After that Easter break, Frank and I spent a lot of time together both at school and away from school. We also started going on camping trips together as often as we could, which turned out to be at least two weekends per month, even if it was just for one overnight sleep-out. My aversion to camping had disappeared, and I quickly grew to enjoy the advantages of finding isolated campsites where we could be alone together.
Just before our third trip after Easter, Frank bought me a present of a new sleeping bag. At first I attempted to protest at such a generous gift, especially as he'd already bought me a birthday present a couple of months previously. However, he pointed out that the zip on the new bag 'just happened' to be compatible with the zip on his, so that the two bags could be joined together 'for extra warmth and comfort', so I abandoned my protests.
I occasionally went round to Frank's house, but we rarely had enough privacy to risk any sexual interaction there, because at least one of his three sisters, usually the youngest, always seemed to be around. His parents seemed very nice and they were always kind and welcoming toward me, though I didn't see much of his dad because of the unsociable hours he worked at the bakery. However, I did see and hear enough about him to realise that he took a much greater interest in Frank's life than my dad took in mine.
There may have been another reason apart from privacy that most of our physical intimacy took place in his tent. Although I didn't consciously consider this at the time, perhaps being inside the tent was like being in a different world, separated from outside reality and not subject to the same rules. Thus the intimacy we shared might be regarded as 'queer' in the outside world, but in our own private world inside the tent we could have our own rules and make our own definitions.
Sometimes we could only get away for a brief night together, so it was fortunate that Frank had access to an ideal local spot for us to pitch the tent. To the north of our town the hills rose steeply, and on the far side of the hills was open moorland. In the area between hillside and moorland was a sheltered hollow in which there was a small coppice next to a water-filled abandoned quarry. As it was private land and the old quarry was regarded as dangerous, the area was fenced off, and the only way in was up a small track and through a locked gate.
The landowner was a close friend of Frank's father, and Frank had been camping there many times before we became friends. The first time he took me there he proudly showed me his favourite place to pitch a tent, which was sheltered on three sides by the coppice and just a couple of dozen yards from the quarry. At that particular location the edge of the quarry was a sheer rock face dropping dramatically down to the water, which was at least twenty feet below. Overall, it was a beautiful, secluded and convenient place for us to spend private time together.
Although Frank's rugby-player build had intimidated me a little when we first met, I soon realised that he was really very gentle and affectionate. Maybe that was because he was doted on by his two older sisters and, it seemed to me, almost worshipped by his younger sister, Rachel. In contrast to my own family, his family quite commonly displayed affection, and he showed no embarrassment at all when his mother or sisters gave him a hug or kissed him on the cheek. On a couple of occasions I even saw his dad give him a hug, though at least that only happened within the family home.
Frank's affectionate nature could be very endearing, but sometimes it made me uncomfortable, especially when he showed his fondness for me in public. For example, a few times at school he seemed a little more protective toward me and looked out for my interests more than I would expect from just a good friend. A couple of times in his home he put his arm over my shoulder when his mother or sisters could see us, and that caused me to wriggle away uncomfortably.
One lunchtime, on the way to the school cafeteria, he carelessly put his arm round me and I recoiled, terrified that someone might see us and think we were queer. I was horrified by the thought that I might get a reputation at school and that my brother, who was due to start at the school the following term, might hear that I was queer and tell the rest of my family. In a panic, I hurried away from Frank and avoided him for the rest of the day. That night he phoned me, and when I heard how upset he was I immediately regretted the way I'd treated him.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice a little unsteady. "Why did you just rush off like that?"
"You can't go round hugging me in public like that!" I hissed, keeping my voice low to make sure no one in the house could overhear. "People will talk, and I don't want us to get a reputation.""
"I wasn't hugging you," he protested. "I just put my arm over your shoulder. And why should people talk? I was just being friendly, like I am with other friends."
I recalled that on a couple of occasions I had indeed seen him do such things with other close friends, and it occurred to me that my attitude might be influenced more by paranoia than by logic. However, I still felt that we couldn't afford to take any risks and that I should assert myself on this matter.
"Well I'm not just other friends," I responded, "so please promise me you won't do it again. Not in public."
"Okay, I promise," he said in a tone that made me feel as though I'd just kicked a kitten.
He kept his promise, though I noticed a few times when he almost forgot and made some quickly aborted arm- or hand-movement in my direction. One good thing that came out of that episode, though, was that we became more open about discussing our feelings. Before that we'd talked a lot about our 'external' lives, interests, family, school, and suchlike topics, but up until then we'd not discussed anything related to our 'internal' emotional lives. Even after that, however, there was one thing we never, ever discussed, and that was sexuality. We talked about sex and about when, where and how we might do it, but we never mentioned being gay, bisexual or even straight-but-experimenting.
All the time I spent with Frank between Easter and June didn't detract from my studies, and I easily obtained good grades in all of my GCSEs. Frank also did reasonably well, which meant that we would both be going into the Sixth Form at the start of the same term that Andy would be starting in the First Form. One beneficial side effect of Andy being at my school was that it enabled us to persuade our parents that he needed to have a computer of his own. However, he wasn't very pleased to find that he was getting my old computer while I was getting the newly acquired one.
That summer, I again had the job of looking after my brother, but that was a mere technicality as he was quite trustworthy and capable, so he didn't really need any supervision from me. In fact, it had already been decided that he could officially be allowed to stay home alone the following year. In the weeks approaching Andy's start at what for him was a new school, he initiated many bedtime discussions involving what he might expect, and I did my best to reassure him as well as inform him.
My first year in the Sixth Form was probably one of the easiest and most stress-free years of my life. As expected, Andy quickly settled into the school, and I wasn't surprised that he soon got a place on a school soccer team. I had no important exams and easily coped with my studies, so there was plenty of time and leisure to spend with Frank, who, as it turned out, appeared to get on with my family at least as well as I did. As icing on the cake, just before the summer holidays I was made a prefect.
"Mum's going to be really proud, sewing this onto my jacket," I told Frank when I showed him the silver ribbon that had been given to me as a sign of my new status.
"Well, I'm glad I didn't get one," he replied, his tone at odds with the words. "Being a prefect just means lots of hassle. When you're herding kids into assemblies or standing around on gate duty, I'll be lounging around finishing off my morning cuppa."
"It might actually be fun," I countered with an attempt at an evil grin. "I quite like the idea of giving lines and recommending detentions."
"Oh, I can see you're going to be popular," he said sarcastically. "Anyway, I bet I would've been a prefect if I'd still been playing rugby."
During the course of that whole year, there were only two things that decreased my contentment. The first was the death of my gran, who at seventy-two years of age decided to climb on a chair to change a light bulb. She fell, broke her hip, and within three weeks had died of pneumonia. Hers was the first funeral I ever attended, and although I was indeed sad, I wasn't as emotionally affected as might have been expected, bearing in mind that she'd been one of my primary carers for the first ten years of my life. Perhaps Teo's death had desensitised me, or maybe my conclusion that less caring would lead to less hurt was bearing fruit.
The second thing that saddened me was the fact that as Andy settled into life at the school, the bedtime conversations he initiated became less frequent. I guessed that at least part of the reason for that was that Andy had apparently found a new best friend, and so had someone else besides his big brother to consult and share his thoughts with. Andy never actually referred to the boy, Bernie, as his best friend, but they always seemed to be together at school, at our house or at Bernie's house. They were in the same class, but apart from that I didn't know what else they had in common. Bernie was a tall, chubby boy with short black hair, pale complexion, dark rimmed spectacles, and thick eyebrows that almost met in the middle. As far I knew, he didn't play football, but apparently he often went to watch Andy when he played for the school.
Sometimes I felt like an interloper in my own bedroom when I went in while Andy was there with Bernie. Usually, if they were playing a console game they totally ignored me, but sometimes when I walked in and they were chatting they would smile sheepishly and watch me silently until I left. Clearly, on those occasions I'd interrupted them in the midst of some private conversation. However, remembering how Teo and I had been together, I suppressed any righteous indignation caused by the younger boys encroaching on my territory.
Of course, I was happy that my brother had found such a good friend, but I was also a little sad that our bedtime chats were becoming quite infrequent. It had taken ten years for me to appreciate that I had a brother and to find that I liked him as a person, and in the previous couple of years I'd actually come to enjoy the role of being a big brother. So I regretted that we seemed now to be drifting apart again.
The next major event in my relationship with Frank took place during the long summer holidays following our first year in the Sixth Form. Putting into action months of planning, we walked the Cleveland Way from Helmsley in the Pennines to Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast. It would have been quite possible to complete it in seven days, but as we were carrying camping gear and also wanted to make it into a vacation rather than an endurance test, we decided to spread it out over fifteen days. That meant we could do most of the hiking in the morning, have a pub lunch, find a nice quiet campsite, pitch the tent and then explore the local area.
On the third night of our trip we lay in the tent, cuddling together on top of our sleeping bags after a most enjoyable sex session that had culminated in a mutually explosive sixty-nine position. We were both lying on our sides with Frank in front of me, my arm wrapped round his chest and the side of my face nestled into his neck. It must have been well after ten o'clock, but the summer sky was still light, and although I was physically tired I didn't feel at all sleepy. Apparently, Frank felt the same, because he began what turned out to be a long and rambling conversation, which after a few minutes reached the topic of our plans for the future.
"We'll need to start thinking about applying to universities next term," he said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, I s'pose," I responded without much enthusiasm.
"What's the matter," he asked with a hint of concern. "You do want to go to uni, don't you?"
"Oh, yeah, I want to go. I'm just not looking forward to all the hassle of applying. And I haven't even decided what I want to do yet."
"I've known what I want to do for ages. History then maybe archaeology."
"So you fancy yourself as another Indiana Jones," I joked. "Somehow I don't think that Lancashire Lewis has quite the same ring to it."
"Stupid sod," he replied good-naturedly, moving his elbow backwards to prod the side of my ribs.
"Anyway," he added thoughtfully after a long pause, "I was thinking that maybe, when you've decided exactly what subject you're going to do, maybe we could pick a uni that we could both go to."
His statement sounded more like a question and it ended rather hesitantly, but I didn't hesitate before replying because I'd been thinking the very same thing. However, I'd been wary of bringing the matter up myself because it would have been very embarrassing if he'd rejected the idea.
"That sounds like a great idea," I said, trying not to sound too eager.
He didn't say anything, but he relaxed more into my embrace and gently moved his head so it rubbed against mine. Somehow I got the impression that if he'd been a cat he would have been purring.
As we lay for a few minutes in a comfortable silence, I felt my dick getting hard again and I found myself slowly, almost absent-mindedly, humping against him. At first it was just a gentle erotic self-pleasuring rather than an act of passionate lust. After a while, however, he began a synchronised movement of his own in a way which not only increased the pressure against my erection but also seeming to grip it between his buttocks. When he then took my hand and put it on his own erection, my excitement increased enormously.
He suddenly stopped moving, and I wondered if something was wrong. Then it occurred to me that perhaps he thought that this action involving his bum was a bit too queer. Fearful of spoiling things between us, I, too, ceased moving.
"You okay?" I whispered with a breathlessness that was caused more by my apprehensiveness than by my physical exertions.
He didn't respond in words but made a sort of 'mmmm' sound and twisted his head around until he was just about able to kiss my forehead. Relieved that he did indeed seem okay, I moved so that my lips met his and we kissed for a few seconds, which was as long as we could manage with his head turned in that uncomfortable position. When we stopped kissing, I slowly and gently resumed my humping, assuming that he was content with me doing so. However, he remained motionless, cleared his throat and then spoke very quietly and hesitantly.
"Ya know, you and Simon," he said hesitantly, and after a brief pause he added, "Ya know you said you never kissed?"
"Yeah," I said, and reluctantly stopped moving.
"And you told me about wanking and sucking with him, but you never mentioned, erm, other stuff."
"Other stuff?" I echoed doubtfully.
Difficult as this may be to believe, at that moment I really didn't know what he was referring to. That lack of understanding may have been because of naivety on my part or possibly because I was subconsciously suppressing certain ideas. In any case, I could feel his body grow tense and there was a long silence before he responded to my question.
"Yeah. Other stuff, like, well, like..." There was pause of a few seconds as if he were trying either to find the right words or to summon the courage to say those words. Maybe it was a combination of both. He took a deep breath before he continued very quietly, "Like, well, fucking."
Of course, I immediately realised what he'd been referring to so hesitantly, and it was a double shock. At the time that word was for me only used as a swear word, and Frank very rarely swore. So at first I was a little shocked by his use of the word and then considerably more shocked by the fact that he thought that I might have done such a thing with Simon.
"No, of course not," I said as soon as I regained sufficient composure. "We never even considered it."
"It's good to hear that," Frank responded in a serious voice. Then before I could react any further, he turned round to face me, gave me a brief kiss, and in a lighter tone he added, "Cos I'd like our first times to be together."
My response to this was considerably delayed because I was confused by the mixture of conflicting thoughts that tumbled around in my head. The lustful excitement at the prospect of that sexual novelty had to compete with some deep reservations, the first of these being that fucking another boy's bum would definitely be crossing a line and would be tantamount to admitting that I was a queer. While I was still considering the implications of that, it also occurred to me that it might be rather unhygienic.
Then another cause for concern came to mind, and I wondered if he wanted to stick his dick in me. As I expected some pain or at least considerable discomfort, I certainly wasn't at all keen on that idea. Soon after discovering gay porn on the internet, I'd tried a couple of times to put things up my bum, but apart from the thrill of doing something new and a bit taboo it hadn't given me any real pleasure. Anyway, before I could formulate a response, Frank turned his back to me again.
"Go on, then," he said in a tone that was somehow both pleading and demanding. "Put it in and do me."
During the next few minutes I tried to comply with his request, but despite the use of both saliva and copious amounts of our combined pre-cum, all my attempts failed. Neither of us had enough knowledge or experience to realise that penetrating his virgin sphincter would not be as easy as it seemed in the internet porn. As thing turned out, by the time we gave up trying we were both sore, and despite Frank's uncomplaining bravery I could tell that our attempts had caused him some pain.
I was the one who suggested that we called a halt to the experiment, but despite his discomfort Frank seemed genuinely reluctant to abandon our attempts. He was clearly disappointed when we gave up, but for me the disappointment was mixed with relief. We spooned together for a couple of minutes of silent recovery, then I started humping again, this time with my dick between his thighs, the head rubbing against his scrotum. At the same time I wanked him, and in a very short time we achieved almost simultaneous orgasms.
For the next couple of days we continued our vacation with no mention of our attempt at anal sex. I assumed that Frank had given up on the idea, and I was content to leave it at that. On the second night after that, just as we finished undressing in the tent, Frank reached over to one of the pockets of his rucksack, took out a large handful of small packets and dropped them between us onto the sleeping bag.
"Look what I got," he said with a grin, obviously very pleased with himself.
A quick glance downward revealed to me that these small packets were individually wrapped portions of butter. As neither of us was particularly fond of butter, this observation left me rather puzzled.
"I grabbed them from the pub table after lunch," he added in response to my questioning look. "When you went for a pee, just before we left."
His explanation of the how and when he'd got them still left me wondering about the why. Frank quickly read my puzzled expression and spoke again.
"I thought it would make good lube. Ya know, so we can try again," he said. Then hesitantly, he added, "You do want to try again, don't you?"
His meaning was immediately clear, and the hopeful yet uncertain look in his eyes overcame my reservations. A refusal to go along with his idea would be like kicking a puppy that was rolling on its back, hoping for me to tickle its tummy.
"Yeah, of course," I agreed.
The added lubrication, together with some preliminary finger work did in fact enable me to get inside him, but he was still so tight that for both of us, especially for Frank, there was more discomfort than pleasure. There was no way that we were going to orgasm that way, and again I was the one who brought a halt to the proceedings.
"I'm sorry," Frank muttered, seemingly close to tears.
"Why should you be sorry?" I said gently, then in an attempt to lighten the mood, I added. "It's not your fault that we just don't seem to fit together as easily as we wanted. And anyway, I'm the one who should be sorry cos the buttery mess on your sleeping bag is mostly my fault!"
"But I really, really wanted to give myself. To give you as much pleasure as possible," he replied, the upset and disappointment clear in his voice.
"We already give one another loads of pleasure," I said, then grinned and continued, "And anyway, I think I read somewhere that too much pleasure can kill you."
My attempt to cheer him up must have succeeded at least partially, because he smiled and in a happier tone said, "But what a way to go!"
"C'mere!" I responded, pulling him toward me and kissing him as I ground our dicks together.
Frank passed his driving test that summer, and after that he often managed to borrow one of the three family cars. For the rest of the vacation we went camping for at least a couple of days almost every week, and even after school started again we managed to get away most weekends. If my family noticed that I was rarely home they never bothered to mention it, though on more than one occasion I had the distinct impression that my brother was quite happy to be getting the bedroom to himself so frequently.
Despite our increased mobility, the spot by the local flooded quarry remained one of our favourite places. We regarded it as our own private place, though on fine nights in summer our solitude was occasionally broken by the sounds of a courting couple. However, that didn't really bother us as they never ventured far from the road and we never saw them in 'our' coppice.
A couple of weeks before the start of the new term, Frank and I decided to spend a long weekend by the quarry. Because of complications borrowing a car, we arrived quite late on the Thursday evening, so as soon as we'd pitched the tent and then made and eaten a quick snack, we decided to bed down for the night. Even before we took off our clothes we were snogging and groping one another, so after we crawled into the tent several minutes went by before we were completely naked. Then Frank pulled away from our grinding embrace to get something from his rucksack.
"Here," he said, holding the object out to me. "I thought we might use this tonight."
In the semi darkness I thought at first that the object was a tube of toothpaste and that the hint of embarrassed hesitancy was because he was implying that I had bad breath. Then when he placed the tube in my hand I took a closer look and saw that it was KY lubricant, at which point I immediately understood that he wanted to try anal sex again. After the previous two attempts I'd thought he'd given up on the idea, and after the earlier experiences I wasn't keen to try again. He must have detected my lack of enthusiasm, because he spoke again, this time in a cajoling, almost pleading tone.
"This should make it a lot easier," he said, indicating the KY. "And, and I've been practising."
"Practising?" I echoed.
"Yeah," he said, looking and sounding very embarrassed. "So I won't be too tight."
Although I was curious, my own embarrassment prevented me from asking just then how he'd been practising. However, before we went to sleep that night I found out that he'd worked up the courage to order a dildo and several tubes of KY from an on-line mail order company.
"C'mon, Ian," he pleaded. "Let's at least try it. I'm sure we'll both enjoy it."
"Erm, did you get condoms?" I asked. The fact that I was showing my embarrassment so obviously embarrassed me even more.
"No," he replied frowning. "I thought as neither of us had ever done it before, there was no danger of catching anything."
"Well, erm," I said, blushing so hard that it felt as if my face was burning, "I, erm, wasn't thinking about that. I was, well, think about, ya know, hygiene."
"I made sure I was clean," he replied, clearly a little offended.
Not knowing what else to say, I just looked at him, pleading with my eyes.
"Okay," he said and sighed. "It'll probably make more difference to you than to me, anyway. But why don't we try it without for now, then when I get some you'll have something to compare it with."
So we did try it. This time there was no problem at all with the penetration and we did indeed both enjoy it. Actually, we enjoyed it so much that during the course of the next couple of hours we tried every position we could think of and had two orgasms each. To my surprise, Frank appeared to get at least as much pleasure from receiving as I got from giving, so I didn't feel so guilty at being relieved when he didn't suggest reversing our roles.
From then on, anal sex became part of our repertoire, though we certainly didn't do it every time we got together. It was more like a special treat we gave ourselves when we had lots of time to relax together in complete privacy. I never suggested that maybe I should be on the receiving end, and much to my relief, neither did Frank.
For the next few months, life was good. Well, it was at least as good as it could be, bearing in mind the stress of mock exams and applying to universities. Frank and I both put Linchester as our first choice and even planned to see if we could arrange to share a room in university accommodation. Christmas came and went, and even the awful winter weather didn't spoil our private time in the tent. However, we were both happy when the weather improved as Easter approached.
We spent he weekend before Easter at our favourite local spot by the quarry, and we were fortunate that it was an ideal spring weekend. The weather was sunny and mild, fresh leaves were emerging from buds on the trees, birds were singing joyfully, and the water in the quarry reflected the fluffy clouds in the pale blue sky. Besides all that, we were both very horny that weekend, and the sex was even better than usual.
On the Sunday night, Frank and I lay together in what had become our favourite position, with me spooned up behind him, and my arm hugging him to me. Usually Frank went to sleep quickly, but that night he seemed quite restless and his frequent small movements were making it difficult for me to fall asleep.
"Is anything the matter?" I asked eventually, squeezing him gently then kissing the back of his neck.
"No," he said, not very convincingly.
"So why can't you sleep?" I persisted.
I felt his body tense up then immediately he began to gradually relax, as if an involuntary tension was followed by an intentional relaxation. After a couple of minutes he spoke again.
"Well, nothing's the matter," he said, then in an even quieter much more uncertain tone he added, "It's just, just, I was wondering..."
His voice faded away and the tension-relaxation cycle in his body was repeated a couple of times. I became concerned, because clearly there was something wrong but I had no idea what it might be. My first tentative guess was that it might be that he wasn't satisfied with always being the recipient during anal sex and that he wanted to suggest trying a reversal of roles. However, my knowledge of Frank immediately caused me to doubt that he would be so hesitant about making such a suggestion.
"What were you wondering?" I asked soothingly, giving him an encouraging squeeze.
I felt him tense again but this time it was not followed by the gradual relaxation.
"I was wondering," he said in what seemed to be an almost fearful tone, "I was wondering if you loved me."
The question took me totally by surprise, and I was shocked into a breathless silence, as if I'd been punched in the gut. That was the second time I'd been asked that question, and I really didn't know what to say. Knowing Frank so well, I felt confident that it wasn't a trick question and that he wouldn't violently reject me if I said yes. In fact, I had a strong feeling that Frank wanted me to say yes.
I also felt that my reply had to be totally truthful, but I really didn't know what the truth was. Not only had I not expected the question, I hadn't previously even thought about whether or not I loved him. Instead, I'd just accepted without question the fact that I enjoyed having him in my life. Although I may not have known for sure if I loved him, I was certain my feelings for him were strong and deep.
The tension in Frank's body increased as my silence became more prolonged, and I felt I had to say something quickly. So, trying to be as truthful as possible, I said, "I'm not sure. I'm not even sure I know what real love is."
"That's just a complicated way of saying no," he said in a dead monotone.
The tension left his body, but instead of merely becoming relaxed it became more like a dead weight. Somehow, without actually moving, he seemed to have put some distance between us. I felt totally wretched because my words had obviously hurt him much more than I'd expected.
"I'm in love with you," he added, the hurt now showing in his voice. "Couldn't you tell?"
I had no idea how to answer that. I didn't want to lie, but the truth, that I'd never given the matter any thought, would only have hurt him even more. I cursed myself for being so selfishly wrapped up in myself that it had never occurred to me to wonder what Frank was feeling. Perhaps I'd really just been too afraid to think about what he might be feeling. Honesty was not only the correct policy morally, but it also seemed to be the only viable option. So I told him all about my feelings for Teo and Simon, including how Simon had reacted when I answered the same question that Frank had just asked.
"So, are you saying you wanted to say you love me but were afraid I'd react like Simon?" he asked hopefully.
"I was pretty sure you wouldn't behave like Simon, and I wanted to say I love you because I want to make you happy," I said, hating myself for dashing his hopes, "but I really can't be sure how I feel."
"Why can't you just be honest and say no?" he asked gruffly.
"Can't you tell I'm trying to be honest?" I said, a little exasperated. "Surely you know there are different types of love and that there are lots of different emotions mixed together in each type of love. I loved Teo as my best friend and I felt a sort of sexual love for Simon, but I don't think either of them are what others mean when they talk about being in love. The only thing I know about being in love is what I've seen in movies and read about in books, and I've never felt like they describe it."
"Why do you have to make things so complicated? Why do you have to analyse emotions instead of just feeling them?" Frank said, showing his own exasperation. "I know I'm in love with you."
"I can't help being the way I am. At the moment, all I can say is that I love you as a best friend and also in a sexual way. Like a combination of how I felt about Teo and Simon."
"But Simon's a selfish bastard, and I can't believe Teo was as wonderful as you think. I don't want to be like Simon and could possibly be as perfect as you seem to think Teo was. No human being can be."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that," I said, realising that he'd misunderstood me, probably because I didn't understand it myself. "And you're probably right that my feelings for Teo stopped me from noticing his faults. But what I'm trying to say is that I think that for every person you love there is a different kind of love and a different mixture of emotions, and I was trying describe the particular mix of emotions I feel for you. I love you as my best friend, and I love you as a sexual partner, but I don't know if that's the same as being romantically in love with you."
We were still physically touching, something we could hardly avoid in that small space, but it seemed that a great distance separated us, and as the silence grew longer, that distance became greater. As sleep continued to evade me, I tried to understand what had gone wrong, and I wondered what I could do to preserve our friendship. The same thoughts kept repeating in my mind, but always I was left with questions but no answers.
I wondered if Frank could accept that I wasn't be in love with him in the same way that he was with me. I hoped that he would appreciate that the friendship love and sexual love that did feel for him was at least as good and valid as the passionate yearning love shown on TV and described in novels. Perhaps I should have just told Frank that I did love him without adding the qualifying phrase 'as a friend'. After all, I'd just turned eighteen years old, so I couldn't claim to be an expert on the distinctions and merits of the many different types of love.
Despite any lack of emotional expertise, however, I knew that Teo had been my best friend, and I'd always love him, even after he died. By contrast, my lust-driven feelings for Simon had burned bright but had now faded, and I realised that, unlike my feelings for either Teo or Frank, my feelings for Simon had been superficial. Being with Simon had controlled and dominated my life, but my feelings for Teo and Frank enriched my life and gave me support. With Simon I'd always felt insecure and almost unworthy, but with Frank and Teo I'd felt secure in an equal relationship.
While these thoughts went around in my mind, it was clear from the small movements and sounds he made that Frank, too, was restless and unsleeping. However, eventually he became still, and I felt him relax next to me, and shortly after that I heard his soft, gentle snore. Automatically, perhaps from force of habit, I wrapped my arm around him and snuggled up closer. Without waking up, he seemed to melt deeper into my embrace, and at last I fell asleep.
When I awoke in the early morning light, I was alone in the tent. The sounds of movement, the clinking of metal and the hissing of a lit gas burner coming from just outside indicated that Frank was making breakfast. However, apprehensive of the consequences of the previous night's discussion, I hesitated to investigate further. Eventually, realising that I couldn't stay there forever, I began to get dressed. Just then the door flap was raised and Frank's grinning head appeared.
"Hey, sleepy head," he said brightly. "If you don't hurry up, you'll miss breakfast. I'll start brewing tea while you get dressed."
His head disappeared, leaving me with a great sense of relief that all appeared to be well between us.
During breakfast there was very little conversation, but that was perfectly usual as I'm not a morning person and could rarely manage more than a polite greeting before my first meal of the day. Frank's usual good humour was evident, though I got the impression it might have been a little strained. On the other hand, maybe that impression was the product of my own feeling of guilt rather than the result of any real observation. When we finished eating, I felt the need to clear the air, if only to relieve my own anxieties.
"About last night..." I began, but then stopped, not knowing how best to proceed.
"What about last night?" Frank asked, though it was clear from his expression that he knew what I was talking about.
"What you asked," I replied then after a brief pause I added, "And what I answered."
Oh, that," he said dully. "Let's forget it."
He was obviously trying to suppress or at least mask his emotions, but he couldn't hide the fleeting look of disappointed hurt that passed across his face. The fact that I didn't believe that I'd done anything wrong didn't prevent me from feeling guilty. For that reason and because I knew that neither of us could truly forget what had been said the night before, I felt the need to pursue the matter.
"Look," I said, "I think it's best to sort things out now so it doesn't fester and ruin things."
"What makes you think anything's festering?" he said, slightly indignantly.
"Well, maybe it's festering not now, but it might. So why not humour me and let me get things off my chest?"
He frowned and looked unhappy, probably because I was digging up something he'd been trying to bury, but eventually he nodded his agreement.
"As you probably gathered from last night," I said, "I don't really know much about love. Apart from the sort of love there is for family, I've only ever had such feelings for Teo, Simon, and you. All are different types of love. Is one sort of love better or worse than another? All I can say is that I no longer have any feelings for Simon and I love you more than any other friend I ever had, probably even more than Teo."
There was a long silence while Frank sat deep in thought and I waited for his response. Eventually he nodded his head affirmatively and gave a little smile.
"So you don't love anyone more than me? " he asked.
"And," he said, then hesitated, "and maybe you might eventually get to be 'in love' with me?"
"Maybe," I agreed, honestly believing that it was a real possibility.
"In that case," he said, breaking into a big beaming grin, "everything's great!"
After that our relationship returned to what it had been before the vexed question of love had been raised. My feelings of love for Frank did indeed grow deeper, though I don't know if they crossed over to being 'in love' with him in the romantic way he wanted. He didn't ask me again if I loved him, and for that I was both grateful and relieved.
The weeks after the Easter break passed quickly, and despite all the studying for our imminent exams, we spent as much time together as we could. However, between Easter and the start of our exams in May we had only one more camping trip, mainly because Frank's parents thought that camping and study were definitely not compatible. On the other hand, his parents didn't mind him spending time with me because they knew I always got good grades and, as they said to him, they hoped my studying skills might rub off on him.
By the time our exams finished in June, I was mentally exhausted but also elated, especially when we had our last-ever official day in school. Frank seemed to be just as exhausted but not quite so elated, and I thought that perhaps, unlike me, he was a little sad that his school life had ended. Less than a week after our last exam, we began the first of our summer trips together, camping and hiking around the Lake District.
That summer was the longest unbroken period of happiness in my life so far. For two months the weather was warm even when it rained, and we were free to go anywhere, because Frank could borrow a family car almost any time he wanted. There was no studying to be done, we could spend a lot of time alone together, and the sex was great. One hot humid night in an isolated field in the Peak District, we were bold enough to spend the night making love under the open sky, with occasional dips in a nearby stream to refresh ourselves.
During our vacation we occasionally discussed our future at university, but we didn't talk about exams. Then as the day of our exam results approached, I became a little nervous, but not really worried, and if Frank was similarly nervous he didn't allow it to show. On the day the results were announced we had the choice of going to school to collect our results in person or waiting until the following day for them to arrive in the mail. As there seemed no reason at all to wait an extra day, Frank borrowed one of the family cars and gave me a lift to the school.
I was very happy to find that my grades were even better than expected and were more than adequate to get me onto the course I wanted. Although no one had expected Frank to get great results, it turned out that his grades were much worse than anyone would have predicted. He himself appeared to be surprised and even a little shocked by his poor performance, his main concern being how to break the news to his parents.
The drive home was spent mostly in a sombre silence. The happiness I'd felt on getting my own results was considerably dampened, and for some reason I felt almost guilty that I'd done so much batter than he had. Also, perhaps selfishly, I wondered how our plans to go to university together might be affected. When we got to my house he promised to phone me later and immediately set off home. As it turned out, it was quite late in the evening when he eventually called me.
"Well, it doesn't look like I'll be going to Linchester with you," he announced glumly.
"What about going through Clearing?" I asked, making no attempt to hide my disappointment. "Isn't there a college or something in Linchester that will accept you?"
"Didn't you see my grades? I doubt I could get in anywhere in the country, and even if I could it wouldn't be a course I want to do," he replied with some bitterness, then in a resigned tone he added, "Anyway, I've been over all this with my parents, and we decided that it's best for me to go to a local sixth form college and then do the A-level exams again next year."
"Oh," I said, feeling the need to say something but unable to think of a more meaningful utterance.
There was a brief and somewhat strained silence before he spoke again. "I know it might make it more difficult, but there's no reason we can't still be, ya know..."
I knew what he was thinking, and I guessed that the word he was reluctant to use was probably 'boyfriends'. Neither of us had ever used that word in connection with our relationship, and I was uncomfortable with the idea of it being used now, so I was grateful that he didn't complete his sentence.
"We'll be okay," I replied hurriedly before he could say anything else too emotionally loaded. "It's not like I'm going to the other side of world. Linchester's less than two hours drive away, so we can probably get together most weekends."
"Yeah," he agreed, sounding considerably relieved. "I can easily borrow a car, and if you come home by train I can help with the cost of the fare. And then next year I can join you in Linchester."
The following morning, Frank phoned to say he had the house to himself for a few hours and did I want to go and visit. Of course I was always happy to visit him, even when his family was there, but the prospect of a sexual opportunity added to my eagerness in accepting his invitation. When I got there he ushered me up to his bedroom, and I sat on his bed, expecting him to join me. However, before we got down to anything physical, he retrieved a piece of paper from his bedside cabinet and began speaking in a serious tone.
"I was thinking last night how we can make this work."
I looked at him blankly, unsure what exactly 'this' might be.
"Ya know," he continued, reading my expression, "how to make sure we don't lose what we've got while you're away in Linchester."
"Oh, right," I replied.
"So," he said as he sat down beside me, "I made a list of things that I think will help."
He handed the piece of paper to me, and I saw that there was indeed a list, obviously very carefully written out in his best handwriting.
1) Keep in regular frequent contact no matter how busy we are, how tired we are, or how little news we have.
2) When time together is limited, make sure it's quality time so that when we are apart we have only good memories & feelings.
3) Tell one another about the little things as well is the big events and discuss new friends so we feel part of one another's lives.
4) Trust one another.
"What do you think?" he asked after giving me time to read through the list.
He'd obviously given the matter a great deal of thought and it clearly meant a lot to him, so I didn't express my initial feelings, that it all seemed a bit over the top.
"Did you lie awake all night thinking about this?" I asked, only half joking.
"Well, I didn't get a lot of sleep," he replied with a wry smile.
He went on to explain his thinking behind each item on the list, though, with the possible exception of the last item, they seemed to me to be self-explanatory.
"What I mean by trusting one another," he said, "is that we should trust one another not to have sex with anyone else while we are apart. Otherwise we'd have lots of sleepless nights, and if we act like we're suspicious of one another it would mess up our relationship."
The word relationship, while not nearly so loaded as 'boyfriend' or 'love', embarrassed me enough to make me blush. I'd not considered the situation as deeply as Frank had, and although I had sexual fantasies involving other people, the idea of actually having sex with anyone else hadn't really occurred to me. We were in fact monogamous, but it hadn't been a conscious decision, at least on my part. It was just the way things were, and in truth I'd never given the matter any thought. However, now that I did think of it, I realised that the idea of Frank having sex with anyone else made me very unhappy.
"Okay," I said. "Your list seems very sensible to me. I'm sure it'll help us keep things going until you come to Linchester."
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