All the events and characters in this story are fictional and any
to real people are purely coincidental.
The story is copyright of the author and may not be distributed or
placed on any web sites without written permission from the author.
I would like to thank my editor, Richard Lyon, for his hard work
encouragement and also Richie Ryan for his moral support. Any
errors are purely my own fault.
If you enjoy this story or have any comments about it, please feel
free to send me an email . I will respond to all emails except
It was the first day of the first term of my first year at university
and the first
time I was living away from home. Classes wouldn't start for
couple of days, which was just as well because I was excited and
and so couldn't have concentrated on any lectures. By lunch time
registered, had a quick look around the crowded Freshers Fair and was
outside the Students Union building to meet up with John and
Those two were also experiencing their first day at university and had
the same school as I had. Although they were little more than
they were at least friendly faces in the sea of strangers.
I'm rather unsociable and they weren't exactly my friends, but they
a sort of familiar security, otherwise I wouldn't have arranged to meet
"I'm starving!" John, a stocky dark haired lad said, "Let's go and get
"The Union's very busy," I said with a frown, "I bet we'll be standing
queues for ages... I s'pose we could go into the city centre?"
"It's lunch time," Martin said dismissively, "so it'll prob'ly be busy
as well... and be more expensive."
Martin, who was tall, blond and so thin that he looked deceptively
appeared to be much younger than his eighteen years and maybe that was
reason he was trying, not too successfully, to grow a beard. He
came from a poor family and so was always trying to limit his
"Well, if you want cheap," John said cheerfully, "there's always the
Chaplaincy. They're offering free food to Freshers and I hear
also have a bar with very cheap beer... and I doubt that it'll be
"That sounds good to me," Martin said with a grin, then turned to me
added, "That okay with you, Terry?"
"The reason it won't be busy," I pointed out, "is that people won't
the God Squad breathing down their necks while they eat."
I'd attended Catholic schools since I was five but I'd not been a
since I was fifteen, although I still felt there was some sort of
"Yeah, I guess that is a bit of a disadvantage," John said, indicating
shared my views at least in part, "but it can't be much worse than
"But we have to go to Mass somewhere..." Martin began, showing that he
still a believer, then seeing the way we looked at him he blushed and
tack, "And you won't get better value than free."
"That's true," John admitted, "And I am starving... C'mon, Terry, lets
Realising I was outvoted, and not wishing to have to find somewhere to
alone, I sighed and nodded my agreement.
The brick built Chaplaincy building, just across the street from where
three of us met up, was totally and utterly characterless. As we
the unwelcoming wood and glass doors I lost my appetite and almost
my mind about joining the other two for lunch. However, as they
the only people I knew in the whole city, I decided it wouldn't be a
idea to risk alienating them. As soon as we entered the building
hint of stale alcohol in the air provided evidence for the truth of
statement about the existence of a bar. I hoped that his other
that the beer was cheap, also turned out to be true.
The doors opened into a very short but wide passageway which led
into a large hexagonal central room, in the centre of which were
and chairs and around which were doors leading into other parts of the
At the furthest part of the room was a table on which was the promised
and adjacent to that was the bar. As John had predicted, the
was certainly not busy and there were only about twenty people
A chubby ginger haired young man came to greet us and in a Welsh accent
introduced himself as Steve, the president of the Catholic
When he bade us welcome I hung back, allowing my companions to take the
of his attentions.
Steve pointed out a nearby table heaped with leaflets about the society
told us about the society's activities as he escorted us to the food
Then after inviting us to help ourselves to the buffet-style food, he
over to greet some new arrivals. Martin and I immediately
the food while John, despite his earlier claim to be starving,
to go the bar to get three pints of beer. My intention was to eat
drink as quickly as possible and then get out, whereas Martin's
seemed to be to eat as much as possible and John, finding the beer was
cheap, apparently intended to drink as much as possible.
We had just sat down at one of the empty tables when a very young
came over and introduced himself as 'Father Bill'. Despite the
that he was quite attractive in a dark haired Irish kind of way, I
that his enthusiasm, though apparently genuine, made me want to escape
quickly as possible. Therefore I wolfed down my food as fast as I
leaving the conversation to John and Martin. Actually, from the
I gathered that Martin was still a devout Catholic and that he intended
join the society as well as attending Mass in the Chaplaincy. I'd
finished my food and was downing my last drop of beer while thinking up
excuse for a rapid departure when a young man entered the room.
I've no idea why he immediately caught and held my attention as I'd
dozens, maybe even hundreds of guys just that morning who were cuter
more attractive than this newcomer. Indeed, as I have a
weakness for tall blondes, I don't know what attracted me to this short
with dark brown hair. There was just something about him that
me sit back in my chair and watch him as discreetly as possible.
the way several people greeted him I guessed the he wasn't a Fresher
from the way he responded it seemed that he was as shy as me.
he smiled at a girl who waved to him from across the room, and in that
my heart was lost.
Now I must point out that my behaviour that day was very unusual for
Well, looking at cute guys was quite usual, but meeting acquaintances
lunch, voluntarily going to a place associated with religion and
in love at first sight, all those things were very unusual.
I didn't even believe that 'love at first sight' was possible, though I
been in love a couple of times and I had frequently experienced lust at
sight. However, at eighteen I was still a total virgin and had
even kissed another guy, so how was I to know what was and wasn't
in the way of love?
"Ah, there's Andrew!" Father Bill said, standing up and breaking into
reverie, "I need to speak to him about the SVP meeting... Well, it's
nice meeting you and I hope we'll see you again soon."
Then he went off to speak with the guy who'd just stolen my
"SVP?" I muttered, mostly to myself.
The initials seemed vaguely familiar and it occurred to me that it was
of those school groups that I'd so carefully avoided. However, I
also wondering if whatever it was might be a way of seeing more of
provided of course that it wasn't too intimately associated with
"St Vincent de Paul society," Martin said, "they do charitable
Ya know, visit the sick, help the poor, that sort of thing."
Oh dear, I thought to myself, that's not at all my sort of thing.
an impoverished student, I didn't have any money to give away, I would
too busy studying to give up my time and I had a phobia about germs, so
near sick people was definitely out of the question.
I decided to take my lusting elsewhere.
"I'm off to see more of the Freshers Fair," I said as I stood up, "Are
"Nah," John said, "The Fair will be on tomorrow as well, so I thought
have another pint here before I go."
"Yeah," Martin said, nodding, "and I think I'll grab some more of that
food. Waste not, want not as my mum always says."
"Okay then" I said, not at all disappointed at the prospect of
on my own, "I'll prob'ly see you in Hall tonight."
Then, with one last look at Andrew who was still deep in conversation
Father Bill, I headed toward the door. On the way I passed the
with the leaflets and without any real premeditation, I decided to see
there was one about the SVP. I quickly scanned the papers and
a couple with those initials written large on the front, so I
pocketed them and headed for the exit, hoping no one had seen me.
The Fair was so busy that I had an unpleasant couple of hours pushing
way through the crowds. However, I persevered both because I
to make sure that I didn't miss out on anything and also because I
feel like going back to my tiny room in the hall of residence.
were lots of stalls filling three large rooms of the Union
Some stalls offered information, for example about sexual health, but
were set up by university social and sporting societies hoping to pick
new recruits. Certain stalls were very busy, one of the most
being that of the Campaign For Real Ale who were offering to new
free tickets to a beer tasting.
Some stalls seemed to draw little interest and the most deserted of
was the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered & Friends (LGBTF)
Apart from possibly being put off by the ungainly politically-correct
it appeared that no one wanted to advertise their sexuality by being
signing up, even just as a 'friend'. Of course, the young man and
manning the stall attracted many sidelong glances, but they seemed
and I'm sure that they didn't expect many people to join their society
such a public place. Although I'd been sure of my sexuality since
was fifteen, I was firmly in the closet and, needless to say, didn't
up for the LGBTF. In fact, I didn't join any society at all.
That night it took me a long time to get to sleep, partly because of
excitement of the day, partly because of the strange room and bed, but
because I couldn't get Andrew out of my mind. Of course I'd had
before, on boys at my school and even on one of my teachers, but they
all involved people who were, at least in my eyes, exceptionally
However, no matter how hard I thought about it, I couldn't think of
about Andrew that was exceptional or even that fitted the 'type' that
attracted me. He was at least four inches shorter than my average
his dark brown hair was average and his build was average. I
seen him close enough to assess his eyes, but his clothes were ordinary
typical of a university student. Despite all that, whenever I
my eyes I saw his smiling face.
The next morning I woke up tired and irritable and after breakfast I
to my room to look through the huge pile of literature, information
course schedules, and suchlike that are handed out to new
I'd only just started building my 'keep' and 'discard' piles when John
Martin stopped by my room to ask if I wanted to meet them for
I declined, pointing out that I'd already seen all of the Fair and as
was raining I didn't feel like exploring the city. Returning to
piles of documents, I rapidly got bored and my thoughts drifted yet
to Andrew, and that reminded me about the SVP society leaflets in my
One of the leaflets was just general information about the society but
other contained details of the local group which was based at the
There was also a list of local society officers, one of which was:
Molloy, vice president and visits co-ordinator. I wondered if
was 'my' Andrew and what exactly a 'visits co-ordinator' was.
almost reluctantly, I consigned the leaflets to the discard pile, but
before I made a mental note that meetings were at 6 pm on Wednesdays.
The next few days flew by as I settled into my classes and study
and I made plenty of new acquaintances but no new friends. Even
I wasn't by nature a loner, I would have been too busy to be lonely,
I did have an occasional twinge of homesickness. Several times I
with the idea of going along to an LGBTF meeting, but then I told
that I was too busy, though in reality my main reason for not going was
Despite being in a city full of complete strangers, I didn't like the
that anyone would find out that I was gay.
Although there were many other things on my mind, whenever there were
moments, and always when I was in bed, my thoughts kept being pulled
to Andrew. On the second Wednesday afternoon of term I worked
in the library, researching for an essay, and on the way back to Hall I
the Chaplaincy building. Okay, to be honest I didn't just
pass it but in fact took a considerable detour, and despite my internal
in retrospect I'm sure that the timing, just before 6 pm, was also not
accidental. Anyway, as I slowly walked past the Chaplaincy,
strode quickly and purposefully across the road and into the
Of course he didn't pay any attention to me even if he'd seen me.
for some inexplicable reason, I followed him inside.
At the far end of the main room the bar was just opening up and there
a couple of dozen people standing or sitting around. Andrew was
to a thin, red haired young woman who had a serious and slightly
expression on her face, so I just hovered in the background. Then
went over to talk to Father Bill, whereupon the red head suddenly
in my direction and caught my eye before I could avert my gaze.
she started to approach me I grew concerned and I wondered if she'd
me staring at Andrew and was about to berate me for it. Trying to
away, I just ended up backed against a wall with no choice but to await
"You're new here, aren't you? Are you here for the beer or the
meeting?" she asked, frowning.
She was clearly irritated by something but I had the impression that it
me and that I was just getting the backwash of her emotions.
"Erm, can't I be here for both?" I asked lightly.
It was intended to be a joke to lighten the mood and divert her
emotions away from me, but I immediately saw that it had backfired
because her frown deepened and her annoyance was now directed directly
"Of course not!" she snapped, "you can't go around visiting people with
on your breath!"
"Yeah, of course I know that!" I said, maintaining my smile through my
growing annoyance, "I was just joking."
She looked me up and down as if I were some interesting but slightly
biological specimen and I began to think that she didn't believe
"Well I'm glad you have a sense of humour," she said, forcing a smile
suppressing her irritation, "And, it's a good job you turned up because
short of people and this is our first visiting night after the long
Anyway, we'd better get in to the meeting."
Having said that, she herded me, along with a couple of others, into
of the side rooms.
The room was small and with a dozen or so of us in there it was almost
making me feel a little claustrophobic. A quick glance around
that about two thirds of those present were female. Having
me in, the red head closed the door behind us and then went to join
on the other side of the room. After clapping her hands to get
attention and then calling for quiet, she began to speak.
"Welcome everyone. I see there are some new faces here, so for
of you who don't know me, I'm Kate, society president, and this," she
indicating Andrew, "is our vice president. This is our first
meeting and I'm glad that there are more of you here than turned up to
administrative meeting last week."
She paused to look around the room as if she were a teacher scolding
class, then her face softened into a slight smile as she continued.
"Still, we all know that what we do is more important than
so now let's get on to the important stuff. Andrew has organised
list of visits, and as usual he's tried to arrange it so that those of
who were with us last year will keep to the same visitees."
To be honest I'd not been paying too much attention up to that point as
mind had been preoccupied with the question of how I might make my
without looking like a complete prat. I was also somewhat
because I found it difficult to take my eyes off Andrew, and I was
this opportunity of being able to look at him without drawing attention
myself. However, Kate's use of the word 'visitee' drew my
back to her and I wondered if such a word actually existed or if she'd
it up. Unfortunately, my deliberations made me miss an
to slip out while everyone else moved forward to look at the list in
hands, and by the time I realised that such an opportunity existed,
materialised by my side and grabbed my elbow.
"Hello again," she said in a more gentle and friendly manner than the
time she'd addressed me, "I'm sorry about the way I talked to you
but I was a bit stressed out. Our numbers are down on last year
I was worried we might not be able to keep our commitments for
I'd hate to disappoint any of our visitees, especially as this is my
term as president."
"It's okay," I replied nervously.
I felt embarrassed and a little guilty because despite her words I
wanted to escape. However, as her attention was on me and indeed
hand still gripped my elbow, I couldn't see any way of retreating
As I looked around in mild desperation my eyes met with Andrew's and I
that he was looking at me with a small shy smile. I don't
why, especially as I'd never even spoken to him, but it seemed to me
even if I did manage to escape now, then I'd be letting him down, and
some reason I was very reluctant to do that. Kate must have
my nervousness and hesitation because she spoke to me in a very gentle
"You're a Fresher aren't you? No need to be nervous," she said,
me drag my eyes away from Andrew, "We're all very friendly here
you'll find that visiting those less fortunate than yourself can be
For the first time I took note of the way she was looking at me, and
expression on her face, combined with the fact she was still holding on
my arm, caused me some discomfort. I had the strong impression
she fancied me, although I didn't understand why. Admittedly I
quite proud of my swimmer's body, but I didn't think that my looks were
exceptional. At a little under 6' I wasn't particularly tall, my
hair was a little too dark to be described as blond and my eyes were a
ordinary hazel. Still, without wishing to seem immodest, that
the first time that a girl had apparently found me attractive.
One girl in my school spent almost a year trying to chat me up and
tried to sit near me in class. During that time she also used to
to almost every swimming competition I took part in. At first the
she looked at me in my Speedos freaked me out a bit, but after awhile I
used to it, and eventually she gave up. However, despite my
experience I still hadn't worked out a good way of dealing with that
of situation, so if Kate did fancy me, I decided it would be best to
"By the way," she said, breaking into my thoughts, "I'm sorry I forgot
ask, what's your name?"
"T-Terry," I said, stuttering slightly in my embarrassment.
"Well, Terry, let's see what Andrew's got on his list. Don't
we always make sure that new people are paired up with an experienced
With that, and still gripping my elbow, she led me toward Andrew as I
her last words. Knowing my luck, I thought, I'd be paired up with
or one of the other females. Still, there was always hope that
good could be salvaged out of the disaster of my current predicament,
as we approached Andrew I uttered a silent prayer to my
divinity. By that time it seemed that almost everyone else
received their assignments, and some were jotting down addresses while
were preparing to leave. Kate introduced me to Andrew and for the
time I got a close look at his lovely green eyes.
"As he's new," she said to Andrew after he'd greeted me, "I thought you
assign him to go with me tonight."
My heart sank and without conscious thought I cast a pleading look
Andrew, though I thought that even if he wanted to, he seemed too shy
stand up to Kate's strong personality. However, his response
"Ah, sorry. I'm afraid I've already put you with Stephanie," he
somehow managing to sound both firm and diffident, "She's new too and
asked if she could be paired with another woman. So I thought I'd
Terry with me tonight."
Although it was obvious that Kate wasn't too pleased with his reply, it
that she couldn't do much about the situation apart from accepting it
gracefully as possible. She turned to me with a wry smile as I
thanked the unknown beneficent deity who had so surprisingly answered
"Oh well, sorry about that Terry," she said as if she expected me to be
"Maybe next time."
Then she went off to join a skinny young woman with long dark hair who
standing about half way between us and the door. While Andrew was
his papers together from the small table beside him, everyone else left
room, leaving the two of us alone together. Partly because I was
and partly because events had carried me along so quickly since I'd
followed Andrew into the building, I was bemused and couldn't think of
to say, so I just stood there with a rather silly smile on my
As I was considerably taller than him and as he was bent over putting
into his bag, I took the opportunity to look at him close up.
his medium length hair was an unremarkable dark brown, it was
glossy, slightly curly and seemed to bounce as he moved. Of
I resisted the strong urge to run my fingers through his silky locks,
it took considerable willpower. Then, taking me by surprise, he
looked up and our eyes met briefly before we both averted our
"Right," he said in a businesslike manner, "now we're ready to go."
He must have read the confusion in my face because he flashed his small
smile at me, that same smile that had melted my heart and now almost
my knees. In order to steady myself I put my hand on the table
had held his papers.
'Now Terry,' I thought, 'get a grip on yourself. He's only a very
guy and he's probably not gay, and even if he were he probably doesn't
you, and even if he did, being so closely associated with the God Squad
probably suppress it. You've already got yourself into a mess by
him in here, why not cut your losses, say you're feeling sick or
and go back to Hall.'
"Are you okay?" he asked with a worried frown.
Just as I was about to use his question as a prompt for me to claim
as an excuse for leaving, his hand covered mine on the table.
I looked down just as he immediately withdrew his hand and gave me an
and apologetic look, an unspoken implication that the touch was purely
However, with that brief touch I realised that all was lost.
"Yes," I said shakily, "I'm just a bit nervous... I've never done
like this before."
"What?" he said, giving me a strange look, "You've never visited people
Even before he spoke I knew that what I'd said could be open to more
one interpretation, so I quickly tried to explain.
"Well, actually I've never been to visit strangers before... except
when my parents might have taken me somewhere when I was a kid."
"Oh, yes, I know it can be difficult, but you get used to it," he said,
with a smile he added, "But you can pretend I'm your parent if it makes
The way he said that, combined with the difference in our heights,
away my nervousness and brought a smile to my lips. That was my
to Andrew's acute but understated sense of humour.
Andrew didn't say anything else as he led me out of the building and
the road that led toward the city centre, and as I wasn't keen on
tours I had to ask him where we were going.
"First stop," he replied without slowing his rapid pace, "is Mr Barns
the West Side, then down toward the river to see Mrs Tanner."
"And we're walking all that way?" I asked incredulously.
"Of course! It's a fine night and only about twenty minutes to
Barns' house. If we wait for a bus it could take at least that
His walking speed increased even further, so I was grateful that years
swimming had built up my stamina and I wondered what Andrew did to
his obviously high degree of fitness. Whether he was conserving
breath or was just naturally laconic I don't know, but the continued
was increasing my nervousness still further.
"I s'pose you've visited these people before?" I asked.
"Yes, most of last year," he replied, showing no signs of
"Well can you tell me a bit about them and why we're visiting
It might help me to know what to say to them."
He slowed a little and looked at me with a frown, apparently giving
thought to his response.
"You really don't know what we're doing, do you?" he said eventually,
did you volunteer for visiting?"
"Like I told you, I'm new to all this," I replied, deciding that it
be wiser not to answer his second question. After all, I could
tell him the truth, that I'd got trapped into it because I'd fallen in
"Well first of all," he replied, "they're not 'these people' and we're
them because we want to. If you go with the idea that you're
a favour for the needy then it won't help them and you won't enjoy
If you go worrying about what you're going to say then it will be an
time for everyone. Yes, they may ask for help with little jobs
changing light bulbs and stuff, but that's not why we visit. Just
of it as visiting a friend, or in your case, a potential friend...
is why I'm not going to tell you anything about them. You should
them as you find them without someone else filling your mind with
After that long speech, delivered with considerable passion, he lapsed
into silence. Bearing in mind that I wasn't really keen on this
visiting situation anyway, I was more than a little irritated by the
that he wouldn't give me any more information. However, because I
hoping to get to know him better I didn't want to antagonise him, I
took a deep breath and tried to absorb what he'd said. As my
began to fade I considered how pleasant it was just to listen to his
and how I might of overestimated his shyness.
Mr Barns turned out to be a cranky widower in his late sixties who
in a tiny Victorian terraced house. He seemed perfectly able to
about and probably even capable of changing his own light bulbs, so I
why we were there. He and Andrew did most of the talking during
hour or so we spent with him. Once I tried to make conversation
asking about the photographs on his mantelpiece, but he told me to mind
own business. Of course that irritated me so when Mr Barns said
derogatory about immigrants during his conversation with Andrew, I
resist tackling him on the matter. That led to a heated
on politics, during which Mr Barns called me some quite unpleasant
and the discussion ended only when Andrew said we had to go.
"That went well!" Andrew said cheerfully as we walked downhill toward
"Yeah, right!" I responded sarcastically, assuming he was being
"Yes, really," he said with a grin, "I think he likes you."
"Seems to me like he hates me," I retorted.
"Oh, no. If he didn't like you he'd ignore you, like he did with
previous two people I took with me. He thrives on confrontation
only if he thinks he's got a worthy opponent, which he must think you
otherwise he wouldn't have resorted to name-calling so quickly.
he respects you, so you'll probably find him more pleasant next time we
Actually, I rather doubted there would be a 'next time' but I didn't
to say that to Andrew, so instead I changed the subject with a question.
"He seems quite fit and capable to me," I said, "why does he need
"Don't you understand yet?" he replied, giving me a look of
"He doesn't need visitors, he needs friends. His wife died about
years ago and she was his whole life. Most of his old-time
have died and his family all live far away... a couple of months after
died he tried to kill himself... Oh, and by the way, that's
so keep it to yourself."
Another ten minutes or so of our high-speed walking brought us close to
river and to a modern single storey block of six flats which, according
Andrew, were 'sheltered accommodation'. Mrs Tanner, a thin woman
her eighties, buzzed us in and greeted us at the door with great
Well, to be precise she greeted Andrew with great enthusiasm, some of
overflowed in my direction when he introduced me to her. She
him like a long-lost child and it seemed that he returned her affection
I later found out that he sometimes went to see her outside of his
SVP visiting times.
"There's cake and sherry in the kitchen, Andrew pet," she said as she
back to her armchair, "Be a dear and bring it through while I say a
hello to Terry here."
At the sound of the word 'cake' my stomach rumbled and I remembered
as I'd missed dinner in Hall, I'd not eaten since my mid-afternoon
She invited me to sit on the sofa and I complied, marvelling at her
and, apart from the limp, her apparent good health. My gran, who
about twenty years younger than Mrs Tanner, never seemed so fit and
In fact, because I'm quite shy, I was a little intimidated by her
personality. She was also very observant because she detected my
even though I tried to hide it.
"Well young man," she said jovially, "there's no need to be
I don't bite... and I certainly wouldn't bite a friend of Andrew's even
these were my own teeth!"
She gestured briefly at her dentures and laughed at her own little joke
I smiled uneasily. I didn't point out that as I'd never even
to Andrew before that night I couldn't honestly claim to be his friend,
I certainly wished that I were. Andrew returned from the kitchen
a tray on which were a vanilla cake and a bottle of sweet sherry,
with plates, glasses and cutlery. He placed the tray on a low
table next to Mrs Tanners chair, whereupon she proceeded to cut
from the cake while Andrew poured the sherry.
The combination of sherry and cake was one that I hadn't tried before
in any case sherry was definitely not one of my favourite drinks, so I
expecting to have to force myself to eat and drink with them just to be
However, possibly because of my hunger or maybe because of the
of the sherry, I found the combination surprisingly palatable.
and after our little snack Andrew and Mrs Tanner chatted away, with me
occasional contributions, mostly in response to direct questions from
Tanner. The first time I addressed her as 'Mrs Tanner' she mildly
me and told me to call her 'Mary' just as Andrew did. At first
familiarity felt a bit strange, but partly because of her friendliness
partly because of the relaxing effects of a second glass of sherry, I
got used to it.
At around nine thirty Andrew announced with genuine regret that he had
leave as he had to finish off some work for one of his classes the next
He went to the kitchen to wrap the leftover cake and wash the plates
glasses, then Mary insisted on getting up to escort us to the
Before we left she hugged him and kissed him on the cheek, which
didn't seem to embarrass him, but I was relieved when she merely
my arm and said that she was looking forward to my next visit.
Bearing in mind how chatty Andrew had been with Mary, I thought he
have been more talkative with me after we left her, but he returned to
former laconic self. At first I just followed him in silence
it occurred to me that I was in a part of the city that was unfamiliar
me and as a new arrival I had no idea which bus to catch to get
When I voiced my concerns he asked me which hall of residence I lived
and then he told me that although he lived in a different one we could
the same bus, so I continued to follow him in silence until we reached
He seemed very shy and almost nervous while we sat next to one another
the bus and he responded to my occasional questions with only the
of answers, so I wondered if this could be the same person who chatted
easily with Mary and even with the irascible Mr Barns. It seemed
my desire to get to know him better was doomed to failure and I felt
at myself for wasting the whole evening as well as missing my
So when we got to my stop I got up and said a somewhat sulky
"I'll see you next week, then," he said, smiling for the first time
we left Mary's flat.
As I'd already started making my way along the aisle, my only response
a noncommittal grunt
That night in bed, although I entertained myself with fantasies
Andrew, after my release of sexual tension I more-or-less decided that
wasn't going to go to any more SVP meetings or visits. The whole
was too closely associated in my mind with the God Squad and I could
of many more useful and interesting things to do with my
After all, Andrew wasn't that special and he certainly hadn't shown any
in getting to know me. He also hadn't even said definitely that
be paired for future visits, and the prospect of me being paired up
Kate was too horrible to contemplate.
The next few days passed quickly because I was busy with studies and
in to life at university. On the Saturday night I even went on a
crawl with people from my hall of residence, telling myself that it
be a good way to explore the city. Although I enjoyed myself more
I expected, I suffered from the after effects all day Sunday and my
of the locations of the pubs was vague to say the least. What
vague, however, were my memories of Andrew's face and his musical
and several times per day, especially when I was in bed, my thoughts
drawn to him.
On the Wednesday evening, despite my previous decision that going to
SVP meeting would be a waste of time, my desire to see Andrew again
me to the Chaplaincy building. However, because of the conflict
my intellect and my emotions, I was late arriving and most of the
had already been handed out. When I entered the room Andrew gave
a brief shy smile and Kate greeted me with grin.
"I'm glad you turned up again," she said, grabbing my arm and leading
toward Andrew, "I've not been paired off with anyone yet."
"Oh," I said, my mind racing, then I had an idea, "I'm sorry but Mary..
Tanner said last week that she was really looking forward to seeing me
this week. Isn't that right, Andrew?"
I looked at him pleadingly and he nodded his head.
"Yes, she did," he said in a neutral tone, "and Mr Barns seemed to like
as well... and you know how unusual it is for Mr Barns to get on with
Kate was clearly unhappy at having her plans foiled two weeks in a row,
to give her credit I believe that she really did put the interests of
'visitees' above her own pleasure, and so she went off to find another
The trip down to Mr Barns' house was much like the previous week,
Andrew saying very little. As he had predicted, Mr Barns was much
hostile to me, though he rapidly started a heated discussion with me,
time not on politics but on abortion and the interference of science in
process of reproduction. Andrew stayed in the background during
and I got the feeling that he was a little relieved that he could leave
to argue with Mr Barns.
Later, Mary again greeted Andrew as warmly as before but this time she
seemed genuinely happy to see me as well. There was chocolate
but no sherry, so we washed it down with tea. On this occasion
spent a lot of time questioning me about my background, parents,
and so on, giving me the impression that as I'd turned up more than
she now considered that it was worth the effort to find out more about
One of her questions puzzled both Andrew and me - she asked how we'd
and how long we'd been friends. I left that for Andrew to answer.
"We only met last week at the SVP meeting," he said, making no mention
That response seemed to take her by surprise, but she quickly recovered
continued trying to find out more about me. However, she also
mentioning more about herself and, interestingly, kept bringing Andrew
the conversation by asking him questions like how his sister was doing
school, how he was enjoying his course, had he thought anymore about
future, and that sort of thing. Andrew seemed a little taken
as if she were asking about things she already knew, and I wondered if
had problems with her memory and if it was a sign of senility.
During the conversation I found out more about her, and it seemed as if
memories of events long ago hadn't deteriorated at all as she recounted
detail some stories of her colourful past. She'd married when she
in her twenties and she and her husband, Joe, were happily married for
forty years before he died of cancer. Unfortunately, they hadn't
able to have children. For most of her working life she had been
paediatric nurse and I wondered if that might have been some sort of
for not having children of her own. Joe was also fond of children
so Mary said, he'd been a talented amateur magician, frequently giving
for the children at the hospital where she worked.
When Andrew stood up, pointing out that it was almost ten o'clock and
we should be going, I was surprised at how quickly the time had
As before, Mary hugged Andrew and kissed him on the cheek, but this
I too received a hug, though thankfully without the kiss. On the
to the bus stop Andrew was again very quiet, but once we got there he
initiated a brief conversation.
"Ya know," he said without looking at me, "considering how nervous you
at first, you're really good at this."
"Good at what?" I asked, not exactly sure what he was talking about.
"Making friends with people," he said, "When I first started it took me
to be able to talk to people and make friends as quickly as you do."
"You think Mary and Mr Barns think of me as a friend?"
"Aren't you?" he asked, turning to look at me with a frown.
"Well," I said after a pause to consider the matter, "if I am, it's
because I was with you and you were their friend already. I'm
I wouldn't have been able to talk to them at all if I'd met them on my
During the next couple of weeks I settled comfortably into life at
and began to learn my way around the city. Each week I went with
on the SVP visits and Kate quickly got used to the idea that I only
on visits with him. The visits themselves went on much as before,
on the third time I saw Mary she seemed to be irritated with both
and me, though neither of us could understand why. Occasionally I
Andrew around campus and we exchanged brief greetings but never had any
conversations. A couple of times I even went into the Chaplaincy,
myself it was for the cheap beer or to see Martin, who had become a
there. Deep down, though, I knew it was because I hoped to see
However, on the second occasion I was waylaid by Kate and so decided
to risk going again.
By the time that the fifth week of term had started I'd convinced
that I had no chance of becoming close to Andrew so there was no point
causing myself heartache by trying any more. Also, I reasoned,
if we did become friends then that's all we'd ever be and I doubted
I'd be content with that. I decided that it was better to make a
break. Therefore, on that Wednesday I just didn't bother going to
SVP meeting. Yes, I know I should have sent some sort of message,
I was too cowardly and didn't know what to say. I told myself
they'd managed without me before and they'd manage without me now I'd
going. Although I felt a bit guilty about just 'dropping' Mr
and Mary, I reassured myself with the fact that they'd still have
However, I didn't sleep well that night.
The following evening I was studying in my room when Martin came
at my door.
"Are you okay?" he asked when I let him in.
"Yes, thanks," I said, puzzled, "Why do you ask?"
"Well when I was having my lunch time pint in the Chaplaincy, Kate and
came to ask me about you cos they know we're friends and that we're in
same hall of residence."
I noted that there was a slight hesitation when he said the word
and I guessed that he, like me, wondered if the word was really
"Anyway," he continued, "when I said you seemed fine at breakfast, Kate
annoyed that you'd let them down."
"Was Andrew annoyed as well?" I couldn't help asking.
"Dunno. You know Andrew, it's hard to tell what he's thinking...
Kate asked me to come and check up on you and ask if you're turning up
"I have a really heavy workload this term," I lied, " So I'm not sure
have time for visiting. Tell them it's best not to count on me
to assume I won't be going."
"Okay," he said, turning to leave.
"Oh, and Martin," I added, "Thanks for checking that I was
Will you tell Kate and Andrew I'm sorry that I didn't have time to tell
yesterday that I couldn't turn up."
He smiled and nodded, then left me to contemplate my lies.
The next evening there was another knock on my door, and as I rarely
visitors I assumed that it was probably Martin with some follow-up
from Kate. Much to my surprise, when I opened the door I saw
shuffling nervously from one foot to the other. As soon as I
the door he looked up into my eyes then quickly looked back down to a
somewhere near the middle of my chest.
"Andrew!" I said before shock, embarrassment and guilt tied my
"Can I come in?" he said eventually in a strained voice and without
Only then did I realise that I'd been standing there silently in the
for several seconds.
"Oh, erm, yeah," I said, then stepped back to allow him to enter.
He stepped inside, quickly looked around the room, glanced briefly at
face, then fixed his gaze on my chest again.
"Hope you don't mind me coming to see you..." he said hesitantly,
told me what room you're in."
"No, of course I don't mind," I replied, "Look, I'm sorry about last
work, ya know."
"Yeah. Martin said. That's why I'm here... to see if I can
you a hand with anything? Give you more time so you can go
nest week. Mary really missed you... even Mr Barns."
As I was studying sciences and his main subject was history, I wondered
he thought he might give me a hand. I wondered, even dared to
that perhaps it was really Andrew who'd missed me, but in that case why
he shown any interest in me during all the times we were together, even
we were alone, walking or on the bus. Against my better judgement
allowed hope to determine my response.
"I'll tell you what, I'll see if I can get myself organised better and
to make sure I have time next week," I lied.
He gave me a shy smile and in my hopeful mood I half expected him to
my invitation to stay for tea or coffee, but he seemed very eager to
so I didn't try to persuade him when he declined my offer.
The following Wednesday Kate seemed happy to see me again and thanked
for turning up, so I assumed that she'd believed my workload
I was disappointed when Andrew greeted me as he always had, with just a
smile, and I was even more disappointed when he was no more talkative
he'd been before. He was his usually chatty self with Mary, but a
of times she seemed a little impatient with him. She appeared to
impatient with me as well, and besides that I had the impression she
annoyed at me but trying to hide it. As I couldn't think of any
explanation, I assumed that she'd taken my absence the previous week as
After we left Mary's flat Andrew was just as uncommunicative as ever on
way to the bus stop and on the ride home. My hopes of getting
to him began to fade again and yet again I felt that I was just wasting
time. However, I felt trapped because I didn't have the courage
tell him that I didn't want to participate in any more SVP
The following week my frustration showed itself as irritation during
visits. Mr Barns either didn't notice or didn't care, but Mary
noticed my irritability and I think that Andrew detected it also, but
didn't react in any way. Mary, however, asked me outright what
problem was but I just apologised and lied about pressure of
After that, I decided that enough was enough and that I would tell
that I wasn't going to go on any more visits. However, I also
putting off the execution of that decision and before I knew it another
had rolled around. Cursing myself for my cowardice and
I determined that rather than just not turn up, I would have one more
then take the bull by the horns and announce my decision to Andrew on
way home. Full of resolve, I arrived at the SVP meeting to find
Andrew wasn't there and that Kate was handing out assignments.
"Andrew's got the flu," she told me, "and so have a couple of others,
we're very short of people and we won't have any pairings. You'll
to visit Mr Barns and Mrs Tanner on your own."
"Don't worry," she added when she saw my look of concern, "You'll be
You know them pretty well by now and anyway, Andrew says you're a
There was nothing much that I could say in response to that, and as I
want to disappoint my 'visitees' I went off to see Mr Barns.
there on my own felt odd and even though Andrew rarely spoke when he
with me, I felt almost lonely without him. Once I'd explained the
to Mr Barns he seemed quite content and even said he was glad Andrew
stayed away because 'at my age the flu can finish you off'.
Mary's reaction to Andrew's absence was definitely not what I expected.
"Of course I'm sorry that the poor dear is ill," she said, "and I hope
going to be better soon, but in a way it's lucky because I was hoping
get to talk to you alone."
"Er... Why?" I asked, feeling a little disconcerted.
"Well, for the last few weeks you've been behaving rather strangely,
different from how you were when you first started coming round.
been quite upsetting... especially for my Andrew."
I opened my mouth to give her the usual 'overwork' excuse, but she cut
off before I could make a sound.
"Now don't give me all that stress-of-work rubbish. I worked with
for long enough to know when they're trying to pull the wool over my
I've grown very fond of you over the last few weeks and I want to know
what's happened to change you recently, so sit down and tell me what's
I sat down, more than a little resentful that she'd referred to me as a
when I was almost nineteen years old. However, I had no intention
telling her that I was frustrated and depressed because Andrew kept
me out and he didn't even seem interested in becoming real
Perched on the sofa with my arms crossed, I maintained a somewhat sulky
Mary shook her head and sighed.
"You think about things for a minute and I'll get us some sherry," she
A few moments later she returned from the kitchen carrying the tray on
were two glasses and an almost full bottle of sherry. Seeing the
swaying as she limped toward me, I started to get up to give her a hand
before I could fully stand up she told me to sit down again. She
us each a large glass, gave one to me and sat back in her chair with
"Right, young Terry," she said in a gentle but serious tone, "drink
of that and relax, then tell me why you've been so touchy recently."
At first I just sipped my drink and tried to think up some plausible
When it became clear she was prepared to wait patiently for me to
I drank some more and did indeed begin to relax. She smiled at me
and before I could protest she leaned over and topped up my glass, then
as I began to hope that she'd forgotten her question, or at least had
not to pursue it, she spoke again.
"After eighty six years on God's Earth," she said, smiling at me
"I think I've learned to recognise a love-sick young man when I see
Startled by the accuracy of her guess, my hand jerked and some of the
trickled down my fingers. As I licked it off I took a strange
from noting that I'd been promoted from kid to young man. Again
topped up my glass.
"I'm right, aren't I?" she continued with a hint of triumph, making it
of a statement than a question.
Perhaps it was the effect of the alcohol or maybe because she seemed so
caring and harmless, but without any real thought, I broke my silence.
"Maybe," I admitted reluctantly.
"And as it's been making you so miserable I can guess that your love
My only response was to shrug my shoulders, so after a few moments she
"I don't suppose you want to tell me anything else... like who it is?"
I shook my head 'no' and looking away from her, I began to study the
on her carpet. She sighed again and for a few minutes we both
quiet, sipping our drinks.
"I know!" she said brightly, breaking the silence, "Why don't we work
I looked at her, wondering if she'd gone mad or had been badly affected
the sherry. After all, I had no idea how an old woman like her
react to too much alcohol.
"No," she said with a smile, "I'm not crazy. But for everyone's
we need to sort out your problem, and I can only think of two
Either you stop being in love or the other person starts loving you
Although there was some logic behind her words, neither of her
seemed very practical.
"Easier said than done," I mumbled.
"Not if we do a bit of magic," she responded.
Again I wondered if she were senile, or drunk, or both and if she
she were some kind of witch. Whatever the case, though, I thought
it would probably be best to humour her.
"Like what?" I asked.
"Well, I know one bit of magic that might work," she said, "if you
down your name and the name of the person you love on a piece of paper,
recite a spell over it and then you can throw the paper in the
The fire will then either burn away your love or set the other person
fire with love for you. Either way, your problem is solved and we
our nice friendly Terry back."
"Mmm, no," I said as soothingly as I could, "I'd rather not. I
believe in magic."
There was no way I was going to risk her seeing me writing 'Terry
loves Andrew Molloy'.
"C'mon," she said, "What have you got to lose? If you like I'll
the room while you write the names, then you fold and scrunch up the
I recite the spell and you put it in the fire. Your secret will
be safe and if it doesn't work you're no worse off than you are now."
Instead of replying I just took a big swig of sherry, emptying the
"Why not do it for me?" she wheedled, "Just to please an old woman."
My resolve began to crumble, and I reluctantly agreed.
"But only if you're not in the room when I write it," I added.
She gave me a pen and a sheet of paper from a small note pad and then
went into the kitchen, telling me to call her when I was ready.
first instinct was to write down a random girl's name, or even 'Terry
Mary' - now that would screw up any magic! However, for some
I decided to write the truth, then I folded and crumpled the paper and
out to tell her I was ready.
"Right now, Terry," she said when she returned, "stand up and hold out
hand with the piece of paper resting on your palm."
I did as instructed but I began to panic when she placed her hand palm
"Don't worry," she soothed, "the paper will be on your palm all the
I'm just touching it to pass on the magic."
She made some incomprehensible sounds and then removed her hand, and
to my relief the paper was still there.
"Okay," she said, "throw it on the fire and watch it burn."
I did as she instructed and when the paper had burned completely to ash
looked back at her with a questioning expression on my face.
"Now we wait a few days," she said as if she really believed all this
"and next time you're here we'll see if it's worked."
The following Wednesday I almost didn't go to the SVP meeting but at
last moment I decided to do so, partly because I wanted to see if
had recovered. When I got there I was relieved to see he was
though he looked a bit pale and washed out. However, he was
well enough to maintain his usual rapid walking pace when we set off on
visits. After spending about an hour with Mr Barns we arrived at
flat, where she made a fuss over Andrew and got me to prepare the tea
carry in the cake while he 'rested' on the sofa. For a half
or so the visit proceeded as usual, then Mary inserted a question into
brief lull in the conversation.
"Did the magic work?" she asked casually.
Because of the way that it was just slipped into the conversation, I
the question automatically.
"No," I said.
"No," Andrew said almost simultaneously.
We looked at one another and I could see my own emotions of surprise,
and alarm reflected in his face. We both looked at Mary, who was
at us in a way that I found rather disturbing.
"Well maybe," she said, holding up a piece of crumpled paper in each
"that's because these weren't burned properly."
I was horrified and my first instinct was to try to grab the pieces of
but if she resisted I was afraid that she might be hurt. Then I
that in any case I didn't know which piece of paper was mine, so I sat
feeling defeated, betrayed and ashamed. Taking a quick glance at
I got the impression that he was experiencing a similar range of
"I'm sorry that I had to trick you," she said, addressing both of us,
I love you both and you were both getting so miserable that I had to do
even if it meant you never came to visit me again."
She opened up the crumpled pieces of paper and placed them on the
table next to the cake tray, one piece where I could reach and the
where Andrew could reach. We both grabbed the nearest paper but
her betrayal had led me to half expect, the piece in my hand was not
one I'd written. The one in my hand said 'Andrew loves Terry',
I suppose that should have made me happy, but instead it made me feel
more embarrassed. A surreptitious glance at Andrew gave me the
that he felt the same, and after that we avoided looking at one another.
"How?' I asked, just to break the uncomfortable silence.
"Why?" Andrew added immediately.
"It was a simple substitution when I placed my hand over yours.
easy trick when you've been married to an amateur magician for over
years. As for why..."
She sighed, sat back into her chair and suddenly looked very tired.
"Fond as I am of you, Terry, I love Andrew as if he were my own flesh
blood. After knowing him for more than a year I can read him like
book," she said to me, then turned her attention to Andrew, "The first
you brought Terry I thought I saw something in your eyes, then on his
visit I noticed that when he answered my questions you drank in his
word. I was sad because I knew you'd be too shy to say or do
but at the time I thought that was for the best anyway because I
Terry might react badly if he found out."
"But... But what made you think I'm... ya know..." Andrew asked,
"When you've seen so many people in love, you learn to recognise
But no, I didn't think you preferred boys until I saw the way you kept
at Terry and especially when I saw how upset you were that time he
turn up. Oh, I know you're good at hiding your feelings, but you
hide it from me and that's why I played the little paper trick on you,
so I'd know for sure..."
"And you don't mind if I'm gay?" Andrew asked, the last word being so
that it was barely audible to me, so I suspected that Mary hadn't heard
"Of course not!" she replied, clearly understanding his question even
she didn't hear all of it, "I've told you, you're like a son to
I know that you're a lovely caring person, so what does it matter who
"But how could you know about me... how I felt?" I asked, "You don't
me as well as you know Andrew."
"I didn't," she replied, "I guessed you were in love with someone and
you were trying to keep it hidden. I hoped for Andrew's sake that
was him . But I knew that if it was him then he'd be too shy to
you and that would make you as miserable as he was. So I played
same trick on you. If you hadn't been in love with Andrew, if
put some other name on the paper then I'd have forgotten it and burned
At least then I'd know and could concentrate on helping Andrew get over
"Suppose I'd refused to write anything? Suppose I'd just written
any old name?" I asked, "After all, I didn't believe in the mumbo-jumbo
just went along with it so I wouldn't hurt you feelings."
"You're a nice boy," she said, "so I knew you'd go along with it.
course I didn't know that you'd be truthful, but I felt in my old bones
you would be. And if you did love Andrew then maybe fate intended
to get together... though sometimes fate needs a helping hand from us
"I don't believe in fate," I said emphatically, "What's the point of
anything if it's all just fate?"
"Sometimes I think that fate is just another word for God," she said,
exists whether you believe or not. I think fate provides certain
through life that are for the best and gives us the opportunity to
those paths. We still have to use our free will to decide if we
follow one of the right paths or choose a wrong path or no path at
To be honest, that made no more sense to me than her previous 'magic'
but I didn't say anything. In any case, I was more concerned with
would happen next and I still felt betrayed by her trickery, despite
motives. Just because everything was now out in the open didn't
that all our problems would go away, and in fact there were probably
problems looming ahead. Even if Andrew did feel the same for me
I did for him, it was still possible that he would still reject me
of his religious beliefs or because he was afraid of what others might
By then it was getting late and I was feeling very tired. Andrew
weary and hollow eyed, and Mary was slumped in her chair. I stood
and announced that I was leaving, then looked down at Andrew who still
shocked and shaken.
"Are you coming?' I asked him.
He nodded and stood up, then Mary wearily got out of her chair and went
the door with us.
"Will you come back?" she asked quietly.
I waited for Andrew to reply but when he didn't I spoke up.
"I will if Andrew does," I said, and we both looked at him.
"Yes," he said eventually, "we'll see you next week."
As soon as we got outside the building, instead of heading toward the
stop, Andrew and I halted and as if by some mutual agreement, we
turned to look at one another. In the darkness of the night his
twinkled, reflecting the light from the lamp above the doorway, and he
shyly but didn't speak. My mind was recovering from the shock of
trickery and now the significance of the events of the previous few
sank into my brain. Andrew loved me. All this time we'd
been too afraid to show our feelings, and even now I wanted to make
"It's true then?" I asked, careful to avoid the L-word, "Not just more
He didn't speak but his smile broadened and he nodded his head, and
small gestures brought me more joy than all the words he'd ever spoken
me before that time. In fact I couldn't remember ever being
and I felt a big stupid grin spreading across my face. As if
my reaction, his little smile also widened into a grin.
"What now?" I asked uncertainly when the silence began to become
"Dunno," he said seriously after a brief pause, then he grinned again
added, "I've never done anything like this before."
As if reading his mind I knew immediately that he was intentionally
what I'd said to him the first time we spoke to one another. I
briefly and quietly, showing that I'd understood his little joke.
"That makes two of us," I said, "but I'm sure we'll work something
We walked to the bus stop in silence, lost in thought as we wondered
the future might hold, and when we got there we stood close together,
by the night and the deep shadow of a nearby hedge. We'd been
for a couple minutes when his hand crept tentatively into mine and I
it a welcoming squeeze. Then I felt deep inside that we'd be
We still had to work out where things went from here, but at least we
that we'd be working it out together.
If you enjoyed this story you might like to take a look at "Tapping",
of my longer stories on the Nifty Archive. You can find it at: