DOING HIS DUTY
Set during their school days.
Bunny may have fagging duties to perform for Raffles, but equally Raffles feels he has a duty to keep Bunny safe and happy. But is duty the only reason for him acting as he does after a particular incident involving Bunny on the cricket field?
A first time story.
Written: July 2013. Word count: 10,550.
Bunny's duties as my fag were really not onerous - at least not when compared to what many of my fellow sixth form boys made their fags do. He kept my kit clean and in good condition, dusted, polished my shoes and wrote my verses for me. However, beyond that most of the time he spent in my study was simply because I liked having him around. I enjoyed his company - which may sound a strange thing given he was a rather immature and young for his age boy of thirteen and I was a rather mature for my age eighteen year old boy.
Nonetheless I did enjoy his company - and not in the way many of my fellow sixth formers 'enjoyed' the company of their fags. Despite the vast majority of the school believing that the duties Bunny performed for me did indeed include those of a sexual nature; that was not true, not in any way. Yes, it was true I found it incredibly difficult to keep my hands off of him and in particular I enjoyed pushing his hair back for him and tangling it around my fingers; and I did embrace him and let him sit close to me and on occasions, if he was particularly upset or seemed in need of reassurance, I would take him onto my lap. However, it was all done in a somewhat brotherly way - I would never take advantage of his devotion to me, and I certainly would not hurt him or upset him by expecting him to do things I wasn't even certain he understood, at least not fully.
The duties he did perform for me, he did incredibly well. I have always taken pride in my appearance and taken care of my clothes, but I have to confess my shoes had never been quite as well polished as they were during the time Bunny polished them for me. And despite not being any kind of cricketer (although he was very good at keeping score) he kept my kit in excellent condition. He dusted well enough - I had no objections, apart from when he left a picture slightly crooked - but of all the things he did for me, the duty at which he was most able was writing my verses.
I considered myself to be a good student (not as good as Charlie, but then no one was) and I excelled at Latin (it was the one subject in which I was better than Charlie) but one thing I was not only poor at, but also hated was writing verses. Thankfully I had had the good fortune to choose a boy to be my fag who excelled at English and whose verse writing was superior to verses I had seen written by my peers.
He was a good boy; he was a very good boy and I was fond of him; I cared about him - perhaps more than I should, certainly more than I was prepared to admit to anyone (even to Charlie) or indeed to myself. I enjoyed having him in my study and it was a rare evening when he did not spend part of the evening with me, even if all he did was read a book.
However, I had told him when I said good night to him, that unfortunately he would not be welcome in my study the following evening as I had to study for a Latin test. Despite excelling at the subject, I had the distinct impression that Mr. Ratcliffe - the new Latin master - did not care for me, which in itself did not worry me. However, he was my deputy house master and I had the feeling he may well have been keeping an eye on me, that he may even have had his suspicions about my venturing out of school and going into the local town on some evenings.
Thus, I was determined to do especially well in the test and hopefully prove to him what a good and studious boy I was; a boy who spent his evenings with his books. As such I decided that Bunny's presence in my study might be a little distracting and also that Ratcliffe might somehow know Bunny was in my study and thus would not believe I had studied arduously for the test.
Bunny's disappointment when I had told him had been clear, but being the good boy he was it was also fleeting, and after sighing softly he assured me he understood and wouldn't disturb me - and wished me good luck for the test.
As I stood and watched him trot away heading towards the third form dorm, I had, to my surprise, felt a degree of guilt for upsetting Bunny as well as disappointment at having to spend an evening without my rabbit. You see whilst Bunny had his duties for me, I felt I had a duty to him; a duty to keep him safe, happy and protected.
Unfortunately for him, he is a very pretty boy, with long blond hair (far too long really for a boy, but he seems to like it and I do), large blue eyes and a very pale complexion. And as well as being young for his age, he is very young, he is the youngest boy in the school, his birthday falling in August; he is also small for his age and is every bit of innocent as he looks. From the moment I took him as mine I was determined I would ensure he remained as innocent as he looked for the duration of my time at the school.
It does not please me to have to confess that some of my fellow sixth formers and even a few fifth formers would dearly wish and desire to take Bunny's innocence from him - their interest in him is quite different from my own. However, I have a good standing in the school and not just because of my role as captain of the eleven, and I have made it quite, quite clear to whom Bunny belongs and quite how important he is to me and how angry I would be if any other boy dared to touch him or harm him in any way. As such whilst a few boys have made the odd disgusting comment to Bunny and a couple even did dare to try to put their hands on him - they never tried more than once - I have indeed kept him safe and his innocence remains intact.
Unfortunately he does get ragged far more than other third formers and I know it upsets him even though he never actually tells me of the things that are done to him. However, I always know and thus I take it upon myself to try to cheer him up and let him know that someone (other than his best friend) does care about him. Also, of course, if he is unwell I will care for him unless he needs matron's care at which point I will take him to the San.
It is right, it is proper that I do these things for him; he has his duties, I have mine. I am not the only sixth former who cares (at least to a degree) about his fag and will do things like taking him to the San if he is unwell, but I do take my responsibilities further than most boys do.
I knew I would miss him being in my study, but as well as my duty to Bunny, I did have a wider duty, to the school, to the eleven and to my parents who expected me to take my place at Cambridge when I left the school. Thus, I would study and ensure I gave Ratcliffe no grounds for giving me a low grade, putting me in detention or anything else he had the power to do.
And that is exactly what I had planned to do - until that is I was witness to a third form cricket match that involved my rabbit.
I knew how much Bunny hated being picked to play in an actual match as really he was not competent with either bat or ball - at least not a match that mattered. I actually believe he quite enjoyed the game when he was playing with other boys whose level was about the same as his, but other than that it worried him to have to play.
However, Anderson was a fair master, a kind master (one of the kindest and fairest) and he believed in giving all boys a chance, no matter what their ability level. He, apart from when the eleven were playing, believed firmly that cricket was 'only a game' and that the important thing was taking part, not winning and as thus he encouraged boys like Bunny. I do sometimes wonder if he realised quite how much his kindness actually upset boys like Bunny, and how they'd rather he wasn't 'kind' but instead didn't make them play. However, that is not Anderson and it wasn't my place (not even as captain of the eleven) to suggest such a thing to a master.
Thus with Charlie by my side and a few other of the eleven nearby I stood, with more than a degree of trepidation and watched a third form house match which involved our house - or rather I spent most of my time watching Bunny and trying by force of will to encourage and even help him.
He actually scored half a dozen runs before hitting the ball directly back into the hands of the boy bowling. I had long since stopped paying attention to the way the older boys laughed when Bunny did something foolish or inept on the cricket field. As I had explained to him they actually weren't laughing at him - he didn't matter in that respect - they were laughing at me for taking such an incompetent cricketer as my fag. I think he believed me, especially as Charlie had reinforced my words, at least I hoped he did.
As such I ignored the stifled and not so stifled laughter around me and kept my eyes affixed on Bunny who, head down so his hair covered his face, trudged off the field. The incoming batsman clearly said something to him as they passed one another and from the way Bunny's shoulders slumped even more I could imagine the kind of thing that was said. As I said I did not mind my peers laughing, but I didn't like the way Bunny's fellow third formers laughed - especially when those laughing were boys who were as unskilled as he. But as Charlie had told me more than once if I tired to do anything about it, it would only make things worse for Bunny.
"He scored six runs, A. J.," Charlie said, putting his hand on my arm.
I turned to look at the boy I had known for some ten years, the boy who was my best friend, the boy who was so very important to me and smiled a little. "Yes, Charlie, I know."
"And his grip was better than I've seen it before; he did well."
I think I loved Charlie more at that moment than I had ever loved him. "Well, yes, he did - until he hit the ball straight back to the bowler."
Charlie shrugged. "We've all done that A. J. - even you."
I shot him a look which made him laugh and took his arm. "Come on, now Bunny's finished batting let's go and have a cigarette."
He stared at me and for a moment I thought he'd say 'no' - Charlie cares far more about rules than I do. But then he shrugged, "Why not?" he said as he put his arm though mine and we walked off towards the boat houses.
We returned to watch our house take to the field; as I expected Bunny was placed just about as far away from the wicket as it was possible to get and also in an area of the field that few batsmen hit balls into.
Runs were made; wickets fell; the sun shone down on us, at one point Charlie left me and went back to the house to fetch our straw hats, and Bunny had little if anything to do. The odd ball that did go in his direction was run down by another boy. However, my rabbit kept his attention fully on the match; he watched every ball that was bowled, he followed it as it was hit and he was ready should a ball be hit in his direction. I was proud of him; I was really proud of him.
I was so busy watching Bunny that it was only when Charlie nudged me and pointed towards the scoreboard that I realised how close the match was. The final over was about to be bowled and the other house couldn't afford to lose a wicket. In the end it went right down to the last ball which had to be hit for a four or else our house would win.
The batsman (the mainstay of the other house) hit the ball high up into the air and shouted to the boy at the other end of the crease to begin running. As I saw the direction in which he had hit the ball I gripped Charlie's arm and we both stood and watched as the ball headed towards Bunny.
The rest of the boys from our house, those on the field and watching, started to shout and scream instructions to Bunny and as he looked upwards and ran backwards a few steps his hands out I knew what was going to happen. He was looking directly into the sun - something you can learn to cope with if you play cricket often - and everyone was shouting conflicting instructions. There could only be one outcome.
He got a hand on it, but from the way his hand jerked I fancy it had hit one of his fingers and although he made a valiant effort, which ended with him on the ground, the ball fell to the ground and rolled an inch or two stopping just short of the boundary. And even though Bunny did struggle to his feet, grab and ball and attempt to throw it towards the wicket, the boys from the other house had managed to run the four runs they needed.
I knew the other boys from our house would be disappointed to have lost such a close match, but I hadn't expected quite how angry they would be and quite how much they would blame Bunny. As they shouted at him and told him how stupid and inept he was and how their younger sisters could have caught the ball, I felt the anger rise in me. It wasn't Bunny's fault; one boy alone does not win or lose a cricket match; if the batsmen had scored more runs or the bowlers had been more accurate then - So yes, Bunny had dropped the final catch, but he did not deserve the anger and sheer dislike that was being poured on him.
I swear were it not for Charlie firmly taking my arm and dragging me away as he said, "You can't do anything, A. J., you'll only make it worse," that I would have gone across to the boys and let them know exactly what I thought of them.
I struggled even though I knew it was fruitless, as well as being a few inches taller than me, Charlie is stronger and his grip is even tighter than mine - if he wanted me to go back to the house with him, that is where I would go. I finally stopped struggling as I felt my wrist begin to burn from the tightness of his grip. As soon as he felt me cease to struggle he let go of my wrist and arm and instead once more put his arm through mine and led me back to his study.
I sat in my study my Latin book open on the desk in front of me and tried to study, but the memory of what the boys had shouted at Bunny and how forlorn, guilty and upset he had looked would not leave my mind.
I gave serious consideration to going to the dorm and bringing him back to my study - it was, after all, my duty to care for him. However, I remembered what Charlie had said to me and I also rather hoped that Bunny would dare to disturb me, that he would know how important he was to me and how I wouldn't mind him disobeying me. I rather hoped his need for someone to comfort him (Urquhart was in the San so he had no one to whom he could talk) would overcome his fear of making me angry.
I sat at my desk for another twenty minutes or so before I took my book and settled down onto the sofa to study. Another ten minutes went by before I heard a faint noise and looked up to see the door knob turning slowly. I deliberately turned my attention back to my book as the door began to open; I kept my gaze firmly on the page as I heard it being closed softly and moments later I felt Bunny sink to the floor next to me and press himself against my leg.
Again I fought my instinct to pull him onto the sofa next to me, put my arm around him and let him know how sorry I was; again I waited for him to make the first move. Thus, apart from putting my hand on his head and tangling his hair around my fingers for a moment or two I simply went on staring at my book.
At least I went on until I heard a muffled sob escape from him, a sob I knew he had tried to prevent; at that point I knew I couldn't just sit there and in effect ignore him for any longer. Thus I put my book down, bent over and pulled him from the floor onto the sofa next to me and seconds later as the tears began to fall down his cheeks (one of which was showing signs of developing a bruise) I gathered him onto my lap, pushed his head down onto my shoulder and held him tightly, murmuring what I hoped were soothing words as he cried and in a shaking voice told me some of the things the boys had said to him. I didn't ask him about the bruise on his cheek, as I knew full well he would say he had tripped over or something.
"I'm sorry, Raffles," he finally murmured, as he took the handkerchief I offered him (yes, I know he always carries one, he's that kind of boy, but I like to give him mine) and dried his eyes.
I stared at him. "My dear Bunny, you do not need to apologise."
"But I missed the catch and lost the match for our house. And it was an easy catch."
I pushed his away from me a little, brushed his hair off of his forehead and face and tucked it behind his ears. "Now listen to me, Bunny, firstly, you did not lose the match - you were not the only boy playing. Cricket is a team sport, my rabbit; one player does not win or lose a match." He looked at me a little sceptically and I knew he was remembering the times that Charlie and I had in effect won a match for our house - but that was quite different; it was two of us and we were cricketers. "And secondly," I went on, "it was not an easy catch."
He widened his eyes and gazed at me. "Wasn't it?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No, Bunny, it wasn't. Trust me, my rabbit, believe me, that was not an easy catch. You were looking up directly into the sun and moving backwards - not to mention you had several boys all giving you contradictory instructions. It was a very difficult catch and any boy who has told you otherwise is deliberately trying to upset you and make you feel guilty."
He stared at me. "But I've seen you and Charleston and other boys on the eleven catch balls like that."
I sighed softly and pulled him a little nearer to him so that I might kiss his forehead, something I did from time to time. "Yes, my rabbit," I said softly, "you have. However, remember Charlie, the other boys on the eleven and I are cricketers and used to catching that kind of ball. We may make it look easy, but I promise you, Bunny, it is not."
"Really?" he said his voice full of hope.
"Really," I said firmly. "Would you like to come with me and you can ask Charlie what he thinks. I assure you he will tell you just what I have told you. Well?" I asked gently when he didn't answer, "would you like to ask Charlie, he won't mind."
He shook his head slowly. "No, thank you, Raffles. I don't want to disturb him - and if you tell me it wasn't easy then -" he swallowed and finally smiled at me. "I believe you," he said.
"That's my good boy," I murmured, bending my head a little again. I swear I had fully intended to merely do no more than brush my lips over his forehead again. However, I suddenly found it wasn't my forehead my lips were on, it was his lips.
I wouldn't even call it a kiss, not as such, my lips touched his for a second or two, no longer and they merely brushed over his lips, rather than touch them with any pressure. However, I immediately felt a flash of guilt go through me that I had done such a thing to my beloved rabbit. However, as well as the flash of guilt I also felt a flash of pleasure and a sudden urge to do it again.
However, I did not. I merely sat, holding him in a loose embrace, meeting his steady gaze that seemed to ask me silent questions, questions I ignored, before I carefully pushed him off my lap, got up and went to my desk where I pulled out a bar of chocolate and brought it back to the sofa. He hesitated for a second or two as I held out a piece to him and I wondered if he was going to say something about the non-kiss kiss.
But to my relief he did not he simply took the chocolate and smiled up at me. "Thank you, Raffles," he said - and I knew quite clearly the thank you wasn't just for the chocolate.
By the time he went back to the dorm, he seemed quite a lot happier and I was quite certain he did believe what I had told him about he not losing the match for the house and that it hadn't been an easy catch he had dropped.
THE NEXT MORNING
I awoke somewhat earlier than I usually did and was the only boy in the bathroom when I bathed. During the night an idea had come to me, an idea to reassure Bunny even more and hopefully discourage his tormentors from causing him any more pain over the dropped catch. However, it wasn't something I could do alone.
After I had dressed, I left my study, knocked once on Charlie's door and strode in without waiting for him to answer - as we tended to do at least during the day. He was in his bedroom and had just removed his dressing-gown and was about to start dressing as I sauntered in; I leant against the wall he picked his drawers up and them on. I had seen Charlie naked so many times I didn't consciously pay any attention to him, other than in the way all boys pay attention to another naked boy, even one they saw naked on a regular basis.
"Hello, Charlie," I said, my gaze coming to rest for a fleeting moment on his hands as he buttoned his drawers up and rearranged himself slightly.
"Good morning, A. J.," he said, as unconcerned by the fact by his start of undress as I was. "You're up early."
"Yes. I have an idea, Charlie, something that should help Bunny somewhat better about what happened at the match yesterday.
Charlie had put his trousers on by now and was buttoning them up as I once again let my gaze flicker to his hands and what he was doing. "Was he very upset?"
I sighed and nodded. "He was, yes. Both by what happened and by what his dorm mates said to him - and one boy in particular."
Charlie knotted his tie as he stared at me. "Kennedy?" I nodded. "Did he blame himself?"
"He did to begin with, but I think I persuaded him by the time he went back to the dorm that no one boy can win or lose a match and that it wasn't an easy catch. I even offered to bring him here so that you could confirm what I'd said."
"Which I would have done," Charlie said as he pulled on his coat. "It wasn't an easy catch. A. J., we both know that."
"We do - but Bunny has seen both you and me and others on the eleven make catches like that."
"That's different." Charlie knelt down to tie his shoes.
I nodded. "That's what I told him. As I said, I think he believed me before he went back to the dorm. But . . ."
"What is your idea?" Charlie stood up, picked up his brush and began to brush his hair
I hesitated for a moment before I told him. Even though I knew Charlie better than I knew anyone else, even though I knew he hated injustice and bullying and even though I knew that he was fond of Bunny, I still wasn't certain he would agree to give up an afternoon, an afternoon I was sure he had planned to spend studying.
He stared at me for a moment or two and then shrugged and then to my surprise he moved nearer to me and put a hand on my shoulder. "Why, A. J.? Why do you wish to do this? Is it just because you feel a duty to try to make Manders feel better?"
I stared at him and let my gaze flicker away to one side as I felt his grip tighten on my shoulder. "That's part of it, Charlie," I said slowly. "I do see it, as you know, as my duty. But it's more than that." I fell silent and he just stared unblinkingly at me until I sighed softly and admitted what I had never admitted aloud, not even to myself, "It's also because I care about him, Charlie, I care about him a great deal."
To my surprise he smiled at me, a smile I had rarely seen on Charlie's face, and he put a hand on my cheek. My surprise increased as the next moment I felt his lips on mine and he kissed me for a moment or two before moving back from me. "Well done, A. J.," he said as he smiled again. "I wondered how much longer would go on before you finally admitted what I could see quite clearly some eight months ago."
I stared back at him torn between kissing him and asking him to give me an answer. Ten years of being such close friends has taught us how to communicate without words, something we do very well on the cricket field, and before I could decide whether to kiss him or ask him if he was going to agree to help me, Charlie took his hand from my shoulder and took another step away from me and shrugged. "Let's do it," he said. "We have a free afternoon and even I'm tired of studying."
I stared at him in surprise. "You're tired of studying? Are you feeling quite well, Charlie?"
He rolled his eyes at me. "I can think of better things to do than study, A. J.," he said, his tone soft and with a hint of - I wasn't quite sure. "However," he said, taking my arm, "I think your idea is a good one, so we'll do that instead."
I smiled at him and touched his hand. "Thank you, Charlie. You are the best friend a boy could ever have."
He shrugged and a slight flush touched his cheek - Charlie never took compliments well; they tended to fluster him (in a way nothing else ever flustered him) and embarrass him just a little. "You don't envisage Anderson will have any objections, do you?"
I shook my head. "No."
"In that case, let us go to breakfast."
Dressed in cricket whites and our cricket blazers Charlie and I strolled down to the cricket pitch where the third form boys of our house were gathered. As soon as they came into view my eyes automatically scanned the boys until they came to rest on Bunny. He was standing alone (Urquhart was still in the San and Bunny was beginning to get a little worried about him, even though matron had assured him Urquhart wasn't seriously ill) and behind all the other boys.
As we got closer I could see he kept looking around him and taking a step or two further away from the rest of his dorm mates, as if he was giving serious consideration to running away and hoping Anderson wouldn't miss him. The fact that none of the boys were talking to him or even looking at him annoyed me and I was more convinced than ever that we were doing the right thing.
I had my arm through Charlie's but as soon as we got near Anderson and the boys I took my arm from his and called out, "Excuse me, Mr. Anderson, sir, may we have a word with you, please?"
Anderson turned around and looked surprised to see us. "Raffles; Charleston," he acknowledged us with a frown and came towards us. I could see all the boys were now looking in our direction - including Bunny who looked as surprised as Anderson had looked. I glanced away from Anderson a moment and let my gaze come to rest on Bunny and smiled at my beloved rabbit. After a second or two during which his cheeks became a little red he smiled back at me and moved forwards a little.
"What do you and Charleston want, Raffles? The headmaster hasn't arranged some kind of cricket match and forget to tell me, has he?"
I shook my head. "No, sir, it's nothing like that, sir. It's just that Charleston and I had an idea; you see, sir, we wondered if -" And I quickly explained my idea - without telling him the real reason behind it.
"Well," he said, looking from me to Charlie and back again, "I think it's an excellent idea; I'm sure the boys will learn a lot from the two of you."
"Thank you, sir."
He nodded and turned around. "Boys," he called, "come here." They all hurried over to us. "Raffles and Charleston are going to join the afternoon's lesson - in fact they are in effect going to take it. I'll leave it to Raffles to explain to you just what he and Charleston have in mind."
There were excited cries and several boys began to talk excitedly at once. As Charlie held his hands up to silence them I let my gaze wanders over the heads of the boys and come to rest on Bunny. He was staring at me with a mixture of surprise and apprehension on his face and for a moment I wondered if rather than make things better, I would actually make things worse.
"A. J." Charlie spoke softly, so softly that the boys who still hadn't fallen completely silent, despite Charlie holding his hands up, wouldn't have heard us and he touched my arm.
After giving Bunny what I hoped was a reassuring smile, I dragged my attention away from him and held my own hands up. "Boys," I said firmly, they finally they fell silent and I swiftly outlined our plans. "Basically we will split up into two teams - yes, I know there will be a few more per team than on an actual cricket team, but don't worry about that. Charlie will captain one side and I the other; we will both play, and whilst you are encouraged to do our best to get us out, we won't actually leave the field - that would defeat the object. We will be on hand to guide you through batting, bowling and fielding. All boys," I swiftly glanced at Bunny and gave him another encouraging smile, "will take part and all of you will have an equal opportunity to bat, bowl and field. Are there any questions?" Kennedy raised his hand instantly.
"Are we playing an actual match - will there be a winning team and a losing one?"
I glanced swiftly at Charlie and raised an eyebrow. "The score will be kept," Charlie said, "in order to make it a little more realistic and competitive, but no, in effect it won't be a match."
"Who is going to choose who goes on which side?" Kennedy asked, raising his hand a second after he had begun to speak. "Will Mr. Anderson decide?"
I shook my head. "No, Charlie and I will choose - we're aware of your relative abilities -"
"Or inabilities," Kennedy muttered to the three boys standing closest to him and they all stifled laughter.
It was clear he hadn't intended or expected his voice to be heard, but I heard it and as flicked my eyes sidewards the look on Charlie's face made it quite clear he had heard it as well. However, I went on speaking as if Kennedy hadn't dared to interrupt me. "And we will divide you up accordingly." I paused for a moment, let my gaze come to rest on Kennedy and said flatly, "Is there anything else, Kennedy, or shall we get on?"
He flushed under my words and looked down at the ground.
Charlie and I swiftly divided the boys into two teams; I called Bunny to my side and, as we had agreed, Charlie called Kennedy to his. As he made his way to where Charlie stood, I noticed Kennedy was smiling and I heard him say something to Waine. I didn't hear exactly what he said, but I got the impression Kennedy was rather looking forward to taking me on - and a quick glance at Charlie who I suspected had heard confirmed my thoughts.
Anderson tossed; Charlie called and won the toss and as we had agreed opted to put my team into bat first - which I could see surprised Kennedy.
As Charlie led his boys out onto the field and began to place them, I cast my eyes over my boys trying to decide who I would put into bat with me first. "Coppen," I said handing him a bat, "and then Taylor, Morgan and Smedley - I'll sort the rest of you out later. You boys sit down here and watch and do try to encourage your team mates."
"Yes, Raffles," they said.
"Good boys. Come along then, Coppen, let us go and see what Charlie has in store for us."
I turned to head towards the crease with Coppen but Bunny caught my arm. "Raffles," he whispered.
He glanced around him but the rest of the boys had sat down and weren't paying us any attention and Coppen was kneeling down retying his shoes. "Do I have to bat and bowl?" he gave me a pleading look.
I forced myself to ignore it and instead put my hand on his shoulder and squeezed it. "Yes, Bunny, you do."
I bent my head and a little and said quietly, "Just trust me, my rabbit."
He sighed softly but said obediently, "Yes, Raffles."
I straightened up and ruffled his hair. "That's my good boy," I said and after giving him a quick smile I led Coppen onto the pitch where Charlie was waiting.
All went very well; the boys, after seeming more than a little in awe for the first ten minutes or so, soon began to relax and it was clear they were enjoying themselves greatly and I could see some of them at least were indeed learning things they wouldn't have learnt under Anderson. Charlie and I both adapted our games to take into account the fact we were not only playing against thirteen and fourteen year olds, but also against boys most of whom weren't very skilled.
Charlie obligingly let himself be hit over the field from time to time and I was officially 'out' twice and it was easy to see what such things were doing for the morale of the boys - whether most, if any of them, realised that Charlie and I weren't actually playing to our full (or anywhere like it) abilities, I couldn't tell. However, from the few times I glanced at Anderson who stood watching I knew he knew and approved.
Even Bunny managed to get into double figures (helped I have to admit by Charlie) but thanks to listening to me and obligingly letting me adjust his grip and stance he certainly held his bat far better than I had ever seen him hold it, and by the time his innings was over he was smiling and as enthusiastic as the other boys. I was also really pleased to see he was clearly part of the team, even daring to clap as wildly as the other boys when Charlie dropped a perfectly easy catch.
Halfway through our innings as I was about to take the bat, Charlie threw the ball to Kennedy and told him to bowl. I saw the gleam in Kennedy's eyes and heard him quite clearly say to Waine, "If Dalgliesh can bowl Raffles out, I know I can."
Well, he was in for a surprise, a shock even. I sent his first two balls up into the air and over the boundary for sixes; his third went for a four and his fourth allowed Green and me to run two. By now he was very red in the face and had a grim look on his face as he glared at me.
I watched Charlie go up to him and heard him talk to Kennedy clearly giving him some advice. At first Kennedy shook his head, but then as Charlie went on talking he shrugged, gave a half nod and once Charlie had moved away bowled to me.
I confess I was rather surprised that he had listened to Charlie - but he clearly had as he was far less flamboyant and obvious than he had been during his previous four balls, and although I easily got my bat on the ball, all I could do was to hit it along the ground back to him.
Finally we were down to the final over of my team's innings. "Okay, boys," I called, "Charlie is going to bowl to me, watch and go on leaning." I glanced at Charlie who hitherto hadn't bowled to me during the match and gave him a swift nod and waited as he set his field.
With both of us playing to our full abilities and knowing one another's games so intimately, the honours between us were evenly split for the first five balls and then Charlie began his run up for the sixth. To anyone watching they wouldn't have seen anything different in the way Charlie spun the ball towards me; they would just have assumed I had again got the better of him. However, it was bowled differently; it was bowled to give me the opportunity to with it as I wished.
I hit it with the centre of my bat and sent it high up into the air in the direction of Kennedy who began to run backwards as the ball came towards him. Charlie's team (with the exception of Charlie himself who remained silent) began to shout instructions to Kennedy who kept moving backwards as he stared up at the ball. He was looking directly into the sun - as I had planned - and the ball began to spin down to him. I stood at the crease and watched and Charlie stood by the stumps and watched as the boys continued to call out.
We couldn't predict what Kennedy would do or not do, we had done the best we could - I couldn't make him miss the catch. But that is exactly what happened; I made sure my face was impassive as the ball caught his hand and then fell an inch or two in front of him and hit the ground and he bent over to pick it up.
"Bad luck, Kennedy," Charlie called over the sound of the
boys on his team booing Kennedy and the boys on my team cheering. "That was a
very difficult catch; you did well to even get a hand on it." Everyone fell
silent as Charlie went on, "You aren't the first boy, A. J. has done that to -
and you won't be the last."
Kennedy was very red faced and didn't look at all happy, but at Charlie's words he did manage to nod and bite his lip as he pushed his hair off his face. "Thank you, Charleston," he managed, his tone flat.
"It really wasn't an easy catch, Kennedy," I said leaving the crease and joining Charlie. "Catching a ball when you have to stare directly into the sun is never easy and you had to look up for quite some time. It's takes a lot of practise to learn how to deal with balls like that - to someone who doesn't understand cricket they can look deceptively easy, but as you now know, they aren't, are they?"
The look his cast me was more than a little disrespectful, but I ignored it and just held his gaze. Finally, he shrugged and said with more than a hint of a grudge in his tone, "No, Raffles."
I smiled. "Good boy," I said.
We had a short break which allowed those boys who needed to do so to visit the facilities before I led my boys onto the field and Charleston led a somewhat shaking Dalgliesh to the crease.
Things went pretty much as they had done when my boys had been batting and Charlie's on the field. I tempered my bowling, Charlie tempered his batting, and the boys' enthusiasm and enjoyment continued to increase - even Bunny didnít do more than gulp and give me a wide-eyed look when I calmly put the ball into his hand and gave him a few words of advice as to how to bowl.
And then Kennedy appeared at the crease and said something to Charlie who widened his eyes and said something in reply but Kennedy answered him back and clearly said something that made Charlie look less than pleased.
To my surprise, bat in hand, Charlie strode from the crease and across the field towards me. He moved close to me and bent his head just a little and said softly, his mouth against my ear, "Kennedy wants you to bowl properly to him - those were his words, A. J., not mine."
I glanced at Kennedy who was staring at Charlie and me and then looked at Charlie. "Does he now?" I said softly.
Charlie gave a curt nod. "Yes, apparently he believes neither you nor I are playing as he knows we can." I raised an eyebrow as Charlie went on, "Which according to Kennedy is understandable, especially when applied to," he paused and said flatly, "certain players, but he doesn't want it to apply to him."
Around us all the boys had fallen silent and were staring at Charlie and me. "And did he name any of the certain players?" Charlie gave a curt nod. "Very well then," I said after a moment or two during which I once more let my gaze come to rest on Kennedy. "I shall give him what he wants."
Charlie caught my arm. "A. J.," he said, "don't forget he is only fourteen and whilst he - Just be careful, A. J."
"I'm not stupid, Charlie," I said.
"No, I know. But you are -" Charlie fell silent and for a moment his gaze flickered to where Bunny stood watching us. "Are you really going to bowl properly to him?"
I sighed softly. "No, Charlie, of course I'm not. I just won't temper it as much as I have done with the other boys; as you said he is still only fourteen - and surprising as it may sound, I don't actually want to physically hurt him."
Charlie squeezed my arm and gave me a gentle look. "That's my A. J.," he said, before he headed back to the crease where he said something to Kennedy who looked pleased and it had to be said, to my surprise, just a little apprehensive.
I was as good as my word and Kennedy didn't make a single run - indeed he didn't even get his bat on my first three balls. Once again Charlie gave him some advice and whilst Kennedy gave him a thunderous look, he did listen and thus did at least manage to get his bat on my final three balls, even if he didn't get out of his crease.
And then it was the final over; the scores were very close - Charlie and I had worked very hard - and the excitement of the boys was growing more and more palpable. And I found that even though Charlie and I had set this up as a lesson in more ways than one, I found I was enjoying myself very much - more so than I had enjoyed a game of cricket for some time.
As with the final over before we had changed over, I was bowling to Charlie and once again we both, for the first five balls, played as we could play. And then I bowled the sixth ball and Charlie sent it up into the air in the direction I had placed Bunny.
As I expected a look of concern raced over his face as he looked up and began to run backwards and the rest of the boys on the field started to call out. I heard Kennedy say with a laugh in his voice, "That's an clever shot of Charleston's; there's no way Manders will catch it."
I raised my voice. "Bunny!" I called swiftly, "listen to me. Don't listen to anyone else, just focus on my voice. Listen to me. Now don't look directly into the sun, there's a good boy. Do not look into the sun. That's it, Bunny, go back a little more and a little more and wait, now look up - but don't look into the sun. That's it, Bunny." I paused, my gaze still firmly affixed on Bunny; the rest of my boys had stopped calling out instructions and were now just encouraging Bunny, telling him he could catch it, whilst Kennedy and Waine jeered.
I didn't have to look at Charlie to know his full focus would be on Bunny as well - as with the catch I had sent to Kennedy, it was now out of my hands; Bunny would either catch it or not - I had done all I could. "Watch the ball, Bunny," I called, seeing it start to descend at speed. "That's it; get your hands ready - Well done, Bunny!" I cried as he got his hands around the ball and held on to it so tightly I thought he must be hurting his hands.
My boys began to cheer and clap and I heard Charlie call, "Yes, well done, Manders, very well done."
Bunny was beaming as he trotted towards me the ball still held firmly in his hands. His face was flushed, his hair across his forehead and eyes, his face was damp with perspiration but he was clearly completely happy. "Well done, my rabbit," I said quietly as I did what I did so often and brushed his hair back from his face and then I carefully extracted the ball from his hands and put it into my pocket, put my hand on his shoulder and called. "Boys, come here, all of you."
The boys from both teams hurried over and gathered around Charlie and me as we praised them all and asked if they had enjoyed themselves. Their honest enthusiasm and out-pouring of thanks gave us the answer I believe we both knew.
Then Anderson appeared. "Well, boys," he said, looking around at the twenty-six happy faces, "I'm glad you enjoyed your lesson this afternoon. Now don't forget to thank Raffles and Charleston properly for giving up their afternoon to help you."
As one all the boys put their hands together and clapped as they again called out their thanks. By my side I could see that Charlie was just a little uneasy and his cheeks had a faint touch of colour to them - Charlie really never has liked being the centre of attention.
Finally the clapping and thanks stopped and all taking together the boys began to head off to the house - where I presumed some of them might bathe before supper, whereas others I was quite certain wouldn't. Bunny still stood by my side, my hand still on his shoulder and Charlie was holding our blazers.
I glanced swiftly at Charlie and we had one of our silent conversations. I sighed softly, squeezed Bunny's shoulder and said softly, "Please don't be upset with me, my rabbit." I then raised my voice and called. "Kennedy? I would like a word with you.
The thing is whilst I do have a duty to care for and keep Bunny happy, I have a wider responsibility to the school and the future of the eleven and whilst I may not like Kennedy, even I had to admit he had the makings of a fine cricket player. Well, he did if he was prepared to listen and given he had listened to Charlie twice I believed despite everything he would be.
Kennedy came back to where Charlie, Bunny and I still stood. "Yes, Raffles?" he said, his tone actually respectful for once.
I paused, glanced swiftly at Charlie, received confirmation and turned back to Kennedy. "You have ability, Kennedy," I said, and was rather surprised to see a flush of pleasure touch Kennedy's cheeks.
He even looked down at the ground for a moment. "Thank you, Raffles," he all but stammered the words out.
"At least you do if you are prepared to change your attitude and listen to what you are told." Now he did look up at me. "You're arrogant, you have no respect for boys with less ability than you and not a great deal for those whom you know are better than you, you are far too flashy for my liking. However," I paused and stared at him as he paled and bit his bottom lip hard and I even thought I saw him begin to tremble just a little. "However," I repeated, a little more softly, "as I said you do have ability, an ability that I believe I and Charlie here can help you improve - if you are prepared to listen to us. Are you, Kennedy? Are you prepared to listen to us?"
He nodded furiously. "Yes, Raffles," he said swiftly, "Yes, Charleston," he added glancing at Charlie. "I am, really I am. I'll listen, I'll learn and I'll be -"
"More respectful?" Charlie asked softly.
Kennedy again nodded furiously. "Yes, Charleston, yes. I promise I'll be more respectful."
I glanced at Charlie and raised an eyebrow; he nodded once. I turned back to Kennedy. "Very well. We will be practising, the eleven and the second eleven on Monday, please join us - Bunny will show you where we practise."
He widened his eyes, glanced at Bunny, then at Charleston and finally back at me. "Thank you, Raffles, thank you, Charleston. I won't - I'll listen," he added and then he looked at Bunny again, swallowed and said swiftly, "Well done on the final catch, Manders, I know it wasn't easy." I was impressed; in fact I was very impressed. I pride myself on knowing when a boy is being genuine and when they are not, and I was quite certain Kennedy's words to Bunny were genuine ones - and a quick half glance at Charlie confirmed he believed the same thing.
"Thank you, Kennedy," Bunny said softly.
I looked back at Kennedy and nodded. "Very well, we will see you on Monday, do not be late. Now run along and bathe, Kennedy," I added.
He hesitated for a moment before once more a slight hint of colour touched his cheeks and he mumbled, "Yes, Raffles," before he turned and hurried off towards the school.
I stood and watched him for a moment before I turned Bunny under my hand and stared down at him. "Are you all right, Bunny?" I asked.
He smiled up at me and nodded. "Of course, Raffles."
"That's my good boy. Now why don't you run along and bathe as well and I shall see you after supper."
Bunny beamed at me and nodded. "Yes, Raffles." He turned to Charlie and said, his tone suddenly solemn, "Thank you, Charleston."
Charlie smiled, put his hand on Bunny's shoulder for a moment and said softly, "You are very welcome, Manders. And well done again with that catch - I know A. J. was telling you exactly what to do, but you still caught it."
Bunny beamed, flushed slightly and then turned and hurried off.
Charlie and I stood and watched him for a moment before Charlie handed me my blazer and we made our way back to the school to bathe.
I don't quite know how it happened, but after we had bathed we ended up naked in Charlie's bed doing things that ensured we would have to bathe again before supper.
"Thank you, Charlie," I said, as we just lay next to one another.
He shrugged and glanced away from me. "Don't laugh at me, A. J.," he said, just as I was about to ask him if all was well, "but I actually enjoyed this afternoon more than I believe I've enjoyed cricket for quite some time." I sighed softly, "You're not going to laugh at me are you?"
I pushed myself up onto one arm and put my hand on his cheek. "No, Charlie, I'm not - you see I thought exactly the same more than once during the afternoon."
We were both silent for a moment then Charlie said, "When did it stop being fun?"
I shrugged and lay back down. "When it came all about winning and nothing but winning."
Again we were silent and then Charlie said, the tone of his voice as little tentative, "We should make time for fun during some of the practises, A. J."
I nodded. "We should - and we shall."
This time the silence lasted for a little longer before I said, without even thinking about it, "Charlie? What are we doing in your bed?" As soon as I said the words I groaned silently as I realised quite what I had said.
I groaned out loud when Charlie sat up and looked down at me and smiled as his eyes twinkled. "Well, A. J.," he said seriously, "It's like this -"
I silenced him and for once, probably because he was trying hard not to laugh and I caught him by surprise, to in effect drop him, pulling him down flat on the bed and leaning over him as I kissed him.
"Seriously," I said some minutes later. "Why?"
Charlie shrugged. "Why not? I don't seem to recall you objected."
"I didn't - I don't - but . . ."
I shook my head and glanced away from Charlie.
"Ah," he said, now sitting upright and turning around to sit cross-legged and gaze down at me. "You feel guilty."
"I do not!" I exclaimed, staring up at him for a moment before I mirrored the way he was sitting. He just stared at me. "Why do you think I feel guilty?"
He shrugged. "Well," he said softly and seriously, "you've finally admitted - to me and to yourself - that you care about Manders, I just wondered if maybe you've admitted you're in love with him?" Somewhere during his little speech he had taken my hand and was holding it in a firm grip.
"I'm not! Charlie, don't be -" I fell silent. "I can't be," I said after a moment or two. "Charlie, he's still thirteen."
Charlie shrugged. "I fell in love with you when you were thirteen."
I stared at him. "That was different, I was thirteen as well. No, Charlie, I'm not in love with him. I like him, I care about him, I -"
"Love him?" Charlie's voice was soft.
I shrugged. "Even if I do, it's not the same as being in love - I love you, don't I?"
Charlie shrugged again. "All right, A. J., if you say so."
I stared at him. "And anyway," I said swiftly, "I can't be in love with him. If I was I'd hardly be in your bed with you, would I?"
Charlie stared at me, pulled on my hand until I moved forward enough for him to lightly kiss me. "Actually, I think you would be - I think that's why you didn't object."
I stared back at him. "Charlie?"
He sighed. "Look, A. J., I know you and I know what you will and will not do. And you'll never touch Manders, will you? At least not in any way other than the ways you touch him all the time."
I frowned. "So?"
Charlie shrugged and entangled his fingers more tightly with mine. "As I said, I know you. I know quite how much you like sex." I frowned at him. "And you won't bed Manders, you might kiss him - in fact I strongly suspect that you will kiss him, assuming you haven't done so already - but you won't take him to your bed. But you'll want to go to bed with someone - I'm your best option."
I stared at him my mouth slightly parted. "What?" was all I could manage to say.
Charlie sighed. "Manders likes me, doesnít he?" I nodded. "And he knows you like me?" I nodded again. "So he wouldn't be particularly troubled if he believed, even if he discovered, we were going to bed together. However, he wouldn't like it if you carried on bedding and touching boys he knows you don't like."
I shook my head. "Bunny isn't that complicated, Charlie."
"No," he said, pulling me into his arms and forcing me down onto the bed. "But you are."
I was in my study just waiting for Bunny to arrive as I heard footsteps outside and seconds later there was a quick knock and the door opened. "Hello, Bunny," I said as I held my arms out to him.
He hurried across the room and flung himself into my embrace. "Thank you, Raffles," he murmured, as he put his arms around my waist and rested his head just below my shoulder. "For this afternoon I mean," he added, moving back a little and gazing up at me.
I saw the deep affection and the love I had tried to ignore, well tried to explain away by telling myself it was just the normal pash a young boy had on an older boy. "You are very welcome, my rabbit," I murmured and gathered him a little nearer to me and just held him as I realised what Charlie had said a hour or so earlier had been quite true.
"Raffles?" He pulled himself out of my close embrace and stared up at me.
He swallowed and moistened his lips. "May I kiss you?" he asked softly, his tone very formal as his cheeks flushed.
"Do you want to, Bunny?" He nodded. "I mean do you really want to?"
He nodded again. "Yes, Raffles, I really want to - if you want me to."
I smiled a little and said softly, "Actually, Bunny, I would like you to - I would like you to very much indeed."
I had never seen the smile that lit up his face as he took his arms from where they still loosely held my waist and put them around my neck and tugged gently. I bent my head and a second or two later I felt his lips on mine, kissing me tentatively to begin with and then as I began to kiss him back with more enthusiasm than I could remember being kissed with for a considerable time.
Some time later I was sitting on the chair and he was on my lap (given how much taller I am than he, it was more comfortable for both of us) and once more our lips were on one another's. And as I kissed him and pulled him even nearer to me I once again admitted that Charlie had been correct: I was at least a little in love with Bunny.
And as I gently parted his lips with mine I knew Charlie had been correct about the other thing he had said as well. I would never hurt Bunny by taking him to my bed or touching him in a sexual way, and I would never hurt him by letting him find out I was doing things with boys neither he nor I liked - but I had to do them with someone. And that someone had to be Charlie because I liked him, I loved him - I wasn't in love with him, but I liked him and almost as importantly Bunny liked him.
"I adore you, Bunny," I murmured, as I took my mouth from his for a moment or too.
He smiled at me and flushed a little as I brushed his hair from his forehead, let my finger trail down his cheek bone before I pulled him back into my embrace and returned to kissing the boy I suddenly knew I would never wish to stop kissing.
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