In his hurried departure from Bruno's house, Malcolm had left behind his sheet music and at teatime, as he still hadn't phoned to mention it, Bruno found the courage to ring Malcolm's house. It was Malcolm's mother who answered.
"Hello, dear, I'm afraid Malcolm's had an accident."
At this, Bruno's chest heaved and his heart begun to thump. "W-what kind of accident?" he stammered.
"Oh, he's alright, dear but he fell off his bike and two of his fingers are hurt. Well, he's grazed his leg too but it's his fingers he's most worried about. I'm sure he'll be fine but you know how seriously he takes his piano-playing. Look, poppet, could you nip round tomorrow to see him? He needs cheering up and you'd be just the ticket. He thinks the world of you!"
For the rest of the evening Bruno fluctuated between worry about Malcolm's fingers and joy about Malcolm 'thinking the world' of him. He even forgot to change back into his cord shorts. He decided Malcolm's mum had been so upbeat there couldn't be much wrong with Malcolm so turned his thoughts to the business of the grazed leg. He wondered which bit of the leg was grazed and whether he'd be able to see it, maybe even to touch it. Excited by the prospect of intimacy with Malcolm's leg, he went to bed, tossed himself off and fell asleep.
Bruno's mother, in her insistence that her son wore short trousers regardless of the weather, or fashion, had no idea of the trauma this caused the poor boy, especially at school. She intended his grey school shorts to last for years. She'd had three pairs made when Bruno was thirteen, with too big a waist size so he could grow into them. They had no belt-loops so he'd always need to use braces to keep them up and she'd sewn a set of braces to each pair. She thought he'd accepted the situation as he now asked for long trousers less often so she assumed he'd reconciled himself to being bare-legged and was proud of his lovely brown legs. As if to prove her right, he'd chosen to wear the grey shorts at home on Saturday, while she and her husband were out and it greatly pleased her. He wore them till bedtime. If only she knew the truth.
Malcolm's mother, on the other hand, didn't try to choose her son's wardrobe for him. With several pairs of jeans and chinos and some colourful polo shirts he was quite a snappy dresser and happily wore jacket and tie when the occasion demanded, as at school. His only shorts were those he had to wear for taking part in sports. His mother knew he was a gifted pianist and was certain his fingers would be right as rain in no time at all. Aware that Malcolm valued Bruno's friendship (he was always talking about Bruno), she wanted the younger boy to come over the next day to offer sympathy after the accident. Nonetheless, she wished Malcolm had a girlfriend; he was well into his seventeenth year and had never yet brought a girlfriend round to say hello. Not for the first time, she wondered whether she could do something about it. She wanted what was best for Malcolm but she wanted grandchildren too and Malcolm was her only child. It would be such a pity if he turned out to be gay - or that strange thing - a shirt-lifter.
Next morning, Bruno cycled to Malcolm's, hoping Malcolm's mother had been right and that Malcolm did think the world of him. As on the day before, when Malcolm had arrived at the Perrys', Bruno looked like a boy at a prep school - green pullover, grey corduroy shorts, knee-socks and sandals. He also wore an anorak, which was just as well as he'd been caught in a heavy shower as he cycled over.
"Goodness, you must be Bruno," said Malcolm's mother as she opened the door. "You're soaked to the skin! Let's have your anorak off. Yes, your shorts and socks are drenched. Let me put them in the drier - you can wear some of Malcolm's trousers. He's upstairs listening to his CDs. He's resting his leg, so I don't want him coming downstairs. Nip up and say hello. Bedroom's first on the right. Then throw your shorts and socks downstairs and I'll dry them."
Thanking Malcolm's mother, Bruno began to climb the stairs. Seconds later Malcolm, in a blue dressing gown, was standing on the landing. He'd been looking out for Bruno with growing excitement and now, as he watched his wet young friend coming upstairs he hastily refastened his dressing gown because something inside his boxers was trying to push it open.
"Thanks for coming," said Malcolm. "But you're drenched!"
"Your Mum's said she'll dry my shorts and socks so could I borrow some trousers, please?"
Two minutes later Bruno had taken his cord shorts and long woollen socks down to Malcolm's mother and was back in Malcolm's bedroom, in a pair of Malcolm's jeans. Malcolm was lying on the bed, his head propped up on two fat pillows, his dressing gown not quite meeting in the middle. Bruno could see Malcolm's boxer shorts were striped blue and white, just like the ones he'd worn at The King's Theatre that fateful night, almost six months ago.
"So, how're your fingers?" asked Bruno. "I was really worried when your mum told me you'd lost feeling in them."
"That didn't last long, thank God. Look at them - they're grazed but otherwise in working order. Luckily I didn't damage any tendons or anything."
"And your leg," said Bruno. "Badly grazed, is it?"
Malcolm pulled his dressing gown aside for Bruno to see the nasty graze on the side of his right thigh. A scab was beginning to form and the wound was weeping slightly.
"Mum's taken off the bandage and wants me to let the air get to it so I shouldn't pull my dressing gown over it. D'you mind? I'm not a pretty sight."
Bruno disagreed - he thought Malcolm in dressing gown and boxers was a very pretty sight indeed but he daren't say so.
"Mum had to cut my jeans off when I got home," said Malcolm. "My fault for wearing such tight ones."
"You looked fantastic in those tight jeans," said Bruno, quickly adding "I mean - you looked so grown up. Not like me, always in silly shorts."
Malcolm wanted to say Bruno looked fantastic in his shorts, the sillier the better but that was where he'd come unstuck the day before when he'd only just managed to flee before admitting Bruno looked sexy. He decided to talk about his hurt leg.
"Makes a change, Bruno: me with bare legs and you in long trousers. My leg looks like it's gone ten rounds with your bloody Peregrine Strange! Look, it's hot to the touch. Want a feel?"
Bruno got eagerly to his feet and put a hand on Malcolm's thigh, running the backs of his fingers gently across the smooth, pale skin towards the injured area. "I won't touch the hurt bit but I can feel your leg's very warm around here." He pressed his knuckles gently on a pristine area beside the wound on Malcolm's right thigh. "Poor you." He was aware of movement inside Malcolm's boxers.
Malcolm began to panic. He'd exposed his leg to Bruno and had invited him to touch and now he was getting a flaming hard-on. Bruno could see very clearly what was happening and it filled him with joy. He felt Malcolm tense the muscles in his leg and he swiftly withdrew his hand and sat down again. Malcolm had whipped the dressing gown over to cover his front and had tried to stop his cock from making a tent but he knew Bruno had seen.
"Bloody hell! You must think I'm a sex maniac! Most boys wouldn't get a hard-on when their mate touches their knee!"
"It wasn't your knee, Malcolm," said Bruno. And then, taking a deep breath and summoning all his courage he added "And anyway, I'm glad you liked it."
Darting his eyes to Bruno's groin, Malcolm saw a bulge in the jeans. So Bruno might feel something for him. The feeling could be mutual!
"Oh God, why?" gasped Malcolm. He glanced at the closed door and continued in a hoarse whisper "I'm not gay or anything but sometimes when I'm with you I - um - feel something ...."
"You're my best friend - my only friend," said Bruno very quietly. "I didn't like it when you ran off yesterday. Couldn't we just carry on being friends, please?"
"Yeah, of course! Let's talk about music or something. I don't want us to have these feelings again, it's not right."
"No, I s'pose not," said a disappointed Bruno, turning to music. "I've brought the scores you left at my place yesterday. They're downstairs but even if your fingers were working you've nothing to play it on so shall we talk about the Christmas concert. D'you still want us to do a duet?"
"Definitely," said Malcolm, "and I've had some ideas. The Dolly Suite is great but people might think it's a bit - well - childish, so maybe we could do something a bit more sort of muscular as well."
"Yeah, I see your point. I'll ask Dad for some ideas. Something a bit more fiery."
The boys were happily chatting about music when Malcolm's mother came in with a tray of tea and sandwiches. "You're looking much happier, Malcolm, darling. I knew Bruno would do you good. Now, those old jeans of yours, the ones I had to cut off yesterday. It'd be such a pity to throw them away so I thought I could cut off the other leg and make them into a pair of shorts. Denim cut-offs are very trendy, I've heard. What do you think, sweetheart?"
"But Mum, I never wear shorts..."
"But Bruno does and he looks very dashing. Don't you, Bruno, poppet?"
Bruno could only blush. He'd have loved to say how fabulous Malcolm would look in little cut-offs but he daren't. Instead he smiled briefly at Malcolm's mother and then looked away, embarrassed.
"Too modest," said Malcolm's mother, smiling maternally. "Well, Malcolm, let's see what you think when I've done them." She went back downstairs, convinced that her son, although he'd protested, would eventually approve of her plan.
"Your mum's lovely," said Bruno. "I bet she never makes you wear anything you don't want to."
"No, she doesn't. At least, not yet. I hope she doesn't seriously think I'm going to wear denim cut-offs."
"Well, I always have to wear shorts. You'd be keeping me company..."
"It ain't gonna happen!" said Malcolm and then saw Bruno's face fall and felt sorry. "Sorry, Bruno, I didn't mean it that way. It's just that I hate wearing shorts."
"So do I," said Bruno, sadly.
"We're getting nowhere," said Malcolm. "Can we go back to talking about music?"
Later, when Bruno had swapped Malcolm's jeans for his now-dry shorts and had cycled home, Malcolm regretted his off-hand attitude to Bruno. 'I'm sure he wants to pour out his heart to me and I didn't give him the chance. I never give him the chance. He said I'm his only friend. If that's true I should bloody well start acting like a friend.'
Malcolm lay back and remembered when his thigh was being stroked by Bruno, so gently, so sexily. He remembered getting a hard-on and that Bruno seemed almost to expect it. 'Surely he can't find me sexy, like I find him sexy? I'm not sexy, not at all.'
That night, Malcolm had another Bruno-dream. This time they were playing duets at the Christmas concert, Bruno in his cord shorts and Malcolm in denim cut-offs. The applause was deafening and there were catcalls and wolf-whistles. Malcolm awoke with a warm, sticky patch on his boxers.
Malcolm's mother would like to have kept him at home for a day or three until his leg had healed but he was keen to return to school on the Monday, purely because he wanted to see Bruno and to play music with him. With Bruno's Grade Six out of the way, the boys could concentrate on what they wanted to perform at the Christmas concert. Even better, Peregrine Strange, Bruno's violin tutor, would be away until the next term so Bruno's right thigh was spared from the frequent slappings that Strange liked to inflict. In November the boys firmed up their programme. They'd start with Fauré's Dolly Suite, played on the piano as a duet and then Bruno would pick up his violin and with Malcolm on the piano, they'd play Elgar's Chanson du Matin. Their finale would be another piano duet - something Bruno's father was in the process of choosing.
As gifted musicians, Malcolm and Bruno were excused contact sports so they didn't have to play rugby. On sports afternoons they were able to spend about three hours in the warm rehearsal room, practising their routine for the concert and playing lots of other pieces. Afterwards, however, Bruno would wait in the cold for his father to take him home in the car, long after the rugger players had had their hot showers, dressed warmly and gone home. Malcolm thought it ludicrous that Bruno, whose grey shorts were so much shorter than rugger shorts, had to hang about in freezing winds for his lift home. He'd noticed how Bruno's once-bronzed thighs had paled to winter plumage, namely creamy-white when indoors and pink when outdoors, the pink varying in shade according to the degree of wind chill. Malcolm had seen photos of the long, gabardine raincoats schoolboys used to wear years ago. These garments extended below the knee and could keep the icy wind off bare thighs but these days all boys wore anoraks and Bruno's stopped exactly where his grey shorts did. Malcolm looked pityingly at his lovely young friend.
"Why don't we practise till your dad tells you he's ready to go home?" said Malcolm. "I don't see the point in you hanging around outside getting frozen."
"But you'd be late home," said Bruno.
"No problem," said Malcolm, thinking how nice it would be to spend longer with his friend. "I can always get a later bus, and at least I'm wearing long trousers."
Bruno smiled at Malcolm. "Thanks, I'd love it!"
The next Saturday morning Malcolm's mother presented him with the cut-offs she'd made from his jeans. "Now I know they're a bit on the brief side, darling but they're only a little shorter than Bruno's cords and he looks such a sweetie, doesn't he?"
"Um, yes, Mum - I mean - thanks - but it's mid-winter! I don't even like wearing shorts in summer!"
"Well, save them for the warmer weather, darling but I'm sure Bruno would appreciate a bit of solidarity, you know."
Malcolm went to his bedroom to try on the denim cut-offs and looking in the mirror was simultaneously shocked and aroused. They were extremely short - almost indecent - and he wondered what Bruno would think. Would Bruno find Malcolm even a little bit sexy? He decided to hide the shorts until next spring but before that there just might be a chance to model them in private to Bruno.
In bed that night, Malcolm wondered what his mother meant by solidarity. Was she aware of Bruno's chronic self-consciousness and did she think Malcolm ought to wear shorts as well? Malcolm lay in bed, wondering how he'd feel exposing as much flesh as poor Bruno had to do. He remembered that night as a page-turner and how embarrassed and humiliated he'd felt. Then he remembered his image in the mirror wearing the denim cut-offs. It hadn't been an entirely displeasing image.
'Solidarity with Bruno!' thought Malcolm as he settled down to a better than average thought session about Bruno, followed by the juiciest ever of wanks.
On Monday afternoon the boys met for their usual practice session. During a break in proceedings Bruno asked Malcolm if his mother had made his torn jeans into denim cut-offs. Malcolm looked at Bruno's eager face and felt his neck tingling as his courage deserted him. Blushingly he said yes, his mum had produced something but that he'd be far too embarrassed to wear them.
"I can't see they'd be any worse than what I've got to wear," said Bruno, scratching inside his tiny grey shorts. "This is the longest pair I've got and the itchiest. My skin feels like it's burning."
"Yeah, sorry, mate - I wasn't thinking," said Malcolm. Then he changed the subject. "Let's do that Malcolm Arnold once more."
Bruno's father had found a piano duet transcription Franz Reizenstein had made of Malcolm Arnold's English Dances and the boys were planning to play Set 1 at the concert. This comprised four very different pieces each with beautiful and catchy melodies and would make a good way to end their half-hour slot in the concert.
"Look," said Bruno, afterwards. "Now I'm fifteen I'm old enough to join the county youth orchestra and with my Grade 6 Dad thinks I ought to join."
"But that'd be fantastic!" said Malcolm. "They must always need violins, especially ones as good as you! I can see you as Leader in a year or two. It'd be brilliant! And then there's the National Youth Orchestra!"
"Who have a uniform," said Bruno, "so they all look the same. But in the county orchestra kids wear what they do at all their different schools. So guess what I'd have to wear."
"Ah," said Malcolm, feeling his cock stiffen. "But if you played for the county surely your Mum would let you have long trousers?"
"Nope. She says no to that."
"But have you spoken to her?"
"No point - she won't change her mind. The day you fell off your bike she got home just after you'd left and saw me in these stupid shorts and now she thinks I like 'em! She actually thinks I like the bloody things!"
"But you only put 'em on for me!" said Malcolm, "and I'd already made a twerp of myself and that's why I'd gone home!"
Seeing Bruno nod sadly, Malcolm said "Oh hell, so it's my fault she thinks you like 'em. I'm really sorry, my little B. But hey - if you wear those shorts in the county youth orchestra the girls will love you! I bet you won't be short of dates after every concert!"
"Oh Malcolm, haven't you got it yet? I don't want girls after me. I've got boys after me already, groping and stroking. I don't want anyone after me!" Bruno looked at Malcolm with tears in his eyes. "And certainly not girls!"
Bruno sat on a chair, put his head in his hands and drew his knees up to his chin, probably unaware that even his longest shorts were exposing some of his bare bottom. Malcolm was seized with emotion: he realised he wanted to keep that view of Bruno to himself. Why should anyone else be able to enjoy it? He went towards Bruno and put his hands on his shoulders, which were trembling. Malcolm tried to control himself and dared not answer Bruno's question.
"Please don't take it like that. I'm sorry I mentioned girls. The boys will be pretty impressed with you as well - I mean there are nice boys as well as those brutes."
As Malcolm said this he dreaded Bruno saying the name of another boy whom Bruno thought nice. He realised he'd be insanely jealous of another boy having feelings for Bruno.
Bruno raised his pretty face and looked at Malcolm with tears in his eyes. "Yes, I s'pose there could be ..."
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