the signs were, was certain he was feeling nauseous.

Simon, looking rather washed out and suffering the effects of a late and strenuous night, noticed it as well and asked if he was feeling okay. Peter's reply that he was fine didn't convince anyone. Even Tom felt that something wasn't quite right, so having decided that they'd done enough construction for the time being, they went back to where Emily and Victor were reading peacefully.

Peter didn't want any lunch but had a small glass of wine though Mark thought he didn't look as if he was enjoying it much. It spoilt his own appetite but fortunately Tom was starving and it wasn't too noticeable. He would have liked to have Peter on his own as usual during the hottest part of the day but couldn't resist the delighted look on Tom's face when he suggested that they find some shade. They walked away from the sea and settled themselves, not in their usual discreet spot, but under their original pine tree because neither of them wanted the little boy to know where they normally went. It would be just like him to burst in on them when they were in the middle of having sex, Mark thought with a wry smile, wondering what the kid would make of it if he did.

Tom wasn't particularly shy and would demand to know what they were doing, he guessed, trying to imagine how he himself would have reacted when he was the same age. He couldn't do it. He was too knowledgeable now and it was too long ago to remember how he used to think. I'm fifteen and it was nearly half of my life ago when I was eight, he thought in surprise, as the three of them played cards.

"Lie down for a bit, Pete," he murmured as they finished a hand, "You're looking tired."

For once Peter didn't argue but stretched out on the blanket. Tom and Mark played on for a few minutes until Tom decided that he too had had enough and carefully put the cards away. Fishing a book out his bag he lay down close to Peter. Taking his cue from them Mark lay down as well and Peter automatically reached across the little boy to pull him close. Tom looked surprised for a moment then dismissed it from his mind, put his head on Peter's arm and returned to his book. Lying on their sides facing each other across him the older boys smiled at each other and Mark rested a hand on Peter's thigh. After a few minutes Tom's book began to droop. Peter took it from him saying softly, "Why don't you have a little sleep, Tom."

As his breathing slowed Peter and Mark felt their own eyelids getting heavy. They'd had a late night after their walk and were used to a nap in the middle of the day. Mark hoped that neither of them would get hard while they slept. Lying close together like this Tom could hardly fail to notice. In fact, when Tom woke briefly, he certainly felt something pressing against him but dismissed it in the pleasure of being sandwiched between the older boys. Although he and his twin often shared the same bed they didn't hold each other while they slept the way Peter and Mark were doing. It felt odd, but nice, to be enclosed by them. Heaving a contented sigh he dozed off again.

Half an hour later Peter was woken by his tingling arm. Gently he raised Tom's head which woke Mark.

"My arm's gone to sleep," he whispered.

"Keep his head up," Mark rejoined, folding his towel into a pillow, "And I'll put this under it."

That accomplished, they held each other again, leaning on their elbows and talking quietly until Tom woke. "I need a pee," he confided, scrambling to his feet.

Mark expected him to move modestly some way off, but he only went a few feet. Taking advantage of this, Peter had put both his arms around Mark when, without warning, Tom turned his head, cock still streaming, observed them for a minute then asked in an interested voice, "Why are you kissing Mark, Peter?"

They broke off and looked at him. His tiny cock was cute Mark thought, as he shook it vigorously before pulling up his costume and returning to the blanket.

"Because I like him," Peter said seriously, "And he likes me."

"I like Jack but I don't kiss him."

"Would you like to?" Mark couldn't help asking as he released Peter and made room for Tom to scrunch in between them again.

"I don't know. Maybe," he replied, never having thought about it. "Do you kiss everyone you like?"

Peter smiled and nodded. "Mostly, if they want me to."

This made sense to Tom, who nodded. "I don't think boys like to be kissed much."

"Some of them do."

Again Tom nodded. "Only if they're queers," he said positively. Peter felt a flash of irritation but knowing that it wasn't the boy's fault, kept his voice calm. "Who told you that?"

"Everyone says so."

"Do you know what it means?"

"What what means?"

"What being queer means."

"It's a boy who acts like a girl," Tom responded. Everyone knew that.

"Do you think that I act like a girl? Or Mark does?" Peter enquired, sensing Mark stir but ignoring him.

"Of course you don't," retorted Tom, with a scornful grin.

"Well I like being kissed and I don't act like a girl, so am I a queer?"

"Or me?" Mark put in bravely.

Tom was confused. "I don't think so," he said slowly, then more positively, "No you can't be. You play football."

Mark laughed. "Pete does, but I don't."

"You're mixing me up."

"Well maybe being queer doesn't mean what you think it means. But if you want to think that Mark and I are queer you can. We don't mind do we, Markie."

"Of course not," Mark agreed, but hoping that Tom wouldn't spread it around the campsite.

"But it's not nice to call someone queer. You only do it if you don't like them, and I like you. I like both of you." He sounded quite upset.

"Well we like you too" Mark responded, reassuringly, "And though I'm not going to kiss you, I am going to give you a big, big, hug. How was that?"

"It was nice. My mum does it and sometimes my dad too. Can I hug Peter now?"

"Only if you pay me lots and lots of money," Mark replied with a perfectly straight face. "He belongs to me you know."

Tom looked at him dubiously for a second before his face broke into a cheerful grin. "I haven't got any. Does he cost a lot?"

"Enormous amounts!" Mark boasted.

"How much is that?" demanded Tom.

"Well, I'll have to work it out. Um, I think as much as," he paused dramatically, "Two pence!"

Tom gave a crow of laughter and rolled onto his back, kicking his legs in the air. "That's too much," he gurgled. "Can I pay you tomorrow?" And taking Mark's assent for granted, choking with laughter, sat on Peter's lap and with a total lack of self consciousness, put his arms around him and squeezed as hard as he could.

Pretending to gasp for breath Peter said to Mark in a strained voice, "Now look what you've done. He's so strong he's squishing me," and did some gentle squeezing in return. "Well I'm glad we got that settled," he said a few minutes later when he'd been released. "I think it's time we went back to the beach. Markie, I'd better put some more sun block on you."

"Can I have some more too?" asked Tom immediately. "Why do you call him Markie? His name's Mark."

"It's my pet name for him, like he calls me Pete instead of Peter."

"That's different. Everyone calls you Pete."

"You don't."

"Well I'm going to from now on. Pete!"

Peter gave a mock sigh. "I don't know why we put up with you."

"Because you like me. You said so," Tom told him with a triumphant grin and impeccable logic, watching with interest as Peter applied the sun block. "My turn," he announced.

Peter obliged while Mark shook, then folded the blanket.

They walked back to the beach, Peter in the lead followed by Tom then Mark. Mark found himself continually having to put out a hand to catch the boy when he stumbled. It wasn't that he was clumsy he was just so interested in what he was going on around him that he forgot to look where he was going. He put his hands on the small shoulders to guide Tom who, with his head turned to face him, was about to walk straight into a gorse bush. The bony shoulders felt pleasant under his hands and he suddenly realised that Tom was rather nice looking in his own way. Why hadn't he noticed before?

Half way back they met Simon and to Mark's amusement, Tom immediately informed him he had no clothes on, looking with interest at his groin.

"Damn! I knew I'd forgotten something this morning. Can I borrow your costume, Tom?"

Tom giggled. "It wouldn't fit you, and anyway I'm wearing it. Are we nearly there yet? I'm tired."

Simon laughed and lifted him onto his shoulders.

"This is good. I can see for miles. Come on, Simon, run!"

"No way. Do you want me to fall and break my leg or something?"

"Oh alright, but it would be fun."

"For you maybe. I'll run when we get to the beach," he promised.

This he did, running not only on the beach but into the sea as well in spite of Tom's screaming protests as he was hurled into the waves. The sea didn't get any warmer Mark decided ruefully as he was dragged in by Peter before he could escape. Tom, clambering up Simon, his careless feet threatening painful mutilations on the way, decided that Peter should carry Mark on his shoulders too so that they could have a water fight.

Peter obliged and battle was waged in the waist deep surf until Peter tripped and dragged all of them down, laughing and spluttering. By then even Mark had got used to the cold so they swam out into deeper water and held a competition to see who could float on their backs the longest. Tom won.

Eventually they left the sea and inspected the remains of their sand castle. It had suffered from the depredations of several large feet but none of them had enough interest to make repairs so they returned to the clearing where Tom, Mark and Simon consumed cake and coke, Emily and Victor had coffee, and Peter sipped a little water.

To Tom's infinite (though short lived) regret, Simon left them soon afterwards to meet someone and in the late afternoon a weary but happy little boy helped them pack up, then walked along the path between Mark and Peter, holding their hands which he swung in time to his footsteps.

He fell asleep in the car so they drove directly to the campsite where Peter carried him into their tent and put him down, while Mark arranged a pillow under his head. It was still very hot so they left the flaps of the tent open to catch the breeze and the four of them sat outside while they had a second tea.

Mark was particularly thirsty so Peter shook a little salt onto his hand and told him to lick it off. "It's because you've been sweating and need to replace the salt you've lost," he explained.

Mark looked surprised as salt seemed to be the last thing he needed. Victor confirmed what Peter had said, and to his amazement it worked. After his next glass of coke he felt fine. I must remember that, he told himself.

Mary, Ian and Jack returned not long afterwards and came to sit with them but decided to let Tom have his sleep out. Neither twin seemed to have missed his brother although Jack had to be dissuaded from waking Tom to tell him all about his day. Mark was surprised that his penetrating voice didn't disturb the sleeping boy but on reflection concluded that Tom must be well used to it. When he finally appeared, still in his swimming costume, sleepy eyed and tousle haired, Jack fell on him enthusiastically and steam trains dominated the conversation. No-one could get a word in edgeways until their mother came to the rescue by asking Tom about his own doings. It was clear that he had enjoyed his day every bit as much as Jack had his, and they ran off happily to join a scratch football match that was going on not far away. Peter refused to play but good naturedly agreed to referee and generally take charge.

"We're really very grateful," Mary said. "It's done them both good to be away from each other for a bit. Thank you for having him."

"It was a pleasure," replied Emily. "Besides, it was Mark, Peter and Simon who had him most of the time. We're going to the funfair tonight and wondered if he and Jack would like to come with us."

This had been Peter's suggestion. Determined that somebody was going to go on all the rides with him he had come up with the idea when it looked as if they were all going to chicken out, as he scornfully described it.

"They would both love to, but I feel that as you've already had Tom all day…"

"Both Pete and I would like them to come," Mark said sincerely. "It was fun at the beach with Tom, and we'd love having Jack as well at the funfair."

Which was how Mark found himself in a small round car that seemed unable to make up its mind in which direction it wanted to travel, with two excited, screaming twins squashed between he and Peter. It was fun, once his stomach had come to terms with the violent changes of direction, and from that point on it was uphill all the way, quite literally, when they went on the Ferris wheel. The twins opted to sit on the outside to have the best view so he and Peter squeezed together, each with an arm around a small squirming body in case their tearing high spirits overcame them. There was no real chance of them falling out but the contact was pleasant, as was the sense of being responsible for them.

They visited every stall, both he and Tom equally proud of Peter and Jack who won prizes at virtually anything that involved throwing things at things. Peter of course had a superb eye and Jack was very good as well but Mark was absolutely hopeless. Tom, however, covered himself in glory by managing to hook a numbered plastic fish out of a tank of swirling water which no-one, including Emily and Victor, had come even close to achieving. His prize was an enormous black and white panda half as big as himself which they all had to carry in turn. Jack was particularly generous in his praise and displayed it to all and sundry, boasting proudly that his twin had caught it in the fish tank, to the confusion of all the envious children to whom he spoke.

They had candyfloss, drinks, chocolates and ice creams, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The four boys even managed to talk Emily and Victor into going on the bumper cars with them. Peter and Mark operated the accelerators while the twins sat on their laps and steered the battered little cars. They came off very badly in the fray. Victor and Emily cut them off and bumped into them whenever they felt like it.

"It's been nice for our two to have both twins, I'm glad the Shands let us bring them," Emily said to Victor while they waited at the bottom of the Helter Skelter to catch the twins when they arrived, only to find that they had elected to share the mats with their seniors.

"It's good for them to be reminded that there are other people in the world," Victor agreed, putting an arm around her waist. "Actually, I haven't had so much fun for a long time myself. We should do this more often."

"We will, once we've sorted things out."

Victor was about to reply when Tom and Mark closely followed by Jack and Peter shot out of the exit and ended up in a tangled laughing heap. They rode the merry-go-round, Emily sitting elegantly side saddle because she was wearing a skirt, then Jack dragged them to the Ghost Train. This was obviously to be the highlight of his evening but he was disappointed to discover that the 'train' was merely a group of cars, each holding two people, drawn along the track by a chain. However the ride itself was satisfactorily scary for he and his brother. Tom ended up in Mark's lap, clutching him desperately while shaking with delicious, half fearful laughter. Mark put his arms around him wishing that it was himself on Peter's lap. Maybe they could come again on their own sometime.

By the time the crowds were beginning to thin out they had sampled everything the little fair had to offer and although Jack would have been delighted to start all over again, Tom was beginning to flag so they decided to return to the campsite. Much as he had enjoyed himself Mark was pleased because he wasn't quite sure how to handle something that had happened earlier.

While he and Tom were watching Peter and Jack, who were hurling wooden balls at coconuts balanced on poles, he had been addressed out of the blue by two teenage girls about the same age as himself.

"Your brothers are good at chucking," one of them said admiringly.

Overcoming his surprise, he hadn't noticed them approach, he was about to explain that they weren't related when Tom butted in. "Pete isn't Mark's brother," he explained loftily. "I'm his brother. We're twins," he added with a casual nod in the general direction of Jack and Peter.

"Are you just mates then?" asked the other girl obviously confused, as well she might be, by this explanation.

"Mark and Pete are friends and they're me and Jack's friends too," Tom replied impatiently. Girls were so stupid. He'd noticed it before. Often.

Mark felt he had to explain and did so almost as impatiently as Tom. They were distracting him from watching Peter who having knocked down a coconut with each of his two balls, was concentrating on the third. What on earth were they going to do with three coconuts? These stupid girls could have them he decided, unconsciously echoing Tom's opinion.

"You live here righ', or you on 'oliday?" was the next question.

Tempted to say, mind your own business, but unable to be so rude, again he had to embark on an explanation.

Peter had duly won his third coconut and Jack was going for his first, when one of the girls said, "I'm Tricey an' this is me friend Julie. Wots your friend's nime then?"

"I'm Tom, and that's Pete with my twin and he's Mark," Tom said, taking Mark's hand in a proprietorial fashion. "Jack's only got one coconut," he added gloomily, then brightened. "We don't like coconut so it doesn't matter."

Letting go of Mark's hand he ran to meet his twin, leaving Mark standing there, not knowing what to say, or what to do with his hands. Why wouldn't the girls go away and leave them in peace? But they had no intention of doing that. The first one, Tracey he recalled impatiently, was staring at the approaching Peter admiringly. He couldn't help smiling. So that's what this was all about. They fancied Pete. At least that's what he thought until he saw the other one looking at him! Hell, she fancies me! He couldn't understand it and was not in the least bit flattered by the implied compliment. Ignoring her he smiled at Peter and Jack.

"You both did really well," he said as he bent down to admire the coconut Jack was holding up for his inspection.

"It's the biggest one," stated Jack proudly.

"I can see that," he agreed enthusiastically, hoping that if he ignored the two girls they would go away.

No such luck!

Tracey had introduced herself to Peter and was chattering in a frenzied fashion while Julie, presumably under the impression that this might improve her standing with him, was trying to make friends with the twins. She didn't get far. Biting back a smile and feeling, under his irritation, a little sorry for her, he could sense their total indifference. Peter seemed to be parrying Tracey's remarks successfully but he was beginning to wonder if they would ever get rid of them when Jack took matters into his own hands. He interrupted firmly to remind Peter that he had promised to buy them an ice cream. Tom immediately backed him up and grasping Mark's hand, dragged him in the direction of the furthest stand he could see.

It didn't help much. From then on every time they looked around the two girls were somewhere in the offing. Even Emily and Victor became aware of them when Jack said in a voice of utter disgust, "Not those two again!"

Mark smiled at his tone then blushed furiously as Peter whispered into his ear that if he really wanted to stop being a virgin, now was his chance. He would keep an eye on the twins while Mark took Julie into the bushes. Mark retaliated with a swift kick, careful not to make it too hard, and glared at his grinning friend.

"I'll get you in the tent tonight," he whispered, but took his revenge as soon as he got the chance by telling Peter exactly what he was going to do to Julie, how much she would love it, and how he was going to live with her and do it hundreds of times every night. Using his imagination he managed to paint an extremely graphic picture, considering that he had no experience whatsoever on which to draw. Peter laughed at his more lurid flights, found himself being turned on and had to carry Tom's Panda when he recalled that his well fitting shorts were revealing enough under normal circumstances, and not designed to conceal any extra activity. Satisfied, Mark gave him a loving smile, whispered again that he was going to be sorry later and turned his attention back to the twins.

The twins had badgered Emily and Victor into going on the rickety looking roller coaster after Mark had taken one horrified look and refused point blank to have anything to do with it. They were triumphantly pointing out that in spite of his dire predictions it hadn't fallen down, and would he and Peter please come with them now!

Feeling as if he were taking his life in his hands and regretting it more every second, he clambered into a car which had no proper seats. They were obliged to sit on the padded floor, which was much better Jack explained happily. Mark's only comfort was that if he was going to die, at least it would be with Peter pressed up against him and holding him tightly. In turn he held onto the twins who were sitting between his legs, closed his eyes and hoped for the best as the little car, swaying alarmingly, rattled up the first incline.

On reaching the summit it coasted gently round a curve and he had just concluded that it wasn't going to be as bad as he'd thought when the bottom dropped out of the world. As they plunged downwards he realised that closing his eyes had been a serious mistake. Wondering if he would ever recover his stomach, it appeared to have remained somewhere in the clouds high above them, he gasped, leant back against Peter, clutched the joyfully screaming twins and gave himself up for dead. Grimly he promised himself that if, by some truly amazing miracle, he remained alive, never, never, never, would he ignore his survival instincts again!

He did survive, though only just, and had to be supported by Peter on one side and a worried Tom on the other as he staggered off the ride, shuddering as Jack assured him that all he needed was a coke to set him right, or maybe another ice-cream. However after sitting down with a sympathetic Emily on a conveniently placed bench for a few minutes, he recovered sufficiently to tell Tom that although wild horses—or wild twins for that matter, which made Tom giggle—wouldn't get him anywhere near the thing ever again, he was glad at least to have tried it once.

"I know exactly how you feel," Emily sympathised, "I thought my last hour had come."

Treating this remark with the contempt it deserved, Jack assured them that they had been quite safe all along. They just weren't used to it. They'd really enjoy it next time, now that they'd had a bit of practise.

Knowing when they were beaten neither of them attempted to point out the fallacy in his reasoning and Jack, sensing that his remark hadn't had quite the effect he'd intended, started to point out all the advantages of going on the ride again. These included the interesting supposition that if they happened to be in a plane that suddenly went into a dive it wouldn't worry them because they'd be used to the feeling already. Both Emily and Mark were struck by this ingenious argument but pointed out that as they had no intention of flying anywhere in the immediate future, he had better go and see if he could talk Peter and Victor into going on the ride again. It said much for his powers of persuasion that not only did he succeed, but afterwards induced Peter into taking them for another ride (their fourth) after that.

"I don't know how they do it," said Victor, as the three of them came back grinning happily, "They must have cast iron stomachs."

Emily laughed and glancing at Tom who had settled himself on the bench next to Mark decided it was time to leave.

By the time they got back to the campsite even the voluble Jack was quiet, while Tom, who had clambered onto Mark's lap, was fast asleep. They drove directly to the Shand's pitch and waited while Mark carried Tom into the tent and laid him down gently on his open sleeping bag. He brushed the unruly hair away from his face and without thinking bent and kissed the small forehead. He looked up at the boy's mother. "Sorry," he said awkwardly, "I didn't mean…"

"I know you didn't mean anything except to say goodnight," Mary said easily, untying the laces of Tom's trainers. "We won't bother to undress him, he'll be alright as he is. Zip the bag up please."

Mark gave her a relieved smile and did as she asked. "He's very cute and I really like him. It's been such fun having them both with us tonight. We really enjoyed it."

"So did they. Thank you for taking them. And here's the other one."

Yawning hugely Jack said, "Do I have to go to bed already?"

"Yes," she replied firmly. "Into your pyjamas please."

"Tom isn't."

"Tom's asleep and you're not."

"Oh alright," he grumbled, pulling off his tshirt.

"Trainers and socks as well," she reminded him.

"Good night, Jack, sleep well," Mark said, smiling at her remark.

"Thank you for taking us," Jack replied, trying unsuccessfully to stifle another yawn.

Mark smiled, ruffled his hair, got a sleepy grin in reply, and returned to the car.

At their own pitch Victor got a bottle of wine from the fridge and poured for everyone.

"This will settle your tummy," he remarked, handing a small glass to Mark. "I think we all deserve something after having those little terrors all evening."

"They were fun weren't they," said Mark, taking the remark in the spirit it was meant.

"Great fun," agreed Peter. "And they're tough too, not like some people I know."

Victor grinned. "Some people just have the brains they were born with, unlike other people we know."

Peter smiled in return. "I'll be sorry when they leave, it will be quiet without them."

"Without Jack you mean," remarked Emily.

"He's a noisy child and very full of energy," Victor agreed. "Because of it he overshadows Tom, but Tom has a lot going for him in a quiet way."

"Tom is sweet," Emily concurred.

"He reminds me a lot of Markie," Peter remarked, sipping his wine.

"Of me? Why?"

"Well physically you're the same type, you're both small, slim and cute."

"That's certainly true, but Mark is far better looking," commented Emily, regarding him closely.

"I didn't mention that because it's so obvious. But he's not only better looking, he's beautiful," Peter replied in a dulcet tone, regarding Mark over the rim of his glass.

"Spare his blushes, Pete," rejoined Victor, smiling at Mark.

"Nobody could do that, he blushes so easily. It's one of the things I love about him," Peter confessed, regarding Mark's flushed face with the eye of a connoisseur.

"Ignore him, Mark," Emily laughed, "When he's in this mood, no-one can do anything about it."

Oh yes they can, Mark decided grimly. Just you wait Peter Doran.

But his vengeful plans came to nothing. He was hardly nestled in Peter's arms when he fell asleep. The wine had settled not only his stomach, but his head as well. However he made up for it in the morning after Peter, awake early for a change, had brought him from sound sleep to ecstasy in a few voluptuous moments, and it became his turn.

Using every ounce of skill he possessed, coupled with his intimate knowledge of Peter's body and reactions, he kept him balanced on a razor edge of pleasure, neither allowing him to relax nor to proceed to the ultimate release until his belly was slick from the clear liquid that had poured out of him and he was begging Mark to finish before it killed him. Had it been possible Mark would have continued to torture his squirming victim but there comes a stage, particularly though not exclusively, in the young, when arousal has become so great it is wholly unstoppable and orgasm occurs without any further stimulation. It happened to Peter. He groaned, his body tensed as his muscles tightened, his fingers leaving red weals on Mark's upper arms, and when he could bear no more pleasure, his penis erupted in Mark's caressing hand leaving a thick white trail over his chin, his nose and even into his hair.

Immensely impressed and more than a little envious Mark held him gently, enjoying the feel of Peter's pounding heart, the beat reproduced in miniature in the quivering tube he was still holding possessively.

Sensing that Peter needed more time than usual to recover, he continued to hold him, trying to convey through the physical contact his admiration and his love.

After a time, Peter spoke softly. "It went all the way up to my hair."

"It was incredible. Lie still, I'll clean you up in a minute."

"Do it now please, I want you in my arms."

Feeling an exquisite pleasure of his own, Mark sucked each shining strand of hair clean then worked his way down Peter's body until he reached the slowly softening penis, making each movement of his sensuous tongue an act of adoration. Peter is my love, my happiness, my everything, he mused. If I didn't have him I would be nothing, and when I'm with him I'm everything. Nothing can touch me, nothing can hurt me. So long as I have him I'm safe from everyone and everything, and nothing can ever take that away from me. He slid back up as Peter turned on his side to take him into his arms.

In their youth and strength they made love again a little later, delighting in each other's desire and awed by the outpourings that scented the still air of the tent with ravishing aphrodisiac effect.

Satiated at last, they pulled on their shorts and made their way through the quiet site to the ablution block where they set two of the showers running, but spent most of the time in one, first soaping, then rinsing each other. Peter washed Mark's hair while keeping half an ear open for footsteps on the gravel outside that would herald the arrival of another early riser. Finally, giving his companion an approving pat on the rear that he had been intimately soaping a few minutes earlier, he dropped a kiss on one shoulder and told him to get himself dried before he got any bigger and frightened anyone who walked in.

Surprised that after all their earlier activity Peter had been able to make him react so easily, Mark moved out of the flow of water while Peter shampooed his own hair. He had been fine until Peter's hand had slipped between his buttocks while washing him. He still had something of a complex about the area but Peter had done it so naturally he hadn't thought about it until after it happened. Then result had been so rapid a tumescence that it almost alarmed him. How was it that when Peter soaped his front he was okay but he got a raging erection when it was his rear? Peter who had a fairly good idea what he was thinking grinned and told him that he had a very sexy bum and that he loved it.

Determined not to blush. Mark replied, with a spurious air of nonchalance, that he liked Peter's too.

"If you like it so much," Peter challenged," Wash it."

Sighing at the way he'd been trapped so easily, Mark turned Peter sideways and moved the soap over the firm muscles then tentatively between them a little way. Gritting his teeth he revolved the soap in his hand, returned it to the soap dish and putting his other hand on Peter's stomach, ran his hand over the smooth skin, starting on his lower back where the twin columns of hard muscle supported his spine, and slowly moving down. It didn't help his erection one little bit. There was something especially sensuous in the tension of the rounded mounds of muscle, and when he moved his hand tentatively between them and felt Peter react, he realised that not only was Peter enjoying his ministrations, but he himself had enjoyed it when Peter had done the same to him.

Becoming more assured, he slid his hand lower and deeper until he felt the change in texture and knew what he had reached. His hand froze and he looked at Peter who, with a serious expression on his face, waited to see what he would do.

"Tell me?" he whispered, sure that Peter would know what he was being asked.

But Peter shook his head. "You have to decide."

For a moment he was childishly resentful. I shouldn't have to, Peter should tell me what he wants, he though pettishly, then common-sense came to his aid. I'm not a baby and Pete can't take responsibility for everything. So what does he really want me to do? He was pretty sure he knew, but there was something else, another question. What did he himself want to do? It seemed equally important.

It was hard not to think of it as dirty, a hangover from his early youth when he had been discovered investigating himself in the bath as children do. The beating with his father's leather soled slipper had raised weals that had taken weeks to disappear, and the accompanying invective had made his brain suppress, though not erase, all memory of the incident. Years later he was still suffering the effects. As for his father's outspoken opinion of what poofs and queers did to each other…!

The Captain's language, as befitted one who had spent most of his adult life in the company of men, could be explicit to the point of crudity and he had never spared his sensitive son's feelings on the subject of bumboys. And now, thought that same son, I'm touching a boy's bum. He even found it difficult to visualise the word mentally.

What was he going to do? This was Peter, the person he loved more than anyone else in the world. Could any part of him be dirty? You might as well say his cock was dirty because he pees through it, yet, not only do I touch it, I've taken it in my mouth. Supposing he was really sick and I needed to clean him up. Would I do it, or would I just leave him? Put in those terms it was, as so often with decisions he found difficult, quite simple really. He only had to find the right way of looking at it.

There was no way that he would desert Peter in those circumstances any more than Peter would abandon him. If his bum is dirty then, so is mine, and so is everyone else's. It doesn't worry him, and I'm not going to let it worry me. Not any more.

His decision made, and with the feeling of another load that he'd been carrying beginning to lift, he finished what he was doing, blushing slightly but sure enough of himself to run his fingers over the small, tight ring of muscle. Then he had pulled Peter under the shower head and rinsed him.

Watching Peter dry himself, Mark accepted that that part of him—no, he admonished himself, his bum!—was as beautifully shaped as the rest of him. Recalling the feel of it under his hands he felt his cock stir again. He knew that Pete felt the same about him, he'd told him often enough but did he want Peter to…? He shook his head, dismissing a thought he wasn't quite ready to acknowledge.

"What are you thinking about?"

"You often ask me things I'm shy about telling you," he replied evasively.

"You don't have to tell me then, because I know, and I'll tell you. You were thinking about bums. But I don't know if it was yours, or mine."

Mark felt his face flushing and said in a small voice, "You're always right about me. I was thinking," he went on heroically, "That you're always telling me I've got a nice, a nice, er bum. But I think yours is much nicer. And I liked touching it."

Peter gazed at him steadily. I shouldn't be surprised, he thought, once he's made up his mind he goes ahead. "Do you know how proud of you I am?"

Mark looked puzzled. What did that have to do with anything?

"I'm proud of you because I know how hard it is for you to say things like that, and I think you're so brave."

Mark was speechless for a minute then muttered, "It's only a little thing."

Peter hung his towel on a convenient hook and came up to him. "It's not a little thing to you. I know how big a thing it is and I love you for it like I love you for so many things." Then he kissed him on the mouth and gave his bottom a pat saying, "Get dressed at once before I rape you right here on the floor."

"Yes please, Pete," Mark replied, suddenly shy for no reason that he could think of.

"No please, Markie. People are going to be pouring into here any minute. Clothes on!"

Smiling at each other they pulled on underwear and clean shorts. Mark reached for a clean t-shirt only to remember that he had none left.

"Can we use the washing machine do you think?" he asked, resigning himself to the fact that he would have to walk through the awakening campsite bare chested. "I've used my last clean shirt."

"No you haven't," Peter told him, reaching into his carrier bag. "You've got this one."

Mark blinked as he gleefully produced another monstrosity. Why, why, why, did Peter always do this to him? He would look like…no, he didn't know what he'd look like if he wore that thing! Yet Pete had perfectly good taste when he chose to use it. Peter grinned at the resigned look on his face as he reluctantly stretched out a hand.

"Or maybe you'd prefer this one?" he asked teasingly, producing a perfectly innocuous and attractive garment, which he dragged ruthlessly over Mark's head before he had a chance to argue. "You haven't dried your hair properly," he went on, towelling it energetically. "Where's your comb?"

"I forgot it, mummy," replied Mark meekly.

"Watch it kid, or I might make a mummy out of you. An Egyptian one I mean, so don't go getting any of your ideas."

Mark laughed, then yelped as Peter dragged his own comb the tangled hair.

"Sorry," Peter said repentantly, kissing the affected part. "There. You look good enough to eat. Anyone would be proud to serve you for dinner."

"I'd only let you eat me," Mark told him, then blushed. "Pete, have you lost weight?" He asked, partly to change the subject but also because he suddenly remembered that Peter's ribs had seemed more defined when he was soaping him.

"I don't think so. Come on, let's see if breakfast is on the way."

It wasn't. Emily and Victor hadn't surfaced so they walked to the shop a little way up the main road where they bought fruit, milk, bread and yoghurt, which Mark had a sudden fancy for. He liked yoghurt.

They were just about to leave with their purchases when Simon walked in with a slightly spotty teenager in tow. Peter took in the situation at a glance though Mark was a little slower on the uptake. Evidently this was the lad Simon had met the other day. Peter marvelled at his adroitness. Remembering how long it had taken him to get to spend a night in bed with Mark, he couldn't imagine how Simon had achieved the same thing in just a few days which, from the self-conscious look on the boy's face, was precisely what he'd done. He appeared to be a local lad too, probably still living at home while attending the local college. How on earth had Simon managed it?

Looking satisfied and at peace with himself and the world Simon introduced Jason. Peter was amused to note that both Mark and Jason were equally embarrassed. Each knew what the other pair had been up to, but only the younger partners felt awkward.

Mark took to Jason immediately and in his efforts to make him feel at ease was able to overcome his own diffidence when talking to strangers. The young man seemed strangely—innocent, was the word that came to mind—in spite of being some years older than he was. In a way Jason reminded him of Tom, which in turn reminded him that he must ask Em and Vic if they could call in at Swanage some time today so he could get something for the twins before they left. He knew exactly what Tom would like, but Jack was more of a problem. However he was certain that Peter would find something that was just right, and gave him an affectionate glance.

Having discovered that the older boys planned to spend the day at the beach, hence the shopping expedition, Peter offered them a lift and suggested that they came to the campsite in about an hour's time. They parted outside the shop and strolled back slowly, discussing Simon's companion. Mark felt sorry for him when Peter said that as far as Simon was concerned, this was probably just a holiday affair.

"Very few people are as lucky as we are. Most boys, and this goes for boys who fancy girls as well, settle for much less until they're older or get married, and Simon's no different. He may think he's looking for someone to love but he really wants is to have sex with as many people as he can. He's not ready to settle down with one person like I am. It's because I'm a lot," he stopped, then continued, "More mature than he is."

He stopped walking and looked seriously at Mark. "It's something I worry about. I've played around with people, quite a lot of them in fact, but you haven't. You haven't done anything with anyone else and sometimes I think that you should before you decide to stick with me. I love you and I know you love me, but maybe I should leave you alone until you're older and have more experience. Supposing," he said slowly, beginning to walk on again, "Supposing you had the chance to, you know, wank with Simon. Would you do it? Would you want to?"

It was Mark's turn to stop walking. He clutched Peter's hand in a kind of panic, oblivious to anyone who might be watching. "Are you saying you don't want me?" he asked with a touch of hysteria in his voice.

"No, for Christ's sake, of course not! I wanted you from almost the first second I saw you. I wanted you then, I want you now, and I want you forever. It's just that I wonder if you shouldn't have the chance to go with other people like I did before you finally make up your mind that I'm the one for you. I know that you're the one for me, I've had other people to compare you with, so I know. But who have you had to compare me with? No one. So how can you know if I'm really the right person for you?"

Mark calmed down as he considered it. "I see what you mean, and if you want me to be really and truly honest, I would like to see Simon, well, er hard, and maybe Jason too. But I don't want to do anything more than look, and I don't even want that badly enough to make it happen. You're what I want. You're mine and I love you and I can't live without you Do I need to prove it? Shall I pull my shorts down and show everyone what a hardon just being near you gives me? I'll do it if you want me to, just tell me."

"Why do you choose public places to say things that make me want to take you in my arms and kiss you until I die?"

"Because you ask me. Why do you ask me things that make me say things that… Oh Jeeze Pete, can we stop talking and run to the tent so we can do things?"

"No! Because that would certainly make people talk, especially the way we are at the moment. So hold that carrier bag in front of you like I'm going to hold mine, and walk sensibly."

"I can't be sensible around you."

"Try to hold on until we're under our tree at the beach. Then look out for yourself," said Peter happily, his fears set at rest.

Simon and Jason duly arrived at their pitch and Jason was introduced to Emily and Victor who seemed to approve of him, as they approved of all of their adopted son's friends. They were never judgmental, Mark decided, looking at them fondly, just natural and kind to everyone they met. They even took with equanimity the sudden and noisy appearance of the twins who had been sent to say thank you for the previous day's delights in case they had forgotten. At least, thought Mark with a smile, that was their story. Taking the inclusion of two extra people into the party as a matter of course, they bombarded Jason, who was obviously completely unused to small boys, with intimate questions about himself, his family, his sporting prowess (which appeared to be on a par with Mark's) and his inexplicable and disgraceful (in Jack's opinion) lack of knowledge about steam trains. Giving him up as a lost cause, Jack turned to Peter and involved him in a complicated discussion about steam power and why it had been replaced by the boring electrical variety.

Mark was surprised to discover that not only did Peter know a great deal about the subject, but spoke almost as if he had been a regular traveller in the days when smoke and coal dust had shrouded much of the country in a dismal pall.

"Why didn't you tell me you knew this before?" demanded Jack in an aggrieved voice, regretting that he hadn't tapped this mine of information earlier.

"You didn't ask me."

Unwilling to let him go Jack invited himself and, as an afterthought, his brother to travel to the beach with them so Mark and Peter found themselves with a wriggly twin on their laps while Jason perched in an embarrassed fashion on Simon. That he might not be welcome, or that there really wasn't enough room in the car, didn't cross Jack's mind. He pursued his discussion with Peter during the walk along the path and would have been happy to continue it all day if his father hadn't firmly removed him when he and his mother arrived a short time later.

Emily and Victor decided that they needed a walk and left the boys to their own devices soon after they arrived. The beach was very crowded and Simon was quite blatant in his admiration of any attractive male as unattached men wandered around to admire or be admired.

Peter was fidgety, though he didn't look as unwell as he'd done the previous day, but still kept a careful eye on the time and made sure that Mark's skin was protected as soon as he felt that he'd had sufficient sun. Mark, much more relaxed now, didn't feel he needed to avoid looking at the naked Simon and frankly enjoyed the sight of the blushing Jason when Simon ordered him to shed his costume as well. Clearly it was not the first time that he'd done so as, unlike Peter and himself, he was tanned all over.

They went into the sea in the late morning, joyfully joined by the twins and the group of children they had been playing with. Tom was not as good a swimmer as his brother but enjoyed diving and insisted that Mark crouch down so he could stand on his shoulders and dive off. At once the other children clamoured for a turn, so the four of them spent some time leaping out of the water in an effort to launch a perched urchin into hysterical orbit. Finally, Peter was persuaded to have a go on the tall, powerful Simon and with the extra impetus was able to execute a perfect swallow dive, entering the water so cleanly that he made hardly a splash. Hugely impressed, the vociferous youngsters demanded that he teach them to do the same, so he and Simon tried to imbue their admirers with some form of style.

Both Mark and Jason were cold so they left them to it and lay on their towels in the hot sunshine, chins propped on their cupped hands.

"Peter likes kids and likes teaching them."

"So does Simon."

"Not really. He's only doing it because Peter is. He wouldn't bother if he was on his own. He likes Peter," Jason said a little awkwardly.

Mark said automatically, "Everyone likes him."

"I can see. He's very good looking. Not as much as you, though."

This was said so simply that Mark had to believe he meant it. He looked at Jason, not quite sure how to answer. But apparently the older boy didn't expect a reply. He was gazing thoughtfully at the crowd in the water.

"You and Peter are so lucky," he said almost to himself. "I love Simon but he's going to forget about me again as soon as he goes home."

Mark detected a sparkle in his eyes before he turned away.

"Maybe he won't," he said gently, hoping that it was true but fairly sure that Jason was right. He only had to remember the way Simon appraised every male who passed. He liked Simon but there was something almost predatory in the way he looked at people, as if he couldn't wait to go off with them. But was that really so bad? He himself had enjoyed looking at both Simon and Jason and surely it was the same?

Pondering on it, though, he decided that there was a difference. Although he had enjoyed looking at Jason, and regretted that he was on his stomach with everything hidden, he hadn't wanted to touch, or to have sex with him. He was equally certain that Peter, who had also glanced at Jason several times, felt the same. But Simon looked at people as if he was planning to do something about it. Feeling sorry for the boy next to him he wished that there was something he could say or do that would make things easier for him. I need Pete, he thought, he'd know exactly what to say, but as he isn't here it's up to me.

"Do you really love Simon?" he asked, hoping that giving Jason the opportunity to talk might help.

Jason took a long time to reply, and when he did speak it came as something of a shock. "I've loved him ever since I was thirteen. My voice hadn't even broken the first time I saw him. He was here with his parents and brother. He was fifteen then and never took any notice of me. He was too busy looking at other people and anyway, I was ugly. I only got a bit better as I got older," he added with a sort of naive pride. "You'd think that being with him now after all that time would make me happy, but all I can think of is that in a few days he'll go away and next year, if he comes here again, he'll be interested in someone else. It might even happen today. He looks at people all the time."

Mark felt sad, Jason deserved better after waiting so long. "Did you see him every year?"

"Most years. That first time, I didn't know what it was all about. I just loved the way he looked, the way he walked, the way he was. And I thought about him all the time and looked forward to the next summer but they didn't come that year. I spent weeks walking around the beach hoping that he'd be there somewhere. By I knew what I wanted and I knew what he wanted as well. A lot goes on here, I discovered that as I was walking around. It was exciting but I never wanted to join in. The only person I wanted was Simon, and I didn't even know his name. I cried a lot that year, though not as much as I did later."

"You needn't tell me if you don't want to," Mark said, feeling distressed. Jason didn't hear him, too wrapped up in his recollections.

In that same voice he went on, "I got through that summer somehow and I tried to tell myself that it was a good thing that he hadn't seen me because I was uglier than ever. My nose had grown so much I looked really weird and I was covered in spots. Not just on my face but my back and everywhere. I hated how I looked and tried to be glad he hadn't seen me like that. It seemed so unfair that everything happened to me. No-one else I knew had to put up with so many things all at the same time. Then the summer I turned fifteen, he came back.

"He'd grown a lot, but so had I. Only, he'd got even better looking while I'd got worse. That year was the first time I saw him without any clothes. He used to sneak away from his family, take off his costume and wander around. I thought I was in heaven but as usual he didn't even see me. He saw other people, though. They knew what he wanted so it wouldn't take long. He'd go with two or three people in the same day, sometimes with more than one at the same time, and people started to talk. If you walk slowly and quietly people don't notice you and say things they wouldn't normally. I wanted to shout at them that he wasn't like they said. But deep down I knew they were right." He shrugged. "Everyone still wanted him, though, and it made him careless. Not that year but the next, the last time he came here with his parents.

"He couldn't wait to take his clothes off and got away with it for about a week until his brother arrived. I'm pretty sure he was already suspicious. I mean, why would Simon keep disappearing? And if you've got eyes you know what goes on, even if you're not that way yourself.

"I was late that day so instead of taking the main path I cut past one of his favourite places, hoping to see him, and heard their voices."

His brother had followed him and saw Simon meet someone. They weren't doing much, only feeling each other, but it was enough. When Simon's brother shouted the other guy walked away and I never saw him again."

He turned to Mark and there were tears in his eyes. "But his brother! He was calling Simon a whore, and a poof and, and other things, and punching him. Simon was trying to protect himself but he didn't stand a chance. His brother was bigger than he was, and very strong. I ran up, caught his arm and told him to leave Simon alone. He stopped, out of surprise I suppose, then said in a horrible voice, you're another one, are you? Then he hit me and I knocked me down. It hurt and I wanted to cry but all I could think of was stopping him from doing anything more to Simon."

He was quiet for so long that Mark wondered if he was going to say anything more and did the only thing he could think of. He leant over and held Jason's shoulder comfortingly. The touch seemed to bring the older boy back from his memories. He put his own hand briefly on Mark's then sat up to face him.

"It was lucky I didn't try, he'd have killed me. I managed to get to my feet but he just gave me a look of, of contempt and said, stay here with your catamite Simon, you fucking queerboy, I'm going to tell dad. Simon begged him not to but he just spat at him and walked away. I helped Simon stand and nearly started crying when I saw what his brother had done. We were near the lake so I took him there to clean up. He could hardly walk at first and was leaning on me then he started vomiting. I was really worried because I thought he was bringing up blood but it was from the cut on his mouth. I made him sit down, wiped the blood off his face and where it had run down onto his chest, and he started to cry.

"I was feeling pretty bad myself and didn't know what to do so I just held him until he stopped. It took a long time. I dipped my shirt in the lake and wiped his face, again, helped him put his costume on, then we walked to where his parents were. That was the first time he ever spoke to me. He said, 'You're the ugly kid who's always watching me. What's your name?' I'd just told him when we saw them coming towards us. I don't know which was worse, his brother hitting me, or the way the three of them looked at me. His father told me to get my filthy hands off his son, though all I was doing was helping him walk. I wasn't going to argue but I said that he needed to see a doctor. His brother shouted, 'Don't tell us what to do you fucking homo,' grabbed Simon's arm and started pulling him down the path. I wanted to follow but his father turned and told me that if he ever saw me again he'd pound me into bloody meat. I watched them take him away thinking I'd never see him again. And all he'd said to me were those words; 'You're the ugly kid who's always watching me. What's your name?' I used to say them over and over to myself, because, at least once, he'd spoken to me."

"You did see him again?"

"The next summer. He was on his own. He told me he'd left home and this was his first holiday since he started working. They hadn't taken him to a doctor and his mouth had got infected which is why he has that scar. He talked to me that year and said that he was sorry he'd called me ugly but it was true. I knew how he felt about me so I didn't mind too much."

Mark thought that both his look and tone belied the words.

"I don't know why I'm telling you all this," Jason said suddenly, as if he had only just realised what he was doing. "I've never told anyone else."

"Maybe that's been the trouble," Mark told him, remembering how he used to feel before he had Peter to confide in. "I won't tell anyone. I don't really have anyone to tell except Pete. I always tell him everything but I won't if you don't want me to."

Jason looked at the sea where Peter and Simon were still surrounded by splashing, laughing children "I don't mind him knowing. You're right, I feel a bit better because I've told you. I have no-one to talk to because I don't have any friends"

Mark nodded. "I used to be the same."

"You're so lucky."

Mark thought that both he and Peter had known from the first how lucky they were and had frequently told each other so. But hearing a perfect strange say the same made it more real and much more true. We must be careful we don't let it slip away from us, he mused, little knowing how soon their love and trust in each other would be tested to the limit.

"Tell me the rest, Jason, if it will make you feel better."

Jason nodded. "That was last year and when he left Simon asked for my phone number. He even used it once," he added with a twisted smile. "He phoned to wish me Happy Christmas. The times I phoned him he was usually out and there was no answer. But I did find out when he was coming this year and went into Bournemouth to meet him at the station. He didn't recognise me for a minute, then he smiled and told me I'd improved. I helped carry his stuff and set up his tent at the campsite. We were inside sorting out his stuff when it happened. He looked at me and said, 'You've always wanted me. Well, now's your chance'. It was my first time with anyone else and I'd waited a long time for it. We stayed there all afternoon and he did things to me I'd never even thought of."

Mark nodded.

"I was so happy. I thought I we were going to be together for his whole holiday. I even planned to tell my mother I'd been invited to stay with a friend for a few days." He laughed contemptuously at his own naivety. "I should have known better. He only wanted me because he needed sex. Anyone would have done and I happened to be handy. I found that out the next day. I'd come down to the beach and was sitting with him when he told me to push off because there was somebody who fancied him and he didn't want me around spoiling things, I made myself to smile and say okay then went home and cried. The only good thing was that I hadn't told him what I'd planned."

"But you're with him now?"

"Because it suits him—at the moment—and I love him enough to do what he wants. It's stupid and I know it is, but there's nothing I can do about it."

Mark reached over and took one his hands. It had seemed like a fairy tale. The ugly boy adoring his knight in shining armour from a distance, then coming to his rescue and even becoming quite good looking himself in the process, as if he had been living under a spell until then. But it didn't seem as if there was going to be a fairy tale, and they both lived happily ever after, type of ending.

Even as he felt the pull of Simon's attractiveness, Mark was angry at the way he treated the boy beside him. He'd been right when he'd thought that Jason was innocent. He was, and Simon had taken advantage of it and used him. He wanted so badly to help but it seemed there was nothing he could do. You can't change people, and you certainly couldn't change Simon. He was what he was, Jason knew it, accepted it, and was grateful for whatever Simon was prepared to let him have. It seemed a poor prospect and he could only hope that Jason would get over it eventually and meet someone who would appreciate him. He released Jason's hand as Simon arrived followed by Peter who was laughing and joking with the twins having shed the other kids en route.

"What have you two been up to?" Simon demanded.

"Not much," Mark replied, "We were just talking," and turned to smile at Peter so that he wouldn't have to see the look on Jason's face.

For the next few minutes he was fully occupied in fending off two small, cold and wet bodies as the twins demanded to know why he and Jason had got out of the water so soon, and swarmed all over him.

Laughing, he told them to stop mugging him. Tom went into a fit of giggles but Jack told him austerely that only crooks mugged people, and anyway he wasn't an old lady.

"What's that got to do with it?" demanded Peter.

Everyone knew that old ladies got mugged, Jack informed him in some surprise, that's why he was glad he was a boy. "I'd like to see someone try to mug me," he added belligerently.

"What would you do?" asked Simon.

"I'd kick them and thump them and take all the money they'd nicked and give it back to people."

Faced with these consequences of a life of crime, Peter wondered audibly why anyone would be stupid enough to take up mugging in the first place when he was around.

"Well I can't be everywhere," Jack pointed out reasonably, and couldn't understand why they laughed.

They made their way back to their clearing, dropping the twins off on the way. It had been a toss up as to which was more important to Tom, staying with Mark or a slice of chocolate cake. Advised by his sensible mother, who knew her small son inside out, that he couldn't have both, he settled for the cake after Mark promised faithfully to play games with him when they got back to the campsite. Relieved, Mark liked the kid very much but needed to be alone with Peter, the four of them reached the clearing to find that Emily and Victor had returned from their walk.

After Simon and Jason left them Peter decided to take Mark to the shade straight away. They collected what they needed and walked to their tree where, once they were settled, Mark repeated what Jason had told him.

"I could have cried," he finished, hoping that Peter would come up with a solution that would make everything right.

"Markie, I'm sorry, but there's nothing that anyone can do about something like that. Simon is okay really, and no different to a lot of guys who don't want to settle down and move from one person to the next. Because he's very good looking he gets away with it and always will. Jason is different. He only wants Simon so he's taking him on any terms he can get. You say that Simon is taking advantage of him, but I'm not so sure. Don't you think that by going with him at all Simon is being kind in his own way? No, listen to me. Simon didn't ask Jason to fall in love with him and from what Jason told you, didn't encourage him in any way at all. The sad thing is that although Jason loves Simon, Simon doesn't love him. He's not the only one, it happens to a lot of people and you really need to hear Simon's side of the story before you start taking sides. And though Simon's like a butterfly flitting from one flower to the next, he has been kind enough to flit to Jason for a while, even though he doesn't love him."

"He doesn't love the other people he goes with either."

"No, he doesn't. He's attracted to them for sex. We don't know if he's attracted to Jason in the same way, and if he isn't, then what he does for him is a kindness, even if you don't like to think so."

"You're defending him."

"Not really, but I can see his side of the story as well. It's tiring to be loved by someone when you don't love them back. Think of Tom. He likes you, in hero worship sort of way, and you like him too and put up with him and are kind to him. But if you didn't like him it would be tiring to have him around so much. You would still be nice to him, but only out of kindness. It's the same sort of thing with Simon and Jason, in a more important way, of course."

Mark was forced to agree. It did make sense when he thought about it, but he still felt sorry for Jason.

"I do too," agreed Peter. "But if you really want to do something for him, I think the best way would be to encourage him to talk to other people. Because he only thinks about Simon he doesn't realise that there may be lots of people who would like to get to know him. I do use my eyes, Markie, and noticed one or two people looking at him today. Not when he was with you of course. When you're around no-one has eyes for anyone else."

Mark smiled but shook his head. "If they look at anyone, it's you."

Peter pulled him closer. "I'll tell you something else. Jason quite fancies you, though he wouldn't ever say so."

"Me?" asked Mark in an astonished voice.

"Who do you think he was looking at when he got hard this morning? Simon? No way. It was you. Our cocks don't tell lies and it was you he was watching each time it happened."

"Do you mean that he doesn't love Simon after all?"

"I'm sure he does, but maybe not quite as much as he thinks. It wouldn't surprise me if he isn't starting to get over Simon. It's not easy to stay in love with someone who gives you nothing in return. In fact I'm not sure if it's even possible. I've never come across it."

"Of course you have so much experience, being all those months older than me," declared Mark, with gentle sarcasm.

Peter smiled. "A lot more experience than you think, little boy," he answered, moving the hand that had been cupping Mark's buttock outside his costume to doing the same inside it. "I love the feel of your skin and muscle," he added as Mark twitched, "And talking about cocks telling the truth, what is yours saying right now?"

"You know very well," Mark told him, drawing in his breath as Peter's hand slipped further in, and began to caress him. "Pete, do you want to…"

Once again Peter debated taking him more into his confidence, and once again he was afraid to. "Shh. All I want to do is touch you. Don't worry about anything, just relax and enjoy it. This is just another way of turning you on."

Trustingly, Mark did as he was told, and gave himself up to sensation.

The following morning they said goodbye to the Shands and the boys produced the presents they had bought for the twins. These were received with noisy acclaim by Jack and in a much more subdued fashion by his brother. I'm really going to miss him, Mark thought, touched when, with tears in his eyes, Tom put his arms around him. Holding him gently Mark talked cheerfully about how nice it is going back to one's home and friends, and received a grateful look from Tom's mother. Then in a flurry of goodbyes and good wishes, they drove off, Mark and the Dorans waving them on their way.

Victor put a hand on his shoulder as they went back to their pitch. "He'll be alright. He'll miss you for a while, but by the time they get home he'll be fine."

"I know that really, but I hate saying goodbye."

"We all do. But that's the way life is, full of goodbyes. But there are compensations you know. Almost always just over the horizon there's a new hello coming along. You can't expect life to carry on the same all the time, everything changes."

"Everything?" Mark asked, thinking of himself and Peter.

"I think so," Victor responded, suspecting what Mark was thinking. "Relationships change as well over the years. If we're lucky, they get better, stronger and more loving. It can go the other way, but when people really love each other, that doesn't happen often. But it may take patience and understanding, even forgiveness sometimes, to keep the love strong. It depends on the people involved and how they handle the problems that all relationships encounter from time to time. Long standing love affairs don't just happen, they have to be worked at."

"It sounds as if you're saying that love isn't enough," Mark said in a small voice.

"It's very important, but there have to be other things as well," Victor replied, smiling at Emily who was walking with her arm around Peter's waist. "Like trust, thoughtfulness, kindness, and respect."

"Friendship too," Emily put in. "Oh yes, Pete. That is almost as important as all the rest put together. I've never known a true love affair that wasn't based on friendship. It may not have started that way, but if being friends doesn't come into the equation, the relationship is almost certainly doomed. That's why we don't worry too much about you two. We know that you're friends which means that the other things Vic mentioned are there as well."

"You really know all about us, don't you." Mark put it as a statement.

"We've known from the beginning, my dear."

"And you really don't mind?"

She moved closer and releasing Peter took one of Mark's small hands in hers. "We don't mind. I'm not saying it wouldn't be easier if you were a girl, but you're a boy, and we accept that. We wouldn't want to change you in any way at all. Either of you."

"We love you both as you are," added Victor.

Mark felt his throat tighten. I'm not going to cry he told himself, then almost broke down when Peter smiled and said, "Don't you dare start crying or you'll start me off."

"Oh no you won't," stated Victor briskly. "There is no way I'm taking a couple of howling boys to the beach. Everyone would think I'd been beating you."

Mark gave a watery chuckle. "It would be funny though."

"Yes," agreed Peter, getting into the swing of things. "We could walk along rubbing our bottoms and not saying a word, like this," he demonstrated, gazing at Victor with a pitifully hang dog look and sniffing dolefully. "And when people asked, we wouldn't say anything except that we deserved it. Everybody would marvel at how brave we were, newspapers would ask for our story, pay us lots and lots of money and we'd be rich! That's not going to happen if you three just laugh your heads off," he went on, regarding them accusingly. "We'd cut you and Em in on the profits, Vic. Don't you want to get rich?"

"Not like that," responded Victor, grinning. "The rest of us haven't got your acting ability!"

"You could at least try! I'm always thinking up with schemes to make us rich and I get no co-operation from anyone."

While he went on in the same vein, Mark couldn't decide whether he loved him more when he was being silly or when he was being serious. I never get bored with him he thought, then added to himself, I hope he never gets bored with me.

They spent a quiet morning lying in the sun with occasional dips in the sea. Peter permitted Mark to spend a little longer in the sun before applying the sun block, now that his skin was a little darker, but made sure he didn't burn. After his burst of high spirits he had become rather quiet and Mark thought that his hands were shaking slightly when he applied the sun cream. Even Emily was looking pale, and after their usual siesta during which they had done nothing more than hold each other, he was not surprised when she and Victor decided to return to the campsite.

"There's no need for you to come with us. Vic can pick you up later."

"We can easily come back on the bus so you don't need to bother, and we can leave when we feel like. Is that alright with you, Markie?"

"Yes of course it is. Are you sure you wouldn't like us to come with you now, Em?"

She gave his hand a squeeze. "I'll probably be better without you, more peaceful," she said glancing at Peter. "But thank you for offering. We'll take most of the stuff if you wouldn't mind helping us carry it to the car. I don't think I can manage much of it."

"Of course we will," said Mark immediately. She was beginning to look quite ill.

"Markie, can you manage without me?"

Switching his gaze, Mark saw that Peter too was looking unwell. "Pete, why don't we all go. I really don't mind."

"I don't think I can face the walk just at the moment. But I'll be okay soon, honest."

Mark intercepted a look between Emily and Victor that he was unable to interpret. He was sure that it was to do with Peter but had no idea what it meant and put it out of his mind as he tried to decide what to do. He needed to help Em and Vic, but he wanted to stay with Peter as well. Victor took the decision out of his hands.

"Stay here and rest, Pete. Mark can give us a hand then come back to you. We won't keep him too long," he finished with a slight emphasis that Mark didn't understand.

He felt that there was something going on that he couldn't grasp, some undercurrent that the Dorans were aware of but was hidden from him. Emily and Victor gave him no time to brood on it and while Peter sat in the shade of the beach umbrella, they packed everything except what the boys would need for the rest of the afternoon.

"Are you sure you'll be okay," Mark whispered just before they left.

Peter nodded reassuringly, "I'll be fine. Don't rush on the way back, take your time. I don't want you getting heat stroke or something. Promise you'll walk slowly. It's very hot."

Mark agreed. It was the hottest day they'd had so far and he knew that the walk to the road and back would be tiring but it didn't matter. He gave Peter a wave as they left.

They took their time. Mark and Victor carried the cool box, canted at an awkward angle because of their different heights, with carrier bags in their free hands holding whatever they hadn't been able to stuff into the rucksacks. Mark regretted losing the cool box, the large bottle of coke they'd left with Peter would be warm by the time he returned.

When they reached the road Emily, who was panting slightly and breathing through her mouth, had to sit on the style for a while before tackling the walk to the car which was a fair distance away. Victor retrieved some fruit juice from the cool box and insisted that Mark have a drink, explaining that it was very easy to get dehydrated when you weren't used to the heat. Then they walked slowly to the car.

Noticing his anxious face, Emily told him not to worry. "By the time you and Pete get back I'll have had a sleep and will be fine. We walked a little too far this morning, that's all."

He noticed that she was looking a little better now that she was sitting more comfortably and as the car had been shaded by of a group of trees it was reasonably cool. They urged him to have another drink and to put some more sun block on his nose and cheeks, using the tube they kept in the glove compartment. By the time they had scratched around for change for the bus and he had waved goodbye, three quarters of an hour had passed before, obedient to his instructions, he walked slowly back to the beach.

It was the first time since they'd arrived that he wasn't accompanied by Peter and it felt strange and rather lonely to be on his own. I've got used to being with Pete all the time, he thought, feeling a coldness in his heart when he recalled that it would be coming to an end soon. It was going to be hard to be alone for most of the time, now that he was used to spending his days with Peter, and his nights in his arms. Not only that, but he had become used to being loved. He stopped walking. Why had that thought crossed his mind?

Because nobody loved me before, he concluded. His father certainly hadn't and he wasn't sure about his mother. If she did love him, she had seldom shown it. She'd never ruffled his hair, put an arm round him, or kissed him like the Dorans did—. Emily and Victor surrounded both he and Peter with love.

As he started walking again he was unaware of the appreciative looks, some of them inviting, directed towards him. The fact that he was desirable had never really registered. Nor did he realise that had he been serious about losing his virginity, there were one or two matrons who would have been happy to relieve him of it—in the right circumstances. His unconscious sexuality, coupled with his air of innocence, was very appealing. But his absorption in Peter and the fact that they were always together, had given no one the opportunity to approach him.

Among the gay men, youths and boys thronging the beach, there was considerable speculation about he and Peter, and a good deal of envy as well, with opinions fairly equally divided as to which of them was the more attractive. One who had no doubts on that score looked up and waved, catching Mark's attention as he followed the path onto the beach.

Jason was sitting halfway between the dune and the sea, and when he reached him, Mark saw that he was looking thoroughly miserable. We all are, one way or another, he thought sadly, and although wanting to get back to Peter, he sat down to talk to him. Simon was nowhere in sight which probably accounted for Jason's mood.

Putting aside his own troubles and recalling Peter's advice, when the opportunity arose he suggested that Jason might try to meet other people, hinting that he, as well as Peter, had noticed that there were several people interested in him. He wasn't sure if he had convinced the other boy but when he left a few minutes later Jason looked a little happier.

Walking fast in anticipation, he climbed the dune and approached the place where they had left Peter, calling softly, "Pete, I'm back."

The clearing was empty.

Puzzled, he glanced around. The umbrella was still there and Peter's rucksack, pushed into the shade, but of the boy himself there was no sign. He's probably gone for a pee he decided, as he got the coke bottle out of the rucksack and drank from it directly without bothering to use the plastic mug. As he'd anticipated it was as warm and flat. Careful not to take too much in case Peter was thirsty, he recapped the bottle and replaced it. It was then that he noticed that Peter's towel was missing. He wasn't swimming—Jason would have seen him and mentioned it. Moving to the edge of the dune he scanned the water anyway but there was no sign of him. Although the beach stretched for a considerable distance in each direction, they always swam directly in front of where they sat and there was no reason why he would have gone further away. He must have gone inland then. But where, and why? He wouldn't have needed a pee, come to think of it, they had both gone earlier.

Could he have been feeling sick? But if so, why would he move away, unless he thought he was going to throw up. He wouldn't want to do that close to where they usually sat. Worriedly, he looked around again but although there were people wandering in all directions, there was no sign of Peter's compact form. Convinced that his solution was correct he tried to decide where he would have gone.

The thought of Peter on his own and feeling ill galvanised him into action. The sensible thing would be to retrace the route to their midday retreat. If he was going to be sick he wouldn't want anyone to see him. He collected his own towel and after a moment's thought, decided to take the coke as well. Peter's mouth would taste foul and he'd appreciate something to wash it out with. Wrapping the bottle in the towel to keep it as cool as possible, he placed it in his rucksack then rummaged through the front pocket to check that the packet of aspirin was there. He had never seen Peter take anything but if he had a headache he might accept a tablet or two.

Shrugging on the rucksack he set off down the side of the dune checking every clearing as he passed, sometimes going out of his way just in case. He had gone some distance when he realised that he had forgotten the sun block which was in Peter's rucksack. He hesitated, then recalled that he had put some on at the car so should be alright.

Several times he caught the flash of a red swimming costume but it was never quite the right shade. As he approached the lake he recollected that the pine tree, under which Tom had slept between them, was nearby and decided to check there before continuing on his way. To reach it he had to turn to his left and walk parallel to the lake then turn right and climb the dune which blocked the western end. The pine was just beyond the dune, standing by itself in the heather.

He stopped where Peter had stood behind him that first day, holding him quite openly as they looked across the water, but there was no sign of him back the way he had come so after a minute he turned away from the lake. In front of him the ground sloped up steeply and he decided to climb it to get a better view. He had reached the top and was about to turn and head towards the pine when a movement below him caught his eye and he looked down into a narrow, sand filled declivity in the side of the dune. His heart seemed to leap into his throat, and stay there.

It wasn't Peter down there, it couldn't possibly be. But even as he tried to convince himself, he knew that it was. He knew Peter's body too intimately to deny that it was the boy he loved, lying a few feet below him in the confined space.

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