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The Boy in Khaki Shorts

by Jolyon Lewes

Julian's attention was caught by the forlorn expression of the boy in the back of the blue Ford Cortina. It was an expression of profound sadness. Julian Joyner was a fair-haired boy of fifteen, holidaying with his family on a static-caravan site near Charmouth, a village on the Dorset coast. He and Ian, his younger brother, had been playing badminton on the grass but their mother had just called them in for tea. Julian was on his way to refill the kettle from the drinking water tap in the utility block when the Cortina had swept past him, driven by a very sour-faced man.

Returning to his caravan, Julian saw the Cortina parked beside the adjacent caravan and the occupants getting out: a man and woman and the sad-looking boy. Julian noticed the boy was wearing a shirt and tie, with loose-fitting grey corduroy shorts and a Fair Isle sweater. On his feet were grey ankle socks and Clarks sandals. 'A bit smart for a caravan holiday,' thought barefooted Julian, in just jeans and T-shirt.

The man, in open-necked shirt and slacks, opened the Cortina's boot but instead of getting anything out he made the boy lean over the luggage within.

"I'm tired of your constant whingeing!" he said. "If you think you're so bloody clever, you can bloody map-read next time!"

He pulled up a leg of the boy's shorts to expose more of the right thigh. This he began to slap, very hard. Julian could hardly believe his eyes. The sound of flesh being impacted was sharp enough to make Julian catch his breath each time. Then the man swore again and letting go of the boy's shorts, stood up straight and wiped his sweating brow.

Julian slowed his pace, unable to take his eyes off this cruel spectacle. The man saw the boy slowly straightening and gave him a mighty swipe round the head and Julian heard the poor boy gasping in pain and wondered why the woman fussing about in the caravan didn't intervene.

'Some mother,' thought Julian. He stood still, trying not to stare at the now-snivelling boy. The man entered the caravan and the boy was free to wipe his tears, rub his thigh and look anxiously about. That was when his eyes met and held Julian's. Julian had never seen such a tragic face.

Julian was strangely quiet as he ate his tea, thinking of the scene he'd just witnessed. It was August 1968 and corporal punishment was common but Julian had never seen it taking place in public – well, maybe on naughty toddlers but not on teenagers. He was haunted by the way the boy, who looked about thirteen, had seemed to look at him, almost pleadingly.

The boy, Nicholas Carpenter, had always looked young for his age, partly because his parents denied him long trousers, even in mid-winter. At school he was the only boy in his year still in short trousers. To add to this, he was very slightly built.

In sexual development, however, Nicholas was anything but immature. He didn't shave yet but his voice had broken and he'd been having wet dreams for months, a source of intense embarrassment for him as stains found on his bedding meant a beating from his father. Why he had to be beaten was never explained to poor Nicholas. He was told he was disgusting and filthy and would probably go blind but was never offered any practical precautions. At school he'd heard a boy talking about 'putting a sock on it' and now he kept a secret rolled-up sock which he stuffed on his cock before he went to sleep – if he remembered.

Nicholas, an only child, had enjoyed quite a happy childhood but when he was twelve, his father had changed careers and this coincided with an inexplicable and dramatic hardening of his attitude to his son. It was very confusing for Nicholas. One minute he was criticised for being childish and told to be more grown up, the next he was told he was getting too big for his boots and reminded he was only a boy.

Nicholas was approaching his fifteenth birthday and he'd recently broached, yet again, the subject of long trousers. "Daddy, all the boys in my year have long trousers so could I please have some, even if only for school? Please, Daddy."

"You'll not be wearing long trousers as long as you live under my roof, young man! Get out of my sight! Go and help your mother wash up. And don't slouch!"

To be called a young man and in the same sentence told he'd be staying in shorts until further notice was typical of the contradictions Nicholas had continually to face. His mother still kissed him goodnight but otherwise rarely touched him, while from his father there was never the slightest sign of affection. Worse, his mother didn't seem to notice her husband's animosity towards her son and Nicholas felt he couldn't confide in her or ask for help.

Nicholas yearned for a friend he could trust but boys his age - and younger - wore long trousers and his classmates avoided him, perhaps worried that their own parents might get ideas and make them wear shorts for school. Moreover, any friend of Nicholas had to be vetted by Mr Carpenter and most failed to meet his unspoken criteria. Those that didn't fail were put off by the threatening atmosphere in the Carpenter household and rarely made a second visit.

What about girlfriends? Well, Nicholas's lack of long trousers put paid to many a potential friendship before it began and the only three girls who'd come to the house had all failed their vetting. Besides, Nicholas knew he preferred boys. Of course, he could never express this to anyone and he'd much prefer to fancy girls, at least in principle. But, try as he may, his sexual fantasies dwelt exclusively upon boys: boys he knew and boys he imagined. He read avidly – mostly adventure stories – but these offered minimal escape and neither did his own little fantasies, for he realised that all of them were hopeless. With no close friends and no prospect of his father easing his rules, Nicholas saw ahead of him a long, dark tunnel.

At school he could immerse himself in learning but during the long school holidays his life was just awful. And here he was, at the start of something laughingly called a seaside holiday and on arrival he'd been thrashed for no good reason by his father, in front of a complete stranger, a boy in jeans. But, thought Nicholas, the boy had a kind face.

Julian and Ian wanted to ask the boy in grey shorts to play badminton. The brothers thought it might make them take the game more seriously, instead of forever collapsing onto the grass in helpless giggles. But how to approach him, that was the question. The kettle had just boiled for the washing up, so needed refilling. Julian, who'd hardly taken his eyes off the next-door caravan, spotted the boy stepping out of the door and heading for the site office.

"I'll just go and fill the kettle," said Julian and set off on his mission. Instead of returning to his caravan he loitered near the site office, pretending to look at notices. A minute or two later the boy emerged from the office, rubbing his right thigh. With face downcast, he walked towards Julian.

"Oh, hi," said Julian.

The boy recognised Julian and stopped in front of him, blushing. "Hullo," he said.

"Being as you're next door to us, my brother and I wonder whether you'd like to play badminton with us."

"Don't know," muttered Nicholas. "I'd have to ask my father. He sent me to get the times of church services tomorrow. We always go to church on Sundays."

"No, I meant now," said Julian, surprised the boy's voice had broken. Maybe he was older than thirteen. "We're not very good. It's just a laugh really. We could all do with a laugh." He hoped that last remark wouldn't be taken the wrong way.

"I'll have to get permission," said the boy, "and I'll have to change out of these clothes." He looked at Julian properly and beheld that kind face and tousled fair hair. "Thanks, I'd like to. My name's Nicholas, by the way. I'm nearly fifteen."

"I was fifteen in May so we're almost the same age; my name's Julian; nice to meet you; we got here this afternoon; I like this place; you been here before?" Julian realised he was gabbling and stopped himself.

"No, first time," said Nicholas, with such an air of sadness it startled Julian.

"Well, when you see Ian and me playing, come and join us. We'd both like that."

As Nicholas turned slowly back to his caravan, Julian saw him biting his lip, as if fearful of seeing his father again. And Julian saw him rubbing his right thigh again. Julian had to hold the kettle against the bulge in his jeans which had formed, rather to his embarrassment.

Twenty minutes later, Julian and Ian were knocking a shuttlecock to and fro, over a washing line strung between the trunks of two tall trees near their caravan. For once, Julian managed not to laugh too much – he was busy looking out for Nicholas.

Unseen by them, Nicholas was watching from his caravan; he wanted so much to play with these two happy boys. Ian was like a smaller version of Julian, fair-haired, good-looking and full of the joys of life. Nicholas saw him hit the shuttlecock so hard it landed on the roof of the caravan and stayed there. Ian burst into laughter but Julian got a fishing-rod, pointed at Ian and crouched down beside the caravan. Ian took the hint and stood on his brother's shoulders. Julian rose slowly until he was standing and Ian could use the fishing-rod to knock the shuttlecock off the roof.

Ten minutes later, Nicholas came to join them, looking more comfortable in open-necked shirt and khaki shorts. These cotton shorts, a knife-edge crease on each leg, were as loose-fitting as his cord ones but somewhat shorter, not quite reaching mid-thigh. Julian asked Ian to give Nicholas his racquet and be umpire. Then he had a game with Nicholas, who was no better at badminton than the brothers. Once or twice Julian saw Nicholas smile and what a treat it was to see dimples appear on that solemn face. Of course, it was Nicholas whose wayward shot landed the shuttlecock on the caravan roof once again.

"Up you go, Nick!" squeaked Ian. "You put it there, so you've got to get it down. That's the rules!"

Julian was all for making Ian get it again but Nicholas offered to do his duty. He was shorter and lighter than Julian so it made sense for him to stand on his shoulders. Julian rose without difficulty and Ian passed the fishing-rod to Nicholas and watched. He could see right up inside Nicholas's shorts and it made him giggle.

Nicholas had head and shoulders above the roof level but it took him several swipes to get the shuttlecock to fall to the ground. On crouching again Julian accidentally stumbled and Nicholas's feet fell off Julian's shoulders. His hands scrabbling uselessly against the wall of the caravan, Nicholas ended up in the piggyback position on Julian's shoulders. Julian was delightfully aware of the soft skin of Nicholas's inner thighs clamped firmly against his ears and instinctively reached up and clasped Nicholas's knees. Ian was on the ground in hysterics.

"Hang on, I'll let you down," said Julian, now feeling Nicholas's hands on his upper chest. He bent forward and Nicholas was able to slide his bottom over Julian's head and step to the ground, his shorts flopping down to cover the tops of his thighs. He turned to Julian and looked properly into his eyes. He smiled, unaware that on the front of his shirt was a nasty stain from the edge of the caravan's roof.

"Sorry about that," said Julian, grinning broadly and aware yet again of activity inside the front of his jeans.

"Here!" The coarse voice of Mr Carpenter brought the fun to a standstill. "Here, I said, boy!"

Nicholas quickly resumed his downtrodden look and slunk towards his father, who was about to demand to know what he'd meant by climbing onto the caravan roof when he spotted something really dire.

"What the hell have you done to that clean shirt? Get inside, you stupid boy!"

Ian hadn't heard this. "Goodbye, Nick," he shouted. "See you tomorrow!"

Mr Carpenter was incensed. Spinning round, he shouted at Ian "It's Nicholas and no, you won't see him tomorrow!" He snatched at his son and looked him in the face. "Been calling yourself Nick again? Into the caravan and get your shorts off!"

Mr Carpenter had been a mechanic, working on military aircraft and had left the RAF to take a position in a factory in Cheltenham making aircraft propellers. No longer a blue-collar worker, he'd begun to think rather highly of himself and the effects were felt by Nicholas, who was no longer to be called Nick.

Nicholas didn't know of any other boy whose father kept a cane at home. It had appeared on Nicholas's thirteenth birthday, although wasn't used until a few days later.

Whereas Mr Carpenter had left school at fifteen, Nicholas was to study hard and go to university or at least gain entry to a profession. Mr Carpenter believed in extremely strict discipline for his son – hence the cane – and Nicholas was always to dress smartly and respectfully – which meant short trousers.

"And get that shirt off, too!" yelled Mr Carpenter. "Look what he's done to his shirt, Norma!"

Mrs Carpenter tut-tutted and took the stained shirt from her wretched son, who knew he was in for another beating but protested loudly that he'd never wanted to come on this rotten holiday and would rather have stayed at home.

"You ungrateful little sod! I'm going to teach you a lesson!" shouted Mr Carpenter, leaving the caravan for his car.

Nicholas sometimes took a long time to get his shorts off but, realising his father was really angry, he hastily removed them and stood in just his tight little Aertex underpants. He pulled the lower hems over his bottom but knew that when he'd have to bend over, they'd ride up and expose some bare buttock for his father's hand.

He hadn't bargained for his father actually bringing his cane on holiday but Mr Carpenter had brought it in the car! On fetching it, Mr Carpenter saw Julian's father, in oily overalls, peering at the engine of the Joyners' ancient, green, Morris Oxford shooting brake. Carpenter stormed back into the caravan. "Bend over!"

In horror, poor Nicholas saw the cane and began to shake in fear. He didn't reply when told by his father he was no longer to mix with 'that working class family next door.' He was too busy steeling himself for the pain he knew would come. His mother retired to a distant part of the caravan.

The door of their caravan open, the brothers listened in horror to the awful sounds coming from next door. Ian's little hand was holding his brother's forearm. The sound of the cane making its target was as clear as a rifle shot. Ian realised his big brother was trembling.

Julian was indeed quivering – with fury. He was thinking of Nicholas's sweet face contorted in agony and streaming with tears. And he was racked with guilt – why hadn't he insisted on Ian retrieving the shuttlecock? If he had, he'd probably still be playing badminton with Nicholas, instead of ... oh, this was terrible – he had to make it up to Nicholas somehow!

Mr Joyner had heard everything and took his car for what he called a handling check. "Diabolical!" he muttered; he was not referring to his car.

Hand in hand, Julian and Ian looked at each other, unable to put into words their feelings of revulsion and pity. Their mother came from her cabin, where she'd been listening to her transistor radio.

"When Dad's back, boys, I thought we could all play Monopoly. As it's our first night here I bought a huge bar of Cadbury's! D'you think that nice little boy in khaki shorts would like to join us?"

"I don't think he'll be allowed out again today, Mum," said Julian, sadly.

Presently, Mr Joyner returned, looking pleased with himself.

"Finished playing with that old jalopy, Dad?" asked Ian.

"You cheeky little devil! That's no jalopy – it's a work of art and a triumph of Cowley engineering!"

Even Julian had to smile at this. The proper family car was back at Boscombe Down but the old shooting brake had more space for all the holiday clobber so Mr Joyner had coaxed it into driving the seventy miles from Wiltshire but it needed his loving attention if it was to get them all home again at the end of the week.

Julian smiled but his mind was elsewhere and all evening he kept peering outside in the hope of catching a glimpse of Nicholas. But his wish was unfulfilled and later, in bed, he lay on his back thinking very hard about Nicholas. For some reason, feeling pity for another boy, especially a nice-looking boy, always gave him an erection. There was only one practical thing to do, so, with thoughts of Nicholas's cute little face and the memory of his smooth thighs pressing on his ears, Julian grabbed some tissues and to the sound of Ian's regular breathing, awarded himself a slow, compassionate build-up to a passionate, powerful masturbation.

Julian awoke from a fitful sleep to the sun blazing through the caravan window. Naked but for the skimpy boxer shorts he slept in, he went to the utility block to relieve his bladder. Returning to the caravan, he made for the stream that bordered the site and knelt down to peer into the water. It was a beautiful morning, already very warm, and the air almost crackled in anticipation of the heat to come. Julian had chosen a spot where the stream was broad and the water barely moving. A casual onlooker of lyrical disposition might liken Julian to Narcissus gazing at his own reflection. Julian was a boy of truly exceptional beauty.

As Julian stared into the water he was thinking not of himself but of Nicholas. How could he engineer another meeting? Had Nicholas's father really meant it when he'd shouted 'No, you won't see him tomorrow'? Julian heard a door bang and ran back to his caravan to put some clothes on. Soon the site was alive with people moving about and the smell of breakfasts cooking. The Joyners ate at eight and even by then the temperature in the caravan was uncomfortably warm.

"How about the morning on the beach then a nice lunch somewhere?" suggested Mr Joyner.

"Yeah, I want a swim!" trilled Ian, with a smile a mile wide. He was already in swimming trunks.

"And you, Julian?" asked Mr Joyner but his elder son was gazing at Nicholas and his father walking to the utility block carrying towels. Mr Carpenter was in vest and slacks and Nicholas, walking with some difficulty, was in a pair of shortie pyjamas.


"Oh, sorry, Dad. Yes, please!"

Before the Joyners walked to the beach Julian and Ian had another game of badminton and Julian soon found himself hot enough to strip down to just his swimming trunks. He was so dressed when he saw Mrs Carpenter, in straw hat and summer frock, leaving her caravan for the Cortina. Julian remembered what Nicholas had said about going to church and he and Ian stopped to watch. Mr Carpenter was next to appear, in his usual shirt and slacks but with a nod to formality – his sleeves were rolled down and he was wearing a tie.

Last out was Nicholas, in a sort of school uniform: black shoes, grey knee-socks, grey shirt, tie, school cap and a short-trousered suit that looked like it was made of thick, grey, blanket material. His expression was one of unadulterated misery as he dabbed at his perspiring face with a hanky. He walked to the car with a bow-legged gait. Glancing round as he climbed in, he saw Julian and Ian, their bare limbs glinting in the sun and gave a momentary look of recognition – or of longing.

Julian instinctively put one hand over his swelling cock and raised the other to wave. In driving grumpily off, Mr Carpenter immediately managed to stall the engine and you could almost see the air inside the sweltering Cortina turn blue. Nicholas was looking straight ahead, his features rigid in an expression of utter grimness. To Julian he looked like a condemned man.

Nicholas sat between his parents in St Andrew's Church, Charmouth. Mercifully, it was cooler inside the church than outside in the blazing sun. Of all the outfits he was compelled to wear, the flannel suit was the worst. That the shorts were long enough to conceal any embarrassing marks on his thighs was the only good point. Everything else was bad. No, awful. The long socks were hot and itchy, the flannel shirt was thick, hot and itchy and was glued to his back with sweat. Its collar was so tight it nearly throttled him.

Even in winter the suit was uncomfortably hot and the shorts, which almost reached his knees, were unlined so the rough material chafed away incessantly at Nicholas's thighs. His bottom was inadequately protected by thin Aertex underpants from the prickles of both shirt and shorts and today, of course it was still throbbing after the caning. Sitting hotly and itchily in church, forbidden to fidget, poor Nicholas looked up at the carvings and stained glass windows and wondered whether he was being persecuted even more severely than some of the biblical martyrs there depicted.

Lunch in the hotel was dire. Not only was the food dreadful but the dining room was hot and stuffy and Nicholas was overheating badly. His sweating fingers had difficulty holding the cutlery and each time his knife clanged onto the plate he received black looks from not only his parents but also a hook-nosed man at the next table who looked like the Child-catcher. Mr Carpenter had of course removed his tie and unbuttoned his collar but Nicholas had to remain fully dressed and buttoned up.

This purgatory lasted until mid-afternoon, when at last Nicholas was able to change into his floppy, khaki shorts and a clean shirt. It being Sunday, he still had to wear a tie. He found a shady spot by the stream and read his Alistair Maclean book. HMS Ulysses was set in the Arctic convoys of World War Two and the vivid descriptions of biting cold made Nicholas feel a little less hot. He concentrated hard on the story but kept wondering what seven o'clock would bring.

Nicholas had to wear his flannel suit every Sunday, even when he wasn't taken to church. He called the experience 'Torture by Textile' and many years later, he'd write about it. Each little fidget or scratch or sigh or verbal complaint was noted by his father who would exact punishment at precisely seven on Sunday evenings. His bottom still throbbing after yesterday's caning, Nicholas prayed he'd be let off with only a light spanking.

At five the Joyners returned after a happy day on the beach and visited the showers. Later, while Mrs Joyner was in the caravan, listening to Sing Something Simple on her radio the brothers and their father sat outside in just shirt and shorts, chatting in the evening sunshine.

At seven, they heard Mr Carpenter shouting and swearing again. Julian caught his breath: surely Nicholas wasn't in for yet another beating? Any doubts vaporised when they heard Mr Carpenter yell at Nicholas to get his legs further apart, much further apart. Mr Joyner looked at his sons and shook his head sadly. They all heard the spanking beginning. It wasn't the cane this time but a hand or possibly a slipper.

"This is too much!" said Mr Joyner. "Let's go in, boys."

It was far too warm to close the caravan door and the sounds of poor Nicholas being punished could still be heard. Two or three minutes they lasted. Mr Joyner saw a distraught look on Julian's face. Even bubbly little Ian was quiet, staring at the floor. Mrs Joyner's radio couldn't compete with the sounds coming from the Carpenters' caravan. Mr Joyner slipped into his cabin to put on some trousers. Julian felt sick with disgust and desperately wanted to rescue his new friend.

It was a hand-spanking taking place in the Carpenters' caravan. Nicholas had prayed for one and that's what he was getting. It was painful but much better than a caning. Nicholas was being punished for fidgeting in church and in the hotel but how could he not have fidgeted? Perspiring for hours into that awful flannel shirt and even more awful suit, being throttled by his collar and tormented by the welts on his bottom and thighs, it would be impossible not to rub and scratch. When the beating was over he was ordered into his tiny cabin, there to remain, with nothing to eat, until morning. It was all so unfair.

Nicholas had undressed and was lying on his bunk in the foetal position, rubbing his thighs for all he was worth, for it was his thighs that had received most of the blows, when a knocking on the door interrupted Mr Carpenter in his perusal of a Sunday tabloid. It was Mr Joyner and he did not look happy.

The evening in the Joyners' caravan began in a subdued manner, both boys still incredulous at the punishments they'd seen and heard. Poor Nicholas! Julian was furious and couldn't understand why his father, who'd just spent half an hour in the Carpenters' caravan, kept humming to himself as if unconcerned. But Mr Joyner couldn't keep his secret for long.

"Young Nicholas is joining us tomorrow. I thought we might take him fossil-hunting on the coast."

"Is that the dear little boy in khaki shorts, darling?" asked Mrs Joyner but no reply was possible as both boys had leapt onto their Dad to hug him.

"How did you manage it, Dad?" asked Julian.

"Can he spend all day with us?" trilled Ian.

"I have ways," said Mr Joyner, mysteriously, "and yes, he's coming over after breakfast."

That night, Julian waited until Ian was asleep and enjoyed another sumptuous wank. There'd be no way Nicholas would get smacked while a guest of the Joyners! With luck, he'd be getting strokes of a very much gentler nature and he'd be getting them from Julian!

Nicholas duly arrived next morning, in a pale blue, crisply ironed shirt and his khaki shorts, the very brief cotton ones with sharp creases. He carried a windcheater and a little haversack, in which were sandwiches and an apple for his lunch. He said he had to be back by 6 pm. He looked very nervous and the Joyners tried to put him at ease, pretending not to notice the redness on his upper thighs. Whenever he spoke, he was politeness personified, as if frightened that a word out of turn or lazily delivered would result in punishment.

Ian broke the tension by sitting next to Nicholas and showing him his book of fossils, pointing at the ones he'd found last time they'd all been to Charmouth. Julian sat opposite, making the occasional comment as he tried to disguise the fact that he was looking Nicholas all over. He'd been right – it was a very sexy nose. So was the mouth, the neck and as for those legs, how cruel it was that those lovely inner thighs that had been pressed to his ears after the badminton were now so inflamed.

How Julian wanted to smother those thighs with cream and rub it in, ever so gently. As for Nicholas's bottom, that would certainly need similar treatment. The bulge in Julian's jeans had reappeared. Suddenly, Nicholas leapt to his feet to help Mrs Joyner reach something on the top shelf in the galley. He had his back to Julian, who could now see just below the khaki shorts the vicious, horizontal weals made by the cane on the back of Nicholas's thighs. Julian had a crazy urge to kiss them. That they still ached was clear, for before Nicholas sat down again he gave them a good rubbing, before realising what he was doing and blushing vividly.

Julian felt he'd need to ejaculate soon but was saved by his father who asked him to lend him a hand with the car. Julian was relieved when everyone was ready and they all set off for the beach, about a mile away. Walking along chatting, it was easier to control his urges than sitting in the caravan, inches away from the beauty and pity that was Nicholas. Again, Julian wondered why his pity for Nicholas kept morphing into sexual desire for the poor boy.

Mrs Joyner found a place on the beach, well clear of the crumbling cliffs and sat down with her book while the men, as she called them, started a fossil hunt. It was an absorbing occupation and Julian tried not to be too distracted by the red marks on Nicholas's well-bronzed legs that kept being revealed by his khaki shorts.

It was soon time for lunch. Mrs Carpenter had told Nicholas he was to accept nothing from the Joyners and he said he was content to eat his own picnic lunch but Mrs Joyner would have nothing of it. She delicately suggested Nicholas share his sandwiches with the boys and then she'd buy lunch for everyone. Ian was proudly showing off the enormous ammonite he'd found and there was plenty of laughter in the beach café. Nicholas was beginning to enjoy himself. Meanwhile, Julian subtly made it his business to position himself whenever possible to hide Nicholas's punishment marks from the public.

A small disaster occurred when a lump of strawberry iced lolly fell onto the front of Nicholas's shirt. He visibly paled as he thought of what would happen when his parents saw the stain. But Mrs Joyner was quick off the mark.

"Come here, poppet," she said, getting something from her handbag that dealt with such stains and in a minute Nicholas's shirt was as clean as ever. He thanked her profusely and his little dimples made another appearance as he smiled. And so a very happy afternoon began, with Nicholas slowly becoming less inhibited as he absorbed the warmth of the sun and the warmth of the Joyner family. The three boys chatted about their various interests, about school, and occasionally about the odd people they saw. Nicholas spotted on a bench the Child-catcher and pointed him out to a giggling Ian.

At one point Mrs Joyner and Nicholas were alone together and she asked him a little about his home life. He gave very guarded replies but one thing he mentioned was that on Friday it would be his parents' wedding anniversary. He asked Mrs Joyner what she thought he could buy them. She was so touched by this that she gave Nicholas a big hug and had to stifle her tears. The dear little boy in khaki shorts had nearly two pounds and wanted to spend it on an anniversary gift for his parents. Struck by the poignancy she bit her lip, doubting that the Carpenters deserved any gift.

"I know! While the boys are beachcombing you and I can go into the village and look for something. I have an idea...."

Walking back to the caravan site, Mr Joyner said "I think it will be alright for you to spend tomorrow with us, Nicholas. And on Thursday we want to go to the cinema in Bridport. We'd love you to come as well."

Mrs Joyner took Julian aside and said quietly "Wouldn't it be lovely if he spent more time with us, darling? I've rarely seen you so animated and as for Nicholas, well, it's obvious he simply worships you!"

Julian found himself blushing crimson. Hours later, in bed, he was wondering about another wank but decided to save himself for the morrow, for it had been agreed that he and Nicholas could go for a walk together.

The next day, Tuesday, saw Julian and Nicholas spending several hours together, exploring upstream of the caravan site, in the fields and woods adjacent to the little river Char. Both boys were interested in wildlife and although August is a quiet time for birdsong, they identified several species visually and by flying habit. It was Julian who knew more about bug life on the river though and he found a place where they could kneel on the bank and look for water boatmen.

"There's one!" he said, pointing at the surface of the river. "It's a Corixa. See it swimming along on its tummy?"

Julian was in his jeans and Nicholas in his khaki shorts. Whenever the chance arose, Julian looked at the various marks on his friend's thighs; thankfully, there were no new ones to be seen but the old cane marks were glimmering in the sun, just below the hems of the khaki shorts. He found he had to say something to Nicholas.

"It's a pity you haven't got jeans or something so people couldn't see those hideous cane marks."

"No long trousers of any kind, not even pyjamas," said Nicholas. "My father says I can't wear longs while I live under his roof. It's awfully embarrassing, 'specially at school. And sometimes he makes me wear ones that are incredibly short! It's so humiliating! "

"Mmmm." Julian was getting another erection. He asked if he could touch the weals.

"Yes, but please don't press too hard," said Nicholas, lying face-down on the warm grass.

Julian dipped his hand in the river and traced his wet fingertips over the weal on Nicholas's left thigh, very gently. The raised skin that formed the ridge was hard but elsewhere it was soft and yielded to light finger pressure. He could see not one hair on Nicholas's legs. He moved his hand to the right thigh and repeated his silent exploration. He'd like to have slid his fingers under the khaki shorts but dared not so he withdrew his hand and turned his attention back to the water.

"I do think you're brave, putting up with all that punishment," he said. "It would kill me."

"Don't have much choice. I think I'm just a nuisance to my parents. I don't think they want me. Sometimes, like after a really bad caning, I wish I could just die and leave them in peace."

"No!" Julian moved close to Nicholas and threw an arm round his shoulder. "Don't ever say that! You're not a nuisance, you're ... lovely! I think you're lovely, so does Ian. So do my parents!"

Julian moved even closer and, realising Nicholas was silently crying, held him tight and tried to think of something to say. It took a few minutes before Nicholas could regain his composure and then he thanked Julian for being a good friend, indeed, his only friend. He wiped his eyes and looked into the water.

"Look! There's a water boatman doing the backstroke!"

Julian quickly spotted the insect propelling itself over the surface of the water. "Wow! That's a Notonecta! They always swim on their back. Really vicious little buggers, they are. Go for anything!"

Nicholas found himself laughing. "Vicious little buggers! I'd get spanked for saying that! Come on, let's look for some more."

The two boys were firm friends by the time they had to part for the night, having discovered they'd be allowed to spend the next day together too. That night, just a few yards apart and each thinking of the other, two boys wanked themselves silly, Nicholas into his sock, Julian into his tissues.

On Wednesday the weather was cooler and Julian was glad to be wearing jeans. Nicholas, of course, had no choice. Whatever the weather, winter and summer, he was in shorts, which explained why his legs were so much browner than Julian's. Carrying the picnic lunch Mrs Joyner had made for them, off went Julian and Nicholas, to the quiet riverbank where they'd watched the water boatmen. They were chatting about this and that but in a less inhibited way than before, as they were getting to know each other.

Over the picnic, which, being growing boys, they consumed long before lunchtime, Nicholas said "I hope you don't mind me saying but I thought about you a lot last night."

"Snap!" said Julian, "I couldn't get you out of my head, either! And those marks seem to be fading, too. Do they still hurt?"

"There's hardly been a day for three years when my bum hasn't been aching but it's nearly three days since the last session and now it's easier to sit normally again."

As if to prove it, Nicholas sat on the grass and drew his knees up to his chest.

"Oh, God, Nicholas, those shorts of yours are ridiculous – I can see right inside them! I want to touch you but I don't want to hurt you!"

So saying, he launched himself at Nicholas and the two boys fell spontaneously into a bout of play-wrestling, arms and legs akimbo, with little squeaks from Nicholas as he felt Julian's hand working up the front of his right thigh. Then it was Julian who giggled as he felt a hand trying to force itself inside the waistband of his jeans. The scene was being observed with interest – by a tawny owl perched on a handy post.

After a little tentative groping below the belt, the boys found their arms around each other and their faces drawing closer and closer until – the first kiss. Five delirious minutes ensued, during which Nicholas experienced his first French kiss. The tickling of Julian's tongue inside Nicholas's mouth brought Nicholas to full erection, a state Julian had already reached, judging from the iron-hard lump in his jeans pummelling against Nicholas's hip.

Neither boy had experienced such physical passion before although each had tried to imagine what it might be like. Their repertoire was therefore somewhat limited but that didn't worry them as they wriggled about, stroking, holding, touching and kissing. Eventually they settled down in each other's arms and looked up at the high cloudlets, noting the myriad shades and shadows and giving names to some of the shapes. It was a perfect English summer's day. The owl fluttered silently away.

After a while, Nicholas made a more personal observation. "Julian, you've seen my legs bare but I've never seen yours. Not close-up, at least. Are you hiding anything?"

"Thought you'd never ask!" said Julian. "But be prepared for a big surprise – I haven't got my underpants on!"

Nicholas watched as Julian, suddenly bashful, turned away to remove his jeans. Nicholas marvelled at Julian's long, sturdy legs, the colour of cream, sporting one or two little fair hairs and broadening gracefully upwards to a pair of buttocks so beautiful their image was imprinted in Nicholas's memory-bank for ever. Kicking off his jeans, Julian shyly pulled his T-shirt down as far as it would go and turned to face his reclining friend. With one leap he was spread-eagled on top of him and the joyful wrestling recommenced.

Nicholas revelled in the feel of Julian's naked legs writhing with his own and he put his hands on Julian's bottom, kneading and clutching and getting very excited. Both boys were now close to climax and at the moment critique, Julian twisted away from Nicholas and thrust himself gasping onto the grassy riverbank, where he impregnated a conveniently-placed clump of clover.

Nicholas was not so lucky – his juices squirted into his briefs and onto his khaki shorts. He had no choice, of course; these things tend to happen very quickly. It took a minute for him to realise what a sticky mess he'd made and the enormity of his crime hit him between the eyes.

"Oh, hell, when my parents see this I'm dead! Oh Julian, what can I do? He'll murder me!"

Julian went to give Nicholas a cuddle but the ecstasy was gone and he felt stupid standing in a field wearing only a T-shirt. So he put on his jeans and sandals and sat beside Nicholas to think.

"I know!" he said. "I've got an idea."

Julian and Nicholas made it to the Joyners' caravan just in time for tea, which they ate outside, and out of view of the Carpenters' caravan. Nicholas naturally didn't want to go inside in his present state. You see, Julian had suggested that Nicholas dunk his shorts and briefs in the river. He figured that shorts and underwear wet and muddy after an accidental fall into the water might merit a lesser punishment than if they'd been soiled by unintentional drenching in semen. Luckily, Nicholas's shirt had been spared a wetting by either agency so was in good order but his khaki shorts required considerable muddying to mask any other sort of staining.

Julian wanted to explain to Nicholas's parents how he'd been the cause of their son's accidental soaking and subsequent scramble up a muddy bank but Nicholas insisted on facing the music alone, as he'd always done.

"I hope I'm allowed to come with you to the cinema tomorrow; even if it's agony to sit. I wouldn't want to miss that," said Nicholas as he headed for his caravan.

Julian clasped his arm. "I'll think of you all night and I'm sure my Dad will insist you come with us!" Then he added, in a whisper "I love you, my muddy little boy!"

Ten minutes later the unmistakable sound of the cane rang out from the Carpenters' caravan. Once again, Ian held his brother's forearm as the two boys listened. Their parents sat in silence and listened too, Mr Joyner with the stoniest expression his family had ever seen. His wife wiped a tear from her eye. Four strokes they heard but no cries from poor Nicholas, because this time the caravan doors were closed. Even so, the whip-crack of the cane was impossible to miss.

Nicholas's parents heard his cries well enough, once the caning began. His mother, livid that he'd been so careless with his smart shorts, wanted him to learn a 'proper lesson.'

His father had wanted to know why the boy had fallen into the river, "What the hell were you doing?"

"Julian was showing me water boatmen," stammered Nicholas. "He knows lots about insects and things...."

"Bloody nature study!" roared his father. "What use is that? Why can't you do manly things, instead of reading bloody books and going on nature walks? When will you grow up? I was earning my living at your age and it was a man's job – not mamby-pamby stuff like bloody insects! And look at what you've done to your mother! She slaves away to give you nice clean clothes and you thank her by falling in a bloody river! Get all your clothes off, then fetch the cane!

Neither parent noticed that Nicholas wasn't as muddy as his shorts and briefs. It was a very clean little bottom, so pale above those brown legs, that was presented for the cane. Mr Carpenter viewed it scornfully. "And I had bloody hairs on my arse when I was your age, you little pansy!"

Nicholas just gritted his teeth, clutched the upholstery and waited. For the next two minutes, during pauses in his punishment, a vision of Julian's lovely face swam before his eyes but mostly it was all he could do to hold position and try not to cry. He wondered how his father would have reacted had not Julian come up with his brilliant idea. If there'd been any suspicion of what he and Julian had really been doing Nicholas didn't think he'd have been alive by morning.

Two of the cane strokes hit Nicholas's bottom, the other two being deliberately aimed at the top of his thighs. He was trying so hard to be strong for Julian but the fourth stroke broke all his resolve and he broke into a fit of sobbing. He wanted to die. With his father's shouted "You took that like a girl!" ringing in his ears, Nicholas stumbled tearfully into his tiny cabin and collapsed onto his bunk. A potty was thrust in for his use during the night and he was confined to quarters until the morning. It was just after 6 pm.

No-one in the Joyners' caravan felt like doing very much. At one point Mr Carpenter was seen making for the utility block and Mr Joyner set off in pursuit. Julian saw the two men in discussion but nothing would his father say on his return. As it happened, Julian was too miserable to want to wank that night but it didn't stop him thinking of Nicholas and at two in the morning, when he finally fell asleep, his pillow was wet with tears.

Next morning was dull and grey. The Joyners had a late breakfast and lay around, looking at magazines. Both boys were far too preoccupied actually to read anything. Then their ever-optimistic mother said the sun had just popped out; she opened the door and standing there was Nicholas.

"Please, I've been allowed to come to you for the day. But only if you want me."

"Of course, darling!" cried Mrs Joyner. "Come in and make yourself at home! Look who's here, boys!"

Julian was delighted to see Nicholas but stared at him. What had he been made to wear now? A clean shirt, sandals and khaki shorts but this time not floppy but very tight and so short they couldn't even quite cover his bottom. 'These must be what he was telling me about ,' thought Julian. 'How utterly humiliating!'

Julian made some toast, buttered it and gave it to Nicholas, who gobbled it up in a flash. Mrs Joyner made another pot of tea and they all stood around, drinking. Nobody sat down, as it was obvious by the way he moved that Nicholas was in great pain and couldn't sit. Nobody mentioned it but nor could they avoid the two new, red weals across the back of each of Nicholas's thighs, just below his bottom.

"Let's all go for a walk after this," said Mr Joyner. "I'd like to photograph you three boys together."

His wife said "While you men are at the cinema I've got some shopping to do in Charmouth. I can pick up that parcel for you, Nicholas. It'll be ready today."

"Oooh, yes," said Nicholas, reaching into the pocket of his tiny shorts. "Thank you, Mrs Joyner. Here's the money." Turning to Julian he added "It's an anniversary present for my parents."

Julian nearly choked and his eyes filled with tears. After all he'd been through, Nicholas still wanted to buy his horrible parents a present. Mrs Joyner took the money gently and kissed Nicholas on his cheek.

The trip to the cinema proved an excellent means of diverting attention from Nicholas and his horrific punishments. The film was Ice Station Zebra, coincidentally one of Nicholas's favourite Alistair Maclean stories. It was a thrilling film and the cinema seats were well padded, so Nicholas could sit in some comfort. He was, of course, next to Julian and their hands did stray a little, the passion of the previous day still a vibrant memory. Julian kept being distracted by the total bareness of Nicholas's legs. He expected his nocturnal fantasies would be fuelled for months by Nicholas's vulnerable appearance that day. Those punishment shorts were incredibly sexy! 'But why,' wondered Julian, 'do I get so turned on by Nicholas's awful predicament? I wonder what I'd feel like in shorts like that?'

Later the two boys had some time alone but they'd said and done so much the day before, it was good enough just to be together and savour the odd little touch and affectionate meeting of eyes. After fish and chips in Bridport Mr Joyner drove them all back to Charmouth.

The ancient car was making odd rumbling noises and Ian teased his father about the state of the 'old jalopy.'

"Just a wheel bearing. It'll get us home on Saturday, don't worry."

"Minus a wheel," suggested Julian and they all laughed. That had them singing Three Wheels on my Wagon and had them all laughing again. Julian's hand was around Nicholas's shoulders for the whole journey.

Back at the caravan Mrs Joyner showed Nicholas what she'd collected from Charmouth and gave him three shillings change. "It can stay here and you can take it over tomorrow, the big day."

Nicholas seemed pleased and at 7.50 pm, ten minutes before his bedtime, he wished everyone goodnight and went to his caravan. For once, he wasn't thrashed.

Mr Joyner was pounced on by his sons. "How did you do it, Dad? How did you persuade Nicholas's Dad to let him come out with us?"

"Well, boys," said Mr Joyner, lighting his pipe, "you know I'm on the Handling Squadron at Boscombe Down. Well, we Test Pilots know a lot of people, and it so happens that Mr Carpenter works in aviation too, at Cheltenham. It also happens that his boss is a good friend of mine. We used to fly together and I see him for golf about once a month. Now don't for God's sake tell anyone but I told Mr Carpenter that I'd tell his boss how we met on holiday and how well his son gets on with my two. I think he took the hint."

"Oh, Dad! You're brilliant!" yelled Julian, hugging his father and making the pipe fall to the floor.

Mr Joyner didn't tell the boys he'd assured Carpenter that his boss would hear about the way he treated his son. Nor did he say that he'd keep the photos he'd taken that morning, in which Nicholas's ravaged thighs featured prominently, in case he needed to use them as evidence.

Next morning the weather was back to being summery and Nicholas was allowed to spend most of the day with the Joyners, which worked in his parents' favour as they wanted to have an anniversary lunch and didn't want their son getting in the way. Naturally, all the boys were delighted and at Ian's request, the whole morning was spent fossil-hunting at Lyme Regis. Nicholas was again in his indecently short khaki shorts. It grieved Julian to see those hideous cane-marks but he very much enjoyed seeing the rest of Nicholas's slender legs and thrilling glimpses of his bare bottom. It grieved him even more when he spotted other people on the beach stared staring at his friend. 'Utterly humiliating,' thought Julian, guiltily, as he nursed his erection.

After lunch Julian and Nicholas had some time together in a secluded glade near the caravan site. Neither wanted to repeat the frenzied activity of two days ago but they'd never forget it. Both families were departing next morning so time was precious and they had a lot to talk about. Like whether they'd see each other again. Julian had started to call Nicholas 'MLB,' standing for Muddy Little Boy. Although almost the same age as Julian, Nicholas was quite the shorter of the two and didn't mind being called MLB. In fact, he loved it.

At 4 pm the sky was grey and angry clouds were assembling in the west, as if to herald Nicholas's parents' return from their lunch in Exeter. Mrs Carpenter looked quite happy but her husband was not. To add to his map-reading problems he'd had a furious argument with a tractor driver they'd met in a narrow lane and the Cortina now had a scrape down the side. Unaware of this affront to his father's pride, Nicholas went to collect the parcel from Mrs Joyner and, putting a smile on his sweet little face, went to see his parents.

"See you soon, MLB," whispered Julian. "We can play badminton after tea!"

Five minutes later, he heard angry bellowing from the Carpenters' caravan and his spirits plummeted. "Surely he's not getting another beating?" he said to Ian. "He's just taken his parents an anniversary present!" Mrs Joyner told her sons what it was and how Nicholas had chosen it in the shop.

The doors were open and all the Joyners listened intently. No sounds of spanking, just Carpenter's ugly voice, raised and almost unintelligible. A sudden rainstorm made it difficult for the Joyners to understand him. Carpenter was looking at the present Nicholas had brought in.

"What's this? It's all pink and girlie, like you! Did you choose it yourself?"

"Yes, Daddy, I thought you and Mummy would like it. I had it made specially."

"Well, I'm not touching it. It might be contaminated! Why couldn't you buy something useful, like pipe-cleaners for me and soap for your mother?"

Picking up the present, he flung it through the door and it landed on the wet grass, breaking into pieces. His wife came through and wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

"You don't want to know, Norma. I think our son is turning into a girl!"

Nicholas, his heart shattered, stood staring at the open door, willing himself to be strong but it was all too much for him and he ran to his tiny cabin, flung himself onto the bed and cried his eyes out. His friend Julian had seen what had been thrown onto the grass and went out in the pouring rain to try to salvage it.

But the cake was beyond help. The rain was already making it squishy and the icing glimmered pinkly in the eerie, yellow light of the storm. Julian found himself reduced to tears of pity while at the same time he felt his gorge rising. He caught sight of some elaborate writing on the icing. The word 'Anniversary' had vanished in the debris but staring sadly up at him from the only intact piece of icing was the word 'Happy.' Convulsing into deep, choking sobs, he put his foot on the icing and ground it into the grass until no sign of that pointless word remained.

It had been a very subdued night in the Joyners' caravan and life for the Carpenters was never a bundle of fun. Mr Joyner was up early to tinker with his car and watched as Nicholas and his father went to the utility block, neither speaking. He wanted to catch Carpenter on his way back. Meanwhile, Julian and Ian had got up and were helping their mother pack their belongings ready for a 9.30 am departure. Nobody had anything to say.

Julian made two trips to fill the kettle, hoping he mighty bump into Nicholas but he was out of luck. He simply had to say goodbye, properly, in private. He knew he wouldn't be able to control his tears. He loved his MLB and couldn't face the prospect of never seeing him again. They had, of course, swapped addresses but had no way of getting to each other's house, even if they were allowed to. Life was so cruel.

Half an hour later, still with no sign of Nicholas, Julian was helping to pack the car when Ian passed him the badminton racquets. Julian knew which one Nicholas had used and he held it firmly, knowing that his friend's hand had been in contact with that rubbery coating on the handle. He didn't want to let it go – he thought he'd take it to bed that night and just hold it, thinking of Nicholas. Once again, his eyes filled with tears.

Then something unexpected happened. Nicholas, now in his grey cords, Fair Isle sweater and tie, left his caravan and approached the Joyners at their car, followed by his father, who muttered "Say thank you, Nicholas."

Julian gazed at Nicholas, whose eyes were red from weeping and wondered what this was all about.

"Thank you very much, Mr and Mrs Joyner," said Nicholas, solemnly, "for inviting me to come and stay. I'd love to!" Then his little face broke into a smile.

Julian's heart missed several beats. "What?" he croaked. "What's this, Dad?"

"Well, boys, as I have to go up to Cheltenham next week – golf, you know – I thought I could bring Nicholas back to stay with us for a week or so. That's only if he wants to, of course, and doesn't mind sharing your bedroom, Julian."

Carpenter was looking shiftily at the ground. Spotting a bit of icing from the cake he'd destroyed, he shuffled forward to stand on it and hide it but Ian had seen.

"So he's coming to ours to stay, Dad?" squeaked Julian, his voice breaking with emotion. "That's fantastic! And it's his birthday on the fifth - he can spend it with us! "

He rushed over and put an arm round Nicholas, who looked mesmerised. Mrs Joyner joined him and gave Nicholas a big hug and called him poppet. Carpenter curled his lip. Ian glared at him.

"Well, that's settled, then," said Mr Joyner, smiling at Nicholas. "Four o'clock next Friday. Julian's got some little khaki shorts just like yours, Nicholas, so I'll get him to dig 'em out and you can all have some fun on your birthday!"

Julian blushed at the thought of wearing those old shorts - they'd be way too short now. Still, he'd do it if it made Nicholas happy.

Nicholas, smiling shyly, spoke. "Thank you so much, everyone. See you on Friday and have a safe drive home."

"Not if the wheel falls off," said Ian and his father laughed at his joke, giving Ian a friendly cuff round the ear, then looking at his watch and telling his family it was chocks away in ten minutes.

"Come and help your mother to pack," said Carpenter to his son, turning back for his caravan.

Julian rushed to his bag, tore a sheet of paper out of a book and scribbled something. Then, feeling elated when he'd expected to be depressed beyond measure, he helped pack the last things into the car and chattered away with Ian, who was nearly as thrilled as his big brother.

Nicholas managed to come out when he heard the Morris Oxford's engine start and stood to wave goodbye but Julian hurtled over and shoved a scrap of paper inside Nicholas's sweater. "Bye, bye, MLB!" he whispered, shaking Nicholas's hand and looking into his face. He thought his friend was mouthing something like 'love you.'

Then the Joyners drove out of the caravan site, hands waving from every window. Nicholas waved until he could no longer see them and went back to help pack. The Cortina was packed in silence, the only sound coming twenty minutes later – a police car siren wailing on the main Axminster road.

Thirty minutes after the Joyners had left, Carpenter drove the Cortina out of the caravan site and turned right for Axminster. Nicholas was in the back, squashed beside luggage and already too hot in his sweater. He waited until they were on the main road before pulling out Julian's piece of paper. It was a short letter.

Dear Nicholas

I'm really excited about you coming to us next week. The best thing possible! I've got lots to show you and I know a quiet stream with water boatmen. Vicious little buggers!

It's fantastic to have you as my friend.

Till Friday then, my MLB


Nicholas's eyes filled with tears but for once not with fear, pain or loneliness but with love, or what he assumed was love. He read the letter again, slowly, relishing every word. Then he folded it carefully and put it in his shirt pocket, next to his heart.

His father swore. They'd hardly done three miles and traffic ahead was slowing to a crawl. Nothing was coming past in the opposite direction. "I bet some bastard's crashed and blocked the road," he said.

Nicholas went cold and his heart leapt to his mouth. 'No, not them, please, God, Not them.' His hands started to sweat and lead filled his tummy.

A solitary car, a red Cortina, came slowly from the other direction, the driver making signs that Nicholas didn't understand to the queue of stationary traffic. It stopped adjacent to them.

"I'd turn round, mate. Road's blocked."

"What's happened?" yelled Carpenter.

"Some idiot's left the road and turned over. Police all over the place. People trapped inside. Road's gonna be blocked for hours!"

"What kind of car?"

"Dunno, mate. Estate car, green. Cheers!" and off he drove.

Nicholas was close to collapse. He pictured the wheel coming off the Joyners' car and remembered Ian's little joke. 'Oh, please, God, not them!'

His father didn't want to turn round and find another route – his map-reading just wasn't up to it. So they sat in the queue saying nothing, while poor Nicholas was going through hell. He wanted to say something but couldn't think of what to say and anyway, his mouth was too dry – he couldn't talk. He put his hand on his heart and felt Julian's note, his only tangible link with the boy he loved, and who loved him.

Screeching sirens. A fire engine hurtled past. Nicholas tried not to imagine Julian's beautiful body, twisted and broken, bleeding, perhaps – oh no, don't even think about it! But he couldn't think of anything else. Of course, he didn't know that his father wouldn't be too upset if anything happened to Mr Joyner and what his father said next did nothing to sooth his nerves.

"They were going this way, to Axminster and then Chard. That old wreck of theirs shouldn't be on the road. Probably isn't now!" and he chuckled. He chuckled!

What a callous thing to say! How could he make light of a disaster like this? Nicholas knew he was soon going to be sick. With disgust, with fear, with dread, who knows?

It had crossed Carpenter's mind that his boss wouldn't have to hear about the way he treated Nicholas if Mr Joyner wasn't around to tell him. A malicious smirk formed on Carpenter's face.

An ambulance, blue lights flashing, came swiftly towards them and sped off towards Dorchester. Was Julian in that ambulance? Was that fleeting second the closest the two friends would ever be again? Oh, please let this nightmare end!

The traffic began to move, very slowly. So that's it, thought Nicholas. They've cleared the debris and taken the dead and dying to hospital. The world can carry on. It can forget about the people in the car, the green estate car.

The traffic stopped and started and there was now intermittent flow from the opposite direction. Inexorably, the Carpenters' Cortina drew closer to the accident site. Nicholas felt close to fainting. How could he look out and see that venerable Morris Oxford wrecked in the ditch? Unannounced, a memory flashed into Nicholas's consciousness: the time on Thursday evening when, snuggled next to Julian, he'd joined the singing of Three Wheels on My Wagon. What a happy time that had been. This was too much for Nicholas – feeling an immense weight of grief on his slender shoulders he burst into tears and sobbed and sobbed. He'd lost the best friend he'd ever had. All he faced now was years of humiliation, pain, loneliness and misery. Face down on the seat, oh, how he cried.

"Stop it, you snivelling little pansy! How can I drive with you making a racket like that?" Then, half a minute later: "Look, Norma, it wasn't them, it's a Land Rover!"

'It wasn't them.' That's the only bit Nicholas took in and he shot up to look through the rear window: no sign of a Morris Oxford, just a green Land Rover, and it didn't even look too badly damaged.

'Oh, thank you, God!' Nicholas found himself suddenly elated beyond measure. He dried his tears and looked with renewed interest at the countryside now whizzing past his window.

His father wasn't elated, not by a long chalk. He now knew Mr Joyner hadn't been involved in that accident so would be going to Cheltenham on Friday to play golf with his, Carpenter's, boss. Then he brightened when he remembered Mr Joyner would be collecting Nicholas and taking him to Boscombe Down for a week, or even more. Maybe the Joyners would have the boy for longer; maybe they'd be happy to have him two weeks, or even three....

"Looks like you'll be going to your new friends after all, Nicholas," grunted Carpenter. "I s'pose it'll be one long bloody nature walk."

Nicholas felt his heart swell with happiness. In less than a minute his life had been transformed. He pulled out Julian's letter and read it again. For the first time for years, the tears he now shed were tears of joy.

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