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 9

Although the satisfaction of our sexual appetites was the basic reason for our meetings we didn't spend all our time together having sex, nor did we jump into bed as soon as he entered my room. After we'd had a dozen or so meetings there wasn't such a sense of urgency and we became more relaxed, knowing that it would only be a day or two until we met again. The quality and excitement of our sexual activity did not deteriorate with time, though on rare occasions we had enough energy for only one brief session, even when he was staying overnight. 

Matt would sometimes arrive while I was still writing up lecture notes or doing course work and he would then wait, not always patiently, for me to finish. Occasionally, usually when one or both of us had a tough day, we would have a drink and slowly unwind before getting down to business. On one such occasion he arrived bearing a bottle of wine, the contents of which we drank as we lounged, fully clothed, on my bed.

Usually when he arrived I was listening to music, though I always turned it off before we started getting physically intimate because I found that background music spoiled my enjoyment of sex. In any case, Matt did not share my tastes in music and soon after we first met he searched my small collection of CDs, trying in vain to find something he wanted to listen to.

"Why do you have so much old music?" he asked, not even trying to hide his displeasure, "It's mostly classical stuff like Beethoven or lots of retro stuff like Pet Shop Boys. You should get up to date and start listening to music composed this century."

"Just because something was composed a long time ago," I countered archly, "doesn't mean it's out of date. In fact if it's lasted so long then it must be good."

Despite my efforts on several occasions to educate his musical palate he never got to enjoy any of my favourite pieces of music, or if he did enjoy any of them he didn't admit it. Shortly after Matt told me about Harry I confided in him that many Pet Shop Boys songs seemed to reflect certain experiences in my life. On a couple of occasions after that he asked me to play those particular tracks while I explained their significance. He listened with interest to my commentary and he must have enjoyed at least some of their music because he occasionally borrowed one of their CDs. 

We sometimes discussed movies and it turned out that was one area in which there was a considerable overlap in our tastes. One evening, about six weeks after our first meeting, he asked me if I liked the Harry Potter movies.

"Well, it's good, entertaining escapism," I said, then with a sly grin I added, "And I rather fancy the Scottish actor... ya know, the one who plays the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team."

"Hey, hands off!" Matt responded, "He's mine."

"Mmm, I s'pose we could fight for him or..." I said, then paused for dramatic effect before continuing, "have a kinky threesome!"

"I thought you were too prudish for kinky stuff," he said mockingly.

"You've corrupted me," I replied, trying unsuccessfully to appear serious.

"Yeah, but you enjoyed it, didn't you?"

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," I said coyly, then added, "Anyway, why did you ask if I like Harry Potter movies?"

"Oh," he said, remembering how the conversation had started, "The latest one's been out for a couple of months but I've not seen it yet and I wondered if you wanted to go to see it with me."

"Are you paying?" I asked flippantly.

My question was intended just to wind him up so I was surprised that he took it seriously.

"Yes, okay," he said, "I hate going to movies alone."

The following Sunday afternoon he drove us to the big multiscreen cinema on the edge of the city and paid for our tickets while I bought us some snacks. Afterwards, as we were making our way across the car park and chatting about what we'd seen, the happy atmosphere was ruined. Matt put his arm over my shoulder and I immediately pulled away.

"What the fuck are you doing?!" I hissed.

Panicking, I looked around to see if anyone had seen us. Fortunately, it was getting dark and although there were a lot of people around, none were particularly close and none appeared to be looking in our direction.

"What's the matter?" Matt asked.

From the expression on his face it was clear that he was puzzled and a little hurt, and I immediately realised that I'd overreacted. However, instead of calming down and behaving more rationally I grew angry at him for triggering my panic. Then, perversely and even more irrationally, my overreaction increased, as if in some way that escalation might justify my first response.

"Touching me like that in public," I replied quietly so that only he could hear, "What if someone saw you?"

"They'd see one friend putting his arm round another friend," he said simply.

He looked at me as if he thought I'd gone crazy, and if he did hold that opinion it was probably not totally unjustified, because at that moment I actually felt as if I were two different people. A small rational part of my mind helplessly watched in horror, like a bystander watching as car crash, as my emotions took control.

"They'd see two queers," I said angrily, "Do you want to be queer-bashed? Is that one of your many kinks?"

The expression on his face quickly went from disbelief to anger.

"Don't be so fucking stupid, Ian," he growled, "Friends, even straight friends, do that sort of thing all the time. You're not just a prude, you're a paranoid prude."

"Never mind what I am. Let's just get out of here," I said, and stormed off toward his car.

By the time I got there he'd caught up. He unlocked the doors, we got in and we drove off, all without saying a word. During the twenty minutes or so that it took us to get back to Hall the silence was maintained, and as my emotions calmed down I began to feel a little foolish. Although I still believed that Matt's action in the car park had been stupid and potentially dangerous, I also realised that my reaction was unwarranted and that I should have handled the situation much better.

When we reached our destination he didn't park the car but just stopped outside the entrance and left the engine running. The original plan had been that we'd grab a pizza, take it back to my room and spend the night together, but it was clear to me that in Matt's mind that plan had changed. He was a much better sex buddy than I'd ever hoped for and I was afraid that I might lose him. Although I didn't think I could bring myself to actually apologise, I realised that I needed to build bridges.

"I thought we were going to get pizza," I said, just to get things started.

At first he didn't respond, his gaze remained fixed forward and for several seconds his only movement was the clenching and unclenching of his grip on the steering wheel. Eventually he spoke, quietly but with an angry tone, and he still didn't look at me.

"I didn't think that you'd want to eat with a kinky pervert," he said.

"Look," I said soothingly, "I know that I overreacted and said things that I shouldn't have done. I didn't really mean what I said and I'm sorry that I hurt your feelings."

That apology, though small and only partial, was much easier to make than I'd expected it to be, and it was also totally genuine.

"Then why did you say it?" he said, looking at me for the first time since we'd got into the car.

"I was scared and I panicked," I said, simply stating what I thought would have been obvious to him.

"But why?" he asked, "I thought we were friends, so why did you behave like that when I was just being friendly?"

"To be honest, I'm not sure that I can answer that properly because I guess it's not really logical," I said, then sighed and continued, "If you want I'll try to explain, but sitting here in a car isn't a good place for that. Let's get a pizza and some beers and then eat and drink in my room while we talk about it."

"Okay," he said, somewhat mollified.

When we eventually got back to my room we were both feeling less emotional, and as we ate and drank I tried to explain to him why his public display of affection had scared me so much. As I knew it wasn't totally rational and as I didn't completely understand it myself, that explanation was really more like a listing of certain events in my life. So I told him about how I felt when Simon said my feelings were queer, about his queer-bashing brother and about my encounter with the homophobic engineers.

From his comments during my exposition and the way he looked at me when I'd finished it was clear to me that he didn't agree with my feelings, though he now partially understood them and had some sympathy for me.

"You can't spend the rest of your life being terrified of people finding out that you're gay," he said, "Things are better now than they used to be, society is more accepting, there are lots of famous people who are openly gay and you can't turn on the TV without seeing some gay character."

"Yes, I know all that," I said, a little irritated at the way he seemed to be lecturing me, "I never said it was totally rational. But people still get queer-bashed in real life and even on TV. And it's not just the risk of being beaten up, there's all sorts of ways people can make life a misery. I just feel safer and more comfortable if most people don't know about me."

"Not even your family?" he asked, "surely you don't think they'll make your life a misery ?"

"Probably not. But I'd rather they didn't find out until I tell them. And I'll wait until I'm not so dependant on them before I do tell them."

Matt sighed and shrugged his shoulders.

"Okay, suit yourself," he said, "Personally, I think you're screwed up, but at least now I think I understand why you're screwed up."


About a week before the end of term I woke up one morning with a sore throat. At first it was quite mild and when I thought of it at all I surmised it might be related to Matt's visit the previous evening. We'd been together from just after eight o'clock until he left a little before midnight and for part of that time I'd been trying to deep-throat him. He was very skilled with that technique but even after several lessons from him I still couldn't quite manage it.

During the course of the morning, however, not only did the soreness in my throat get worse but I also developed a headache and a fever. A little after noon, by which time my nose was dripping like a tap, I decided to miss the rest of my classes and go back to my room to lie down for awhile. After taking some paracetamol I spent a miserable couple of hours before I managed to doze off. Some time later I was awakened by my phone and saw that Matt was calling.

"Hello, Batt" I croaked, my nose now completely blocked.

"Are you okay?" he asked..

"Got a cold," I replied.

"I just called to say I'm on my way over to your place now."

My head was so throbbing and fuzzy that I'd completely forgotten the arrangement we'd made to meet up that evening.

"Better not," I said, "you don't want to catch my cold, and anyway I'm not in the mood for having fun just now."

"I think if I was going to catch it then I'll already have it," he said, "After all, less than twenty four hours ago we had our tongues down one another's throats!"

"Well hopefully you won't get it and I'll be better in a couple of days so we can get together then."

"Have you taken anything?"

"Just paracetamol."

"Nothing else?" he asked.

"Don't have anything else."

"Just a sec," he said, "I'll call you back in a minute."

He hung up and about five minutes later he called again.

"Sorry, took a bit longer than I thought," he said, "Have you eaten yet?"

"No, I'm not really hungry and in any case my throat is so sore I doubt that I could swallow anything."

"Okay," he said in a businesslike manner, "it will take me a bit longer than I thought. I'll be there in about an hour, or maybe a bit more."


Before I could say anything else he'd hung up, so I curled up in my duvet and waited for him to arrive. When he turned up about ninety minutes later he was carrying two large shopping bags. In one was a large box of tissues and an assortment of cold remedies, including decongestants and pastilles for sore throats. The other bag contained two large thermos flasks.

"Sorry I was so long," Matt said as he unpacked the contents of the bags onto my desk, "The soup took longer to defrost than I thought."

"Soup?" I asked, my voice rasping.

"You sound awful," he replied, ignoring my question, "Your throat must be really bad. Here, suck on one of these and hopefully you'll be able to enjoy the soup in a few minutes."

He handed me the pack of throat pastilles, which I noted contained a local anaesthetic as one of its ingredients.

"Soup?" I said as I removed a pastille from the pack.

"Mum's home made chicken soup. She always keeps a supply in the freezer just in case I get ill. Full of goodness, easy to eat, and great comfort food. Even if it doesn't actually make me better it always makes me feel better."

"Your mum must keep a large stock," I said, looking at the two large flasks.

"Only one is soup," Matt said, following the direction of my gaze, "The other is Mum's special home made lemon and honey drink."

"Erm, I don't like honey," I said, rather ungraciously.

"Well you can hardly taste the honey with all the other ingredients," he responded reassuringly, "It's very good for you, and in any case you should make sure you drink lots of fluids."

"Yes, nurse," I said, smiling despite my discomforts, "Thank you, nurse."

Somehow just the idea of someone caring enough to be there with me and to go to all this trouble for me was sufficient to make me feel better, regardless of efficacy of the cold remedies or the soup.

Although my sense of smell was considerably desensitised by the cold, I could smell the soup as soon as he opened the flask. Until I smelled that wonderful aroma I hadn't thought that I was hungry, but as soon as he poured some into a bowl I realised that I was ravenous. The soup was delicious and the lemon drink turned out to be much more pleasant that I expected. While I was propped up in bed eating and drinking, Matt sat on the edge of the bed looking at me benignly and obviously pleased that I was enjoying his gifts.

"Feeling a bit better?" he asked as I finished.

"Yes, thank you. Much better," I replied, my voice much smoother now, though still sounding rather nasal.

He took the empty bowl from me and went to rinse it in the sink.

"You look tired," he said when he returned to my bedside, "Would you like me to stay or do you think it would be better if I left you to get some sleep?"

"Yes, I'd like you to stay, but I think tonight I'd sleep better on my own," I said, suddenly feeling very fatigued. 

"Is there anything else I can do before I go?" he asked.

"No thanks," I replied with a smile, "But thanks very much for everything. I really appreciate it."

"My pleasure," he said.

Taking me by surprise, he leaned forward and kissed me gently on the forehead.

"Watch out," I said, concerned, "We don't want you catching my germs."

"Like I said," he replied with a grin, "It's too late to worry now. After last night either I've already caught them or I won't be catching them."

"Okay," I said, still a little concerned, "but call me tomorrow just to let me know how you are."

"Alright, but I'll be around tomorrow night with more soup and stuff."

"You mean I haven't already exhausted your supplies?"

"Well, there's not much left in the freezer but Mum had already started making more before I left to come here. Tomorrow I can bring you some that's freshly made."

"Oh," I said, feeling guilty that his Mum was going to so much trouble on my behalf, "So your mum knows about me and you?"

"Well I had to tell her when I wasn't going to be home or she'd be worried. All I told her was that you were my friend and that you were a student at the university. But she's not stupid and she'll know that we're not just holding hands when I stay with you overnight."

"And she's okay with it?" I asked.

"Yeah, she's fine. In fact it was her idea to make a fresh batch of soup for me to bring tomorrow."

"Oh, okay," I said, "Well tell your mum 'thank you' from me."

"I will," he replied, "you try to have a good night's rest and I'll see you tomorrow."

We said our farewells and he let himself out.

After three days my cold had completely gone, though it took a couple of days after that for my sinus to become completely clear. That was probably the quickest I'd ever recovered from a cold. Although a sample of one didn't constitute a real clinical trial, I was convinced that my speedy recovery was due in no small part to the soup and lemon drink made by Matt's mum.


After I'd recovered from my cold there were only three days left until term ended, and I had to get lecture notes for classes I'd missed, as well as catching up on course work. Thus Matt and I didn't have much time for fun together, but the quality of the sex we had partially made up for the lack of the quantity. However, by the end of the first week of the Easter vacation I was feeling very horny and from his text messages and phone calls it was clear that Matt felt the same.

The situation was made more difficult by the fact that I had very little privacy in the shared bedroom where I spent so much time studying. I was getting anxious because my final exams started only about six weeks after the beginning of the new term. During the second week of the vacation the pressure was piled on even further by something Matt said in one of our phone chats.

"Gawd," he said, "I'm dying for a shag!"

"Me too," I replied, "I wish I was with you now so I could give you a good seeing to."

"Promises, promises!" he said and gave a little laugh before continuing in a more serious tone, "But you're not here, are you, and you won't be back for almost three weeks."

"I guess we'll just have to wait," I said sadly.

"Maybe I can't," he replied after a brief pause, "Three weeks is a long time when you're as horny as I am. Maybe I should get in touch with one of the other guys who contacted me on the dating site."

Matt sounded serious, but he usually sounded serious when he was winding me up, so I wasn't sure whether or not he was just teasing me.

"You don't mean that," I said confidently, deciding to call his bluff, "You said you didn't really fancy any of the others."

"That's right, I didn't fancy them as much as you, but a couple of them were shaggable, and if I get really desperate I suppose it's a case of any port in a storm, a bird in the hand, and beggars can't be choosers."

"But you can't be that desperate yet," I said, not quite so confidently, "It's not even two weeks yet since we did it."

"It's almost two weeks with more than two weeks still to go," he said, "And over the past few months with you I've been got used to frequent shags, much more frequent and much better than I had with Harry."

My ego was boosted by his last comment, which was spoken in the same serious tones as the rest of what he'd just been saying. Then it occurred to me that if the compliment was serious, maybe he was also serious about finding someone for sex. On the other hand, maybe he didn't really mean it when he said sex with me was better than with Harry. Sometimes Matt's twisted humour could be very frustrating and I was started to become irritated. However, if he were indeed winding me up and I showed my irritation then he'd know that he'd won the little game.

"You said you weren't into one night stands," I countered in as neutral a tone as I could manage. 

"I'm not, but there'll be time to spend several nights with a guy before you get back," Matt said cheerfully, then after a brief pause he added, "And we didn't say that we'd be exclusive, did we?"

"Erm, no, but we never said that we wouldn't," I pointed out, "I just assumed we were... and I'm not going to be seeing anyone else."

"But living with your family you probably couldn't if you wanted to," he said, "And in any case you've already been with lots of guys and I've only been with you and Harry, so maybe I need to catch up."

If Matt was winding me up then he was being very convincing and this particular teasing session was lasting longer than most previous ones. I was beginning to get rather concerned.

"I'd rather be exclusive... wouldn't you?" I asked.

I fervently hoped he would agree without needing to be persuaded because all the arguments I could immediately think of might be interpreted as implying something more than just a sex-buddy relationship.

"Yes, okay," he said, sounding slightly unsure, then he laughed and added "As long as I don't have to wait too long for a shag."

Although I still wondered how serious he'd been about the whole thing, I breathed a sigh of relief . The way he'd laughed before his last few words made me feel that he'd just been teasing me, but I couldn't be absolutely sure.

That telephone conversation moved on to other topics and the subject of exclusivity didn't arise again during the following few days. However, a slight residual doubt continued to itch at the back of my mind and I couldn't completely eradicate it. The problem with Matt is that he'd grown to know me too well and he'd probably already discovered the basic feelings of insecurity that I managed to hide from others.

What made me feel worse was that I couldn't explain why the idea of non-exclusivity bothered me so much. He and I always used condoms, so if he behaved equally safely with others, why should I care if he shagged someone else while I was away? Of course it was possible that he'd find someone he preferred to me, and so stop seeing me. However, after graduation I'd probably be moving away from Linchester, so in any case our sex buddy relationship would probably end in a few months, though I hoped to remain friends.

Despite all the logic and arguments I deployed to dispel my unease I couldn't shake it off entirely. By the third day after our disquieting conversation I decided that it might be best to try to return to Linchester a week or so early. Before announcing that decision to Matt or my family I phoned the Bursar to ask if I could return before the start of the new term.

During vacations the residences were usually used to host conferences and students were expected to store away their belongings between terms. However, my room was never used by conference guests so I had been fortunate in never having to clear out my room for the Christmas and Easter vacations. So I knew my room would be free, but I didn't know if the Bursar would allow me to use it or how much it would cost. As it turned out, although she was surprised by my request she agreed, pointing out that until term started my room would not be cleaned and food would not be provided.

She also informed me that she would let me have the room for half the term-time cost, and after a quick mental calculation I decided that I could afford that. So I thanked her and arranged to go back ten days before the start of term. Then I told my parents, who didn't seem to be very happy with the arrangement, and informed Matt, who appeared to be extremely pleased. The main reason I gave to my parents was that it was easier to study for final exams in Linchester, not least because of the university library. I even managed convinced myself that studying was the main reason for my early return to Hall because I could study better if I wasn't sexually frustrated.


When I returned to Linchester Matt came round as soon as he finished work and even before he'd eaten dinner. It was clear that satiating his sexual needs had even higher priority than food. Then we got pizza and beer and sat in my room, eating, drinking and chatting. After finishing the last slice Matt grinned at me.

"I'm glad you're back," he said, "Now I don't need to go to the hassle of finding someone else to shag."

"I thought you were just teasing me about that," I said with more confidence than I felt.

"I was," he said and laughed.

"Bastard!" I said.

I tried to be annoyed and wanted Matt to see that I was annoyed, but his laughter was infectious and my attempt at a frown was a complete failure.

"And I think I had you going, at least for a bit," he said.

"Possibly," I said neutrally, then added, "But one day you may wind me up too far."

There was a brief silence, during which Matt's expression became more serious as he seemed to be undecided about something.

"Well, I wasn't just teasing," he said eventually, apparently having reached a decision, "I wanted to see how you'd react."

While I was still trying to work out exactly what he meant and what my response should be, he changed the subject completely.

"As you're not getting food in Hall for a few days," he said, "Won't you get bored of pizza and burgers and stuff?"

"Well, I s'pose for variety there's always the Indian and Chinese takeaways."

"That's going to be expensive," he responded, "and as you're just a poor student maybe we should eat together every night until term starts and I can pay for both of us."

"You don't need to do that," I said, "But thanks for the offer."

"I mean it," he said seriously, then he grinned and added, "That way you can pay for your food by shagging me every night after we eat."

"I'm not a fucking rent boy!" I said, pretending to be annoyed.

"I know that," he said, forcing his words through his laughter, "For a start you're not pretty enough to be a rent boy!"

"Well if I'm not," I retorted, trying to suppress my own laughter, "then you're certainly fucking not."

"Right," he said when we'd both calmed down, "It's decided. We meet up when I finish work and I buy you a meal."

Although I didn't remember that decision being made I wasn't going to argue about it.

"Okay," I agreed.

So it was that every night that week we ate dinner together and all went smoothly until the Friday of the last weekend before the start of term. That night we were merrily munching our way through a selection of our favourites from the local Chinese takeaway when Matt took me by surprise.

"Mum's invited you to Sunday lunch," he said.

"Why?" I asked, startled.

"She wants to meet you," he replied in a tone that implied he was stating the obvious.

"But why?" I persisted, "She doesn't think I'm your boyfriend, does she?"

"I've no idea what she thinks," he said as if it didn't really matter, "All I told her was that you're my friend. That's true, isn't it?"

"Yes, of course," I said.

My brain went into overdrive as I feverishly tried to find a plausible excuse to decline the invitation. The problem was that Matt knew me too well, so he'd easily detect a lie and he'd not be placated by any of my truthful excuses.

"You'll go, won't you?" he prompted, "She does a great roast lunch and she'll be very disappointed if you don't go."

"Erm, well," I mumbled, stalling for time.

Unfortunately, Matt knew my weaknesses and was usually quite prepared to exploit them to get his own way. He had me on the ropes and from the faint smile on his face he knew it, so then he went for the knockout punch.

"It wouldn't be very nice to disappoint her, would it?" he said, "Especially when she went to so much trouble before Christmas to make her special chicken soup just for you."

Thus I had a choice which was no choice at all. I could accept the invitation and the inevitable embarrassment involved or I could decline the invitation and thereby prove that I was an ungrateful cad and a bounder. Matt's smile broadened as he read my expression and knew that he'd got what he wanted.

"Yes, of course I'll go," I said, trying to sound as if I were in fact eager to meet his Mum, "What time?"

Matt, magnanimous in his victory, pretended to be convinced by my faked enthusiasm.

"I'll pick you up here at one o'clock," he said.


By the time Matt came to pick me up on the Sunday I had adopted a similar attitude to the one I had before an exam. It was a necessary task which I had to perform to the best of my abilities even though it wasn't something that I expected to enjoy. At least it was an opportunity to thank his mum for her kindness when I'd been ill, so despite my nerves I was determined to make a good impression. I decided that the best way to do that was to maintain a low profile and to avoid saying or doing anything that might possible be regarded as controversial or contentious.

After parking his car outside the small, modern, two-bedroom house, Matt took me inside and introduced me to his mum. She certainly didn't match the mental image I'd constructed from what he'd told me. I'd been expecting a severe woman similar to the female school teachers at my primary school, but instead found that she was jovial and very welcoming. She was quite short and slightly chubby, with dark brown hair and deep brown eyes,. Overall she seemed to exude the essence of motherliness and the welcome she gave me was so effusive as to be almost embarrassing.

Lunch was roast beef with roast potatoes, assorted vegetables and the most delicious gravy I'd ever had. That was followed by a home made chocolate pudding with vanilla custard, and everything was supplied in very generous portions. After a week of takeaway foods and snacks this excellent food was very welcome and by the end of the meal I was extremely full. Perhaps ungallantly, it occurred to me that it was no wonder that Matt was a little plump if his mum usually provided him with such meals.

While we ate, Matt's mum did most of the talking, much of which could be described as a mild interrogation. Matt, unusually for him, didn't say much except to accuse her of being too inquisitive when he considered her questions to be a little too personal. For my part I was grateful that none of her questions related directly to sexuality or my relationship with her son. However, some of the things she said implied that she thought that Matt and I were more than just platonic friends. Overall, I was relieved that she seemed happy with my responses ,and she appeared to be particularly pleased that I was continuing my education at university.

"I keep telling Matty," she said, looking pointedly at him, "that he should get back into further education. He could easily get A levels and get into a university."

Matt smiled wryly at me and rolled his eyes upward, and at first I was surprised that Matt didn't make any attempt to challenge what she'd said. Then it occurred to me that he must have heard her say the same sort of thing many times and he realised that there was nothing to be gained by further argument on the subject.

"Maybe you'll be a good influence on him," she continued, "and persuade him not to waste his potential."

For some inexplicable reason that apparently complimentary remark irritated me. In fact it irked me so much that I forgot my earlier resolution to keep a low profile and avoid anything contentious.

"But if someone is doing what they enjoy, and if they're successful at what they're doing then they can't be wasting their potential," I said, hiding my emotions behind a calm and logical tone, "And as far as I can see Matt is enjoying working his way up the management ladder in his store. In fact he might even end up running the whole business from head office."

Both Matt and his mum looked very surprised at my outburst, though in Matt's case the surprise was mixed with pleasure whereas his mum seemed to be also a little annoyed. However, she apparently quickly recovered from her displeasure and moved to a different topic of conversation.

"What are your plans for after you graduate?" she asked.

"At the moment I'm concentrating more on actually graduating rather than thinking too much about what happens afterwards," I admitted, "But if my degree is good enough I might be interested in doing a further degree and maybe going into some sort of research career."

She seemed to be reasonably happy with my response and at that point, much to my relief, Matt suggested that perhaps he'd better take me home so that I could do some studying. So after thanking his mum for the wonderful meal, we set off back to Hall. During the journey Matt didn't say very much but he seemed to be very cheerful and I wondered if his mum's cooking always made him so happy.


The new term started off much as the previous term had ended, with the same routine of lectures, lab classes and tutorials. At lunch times on Mondays that routine also included departmental seminars which final year students were required to attend. For the most part I found those seminars boring, especially when it was obvious that the speaker was there reluctantly and only because it was expected of them. It was even more tedious when the only thing that the speaker wanted to communicate was their own opinion of how clever they were.

On rare occasions the seminars were actually interesting, and one of those took place on the second Monday of the new term. That particular talk, given by a senior lecturer in our department, really captured my imagination, although when I first saw the title of the seminar I didn't think it was particularly interesting. However, the enthusiasm of the speaker, Dr Robertson, and the obvious care he'd taken to communicate his ideas grabbed and then held my attention.

By the end of the seminar my mind was full of questions but I was reluctant to ask them in front of everyone so I waited until the room was almost empty before I approached the Dr Robertson. Much to my surprise he didn't seem to think that my questions were too stupid but after answering a couple of them in detail he looked at his watch.

"I'm sorry I have to cut things short," he said, "but I have an appointment in ten minutes."

"Oh, okay," I said, only mildly disappointed.

"Wait a second" he said as I was turning to leave, "If you're interested in this you can look at a review I wrote recently, and if you have more questions just get back in touch."

The idea of reading material not directly relevant to my impending exams wasn't particularly appealing but I didn't want to flatly refuse his offer. Therefore I thanked him and accepted the document he handed to me, although there seemed little possibility that I'd get time to read it.

As it turned out Matt had to work both Saturday and Sunday the following weekend and by late afternoon on the Saturday I'd become bored with studying. However, with the exams so close the idea of wasting time doing something like just watching TV made me feel guilty, so as a sort of compromise I decided to look at the review. To be honest, much of it was too advanced for me to fully comprehend but what I did understand was very interesting.

One thing that I did note was that the review appeared to be part of an application for funding for a graduate student. I wondered if Dr Robertson had received the funding and, if so, whether the studentship had been awarded. It occurred to me that such a position could be just what I wanted. Not only would I be working on an interesting project for a research degree but I would also be able to stay in Linchester and continue spending time with Matt.

Of course there was a large fly in that little jar of ointment. Although I expected to get a reasonably good degree and hoped it would be good enough to get into a postgraduate program, there was no doubt that there were many others, more academically gifted than I, who would be getting better grades this summer. So, even if the position was still vacant, why should Dr Robertson offer it to me?

After much thought it occurred to that Dr Robertson, being obviously very enthusiastic about this research topic, would probably value a similar enthusiasm in a potential postgraduate student. Provided that my degree was of an adequate standard, perhaps he would believe that my keen interest in the subject might make up for any lack of academic brilliance. Thus my cunning and devious plan was hatched. I would study the review in detail, read some of the key references and make up a list of questions that would hopefully show the depth of my interest.

Although my plan required considerable effort and took up much of the remainder of the weekend, its execution wasn't too onerous because I was in fact genuinely interested in that area of research. Then, having made an appointment with Dr Robertson and obtained directions to his office, I went to see him on the Wednesday afternoon.

"Did you enjoy that little bit of light reading I gave you?" he joked as I entered his office.

"I enjoyed the parts that I understood," I answered honestly.

"So it didn't answer all the questions you were going to ask after the seminar?"

"It answered some of them but it also gave me more questions to ask."

"Yes, research usually raises as many questions as it answers," he said and smiled, "Why don't you take a seat and tell me what questions you've come up with."

We then spent almost half an hour going through my list and generally discussing his research, and what impressed me even more than his knowledge was the fact that when he didn't have an answer he freely admitted it. Eventually our discussion wound up and there was a brief silence while I wondered how I might bring up the subject of the studentship. Then, looking at me speculatively , he was the first to break that silence.

"It certainly seems like you've done your homework," he said, "And with your final exams so close I'm amazed that you took so much time on this."

It occurred to me that my devious and cunning plan hadn't been subtle enough to avoid raising some suspicions in Dr Robertson's obviously agile mind. The look he gave me then reminded me of the look that the Bursar had given me almost three years earlier when she'd asked why I wanted a single room. My reaction this time was similar to the one I had on that previous occasion, and again I decided that honesty was the best policy.

"Well, I'm very interested in your research," I said and then a little sheepishly I added, "And, erm, I wondered if you were looking for a graduate student."

"Ah," he said and laughed, "And let me guess, you were observant enough to notice the review was part of a funding application?"

"Erm, yes," I said, blushing and looking down at my hands on my lap.

"No need to be embarrassed," he said reassuringly, "I believe your interest is genuine and you've shown that you are not only observant but also prepared to work to get what you want. As it happens, the studentship has been advertised and I've already interviewed some candidates."

"Oh," I said, not even trying to hide my disappointment.

"However," he continued, "None of the applicants who already have degrees are satisfactory, and I'm not going to make any definite decisions about the others until they get their exam results."

Lifting my eyes I saw that he was looking at me with a pensive expression on his face.

"If you want," he added, "I can add your name to the short list and we can discuss it again when you know what sort of degree you've got."

"Yes, please," I said, grinning eagerly, "that would be great."

"Good," he replied, apparently satisfied with my response, "I've just got time to give you a quick tour of the labs before I have to go to a faculty meeting."

While we went round the labs he not only described what was going on but he also found time to interrogate me about the courses I'd taken since my arrival at Linchester.

That evening, as soon as Matt got into my room the first thing I did was to tell him about the possibility of me staying in Linchester to do postgraduate work.

"That will be convenient," Matt said.

He seemed vaguely pleased but I'd expected him to be as happy and excited as I was, so his comment about convenience was definitely disappointing. Although we were only sex-buddies it made me a little sad to think that it was merely a 'convenience' for him.

"Just convenient?" I said, unable to hide my disappointment.

For a moment he looked at me blankly, then a grin spread across his face and he burst out laughing.

"Gotcha!" he managed to say between gasps of laughter.

I punched his arm and pushed him backwards onto my bed.

"Bastard!" I said, barely suppressing my own laughter.

"Of course it's good news," he said when he'd recovered his composure, "And it gives you an incentive to study harder, but it's not definite, is it?"

"Not definite," I admitted, "But my gut tells me that I'm in with a good chance."

"And if it does work out," he said, "it will be convenient."

"Convenient?" I echoed, still not happy with his choice of words.

"Well, yes," he said as if stating the obvious, "I'd already thought about what would happen if and when you left Linchester, and I'd realised that wherever you went there'd probably be one of our stores nearby. So I could transfer to that branch, but of course it would be more convenient if I didn't need to."

That little speech amazed me and left me with ambivalent feelings. Although I was flattered that he was prepared to move just so we could keep seeing one another, I was concerned by the amount of commitment that he implied. That wasn't quite what I expected from a no-strings sex-buddy relationship. Before I could respond and while such conflicting thoughts were still buzzing around my head Matt pulled me down on top of him and began kissing me.


Matt was working on the Saturday after I told him about the possibility of getting a postgraduate studentship, so the plan was that I would study all day, he'd come over in the evening and then we'd spend the night together. We also planned that on the Sunday we would spend part of the morning together before he went home to clean his car, have lunch with his mum and take her shopping. That would leave me with lots of time to study before he came back to Hall, where we would spend the night together.

Unfortunately, even the best laid plans don't always work out, and in fact it's my experience that the more detailed or convenient a plan happens to be, the more likely it is to go wrong. This particular plan started to go awry on the Saturday night, shortly after a long, energetic, and very enjoyable sex session. Matt, who for the last couple of days had seemed quieter and more pensive than usual, broke into my post-orgasmic doze.

"Do you love me?" he asked.

As often happened after a long lovemaking and a particularly good orgasm, I'd been drifting half way between sleep and wakefulness for a few minutes. Although his voice was quiet and his tone was unusually hesitant, his mouth was just a couple of inches from my ear so I heard the words clearly. However, it took several seconds for their meaning to reach my consciousness and even then my mind tried to pretend that I hadn't really heard the question I'd learned to fear.

"Ian? Are you awake?"

My comfortable content was replaced by a mixture of dread and anger. I dreaded the consequences of the question and I was angry at him for asking it, thus breaking our agreement by mentioning the L-word. I tried hard not to allow my muscles to tense and thereby betray the fact that I was indeed awake. Unfortunately my efforts were in vain and I couldn't prevent a slight twitch in my limbs. A barely audible moan escaped my lips .

"Are you okay?" he asked, sounding a little worried.

I felt him move away from me slightly, and then after a couple of seconds there was a more substantial movement on the mattress. Realising that any pretence at sleep was futile, I opened my eyes and in the dim light saw that he was propped up on one elbow and looking down at me with a slight frown furrowing his brow.

"Mmmm, yeah, I'm fine," I mumbled, "I was just dozing off."

Although I knew deep down that he wouldn't abandon his question I closed my eyes again and hoped that just maybe he'd at least postpone it to another day. As the silence between us dragged on I began to tell myself that perhaps I might have a few more days or even weeks of happiness before he asked the question again. However, it appeared that he'd used this quiet time to summon up the courage to ask again.

"Did you hear me, then?" he said, trying unsuccessfully to hide the tension and emotion in his voice, "I asked if you loved me."

A feeling of resignation began to grow in me when I realised there was no escape, either mental or physical, from this situation. My mind raced to try to come up with a response for him but although my mental wheels were spinning frantically they found no traction. As the silence between us lengthened the tension began to build, but still I couldn't decide what to say. I knew I couldn't lie to him but I couldn't give him a truthful answer because I myself didn't know what the truth was.

Eventually Matt broke the silence but that didn't decrease the tension. He sighed deeply before speaking.

"I know we agreed not to bring up the L-word," he said, a note of determination in his voice, "But just because you don't want something to happen doesn't mean it won't happen."

"What?" I said, confused by his cryptic words.

"Well, if love was easy to control you wouldn't be so keen to avoid it."

It took me a few seconds to digest his words and then it occurred to me that there might be a way to at least delay answering his question.

"Just because you can't control the weather doesn't mean you can't avoid the rain," I said, pleased by my quick and clever response.

"You think you're sooooo clever, don't you?," Matt said disparagingly, "Well maybe you are, but you're using the cleverness to avoid living when you should be using it to enjoy life."

The thought occurred to me that I could turn this into one of our heated discussions about our different attitudes to life and thereby avoid the topic of love. However, I wasn't in the mood for an argument and in any case I didn't think the tactic would succeed, so I just remained silent.

"You're not going to answer my question, are you?" he said, his tone indicating that it was as much a statement as it was a question.

He sat up, leaned back on the headboard and looked down at me as if he were trying to read my mind. I just lay there and, unable to bear the weight of his gaze, turned my head toward the ceiling. There was no answer to give him because for months I'd been deliberately suppressing even the mere idea of any emotional involvement. Of course I'd felt emotions relating to Matt, but I'd purposefully avoided trying to analyse them. Now he was asking me not only to examine them but to put a label on them, and I just couldn't do it.

"I suppose that the fact you're not saying anything is a sort of answer," he said, sounding disappointed and hurt.

Still I didn't say anything, not only because I couldn't answer his question but now also because I was annoyed at him for bringing up this discomfiting subject.

"You must know by now that I love you. I thought you felt we were more than just..." he said, his voice breaking with emotion as he tried to find words to express himself, "I hoped... well, I suppose that doesn't matter now."

He sounded hurt and upset, which shocked me because I'd never heard him like that before, not even when he'd talked about his break-up with Harry. With a huge sigh he moved away from me and sat on the edge of the bed, his face turned away from me and his shoulders hunched. After remaining like that, apparently deep in thought, for what seemed to be a long time, Matt sighed again, stood up and reached for his clothes.

As he got dressed, a part of me was screaming inside my head, telling me that I should say something, anything to stop him leaving but the words that came out of my mouth were totally inadequate.

"I thought you were staying overnight," I said, managing to sound both pathetic and childishly petulant, "Can't we talk about the L-word another time?"

"Like when? Tomorrow? Next week? Next year?" he said doubtfully, realising that my suggestion was really just a delaying tactic.

"Maybe after my exams?" I said hopefully.

"I don't think so," he said with a regretful determination, "If you won't answer the question now then the answer is obviously not the one I want to hear. I don't want to go through what Frank went through. I prefer a quick, clean break rather than having things slowly festering for months."

I was so stunned by his words and the finality of his tone that I couldn't think of a response .

"Good-bye, Ian," he said as he put on his coat and picked up his overnight bag.

Although he tried to hide it, his voice, his face and his posture revealed his inner pain and evoked the mental image of a wounded animal. The inner voice screaming at me to say something grew more insistent, but despite that I just lay there silently on my bed as if I were paralysed. He opened the door and looked back toward me.

"Look after yourself," he said, then with a hint of bitterness he added, "But I'm sure you will."

Then he was gone.


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) . 

Visit my website...