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Toby's Book

by Charles Lacey

Chapter 4

It was a Wednesday, I remember, because we'd had double Maths that morning, and I had been set homework in that subject. Despite my best efforts I had made nothing of the work during the lesson. I asked of the master in charge, Mr Billings (we called him Beaky on account of his long, thin nose) to explain some point but the only result was that I became even more confused, in addition to which there were the usual whispers of "Nutcase again". I suppose with a surname like Nutting the nickname was inevitable, but it always stung. The rest of the day was not much better, and I dreaded coming back the next day as not only would I have to hand in my hopelessly inadequate homework but I would have to endure football in the afternoon, followed by a shower and its usual accompaniment of being shoved around, flicked with wet towels and so on. As happened around twice a week, I missed the 4:05 'bus, seeing its rear driving away in the distance just as I got to the 'bus station. The weather was dry and reasonably warm, so I went and sat in the Memorial Gardens with my Maths textbook on my lap, trying to fathom out what in the world I was meant to do. I could still make nothing of it and sighed deeply. A voice from nearby said, "You seem very pensive today." It was the man I had seen before who had spoken, and was looking at me with kindly interest. "It's this darned homework," I replied. "If I don't get it done, I'll be in trouble."

The man came over and sat next to me. "Show me," he said, "let's see if I can help." Why not? I thought, I could do with any help that anyone can give.

I got my exercise book out of my satchel and showed the man what I was supposed to be doing, then told him what was puzzling me. "Ah," he said, "I think I can see your difficulty." He asked me some questions, and then explained how to tackle the problem in easy stages. We worked through the first two or three problems together, and then I did some more on my own, but with him watching. The Church clock chimed five, and I thanked him for his help and explained that I would need to catch the 'bus home.

The next morning, I handed in my Maths homework. Beaky Billings looked at it, then at me, then at the homework again. Then he called me up to his desk, looking down his long nose at me. "Who did this for you?" he asked, austerely.

"I did it myself, sir," I answered, a little mendaciously. He gave me an "I don't believe a word of it" look but ticked it and gave me ten out of ten. I went around all morning in a glow of contentment. Even the ghastly football in the afternoon could not entirely squash my pleasure in getting a good mark for once.

On the Friday, as soon as we were let out, though I could have caught the earlier 'bus if I'd made haste, I returned to my seat in the park. I'd been there about ten minutes when my friend appeared again and came to sit on the bench by my side. "What mark did you get for your homework?" he asked. I told him that I had got ten out of ten, and he looked pleased; I thanked him for his help and he looked even more pleased. "What homework do you have today?" he asked next.

"English and French" I answered.

"Bon courage, mon ami!" he replied. "Qu'est-ce que c'est?"

I opened my French textbook and showed him the page of vocabulary I had been set to learn. He went down the list with me, pointing out links with familiar words which helped me to memorize the French, correcting my pronunciation as he did so.

On the Monday morning we had the French test. The French master was now Mr Franks. He was a tall, heavily built man with a notably short fuse; he also had the unpleasant habit of involuntarily showering any boy he was talking to with spittle when he was annoyed, which was most of the time. We had thirty words of vocabulaire to translate, and I got every single one right. Rather like Mr Billings on the previous day, Mr Franks looked at me sideways. But there was no way I could have cheated. He shot four or five more English words at me and I gave him the French equivalents. He raised his bushy eyebrows in surprise but said no more.

That afternoon, it clouded over. But I hoped I would see my friend again, and so I went to the Memorial Gardens and waited. He arrived, and just as he did so it began to drizzle. That day's homework was Geography and History. "I don't like the look of this weather," he said. "Would you like to come to my flat to finish your homework? It's only a couple of minutes' walk."

Of course, I knew, or thought I did, all about 'stranger danger' as it was then called. Perhaps, I thought, this man was one of those Homosexuals we had been warned about. But no, I thought next, he was so nice and friendly, and had helped me with my homework. "Thank you," I said, "I'd like that."

"That's good," he replied. "And, by the way, my name's John."

I told him my name, and he led me to a doorway between two shops which gave onto a small enclosed yard. Another door led to a staircase, at the top of which was John's flat. Though small, it was furnished comfortably. There was a table with a chair, a cosy-looking armchair facing a built-in gas fire, a small side table, a sideboard of carved oak with decanters and silver on it. The whole of one wall was covered with books. He sat me down at his table and I took out my homework.

The Wars of the Roses must be one of the most difficult and tedious of all periods of English history, no doubt the despair of schoolboys since Hanoverian times. But John went through the textbook with me, illustrating it with wry comments and several helpful mnemonics. I then produced a couple of pages of answers to the set questions. While I was doing so, I heard John doing things in the kitchen, and he came out with a glass of what turned out to be home made lemonade and a plate of biscuits, also home made. He stood behind me, a hand resting lightly on my shoulder, reading over what I had written. He made a couple of suggestions as to possible improvements and then said, "It's nearly five o'clock; you'll be needing to catch your 'bus. Can you find this place again if you need to?"

I had noticed that the door was in between Mr Keene's shop (J. R. Keene, MPS, Chemist and Druggist) and the National Provincial Bank, so I assured him that I could. "Well," he said, if it's wet or cold you are always welcome to come here. I'm usually at home by around four o'clock."

As I made my way downstairs and towards the 'bus station I wondered about John. Could he be one of these dangerous Homosexuals I'd been warned to avoid? I wondered. But no, he was so nice and kind, and seemed to know a lot about all sorts of things. And he hadn't seemed to want to attack me, or do anything I didn't like. And the lemonade and biscuits had been nice, too, and hadn't done me any harm.

So I got into the habit of going to John's flat most days to do my homework. Mother's attitude to homework was 'It's your homework, you do it on your own'. John's attitude was 'Let's explore this together'. My marks showed a definite upward turn and most of the masters commented on how much better I was doing 'now that you are making an effort'. Ironic, I thought, that I'd always made an effort, but now that I had someone to give me a little help it was all so much easier. John even helped me with my handwriting; he gave me a much better pen and showed me how to hold it and write so that it was both neater and less fatiguing. Little by little I found I needed less help from John, though he continued to take an interest. When the end of term form orders came out, I was third from the top in Maths, fifth in English and History, out of thirty-two, where previously I had been near the bottom of the list. I was never allowed to read my school report (Mother always said brusquely "it's addressed to me, not you") but even she was less dismissive than usual.

The Easter holiday came, and I had two and a half weeks off school. I mentioned this to John, and he said, "Sit down for a few minutes; there's something I need to say to you."

I sat at the table, looking at John.

"Have you told anyone else you come here?" he asked me.

"No," I replied.

"That's a good thing. It would be best if you don't mention it to anyone. You see, other people might think we were doing things together that… well, that we oughtn't to be doing."

"I won't say a word to anyone. But what sort of things do you mean?"

"Well… there is a certain type of man who likes to… to do sexual things with young boys. I shouldn't like anyone to think that I was like that."

"You mean homosexuals?"

"Yes. Look, Toby, I like having you visit here, and I am really glad that I can help with your school work. But if anyone else finds out that you come here there could be a lot of fuss and botheration for both of us. I won't hurt you in any way; I'm sure you know that by now. But a lot of people have dirty minds and like to interfere in other folks' business."

"Oh. I see. Well, I won't say a word to anyone, I promise."

We agreed that during the school holidays I would visit John during the daytime two or three times a week. John had explained to me that he was a writer, and worked mainly at home, but also in the public library and occasionally in one or another specialist libraries, including the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I was tremendously proud to know a real author, and wished I could share the knowledge with someone, but I had given my promise and I stuck to it. John, it turned out, wrote mainly historical novels, and he gave me copies of three of his books. I read them diligently but found them rather hard going. But I must do him the justice to say that when I re-read them as an adult I found them enthralling.

The range of John's knowledge never failed to astonish me. His grasp of European history was encyclopaedic. He knew Latin and a little classical Greek, spoke French and German fluently, and could get by in Italian and Russian. But he was also able to help me with Maths, and had a good working knowledge of the sciences. The one area for which, to my entire delight, he expressed complete contempt was Sports. I remember well the glee with which I heard him referring contemptuously to football as 'that footling pastime'.

The Summer term came, and I went back to calling at John's flat after school, and doing at least part of my homework there. I was finding it much easier now to cope with the work; John was always ready to help, though he often answered a question of mine by asking another question. But I was now getting good marks on a regular basis, and when the half-term form orders came out, I was top in History, second in English and within the top third of the class in every other subject, even Maths. John had hidden a key to his front door so that I could let myself in if he happened to be out, and he had said that I was always welcome to make a cup of tea and help myself from the biscuit tin. On that Friday I'd just put the kettle to boil, when John came in. I hurried into the sitting room and told him the good news. "Oh, well done, Toby," he said, "I'm thrilled to hear that." And there and then he put his arms around me and gave me a big hug. For a moment I was a little disconcerted, but then realised it felt rather nice, and I put my arms around him in return. I don't know what would have happened next, but the kettle startled us with its loud whistle. But a new stage had arrived in our intimacy, and we both knew it.

At home, things were going from bad to worse. Mother had a new friend, a man called Wayne Buckley, who owned a garage and car dealership in Mouseborough. He was fairly tall and heavily built with dark hair and a permanent five o'clock shadow. It started with his coming for meals. He tried to ingratiate himself with Annabel and me; in her case he had some success. He brought her various gifts: a dolls' pram was one I remember among them. His first gift to me was a pair of football boots. They were hideously uncomfortable and I concealed them as best I could at the back of the wardrobe. He was unremittingly hearty with me, and I came to dread his presence in the house. On several occasions he tried to get me to play football with him in the garden, no doubt thinking that I would have enjoyed doing so, unless it was just that he enjoyed it and wanted someone to play against. I bore it as best I could, but greatly preferred sitting in my bedroom constructing a model or reading.

I was doubly glad of having John's flat as a refuge. He was unfailingly kind and gentle, always quiet but there was a friendly quality about his quietness. I've said that Wayne Buckley came to meals at our house. This began as dinner; on the occasions when he came Annabel and I had our usual tea at six o'clock, and Wayne and Mother ate later, after we had been sent to bed, or at least to our rooms. How I wished I could have stayed permanently at John's flat. But of course I understood that this was not possible. Not yet, at any rate.

The end of term came, and I was again top of the form in History, second in English, third in Maths and near the top in all other subjects except Games. This last was put down by Mother and Wayne to laziness. I didn't trust Wayne an inch. He had a way of looking at me sideways which always made me uncomfortable. But there was nothing I could do about it. And if he was at our house for dinner of an evening, as often as not he was there for breakfast the next morning. It didn't take me long to work out what was happening.

As Mother was out at work Annabel was usually shunted onto the family of one or another of her school friends. I was left, to my great relief, to my own devices. I continued to visit John two or three times a week, usually in the morning. He would give me lunch: usually a simple meal, perhaps a little salad or a baked potato with butter or cheese, but always tasty. Indeed, John lived very simply. He was content in his little flat; though he was not a 'best-seller' author he made sufficient from his books to be quite comfortably off. I discovered that he owned the shop below and the one next to it as well as the flats above them; the other flat was always rented out which added to his income.

Towards the end of September an air-mail letter arrived from Matthew:

Carrefour Lodge
Aberlour Road
New Zealand

Dear Toby,

Great news! Mum and I are going to visit England in October. We're going to stay with Granny and Grandad in Wrotham (it's pronounced Root-'em), which is in Kent, just south of London. I suppose there isn't any chance you could come down for a few days? But if you can't Mum says we will go and stay in Mouseborough for a short time. She wants to call on some friends anyway, and it will mean that we can have at least one full day together.

Please write back as quickly as you can! I'm already looking forward to seeing you again. I wonder how much you've changed – and how much I have changed, come to that.

Lots of love,

I asked Mother whether I could go and stay with the McKenzies at Wrotham, but she only said crossly, "I suppose so, if you must. But you can make your own way there and back. I'm not taking you in the car so you'll have to go by train. And you're not to miss any school time."

When I found out what the train fares were likely to be I abandoned any hope of getting down to Wrotham. So I wrote back to Matthew, for the first time using air-mail, asking when they might be able to come up to Mouseborough.

Mrs McKenzie had booked two rooms at the Golden Lion, the best hotel in Mouseborough. It occupied a huge Georgian building on one side of a long, curving road which led out of the town. Unfortunately the only day they could manage was a Thursday. I debated with myself: should I speak to my form master and ask for the day away from school, or should I just take the day off without saying anything and risk the consequences? I decided the latter would be the best course, as if I asked Mr Griggs about it and he said No, and I then took the day off it would be obvious why. I also wondered whether to forge a sick note from Mother. In the end I decided just to "skive" and risk being punished. At least, I thought, the worst they can do is to cane me, and it would be worth a good many canings to see Matthew again.

So that's what I did. Actually, I was so excited at the prospect of spending a day with Matthew that Dickie Griggs asked if I was alright! That's a good thing, I thought, if I'm not in school tomorrow they'll think I'm ill.

The next morning I got off the 'bus and dodged round a couple of corners, then made my way to Lion Street, where the hotel was. I walked in through the main entrance, and there was Matthew, sitting in a chair. We stood and stared at each other for a moment, then literally ran together, arms held out, and held each other in a great big hug.

Matthew was a good bit taller than I remembered him, but then so was I. But he had grown in proportion and was still the same dear friend. It was all I could do to stop myself from holding his hand as we walked up the stairs and along the corridor to his room, which was on the second floor. I thought it was rather a mingy little room for such a grand hotel. There wasn't a lot of space, and I thought the furniture was rather shabby. But we sat on the bed, side by side, and just held each other, until a knock came on the door. It was Mrs McKenzie. She greeted me warmly and asked after Mother and Annabel. I noticed that both she and Matthew had a definite New Zealand accent!

I explained that I had taken an illicit day off school; Mrs McKenzie looked severe but said nothing. Matthew beamed and chuckled. "Did you really skive off school, just to see me?"

"Yes. I'd do it any time if it meant I could be with you."

Mrs McKenzie suggested that we might like to go and look at a site not far away where some Roman remains were being excavated. I'd heard about this and thought it sounded interesting, so off we went. Mrs McKenzie had borrowed her mother's car. Matthew and I sat in the back, and I remembered when his father had taken us both to the seaside.

Well, the Roman remains were quite interesting; I made a lot of mental notes of things to tell John about. There was a mosaic floor which was being uncovered an inch at a time, and a remarkable collection of pottery, jewellery and general household litter. It was also possible to see how their system of central heating had worked!

We stopped for lunch at a pub just off the main road. We had a good meal, though I thought Matthew looked a bit out of sorts. Not surprising, I thought, since he's not long come from a two-day journey by aeroplane. I asked him about the aeroplanes they'd travelled in, and we remembered making a model of one of them. After lunch Matthew and I both wanted to visit the Gents'. We stood there, side by side, just as we'd done when we were younger. I peeked at him, and saw that he'd grown perhaps just a little more than I had. Then I noticed him peeking at me, and we laughed and showed ourselves off to each other. But we couldn't be long, as Matthew's Mum would have wondered what we were doing. But by the time we were zipped up both of us had the beginnings of a hard-on.

When we got back to the hotel Mrs McKenzie told us she was going upstairs for a nap, and suggested we sit together in the lounge. "You've got a lot of catching up to do," she said.

Well, we had indeed. Matthew told me about his school. He seemed to have made some good friends, and to be getting on well with his studies. He told me that he hoped to go on to University, but it would almost certainly be in New Zealand. I told him about Abbey Grange, and some of the masters. Dickie Griggs, my form master, was not too bad, I told him, but he was lucky to have avoided Thunderguts and one or two more of them. Then I told him about John. It was so good to be able to tell someone else about John. I wouldn't have dared say a word about him to Mother, or to anyone at school, as they would immediately have jumped to the conclusion that we were having sex. It's funny what dirty minds most people have. But I knew Matthew would understand. He always did, which was one of the reasons I loved him.

We chatted for an hour or so. He'd kept up his model making. He'd not been able to bring any of them to show me, but he had brought some photographs. We looked at them together, and then Matthew suddenly said, "come upstairs, there's something I'd like to show you."

I was already becoming aware that girls did nothing for me, but I did notice good looking boys. And I would have done anything, anything in the world, that Matthew asked me to. He was such a special person, and the fact that he now lived at the opposite side of the world didn't make him any less special. We went back up to Matthew's room. He quietly took off his trousers and pullover and sat on the bed. "Come and sit here with me," he invited. So I too stripped to my underwear (and was very glad I'd put on clean things that morning) and joined him. We lay down together on the bed. There wasn't a lot of room as it was a single bed (and not nearly as comfortable as Matthew's own bed at his old home) but it was wonderful just to lie there with him, relaxed and happy, the way we'd done when I'd stayed at his house. Then he said, "Let's take off the rest of our things. There's something I want to share with you."

We stripped off and stood facing each other. I could see that Matthew had quite a sizeable erection by now, and I wasn't far behind. He took his between fingers and thumb and began to rub it up and down. "Go on," he said, "you do the same." Well, it felt good, and even better because I was with Matthew. The feeling of pleasure built up gradually, and then came a feeling I had never had before. It was sensational! At the same time I was watching Matthew and admiring the way his foreskin slid over the head and back again. He obviously had the same feeling, and a drop or two of cloudy liquid appeared from his pee-slit.

"Gosh!" I said, "that was amazing."

"It's good, isn't it. Have you never done that before?"

"No, never."

"Oh good! I'm glad I was the first. Come and lie down for a minute."

So we lay side by side on Matthew's bed, still naked, our arms around each other's shoulders. We chatted a little and dozed part of the time. But I looked at Matthew's bedside clock and saw that time was moving on, and we had to get up, dress and make ready to say goodbye again.

We hugged again as we parted. Matthew said comfortingly, "I hope I can come over again next year, or maybe the year after. When I do, perhaps we could get some more time together?"

"Oh yes," I replied. "I really hope so." And with that I had to go to catch the 'bus home. I managed to keep my emotions under control on the journey, but when I reached home I went to my room and wept silently into my pillow. Oh God, I thought, my dear, dear Matthew, how can I bear life without you? Melodramatic, I know, but it's genuinely how I felt then. But then I did what teenage boys have done to help them cope with emotions, no doubt since there were teenage boys in the world, and took myself in hand again. Bless you, my beloved Matthew, I thought, my dearest friend.

The next day I just told Dickie Griggs I'd had a stomach upset and had needed to stay at home. Fortunately he accepted my excuse without apparent concern other than to say he hoped I felt better, and to tell me to bring in a note next time it happened. I didn't feel better, of course: I felt thoroughly miserable, having had to say Goodbye to Matthew. But at least I wasn't in trouble at school.

Matthew and I kept up our correspondence, though it was infrequent. I'd understood that his father was doing very well in business so they were pretty well off, and had quite a big house in a good district. They'd repeated their invitation to come and stay. I wished with all my heart I could have afforded the fare. I even thought about stowing away on a ship, but reflected that if I had, the likelihood was that I should only have been brought straight back home. And then what? School punishments I could cope with; they were in general reasonably just and measured. But Mother would not only have beaten me with whatever came to hand, but I would have had to endure her sarcasm for ever after.

But I do remember getting a very good view of one boy's penis while I was at that school. It must have been in my third year. I'd had a nasty injury to my ankle during an athletics lessonswhen a fool boy was messing about with a javelin. It had hit my ankle, grazed the bone and made a nasty flesh wound which had required stitches. Shortly after the stitches had been removed I was at the urinals, and a couple of spaces away was a boy named Sam Collings. I finished peeing and zipped up and was just turning away when he spoke to me, asking to see my injury. I didn't mind, so I stood on one leg, the injured ankle in my hand, and explained what had happened both as regarded the original injury and the hospital treatment of it. He was clearly very interested as he completely forgot to put away his cock, of which, pretending to look down at my own ankle, I had an excellent view for half a minute or so. I've never forgotten that; Collings was not a particularly likeable or good-looking boy, but nevertheless that gave me good wanking material for some time.

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