by Cole Parker

The pond in the woods

Boarding school! The very words made my stomach feel like jelly.

Father had called me into his study. He did this now and then, usually to give me a long talk about things I always lost the thread of after only a few words. He would lean back in his chair and look over my head at the books in the shelves behind me and speak in his deep voice. I had the idea even then he was talking more to himself than to me. So I drifted, and he didn’t notice. I could always tell when he was nearing the end because his tone of voice would change. So I’d look him in the eye, and stop thinking about what Jeffy and I would be getting up to tomorrow, or the goal I was going to score when my mates actually passed me the ball after I’d broken into the clear in front of the nets, racing in my imagination in ways I couldn’t in the flesh, flattening the fullback and watching the horror on the goalkeeper’s face at the prospect of me, all thumbs me, beating him. I’d meet Father’s eyes, and likely as not he would smile, but it wasn’t a smile for me, it was one of satisfaction for himself for again educating me in the ways of the world, his world, none of which ever really made it past my ears.

But this time some of the words had got through.

This time he’d told me that now I had turned 13, it was time for my life as a child to end and for me to take my place as an adult. This would begin now, as he had secured me a place at his old school. I would become a man there and would make him proud.

Boarding school!

I didn’t want to go to boarding school. I couldn’t, really.

Yes, I was now 13. But I didn’t feel any different from when I was ten. I felt like a little boy. I still liked the same things I had then. I like playing games with my mates. They didn’t seem older, either. I liked hide and seek and games like that. Many of the other boys more and more wanted kick a ball around on the grass, or play rougher games like rugger and I’d more watch than anything else, but afterwards we’d get ice cream and sodas. We’d talk about boy stuff, just like before. A couple of the boys would start talking about girls, and the rest of us would jeer at them. Who wanted to talk about girls? Not me, that was for sure!

Nanny didn’t give me a bath any more. I was too old for that. Had been for two years now. She’d come in to do it when I was 11 and I’d had a stiffy and she’d tried to hide her smile when she’d seen it. I’d had stiffies before of course when she was bathing me and neither one of us had remarked on it, but somehow, for some reason, I was embarrassed this time, and put my hands over it, and told her to go away, rather rudely, and she’d smiled. She hadn’t bathed me since then.

But I was 13 now. Just 13. My best mate was Jeffy. He was as tall as I was, even though he was still 12. We were together all the time. We’d go for walks together. There was the wood behind the estates and we knew every tree, I think. We’d hid behind them, used them as shields when we were playing tag, climbed the ones we could, pretended we were with Robin in Sherwood Forest

The pond where we stripped off and skinny dipped wasn’t too big, but was plenty big enough, and there was a grassy area leading down to it where we’d lie on our towels in the hot English summer sun afterwards, not even bothering with our clothes, tired from the swim. Those were good times. We would lie there, talking about nothing and everything, the sun warming our skin. I’d look over at Jeffy, and sometimes he’d be looking at me. A year ago, we’d begun doing more than looking.

It was two days after Father told me I’d be going off to boarding school in three weeks. I had just climbed out of the water with Jeffy tagging along behind. I was a faster swimmer than he was. I’d reached the bank first, and stepped up onto the grass. I quickly dried myself, then spread my towel out. He did the same things, and I watched him doing them, noticing how beautiful his slender form was, how it excited me, how it stirred my feelings. I lay down on my back on my towel. He stood for a moment looking down at me, finished with drying himself. The afternoon sun was behind him, so his front was dark and his form was backlit, the edges almost seeming to glow. His dark hair sparkled as the water on it prismed the sun. I couldn’t see his eyes with the light as it was, but I knew what was in them.

He lay down next to me then, his shoulders and hips just making contact with my own.

I said nothing, not knowing how. But I had to, and now was the time, so I did.

“Jeffy, I’m going away.”

He didn’t believe me. He laughed. “Yeah, I am too. And I’m taking you with me.”

“I’m really going, Jeffy.” My voice broke. Now he believed me.


I didn’t want to cry. I was 13. But I was still a little boy. Father didn’t know it, or didn’t want to know it. I never knew what he really knew. He was distant most of the time, and rarely looked into my eyes. If he had, could he have known what I was thinking? Did he want to?

Jeffy sat up and looked down at me. My tears were running down my cheeks. I didn’t try to stop them. I couldn’t, but it made no difference if Jeffy saw them. We had no secrets. Having no secrets meant we were closer than brothers.

“I’m so scared,” I said.

“Oh, Mark.” He then lay back down, but this time he was mostly on top of me. The way he did. I put my arms around him, and held him, held him fiercely, and in so doing, comforted myself.

I was comforted by holding him, but somehow it made me cry harder, too. Maybe it was knowing I was losing him. Losing my childhood, too, while I was still a child.

Then I felt the wetness and the shaking, and knew he was feeling the same things I was.

We cried till we stopped. Then he took his head off my chest and kissed me. Not with the passion we usually had, but with love. I kissed him back.

We were 13 and 12, so the kiss became passionate. We responded to our urges, as we had for some time now. But it was bittersweet this time. It also had depths it hadn’t before. Before it had been breathless and fun. Now, it was full of emotion and sadness and regret. We were already regretting our great loss, before we’d lost anything.

But we had. In our heads, we’d already started losing each other. Trying to figure out what it would be like. Hating it.

When we were finished, we sat and talked. We cried some more, also. We talked and made promises I think we both knew would not be kept. I had my arm around his bare shoulders, and his head was on one of mine. I loved him more than anyone I knew.

I told him we’d still have the next three weeks, and the summer sun, and our wood and pond. I told him after that, I just didn’t know. I told him how scared I was. I’d be among strangers, other boys, and how frightened I was that they’d know each other and I’d be on the outside. I’d be the one laughed at, teased, bullied, mocked, the one standing apart from everyone else.

I wasn’t very good at lessons, but was a dead loss at sports. Boys not good at sports were made fun of, and scorned, and bullied if no one was there to stop it. It happened here, too, but I’d grown up with the local boys and was accepted. In a new place, where a boy has to stand on his own and make a place for himself, I knew I wouldn’t make a good show. I couldn’t. I wasn’t strong. In any manner at all.

Jeffy tried to make me feel better, but as I poured out my fears to him, he was already feeling too alone himself to do me much good. He’d have to find a new mate, and didn’t think he could do that anymore than I could. We were a pair, both feeling sorry for ourselves. He at least would still be in comfortable surroundings, a place he knew his way around, where people knew him.

I’d seen new boys come to our village. I’d seen what they had to go through. I’d even been among their tormentors, till I’d seen the looks on their faces, their fear. Then I hadn’t done that any more. But other boys had. I knew how they could be. Cruel. Vicious. Merciless.

New boys had to be brave. They had to stand up for themselves. If they were good at sports, it wasn’t too hard. If they weren’t, it was. That was the way it worked. And I wasn’t good at sports; or much of anything, really.

The three weeks passed slowly. Each day, I was more scared than the last one. I began losing my appetite, and nanny frowned at that, but her eyes were soft. She took to hugging me a little more than she had been, and I let her, something I’d been stopping before. Now, it was something I again wanted. She knew, of course. She knew me almost as well as Jeffy did.

Father would talk about how wonderful the school was, how it had made a man of him, and how it would do that for me, too. He told me how I’d be a different person when I came home, but that the school would now be my home, and here would only be a place where I’d been a child growing up. I’d be here for the odd vacation, but my real home would be the school. He said this with an air of nostalgia, always looking off into the distance. He never saw the fear in my eyes. He never saw how I hated the idea of leaving, how I hated the school I’d never yet seen.

I didn’t want to be a different person.

Nanny tried to get me to eat, and I did, but had no taste for it. I was spending more and more time lying on my bed. She’d come in and hold me and tell me it wouldn’t be as bad as I was thinking it was, but the words didn’t really help. I was going to be all alone. And the other boys would humiliate me. And I didn’t think I’d be strong enough to survive it.

Father had nanny take me to town and get new clothes. I had to pack what I was taking. He of course didn’t supervise that. He told nanny to do it.

The day before we left, I was physically ill. I was shaking so hard I couldn’t keep food down. Nanny told Father and he came up to see me and asked what was wrong.

I told him I was scared.

He scoffed, and then was angry at me and told me that was no way for a Hutchinson to behave and to act like a man, for God’s sake, and what would people think? He told me to get out of bed, get dressed, and come downstairs, that I was 13 now, not a child. He told me to get some steel in my spine and stop acting like a nancy boy. ‘Nancy boy,’ that’s what he said.

Jeffy came over, and we walked to the pond. I kissed him goodbye. We were together for one last time, and we both knew it. We were desperate in our fumblings, but our emotions didn’t seem to dilute our passions. I think I felt what we were doing even more than usual, and was consumed by it. Maybe I was trying to make a memory of him and us. But the passion was real and strong and vital. We both sobbed uncontrollably when we were done. We both cried as we walked back. I’d been doing a lot of crying lately.

Father sat in the limousine with me and talked all the way there. I didn’t say a word. It was a two-hour drive, and I didn’t say a word. His words fogged the car, but I wasn’t listening. I was thinking a lot of things. Mostly, I was wondering just how long it would take before the boys realized what I was and the torment began. I was wondering how long I could take it, and if I couldn’t take it, what then? What if it got so bad I couldn’t endure it? I didn’t know the answer to that.

My legs were shaky when I got out of the car. I wanted to hide behind my father, to cling to him, but he wouldn’t have put up with it. When I was with him, I always had to stand up straight.


We arrived in a group of other cars. We pulled up and had to wait till several cars in front of us moved away from the dropping off point. Finally it was our turn. We pulled up to the curb and Father opened his door and stepped out, and I did the same. The driver got my trunk out of the boot and set in on the broad concrete next to the road. Someone from the school came up and shook Father’s hand, and then Father introduced us. The man’s name was Mr. Fitzsimmons, and he was my housemaster.

Father then shook my hand and told me sternly to make him proud, then got back in the car and was gone. I was left standing on the front walk with Mr. Fitzsimmons.

“All right, then, Hutchinson, this way.” He began to walk toward the building, a large four-story brick edifice. I tried to pick up my trunk, but it was too heavy and bulky for me to manage. I was still trying when was Mr. Fitzsimmons turned and saw me. “Leave it,” he said. “The porter will tend to it.”

He waited till I’d walked up to him, then turned and accompanied me into the building. He began telling me the house rules, but I didn’t really hear him. I was trying to hold myself together. I felt a little light-headed, and was surprised I was walking as steadily as I was.

He took me to his rooms, and had me sit down by his desk in his study. There he looked at a piece of paper, found my name, and told me I’d be rooming with Barlow, who was also 13. Then he opened the door and called outside, and soon an older boy arrived. Mr. Fitzsimmons introduced the two of us, and told me this boy, Spendler, was a prefect, and would show me to my room.

I went with him. We climbed to the top floor, then walked down a corridor past many doors, some open, some closed. Some of the rooms had boys in them, some were empty. The boys who were already there were chatting and laughing with each other, their familiarity serving to increase my feeling of loneliness. Finally, we reached a room where he stopped. The door was closed, and Spendler knocked twice, waited a second, then opened it. My hands were sweating.

The room was empty. There were two narrow beds, one on each side, but the room was small enough that they were only about five feet apart. There was one window, looking out over the broad lawn in front of the school. Two desks with chairs and two wardrobes made up the rest of the furniture.

“I’ll leave you now, Hutchinson. Tea’s at five. Follow the rest of the boys.”

With that, he left. I sat down on one of the beds. My fears weren’t in any way diminished. I sat, and wondered about the boys at the school, and about my roommate. What would he think of me? Would we be friends? Could we be? It seemed unlikely. I felt despair.

I sat, unmoving, just simply frightened, for the next fifteen minutes. Then there was a sharp knock on the door. I jumped nervously to my feet. I was about to meet my roommate.

The door opened, and I saw an older man pulling my truck along. “This yours then?” he asked.

I nodded. He pulled it into the room, then turned and left, leaving the door ajar. I got up and wrestled the trunk to the bed I’d been sitting on, then opened it and began unpacking. While I was doing so, I heard steps, and looking up from the truck, saw two people walk into the room.

Spendler was there, and with him was a boy about my size. He looked at me, and I looked at him.

“Hutchinson, this is Barlow. Barlow, Hutchinson.” Spendler looked at both of us for a second, then turned and left, closing the door behind him.

Barlow just stood there, looking at me. I did the same. As I stared at him, I felt some of my fear turning into curiosity. This boy didn’t look frightening.

He had brown hair, cut much like mine, and soft brown eyes that looked like I imagined mine often did, uncertain and timid. His narrow shoulders sagged a bit and his eyes seemed to move around rather than staying focused on any one thing. He glanced at me for only a moment, then at the room and the window, then back at me again, but only briefly.

He was slender, and he might have weighed less than I did. I thought this surprising because most boys my age I’d met weighed more. He had a clear complexion and he didn’t seem to have spent much time in the sun; I was more tan than he was. I thought him attractive, but as his face was so closed to me, showing nothing of who he was, I wasn’t really sure.

Neither of us had spoken. Or moved. I’d been looking at him, he’d been looking at everything and nothing but mostly avoiding any direct eye contact.

I wasn’t sure what to say, but felt I should say something. The longer we went without speaking, the more uneasy the room was becoming. But what should I say?

And then I knew. I just knew.

“Scary, huh?” I said. And I grinned. I’d never thought during the past two weeks I’d ever grin again. But seeing him standing there, somehow knowing he was feeling exactly what I was feeling, I had to grin. I wasn’t alone. I’d been sure I would be, but I wasn’t.

I saw just the faintest smile creep into his eyes, and then his face. I saw his shoulders pick up just a little. I saw him relax just the slightest bit.

“You too?” he asked, his voice soft and high-pitched and lovely.

“I haven’t been able to eat for days,” I said, baring my soul. And hoping.

His smile broadened. He took a step forward. I did too.

“My name’s Keith,” he said, then very tentatively stuck out his hand.

“Mark,” I said, and took his hand, but didn’t shake it, just took it and held it. He looked down after a moment, looked at our two hands, then looked up, and I saw what might have been a question in his eyes.

I thought it would be best if I left that question unanswered for now. I was feeling a lot braver than I had been, but not yet that brave. Still, he hadn’t pulled his hand away when he’d tacitly posed the question. He hadn’t pulled it away. Perhaps he simply needed human contact as much as I did.

His trunk was delivered then, and we unpacked and sorted and stored away together, and as we did so, we began to talk. I’d already confessed to my fears, and that made him more comfortable to confess his, too. He’d been as terrified of coming here as I had. Two boys confessing that to each other had a transforming effect. We kept looking over at each other as we talked. We smiled a lot, too. When it was time for tea we went together, and sat together; occasionally during the meal, he pressed his leg into mine, and then I did the same to him. It wasn’t sexual at all. It was confirming that the other was there, and that we were much the same.

When I went to bed that night, I was feeling a jumble of emotions, but the overriding one was, I wasn’t alone. I knew Keith was feeling the same as I was. Whatever happened from this point onward, I no longer feared I’d be alone. That was something to build on. That was a starting point I didn’t think I’d have. What an uplifting thought that was: not alone.

The End

Thanks to Colinian, Camy, WriteByMyself, and DesDownunder for editing ”Beginning”.