“I can explain everything, just don’t fire Kody,” I said, holding out my hands in the universal sign for “Don’t hurt me.”
Max burst into laughter, and I belatedly realized that her reddening face had only been a sign of impending mirth and not anger. My face flushed. I stood awkwardly while she laughed herself out and the blonde Marla gave me a measuring look.
“Nobody is getting fired, least of all Kody,” she said when her laughter had died down. “Funny, though, how I don’t remember hiring you, so maybe you could explain why you’re behind my counter.”
“Well, um, I startled Kody and he knocked over a pot of coffee and I didn’t know if he’d burned himself so I came back to check and then I was helping him clean up the mess...”
“Take a breath, kid,” she said cutting me off. “Aren’t you just a good little Samaritan?” She peered over the counter and raised an eyebrow at the mess. “Well, that was mighty sweet of you, but we’ll take care of it now. So unless you want to tie on an apron, I suggest you get out from behind my counter.”
I quickly and gratefully made my escape as Marla and Max slipped past me.
“I’ll take care of this. You go check on Kody,” Marla said to Max. Max left through the back door and Marla turned her thoughtful gaze on me. I had a feeling she wasn’t going to let me off as easily as Max had, so I grabbed my coffee and nodded in her direction as I practically ran for the door.
That was real smooth, Jake, I thought as I walked back to campus. I’d never botched a pick-up quite that badly before, and I’d had some real doozies. Like the time I got shot down by a guy at a club only to find out he was my teacher a few days later when school started. That had been awkward, but this was different. I always shook off my other failures, but this one deeply disappointed me. It wasn’t just that it was embarrassing — I’d have to see Kody again if I wanted to keep getting coffee there. And it wasn’t just that he was adorable — although, that smile! I’d been shot down by hotter guys and walked away without a second thought. So what was different? I really wanted to get to know Kody. He fascinated me. Maybe it was his innocence. There was a certain naiveté about him that I found very attractive.
What am I thinking? I don’t even know if he’s gay!
Things had been going well though, at least before Max and Marla had returned. I was pretty sure I was getting positive signals from him. I sighed. It was possible I’d never know now. I wouldn’t blame him if he ran the next time he saw me coming. What had I been thinking going behind the counter like that? I could have gotten him fired.
Even if he is gay, he probably won’t be interested in you if he finds out about your past, a nasty little voice whispered inside my head. Maybe that was what made this different. My attraction to Kody was deeper than just his looks. Deep inside, I knew I wanted more than a one-night stand and that terrified me. I didn’t know if I was ready to be honest with someone about the things I’d done. I could always keep it a secret but if things developed then I’d have to tell him eventually. It would only be worse then because I would have hidden it from him. I sighed. These thoughts were going nowhere fast. I didn’t even know if Kody was gay.
As I passed the student union, I remembered that I still needed to buy my books, so I decided to try again. If nothing else, it would be a welcome distraction from my thoughts of Kody. If they didn’t have them this time, I didn’t know what I would do.
Luckily, the bookstore wasn’t as busy today. I pulled the list out of my wallet, where I’d tucked it away for safe keeping, and started looking up numbers. They must have restocked the shelves since the last time I was here because it didn’t take me long to find all but one of my textbooks. I took my stack up to the cash register and asked about the final book. The guy behind the counter said they didn’t have any more of that book, and probably wouldn’t for another week. He quickly rang up my other purchases and I almost fell over when he told me the total. He gave me a sympathetic smile.
“It gets worse,” he said. “Just wait until book buy-back. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t even cracked it open, you’ll only get a tiny fraction back. Then they’ll turn around and resell it next semester for a huge profit. It’s all a big racket.”
“And it’s legal,” I said as I reluctantly handed over my credit card. Mom would pay for the bill, but it still annoyed me to pay that much for a few books.
I lugged my small fortune worth of books back to my dorm, where I tried to juggle them while unlocking my door. In the process, I banged the door several times with the stack of books. I just about had it unlocked when much to my surprise it swung open, throwing me off balance. I stumbled into the room, dropping my books everywhere, and careened into what felt like a brick wall but turned out to be — who else? — Slug. He caught me in a bone-crushing hug and looked down at me as if I’d somehow lost my mind.
“Don’t you have a room?” I snapped as I struggled to disentangle myself from the giant.
“Yeah, but my roommate doesn’t like me,” he said matter-of-factly.
“I can’t imagine why not,” my voice was soaked in sarcasm but the Neanderthal didn’t seem to notice.
“I don’t know either. I’m always polite.”
I stifled a roar of frustration as I turned away to pick up my books. I stacked them on my desk, then decided to get it over with. “Where is Foster?” I asked, even though I knew it was an exercise in futility.
He shrugged — an act that sent ripples across his chest. “Dunno.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
He sat on Foster’s bed and stared dumbly at me. I fought the urge to scream at the big doofus, reminding myself that he couldn’t help being the dimmest bulb on the Christmas tree. Besides, I knew what was really bothering me was fact that I’d screwed things up with Kody. There was no point taking that out on Slug.
I flopped backwards onto my bed with a sigh.
“Are you okay?” Slug asked.
“It’s a long story,” I said waving my hand dismissively.
“I have time.”
“Thanks, but...I don’t really feel like talking about it.”
Was it my imagination or did he sound a little disappointed? I took pity on him and decided to attempt conversation.
“So you’re friends with Foster?”
This might be more difficult than I’d first thought. “How do you know each other?”
“We went to the same high school.”
“Where was that?”
“Is that in New York?”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
I was getting worn out from the effort of extracting information. I decided to take a breather and let a silence settle between us. I jumped a little when he suddenly started talking.
“We’ve been friends since like kindergarten. We’re both really good at sports. Foster plays lacrosse and I play football. Foster used to play football too before he got into lacrosse. We used to be best friends, but when he started playing lacrosse he didn’t talk to me as much. When he found out that I was going here too, he suddenly became my friend again. Everybody always thinks I’m really stupid, and maybe I’m not the smartest guy, but I’m not as dumb as people think either. Foster thinks I’m dumb, but he’s not any smarter than me. I got better grades than he did. Sometimes I don’t think he really even likes me all that much. I think he’s just my friend because I’m the only person he knows here.”
I stared at Slug with a new respect. As he’d admitted, he might not be the brightest guy but he was obviously smarter than he looked to have figured all that out on his own.
“What’s your real name?” I asked.
“Your name isn’t really Slug, is it?”
He shook his head. “It’s Roy. I hate Slug.”
“Then why does Foster call you that?”
“Everybody back home called me that. When I was seven, somebody dared me to eat a slug.”
“And you did?”
“Ah.” I suddenly found myself actually liking the big lug...at least a little. I felt bad for him. There was a certain sadness about him that made me wonder what was going on inside that big empty head of his. “Well, Roy,” I said, reaching for my book. “I think I’m going to read for a little while.”
When I said his name, he got a big goofy grin on his face. “Sure, Jason. Don’t let me bother you.”
“It’s, uh, Jake,” I reminded him and he nodded cheerfully. He’d probably forgotten already. I shrugged and started reading.
I looked up a while later, surprised to see Roy still sitting there grinning happily. Maybe there wasn’t as much going on inside his head as I’d credited him with.
I sat my book down a couple hours later and looked over at Roy. He was still sitting on Foster’s bed. He’d turned on the TV after asking if it would bother me and ever since, he’d been contentedly watching the Cartoon Network.
“I’m going to lunch,” I told him.
“Can I come?”
I had a sudden sinking feeling that Roy had now latched onto me. Would he now start following me around like a big dopey puppy? The thought was rather chilling, but I couldn’t very well tell him he couldn’t eat lunch. “Uh, yeah, sure,” I said.
He plodded along after me as we walked to the cafeteria. I got a cold-cut sub while Roy filled several plates with enough food to feed a small third world country. At least I now knew how he maintained his size.
The rest of the afternoon was spent much like the morning. I read and messed around online while Roy watched TV, chuckling occasionally over the antics of whatever animated character he happened to be watching at the time. Foster didn’t make an appearance until just before dinner. He burst into the room wearing a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin.
“Dude, I’ve had the best day!” he gushed.
I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or Roy and decided not to comment on the off-chance he wasn’t talking to me. Apparently, he didn’t need the encouragement anyway, since he continued without hesitation.
“I met some mad cool people and they invited me to this totally happening party tonight! You guys have to come too. It’s like the place to be.”
“What decade are you from?” I asked.
If he heard me, he gave no indication. “Everybody is going to be there and it’s off campus at this guy’s apartment.”
“He must have a big apartment if everybody is going to be there.”
“I managed an invite because one of the guys on the team is friends with the guy who’s throwing the bash. He told me to bring some friends and you guys are like the only people I know.”
“Wow, what an invitation. I’ve never felt so special.”
“So you guys are coming, right?”
I stared at him and wondered if anything ever sank into that thick skull of his.
“Are you going?” Roy asked me.
“I don’t think so.” There would no doubt be lots of drinking and, more likely than not, drugs. I really didn’t need to put myself in that position.
“Oh, come on. You have to go!” Foster whined. “I can’t show up alone and my girlfriend hasn’t gotten here yet.”
“Why do I have to go? You guys can go without me.”
“I don’t wanna go either,” Roy announced.
Foster stared at him in utter disbelief. “Dude, you love parties!”
He shrugged. “I don’t wanna go.”
Faced with the idea of spending the entire day and night alone in my room with Roy gave me a new perspective on the party. I would just avoid the alcohol and drugs.
“Okay, I’ll go,” I said quickly, hoping I wouldn’t regret it later.
“Me too,” Roy added immediately.
Foster gave him a funny look, but seemed satisfied that we were both now going to the party with him. “Great! It starts around nine. Meet me here by like ten. I don’t want to be the first people there.” With that, he spun around and was gone as quickly as he’d appeared.
Soon after that, I went to dinner, Roy once again trailing after me. Erin and Carlos were already there when I arrived and they waved me over to their table. The three of us kept up a constant stream of chatter as we ate, while Roy silently inhaled his food. After dinner, Roy surprised me by announcing that he was going back to his room to change. I welcomed the respite.
“So what’s up with Andre the Giant?” Erin asked after he’d left.
“He’s my roommate’s friend from high school,” I told them, “but apparently now he’s adopted me as his new buddy.”
Erin giggled. “Well, you won’t have to worry about getting mugged with him following you around.”
Carlos laughed. “At least he’s quiet. He reminds me of the guy Andre the Giant played in The Princess Bride.”
“Fezzik!” Erin squealed.
“Anybody want a peanut?” Carlos howled.
“Um, I’ve never seen The Princess Bride,” I admitted.
Carlos and Erin abruptly stopped laughing and stared at me with twin expressions of horror. “You’re kidding,” Erin said, sounding as if I’d just announced that I’d never bathed before.
“Nope. Quite serious.”
“Inconceivable! You have to come watch it right now. I have it in my room.”
I laughed and shrugged. “Why not? I have a few hours to kill before I have to get ready for this stupid party my idiot roommate talked me into attending.”
“Where’s it at?” Erin asked as we stood up to throw our trash away.
“I don’t even know. Off campus somewhere.”
She made a face. “Be careful. Some of those off campus parties get pretty wild.”
We walked back to Erin’s room while Carlos and Erin threw lines from the movie back and forth. I wouldn’t need to see it after they finished quoting the entire script. Once in her room, she popped in the DVD and they settled onto the futon while I took the chair. The movie turned out to be surprisingly good, and I could definitely see the resemblance between Roy and Fezzick.
After the movie ended, we sat around and just talked for a while. Erin and Carlos were quickly becoming my closest friends here. I liked both of them, and I’d found it was possible to sit in Carlos’ presence without drooling. Around nine-thirty, I excused myself to go get changed for the party. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about going, but if I had to go I’d at least look my best.
I somehow wasn’t surprised to find Roy in my room when I opened the door. He’d changed into a pair of nice jeans and a button down shirt. I had to admit it was an improvement over his usual uniform of shorts and T-shirt. I took a few minutes to pick out an outfit, finally settling on nice jeans and a sexy, form-fitting short-sleeved polo shirt that matched my blue eyes. I debated going into the bathroom to change, but decided that was just silly. Still, I felt weird getting undressed in front of Roy. I changed as quickly as possible, feeling as if he was watching me, even though he probably didn’t even notice. Spongebob was on, and it seemed to have captured his full attention. Once dressed, I ran my fingers through my hair, added a shell necklace, and sprayed on some of my favorite cologne.
“You look nice,” Roy said suddenly, startling me.
“Uh, thanks,” I said, feeling distinctly uncomfortable. If Roy turned out to be gay and had a crush on me I was moving home. Screw college.
We didn’t have to wait long before Foster showed up again. “You guys ready?” he asked. I thought I caught a whiff of alcohol on his breath but wasn’t positive. Surely, he hadn’t been pre-gaming had he? Then again, knowing him, that’s probably exactly what he’d been doing.
“As I’ll ever be,” I answered with a sigh. I had a sinking feeling about this party.
“You could sound a little more excited,” he said, poking his lower lip out in a pout.
“Let’s just go. You do know where we’re going, right?”
“I have directions.”
Somehow, I wasn’t reassured.
We followed Foster downstairs, and he set off in the direction of The Morning Brew. As we passed the coffee house, I glanced in, but Kody wasn’t in sight. Max was working with a sulky-looking guy I’d never seen before. We passed a video store that I noticed had a rainbow flag in their window. I made note to come back sometime when I was alone. I was beginning to suspect Foster was lost when we arrived at a slightly rundown apartment building with a sign in the window that read “College Rentals.”
“I think this is it,” Foster said, pushing open the front door. We followed him in as he started up a flight of steps taking two at a time. When the door closed behind us, we were suddenly thrown into pitch-black darkness. I came to sudden halt and Roy slammed into me full force from behind, knocking me down with a clatter and a yelp.
“What the fuck?” Foster exclaimed.
“I think Roy just broke my leg,” I groaned.
“Why is it so dark?” Roy asked.
“Who the fuck is Roy?” Foster asked in confusion.
“I’m Roy,” he responded. “Did I really break your leg?”
“No, it’s not broken. You just knocked me down.” I pulled myself to my feet using the wall for support.
“His name is Slug!” Foster bleated in the darkness.
“I don’t like Slug. My name is Roy.”
“My mom named me that when I was born.”
“Could someone just open the door?” I yelled just as a light appeared at the top of the stairs and music flooded into the stairwell.
“I thought I heard some voices,” a guy said from the second floor. He was backlit so I couldn’t make out his face clearly, but he looked to be about average height and was well-built from what I could see. “I’m assuming you’re here for the party. Sorry about the light being out. The landlord hasn’t replaced it yet. Come on up.”
We made it to the second floor landing without further incident and I got my first real look at our host for the evening. He was quite good looking with blonde hair, green eyes, and a square jaw. He held out a hand and we all shook it in turn, introducing ourselves as we went. His name was Nick Pederson, and his handshake was as firm as his jaw. I thought I saw something in his eyes as his hand lingered in mine just a little too long. Jeez, I was beginning to think that everyone was gay. First it was Kody, then Toshi, and now this guy. I’d even wondered briefly about Roy. Was I that desperate for some queer companionship or was this college just full of fags?
He escorted us into his apartment which was surprisingly large and already pretty much filled to capacity. As I’d suspected, there was plenty of alcohol flowing already, although at this stage, everyone was still more or less sober. Music was playing, but it was at background volume and didn’t really interfere with the conversations that were going on all around the room.
“Can I get you a drink?” Nick offered, playing the perfect host.
“Just point me towards the hard stuff,” Foster said. His eyes were already scanning the room like a predator seeking prey.
“I’ll just have a beer, thanks,” Roy said politely.
Nick pointed Foster in the direction of the liquor, then grabbed a bottled beer out of a nearby cooler and handed it to Roy. Then he turned to me. “What can I get you?”
“Do you have Coke?”
“Rum and Coke?”
“Hold the rum.”
“Just a Coke?”
“No problem.” He ducked into the kitchen area and returned quickly with a glass of Coke. I took a cautious sip just to be safe. “I didn’t spike it,” he said with a smile.
I smiled back. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply you did. It’s just that I don’t drink.”
“At all?” he asked with surprise.
“Oh, okay. I get you. That’s cool.”
We chatted for a few minutes before the sound of shattering glass came from the kitchen. Nick flinched and gave me an apologetic grimace.
“I guess you’d better go check on that,” I said.
“Yeah,” he agreed and headed off in the direction of the crash.
I decided to make a circuit of the room. As I went, I looked for familiar faces but didn’t see any. The party had spilled into the bedroom, where a group of people were watching something on the TV. It turned out to be that movie with the guy from Dawson’s Creek as the drug dealer, Rules of Attraction. I stayed and watched for a while, especially enjoying the scene where some cute dark haired guy kissed him, but after that, I quickly lost interest and wandered on again. I ended up back in the living room, leaning against the wall. Parties just weren’t as much fun if you couldn’t drink -- especially when you don’t know anyone.
I gave the room another once over hoping someone I knew had arrived while I’d been in the back, but all I came up with was Roy and Foster. Foster was already looking hammered. No wonder, I thought when I noticed the glass of amber liquid in his hand. He was knocking back the hard stuff straight-up. He was busy hitting on a brunette chick who looked extremely disinterested. Roy was standing a few feet away from me with his arms crossed over his chest while scanning the crowd. Every few seconds he’d glance over to make sure I was still nearby. He’d been following me around all night and I was beginning to feel like I had a bodyguard. If there was anyone here who might be interested in me, they’d probably be too intimidated to approach me.
Just then, I was proven wrong as someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to find a painfully thin girl with stringy blonde hair. “You look really familiar,” she said. Her voice was steady but her eyes were slightly unfocused. It was a look I’d seen many times before. She’d been into something besides alcohol tonight. “Are you from around here?”
“Uh, no. I’m from out of state.” As I said that, I realized that she did actually look vaguely familiar. My brain raced, trying to figure out where I might know her from. It would be just my luck if she was someone from my past.
“Really? Me too. I swear I’ve seen you before. Have you ever been to California?”
I took a closer look at her. Shit. I’d lived in California for a year with my mom. I’d been quite the party boy while there. I drank heavily and I’d gotten into drugs, a habit that followed me back to Maryland and almost cost me my life. I didn’t know where I’d met this girl before, but I was sure I didn’t want her to remember. Not here. I’d done a lot of things I wasn’t proud of then. “Nope,” I lied. “You must have me confused with someone else.”
I quickly moved away, Roy tagging along a few feet behind. Something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye and I turned to see some guy dancing by himself on the other side of the room. Another drunk kid, I thought. Then he turned and I saw his face. My breath caught in my throat. It was Kody. His cheeks were rosy and his eyes were squeezed shut as he danced, his body moving without any inhibitions. He’s even beautiful when he’s drunk. I bet it’s the first time he’s ever been drunk. He was dressed very differently than he did for work. He was wearing a pair of tight low-rise jeans and a button-up shirt open over a white T-shirt. His undershirt had risen above his navel, giving a tantalizing glimpse of his smooth stomach. I couldn’t tear my eyes off him. Other people were noticing him now, too. The blonde chick from California had even started dancing with him.
“Hey! Look at the little fag dance!” someone yelled. I searched out the heckler and somehow wasn’t surprised to see it was Foster. It figured he’d be a homophobe. He was definitely a lot drunker than he’d been when we arrived.
Kody stopped dancing and stood swaying slightly while he sought out the voice. He stared defiantly at Foster.
“Go on, fag. Dance till you puke,” Foster taunted and several people laughed.
I didn’t like the look in Kody’s eyes. I pushed away from the wall where I’d been leaning and started across the room in his direction. Before I’d taken more than a couple steps, Nick caught Foster’s arm and said something to him quietly. Foster shook him off angrily and gave him a slight push. Suddenly, Kody launched himself into Foster’s chest. Kody was much smaller, but he caught Foster by surprise and Foster was drunk. They went down with a crash, Kody pummeling Foster’s face before they hit the floor. I had to give him this much, he was a tough little moron. He couldn’t keep this up forever though, and Foster would cream him the first chance he got.
I tried to move faster through the crowd, but Nick was closer. He grabbed Kody and started pulling him off of Foster. Foster used the golden opportunity to take a sucker punch. One shot and little Kody was out like a light.
I felt a growl in my throat, but suddenly, the crowd was parted before me as Roy cut through them like a bulldozer. He reached Foster and lifted him off the floor as if he was nothing more than a rag doll.
“That was mean,” he snarled.
“Are you sticking up for fags now, Slug?” Foster spat the name like an insult.
I seriously think those might have been Foster’s last words if I hadn’t been there. Roy tensed up and I saw his hand clench into a fist. I laid a hand on Roy’s arm and I immediately felt the tension drain out of him.
“He’s drunk, Roy,” I said quietly. “Why don’t you take him back to our room before he causes more trouble?”
“What about the kid?” he asked.
I looked over at Kody, who was being cradled in Nick’s lap. He was just starting to come to, so it didn’t appear to be anything too serious. “I’ll take care of him.”
“Okay, Jake,” Roy agreed. I took a second to note that he’d finally gotten my name right. He dragged a loudly protesting Foster out the door.
Once they were gone, I turned my attention to Kody and Nick. I knelt down next to them. “Hey, Kody,” I said softly. “You okay?”
He tried to focus on me, but his eyes refused to cooperate. “Jake?”
“There’re two of you.”
“It’s okay. Just relax.”
“I take it you two know each other?” Nick asked.
“Yeah, we’ve met.”
“I just met him today. He lives next door. I had no idea he was such a wild man.”
“I get the impression he isn’t usually.”
“Hey, I’m in the room, people,” Kody slurred. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”
“Sorry, Kody. Hey Nick, Foster is my roommate so I feel a little responsible here. Why don’t I take care of getting Kody here back to his room so you can get back to your party?”
“Sounds like a plan. That okay with you, Kody?”
“Hm? Yeah, whatever Jakie-poo says.”
“Jakie-poo?” Nick asked with a raised eyebrow. I shrugged. I was as confused as he was.
Between the two of us, we managed to get the trashed kid more or less to his feet. He was leaning heavily against me, but I can’t say I minded it all that much. Do not take advantage of this situation, I told myself sternly. We moved slowly towards the door, the other partiers considerately moving out of the way as we progressed. Nick let us out and we finally reached the hallway.
“Sorry about all this,” I said and Nick laughed.
“It’s not your fault,” he said. “You’re probably the only sober one involved. If you hadn’t stepped in, we’d probably have a dead body on our hands. That big guy looked like he could do some damage. It was nice meeting you, though. Hey, maybe we can get together some other time under better circumstances.” He gave me a dazzling smile, and I definitely knew he was flirting this time.
“Er, uh, yeah, sure,” I stammered.
He smiled again. “You sure you can handle him?” He pointed to Kody, who had wrapped his arms around my neck and laid his head on my shoulder.
“Yeah. Taken care of.”
“Okay then. Just let me know if you need any help.”
He shut the door, leaving Kody and me alone in the hall.
“Okay, Kody,” I said to the dead weight at my side. “Let’s get you into bed.”
He giggled. “Are you hitting on me?”
I couldn’t help but laugh too. “You wish.”
“Mmm,” was his ambiguous reply.
“Where’s your key?”
He made no move to get it, so with a sigh I fumbled my hand into his pocket.
He giggled again and squirmed against me. This was causing a blood flow directly to my crotch. “You’re making this hard,” I mumbled, and added under my breath, “No pun intended.” I managed to find the key and slid my hand out of his pants. I propped him against the door and held him up with one arm while I unlocked his door. He stumbled backwards as the door swung open. I caught him and pulled his body against me as I struggled to keep my balance. His arms went around my neck, his face only inches from mine.
I felt my face flush as I sincerely hoped he was too drunk to remember any of this in the morning. “Bedroom,” I croaked.
He pointed vaguely towards the back of the apartment. I looked around and realized it was a mirror image of Nick’s apartment. I figured Kody’s bedroom would be in the same place Nick’s was, so I steered him in that direction after shutting the door with my foot.
We reached the door which I maneuvered open. I reached inside and found the light switch. Sure enough, it was the bedroom. He had a double bed; the impression of his body could still be seen in its sheets. I shuffled Kody towards the bed until we’d reached its side.
“Okay, into bed,” I said.
“Okay,” he agreed with a giggle and fell back, pulling me with him. We tumbled into his bed, his arms still around me.
“Kody, I should go,” I said, my voice uneven and my breath ragged.
“Stay,” he whispered.