Christmas In Khaki

by Jolyon Lewes
 

Marcus felt his mouth go dry and his chest tighten as he began to read the letter from his mother. As usual, mail had been handed out at breakfast and most boys had put the letters in their jacket pockets to read later, in privacy. Marcus, however, received very little mail so any letter from his parents was bound to be important. Most boys in the boarding house were not far from home - anything between 10 and 300 miles - but home for Marcus was in Singapore, about 7000 miles away. It was mid-December 1962 and Marcus was looking forward to flying out to Singapore at the end of term for three weeks of fun in the sun. How he longed to be away from the miseries of boarding school and the icy winds of Salisbury Plain. Naturally, he was dreading returning to school in mid-January for the start of Spring Term.

     As he read the letter his little face paled and he pushed his uneaten, lumpy porridge away. It was quickly appropriated by the boy opposite who gobbled the lot in seconds. Food, however disgusting, was never likely to go to waste in a place where boys were perpetually starving. Marcus was hungry - he'd been hungry for months - but the news he'd just read had taken his appetite clean away.

     In a nutshell, Christmas was cancelled. He'd no longer be flying to Singapore. His mother was terribly apologetic but her husband, an army major, had been suddenly posted to the Borneo jungle and she'd be coming home to England alone but not, unfortunately, until after Christmas. With no other relations able to help, Marcus would have to stay at school until 30 December, when he could join his mother in the family house in Surrey for the last twelve days of the school holiday.

     'Ten days in this hell-hole, all by myself,' thought Marcus. 'It'll be more like prison than ever.'

     Having been at the school only since September, Marcus hadn't made any friends, not friends to whose home he could suddenly invite himself for Christmas, so he faced a period of solitary confinement. It wouldn't quite be like that, of course, as the Housemaster explained after breakfast.

     "I've heard from your mother, Wharton and I note from observing you at breakfast that she has told you the news. As you have nobody prepared to take you for Christmas you'll have to stay here. It will be inconvenient for me but your father will be billed for the expense of feeding you. You'll sleep in your dormitory as usual but take meals in my quarters with my wife and children - and with me, of course. Normal school rules will apply while you're here and you'll wear school uniform throughout but you can be in charge of your own lights-out. Oh, and breakfast will be at eight thirty so you can enjoy a lie-in every morning. What a treat!"

     "Thank you, sir," said a solemn Marcus, his heart in his boots.

     What a dismal prospect. While every other boy was having fun at home he'd be stuck in his grey uniform, alone for 22 hours a day, mostly in his freezing dorm. At least he had his transistor radio. At only fourteen he wasn't allowed into the town except for one hour a week on Wednesdays, when junior boys like him were permitted to visit shops to replenish their tuck box and buy stationery and so forth. He had two days before the last Wednesday of term and decided to spend all his pocket money on food for his tuck box. Oh, but why was he having to think like this? He'd done nothing to deserve this punishment and blamed the army for ruining his Christmas. He went sadly to the Common Room.

     "Bloody, bloody army!" he shouted, to nobody in particular.

     He repeated the oath when back in the dorm he saw his khaki army greatcoat hanging beside his bed. Marcus, like many of his schoolmates, was an unwilling member of the school's army cadet corps. Membership was compulsory; it had to be or boys of a sensitive nature like Marcus would never dream of joining. Back in the sixties a host of unpleasant things were compulsory for boys in a boarding school like Marcus's. Cross-country runs every Friday afternoon; wearing school uniform every waking hour; army cadets on Thursdays for all Third-formers and above; tipping caps to masters when passing them out of doors - all these things were compulsory and there were plenty of things prohibited to boys: chewing gum, smoking, talking after lights-out, having hands in pockets, wearing any form of underwear with sports kit, the list went on and on.

     "Bloody, bloody army!"

     Marcus glared at his greatcoat and remembered another prohibition, that of wearing non-standard underwear beneath the army cadets uniform. He shuddered as he thought of the rasping feel of that thick and itchy khaki material and how, whenever he was forced to wear it, he'd desperately wish he could wear a cotton T-shirt and pyjama trousers to protect his delicate skin from continual torment. But the only permitted underwear was army-issue vest and pants of prickly wool just as itchy as the uniform itself. He'd been in the cadets three months and wearing that uniform had never grown any easier and now it - or the organisation it represented - had ruined his Christmas holiday.

     "Bloody, bloody army!"

     The last cadets afternoon of the term was in three days' time. Marcus decided to rebel. He'd have to turn up in khaki uniform, of course but he could express his feelings towards the army by deliberately sullying his canvas webbing and brass buckles. 'And I can put mud on the badge on my stupid beret,' he thought. 'That'll show what I think of the bloody army!'

     Alone as usual, Marcus walked along the grim, tree-lined road to the main school for lessons, his head well down. The tree roots had long ago erupted through the paving and Marcus kept tripping on them, his tear-filled eyes unable to focus on the hazards. He was crying his poor little heart out, thoughts of rebellion having temporarily receded. Instead he thought of his stomach and how little pocket money he possessed: one pound, five shillings and fourpence.

     None of his classmates seemed interested in his predicament and he grew very depressed. On Wednesday he went into town and spent every penny he had. It wasn't enough to buy sweets and chocolate for a fortnight so he'd have to eke out his meagre provisions very carefully indeed. A special treat was a tiny chocolate Santa he'd save till Christmas morning.

     After prep on Wednesday the boys had to prepare their cadets uniform for the parade next day and Marcus got to work on his. He'd decided muddying his badge wasn't a good idea as it could easily be washed clean so he plastered it with dubbin, the greasy stuff used on rugby boots in those days, and thought that just before parade he'd rub his beret in the dirt and all matter of stuff would stick to the badge. While other boys were pasting their khaki webbing belts and gaiters with the repulsive substance known as Blanco Marcus was kneading his belt to make the existing Blanco layer on the canvas webbing crack and look generally unloved. Then he rubbed black boot-polish onto the surface until his webbing had a sort of disruptive pattern, like modern army camouflage. Needless to say, Marcus neither polished his boots nor ironed his hideous, hairy uniform. 

     In planning his protest, Marcus hadn't considered its consequences. When he turned up for parade on Thursday afternoon his platoon sergeant, an amiable Sixth-former, looked at him in a mixture of horror and pity and quickly tried to get him out of sight on some spurious errand to the armoury but this generous gesture was thwarted by the Company Sergeant Major spotting the disgusting state of Marcus's uniform.

     "Cadet Wharton! Report to me!" The voice had phenomenal volume - it could be heard well beyond the school boundary. People two streets away wondered what was about to befall the luckless Cadet Wharton. Most of Marcus's fellow-cadets had already guessed; they'd seen Marcus's uniform and they'd seen him rubbing his cap badge in a muddy puddle. None had bothered to ask him what he was doing.

     "You're not fit to fall in with the others!" boomed the Sergeant Major. "Get yourself away and make yourself respectable and when you have, even if it takes all afternoon, report back to me for inspection. Dismiss!"

     One of the officers had come over to see what all the fuss was about. He had a soft spot for Marcus but he couldn't excuse the disgusting state of Marcus's khaki battledress, his muddy boots, hopelessly inadequate webbing and filthy cap badge. He drew him aside and quietly asked him to explain himself.

     "Sir, my Christmas holiday is cancelled and I've got to stay here and it's all the army's fault. I hate the army!"

     "But your father's in the army, Wharton. D'you think he protests by deliberately mucking up his uniform? D'you think he'd be proud of you looking like this? You've let him down badly today by your little act of rebellion. I'm awarding you seven days defaulters. Others would be much harder on you so I don't want you to let me down. D'you understand?"

     "Yes, sir and thank you, sir."

     Marcus, now totally deflated, spent the afternoon getting his uniform into some sort of order. He'd realised his protest had been childish and that his father would be anything but proud of him. And now he'd earned himself seven weekdays of having to wear that horrible uniform from dawn to bedtime. There were just three weekdays left of the Autumn Term so as Thursday was cadets he'd have to wear it for the whole of the first week of the next term. The thought set his nerve-ends jangling as he considered with dread all that time trussed up in the outfit most boys called the 'torture suit.'

     Three hours later he presented himself to the Sergeant Major for inspection and was told he'd be staying in cadets uniform for the rest of the day. Marcus had forgotten his rebellion and had sunk into an even deeper depression than before. Back in the dorm a couple of lads, now comfortable in grey school uniform, were sympathetic but most either ignored him or sniggered at his discomfort. And discomfort it certainly was: he spent hours itching and scratching - there was no way of making the heavy uniform feel less hostile. Every time he'd temporarily relieved the rasping on his neck a bunch of stiff little hairs on the trousers would attack his thigh and when he'd finished scratching that there'd be an onslaught by the hair shirt on his tender shoulders. Ever-present was the stinging feeling between his legs that made his inner thighs feel on fire.

     This is how poor Marcus had to face the last days of term, the carol service and the House Christmas Feast. He faced twice-daily inspections, during which he had to prove he wasn't trying to combat the continuous torture by wearing illegal clothing underneath.

*****

Term finished at midday on Wednesday 19 December. As it wasn't a full school day Marcus was in his school uniform, not his cadets uniform but nor would he be allowed into town so it was as well he'd done all his shopping the week before. At breakfast he received a Christmas card from his parents. On it they'd written how sorry they were not to have their darling son with them for Christmas but urged him to keep his spirits up and to look forward to a wonderful New Year celebration with his mother, who loved him to bits. This of course made him cry again but nobody seemed to notice, or care, so excited were they to be going home later that day.

     By midday all the boys departing by train had gone and cars began to arrive at the boarding house to collect the boys who lived locally or for whom a train journey was impracticable. By one-thirty the only people left were the Housemaster and his family and poor Marcus, who was sitting in the Common Room and flipping through a National Geographic magazine, not because he wanted to read it but because he had nothing else to do. At least the Common Room was heated, unlike the dormitories.

     Or so he thought. At three o'clock it was nearly dark outside and Marcus shivered. He went to warm his hands on the radiator but it was cold. For the duration of the Christmas holiday only the Housemaster's quarters would be heated. Marcus's spirits sunk yet further. He recalled the Housemaster telling him there was nobody prepared to take him for Christmas. Was it true or was it simply that Marcus's various aunts and uncles hadn't been asked? Marcus tried to convince himself his parents simply hadn't been able to contact any other relations but ended up feeling more desolate than ever.

     Sitting down, Marcus looked at his almost-bare thighs and was surprised how cold they felt when he put his hands on them to give them a rub. How ironic, he thought, that he'd so looked forward to a tropical Christmas but now, thanks to his grey shorts, he'd have to face ten days of freezing legs. Next year, at nearly fifteen and in the Fourth Form, he could graduate to long trousers but until then ....

     Marcus was about to shed more tears of self-pity when the door opened and in came a boy. He was a senior boy, two years older than Marcus and he was in school uniform. Marcus knew him as Harrower, who played fly-half in the Second Fifteen.

     "Oh," said Harrower, "I heard there was a junior kid staying in this hellhole for Christmas so it must be you."

     Marcus nodded sadly.

     "Well, I'm here till Christmas Day. My folks have got stuck in the bloody States and won't be able to fly into London till Christmas Eve. So I've got five rotten days here."

     "I've got ten days in this dump," said Marcus, still rubbing his thighs. "And I'm so cold."

     "Yeah, it's no wonder you're freezing in shorts like that," said Harrower. "They're infinitely shorter than what I wore in the Third Form and much tighter. I take it you don't wear 'em by choice. Something to do with the new school regulations, I s'pose."

     "Yes, all the First-formers have to wear shorts like this - as you've probably noticed - but only a few older boys do. All the boys in my dorm are hanging onto their old-style ones as long as they can but cos I'm new this year I got the new style, the same as First-formers, worse luck. And it's really embarrassing. They're so flipping short! Just look at 'em!"

     Harrower was looking at them - intently - and found himself getting sexually aroused. He didn't want Marcus to see so he said "Bad luck, mate" and swiftly left the common room, banging the door behind him and leaving Marcus feeling more bereft than ever.

*****

When Marcus went up to his dorm he expected to find it as cold as the common room, which it was but he didn't expect to find the sheets and pillow-cases had been taken from all the beds, leaving just two blankets and a pillow on each narrow little mattress. 'No sheets,' he thought. 'It's going to be horribly uncomfortable in bed.' Once again he eyed his khaki greatcoat hanging on the peg by his bed. 'I s'pose I could have that on top of me to try to make me warm.'

     Then he realised his woollen dressing gown might have the same effect but would be a lot less heavy. It was then that he realised his pyjamas had gone. Of course, they'd gone to the laundry with all the sheets and his spare pair was with Matron and she'd gone away for Christmas. Marcus shuddered as he contemplated eleven nights with no sheets and no pyjamas. With just those hairy blankets next to his skin it was going to be almost as bad as being in cadets uniform.

     "Bloody, bloody army!" he shouted. "I hate it, I hate it!"

     Marcus made a tragic sight as he sat on his bed in his school uniform, shivering, his dressing gown drawn about him but quite incapable of warming him. The Christmas card from his parents was on his locker and a bit of tinsel hung on the wall, the gift of a boy who Marcus thought was kind. Maybe that boy wasn't kind but cynical for from the tinsel dangled a silvery message. It said 'Merry Christmas.' Marcus was listening on his transistor radio to a programme about Christmas and it made him cry. What had he done to deserve this predicament? Why had nobody come to his rescue?

     At last it was nearly six and time to go down for high tea in the Housemaster's dining room, which was almost uncomfortably warm after the frigid temperature in the dormitory and the Common Room, not to mention in the outside lavatories the boys had to use. For at least four months in the year those four frigid little cubicles offered absolutely no temptation in to indulge in what adolescent boys like to do in what counts for privacy in a boarding school.

     The meal was only marginally better than normal school fare but Marcus consumed every morsel. Harrower was seated beside him and Marcus kept looking jealously at the older boy's long grey trousers. Harrower was shooting the occasional hungry glance down at Marcus's smooth, bare thighs, something that did not escape the attention of the Housemaster's wife.

     At six-thirty both boys were shooed out and told to go the Common Room until it was time to go up to their dorms.

     "What're we meant to do in here? It's bloody freezing!" said Harrower.

     "Play table-tennis or something, I s'pose," said Marcus. "To keep warm."

     "God, I hate table-tennis! But you're right - we'd die of cold if we just sat around. I wanna go to my dorm. At least I can get warm in bed."

     "Have they taken all your sheets and things?" said Marcus.

     "Yeah, there's only bloody blankets but luckily I've got my sleeping bag and I can be snug as a bug in that."

     "Oh," said Marcus, sadly.

     The two boys played a bit of table-tennis, very badly but it got their limbs moving and kept away the worst of the chill. After a bit they'd had enough and paused to look for anything worth reading on the shelves. A couple of minutes later the door opened and in came the Housemaster's wife.

     "Oh, you've stopped playing table-tennis. You can go upstairs if you wish - each to his own dormitory. No fraternising!""

     Harrower felt a tingling behind his ears. Had the awful woman spotted him looking at Marcus? Without a word to Marcus, he raced away to his dorm and wouldn't be seen again till breakfast. Marcus plodded sadly up the stairs to his dorm and switched on his radio, to spend a cold, lonely and hungry evening there. He made a bit of a thing cleaning his teeth because he kidded himself that to swallow some toothpaste would make him less hungry. He was wrong. Finally, wrapped in his dressing gown and the two blankets he settled down and tried to sleep.

     Next morning, shivering in his grey school uniform, poor Marcus presented himself for breakfast. Again, he looked jealously at Harrower's long trousers. Harrower tried not to look at Marcus and after breakfast told him he'd be out all day, at a friend's. Marcus was crestfallen at this news and the Housemaster had a question for him.

     "Wharton, you look like a wet weekend. Do you have any complaints?"

     "N-no, sir, only I find it so awfully cold. I wish I had some warmer clothes. These shorts, sir - they seem incapable of keeping my legs warm."

     "Not surprising, boy, they're not designed to keep your legs warm. Boys have to learn to take discomfort. It's character-building."

     "Yes, sir," said Marcus sadly, as he made his way to the freezing Common Room to spend the day in frigid solitude.

     "But wait!" shouted the Housemaster. "Do you not have four days of defaulters waiting for next term? I have an idea, boy - if you do those four days now you won't have to do them next term and your cadets uniform will make you nice and warm! Go and get changed and report to me in twenty minutes, ready for inspection!"

     There was logic in the Housemaster's suggestion. He was an officer in the cadet corps so could conduct Marcus's twice-daily inspections himself. But there was more.

     "And if you want to get warm, Wharton, when you've finished polishing your boots you can polish mine - until they gleam!"

     Back in his dorm, Marcus wondered if life could get any worse. Would he rather be cold or subjected to the awful discomfort of his itchy cadets uniform? In boots and gaiters and the rest of his army uniform he lumbered downstairs to be inspected, feeling no warmer than before but with every nerve-ending rebelling at the roughness of the khaki material that now clutched and scraped at his tender young body. His legs were still red but not from the cold; they were quickly becoming inflamed by contact with the wiry bristles in his trousers that never for a moment ceased their rasping. He had some Nivea Creme in his locker; when he had the chance he'd rub some on the most painful places, the upper regions of his inner thighs.

     For the rest of the day and for all of Friday and Saturday, Marcus was in his khaki uniform. He polished the Housemaster's three pairs of boots until they gleamed. Harrower seemed to be out with his friends and appeared only for breakfast, when he sat next to Marcus but he must have been aware of the eagle eyes of the Housemaster's wife monitoring his actions for he hardly spoke to Marcus. Nor did he look at the boy but that may have been because Marcus's delicious thighs were now hidden by half-inch-thick khaki cloth, as coarse as sacking, which Marcus kept scratching in a vain attempt to ease the discomfort.

*****

Sunday morning was clear and frosty, the coldest morning yet. At breakfast the Housemaster informed both boys that they'd be attending church at eleven. Harrower was annoyed because he'd hoped to be out with his friend but something told him to show a bit of solidarity with Marcus, who was told not only that he'd be going in his cadets uniform but that he'd be reading the first lesson. Marcus's face was so miserable Harrower wanted to put his arm round the youngster and give him a cuddle and after breakfast he followed Marcus to his dorm.

     "Look, mate, I've been out these last three days and haven't had a chance to talk to you. You must have had a horrible time here. I'm sorry I haven't been here to keep you company. Look, I'm not going out again today so let's do something after lunch. God knows what but at least you won't be all alone."

     "Thank you, Harrower."

     "You've been in that bloody uniform for days - it must be hell!"

     "It is hell, Harrower, my legs are as sore as anything. I sometime wish I could die."

     "Don't say that, Wharton. Things can only get better! Look - I've got an idea. It's so bloody cold I was going to wear my tracksuit bottoms under my trousers. When he's inspected you d'you want to borrow them? It would make life bearable - at least from the waist down!"

     "Thank you, Harrower, I'd love to."

     After the Housemaster had inspected Marcus and checked for illegal underwear Marcus went back to his dorm to find Harrower there, holding some smooth, green tracksuit bottoms.

     "These'll keep your legs warm and they're much nicer against the skin than that bloody torture suit!"

     Harrower watched as Marcus took off his khaki webbing, then his battledress blouse, then his huge, clumsy boots and finally his battledress trousers. Marcus reached gratefully for Harrower's tracksuit bottoms.

     "Let's see those sore legs," said Harrower. To his shame the sight of Marcus's red-raw inner thighs gave him an instant hard-on and he shifted about self-consciously. "Bloody hell!" He said. "That sackcloth should be banned! Have you got any cream for that rash?"

     "Nivea Creme," said Marcus. "But it's nearly all gone."

     "Oh, you poor little sod! Is today the last day of defaulters for you?

     "Yes," said Marcus as he put on Harrower's tracksuit bottoms. "Ooh, these feel so much better - I can't thank you enough!"

     At ten-thirty Harrower and Marcus walked the half-mile to church. Marcus was in his massive greatcoat, which made him feel twice his weight. It was as well he had Harrower to hang on to for the steel-capped, smooth soles of his army boots had no chance on the icy pavement and he was forever sliding about, a couple of times falling painfully to the ground. Looking down at the distressed little face, Harrower felt the strongest urge yet to protect poor Marcus.

     "Look, it doesn't matter what anyone thinks, just hang tightly on to me and you'll be OK. And I'm sure you'll read the lesson far better than I could."

     In church, Marcus felt strengthened by Harrower's presence and having been up to the lectern to read through the Old Testament lesson he walked back to his pew and sat next to his new friend. His legs felt warm and comfortable but his upper body was still wretchedly itchy, thanks to the hair shirt beneath his battledress blouse. But at least he wasn't cold, unlike a couple of Boy Scouts opposite, who wore warm sweaters but their fawn-coloured shorts were thin and terribly short, nearly as short as Marcus's grey ones. They spent the service rubbing their frozen thighs.

     Harrower squeezed Marcus's arm just before it was time for the first lesson and gave him a friendly wink. Armed with this vote of confidence, Marcus went up and read the lesson beautifully, causing tears to form in the eyes of some old ladies and a tent to form in Harrower's trousers.

     After the service Marcus, hanging on to Harrower's arm, made it back to the boarding house with only two mishaps when he slid over the ice and crashed to his knees. His greatcoat was so heavy it seemed to affect his centre of gravity and he was unsteady on his feet for the whole half mile. He wondered how he'd have coped without Harrower's strong arm to help him.

     The boys were ushered straight into the Housemaster's dining room for lunch.

     "You read the lesson well, Wharton. A pity you won't be here next Sunday to do the honours again. Unless, of course, your mother doesn't make it."

     'What on earth can he mean?' thought Marcus, wondering if some vital information was being withheld from him.

      "Greatcoat off, beret off, belt and gaiters off," said the Housemaster. "It's time for lunch. Roast chicken!"

     Marcus and Harrower watched as the choicest pieces of the solitary chicken were carved and given to the Housemaster, his wife and their two infant children. Marcus ended up with a bit of wing and a sliver of white meat. The boys were as hungry after the meal as they'd been before it started.

     "Right, time for coffee!" exclaimed the Housemaster as if it were the most exciting thing he'd ever said. "All into the drawing room. There may be sweets!"

     Marcus couldn't help feeling excited at this and went next door with the others and made to set beside Harrower on the sofa. The Housemaster's wife immediately commanded him to an armchair on the opposite side of the room and Harrower blushed slightly. He glanced at Marcus and a look of concern spread over his handsome face. A tin of Quality Street appeared and everyone was allowed to take just one sweet, the remainder being kept for Christmas itself. The two young children were, of course allowed four sweets and one sat on the floor munching happily.

     "Daddy, why has Wharton got green legs?" said the child.

     "Wharton!" yelled the Housemaster, looking at Marcus with fury. "I do believe you're wearing a tracksuit! Pull your trouser legs up and show us all!"

     Marcus had broken into a sweat and with trembling hands eased up each khaki trouser leg, revealing the smooth green tracksuit material around his ankles. Harrower turned white.

     "Right!" said the Housemaster. "For wearing illegal underwear you will have one more day's defaulters, tomorrow! You will go to your dorm, remove the tracksuit and report to me for inspection. But first - you're not in any school team so you're not permitted a tracksuit. Whose is it?"

     "It's mine, sir," said Harrower. "It was my idea. I felt sorry for Wharton because he's so cold and that uniform is so - so - vile!"

     "Out of here, both of you!" yelled the Housemaster. "Harrower - a word with you first!"

*****

Harrower went to Marcus's dorm to watch him undress, take off the tracksuit bottoms, rub the last of his Nivea Creme onto his inner thighs and then dress again, ready for inspection. Marcus had tears of frustration in his eyes.

     "Hell, I'm so sorry, mate," said Harrower. "I could see the tracky but I hoped nobody else could. It would have been OK if that brat of his hadn't been down at your ankles. Look, I'm leaving 'em here so at least you can wear 'em in bed tonight. And I've brought the top half, too. He's bloody gated me for the rest of the day so we could play table-tennis or something..."

     "You were only trying to help," said Marcus. "The worst thing was that kid calling me 'Wharton.'  Am I going to spend all Christmas without once hearing my Christian name?"

     "Oh, God, yes. Look, please call me Jamie and can I call you Marcus?"

     "Yes, please! Makes a difference, you know. Makes me feel almost human."

     "Yeah, of course. I should've thought. Look, Marcus, when he's inspected you let's meet in the Common Room and have a good grumble!"

     All afternoon the Housemaster's wife kept coming in, as if to check on the boys but instead of feeling uncomfortable about it, Harrower made it quite clear that he and Marcus were becoming good friends. At tea, the wretched woman made them sit apart and then, for no apparent reason, made a friendly suggestion.

     "It's going to be really cold tonight so I'll bring up hot-water bottles for you both later."

     It didn't take long for Harrower to see what she really meant. She could come up at any time so that stymied his plan to invite Marcus to his dorm and to brew a hot drink for them both. In fact she didn't go upstairs till ten o'clock, by which time Marcus wanted just to get that horrible uniform off and crawl into bed. The hot-water bottle was only lukewarm so was of no comfort at all and when she'd gone Marcus donned the tracksuit and got into bed. Now that he had a friend he was feeling slightly less alone but Harrower would be gone on Christmas Day. Aching with misery at the thought of yet another day in the torture suit, Marcus turned on his radio, hoping to hear something that would take him away from his cold little world and that was when the radio batteries gave up.

     Breakfast couldn't come quickly enough but while Marcus and Harrower were eating their porridge the Housemaster's children burst in with Advent calendars, squeaking with delight and keen to open the last little doors. It was, of course, Christmas Eve. The scrambled eggs lost their appeal as Marcus watched the happy little children chattering away about Christmas and all it would bring them. All Marcus had to look forward to was his chocolate Santa. He wouldn't even be able to listen to his radio.

     It seemed Harrower planned to go into town and he'd be meeting a friend and going to his house for a meal.

     "Look, Marcus, I'm sorry but you'll be by yourself today. I'll be back before dark though and I've got to pack my things because Dad's picking me up tomorrow morning."

     Seeing Marcus's crestfallen face he added "Oh God, I'm sorry - it was stupid of me to say that, bein' as you've got to stay here another week. Look, is there anything I can get you in town?"

     "My radio batteries ran out last night," said Marcus. "But I've used all my money ..."

     "Don't worry - I'll get you some more. I promise. Don't worry about the money."

     So poor Marcus spent the morning of Christmas Eve by himself, in his freezing dorm, encased in itchy khaki, without even his radio to listen to. At lunch things got even worse, when the Housemaster said he and his family were going out for the rest of the day but there'd be some sandwiches for Marcus to have for his tea. He took the miserable little bag up to his dorm and settled down in abject misery to while away the time until Harrower returned.

     Lunch had been horrible and by 3 pm Marcus had already eaten the sandwiches. Now all he had was what was in his tuck box but it had to last him six more days so he restricted himself to a couple of Glacier Mints to take away the taste of the corned beef in the sandwiches. Where was Harrower? It got dark so Marcus switched on the dorm light and the bare bulb made reflections on the bit of tinsel and the message that said 'Merry Christmas.' He sat on his bed, shivering. He was too miserable even to scratch.

     Marcus tried to sleep but time passed and he just couldn't get warm and while he was trying to find ways to get warm he couldn't think of sleeping. He looked at his watch. It was only six in the evening. Children would be at carol services and then going home to warm fires and Christmas trees. Families would be gathered together, laughing and eating, cosy and warm. Stockings would be hung.

     There was a gentle knock on the dormitory door. A low voice murmured "Marcus - can I come in?"

     The door opened and Harrower came softly into the dorm.

     "Sorry I've been so long, Marcus. I got horribly held up. Anyway I'm here now, so can I sit on your bed?"

     Marcus had a tear-stained face and a body that was itching like hell but now he felt a new sensation - a comforting arm around his shoulder. It was the first act of kindness he'd received in all his time at the school. He liked sitting next to Harrower, who felt warm and friendly.

     "Thank you for coming, Jamie," said Marcus, sniffing back the mucus in his nose. "I've been so cold and so lonely ...."

     "I've got your batteries and some Nivea Creme and some food. Let me just nip to my dorm to collect them. Back in a sec."

     For Marcus, life suddenly seemed to be worth living again. He went to the washroom to wash his face. He hadn't been back in the dorm long before Harrower reappeared, bearing new batteries for Marcus's radio and a bag of food.

     "You look much better now," said Harrower. "I haven't got much - some sandwiches and some chocolate cake - oh and a carton of milk but it's all for you. I had a nice meal with my mate so I'm not hungry. Go on, Marcus, help yourself."

     "Thank you," said Marcus. "I just wanted to die, you know. You've saved my life! But I wish you weren't going tomorrow."

     "And I hate to think of you here, all by yourself. I suggest you take off your uniform and get into my tracksuit. He won't be up here again tonight. He told me to check on you. And let's get those batteries into your radio."

     Soon Marcus was comfortable - if still very cold - and dining on the food Harrower had brought him. Christmas music was playing on the radio. Out of gratitude, he began to chat. He talked about the family home in Surrey, about his parents, his interests and his hopes.

     Harrower was growing aware that this junior boy was more than just another junior kid to be ignored. He'd already found himself sexually aroused by the boy's sweet face, by his extraordinarily short grey shorts and by his sad predicament. Now he was seeing something of the boy's character and what he saw he liked.

     When Marcus had finished scoffing the food Harrower looked at his watch. Only seven o'clock.

     "Bloody hell, Marcus, it feels like midnight but it's only seven. What say we celebrate Christmas in my dorm? You can bring the radio and I've smuggled in some beer. Don't worry about being caught. He said he'd see us at breakfast. Come on!"

     Two hours later, the boys were best friends, Marcus warming up nicely in Harrower's sleeping bag and enjoying sharing a bottle of beer. Two hours after that, both boys were naked and squeezed together in the sleeping bag and all the beer had gone. An hour later Marcus's radio said it was midnight and the boys wished each other Merry Christmas and affirmed it with a little kiss. Marcus soon drifted off to sleep but now Harrower was in love. He'd been stroking Marcus's body, an activity that seemed to give pleasure to both boys, especially to Harrower. Giving up hope that his cock would behave itself, Harrower grabbed a handy towel and enjoyed a frantic ejaculation. Then he fell asleep, with a smile on his handsome face.

*****

When Marcus awoke on Christmas morning he was alone in Harrower's bed. Panicking, he thought his new friend had already been collected by his father but was reassured a minute later when Harrower came into the dorm, his sportsman's body dripping after a shower. He'd needed to clean himself up after his messy little episode while Marcus was sleeping. He looked fondly down at the beautiful boy occupying his sleeping bag. 

     "Oh, awake, are we?" said Harrower. "Merry Christmas, Marcus!"

     "Um, Merry Christmas, Jamie," replied Marcus, sadly. He so wished Harrower wasn't destined to leave in a few hours' time.

     "I've got you a present!" said Harrower. "A little chocolate Santa - here it is!"

     "Oh, thanks, Jamie. I'd already bought one for me so now I've got two!"

     "Do you like me, Marcus?"

     "Well, yes, of course - you saved my life last night. Crikey - we actually slept together!" Marcus wriggled out of the sleeping bag to discover he was naked. "Oh hell, how did this happen? I've lost my clothes!"

     "Don't worry, Marcus. Your horrible clothes are safe. Put my tracksuit on before you freeze."

     Harrower asked the question again. "Do you like me enough to spend a bit more time with me?"

     "Yes, of course," said Marcus. "But how? You're going home in a few hours."

     "I want to spend lots more time with you, Marcus - and not playing table-tennis. I want you to come home with me today."

     "But how...?" repeated Marcus.

     "Well, what I didn't tell you last night was that my Dad rang just after I'd got in. He and Mum are back in England. They're coming to pick me up about ten o'clock. We'll be home by about two. I asked if I could bring a friend. That's you. Just until your Mum's back and you can go to her. Dad said yes and that he'd drive you to your Mum's."

     "But all I've got is my school uniform. I haven't even got any pyjamas!"

     "That'll be fine. I've clothes at home you can wear. Even shorts, if you like but mine are a bit long for your taste, you sexy little thing!"

     "Shorts! Like hell, Jamie!" Marcus saw Jamie was laughing. "Oh, you're teasing me! Course I'd love to go with you. The best Christmas present I could have! I won't know how to thank you though. All I've got is my other chocolate Santa."

     "Come here, you tinker!" said Jamie, grinning happily. "Let's wish each other Happy Christmas - properly!"

*****

Mr Harrower's car swept out of the boarding house drive with two happy boys in the back seat. Mrs Harrower said there'd be a proper Christmas dinner at home and asked Marcus if he'd mind sharing Jamie's bedroom.

     "And put that travel rug over your poor legs - they must be freezing!"

     The travel-rug was so smooth, unlike the coarse and itchy army uniform Marcus had worn for so many days. He liked the feel of the soft wool on his bare thighs. But it was nothing compared with the feel of Jamie's hand as it inched under the rug to find Marcus's thigh and then crept gently up, further and further until at last it reached his grey shorts. The feeling was good enough for Marcus to snuggle closer to Jamie and put to the back of his mind the pain and misery of Christmas in khaki.