The Question

by Kit

Chapter 12

After my long and rambling discourse explaining what I thought about love and why I wasn't looking for it, Matt didn't bring up the subject again. However, after almost a week, my curiosity about his relationship history overcame my reluctance to discuss matters relating to emotions. So one night, while we were lying in bed recovering from our sex play, I reminded him of his promise.

"Remember when I told you why I wanted no-strings sex?" I said. "You said you'd tell me why you are also keen to avoid emotional stuff."

"Yeah, I remember," he replied, and then grinned. "I also remember that just as I was about to reveal all you insisted on having your wicked way with my body."

"True," I admitted, unable to suppress a smile. "But I've just had my wicked way with you, and it's going to be a few minutes before I can do it again, so you can tell me now."

"Well," he began, "as you know, apart from you I've only had sex with one other guy. Unlike you, who's picked up dozens of men on Quay Street."

Just two days earlier we'd been discussing the local gay venues, and I'd mentioned some of my experiences there. Now I was beginning to wonder if I wasn't going to regret being so open with him.

"Not dozens," I protested. "Just a few, and they were more than a year ago."

"But the guys you shagged from the internet site weren't so long ago, were they?" he said, shaking his head in mock disapproval.

"Oh, fuck off!" I retorted, irritated even though I knew he was only teasing me. "And anyway, I may have experienced more men, but you seem to be more experienced with kinky stuff!"

"Oh, Ian, don't be so uptight," he said barely controlling his laughter. "I'm only joking, and you must admit you do make an easy target of yourself."

Then he became serious and looked directly into my eyes.

"I really meant what I told you before," he said. "I don't care how many people you've shagged, just as long as you were safe."

"Okay, then," I replied, somewhat mollified. "So tell be about you and your ex. What was his name, by the way?"

"His name's Harry. And for over two years I was completely and absolutely in love with him, and I would've done anything for him. Then he betrayed me and dumped me, and hurt me so much that I don't want to risk it ever happening again."

At that point he stopped speaking and looked as if he'd finished. Despite the twinkle in his eye, which signalled that he was teasing me again, I couldn't help rising to the bait.

"Well?" I protested. "Is that it? I gave you much more details about my past relationships!"

His triumphant smile proved that he had indeed been toying with me and that he was enjoying himself immensely.

"Ian, Ian," he said, shaking his head. "You make yourself such a tempting target. How can you expect me to resist?"

I glared at him, but my ire was mostly pretence because I knew that he was right and that there must be something perverse in me that deliberately walked into his little traps. Maybe deep down I enjoyed him making fun of me, or maybe I just enjoyed getting the attention.

"Anyway," Matt said and sighed. "What exactly do you want to know?"

"For a start," I said, "how did you meet? Why did you go for someone so much older? What did your mum do about it? How did he betray you?"

"That's just a start?" He grinned and shook his head before continuing, "Maybe I should just start at the beginning and you can ask questions as I go along."

I nodded my agreement to that, and he began telling me his history.

"I've known I was gay ever since I can remember," he said, "and when I was sixteen I decided to do something about it. So I looked through the gay dating web sites and met Harry."

"Wow!" I said, impressed but slightly shocked. "That was pretty bold, considering you were only sixteen."

"I'm sure you've noticed I can be very bold, especially when I'm horny," he said with a smirk.

"But wait a minute," I said. "You have to be eighteen to register on those dating sites."

"No," he said, looking at me as if I were a little child. "You just have to say you're eighteen. They can't check your age and you can get a basic membership without a credit card."

"Did you tell Harry your real age before you met him?"

"Well, he guessed as soon as I sent him a face pic, but he didn't mind," Matt replied. "In fact, I think he was pleasantly surprised, and a couple of days after our first contact we met up and went to his flat."

"Bloody Hell, you were a fast worker!" I commented.

"Yep," Matt said with a smile. "And so was he. On our second meeting he took my virginity."

"And then you became boyfriends?"

"Well, at first it was just sex," Matt said. "We both had fun, so we arranged to meet again, and again, and again. You know what a sex addict I can be sometimes."

His laughter was no doubt mostly a response to his own humour, but the bemused expression on my face probably also contributed to his amusement. Once he'd managed to control his laughter, he continued, "Anyway, we also got on well, partly because we were both interested in cars. He taught me a lot, mainly about sex but also about cars, and even about sex in cars. I admired him a lot. It didn't take long before I realised I was in love with him, and he became my boyfriend."

"Wasn't it weird, him being so much older?" I asked.

"Didn't matter to me. And Harry found it a great turn-on."

"I bet he did," I said rather disapprovingly. Matt, who appeared to be quite amused, just shrugged his shoulders and smiled. I wasn't sure whether his amusement was caused by the situation he'd just described or by my reaction to that description. In any case, I carried on with my questions. "How did your mum find out you were gay? And how did she react when she found out you were being shagged by someone so much older?"

"Finding out I was gay and finding out about Harry were two different things," he said.

"You mentioned your mum overheard a phone call," I prompted, eager to find out more.

"Yeah. That happened a few weeks after I met Harry. He called me while I was sitting in the back garden reading some car mags. When I answered, I didn't go to my room because I thought it would be private enough in the garden. But I didn't realise that the kitchen window was open and that Mum was in the kitchen. She heard some intimate stuff and later she asked me about it."

"You didn't try to convince her you were chatting to a girlfriend?"

"Nah, I thought it was about time she knew I was gay," he replied. He smirked and added, "Anyway, a girlfriend wouldn't have the equipment required for me to do some of the intimate things she heard me talking about."

"Bloody Hell!" I gasped. I was made breathless by the horrific thought of what might have happened if my mother had overheard me engaged in such a conversation. Presuming that I hadn't immediately died of embarrassment, I'd have had to run away and never return.

Matt was again amused, and in fact laughing quietly to himself. No doubt compared to him I was a bit of a prude, but compared to him everyone I knew was a bit of a prude. I wondered if he wasn't deliberately trying to shock me, just so he could be entertained by my reaction. Still, even if that were true, I was being entertained by his revelations, so it would only be fair if he received some entertainment in return.

"Bloody Hell!" I said again. "So how did she react?"

"Quite well, really. She just gave me a lecture on sexual health, made me promise to be safe, and stuff like that."

"Good for her," I said.

"Yeah," he replied with a grin. "She's a tough old bird, and she's not so easy to shock as you are."

"This isn't all a wind-up, is it?" I asked, suddenly becoming a little suspicious. "You're not making all this up are you?"

"No, of course not!" he said, genuinely offended. "It's the complete truth. I'd never lie to you about something like that. But I do particularly enjoy telling you some of the juicier stuff because it's so much fun watching your face when you hear it."

"Bastard!" I said. "How did your mum find out about Harry?"

"That was a few months later. It was just a bit of bad luck really," he said and sighed, obviously a little saddened by the memory.

"But she would've been bound to find out sooner or later," I said, hoping to make him feel better.

"Later would have been better. In fact, the later the better," he replied. "After she overheard me on the phone I couldn't really deny that I had a boyfriend, and for a while she'd hint that she wanted to meet him. But I said that he didn't want anyone to find out he was gay and I let her believe her own assumption that it was a boy at my school."

From the expression on his face I got the impression that he hadn't enjoyed deceiving his mum.

"I thought that I'd got things sorted so she wouldn't find out, at least not for a couple of years," he continued. "I'd either go to Harry's or he'd pick me up in his car somewhere discreet, away from my house. He'd make sure I was back at a reasonable time, and I never stayed out overnight."

"So what happened?"

"One morning I'd told her I was going to meet a friend after school and eat at his place. She knew I meant my boyfriend and just told me that as it was a school night I should be home by nine."

"But something went wrong," I guessed.

"Afraid so," he said, nodding his head. "I arranged to meet Harry in a local supermarket car park, and Mum decided to go to a supermarket she hardly ever used."

He looked at me, knowing that I could probably guess the rest.

"She saw him picking you up?"

"Yep," he admitted. "Although I didn't see her, she managed to get a good look at Harry before we drove off. We'd only gone a short distance from the car park when my phone rang. It was Mum. When I answered I had no idea she'd seen me and Harry, so when she asked if I was with my 'special friend' I said yes."

"Bloody Hell!" I said.

"You swear a lot, don't you?" Matt commented, raising an eyebrow.

"Only when I'm with you," I retorted. "Anyway, what happened then?"

"Then she asked if it was my boyfriend's car that I'd just got into. Of course I was completely gobsmacked and said the first thing that came into my head, that it was my boyfriend's dad's car."

"I guess she didn't believe you?"

"No such luck," he replied ruefully. "She said if I was with my boyfriend's dad then my boyfriend must be much too young for me, and if I was with my boyfriend then my boyfriend was much too old for me."

"Well, you've got to admire her logic," I said, attempting to be humorous. "But then she is a school teacher."

The smile that Matt bestowed upon my efforts was, I thought, a little sour.

"Anyway," he continued, "she demanded that I go home immediately. I told her I couldn't get home right away but would definitely be home before nine. Then I said good-bye and hung up. I really needed time to think before I could talk to her, and I wanted to give her time to cool down."

"Bad mistake," I said. "In my experience of mothers, it's more likely that they'll heat up rather than cool down."

"Alright smart arse," Matt said, giving me another sour look. "As it turned out you're right, but what would you have done in my position?"

"Probably emigrated to some distant part of the globe," I quipped, not entirely facetiously.

"That wasn't really one of my options," he replied. "So I just went with Harry to his flat and then I told him what Mum had said."

"Didn't Harry already know?"

"No, he was busy driving and didn't overhear enough of my side of the conversation to be able to work out what was going on. When I told him, though, he got even more panicked than I was. We managed to talk things through and we both calmed down. After all, I was sixteen, so perfectly legal. Then I assured him that I loved him and that I'd sort things out with my Mum."

"What happened then?"

"He gave me a ride to one of our usual drop-off points, just round the corner from my house, and I was home before seven. Of course, Mum demanded to know who my boyfriend was and how old he was, so I just told her his first name and his age and that I loved him. Anyway, then she told me that I must never see him again. I'm afraid I lost my temper and told her that as I was sixteen, I could see anyone I wanted. And then I stormed off to my room."

"Phew! That's horrible!" I commented, completely caught up in the drama of the scene he described. I didn't mention that, from what I'd heard so far, my sympathies were split about equally between Matt and his mum.

"Yes, it was," he said sadly. "Especially when she came up to my room and told me that while I was living under her roof I had to obey her rules and that I was grounded at least until after my GCSE exams. She even took away my phone."

To show my sympathy I shook my head and put my hand on his arm.

"But it didn't stop me sneaking out when she wasn't around," he continued as his face brightened with a mischievous grin. " I managed to get to see Harry at least once a week. Mum wasn't stupid, so of course she guessed, but short of locking me up there wasn't much she could do except use psychological warfare."

"Psychological warfare?"

"Yes, surely you know that mothers are especially good at that. She kept going on about how bad it was for me to be under the influence of an evil older man, what diseases he could give me, how it would ruin my studies, how it was upsetting her, and so on and on and on. And, of course, the trump card, guilt. How could I hurt her like this after she, a single mum, had struggled and sacrificed so much to bring me up and care for me."

"And, erm," I said hesitantly, "you couldn't see her point of view?"

"I was sixteen, madly in love and addicted to sex," he said, raising an eyebrow. "What do you think?"

My only response was a weak shrug of my shoulders.

"Then things got even worse when I told her I was going to leave school after my GCSEs and get a job," he said. "I think she found that harder to deal with than when she found out about Harry, especially as I was expected to get good grades. But I was determined to be independent and take control of my own life."

Personally, I thought that giving up the long term prospects afforded by further education was far too high a price to pay just to become independent a couple of years early. However, I didn't express that opinion to Matt because I didn't feel like starting any heated arguments.

"Eventually," Matt continued, "after a couple of months of all that hassle, I decided I couldn't take any more of her nagging. I asked Harry if I could move in with him as soon as I'd done my GCSEs. Then my plan was to get a job and live happily ever after."

"What did Harry think of your plan?" I asked.

"To be honest, at first he was very unenthusiastic, but then I pointed out to him that not only would I be available for sex every day but that when I got a job I'd be helping with the rent and bills. Eventually, I persuaded him it was a good idea."

"And that's how things worked out?" I asked.

"Yep. My GCSEs were pretty good, and I easily got a job," he said proudly and perhaps a little smugly. "My teachers agreed with my mum and said I should do A-levels. But if I'd done that I wouldn't be earning what I am now, and I certainly wouldn't have my car."

"And I guess you went to live with Harry?"

"Yeah. We shared his flat and his bed for about two years, and the first eighteen months or so were very happy. He took me to the bars and clubs on Quay Street, and I learned a lot from him."

"You mean you learned lots of kinky sex stuff," I said with a grin.

"Of course," he said and laughed. "But I also learned lots of other stuff, like how to look after household finances and how to take care of myself. When I was seventeen he taught me how to drive, and when I was eighteen he helped me buy my car."

"He helped pay for it?"

"Nah, he couldn't afford that, but he helped me shop around for a good car then helped me negotiate a good price."

"What about your mum?" I asked. "Did she get used to you living with Harry?"

"No way!" Matt said, shaking his head. "When I first left home she was really upset and when I phoned or called round she would hardly speak to me. Then when I went round on my seventeenth birthday we began to make up, and we eventually got back to being almost normal. She never has acknowledged the fact that I lived with Harry. She refused even to acknowledge that he exists."

"And now you're back living with her, so I guess things are good between you, now?"

"Yeah, she likes having me there to look after, and she appreciates the fact that I pay half the bills and help her out around the house."

"So what went wrong between you and Harry?" I asked.

"To cut a long story short," he said bitterly, "he was cheating on me. I got home early from a weekend management-training course and caught him in bed with a kid who looked as if he couldn't be over sixteen. What made me feel even worse was that I later found out that he'd been cheating on me for months before that."

The memory of all that was obviously still upsetting for him, so I automatically pulled him into my arms and cuddled him, hoping to make him feel better. We lay together like that for a while until I lifted my chin from his shoulder so that I could speak.

"Well, I'm glad you told me all that," I said sympathetically. "At least now we know why we both want to avoid any more emotional entanglements. Falling in love is a sure way to get hurt. Anyway, from now on why don't we agree not to mention the L-word?"

"Yeah, okay," he said as if the subject were of no importance.

There was a long silence, during which I began to wonder if Matt would be interested in more sex that night or whether we should just settle down to sleep. Just before I could put that question to him, Matt took hold of my dick and started massaging it, so I knew we were in for some more fun before we went to sleep.

Although the satisfaction of our sexual appetites was the basic reason for our meetings, we didn't spend all our time together having sex, nor did we jump into bed as soon as he entered my room. After we'd had a dozen or so meetings there wasn't such a sense of urgency, and we became more relaxed because we knew that it would only be a day or two until we met again. The quality and excitement of our sexual activity didn't deteriorate with time, though on rare occasions we had enough energy for only one brief session, even when he was staying overnight.

Matt would sometimes arrive while I was still writing up lecture notes or doing course work, and he would then wait, not always patiently, for me to finish. Occasionally, usually when one or both of us had a tough day, we would have a drink and slowly unwind before getting down to business. On one such occasion he arrived bearing a bottle of wine, the contents of which we drank as we lounged, fully clothed, on my bed.

Usually, when he arrived I was listening to music, though I always turned it off before we started getting physically intimate because I found that background music spoiled my enjoyment of sex. In any case, Matt didn't share my tastes in music, and soon after we first met he searched my small collection of CDs, trying in vain to find something he wanted to listen to.

"Why do you have so much old music?" he asked, not even trying to hide his displeasure. "It's mostly classical stuff like Beethoven or lots of retro stuff like Pet Shop Boys. You should get up to date and start listening to music composed this century."

"Just because something was composed a long time ago," I countered archly, "doesn't mean it's out of date. In fact if it's lasted so long then it must be good."

Despite my efforts on several occasions to educate his musical palate, he never got to enjoy any of my favourite pieces of music, or if he did enjoy any of them he didn't admit it. Shortly after Matt told me about Harry, I confided in him that many Pet Shop Boys songs seemed to reflect certain experiences in my life. On a couple of occasions after that, he asked me to play those particular tracks while I explained their significance. He listened with interest to my commentary, and I supposed he must have enjoyed at least some of their music because he occasionally borrowed one of their CDs.

We sometimes discussed movies, and it turned out that was one area in which there was a considerable overlap in our tastes. One evening, about six weeks after our first meeting, he asked me if I liked the Harry Potter movies.

"Well, it's good, entertaining escapism," I said. "And I rather fancy the Scottish actor. Ya know, the one who plays the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team."

"Hey, hands off!" Matt responded. "He's mine."

"Mmm, I s'pose we could fight for him or," I said, pausing for dramatic effect, "have a kinky threesome!"

"I thought you were too prudish for kinky stuff," he said mockingly.

"You've corrupted me," I replied, trying unsuccessfully to appear serious.

"Yeah, but you enjoyed it, didn't you?"

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," I said coyly. "Anyway, why did you ask if I like Harry Potter movies?"

"Oh," he said, remembering how the conversation had started. "The latest one's been out for a while, but I've not seen it yet and I wondered if you wanted to go to see it with me."

"Are you paying?" I asked flippantly. The question was intended just to wind him up, so I was surprised that he took it seriously.

"Yes, okay," he said. "I hate going to movies alone."

On the following Sunday afternoon, he drove us to the big multi-screen cinema on the edge of the city, and then he paid for our tickets while I bought us some snacks. Afterwards, as we were making our way across the car park and chatting about what we'd seen, the happy atmosphere was ruined. Matt put his arm over my shoulder and I immediately pulled away.

"What the fuck are you doing?" I hissed.

Panicking, I looked around to see if anyone had seen us. Fortunately, it was getting dark, and although there were a lot of people around, none were particularly close and none appeared to be looking in our direction.

"What's the matter?" Matt asked.

From the expression on his face it was clear that he was puzzled and a little hurt, and I immediately realised that I'd overreacted. However, instead of calming down and behaving more rationally I grew angry with him for triggering my panic. Then, perversely and even more irrationally, my overreaction increased, as if in some way that escalation might justify my first response.

"Touching me like that in public," I replied quietly so that only he could hear. "What if someone saw you?"

"They'd see one friend putting his arm round another friend," he said simply.

He looked at me as if he thought I'd gone crazy, and if he did hold that opinion it was probably not totally unjustified, because at that moment I had a flashback to the time that Frank had done something similar, and I remembered how I'd overreacted then. That memory might have been expected to put things into perspective, but it didn't. Instead, that small rational part of my mind helplessly watched in horror as my emotions took control.

"They'd see two queers," I said angrily. "Do you want to be queer-bashed? Is that one of your many kinks?"

The expression on his face quickly went from disbelief to anger.

"Don't be so fucking stupid, Ian," he growled. "Friends, even straight friends, do that sort of thing all the time. You're not just a prude, you're a paranoid prude."

"Never mind what I am. Let's just get out of here," I said, and stormed off toward his car.

By the time I got there he'd caught up. After he unlocked the doors, we got in and drove off, all without saying a word. During the twenty minutes or so that it took us to get back to Hall the silence was maintained, and as my emotions calmed down I began to feel a little foolish. Although I still believed that Matt's action in the car park had been stupid and potentially dangerous, I also realised that my reaction was unwarranted and that I should have handled the situation much better.

When we reached our destination, he didn't park the car but just stopped outside the entrance and left the engine running. The original plan had been that we'd grab a pizza, take it back to my room, and spend the night together, but it was clear to me that in Matt's mind that plan had changed. He was a much better sex buddy than I'd ever hoped for, and I was afraid that I might lose him. Although I didn't think I could bring myself to actually apologise, I realised that I needed to build bridges.

"I thought we were going to get pizza," I said, just to get things started.

At first he didn't respond, and his gaze remained fixed forward. For several seconds his only movement was the clenching and unclenching of his grip on the steering wheel. Eventually, he spoke, quietly but with an angry tone, and he still didn't look at me.

"I didn't think that you'd want to eat with a kinky pervert," he said.

"Look," I said soothingly, "I know that I overreacted and said things that I shouldn't have done. I didn't really mean what I said, and I'm sorry that I hurt your feelings."

That apology, though small and only partial, was much easier to make than I'd expected it to be, and it was also totally genuine.

"Then why did you say it?" he said, looking at me for the first time since we'd got into the car.

"I was scared and I panicked," I said, simply stating what I thought would have been obvious to him.

"But why?" he asked. "I thought we were friends, so why did you behave like that when I was just being friendly?"

"To be honest, I'm not sure that I can answer that properly because I guess it's not really logical," I said, then sighed and continued. "If you want I'll try to explain, but sitting here in a car isn't a good place for that. Let's get a pizza and some beers and then eat and drink in my room while we talk about it."

"Okay," he said, somewhat mollified.

When we eventually got back to my room we were both feeling less emotional, and as we ate and drank I tried to explain to him why his public display of affection had scared me so much. As I knew it wasn't totally rational, and as I didn't completely understand it myself, that explanation was really more like a listing of certain events in my life. So I told him about how I felt when Simon said my feelings were queer, about his queer-bashing brother, and about my encounter with the homophobic engineers. From his comments during my exposition and the way he looked at me when I'd finished, it was clear to me that he didn't agree with my feelings, though he now partially understood them and had some sympathy for me.

"You can't spend the rest of your life being terrified of people finding out that you're gay," he said. "Things are better now than they used to be, society is more accepting, there are lots of famous people who are openly gay, and you can't turn on the TV without seeing some gay character."

"Yes, I know all that," I said, a little irritated at the way he seemed to be lecturing me. "I never said it was totally rational. But people still get queer-bashed in real life, and even on TV. And it's not just the risk of being beaten up. There are all sorts of ways people can make life a misery. I just feel safer and more comfortable if most people don't know about me."

"Not even your family?" he asked. "Surely you don't think they'll make your life a misery?"

"Probably not. But I'd rather they didn't find out until I tell them. And I'll wait until I'm not so dependant on them before I do that."

Matt sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "Okay, suit yourself. Personally, I think you're screwed up, but at least now I think I understand why you're screwed up."

About a week before the end of term, I woke up one morning with a sore throat. At first it was quite mild, and I guessed it might be related to Matt's visit the previous evening. We'd been together from just after eight o'clock until he left a little before midnight, and for part of that time I'd been trying to deep-throat him. He was very skilled with that technique, but even after several lessons from him I still couldn't quite manage it.

During the course of the morning, however, not only did the soreness in my throat get worse but I also developed a headache and a fever. A little after noon, by which time my nose was dripping like a tap, I decided to miss the rest of my classes and go back to my room to lie down for a while. After taking some paracetamol, I spent a miserable couple of hours before I managed to doze off. Some time later, I was awakened by my phone and saw that Matt was calling.

"Hello, Batt" I croaked, my nose now completely blocked.

"Are you okay?"

"Got a cold," I replied.

"I just called to say I'm on my way over to your place now."

My head was so throbbing and fuzzy that I'd completely forgotten the arrangement we'd made to meet up that evening.

"Better not," I said. "You don't want to catch my cold. Anyway, I'm not in the mood for having fun just now."

"I think if I was going to catch it then I'd already have it," he said. "After all, less than twenty four hours ago we had our tongues down each other's throats."

"Well, hopefully you won't get it and I'll be better in a couple of days so we can get together then."

"Have you taken anything?"

"Just paracetamol."

"Nothing else?" he asked.

"Don't have anything else."

"Just a sec. I'll call you back in a minute." He hung up, and about five minutes later he called again.

"Sorry. It took a bit longer than I thought," he said. "Have you eaten yet?"

"No, I'm not really hungry, and in any case my throat is so sore I doubt that I could swallow anything."

"Okay," he said in a businesslike manner. "It'll take me a bit longer than I thought. I'll be there in about an hour, or maybe a bit more."


Before I could say anything else he'd hung up, so I curled up in my duvet and waited for him to arrive. When he turned up about ninety minutes later he was carrying two large shopping bags. In one of them was a large box of tissues, together with an assortment of cold remedies, including decongestants and pastilles for sore throats. The other bag contained two large thermos flasks.

"Sorry I was so long," Matt said as he unpacked the contents of the bags onto my desk. "The soup took longer to defrost than I expected."

"Soup?" I asked, my voice rasping.

"You sound awful," he replied, ignoring my question. "Your throat must be really bad. Here, suck on one of these and hopefully you'll be able to enjoy the soup in a few minutes."

He handed me the pack of throat pastilles, which I noted contained a local anaesthetic as one of its ingredients.

"Soup?" I repeated as I removed a pastille from the pack.

"Mum's home made chicken soup. She always keeps a supply in the freezer just in case I get ill. It's full of goodness, easy to eat, and great comfort food. Even if it doesn't actually make me better, it always makes me feel better."

"Your mum must keep a large stock," I said, looking at the two large flasks.

"Only one is soup," Matt said, following the direction of my gaze. "The other is Mum's special home made lemon and honey drink."

"Erm, I don't like honey," I said, rather ungraciously.

"Well, you can hardly taste the honey with all the other ingredients," he responded reassuringly. "It's very good for you, and in any case you should make sure you drink lots of fluids."

"Yes, nurse," I said, smiling despite my discomforts. "Thank you, nurse."

Somehow, just the idea of someone caring enough to be there with me and to go to all this trouble for me was sufficient to make me feel better, regardless of the efficacy of the cold remedies or the soup.

Although my sense of smell was considerably desensitised by the cold, I could smell the soup as soon as he opened the flask. Until I smelled that wonderful aroma I hadn't thought that I was hungry, but as soon as he poured some into a bowl I realised that I was ravenous. The soup was delicious, and the lemon drink turned out to be much more pleasant that I expected. While I was eating and drinking, propped up in bed, Matt sat on the edge of the bed looking at me benignly and obviously pleased that I was enjoying his gifts.

"Feeling a bit better?" he asked when I'd finished.

"Yes, thank you. Much better," I replied, my voice much smoother now, though still sounding rather nasal.

He took the empty bowl from me and went to rinse it in the sink.

"You look tired," he said when he returned to my bedside. "Would you like me to stay or do you think it would be better if I left you to get some sleep?"

"Yes, I'd like you to stay, but I really think tonight I'd sleep better on my own," I said, suddenly feeling very fatigued.

"Is there anything else I can do before I go?" he asked.

"No thanks," I replied with a smile. "But thanks very much for everything. I really appreciate it."

"My pleasure," he said.

Taking me by surprise, he leaned forward and kissed me gently on the forehead.

"Watch out," I said, concerned. "We don't want you catching my germs."

"Like I said," he replied with a grin, "it's too late to worry, now. After last night, either I've already caught them or I won't be catching them."

"Okay," I said, still a little concerned. "But call me tomorrow just to let me know how you are."

"Alright, but I'll be around tomorrow night with more soup and stuff."

"You mean I haven't already exhausted your supplies?"

"Well, there's not much left in the freezer, but Mum had already started making more before I left to come here. Tomorrow I can bring you some that's freshly made."

"Oh," I said, feeling guilty that his mum was going to so much trouble on my behalf. "So your mum knows about me and you?"

"Well, I had to tell her when I was staying over and wasn't going to be home or she'd be worried. All I told her was that you were my friend and that you were a student at the university. But she's not stupid and she'll know that we're not just holding hands when I stay with you overnight."

"And she's okay with it?" I asked.

"Yeah, she's fine. In fact, it was her idea to make a fresh batch of soup for me to bring tomorrow."

"Oh, okay," I said. "Well, tell your mum 'thank you' from me."

"I will. You try to have a good night's rest and I'll see you tomorrow."

After three days my cold had completely gone, though it took a couple of days after that for my sinuses to become completely clear. That was probably the fastest I'd ever recovered from a cold. Although a sample of one didn't constitute a real clinical trial, I was convinced that my speedy recovery was due in no small part to the soup and lemon drink made by Matt's mum.

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