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Chapter 4: Caring For Yura - I
When I awoke, Yura was gone. His bedroom door was slightly ajar and his bed was empty. A corner of his bedclothes had been strategically flipped over where I could almost picture Yura quietly extricating himself from between the sheets and slipping silently downstairs. I donned my bathrobe and went downstairs to find him. I could hear the TV on full blast as I approached the open door to the drawing room. I paused, hovering on the threshold, momentarily stopped in my tracks. I saw Yura upside down on the big sofa opposite the big plasma TV. His little feet were pointing up in the air, his legs against the backrest, and his head hanging down over the edge of the seat. I had suspected it would not take him long to discover the games console, although I couldn't quite work out how he was playing the game upside down. All he was wearing were his SpongeBob pajama bottoms and he had the games controller resting on his bare chest. He seemed engrossed in a really raucous game with too much happening on the screen all at once, and he had the volume of the rather inane soundtrack turned right up.
It was odd seeing Yura's cute little face hanging over the edge of the sofa upside down. As I appeared in the doorway, he glanced over, focusing on me momentarily, and smiled to himself. He immediately went back to his game. Evidently he didn't feel the need to say anything. I smiled to myself, pleased to see that he had at least made himself at home and that he was just doing what normal ten year old boys do. I could only surmise that he was now so comfortable with me that he didn't feel the need to ask for my permission or seek my approval. It was as though he had decided there was no longer any need for formalities when he was around me. It was perhaps evidence of the bond that now existed between us, a bond that neither of us felt the need to vocalize. But it was there, and that was enough to allow me to confront the day ahead with a feeling of warm self-assuredness. I went into the kitchen to put some coffee on, and I smiled to myself contentedly as I went about my business.
When I called him in for breakfast, Yura ambled into the kitchen still wearing only his pajama bottoms, and I watched him perch up on one of the high stools by the central island. I pushed across to him some toast and cereal. I settled opposite him and observed him silently as I sipped my coffee, just enjoying looking at him. He seemed oblivious to me, apparently only preoccupied by the things in front of him. He didn't say anything. He took a tiny bite out of the corner of a big square of toast, and started reading the back of the cereal packet as he munched. I wasn't sure how much of it he understood, but it seemed to distract him for a good few minutes. I poured out a glass of milk and set it down in front of him. He spotted it and, turning away from the cereal packet for just a moment, took a couple of big gulps of milk, balancing the heavy glass in his hand precariously. He put the milk back down, leaving a little white milk moustache on his top lip. Then he promptly turned back to the cereal packet as though he was determined to read every word on the carton. I smiled inwardly, observing the way he sat there obliviously. He looked so cute with that little milk moustache.
"What?" he asked, looking up, suddenly aware that I was staring at him, and sounding vaguely offended.
I ripped off a sheet of kitchen paper and leaned across, smiling affectionately. He let me wipe his mouth for him, holding his head still as I did so.
"Thanks," he said.
"Are you not getting dressed today?" I asked him.
"What for?" he replied, with an air of impertinence, and went on spooning cereal into his mouth.
"You just going to walk around the house like that?" I asked, "Half dressed?"
He seemed to be thinking that over for a moment.
"I'm used to it," he went on, shrugging it off as though it was no big deal, "They liked us taking our clothes off and playing naked."
"The guys who filmed us. They wanted us to be naked all the time."
It was another reference to his experiences at the hands of the pornographers. It was entirely consistent with my training: I already knew that often in cases of child porn the children were encouraged to be naked all the time. It served to diminish their inhibitions and helped to further sexualize them for the camera.
"They took away our clothes," Yura added, "Vladik said it was to stop us running away."
He elicited a slight giggle with that, although it was probably closer to the truth than he realized.
"Well, we're not making porn movies here," I reminded him, confirming that those days were over for him.
He smiled mischievously.
"Unless you want to," he chuckled, and bobbed up and down on his stool in delight.
I had to laugh with him. It amazed me that he could still retain a sense of humor, even after all he had been through.
"You'll have to get dressed," I told him, "We've got things to do today."
"Aw," he grumbled, disappointed, "I don't feel like it. I just want to spend the day with you."
"There's time for that later," I said, "First we have to get you over to HQ. More formalities I'm afraid."
"Aw, do we have to?"
"Yes," I asserted, "Maybe when we get back we can go for a dip in the pool later."
He seemed to brighten at that.
"Sure," I said, "Why not? It's a nice day."
I finally succeeded in getting Yura showered and dressed and out of the house. With so many diversions and delights in the house, it was difficult to entice him away. I strapped him into the passenger seat of the Constellation and we took the now familiar route downtown. The trip was pretty routine, and we chatted idly on the way. That was one thing about Yura - he always had plenty to say. If he ever went quiet, you knew there was something wrong or that he was in the midst of some serious contemplation.
During the trip, even as we were talking away, there was something in the rearview mirror that bothered me. It took a while to filter through to my consciousness, but when it did, I was immediately aware of the gravity of the situation. It was the silver grey Dodge Trader. It was definitely the same car that had tailed us before. It stuck in my mind because it was quite a distinctive vehicle. If indeed it was the same car, it had now been behind us for some time. At this point I realized that there was a real possibility that we were being followed. I glanced over at Yura. He was innocently staring out of the window, oblivious to my scrutinizing of the rearview mirror. My mind sifted all the possibilities. It was true that there were any number of people who might want to follow us. I had found that out from previous close protection assignments. They could be anybody: over-zealous defense attorneys, the media, even a crackpot with an axe to grind. Hell, I had even been followed by members of my own unit before. It was accepted that your loyalty and trust was to be tested and verified at some point in your career. That was how the police department worked. At the outside, it was conceivable that it was the minions of the Russian crime lords out to do their bidding - but I was fairly confident that it was probably the least likely scenario.
I decided to play a waiting game. I didn't know who they were or what they wanted, but I wasn't going to give away any obvious clues. I held station and kept my speed constant. I changed course and decided to stay on the freeway. I wasn't going to lead them anywhere. One way of testing out the parameters was to see just how long they stayed on our tail. It also gave me more time to think. I carefully considered our options. All my defensive driving training came back to me. We were in a good position on the freeway. Traffic was light. Plenty of room to accelerate out of danger if necessary. The Constellation was fast. It was heavy, but powerful. I knew we could easily outrun the Trader if we had to. Beyond that, I was confident that as a last resort I could successfully pull off a rearward ramming - not my specialty, and not a maneuver I had ever used in anger, but the Constellation would undoubtedly have the advantage in such an eventuality.
Thankfully, the Trader pulled back. It shadowed us for a while, but not close enough for me to get the license plate number. I continued on the freeway two exits further on before turning around and heading back towards HQ. The Trader disappeared. I was relieved, but nevertheless concerned. This time it was not a coincidence. We were definitely being followed. But I didn't mention anything to Nikolayev about it. I intended to deal with it in my own way.
Nikolayev greeted us with his usual air of efficiency, with brisk handshakes and more than a little enthusiasm. He showed us into his office and left the door open. Evidently he was expecting others to join us. He had a very spacious office, tastefully fitted out with quite modern furnishings. Nikolayev had impeccable taste. As usual the air conditioning was slightly too cool. Off to one side there was a seating area. Almost half the room was given over to this little lounge area with three large sofas, and there was a drinks cabinet over by the wall. It was a nice space for an informal meeting. Yura sat very close to me on one of the sofas, and Nikolayev served us drinks. Yura cracked open a can of soda and sat there patiently sipping from the can. I opted for a glass of ginger ale. Soon we were joined by Elena, who came in and greeted Yura with a warm hug. Not long afterwards, the guy from the Russian Embassy in Washington DC arrived. Nikolayev as usual took center stage and stood in the middle of the seating area to talk to us. He was always affirmatively in control. As he talked, standing there in his shirtsleeves, he gestured animatedly with a rather slick looking fountain pen between his fingers. He looked for all intents as though he was set to conduct an orchestra. I noticed how his expensive cufflinks sparkled on his sleeves, perfectly complimenting his neatly pressed designer shirt. An equally expensive Rolex was just visible on his tanned wrist.
Nikolayev was discussing the long term plans for Yura. The guy from the Russian Embassy talked for a while about how they were proceeding with sorting out Yura's immigration status. It was hoped that he could stay in the country long term, but it was by no means a foregone conclusion.
We had not been talking for very long when a little boy of about seven or eight years old skipped into the room through the open door and ran up to Nikolayev.
It was Nikolayev's little boy. He came scampering into the room, and took a running jump into his father's arms. Nikolayev stooped to catch him as he jumped up, ending up safely and firmly in Nikolayev's embrace. I watched the interaction between Nikolayev and his little boy and I could see genuine love there. They were obviously very close. They nuzzled each other and Nikolayev gave him a single affectionate kiss on his forehead, holding the boy's diminutive little body against him, supporting his weight with an arm under his butt. It was the first time I got a good look at Nikolayev's little boy. It was clear to see he was well cared for. He looked very clean and well groomed, just like his father. The boy's hair had been brushed back and spiked with gel and I wondered if perhaps that had been done by his mother. It was a strange shade of light brown, not quite blond, not quite brown, more sort of honey-colored. He had Nikolayev's good looks and dashing, well-defined features, with dark, mysterious eyes that had a healthy, mischievous glint in them. He looked for all intents like a miniature version of Nikolayev. He was dressed in a bright, sky blue t-shirt which came down well past his hips, and khaki knee-length cargo pants. The skin on his calves and forearms was brown and silky and had a warm, healthy glow to it, which told me he obviously spent a lot of time in the sun, just like his father. The tanned skin was accentuated by his white ankle sox and his little feet were encased in an expensive pair of limited-edition sneakers that made his feet look almost too big for his body. On his forearms was a fine dusting of peach fuzz. He was indescribably cute.
"This is Misha," said Nikolayev, letting the little boy slide off him and back onto the floor.
"Hi," said Misha, in an endearingly sweet voice that was so high-pitched it was almost cartoon-like, and he turned to face us with an air of self-confidence which almost mirrored that of his father.
"This is Ivan," said Nikolayev, introducing him to Misha.
"Hi," Misha said again.
"Hi," said Yura, politely.
The two boys looked at each other. Yura was visibly reticent and wary, but Misha, being a little more assertive, stepped forward and pulled a PSP out of his back pocket.
"Wanna play?" he said to Yura, in English.
Yura smiled and his inhibitions left him immediately. Yura got up and both boys went over to the big sofa on the other side of the room while we carried on talking. Yura took his soda with him.
"Dad, can I get a soda too?" Misha asked.
"Sure," Nikolayev replied, "help yourself."
Misha went to the little drinks cooler in the corner and got himself a soda, then made himself comfortable on the sofa next to Yura.
Nikolayev was explaining how the people from Children's Services wanted to place Yura with a certified foster family, but that had been ruled out because of security issues. So for the time being he was going to have to remain in my care. Naturally, I had no objections to that.
As Nikolayev was talking, I kept a watching brief on Yura. He seemed comfortable enough with Misha, and was quite accepting of his new acquaintance in that inimitably unassuming and non-judgmental way that children have. The boys were quite relaxed, sitting well back on the big sofa opposite, huddled together, engrossed in the little handheld device. Their heads were so close together they were almost touching. They were staring into the screen and exchanging spontaneous comments in Russian. It was a lovely scene. I could barely make out the halting, disjointed conversation the two boys were having as they immersed themselves in the game.
"Is that your dad?" I heard Misha ask, still focused on the screen.
"No, he's my best friend," said Yura, proudly.
"Oh, awesome!" said Misha, impressed, and they both giggled.
I was flattered. Flattered not only that Yura could so proudly and innocently describe me in that way, but also flattered that he had elevated me to such a privileged status. It was flattering, but comical in a quaint kind of way. Sometimes little boys just left me breathless in wonder and astonishment with the things they said.
Nikolayev had now moved on to talking about Operation Ganymede. It had not progressed any further, he explained. The police investigation had stalled and the entire operation was pretty much at a standstill. They were still trying to ascertain what might have happened to Vladik, but still could not positively confirm if he was alive or dead. They were desperately in need of a breakthrough. It was the same old stuff and I was starting to get tired of hearing about it.
"You like pizza?" Misha asked.
"Sure I like pizza," Yura replied.
"We're having a pizza party tomorrow. Wanna come?"
"I'll have to ask," said Yura, his voice betraying doubts about the legitimacy of accepting such an invitation.
"It'll be awesome," said Misha, excited, "I can show you my tree-house."
"Cool!" said Yura.
And on they went. Little boy conversations were so down to earth.
As we concluded our discussions, we all got up simultaneously and stood in a big huddle by the door to say our goodbyes. The embassy guy was first to leave. I had a feeling that wouldn't be the last I would see of him. When Elena left, she went over and gave Yura a big hug. I thought that was a lovely gesture. I think she was genuinely fond of Yura. But then, everybody who met Yura was drawn to him like that. He had natural charisma that was undoubtedly going to make him a very popular young man one day.
"C'mon little buddy," I called out to Yura, "Time to go."
The boys seemed loath to get up, so engrossed were they in the PSP. When they did finally tear themselves away, Misha came over and was tugging at his father's sleeve.
"Dad, can Ivan come to our house for pizza tomorrow? Huh, please dad?"
Nikolayev looked down at Misha's pleading, hopeful expression.
"I guess it would be okay," said Nikolayev.
"You want to go?" I asked Yura.
"Sure," he shrugged.
Nikolayev turned to me.
"That's settled then. Why don't you bring him over in the morning?"
"You sure?" I asked, concerned about the security implications.
Nikolayev nodded confidently.
"He's going to be at my house. What harm can he come to there?"
So it was settled. I had no qualms. Nikolayev was right. Yura would be perfectly safe at his house. Besides, I thought it would be nice for Yura to spend some time with Misha. Misha was such a friendly, easygoing and unassuming kid. Best of all, he spoke Russian.
Later in the afternoon, true to my word, I sat by the pool watching Yura having fun. After our visit to HQ that morning Yura just wanted to relax and enjoy himself. Yura had been eyeing up the pool since we arrived, but had not thus far had the opportunity to use it. It was a fine day, certainly warm enough for a swim, so he wasted no time in changing into a pair of bright red Speedos. I smothered his little body with sun cream and let him loose, and he spent the rest of the afternoon messing about in the water. As I watched Yura from the little wooden bench on the poolside terrace, I could see he really needed to unwind and burn some youthful energy. I admired Yura's expertise in the pool, impressed by his natural affinity with the water as he cavorted around, for the moment all his cares forgotten.
As I watched, I contemplated the implications of my discussions with Nikolayev and Elena at HQ earlier. The conclusion of it all was that Yura's abductors still remained at large, and the Moscow City Police were no nearer to arresting anyone. Yura's situation was still in a state of limbo, and no one was able to decide conclusively what was going to happen to him. The whereabouts of his friend Vladik were still unknown. I feared, based on my past experience, that in all likelihood, Vladik was probably dead. I looked over at Yura as this thought occurred to me, and I shuddered inwardly at the thought of what fate poor Vladik might have suffered. I only hoped that Yura never got to know about it. It would be another tragedy in the long list of tragedies that had already befallen this poor little boy in his short life.
As I gazed over at him, I saw Yura preparing for a dive. He stood poised on the far side of the pool, steadying himself on the small diving board, his compact little frame coiled like a spring. With great skill, he jumped up, hopping off the diving board and performed an expert forward somersault, flying through the air in a perfect arc, with all the precision and grace of a leaping panther. He darted into the water with barely a splash. He swam right down near the bottom of the pool, then straight back up, resurfacing unexpectedly with a big splash. With a practiced flick of his head he shook all the water out of his hair and beamed at me.
"Mark, did you see?" he called out, "Did you see what I did?"
"That was great little buddy," I called back.
It was funny how we had already settled into this comfortable routine with each other. In the short time that we had known each other we had built up such a good rapport, and I was starting to get used to communicating with him in Russian, although I sometimes spoke to him in English. Yura seemed to be picking it up quite easily and every now and then he would surprise me by coming out with the odd English word or phrase. We seemed to rub along just fine in this strange, disjointed way.
Yura swam to the edge of the pool and lifted himself out, hopping up onto the wet tiles at the poolside, and he padded over to me. He flopped down onto the little wooden chair opposite me, still dripping wet, his hair plastered to his forehead. At that moment the sun caught his skin, and his body was glistening with droplets of pool water, lending his young skin a greasy sheen. He leaned over towards the little metal table between us and picked up the tall glass of juice that was still sitting there unfinished. Raising it to his lips, he took a few long sucks through the bendy straw. His eyes were looking up at me as he was drinking. He was silent, but was clearly contemplating something. I could almost detect the machinations in his head.
"Why did John die?" he asked, with almost empathic curiosity.
I was stunned. The question came completely out of the blue. Instantly I knew that he must have been pondering this in his mind ever since our discussion yesterday when I had shown him John's picture. It was evidence of his deep and thoughtful nature. Not much escaped Yura. As I looked across at him affectionately, I wondered why he wanted to know, flattered that he should even care. But I suspected that he knew John had been a big part of my life, and I was touched that he wanted to hear more about that.
"He died very suddenly, very unexpectedly," I said.
"How old was he?"
"He was forty six," I replied.
Yura looked pained for a moment. He furrowed his eyebrows in that inimitable way of his, showing genuine concern.
"Oh, he wasn't that old," he observed.
"No. He was still in the prime of his life," I said, "Still had everything to live for."
"So why?" Yura asked again.
I looked at him earnestly.
"I don't know little buddy. No one really knows. He just died."
I took a deep breath, not even sure if I wanted to go into it. I looked about me, as though searching for courage, and I considered whether I really felt like talking about it. But then my gaze settled on Yura, sitting there across from me with that straw stuck between his pursed lips, his azure blue eyes fixed on me expectantly, waiting patiently for my answer. I decided that if he wanted to know I would steel my heart and share it with him. I probably wouldn't have done it for anybody else. So I told him. I told him everything.
As I related the story to Yura, it took me right back. It was almost as if I was back there again, in that beautiful apartment with John, and I remembered exactly what my life was like back then. I remembered how much I loved and respected John. I remembered how we spent our days together, and how he took time to teach me things, show me things and explain. He gave me so much. Not only did he take me in off the street and give me a home, he taught me to respect myself, educated me and made me into the man I was today.
John had a very modern, well-appointed apartment. It had a fantastic view over the bay, and even a wooden deck overlooking the beach. He was quite well off. Not tremendously rich, but quite comfortable. He was a writer, so he spent most of the time in his study, with its full length windows that afforded an enviable view of the bay. The sunsets over the bay were beautiful. You would never tire of watching them. I'm sure that view gave him plenty of inspiration. John wrote novels and plays, even some poetry. He was well known as being one of the most accomplished writers of his generation. His work was groundbreaking in many ways. His first bestselling novel was 'A Funny Kind of Love', a feel-good romantic comedy that was extremely funny. It was very well received by the critics. Probably his greatest work was 'The Glory of O', which John considered to be his magnum opus. That was not so well received by the critics, probably because a lot of them didn't understand it. It was such a complex, thought-provoking book, I think it went well over their heads. But it didn't matter. John was so well established by then that the critics were irrelevant.
John was a well known, popular, gregarious man, with lots of friends. There were always people coming over to the apartment, not only people from the literary world, but also prominent personalities from the social circles he mixed with. I remember at first how overwhelming this was for me, being a twelve year old urchin he had just rescued from the street, as ignorant and na?ve as I could possibly be. All I had known was filth and deprivation. I was a worthless street kid who people routinely used and then discarded. Suddenly here I was in this cosseted world of finery and money, mingling with the social elite, consorting with the educated, moneyed intelligentsia.
Gradually, I got used to this wonderful new world that John introduced me to. He treated me like a prince. For the first time in my life I felt special. I was wanted and made to feel valued and loved. I became his adopted son and he settled into his role as a father. When I was older, he would take me to book signings with him. He treated me to the finest bars and restaurants, where he always invariably met people he knew. Sometimes, out in public, people recognized him and they would ask for his autograph or have their photo taken with him. We would also receive many invitations to places like galleries and exhibitions and, because he was well known, we sometimes attended award ceremonies and charity dinners. We would also go on the most extravagant vacations. We travelled all over: Europe, Mexico, the far east. John also liked to have people over to the apartment when we were not going out. His parties were always well attended and had a reputation for being slightly risqué and outrageous. He took me with him everywhere, proudly showing me off to his friends, who treated me with politeness and respect, and were always pampering me and complimenting him on my good behavior. They were always saying what a credit I was to him, and what a good job he had done bringing me up.
John sent me to school, and later on to college. He watched me grow up from that skinny little kid he picked up off the restroom floor to a tall, handsome, well adjusted young man. He became my mentor and my confidant, a true father figure in the sense that he always had time for me. He talked to me, was always willing to discuss my deepest fears and insecurities and I knew I could talk to him about anything. John was one of those rare people that you knew would always be there for you. He was such a giving man. That's why he was known as Big John. He was a big man with a big heart. He was generous, kind and affectionate. Not just to me, but to all his friends. He never refused a favor if it was within his remit, and was always first to lend a hand when anybody needed help.
As I matured into adulthood, my respect and admiration for John just grew and grew. We were very close. At night we went to the cinema or the theatre. In the morning we shared a leisurely breakfast. Sometimes we would take an early morning walk and go down to the beachfront café, or go for a run, jogging together along the shoreline. He got me into the habit of running with him, and regularly exercising. He also trained me in holistic massage, and was a great believer in alternative therapies and a healthy lifestyle. He taught me how to cook and, perhaps more importantly, how to mix cocktails. I always prepared drinks for him and his friends when he was entertaining. He taught me some of the simpler things too, like bowling, ice skating and even how to play pool. He taught me how to appreciate art and literature and music and, like any devoted father, he bought me my first car and he proudly applauded me at my graduation. Coincidentally, he even encouraged my interest in foreign languages, and I can still remember the day I told him I had decided I wanted to learn Russian. I could tell immediately that he thought it was a terrible idea, but John being John never discouraged me from anything. There was not one occasion when he told me I couldn't or shouldn't do something. That was very unique about John: no matter what hare-brained idea I concocted, he always supported me. I'm sure he knew a lot of my ideas were doomed to failure, but like a doting father he let me make - and learn from - my own mistakes. Alas, that was one of the most difficult things for any parent to do. John was just about the most complete human being you could ever hope to meet.
What a lot of people didn't know about John is that he did a lot for charity too. He gave a lot of money to various charities, anonymously of course. But few people were aware that he was the inspiration behind Boyscape. Boyscape had been entirely John's brainchild. It was a charity he wanted to set up to help street boys like me. It had been a longstanding ambition of his ever since the day he found me on the floor of that restroom. He always talked of doing it. I can remember when he was sitting in his study one afternoon, deciding that he was going to do this, and pondering over a name that was memorable, which also encapsulated what he was trying to achieve. That was when he came up with Boyscape. It was a clever portmanteau, an amalgamation of 'boys' and 'escape', denoting a refuge for homeless, disenfranchised and abused boys, somewhere they could go to find sanctuary. It also suggested a scenario that was exclusively boy-oriented. To me, it suggested something altogether more romantic, like a scene that was boy dominated, a landscape of boys. Boyscape was a good name. It worked on so many different levels, and most of all, it was memorable and cutting-edge. Of course, it was through Boyscape that I became involved in working with those street boys. We set up the refuge, hired staff, and I helped John run it. It became our vocation for the last few years of his life. By then I was twenty one. John had seen me through my college years and had set me on a good path. He made me the best I could ever hope to be.
Sometimes the little world that John and I inhabited was a little insular. He was very much a creature of habit. He had a regular routine, which I automatically slotted into, and we passed the days in his apartment wrapped up in our own little world, as though we were acting out the scenes of one of his plays - the main protagonists in the story of our own lives. During the day I left him to his writing. Occasionally we played tennis in the afternoons, or we would deign to leave the apartment to go swimming in the ocean. Sometimes we would spend the afternoon just watching some old movie on TV.
It was just such a day that, as was our occasional routine, we had just finished a long day of exercise in the morning and tennis in the afternoon, followed by an early evening movie on TV. It was an old black and white comedy - one of John's favorite genres - and we laughed hysterically nearly all the way through, guffawing loudly until we were nearly all laughed out. When the credits were rolling, I switched off the TV and we both settled on the big corner sofa, watching the sunset together. We were tired from our exertions of the day and now contented by the movie, so we just sat there for a while in silence drowsily napping. We stared for ages through the full-length windows at the big lemon-yellow sun slowly sinking into the ocean, disappearing over the horizon, creating a glowing crimson and orange fire in the sky, as though we were witnessing the dying embers of a summer's day. We sat there for so long, the room was shrouded in darkness. The sun had almost completely disappeared. Night was closing in and we were sitting in shadow. I thought I had better get up and start dinner. I glanced over at John. He had fallen asleep sprawled on the sofa. He was stretched out with one of his arms falling off the edge of the seat so that his hand was just brushing the floor. I thought I would leave him to nap while I got dinner ready. About an hour later, I fixed him his usual rum and Coke, just the way he liked it, with plenty of ice, and took it in to him, setting it down on the coffee table just next to the sofa. Like I said, John was very much a creature of habit. He liked a rum and Diet Coke and always watched the evening news before dinner. I switched on the TV and turned it towards him, thoughtfully putting the remote control down next him.
"Hey John," I called out, "Come on get up, it's wrist-slitting time."
He was always complaining about how depressing the news was, and I liked making jokes about that.
John didn't move. I thought he must have been very deeply asleep, so I called out to him again.
"Hey John, come on wake up, it's nearly time for dinner."
He didn't move. I called out to him a couple more times.
I turned the lights up and then went back over to him. It was funny, I thought, that he was still in the same position as when I left him. He looked so peaceful, I wondered if I should just leave him. Then I put a hand on his arm to jiggle him and realized his skin had turned cool. It was at that point I knew John had left me. I knew straight away that John was gone. All I could think of was that it had hardly been an hour since we had sat there together on the sofa giggling at the movie. Hardly an hour since we watched that last sunset together... and John was already gone.
As the vision faded and my words trailed off, I focused on here and now, finding myself sitting by the pool with Yura. He looked worried. He had been listening to my story and his eyes were welling up with tears. He looked on the verge of crying.
"C'mere little buddy," I said, holding up an arm in readiness for a hug.
He dashed across to me and joined me on the bench. I extended an arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer. He threw himself across me and hugged me tightly. He buried his wet little head in the side of my neck, his thin arms wrapped around me. I held firmly onto his damp little body, comforting him and myself at the same time. Yura was such a sensitive, emotional little boy, and at this moment I could tell he really felt for me. As was his usual way, he didn't say anything, just stayed huddled against me silently, experiencing the moment with me. I could hear him elicit a couple of little sniffs, so great was his sympathy for me.
"It's okay little buddy," I said, rubbing his body warmly.
It was odd, I thought, as I sat there with Yura in my arms. It was a strangely familiar situation, except with a disorientating reversal of roles: it felt like history was repeating itself, except now I was in the role of John, playing the older mentor, and Yura could almost have been me, the younger acolyte who was now being nurtured and comforted. But even as I sat there, with this lovely little boy in my arms, I once again gasped inwardly in wonder at this amazing little boy who was making such an impact on me. Once again, I felt that unique bond between us. Once again, it was another perfect boymoment.
Yura was very quiet as he held onto me. The sun was starting to dry the droplets of water on his perfect skin. After a while, he lifted his head and looked up at me as he was huddled in my arms. I looked down at him, peering deeply into his crystal blue eyes, still wet from the pool, so that his long seductive eyelashes were clumped together, and he spoke very quietly.
"I'm sorry that John died."
I was deeply touched by that.
"Thanks little buddy."
I hugged him tighter and closer, and we stayed wrapped up like that for a good long while, drawing out this special little boymoment as long as possible. Then after a few moments, he spoke again, this time betraying the fact that he had obviously been thinking deeply about his own future.
He loosened himself from my embrace and raised himself up, placing a solitary little kiss on my forehead, just as he had seen Nikolayev do with Misha earlier. Coming from Yura, it was such a mature, affectionate gesture, almost as though he was the parent and I the child.
He settled himself back into my embrace, closing his eyes and pulling my arms about him even tighter.
"I love you Mark," he said, almost in a whisper, "I wish I could stay with you forever."