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Subject: The Hunters, chapter 5 The Hunters – Chapter Five Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction which features sexual activity between teenage boys, as well as between teenage boys and adults. If you do not want to read such a story, or it is illegal for you to do so because of your age or where you live, then I recommend you go read something else instead. Feedback is very welcome. So, if you are enjoying this story, please do drop me an email at hoo – it really does help encourage us writers! If you can, please support Nifty with a financial donation – whatever you can afford – so that this archive of stories can remain free and available. Just go to http://donate./ *** Sunday evening. The Hunter twins, William and Joshua, were outside, waiting in anticipation for the school’s annual fireworks display to start. A number of their schoolmates were stood with the brothers, most of them from Will’s House. It was a cold evening, and the teenage boys were well wrapped up in thick coats and scarves. A large bonfire stood in the middle of the school grounds, some younger children dancing spontaneously around its hypnotic glow. The flames roared, being fanned as they were by the strong westerly wind, and, on more than one occasion, a teacher had to warn their charges not to get too close. From time to time there would be a crackle and a spit as a piece of damp wood was consumed by the fire. “I feel a bit guilty that Zach’s up in his room while we’re out here having fun,” Will told his brother. Zach was holed up in his bedroom due to a fear of loud noises; a phobia caused by a childhood incident in New York when he and his parents witnessed a shooting whilst on holiday there. “He’ll be fine,” Josh replied. “Yeah, Josh is right,” their friend Austin added. “Zach’s a big boy. I’m sure he can look after himself for one evening.” “Yes, but still…” Will began. Breaking up their conversation, a solitary firework spiralled into the pitch black sky, bursting into colour above their heads. Soon, the heavens were lit up like the neon glow of the Northern Lights. The sounds and colours were phenomenal. Colossal rockets pierced the firmament as they crackled and popped skyward to their doom. Catherine wheels spun like banshees trying to escape the clutches of their captors, finally slowing to an undramatic end. Sprays of crimson lava spewed from a fountain firework like a mini volcanic eruption. Everyone seemed to stop and watch in wonder as the blood red haze from a traffic light entranced them, the spell finally broken when a wave of aluminous green light gave them the signal to move along. As the firework display came to at an end, the catering team began to serve the snacks they’d spent all day preparing. The sweet smelling nectar of popcorn and candy-floss filled the air. In Josh’s mind, this was the best part of Bonfire Night. After being handed a toffee apple, he brought it to his mouth – the taste as sweet as honey. A group of Juniors were stood not far away, creating mystical images with the glowing sparklers their teacher had just handed them. Once the group of friends had all got what they wanted, they made their way back to the raging bonfire. The warmth and comfort of the roaring flames breathed life back into their chilled bodies, turning their faces red like fresh, juicy cherries. They slipped into easy conversation, full of banter and in-jokes, the exclusive preserve of a group of friends who’ve known each other for years. Eventually, the evening drew to a close, the teachers shepherding their pupils off to bed. As they made their way to their respective Houses, the boys had a relaxed and contented glow on their faces after a fun filled evening. Each one of them was more than ready to face whatever challenges the coming week might hold. Turning around for a final look, Josh noted that the once raging bonfire was now just embers, twisting and turning like fireflies; the night sky long since returned to its peaceful existence. Monday afternoon. Home after a meeting of her charity committee, Jennifer drank coffee in her living room with her friend Brandon Price. In truth, their relationship was an odd one. Jennifer had first been introduced to the teenager by Stephen Russell, Timothy’s golf partner. Despite the age gap, Stephen and Brandon had started a relationship and the teen had moved into the man’s home. Knowing that Jennifer’s old gardener was on the verge of retirement, Stephen had enquired as to whether she would take on young Brandon. Although needing a fair bit of guidance at first, Brandon soon came into his own. He was a hard worker and certainly found the more manual aspects of the work easier than her old gardener had. She’d also found him to be very personable, and an unexpected friendship soon blossomed. The house was quiet, the only sound that of Jennifer’s cleaner vacuuming an upstairs room. Timothy had locked himself away in his office, working on his latest consultancy project. “It’s ironic,” she told Brandon. “Now he’s retired, he’s more in demand than ever.” Brandon nodded. He was a short yet well built seventeen-year old who had been thrown out of home by his parents when they discovered he was gay. “It’s nice that he’s keeping busy.” “And what about Stephen? Is he busy too?” “Well, that’s what he says.” “You still think he’s fooling around?” “It’s stupid, I know. He just seems so restless around the house, always acting like he wishes he was somewhere else.” “That doesn’t mean he wishes he was with someone else. Timothy’s the same, even now. Totally work-obsessed.” “It’s more than that. He keeps talking about this new guy that’s started there. He’s very attractive, apparently. And young.” “You’re young and attractive. Stephen’s lucky to have you.” “But Stephen’s attractive too. I don’t mean looks. I know he’s not particularly handsome, but… well, he’s successful and wealthy. That can go a long way sometimes.” “Have you met this new guy?” “No.” “Maybe you should. It might help put your mind at rest.” “But what if it doesn’t?” Silence. Brandon sipped his coffee. Jennifer looked around the room, spotting dust on a windowsill and making a mental note to reprimand the cleaner. “Those are lovely,” Brandon said, eventually, gesturing to a vase full of roses. “Aren’t they? Joshua sent them to me.” They had arrived at the weekend, together with a note thanking her for the shirts. It had taken him a week, but better late than never. “How is he?” “Fine. William is too. In fact, Will’s hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps and go to Oxford.” “He looks so like you.” “Thank you.” She tried not to sound smug. “I envy you. Two lovely sons and a beautiful husband too. All I have is Stephen. That’s why I get scared when I think I might lose him.” “I’m sure you’ve got nothing to worry about.” “I just wish…” Brandon stopped, looking embarrassed. “What?” “That we had a relationship like you and Timothy do. I keep hoping he’ll ask me to marry him, but I can’t see it happening. You’re so solid as a couple. And Tim’s such a lovely man. Far more of a catch than Stephen. I’m sure there are loads of women who’d love to have an affair with him.” Jennifer nodded, whilst inside she felt the faintest of chills. “Not that he ever would,” Brandon continued. “You can see by the way he looks at you how much he loves you. I wish Stephen still looked at me like that. He did when we first met but lately…” Another nod. She wished it too, only not for Brandon and Stephen. “I’m dreading the day Stephen retires. He’ll be so bored. That’s if he’s still with me by then.” “Don’t talk like that,” Jennifer said. “Anyway, retirement doesn’t have to be the end. He could still work, like Timothy.” “Yes, like Timothy. Only Timothy doesn’t need to. I’m sure he enjoys being retired. I can’t imagine him ever being bored.” “No,” she said softly. “He’s never bored.” “That’s the terrible thing for those who are kept by their partners like you and me. They’re our whole world. Lose them and lose everything.” “I’d still have my sons.” “Yes, but they’ll be off to uni soon.” “But they’ll always be my sons.” “Will they? You said William has a new boyfriend. You never know, one day he might start a family of his own.” “Not with Zach. It’s not serious.” “But he will. They both will. It’s only a matter of time. How is it that old saying goes? A daughter is yours for all of your life but a son is your son until he takes a wife. Or husband, I suppose,” he added. The chill returned, stronger than before. She sipped her own coffee. It tasted bitter, even though it was made just the way she liked. “That won’t happen to me,” she said, firmly. “I hope not. But even if it does, you’ll still have Tim. Whatever happens you’ll always have him. That’s why I envy you. You don’t ever need to be scared like I am.” Brandon swallowed, looking close to tears. Jennifer patted her friend’s arm, acting the Good Samaritan while trying to push her own fears to one side. *** Tuesday morning. Joshua stood outside his housemaster’s office. He knocked on the thick, wooden door. “Come in,” came the voice from inside. Opening the door, Joshua stepped inside and made his way over to the desk where Mr Phillips, the Head of Romney House was sitting. “You asked me to come see you, sir.” “Yes, Hunter. Thank you for coming. I’ve got an important task for you.” Josh’s eyes lit up, his heartbeat quickening. Finally, he was going to get the recognition he so deserved. “Thank you, sir. What is it?” “As I say, it’s an important job. Some of the Infants have got a trip out next Wednesday, and they are slightly short of helpers. So I’ve volunteered you to go?” As his Housemaster spoke, Josh’s heart sank. This was not going as he’d hoped. “Me? But what about my lessons?” “Wednesdays are half days for you Seniors anyway, so it’s no big deal. And I’ll let your teachers know, so you don’t need to worry about that. Besides, I’m sure you’ll catch up with the work… won’t you?” he added, pointedly. “Well yes… of course, but…” “But what?” “Well, what about hockey practice? I am captain now.” “It’s only the second team,” the teacher said, somewhat scornfully. “I’m sure they’ll cope without you.” He nodded, knowing full well that his housemaster’s lara kendi evi olan escort mind had been made up and there was no way he was going to change it. “Well I’m glad that’s settled.” The teacher’s tone was firm. “I’ll get the paperwork sent to you. Anyway, it’ll be good for you. Help you develop some leadership skills and a sense of responsibility. In addition, it will look good on your UCAS form.” The sixteen-year old swallowed down his frustration. “Okay.” A print of the Eiffel Tower hung on the far wall. Josh couldn’t help but think about Will who was currently in Paris, spending a couple of days out there along with one of the prefects and their French teacher. They were meeting with representatives of a Parisian school with whom Oxcliffe were looking to develop a partnership. They’d be flying back to Manchester that evening. A sense of worthlessness swept over him. He tried to push it away. One day he’d be the success story of the family. He’d be the one jet setting around the world. And it would happen. He knew it would happen. But still the sense of worthlessness persisted. “Oh and don’t worry,” the housemaster said, interrupting his train of thought. “You won’t be the only one in your year going. I understand that the new girl’s also been asked.” “Hannah?” he queried, his pulse quickening. “Ah yes, that’s it. Seems like a sweet girl but rather common,” Mr Phillips said, chuckling to himself. Josh forced himself to join in while inside he was seething. “Anyway. How is your father enjoying retirement?” “What retirement? He spends all his time working.” “That sounds like Timothy. Always the dynamo. Give him my regards, won’t you?” “Of course.” “Right, I need to get on. Thank you for coming to see me.” “Not at all,” Josh replied, before exiting the office. As he walked down the corridor, he was still seething. He knew a way to feel better, though. A way to feel ten feet tall. Taking his mobile out of his pocket, he searched for a number. *** That evening, Josh was sat on a bench in the school grounds, Hannah seated next to him. Despite being cold, the weather was dry. They were both well wrapped up against the elements. “It’s beautiful here,” she told him. “So different from my previous school.” He nodded, pleased by her reaction but not surprised by it. They’d sat together in the dining hall on a couple of occasions over the past week and had gotten to know each other somewhat better. Her dad had recently come into an unexpected, though rather substantial inheritance, and had decided to `invest’ some of it in his daughter’s education. Her previous school, just outside of Carlisle, was an underperforming comprehensive where the teachers spent more time dealing with behavioural issues than helping their pupils to learn. “I guess I’ve been lucky,” he said. “Yes, but you deserve it though. You’re a really nice lad and you work really hard.” “You work hard too.” “But I’m not as clever as you. I hardly understood a word Mr Hayes said in our sociology class yesterday.” “You’ll get there. It’s not your fault you spent the past five years at a crappy comprehensive.” She looked delighted. It was easy to make her happy. He liked that. “Thanks for being so friendly to me,” she said. “I was really worried about moving schools. I didn’t know whether I’d make any friends.” “Well, you’ve made one with me.” He rubbed his hands together. “It’s getting a bit cold out here. Do you fancy going up to my room for a coffee?” “I’d love one.” A pause. “But… isn’t it against the rules to be in each other’s rooms?” “I won’t tell if you don’t,” he replied, with a cheeky wink. “Okay then.” Several minutes later, they were up in Josh’s room, their coats and scarves abandoned over his desk chair. He’d had to sneak her in, making sure the coast was clear when they arrived at the entrance to the Romney building. He sat down next to Hannah on his small sofa. Her face continued to shine. She looked very pretty. Sweet and eager. Desire surged through him. “I’m glad you were free tonight,” he told her. “It was nice just walking round the grounds with you.” “I didn’t expect you to call me.” “Why wouldn’t I? You’re gorgeous.” She blushed. “So are you.” His desire intensified. They stared at each other. The blush remained on her cheeks. “Do you really want coffee?” he asked. A giggle. He saw her wet her lips. “Me neither,” he said and pulled her towards him. *** The following morning Will called him while he was walking to his first class of the day. “How was Paris?” Josh asked. “Exhausting.” The dark-haired teen laughed, feeling pretty exhausted himself. “You sound in a good mood. What’s up?” “Nothing.” “I know that voice. You got lucky, didn’t you? Who was she?” “Not telling.” “Aw. Come on!” “Fine, fine,” Josh sighed. “She’s in my sociology class.” “So are you two going out, then?” “Not really,” he said, and it was true. It had been, certainly. And she was a nice girl. But he wasn’t sure if he wanted things to get serious with her. “Are you still okay for dinner on Saturday evening?” “Yeah, sure.” “And you’re to be nice to Zach, okay?” “I’m always nice to Zach.” “I mean it, Josh.” “Yes, dad.” “Talking about Dad, he’s in Manchester for a meeting on Friday morning. He wants to come up and take us both out for lunch.” “Oh, shit.” “I know. It’ll be hell. Listening to him drone on about work and telling us that however well we do we’ll never match up to him.” “Even God would struggle to match up to Dad.” They both laughed. “Have you spoken to Liv recently?” Will asked. “No. Why?” “I invited her to dinner on Saturday but I’ve not heard from her. I must have left her at least half a dozen messages but she still hasn’t got back to me.” “She’s probably just been too busy to reply. I’m sure she’ll be there.” “I guess. Listen, if you want to bring this girl along then feel free. I’d like to meet her.” “No. It’s not that serious.” “Well, it’s up to you. Talk later, okay?” “Okay.” Josh reached his classroom and sat down at his desk. His teacher walked over to him. “Mr Phillips asked me to give this to you,” the man said, passing him a large brown envelope. Opening it, he saw that it was the information his Housemaster had promised him about next week’s trip with the Infants. The sight killed his good mood as effectively as poison gas. *** Friday morning. Timothy Hunter sat in the office of David Morgan, Head of Professional Services at Hardacre and Squires Consulting. Situated in the heart of Manchester, they were one of the leading actuarial firms in the city. Papers covered every surface. The sight of them irritated Timothy. When it had been his office he had kept it neat. “You’ve done a great job,” David was saying. “And we’re very grateful.” He nodded, feeling impatient. “So what’s the next project?” “That’s the thing. We won’t be needing your help anymore.” He sat forward in his chair. “What?” “We’ve decided to use someone else in the future.” “Who?” “Adrian Simmons.” “Adrian Simmons? The man’s an idiot!” “We’ve found him very capable.” Timothy snorted. “More fool you.” “You’re entitled to your opinion.” “It’s a fact. He doesn’t have half my experience.” “Maybe not, but at least he’s not under the delusion that he’s still in charge of this department.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” David sighed. “Look, Tim, I don’t see what the problem is. You’re retired. The years at the coalface are over. You should be enjoying yourself.” “Don’t patronise me.” “I’m not.” “You need my help. You said so yourself.” “I never said that. You did.” “Well, it’s true. I helped make this company what it is today. None of you would have a job if it wasn’t for me.” “Actually, none of us would have jobs if it wasn’t for private pension schemes,” his replacement joked. “I’m sorry Tim, but my mind’s made up. I’m in charge now and I have decided that in future we’ll be using Adrian.” They stared at each other. Timothy fought an urge to punch David in the mouth. Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of cigars. “There’s no smoking in the office,” David told him. “So who’s going to stop me? You?” He gave a contemptuous laugh. “Security. But if you don’t mind the humiliation of being escorted from the premises, then please light up.” He put his cigars away. David nodded approvingly. Timothy’s desire to punch him grew even stronger. “I’ve given this firm everything. Why are you doing this to me?” “Do you remember Geoffrey Brooks?” “Of course I do. What a bloody stupid question.” “That’s right. Of course you do. He was Head of Professional Services before you.” “And?” “And then he retired. He was looking forward to it, so he said. He was going to travel and take up gardening. Only he didn’t. Instead, he kept coming back to the office, acting like he was still in charge, throwing his weight around, finding fault with everyone. He ended up becoming a huge joke. People used to snigger at him behind his back. You used to call him the Ghost of Christmas Past and said that if you ever acted like that you hoped someone would shoot you.” Timothy swallowed. In his head was the image of a lost old man marching into people’s offices, trying desperately to still feel important. A man he had laughed at and despised. He tried to picture that man, only it was himself he saw. “Do they snigger at me?” “Not yet. But they will, Tim, and that’s why we need to end this now. I know it’s hard to leave it behind. I’m sure when my time comes I’ll find it hard too. But the fact is, your time has come and for your own sake you need to accept it.” They continued to stare at each other. David’s expression was sympathetic, almost pitying. Timothy hated it more than he could say. “Is it really so bad, Tim? You’ve got pots of money, a lovely home and a family. Your boy William is still planning on going to Oxford, isn’t he? Following in your footsteps. You must be proud.” “I suppose.” “The point I’m making is you can do anything you want.” “But I want to be here,” he said, before he could stop himself. “Not any more. I’m sorry, Tim. I really am. You had a great career. You did great things. But it’s over now. It has to be. Don’t lara otele gelen escort you see that?” “I need a smoke. I’m going outside.” David rose to his feet. “I’ll see you out.” “No. Stay where you are. I can find my own way. After all, I’ve spent more years here than you have.” He walked down the corridor. The air was thick with the smell of printers and dusty documents and the constant hum of computers. A wave of loss swept over him, so powerful he thought he might cry. A junior analyst looked up as he walked past. The young man’s eyes widened in recognition, a momentary standing to attention followed by an almost instant realisation that there was no need. Not for the Ghost of Christmas Past. “Hello, Mr Hunter. How are you?” “Couldn’t be better.” He put on his most dazzling smile. “Just telling David he’ll have to find someone else to help him out from now on. I’m too busy doing other things.” The young man nodded. He must have been a few years older than William, but didn’t look it. One day, both of them would be ghosts, only that day was so far away neither of them believed it would ever come. Timothy continued on his way, keeping the smile fixed upon his face. *** Early afternoon. Jennifer stood in her garden, telling Brandon about the changes she wanted made to the flowerbeds ready for next Spring. The teenager smiled, telling her that he’d get right to it. From the house she heard the telephone. Leaving him to get on with things, she went to answer it. “Hi, Mum. It’s me.” “Will!” Her spirits soared. “How was lunch with Dad?” “That’s why I’m calling. I didn’t hear from him.” “You didn’t?” “I wondered if I’d got the day wrong.” “No, it was today.” “Oh, well. You know Dad. He probably got caught up reminiscing with people at the office and had lunch with them instead.” “Yes, that’s probably what happened. I’m sorry.” “Hey, it’s not your fault. Things are pretty busy at school anyway, so it was a blessing in disguise. Mum, have you spoken to Liv recently?” “No, though your Auntie Angela told me she’d quit her job.” “Really? What did Angela say?” “Not much. She didn’t want to talk about it.” “Oh, it’s just that I’d invited Liv to our dinner party tomorrow night, but I still haven’t heard from her.” “That’s strange.” In the background she heard someone call his name. “Sorry Mum, but I’ve got to go. I’ll call you over the weekend, and tell Dad I’m sorry I missed him.” She put down the phone, feeling suddenly anxious. Timothy had left for Manchester that morning, booking a table at a restaurant near the boys’ school before he did. She had heard him do it. `Or had that just been a performance for my benefit?’ she wondered. Brandon knocked on the window. Not wanting to keep her friend waiting, she went to see what the problem was. *** Ten o’clock. Jennifer heard the front door close. Relief swept through her. She had been calling Timothy’s mobile all day, only for her calls to go straight to voicemail. Hurrying into the hall, she found him staring at himself in the mirror by the front door. “Where have you been? You should have been home hours ago.” “So? What’s the problem?” His voice was slurred. She realised he was drunk. “Have you been driving like that?” “So what?” “Suppose you had an accident.” “I didn’t.” “But you could have done in your state. You could have been killed.” “What difference would that have made?” “What do you mean?” “I’m dead already.” She kept her distance, feeling afraid. His body radiated tension like static. “What’s happened today?” she whispered. “They don’t want me anymore. I’m surplus to requirements.” Her heart sank. “Oh, Tim…” “Don’t.” “Don’t what?” “Tell me it’s their loss. That it doesn’t matter. Just spare me that crap, all right?” “But it is their loss. You’re a brilliant man. You always were.” He continued to study his reflection. “But I wasn’t always old.” “You’re not old. You have more energy than any man I know. You can do anything you want. This isn’t the end, Tim. Really it isn’t.” He began to laugh, the sound shrill and full of bitterness. It frightened her. “You’re right. It’s not the end. Instead, it’s just the beginning. Day after endless day of… what?” `Us’, she thought, but didn’t say. In the end, she didn’t have to. “I’m surprised you’re not breaking out the champagne,” he continued. “This is what you’ve always wanted. Having me at home all the time to be a supporting player in the sad, pathetic activities you fill your time with and laughingly call a life.” “I didn’t want it like this.” At last he turned to face her. “Then I guess the saying is true.” “What saying?” “Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it. Well, now you have, and I hope you’re happy. I hope it feels really good.” She opened her mouth to protest. He slapped her face, knocking her against the wall, before marching into the living room to pour himself a drink. *** The next morning. Jennifer sat in the kitchen, reading the paper. The left side of her face was sore. She had woken to a bruise around her eye. Fortunately, it wasn’t too big and she had managed to conceal it with foundation. There were footsteps in the hall. Timothy appeared, looking dishevelled. He had spent the night in William’s bedroom. “There’s coffee made,” she told him. “I can cook you something if you like.” He shook his head. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble.” “It’s no trouble.” “Coffee will be fine.” He poured himself a cup. “Has the post been?” he asked. “Yes. Stephen Russell’s invited us to a drinks party they’re having. I’ll tell them we’re busy.” “We should go.” “You hate Stephen. And Brandon, for that matter.” “But you’d enjoy it. We’ll go.” He went to stand by the window, staring up at the cloud-filled sky. “Looks like rain.” “Maybe tomorrow will be better.” “Yes, maybe it will.” She sipped her coffee. He came and stood over her, stroking her cheek with his fingers. “Does it…?” “No, it doesn’t hurt.” “You know I love you, don’t you?” She nodded, knowing it was a lie. Once it had been true, but not anymore. That was what really hurt. A bitter thought came to her. `Now you know how Joshua feels.’ Timothy returned to the window. She continued reading the paper. *** That evening Will and Zach hosted their dinner party. As Sixth Formers, they were allowed to use Arkwright’s, the cafe below the Sixth Form Centre, for entertaining. During the week it was staffed by members of the school’s catering team, serving hot beverages, bacon sandwiches, and other snacks. On weekends, however, it was available for the A Level students to borrow. The pair had spent most of the afternoon in its kitchen, preparing the three-course meal. Zach, in particular, had enjoyed himself, being something of a student of Heston Blumenthal’s work on molecular gastronomy. He had, perhaps, overstretched himself, and had become rather cross at one stage as the starter he’d attempted – snail porridge – had stuck to the bottom of the pan and didn’t taste much like the one he’d sampled in `The Fat Duck’. “Just relax. It’ll be a good evening,” Will told him. And it was true. Or at least it wasn’t going to be ruined by the food. When Josh arrived, he asked about Liv. Will told him what their mother had said about Olivia quitting her job and that she still hadn’t been in touch. Therefore, Will presumed, she wasn’t coming to the dinner party. Josh’s heart sank. Liv’s presence was the only thing he had been looking forward to about the evening. Since then, he had been drinking constantly while firing questions at the other two guests: Charlotte – Zach’s cousin – and her boyfriend, Rupert. “So, you two are at uni together?” he asked. Charlotte nodded. “We’re on the same course, actually. Chemistry.” Josh beamed at her. “That’s lovely.” “Is it?” “You know what they say: the couple that memorises the Periodic Table together stays together.” Charlotte gave a nervous laugh. “You’re on good form tonight, Josh,” said Zach archly. “And you’re looking very dapper, if I may say so.” “Thank you.” Zach’s tone was crisp. “Honestly. That suit is quite… terrifying.” “And what’s terrifying about it, exactly?” “What isn’t? It makes you look like you should be starring in the next `Fifty Shades’ film.” Rupert burst out laughing, choking on his wine. Zach looked furious. “I’m going to fetch the main course,” Will announced, gesturing for Josh to follow him. “I told you to be nice,” the blonde-haired brother said, once they were in the kitchen. “Oh come on. I’m paying Zach compliments and showing an interest in his guests. What more do you want?” “A bit of sincerity wouldn’t hurt.” “Do you know what Rupert’s brother is called? Aubrey. Aubrey! Who calls their kids Rupert and Aubrey? Imagine what dinner is like in their house. They probably spend all their time talking in Ancient Greek.” Will frowned, trying to project anger. “And Zach’s black suit wouldn’t look out of place in an S&M parlour.” “I like that suit.” “I bet you do. I bet he wears it in bed, sitting astride you, making you recite Pi to a hundred decimal places and whipping you if you get a single digit wrong.” Laughter got the better of Will. Worried the others might hear, he pushed the door closed and struggled to regain his composure. “Look, I know Charlotte and Rupert aren’t the most exciting people in the world…” “Too right. A goldfish would have more personality.” “But Zach’s very fond of his cousin, and for his sake I want this evening to go well, so ease up on the jokes, okay?” “What’s it worth?” “I’m serious. Please, Josh. For me.” “Okay. I’m sorry. It’s just been a shit week and it’s left me feeling wired.” “That’s because you read too much into things. So you have to go on a trip with the Infants. Big deal. I was asked to do it too.” “Really?” “Yes, though it clashes with a rugby match so I couldn’t. Look, we all have to do things we don’t want to sometimes. It doesn’t mean anything.” He gave his brother an affectionate punch on the arm. “Look, Zach’s spending most of tomorrow with his cousin before she goes back to Durham. So why don’t we hang out together? Just the two of us.” “I’d like that.” “So would I. Now help me carry this lara rus escort stuff through.” They returned to the dining area with the food. Josh helped serve it, asking Charlotte what Durham was like, this time sounding genuinely interested while being watched by a suspicious-looking Zach. “Well it sounds like a great place to study,” Josh told her. “I might decide to go there myself.” Charlotte and Rupert both looked pleased. Will grinned at Zach who responded with a tight-lipped smile. The blonde-haired teen made a face at him, trying to get him to relax. “Why don’t I put on some music,” Will suggested. Zach nodded. His boyfriend made his way to the stereo. “Any requests?” “Coldplay?” Rupert suggested. The rest of them groaned. “What about Justin Bieber?” Charlotte said. “Oh God, please no!” Josh cried. “Anything but that.” Rupert nodded. “That’s music for people who don’t like music.” “I like Bieber,” Zach said. “I rest my case,” Josh replied, with a laugh. The sound was warm and friendly and devoid of malice. Charlotte and Rupert laughed too, as did Will. Zach’s eyes narrowed, a fact Will couldn’t help but notice. Feeling uneasy, he returned to the table. Charlotte asked Josh what he was planning on studying at university. “I’ve not decided yet,” he replied. “History maybe. Or perhaps Sociology.” “Well Durham’s got a very strong History department,” Rupert told him. “Sounds perfect,” Zach said. “And I’m sure with that line on your UCAS form about accompanying younger pupils on a school trip, prospective universities will be forming a queue to take you.” “And what do you mean by that? Will was asked as well. Are you trying to suggest he’s a loser too?” “Will was asked?” Zach looked amused. “Oh, is that what he told you?” Will felt his stomach lurch. Josh turned and stared at him. Feeling embarrassed, he fiddled with his food. “Well, that’s the wonderful thing about Will,” Zach continued. “He’s always so eager to spare the feelings of others.” Charlotte and Rupert shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Will tried to diffuse the situation. “Look, this is the weekend. Why are we talking about school?” He nudged Josh’s arm. “Do you want some more arugula spaghetti? It’s really good.” Josh ignored the question. Instead, he pointed to the timepiece adorning his brother’s arm. “Do you like Will’s watch?” he asked Charlotte. “Yes, it looks really good on him.” “Doesn’t it. Ben had great taste.” “Ben?” “Will’s previous boyfriend. You’d like him. Everyone likes Ben.” Zach’s colour rose ever so slightly. “Previous means past,” he told Josh. He raised an eyebrow. “Oh, is that what he told you? Well, that’s the wonderful thing about Will. He’s always so eager to spare the feelings of others.” “A pity that’s not true of all of us,” his brother said, sharply. “Look, why don’t we…” “What’s the problem?” demanded Josh. “I’m just stating a fact. Zach likes facts.” “And what facts in particular?” the raven-haired teen asked him. “Do I really need to spell it out?” “No. I understand what you’re saying. Ben was the boyfriend he cared about and I’m the one he doesn’t.” “That’s rubbish,” Will said forcefully. “Josh, if you’re going to talk shit then you should leave.” Zach shook his head. “No, he should stay. I never thought the two of us had anything in common, but now it appears that we do.” “And what is that?” asked Josh. “Being unwanted. I’m the boyfriend Will never wanted. You’re the son your parents never wanted.” Josh swallowed. Zach gave him another of his sweet smiles. Will restrained an urge to throttle them both. “Okay, enough. This is getting stupid.” Josh shook his head. “No, it’s just getting good. This way I may still win the magnum of champagne.” “What magnum?” “For the sweepstake. You don’t know about the sweepstake, do you? All our friends have placed bets on how long you and Zach will last. One month? Two? Six? We offered the one-year mark, only no one would take it. Well, why would they? Who wants to take a bet they’ve no chance of winning?” Momentarily, Will was lost for words. He saw Charlotte shake her head. “That’s horrible,” she said softly. “No, it’s not,” said Zach calmly. “Anything that makes Josh feel like he belongs is to be encouraged. After all, those so-called friends wouldn’t give him the time of day if he hadn’t shared a womb with Will.” A pause. “A bit like his parents, really.” “You know nothing about my parents.” “Don’t I? How was dinner with Mummy last week? Pity Will couldn’t join you, but then again, if he’d have been free, she never would have wasted her time on you. Maybe when Will does dump me you and I should get together, share the magnum and commiserate on our mutual mediocrity.” Josh marched out of the cafe. Will glared at Zach. “What the hell is wrong with you?” “Me?” He looked furious. “Oh, of course, it has to be my fault, doesn’t it? Not his. Not your precious brother. Nothing is ever his fault. Even if he killed you, you’d find a way to blame someone else.” “I don’t have time for this.” Turning, he hurried after Josh. *** Will caught up with his brother a couple of minutes later, just outside the entrance to the Romney building. “Wait!” he shouted. “Piss off!” “You can’t just run away like this.” “Watch me.” Josh began to unlock the door. Grabbing his brother’s arm, Will pulled him back. “You promised me you were going to behave!” Will shouted. “Pity you didn’t get Zach to do the same. What was all that shit about me getting into uni?” “So that justifies you bringing up Ben? That was vicious.” “And what about that stuff about Mum and Dad? Now that was really vicious. Anyway, why are you shouting at me? He was the one who started it.” “He said! He started it! It’s all his fault! For Christ’s sake, Josh, we’re not at prep school any more. Why don’t you just bloody grow up?” He stopped, breathing heavily, aware of other students staring at them. He felt drops of water on his face and realised it was starting to rain. “Yes, we are,” Josh told him. “We always will be. Don’t you see that?” Will wiped rain from his face. “What do you mean?” “Do you have any idea of what school has been like for me? Sitting next to you in class, year after year, knowing that however hard I worked, you were always going to do better. Knowing that whatever I achieved, Mum and Dad would never care. Knowing that every friend I ever made would end up liking you more. And what made it worse was that you were always so bloody nice about it.” Josh began to mimic his voice. “Don’t worry, Josh, Mum and Dad are proud of you, they just don’t like to show it. Don’t worry, Josh the other kids only laugh at you because they’re jealous. Don’t worry, Josh, I can’t do the homework either. Don’t worry, Josh, they asked me to go on the Infants trip too. Don’t worry, Josh, I’m as big a loser as you, only I’m not and we both know I’m not and never will be.” Will shook his head. “That’s not fair.” “Fair? Don’t talk to me about fair. Everything is so easy for you. All our lives you’ve been the one. The perfect son. The perfect student. The perfect friend. Everybody’s sodding golden boy and what was I? The afterbirth. The spare part. The also-ran. The one no-one wanted but was stuck with anyway.” The rain was falling harder now but Will no longer felt it. “I wanted you. I’d have been lost without you.” “Of course you did. Who doesn’t want someone to feel superior to?” “I don’t feel superior. I never have. You’re my twin. I love you.” “Well, I fucking hate you. I wish you’d died in the womb. I wish you’d strangled yourself on your umbilical cord and been a stillborn that Mum and Dad could have cried over then buried, forgotten about and actually had the chance to notice I existed!” The words were like a blow. For a moment, Will felt dazed. Then the feeling was gone, replaced by fury that surged out of him like molten lava. “Then do us both a favour and get the fuck out of my life. All I’ve done is carry you. It’s amazing I don’t have curvature of the spine I’ve done it so much. Zach’s right. All you’ve ever done is leech off me and I’m sick to death of it. You wish I’d never been born? Well, you’ve got your wish because, as of now, I’m done with you.” Then he turned and walked away, leaving his brother behind. *** Josh sat in his room, staring out at the rain bouncing off the courtyard below. He was soaked to the skin. He kept shivering, but damp clothes were not the cause. The row with Will was playing in his head, over and over on an endless loop. Again he heard himself express the feelings he had kept bottled inside for so many years. He should have felt relieved, but he didn’t. The only thing he felt was fear. `He didn’t mean it,’ he told himself. `He was just angry. He’d never turn his back on me.’ Josh knew what he should do. Phone and apologise. Say it was just the drink talking. He reached for his mobile and summoned his brother’s number, only for his nerve to fail. What if Will refused to speak to him? What if their bond really was damaged beyond repair? `And if I don’t have him, who do I have?’ A chill swept through him. He felt weak and terribly alone. He hated the feeling, but hating it couldn’t make it go away. But there was a way to feel strong again. At least for a night. He dialled Hannah’s number. She answered on the third ring, sounding delighted to hear his voice. “I’m at home for the weekend,” she told him. “I’ve been making tea. Bangers and mash.” A laugh. “It’s my dad’s favourite.” Josh laughed too. “What are you doing?” she asked him. “I’ve just been to a dinner party my brother and his boyfriend were hosting. Zach’s cousin and her boyfriend were there too.” “Sounds fun.” “Actually, it was boring.” “I don’t believe that.” “Why? You know his cousin?” “No, but I know you. I can’t imagine any dinner being boring with you at it.” Again he laughed, already knowing that her answer would be when he asked her if she wanted to come round to his when she got back to school the following day. As he opened his mouth, a warning whispered itself softly in his head: `Don’t do this. You’re just going to use her to make yourself feel better. It isn’t fair.’ But life wasn’t fair. He had learned that long ago. Perhaps she had too. For her sake he hoped so. So he asked her anyway. *** Note from the author: If you enjoyed this story, you might also want to check out my first story `Tutoring Dylan’ which can be found fty//gay/adult-youth/tutoring-dylan/ Please note that my email address is different to the one mentioned in Tutoring Dylan, so you can now contact me at hoo

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