When Michael Baines rescues fellow student Keith Ross from drowning, he little realises the complications that will follow. Both boys are unable to explain the attraction they have for each other and it needs considerable effort on Michael's part to come to terms with his own sexuality. Not only this, but he must somehow save his friend from a life changing accident. His determination wins through and finally both students find that their relationship is JUST PERFECT.
It was only when I rescued Keith from drowning that I really realised the full meaning of obligation and what it would lead to. It was, I guess, partly his own fault. I found out later he wasn't a strong swimmer, and he actually admitted he was frightened of water. But he was young, it was summer, and all our mates decided that swimming was the only thing possible on that hot summer day.
It was one of those summers we all remember when the sun shone all day for weeks on end, when the grass turned yellow and dried up, when the air itself was almost thick with sunshine, when butterflies hovered around those flowers that love the heat, cosmos, verbena, begonias and sucked the oils out of herbs like lavender and thyme. It was only in the evenings when the sun turned deep orange and hid itself behind banks of clouds that it was possible to enjoy any activity beyond gentle walks.
Yet we kids, backs bronzed and long past the angry red of sunburn and with no thoughts of what the sun was doing to our skins, or would be doing in the future, lolled in the shade or visited the reservoir which migrating Canada Geese and windsurfers had appropriated for their own use. It wasn't supposed to be used for swimming. In fact, there were notices all around that stated in big red letters that swimming was prohibited, that the water was deep and dangerous, that reeds could catch and hold intrusive limbs.
But who could resist the lure of the water at weekends when we felt the school summer term was going on for far too long, with the sunlight flashing its silver glints over the surface and the cool, cool waters closing over our heads as we depth-charged each other, knees clasped in our arms to cause maximum effect, and the droplets of our splashes catching and reflecting the prismatic light.
And there on the bank was Keith Ross, hesitant and obviously reluctant. Even from now, so many years in the future, I can see him, set apart by his nervousness from the shouting enthusiasm of his peers. Not that he was in any way physically different. He was as lithe and athletic as they were; he was as darkly sun-kissed as they, and in other circumstances he would be as vociferous and daring. He, I remember, was wearing bright red swimming briefs. Yet he hesitated on the bank until--and I saw it coming--Graham Warrington, not a bully but always a boy who liked creating mischief, walked round the back of him and, with a great shove in his back, pushed Keith in.
Unlike any of the others, who would have instinctively curled into a ball, or tried for a dive, or at least have pinched their nostrils, Keith fell, arms flapping to land in an almighty belly flop on the water, which must have punched the breath out of him and then sank below the surface.
I don't think anyone else noticed, though Graham must have watched the result of his action. I waited for Keith to bob up spluttering and no doubt, as I would have done, cursing Graham, but the ripples widened and nothing broke the surface. I looked across at Graham but he'd disappeared, either jumped in himself or slunk off guiltily. It wasn't far from me to where Keith had landed, but it seemed to take forever before I reached the spot. I took a deep breath and plunged down. I could see little. The water was greenish brown, and that part was deeper than others so that I couldn't even reach the bottom. Lungs bursting, I came up to the surface, took another breath and went down again. This time, when my natural buoyancy tried to pull me up, I breathed out, the bubbles brushing my face as they went up, and sank lower. Pale strands of weedy growth touched my face and body, and I could imagine being grabbed by them as they twined around me, holding me down, angry at my interference into their world.
I was about to pull myself up again when I saw him--or at least saw a pale shape, silent and still just below me. I forced myself even further down and grabbed hold of it, feeling the slipperiness of wet skin which kept sliding out of my grasp. At last I grabbed hold of the waistband of his swimming trunks and forced my way upwards. An inconsequential thought struck me on the way up that I was giving Keith a wedgie and how cross he would have been had he known.
Then I thought I was going to die, that I'd have to breathe in, that water would fill my lungs and that both Keith and I would sink down to the bottom again when the water lightened and I was in the open air, gasping and spitting, trying at the same time to get Keith's head above the surface. I had misjudged Graham. He hadn't disappeared but had been trying to alert the other guys so that they were all around us as we surfaced. They helped me drag Keith out and spread him on the bank.
They looked down helplessly. Someone said, "What do we do?" Someone else said, "I'll run down to the phone box. I'll ring for an ambulance." I knew though that we couldn't wait. A couple of years before I'd been on a first aid course, and I dimly remembered there were things to do. Clear the airways. I laid Keith on his back and opened his mouth feeling inside with my fingers. There were a few strands of water weed but nothing I could see that actually blocked his gullet. I listened for any sounds of breathing but couldn't hear anything.
Okay. Mouth to mouth. I pinched his nostrils and covered his mouth with mine, creating a seal. His lips were cold and soft. Then I blew in. Dimly I heard someone say, "He's kissing him." And someone else answer, "Shut the fuck up, arse 'ole."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Keith's chest rise. I knew that was a good sign though I couldn't remember the reason why. I blew in again. Then I knew I had to compress the chest. His skin was pale, almost bluish. The instructions came back to me. Place the heel of one hand over the centre of the person's chest, between the nipples. Place your other hand on top of the first hand. Keep your elbows straight and position your shoulders directly above your hands. Use your upper body weight (not just your arms) as you push straight down on the chest 1Â½ to 2 inches. Push hard and push fast--give two compressions per second.
The water came out in a gush, not much but enough to fill the lungs I supposed. At the same time, Keith gave a spluttering cough and his eyes opened, the colour of his skin returning.
"Eugh," said someone, but the expression of disgust was almost hidden by the sigh of relief from the other boys standing around.
"Michael," said Keith, staring into my face.
There was the sound of a siren and an ambulance drew up. Two paramedics dressed in yellow coats got out and ran up to us. One looked at Keith who was breathing and trying to speak.
"I got him breathing again," I said. "I think he's all right."
"Well done, lad," said the man. And then to Keith, "What's your name?"
"Keith," I said. "His name is Keith Ross."
"You boys should know how dangerous it is to swim here," said the other, but the first one looked at him.
"We used to do it when we were kids," the other one said, then turned to me. "You want to come with him to the hospital?"
"He'll be all right?" I asked anxiously. "I've got to get home. My mum'll kill me if I don't finish my homework."
"He'll be okay. What's your name, lad?"
They took Keith on a stretcher though he was complaining that he felt fine. The ambulance took off and suddenly I felt cold. I shivered. I was about to tell Graham that he had nearly killed Keith, but he looked so guilty and crestfallen that I just ignored him and went home.