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by Charles Lacey

Chapter 1

"Oi! Paki!"

I looked around to see who was shouting. A single dark-skinned boy was passing along Curwen Street. Behind him, three white youths were following, all of them a year or two older by the looks of them.

"Oi! You, Paki!"

The youth in front shouted again. The dark-skinned boy he was shouting at stopped and looked nervously over his shoulder. He started to run, but the three following him had no difficulty in catching him up as they were older and larger and he was burdened with his school satchel.

"F…ing Paki," another of the gang called, grabbing the boy's shoulders while another one snatched his satchel away. "What about a bit of respect for your betters?"

The boy looked around helplessly. I was torn. Should I intervene? It could result in my getting beaten up too. No, far more sensible to turn around, ignore what was going on, make myself scarce. On the other hand... by the time I'd made up my mind, I had already started walking towards the scene. The youth who had already taken the Indian-looking boy's school satchel now tore it open and scattered its contents on the ground, then trod on what looked like quite a good fountain pen. Given the recent rain and the usual condition of Birmingham streets, the books were likely to be ruined.

I went over and started picking up the boy's books and putting them back in his satchel. The three youths looked at me, astonished. "What are you, a f…ing Paki-lover?" one of them asked. The other two were forcing the unfortunate boy to his knees, to the great detriment of his trousers. He had begun to cry, which gave them further opportunity to taunt him. The two who had forced the boy to his knees now pushed his head down, rubbing his face in the dirt.

"That's enough," I said, loudly and firmly, "now leave him alone. He's not done you any harm."

This turned their attention away from the boy towards me. What they didn't know was that I was something of an athlete and trained two or three times a week in the gymnasium. The biggest one grabbed my arm, but it was not too difficult to throw him. He retired, nursing a wrenched elbow. The second one grabbed me from behind, an arm hooked around my neck. Well, that was an easy one. I pushed with my toes and fell backwards. I landed soft on the body of the lout behind me, who now ceased to take any notice of anything other than his grazed shoulders and bruised head. I got up, went over to the third one who was still tormenting the boy, opened my hand and slapped the side of his head, hard. Then I helped the Indian boy to get up and collected what remained of his property.

He looked at me, eyes wide in astonishment. I don't think a white boy – or perhaps anyone at all – had ever stood up for him or helped him before. But his face was covered with cuts and dirt and I could see that he would need some help to get it cleaned up. Fortunately they didn't seem to have damaged his eyes. My parents were a doctor and a nurse and I had learned enough from them, as well as a First Aid course which I'd done with the Scouts a year or two earlier, to know he'd need the damage to be cleaned and treated with antiseptic if he were to avoid the likelihood of serious infection. The three louts, now realising that they were outclassed if not outnumbered – and I think the one I'd fallen on top of was still reeling from the fall and the bruises – contented themselves with letting off a lot of threats and foul language from a safe distance, before taking themselves off.

When I got home, Mum was in but Dad was still at the hospital where he worked. Mum was very much the hospital nurse, brisk and no-nonsense, but with a kindly concern as well. Unlike Dad, she was quite small and delicate-looking, though she could be pretty ferocious if necessary. They'd both expressed strong opinions to me about racial violence, so I knew they'd approve my actions. As you'd expect, Mum was a bit surprised to find me turning up with an Indian boy, dirty and bleeding, in tow, but her professional training kicked in straight away.

"Into the kitchen, both of you," she said briskly. "Jack, get a chair for your friend. What's your name, young man?"

"Sanwar, Miss. Sanwar Khurana."

"Hello, Sanwar. I'm Mrs Hemming. I'm a nurse, so I can look after you."

The boy sat, looking completely dazed, in the kitchen chair I put next to the table for him. Mum said, "This is going to sting a bit. Jack, catch your friend's hand while I get to work. He'll need something to hold onto."

She soaked some cotton wool in water with a few drops of Savlon added and as gently as possible cleaned the muck from his face. He held onto my hand, trying not to wince as the antiseptic stung, but he could not stop himself taking a sharp intake of breath through his teeth two or three times. Little by little she went over the abrasions, making sure they were clean so that they could heal.

When she had finished, Mum said, "Well, Sanwar, that's the best I can do for you. At least there are no deep cuts which would need stitching. Where do you live? Can you get home?"

Sanwar replied, "I live in Wilton Street, In one of the flats there. I'm not quite sure of the way from here but I will be alright, I'm certain." He spoke clearly and rather precisely, but with a definite accent.

"Well, Jack can walk home with you, it's not far. We don't want you getting lost as well as injured." What she didn't say, but I knew she meant, was that we didn't want him meeting those louts again and getting another battering. I was pleased that Mum trusted me to look after him.

I'd vaguely recognized Sanwar from school. We were obviously much of an age, so if he wasn't in my year he could only have been one year different. But it was a huge place with nearly a thousand pupils so it was not surprising that I hadn't really come across him before. But I thought, I must keep an eye open for him; I'd like to get to know him a bit better. Fortunately racial prejudice was sternly discouraged at school; even in those days Birmingham was very much a polyglot community and we had several Pakistani and Indian boys, as well as a handful from the West Indies and even a couple of black lads from Kenya.

I made us all a cup of tea which we drank with some biscuits before we left. I'd lived in the area all my life and knew every street for miles around. I'd always enjoyed walking and exploring, and often set off early and took a roundabout way to or from school. A couple of times I looked around at Sanwar. He really was a nice-looking boy, I thought, with an intelligent, sensitive face. And if he was a bit timid, it was not surprising. There was a lot of prejudice around and some of the local toe-rags had no inhibitions about expressing it.

I'd walked along Wilton Street many times. It had old-fashioned red-brick terraced houses for part of its length, but wartime bombing had wrecked one end of the street and the Council had put up several large and, to my way of thinking, hideously ugly blocks of flats to replace them, built of reinforced concrete with some sort of cladding on the outside. They may have been convenient, cheap and able to accommodate many more people than the old terraces, but they were soulless and gave no sense of community. Where the old houses had survived, you would see people on a warm evening bringing out a kitchen chair to sit on and chat with their neighbours, and the women would talk to one another at any time over the garden fences, but in the flats everyone stayed behind closed doors.

The lift was out of order; Sanwar told me that it very seldom worked. We climbed three flights of unadorned cement steps (the handrail was broken away on the first of them) and went along a narrow passageway and then Sanwar opened the door to his flat. I'd never seen inside one of these places before and it was something of a shock. The door opened onto a square, boxy living room; it was clean but cluttered and there was a strong scent of spices and incense. A middle-aged Indian woman, rather small and plump, wearing a brightly-coloured sari, came in from the kitchen. She exclaimed over Sanwar, clucking over his injuries and looking at me with the greatest suspicion. Two younger Indian children, a boy and a girl, looked on, mouths and eyes wide open, but making no sound. Sanwar spoke to his mother in a language I didn't recognize but which I later found was Urdu. Then she turned to me, head bowed and hands pressed together, and spoke again. I didn't understand, of course, but Sanwar translated for me in his accented but clear and precise English. "Mother says she is grateful for all your kindness. As indeed am I. We thank you from our hearts. You will take some refreshment?"

Again I noticed his rather precise way of speaking and his rather formal phrases. I didn't really want anything to eat just then as I'd be getting my dinner before long, but it seemed discourteous to refuse. He spoke to his mother again, and she bustled out of the room, returning shortly with a glass of milk and an Indian sweetmeat. It was a kind of soft pastry, obviously flavoured with nuts and honey, and it was delicious. I ate it and drank the milk, and then said to Sanwar, "I must go home now. Will you be alright?"

He said, "Yes, I am sure I will. And thank you again for your kindness."

Then he made the same gesture to me that his mother had done, pressing his hands together and bowing his head.

"Sanwar," I asked, "do you often have trouble with that kind of thing?"

"No, not often. But sometimes."

"Well, if it happens again, let me know. I can easily walk home with you, it isn't really out of my way."

"Oh… thank you… but I couldn't put you to that trouble…"

"It wouldn't be any trouble. I like to take different routes to walk home, and this is as good as any."

He thanked me again as I left and made my way home. I was glad that I had been able to help him, and I knew my parents would approve my actions, but I had no idea then that this had been the starting point from which my life would take off in a completely new direction. I just thought that he seemed a very nice young chap and that I'd like to get to know him a bit better. I was never really the sociable type and although I got on well enough with most of my class-mates at school I had no really close friends.

Dad was home when I got in and Mother was telling him about my, or rather Sanwar's, adventures. He was a tall man, not overweight but solid-looking, fair haired and blue eyed, with big, capable hands. He worked as a consultant physician at the same hospital where Mum was a nurse, but they tended to travel separately as their working hours could vary a good deal. He listened to Mum, then rumpled my hair (though he knows how much it annoys me!) and said, "Good man. I wonder if your friend's related to Sanjay Khurana. He's one of the hospital porters. I'll ask him tomorrow. But I tell you what, it might be better if I collect you from school in the car for the next few days. Those idiots might be waiting for you."

Dad was as good as his word; for each of the next few days he was waiting for me in the car, though I think he'd had to make some pretty quick re-arrangements of his schedule. I rather wished he wouldn't, because I usually quite enjoyed the walk home. But I knew him well enough to know there was no point in arguing about it.

So it was on the following Monday that I again started to walk home from school. For some reason I thought I'd go via Wilton Street and see if I could see Sanwar. I got to the block of flats where he lived and opened the door. As soon as I went in I could see something like a big, messy bundle of rags lying at the foot of the stairs. I went over quickly for a closer look and it was Sanwar, covered in dust and grime, unconscious and bleeding profusely from a scalp wound. I hammered on the nearest door, which was opened by a white man (or, rather, a dirty grey one) who looked at me with the greatest suspicion.

"There's a boy lying there," I said. "I think he's fallen down the stairs. Please ring for an ambulance."

The reply startled me. "Nah. 'E's only one of them darkies from upstairs."

"But he's injured," I persisted, "he needs to be taken to hospital."

"That's 'is lookout. And you can just f--- off." And with that, he slammed the door in my face.

Oh well, I thought, I can't try all the doors. There was a 'phone box a hundred yards down the road which, for a miracle, hadn't been vandalised. I dialled 999 for an ambulance, gave them the address and then returned to the flats. I stayed with Sanwar, sitting beside him on the bottom step, until I heard the ambulance bell, and then as soon as the team came in I shot upstairs and hammered on Mrs Khurana's door. She came out, looking flustered. Since she clearly knew little if any English I gestured to her to follow me. The ambulance men had lifted Sanwar onto a stretcher. Mrs Khurana just stood there, shaking and wringing her hands. There was nothing I could do to reassure her; in the end I just went upstairs with her and said, "Don't worry, I'm sure he will be all right. My father works at the hospital and the doctors and nurses there are very good." She probably didn't understand the words I said but I hoped she would pick up at least some reassurance from the tone of my voice.

That evening I talked to Dad about it. He promised to speak to the Casualty registrar and let me know how Sanwar was getting on. He was as good as his word. Two days later when he came home he gave me an update.

"Your friend Sanwar's recovered consciousness. I was correct: he is Sanjay Khurana's son. You probably saved his life, Jack; he had a very nasty depressed fracture of the skull. As it is he will be in hospital for a while. There's no way of knowing how he came by it. He obviously came down the stairs the hard way, but whether he fell or was pushed no-one can tell. The police say there's no evidence either way. Not that I imagine they've tried very hard to find any."

"Oh," I said. There didn't seem to be anything else I could say. Then I had a thought. "Do you think I might visit him?"

"What a good idea. Yes, go on Saturday afternoon. I'm sure he would like a visitor his own age. Visiting hours are three till four."

Accordingly on the Saturday I made my way to the hospital and to the ward where Dad had told me Sanwar would be. As I went in and saw him, with white bandages wound around his head like a turban, he waved to me. An Indian man, presumably his father, who was sitting by his bedside looked at me questioningly. Sanwar said a few quiet words to him in their own language and he stood, again making that courteous gesture with head bowed and palms pressed together.

"Are you Jack Hemming?" he asked. I nodded, and he bowed again and said in clear but strongly accented English, "Our debt to you is very great. We thank you from our hearts." I made some commonplace acknowledgement and then crossed to the bed, greeting Sanwar and taking his hand in mine. Sanwar then did something which touched me deeply; instead of just clasping my hand in the usual way he took it and pressed the palm to his cheek, holding it there for some time, while tears flowed from his eyes.

I fished a handkerchief from my pocket (Mum always insisted that I carry a clean hankie, and it's amazing how often it came in handy!) and dabbed Sanwar's eyes, with it. I looked at him and smiled, and it was then that I really noticed his eyes.

They were, quite simply, the loveliest eyes I had ever seen. They were deep brown, but a bright deep brown (if that makes sense), not a muddy one, with huge pupils and long, slightly curly lashes. They were eyes that a girl might have given anything to have. And here they were, on a boy. Having noticed Sanwar's eyes, I then saw the rest of his features. I suppose I'd never really had the opportunity to look at them closely before, but he was… well, he was what I can only describe as beautiful. It wasn't so much that individual features were exceptional, though he had a wide and generous mouth, a straight nose, and the softest, most silken skin I'd ever seen on a boy, but that the whole face had character and intellect shining through it. He still had some marks from his previous misadventure, but they were healing and I hoped they would disappear in time.

At this stage I suppose I'd better break off and tell you that I'd already realised that I had no interest in girls. In fact, the thought of physical intimacy with a female body was a definite turn-off… all that floppy flesh. On the other hand, I'd seen a good few boys I really fancied. Well, this was in the 1980s when, although it had ceased to be illegal, at least for over-21s, no-one with any sense 'came out' publicly. So I went to the gym on a regular basis. This was partly so that I could maintain the image of a very masculine type, and also, to be honest, so that if I were ever lucky enough to find my Mr Right I'd be in good shape. But life was tough for gay or, as we used to say in those days, queer boys. Even looking too hard at a classmate in the showers would result in cat-calling and dirty nicknames. It seems to be much better nowadays, though young gay friends of ours tell me there is still a good deal of ignorance and prejudice around.

Anyway, to return to my story, I took a long look at Sanwar and something inside me broke into little pieces. My hand was still in contact with his cheek, and it was a very soft, warm cheek. I looked at his eyes, so sparkling now that the tears had been dabbed away, and tears came to my own eyes. What had this lovely, harmless boy done to deserve this? Come to that, what had Sanjay Khurana done that his son should be so abused? Many Indian and Pakistani people had come to Britain in the 1950s and 60s to work; they weren't taking British people's jobs but doing the jobs that most Britons thought were beneath them. I'd heard Dad speaking of Mr Khurana as a conscientious, hard-working member of the hospital staff. OK, not an "important" one – i.e. not a doctor or other medical professional – but still someone whose work was necessary to keep the place running smoothly.

"Where do you go to school?" I asked Sanwar, just as a conversation starter. He replied "St Edmund's" which was my own school. Well, it was a huge place so it wasn't surprising that I'd not come across him before, even if he was in my own year group. But he must have been pretty bright to get in there, especially as English wasn't his first language. He was in the 'B' stream while I was in the 'A'. But we had a couple of the masters in common, notably 'Happy' Harris – one of the most miserable so-and-sos I'd ever come across, who taught, or rather failed to teach, French. It seemed Sanwar hadn't had too bad a time of it at school where the discipline was pretty strict but he was regularly molested while walking to and from his home.

He couldn't remember anything about how he had come to fall down the stairs; his mind was a complete blank in between leaving school and waking up in hospital. His father told me that they had been living in England for about four years. They had come from India rather than Pakistan. Even with a dead-end job like being a hospital porter they were a lot better off in England than they had been at home, and Sanjay was able to send a little money each month to his parents in India.

All too soon, the visiting hour was over. Sanwar again took my hand and pressed it to his cheek. I smiled at him, though what I really wanted to do was to kiss him. But I couldn't, for obvious reasons, and I went home very thoughtful. Of course, it was too much to hope for that Sanwar was the same kind of chap that I was, or even that if he were, he'd be willing to let it be known. But at least, I hoped, we might be friends.

I didn't have any really close friends. Although I kept myself fit with gymnastics, I had no interest in sports. I represented the school at some athletics events in the summer, and occasionally in swimming, but football, either the Rugby or association variety, held no interest whatever and while I was a good enough cricketer to be offered a place on a team from time to time I usually declined politely. I kept up reasonably well in lessons. I was better on the maths and science side, probably more because Dad was able to give me some help with homework than anything else. I quite liked English, was bored silly by history and geography, hated French but did reasonably well in German.

The next Wednesday I took, unofficially, the afternoon off. There were matches, which I, along with the other non-players, was supposed to be watching and cheering on the St Edmund's teams. But there was no registration as such, and I doubted whether anyone would be checking, so I slipped off after lunch and went back to the hospital to see Sanwar. He was half lying, half sitting, propped on a couple of pillows, reading. When he saw me, a great big smile came to his face and he sat up straight. He seized my hand again and held it in both of his. He was definitely looking a good deal better, although his head was still swathed in bandages. Although he was wearing pyjamas the ward was very warm and so his jacket was open to the waist, showing a smooth hairless chest with little copper-coloured nipples and a soft, flat belly. I wished the bedclothes were a little lower; goodness knows what I might have been able to see then! But even as it was, I had to adjust my trousers carefully before sitting down or he might have noticed the tent that was poking up in front.

We chatted mostly about school. Sanwar told me that he was best at languages, though predictably 'Happy' Harris made snide remarks about his colour and nationality. He kept up well in Maths and Science, but struggled with languages and especially history. He made light of it, but I also sensed that not everyone at school accepted his presence and that there was a group of bullies in the Third and Fourth years that made his life difficult from time to time. But, I thought, he must be pretty bright if he was keeping up in a fairly academic school in what was only his second language.

That night, as I lay in bed, I kept thinking about Sanwar. What was his history? Why had his parents come to England? And would they be staying long term? And why, oh why, was he so impossibly beautiful? In the hospital I'd wanted to hold him in my arms. Come to that, I still did. What was the best thing I could do for him? He'd obviously welcomed my visit that afternoon. Well, there was no reason why I shouldn't go in again on the Saturday. As indeed I did, and he was again obviously pleased to see me, though I felt that he was a little less lively than he had been. We chatted about this and that, but he seemed a bit listless. Perhaps he's getting bored with lying in bed, I thought. At the end of the visiting hour he said to me as we shook hands, "Thank you for coming. It's very good of you."

That's an odd thing to say, I thought, almost as if I were a stranger. I hope he's not taking a turn for the worse.

On the Sunday I had an athletics event organized by the gym I went to (at which I won a Silver medal, much to my surprise and pleasure), and then of course on the Monday I was back at school. On the Monday evening over supper Dad said to me, "Your friend Sanwar's developed some problems. He was very sleepy for a while and complained of a headache, and then the nurses couldn't wake him. Bill Hartley, the neurology consultant, looked at him this afternoon, but they are worried about intra-cranial pressure. From what Bill said, he may need a further operation."

"Oh," I said. "Is that a serious operation?"

"Yes, very. They will probably need to make an opening in his skull to relieve the pressure, and there may already be some damage to his brain. Bill Hartley's very good, though. He couldn't be in better hands."

I was horrified. Sanwar was a friendly, intelligent, good-natured boy who worked hard and deserved much better than this. That night, though I'm not normally a religious person, I knelt by my bed and prayed for Sanwar. I stayed there for some time. "God," I prayed, "please save Sanwar, because … because I love him. Please don't let him die or be disabled. I can't offer you anything in return, but I promise that if he lives and recovers I will be his friend and look after him."

That was the point at which I realised, intellectually as well as emotionally, that I really did love Sanwar. It wasn't just sex attraction, though that did come into it, of course. If he hadn't been ill I would have loved to go to bed with him, but even if all I could ever be to him was a friend, I would accept that. As long as it meant I could spend time with him. Was he the same kind of boy that I was? There was no way of knowing, but it seemed improbable. I didn't sleep much that night, and twice during the next day I got ticked off for not paying attention. But that afternoon as soon as Dad got home I tackled him. "Dad… did Mr Hartley operate on Sanwar? And… how is he? Did he?..."

"Yes," he said, "Bill Hartley operated on him. It was touch-and-go but he was in time and your friend seems to be out of danger. They hope he will be alright but it's too early to say anything definite." It was if a leaden weight that had been weighing me down was suddenly removed. At least what could be done for Sanwar had been done and the outlook seemed to be hopeful. I said another prayer for him at bedtime.

Of course, I was still puzzled about just how Sanwar came to tumble down the stairs in the first place. Had he been pushed? I didn't know him well enough to be aware of how sure-footed he was normally, though I did have the impression that he was rather timid. Not surprisingly, I reflected, given that he was a stranger in a strange land, and not only that but one vulnerable to attack. The police hadn't been able to discover anything, but I doubted whether they had actually made any effort to do so. If it had been a white boy who'd fallen and been injured, things would have been very different. But Sanwar was a brown boy with an outlandish name, only another foreigner, so who cared? Not many people, except the hospital staff, his parents and me. To me, he was becoming a lot more than 'only another foreigner'. A lot more.

The following Saturday I popped in again to see Sanwar. He was lying flat in the hospital bed, having been told that he was not to sit up. He looked very small and vulnerable there and my heart turned over. His head was swathed in bandages, of course. The nurse told me that I was not to 'excite the patient'. I sat in the chair beside his bed and talked to him quietly about everyday things: the weather (wet and cold), my homework (difficult) and lessons (boring). I held his hand, and from time to time he pressed it as if to say, 'thank you for being here with me', but he didn't say a lot. When the time came to go I wanted to kiss his forehead but it was covered with the bandages. I didn't feel I could kiss him anywhere else, so I had to content myself with just pressing his hand. He clasped my hand back, and I left.

The next Wednesday afternoon I 'skived' games again and went in. The nurse caught me at the door. "I don't know what you did to my patient on Saturday…" she began, and an icy hand clutched at my bowels, "...but he's been much livelier since." The icy hand let go and I said to the nurse, "How is Sanwar? Will he get better?"

"It's looking hopeful," she replied; "he's got movement in both hands and feet and he can speak quite clearly. He has to lie quiet in bed until the stitches inside his head have healed, but as long as nothing goes wrong he should be alright. It will be at least two weeks before he can sit up, and I doubt if Mr Hartley will let him get out of bed for another month. But he did tell me he hoped you would come again soon. It's good for him to have a few visitors other than his father. His mother can't come because she has to stay at home with his brother and sister, and she doesn't speak any English."

So again I sat with Sanwar and held his hand and talked of ordinary things; school work, a film I'd been to see, a new exhibition at the Town Hall. He still didn't say much, but he did ask a few quiet questions and responded with a smile and a little pressure of the hand. This time as I got up to leave at the end of the visiting hour I kissed my fingers and then touched them to his nose, and he smiled up at me and said, "I hope you can come again soon." I wished I could come every day, but the best I could manage was twice a week.

As I left, I was stopped by a tall man with one of those humorously ugly faces and thick, iron-grey hair. "Are you Jack Hemming?" he asked. I nodded and said, "Yes…"

"I'm Bill Hartley. I know your father quite well. Thank you for visiting young Khurana there; it does him good to have someone of his own age to talk to. Do you know you very probably saved his life?"

I stared at Mr Hartley. All I'd done was to find Sanwar unconscious and call an ambulance. Surely anyone would have done the same.

"If you hadn't found him when you did he would almost certainly have suffered a major haemorrhage and died. As it is, we are hopeful that he will make a full recovery. Have you any idea how he came to fall?"

"No, sir. There wasn't anyone else around when I found him. But he had been tormented by a gang of boys; I know because I saw them off on one occasion."

He looked at me with interest. "Did you, indeed?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, well. You look like a young man who can take care of himself. I hope your parents are proud of you. I know I should be if you were my son."

He clapped me on the shoulder and walked away. If I'd done anything to help Sanwar I was more than glad. Anyway, I kept visiting him every Wednesday and Saturday, and each time he seemed a little bit brighter. After a couple of weeks they let him sit up and read so I got some books for him. At first I took in books that I'd had when I was younger, but he said they were too easy, so I sustituted some more teenage stuff, along with a couple of fairly basic school textbooks so that he could start to catch up a little.

Two weeks later, on the Wednesday, the ward sister spoke to me. Despite her being around the same rank as Mum, I was a bit in awe of someone so senior! "We think Sanwar's ready to try to stand and walk a few steps," she said, "but he said he wanted you there to help him. I don't know why, it can't be your beauty."

Cheek! I thought, but felt flattered that he wanted my help. So I went over to him with the nurse, helped him to sit straight and lifted the bedclothes off him. Then we swung his legs over the side of the bed, and I sat next to him and put an arm around his back just under his shoulders, and gradually he eased himself to his feet. I'd stood with him and kept my arm there in case he got dizzy or stumbled, but he took a few steps and then we turned him round and back to his bed. We did the manoeuvre three times, and then he said he wanted to try walking on his own.

I kept my arm close to him in case of accident, and it was a good thing I did because one foot slipped and he grabbed at me to keep his balance. But all was well, fortunately I was well braced and he didn't fall, and I steered him back to his bed. It was lovely, having my arm around him and feeling his closeness. I wasn't sexually excited in the least but just being near to him and helping him was … well, it felt so good. When I had my arm around him, supporting him, his body felt fragile, vulnerable. I wanted to hold him in my arms and tell him…

Well, I certainly couldn't tell him I loved him, more was the pity. But at least the other part of my plan, to be friends, hopefully quite close friends, with him looked as if it might be more practical.

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