The Question

by Kit

Chapter 7

For the rest of that week Frank and I continued to exchange phone calls, and of course during any of those conversations I could have said that I'd managed to finish my course work and would now be able to be with him before he went away. Indeed, several times I came close to doing that, but each time a perverse pride prevented me. Our conversations were pleasant and friendly, but there seemed to be something missing. A special spark had gone, and although I tried to blame it on Frank's choice of rugby instead of me, deep down I knew that it was at least partly my fault. So I determined that when he returned from Scotland after Easter, I'd do my best to try to rekindle that spark.

As the weekend approached, the realisation dawned on me that not only had I deprived myself of a couple of nights with Frank, I'd also condemned myself to a boring and lonely weekend. By Saturday morning Hall would be virtually empty, and my few friends at university would have gone home. In order to be consistent, and just in case Frank happened to speak to my family about it, I'd repeated the lie about course work to my mother, so I couldn't go home until late on Saturday night at the earliest.

While I was eating in the almost deserted dining hall on Friday evening, I thought about going for another look at Quay Street. Of course, I told myself, even if I did go I wouldn't actually go into any of the pubs or bars; I'd just walk along the street. That was by no means the first time that thought had occurred to me since I'd first discovered the place, but each time previously the idea had been quickly dismissed. I'd given myself many plausible reasons for that rapid dismissal, but always the real reason was suppressed. In truth, I was afraid. This was not merely the fear of the unknown but also the fear that by going to such a place I would be admitting publicly something that up to now I hadn't openly admitted even to Frank. I really was gay.

This time, instead of instantly dismissing the idea of going to Quay Street, I gave the idea some real consideration. Returning to my room along the echoing empty corridors, I almost decided to go then quickly changed my mind, then changed my mind again a couple more times. This mental uncertainty was reflected by a hesitancy in my footsteps, so it was fortunate that no one was around to notice my odd progression. Perhaps strangely, when I reached my room I found myself getting ready to go out, even though I'd made no definite decision to do so.

When I arrived at Quay Street just after eight o'clock, the sky was almost dark but the street itself was brightly lit, not just by the public lighting but also by the multi-coloured neon signs over the doorways and in the windows. For a few minutes I stood at the top of the street looking down the slope toward the river. During that time I saw at least a dozen people, almost exclusively males and mostly in small groups, walking along the street or going from one bar to another. One group of four people, three men and a woman all in their twenties, walked past me. They were just a couple of yards away, and from the way they interacted with one another they appeared to be a gay couple and a heterosexual couple.

Everyone I saw on the street seemed happy, or at least content, and no one looked as self-conscious as I felt. This was obviously the sort of area where gay people were, as the saying goes, 'out and proud'. Instead of making me more comfortable, this easy-going atmosphere just made me feel even more like an outsider. I turned on my heel and headed away from Quay Street, back uphill toward the main part of the city centre. However, as if drawn off course by a powerful magnet, I found myself walking round the block and along the riverside until eventually I again reached Quay Street, this time looking uphill and away from the river.

Again I stood and just observed the scene, this time paying more attention to the buildings rather than the people. On the corner nearest to me was a traditional-style two-storey pub built mainly with red bricks but with the lower half of the lower storey covered with glazed yellow-beige tiles. Above the rather grand main entrance, which made me suspect that the building might once have been a Victorian gin palace, there was a more modern sign, proclaiming it to be 'The Phoenix'.

The rest of the tall, terraced redbrick buildings in the street had probably been warehouses for many years before the lower floors had been converted into modern bars, cafes and shops. Of course, at that time of night all the shops and two of the three cafes were closed, the shuttered darkness of the closed buildings emphasising the brash lights of the bars. On the corner across the street from the pub was a large, well-lit modern-style doorway. However, the doorway appeared to be firmly closed and there were no windows on the ground floor. Instead, on the black walls there were large red and white letters spelling out the word 'Storm'.

By that time it was about nine o'clock, and the number of people in the street had increased noticeably. Some of the passers-by apparently saw me standing in the shadows and cast curious glances in my direction. Although no one showed any hint of acknowledging my presence, I grew acutely uncomfortable and decided to head off up the street and back to Hall.

Despite my initially rapid pace, I noticed that two of the apparently closed properties that I passed had dimly-lit doorways, above the closest of which I could just make out the words 'The Eagle' painted in a red gothic script. As I slowed a little to read the sign, a large man emerged, startling me so much that it was only after he'd almost disappeared from view that my consciousness registered that he'd been dressed all in leathers, just like a motorcyclist. However, he was neither wearing nor carrying a protective helmet, but instead had been wearing a peaked leather cap.

I increased my pace again, and I was quickly approaching the top of the street when I saw a group of five young men turn the corner and start heading toward me. As I moved toward the middle of the street to avoid them, I noticed that one of the men stood out from the rest. Not only was he the tallest, being well over six feet tall, but also because the others all seemed to have their attention fixed on him. I had the impression that they were accompanying him, almost as if they were a royal retinue, and rather bizarrely, I suddenly had a mental image of a school of pilot fish circling a shark.

That mental image was quickly shattered when I noticed that another member of the group, a stocky boyish redhead, was talking excitedly. Although I couldn't make out his words, I had the impression that he was trying to impress the tall man, who seemed to be mildly amused but not at all impressed. The others, apparently taking their cue from him, seemed to be ignoring the redhead.

They rapidly drew nearer but showed no signs of noticing me, so as they passed close to a streetlight I became bold enough to look more closely at the man who was apparently the centre of the group's attention. He was very slim, which emphasised his height, and appeared to be in his mid twenties, with short, curly dark hair and aristocratic high cheekbones. Even though the lighting was far from ideal I could tell that, in contrast to the pale-skinned redhead, he had a darker, almost Mediterranean complexion. He was undoubtedly handsome and well dressed, but at first glance there appeared to be a couple of others in the group who were in my opinion just as attractive.

If any of the party had noticed my presence at all, they simply ignored me even when I was passing them with just a couple of yards between us. Then, as if he'd felt my gaze on him, the tall one glanced fleetingly in my direction. He didn't really look at me, and indeed he seemed to look right through me before quickly turning his gaze away. However, in that brief moment I saw his eyes for the first time, and the contrast of the amazingly pale irises against the dark complexion was almost shocking. Suddenly, I realised that the entourage had passed me by and I was standing immobile and feeling breathless. I turned my head just in time to see them disappear through the doorway of a nearby bar, whose name I almost subconsciously noted was 'Barons'.

That night as I lay in bed, I couldn't stop thinking about my brief encounter with the tall young man to whom I had, for lack of any other name, mentally given the label TDH: Tall, Dark and Handsome. Especially, I couldn't rid my mind of the image of those eyes, pale grey with a hint of ice blue, which had seemed to glow in the darkness. Although he fascinated me, at first my thoughts of him were not particularly erotic. However, as the night wore on and sleep refused to come, he began to take a prominent role in my masturbation fantasies.

The next day, Saturday, the daylight hours passed with a slowness that made it seem like the longest day of my life. Usually, when I had no studying to do I was very rarely bored and I could almost always find something interesting to do, even if it was just watching TV, reading a novel, or playing on my computer. However, that day none of my usual activities could hold my attention for more than a few minutes. No matter what I tried to do, I was quickly distracted by thoughts of TDH and my intention to return to Quay Street that night in the hopes of seeing him again.

That intention just appeared in my mind without any conscious decision-making process. It was just there, fully formed in my head that morning when I woke up from my fitful sleep. There was no plan and no goal involved. When I attempted to consider it rationally, it was clear that there was little chance of seeing him again and there was no hope that there would be any interaction between us even if I did see him. So, like a moth drawn toward the candle flame, that night I found myself again walking down Quay Street.

It was only when I found myself outside the door of Barons that I realised how foolish I was being, and at that moment my previous nervousness turned to stomach-wrenching fear. Before leaving Hall I'd made great efforts to ensure that I was looking my best, showering, shaving and spending much more time than usual choosing what clothes to wear. Now, paradoxically, the thing I wanted most in the world was not to been seen by anyone at all.

Just as I was about to turn and flee, a large group of people came up behind me, and it was obvious that they intended to enter the bar. In order to get away I'd have had to pass through the group like a salmon swimming upstream, so I moved to the edge of the doorway and tried to make myself as small as possible. However, I was still causing an obstruction and had no choice but to allow the tide of people to sweep me inside. Once through the doorway the group, all of whom had completely ignored me, headed for the bar, leaving me standing alone.

I found myself in a large open space and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible by staying close to the door. At that relatively early part of the evening there weren't many people about so I felt rather exposed, though if anyone noticed me they didn't show any indication of doing so. As I began to relax a little I looked around, and it became evident that the style of the bar was intended to give the impression of a mediaeval hall. I supposed that this decor, including the pseudo-heraldic devices on the walls, was intended to relate to the name of the establishment.

The room was lit well, though not brightly, by several lights that were placed all around the wooden walls as well as suspended in crude wooden chandeliers from the wooden ceiling. In the far right hand corner of the room was an L-shaped bar, at the left corner was a set of stairs going up to a balcony area, and around the room were alcoves with tables and benches. Almost everything appeared to be made of wood, though I had the feeling that much of it wasn't actually real wood.

As I was already in the establishment I decided that I might as well get myself a drink, so I went to the bar and ordered a chilled Guinness. Needless to say, the barman immediately insisted on seeing my ID card, and even then he gave the impression that he suspected it was a fake, but he decided to serve me anyway. Then I went and sat in an empty alcove, choosing a position from which I could observe both the bar and the entrance. There I remained for over an hour as the room gradually became busier. During that time, many people entered and left the bar but none of them was the one I thought of as TDH.

By the time I'd finished my drink, the room was getting quite crowded, mainly with males aged in their twenties and thirties, though there were a few women as well as some older men. There was also a handful of young males who appeared to be hardly old enough to be drinking in a bar. Of course, that description could also have been applied to me. Although I wasn't really surprised that I hadn't seen TDH, I was disappointed, and the crowded conditions were beginning to make me uncomfortable, so rather than order another drink at the now busy bar, I decided to leave.

Maybe the alcohol and my time in Barons had given me a little self-confidence, but instead of going straight home I decided to look into some of the other bars, just in case TDH was there. Of course, I had no idea what I'd do if I did see him. I certainly wouldn't have the courage to talk to him, but I just wanted to see him again, if only to add more fuel for my fantasies. In any case, I walked a few yards down the street and looked into another bar called Sparkles, which was all glass and chrome and full of young guys, many of whom seemed rather camp. The music was also rather loud, so I didn't stay long enough to buy a drink.

Having previously seen the man leaving the Eagle, I decided that it was an unlikely place to find TDH, so didn't go inside. Instead I went to the bottom of the street and entered The Phoenix, the imposing Victorian pub. When I got inside I saw that it was laid out like many traditional pubs, with different bars in different rooms. The furniture was polished wood, the chairs were padded leather, and there was a lot of polished brass and stained glass. The Snug was especially luxurious, and there was absolutely no doubt that throughout the whole pub all the wood was real.

The place was about half full and had a much quieter and more relaxed atmosphere than either Barons or Sparkles. Although much grander than any other pub I'd been in, it had a familiar feel to it, so I felt comfortable enough to get myself a drink and find myself a small table in the corner of the main bar. It didn't take me long to realise that the average age of the clientele was greater than in Barons and that there appeared to be fewer groups and more singles.

Further observation indicated that those sitting at the bar seemed to be mostly older singles. However, I noted that although they didn't engage in conversation, many of them often acknowledged a new arrival with a nod or a brief word of greeting. Thus I concluded that many of them were possibly regulars who for some reason apparently just wanted to sit and drink alone. Suddenly, the words of a Pet Shop Boys song, To Speak Is A Sin, came into my head. The longer I observed those at the bar, the more those words, which describe men sitting at a bar, occasionally smilling, sometimes staring, but never speaking, seemed very appropriate.

Frank, who was a big fan of the Pet Shop Boys, had introduced me to their music, and I'd often enjoyed listening to their songs with him. However, until my visit to The Phoenix I must admit that I'd never paid much attention to the meanings of the words. As it was to turn out, over the next few months I found that many of my experiences would have almost uncanny resonances with the lyrics of some of their songs.

Anyway, long before my drink was finished, I realised that I was unlikely to see TDH in The Phoenix, so I decided to leave. As I left the pub I noticed that a trickle of people were now going into the now open door of Storm on the opposite corner of the street. It didn't take a genius to guess that Storm was a nightclub, but I wasn't in the mood for clubbing and went straight back to Hall.

The next day, I went home to my parents, arriving after Frank had already gone to the rugby tournament. While he was away we exchanged phone calls most days, and for his sake I was happy to hear that his team was doing well. During the vacation I got very bored and also very horny, though sharing a room with my brother made it difficult to find the privacy to relieve the sexual tensions. Of course, I'd grown accustomed to having my own room, and I supposed that my brother had too. In any case, it seemed that we were more irritable with one another than we'd been before I went to university.

Frank returned just a couple of days before our vacation ended, and we only managed to have one night of camping at the old quarry before I had to go back to Linchester. Frank's team had reached third position in the tournament rankings, and he'd got to play in several key games, so he was very happy. That night in the tent we didn't get much sleep but we had lots of great sex, and for the first time in ages I spent a whole night without fantasising about TDH.

"Mmm," Frank said as we relaxed after our first bout of passion. "I really needed that!"

I was spooned up behind him and was nibbling his ear, so even if there had been enough light I couldn't have seen his expression. However, I had a very strong impression that he was grinning.

"Me too," I replied softly.

"Did you miss me as much as I missed you?" he asked.

"Of course," I said automatically.

There was a brief silence before he spoke again. "It wasn't just the sex I missed."

Unable to think of a suitable verbal response I just hugged him more tightly.

"But I was horny most of the time," he added with a chuckle. "Especially when I saw some of the nice-looking guys in the showers."

He went on to describe some of the more attractive men he'd seen naked and how sometimes he'd had to hide his erection behind a towel. At that point I suppose I could have mentioned TDH to him, but for some reason I didn't feel comfortable mentioning my visits to Quay Street. Instead, I started humping against his buttocks, thereby initiating another session of sex.

The following afternoon I returned to Linchester and my university life. As I lay in bed on my first couple of nights back in Hall, my fantasies featured Frank and TDH in about equal amounts, but never both at the same time. Indeed, it seemed to me that my interactions with Frank and my life at university were such separate parts of my existence that it was almost like having two different lives.

Although Frank and I spoke on the phone almost every day, as the week wore on thoughts of TDH entered my mind more often than thoughts about Frank. Considering that I'd seen TDH only once and very briefly, it occurred to me that maybe I was becoming unhealthily obsessive. On the Friday, therefore, when Frank drove over to pick me up for the long weekend camping that he'd promised, I was determined to put aside all thought of TDH and concentrate on enjoying my time with Frank.

For the most part, my determination proved successful, and we both had a great time hiking, visiting a couple of country pubs and having lots of sex. Of course we also talked a lot, mainly about his life at college and mine at university. Heavy rain on the Sunday afternoon forced us to return early to the tent, and as we sat inside looking out at the downpour, we discussed our plans for Frank to join me in Linchester the following year.

"I suppose if I'm going to get good enough A-levels this year I'd better really get into the studying," Frank said thoughtfully. Then a little sadly, he added, "But I'd hate to give up any of our weekends together."

"It's only a couple of months to the exams," I replied encouragingly. "Then we can spend a lot more time together."

"Especially if we get to share a room in Hall!" he said with a theatrically lascivious expression on his face.

"I quite like the room I've got," I responded without thinking. Then seeing the hurt look on his face, I added, "I mean, it would be sad to give up such a nice big private room, but it would definitely be great to share a room with you."

"Maybe," he added after a thoughtful pause, "maybe we can have a second bed put in your room. After all, it's certainly big enough, and then we'd have the best of both worlds."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Maybe I can ask Mrs Wilson after you get your exam results."

Although there was some genuine enthusiasm in my initial response, after the idea had a few moments to sink in, the enthusiasm faded with a speed that I found both surprising and even a little shocking. In an attempt to hide my feelings, I quickly diverted the conversation.

"Let's go to the pub," I suggested.

That night after we'd had sex, instead of drifting off to sleep as usual, Frank seemed restless. Normally we cuddled together until we fell asleep, but he was fidgeting so much that I couldn't doze off. I asked him if he was okay, and when he didn't immediately respond I disentangled myself from him so that I could get some rest. Eventually, he spoke, his words bringing me quickly back to full wakefulness.

"Do you still think of us as just fuck-buddies?" he asked quietly, his voice sounding slightly hoarse.

"I never thought of you as just a fuck buddy," I said, surprised and stung by his choice of words. "You're my friend. My best friend who I happen to have sex with."

The length of the ensuing silence fed my hopes that my answer had satisfied him and that he wouldn't pursue the matter. He lay motionless on his back, and in the darkness I couldn't see the expression on his face, so I closed my eyes and began to relax again. However, he spoke again, proving that my hopes had been in vain.

"What about the future?" he asked.

The question was so open and unspecific that I wasn't really sure what he meant. After all, I'd only just had my nineteenth birthday, and my future was a very large and mostly undefined space. Well, to be honest, if I did have had some idea what he meant, I chose to suppress it.

"As far as I'm concerned we'll always be best friends," I said, hoping that would be enough to satisfy him and put his mind at rest.

He didn't respond and he no longer seemed restless, so I presumed the matter was settled and drifted off to sleep.

On the way home from the camping trip, Frank and I decided that although we would both have liked him to come and stay me the following weekend, it would be better if we both did some studying instead. In order to take the courses I wanted in my second year, I had to do well in the exams at the end of my first year, and it was important that Frank do well in his A-levels so he could join me in Linchester. Not wishing to spoil our time together, I didn't mention to Frank my opinion that his rugby trip had deprived him of almost a month of study time.

Once I was alone in my room in Hall, I began to think about my conversations with Frank and in particular his references to the future, and his expectations felt like a heavy weight on my shoulders. Clearly I could only see things from my own, not unbiased, point of view, but it seemed to me that more often than not, I'd allowed myself to be led in the direction he wanted me to go. He'd started the conversation at our first meeting in the Outdoor Club, he'd persuaded me to go on that first camping trip, and he'd initiated most of our sexual interactions from the first wank to the first anal sex.

Sometimes I'd agreed enthusiastically because his suggestions mirrored my own desires, but sometimes I'd gone along with things just because I wanted to please him or because it seemed to be the path of least resistance. Overall, though, I was glad that I'd agreed with what he wanted, and I very much enjoyed being with him, and I greatly valued him as a best friend. However, I doubted that I could ever love him in the way he wanted and in the way he loved me. It occurred to me that if we did share a room for two or more years at university, we would both end up feeling trapped in a situation that neither of us found totally satisfactory.

On the Friday night of the following weekend, and during most of the day on Saturday, I kept to my good intentions to study, but on the Saturday evening I was bored and found myself distracted by mental images of TDH. Against my better judgment, and despite my previous lack of success, I decided to go down to Quay Street, just in case I could catch a glimpse of him. So, a little before ten o'clock I found myself sitting in an alcove in Barons, drinking Guinness and observing the entrance doorway.

Having been there for almost an hour, I'd given up what little hope I'd had of seeing TDH and was deciding whether to go home or move on to Sparkles. Then the sight of him coming through the doorway gave me a jolt of pleasant surprise that was quickly followed by a breathless nervousness. As he entered the room his entourage was made up of just two young men, one of whom was the stocky redhead whom I'd seen with him on the previous occasion. However, by the time TDH had reached the bar a handful of others, who'd already been there, had gravitated toward him and joined his little group.

By that time the place had become quite busy, and a couple of men, probably in their mid thirties, came and sat opposite to me in the alcove. They appeared to be lovers, totally absorbed with one another, and although they paid no attention to me at all, I felt uncomfortable that the semi-privacy of my alcove had been breached. I quickly emptied my glass, went to the bar to get another drink, and then found a relatively quiet part of the room where I could lean against the wall and keep my eye on TDH, who was now ensconced on a bar stool.

He was certainly attractive, and perhaps because of that he exuded an air of self-confidence that I envied. I wished that I could be as comfortable as he was in that environment, and indeed I wished I could be as comfortable as that in any environment. Many times I looked away and tried to pay attention to other people in the room, but each time my eyes were soon drawn back to him.

His red haired companion appeared to be trying to get as much attention as possible from him, but the TDH bestowed his attentions more or less equally on all his retinue, almost like a monarch who deliberately tries not to show favouritism to any of his subjects. When TDH finished his drink, he put his glass down, stood up, and after a brief word to his companions he headed toward the door. About half of those he'd been talking to followed his lead and went outside with him.

Immediately he went out of my sight, a mild panic swept over me, and without giving it any thought I gulped down the remains of my drink and went out into the street just in time to see the group going into a doorway opposite Sparkles. For what seemed like a long time, during which I felt exposed just standing there in the street, I wondered what I should do next. Although returning to Hall was clearly the most reasonable option, I felt an irresistible urge to follow TDH. Of course, I told myself that my main motive was really to explore one of the bars that I'd not yet visited.

As I approached the doorway, I saw from the sign above it that it was called 'Angels', and as I entered the long narrow room I was a little surprised by how small it was compared to the other bars I'd been in. The light was dimmer than the other places and the decor, though modern in style, was a little dilapidated and with much less chrome and glass than Sparkles. Overall, Angels seemed more cosy and a little less intimidating.

A long bar ran along most of the right hand side of the room, and there were tables and chairs placed apparently randomly along the wall opposite the bar. On the right, just inside the entrance, a narrow stairway ran down to what I later found out to be another bar. At the far end of the room from where I'd entered was a doorway with signs indicating that it led to the toilets. As I began to get my bearings, I saw TDH and about half a dozen companions sitting at a table about two thirds of the way down the length of the room.

After getting myself a drink, I went to an empty table close to the exit and sat so that I could see TDH but without directly facing him. He was sitting with his back toward the bar and at a slight angle toward me so that I could see his face in about three-quarter view but he couldn't see me without turning his head. For the most part, he and his group were talking relatively quietly, with occasional bursts of animated discussion or maybe even arguments. However, although the background music was quiet, I couldn't hear what they were talking about.

Thus we sat for the time it took me to drink about half of my Guinness, then the red haired guy, who'd been sitting on the left of TDH with his back to me, went to the bar to get more drinks. While he was waiting to be served he looked over in my direction and frowned slightly. Immediately, I stared down at my drink, wondering if he might be frowning at me for some reason. When I eventually looked up again, the redhead was again sitting down, but this time on the right of TDH and facing me so it was only a couple of seconds before he looked directly at me and I quickly averted my gaze.

The next time I looked up, TDH was talking to the redhead, and it seemed that the latter was reluctant to respond. Then they both looked directly at me, and in a bit of a panic I returned to studying my drink, wondering if I should quickly finish it off and flee the premises. Before I reached any decision, I became aware of someone standing by my table, and when I looked up my eyes met the piercing gaze of TDH. Immediately, both my mind and body froze with shock.

"Are you a stalker?" he asked.

His quiet voice, just audible over the background noise, was calm and had an accent that wasn't local. Although by no means an expert on such matters, I had the impression that he was from somewhere south of London. Even if I'd been able to think of an answer, in my frozen state I would have been physically incapable of responding. The only movement I could make was to break eye contact and fix my gaze on the middle of his chest, which still left my head tilted upward at an uncomfortable angle.

"My friend, Pat, says you've been staring at me for ages and that you even followed us from Barons," he continued.

Desperately, I tried to think of a response, and as I did so my subconscious must have been analysing his voice and body language, because I suddenly realised that instead of being annoyed or irritated he seemed to be mildly amused. This enabled me to partially overcome my dumbness.

"N-not stalking." I stuttered.

At first I wasn't sure if my voice had been loud enough for him to hear, and when he neither moved nor responded I looked up again, though at first I still tried to avoid meeting his gaze directly. The corners of his mouth were curved into a hint of a smile, and as I lifted my head a little higher I saw that he was looking at me with an overall expression of amused interest.

"So why were you staring?" he asked.

He was clearly in no doubt that I had been staring, so there was no point in me making a specific denial. However, I wasn't prepared to make any definite admissions either, and as my mind rapidly unfroze I managed to babble a reply.

"I-I was just watching," I said, my words quickly tumbling out. "I don't know my way around here so I was just looking, following to see what bars people were going to."

Then, taking me by surprise, he sat down facing me across the table.

"So you're not from around here then?" he asked, probably picking up on my own slight accent.

"N-no," I said, still stuttering slightly, even though I was beginning to relax a little. "I've just been here since September. At the university."

"Ah," he said, smiling. "I came here to the uni as well, and then decided to stay after I graduated. By the way, my name's Derek. What's your's?"


A feeling of light-headedness, almost dizziness, swept over me, but I doubted that it could have been caused by the Guinness. This encounter, which had begun so terrifyingly badly, was now tending toward the starting points of some of my fantasies, and I was beginning to wonder if all this was really happening.

"What courses are you doing?" he asked.

Then, in what seemed to me to be a rather surreal situation, we talked about what I was studying and what he'd studied. As it turned out, he'd graduated five years earlier and was now working as a pharmacist in the city centre. At the start of our conversation I'd been nervous and stuttering, but in just a few minutes his friendly attitude and easy charm had made me feel much more comfortable. It wasn't difficult to see why he was so popular. Just as I was beginning to feel relaxed, the red haired guy, whom I assumed to be Pat, came and stood by our table.

"The others are wondering if we're going to the club now or if we should get some more drinks," he said, addressing Derek directly and not even glancing at me.

I had the feeling that the impetus behind the question was due more to Pat than to 'the others'. Derek looked up at him with a slight frown of irritation then looked at his watch before replying.

"Well I suppose we should be going," he said.

Pat nodded and, still ignoring my existence, went to rejoin the others.

Derek's smile returned as he turned his attention back to me. "Have you been to the club yet?"

"You mean Storm?" I replied. "No, not yet."

"Why don't you come with us, then?"

Although I was strongly tempted by this pleasantly surprising invitation, I had very little money with me, and even if I'd had enough to get into the club I certainly wouldn't have enough to buy drinks. Also, the last bus from the town centre to Hall would be leaving in less than an hour, and I certainly didn't have enough money for taxi fare. For a brief moment I toyed with the idea of taking on the long walk back to Hall, but didn't really like the idea of walking for over an hour on a dark night in a city which was still relatively new to me.

"Sorry," I said, having reluctantly made my decision. "I have to catch the last bus back to Hall in a few minutes."

Right at the very back of my mind was the thought that maybe Derek had a car and that he might offer me a lift home if I went to the club. That tiny hope, which I hardly acknowledged to myself, was too close to my fantasies to ever become reality, so Derek's response wasn't really a disappointment for me.

"That's a pity. Maybe some other time, then," he said without much emotion, though his smile faded a little.

"Yes, that'd be great!" I replied, trying not to sound too enthusiastic.

"Well, I'd better be getting back to my friends," he said as he began to get up from his chair.

As he reached his full height, towering over me, he paused briefly as if a thought had just occurred to him.

"Ya know," he said, "on Wednesdays it's free to get into Storm if you get there before ten. So if you're here around nine thirty this Wednesday we can go to the club together."

"Yes, I'll be here," I replied quickly, trying to suppress my grin of delight and totally ignoring the fact that I had lectures starting at nine on the Thursday morning.

He smiled, nodded, and went to rejoin his friends.

That night, and every night until Wednesday, sleeping was made difficult by my increasing state of nervous excitement. Even during the daytime I found it difficult to concentrate on my studies. The fact that I had no real expectations about what might happen on Wednesday night made this emotional agitation even more ridiculous because it was unjustified. However, although I expected nothing, I couldn't deny that I hoped for a great deal.

When Frank and I spoke on the phone on the Sunday night, something, possibly a nervous edge in my voice, made him ask if anything was the matter. I said that I was fine and that everything was okay. This was not untrue, and my response on the phone was automatic, with no deliberate intention to deceive him. In any case, after we hung up it wasn't too hard to justify to myself not mentioning Derek or the proposed trip to Storm.

After all, Derek was just a guy I'd chatted to once in a bar and who may not even turn up to meet me again. If he didn't turn up I wouldn't be going to Storm, so there was no point in mentioning it. Frank had no doubt talked to lots of people in lots of bars, especially on his rugby trip, without mentioning them to me. So there was no reason to say anything to Frank unless Derek and I became friends and unless I actually went to the club.

Of course, my emotional state was not what might be expected in someone merely anticipating a meeting with a new acquaintance or even a first visit to a gay club. At the time I deliberately avoided a close examination of my emotions. I told myself that whatever fantasies I had, they had no foundation in reality. There was no way that an amazing, charming person like Derek would really want to be friends with an ordinary, short, skinny, boring person like me. All that, of course, showed just how easy it was to delude myself and thereby justify my decisions.

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