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The Natural Couple

Chapter 1

By Richard Campbell

To Steve, who suggested the ending.

His last period on Fridays was always the best. Not only was the weekend approaching, two whole days in which to do as he pleased (within reason and parent permitting), but the form tutor, worn out by a hard week trying to control a large class of fifteen year olds, most of whom had no intention of learning anything or doing any work, told them to read for the final hour in the hope of getting some peace and quiet.

Martin, who loved reading with a passion only equalled by his love of writing, would open a book, put his head down, try to ignore the chaos around him and hope that his enemies would leave him alone.

On this particular Friday, although he had a book open in front of him and appeared to be reading diligently, it would have been obvious, had anyone cared to notice, that he hadn't taken in a single word during the previous fifty minutes. Closer inspection would have shown that he was thinking deeply, a slightly worried expression on his face, as he considered how best to get out of the school without running into any of the boys who gave him such a hard time. He always tried to avoid them of course, but didn't always succeed and apart from that, it was important that he wasn't delayed today because Jimmy was picking him up.

Quietly, when everyone was distracted by a loud and heated argument, he put everything but his book away, ready to dash out as soon as the bell rang. Sometimes it worked and he got away safely, but there had been times when he was ambushed outside the school grounds. Usually all he suffered was verbal abuse but on occasions it had gone a lot further than that. If he was quick though, he should be all right. Provided he could avoid the enemy (as he thought of his chief tormentor, a large and unpleasant boy called Ross), on his way to the gate.

He glanced at the clock then turned his attention back to his book though with little more success, distracted as he was by the steadily rising riot around him. He had discovered when he was younger that the thing was to keep absolutely still and avoid catching anyone's eye. If he didn't draw attention to himself he could sometimes escape notice.

Martin was the smallest boy in the class, with pitch black hair and a slim, neat, and graceful body. His classmates had already grown their legs and arms and were beginning to fill out in proportion, but he had not gone through the usual spurt of growth when his voice broke, possibly because he had inherited his stature and small frame. Judging by photographs he'd seen, although his mother was a tall and commanding woman, his father's family were short and stocky, and his paternal grandmother had been positively minute.

He was totally lacking in the aggressive attitude often displayed by short people and being a widely read and highly intelligent boy, frequently wondered why. He had never been able to come to a satisfactory conclusion apart from a vague notion that he must be a throwback to some diffident distant ancestor who couldn't say boo to a goose. Why anyone would take it into their heads to actually say boo (of all things!) to those legendary birds he couldn't imagine. Before he could get depressed about the fact that he was one of their number, his lively mind began to picture a large, flustered, and extremely self-conscious flock of geese, surrounded by people saying boo to them.

The distant ancestor (dressed in skins of some sort, or rags?) would be sauntering along the lane whistling a prehistoric tune (no wouldn't be brave enough to do that!) when he would notice the geese surrounded by the jeering crowd, most of whom bore a distinct resemblance to the people Martin most disliked. As the ancestor approached he would hear the geese muttering amongst themselves in low voices. "Why do they do it?" they would be saying and "They're so rude!" Another would chip in, "We never did anything to them, we were just minding our own business ..." and so on. At this point, the ancestor would try to sidle self-consciously past them, but of course would be spotted by a boy who would raise the alarm. "It's 'im," he would shout, wiping his runny nose on the back of his hand in a disgusting fashion. "Look, it's 'im. The h'Ancestor."

Martin, who indulged in many small revenges in his thoughts, decided that the boy would certainly not know the word ancestor and tried to think of a substitute. Progenitor? Predecessor? Each synonym was even less likely to be known to the runnynosed boy. How about Anne Sestor, and make the character female? He didn't think much of that idea, abandoned it and put the pun in the back of his mind to think about some other time. Jimmy might have some ideas when he told him about it. Since he had met the older boy, he had discovered that they had a similar sense of humour, with the result that the character of the stories he wrote was changing from the viciously observant to something lighter, and often rather amusing. At the thought of Jimmy, a rare smile spread over his face before he could prevent it. He was glad that he had his head down so no-one would see. Resolutely he forced his thoughts back to his story.

So. He had got the ancestor trying to get past the crowd. Runnynose would plant himself in front of him and say in a loud voice, " 'Ere, h'Ancestor, we're saying boo to the gooses." Martin winced at this himself. "Er, so I see." Still trying to get past and eyeing the wings and beaks warily. " 'Ave you h'ever said boo to gooses?" The ancestor would blush furiously, much as Martin did at the least provocation. "Er, that is, er, no," he would say reluctantly. Triumphantly Runnynose would turn to the crowd and shout out loudly, "H'ancestor didn't never say boo to no gooses before!" The crowd's attention would immediately switch from the geese to the ancestor, who would be more embarrassed than ever. "'E didn't never do what?" another urchin would shout accusingly. As they often did, the unruly characters were beginning to get out of Martin's control, so much so he couldn't even decide what age group the boys belonged to. They appeared to range from his own age, fifteen, down to about ten. The crowd would begin to make remarks and point at the ancestor, much to the relief of the geese.

" 'E didn't never say no boo to no gooses, pore ole chap," and, " 'Is ole mum didn't never teach 'im 'ow," were the some of the less obscene of their remarks. By this time, even the geese would be starting to ruffle their feathers and point at the ancestor accusingly with their wings. "Disgusting," a portly old bird was muttering to his wife "You'd have thought he would have been better brought up!" "There ought to be a law" another old one chipped in, in a geriatric, quavering, voice. Jimmy, who was an excellent mimic, had said this to him recently and he had been dying to work it into a story ever since. "Good gwief," another goose, tall ,slim, upper class and with no chin (no chin on a goose?) would drawl in an affected Oxbridge lisp, "It weally is disgwaceful. What a dweadful wepwesentative of the human wace."

"Quiet everybody" the portly goose would call out in a pompous tone. "We must get to the bottom of this." Even Runnynose, who had acquired a face full of unsightly spots and was looking more and more like the enemy, Ross, would quieten down, recognising the voice of authority. "Now, ancestor. Explain yourself at once."

The ancestor, Martin thought too poorly of him to capitalise his name, would hang his head in shame and shuffle his feet. "I er, er... " he would mumble. "Well?" the goose would say impatiently (ominously?) after a pause, "We're waiting." Again the ancestor would be unable to speak above a mumble. The goose would ruffle his feathers even more and glare at him. Martin had a distracting vision of the goose with a small wig on his head, dressed in a barrister's robe. "Can you or can you not, say boo to me?" he would say in a tone that brooked no denial, sweeping imperiously across the courtroom. Miserably, the ancestor (in the dock; the witness stand?) would shake his head and look ashamed. There would be silence from the crowd. Pointing to the smallest gosling in the flock, the goose would say sternly, "Can you say boo to him?" The ancestor would only shake his head. "Please answer the question," the goose (Gander QC?) would repeat sternly. Again the ancestor would be unable to reply. The Goose (definitely a Queen's Councillor) would look at him in well simulated astonishment. "Is it possible that you don't understand the question?" he would ask. "I do understand... " "Well then?" and when the ancestor still looked silently at his feet, Gander (QC), would turn to the judge and shrug his shoulders (shoulders?). "Me Lud..." he would say helplessly, as if it was past belief and he could do no more. The judge, looking exactly like Martin's headmaster, would draw himself up and say sternly. "Answer the question without further prevarication, or I will hold you in contempt of court." Martin’s mother worked in the Public Prosecutor office and he had picked up odd bits of legal terminology. "Can you say boo to that gosling or can you not?" the judge would thunder.

"No," the ancestor would shout, goaded beyond endurance, "I, I can't even say boo to ... to a mirror !" and burst into tears.

At this there would be gasps of dismay. Some of the more delicate, sensitive people and geese would faint, and the delightedly horrified crowd of boys would all round on the sobbing ancestor, laughing and jeering.

Martin itched to write it down while it was fresh in his mind but knew better than to draw attention to himself by getting his notebook out. He hadn't decided why the ancestor was such a wimp as yet, but he'd found that if he left an idea alone, preferably overnight or even longer, when he came back to it the answer would often be there in his mind all worked out for him. He had discussed this with Jimmy who had explained how the subconscious mind worked, but it still seemed miraculous to him when it happened.

Glancing surreptitiously at his watch, he saw that it was nearly time for the bell and quietly got ready while going over the high points of the story to fix it in his mind. He hoped that his form tutor wouldn't call him back to talk about his poor academic record and decided that if it happened, he would pretend he hadn't heard and just keep on going. There was normally enough confusion as the unruly crowd of boys stampeded into the corridor for him to get away with it, so long as he wasn't singled out before the bell went.

When it finally sounded he was the first out of the door, one of the few advantages of sitting near the front of the class. He would have preferred a seat that let him have his back to the wall but those, furthest away from the teachers, were always occupied by louts who turfed everyone else out before annexing them.

Safely into the corridor he slowed to a fast walk in case he caught the eye of anyone in authority. It would be too much if he was stopped and lectured, or worse still, given detention today of all days. But to his relief he made it out of the building unmolested, across the playground and out of the gates.

No-one spoke to him. Those who knew him and were aware of what went on, knew better than to make a friend of someone who was at the receiving end of the sort of bullying that was no less hurtful for being verbal in the main, and those who didn't know him, although attracted by his looks (and a surprising number of them were), tended to be put off by the sullen indifference with which he protected himself. He was not the only one to suffer at the hands of his peers, but he was definitely the most frequent target of a group of boys who discreetly terrorised the playground when no-one was watching.

Relieved to have gained his destination without trouble, Martin looked around eagerly, hoping to get away before anyone accosted him. Unable to see Jimmy, he immediately began to worry that he wasn't coming or that something had happened to him. He looked at his watch and told himself that it was still early and that he should relax, but he knew that his early escape from the classroom would have been noted, and the boys who made his life such a misery at times would be well on their way across the playground by now. He needed to stay where he was in case Jimmy was simply late, but if he didn't arrive soon it was too much to hope that Ross and his cronies catch up with him. Lately they had started making remarks about him again whenever they caught sight of him, and having a crowd around seemed to spur them on.

He could usually force a sort of indifference on himself when he saw he was in for it, but the disappointment of Jimmy's non arrival after all his high hopes a few minutes before had brought him perilously close to tears. If he broke down, it would be all the excuse they needed to really work him over. He edged back towards the wall, feeling his heart beating faster.

Because he was so short, his view of the pavement was blocked from time to time as the boisterous crowd moved around in front of him, pushing and shoving each other. Then all at once, those closest to him stopped talking. He looked sideways towards the gate, and there was Ross.

Martin's heart gave a leap and as he automatically pushed himself even further against the wall to protect his back, the blood left his head in such a rush that he felt faint.

Around him, in contrast to the noisy good-natured crowd just a few feet away, everyone had fallen silent, and some were beginning to move discreetly away. He wondered fleetingly whether it would be verbal or physical this time, and braced himself for whatever the larger boy had in mind.

He was not a coward, but had learnt from experience that it was no use trying to fight back. Contrary to popular opinion, as voiced by adults who didn't have to face the situation but thought they knew all about it, bullies did not give way when people smaller and weaker than themselves stood up to them. He had been badly hurt the only time he had tried it, and it had taken just that one lesson to teach him the truth behind that particular myth. At least Ross is alone, he thought as his muscles tensed. But the others wouldn't be far away.

"What's your hurry Jackson?" Ross asked. "Want to get home to your mummy then?" He looked with undisguised pleasure at Martin's pale face and said, "Whitehead wants to see you. Now. He told me to tell you. I've got to take you to him," he added virtuously.

Martin, who knew that his form tutor, as thankful as he was that school was over for the week, would not have sent for him after he had left the classroom, or if he had, would never have deputised Ross to do it. He wanted to look down, but refused to let the bigger boy have that satisfaction.

"Well, you coming then?" Ross asked.

When Martin didn't reply, he took a step nearer and grabbed his arm. "You better answer when I talk to you, Jackson," he said menacingly.

Martin tried to pull out of his grasp, but Ross was well grown, strong for his age and a lot bigger than he was.

"Let me go." To add to his humiliation, stress made his voice crack on the last word, something it hadn't done for months.

Ross laughed and looked significantly around him. One or two of the boys close to them laughed sycophantically. He turned back to Martin.

"Make me! Go on, make me!" He waited a minute, enjoying Martin's helplessness then saying viciously, "You fucking little poof," pulled Martin towards him then slammed him backwards.

Martin's head hit the wall so hard his vision blurred and Involuntary tears of pain filled his eyes. It took all his concentration not to fall down at Ross's feet. This is going to be bad he thought as soon as his brain was able to function again. If I don't get away he's really going to beat me up this time. He knew he should try to defend himself but it was taking him all his energy to manage the pain in his head as well as stay on his feet. It didn't cross his mind to call out for help. He was on his own as he always was, and the only thing to do was to get away as quickly as he could, and with as little damage as possible.

In the stress of the moment he had forgotten about Jimmy so completely that he was utterly astonished to see his tall figure suddenly materialise in front of him. His relief quickly turned to shame that Jimmy should see him like this. He turned away and used the excuse of picking up his school bag so that Jimmy wouldn't see his face. He had tried hard to hide all this from Jimmy, but was feeling too sick to even wonder how much the older boy had seen.

Jimmy hadn't in fact seen Martin at all as he approached the gate, because he had been masked by the taller boys. And fortunately for Ross, he hadn't seen him push Martin either. But one look at Martin's pale, sick looking face told him that whatever had been going on was something serious.

"Martin," he said quietly, "Are you okay?" He saw Martin's head, still turned away from him, nod fractionally. He turned to face Ross. "Well, what do you want?"

Ross was immediately defensive, as always when faced with somebody bigger than himself, and didn't reply. Jimmy, though slim, was a couple of inches taller, and infinitely more self possessed than he was. Jimmy looked at him for a moment before saying contemptuously, "Well bugger off then!" and turned back to Martin.

"Come on kid," he said looking around him with dislike. "Let's get out of here. I couldn't get anywhere closer to park," he explained. "The car's this way."

Taking the school bag from Martin's unresisting hand he walked him down the street, oblivious to the venomous looks Ross cast after them.

He waited until he had pulled out into the heavy afternoon traffic before asking quietly, "What was going on back there?"

Martin looked down at his feet and said nothing. He was feeling dizzy and very sick, the result of the adrenaline in his bloodstream, and was rapidly developing a headache.

"What did he do to you?" Jimmy asked without looking at him. He had seen how close Martin was to tears and knew he needed time to recover. "Tell me please, Mart."

At any other time, the sympathy and concern in Jimmy's voice would have made him break down and cry like a baby, but he was suddenly swept by such a feeling of nausea that it drove all other thoughts out of his head.

"I'm going to be sick," he said through clenched teeth. "Stop please Jimmy."

Jimmy took one look at his face, made a hurried left turn out of the stream of traffic and pulled over. He came quickly round to the passenger door, helped Martin who was fumbling ineffectively with his seatbelt out of the car, and supported him with one arm around his waist, the other on his chest, his fingers resting lightly at the base of the boy's throat. He could feel Martin's heart beating rapidly and prepared himself for the worst.

"Lean back against me and don't try to talk," he ordered as Martin drew in a breath. "The fresh air will make you feel better in a minute."

Martin sagged against him shutting his eyes. He was feeling dreadful and his stomach heaved once or twice, but by sheer will power and clenching his teeth hard, he was able to control it. Sick as he was, he found Jimmy's presence and supporting arms amazingly comforting. Normally he was on his own when he felt like this. After a few perilous minutes he discovered that Jimmy was right as usual, and slowly began to recover without, to his immense relief, actually throwing up. But his headache was getting worse.

Jimmy continued to hold him, worried at how tense he was. I'll have to do something about that bloody school he thought, and this time he'll tell me what's going on even if I have to force it out of him. Once I know, I can do something, but what? I can pick him up everyday but that won't help him during school time, and no-one will do anything there, neither the teachers nor that mother of his. Thinking about it, he held Martin until he was feeling a little better, then put him back into the car and drove on, wanting to get him to the flat as quickly as possible.

Martin was still looking as white as a sheet and knew from experience that he would have to take one of his migraine tablets if the headache was not to develop into something far worse. He wasn't supposed to take them without his mother's permission, but would be sick for hours if didn't. Jimmy stopped at a corner shop and bought a small bottle of mineral water for him. He swallowed the tablet with tiny sips of water hoping that it wouldn't trigger another nausea attack and be wasted, then concentrated on keeping it down as he slumped back in the seat. Jimmy didn't speak during the remainder of the journey, except once when he asked him if he felt all right.

After parking the car he helped Martin up the stairs, led him straight into the bedroom and made him lie down, taking off his blazer and shoes and covering him with the duvet.

"Okay kiddo," he told him, "Have a sleep. I'll see you later but call me if you want anything." Martin gave him a faint smile as he bent down, put his hand under the boy's head and kissed him gently on the lips. Martin drew in his breath when Jimmy's his fingers came into contact with the back of his head. He knew that there had to be a lump there, but was more overcome by the fact that Jimmy had kissed him, which seemed much more important than a bump, however painful. Without saying anything, Jimmy sat down beside him, lifted him up and parted his hair with gentle fingers. To his relief the skin wasn't broken and nor was the bump quite as big as it had seemed at first, though it was bad enough he thought, with a mixture of worry and anger. He was about to ask again how it had happened but suspected that Martin still wasn't feeling well enough to do any explaining.

"You'd better lie on your side," he said anxiously. "I'm going to call my doctor to come and look at you in case you need an X-ray."

Martin gave him another small smile, still so astonished by the kiss that he couldn't think of anything else.

"I'm okay, Jimmy. Really. I've had far worse before and I can hardly feel it now. I'll be fine after I've slept for a bit. Honestly."

"Well if you're quite sure?" He looked questioningly at the boy. He was aware that Martin was astonishingly mature in some ways, and also used to looking after himself, so he supposed that he knew what he was talking about. "Well, if you don't feel one hundred percent better later," he said still holding the boy against him, "I'm taking you down to see Tim, and no arguments."

He sensed Martin's small nod of agreement and eased him carefully back onto the pillows. Martin settled down feeling he would go through anything if it led to Jimmy kissing him again, and was still thinking about it muzzily when he drifted off to sleep.

After he left the bedroom Jimmy went into the kitchen area, made himself a cup of coffee and sat at the breakfast bar. In spite of his worries about Martin, he kept thinking of the feel of the boy's lips under his. It was the first time he had kissed the him on the mouth although it was something he had been wanting to do since he first met him several months before. He wanted to do it again, and a lot more than that, and felt himself getting aroused at the thought of what he would like to do to, and with, the boy. He frequently became erect when he was thinking about Martin, usually at the most inconvenient of times, and had taken to wearing tight underwear to disguise the fact.

He glanced at the clock on the wall, saw that he had been day dreaming for all of twenty minutes and his coffee was cold. Quietly he got up and looked in at Martin who was sleeping soundly. It was the first time he had seen him asleep and he was touched by how young and vulnerable he looked when he was completely relaxed. He studied the small face, it's slightly snub nose, neat eyebrows and fringe of dark hair, wondering what he found so appealing about him. He was very conscious of male beauty and found Martin so physically attractive that he'd been having difficulty keeping his hands off him for some time, though he found it impossible to decide precisely what it was that attracted him so much. Perhaps it was the mixture of brains, looks and talent. Whatever it was, he was glad that Martin possessed it.

Jimmy who had his own brand of good looks and had been pursued for them often enough, knew that he couldn't compare. It was obvious when the two of them were together, that it was Martin who drew the attention of both sexes, though when he was on his own he received his share of appreciative glances. He was not in the least upset by this, but on the contrary, took it as a compliment to his own taste and enjoyed the envy that others felt for his possession of the boy. Though I don't possess him he thought. At least not yet.

He tried to look at the sleeping boy dispassionately. He's really pretty, even beautiful, he decided, especially when he's happy. I wish he'd smile more often and not be so unsure of himself. It seemed to him that Martin was reverting, for some reason, to being the same unconfident person he had been when he first met him. Something is going on at that school he concluded, and I'm going to sort it out once and for all with him this weekend. Having made the decision he abandoned it for the time being and returned to what he had felt when he kissed Martin.

It had been an entirely spontaneous reaction. Martin had been looking so sick, sad and tired that he had been unable to help himself. Even as he'd done it he'd wondered if it was too soon, if he might have put Martin off by his eagerness. Well he certainly didn't pull away he told himself hopefully, maybe even returned it a little. Over the months he had come to know how wary Martin was of committing himself and even the smallest positive reaction was a step forward.

He knew, or perhaps hoped, that Martin wanted him as much as he wanted Martin. The evidence of arousal in the boy's trousers had been plain enough on several occasions recently, but getting him to accept more than a hand on his neck or an infrequent arm around his waist was still, after months of knowing him, something that he wasn't sure that Martin was ready for. They had spent a lot of time together in the flat, in fact Martin did all of his typing here now, but until his mother had suddenly needed to go away, he had never been able to stay overnight. Jimmy had pinned his hopes on this weekend.

And now it seemed as if it might all be for nothing if he developed a really bad migraine. Jimmy had never seen him in the throes of an attack but Tim had described the symptoms, and he was under no illusions as to how painful they could be, and how debilitating. He could only hope that Martin had taken the tablet in time. Firmly restraining himself from kissing the boy again and possibly waking him, he went to the window, quietly closed the curtains and left the room, leaving the door open in case Martin called.

When he woke more than an two hours later, Martin was completely disorientated for a minute. The furniture was strange and oddly placed, the window and door were in the wrong position and he had no idea what the time was. It could have been the middle of the night for all he knew. He felt washed out, light-headed, and it was difficult to think clearly but he realised to his relief that the headache had almost gone. That settled, he turned his attention again to his surroundings.

Of course, he remembered joyfully, I'm at the flat for the whole weekend. He savoured the thought until a returning memory pushed it out of his mind. Jimmy kissed me he recalled wonderingly, and his happiness redoubled. He lay back thinking about it for a while before deciding that he was wasting precious time, got up, took off his school uniform and put on jeans, T-shirt and trainers then still feeling a little shaky, left the bedroom.

Jimmy was sitting on the sofa listening to something through headphones. On the coffee table in front of him was the cover the Alpine Symphony. Martin had discovered over the weeks that Jimmy's musical tastes and his own often coincided. They both loved the romantic composers which Martin could only really listen to when his mother wasn't home. Her own taste ran to the rather mathematical perfection of Bach, and although she had never said so, he was convinced that she thought the period of music that he enjoyed so much overblown, and slightly vulgar. For himself, he found the early composers unsatisfying and loved, and was most moved by, the fire and passion of the romantics. His favourite piece at the moment was the Bruch violin concerto.

Jimmy sensed his presence and turned his head.

"You look so much better," he said, taking off the headphones. "How are you feeling?" He stood up and came round the sofa towards Martin.

"I'm fine Jimmy, thank you," Martin replied, with a rather quaint formality because he was feeling shy. He would have liked to move closer to Jimmy and said rather quickly, "The headache's nearly gone, thank goodness. I'm glad I took my tablet straight away." He tried to will himself to move towards the bigger boy, but couldn't make himself do it.

He needn't have worried. Jimmy came up to him and hugged him saying in a muffled voice into his hair, "I'm glad. I was really worried about you, you know. You looked terrible in the car." Jimmy felt Martin tense ever so slightly as he put his arms around him, but was too taken with the feel of the compact body against his own to let him go. After a while Martin relaxed, content to remain in his arms.

This is what I want Martin told himself, so why can't I just go to him and get it? Because you're such a wimp, was the irritated answer as he wished he had even a tiny part of the self possession he admired so much in Jimmy. Like the way he handled Ross. He only had to look at him and Ross backed down. Then determined not to let anything spoil this moment, he pushed all thoughts of that unpleasant youth out of his mind.

He was small enough for his head to fit comfortably under Jimmy's chin and as the older boy's arms tightened around him, found that he could hear Jimmy's heart beating rapidly under his ear. He pressed closer and tried to listen to his own heartbeat at the same time so he could compare them, but Jimmy's strong pulse drowned out his own. He wondered if their hearts were pounding in synchronisation and found the idea so satisfying that his hands which had been against Jimmy's chest moved of their own volition around Jimmy's waist and held him gently. He thought that he would like to stand like this forever and determined not to think of anything but the sensations of the moment. I think too much, he decided, not realising that it was a natural reaction to his isolation and lack of companionship, and decided that from now on he was going to accept the nice things that happened, without trying to analyse them quite so much.

Jimmy, his nose buried in the sleep-tumbled, untidy black hair, was extraordinarily touched when Martin tentatively returned his hug and felt an urge to crush the boy against him harder than ever. His mind, less analytical than Martin's, wasted no time in trying work out what his feelings were, but accepted the enjoyment of the moment for what it was. I just wish that ... he started to think momentarily, but banished the thought to the furthest recesses of his mind before he could complete it.

"You're okay, kid," he said softly after some time. "But much as I like holding you like this, I want to look at that bump on your head."

Martin, who had completely forgotten about it and would far rather have remained where he was, reluctantly let him go and allowed himself to be sat down at the breakfast bar.

"I think it’s gone down a bit," Jimmy said after inspecting it closely, "Does it still hurt?"

"Not too much now. It probably looked worse than it felt," he replied after feeling it for himself. It was in fact quite a big lump, and he was pleased that he had made so little fuss about it. Though I did have other things to think about he thought happily. "I'm very thirsty, may I have something to drink, please" he asked.

Jimmy smiled "What would you like?" knowing exactly what he would say.

"Coffee please, with lots and lots of sugar!"

"Not tea?" Jimmy asked him teasingly.

Martin hated tea but was forced to drink it at home because his mother disapproved of coffee for children. As a result he took every opportunity to drink it and spooned in as much sugar as he thought he could get away with. He didn't really like it as sweet as all that, it was just one of his small defiances. The fact that he wouldn't have contemplated defying his mother like this six months ago hadn't occurred to him yet, and Jimmy, well aware of this, wondered with some interest how he would react when it did. He debated as he made coffee for them both, limiting Martin to a spoon and a half of sugar, whether to bring the subject up or not.

He was determined to do everything in his power to help Martin grow away from a woman who, he had decided from his admittedly prejudiced knowledge of her, frustrated her son more from an unexpressed feeling of resentment than any real concern for his welfare. Jimmy knew her to be a cold, hard-hearted bitch who didn't have an ounce of sympathy in her make up, nor any real love for her son. How she could have produced him in the first place he couldn't imagine. Nor in his opinion, did she deserve him.

"Here you are," he said, putting the mug down in front of Martin and sitting opposite him. Martin grimaced slightly at the taste but made no comment, there were some things that Jimmy would definitely not let him get away with. He would have resented the lack of sugar furiously if it had been his mother who had withheld it, but he didn't really mind when it was Jimmy. He wondered why for a moment, but shied away from pursuing the idea as he had a feeling it might lead him into areas he wasn't ready yet to explore. Instead he gave Jimmy a wry smile and sipped the drink without saying anything. There was a comfortable silence between them.

At home he never did talk much because of his basic insecurity and the strained relationship between himself and his parent, but with Jimmy these silences even when caused by his shyness, felt quite natural. It was one of the things he enjoyed so much in Jimmy's company, that he could be himself without any need for explanation. I would be happy to just sit looking at him for hours he told himself, then decided with his usual honesty, that his reserved nature wouldn't let him do it for more than a minute or so in case Jimmy noticed. Before he could start getting depressed about this, Jimmy broke the silence.

"Can we talk about this afternoon now?" he asked. "Mart, we've got to," he added when he saw the almost imperceptible shake of the head. "That thug was giving you a bad time wasn't he? And don't try to tell me you got that bump on your head falling over in the playground because I won't believe you. You never fall over."

This was perfectly true. Because he had not gone through the rapid and uncontrolled spurt of growth in early adolescence, Martin's physical movements still had the grace and control of a much younger child.

Martin was loathe to break the mood between them. As far as he was concerned the incident was over. It was the kiss it had led to that he cared about now. He most definitely did not want to think about Ross and his cronies, or the difficulties he was experiencing at home and school. The present, this moment, now in fact, was enough.

"I don't want to talk about it yet," he said in the rather gruff voice he employed when he really didn't want to discuss something. "Can we leave it 'til tomorrow or Sunday? Please Jimmy," he added, when it seemed as if he was going to insist.

Jimmy decided to let it go for time being and nodded, though he was determined to get to the bottom of it before the weekend was over. He was convinced that the spotty youth who had been confronting Martin had something to do with the bump on his head, and if the bastard thought he'd got away with it, he couldn't be more wrong. Although slim, Jimmy was strong, and while he knew that his mind was not nearly as good as Martin's, he was pretty certain that it was a lot better than that of the lout, who appeared to be a mindless thug. He could handle him, physically, mentally or any other way.

They had almost finished their coffee when a movement at the far end of the garden where it bordered on the railway line caught Jimmy's eye. He got up and looked out of the window over the sink.

"Come here," he said over his shoulder. "There's one of my squirrels."

Martin had always liked the way he said my squirrels, rather than a squirrel, or even the squirrel. Jimmy squeezed him in between the sink and himself and put an arm round the slim waist. The squirrel after racing along the wooden fence dividing the gardens, made a death defying leap into a tree next to the house and arrived on the windowsill in front of them. Martin was convinced that it was panting from the effort and was irresistibly reminded of the cat who was always being pursued by the skunk in the Pepe le Pew cartoons that he had recorded when he was younger and still enjoyed when his mother wasn't around. He could almost see the squirrel wiping it's brow and gasping "Le pant, le pant! Le phew, le phew!"

The squirrel, having investigated the empty surface of the sill and unable to get it's head through the gap under the slightly open sash window, stood up, put it's front paws against the glass and looked, or so Martin was convinced, accusingly at them. Without letting go of him, Jimmy reached into the tin that stood on the draining board and took out an unshelled peanut. With some difficulty, because he didn't want to let go of Martin, he pushed the window further up, saying quietly, "Keep still, until he gets used to you."

The squirrel, after retreating a few inches came towards them and looking warily at Martin, took the nut from Jimmy's fingers and began to eat it. Martin tried to work out how it could see what it was doing. The nut appeared to be completely out of it's line of sight, and he wondered if squirrels ever bit their paws by mistake. Perhaps only if they were distracted he decided, and wondered what would distract what was obviously a fairly tame squirrel. Cats, dogs, foxes perhaps? Jimmy had mentioned that the garden was visited by a fox family occasionally. What else? People of course, particularly people doing something noisy or strange. Like what? he asked himself, feeling an idea for a story beginning to form in his head. Well, suppose I was the squirrel looking into the room and used to seeing only Jimmy, what would it look like now? His vivid imagination suddenly shifted his viewpoint and he almost seemed to be looking in through the window from the outside. He had no idea if squirrel eyes saw in the same way that his did, but he thought they probably would. Obviously though, the vision would be filtered through a squirrel brain.

What would that be like and how would it see the house? As a rock? A hill? A cliff with a cave in it? And what did it make of the glass, the fact that something it could see through stopped it from getting in? Did it simply accept it without even thinking about it? Had anyone ever done any research on it, and if so, how did they go about it? He made a mental note to do some investigating next time he went to the library.

Meanwhile, back to the squirrel looking into the room. There would be the familiar form of Jimmy. Huge of course compared to a squirrel, blondish fur (why only on the head and not all over like squirrels?) and in front of him, a smaller creature with different colouring, clasped in the larger one's paws. What on earth were they doing? He tried to think himself into the small brain. Why would the two humans, creatures, large animals, have taken that particular position?

Of course, he thought triumphantly, they're mating, that's why. Then the implications struck him and he started to blush. It really would look like we're doing it, he thought, and tried to switch his mind back to the squirrel to distract himself. So what would the squirrel think of it? Would it care? If it was an official of either the Squirrel Church or the Squirrel Conservative party he thought, beginning to enjoy himself, it would be absolutely horrified and disgusted. He began to smile. There would be headlines in all the squirrel newspapers, especially the News of the Wild, or better still, the Squirrel Unpublishable News. 'Humans Discovered Mating in Public, tried to bribe this reporter with nuts not to publish story!' At the thought of an embarrassed and shamefaced Jimmy attempting to bribe a hypocritically upright squirrel reporter, he started to laugh under his breath, to the suspicion of the little animal who was trying to induce Jimmy to give it another nut. Jimmy obliged, wondering what on earth Martin was laughing about. He could feel him shaking as he tried to suppress his giggles. Martin who was rapidly writing gutter press style shock-horror headlines and paragraphs in his mind, gave up the unequal struggle, and laughed out loud. The squirrel, apparently under the impression that Martin was laughing at him, gave him an injured look and raced indignantly away towards the bottom of the garden.

Leaning weakly against Jimmy who was now having to hold him with both arms, and feeling the tensions of the day draining out of him, Martin explained between giggles what he had been thinking of. As he had known he'd be, Jimmy was just as amused by the idea as he was, and began to embroider it in such vulgar detail that Martin went into hysterics and had to be half carried to the sofa where they both collapsed, weak with laughter.

Totally relaxed and without even thinking about it, it felt so natural, Martin put his arms round Jimmy's neck, pulled his face down and kissed him. It was the first time in their relationship that he had ever taken the lead or done anything of the sort. Appreciating and thrilled by this, Jimmy pulled him close and hugged him with all his might until Martin gasped with difficulty, "I can't breathe."

Guiltily, Jimmy changed his grip from the crushing to the merely unbearable, pulled the boy onto his lap, kissed the top of his head and rested his cheek against the thick dark hair. As if it had a will of it's own, his right hand slipped under Martin's T-shirt. As his fingers touched the smooth, warm skin, he heard and felt Martin draw in his breath in a small gasp.

"It's all right," he said quietly. "It's all right, Martin."

Martin's mind seemed to be going round in circles. He wanted Jimmy's hand to move lower and at the same time, he knew that if it did he would feel really guilty about it. Why can't I just enjoy it, he asked himself? Why do I always have to start worrying about things? But if he touches me there, he might think that I'm ... Do girls ever feel the same way he wondered suddenly, and decided that it was probably worse for them. At least I won't get pregnant if anything does happen he thought, that's something. However, his worries were beginning to seem rather academic because Jimmy's hand wasn't moving anywhere at all.

In fact Jimmy had been as surprised as Martin to find his hand on the taut, flat stomach. He certainly hadn't planned it, and once it had happened, didn't know what to do next. Apart from when he first touched him, Martin was giving him no indication as to whether he wanted him to go any further and the sophisticated and experienced Jimmy, who would have known exactly what to do with anyone else, found himself completely at a loss.

Which was not to say that he wasn't being affected. Under Martin's weight, he was becoming both congested and cramped and wondered whether Martin could feel it through his jeans. In a way, he hoped he could. At least he'll know how much he turns me on Jimmy thought, then, I wonder if I turn him on as much? He badly wanted to move his hand and find out but was worried that Martin might resent it, so he simply let his hand rest where it was.

The position of his hand and his thoughts about the boy were turning him on more and more and he was quick to realise that uncomfortable or not, if he didn't change his position soon something was going to happen to him right then and there. He wouldn't have been in the least embarrassed about it, but he didn't want to waste anything if there was the slightest chance that he could share it with Martin.

It was at that precise moment that he understood that he wanted to give the boy pleasure even more than he wanted to receive it from him, and with a flash of insight, saw that the one led inevitably to the other. There will be time, he decided, I can wait until he's ready. But I do wish it were now.

Very gently he removed his hand and as Martin's T-shirt fell back and covered him, turned the boy's head and looked deeply into the dark brown eyes.

"It's all right," he said again. "Don't worry."

Martin, unsure whether to be pleased or sorry at the loss of contact, but on the whole more sorry than pleased, swallowed.

"I know, Jimmy," he whispered, "Thank you."

"We'd better organise something to eat." Jimmy said briskly before he could change his mind. "What would you like?"

"Fish and chips, of course," Martin replied immediately, scrambling reluctantly off his lap. "I can pay for it." he offered. "I've got extra pocket money and I'm rich!"

"It's okay, kiddo," Jimmy said, smiling, as he stood up. "I can afford it you know."

Martin smiled briefly in return but said seriously, "I know. But I've told you before, I'm not going to let you pay for everything Jimmy. I don't have very much, but what I do have, I want to share with you. Please?" he added.

Jimmy shook his head at him. "Don't try your tricks on me kiddo, I can see right through you."

Feeling euphoric, Martin bent his head at an absurd angle and pretended to look through his chest. "You're right," he said in a horrified tone, "I can see right through me too. I'm disappearing fast. From hunger. Come on."

"Okay, okay. Get your money."

Martin smiled brilliantly at him and dashed into the bedroom. Being on the receiving end of that smile at full strength was something Jimmy had never got used to. Slightly shaken, he followed Martin into the bedroom to find him burrowing excitedly through his school bag, rather like a gerbil.

"Got it," Martin said triumphantly, waving an extremely tattered and elderly five pound note. "Like I said, rich!"

"Sure are, pardner," replied Jimmy in an overdone cowboy accent, "Ah figure you struck paper in that thar' school bag."

"Sure did, and Ah aim to fill any lousy rustler full o' lead iffen they try to dry gulch it offen me."

"Ah sure didn't never like the taste o' lead," said Jimmy then shifted rapidly to a southern plantation drawl. "Mr Jackson, suh, Ah guess Ah'm agoing to have to just let you buy them ole fish and chips."

Martin began to giggle and Jimmy finding himself propelled rapidly out of the flat was told that he'd better shake them two legs of his because his companion was ready to eat that there horse.

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