A Lenten Feast 2
Peter was hiding under his blanket. Torch light leaked out offering the only warmth to the frozen space. David lay on his own uncomfortable mattress think the muddle through. “Transfer from the State School to Aelred Abbey.” Everybody insisted. “You’re a bright boy. Public School will give you no end of advantage. It’s a full scholarship till your A Levels.” Oxbridge gleamed in his mother’s eye, and so he went. Plenty of mates from about the village already there, filling the modest school’s ranks. It was not Eaton. Still, it was a leg up.
The full boarders were always about the village on their free time, usually travelling together. The village was used to them. It was not as if the war had not brought the entire empire and the United States tramping through for half a decade or more. David had been up to London quite a few times with his dad. Plenty to see there too. He had no memory of Peter till he joined the Year 8. It’s not my fault! David had to put his best foot forward. There was a scholarship involved. The masters made much of him. David blushed to think how easily he always soaked that rot up. Oxbridge was his due.
First thing, there was a history discussion. David hardly remembered what it was. He only remembered listening to Peter’s answer. The master murmured, “Hmm,” noncommittally. Peter made perfect sense to David, so he offered his support, virtually repeating the other boy’s answer. “Quite right Jones, you’ve nailed it down for us.” Beaming smile on the bugger’s sallow face, matching grins from his mates. David had not spoken a word to Peter yet. On his list, as it were. You could see why Peter had friends after just a day or two at Aelred Abbey. It was obvious to David, Peter was a corker.
The circulation of boys about the corridor after class brought David beside Peter in a natural way. David had learned Peter was from Manchester. That bestowed on him a certain glamour. There were hip boys like Peter in London. “Why do you have a conk like Chuck Berry?” David was trying to be hip too. He understood the mistake better now. The way Peter shrunk into himself and looked at his mates. But Peter was the Juke Box in David’s mind so he had to work that out later. David had touched a nerve. Manchester vanished in a day. Peter’s tight black curls became ordinary, like David’s flaxen ones. David secretly preferred the new look, but it shamed him that he had spoiled something for Peter.
Off on the wrong foot from the start. They made David Center Midfielder and moved Peter to Goalkeeper. “The Black Prince is going to hate you for that. He’s had Midfield sewn up.” A mate chortled. David remembered confusion, “Black Prince?” Peter’s behind-the-back nickname. So, it worsened. Coach might at least have kept Peter in the midfield. The two of them would have been brilliant. Instead David coped with boys who huffed and puffed about the field like pensioners. Anyone with half an eye for talent could see Peter received firsts in cross country. It mystified David. Aelred Abbey often lost. Peter always played the game, heroic saves, then some loyal mate would gripe, “You were brilliant Jones. If only Collins was not such a sieve.” It always got worse. Finally, the season ended and it might have all gotten better.
Perhaps it had. David was not sure who went to war first. It seemed a lark to lurk about with his mates, tossing stones at Peter’s windows. Other windows too, it would be bad form to single one boy out. The gauntlet was thrown down. The Black Prince took it up. Soon they were the best of enemies. David did not think he could be prouder than the first day they shared a caning. But of course, Peter hated him for it all, and hadn’t he just earned that hate in full? Snarky comments, the battle of the staves gone horribly wrong, school suspension. Peter shifted under the blanket and David sighed. He had only tried to get along at the start. Peter set the full borders against him and that hurt.
A walk through a cold drizzle did not completely rouse David the next morning. Peter had jostled his shoulder insistently, refusing to leave the side of his bed until David threw his covers off. Following the other boy’s steps to the kitchen door, David thought it unfair Morley started them off so early. He was accustomed to luxuriating in his bed till mother called him down for a hot breakfast. He blinked at Peter when his companion paused, checking on his progress. David ran a few steps to catch up, bumping Peter’s shoulder when he stopped. They went on together, rubbers squelching mud and grinding gravel. An unfamiliar shower while their school mates slumbered on, Milky tea and an extra helping of eggs brought him back to life, or maybe it had been Peter waiting for him along the path.