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A Different Kind of Love

by c m

Bloody lockdown.

Can't do this. Can't do that. Can't go there.

I suppose it makes sense. I mean, I certainly don't want to catch it from some ignorant twat who refuses to wear a mask just because it's uncomfortable.

But it is inconvenient, to put it mildly.

Like today.

Here I am, in a queue outside my local supermarket along with about a dozen others. All of us the regulation one metre apart. The shop is operating a 'one in, one out' policy. And now it's just started to rain.

And I haven't brought a waterproof. OK, it was a bit overcast when I left home half an hour ago, but it didn't look like rain – and the weather forecast certainly didn't mention it.

Guess that's British weather for you.

The guy in front of me has had the foresight to bring an umbrella which he is just opening.

I hunch my shoulders and pray that this is just a shower.

The guy turns and looks at me. He must be about my age. Good looking – as far as I can tell behind the mask. Blond hair. Blue eyes. He smiles and gestures, inviting me to shelter under his umbrella.

'I know it's against the rules, but I'm OK with it if you are – and otherwise I think you're about to get soaked.'

Even as he's speaking, the rain gets heavier.

What the heck. We teenagers don't seem to be at much risk anyway. I'm probably more likely to get unwell from catching a chill than from catching Covid from Blondie.

I smile and step forwards. He hold the umbrella over both of us.

'Thanks. Appreciate it.'

We bump elbows in the approved, Covid-safe manner.

'Pain in the arse, this, isn't it?' he says with what I can hear from his voice must be a smile – even if I can't see his mouth.


'Ah well, hopefully another month or so and we can start getting back to normal'

He stamps his feet a couple of times. It's got colder along with the rain.

'I'm Jonty, by the way,' he says.

'Nix,' I say

He raises an eyebrow. 'Nix?'

'Short for Phoenix.'

'Unusual…nice though.'

'Embarrassing really, my mother had a bit of a thing for that actor…River Phoenix.'

'Ah, OK.'

There's a pause.

' I rather like it, actually…I certainly don't know any other Phoenixes'

'I guess I've got used to it.'

The queue has barely moved. All those inside are evidently in no hurry to venture back out into the rain.

'You local?' he asks.

'Kind of. We live on the edge of Exmoor, so it's a bit of a trek to the shops. Maybe six or seven miles away. You?'

'I've got a flat here in town.'

'Living on your own?'

'Yeah….moved out about six months ago. I work from home so it's easier – and I'd had enough of living with my parents. I mean, they're OK, they didn't mistreat me or anything, I just felt like I wanted to live my own life. You?'

'Still at home. Was going to go to Uni, but this pandemic has made me rethink things. What do you do?'

'I'm an artist…well, illustrator really. Children's books mostly, though I do other stuff as well.'

'Wow. Is there plenty of that kind of work?'

'Plenty might be an exaggeration, and I'm still finding my way a bit. But I get by. I'm lucky. My uncle's a publisher and he has contacts which is smoothing the way. How about you?'

'My Dad runs a modest advertising agency. I've always had a bit of a way with words and there's room for a copywriter in the business. He's said he'll ask the Creative Director to give me a go, but that I have to prove myself to him over the next six months. At the end of that time, it's the Creative Director's call on whether I'm good enough, and Dad's made it perfectly clear that he's not going to pull any strings.'

'Cool. Do they ever use illustrators?'

He says this with a laugh in his voice.

'Well, yes they do from time to time. I'll introduce you if you like.'

'Maybe I'll take you up on that.'

Two more people emerge from the shop. The queue shuffles forward. Jonty will be next in. And it's stopped raining. He closes the umbrella, shaking off the water as he does so.

'It's been great talking with you,' I say, 'there aren't that many people our age in the little hamlet where I live. In fact, there aren't any.'

'I've really enjoyed our chat as well, and if you're up for a drink sometime, and you don't mind coming into town – I don't drive I'm afraid – I'd enjoy that.'

'Yeah, I'd like that…and I'd love to see your work.'

'OK, well let me give you my number and once we're allowed to mix with others indoors, we'll arrange something. Hopefully that's only a matter of weeks away.'

He holds his hand out and I give him my phone. His long fingers move rapidly over the keys. As he hands the phone back, those fingers brush briefly over mine.

'OK. All done. I've put my email in as well. '

A woman emerges pushing a loaded trolley.

'Looks like I'm on. Good to meet you. Hope to see you again soon,' he says, grabbing a basket.

'Thanks for the umbrella. I'll be in touch.'

We bump elbows.

I have an entirely inexplicable sense of loss as he enters the shop and disappears from view.

By the time my turn to enter arrives, Jonty must be in a different part of the supermarket, and by the time I get to the checkout, he's already gone.

As I drive home, two bags of groceries neatly stored in the boot, I realise that I'm smiling. And I realise that the reason for my smile is that I'm looking forward to seeing Jonty again. It's not that I don't have friends, it's just that now that I've finished school most of them live an inconveniently long way away - the price of having been to a boarding school some way from my home. And my recent decision to skip Uni and start work at once means that I'm not likely to make a whole new set of friends to replace them any time soon. So whilst I still barely know him or anything about him, meeting and talking with Jonty has, I realise, filled something of a void that I hadn't really recognised in my life – especially given the recent months of pandemic-inspired social isolation.

Once home, I bring the groceries inside. My mother is in the kitchen doing some cooking and the room is full of the smell of freshly-baked banana cake. I put the bags on the worktop and grab a piece of cake. It is still warm from the oven. It's heaven.


'Sorry, Mum…is it OK if I have a piece?' I say through a mouthful of cake

'Well, it's a bit late now but since you've been good enough to do the shopping, I suppose so – just don't spray crumbs everywhere.'


'I hope you didn't get too wet, we had a very heavy shower here while you were out.'

'It rained in town too – fortunately there was someone in the queue who'd brought an umbrella and he let me share it with him.'

'Phoenix! – what about social distancing?'

'We were both wearing masks and it was quite a big umbrella. And he was about my age, and all the stats say that means we don't really get Covid, or not seriously.'

'That is a dangerous thing to say; and you should have taken a coat.'

'I know, I know - but at least I stayed dry. And he was really nice. We had quite a long chat. It took ages for the queue to move.'

I help myself to another piece of cake.

'He's an illustrator – the guy I talked to. Runs his own business. Maybe Dad could use him sometimes.'

'How do you know if he's any good?'

'I don't – but we've arranged to meet up, well sort of, once we're allowed to, and he going to show me some of what he does.'

'Must have been quite a conversation. You say he's your age?'

'Must be close. Didn't actually ask. We just seemed to get on.'

'Well, just be careful. '

'Mum! I'm eighteen and I could use a friend and he's nice.'

Mum sighs.

'Of course you're right. It's hard to remember that your not my little boy anymore sometimes. It's just maternal instinct.'

'I know. And I appreciate you caring,' I say, with a smile.

She smiles back. 'Oh, and Nix, there's a letter for you on the table in the hall.'

I go over and kiss her on the forehead. I make my way out into the hall and collect the letter from the table before heading upstairs to my room.

I don't suffer from OCD, but I do like my room to be tidy. Probably another hangover from school where I shared a study in my last year with my friend Theo. The rooms weren't very big and if we didn't keep things reasonably orderly it soon turned into mutual chaos. I was grateful for the fact that Theo was tidy-minded.

And the letter in my hand is from Theo; I recognise the writing. I know he has no mobile signal in the distant reaches of the Yorkshire Dales where his family lives, but why he's written rather than Facetime me I have no idea.

Theo and I were - and still are - very different from one another, which is maybe why we became such firm friends. He was all sporty and larger than life, whilst I was quietly academic. The one thing we did share was a love of drama, and we'd both taken part in school plays from almost our very first year. And that was also why we had both done Theatre Studies as one of our A levels.

Theo was, and is, mind-blowingly uninhibited; a characteristic that I seemed, progressively, to catch off him over our time at school. The result is that we can now talk to each other about absolutely anything without the slightest embarrassment. At school, whether it was verbal opinions or physical actions, Theo just said and did pretty much whatever was on his mind. At school he talked openly about sex (in favour, with both boys and girls); drugs (against); religion (very against); race (colour blind), and politics (all conniving self-centred bastards). He also had no inhibitions about being seen naked; getting and been seen with an erection, or even being caught wanking. This last happened more than once, despite my telling him to put a chair under the door handle so I'd know he was busy rather than walking in on him. His response (very Theo) was to ask me if I'd like to have a go – an offer I politely declined. As far as Theo was concerned, when it came to masturbation it was what teenage boys did; it was something we all did; it was something we all did quite a lot - and it was no big deal. He was completely matter of fact about it. He even told me what and who he thought about while he was doing it. This comprised a catholic range of lusts that included, but was not limited to, a supermodel, a girl in the sixth form, a boy in the year below and even, he said, on occasion, me. I'm still not sure whether this was a joke, as he said it all with an insouciance that made it impossible to tell. He then went on to ask me what I thought about when I was having a wank. And it was this that made me come to realise something about myself. Well, two things actually.

The fact is that I don't, and never have, masturbated very often. And when I do, I don't think about anyone else. Ever. I just focus on the sensations that I'm getting from what I'm doing. The simple truth of it (although it took me some time to realise it) is that I don't feel sexual attraction – to either boys or girls. When I have a wank it's usually to relieve stress or to help me get to sleep. I do it probably a couple of times a month or so, whereas I know most boys of my age are doing it at least once a day. Or more - according to Theo.

Have I ever had sex with someone else? No - unless mutual masturbation counts, in which case I have. Once. It was with a boy who clearly had the hots for me. I liked him, but I felt no desire for him sexually. But I felt it was something I ought to do, to try. Theo said everyone was at it. So I thought maybe the fact that I felt no desire to do so was just because I'd never tried it. It was a somewhat strange experience. He was moaning and sighing and telling me how sexy I was as I stroked him to his climax, and I supposed that once he touched me I would feel the same. But I didn't. It wasn't unpleasant or anything, and heaven knows a penis is designed to respond to that kind of stimulation – which mine did, and I had a perfectly satisfactory orgasm at the end of it. But I felt none of the excitement that my partner had. He was disappointed when I declined his offer of a repeat performance - and it made me sure that I was different.

Fact is, I realised I had no desire for sex with anyone. Boys or girls.

Now, this doesn't mean that I can't feel a certain romantic attraction sometimes - the idea of having a cuddle with someone or holding hands with them, or just wanting to spend time with them or go on a sort of date is something I've felt on occasion - and I certainly appreciate good looks.

But what I do know is that when I feel this type of attraction, or when I appreciate good looks, it's always for boys and not girls.

I smile as I realise that all these thoughts have been triggered by the simple fact of my holding a letter from Theo. I open it.

Hey Nix

Internet and landline are down at present – apparently a tree fell across the line yesterday and it's going to take them days to put it back in this remote corner of the world; hence the pen and paper (which feels very weird).

Hope you're keeping well. Feels like forever since we've seen each other; maybe we can work something out once all this stuff is over?

I heard on the grapevine that you've canned the idea of Uni. What's all that about? I'm still intending to do my degree at Warwick – but if you'll be a working man, maybe you'll be able to afford to come and buy a poor student a drink 😉

Reason for contact is that my folks are still hoping to get down to their place in Cornwall later this summer and you're invited. Please say yes or I'll be stuck here with the hell that is my sisters on my own. Tasha still finds you hopelessly gorgeous despite having had her eyes tested and despite my telling her that you're asexual and that you prefer boys. This appears to make you even more desirable. Go figure.

I'll call you in a day or so unless you feel the urge to write back.




That's the official term – or just Ace to those of us who are.

Despite the school's shortcomings, they did have excellent counselling services available to any of the students who wanted help about, well, almost anything. I knew that the way I felt about sex, or rather didn't feel about sex, was unusual and in the end I went and had a talk with someone who turned out to be very helpful. We talked about my feelings, or lack of them, and she reassured me that this was unusual but far from rare, maybe 1% of the population she said, and she pointed me in the direction of some helpful websites and books.

Turns out that asexual isn't a single, simple thing; it covers a whole spectrum. Some people feel no sense of attraction at all, others feel aesthetic attraction (like me appreciating a boy's good looks), some feel romantic attraction, and some feel sensual attraction (like me wanting to hold hands or have a cuddle). Turns out some can even experience arousal – although not connected with having sex with someone else. At one end of the spectrum are those who feel actively repulsed by the thought of sex and at the other those who are happy to give sexual pleasure to others even though they have no desire for it themselves. Long story short, I discovered that I was, at heart, a 'sensual, aesthetic asexual'. A sensual, aesthetic, asexual - who was attracted to his own sex.

The lady said that this was perfectly normal too, albeit less common – but that I needed to understand that my desire for affection and my appreciation of good looks would often be misunderstood by the 99% for whom those things were inextricably linked with desire.

'I don't want to put you off relationships, Nix,' she said, 'not at all, but asexuality is hard for many people to understand. It's really good that you understand who you are, but things won't be easy. Particularly for a good-looking, gay-oriented boy like you.'

Did I tell Theo? Of course. And when I told him, the best and kindest thing Theo ever did was neither to laugh nor tell me that it was 'just that I hadn't met the right person yet'. He was genuinely interested, if astonished, and promptly went and read a lot of the stuff that I'd been pointed at. As for my admission that I was attracted to boys, that phased him not at all.

'Heck, I like both so I'm hardly your standard hetero myself,' as he put it. So far as being asexual was concerned, he just put his hands on my shoulders, sighed, and said:

'Nix,' he said,' you are one of the weirdest yet most wonderful people I have ever met in almost every way, so this just adds to your indefinable uniqueness. I mean, the fact that you've resisted jumping my utterly gorgeous bones for so long had to have some kind of explanation, so it's good to know what it is.'

I just rolled my eyes before giving him the finger - and then we both collapsed with laughter.

And he's been amazingly supportive ever since. A week in Cornwall with him feels like just what I need. I can't wait to talk with him.

In the meantime, I'm wondering if it's too soon to call Jonty.

Too soon for what? I'm not sure.

So I call him. It rings just twice before he answers.

'Jonty Phillips'

'Hi Jonty, it's Nix…Phoenix…from the supermarket queue.'

'HEY! Nix! Good to hear from you.'

'I was wondering if we might do that drink sometime this week?'

'Umm….sure…let me see….tomorrow or Friday are both good.'

'Would tomorrow be OK?'

'Tomorrow would be great.'

'When and where would suit you?'

'The Olde Bell has a beer garden which means they can serve us outside in accordance with the current rules. Say around 7?'

'Perfect. See you there.'

'Look forward to it...oh…and do you do Facetime?'


'Next time we speak, let's do that; be nice to see you without a mask!'

'No prob. Let me send you my email.'

'Perfect. See you tomorrow.'

For reasons that are too boring to go into, I'm late leaving the following evening. I ping Jonty a message apologising. As I'm getting into the car, I get a reply:

'No prob. What would you like to drink?'

What I'd have liked was a pint, but I don't drink and drive.

'Pint of orange juice and lemonade. Thanks.'


'Yeah...I don't like to drink and drive.'

'Gotcha. See you soon.'

I park outside the Olde Bell and make my way into the beer garden behind it. It's a lovely evening and the tables are all full of groups chatting and laughing. It takes me a while to spot Jonty, but the blond waving at me eventually catches my attention.

'Hey, sorry I'm late.'

'That's OK. Drink as ordered.'

'Thanks. Sorry to be a bit dull about the drink-driving thing but…'

'No need to apologise. It's good actually. Another reason to like you.'

He says this with a broad smile. Seeing him for the first time without a mask, he's even more striking than I'd imagined. His blond hair and blue eyes are complemented by a classical 'peaches and cream' complexion and a broad, full mouth. His skin appears to be flawless. Handsome. Very handsome. Very attractive. Right up my aesthetic and sensual street. I must have been looking at him for longer than I thought.

'Like what you see?' he says, flashing me another smile.

'Oh God, yes…that is no, I mean I'm's just…you know seeing you without a mask...there's quite a lot to take in. Sorry.'

'No need to apologise. It's nice to see you without a mask too. Make everyone look different, don't they?'

'Very much. I mean, you can sort of tell if someone is smiling even if they've got a mask on – you can see it in their eyes – but it's much nicer to actually be able to see them smile.'

'Indeed, and if I may say so, you have a very nice smile.'

'You too.'

'Well, now we've got the mutual admiration out of the way, why don't you tell me your story?'

'My story?'

'Yes…tell me all about yourself. Who is Nix and what makes him tick?'

'It's not a very interesting story, I'm afraid.'

'Nonsense. Everyone's story is interesting, it's just that some are more interesting than others.'

'Umm, well, OK.' I take a swallow of my drink. 'Here goes then….'

'I'm eighteen in a month's time. I live at home with my parents. I'm an only child. I went to a public school - mixed boys and girls – I passed my exams, I have a love of drama; I wanted to go to Uni but the last twelve months have made all that look a little less attractive. I play a reasonable game of golf and I like to watch cricket. I can play the guitar but not very well. I like lying in the sun. I enjoy beer and the odd glass of wine. That's about it, I guess.'

'Hmmm…well, that's OK as far it goes. Can I ask you some questions?'


'OK, so…how do you feel about tattoos and piercings, say?'

'Don't have any, don't want any – why?'

'Just looking for the Nix below the surface of all the stuff you just said. That was mostly about what you've done, not who you are.'

He says this with a smile. It is impossible to feel offended.


'No problem. How about religion?'

'I'm pretty much with my best friend Theo on that; I'm not really interested and I think it causes a lot of strife. Most which is completely unnecessary and probably not even theologically justified.'

'OK. And how about having a girlfriend - or boyfriend?'


'Really? OK, that's more interesting. Why not? You're a good looking guy. Very good-looking actually.'


'Even more interesting…can you tell me about it?'

I pause. Things have all moved a bit faster than I was anticipating in terms of the sort of chat we're having. But I like Jonty. And if we are going to be friends - which I'm pretty sure that I want us to be - he'll need to know about my sexuality at some point. But now? And here?'

'I will tell you, but not here and not now if you don't mind. And anyway, it's your turn to tell me all about you.'

'Wow, OK, you got me hooked. Well, I'm going to be 19 in two months. As you know I live on my own and as you know I'm an illustrator. Well, actually I'm also a writer – there are more books to illustrate if you write them yourself!'

I laugh.

'What are the books about?'

'They're about a pair of dogs called Scruff and Tubbs. Scruff is a big, bouncy, cross-breed puppy who keeps getting the pair of them into trouble, and Tubbs is an overweight Labrador who's a bit older and who has to get them out of the mess Scruff gets them into.'

'Sounds fun. Do you have copies of the books in your flat?'

'Yes…they're only drafts at the moment. But I can show you those – along with my illustrations, if you're still interested in seeing them.'

'Even more interested. But I interrupted. Tell me more about you.'

'I have a sister and a stepbrother. I wanted to go to Art College, but the need to move out meant I had to start earning my living - so College is going to have to wait – or maybe not happen at all. I only have one, very discreet, tattoo and I don't like piercings either. I prefer wine to beer – as you see,' he says, pointing at his half-empty glass. 'I don't currently have a girlfriend or boyfriend either – not that I'd ever have a girlfriend because I'm gay. I hope you're OK with that.'

He lifts his eyes and looks into mine.

'Totally. '


He pauses.

'Maybe you are too? If that's not presumptuous. It's what my gaydar told me when we were standing in the supermarket queue.'

He's like Theo. Blunt. But he's not wrong. Even if he probably sees it in slightly different terms from me. But I guess I can at least acknowledge my attractions.

'I'm attracted to guys, yes. But like I said, it's complicated.'

'OK, I'll settle for that – for now. Where were we? I'm agnostic about God and totally apolitical. Too much self-interest; even the ones who sound like they're going to be different somehow seem to get contaminated once they're exposed to power.'

I smile to myself. He's sounding more and more like Theo all the time.

'I like beautiful things of all sorts. Including you,' he continues.

He raises his eyebrows fractionally as he says this. As if challenging me. I keep my gaze level.

'I like to go swimming – and skinny dipping is a secret pleasure. I'm passionate about art of all sorts and I try to live in as sustainable a way as I can. I'm no eco-warrior, but I believe that we need to take care of our planet better than we have done. And I think love is more important than sex. That's pretty much me.'

"Love is more important than sex". It's almost as if he knows. I am on the verge of telling him…but a little voice inside is telling me to wait. What I actually say is:

'So where's your tattoo?'

A smile spreads across his face.

'Maybe when you tell me what you meant about things being complicated, I'll show you.'

It's my turn to smile.

'Touche. OK, it's a deal.'

'So what did you want to study at Uni, Nix?'

'I had this idea that I'd like to be an actor, so I was looking at doing a Drama or Performing Arts degree. But lockdown has not only reduced the attraction of the Uni experience, it's also made me think maybe I should explore my wordsmithing and writing skills instead. It would still be doing something creative, which is important to me - and it's a bit more…secure.'

'Security's overrated, Nix. At least in my view. But I'm with you on doing something creative.'

'And I agree with you, Jonty, about trying to be a bit more green. At least my car's a hybrid. Be nice if it was fully electric, but the practicalities are that recharging stations are few and far between out here in the countryside. '

'Idealism meets reality. But things will change. They have to.'

The barman comes over and asks us if we want another drink.

'There's only so much OJ and lemonade a boy can drink,' I say.

Jonty laughs.

'I wouldn't inflict another pint of that stuff on you.'

'I could have a coffee if you wanted another glass of wine.'

'OK. Unless you've had enough of me and want to go?'

'I'm enjoying your company far too much for that.'

'Then another white wine it is.'

The drinks arrive, and the conversation just seems to flow. It's as if we've known each other for ages. I hardly notice that the daylight's faded until the lights inside the pub come on. I check my watch.

'Guess I ought to be getting back,' I say.

'OK. I've enjoyed this more than you can know,' he says.

'Me too.'

'I'd invite you back for a coffee if it were allowed.'

'And if it were allowed, I'd come.'

We laugh.

'In the meantime, can we do this again?'

'I'd love to,' I say.

Same time same place next week?'


We bump elbows. I wish we could have hugged.

The following morning, Mum asks me if I had a good evening.

'Very good, Mum. We seem to have lots in common. We've arranged to meet up again next week.'

'Well I'm pleased you had a good time. And it will be nice for you to have a friend who lives close.'

Jonty and I meet up again the following Friday – and the one after that. We discover that we share many of the same outlooks on life. We talk about our friends and our families. We find that we make each other laugh – a lot. We become, in short, good friends. Friends, but with an as-yet unspoken undercurrent of something more. It almost feels like we are conducting some sort of private courtship dance – insofar as you can, sitting in the open air in a pub garden, surrounded by dozens of other people.

But today the Government has given the all-clear for people to meet up indoors. And declared that hugging is now allowed as well. I'm about to call Jonty to see if I can, finally, get to see his illustrations. (And maybe his tattoo, says a little voice in my head). And yes, importantly, if a little scarily, that means I've decided that I know him well enough – and like him more than enough – to mean that the time is right for me to tell him about my asexuality. I hope he'll be OK with it.

But he beats me to the punch. My iPad beeps telling me that someone is wanting to Facetime me. Jonty's handsome face appears on the screen.

'Hey, Nix!'

'Hi, Jonty – I was just about to call you.'

'Hah! Great minds and all that…it's just that now we're allowed to meet up in each other's houses, I wondered if you'd like to come to my place this Friday instead of meeting up at the pub?'

'That sounds great. Same time?'

'Perfect. See you Friday at mine.'

'Can't wait.'

Friday comes and I'm on my way. His flat is straightforward enough to find. It's in a small, modern block in a smart area of town. There's a lot of wood and glass on show in the design of the building. There's a parking spot for each flat, and, as Jonty doesn't have a car, he's told me to use his space.

His flat is on the first floor. I climb the stairs and ring the bell. Seconds later, the door is flung open.

'Hi, Nix! Welcome to my humble abode!'

My first impression is of neatness and colour. There are vibrant wall hangings, including paintings and various pieces of woven art. The furniture is simple and made of what looks like ash. There's a functional galley-style kitchen off to one side and an open-plan living area.

'I'd offer you a drink but….would you at least like a coffee?'

'That would be great. White, no sugar.'

I go and stand beside him as he puts a capsule into a coffee machine. Up this close for the first time, I can smell his cologne.

'You smell nice.'

'Thanks…one of my little luxuries.'

I look round the kitchen. I can see various bits of interesting-looking equipment and a knife block with an array of Japanese-style knives.

'I assume you're a bit of a cook?'

'Well, I do my best. It's my way of relaxing. Maybe you'll let me cook you dinner sometime?'

'I'd like that.'

I don't know whether it's nerves (why?) but I am suddenly aware that I need to use the loo.

'Umm…Jonty, could I…use the bathroom.'

'Be my guest. It's through there,' he says, pointing to a door on the opposite side of the living area.

The bathroom turns out to be a wetroom, with a shower that has one of those monsoon-style shower heads along with a separate hose to one side. It's tiled in some sort of reflective blue quartz that glitters softly. I use the loo and then wash my hands. There's a row of bottles on the shelf by the basin. Moisturisers, aftershave, two colognes. I take the top off one of the bottles and sniff. It's what he's wearing. I do the same with the other which has an altogether deeper, woodier fragrance. They are both lovely – and, I'm guessing, expensive.

By the time I emerge, Jonty has two mugs of coffee in his hands.

'If you can't beat them, join them. Still want to see my drawings?'

'You bet.'

'Come on then, I use the second bedroom as my studio.'

I follow him back past the bathroom to a door on the left. Inside, and off to one side, is a desk with two computer screens on it and a leather swivel chair behind it. Opposite is an artist's table with a whole lot of drawers underneath. A bright yellow shelving unit against one wall has a mass of files, folders and books in it. There's also enough room for a small, squashy, sofa in one corner. Jonty hands me one of the mugs.

'This my den. It's where I write and draw. Take a seat.'

He motions me to the sofa.

'Pics or books first?'

'I know you said that the books hadn't been published – but do your drafts contain the illustrations?'

'No. But the good news about the books is that the first of them is with my uncle now for review. Guess it's a bit like your Dad giving you a chance but deferring to the Creative Director. In my case it's my uncle and he'll defer to his editors.'

'Then I'd like to see the illustrations.'

'OK. Would you rather see them on-screen or from the prints I've had made?'

'Do you do all your design on-screen?'

'It depends on the job. I use the Mac a lot, but I also use a whole variety of physical media.'

'Could I see both? I'd love to see the differences.'

'Of course. Let's start with on-screen.'

He moves behind his desk and pulls a small stool over so that I can sit beside him. His fingers dance briefly over the keys and a file opens. When the first pictures appear, I can't help but laugh.

'Scruff and Tubbs! I love them!.'

The dogs have been loosely drawn and have almost human expressions. You can see the mischief in Scruff's eyes and the long-suffering expression on Tubbs' face.

Jonty scrolls through a series of pictures of the dogs in various situations. I lean in to get a closer look, and our arms and legs end up being pressed tightly together. I am enjoying the feeling of being close to him – but the feeling is one of companionship, and the sensation one of pleasure rather than desire. I wonder if Jonty is feeling the same?

'These are amazing, Jonty,' I say at last, 'if the books are anything like as good, you'll be a household name in no time.'

'If…' he says with a grin.

We move over to the artist's table, and he takes out a folder from one of the drawers.

'This is some of the stuff I've done recently for someone else's book. They're done using acrylics.'

These pictures are of a family, mostly featuring a young girl and her cat. I can see the links with the other work I've just been looking at, yet they have an entirely different feel and a life of their own. They are very, very good.

'These are fantastic, Jonty.'

'Client seems to like them.' He pulls out another folder. 'These are different again. Not for children's books.'

This time I'm looking at pen and ink drawings of vampires. They are lifelike enough to make me shiver.

'Very nice but not my thing,' I say.

'Not mine either, actually – but it all pays the bills. This was for a Gothic publication, hence the style.'

'Do you find it difficult to move between these different styles?'

'Hmm…not difficult as such, but some come more naturally to me than others.'

'Thank you for showing me. You're really talented.'

'That's kind of you to say. Anything else I can show you?'

It's now or never.

'How about your tattoo? And I know…the deal is that I tell you why I said things were complicated first.'

'Thank you. I was hoping you might.'

I look into his eyes.

'Can we sit down?'


We both squeeze onto the squashy sofa. We end up pressed fairly firmly against one another. It feels nice.

'Do you know what an Ace is?'

'Apart from being in a pack of cards, no, I don't.'

'It's short for Asexual. It means that I don't feel sexual attraction to anyone – boys or girls.'

I pause. I want to explain it properly if I can.

'You know how people talk about autistic people as being 'on the spectrum'? Well, it's kind of the same with asexuality. There are various different ways it can show up, and some are more intense than others. For me, it doesn't mean I can't feel attraction, or that that attraction can't be quite strong – but it means that I enjoy being with someone, maybe doing dates with them, holding hands, having a cuddle, that sort of thing, but I don't feel any desire for sex. It's not that my bits and pieces don't work, or that I couldn't physically have sex, it's just that if I did, well, it would be sort of mechanical. And the trouble is that for most people attraction is so bound up with desire - physical desire - that where they want a relationship to end up and where I want it to go are almost always likely to be different. I can feel complete fulfilment from a relationship without it including sex. Does that make sense?


I can see him thinking about what I've said. Then he nods.

'Yes. Yes, I think so. I've never come across an…Ace…before. But I do understand. I think. But when you feel…attracted…to someone, is that just to boys or to girls as well?'

'Boys. Definitely just boys. When I see someone and think 'they're good looking' or when I imagine being cuddled by someone I'm attracted to, it's always a boy.'

'Has that ever actually happened to you - having that sort of close but non-sexual relationship with someone?'

I can feel myself about to become tearful. I shake my head.

'No…I so want it to - but I'm so afraid it never will. That it never can.'

Jonty can see my distress.

'Oh Nix, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. May I….?'

He's holding out his arms towards me. I nod.

He pulls me to him, laying my head on his chest and wrapping his arms round me. One hand starts to stroke the back of my head. It feels wonderful. Eventually he says:

'I think I could have a relationship like that, Nix. Without sex.'

This admission is so startling, so unlikely, so…unexpected…that all I can say is:


'Yes, Nix. If the boy concerned was kind and gentle and lovely. If he was someone like you.'

These last words are no more than a whisper.

'Someone like me?'

'Yes, Nix. Someone like you. I mean, that is, if someone like you was…attracted to me, that is.'

I don't want to move out of his embrace, but I need to. I disentangle myself and sit up.

'Of course I'm attracted to you. More than to anyone I've ever met. Look, I know we haven't known each other very long, but…I dunno…sometimes you just know, I think…'

I'm still processing what he's said. Can he really mean it?

'But Jonty, if you're saying this just because you feel sorry for me, or because it might be an interesting experiment, then please don't. It's hard enough as it is, sometimes. I really like you. But…I can already tell that I arouse you in a way that I can't reciprocate.'

And I can. A considerable, very firm lump in his trousers has been growing and pressing against my thigh as he holds me.

He holds his hands up.

'I'm sorry about that, Nix. I can't control that happening any more than you can control it not happening. But I don't feel sorry for you and it wouldn't be an experiment. I just really, really like you. More than like you. As you say, sometimes you just know. We're both attracted to boys. We both have a strong artistic side. We like lots of the same things. We share lots of the same values. We make each other laugh. We already more than enjoy one another's company. We're probably even both still virgins!'

He throw his arms in the air, and I have to laugh.

'Look, a relationship is built on all sorts of things, yes? OK, sex may be one of them, but if someone ticks all the other boxes except sex, isn't that worth something? Maybe everything. It's certainly better than a relationship based solely on lust. Yes, I admit you arouse me – but I've got a perfectly serviceable right hand. If you really are attracted to me, I'm certainly attracted to you. Enough to want to take things further. Or at least to try. If you want to, that is.'

His eyes are almost pleading with me. I have no idea if this can work. I don't even know if it's a good idea. But I know that I love being with him. And I know that I believe every word he's said. I remember his words, "love is more important than sex"; well, I guess there's only one way to find out if he means it. So yes, I want to try.

'I think I'd like that. If you're sure.'

'I'm absolutely sure.'

'OK. Let's try then.'

'And if it doesn't work, Nix, I promise that we'll still end up as special friends.'

'Good. But it would be lovely if it were really possible for it to be more than that...'

'We'll only know by trying.'

I nod, and he wraps his arms back round me and gives me a squeeze.



I enjoy the feel of his arms round me for a few more seconds, then whisper into his ear:

'Now, what about that tattoo…?'

He grins, lets go of me, stands up, and starts to unbuckle his trousers.

'It's alright, Nix, don't panic….but if you want to see it…'

I laugh. He's wearing chinos which slowly fall to the floor, creating a creased pile round his ankles and revealing a pair of black briefs underneath. He pulls up one side of them to reveal a tiny blue butterfly on one hip. It can't be more than an inch across – if that. It's very finely done – and beautiful.

'You like?'

'I do. I never thought I'd like a tat, but that's rather lovely.'

'I got it done when I left home. To symbolise freedom. Freedom from my stepbrother. Freedom to spread my wings.'

'Thank you for showing me.'

He pulls his trousers back up and rebuckles his belt.

'Another coffee?'

'Yes please.'

We go back into the kitchen where Jonty refills our mugs, before ushering me into the living area. We sit on the dark blue leather sofa.

'So when…how… did you realise that you were asexual, Nix?'

'It's a bit of a long story.'

'I'm in no hurry.'

So I tell him all about my realising that I didn't feel the same sort of lusts that all my peers were constantly talking about, about how different I realised I was from Theo in that way, and the counsellor who helped me understand why. He listened quietly and intently, asking the odd question.

'I had no idea, Nix. And I understand why you didn't want to tell me that first time we had a drink at the pub.'

'I wasn't even sure I should tell you tonight. A bit of me was scared you might laugh – but I also thought I knew enough about you, about how kind and lovely you are, to mean that I could tell you and that it would be alright. And it was. Thank you.'

I catch sight of the time. I hadn't realised we've spent so much time looking at his work and chatting.

'Sorry, Jonty – but I really need to go now. '

'If you have to. But will you come and have dinner with me next time?'

'That sounds lovely.'

'Would you…stay over. So you can have a drink?'

'Where would I sleep, I mean…?'

'It's OK. I understand. You can have my bed, I'll use the couch.'

'I can't ask you to do that.'

'You're not. I'm offering. And I like sleeping on the couch. I do it when other friends stop over.'

'Well if you're sure…OK. It's a date. Our first one.'

I say this with a smile. He smiles back.

'A date it is. I can't wait. When shall we do it?'

'Next weekend any good? Either Friday or Saturday?'

'Let's do Friday. Maybe we can go and do something on Saturday – if we're not already sick of each other by then.'

'I don't think that's very likely, and it sounds perfect. Until Friday then.'

We give each other a big hug, and he comes out to the car with me.

'Take care of yourself, Nix. This has been an extraordinary – and unexpected – evening. Thank you.'

'For me too. Take care Jonty. See you Friday.'

I'm hardly aware of the journey home. I am a mixture of scared and excited. But more than anything else, I feel happier than I've felt in a long time.

Mum is still up when I get back and wants to know all about how things went. The person I most want to talk to is Theo, but Mum cannot be avoided.

'It was great. He lives in a really nice flat. And he's unbelievably talented, Mum. His work – it's amazing. Oh, and he's invited me for dinner next Friday. I'm going to stay over so that I can have a drink.'


I cut her off.

'I know. Be careful. But it's not like that. And anyway, you know how I am when it comes to sex. So he's hardly going to seduce me. Although if he wanted to, and if I wanted him to, then frankly it wouldn't be any of your business anyway.'

'I know, darling. But does that mean that Jonty's gay?'

'Yes, Mum, he's gay. Like me.'

'And he understands about you being asexual?'

'We talked about it, and he's fine with it. We like each other. Quite a lot. Maybe it will turn into more, who knows.'

'When can I meet him?'

'Look Mum, I'm almost eighteen, please stop worrying. I'm on the verge of discovering whether someone like me can have some kind of relationship with someone I'm attracted to. Neither of us knows if it's going to work, but we want to try - and the one certainty is that it will fail if you or anyone else interferes at this point.'

I'm almost shouting and I'm on the verge of tears.

Mum comes over and hugs me.

'I'm so sorry, darling. Please don't be upset'.

She sighs.

'It's just…I can't pretend I fully understand this whole gay, asexual thing – although Dad and I are very grateful you told us all about it - and I don't want to see you getting hurt. I love you, and I do trust you. It's just hard for a mother sometimes. Forgive me. I know I need to stay out of your love life, and I promise I'll try.'

'I love you too, Mum, and I know it's just because you care, but please…this is so important to me and it's something I have to do on my own. I'm sure you'll meet Jonty at some point and I know you'll love him. But just be patient. Please?'

She smiles and ruffles my hair.

I go up to my room and get ready for bed. It's too late to call Theo – who is now back in the land of the internet-enabled; I'll call him in the morning.

When we speak, Theo is thrilled for me, but he is also concerned.

'Look, Nix, he sounds terrific and if he's really OK with 'no sex' than that's wonderful and amazing. I just hope it's true. I can't imagine being attracted to someone the way you say you two are attracted to one another without wanting to have sex. Just be…'

'I know…be careful. And stop sounding like my mother.'

Theo can see that I'm smiling as I say this.

'Yeah, I know. Sorry. But I really care for you buddy. You so deserve to find someone and I'm so happy that maybe you have, but we both know that it isn't going to be easy, no matter how wonderful he is. Let me know how it goes, OK?'

'I will. And I'd love to come down to Cornwall with you. Let me have the dates once you know.'

'It'll be so good to have time with you, Nix. But if things go well with Jonty, won't you want to be with him?'

'You're my best bud and I haven't seen you in ages. I'm sure Jonty will understand.'

'Do you want me to see if my folks would mind you bringing him down if things are still going well between you?'

I think about this.

'Maybe I need to talk to Jonty about that. And I want time with you, Theo.'

'OK, I'll leave it with you for now. Hope things go well on Friday.'

'Thanks. I'll report back.'

'Great…but if there's no sex, there won't be any juicy details…'


He just grins.

'Speak soon.'

'Speak soon. Love you, bud.'

'Love you too Theo.'

Friday comes. Date night with Jonty. I pack a small bag with my toothbrush and a clean set of underwear, shirt and socks. I also put in a towel and a can of deodorant – no expensive colognes for me.

My phone pings. It's a message from Jonty.

'Hi Nix,

Really looking forward to seeing you later. Would about 7 be good for you?



I love that he's signed it with a kiss. I've never kissed anyone (bar my Mum), and actually I've never even thought about whether I'd want to kiss a boy. It feels like it's in a grey area between a cuddle (definitely yes) and sex (definitely no). The thought of kissing Jonty doesn't arouse me – but it doesn't repel me either. Maybe my instincts will just kick in if and when the situation arises and I'll know then whether I want to or not. The thought sort of intrigues me.

At 6.45 I throw my bag onto the back seat of the car and then strap myself in. I take a couple of deep breaths before pushing the 'start' button. I am feeling unaccountably nervous. Or is it just repressed excitement?

The journey is uneventful other than having to crawl at 20mph behind a tractor for two miles with no way to get past – an occupational hazard of living down narrow lanes. It means that it's about five past seven before I get to Jonty's and get parked. I grab my bag, lock the car, and head up the flight of stairs to Jonty's flat. I haven't even got my finger on the bell before the door opens and there he is.

'Nix! Come on in. Good to see you. Here, let me take your bag.'

He closes the door behind us, puts the bag down and wraps me in a lingering hug. Pressed up close to him, I can tell that he's wearing his other cologne. It suits him.

'I've missed you. What would you like to drink? Beer, wine, G&T?'

I can see a half-empty glass of white wine standing by the cooker.

'I'll have whatever you're having.'

'Tell you what, why don't you help yourself while I put your bag in the bedroom. The wine bottle's in the fridge and there's a glass in there.'

He points to a cupboard.

'Won't be a tic.'

I open the fridge and take the bottle out of the pocket on the inside of the door. I can see milk, cheese, bacon, a pot of double cream, two more bottles of white wine, some olives, a container of what look like anchovies, a selection of salad and veg, some strawberries, two chicken breasts and various bottles of stuff I don't instantly recognise. On the side, by the hob, is a basket of eggs, a bottle of olive oi and a wire basket with lemons and limes in. He is clearly a bit of a cook.

I get a glass from the cupboard and half fill it with wine. I take a sip. It's delicious, and I'm pleased that I've decided to stay over.

As I turn, I also notice for the first time that the small table in the living area has been laid for two. There's a flower vase with a single yellow rose stem in it between the two place settings. It's wonderfully romantic.

Jonty reappears from the bedroom. The dark blue silk shirt that he's wearing seems to flow around him as he walks, the colour intensified by the white chinos he's wearing with it.

'So what's for dinner, chef?' I ask

'I was going to do a chicken schnitzel with a Caesar dressing – unless you'd prefer me to go and get some fish and chips.'

I laugh. 'Chicken schnitzel sound delicious. Can I help?'

'No. You just sit there and look gorgeous – and if you really want something to do, then keep my wine glass topped up.'

'Will do. And flattery is lovely, but I am definitely not gorgeous.'

'You're not the one looking at you,' he says with a smile. 'Now, are you hungry or would you rather wait for a bit before eating?'

'I'm hungry,' I say.

'Good. Me too.'

Watching Jonty cook is almost as much of an art form as his illustrations. He beats out the chicken breasts under clingfilm, dips them in flour and then beaten egg before coating them with a sort of breadcrumb I haven't seen before.

'What are they?' I ask.

'Panko breadcrumbs. They're Japanese originally. Makes it very crunchy. Nice contrast with the soft chicken inside.'

He puts the schnitzels on one side, then gets mustard and wine vinegar out of a cupboard, separates an egg yolk and beats the three ingredients together along with some crushed garlic before slowly adding a stream of olive oil. I've never seen mayo being made before and it's almost miraculous to see the consistency and colour change as it all emulsifies. He chops in a few anchovies and some grated parmesan and that's it.

'Wanna taste?'

I nod and he dips the end of a teaspoon in the mixture and hands it to me. It is altogether yummy.

Butter and olive oil go into a frying pan, and when it starts to foam he slides in the schnitzels. He turns them when the underside is golden brown and puts two plates in the oven to warm.

Once cooked, Jonty removes the schnitzels from the pan and squeezes in the juice of a lemon. It hisses and bubbles, releasing a lovely citrusy smell . The plates come out of the warmer and Jonty places one of the pieces of chicken on each. He distributes the lemony, buttery pan juices over them. A small Gem lettuce is torn and shared between the two plates and a couple of generous dollops of dressing put on top of it. He adds a lemon wedge to each plate.

'Right, I'll take these to the table, can you grab another bottle of wine from the fridge and bring the glasses?'

I do so and follow him to the table. We sit down facing each other.

'I hope you enjoy this.'

'If it tastes half as good as it looks and smells, then I may have a new favourite dish.'

I cut through the crisp outer shell of breadcrumbs and through the meat. I add a smear of the dressing and try it. It's sensational.

'Oh my,' I say, through a mouthful of chicken, 'I hope we can make this thing work because I want to eat like this every day.'

'I hope we can make it work too, Nix, because I want to sit here looking at you every time I eat.'

We eat slowly and talk a lot. He opens up to me about his family, about growing up with his stepbrother and about coming out. It turns out that while his mother and stepfather were fine with him being gay, his stepbrother wasn't and made his life hell – which was why he moved out. I ask if he's had many relationships.

'No. When I said we were both probably still virgins, I meant it. You'll be…you are…my first. And we'll still both be virgins!'

There's no hint of regret in his voice as he says this, but I have to ask.

'Don't you want a physical relationship with someone where you can both explore sex?'

'Honest truth? I don't know. I suppose I'm curious, but I'm not particularly highly-sexed. I've never even had a mutual wank with another boy. Do you remember that I said that I liked beautiful things? I value beauty more highly than sex, I think. And whatever you may think, I find you beautiful – inside and out. Have you never had any sexual experience at all?'

I tell him about the boy at school and about how it felt.

'How about masturbating? If it's OK to ask…?'

'It's OK to ask anything. If only because I think we're going to have to do that a lot. I masturbate very occasionally, but not with an image of anyone else in my head. How about you?'

He barks out a half-laugh.

'I masturbate all the time. Mostly thinking about you since we met. Is that allowed?'

'Of course. I'm flattered. But doesn't that mean that you want to have sex with me?'

'It's a fantasy. And I enjoy it as a fantasy. I'd never force myself on you. On anyone, in fact. We'd only ever have sex if you wanted to, and as you don't it won't happen.'

'But doesn't that leave you feeling very frustrated?'

'A good wank gets rid of most of your frustrations, I find.'

I think about what I've read. About how some asexuals are fine with giving others sexual pleasure, even if it's a one-way street. Is that how I feel about Jonty? I honestly don't know. Others are fine with their partner conducting purely sexual relationships outside their romantic one. How do I feel about that? I know deep down inside that I wouldn't like that. But isn't that being a bit dog-in-the-manger? The fact that I don't need or want sex doesn't mean he doesn't. And why should only one of us feel happy and fulfilled? Is that the basis for a lasting relationship? I'm confused. I think we're going to have to talk this stuff through at some point. But maybe not right now.

'Earth to Nix,' he says, waving a hand in front of my eyes.

I refocus.

'I'm so sorry, Jonty. I was miles away. It's just…are you sure you want to do this, Jonty? To have a relationship with someone like me?'

He looks straight into my eyes.

'I think I've already fallen in love with you, Nix. That's way more powerful and important than sex. You tick all the boxes of what I could ever want in a boyfriend. Bar one that I can cope without having. And we've all the time in the world to work our way through glitches along the way if we love each other.'

It should have sounded cheesy, but it doesn't. It just makes me feel gooey - and loved.

'I think you're easy to love, Jonty. And I do love you.'

For dessert, we have strawberries and cream. It's a perfect meal.

I help him clear the table. It all goes into the dishwasher - bar the frying pan which he washes by hand.

'Coffee?' he asks

'Mmm…yes please. Black. I prefer it that way after a meal.'

'Go and sit down, I'll bring it over.

I take a seat on the sofa. A couple of minutes later, Jonty brings over two cups of coffee. He sits down beside me.

'Can you tell me what you were thinking about when you went absent for that minute during dinner?'

'Jonty, I've never felt like I do right now about anyone else. But I am different from you. I don't know if it's fair or reasonable for me to deny you sex when that costs me nothing because it's how I am, but when it costs you a lot. Even if you say it doesn't.'

'Maybe that should be my call then?'

'I know…and it's fine now when we're in the first flush of our joy at being with each other, but will you still feel the same in a year, two years, five years?'

'I don't know, Nix. Who knows how anything will be in five years? But I do know that I have never felt happier, that I've found a boy I love, and that I want to give him my best shot; I believe that if things are meant to be, they'll be. Unless you'd rather not give it a go?'

'Oh, I want to give it a go with all my heart and soul. But promise me one thing. If you find that the lack of sex is too much, is making you unhappy, then you'll tell me. You'll be honest and straight with me.'

'I don't think straight is the word to use…..'

He giggles…and it's infectious and I start to laugh and then he's embracing me - and I never ever want it to stop. He ends up with his forehead pressed against mine. Our noses are touching.

'Is a kiss allowed?' he asks.

'I don't know. I've never kissed anyone. The situation has never arisen.'

'The situation has never arisen,' he parrots – and then we are both snorting with laughter again.

Once we have recovered ourselves, I say;

'Why don't you try. The idea doesn't gross me out. Not the tongue thing though. And if I don't like it, promise me you won't be offended.'

'I promise.'

He gently places his lips against mine and kisses me. In all the books about gay boys kissing for the first time, fireworks go off, electricity crackles and it generally all gets very heated. None of this happens. His lips are pleasantly dry and soft. Having his eyes that close to mine let me see flecks of colour that I've never been aware of. It feels intimate. I like it. I kiss him back. Interesting feeling. We pull apart.

'Verdict?' he asks.

'It goes on the tick list. It's like being given a cuddle on the lips. It feels…intimate. Which is good. Yes, definitely OK.'

He starts to laugh.

'Oh man, exploring this stuff with you is going to be a riot. I can't wait. Now then, it's too early for bed. Want to watch a movie?'

'Why not. What've you got?'

'Would Avengers Endgame be OK?'

'Why not. A cheesy romp is always fun.'

He puts it on and sits back down. I swivel round, grab a cushion and put it on his lap before resting my head on it.

'Is this OK?'

'It's perfect,' he says, running his fingers through my hair, 'and that cushion is a very good idea; saves you from getting poked in the ear by my unruly body.'

'Yeah; that's the way I figured it as well.'

The fact is that the food, the wine and being with Jonty all combine to mean that I don't remember too much about the film, as I fall asleep less than half way through. I come to as Jonty gently shakes me awake.

'Let's leave the rest for tomorrow. Time for bed. Let me show you what's what in the bedroom and I can get a pillow and blanket for the couch.'

It's the first time I've been in his bedroom, and the bed is huge. There's a row of floor to ceiling cupboards down one side, a couple of bedside tables with lamps on and another unit with drawers.

I look at the bed. I think about Jonty on the sofa. I think about cuddling up with my lovely boyfriend – if that's what he now is - versus lying alone in the bed.

'Jonty, why don't we both share the bed? There's loads of room, and…well…I'd love another cuddle…and if we're going to do this thing, I guess finding out if sharing a bed works is something we're going to have to do sooner or later. Unless that's creating unfair frustration for you?'

He pauses in the process of getting a blanket out of the cupboard. He turns and faces me.

'Are you sure, Nix? It wouldn't be… going too fast?'

I smile.

'Probably. But I think we should do it anyway.'

'OK…I mean….if you're sure then, well, I'm certainly not going to say no. Do you want to use the bathroom first? I'll follow. Use the shower if you want.'

I strip to my underwear, conscious of Jonty's eyes on me. I take my toothbrush and my towel and am about to make my way to the bathroom when Jonty says:

'Don't take this the wrong way, but if you're going to shower, you might want to leave your undies here; there's nowhere dry to leave them in the wetroom.'

He's right. I shuck my CKs off and let him have an eyeful. Five years of knowing Theo has made me entirely unembarrassed or ashamed of being naked in front of anyone – and if Jonty and I are going to be…whatever it is we're going to be…then being naked with each other is going to happen a lot. Might as well start as we mean to go on.

'Good body, Nix,' is all he says.

The shower is hot and the monsoon head delivers all the water and power that its name suggests. I use some of the shower gel that's hanging from the controls and emerge feeling clean and fresh. I towel myself dry and brush my teeth before heading back to the bedroom, towel slung breezily over my shoulder, my hair sticking up all over the place because I've forgotten to pack a comb.

Jonty looks me slowly up and down as I come back into the bedroom. All he's wearing is a towel around his waist.

'For fuck's sake, Nix, that's not fair. How do you expect me to remain unaroused with you looking like that?'

'Aroused is fine by me. Nothing I haven't seen – or that I'm unlikely to see quite a lot from now on.'

Jonty grins.

'True. Well, no point in hiding it.'

He drops his towel and he is, indeed, aroused. My brain registers, purely as a matter of statistical fact, that compared with the only three erections I've seen to date - my own, Theo's, and Mikey's - Jonty's is longer and thicker than any of them. By some distance. Not that he's massive, just bigger than I've seen before.

'You could do someone a mischief with that,' I say, 'so thank God it won't be me! Strike 1 for asexuality!'

Jonty cracks up.

By the time he's got back from the shower, he's no longer erect - and floppy he's not much bigger than me. He's completely smooth, bar a few wisps of hair under his arms and in his groin where his pubes have been neatly trimmed. He is everything I appreciate as beautiful in a boy. Seems that appreciating beauty is something we have in common.

'I hope you don't mind, but I borrowed your comb,' I say.

'That's fine – though I quite liked you all rufty tufty.'

I'm already in bed and he slips in beside me. We are neither of us wearing pyjamas.

'You're sure you're OK with this?' he says.

'I think it's perfect. Is it OK if I put my head on your chest for a bit?'

'More than OK,' he says, turning out the light.

The feel of his skin against my cheek makes me smile. I am asleep in seconds.

I come to with a numb arm. My head is still on Jonty's chest, so I move it slowly, taking care not to wake him. I start to massage some feeling back into my arm, gritting my teeth as the pins and needles hit with a vengeance before slowly subsiding. Jonty hasn't stirred. His breathing is slow and even. I run a hand over his chest, enjoying the silky feel of his skin under my fingers. I run my hand down to his tummy – and realise that he has an erection. I wonder if it's OK to touch it without asking. It's not out of desire but curiosity. I want to know if it will feel the same as Mikey's did. The same as mine does. And part of me wants to know if I think I'll be able to give Jonty relief from time to time. I want him to be happy and it's something I'd like to be able to do for him if my mind says it's OK.

I wrap my fingers round the thick, firm flesh. I can feel the heat. The sensation is not unpleasant. I give it a couple of experimental strokes. He murmurs in his sleep. I let go, roll over, and am asleep again in minutes.

I wake up to the smell of coffee. Jonty has clearly woken up before me and I open my eyes just in time to see him putting a mug down on the bedside cabinet. He's naked, and all I can think of is how beautiful he is.

He hops back into bed beside me.

'Morning sexy.'

'Morning Jonty.'

'Did you sleep well?'

'Pretty much, woke up once but soon got back to sleep. My arm had gone numb where I'd been lying on it. You?'

'I slept like a log.'

I sit up and take a sip of my coffee. It's strong and smooth.

'So what have you got planned for us today?' I ask.

'It's another lovely day, I wondered if you fancied going for a long walk? We could take a picnic with us and just take things slowly. There's still so much I want to know about you, and spending the day together, just the two of us, is pretty much my idea of heaven right now.'

'Sounds like my idea of heaven too.'

'…and it was so nice to finally share my bed with someone last night.'

'My first time too. I'd like to spend every night with you.'



He holds an arm out and I snuggle up close to him. He puts his arm around my shoulder.

'Would another kiss be OK?' he asks.

'I think I could permit that.'

This time we kiss for a little bit longer. Three or four kisses in a row. It's definitely OK.

We finish our coffee in companionable silence. I put my mug down and lay my head against his neck. I let my fingers drift across his chest, enjoying the warmth and smoothness. He shifts a little uncomfortably. I can guess why. I think back to last night when I touched him. It was OK. I'd like to make him happy. I drop my hand down into his groin. As I suspected, he's erect.

'What are you doing, Nix?'

'I want to do this for you, Jonty. I think you'd like me to, but that you'd never ask.'

'But…aren't you…don't you….?'

'There are things you can do out of love that you can't do out of lust. I am happier than I have ever been and I want to make you happy too. Making you happy would make me even happier. Or would you prefer it if I didn't?'

'Are you really sure, Nix? I don't want you to do anything you'd really rather not just because….well, just because you feel you should.'

'The fact that I have no interest in sex doesn't mean that I expect you not to want it. I know I arouse you. It's kind of a nice compliment, actually. If we're going to be spending the sort of time together I think we are, then we need to find a way to make things work for both of us. This is my part of the deal.'

Jonty slowly shakes his head.

'You are one amazing person, Nix. I can't believe how lucky I am.'

'That goes for both of us, Jonty. Soooo….'

I look into his eyes. He nods, and I take a firmer hold on him and start to move my hand up and down. His climax doesn't take long to arrive, and is explosive when it does – and the word that erupts from his lips as he comes is my name. His fulfilment is my fulfilment. His joy is my joy. I know we've only just set off down the road together, but we're already working things out.

I can't wait to see where the road takes us.

Author's note: I was inspired to write this story by a thread that ran in the forum a while ago. I'm not asexual myself, but I've tried to research asexuality as best I can. Asexuality covers a whole spectrum of feelings and behaviours; Nix, as I've portrayed him, is just one strand of a much bigger picture that is more common than I had imagined before I started writing this story. If I've misrepresented anything, or caused any offence to those who are asexual, it is as a consequence of my own ignorance, for which I profoundly apologise.

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