Tough Question

By Kit

This is a story about a gay male and may involve sexual activity between males, so if this is likely to offend you, or is illegal where you live then do not read any further.  All the events and characters in this story are fictional and any resemblances 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 encouragement and moral support while this story was being written and for his hard work in 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


Chapter 10

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 him. 

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 desk.

"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 simply."

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 love..."

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 someone else?"

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 points.

"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 to say.

"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 time."

"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 right."

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 birthday.

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 interruption.

"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 postgrad course."

"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 up.

"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 available."

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 to this."

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 relaxation.

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 trivial topic.

"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 Matt."

"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 pervert!"

"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 fun."

"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 several bones."

"What happened?"

"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 later date.


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 car.

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 go."

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 ignore that?"

"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 interaction.

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 guessed.

"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 Frank.

"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 of.

"Good," I said, "now you can find someone who can return your feelings."

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 eventually.

"You're the one who didn't want to see me anymore, remember?" I pointed out.

"Maybe I still don't," he said, his anger now considerably diluted by sadness.

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
For jealousy."

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 as you."

"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 that moment.

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 you."

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 the ceiling.

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.

"Doesn't matter."

"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 side.

"I told him I would," I pointed out.

"But we're going home tomorrow," Matt said, sounding a little concerned.

"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 hospital building.

"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 squeezed.

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.

The End

Author's Note:

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