We were both undergraduates at the Australian National University. He was majoring in history and I was studying psychology. He wanted to be over and done with his university degree and I wanted to go into clinical psychology helping people turn their lives around. I had my whole life planned out, and he was taking one step at a time. We shared no classes together.
We were completely different people, and yet we got along.
We met at the 24 hour Jazz Café. It was a run-down café that desperately needed a paint job and a good scrub. I – having been persuaded from my historical textbook – was just looking to get a coffee and then go straight back to studying for the exam tomorrow. He was sitting with his friends at the far end of the café, and – although he likes to protest – it was his laugh that drew my attention. It was this throaty, deep laugh that lit up his entire face. However, after looking at him for no less than two seconds, I paid him no attention. When I was ordering said coffee, he had left his seat and was standing next to me.
I looked at him; he had brown eyes, wide and “pretty” (or so I would later describe them), with a little stubble growing on his chin.
“Hi,” I said in return. He looked at ease; calm and collected.
“You’re the guy who studies history, right?”
“Yeah – and you’re the guy who studies psychology,” I remembered Chloe telling me about him.
“I’m Ben,” he said, extending his hand.
“Harry,” I said, taking it.
“Do you wanna come over to my table?” he said, pointing to the group of uninterested friends.
I hesitated, thinking about the final exam and how unprepared I was; then, I said,
At his table, I met John, Mark, Laura, Debbie and Crystal. When I sat down, the questions were fired.
“What do you like about university?” from Crystal.
“What do you hope to do when you finish?” from Laura.
“What do your parents do?” from Mark.
“How come you chose ANU?” from John.
Then, out of the blue, I was struck with a question that made me start.
“What team do you bat for?” from Ben.
At first I thought he meant cricket – Australia or England – then I remembered what it actually meant – whether I was gay or straight, or whether I sat on the fence.
“I’m gay,” I said, watching his face.
He didn’t show any signs of difference. Rather, he held his hand out towards Crystal and rubbed his fingers together. Crystal reached into her pocket and produced a twenty-dollar note. They had betted on my sexuality!
“Told you,” he said, pocketing the twenty.
After that, him and I were simply talking and asking each other questions, and one by one the others left us, each saying a different excuse that sounded rehearsed: we have to go and wash our dishes, or, we have to study for our exams. I had to study too, but talking to Ben was much more interesting than reading about some war that happened over five-hundred years ago.
“What do your parents do?” I asked mid-way through our conversation.
“Mum is an accountant and...