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The Natural Couple

Chapter 16

By Richard Campbell

Jimmy's rising euphoria faded abruptly. He's in the loo he tried to tell himself, but knew that he wasn't. As he'd come upstairs the door had been partly open and there was no way he would have missed seeing Martin. Knowing that it was futile, he went to the bathroom to make sure. It was empty as he had known it would be, as was Martha's bedroom when he glanced in. He went back to Martin's bedroom and feeling weak, sat down abruptly on the bed. It was rumpled exactly as they had left it when they went down to confront her. He could see the damp snail trail of Martin's sperm on the cover. Staring at it he tried to force his tired brain to think, but all he could manage was to ask himself over and over again, why? Why did he leave the house? And why didn't he wait for me? Why?

He stood up, bunched the bedcover and brought it up to his nose, inhaling deeply. The smell of Martin's sperm was heady, intoxicating, and made his head swim. It also concentrated his mind and he recalled something that he must have noticed subconsciously. Martin had left the room early on during the confrontation. He took another deep breath, filling his lungs with the boy's intimate scent. Again it triggered his subconscious. Oh Christ, he thought as it came back to him, did he think ... surely he couldn't have thought ... ?

Moving quickly he found Martin's school bag, went to the wardrobe, reached up and collected the holdall full of notebooks. Back at the desk he packed another notebook and as many school books as he could. Last of all, he collected Martin's school blazer and tie. I'll buy everything else and make sure it fits him properly, he told himself. Finally as he glanced around the room, his eye fell on the stained bedcover. He knew that Martin wouldn't want it but he couldn't bring himself to leave it. The thought of Martha handling it while bundling it into the washing machine was unbearable. He stripped it off the bed, folded it neatly and put it under his arm with the blazer he was taking. picked up the schoolbag and holdall and without looking back, walked rapidly down the stairs and let himself out of the house.

He drove to the flat, telling himself that Martin would be waiting for him outside, and swearing at himself for not having had that set of keys made for him. But there here was no sign of Martin as he parked.

Really beginning to worry, he let himself into the flat, dropped the bags in the living area, and hung Martin's blazer in the built in cupboard in the bedroom. Then he sat on the bed, held the still damp cover to his nose and tried to think. Joe's, of course. Why didn't I think of it and go straight there? Mart knew he couldn't get in here so he must be there.

The let down when Steven told him that they hadn't seen Martin since their last visit was almost more than he could bear, but he forced himself to answer the anxious enquiries as calmly as he could. He outlined briefly what had happened, and asked Steven to warn Joe that Martha would probably be getting in touch with him soon.

"It happened a lot sooner than I thought it would when we talked earlier, but that's the way things go and I'm glad it's over. He's mine now Stevie and I'm not going to let him go, but I may still need Joe to back me up. I told her that what Martin does from now on is his own business and nothing to do with her. Make sure that Joe understands this and don't let him give way to her if she changes her mind when she's had time to think it over. I don't want to have to fight Joe as well as her, and Martin doesn't need that either. But no-one, no-one Stevie, is going to come between Martin and me now."

Steven was silent for a moment and then spoke quietly, his seriousness bringing out and exaggerating his Irish accent slightly. "I will do so Jimmy, surely. But only if you promise me something."

"Well," Jimmy asked impatiently, "What is it?"

"I know I haven't the right to ask this of you but I still feel so badly about him. Will you promise me that you will look after him for as long as he needs it? He is a lovely boy and he needs you, anyone can see that. But, do you need him as much as he needs you, Jimmy?"

Jimmy answered equally seriously.

"I need him so much I can't live without him. He belongs to me as I belong to him, and I hope that this will be forever. I will work all my life to keep it that way because he is the most important thing in my life. And whatever he wants or needs from me, I will give him. And Stevie, if ... " his voice broke slightly and tears came to his eyes but he forced himself to carry on. "If after what happened today, he doesn't want me anymore, please will you and Joe look after him for me. Don't let him go back to that woman, whatever happens."

"Do not worry Jimmy, I promise you that we will not make the same mistake twice. I will make sure of it. Now is there anything I can do?"

"No, not at the moment. I have to think, and then find him."

"You will let us know?"

"Yes I will and, and thank you Stevie."

He said goodbye and put the phone down. He was about to go back to the bedroom, when he noticed that one of his squirrels was on the windowsill, looking in hopefully. Mechanically he opened the window and held out a peanut, remembering Martin's delight the first time the little animal had taken food from his hand. Watching it busily nibbling the shell to get at the contents, he remembered the ducklings, and smiled in spite of himself as he recalled the conversation about Martin's worm. He was wondering how he would write the story, when it came to him.

Martin had loved the park that day, had felt better after their visit and often spoken of it since. If he wasn't with Joe and Steven maybe, just maybe, that's where he had gone. Unless he went up to town. He winced at the thought of what might happen if he had. With his looks it wouldn't take long to find a protector and he might just be desperate enough to ... then as the implications of the word desperate struck him, he remembered something that had been nagging at the back of his mind.

"No," he whispered clutching the work surface to support himself and disturbing the squirrel which scampered away. A picture of bathroom as it had been when he checked if Martin was in there came into his mind. The towels flung carelessly over the towel rail, the soap on the side of the bath instead of in the soap dish, the basin... . the basin! He could see it as if it was in the room. There had been no bottle of paracetamol tablets on the basin.

He put his head in his hands, his brain filled with horror trying to believe that he was wrong, that he hadn't seen the bottle there earlier. He wouldn't he told himself, Oh God, surely he wouldn't ... but he remembered Martin telling him what he had thought of doing when things had been so bad once before. That time, the bottle had been nearly empty. This time? He had no idea. For a moment he went into a state of panic then with a tremendous effort pulled himself together, knowing that only by keeping a firm grip on himself would he be able to do something about it. Forgetting the open window, he ran into the bedroom, collected Martin's anorak and charged down the stairs.

The ten minutes it took him to drive to the park were the longest in his life. As he drove he tried to remember what he knew about overdoses, and wondered if he should have taken the time to phone Tim before he left. Why didn't I look after him better? he asked himself miserably. I should have realised how he was feeling and gone after him straight away, not waited. He had thought of it at the time, but it had seemed more important to concentrate on Martha while he had her at such a disadvantage.

He parked any old how near the park gates, grabbed the anorak and ran towards the lake saying to himself over and over again, let him be there, oh God please let him be there, praying to a God he didn't believe in, more likely importuning more ancient gods. He was more afraid than he had ever been in his life.

It was getting dark as he ran along the path and when he saw the vague shape in the distance, he couldn't decide whether it was his imagination or not. As he neared the bench and it resolved itself into a human figure, he wondered what he would do if it was not Martin. In the midst of his fear the answer came immediately. He would search until he found his boy, even if it took the rest of his life. And when he found him, or if he didn't ...? Then he was at the bench, and the figure turned to face him.

He stood still, feeling his heart hammering as they stared at each other. For a minute he didn't understand the look on Martin's face and moved closer, arms outstretched.

Martin made a faint but unmistakable gesture of rejection, turned away and in quiet desolate voice said, "You didn't ever love me did you."

Jimmy had been about to pull him off the bench and into his arms when the tone of his voice registered. He didn't take in the sense of the words straight away and said, "Did you take those Paracetamols?" before he took in the meaning of Martin's words. Then his blood ran cold and he forgot Martin's quiet statement when he saw him nod.

'Oh Christ Mart, why?" he asked in anguish.

"Why didn't you love me," Martin said. "Why not?"

Jimmy looked at him, trying to understand. Nothing he said seemed to make sense. "I've got to get you to the hospital straight away."

"I don't need to go. Just, just leave me."

Martin's voice thickened on the last words and he knew he was going to cry. Some part of him said scornfully that he seemed to do nothing else these days. He really was the weakling, no sissy he told himself dismally, that everyone had always said he was. He stared through gathering tears at the lake. I do still love him he thought, I always will. Why didn't he love me like he said he did? I was so sure of it I even let him ... how could I have been so wrong? How could I have been so stupid? What's wrong with me? Why doesn't anybody ever love me?

He felt Jimmy sit down on the bench beside him and an arm came round his waist. His muscles tensed, as they used to before at any physical contact. Jimmy's other hand took his face and turned it towards him.

"Look at me Martin," Jimmy said in a frightened voice. "I have to know about the Paracetamols. I don't want you to die, love. Tell me how many you took. Please, tell me. Tell me now."

He desperately wanted to hug Martin to him, dry the tears that were trickling down his cheeks and wipe the dazed look off his face, but he was too worried. He knew how serious an overdose could be. He had to know how many Martin had taken.

Martin's eyes went past him.

"You don't love me so it doesn't matter. It's nothing to do with you what I do," he stated flatly through his tears.

"Mart, don't say that,"

"You just used me to get at my mother. Because of Jonathan. She was right. It's the only reason you were nice to me and pretended to love me. You led me on and all the time, underneath it was," he broke off with a sob, "It was revenge like she said. You didn't care about me. You lied when you said you loved me. You lied all the time from the first time we met and I was stupid enough to believe you."

He was finding it more and more difficult to speak and his eyes blurred as the tears gathered faster. "Leave me Jimmy. Just leave me. I don't want any more lies. I never meant anything to you before and I don't mean anything to you now so don't worry about me, there's no need. Just go away. I'll be all right on my own, I'm used to it. I've been on my own ever since I met you except, except I didn't know it. Leave me and go away."

He turned away from Jimmy and as his control slipped away, put his arms on the arm of the bench, leaned his head on them and sobbed as if his heart was breaking.

Jimmy wasn't sure how to handle this. Should he try to soothe and comfort him, if Martin would let him which didn't seem very likely, or try to shock him out of it? Hoping he was right, he made a conscious decision to take the second course. He had a feeling that only something drastic was going to get through to him.

"No I bloody will not leave you," he said, raising his voice. "If you think I'm going to leave you here to die by yourself you've got another think coming. I'm sure as hell not going to let you fucking die at all. Look at me Martin, dammit!" he shouted, and gripped his arm roughly. "Look at me!"

His voice penetrated Martin's misery. Jimmy had never shouted at him. He'd never even been angry with him. Slowly he raised his head turned and looked at Jimmy's determined features. The puzzled and hurt expression on his face tugged at Jimmy's heartstrings but he hardened his heart,

"Martin, how many of those bloody tablets did you take? You'd better tell me now, or so help me I'll fucking hit you! Tell me, now!"

"It's none of your business, it never was," Martin said turning his head away..

"It is my business because in spite of the way things look, you're my responsibility whether you like it or not. So tell me. I mean it Martin," Jimmy said loudly, his voice threatening.

"I told you to go away."

"I'm not going away until you tell me, you little brat," Jimmy shouted, and pulled him roughly round to face him again.

"Two for Christ's sake if you must know," Martin shouted back, still wrapped up in his misery but sick of being nagged by Jimmy. "I was getting a headache, so I took them before it got so bad I had to take the stronger ones, like Tim told me."

Jimmy sagged against the bench, emotion flooding over him with such intensity that he felt dizzy and almost started to cry himself. It was some moments before he recovered, so overpowering was the relief. Then his heart lurched as he realised what Martin must have heard during his set to with Martha.

He straightened up and turned to the boy who was staring across the lake. He knew intuitively that this was the moment for absolute truth if he was ever to have Martin's unqualified trust again. It was another turning point in their relationship, and he had a strong feeling that this might be the only chance he had to put things right.

"Martin," he began quietly, "It's true that when I first met you, I was thinking of revenge. I don't know if you can understand how hard it was at the time, the police questioning me and making me tell them what Jon and I done, making me feel like shit, and enjoying it. They didn't care about me. All they wanted was to get at Jon, because he'd committed a crime that they pretend to hate. I say pretend, because they like it really. You see it's such an easy crime to prosecute, and it makes them look good when the person goes to jail which happens almost every time. It's a crime all of them love; the police, the prosecutors, the judges, the newspapers, and especially the public, who love reading every word about it. When it's over and a long sentence has been passed all of them, without exception, are proud of themselves and pleased about what they've done. The police went on and on at me, and without meaning to, I let them trick me into telling them things that were used at the trial. I hated them for that, and I couldn't forgive myself for letting them do it. One of the policemen even said that people like Jon and me should be castrated, because that was the only way to stop us."

He shook his head, then continued softly, "Jon wasn't allowed to write to me, so I don't know what happened before he killed himself. But he was a strong person and it must have been very bad to make him do it. When Brian and Tim told me, I couldn't believe it. I even felt for a bit that he'd deserted me and left me to face things on my own. Then I read the letter I showed you. He must have written it just before he died. I was, numb and miserable for months.

"About eight months after he died there was a programme about the case. They tried to interview your mother, but she wouldn't talk to them. But one of the policeman who arrested Jon and questioned me, had just retired and he talked. He said that Jon killing himself was the best thing that could have happened, and was saving the taxpayers thousands of pounds. Your mother had done a superb job, and it was because of her that Jon's sentence was so long. He also said that people like him never change and as soon as they're out of jail, they do it again. He was glad that the victim, meaning me, and other boys would be safe from him now. He finished by saying that he wished everyone like Jon would kill themselves because the world would be a better place if they did."

There was a silence as Jimmy gathered his thoughts.

"Up to then I had just been desperately unhappy, but when he talked about Jon that way, making out that he was a monster who attacked every kid he saw, I got angry instead. Jon had loved me and I was the only kid he ever had anything to do with. They had no right to lie about him, especially after he was dead and couldn't defend himself. I hated that policeman, just as I hated the judge for what they'd done. I was trying to think of a way to get back at them when the judge had a heart attack and died. I was really glad and hoped it had hurt him when it happened.

"Then I remembered your mother. If she hadn't worked so hard in court that day the sentence would have been much shorter. If it had only been a year or two, maybe Jon could have coped with whatever they did to him in there. But your mother saw to it that he got the longest sentence the judge could possibly give him. She killed him Martin. She can deny it and say she was only doing her duty, but she killed him, and she did it for one reason only. She did it because it was a very important case for her, and to get a really long sentence to prove how good she was. She didn't care about Jon and she didn't care about me, and she didn't even care about the law. All she cared about was herself, just as she's always done."

He had been looking at the ground while he spoke. Now he looked up and turned to the boy beside him. The look on Martin's face made him want to put his arms around him, to comfort him and to be comforted, but he didn't want to influence him or put him under any pressure. Martin had to decide by himself whether to believe him or not, and without feeling that he had been manipulated.

"I knew your mother's name of course and looked her up in the phone book, but the number was ex-directory. So I had to wait until I got my drivers licence before I could follow her to find out where she lived. To make sure I went back the next morning and parked across the road and waited. After she left I sat there wondering what to do next, because I hadn't made any plans for after I found her. And while I was sitting there, you came out of the house."

He felt Martin tense, and looked away from him.

"Something bad must have happened that morning, and I thought you were the most unhappy person I had ever seen. I left the car and followed you as you walked to school. You walked so slowly," he said, remembering, "As if you hated going there, and I stood near the gate and watched how you stayed by yourself and didn't seem to have any friends. I watched until the bell went, and not one person had talked to you. I couldn't understand it. You were so attractive I thought you'd have millions of friends. I thought about you all that day and I followed you for days before I made up my mind to talk to you.

"And then you were off school. I waited, not sure you were even at home until I saw you at the window. Then I pretended that the mini had broken down and asked you for water to fill the radiator."

After a long pause during which Martin said nothing, just waited for him to continue, he said painfully, "I swear to you, I was going to tell you this Mart, not yet, but soon."

He glanced briefly at Martin's face but it told him nothing, so he went on. "I was going to use you against your mother. I even planned to seduce you if you'd let me, and make sure she found out. I reasoned that if you were gay and she knew, it might teach her to think about people like us. But I soon found out that it would just make her hate you, and I didn't want that to happen because by that time, I was getting to know you. We'd talked and become friends and I liked you very much. So I drifted along, not knowing what to do, except that I could see that you needed somebody to look after you, and more and more, I wanted that person to be me.

"It puzzled me, that feeling, because I had never felt protective like that about anyone before, not even Jon. I didn't understand it but I liked the feeling. Then one day I discovered that I loved you. I had wanted you really badly before that Mart, your lovely face, your beautiful body, and I wanted you even more after I found out that I loved you. And something else happened that had never happened to me before. Because I loved you, your happiness had become the most important thing in my life. That hasn't changed. It's still the most important thing in my life, and it breaks my heart to see you like this."

He stood up slowly and looked down at the small, still figure on the bench. Even in the gathering dusk he could see the tears glistening on the perfect skin, and ached to wipe them away and to see Martin smile again.

"I'm just going to say one more thing then if you want, I'll drive you to Joe and Steven and leave you with them. This afternoon when I saw what she had done to you, I was so angry I wanted to kill her, and if she'd been in the house, I might even have tried to. But then you asked me to make love to you. I was the happiest person in the world. So happy that I completely forgot that she might walk in, and didn't even think to lock the door. It was as if all my dreams had come true and you were really going to be mine in the nicest way possible. I can't tell you how I felt when you trusted me so much and truly wanted it as much as I did. And the second time," his voice broke for a minute, "Well if the first was heaven, how can I describe the second? It had been so beautiful, that when we went downstairs and she was so vicious about you and about us, I lost my temper. It was as if the last two years had never been and I was back at the trial. I hated her so much again that I forgot you were there, and I said all the things that I'd been bottling up for so long. I didn't mean to hurt you Mart, but when I heard her saying hateful things about you, I couldn't take it. I should have made you stay upstairs while I had it out with her because you heard things I never meant you to hear."

Jimmy was crying openly now. "But I promise you this my darling Martin. What she said about me using you for revenge was true, but it wasn't all the truth. It started out like that, but after I met you, I slowly began to give up the idea of using you against her for revenge, and only wanted to protect you and to try to get away from her. Only, for a few of minutes there with her, because I was so angry I remembered only that I wanted revenge and forgot about everything else. I hurt you, and I can't forgive myself for it."

He took a deep breath, still looking across the water and spoke barely above a whisper. "I love you Martin. I've loved you for what seems to be a long time now, and whether you still love me or not, makes no difference. There's nothing I can do about loving you, now or ever. I just ... love you."

His voice stopped, choked with tears. I've done all I can he thought, either he believes me or he doesn't. But whatever he decides, I'll take care of him, even if he never wants to see me again. He stood there numbly, like an animal at bay that has been fighting for it's life but come to the end of it's strength, knowing that there is nothing more it can do, except submit to death.

It was a long time before Martin moved, Jimmy sensed rather than heard him come up behind him, and put the anorak he'd left on the bench over his shoulders. He closed his eyes. He doesn't even want the anorak I bought him, he thought in anguish. I'll have to take him to his father and leave him there. Stevie will look after him, but who will sit with him if he wakes up miserable in the night, or comfort him if he has nightmares, or hold him if he's sick from a headache? His mind insisted on latching onto trivialities even as he tried to prepare himself to be dismissed irrevocably from Martin's life. His tears flowed faster as he waited.

Then he felt Martin's hands on him, gently turning him around, then holding, hugging, comforting.

“Don't cry, Jimmy. Please don't cry. I can't bear to see it either and it makes me cry too. We've both cried enough. I was so shocked to find out what she'd done I couldn't think properly, and when she said that you'd used me for revenge I half believed her. You didn't tell me she was the prosecutor when you told me about Jon, so I thought maybe you'd lied to me when you said loved me. I wanted to die if you didn't love me Jimmy, and it made me a bit crazy. But when you finished explaining a minute ago, I started thinking, and I knew that you couldn't have kept up a lie for so long. No-one could. And I remembered how you'd proved you loved me, over and over in everything you said, and everything you did. But my brain had been in such a weird state I'd forgotten that. But it’s all right now, truly it’s all right now. I know that you love me, and I know that I love you just as much, that we love each other. And ... "

The last came out in a sort of gasp as the Jimmy's arms came round and pulled him close, the way he loved. He could hear and feel Jimmy's heart beating and the joy of it made him tremble.

"You're cold," Jimmy said in a husky voice.

"Not really. Just shivery happy,"

"Why did you put your anorak around me?"

"I thought you looked cold,"

"Little toad," Jimmy said, almost starting to cry again. "I thought you were giving it back to me because you hated me. And I thought I'd never be able to call you a little toad again."

"Oh Jimmy, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that."

"I know that now, but for a minute I thought ... " he broke off. "I thought you didn't want it, because you didn't want me."

Martin sniffed rather unromantically, "I'll always want you. You're my Jimmy."

"That's good," Jimmy said, pulling out a tissue and drying first Martin's eyes, then his own, "Because you're stuck with me now my darling," and told Martin what had transpired after he had left the room. "Don't worry, love," he finished, "She doesn't want you anymore. You're mine now and you belong to me, whether you want to or not?" He ended on a faintly questioning note.

"I want to," Martin said without hesitation. "I've wanted to ever since I saw you that day standing in the doorway. It just took me a long time to find it out. But there's something else that's important Jimmy. You say that I belong to you, but you mustn't ever forget that you belong to me too. You're mine also you know."

He pulled Jimmy's head down and kissed him tenderly at first and then with increasing urgency and passion. As they both began to respond, filling deliciously, Jimmy moved his hands down and cupping the delicate buttocks, pulled Martin tightly against his body in an ecstasy of love.

"Oh Christ, Mart," he moaned eventually, "if we don't stop I'm going to come in my pants."

"Don't you dare," Martin said mischievously. "Especially as you seem to think I'm a toad again. Jimmy, could we go home very quickly and do it all night like minks please?"

Jimmy was so turned on by this he didn't dare move in case he lost it all, until Martin said in a thickened voice, "For Christ's sake Jimmy, take me home or we're going to have to do it here right in front of the ducklings."

Jimmy grinned and let him go but took his hands. "I won't have you corrupting them."

Martin raised an eyebrow. "So what's wrong with a bit of corruption?" he asked, "I don't see that it did you any harm. Especially when you were corrupting me today!"

Jimmy attempted to raise an eyebrow back at him and, as usual, failed dismally. "I?" he asked, "And who was the one who asked, no begged, to be corrupted this afternoon?"

"Me," Martin replied, smiling up at him sweetly, and taking the wind out of his sails completely. "And it was lovely and I'm ready to be corrupted again, so ... ?"

"Okay," Jimmy said, holding his hands very tightly and determined never to let them go. "Race you to the car. Last one there's a toad."

"No a mink."

"A rabbit?"

"I don't care. All of them at once!"

But Martin didn't move, his mind flashing back to a Friday afternoon in school a long time ago. Well not so long in days and weeks, but in what had happened to him since. A lot of bad things, but very good things as well, and best of all, Jimmy. Jimmy here with him now, holding his hands, both of them knowing that they would always be together. There would be no goodbyes to say each day, no worries about when they would see each other next.

Jimmy! Jimmy who loved him and unlike his mother, would encourage and support him, especially in his writing, as he had done right from the start.

A vista of creativity opened in front of him, ideas for stories flooding into his mind, some new, some already there but only half formed. Come to think of it, he never had finished the story about the ancestor and the geese. He knew now how it should go, how to end it in a way that would make people laugh. He'd work on it as soon as they got home. No! Not tonight. They would to be too busy rabbiting tonight!

But the image of the tale had taken possession of his mind to such an extent, he could almost see the geese surrounding them, with Gander (QC) at their head.

He laughed softly because in reality, there was only Jimmy watching him, a mixture of affection and amusement on his face. Jimmy always knew when he was thinking about a story. They smiled at each other, then hand in hand, left the park.

There was no one around to see them, not even a flock of geese for Martin to say boo to.

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