Leaving home to go to university is an exciting phase in anyone’s life. One that’s full of new places, new friends, and new experiences. But Lewis is not prepared for the sudden and intense crush he develops on his out-and-proud flatmate, Max—given that Lewis had always assumed he was straight. Max starts dating another guy, and Lewis’s jealousy at seeing them together forces him to confront his growing attraction.
When Max’s relationship goes awry, Lewis is the one to comfort him and one thing leads to another. But after a night together, Lewis is devastated that Max wants to go back to being just friends. Lewis tries his best to move on and their friendship survives, but the feelings he has for Max don’t go away. He faces other challenges as he deals with coming out to his parents and needs Max’s support more than ever. But Lewis isn’t the only one who’s conflicted. When Max finally admits he cares for Lewis too, Lewis must decide whether he dares risk his heart again on being more than just friends.
“IT’S NICE and bright, isn’t it?” Lewis’s mum said as they surveyed the tiny room that would be his termtime home for the next academic year. “Lovely to have such a big window.”
“I suppose.” Lewis looked out of the window. Several large blocks of student flats, similar to the one he was standing in now, broke up the view outside. Tarmac paths meandered across the grass, linking the buildings and breaking the green into neat geometric shapes. The occasional tree added a different shade of green or autumnal orange, and beyond the stone wall Lewis could see large suburban houses and a patchwork of gardens stretching off into the distance.
“It’s a bit smaller than you’re used to, though.” His mum’s voice dragged his attention back to the little cubicle. “You’ll have to try and keep organized, make an effort to stay a bit tidy for a change.” Her voice was teasing, and she smiled when Lewis met her eyes.
“At least you won’t have to look at my mess now,” he joked. “No more complaining about me leaving dirty washing on the floor anymore, or festering empty mugs on my windowsill.”
“No, thank heavens.” His mum went along with it, but the catch in her voice gave her away. She turned to open the wardrobe doors and inspected the space inside, chattering on about how they should probably have brought more coat hangers, and that more shelf space would be useful.
Lewis knew she was going to miss him, mess or no mess, especially when his dad was away on business trips. He seemed to be working away more and more in recent months. But Lewis let her keep her brave face on. “I should go and help Dad with some more of the heavy stuff.”
“Okay.” She sniffed. “Is this one a kitchen box? I can make a start on unpacking that for you.” She picked it up and Lewis held the door of his room open for her. “Did you want to choose a cupboard?”
“Any one’s fine, mum. See you in a minute.”
Lewis left the door of his room propped open and headed back down five flights of stairs to the car. Halfway down he heard the sound of puffing and panting and encountered a couple of blokes struggling up with boxes of stuff. The one in front—a tall, powerfully built boy with brown hair—was obviously a student. The one behind was presumably his dad, based on their similar bulk and matching frowns of concentration as they navigated the narrow concrete stairwell.
“A bloody lift would be useful,” the boy in front grumbled.
“Dean!” A woman following them up with a smaller box chastised the boy. But the dad just nodded and huffed his agreement.
Lewis waited on the landing and stood aside to let them pass. “Cheers.” The boy—Dean—flashed Lewis a grin.
“Thanks.” The dad nodded as they passed, and the woman smiled at him.
Lewis met his dad at the bottom of the stairwell with a suitcase in each hand.
“Perfect timing.” He offered one to Lewis. “I wasn’t looking forward to getting both of these up those stairs on my own.”
Back in the flat, the sound of chatter was spilling out of the open door onto the landing. Lewis went in to find his mum deep in conversation with the parents they’d met in the stairwell. Dean was obviously one of his new flatmates, but was nowhere to be seen. Lewis ducked into his room with the suitcase. There’d be plenty of time for socializing later, he thought. He just wanted to get all his stuff up the bloody stairs so he could start settling in.
THE FLAT gradually filled up with people as Lewis concentrated on carting his stuff up and began the process of unpacking. Two other boys had turned up, and there were assorted parents and younger siblings wandering around too. Lewis had introduced himself to the other boys when he’d met them in the corridor, but they hadn’t had a chance to exchange more than a few words yet. The fifth room in the flat was still empty. Someone was cutting it fine, unless they’d pulled out before term even started.
It was early evening when Lewis’s stuff was finally all unloaded and his parents were ready to leave. Lewis accompanied them down to the car park to say his farewells, a mixture of excitement and anxiety swirling in his belly. He’d barely spent any time away from home before, just the odd few days here and there for school camp or scouting trips. The distance between Bristol and his home in Kent meant he was unlikely to go home to visit very often. It would be several weeks before he saw them again.
Lewis’s mum hugged him hard before finally releasing him. Her hair tickled his nose and smelled of childhood comfort, scraped knees, and bedtime stories. When he stepped back, the sight of her glistening eyes made his own eyelids prickle. He blinked hard as he gave his dad a quick hug too.
“Take care.” His dad’s voice was gruff and he avoided Lewis’s eyes.
“Remember you can always call us if you need to. Anytime. Day or night.” His mum sniffed and wiped her nose with a tissue. “But just keep in touch so we know you’re doing okay.”
“Of course. I promise.” Lewis managed a smile. “And you can always stalk me on Facebook and pester me by e-mail and text if I’m not keeping you up to date.”
There was a finality to the thud of the car doors closing. Lewis’s mum opened her window and waved as they drove away, her hand a pale, fluttering motion in the twilight. Lewis watched as the taillights of his parents’ car disappeared out of the gate, and finally dropped the hand he’d been holding up.
This was it. He was on his own.
As if someone had been reading his thoughts, Lewis’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he pulled it out to grin at a text from Paul, his best mate from school.
Hows it goin? my flatmates r cool and there r hot girls living next door. Win.
Lewis texted back:
bit early to tell, gonna go be sociable now and find out.
Back in the flat, everything was relatively peaceful now. The families had all left and Lewis heard the sound of conversation coming from the kitchen. Bracing himself, he pasted on a nervous grin and walked into the brightly lit room.
“Alright, mate,” Dean greeted Lewis, waving a can of lager at him. “Beer’s in the fridge if you want one. My dad left us with a few as a flat-warming present.”
“Great, thanks.” Lewis ran a hand through his hair as he went and helped himself. He joined the others at the table, finally looking at them properly for the first time since the brief introductions earlier. “So it’s Dean, yeah? And Andreas, and Rob?”
Andreas was average height and build, with short dark-blond hair and a charming smile that showed slightly crooked teeth. Rob was small and skinny with messy dark hair. He smiled awkwardly, only meeting Lewis’s gaze briefly and giving him a quick wave in greeting.
Andreas nodded. “Yes. And you’re Lewis?” Lewis nodded back. “Do we know who’s supposed to be in the other room?” His Danish accent was noticeable when he spoke but his English was very fluent.
They all shrugged. “No idea,” Dean said and shook his head. “But he’d better hurry up if he wants any beer. These aren’t gonna last long.” He crunched up the empty can in his hand and stood to get another one. He really was huge—Lewis hadn’t quite appreciated how tall and broad he was when they’d met in the stairwell earlier.
An hour or so passed. They sat around and swapped stories of families and schools as they drank, finding shared interests and working out where they fit together, and where their interests diverged. Dean and Andreas were both confident and talkative, leading the conversation while the others went with the flow. Lewis warmed to Andreas, who had a dry humor when he let it show. Rob was quieter, sitting back and fiddling with his mop of dark curls with bony fingers, mostly listening rather than talking. He only got animated when the conversation switched from sports to video games.
“Fuck, I’m starving,” Dean suddenly said, slapping his belly. He pushed his chair back and stood. “I’m going to see how this oven works.”
“What have you got to cook?” Andreas asked him.
“Frozen pizza. Mum figured I could manage that on my first night. I think she’s expecting me to survive on a diet of beer and beans on toast between now and Christmas. She’s probably not wrong.”
“I’ve got pizza too,” Andreas said. “I’ll put it in with yours if there’s space.”
“Beans on toast sounds pretty good, actually.” Rob got up and started poking around in the cupboard he’d claimed as his.
“Yeah.” Lewis’s stomach growled now food had been mentioned, so he joined the fray.
Four eighteen-year-old boys attempting to cook four separate meals in a tiny hall-of-residence kitchen was about as chaotic as Lewis would have imagined. They quickly realized that pooling their resources was going to make sense if they all wanted to eat at the same time. Dean managed to pass on pizza responsibility to Andreas, while Rob heated beans and Lewis scrambled eggs.
“I’ll just stay out of the way.” Dean smirked from the table, beer in hand.
“You can wash up, you lazy bastard,” Andreas threw a bag of Doritos at him. “Stick those in a bowl and don’t eat them all.”
They were all back at the table, polishing off platefuls of food, when the sound of keys in the front door alerted them to a new arrival.
“It’s already open!” Dean yelled.
“Oh, well that explains it then. Jesus fucking Christ, I thought I was never going to get here.” A slender boy with bright, dyed-blond hair came through the doorway and plonked his suitcase down. “Mum’s car broke down halfway up the M5, and we had to wait ages for someone to come out and fix it. So which room’s mine?”
“The first one on the right,” Lewis replied. It was the one next to his.
“Thanks.” The boy smiled directly at Lewis and Lewis found himself flushing at the attention. The boy was striking, slightly exotic looking. Lewis found it hard to look away from his beautiful eyes that were pale where he’d have expected them to be dark “I’m Max, by the way, but can we do proper introductions later, once I’ve got all my shit up these stairs? I’m crap with names at the best of times, so if you tell me all yours now, they’ll be gone again by the time I’m unpacked.”
“Sure thing.” Dean nodded. “Do you want a hand with your stuff?”
“That would be great, cheers. But finish eating first, don’t want it to get cold.”
They made short work of hauling Max’s possessions up to his room with all of them helping. His mum was as chatty and friendly as Max, finding out all their names and quizzing them about where they were from and what courses they were doing.
“Such nice helpful lads.” She smiled as Dean put a heavy box down on the desk, and Lewis dumped a second suitcase next to the one Max had brought up earlier. “Thank you. It would have taken us ages on our own.”
Dean grinned at her. “You’re welcome. Those stairs are a nightmare.”
“I think that’s the last of it now,” Lewis informed her with a shy smile. “Max was just locking the car.”
They reconvened in the kitchen with what was left of the beers after giving one to Max to drink while he unpacked. His mum had had to head back straightaway as she was already running late after the car trouble, and Max had two little sisters who needed to be collected from their gran’s.
They heckled Dean while he washed up, refusing to help him. “We cooked,” Rob pointed out. “It’s only fair.”
Max joined them after twenty minutes or so to find them all sitting around the table eating chocolate brownies Rob had brought from home.
“Fuck that,” he said, brandishing a bottle of tequila. “I can finish unpacking tomorrow, but this is my first night at uni and I want to party. Has anyone got any shot glasses?”
They drank tequila out of mugs, interspersed with mouthfuls of brownie. Lewis wasn’t really a fan of neat spirits, but he thought it would be churlish to pass it up, and he wasn’t averse to the buzz the tequila gave him. The heat of it curled in his belly and spread out tendrils of warmth and happy relaxation through his body.
Lewis sat back in his chair and looked around at the four guys he’d be living with for the next year. They seemed pretty cool so far, and he figured he could have done a lot worse. His gaze caught on the little black studs in Max’s ears, where they stood out starkly against the pale lobes. Max’s lashes flicked up as he raised his gaze from the drink he was pouring and caught Lewis looking. Lewis looked away quickly.
“So how many girls have you shagged, then?” The conversation had turned to sex and Dean cut straight to the chase.
Lewis’s ears burned hot as a blush flooded his face and neck. The question wasn’t aimed at him, but he knew he’d have to answer eventually. They’d already done the rounds for what age they’d lost their virginity, and Lewis had already seen how persistent Dean was about getting answers.
“My magic number’s five,” Dean continued, his voice loud and a little slurred from alcohol. “But I had a girlfriend for most of Year 12, otherwise there could have been more.”
Andreas answered three, Rob two, but neither elaborated on their replies. All eyes turned expectantly to Max, who was sitting on Lewis’s right.
He lifted his mug and took a mouthful of tequila before fixing Dean with a cool stare as he calmly replied. “Only two, but I didn’t really like it. I prefer boys, personally.”
Dean choked on the brownie he was currently chewing on. Andreas smacked him between the shoulder blades, a little overenthusiastically, and in the ensuing confusion he knocked over the bottle of tequila, which thankfully had a lid on at the time.
Lewis shot a sidelong glance at Max and saw his perfect face lit up with a grin that was pure mischief.
“Are you really gay?” Rob asked him. “Or are you just messing with him?” His tone was interested rather than shocked or challenging.
“I’m really gay.” Max shrugged. “But I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make Dean inhale his brownie. And in the spirit of equality, I’ll answer the question anyway. I’ve had sex with two girls, and with several guys, depending on what we’re counting as sex for this discussion. I know you straight boys are all about penetration. But I’ve had penetrative sex with four people.” He grinned. “Does that mean I win?”
Dean had just about recovered now, and he looked grudgingly impressed as he wiped his watering eyes. Lewis chuckled along with the others. Max had definitely won that round.
Max turned to Lewis, the picture of innocence now. Amusement was still glittering in his eyes. “How about you, Lewis?”
“Just one,” Lewis replied, thinking of his ex-girlfriend, Cara.
“A girl?” Dean asked. “Just to be clear.”
“Yes!” Lewis’s blush was back. The suggestion that he might have had sex with a boy made him suddenly uncomfortably aware of his proximity to Max, sprawled in the seat beside him. “My ex. I went out with her all through sixth form till just a couple of months ago.”
“Have any of the rest of you ever fooled around with another guy?” Max looked around the table expectantly.
“No!” Dean and Rob were quick to respond out loud while Lewis just shook his head and gulped more tequila, glad to have the attention off him again.
“So don’t go getting any ideas,” Dean said, but then added. “Not that I’m a homophobe or anything, though, you can be as gay as you like as long as it’s not with me.”
Max laughed, and flicked his blond hair out of his eyes. They were green, Lewis noticed. He’d thought they were blue before. “Thanks, man. I’ll bear that in mind. Maybe you should put your permission in writing.” He smirked as Dean flipped him off. “Andreas, how about you?” He turned to look at the Danish boy, who was looking a little uncomfortable, spots of color on his cheeks.
“Yeah. I used to… how do you say it?” He made an unmistakable gesture with his hand.
“Wank? Jerk off?” Rob supplied.
“Yeah, that. With a friend when I was about fourteen or fifteen. It was before I had a girlfriend. One time he asked if he could suck me, and I let him.” Andreas ran his hand awkwardly over his cropped blond hair, and looked around at them to gauge their reactions.
“Was it hot?” Max asked. Lewis’s eyes were drawn to the soft pink curve of Max’s lips as they stretched in a dirty grin. “That sounds hot.”
Lewis found himself agreeing, but kept his thoughts to himself.
“I guess,” Andreas admitted. “It made me come really fast. But I had my eyes shut, and I was thinking about this girl in my class at school and wishing it was her doing it.”
They all laughed at that, and the conversation moved on to relationships. They were all currently single, apart from Rob who had a girlfriend back home.
“We thought about breaking up, but she’s only an hour or so away in Cardiff and she’ll come and visit at weekends sometimes.”
“Lots of sexting and late-night Skype sessions for you, then?” Dean waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
“I hope so.” Rob grinned.
Lewis had used the excuse of going away to university to break up with Cara during the summer holidays. But honestly, he hadn’t really seen their relationship going anywhere. She’d been the one to make the first move, and he’d been swept along by her enthusiasm. She was a bit of a force of nature and had been hard to resist. But even though he’d been keen to experiment and get some sexual experience, there had never really been much spark there for Lewis. They got on well and had fun together, but sometimes Cara felt more like a mate than a girlfriend. The split had been amicable, and Cara had agreed it probably made sense to be single to go off to college and start a new phase of their lives. They’d stayed good friends, and planned to keep in touch.
The party finally broke up around midnight. Dean was the first to start yawning, and he stumbled his way off to bed. He’d had more than his fair share of tequila and was looking a little rough.
“Lucky your room’s next to the bathroom, mate,” Rob called after him. “Not too far to run if you wake up and feel like puking later.”
“Bollocks. I’m fine. Night, all.”
The rest of them grinned at one another. “He’d better make it to the toilet.” Max grimaced. “I’m not gonna clean up after him.”
The others began to drift away to bed too. Max and Lewis were the last ones left in the kitchen. Lewis looked at the table—still littered with empty mugs and plates and liberally sprinkled with Doritos and chocolate brownie crumbs—and wrinkled his nose.
Max leaned back in his chair and stretched luxuriously. “There’s something quite liberating about knowing we don’t have to clean it up, isn’t there? Nobody’s gonna be nagging us about it if we just go to bed and leave it for the morning.” Lewis’s eyes snagged on the bright-green elastic of Max’s underwear and the strip of pale skin that was revealed as his body arched back in a lean line. Lewis looked up quickly, and found Max’s green eyes meeting his own.
“I suppose.” Lewis had actually just been thinking about tidying up, but he wasn’t going to admit it. “Aren’t there cleaners who come in sometimes, though?”
“Not every day, I don’t think. And they’re probably used to dealing with all kinds of shit anyway. I doubt this would bother them much.” Max pushed back his chair and stood. “Anyway, I’d better go and do a bit more unpacking before I crash. My room’s a disaster and I need to work out where the fuck I packed my underwear so I can have clean ones for the morning.”
Lewis stood up too, and followed Max down the corridor. He wasn’t really feeling tired—he was too buzzed from alcohol, and the nerves and excitement at being here. But he probably ought to try and wind down, or he’d be knackered tomorrow.
“Good night, then.” Lewis paused awkwardly by his door, next to Max’s.
Max raised a casual hand. “Yeah. Sleep well, mate.”
Lewis’s unpacking was mostly done, so he got ready for bed, and then lay and read for a while. He could hear the muted sound of music through Max’s wall, too quiet to be identifiable. Every now and again there was a thud or the sound of movement. These rooms obviously weren’t built to be soundproof. He supposed he’d get used to it.
Lewis turned his lamp off when his alarm clock showed 1:00 a.m. and lay in the darkness, letting his thoughts drift. His mind was still active, turning over the conversation of the evening.
He’d never met anyone like Max before. He was so open, and had just put himself out there like that with people he didn’t know. Lewis kept thinking about Max, his eyes and his smile, and the doubts and uncertainty they raised for Lewis. Questions he’d successfully managed to leave unanswered for the past couple of years reared up, but he pushed them away, refusing to go there tonight. He needed to sleep. Lewis forced himself to relax, and gradually the heaviness he was seeking started to creep over him. The last thing he remembered was the music stopping next door. Silence covered Lewis like a blanket, and he slept.
This was a slightly angsty, but terribly fun story...
Read the full review at
Utterly pleasant and totally enjoyable. Recommended!
At the end of the day this made me happy, and that's what its all about!
Jay Northcote has a talent not just for the emotional writing but for the pace and plot involved.
Not Just Friends is another book I am adding to my must read when I need to feel good list.
This was a sweet little read about flatmates in their first year of Uni.
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