On Monday night, the bus from Harpenden back to Stevenage via Welwyn Garden City was more or less empty, so Max and Gavin sat in the back and held hands.
‘Odd place,’ Max observed.
‘The Garden City.’
‘Just the name. Do y’know, I was in school with a kid whose parents called him Welwyn. I mean!’
‘It gets worse. Point is, his surname was Dowd. His life was a misery once he got to Year 10.’
Max grinned broadly. It took a while for Gavin to get it. The silent shaking of his shoulders told Max when the penny dropped. Gavin wiped his eyes. ‘Popular boy, was he?’
‘Unfortunately his name did not match his equipment. So, no.’
Gavin had been a hit with Max’s parents, which made both boys happy. The fact that Alf and Miri Jamroziak were Rothenian, and Gavin had been able to converse fluently with them in their native language, had settled things in his favour from the word go.
As they were helping wash up after dinner, Max had observed, ‘So not all your skills are gone, then.’
Gavin frowned. ‘I was surprised. I just opened my mouth and Rothenian came out. Of course, when I was Enoch, my mind read people’s thoughts and I could understand anyone, whatever nationality. But it seems that seven years of living amongst Rothenians had a long-term effect on my understanding of the language. Learning without the pain! If only it had been Wales. I always wanted to learn Welsh.’
‘Price. My name! It’s Welsh. My ancestors were from somewhere near Cardigan.’
‘Oh yeah! Andy told me. You’re descended from a line of princes and poets.’
‘Like most Welshmen. But we used to have holidays in Tenby and Laugharne when I was a kid. I really liked it.’
‘That’s why you were keen to go hill-walking this summer.’
‘Yeah. I’m part goat, me.’
‘I know which part, too.’
‘Don’t be rude.’ They had cuddled and kissed in the kitchen, and Mrs Jamroziak had just smiled at them.
‘So tomorrow, Max?’
‘The Freshers’ Fair.’
‘Oh yeah, that. We’ll just stand around and be social to any kid who turns up. They expect me to take it on, but I’m not gonna. It’s my final year. It’d be crazy to try to resurrect the society while so much depends on my class of degree. It could screw me long-term. No, maybe Tommy will take it on, or Chrissie or one of the others. Apparently there are a few queers in the second year, so Phil was saying.’
Gavin looked serious, but nodded his agreement. ‘You’re right, I know. It just seems a shame. Gay socs are important.’
‘I realise that, sweets. Did you go to the one in Cranwell when you started?’
‘Yes. That was where I met Henry for the first time. There were quite a lot of gays in my year. But then, Cranwell’s so much bigger than this place, 12,000 students to Stevie’s 4,000. They had masses of events: socials, film viewings, speakers and coaches laid on for concerts and gay nights in Brighton and London. ‘Course they also had the King’s Cross as a venue. I’m only now realising how lucky we were back then.’
‘Even despite that horrible landlord?’
‘Frank, yeah. I don’t miss him!’
‘Look, we're home, baby! Here’s the first Stevenage roundabout.’
Alasdair settled himself with a creak on a collapsible chair which, fortunately, did not do so as it shouldered his weight. ‘Chrissie!’ he called.
Chris pushed towards him through the press in the hall. Societies were setting up their stalls. Sports Union was as usual well represented, with fit men and women in trackies and team tops stacking leaflets, hanging banners and fixing up boards. One or two freshers were already there in advance of the crowd. GameSoc had its table up too, drawing very different types for the most part. Then there were the social action and Christian Union crowds. And in a corner on a bare table, Alasdair had taped a home-made LGBT SOC sign, drawn on two A3 sheets he had had stolen from the drawer of a library Xerox machine. Chris had carefully filled in the letters, each in a different colour of the rainbow.
Alasdair was slightly embarrassed. ‘Haven’t we got any flags, banners or stuff? I’m bloody sure there were some when we arrived in first year.’
‘Pinched,’ shrugged Chris, ‘or possibly burned. I dunno. Is it just us two?’
‘Tommy and Jammy said they might turn up.’
‘Oh, great. Well at least we’ll have glamour of one sort or other. What happened to the copy of that Attitude issue with Jammy on the cover?’
Alasdair looked shifty. ‘Couldn’t find it.’
‘You cut out the pictures, didn’t ya!’
‘Said I lost it,’ was the sullen reply.
‘No sweat.’ Chris looked round. ‘We’d better just stand behind the table, then.’
‘Jammy’s got a new guy.’
Chris rolled his eyes. For a man who rarely moved far from his laptop, Alasdair learned things going on around the campus surprisingly fast. ‘Back with Miles, is he?’
‘I said a new guy. Becky in Marketing saw Jammy with this little bloke at the station when she was driving past with her dad.’
‘Little bloke? She say any more than that?’
‘No, just little. It was dark.’
‘It might just have been some guy he was out drinking with.’
‘She said they were holding hands.’
Chris couldn’t keep the disappointment out of his voice, which was a pity as Alasdair picked up on it. He gave a glance in his friend’s direction. ‘Supposed you were in with a chance?’
‘Nah … yeah.’
‘Which is it?’
Chris replied gruffly, ‘I thought there was a connection with Jammy. I mean, we ended up in bed that once.’
‘Only because you both passed out on it at Craig’s nineteenth.’
‘I touched up his dick in the night.’
‘He was fully clothed.’
‘I still had my hands on his cock … oh fuck, I’m boning up.’
‘You know what you are, Chrissie? A total romantic. You always gotta fall for the unattainable. Why don’t you just get real this once? No male model is gonna make a pass at you, ya daft tit.’
Chris’s pale and mottled face went bright red and sullen. ‘Who the fuck are you to tell me who I can or cannot lust after!’
‘Excuse me,’ a small voice interjected. Alasdair and Chris paused and turned. An apologetic, nondescript-looking youth had edged towards their table. ‘Is … er, this the … er, university gay society. I’m gay … I think. How does one join?’
Alasdair’s jaw sagged and snapped back up. ‘How does one join? You kidding me?
The boy rattled on oblivious, now he had got started. ‘It seemed a good idea to get here early, before the hall filled up. One likes to avoid notice, or at least – and no offence intended to either of you – if one is somewhat uncertain precisely where one stands sexually.’
Chris rallied. ‘Somewhat uncertain?’
‘Yes. I’ve been on the web and I believe that some LGBT societies add a Q to their title, signifying “Questioning” or some such word. At first I thought it stood for “Queer”. Natural mistake, I suppose. I do hope I don’t sound patronising or noncommittal, especially to such established, out gays as you gentlemen seem to be.’
‘You have a name?’
‘Oh yes, several. But it’s usually Rupert.’
‘Rupert,’ reflected Alasdair. ‘I shoulda guessed if you hadn’t told me. That or Jasper, Hugo or Giles.’
‘Actually,’ smiled the fresher shyly, ‘Hugo and Giles are two of my other names! Isn’t that an amazing coincidence? You’re awfully clever, er …?’
‘Alasdair, and this is Chris.’
‘A great pleasure.’ The fresher held out his hand. They shook it limply. ‘Perhaps you have a programme of events, some leaflets?’ He looked around hopefully.
‘Nah,’ responded Alasdair, ‘This is sorta like a contact point. But Chrissie here will take your mobile number, er … Rupert. You in hall?’
‘Yes. I was very lucky. I hadn’t expected to come to Stevenage, and got in on clearing only three weeks ago. It was my good luck that there were cancellations for rooms on campus and so I got a nice place in Brinkley House. Anyway, it’s been quite an experience talking to you both; first foot out of the closet and all that sort of thing. I feel decidedly liberated. Thank you.’
‘No problem, er … Rupert. Be in touch.’
The slight figure disappeared. Chris stared at Alasdair. ‘Not our usual sort, is he? I mean, do yer think he’s got off the train at Stevenage accidentally, and thinks it’s the LSE or the Courtauld or something?’
Alasdair shook his head. For a while they chatted desultorily, until a sharp glance from Alasdair over his shoulder warned Chris that Jammy Max was approaching. His heart gave a few extra thumps and his stomach felt empty. He turned. Max was with a strange kid who looked as though he was hardly old enough to be at uni. He seemed to Chris to want to hide behind Max as they neared the table.
‘Good summer, Chrissie?’
Chris struggled for mental equilibrium. ‘Oh … wha? Oh yeah. Okay I guess.’
‘Guys, this is Gavin, my boyfriend.’ Everybody said hello, or rather ‘hi!’, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
Alasdair gave Gavin a careful once over. ‘So Gavin, you just starting, yeah?’
Gavin blushed but struggled out with, ‘Er … yeah … sociology.’
‘So how did you and Jammy meet?’
‘Er … on … er, holiday in Rothenia last year.’
Max intervened. ‘I was staying there with family. Gavin was on like work experience.’
Alasdair looked puzzled. ‘Bit of a coincidence him holding a Stevenage place, wasn’t it?’
Max smiled. ‘Gav decided to come here after we hooked up. Sweet, huh?’
‘Very romantic. Hope it works out for yer.’ Alasdair looked around. ‘The fair’s filling up. We only had one enquiry so far. Odd guy.’
‘Rupert, he called himself. Talked really weird.’
‘Yes,’ confirmed Alasdair. ‘It’s called grammar, Chrissie.’
They became aware of a sudden silence behind them in the hall, followed by an audible sharp intake of breath from a hundred freshers.
‘Hey guys!’ Tommy was sashaying rather elegantly towards them in a strap dress that fitted his slim body and long legs rather well. He had on high heels and a chiffon scarf that was draped round his neck. ‘Would have been here earlier, but I needed to shave the legs. Hi Gav! Good to see you again!’
Tommy looked around, apparently surprised to notice a couple of hundred people staring at him. With no makeup or wig, he was clearly not attempting to do more than dress feminine.
‘Do I get a chair, Chrissie?’
‘Yeah, sure.’ Chris took one from a rather resentful group around the Christian Union table and put it next to Alasdair. Tommy sat there with his legs apart, man fashion, and Gavin struggled to avoid looking up his skirt.
‘So have we sorted out who’s to be president and stuff?’
‘I vote for you, Tommy,’ smiled Max.
‘Sorry, Jammy. Meself, I think Alasdair is the perfect candidate.’
‘No way, mate.’
‘Oh come on,’ Tommy exclaimed. ‘It’s important. Look, here’s another stray. Hiya, doll!’
A very timorous boy was edging towards them, and nearly ran away at Tommy’s cheerful greeting. He all but whispered, ‘Is er … this er, the Gay Society?’
Gavin’s heart went out to the nervous eighteen-year-old. He remembered all too well his own catastrophic coming-out at Cranwell. He caught the boy’s eyes and gave him a warm smile.
Chris in the meantime had engaged with the newcomer. ‘Yes, this is us. You gay then?’
The boy was flummoxed into silence.
What’s your name?’
‘It’s Peter … Peter Lewis.’
Recognising the soft, musical accent, Gavin’s smile broadened. He leapt in. ‘You’re Welsh!’ The boy nodded. ‘I’m Gavin, this is Max, my boyfriend, and these are Chris, Alasdair and Tommy. What part of Wales are you from?’
‘It’s a town between Cardiff and Swansea. Not very big.’ He dried up.
‘Not a great place to be gay then.’
‘No, not really.’
Chris snorted. ‘Stevie’s not much better either, kid. Can I have your mobile number, mate? We’re still working on the term’s events. Soon as we have a venue, we’ll let ya know whassup.’
Peter gave his details and Chris went back to arguing with Alasdair. Tommy and Max were chatting. The Welsh boy looked lost. He began to edge hesitantly away.
Knowing what Henry would have done in the old days, Gavin made a decision. He followed after Peter and took his arm. ‘Hey, would you like a drink with me, a coffee or something?’
A shy smile answered him. ‘Thanks. Yes. It’s Gavin, isn’t it? Where do you go for drinks?’
‘The coffee bar’s through there. Come on.’
They got their cups and found a table. Drawing words out of Peter was like pulling teeth, but eventually it emerged that he was doing English, that he had got in on minimal grades and was scared rigid at the academic demands about to be made on him. ‘But you see, I had to get away from home. My mam and da, they’d found … stuff on my laptop. There were huge rows. My da’s president of the local rugby club. I mean me … can’t even catch a ball, so I was a big disappointment already. Then it turns out he’ll never be a granddad either cos I’m a queer.
‘The last months have been hell. I went to live with my auntie. She was good to me, and got the forms signed and stuff. I should feel relieved to be away … but I just feel totally lost.’
‘Did you have a boyfriend?’
Peter blushed. ‘No. I’d have loved to meet another boy like me. There must have been some, even in small-town Glamorgan, but I couldn’t work it out and there was nowhere to ask.’
‘Maybe you’ll have more luck here.’
‘You’re the first gay man I’ve ever talked to … that I knew was gay. You’re nice.’ Peter blushed beetroot red.
‘It was a brave thing, what you just did.’
‘More desperate really.’
Gavin liked this boy. He was average in height and looks, mousy hair cut below his ears. He was obviously depressed and shy, but when his smile broke through the barrier of reserve, it lit up his face nicely.
‘You’ll make some guy really happy one day.’
Peter said nothing, just blushed deeper and stared down into his cappuccino.
Gavin knew what he must do. It was inevitable really. ‘We’ll be having a meeting next Tuesday evening to set up the society.’
‘Oh! Are you the president?’
‘I think I may be the only candidate.’
Peter’s smile kindled again. ‘You’ve got my vote.’
‘Give me your mobile number. Just ring if you’re lonely. This is our address, mine and Max’s. Come round and talk if it all gets a bit much.’
Max looked up into Gavin’s eyes. ‘You sure about this?’
‘What? Going on top?’
‘Well, that too.’
‘I’m feeling assertive and all fired up.’
‘That’s because you took charge, sweets. How will I live with the consequences of a dominant Gav? My poor bum.’
Gavin laughed at the plaintive look on Max’s face. ‘You like it really.’
‘So? But I see a pattern here.’
‘When we fucked outdoors, like on that mountain in Scotland, it was always you on top. You get off on the risk thing. You more or less exploded in me when you spotted that group of ramblers heading for our peak. No complaints, though. It was awesome sex!’
Gavin, already naked, applied himself to removing Max’s clothing. ‘So where’s the risk in running LGBT Soc?’
‘Well, probably none. But it means you have to be directive and stuff. Not exactly in my Gav’s character. No offence.’
‘You’re really hard now, baby. Legs back. Go for it. Wow! Ouch! Not so fast! Oooooh! Oh yeeah, more of that.’
Conversation ended and primal activities took over for quite a while. Gavin fell on top of Max’s chest after his second intense ejaculation and dozed briefly. He came round to see a loving face still looking down at him. They kissed.
‘That was amazing, Gavness!’
‘Always and every time with you, my little love boat. There’s something extra when we do it together, better than with Miles, or even with Davey Skipper.’
Gavin crawled up his tall lover and snuggled into him, kissing his cheek. ‘You know when we had sex when we were … sorta transformed?’
‘Back in Rothenia?’
‘Hmm. It was unbelievable, wasn’t it?’
‘Legendary, baby. I mean, we had wings and superhuman strength … and super-size dicks; pity they’ve gone. But the sex had an extra thing … difficult to describe.’
‘I know what you mean. It was more than bodies joining, it was almost as if I was looking out through your eyes, as if we were one creature locked in ecstasy.’
Max nodded. ‘And it hasn’t entirely gone for me. How about you?’
Gavin hugged him. ‘No. When I climax, it’s still the same. I melt into you, not just come inside you. And you climax too, always at exactly the same moment as I do and without even being touched.’
‘And there’s the other thing.’
‘Pardon my squelching.’
Gavin blushed for some reason. ‘You mean the … er, quantity?’
‘You pump out two or three times the amount of cream that other guys do and you recharge so quickly.’
‘I think it was part of the compensation package after it was all over. I mean, if we were just left with the memory of sex like that, it would have been cruel.’
‘Well, we deserved the luck, Gav, after all we went through. Feel up to it again?’
‘Really? I should say so. On your tummy this time, so I’d better drain Lake Max from your belly button before we do it.’
The first week of study took Gavin aback. There was a small cohort of students pursuing sociology at Stevenage, and they shared modules with students from several other courses within Life Science. It was not at all like red-brick Cranwell, where the sociology department had been large – nearly a hundred students in his year alone. Here at Stevenage there was an air of confusion about the programme. The lecturers were young, but overworked and distracted. The head of programme’s opening address to his fourteen students seemed downbeat and negative about other aspects of the university. Gavin had enrolled on a course with problems, or so it seemed to him.
At Max’s urging, he reluctantly went to the freshers’ disco, where he stood alone in a corner nursing a drink. He didn’t see Peter Lewis, much to his disappointment. He imagined Peter was hiding in his room in halls. He watched the lights rippling across the crowded dance floor, and listened with some detached interest to the mixes spun by the London club-land DJ. Long before ten he slipped away. This was not his scene.
The other new thing for Gavin was the necessity to attend class and prepare for it. It had been quite a while since he had exercised that sort of self-discipline, and unlike Max and Henry, it did not come naturally to him.
Max sat him down and guided him through the online course handbooks. Gavin ordered his textbooks from Amazon, and drew up a timetable. Max patted him on the head. ‘It’s a start, sweets,’ he approved.
Gavin was a lot more determined about his engagement with LGBT Soc. He arranged an interview with the Union sabbatical president and secured a grant. The president was quite enthusiastic about a resurrected gay society; he had all sorts of plans for cross links with counselling and social-action groups. Thinking of Chris, Alasdair, Rupert and Peter, Gavin could not get his own hopes on the subject up to that sort of pitch.
Using a terminal in the library he created a leaflet and posters, which the Union printed off nicely. Then he went round the campus tacking them up on boards and even on tree trunks, which at Stevenage seemed to attract a multi-coloured layer of fliers. Several students of both sexes came up and chatted amiably as he did so, though whether because they were gay or just supportive was not something Gavin could work out. He was encouraged, however.
Tuesday came, and he had booked one of the Union’s small function rooms for the first LGBT meeting. Max had been active too, putting out the word to the remnants of the previous year’s society in no uncertain terms that they were expected to attend. He also contributed to the crisps, wine boxes and six packs that were the inducement for Chris and Alasdair to appear.
Gavin got increasingly nervous.
‘It’ll be alright, sweets. Don’t you worry. I’ll be with you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. What did Henry say?’
Henry Atwood, Gavin’s former lover, had been e-mailing Gavin constantly since he had heard the news. As former president of an LGBT group, a much bigger concern than Stevenage’s, he had been full of advice for activities.
‘He said you’d be a great social secretary.’
Max laughed, ‘For you I'll do it. Will that help?’
Gavin relaxed a little. ‘Yes, a lot.’