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Love from A to Z

by Charles Lacey

Chapter 5

Ash worked hard at his A-levels and ended his time at St Aidan's with some quite respectable results. Good enough for the university entrance he was aiming at, at any rate. He had decided to study Politics and Economics, which could offer quite a wide variety of career options. If the worst comes to the worst, he thought, there will always be a need for accountants. But let's get the degree first, or at least reasonably near to it, and then I can see what's going.

He arrived at university, sorted out his living accommodation on campus, made himself known to his tutor and then got acquainted with the swimming pool.

The first week or so was predictably chaotic, with a lot of things to learn about. He discovered that at university knowledge was imparted in large dollops and the steady spoon-feeding that had happened at school was a thing of the past. But he was capable of a reasonable level of self-discipline and was not unduly daunted.

At the end of the first week of term came the "Freshers' Fair", at which all of the numerous student societies and clubs set out their stalls. There wasn't a lot to interest him other than swimming, until he caught sight of rather a nice-looking boy. He was of medium height, with a shock of curly brown hair, deep green eyes behind huge glasses and a slender figure which was accentuated by his wearing tight jeans and T-shirt. He was standing next to a table over which hung a placard: LGBT Society.

Ash went over and introduced himself. "Well, hel-lo," said the vision, Nice to meet you, Ash. My name's Luke, and these girls are Holly and Erica. And are you... family?"

"Yes," replied Ash. There didn't seem to be much else to say.

"Well, we meet on Tuesdays at the Union Bar, upper floor. No subscription, just bring yourself and your... that is, just come along."

"Are there many LGBT people here?" asked Ash.

"About a dozen, that is in the student body. A couple of the staff are queer as coots. What are you studying?"

"Economics and Politics."

Oh, my dear, all that crowd are as straight as straight. Most of them are married. But there's a few nice boys in the Arts faculty. "

"I'll look forward to meeting them," said Ash, and moved on.

To his surprise, Ash found that the course work was not excessively hard. And so Tuesday evening found him at the Union Bar, to be greeted by Luke.

"Well, hel-lo," he said again. Here's that nice Ash come to see us."

Ash began to wonder whether he really wanted to be here, but decided to give it a fair try. It didn't really surprise him to be invited to Luke's room "for a nightcap".

Without his clothes, Luke was really very attractive. He was slender, with smooth, ivory toned skin. He had no body hair other than the faintest down on his forearms and legs. Even his pubic hair was shaved, and he seemed to have no facial hair. Ash later discovered that he used a depilatory cream. But he was proud of his head of curls. Ash half suspected him of putting it in rollers when no-one was about.

Despite his youth, Luke was sexually experienced; far more so than Ash. It astonished Ash to discover the range of sexual exploits which two male bodies could perform together. He still thought occasionally of Zak and wondered where he was and what he was doing. But his studies took up a good bit of his time, and what was left over was divided between Luke and swimming.

His first year ended, and the reports from his tutor and lecturers were cautiously optimistic. He returned home, and found a holiday job. It was in "Millionaires' Row" again. A family there had a child with severe autism. There was usually a nurse to look after him, but she had had to go into hospital for surgery, and Ash was happy to take over for a few weeks. The duties were not onerous; keeping him clean was easy as the boy was unusually fastidious, and Ash had plenty of time for holiday reading when he was asleep. And it was reasonably well paid. Ash had not yet bought that motorcycle; he was still saving as he wanted to get something worthwhile.

The holiday ended and university resumed. The course work was a little more demanding now, but nothing Ash couldn't handle. He'd found that, to his surprise, he hadn't missed Luke as much as he'd thought he would. Still, it was nice to see him again and resume their bedroom games together.

And he had, under Luke's expert tuition, put his shaft just about everywhere it could go. Luke had a nice neat little bottom and was quite happy to make it available for Ash's pleasure. Ash had resisted Luke's requests for reciprocal arrangements, but eventually gave way. After all, he thought, Luke isn't all that big down there.

And to his surprise, he found that he enjoyed it after the first discomfort had passed. Luke was a gentle lover who liked to please, and Ash found himself becoming genuinely fond of him. Do I love Luke? he thought, or do I just enjoy sex with him. In the end he concluded that it was both. And it had to be admitted that Luke's body was very attractive.

And so it was with a great surprise and disappointment that Ash learned that Luke would be leaving at the end of the year and going to work in Oman. He'd known, of course, that as Luke was a year ahead of him he would be leaving a year earlier, but he'd hoped that they could keep in touch and meet regularly, and perhaps in the fullness of time live together. But now it seemed that would not happen.

I don't seem to have much luck in love, thought Ash. First Zak gets himself sacked from school and disappears, then my lovely Luke buggers off to Oman. What next?

There was no-one in the LGBT society that Ash particularly liked. It was mostly women anyway, and while he enjoyed their company and conversation he certainly didn't want to have sex with them, any more, presumably, than they did with him.

Over the next few weeks Zak and Nolan spent every Tuesday evening together. But as they could go neither to Nolan's mother's, or to Zak's father's, their sexual repertoire was necessarily limited, generally going no further than petting, oral sex and mutual masturbation.

And then Nolan announced that he had a new job, much better paid than the last one, and that he would be moving into a flat. He seemed to assume that Zak would move in with him.

But there was no way in which Zak could agree to this. His father had suggested that if he were to get married, it would "cure" his sexual proclivities, and if he did, he could expect to have a better paid and more responsible job with Neville and Hargreaves.

There was a new girl who had recently started in the office. Emily was roughly Zak's age, though as is often the case with girls, much more mature in her outlook. Zak invited her to the cinema with him, took her walking and a couple of times to a meal at an inexpensive restaurant. He didn't make any particular demands of her, and a goodnight kiss after he had walked her to her parent's house was non-committal but established him as her official boy-friend.

True, Zak did feel guilty about her. She was a nice girl, good-natured and friendly, and he couldn't see where it was going to end. Perhaps, he thought, I should marry her. I'll get a better job, and the old man will probably find us a house as well. As for sex... well, I'll just have to do my best.

And so he continued to take her out, behaving like a perfect gentleman and squashing his guilty fears. On a couple of occasions they went to the cinema and they got as far as some fairly heavy petting and kissing. But none of this produced the faintest shadow of an erection in Zak, where with Nolan it had only taken a kiss and a bit of cuddling. Just seeing Ash naked had got him at least half up. Oh dear, he thought, I'll just have to pretend. Perhaps she won't want it too often. And it will be worth anything to get away from the old man's house.

But his father was, for almost the first time Zak could remember, approving, and that counted for a lot. "Glad to see you are turning out normal after all," was his comment. "Are you going to marry that girl? Her family's got no money, but she's pretty enough. And like as not she'll make a good mother to my grandchildren." And more in the same vein.

In the end, Zak gave way. He called at a jeweller's in Bradford and bought a ring, just a gold band with three tiny diamonds. The next time he took Emily out, they went to a better restaurant than their usual inexpensive venues, and after the meal he produced the ring and asked her to marry him.

Rather to his surprise, she accepted straight away. He later wondered if she, too, would be glad to leave her parents' house. It was later still that he wondered if his father's considerable wealth might also have been a factor.

Be that as it may, they were now accepted as an engaged couple. A subscription was started in the office to buy them a wedding present, and Zak's salary was increased.

But in private, Zak was still in two minds. He had to seem to be confident, in control of his life and happy. In order to put one anxiety to rest, he called upon Nolan. As soon as he opened the door, he knew he had been wrong to call; his whole being cried out to declare his love for Nolan. But a voice from the sitting room called out and he knew that Nolan had a new boy-friend. So he just told him that he had met a lovely girl and was going to marry her.

"Congratulations," said Nolan, without irony. "I hope you will both be very happy. And don't worry, I'm not going to come blackmailing you. But forgive me if I don't ask you in; Eddie is very jealous."

The weeks went by, the date for the wedding was fixed and they had been to look at houses.

Ash started his third year of university feeling very forlorn and lonely without Luke. And then one day one of the lecturers produced some material about the woollen trade in Bradford, which included several newspaper clippings about the firm of Neville and Hargreaves. I wonder, thought Ash, could it be?...

He went on thinking this for some time, and then thought, well, damn it all, I need to know. So he wrote a letter.

"Dear Mr Neville,

"I am a third year student of Politics and Economics, and have a particular interest in the Woollen trade in Yorkshire. Might it be possible for me to visit your Mill, to see it in action, and to ask you some quite general questions about the kind of work you do?

"Yours sincerely,

"A. Farrar."

He gave his University address rather than his home address. He also grew a small and rather unconvincing moustache.

He received a business-like letter from Mr Neville, inviting him to visit the Mill during the following week. He arrived and went, as he had been instructed, to the general office on the upper floor of the Mill. He knocked on the door and a voice called "Come in." He entered, and as he did so a young man sitting at a desk facing the door looked at him and turned pale. It was Zak, looking as if he could not believe his eyes.

However, one of the secretaries had rung through to Mr Neville to say that his visitor had arrived, and Neville came through and shook Ash's hand cordially.

Ash was very glad that he had prepared himself carefully, and he had to admit that as far as it went the Mill was a well run and successful business. He was given a guided tour of the premises, and then spent some time gleaning facts and figures. At least, he thought, even if Zak doesn't want anything to do with me now, it won't have been a wasted journey.

But when Mr Neville returned him to the office and wished him good-bye, he walked over to Zak's desk and held out his hand.

Zak looked at him, wonderingly. "Ash?..." he said softly, "is it really you?"

"Yes," replied Ash. "Do you have time for a chat?"

"Not here," said Zak. "Can you meet me this evening?"

They agreed to meet at the Crown and Anchor, a pub on the edge of Bradford. Ash booked a room there for the night as he doubted that he'd be able to get back to Birmingham until the next day and he didn't fancy spending the night on a station platform.

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