My first term in Linchester was a big shock to my system. The big, bustling city centre contrasted sharply with the quiet of my medium-sized hometown, and the University had more than a hundred times as many students as my smallish school. I knew absolutely no one in Linchester, and although Frank had been my only really close friend back home, there had been several people there whom I knew well enough to at least have a chat with. The start of my new life away from home seemed to be full of new experiences, some of which were terrifying ordeals, some were exciting adventures, and some were both.
Discounting the ordeal of packing and being driven to Linchester by my parents in their newly acquired pre-owned car, the first real ordeal of my life at university began when I arrived at my allocated Hall of Residence. It was not only the oldest of the student Residences but it was also the farthest from the main campus. However, the real ordeal was not related to the age and location of the building. Instead it began when I found out that I was expected to share a room with a complete stranger.
When we'd eventually found our way across the city to the small car park in front of the Hall, I'd insisted that my parents stay with the car until I discovered which room had been allocated to me. Thus I went alone into he elegant Victorian building, passing through the large stone arch, with its open wooden doors, into a vaulted ante chamber. On the right hand side of that space was a sliding window of what was an apparently empty porter's room. Directly ahead of me was a set of double doors, the top half of which contained stained glass panels.
Going through those doors, I found myself in a large, wood-panelled entrance hall. There I found a dozen or so other people, male and female, all about my own age, queuing in front of two small desks that were situated side by side just to the left of a large staircase. Choosing what seemed to be the slightly shorter queue, I soon found myself standing in front of the sandy-haired young man seated behind that particular desk.
"Name?" he asked, his bored tone complementing the disinterested look in his pale blue eyes.
"Ian Kaye," I responded, feeling nervous and slightly intimidated.
He looked down, glanced through the papers on his desk then took an envelope from a tray that was situated on a small table between the two desks. He held it out for me to take, and as I took it from him I felt the shape of a key inside it.
"Room 215," he said. Then he pointed at a small group of people a few feet away from us and continued, "If you wait over there for a couple of minutes someone should be available to show you where your room is and give you a quick tour."
As I began to turn away he looked back at the papers, and without bothering to look back up at me he spoke again.
"You're roommate is Christopher Andrews."
I froze for a second, then before the next person in the queue could take my place, I turned back to face the seated young man.
"Roommate?" I said.
When Frank and I had applied for a place in the Residences we'd requested that we share a room. After I found out that Frank wouldn't be going with me to Linchester I, perhaps stupidly, never gave any further thought to sharing a room. Although for obvious reason I'd looked forward to sharing a room with Frank, the idea of sharing a room with a stranger appalled me. Having had to share a room with my younger brother for so many years, I should have been accustomed to a lack of privacy. However, a similar lack of privacy with a total stranger was very different, and something I desperately wanted to avoid.
"Is there a problem?" he asked, irritation showing both in the tone of his voice and the narrowing of his eyes.
"Well, it's just, just," I stuttered, "that I was hoping for a single room."
He raised his eyebrows in an expression of mocking amusement, which was also reflected in his voice. "There are very few single rooms in Hall, and they're reserved either for senior students or for those with special needs."
I just stood there dumb and feeling foolish. It seemed everyone in both queues was now looking at me, including the young woman sitting at the other desk, upon which was a card identifying her as 'Assistant Bursar'.
"Well, you're not a senior student," the young man in front of me observed archly. "Do you have special needs?"
Stung by both his words and his tone, I became annoyed and responded without any thought. "Yes, I think so."
"Then you'll have to see the Bursar about it," he said dismissively. He took the envelope out of my hand and pointed vaguely across the foot of the stairs and toward the other end of the hallway.
Then he turned his attention to the person behind me in the queue, so I moved off in the direction he'd indicated. As my annoyance faded I realised I'd put myself into a difficult and potentially extremely embarrassing position. Of course, I didn't have a 'special need', and I didn't even have any idea what might qualify as one, so I couldn't try to invent something. Walking as slowly as I could, all too soon I found myself outside a half-open panelled wooden door, upon which the word 'Bursar' was imprinted in golden letters.
Now I was caught between the metaphorical rock and the equally metaphorical hard place. The difficulty of my position was, however, certainly not metaphorical but very real. On the one hand I could accept the shared room, but apart from my reluctance to do that, there was now also another problem. If I simply changed my mind I was concerned that the annoying young man and everyone in his vicinity would know I'd lied in claiming to have special needs. I cringed with embarrassment as I realised that these were people I'd probably have to face almost every day for at least the next year.
On the other hand, I could speak to the Bursar and try to bluff my way into a single room. However, I had no idea what to say, and I suspected that a failed bluff would lead to even more embarrassment than just going back and accepting the shared room. When I was about a dozen feet from the door I came to a hesitant halt. While I hovered around in my indecision, I could see that inside the room were two middle-aged women standing in front of a large old-fashioned wooden desk. They were looking at a sheet of paper held by the taller woman, and they appeared to be discussing what was written upon it.
The woman holding the paper was not just taller, she was bigger in every way, and although she was not in any way fat, she had a very sturdy build that reminded me of a rugby player. However, that isn't to imply that she was in any way masculine, and indeed she appeared very feminine and somewhat motherly in her full black skirt and lace-edged white blouse. At first I couldn't get a clear view of her face because she was looking down at the paper. Also, her features were partially obscured by her mane of black hair, which was made even more remarkable by the wide grey stripe that began at her temples and continued to the very tips.
The second woman, dressed in a pale blue uniform-style dress, was slimmer and much more ordinary in her appearance. She had short, curly blond hair, though the darker roots indicated that this was not its natural colour. There was no doubt in my mind that the taller woman was the Bursar, and although the smaller woman showed no signs of diffidence, I guessed from her clothing that she was a member of staff. The Bursar looked up from the paper, smiled at the other woman and made some comment that clearly amused her companion.
Observing the two women had distracted me from my own predicament for just a few seconds. However, when the smaller woman took the paper and left the room, my mind started to race as I considered my options. I didn't have long to think, because the Bursar quickly noticed me standing outside her room. As soon as she saw me the slightly amused expression on her face became more formal and business-like, and she came to the doorway.
"Mr Kaye," she said, her tone politely neutral. "Can I help you?"
The fact that she knew who I was took me by surprise, temporarily leaving me mute. Then I remembered that four photographs had been required with my formal acceptance of a place at the university, and I guessed that one of them had been sent to the Hall of Residence. Despite that realisation, and despite the fact that I knew that this was the university's smallest Residence, I was still impressed that the Bursar had apparently already memorised the faces and names of the newcomers.
"Are you lost?" she asked, an impatient edge creeping into her voice. "Or are you just lost for words?"
A mixture of embarrassment and mild resentment made me blush and goaded me into speaking.
"Erm," I began hesitantly, and then quickly blurted out the rest of what I had to say. "I was told I should come and see you about getting a single room."
"You'd better come in, then," she said, frowning slightly.
She turned away from the doorway and went behind her desk, whereupon I entered the room but stayed close to the door. Then she picked up a sheaf of papers from among many that were stacked neatly on the polished desktop, and after a quick glance through the papers in her hand, she returned her gaze to me.
"You didn't request a single room," she said.
I was pretty sure from her tone and facial expression that she'd known that before she'd even looked at the papers and that the checking procedure had been mainly a performance for my benefit.
"N-no," I stuttered. "I-I didn't realise I needed to. Well, I never really thought about it until I got here."
She raised an eyebrow, but before she could make a comment I spoke again, blushing at my own foolishness.
"Though I suppose it says I needed to, somewhere in all the stuff the university sent me," I said apologetically, "
"Most of which you probably never got around to reading," she observed dryly.
In response I just shrugged. When I'd arrived at the Hall with my parents I'd felt like an adult, albeit a rather nervous adult. However, as I stood now in front of the Bursar I felt like a stupid schoolboy.
"I'm sure you know," she continued, "that we have only a few single rooms here and that they are usually reserved for senior students or for those who have a good reason for needing one. Why do you think that you should get one, especially now, when they've already been allocated?"
When I'd been making my way to her office a few ideas, or to put it bluntly a few lies, had occurred to me. I'd considered claiming to be a very light sleeper, or maybe saying I was concerned that my loud snoring or frequent nightmares might disturb any potential roommates. However, under her piercing gaze, and wisely as it turned out, I decided to tell her the truth.
So I explained how I'd spent the last thirteen years of my life having to share a room and really felt the need for more privacy at university. I also pointed out that I'd been prepared to share a room with my best friend, but that he now wasn't coming here, at least not this year. Over the years I'd found that one advantage to being short and slightly built was that older women tended to have an urge to treat me in a motherly way. So, although I had very little hope that it would help me in the present circumstances, I looked at her pleadingly.
"Although I do sympathise with you, Mr Kaye," she said as soon as I finished speaking, "you must realise that your reasons don't really justify giving you a single room."
She did indeed sound genuinely sympathetic, and although I was disappointed with her response, I was also glad that I'd told the truth and not invented some excuse.
"Okay," I said, nodding my head. Then I turned to leave.
Over the following few weeks I was to find out many things about the Bursar, for example that she addressed all the students formally as 'Mr' or 'Miss', no matter how long she'd known them. Of course everyone addressed her as 'Bursar' or, very occasionally, as 'Mrs Wilson'. When she wasn't in earshot, some students referred to her as 'The Dragon', but even those who disliked her obviously respected the fact that she ruled with a fair but very firm hand. Later, when I also learned that she detested lies and despised liars, I was especially glad that I'd told the truth about why I wanted a single room.
Before I passed through the doorway, she spoke again.
"Mr Kaye," she said, and as I turned to face her, she added, "There is one possibility."
I looked at her hopefully, eager to avoid having to go back and ask for the key to room 215.
"There is one single room that has proved to be unpopular with the students," she said. "So for the last couple of years it's been used only for temporary emergency accommodation. However, I feel that this is an inefficient use of resources, so if you want it, you may have it."
"Yes," I responded immediately, trying not to sound too pathetically eager. "I definitely want it."
"Perhaps you should see it before you decide," she said in a mildly amused tone.
"Okay," I agreed, though I had in fact already made my decision.
She went to a large key cupboard attached to the wall on her right and took out a key.
"Come with me then," she said, "and I'll show you the room."
Surprised that she would take on such a menial task herself, I followed her out of the room, along the hallway and up the stairs. At the top of the first flight of stairs, where the wood panelling gave way to more modern painted plaster, there were fire doors on either side. She led me through the one on the left, then along a wide corridor with doors on both sides. There was a number on every door, and many of the doors were open so I could see that these were obviously student rooms. At the end of the corridor was another fire door, beyond which were six doors on the left, each marked with word 'Shower' and six doors on the right with the designation 'WC'.
Beyond these doors was another fire door opening out into a narrow stairwell, and as we proceeded down those stairs I was already beginning to feel lost and a little disoriented. At the bottom of the stairs was another fire door, beyond which was a small room. On the opposite side of the room was an external door marked 'Fire Exit' and on the right hand side was a short corridor with three internal doors, one labelled 'WC, one labelled 'Bath' and the third labelled 'Cleaning Supplies'. On my left was a long narrow corridor from which emanated the distant sound of women's voices and the slight smell of food. The Bursar pointed in that direction.
"The kitchens are down here," she said, and then stepped into the corridor.
Confusion was added to disorientation as I wondered why she was leading me to the kitchens. Then, just inside the corridor she stopped and turned to her right so suddenly that I barely managed to avoid bumping into her.
"Here is the room," she said, indicating a door I hadn't previously noticed.
Using the key she'd taken from her office, she unlocked the door and stepped inside. From its location and the circuitous route that we'd taken to get there, I was half expecting the room to be tiny and dungeon-like, but when I followed her through the doorway I was very pleasantly surprised. The room was huge, airy and light, with two very large windows on the opposite wall. The Bursar stood in silence for just enough time to allow me to take a good look around the room.
Underneath one of the windows were a large desk and a chair, and opposite the windows, three or four feet from the door, was a small sink with both cold and hot water taps. At the far end of the room were a double bed, a bedside cabinet, and a wardrobe. All the furniture was old-fashioned and made of dark wood, and the carpet was well worn, but it was all spotlessly clean.
"Until four years ago," the Bursar said as I turned back to face her, "this was an all woman residence, and this room belonged to the live-in housekeeper. Then after it became a mixed residence, I decided to use it for students. So I had more electrical sockets put in and a connection to the University computer network installed."
She paused and looked at me thoughtfully, making me feel as if I were being examined and assessed. The discomfort induced by her gaze was mitigated somewhat by the good news about the network connection, Then she spoke again.
"For a couple of years I put students in here, but they kept complaining about being woken up early in the morning by noise from the kitchens or by cleaning staff arriving for work. Also, as you probably saw, although there is a toilet and bathroom nearby, the students previously in this room didn't like the fact that the nearest shower is upstairs."
Again she paused, seemingly trying to read my reaction from my facial expression. However, she probably couldn't read anything meaningful because my brain was still trying to process everything, so even I still wasn't sure about my own feelings.
"So last year," she continued, "we used it for visiting friends and relatives, but again it wasn't popular and it was barely used. It seems such a pity to waste the space, so I was even considering turning it into an extension of the kitchen storage area. But that would be such a shame, don't you think?"
Her piercing gaze emphasised the pointed tone of her question, and yet again I had the feeling that I was being examined and tested.
"Y-yes," I stuttered nervously. "It's too nice to be a storage room."
"So you'll take it then?" she asked, her eyes softening a little and a hint of a smile appearing at the corners of her mouth.
"Yes, of course," I replied without hesitation.
"You realise that there will be no changing your mind?" she said. "If you find you don't like the room, you won't be given another one in this Hall, not even a shared room, and if you move out you'll still have to pay the fees for the rest of the term."
Although her words were stern, her tone was not. As I nodded my understanding and acceptance of her terms, I felt that not only had we achieved a mutually satisfying agreement but also that I'd passed some sort of test.
"As you no doubt gathered," she said with a slight smile as she handed me the room key, "this room is a long way from the main entrance, which may be inconvenient, especially when you're moving your belongings in. So if you come back with me to my office I'll let you have a key to the rear entrance."
"Rear entrance?" I asked.
"Yes, didn't you see the door marked 'Fire Exit' just before we got to your room? It's used as a rear entrance by the kitchen and cleaning staff. You will be the only student with a key to that door, and I'm trusting you not to abuse this privilege. Under no circumstances are you to make a copy of that key, and you should never lend it to anyone. Do I make myself clear, Mr Kaye?"
"Yes, of course," I said solemnly, nodding my head.
From then on the Bursar and I had an excellent relationship. Of course, we were never friends and never shared any personal information, but there was always a feeling of mutual respect. Sometimes, on very rare and very special occasions when no one else could see, I even saw her smile in my direction.
For the next three years that room was to have a profound effect on my life and on my lifestyle. The location isolated me somewhat from the other students, so although my relationship with my fellow residents was friendly when I saw them in the dining room and common room, I never made any close friends in Hall. In fact, very few of my acquaintances in Hall even knew that my room existed, and even fewer ever came to see me there.
That physical isolation also gave me much more privacy even than those with the more usual single rooms. Also, it didn't take me long to realise that with my key to the rear entrance I could even have visitors without them having to go past the porter's room. On a more trivial note, I also learned to enjoy taking long slow baths. Technically, anyone could use the nearby bathroom and toilet, but they were so far off the beaten track that they were never used even by the few students who knew they existed. So, in effect they were my own private facilities, and I rarely ventured to the showers upstairs.
The first week at university was so busy and hectic that I didn't have time to be lonely, bored or homesick. However, on the first weekend, sitting alone in that big room, the homesickness suddenly hit me. I couldn't concentrate on any studying, and after a brief visit to the Hall common room I realised that I felt equally lonely being in a room with total strangers, all of whom seemed to be there with friends. Exploring the city distracted me for a while, and phone calls from Frank or my mum brightened things up a little, but overall, that weekend was miserable for me.
One part of my explorations led me from the city centre down the steeply sloping streets toward the wide navigable river that formed the southern boundary of the city. It was late on the Sunday afternoon, and despite the thin autumn sunshine it was quite cold, so the post-industrial riverside was almost deserted. For some time I leaned on the railings and stared in melancholy fascination at the broken reflections that sparkled on the slowly moving dark water. Then, as daylight began to fade into early evening gloom and the streetlights began to glow, I heard voices behind me and idly turned my head to look at the source of the sounds.
Two young men, probably in their late teens or early twenties, were walking along the otherwise deserted riverside. They were similar in appearance, both being of average height and having short dark brown hair. Although they were too far away for me to make out the words, I could tell from the tone of their voices that they were happily engaged in some light-hearted conversation. The way they talked, their closeness to one another, and their body language, all indicated that they were good friends. Despite the fact that in all respects they were very ordinary, for some reason they held my attention as their progress along the riverside took them away from me. Then I noticed that they were holding hands.
At first I thought I was imagining it and that the fading light was playing tricks on my eyes, especially as I was certain that they'd not been doing so when they'd passed by me a few seconds earlier. Now, however, as I studied them more closely, there was no doubt that they were indeed holding hands. I was quite shocked, not by what they were doing but by where they were doing it. After all, although I was the only other person in sight, this was a public place. Then, without thinking, I began to follow them.
After I realised what I was doing, I still continued to follow them, though I dropped back so that they wouldn't notice me. I probably needn't have bothered trying to be so careful, because they never looked behind them, and seemed oblivious to anything or anyone apart from themselves. After walking a couple of hundred yards, they disappeared from view as they turned left into a street that was at right angles to the river. Cautiously, I approached the corner and then, trying to appear as if I were just casually passing by, I looked into the well-lit street.
There was no sign of the two young men, but despite the fact that it was only a relatively short street, there were lots of doors through which they might have disappeared. On both sides of the street, light spilled from doorways and widows, and neon signs indicated the presence of several bars. I guessed that it was still rather early for most people to be out drinking, so I wasn't too surprised that there was no one in sight. For a few seconds I hesitated, standing there at the corner and wondering what to do.
A man came out of one doorway about a dozen yards from me. Although he crossed the street and then walked away from me without once looking in my direction, I felt uncomfortable hovering at that street corner, and in any case it occurred to me that I should be getting back to Hall for my evening meal. It appeared that the street led in the right general direction to take me back to the city centre, so I decided to go that way. As I walked up the slope I glanced into the doorways and windows, and it wasn't just the occasional small rainbow symbols that made me quickly realise that I'd stumbled upon some of the city's gay bars.
I could never satisfactorily analyse or really understand the complex mixture of emotions engendered by that realisation. I do know, however, that the emotions made me feel breathless and caused my heart to pound and my feet to speed up. Certainly, a large part of the mixture was fear, though that was mainly a fear of being seen on the street rather than a fear of the people in the bars. After all, by that time I'd admitted to myself that I was indeed gay, although I would never have admitted it to anyone else, not even Frank. Partly buried beneath the fear there was also a feeling of elation and an excitement that was only partly sexual .
By the time I got to the far end of the street, I was walking so fast that I was almost breaking into a run. However, I slowed down enough to make a quick mental note to myself: Quay Street.
As far as I could tell, I managed to hide my homesickness from my mum, but Frank quickly noticed it and said he'd come to visit the following weekend. True to his word, he arrived in his newly acquired car late the following Friday evening. We had a great weekend of sex, sightseeing, sex, long talks, and more sex, but when he left on the Sunday evening I felt even more miserable than I had the previous weekend. However, over the course of the next couple of weeks I settled in, got used to my new life, and for most of the time didn't think much about home, although I did often think about Frank, especially when I went to bed.
On the fourth weekend of term, with bags packed full of dirty laundry, I took the train home. Although Frank and I spent quite a bit of time together, our families made it hard to be alone. The only private quality time we managed to get was a couple of hours in his car, parked up in a very quiet place close to our favourite camping spot next to the old quarry. After a brief, furtive, cramped, but very enjoyable session of oral fun, Frank made an announcement.
"I'm going to try out for the college rugby team next week," he said.
This was mildly interesting, but its significance didn't occur to me until, after a brief pause, he added something else. "But don't worry. It shouldn't interfere with our weekends together."
"You mean it might?" I asked, beginning to feel a twinge of concern.
"Well, you know I'll always give priority to time with you, but if I'm picked for the team I can't let them down."
"Oh," I said.
That simple sound, not even a word, was filled with an emotional content that even I couldn't disentangle, so I had no way of knowing what it conveyed to Frank. However, it must have conveyed something, because he frowned slightly, and when he spoke his voice echoed a little of my own concern.
"You know I miss you when you're away," he said, " and I'll do anything I can so we can be together."
"I miss you, too," I responded quietly and slightly defensively.
My words were sincere, but somehow I felt ashamed of saying it, almost as if I'd admitted to a weakness or infirmity.
"Even though you still don't think you're in love with me," he said, making it sound almost like a question. The smile on his lips contradicted the sadness in his tone.
I knew that in his mind the sentence probably ended with 'like I'm in love with you', but he didn't actually say the words. In any case, I didn't respond, mainly because I didn't know what to say. In truth, I didn't really understand my own feelings. He was my best friend and we shared intimacies that we shared with no one else. I did miss him when I was away, even more than I missed my family, and what I missed wasn't just sex. I felt a mild, possessive jealousy that he would be getting more involved in rugby, an interest that I didn't share.
Without doubt, he was the single most important person in my life, but I didn't know how to tell him all that and yet still admit that I wasn't in love with him. I didn't want to hurt him further by telling him that my feelings for him were not the same as the burning, all-consuming love that's described in books and shown in movies. So I remained silent.
It was the middle of term by the time Frank tried out for the college rugby team, and because the first team had already had played successfully together he'd been accepted only into the second team. Because games were mostly on Wednesday afternoons, it was easy for him to arrange his visits to me so that they didn't conflict with the occasional weekend fixtures. The location and privacy of my room and the fact that we never went to the Hall bar or common room convinced me that no one knew that I had such a frequent weekend visitor. Even if anyone had noticed, no one ever commented on it.
The rest of that first term at university went by quickly, and Frank visited me for two more weekends, but I didn't go home again until the Christmas break. Family commitments didn't allow much private time for Frank and me during my time at home, and that served to emphasise how much better it was when Frank spent the weekends with me at university. So we resolved that he should visit me as often as possible, and the following term we managed to get together about two weekends per month.
I was enjoying my studies, and all was going well for both of us, though Frank wasn't enjoying his studies quite so much. However, he was confident that he was doing well enough to be able to join me in Linchester the following September. So, as Easter approached, my life was going very well and I was content. I was especially looking forward to the upcoming holiday because Frank and I had planned to get away from our families for a week or so by going on a camping trip. Our main motive was to give us some extended 'quality time' together. However, besides that, and contrary to what I would have predicted a couple of years previously, I'd actually grown to enjoy living simply in the open air of the countryside.
Frank phoned me on the Saturday afternoon of the weekend before the end of term. Although I was pleased to hear his voice and glad to have an excuse to take a break from my studies, I hadn't been expecting his call until the evening.
"Hi Frank," I said, responding to his greeting. "Is everything okay?"
"Okay?" he responded, obviously surprised by my question. "Why shouldn't it be okay?"
"No reason. Except I thought you said you were watching some rugby this afternoon and that you were going to phone this evening."
"Oh, right," he said. "The game finished about an hour ago."
"How was it?" I asked, trying to show an interest in something that I knew was important to him.
"Great!" he said enthusiastically. "It was a tough match but we won."
"We?" I asked, unable to remember which team he'd gone to watch.
"Our first team. Remember, I told you that if they won this game they'd have a place in the Easter tournament?"
"Ah, yes!" I said, beginning to remember and feeling a little guilty that I'd forgotten. "The tournament is in Scotland, isn't it?"
"Yes," he responded brightly, probably pleased that I hadn't totally forgotten. "This will be the first time the college has ever managed to get into the tournament."
"Yeah, I remember now that you told me that. Sorry," I apologised. Then, trying to excuse myself with a joke, I added, "Reading all these chemistry text books rots the brain!"
"Ha! Serves you right, he said teasingly. "You should have chosen a more interesting subject like history."
"Yuch!" I responded and chuckled.
At that point I was half expecting that it might spark off one of our good-humoured arts-versus-sciences discussions. However, he didn't respond, and there was a long pause before he spoke.
"Er, Ian," he said hesitantly. "I've some bad news, some good news and some more bad news. Which do you want first?"
From the way he spoke it was clear that he was trying to make a joke out of something serious that he wanted to talk about. Usually, the only topic that we avoided was our feelings for one another, so his obvious reluctance now to mention directly whatever was on his mind made me a little nervous.
"Why don't you just give them to me in chronological order?" I suggested, trying to hide my concern.
"Okay then," he said. I heard him take a deep breath before adding, "Adam, one of our best players, broke his leg."
"Right," I said when he didn't immediately continue. "That's obviously one of the bits of bad news. What's next?'
"Well, obviously Adam won't be able to take part in the tournament and one of the reserves will have to play instead."
"And that's good news?" I interrupted doubtfully.
"No, don't be silly!" he replied with mild irritation. Then in a much happier tone he added, "The good news is that they asked me to go along as a reserve for the first team!"
"A sort of reserve for the reserve," I joked. Then, realising that it might be interpreted as belittling his promotion, I quickly added, "Congratulations! I'm proud of you. I bet it won't be long before you'll be a starting player on the first team."
"Thanks," he said, then for several seconds he was silent.
"And I suppose we now have some more bad news," I prompted.
"Ah, erm, yes," he said reluctantly.
"Which is?" I prompted again.
"I'm going to be away on the tournament for most of the holidays," he said then he waited in silence while I absorbed that information.
"But we'll still fit in our camping trip, won't we?"
"There won't be time. I'm sorry," he said sincerely.
Obviously, I was very disappointed, but I'm ashamed to admit that there were some darker aspects to the complex mixture of emotions that swept through me. At the time, I had neither the opportunity nor inclination to analyse my feelings, but afterwards I realised that one of the strongest emotions was anger, caused mainly by my injured pride.
"B-but you said that being with me would have priority over playing rugby!" I protested, sounding like a petulant child, even to my own ears.
"I'm sorry," he said defensively. Then with a slight annoyance, probably elicited by my own aggressive tone, he continued, "We can go camping another time, but the tournament is a one-off and a first for the college."
"But you'll just be a reserve," I said. "You may not even get to play, so they won't even need you."
"Actually, I will probably get to play even if there are no injuries. It's a long tournament, and the coach might need to rest some of the players."
There was a long silence, partly because I couldn't think of anything to say to change his mind and partly because I was afraid of what I might say if I didn't suppress my anger and resentment.
"Anyway," he said eventually, "I can come to visit you for a long weekend after Easter, and spring is almost here, so we'll have lots of chances to go camping."
Still I remained silent and I heard him sigh.
"The team really needs me," he said gently, then with a hint of sadness he added, "and you don't, do you?"
There was yet another long silence. I was gagged by my emotions and was unable to answer that apparently simple question, if it was indeed intended as a real question.
"Well," he said, seeming a little dejected, "I'd better go now. I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"Okay," I agreed, my response barely audible even to myself.
Then I hung up.
Although at the time I wasn't calm enough to consider things rationally, at various times over the following days, weeks and months I did think carefully about that conversation. Perhaps I should have said that I needed him, and if I had, maybe it would've been true. Even if I did need him, though, I wasn't sure if I could have allowed myself to admit it. I wondered if he'd still have gone off to play rugby if I'd said that I did need him. If so, that surely would have made things even worse. On the other hand, if he'd not gone just because I'd asked him not to, perhaps we would both have ended up feeling that I'd kept him from that one-off opportunity. There was no way of knowing if different decisions would have led to different outcomes.
Because Frank had said that he'd talk to me later, I'd thought that he was going to phone me later that night, but when he hadn't done so by midnight I started getting ready for bed. However, although I was no longer expecting his call, my emotional state made it impossible to sleep. I was surprised and a little disturbed by the fact that I was so agitated. After, all he'd merely postponed our camping trip, so it didn't seem reasonable for me to feel irritation and even anger, as well as the expected disappointment. As I lay in bed unable to sleep, my restless mind kept returning to those thoughts.
Eventually, I began to understand what was really upsetting me. Frank's decision to go on the rugby trip instead of camping with me indicated that maybe he no longer loved me as much as he had done. Maybe I was no longer as important to him as I used to be. That hurt me because I'd grown accustomed to being the centre of his life. Being loved by him had made me feel good about myself and had given me a sense of security. Now it seemed that I might be losing something important that I'd previously just taken for granted.
My emotional self raged at the thought that he'd dared to deprive me of his love and had broken his promise that I would always be the most important thing in his life. My more rational self reflected that Frank owed me nothing. I'd never returned his love as he'd wanted, and I'd hardly ever even told him how important he was to me, so it would've been unreasonable to expect his feelings for me to remain the same forever. Despite the arguments of reason, my emotional response, like that of a spoiled child, was that I wanted love, he'd promised me love forever, and now it seemed he was breaking that promise.
Eventually, just as dawn was breaking, I fell asleep and didn't awake properly until after ten o'clock, by which time I'd missed breakfast and had to make do with just a cup of tea. Thus, tired and hungry, I was not in the best of moods when Frank phoned me about an hour after I'd got out of bed.
"I thought you were going to phone me last night," I said irritably by way of greeting.
"I just said 'later'. I didn't say it would be last night," he replied defensively. "Anyway, you seemed annoyed yesterday, and I'd hoped you'd be in a better mood today."
Although he didn't say so in words, it was clear from his tone that he now realised that his hope had been in vain.
"I didn't sleep well and ended up missing breakfast," I said. "You know what I'm like in the morning before I've had something to eat."
That explanation for my bad humour was the nearest I could get to an apology for the way I'd greeted him.
"Yes, I know that. That's why I didn't phone earlier," he said with good humour. "Didn't you even have a choccy biscuit or something? I thought you always kept some in your room."
"Not at the moment," I said, relieved that he'd accepted my not-quite-apology. "I ate the last one from the pack last night."
"Anyway," he said, "I've been thinking that not only will we have a long weekend camping after Easter, but as I don't have to leave on the rugby trip until Sunday we can pitch the tent at the old quarry on Saturday and have Saturday night together. And if you can get back early enough on Friday, maybe we can even go to the quarry on Friday evening and we can have two nights together. What do you think?"
Actually, it seemed like a great idea, but before I could agree some perverse demon took possession of me. "Sorry, but I can't manage to meet up this weekend. I got behind in my course work, and I have to get it finished and handed in by Saturday lunch time, so I won't be able to get home until late on Saturday."
Even as I spoke, the rational part of me was listening in shock and horror as I told this lie. However, my voice was under the control of an apparently self-destructive emotional demon, and I was cutting off my nose to spite my face. Hearing myself say those things was as horrifying as helplessly watching a car crash, but in this case it was made worse by the fact that I was the driver and I could've prevented it if only I hadn't been paralysed.
"Oh," he said, that single syllable expressing deep sadness and disappointment, though it didn't indicate whether or not he believed my lie.
We carried on talking in a desultory manner for a couple of minutes after that, but it was clear that neither of us had much interest in what we were saying. Making the excuse that I desperately needed to get some food, I brought the conversation to an end and hung up. Instead of going to eat I just sat on my bed for almost an hour, shocked and unable to believe that I'd just rejected the chance of a day and two nights of pleasure with Frank. I was too dispirited even to bother kicking myself.
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