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Love - Existentially

by John Teller

Part 19

Book Six - When Englishmen were boys

Stuart Begbie.

It's the Wednesday after I had Trotter and I'm at home alone with Father. Mother has gone to a Ladies' Evening. It's about eight o' clock and I'm in my room, sitting on the edge of my bed, listening to some music on the record player and checking whether the answers I'd given during the exams of the previous week had been correct, when Father knocks on the door. I shout for him to enter, and he comes in and looks at what I'm doing. Then he asks, "Do you think you've done well, Stuart?"

I look up at him and half-smile. "I think so Father. From what I can tell, I'll attain at least 85% in most subjects; perhaps even better in Physics and Science. We'll know at the end of next week what the results are. Michael seems to think he's done very well too, which is good, but also a worry."

Father sits on the bed by my side and puts a hand on my shoulder. "Why is it a worry?"

I look up at him and shrug my shoulders. "He's very parochial."


"He'll go to the City University when he should be going to a better one."

Father's next comment alerts my senses. "Because of you? Is that what you think?" Again I look up at him, and he smiles and squeezes my shoulder. "I'm not silly, Stuart. You've become very involved with Michael, and he with you. I haven't asked you why you've been late home a few times this last couple of months. I think I'm right in saying that you've been with Michael after school?"

I drop my head. "Yes Father. I've been spending more time with Michael and Alex. I really like spending time with them." I look up at him. "I've never let it interfere with my studies though. Michael wouldn't let that happen. In fact, he's been tutoring me in some of the subjects I'm not too good at. Are you angry with me?"

Father shakes his head. "No, of course I'm not angry. I am a little worried though. Well, let me rephrase that; I'm a little concerned rather than worried. And perplexed. I don't know where your friendship is going. It's already having its consequences if Michael won't take the opportunity to go to a better University because he doesn't want to move away from you. That can't be good."

I shrug my shoulders. "I know, but he's as stubborn as a mule. I want him to go to a better University."

"But you'd lose him then?"

Again I shrug my shoulders. "I know... temporarily, but things are going to be different anyway come the new school year. If we want to continue our friendship, we'll both have to adapt, and as I see it, because I'm determined to make the grade and I won't be going to The City University, Michael might as well be going to a better University."

Father then does something he very rarely does; he puts his arms around me and hugs me and lays his head on mine. "Would you mind if I tell you that I'm very, very proud of you. So is your mother."

I look up at him, and grin. "Why are you so proud of me?"

"Because you've got your head screwed on very firmly." He gets up off the bed and goes towards the door, and then stops and turns to me. "Both yours and Michael's exam results will be through at the end of next week. How about we have dinner a week on Sunday to celebrate? Us; Michael and Alex, and the Bournes. What do you say?"

I smile at him. "That would be smashing, Father." And then I think about something else. "Oh, I forgot to tell you, I've got a new puppy called Trotter."

Father laughs. "A puppy called Trotter?!"

"Yes Father. Alex got it for me. Don't worry, it's not coming here. She's staying at Michael's place."

Father chuckles. "You're dead right it's not coming here! Mother would have a fit!"

Still chuckling, he shakes his head and leaves the room, and I reflect on what we've said. In some ways, the conversation has eased my worries. Father understands how deep my friendship with Michael is and no way is he trying to stop it, so if I can get Michael to go to a better University, Father will also understand that I will need to see him regularly, no matter where he is. That could play to our advantage. There's just one small thing to sort out now... getting Michael to go to a better University. Well, not only that, even if I can persuade him to go to one; how he will be able to afford to go? Maybe I can swing that at the next dinner a week on Sunday. I need a bloody miracle to sort all this lot out! Hopefully, as Alex often says: It will all come right in the wash.

I'm alone, leaning against the door pillar of the gym and I'm pretending to read a book. Actually, I'm watching Michael, who is about fifty yards away, chatting to Arthur Brookfield. He's facing me, and we're both aware that we're watching one another. Someone comes to the side of me and leans against the wall.

"You're a lucky fellow, Begbie."

I turn and see Jenkinson of the fourth form. I've seen him many times and taken little notice of him. He's taller than me, and good looking, and wears a nice manner about himself. Not the bully, nor gregarious, and neither is he inclined to make unsolicited conversation, which makes it a surprise that he's chosen to speak to me. I look at him. "What do you mean, Jenkinson?"

He smiles, and for the first time I see something that has passed me by until now: he is slightly effeminate. "Michael. I'm in love with him too." I begin to protest, but he puts his hands up and smiles. "It's ok. There's no need to hide it from me. I'm like you, and I've no intention of advertising it. Life is difficult enough as it is. Don't worry, your secret is safe with me, and one never knows... you may need an ally one day. If you do, I'm here for you. That's why I'm here. Although I'm jealous because I think Michael is absolutely gorgeous, I've no intention of trying to muscle in on you two. I would be wasting my time anyway; he adores you, you lucky devil."

I decide he's speaking the truth, and I take a chance. "If you know, how many others know?"

He smiles. "Very few, I expect. You've both done a brilliant job of hiding it. But you need to learn not to whistle too loudly, and Michael needs to learn not to throw gold chains at you in front of the whole school."

And with that comment, he grins and walks away, and I begin to think. Apart from the few obvious boys who don't try at all to hide their homosexuality and accept the jibes as a matter of course, there are three of us who I'm certain are hiding our sexuality in this school: Michael and I; and now Jenkinson. Given that there eight hundred boys in this school, there's a good chance that there are a lot more of us, and we're all doing the same thing; hiding ourselves by pretending to be heterosexuals. The thought makes me grin, and it gives me a gentle nudge to make sure nobody else is after my man. They won't all be like Jenkinson: clever enough to know that Michael has eyes only for one boy. Or does he? I dismiss that thought the instant it enters my head, and I smile. If there's one thing of which I can be certain about, it's that Michael is mine. Then I chuckle inside. The monkey says he likes Nudger Thompson's bum. Can't say I blame him. Nudger is a real good-looker... and he has got a nice bum.

Cameron Begbie – Stuart's father.

Stuart is sitting on the sofa opposite me, watching television. Anne is preparing dinner for our guests who will be arriving at six-thirty for dinner at eight. I'm beginning to look at my son in a new light nowadays, and I'm impressed. Although they're hiding it brilliantly, I have absolutely no doubt that he and Michael are sexually involved. The old saying that 'it takes one to know one' is apt in my case, although I do have the luxury of being bi-sexual. Maybe Stuart is too? I hope so: it would make 'things' a lot easier. Although I have absolutely zero sexual thoughts about my boy, I can see the beauty in him that has attracted Michael. Even though he's boy-boisterous, he's quite an effeminate looking boy; clever; gregarious; very loving; has a happy disposition, and, like me, is completely loyal to those worthy of his affections. And Michael? He's a super catch. If they make it, I know Michael will be worthy of him.

But it's early days yet, and Stuart is only just turned fourteen. Many a slip twixt cup and lip. It might die its own death, but that won't change Stuart from what he is. It's why I'm doing my own plotting to help them. Two days ago I spoke to Sir Clarence. He's told me that a place at Oxford is waiting for Michael if I can get him to take it, and a four year bursary is already arranged to take care of his financial needs. He told me about Alex's ambush, and we both laughed about it. I like Alex, and that's another matter I need to deal with tonight. Yes, things are slipping nicely into place. All we need to overcome now is Michael's pig-headedness. If he truly loves Stuart, he will just have to bite the bullet and do as he's told.

Stuart Begbie.

I was disappointed earlier when I couldn't find an opportunity to sneak Michael off to my bedroom. Mother and Father, Mr and Mrs Bourne, Alex and Michael, and myself are all seated at the dining table. It's the usual seating arrangements; Father and Mother at each end of the table with Mr and Mrs Bourne opposite; Michael to my right, and Alex to my left. Alex had made us laugh by referring to me as 'a rose between two thorns'. For his impudence, I'd kicked him under the table. He just grinned at me.

After dinner, we're eating cheese and biscuits, and Alex, pulling silly faces at me, is telling us how wonderful the Gorgonzola is when Father excuses himself and goes to the office. When he returns, he hands Michael an envelope. Michael looks puzzled, and then, when Father nods to him, he opens it, and I can almost see the colour drain from Michael's face. All the fun has left him and been replaced with a seriousness that is disturbing. I know what's in the letter, and so does everyone else... except Alex. I go quiet, and my heart is pounding and I want to run away. I'm almost in tears, and Alex notices that I am, and he gives me a puzzled look. I look into his beautiful eyes, and shrug my shoulders.

And then the Man Alex takes over. He reaches out a hand to Michael. "Let me look at that, Kiddo."

Michael sort of hands it to him as if it's of no consequence. Alex reads it, and then looks directly at his brother, and they both stare into each other's eyes as only people who are very close to each other can. They're speaking with their eyes, and when I glance at both of them, I can see that there's a battle going on, and I know what the battle is about. The letter is from Sir Clarence Reeves-Jenkins, and in it he has explained about the place at Oxford waiting for Michael, and also the offer of the four-year bursary.

It's Alex who breaks the awkward silence. He looks at Father. "Is there somewhere private where I could talk to Michael, please?"

I'm pretty shocked at the change in Alex. This isn't the fun Alex, this is a ruthless new Alex, and the tone of his voice and the fact that he's used the term 'Michael' rather than 'Kiddo' is also indicative to me that, in this mood, I definitely wouldn't want to mess with him.

Father points to the office. "You may use the office."

Alex shakes his head. "No, I need somewhere really private."

Father looks out the window. "It's not raining. You could take a walk in the garden?"

Alex smiles a false smile. "Good idea." He gets out of his chair and grabs Michael by the shoulder, and his voice is unambiguous that Michael should do as he's told. "Come on, Michael. We need to talk."

When they've left the room, there are audible sounds of anxiety from all of us, and I'm shaking like a leaf and feeling sick because I know Michael and I have reached a major turning point in our lives. It could well spell the end for us if Michael reacts badly to the offer, and I know that I have only one chance: Alex. There's no one else in the world who can deal with this; not even me.

Father notices the condition I'm in and says, "Why don't you go to your room Stuart? I'll call you down if and when it's sorted."

I'm not sure it is a good idea to be in my room, because when I get there I can see Michael and Alex in a heated and animated discussion in the garden below me. I hide behind the curtain so they can't see me, and watch what's going on.

It really is heated, and it really is animated. Michael's gestures are obvious – he's furious. Alex's gestures alternate between conciliatory and angry. At one point, I think he's going to hit Michael. Even though I can't bear not to look, because the outcome is so important, I also want to throw myself onto my bed and cry away the hurt that is bringing tears to my eyes. It goes on for ages, and then they both return to the house. Now I really am sick, and I go to the bathroom and spew everything I've eaten into the toilet bowl.

Cameron Begbie.

While Alex and Michael are in the garden and my son is in his bedroom, we discuss the situation. I can see that Leslie Bourne is anxious, and Anne is pretty much out of it. Unlike me, she doesn't know how close our son and Michael really are. I'm worried myself, because this could be the end of what they have if Michael reacts badly. But I am impressed with Alex, and my plans for him have been further strengthened by the way he's handled this. However, that will come later, and only if Michael accepts the offer to go to Oxford.

Anne holds up her hands. "I'm beginning to wonder if I live in a parallel universe. The boy has a place at Oxford and a bursary to take care of his finances, and he's out in the garden arguing with his brother about whether to take it? Is it just me who doesn't understand?"

I smile at her. "It takes all sorts to make a world, Darling. I think I understand, but I think Leslie understands better." I look at Leslie, who is resting his chin lightly on the tips of his fingers. He looks as if he's praying. "A penny for your thoughts, Leslie?"

Leslie smiles wistfully. "I was just thinking back to the first day I saw Michael. He was, truly, a pathetic young boy. Completely out of his depth. Even so, after just a few hours of knowing him, I knew there was something deep inside him that was worthy of my attention. I suppose I can say that he's partly my creation. I've nursed him, and kicked him up the backside, and now, thanks to you and Anne and Stuart, I'm about to see him go to Oxford and become something he couldn't have dreamed of when he first came to the school. Well, I say, hopefully, because there's always been one part of his nature that I haven't been able to penetrate: his pride. I'm hoping the old saying, 'Pride comes before a fall' doesn't happen in this instance. It would be tragic if it did."

Leslie is just about to continue when the door opens and Michael and Alex enter the room. Alex takes his place at the table, but Michael is still standing.

He looks directly at me. "Where's Stuart?"

I nod upwards. "He's in his bedroom. I think he's worried about you."

"Would you mind if I go to him?"

I shake my head. "No. I think it would be best if you had a word with him. You know your way."

Michael Johnson.

I knock on the door, but there's no answer. I open it and look around the bedroom. Stuart's not there, and then I hear him being sick in his bathroom, and I'm hurt to my very core because I know his condition is because of me. I go to the bathroom and look inside. He's on his knees, leaning over the lavatory, retching. I ask him if he's ok, and when he turns to me I can see that he doesn't look at all well. His face is almost white and tears are streaming from his face. I go to him, lift him to his feet, and lead him to the washbowl and turn on the taps. Then I wipe his face with a facecloth and make him clean his teeth, and then lead him, shivering, to his bedroom, and then put an arm around his small shoulders and wrap my other arm around him while we sit on the edge of the bed.

His pleading eyes stare into mine. "What have you decided?"

I shrug my shoulders. "I haven't... yet. I wanted to speak to you first. Are you up to it?"

Stuart leans his head against my shoulder and hugs my arm tightly. Then he looks up at me and nods. "Because I love you so much, I'm worried sick about you."

I take his chin in my hand and gently kiss his lips. "You knew about the letter, didn't you?"

He drops his head, and nods. "Yes, but I didn't dare say anything. I know what you're like, and I was frightened. I'm still frightened. Why do you want to talk to me?"

I lift his head back up, because what I'm about to say to Stuart, I need to do it face-to-face. "If I go, I'll be losing you, and that's not something I ever want to do."

Stuart's face mellows and love tears seep from his eyes. "You'll never lose me Michael. It doesn't matter where you are, or where you go, you'll never lose me. You're going to leave our school in a few weeks anyway, so that will be part of what we are... gone. And when I leave school and go to University, I won't be going to the City one, so that's another part of what we are... gone. If you and I are to be together then we'll have to learn to live apart at times. Well, at least until we're both old enough to organize our lives so we can live together. If we truly love each other, then we're both going to have to make sacrifices. I want you to go to Oxford. I want you to swallow that pride of yours and accept the bursary. And why do I want that? Because it's best for both of us. It's not the end of the world. We'll still see each other regularly. I'll make sure of that. Father will make sure of that. Alex will make sure of that. Well? Please, please do it... for me."

My mind is like a whirlpool; all scenarios and ideas draining into a focal point... what is best for Stuart and me, and I know what he's said makes sense now I've come out of the shock of receiving the letter. Stuart is echoing exactly what Alex has just said to me. I blow out a huge breath, and then take Stuart's chin in my hand again, and I kiss him. "Ok. But I want to see you as often as I can."

I can see the relief in Stuart's face, and the anxiety drains away, and the sobs from deep within him confirm what I can see. He throws his arms around me and buries his head in my neck, and I hold him as tightly as I can and allow his hurt and worry to flow into me. This is the young man I love; the young man who has schemed and plotted brilliantly to ensure my future is secure; and all this because he loves me deeply. I think of the day the Magic Cap landed at my feet and what has happened since, and I know, although he is only just fourteen-years-old, he is mature well beyond his years. I also know that even though he is the feminine one of our duo, he will, because he's smart and determined, if we make it, will be the guiding part of what we will become. I can feel the warmth of him; and it's comforting. I can smell him; and it's relaxing. I can see him; and I understand what true love really is: and I hug him even tighter.

It takes a while for us both to come to terms with what is happening, but after some soothing words between us, a few jokes, and some shared kisses, we decide it's time to join the others.

Cameron Begbie.

I know the moment Michael enters the room with my son that everything is going to be fine. Although I know Stuart has been crying, they're both smiling now, and as Michael passes his brother, he thumps him in the middle of the back. As soon as they're seated, Stuart elbows Michael. "Well! Tell them!"

Michael looks directly at me. "Thank you Sir. I've decided to accept Sir Clarence's generous offer. My apologies for acting as I did. It came as quite a shock to me."

I smile at him and look him straight in the eyes. "I'm sure it did. Had I been in your place, Michael, I think I would have run away. A place at Oxford and a bursary is beyond anyone's dreams. But I will say this, it's no more than you deserve. Your own efforts have earned the right to what you've been offered. Had you been a wastrel like some of those who come from far wealthier backgrounds than yours, Mr Bourne would not have wasted his time on you, and you wouldn't be in my house now, and nor would Sir Clarence have gone to the trouble he has to sort things out for you. No, Michael, what you have is down entirely to your efforts, and those who recognize the talents you have, and you're not finished yet; the world is your oyster."

Alex clamps his hand on Stuart's shoulder. "And me and Kiddo here will send you some pig's trotters every week, won't we kiddo? While those posh buggers are eating foydee grass, you can be chomping on your... what's the posh name for them Kiddo?"

Stuart laughs. "Pied de cochon."

Alex winks at Stuart. "That's the stuff, Kiddo. I hope you won't neglect me when he's gone off rowing up the Thames. I'll need you to decipher his letters once he's learnt to talk posh."

I look across at Anne, and she's stifling a laugh, and Leslie and Angela have huge grins on their faces, and Michael is embarrassed by his brother's lack of etiquette. But I'm not. I point a finger at Alex. "I haven't finished yet. Part of this deal is that you come and work for me. It's all arranged. I have a trainee managerial appointment to be filled in the plant section of my business, and because I have an honest, conscientious, hard working man lined up for the job, I've told my people not to advertise it. Well?"

I can see the twinkle in Alex's eyes when he answers. "I'm afraid I don't know anything about plants, Sir. I never did have green fingers. If I sow cabbages, they come up as lettuces. I think you might be making a big mistake."

I laugh. "You know very well that I mean civil-engineering plant: machinery; bulldozers; diggers; etc. Well?"

Alex breathes in, and then exhales a long sigh. "Is there somewhere private I could talk to Michael, please?"

I chuckle. "You can always use the garden. You know your way about it by now."

Alex laughs. "Maybe not then. I suppose the err..." he rubs his fingers together in the universally recognised animation of receiving money, "...will be ok?"

I nod. "Far better that what you earn now, and once you've done your training, you might even become one of us posh people. You'll be able to eat your pied de cochon on a silver platter."

Alex winks at me, and then he's serious. "Will it mean me working away from home?"

"Yes. Probably. We have contracts all over the country. Why do you ask?"

He nods towards Stuart. "Somebody's got to look after his Trotter, so I've got three choices. I refuse the job and look after the little chap at my house; I take him with me on the job, or you have him here."

Anne puts her hands up in horror. "I can't have a dog here! I'm allergic to dog hairs!"

I smile at Anne's reaction to Alex's option, which doesn't surprise me at all, but I'm amused that the thought of the dog had never crossed my mind when I was considering offering Alex a job. "Can't you give him away to a good home?"

Alex shakes his head and puts his hand on Stuart's shoulder. "It's not my dog; its Kiddo's; and when I gave Trotter to him, I made him a promise that I'd always look after his dog, and I will, no matter what."

Alex's words amaze me. "You mean that you would sacrifice your whole future for a dog?"

Alex looks me right in the eyes; and I know I'm seeing the real Alex. He shakes his head. "I wouldn't be sacrificing my future. I have a future. Which way it goes depends on circumstances. At the moment, those circumstances are a little puppy called Trotter and a promise I made to Stuart. I knew full well what I was getting into when I made that promise." Now, there's a challenging look in Alex's narrowed eyes when he says, "So, Sir, the ball is in your court. It's Alex and Trotter, or I shall, respectfully, and very thankfully, decline the offer."

Everyone is silent, and, I think, fascinated by the conversation, and Alex stares unblinking at me, so I decide this is an ideal time for him and me to have a talk. I get up from the table. "If everyone would excuse us, I think Alex and I need to have a private conversation in my office. Alex?"

Alex nods, grins, and gets up, and we both go into the office.

Alexander Johnson.

Mr Begbie makes himself comfortable in a maroon leather seat behind a large mahogany desk and beckons me to take an identical seat opposite him, which I do, and I'm thinking how much more comfortable it is than Dada's chair back home.

"Would you like a drink, Alex?"

I shake my head. "No thank you Sir."

"Right then, let's get down to business, shall we?"

I nod. "Sounds good to me, but I won't be changing my mind about Trotter."

He narrows his eyes, and smiles. "No, I didn't think you would. So, whatever we discuss, we can take it as done that Trotter is part and parcel of the package." Then I see him thinking and I'm wondering what's going through his mind. Then he leans right back in his chair and looks into my eyes when he says, "Before we discuss our employment, I want to know your true feelings about Stuart and Michael. I have my own thoughts, but I would appreciate yours. You're no fool, so are you in favour of it, or do you think it will lead to complications?"

I look at the man sitting opposite me and decide I need to choose my words carefully. I've been studying the man since the first day we met. He's a good looking guy of about forty, immaculate cut hair that is greying slightly at the temples, he has a brain as sharp as a razor, and I like his sense of humour, which is an important part of a person to me. The fact that he's the Managing Director of one of the top five civil engineering businesses in the country would confirm my assessment of him that he's a very clever person, and if I were to tell any lies, he'll see behind any outright ones I might tell. So I decide to be crafty and play him at his own game, which, I'm sure, is to try and get out of me things that he's not sure about regarding Michael and Stuart. So I shrug my shoulders, and tell him, "I have no problems with those two at all. Well, let me put that in a slightly different way... I have no problems with your boy whatsoever. When I first saw him, he was a shy young creature, but once I'd got him to relax and won his trust, he sort of blossomed into someone I'm very fond of. He's loyal beyond the usual, has a mind as sharp as a razor, he's cool and calculating, is advanced in some ways beyond his years, and in some other ways he reminds me of you. I know you belong to the Old-School-Tie-Brigade, but it took more than that for you to get where you are. And that's how I see Stuart progressing."

Mr Begbie nods. "And Michael?"

"Michael is Michael. He's carrying a lot of baggage on his young shoulders. If I had my way, I'd shoot some of the bloody teachers at his school. He wasn't like he is now before he went to that school. I'm five years older than him, and I was working before he went there. Yes, we were always poor, but before he went to that school he was a poor boy amongst other poor boys. Maybe a bit poorer than some, but he wasn't out of place, and he wouldn't have been out of place at the school he goes to now if some of the teachers hadn't treated him like shit, and the same goes for some of the kids too. They're not all like his mate, Arthur Brookfield, and your boy. But you can expect that of kids; they're naturally cruel. The teachers are a different kettle of fish. They don't have the right to treat anyone with disrespect simply because they don't have decent clothes on their backs. He would have left school at sixteen with just his Ordinary GCE Levels had it not been for Mr Bourne persuading him to stay on until he was eighteen and get his Advanced Levels. He's a true gentleman is that man, and my family will always be eternally grateful to him."

All the while I'm speaking, Stuart's father is nodding, and when I stop speaking, he smiles. "I agree with all that, but I want to go deeper. I want to know what you think of Michael and Stuart."

I pull a face, and look into his eyes. "As I said, I don't have a problem with them." And then, because I can sense he knows something, I decide to test him,. "Maybe you should be the one to have a problem with them? Well, Stuart is only fourteen. Maybe you're thinking he'll grow out of it?"

Mr Begbie cocks his head to one side and I know he's carefully considering his next words. "No, I don't think he will. Not many people know it, but I first met Anne when she was thirteen and I was eighteen. That's when it began for us, but, of course, we had to wait a long time before we could make it official. Before I continue, are we on the same wavelength, that there's more to their friendship than just friendship?"

Now I'm sure he knows and he seems ok with it, I feel can open up a bit, so I reply, "Yes. I've known for a while. Does it bother you?"

He shakes his head. "No, it doesn't bother me. It doesn't bother me because I can stop it dead at a moment's notice. The only things that bother me are the ones I have no control over. However, I can't say I'm not concerned. Do you feel the same way?"

I shrug my shoulders. "I suppose I do, and if your Stuart didn't have an old head on his young shoulders I would probably have stepped in myself and made things very awkward for both of them. But having said that; I really am amazed at your boy. I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like him, and I certainly wouldn't like to be in your shoes if you decided to end the friendship. I don't think he would ever forgive you if you did."

Mr Begbie chuckles. "I know he wouldn't, so it's lucky that I've no intention of coming between them. Of course, they'll have to be clever, and they'll have to duck and weave for some years to come, but they might be lucky and make it. Anyway, you seem fine with it, so that's put part of my mind at rest. And now we understand each other with the boys, what about taking that job I offered you?"

"It sounds great, and I'll take it if everything suits, but I am a bit puzzled why you've offered me the job. Is it because I'm involved with the boys?"

"Partly. It's because of them that we've become acquainted, but we could still maintain that acquaintance even if I didn't offer you the job. The real reason is because I like you and I can see potential in you. I want people around me who I can trust to do an honest day's work. I want people who are conscientious, smart, and hungry to better themselves. One day, I want to retire, and I want to do that knowing I have people who I can trust to run the business without me worrying that I have to be looking over their shoulders all the time. I don't think I'm wrong in thinking you fit those criteria?"

I shrug my shoulders. "The only downside is that I'm not an educated man. Don't you need an educated person to be a manager?"

He grins and shakes his head. "No. I've got plenty of those in the business already, and I wouldn't trust some of them to lay a foundation for a greenhouse. By the way, can you drive?"

His question takes me by surprise. "No. Well, I can drive a coal-cutter underground, and a few people bonkers, but I don't have a driving licence if that's what you mean."

He laughs. "I can see you driving me bonkers before you're the finished article, but as soon as you start, I'll get you into one of those crash-courses, and as soon as you've passed your driving test, you'll need a Land Rover to get about. When can you start?"

I decide that everything that is important to discuss is sorted, and I revert back to the clown side of myself, which he seems to like. "Me and Trotter can put in our notice-to-quit first thing in the morning, and we can start a week tomorrow. Will that be okay?"

He laughs, and I see a twinkle in his eyes as he does. "That will be fine. As you know, our sub-office is only half a mile from the pit you work in, so you and Trotter won't have a problem getting there until you've passed your tests. I'd better warn them that one man and his dog will be reporting for duty. Ben Clewlow is my manager there. He's a great chap, and I reckon you two will get on fine. As a matter of fact, Ben takes his Labrador dog to work with him, so Trotter will have a mate."

Now it's my turn to laugh, and I'm really getting to like my new boss, so I pay him a high compliment. "You could work down the pit, no bother. I reckon I'm going to enjoy working for you."

Mr Begbie is laughing as he gets up out of his seat, and when we're walking back to the others, he puts his hand on my shoulder and whispers in my ear. "As far as Mrs Begbie is concerned, for the time being, Stuart and Michael are just good friends. Okay?"

I nod, and we join the others, and as we sit chatting and laughing and generally enjoying ourselves now the crisis is over, I reflect that the burden of making sure one person in my life gets no shit is now doubled. Little Lover Boy is now also under my protection, and as he begins to relax, I detect even more of what he is. His facial beauty is obvious, but now, as I watch the small movements of his arms and hands and fingers, for the very first time I realise how it's possible that there can be two genders in a human body, and I also understand why Michael has fallen so deeply in love with him. If Stuart had been a girl and he was ten years older, I would not have said 'no' to having sex with him. So, the only difference between me and Michael is in the mind. There's not a lot of difference between us after all!

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