Spring came – like a sudden opening, a sudden loosening of the bonds of winter. Like a great easing, spring came – and the trees unfurled their leaves and the first warm days brought the first pale human bodies out into the parks of the city to lie prone and shirtless on the grass. It brought the first small groups of shirtless boys playing kick-about, the first sniffs on the air of backyard barbecues.
Here the two boys sat on the top deck of a bus as it passed through the city in the sunshine. Here they lay on the grass in the park nearest Max’s house, their arms outstretched, their fingertips only just touching.
Here they walked past each other in the corridors at school and Daniel felt a sudden flush across his face when Max’s shoulder just brushed his.
Here they both stood on the Shepherds Bush Overground station platform waiting for a northbound train.
The sign above promised a three-minute wait. Sunlight streamed in from overhead, bathing the platform and the people on it with the hope of a warm day in May.
It’s their course for sixteen to eighteen-year-olds, in July, Daniel said as they stood waiting. It’s at the actual drama school and like, professionals teach you. I mean, I don’t think my parents are going to let me go to drama school instead of uni first, but it’s still cool.
And you’re going to do the course? Max said.
I want to. I just have to convince my parents to pay the money!
You’re pretty good at convincing people to do stuff, Max said.
Before Daniel could think of a reply the train arrived. It took ages for all the passengers to disembark, and they had to rush to get on, the doors pinging furiously at them as they dashed between them. In the ensuing crush, Max grabbed his hand and squeezed.
Most of the seats were already taken so Max put his backpack down between his feet and they stood together, as the train began to move, leaning against a window, holding on to an orange bar. It was only then Daniel realised they were still holding hands. He carefully disentangled his fingers, blushing. How had Max become so forward?
The train was filled with weekend travellers – a middle-aged couple with their bicycles, a young mother and her three children, two girls both dressed in tiny denim shorts and strappy tops, staring at their phones. A tall and muscled man in running gear stood near them and Daniel let his eyes rake up his body and then looked back at Max quickly, only to see that he had been doing the same. They both grinned at each other and had to look away to avoid bursting into giggles. Max’s face flushed bright red and Daniel leaned into him a little, desperately wanting to rest his head on his chest and close his eyes.
The train flew across northwest London, leaving Willesden Junction as quickly as most people did, turning right and heading east. More people got on at each stop, and the two boys were forced to stand closer together in a corner.
You’ve got this audition at the end of the month, right? Max said.
Well, that will be fine then, he said, and reached out to push a strand of Daniel’s hair from his face.
Across the carriage a man with an open book in his hand caught his eye at that exact moment and smiled at him, before looking down to start reading again. Daniel felt a prickle of recognition race across his skin. Had he seen Max touching him? Had more people seen?
He felt a familiar panic, a worry that he had been seen, had been found out, that their secret world had been exposed. He felt this feeling rising in him and, determined to stop it, he lent forward and kissed Max softly. Then less softly.
The train pulled into Hampstead Heath station and they got off along with half of the passengers. They walked through the barriers and crossed the road into the green shade of the trees.
Ahead of them the Heath opened up on the left and on the right.