What I say is: "I'm sorry." What I'm thinking is: I have nothing to apologise about. What's happened - what's not happened - isn't something I need be tormented by. But "sorry" seems to be the easiest word: it's expected, needed to complete the banality of the scene.

"I'm sorry."

John says exactly what I expect him to say: "There's nothing to be sorry about."

I have my back to him, so I can't see his face. I stifle the urge to turn and ask him to repeat himself so I can clock whether his eyes are telling the same story as his mouth, but the effort required suddenly seems not merely enormous, but right off the scale of human endeavour.

Perfect. Not only can't I get it up, I can't even turn around.

An arm snakes round my chest, gives me a firm, no-nonsense hug. It's nice - in a galaxy far, far away it would once have been enough to have me tearful with gratitude - but these days I find affection hard to bear. And besides, I don't expect to be rewarded with warmth for apparently recoiling from someone, and a few moments ago that's exactly what I did. Just jerked away, frustration, anger, disgust probably all too evident, and rolled over, as if what had occurred (failed to occur) was somehow John's ... I need a word that isn't "fault". I wish I could think of one.

His breath swirls around my neck. I'm caught in a mint-flavoured slipstream. He nibbles. "I think you're just tired," he says. I'd rather lie here and not make a noise, let the silence roll on till the other side of midnight or till it magically resolves itself, but I suppose my lips should perform some service, so I say: "Right. Tell me that this happens to everyone at least once in their lives and not to worry about it because worry is the worst thing I could do and why don't we just lie here instead, and we'll consider the cliche quota reached."

The quiet that follows lacks the stuff of alchemy. John's arm and breath slip away, he retreats across the duvet, makes camp and waits.

I know the right thing to do, and I know I should do it, because that's cliche too. I should apologise sincerely, cuddle or snuggle as required, fake being an adult - faking orgasm is clearly out of the question - and tell him: "Yes, I am tired. I'm tired all the time. But the thing is, I don't particularly want to be a permanently pumped-up, ever-ready, multiple-partner, hard-core porno fantasy: the man you pick up in a disco, the one who, of course, naturally, stands to reason, can't get enough."

This doesn't make any sense, but right this minute do I care?

I should continue: "It's nothing personal. You're a babe. I see how other guys look when we're out, but I didn't want to, so I didn't. Couldn't. Wouldn't. Whatever. The point is, what didn't happen was about me, not you. Don't be pissed off."

That's what I should say. I don't. Bastard.

"Do you want me to go?"

"No."

"If you want me to go, I will."

"I'm having a bad day and I'm taking it out on you. Let's start again."

The arm returns, sneaks off to where I'm most ticklish, potters about. I laugh and squirm.

"Beg for mercy," he demands.

"You have three weeks to stop."

"What are you wearing?" John inhales theatrically, a cartoon character tracking down his prey.

"Trussardi Sport. I wanted to smell sexy."

"I like it."

"You always smell of mint," I tell him. "I mean, your breath always smells of mint."

"It does?"

"Hmm."

A kiss.

"Minty?"

"Yes. This has never happened to me before. Equipment failure. First time."

John slumps over my chest: "Should I be flattered?"

"Don't take it that way."

"I'm not taking it any way. Stop being defensive."

I am being defensive.

"We could try again - you know, later," John says.

"To lose one erection might be considered a misfortune. To lose two ... "

He stares at me blankly, politely. Younger gay men - they don't appear to need the codes, footnotes and reflex references that were the glue of an earlier generation. They don't seem ... gay.

"John, I think the trouble here might be that I don't want to have sex with someone who doesn't recognise a paraphrase from Wilde. It's like being in bed with a bit of straight rough."

"You're a snob." Pause. "And you wasted a joke and you're annoyed."

Bullseye. The boy's fast. I change the subject: "It's just nine. Want to go out to dinner?"

He considers."Let's stay here."

I want to get away. Out of bed. Into a crowd. Now. "In case something happens? John, nothing is going to happen. Trust me on this. Nothing will happen."

He's unfazed."You never know. I might get lucky." He zeroes in for another kiss. "Luck changes." Another kiss. Then, briskly: "We'll order pizza. Food, that's what you need."

Yeah. Pizza. Garlic bread. Side salad. That's what I need.

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