Portrait of a Boy


I woke up with the sun streaming through the windows of Joey’s room. I was lying in Joey’s bed,  snuggled deep into the luxurious sheets of his heavy comforter. I still thought of it as Joey’s room, even though it was really my room now. I liked to think that Joey had left it to me, that I was kind of looking after it for him. I thought I had better get up. I didn’t really know what time it was. I could sense that it was already late, but I didn’t want Julian to think I was lazy or anything like that. So I rolled back the covers and donned Julian’s oversized bathrobe – I liked wearing Julian’s bathrobe, even though he had bought me one of my own. It reminded me of the first time I had worn it, that fateful night when my mom threw me out, and I had turned up at Julian’s door, soaked to the skin.

I ambled downstairs and spotted Petey in the drawing room. He was already up and sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV, as was his habit. He was still in his undies, and he was holding an enormous mug of hot chocolate in his lap, no doubt lingering over the sweet milky drink that had left a sticky little brown moustache on his top lip. As usual he had the volume turned up a tad too far and was sitting too close to the screen, utterly mesmerized by the cartoon antics. Squidward and Patrick were up to their usual shenanigans at the Krusty Krab.

I headed straight for the kitchen, where I could see Julian was already up and dressed and busy making breakfast. I stood on the threshold of the sun-filled kitchen, looking approvingly at the little feast that Julian had prepared. He smiled on seeing me, but said nothing. It was the friendliest, most benevolent smile I had ever received, and I returned it with the same amity and grace. Words were not needed. To my delight, Julian had fixed breakfast for us all, and he had laid everything out on the central island. There was a big plate of eggs, fluffy and yellow, with toast and orange juice. And as I sat down, pulling up one of the high stools at the central island, there was an overwhelming feeling of love and acceptance in the air, the quiet, calm assuredness of being with someone who had real affection for me. My mood was light and carefree, blithe and unburdened. The criticism and disapproval that I had previously become so accustomed to, was now gone. The endless nagging that I used to have perpetually hanging over me, that had become such a relentless, festering sore to my self-esteem, was now banished. It was amazing, because it made me realize just how much negativity I had been subjected to, so much so that I actually felt its absence. Things were very different now. The weight of oppression that routinely assailed me at home, was no longer there. There was no hectoring voice quacking negativity into my ears, no haranguing, no put-downs, no quips or jibes, no questions or demands. All there was right now was Julian sitting opposite me, pouring orange juice and smiling affectionately at me, reassuring me with his presence. He demanded nothing, and volunteered nothing. He just let me be and allowed us both to bask in the warmth of our mutual affection. I looked at Julian and realized just how much I was in awe of this man, and how much I loved him for who he was and for what he had done for Petey and me. We could both talk freely about having a father now. There was no more awkwardness around the other boys because they had fathers and I didn’t. I no longer had to feel inferior because I never had the opportunity to do all the things the other boys did with their fathers. I no longer had to feel guilty that for some reason we were never worthy of our father’s love, ashamed that my father never loved us enough to stick around. I could walk into school knowing that we had a father who loved us. For the first time in my life I felt I was with somebody who actually cared for me – was genuinely interested in my existence and had my welfare at heart. I felt the stirrings of something truly real, something I had always craved, but had been denied me; something I knew existed but had never experienced: the fuzzy warmth of a nurturing and benevolent father figure. I felt safe, I felt protected, I felt looked after. For the first time in my life, I felt loved.

As I sat down at the central island, Julian picked up an envelope that had been propped there against the cereal box, and passed it to me.

“This came for you,” he said, meaningfully.

I took this unanticipated item of mail and scrutinized the envelope. The address was handwritten, with my name on the front. I didn’t recognize the handwriting, but there was a Hong Kong postage stamp in the corner. I looked up at Julian, already encouraged by the evidence, and smiled. It could only be from Tony. Julian sat down opposite to watch me open it.

Without hesitation, I stuck a finger under the corner of the flap and roughly ripped along the seam, impetuously putting my hand in to retrieve the contents. It was a thick, neatly folded greetings card, on the cover of which was a pretty slick graphic. The picture on the front was a painting of two young boys sitting on a hillside, clearly best friends. Their mouths were agape, seemingly in wonder, their heads tilted up towards the night sky, which was beautifully strewn with an array of stars and a full moon. The inscription beneath it said simply ‘Stargazers’.

What a beautifully clever message, undoubtedly a reference to that first poignant evening we had spent together when we had gone up to Tony’s bedroom and he had taken me up to the roof deck to show me his telescope.

Inside the card there was a simple handwritten message, short but heartfelt, in which Tony apologized for not getting in touch sooner. He explained that it had taken longer than he anticipated to get settled in his new home and new school, but now everything was sorted out. He went on to express his wish for us to stay in touch and, if I was still willing, extended an invitation for me to visit him in Hong Kong. My heart soared. So he was true to his word. He did want to stay in touch! Perhaps it was my good fortune to receive this invitation now, when the circumstances of my life had finally resolved themselves. Now, I was actually in a position to go, and Julian said he would pay for my trip. He even said that Tony could come visit me one day, and he could stay with us when he did. So, our friendship could flourish. The boy I loved, the boy I had revered and admired for so long from afar, with whom I had shared so much, the one true friend I thought I had lost, was once again back in my life. So, as it turned out, I didn’t lose Tony after all.


Authors note: To those of you who have made it this far, thank you for taking this journey with me and for taking the time to read my words.

If you enjoyed this story, please let me know. Your comments and feedback are always welcome: cosmo.tarkovsky@virginmedia.com