Since his short but passionate relationship with Marcus, Christopher had stopped feeling ashamed of his attraction to boys. It was the way he was and with the help of his father's support he had grown strong and confident, at least about his sexuality. That confidence did not make finding boyfriends any easier though, and in any case, at the moment he found his friendship with Jenner very much what he needed to help heal some of the hurt of the past.
After three weeks back at school though, Jenner was full of guilt about his feelings for Christopher. Christopher made him happy, and he loved to spend time with him. He was handsome and clever, and he could even do maths. Jenner sometimes wondered to himself how he had ever thought his life was complete before he had met him. However, the sense of shame about the sexual feelings that Christopher seemed to awaken in him made him feel that he was bad. Often he would lie in bed at night full of self recrimination for having enjoyed seeing Christopher naked as he got ready for bed, or for the wank he had every morning whilst Christopher went to the showers, a wank filled with fantasies of Christopher and him together. Jenner began to feel sure that he must be a queer, and the prospect depressed him. He had nothing against queers, there were a few boys he knew were always at each other in school, he sometimes even wondered about Shaw. He would never have bullied anyone, let alone someone just for being queer, but the prospect of being an outcast, of being a victim filled him with dread. He wondered if he should talk to Christopher about it. He knew Christopher would never let him be hurt, but he also knew that Christopher would probably never feel quite the same about him, and the prospect of something coming between them was too much to think about. He had even wondered about asking for a change of room, there was a spare bed in Shaw's room. Maybe he would feel differently if he couldn't see Christopher so much, but he knew that Christopher would be hurt and he knew that he couldn't bare the thought of hurting him.
Saturday night's supper was finished and Jenner was on his last shift of dining hall duty, the task of sweeping the floor and wiping down the tables that was assigned to each of the junior boys in turn. As he walked up and down the parquet floor of the dining hall with a large broom, herding the crumbs into regularly spaced piles for collection with the dustpan and brush later, Martha called to him from the hatchway to the kitchen.
"Edward, get yourself over here."
Jenner was pretty sure that there would be some treat in store, a cake or some pudding left over from the staff table, but tonight he was feeling laden with the guilt about his feelings and was sure that nothing would do much to cheer him up.
"Hello Martha," he said with a smile that Martha recognised as one that had been struggled for.
"Edward, there's some custard there which you can have, covered in skin like you like it.... but..."
Edward looked at the custard, almost certainly the food he loved most in the world.
"... but sit down first."
Edward sat on a wooden stool at the kitchen work surface and was surprised when Martha sat down right next to him.
"You going to tell me what's the matter Edward?"
She hooked her head around in front of his and looked at him. He flushed deep red and looked away at the custard on the end of the counter.
"Edward?" Her voice was serious but kind.
"It's nothing Martha, nothing."
Martha moved to look him in the face again.
"Edward, I remember you telling me it was nothing when you first came here and you were homesick. It wasn't nothing then and it's not nothing now, and whatever it is, it won't get better by not talking about it."
"It's not like that Martha." Jenner fidgeted on his stool,but this time he did not look away. He thought that he could easily cry, but then he would have to tell Martha, who was always so good to him that he was some dirty little queer boy. "It's different," he continued, aware that his vision was becoming cloudy.
"Are you not getting on with Christopher?" Martha asked, worried that the boys who seemed so close might have fallen out. "Is that what it is?"
"No." Jenner wiped his shirt sleeve across his eyes and reached to his pocket for his handkerchief. He blew his nose which bubbled with tears.
"What then? Edward, tell me."
Edward felt a diminishing resistance to sharing the secret of which he was so ashamed. Although he was not conscious of any calculation, the chance to unburden himself to Martha was already starting to outweigh the keeping of his secret.
"Edward?" Martha persisted
"Martha, if I tell you, even though you won't like me afterwards, please promise me that you won't tell anyone else."
Martha felt deeply for Jenner. Although she could not imagine what he might be about to tell her, she was determined that it would not affect her fondness for him at all. She was sure that whatever his secret was, she could keep it. Jenner was not the kind of boy who could do something that she would be obliged to refer to his housemaster or anyone else in the school.
"Edward, I promise."
She sat quietly as Edward tried to say what he meant to say without upsetting Martha too much.
"It is about Brown in a way," he stuttered.
Martha just looked at him with the well practised patience of one of the few motherly figures available to the boys. Jenner began to panic in his mind about how he could explain things but in the end his efforts came to nothing.
"I think I'm queer about him."
Martha looked at him, her features showing no hint of judgment as Jenner looked down at his lap, hot with emotions that swung from relief to shame and back like a clock pendulum counting the seconds that Martha waited before she picked his two hands from his laps and held them tightly in hers. She spoke softly, almost whispering to him.
"You silly boy, you silly silly boy, to worry so much. Did you really believe I would like you one bit less? Were you thinking 'Martha doesn't give custard to queer boys', you dafty?"
Jenner's lips began to form a smile and everything around him wobbled in the distorting lenses of the tears in his eyes.
"And anyway," Martha continued, "I think we say gay now not queer - well, unless you are, in which case it seems to be alright."
"But what can I do?" Jenner asked.
"Oh sweetheart, there's nothing you can do if that's how you feel, if that's how you are. Nothing except like yourself, not be ashamed of yourself. "
"But you don't understand what it's like in school Martha. Peopled get bullied and name called and stuff."
"That's true enough Edward, but people get bullied and teased for all sorts of reasons, and the way we deal with that is by changing the bullies' behaviour, not trying to be different to what we are."
"And you're wrong," she continued. "About me not understanding. My Gareth is ...'queer' as you called it, though not so many knows about it, but why should they? It's not any of their businesses."
"Gareth!" If it had not been Gareth's own mother telling him, he could never have believed that Gareth could be queer. He was six foot something tall, built like a tank and played rugby at the local club.
"Yes, well that's for your ears and no one else's okay?" Martha cautioned.
Jenner nodded, feeling cathartic and curious too about Gareth.
"Don't you mind about Gareth then?"
Martha cuffed the back of his head.
"Edward Jenner, if you even need to be asking that then you haven't heard a word I've been saying to you. Course I don't mind. Why should I mind? He's no different to how he always was."
Jenner felt chastened and mumbled an apology.
"But what can I do about Brown?" he asked.
"You don't need to do anything. You like him, and all I see says to me that he really likes you too. You leave it at that, and if there's anything else to happen then you'll know about it when it does. Now eat that custard and get off with you."
Jenner ate the custard feeling happier than he had done for days. He washed the bowl and spoon and returned to the dining hall to finish his chores.
"Leave that!" Martha boomed from the kitchen, not even looking up from the sink she was working at. "... or you'll be late for chapel."
"Thanks Martha." He leant the broom against the table and started towards the door, then turned back and went into the kitchen where Martha was finishing off wiping down the work tops.
"Really thanks Martha," he said and reached up to peck her cheek.
"You'll be late. Get on." She laughed, and Jenner ran from the kitchen, laughing as well.
* * *
Six weeks later and half term had been and gone. Christopher was now feeling very much part of Holdsworth College, and the events of the previous Autumn term, though not forgotten, no longer troubled him constantly. Jenner and he were inseparable, and Jenner, although still very attracted to Christopher was very content with the friendship as it was, and had taken Martha's advice, to let things take their course, to heart.
Both boys spent time every day chatting, drinking tea and eating toast in the junior common room, lounging about in the company of friends, sometimes reading, sometimes playing chess or ridiculously expansive and noisy games of Monopoly, many of which would run for days. This Saturday afternoon was quiet. Nicholas James and his brother Paul were reading the papers, and a few others were talking to one another, including Shaw, Jenner and Christopher.
"Hey Brown, isn't that your old place?" Nicholas asked reading the name of a school from the paper.
Nicholas got out of his chair and folding the newspaper into quarters threw it on to Christopher's lap.
"Anyone you know?" He said.
Christopher picked up the paper and Nicholas pointed at a small headline.
"Tragedy strikes school" the headline read. Christopher read on.
"Staff and boys at a Wiltshire prep. school were today being collected and taken home after the tragic death of headmaster Peter Branston's son Marcus Branston, aged 16 who was discovered hanged in his room at school by a member of staff yesterday afternoon. Local police have said that nobody else is being sought in connection with Marcus's death"
Jenner watched with alarm as Christopher's face went white. He began to shake, his knees bouncing up and down. He began to chant "Oh shit, oh no," like a mantra, culminating in a screamed, "No!" as he threw the paper on the floor and ran from the room.
The rest of the boys sat in stunned silence. Jenner reached down for the paper and read the article. The names meant nothing to him, but they obviously did to Christopher.
"That was fucking clever!" he yelled at Nicholas.
Nicholas felt guilty but defensive.
"How was I supposed to know?"
"You fucking think arse hole."
Jenner was seething with anger. Shaw interrupted;
"Lay off him Jen, he wasn't to know was he?"
"It didn't take much bloody thinking about!"
Jenner was turning to go after Christopher when Shaw muttered.
"Just because you're queer about him."
Jenner half slapped, half thumped Shaw's face which immediately started bleeding from the nose. Jenner was now beside himself with anger, panic and remorse at injuring his friend.
"Oh fuck, fuck you!"
He turned and ran from the room, desperate to catch up with Christopher, too quick to hear Shaw cry that he hadn't meant it and that he was sorry.
Jenner ran straight to their room to find Christopher face down on his bed still sobbing and saying Marcus's name again and again. Jenner knew of nothing he could do but be there for his friend. As on their very first night together, he sat next to Christopher and laid his hand on his shoulder. This time however, Christopher sat up straight away and wrapped his arms around Jenner hugging him tightly and sobbing violently.
Jenner lost track of the time as the room darkened. Christopher had slipped slowly downward and was now asleep, his head on Jenner's lap, his arms still wrapped around Jenner's torso. Supper must have been, thought Jenner as he gently ran his fingers through Christopher's hair. Jenner was glad of the calm, still reeling from Shaw's words, probably said in jest, but so true. He looked with sad regret at the darkened smudges of Shaw's blood on his hand and sleeve, disgusted with his own anger and violence.
As Jenner mulled on his own sorrows and Christopher slept on his, the door opened casting a warm light from the hallway across the room and on to the bed. It was Mr. Johnston, the boys' house master. Jenner looked up, and, protective of his sleeping charge, raised his finger vertical to his lips to indicate that Christopher was asleep.
Mr. Johnston crept quietly over to the boys and whispered to Jenner that he had seen the article in the paper, which Shaw had brought to him and that Shaw had explained how upset Brown was and how Jenner had rushed to help him.
Jenner bit on his lip,only nodding acknowledgement of his housemaster's words, and continuing to caress softly the sleeping Christopher's head. Mr. Johnston rubbed Jenner's head, smiling kindly.
"I think you are probably the best medicine for Christopher just now, " and he left the room as quietly as he had come in, pulling the door carefully closed behind him.
Jenner beamed inside with the responsibility and trust that he now felt rested with him. His back was starting to ache and his backside had long since gone numb in the effort to stay still and leave Christopher sleeping. He moved slightly to ease the discomfort and Christopher stirred sleepily.
"I think we should get to bed Chris." Jenner softly whispered into Christopher's ear. Christopher mumbled and sat up.
"I need to pee," he said and stood up, then shuffled off towards the door. Jenner went with him to the bathroom and relieved his own bladder whilst there then came back with the exhausted Christopher, who sat on his bed looking blankly at Jenner.
Jenner sat back down beside him.
"Marcus was special Edward. I loved him," and he sobbed again. Jenner squatted down in front of Christopher and reached up to his school tie which he started to loosen.
"Tomorrow Chris, tell me tomorrow. Too tired now," he undid the top three buttons of Christopher's shirt and unbuttoned the cuffs then lifted the shirt off him as Christopher silently raised his arms. Jenner reached for the belt on Christopher's trousers and unbuckled it.
"It's time to sleep now," he whispered to him, undoing the button of his trousers and gently pulling down the zip. Christopher stood up like a little boy allowing Jenner to pull down his trousers which he then stepped out of. Jenner pulled back the quilt and Christopher lay down in his bed whilst Jenner removed his socks. As Jenner pulled the quilt over Jenner, Christopher reached for his hand and clung to it.
"Stay, please." His tear stained face pleaded and Jenner removed his own clothes and climbed into the bed with Christopher, spooned up to him and held him tightly. The boys lay still. Christopher quickly fell to sleeping again, but Jenner lay awake. How often he had dreamt of sleeping cuddled up with Christopher, but his dreams had never been like this and he thought that he would do anything and forgo anything if only Christopher could be happy again. He thought about Shaw too, and how he could probably never undo the hurt he must have caused his friend. He wondered who Marcus was and why Christopher said he had loved him. And as his mind whirled in a confusion of emotion and tiredness, sleep overcame him too.
* * *
It was light when Jenner awoke, but the light and air in the room was the still and unfamiliar air of dawn. He was on his back and when he opened his eyes it was to Christopher's smiling face looking down on him. Jenner was a slow waker and it took him a minute to recall why he was in Christopher's bed and all the trauma of the preceding evening.
"Are you okay?" Jenner asked him.
Jenner himself was okay, but tired and his back ached still from sitting so upright for so long. He looked at Christopher and returned his smile.
"What time is it?" he asked Christopher knowing that breakfast must still be a while away.
"Six fifteen. Sorry, I hadn't meant to wake you."
"'s okay. I'm just a bit hungry and aching."
"I could go and make some toast," Christopher offered, but Jenner declined. He was savouring the cosy warmth of awakening close to another boy's skin for the first time and was not yet ready to give up the pleasure.
Christopher continued to look at him and both boys together brought their faces and their lips hesitantly closer. Jenner briefly recalled Martha's advice that if there was anything else to happen, then he would know it when the time came. He knew that time was now and reached behind Christopher's head, pulling him to him and kissing his lips, at first tentatively, but within seconds with an intense passion as the pent up desires of his body and mind found the relief they had been waiting for.
Christopher returned every kiss with tenderness and strength and lay down beside Jenner as their hands began to explore each other's bodies. Jenner could feel the shaft of his cock straining again his underpants and then pushing instinctively at Christopher's groin.
Christopher reached between them and pulling down the elastic of Jenner's pants began to fondle his balls and rub the hard base of his cock. In a frenzied writhing, both boys stripped themselves of their underwear and grasped the other's cock, wanking each other as their tongues probed each other's mouth.
Jenner cried out as his orgasm built and burst from his cock.
"Oh Chris, now, now"
As Jenner's semen spurted between them, Christopher's own cock pulsed as his sperm forced it way up his length to join Jenner's in sweat and spunk between the two boys hardened stomachs.
Still gently rubbing sensitive cocks the two boys broke off their kiss and lay on their sides breathless and hot, gazing into each other 's eyes and smiling full of contentment and happiness.
Christopher ran his fingers through Jenner's dark hair mouthing words of love but saying nothing to disturb the still quiet of the moment. Both boys' thoughts were only in the present, their newly consummated friendship and the security that both felt. They quickly fell to dozing in the early morning light, stirring now and then to touch and caress before drifting back to the rest they so needed.
* * *
Breakfast on Sundays was at nine-o-clock and was not mandatory for any boy. Christopher usually attended, and Jenner usually lay in, getting up when Christopher returned. Today though it was Jenner who got out of bed at eight. He put on his pyjamas, grabbed his towel and went to the bathroom, returning a few minutes later with wet hair smelling of shower gel. He leant over Christopher and kissed him on the lips, and then began to dress.
"I have to go," he whispered to Christopher, who looked surprised.
"Promise me that you'll stay here until I get back," he continued.
"I promise!" Christopher giggled and scrunched his eyes and lips for another kiss. Jenner obliged willingly and told Christopher that he had to see Shaw. Pre-empting the question on Christopher's lips, he explained:
"I hit him yesterday and I shouldn't have, and I need to say sorry to him."
"You hit Shaw?" Christopher was unable to suppress his surprise.
"I'll tell you later."
Christopher stretched and wrapped himself in the cosy comfort of the duvet. Jenner left the room and headed for Shaw's room, upstairs from his. He knew Shaw was on his own this weekend and that he would probably be up by now getting ready for breakfast. His heart was heavy as he knocked on Shaw's door.
"Yeah!" Shaw's voice from inside.
"It's Jen." Jenner had never waited to be invited in to Shaw's room, but today felt different and he hesitated before asking,
"Can I come in?"
Jenner entered Shaw's large four bed room, one of the few in the house with its own wash basin. Shaw was standing at the sink cleaning his teeth in bare feet and his green stripped pyjamas. Jenner could see his face, thankfully showing no signs of the previous day's incident, looking at him in the mirror. Shaw waved with his free hand and gurgled a foamy "hang on" through the bristles of his toothbrush. He ran the tap and rinsed his mouth out then wiped himself dry on the towel that hung from the bracket that supported the sink. He turned to Jenner and both boys stared at each other. Shaw broke the silence.
"It didn't hurt, just bled a lot." He smiled, but Jenner was feeling too guilty to have his behaviour brushed aside so casually.
"Shaw, I'm so bloody sorry. I just don't know why I...I think it was ..." but Jenner could not really remember how he had so quickly become so angry with his best friend.
Shaw walked up to him and puts his hands on his shoulders.
"Jen, it doesn't matter. It happened and it's over with, and you were upset and I should have kept my big mouth shut. You're still my best friend, and you always will be. I went and told Johnston about Brown being upset - hope that was okay?"
"Of course it was okay you silly tosser." Jenner giggled and told him that Mr. Johnston had been in and told him about it. The boys fell to silence again, both knowing that there was more to be said, but allowing the words to take their time. After a moment Jenner spoke again
"Only Shaw, you were right." Shaw looked at him, he already knew what was coming, but he knew deep down that Jenner had to be the one to say it this time and that things would be how they used to be when he had.
"I was...I am queer about Brown. I bloody love him." He paused for a moment still looking directly at Shaw. "But, you're still my best friend, if that doesn't sound too stupid."
"No - that sounds great." Shaw smiled at Jenner and continued, "I might have to think about it for a bit, but it sounds great."
"You mean it?"
"I mean it."
The words between them began to drift into the meaningless. The body language was all now, the looks and gestures that assured the two boys that all was alright between them.
"You'd better go. He'll be getting jealous," Shaw grinned mischievously
"Ha ha Shaw," Jenner laughed, "but you're right. I'd better get back and make sure he's okay."
"When you see him, let him know that Nic James said to say he was sorry about not being a bit more subtle with things yesterday."
"I will ... thanks Shaw."
Jenner left the room and thought about the words he had said. "I bloody love him," he repeated to himself, enjoying the confidence that came with saying it, "trouble is," he answered himself. "I don't actually know if he loves me."
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