For the next few weeks I had no social life, apart from briefly greeting fellow students or occasional phone conversations with my mother. When I wasn't in classes I was in my room listening to music, trying to study, or just generally moping around and feeling sorry for myself. During one of my phone chats with Mum, she brought up the subject of Frank.
"His mum says he's not been himself recently," she said. "She thinks he's a bit depressed."
"Oh," I said noncommitally.
One of the side effects of my close friendship with Frank had been that our mothers, previously just acquaintances from the bakery shop, were now on more friendly terms, and unfortunately the gossip that now fuelled their interactions often involved their respective sons.
"She says he's not been to see you for awhile and doesn't mention you anymore," my mum continued. "Have the two of you had a falling out?"
Of course our parents knew we were close friends, but I was sure they didn't know how close, so I decided to play it cool.
"Oh, it's nothing important," I lied. "With the distance between us we just decided to go our separate ways."
"You should call him and say you're sorry," she said, clearly not believing me.
"I told you there's nothing wrong!" I said, showing my irritation. "And even if there was something wrong, why should you think it was my fault?"
"Because I know you, dear," she said condescendingly. "And in any case, it doesn't matter who's at fault, saying you're sorry is a good way to start fixing things."
"There's nothing to fix," I lied again.
"Whatever you say, dear. In any case, you'll be home in a couple of weeks and can sort things out then."
"Anyway, I've got to go now," I lied yet again, anxious to avoid this topic of conversation. "I have to go and meet someone."
Not long after that conversation I started my exams, and as soon as the exams finished I went home and found myself a summer job in a warehouse, moving and stacking boxes from seven o'clock in the morning until three o'clock in the afternoon. At the beginning of my stay at home, Mum occasionally mentioned Frank, but I kept quickly changing the subject, so she soon took the hint. She was pleased to hear that I'd passed all my exams, but I didn't tell her that I'd just managed to scrape through in most of them.
Within a month of the start of the summer break I was already looking forward to going back to university, where I had my own bedroom, more privacy, and more control over my own life. Also, having to get out of bed at six o'clock on five mornings per week was proving to be quite a strain. About three weeks before I returned to Linchester, I heard that Frank hadn't done well enough in his A-levels to get into any university and had joined his family's bakery business.
When the new term began I was extremely glad to be back in Hall. The only good aspect of the long and tedious summer vacation was that I'd earned enough money not only to pay off my overdraft from the previous term but also to put my bank account comfortably in the black. As soon as I'd settled into my new schedule of classes, my mind began to drift toward other things, the most important of which was sex.
After all my time with Frank and later Derek I'd grown used to having sexual companionship. However, for over three months my only sexual outlet had been my right hand, and now I wanted more. One thing my experience with Derek had taught me was that the establishments on Quay Street were a good place to look for sexual partners. My experience with Derek had also made me decide that, at least for the time being, I wasn't interested in any sort of emotional or 'boyfriend' relationship.
The first couple of times I went down to Quay Street I came back alone because I didn't fancy the handful of guys who chatted me up and I didn't have the courage to approach the ones I found attractive. The third time I went out I saw Derek and his cronies in Angels and beat a hasty retreat to Barons, where I had a couple of drinks and told myself it was foolish to try to avoid them completely. Obviously, I didn't want to associate with them, but I had every right to be in the same bar as they were.
Later that same night I went to Storm, where again I saw Derek and his crowd, but this time I just pretended they weren't there. I was pleased to find that they also completely ignored me. That night I did find the courage to chat to three attractive guys who appeared to be alone, but although they were not unfriendly they didn't seem interested in me. When again I went home alone, I almost decided to give up, but the following week I gave it one more try, and for me it turned out to be fourth time lucky.
From then on I went down to Quay Street three or four times per week and managed to 'score' around fifty percent of the time. My success rate tended to be better if I initiated the chatting up process rather than waiting for the other guy to take the initiative. Sometimes the sex was great, sometimes it was awful, but usually it was okay. Every time I succeeded in taking a guy home, my self-esteem, which had been crushed by Derek, was boosted a little. The interactions were mostly just one night stands, but occasionally I saw the same person two or three times. I saw one guy six times over a period of two weeks, but started to avoid him when I thought he was getting too clingy.
During that time I learned a lot, for example that there didn't seem to be much correlation between the degree of initial attractiveness of my partner and the quality of the sexual experience. I also learned that just because the sex was great on the first night together it doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be good if there was a second night with the same person. I discovered that chatting up anyone near the slot machines was probably a waste of time because most of the guys there were either rent or seeking rent.
The fact that in the space of a couple of months I had sex with at least fifteen different guys wasn't a source of pride, but neither was I ashamed of it. It was like being in a huge amusement park that had lots of different roller coasters and other rides. There was no need to feel guilty for enjoying a ride just because the destination was the same as the point of departure. Just because I might have forgotten the details of a particular ride didn't mean that the thrill of it had been forgotten, and just because I forgot the names of many of those I had sex with, didn't mean that the thrill of knowing I was desirable had been diminished.
There were a few, however, whose names I didn't forget. For example, there was Glen, who was slim, blond, a little elf-like, and at seventeen years old, the youngest guy I picked up. I found him curled up on a sofa in the lounge bar of Storm just before it closed. When I went over to him and pointed out that he was about to be thrown out, he told me he'd come from out of town with friends but had become separated from them and now had no way to get home until the morning. I offered him a place to stay overnight and, of course, my motives were not completely altruistic, but I had no intention of pressuring him into doing anything he didn't want to do.
As it turned out, when we shared my bed he made the first move and we ended up exchanging blowjobs. The next morning before he left, he pointed out that chain around his wrist was his own work. It was made up of small shiny brass nails bent into circles and threaded through silver loops, and to my surprise he took off one of the brass nails and gave it to me, saying he always gave one to a guy he slept with. I often wondered how many he'd given away before he met me.
Another whose name I remember was Martin, a male nurse in his mid-twenties, who was memorable not only because he was so blond as to be almost albino but also because he wanted to have sex in the back of his beloved new Volkswagen Golf. Just for the hell of it, I indulged him once while we were parked up in some deserted countryside lay-by. However, the second and final time we met, I insisted that we do it in the comfort of my own bed.
Alan was another memorable playmate. He was about my age and was quite stocky with black hair and a cute Welsh accent. Sex with him was very good, and he was the one I saw the greatest number of times until it seemed he got too emotionally attached. The final straw was when he came round to Hall unannounced one night and tapped on my window until I let him in. After that, I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn't want to see him again.
Not all the experiences were pleasant. There was the guy who was fun in bed but after he'd gone I found money missing from my wallet, though there was no way I could prove he'd taken it. Another guy looked good until he got undressed and I saw a horrible red rash all over his groin and buttocks. He got very upset when I asked him to leave immediately, even though I offered to phone for a taxi to come for him.
I was very fortunate because of the location and privacy of my room meant that no one noticed all my overnight visitors. My appreciation of my good fortune in that regard was increased greatly by an incident around the middle of that term. On one of the nights when I didn't go down to Quay Street I went to the vending machine in the Hall common room to get a can of Sprite. However, before I could use the machine I had to get some change from the bar.
While I was waiting to get my change, I noticed a group of about half a dozen young men sitting at a table just a few feet from me. They were apparently quite inebriated and making a lot of noise, competing with one another with tales of their sexual prowess. I recognised most of them as Engineering students, who at Linchester had a reputation not only for drunken pranks but also for a lack of interest in conforming to some of the niceties of social behaviour.
One member of the group, a tall guy with dark unruly hair, whom the others addressed as Nick, was even louder and more obnoxious than the others. Whenever I'd seen him around I'd always felt intimidated by his large muscular build combined with the usually aggressive expression on his face, and now that he was red-faced and drunk he was even more scary. At first, I ignored what they were saying, but when I heard them start telling 'fag' jokes I began hoping fervently that the barman would deal with his other customers quickly so I could get my Sprite and go back to my room.
"Did you know," Nick said loudly and drunkenly, "they say that five percent of guys are fags?"
"Yeah, so which five percent of you is queer?" replied one of his companions, the smallest of them, though he was still a little bigger than I.
"Maybe it's his foot!" said another of the group.
The rest of them must have been really drunk, because they laughed at that pathetic attempt at humour.
"Maybe it's his hand," suggested the smallest one. "After all, it's always playing with his dick."
"That's okay," said yet another member of the group, "as long as the faggy bit isn't his dick or his arse!"
There was another round of laughter and then Nick spoke again.
"Tell yer what, though," he said in a much more serious tone, "if there are any of those sick queers in this Hall they'd better stay out of my way or I'll cut their dicks off and shove them up their arses!"
By this time I was getting my drink from the machine, and as soon as I had the can in my hand I beat a hasty retreat back to my room. When I got there I sat on my bed as a wave of nausea passed over me, and I remembered the time Simon had called me 'sick' and then had never spoken to me again. I also remembered his scary brother, Robert, who'd been arrested for gay bashing. So, after that incident in the Hall bar, I was even more grateful for the seclusion and privacy of my room, and even more determined to make sure no one found out that I was gay.
Although I was even more cautious after that incident with Nick and his friends, it didn't stop me going down to Quay Street and looking for sexual partners. However, I was also sexually careful and always made sure I had plenty of condoms, so I felt safe in what I was doing. This complacency, however, was shattered just before the start of the Christmas vacation when, shortly after the departure of my latest visitor, I found myself scratching my pubic area and noticed that I'd been left with some very unwelcome guests.
My revulsion at this discovery was compounded by the fact that I've always had an aversion for creepy-crawly things, so to have them infesting my own body was truly horrifying. I quickly stripped off my bedding and immediately took it to the Hall student laundry where I put it on the hottest wash cycle with double detergent. I returned to my room, stripped off my clothes, and shaved off all the hair between my chest and my knees. Just to be extra sure, I also shaved my armpits. Fortunately the clothes I'd been wearing were not my best, so I threw them away.
After that, I went and bathed in the hottest water I could tolerate, using lots of soap and shampoo. Then I returned to the laundry and repeated the hot wash of my bedding. Even after all that, my skin crawled, and for days afterward I felt unclean when I realised that I'd been infested with lice. For the next three days I inspected my body, my clothes and my bedding, and each day I rewashed the bedding. Fortunately, there was no sign of reinfestation, so I was greatly relieved, especially because at the end of the week I was going home for Christmas and I couldn't have borne the shame of importing lice into my parents' house.
During the Christmas break I had time to take stock of my situation, which in some respects wasn't too great. All my visits to the club and bars had almost totally depleted my bank account and had a considerable negative effect on my studies. I realised that if I didn't improve my course work dramatically I might even fail. Although I'd enjoyed my sexual feast and didn't feel ashamed of it, I'd learned that it was unwise to be complacent about the possible risks. My encounter with the lice, though fortunately very brief, had not only made me feel personally unclean but had made me wonder if there wasn't something a little tawdry and trashy in the way I'd been behaving.
On a positive note, my self-esteem, dented and bruised by Derek, had been considerably improved because I'd proved that there were lots of attractive people who could fancy me enough to have sex with me. Perhaps perversely, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and because of that my drive to go out and 'score' had been considerably sated and diminished. That was just as well, because I realised that at least for the rest of the term I needed to improve my grades and conserve my funds.
Just a couple of days after my return to Linchester at the end of the Christmas vacation, we had one of our afternoon Organic Chemistry lab classes. Although we all shared the same task, to synthesise and purify a compound, we each had to do it and be assessed individually. A teaching assistant assessed our lab write-up, with additional marks being awarded for yield and purity. If the task hadn't been completed by the end of the class, then only very low marks could be obtained.
Toward the end of the afternoon, I was running out of time and waiting for the solution containing my final product to cool. Having a tendency to cut corners, I decided to cool the flask by putting it under the tap and running cold water over it. That turned out to be a big mistake. As soon as the tap was turned on, the water came out with unexpected force and knocked the flask out of my hand. The glass shattered in the sink and my precious compound disappeared down the drain.
"Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!!" I exclaimed loudly enough for several nearby students to hear.
I was still staring in horror into the sink when Debbie, the student nearest to me, came over and saw the broken glass.
"Oh my god!" she said. "Are you okay? Did you cut yourself?"
"Yeah, I'm okay, but I just lost everything I've made today," I replied plaintively. "Shit, shit, shit!"
I didn't know most of the students on my courses at all, but there were a few, especially those who were also in my Hall, whom I knew well enough to greet and maybe even occasionally chat with. However, we'd only talk about banal topics such as classes, lecturers or, that favourite subject in England, the weather. Debbie was one of those I knew only well enough for a brief greeting, and we'd never chatted about anything at all. In fact, the only reason I knew her name was that she was very popular and I'd heard people occasionally calling out to her.
There is no doubt that part of her popularity was due to her good looks. Although I was never physically attracted to women, I was quite capable of appreciating female beauty, and Debbie, though not really beautiful, was certainly very pretty. Her auburn hair, which contained strands like copper, was currently tied back for the lab class, but usually it fell loosely to her shoulders. She had a nice figure, and her oval face, with its usual self-confident expression, had an aristocratic appearance. However, what I found most striking was the gold-flecked green of her eyes.
"You've lost it all?" she asked sympathetically.
"Yep. All down the drain," I said morosely.
We both stood for a few seconds looking into the sink while I contemplated the problem of cleaning up the broken glass and, worse, the fact that I would get very few marks for all my efforts of the afternoon.
"Mine's drying on a filter now," she said, looking directly at me. "You can have some if you like."
I was surprised and touched by her generosity, especially as whatever she gave me would decrease her measured yield and so would lose her some marks.
"Thanks," I said sincerely, "but if you give me enough to make a difference then you'll end up with a terrible yield."
She frowned thoughtfully for a couple of seconds then her face brightened into a smile.
"You clear up the glass," she said, "and I'll be back in a minute".
With that, she picked up a test tube and went off. By the time I'd carefully disposed of all the glass she reappeared, and the test tube she held now contained some of the yellow compound we'd had to synthesise.
"Here you are," she said, handing it to me. "That should be enough to give you about fifty percent of the ideal yield."
"But what about your yield?" I asked.
"There's only a small amount of mine there," she said, smiling at my concern. "But I managed to get a little bit from each of my friends as well, so it won't be enough to affect our marks."
I thanked her profusely, and she went off to finish writing her lab report. At the end of the class I took the tube to the teaching assistant, who looked rather doubtfully at the contents. It was only then that I noticed that not all the crystals were the same shade of yellow. However, the assistant didn't make a comment, and after weighing the contents and testing the melting point he gave me a reasonably good mark.
Although I'd thanked Debbie at the time, that evening I thought about it more and realised that she'd gone to considerable effort to help out a person she hardly knew. It occurred to me that perhaps I should do something more concrete to show my gratitude. My first idea was that I could give her a small gift, but I didn't know what she liked and I didn't want to give her anything that might be interpreted as me showing any romantic intentions.
Eventually, I decided that I should just reiterate my thanks and make it clear to her that I realised that I was indebted to her. A couple of days later, I saw her on her own sorting her notes on a bench outside the lecture theatre, and I went over to greet her.
"Oh," she said, looking up from the jumble of papers. "Hi, Ian."
"I just wanted to say thanks again for helping me out in the lab class," I said, mildly surprised she knew my name. "I really appreciate it."
"No problem," she said as if it were the sort of thing that happened every day. "My friends and I were glad to help out. After all, an accident like that could've happened to any of us."
"I'm sure your friends did it for you, not for me," I said with a wry smile. "So it's really you that I owe."
"You don't owe me anything," she said, smiling gently. "I'm sure anyone would have done the same."
I didn't share her apparent confidence that anyone else would have done it, and I wondered what I might have done if our positions had been reversed. Anyway, I thought, that point was moot because I wouldn't have had any friends to beg a few crystals from.
"Well," I responded, "whatever anyone else might have done, you're the one I'm grateful to, and you're the one I owe a favour to. So if there's anything I can ever do in return, you just have to ask."
"Okay, I will," she said and smiled brightly at me.
With that, I considered that I'd accomplished what I'd set out to do and was just turning away when she spoke again.
"Erm, Ian," she said, her smile fading a little but her eyes glinting. "There might actually be something you can do to help me out."
"Yes, of course, anything," I said rather foolishly.
"Well," she said tentatively, "it's a bit out of proportion to the favour I did for you, so I won't be surprised if you say no, but at least say you'll think about it."
"Okay," I agreed, beginning to wonder if I was going to regret my earlier promise.
"Right, well," she began hesitantly, as if trying to choose her words carefully. "This term I decided to learn how to dance. Ballroom dancing, in fact. I had my second lesson with the Ballroom Dancing Club last night."
She paused, apparently to assess my reaction, but I deliberately maintained a neutral expression and remained silent. I wasn't sure where she was going with this but I had a feeling that I wasn't going to like it.
"Anyway," she continued, "almost all the people there are members of the club and they all have dancing partners already, except for me. So the only person I could dance with was the woman who's teaching us."
Now I could guess what she had in mind and I was sure that I wasn't going to like it.
"What about your boyfriend?" I asked hopefully, trying to remember if I'd seen her around with someone to whom she might have been particularly attached.
"I split up with him before Christmas," she replied dismissively.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said sympathetically.
"No need to be. I was glad to be rid of him. All he was interested in was sex." Now that was far more information than I wanted to know, and I was unable to think of anything appropriate to say next.
"So," she continued, looking directly into my eyes, "I'm looking for a guy who might be interested in learning to dance and being my dance partner. If I don't find someone I'll have to drop out of the class because I don't want to spend the rest of the term dancing with an old woman. None of my friends are interested, and I wondered if you'd consider doing me a really big favour?"
"Erm, well," I said, avoiding her gaze by looking down at my shoes, trying to find a polite way to wriggle out of my promise to do 'anything'.
"Look," she said, "I know it's a really big thing to ask, but at least think about it, okay? I'll pay for the lessons, and if you decide you don't like it you can drop out anytime with no hard feelings. What do you say?"
Of course what I wanted to say was 'No, no, and thrice no!' but I didn't have the heart to disappoint her without at least pretending to think about it.
"Okay," I said reluctantly. "I'll think about it."
"Great!" she said with a grin. "The next lesson isn't until tomorrow evening so you don't need to let me know until I see you in the Chemistry lecture tomorrow."
That evening in my room, I made a mental list of all the excuses I might make for declining to do that favour for her, then arranged that list in order of how compelling or believable the excuses were. Finally, I decided that three strong reasons would be good enough. First, I had absolutely no interest in dancing of any sort, ballroom or otherwise. Second, my co-ordination was so bad that my feet would spend more time on her toes than on the dance floor. Third, after barely passing my first year exams I couldn't afford to spend time on something so trivial as dancing.
As I lay in bed putting the final touches to the little speech I'd prepared for Debbie, it occurred to me that in fact only reason two was probably true. In fact, though I'd never admit it publicly, when watching old movies I'd often been impressed by the elegance of people waltzing across the dance floor and especially by the men in bow ties and tuxedos. Also, to be honest, a couple of hours per week dancing would be nothing compared to the sixteen or more hours per week I'd spent in Quay Street the previous term.
Another thing that I had to consider was that I really did owe Debbie a favour and I had promised to repay it. Despite my many faults, I always tried my best to keep my promises. So, when I saw Debbie the next day looking so eager and expectant, my well-prepared speech was discarded.
"Well?" she asked as soon as she saw me. "Did you think about what I asked?"
"If I don't like it, you promise there'll be no hard feelings if I stop going?" I countered with my own question.
"Yes, of course," she said earnestly. Then, raising her hand and crossing her fingers, she added, "Scout's Honour."
"You were a scout?" I asked, a little confused by the serious expression on her face.
"No," she said and laughed brightly. "It was just a way of saying that I really, really promise."
"Okay, then," I said. "I'll do it."
"Great!" she responded, beaming her pleasure. "I'll see you at seven outside the small meeting hall in the Student's Union."
"Erm, what shall I wear?" I asked, already beginning to have doubts about my decision.
"Just ordinary clothes, as long as they're not too tight," she replied. After a quick visual inspection of my attire, she added, "You can come as your are."
When I turned up at the appointed time and place to meet Debbie, I was only a little nervous about the dancing lesson. After all, I didn't have much to lose. If it turned out to be a disaster then I needn't go again, and if I made a fool of myself it would only be in front of a few strangers whom I'd probably never see again. In fact, it turned out that I wasn't quite as clumsy as I'd feared, and among the dozen or so other pairs present, there were at least two people who were even clumsier.
The instructor, Mrs Murphy, was a middle-aged Irish woman with greying black hair and gentle brown eyes. She was about average height, but a little more plump than I might have expected an expert dancer to be. However, she certainly knew what she was doing and was extremely nimble when she gave demonstrations.
That particular class was dedicated to the waltz, and once I got over the initial embarrassment it was quite a pleasant experience. Concentrating totally on the timing of body movements seemed to clear my mind of all other thoughts and worries, so in a way it was a nice break from the rest of my everyday routine. Fortunately, Debbie appeared to have a natural talent and affinity for dancing, and for the most part she managed to compensate for my mistakes. Even more importantly, she was very calm and patient, never showing any irritation even when I stepped on her toes.
The one thing that I found hardest to get used to was the prolonged close proximity of a member of the opposite sex. Having attended an all male school, not having any sisters and, as I now conceded, being gay meant that I'd rarely even touched a woman before, much less held her in my arms for the best part of an hour. The softer and more rounded contours were certainly very different from any of the males I'd been so physically close to.
Toward the end of the lesson I noticed a few couples enter the room. For the most part they stood silently but occasionally they spoke to one another, though not loudly enough to be heard over the music or Mrs Murphy's instructions. When the class finished, Debbie led me over to one of the couples that had just entered.
"This is Gail and her boyfriend, Adam," Debbie said to me. Addressing them, she added, "This is Ian. I managed to persuade him to be my partner for the class."
Gail, who was a little taller than Debbie, had light brown hair that framed a narrow face, out of which her hazel eyes looked at me intently. The way she seemed to be assessing me made me uncomfortable, though I gathered from the smile that she eventually bestowed upon me that I'd passed her inspection.
"That's nice," Gail said.
The way she was looking at me and her vague words made me feel even more uncomfortable. I wondered if she thought it was nice that Debbie had managed to persuade me or nice of me for agreeing. I quickly dismissed from my mind a possible third interpretation, that she thought I looked nice.
Adam, tall and average build, pulled the corners of his thin lips into a brief smile and nodded a silent greeting. His curly blond hair was cut quite short, reminding me of the style I'd seen on busts of ancient Romans, and this combined with his elegant features to give him a rather patrician appearance. Overall, I found him attractive, in a slightly intimidating sort of way.
"Gail's a friend from Hall," Debbie said.
"Her best friend," Gail added possessively.
"Yes," Debbie agreed, smiling indulgently, "and she persuaded me to take up dancing this year."
"Adam and I are here for the advanced class," Gail announced. "In fact, we met when we both took the beginners class last year."
Feeling the need to respond in some way, the first thing that came into my head was even more banal than I'd feared. "Does Mrs Murphy take the advanced class as well?"
"Yes," Debbie replied. "Why to you ask?"
"I just thought she'd be knackered by the end of the night," I said. My words were a result of my nervousness rather than any desire to be humorous.
"Don't worry," Debbie said and grinned. "She used to be a professional dancer so she's got lots of stamina, and in any case, she puts her feet up and has a cup of tea between classes."
"We're going to the Cellar after the lesson," Gail announced. "Do you want to meet us there later?"
The Cellar was the smallest of the Union's three bars and, as might be guessed from its name, was a vaulted room in the basement of the building.
""Yes, why not," Debbie said. "I could do with something refreshing after all the exercise."
"You can bring Ian if you want," Gail said, giving me another look that made me uneasy.
Debbie looked at me questioningly but I shook my head. "Thanks for the invite, but I need to get some work done before I go to bed tonight."
That wasn't strictly true, and in fact I would have enjoyed a nice pint of cold Guinness, but at the best of times I was uncomfortable in a group of strangers, and in this case the fact that the strangers were Gail and Adam made me even more nervous.
"You could come to the library with me and do some studying before going to the Cellar," Debbie suggested.
"The notes I need to work on are back in my room," I said. My excuse having been accepted without comment, we said our farewells to Gail and Adam and left the room.
"Well?" Debbie asked as we made our way through the lobby of the Students Union, "Did you enjoy the dancing lesson?"
"It was okay," I replied noncommittally.
"More important," she said, "will you come to the next lesson on Tuesday?"
"Tuesday?" I asked, a little taken aback. "Today's Thursday. Aren't all the classes on Thursday?"
"There are two a week," she said. "Tuesdays and Thursdays. I thought you knew."
"Twice a week?" I said, frowning a little. "That's a big commitment. How many weeks do they go on for?"
"Almost until the end of term," she said. "That's another eight weeks as there are no lessons on the last week of term.""
Trying to hide my dismay, I considered how I should respond. Twice a week for eight weeks was a lot more than I'd expected, and even though the experience had been relatively pleasant, I wasn't sure I wanted to repeat it so many times. Then another thought occurred to me.
"Tuesday afternoon is our Organic Chemistry lab class, and it often goes on until five o'clock," I said. "That doesn't leave me much time to get back to Hall, get cleaned and changed, eat dinner, and get back here for seven. It takes me at least half an hour just to get back to Hall."
Often after that lab class, chemical smells accompanied me home and permeated my clothes, so I had to change and bathe before eating with others in the Hall dining room.
"Why don't you skip dinner in Hall, maybe just grab a snack, and then eat dinner after the dancing class?" she suggested. The expression of doubt and reluctance on my face must have been obvious, because she quickly added, "I'll even buy you dinner in the Union cafeteria."
"You can't do that," I said smiling wryly. "You're already paying for the lessons for both of us. If you start buying me meals as well I'll feel like a kept man!"
"It's only Union cafeteria food," she said and laughed. "It's not like it's going to be expensive, and maybe it will only be the once. After all, you may decide you've had enough of dancing after next Tuesday."
"You mean you won't be upset if I just go to one or two more lessons then give up?" I asked.
"Of course I'll be disappointed, but I won't be upset," she assured me.
"Okay then," I said. "But if I do keep on going we should take turns paying in the cafeteria."
With that agreed, we said our farewells and went our separate ways.
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