It's not very nice. But then again, I suppose you'd worked that out already. You're not Hufflepuffs.
Terence: Andria, 555
For a moment, I can't take in what Alan has just asked me. The sounds of the dining hall are suddenly very loud. I breathe in sharply, and too-cooked cabbage and treacle sponge hit me hard in the nostrils. Two tables away from us, I can hear Bruce Clark laughing. You can always tell Bruce's laughter: harsh, breathy, and a little too detailed to be convincing. Somebody's told a joke, and Bruce is laughing on in his determined way so that nobody will realise that he's missed the point. And the somebody? Probably that little weasel-faced kid - what's his name? - Damian. Damian Somebody-or-other. Third form. Smokes behind the bike sheds, has a wicked line in innuendo.
Alan draws his spoon across the lake of congealed treacle on his plate, waiting for me to reply, and carefully not looking at me. Too carefully, I think. No, I won't react. Let him wait. Let him think about what he's just said. Then I'll make him say it again; pretend I haven't heard him.
Say it clearly, Alan. I want to hear you say it. Say it again. Louder. No-one can hear you but me; all the rest are engrossed in gorging or in swapping lies. Say it to me, kid...
I grunt, and spoon up another chunk of sticky foam-rubber.
"You what?" I mumble through the mouthful. His cheeks flush, and he glances around nervously. Bloody prima donna. Following Alan's glance, I see Tiff wandering towards our table, belching raucously. Heaven-sent opportunity! I wave to draw his attention.
"Ho, Tiff; young Bowman here..." - I smile dangerously at Alan, who crimsons and studies the dregs of his coffee with the devotion of the doomed. Little bastard, let him sweat. He wanted the attention, and now he's got it. As Tiff looks incuriously at him, I wait for my pause to have its full effect on Alan. I continue - "was just asking me if I happened to know when the next Colts away game is."
Tiff sighs, mutters something about the 'bloody notice-board', and ambles off whistling tunelessly.
"What did you ask Justin that for?" Alan hisses, his colour now retreated to pale.
Justin? I'd forgotten that Tiff's given name is Justin. Nobody calls him that. Not to his face, anyway. Not surprising. Poor bastard.
"Do what, old chap? Wasn't that what you asked? Can't have been paying attention. Say again, and hurry up, class is in ten."
He looks sick.
You'll have to start over again now, won't you, Alan? From the beginning, nice and easy. Say it again...
He pauses his spoon over the cold ruin of his plate, and then pushes it away. The dining hall is emptying now, most people gone for a smoke or a shit or a quick glance over their prep before class; just a few stragglers and the lates who've been to some practice or other before eating. I smile invitingly at him, waiting for the moment, waiting to hear him stumble through his words again. Or will he dry up and run off? I hope not. This is becoming more enjoyable with every passing minute.
"Will you be my best friend?" His voice is tight with effort, his eyes fixed beseechingly on mine. I notice with casual disapproval a crumb of sponge lodged in the peach-fuzz of his top lip. Wait. Let the question mire itself inextricably in the syrup between us. Let it be irrevocable. Alea tua jacta est, puer infelix...
"What a question, Bowman!" Neither confirm nor deny. Let hope with anguish in each mortal breast contend. Milton, or Pope perhaps? No matter. That use of his surname to his face: will it be enough to start the dizzy plummet of despair? The power of the moment crouches like incipient orgasm in my balls, feeding on his vulnerability, stronger for every moment I can hold off. Paradoxically, I could almost say yes; this is turning me on more than anything he's ever done for me before. The irony of it all makes me grin, unleashing cold spurts of pent-up derision that I spray into his dread-opening mouth....
He daren't raise his voice; can't trust himself to restrain his anguish if he speaks aloud, and only permits his bivering lips to silently frame an accusing "Why?". Time for the coup de grâce: lovelier things have mercy shown, and all that.
"Be your best friend? You mean hang around with you in public, and all that? You've got to be joking, Bowman. You're a year my junior, and it isn't done, you know. Sets a bad example, I'm told. Can't be done. I'm sorry."
But he isn't done yet. There's more spunk in him than I'd imagined; I have to give him credit for that. Not yet ready to slink off, tail between legs. He looks up - he's blubbing, but quietly, thank Christ! - and there's still hope springing for me to extinguish in those big wet brown eyes. And I think that I know what it is.
His voice is deathly quiet, almost without tremor; almost.
"But... but you'll still... you do still want to... you still do want me to?" His hands clasp each other, writhing, knotting. "We can still... can't we?"
I shake my head, slowly, finally.
"That's what you're after? Oh, it was fun, I suppose, but to be honest I've got a bit bored of it. Not as good as the real thing, old chap. You'll have to find someone else - if you can. I've been doing it with Phil for the last month or so, anyway; and he's a lot better at it than you were..."
I don't see him move; merely feel the impact of the plate's enamel on that of my teeth, and the cold stiff sticky syrup sponge cover my face. I let him hit me for a while until they come over to drag him away; a small price to pay for missing the next hour of De bello Gallico. And while Matron mends the rip in my forehead where the plate's edge has cut deep, my heart sings within me: Amantium irae amoris integratio est. He'll be back.