This is a story about a gay male and may involve sexual activity
males, so if this is likely to offend you, or is illegal where you live
do not read any further. All the events and characters in this
are fictional and any resemblances to real people are purely
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 encouragement
moral support while this story was being written and for his hard work
seeking out errors after it was written.
If you enjoy this story or have any comments about it, please feel
free to send me an email .
or visit me at
For some time after he left I was numbed by the shock of his sudden
departure, but as that gradually wore off I experienced a whole range
of different emotions. At first I couldn't believe that he'd decide to
end our meetings without even giving me a chance to explain myself.
Then it occurred to me that perhaps he didn't think there was any need
for discussion because I'd made it very clear from the beginning that I
didn't want any emotional involvement.
Of course he'd told me that he too wanted just a no-strings sexual
interaction, and he'd also promised to avoid the L-word. Now he'd
changed his mind and broken his promise, leaving me feeling betrayed
and angry. For the next few hours of that sleepless night my mind was
swirling with a mix of different emotions whose proportions constantly
changed, but usually the predominant emotion was anger.
When the Sunday dawn came my body twitched with fatigue and my brain
was exhausted but still I could not sleep. Then my unhappiness was
increased by the realisation that there was little hope of keeping to
my study schedule that day. With only about four weeks to the start of
the final exams, that thought worried me greatly and made me curse Matt
for his bad timing.
After breakfast I resolved to put Matt out of my mind and not allow his
betrayal to affect the prospects for the rest of my life. This whole
incident, I told myself, just reinforced how right I'd been in my
decision to avoid emotional entanglements. I also told myself that I
didn't need Matt and that I'd be better off without him. I was
determined that the next time I wanted to find someone for sex I would
be more careful to ensure that the proposed sex-buddy really did share
my desire for no-strings sex.
Despite my logic and my resolve, however, all that day my attempts to
study were an abject failure. At first that made me even more angry at
Matt, but during the course of the day the anger faded and by evening,
when I went to bed early in the hope of catching up on my sleep, other
emotions overshadowed my anger. Alone in my bed I realised that I was
already beginning to miss him and that what I missed wasn't just sex.
Perhaps perversely, I had enjoyed the way he'd managed to make me
laugh, even when his humour was used to puncture my ego and bring me
down to earth. I realised that his attitude to life, so often
annoyingly different to my own, gave me a useful contrasting
perspective. I was sad that he'd gone and I wanted him to come back,
but I still felt that he was the one who'd broken our agreement and so
he was the one who should make any first move of reconciliation.
That night I managed to get a little sleep, though it wasn't very
restful and the next day most of my classes went by in a haze. On the
Monday night, forty eight hours after Matt had walked out of my room, I
still hadn't heard from him and my prideful resolution to wait for him
to make the first move was beginning to wilt. What he'd said about not
wanting to end up like Frank echoed in my head and I realised that I
didn't want to lose him like I'd lost Frank.
My reasons for wanting to repair my relationship with Matt were not all
selfish. The memory of the last time I'd seen him kept haunting my mind
like an accusing ghost. The pain in his voice, the hurt in his eyes and
the dejected body language were all things I'd never seen in him
before. Although it wasn't my fault that Matt had become emotionally
involved, it was clear that he wouldn't have been hurt if we'd never
met. A feeling of guilt was joined by an increasing concern that he was
probably still feeling the pain of rejection.
Of course I hadn't specifically rejected him, but I admitted that he
could be justified in inferring that from my refusal to answer his
question. Next time we spoke I'd need to address that question one way
or another, and to do that I needed to examine my feelings for him.
After that, if I still couldn't tell him that I loved him, I'd have to
think of some very persuasive reasons for him to continue seeing me.
With all that going through my mind I had a third night with little or
no sleep, and on the Tuesday morning I decided that if Matt hadn't
contacted me before ten o'clock that night then I'd have to phone
Although I'd hoped that Matt would contact me before my self-imposed
deadline, I knew that it was unlikely that he'd do so. Therefore I
wasn't really disappointed when I didn't hear from him. After taking a
few minutes to build up my courage, I phoned him at about ten thirty.
However, he didn't answer, so I left a voice mail message simply asking
him to call me. The same thing happened three more times between then
and midnight and this was so unusual that I began to suspect that he
was deliberately not picking up when he saw my number on his caller ID.
The thought that he might be deliberately avoiding my calls was both
hurtful and worrying, so on the fourth call I left a more substantial
message and hoped that he would at least listen to it.
"Matt, this is Ian. Please listen to this," I said somewhat
redundantly, "I need to talk to you. You can have an answer to your
question. Call me back anytime, it doesn't matter if it's after
midnight, and we can arrange to meet as soon as possible."
After leaving that message I only had to wait about five minutes before
he called me back, which reinforced my suspicion that he'd been
screening out my calls.
"Hi," he said in a carefully neutral tone, "It seems you have something
to say to me."
"Yeah," I replied, trying to hide my relief at hearing his voice,
"Let's meet for a chat as soon as you can. If you don't want to come
here then we can meet wherever you like."
As soon as the words left my mouth I was a little ashamed of my
eagerness and apparent willingness to capitulate and meet under
whatever terms he dictated. At that moment my pride hadn't merely been
swallowed, it had been almost completely digested.
"If you're going to answer my question then a simple yes or no is all I
need," he said warily, "If you're not going to answer it, or the answer
is no then there's nothing to chat about."
From his tone I could tell that he wasn't as disinterested as he was
trying to seem, so I tried to explain as best I could.
"It's not as simple as that," I said, "The answer isn't no but it's
more complicated than a simple yes."
"Why do you always have to make everything so complicated?" he said,
showing his exasperation.
"Because I think life is complicated," I replied, "and maybe I see
shades of grey where you see black and white."
"I don't know..." Matt said, clearly uncertain and suspicious, "How do
I know you won't just try talking me into getting back together without
giving me any answer at all?"
"Yeah, right," I said wryly, "Like when have I ever been able to talk
you into anything you didn't want to do? Anyway, I promise to give you
an answer, even though it's not a simple one. Just listen to what I
have to say and if you don't like it then you can just go away again
and we won't be any worse off than we are now. What do you say?"
There was a long silence before he replied.
"Okay," he said eventually, "I'll be there in about twenty minutes."
Then he hung up, leaving me a little stunned at his rapid decision and
concerned by the fact that he'd be with me in such a short time. I
still hadn't worked out exactly what I wanted to say to him, and I was
still trying to sort things out in my mind when he arrived.
When I met him at the outer door he returned my grinning greeting with
a friendly but businesslike smile, and when he entered my room I had to
resist the urge to give him a welcoming hug. He sat on the chair by my
desk and I sat on my bed so that we were facing one another.
"Right, I'm listening," he said, "I'd prefer it if you gave me a simple
answer, but knowing how your mind works I think that's unlikely. Make
it complicated if you have to, but if you start giving me any bullshit
then I'm going and I won't be back."
Despite his relatively harsh words and serious expression I got the
impression that he would prefer not to go away forever. However, I
still felt a little intimidated because so much seemed to depend on
what I said next.
"Okay," I began nervously, "Please be patient and listen, even you've
heard some of it before."
He nodded, leaned back in his chair and rested his left arm on the
"When I was fourteen," I continued, "I was certain that I was deeply in
love with Simon and I was sure I knew what love was. But a lot has
happened since then and now I'm not so sure I can label my feelings so
I paused briefly to consider my next words, then took a deep breath and
began speaking again.
"I was hurt when you left on Saturday night," I said, "and I'd miss you
if you were no longer part of my life, but I don't think that's real
Before I could continue with my little speech he interrupted me and his
expression, which up until then he'd clearly tried to keep blank,
became one of deep sadness.
"Then why did you want to talk to me?" he asked, his voice harsh, "Just
to explain why you don't love me? I told you that I can't...."
"No," I said, this time interrupting him, "Please let me finish. I've
been trying to sort things out in my head... trying to work out what to
say to you. I've not been able to think about anything else since
Saturday, so please let me finish."
He frowned a little and nodded his head.
"I enjoy our time together, and not just because of the sex," I said.
"Just being with you makes me happy. No matter how badly things go in
the rest of my life you make me feel better. Somehow, even when you
poke fun at me and tease me, you make can always make me laugh. And
even your irritating arguments can be entertaining."
He looked as if he were about to say something but I shook my head a
little and lifted my hand so he remained silent.
"So of course my life would be much worse without you," I continued,
"but we both know that's not love."
I paused while I struggled to find the right words to express my
feeling, then I took another deep breath.
"Then," I continued, "I realised that what was making me most miserable
over the last few hours wasn't how much I'd miss you but knowing how
unhappy I'd made you. The thought of you being hurt and unhappy makes
me very sad but the thought that it was because of me is almost
unbearable. I realised that what I wanted most of all is to protect you
from anything that would hurt you or make you unhappy."
Again he seemed as if he were about to speak, and again I gestured for
him to remain quiet.
"I still don't really know what love is," I said, "but whatever it is,
I don't think it's about me and what I might get out of it. What I can
definitely say is that I want to be with you, I don't want to be with
anyone else and I want to make you happy. That may or may not be real
love but it's all I have to offer and I hope you can accept it."
He sat there looking back at me as I watched his face and waited for
his reaction. To me it seemed to be a long time before he responded,
though in reality it was probably just a few seconds. Then, when
he'd apparently absorbed what I'd said, a small smile crept into the
corners of his mouth.
"Bloody Hell, Ian!" he said, "You really now how to make things
complicated. Still, at least you're honest in your own complex little
way. I know what I feel for you, and I don't want to dissect or define
it, but I suppose it includes at least some of what you said."
He paused and looked thoughtful for a couple of seconds before he
continued in a more serious tone.
"The problem is," he said with a slight frown, "can I accept the fact
that you can't say you love me even if what you describe seems to be
very like love? Can I risk getting hurt if you fall in love with
I knew his questions were rhetorical so I made no attempt to answer
them directly. However, it seemed to me that I could clarify some
"Whether my feelings for you count as true love or not, I don't have
these feelings for anyone else and I don't want to have them for anyone
else," I said, "And even if someone really loves you and says that they
love you, would it mean they can never fall out of love with you? Would
it mean they can't ever fall in love with someone else?"
I paused and studied his face to see if he understood what I was trying
"Could you really feel more secure and safe from hurt with someone who
said he loves you than you could with me?" I continued, "After all, if
I can't love you then I can't love anyone else, and whatever I've got
to offer, I will offer it to you and to no one else."
"And what if you meet another Simon or Derek?" he asked.
"I'll run away from them as fast as I can!" I joked.
"No, seriously," he said, frowning slightly, "I meant what happens if
we're together and you fall in love with someone?"
"That's what I meant," I said earnestly, "As soon as I felt that might
be happening I'd run away from that too. In my experience falling in
love is a form of temporary insanity that brings only misery, and so
I'll avoid it at all costs. And even if I can't avoid it, I'd not risk
the happiness I have with you just for another experience of being
miserably in love."
"And what if you fall in love with me?" he asked, his eyes serious
though his lips were smiling, "Will you run away from me?"
"I'm not sure I could ever fall in love with you," I said, adopting his
half-joking attitude, "because I know you too well and I like you too
much to do that."
That statement appeared to make him rather unhappy, despite its
positive spin, so I quickly went on to try and explain myself.
"What I mean," I said, "is that when I fell in love with Simon and
Derek I fell in love with the person I thought they were, not the
person they really were. They represented everything I wanted myself to
be and I fell in love with that image. But I know you quite well by now
and my feelings for you, whatever label we put on them, are for the
real you. When I fell in love with Simon and Derek it was intoxicating
and made me irrational... and I think now that it would probably
have been transient even if they'd returned my feelings. But what I
feel for you is different... it's more solid."
Although he looked reasonably pleased by my long speech I got the
impression that he wasn't totally convinced by it. That impression was
quickly reinforced when he stood up.
"Well," he said, "I'm glad I came round to listen to what you have to
say. Now I need a bit of time for it all to sink in, and then I'll let
you know what I decide to do."
That reaction to my carefully chosen words wasn't what I'd wanted or
hoped for, and I couldn't hide the disappointment in my response.
"But when you accuse me of thinking about things too much," I pointed
out, "you always say that you prefer to just do what feels right at the
"Yeah," he agreed, "unlike you I don't make mental lists of pros and
cons, but I also don't rush important decisions. I let things sink in,
get absorbed, percolate around for awhile, then decide what feels
He stood up and was obviously about to leave, but I was reluctant to
leave the situation just hanging.
"It's late," I said, "Aren't you going to stay the night?"
"That's tempting," he said with a smile, "but I don't think it would be
a good idea. We'd probably just end up shagging."
"And that would be a bad thing?" I asked.
"Well, it would certainly be distracting, and I don't want my decision
to be based on sex. Well, not just on sex," he said and gave me a
lecherous grin, then he became more serious and added, "Anyway, I'd
already decided that I'm not going to have sex with you anymore unless
we're going to be more than just bonk-buddies."
Just a few weeks earlier I'd felt totally in control of my relationship
with Matt and now I felt helpless and a little irritated that I had to
wait for him to decide if we had a future together. The expression on
my face must have enabled him to guess my thoughts because he smiled
gently and spoke again.
"Don't worry," he said, "it won't take me long to decide. I already
think I know how things will go, but I just want to take time to make
sure it really feels right. Anyway, I'll phone you."
When he left I lay back on my bed, resting my eyes and expecting
another sleepless night. However, still fully clothed, I almost
immediately fell asleep. Perhaps it was because I was so tired or maybe
it was because deep inside I realised that there was nothing more I
could do and it was now all up to Matt.
At lunch time the next day Matt phoned.
"Fancy a shag tonight?" he asked cheerfully.
Although his words were his usual direct, almost crude, way of saying
he wanted to meet, on this occasion also they held a less obvious
message which I immediately understood. Typically for him, he didn't
mince his words or try to explain his decision.
"You bet I do!" I responded joyfully.
"Okay, I'll see you about seven thirty," he said.
The next few weeks went by in a blur as the final exams approached and
broke over me like a tidal wave, leaving me mentally and physically
exhausted. After the last exam I was left in an anticlimactic limbo,
having to wait ten days before the results were announced. Matt was
very supportive throughout the whole exam ordeal, and he was very
understanding when he realised that during the final burst of studying
I had little time for socialising and not much time even for sex. As
usual, my birthday overlapped with exams, but Matt still insisted that
we should go out and celebrate, especially as it was my twenty first
A couple of days after my last exam Matt came round to my room straight
after he finished work, and immediately I noticed that he was more
pensive and serious than usual. Before I could ask him if something was
bothering him, he spoke.
"I've been thinking..." he said.
"Hope you didn't strain anything!" I joked.
"I've been thinking about what will happen when you have to move out of
Hall," he continued, smiling wanly but otherwise ignoring my
"Oh," I said blankly.
I'd not given any thought at all to what would happen after the end of
term, apart from the possibility of doing postgraduate studies with Dr
Robertson, and even that hadn't been in the forefront of my mind. I'd
especially avoided considering practical details of my future because
it seemed that there was no point in doing so until I got my exam
results. If I didn't do well then such plans would be a waste of time,
and if I assumed that my grades would be good it would only risk an
even greater disappointment.
"Well you're going to have to live somewhere," he said.
"Obviously," I replied, slightly sarcastically, "But there's no point
in making plans until I know what sort of degree I get."
"You're bound to do well," he said dismissively, as if it were a
foregone conclusion, "And you'll get on that postgrad course, so you'll
need somewhere to live in Linchester."
"I'm glad you're so confident!" I said, "But ..."
"Confident or not," he interrupted, "the point is that in about four
weeks you'll have to leave Hall, and if we're going to find a flat
before then, we need to start looking now. After all, we don't need to
make any definite commitments on a flat until you're sure you're on the
"Find a flat?" I said, rather taken aback by that unexpected idea...
"Well," he said, frowning slightly, "if you really want to save money I
suppose we could live with Mum, but I didn't think you'd want that."
"You're not serious!" I exclaimed, wondering if he was just winding me
"Just a little bit," he said, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, "But
it's not impossible and I'm sure she won't mind."
"No way!" I said, horrified at the thought.
"There you are, then," he said triumphantly, "We have to find somewhere
to live, so we should at least start looking at what sort of flats are
He opened up his overnight bag, took out a couple of local newspapers
and handed them to me. For several seconds I just stood there staring
at him with the newspapers held limply in my hand.
"What's the matter?" he asked, frowning a little.
"Well, erm, are we sure?" I said uncertainly, "It's, erm, a big step..."
"Don't you want us to live together?" he asked, his frown deepening.
"Yes," I said, though not sure it was true, "but suppose we find we
don't get on? Suppose living together spoils what we've got now?"
He sighed, but the way he looked at me gave me the impression that he'd
expected my reaction. However, instead of arguing with me he went over
to my CD collection and flicked through it for a few second. Thinking
that perhaps I'd upset him, I threw the newspapers onto my bed and went
over to him. Not knowing what else to do, I rested my arm over his
shoulders and waited for him to say something. He turned his head and
smiled at me.
"A few times you've told me how certain Pet Shop Boys' songs have
reflected events in your life," he said, "So just sit down and listen
Puzzled, I did as he instructed and sat on the bed, and a few seconds
later he found the CD he was looking for, chose a track, then sat down
next to me and put his arm around my waist.
Why don't we live together?
With all the love we had, and all the love we hide
We'll find a home together
And sleep there every night
There's a time and place for most things
This time we'll get it right
You may not always love me
I may not care
But intuition tells me, baby
There's something we could share
If we dare
Why don't we?
Why don't we live together?
You won't believe in love until the day you try
When the track finished he took my chin in his hand and turned my face
so he could look directly into my eyes.
"Why don't we live together?" he asked.
Just for once I didn't feel the need to weigh up all the pros and cons
and just allowed myself to react in a way that felt right.
"Okay," I said.
My exam results were better than I had really expected, though not as
good as I'd hoped. Still, they were good enough for Dr Robertson, who
accepted me as a postgrad student and helped me to sort out the
finances. That left me with just over six weeks between the end of term
and the start of the new course, but despite my lack of funds I didn't
look for a temporary job because I had more need of some rest and
By the time I had to leave Hall, Matt and I had found a flat, though I
had to borrow the money from him to pay my half of the deposit.
Fortunately, he could afford that because he'd just been promoted to
assistant manager. I wasn't completely idle and during our first couple
of weeks in the flat I did some painting and tried to turn the
initially characterless space into something more personalised.
When we had been flat-hunting it became clear that on our limited
budget we could afford either a nice place with one bedroom or
not-so-nice place with two bedrooms. As the second bedroom would be
used only for guests or as a smoke screen for curious relatives, the
choice was not difficult. By the time we moved in, Matt had already
announced to his mum that we were boyfriends, so no smoke screen was
required for her. However, as far as my family were concerned Matt was
just a friend I occasionally mentioned and whom they'd never met.
When they found out, as they inevitably would, that the two of us were
sharing a one bedroom flat, then eyebrows would certainly be raised and
direct questions would be unavoidable. Therefore, I decided that it
would be best to launch a pre-emptive strike, so as soon as we'd moved
in together I made the first move by telling my mum about me and Matt.
Being a complete coward and wanting to avoid any potentially emotional
confrontation, I didn't do it face to face. I didn't even do it over
the phone, but instead I wrote a letter to her and then anxiously
awaited whatever reaction might ensue.
My wait wasn't long, and late in the evening of the day after I posted
the letter my phone rang and from the caller ID I saw that it was my
mum. Matt and I were cuddling on the sofa and half-watching some TV
program, so I showed him my phone display. He immediately muted the TV
and gave me a supportive squeeze.
"Hi, Mum," I greeted her with more than a little trepidation.
"Hullo, love. How are you enjoying your new flat? All excited at
getting a place of your own for the first time?"
She sounded completely normal, and of course she'd known for weeks
about the flat, so I began to wonder if she'd received my letter yet.
"Erm, I sent you a letter yesterday," I said hurriedly, completely
ignoring her question.
"Yes," she said with no change in tone, "I got it this morning. That's
one reason I'm phoning tonight."
Expecting her to make some comment I remained silent. However, it
seemed that for some reason she was waiting for me to speak next. As
usual in such matters, Mum won out.
"And?" I prompted, not even trying to hide my frustration, "Don't you
have anything to say about it."
"Well of course I do, dear," she said in her best
patient-mother-to-little-child voice, "but I knew you'd be, er, nervous
about it so I thought it best not to jump straight into things."
"Well?' I said.
"Well, it's not the greatest news I've ever had, and I'm disappointed
that you didn't tell me sooner," she said calmly, "but it's all part of
life's rich tapestry."
I groaned inwardly on hearing that last phrase, one of Mum's favourite
and much used cliches. However, she used it in all sorts of situations,
sometimes not quite appropriately, so its usage here didn't imply
anything too negative.
"Anyway," she added, "it's not as if it was a total surprise."
"It wasn't?" I croaked, surprised and perhaps slightly disappointed.
"No," she said a little smugly, "After all, you did spend a lot of time
alone in a tent with Frank."
Something in her tone told me she was smiling, that little smile just
on the corners of her lips, that irritating smile which she used
whenever she thought she'd scored a point over someone. I was
profoundly grateful that she couldn't see me blushing. Matt observing
my redly glowing cheeks, gave me a knowing and sympathetic look.
"Mind you," she continued, "When you mentioned dancing classes with
Debbie I thought that maybe the Frank thing had been just a phase."
"I think that dancing with Debbie was just a phase," I said wryly.
Well, I thought to myself, not the best response I could have hoped
for, but by no means the worst. Then I thought about the next stage.
"Have you told Dad?" I asked.
"I showed him your letter."
"You know your dad," she said, "He's not a great one for emotional
reactions. He just frowned and handed the letter back to me. I'm sure
we'll talk about it later."
"What about Andy?" I asked.
"That's something you'll have to take care of yourself," she said,
somewhat sternly, "You can't expect me to do that for you... but if you
take my advice, you won't do it by letter."
"Okay," I replied meekly, feeling a little chastised.
There was a lull in the conversation but under the circumstances I
didn't want to be the one either to end it or to introduce a more
"Well," Mum said eventually in a businesslike tone, "I suppose we
should meet him then."
Because of the brief break in the conversation I didn't immediately
understand what she meant.
"Who?" I asked.
"Matt," she replied with mild frustration, "Your dad and I should meet
"You're always welcome to visit," I said, trying to sound more
enthusiastic than I felt.
"What, with you in one bedroom flat? Do you expect us to sleep on the
floor? Or pay for an expensive hotel?" she asked, almost indignant,
"And you surely don't expect us to spend almost four hours driving just
to spend a few minutes with you. No, you'll have to bring him here."
"How will that be better?" I asked, irritated by her tone, "Do you
expect Andy, Matt and me to squeeze into one room?"
"As it happens, Andy will be going away with friends for a couple of
weeks, so you can come then."
"I can't promise we can manage it," I said, secretly hoping to put off
any such visit for as long as possible, "Matt works in a shop and it's
not always easy for him to get time off."
"I'm sure you can arrange something," she replied confidently.
While I was discussing plans to visit my parents with Matt, I noticed
that in the short time I'd been living with him I'd already begun using
the word 'home' when I was talking about the flat. I realised that my
parents' house was no longer the main place that I associated with my
concept of 'home', and when I thought about that I experienced
transient feelings of disorientation and dislocation. Although those
feelings were a little unsettling, they were not altogether unpleasant.
On one of the weekends that Andy was away with his friends, about three
weeks after we moved into the flat, Matt arranged his work schedule so
that we could arrive at my parents' house late on the Friday evening
and return on the Monday morning. Personally, I would have preferred to
spend less time there, perhaps just one night, but Mum and Matt wanted
the visit to be longer. Although I knew they hadn't discussed it
together, indeed they had only briefly greeted one another on the
phone, I still felt like the victim of a conspiracy.
"I want to have enough time to see where you grew up," Matt said when
we were debating the matter, "And I want to see all the places that
were part of your life."
"But it's just a boring little town," I pointed out, "and you can see
anything that might be a bit interesting in a couple of hours."
"Well I want to spend at least two nights," he said, grinning
mischievously, "because it's going to be a real turn-on shagging in
your old bed and thinking of all the wanks you had in it."
There had been a time when I would have been genuinely shocked, not
only by what he'd just said but by the way he'd said it. However, over
the past few months I'd often experienced, and admittedly enjoyed, his
sexual adventurousness, so I wasn't quite so easily shockable any more.
Still, I had to maintain an image of moral superiority, even though I
knew he wouldn't believe it for an instant.
"You're sick!" I said, trying to feign disgust, "You're an evil
"Yeah, I know," he agreed happily, "But isn't that why you like me? And
don't you think it's a sexy idea?"
Although deep inside I reluctantly agreed with him I had no intention
of admitting it.
"Anyway," I said, "I already told you it's just a bunk bed, so we won't
even be able to fit both of us in, much less do anything physical."
"Mmmm, sounds cosy," he said, "I'm sure we can manage to have some
"Not with my mum and dad in the next room," I said vehemently, "No way!"
"We'll see," he said confidently.
On the Wednesday evening before the weekend of the trip Mum phoned, and
when I greeted her I expected that she would just be fussing about some
details of our visit. However, the main reason for her call was to give
me some news.
"Frank's been in an accident," she said, "He's in hospital."
"Wh-What? When?" I stuttered, "Is he okay?"
Although it had been more than two years since my last direct
communication with Frank, I occasionally had snippets of news about
him. My mum frequently chatted to Frank's mum in the Lewis family
bakery shop, then she passed on to me any bits of information she
thought might be of interest. Actually, much of what she'd told me in
the past had been trivial but this really grabbed my attention. Frank
wasn't part of my life anymore but I often remembered our happy times
together, and I certainly cared about his well-being.
"It happened almost two weeks ago," Mum said, "but I only found out
today. I hadn't seen his mum in the shop recently, but I just thought
she was on holiday. Anyway, she was there today and told me she'd been
spending a lot of time visiting Frank in hospital."
"So he's okay now?" I asked.
"He's recovering and there's no permanent damage, but he'll be in
hospital for a couple of weeks yet," she replied, "Apparently he broke
"He crashed his car into a tree," she said, then lowering her voice she
continued in a conspiratorial tone, "His mum said he'd been drinking."
"At least he's going to be okay," I said, feeling relieved.
"Maybe you should go and visit him in hospital while you're here," she
said brightly, "His mum said that she and his dad took a lot of time
away from the business to be with him after the accident, but now he's
recovering they can't take so much time off and can't visit as often.
The idea of going to see Frank made me feel very uncomfortable and I
had no intention of doing so, but I didn't want to flatly refuse Mum's
suggestion, so I just remained silent. However, Mum wasn't going to let
me off the hook so easily.
"Anyway," she continued in her mother-knows-best tone, "Isn't it about
time the two of you made up for whatever silly quarrel you had?"
"Well, there's a lot I planned to do with Matt while I'm there," I
lied, "So I'll have to see if I can find the time."
She could probably tell that I was just being evasive, but fortunately
she didn't pursue the matter, at least not on that particular occasion.
However, I realised that she would probably bring it up again at a
On the Friday we had a fine summer evening and the traffic wasn't too
busy, so the drive to my parents' house was pleasant and uneventful.
Matt, as always, did the driving because at that time I still hadn't
learned to drive. Even if I'd been an excellent and experienced driver,
however, I doubt that he would have let me take control of his beloved
Mum greeted us warmly and Dad was his usual self, politely distant with
strangers like Matt, and showing a sort of distracted kindliness toward
me. Both of my parents behaved toward me just as they had before I'd
sent the letter to Mum. Neither of them referred either to my
relationship with Matt or to my sexuality, and for that I was
profoundly grateful. I was also glad that Andy wasn't there, not only
because of the accommodation situation but also because I hadn't yet
told him about myself.
Soon after I'd met Matt I realised that he had a disquieting knack of
getting me to talk about myself and in the ensuing months I found
myself revealing many details about my past. For some reason he wanted
to see all the places I'd mentioned, so all of Saturday was spent
giving Matt the guided tour that he'd insisted upon. He even wanted to
see my old school and the disused quarry where Frank and I had often
gone camping. The quarry, being outside town, didn't fit into our
Saturday tour schedule, so we decided to go there on the Sunday.
On Sunday morning, immediately after breakfast and while Dad was
pottering about in our tiny garden, Mum again suggested that I go and
visit Frank in hospital.
"His mum says he's getting very bored stuck in bed," she said, "you
know how he likes his physical activities."
She was obviously referring to activities such as rugby or hiking but I
suppressed a smile as I remembered some other physical activities he
used to like.
"Rachel went on holiday yesterday," Mum continued, "and with his two
older sister away and married he's not getting many visitors. You could
at least go and spend a few minutes to cheer him up."
"I don't think that seeing me will cheer him up," I said wryly, "and in
any case I promised Matt I'd show him round and we've only got until
tomorrow morning. He's our guest so it wouldn't be fair to neglect him."
"I'm sure that Matt won't feel neglected," she said, then looking at
him she added, "Will you, dear?"
"Erm, no, of course not," Matt replied.
His response sounded rather unenthusiastic to my ears but Mum continued
as if he'd agreed wholeheartedly with her.
"There you are, then!" she said, "And there's no reason you have to go
in the morning, is there? If you go after lunch you'll still have
plenty of time to show Matt around."
At such short notice I couldn't think of an argument substantial enough
to counter the persuasive pressure she was exerting. I was also
surprised and rather perplexed by the fact that she was pushing so hard
on the matter. Perhaps it was just her way of testing her maternal
control over a son who had now, in effect, left home.
"Okay," I said grudgingly, "I'll think about it, but I'm going out for
a drive with Matt now. I promised to take him to the old quarry, but
we'll be back by lunch time."
As we drove out of town I raised the topic of visiting Frank. I half
hoped that Matt might be able to give me at least some moral
support in opposing my mother's proposal.
"Sorry about all the fuss Mum was making earlier," I said, "I don't
know why she's making such a big thing about me going to see Frank."
"Maybe she knows how important he was to you," Matt said, sounding more
subdued that usual.
"Well, I long ago gave up trying to understand how her mind works," I
said, "but it wasn't fair of her to bring you into it and put you on
the spot like that."
"She probably realises that we're a team now, so she wouldn't think of
what she said as bringing me into it."
A first I was a little taken aback by what he'd just said, because he'd
never before referred to us as a team, and in fact since our brief
break up we'd not really discussed our relationship at all.
"So what do you think, then?" I asked, "Do you think I should go to see
Frank? I've no idea what to say to him if I did go."
"It's up to you, really," he said, still subdued, "It doesn't sound as
if you want to, but maybe you ought to see him."
"You're starting to confuse me," I accused, feeling slightly irritated,
"It sounds as if you don't want me to go but you think maybe I should
He greeted my words with a slight smile, which surprised me.
"That's right," he said, "I'm not ecstatic about the idea, but he's
been an important part of your life, he's in hospital, and from what
your mum says he's lonely. What sort of person are you if you just
"But he's the one who made it clear that he never wanted to hear from
me again," I said defensively.
"And I suppose you've never said or done something and then regretted
it later?" Matt countered, "Even if he still refuses to talk to you, if
you go to see him at least you'll have tried. And then we'll all know
where we stand."
There was no doubt that he had a point, though that last part about us
all knowing where we stood left me a little baffled.
"Okay," I said and sighed, "I'll go this afternoon."
Following Mum's suggestion, I phoned Frank's parents to check up on
visiting times, find out what ward he was in, and ensure that I went at
a time that fitted into their schedule. As it turned out, because the
family had private health insurance Frank had his own room, so visiting
hours were very flexible. They had planned on going that afternoon but
said that it would be convenient for them if I went in the afternoon
and they went in the evening instead.
After a substantial Sunday lunch Matt drove me to the hospital and
accompanied me to Frank's room. However, when we had successfully found
our way through what seemed like miles of corridors, all painted in the
same cream and pale green, Matt hovered in the doorway and left me to
enter the room alone. Although he didn't say so, I suspected that he
wanted to see what Frank looked like but didn't want to intrude on our
When I first saw Frank I nearly went to check on the room number
because I didn't immediately recognise the figure lying on the bed.
However, it only took a momentary more detailed study to reveal that it
was indeed Frank, his facial features obscured by fading bruises and
looking much thinner than I remembered. He was lying on his back, his
right arm and leg in plaster, and with bandages around his ribs. His
only clothing was what appeared to be large, baggy black rugby shorts.
His eyes were closed and he had the earphones of his iPod plugged into
his ears, so at first he didn't notice that I was in the room. Then,
possibly sensing my presence, he opened his eyes. Despite the bruising
on his face I could detect a series of emotions in his expression,
first surprise, then disbelief, then anger. Using his left hand he
removed the earphones from his ears and glared at me.
"What are you doing here? Mum didn't warn me you were coming." he said,
making it sound like an accusation.
"I just came to see how you are," I replied.
Even before I'd entered the room I'd felt uncomfortable, but now I also
felt foolish as I suddenly realised that I'd not brought him anything
and that I'd not even asked his mum if he needed anything.
"Who's that?" Frank asked, looking past me toward the doorway.
"That's Matt," I said, "a friend from Linchester."
I didn't think that it was a good time or place to introduce him as my
boyfriend or even to hint at our relationship. However, Frank must have
"Is he the guy you dumped me for?" he said bitterly, "I thought he'd be
better looking than that."
At that point I began to regret my decision to visit him, and I felt
anger rising inside me. Although I was annoyed that he'd obviously
intended to insult Matt, my anger wasn't specifically directed at
"No," I said, trying to remain calm, "The guy I was seeing when we
split up was called Derek. I'm sure I told you that."
"You expect me to remember names?" he said sarcastically, "Derek,
Matt... and who knows how many others in between."
Oddly, his implication that I was some sort of slut decreased my anger
rather than increasing it. Perhaps it was because I felt he might not
be too far from the truth, but in any case I didn't rise to the bait.
"Whatever happened in the past," I said gently, "I'm here now and I
hope we can forget about what happened then."
"Have you come to gloat or just be kind to a poor invalid?" he asked
sarcastically, ignoring my olive branch, then with an increased
bitterness he added, "You never cared about me before, so I don't want
your pity now."
"You're the only one who feels pity for you," I retorted, "And I've
always cared about you. It's just that you couldn't accept that I
didn't feel the way you wanted me to."
"I don't love you anymore," he said as if it were something to be proud
"Good," I said, "now you can find someone who can return your
There was a brief pause, during which it seemed that Frank intended to
say something but was suppressing it.
"But I still don't forgive you for just dumping me like that," he said
"You're the one who didn't want to see me anymore, remember?" I pointed
"Maybe I still don't," he said, his anger now considerably diluted by
He looked away from me and stared at the ceiling. My initial reaction
was that I should leave immediately, but then I realised that he'd used
the word 'maybe'.
For a couple of minutes I just stood there in silence, wondering what
to do or say next. Many times in the past I'd looked back to my break
up with Frank, and there still seemed no way it could have been
avoided. From the moment he fell in love with me it became almost
inevitable that he'd get hurt, and regardless of whether it was my
fault or not, I still felt somewhat guilty. I decided to make another
effort to get past his anger by changing the subject.
"What were you listening to when I came in?" I asked.
He lowered his gaze to look at me again and smiled. For a moment I
caught a glimpse of the old Frank ,because although there was some
bitterness in that smile there seemed also to be some genuine humour
mingled with it.
"Pet Shop Boys," he said, "A song called Jealousy... it always makes me
think of you."
It was a song I knew well, and the irony of its significance for Frank
made me laugh. It was a genuine laughter, though it wasn't one of real
happiness, and at least for me it released some of the tension in the
room. Frank looked at me as if he thought I'd gone crazy.
"Yes, I understand," I said, "It always makes me think of Derek."
Then, to show Frank that I knew what he meant, I quietly sang part of
it, though my singing skills left much to be desired.
"I never knew time passed so slow
I wish Id never met you, or that I could bear to let you go
At dead of night, 'til break of day
Endless thoughts and questions keep me awake
It's much too late
Where've you been?
Who've you seen?
You didn't phone when you said you would!
Do you lie? Do you try
To keep in touch? You know you could
I've tried to see your point of view
But could not hear or see
After I finished there was a silence which lasted for a few seconds and
which was eventually broken by Frank.
"So now maybe you understand," he said cryptically, then in a lighter
tone he continued, "But you still can't sing."
"Unless you've been taking lessons," I countered, "I'm still not as bad
"So why are you here?" he asked, ignoring my attempt to lighten the
mood, "And why now after all this time?"
His first question, though superficially simple, was difficult to
answer because any truthful response would be very complicated. Part of
the reason I was there was the pressure from my mum, but that wasn't a
major factor, and it certainly wouldn't help the current situation if
told Frank about it. There was no doubt that part of my motivation was
guilt, but I felt that also would not be a good thing to mention at
Now that I was actually there with him, I realised that I still cared
for him a great deal. However, I'd already told him that I cared about
him and he hadn't seemed convinced, so I needed to explain it in a way
he would understand and believe. Then I had an idea.
"Don't you remember that we're blood brothers?" I said, "I care about
you because you're my blood brother, and I'm here because I care about
From the expression on his face I could tell that he remembered the
incident on our first camping trip together, so many years before, and
it was clear that he was pleased that I too remembered.
"As for why I'm here now," I continued, trying again to lighten the
mood, "It seemed like a good opportunity to talk to you when you
couldn't run away and avoid me."
The corners of his mouth curled into a slight smile, then the smile
faded and he frowned before he spoke again.
"But I still don't forgive you," he said, then looked back up toward
This time the silence dragged on even longer, and I couldn't think of
anything else to say. I turned to look Matt, who was leaning against
the door jamb, and shrugged my shoulders. Then I sighed and turned back
to face Frank, who was still not looking at me.
"I'd better go then," I said, "I hope you get better soon."
As I went toward the door Frank spoke.
"If you come back tomorrow," he said, sounding as if he didn't care
whether I did or not, "you could bring some seedless grapes."
"White or red?" I asked.
"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow," I said.
There was no reply, so I left the room and set off to find my way back
to the hospital's main entrance..
"You're really coming back tomorrow?" Matt asked as he walked by my
"I told him I would," I pointed out.
"But we're going home tomorrow," Matt said, sounding a little
"Well, I thought I'd stay on a couple more days," I said, realising
that I'd just reached that decision without giving it any thought.
"I have to be back at work on Tuesday morning, so I need to set off by
tomorrow evening at the latest."
"Yeah, I know," I said sympathetically, "but I'm still on holiday. I'll
get the train in a couple of days."
"You won't be long will you?" he asked, sounding quite worried, "The
flat will seem very empty without you."
"I promise I'll be home soon, and definitely before Friday," I
reassured him, "But maybe I can make Frank feel better, and maybe even
we can be friends again. At least there's a possibility, and if I miss
it there may not be another chance."
"Okay, I understand," he said and sighed.
I think he really did understand, though he obviously wasn't happy with
my decision. Neither of us spoke again until we were just leaving the
"So..." Mat said hesitantly, "So you still have feelings for Frank?"
"Only as a friend," I said patiently, "It's nothing like the feelings I
have for you... It's just that spending a little time with him while
he's laid up in hospital seems like the right thing to do. After all,
as you said yourself, what sort of person would I be if I ignored a
friend in hospital?"
"Yeah, I s'pose you're right," he said, "but he didn't seem as if he
appreciated you being there, and some of the things he said were
downright nasty. So why are you going to so much trouble now, when
you've not even talked to him for so long?"
At first I couldn't think of a good answer to his question, then I
recalled what I'd just said to Frank.
"Well, it just seems like the right thing to do, because... well...
Frank and I are blood brothers," I said, and immediately felt
embarrassed and rather stupid.
"Oh, right," he said, looking perplexed, "I was going to ask you about
that. What exactly did you mean about being blood brothers?"
As we walked toward the car I quickly told him how Frank had made us
blood brothers on the camping trip when we were sixteen. That
explanation seemed to make Matt feel better, though he still appeared
to be slightly troubled. Realising that he was probably feeling a
little insecure, I wondered how I might be able to reassure him. Then I
had an idea, and after quickly glancing around the car park, which was
quiet but not deserted, I put my arm over his shoulder and gently
At first he was startled, then he gave me a grin, and without bothering
to look around, he put his arm round my waist. He'd clearly understood
my gesture, and it had made him happy, so despite my nervousness and
discomfort at exposing my affection in such a public place, I knew that
I'd done the right thing. Still, I was relieved when we reached the car.
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