A WORRIED RABBIT

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

Set during their school days.

When dusting Raffles's study Bunny breaks a precious mug belonging to Raffles.

A first time story.

Written: April 2013. Word count: 10,075.

 

 

 

I hurried into Raffles's study, pulled my blazer off, dropped it onto the sofa and began to dust his pictures and other items. As I dusted I kept glancing at my watch; Raffles had specifically told me that he didn't want me to still be dusting when he returned from some sixth form meeting he couldn't get out of, as he had to study for a Latin test. He had told me I was more than welcome to remain in his study and read my book, but that I must be still and quiet. I loved spending time with Raffles no matter whether he spoke to me or not and so I wanted to ensure I had finished the dusting before he returned.

 

I had intended to get to his study some time before I had done. However, when I had returned to the dorm after bathing I had found, as was usual, all of my clothes, books and belongings strewn across and under my bed and over the floor around my bed and thus I'd had to put them away before I could go to Raffles's study.

 

"I'll see you later, Charlie," I heard Raffles say. I glanced towards the door, expecting to see the knob turn, as I hastened to put the mug I had just dusted back onto his mantelpiece. To my horror I heard the clink of china hitting wood and turned swiftly to look at the mug. The mug was in my hand, but the handle was lying on the floor beneath the mantelpiece.

 

I dropped to my knees and picked the handle up; remarkably it was still in one piece. I scrambled to my feet and stood and stared from the mug to the handle and began to tremble. I had broken Raffles's precious mug; one of his most important possessions. It wasn't valuable, at least not in monetary terms, but it had been the final gift his grandfather had given him before he had died and Raffles prized it above anything else he owned. And I had broken it.

 

I looked towards the door again but despite his words to Charleston, Raffles hadn't appeared. What could I do? I couldn't repair the mug at least not in time; maybe I could hide it and take it with me and try to - At that moment the door knob turned and I knew I was out of time. Quickly I pushed the mug and the handle onto Raffles's desk and hurried across the room as he came into his study.

 

I feel to my knees in front of him. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Raffles," I cried, feeling tears burn the back of my eyes. "It was an accident; I promise you it was an accident. Please don't beat me, please, please." I clung to his knees as he stared down at me.

 

"Bunny? What on earth is the matter?" he said bending over and pulling me to my feet. I was now openly crying, the tears fell down my cheeks and I trembled in his firm grip. "My dear little rabbit, what has happened?"

 

He tried to pull me into his arms, but I fought him, pulling back until he stopped trying to gather me towards him and just held my arms as I sobbed again, "I'm so very sorry, Raffles. Please don't hurt me; please donít' beat me. Please, Raffles, please. It was an accident."

 

"My dear Bunny, I would never hurt you and I certainly would never beat you. Just tell me what the matter is and I can make it better. What have you done, my rabbit, that is so awful?" He held me with one hand and brushed my fringe back from my face with the other. "Don't cry, Bunny," he murmured, letting my hair fall back on my forehead and wiping my cheeks with his fingers. "Please don't cry, just tell me what you've done."

 

"You'll be angry with me," I whispered.

 

He frowned. "I am quite certain I shall not be angry, Bunny, not with you. Do try to stop trembling, my rabbit, please, and just tell me."

 

I swallowed hard, bit my lip so hard it began to bleed and turned towards his desk. His hand was still on my arm and as I walked across the room slowly he followed me. We reached his desk and with my hand shaking more than I believe it has ever shook before, I picked up the mug and handle and handed them to him. "I'm so sorry," I whispered as he automatically took them from me. "I'm so very, very sorry, Raffles. I'm so sorry," I added.

 

He let his hand fall from my arm and just stared in silence, without moving at the mug I'd handed him. I began to feel quite sick and the trembling increased even though the tears had for the moment ceased to fall as I waited for him to strike me or shout at me or do anything to me.

 

And then I had an idea; it wouldn't mend his precious mug, but it might help. I dropped to my knees and hands shaking began to unbutton his trousers; still he didn't move, still he didnít speak, he just stood staring at the mug as I unbuttoned his trousers and slipped a badly shaking hand inside his trousers and drawers and closed my fingers around him. I'd never touched another boy before, even though I had dared a time or two to allow myself to imagine what touching Raffles would be like.

 

Suddenly he started and put his hand over mine. "Don't do that, Bunny," he said his tone soft but firm.

 

"But I -"

 

"Get up, Bunny," he said, carefully tugging on my hand until I let him go and allowed him to pull me to his feet. I lowered my head and let my hair fall around my face as he swiftly buttoned his trousers back up. Then he put his hands on my shoulders and said in his soft but firm tone, "Look at me, Bunny," after a moment or two I did. "My dear Bunny, you must not do that. You must not touch another boy like that, do you hear me, Bunny?"

 

I nodded and bit my lip. "But I wanted to do something to - I'm so sorry, Raffles," I said as tears began to slide down my cheeks again. "Please don't beat me, please."

 

He sighed and pulled me into his arms, this time not letting me fight the embrace. As he wrapped his arms around me and pushed my head against his shoulder, he said softly, "It's all right, my rabbit," I felt him kiss the top of my head. "It's all right, Bunny. I'm not angry with you and I'm certainly not going to beat you."

 

I frowned and struggled a little, but he is much stronger than I and he held me firmly against him. "But, Raffles," I managed around the tears, "I broke your mug - the mug your grandfather gave you. I know how important that mug is to you, Raffles. And I broke it, how can it be all right?"

 

He sighed again and gathered me even nearer to him. "There are things that are more important to me than a mug, Bunny," he said.

 

"Are there?"

 

I felt him kiss the top of my head again. "Yes, Bunny," he said quietly.

 

"But it's the last thing your grandfather gave you."

 

"I know, my rabbit. But it's only a mug. I don't need it to remember Grandfather. Come along, Bunny, look at me and tell me what happened." He loosened his hold on me just a little and slowly I lifted my head and moved back a little so that I could look up at him. "That's my good boy," he said, letting go of me with one hand in order to pull his handkerchief from his pocket and wipe my cheeks.

 

I gazed up at him; why wasn't he angry? Why was he looking at me as he always looked at me in his protective, possessive, affectionate way? "Why aren't you angry?" I whispered.

 

He shook his head as he gazed down at me. "Because, my rabbit, it was an accident, was it not?"

 

I nodded slowly. "Yes, Raffles, of course it was."

 

"There you are then. I'm not angry because it was an accident." Then he frowned slightly and I felt myself tremble just a little before he said, " Actually, had you told me it wasn't an accident but that you had broken it deliberately, I still wouldn't have been angry withy you."

 

I stared at him, my eyes painfully wide. "You wouldn't have been?"

 

He shook his head. "No. Instead I'd have been very worried as to what could have made my gentle, kind rabbit do such an out of character thing." I just stared at him; he really was every bit as wonderful as I had always believed him to be; in fact he was even more wonderful. "Now," he said, handing me the handkerchief so that I could blow my nose, "come and sit down and tell me just what happened." He took the handkerchief back from me and pushed it back into his pocket before taking my hand and leading me to the arm chair where he sat down and pulled me down onto his lap. "Well?" he said softly once we were both settled into our usual positions.

 

I sighed softly. "I was hurrying to finish dusting before you came back and I . . . I heard you outside talking to Charleston and I . . . I caught the mug on the edge of the mantelpiece and . . . And then the handle was on the floor and I was still holding the mug. I'm so sorry, Raffles," I said again, trying my hardest to fight the tears that once more wanted to escape from my eyes.

 

Once more he sighed softly and gathered me close to him and again I felt him kiss the top of my head. "Please don't cry, my rabbit, it really does not matter, truly it doesn't." And he kissed my head again.

 

I lifted my head from where it had rested on his shoulder and looked at him. "Doesn't it?"

 

He shook his head. "No. You have to believe me, Bunny, you always believe me, do you not?" I nodded. "That's my good boy; well then believe me now. And it's not as if you broke the mug, it's just the handle that came off. I shall try to stick it back on and if I can't, well I can still keep the mug on my desk, I could put my pencils and pens in it." He smiled at me.

 

"But you always said how nice it was to hold and drink from."

 

He shrugged. "There are other mugs I can use and I'll just bring another one from home. Now, please, Bunny, stop worrying about it. I'm not worried about the mug; it really isnít that important, it doesn't matter. Trust me, can you do that?"

 

I nodded slowly. "Yes, Raffles," I said.

 

"Good boy," he said and smiled at me before he brushed my hair from my forehead. "Now," he said quietly, "tell me why you were hurrying to finish dusting."

 

"Because you said you didn't want me to move around or speak to you whilst you revised for your - Raffles! You should be studying!" I cried as I tried to scramble off his lap.

 

He of course just held me firmly in place and shrugged. "I can do it later when you're in bed."

 

"But you said -"

 

"I can do it later, my rabbit," he said firmly and then added in a nonchalant tone, "and it is only Latin." Latin is Raffles's best subject; he excels at it and more than once he has helped me when I haven't understood something the Latin master had told us. I believe he is the most skilled boy in the school in the subject - and that isn't me being biased. "So why did you have to hurry, Bunny? Did something happen before you came to my study?"

 

I sighed and looked away from him for a moment or two. "Yes," I said finally.

 

He waited for a moment before saying, "What happened, Bunny?"

 

I sighed again and looked at him. I really didn't want to tell him; I never had told him that I had to put all my clothes and other belongings back away every day - and sometimes twice a day or even more often - when I returned to the dorm to find them strewn across my bed and the floor. I didn't tell him because I didnít want him to think I was the kind of boy who told tales about other boys of his own year. Thus I sat on his lap in silence, even though I knew he would insist that I told him.

 

I was quite correct. He let me sit for another moment or two before he said quietly, in the tone he rarely used, "Bunny, what happened?"

 

Once more I sighed and after hesitating for a second or two I told him. As I spoke I watched his eyes change and his gaze which was always gentle and full of affection when he looked at me began to harden, his lips became thinner and his expression became grim and I could sense he was angry. I dared to assume it wasn't I with whom he was angry, however, as I came to the end of my tale I began to wonder if I had been incorrect and it was in fact I with whom he was angry due to the fact I had not told him. I bit my lip as I stared at him, not certain any longer what to say.

 

I have believed on more than one occasion that Raffles is capable of reading my mind - once more he proved that to be true. He swept my hair back from my forehead and tangled his fingers in my hair. "Do not look so worried, my rabbit," he said, his tone far softer than his expression, "it is not you with whom I am angry."

 

"Isn't it?" I said my voice little more than a whisper.

 

He shook his head in his fond way and to my surprise once more kissed my forehead. "No, Bunny," he said, "you have done nothing to make me angry; it is your dorm mates with whom I am angry."

 

"Ollie wasn't involved," I hastened to say.

 

He smiled a little and once again shook his head. "Ah, Bunny," he said, "my dear, innocent, gentle little rabbit; I did not for a moment think Urquhart might be involved - he is your friend."

 

I bit my lip and felt my cheeks grow a little warm as I realised how foolish I'd been. "I'm sorry," I whispered.

 

"Bunny, you really do not need to keep apologising to me." Instinctively I opened my mouth to apologise for doing that thing and then closed it again quickly as again I felt my cheeks grow warm. He laughed softly as he stared at me before he put his hand on my cheek for a moment. "Well now," he said, "what are we going to do about this?"

 

I sighed "There's nothing we can do, Raffles. If you tell the boys off it'll just make it worse for me because they'll think I'm the kind of boy who tells tales."

 

He stared at me in silence for a moment before it was he who sighed and said, "Perhaps you are correct. But I do not like you being treated this way; it is not right." I gave a half shrug, I didn't like it either, but I really did not think even he could do anything about it. And then he said, making me start and wonder just how capable he was of reading my mind, "And that was the only reason you were late getting here, was it, Bunny? Or is there something else you are not telling me?"

 

I stared at him my eyes wide as I tried to think what to say. However, given my cheeks had become even redder I knew I had no choice but to tell him the truth. I glanced away from him, lowering my head and letting my hair fall around my face in an attempt to hide the embarrassment I knew I would feel when I told him.

 

"Not quite. You see they also," I paused and shook my head a little so that my hair fell even more around my face, "took my pair of clean drawers and put them in a sink of water. I tried drying them with a towel, but they were too wet. They were my last clean pair until the laundry is returned."

 

Now I know some boys in my dorm only change their drawers once a week or even less often, but that is not how I was brought up. I really did not like the prospect of having to wear the drawers I was currently wearing for another two days - but I couldn't see any other option; my clean drawers really were terribly wet and I couldn't think of any way to dry them.

 

I wasn't surprised when Raffles gently used his fingers to push my head up. He sighed softly as he looked at me and brushed my hair from my forehead and face, tucking it behind my ears. "Oh, Bunny," he said softly, "you really are so very . . ." I waited, but he didn't continue. Instead he asked, "Was it really only water in the sink?"

 

I nodded. "Yes." The boys may rag me, tease me, make a mess of my clothes, but they seemed to know when to stop. Maybe they believed they could only go so far before I did tell Raffles, and even though Raffles was known to be a kind boy, a boy who never spoke harshly and certainly a boy who never raised his hand to a boy younger than he, I doubted they would wish to do something that just might make him break his own rule. Raffles was the most respected, most beloved, most admired boy in the school and boys wanted to please him not anger him. "Why?" I asked.

 

He shrugged. "It is just that if you wish me to, I can bring them here and dry them in front of the fire for you."

 

I stared at him. "You'd do that for me?"

 

He shook his head as he gazed at me and once more his fingers found their way into my hair. "Oh, my dear rabbit," he said softly, "of course I would - do you know how important you are to me, Bunny?"

 

I gazed at him, once more not quite certain what to say. I knew he was fond of me, I knew he kept me safe from his fellow sixth formers and even from some of the more daring fifth formers, I knew he seemed to enjoy my company (why I did not know), I knew he was always happy for me to watch him play or practice cricket, I knew he never got angry with me or raised his voice to me, I knew he would never hurt me, but I do not believe I would have used the word 'important'. Thus, I said nothing; I just went on looking at him.

 

"Well, let me tell you. You, my rabbit, are very important to me; very important indeed. I sometimes believe you are even more important to me than Charlie is." Eyes wide I stared at him; Charleston was his best friend and had been for some ten years, I couldn't possibly be more important than he was to Raffles, could I?

 

He didn't say anything else either, he just gave me an affectionate smile and then cupped my cheeks between his hands and pulled me a little towards him. For a fleeting moment I dared to believe he might kiss me - kiss me properly that is. However, he did not; instead he pulled my head down a little and once again put his lips on my forehead, letting them linger for a second or two longer than he had done before.

 

"Now," he said gently pushing me upright again. "Shall we have some cocoa and chocolate before I walk you back to your dorm and collect your drawers?"

 

Even though I tried to stop them from becoming a little heated, I felt my cheeks flush a little as I scramble off his lap. "Yes, please," I said, hurrying off to make the cocoa. It was only when I reached the small kitchen in which the sixth form made cocoa that I remembered his mug and how I'd broken it and how I'd have to use one of the spare mugs for him. I sighed softly and deliberately forced myself not to think about the mug but rather to concentrate on making the cocoa and getting both mugs back safely to Raffles's study without spilling any cocoa on the floor.

 

HALF AN HOUR LATER

 

"Well, my rabbit, I do believe it is time I walked you back to your dorm."

 

I smiled at him. "Yes, Raffles," I said and stood up.

 

"That's my good boy." He glided to his feet in the elegant way he did everything, put his arm around my shoulders as he always does and led me out of his study and along the hallways to the third form dorm.

 

The way my dorm mates fell silent as with his arm still around my shoulders he led me inside didn't really have any impact on me. It was, after all, expected that younger boys would fall silent in the presence of an older boy, even one as kind as Raffles.

 

However as the boys moved aside to let us pass and I saw my bed I realised just why they had fallen quite as silent as they had and why most of them had paled and looked more than a little afraid.

 

We came to a stop by my bed and Raffles stared at it and the floor both of which were once again covered by my clothes, books and other belongings. I bit the inside of my mouth and stood in silence by his side wondering just what he would say or do. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ollie standing staring at me; unlike the other boys he did not look afeared, but his gaze kept moving from me to Raffles and back again, proving that he too was just waiting to see what Raffles would say or do.

 

Finally Raffles turned me under his arm, looked down at me and said lightly, "Did you not have time to tidy your things up before you came to my study tonight, Bunny?"

 

I heard the collective gasp of most of the other boys as I followed his lead. I shook my head and lowered it, letting my hair fall around my face. "No, Raffles," I said softly, "I didn't. I'm sorry."

 

"Well now, you really must make time, Bunny, and take better care of your things - how can you keep my study tidy if you don't look after your clothes and books?" He put his hand in my hair, tangled it around his fingers and gently tugged my head up so that I was looking at him. In his steady gaze I saw how pleased he was with me that I had indeed followed his lead. "Well, I'll let it go this time, Bunny," he said his voice a little sterner than it ever had been when he'd spoken to me."

 

"Thank you, Raffles," I said softly.

 

"That's my good boy. And I am quite certain it will not happen again, will it?" Even though he appeared to still be looking directly at me, I could tell his gaze was partly on the boys behind me; boys who still had not moved or spoken since we had gone into the dorm, boys who barely seemed to be breathing.

 

"No, Raffles," I said. "It won't."

 

He smiled at me. "I thought not, my rabbit. Well, as I'm here and it is getting close to your bedtime, I shall help you tidy your things up." He smiled at me.

 

"Thank you, Raffles." We stood for another second or two before he let his hand fall from my hair and then he turned and move nearer to my bed and began to pick up my clothes, folding them swiftly and far better than I folded them. Still not a boy moved or spoke; still they just stood like statues, staring at us. "Bunny!" he suddenly exclaimed.

 

I jumped; it was actually a genuine jump. "Yes, Raffles?" I said, dropping the book I'd just picked up.

 

"Why pray do you have a pair of wet drawers on your bed?"

 

I paused for a second half expecting the boys to laugh or make crude comments under their breath, but the silence continued - indeed it seemed to become more tinged with worry. "Oh, I, um. . . You see, Raffles, I . . . I dropped them into the bath just before I got in," I said thinking quickly. "They were my clean ones," I added.

 

He stared at me and once more I saw how pleased he was with me. "You really must take more care, Bunny," he said and even though I knew he didn't mean his words, I still felt my cheeks become a little warm.

 

"I'm sorry, Raffles," I whispered.

 

He sighed and brushed my hair back from my forehead. "It's all right, my rabbit, accidents do happen. I will take them with me and dry them in front of my fire; they should dry overnight and I'll let you have them back before you need to get dressed." And with that he picked up my towel from the floor and wrapped the drawers in them.

 

"Thank you, Raffles," I said and we returned to picking up my belongings and putting them back into my locker and the drawers that had been assigned to me.

 

Once everything was tidied away he picked the towel wrapped drawers back up and tucked it under his arm. "Well, goodnight, my rabbit," he said, once more brushing my hair from my forehead. "Sleep well."

 

"Goodnight, Raffles and thank you," I said smiling up at him. "I'm sure I shall."

 

"That's my good boy." He ruffled my hair, smiled down at me and squeezed my shoulder before he turned on his heel. "Goodnight Urquhart," he said and smiled at Ollie as he went past his bed.

 

"Goodnight, Raffles," Ollie stammered the two words out and flushed.

 

"Boys." Raffles said, his tone quite, quite different from the tone he had used to say goodnight to me and different from the tone he had used when he had spoken to Ollie.

 

For several seconds no one replied; they all seemed to just still be frozen and staring in horror at him. He even stopped in the doorway of the dorm and turned around before several boys managed to stammer out a 'goodnight, Raffles'.

 

He paused for a moment, letting his gaze wander over each boy's face before it finally came to rest on me where it softened and he smiled. A moment later he turned back around and left the dorm, closing the door behind him.

 

I stood by my bed and glanced at Ollie. Finally I heard boys beginning to move and let out gasps of breath as they all turned to look at me. I tried hard not to fidget as I wondered what was going to happen.

 

After a moment or two Stevenson, the self-appointed leader of the dorm made his way towards me. He swallowed hard twice and then held out his hand to me and nodded. As I took his hand and shook it I knew it was finally over. The boys had ragged me, had thrown my clothes and belongings over my bed and the floor for the last time - finally I was safe.

 

With the handshake and the nod, even though Stevenson hadn't spoken, I knew he was acknowledging how relieved he was and the boys in general were that I had kept silent, that I had, in fact, lied to Raffles (they obviously didn't know Raffles knew the truth). He was thanking me and telling me my days of being treated as I had been treated were over.

 

It was he who finally let go of my hand as he turned and looked at each boy in turn - letting them know, if the handshake hadn't been enough, that in effect I was now also under his protection and if anyone dared to rag me again they would have him to deal with.

 

I was so relieved and so happy that I almost failed to see his gaze come to rest on Ollie. However, his gaze lingered on Ollie and I saw a slight smile touch his lips and I knew what was in his mind. Knowing I had to protect Ollie, knowing that I couldn't go from being the boy who was constantly ragged and belittled to watching it happen to Ollie I spoke swiftly. "Ollie," I called and waited until he turned his attention from Stevenson to me as once more the boys fell silent.

 

Stevenson also turned to look at me; I moistened my mouth and pushed my hands into my pockets. "Raffles asked me to ask you what your favourite sweets are so that he can bring you some back from the village when he has his next exeat." I mentally crossed my fingers and hoped I had done enough.

 

I saw Stevenson stare at me, look back at Ollie, before he sighed, frowned, looked at me again and gave a curt nod as he acknowledged what I had done: Ollie would now also be safe; he was now, as far as the boys in the dorm were concerned, under Raffles's protection. Stevenson hesitated for a second or two more before he pushed his hands into his pockets and strode off across the dorm to join his particular group of friends.

 

Ollie smiled at me and I saw relief flash through his eyes as he flushed a little. "Thank you, Harry," he said quietly.

 

THE NEXT MORNING

 

I returned from washing to find my now perfectly dry drawers on my bed and the towel Raffles had wrapped them in, which was now also dry, folded neatly and lying on my chair.

 

MORNING BREAK

 

I needed to see Raffles as when I had awoken I suddenly realised the Raffles along with Charleston and several other lower sixth formers actually had their exeat that very afternoon and I really needed to tell him what I had told the dorm about him saying he would bring Ollie some sweets back. It wasn't that I really thought any of the boys would have the pluck to actually ask him if he had promised to bring Ollie some sweets back, but given how things spread so quickly in the school, he might find out I had lied - and it was far better he hear it from me and not from someone else.

 

As I scanned the hallways I couldn't see any of Raffles's class so I hurried out into the quad where I caught sight of Raffles and Charleston heading for the sixth form lavatories. I hurried over and waited outside until they appeared.

 

"Bunny!" Raffles exclaimed looking down at me. "Is something the matter?" he looked and sounded a little concerned.

 

Hastily I shook my head. "No, it's just that I have something I need to tell you."

 

"Do you want me to go?" Charleston asked.

 

I shook my head. "No, it's nothing . . . Well, it's just . . ." And I told Raffles what I'd done. I was a little worried he might be angry and hasted to add, "I'm really sorry, Raffles."

 

He however merely smiled and squeezed my shoulder. "Once again, my rabbit, you have nothing for which you need to apologise. What a clever boy you are as well as being a very good friend." I felt my cheeks flush slightly as I gazed up at him. "Well," he said after a moment or two had gone by, "what are Urquhart's favourite sweets?"

 

I stared at him. "Um, toffees but -"

 

"Excellent. I shall bring him some back then."

 

"You mean you're going to . . ."

 

I stared at Raffles who smiled down fondly at me as he brushed my hair from my face. "Of course I am, my dear Bunny. If I do not your dorm mates will know what you said was simply a means to protect Ollie, and will quite probably turn their attentions to doing to him what they have stopped doing to you."

 

"Oh," I said. "I see."

 

He smiled. "That's my good boy. So I shall see you later," and with that he ruffled my hair again and then walked off with Charleston.

 

EARLY EVENING

 

It was about ten minutes before we were due to leave the third form common room to go to the dining hall for supper. Ollie and I were discussing the poem we had studied in English that day, when the door opened and I heard boys all around me scramble to their feet. I looked up and along with Ollie also stood up as Raffles and Charleston came into the common room.

 

"Sit down and carry on with what you were doing, boys," Raffles said, glancing around the room as he, with Charleston still by his side, came over to where Ollie and I stood. "Hello, Bunny," he said, his hand finding its way into my hair as it so often did. He looked towards Ollie, smiled and said, "Urquhart."

 

"Hello, Raffles," I said and smiled. "Hello, Charleston." Around me I heard the sound of soft gasps as boys heard me address a sixth former before he spoke to me. I knew their attention was now directed towards us as they waited to see if Charleston would say anything about my apparent breach of etiquette.

 

However, of course he did not, as he was quite happy for me to speak to him before he spoke to me. I didn't do it often, I still didn't often address Raffles before he spoke to me, but I had done it before. "Manders," Charleston said also smiling before he too looked at Ollie. "Urquhart."

 

"Hello Raffles, Charleston," Ollie managed to stammer out in a whisper as he cheeks became somewhat red.

 

For a moment or two we all just stood in silence; Charleston had turned his attention from Ollie and me and was gazing at Raffles, clearly waiting for him to speak. I was aware the other boys in the dorm hadn't followed Raffles's 'carry on with what you were doing', but were in fact staring at Raffles, Charleston, Ollie and me.

 

Finally Raffles took his hand from my head and pulled out a bag from his coat pocket and handed it to me. "Here you are, Bunny. Now you must not eat them all at once."

 

"Thank you, Raffles," I said and smiled up at him. "And I won't."

 

"That's my good boy and you are very welcome, my rabbit," he said. "And these," he pulled out another bag from his other pocket and held it out to Ollie, "are for you Urquhart - toffees, Bunny said they were your favourite."

 

Ollie just stood and stared for several seconds, his eyes wide, his mouth slightly parted before he slowly put out his hand and let Raffles put the bag into it. He swallowed hard and glanced at me, I nodded and smiled, before he looked back at Raffles. "Thank you, Raffles," he managed to stammer out as he went on staring at Raffles.

 

Raffles smiled and put his hand on Ollie's shoulder and squeezed it. "You are quite welcome, Urquhart. And now," he said glancing at his watch and then at Charleston before looking at me again, "as it is almost supper time would you and Urquhart like to walk over the dining room with Charlie and me?"

 

I beamed up at him. "Yes, please, Raffles," I said.

 

"Good," Raffles said and then with his hand now on my shoulder he turned around and the four of us, Ollie a little behind Raffles, Charleston and me, walked towards the door and out of the common room. As Charleston closed the door behind us, I heard the boys all begin to talk at once. Raffles smiled at Charleston over my head and slid his arm around my shoulders as we carried on our way out of the house, across the quad towards the dining hall.

 

THE LAST DAY OF THE SUMMER TERM

 

I sat on Raffles's bed watching him pack his bags and cases. It was going to be a long eight weeks and as much as I was looking forward to going home and going away to the sea and spending time not having to attend lessons and being able to sleep in my own bed and have all my own books and things around me, I also knew I would miss Raffles. I would miss him a great deal.

 

Suddenly I felt the bed beside me dip and the next moment Raffles had his arm around me and had pulled me tightly against him. "I'm going to miss you too, my rabbit," he said softly, kissing the top of my head.

 

I sighed softly and rested my head against his shoulder. I didn't ask how he knew what I was thinking; he was Raffles. He always seemed able to read me. I didn't even really believe him, I was quite certain he would be far too busy playing cricket and seeing his friends and doing all kinds of wonderful things to miss me, but I did like hearing it.

 

"Look at me, Bunny," he said softly, pushing me away from him a little. I sat up and looked at him. "Oh, yes, my rabbit," he said brushing my hair back from my forehead, "I really am going to miss you." And then he bent his head and bushed his lips over my cheek.

 

I stared at him for a moment as he gazed back at me; there was something in the way he was looking at me which seemed different from the way he usually looked at me. "Raffles," I started to say, but at that moment there was a knock on his study door and I knew it would be the first of the upper sixth who had come to say goodbye to him.

 

He stood up pulling me to my feet with him in a single elegant move and with his arm around my shoulders led me out of his bedroom and into his study. I stayed with him, at his insistence, for an hour or so until it was time for me to leave to catch my train.

 

Before he let me go he pulled me into his arms and once more kissed my head as he held me closely against him. "Do have a good hols, Bunny," he said as he moved away from me and swept my hair back from my face. "And don't have too short a haircut," he smiled at me, bent his head and once more brushed his lips over my cheek before straightening up as once again a boy knocked at the door.

 

THREE WEEKS LATER

 

I walked by Mother's side along the main street in Ramsgate; we paused to look in the windows of the shops as we went by. Father was lunching with two other gentleman who were staying at the same hotel as Mother, Father and me, thus Mother and I were taking advantage of being able to wander around the shops, something Father hated doing.

 

As we stopped to look in the window of a shop that was fairly dimly lit suddenly something caught my eye. I gasped aloud and cried, "Mama."

 

Mother turned to look at me and blinked; her surprise was quite clear. I felt my cheeks become a little red as I realised I had called her by the childhood name I had for her. She smiled fondly at me. "Yes, Harry?"

 

I pointed to the object which had caught my attention. It was a mug and not just any mug, but an exact duplicate of the mug Raffles's grandfather had given him - the mug I had broken. "Please may I buy that mug, Mother?" And before she could reply, I hastened to explain why.

 

When I fell silent I saw a look on her face that I had never seen before and I thought her eyes looked just a little moist. "Oh, Harry," she said putting her hand on my shoulder, oh, my dear Harry." Her voice seemed to tremble just a little and she smiled at me.

 

And then suddenly I realised what she was trying to say. Again I felt my cheeks become warm and I glanced away from her. "I do apologise, Mother," I said softly.

 

"For what are you apologising, Harry?"

 

I looked at her. "For being such a foolish boy and presuming Raffles would want that mug. Of course it can't replace the one I broke, because it will be I who would give it to Raffles and not his grandfather."

 

"Look at me, Harry," she said softly. Of course I obeyed her (just as I obeyed Raffles). "I am quite certain that Arthur will not think it is foolish and I certainly do not think it is foolish. Indeed I am certain that Arthur will think it is a very kind and caring gesture. Trust me, Harry, whilst it may not quite replace the mug his grandfather gave him, he will cherish it because you have given it to him."

 

I stared at her. "Do you really think so, Mother?"

 

She nodded. "Yes, Harry, I do. Now, here you are," and she handed me several coins. "Well," she said with another smile, "for what are you waiting?"

 

I stared at her. "Aren't you going to come with me?"

 

She shook her head. "No, Harry, this is your gift to Arthur, you have shown what kind, mature boy you are, you should be the one to actually purchase it. Now go into the shop and I shall wait here for you."

 

I felt myself tremble just a little with a mixture of excitement and a touch of fear, as I smiled at her and hurried into the shop where I purchased the mug, making quite sure it was very well wrapped up and protected. It cost a little more than I had expected, but Mother had given me more than enough money.

 

LATER IN THE AFTERNOON

 

I presume Mother must have told Father because after I had washed my hands and face and joined them for tea, Father squeezed my shoulder and suggested that when we had finished our tea he and I take a walk by the sea. He never mentioned the mug or what I had done, but THEN that isn't Father's way, however the fact he had invited for me to join him for his early evening walk made me feel very happy indeed.

 

THREE WEEKS LATER

 

I hurried downstairs and into the breakfast room to find Mother and Father waiting for me. "Happy Birthday, Harry dear," Mother said standing up and hugging me before she kissed my cheek.

 

"Thank you, Mother."

 

"Happy Birthday, Harry," said Father, holding his hand out for me to shake.

 

I took it and shook it and only allowed the smallest tinge of regret that he believed me too old to hug to race through me. "Thank you, Father," I said. I sat down and glanced at the packages and envelopes that were by my plate.

 

My parents had given me a new pen and several books and we were to dine out that evening; it would be my first real grown up dining out experience and I was both excited and nervous. My uncle Richard (Father's brother) had sent me money and a pencil set. Ollie had sent me a box of toffees (at which Mother frowned slightly but said nothing) and a card and then I picked up a package addressed to me in Raffles's handwriting.

 

I opened it a little more slowly than I had opened the other gifts and to my surprise there were two envelopes and a wrapped parcel of what appeared to be a book. I opened the envelopes first and found one birthday card was from Raffles, and somewhat surprisingly the other one was from Charleston. I unwrapped the package and found it was indeed a book; it was a book of Keats's poetry and Raffles had written something inside. However, it was in Latin and a quick glance at it told me that it was far above what I had hitherto learnt, thus I closed the book and put it down carefully on the table.

 

THE FIRST DAY OF THE AUTUMN TERM

 

There appeared to have been some trouble with some of the trains as when I got down from my train and collected my bag and case I found far more boys than was usual in the station - including Raffles and Charleston.

 

They didn't see me as they appeared to be deep in conversation with Fellows, a boy from their year, whom I knew was no friend of theirs. Raffles was frowning, shaking his head and looked angry, Charleston appeared to be trying to keep the peace between Raffles and Fellows. Even though I would l have liked to have said hello to Raffles, I had no intention of interrupting them so I lowered my head and hurried past them heading for the exit of the station.

 

I had, however, only gone a few steps when I heard my name called. "Bunny!" I stopped and turned around to see Raffles with Charleston at his side striding towards me as Fellows stood and watched - he looked very displeased. "Hello, Bunny," Raffles said as he reached my side. He put his bags onto the ground, put one hand on my shoulder and let the other tangle in my hair as he gazed down at me with an affectionate smile.

 

"Hello, Raffles," I said smiling back up at him. "Hello, Charleston," I added, moving my gaze from Raffles to look at Charleston who was staring at Raffles and me.

 

"Hello, Manders. Did you have a good hols?"

 

I nodded. "Yes, thank you, Charleston and thank you for my birthday card."

 

To my surprise Charleston flushed a little and glanced away from me for a moment. "You are very welcome, Manders," he said. "Fourteen is an important age for a boy," he added.

 

I wasn't altogether certain what he meant, but I smiled and looked back at Raffles. "And thank you, Raffles, for the book."

 

Raffles smiled and for a second let his fingers touch my cheek before his hand went back onto my shoulder. "You are quite welcome, my rabbit, I know how fond you are of Keats."

 

I just went on gazing up at him in silence with a smile on my lips. I didn't mention what he had written inside (which I still hadn't managed to translate) maybe I would later when we were alone; nor did I ask him what he and Fellows had been arguing about. He was still staring down at me, also in silence and his expression was a mixture of the way he always looked at me: possessive, protective and affectionate, but there was something else too. And suddenly I remembered when I had seen the look before; it had been on the last day of term - then as now I had no idea what it meant, only that he had never looked at me in that way before.

 

Suddenly Charleston cleared his throat and Raffles turned his attention from me to look at Charleston. They appeared to have one of their silent conversations because Raffles smiled, ruffled my hair one more time before bending down to pick up his bags. "Come along, Bunny," he said, moving both bags into one hand and putting his arm around my shoulders as he tended to do.

 

"Yes, Raffles," I obediently replied and began to walk with Charleston on my other side. Both of them very kindly adapted their stride length to match mine, something Raffles always did, but I was very touched that Charleston did the same. Raffles and Charleston talked about cricket and speculated on what the standard of the new third formers might be and whether our house would have any decent players, whereas for the most part I just walked along in silence.

 

And then Raffles suddenly said, "And what did you do during the hols, Bunny?"

 

"My parents took me to Ramsgate," I said.

 

"Oh, that's nice and did you do anything in particular?"

 

To my horror I felt my cheeks grow warm and I hastened to think of something to say, anything that wasn't about the mug. However, despite the various trips we had made to surrounding towns and how nice the hotel had been, all I could think of was the mug.

 

"Bunny?" Raffles stopped and glanced down at me, "what on earth is the matter? Just what did you do in Ramsgate?"

 

"Nothing," I said, glancing down at the ground and desperately trying to think of something to say. However, my mind was a complete blank.

 

"I'm sure Manders will tell you later, A. J., he probably just doesnít want to tell you with me here," Charleston said calmly and then he once more began to talk to Raffles about cricket. I glanced at him and gave him what I hoped was a look of thanks and he smiled at me.

 

For a moment, however, I thought Raffles would object and insist on me answering him, but as Charleston was walking, now slightly ahead of us and still talking, after a second or two he sighed softly, looked at me sharply but once more began to walk.

 

AFTER SUPPER

 

I left Ollie and my fellow fourth formers in the common room and hurried back to the dorm where I knelt down and took the box containing the mug I had bought for Raffles out of my locker. I hadn't even told Ollie I had bought it for him, even though I had told him about the weeks Mother, Father and I had spent in Ramsgate.

 

I stood up and turned to leave the dorm and go to the sixth form studies. But suddenly I stopped and stared down at the package I held so carefully. What if he didn't like it? What if he thought it was a foolish thing for me to have done? What if rather than make him happy it actually upset or even annoyed him? Why had I bought it? Why had I thought I could replace the mug I had broken, the mug his grandfather had given him? Why had I listened to Mother and believed her when she had told me it was a lovely thing to do and that Raffles would like it because it had come from me. Why -

 

"Hello there, Bunny," Raffles said striding across the dorm towards me just in time to catch the box which had fallen from my hands as I'd jumped at the sound of his voice. I gasped and felt myself begin to shake as I realised how close I had come to breaking yet another mug. He held the box out to me, but I didn't dare take it from him, instead I pushed my hands into my blazer pockets in an attempt to hide quite how badly they were shaking.

 

He stood in front of me in silence for a moment before he put his hand on my head and slid his fingers into my hair. "What is in the box, Bunny?" he asked.

 

I swallowed hard and for a second considered lying to him. However, even had I wished to do so, I knew I would never get away with it. So instead I said softly, "It's for you."

 

He stared at me. "For me?"

 

I nodded. "Yes. But can we wait until we get back to your study before you open it?"

 

"But, Bunny, why are you -"

 

"Please, Raffles," I said quickly, daring to interrupt him.

 

He smiled at me and ruffled my hair. "Of course, my dear rabbit," he said softly and he took his hand from my hair and put it around my shoulders and carrying the box in one hand he led me out of the dorm, along the hallways and into his study. Not once did the idea that he might drop the box, given how he was only carrying it in one hand and didn't seem to even have a particularly secure grip on it, occur to me. This was Raffles; he had the safest pair of hands in the school; of course he wouldn't drop it.

 

He shut the door behind us before he put the box down on his desk and turned to look at me. Then he held out his arms and I hurried across the room and into them, putting my own arms around his waist as I rested my head against his shoulder and sighed with the sheer pleasure of being back in his arms again "I missed you, Raffles," I said softly.

 

He rested his head on mine for a moment or two before kissing the top of it. "And I, my beloved rabbit, missed you."

 

I moved back a little and gazed up at him. "Did you?" I heard myself ask and then felt my cheeks become quite warm. I tried to look away from him but one of his hands had gone onto my head and his fingers were tangled in my hair and he tightened his grip just a little, ensuring I could not lower my head.

 

"Yes, Bunny, I did. I really did. I missed you very much indeed," he said quietly as he stared down at me; the look on his face was the same as it had been on the last day of the summer term and when we had met earlier at the station. "And I'm pleased to see you didn't let your father persuade you to have your hair cut too short."

 

I smiled up at him. "Mother likes it this length," I said.

 

"Your mother is a very sensible lady, Bunny." He smiled at me before moving back a little. "Well now, my rabbit, may I be permitted to open the box?"

 

I swallowed hard and for a moment considered telling him I had changed my mind or something else equally foolish. However, I nodded. "Yes," I said quietly and bit my lip. He went on holding me in a loose embrace for another moment or two before he let his arms fall from around me and moved to his desk. "Raffles!" I caught his arm.

 

He stopped and looked at me. "Yes, my rabbit?"

 

"I . . . That is . . . It's . . . I'll understand if you don't like it or think it's foolish or . . . Mother said it was a good idea but . . . Actually, Raffles, I really don't think. . . Oh, just open the box." I sighed and turned away from him.

 

His hands were on my shoulders and he turned me back to face him. "Bunny, if you would rather I not open the box, you only have to say so." As I stared at him, as I heard how serious his tone was, I knew he meant it.

 

I shook my head. "No, I want you to. It's just -" I forced myself to stop speaking.

 

He waited for another moment or two, before he bent his head and brushed his lips over my forehead and then he turned once more to his desk and began to open the box.

 

I stood and waited, fidgeting and twisting my fingers together. I considered telling him I needed to go to the lavatory but I knew he wouldn't believe me; he never did. I could understand why, it was a ploy I used from time to time when I felt I should leave his study or even on the rare occasions he had asked me something I hadn't really wished to answer. And his answer was always the same: 'No you don't, Bunny; stay where you are'. So I just went on waiting and watching him. He even opened gifts in an elegant way.

 

His back was to me and I couldn't see his face. All I could see was how still he became as he lifted the mug from the box and stared at it. "Bunny," he whispered, before turning to look at me; again I could not read the expression on his face. However, I was a little concerned to see what looked like a hint of moisture in his eyes. "Oh, my dear little rabbit," he murmured, holding out one arm to me, I hesitated for no more than a second before I moved towards him and let him put his arm around me. "Did you really buy this for me?" He tugged me a little nearer to him.

 

I rested against him and nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said. "It was when we were in Ramsgate, Mother and I were looking around the shops and I saw it and asked Mother if I might buy it for you. I told her why and -" I fell silent and moved back a little to look up at him. "Do you mind, Raffles?" I said softly.

 

"Do I mind? Oh, my beloved Bunny, how could you ask such a thing? Of course I do not mind, quite the opposite. I - Oh, Bunny, do come here." And he put the mug down carefully onto his desk and gathered me into his arms and pulled me close against him, closer that he had ever pulled me before. "Thank you, my rabbit," he murmured, his lips on my earth.

 

"You don't think it was a foolish thing to do? I mean I know it can't replace the one your grandfather gave you, because, well, he gave it to you. But - " I fell silent as his lips didn't just brush against my ear, his lips kissed my ear and then he pushed me away just a little and his lips were on my cheek and then -

 

And then his mouth was on mine, his arms were around me, holding me securely against him, as he kissed me and went on kissing me until I dared to risk kissing him back, knowing even as I did that my kiss, unlike his, was completely and utterly naÔve and almost certainly wasn't the kind of kiss he liked. However, he didn't seem to object, he didn't seem to mind, instead he just pulled me even nearer to him, took his mouth from mine for a second or two to allow us both to breathe before he kissed me again and again and again and again and again.

 

"Raffles?" I murmured, when he finally not only took his mouth from mine, he straightened up, held me away from him just a little and gazed down at me as he brushed my hair from my forehead and let his fingers stroke my scalp.

 

"Yes, my rabbit?"

 

"I love you," I blurted out.

 

He smiled; the smile I'd never seen him give anyone else - not even Charleston - as he pulled me back more closely to him. He lowered his head and once more put his lips on my ear and murmured something to me - in Latin.

 


 

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