Saturday, April 17th, 1937
S.S. President Hoover
-Mr. Eduardo Ramos — Philippine businessman: perhaps 45, based in Manila. Seems quiet and guarded.
-M. Bogoslav, first name — ? A White Russian, an optometrist living in Shanghai since the Bolshevik Revolution. Rather elderly; speaks little English, conversed with some of us in French.
-Mr. William Sayles — British: businessman, 'Import and Export' (of what?); perhaps 50 — 55 years of age, and quite portly. En route to Hong Kong.
I paused in my writing, a moment. I had not liked Mister Sayles, at all; I was tempted to add the notation, 'Pompous'; but it didn't seem germane to my purpose, my goal in writing this all out, so I refrained.
-Dr. Howard Yang — an American, of Chinese descent; a Professor of Comparative and Social Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley; heading to Shanghai for a year's residency, performing field research. Very tall; perhaps 50 years of age — ?
"Are you still making notes — ?" from Tom.
We were in the First Class Library; and we'd just spent three hours and more, looking into the history of Japan, both ancient and modern. It was a dizzying task, and in one afternoon we'd barely scraped the surface of the subject, even with the limited information available to us …
Tom had actually been a remarkable help; I was beginning to realize just how smart and capable he was. As I sat, and read, and attempted to outline — he had gone through the shelves like a vacuum cleaner, finding almost everything pertinent to the subject, scanning and reading as quick as I, and organizing it all for me in order of relevance or chronology.
Of course, I would share my notes with him, and encourage him to add to them. Japan, and its involvement in China, touched on his life far more intimately than mine; he would be living in Shanghai for two years.
As I hoped I wouldn't.
"No … no, I'm just writing down a few things for Father. He asked me to take a few separate notes, for him."
I cursed myself, for not deflecting the question more effectively.
"More or less … more like, on our shipmates' thoughts on the situation." I floundered, for a moment. "I thought I'd keep a sort of diary, on what people were saying, about the Japanese presence in China." I shrugged. "After all, quite a few of them seem to live there. In China, I mean; Hong Kong, or Shanghai … "
"Oh … "
A slightly-awkward pause. I could hardly explain, further; and he could not really ask, further, without seeming to pry.
"Are you still doing research — ?" I asked, turning the subject around; he had a volume of the 'Encyclopedia Britannica' open, in front of him.
"No … no." He closed the book, quickly; and to my surprise, he looked down, and he blushed, deeply. "No, I was just reading."
"Oh," from me. "Well, I do that all the time, with our Encyclopedias, as school. I think it's a better education, than most of our classes … "
At the same time, I was smiling to myself. I assumed he'd been looking up something of a sexual nature. I'd done that often enough, too.
"Anyway," I went on, capping my fountain-pen; "I think we've both done enough, for now." I closed my notebook, and I lifted my arms above my head in a long, luxurious stretch. I maintained it for a moment; then, I relaxed, and I smiled over at him. "Are you ready to go for a swim — ?"
This brought another blush, from him; as I'd expected. He was thinking of what would happen, after the swim; and I confess, I was feeling a little twinge of anticipation, myself.
"Okay," he said, still not-quite looking at me. "Sure!"
And as I put away my fountain pen, and stuffed my notebook into my book-bag, I kept a surreptitious, curious eye on the 'Britannica' volume Tom was replacing, on the shelf —
Hmm. It was Volume Eleven, the volume marked 'GUNN to HYDR', on the spine; showing the range of topics, contained.
If there was an article of a sexual nature in that volume, it did not come immediately to mind.
* * *
"It's warm," from Tom; moving his arms, treading water, with delight. "It's really warm!"
"It is," I agreed; lying back in the water, spreading my arms wide, and kicking my feet, gently; looking up, at the tropical sky. "I was right, about it being heated." The salt water felt wonderful, on my exposed skin.
"I've never been swimming in a heated pool, before," said Tom; between the sounds of gentle splashing, of the water on the tile. His voice echoed, slightly, against the tile, too.
Actually, the entire experience was new to me, too. And somewhat … surreal.
First, was the pool, itself … the water level, as I said, was some three feet or so below the deck level. The pool-sides above the water were richly tiled, with inlaid, nautical themes; but still, it felt a little like swimming in a well. There were the sides of the pool, the pool ladder, part of a cargo-boom, and the sky above — and that was all.
And then, there was the fact that the water — moved. Unlike any other pool I'd ever been in — the water moved gently, chaotically, from side to side, from front to back, in swells, in low waves, lapping against the sides —
Of course, it was the ship that was moving; the water was just seeking its own level. But what my eyes were telling me, was completely at odds with my sense of balance …
As I said; a surreal experience.
I was not the only one, who found it so.
As I floated on my back in the surging water, watching the tip of the cargo-boom move gently across the clouds and the sky — I heard a sound, next to me. It started out as a kind of stifled puff … and then, in a moment, another one; and then, finally, laughter: real laughter.
It occurred to me, that I hadn't really heard Tom laugh, before.
Well, I suppose neither of us had had much to laugh about, on the trip, up until now.
"What is it — ?" I asked; still floating on my back, and smiling.
"Just — all of this." Another exhalation of quiet laughter from him; close by. "I mean — isn't it ridiculous?"
"This!" A muted splash of water, as he kicked his feet. "This pool! Think about it; here we are on board a ship, surrounded by thousands and thousands of miles of salt water, the whole Pacific Ocean — and they build this, a swimming pool, just so we can go swimming! I mean, we're on this ship, this pretty-small speck in the middle of the ocean — and they have this special little open pit, built into the deck, just for getting wet! In sea water!"
I started to laugh, a little, myself. Put that way, it did seem absurd, as we floated there.
"You have a point," I said, after a moment. "Still; it's not like they could stop the ship, to let us off to go swimming, or something."
Another breath of laughter, from Tom.
"But that's ridiculous, too! If you look at it, the other way."
"It is — ?"
"Of course. I mean, here we are, lying on our backs, floating in this nice, still, salt water … but, we're on a ship, doing twenty knots; that's, what, twenty-two, twenty-three miles an hour, through water, at the same time! It's ridiculous!"
I moved my arms, gently, keeping afloat; and I laughed at it, softly, too.
Silence then, for a few moments; the sounds of the water, and the echoes of it off of the tile, around us.
"What exactly is a knot, anyway?" I asked, eventually. "And why is it different from miles-per-hour — ?"
"It's about nautical miles, which are longer than land miles. But the word 'knot' comes from heaving the log; they'd tie a plank to the end of the log-rope; and there'd be knots tied on the rope at set spaces, to measure how fast the ship was going. They'd throw the plank off the stern, and count how many of the knots passed by over the side, in thirty seconds."
"Oh," I said. Eventually. And I smiled up at the sky. "Why am I so completely unsurprised, that you know all that — ?"
"Lots of people know about knots," came the reply. He sounded embarrassed.
"Hmm," I said. Still smiling, to myself.
Another long, quiet moment, floating peacefully, as we hurtled along at twenty knots.
And then —
"You know, Rhys, I'm … kind of scared, about all this … going to Shanghai, and everything." A shorter pause. "And I miss my friends, back home."
His voice was soft, and young, and uncertain; and right then, it about pierced my heart.
I opened my mouth to say something back; then I stopped. And I thought, for a moment.
"I know" I said, up at the sky; quietly, at last. "I know; and I miss my friends, too. Especially my friend Jack." Another of the many moments, when I'd wished he were here; for multiple reasons …
I kicked, once, twice, slowly.
"But you know," I went on, "your friends — your real friends — will still be there, when you get back … "
I hoped it was true. Two years is a long time, for a fourteen-year-old —
"And, you'll make new friends, in Shanghai; in your new school." I paused, for a second. "The same as I did, in Switzerland."
Another, longer silence. The sound of water, splashing on tile; I thought I could hear his breathing, as he floated, close by.
"I … I, don't really make new friends, all that easily," came the answer; in an even softer, more subdued voice.
I moved my feet a little, to float up a little higher; and I made myself smile, even as I felt myself hurting for him.
"I'm your friend," I said, simply. "You didn't have any trouble, making friends with me."
"Yeah," came his answer, quickly. "But you're so — "
A pause, from him, in mid-sentence.
"What — ?" I asked. From genuine curiosity.
"You're so nice." Another small splash, as he kicked his feet a little, staying afloat. "You're really nice; and most people aren't like you … "
It wasn't the first time, I'd been accused of being nice.
I let my feet fall, slowly, until I was upright and treading water with slow, easy strokes of my arms, and lazy kicks of my legs. Tom floated on his back before me; eyes closed. His bathing-suit was one of the more conservative ones, that covered the chest and back, as well as what lay below the waist; it made him seem, to my eyes, all the more touchingly young.
"You're going to the American School, is that right — ? The famous one?" I remembered him saying so.
"Yeah," came his answer; after a few seconds. "Dad's a government employee."
"So. You'll be an American, going to school with other Americans, and Europeans … in China. A foreign country, with a completely different culture, and language." I paused, as I stroked my arms, and lazily kicked. "That's a lot to have in common … "
I went a little lower in the water for a moment, and came up again, puffing out a little warm seawater.
"You'll do fine. I think you'll do just fine." Another few slow, sweeping arm-strokes, in the quiet. "Oh, and by the way — ?"
"Yeah — ?" from Tom, after a moment.
"I'm not really all that nice … I'm actually a little bit devious."
I said it as a joke; but underneath, was a sharp, quick pang, for all of the things I couldn't reveal to Tom. My Letter of Credit, and my plans to perhaps run away from Shanghai, to be with Jack … The true nature of my relationship with Jack, itself, for that matter; my love for him; our love for each other, the abiding pole-star of our lives …
A long silence, from Tom; and then, still floating on his back, eyes still closed, I saw the corner of his mouth curl up.
"No," he said, at last; and it came out more like, 'naw'. "You're nice."
How could one respond, to a charge like that — ?
So, I did the logical thing; I quietly folded my arms, and stopped kicking my feet, and I slowly slipped underwater —
And then I swam over underneath him, as he floated, and I pulled him under. I dunked him.
I did a little more than that, actually; once underwater, I pulled the shoulder-straps of his bathing-suit off, and with a yank, I pulled the top half of his suit down, denuding him to the waist — and then I quickly kicked myself away, still underwater, and then back up to the surface —
"Hey!" from Tom; spluttering and laughing with delight, as he came up for air. "Hey, what was that for — ?"
"That's the Battle of Port Arthur," I said, reasonably — it had been a Japanese surprise attack on the Russians, in 1905; we'd just been reading about it — "and it's for not believing I'm devious."
"Oh, yeah — ?" from him; still laughing, suit still half-off, his eyes, glinting. "Well, you know what this means — counterattack!" And he lunged at me, fast, launching himself off the wall and making a grab for the waist-band of my swimming-trunks, as I twisted away from him —
* * *
Our swimming-suits came all the way off, once we were back in the locker room.
And the tension — the palpable, sexual tension — was thick, as I threw the bolt in the steel door-frame, which gave us privacy. By then, I was as erect as Tom —
Which was saying quite a bit. Looking at him, standing in the shower spray, his sex pointing up stiff and high, was wonderfully erotic, in and of itself …
Partly, of course, it was all due to the wrestling. I'd missed wrestling around with Jack; I'd missed all of the body contact, all of the body intimacy we shared, much more than I'd realized.
But there was another kind of intimacy at work, in the room, in the situation. I felt it.
I joined Tom under the shower sprays for a few moments, as we rinsed the sea-salt off … and then without words, we turned off the taps, and dried ourselves, briefly, with two of the plush, white towels — and then, we were seated; all bare, side-by-side, on the smooth wooden bench, with our backs to the little row of metal lockers.
It is curious, how habits can form; how traditions can start.
For no good reason, we were sitting as usual, Tom's bare right side, pressing against my left side —
Today we were pressing closer than ever. Tom's leg pressed against mine; his shoulder pressed against my shoulder.
I felt his shoulder moving, against me, as we began stroking, slowly, in unison; It felt unusually good; as I leaned my head back, against the cool steel of the the locker, and I began losing myself, in my thoughts, in the sensations of his skin against mine, in the feelings flooding through my whole body —
I felt his hand come down on my right wrist; just gently. I stopped stroking.
"What — ?" I managed; opening my eyes. I'd whispered it; why, I don't know.
A long, quiet pause. He'd stopped stroking, too; he was still.
"Can I touch it — ?" from Tom, at last; in a whisper, that matched mine. The whisper echoed, off the green-tiled walls.
Another pause. An electric one.
I gently took Tom's right hand … and I guided it to my cock.
And then, my back was arching, and I was stifling a moan, at the feelings rushing through me; the feeling of his warm and soft hand, squeezing me, experimentally, and then, hesitantly, hesitantly stroking my hardness —
"Wait," I managed to whisper; and his hand froze.
I leaned a little away from him, and brought out my left arm, and I put it around his shoulders, drawing us even closer together … and then, I reached over with my right hand, and took his own cock into my hand, feeling it warm and soft and hard and welcome, all at the same time, and he gasped …
His body felt shockingly good, in my embrace.
We stayed frozen like that, for a moment; and then I leaned my head closer to his, until our heads touched, his hair wet against my cheek.
"We do this at school, a lot, too," I whispered; softly.
And I began stroking him, gently, and with all the skill I possessed, wanting very much to please him, to bring him to his climax —
He gasped, and he moved in my arms; and his head moved against mine, and his right foot moved to cover my left foot, warm skin on my own, and I squeezed his shoulder …
And then his hand was moving, on my cock; erratically, and without the skill resulting from practice, and it didn't matter, the feelings were cascading through my body again, and my breathing became ragged —
Tom climaxed first. It was probably inevitable; the first time, touched sexually, by another person …
"Mmmmmmmm — !"
It was a somewhat strangled, whimpering sound, barely audible; which spoke volumes, about his situation at home, his lack of an outlet, of privacy, at home.
We both breathed, raggedly, for a few moments; the streaks of semen glistening on his stomach, on his chest, the smell of it strong, and familiar …
And then, bless him, he set in on me, again; his hand moving more regularly now, intent —
In truth, I was tempted to move his hand away, and to finish myself off … I was very ready to come to a climax myself, and I could have managed it more quickly.
But it was his first time, satisfying another person. It was a big step, an enormous step, for him; I couldn't deny him the experience.
In the end, it didn't take that long.
"Oh," I whispered; as I felt it building inside me, the curled-up, overwhelming rush of it —
Tom maintained his steady stroking; whereas Jack would have speeded up, a little, and squeezed down very gently on that special spot he knows I have … and, it didn't matter.
"Uhhhhhhhhh — !"
I arched my back, and pressed my head against the metal of the locker, and stretched out my legs, as I laid down line after line of semen on me … And Tom kept stroking me, softly and generously, as it went on and on, until eventually the last drops came out, and my spasms diminished, and the waves of pleasure slowly died down; and I reached over, and touched his arm, to make him go still … .
And then, as I leaned back, panting, my eyes closed, his hand still on my member … he twisted around, and kissed me, on the lips.
He meant it, too. His lips on mine were hesitant, and soft … but they moved a little; and they lingered. He kissed me with great feeling.
At first, I just froze, with surprise. For several, fraught seconds.
And then — I kissed back; moving gently, against his own lips.
It was his first kiss, his first real kiss in his whole life; I knew it. I could not, I could not, turn my head away, or fail to respond, or otherwise refuse him. I could not.
And at the same time, a number of realizations came crashing through my head; things I should have seen, things I should have noticed —
Oh, Tom, I thought to myself. Oh, no, Tom … Oh, poor Tom …
And; it's my fault. I am an idiot.
Tom's lips drew back, for a moment; but not far, I could still feel his breath, on my face. And then, as if to settle any question of it having been an impulse, or an accident, his lips were on mine, again; soft, daring, tender. Loving.
At last, he pulled away, again; and I waited a long, long handful of heartbeats, and then I drew my breath, to whisper something, although I had no idea, what —
The locker room door handle rattled; it rattled, and turned, and the door moved abruptly against the steel bolt in the door frame —
I felt a huge, sickening shock run through me. My eyes flew open; Tom's face, eyes wide in his own shock, was inches away from mine. We both froze.
"Hmm," came a deep, male voice. "That's funny; it's locked."
"Maybe it's after-hours," came another, male voice; a little higher, with a New England accent.
"It shouldn't be … No; see these wet footprints? There's somebody in there." The door handle rattled again, and the man tried his considerable weight against the door, again.
"So, maybe somebody wants some privacy — ?" from the New England Yankee.
"That's ridiculous. It is a locker room," said the first voice.
"You're assuming those are men, inside — ?" from the Yankee; drily.
A long pause.
"Oooops," from the first voice. Then, "I'm sorry!" in a voice pitched to reach us, inside; then, to his friend, "Let's try back again, in a few minutes." He sounded sheepish.
"I swear, Edwin," the Yankee voice started to say, laughing; but the voices receded, so we never got to hear what the Yankee would have sworn.
Tom and I stayed frozen, there, for a few seconds, which felt like an eternity; and then, we both scrambled for the showers.
And as we washed up, in record time, and as we scrubbed ourselves dry in the thick, plush towels, and as we dressed in frantic haste — I realized; I still didn't know what to say.
Tom wasn't looking at me. I had to say something.
Finally, dressed and perspiring, hearts pounding, frantic to leave before the men came back — I rolled up our wet bathing suits in a towel, to give to our cabin-steward, and we both headed to the door, and I put my hand on the door-bolt —
And I stopped. I met Tom's eyes, brown, and scared; and I tried to smile, reassuringly.
"It's all right," I said, in a near-whisper. "We'll talk, later. But it's all right, I promise." A pause. "Okay — ?" And then, a second later; "I promise."
A long pause, from him.
"Okay," he said, at last. A world of hope, and doubt, and fear, in his eyes.
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