Towards the Decent Inn

III

By Michael Arram

Matt was walking from university into town the next day. The weather continued fine. It was a bright early autumn day, with just a champagne touch of a chill to the air. The leaves on the trees in the memorial garden were still green and the municipal flower beds were still dazzling. He was still feeling good. He was whistling to himself as he crossed past City Hall and noticed a small figure walking ahead of him, with a backpack slung over a shoulder. The bright blond head in the sunshine identified A.W. Peacher, as also did his distinctive energetic and bobbing walk.

Matt was going to check out DVDs in the High Street. It was not for himself, his TV came with a video built in, but not a DVD player. It was for his younger brother's birthday. The early morning lecture was over and he was at a loose end. He suddenly decided on tailing Master Peacher; how else to fathom the mystery of the quiet isolated boy in the seminar? It was an amusing conceit, and quite fun to follow the small figure through main streets and side roads and try to work out where he was going. He kept a distance so as not to raise suspicion. Crowds were thin in mid morning. Not that he need have bothered being cautious. His target had no idea he was being followed. He once turned into a music shop, and Matt stood in a doorway pretending he was waiting for a bus till the boy reappeared after fifteen minutes, empty-handed. They passed the bus station, then the railway, so he wasn't off anywhere. Finally he turned through the great glass doors of the City Pool, paid at the desk and disappeared towards the changing rooms.

So he swims. Hardly a major revelation. Matt backtracked to the High Street and made his DVD purchase: it took half an hour. He wandered back to the pool and made his way up to the viewing area. From a machine he got a coffee, which was more grey than brown. The air was humid and reeked of chlorine. He looked down on the blue water. Most of the swimmers were pensioners, doggedly and slowly progressing up and down the lanes. No kids, as it was mid week in term time. He looked around and caught sight of a younger head, the blond hair flattened and dark with water, the heavy fringe pushed back and forehead exposed for once. The white body was moving easily down the pool, with quite powerful strokes for a boy his size.

Master Peacher swam steadily for a good twenty minutes before emerging from the pool. Matt was by then on his second cup of dishwater. It was at that point that Matt finally admitted the source of his interest. Although he was not his usual type, he fancied the blond boy a lot. The slim body, the small buttocks through his clinging shorts, even the spotted face and the thin legs were causing unmistakable signs of sexual interest. He put his hand in his pocket and adjusted his uncontrollable member.

Oh great, he thought. Here we go again. It was all too reminiscent of the crushes on the tanned sporting heroes of his school days. But maybe now things were different. Steve's attempted seduction had changed him a little. He was no longer resisting who he was or what he wanted. Maybe this boy... True, he was no alpha male... but then, why this boy? He'd known much better looking ones, including Steve. He thought hard. It was those blue eyes, he concluded. There was something about them, and if eyes are, as they say, the mirror of the soul, then he had seen something through them that appealed.

He followed his target out and tailed him to the bus stop, and noticed that he got on a bus going to the northern suburbs. So was he a native of the city? Maybe that's why he was isolated in the university. He had his own circle of local friends and family. He didn't need student friends.

Matt made his plans over the next two days. He lurked near the pool at the same time the next day, and found that the boy went there regularly. He bought a pair of swimming trunks, and packed them with a towel in his bag. It was the tedious seminar day. A.W. Peacher sat and dozed opposite him for the appointed hour. Eventually they were released. Matt had laid his plans. He walked directly to the pool. He was going to encounter the object of his desire casually as he entered. There would be a surprised recognition, a few exchanged words, a smile, and they would be off, although where they would be off to, he had no clear idea. He went upstairs, got his coffee and sat where he could watch the road.

By the time he was finishing his second paper cup full, he realised that the plan had become derailed. Thursday, it seemed, was different. Bugger. Oh well, he might as well have a swim while he was there. He changed in the empty locker room. The pool was nearly abandoned. He cannoned into it sending spray everywhere. He was a very bad swimmer. He dogpaddled up to the edge of his depth and hung on the side. He tried floating, but went down like a brick after thirty seconds. But he didn't mind his own ineptitude that much. He propelled himself under water, coming up with his eyes streaming and his ears blocked. He was quite enjoying himself without his brother Carl to show him up. Carl, about to be aged fifteen, was an all round sportsman. He swam like a dolphin and took off from top board without flinching, where Matt would have wet himself and crawled back down the steps.

He splashed around for half an hour, annoying the pensioners, and finally hauled himself out. As he flicked the wet hair out of his blurred eyes, a pale young man flashed past him in a cool dive from the side. He sped under the water like an otter to surface on the opposite side. Oh damn. It was him.

Defeated, Matt headed for the lockers, dripping and shivering. He showered and dried himself with his old rough towel, then headed for the rest area. Master Peacher would be another hour, if he was true to form. There was no way he could hang round that long nonchalantly, so he reluctantly went home, his eyes red from the unaccustomed chlorine.

Friday morning he bought some goggles. He need not have bothered. There was no boy Peacher; he'd probably gone home to his parents for the weekend, or he'd disappeared into his private townie life. Friday night was Leo night, so the two of them met up at the Union and spent more money than they could easily spare on pool and drinks. It was quite a good night, apart from encountering Steve at the club afterwards. He got the cold treatment. When he went into the loos, he couldn't escape the feeling that the felt-tip scrawls on the tile grouting at eye level 'MATT IS A COCK-SUCKING QUEER' were intended to refer to him and had been recently composed by Steve. 'Wishful thinking, you bastard,' he snarled at the wall. A boy further along the trough glanced up sharply and guiltily.

On Monday he made one last bid to pull off the swimming strategy. He lurked around the bus station for thirty minutes before the boy usually arrived; unfortunately he had to watch the road from near the public toilets. He attracted the attention of a lascivious, middle-aged cottager, who propositioned him crudely. Matt answered just as crudely, and was about to cross the road to escape the attention when he almost bumped into the boy himself coming along the pavement. There was a flustered moment of recognition.

'Hi,' said the boy, in a pleasant and cultured voice.

'Oh, hi,' Matt rallied and responded innocently, 'aren't you in my seminar group?'

'Yes,' he replied. There was a slight hesitation.

'My name's Matt, Matt White.'

'Hi. It's Andrew... Andy Peacher.'

'Good to meet you Andy,' said Matt; and it was good, the boy gave him a warm rush to the stomach. He must play this cool. 'I'm.... er, heading to the pool.' This was indeed cool, it was like offering the lad a way out of a conversation, but in fact he knew what the reply would be.

'Oh really? Me too. I go most days, sort of good exercise.' Yes, thought Matt, and a way of killing time too.

'Great. Do you mind if I tag along.' He acted the puppy eager to be taken for a walk, something he thought he did rather well. What he did not realise was that when he did it, he was seducing rather than persuading people. The tremendous power of his eyes and his smile was still not something he had fathomed.

Andy shook as the nuclear blast of Matt's charm enveloped him. He cleared his throat and said, 'No, not at all.' Then he smiled in his turn, and it was a nice open smile; those magnetic blue eyes positively sparkled, and for once it was Matt's turn to be rocked to the core.

But conversation dried up after the opening exchanges of charm. They went in, paid their admission (student concession at the production of University ID), and took the tiled white corridor to the changing room.

The lockers were a real trial. He changed silently alongside Andy, scrupulously keeping his eyes to himself, especially when he dropped his pants to his ankles and stood briefly nude. Had Andy sized him up, the way that all men tend do to each other? He'd have loved to have known. They sloshed through the old-fashioned foot bath together, chatting about nothing. Andy knelt and splashed himself at the side, then smoothly arrowed into the water. He was as good as Carl. Matt fell in after him, like a collapsing building. The slap and splash echoed off the water and the high roof. Andy was coming back down the pool before Matt had done half a width, thrashing like a paddle steamer. Andy grinned as he shot past, despite getting a face full of foam from one of Matt's wallows; he was doing a fast crawl.

Eventually they both stood side by side just at their depth, Andy bobbing easily up and down, Matt faintly panicked by the fact that he'd lost the bottom.

'You've not done a lot of swimming,' Andy observed diplomatically.

Matt laughed uneasily, 'It's not my best sport.'

'Oh? What is?'

'Now you mention it, none of them. No, not true... I can manage a fair game of tennis. But I don't mind splashing round and showing off in front of the pensioners.' Matt metaphorically kicked himself. Would this be taken as sarcasm directed at Andy? Apparently not.

'You might start by working on your dive.' Andy got him out and showed him how to push himself up as he dived. 'You enter a bit more smoothly'. Matt tried it a few times. Eventually it worked. Andy was sitting on the edge of the pool smiling and applauding. He went and sat next to him on the side, paddling his feet in the pool, their elbows almost touching. The proximity of the boy was slightly disturbing but irresistible. He couldn't resist a sidelong examination of the pale body with pink boyish nipples, the light blond down on his arms and legs, and the slim, but slightly domed belly. He fought the inevitable consequences between his legs.

'You live in hall?' He knew the answer to that one.

'No. I'm in lodgings by the big Tesco. It's cheap and I was OK there in the first year. The landlord's a good guy, we're quite friendly.'

'So you're not from round here?'

'No. West Midlands.' Matt had caught no hint of the characteristic flat and nasal accent that should have been there, all he picked up was classless standard English, although with something of a relaxed drawl that was not in his experience. Andy suddenly slid back into the pool, and began diving down at the deep end, and shooting to the surface. His legs appeared as he floated upside down, like a synchronised swimmer. Matt dropped in less elegantly and concentrated on floating on his back, willing his member to behave and lie low.

After an hour on the pool clock, he levered himself up and out. Andy was in the distance, he waved at him but got no response.

He stripped off his soggy, chlorinated trunks, dropped them with a slap on the floor and went with his towel to stand under the hot shower. He didn't notice when Andy joined him, what with the water streaming into his stinging eyes. But he did notice when Andy tapped him on the shoulder, and offered him some of his shampoo. Looking down, he got a fine view of Andy's genitals, pink, with his testicles hanging low in the humidity of the shower. A fascinating thatch of fair hair covered but did not hide his crotch. So it was true about blonds. He'd always half believed that everyone's pubic bush was black. He tried not to stare and compare sizes, but failed miserably. He was rather bigger than Andy in the reproductive department, but the other boy's penis was still a respectable size. He washed his hair with Andy's shampoo, a faintly sensual experience: unfortunately so, as his treacherous penis responded to the idea with enthusiasm. He quickly handed it back and shuffled sideways to take cover under his towel until his arousal dispersed.

'I'm going for a coffee,' he said as he stood naked, towelling his hair, and looking to meet the other boy's eyes. Andy was dressing and looking down on the floor, much to Matt's disappointment. He had rather hoped he would take the opportunity of eyeing him up. You whore, he accused himself.

'I'll pass on that.' Andy swung his bag round his shoulder, and shoved his feet into his trainers. 'But I'll see you round.'

'Sure. Bye Andy.' He looked a little longingly after the bouncy little figure as it disappeared.

But, all in all, that wasn't too bad, he concluded as he headed home the long way, along the river bank. The kid was nicely spoken and decent, and he hoped they had the beginnings of a friendship. His deep need to be friends with this particular boy was not something he wanted to analyse at this point, it was not that he was short of friends around campus.

On Tuesday, he decided he couldn't try another ambush at the pool. It would have been too obvious. He headed for the library, and after sublimating his libido with a long work session on essay preparation, he went to the Union cafeteria to get lunch. And there was Andy alone at a table. He fretted with impatience as the queue moved slowly. Eventually he got his food and looked round. Andy was looking at him, and he thought he was looking at him hopefully. He caught his eye and grinned, and got a grin back. That was invitation enough. He settled down opposite Andy.

'How're you doing?'

'Fine.' Andy's brilliant blue eyes peered out at him anxiously through the untidy veil of his blond fringe; he was smiling a little nervously, Matt thought.

'Wait. Let me guess. You've been down the pool.' Andy's eyebrow raised. 'It's the reek of chlorine. Doesn't it get to you with such a pale complexion, sort of itchy and stinging?'

'It used to, but I must have toughened up. I usually wear goggles, but I think I left them home.' Home, in student terms, of course meant parental home, as they both understood. Andy looked around, 'Do you know many people here?'

Matt looked around too, fortunately seeing no Steve. 'Just a few guys and one or two women.'

Andy nodded, 'I always seem to see you round with people.'

'Yeah, I'm a real socialite. I was in hall the first year, you meet a lot of people that way.' He thought of Steve. 'Some of them you spend the next two years trying to avoid.'

'Maybe I should have gone into hall. Digs are comfortable, but you miss out on a lot I guess.'

'You can have too much company.' Matt went on to explain his theory of the three species of male student. 'The thing is what happens to them in the end. The precociously adult guys, totally together, they fall apart. They become alcoholics or workaholics; they've been through three relationships by the time they're thirty. Golf alone is their salvation. The weirdos, they become utterly conventional in a relaxed way. Most of them end up as teachers. By the time they're thirty they have assumed the jacket and tie, bought caravans and are leaders on Alpha courses.'

'And what about the third group, the losers.'

'Ah well, we're boiling with frustrated sexuality. We end up as entrepreneurs, scholars, archbishops, artists, writers, film producers. All that humiliation and anxiety, it becomes a generator of ambition and creativity.'

'So the geek shall inherit the earth.' The kid was quick.

He laughed. 'Blessèd are the piss-takers.'

Andy laughed too, at ease now; it was a very nice laugh, musical and happy. He brushed his hair back from his face. Matt was definitely on a roll. He opened his mouth, warming up for another flight of fancy, just as a seat was dragged over and Leo joined them.

'Hiya, Chalky. Who's this?' Matt swore in his head, but he made the introductions.

'Oh yeah, I remember, you're in the Seminar of Pain. Ghastly innit. I took some E last Thursday to see if I could transform it into a experience of transcendent surreality. No use at all. The laws of time, chemistry and physics do not apply in that seminar room. Boredom becomes a force in its own right, a grey flowing stream like a Lethe, draining all finer thoughts and aspirations into a sump beyond light and hope.'

Matt leaned over, 'Leo is a poet.'

'I might have guessed.'

Other people joined them, including Katy and two nice girls from last year in hall. Soon there was a large chatty group, with Andy in the middle. Matt observed him closely. He was certainly shy, talking in a low voice to Katy on his left, but he was clearly delighted to be included in a social circle. It can't have happened much last year.

They broke up eventually. Matt called over to Andy as he was slinging his bag over his shoulder. 'You swimming tomorrow?'

'Yeah.'

'See you down there at ten?'

'Great. See you there.... Chalky.'

Matt left the Union whistling.

Matt and Andy wandered back through town the next day, talking about nothing in particular, but talking with the freedom of real and fast-growing friendship. Matt was describing his younger brother's embarrassing swimming prowess. Before long he was being prompted to talk about his family, which in Matt's case was a big subject: his father was one of five brothers, with three sisters as well. His mother too had a mass of family in Ireland. A tide of cousins and uncles and aunts flowed through his home, and the many family festivals and feuds were complicated and tribal events.

'So you,' he asked, 'you got family?'

'No, just me and my mum.'

'Oh sorry, your dad, er.... sort of, passed on?'

'No, it was a bad divorce when I was about nine. Really bad and really messy. Dad lives abroad, so I don't get to see him much.'

It was apparently a delicate subject, and Matt headed away from it at speed.

'Where'd you go to school?'

'It was a big independent boys' school near Nuneaton. Very nice. I hated it, but it was very nice. A lot of my year group went to Oxbridge, but I didn't fancy it. Actually, to be honest, I didn't get the grades anyway. This was my insurance offer.'

'Was it a boarding school?'

'Yes, but I was a day bug. You're rather interested in the subject, aren't you?'

Matt covered. 'Private education's a bit of a mystery to me. I think you're the first privately educated person I've ever talked to. I went to a comp before sixth form college. My dad was at a secondary modern, where he met my mum.' He added, with a touch of perfectly justified pride, 'I'm the first of all my extended family to go to university.'

'Very different from me. Dad is - was - an academic. Mum is a researcher. Both graduates. Mum's father was professor of jurisprudence at Manchester. She tells me I had an ancestor who was Master of Balliol.'

'That's quite a lineage to live up to.'

Andy continued. 'Mum more or less lives in her study. She's a prosopographer.'

'A what?'

'She got hooked on her family history during the divorce, I think it started as a way of escape. But she got really hooked, like an addiction. She'd worked out our descent as far back as Charlemagne in three years. It's nice to know you have imperial blood. By the time I was fourteen she'd started taking on freelance work. Her current project is working out the order of succession to the throne.'

'I thought everyone knew that.'

'Yes, but how far do they go? Mum is obsessive. She was up to the 3,400th in line by last summer, and going strong. Believe it or not, there're Americans who'll pay for her to do it in the hopes they'll turn up somewhere on the chart. She works for a web consortium, I'll show you the site, it's very well-funded. It might even be useful if someone lets off a dirty bomb during the Badminton horse trials one year.'

'So that paid for school fees.'

'No, dad did, it was his old school.' He went quiet. They were at the memorial gardens between the city hall and Old College.

Matt suddenly decided to take a risk on their relationship. 'Fancy a coffee at my place? It's not far from the department. Finkle Road.'

Andy hesitated and Matt held his breath, but he smiled and said, 'Yes, sure. Thanks, Matt.'

They reached Matt's house at about half eleven. Andy was impressed that he had it all to himself. He looked around it appreciatively as Matt picked up the post off the hall floor, as usual it was junk addressed to the previous occupant. 'It'll look nice when it's finished.'

Matt laughed. 'That'll be when my dad has to sell it. He has builder's syndrome. He can only work to deadlines.'

He put on his old telly in the gloomy lounge with its dingy net curtains and ancient hangings, and he checked his stores in the kitchen. They had a sandwich and watched the midday programmes, making increasingly humorous and scandalous comments and laughing at their own wit. It was all very comfortable and companionable. Matt had pulled off his shoes and was swinging his legs idly over the arm of a chair with his arms behind his head. Andy was slumped easily along the worn and greasy sofa, his shoes discarded on the floor and his feet up.

His feet, small and very attractive, were in white tennis socks. Matt had to beat down a powerful urge to crawl over, pull off those socks and kiss and suck at the boy-sized and beautiful pink toes he had seen at the pool. Andy was humming to himself quietly as he looked over a book and chewed a ham sandwich. Apart from uncontrollable urges, Matt felt great. He had found a real friend, funny and thoughtful and quite as hopeless as he was. He caught Andy gazing at him through the veil of his fringe, and he smiled shyly back at him before he looked away to the TV.

Over the next two weeks they learned a lot about each other. Most tellingly, they soon discovered a common passion for romantic comedies, something in which Matt could never get Leo interested. Leo said they lacked the truth of real art. The two friends camped in Matt's lounge in the afternoons, and watched with deep appreciation the treasures of Matt's video collection: The American President, Pretty Woman and Working Girl. They knew the dialogue off by heart in places. They noticed that they misted up in exactly the same places.

They had been watching The American President enthralled. Matt and Andy had in fact both been wiping their eyes in just the place where the President's girlfriend, hounded by a vicious press campaign of intrusion, had left him, but then returned when she heard him eloquently apologise on national television for his failure to defend her.

'Why do we love these films? They're not real. They're exploitative Hollywood fantasy.' Andy had asked.

'Escape from reality; complete nerdishness; soft-hearted sentimentality... and don't be patronising to half the human race. We can all have emotions. The day is gone when us male Brits had our emotion chip removed at birth.'

'No offence. I know it's compulsory for British men to cry on demand nowadays. But I think there's something deeply revealing about your films, Matt. I always choke when they have the scene where someone's love is offered and accepted, freely and unequivocally. It's that glorious moment when you think that love...' Andy suddenly choked off and looked embarrassed, as if he had let too much of his soul show.

Matt hastened to say how much he agreed, that love was real enough, but Andy stayed quiet.

They had long ago exchanged mobile numbers, and soon they began to call each other regularly, at first to arrange meetings, and then just to talk in the evenings. Andy had a surprising capacity to chatter at the end of a phone, as if he'd been saving it all up for years until he found a friendly set of ears. Matt thought it was very sweet, and almost told him so. He also noticed with something approaching astonishment how eerily their ideas and reactions coincided on quite a lot of subjects. It led to a rapid intimacy, which in other circumstances might have taken months or years to achieve. Their friendship pretty soon absorbed them both entirely. One sign of it that Matt noticed was that Andy was his only student friend who didn't call him by his hall nickname of 'Chalky', he only ever called him Matt. He took this as a sign that Andy didn't want to be in the same category of friend as a hall of residence acquaintance.

Andy easily joined the Friday night social circle, and Leo and the girls quite took to Chalky's new friend, although the exception was Dave, who tended to be quite rude to Andy when he got drunk. But Katy was very protective of him.

'I like your new friend, Chalky. He's really sweet. Where on earth did you find him? He says he's a second year, but I can't remember seeing him before.'

Matt explained that he had turned up in the Hitler seminar, but they'd missed him last year as he'd taken the first year joint modern language option.

'Well he's nice. It's probably as well you met him. God knows what further unprotected exposure to Leo would have done to you. But don't forget we still exist you know, and your friends'll miss you if you disappear entirely into Andyland.' She followed that remark up with a significant look that Matt didn't want to try to interpret. He was perfectly well aware that Katy had made her conclusions about his sexuality.

Matt was not insensitive, although love had shorted out many of the other higher functions of his brain. He watched Leo keenly. Was he jealous of Andy? Did he resent Matt's closeness to this new friend? He could see no evidence of it. He made a point nonetheless of spending library and coffee time with the Welshman. Matt was the sort of man whom love made sensitive to those around him, not selfish. He may have been head over heels in lust with Andy, but he had a heightened awareness that others had claims on him.

Matt began psyching himself up to ask if Andy would like to share the house, hesitating because he didn't like the hint of manipulation it involved. His own conscience was warning him in much the same words as Katy had just used. His fantasies of sex with Andy were also getting uncomfortably vivid and compulsive, and he had no reason to believe his growing passion would or could in any way be reciprocated. Sharing a house with Andy could be a potential disaster. For their friendship's sake it might probably be better not to make the invitation, so he temporised with his desire.

One day, over a fortnight after their friendship had got under way, Matt and Andy had returned from the pool at midday, and had settled as usual in front of the telly.

Around two, the door bell rang. Matt was surprised. He went to the door, where a tall figure loomed behind the bevelled and frosted glass. It was Steve and he was not entirely sober. 'Hey Chalky! Can I come in?'

'I'd rather you didn't.'

'Thanks,' he pushed in anyway. 'I want to pick up where we left off.'

'Look, it's not convenient. Go home and have a black coffee or something.'

Steve was in the lounge doorway, and noticed Andy. 'What's your name darling?' he said with something resembling a leer. Andy sat up, looking alarmed.

Steve looked insinuating, 'Friend of yours, Chalky?'

'He's Andy'.

'Hullo Andy'

'Uhh, hi.'

'So this is the competition is it?'

'It's time you went, Steve.' Matt was appalled at the way his social identity was suddenly unravelling in front of his eyes and in front of Andy. This was a living nightmare. He wanted Steve to disappear into thin air before it got even worse, but he stayed stubbornly real.

Steve shifted abruptly from aggressive to lachrimose. 'You're just not being fair, Matt. I know you better than you do. You want it bad, and I can give it. You're not being fair.' He leaned close to Matt, his breath heavy with beer and spirits. He put a heavy arm round Matt's neck and began whispering passionately and mostly incoherently into his ear. What wasn't incoherent was frankly disturbing.

Andy was standing up by now, mobile in hand. 'Shall I get the police?'

This was a mistake. Steve swung round and focussed on him, 'Police? Police? I'm Chalky's friend; we're good mates, we are. Better than mates. Who the fuck are you, you little creep? Got your hands in his pants have you?' He lunged and grabbed Andy by the throat, pushing him against a wall with a heavy thump; his mobile went spinning across the room to disappear with a clatter behind the sofa. Andy squawked and struggled, clawing at Steve's heavy grip.

Matt had had enough. He was not a big lad but he was sturdy and he did not lack courage; he blazed at the sight of a friend - of this friend in particular - being pushed around. Product of a large family and trained in a rough comprehensive, he was matter-of-fact about physical confrontation and Steve was in any case drunk. He skilfully and forcefully stiff-armed Steve and forced him away from Andy, then he marched him into the hall, doubled over.

Steve was gasping with pain. 'Gerroff! Owww!'

Matt said through gritted teeth. 'Now this is what's going to happen. I'm gonna put you in the kitchen where you're gonna wait quietly for a taxi and drink black coffee. Tomorrow you're gonna wake up with a terrible headache feeling like a complete prat. Agree?

'Yes, yes!'

'Good.' Matt released him and shoved him into the kitchen. 'Sit there.' Steve obeyed, looking confused and rubbing his aching arm.

Matt returned to Andy, who was standing shocked in the middle of the lounge, rubbing his neck.

'You OK?'

'You're gay.' It was a statement.

Matt heaved a sigh. The closet door had just been kicked wide open. ''Fraid so'

'Uh. Thanks for getting rid of him'

'He was drunk and jealous'

'Does he.... y'know... do things with you'

'No. That's the problem. He's got a crush on me. He's also got no self-control.'

Andy went quiet. He sat down and leant forward against his knees. Then he looked up.

'When you.... I mean, were you thinking I was too?'

Matt was suddenly exhausted and depressed. It had all gone pear-shaped with a vengeance. He didn't want to tell the story of his obsession. He reflected he was not after all that much different from Steve. Had he been in search of a friend or sex?

'I've got to get the idiot home, Andy. No questions. You'd better go now.'

Andy picked up his bag. He said, 'Sorry. Look, I can stay if you...'

'Please go, Andy.' Matt was overwhelmed with a desire he had not felt for several years. He wanted to sob his heart out. Andy hesitated a moment then disappeared into the street. When Matt returned to the kitchen, Steve was asleep, snoring on the formica amongst the spilled frosted flakes.

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