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 .  


Chapter 4

My first term in Linchester was a big shock to my system. The big, bustling city centre contrasted sharply with the quiet of my medium-sized home town and the University had more than a hundred times as many students as my smallish school. I knew absolutely no one in Linchester, and although Frank had been my only really close friend back home, there had been several people there whom I knew well enough to at least have a chat with. The start of my new life away from home seemed to be full of new experiences, some of which were terrifying ordeals, some were exciting adventures, and some were both.

Discounting the ordeal of packing and being driven to Linchester by my parents in their newly-acquired pre-owned car, the first real ordeal of my life at university began when I arrived at my allocated Hall of Residence. It was not only the oldest of the student Residences but it was also the farthest from the main campus. However, the real ordeal was not related to the age and location of the building. Instead it began when I found out that I was expected to share a room with a complete stranger.

When we had eventually found our way across the city to the small car park in front of the Hall I'd insisted that my parents stay with the car until I discovered which room had been allocated to me. Thus I went alone into he elegant Victorian building, passing through the large stone arch with its open wooden doors into a vaulted ante chamber. On the right hand side of that space was a sliding window of what was an apparently empty porter's room. Directly ahead of me was a set of double doors, the top half of which contained stained glass panels.

Going through those doors I found myself in a large, wood-panelled entrance hall. There I found a dozen or so other people, male and female, all about my own age, queuing in front of two small desks which were situated side by side just to the left of a large staircase. Choosing what seemed to be the slightly shorter queue, I soon found myself standing in front of the thin sandy-haired young man seated behind that particular desk.

"Name?" he asked, his bored tone complementing the disinterested look in his pale blue eyes.

"Ian Kaye," I responded, feeling nervous and slightly intimidated.

He looked down, glanced through the papers on his desk, then took an envelope from a tray that was situated on a table between the two desks. He held it out for me to take and as I took it from him I felt the shape of a key inside it.

"Room 215," he said, then pointing at a small group of people a few feet away from us he continued, "If you wait over there for a couple of minutes someone should be available to  show you where your room is and give you a quick tour."

As I began to turn away he looked back at the papers and without bothering to look back up at me he spoke again.

"You're room mate is Christopher Andrews."

I froze for a second, then before the next person in the queue could take my place I turned back to face the seated young man.

"Room mate?" I said.

When Frank and I had applied for a place in the Residences we had requested that we share a room. After I found out that Frank wouldn't be going with me to Linchester I, perhaps stupidly, never gave any further thought to sharing a room. Although for obvious reason I had looked forward to sharing a room with Frank, the idea of sharing a room with a stranger appalled me. Having had to share a room with my younger brother for almost fourteen years I suppose I should have been accustomed to a lack of privacy. However, a similar lack of privacy with a total stranger was very different and something I desperately wanted to avoid.

"Is there a problem?" the young man asked, irritation showing both in the tone of his voice and the narrowing of his eyes.

"Well, it's just, just," I stuttered, "that I was hoping for a single room."

He raised his eyebrows in an expression of mocking amusement, which was also reflected in his voice when he spoke again.

"There are very few single rooms in Hall," he said, "and they are reserved either for senior students or for those with special needs."

I just stood there dumb and feeling foolish. It seemed everyone in both queues was now looking at me, including the young woman sitting at the other desk, upon which was a card identifying her as 'Assistant Bursar'.

"Well you're not a senior student," the young man in front of me asked archly, "so do you have special needs?"

Stung by both his words and his tone, I became annoyed and responded without any thought.

"Yes, I think so," I said.

"Then you'll have to see the Bursar about it," he said dismissively, taking the envelope out of my hand and pointing vaguely across the foot of the stairs and toward the other end of the hallway.

He then turned his attention to the person behind me in the queue, so I moved off in the direction he'd indicated. As my annoyance faded I realised I'd put myself into a difficult and potentially extremely embarrassing position. Of course I didn't have a 'special need' and I didn't even have any idea what might in fact qualify as one so I couldn't  try to invent it. Walking as slowly as I could, all too soon I found myself outside a half-open panelled wooden door, upon which the word 'Bursar' was imprinted in golden letters.

Now I was caught between the metaphorical rock and the equally metaphorical hard place. The difficulty of my position was, however, certainly not metaphorical but in fact very real. On the one hand I could accept the shared room but, apart from my reluctance to do that, there was now also another problem. If I simply changed my mind I was concerned that the annoying young man and everyone in his vicinity would know I'd lied in claiming to have special needs. I cringed with embarrassment as I realised that these were people I'd probably have to face almost every day for at least the next year.

On the other hand I could speak to the Bursar and try to bluff my way into a single room. However, I had no idea what to say and I suspected that a failed bluff would lead to even more embarrassment that just going back and accepting the shared room. When I was about a dozen feet from the door I came to a hesitant halt. As I hovered around in my indecision I could see that inside the room were two middle-aged women standing in front of a large old-fashioned wooden desk. They were looking at a sheet of paper held by the taller woman and they appeared to be discussing what was written upon it.

The woman holding the paper was not just taller, she was bigger in every way, and although she was not in any way fat, she had a very sturdy build that reminded me of a rugby player. However, that is not to imply that she was in any way masculine, and indeed she appeared very feminine and somewhat motherly in her full black skirt and lace-edged white blouse. At first I couldn't get a clear view of her face because she was looking down at the paper. Also, her features were partially obscured by her mane of  black hair, which was made even more remarkable by the wide grey stripe which  began at her temples and continued to the very tips.

The second woman, dressed in a pale blue uniform-style dress, was slimmer and much more ordinary in her appearance. She had short, curly blond hair, though the darker roots indicated that this was not its natural colour. There was no doubt in my mind that the taller woman was the Bursar and although the smaller woman showed no signs of diffidence I guessed from her clothing that she was a member of staff. The Bursar looked up from the paper, smiled at the other woman and made some comment which clearly amused her companion. 

Observing the two women had for just a few seconds distracted me from my own predicament. However, when the smaller woman took the paper and left the room my mind started to race as I considered my options. I didn't have long to think because the Bursar quickly noticed me standing outside her room. As soon as she saw me the slightly amused expression on her face became more formal and business-like and she came to the doorway.

"Mr Kaye," she said, her tone politely neutral, "Can I help you?"

The fact that she knew who I was took me by surprise, temporarily leaving me mute. Then I remembered that four photographs had been required with my formal acceptance of a place at the university and I guessed that one of them had been sent to the Hall of Residence. Despite that realisation and despite the fact that I knew that this was the university's smallest Residence, I was still impressed that the Bursar had apparently already memorised the faces and names of us newcomers.

"Are you lost?" she asked, an impatient edge creeping into her voice, "Or are you just lost for words?"

A mixture of embarrassment and mild resentment made me blush and goaded me into speaking.

"Erm," I began hesitantly, then quickly blurted out the rest of what I had to say, "I was told I should come and see you about getting a single room."

"You'd better come in then," she said, frowning slightly.

She turned away from the doorway and went behind her desk, whereupon I entered the room but stayed close to the door. Then she picked up a sheaf of papers from among many that were stacked neatly on the polished desktop and after a quick glance through the papers in her hand she returned her gaze to me.

"You didn't request a single room," she said.

I was pretty sure from her tone and facial expression that she'd known that before she'd even looked at the papers and that the checking procedure had been mainly a performance for my benefit.

"N-no," I stuttered, "I-I didn't realise I needed to... well I never really thought about it until I got here..."

She raised an eyebrow but before she could make a comment I spoke again, blushing at my own foolishness.

"Though I suppose it says so, somewhere in all the stuff the university sent me," I said apologetically, "

"Most of which you probably never got around to reading," she observed drily.

In response I just shrugged. When I'd arrived at the Hall with my parents I'd felt like an adult, albeit a rather nervous adult. However, as I stood now in front of the Bursar I felt like a stupid schoolboy.

"I'm sure you know," she continued, "that we have only a few single rooms here and therefore that they are usually reserved for senior students or for those who have a good reason for needing one. Why do you think that you should get one, especially now when they've nearly all been allocated?"

Earlier, when I'd been making my way to her office a few ideas, or to put it bluntly a few lies, had occurred to me. Maybe I could claim to be a very light sleeper. Maybe I could say I was concerned that my loud snoring or frequent nightmares might disturb any potential room mates. However, under her piercing gaze, and wisely as it turned out, I decided to tell her the truth.

So I explained how I'd spent the last fourteen years of my life having to share a room and really felt the need for more privacy at university. I also pointed out that I'd been prepared to share a room with my best friend, but that he now wasn't coming here, at least not this year.

"Although I do sympathise with you, Mr Kaye," she said as soon as I finished speaking, "you must realise that your reasons don't really justify giving you a single room."

She did indeed sound genuinely sympathetic and although I was disappointed with her response I was also glad that I'd told the truth and not invented some excuse.

"Okay," I said, nodded my head and turned to leave.

Over the following few weeks I was to find out many things about the Bursar, for example that she addressed all the students formally as 'Mr' or 'Miss' no matter how long she'd known them. Of course everyone addressed her as 'Bursar' or, very occasionally, 'Mrs Wilson'. When she wasn't in earshot some students referred to her as 'The Dragon', but even those who disliked her obviously respected the fact that she ruled with a fair but very firm hand. Later, when I also learned that she detested lies and despised liars, I was especially glad that I'd told the truth about why I wanted a single room.

Before I passed through the doorway, the Bursar spoke again.

"Mr Kaye," she said, then as I turned to face her she added, "There is one possibility."

I looked at her hopefully, eager to avoid having to go back and ask for the key to room 215.

"There is one single room which has proved to be unpopular with the students," she said, "So for the last couple of years it has been used only for temporary emergency accommodation. However, I feel that this is an inefficient use of resources, so if you want it you may have it."

"Yes," I responded immediately, trying not to sound too pathetically eager, "I definitely want it."

"Perhaps you should see it before you decide," she said in a mildly amused tone.

"Okay," I agreed, though I had in fact already made my decision.

She went to a large key cupboard attached to the wall on her right and took out a key.

"Come with me then," she said, "and I'll show you the room."

Surprised that she would take on such a menial task herself, I followed her out of the room, along the hallway and up the stairs. At the top of the first flight of stairs, where the wood panelling gave way to more modern painted plaster, there were fire doors on either side. She led me through the one on the left, then along a wide corridor with doors on both sides. There was a number on every door and many of the doors were open so I could see that these were obviously student rooms. At the end of the corridor was another fire door, beyond which were six doors on the left, each marked with word 'Shower' and six doors on the right with the designation 'WC'.

Beyond these doors was another fire door opening out into a narrow stairwell, and as we proceeded down those stairs I was already beginning to feel lost and a little disoriented. At the bottom of the stairs was another fire door, beyond which was a small room. On the opposite side of the room was an external door marked 'Fire Exit' and on the right hand side was a short corridor with three internal doors, one labelled 'WC, one labelled 'Bath' and the third labelled 'Cleaning Supplies'.

On my left was a long narrow corridor from which emanated the distant sound of women's voices and the slight smell of food. The Bursar pointed in that direction.

"The kitchens are down here," she said, then stepped into the corridor.

Confusion was added to disorientation as I wondered why she was leading me to the kitchens. Then, just inside the corridor she stopped and turned to her right so suddenly that I barely managed to avoid bumping into her.

"Here," she said, indicating a door I hadn't previously noticed "is the room."

Using the key she'd taken from her office, she unlocked the door and stepped inside. From its location and the circuitous route that we'd taken to get there I was half expecting the room to be tiny and dungeon-like, but when I followed her through the doorway I was very pleasantly surprised. The room was huge, airy and light, with two very large windows on the opposite wall. The Bursar stood in silence for  just enough time to allow me to take a good look around the room.

Underneath one of the windows was a large desk and chair and opposite the windows, three or four feet from the door, was a small sink with both cold and hot water taps. At the far end of the room was a double bed, a bedside cabinet and a wardrobe. All the furniture was old-fashioned and made of dark wood, and the carpet was well-worn, but it was all spotlessly clean.

"Until four years ago," the Bursar said as I turned back to face her, "this was an all woman residence and this room belonged to the live-in housekeeper. Then after it became a mixed residence I decided to use it for students. So I had more electrical sockets put in and a connection to the University computer network installed."

She paused and looked at me thoughtfully, making me feel as if I were being examined and assessed. The discomfort induced by her gaze was mitigated somewhat by the good news about the network connection, Then she spoke again.

"For a couple of years I put students in here, but they kept complaining about being awakened early in the morning by noise from the kitchens or cleaning staff arriving for work. Also, as you probably saw, although there is a toilet and bathroom nearby, the students previously in this room didn't like the fact that the nearest shower is upstairs."

Again she paused, seemingly trying to read my reaction from my facial expression. However, she probably couldn't read anything meaningful because my brain was still trying to process everything, so even I still wasn't sure about my own feelings.

"So last year," she continued, "we used it for visiting friends and relatives, but again it wasn't popular and it was barely used. It seems such a pity to waste the space so I was even considering turning it into an extension of the kitchen storage area... But that would be such a shame, don't you think?"

Her piercing gaze emphasised the pointed tone of her question and yet again I had the feeling that I was being examined and tested.

"Y-yes," I stuttered nervously, "It's too nice to be a storage room."

"So you'll take it then?" she asked, her eyes softening a little and a hint of a smile appearing at the corners of her mouth.

"Yes, of course," I replied without hesitation.

"You realise that there will be no changing your mind?" she said, "If you find you don't like the room you won't be given another one in this Hall, not even a shared room, and if you move out you will still have to pay the fees for the rest of the term."

Although her words were stern, her tone was not. As I nodded my understanding and acceptance of her terms I felt that  not only had we achieved a mutually satisfying agreement but that I had passed some sort of test.

"As you no doubt gathered," she said with a slight smile as she handed me the room key, "this room is a long way from the main entrance, which may be inconvenient, especially when you're moving your belongings in. So if you come back with me to my office I'll let you have a key to the rear entrance."

"Rear entrance?" I asked?

"Yes, didn't you see the door marked 'Fire Exit' just before we got to your room? It's used by the kitchen and cleaning staff. You will be the only student with a key to that door and I'm trusting you not to abuse this privilege. Under no circumstances are you to make a copy of that key and you should never lend it to anyone. Do I make myself clear, Mr Kaye?"

"Yes, of course," I said solemnly, nodding my head.

>From then on the Bursar and I had an excellent relationship. Although of course we were never friends and never shared any personal information there was always a feeling of mutual respect. Sometimes, on very rare and very special occasions when no one else could see, I even saw her smile in my direction.

For the next three years that room was to have a profound effect on my life and my lifestyle. The location isolated me somewhat from the other students and so although my relationship with my fellow residents was friendly when I saw them in the dining room and common room, I never made any close friends in Hall. In fact very few of my acquaintances in Hall even knew that my room existed and even fewer ever came to see me there.

That physical isolation also gave me much more privacy even than those with the more usual single rooms. Also, it didn't take me long to realise that with my key to the rear entrance I could even have visitors without them having to go past the porter's room. On a more trivial note, I also learned to enjoy taking long slow baths. Technically anyone could use the nearby bathroom and toilet, but they were so far off the beaten track that they were never used even by the few students who knew they existed. So in effect they were my own private facilities and I rarely ventured to the showers upstairs.


The first week at university was so busy and hectic that I didn't have time to be lonely, bored or homesick. However, on the first weekend, sitting alone in that big room all on my own, the homesickness suddenly hit me. I couldn't concentrate on any studying and after a brief visit to the Hall common room I realised that I felt equally lonely being in a room with total strangers, all of whom seemed to be there with friends. Exploring the city distracted me for awhile and phone calls from Frank or my mum brightened things up a little, but overall that weekend was miserable for me.

One part of my explorations led me from the city centre down the steeply sloping streets toward the wide navigable river that formed the southern boundary of the city. It was late on the Sunday afternoon and despite the thin autumn sunshine it was quite cold so the post-industrial riverside was almost deserted. For some time I leaned on the railings and stared in melancholy fascination at the broken reflections that sparkled on the slowly moving dark water. Then, as daylight began to fade into early evening gloom and the street lights began to glow, I heard voices behind me and idly turned my head to look at the source of the sounds.

Two young men, probably in their early twenties, were walking along the otherwise deserted riverside. They were similar in appearance, both being of average height and having short dark brown hair. Although they were too far away for me to make out the words I could tell from the tone of their voices that they were happily engaged in some light-hearted conversation.  The way they talked, their closeness to one another and their body language, all indicated that they were good friends. Despite the fact that in all respects they were very ordinary, for some reason they held my attention as their progress along the riverside took them away from me. Then I noticed that they were holding hands.

At first I thought I was imagining it and that the fading light was playing tricks on my eyes, especially as I was certain that they had not been doing it when they had passed by me a few seconds earlier. Now, however, as I studied them more closely there was no doubt that they were indeed holding hands. I was quite shocked, not by what they were doing but by where they were doing it. After all, although I was the only other person in sight, this was a public place. Then, without thinking, I began to follow them.

After I realised what I was doing I still continued to follow them, though I dropped back so that they wouldn't notice me. Probably I need not have bothered trying to be so careful because they never looked behind them and indeed seemed oblivious to anything or anyone apart from themselves. After walking a couple of hundred yards they disappeared from view as they turned left into a street that was at right angles to the river. Cautiously I approached the corner and then, trying to appear as if I were just casually passing by, I looked into the well-lit street.

There was no sign of the two young men but despite the fact that it was only a relatively short street there were lots of doors through which they might have disappeared. On both sides of the street light spilled from doorways and widows, and neon signs indicated the presence of several bars. I guessed it was still rather early for most people to be out drinking so I wasn't too surprised that there was no one in sight. For a few seconds I hesitated, standing there at the corner and wondering what to do.

A man came out of one doorway about a dozen yards from me. Although he crossed the street and then walked away from me without once looking in my direction, I felt uncomfortable hovering at that street corner, and in any case it occurred to me that I should be getting back to Hall for my evening meal. It appeared that the street led in the right general direction to take me back to the city centre so I decided to go that way. As I walked up the slight slope I glanced into the doorways and windows, and it wasn't just the occasional small rainbow symbols that made me quickly realise that I'd stumbled upon some of the city's gay bars.

Even now, years later, I can't satisfactorily analyse or really understand the complex mixture of emotions engendered by that realisation. I do know, however, that the emotions made me feel breathless and caused my heart to pound and my feet to speed up. Certainly a large part of the mixture was fear, though that was mainly a fear of being seen on the street rather than a fear of the people in the bars. After all, by that time I had admitted to myself that I was indeed gay, although I would never have admitted it to anyone else, not even Frank. Partly buried beneath the fear there was also an feeling of elation and an excitement that was only partly sexual .

By the time I got to the far end of the street I was walking so fast that it was almost breaking into a run. However, I slowed down enough to make a quick mental note to myself:  Quay Street.


As far as I could tell, I managed to hide my home-sickness from my mum but Frank quickly noticed it and said he'd come to visit the following weekend. True to his word he arrived in his newly-acquired car late the following Friday evening. We had a great weekend of sex, sightseeing, sex, long talks and more sex, but when he left on the Sunday evening I felt even more miserable than I had the previous weekend. However, over the course of the next couple of weeks I settled in, got used to my new life and for most of the time didn't think much about home, although I did often think about Frank, especially when I went to bed.

On the fourth weekend of term, with bags packed full of dirty laundry, I took the train home. Although Frank and I spent quite a bit of time together, our families made it hard to be alone. The only private quality time we managed to get was a couple of hours in his car, parked up in a very quiet place close to our favourite camping spot next to the old quarry. After a brief, furtive, cramped but very enjoyable session of oral fun, Frank made an announcement.

"I'm going to try out for the college rugby team next week," he said.

This was mildly interesting but its significance didn't occur to me until, after a brief pause, he added something else.

"But don't worry," he said, "it shouldn't interfere with our weekends together."

"You mean it might?" I asked, beginning to feel a twinge of concern.

"Well, you know I'll always give priority to time with you, but if I'm picked for the team I can't let them down."

"Oh," I said.

That simple sound, not even a word, was filled with an emotional content that even I couldn't disentangle, so I'm not sure what it conveyed to Frank. However, it must have conveyed something because he frowned slightly and when he spoke his voice echoed a little of my own concern.

"You know I miss you when you're away," he said, " and I'll do anything I can so we can be together."

"I miss you too," I responded quietly and slightly defensively.

My words were sincere but somehow I felt ashamed of saying it, almost as if I'd admitted to a weakness or infirmity.

"Even though you still don't love me..." he said, the smile on his lips contradicting the sadness in his tone.

I knew that in his mind the sentence probably ended with 'like I love you', but he didn't actually say the words. In any case I didn't respond, mainly because I didn't know what to say. In truth, I didn't really understand my own feelings. He was my best friend and we shared intimacies that we shared with no one else. I did miss him when I was away, even more than I missed my family, and what I missed wasn't just sex. I felt a mild possessive jealousy that he would be getting more involved in rugby, an interest that I didn't share.

Without doubt he was the single most important person in my life, but how could I tell him all that and yet still admit that I wasn't in love with him?  How could I hurt him further by telling him that my feelings for him were not the same as the burning, all-consuming love I'd felt for Simon?  So I remained silent.


It was the middle of term by the time Frank tried out for the college rugby team and the first team had already had played successfully together, so he'd only been accepted into the second team. As games were mostly on Wednesday afternoons it was easy for him to arrange his visits to me so that they didn't conflict with the occasional weekend fixtures. Because of the location and privacy of my room and because we never went to the Hall bar or common room I was sure that no one knew I had such a frequent weekend visitor. Even if anyone noticed no one ever commented on it.

The rest of that first term at university went by quickly, and Frank visited me for two more weekends but I didn't go home again until the Christmas break. Family commitments didn't allow much private time for Frank and me during my time at home, and that served to emphasise how much better it was when Frank spent the weekends with me at university. So we resolved that he should visit me as often as possible and the following term we managed to get together about two weekends per month.

I was enjoying my studies and all was going well for both of us, though  Frank wasn't enjoying his studies quite so much. However, he was confident that the was doing well enough to be able to join me in Linchester the following September. So as Easter approached my life was going very well and I was content. I was especially looking forward to the upcoming holiday because Frank and I had planned to get away from our families for a week or so by going on a camping trip. Our main motive was to give us some extended 'quality time' together. However, besides that, and contrary to what I would have predicted a couple of years previously, I'd actually grown to enjoy living simply in the open air of the countryside.

On the Saturday afternoon of the weekend before the end of term, Frank phoned me. Although I was pleased to hear his voice and glad to have an excuse to take a break from my studies, I hadn't been expecting his call until the evening.

"Hi Frank," I said, responding to his greeting, "Is everything okay?"

"Okay?" he responded, obviously surprised by my question, "Why shouldn't it be okay?"

"No reason... except I thought you said you were watching some rugby this afternoon and that you were going to phone this evening."

"Oh, right," he said, "the game finished about an hour ago."

"How was it?" I asked, trying to show an interest in something that I knew was important to him.

"Great!" he said enthusiastically, "It was a tough match but we won."

"We?" I asked, unable to remember which team he'd gone to watch.

"Our first team. Remember, I told you that if they won this game they'd have a place in the Easter tournament?"

"Ah, yes!" I said, beginning to remember and feeling a little guilty that I'd forgotten, "The tournament is in Scotland, isn't it?"

"Yes," he responded brightly, probably pleased that I hadn't totally forgotten, "This will be the first time the college has ever got into the tournament."

"Yeah, I remember now that you told me that. Sorry," I apologised, then trying to excuse myself with a joke I added, "Reading all these chemistry text books rots the brain!"

"Ha!" he said teasingly, "Serves you right. You should have chosen a more interesting subject at uni... like history!"

"Yuch!" I responded and chuckled.

At that point I half expecting that it might spark off one of our good-humoured arts-versus-sciences discussions. However, he didn't respond and there was a long pause before he spoke.

"Er, Ian," he said hesitantly, "I have some bad news, some good news and some more bad news... which do you want first?"

>From the way he spoke it was clear that he was trying to make a joke out of something serious that he wanted to talk about. Usually the only topic that we avoided was our feelings for one another, so his obvious reluctance now to mention directly whatever was on his mind made me a little nervous.

"Why don't you just give them to me in chronological order?" I suggested, trying to hide my concern.

"Okay then," he said, and I heard him take a deep breath before going on, "Adam, one of our best players, broke his leg."

"Right" I said when he didn't immediately continue, "That's obviously one of the bits of bad news. What's next?'

"Well, obviously Adam won't be able to take part in the tournament and one of the reserves will have to play instead."

"And that's good news?" I interrupted doubtfully.

"No, don't be silly!" he replied with mild irritation, then in a much happier tone he added, "The good news is that they asked me to go along as a reserve for the first team!"

"A sort of reserve for the reserve," I joked, then realising that it might be interpreted as belittling his promotion, I quickly added, "Congratulations! I'm proud of you!  I bet it won't be long before you'll be a starting player on the first team."

"Thanks," he said, then for several seconds he was silent.

"And I suppose we now have some more bad news?" I prompted.

"Ah, erm, yes," he said reluctantly.

"Which is?" I prompted again.

"I'm going to be away on the tournament for most of the holidays."

He waited in silence while I absorbed that information.

"But we'll still fit in our camping trip, won't we?"

"There won't be time... I'm sorry," he said sincerely.

Obviously I was very disappointed but I'm ashamed to admit that there were some darker aspects to the complex mixture of emotions that swept through me. At the time I had neither the opportunity nor inclination to analyse my feelings, but in retrospect I now realise that one of the strongest emotions was anger, caused mainly by my injured pride.

"B-but you said that being with me would have priority over playing rugby!" I protested, sounding like a petulant child even to my own ears.

"I'm sorry," he said defensively, then with a slight annoyance, probably elicited by my own aggressive tone he continued, "We can go camping another time but the tournament is a one-off and a first for the college."

"But you'll just be a reserve," I said, "You may not even get to play so they won't even need you."

"Actually, I will probably get to play even if there are no injuries. It's a long tournament and the coach might need to rest some of the players."

There was a long silence, partly because I couldn't think of anything to say to change his mind and partly because I was afraid of what I might say if I didn't suppress my anger and resentment.

"Anyway," he said eventually, "I can come to visit you for a long weekend after Easter, and Spring is almost here so we'll have lots of chances to go camping."

Still I remained silent and I heard him sigh.

"The team really needs me," he said gently, then with a hint of sadness he added, "and you don't, do you?"

Again there was a long silence. I was gagged by my emotions and was unable to answer that apparently simple question, presuming that it was indeed intended as a real question.

"Well," he said, seeming a little dejected, "I'd better go now. I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Okay," I agreed, my response barely audible even to myself.

Then I hung up.

Although at the time I wasn't calm enough to consider things rationally, at various times over the following days, weeks and months I did think carefully about that conversation. Should I have said that I needed him, and if I did, would it have been truthful? Even if I did need him, could I have allowed myself to admit it? Would he still have gone off to play rugby if I'd said that I did need him? If so, that surely would have made things even worse. On the other hand, if he hadn't gone how would we both have ended up feeling about me keeping him from that one-off opportunity? I suppose that I'll never know the answers to those questions.


Because Frank had said that he'd talk to me later I had thought that he was going to phone me later that night, but when he hadn't done so by midnight I started getting ready for bed. However, although I was no longer expecting his call, my emotional state made it impossible to sleep. I was surprised and a little disturbed by the fact that I was so agitated. He had merely postponed our camping trip, so why was I feeling irritation, even anger, as well as the expected disappointment? As I lay in bed unable to sleep, my restless mind kept returning to that question.

Eventually I began to understand what was really upsetting me. Frank's decision to go on the rugby trip instead of camping with me indicated that maybe he no longer loved me as much as he had done. Maybe I was no longer as important to him as I used to be. That hurt me because I'd grown accustomed to being the centre of his life. Being loved by him had made me feel good about myself and had given me a sense of security. Now it seemed that I might be losing something important that I'd previously just taken for granted.

My emotional self raged. How dare he deprive me of his love and break his promise that I would always be the most important thing in his life? My more rational self reflected that Frank owed me nothing. I'd never returned his love and hardly ever even told him how important he was to me, so it would be unreasonable to expect his feelings for me to remain the same forever. Despite the arguments of reason my emotional response, like that of a spoiled child, was that I wanted love, he'd promised me love forever and now it seemed he was breaking that promise.

Eventually, just as dawn was breaking, I fell asleep and didn't awake properly until after ten o'clock, by which time I'd missed breakfast and so had to make do with just a cup of tea. Thus, tired and hungry, I was not in the best of moods when Frank phoned me at about an hour later.

"I thought you were going to phone me last night," I said irritably by way of greeting.

"I just said 'later'. I didn't say it would be last night," he replied defensively, "Anyway, you seemed so annoyed yesterday and I'd hoped you'd be in a better mood today."

Although he didn't say so in words it was clear from his tone that he now realised that his hope had been in vain.

"I didn't sleep well and ended up missing breakfast," I said, "You know what I'm like in the morning before I've had something to eat."

That explanation for my bad humour was the nearest I could get to apologising for the way I'd greeted him.

"Yes, I know that. That's why I didn't phone earlier," he said with good humour, "Didn't you even have a choccy biscuit or something? I thought you always kept some in your room."

"Not at the moment," I said, relieved that he'd accepted my not-quite-apology, "I ate the last one from the pack last night."

"Anyway," he said, "I've been thinking that not only will we have a long weekend camping after Easter, but as I don't have to leave on the rugby trip until Sunday we can pitch the tent at the old quarry on Saturday and have Saturday night together. And if you can get back early enough on Friday maybe we can even go to the quarry on Friday evening and we can have two nights together. What do you think?"

Actually, it seemed like a great idea, but before I could agree some perverse demon took possession of me.

"Sorry," I said, "but I can't manage to meet up this weekend. I got behind in my course work and I have to get it finished and handed in by Saturday lunch time, so I won't be able to get home until late on Saturday."

Even as I spoke the rational part of me was listening in shock and horror as I told this lie. However, my voice was under the control of an apparently self-destructive emotional demon and I was cutting off my nose to spite my face. Hearing myself say those things was as horrifying as helplessly watching a car crash, but in this case it was made worse by the fact that I was the driver and I could have prevented it if only I hadn't been paralysed.

"Oh," he said, that single syllable expressing deep sadness and disappointment, though it didn't indicate whether or not he believed my lie.

We carried on talking in a desultory manner for a couple of minutes after that, but it was clear that neither of us had much interest in what we were saying. Making the excuse that I desperately needed to get some food, I brought the conversation to an end and hung up. Instead of going to eat I just sat on my bed for almost an hour, shocked and unable to believe that I'd just rejected the chance of a day and two nights of pleasure with Frank. I was too dispirited even to bother kicking myself.


For the rest of that week Frank and I continued to exchange phone calls, and of course during any of those conversations I could have said that I'd managed to finish my course work and would now be able to be with him before he went away. Indeed, several times I came close to doing that, but each time a perverse pride prevented me. Our conversations were pleasant and friendly but there seemed to be something missing. A special spark had gone and although I tried to blame it on Frank's choice of rugby instead of me, deep down I knew that it was mostly my fault. So I determined that when he returned from Scotland after Easter I would do my best to try to rekindle that spark.

As the weekend approached the realisation dawned on me that not only had I deprived myself of a couple of nights with Frank, I'd also condemned myself to a boring and lonely weekend. By Saturday morning the residence would be virtually empty and my few friends at university would have gone home. In order to be consistent and just in case Frank happened to speak to my family about it, I had repeated the lie about course work to my mother so I couldn't go home until late on Saturday night at the earliest. 

While I was eating in the almost deserted dining hall on Friday evening I thought about going for another look at Quay Street. Of course, I told myself, even if I did go I wouldn't actually go into any of the pubs or bars, I'd just walk along the street.

That was by no means the first time that thought had occurred to me since I'd first discovered the place, but each time previously the idea had been quickly dismissed. I'd given myself many plausible reasons for that rapid dismissal, but always the real reason was suppressed. In truth I was afraid. This was not merely the fear of the unknown but also the fear that by going to such a place I would be admitting publicly something that up to now I had not openly admitted even to Frank. I really was gay. 

This time, instead of instantly dismissing the idea of going to Quay Street, I gave the idea some real consideration. Returning to my room along the echoing empty corridors I almost decided to go then quickly changed my mind, then changed my mind again a couple more times. This mental uncertainty was reflected by a hesitancy in my footsteps so it was fortunate that no one was around to notice my odd progression. Perhaps strangely, when I reached my room I found myself getting ready to go out, even though I'd made no definite decision to do so.

When I arrived at Quay Street just after eight o'clock the sky was almost dark but the street itself was brightly lit, not just by the public lighting but also by the multi-coloured neon signs over the doorways and in the windows. For a few minutes I stood at the top of the street looking down the slight slope toward the river. During that time I saw at least a dozen people, almost exclusively males and mostly in small groups, walking along the street or going from one bar to another. One group of four people, three men and a woman all in their twenties, walked past me. They were just a couple of yards away and from the way they interacted with one another they appeared to be a gay couple and a heterosexual couple.

Everyone I saw on the street seemed happy, or at least content, and no one looked as self-conscious as I felt. This was obviously the sort of area where gay people were, as the saying goes, 'out and proud'. Instead of making me more comfortable this easy-going atmosphere just made me feel even more like an outsider. I turned on my heel and headed away from Quay Street, back uphill toward the main part of the city centre. However, as if drawn off course by a powerful magnet, I found myself walking round the block and along the riverside until eventually I again reached Quay Street, this time looking uphill and away from the river.

Again I stood and just observed the scene, this time paying more attention to the buildings rather than the people. On the corner nearest to me was a traditional-style two storey pub built mainly with red bricks but with the lower half of the lower storey covered with glazed yellow-beige tiles. Above the rather grand main entrance, which made me suspect that the building might once have been a Victorian gin palace, there was a more modern sign, proclaiming it to be 'The Phoenix'.

The rest of the tall, terraced red-brick buildings in the street had probably been warehouses for many years before the lower floors had been converted into modern bars, cafes and shops. Of course at that time of night all the shops and two of the three cafes were closed, the shuttered darkness of the closed buildings emphasising the brash lights of the bars. On the corner across the street from the pub was a large, well-lit modern-style doorway. However, the doorway appeared to be firmly closed and there were no windows on the ground floor. Instead, on the black walls there were large red and white letters spelling out the word 'Storm'.

By this time it was about nine o'clock and the number of people in the street had increased noticeably. Some of the passers-by noticed me standing in the shadows and cast curious glances in my direction. Although no one showed any hint of acknowledging my presence I grew acutely uncomfortable and decided to head off up the street and back to Hall..

Despite my initially rapid pace I noticed that two of the apparently closed properties that I passed had dimly-lit doorways, above the closest of which I could just make out the words 'The Eagle' painted in a red gothic script. As I slowed a little to read the sign a large man emerged, startling me so much that it was only after he'd almost disappeared from view that my consciousness registered that he'd been dressed all in leathers, just like a motorcyclist. However, he was neither wearing nor carrying a protective helmet, but instead had been wearing a peaked leather cap.

After increasing my pace again I was quickly approaching the top of the street when I saw a group of five young men turn the corner and start heading toward me. As I moved toward the middle of the street to avoid them I noticed that one of the men stood out from the rest not just because he was the tallest, I guessed at least 6'6", but also because the others all seemed to have their attention fixed on him. I had the impression that they were accompanying him, almost as if they were a royal retinue, and rather bizarrely, I suddenly had a mental image of a school of pilot fish circling a shark.

That mental image was quickly shattered when I noticed that another member of the group, a stocky boyish red-head, was talking excitedly. Although I couldn't make out his words I had the impression that he was trying to impress the tall man, who seemed to be mildly amused but not at all impressed. The others, apparently taking their cue from him, seemed to be ignoring the red-head.

They rapidly drew nearer but showed no signs of noticing me, so as they passed close to a street light I became bold enough to look more closely at the man who was apparently the centre of the group's attention. He was very slim, which emphasised his height, and appeared to be in his mid twenties, with short, curly dark hair and aristocratic high cheek bones. Even though the lighting was far from ideal I could tell that, in contrast to the pale-skinned red-head, he had a darker, almost Mediterranean complexion. He was undoubtedly handsome and well-dresses but at first glance there appeared to be a couple of others in the group who were in my opinion just as attractive.

If any of the party had noticed my presence at all they simply ignored me even when I was passing them with just a couple of yards between us. Then, as if he'd felt my gaze on him, the tall one glanced fleetingly in my direction. He didn't really look at me and indeed he seemed to look right through me before quickly turning his gaze away. However, in that brief moment I saw his eyes for the first time and the contrast of the amazingly pale irises against the dark complexion was almost shocking.

Suddenly I realised that the entourage had passed me by and I was standing immobile and feeling breathless. I turned my head just in time to see them disappear through the doorway of a nearby bar, whose name I almost subconsciously noted was 'Barons'.

That night as I lay in bed I couldn't stop thinking about my brief encounter with the tall young man to whom I had, for lack of any other name, mentally given the label TDH. Tall, Dark and Handsome. Especially, I couldn't rid my mind of the image of those eyes, pale grey with a hint of ice-blue, which had seemed to glow in the darkness. Although he fascinated me, at first my thoughts of him were not particularly erotic. However, as the night wore on and sleep refused to come to me, he began to take a prominent role in my masturbation fantasies.


The next day, Saturday, the daylight hours passed with a slowness that made it seem like the longest day of my life. When I had no studying to do I was very rarely bored and I could almost always find something interesting to do, even if it was just watching TV, reading a novel or playing on my computer. However, that day none of my usual activities could hold my attention for more than a few minutes. No matter what I tried to do  I was quickly distracted by thoughts of TDH and my intention to return to Quay Street that night in the hopes of seeing him again.

That intention just appeared in my mind without any conscious decision-making process. It was just there, fully-formed in my head that morning when I woke up from my fitful sleep. There was no plan and no goal involved. When I attempted to consider it rationally it was clear that there was little chance of seeing him again and there was no hope that there would be any interaction between us even if I did see him. So, like a moth drawn toward the candle flame, that night I found myself again walking down Quay Street.

It was only when I found myself outside the door of Barons that I realised how foolish I was being, and at that moment my previous nervousness turned to stomach-wrenching fear. Before leaving Hall I'd made great efforts to ensure I was looking my best, showering, shaving and spending much more time than usual choosing what clothes to wear. Now, paradoxically, the thing I wanted most in the world was not to been seen by anyone at all.

Just as I was about to turn and flee a large group of people came up behind me with the obvious intention of entering the bar. Therefore, in order to follow my intention to flee I'd have had to pass through the group like a salmon swimming upstream. I moved to the edge of the doorway and tried to make myself as small as possible , but I was still causing an obstruction. Thus I had no choice but to allow the tide of people to sweep me inside. Once through the doorway the group, all of whom had completely ignored me, headed for the bar, leaving me standing alone.

I found myself in a large open space and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible by staying close to the door. At that relatively early part of the evening there were not many people about so I felt rather exposed, though if anyone noticed me they didn't show any signs of it. As I began to relax a little I looked around and it became evident that the style of the bar was intended to give the impression of a mediaeval hall. I supposed that this decor, including the pseudo-heraldic devices on the walls, was intended to relate to the name of the establishment.

The room was lit well, though not brightly, by several lights which were placed all around the wooden walls as well as suspended in crude wooden chandeliers from the wooden ceiling. In the far right hand corner of the room was an L-shaped bar, at the left corner was a set of stairs going up to a balcony area, and around the room were alcoves with tables and benches. Almost everything appeared to be made of wood, though I wasn't at all sure that much of it was actually real wood. 

As I was already in the establishment I decided that I might as well get myself a drink, so I went to the bar and ordered a chilled Guinness. Then I went and sat in an empty alcove, choosing a position from which I could observe both the bar and the entrance. There I remained for over an hour as the room gradually became busier. During that time many people entered and left the bar but none of them was the one I thought of as TDH.

By the time I'd finished my drink the room was getting quite crowded, mainly with males aged in their twenties and thirties, though there were a few women as well as some older men. There was also a handful of young males who appeared to be hardly old enough to be drinking in a bar. Although I wasn't really surprised that I hadn't seen TDH, I was disappointed and rather than order another drink at the now busy bar, I decided to leave.

Maybe the alcohol and my time in Barons had given me a little self confidence, but instead of going straight home I decided to look into some of the other bars, just in case TDH was there. Of course I had no idea what I'd do if I did see him. I certainly wouldn't have the courage to talk to him, but I just wanted to see him again, if only to add more fuel to my fantasies. In any case, I walked a few yards down the street and looked into another bar called Sparkles, which was all glass and chrome and full of young guys, many of whom seemed rather camp. The music was also rather loud so I didn't stay long enough to buy a drink.

Having previously seen the man leaving the Eagle I decided that it was an unlikely place to find TDH and so didn't go inside. Instead I went to the bottom of the street and entered The Phoenix, the imposing Victorian pub. When I got inside I saw that it was laid out like many traditional pubs with different bars in different rooms. The furniture was polished wood, the chairs were padded leather and there was a lot of polished brass and stained glass. The Snug was especially luxurious and there was absolutely no doubt that throughout the whole pub all the wood was real.

The place was about half full with a much quieter and more relaxed atmosphere than either Barons or Sparkles. Although much grander than other pubs I'd been into, it had a familiar feel to it, so I felt comfortable enough to get myself a drink and find myself a small table in the corner of the main bar. It didn't take me long to realise that the average age of the clientele was greater than in Barons and that there appeared to be fewer groups and more singles.

Further observation indicated that those sitting at the bar seemed to be mostly older singles. However, I noted that although they didn't engage in conversation many of them often acknowledged a new arrival with a nod or a brief word of greeting. Thus I concluded that many of them were possibly regulars who for some reason apparently just wanted to sit and drink alone.

Suddenly, the words of a Pet Shop Boys song, "To Speak Is A Sin" came into my head and the longer I observed those at the bar the more those words seemed very appropriate.

"We've been around forever
Look at us now together
Ordering drinks at the bar

Saying hello to menfriends
Smiling across at friend's friends
Ordering drinks at the bar

To speak is a sin
You look first, then stare
And once in a while
A smile, if you dare"

Frank, who was a big fan of the Pet Shop Boys, had introduced me to their music and I'd often enjoyed listening to their songs with him. However, until my visit to The Phoenix I must admit that I'd never paid much attention to the meanings of the words. As it was to turn out, over the next few months I found that many of my experiences would have almost uncanny resonances with the lyrics of some of their songs.

Anyway, long before my drink was finished I realised that I was unlikely to see TDH in The Phoenix and so I decided to leave. As I left the pub I noticed that a trickle of people were now going into the now open door of Storm on the opposite corner of the street. It didn't take a genius to guess that Storm was a night-club, but I wasn't in the mood for clubbing and so went straight back to Hall.


Author's Note:

If you enjoy this story you might like to take a look at my other stories,
 "Tapping" (nifty/gay/highschool/tapping/)
 "Not Always Easy" (nifty/gay/highschool/not-always-easy/)
 "Just Visiting"  (nifty/gay/college/just-visiting.html)
 "The Road Not Taken" (nifty/gay/highschool/the-road-not-taken.html)
 "Timing" (nifty/gay/college/timing.html) .