The Question

by Kit

Chapter 13

By the time I'd recovered from my cold there were only three days left until term ended, and I had to get lecture notes for classes I'd missed, as well as catching up on course work. Thus Matt and I didn't have much time for fun together, but the quality of the fun we had partially made up for the lack of the quantity. However, by the end of the first week of the Easter vacation I was feeling very horny, and from his text messages and phone calls it was clear that Matt felt the same.

The situation was made more difficult by the fact that I had very little privacy in the shared bedroom where I spent so much time studying. Also, I was getting anxious because my final exams started only about six weeks after the beginning of the new term. During the second week of the vacation, the pressure was piled on even further by something Matt said in one of our phone chats.

"Gawd," he said. "I'm dying for a shag!"

"Me too," I replied. "I wish I was with you now so I could give you a good seeing to."

"Promises, promises!" he said. He gave a little laugh and then continued in a more serious tone, "But you're not here, are you, and you won't be back for almost three weeks."

"I guess we'll just have to wait," I said sadly.

"Maybe I can't," he replied after a brief pause. "Three weeks is a long time when you're as horny as I am. Maybe I should get in touch with one of the other guys who contacted me on the dating site."

Matt sounded serious, but he usually sounded serious when he was winding me up, so I wasn't sure whether or not he was just teasing me.

"You don't mean that," I said confidently, deciding to call his bluff. "You said you didn't really fancy any of the others."

"That's right, I didn't fancy them as much as you, but a couple of them were shaggable, and if I get really desperate I suppose it's a case of any port in a storm, a bird in the hand, and beggars can't be choosers."

"But you can't be that desperate yet," I said, not quite so confidently. "It's not even two weeks yet since we did it."

"It's almost two weeks with more than two weeks still to go," he said. "And over the past few months with you I've got used to frequent shags, much more frequent and much better than I had with Harry."

My ego was boosted by his last comment, which was spoken in the same serious tones as the rest of what he'd just been saying. Then it occurred to me that if the compliment was serious, maybe he was also serious about finding someone for sex. On the other hand, maybe he didn't really mean it when he said sex with me was better than with Harry. Sometimes Matt's twisted humour could be very frustrating, and I was started to become irritated. However, if he were indeed winding me up and I showed my irritation, then he'd know that he'd won the little game.

"You said you weren't into one night stands," I countered in as neutral a tone as I could manage.

"I'm not, but there'll be time to spend several nights with a guy before you get back," Matt said cheerfully. "And we didn't say that we'd be exclusive, did we?"

"Erm, no, but we never said that we wouldn't," I pointed out. "I just assumed we were. And I'm definitely not going to be seeing anyone else."

"But as you're living with your family, you probably couldn't if you wanted to," he said. "In any case, you've already been with lots of guys and I've only been with you and Harry, so maybe I need to catch up."

If Matt was winding me up then he was being very convincing, and this particular teasing session was lasting longer than most previous ones. I was beginning to get rather concerned.

"I'd rather be exclusive. Wouldn't you?" I said, trying not to show any emotion and desperately hoping I didn't sound pathetic. I fervently hoped that he would agree without needing to be persuaded, because all the arguments I could immediately think of might be interpreted as implying something more than just a sex-buddy relationship.

"Yes, okay," he said, sounding slightly unsure. Then he laughed and added, "As long as I don't have to wait too long for a shag."

Although I still wondered how serious he'd been about the whole thing, I breathed a sigh of relief. The way he'd laughed before his last few words made me feel that he'd just been teasing me, but I still couldn't be absolutely sure. I wondered why I felt so insecure.

That telephone conversation moved on to other topics, and the subject of exclusivity didn't arise again during the following few days. However, a slight residual doubt continued to itch at the back of my mind, and I couldn't completely eradicate it. The problem was that Matt had grown to know me too well, and he'd no doubt already discovered the basic feelings of insecurity that I usually managed to hide from others.

What made me feel worse was that I couldn't explain why the idea of non-exclusivity bothered me so much. He and I always used condoms, so if he behaved equally safely with others, there was no reason for me to care if he shagged someone else while I was away. Of course, it was possible that he'd find someone he preferred to me, and so stop seeing me. However, after graduation I'd probably be moving away from Linchester, so in any case our sex-buddy relationship would probably end in a few months, though I hoped to remain friends.

Despite all the logic and arguments I deployed to dispel my unease, I couldn't shake it off entirely. By the third day after our disquieting conversation, I decided that it might be best to try to return to Linchester a week or so early. Before announcing that decision to Matt or my family, I phoned the Bursar to ask if I could return before the start of the new term.

During vacations the residences were usually used to host conferences, and during the holidays students were expected to store away their belongings. However, my room was never used by conference guests, so I'd been fortunate in never having to clear out my room for the Christmas and Easter vacations. Thus I knew my room would be free, but I didn't know if the Bursar would allow me to use it or how much it would cost. As it turned out, although she was surprised by my request, she agreed, pointing out that until term started my room would not be cleaned and food would not be provided.

She also informed me that she'd let me have the room for half the usual term-time cost, and after a quick mental calculation I decided that I could afford that. So I thanked her and arranged to go back ten days before the start of term. Then I told my parents, who didn't seem to be very happy with the arrangement, and informed Matt, who appeared to be extremely pleased. The main reason I gave to my parents was that it was easier to study for final exams in Linchester, not least because of the university library. I even managed convinced myself that studying was the main reason for my early return to Hall. After all, I reasoned, I could study better if I wasn't sexually frustrated.

When I returned to Linchester, Matt came round as soon as he finished work, even before he'd eaten dinner. It was clear that satiating his sexual needs had an even higher priority than food. After relieving our sexual tensions, we got pizza and beer then sat in my room, eating, drinking and chatting. While finishing the last slice of pizza, Matt grinned at me.

"I'm glad you're back," he said. "Now I don't need to go to the hassle of finding someone else to shag."

"I thought you were just teasing me about that," I said with more confidence than I felt.

"I was," he said and laughed.

"Bastard!" I said.

I tried to be annoyed, and I wanted Matt to see that I was annoyed, but his laughter was infectious and my attempt at a frown was a complete failure.

"And I think I had you going, at least for a bit," he said.

"Possibly," I said neutrally. "But one day you may wind me up too far."

There was a brief silence, during which Matt's expression became more serious as he seemed to be undecided about something.

"Well, I wasn't just teasing," he said eventually, apparently having reached a decision. "I wanted to see how you'd react."

While I was still trying to work out exactly what he meant and what my response should be, he changed the subject completely.

"As you're not getting food in Hall for a few days," he said, "won't you get bored of pizza and burgers and stuff like that?"

"Well, I s'pose for variety there's always the Indian and Chinese takeaways."

"That's going to be expensive," he responded. "And as you're just a poor student, maybe we should eat together every night until term starts. I can pay for both of us."

"You don't need to do that," I said. "But thanks for the offer."

"I mean it," he said seriously. He grinned and added, "That way you can pay for your food by shagging me every night after we eat."

"I'm not a fucking rent boy!" I said, pretending to be annoyed.

"I know that," he said, forcing his words through his laughter. "For a start you're not pretty enough to be a rent boy!"

"Well if I'm not," I retorted, trying to suppress my own laughter, "then you're certainly fucking not."

"Right," he said when we'd both calmed down. "It's decided. We meet up when I finish work and I buy you a meal."

Although I didn't remember that decision being made, I wasn't going to argue about it.

"Okay," I agreed.

So it was that every night that week we ate dinner together, and all went smoothly until the Friday of the last weekend before the start of term. That night we were merrily munching our way through a selection of our favourites from the local Chinese takeaway when Matt took me by surprise.

"Mum's invited you to Sunday lunch," he said.

"Why?" I asked, startled.

"She wants to meet you," he replied in a tone that implied he was stating the obvious.

"But why?" I persisted. "She doesn't think I'm your boyfriend, does she?"

"I've no idea what she thinks," he said as if it didn't really matter. "All I told her was that you're my friend. That's true, isn't it?"

"Yes, of course," I said.

My brain went into overdrive as I feverishly tried to find a plausible excuse to decline the invitation. The problem was that Matt knew me too well, so he'd easily detect a lie and he'd not be placated by any of my truthful excuses.

"You'll go, won't you?" he prompted. "She does a great roast lunch and she'll be very disappointed if you don't go."

"Erm, well," I mumbled, stalling for time.

Unfortunately, Matt knew my weaknesses and was usually quite prepared to exploit them to get his own way. He had me on the ropes, and from the faint smile on his face he knew it, so then he went for the knockout punch.

"It wouldn't be very nice to disappoint her, would it?" he said. "Especially when she went to so much trouble to make her special chicken soup, just for you."

Thus I had a choice that was no choice at all. I could accept the invitation and the inevitable embarrassment involved, or I could decline the invitation and thereby prove that I was an ungrateful cad and a bounder. Matt's smile broadened as he read my expression and knew that he'd got what he wanted.

"Yes, of course I'll go," I said, trying to sound as if I were in fact eager to meet his mum. "What time?"

Matt, magnanimous in his victory, pretended to be convinced by my faked enthusiasm. "I'll pick you up here at one o'clock."

By the time Matt came to pick me up, I'd adopted a similar attitude to the one I had before an exam. It was a necessary task that I had to perform to the best of my abilities, even though it wasn't something that I expected to enjoy. At least it was an opportunity to thank his mum for her kindness when I'd been ill, so despite my nerves I was determined to make a good impression. I decided that the best way to do that was to maintain a low profile and to avoid saying or doing anything that might possibly be regarded as controversial or contentious.

After parking his car outside the small, modern, two-bedroom house, Matt took me inside and introduced me to his mum. She certainly didn't match the mental image I'd constructed from what he'd told me. I'd been expecting a severe woman similar to the female schoolteachers at my primary school, but instead I found that she was jovial and very welcoming. She was quite short and slightly chubby, with dark brown hair and deep brown eyes. Overall, she seemed to exude the essence of motherliness, and the welcome she gave me was so effusive as to be almost embarrassing.

Lunch was roast beef with roast potatoes, assorted vegetables and the most delicious gravy I'd ever had. That was followed by a homemade chocolate pudding with vanilla custard, and everything was supplied in very generous portions. After a week of takeaway foods and snacks, this excellent food was very welcome, and by the end of the meal I was extremely full. Perhaps ungallantly, it occurred to me that it was no wonder that Matt was a little plump if his mum usually provided him with such meals.

While we ate, Matt's mum did most of the talking, much of which could be described as a mild interrogation. Matt, unusually for him, didn't say much except to accuse her of being too inquisitive when he considered her questions to be a little too personal. For my part, I was grateful that none of her questions related directly to sexuality or to my relationship with her son. However, some of the things she said implied that she thought that Matt and I were more than just platonic friends. Overall, I was relieved that she seemed happy with my responses, and she appeared to be particularly pleased that I was continuing my education at university.

"I keep telling Matty," she said, looking pointedly at him, "that he should get back into further education. He could easily get A-levels and get into a university."

Matt smiled wryly at me and rolled his eyes upward, and at first I was surprised that Matt didn't make any attempt to challenge what she'd said. Then it occurred to me that he must've heard her say the same sort of thing many times and that he'd realised that there was nothing to be gained by further argument on the subject.

"Maybe you'll be a good influence on him," she continued, "and persuade him not to waste his potential."

For some inexplicable reason, that apparently complimentary remark irritated me. In fact, it irked me so much that I forgot my earlier resolution to keep a low profile and avoid anything contentious.

"But if someone is doing what they enjoy, and if they're successful at what they're doing, then they can't be wasting their potential," I said, hiding my emotions behind a calm and logical tone. "And as far as I can see, Matt is enjoying working his way up the management ladder in his store. In fact, he might even end up running the whole business from head office."

Both Matt and his mum looked very surprised at my outburst, though in Matt's case the surprise was mixed with pleasure, whereas his mum seemed to be also a little annoyed. However, she apparently quickly recovered from her displeasure and moved to a different topic of conversation.

"What are your plans for after you graduate?" she asked.

"At the moment I'm concentrating more on actually graduating rather than thinking too much about what happens afterwards," I admitted. "But if my degree's good enough I might be interested in doing a further degree and maybe going into some sort of research career."

She seemed to be reasonably happy with my response, and at that point, much to my relief, Matt suggested that perhaps he'd better take me home so that I could do some studying. So, after thanking his mum for the wonderful meal, we set off back to Hall. During the journey Matt didn't say very much, but he seemed to be very cheerful, and I wondered if his mum's cooking always made him so happy.

The new term started off much as the previous term had ended, with the same routine of lectures, lab classes and tutorials. At lunchtimes on Mondays, that routine also included departmental seminars, which final year students were required to attend. For the most part I found those seminars boring, especially when it was obvious that the speaker was there reluctantly and only because it was expected of them. It was even more tedious when the only thing that the speakers wanted to communicate was their own opinion of how clever they were.

On rare occasions, the seminars were actually interesting, and one of those took place on the second Monday of the new term. That particular talk, given by a senior lecturer in our department, really captured my imagination, although when I first saw the title of the seminar I didn't think it was going to be particularly interesting. However, the enthusiasm of the speaker, Dr Robertson, and the obvious care he'd taken to communicate his ideas, grabbed and then held my attention.

By the end of the seminar my mind was full of questions, but I was reluctant to ask them in front of everyone, so I waited until the room was almost empty before I approached Dr Robertson. Much to my surprise, he didn't seem to think that my questions were too stupid, but after answering a couple of them in detail he looked at his watch.

"I'm sorry I have to cut things short," he said, "but I have an appointment in ten minutes."

"Oh, okay," I said, mildly disappointed.

"Wait a second," he said as I was turning to leave. "If you're interested in this you can look at a review I wrote recently, and if you have more questions, just get back in touch."

The idea of reading material not directly relevant to my impending exams wasn't particularly appealing, but I didn't want to flatly refuse his offer. Therefore, I thanked him and accepted the document he handed to me, although there seemed little possibility that I'd get time to read it.

As it turned out, Matt had to work both Saturday and Sunday the following weekend, and by late afternoon on the Saturday I'd become bored with studying. However, with the exams so close, the idea of wasting time doing something like just watching TV made me feel guilty, so as a sort of compromise I decided to look at the review. To be honest, much of it was too advanced for me to fully comprehend, but what I did understand was very interesting.

One thing that I did note was that the review appeared to be part of an application for funding for a graduate student. I wondered if Dr Robertson had received the funding and, if so, whether the studentship had been awarded. It occurred to me that such a position could be just what I wanted. Not only would I be working on an interesting project for a research degree but I would also be able to stay in Linchester and continue spending time with Matt.

Of course, there was a large fly in that little jar of ointment. Although I expected to get a reasonably good degree and hoped it would be good enough to get onto a postgraduate course, there was no doubt that there were many others, much more academically gifted than I, who would be getting better grades this summer. So, I doubted that Dr Robertson would offer the position to me, even if it was still vacant.

After much thought, it occurred to me that Dr Robertson, being obviously very enthusiastic about this research topic, would probably value a similar enthusiasm in a potential postgraduate student. Provided that my degree was of an adequate standard, perhaps he would believe that my keen interest in the subject might make up for any lack of academic brilliance. Thus my cunning and devious plan was hatched. I would study the review in detail, read some of the key references, and make up a list of questions that would hopefully show the depth of my interest.

Although my plan required considerable effort and took up much of the remainder of the weekend, its execution wasn't too onerous because I was genuinely interested in that area of research. Then, having made an appointment with Dr Robertson and obtained directions to his office, I went to see him on the Wednesday afternoon.

"Did you enjoy that little bit of light reading I gave you?" he joked as I entered his office.

"I enjoyed the parts that I understood," I answered honestly.

"So it didn't answer all the questions you were going to ask after the seminar?"

"It answered some of them, but it also gave me more questions to ask."

"Yes, research usually raises as many questions as it answers," he said and smiled. "Why don't you take a seat and tell me what questions you've come up with."

We then spent almost half an hour going through my list and generally discussing his research. What impressed me even more than his knowledge was the fact that when he didn't have an answer he freely admitted it. Eventually, our discussion wound down and there was a brief silence while I wondered how I might bring up the subject of the studentship. Then, looking at me speculatively, he was the first to break that silence.

"It certainly seems like you've done your homework," he said. "And with your final exams so close, I'm amazed that you took so much time on this."

It occurred to me that my devious and cunning plan hadn't been subtle enough to avoid raising some suspicions in Dr Robertson's obviously agile mind. The look he gave me then reminded me of the look that the Bursar had given me almost three years earlier when she'd asked why I wanted a single room. My reaction this time was similar to the one I had on that previous occasion, and again I decided that honesty was the best policy.

"Well, I'm very interested in your research," I said. Then a little sheepishly I added, "And, erm, I wondered if you were looking for a graduate student."

"Ah," he said and laughed. "And let me guess, you were observant enough to notice the review was part of a funding application?"

"Erm, yes," I said, blushing and looking down at my hands on my lap.

"No need to be embarrassed," he said reassuringly. "I believe your interest is genuine and you've shown that you are not only observant but also prepared to work to get what you want. As it happens, the studentship has been advertised and I've already interviewed some candidates."

"Oh," I said, not even trying to hide my disappointment.

"However," he continued, "none of the applicants who already have degrees are satisfactory, and I'm not going to make any definite decisions about the others until they get their exam results."

Lifting my eyes I saw that he was looking at me with a pensive expression on his face.

"If you want," he added, "I can add your name to the shortlist and we can discuss it again when you know what sort of degree you've got."

"Yes, please," I said, grinning eagerly. "That would be great."

"Good," he replied, apparently satisfied with my response. "I've just got time to give you a quick tour of the labs before I have to go to a meeting."

While we went round the labs he not only described what was going on but he also found time to interrogate me about the courses I'd taken since my arrival at Linchester. That evening, as soon as Matt got into my room, the first thing I did was to tell him about the possibility of me staying in Linchester to do postgraduate work.

"That will be convenient," Matt said.

Although he seemed to be vaguely pleased, I'd expected him to be as happy and excited as I was, so his comment about convenience was definitely disappointing. Although we were only sex-buddies, it made me a little sad to think that it was merely a 'convenience' for him.

"Just convenient?" I said, unable to hide my disappointment.

For a moment he looked at me blankly, then a grin spread across his face and he burst out laughing.

"Gotcha!" he managed to say between gasps of laughter.

I punched his arm and pushed him backwards onto my bed.

"Bastard!" I said, barely suppressing my own laughter.

"Of course it's good news," he said when he'd recovered his composure, "and it gives you an incentive to study harder, but it's not definite, is it?"

"Not definite," I admitted. "But my gut tells me that I'm in with a good chance."

"And if it does work out," he said, "it will be convenient."

"Convenient?" I echoed, still not happy with his choice of words.

"Well, yes," he said as if stating the obvious. "I'd already thought about what would happen if and when you left Linchester, and I'd realised that wherever you went there'd probably be one of our stores nearby. So I could transfer to that branch. But of course, it would be more convenient if I didn't need to."

That little speech amazed me and left me with ambivalent feelings. Although I was flattered that he was prepared to move just so we could keep seeing each other, I was concerned by the amount of commitment that he implied. That wasn't quite what I expected from a no-strings sex-buddy relationship. Before I could respond, and while such conflicting thoughts were still buzzing around my head, Matt pulled me down on top of him and began kissing me.

Matt was working on the Saturday after I told him about the possibility of getting a postgraduate studentship, so the plan was that I would study all day, he'd come over in the evening, and then we'd spend the night together. We also planned that on the Sunday we would spend part of the morning together before he went home to clean his car, have lunch with his mum, and take her shopping. That would leave me with lots of time to study before he came back to Hall, where we would spend the night together.

Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans don't always work out, and in fact it had usually been my experience that the more detailed or convenient a plan happens to be, the more likely it is to go wrong. This particular plan started to go awry on the Saturday night, shortly after a long, energetic, and very enjoyable sex session. Matt, who for the last couple of days had seemed quieter and more pensive than usual, broke into my post-orgasmic doze.

"Do you love me?" he asked.

As often happened after a long lovemaking and a particularly good orgasm, I'd been drifting half way between sleep and wakefulness for a few minutes. Although his voice was quiet and his tone was unusually hesitant, his mouth was just a couple of inches from my ear, so I heard the words clearly. However, it took several seconds for their meaning to reach my consciousness, and even then my mind tried to pretend that I hadn't really heard the question I'd learned to fear.

"Ian? Are you awake?"

My comfortable contentment was replaced by a mixture of dread and anger. I dreaded the consequences of the question and I was angry with him for asking it, thus breaking our agreement by mentioning the L-word. I tried hard not to allow my muscles to tense and thereby betray the fact that I was indeed awake. Unfortunately, my efforts were in vain and I couldn't prevent a slight twitch in my limbs. A barely audible moan escaped my lips.

"Are you okay?" he asked, sounding a little worried.

I felt him move away from me slightly, and then after a couple of seconds there was a more substantial movement on the mattress. Realising that any pretence at sleep was futile, I opened my eyes, and in the dim light saw that he was propped up on one elbow and looking down at me with a slight frown furrowing his brow.

"Mmmm, yeah, I'm fine," I mumbled. "I was just dozing off."

Although I knew deep down that he wouldn't abandon his question, I closed my eyes again and hoped that just maybe he'd at least postpone it to another day. As the silence between us dragged on, I began to tell myself that perhaps I might have a few more days or even weeks of happiness before he asked the question again. However, it appeared that he'd used this quiet time to summon up the courage to pursue the matter.

"Did you hear me, then?" he said, trying unsuccessfully to hide the tension and emotion in his voice. "I asked if you loved me."

A feeling of resignation began to grow in me when I realised there was no escape, either mental or physical, from this situation. My mind raced to try to come up with a response for him, but although my mental wheels were spinning frantically, they found no traction. As the silence between us lengthened, the tension began to build, but still I couldn't decide what to say. I knew I couldn't lie to him, but I couldn't give him a truthful answer because I myself didn't know what the truth was.

Eventually, Matt broke the silence, but that didn't decrease the tension. He sighed deeply before speaking.

"I know we agreed not to bring up the L-word," he said, a note of determination in his voice, "but just because you don't want something to happen doesn't mean it won't happen."

"What?" I said, confused by his cryptic words.

"Well, if love was easy to control, you wouldn't be so keen to avoid it."

It took me a few seconds to digest his words, and then it occurred to me that there might be a way to at least delay answering his question.

"Just because you can't control the weather doesn't mean you can't avoid the rain," I said, pleased by my quick and clever response.

"You think you're sooooo clever, don't you?" Matt said disparagingly. "Well, maybe you are, but you're using the cleverness to avoid living when you should be using it to enjoy life."

The thought occurred to me that I could turn this into one of our heated discussions about our different attitudes to life, and thereby avoid the topic of love. However, I wasn't in the mood for an argument, and in any case I didn't think the tactic would succeed, so I just remained silent.

"You're not going to answer my question, are you?" he said, his tone indicating that it was as much a statement as it was a question.

He sat up, leaned back on the headboard, and looked down at me as if he were trying to read my mind. I just lay there and, unable to bear the weight of his gaze, turned my head toward the ceiling. There was no answer to give him because for months I'd been deliberately suppressing even the mere idea of any emotional involvement. Of course, I'd felt lots of emotions relating to Matt, but I'd purposefully avoided trying to analyse them. Now he was asking me not only to examine them but also to put a label on them, and I just couldn't do it.

"I suppose that the fact you're not saying anything is a sort of answer," he said, sounding disappointed and hurt.

Still I didn't say anything, not only because I couldn't answer his question but now also because I was annoyed at him for bringing up this discomfiting subject.

"You must know by now that I love you. I thought you felt we were more than just..." he said, his voice breaking with emotion as he tried to find words to express himself. "I hoped. Well, I suppose that doesn't matter now."

He sounded hurt and upset, which shocked me because I'd never heard him like that before, not even when he'd talked about his break-up with Harry. With a huge sigh, he moved away from me and sat on the edge of the bed, his face turned away from me and his shoulders hunched. After remaining like that, apparently deep in thought, for what seemed to be a long time, Matt sighed again, stood up and reached for his clothes.

As he got dressed, a part of me was screaming inside my head, telling me that I should say something, anything to stop him leaving, but the words that came out of my mouth were totally inadequate.

"I thought you were staying overnight," I said, managing to sound both pathetic and childishly petulant. "Can't we talk about the L-word another time?"

"Like when? Tomorrow? Next week? Next year?" he said doubtfully, realising that my suggestion was really just a delaying tactic.

"Maybe after my exams?" I suggested hopefully.

"I don't think so," he said with a regretful determination. "If you won't answer the question now, then the answer is obviously not the one I want to hear. I don't want to go through what Frank went through. I prefer a quick, clean break rather than having things slowly festering for months."

I was so stunned by his words and the finality of his tone that I couldn't think of a response.

"Good-bye, Ian," he said as he put on his coat and picked up his overnight bag.

Although he tried to hide it, his voice, his face and his posture revealed his inner pain, and it evoked in me the mental image of a wounded animal. The inner voice screaming at me to say something grew more insistent, but despite that I just lay there silently on my bed as if I were paralysed. He opened the door and looked back toward me.

"Look after yourself," he said. With a hint of bitterness, he added, "But I'm sure you will."

Then he was gone.

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