“Take your hands out of your pockets when I’m talking to you and don’t shuffle about. Stand still.” I was addressing a group of four Upper Fifths who should have known better. It was mid afternoon, I had caught them ragging in an empty classroom, and though I was pretty sure I knew what it was about, I hadn’t actually seen anything to warrant any punishment greater than detention.
Sidney Barrat was the ringleader, the lippy one, the one who all the Prefects would have liked to have sent to the Headmaster, but who was always lucky enough not to get caught. Neil Cuddington and Brett Jones were his henchmen, and the fourth, Jimmy James, known as JJ, was … the boy I was in love with.
I locked glares with Barrat. “Well? Explain what was going on, Mr Barrat, if you please.”
“We were just having a bit of fun, Palmer,” he replied in a smarmy tone that spoke volumes. His two henchmen “yeh’d” their agreement.
“James?” I queried in a slightly milder tone. Jimmy James was shy. He couldn’t help it, it was just his nature. But the amount of grief he suffered because of it was slowly turning him from the bright, sweet, blue eyed towheaded boy I loved into a morose, maudlin wreck. I had just about had enough.
“Yes, Palmer,” he replied, his eyes downcast, looking at his shoes.
“Yes, we were just having a bit of fun.” The last word came out as a whisper, as if fun were the last thing he was having.
“So you were all having fun?”
“Yes, Palmer,” they replied in unison.
“OK. When you’ve finished putting the classroom back together you can go.” I paused. “… And all meet back here at seven for detention, which I will be taking personally.”
“Oh, sir!” Barrat pleaded, “it’s the dance tonight.”
“Tough. Break the rules and pay the penalty. See you all here at seven.” I walked out of the classroom and closed the door behind me.
I guess I should introduce myself. I’m John. John Palmer. I’m in the year above JJ and as such I don’t have an awful lot to do with him, except love. And that has been from afar, if you see what I mean. I’m just seventeen, in the Lower Sixth, and I was made a Prefect at the beginning of the term, which gives me the power to hand out detentions, and put other students on report; I was told ‘being made a Prefect is a sign of maturity’. Ha! If only they knew. JJ is just sixteen, in the Upper Fifth, and according to the laws of the land, we are both old enough. I think you know what for.
JJ and I are in the same house. I should explain that as well. I go to a boarding school in England. I’ve been a boarder since the age of seven, when my parents got a contract that takes them all over the world. My parents, bless and curse them, have always held that the best education is English, and that to promote self-reliance in their son, an English boarding school was the ultimate choice. Personally, I think they say that because they have to assuage the guilt they feel every time they set off gallivanting. They always argue the point.
The school is set in a hundred acres of parkland stuck in the middle of a valley surrounded by hills. It used to be the country estate for a wealthy Victorian industrialist whose descendants finally couldn’t afford the upkeep and sold it to a charitable trust. The school is split into five houses, each with around a hundred boys from twelve years to eighteen. The houses are frighteningly competitive, each with their own teams, out of which the school teams are picked.
Pashes are common place, but except for JJ I’ve never indulged, never felt the need, as from the first time I saw him I knew he was my future. He knows. He has to, though I’ve never actually come out and said it. He lives a couple of streets away from me, and it was my parents who persuaded his to try him at boarding school. He hated me then, thought I was to blame for ripping him away from his local school and safe home life. Still we’d always got on, and after a month of moods, the rest of the summer before he came to School was fine … I think it was probably then that I found I was in love with him.
The bell for six o’clock had rung, and I had just finished the junior inspection and was sitting in my study with a cup of tea and a toasted crumpet, when there was a peremptory knock on the door. Before I had a chance to answer, Dan, my oldest and best friend, came in.
“Jimmy James is missing.”
“Hmm?” I replied, inwardly panicked but trying to hide it.
“Don’t be an arse, John,” Dan replied softly. “He’s missing, and I know … I know what you feel for him.”
Dan and I had played around when we first arrived at the school. It’s what all pubescent boys do, and especially those in a boarding school. But as our friendship grew, the sexual element was replaced by an emotional one. Dan was straight and I wasn’t, though I never let him know. I thought I’d played my part well.
“But …” I blustered, blushing.
“I should have said something before.” Dan sighed and sat down on the bed, the only other comfortable spot to sit since I was in the armchair. “In a nutshell….” Dan paused and took a breath before continuing. “Jimmy came to me a week ago, just after his birthday. He knows I’m your best friend and he wanted to know if you ….” Dan stopped, ran his hands through his hair and continued. “He wanted to know if you liked him … if you cared as much as he does … if you …”
“Love him?” I looked at the floor; looked at the tattered posters of Halle Berry and Milla Jovovich stuck haphazardly on the off-white wall; looked briefly out of the window at the fourth formers playing tag in the long grass of lower field. I felt my safe world begin to crumble into little pieces around me. Finally I looked at Dan. “How long have you known?”
“Forever.” He sighed again. “I don’t care. You are my best friend. You tried to hide it, and to the best of my knowledge I’m the only one who knows, but man,” he smiled, “sometimes you are so obvious, it surprises me the whole world doesn’t know.”
“You know, and you don’t care …” I was starting to cry, which is not something I normally do. Dan got off the bed, walked over and knelt by my chair. He put his arms around my neck and pulled me into a hug.
“I don’t care, John. I don’t care ‘cause I love you, too.”
I broke away from the hug and looked at him quizzically. He eyed me back. “Eeww, not like that. I love you as a friend. What we did back then was fun ‘n’ all, but I’m totally straight. K?”
“K.” I pulled him back into the hug, kissed him chastely on the cheek and pushed him away. “Thanks, Dan.”
“No probs,” he said, handing me a hankie. “Except JJ is missing.”
I was on my feet in a second. “Any idea where he’s gone?”
“No, except Farzid told me he thought he was being bullied, and Neils said he had a bottle of his mother’s pills.”
“The bullying I knew about, but the idiot won’t accept any help. The pills I didn’t … Dan, when he asked you about me … what did you say?”
“I … erm … I didn’t know what you wanted, so I told him probably not. I’m sorry.”
“Shit!” I paused, wanting to find JJ, but not knowing where to start looking. Missing an inspection was a serious matter, and he was probably … what he was probably doing was freaking me out.
“His blog!” I said, booting up my computer.
“His blog?” Dan replied.
“Yes. He writes a blog on livejournal. His writing’s been getting darker recently, and I’ve tried to keep his spirits up, but it’s difficult.”
“So he knows you know?”
“No! Don’t be daft. I log on under a pseudonym.” The PC had booted up, and I logged on to the school’s WiFi network, and out to JJ’s livejournal.
Its timestamp was 17:45. Fifteen minutes before inspection:
“It’s obvious now he doesn’t care. I’m bullied and then get detention as well. I thought I saw a glimmer in his eyes, but then I think I see other signs as well.
It’s all a mistake. The world isn’t fair. I don’t think I was ever meant to be part of it. To love someone so much and not be loved back is too much. I can’t cope for much longer. I don’t want to live here anymore.
If there was a PFLAG or even a Day of Silence like they have in America it might be different, but there’s no chance of that here. I have no one to talk to.
Sorry, Fluffy. I know you tried to help me, and what you say makes a lot of sense. If I met you in RL I’d prolly fall in love with you too, though I love him more. I love him so much it hurts. Goodbye.”
“Who’s Fluffy?” Dan asked quietly, his hand on my shoulder, as I started sobbing.
“I’m Fluffy!” I wailed.
“Pull yourself together, John, it’s not helping.” Dan was serious now, and had slipped into his ‘in charge’ mode. “Where would you go if you were …?” He left the sentence unfinished.
“No! Dan, he wouldn’t.” I was appalled at the thought.
“He might, so let’s be safe rather than sorry. We have to ring the alarm.”
There were consequences to ringing the alarm. Not the least of which was the whole house, and shortly thereafter, thanks to a great rumour mill, the rest of the school, knowing why it had been rung. It would end up being an ‘outing’ of unprecedented proportions, and though I could care less for myself, there was still JJ to consider.
“You’re right, Dan. I’ll ring it.”
I strode out of the room, knocking an unfortunate fourth former out of the way as I made for the red alarm bell button on the wall down the corridor. I was just about to break the glass when Dan’s hand clamped on my shoulder.
“Hang on a tick, John.”
“There has to be another way to ….” He paused and glared at Gilbert, the fourth former who was now standing, watching us. “Go away.”
“Yes, sir.” Gilbert replied, giving us both a strange look before he scuttled off.
“Let’s go back into your study.” Dan took my arm and dragged me away from the bell, walked me back into my study, sat me on my bed and closed the door.
“OK,” he said, looking at his watch, “inspection was ten, no twelve minutes ago, and JJ’s blog entry was time stamped fifteen minutes before that, so at most he’s only got a half an hour’s head start.”
“Huh?” I replied blankly, my emotions refusing to let me think about anything other than JJ. His smile, his laugh, the way he’d look at me as I took the dormitory inspections. I started to sob again. I had had the most precious thing in the world offered to me, the love of another human being, and I hadn’t had the balls to do anything about it.
“Ow!” I couldn’t believe Dan had slapped me. “What the fuck …?”
Dan held me by both shoulders and looked right into my eyes.
“Now is not the time for that. Now is the time to find him, and bring him back … I’m going to call The Boys.”
‘The Boys’ were what everyone called our loose collective of friends. I say loose because we really didn’t have anything in common except for an uncommonly tight friendship forged during a Cadet Corp exercise in our first year. We had been mercilessly picked on by another platoon a year our senior, had fought back, and with more luck than good judgement had captured their flag. As bonding goes that sounds rather mild, but the torture those bastards put us through for the rest of the year forged a bond that was nigh unbreakable. We watched each other’s backs, and though we were spread around the houses, Dan and I were lucky enough to board together.
Dan gently let me go, took his cell phone out of an inside pocket and hit speed dial. Cell phones were forbidden, but then a lot goes on under the murky waters of a boarding school, especially if you’re in the Prefecture with outrageously wealthy friends.
Ten minutes later, ‘The Boys’ had arrived and my study suddenly seemed really small. Dan - his surname is Smith, which ticks him off for reasons no one has been able to fathom - and I were sitting on the bed whilst Alexander McAlister had taken the armchair. A red-haired freckled faced Scot, Alex often wore a kilt for no other reason than it was frowned upon. Martin Trubshaw, a small blonde boy whose voice hadn’t broken until he was nearly sixteen, was pacing. Martin was always quiet, thoughtful, wore glasses, and had an IQ that Einstein would have envied. He was also shy and generally underestimated, until you got to know him. Sellick Rhodes, the lithe blonde six-foot son of a South African cattle rancher, and Jamal Al-Keif, the son of a Saudi prince, were sitting cross-legged on the floor. We were an odd bunch, to say the least.
“So, John,” Sellick started. “What’s up?”
“Shut the door, Martin,” Dan said and looked at his watch, as Martin closed the door and then opened the window, explaining,
“Sellick farted three times on the way over here, so better to be safe than unconscious.”
It was then amid their laughter, as sounds of the game of tag from the lower field started intruding along with faint bird song, that I realised I was about to ‘out’ myself. There were no two ways about it. The clock was ticking. Either I forsook the boy I loved with all my heart, or I became a social pariah. Surreptitiously, I looked at them all, one by one. They were my friends.
Sellick finished glaring at Martin and was getting impatient, though to be fair, it was his way.
“We’re altogether, for, might I add, the first time in yonks, and called with the ‘get here now or else’ message that we’re only supposed to use in dire emergencies ….” he paused. “So what’s up?”
I didn’t know where to begin, so I didn’t. I started blubbering instead. Sellick looked at me oddly.
“JJ’s missing, and time’s a wastin’,” Dan said firmly, glaring at Sellick and wrapping his arm comfortingly around my shoulder.
It’s odd. You never know quite what people are going to do, what they really think. I knew we had a tight friendship, but still I thought Sellick would walk out in disgust, probably slamming the door behind him, Jamal would be understanding in his slightly aloof way, Alex would bluster it off as a ‘wee bit of a laugh’ and Martin would be completely understanding. I was wrong on two counts. There was, however, the classic silence, in which had there been a pin it would have been heard dropping, before Sellick chortled.
“Finally he sees sense.”
“Uh huh,” Jamal and Alex echoed in unison, whilst Martin … Martin just looked confused.
“What ‘what’, brainiac?” Sellick retorted, chortling harder, with Jamal and Alex joining him. Even Dan was trying hard not to laugh at Martin’s confused expression.
“I don’t understand, who’s JJ and why is he missing?”
“JJ is …” All eyes were on me as I wiped my eyes with my sleeve.
“Yes? JJ is?” Martin hated not knowing.
“JJ is the person I love, and we’vejustgottafindhim,” I finished at a rush. I didn’t time Martin, but it felt like it took about a decade to sink in.
“Ah! … ’k … I’m with it.” Martin’s expression had turned noncommittal. I couldn’t tell what he thought, which was odd in itself, as he was usually as open as a book. “So let’s find him then. When did he go missing?”
Dan took over. “He missed the six o’clock, and John found a blog entry written fifteen minutes earlier, so 5.45ish, we think.”
“Did he make the entry from his own computer? Because otherwise he could have been anywhere at 5.45. The Internet café in the village for instance, and if ….” He paused as there was a scrabbling sound from outside the window followed by hurried footsteps, and seconds later a knock on my study door.
“Come!” I said in a voice that belied the way I felt. The door opened and the Gilbert brothers were standing there. Ray Gilbert, who was in the upper fifth with JJ, looked grim, whilst his younger brother Giles, who I’d knocked into the corridor wall a few minutes earlier, was hopping from foot to foot in excitement.
“Beat it, Giles,” Ray said peremptorily.
“Aww but …”
“Go on. I’ll see you later.”
“Yes, Brother mine.” Giles mumbled as he walked away dejectedly.
“Yes?” I said, thin lipped. This was almost the final straw; he had been eavesdropping at the window, and the only reason I was trying to be polite was that I knew he was one of JJ’s friends.
“JJ told me he was …”
“Come inside and close the door … please,” I added, as he looked a little unsure of entering a room full of seniors. Dan nonchalantly removed his arm from over my shoulders as Ray hesitantly came in, closed the door and cleared his throat.
“JJ told me he was leaving. He tells me most everything. He’s …” Ray looked sheepishly down at his feet. “No matter what he is he’s my friend, he’s my best friend!” he ended defiantly. The younger boy took a deep breath and angrily looked me straight in the eye. “He told me he was in love with you. I said he was mad, I nearly hit him … I said that he couldn’t possibly be in love with you, it would mean that he was … he was … gay … and I’d have known. Surely I’d have known?”
Martin stepped forward. “Yeah it’s odd, and to be honest I thought I’d have known too … but I didn’t.” He turned and looked at me, blushing slightly. “It doesn’t mean you love your friends any less.”
“He showed me his blog,” Ray continued, “the one you’ve just been talking about, and he told me how he’s been talking to a guy called Fluffy who had helped him …” Dan caught my eye and I swallowed guiltily; “… and that he wanted to say goodbye.” He paused and then became so angry he seemed to vibrate. “He wrote the entry just after you gave him a detention, you sanctimonious bastard!”
I interrupted before Sellick could rip his head off. “Leave it, Sell. He’s right. I’m a fool. Such a fool.” I was starting to lose it again.
“So it’s true, then?”
“Yes,” I felt tears welling up, “it’s true.” As I spoke I felt a sense of rightness sweep over me. The first tear rolled down my cheek and I did nothing to stop it. “It’s true, I love him, I love him with all my heart.” There was a pause as Ray, red faced, stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a rather mangy looking hankie. I took it gratefully. “Thanks.” I started to gather my thoughts. My problems weren’t important.
“He doesn’t know, does he?” Ray said.
“No. I haven’t told him. I hadn’t told anyone until ten minutes ago.” Strangely it didn’t bother me. I felt happier than I had in ages. I’d gone through months of suicidal angst-ridden shit coming to terms with who I was, followed by a few minutes of stupefying terror outing myself to my friends, most of whom seemed to know already. Now all I wanted to do was tell the boy I loved that I loved him. “Please, Ray, where is he?”
“I don’t know … he wouldn’t tell me where he was going.” Ray looked worried, and the happy feeling swiftly faded.
“But you must have an idea,” I stated.
“No.” Ray gulped, and I saw a slight quiver in his lower lip. “He just hugged me, said goodbye and left shortly before inspection.”
Sellick leapt up. “O.K. so let’s go get him back then!” He looked at Martin, who was seemingly examining a patch of my study wall with interest. ”Have you put a plot together yet, Martin? … Martin?”
“Hmm? …” Martin shook himself, and took a cursory glance at his watch. “Yes, it’s obvious. The station is too far, and no trains at this time anyway, and no busses for another …,” he looked at his watch again, “forty minutes, but he wouldn’t go to the bus stop anyway, he’s too bright for that. He’d know that’s where we’d start looking. So he’s either still in School, somewhere in the village or in the hills. Take your pick.” He turned away and sat down at my computer.
The situation finally sank in, and I was horrified. The village, which was the only real habitation other than an odd sporadic barn, was five miles down the valley, the train station another mile further on. In every other direction were hills, and the light was beginning to wane.
“Right then,” Dan took charge. “There are six of us …”
“Seven” Ray interrupted. I was about to thank him when Dan put his hand on my shoulder.
“Thank you, Ray, but I need … we need to know a couple of things. I was told that JJ had a bottle of his mother’s pills.”
“Yeah he did.”
“Do you know where he kept them?”
“’course. I’ll go and look.” Ray opened the door and left.
“What shall I get Rajit to do?” Jamal asked quietly. Jamal was always quiet, though not shy. He was gorgeous, with an olive complexion, raven black hair and the friendliest pearly white smile. He was actually a prince of some minor Arab royal family, and as such he had Diplomatic immunity and a bodyguard/factotum called Rajit. Rajit was only a couple of years older than us, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and though from a different caste, he was readily accepted by Jamal as an equal, which was something frowned upon by both his and Jamal’s parents. When Jamal had first arrived at School, by helicopter no less, he had been rather aloof and it had taken quite a while for him to be accepted and to accept us. The fabled Cadet Corps exercise had finally broken the ice. He was filthy rich and very generous too, which made some of our less legal exploits possible.
“We split into three groups,” Dan said, “Rajit can take you and Alex in the car to search the village and the station, Sellick, Martin and Ray can search the school, and John and I will take the hills … we’re the fittest.”
“Balls!” That from Sellick. “I’m as fit as either of you two, and I’ll be damned if …”
“Now is not the time to have a pissing competition,” Martin butted in, “and it’s not necessary if I can only hack into this damn site.”
“Oh, sure,” Sellick said sarcastically, “I forgot Brainiac can find him on the computer.”
“Actually, I can if he’s got his mobile with him.”
I squirmed at Dan’s outraged expression. “Since when have upper fifth’s been allowed mobiles?”
“Umm … since I’m in love with one?” I poked my tongue at him.
And the room exploded with laughter, and released tension.
There was a knock at the door and Ray came in without waiting for a reply.
“I checked. The pills, they’re gone.”
“Oh, Christ.” I kicked the door shut angrily. “If only I’d …”
“Don’t, John.” Alex turned from where he was watching Martin on the computer. “Regret is pointless, and I think Martin’s just about cracked it.”
“Ray?” The not knowing was tearing me apart.
“When he said goodbye to you … when he left … was it … was it an ‘I’ll see you later’ goodbye or a ‘goodbye’ goodbye?” I was shuddering with apprehension.
“He was really sad.”
“Yes! I’m in!” Martin yelled, “so give me his number, someone.” I gave it from memory. Jamal smiled at me.
“I told you phones were a good idea. Next term Blackberrys.”
“Thanks, Jamal.” I was beginning to relax.
“No problems my friend, your lacuna will soon be filled.”
“JJ will be found safe and well, if it is Allah’s will.”
“Oh yeah? And is it?” Sellick snarled at Jamal. Ray backed into the door in fright.
“Is it what, my friend?” Jamal’s smile wavered.
“Is it …” Dan grabbed Sellick by the back of his jumper.
“Stow it, Sellick, now is not the time for one of your religious debates.”
”Well fuck, man, he just goes on and …”
“JJ’s still in school!” Martin’s timely interruption had me smiling broadly. “I triangulated his position. As you know, cell phones give off a constant homing signal which enables the transmitters to know where it …”
“Aww. He triangulated JJ’s position. Bless!” Alex said in his broadest Scots.
Martin harrumphed and then continued, “He’s in the theatre.”
“Um … has anyone tried calling him?” We all looked at Ray askance, and I was mentally kicking myself. Stupid. Stupid and so obvious, why hadn’t I …”
“Yeah, I did before I tried the triangulation,” Martin said, cutting through my thoughts. “There was no reply.”
Five minutes later, with the sun sinking low over the head of the valley, the seven of us were standing outside the school theatre. It was more an auditorium than a true theatre, being used for morning assembly, gymnastics, fencing and music, too. JJ had always loved working backstage, and he was on the lighting crew, so I was kicking myself for not thinking of it earlier.
“So, do we all …” Dan started.
“No! … Thank you. I need to do this alone.” I looked at each of them in turn, gauging their thoughts.
The wind had picked up, and it was actually pretty cold. Cold enough that we were all starting to shiver.
“If you guys wouldn’t mind waiting in the foyer …”
“Ah warmth!” Sellick said as we trooped in through the outer doors. “Thank you, kind sir.”
“Don’t be such a tart,” Alex said, punching Sellick lightly on the shoulder. The mood was getting light-hearted.
“Shhh!” Ray said, and we all shut up. “Can anyone hear anything?”
We listened for a few seconds before Martin spoke up.
“No, but then the doors to the auditorium are closed, and JJ will be back stage anyway. Go on, John … and good luck.”
The rest echoed Martin’s sentiment as I left them with trepidation, entering the auditorium and closing the slightly squeaky door firmly behind me. It was much dimmer inside, the setting sun throwing the last vestiges of daylight feebly through the top windows, leaving large areas in pools of darkness.
I knew the auditorium well. I knew that the stage and proscenium arch were at the farthest end, with the backstage beyond, yet I couldn’t really see them. I made my way onto the stage more by feel and luck than sight and pulled aside the curtain. Backstage was almost pitch black.
“JJ?” I called out quietly. “It’s John.” Silence, but more than silence; it was as if the theatre was holding its breath. Waiting.
JJ, please. It’s John and I …” I heard a hitched breath from somewhere in front of me, a hitched breath I had only heard once before when, having crashed out of a crazy stunt on his bike right in front of me, JJ had badly hurt his hand and was trying hard not to cry. I had helped him up and hugged him as he cried on my T-shirt. I hadn’t washed it for a month afterwards, and was livid when the maid returned it clean and ironed.
“JJ? …” It was no use. I had ‘outed’ myself to my friends, yet here I was frightened to take the last step. Frightened to tell the boy I loved that I loved him.
“JJ, I love you.” I held my breath hoping the Gods held my hand. Quietly, almost too quietly, his sleepy voice answered.
I answered without hesitation as I walked to where his voice had come from, knelt down and, fumbling, found his hand. I took it in my own.
“I love you for who you are, the way you are. I love you for your smile, the looks you give me every now and then when you think I’m not paying attention.” My index finger started to trace a pattern on his palm. “I love your humour, I love your moods, even the ones where the clouds seem to blot out the sun. I love you unreservedly, and … oh, JJ, please say you haven’t taken those pills.” I was crying openly now, tears streaming down my face, and he must have heard the worry in my voice.
“Sorry,” he breathed. “I’m so sorry, John, I ….” His voice faded away. He was dying. I could hear it.
“HELP!” I shouted as I got up. I went to the curtains and managed to drag them further apart just as the fluorescent house lights flickered on and my friends came charging into the auditorium. “HELP!” I repeated, turning around. I could see JJ now slumped against the back wall, his legs outstretched, bangs obscuring his wan face. I walked in a daze, automatically, and knelt by his side, cradling him in my arms as the others all arrived on stage. A small brown pill bottle rolled off his lap and came to a stop by his shoe.
“He took the pills,” I said, pushing his bangs aside and brushing his face with light kisses. “He took the fucking pills. Someone get some help. Quickly.” Jamal got his phone out and started dialing as Martin leant down and picked up the bottle. I sat down next to JJ with my back against the wall, and pulled him onto my lap. He was so fragile, so beautiful. I started rocking him and crooning.
“Is this what he took?”
“Hmm? … yes, yes obviously.” I was almost too distraught to talk. “When’s the ambulance going to arrive? He’s still breathing, what should we do? Oh, JJ, please, please.” I ended the sentence by placing a few more feather light kisses on JJ’s lips and nose. I could smell him, could feel him, could touch him and yet he was dying. It was unfair, all so unfair.
“Umm. Wait a second, Jamal,” Martin said, looking at the bottle, then shaking the last pill out of it and examining it closely. “If he took these he’s going to be asleep for a while, but honestly, he’ll be fine.”
I was stroking JJ’s hair when Martin’s words filtered through. “W … Wh … What did you say, Martin?”
“I said these pills he took won’t kill him. They’re Nytol. Herbal Nytol. My mother takes them, which is how I know. Sure they’re in an unmarked bottle, but they contain …,” he paused, cleared his throat - which drove me nearly insane, and closed his eyes, which is how he accessed his eidetic memory. “They contain Hops, which are sedative and hypnotic, Dogwood Jamaica, which is both a sedative and an analgesic, Wild Lettuce, which is mildly sedative, analgesic and induces sleep. Passiflora and Pulsatilla, which are sedative and analgesic too. No problem, other than a good night’s sleep and maybe, ‘cause of the amount he’s taken, he’ll sleep through the day too.”
“Are you sure, are you absolutely sure?”
“Absolutely. You can’t overdose on them.”
Sellick, the bastard, started laughing. I was outraged, but damn me if it wasn’t addictive. Dan kicked off next with his belly laugh and soon the rest of us followed. Jamal was the funniest; having realised during our first term that laughter with friends was a good thing and not embarrassing, he always went totally overboard and let himself go. Now he was rolling on the dusty stage clutching his sides with a high pitched squeak. Alex guffawed and slapped his knees whilst Martin tittered. Ray on the other hand was just grinning happily, whilst I was laughing so hard that I nearly dropped JJ.
I re-arranged us so he was lying between my legs, with his head laid back on my chest. I stroked his hair slowly, gently running my fingers down his neck, tracing over his clavicle to his shoulders and back up again as I kissed the top of his head, all the while inhaling pure JJ – a fantasy that I’d dreamt of many times. Now that the panic was over, I found I was unashamedly hard, too.
Then I discovered a new passion: his ear. He had the smallest, cutest ear lobes. My laughter drained away and I gulped in awe as I realised that his eyelids were fluttering. He opened one eye blearily.
“’sup John?” he said quietly and went straight back to sleep. The laughter stopped. I looked up to see the others staring at me, at us, and I became protective, and oddly angry.
“What?” No one said anything, just continued to stare. “What?” I repeated, getting panicked. There was definitely an odd vibe, and I noticed that Martin was studying Ray surreptitiously.
Dan broke the awkward moment. “We’ve got to get him back to the house now before anyone stumbles in here for a secret cigarette or something.”
Out of the darkened prompt corner walked Barrat, followed by Cuddington and Jones. “Well, well,” Barrat continued sarcastically, “what do we have here? The famed ‘Boys’, loitering back stage watching John Palmer and Jimmy James kissing. Practising for a new play were you, Palmer?” he said, as I noticed Ray, who had been on the far fringe of the group, disappear behind a large scenic flat.
“Fuck off, Barrat,” I enunciated carefully. I was incandescent with anger but caught Dan slowly shaking his head at me, his finger subtly pointing at Jones. Jones, who had a mobile video phone pointing at us.
“Ah, but we’re only here for your detention, Palmer, sir,” he hissed, “and what do we find? A bunch of sixth form benders about to get it on, watching a drugged fifth former being molested. Tsk, tsk, tsk,” he clicked his tongue, “naughty, naughty.” He wagged his finger melodramatically.
“What do you want?” Dan asked tiredly.
“What don’t I want!” Barrat spat back. “I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Hmm … let me see. There’s a song by the Rolling Stones you should really listen to. It’s called ‘Under My Thumb’!” He laughed, though it sounded to me like more of a cackle. Cuddington and Jones sniggered. “I so want to broadcast the footage, I really want that badly, but now you know I have it, I’ll settle for …”
Ray Gilbert was magnificent. There’s no other way to describe his admission as the seventh member of ‘The Boys’. He appeared from out of the darkness behind Cuddington and Jones, wielding a broom handle high in the air like a katana. He brought it down on Jones’s phone so fast it was a blur. There was a crack of breaking plastic as the phone hit the stage followed by Ray, who jumped and landed with his right foot squarely on top of it. Barrat’s jaw dropped as Ray knelt down and picked up the shattered mobile, removed the memory card, and snapped it in half.
“Transmit what? You little fucking shit.”
No one moved, then as Alex started clapping, Sellick and Dan grabbed hold of Cuddington and Jones, neither of whom tried struggle, whilst Jamal caught hold of Barrat by the wrist and put him in a half Nelson.
“Ow, let go, you Arab Camel Fucker.”
Jamal laughed unpleasantly. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. What was it you said? Naughty, naughty.” Jamal punctuated each “naughty” with pressure on Barrat’s neck, causing the younger boy to scream. “Wimp,” Jamal added mildly, letting Barrat go and kicking him in the arse, forcing him to fall to his knees at my feet. He was panting with fear.
Gently I got out from under JJ and, giving him one last kiss on the head, I got slowly to my feet, dusted off my trousers and then in one swift motion I hauled Barrat to his feet and slammed him against the back wall, holding him there by his throat.
“As I said earlier, fuck off. Let’s consider today’s detention over, but if I ever …” I paused and slammed him into the wall again, “if I ever have any cause to put you in detention again … you won’t be happy.” I was inches from his face and could smell his minty breath, but I could also see that his look of unbridled fear was mingled with something much more malevolent, something deeply, deeply disturbing. I knew that this enmity would not end here, and I felt that whatever I did, I had made an enemy for life.
I didn’t care. Right by my feet was the boy I loved. When I woke up this morning, I had thought I would never ever in a month of Sundays admit my sexuality to anyone, and I had. I thought I would never ever be able to tell my friends I was gay, and I had. I thought I could probably cope with one more major life situation. “So. Detention’s over.” I paused, looking Barrat in the eye. “OK?”
““OK,” Barrat breathed back.
“Just so as we’re straight, causes for detention are, and not limited to, anything I, or we,” I gestured to my friends, “don’t like.” I let him go and patted him on the back. “I think that about covers it.” I nodded at Sellick and Dan, who released Cuddington and Jones.
I bent down and in one fluid movement picked up JJ and put him over my shoulder in a fireman’s lift. He was sound asleep, and I knew I had never carried anything so precious in my entire life. “Come on boys,” I said quietly, and we trooped from the stage, leaving Barrat and his cronies standing there.
Jimmy James knew he was dreaming when he woke up under a duvet in John Palmer’s bed. He dreamt about John an awful lot, but that was only natural; after all, he was in love with him. Jimmy still felt really tired and vaguely remembered having some very weird dreams. This just seemed like a natural extension to them. It all seemed hyper real.
Early morning sunlight was streaming through John’s study window and Jimmy was examining the posters on the wall, the sort of odd thing you do in dreams, when he realised that someone was spooned up behind him. Jimmy was stiff as a plank with his usual morning wood and thought that this was probably, hopefully going to turn into a wet dream, which was nice as he never normally remembered his wet dreams, just the memory of coming.
Carefully, trying not to disturb the balance of the dream, he rolled over to find that the person spooning him was John Palmer. No weird dream shimmy there, he thought; after all love was love, who else would he be dreaming about?
John was breathing gently, his lips parting slightly each time he exhaled. Jimmy thought they were the most beautiful lips, really very kissable lips with just a soft trace of dark blonde hair above. He snuggled closer, hoping the dream wasn’t going to change anytime soon. He liked dreams like this.
Jimmy managed to untangle his right arm and brought his hand up to touch John’s cheek. It was soft and warm. He moved upwards and slowly ran his fingers through John’s hair, across his forehead and down his nose. He leant forward, closed his eyes tightly, and, going with an overwhelming feeling of rightness, kissed John lightly, firstly on the cheek and then on the lips, nibbling ever so gently at his bottom lip. John groaned and responded, his tongue darting into Jimmy’s mouth. Then he drew away and stretched, his arms coming up from under the duvet and reaching for the head board. He wasn’t supposed to do that, Jimmy thought. It’s my dream and that was just unfair and wrong.
“Hi, JJ, that was such a nice way to wake up.”
Jimmy’s eyes flew open. “Um … Hi. This is one cool dream.”
John’s green eyes crinkled as he smiled. “This is no dream, JJ, this is no dream.”
JJ and ‘The Boys’ by Camy ©2006
Thanks for reading this tale — I really hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks also to Kitty for all the editorial input and tweaking.
She has made this tale much, much better than it was. Gassho.
Feedback would be adored. Honestly. No kidding