Antony Carmichael ran his fingers over the steering wheel absently and glanced at his son in the back seat. The boy was sitting in a rigid position, his back straight against the upholstery and his eyes distant. His hands were in his lap and he was twisting his fingers in agitation; his nails were short and bitten but he had inherited his mother's fair skin and long, pianist's fingers. He had soft brown hair and brown eyes and was, by most standards, a very attractive boy. His lips were a pale beige and his whole flesh, though pale, tended towards a warm hue. Shades of soft tan brought out the almond shape of his eyes and the delicate curves of his jaw line. He was wearing a tight, high-buttoned shirt along with a grey waistcoat and matching trousers. A darker grey jacket lay folded neatly on the empty seat beside him. The jacket bore the emblem of a neat shield with a curved formation of crowns; it was a school uniform. The clothes were visibly new and clean and pressed, the creases deep and keen from their packaging.

When Isaiah Carmichael dared to glance out of the window he saw boys wearing the same clothes he was, making their way to their lessons, crossing the courtyard, talking and laughing, shuffling their feet. They were still a fair distance away but even with that impediment Isaiah could still discern some of their features; they looked calm, comfortable, cheerful. Although they wore identical clothes to Isaiah it seemed to him that they still appeared a vastly different species. There was virtually no resemblance between the boys who wandered freely around the compound and the tight-limbed boy who sat in the car. Even their uniform didn't really look the same to Isaiah's eyes, they rolled their sleeves up and had their ties loose, or wore them in different fashions – Isaiah looked like he had been cut out of the catalogues and was as bland and crisp as any paper model.

They had been sitting in the car for nearly twenty minutes, not moving. Antony didn't feel that he could force his son out of the car, or even tell him to do so in a commanding tone. All he felt was an absolute sympathy with his son's fear and anxiety. He found it difficult to be warm and encouraging about the transition, even though he had checked over the details of this school meticulously and was aware that, while not boasting the highest results, it still had a very good record of achievement and, most importantly, it had a highly praised social environment. It was the good atmosphere and satisfaction amongst the students which had persuaded Antony absolutely that this was the school to go for. Their pastoral care was very highly praised.

Still, despite his confidence in the environment he'd chosen, he didn't know how to motivate his son. He'd had a bad experience with boarding school himself and this was, when it came down to it, why he had allowed Isaiah's mother to home-school him. He had never agreed, he had always tried to persuade her, especially as Isaiah grew older, that it might be good for him to attend a small, pleasant day school but in the end he always felt a little uncertain. It meant that he could never be completely assertive on the issue.

He looked at Isaiah again, at his tilted face, trying to pick out his dark eyes and the uncertain curve of his lip but it was difficult to see in this position; all that was clear was the slant of his eyebrows and the shape of his curved throat. At times he appeared every inch a sixteen year old, sometimes even older for there was a intelligent, mature look to his eyes, but sometimes all Antony could see in his son was a small child.

Antony knew that it was important that Isaiah finally took this step, into the world, but he couldn't bear the thought of him being hurt. He felt all the certainty of a strong guardian when he thought of the possibility; he would do anything to avenge any injury upon his son or protect him from harm – but this feeling was not in itself helpful to any situations at hand. And it crippled his decision-making. He felt so guilty for allowing Mariah to teach him at home for all these years and placing so many restrictions on his life. He felt certain that this moment, sitting fearfully in the car, would not exist if only Isaiah had some firm experience in the world. He felt ashamed he had not done more.

He had only really married Mariah for Isaiah, though he had not known it would be an 'Isaiah' then. He had wanted a family, a family of his own and he had thought that this love would complete his life. Mariah had come from a girls' boarding school and Antony had met her at one of the interschool dances that was arranged. It was a religious school and Mariah was studying music and even though the dance was so horrible and the chaperones so disgustingly picky Antony had still been taken with Mariah; she was beautiful and they had shared many similar experiences. He had never really loved her enough, but he had thought he liked her enough to marry her. He might have even stayed with her, despite everything, for Isaiah, if it was not her who suggested, what with his company and their problems that it would be better to live apart and separate legally.

He wished he could say something comforting to Isaiah but it was so difficult. He had never spoken to Isaiah about his time at boarding school. He had wondered whether it would be better to lie to him, tell him that he had been nervous too and everything was alright in the end, but he was an honest man and couldn't bear the thought of betraying Isaiah. The silence felt like a betrayal too, that he would drive Isaiah out here and make him attend boarding school while saying nothing, felt like a betrayal. But that wasn't a fair line to draw; this school, this time, this place, was very different.

'I could walk you in,' he suggested, softly, but he regretted the words as soon as he said them. Isaiah's room and luggage had already been sorted out and they had both met with the headmaster on another day. If he was to go in with Isaiah and say goodbye it would probably be embarrassing for him.

'I don't know,' was all Isaiah could say, in a small, strained voice. It was hard for him, he didn't know what was acceptable, what was normal and what was not.

'Does anyone know?' he asked suddenly his father suddenly, nerves clearly breaking as he spoke, 'will anyone know that I've not been in school before?'

'The headmaster knows,' Antony told him, 'you know that, and he might inform some of your teachers – but you're all up to date, they've got your GCSE results, so they should know where to place you and there shouldn't be any issues, even if your records are otherwise a little low…' He paused for a moment, 'I told Mr. Harvey that I would prefer if he didn't make a big thing of it and ask the teachers to be considerate…'

'They might say something though,' Isaiah said, 'in class when they're asking me about what I've studied…'

'I don't think you could really keep it secret, Isaiah,' Antony told him quietly, feeling worse than ever for putting his son in this position, 'people may ask you where you used to go, it would be difficult to lie.'

'I know,' Isaiah responded quietly, 'I just don't want them to think I'm strange…' He picked absently at the lining of his waistcoat. Antony wished that he could reach out and touch him, just maybe reach out and hold his arm reassuringly, but it would be too awkward. He had hugged Isaiah tightly before they had set out even though he had been afraid that it might make him cry, but now it was too late in the day.

'You've got your mobile,' he told him, 'you can call me and talk to me anytime, okay. If you have any problems you can tell me and, if you're unhappy you can call me and we'll sort it out. I can take you out of this school at any time if there's anything wrong. I'll even drive out here in the middle of the night and pick you up.'

'I know,' Isaiah said softly, 'I know, but it won't be like that,' he said this with a bit of a whine as if his father's concern was too much but Antony still heard the uncertainty behind the statement.

'Okay,' he replied, 'but you know you can talk to me.' He sighed and then said, looking at the clock on his dashboard, 'you should go now.'

There was a long, painful silence and then, slowly Isaiah began to move his body round, picking up his jacket from the seat and reaching for the handle on the door.

'I love you,' Antony told him quickly, 'I'll speak to you later.'

'I love you too dad,' Isaiah replied, 'bye,' and got out of the car.

Everything was alien and difficult to Isaiah. He had gone over the campus with his father and tried to learn his way around but the building, and the hundreds of students inside it intimidated him. He thought that the few boys hanging around in the corridors or travelling between classes were staring at him, though there was no real reason for them to do so. He was a stranger but he was in the full uniform and it wasn't possible for everyone to know everyone. He was worried that some boys may have seen him parked in the car outside, sitting there for so long without doing anything. He knew that would have looked strange.

He hurried to his room as quickly as possible, finding his way with the map memorized in his mind. He was alarmed however, when he collided with another boy in the corridor, just as he reached for the door handle. He wasn't sure what do in the situation, though he was desperately tempted to push past and lock himself in his room – he knew that would be an absurd thing to do. He found himself garbling out a 'hello,' the word sounding unnecessary and childish. The boy in front of him said, 'hi' back though and smiled politely. He had dark hair and broad lips that pinched in at the corners.

'I thought that everyone would be in class,' Isaiah explained his surprise although the statement seemed unnecessary. He added, 'I'm new…my name's Isaiah.' He had to repeat it a couple of times for the boy he had met, who told him his own name was 'Lewis.'

'It's half-day today,' Lewis told him, 'so you'll probably see some guys coming up around this time, though most do sports – do you play anything?' Isaiah shook his head. 'I'm heading out for rugby practice right now. I'm in room six on this floor,' he gestured. He wasn't as heavily built as Isaiah expected a rugby player to be. He smiled and said, 'see you later then,' to Lewis as went his own way and then retreated into his room.

He pushed his large suitcase to one side and sat down on the bed for a while, staring at the clear cream walls and polished wooden floorboards that made up his small bedroom. He didn't really feel like doing anything with himself, just spread out slightly on his bed leaning his back against the wall and thinking things over. A couple of other boys knocked on his door and introduced themselves briefly, Isaiah tried hard to memorize their names and faces, standing in the doorway awkwardly. Then, a little while later, after Isaiah thought he had received all the visitors he was going to and was considering burying his head in the pillow and taking a nap, a boy swung his door open unexpectedly without knocking properly.

He gave a little tap with his knuckles upon the wood which Isaiah did hear but this was a quick and half-hearted action which was only carried out as the door was swinging open. Isaiah sat up sharply, self-consciously, staring up at the boy who was revealed in the doorway, leaning against the wood slightly and clinging on with his fingertips.

'Sorry,' he said catching Isaiah's alarmed expression and hasty movements, 'I didn't mean to startle you.' He smiled, a very warm and friendly smile which revealed very nice neat and regular teeth. His lips turned up in the corners in a charming way and he had bright green eyes that seemed to shine as he smiled, some expression visible in the corners and amongst the soft brown lashes.

'My name's Julian,' he told him, 'I'm two doors down from you.' He moved forward without further comment, approaching the bed where Isaiah sat stiffly. Isaiah was amazed at the command of his presence which also seemed somehow completely easy and natural; he didn't seem to need an invitation. His posture and attitude inflected a familiarity which would usually only occur in an instance of prolonged acquaintance, perhaps even more likely only in blood relationships. Although it made Isaiah even more self-conscious, taking care to straighten out his position and put his hands in the right place, he found something very welcoming about the way Julian was acting. He moved into the room smoothly and shoved carefully at the suitcase on the bed, kneeling down as he did so, reaching over the bedspread, and then pulling himself up to sit cross-legged next to Isaiah.

'What's your name?' he asked and there was an odd accent to the way he said the words, deliberate like slang, and playful and informal.

'My name's Isaiah,' Isaiah told him. Julian repeated the word, rolling it around his tongue like it was a rare treat he had been given and looking at Isaiah with appreciation. He seemed to think to himself about the sound of the name and all its connotations and Isaiah saw his eyes shift once or twice as if he was thinking about asking something but he did not; he just sat for a moment or so thinking then took to looking at Isaiah.

The other boys had looked over Isaiah with bland human curiosity, examining him only for a moment to try and assess his basic style and nature. Although Julian looked at him like this at first, his stare deepened and became more complex. It was as if Isaiah held some more significance to him, he gave him the kind of intense look a man might give a long-lost brother or son, staring into the face to which he was intrinsically bonded to try and learn about the person he had never known. Isaiah felt quite sensitive and vulnerable under Julian's gaze, as if when to boy's eyes went over his skin they picked in an intensive medical examination. He looked for a long time at Isaiah's face and eyes.

'Are you…' he began suddenly and then stopped. Seeing Isaiah's raised eyebrows he realised he would have to continue his question, having come this far. 'I'm sorry, he explained quickly, I was just wondering if you were Indian but…you're so pale it seemed a stupid thing to ask…'

'My grandfather was Pakistani,' Isaiah told him simply. People very rarely picked up upon his mixed heritage. He wondered for a moment whether this would be an issue somehow, although the campus seemed reasonably mixed, but Julian seemed a little embarrassed that he had asked the question, clearly worried that it might have somehow offended Isaiah. In any case though Isaiah was acutely worried about being singled out because of his looks. He hoped no one would think he looked odd.

Julian was very good-looking. He had what Isaiah would consider perfectly defined features. His skin tone was a light, medium creamy hue and his lips were the perfect shade of dark peach that suited a boy. He had blonde hair cut in a way that framed his face just right, falling over his green eyes and brushed softly behind his ears. Isaiah thought that he must be very popular.

'Would you like me to help you unpack?' Julian offered, glancing at the suitcase he had moved aside in order to take his seat on the bed.

'Oh,' Isaiah mumbled, taken aback by the proposition, 'no, you don't have to…'

'I don't mind,' Julain replied, 'It would be fun…unless you've got anything private in there?

His tone was fair and polite but Isaiah still felt uncomfortable, although there was nothing in his suitcase he was especially ashamed of. Not now that it had been re-packed, anyway.

His father had been outraged when he had checked Isaiah's bag and found it full of his oldest mix of charity-shop clothes and home-made sweaters. He hadn't said anything but Isaiah could see just how annoyed he was. He had carefully folded up the clothes again and composed himself before saying,

'It doesn't look like your mother's forgotten anything…but if you like we might want to go out and buy you some new jeans and things? While we also get you some other things for school…' Isaiah had happily agreed to this. His father had then taken him out shopping and had carefully bought him a full wardrobe of attractive, designer clothes. Nothing his mother had selected remained.

Julian's eager fingers were already getting to work on the thin metal locks; he couldn't stop him. Soon Julian was sifting through his affects smoothly, helping pick at and put away clothes and putting to one side the notebooks and novels. Despite his careless attitude he still maintained an air of polite restraint, visible in the way he hung back slightly now and again when he thought he might be approaching something of a sensitive nature.

When Julian happened upon the photographs, the slim album and frames, he asked tentatively,

'Can I have a look?' Isaiah nodded, sitting back down again beside Julian while he first moved through the two glass frames.

'Is this you and your parents?' Julian asked, holding up the one of Isaiah, aged around six, in the garden in front of his mother's house.

'Yes,' he replied, watching Julian as he looked over the delicate exposure.

'I love old photographs like these,' Julian confided, 'the one where the colour's all slightly adjusted due to model of camera and the shades are all of that era. I've got one of my parents on their wedding day.' He looked beyond the large bushes at the coral brickwork, 'is that still your house?'

'Yes,' Isaiah said, 'it's my mother's house and we still live there. My parents are separated now though, so my dad has a different place.' Julian flicked through the photos in the album, with further interest and delight before letting Isaiah take them to one side, slipping the album into a drawer and propping the framed photographs up on the dresser.

'Want to come see my room?' Julian invited, jumping up and moving towards the door, 'then I'll give you a quick tour of the school if you like.'

'Okay,' Isaiah replied, following Julian down the corridor. Julian only pushed his door open for a moment though. Allowing Isaiah just a moment to slip inside and glance about it. He could see that at one point this room had been identical to his own as all the rooms in the school were around the same size and shape and contained the same, standard issue furniture. There was a vast amount of difference between Julian's room and his own though.

Julian had moved his furniture around, lining up the bed with the far wall and positioning the heavy dresser opposite. Isaiah assumed that this had been done so that the TV, a slim black model positioned neatly on the top of the dresser, could be watched from the bed. Connected up to the TV there was also several games consoles, the controllers stacked up or resting nearby on the floor.

Rather than having a bedside table next to the bed Julian had instead positioned his desk. A laptop was sat upon the desk, positioned right to the edge, suggesting that Julian liked to use it in bed too and simply stored it on the desk when done. The way in which the rest of the desk was cluttered up with things also supported this theory.

It was the level of decoration, of personal items, stacked up here, there and everywhere, which really obliterated the uniform look of the bedroom. The walls were almost completely covered in posters, mostly movie posters although there were also bands and some others Isaiah didn't recognise. Stacks of books and DVD cases also littered most exposed surfaces although the standard bookcase was completely full. Even the floor did not go unaltered; there was a heavy rug set against the side of the bed.

Most surprisingly Isaiah noticed that there was a medium-sized teddy bear rested against the corner of the bed, Its frayed ears pressed against the pillow. He had thought that no boy his age and in these circumstances would dare display a childish thing like that.

'It's usually more of a mess than this,' Julian told him, 'but since it's near the start of term I haven't had the time yet.' As he showed Isaiah out he asked him,

'Why didn't you come in the first week?'

'My dad needed to get the time off work to take me,' Isaiah responded, 'it's quite a long trip and my mum doesn't drive.' Julian nodded and guided him down the stairs and through the corridors, discussing the schools amenities as they went. Isaiah had the layout fairly straight in his mind so spent a fair amount of time with his eyes focused on the other boy, watching his teeth flash as he spoke and laughed. He was careful to smile and walk at the right distance beside him.

Julian introduced the various buildings pleasantly and they followed the campus around, eventually ending up in the science classrooms, where Julian, pushing open a door to an empty room pulled out a chair and proposed that they took a rest from the tour.

'That's probably about it for now anyway, 'I'd show you the gym and stuff but it will be in use now. The pool will too.' Isaiah pulled up a chair too, as Julian gestured for him to do, and sat down, glancing around at all the desks and the posters on the wall which displayed diagrams and biological illustrations.

After a few moments he found the courage to initiate a new conversation, asking his first question of Julian.

'Have you always been a boarder?' he asked, uncertain for a moment when he asked whether 'boarder' was the right term. Julian shook his head.

'I went to a normal primary school,' he told him, 'and came here when I was eleven.' He then launched into a elaborate account of his time in school, relishing the narration with emotive details which included the projects and drawings he'd done in reception, the school plays he'd been in and subsequently either improved or absolutely ruined with his unreliable performances and home-made costumes. He described instances with his classmates, his friends and what they were like and how some of them he argued with and fell out with constantly, making up again on almost a daily basis without a second thought and with a simple game or pack of sweets as an unspoken peace offering. He talked about nature walks and school trips and sport and the comical way that each child interacted with animals, particularly insects and the way the teachers had to keep up with any kind of medical issues kids had and know when they needed to be kept out of things or understand when they were lying to be excused. He talked about the way teachers treated you in general, how he was praised often but sometimes had awkward little battles with some of his teachers and how his form room teacher in his last year had taken a dislike to him and had reprimanded him furiously for the way he spoke in class and made jokes over the lesson – which Julian only did all the more once he realised that he was being ostracized.

Isaiah drank it all in with pure, unadulterated fascination. He had owned books about schools when he was younger but they did not, in their girlish and quaint style, hold for him the interest that they seemed to for so many other young readers but the history of Julian's childhood was absolute entertainment to him. He could not prompt Julian enough, he could not stop question after question, each subject moving on to another while they interacted quickly and purely, after each punch line or piece or nostalgia was shared they would laugh and revel In it. Isaiah had no experiences of school to share, or even comparable situations with other children his isolation had been so complete, but he related to Julian his own games and interests growing up. He told him all the most evocative instances of daydreams and sensations, the imaginative games he would play alone and what he would think and do in the great Victorian house he had been born in and the bristly countryside gardens around it. Julian listened with delight and seemed to approve heartily of the processes Isaiah's mind made and the emotions he confessed.

The soft, electronic, tone which the school used for a bell sounded a couple of times while they were sitting there in the empty classroom but, apart from stopping the first time round to explain that it sounded for lessons but on a day like this did not apply, except to signal to the indoor clubs and sports practices. He did not seem bored at all, they were both perfectly content to remain as they were indefinitely. At one point, when they were talking about building forts and constructing buildings and camps out of furniture, Julian impulsively pushed the desks aside and pulled Isaiah down onto the floor, completely upturning several chairs so they could sit in a constructed barricade. Isaiah was frightened that they would be interrupted as the wood scraped across the floor but Julian assured him that no one would be wondering around at this time and they wouldn't get in trouble anyway.

'They'd only tell us to put the stuff straight again,' he assured Isaiah, 'no more than that, and we'll do that before we leave anyway.' They did not in fact do this, incidentally, at least not fully. Julian half-heartedly pushed most thing back in order but everything was still askew somewhat when he pulled Isaiah out to show him the fields.

'Is there sport you particularly like?' Julian asked him as they sat down at a short distance from the footballers and their fans.

'Not really,' Isaiah murmured uncertainly, 'do you play anything?'

'No,' Julian said, 'I'm not on any teams. I used to be on the football team in my first couple of years here but I was never the best player and it took up a lot of my time. It doesn't matter too much if you're not into competitive games here because there's lots of activities you can choose to fill up your P.E. portion. I do swimming, track, tennis and basketball. What did you choose?'

'I…didn't get much of a choice,' Isaiah said, 'because I came in a bit late and a lot was full up. I'm doing swimming as well though, and track – but my final two choices were rejected and I've been put into Hockey and self-defence.'

'Oh that's fine,' Julian assured him, 'those aren't bad classes. Anyway the important thing is, even if you're not into sports really, to make an effort to go to any big matches or special practices. Everyone goes and it's a big social thing so if you don't you'll really get left out.'

Isaiah smiled, leaning forward and bringing up his knees to rest his arms on them, comfortably.

'I'm glad I met you today, Julian,' he told him, tenderly. Julian turned to look at him, tilting his head and blinking his dark lashes. He smiled companionably.

After the games wrapped up Julian ran over to meet some of the athletes and some more of his friends who had been spectators. Isaiah had followed, uncertainly at first, wondering if Julian meant for them to separate now (after all they had spent the majority of the day together), but Julian called after him and once Isaiah had caught up introduced him to some of the other boys.

Once again Isaiah took time trying to remember their names and faces and distinguishing features but he recognised that he might not be expected to learn them all so well, so quickly. A tall, dark haired boy who went by Luke, one of the footballers, suggested that they go hang out in someone's room for a bit, now that the day was over. The boys accepted Isaiah into their group in a simple, unceremonious fashion. His inclusion was recognised, his voice heard, but none of them made him the centre of attention or entered into detailed conversation with him. This situation was one which Isaiah found quite comfortable and he enjoyed listening to everyone talk and listening to their jokes.

When it started to get dark and boys started to leave Isaiah assumed that his social interaction would be done for the day, however Julian caught up with his in the corridor and asked if he wanted to stay late in his room. He pressed a hand to Isaiah's shoulder as he caught him and smiled as he said,

'You can stay the night if you like. No one come round after curfew unless there's someone playing music really loud or making some other disturbance, enough to get reported.'

'Sure,' Isaiah whispered, taken aback at the invitation. He had begun to feel that although Julian had taken an interest in him as a newcomer that his friendship with him was not as significant as it was for Isaiah. It had seemed entirely possible that, hanging out in the group of Julian's friends, that he would simply become another member on the peripheral. Julian grinned widely.

Julian kept the TV on for a long time but as it got late he switched it off and both boys entertained themselves with casual , light conversation and the books and magazines about Julian's room. At some point past midnight they had adjusted into a comfortable position sprawled on the bed; Isaiah at the head, leaning his back against the pillows and the headboard, Julian towards the foot, seated cross-legged with his back against the wall. They had not spoken in a long time.

At length Julian glanced across at Isaiah, flicking out one foot from underneath himself and nudging the other boy's toes. Isaiah smiled, curling the tips of his toes and then nudging Julian back. He gave a soft chuckle at the action, a childish giggle like that an infant would give when being tickled or nuzzled by a parent. Julian grinned, then looked at the clock before pushing his magazine to one side. He stretched out both his legs and then turned his body round. Isaiah looked up in surprise as Julian moved up and swept his arm across him. His palm rested on the other side of Isaiah's shoulder, sinking into the mattress. Julian was leaning over him, looking down with a gentle, friendly grin. Isaiah smiled back, uncertainly, a nervous little laugh coming from him. Julian grinned more cheerfully.

'So,' Julian began slowly, Isaiah stared up at him while he spoke, he had chosen to lean very close and Isaiah could only stare at the other boy's skin close up; the tone and shape of his cheeks, his eyelashes, and his chest moving steadily with his breathing. 'So,' he murmured, 'what are you into?' Isaiah continued to stare, shifting his shoulders awkwardly, his lips twitching between a smile and a relaxed, uncertain line.

'What do you mean?' He asked. Julian grinned wider, halfway to a laugh, his eyes almost closed as he tittered. It made Isaiah wonder if Julian was being playful, teasing him somehow – his attitude was still very companionable although he spoke in low, intent tones. He smiled back at Julian, nervously, using his teeth to convey his sincere confusion but good will. Julian looked down at him with soft, dewy eyes.

'I mean,' he said carefully, in low and sugary tones, 'what do you like to do in bed?' Isaiah felt his face grow hot and let his eyes flicker away, showing how unnerved he was. He had heard that boys his age could be quite candid about their sexual activities, but the way in which Julian was attempting to engage him, with his knowing smile, made his nerves tight. He didn't know what to say, he let his watery eyes meet Julian's blankly.

'It's okay,' Julian told him, leaning closer for a moment, tilting his head to whisper into Isaiah's ear and then bringing his head up again to smile and give a little wink. 'Are you shy about it?' Isaiah continued to remain silent, his eyes steady but glassy, his face hot. He bit his lip slightly, his mouth twisting.

'It's alright,' Julian whispered, 'I let you know what I like, first.' He raised himself up a little, still smiling gently at him, 'I'm not really into anything heavy. I like mutual masturbation best really, a little bit of grinding, that kind of thing, sometimes a little bit of oral…' He titled his head, resting it upon his hand with his long fingers curled delicately against his cheek. He rested the fingers of his other hand against Isaiah's arm, trailing the creases in his shirt sleeve ever so slightly. 'I'm really not that interested in penetration or anything like that…anal's just not my thing but…if you really wanted to, I guess we could talk about it…'

Isaiah stared up at Julian, his eyes twisted and brows furrowed. The heat in his face seemed to have reached a peak and now he felt almost cold, aware of the sweat shifting on the skin beneath his clothes. Even though he was still reading the friendly undertones in Julian's expression, which were so in keeping with his attitude and the feeling of their day together, the words he had just spoken had burned through Isaiah's mind like acid. The sentences were alarming and explicit but remained somewhat incomprehensible. He found he couldn't grasp the situation fully, although the grit of it lodged somewhere in his senses. He felt terrified and humiliated.

'I don't…' Isaiah began but he didn't really want to communicate the huge chasm in his understanding, and he didn't know how to articulate his discomfort without exposing himself. Above all else he didn't want the deep, friendly, indeed carefree, intimacy, of which there was still a core strand, between himself and Julian to disintegrate. He could feel Julian staring down at him curiously, he knew that he must be seeing the colour in Isaiah's flesh, the fear and uncertainty in his eyes. Julian was still for a few moments, reading the other boy, then he pulled himself up a little, giving Isaiah a little space, and gave him a warm, reassuring smile.

'It's okay,' he said, with the warmth and sweetness that was a drug to the other boy, 'we can talk it through if you like, or we can work it out as we go along, we can take it slow anyway.' He had understood very well the approximation of what Isaiah was feeling, and what would make the other boy more comfortable although he had entirely misinterpreted the deeper motivations.

He moved away, climbing off the bed and headed to the bedroom door. Lying on the bed still, breathing a little unevenly, Isaiah watched him turn the lock. Once this was done Julian turned around to look at Isaiah again and grinned, pulling the pillow out from underneath his head and causing him to slip down on the bed suddenly, with an awkward jerk.

'Come on then,' he said lightly, cheerfully, 'let's get settled down.' Isaiah sat up and watched as Julian walked around the room and began to unbutton his shirt. He moved with his back to Isaiah while he slipped the material off, revealing pale, white skin. Isaiah stared as Julian turned around and smiled. He moved forward, resting one knee upon the bed and leaning forward to pluck at the waistcoat that Isaiah was still wearing.

'You, too,' he told him. He shifted his weight on the bed and reached down to peel off his socks. Isaiah stared at his bare chest, his mouth dry, and then reached down to start on his own buttons. It was surprisingly hard, he kept fumbling. Julian raised his head to look at him and his expression changed. He stared at Isaiah with quiet alarm, his eyes wide.

'Jesus,' he whispered, as if Isaiah had revealed some sort of hideous burn or birth defect. Isaiah didn't understand until he followed Julian's eyeline and looked down at his hands; then he saw how violently they were trembling. He kept his head down and swallowed.

Julian moved forward quickly and reached out, taking Isaiah's hands, they continued to shake even when Julian held them tightly. Isaiah stared down determinedly, watching as Julian tenderly brushed his fingers across the back of his hands and shuddering fingers.

'You know,' he whispered, very gently, 'we don't have to do anything tonight, right?' Isaiah looked away, his head tilted down and his face burning. He suddenly felt very strongly like he might begin to cry, his shuddering had increased somewhat although he tried to take deep breaths and calm himself down.

'You've…never done anything like this before have you?' Julian said, very quietly. All Isaiah could do was shake his head. Julian tilted his own head down, looking at their clenched palms, knotted together in an odd tangle; the digits in the centre still trembling uncontrollably. 'I'm so sorry,' he said, 'I…I just assumed…god I am such an idiot.'

He let go of Isaiah's hands, letting them rest in the other boys lap and ran a hand over his face and through his hair, embarrassment registering suddenly very keenly on his features.

'I…I just…hah huh,' he gave a nervous laugh, something which seemed more akin to a cough to Isaiah. He was silent for a moment but when he spoke again he was far more composed and steady.

'Look, let's not make a big deal of this,' he said, 'if you want you can still stay over, that's fine, we'll just hang out and play video games or something or if you want we'll call it a night and I'll just see you tomorrow. That's fine too, don't go to sleep worried or anything.'

Isaiah swallowed.

'And…' he managed, his words sounding very hoarse and strange, 'we'll still be friends?' Julian's face changed somewhat, the shock which was evident in his expression somehow filled Isaiah with a flood of shame far more extreme than he had hitherto experienced.

'Of course,' Julian said quickly, his voice coming out somewhat like a hiss, 'of course!'

'I'm so sorry,' Isaiah whispered.

'You don't need to be sorry!' Julian told him, fiercely, 'honestly, don't be so silly – this was all my fault! Honestly!' he hit himself in the face softly in what Isaiah assumed was a gesture of self-reproach and exasperation. Then he reached across to take Isaiah's shoulder in a tender, friendly way.

'Look, you don't need to worry about this okay, let's just call it a night and I'll see you tomorrow, alright?'

Isaiah just about managed to clench his fists about the half-undone buttons of his waistcoat and nod.