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Richard had never been so thankful that he wasn't sharing his flat with Bill; he would have been unable to hide his utter turmoil, and he needed to think this through. What was he going to say? He felt torn in two. He still loved Bill and hated the idea of hurting him, yet another part of him had fallen in love with Laura and was already racing ahead to consider the idea of a family; he had always wanted kids. Whatever he did he was going to hurt someone, not least himself. His thoughts continued to race around inside his head.

The next evening, he took his courage in his hands and went around to visit Bill.

As soon as Bill opened the door, he knew something was wrong. "Come in," he said, his voice harsh, already fighting against what he was going to hear.

"Can I have a drink?" Richard asked, going past Bill into the lounge and standing near the drink cabinet. Silently, Bill poured them each a straight brandy. He gave one glass to Richard and took a large gulp from his own. "What is it? Just tell me!"

Richard looked him in the face and cleared his throat. "I need some time apart. There are some... issues I need to deal with, and I have to sort myself out."

Bill shut his eyes, tried to steady his breathing. "It's Laura, isn't it?"

"Yes. I... I have feelings for her." At least he hadn't used the "L" word.

Bill couldn't help himself. "Have you slept with her?"

"No, I haven't." He paused. "But Bill? I'm not going to sleep with you, either, at least until I sort this out."

Bill's eyes flew to his. Yes, he was serious. "Is there anything I can do? To help you make up your mind? To make you stay with me?"

BIll hunted frantically for something to offer. "I can speak to the super about my hours. I've been meaning to cut back so we can spend more time together. Or I could drop down a level, that might work." He nearly added, or I could quit and find another job, but he didn't want to beg.

Who was he kidding? He'd be down on his knees in front of Richard right this second if he thought it would do any good.

"Bill, stop!" Richard was clearly distressed. "It isn't anything you've done or haven't done! It's me, it's something I have to work out, myself." He put his unfinished glass down on the table. "I should go."

Bill wanted to plead, "No, stay with me, please." But he didn't, and Richard let himself out before he could think of anything else that might work.

Bill lay stone-faced in his bed that night, staring at the ceiling. There must be something he could do; he couldn't give up without a fight.

He let a few days go past, hoping Richard would miss him, then made a lamb casserole, one of Richard's favorite dishes, and took it around to his flat. He let himself in with his key and stood there for a moment. For the first time he felt a little uncomfortable doing so. They had been in and out of each other's flats as if they were their own for several years now, but it dawned on him now that things had changed. What if, God forbid, Richard was bringing Laura home with him tonight?

In fact, had she already moved in? He put the casserole in the oven and went quickly to the bedroom. No, it was all right, his own things were still there on the bedside table, the book he had been reading and his photo of Richard and himself, his spare set of clothes still in the wardrobe. Richard should be home any minute; he had better go back to the kitchen, it would be too awkward to be found in the bedroom like some sort of stalker. He found himself pacing and watching the clock. Calm down, he told himself, you just want to talk, right?

When Richard came home an hour later the flat was filled with a delicious aroma, and Bill was wound up tight as a drum in the kitchen.

Bill saw Richard brace himself to face him, and he realized this had been a really bad idea. All he was going to do was cause a scene and upset them both. He forced himself to pack his emotions away and picked up his keys. "I'm sorry, Richard, this isn't going to work out the way I planned. I'll leave straight away."

He started toward the door, then stopped short as Richard reached out to touch his arm. "I am so sorry, Bill."

Bill couldn't help himself; he pulled Richard into his arms and kissed him, holding him so tightly he nearly cracked his ribs. Richard had just started to kiss him back when the door opened, and Laura came in and saw them.

"Oh!" She turned on her heel and fled. Without a word, Richard ran after her.

Bill stood there waiting. Richard would be back in a minute, surely. They were lovers, partners. Richard wouldn't leave him hanging like this—would he? Not after that kiss. He sat down at the kitchen table. Five minutes passed, then ten, then thirty, and still no sign of him. Finally, Bill rubbed his eyes and stood up. It seemed Richard had made his choice, it just wasn't Bill.

He went into the bedroom, borrowed a small suitcase from the top of the wardrobe, and began to pack his things. Richard had told him he wasn't gay, that he wanted a relationship with a woman at some stage; Bill had known that from the beginning. He just hadn't believed it. He went out and left his key on the table.

It was the first thing Richard saw when he returned home, exhausted, just before midnight. He was ashamed that his first emotion was relief; he couldn't have borne any more scenes tonight. It had taken him several tearful hours to convince Laura that he hadn't decided to choose Bill instead of her, especially as he couldn't reassure her that he didn't love Bill anymore.

This whole thing had been an unmitigated disaster. All he had done was hurt everyone. He must have hurt Bill terribly when he ran after Laura. The only solution he could see was to leave both of them, go away somewhere until he worked out which one he was in love with. Whether they were prepared to wait for him to decide was something he had no control over. In fact, at the moment the chances looked good that they would both dump him. He locked the door, unplugged his phone, and went to bed by himself. Tears rolled silently down his cheeks. It was a long time before he fell asleep.

The very next day he applied for his passport to be renewed and was told it would take a few weeks to process.

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