The last day of term arrived. On my way to assembly I dropped in to Andrew’s study, dumped my books on his table and had a quick chat, picked up the books, and off we went together. My first class, if I remember aright, was English, but the second and (after break) the third were both with the junior classics master, who was also my form master. Steve Phillips was a born teacher, flowing with the milk of human kindness, who I suspect saw me as his star pupil. Not only was he a humanist, but school chaplain as well, and he was already a great friend. My debt to him is eternal. The O-level results had just that morning arrived — they came earlier then than now — and Steve handed them out with due praise all round. Impartial though he was, he seemed to beam especially at me. And I had indeed excelled myself, passing the lot with flying colours.
After allowing us time to absorb our results and chat about them, he turned to the last real business of the term, our final piece of homework, a written translation of a bit of Euripides. The practice was for each of us to read our version out in turn, while he commented on our efforts. He called on me to open the batting, so I found the place in the Greek text and took the notebook where I had written out my translation. It opened automatically at the last page with writing on, and I pushed my specs up my nose, lowered my head, and opened my mouth to read. I got no further. I blushed to the roots of my hair and spluttered.
After what seemed an age I forced myself to lift my head, look at Steve, and stammer out, “I’m sorry, sir, I’ve brought the wrong book.”
He gave me an understanding look and said kindly, “Never mind. Can you get the right one in break?”
When I nodded dumbly, he passed on to the next boy and left me to be carried away by my whirling thoughts. I was no longer in classroom C3, still less in ancient Greece. What I had read — only to myself, thank God — was a sentence from Andrew’s diary. It was easy to see what had happened. In his study I had dumped my books on top of his diary, and in picking them up had picked it up too. All school notebooks were identical: cloth-bound and black.
But that did not matter. What I needed was time, to try to think. For what I had unwittingly read, at the top of the page, said in Andrew’s angular writing ‘… end of term. But now that I’m sure at last, I still haven’t a clue how to tell Noel I love him.’ The whole structure of my life rocked like a building in an earthquake. I had been wildly wrong. Helen and Jack had been wildly wrong. Andrew was in love, but not with me. A gaping chasm of despair opened up, ready to swallow me.
But even as I teetered on the brink, my critical faculties began to come to the rescue. Tiny question marks flickered in my mind. Hang on. Hang on. Can this be right? It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit Andrew. It doesn’t fit anything that’s happened this term, or last. Andrew’s never mentioned anyone called Noel. I don’t know of anyone in the school called Noel. Who the hell is he?
The easiest way to find out was to read more of the diary. I had seen only the one sentence. I am not the sort of person to pry into things not meant for my eyes. It is not my style. But another quick glance offered a chance of resolving this awful conundrum. So I suppressed my scruples and looked again. ‘… end of term. But now that I’m sure at last, I still haven’t a clue how to tell Noel I love him. Can only hope the right opportunity crops up at Cambridge.’
Cambridge? Noel lives in Cambridge? And Andrew’s going to see him there? And all of a sudden the penny dropped, resoundingly. Of course he’s going to see him in Cambridge. Because Noel is Leon. Spelt backwards. A simple code, protecting my name against idly prying eyes. Typical caring, considerate Andrew. Abject apologies for having doubted him, if only for a moment. My face was in a muck sweat, and I mopped it, heaving a great sigh. I came back to classroom C3 long enough to see Steve dart a quick glance at me before I soared off again on my thoughts.
Right. Try again. What matters now is that Andrew’s long journey is over. He’s taken the final step to certainty. He now loves me, full stop. It’s there in black and white, or blue and white — even in my turmoil I could not help being pedantic. For the first time in my life somebody wants me, somebody not only likes me but loves me. That’s something that needs savouring when I’ve time. But not now. It’s clarified the picture wonderfully, but it’s raised new problems. That need immediate attention.
How do I make it easier for him to tell me? Or do I get in first and tell him? But how? When? At once, surely. Be honest, confess I’ve read his secret thoughts. All very well, but when? Be practical. This needs time, plenty of time, together, and there is no time. It isn’t something that can be done in five minutes, or even an hour. Andrew’s playing cricket from midday till tea-time, we can’t talk about it at tea with fifty-odd boys around, the evening’s full of end-of-term events, tomorrow morning we leave at the crack of dawn. If I spring it on him, he’ll be unprepared. Anyway, I need time to get my own mind in order. No, it can’t be done. Not now. Festina lente is still the order of the day. Leave it till August. And that, by the time the period ended, was what I had decided on.
The bell for break brought me down to earth with a jolt, and as the others filed out, casting curious glances at me, Steve motioned to me to stay behind. He was well aware that for the last half hour I had not been with him, and I had to be honest, if discreet.
“Sorry about that, sir. I had a shock, and needed to think it over.”
“I’m not going to be nosy, Leon. I just hope it was a pleasant shock, not a bad one.”
“No, sir. Pleasant, in the end.”
“Well, none of my business. But good luck with it. And very well done for your O-levels. I knew you’d come up trumps.”
“Thank you, sir. And thank you for making it all possible. I’ll go and get the right book now.”
I did not need to, as it had been in my pile all along, but I had to return the diary. Not many boys went back to the house at break — it was too short to make it worth while — and there was no sign of Andrew. So I put the diary back on his table, and slowly wandered back to Steve’s. Still in half a daze I read out my translation and was commended, and the morning finally wound to an end. Andrew was lunching in the pavilion. I saw him briefly at tea, briefly before bed, and briefly in the morning as we left for the school trains, long enough only for a quick farewell.
“Bye, Andrew. Thanks for everything. Look forward to your visit. We’ll be in touch.”
And, last thing of all, I handed him a paper bag containing the translation of the Symposium and a note that he was to read it before coming to Cambridge.
I did not see him for nearly a month, but I thought of him nearly all the time. Does absence make the heart grow fonder? Yes. At least in this case, it did. He wrote briefly, giving his train time and reporting that he had read the book and — bafflingly vague — found it interesting. I wrote back confirming everything, but did not press for more. That could wait, and the omens were good. The Goodharts phoned me one day, by arrangement, at a time when both Andrew and my parents were out. They reported that Andrew was in good form — alternately pensive and radiant, they described it — and checked that their proposal was still acceptable to me. We ran over the timetable. Andrew was coming on Saturday the 16th, arriving on the 2.05. We would get home by bus at say 2.30. My parents would leave by taxi at 3.30 to catch the London train and spend the night with friends before boarding the morning plane at the airport. There they would meet up with the Goodharts, who were coming direct from Oxford. If all went as we hoped, I was to ask Andrew how he felt about my joining his family (“surely a mere formality,” Jack repeated), and I was to phone the news to the Goodharts either before they left Oxford or at their hotel in Athens. Once they had the go-ahead, Jack and Helen would open negotiations.
The arrangements, then, were simple. Meanwhile, I continued to repackage Leon. The major item proved surprisingly easy. My parents were pleased with my results. They had expected no less, if not more, they assured me; but the size of the reward showed that they were happy enough. So I made a beeline for the optician and demanded contact lenses, which were quite newly on the market and pretty pricey, but within my budget. Mercifully I took to them, or they took to me, without undue discomfort.
The next stop was the barber, or rather — because I chose one a cut above the ordinary — the hair stylist. I could not make my straight hair curl; well, not without a perm, and that was hardly on, given that perms were not permanent. But I reckoned I could make do with what I had. I had already let my short back and sides grow further than school guidelines liked, and I now got the stylist to replace my meandering side parting with a central one, and to adjust my hair accordingly. He did his best, and instructed me how to train the new parting to stay put.
Finally I continued with my swimming at the public pool, and joined a gym club for the month. It kept me out of the house most of the day. The rest had to be spent on housework and gardening, which I reduced to a finely calculated minimum, just enough to avert complaints. I went to bed knackered, but my schedule kept me largely out of my parents’ hair, and them out of mine. But my transformation could hardly escape their notice. They were miffed that I had spent my reward not on aids to scholarship but on personal adornment. Because they could not understand it, they were suspicious, and muttered about bad influences, modern youth and trendy fashion.
But the transformation was working, had worked. Looking in the mirror I saw no longer an owl — understandable — and for some reason no longer a mouse. Instead, I saw a boy who had shaken off his timidity and found a new confidence. No heart-breaker (as I saw Andrew), but a least a damn sight more presentable than before. My more manly chest, already broadening and adorned with some reasonable muscles, swelled with pride. My abdomen had acquired tone and definition and my arms and legs were no longer sticks. I was mercifully spot-free, and had gained a good tan from the open-air pool and the heat-wave. When I dropped my pants, too, there was less scope for shame. Things were definitely bigger down there. My bush was now respectable and my armpits were sprouting, though there was not a whisker anywhere else that deserved the name. But I felt happy enough with my body, happier than I had ever been. No Charles Atlas, but neither a seven-stone puny weakling any more.
So I counted down the days. Andrew was due on the Saturday. On the Friday evening, coming in from gardening, I found the cat lying by the gate, its hindquarters mangled, clearly run over by a car. Dead. When my parents got home from dinner in college I had to break the news. Messengers bearing bad tidings are rarely popular, and I was treated as if I was personally responsible. There was weeping, anguish, and almost literally tearing of hair. Father sat up half the night writing, and early next morning, on instructions, I dug the grave. The corpse was committed to the earth inside a large flower-pot in true Greek style. Father read the funeral oration he had composed, in Greek of course. The soil was replaced and herbs sprinkled on top. They planned, when they should return from Athens, to commission a classical tombstone from a sculptor friend.
There had been screws loose before, undoubtedly. Now I began to fear the whole machine was falling apart. High time to break free from this bizarre and malign house. God prosper what I hoped would happen later in the day. Mercifully the cat, the main reason for my staying in Cambridge, had died too late for plans to be changed. When the funeral was over and my parents went mournfully off to pack, I felt jaded and battered. But Andrew’s arrival would — should — change the atmosphere dramatically.
In haste I made up the bed in the spare room. I did not want Andrew to jump to conclusions, and anyway the spare bed was double where mine was single. Quite unlike my old boring self, I had taken some care over clothes. I had a naughty little plan in mind, and for the purpose had bought, out of the accumulated residue of the Goodharts’ gifts, some light-coloured slacks and a stylish pale green shirt, short-sleeved and open-necked. I wanted to test how different the new-style Leon was from the old, and my new and utterly un-Leon clothes would accentuate the difference. So I grabbed a bite of lunch and took the bus to the station, bought a platform ticket, and carefully positioned myself beside a pillar, not hiding, but not prominent either.
Duly at 2.05 the train from Oxford via Bletchley puffed in and spilled out its few passengers. The platform at Cambridge is said to be the longest in Britain, but I would have recognised Andrew from a mile away. There in the distance was a trim and sturdy blond figure swinging a large suitcase. As I stood motionless, I saw him scanning the platform and failing to spot me. He moved slowly towards the exit, still scanning. Even when quite close his gaze swept over me without stopping. He was already a yard past me when he did a classic double-take, halted dead in his tracks, swung round and stared at me open-mouthed. By now I was grinning from ear to ear.
“Leon! What the … How … Leon! You are a sw —.” He stopped in blushing confusion.
I wanted to hug him. But boys do not hug on platforms, so I decorously grabbed his hand instead, and pumped it. Still grinning: my little trick had worked a treat. His babbling subsided.
“Your hair! Where are your specs? What’s going on? You’re so different!”
“It’s still the same Leon inside, Andrew,” I said gently, though as I said it I felt it was not entirely true. “Same Leon, but in a better box, I hope.”
“I didn’t think the old box was good enough,” and silently added “for you.”
He may not have read my mind, but as he gazed I saw wetness in his eyes.
“Come on,” I said, to break the spell. People were milling around us, and it was no place for a heart-to-heart. “Let’s find the bus.”
He followed meekly. We gave up our tickets, found the bus, stowed the case in the luggage hole, and sat nearby to keep an eye on it. As we trundled round Cambridge I filled Andrew in on the cat’s demise and on my plans for things we might do. No, not those plans. Walks, swimming, museums and things. He kept darting sideways glances at me, but said little. From the bus stop we took turns to lug his case home.
Andrew had never encountered my parents before, and the meeting was not a success. Luckily it would last an hour at the most. Father was still put out by his bereavement, and his first reaction was to look us up and down — Andrew was as smartly dressed as me — and grunt “Huh. Pretty boys. Waste of money.”
I introduced them. Andrew was polite, Father cold and distant. Perhaps he had never met a Greek god in the flesh. I dragged Andrew away for a cup of tea and a quick tour to show him the geography. Then Mother buttonholed me with a long list of reminders — feeding the cat (crossed out), locking up, paying the milkman, cleaning the house, mowing the grass, etcetera etcetera.
Father came in again, looked suspiciously at Andrew, and shot him a question in Greek. Andrew stared helplessly.
I tried to reduce the tension. “Father, Andrew has small Latin and less Greek.”
“No Greek?” He sounded as alarmed as if I was being left alone for a fortnight with a homicidal maniac. “What is your subject, then?”
“The sciences. Chemistry, physics, some engineering.”
“The work of the engineer,” said Father, “and the whole business of handling practical needs, is sordid and vulgar.”
Andrew, who could hardly be expected to recognise a quotation from Plutarch, flushed as if he had been insulted. As indeed he had. This was one of Father’s many foibles, inherited from the ancient philosophers including, I am sorry to say, Plato. In his eyes, nothing but mental activity was appropriate for honest men. Once, when we had had a water pipe burst on Boxing Day, a plumber had come in immediately to oblige, only to be told that his was an ignoble trade. He left in a huff, and we were without water for a week.
Father’s suspicions were now reinforced. A Greek god who could not speak Greek. Who indulged in sordid and vulgar business. Who dressed like a pretty boy. As did his own son. You could almost hear the connections being made.
“Leonidas. You will recall a conversation from a year ago, when I warned you about obscenities in this house. That warning still holds.”
At this point, thank God, the taxi driver rang the doorbell. Thank God, too, my parents’ priorities were clear-cut. They were going to the Plato conference, whether or not the world was ruled by Sodom and Gomorrah. They supervised the loading of their luggage, climbed into the taxi, and were gone. Nobody had said goodbye to anyone.
We stood on the doorstep and watched them disappear down Grange Road. I was mortified. “God, Andrew, I’m sorry. That was beastly. They’ve been getting worse recently, but that really takes the biscuit. If you ever think I’m getting like them, let me know and I’ll cut my throat.”
“I’m sorry too, Leon. I’ve always known you had a rough time with them, but I’d no idea it was that bad.”
“Look, let’s forget them. We won’t see them for a fortnight, thank God.” I had to lighten the atmosphere. “Now we’ve just got each other for company. Hope you’re not regretting your rashness.”
“No, I’m looking forward to it.”
His stilted words and strained smile showed that he was far from his usual ebullient self. True, he was still shocked by my parents’ behaviour. But even before meeting them he had been patently unsure of himself, and visibly nervous. My own heart, too, was beginning to palpitate at the prospect of that last difficult and decisive step. But at least I was on firmer ground. I had the advantage of knowing that he loved me. He did not know, not for sure, that I loved him. It was up to me to take the lead.
So I looked a him with a half smile. “Andrew, I think you want to talk” — he nodded solemnly — “and I know I want to talk. Come on, let’s talk in comfort.”
I guided him by the shoulder to the living room, where we sat down side by side on the big sofa, not touching but half turned towards each other. He was recovering a bit of vitality, and actually opened the meeting, though with the easiest of the items on the unwritten agenda.
“Leon, you’re so different,” he repeated, gazing at my face. I grinned, and in mock Charles Atlas style flexed my biceps. His eyes widened when he saw what was emerging from my short sleeves. “Swimming?”
“Yes. And gym.” I filled him in on the simple factual story, including the lenses and the hair.
“There’s more to it than that, though,” he said, crinkling his brow. “You’re different inside as well as out. More in command. More sure of yourself. What’s happened?”
At last. This was the moment of truth. Festina lente finally went out of the window.
“Look. Oh, dammit.” I could not say the most important words of my life when twisted sideways, so I flopped down to kneel between his legs, put my hands on his knees, and looked him square in the face. It was taut with uncertainty.
“Andrew. You know a lot about me. I know a lot about you. And there are a few important things I know but you don’t. Listen to me and don’t interrupt.
“Number one. The new Leon is for you. The old Leon wasn’t good enough.
“Number two. Remember that weekend when Jack and Helen came unexpectedly to see you? They told me what you’d told them, that you thought you were in love. They guessed it was with me. We agreed not to interfere. You needed time and space, to make your mind up.
“Number three. On the last day of term I picked up your diary by mistake. I saw what you’d written, that you did love me. Under the eyes of Steve and the whole class. Oh, don’t worry” — his eyes were staring wide — “Nobody else knows. But I knew then that your journey was over. No, let me finish” — he had made a gobbling noise — “In a way I’m sorry I read it, because I wasn’t meant to. But it was pure accident. And in every other way I’m glad I did. Very glad. So that’s item number three.
“And there’s one more item I know but you don’t. Though I suspect you suspect it. I hope you hope for it. It’s the most important … I love you too.”
Andrew seemed still to be in a state of shock. He stared motionless at me, made little whimpering noises, and his lower lip quivered. Roughly and unceremoniously I pulled him bodily off the sofa until he was on his knees in front of me. I hugged him tightly, and in a moment his arms came round me too. And there we knelt, heads over shoulders, heaving with sobs, melding together, whole at last. Our souls had met each other, their other halves, in unique and matching love. After an indefinite time I pulled apart enough to kiss his wet cheek. Then, tentatively, his lips. Then, suddenly, he came to life, and pulled me back to him, and our tongues got lost in each other’s mouths. Our bodies ground together, until they urged us upstairs, to the spare room, to the double bed.
Once again I took the initiative. Fumbled with his laces and fly buttons. Slipped off his socks and shirt and pants. Ran my hands briefly but firmly over his splendid body and legs. Avoided his cock, which was standing proudly at attention. He watched as I stripped off my own clothes, and gasped as he took in my tan and my new body.
“Leon, oh Leon!”
I lay down on my back, pulled him on top of me, and locked him in a long kiss, as cock squirmed against cock. My left hand stroked his back. He raised his middle, and my right hand slid between his legs to stroke his bum, tickle his balls, and slide gently up his cock from base to dribbling tip.
“Remember something about where to put one’s wandering hand?” I asked as we came up for air.
“Leon” — urgently — “I’m not far off.”
Not the time for long-drawn-out sensations. His need was pressing. So I scooted down between his legs, took his leaking cock in my mouth, and renewed my ministrations to his balls. Four — five — six powerful thrusts deep into my throat, and he came. Generously. Typical of Andrew, always generous. A few minutes for him to recover, and we swapped places. He did the same for me, until I too was in heaven. Fulfilled, we just lay in each other’s arms for maybe an hour, oozing tears, saying not a word. None would have been adequate, and none was needed.
Eventually I stirred and sought out his face. “Kiss again, please.” He obliged. The fires were rekindled and we repeated the earlier performance, less urgently and more tenderly.
“Leon, oh, Leon. I knew it’d be good. But I’d no idea it’d be like this.” He had hardly spoken since we left the sofa. Nor, come to that, had I.
“Nor me. Oh Andrew, I do love you.”
“And I love you, Leon. Haven’t told you that yet, have I? Not properly. Well, I do now.” And we kissed deeply once more. “Leon, I’m sorry.”
“What on earth for?”
“For taking so long. To decide that you really were my other half. It took me ages to finish the jigsaw. I didn’t finish it till almost the end of term.”
“I know. Don’t worry. Helen said you didn’t take important decisions in a hurry. I’ve known for ages that you needed time. Can’t say it was easy to hold back. But I managed. Just.”
“Oh God, Leon, you’re a hero. Leon, this is for ever, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Andrew, my love. It’s for ever.”
Eternity was one thing, but I remembered that there were practical matters to be discussed, quite urgently. “We’ve got to talk about all sorts of things. Like how we play this at school. But that can wait. First things first. Andrew, would you like me to come and live with you? In Oxford?”
He gaped. “Need you ask? Course I would. But how?”
“Your Mum and Dad asked me, that Saturday in the Red Lion. They’re incredible. If everything panned out, if we both agreed, they offered to try and get guardianship of me. As soon as we gave them the go-ahead. They reckoned my parents would be glad to get rid of me. I hope to God they’re right. In fact this afternoon’s probably helped.”
“What do you mean? What was your father going on about? About obscenities?”
“Oh, Leon, the bastards. Oh Lord, sorry. Shouldn’t have said that.”
“Don’t be sorry. They are. Just as much as Jack and Helen are angels. Point is, they already suspect we’ll be spending this fortnight in torrid sex. For once in a way they’ll be right.” I grinned evilly at him. “Which’ll make them even gladder to get rid of me.”
He lay back on the bed, thinking it through, while I drank in my new acquisition. Firm muscles. Darkening hair on his shins. Face changing from boyish roundness to a hint of angularity. Down on cheeks and lip — first shave not too far ahead. Crowned by a mop of golden curls. Beautiful. Strong. Dependable. Caring. Loving. And I loved every inch.
“Oh God, let it work,” he said at last, and smiled wickedly at me. “If I’m not allowed my ice cream every day, so be it. But if I can have it every day, I’d rather go for that!”
The light was fading fast, and the clock showed nine. “Look, let’s phone your Mum and Dad and tip them the wink. And after that I wouldn’t say no to a bit of grub.”
So we rolled off the bed, went downstairs, and I dialled 0 and asked for the Oxford number.
“Jack, it’s Leon. It’s all right. Everything’s all right.”
“Oh, thank God. That’s the best news I’ve heard in ages. Hang on a mo.” I heard him telling Helen. “Omnia vincit amor, eh? And we go ahead and open negotiations?”
“Please. But there’ve been new developments too.” I explained briefly about the cat, how my parents were still further off their rocker, and how they suspected what was afoot between Andrew and me and would no doubt raise the matter.
“Right. Thanks for that. May we confirm their suspicions? It might well strengthen our hand.”
“Yes, Jack. Once they know what I’m up to they’ll kick me out anyway. In for a penny. We both want this. Really we do. Good luck, and thanks a million.”
“You’re a brave man, Leon, as well as a wise one. Good luck to you too. May I have a word with Andrew?”
I passed the phone over, and they talked for a long time. Finally Andrew handed the receiver back. Helen was on the other end now.
“Leon, my dear. We’re so happy for you. And excited. And we love you. Both.”
“And I love you. Both. Have a good conference.”
“And you have a good time. Cheerio!”
We did have a good time. Housework and gardening? Bugger that. We carried out some of the more formal plans. We visited colleges, we strolled on the Backs, we swam in the pool, we walked on the Gogs. I even dragged Andrew to the Museum of Classical Archaeology to introduce him to portraits of Plato and Socrates, and he made ribald comments about the equipment of the nude male statues. But we spent much more time talking, talking, talking. On the sofa, on the floor, in the garden, in bed. About souls, about love, about Plato, about the past four terms, about the future, about us.
One evening I remembered a question I needed to ask. “Andrew, when we met at the station, you babbled something about me being a — what? A swot? A swine? What were you on about?”
He smiled his Andrew smile. “No, not a swot. Not a swine. A swan.”
“It’s a private joke with myself. Remember Hans Christian Andersen? When we first met, you reminded me — sorry about this, but it’s true — you reminded me of the Ugly Duckling. In all sorts of ways. But when I looked a bit closer I reckoned you were more than that. Whatever you might look like. So I asked Mum and Dad what best to do. They suggested encouraging you. Drawing you out. Protecting you, if need be. And then I found you were doing exactly the same to me, off your own bat, in your own quiet way. It was obvious you weren’t just an ugly duckling. You were on your way to something much better. And when I saw you on the platform, blow me, the change was complete. You’re a very fine swan indeed!”
“Me? A swan?” I squawked, and we laughed. And cried.
Nor, when at home, did we explore only our souls. We explored our bodies too. Often. Intimately. Inventively.
We celebrated our birthdays in style. Andrew’s first. He had brought his presents from Jack and Helen with him, and I added mine. Nothing, of course, from my parents. But we nicked a bottle of their wine, reckoning that they would be sipping their Samian in Athenian luxury and that they owed it to us.
That evening, the phone rang. “Mr Michaelson?” said the operator. “I have a call for you from Athens. Please hold the line.” Click … click … “You’re through.”
“How are you? Both OK?”
“Both fine, thanks. Oh, Helen, we’re in bliss. Having a whale of a time. Want to speak to Andrew?”
“In a minute. But you first. Leon, we think things are going quite well. We’ve talked to your parents a lot. They’re such strange people, we don’t begin to understand them. They don’t seem to care tuppence about your welfare. Their only concern is themselves and their lifestyle. But they’re reacting as we hoped. They were outraged to hear about you and Andrew, but not surprised. I think, as you said, they expected it. But they don’t intend to do anything about you. Report you to the police or council or anyone, I mean. That would bring shame and scandal on their good name. But the upshot is that they don’t want you. They don’t want to see you. Does that upset you, now they’ve said it openly?”
“Not in the least. To be honest, I don’t want to see them either.”
“Right. Good. And they don’t need you for looking after the cat, now that that’s gone. As for your other jobs, they’re beginning to talk about a part-time cleaner and gardener, who’d come in the daytime and not get in their way. So we’re getting on. We think we’re halfway there. At least. Leave it with us. We’ll phone again. A quick word with the birthday boy now, please. All our love.”
Hope refuelled. Our celebration in bed was even more tender and prolonged than usual.
A week later we duly honoured my birthday. Once more, nothing from my parents except, unbeknown to them, another bottle. But Andrew had again brought presents from Oxford. From Jack and Helen, a watch. From Andrew, a complete recording of the Magic Flute. How appropriate. A journey, through thick and thin, to eternal love, against a backdrop of human cruelty, with comic interludes. And the best music Mozart ever wrote, which is saying something. We played it right through, non-stop (except for turning the records over), two and a half hours. After we had eaten, another phone call from Athens. Jack this time. Birthday greetings first.
Then, “Leon, it’s all agreed, short of the legalities. They’ve done some careful counting of costs — I’ve never known such a pair of Shylocks — and reckon that what they save on your upkeep will cover a cleaner and gardener. So they’re happy on that score. They’ll transfer guardianship to us, no strings attached. They’ll tell nobody about you. But as Helen said, they don’t want to see you again. They’ve written you off.
“So this is the timetable. We get back to London on Monday morning, the day after tomorrow. All four of us go to their solicitors to sign and seal the documents. Then we buzz back to Oxford for the night. First thing Tuesday we drive to Cambridge and pick you up — both of you — and all your belongings. Could you be packed and ready by, say, ten? Your parents will spend Monday night in town and get home at lunchtime on Tuesday, so you won’t overlap. How does that sound?”
“Jack. Oh, Jack. I can’t believe it. First I’ve got Andrew, now I’ve … got … you.”
I broke down completely, and Andrew had to finish the call. He nursed me gently back to coherence.
We sat on the sofa, side by side, hand in hand.
Listening to Haydn’s Creation.
Two fifteen-year-olds ready to face a brave new world.
When a lover, whether of boys or of anyone else, meets the very individual who is his other half, he is overwhelmed with unbelievable affection and intimacy and love. The pair of them do not want to be separated for a moment. People like this, who stay together for their whole life, can not explain exactly what it is they want from each other. Nobody could suppose they take such pleasure in each other’s company merely for the sake of sex … In fact it is because this was our original natural state, when once we were a whole; and what we call love is the desire to recover that wholeness.
Aristophanes, in Plato’s Symposium