Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today," Reverend Hortense began, "to praise the Lord, the Lord our God in Heaven above…."
As the Vicar's voice droned on interminably, the hundred and twenty boys of Merewood School who had managed to squeeze into the first, and by far the most popular, of the two back to back Sunday services, stirred restlessly.
Lit by sunlight streaming through the chapel's stained glass window the choir looked like multi-coloured waxworks. Watching them, Jack Green was grateful his voice had finally broken and glad he no longer had to suffer the teasing he'd put up with as a chorister. Then he spotted Ernest Jones, a prefect and the bane of his life. Jones was sitting at the end of the prefects' pew in the chancel, looking for slackers, whisperers, or any others he could put in detention. As Jones looked in his direction Jack lowered his head and opened his hymnal.
"Please stand," the Vicar intoned, and Jack sourly mimicked under his breath, "for hymn one hundred and seventy five ... Jerusalem!" The organ started playing as the congregation stood up.
Two pews behind, an exasperated Teddy Cross watched as his best friend, Rafe Johns, mooned over Jack. Rafe had never hidden his sexuality, and until recently Teddy hadn't minded. But this term, Rafe seemed to be taking less pains to hide his infatuation with Jack, and Teddy was finding it harder and harder to deal with. The organist finished the introduction, and the congregation began to sing.
And did those feet in ancient time, Walk upon England's mountains green
"You're mooning," Teddy whispered, poking Rafe sharply in the arm with his elbow. "Stop it."
Rafe started guiltily. "Sorry, Teddy," he mouthed back, still watching the boy two rows in front.
And was the holy Lamb of God, On England's pleasant pastures seen
After the service Rafe persuaded Teddy to hang around outside in the sun and wait for Jack to emerge. A crowd of boys for the second service was milling around, waiting to be signed off the register and allowed into the chapel. As they started to file in Rafe realised he must have missed Jack.
"Umm ... do you mind if we attend the second service, too, Teddy?" Rafe asked, watching the chapel door and chewing his bottom lip anxiously.
"Are you out of your mind?" Teddy hissed, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him to one side, out of the view of the prefect in charge of roll call. "Enough is enough, Rafe! Sitting through two services is going a tad too far, my friend. We need to talk ..." He kept hold of his friend's arm, steered him through the throng, and propelled him down the path leading away from the chapel and into the woods. "... we really need to talk." Rafe looked at his feet and smiled.
Jack had no idea he was the object of anyone's affection. Though he was a good-looking tow-haired youth of sixteen, he thought he was ugly, and the occasional spots he suffered only helped damage his self-esteem. Though a loner, he had been popular until the beginning of the previous term, when he had foolishly asked why some of the other boys in his dormitory found girls so attractive. To Jack the question was a logical one: he'd wanted to know. But to those who had been ogling the Playboy centre-fold, his question instantly classed him as an oddity, and probably a queer as well. They hadn't let him forget it.
That same night, after a hard fought game of squash, Jack had arrived back to find that his bed had been short-sheeted, and that his towel was soaking wet. He wasn't a coward, and had proceeded to beat Smith, a boy he'd caught smirking and who had fifty pounds and three inches on him, into submission. After that the whole dorm had sent him to Coventry, except for Oliver Fredricks, the class oddball.
Ostracised, and feeling pretty miserable, Jack had found his spare towel and had been walking to the bathroom when someone tapped him on the shoulder. Sighing, Jack whipped around, his fists clenched.
"Whoa there, Jacky, I didn't mean to startle you," Oliver said, holding his hands out, palms upwards. The rest of the dorm had surrounded them, thinking there was going to be a fight.
"Thump him, Fredricks, give the ponce a good slap," Herring Junior said, safely ensconced behind Smith's bulk.
"Herring, you pillock, I'm trying to make a friend here, not be slayed like Smith was earlier." Oliver held out his right hand and quirked his eyebrow, causing Jack to grin.
"What, you a bloody poof too, Fredricks?" Herring sneered.
"What I am is my business, Herring, not yours." Oliver turned and glared at each of the boys surrounding them. " Or any of yours!" Jack saw them begin to shuffle about uncomfortably.
"And whatever you fanciers of big tits think, I'm not queer either!" Jack added, flipping Herring off. There was a momentary pause as somebody laughed, then the pack broke up, Herring and Smith grumbling as they went back to their cubicles.
"That was close," Oliver said.
"Yeah," Jack said. "Umm … just so's you know I'm really not a queer."
Oliver frowned. "Neither am I, but it wouldn't make a difference, anyway." He smiled at the blue-eyed boy who had been quietly supportive of his odd ways and without hesitation offered his hand again. Jack decided he really wanted to take it.
"Are you sure?"
"Yup, I am. My hand might think it's got a mind of its own, Jack, but I'm the one in charge. Besides, I've got a reputation too, so, ah…," he chuckled, "you've got as much to loose as I have."
They shook, and from that moment on were firm friends.
Oliver was the reason Rafe and Teddy hadn't seen Jack leaving the first service. The school's chapel was the proud owner of a nineteenth century hand pumped bellows organ. Even though it was possible to retrofit an electric pump, and the funds for the upgrade had been put aside, the Vicar had decided it was a more personal and apt way of worshiping the Lord for boys to manually pump the organ bellows during services.
Oliver had been scheduled to be 'a pumper' for the second service, but as he'd had other plans, he'd persuaded Jack to take his place. Consequently Jack was down in the crypt pumping the bellows along with Gustav Munchen, a boy he hardly knew, whilst Rafe and Teddy were walking off into the woods.
You can't go on like this, Rafe," Teddy started, unsure of quite how to couch what was on his mind.
"Like what, Teddy? I am what I am, you know that. I've never lied to you." Rafe took a deep breath. "I'm in love with someone who has no idea I exist."
"You're a senior, for God's sake, and he's a lot younger than you are...."
"Not that much younger, Teddy," Rafe interrupted, "and didn't you tell me your dad is two years older than your mum?"
The path petered out as they arrived at what was colloquially known by the students as 'Threa': an ancient oak that stood at the edge of the woods, overlooking a large meadow. An old bench encircled the tree, polished over the years by the myriad of trousers that had sat on it. As the boys sat down Rafe imagined the tree was smiling down on them benevolently. The meadow's grass was dotted here and there with brightly coloured summer wildflowers, adding splashes of gold, red and purple where it ran down to the shore of a lake. There, an old boathouse stood next to a rickety wooden jetty. A small half-moon shaped island lay in the middle of the lake. Both the lake and the island were strictly 'out of bounds' to the boys.
"Wow, look Teddy! A trout jumped, I think," Rafe said, pointing at a large circular ripple on the lake and forgetting for a moment that he'd been brought there for a lecture. Teddy scratched his head and relaxed, putting his arms along the backrest behind them, his left arm draped behind Rafe.
"So tell me then, Rafey."
"I've told you, Teddy. I'm in love," Rafe chuckled ruefully, "though most of the time I'm sure I'm going to be one of those unrequited sorts. You know, like the old guy, Von Aschenbach, in 'Death in Venice', though my love is far more beautiful than Tadzio." He paused, and Teddy saw a lone tear run down his friend's cheek. "I shall probably die of some dreadful illness, and he'll never even know I existed." Rafe turned, smiling wanly. Looking away at the lake, Teddy swallowed nervously, as somewhere behind them a lark started singing.
"Why Jack?" Teddy asked eventually, not expecting a reply. He'd asked the question many times, and each and every time he'd asked, Rafe had prevaricated. This time Rafe didn't answer at all. Teddy looked at his friend and was astonished to see he was weeping. Compassion took over. Mildly surprised at himself, Teddy wrapped his arms around Rafe and pulled him close, murmuring sweet calming nothings and rubbing his back. After a minute or two Rafe's tears seemed to stop and he laid his head on his best friend's shoulder.
In the crypt of the chapel Jack was having problems with his fellow 'pumper'. Gustav Munchen was in a rival house, and was, as Herring would have said, as 'camp as a row of tents'. He was also, as far as Jack was concerned, singularly unattractive, overweight, and a pain in the arse - though he shuddered at the image that thought provoked.
"Jacky?" Gustav panted, and took a break from the pump handle, which meant Jack had to work twice as hard.
"Hmm?" Jack was starting to pant, too.
"I hear that you are … you are ... umm ... gay."
"Oh, and where did you hear that?" Jack asked, thankfully stopping, as the organ's reservoir was now full and the sermon had begun.
"Oh, ve hav our vays!" Gustav said in a mock spy movie accent that made Jack roll his eyes in despair.
"Yes, I'm sure," Jack said sardonically, as he pulled a hankie from his pocket and wiped his brow. "It's your turn to pump after the sermon." He sighed, and ignoring the German boy, tipped his chair back against the wall and closed his eyes as the strident tones of Hortense's usual threats of fire and brimstone filtered down to them.
Jack thought he was dreaming when a minute or so later he felt something on his knee. Opening his left eye fractionally, he saw Gustav's hand there, the boy lasciviously eyeing his crotch. With a roar of anger Jack leapt to his feet, the chair clattering loudly on the crypt floor behind him. Jack leant over and pulled Gustav to his feet then struck him on the chin, knocking the lad over his chair and into a heap on the floor.
"I am not fucking gay!" Jack shouted, totally unaware of the silence that had fallen over the service going on above. "And even if I were, it's none of your bloody business, you ... you awful creature!" A clatter of feet coming down the crypt steps snapped him back to reality, and with a groan he offered Gustav his hand. The German boy, who had started quietly sobbing, slapped it away, and with a look of pure poison started bawling loudly instead.
"Fuck you then, Munchen," Jack said, and, picking up his overturned chair, sat down and folded his arms.
Ernest Jones had watched the Vicar's sermon peter out as the sound of some calamity in the crypt below interrupted him. As the prefect on duty he had been on his way to investigate the noise when he'd heard the outrageous language uttered by one of the 'pumpers'. Looking back he'd seen the Vicar turn a rather nasty shade of puce, which from personal and rather painful experience Jones knew boded ill. After all, the man had a temper on him that belied his dog collar, and his supposed belief in turning the other cheek.
Ernest descended the spiral stairs to find Gustav Munchen on the floor, sobbing. Jack Green, on the other hand, was sitting calm as you like, with his arms folded. Unfortunately, the Vicar was hard on Ernest's heels.
"Take them both to the vestry, Jones," Reverend Hortense said, smiling. "After the service I'll make sure they see the error of their ways."
"I'll deal with them, sir," Jones said, as was his right as a school prefect.
"I think not, m' boy."
"But sir," Ernest replied, "I think there's only one culprit here. The other boy looks to be in agony."
Hortense's facial tick started up. "Very well, send the fat one to the San, and the other brat to the vestry." He gripped Jones' arm tightly. "Remember, m' boy, 'Spare the rod and spoil the child!'" With a swirl of vestments, The Vicar disappeared upstairs.
"He tried to molest me, Jones," Jack said flatly, knowing it would do no good.
"He's lying," Gustav simpered. "He's a lying pig."
"Be quiet, both of you," Jones hissed, guessing that Jack was telling the truth but unable to fathom a way of dissipating the Vicar's wrath.
Meanwhile, Oliver had been called into the house captain's study and given an urgent message to deliver to Teddy. First he'd tried the house where James, Teddy's study mate, told him that Teddy hadn't come back from first chapel. Next, he'd tried the common room, then the tuck shop - totally forgetting it was Sunday. In desperation he tried the squash and fives courts, but had no luck there either. He was on his way back to the house to report his lack of success when he saw Jack limping slowly up the Turkey Run, being supported by Jones. Oliver ran over to them.
"What did you do to him?" he almost spat at Jones, who had seen the youngster coming and had stopped.
"Stow it Olly, it wasn't Jones," Jack muttered and winced as Oliver wrapped his arm around him and took his weight from the prefect.
"Oh ... sorry, Jones, but you know how you are, umm ... normally, I mean." Ernest was about to reprimand the boy, then thought better of it.
"I'm a prefect, it's what prefects do, though in this case I'm honestly more than sorry to be involved. Now, Oliver, take Jack back to the house. You're going to have to bathe his back carefully with disinfectant."
"But he needs to go to the San, Jones." Oliver started indignantly. "The San would…."
"I don't want to be fussed over, Olly, please," Jack interrupted, almost too quietly to hear.
"Please, mate." Jack was looking ill. Oliver looked at Jones for support, but the older boy just shrugged.
"Okay, my friend, if that's what you want."
"I'm glad he's in good hands, Olly," Jones said, stressing the boy's nickname. He had a reputation to maintain, but he wasn't an ogre, and he'd felt sickened as he'd had to watch Jack being unmercifully beaten by Hortense. "I have things to do now," he finished, and turned on his heel and walked away.
"Come on chum, let's get you back to the dorm and cleaned up," Oliver said, far more cheerfully than he felt. Slowly the boys set off.
As Oliver took Jack back to the house Ernest walked back up the Turkey Run towards the main school building, ruminating. Since he'd arrived at Merewood as a Junior, he'd slowly changed from an outward going and vivacious personality to a quiet and introspective one. He'd felt it happening, and there was only one person to blame. "Hortense," Ernest muttered under his breath, clenching his fists.
Oliver was nearly in tears at the sight of his friend's back. As carefully as possible he'd helped Jack back to the house and into his cubicle in the dormitory, which thankfully was empty. Then he'd gone and fetched a basin of hot water, a salt-cellar from the boys' kitchen, and his clean flannel. He'd got back to find Jack still standing by his bed and looking out of the window.
"Why aren't you sitting down, Jack?" he'd asked. Slowly his friend had turned to him, pain written in his eyes.
"I can't, Olly, it hurts too much," he'd said, and with that, fainted.
Oliver wasn't sure how he'd managed to get Jack out of his clothes and face down on his bed: after all Jack was heavier than he was. But he had, and now he was looking down at utter carnage. Livid striped weals stretched from the top of Jack's thighs, across his buttocks and up onto his lower back. Most of the marks were weeping blood. This wasn't a normal caning, this was a brutal and savage assault, and Oliver found he was weeping with anger.
He knew he should call their House Master, and probably an ambulance and the police as well: yet Jack had insisted that 'he didn't want to cause a fuss', and on the way back to the house he had made Oliver promise he wouldn't tell anyone, no matter what. Whatever had happened, Jack was his best friend and he wasn't about to break his promise, though he was sorely tempted. Oliver clenched his fists, then forcing himself to calm down, he added the contents of the salt-cellar to the bowl and tested the temperature. Jack was still unconscious; tenderly, and with great care, Oliver started to clean his wounds.
The Headmaster's secretary, was surprised to see the angry looking boy, especially on a Sunday. Still, as the Headmaster had an open door policy with school prefects, his visit wasn't that unusual, and she asked him to wait. Ernest was chewing on his thumbnail and staring vacantly at an old painting of the school when the Headmaster's study door opened and the Vicar walked out. Hortense paused, frowning as he saw the boy.
"Jones, I thought you would be out gallivanting with your friends. What are you doing here?"
"Waiting to see the Headmaster, sir," Ernest said calmly, his nails digging into his palms.
"Ah, I see, and for why?"
"That's probably for me to find out, Montague," the Headmaster interrupted jovially, walking out of his study and ushering the Vicar towards the door.
"Quite so." The Vicar replied, "but if it was a crisis of faith I thought I ...."
"If it were a crisis of faith I've no doubt Ernest would have come straight to you, rather than me. Isn't that so, Ernest?"
"There you are then, Montague. Have a good afternoon. No doubt I'll see you at supper."
"Yes, Headmaster." Hortense glanced at Ernest once more, then left. The Headmaster closed the door, smiled at his secretary, then beckoned Ernest into his study.
Teddy had known it was a bad idea the moment they got in the boat. Rafe had a way of persuading him to do things he wouldn't normally consider.
"Let's go to the island," he'd said, lifting his head from Teddy's shoulder and blinking. "Let's go to the island, Teddy." Teddy'd closed his eyes lest his demons persuade him that Rafe might mean more than the obvious.
"No, Rafe, we can't. It's out of bounds," he'd said, putting more severity in his tone than he'd intended. He'd felt Rafe tense, and then take a deep breath before grabbing him by the hand and pulling him to his feet. He'd opened his eyes in surprise.
"Race you to the boat, Dearheart!" Rafe had said as he took off in full flight down the meadow. It took Teddy less than a second to follow, and they fell in a giggling heap just short of the jetty.
"Rafe?" Teddy had said when he'd got his breath back. "Did you ... uh ... did you ... call me Dearheart?" He finished in a rush, regretting he'd asked the moment he had.
"Maybe," Rafe had answered, looking away.
Now they were rowing across to the island. Or rather, Teddy thought, he was rowing and keeping a sharp lookout for masters and prefects, while Rafe was sunning himself, his hand trailing in the water, his eyes closed. He was smiling.
Ernest watched the Headmaster of Merewood, pace up and down in front of the picture window that overlooked the Turkey Run. He was starting to feel nervous as it was obvious the Headmaster was livid, and trying hard to control his temper.
Finally, after a good few minutes of silence and pacing, the Headmaster sat down, steepled his hands and, taking a deep breath, sighed.
"I know I've asked you this several times already, Ernest, but you're quite sure?"
"Yes sir," Ernest said quietly, "I am."
The Headmaster sighed again. The formal complaint Ernest was making was pushing him into a corner and forcing him to take action. It wasn't that he lacked the moral fibre required to do what had to be done, it was more that he knew he should have done it years ago.
"Right," the Headmaster said finally. "Right. Now, I have several calls to make. So I would like you to go back to your house and find out how Jack Green is doing. If you think it's necessary I want you to take him to the San. Then, and only if he's fit enough, I'd like you both to come back to my office. Alright?"
"Yes sir." Ernest stood up.
"And if I'm not here when you return, please wait."
The Headmaster waited until Ernest had left, then buzzed through to his secretary.
"Get me the Chairman of the Board of Governors, please Janice." He was watching Ernest walking up the Turkey Run when his phone rang.
"Jesus Christ!" Ernest blurted out as he looked over Oliver's shoulder at Jack's back. Oliver stopped his careful swabbing and turned to look at the older boy.
"If Jesus allowed one of his own to do this, then…." Oliver tried to blink back tears; Ernest wrapped his arms around the boy.
"We have to take him to the San, Oliver." Wiping his eyes, Oliver shook him off.
"No! I promised him!"
"It's all right, Oliver. The Headmaster instructed me to."
"It's not alright!" Oliver shook his head. "Jack's my best friend, and I ... I promised him. I promised him! He doesn't want a fuss made, Jones." Ernest turned away and closed his eyes as repressed images, images that caused his frequent nightmares, came crashing inward. He whimpered, then took a deep breath.
"And do you know why, Oliver? Do you know why he doesn't want a fuss?" Slowly the younger boy shook his head, locking eyes with the elder.
"Shut up, Erny." Jack said, his voice full of pain. As Oliver knelt down to comfort him, Ernest replied.
"It's too late, Jacky, too late. I've told the Headmaster everything."
"I don't believe it," Teddy said. He was lying on his back next to Rafe and watching the clouds drift across the sky.
"I knew you wouldn't," Rafe replied. "But it's true none the less."
"Don't over analyse it, Teddy. Just accept it for what it is."
"But ... I just ... I don't understand how you knew." At the same time both boys turned so they could see one another. Teddy watched as Rafe's nose twitched from the summer pollen. He wasn't entirely sure, but he didn't think he'd ever been happier. "Well?"
"I knew I loved you from the very first moment we met: back in the fourth," Rafe said, as Teddy watched his eyes twinkle, and saw the smile he loved. "And I thought you felt the same."
"Even back then?"
"Mmm, yes." Rafe blinked, then sat up and sneezed. "Sorry." Teddy pulled out his hankie and passed it across. "Thank you, Dearheart. So ... did you?"
"Oh yes." Teddy nodded, "but I couldn't tell you."
"Why on earth not?"
"Because I was shy, and you were popular, happy, and open about…." Teddy paused, his eyes almost popping out of his head as Rafe leant across, and gently, oh so gently, kissed him for the very first time. He pulled back and frowned. "Uh, being gay. Umm ... have you?"
Rafe shook his head. "No. I was waiting for you."
"What about Jack?" Teddy asked. After all, he'd watched Rafe moon over the youngster for so long he couldn't believe there wasn't anything more to it.
"He's my cousin, and a good friend," Rafe said, trying to keep a straight face. "The thing is, we plotted together to ... umm ... make you jealous." Their hands found each other and intertwined, and this time it was Teddy who leant across to kiss Rafe. He was surprised when Rafe pulled away.
"What?" Teddy asked.
"Well? Did it work?" Rafe's eyes crinkled in laughter as Teddy blushed.
"There you are, Jack," Oliver said, slipping into the chair on the opposite side of the library table. "I've been looking for you everywhere. It's almost as if you were hiding from ...." He broke off, suddenly aware that his friend hadn't looked at him.
It had been nearly a month since Jack had got out of the San, and two since the police had arrived to arrest the Reverend Hortense. Yet rather than getting better, Oliver had noticed Jack withdrawing further into himself. Along with Jack's cousin, Rafe, and his new study mate, Teddy, he'd done everything he could think of to help his friend recover; all to no avail. Jack seemed to be getting more and more depressed and distant, and Oliver couldn't work out why. That afternoon he was determined to find out what was going on, once and for all.
"You weren't hiding from me were you, Jacky?" Oliver asked quietly. Finally, Jack looked up, and Oliver was shocked to see tears in his eyes.
"Yes," Jack said flatly, blinking back tears. "Please go, Olly." Oliver was about to get up, then changed his mind. He leant forward, rested his elbows on the table, his head in his hands, and looked directly at his friend.
"I, uh ... oh God, I just need you to ... please." Jack's voice seemed to break on the 'please', and Oliver, hearing his friend's pain, and without a second thought leant over to hug him. There was an audible crack, and stars seemed to appear before Oliver's eyes as he found himself flung backwards by Jack's fist. His head hit the floor and darkness consumed him.
"Olly ... Olly, Oliver, wake up!"
Head hurting, Oliver felt himself being gently shaken. He opened his eyes to see the concerned faces of Teddy and Rafe looming above him.
"Uh ... where am I?"
"On the couch, in the library," Teddy said. "We came immediately after we heard. Are you okay?" Blearily, Oliver tried to remember. It had been almost dark in the library when he'd found Jack sitting alone; now a few lights were on, though it still seemed quiet. Groaning, he sat up and felt the lump on the side of his jaw, then looked at Teddy.
"He's gone." Teddy said. Oliver noticed the older boys were holding hands, which somehow made him feel better. He struggled to his feet, swaying slightly.
"I'd best get back to the house and sort this out, then," he said, trying to smile.
"No, Olly, he's gone home," Rafe said, " Jack's gone home." He paused, glancing at Teddy and squeezing his hand. "Herring delivered a note to us, with a letter for you." He passed a dark blue envelope across. "I'm sorry." Oliver looked at the envelope, surreptitiously sniffing it when Teddy and Rafe glanced at each other. He slid his finger through the top of the flap and pulled out a single sheet of folded paper before stopping. He frowned.
"Why did you say 'I'm sorry'?"
"Because we thought you were good together." Rafe coughed, "didn't we Teddy?" In the dim light Olly saw him blush.
"Mmm." Teddy agreed, and seemed to melt into Rafe's arms as if they would protect him from harm.
"I love you, Jack," Oliver murmured under his breath as he unfolded the letter.
Dear Oliver, I'm so sorry I hit you, more sorry than you'll ever believe. Once you finish this letter you'll probably hate me, but never as much as I hate myself. When I was in the San I had a lot of time to think, and one of the things I thought about was our friendship. You've been the best friend anyone could have hoped for: loyal, brave, kind and true. When I was sent to Coventry you were the only one to stand by me. And I did nothing except take your friendship and lie to you. We shook hands and I told you I wasn't queer, but it was a lie. I realised it in the San, and that is why I've been avoiding you. The thing is I am queer, and I love you, Oliver. I wanted to tell you when you came to the library. I was going to tell you, but I choked up and I couldn't. Then you leant over the table and I lost it. I wanted to hug you so badly, but instead…
Oliver knew tears were coursing down his cheeks, knew that Teddy and Rafe were watching him as he wiped his face with the sleeve of his shirt. He knew, but he didn't care, as with trembling hands he turned the page over.
...I hit you. So I've gone home. I think it's better for both of us, and definitely better for you. I love you, Oliver. Truly and forever, Jack.
As he finished Jack's letter Oliver felt a surge of affection so pure and strong he almost laughed. Sadly, he thought, as he folded the letter and put into his pocket, Jack wasn't there to share the moment. He looked at his watch, then he was on his feet.
"Get me to the station, chaps. Fast as, please!" Teddy and Rafe looked confused.
"But ...." Teddy started.
"Now would be good!" Oliver grabbed them by their arms and frog marched them out of the library towards the car park. "If you don't take me I'll steal the minibus."
"So you ...?" Teddy petered out.
"What? Love him? Of course I do. I always have. Which only goes to show I'm as stupid as he is."
A train was pulling out of the platform as Teddy drove into the station's car park. Oliver leapt out before they stopped, ran across the forecourt, through the ticket office, and onto the platform just as the last carriage entered the tunnel: the rear warning light glowering red as it disappeared into the gloom. Panicked, Oliver scanned the platform and was about to scream in frustration when he spotted a shadowy figure sitting on a bench, head in hands. Heart beating nineteen-to-the-dozen, Oliver approached the figure quietly, then stopped. The panic in his heart eased slightly as he saw it was Jack.
Suddenly shy, and unsure of what to do, Oliver hung back in the shadows of the platform's wooden awning and watched his friend. Running his tongue around suddenly dry lips, he wondered what to say. He'd known he was odd since forever, but it wasn't his shyness that had prevented him from doing anything about it: it was his feelings for Jack, and, according to Jack's letter, they both felt the same.
Oliver watched as Jack's shoulders started to heave. Then he heard sobs and, throwing caution to the wind, walked over and sat down on the bench.
"Jacky," he said quietly. Jack froze, then slowly turned until Oliver could see his tear streaked face.
"'lo Olly." Jack said, wiping his face with his hands and sniffling. "What on earth are you doing here?" Oliver knew it was his turn to come clean, but everything he wanted to say seemed to be stuck inside him. He gulped, his throat suddenly dry.
"I … I came to say…." He choked up, the prickling of tears making it hard to think. What he wanted to do was lean over and kiss his friend. Instead, he found himself offering him his hankie. Jack took it, wiped his face, blew his nose, and scrunching it into a ball, put it in his pocket. Oliver couldn't bear it anymore. It was so stupid that both of them felt the same thing, yet neither of them could say it. Oliver pulled the letter out of his pocket and pressed it into Jack's hand.
"I came to say you're a stupid bugger, Jack Green, and I love you, too!" He blurted out, then shuddered as he found himself wrapped in Jack's arms, the touch and scent of his friend making him happier than he could have believed possible.
On the other side of the station's fence, Teddy and Rafe stood hand in hand watching the two on the bench. "All's well that ends well, then, eh, Teddy?"
"It looks like it, Dearheart, it certainly looks like it."
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