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The Natural Couple

Chapter 11

By Richard Campbell

After the pleasure of the day spent with Jimmy, the following day when he returned to school was a nightmare. His enemies had spent the time he was away recruiting their forces and it started as soon as he walked through the school gates. At first it was the odd jostle and remarks under the breath, just loud enough for him to hear, but as the day wore on it became more serious, with thumps as people bumped into supposedly by accident, with fake and hypocritical apologies afterwards. It was done quietly and never where anyone in authority could see.

The remarks too became louder and more spiteful until by dinnertime, he was so miserable that all thoughts of Jimmy had been driven out of his head. He was given a hard time by the teacher in the last period before lunch because he asked to go to the toilet about ten minutes before the end of the lesson. He needed to go sometime but would be completely at everyone's mercy if he went during break. No teacher ever went near the toilets and he would get no help from anyone if he was trapped there.

After enduring several sarcastic comments on the subject of little boys who weren't toilet trained, he was permitted to leave the room, too worried and miserable to feel resentment at the teacher's remarks. It avoided the most dangerous time, but still had to endure the taunts all through the hour long break, and they were beginning to take on a vicious edge that really worried him.

The story of what he and Alan had been doing seemed to have permeated through entire student body, spread of course by Ross and his friends. There was absolutely nothing that he could do about it. If he approached a member of staff, Ross would have no scruples about telling what he had seen, and from there it would be a short step to his mother finding out. I'd rather die than that he thought, and seriously wondered how he would set about it if he had to. Even boys be didn't know were talking about him. As he wandered miserably around the playground, trying to stay within view of the teacher on duty, it seemed to him in his hypersensitive state that everyone was looking at him, and that conversations stopped abruptly as soon as he came within earshot. A sure sign that they had been talking about him. He saw Alan across the playground several times but to his relief the younger boy made no attempt to approach him.

By the end of the afternoon, with a splitting headache, he managed to reach the gate by simply ignoring everyone. He was lucky in that there were several teachers in the vicinity so he escaped the physical roughing up that he had received during the day, but heard several vicious remarks, some from boys he had never even spoken to before. It confirmed his worst fears, but by then his headache was so bad, he had no energy for anything else, so it was possible to ignore them.

The rest of the week was not quite so bad as far as the majority of the school were concerned, but Ross was loudly addressing him as 'bumboy' whenever he saw him, and he was petrified that it would come to the ears of the staff and thence to his mother, as one of the worst weeks in his life dragged on and on.

By Friday, after being followed part of the way home by Ross and his gang, all calling him a queer and worse in voices loud enough to be heard by anyone passing, he was in such a bad state when he got home that he checked how many paracetamol tablets were left in the bottle. It was typical of the sort of week he'd had that there were only four. He cried himself to sleep that night and looked so worn the next day that the normally unobservant Martha made a mental note to get him back to the doctor if he hadn't improved by Monday. On Sunday however, she decided that he was well enough to be left at home after Mass while she went to visit friends. Left on his own, he screwed up his courage and phoned Jimmy.

While waiting for him to answer, he chickened out and put the phone down, then spent the next thirty minutes dithering and trying to gather enough courage to dial again. When he finally did so, Jimmy answered before he could change his mind and put the receiver down again.

"It's me," he said in the gruff voice he used when he wasn't sure of himself.

"Hi Martin, I'm glad you called. Are you okay to talk?"

"Yes. She's out."

"Good. How've you been kiddo?"


"You don't sound okay. Something wrong?"

"Well ... " Martin replied, then stopped.

"Well what?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Martin said in such a small voice that Jimmy's sympathy was aroused.

"Look, can you come out for a bit?" he asked in a worried voice.

"Yeah. She's out for the day."

"Right. I'll meet you at the corner in ten minutes."

" 'kay Jimmy. Bye."

He put the phone down, feeling very much happier, and walked to the place where Jimmy had dropped him the last time they were together. I could walk all the way to his flat if I had to he thought, it's not all that far. But the fact that Jimmy was prepared to come and fetch him gave him a warm, comfortable feeling and he could even have taken the appearance of Ross in his stride just then. It was surprising what talking to Jimmy for a minute or two could do, he mused, why didn't I phone him in the week when things were so bad? But the thought of telling Jimmy what had caused his terrible week was reason enough not to have done so. It was too risky. Jimmy would probably hate him like everyone else if he knew what he and Alan had done. But walking to the corner had a soothing effect and when he saw the mini approaching, there was no room in his mind to think of anything but Jimmy.

"I'm taking you back to the flat for lunch," Jimmy said as he opened the passenger door. He looked awful he thought, noting the dark circles under Martin's eyes and his pale face. What's wrong, and why doesn't that bloody woman do something about it? If he were mine I'd take better care of him. Oh yes? his conscience asked, and what about your plans for him? I said if, he told himself. He isn't mine, but if he was ...

"I suppose you want syrup to drink," he said when they arrived at the flat.

"Huh?" Martin said inelegantly.

"Coffee with about twenty spoons of sugar."

Martin gave him a very small smile and said simply, "Yes please."

Jimmy looked at him then quietly made the coffee while thinking deeply. When he brought him the mug, Martin was staring into space.

"Here you are. Only nineteen spoons. I'm putting you on a diet."

Martin shook his head slightly and gave him another small smile, "Thank you Jimmy."

Jimmy waited a minute and then when it was obvious that he wasn't going to say anything else said, "Okay, kid, give. What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Martin muttered.

"Come on Martin, what's wrong?"

"It's just that, well ... I had a bad week at school, that's all," he said reluctantly. "It's not important. Now," he added after a moment's thought.

"So tell me anyway."

"Please Jimmy, when I'm with you I can forget about things for a bit. I don't want to talk about it. Really."

Jimmy looked at him measuringly, wondering if he should push it or leave it until later. He decided on the second course but determined to make Martin talk before he took him home.

"Well, we'll leave it, but only for the time being. By the way, I took your stories to that friend of mine to read. I haven't heard from him yet," he said, intercepting Martin's look, "Probably because he's always busy but as soon as he's read them I'll let you know what he thinks. Have you written anything else since I saw you?"

"No," Martin told him, "But I've got one or two ideas. Do you mind if I don't tell you about them? I'm not sure if they're any good or not."

His voice was more animated and Jimmy encouraged him to talk generally, then took him into the kitchen to help prepare the food. By the time it was ready to eat, Martin had relaxed and become, for him, quite chatty. Jimmy wasn't fooled though. There was a major underlying worry and he wanted to get to the bottom of it. He gave him a tiny glass of wine to drink with his lunch hoping that it might loosen him up enough to confide in him, and kept the conversation general. He noticed that even when he asked Martin about his holiday dates, the reminder of school made him get tense and he had some difficulty in getting him to relax again.

But by the end of the meal Martin was very slightly tipsy, feeling better and even rather confidant. He wasn't used to wine, his mother never allowed him to have it. Jimmy made a mental note not to give him too much in future. Having the kid turn into an alcoholic didn't figure in his plans at all.

In spite of his tactful probing, he was unable to overcome Martin's resistance and learned no more about his problems than that they were caused by his peers rather than his teachers. Heartily ashamed of the episode with Alan, Martin was determined not to tell Jimmy about it and in any case, had been brought up in the belief that it was up to him to sort out his problems, without asking for help.

When he seemed close to the point of tears, Jimmy desisted and turning the conversation to music discovered that although he wasn't very knowledgeable, Martin's tastes were similar to his own. For the rest of the afternoon, they listened to music and talked about any subject that occurred to them, with the exception of school and Martin's mother.

By the time he dropped him off at what Martin was beginning to think of as their corner, Jimmy, though still worried, felt that the boy was in better shape than he'd been when he picked him up at the same place that morning.

That evening Jimmy went to the George and Dragon with the sole purpose of getting his face known to Martin's father and his companion. He wasn't ready to approach them yet, but when he did make a move, wanted to do it as someone familiar, not as a total stranger. He spent a boring hour, as he had done a couple of times earlier in the week, then went home still thinking seriously about Martin.

He found him interesting as well as attractive. He had a good mind and his stories would have seemed good to him if written by an adult, let alone by a fifteen year old. He enjoyed Martin's company even though he was hard going at times.

He was about to go to bed when the phone rang. It was Marion, asking him when they were going to see him and inviting him to have supper with Tim and herself the following Saturday. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to see Martin that day he accepted and at the same time dropped a few hints that he had been seeing someone which was why he hadn't been in touch recently. As soon as he mentioned it, he wondered why he'd done so. It was exactly the wrong thing to say if he was going to introduce Martin to them as just a youngster he was interested in.

Marion was delighted. Ever since Jon had died she had been telling him that life wasn't over and that someone else would come along for him, but she tactfully refrained from questioning him when she sensed that he wasn't ready to talk about it yet.

Jimmy decided against phoning Brian to ask him if he had read the stories yet, and went to bed where he slid into a satisfyingly erotic fantasy about Martin before going to sleep.

Martin phoned him twice during the week and seemed to be less tense when they arranged to meet on Sunday if he was able to get away. It wasn't too bad a week, certainly a lot better than the week before, as apart from Ross whom he did his best to ignore, the other boys seemed to have forgotten about him.

He did have a bad moment though, when Alan caught up with him after school and asked if he could walk home with him. Just as if nothing had happened, Martin thought angrily, looking around to make sure no-one was watching. If it hadn't been for him ...

"Alan, you're loony," he said quickly. "For Christ's sake, haven't I gone through enough because of you?"

Alan appeared genuinely astonished. "Come off it Martin, you enjoyed it."

Martin was about to deny this, when honesty made him hesitate. "I didn't enjoy what happened afterwards," he said grimly. "And if they see me talking to you it will start again just when it's beginning to die down."

"So who cares?"

"I do," Martin said angrily. "Haven't you heard what they've been calling me?"

"They used to do it to me too, but it soon stopped," Alan replied blithely. "I don't let it worry me."

"It's all right for you," Martin told him bitterly. "You didn't see what they did to me after you ran out and left me."

"Martin I'm sorry about that but what else could I do? Anyway it's over now. And I still fancy you," he added softly.

"It won't be over if they see you talking to me, they'll start again," Martin said with conviction. "I don't want to see you again anyway."

"Don't be like that. I want to see you again," Alan said significantly, glancing down. "I liked what I saw. I never thought you'd be so big."

Martin went red and at the same time got really angry. It was bad enough Ross saying he was like an elephant but to hear Alan saying something similar was too much. Never having had anyone to compare himself with, apart from Alan who was a lot smaller, he was starting to feel like a freak.

"Well I don't want to seeyou," he said, knowing deep down that he was lying, "Leave me alone. Okay?"

"You enjoyed it. Go on, admit it," Alan said still smiling. "You'll enjoy it again."

"Alan. Just fuck off!" he said with a viciousness that astonished himself. "I don't want to talk to you ever again." He turned and walked away.

Alan looked after him for a minute then shouted, "Well fuck you too, Martin Jackson."

Martin, ears burning, ignored him and continued on home.

In bed that night he thought back to that fatal afternoon and admitted to himself that he had enjoyed it. The sex that was. It was almost the first time that he had seen an erect penis apart from his own and it had fascinated him. While changing for swimming or games he had occasionally caught glimpses but they had always been soft, and while instinct told him that they all got bigger when they were hard, it had been somehow reassuring as well as exciting to see someone else's in that condition.

From Alan his thoughts moved to Jimmy, recalling what he'd looked like and wondering how big he got when it happened to him. He was ashamed to be thinking of a friend this way but unable to stop himself. It was with difficulty that he prevented himself from masturbating before he went to sleep. This was always a major battle and one in which he was seldom the victor but he managed it, only to be woken in the middle of the night at the conclusion of a highly explicit wet dream involving Jimmy, which made him blush in retrospect.

One would think that having come the way he had just done (and what was he going to do about the stained sheets?) he would be able to go to sleep again. But try as he might his erection refused to subside and eventually in desperation, after an hour of tossing and turning, he decided to hell with it, and guiltily enjoyed himself while recalling the dream. As a sleeping pill it worked brilliantly and he was asleep five minutes after he'd ejaculated, before he had even recovered enough to clean himself up.

Following a suggestion from Jimmy he had gradually been bringing the name of a friend into his conversations with his mother and by Sunday, had persuaded her that he was going to spend the day with 'Alex'. He knew that he was taking a chance and that she might insist on phoning 'Alex's' mother to check that it was all right, but fortunately Martha had a lot of work to prepare and was pleased to have him out of the way for most of the day. He would have been delighted to have got out of going to confession and Mass as well, but knew that there was absolutely no chance of it.

Confession, in particular, had been a problem for him since his voice broke, and he hated having to tell the parish priest who knew him and his mother well, about his most intimate thoughts and actions. In fact, he had never told the truth and the man's suspicious questioning was starting to get him down. He had been taught, well before it became such a major factor in his life, that sex before marriage constituted a serious sin, and he had quickly learnt that masturbation carried the same penalty. Even thinking about it was just about as bad. This seemed extremely unfair to him and as he had both masturbated and thought about it endlessly and thus already condemned himself totally, it didn't seem as if it would make much difference if he continued to do both.

The rationalisation however, hadn't alleviated his guilt one little bit. And when it became clear to him that most insignificant thought or act of a homosexual nature was worse than all the others put together, he had simply given up and been lying to his confessor ever since. That the man didn't believe his denials was becoming painfully obvious. Waiting to follow his mother to confession before Mass, instead of making his preparation as he was supposed to, he was thinking mutinously that he was going to give up all this confession rubbish just one of these days.

He was unprepared for the attack that the priest launched on him in the confessional. He had completed his usual list of minor sins, losing his temper, being cheeky to his teachers and so on, when he was asked if he had indulged in any impure thoughts. Switched back from the autopilot he used on these occasions (he had been struck by an idea for a story and had been working out the details while awaiting penance and absolution) he denied it indignantly. But this time, the priest was not going to be put off.

"Don't lie to me. I know what you've been doing and it's a mortal sin as you very well know."

Oh Christ Martin thought, someone's been telling him about me and Alan. Strangely, after a brief moment of panic, instead of making him feel bad the accusation had exactly the opposite effect and he lost his temper.

"I'm sick of people accusing me of things I haven't done," he said in a furious whisper before he had time to think. "And I've had about enough of this confession stuff too."

With that he got off his knees, swept the curtain back and stalked back to his seat next to his mother, having deprived the astounded cleric of speech. He very nearly walked right out of the church but fortunately wiser counsel prevailed. His mother, saying her own penance, gave him a long suffering look when he didn't immediately kneel down, so sensibly, he knelt beside her and closed his eyes.

His anger which had been diminishing rose again when the priest took as his theme for the sermon, sinners who thought that no-one knew what they were up to. But God did, he thundered from the pulpit. God knew everything single thing they did, and when the time came, He would punish them as they so justly deserved.

Convinced that this was aimed directly at him and that everyone in the church knew it, Martin sat there, prey to a mixture of fury and shame. He refused to follow his mother to communion, partly in defiance and partly due to guilt at the knowledge that he was now doubly in a state of mortal sin. As the thought took root he began to be afraid, not of the sin, but of the priest's reaction to his aborted confession. However, by the time Mass ended he had recalled that what was said in the confessional was secret and could never be revealed for any reason whatsoever. But he knows he thought, glaring at the man and resenting the invasion of his privacy.

On the way home when his mother asked why he hadn't gone to communion, he simply said that he had felt sick. She looked at him sharply but didn't make an issue of it just then, and beyond that he refused to think.

Jimmy was waiting for him when he reached the corner and he immediately felt soothed by the older boy's welcoming smile. At least someone likes me he told himself, and as long as Jimmydoes, I don't care about anyone else. He was ridiculously happy at the thought and gave Jimmy the widest smile he had ever done, his usual slightly sullen face taking on an animation that made Jimmy smile back at him.

Jimmy was feeling in a particularly sunny mood himself. He had visited Tim and Marion the previous evening as arranged, and while helping her in the kitchen had mentioned again that he was seeing someone. Marion had dropped the oven gloves she was wielding and given him a sisterly kiss but with her usual tact, refrained from pressing him for details.

Her obvious approval had pleased him and when they took the food to the dining room, he was even more pleased to find that Brian had arrived. He hadn't known that he'd been invited as well.

After the greetings were over and the conversation had become general, Brian had turned to him saying, "By the way Jimmy, who is the person who wrote the stories you sent me to read? It wasn't really you by any chance, was it?"

Jimmy had known this would come up sooner or later, and unable to make up his mind how to handle it, had decided just to take it as it came. "I should be so lucky! What did you think of them?"

"What's this Brian?" Tim broke in.

Brian turned to him. "He sent me some short stories to read and I wondered if he'd written them himself. They're very good, you know," he went on, turning back to Jimmy, "Especially the last one. I can't say I enjoyed or even liked it, but it certainly got to me!"

"Jimmy, you never said anything about this to me," Marion said, intrigued.

"They were written by someone I met recently and I wondered if anyone else would think they were as good as I did, so I sent them to Brian to look at," he said easily. "Do you think they're good enough to be published Brian?"

"I really don't know. The third one in particular is extremely well written, but it's a horrifying story on a horrifying theme, and I imagine only a Science Fiction magazine would be interested in it. Why doesn't the author, whoever it is, send it to a couple of editors? I don't actually know any myself, but I should think that would be the best place to start. Who is it by the way?"

Jimmy looked up to see Marion looking at him quizzically and silently mouthed 'help' at her. Coming to his rescue she said, "Whoever wrote them, I want to judge for myself. Are they all short stories?"

"Yes. There are three of them," Brian told her. "It's the one called Food Source that I was talking about. I have seldom read anything that packs such a punch into so short a space. It's only a couple of pages long, but it sent shivers up my spine. I won't say any more about it because it would lose it's impact, but I'll leave all of them for you to read if that's okay Jimmy?" Jimmy nodded. "Wait until you have no distractions before you read them Marion, and read the other two first."

"Right, I will," she said and led the conversation into other channels. Only afterwards, when Jimmy went into the kitchen to help her make coffee, did she say, "He's the person you were talking about seeing, isn't he, your mysterious author. It's okay, I won't pry into your secrets Jimmy. You can tell me about him when you're ready."

Jimmy waited until they reached the flat before telling Martin about it and was touched when he saw his small face light up. He had been proud to show off the boy's talent the night before and pleased with the impression it had made on Brian. All in all, with Marion's help, he had laid the groundwork, and handled it pretty well he decided. Sometime soon he would casually drop Martin's name into the conversation. He had no doubt that Marion would have mentioned what he had told her to Tim, and probably to Brian too after he left, exactly as he'd intended.

While he and Martin had lunch, they discussed Brian's suggestion about sending the story to an editor. Martin was rather unsure but Jimmy overruled him and they agreed that Martin would type a perfect copy of each of the three stories.

"And make sure you don't change a single word of Food Source," Jimmy ordered "I want it to go exactly as it is." Shyly, Martin promised, leaving Jimmy with an unusual feeling of responsibility. It was an odd sensation, and one that he had not felt before, even for Jon. He had loved Jon, but loved him as an equal who could look after himself. Martin was completely different. He was so diffident and full of complexes as well as being younger than himself, that he really needed someone to look after him. Although he seemed very much happier than the last time they'd met, it was clear that there was still something troubling him. At times he would go off into a dream and it was plain that his thoughts were not particularly pleasant. I wish he'd tell me about it Jimmy thought, but when he asked, Martin simply said that he'd had a lot of headaches recently, and was even reluctant to tell him what the doctor had said about them.

To Jimmy who was seldom ill himself, it seemed on a par with the boy's life generally that he should suffer from headaches as well, and again wondered if there were some way that he could get Tim to take a look at him. It wouldn't be easy, he concluded, and momentarily regretted that he had mentioned Martin to Marion. If he hadn't done so, he could have passed him off as a cousin or something. But there was no way he could do that now.

It was a pity he looked so young, he thought, glancing at Martin's face. If he at least looked older, it would be so much easier to introduce him to his adult friends. As it was, he would just have to do his best and slowly get them used to the idea as originally planned. Except, as he reminded himself, his original plans had never included introducing Martin to them in the first place.

Why did things change? he wondered. At first he was just part of the plan and now I'm feeling responsible for him. It's because he's so attractive he told himself, then changed his mind. No, it's more than that. It's because he's also so vulnerable, poor little brat. If he was being properly looked after I wouldn't feel like this because I wouldn't need to. As it is, I would like to pick him up and cuddle him, tell him that everything is going to be all right then make it all right. He'd probably have a fit if I did cuddle him though, much as I'd like to, and much as I think he needs it. I don't think he's had many hugs or cuddles so far. Just nagging, moans and complaints.

"Wake up, Martin," he said gently, and was amused when he apologised guiltily. "Shall we take the car and go out somewhere?"

"Could we go to the lake, where we went the first time?" Martin asked eagerly. "I liked it there."

Jimmy glanced at the watch which had once belonged to Jon. "I don't think we've got time, I don't want you home late in case your mother starts, er, worrying. How about Wimbledon Common again?"

"Yeah, that would be nice."

"Okay. We'll take some drinks and go and laze in the sun. Will you be all right to walk a bit?"

"I'll be fine, Jimmy. In fact walking is good now. I get stiff if I sit for too long."

"Has the bruising gone away yet?" Jimmy asked, wishing that Martin would offer to show him.

Martin shook his head, "Mn, mn. If fact it's worse. It's black, blue and yellow. Where it isn't purple," he added. "It's the about the worst bruise I ever had," he said with a touch of juvenile pride.

"Can I see?" Jimmy asked, daringly.

Martin hesitated for a minute. He had an urge to show him but perhaps it wasn't quite as bad as he had painted it, and he was afraid that Jimmy would think that he was pretending to be more hurt than he was to get attention. Or that he was just showing off, for the same reason.

"Alright," he said reluctantly and stood up. He turned his back to Jimmy, undid his zip and released his jeans. He had intended to take then down just a little way, but they fitted so loosely as he let them go to pull down his underpants, they fell to his ankles. Jimmy's mouth went dry as Martin pulled the back of his underpants down and craned his head over his right shoulder to look at himself.

The bruise was spectacular. But even more so in Jimmy's eyes, was the shape of the small bottom so innocently displayed. Jimmy had admired what he had seen of it when clothed, but out of the disguising, loose jeans, it was infinitely better. Martin was one of those rare males with a very narrow pelvis, who give the impression that their hips have been compressed together and the muscles of the buttocks squeezed backwards to make up for it. Viewed from the side, his flat stomach was very close to the small of his back which then flared pertly backwards before curving in again to join the backs of his slim but beautifully shaped legs. If the rest of him is anything like this, Jimmy thought, he is just plain, perfect.

"Christ, Mart, it looks terrible," he said, wracking his brains for something to say that would keep the boy from pulling his pants up again too quickly.

"It doesn't feel as bad as it looks."

"It must have been agony when you did it."

"I fainted," Martin told him doubtfully, not sure whether Jimmy would be sympathetic or think him a weakling.

The remark was enough to lift Jimmy's admiring gaze to his face. "You never told me that," he said accusingly. "Jesus, you could have drowned if you had fallen with your face in the water."

The concern in his voice was balm to Martin's soul. "It's okay," he replied with a small smile, "Nothing like that happened. I'm still here, you know."

Shaken, Jimmy resumed his inspection. "You worry me, you know that? You definitely need someone to look after you in the bath!"

Martin blushed. Jimmy's admiring gaze was having a serious effect on the front of his underpants but he felt it would be impolite to pull the back up until Jimmy was finished looking. Jimmy smiled and took the decision out of his hands by easing them up gently himself. He could see that the boy was getting embarrassed, but couldn't resist touching him, however briefly. Martin's skin was warm and as smooth as silk over the firm muscles.

"After seeing that, I'm surprised you can sit down at all," he said reaching down and pulling up the boy's jeans then turning him round to face him.

"It doesn't hurt now Jimmy, really. At least not very much," Martin told him as he quickly zipped himself up in case Jimmy planned to do that as well. Suppose Jimmy had accidentally brushed against it? As it was he had to ease the zip over what seemed to be an embarrassingly large obstruction.

"Well, you should know. But tell me straight away if you start getting uncomfortable, okay?" He watched Martin fumbling with the zip, noted the reason for it and turned away. Just one of these days, kiddo ...

Martin nodded. He was relieved to be covered again, but also sorry in a funny sort of way. I liked him looking at me he decided, and felt ashamed that he had allowed Alan to look at him, and a lot more intimately than that.

Jimmy packed some cokes into an old rucksack and when they reached the common, they walked to the same sunny clearing they had occupied previously. After spreading the blanket, Martin lay on it on his side while Jimmy sat leaning against a tree and regarded him affectionately. They were silent for a time and then Martin said quietly, "Jimmy, can I ask you something please?"

"Sure Martin."

"It's a bit personal, so if you don't want to tell me, that's okay."

Jimmy wondered what was coming. For a moment he thought that Martin might ask him if he was gay but he dismissed the thought. He was far too shy.

"You can ask me anything you like," he said gently.

"I wanted to ask about your parents. You never talk about them and I wondered ... I mean, what they were like. But you don't have to tell me if you'd rather not," he added hastily.

"I don't mind you asking," Jimmy told him. "I don't get on with them so I haven't seen them for quite a long time."

"Oh. I thought maybe that they weren't alive. Because of you being able to buy the flat I mean."

"I didn't get the money from them, I inherited it when I turned eighteen. I wanted a place of my own because I wasn't happy where I was living and Brian, my solicitor, who was also one of my trustees, helped me buy it."

Martin looked at him, awed. To have a solicitor of one's own struck him as being very adult. He wondered, with a touch of envy, what it must be like to be so independent.

"Wow, " he said softly.

Jimmy looked at him, amused at his reaction. "I have my own doctor too," he told him with a grin, "In fact he was my other trustee until my eighteenth birthday, and he and his wife are also friends of mine."

Martin looked down and traced the pattern of the rug with a vague finger. "How old are you now?" he asked diffidently.

"As old as my face and a little older than my teeth," Jimmy replied promptly, to see what happened.

Martin looked at him. He had obviously never heard the phrase before. In fact Jimmy had no idea what had put it into his head, he hadn't thought of it himself since he was about nine years old, when it was all the rage in the playground.

Martin smiled. "That's clever."

"We used to say it to each other at school when I was little," Jimmy told him with an answering smile. "Actually I'm eighteen. I won't be nineteen until next year."

"Good," Martin said with satisfaction. "That gives me plenty of time to think of a present for you."

"You don't have to give me presents. Anyway your birthday comes first."

He could have kicked himself immediately the words were out of his mouth. How was he supposed to know when Martin's birthday was? Fortunately Martin was thinking of something else and didn't notice.

"It's a lovely flat. Did it cost a lot?"

For a moment Jimmy wondered if Martin was trying to find out how much money he had but one look at the boy's face told him otherwise. He was simply interested.

"I wish I had a place of my own," Martin went on enviously before he could reply, "It would be great. I don't suppose I ever will have though. I haven't got any rich relatives as far as I know," he added regretfully.

"You can always come and live with me," Jimmy said, before he thought.

Martin smiled a little sadly. "Thanks Jimmy, " he said gratefully. "But I don't think it would work."

"Why not?"

"You've only got one bedroom," Martin pointed out innocently.

Jimmy almost said 'What's wrong with that? We could share it, and the bed too,' but stopped himself in time. "That could be a problem," he agreed solemnly. "But I suppose we could work something out. I could sell the flat and buy one with two bedrooms."

"No," Martin said quickly. "Don't do that, I like it. It's, it's a ... a happy place. Please don't sell it."

"Okay, I won't," Jimmy told him, surprised at his vehemence. Surely it couldn't be that important to him? He had only been there a couple of times.

"I'm sorry," Martin said suddenly, "It's none of my business what you do with it."

"It's okay, Martin. I wasn't being serious," and wondered whether he hadn't been serious about sharing the flat, or about selling it. Looking at his companion he decided that on balance it was the latter. The thought of sharing anything with Martin was surprisingly appealing.

Martin looked at him doubtfully but seemed content to let the subject drop. Jimmy's remark however, had struck a chord in his heart. For a moment he'd had a vision of himself living happily with Jimmy, away from his mother and preferably, away from the school and Ross as well. But it had been an all too brief dream. It would never come true. Jimmy was being polite because he was kind, that was all. With an effort, he pulled himself together and listened to what Jimmy was saying, but for a long time afterwards, a part of him hankered for the dream.

"Anyway," Jimmy was saying, "My folks made it obvious that they disapproved of me so after I left school I started living on my own which they didn't like at all, and when I bought the flat, they didn't like that either. I haven't seen them for over a year. They haven't even been to the flat."

Martin nodded. It seemed to parallel his own experience of parents. But looking at Jimmy, he found it hard to believe that anyone, even a parent, could disapprove of him.

"Was it always like that? I mean didn't you get on with them even when you were little?" he asked curiously. It was a measure of how relaxed he was beginning to feel that he could ask, without assuring Jimmy that he didn't need to answer if he didn't want to.

"No, it was different then. Up until I was sixteen, they were very proud of me. Too proud, maybe. But when I started growing up they thought I'd changed and they didn't like it. I hadn't changed of course, inside I was just the same as I'd always been. It was just that they hadn't realised what I was really like until I got old enough not to hide it from them. I didn't turn out to be the sort of son they wanted, and they resented it."

"Did it worry you?"

"Yeah, it did. I had a lot of ... trouble when I was sixteen, and they didn't support me because they thought I'd let them down and disgraced them. They've never forgiven me, so it's better that we don't see each other."

"I hate parents," Martin said, angry on Jimmy's behalf. "Why do they have kids if they're going to treat them like that?"

Jimmy smiled, touched by this partisanship. "I don't suppose they even think about it when they're having them, and expect the kids to be perfect. Just like they think they are!"

"Well I think it's disgraceful," said Martin firmly. "I wouldn't treat any kids of mine like that no matter what they did. Not that I'm going to have any of course, because ..." he stopped abruptly, and went crimson.

Jimmy took pity on him and said easily, "I think you're right. I'm not going to have any either. There are far too many people in the world as it is."

Martin followed this conversational lead gratefully and gradually regained his composure. When he thought how close he had come to blurting out what he was, he felt quite dizzy. Fortunately Jimmy didn't seem to have noticed. If I told anyone he mused, it would be him, but if it made him get cold and nasty like everyone else, I couldn't bear it. I'm not taking any chances, he's too important to me. He's my only friend and I'm not going to spoil that for anything.

Jimmy looked at his troubled face and wondered what was going through his mind. He knew what Martin been about to say and was disappointed when he stopped himself. But he could wait and wouldn't urge the boy to commit himself until the time was right. For both of them.

As the afternoon wore on they talked lazily, exploring each others minds and attitudes, often disagreeing, but just as often discovering with pleasure that their views were very similar. Jimmy was knowledgeable about classical music which Martin also enjoyed, though without knowing very much about it, and they spent a long time discussing their favourite composers. When Jimmy learnt that Martin had never been to the opera, he made a mental note that somehow or other he was going to take him. It wouldn't be easy to arrange but it would be well worth it to see his enjoyment.

By the time they reluctantly decided they should make a move, they had got to know each other on a much deeper level than before, and their friendship had expanded to encompass their mental as well as physical attributes. The traffic was not all one way. Although there was no doubt that Martin was desperately in need of Jimmy's understanding and friendship; Jimmy, cut off from people his own age and dependent on the company of Jon's friends, half a generation older than his own, found much pleasure in Martin's companionship.

When he was with his older friends, he was definitely the youngster of the group. They were all, especially Marion, very fond of him but inevitably thought of him as being far less mature than themselves. When he was with Martin on the other hand, not only was he three years older but he was far more experienced and he found the younger boy's admiration of him touching. It made him want to shield Martin and look after him. If he'd ever had a younger brother he would have felt the same way about him, but Martin wasn't his brother, something he was heartily thankful for.

He seemed to find something new to admire in Martin each time they met. He enjoyed the way for instance, that he sometimes went off into thought, then came up with a comment that went right to the heart of what they'd been discussing. Martin had a very good mind and he could feel his own wits sharpening in order to hold his own when they were together.

It was a very satisfying afternoon and they were both sorry when it came to an end. As they walked to the car, Jimmy put his hand on his neck. Martin missed a step, but politely allowed the hand to stay there for a little before shrugging out of Jimmy's grip on the pretence of needing to tie one of his shoelaces.

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