Twenty-five years have passed since Bunny left his old school. He decides, on a whim, to return for Founders' Day. There, to his surprise, he is reacquainted with someone he thought never to see again. The deep connection they had during their time at school is still obvious, but can it survive what still to Bunny feels like a betrayal?
A first time story.
Written: May 2013. Word count: 11,700.
It so happened that my old school's bicentennial Founder's Day and my having left the school a quarter of a century ago fell in the same year, and for reasons I could not really explain, I felt the desire to return to the place I had once been so very happy.
I knew nothing about the events of my old school during the last twenty-five years as although I did receive the quarterly newsletter, they just gathered dust in my study and from time to time I would instruct my housekeeper to get rid of them. I hadn't been in touch with any boy for some twenty years, not since Ollie's parents had written to me to inform me of his death from influenza, and as such I had no idea whether anyone from the five years I spent there would attend the event - I imagined some would - and if they did, whether I would recognise them or not.
It was a bright, but cold early spring day when I boarded the train that would take me to the place I had not seen for twenty-five years and in truth had barely thought about. I had a first class compartment to myself and spent the journey smoking, reading the newspaper and looking out of the window from time to time. I was a little surprised to see that in some parts, snow still covered the ground and I began to wonder if my decision had maybe been a fool-hardy one.
I could now be sitting in my study with the fire burning and a cup of coffee keeping warm whilst I wrote the latest chapter of my book, with nothing really to think about apart from whether I was going to have luncheon at home or go out. Instead I was sat on a train which was taking back to a place to which I had truly believed I would never return. A place where I might be forced to spend time conversing with men I had no desire to converse with, men I did not recognise or men who still regarded me in the way they had regarded me when I had been a young boy.
By the time the train pulled into station, which appeared to have changed very little in twenty-five years, and I alighted and stood on the platform and looked around at the men who laughed and called out to one another, not one of whom I recognised, I began to deeply regret my decision to return for this year's Founder's Day. I even gave fleeting consideration to simply getting on the return train and going back to London.
However, something, I do not know what, pulled at me; something made me pick up my over-night bag, turn the collar of my overcoat up, pull my gloves more tightly over my hands and begin my solitary walk towards the school.
What had I been thinking of? There were only three men in whom I might have had any interest in seeing again. One of them was dead and I had no idea at all as to the whereabouts of the other two. The only other old boy I would have at least been happy to spend some time was still in London, his wife having given birth to their second child less than a week ago. Harland Sinnett and I had never been friends, he had been two years older than I, but he had never tried to harm me in any way and had been tolerant of me. He had returned to London a year or so ago and we now belonged to the same club iand dined together every month or two.
Rather than go straight to the school, I detoured to the nearby small town where I left my bag at the hotel in which I had booked a room for the night. I paused long enough to take advantage of the facilities and wash my hands and face, before I put my overcoat back on and headed towards the school, wondering quite how I would spend the time and how quickly I could return to the warmth of the hotel.
Sixth formers stood by the gateway to the school and directed me to the dining hall where mulled wine was being served and the fire had been lit. Against my will my mind went back to the five years I had spent eating in the place in which I now stood, a glass of mulled wine in my hand, feeling myself beginning to thaw just a little. In all those years I did not recall the fire ever being lit before, not even when temperatures became so cold one had to chip the ice off the top of the water jugs.
Also against my will I found myself remembering that despite the cold, despite the hard beds that barely had enough blankets on them, despite the rags that were played on me more frequently than I believed they had been played on anyone else, despite being laughed at for my complete failings at any kind of sport, despite being the youngest and smallest boy in the school during my first year, despite being called 'pretty', despite some of the crude comments which were made to me, the years I had spent here had been good years. Well, two of them had been.
I sipped my wine and glanced around the room, staring at the men who stood in small groups or in twos or threes, seeing those who looked older than I, those who looked younger then I and those whom I guessed were about my age. But not one face did I recognise. Was it possible that not one old boy from the five years I had spent here had done as I had done and returned for the bicentennial event? Or was it simply that I did not recognise them?
I did notice that a number of men had cigarettes in their hands and so for something to do more than because I actually wanted one, I pulled my cigarette case out from my pocket and took one out. I returned my cigarette case to my pocket and was about to extract my box of matches, when I lighted match was held for me.
"Thank you," I said, lighting my cigarette before I looked up at the man holding it. At the sight of the man standing in front of me I gasped aloud and to my horror I staggered a little and very nearly lost my footing. Had it not been for a firm, steadying hand that caught my arm and held it as he had done all those years ago, I believe I would have made a fool of myself and fallen to the ground. I could not speak; I just stared in silence at the man I never dreamt, never believed, never imagined I would see again. The man whom in those few seconds I knew I still believed had betrayed me.
"Hello, Bunny," he said softly, as he continued to hold my arm.
For a moment or two we just stood and stared at one another as thirty years fell away and once more I was the immature, small for my age, blond haired boy being helped to his feet by a boy whom I soon learnt was the captain of the eleven. The boy who took me as his; cared for me; dried my tears; cuddled me; protected me; possessed me; let me, even encouraged me, to fall in love with him; kissed me and finally betrayed me when he walked away from me without a backward glance, the boy whom I never heard from him again.
I still could not speak; my heart began to race; my throat became dry and constricted; perspiration damped my spine and I even believed I felt myself tremble just a little. I just stood there, captivated and held captive by a pair of dark blue eyes that still twinkled in the way they had all those years ago; by a face that although had aged somewhat, seemed not to have aged as much as many. As I stared at him and he looked back at me my feelings were conflicted; part of me wanted to simply throw myself into his arms and let him hold me as he had done on so many occasions all those years ago. Part of me wished to simply turn and walk away from him as he had walked away from me.
However, given where we were and the fact that I could see one or two small groups had stopped talking and were now looking at us, neither consideration was an option. So instead I carefully extracted my arm from his hand, moved my lighted cigarette into the hand that held my almost empty glass and held it out to him. "Hello, Raffles," I said. "I did not expect to see you here."
He took my hand in his and shook it for what was the correct, the usual, amount of time. However, rather than release it, he continued to hold it as he stared down at me, a slight look of what I believed to be surprise and amusement on his face. "Did you not, Bunny?" he said and finally let go of my hand.
I shook my head and frowned a little at the hint of surprise in his voice. "No."
He stared at me for a moment or two longer before he pulled out his own cigarette case, took out a cigarette and lit it. Instantly I felt more than a little guilty; given he had been kind enough to light my cigarette for me, I should, of course, have offered him one of my cigarettes. My defence was simply that he had surprised, shocked even, me so much I had momentarily forgotten my manners.
Once he had lit his cigarette and had taken two glasses of mulled wine from a passing waiter and put my empty glass back on the tray he returned to gazing at me. "Do you not read the school newsletters?" he finally asked.
I frowned and to my embarrassment and regret I felt my cheeks grow somewhat warm. I looked away from him and shrugged. "Not all of them," I murmured. "I do have other things to do," I added swiftly.
"Yes, I know you do, my rabbit. Your books are very good; they are very good indeed. I felt more than a little proud when your first one was published."
I cast a hard look in his direction, what right had he to be proud of me? And come to think of it, what right had he to address me as 'his' rabbit? He had given up that right some twenty-seven years ago. Indeed, why was he still calling me by the name he had bestowed on me on the day we had met? Surely, I could no longer find it acceptable to be called such a name? I really should make my objection known, I should tell him to call me 'Manders' as was appropriate.
However, even as I opened my mouth to do so, I knew I could not. Despite everything, despite me wishing if not to hate him then to dislike him, to have disdain for him, I realised, I knew, I was indeed still under the spell he had cast on me all those years ago. In that morale shattering second I realised that I was still his and that I would be until the day I died. I sighed.
"Bunny?" He touched my arm and I looked at him to see a look of concern flash across his face. "Is something amiss?"
I forced a smile to my lips and took a sip of the fine mulled wine. "No," I said, somewhat more swiftly than was necessary. "I was just - Oh, do forgive me, Raffles, for being so tardy in thanking you. I am glad you enjoy my books." I cursed myself for quite how formal, how unlike myself I sounded.
He stared down at me for a moment or two before saying quietly, "I do enjoy them, Bunny. I enjoy them very much indeed."
"Thank you," I said again, as I knew not what else to say.
"So," he said, taking a sip of his own wine, "your books are to blame for you not reading the school newsletters, are they?" He had the twinkle I knew of old in his eyes and I knew instantly that he knew my 'not all of them' was something of a lie.
I merely shrugged before saying, "What difference would it have made had I read them?"
"Well," he said slowly, taking a deep drag on his cigarette, "you would have learnt that I am in fact," he paused for a moment and gave me a what appeared to be almost embarrassed smile and said, "a master here. Thus, you would have expected to see me." And then before I could respond to his astonishing announcement he said flatly, "However, had you known that, maybe you would not have returned for the celebrations."
I stared at him, unable (maybe even unwilling) to answer him. I was still trying to process the fact that he, A. J. Raffles, was a school master and not only that, but a school master at our shared old school. And as I stared at him and watched him gaze down at me, I suddenly knew something: I wasn't still merely under his spell; I was still in love with him. Despite everything, despite telling myself more than once over the years that I had ceased to care about and for him, I was still in love with him. And if that wasn't bad enough, I still had desires on him, but what had been the desires of an unknowledgeable, young boy without any experience, were now the desires of a grown man who now knew of things even if his experience was woefully lacking.
To my horror as the realisation filled my mind, I felt a part of my body begin to react to the way he was looking at me, the intimate way he was looking at me, the knowing way he was looking at me. I glanced away from him, shifted slightly and managed to rearrange my overcoat in what I hoped was a completely unobvious way. I gave serious consideration to saying I needed to visit the lavatories but I feared he would insist on accompanying me, using the excuse that I may have forgotten where they were and that would -
He cleared his throat and I glanced up at him to see his eyes had widened slightly as he stared at me. "I," he swallowed, took another sip of wine, moistened his lips and began again. "I am afraid, Bunny, it is expected of me that I mingle -"
"I understand," I said far too quickly. "It was good to see you again, Raffles." I held out my hand.
He, however, ignored it. "As I was saying it is expected of me, in my role as a senior master, that I mingle. However, I would be obliged if you would dine with me tonight, at my house," he added.
"Don't you live at the school?"
He shook his head and looked amused that I would even think that to be the case. "Goodness me, my rabbit, I most certainly do not. Well?" he asked, his hand coming to rest on my arm. "Will you do me the honour of dining with me tonight?" I hesitated as I sought for a way to say 'no', even though part of me wanted to cry 'yes' as loudly as I could.
However, before I could open my mouth he moved a little nearer to me and did something that was my undoing: he brushed my hair back from my forehead. "Do say yes, my dear rabbit," he murmured as he gazed down at me with a look that made me groan silently and curse the part of my body that was once more reacting to his look, his touch, his scent and what had been 'our' gesture. "I really would like your company and I will tell you quite how I ended up as a school master."
As much as I wanted to say yes, I was going to say no. I opened my mouth and heard myself saying, "I'd like that very much, Raffles. Thank you."
His hand moved from my forehead to my shoulder and he squeezed it. "That is splendid; I shall have something to which I can look forward. And as we shall be dinging at my house, you need not dress for dinner, unless of course you wish to do so." I shot him a look which made him laugh softly. "Ah, my dear Bunny," he said, once more letting his hand wander to my forehead, "you are still so very formal and reserved."
I stared at him, hating the fact that my cheeks were warm and that he still knew me so well. "I am staying in the hotel in the town," I said, "if you give me your address, I -"
"Oh, no," he said shaking his head. "I shall call for you - I do not wish to give you any excuse not to join me for dinner. So until later," he added, pushing both hands into his pockets and turning away in response to someone calling his name.
I stood and watched him stride off across the room and I knew with blazing certainty that dinner was not the only thing we would be sharing that evening.
LATER THAT EVENING
I was in the hotel bar enjoying a sherry and a cigarette when overcoat over his evening clothes and looking far more elegant than any person had a right to look, Raffles strode into the room. He looked around and his gaze came to rest on me and his smile was without a question of doubt his intimate one. Even as we stared at one another across a room which was half full of other men, it seemed as if we were the only two people there.
I gripped my sherry glass and took a deep swallow as he made his way across the room, barely pausing to acknowledge the men who spoke to him by name. "Hello, Bunny," he said moments later as he arrived by my side and his hand found its way onto my shoulder. "I am glad to see you are still here."
I signalled to the man behind the bar to bring another sherry and then looked up at Raffles. "Did you think I might not be?"
He shrugged as he took the glass, nodded his thanks and took a sip. "Let us just say I was not as confident as I would have been were it thirty years ago."
I felt my cheeks become a little warm as I recalled the argument I had had with myself prior to bathing as to whether I should simply pack my bag, summon a cab, leave a message telling Raffles I had been unexpectedly called back to London and indeed return to my home. To cover up my flash of guilt, I forced myself to laugh a little and say lightly, "Well, thirty years ago we would hardly be meeting in a hotel bar."
"Quite so," was all he said before he drained his glass, looked at me, raised and eyebrow and said, "Shall we?"
I swallowed the last of my sherry and nodded. "Yes."
Once we were outside the hotel he somewhat to my surprise offered me his arm and after hesitating for a mere second or two, I slipped my arm through his and together we walked along the streets. Maybe it was the two years we had spent together, the two extremely intimate, close years, during which he barely kept his hands off me for longer than a minute or two if that, which made his arm feel familiar, which made it feel as this was not the first time we had walked together thus as gentlemen - yet of course it was.
We didn't speak during the relative short walk to his house, but the silence in no way felt strained; in fact again it felt familiar and normal. When we reached his house, it was he who unlocked and opened the door and stood back to let me precede him into the hallway. He took my overcoat, my hat and my gloves from me and hung them up along with his own, before putting his hand on my arm and leading me into his sitting room where he threw a little more coal onto the fire and poured sherry into two glasses.
He handed one glass to me and let his hand flicker to my head for a moment before raising his glass and saying softly, "To old friends."
I was a little surprised by the toast, but nonetheless touched my glass to his and murmured, "Old friends."
He hesitated for a moment, touched my shoulder and then waved me to an arm chair. Once I had sat down he offered me a cigarette from his cigarette box, lit it for me, took one for himself and sat down in the other arm chair.
As I stared around the room I fancied it was somewhat better furnished than might be considered usual for someone on a school master's salary - not that I had any real idea what that might be - and his clothing, both the evening dress he wore and the suit he had worn earlier, seemed finer than any school master had worn when I had been at school. The sherry was extremely fine, as was the glass and the decanter from which he had poured it, and the cigarettes were Sullivans - the brand I myself smoked.
"Well, my rabbit," he said, after we sat in silence for a moment or two, "do you wish to dine now or wait a little? My housekeeper has prepared a meal for us."
I emptied my glass, put it down on the table and stared at him. "Or," I said, wondering quite from where I had found the courage to say what I was about to say, "we could simply forget dining and you could take me straight to your bed."
I do not believe I have ever seen him, or indeed anyone, quite so surprised and shocked by my words. He actually splashed a little sherry over the edge of his glass and very nearly dropped his cigarette. His eyes were wide and his mouth slightly parted as he put his glass and cigarette down, pulled his handkerchief out and wiped his hand. "Bunny!" was all he finally managed to say.
I hid a smile as I stared at the man I had always believed nothing could shake. "Well," I said with a shrug, "that's where you intend me to be at some point in the evening, is it not? So why wait?"
He went on staring at me as if he believed I might grow a second head. Finally, he picked his glass back up and took a deep swallow of the contents, before he picked his cigarette back up and put it to his lips. "Well, my rabbit," he said, his tone slightly shaky, "do you make a habit of asking gentlemen to take you to their beds?"
My cheeks became instantly aflame and my confidence fled as I stammered out, "No! No, Raffles, of course I do not."
He leant forward and touched my hand and to my surprise it calmed me a little. "I'm glad to hear it, Bunny. And I am extremely pleased my dear rabbit has not changed that much since I last saw him."
I swallowed and forewent telling him that actually, despite my moment of bravery, I had hardly changed at all. "I'm sorry if I misunderstood," I managed.
And then he was on his knees by my side, my hand in his as he stared up at me. "Oh, my beloved little rabbit," he murmured, pulling my hand to his mouth and kissing it, I bit back a gasp and shifted slightly on the chair as my body began to harden. "You did not misunderstand; I would merely like to enjoy your company over a rather good meal, that is all, before I," he paused for a moment, before kissing my hand again, "enjoy your company in another way. However, if you really wish to . . ."
I swiftly shook my head. "No, let us dine. I'd like that," I added quickly, realising that I would; I really would.
"Good," he said and smiled at me as he lifted my hand towards his mouth. I thought he was going to kiss it again, but instead he tugged on my hand slightly, pulling me towards him and the next moment his mouth was on mine and he was kissing me.
I was so surprised it took me a second or two before I was kissing him back with a passion I honestly had not known I possessed. My body was reacting, my heart was racing and my mind had forgotten everything except for how much I had always wanted to be in his arms, with his mouth on mine.
Just as I knew if he went on kissing me for a second longer than the idea of dining would be completely forgotten and we would be in his bed, he took his mouth from mine, swallowed and stared at me. "Let us go and dine, Bunny," he said and swallowed again before he glided elegantly to his feet, took my hand, pulled me to my feet and with his arm around my shoulders as he did whilst we had been at school together, he led me from the sitting room into the dining room.
The dining room, just like the sitting room, was extremely well furnished and once again I was certain it had not been done on the salary of a school master; I could only assume that Raffles had some kind of private income and wondered if it came from the obvious source: inheritance.
He waited until I was seated before pouring champagne for both of us and sitting down opposite me, where after a moment or two of just gazing at me in silence with an intensity I had never before experienced, he picked up his knife and fork and began to eat.
We ate in silence for a short time and barely did a second go by when he wasn't staring at me, his look saying so many things, things I doubted he would ever speak of. The intensity and intimacy of his gaze was having an effect on part of my body and I shifted a little, trying to be discreet, on more than one occasion in am attempt to make myself a little more comfortable. The smile that touched his lips each time I did move a little told me my attempts at being discreet had failed.
If the rest of the meal was going to continue in the same way, I felt I would be exhausted as well as more than a little desperate for relief long before we actually went to bed. Thus, in an attempt to focus my mind on something other than how badly I wanted his mouth back on mine and his hands on my body, I took a sip of the extremely fine, clearly expensive champagne and said, "You were going to tell me how you became a school master."
"So I was, my rabbit. It really isn't a very exciting or particularly interesting story, but if you really are interested, then I shall tell you once I have fetched the next course."
His words confirmed what something he had said earlier had suggested to me: we were alone in his house; his housekeeper having left for the evening. "I really would like to hear your story, Raffles," I said and smiled at him.
"In that case, Bunny, I shall once I return, tell you."
He left me for no more than a minute or two before he returned with the next part of our meal. He refilled out glasses, sat back down, picked up his knife and fork and began his story. "I do not know if you were aware that I played first class cricket for England and Middlesex once I came down from Cambridge."
I nodded. "Of course I was!" I exclaimed. "Indeed I -" I stopped speaking abruptly and looked away from him, staring down at my plate and silently cursing myself. I had not intended to tell him that I had attended any of his cricket matches and certainly not the amount of them I had attended.
He put his fork down, reached across the table and captured my hand. "Oh, Bunny," he said softly, "oh, my dear rabbit. I . . . I should have written to you," he said quietly.
I shrugged; I didn't want to think about that, not now, so I said quickly, "Do go on with your story."
For a moment I believed he wouldn't do thus, but then he sighed softly, let go of my hand, drank some more champagne and picked his fork back up. "Were you aware that during the second test in Manchester that I," he paused, took a deeper swallow from his champagne glass, closed his eyes for a second before saying in a totally flat tone, "suffered an injury?"
I nodded. "Yes," I said. "I was there." Even now I saw what had happened; one second he was running backwards to catch a ball (something he had done countless times) the next he was on the ground, clutching his knee as the rest of the England team gathered around him. I had leapt to my feet and had been seconds away from racing onto the pitch before I forced myself not to be such a fool.
My heart had been in my mouth when he'd been carried from the pitch and the looks on the rest of the England team did nothing to reassure me. I truly believe it was the third worst days of my life. It was rather ironic given how much happiness he had given me that two of the three worst days of my life had involved him.
He was silent for a moment as he just stared at me and I wondered just what he was thinking. "How did it happen?" I finally dared to ask.
He shrugged and ate some of his meal before saying, "To this day, Bunny, I do not know."
"Does it trouble you at all now? The injury, I mean?"
"Very occasionally, if I do something foolish like forgetting I am no longer twenty-nine and capable of playing cricket as I once did."
"I'm sorry," I said and I meant it; I truly did. England and Middlesex had lost the best all rounder they had ever known; he had been extremely hard to replace - indeed they never had, not even to this day, managed to replace him completely.
"Thank you, my rabbit," he said solemnly. He ate a little more of his meal, took another swallow of champagne before once more refilling our glasses and sighed softly. "It was clear almost immediately that I would never again play first class cricket. The doctors assured me that I would recover and could if I was careful return to playing cricket - at house parties and such, but that was all. I would never again do as I had once done."
I stared at him; I had no idea what to say to him. I couldn't tell him I understood, because how could I? I who had always been hopeless at any sport, whereas he had been very good at most sports and an exceptional cricket player, could not know what it must have been like to lose that. "Raffles," I said, uncertain what I was going to say other than his name.
He once more leant across the table and touched my hand. "It's all right, Bunny," he said. "It was a long time ago and I - Well, one has to accept what hand fate deals one, does one not?" I gave him a half smile and a quick nod. "And it hasn't been all bad; for the most part I have enjoyed my time here, teaching cricket and Latin. Oh, but I've jumped ahead, now where was I? Ah, yes."
He once more sat back and continued to eat as he went on
telling me his story. "When I recovered enough to be released from hospital, I
decided I did not wish to remain in London, at least not in the short term, thus
I decided to go on holiday for a while. On my second day I went for a walk and
you will never guess whom I bumped into," he paused and looked expectantly at
"Dobson," he said and smiled.
"Dobson? Our Dobson?"
He chuckled, "Yes, Bunny, our very own Mr. Dobson. He had heard about my injury -"
"It was reported in the newspapers," I said.
"Indeed it was. Anyway, he offered me his condolences, informed me he had seen my play on a couple of occasions and then asked if I had ever considered teaching - which of course I had not. Oh, I don't know, Bunny, maybe it was the sea air, maybe it was just he was a connection to -" He stopped speaking abruptly for a moment and pulled out his cigarette case which he offered to me and then held a match to light it.
I thought he wasn't going to continue, but then he blew a perfect smoke ring (was there no end to the things he could do?) and said quietly, "The past and people who had been important to me - well, whatever it was, I found myself agreeing to come to the school and take over the teaching of cricket for the summer team, as the master in charge was in hospital. And that is all I had intended it to be: a single term, whilst I decided what I was going to do. That was fifteen years ago and I still teach cricket. And then a year after I joined the staff, Benson retired and the head master asked if I would like to teach Latin as well, he had remembered I had been moderately talented in the subject."
That was another understatement; Raffles had not been merely 'moderately talented', his Latin had been as excellent as his cricket playing; no other boy could come close to his level - he was even better than some of the masters. However, even as I listened to his story, part of my mind kept hearing the words 'people who were important to me' and the use of the plural in particular, and I dared to wonder firstly if I was one of those 'important' people and secondly just who the others were.
I suddenly realised he was waiting for me to say something; I cleared my throat, took a sip of champagne and said, "What is it like?"
"Teaching?" I nodded. "Well, it is not unpleasant, indeed at times it is very enjoyable and challenging. Of course given I flatly refused to live in the school and have turned down three offers of becoming a house master, it is not as onerous as it could be. I am often surprised that I am still here, but it keeps me busy enough and also allows me enough freedom and time to myself. I sometimes think staying is easier than leaving, things become a habit."
"I'm sure you're an excellent master, Raffles," I said.
He smiled at me. "Are you, my rabbit?"
I nodded. "Yes. I remember only too well how many things you taught me, how patient you were, how much you -" I stopped speaking abruptly and looked down at my plate.
"Cared?" His tone was soft and again I felt him take my hand. To my horror, I felt my throat tighten and tears prickled the back of my eyes. I continued to stare down at my plate and nodded. "And I did care, Bunny, I cared very much, very much indeed. I cared so much I - Oh, Bunny."
The change in his tone made me look up. "Raffles?"
He stood up suddenly and came around the table and pulled me to my feet and into his arms and the next moment his mouth was once again on mine and he had pulled me so closely against his body, I could feel as it rapidly began to harden. I moaned with pleasure and pushed against him, letting him know my body was in the same state as his.
The kiss went on and on and on, for how long I did not know. We did break apart at times in order to snatch some air into our lungs before our mouths once again met one another's and our bodies hardened even more.
Finally as he took his mouth from mine and took a deep gulp of air, I managed, "Take me to bed, Raffles, take me to bed now."
And he did.
It was every bit as wonderful as I had imagined it would be and yet nothing like I had dared to hope for. His skill, his expertise, his knowledge were all clear, yet he also managed to make me feel, make me believe, that I was the first man he had loved so intimately. And it was incredibly intimate, more so than I had expected or in all honestly, believed possible. His hands, his lips, his mouth did things to me that made me cry out with pleasure and flush with embarrassment, an embarrassment that was more because I wanted more and not because I was ashamed at what he was doing.
My own naivety and lack of skill seemed not to trouble him in the least - indeed I dared to believe rather than trouble him, it rather pleased him. Certainly his cries of pleasure and way he gasped my name, as well as the way his body trembled as it found its release under my touches and caresses, were every bit as loud and passionate as my own.
There was not a part of my body that was untouched, unkissed, unlicked and I was quite certain, especially given how pale my skin was, that on the morrow my neck would reveal signs of what I had been doing, as would other parts of my body. However, I cared not a jot, all I cared about was what he was doing to me, what he was saying to me, how closely he held me, how deeply he possessed me and when finally, at my urging, he - I knew if I had died at that very second I would not regret it, as I knew I had found what few people ever find: a moment of true and complete happiness.
I had a loved him when I had been a young boy and that love had been more intense than the love most thirteen year old boys feel, but it had been nothing compared to the love I felt for him now as he made love to me, as he kissed me, as he held me, as he told me how much he loved me. I do not believe that any two people have ever or could ever be as deeply, as intensely, as perfectly in love was we were. No one had ever loved me and possessed me as he did and no one ever would.
I fell asleep, drained but completely happy from our hours of lovemaking, in his arms, held in a secure, protective, possessive, loving embrace. And that is how I awoke. I lay quite still, listening to him breathe, watching him sleep, I was utterly and completely content and I knew I never wished to be anywhere other than in his arms.
After a few minutes his eyelids began to flicker and he made a low noise in his throat and opened his eyes and blinked at me. A gentle smile lit up his face and he brushed his lips over my cheek before murmuring something about needing to visit the bathroom. He took his arms from around me, pushed the covers back and got out of bed and I stared at him; I wanted nothing more than to put my hand on him again and -
He must have noticed me staring at him, I was being quite obvious about where my gaze was, because he laughed softly, smiled at me, brushed my hair from my face and said something that made me blush before he turned and left the bedroom. I lay waiting for him to return and as I waited, I realised I had a need of my own.
I waited until I heard the sound of the lavatory flushing before getting out of bed and leaving his bedroom. He hadn't troubled to close the bathroom door and now stood at the sink brushing his teeth. I hesitated for a second or two before my own suddenly desperate, now that I was on my feet, need made me forgo my natural reticence and I hurried inside.
"Well, my rabbit," he said a short time later as he handed me a toothbrush, "I am afraid I do have to go and teach today. However, when I come home we could -"
I don't know what exactly it was that made me freeze and grow chilled and angry at his words. Maybe it was his tone which sounded almost dismissive and expectant. Maybe it was just the fact that he presumed I would simply fall in with his wishes. Maybe it was that the thrill of the previous evening, the glitter of finally having got what I had yearned for for so long, was if not passing then at least becoming a little less forceful. Maybe it was just that I remembered how he had kissed me on the his final day at the school, kissed me in a way I had even then been fairly certain an upper sixth form boy should not kiss a fourth form boy, kissed me and held me and murmured words of how much he cared about me, how important I was to him, how much I mattered to him, before breaking the kiss, ruffling my hair, picking up his bags and walking out of his study and out of my life.
I had waited all summer for a letter from him; every day I had hurried down to breakfast expecting to see an envelope written in his hand; every day I had been disappointed. I had made excuse after excuse - his parents had taken him and his younger sister on holiday; he was catching up with his local chums; he was busy preparing for his new life at Cambridge and so many others, he had always told me I'd had a wonderful imagination - even if at times he'd said it was more than a little over-active.
I had told myself that he didn't wish to write to me at home; that he had mislaid my address; that he believed my parents would think it inappropriate, given our difference in age, for him to write to me. I had convinced myself he would write to me at the school and thus I had eagerly counted down the final days until I would return.
I had gone on making excuses for the first term; he was busy; the work would be harder; it was his first term, he had to settle in; he was practising cricket more in order to be on the Cambridge eleven - and again many other excuses. And I went on making them until the day came when I had to admit he wasn't going to write to me; that he wasn’t busy or anything else; he just no longer cared about me. He was never going to write to me. And he never did.
Whatever it was it made me speak; it made me forget my admittance to myself of the previous evening that I wished to be no other place than in his arms. "I'm going back to London," I said.
He stared at me. "What? What did you say, Bunny?"
"I said that I am going back to London. Today," I added.
"But, my rabbit, I -"
"I am not your rabbit," I heard myself say and was momentarily glad to see how he flinched and paled. "I haven't been your rabbit since the day you left the school," I added, suddenly wanting to hurt him as he had hurt me; wanting to betray him as I still believed he had betrayed me. It would have been bad enough had he walked away from me without kissing me, but once he had kissed me as he had kissed me, for him to just dismiss me, walk away from, forget me was to my mind a complete betrayal.
He stared at me. "You didn't - You didn't seem to mind me calling you 'my rabbit' last night," he said, his tone more pained than harsh.
I shrugged, sighed and said honestly, "No, Raffles, I didn't. And I apologise, I should not have said what I said. I did not mean to . . ."
"Did not mean to what? What did you not mean to do, Bunny?"
I closed my eyes for a moment, sighed again and opened them. "Look, Raffles, I enjoyed last night very much indeed. It was one of the best nights, one of the best times, of my life and I will never forget it. It was wonderful to see you and spend time with you again, but - I have a life in London, Raffles. It's not just my writing; I have a life, friends, my clubs, my home. I cannot just -" I fell silent, before I gathered up every inch of my courage and said softly and flatly, "I love you, Raffles. I've loved you from the moment we met and I have never stopped loving you and I know I never shall. However," I said as he seemed about to say something, "I am going back to London."
"I love you, Raffles," I said, "I love you." And with that it was I who moved closer to him, I who put my arms around his neck, I who pulled his head down and I who initiated a searing, desperate, intense, brutal to begin with before moving to tender and beautiful kiss. It was I who broke the kiss, I who turned on my heel, I who hurried to his bedroom where I dressed swiftly before leaving his house and going back to my hotel where I bathed, packed my bag, paid my bill and took a cab to the station where I bought a ticket and boarded the train to London.
It was only as I sat in my first class compartment, smoking a Sullivan and trying to stop my hands from trembling that I heard his final words as I had left the bathroom: 'I love you too, Bunny. I always have and I always will'.
For nine months I had told myself I had done the right thing; I had done the only thing I could have done. For nine months I had told myself that making love with Raffles had been the best way, the only way, to lay the ghost of wanting to make love to Raffles for so many years. For nine months I had told myself that despite knowing that part of me would always love him, that I was now over him. For nine months I told myself I no longer thought of him, dreamt of him and imagined my life being entwined with him.
For nine months I lived a lie.
I sighed with frustration as I tied my bowtie for the third time and glared at the result in the mirror. It would have to do; if I wasted any more time on it I would be late for my dinner arrangement with Sinnett and it wasn't as if he was going to pay attention to my tie, and even if he did, he wasn't going to mention how poorly tied it was.
I paid the cab driver and tipped him well, given how speedily he had to me to the club and hurried inside. A few minutes later I was walking into the bar and looking around me when I heard Sinnett call my name. I stopped and turned around and gasped as standing next to Sinnett, a glass in his hand, staring at me was none other than Raffles.
I hastily covered up my shock and forced myself not to tremble as I walked towards them, even though part of me just wanted to turn around and hurry out of the club and get away from Raffles and the steady, dark blue gaze that rested on me. He had a smile on his face, however, knowing him as I did, even if apart from that night nine months ago, we had not seen one another in more than two decades, I could see a hint of uncertainty, wariness even hovered behind the smile and steady gaze.
As I closed the gap between us I suddenly found, to my horror, myself uncertain as to whom I should address first. Sinnett had invited me to dine, but -
Sinnett solved my dilemma by holding out his hand and speaking to me. "Hello, Manders, I'm glad you were able to come tonight, especially at such short notice."
I took his hand and shook it. "Hello, Sinnett," I said, before I turned my attention to Raffles. "And Raffles. It is a surprise to see you." I held out my hand and made myself ignore that it was trembling just a little.
He took it, shook it and went on holding it as he gazed down at me; his eyes still held a hint of uncertainty and wariness. "A not altogether unpleasant one, I hope," he said softly.
I shook my head. "No, of course not! It's good to see you, Raffles. It's very good to see you," I added knowing just how much I meant it.
"It is good to see you too, m- Bunny," he said, swiftly and skilfully correcting himself. The correction was so swift and so skilled that I doubt Sinnett would have noticed.
Suddenly I was aware that the room seemed to have contracted in on itself and that the only two people in the room were Raffles and myself. He was still holding my hand, his grip warm, secure and possessive as it always had been - even Sinnett seemed no longer to be near to us. However, one of us had to move; one of us had to break the link between us and as in effect Raffles was the guest, it had to be me.
I cleared my throat and managed to withdraw my hand from Raffles's in what I hoped was a natural way, one that didn't look as I had pulled it away. He let his hand slip from mine and pushed it into his pocket as he carried on staring at me with an intensity that made me fight my desire to just -
"Why aren't you at school?" I said suddenly, realising it was November and term would have started again after the autumn half-term.
Raffles shrugged and for the first time actually took his gaze from me and instead looked over his shoulder. "I resigned," he said softly.
I stared at him. "You resigned?" Raffles, still not meeting my gaze, nodded. "When?" I demanded.
His gaze flickered back to look at me, before moving away again and I saw him trying to decide what to say. However, before he could speak, Sinnett said, "You can discuss all that later." I turned to look at him "I'm afraid I can't stay to have dinner with you after all, Manders, so it'll be just you and A. J. - but I am quite certain that will not be a problem, will it?" He glanced from me to Raffles and back again.
I shook my head. "No, Sinnett, of it won't be - well - as long as Raffles does not mind of course."
Sinnett glanced at me a faint frown on his face as if he was wondering quite why I'd said such a foolish thing; after all he had seen us on a daily basis when we'd all been at school together. He had known how close Raffles and I been, how important Raffles was to me; he knew how much time I had spent in Raffles's study, he had even known (hadn't every boy?) of the deep pash I'd had on Raffles, and how fond and protective Raffles had been of me. Thus, why would he object to dining with me alone?
"Of course I do not mind, Bunny; I do not mind in the slightest." Raffles turned his attention from me and looked at Sinnett. "It was good to see you again, Sinnett," he said, "thank you for inviting me to dine with you - I hope we'll get another chance." And he held out his hand.
Sinnett took it and they shook hands. "It was good to see you too, A. J., and I also hope we'll get another chance to dine together." He then turned to me and held out his hand, "Enjoy your dinner, Manders, and my apologies again for having to leave."
"Thank you and that's quite all right; we'll make it another evening."
"We certainly shall. Oh, I booked a private room for us, as the arrangements have already been made and the room set up, I suggest you and A. J. use it anyway." And with that, Sinnett let go of my hand, nodded to Raffles, before turning and heading out of the bar.
I stood and watched him go before I turned and looked up at Raffles who was still had a slightly wary look in his eyes. "I'll just get myself a drink," I said, "may I get you another?"
"Thank you, Bunny, I would like that."
HALF AN HOUR LATER
We were seated at the table in one of the smaller private rooms, drinking champagne, as we had done nine months ago in Raffles's home and waiting for our next course to be served. Neither of us had mentioned our unexpected reunion at the school, in fact I hadn't even asked Raffles again when he had given up his position at the school. Instead we had spoken of books, he had asked me when my new novel would be out, we had talked the weather, how fast London was changing - and anything else that was not remotely personal or connected with our past.
The only more than a little personal thing that had occurred had been when upon arriving in the room, after the waiter had brought the bottle of champagne Raffles had ordered, Raffles had swiftly untied my bowtie and retied it again for me. We both ignored how I had gasped softly and trembled just a little when his fingertips had brushed against my skin.
Once it appeared as if we had run out of non-personal conversation, he offered me a Sullivan, lit it for me lit his own, leant back in his chair and gazed at me through the smoke. "Well, m- Bunny," again he corrected himself.
I sat forward and put my hand on his. "I am your rabbit, Raffles," I said softly, "I always will be."
He stared at me in silence for a moment before saying, "Did it help?"
"Walking away from me as you did?"
I opened my mouth and closed it again before sighing and shaking my head. "No," I said, knowing that the time for lying, for fooling myself was over. "No, Raffles, not at all. I'm sorry," I said.
He turned his hand under mine and linked our fingers together. "I believe it is I who should offer an apology, Bunny. I should never have," he paused and put his cigarette to his lips, "kissed you as I did," he said softly.
I frowned, "But . . . Raffles, I don't understand."
He sighed softly, "You see, my dear Bunny, I knew as I took you into my arms and kissed you that I would not write to you; that I would let you slip away from me; that you would no longer be a part of my life."
"Oh," I said, reaching for my glass and emptying it. "I see."
He smiled at me. "I do not believe you do, my rabbit."
I shrugged. "Then why did you?"
He glanced away from me for a moment and said his tone flat, "Because I simply could not not kiss you. Oh, Bunny, you idolised me from the moment we met; in your eyes I could do no wrong; you worshipped me, did you not?" I nodded; it was only the truth after all. "You closed your eyes to my faults, and you saw them, I know you did. However, to you I was -"
"Everything," I whispered, speaking without meaning to.
He nodded and tightened the grip he had on my hand. "I know. Oh, my rabbit, I adored you whilst we were at school, I protected you, I kept you safe, but I also treated you badly."
"Well, by encouraging you not to - grow up, shall we say?"
I shrugged. "I didn't mind."
"But you should have, Bunny. It was very unfair of you to want to keep you so young, so naďve, so reliant on me - Charlie told me it was wrong of me, he told me so more than once, and he was correct. I was going to walk out of your life, I should have encouraged you to be more reliant on yourself, to be more self-assured, to - well not to need me so much, but I didn't." I said nothing; there was nothing I could say. "And, my dearest rabbit, I possessed you - I possessed you in a way I do not believe you were aware of, indeed I know you could not have been. I cared for you, Bunny, more even than I cared for Charlie, yet I treated you badly."
"Raffles -" The sound of the door opening quietened me and I withdrew my hand from his and leant back in my chair.
Once the waiter had left us again and we had eaten in silence for a short time I looked at him. "Raffles? May I ask you something, well two things, actually?"
"Of course you may, Bunny."
"When did you decide to give up being a school master? And if you could go change the past, would you? Would you have written to me?"
He was silent for a moment as he ate some of his salmon and stared at me. "In answer to your first question, I requested an interview with the headmaster as soon I got to the school on the day you walked out of my house. I told him I wished to leave his employment. He tried to persuade me to stay and finally I agreed to stay for the remainder of the term and also the summer term. For reasons too tedious to go into now, that ended up being extended into the autumn term and I actually ended my employment at half-term. Since then I have been putting my affairs in order, making arrangements to sell my house, looking into places I could stay in London and generally ending that part of my life."
"You're moving to London?"
"I hope that will be the case," he said. "As I am quite certain you ascertained during your time in my home, I do not actually need to work."
"I did rather think your furnishings and clothing were rather more expensive than that of a normal school master," I said, "not that I know what school masters are paid," I added.
He smiled at me. "Let us just say not enough to furnish my home as I had furnished it." He was silent for a moment before saying, "My parents and Alice along with Father's elder brother who was also my godfather all died in the same accident."
Without even thinking about it I reached across the table and took his hand, "Oh, Raffles," I said, "I am very sorry."
He gave me a faint smile. "Thank you, my rabbit. It was a rather dreadful day, you see not only did I lose my entire family, I also in effect lost Charlie."
He patted my hand. "No, Bunny, Charlie is alive and well - and doing extremely well. He did become the doctor he'd always planned to become and now he even owns his own hospital, here in London."
"Oh, well what do you mean when you said you lost him?" He did not immediately answer me and a strange look flashed into his eyes. "I'm sorry. It isn't any of my concern; please forgive me for asking, Raffles."
"Actually, Bunny, in many ways it was very much of your concern." I frowned at him; his words didn't make any sense. He picked up his glass and sipped his champagne, "You see, my rabbit, it was because of you that I . . . That Charlie . . . He didn't approve of me not remaining in contact with you. In fact that is putting it mildly; he made certain I knew how angry he was with me, how badly he believed I had treated you and that I wasn't the boy he'd always believed me to be. He didn't know how I could have hurt you so badly."
I stared at him. "Charleston said all that to you just after you'd lost your family?" I couldn't believe it; that wasn't the Charleston I'd known all those years ago.
He shook his head, "No, my rabbit. Charlie was supportive, kind, caring, everything a young man could wish his best friend to be. However, do not forget for how many years I had known him; he said one thing, his eyes told me something else. I had disappointed him. Oh, we remained in touch for some months, a year or two even. And then he went abroad for a time and - I told myself letters get lost and take longer to arrive. I made several excuses, excuses I believe, my rabbit, you may well have made about my lack of writing to you all those years ago, before I finally had to admit to myself that I had lost him."
"Oh, Raffles, I am so sorry."
"It was not your fault, Bunny."
"I still can't - It doesn't sound like the Charleston I knew," I finally said. And even as I said the words, I began to think about ways I could find out just which hospital Charleston owned and how I could bring he and Raffles together again.
He gave me a half smile. "It was actually very like Charlie, Bunny. His sense of what is right and what is wrong was so . . . But let us not talk about it any longer, at least not at the moment, if you do not mind."
I nodded. "Very well, Raffles."
He put his knife and fork together on the plate, poured more champagne into our glasses and took a sip from his. "And in answer to your other question - A question I actually have asked myself many times over the years." He fell silent and I waited; suddenly I felt certain I did not wish to know the answer.
"The simple answer, my rabbit, is I do not know. I believe that must sound foolish, but the thing is, Bunny, had I written to you, had I remained in touch with you after I had left the school, I am certain it would not have been restricted to letters and I wouldn’t be the person I am now - my life would be quite, quite different. And I do not know if - You would not have liked the person I was for some time after my injury, Bunny, and in truth I would not have wished you to have known that man."
"But, Raffles, I could have -" I stopped speaking. What could I have done?
"The one thing I am certain I would change, if I could, was kissing you as I did on my final day," he said, reaching for my hand and holding it. "That was a cruel thing to have done; indeed it is probably the cruellest, the worst thing I have ever done - and believe me, my rabbit, I have done several less than salubrious things in my life."
"Haven't we all?" I said, desperate to change his mood, determined to stop him from feeling as he clearly did.
He stared at me and raised an eyebrow. "Forgive me, Bunny, but unless my rabbit has changed considerably from the boy I knew and loved all those years ago, I do not believe for a moment that you have done anything for which you need to feel guilty about."
"I walked out of your house," I said.
He smiled a little. "I do not think that counts, my rabbit. Unless -" He stared at me and frowned, "Bunny, you are not married, are you?"
"What? No, of course I am not! Raffles, how could you ask such a question? I would never . . . Do you really think I would have . . . ? Raffles!" I cried indignantly. "And anyway," I added before I hastily bit my lip and glanced away from him.
"And anyway?" he asked softly.
I shook my head and picked up my glass. "It does not matter," I said with as much dignity as I could manage. "But do you really think I would have . . . That I would have gone to your bed had I a wife here in London?"
He smiled, "Actually, my rabbit, no, of course I do not. I just trying to ascertain quite what less than salubrious things you could have done, that is all. And whilst not every man who takes a wife remains faithful to her - I know you would have done, no matter what."
"I felt you betrayed me," I whispered, finally able to say the words aloud.
"I know," he said.
"You kissed me, Raffles, you held me in your arms and kissed me and it wasn't just a kiss it was - Well at least that's what I thought. I mean, not that I knew what a kiss was, but - You kissed me and walked out of my life."
"And I - Damn you, Raffles, I went on loving you!" I hissed. "I was fourteen, I knew nothing about anything and certainly nothing about that kind of thing. What did you expect me to have thought?"
"Bunny, I . . . Oh, Bunny, my dear little rabbit, I am so very sorry."
I wiped my mouth with my napkin before looking directly at him and saying, "Very well. But just make sure you never do it again."
I almost laughed at the look of surprise and shock on his face. "Bunny?"
"Well, you are going to come home with me once we have finished our meal, are you not?"
"And you are going to," even though we were alone in the room, I glanced around me before leaning forward a little and saying softly, "come to my bed with me?"
"Yes, Bunny, if that is your wish, that is indeed what I shall do."
I frowned at him. "What about you? Is it not what you wish to do?"
He smiled at me and let his gaze move up and down the part of my body he could see. "Oh, yes, Bunny," he murmured, tracing his finger over the palm of my hand, "It is most certainly what I wish to do." The way he now looked at me was so intimate, so telling, that I felt my lower body begin to respond to his look.
I shifted slightly on my chair and flushed as he laughed softly and made his gaze even more intimate. "Good," I managed to say, "and you can cease to talk about finding somewhere to stay in London. You have somewhere - you are going to live with me in my house."
He widened his eyes. "Am I?"
I nodded. "Yes, well unless it does not meet with your approval or standards, in which case we can find another house in which to live. But I am not going to let you walk away from me again, Raffles. Do you understand?"
He smiled. "Oh, yes, my rabbit, I understand completely. And I give you my word that I do not ever intend to walk away from you again."
I nodded. "Good. Now, let us finish our dinner and go home and then . . ."
"And then . . . ?"
I just looked at him in what I hoped was a way that left very little to his imagination, given the way his eyes widened and a faint hint of colour touched his cheek, not to mention that I noticed him shift a little on his chair, I believe I made my intention quite, quite clear.
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