Striding out into the street, I banged the door shut behind me. Alex, my flat-mate for the last two years, had asked me to move out so her boyfriend could move in. It was her apartment and we had never been close, but it had been my Edinburgh home since the second year of university. Now, two months after graduation, I was homeless, short on friends and in need of a new start.

I exaggerate. I wasn’t homeless. My parents still kept my room as I left it. But that was near York, 200 miles away. Also, Alex hadn’t evicted me on the spot. I had known it was coming for a couple of months. My Dad had collected most of my belongings four days ago and left me with a suitcase of essentials. But the lack of friends and the need for reinvention. That was real.

I booked a cheap hotel room for two nights to give me time to decide: Edinburgh, York or somewhere new? It would have helped to have a job lined up or to know what job I wanted. Instead, I was drifting. It was 10 o’ clock, there was nothing on TV and the hotel Wi-Fi was barely fast enough to check my email, let alone watch Netflix. Hoping for comfort, I texted Matt.


The dried sweat flowed off me in the shower. Guitars and falling water clashed as the music from my bedroom came through the open door. It was my first week of living on my own after three years in student housing and a six-week tour of Australia with some course-mates. Now, I was renting my own house and the novel privacy hadn’t yet worn off — hence showering with the bathroom door open.

I checked my phone as I came back into my room and then tossed it onto the bed. A brief “hello” from Jess but nothing else. I had resisted checking my phone during three hours of tennis, struggling to ignore it at the change of ends, in a vain hope that there would be a message or missed call from Izzy when I finished. We had been on a couple of coffee dates over the last two weeks and on Tuesday night I had taken her to the local arthouse cinema. Then she had gone quiet. After three days of reacting to the slightest vibration in my pocket, or just randomly prodding my home button, I was still not ready to accept that she had lost interest.

Lying on my bed, after half an hour of distracted reading, I remembered that I still hadn’t responded to Jess. I didn’t really want to talk to her, not by text and certainly not on the phone or Skype, but I convinced myself that if I replied to that message then Izzy would reply to mine.


Fucking Matt. Ten, perhaps fifteen, minutes had passed and no response. There wasn’t anyone else I could try. I checked websites, Instagram, Facebook; acting on autopilot. Nothing of interest. Just a deadening passage of time. Distraction stopped me worrying about the decisions needed.

I checked the time, put my phone down and turned over in bed. Immediately, my phone spread dim light into the darkened room. A message from Matt. His familiar greeting: “Hi, how are things?”

I replied, “Good. Sort of. Me and Alex broke up so she could be with her boyfriend. But I have you in a hotel room. So that’s OK.” I left him to work it out.

After a few minutes of silence, I sent, “Sorry, weird joke. I moved out so Alex’s boyfriend could move in. Staying in a hotel tonight and tomorrow. Not sure what’s next.” Time continued to pass. I added, “Matt, I could do with a friend. Can you talk?”


I don’t believe in superstition in the same way that I don’t believe in God. From a scientific perspective, it’s nonsense but, at the same time, you can’t be sure. So I still offer deals to the fates and allow myself to read meaning into coincidence. Less than thirty seconds after I texted Jess, a message came through from Izzy. She was sorry that she hadn’t been in touch and sorry that whatever. She didn’t want to see me again and Jess was bugging me with her cryptic flirtations.

I tossed my phone to the other side of the bed and turned off the light. It vibrated again. Jess again. Then once more. Jess was still being as vague as ever. Even when we were at school, she would send these weird messages saying things like, “I was just thinking about you” or “Just getting ready for bed,” apropos of nothing. When I replied, the conversation trailed off quickly and, eventually, I decided that she was messing with me in some obscure way. This time however, she did at least seem to want to talk.


He replied, asking what was wrong. I tried to explain but it kept coming out badly. Angrier with Alex than I really was. Resentful of my parents for no reason. Bitter about my course-mates and their fast-track graduate placements. All about other people rather my own uncertainties. Three times, I deleted the message and started again. Eventually I just sent “Being a grown-up is shit” and put my phone on the bedside table.

I didn’t expect a reply. Matt never knows what to say if you don’t ask a question. It took me years of stilted conversation to work that out. If you don’t ask a question, you should give him something to analyse. A block of text he can comment on, understand your problem and send a solution. But I didn’t want a solution. I just wanted to vent and then talk.

His reply: “Definitely.” An opening. I asked what was wrong. He told me about a girl, Izzy. She had dumped him for no clear reason. I sent my sympathies. This was new. We kept in touch less than I would like, but Matt never mentioned girlfriends. I guess it was old news now but I wanted to help. I said appropriate things. He sent a little gallows humour and some few smiley faces. Then he asked again, what was going wrong for me.


I was still no clearer as to why it was so important that Jess spoke to me tonight, but talking to her helped. Her oblique messages were frustrating but, when you needed support, she was reliable and fulsome. I tried again to ask what had upset her and we talked a little about how she missed her flat and didn’t want to live with her parents, about how her course-mates had won graduate positions, scholarships or other opportunities, and about how Alex and Tom were never that discrete anyway, so why did they need so much privacy now?

I commented on her grievances one by one, making a few suggestions along the way, and then I finished with, “Alex and Tom are indiscreet: Really? How so?”

All that came back was “Oh God. You should try living there. Sex on the sofa. Sex in the shower. And when they deign to use the bedroom — it’s noisy sex in the bedroom.”

I replied, “Hold on, you’re telling me you saw, or at least heard, all of that?”

“Saw the first one — Alex naked on her hands and knees. Heard the second and saw them leaving the bathroom together (trying to look innocent). DEFINITELY heard the third. REPEATEDLY.” And then she added, “That is, repeatedly over days and repeatedly on some nights”

I told her my closest comparison was a male housemate who insisted on going topless in summertime.


Worries about the future went unsolved, despite Matt’s sweet but hopeless efforts. However, he did take my mind off them. I probed his sheltered life a little. He told me he had never walked in on anyone having sex. He thought he overheard a housemate once, but discovered later that they were just watching porn.

“And no one’s walked in on you?” I asked.

“Nope. There weren’t that many opportunities to be honest, but I was more discreet.”

“Really? You never got so carried away that your housemates heard you?”

“Nope, not that I know of. Like I say, it wasn’t like I had someone in there every night and, when I did, my housemates were either out or we were quiet.”

“Didn’t you ever go outside your bedroom?”

“Nice try. I’m not telling you where I’ve had sex.”

“Why not? I’m curious now.”

This was the most I had ever heard about Matt’s sex life. I totally believed he had been quiet and restrained. The idea of him cutting loose, even during sex, sat clumsily with everything I knew about him. A group of us from school had once played strip poker at a party. Matt had gone along with it and had lost his shoes and socks. By that time, two of the prettier girls had lost their skirts, although they had insisted on laying them across their legs until they lost another hand. I could see Matt stealing glances at their bare thighs, their underwear and the exposed part of their bums. Then he lost another hand. The fear of humiliation was writ large. He didn’t know what to do.

The other guys were all still clothed and he would be the first to lose something meaningful. The girls were calling for his jeans and his face was a battle between desire and control. He was ready to walk out rather than risk exposing the effect that the half-naked girls had had on him. In the end, Heather’s parents saved him by coming home before he made a decision.

I asked him later on, when we shared a taxi home, what he was going to choose. He just blushed and said he didn’t know. I asked him which he preferred of Heather and Ellie, the skirt-less girls, and got the same response. I complimented their underwear — both had worn sheer thongs, Heather black and Ellie pink — still nothing. It was impossible to lure Matt into conversation about sex, desire or anything that required him to surrender control.


Jess was being Jess. We had been friends since we were fourteen but were never inseparable. We were part of the same group, but I had closer friends and so did she. That said, we spent more time together than our friendship merited because we both lived in villages outside of the city and we shared a lot of taxis home from parties. Her village was five miles further away than mine was, so she often stayed over at my house and had her parents collect her in the morning to reduce the cost.

She would always try to interrogate me in those after-party moments; asking me which girl I liked, what I thought of someone’s revealing clothes and, on the few occasions that the party became heated, she would try to talk to me about something that had made her excited. She wasn’t coarse about it though and didn’t push too hard when I was non-committal. She also rarely asked me anything about herself beyond trivialities: Did I like her new dress? Was her hair OK? Had she embarrassed herself? The right words to respond rarely came to me and I often found myself giving answers that sounded feeble in retrospect. Answers that left me cursing myself when I recalled them in subsequent days, weeks and months.

That was years ago, before university, but Jess’s curiosity about my girlfriends, mixed with her own exposure to Alex’s sex life, reminded me of moments of closeness between us. I remembered being in the backseat of the taxi with her during journeys home. I remembered her face as bright, smiling and framed by loosely curled waves of blonde hair. The smell of make-up and perfume always mixed in with the alcohol and the saltiness of sweat from nightclubs. She would often lean in close to persuade me to confide some inner feeling, not realising that I would always clam up more as her slim body, pushed up cleavage and smoothly toned legs, leaned in with her.

I replied, “Just because you’re curious, that doesn’t mean I have to tell.”

“Boring. I’ll tell you if you tell me.”

“You’ll tell me what?”

“About when I got caught.”

This was different. For all Jess’s encouragements to open up, she was quieter, almost reserved, about her own thoughts and feelings. She was interested to a fault in other people’s inner lives, or at least in mine, but was largely silent on her own. I had never asked her those kinds of questions and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to do so, even if I could have found the words and opportunity. Outside of post-night out arrangements, our friendship always felt too distant for intimacy. Mostly, it still did.

She texted again, “So, deal or no deal?”


Normally, I don’t talk about my sex-life. Hypocritical, I know. It’s partly because it’s not very exciting. I also don’t feel comfortable talking with most people about it. When I do, I will usually ask the other person first. If they open up, I open up. Matt never did, about anything. It always frustrated me that it stopped us bonding at a deeper level. It was my own fault as much as his. During the day, I could never find ways to spend time with him away from our friends. Then, at night, I always drank enough to make flirtation seem the best way forward. This was different though. I had been aching to tell someone about my walk through the park for months.

Matt texted back, “No deal. You really don’t want to picture me having sex.”

I bit my lip and replied, “OK. If it’s not Truth, then it’s Dare.”

“Hold on. Since when were we playing Truth or Dare?”

“Too late now. I’m planning your dare.”

“What?!? You’re impossible!”

“Insulting me will only make it worse!”

“Fine. I’m waiting.”

I was surprised he gave in that easily. Actually, I was surprised that he seemed up for it. Maybe he needed distraction tonight as much as I did, or perhaps Matt had changed at university. We kept in touch by phone, about once a month or so, but nothing more. It was possible I had missed his evolution. He didn’t use social media and I hadn’t seen him in person, or in a photo even, for over a year. I worked in Edinburgh every summer and, as he didn’t know anyone else up here, he hadn’t visited. When my course-mates trickled away to their future lives, I realised he was the only friend from home that I spoke to. The remainder, although closer friends originally, were now just relationships perpetuated through facile Facebook comments rather than retained affection.

“OK. I’ll keep it simple and hope you learn your lesson. Send a selfie. I haven’t seen you in ages.”

Silence. I realised it was quarter-past eleven. Matt was probably in bed. He was probably trying to take a photo that hid that, or at least that only showed his face. My phone vibrated twice. The first message was a head and shoulders photo of Matt laid in bed. He wasn’t wearing a t-shirt. The light was dim but accentuated shoulder muscles that hadn’t been there before. He had also aged well. His previously shaggy brown hair was shorter and smart. He even looked less baby-faced, more masculine.

The second text read, “Your turn: Truth or Dare?”

I replied, “You look good. Seriously. Where did you buy those shoulders?”


I had planned to laugh off Jess’s attempts to get me to share. Izzy’s rejection still hurt and I didn’t feel that flirtatious. Yet, the thought of Jess being caught having sex nagged at me. More precisely, the thought of Jess having sex nagged at me.

I had never seen more of her than her clothing allowed, but she had always been attractive. Unbidden, the image came into my mind of seeing Jess from behind with her hair flowing down her back. She was naked and knelt over someone and, just as she positioned them to enter her, she turned and looked straight into my eyes. I couldn’t shift that thought and when she moved from bargaining to punishment, I was already committed.

However, her dare caught me off-guard. I had expected her to ask me to do something embarrassing. Going out into the street half-naked or something. A simple selfie felt stranger and more challenging as I didn’t feel comfortable sending Jess a picture of myself in bed, half-dressed.

After a few attempts, I sent a picture that didn’t seem too bad as my chest wasn’t showing and it was too dark to see much of anything but my face. I hurriedly followed it up with a message pushing us to the next round, but I needn’t have worried.

I replied, “From the gym and the tennis club. The shoulders came with the arms and various other stuff.”

“Cool. You should show me the other stuff too.”

I blushed, unsure how to take that or to respond. Instead, I pushed her for a decision. She replied, “Truth.”

“Your story. About being caught.”

“Oh. OK. Are you sure? It’s probably going to be pretty graphic.”

That took me aback. As I said before, Jess is curious about other people’s private lives but does not usually volunteer information about her own. I told her I was OK with graphic, but that I didn’t mind if she was too shy. She replied, “Haha. OK. I’ll tell it properly and then I might die of embarrassment.”

There was a long pause while she typed her message, which was either carefully edited or long and detailed. That image of Jess meeting my stare as she prepared to straddle someone came back into my mind, alternating in slow-fade with a memory of her leaning towards me in a taxi, smiling in a dark blue dress she had worn one New Year’s Eve.

Anticipating the contents of her message, my hand pressed down on the front of my boxers where I was starting to harden. Finally, it arrived.

“Oh God. OK. At the back-end of last summer, I was dating a guy, Sean. I think I told you about him. It only lasted a few months but it was quite intense. We had been out for dinner and walked back through the park near my flat.

“We were a little drunk and quite flirty. Sean kept pulling me around to kiss him. I kept groping his bum and the front of his jeans, between us. I could feel he was hard and was getting horny myself. I was wearing a short summer dress and he kept slipping his hand underneath it, sometimes up the outside of my thighs, sometimes stroking my bum. Once or twice he pressed his hand on the front of it, between my legs. When he did that, I was squeezing my thighs against his hand to pull it tighter to me.

“Eventually, it got too much. We were still 10 minutes from home and I was so turned on. The park was quiet, so we slipped behind some bushes, just off the path. I undid his jeans, took his cock out, bent over and gave the head a little kiss. Then I kissed up and down it. He was already hard so I got him to lay on his back and knelt between his legs, stroking him some more.

“I can’t believe I’m telling you all this but I might have been touching myself a little as well, with my dress raised up and my hand down the front of my underwear. Then I took my underwear off, in that graceless way you do when you’re on your hands and knees, and I knelt over him. He had his hands on my bum under my dress. I guided him inside me and was just about to lower myself down. Then I made this little moaning noise that turned into a yelp as I raised my head up to see two students coming down the path.

“I nearly died! I jumped up, pulling Sean to his feet. He was so confused. He hadn’t seen them. We just started walking in the other direction. We moved so quickly that he still had his cock stuck straight out in front of him as we hurried down the path! Anyway, we got back to the flat OK. Then, the next morning, on my way to uni, I found my underwear on the grass, where I left them. They were nice ones as well, so I guess it was a happy ending.”

As I read Jess’s story, my hand found its way inside my boxers and moved around my hardening cock. I imagined it was Jess’s fingers, tracing lightly over my balls. In my mind, her other hand was touching herself as she started to stroke me. She was wearing that same dark blue dress and had lifted it up to expose sheer black underwear, which she now pulled aside to reveal light pink lips.

I had no idea what to say in response to her story. I went for pithy. “Glad you found your underwear.”

“Me too. As I said, they were pretty. Red satiny ones. I’ll show you sometime”


I had thought about that night a lot. Alone in my room while waiting for sleep, I sometimes found my fingers wandering over my body as the memories flowed through my mind. Sean and I broke up a few weeks later for unrelated reasons. However, it didn’t make a difference. The excitement of holding him in the open air and touching myself in public was lasting. Even more so the thrill of him being half inside me, even briefly, when other people were in sight.