It all started when we were about eight, after a lesson by Mrs Thaxter about patron saints. We looked at saints like Saint Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, and Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travellers and Saint Martha, the patron saint of homemakers.
After that class, Dennis, Bruce and myself went into the playground and discussed it, wondering what we would be patron saints of. Dennis said he was Saint Dennis, patron saint of chocolate biscuits, football, scabs and dogs. Bruce went with Pokémon cards, wasp stings, pretty girls who play netball and sunny days for Saint Bruce. I chose mine last, wanting four things that Saint Adam could rule with honour.
Paddling in the sea.
We laughed a lot at the idea and many games after this or so would involve us invoking our "powers". Saint Adam could turn any stream from water to cherryade. Saint Dennis was the best football player in the history of the world. Saint Bruce could make wasps attack anyone he didn't like.
Like most children's games, it was forgotten after a few months. It wasn't until we were eleven and up at the "big school" that any of us really gave it any thought. I was sorting out some rubbish under my bed and found the list of our patronages. I showed the others and they found it funny.
We decided to add to it. Saint Dennis became the patron saint of ghost stories. Saint Bruce gained patronage over thunderstorms. Saint Adam added school shoes to his roster, which I remember doing because I hated my school shoes at the time, and if Saint Adam was able to do anything, then he could give everyone good school shoes.
About a year later, the three of us decided to add more. It became a ritual for us. Our voices broke, our lives changed, my parents divorced. We did our exams, became interested in girls and generally outgrew the game we continued to play. The saints were signs of our growth. Saint Adam, for example, ruled cherryade and shower sex. Saint Bruce now watched over pretty girls who play netball and porn stars (as, indeed, did Bruce himself).
Now we were back at home from our first year at university. Due to family commitments and general exhaustion and homework, this was the first time we had seen each other altogether. It was time to add the next thing to our list of saintly duties. Bruce went first.
"Saint Bruce is now, among everything else, the patron saint of threesomes," he said, raising a fist above his head as he said it. Dennis and I whooped and clapped, each tinged with jealousy. It was hard to imagine that this was the same buck-toothed little boy who had decided he wanted to be the saint of Pokémon cards.
"How did that come about?" I asked.
"It wasn't that long ago," said Bruce, leaning back against the sofa. "A week or so before I came back from Christmas. I was waiting until now to tell you guys though. It was with two girls I'd met at the bar. We all got very drunk and ended up in my bed."
"Did you shag them both?" I said. Dennis was watching our conversation but didn't seem altogether with it.
"Yeah," said Bruce. "Was really sexy actually. You worry that that sort of thing only works in films but it actually worked in real life! It was such a good night."
"Sounds like it," I laughed. "OK, so that's yours done. Dennis, do you want to go next?"
"Huh?" Dennis had zoned out and I had dragged him back into the real world. "No, you go next."
"Alright then," I said. "Saint Adam is now the patron saint of absinthe. Have you ever had it?"
"Isn't that that drink that makes you want to kill yourself?" said Bruce, wide-eyed. "The bright green one."
"That's the very one," I laughed. "It's disgusting but it gets you so drunk and you just don't give a shit about anything when you've had enough. One hell of a hangover though. Come on Dennis, your turn."
Dennis was picking nervously at his fingernails. His new floppy hairstyle covered his face and when he looked up, he seemed worried.
"OK, let's just do this," he said. "Saint Dennis is now the patron saint of homosexuals." There was a pause during which time Dennis looked between Bruce and I, an expression on his face that suggested he was about to be attacked by a couple of starving lions.
"You're gay?" said Bruce eventually.
"Yes," Dennis said quietly.
"Cool," I said. I smiled and reached over to give Dennis a hug. His arms circled me too, and then I felt Bruce join in and the three of us hugged for several minutes. When we parted, Dennis was first to speak.
"I don't know why I was so scared of telling you," he said. "I'd sort of known for years, but when I got to Exeter I met this guy and, well, he's amazing. He's called Alex and we've been dating since September."
"That's so cool!" I beamed. "I'm really happy for you. Is he cute?"
"Very cute," Dennis laughed and sniffed at the same time.
"Why were you so scared about telling us?" said Bruce. "I mean, it's a surprise, but why do you think we're going to react badly?"
"I don't know," said Dennis. "I didn't really think you would, I was just nervous. It's a big thing."
"Hey, it's not like we've not experimented," I said. Dennis looked at me in confusion and Bruce looked at me in shock. "Bruce, you know you have, and I don't think Dennis cares."
"What happened?" said Dennis.
"I pulled Robert Taylor," said Bruce. Robert Taylor was a bisexual guy we'd gone to sixth form with. He and Bruce had got drunk at a party one night and kissed. Bruce told me about it in secrecy, and admitted he didn't enjoy it but was pleased he had tried.
I then regaled Dennis with my own story, which I'd already told Bruce. In October, while revising for a class test, I had got drunk with a gay guy called Federico from my course. He had ended up giving me head, but nothing more had ever come of it. I said to Dennis, "Everyone experiments and I'm so pleased that you know what you are. I love you, whatever." Dennis smiled.
"Me too," said Bruce. "And you will always be my saint of " he snatched up the list from the floor "- chocolate biscuits, scabs, roadkill, smoking in the toilets and homosexuals."
"Thanks guys," said Dennis. There was a short silence as the information we had all just gathered sunk in.
"So when can we meet Alex?" I said.
"When I come home for my birthday at the end of January, he said he'd come with me," said Dennis. "You guys are coming home too, right?"
"Of course," said Bruce. "Hey, Adam, whatever happened to that brunette you were telling me about who was stalking you?"
And so the conversation moved on and we talked for hours more, just three old friends. Saint Dennis, Saint Bruce and Saint Adam.