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The Question

by Kit

Chapter 8

On Wednesday evening, freshly showered and shaved, I dressed and looked at myself in the mirror. Being unsatisfied with what I saw, I undressed, chose different clothes and redressed. This cycle of undressing and redressing took place at least two more times before I left my room to go to Quay Street. Even then I wasn't exactly satisfied with how I looked, but as I was running out of time I decided that turning up late would be worse than not looking my best.

The nervousness and excitement that had removed my appetite and made me skip dinner in Hall also made my stomach churn and my head buzz as I rode the bus into the city centre. I had no realistic expectations for the evening and wasn't even totally confident that Derek would turn up. On the other hand, that lack of expectations didn't successfully suppress the frequent upsurge of hope in my breast that something good might happen. However, I didn't allow myself to speculate on what exactly that 'something good' might be.

Arriving at the almost-deserted Angels shortly after nine o'clock, I ordered a Guinness and sat at a table to wait for Derek. By nine thirty I'd finished my drink and was beginning to regret missing dinner. This was not because I was hungry but because the combination of nerves and drinking on an empty stomach was making me feel a little light-headed. About ten minutes later, just as I had decided that Derek wasn't coming, he swept into the bar, quickly glanced around, and as soon as he saw me he smiled and came toward me.

"Hi," he greeted me as soon as he reached my table. "No time for a drink here. We'd better hurry if we want to avoid paying the entrance fee. I told the others I'd meet them in the club."

As soon as I'd returned his greeting and before I could stand up, he turned and headed for the door. By moving quickly I managed to catch up with him before he exited the bar, and only then did it occur to me that this was the first time I'd ever seen him alone and without his usual entourage. He didn't speak as I closely followed him down the street, but as we approached the entrance to Storm he turned to me.

"It's members only," he said, "so I'll sign you in tonight. Don't worry if you don't want to become a member, though, cos a cute kid like you will always be able to find someone to sign him in."

Although I was somewhat pleased at being described as 'cute', I wasn't so pleased at the word 'kid'. Derek then nodded a greeting to the two hunky men, whom I presumed to be bouncers, in the wide doorway and went into the club with me close behind. A couple of yards inside the doorway was a counter, at which Derek signed me in and where we would have paid our entrance fee if we hadn't arrived before ten o'clock. The counter was at the near end of a wide, dimly lit hallway, which had a cloakroom on the left and a small shop on the right. The cloakroom charged a pound for looking after coats and bags, which I thought was a bit of a rip-off, but at least there on the counter was a basket containing free condoms. The shop sold gay magazines, a few books, some sex toys and, of course, lubricants and 'specialised' condoms.

I followed Derek along the hallway and into a large area, which judging by the loud music and flashing multicoloured lights, was the dance floor. There was a lot of wood and chrome, all of which seemed reasonably clean and relatively new. At that time on a Wednesday night there weren't many people in the club, and only a handful of them were dancing. I was later to discover that the rest of the club was spread over two floors. On the ground floor was the large dance floor, together with a couple of bars and some toilets, and upstairs were a couple of quieter bars, a lounge, a games room, a snack bar and more toilets.

A couple of young men near the bar on the opposite side of the dance floor waved in our direction, and Derek went to join them. When we reached them I saw that they were part of a group of about half a dozen men, all apparently in their twenties, who all greeted him warmly. Derek introduced me to them, though I quickly forgot their names. One thing that I noticed in passing was that there was no sign of Pat.

What I also noticed were the expressions on the faces of those who nodded their greetings to me as I was introduced. The majority of them just smiled briefly in a disinterested way, but a couple of them had predatory grins that me feel very uncomfortable, and one gave me a sad smile, almost as if he felt sorry for me. Then Derek offered to buy me a drink, and so began my first ever night in a gay club. Well, in truth it was my first ever visit to any sort of nightclub, gay or otherwise.

With all the excitement of the occasion and all the alcohol on an empty stomach, much of my time in the club went by in a happy haze. I enjoyed all the attention Derek paid to me and felt very proud that such a popular and attractive guy should want to socialise with me. He even took me upstairs for a quiet chat in the snack bar, where he bought me a sandwich, and during our conversation there I discovered that he was very knowledgeable on a whole host of topics. Several times I pinched myself, just to make sure that it wasn't all a dream.

Derek and his friends spent a good part of the evening dancing, but despite several invitations I just watched from the sidelines. Having never done any sort of dancing before, I knew that I'd make a complete fool of myself, especially if my clumsy attempts were compared to Derek's smooth and supple movements. On one occasion when the rest of the group was on the dance floor, I went to get myself another drink.

By that time the place had filled up a little, and I had to squeeze into an empty space at the bar next to a tall, well-dressed blond guy who appeared to be in his early twenties. When he spoke to me I was startled, not just by the fact that he should talk to me at all but also because of the closeness of his mouth to my ear. Such proximity disturbed me a little, even though I realised that it was just due to his need to be heard above the loud music.

"You should keep away from him," he said, sounding mildly inebriated but not actually drunk.

Deciding that it was best to ignore him, I kept my gaze fixed on the barman whose attention I was trying to attract.

"Derek," the man next to me persisted, bitterness in his voice. "He'll hurt you if you get too close. I've seen it before. Like moths to a flame. Happened to me as well. And the flame doesn't care."

Again I ignored him, guessing that he was probably merely jealous, either of Derek or of me being with Derek. Maybe he was someone Derek had rejected in the past. Maybe he was even a bitter ex-boyfriend. Whatever his motivation, I knew he was wrong about Derek, who I was sure would never deliberately hurt anyone. Realising that I was ignoring him, the man turned back to the bar and drank from what may have been a gin and tonic. As I turned away from the bar after getting served, the man spoke again, this time loud enough to be heard over the music even though he was no longer close to my ear.

"If you don't believe me," he said, now sounding definitely drunk, "just ask Pat."

Although his mention of Pat intrigued me a little, my curiosity was diminished by the happy feelings produced by the night's experiences and the amount of alcohol I'd imbibed. By the time I'd rejoined Derek and the group, I'd dismissed the whole incident as the ravings of a jealous drunk.

In response to my question soon after we entered Storm, Derek had informed me that it closed at two o'clock in the morning. Soon after one o'clock I noticed that the club, never more than half full on that week night, was getting less busy, and in fact a couple of Derek's friends had already gone home by then. At the start of the evening I'd had no expectation of what that night might bring, and my experiences so far had already been better than whatever vague and unformed hopes I might have had. Despite that, I was reluctant to leave before Derek. After all, the last bus back to Hall had gone long ago, and I was already condemned to paying for a taxi, so I had no reason to hurry away.

Shortly before two o'clock, the DJ played a slow, romantic song for the last dance of the night, and many of remaining dancers formed couples, holding one another and swaying together in time with the music.

"Come on," Derek said, taking my arm and gently pulling me onto the dance floor.

I didn't put up any resistance, not only because my inhibitions were reduced by alcohol, but also because even I could perform such a slow dance without making a fool of myself. Once on the dance floor, Derek pulled me against him, and because he was so tall his chin rested gently on the top of my head. As he held me quite tightly in his arms, this difference in our heights made me feel a little like a child with an adult, protected but also vulnerable.

As we swayed together, my stomach was pressed against his crotch and the hardness there gave me an erection, making me grateful for the dim lighting. After the music ended, I was reluctant to let go of him, but he gently pulled way. Then he surprised me by putting his fingers under my chin and tilting my head upward so that he could bend down and kiss me on the lips. It wasn't a passionate kiss, and his tongue flickered on my lips only briefly before it ended, but it made my spine tingle.

"You really are a sweetie," he said gently. Then, in a more business-like manner, he added, "But I have to go to work tomorrow. How would you like to meet up again on Friday night, same time, same place?"

"Okay," I agreed, so stunned that it came out as little more than a mumble.

It was only when I was in the taxi on the way back to Hall that I remembered that Frank had planned to visit that weekend. So the choice that lay before me was either to cancel his visit or not to keep to my arrangement to meet with Derek. Whichever option I choose, I would be letting someone down. I knew that Frank would be disappointed if he couldn't visit, but at least I could cancel in advance, whereas I didn't have Derek's phone number and so had no way to let him know that I couldn't turn up.

The very fact that I was even considering the options filled me with guilt, and even as I lay in my bed in the early hours of that morning, I still couldn't see a guilt-free path. So I tried to work out what was going on inside my own head. It occurred to me that being with Frank was like wearing a pair of comfortable old shoes, but being with Derek was like wearing a pair of new running shoes and not knowing where you were running to or how fast you'd get there.

Sex with Frank was enjoyable, pleasurable and relaxed, like taking a scenic tour in a comfortable car. Sex with Derek was as yet unknown, but the way things were going and the kiss hinted that more physical intimacy was a possibility. I cared for Frank a great deal and loved him as my best friend, but my feelings for Derek were quickly escalating toward what I'd always imagined as being 'in love'. Despite my previous decisions to avoid emotional bonding in order to reduce the risk of being hurt, I now wanted to know what it was like to be in love, and it seemed that couldn't happen while my sexual relationship with Frank continued.

Therefore, as a sop to my conscience and a partial salve to my guilt, I decided that I had to end my sexual interactions with Frank before I saw Derek again. My naivety and self-delusion enabled me to convince myself that I would thereby be doing the right thing and couldn't then be accused of cheating on anyone. So, I decided that when Frank made his expected phone call that night to make arrangements for the weekend, I had to be open and honest. After reaching that decision, I dozed off. Although I ended up missing not only breakfast but also my first lecture of the day, I wasn't concerned because I was so happy with the idea that someone as wonderful as Derek should want to see me again.

"Erm, I won't be able to see you this weekend," I said nervously when Frank called and immediately announced that he'd be arriving around seven o'clock on the Friday evening.

"What?" he asked, his voice showing his surprise. After a brief pause to gather his thoughts he continued, "I know we both need to study for exams, but we'll have time for study as well as fun this weekend."

"It's not that," I replied, wondering if he could detect the guilt in my voice. "I've met someone."

"Met someone?" he said, sounding puzzled.

"Yes," I replied, hoping that he'd know what I meant without me having to go into any details.

There was a period of silence which seemed very long to me at the time but which was in fact probably just a few seconds. When he eventually spoke again there was a note of dread and a hint of accusation in his voice, so I could tell that he was beginning to understand.

"You mean you've met a guy. And have you had sex with him?" he said.

"No. But I'd like to. I'm meeting him again tomorrow night."

"You're dumping me because you want to spend time with a guy you just met?" he asked incredulously.

"I'm not dumping you," I said, trying to ignore my feelings of guilt. "I just can't have sex with you if there's a chance I might start a relationship with someone else."

"Do you know how crazy you sound?" he asked, anger creeping into his voice. "You want to break up with me because you think there might be a chance for a possible relationship with a guy you just met."

"I've seen him a couple of times," I mumbled, trying feebly to justify myself.

There was a brief silence while he absorbed that information.

"And now you think you love him?" he asked, as if he could read my mind. Sadness combined with the now obvious anger in his voice. "You think you love him more than me?"

"I love you as a friend. But I think I could fall in love with Derek." I realised that there was no point in trying to explain my feelings any further, especially as I didn't really understand them myself.

"So that's his name is it?" he said, making no attempt to hide his anger. "You're dumping me for a guy called Derek?"

"I'm not dumping you," I protested, trying to remain calm. "I want to keep on being friends. Best friends. But we should just stop having sex. After all, we never made any commitments did we?"

"Well you certainly didn't!" he retorted.

I took a deep breath before replying.

"Look, you're a great person and I like you a lot," I said placatingly. "We've been best friends for ages and I really want us to stay best friends."

"That's typical of you, Ian, isn't it?" he replied bitterly. "It's all about what you want. You never think about what other people want or what they might need. You don't really care about anyone else. You treat people as if they're just there for your convenience and they're no more important to you than pieces on a chessboard. In fact, you're the most selfish person I know!"

For a few seconds I couldn't say anything because I was too stunned by his words and taken aback by the vitriol of his attack.

"That's not fair," I said eventually, that feeble protest being the only words I could find with which to defend myself from his accusations.

"Well, I'm not going to talk about it anymore now," he said with less anger and more sadness.

Then he immediately hung up, leaving me emotionally drained as well as mentally and physically exhausted. I decided to go to bed early, and I assumed that Frank would get back in touch when he'd calmed down and wanted to talk again.

On the Friday evening, I met Derek at Angels as we'd arranged. Again we went to Storm, where he played the perfect gentleman and paid for my entry as well as my first drink. As I'd expected, the club was very much busier than it had been on the Wednesday, and the dense crowding made me very uncomfortable. Apart from that, the night went much as it had on the Wednesday, except that I got a little drunker than previously. In any case, at two o'clock Derek and I ended the slow dance with a longer and more passionate kiss.

"Shall we share a taxi home?" he asked, gently rubbing his nose in my hair. "We can split the cost."

Although I had no idea where he lived or where his home was located relative to Hall, I'd told him which residence I was in, so I presumed that he considered his suggestion to be reasonable.

"Yeah, that would be great," I said.

When the last song ended we left the club together, and Derek led me to a taxi rank just around the corner. In the back of the taxi he gave the driver the address of my Hall, and as we set off he put his arm over my shoulders. At first I panicked a little and almost pulled away, fearing that the driver had noticed us being so intimate. However, Derek's hold tightened and he whispered in my ear.

"Relax. Most of the customers these drivers get are from Quay Street, so I'm sure he's seen guys cuddling on his back seat before."

By the time we'd got about half way back to Hall, I had indeed managed to relax a little and had even started to rest my head against Derek's shoulder, but I still felt somewhat self-conscious. At that point, Derek spoke again, so quietly that I just made out the words.

"Are you going to invite me in?" he asked.

My previous assumption that he would drop me off first and then continue on home was only partly due to my naivety. The major reason for me making that assumption was because I hadn't allowed myself to hope that someone like Derek would find me attractive. There was the fear that if I hoped for something too much then the very depth of that hope would curse me to disappointment. Also, even if he did find me attractive, I hadn't expected him to act on it so soon.

"Y-Yeah," I stuttered. "Of course."

For the rest of that journey one of Frank's favourite Pet Shop Boys songs, I Want A Lover , kept going around and around in my head. The lyrics described the excitement of riding home with a prospective new sexual partner without caring whether it's for love or just for sexual companionship. In my case, I hoped it was going to be love, but at the time I was prepared to settle for just sex.

As we approached our destination I directed the driver to the rear of the building, where Derek paid the fare and refused my offer of a contribution. He was clearly impressed when he saw that my room was so close to what was effectively my own private entrance, and he was even more impressed when he saw the size of my room.

"You're a lucky sod," he said as glanced around the room. "I wish I'd had a room like this when I was in university residences."

I blushed slightly and basked in his approval but couldn't think of an appropriate response so I said the first thing that came into my head. "Do you want tea or coffee?"

"I'm not really thirsty," he replied, grabbing my hand and pulling me close to him.

Then he kissed me deeply, and almost before I knew it we were naked in bed together. My memory of the transition to the bed and the removal of clothing is just a blur, perhaps caused the mixture of excitement, alcohol and sky-high hormone levels. What I do remember, though, is noticing that size of his penis was proportionate to his height and that it produced lots of leakage. It was also the second circumcised dick I'd ever seen in real life.

It didn't take long for us to progress to oral sex, but much to my embarrassment I ejaculated within a couple of minutes of his lips touching my dick. However, he didn't show any sign of disappointment or displeasure, so I rewarded him with the very best blowjob I could give. After just a few minutes of kissing and cuddling together we were both ready to go again.

"Shall we fuck?" he asked as he began fingering my anal sphincter.

The directness of his question shocked me, and I didn't know how to answer him. After all, Frank and I had taken months to get as far as anal sex, and I'd known Derek for only a few days. On the other hand, Derek was obviously much more experienced, knowledgeable and sophisticated in these matters, so maybe I was just naive in expecting a slower sexual progression. Another consideration was that I hadn't wanted to be on the receiving end with Frank, and I certainly didn't want to try it with Derek's considerably larger equipment. Then a thought occurred to me.

"I don't have any condoms," I said, trying not to sound relieved.

"Don't worry," he replied, "I grabbed a handful as we left the club. They're in my trouser pocket."

"Erm," I said hesitantly. "Well I don't, erm, like to get fucked."

"If you didn't like it the other guy probably wasn't doing it right. You'll like it when I do it," he replied confidently.

"There wasn't any other guy," I admitted, feeling embarrassed. "I've never been fucked."

"You've never even tried it?" he said, sounding a little surprised. "You're a virgin?"

"Only a virgin being on the receiving end," I said. Then I quickly added, "But I've had lots of practice giving."

"If you've not tried it how do you know you don't like it?"

"I just know," I replied, feeling somewhat foolish.

He was quiet for a while, and I could tell from the slight frown that I'd disappointed him. I was just beginning to wonder if I'd ruined everything when his expression brightened and he let me off the hook.

"Never mind," he said. "Tonight you can do me."

The rest of the night was extremely exciting and enjoyable, and when he phoned for a taxi home at around seven o'clock in the morning I was tired but elated. My euphoria was increased greatly when, just before leaving, he asked if I wanted to go out with him again on the following Friday night. Without any thought or hesitation, I told him that of course I did.

Although I'd no particular reason for doing so, I'd assumed that Derek would be alone when he met me at Angels. Thus I was a little surprised to see that not only was he with four friends but also that one of those friends was Pat. Based on my previous observations of his behaviour, I half expected Pat to be hostile toward me, but at least on the surface his initial attitude appeared to be one of indifference. Later that night I wondered if Pat's apparent indifference was just an act, because a few times I caught him looking at me with an expression that seemed to be a mixture of resignation and pity.

By the time we arrived at Storm, Derek's group of friends had grown to number about ten people, most of whom treated me with a combination of mild interest and casual politeness. Some of those who'd seen me with Derek previously seemed a little surprised to see me again, and when Derek whispered something to a couple of them they grinned at me in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. However, after drinking a few pints of Guinness and basking in Derek's attention for a couple of hours, I easily set aside my negative impressions of his friends.

As on the previous Friday, Derek and I swayed our way through the final slow dance together before we took a taxi back to Hall. The main difference this time was that Derek engaged in a heated but whispered discussion with Pat before we left the club. As soon as we got into my room, we rapidly undressed one another and fell onto my bed. Despite the late hour and the alcohol, our intensely passionate lovemaking made me feel more alive, mote vibrant and more excited than I'd ever felt in my life before.

Later, when his finger started playing around my anus, I playfully reminded him that his finger was okay but that nothing else would be allowed to enter. He just smiled as he slowly inserted the finger. I winced a little with the initial discomfort, but I soon relaxed. For the rest of our night of fun, I was relieved that he accepted my reminder and didn't even suggest using anything more than his single digit.

During the following couple of weeks Derek and I met six more times. On one such occasion we went to see a movie and had dinner in good restaurant, with Derek paying for all the food and wine. Needless to say, each meeting eventually ended up with us in bed together. His charm and intelligent conversation captivated me, and during our time together I was yet again amazed by his broad knowledge on so many topics.

He was also a very good listener, apparently genuinely interested in my past and my hopes for the future. Although I learned a lot from being with him, I found out very little about his personal life, and I didn't find out exactly where he lived. At the time I never gave that much thought, thinking only that he was a very private person and that eventually he would grow to trust me and open himself up to me. There was no doubt that I was falling in love with him and I desperately hoped he was feeling the same about me.

After Frank had abruptly ended our phone conversation, I assumed that eventually he'd calm down and that he would get back in touch when he was ready. So, partly out of a desire to avoid making things worse and partly out of cowardice, I waited for him to contact me. However, after almost two weeks I still hadn't heard from him, so I bit the bullet and phoned him.

Over a period of a couple of days I phoned him four or five times but he didn't pick up, so I left brief messages on his voice mail, asking him to phone me. When he hadn't returned my calls after two days, I grew concerned that maybe something had happened to him or even that he might be ignoring my calls. My last message was that I was worried about him and that I might phone his family's landline just to check that he was okay. Less than an hour after that message, he phoned me.

"What do you want?" he asked in a voice so cold that it sent shivers down my spine.

"I just wanted to check you're okay. It seems like ages since we last spoke".

"I think we've already said everything that we need to say," he said with a complete lack of emotion.

Before I'd called him, I'd given some thought to how he might react, but the dull monotone of his voice took me by surprise and upset me more than the anger and disappointment that I'd half expected him to show.

"C'mon, Frank, you're my best friend," I pleaded. "We really need to sort this out."

"Why?" he asked.

That caught me totally off guard and I couldn't immediately formulate an answer.

"Well?" he said, making it sound like an accusation rather than a question.

"We shouldn't let what happened spoil our friendship."

"What happened!" he responded with a hint of bitterness emerging from the earlier flat and uncaring tone. "You mean the fact you dumped me in favour of a guy you hardly know?"

"It's not like that," I protested feebly. "You and I were best friends having fun together. It's not like we were boyfriends."

"Yeah, it's all just fun and great times to you, isn't it? D'ya think I'd give myself to any of my friends just for a bit of fun?"

From the anger now in his voice I guessed that the previous dead monotone had been a facade behind which he'd been hiding his true feelings, and I wondered whether he'd been hiding them from me or from himself.

"Of course I don't think that," I said, trying to hide my exasperation. "Our friendship is very special."

"But no matter how much I did to show I love you," he said harshly, "you still don't love me."

For a moment I was confused, wondering what exactly he was referring to. Then I realised that all the things I'd perceived just as part of a close friendship had been of much greater significance to Frank. All the things that had been just affectionate fun for me had been much more meaningful to him. This sudden shift in perspective made me feel a little dizzy and almost nauseous.

"I told you, I love you as a friend," I said weakly.

"But you're not in love with me. Not like you seem to be with this, this Derek," he said, spitting out the name as if it were some bitter poison on his tongue.

" I'm not sure yet about me and Derek," I said as if explaining something to a child, "but you're not only my friend but my best friend ever."

"Not any more," he said sadly.

"Ya know," I said, trying to stay calm and be reasonable, "you'll be coming to Linchester soon. You'll be in a strange city surrounded by strangers, so it will make it much easier if we can stay friends."

"That's where you're wrong," he replied with a hint of triumph. "I changed my first choice a couple of days ago. I won't be going to Linchester."

"But, but," I stuttered, shocked at what I perceived as his complete over reaction to the situation.

"Now don't phone me again," he said firmly. "I don't want to talk to you and I won't let you use me anymore."

He hung up, and for a long time I remained sitting on my bed, staring blindly into space. As the initial stunned numbness faded, it was replaced by breathlessness and a sickly-dull pain in my gut, as if I'd been kicked in the stomach. I couldn't believe that Frank would throw away our friendship so easily, just because I didn't want to have sex with him anymore and because I was falling in love with someone else. Eventually, I recovered a little and told myself that at least I now had Derek.

A couple of days after that last phone call with Frank, I went out with Derek again. He took me out to a restaurant for dinner then we went to Barons, and from there we went on to Storm. During dinner Derek commented that I seemed to be a little distracted and, embarrassed, I told him I was sad about my lost friendship with Frank. Derek was very understanding, and for the rest of the night he was very considerate and even more charming than usual. When we ended the night in my bed he didn't get passionate immediately but instead held me gently in his arms and whispered in my ear.

"Do you love me?" he asked.

For the third time in my life that question was put to me and, as if by some conditioned reflex, I began to feel very apprehensive. My thoughts began to spin as I tried to consider how I should respond. Not only was I unsure what answer would be accurate, I was also trying to work out what Derek wanted to hear. For at least a couple of minutes I remained silent while I wondered what to say.

"Well?" he prompted.

"I, I think so," I replied truthfully.

"You only think so?" he asked, sounding very disappointed.

Obviously that hadn't been the reply he'd been hoping for, though at least his response indicated what answer he would have preferred. Again my brain went into overdrive. I honestly thought I was in love with Derek, but my experience of such things was limited and I wasn't really sure, especially as I'd known him for such a short time. Although the truth was important, it wasn't the only thing on my mind. Another consideration was that now my friendship with Frank was over, I couldn't bear the thought of alienating Derek as well. Derek was not only my lover he was now my closest friend and my only gay friend.

"Yes," I said as decisively as I could. "Yes, of course I love you."

"You're sure?" he asked in a teasing tone, sounding much happier.

"Yes, I'm sure," I responded and kissed him.

This began our usual passionate love making, which continued until Derek, who was licking my scrotum and fingering my anus suddenly stopped and spoke.

"Ya know," he said, pausing briefly before continuing, "Ya know, if you really love me there's a good way to show it."

"There is?" I asked, a little confused as my mind was pulled away from the distraction of my physical pleasure.

"Yes. If you really loved me you'd let me make love to you properly, make yourself mine completely by letting me put my cock inside you."

Immediately and involuntarily, my whole body tensed as I considered his words. It really wasn't something I wanted to do, but I didn't want to hurt him or make him think I'd lied about loving him. He clearly sensed my reluctance, because he spoke again, this time sounding a little hurt and almost pleading.

"After all," he said, "you've done it to me lots of times, so isn't it only fair?"

"Yeah, I guess it is," I eventually agreed. "Okay, then."

Despite the fact that he spent considerable time and effort getting me ready, and although he penetrated me very slowly, it was still a painful experience for me.

"This feels so good," he whispered into my ear when he was completely inside me. "Don't worry, you'll soon start to enjoy it."

Actually, though I let him do it several times over the next few days, I never learned to enjoy it, but at least it became less painful. During the week following that momentous event in my life, I saw Derek three times However, instead of meeting him in the city he came directly round to my place, and instead of going out he brought a bottle of wine that we drank before making love. The week after that I saw him only once, when he came around late at night, without wine but already apparently mildly inebriated.

After that I didn't see him for over a week. He either didn't answer his phone, in which case I left a message on his voice mail, or he answered very briefly just to say he was very busy and would phone me back. However, he never returned my calls. Once when he answered my call, I heard music and other sounds in the background that convinced me he was in a bar. I didn't need to be a genius to conclude that I'd almost certainly been dumped.

For several days after I reached that conclusion, my emotions were in turmoil, and I went over and over in my mind the things Derek and I had said and done together. I'd thought of my times with Derek as nights of passionate love, but now I gradually began to realise that they were probably just nights of intense animal lust. On the other hand, despite the evidence, there were times when I convinced myself that if I were patient, then Derek would start seeing me again.

My moods swung rapidly and repeatedly from one emotion to another. One moment I was so depressed that I could hardly get out of bed, and the next moment I was angry with Derek for the way he'd treated me. I was also furious at myself for falling for his charms, but most of all I bitterly regretted losing Frank's friendship over what in retrospect was just a sort of temporary insanity that I'd interpreted as love.

Many times I toyed with the idea of calling Frank and trying to mend our friendship, but I never actually did it. The reasons for my failure to act were many and complex, and not least among those reasons was my pride. The thought of begging his forgiveness was embarrassing enough, but if he refused to forgive me, as he had every right to do, then the embarrassment would have been unbearable. Also, even if we became friends again, I realised that our relationship had been irreparably damaged and that he'd never trust me again.

It occurred to me that perhaps no interaction at all was better than a crippled relationship. Furthermore, now that he'd withdrawn his application to come to Linchester University he probably couldn't change his mind even if he wanted to, so we would at best only manage a long-distance friendship. After much thought, I reached the sad conclusion that it would be better for both of us if the situation was left as it was and if we both got on with our separate lives.

During the subsequent days of melancholic introspection and self-indulgent misery, my studies suffered badly. Not only was I falling behind in my course work but my exams were less than a month away. Although those exams wouldn't count toward my final degree, I had to pass them all in order to get onto the second year courses that I wanted. So I decided that I needed to do something to get myself functioning normally again. The eventual decision about what I should do wasn't based on logic but on a visceral need. I had no illusion that any direct practical benefit would be derived from my chosen course of action. However, I hoped that by making me feel better it would enable me to move on with my life and to concentrate on my studies. My decision was that I should confront Derek face to face.

Therefore, one Friday night, filled with determination but so nervous that I had to concentrate to stop my body shaking, I went down to Quay Street. Having spent an hour and drunk two pints of Guinness in Angels without seeing Derek, I went over to Barons. There he was, sitting in one of the alcoves with four friends, including Pat. One of the friends saw me enter the bar, nodded in my direction and said something to Derek. Then the whole group turned to stare at me.

Derek frowned in annoyance, and the expression on Pat's face gave me the impression that I was the last person he'd ever want to see. The other three looked amused, and one of them gave me the sort of smile that I might expect to see on a boy who was enjoying pulling the wings off a fly. With a pounding heart, I took my courage in both hands and walked toward the group. As I approached their table, Derek said something, and then they all finished off their drinks and stood up.

"Hey," I said directly to Derek and ignoring the others. I was immediately ashamed of myself because all I could manage was a feeble greeting, despite all the little speeches I'd been rehearsing since I'd decided to confront him.

"What are you doing here?" Derek asked, making no attempt to suppress his irritation.

"I came to talk to you," I replied, forgetting everything that I'd planned to say.

"You're too late, then," he said. "We're just leaving."

They all started to move past me, heading toward the door. However, amazing myself with my own audacity, I stood at the entrance to the alcove directly in front of Derek, thereby blocking his way. No doubt he could easily have pushed past me but he didn't, possible because he was reluctant to cause a scene. Pat, looking very uncomfortable, hovered close to Derek, but the other three had got about half way to the exit before they noticed that Derek wasn't with them.

"You were just using me, weren't you?" I said, staring directly into Derek's eyes.

"We used each other," he said unconvincingly. "It was just a bit of fun and now it's over."

"I thought you loved me," I said, and immediately realised how pathetic that sounded.

"I never said I loved you, did I?" he said, smirking as if scoring a point in a debate.

"But you asked me if I loved you," I countered.

"That's not the same thing, is it?" he replied, smirking even more. "Anyway, how could I ever love you when I've already got a boyfriend?"

With that he put his arm possessively around Pat's shoulders, and then they both brushed past me and headed toward the door. Stunned, I just stood there and watched them leave. Just before he disappeared through the doorway, Pat turned to look at me, and in that brief moment I thought I saw a mixture of pity and guilt on his face. Then, still shocked, I sat down in the empty alcove. I'm not sure how long I'd been there staring blankly at the tabletop when I heard a voice close by.

"Would you like a drink?"

At first I ignored it, assuming that whoever it was must be talking to someone else, but then I noticed the shadow of someone standing close to the table. I looked up into the face of a young man. but I didn't recognise him until he spoke again.

"Can I buy you a drink?" asked the man who, seemingly aeons ago at one of Storm's bars, had warned me to stay away from Derek.

"N-No thanks," I said, frowning to make it clear I wasn't in the mood for socialising.

"Don't worry, I'm not trying to chat you up," he said with a friendly smile. "In fact I'm just waiting for my boyfriend to arrive."

I didn't reply, but I did allow my frown to fade.

"I saw what happened," he said, "and thought you might like a drink and maybe even someone to talk to."

"Oh, okay, then," I said, not very graciously. "I'll have a brandy."

Actually, I'd hardly ever had brandy before except at home, when it had been greatly diluted in warm water for 'medicinal purposes', and I didn't particularly like it. However, the idea of brandy had just popped into my head as the sort of thing someone might drink in such traumatic situations. The young man, obviously more sober than the last time he'd spoken to me, went to the bar and returned a few minutes later with a brandy and what appeared to be a gin and tonic for himself.

"Thanks," I said as he put my drink in front of me then sat down opposite me.

"You're welcome," he responded with a smile. "My name's Mike, by the way."

"Mine's Ian," I said, then took a drink from my glass.

Being unused to drinking spirits, the fiery liquid nearly made me choke, which made me even more embarrassed than I already was. Fortunately, Mike made no comment but instead just gave a tiny smile then drank from his own glass. As I took a more tentative sip of my brandy, I thought to myself that if he said 'I told you so' or any variation thereof then I'd leave immediately.

"You don't have to say anything if you don't want to," Mike said, "but it may or may not be comforting to hear that you're not the only one to be taken in by Derek."

I didn't say anything, but he could obviously tell from the way that I looked at him that I was at least a little interested in what he was saying.

"Derek likes the thrill of the chase and the triumph of the conquest. Maybe he even puts notches on his bed post," he said then gave a wry smile. "But if it's any consolation, you lasted longer than most."

I remained silent but looked at him quizzically, raising my eyebrows.

"Ah," he continued as if he'd suddenly thought of something. "Maybe you were a virgin and played hard to get. Derek is particularly fond of virgins. He can be very charming and can be quite patient and skilled in getting what he wants."

I was amazed that Mike seemed to know exactly what had happened between Derek and me.

"How do I know all this?" he asked, apparently reading my expression. "Because I was once in your position. I was eighteen, a total virgin, and Derek swept me off my feet. Fortunately, I eventually met someone who restored my faith in human nature."

Something had been niggling at the back of my mind and as Mike seemed so knowledgeable I decided to ask him. "But what about Pat? Surely he's not really Derek's boyfriend?"

"Depends how you define 'boyfriend' and whether you think Derek is capable of loving anyone apart from himself. They live together, and I guess when Derek isn't with anyone else they sleep together. Of course, Derek keeps that secret from his potential conquests because it would probably spoil his chances if they knew."

"And Pat's okay with all that?" I asked incredulously.

"Well, as you can guess, Pat and I never talk," he responded wryly. "In fact I don't associate with any of their crowd. Those who hang around with Derek tend not to be very nice people. Anyway, I guess if Pat didn't agree with what might be called their 'open relationship' then Derek would probably dump him, so it's a choice Pat has to make."

We didn't say much more because shortly after that Mike's boyfriend, Paul, turned up and they both went off to Storm. They invited me to go with them, but I definitely wasn't in the mood for socialising and went straight back to Hall.

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