AUTHOR: Nikki Harrington
PAIRING: Arthur 'A. J.' Raffles/Harry 'Bunny' Manders
SUB-GENRE: First Time
SUMMARY: Set during their time at school. A new boy joins the sixth form and takes an interest in Bunny. They have quite a lot in common and he seems to be a nice, kind, genuine boy. However, Raffles isn't impressed by the amount of time the boy seems to spend with Bunny.
WORD COUNT: 7,450
DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters created by E. W. Hornung, nor am I making any money from them; I merely borrow them from time to time. I do, however, own the original characters.
I was sitting in my study reading a book and waiting for Bunny to arrive when there was a quick double knock on my door. I recognised the knock even before I heard Charlie call, "A. J., it's me."
"Come in, Charlie," I called back, putting my book down. A moment later I stood up as, to my surprise, by Charlie's side was a boy, dressed in the suit sixth formers wear, whom I had never seen before. I glanced at Charlie and raised an eyebrow.
"A. J., this is George Gaffney; he has joined the school for the remainder of the sixth years. Gaffney, Arthur Raffles - he's the captain of the eleven."
As I held out my hand, I saw a look of faint surprise flicker over Gaffney's face and I could understand why; it was unusual for a lower sixth form boy to be the captain of the eleven. "Gaffney," I said, shaking his hand for a moment or two before putting both of my hands in my pockets. "Welcome to the school."
"Thank you, Raffles."
I didn't ask and Gaffney didn't volunteer to tell me quite why he was joining the school in the sixth form - and not at the beginning of the sixth form, but part of the way through the summer term. I vaguely wondered if Charlie knew - people tended to tell Charlie things they probably wouldn't tell anyone else, and it was clear Dobson had sent for Charlie to show Gaffney around.
"Do sit down," I said, after we all just stood in silence for a moment or two. I sat back down in the arm chair and Charlie and Gaffney sat on the sofa. "Do you play cricket, Gaffney?" I asked.
He laughed a little and shook his head. "I enjoy watching cricket very much indeed, but I'm a hopeless player. I felt sorry for the house I was in at my previous school as whenever the master in charge of cricket made me play, you could guarantee I would do something foolish. I can keep score though, so if you ever need someone who doesn't lose count . . ." He trailed off.
I gave him a half nod. "I'll keep that in mind."
We talked for a few minutes about nothing in particular; Gaffney asked a few questions about the masters and the classes and school rules in general, and Charlie and I answered him. Well it was mainly Charlie who answered him, especially when it came to the subject of school rules as unlike me, Charlie doesn't tend to break them - well not many. He smokes, but then given just about every sixth former does that, I believe he can persuade himself it isn't an important rule and as such he can break it.
I was sitting opposite the door to my study and I heard a soft knock and saw the handle began to turn. A second later it stopped and there was a louder knock, which Charlie and Gaffney also heard. "Come in, Bunny," I called, as I stood up.
The door opened and Bunny came in slowly with his head slightly down, as he always did when he heard another boy's voice coming from my study. "Hello, Bunny," I said and held out my hand to him.
He raised his head a little and gave me a quick smile and said softly, "Hello, Raffles." As he came to stand by my side, he once again lowered his head.
"Good evening, Manders."
Bunny once more raised his head a little and looked at Charlie for a moment, before he once more returned to looking at the floor. "Good evening, Charleston," he said, his voice even softer than it had been when he had spoken to me. Bunny wasn't usually as reserved and proper when he spoke to Charlie; it was the presence of an unknown boy in my study that caused him to behave as he was.
I put my arm around his shoulders and pulled him towards me just a little as I said, "Bunny, this is George Gaffney; he's just joined the school. Gaffney, Harry Manders; he's my fag."
To my surprise Gaffney stood up and came over to where Bunny and I stood and held out his hand. "Hello, Manders," he said and smiled.
Under my arm I felt Bunny swallow as he slowly held out his hand which Gaffney took and shook. "Hello, Gaffney," he said, and then added swiftly, "I mean -"
"Gaffney is quite all right, Bunny. Is that not so, Gaffney?"
For a moment Gaffney looked somewhat confused and then understanding crossed his face. "Oh, yes, Manders, quite all right. I really don't like the way some sixth formers insist the younger boys call them 'sir'. It didn't happen a lot at my previous school, but there were some boys who insisted. Well, Manders, are you a third or fourth form boy?"
Bunny glanced at me and I gave him what I hoped was an encouraging smile. "Third," he said softly.
"I imagine given that you are Raffles's fag that you are also a cricket player?"
Bunny's head shot up and Charlie and I exchanged smiles across his head as he cried, "No! I mean, no, I'm not. I'm actually hopeless at cricket."
Gaffney looked more a little surprised, which didn't surprise me. I think that some boys, even some seven months after I had taken Bunny as my fag, were still surprised that the captain of the eleven had a non-cricket playing boy as his fag.
"But Manders does keep score very well and enjoys watching cricket and he keeps A. J.'s kit in far better condition than even A. J. did."
"I'm in good company then," Gaffney said and Bunny frowned a little. "I'm also hopeless at cricket," Gaffney said, putting his hands in his pockets. "But I also enjoy watching matches very much, especially when the eleven are playing."
Bunny seemed to have forgotten his reserve because he said enthusiastically. "The matches involving our house are also really good because Raffles and Charleston are the best two players in the school. We're going to win the house cup again this year."
I glanced at Charlie and wasn't surprised to see his cheeks were more than a little flushed. Despite Bunny only speaking the truth, Charlie was the second best cricketer in the school, Charlie was never comfortable being complimented; nor did he seem to regard his abilities in the way everyone else did.
"I think you're being a little biased, Manders," he said softly.
"I'm not!" Bunny declared, and then gasped slightly as he realised quite how disrespectful his words and the tone of his voice could be seen as being. "I'm sorry, Charleston," he murmured, once more lowering his head. "I'm sorry, Raffles."
"You don't need to apologise, Bunny," I said firmly, tightening the grip I still had on his shoulder. "Charlie isn't angry with you, are you, Charlie?"
"Of course I'm not, Manders."
"Thank you," Bunny murmured but still didn't look up.
"That's my good boy." We stood in silence for a short time during which I felt Bunny begin to fidget and I guessed what his next words would be.
However, before he had a chance to give me an excuse for leaving my study, Charlie spoke. "Well, Gaffney, there are a few more boys to whom I should introduce you and then I'll show you were we make cocoa."
"Thank you, Charleston."
"I'll see you later, A. J.," Charlie smiled at me and I smiled back.
"I hope it doesn't take you too long to settle in, Gaffney," I said, nodding at him. "If you need anything, you know where I am."
"Thank you, Raffles."
Charlie glanced at me and hesitated for a second or two. I knew for what he was waiting: me to tell Gaffney he could call me 'A. J.' as every sixth former, not just those on the eleven, tended to call me most of the time. However, I did not say the words; I don't exactly know why, but there was just something that stopped me.
Charlie raised an eyebrow but I just held his gaze. "Well," he said, "let us go, Gaffney."
"It was a pleasure to meet you, Manders," Gaffney said, looking down at Bunny.
I squeezed Bunny's shoulder. "Thank you, Gaffney. It was nice to meet you too," he said, stuttering very slightly.
I left Bunny to cross the room and open the door for Charlie and Gaffney. I closed it behind them and turned around. "Hello, Bunny," I said again and smiled at him.
"Hello, Raffles," he said in his usual voice and gazed at me as he always did.
I strode back to him and put my arms around him, pulling him towards me and holding him in a loose embrace for a moment or two. "Did you have a good day?"
He shrugged. "It wasn't bad, well," he said, "in fact . . . You see I . . ."
"Bunny?" I pushed him away from me so I could look down at him. He was smiling, he looked happier than he normally looked when he was with me, he also seemed to be excited and his cheeks were slightly flushed. "Well? What is it, my rabbit?"
His eyes shone and his smile increased. "It's just that I was given top marks for the verse I had to write for prep," he said. "Mr. Mason said it was the best verse he had read for quite some time."
"Did he now, Bunny?"
Bunny nodded. "Yes. He even - he read it out to the whole class, Raffles. My verse."
I pulled him back towards me and held him tightly against me. "I keep telling you, my rabbit, you write excellent verses."
"I enjoy writing and reading them," he said.
"I know you do, Bunny." It was something else we didn't exactly have in common. I enjoyed reading very much, but I didn't care that much for poetry and verse writing was my worst subject. It was the only subject in which I had received continually low marks - well, I had until I had taken Bunny as my fag and discovered quite by accident what a splendid writer of verses he was. He had left his poetry book in my study one evening and when I had picked it up, a piece of paper had fallen out. Of course being the curious boy I was, I looked at it, saw it was in Bunny's hand and had read it. Even to someone who disliked poetry and was unskilled in the writing of verse, I could see talent when I came across it.
Thus, one of his fagging duties became that he wrote my verses for me, which he was very happy to do. I occasionally wondered if old Mason ever either wondered why my marks for verse writing had suddenly increased, or indeed recognised Bunny's style. I assumed, given he never said anything, that he either hadn't noticed or simply didn't care. It wasn't as though I was going to continue to write verses once I went up to Cambridge.
I held him for a little while longer before I took one arm from around him, moved the other one to his shoulder and led him across the room to my desk where I took a bar of chocolate from one of the drawers, broke off a piece and gave it to him, before breaking off another piece for myself.
"Thank you, Raffles."
"You are very welcome, Bunny. Come along, let us go and sit down." We sat on the sofa and ate some more chocolate before I once more put my arm around his shoulders and pulled him back to rest against me; he put his head against my shoulder and gave a soft sigh of contentment.
A FORTNIGHT LATER
It was a gloriously warm lunchtime with a very pleasant breeze which prevented it from being too hot. The eleven and I were involved in one of our regular practise sessions and Bunny was sitting on the grass watching us as he tended to do.
I was about to bowl to Kirkton when I saw a boy stride across to where Bunny sat and say something to him. Bunny stumbled to his feet and stood upright and replied, glancing at me as he did so. The boy was Gaffney and I wondered what he wanted and why Bunny seemed somewhat uncertain.
I tossed the ball to Charlie and strode across to where they both stood. "Is there some problem, Gaffney?" I asked.
"Oh, no, Raffles. Not at all. I was just asking Manders here is if might watch you practise, that's all. But he said I'd have to ask you."
What could I say? Despite disapproval from one or two of the eleven, I always permitted Bunny (who occasionally was joined by Urquhart) to watch us practice. Thus, I could hardly tell Gaffney that he couldn't watch. As such I shrugged and said, in a tone that contained more good humour than I actually felt, "Yes, of course you may watch. I rather fancy you'll find it boring, but if you wish to do so, don't let me stop you."
"Thank you, Raffles," he said. "And I can always talk to Manders if I do get bored - not that I imagine for one minute that I will."
Bunny glanced at me and I gave him a quick smile and a small nod. "Sit back down, Bunny," I said quietly, pushing gently on his shoulder, on which my hand had automatically come to rest once I had reached him.
"Yes, Raffles," he said, and obeyed me, sitting cross legged and staring at the field, just in time to see Charlie bowl Kirkton out.
I hesitated for another second; for some reason I was disinclined to leave Gaffney and Bunny alone, but I had no reason to stay and every reason to leave. Thus, after bending down to ruffle Bunny's hair, I nodded at Gaffney, pushed my hands into my pockets and rejoined the rest of the eleven.
A quarter of an hour later, I glanced across to where Bunny and Gaffney sat and was more than a little surprised to see that they were engaged in conversation and for the first time ever Bunny wasn't watching my every move.
"It looks as if your rabbit has found something more entertaining to do rather than watch you practise, A. J.," Wilson called out with more than a hint of a sneer in his voice.
"A. J.," Charlie's said softly, the warning in his tone was clear and he took my arm and held it firmly.
I glared at Wilson until he shrugged, turned and moved away before I glanced at Bunny and Gaffney again - they were still apparently deep in conversation. "Right," I said, trying to shake Charlie's hand off my arm - he let go of me, which was the only way I would have got away. "That's enough for today."
"I said that's enough." I spoke sharply and saw the look of surprise on Charlie's face. Instantly I felt a flash of guilt race through me. "I'm sorry, Charlie," I murmured, touching his arm. "It's just I feel a little unwell."
I hated lying to Charlie and the flash of guilt returned as he instantly became sympathetic as he took my bat from me and put his arm around me. "You do look somewhat more flushed than you should," he said, staring at me. I half expected him to put his hand on my forehead (Charlie intends to become a doctor) but he didn't. "Come along," he said, "let's go back to the house and I'll get you a cold drink. Or do you need to go to the San?"
I shook my head quickly. "No, Charlie. Thank you, but I don't feel that unwell."
"Oh, good," and Charlie smiled and looked relieved (the guilt I felt increased). "Well, come along then," he repeated as he began to walk. His arm was still around me and he was carrying both his bat and mine in one hand.
We reached Bunny and Gaffney and Charlie stopped. "Manders, be a good boy and carry A. J.'s bat back to the house for him, please."
Bunny jumped to his feet and took both bats from Charlie's hand. "Of course, Charleston," he said. Then he looked at me. "Is everything all right, Raffles?" I noticed his cheeks were very flushed and even though he looked at me, I could see his gaze wasn't quite on me, and I rather suspected he too felt guilty for being caught talking to another boy rather than watching me.
"A. J. feels a little unwell," Charlie said, before I could say anything.
"Raffles! Shall I fetch matron?" The colour faded from his face and he looked tremendously concerned.
"No, Bunny, it's all right, my rabbit," I said putting a hand on his shoulder. "It's nothing serious. I just felt a little unwell, that is all. I'll be fine once I get inside."
"Are you sure?" However, it wasn't I whom Bunny looked at or addressed; it was Charlie.
He nodded. "Yes, Manders," he said reassuringly. "Now give me my bat back before you trip yourself up." Charlie took his bat from Bunny's hand and with his arm still around me, and Bunny hurrying alone by my side, he led me back to the house.
It was only when we got back to my study and I, at Charlie's insistence, had sat down on the sofa and put my feet up on it and Bunny had hurried off to fetch a glass of cold water for me, that I realised I didn't know if Gaffney had come back to the house with us or stayed to talk to the rest of the eleven.
Now that he had me indoors and in effect under his control, Charlie did not only put his hand on my forehead, but also put his fingers on my pulse. I sighed softly and tried to push away the latest flash of guilt. "I'm fine, Charlie," I murmured, putting my hand over the one of his which held my wrist.
He stared at me. "You're not 'fine' A. J.," he said firmly. "If you were we would still be practising. You are somewhat warmer than I believe you should be and your pulse is a little faster than it normally is. I'm going to keep an eye on you and if you don't cool down and your pulse doesn't slow down, I am going to take you to matron."
I sighed softly. "Yes, Charlie," I said obediently and rested my head on the arm of the sofa - arguing with Charlie when he was in 'mothering' or 'doctoring' mode was a pointless exercise. I was quite certain that I wouldn't need to be taken to matron - why would I? There was actually nothing wrong with me.
However, to my surprise when Bunny hurried back in with the glass of water and handed it to me I noticed, as a small amount of water slopped over the rim of the glass, that my hand was shaking very slightly as I took the glass. "Thank you, Bunny," I said, resting the glass on my lap and glancing swiftly at Charlie as I wondered if he had seen my hand shaking.
Apparently he hadn't. However, he said quite firmly, "Drink it, A. J."
Moving my hand slowly and doing what I could to stop it from visibly shaking, I lifted the glass to my lips and drank and went on drinking until the glass was empty. It was beautiful and cool and as I swallowed the last few drops I wondered if, in fact, my words hadn't been the lie I had thought them to be, as to my surprise I did feel a little better.
"Thank you, Bunny," I said handing the glass back to him.
"Would you like me to fetch you another glass?"
"Yes, please, Manders," Charlie said, before I could reply. "I believe that would be a good idea."
"Yes, Charleston," Bunny said and hurried off again.
A FORTNIGHT LATER
That wasn't the last time I came across Gaffney talking to Bunny - in fact it became a fairly regular occurrence. Gaffney would stop Bunny in the halls at break or lunch time or even on the way in or out of the dining hall or in the quad; he also attended a few more practise sessions. However, from what I saw when I glanced in their direction, whilst he was clearly trying to engage my rabbit in conversation and Bunny did, of course being the good boy that he is, answer him, he still kept a close watch on what was happening on the field and what I was doing.
I didn't particularly like the fact, but apart from constantly calling Bunny to my side, which I felt would be unfair as well as a little demeaning, I did not know what I could do about. It wasn't that I feared Gaffney's interest in Bunny was of a sexual nature - I didn't particularly like the boy, however, I was confident he was honest, genuine, kind and even nice. Thus, I had no fears for my rabbit's safety. Nonetheless I would rather he didn't keep stopping to talk to Bunny.
One evening Bunny was a little late getting to my study and when he ran in his face was flushed, his hair untidy and he stammered out an apology. Upon enquiring why he was late, he told me Gaffney had stopped him to tell him how much he had enjoyed a verse Bunny had written. I understood it to be the verse he had told me about a week or so ago; apparently Mason had had published in the school mag which Gaffney had read, and then had gone out of his way to praise Bunny.
As I assured him I wasn't angry with him for being late, I realised with a touch of guilt that I hadn't asked to read the verse when he had told me about it and I vowed to find a copy of the school mag and read it.
It was the evening before Charlie, the rest of the eleven and I were due to go away to play in the first round of the public schools cricket cup competition. Bunny and I were both in my bedroom; I was packing and Bunny was sitting cross legged on my bed watching me. Suddenly I heard a knock on my study door.
I moved to the doorway separating my bedroom from my study and called out, "Who is it?"
I bit back a sigh and called, "Come in, Gaffney. Stay where you are, Bunny," I said, without even turning around.
"Yes, Raffles," Bunny said.
"Is there something I can do for you, Gaffney? I haven't a great deal of time as I am packing; the eleven are going off tomorrow to play in a match."
"Yes, I know."
"Manders mentioned it."
I glanced at Bunny who flushed and looked away from me as he murmured, "I'm sorry, Raffles."
I was about to tell him he had nothing for which he had to apologise - it was hardly a secret, anyone remotely interested in cricket knew about the match - when Gaffney spoke again. "Actually, I was looking for Manders. He's not in the dorm or the third form common room so I wondered if he was with you?"
I stared at Gaffney; where else did he think Bunny might be if he was not in the dorm or common room? And what did he want with Bunny? And why was he looking for him, anyway? I nodded. "Yes," I said. "He's in my bedroom," I added quite deliberately, and didn't miss the look that flashed over Gaffney's face or the way he raised an eyebrow. I just shrugged. "Do come through."
"Thank you." Gaffney followed me into my bedroom where Bunny, now looking less than comfortable and who was folding the blanket upon which he sat between his fingers, still sat on my bed. "Hello, Manders."
"Hello, Gaffney," Bunny said, glancing quickly at me before looking at Gaffney.
"I have something for you."
Bunny sat up straight and looked surprised. "For me?" He glanced at me again. I was leaning against the wall with my arms folded.
"Yes, Manders, for you. Here," and he held out a book towards Bunny. "It's a book of Keats's poetry; I remember you telling me he was your favourite poet. I was tidying up my books earlier today and I discovered I had two copies of the same book, and I thought you would like to have one of them. Here you are."
However, Bunny looked at me. "May I?" he asked, his voice shaking slightly.
Gaffney turned to look at me and a look crossed his face which I really could not work out. "It is only a book of poetry, Raffles," he said. "Look," and he held the book out to me. I glanced down at it quickly and saw the name 'Keats' on the cover - not that I had doubted his word.
"Of course you may, Bunny," I said quickly.
Bunny now scrambled off my bed and took a step towards Gaffney who once more held the book out to him. He took it carefully, reverently even and held it. "Thank you, Gaffney," he said. "Thank you very much. It's very kind of you."
Gaffney shrugged. "It's really nothing; as I said I had two copies. It's just nice to be able to pass one of them onto someone whom I know enjoys Keats as much as I do." Then he looked at me; I had moved from leaning against the wall and was now standing next to Bunny. "Do you like Keats, Raffles?"
Bunny turned to look up at me. I stared at Gaffney and shrugged. "Not as much as Bunny or apparently you, but yes, I am quite fond of his work." Actually, I wasn't all together certain I would recognise Keats's work if I came across it.
"What's your favourite poem?" Gaffney stared at me.
"It's the same as mine, isn't it, Raffles?" Bunny said swiftly. "Ode To Autumn," he added. "That's right, isn’t it, Raffles?"
I turned my attention away from Gaffney and looked down at Bunny who was gazing up at me as he clutched the book. I put my hand on his shoulder and then slid my arm around his shoulders and pulled him a little nearer to me. "Yes, Bunny," I said, "that is quite correct." I held Gaffney's stare unblinkingly, almost daring him to invite me to quote from the poem - which I could not have done.
I couldn't tell if Gaffney believed Bunny and I or not; his expression gave very little away. After a moment or two he shrugged and looked away from me and down at Bunny. "Well," he said. "I confess that I have never really seen the appeal in that particular ode. However, given it is your favourite, Manders, I believe I shall re-read it and see if I can see it in a different light. If you - and Raffles of course," he added glancing back at me, "- both like it so much, well it must have some worth."
We stood there in silence. Bunny was shifting under my arm slightly; I could tell he was now very ill at ease. I squeezed the shoulder my hand rested on; I was trying to reassure him, give him some comfort even. Meanwhile Gaffney just continued to stare at me.
Finally I broke the silence. "Well," I said in a brisk tone. "It really is very kind of you to give Bunny a book, Gaffney. However, as I said I have to go away tomorrow and thus really do need to finish packing."
For a moment I half expected him to suggest that as I was the one who had been packing, that he and Bunny go and sit in my study and talk about Keats or whatever, whilst I finished packing. However, he merely shrugged and said, "Yes, and I have some prep I need to do. I just wanted to give Manders the book tonight, that's all."
"Thank you again, Gaffney," Bunny said hurriedly. "It really is very kind of you."
"And as I said, Manders, you are quite welcome. Enjoy the book - I do believe it has Ode To Autumn in it." As he spoke, he looked at me and his look was quite clear this time - he was suggesting I read the poem. "I'll say goodnight to both of you."
"Goodnight, Gaffney," Bunny said softly.
I nodded. "Goodnight, Gaffney."
"And good luck for tomorrow, Raffles."
"Maybe I'll run into you tomorrow, Manders," Gaffney said, before turning and leaving my study. I stared after him.
"Well," I said after Bunny just stood in silence, still holding the book, still shifting from foot to foot. "What say we have some cocoa and chocolate before you go to bed, Bunny?"
He smiled at me. "I'd like that, Raffles, but you haven't finished packing."
I shrugged. "It will take me no more than a minute or two - I'll do it whilst you go and make the cocoa."
"Very well, Raffles," he said. He put the book Gaffney had given him down on my bedside table and hurried out of my bedroom; a moment later I heard my study door being opened.
I swiftly finished packing before going back into my study and taking two bars of chocolate from my desk drawer. One to eat now, the other I would give to Bunny before I said goodnight to him.
Once we had drunk the cocoa and eaten the chocolate, I encourage Bunny to lie down on the sofa with his head in my lap. For the final ten minutes before he had to go back to the dorm, we talked about the upcoming match and what I knew about the other team as he just gazed up at me in the adoring way he always looked at me and I played with his hair.
"Here you are, Bunny," I said, once we were both standing up again, handing him the bar of chocolate.
"Thank you, Raffles," he said and smiled at me brightly. Maybe it was just because I wished to believe it thus, but I felt certain the smile he gave me was more genuine and far brighter than the one he had given Gaffney when he had given him the book - and all I was giving him was a bar of chocolate.
"Now you be a good boy and -"
"A. J., I was - Manders, shouldn't you be in the dorm?" Charlie appeared from the direction of his study.
"I'm just going, Charleston," Bunny said swiftly. He looked up at me. "Goodnight, Raffles," he said.
"Goodnight, my rabbit. Sleep well." I brushed his hair from his forehead and let my hand linger in his hair.
He smiled at me. "Goodnight, Charleston, and good luck for tomorrow."
Charlie smiled. "Goodnight, Manders, and thank you."
Bunny hesitated for a second before he turned around. "Bunny," I heard myself say.
"Yes, Raffles?" He turned back and looked up at me.
"Don't -" I fell silent. I could hardly say 'don't spend too much time with Gaffney', certainly not with Charlie standing by my side. "Get into trouble," I added swiftly, silently cursing myself as both Charlie and Bunny stared wide-eyed at me. There wasn't a boy in the school who was less likely to get into trouble than Bunny.
However, after staring at me for a moment or two, Bunny just smiled. "I won't," he said, and this time he hurried off.
I glanced at Charlie and shook my head. "I know," I said, "it was a foolish thing to say. I wasn't thinking. Now what was it you wanted to see me about?"
Charlie stared at me for a moment or two and then shrugged, put his arm through mine and led me back into my own study. "The thing is . . ."
AN HOUR LATER
I returned from the bathroom and undressed, folding my clothes neatly before I put them on the chair that stood next to my bed. I pulled on my pyjamas and got into bed intending to read for a while before I settled down.
However, when I reached for my book, I found the book Gaffney had given to Bunny on top of it and I remembered Bunny had put it down when he had gone off to make the cocoa; it appeared he had forgotten about it. Well, at least it gave me a justifiable reason to see him before I went away in the morning. After all I wouldn't want Gaffney asking him how he was enjoying the book and Bunny having to confess he hadn't actually got it, would I?
I was about to put the book back down and pick up the book I was reading instead when I decided I would have a quick look at Ode To Autumn. An hour later I put the book back down, rubbed my eyes and turned out the lamp. Well, I still wasn't a poetry lover, but I had to admit that Bunny had good taste. I had actually enjoyed the poems I had read and I had really enjoyed Ode To Autumn. Who would have thought it?
THE FOLLOWING EVENING
The other school was in the far north of England and it took us the best part of the day simply to travel there. We would thus stay over night, play the match the following day, once again stay over night and return to our school on the following day.
It is rarely easy for another school to find beds for twelve additional boys and a master, at least not without an amount of upsetting of routine. However, this school was a fairly new one and actually had a small building for guests with each room providing beds for two people. Thus, for once we were actually all housed together and I was sharing a room with Charlie.
"A book," I said, throwing my pyjamas onto the bed. "He gave Bunny a book."
"Yes, A. J., so you've told me - more than once," he added.
"Oh," I said, sitting down on my bed and looking at him where he sat on his bed, leaning against the wall. "I'm sorry." He shrugged. I pulled my feet up onto the bed and sat cross legged, "It's just -" I fell silent; I was well aware I was about to launch into another round of telling Charlie about Gaffney and how he always seemed to be around Bunny.
Charlie pulled out a bag of toffees from his pocket took one and tossed the bag to me. I caught it easily, took a toffee and threw the bag back to him. Charlie just sat and stared at me in silence before he said quietly, "I do believe you're jealous, A. J."
"What?" I stared at him, not altogether certain I had heard him correctly. "Jealous? Of whom?"
"What?" I repeated as I stared at Charlie. "Are you feeling quiet well, Charlie?" I said suddenly concerned. In fact I was so concerned, I got off of my bed and hurried over to his sat down and took his hand.
"I'm fine, A. J. And maybe jealous is the wrong word. But you don't like the amount of attention Gaffney pays Manders, do you? You don't like the fact that someone else, some other boy, seems to like Manders."
I stared at him. "Don't be ridiculous, Charlie."
"Am I being ridiculous?" Charlie's voice was low.
"Yes!" He stared at me and for a moment entwined his fingers with mine. "Yes," I repeated, far less forcefully. "Of course you are," I added, looking at our joined hands rather than at Charlie. "Anyway," I said suddenly, "I'm not the only person who likes Bunny. You like him as does Urquhart." As I said it, I was rather shocked that I had voiced the fact that of all the boys in the school, I could only think of two whom actually liked Bunny.
Charlie shrugged. "That's different."
"Well, Urquhart is Manders's best friend and the same age as him and you don't see him as any kind of threat, shall we say." I just stared at Charlie. "And I'm your best friend; you like me, it's different." Now he put his hand on my face for a moment. "A. J., I hate to say it, but simply put you don't want Manders to pay attention to or spend time with anyone other than you. You didn't like it when Gaffney talked to Manders whilst we were practising last month; you didn't like it at all. You're so used to Manders focussing entirely on you. You're jealous, A. J." He cupped my face for a moment and tightened the grip he had on my hand, before he let go of my hand, took his hand from my face and swung his legs off the bed. "Come on, it's almost supper time," he said, picking my coat up from my bed and handing it to me. "And then we'll see if we can find out where boys go to smoke." He waited whilst I put my coat on before he put his arm though mine and led me out of the room.
TWO DAYS LATER
Bunny was waiting in the quad as we arrived back at the school and to my annoyance I could see that Gaffney was with him. "Raffles!" Bunny cried, and hurried across towards me. "Hello, Charleston," he added, as I put my bags down and put my arm around his shoulders. I was a little surprised to feel him press himself against me just a little more than he tended to do, unless we were alone.
"I knew you'd win," Bunny declared, looking from me to Charlie and back again.
"Did you now, Bunny?"
"Of course! I even told Gaffney you would win."
"He did. He was quite confident of the fact."
I glanced at Gaffney who at some point had joined us. "Gaffney," I nodded at him.
"Hello, Raffles, Charleston."
"Shall I come and unpack for you, Raffles?" Bunny said suddenly.
I was a little surprised at quite how desperate almost Bunny's tone was, not to mention the fact that he knew I would unpack for myself. "What? Oh, yes, thank you, Bunny." I bent down to pick my bags back up, nodded again at Gaffney, and with Charlie on one side of me and Bunny on the other we went off to the house.
I took my arm from around Bunny's shoulders and dug into my pocket for the key to my study, unlocked it and ushered Bunny inside. I closed the door behind us and dropped my bags on the floor. "Well, Bunny," I said, and opened my arms. "Did you miss me?"
"Yes, Raffles!" he cried, as he threw himself into my arms, put his arms around my waist and pressed closely against me. "I really missed you."
I held him and tried not to let myself worry. After a short time I said softly, "Is everything all right, my rabbit?" He didn't answer and I pushed down my sudden concern as well as the anger that threatened to rise in me. "Has someone hurt you?" I asked carefully.
"No, Raffles, no one has hurt me."
His tone left me in no doubt that he spoke the truth and I breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, what is it then, Bunny." Again he was silent. "Come along, my rabbit, you know you may tell me anything, do you not?"
I felt him nod against my shoulder. "Yes, Raffles."
"Well, then? Has someone upset you?" I felt his slowly move his head from side to side. "Or has something happened? Come along, Bunny, you must tell me, there's my good boy." I spoke a little more firmly than I normally spoke to him.
However, he remained silent. I was about to speak again when he pushed himself away from me a little, took one arm from around my waist and put his hand into his blazer pocket and pulled out a bag of sweets. "Gaffney gave me these," he said.
"Did he now?"
He nodded. "Yes."
I waited for him to say something else, but he didn't. So I put my arm around his shoulders, "Let us go and sit down." I led him to the sofa, sat down and pulled him down next to me, putting my arm back around his shoulders and gathering him closely to me. I heard his soft sigh of contentment as he rested his head against my shoulder.
"Can I - may I - really tell you anything?"
"Of course, Bunny."
Again he fell silent; again I waited. "The thing is, Raffles, I don't know if I like Gaffney or not."
"Do you not, Bunny?"
He shook his head. "No. Or rather I don't know if he's a nice boy or not."
I was surprised to hear Bunny say he wasn't certain if Gaffney was a nice boy or not. Given that, despite my not particularly liking Gaffney or the attention he paid to Bunny, I had never for a moment thought me might not be a nice boy, I would have thought Bunny felt the same - especially as he seemed to enjoy talking to him. "Why do you think he might not be a nice boy, Bunny? Has he said something to you? Has he done something to you? Has he tried to touch you?" If he had; if my opinion of him had been wrong then I would - Well, let us say make it quite clear what I felt about him and he certainly wouldn't do or try anything again!
"No! No, Raffles, really. It's nothing like that." Bunny's tone was quite genuine and contained more than a hint of surprise that I might have thought that - thus I was reassured.
However, I was still somewhat confused. "Then what is it, my rabbit?" I spoke gently.
He sat up a little and turned his head to look at me. "It's foolish," he said.
"Well, tell me anyway."
He sighed. "It's just that he keeps giving me things, the book of Keats's poetry and these sweets and he talks to me."
"Well now, Bunny, I've given you sweets, have I not? And I talk to you."
"Because I'm yours. I belong to you. It's all right for you to give me sweets. I'm yours," he repeated.
"Did Charlie not buy you some sweets the last time he went into the village?" I asked softly.
Bunny nodded. "Yes, but that's different."
"Why is it different, Bunny?" I kept my voice soft and smiled at him.
"Because he's your best friend; you like him. It's different," he added firmly. And then suddenly he said quietly, "I am yours, am I not, Raffles?"
I stared at him and suddenly I realised, I was prepared to admit, that what Charlie had said about me being jealous of Gaffney and how he took Bunny's attention away from me was quite, quite correct. "Well now, my rabbit," I said, brushing his hair back from his forehead. "Would you like me to show you quite how mine you are?"
He looked a little surprised but then smiled and nodded. "Yes, please, Raffles," he whispered.
So I did. I put my arms around him, gathered him back into my embrace, lowered my head and kissed him, keeping up the gentle pressure until he began to kiss me back with an enthusiasm I couldn't remember experiencing for many years. Indeed, I wasn't all together certain I had ever been kissed with quite as much enthusiasm as Bunny was kissing me.
"Oh, yes, my rabbit," I whispered, pausing for a moment to allow us both to get some breath, "you really are mine." I brushed his hair from his forehead again before returning my mouth to his. And he was; he was mine; he was completely mine and only mine.
Master list of my Raffles/Bunny stories