Birthday Boy

Cath UK

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It seemed to Mark Mason that being sixteen was lining up to be just as complicated as fifteen had been. The birthday party had given him an excuse to have his friends around, and though his mother had fussed a bit with that dorky chocolate cake, he’d gotten a warm glow at having his special day emphasised like this. Sandy, Jessica Shawna and Isobel had come, along with Decker, Klein, Brigman, Chalmers and Doof (whose real name was Plazcinscenski, amiably abbreviated to “Doofus”, and then yet again to “Doof”). They’d sat around, eaten the barbecued hamburgers and hotdogs Mason’s Dad had served up, eaten the cake… and then they’d been a bit bored, because they’d all felt watching a movie would be too commonplace, and Mason’s house was too far out in the country to go into town. They’d wanted excitement and mischief, but, they had collectively wondered, what could they get up to without alarming Mason’s ostentatiously un-hovering parents?

Klein had suggested playing hide-and-seek. A couple of the girls had groaned, saying it was a silly idea, but then Klein had proposed a stake to go with it: if Mason didn’t manage to find everyone within half an hour, the rest of the group got to toss the birthday boy fully clothed into the lake. Considering this add-on, everyone had decided Klein’s hide-and-seek idea was fantastic.

The patchy forest in which the Masons’ home lay was perfect for their purposes. Mason, the birthday boy, was “it” of course. As he had begun his countdown, the girls had giggled and scattered while the boys had launched toward their hiding places with the grim determination of those who refused be bested. Brigman, the one with the coolest watch and the best brain, was designated timekeeper. Ironically, he’d also been the first one Mason had found. Since then, every five minutes, he’d hollered out the remaining time loud enough for everyone to hear.


“I know someone’s here,” Mason called out. He could see faint tracks on the mossy ground. They looked like they’d been made by tennis shoes. One of the guys. “I’m gonna get you.”

The tracks went on for a few yards, then stopped in the middle of nowhere.

“Fifteen minutes left!” Brigman called out from the Masons’ back yard.

Only seconds later, he couldn’t quite where it came from, Mason thought he heard a weird squelching noise. It sounded like a sneeze. Mason grinned – that would be Shawna; he was glad the pretty brunette (everyone knew he liked her) had come to his party, even though she had a sniffly cold. She’d sang him happy birthday with a hoarse voice and tried to pretend like nothing was wrong even though she’d been blowing her reddened nose every few minutes in a curiously old-fashioned white square handkerchief.  Mason was sorry she wasn’t feeling her best, but he admired her for being a sport about it. And, if the truth were known, he thought she looked rather sweet when she was clutching the handkerchief. As for when she sneezed… well. This was a secret wild horses could not have dragged out of him: when she sneezed, Shawna stopped being “cool” or “cute” or “slammin’” – when she sneezed, she became hot. Damned hot, he thought, and at once forced himself to think of something else, because if the person he suspected was hiding nearby was Klein, Mason would be dead embarrassed to be seen daydreaming, smiling and blushing like an idiot in the middle of the forest.

As he focussed again, he spied something in the bushes a few paces away. A white string, protruding like the fuse to a stack of explosives. Someone was hiding there – one of the guys, just like he’d thought. Very quietly, he went over, and then he pounced:


A groan sounded. It was Decker. He tried to act all cool about it, like he’d wanted to get caught, but Mason could tell his friend was pissed off. “Yeah, about time too. I really got to take a leak. It was getting cramped back there.”

Mason grinned. “See you back at the house,” he said. Those that were found were meant to go back to the Masons’ back yard and keep themselves busy – Sandy and Doof, who had been hiding together in a most interesting position, were already there, along with Isobel, Brigman and Chalmers. Now, with Decker revealed, that meant Mason only had Klein, Shawna, and Jessica left to find.

From a distance, Mason again heard an unusual sound that he immediately identified: Shawna was trying to blow her nose, but she couldn’t quite keep it quiet because a squeaky sneeze burst through. The thought made him giddy. He forced himself not to think about it and continued to hunt around.

“Ten minutes left!” Brigman yelled out into the forest, for the benefit of those who were still out there.

“I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with J,” Mason called out. He thought maybe this would jar Jessica into revealing herself, but no such luck. So Mason trudged along, looking behind trees, scanning the ground for tracks, even lifting a few rocks, but all without success. For the nth time, he repeated his invitation to: “come out, come out, wherever you are.”

Then, in a bush that was oddly wedged between two big oaks, he heard a hushed noise that sounded approximately like: “eh-shxqr!” It was very slight, but Mason could feel his ears prickling. He could even see a few of the bush’s leaves tremble. So that was where Shawna was! His first instinct was to holler her out of there, but then he stopped himself – maybe she didn’t know he knew she was there? Mason pictured her, crouching among the twigs and the leaves, holding her sodden handkerchief tightly in her hand until such times arose where she couldn’t refrain from using it. She’d raise its damp folds to her face and then struggle to be quiet while she sneezed or blew her nose or both, fearful that he would overhear her doing it and then be hot on her trail. Of course, Mason already was – but Shawna couldn’t know that, or else she’d give up her hiding place and admit defeat, wouldn’t she?

As if to demonstrate this point, a couple of quiet coughs came from the bush, followed by a whispery nose blow. Poor Shawna, Mason thought. Maybe she should’ve stayed home in bed. He felt kind of guilty for having her stay where she was – the ground might be cold, and surely hiding in dark, dusty spaces was doing nothing to improve her health. He hoped she didn’t catch pneumonia or something as a result of their little game.


The bush in front of him shimmied almost imperceptibly with Shawna’s half-stifled explosion. Should he tell her he’d found her? But then, another “Eh-shgwq!” sounded and Mason realised that he couldn’t: he had grown a very obvious hard-on. Shawna, not to mention everyone else, was bound to think that was kind of weird. Even though, at sixteen, he knew that this kind of thing happened to pretty much all the guys, Mason didn’t want to even chance being teased, lest someone, somehow, figure out just what had gotten him in this state in the first place. From the recesses of her hiding place, Shawna seemed to punctuate his reasoning, treating him to yet another strangely stifled sneeze: “Squigxh!” followed by a delicate nose blow and a very faint groan. She must have been very determined not to let her cold spoil their fun, Mason thought, if she was so desperate to remain hidden even though her nose was clearly giving her a lot of trouble. Stifling so many sneezes would have given him one whopper of a headache. He felt sort of bad for enjoying her sneezes so much.

Suddenly, Mason wondered if Jessica and Klein were hidden nearby, and whether they might be looking at him. That got him moving. He jammed his hands into his jeans’ front pockets and did his best to be quiet as he walked away, trying for some of his old cockiness.

Brigman’s voice sounded again, loud enough to panic a pair of birds that had been roosting near where Shawna hid: “Five minutes left until Mason gets chucked in the lake! Hold on Klein, Shawna and Jess!” Mason could hear the others giggle faintly, the sound carried by the breeze, and Doof called out something unintelligible.

Mason didn’t particular want to get wet. He had five minutes to make sure he’d spend the rest of his birthday high and dry. He knew where Shawna was, of course – that left Klein and Jessica to unearth. Where could they be?

He walked off. All around him, the forest seemed to crackle and buzz. Then, he stood below a large oak tree and scratched at his short blond hair in a timeless cartoon caricature of puzzlement. An acorn dropped on his head, startling him into a girlish squeak as Mason drew his arms up protectively.

Someone laughed. Klein. Mason whipped his arms down, embarrassed, and saw his friend eyeing him from a small gap between two intertwined tree trunks. There were so many branches between them that Mason wasn’t surprised he’d failed to notice Klein before – only now that he had, the other boy’s shape was really obvious.

“Found you Klein,” Mason said.

“Only because I gave myself away, you big sissy,” Klein replied smugly, holding back more laughter. “That was too funny. You looked like you were terrified a squirrel was gonna drop down and eat you.”

“My plan worked; I knew you’d laugh and that I’d find you,” Mason replied, puffing his chest out. Either Klein would believe he really had been outsmarted, or else Mason’s obvious self-parodying would make him look like a cool guy who could take a joke. Either way, he saved face. “Do you know where Jessica is?”

“Like I’d tell you,” Klein snorted, already jogging back towards the house.

“Only two minutes left!” came Brigman’s jubilant cry. “That water looks mighty cold to us, Mason!”

But Mason ignored him – a sudden flash of inspiration had, quite literally, hit him. As another acorn from the oak tree under which he stood struck his head, he looked up. There was Jessica, her long tanned legs dangling from a branch about ten metres above him.

“Oh darn, I’ve been caught,” she grinned down at him. She let another acorn, held in her upraised hand, fall to the ground.

Mason looked at the tree. The trunk seemed relatively smooth. He marvelled at how she must’ve gotten up so high with hardly any footholds to help her along the way.

“All that gymnastics training finally paid off,” Jessica explained.

Mason watched, heart pounding, as she flipped her legs and body away from the branch where she sat. She seemed to leap into the air. Then, a second later, she was in front of him, her knees bending deeply to absorb the shock of landing. When she righted herself, it seemed like not a hair was out of place.

“You’ve got about a minute left to find Shawna,” Jessica shot as she ran for the yard. “Then, we get you, birthday boy!”

But of course, he already knew where Shawna was.

He knew he should just oust her and be done with it, but somehow Mason couldn’t. He stood right next to the bush, pretending to be flummoxed, secretly straining to hear her breathing. Overhead, a sparrow chirped. Then:

“Hgnxt! Sghiqt!”

He had an erection again. The thought of Shawna, hidden in the bush, stifling what sounded to him like rather violent sneezes to avoid getting caught was deliciously erotic. He wished he had x-ray vision that would enable him to see through the leaves. There, he imagined, Shawna would be crouched, gripping her handkerchief, her eyes shut and her breathing shallow, almost hypnotised by her will to remain still and silent to elude the pursuit he offered. He could picture her face quietly screwing up every time her cold-ridden nose twinged, her lips parting in a grimace when the urge became too much to bear. Then, slowly so as not to make the branches rustle, she would –


– bring the piece of cloth up to her twitching nose, angle forward until her chin touched her collarbone, and pinch her irritated nostrils hard to try and abort the sneeze before it came. Of course, it wouldn’t work, and –


– she would sneeze anyway, powerless to stop it.

Mason could feel his erection pressing insistently against his briefs. He could have stayed like that, watching the bush, fantasising about what was going on inside, forever. He was so absorbed in his wool-gathering that when Shawna spoke, he let out a little squawk of surprise.

“What are you doing?”


Her face, eyes red and irritated, nose even redder, was peeking out from the bush.

“I know you heard me sneezing. You found me. What are you just standing there for?”

“I, uh…” Mason saw Shawna’s eyes travel down from his face to the visible bulge in his jeans. Suddenly, his throat felt dry and his mind had gone blank.

“Got distracted,” Shawna said, kindly finishing his sentence for him.

“Yeah,” Mason said, half-turning from her to hide his embarrassment.

Shawna, now out of hiding, gave a loud sniffle and then a light cough. She stood, and Mason watched her tuck the handkerchief – as sodden as he’d pictured it – into her pocket. She stepped away from the bush and steadied herself against a nearby tree while she stretched her legs.

“I’m really stiff,” Shawna commented, not looking at him. “And I really need to pee.”

“Oh,” was all Mason could think to say.

Then, Deus ex machina (almost):  “Time’s up!”

The collective cry came from over by the house, and a flurry of laughter reached Mason and Shawna who just stood there, looking at each other.

Jessica’s voice: “We’re coming for you Mason!”

Then, Klein yelling: “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

Doof’s unmistakable bray of laughter coincided with Shawna unexpectedly calling out: “He’s here, guys! Come and get him! I found him.”

Mason’s mouth dropped open. He looked at Shawna, but saw that while her smile was mischievous, her eyes were kind. Then, he realised that while he’d failed to catch her, she’d definitely gotten him.

“Mason’s getting dumped in the lake!”

Someone else, Brigman – or maybe Chalmers – whooped.

Looking down at his still-proud hard-on, Mason thought maybe splashing around in the ice-cold lake would be just the thing.