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by Rafael Henry

Chapter 21

Sweet sorrow.

I'm kneeling on a rag rug, a ragged crude sort of thing my mother would pick out at a craft show, but not so bad on the knees. It's very warm here in the Hut, and the small thermometer on the wall reads 76 degrees fahrenheit. I wonder who Mr Fahrenheit was?

Roger is sitting in our chair; mine and Robbie's favourite chair. I can still smell the warm skin of Robbie's neck as I look at Roger. I would have my hands on Rob's hips so we come together perfectly. It's a deep chair so Robbie can get his feet up into the right place, on the edge, and when he's there with me, I can lay my hands on his tummy; and everything. Time to rest for a minute or so. Once it was Lael.

I went to the Hut after Games, so I'm lots of bare skin, lots of leg you might say, bare arms. These shorts are little more than loin cloths.

'There was a boy sent from God.' Utters Roger, smiling. He's wearing a pair of beige shorts, bare legs and pale, strong and rather hairy legs wide apart. I can't see anything. I didn't want to look but I did. I can never help looking. When a boy in shorts sits with his legs apart like that, I always look, and usually see something nice. Innocent creatures that they are, they have no idea what's in my mind.

'I don't think I could ever be John the Baptist Roger? Perhaps Jonathan the Baptist of fire?'

He laughs.

'But you have seen that Light Jon.'

'Have I?'

'Far more than I have.' Roger says in that soft rather regretful way of his.

He places his hand on my head, spreads his fingers wide, and pushes them through my hair. My hair is quite long and probably needs a wash, and his hands feel good as they travel from front to back, and then again, and again. When I warn Roger about what I'm about to do, he raises his eyebrows, but says nothing. That's a green light.

With my arms crossed, I pull up my tee and over my head. It gets caught and Roger helps. He takes it from me, and lays his hands on my bare shoulders. I look up and smile at Roger. He's not smiling now. He looks down, opens his mouth and breathes deeply.

'Why is it that boys always want to take their clothes off Jon?'

'Lead us not into temptation?' I say randomly, still smiling.

'And forgive us our trespasses?'

'Being half naked. Or even naked. That's not a sin, surely?'

Isn't it? In this situation?

I stand up. Roger looks. I'm revealed in the light, the boy that I am.

Roger can't speak, probably from sheer surprise at what I've done, just for him, if he only knew it. He just stares at me.

I'm giving Roger enough time to absorb the picture I've painted for him. The situation I've created for him if he wants it. The opportunity he never had, poor man.

I was there for him in his study yesterday. A chance given but not taken.

Roger's expression doesn't change as I look back at him. Gradually my smile fades.

'Thank you for considering the difficult position I find myself in Jon. I'm not at all sure you could ever replace the past. But you are very kind. Would you sit with me for a short while?'

He has his arm around my waist, and mine is around his, my head resting just under his chin. He smells nice. Warm. His other hand plays with my hair. People like to touch my hair for some reason. Lael would comb it while I felt his soft breath on my face.

We stayed like that for at least ten minutes. This has nothing to do with sex. But here I am sitting in a man's lap, this man that has denied himself.

I told Roger about Otta, and how I am feeling about him. Perhaps life is about things we wished we had done, and have not. Robbie's gone now, to all intents and purposes, defected, yet still demanding. Tomorrow morning is our last, and I've promised to give him a send-off, early, after a week or so of abstinence for him, as far as I know, or from what he's told me. Tonight he said with a smile that he's been 'saving up.' Oh lordy!

It's the familiar tip toeing along corridors an hour before Room 10 wakes up. Robbie will be asleep no doubt, but despite that he will respond normally I'm sure. Perhaps he's dreaming of girls as they flirt with him on the warm beach, feet half buried in warm sand, skin bright and beautiful.

I'm never sure at what precise point Rob comes out of his slumberland, but he's got hold of my ears right now, playing with them, thinking that I'm some nubile female following his orders. He's his usual delicious self, and I'm making a real effort to give him a good sensation here, lips, tongue, mouth and fingers and thumb. Next year he'll be a different boy, full of the stories of the girls he met on the beach in Antibe, and I'll be exactly the same, dealing with lost love yet again. I don't know why I glanced sideways. It's the cute blond boy in the bed opposite. Jute. He's on his side, head angled towards Robbie's bed and looking wide eyes straight at me kneeling, clearly enjoying himself, the bedclothes going up and down in a gentle right-handed rhythm. He certainly doesn't mind my seeing what he's doing. Good. He's obviously well integrated now! Robbie lets out a low moan as I finish the business for him leaving not a trace. He was right. Nicely saved up. My head raised, Robbie all done, I look back at the boy in the bed opposite. He's finished too, bless him, mouth open and with a slightly surprised look on his face. I replace Robbie's covers, stand up with one hand in front of my now loosened dressing gown, and go over to the boy who has his hands together under his chin. He has a cute face, a few freckles either side of his rather snubby nose. He's gripping the bedclothes with both hands, no doubt wondering, worrying even, why I'm approaching his bed.

'Are you ok down there?' I ask quietly. He nods his answer.

'May I?' I whisper in his ear. He nods his approval. I've seen this boy at showers. He's a good example of the species.

I release the bedclothes from the boy's grip and ease them downwards; far enough to see. Creamy pale the little worm lies there, relaxed and satisfied. I look for a few seconds, and then replace the warming layers over Jute, touch his forehead, turn and leave. When I reach the door, I glance back and smile. All I can see of the boy is his head lying on the pillow, eyes closed. He has another forty minutes of slumber before the new day begins, the very last one until mid-September when the whole round begins again. But right now euphoria rules.

The last afternoon of the school year is filled with laughter and goodbyes; the sounds of total relief that it's all over for another year. It's the sound of car doors slamming shut, crunching gravel in the main drive in front of the gothic façade, and dozens of boys in smart uniform dressed for the journey home, all spinning excitedly hither and thither, shouting their last goodbyes to their best ever friends, some in longs and some in their cute short trousers that only just fit him now, showing off their sports field tanned legs, arms hidden inside blazer sleeves, also too short for next year.

I'm waiting for mum, knowing she can't get here before six this evening, so I have this show to witness and in a strange way to enjoy, with plenty of time to consider my place in the universe, alone. I've seen Robbie waiting for his people to arrive. He sees me looking. He looks away, and then back. We haven't spoken since breakfast.

Why has he not told me? Then he walks over, shoes polished, fingernails no doubt seen to, bright white shirt, tie tied, even his usually unkempt hair looks unnaturally tidy. He's coming to tell me he's leaving the school.

'I didn't tell you Jon. I'm really sorry. I should have told you.'

'What?' I ask, knowing perfectly well what was coming next.

'I'm going to S. Johns next term. Dad's lost his job. We can't afford this place any more.'

'I heard Rob. The Chaplain told me. I'm sorry.'

'Yes. I just wanted say thanks for everything. You know, being a mate and all that. Thanks.'

'That's ok Rob. Hope you get on ok at Johns.'

'Yes. It'll be a bit different there.'

'And have a good holiday. Antibe again is it?' I say. Knowing it is Antibe again.

'No it isn't. Not this year. It was cancelled.'

'Oh that's a shame. No girls to play with then?' I say unkindly.

A short silence. He must know I'm annoyed at not being told to my face the truth of the matter, and its consequences for his school career.

'So, it's goodbye Jon.'

'Yes. I'm sorry too. That's bad luck. Anyway, good luck now.' I say, with my best smile. But he's hurt me. The flame of love flickers and then dies; but not with me.

And that was that. I watch as he walks away, his feet crunching the gravel. No backward look. His people are here in the old Volvo, red paint discoloured now. Perhaps there's tear in his eye, but I doubt it. Good timing for both of us.

I bet Lael's watching right now. That flame that will never die; should never have died. I can feel his hand pressing down on my shoulder, his breath on my neck.

I watch Robby walk away to the car, and get in. My last sight of him. I watch him go.

I stand there thinking, my eyes prickling again. It's Lael's voice whispering in my ear. I am with you always.

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