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The Challenge That is Tony

by Pedro

More Trouble with Shorts

Mid-April to Early May, Year Eleven

The sound of Mum cackling assaults my eardrums. Something must have set her off and not just some joke she has heard on the radio. That would get a normal laugh. No! This is more than that. More than likely something at my expense.

I suspect I am about to find out as I can hear someone clumping up the stairs. Not Mum by the sound of it. I turn to face my bedroom door in time to see it being pushed open and a blonde head appear.

I had guessed it would be Tony, my boyfriend, but it's our friend Paul. He has a plastic bag in one hand. He is half in my room as he makes a desultory tap on the door as if to acknowledge that he should have requested permission to enter.

"I have brought you a present," he says after we have done the fist bump thing. He hands me the bag. Judging by his tone of voice and the grin on his face, I am not sure if I am going to appreciate it.

Looking in the bag I can see it is something made of leather. It feels quite soft leather as I put my hand in to pull whatever it is out of the bag.

The supple leather unfolds easily as I hold the article up. It is a pair of shorts. Used, by the look of them.

I am a bit nonplussed. I'm not sure if it is a genuine gift or if it is just a full-on joke at my expense. Certainly Mum's cackle when Paul arrived - and presumably showed them to her - would suggest the latter. She will have immediately seen them as a reference to that incident with my old shorts in the school show when we were in year ten. On the other hand, Paul is too generous a nature to make that kind of joke. That would be more Tony's style. There again, why give me used shorts? Is he making fun of our family's reputation for being careful with money?

Paul must have noticed my confusion and starts to explain.

"They are genuine lederhosen. You know how my dad works abroad on contracts?"

I grunt an acknowledgement.

"Well, he was working in Southern Germany a few years back and bought them for me. As you know he spoils me to try and make up for being away and always goes overboard with something like this.

"He had to buy the best: real deerskin. The sort of thing the locals buy once as an adult and they last a lifetime. Even though they were big on me when he bought them, they were still a size that, if he had thought about it, I could be expected to outgrow. I can't get into them anymore and you know how much I have grown in the last few months."

It's true; he has shot up like a beanstalk and must be over one-ninety. Me? At one-fifty, I'm still a short-arse and looking at Mum and Dad, I will probably never be more than one-seventy at most.

"You can see they are cut fairly short," Paul continues, "Last time I did put them on, Mum saw me and said I was showing that much of my long legs it was positively indecent."

Now there's an image I won't be able to get out of my mind's eye, not that I want to!

"I haven't worn them that much. Mum said they were expensive and I had to take care of them. Does your mum say things like that?"

"You bet! Every time," I don't mention that means every time she buys me anything, whether it is expensive or not.

"So I've only ever worn them to go to Scouts. They are just about broken in. They are really too good to throw out. At the meeting last night, Tony said they might fit you after I told him I had got too big for them when he asked me why I didn't wear them anymore."

I should have guessed Tony would have something to do with it. He has this thing about me in shorts. As Dad would say: I shall have to have words!

"So you can have them if you want them and they fit. Even if you only get a few months use out of them, it's better than throwing them in the bin. Why don't you try them on?"

They feel soft and pliable in my hands. If I am wearing shorts I like them short and if they do something for Tony that should bring its own bonus!

"Okay," I say. "I'll give them a go."

Gripping the shorts in one hand, I drop my kecks and pull them off my feet with the intention of swapping over and pulling the shorts up as I stand upright again. But there is a snag. As I go to put my first foot through the very short tube of leather that passes for a leg of the shorts I see that the waist has been left done up. Not only that but it is not a straight forward top button and zip fly. I stand up so that I can see what the problem is without crouching uncomfortably.

I am standing there in my figure-hugging white boxer-briefs and holding the shorts up in front of me, trying to figure out how they open up. Paul must have decided I am taking too long thinking about it.

"They have a drop front fly, er, held up by the two buttons either side and, er, there are some braces that, um, attach to the waist so they don't fall down when you, er um, open the flap for a piss."

Paul's speech is halting and he sounds embarrassed. I look across at him and see he has gone an interesting pink shade. His eyes don't seem to be on the shorts either. I think he is inspecting me!

"Paul, you're blushing. I do believe you're checking me out!"

"Er, um." He goes redder than ever. I am trying hard not to laugh.

"There's no need to be embarrassed. It's not as though you haven't seen me plenty of times in the showers at school. In the nude too, everything on display!"

"Er, that's school, not in your bedroom," he pauses to wipe his face with his hand. Yes, there was a bead of sweat there. "And somehow you being in your briefs makes it more intriguing."

I think I would agree with that analysis. That bit of mystery of what is behind the concealing cloth. Of course the conversation is making my briefs get tighter and I think Paul has noticed as there seems to be a stirring in his pants. I raise an eyebrow.

"Do you want me to get Tony to come over?" I ask in the sultriest voice I can manage. Paul knows it is a joke between the three of us, that if his hand isn't enough, we would help him out but only if both Tony and I are involved. Except it is one of those jokes that is a bit more than a joke. He has never tried to call our bluff though.

As I expected, my question is enough to break his mesmerised state.

"Eff off! In your dreams."

I won't tell him but sometimes he is!

"Just get on with it and put the shorts on!"

I do as I am told. They are a comfortable, although there is not that much room around my thighs. That must be the running I do. As long as I only grow upwards and not outwards they should do me for some time.

I can tell Paul's eyes are on me again only this time it is to check if the shorts fit.

"The matching braces should be in the bag," he says. "But I don't think you will need them. The waist looks tight enough and, unusually for lederhosen, there are loops for a belt if you want. That's what I used to use."

I pull the braces out of the bag. I can see why Paul didn't use them. There is a chest strap with a kitsch flower-like design tooled into the leather. A bit camp really and definitely not my taste either. But the shorts themselves are great and should be hardwearing.

After I thank Paul, we settle down to talk about this and that and play a few video games until we hear a car pull up outside followed by a door slam. It will be Dad home from his work in the next town. It is early for him. Paul decides it is the cue for him to go home. As he gets up to go I mutter that I had better change back into my trousers. As a courtesy, Dad and I always try and look respectable when we sit down for a meal that Mum has prepared. Paul stops and picks up the braces.

"Oh, no you don't!" he says. "Your mum said she wanted to see you in those shorts... with the braces. Hold still!"

He comes over and soon has them attached. I feel like a trussed chicken.

"There! Go and get it over with. Go and give your Mum a good laugh!"

"Thank you for the shorts. Now goodbye," I say in my most sarcastic tone. I push him through my bedroom door.

"Don't be like that," there is laughter in his voice as we walk towards the stairs. "You've always wanted to get in my pants, now you can whenever you want!"

He shouts goodbye to Mum and makes his escape. I resign myself to being this evening's entertainment for the 'rents. Not much different from every other night really!

As Paul predicted, Mum breaks into cackling mode again. I can tell Dad wants to laugh too, but is trying to be supportive in the face of Mum's onslaught and not add to my humiliation. He will probably say something later. Actually I don't mind them having their fun as I know they are not being malicious. And in this case I don't care. The shorts feel great on and supplely different where the leather touches my skin. When Mum calms down a bit she comes over and gives me a one-arm hug as consolation.

"It's all right. They look fine," she says, grinning, "and you don't have to starch them!"

That gets a splutter from Dad and a wan smile from me as we both get her reference to those winter camouflage trousers he bought me some time back.

"I'll go and take them off before we eat," I say, wanting to get out of the braces.

"Don't bother," Mum replies. "The meal is ready so if you sit at the table, I'll bring it through."

With Mum in the kitchen, out of earshot, Dad gets to say his piece as we walk to the table

"You can't put those in the wash, so no going commando like you used to with those old shorts. You need to have briefs on to stop them getting manky."

Trust Dad to get in a dig about that incident at the school show when I was in year ten.

"I am wearing underpants." I make sure I sound offended that he would think otherwise.

"I can see that, lad, and I said 'briefs'. You're wearing your usual boxer-briefs. I can tell by the hems peeping out below the shorts every now and then."

"Er, I don't think I've got any."

"It's Thursday tomorrow. I'll nip out from work at lunchtime and get you some from that stall on the market."

No doubt he will be hoping for a bargain. If it is Raj's uncle Veejay's stall he is talking about he will probably get one too. Some weird style perhaps, but a bargain.

"Thanks, Dad. Er. Do you think you can do me another favour and help me get out of these braces please?"

"You do look uncomfortable," he says then starts to chuckle as he undoes the back straps for me. "And they look a bit twee. Not good for your street cred, eh?"

He uses his hands on my sides to turn me round to do the front straps, but I have already managed to deal with those. I put the braces on one side and we both sit at the table.

Mum brings the meal through and we start eating in silence. Since no one else seems to want to say anything about it, I decide to force the issue in case it is going to be something that affects me.

"You're home early, Dad. Any particular reason?"

He looks embarrassed to be put on the spot. All the more reason to suspect it will land me in it.

"Er, they said I should get away on time while I had the chance as I am going to be working weekends for the next month. You know it's always busy at this time of year."

Well, I know one job that I can see coming my way.

"I suppose that means that I am mowing the lawn while you're working?"

"If you would please, lad."

"No worries."

Dad looks relieved that I have agreed without complaint and a smile appears on his face. I guess what is coming next.

"Pushing the mower will be good for your arm and shoulder muscles."

Yes, word prefect!

"In fact," he continues, using teaching mode, "you might want to think about doing some upper body exercises. I thought you felt a bit scrawny as I turned you round earlier."

I am not so vain that I stand there studying myself, but whenever I have looked at my torso in the bathroom mirror, I think it looks okay.


Before I can make a follow up comment of my own, Mum makes a flanking manoeuvre.

"I hope they are going to pay you for all the extra work you do for them," she says. "Then perhaps we could have a nice holiday somewhere when the rush is over."

Mum and I both think the company he works for takes advantage of Dad's loyalty and good nature.

As usual Tony comes home with me after school the next day so that we can do our homework together. I am trying to think of a way to raise the subject, but once we are in my room for me to change out of school uniform, it is the first thing Tony asks about.

"Did Paul come over to see you yesterday? Did he bring you those shorts?"

"Yes he did actually. He said you had suggested I might like them," My tone reflects my suspicion that he had an ulterior motive for his suggestion to Paul.

"You like wearing shorts don't you? I thought you might appreciate them."

"Hmm," I grump. "Are you sure it wasn't that would appreciate seeing me wearing them?"

"Maybe." Looking at him, I see his guilty smile. "Are you going to put them on?" he asks.

"Anyway," I say as I get them out of the drawer and start to change. "How come you never told me Paul had these shorts?"

"If you were in the Scouts you would have seen him. See what you have missed by not joining," Tony teases.

"I'm not interested in joining, even for the off-chance of seeing Paul in revealing shorts. And, as you've heard Mum say, it's probably good for us not to do everything together," I say, not wanting to revisit an argument we have had in the past. "I can see Paul in skimpy shorts when we have PE at school."

"But you must admit, Paul in those shorts would be a sight for sore eyes."

"Or in your case, a sight to give you sore eyes." I make a wanking gesture to illustrate my point.

Tony doesn't rise to my bait so I look at him for a response, but he seems to be in a dream. I take a guess at what he is thinking about.

"You've got photos of him you've taken at Scout camp and you're thinking of them now, you perv, aren't you?"

There is a smile in acknowledgement.

"You might have shared them with me!"

"You said you weren't interested in what we got up to at Scouts."

"I should hope you don't 'get up to' anything at all," I am more offended than angry. I don't think Tony will have been up to anything. But I will remind him of the rules. "Remember, we said nothing with Paul, or anyone else for that matter, unless we are both there and agree to it. Scout camp or no Scout camp."

Tony doesn't blush. I know him well enough that if he had been doing anything at camp he would have gone bright red by now. I think it's time to say something to calm things down.

"So how do the shorts look on me?" I ask, doing a twirl to give him an all-round view. "Compared to Paul?"

"Your legs aren't as long!" he is back to teasing again, "and your underpants are showing."

For that I rugby tackle him onto my bed and we wrestle for a bit before we decide we had better get our homework done.

Dad comes home just as we are finishing up. He greets us and hands me a bag.

"Two pairs of briefs for you to wear with those shorts," he says, "and I bought you a nice hard-wearing shirt because I know how rough you are with your clothes sometimes."

Pulling the shirt out of the bag, it is in a heavy cotton material, like denim. Although it is a mid to dark green, it is a surprisingly bright colour, with a bluish tint. The briefs look okay, although I would have preferred white to two tone blue stripes.

"Thanks for getting these for me, Dad," I'm afraid I can't resist asking the question, "Were they a good bargain?"

"I wasn't going to buy the shirt, but the guy on the stall must have seen me looking at them. He had a pile all that colour. He said if I bought a shirt he would throw in the briefs for nothing."

Presumably the shirts weren't selling. I'm not surprised with the colour they are.

"I could have bought you some shorts as well if your friend hadn't given you those. He had a pile, all different lengths: above the knee, below the knee, you name it. They all had decorative tassels on the legs. The guy said they, and the shirts, were from some continental wholesaler who had gone bust and he picked up a job lot."

Dad goes upstairs to get changed. Tony asks to see the shirt so I pass it over to him.

"It's very like our Scouts shirts," he says after he has inspected it. "The colour is a little different, a bit bluer. I have seen pictures of some European Scout troops. I think some countries use that colour. I'll bet that's what they are, Scout shirts." There is a pause before he continues, with much amusement. "Now you've got the uniform - shirt and shorts - you will have to join the Scouts!"

"Ha, ha. And now we've done our homework, it's time for you to go home for your supper and make polite conversation with your parents." His parents are a little more formal than mine.

"Ok, I know when I'm not wanted."

We both pack away our books and papers and Tony slings his bag onto his shoulder. Of course we share a hug before he leaves.

On Saturday, after he gets home from work, Dad is having a cup of tea and reading the local paper.

"There's a piece here, advertising the Forties event taking place this weekend," he says, lowering the paper, "I had to go into the town to get something and it was absolute bedlam. The place was heaving with visitors and people dressed up in second world war uniforms. The shops have all got blast tape on their windows and sandbags by the doors. There were some nice period vehicles though."

He starts to chuckle so I ask him what is so funny.

"You've got to laugh. All the people in uniform are playing Captain Mainwaring types - you know, Dad's Army - I don't think I saw anyone who wasn't pretending to be a Sergeant at least. Not a single ordinary squaddie. Talk about too many chiefs and not enough indians!"

Dad takes a swig of his tea.

"Do you want to go and see it tomorrow, lad? You could come with me when I go to work, spend the day there, and meet me at home time."

"Er, no. I don't think so, thanks Dad. It'll be in next week's paper, no doubt. I'll catch up with it then."

"Do you think your mother would like to go?"

"Don't ask me!"

"Ask me what?" says Mum who has just come into the room. Dad explains and gets answered.

"Nah! The local rag will be full of it next week. I can read about it then."

Looking a bit squashed, Dad picks up his paper again. He is soon back with another snippet.

"How about this then?" he starts to read it out, " 'To the nobles and gentlefolk of this fair borough and other readers of this august and erudite publication, greetings. Be it known that on the coming May feast day, there will be held in the public space most commonly called 'The Park', a gathering for the purpose of remembrancing the skirmish, known as a battle, and named after our fair borough, between the forces of Parliament and those of the King during the Civil War that so benighted our country. Further details for those who wish to spectate will be published in a future edition of this journal. Those who wish to answer the call to arms of either faction or otherwise participate are asked to declare themselves to the undersigned without delay.' "

"That's different," I reply, "Better than a Forties weekend. Since it's here in the park, I might go and have a look."

Dad picks up on my tone.

"You sound as though you don't approve of Forties weekends. Why not? They're a bit of fun."

"Apart from the fact that there seems to be one every weekend? They might be fun but I think there is a jingoistic undertone to them. People wrapping themselves in the flag and wallowing in nostalgia for the dying days of Empire."

"Couldn't have put it better myself," says Mum.

Dad harrumphs in recognition of being outnumbered. "So what about this Civil War thing then?" he asks me.

"A reminder of the need to limit executive power. That government needs the consent of the governed."

"You seem very knowledgeable on the subject," says Mum. "Have you been doing this at school?"

"No, it's not on the syllabus, although it probably should be. Tony says his dad has been banging on about it lately, drawing parallels with the current state of the country. So we did a bit of reading to find out what he was on about."

Dad grunts and goes back to his paper only to burst out in another fit of the chuckles.

"No wonder Bert has been going on about it." he says, lowering the paper again, "I'll bet he's had his ear bent by the guy running the event. According to his contact address, he's a neighbour of theirs." He looks at me with a smirk of delight. "I think I know somebody who is going to get roped into this - probably as the only indian."

He quickly hides behind the paper before I can throw a cushion at him.

The next day I mow our little bit of lawn then decide to walk over to Tony's place. They're out. Okay, so it would have been sensible to call or text him first but it gave me something to do and kept me out of Mum's hair for a bit.

I finally catch up with Tony at school on Monday.

"Where were you yesterday? I called round but you were all out."

"We went over to the Forties thing," he says. "Dad wanted to go to see what it was all about and Mum thought it might be fun."

"Was it?"

"I suppose so. You didn't go?"

"Dad offered to take me on his way to work and pick me up later, but I said no. Not after he had said it was all people pretending to be officers."

Tony laughs. "Your dad was right there."

I tell him what I told Dad about nostalgia for Empire and people wrapping themselves in the flag.

"You mean," he says, "sort of like a very polite, collective version of the football chant 'two world wars and one world cup'."

"That's one way of putting it. And, like the chant, doesn't admit that the world has moved on and things aren't that way anymore."

"This is all very deep for you! How come you were talking about this stuff with him?"

I let the implied insult to my intellectual abilities pass. I will get him back at some point.

"He challenged me when he read out something about a Civil War re-enactment on the Bank Holiday Monday and I said I was more interested in that. One of your neighbours is involved in organising it, isn't he?"

"Tell me about it! He's always round pestering Dad to help."

The bell for lessons ends any further discussion.

Over the next couple of weeks in the lead up to the bank holiday we don't seem to be together in school as much as usual. We haven't fallen out or anything, but his conversations at break and lunch often seem to be with other members of our group, especially Paul and Raj and Mel. I also get the feeling some of the others are deliberately distracting my attention. When I ask him, he says he has been talking to Paul about Scouts.

On the Friday before the holiday, Tony is getting ready to go home after we have done our homework.

"Are you coming over to my place on Monday morning?" asks as he stuffs his books into his bag.

"Could do, but why morning? I was hoping for a lie-in."

"Come off it, you know your mum will never let you have a lie-in." He has a point there. "Besides, if you come over, you will be out of the 'rents' way, so they won't be finding chores for you. Best of all," he adds, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively, "my parents will be out. They are helping set up the Civil War re-enactment. We can have some fun together, then, afterwards, I thought we could go and watch the show."

We don't get much time alone without the risk of interruption. This sounds an opportunity not to be missed.

"Okay, what time?" I grin salaciously in anticipation.

"I'll send you a text the night before when I have found out what time they are going out."

Tony slings his book bag over his shoulder and we have a quick hug before he goes home.

Tony's text comes late on Sunday night.

'Rents leave 9, so 9.30 latest' this is followed by a most sexually suggestive emoji, 'wear grn shirt yr dad bought and sexy shorts Paul gave u + braces' another similar emoji to end.

'K, but not sure abt braces,' I reply

'def + braces. they shld b fun.' signed off with another explicit emoji. Where did he get the code for those?

'K, if I must.'

Although it is a sunny day, I put my lightweight waterproof jacket on as I get ready to go out. I am not walking across town to Tony's with those braces on show. As Dad said they're not good for my street cred.

"I'm off over to Tony's," I announce to the 'rents as walk towards the door.

"What time do you think you will be back?" asks Mum.

"This evening probably. We are going to go to the Civil War thing in the park."

"Well, it's a nice day. Do you really need your jacket?"

"Yes, Mum," I reply.

Dad, who has been allowed to have the public holiday off work, catches my defensive tone and comes to my assistance.

"Of course he does. It's a bank holiday. It always rains on a bank holiday!"

"Yeah," I grunt in agreement. Then I see Dad wink at me and hold his hands to his chest as if clutching a pair of braces. Pooh! He must have seen them as I put my jacket on.

"Besides, it looks a bit black over Bill's mother's already," he adds without making any pretence of actually looking out of a window.

Before Mum can say anything more, I escape into the sunshine and start walking over to Tony's.

The door opens as I approach the house. Tony will have been watching out for me arriving, but I can't see him as I step into the house. He must have been hiding behind the door as he pushes it shut behind me.

"You're wearing your shorts. Good!" he whispers in my ear as he hugs me from behind. "Now get that jacket off. I want to see if you've got the braces on."

I undo the front of my jacket and he helps me take it off.

"Oo! Sexy!" he sighs, pinging my braces from behind.

"I feel like an idiot."

"If it's any consolation, I think you look great."

"But I still feel like an idiot, trussed up like this."

"Will you stop whinging? You did agree to this."

"You blackmailed me."

"Tricked you maybe," he says, "It can't be blackmail. Blackmail is where I threaten to reveal some embarrassing secret unless you give me money."

"Don't you think this is embarrassing enough to want to keep secret?" I wave my arms around to indicate being dressed in the shorts and braces.

"True, but you never have any money so I would be wasting my time trying to blackmail you."

I would be offended if I didn't know he was joking. Only now does he move round in front of me so that I can see his smile. I can also see that he is wearing a green shirt that matches mine and a pair of shorts with tassels on, cut just above the knee, like the ones Dad was describing. So that explains why he has been talking to Raj: asking him to get the shirt and shorts from his uncle.

While I am checking him out and musing on whether those shorts are sexy or passion-killers, I miss Tony saying something to me. He waves his hand in front of my face to get my attention.

"You weren't listening to what I said, where you?"

"Er. What was that?"

"Your embarrassing secret isn't secret anyway."

Horrified, I ask what he means. In reply he steers me into the lounge where I am greeted by cheers and cries of 'legs' and 'sexee'. There a couple of wolf whistles too. The bastard, he's set me up. With the exception of Donny, our friends from our year group are all in the room along with a few others who I don't know. Most of the guys are dressed in green shirts and shorts that must have come from Raj's uncle Veejay.

"What the f..." A hand over my mouth stifles my expletive.

"Naughty lips! There are ladies present." I recognise the voice. It's Virginia. She must be home from college for the long weekend. I turn and glare at her.


"Well, there's Cath and Susie over there," she says, pointing to where they are standing. "Since you obviously think I don't qualify."

She grabs me and gives me a kiss. For old times' sake she says. When I get my breath back I ask her if she has given Tony the same treatment. He still struggles to cope with being kissed by girls, especially Virginia!

"Not yet," she replies. "He'll not escape. I'll get him for you later."

Tony asks if someone will make some tea while he explains to me what is going on.

It turns out that his dad pestered him to ask if the Scouts would put together a group to act as a troop of foot-soldiers for the Civil War event. Although there were no objections there weren't many volunteers either as a lot were going to be away with their families this weekend as was the Scout Leader. Paul suggested our group at school would join in. They thought they would have problems getting hold of suitably authentic uniforms, but then Tony remembered from our research that there had been some bands of continental mercenaries involved in the fighting. If they used the shirts and shorts from Uncle Veejay's stall they could be a group of Alsatian irregulars. Why Alsace? Because they could borrow some of the pennants and colours from Scouts as the Scout badge looks a bit like a French fleur-de-lys. The Scout Leader gave his approval as long as they only used the ones that didn't have 'Scouts' written on them. Tony and his dad pitched the concept to the organiser and he agreed. I suspect he was probably just happy to get more people involved.

"So what was all the secrecy about?" I ask him after he has introduced me to those guys from the Scout troop that I don't know. "You could have asked me instead of setting me up like this."

"If I had told you the Scout troop were involved, would you have agreed?"

"Er. Probably not." I decide to change the subject. "What are the girls going to be doing?"

"The will be playing camp followers. You know: cooks, seamstresses, harlots..."

I have to ask: "Who are the harlots?"

"Virginia and Mel's sister," Tony replies.

"I should have guessed."

Suddenly my ear is stinging. I hadn't realised we were standing next to Virginia and she has cuffed me up the side of my head.

"I heard that," she says.

When we have finished our tea, Tony announces that we should all move to the park where we will meet up with Mervyn Sproat, our PE teacher, who will give us our final briefing.

"What's Brussels got to do with it?" I ask Tony as we are walking to the park. "He isn't involved with the sprouts is he? Because that would be just too stereotypical; the gay Scoutmaster eyeing up all the little boy scouts!"

"That's unfair! You know him better than that. We know he eyes us up but not in the way you're suggesting. He's never done anything inappropriate that we know of."

"You're right," I am genuinely contrite. "I hadn't intended it to be taken to mean him. I was just trying to send up the stereotype."

"All right. Apology accepted," Tony concedes. "Merv is there because the organisers require an adult to be in charge of each group to make sure nobody does anything silly or gets hurt. He is not involved with the Scouts at all."

We meet up with Brussels. I am pleased to see he has entered into the spirit of the day and is also in the uniform, although I am not sure a baseball cap makes an effective stand-in for a Civil War era lobster-tail helmet. I mention it to Tony and then ask him why Paul and the boys from the corner shop are in long trousers.

"Uncle Veejay didn't have enough pairs of shorts," he says, "so Raj and Nav said it was a matter of family honour that they should be the ones to go without, although I think that's just a convenient excuse. There weren't any shorts that would fit Paul. They were either too short or too large in the waist. So that's why he's in trousers."

Merv explains the order of battle and that our troop is to take up a position near one of the buildings in the park. He says we should send out scouts to determine the movement of the other forces, especially the enemy. Now you would think with Scouts in the troop someone would volunteer for that, but, oh no, they've all got other jobs: colour party, trumpeters, quartermaster. In fact everyone seems to have something else to do. For example Raj and Nav are playing drums; apparently they have been having lessons in rhythm from their uncle Sandeep who is a tabla player in a band in Birmingham. So Dad was right: even with Raj and Nav here, I'm the only indian in the troop. Everyone else is a chief of some kind, although I am thinking my boyfriend is a cowboy, especially when he points out that I am the smallest and fastest and therefore most suited to being the scout.

If it wasn't for his conspicuous blonde hair, Paul would probably have been best for the job. He became intimately acquainted with all the hiding places and trails through the bushes in the park when the three of us used to meet to kick a ball around in the holidays before Year Ten. Still, my knowledge is sufficient to enable me to do two patrols and report back without being detected. I won't tell Tony just yet but I have to admit that I am enjoying it. Also, I am probably seeing more of what is going on than the rest of our troop stuck in the one place by the building.

On my third patrol I have successfully avoided the enemy and I am heading back to base. There are some tents set up near the small gate that leads into the back yard of the Italian restaurant. I am working my way behind the tents, using them as cover, when one of the canvas panels of the tent wall is pulled open and I am grabbed, quickly gagged and blindfolded and dragged into the tent.

"Pray, good Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, what manner of spotty youth is that you have captured?"

"One caught sneaking through the alleys of our town."

"And entering the courtyard of your tavern where he had no business, good Mistress Quickly."

I recognise the voices. It's Cath as Mistress Quickly and Mel and Susie as the other two. It sounds as though they have decided to role play. The Shakespearian characters are a bit out of period but the girls are milking it for all it's worth.

"As for what manner of youth," Mel continues, "we know not if it be a Frenchman or a monkey, for by its dress it is clearly not of any kingdom of these isles."

"Verily," says a new voice: Virginia. "If we were Hartlepool t'would matter not and he would hang as a Frenchie, monkey or not."

"But, Doll Tearsheet, we are not Hartlepool," retorts Mistress Quickly/Cath. "A hanging and burial would be a charge on the town purse and we seek to increase the trade of our town not reduce it by hanging potential customers."

"He looks a close sort. I fear he would not bring much business. What say you, Kate Keepdown?"

"I doubt he swives at all. No trade for us, Doll!" The voice is Mel's sister. "To the gaol, I say. Let him find the bail-forfeit, if he can."

"Very well, take him away," says Mistress Quickly/Cath.

Although I am still blindfolded and gagged, I can tell I am being led by Mel and Susie out of the tent and through the gate into the courtyard of the restaurant. I know there are a couple of outbuildings in the yard and, when I am pushed through a doorway, I assume it is one of these being used as the jail.

"We have a present for you, gaoler," Susie announces. "A foreigner found sneaking through the alleys of the town intent on unknown mischief. You are to hold him until he pays the bail-forfeit."

"You may need to use the instruments to extract the payment," Mel helpfully adds.

"Thank you kindly, ladies, for delivering your charge. Leave him with me. I'm sure I shall find the right encouragement."

So my jailer is to be Donny. I had wondered where he had got to.

"We'll take the blindfold and gag," Mel says as she removes them from my head, "we might need them again."

Donny pushes the door closed after the girls leave. He walks once round me, checking me out. It is something of a joke between us that he does it whenever he gets the chance, the little perv.

"I like the shorts," he says. "Show off your bum well. What happens if I take the braces off? Do they fall down?"

I know they won't and I am fed up with being uncomfortable wearing them that I would be happy for him to undo them. It will be interesting to see his reaction when I suggest it.

"I don't think so," I say, "but try it!"

He gets close enough to be able to undo the front straps, but stops, bites his bottom lip and blushes. Yes! He's always making lewd suggestions and now we're in private, I've called his bluff!

"They won't fall down. I've tried without braces before and they're that uncomfortable I really could do with taking them off. I'll undo the front straps, if you can get the back ones for me, please."

He does as I ask and I heave a sigh of relief.

There are a couple of stools in the room so we sit down and chat about how we both got roped into this.

"I knew Tony was setting you up," Donny says, "but I daren't say anything. Mel, and by proxy, Virginia, had threatened me."

I laugh. "Didn't you fancy a nice rest in hospital?"

"Then the girls cornered me for this job to keep me out of the way. If I had joined your troop, they might have picked me for the scout and not you. They muttered something about Tony wanting you as the scout after what your dad had said about 'chiefs and indians'."

"I should murder him but Virginia promised to get him for me."

We both chuckle, we both know what that means. I draw a breath and change the subject.

"I suppose I had better be getting back to the others."

"No, you can't. Not until you have paid your forfeit."

"And what if I don't?" I say assuming he is joking.

"I have to show you the equipment and then use it." Donny points in the direction of a table in the corner. We stand and walk over. There are assorted tools on it. "Pliers to extracts your gold fillings if you have any, some different pliers for pulling your wallet out of your pocket or pulling your finger nails. Some clamps to attach to your fingers to open your hand to let go of your wallet. And a pair of bolt cutters for breaking the lock on your wallet. They're good for crushing nuts too."

I still have to assume he is joking but think it wise to play along.

"Okay, how much is the forfeit and who gets it?"

"One groat and the local suicide prevention service for kids."

"How much did you say?" I know I have a puzzled look on my face.

"One groat, but since they're no longer in circulation, a fiver. What did you think I said?"

"I thought you said 'a grope'," I tell him as I pull my wallet out of my pocket.

"I'll have one of those as well," he says, taking a quick grope at the front of my shorts. After the thing with the braces, it's funny how neither of us is embarrassed by the horseplay. Not that he would feel much through the leather.

I hand Donny his fiver.

"Do you want any help putting your braces back on?"

"No, I don't want to be wearing them ever again. But I do need to think of an excuse why I haven't got them on," I say. "And I can't exactly report back, just carrying them. Can I?"

"Mm, I see what you mean." Donny thinks for a moment. "If you take your shirt off and wrap it and the braces round a cushion, you could say you escaped but had to leave them as a decoy. I think they keep cushions for the outdoor furniture in the other outhouse."

"That would probably work," I say. "Should help me get back to base without being stopped by enemy patrols too. Without a shirt I am less likely to be thought a combatant."

Donny nips to fetch a cushion while I take my shirt off.

"Leave it with me. I'll make the dummy for you," he says when he returns. "Off you go. If you haven't come back by the time I'm ready to go home, I'll take the stuff with me and bring it round to your place tomorrow."

The day has gone faster than I thought and by the time I have worked my way back to base the troop are lining up to mark the end of the day. The trumpets are starting to play the appropriate bugle call accompanied by the drums. Tony breaks ranks and comes to greet me, grins, grabs my left hand in his and pulls me into a sort of hug.

"Not going commando, I see," he quips, then asks, "Where have you been?"

"I got captured, but got away," I reply stretching the truth a little. Instead of asking how, his next question is completely off the wall.

"Nav has stopped drumming. Can you see why?"

I peer over Tony's shoulder. "He's distracted. Virginia is coming this way!"

We break our hug as there is a cough from Brussels who probably thinks our greeting is turning into an inappropriate public display of affection.

The parade breaks up but before anyone else can ask where I have been, this guy with a camera come up and wants to know what has just happened. That Mr Sproat is quick to stand next to me, makes me cautious in my reply.

"I'm one of the troop," I say. "I was captured on patrol but managed to get away. As you might expect our leader greeted me on my return."

"And are you supposed to be Cavaliers or Roundheads?" the man asks.

"Neither, we are supposed to be mercenaries from the Alsace, on the continent."

"Oh. And what's your name?"

"Sorry, why do you want to know?" I ask.

"So we can print your name with the picture in the paper next week."

Brussels asks him for his press card, which he readily provides. He still doesn't get my name!

When the man from the paper has gone I look for Tony. I find him standing with Raj and Nav. He looks zoned out.

"I thought he had got past this," I say. "Virginia has kissed him again, hasn't she? She said she was going to."

"You've got it," Raj replies. It's then that I notice that Nav is in pretty much the same state.

"What about him? She didn't kiss him as well did she?"

"Yup! And now they're both zombied."

"Nav won't be through fear like Tony though. More like excess lust. I bet he's come in his pants!"

We both laugh.

"I think he did that before she had finished kissing Tony," Raj manages to say. Then he sobers up. "We're supposed to be working at the restaurant tonight, so we've got to get cleaned up. But I can't take him home like that. Mum and Dad will notice and want to know what has happened and there will be a row."

"Can he get cleaned up at the restaurant?"

"Suppose so. But we've still got to get him out of his trance. Tony as well, of course."

I pull my mobile out to check what time it is.

"Your uncles are usually at the restaurant by now, prepping for the evening session. I know 'cos I often call at the back door for a snack on my way home from school. We can steer these two over there to get them sorted. You can nip into the shop as we go past and get any clothes you both need. If the 'rents ask, tell them Nav has gone straight to the restaurant."

"What about the uncles? When they see Nav like that, won't they tell Mum and Dad he's bringing dishonour on the family?"

"I doubt it. Don't forget, they've been on the receiving end of that trick. I'll remind them for you if I have to. They are more likely to have a good laugh when we tell them what's happened. They've seen how Nav goes when Virginia is in the restaurant."

"All right." Raj agrees, then points at Tony and Nav. "How do we bring them back from the dead?"

"That's easy. Ring your uncles and ask them to make up some of my special samosas. Enough for four. We'll be there in about ten minutes."

"How's that going to help? We have samosas at home all the time."

"But not my extra hot five star specials!"

The samosas work their magic.

"Grief! They're hotter than ever," Tony says as he comes round, eyes streaming. Nav also comes back to the land of the living but is still speechless until a chuckling uncle hands him a pot of mint raita which he ladles into his mouth.

"They're way hotter than anything Mum makes," he gasps after stifling an expletive.

"I know. Raj told me ages ago that she doesn't do you any really hot dishes. That's why I knew these would work. Good aren't they?"

"Not sure good is the right word. Mind blowing, certainly. Have you tried them Raj?" Nav points at the spare portion and Raj holds his hands up as if pushing them away.

"Nah, he hasn't, the wimp," I reply on Raj's behalf. "I knew he wouldn't."

"Why did you make me order four portions then?" Raj asks.

"All the more for me! I'm taking the rest home."

"And you'll be lucky to get any," Tony adds, "after your 'rents have levied their usual forfeit when there are samosas about!"

The uncles are still chuckling when we leave.

It's Saturday, and after he gets home from work, Dad is once again sitting in his chair having a cup of tea and reading the local paper. He sniggers and I ask him what's so funny.

"There's a two-page spread on the Civil War thing last Monday with loads of photos. There's one picture looks like you're in it, lad. The underpants are like the ones I got you."

Dad lowers the paper and beckons me over to look at it with him. He points at the relevant picture.

"There, that one. You might have made sure you had you knickers tucked in."

"Come on, Dad," I reply. "I didn't know the press were there taking pictures. Anyway, as I told Tony when he commented on the day, those briefs you bought have a high waist. A bit old fashioned really. Probably why the guy gave them to you."

Dad grunts in response to my implied criticism of the briefs.

"I wasn't expecting to have taken my shirt off either," I add.

That prompts Dad to ask if Donny had brought it back, which he had done the next day. Dad goes back to inspecting the picture.

"You know something," he says. "I think those goons at the local rag have printed your picture back to front."

"How do you mean, Dad?"

"Well, look. You and Tony are shaking hands, but it looks wrong. It's as though you were doing it left-handed."

"We were! It's the Scout handshake. I asked Tony about it and he explained, saying he was sorry for the confusion, he forgot I'm not a Scout and that it wasn't a Scout do."

"Funny handshakes, eh? You want to be careful, lad. I think Bert is in a Lodge; Tony will be trying to sign you up to the Masons next. All funny handshakes and rolled up trouser legs - not that those shorts have any leg to roll up!"

I give a resigned sigh. "Yes, Dad."

Later, I get the chance to look at the picture on my own. They might have got the picture the right way round, but they have got the caption wrong, saying we were supposed to be Bohemians and that I am in the Scouts. At least they didn't print any of our names.

I have to admit that Dad is right about something else. The picture shows that my torso is a bit scraggy compared to my thighs. I won't tell him though. Maybe I'll do the work and see if he notices the difference.

© Pedro, September 2019

For those interested in knowing more about Hartlepool and the monkey, try this link:


This story is part of the 2019 story challenge "Inspired by a Picture: Scouting for Boys". The other stories may be found at the challenge home page. Please read them, too. The voting period of 8 March to 29 March 2019 is when the voting is open. This story may be rated, below, against a set of criteria, and may be rated against other stories on the challenge home page.

The challenge was to write a story inspired by this picture:


The Challenge That Is Tony - More Trouble with Shorts

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