The Question

by Kit

Chapter 11

No one who really knew me would have described me as being the sort of person who could be full of joy, and no one at all would have considered me to be the life and soul of a party. On the other hand, it took something seriously bad to make me totally miserable, and even when I was extremely sad, I eventually got over it. Anyway, my twentieth birthday was probably the most miserable I'd ever had, and during that Easter vacation that followed it, my spirits were very low, though not low enough to be called depression.

Soon after I got home there were a couple of nights when I lay awake in bed, listening to my brother's quiet breathing in the bunk below and the sound of rain on the window pane. Briefly, I imagined that I was back in Frank's tent, wrapped in his arms. Then I wondered what might have happened if only I could have returned his love. Maybe instead of being in my bed, he and I would have been cuddled together, safe, warm and comfortable in his tent. Of course, I knew deep inside that I could never love him in the way he wanted, and if I'd pretended to do so he would have known it, and we'd both have been unhappy.

I also wondered if there was something wrong with me. It seemed impossible for me to have a successful relationship, so maybe Frank had been right to say I was the most selfish and self-centred person he knew. Obviously, I already knew that sometimes my inconsiderate behaviour had hurt other people, but during those long, sleepless nights in my bunk bed, I came to realise something much more shocking. I recognised just how easy it had always been to convince myself that I wasn't really being selfish and that it wasn't my fault when people got hurt.

By the middle of the vacation, however, I'd recovered from those melancholic thoughts and returned to the equanimity of ordinary day-to-day life. By the end of the vacation, I was looking forward to the new term and the freedom of my life at the university. I was a little concerned about the approaching end-of-year exams, but I knew that there was enough time for me to do well if I studied hard. Overall, I eventually concluded, life wasn't too bad.

That vacation was also memorable because my brother and I started to have occasional conversations again. After I'd gone to university, whenever we'd spoken it had always been merely to convey necessary information or pass on messages from parents. During that time, we weren't antagonistic toward one another in any way, and indeed I would have described our relationship as a sort of neutral fondness.

One of the things that occurred to me during my Easter contemplations was that the way my relationship with my brother apparently changed with time seemed to be related to the way we shared our room. When we were young, each of us stayed in our own part of the room and did our own things, neither commenting on nor criticising what the other did as long as they didn't impinge on our personal space. I supposed that when two people are forced to share a confined space they could cope either by becoming personally close or by maintaining an emotional distance. Apart from the few months when he'd been initiating bedtime conversations, Andy and I seemed to have evolved the latter coping mechanism.

During that Easter, however, we started having bedtime chats again, and there were probably a few reasons for that. For one thing, I couldn't think of him as a kid anymore because he was now fifteen and physically as big as I was. Another factor was that recently we'd only had to share the room when I was on vacation, about five out of the last eighteen months, so there was less reason to maintain the same coping mechanism. Also, Andy had started his GCSE courses, so we had at least the topics of school and exams as subject matter for our chats.

One item of information didn't crop up in my conversations with Andy, but it was mentioned in passing by Mum shortly before my return to Linchester. It seemed that Rachel, Frank's younger sister, was among the group of friends that my brother socialised with most often. For a short time after finding that out, I had a vague concern that maybe Rachel, who'd often been around when I'd been visiting Frank, might suspect that Frank and I had been more than just friends and that she might mention those suspicions to my brother. However, I quickly put aside those concerns, reasoning that if she were going to say something to Andy she would have done so already.

At the end of the holidays I went back to Linchester content, refreshed, and ready to get on with the new term at university. Being the final term of my second year, it was very important that I do well. That was because which Honours courses, if any, I could get into the following year would depend on how well I did in my exams and course work. Therefore, I spent the whole term concentrating hard on my studies, leaving my room only for classes, food, and other necessities.

The hard work paid off, and I did well enough to get into my preferred course, Physiology. That enabled me to go home for the long summer vacation feeling very pleased with myself. Although I hadn't enjoyed the summer job the previous year, the pay was good and I needed the money. Therefore, I did it again, deciding that I could tolerate the boring work and getting up early for a couple of months. Because I was working during the day and Andy was out with friends most evenings, I didn't see much of him.

On my return to Linchester for my final year, I quickly got into my studies but found that there was one major distraction. It seemed that I was always thinking about sex, probably because it had been about nine months since my last sexual interaction with another person. Ideally, what I wanted was a sex partner I could get together with relatively easily and frequently but who wouldn't want any emotional involvement.

I briefly considered going down to Quay Street, but for several reasons I wanted to find an alternative. Going to Quay Street every time I wanted sex would be expensive and take up a lot of my time. Also, based on previous experience, there was no better than a fifty percent chance of succeeding in picking up anyone at all and a much smaller chance of finding someone who would become a regular sex-buddy. Therefore, I decided to explore the possibilities of on-line dating, and after looking at a few web sites I decided to put up a profile on two of them.

Of course, I included a description of my physical appearance and attributes, but I didn't include a photo, though I did promise to exchange photos with anyone who contacted me to arrange a meeting. The profile stated my location and that I was looking for no-strings sex and preferably a sex-buddy for regular sessions. There was a section for details of the type of person I was seeking, but I didn't put much in there. Obviously, the guy had to be attractive, but I had no really fixed criteria, so that could only be decided when I saw him. So I just gave an age range of eighteen to thirty-five and stipulated that he be a non-smoker.

Then I scanned other profiles on the sites and sent contact messages to about a dozen people who seemed compatible. The same day that my profiles appeared, I was very gratified to receive several contact messages, so at first it appeared that there would be no problem finding a suitable sex-buddy. Unfortunately, over the next few weeks my early optimism quickly turned to disappointment, mainly because the vast majority of the contacts didn't lead to a meeting.

Frequently, after exchanging photos and having a brief on-line chat or exchange of emails, it turned out that we were not mutually attracted or were looking for different things. Sometimes guys had no intention of meeting and just wanted cyber sex, but instead of being honest about that, they pretended they were just trying to get to know me better before meeting. Most annoying of all were the guys who arranged to meet but never turned up.

During the first five or six weeks of term, I actually met up with seven men, usually in a cafe in the city centre. Two of them made it clear they wanted sex with me, but I didn't fancy them. One of those two in real life looked at least ten years older than the photo he'd sent and the age on his profile. Another guy I met was attractive, but he didn't fancy me. On four occasions I had sex with someone I met from the dating site, but three of them were just one-off experiences that neither of us wanted to repeat.

The fourth guy I met, Steve, seemed to have some long-term potential, and over a period of just over three weeks he certainly provided me with several excellent sexual experiences. He was twenty-eight, and although his chunky features meant that he wasn't classically good looking, he was very sexually attractive. His muscular build, thick straw-blond hair and pale blue eyes reminded me of the archetypal Saxon warrior. That appearance seemed somehow incongruous with his profession as an accountant.

Steve and I met about three times per week, usually spending a whole night together. Despite his physical appearance, he was happy as a bottom, and the sex was usually great and never less than very enjoyable. There was only one problem, which at first seemed very minor. When we weren't actually engaged in sex, our time together was filled with long uncomfortable silences because we never seemed able to hold any sort of conversation.

At the beginning of each meeting, that lack of communication didn't matter because we got physical almost immediately, and afterward we quickly just fell asleep. However, in the mornings while we were getting dressed and if we were having breakfast together, our stilted attempts at polite conversation were just as awkward as a prolonged silence. After a couple of weeks, the morning situation got so uncomfortable that when I spent the night in his flat I'd sneak out before he woke up. Eventually, by mutual unspoken agreement, we just stopped making arrangements to meet.

Thus I learned that finding a regular sex-buddy wasn't going to be as easy as I'd hoped. On a positive note, my sexual adventures with guys from the web sites hadn't been any worse than those obtained from meetings on Quay Street, which had cost me much more in time and money. One thing that I realised was that in order to be able to keep things going, not only would the sex have to be good but I also needed to feel comfortable with the other person. Furthermore, I couldn't feel comfortable with someone if I couldn't hold a conversation with him.

After some thought, I concluded that although I didn't want any emotional entanglement, I did prefer sex with someone whom I liked as a person. Then it occurred to me that in fact I was looking for someone who was like Frank had been before he started talking about love. At that point, I became very dispirited because I realised that finding a sex-buddy would be much more difficult than I'd expected.

During the last few weeks of term I visited the dating web sites much less frequently, didn't make any new contacts, and didn't meet anyone. Then a couple of days before the start of the Christmas vacation, realising that I wouldn't get much opportunity for private time on-line while I was home, I scanned carefully through all the new profiles on both web sites. One of those profiles appeared to be just what I was looking for, though after my previous experiences I was careful not to allow myself to be too optimistic. Despite my misgivings, I decided to make contact, amused by the thought that finding a good sex-buddy would be a great Christmas present.

Even the profile name, MattyG4nsfun, was promising, and when I saw that he was in Linchester and looking for lots of no-strings sex but didn't want one night stands, I was even more encouraged. He was 19, had light brown hair, brown eyes, five feet ten inches tall, and was a non-smoker. From the three photos on his profile he seemed to be quite average looking and maybe a little bit too plump to be my ideal type. He wasn't gorgeous but he wasn't ugly, and I'd already learned that a guy doesn't have to be gorgeous to provide good sex. So I sent him a brief contact message and waited for a response.

A few hours later, as I was having a last check of messages before going to bed, I found one from MattyG4nsfun. Apparently he liked my profile and wanted to chat on MSN and see a face picture of me before maybe arranging to meet. Hoping that he didn't just want cyber sex. I added him to my contacts list and waited for him to appear. After over an hour of fruitless waiting, I gave up and went to bed.

The next day was the last day of term, and after my last class at two o'clock I went back to my room to pack for my trip home the following day. My computer, with MSN running, was left on so that I could hear the alert sound if MattyG4nsfun signed in or sent me a message. However, there was no hoped-for chime until almost eight o'clock that evening.

MattyG4nsfun: Hi! u there?

Kain03: Hi. I've been looking out 4 u since last night

MattyG4nsfun: Been working all day. Just finished eating

Kain03: What work do u do?

MattyG4nsfun: Trainee manager, electrical store. u?

Kain03: Uni student. What u looking for? Just sex?

MattyG4nsfun: Yeah but not into 1-niters

Kain03: Same here

MattyG4nsfun: u got a face pic to send?

Kain03: Yep, here it is

MattyG4nsfun: Nice pic. Want to meet 4 chat and see how we get on? Tomorrow nite?

Kain03: like to but going home tomorrow. Back in about 3 wks.

MattyG4nsfun: a long time. hope ur not a time waster

Kain03: No! I promise. I'm a student and its end of term. but some might say that all students are time wasters :)

MattyG4nsfun: lol. I'm very tolerant. I don't even mind uni students

Kain03: sorry can't meet sooner - would really like to

MattyG4nsfun: me too. at least we can chat

Kain03: yeah. will be on as much as poss but prob not every day

MattyG4nsfun: if ur trying to put me off, just say so

Kain03: NO!!!! not putting u off. but share a room with my bro at home so not much privacy.

MattyG4nsfun: ok. u not out then?

Kain03: No. especially not to family. u?

MattyG4nsfun: I don't hide it. mum's known for years. BTW whats ur name?

Kain03: Ian. presume ur Matty

MattyG4nsfun: Matt. only mum calls me Matty. Y use Kain03?

Kain03: Anagram of part of my name + birth month. when did u tell ur mum ur gay?

MattyG4nsfun: didn't actually tell her. she heard me chatting to my bf on the phone when I was 16

Kain03: Wow! was she ok with it?

MattyG4nsfun: was ok with me being gay but didn't like my bf.

Kain03: why?

MattyG4nsfun: she said he was too old for me.

Kain03: how old?

MattyG4nsfun: he was 32 then

Me: wow!! maybe she was right? ur not his bf now?

MattyG4nsfun: No

Kain03: What happened?

MattyG4nsfun: long story. not for here. maybe if we meet

Kain03: hope u mean WHEN we meet!!

MattyG4nsfun: lol. yeah. you had many bfs?

Kain03: no real bfs at all

MattyG4nsfun: no real? u mean artificial? lol!

Kain03: lol! no. real people but not real bfs. long story. maybe when we meet

MattyG4nsfun: but u been with lots of guys?

Kain03: a few. what about u?

MattyG4nsfun: just 1. my ex bf.

Kain03: had lots of contacts from ur profile?

MattyG4nsfun: yep. almost 100

Kain03: wow! maybe u will have met sum1 b4 I get back to Linchester :-(

MattyG4nsfun: maybe. will have to see. most contacts r not what I'm looking 4. am very fussy so may still be available when u get back.

Kain03: hope so!

MattyG4nsfun: anyway gtg. mum wants me. chat later? or tomorrow?

Kain03: ok - bye 4 now

MattyG4nsfun: byeeeeee!!!

He signed off, leaving me staring at my monitor and wishing that I didn't have to go home the next day.

Although I managed to get a little private time on the computer during my first two days back home, I didn't see Matt on-line. Thinking that he'd already met up with someone else, I quickly scanned the web sites for new profiles but didn't see any that looked promising. For the next couple of days after that I didn't get any private time on the computer at all because Andy was always around. He was staying indoors more than usual because of the exceptionally cold, wet and windy weather. Besides that, we were both expected to be available to help with Christmas preparations and to socialise with relatives. Thus it was five days before I got to chat again with Matt on MSN.

MattyG4nsfun: Hey! How's u? long time no chat. thought you'd lost interest

Kain03: I'm fine. not lost interest, just lack of privacy and busy with family stuff

MattyG4nsfun: I've been busy with work stuff. busy time of year

Kain03: Still getting lots of contact messages?

MattyG4nsfun: Some. not so many now, just a few since our last chat

Kain03: Met ne1 yet?

MattyG4nsfun: Nah. too busy

Kain03: been chatting to many?

MattyG4nsfun: 3 besides u

At that point I was tempted to ask if he wanted to meet any of the others, but I didn't want him to think I was too keen or that I was the possessive type. In any case, we'd never met, so I didn't even know if we'd get on. However, if it should turn out that he might be the sex-buddy I'd been seeking for the last few months, I didn't want anyone to snatch that prize before I'd had the chance to reject it. The feeling that I might be out of the competition because of unfortunate timing and distance was quite frustrating.

Kain03: get much time off 4 Xmas?

MattyG4nsfun: just xmas day but will get a few days off for new year

Kain03: spending Xmas day with family?

MattyG4nsfun: just me & mum. u?

Kain03: with mum, dad, bro & other relatives for part of Xmas day & boxing day

MattyG4nsfun: u got a car?

Kain03: no

MattyG4nsfun: I've got a silver citroen saxo vts. great condition

Kain03: u sound like a car salesman!

MattyG4nsfun: lol. no. just love my car

Kain03: car should make it easier 4 us to meet!

MattyG4nsfun: when r u back at uni?

Kain03: 8th Jan

MattyG4nsfun: Pity. my days off are over by then

Kain03: Yeah. pity. but we can meet as soon as I get back?

MattyG4nsfun: ok. but that's almost 3 wks and I'm horny now!

Kain03: lol! me too. it's weeks since I had a shag

MattyG4nsfun: more than 6 months 4 me

Kain03: I know how that feels!

MattyG4nsfun: lol. did u meet ur last shag online?

Kain03: Yep. cheaper than Quay St!

MattyG4nsfun: don't like quay st

Kain03: y not?

MattyG4nsfun: mostly cos my ex is always there prob with his new bf

Kain03: ur just looking for a shag, right?

MattyG4nsfun: regular shags, not just one-off, cos I get horny a lot!

Kain03: lol. me too. but don't want any lovey-dovey bf stuff, just someone 4 shags when we r both in the mood

MattyG4nsfun: good. I'll probly be in the mood a lot, tho!

Kain03: me too!

Just then, Andy came into our room and started looking for something in his chest of drawers, so I quickly moved the chat window to conceal most of our conversation.

Kain03: my bro just came in so can't chat now. sorry!

MattyG4nsfun: ok. chat again soon?

Kain03: hope so

MattyG4nsfun: u want my mobile no?

Kain03: ok. thanx 4 trusting me

Although Andy had by that time apparently found what he was looking for and left the room, I decided not to take the risk that he might come back. Therefore, as soon as I'd written down Matt's number, I said good-bye and signed out without saving the conversation.

When Matt gave me his phone number I was pleasantly surprised but I also thought that it was a very risky thing to do. I briefly thought about giving him my number before signing off, but I quickly decided against it. Giving my mobile number to an almost stranger whom I'd never even met was something that required some consideration. In the past I'd never given out my number to an internet contact until we'd made definite arrangements to meet, and even then only rarely. Now that I had Matt's number I could decide if and when to call him, but I was nervous because I wasn't sure what to say.

Eventually, I decided to just send him a text message, thanking him for trusting me with his number, and in the process of sending it I could confirm that the number was correct. By sending him the message I'd also given him my number, so I hoped he'd see that as a sign of trust on my part. Within minutes of sending the text, I received a response saying that he would phone me after work the following day.

Just after seven o'clock the next evening my phone rang, and I answered with a mixture of excited anticipation and nervousness. Andy wasn't in the room, but even if he were to come in while I was talking, I could take my phone and find a more private part of the house to continue the conversation.

"Hey, Ian?" Matt greeted me when I answered his call.

His light baritone voice had a definite Linchester accent, and I also noted that he didn't sound at all nervous or hesitant.

"Hi, Matt. Yes, it's me," I said, responding to his somewhat superfluous question with an equally superfluous answer.

Then all the things I'd been planning to say disappeared from my mind, and rather than remain silent I said the first thing that came into my head.

"Had a good day at work?" I asked, and realised instantly how banal that was.

"Yes, very busy, but at least that's good for my Christmas bonus," he said brightly. Then with a hint of mischief in his voice he added, "Have you had a good day not doing any work?"

Because my nervousness had impaired my brain function, it took me a couple of seconds to realise that it was a mildly disparaging reference to the fact that I was a student on vacation.

"Depends if you think being a house slave means not doing any work," I replied, trying to match his humour. "When Mum went to work this morning she left a long list of Christmas preparation jobs for me and Andy to do. Sometimes I wonder if Christmas is worth all the effort."

"Depends on what you get for your presents," he quipped.

Having thus broken the ice, I found that Matt was in fact very easy to talk to, though sometimes I didn't quite understand his humour and occasionally wondered if he were making fun of me. Also, I found that the direct way in which he often expressed himself was sometimes disconcerting and occasionally almost shocking.

"So," Matt said as we were winding up our first phone conversation, "I guess it's your turn to phone me next time."

"Well, maybe it would be best if you phone me," I replied, "because you know I'm more likely to be available and I won't know exactly when you'll be finishing work or eating dinner."

"Ah!" he said as if he'd seen through some cunning ploy. "What you really mean is that I'm a working man with a salary and you're just a poor student, so I should pay for the phone calls."

"No!" I protested indignantly. "I didn't mean that at all."

"Don't get your knickers in a twist," he said, obviously much amused. "I was only pulling your leg."

"Oh. Okay, then," I said, feeling a little foolish and slightly resentful.

"Anyway, you're right," he said placatingly. "With my Christmas schedule it probably will be better for me to call you."

Over the next few days, both before and after Christmas, Matt and I spoke on the phone almost every day, though sometimes it was only for a couple of minutes. Although we exchanged some basic background information and made a few risqué sexual references, we didn't discuss anything too intimate or personal. For example, although he told me he lived alone with his mum, who was a primary school teacher, he didn't say what happened to his dad, and I didn't ask.

During our phone chats I discovered that with Matt there was little or no chance of having uncomfortable silences. He seemed to have opinions on almost every subject that came up, and he wasn't shy about expressing those opinions. Indeed, sometimes I wished he'd shut up long enough for me to get a word in. Often he took the opposite position to mine, so at first I thought he was just being argumentative, but after a while I realised that he was merely saying what he really believed.

A few times, when I knew he must be at work, I received text message saying simply that he was feeling horny. That always brought a smile to my face, and I'd send a message back to him saying 'me too'. Frequently, especially when I received his 'horny' messages, I would wish that we could have met up before the end of term. Somewhat less frequently, however, I wondered if it might have been a good thing that we hadn't jumped into bed together immediately after our first contact. The delay, though sexually frustrating, at least gave me the opportunity to become more comfortable with his forthright speech and quirky humour.

The new term started on a Monday, and I arranged to go back to Linchester earlier than usual on the Sunday so that I could meet up with Matt in the afternoon. All during the holidays I'd been feeling incredibly horny, and from his photos and chats I knew that I wanted to have sex with him. Obviously, I fervently hoped that he felt the same about me. We'd arranged to meet in a cafe in the city centre, and as I'd arrived a few minutes before the appointed time, I sat in a quiet corner facing the entrance. For what seemed like an eternity I held on to a mug of coffee that went from hot to lukewarm to cold as I waited for him to arrive.

Eventually, about ten minutes late, he entered the cafe, quickly spotted the tentative waving of my hand, grinned, and came directly to my table. In his smart brown leather jacket and with his cheeks reddened by the cold outside, he looked more attractive in real life than he did in his profile photos. His attractiveness was no doubt further enhanced by the level of my libido.

"Hey, Ian," he said as he sat down facing me across the table. "Sorry I'm a bit late. It took me a while to find a parking space."

"Hey. Do you want a coffee? I've nearly finished this." I nodded down at my mug and wondered if he'd get the hint that I'd been there for some time.

"Are you offering to buy me one?" he asked and grinned mischievously.

"Yes, if you want one," I said, remembering his jibe about me expecting him to phone me.

"No, thanks," he said. "I'm not a great fan of coffee, and anyway I'm hoping we won't be staying here much longer."

From the expression on his face it was obvious what he meant, and I blushed slightly as I smiled and nodded my understanding.

"That's fine with me," I said.

"In such situations," he said, leaning forward conspiratorially, "it might be usual to say 'your place or mine', but in this case I think yours would be better."

"Sounds good to me," I agreed and stood up.

So within an hour of our meeting in the cafe we were in my bed. We were both so horny that we achieved our first orgasms very quickly, but we started again after a break that lasted just long enough for me to drink a glass of water. The second bout of sex was great, though perhaps there wasn't quite as much animal passion as I'd experienced with Derek. However, that was probably an advantage, because the slightly more leisurely pace meant that I could savour the experience and enjoy it more.

Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to see if we could have managed a third session because Matt was expected home for his evening meal, and in any case our exertions had made us both very hungry. As we were getting dressed, we looked at one another a little nervously and began to speak virtually simultaneously.

"When..." we both said, just slightly out of synch.

We both laughed, relieved that the same word being used by both of us indicated that we were thinking the same thing.

"You go first," Matt said as he resumed fastening the belt on his trousers.

"When do you want to meet up again?" I asked.

"Tuesday night or Wednesday is good for me," he replied. "I'm off all day Wednesday because I'm working Saturday and Sunday next weekend."

"Let's make it Tuesday night, then," I said, trying not to sound too eager.

"As I've got transport," he said, referring to the car he was so proud of, "if you want I can come straight here after dinner, say between seven thirty and eight. Save you having to go into town to meet me."

"Yeah, great!" I agreed enthusiastically. "Just park round the back here, tap on my window, and I'll let you in."

He smiled and nodded his agreement, and after a brief pause he spoke again, this time with a hesitancy that was uncharacteristic. "Ya know, as I don't need to be up for work on Wednesday, well, if ya want I can stay overnight, so we can, erm, take our time."

"Yeah, okay," I replied, then I laughed and added, "But bring a toothbrush cos I hate stinky morning breath!"

During the following month or so we got together three or four times per week, and about half of those times he stayed overnight. The sex remained good and he turned out to be quite adventurous in that regard. Somehow he managed to persuade me to experiment with things I'd never done before, such as mild bondage. At first I was a little doubtful about engaging in what I thought of as kinky activities, but Matt's playful attitude quickly won me around, and I found I enjoyed an occasional bit of variety in our sex life.

While we recovered in between bouts of sexual activity, there was plenty of conversation. Matt was never short of things to talk about and he had opinions on everything from abortion to xenophobia. Our views were often divergent and sometimes discussions became almost heated enough to be classed as arguments. However, no ill feeling was generated and we quickly laughed off our differences and went back to our most important activity, sex.

In those first few weeks we grew comfortable talking about even the most intimate sexual acts, but we rarely mentioned anything that was personally intimate. However, one thing that Matt mentioned as an aside in the course of one discussion was that his father had deserted his mother before he was born. The resentment I heard in his voice as he mentioned that was very unusual for him, because he rarely showed such negative feelings.

Matt was generally very positive about everything and seemed to be able to find humour in almost any situation. Above all, he didn't take himself too seriously, and if something bad happened to him he seemed to just shrug it off and get on with his life. Overall, he was an easy person to like and, somewhat grudgingly, I admitted to myself that in many ways I admired him even when I disagreed with him. Toward the end of one of our discussions, an exchange occurred that perhaps illustrated Matt's attitude to life.

"The past may have been bad and the future may be even worse," he said, "but the present is fun, so enjoy it."

While I had some sympathy with that outlook on life, I didn't entirely agree with it, so I felt that I had to challenge him. "You can't just think about the present. You've got to plan for the future."

"Yes, obviously you need to take a bit of care about what you do now," he said as if he pitied me for being unable to see beyond the obvious, "but it's possible to take that caution too far. Some people worry so much about what will happen and what other people might think that they spoil their enjoyment of the present."

"But you shouldn't let your enjoyment of the present ruin your future," I pointed out.

"Of course not," he said, again with that slightly pitying tone, "but you can never accurately predict the future and you can't even guarantee that you'll have a future, so you shouldn't let worries about what might possibly happen ruin what you actually have now."

Similar exchanges cropped up again in subsequent conversations, but neither of us managed to persuade the other to change his attitude on the matter. As with many of our discussions, we ended up agreeing to disagree. However, sometimes our viewpoints converged a little as we talked things out, and always my respect for him increased.

The first exchange of really personal information took place about half way through the term, while we were resting after a particularly energetic sex session. As it was a Saturday night and neither of us had to get up early the next morning, we knew we didn't need to rush things and that we had plenty of time to relax and chat.

"I'm just curious," Matt said, "and won't be offended if you don't want to answer, but why did you make such a big point in your profile and in our MSN chats that you wanted just no-strings sex?"

"You said the same thing," I pointed out, frowning. "You've not changed your mind have you?"

"No, of course not," he replied reassuringly. "I know what my reasons are, but I can't help wondering why a nice, attractive, clever guy like you doesn't have a real boyfriend, and why you're so anxious to avoid any emotional involvements."

"Ha!" I laughed. "Are you on drugs or are you just trying to get your wicked way with my body by flattering me?"

"It's not flattery," he said. Then, grabbing my dick, he grinned wickedly and added, "And I don't need flattery to have my wicked way with your body."

"That's true," I said, feeling my dick begin to swell.

"So do you want to tell me your reasons?" he asked, playing with my foreskin. "If you do I'll tell you mine."

Succumbing to his powers of persuasion, I gave him a brief summary of my experiences with Simon, Frank, Derek and Debbie. I even mentioned losing my best friend, Teo, and told him that when I got emotionally attached to anyone, it ended up with me getting badly hurt. I also pointed out that when Frank fell in love with me it strained our relationship and hurt him. However, although I talked about those major personal relationships, I didn't mention the guys I'd picked up for sex in Quay Street or on the internet. That wasn't relevant to the subject at hand, and in any case I didn't want him to think I was a slut.

"So you see," I said, concluding my exposition, "Love just gets people hurt, it makes people behave stupidly, and generally screws everything up."

"Yes," he said thoughtfully when I'd finished. "I see how love messed things up for you, and I can understand why you're keen to avoid it happening again."

He paused for a few seconds, obviously still absorbing what I'd told him. Then he spoke again. "You really didn't love Frank? It sounds like he would have been an easy person to love."

For reasons I couldn't explain, that question irritated me so much that I barely managed to suppress a sharp response. Instead, I took a deep breath and tried to give a meaningful answer.

"Love is a word that people throw around as if it had some fixed meaning," I said. "People have lots of different feelings that they call love but they always expect you to know what they mean when they use the word. They love music, they love their boyfriend, they love their mum, and they love pizza."

I took a deep breath and paused to consider how best to express what I wanted to say before I continued. "Have you ever tried saying the same word aloud to yourself over and over again? Eventually it just becomes a meaningless noise. Well, that's what people have done to the word love. Then, when they realise that the word has lost its meaning, they try to give it nice tidy labels like 'platonic love', as if real emotions can be fitted into nice tidy compartments."

When I finished my little rant, I realised Matt was still looking at me expectantly, probably because he was still waiting for an answer to his actual question.

"Frank was my best friend," I continued in a subdued tone, "and I loved him in the way I'd love a best friend. No, to be more accurate, I loved him in a best-friend way that was unique to Frank."

A small frown of concentration creased Matt's forehead as he tried to digest what I'd said.

"That doesn't make much sense, does it?" I said, feeling somewhat frustrated.

"Yes, I think it makes some sense. I'm just not sure that I understand it yet," he said. After a short pause for thought he added, "It seems to me that you criticise others for trying to put labels on types of love, but you also want to put your feelings for Frank and Simon into different boxes. You think about things too much. You should just accept your feelings, whatever they are, and go along with them."

Although I felt a little offended by his remark, I couldn't think of a ready response, and in any case I wasn't in the mood for an argument. There was a brief silence, during which he appeared to be studying my face. A little embarrassed by his gaze, I looked away from him and at the bedside clock.

"Almost midnight," I said for no particular reason.

"Want me to tell you my reasons now?" he asked.

Although I was still curious about Matt's previous experiences with his ex boyfriend, I'd had enough of talking about emotional baggage. In any case, I was ready for more sex, which was the reason we were there together.

"No, not now" I said. "You can tell me about it some other time. There's something more important to do now."

I wrapped my arms around him and rolled on top of him then I kissed him while grinding our crotches together.

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