I had decided not to get involved in any more of the juvenile activities the university had planned, but as I was walking across campus on my way back to my room, I was set upon by Erin and an absolute hunk. I barely spared a glance for Erin, except to see that she was wearing a pair of skimpy jogging shorts and a matching tank top, and that her freckles covered every exposed inch of skin...and probably the skin that wasn’t exposed. I didn’t waste my imagination envisioning it. It was much too busy picturing the hunk with her without his clothes.
He was beautiful. About my height, maybe a little taller, which meant he was still dwarfed by Erin. He was broad shouldered and muscular, but not in the beefy way like Foster. This guy was much more toned and slender, the broadness of his shoulders narrowing to a small waist and long, shapely legs. He had the face of a model, all chiseled angles, golden skin and warm dark eyes that made me want to melt on the spot. His hair was a masterpiece of carefully disarranged chestnut curls with gorgeous golden highlights that I would stake my reputation as a gay boy were not the product of a salon, but real live natural highlights resulting from hours spent playing soccer in the sun. I could just picture him now, running around with his shirt off, chest glistening with a fine sheen of sweat, patting the other players on their pert little butts...
I shook my head to clear it of the tantalizing images and realized that Erin had been talking the whole time. I caught the last few words which was enough to figure out that she was inviting me to play some sort of game with them.
“...so we just need one more player from our building and we’ll have a team,” she was saying with a highly amused expression on her so-homely-it’s-cute face. “What do you say?”I
didn’t really want to play any stupid games, but if it meant I got to spend more time with this walking god I’d do just about anything. “Yeah, uh, sure,” I agreed, still not knowing exactly was I was agreeing to.
“Great! It’ll be fun. By the way, Jake, this is Carlos. Carlos, this is Jake. He’s a resident in Mohawk.”
Carlos held out a hand which I managed to shake without moaning out loud.
“Let’s go! The scavenger hunt is about to begin,” Erin said as jogged away. At least now I knew what it was we were playing. Carlos followed Erin, and I trotted along behind him, enjoying the view of his nicely shaped bottom moving under the silky material of his soccer shorts. I was so mesmerized by his bum I almost ran into him when he came to a stop. I looked up to see we had joined a group of four other kids. We all moved to form a circle.
“Okay guys, this is our team and we’re gonna kick ass!” Erin enthused. “Quick introduction. We all live in the same building so we need to get to know each other and learn how to work as a team.” I was beginning to see the point in this little exercise. She went around the circle introducing everyone. There was Courtney, the chubby blonde from my first day here; Alex, a long-haired hemp hippie sporting a tie-dyed T-shirt and sparse facial hair; Miranda, a gorgeous black girl with a well-trimmed afro and an athletic body; Toshi, the androgynous Asian whose name still didn’t help me identify a gender; me and the beautiful Carlos. I was impressed that she already knew all our names.
Erin quickly outlined the rules, finishing up just as a whistle blew signaling the start of the game. We spent the next hour running around the campus as if our very lives depended on the recovery of a napkin signed by the cafeteria lady with the huge mole on her cheek. It didn’t take me long to realize that, besides forcing bonds between my fellow Mohawk residents, the game was designed to familiarize the freshies with the campus. Since I’d already taken it upon myself to do that on my own, the game was even more pointless than it already was, but I played along happily since it turned out Carlos was the touchy-feely type. I was a little disappointed to see that he was equally demonstrative with everyone, but it didn’t really lessen the excitement I felt when it was me he grabbed in a victory hug as we found another object from the list.
Despite our best efforts, we came in second. Since there was no discernable prize, I wasn’t all that disappointed. Unlike Carlos, who it seemed was the competitive type. He seemed absolutely crushed by our first loser status and I wanted to be first in line to console him. I was about to offer my services when Erin made an announcement.
“We’re having our very first Mohawk activity night this evening at eight in front of the building,” she told us. “It’s a pizza party and I hope you’ll all be there. Be sure to tell everyone you see.”
“Are you going?” I turned to Carlos and asked.
“I don’t have a choice,” he said, almost blinding me with a flash of his sparkling white teeth. Good oral hygiene is always a plus, I thought. His next words snuffed out any budding hope that I might have a chance with this Adonis. “After all, it is my girlfriend throwing the party.”
“Oh. You and Erin...”
“Yep,” he said, blissfully unaware of my dashed dreams.
Just then, Erin broke away from the conversation she’d been having with Sir Alex of Cannabis and approached us. “So, will you be there tonight, Jake?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I said flatly.
She looked genuinely disappointed. “Well, if you change your mind, feel free to come on down. The price is right. You can’t beat free pizza.”
“Thanks,” I said and started back towards the dorm. You ass, I chided myself. How are you going to make friends if all you do is mope in your room with Foster and the Neanderthal? I had a point. Besides, Erin and Carlos seemed like cool people even if they are straight. I turned back and yelled, “Hey Erin, I changed my mind. I’ll see you tonight.”
She lit up like a Christmas tree and waved in acknowledgment.
Feeling much better about my situation, I changed direction and went to get lunch at the cafeteria instead. I helped myself to a plate of some sort of stir fry and picked an empty table. Becca and Adrienne walked by, pointedly ignoring me. I was wounded to the core...or maybe not. A few seconds later, Foster and Slug dropped into seats at my table.
“Dude, the food here rocks,” Foster said while Slug nodded in contented agreement. They both began to shovel huge bites of meat and pasta into their mouths -- complete with disgusting slurping sounds -- and I immediately lost my appetite.
“Yeah, uh, I was just finishing,” I said weakly.
“You gonna eat that?” Slug asked, pointing at my unfinished stir fry.
“Help yourself,” I said, sliding the plate towards him and standing up. “See you back in the room.”
I spent the rest of the afternoon hiding in my room out of fear I’d be dragged into another team building game if I ventured outside. At eight, I went down for the pizza party and was surprised to find I actually enjoyed myself. It turned out that Erin had a wicked sense of humor and we hit it off famously. I really liked Carlos too, although I kept a little distance between him and me. I still didn’t trust myself to be too close to him without disgracing myself by humping his leg or something. I finally learned that Toshi was a guy and, unless I was way off target, quite queer. I was almost positive he was flirting with me. He was a pretty little thing with shoulder length hair and a feminine, heart-shaped face. There was a time when I would have had him in my room before he had the chance to think twice. Not anymore, though. I was trying to put my sluttish ways behind me. I hated the fact that I used to be like that, and my former ways were the main reason I’d chosen to go to a college so far from home.
A good number of people showed up for the party. Erin had slipped flyers under everyone’s door and apparently a lot of people respond positively to free pizza. The party began to dissolve into smaller gatherings as the evening wore on. Some left to watch a movie in someone’s room, while others broke off to play games or chat in more intimate settings. We weren’t the only party on or off campus tonight and some moved on to other pastures. It was dwindling down to just me, Erin, Carlos, Toshi, and a few other stragglers when I excused myself to go up to my room.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” Erin asked as I stood up.
“Sure,” I agreed guardedly.
She walked away from the remaining group and I followed her. Once we were out of hearing range, she turned and faced me. “Okay, this is probably none of my business, but are you gay?”
I was caught off-guard for a second, and her question left me uncharacteristically speechless. I’m comfortable with who I am, however, and make it practice to never deny it when asked directly. “Yeah, I am,” I said somewhat defiantly.
“Hey, don’t get me wrong,” she said quickly. “I’m perfectly cool with it. I was just wondering.” She broke into a broad grin. “I figured you were from the look on your face when you saw Carlos for the first time.”
I couldn’t help but blush, which is not my usual style. “Yeah, well, he’s a yummy piece of eye candy,” I admitted.
“That he is. But he’s also a lot smarter than most people give him credit for. They look at him and think that anything that pretty couldn’t possibly be blessed with a brain too, but he’s here on an academic scholarship.”
I couldn’t help smiling at her fierce defense. “Well, brains or brawn, you don’t have to worry about me trying to steal him away. Maybe once upon a time I would have pulled something like that, but not anymore.”
She laughed. “That’s not why I asked. It’s just good to know these things as your RA. That way I can watch out for potential problems.”
I frowned. “Do you expect any?”
“Problems? No, not really. VRU is a pretty liberal campus, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few rotten assholes in every barrel. I just like to be prepared. In other words, don’t worry. I’ve got your back.”
I had a sudden impulse to give her a hug, so I did. “Thanks.”
She grinned at me again. “Keep that up and it’s Carlos who’ll be jealous.”
I giggled. “Tell him not to worry. You’re completely safe with me.”
She wriggled her eyebrows. “Yes, but are you safe with me?”
We linked arms and walked back to the group giggling like school girls. Carlos raised an eyebrow, but took our sudden bonding in stride. I guess when you look like he does you aren’t too worried about someone stealing your girl. I said my goodnights once again and went up to my room.
I opened the door to find the Neanderthal laying across my bed, arms folded behind his head and staring up at the ceiling. Foster was not in the room.
“Uh, hi...” I took a deep breath and forced myself to say it, “...Slug.”
He rolled his big dark eyes in my direction -- managing to look remarkably like a horse -- and gave me a crooked smile. “Hi Jason.”
He looked at me blankly.
“My name is Jake, not Jason,” I explained.
“Oh. Sorry. Hi Jake.”
“So, uh, how did you get in the room?”
“Foster gave me a key.”
“He did, did he?” I was going to have to have a talk with Foster about that. The Missing Link had given no indication that he was planning to remove his person from my bed.
“Yeah, um, did you know that’s my bed?” I asked as politely as could.
“Oh, did you want to get here?” The idea seemed to catch him by surprise.
“Please?” It felt odd to requesting the use of my own bed, but it seemed the saner course of action when dealing with someone named Slug.
He laboriously worked himself to a sitting position, and with a few false tries, managed to get to his feet, where he stood swaying like a scrawny sapling in a stiff wind. It became all too apparent that Slug was drunk off his ass.
With an inward groan, I shut the door and steered Slug towards Foster’s bed. I’d let him deal with it whenever he dragged himself in for the night. Slug stood next to Foster’s bed and stared at it without comprehension. Either this guy was dumber than I’d given him credit for or he was a lot farther gone than he looked. I gave him a little push in the direction of the bed and watched in horrified fascination as he slowly collapsed onto the bed, looking amazingly like a toppling redwood. He bounced once upon hitting the mattress -- testing its weight endurance to the limit, no doubt -- and proceeded to pass out. I was tempted to applaud the performance, but instead, I just turned and changed into my bed clothes. I was worn out and it wasn’t even that late. One bad thing about being an early riser is that you get tired earlier too. When I was in full party mode it didn’t really faze me, but it had been a long time since I’d been in full party mode.
I was just about to fall asleep when Slug started snoring. No, snoring doesn’t quite capture the unearthly noises that were emitting from his body. It started off sounding like a sty full of pigs fighting over the last choice bit of slop. It wasn’t before he’d worked up a full head of steam, however, and the noise was more like a 747 landing in the room with me while sucking a whole herd terrified cows into its engines -- maybe with a bagpipe thrown in for good measure.
At first, I thought I’d wait it out. If it started suddenly, it stood to reason that it might stop just as suddenly. Twenty minutes later that theory wasn’t holding water, and I was seriously considering holding a pillow over his big meaty head until the cacophony ended.
A couple hours later, I was near tears when Foster finally came back, fumbling in the dark and cursing under his breath.
“You might as well turn the light on,” I told him, causing him to squeak in surprise. “I’m awake and I don’t think anything short of a nuclear blast would wake up your drunken friend right now.”
The light came on to reveal Foster staring fuzzily at his bed and its occupant. “Whatsh he doin’ here?” he slurred. Great. Now I had two intoxicated idiots on my hands.
“Don’t ask me. You gave him the key.”
“Ish he makin’ all that noise?”
“Where’m I s’posed to sleep?”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” I exclaimed. I leapt out of bed and grabbed my key. “Take my bed, but I swear, if you piss in it, I’ll kill you.”
“Where’re you goin’?”
“Somewhere I can get some sleep.”
I stormed out of the room and down the hall to the elevator. I took it down to the first floor where an RA I hadn’t met yet was on duty.
“Do you know what room Erin is in?” I asked the guy. He gave me her room number and I quickly sought it out. I knocked softly on her door. When she didn’t answer, I knocked louder. After a few minutes, a very sleepy looking Carlos opened the door in just his boxers. I felt my jaw drop.
“Jake?” he asked with a great deal of confusion. “What time is it?”
“I, uh, I don’t know. I just...I was going to ask Erin if I could sleep here, but I’ll, uh, I’ll go somewhere else.” I was incredibly embarrassed and I know my face had to be beet red. He looked even better without his shirt than I’d imagined. If I stood here another second, I’d be boned up. I began my retreat, but Carlos called after me.
“Why can’t you stay in your room?”
“It’s, uh, occupied.” As annoyed as I was with Foster and Slug, I didn’t want to get them in trouble. At least not until after I tried talking to them.
“So where are you going?”
I shrugged. “I...don’t know.”
“Then come on.”
“No, really, it’s okay...”
“No, come on. You can have the futon. It’s not very comfortable but it’s better than nothing.”
I wasn’t sure about that, but there was no way to turn him down without being rude -- not to mention obvious. I trudged back to him, feeling like I was going to my own execution.
I stepped into Erin’s room and my first thought was that it was a lot homier than mine -- and bigger. A carpet covered the floor, a metal-framed futon faced a TV, and a chair sat off to one side to create a conversation area. Beyond that, her desk had been situated in such a way to separate the sitting area from her bed. Framed posters and photographs adorned the walls.
Erin sat up in bed and stared at me as if trying to figure out why I was standing in her room at something o’clock in the morning.
“He got evicted from his room,” Carlos said simply.
She nodded sleepily and lay back down.
“Pull up some futon,” Carlos offered. He helped me convert it into bed mode and offered me a pillow, which I didn’t accept since they only had two and both were already in use. I dropped to the lumpy mattress and squeezed my eyes closed. A few seconds later, the light turned off and I heard Carlos climbing back into bed with Erin. My eyes immediately popped open. Sleeping in the same room as that walking Michelangelo sculpture was going to be worse torture than staying in my room with Foster and Slug.
I don’t know how long I laid there awake, staring at the wall and desperately trying to pretend that Carlos wasn’t sleeping practically naked mere feet from me. I finally drifted off to sleep in the wee hours of the morning. Unfortunately, my inner clock doesn’t really give a damn what time I fall asleep. It awoke me bright and early first thing Saturday morning. I sat up and rubbed my aching eyes. I was definitely going to need my caffeine fix this morning. I got up and put the futon back in its sofa form, being as quiet as possible to avoid waking Carlos and Erin. I let myself out of her room and took the elevator back up to mine.
I opened my door to be greeted by the symphony from hell that was still emanating from Slug. He didn’t look like he’d moved since I had dumped him onto Foster’s bed. Foster, meanwhile, had somehow managed to fall asleep amidst the unbelievable racket and was still sleeping peacefully in my bed. He’d slobbered on my pillow. I was not happy. I slammed the door but neither of them even flinched.
With a low growl, I yanked some clothes out of my dresser and exited the room, slamming my door again on the way out. It made me feel better even if it didn’t really accomplish anything. I showered, dressed and shaved, then returned to the room. Neither of the two amoeba brains had so much as rolled over. I wanted to leap on Foster’s back and beat him with my fists until he woke up, but I restrained myself with some effort and decided to go get some coffee before I hurt someone -- namely myself.
I glanced at the clock on my way out. It was almost nine, about the same time I’d gone to The Morning Rush the day before. I wondered if that cute spazzy kid would be working again this morning. What was his name? Ah yes, Kody with a “K.”
I walked down to the coffee shop and pushed open the door. It was pretty much the way I’d found it the day before -- practically deserted. Kody was behind the counter again but he was distracted by the shop’s sole customer, a crotchety looking geezer with more hair coming out of his ears than on top of his shiny head. The old guy was complaining that the coffee was too hot, a complaint I found to be absurd. If you want cold coffee, go to Starbucks and get a frappaccino. Kody was handling the situation very professionally. I was impressed. He didn’t seem like the same person at all. He acted like this happened all the time, and for all I knew, it did.
They finally seemed to reach some sort satisfactory compromise and the old man shuffled off. I approached the counter and Kody looked my way. His eyes widened for a second, but then he pasted a professional smile across his face and the momentary look of panic was gone. I almost thought I might have imagined it.
“Hi,” he said cheerfully. “You’re getting to be a regular here.”
“What can I say? I like the company,” I said with a big smile. Nope, I hadn’t imagined the panicked look. It was back again.
He laughed nervously and twisted his hands into his apron. “So, uh, what can I get you?”
“Well, I’ve had the espresso and the double cappuccino with whipped cream. What would you suggest I try now? It can be anything as long as it has lots of caffeine. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“I, uh...we have some really good specialty blends,” he stammered, his face flushing.
“What’s your favorite?” I was flirting just to watch him squirm at this point. I couldn’t decide if he was uncomfortable because he’s gay or because he’s straight, but either way it was too much fun to pass up.
“Hazelnut, heavy on the cream, and a touch of honey,” he responded without hesitation.
“Sounds perfect. I’ll have that.”
“The, uh, pots are over there,” he said, pointing at a bank of coffee pots against one wall. He rang me up and handed me a ceramic mug emblazed with their logo, a coffee mug on wheels with speed lines coming from it.
After paying, I poured myself a cup of hazelnut coffee and prepared it just the way Kody had suggested, heavy on the cream, and with a touch of honey. I took a sip and turned to see that Kody was watching me closely for my reaction.
I made a face and exclaimed, “That’s horrible! How can you drink this stuff?”
He looked shocked for a minute, before his expression turned to horror. He quickly started apologizing. “I’m so sorry. You don’t have to drink it. Do you want something else? It’ll be on the house.”
I laughed. “Kody, calm down. I was just kidding. It’s really good.”
He jerked when I said his name as if someone had goosed him. He took a deep breath and released it slowly. “So you do like it?” he asked.
“Yeah, I really do.”
His face lit up with a smile that completely transformed him from cutie to hottie in under a second. I felt my breath catch in my throat and all I could think about was making him smile like that again.
“Can I get you anything else?” he asked and I realized that I was standing at the counter staring at him.
My brain was screaming at me to ask him out, but instead, I smiled and said, “No thanks. This is good.” I turned away and walked to what I now thought of as my table. I don’t even know if he’s gay, I reasoned with myself in a vain attempt to justify my cowardice. What was wrong with me? I’d never hesitated to ask a cute guy out before, even if I knew for a fact he was straight. “You never know” had always been my motto.
If I was honest with myself, though, I knew exactly why I hadn’t said anything. I hadn’t seriously dated anyone since rehab. I’d gone on a few dates, but they’d all pursued me and I hadn’t let them get close. None of them had progressed past the second date. Why? The answer was simple -- I was afraid. If I got too close to someone, I’d have to tell them about my past and I was too scared to do that. I didn’t want to have to face their reaction. My drinking and partying were only a small part of my shameful history.
I risked a look in his direction and found that he was still watching me. Our eyes locked for a second before we both looked away -- he pretending to clean behind the counter, me suddenly finding something infinitely captivating out the window. This is ridiculous. He obviously likes you so stop being a wuss. It doesn’t mean you have to tell him anything. It’s only one date.
I stood up with a sudden resolve and marched to the counter. My intentions were good, my timing was off. Kody looked up at my approach just as he was wiping up a small spill from a fresh carafe of coffee. He jerked back, his cleaning rag caught on the coffee pot handle, and it all went crashing to the floor, splashing Kody’s legs with scalding hot liquid and making a huge mess. He yelped in pain and bit down hard on his lower lip.
“Are you okay?” I asked with concern. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“You didn’t,” he said between clenched teeth.
“Let me help clean it up,” I offered.
“No, it’s okay. I’ll get it.”
I ignored him and slipped behind the counter. He was still standing stiffly, gripping the rag tightly in his hand. “Did you burn yourself?” I squatted in front of him and reached for his pant-leg. He snatched his leg away. “I just want to make sure you didn’t get burned.” This time, he let me lift the cuff of his pants far enough to see his skin. It was slightly reddened, but it didn’t look too bad. “Well, my official diagnosis would be that you didn’t get burned, at least not too badly.”
“Thanks,” he said in a rather breathless voice.
I looked around. “That’s the good news. The bad news is the floor’s a mess. Do you have a trash can for all this glass?”
He produced one from under the counter and crouched down next to me as I began picking up the larger shards of glass.
“You don’t have to do this,” he said softly.
I looked over at him, catching his eye. “I know. I want to.”
He looked away. “Don’t cut yourself.” We worked in silence for a few seconds, then he asked, “How’d you know my name?”
“That lady called you by name when she came in yesterday -- Kody with a ‘K’.”
“Oh.” Was it my imagination or did he sound a little disappointed? “That’s Max. She’s the manager here.”
“My name’s Jake,” I told him. He looked at me sharply, no doubt remembering his “everything’s Jake” comment. “No joke,” I assured him.
He gave me a crooked smile and I almost sliced my hand with a particularly wicked splinter of glass. “Hi Jake.”
I grinned back at him. “Hi Kody. I’d offer to shake your hand, but...” I held up my hand, which was dripping with coffee, and he giggled.
I took a deep breath and tried to summon my courage. Just ask him, my inner voice hissed.
“So, uh, would you like to...” I was interrupted by the bell that signaled the front door opening. Kody shot to his feet so quickly you would have thought a jolt of electricity had zapped him in the ass.
“What were you doing on the floor?” the woman I now knew as Max asked.
Kody opened and closed his mouth a few times, but nothing came out. I stood up too and her face became a comical mask of confusion. She looked back and forth between Kody and me, trying to put the puzzle together without the box top.
Before I could explain, Kody bolted through the office door, leaving me standing there looking guilty as hell. Max’s face was growing redder by the second. It looked like I was going to have to talk my way out of this one -- and judging by the color of Max’s face, I’d better talk fast.