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Love from A to Z

by Charles Lacey

Chapter 3

"Oh, Master Zak, your mother is asking for you to go to the drawing room."

Zak entered the familiar room with a sense of foreboding. When he saw what was on the table, his blood turned to ice. There were three copies of Mister International, a magazine for gay men featuring nude photographs, some with erections. He had hidden them under his mattress, feeling sure they would not be discovered. He had gone to some trouble to get them, taking a train to London and buying them at a bookshop in Soho where no questions would be asked, even of a sixteen-year-old customer.

"I found these a few minutes ago," she hissed. "How dare you bring such filth into the house? Is there any more of it?"

"No, mother..."Zak began, but she interrupted him. "I cannot believe that any son of mine should be... queer. God knows what your father would say. It's disgusting. You're disgusting. Has that filthy boy who works in the garden been corrupting you?"

"No, mother, we have just swum together and I helped him..." Again she interrupted. "Go to your room, now, and Mrs Perrin will bring your supper on a tray. Think yourself lucky it's not bread and water. Tomorrow morning I will call a taxi to take you to the station. Your father will have to deal with you. I don't ever want to see you again. Now get out." The last words were uttered almost in a shriek. She picked up the magazines and put them on the fire, and as Zak left the room she picked up a heavy bronze ornament and threw it at him. It struck him in the small of the back, a painful blow. She rang the bell for Mrs Perrin.

"Oh, Mrs Perrin," she said, forcing her voice into a semblance of normality. "Master Zacharias will have his supper in his room on a tray. And first thing in the morning please call a taxi to take him to the station. Oh, and that boy who works in the garden, give him a week's wages and tell him that his services will no longer be required. Oh, and please give Master Zacharias ten pounds; I suppose he will need money for the train fare. He will not be coming back."

Zak went to his room, trembling with fear and outrage. His first thought was for Ash. Thank God he would be back at school in just over a week. Even that would be better than being in Yorkshire with his father, and the masters at school were mostly reasonable. He lay on his bed, his mind in a turmoil. He got the suitcase down from on top of the wardrobe and packed his school uniform and as much else as he could get into it. Hopefully, he thought, the old bat will have calmed down by the next Exeat, and I will be able to come back and see Ash again.

Mrs Perrin came in with a tray. "My goodness, Master Zak, what have you been doing? Your mother's in a rare state."

"Oh, Mrs P. She found some magazines of mine..."

"What, those rude ones that you hid under the mattress? Oh dear, oh dear." Zak looked at her in astonishment. "Did you see them?"

"Of course I did, when I cleaned in here. But I didn't say anything. I think your mother must have been checking up on you."

"Mrs P., when you see Ash, please tell him... tell him... oh, I don't know. Tell him I will be back as soon as I can."

"I will if I can, Master Zak, but the mistress has told me to get rid of him."

Zak looked at her in something like horror. If Ash were not to be here, he didn't think he wanted to be either. Suddenly, the pent-up emotion burst from him and he threw himself face down on the bed and sobbed out loud. Mrs Perrin put a kindly hand on his shoulder.

"Come now, Master Zak, I'm sure it's not as bad as all that. You know your mother's quick-tempered, but I'm sure she will get over it. And here's your supper, a nice piece of steak and kidney pie and raspberries and cream for dessert."

"Thank you, Mrs P," said Zak, his voice muffled. "Will you see me off in the morning? Oh, and please could you take these and get rid of them? It's some more magazines I don't want Mother to see."

"That I will. Now, eat your supper and then try and get some sleep."

In the morning Zak tried to see his mother, but she had shut herself in her bedroom and refused even to answer his knock at the door. Eventually he had to give up, but he bade a warm farewell to Mrs Perrin and got into the waiting taxi.

All of the journey to Yorkshire was occupied with two thoughts. One was what he would say to his father, and the other was how he might get in touch with Ash. He didn't even know his surname or where he lived. He had said that he went to a comprehensive school, was it St Anselm's?... or something like that, but could you write to a boy at that kind of school? Oh God, he thought, what a sodding nightmare. Just let me get through the week and back to school.

When he arrived at Bradford station, his father was waiting for him, dour as usual. "What have you been up to?" he asked, peevishly. "Mrs Perrin rang up to say that you were suddenly coming here for the last week of the holidays. Very inconsiderate, I must say. Well, get in the car, boy, don't stand there dithering."

Mr Neville was busy as usual, going in to the office each morning, returning late. Twice he came back unconscious that he smelt of a woman's perfume. Zak wondered who she was. Presumably a girlfriend. Thinking about his father in bed with a woman made him feel faintly queasy.

Fortunately his mother didn't seem to have been in touch, so at least the subject of the gay magazines was not brought up. But it was with a sense of relief that he caught the train to Embleton on the Monday morning.

Ash arrived at the kitchen door as usual to be met by Mrs Perrin. Although it was not Friday, she handed him his wages for the week, and said, "I don't know what's happened, I'm sure, but I was to tell you that your services are no longer needed. Master Zak has been sent to his father's house in Yorkshire and Mrs Neville's in a rare old taking. I'm sorry, but there it is. If you know anything about what's happened, you'd best keep it to yourself. And now you'd best be off, if Mrs Neville catches me talking to you she'll not be best pleased."

And Mrs Perrin, not unkindly, smiled briefly at Ash and closed the door.

As he cycled home, Ash thought over what Mrs Perrin had said. Presumably someone had spotted him and Zak in the swimming pool or the changing hut and told tales. What a shame, he thought, just when they were getting on so well. And he thought they'd been really discreet and careful. He'd miss the money, too – in fact, he thought, I'd better look for another job straight away.

When Ash arrived home, his parents looked at him in some surprise. "I thought you were working till nine o'clock," said his mother. "So did I", replied Ash. "But for some reason she doesn't want me any more. I've been paid for the week, but that's it."

"But why?" asked his father.

"No idea", he replied. "Everything was OK. Maybe they didn't like Zak helping me."

"Sit down, Son," said his father. "Is there anything you want to tell us? You know if you've done something wrong you must own up to it, and take whatever's coming, but you know we'll support you." They looked at him, concern written on their faces.

"No, there's nothing," Ash said. "That is... no, nothing. I've not done anything wrong."

There was a long silence. Then his father said slowly, "Look, Ash, I know something is wrong. I don't know whether it's something you've done, or something that's happened, but please give us a chance to help you if we can."

Ash sat in silence for some time, looking down at the floor. Then he said, in a flat voice, "You'll have to know sooner or later. It may as well be now as in a year's time... the fact is, I'm... well, I'm attracted to boys rather than girls."

"Thank God!" said his father, "I was worried that you'd stolen some money from the house or something like that. Ash, thank you for telling us. We already had a pretty good idea, but now we know. And we want you to know that we love you, and nothing's ever going to change that." He rose to his feet.

"Thank you, Dad," said Ash, also standing. His father held out his arms, and Ash went to him as he had when he was a little boy. His father held him in his arms for a long time, then released him. "Betty," he said, "I think we could all do with a cup of tea." Ash's mother went to the kitchen where they could hear her putting the kettle on.

"So," said Ash's father, "do you have a boyfriend? If so, we'd like to meet him."

"No, Dad. I was getting on really well with Zak Neville, who lives at Penn House. I think he's... the same way as me. But he's been sent away to his father's house in Yorkshire. I don't know why."

"I think it's pretty obvious. Either you have been ... well, getting physical with him, or they think you have. Out of interest, have you?"

"Well... we did have a little bit of a fling, but nothing serious."

"Were you caught together?"

"No. At least, I don't think so. We were in the swimming hut and there was no-one else about, unless someone was hiding in the bushes."

"It seems unlikely. Anyway, you're both over the age of consent. I presume Zak is sixteen or more."

"Yes, he's about eight months older than I am. He'll be seventeen in a few weeks."

"Well, it looks as if you are going to be kept apart from him, for a while at any rate. Are you very fond of him?"

"Not specially. He's nice, and we get on well, but nothing deep."

"Probably a good thing. Anyway, Ash, when you find someone bring him home so we can meet him."


At this point his mother came in with a tray of tea and cake, and Ash sat down. "You know, it's a funny thing..." he started,

"What is?"

"I've been wondering for months how to tell you, and you knew all along."

"We've known you sixteen years."

Ash laughed. "I guess so."

Zak was now in the Fifth form. This meant that instead of using the Common Room, he was entitled to have a study, shared with two other boys. He wondered who he would be put in with. He soon found out; the Studies list was up on the noticeboard in the hall. Study No 5: Banerjee, Neville, Yardley.

Well, thought Zak, could be worse, Sai Banerjee's harmless, and Brian Yardley's OK. He took his suitcases up to the Matron's room, then went to his study. Sai Banerjee, a slender, rather intense Indian, was already there. He greeted Zak in his slightly formal English, clasping both of his hands warmly. Zak began to relax a little. Here in the familiar school boarding house, with other boys around, some of the tensions of the past week began to diminish. "I think we will have fun here together, you and Yardley and I," said Banerjee. It is a pity there is only a radiator instead of a fire, we might have made toast." Zak began to think that Sai had been reading too many copies of The Magnet or something. Still, he was a bright chap and could be helpful with prep.

The third member of the group, Brian Yardley, came in. He was a rather languid youth, known to be uninterested in team games of any kind, but a reliable student. His father owned a factory in Wolverhampton or somewhere, but his accent was pure middle class English. Banerjee greeted him as he had Zak, and Zak shook his hand rather perfunctorily and said, "come on, you two, let's go to Hall, with luck there will be some tea going."

There was not only tea, but cherry cake on offer. The Hall was already busy with boys. The newcomers had arrived earlier and paired up with their "watchdogs". But all over the Hall, boys were greeting old friends, describing their holidays and excitedly making plans for the coming term.

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