An English Teen,
Circumcised in the USA

by Riley Jericho


At some unspoken signal, Elliott stepped over to where Sam and Natty were still glued to the TV. Crouching behind his brother, he tickled Sam’s ear. The distracted sibling swiped it as though it were a fly, only succeeding in thumping his own ear! He turned and glared as he became the butt of the joke. It was actually quite funny, though they were all bored enough that any distraction was funny right then.

Straightaway, Natty jumped up and scooted around to her big brother's back, grabbing around his neck in an attempt to snag a piggyback. Luke watched in amusement, wondering what it would be have been like to have had a baby sister. He had Simon, but he didn't count as either. Luke certainly never carried him about on a piggyback!

Elliott was facing the others and away from Luke as he bent down even further as his sister scrambled to get on his back. In the process, the Indian cotton shirt rode up. Luke hadn't expected it, yet his eyes locked onto the cool flash of a white waistband around the top of a wide slice of refreshing, icy-blue cotton boxers.


He grinned to himself. It was the price you paid for baggy jeans, no belt, and a cheeky little sister!

"Not this time, Nat." Elliott eased her off and gained his footing as his shirt fell back into place. "Why don't we give Sam a carry?"

Natty pouted and glared at Sam for apparently daring to usurp her. She was a nice kid and had the black hair and dark sultry looks of her mother. From the little Luke knew of her since that day choosing frames at opticians, he’d got the impression she was used to wrapping the men in her life around her little finger!

Elliott bent down once more to offer a lift to Sam, and Luke flicked one last glance at that cute backside, before saying, "I'll go check if Simon's awake." He turned away before anyone tracked his line of sight.

The ward was filling as he passed in—a sign that most knew they were needed at their posts for what he’d discovered was regular morning review. He reached Simon's bed. Even though his brother lay prone and his eyes were shut, Luke knew from experience Si was awake.

He sighed. If it had been any of a thousand other days, he might have clipped him around the ear, poured water on him, or a dozen other tried and tested ways Simon had used on him to get him up for school!

Just not today. Today, only kid gloves were in order.

“Hey there, Si,” he murmured as gently and kindly as he could. "The doc's just on his way. Time to get ready."

There was no movement and no response.

Looking back to the door, Luke could see his mum and dad and the Carters slowly making their way up the ward.  Out in front Elliott carried Sam in his back. From the occasional winces in his face, he guessed Sam was still feeling the impact of his sandblasting.

"Come on, bud." Luke leaned over Simon and ruffled his brother's unwashed hair. "The sooner you see the Doc, the sooner we can get you home to your own room. You'd prefer that, wouldn't you?"

He was gratified that, at last, something seemed to connect with Simon as, wordlessly, he opened his eyes, turned on his back, and began to shuffle up onto his pillows.

Their mum and dad reached the bedside. Lucy plumped up the pillows, and Simon pressed his back against them. "There, that's better," she said brightly. 

On the adjacent bed, Sam was being lowered onto the hospital sheets by his brother. Unfortunately, Elliott lost his grip and Sam slipped the last bit. He squeaked in obvious discomfort.

"Freaking hell, Elli!" Sam squirmed on the bed, leaning into his injured parts. "Be careful! That HURT!"

"Sam..." The warning from Rose was at that subtle tone employed by mothers worldwide.

"Oh, come on!" Sam was indignant. "It's not your willy that's been sandblasted!"

Luke tried not to grin, fairly sure that Rose Carter didn't have a willy! The other interesting tidbit that he’d heard a couple of times now?


He turned the nickname over in his head as he studied a clearly unrepentant Elliott. In the lift, he’d introduced himself as Elliott, so perhaps it was a nickname only family used? Silently, he rolled it around on his tongue, testing and tasting it. Elli. He quite liked it.

Elliott's eyes were cool. "Don't blame me! You wanted me to carry you!"

"Okay, boys." Benedict's tone was placatory as he stepped into the fray. "It was an accident."

"Tell him to say sorry, then!"

Elliott rolled his eyes: the look of someone who had been in this kind of family tiff many times before. "I'm sorry for dropping you on your willy," he said steadily, folding his arms and looking anything but.

Sam glowered at the pitiful excuse for an apology and looked more than ready to take it to the next level, when Rose used her voice again. "'s fine."

It wasn't loud or overbearing, but whatever it was, she was good, Luke thought, as Sam—maybe a little reluctantly—subsided. Luke caught his mum's expression and could tell she was impressed too. Obediently, Sam shuffled into place on his pillow. Luke caught the mums exchange a look which he translated as, 'boys!'

In swept the consultant and his entourage.

The last time Luke had seen Dr. Jackson had been at the cinema, several months previously when they'd all gone to see Iron Man. It was hard to reconcile the two versions. The thick-lensed glasses might be the same, but wearing a physician’s white coat and pacing through a hospital ward made Jacko’s dad seem like an altogether different person.

It looked like the doctor was set on heading for a bed in the very far corner, when he halted in surprise adjacent to them.

"Luke?" He came closer.

Luke felt uncomfortably vulnerable at being picked out from among the crowd by the pediatric consultant, who frowned at him from behind thick black frames. Then Jackson's eyes widened in surprise as Luke saw them flick to the patient. "Simon?"

Finally his field of vision widened and his frown deepened. "Mr. and Mrs. Summers. Is everything okay?"

What was it about doctors, Luke mused? It seemed to be the first thing they were programmed to ask you when you went in for a visit to their surgery. 'How are you today? Is everything okay?'

For flips sake! It was enough to make you scream! Why do you think I'm here, you twit? To read the magazines? Of course it's not okay!

His dad, however, appeared less tongue tied, and dropped into first name terms with Jackson. "Hello, Julius. We had to bring Simon into the ER last night. Jonathan Tiberius has been treating him for phimosis."

There wasn’t a 'Jacko's dad' to be heard, Luke noted as his dad went on to explain yesterday’s crisis. At the same time, Jackson reached for the chart, expertly picking through the details. At his side, the senior staff nurse appeared to be riding shotgun for him. The flinty look on her face gave the impression she believed he should be elsewhere, though Jackson seemed happy to ignore her as he studied the notes.

"Yes, I see," he said, glancing at Simon. "Hello Simon. That must have been unpleasant. How are you feeling today?"

Thankfully, Simon responded, though all he said was, "Sore."

" be expected..." Jackson studied the notes again.

The staff nurse seemed to want to do her job of keeping the consultant on track. Clearly she had some seniority to be on first name terms, and said, "Julius, Simon has a catheter to remove. Perhaps one of your associates can do that?" She glanced towards the three fresh-faced interns.

"It's fine, Martha." Jackson appeared to have a different opinion as he peered at her through his heavy lenses. He also didn't appear driven by what seemed like her need for speed and efficiency. "I'll do this one myself."

It wasn't said unkindly. On the other hand, he still didn't seem to feel the need to offer any reasoning or justification to either her or the interns. That's what he wanted, so that's what would happen.

"Of course, Julius. We'll have a kit ready for when you come back." Even then, she didn't seem able to avoid emphasizing the last part that suggested he had other things to attend to first.

Jackson nodded, and put back Simon’s chart. "I just have to see a few other patients, young man, and then I'll come back."

As he stepped back, his field of view seemed able to encompass them all at last. A smile opened up his face in a way that reminded Luke so much of Jacko junior, and he said, "Don't go anywhere, folks!"

Within fifteen minutes, Jackson had worked his way back around to them, following some strict order that only the staff nurse seemed to understand that put them last. Just prior to them, the group reached Sam Carter, and the curtain closed around Sam’s bed. Elliott had taken his sister out of the frame to go find a drink, and Luke tried not to listen too closely to what was a four-way exchange between Jackson, the interns, Sam and Sam’s parents.

"So, young man," came Jackson's deep melodious tone that carried his generous smile. “I’m sure you remember my posse—they’re here to keep me in line, as usual!”

“Hello again, Sam.” A trio of friendly voices came from behind the curtain. One of them became teasing. "And where's the lovely young lady that usually stands guard over you?"

"Becks couldn't make it." A giggle from Sam, and it seemed that he was quite at ease with all of them. "I'll tell her you asked!"

"I hear you’re leaving us today?" Jackson's friendly tone came again. Perhaps there was a nod from Sam as Jackson continued, more business-like. "Well then, before you go, let's have a look. Just slip those down for me will you?"

There was a pause, then, "Oh, that looks a lot better this morning!"

His tone was at first bright and reassuring, and then became professional. "As you can see, we have some excellent coverage now. The mucosal graft has settled well now we’ve taken out the sutures. Just stand down on the floor for us, Sam.”  It was followed by was another shuffling pause.

“So…Dr. James…” Jackson seemed to be inviting comment.

‘Well, I also agree that the mucosal graft has taken sufficiently.” It was the voice of one of the interns, which then became more cautious. “Though I would recommend keeping an antibiotic cover for at least another week. The keratinized tissues over the glans seem fully abraded now."

“It’s freaking sore!” put in Sam at once.

“Sam….” Benedict's one word carried all the meaning needed.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Carter.” The tone of the intern carried a grin. “I think Sam’s done pretty well so far to put up with it all!”

“Doctor James is right,” added Jackson. “It’ll be quite sore for a couple more days than it will ease up. In a couple of weeks you won't notice. Martha, in the meantime, can you make sure we add an anesthetic spray for if it’s needed?”

There was a pause before the intern continued, seeming to be addressing the parents. "The positioning is getting better every day, too. As you know, we managed to separate out and excise much of the damaged tissues and scarred ligaments—enough to release the restrictions to a more normal incline.”

 Luke smirked. That had to be doctor speak for 'your junk hangs fine, my boy'!

“Will there be any more surgeries?” This time it was Benedict Carter.

“For now, no,” replied Jackson, stepping in again. “We’ll review in six months, but my hope is that further intervention will be unnecessary. Happy with that, young man?"

In his mind’s eye, Luke could almost see the Jacko’s infectious grin in Jacko’s dad’s tone as he spoke to Sam.

"You bet!" Sam sounded delighted. "Though it still hurts quite a bit...just here..." Luke surmised he was pointing.

"That's to be expected. As you know, it was quite a complicated procedure, but it went as well, if not better than we expected." Jackson became technical. Perhaps he was addressing the interns. "The remaining musculature of the pelvic sling will continue to re-establish itself to support a more than sufficient elevation as that's needed."

Elevation? AKA boner!  Christ, this was priceless! Did all doctors talk like this? How was he ever going to look Jacko in the eye again without grinning? Sam also seemed to be struggling to manage the translation on his own. His tone was questioning. "So I'll still be able to throw up a big enough..."

"Okay, Sam." The voice of Benedict Carter interrupted. "I think we all know what Dr. Jackson meant. There's no need to give us the gory details!"

Sam took on his grumpy tone. "I was only asking!"

"And there’s no harm in that, young man. Questions are good!" Jackson remained professional, though how he managed not to burst out laughing was beyond Luke. His tone remained patient and informative, though a little more discreet. "I understand your concerns. Let me put your mind at rest by saying that you should have no problem—in time—in achieving quite a normally positioned erection. However..."

His tone became more cautious. "…those may continue to be a little uncomfortable for some months. Give it time and everything will be well."

"Will there be a scar?" Luke was intrigued to hear Rose Carter's voice, and by the sound of it, she seemed remarkably untroubled by the focus of the discussion.

“Where we operated, inevitably yes, Mrs. Carter. But it will be minimal and well hidden with the onset of pubic hair."

"Cool!" It was Sam again, and Luke smirked once more, wondering whether the thing Sam thought would be cool was a sexy scar, or pubes!

"At least it hangs down now like it should!" Sam added, and then his tone became a little more cautious. "I’m still going to be able to shoot, right?"

"Sam!" Even the unflappable Rose Carter seemed to have her limits!

Holy cow! Luke wondered if the interns were struggling as much as him to cover a smirk.

While his mum was studiously examining the state of the sheets, Luke caught his dad's eye. He too was struggling not to grin! Elliott wasn't wrong when he'd said that Sam didn't tend to be shy! Shit, you wouldn't get him in a cramped space discussing his ‘squirting’ in front of his parents, like that! On the other hand, Luke didn't blame the kid. At that age, anything to do with his dick was becoming a big thing!

He glanced at Simon, not even considering that his brother might be finding it unbelievably hilarious too, but he didn’t even appear to be listening. He was staring at his knees and his hand was gently rubbing his thigh. He seemed focused on something that was miles away.

In the meantime, the other side of the curtain, Jackson sounded unperturbed. "Patience Sam…give it time. There's no reason to believe that, as you mature, you'll have anything to worry about."

They seemed to be drawing things to a close, so Luke tuned them out. His stomach rumbled. Two measly Cinnabons hardly counted as a solid breakfast! “I was thinking about picking up a Big Mac on the way home.”

“Sounds good,” said Geoff.

“Are you coming back with me, or mum?”

“I’ll take mum and Simon in the van—but maybe we can all stop off at a drive through?”

His mum raised her eyebrows. Unusually for her for when it came to fast food, she seemed up for it. "I don't see why not. You're probably a bit peckish too, aren't you, sweetheart?" Perched on the bed up close to where Simon was resting, she patted his hand.

“What?’ Simon looked up and looked distantly confused.

“Something to eat,” repeated Lucy. ‘We were thinking about picking something up on the way home. You must be hungry by now?”

"Not really." Simon looked away, and the reply was indistinct

She pursed her lips and tried another tack. "So how about I just cook us up something at home?"

"That sounds a better idea," agreed Geoff. "What do you think, sunshine? Let’s just get you home, and then I think we could all do with something good for lunch!"

Just then, Jackson’s voice emanated once more from behind the adjacent curtain. It sounded like Sam was done. "You can get dressed now." The curtain around Sam was momentarily pulled back to let out the adults, and they waited while Jackson gave some further general instructions to them.

"Well then," said Jackson as he turned to join them at last. His smile was friendly as both Luke and his parents got to their feet after having waited patiently by the bed. “How are you all? It sounds like it’s been a rough twenty four hours!”

“It’s been pretty horrendous, Julius,” agreed Lucy. “The poor lad was in real agony yesterday.”

“Let me introduce my cohorts." Jackson indicated the two men and one lady doctor. "They keep me on my toes!"

Luke returned the smiles of the three interns and didn't doubt that it was the other way around.

“Well, let's see what we have, shall we?" Jackson sounded sympathetic. Still shadowing him, the staff nurse took it as a cue and passed him the chart. They waited in silence while he quickly re-scanned Simon’s notes,

‘We contacted Dr. Tiberius immediately. We were on our way to North Fulton but he suggested coming here,” said Geoff as Jackson continued reading. “And I have to say, we can’t fault the care we’ve had.”

Jackson looked up. “We do our best! Jonathan you say? Ah, I see—Simon is a patient of his.” He returned to the notes, and the silence extended. Luke felt it was like waiting for an exam result, and the expressions on his mum’s and dad's faces were tight. He expected he looked the same.

"Mmmm…" Jackson looked up at last. "First off, Simon, why don't we get rid of that drain for you?"

As though on cue, Martha zipped the curtain around them all. Two sealed medical packs magically appeared on the swinging table at the base of the hospital bed: one with gloves and the other containing some instruments.

Something wary surfaced in Simon's eyes. Protectively he gripped the ruffled white sheets that covered him. Unable to look anyone in the face, he muttered. "I don't want anyone else to see."

It was awkward and in stark contrast to the way Sam had responded, and Luke winced. He knew straight away that their mum wouldn't find being excluded that day an easy pill to swallow.

In fact, it was Jackson who set the pace as he gestured to his interns. "Why don't I catch up with you three downstairs? It's high time for a coffee break, anyway."

As the trio began to move off without question, Geoff took their cue. "Come on you two, let's leave Julius to do his job." Gentle, but firm, he laid a guiding hand on their mum's arm and held back the curtain to lead them out. 

"We can talk afterwards," suggested Jackson. If the track change was a surprise to him, he didn’t show it. "It shouldn't take too long. I can go through anything I need to, with you later."

The curtain swished behind them, though Martha remained whether Simon liked it or not!

So they waited outside, and Luke could see the bottom of Jackson's legs under the curtain. From where they stood, it was still easy—or difficult not— to listen to what was being said. That didn't mean it was easy to hear. Far from it!

"Okay, Simon, that's it. Just pull up your gown a little more for me..." They could hear the instructions as Jackson began the procedure to remove the catheter.

"It's not going to hurt, is it?" There was a taint of fear in Simon's voice and their mum stirred, her worried eyes flicking to the curtain.

"It can sting a little, but I promise to go really slowly." Jackson's reassuring tone came with the sound of tearing packages and the slap of sterile gloves. "Thank you, Martha…"

There was a pause and the sound of unseen instruments being used, then, “It was quite a nasty acute case of Paraphimosis you had there, young man." Jackson sounded gently conversational, though Luke struggled to think how the subject would fit into some round the table chit-chat at Longhorn Steakhouse!

"Can you tell me how it happened?"

You can guess how much all of their ears pricked up.

Maybe because he was faced with a senior figure the equivalent of the school's principal, Simon's tongue loosened at last. "I was trying to stretch it," he muttered, the tone low and empty. "With the Glansie."

"Aha..." Perhaps Jackson was just trying to keep Simon talking to distract him? "Okay, nice and slowly now. Just try to relax."

 There was hissed intake of breath followed by a strained, "Ow!"

Luke stirred at the noise. His mum looked like she planned an assault on the curtain!

"Just relax. You're doing really well." The voice was kind. Calming. There was a pause, then, "You were saying?"

"I must have pulled too hard." Simon's voice was becoming wobbly and he started to speak faster—maybe desperate to get to the end without losing it. It was hard to know whether it was from the current discomfort or something else. "It hurt...I didn't know what to do. I know it was wrong...I'm really sorry...I thought it would just put itself right or something…"

Now even Luke felt like shouting the hell with it and pushing in there to give his brother a hug and somehow protect him from what had happened to him. He could hardly bear to even guess what his mum was feeling! Even his dad looked tense.

"Nearly there now." Jackson said. His tone remained calmly professional, but gentle at the same time. There was a hard, tight yelp that was quickly and smoothly followed by, "There we go, young man. All finished now. Well done!"

Luke could hear sounds of instruments being replaced in their trays and the soft smack of latex gloves being peeled away. Jackson exchanged a few words with the staff nurse before addressing Simon once more. His tone remained encouraging. "Now the next few times you pass water, it's going to sting a little. Don't worry, that's quite normal and it will pass.

"Okay, let's see what we have." More formal now, it sounded like Jackson was starting his examination. It only lasted a couple of seconds. "The dressing is fine; nice and dry—just as we like it. Martha, we won't try to change them, to avoid disturbing the sutures. There's still a little bit of swelling, but that should settle down soon enough.

“How does it feel this morning?" He seemed to be addressing Simon again.

"It's quite sore." Simon sounded guarded. Stoic, as if an admission of pain would only make things worse.

"I'm sure we can do something about that." Through the curtain, Jackson sounded confidant as he gave some instructions to the staff nurse about analgesia, and also added a course of antibiotics to the list.

"The dressing has to stay undisturbed for three or four days, Simon." Jackson was business-like again. "And it's important it not get wet. No baths or showers, I'm afraid; you'll have to make use of a washcloth.”

Next to him, Luke could see his mum taking mental notes.

"Okay, young man." Jackson appeared satisfied at last. "I think we're done." There was a shuffling of bedclothes before the grey patterned curtains were swished along their rails.

His mum moved straight in. Luke could tell it had to be from one of her deep wells of resilience that she dug in and sounded cheerful. "Ouch! That sounded a bit stingy. At least it's over with now."

The sheets were back in place again, but the pinched look on Simon's face was indicative not just of the discomfort of having the catheter withdrawn, but perhaps also because he knew they had heard everything. It really did seem to be all his own fault, though Luke didn't find any comfort in what they had all suspected anyway.

"Julius—thank you." Lucy’s tone carried the measure of her appreciation.

With a slight turn of his head, Julius Jackson returned a nod. For a few brief moments he seemed to divest the trappings of the stethoscope and white coat, and become Jacko's dad—the ordinary guy that Luke remembered from that night at the cinema.

Parent to parent, friend to friend, he spoke softly. "You’re welcome, Lucy. Adam talks about Simon all the time, and your son has always been a good friend to him. He’s loved the times he’s been able to go sailing with you up at the lake. I'm glad I was able to be here today to offer my support to you all."

Having said his bit, his demeanor slipped unobtrusively back into a professional consultant mode. "I've examined Simon and removed the drain—the catheter—and all seems well."

"Is he going to be alright?" The honest answer to that was something Luke knew his mum really wanted to hear.

Jackson's nod was professionally confidant. "Let me put your mind at rest Lucy: he's had a rough ride, but he’s going to be perfectly fine." He seemed relaxed. His tone and expression were transparent and Luke relaxed too. There was nothing being kept secret, no uncomfortable truth being hidden. Even his mum seemed put at ease.

Jackson continued in the same reassuring tone. "Paraphimosis is an unpleasant condition, but from what I can see in the notes and from my own examination, there's no reason why Simon won't make a full recovery."

He turned and winked at Simon, his wide grin showing white teeth. "Bad news for you I'm afraid, young man. No getting off school for you this time. I'm sure you'll be raring to go in a couple of weeks!"

Other than from Simon, he elicited some smiles.

"No surgery is taken lightly," Jackson went on, "but with the history of phimosis, electing to proceed with a full circumcision was the right choice in the circumstances. Pranav Chowdry is an excellent surgeon, and I have no doubt that the result will be clean and neat."

Luke frowned. Elective? He knew what that meant. Simon didn't have to have the operation, but they decided to do it anyway. He caught his mum as she cast a guilty glance towards the bed where Simon lay, listening.

Luke caught his dad's eye, who shrugged slightly. A subtle acknowledgment.

He chewed his lip. It spelt trouble, yet could he blame them? The journey to the hospital with Simon screaming in the back of the van had been horrific. Nobody wanted to have to go through that again. He wondered how his brother was going to take it, but Si stayed silent, the dull expression back on his face.

Jackson seemed to have missed the unspoken exchanges as he went on. "In most cases, the procedure is not complicated, and we do many here at this hospital, though perhaps less commonly than might be so in the UK. As you're probably aware, most are completed at a very young age." 

His tone became circumspect. "However, for a boy of Simon's age, it can feel a little unusual at first, and take some getting used to."

No shit! Ya think?

"I'm a firm believer in time and patience—and that's just what's needed here." Jackson addressed Simon again. "Before you know it, young man, everything will feel as right as rain, and you can get on with life quite normally."

He sounded so refreshingly confidant and optimistic, Luke felt a burden lifted off him. Nope, that was the truth of it. Yesterday was a nightmare, but it was fixed now. Everything was going to be fine. He returned his attention to Dr. Jackson who was giving post-op instructions.

"In the meantime," he said, "as I was mentioning to Simon, the dressing needs to stay in place for at least three days without getting it wet. So no baths or showers. Then, by the fourth day, the dressing needs to come off. Let the air get to the area of the surgery to let it dry and heal."

Jackson turned back to the patient. "The best way to do that, Simon, is to go for a good long soak in a warm bath. The dressings should then come away easily enough, and without much discomfort." He glanced at his watch and frowned, perhaps realizing how much time had run on.

The tone of his voice shifted to a wrap up. "The staff will give you all of the aftercare instructions in a leaflet before you leave today, but I'm sure Jonathan Tiberius will be in contact today or tomorrow as well, in order to set an appointment to remove the sutures."

Jackson’s mouth became a generous smile. "Do you have any other questions?" Despite the clock, he waited.

"Can I get dressed now?" The voice from the bed was quiet and raspy once more.

"We have fresh clothes, if you think that's okay, Julius." Lucy's eyes verged on the pleading. "I mean is it okay to take him home now?"

Jackson swung off around the end of the bed. "Of course it is, Lucy. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. The staff at the desk will help you with the discharge paperwork." He smiled and was gone.

All at once, it was over.

"Here you go, sunshine," said Geoff. He lifted an overnight bag from the floor near where he was standing and put it on the bed. "We brought you some clean clothes. There's some deodorant, a toothbrush and some other stuff as well.”

Gingerly, Simon swung his legs out from under the crumpled sheets. Edging to the side of the bed, the makeshift gown fell to his knees as he leaned forward to stand. The first thing he did was pull on the curtain and shut them all out once more.

They exchanged frowns, and through the curtain, Lucy said, "Are you sure you don't want any help, sweetheart?"

Simon's tone was dull. "No."

Needing to do something other than just stand there feeling helpless, Luke's mum and dad took themselves off to the desk to deal with the discharge papers. In the meantime, Luke sat in one of the chairs and waited. The other side of the curtain he could hear awkward movements and small grunts of discomfort. In front of him, Elliott strolled by, following a straw-sucking sister. To raised eyebrows, Luke said, "He's just getting changed."

"You're leaving then?"

He nodded.

"Us too..."

Elliott paused, and seemed about to add something, when something hidden from Luke's sight caught his attention. "Natty....come on...don't do that..." His tone was a little irritable. Whatever he was going to say got lost as he strode onwards.

At last, the curtain pushed back. Looking pale, Simon appeared well enough to stand. Luke eyed him carefully, then said, “We just have to wait for Mum and Dad.”

"I just wanna go," Simon muttered. Not waiting, he left the bag for Luke to gather up and started towards the doorway, an uneasy gait in his measured steps. Luke grabbed the bag and followed him.

Out in the corridor, they made their way to where their parents were still negotiating paperwork. Their mum’s eyes flicked up, frowning as they approached.

"Sweetheart…we were just about to bring a wheelchair for you."

“I don’t need one.”

 “Well, okay…if you sure…” She nodded, perhaps relieved that her youngest son was quite able to walk. With practiced ease, her eyes flicked up and down Simon, and frowned. "Where are your shoes?"

It was only then that Luke realized Simon stood there only in his socks.

Simon shrugged. "Dunno."

"He was wearing shoes yesterday," said Luke. "I remember it."

"That's what I thought, too," Lucy replied. Her frown deepened. "For that matter, what happened to all the clothes he was wearing when we came last night?"

The young lady who was feeding papers to their dad from the other side of the desk must have heard them, and interrupted, "Did nobody say? Just check in the bedside locker. There'll be a paper sack with everything."

Without needing another excuse, Luke said, "I'll go." He turned on his heels and headed back up the corridor.

He knew why he was going really. He just didn't really have much idea what it would achieve. Just to say goodbye properly, he told himself. Frankly, the likelihood that he would ever in a month of Sundays—make that a year of Sundays—run into Elliott Carter again, felt slim to nothing.

So what's the point of stalking back into the ward, other than to find some shoes for his brother?

He sighed. None really. He was just being a stupid idiot! Other than he still actually had to retrieve Simon's stuff, he would have about-faced. Instead, he hurried through the door.

"Hi there," he blustered, unnerved when the whole Carter clan turned to study him as he approached. He pointed to the bedside locker. "I'm just getting Simon's stuff."

Sam was dressed by now, and the Carters looked ready to leave. It felt like all five pairs of eyes were boring into him as he clawed through the bedside cabinet looking for evidence to prove he wasn't stalking their oldest son! Pulling open the footlocker, he found it: a paper bag with clothing, on top of which was a pair of sneakers. He waved the trove, avoiding saying any words that might come out like a nervous squeak!

Did he want to keep the friendship?

All he had to say—as offhanded as you like—would be, 'See ya! Give me a call if you want a game of tennis you fancy losing...' There would be a bit of banter, an exchange of numbers and he'd take it from there. Apart from there wasn't really a future—certainly not the type his perverted imagination craved!

For fucks sake, what was he doing? And Elliott was a year older than him anyway, even if they were in the same school year. Would he really want to hang out with a kid like him?

"Bye, then." Waving the evidence again, he balked. He didn't even make eye contact with Elliott, fearful that it might be taken the wrong way.

Benedict's voice followed him. "Give our best to your parents, Luke...and good luck!"

Luke turned, raised a hand in acknowledgment, and then scarpered.