"I think Jamie loves me too. Everyone loves me." He rolls over and smiles at me. "What about you? Do you love me?"

I shrug. "I love you as a friend, sure."

"What about in the boxes-of-chocolates-and-bunches-of-flowers way?" he teases.

I look at him, those familiar indecisively coloured eyes and messy auburn hair. "I could love you like that I suppose. But I wouldn't. Think of the inconvenience."

He laughs.

#

There was a rule. The no-relationships-with-and-no-sleeping-with-housemates rule. It was a good rule. It even beat the everyone-wash-up-after-themselves one.

I guess rules were made to be broken. One night I sneaked into the kitchen in my pyjama bottoms, pastel green cardigan and pink I-broke-the-wash-whites-and-colours-separate-rule shirt, and there was Harriet and Fred kissing against the kitchen counter least covered in used dishware. It was the end of the first week.

At the beginning of the second week Nadine confessed a crush on Ollie to Michelle. The next day she overheard Michelle chatting to Ollie in Ollie's room alone and got jealous. The day after that they ignored each other. By Thursday there was obviously subtle competition for Ollie's attention going on. On Friday night Nadine met someone at a club and apparently let go of her crush on Ollie, and on Saturday Ollie came out as gay.

On the following Monday Jamie and Ollie were washing up together and singing along to some tune on the radio. I wanted to grab lunch but I felt like I was intruding. Jamie never washed up. I guess it was good to see him washing up, but the obviousness of his infatuation made me blush.

Most of the time I sat in my room, pulling down my long sleeves because it was cold and fiddling with the ends because my fingers were restless from the lack of a piano. I read a lot. Sometimes I felt lonely so I went out, and then I still felt lonely so I stayed in. Sometimes I watched porn, but whenever I put it on I spent more time anxiously looking at the locked position of my door latch than the screen.

In his room, Ollie sang. Or in the shower, or sometimes even in the kitchen. Loud enough that I could still just about hear it when he was in his room and I was in mine the floor above. Sometimes I hummed along in my room. Once or twice I went down when it was a song I knew and stood in his open doorway and softly sang along to one. He gave me a glance and a smile as I arrived but he sang to himself, to the music in the background, in his own bubble. I felt awkward and went back upstairs after exchanging a few words, pulling down my sleeves and fiddling with the ends. The grey one had the most frayed strands to fiddle with. I wore that a lot when I heard Ollie singing. I hadn't played a piano in three years.

Ollie kept borrowing my things. Bread, ketchup, spaghetti and tea one week, milk, soy sauce and grapes the next. Just a little, just enough for me to notice. Jamie bought more stuff than me – most people did, actually – I don't know why it was me he picked on. I complained and he teased me and blamed others, as if we didn't both know. He came home with girls he'd met out at town or on his course and chatted to them and they would cook him dinner and I would wonder if they knew he was gay. Part of me wished I could hold his attention like that. I wished I could hold anyone's attention like that, but he was the one that gave it most freely. He talked to everyone, even me. He was generous, shared a lot. Borrowed a lot too. No one minded. Apart from me. He laughed when I objected, asked me to calm down. Borrowed more. Bastard.

He ignored me a lot of the time, though a lot less than others. On house film nights, at some point he had leant on everyone else's shoulder and cheekily ordered everyone to fetch him something. Apart from me. But then, every now and then, he would ask a really direct question of me.

"Will, are you gay? Are you a virgin? Ever been in a relationship? What do you want out of life? Are you alright?"

Generally when the music was loud and we were sitting next to each other in a club, and he was drunk, and he would give me this really attentive interested look, looping one arm around my shoulders.

Yes. Yes. No. I don't know. …Yes.

And then he would just smile and laugh and ruffle my hair and I would ruffle his because he made an adorable, clumsy drunk. And then I would pull my sleeves down and go and buy some more alcohol. I don't even know why I answered him. I drank more to relax, and he would cheer me on. Down it fresher! And then he'd give me life advice.

"You wanna get someone good, someone who'll take care of ya. Don't be the one buying all the drinks. Don't let people push you around. Have a bath when you're stressed. Keep in contact with your friends from school. Don't get mad when parents are overprotective, they love you, that's all."

And then he'd go away and dance with someone else for the rest of the evening. Maybe someone would take him home. Maybe he'd take someone home. Maybe he'd get too wasted to walk straight and others would carry him into a taxi. I wanted to be one of them when I saw but I always felt too awkward to do it.

I left a paracetamol and a glass of water in my cupboard with his name on a slip of paper beside it on the mornings after. He would always borrow it, without fail. I never knew whether to be pissed that he automatically looked in my cupboard for something in the morning, or happy from an odd feeling of acceptance.

He was the most tactile out of the guys. He'd slap the guys on the back and hug the girls, and ruffle your hair as long as you hated it. Everyone loved Ollie, even when they didn't. It was like he was born with a right to be in everyone's good graces.

"Ollie, leave my hair alone. It's annoying."

"In a but-you-know-it-looks-better-messy-really way or a I'm-gonna-punch-you-if-you-do-that-again way?"

"The latter."

"Aw, you hurt me. You're so cruel, Will. Will's so cruel, Nadine, isn't he?"

I smiled. Jamie never sussed it. Ollie ruffled his hair and asked if he minded and he said 'No, not really. It feels kinda nice.' Ollie never ruffled his hair again, but he kept ruffling mine.

It seemed like he gave his attention to the housemates in cycles. Somehow he always managed to pick the right side to take, and the other side would always forgive him. Sometimes he would chill with the guys and ignore the girls, sometimes vice versa. But his low level of attention to me was always constant. Perhaps I just wasn't around enough or friends with him enough for him to think it worth the bother varying it.

The one thing Ollie never managed seemed to be Jamie. Jamie's crush got more and more obvious and it appeared more and more apparent that a decision of harsh check or boyfriend rule-break was impending. Sometimes Ollie chilled in my room. We'd go through videos on Youtube or watch a film and chat of nothing much. It never felt like we were especially bonding in those occasions – he was just hiding out from Jamie. But I still liked it.

Then this one time I got a load of posters, trying to make my room more of a home, make me feel more grounded. When I came in with them Ollie saw and offered to help. He rolled up his sleeves and punched his fist into his other palm as if getting down to serious business.

"We're putting up posters, not scaffolding," I teased.

"Oh, harsh. You're so cruel, Will."

"Eh?"

"Maybe I won't help after all."

I don't know why I felt kinda hurt.

"Only joking." He ruffled my hair.

"Stop that."

"Stop objecting, fussy. Don't you like me at all?"

"Eh?"

"Only joking. Stop being so serious, Will, honestly. It's bad for your health," he teased.

And we put all the posters up in casual near-silence, commenting only on the posters. And I felt sad because it was meant to feel more homely but it just felt another aimless ritual and even though Ollie was there I still felt kinda lifeless and I hated that. I wanted a hug. I pulled down the sleeves of my grey cardigan and fiddled with the frayed ends. And when he finished I said, 'Good job' and hugged him. And it was a really bad excuse for a hug and I knew it wouldn't pass. But he hugged me back anyway and then for some stupid reason I kept hugging him. He kissed the top of my head.

"Are you alright?"

And I thought with an odd out-of-body-horror that I might cry if I just kept letting him hug me so I pulled back and nodded.

"I'm good at hugs, aren't I?"

"Not really. Your jumper itches," I said. Because it did, and saying the hug was lovely would have been weird.

"So cruel. You hurt me, Will," he smiled. "I like hugs," he said. As if he was just saying his favourite colour. I ruffled his hair.

"Good for you."

"Ouch. Cold, man, cold. You're like ice. And my gran knitted this jumper, you know."

"Oh."

"Nah, only joking. Ha, your face. But you're alright, yeah?"

"Yeah, fine, yeah."

We hugged more after that. I don't know why. He would give me a brief hug from behind when giving a surprise hello or when he was extra happy after sharing some news or when I got irritated that he'd borrowed something. I didn't know if it was because of that weird moment on poster-day or not. I didn't know what it meant so I decided it meant nothing. We hugged sometimes. That was just what we did. I don't think Jamie noticed or cared. I'm not a threat to anybody.

#

We're sitting in my room right now, Ollie and I, chatting. Jamie's come home with a hot friend from football, and Ollie's hiding out with me. It's like a conspiracy. We grin and his grin is just impossibly big. I throw a Malteaser at him.

"You know Matt? Matt from Chemistry, big nose and bad jeans?" he says.

"Yeah."

"I think he loves me."

"Good for you," I deadpan. He laughs.

"I think Jamie loves me too. Everyone loves me." He rolls over and smiles at me. "What about you? Do you love me?"

It's one of those big, direct, out of the blue questions that he normally asks when drunk. I shrug. "I love you as a friend, sure."

"What about in the boxes-of-chocolates-and-bunches-of-flowers way?" he teases.

I look at him, those familiar indecisively coloured eyes and messy auburn hair. "I could love you like that I suppose. But I wouldn't. Think of the inconvenience."

He laughs. "What do you mean, could?" He bats his eyelashes at me.

I blush. "Oh shut up. I think I could love anybody like that, I mean, given the right circumstances. I think every human being can be loved." I don't really know what I'm saying. I mean that, well, he looks attractive, and I like him, so in the right circumstances I suppose falling in love with him would be possible, if I let it, if I wanted it. Why would I want to think things that would cultivate a crush on him, though? And what on earth possessed me to be so honest in the first place?

"That's adorable," he says. He eats a Malteaser. "What did you mean inconvenient?"

"Oh come on," I say. 'Everyone loves me' ring any bells?

"Oi! What's wrong with me? God, you're so mean, Will," he teases.

"You steal my food."

"You let me."

"I do not!"

"Then how do I steal it?"

I make an incoherent frustrated noise and frown at him and he just laughs. He's lying sprawled back on my bed as if he owns it; there's barely enough room for me to sit on the edge. He yawns as if he might nap there. I wish I felt that relaxed. I never feel that relaxed with people in my room. It's like they could judge me or learn something about me by its contents, even though I think my room looks pretty impersonal. I pull down the sleeves of my cardigan and fiddle with the ends.

"So, as your friend…" He rolls over onto his front and ticks the points off his fingers. "I can borrow your food when I want, chill in your room whenever I feel like it, and hug you?"

I want to object; it's not so much that I want those things as much as I just let him get away with them. I don't know where his question is coming from, or where he's going with this. I don't know what it means, so I decide it means nothing. I shrug.

"Yeah, so?"

He sits up and shrugs back, then shuffles along the bed, putting one leg behind me and letting the other hang off the bed to my right. He wraps his arms around me with a contented yawn, moulding his front to my back, and rests his chin on my shoulder. "Good enough for me."