I looked into Kody’s gray eyes and fought for breath. My heart felt like it was trying to pound its way out of my chest. Had he just asked me to stay? At that moment, I wanted to do that more than anything. It felt so right just lying here in his arms, but I reminded myself that he was drunk. He didn’t know what he was saying.
I opened my mouth to tell him I couldn’t stay, but he cut me off when he suddenly started to sing. “I have lost love. I have found love, in a world of broken dreams.” The words made my heart skip a beat. Did he know what he was saying? Before I could react, he leaned forward in a clumsy attempt to kiss me. For one brief second of pure, startled perfection, his lips brushed against mine, then he dropped back onto the bed. He was out cold.
I just laid there next to him for a few minutes, watching him sleep. Any lingering doubts I’d had about his sexuality had been neatly cleared up with that kiss. I’ve learned from experience—I don’t care how drunk you are—you don’t kiss a guy unless you want to. I knew I should leave, but I just couldn’t stop looking at him. He was so beautiful. I wanted to touch him so badly, just run my fingers across the soft skin of his cheek. I wanted to kiss his eminently kissable lips.
I’m falling for him, I realized with a lurch. I jumped up from the bed. This couldn’t be happening. I barely knew him. I couldn’t be falling for him. I backed out of the bedroom, pulling the door closed quietly behind me. I leaned my forehead against the coolness of the painted wood. What am I doing? I can’t fall for this kid. We’re so different. He’s so innocent and pure. And I’m...not.
I turned around and looked around his apartment. It may have been laid out like Nick’s, but the similarities ended there. Nick’s apartment had been furnished with slick modern pieces that looked like they must have cost a fortune. It was attractive, but hadn’t felt comfortable to me. In contrast, Kody’s apartment was filled with obviously second-hand pieces, but it felt much more like a home. I noticed one odd note. For some reason I couldn’t quite fathom, it seemed Kody kept his dirty clothes hamper next to the front door. A shirt hung half-out of it where’d he probably carelessly thrown it after coming in from work. The thought of him walking around without a shirt sent shivers down my spine and I decided it was definitely time to leave. I let myself out of his apartment and carefully locked his door before pulling it closed.
I walked slowly back to my building, thinking about Kody and my feelings for him. It occurred to me that he’d been taking up an inordinate amount of my thoughts lately. What was I going to do? Was it worth the risk of rejection? I didn’t know if I could stand to see Kody’s face filled with disgust for me. Maybe it would just be easier to avoid him altogether. My thoughts careened wildly around and around my head, but I’d come to no conclusions by the time I reached my dorm.
I could hear Foster as soon as I stepped off the elevator on my floor. I paused and listened outside the door. From the sound of things, he was still very unhappy. I took a deep breath and opened the door. Roy and Foster both turned to face me as I stepped in. Foster’s posture was aggressive, but Roy didn’t seem too intimidated. Then again, I guess when you’re the size of a mountain not much threatens you.
Foster immediately launched a verbal attack. “What the fuck were you doing?” he snarled at me. “I can’t believe you two stuck up for that little fag.”
I wasn’t in the mood to put up with his mouth. “Oh give me a break, Foster,” I shot back. “You’re twice his size.”
“Hey, the fag started it! He jumped me.”
“No, you started it when you opened your big mouth.”
Roy was watching our exchange with an impassive expression, his big head swiveling back and forth as if he was watching a tennis game.
“What are you trying to say?” Foster demanded.
“I’m trying to say you acted like an ignorant bully.”
“The fag deserved...”
“Stop using that word.”
“What word? Fag? Why? Are you some kind of fag lover?”
“Shut up, Foster. We’re not having this conversation. You’re an idiot when you’re sober and you’re even worse when you’re drunk.”
An ugly look passed across his face, and I was suddenly very glad Roy was in the room. “Maybe you’re a fag yourself,” Foster sneered. I ignored him and started getting ready for bed. Foster wasn’t finished yet. “Is that it? My roommate’s a fag?” I felt him come up behind me and stiffened. Roy moved closer as Foster grabbed my arm and spun me around, shoving me against my desk. “Are you a fag, Jake?”
“Foster, stop,” Roy rumbled. Personally, I would have stopped just from the tone of his voice, but Foster was too far gone.
Something inside me snapped. I looked him right in the eye and said, “Yes.”
Foster’s fist drew back so fast I didn’t have time to do more than flinch, but the blow never landed. Roy moved to intervene with a speed I’d never suspected he possessed. His knuckles connected solidly with Foster’s face, actually sending him flying a short distance through the air before hitting the floor with a heavy thud. He didn’t move. I stared down at him for a few seconds before glancing over at Roy. He was looking at Foster with a sad expression on his face.
“I didn’t want to hit him,” he said.
“I know, but I’m sure glad you did.”
He looked over at me. “Foster always gets mean when he gets drunk.”
I couldn’t argue with that so I just nodded. Roy picked Foster up and laid him on his bed. “I don’t think I should sleep in here tonight, just in case he wakes up and is still mad,” I said.
He nodded. “Where will you go?”
“I can probably stay on Erin’s futon again.” He blinked at me without comprehension. “I can stay with a friend.” He nodded again.
I pulled out some clothes from my dresser and stuffed them into my backpack. I didn’t want to have to face Foster in the morning...or ever again, for that matter.
“Are you?” Roy asked suddenly.
I stopped what I was doing and looked over at him. He was studying me closely, as if trying to figure something out.
“Am I what?”
“What Foster said?”
“I didn’t want to use that word after you yelled at Foster for saying it.”
“You want to know if I’m gay?”
I eyed his huge frame and thought about the damage he could do to me if he didn’t like my answer. So far, he’d been a gentle giant when it came to his interaction with me, but I’d just watched him knock a big guy like Foster halfway across the room with a single punch. What could he do to me? “Does it matter?”
He shrugged. “Not really. You’re still my friend no matter what. You’re nice to me.”
I felt a pang of guilt at his words. I really hadn’t been very nice to him. The fact that he thought I had been spoke volumes about the kind of treatment he must be used to. I decided I at least owed him the truth.
“Yeah, I’m gay.”
He smiled as if I’d confirmed something he’d suspected. “I thought so. You’re sweet on that little boy, aren’t you?”
I felt a flush creeping up my cheeks. “Kody?”
“Is he the one Foster punched at the party?”
“That’s the one. You like him, dontcha?”
“Yeah, I do,” I said and giggled as the surrealistic quality of this conversation struck me. The first person I tell about my crush is an enormous straight simpleton.
Roy’s smile grew. “Does he like you?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“You should ask.”
“It’s not quite that easy, Roy.”
“It’s not the same for guys like me as it is for you. You can just walk up to a girl that you like and ask her out. I can get beat up or even killed if I ask the wrong person.”
Roy thought about it a second then slowly bobbed his head once. “Maybe if the guy is someone like Foster, but Kody couldn’t beat up a third grader.”
I laughed. “He took Foster down.”
“Only cuz he was drunk and didn’t expect the little guy to jump him.”
I looked over at Foster. The area around his eye where Roy at hit him was swelling slightly and already starting to turn dark. He was going to have quite a shiner when he woke up.
“I should probably go before he comes to,” I said with a sigh. “I don’t look forward to sharing a room with him in the future.”
“You’ll have to be careful now,” Roy said. “I’ll watch out for you when I’m around.”
I grinned. Just earlier tonight I’d thought Roy felt like my bodyguard, and now he really was. That annoying Whitney Houston song from The Bodyguard suddenly popped into my head.
Roy frowned. “That little guy will need watching out for more than you, though.”
“You think Foster will mess with him?”
“He’s gonna be mad. He made him look bad in front of all those people.”
I hadn’t even thought about that. Great. Just what I needed—something else to worry about.
“I’ll watch out for him, too.”
I smiled at Roy. He really wasn’t such a bad guy. I picked up my backpack and slung it over my shoulder. “So yeah, I guess I’ll go see if I can stay with Erin.”
“Okay. Do you care if I stay here tonight? I’ll keep an eye on Foster.”
“That’s not a bad idea. You can just take my bed.”
“Take it where?”
I laughed, then realized he wasn’t making a joke. “Um, you can sleep in my bed.”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”
I smiled at Roy again. “No, thank you.”
“For being a friend.”
He looked surprised. “We’re friends?”
“Hell yeah. You saved my neck tonight.”
A huge grin spread across his face. “Cool.”
I slipped out of the room and went to see if Erin’s futon was available. It was, and Erin, who was alone this time and still awake when I knocked on her door, was thrilled to have me spend the night again. “It’ll be like a slumber party,” she squealed. We stayed up for a while, just talking and getting to know each other better. I even told her about the situation with Foster—she recommended I apply for a room change—and my crush on Kody, which she thought was adorable. Finally, we both grew too tired to keep our eyes open and we fell asleep.
I was a little disoriented when I awoke the next morning. I sat up and remembered where I was, but Erin was nowhere to be seen. I found my watch and checked the time. It was after ten! That was sleeping in late for me. I got up and found a note from Erin on my backpack.
Gone out for breakfast with Carlos. Help yourself to the shower.
See you later,
I took her up on her offer and jumped in the shower. She still wasn’t back by the time I got dressed, so I left her a quick note thanking her for letting me stay, then went to get some coffee. I was secretly hoping to see Kody, but coffee was a good excuse.
I pushed open the door and was disappointed to see no sign of Kody. Max and the dark-haired guy I’d seen last night were working behind the counter. Max grinned as soon as she saw me.
“Well, if it isn’t the Good Samaritan. Helped any old ladies across the street today?”
Max was a joker. I knew her type and I knew just how to play up to them. “No. Why? Did you need to cross the street?” I quipped with a wink.
Max threw her head back and let out a guffaw. “Oh yeah,” she said, wiping at her eyes. “I definitely like you, kid.”
“Call me Jake.”
“There’re a lot of things I’d like to call you, but none I can say in front of Mike here.” She leaned over the counter and added in a stage whisper, “Virgin ears...”
I glanced over at Mike who looked quite bored with the whole exchange. He wasn’t exactly Mr. Personality.
“So what can I get you?” Max asked.
“A double shot of espresso, please.”
“Coming right up.”
She made my drink and I paid her for it. As she was getting my change, she looked up slyly. “So, have you given any thought to applying for a job here? We’re still hiring.”
I accepted my change and receipt while I pretended to think about her question. “I’ll let you know when I get that desperate.”
She stuck out her tongue at me and I was surprised to see she had a tongue stud. “I’ll be sure to let Kody know you dropped in to see him,” she added with a smirk.
I must have looked startled because she started chortling again with the satisfied expression of one who has taken a shot in the dark and hit the bull’s-eye. I let her have the last word and left with my coffee. It seemed I may have underestimated Max.
Was I really that transparent? If it was so obvious that Roy could see it, I guess I was. I walked back to campus and decided to risk going back to my room. I listened at the door but didn’t hear anything inside. I went in to find the room empty. I think it was the first time in days I’d opened my door without finding Roy inside. It was strangely empty without his presence.
I turned on my computer and signed online. I was chatting with friends from home when the door opened behind me. I jumped up as Foster walked in. He spotted me and a range of emotions flickered over his face, finally settling on sheepish. He was sporting a huge black eye, courtesy of Roy.
“Hey, Jake,” he said softly.
“Um, hi, Foster.”
“Look, I owe you a huge apology for last night. I was way out of line. I have a really bad temper when I’m drunk.”
I didn’t know quite how to take this. What had happened last night was more than just a bad temper. “I, uh...it’s nice of you to apologize but it still doesn’t excuse what happened.”
“Yeah. You’re right. It’s just that I’ve never known any gay people before.”
I raised an eyebrow. “So that makes it okay?”
“No, that’s not what I’m trying to say. It’s just that... Okay, listen. When I get drunk, I get kind of...what’s the word? Belli...belligernt?”
“Yeah, that. My dad always said I get a big mouth. I didn’t really mean to start a fight with that little...uh, punk. It wasn’t really anything against him, you know? I just run my mouth. I didn’t expect him to just jump me like that.”
“You just expected him to take it?”
He shrugged and had the grace to look a little ashamed.
“So what happened when I got back to the room? You tried to attack me too.”
He shifted his weight uncomfortably. “I’m real sorry about that, Jake. I guess I was just mad and was taking it out on you.”
“I don’t think this rooming arrangement is going to work.”
“Huh? Why? I said I’m sorry.”
“How do I know you won’t decide to take it out on me again? Besides, you clearly showed that you’re homophobic last night. I wouldn’t think you’d want a fag for a roommate.” He flinched as I used the word “fag”.
“I promise I won’t take it out on you again. That was really stupid. And as far as sharing a room with...with you, like I said, I’ve never known any gay people before. You seem like a good guy, though. You haven’t, like, hit on me or anything.”
“Trust me. I won’t.”
“So yeah, I don’t care if you stay.”
“Well, gee, Foster. I really appreciate you letting me stay and all, but that still doesn’t guarantee me that the next time you get drunk, I won’t end up as your punching bag.”
“I said I promise...”
“Foster, I used to drink. I know how long promises last when you get drunk. As long as you plan to continue to get drunk, you can’t promise me anything.”
“I’m not gonna stop drinking. I mean, that’s great that you did and all, but I don’t have a problem.”
“You don’t think that making homophobic comments, starting fights, and almost punching your roommate is a problem?”
“Hey, I told you I didn’t start that fight!”
“Foster, talking to you is like talking to a brick wall.”
“Why are you being such a prick? I said I was sorry, didn’t I?”
“Apologizing isn’t always enough. It’s a start, but it has to be followed up by action or it becomes meaningless.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you say you’re sorry, then turn around and do the same thing over again, what’s the point? How many times will you say you’re sorry? And how many times am I supposed to accept your apology?”
“You’re not even giving me a chance. So far, I’ve only asked you accept my apology once because I’ve only screwed up once.”
Okay, the dummy has a point. “Yeah, okay,” I conceded. “I’ll give you another chance. But if you screw up again, I’m out of here and I’ll report you to campus police. Your attempted assault on me last night was on campus and I doubt they’ll be very tolerant.”
He blanched. “My dad will kill me if I get kicked out.”
“Then I suggest you don’t screw up.”
I tried to go back to my IM conversations, but I was too distracted now. I needed to get out of the room. I said goodbye to everyone, shut down my computer, and decided to take a walk. “I’ll be back later,” I said as I let myself out.
I started off walking aimlessly, but soon found myself standing in front of Kody’s apartment building. I really should check on him, I told myself. I let myself in and felt my way up the dark staircase. I knocked on Kody’s door, but didn’t get an answer. I tried knocking on Nick’s door with the same result. Now I was a little worried. Kody hadn’t been in great shape last night. Maybe I shouldn’t have left. I felt in my pocket for something to write a note on. I found my receipt from The Morning Rush and a pen and jotted down a quick note letting him know I’d stopped by to check on him. I tucked it into the door jamb and left.
I still didn’t want to go back to my room, so I went into the video store and filled out a membership application. They had a great gay-themed movie selection, including—much to my delight—my all-time favorite movie, Beautiful Thing. I snatched it off the shelf and rented it.
I walked back to Erin’s room and knocked on the door. She answered it right away.
“Hey,” she said with a bright smile as she let me in. “What are you up to?”
“Not much. I got a movie for us to watch if you’re not doing anything.”
“Oh really? Is this payback for The Princess Bride?”
I laughed. “Only in a good way. I actually liked it. This is one of my favorite movies. It’s called Beautiful Thing.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s a British movie. So, are you busy?”
“Nope. Should I call Carlos and see if he can come watch it with us?”
“Sure. The more the merrier.”
“Cool. Let’s make it a ‘last afternoon before classes start’ party then.”
I laughed. “Sounds like fun.”
She called Carlos, then left saying she’d be back in a few minutes. I put the disc into the DVD player and got it ready while I waited. She was back before long, with Toshi, Miranda, and Alex in tow. They’d each brought cookies or chips, and when Carlos arrived carrying sodas, it really began to feel like a party. After Erin popped some microwave popcorn, she announced that it was time for the show to begin. I decided it might be a good idea to warn everybody about the movie’s gay content before we started watching it.
“Um, before we start watching the movie,” I began, “I guess I’d better warn you. Some of you may know this, but some of you may not. I’m gay and the movie is a gay romance.” Everyone sat staring expectantly at me as if waiting for me to continue. “Yeah. That’s it.”
“So?” Miranda was the first to respond. “That’s no big deal.”
“Yeah,” Alex agreed. “I’m cool.”
“What’s the movie called? I’ve probably seen it,” Toshi chipped in.
“Uh, Beautiful Thing.” I don’t know what kind of reaction I’d expected, but this wasn’t it.
“Cool. That’s a new one to me. Have you ever seen But I’m A Cheerleader?”
“Oh my God! I love that movie!” Miranda cried. “What about Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss?”
“Yes! Sean Hayes is fantastic!”
“Okay,” Erin interrupted. “We can discuss the merits of other gay movies after we watch this one. Everybody shut up.” She started the movie and everyone settled down to watch. We had to pause it a few times while I translated the heavy Brit accents and slang, but when it was over, the verdict was unanimous. Everyone loved it.
Everyone started discussing gay movies again and it turned out that Miranda, a sophomore, was active in the GSA here. She wasn’t gay, but her best friend in high school had come out to her and she’d been a gay rights advocate ever since. She invited Toshi, who told us he was bisexual, and I to go to a meeting with her once they started up. Erin and Carlos hadn’t seen many gay-themed movies, except for the big ones like The Birdcage and In & Out, but they were both very open-minded, as I’d already had the opportunity to find out. Alex just seemed to go with the flow. I got the impression that he would go along with pretty much anything. He had mastered that laid-back stoner attitude.
The party broke up fairly early since classes started the next day. When I got back to my room, Foster was gone again, which suited me fine. I got ready for bed, set my alarm just in case I overslept again, and fell asleep quickly. I woke up when he came in a few hours later, but he was quiet, and I was able to fall back asleep with no problem.
I awoke the next morning before my alarm went off, so I turned it off before going to take my shower. Once I was dressed, I grabbed the books I needed for the morning, and set out for coffee. I glanced in the window before going in and saw Kody wiping down the tables. By the time I opened the door, all I saw was his tail end disappearing into the back room. Mike and Marla were behind the counter waiting on customers. Marla caught my eye and gave me a look I couldn’t interpret. What the hell was going on? I wondered. Maybe I should just find another coffee shop.
I ordered my coffee and Marla handed me a cup while Mike rang me up. I poured myself some java and sat down at a table to wait for Kody to reappear. Eventually, my coffee was gone, and it became obvious that Kody wasn’t going to come out as long as I was here. For all I knew, he’d ducked out the back door. Either way, I couldn’t sit around waiting all day. My first class was starting soon and I wanted to leave myself plenty of time to find it.
My first class was English Lit. I thought it would turn out to be pretty interesting. The professor was a short, wiry man with energy to spare. He bounced around the front of the room, guaranteeing that he would keep things lively, if nothing else. He ended the class by giving us a list of required reading. I took my list to the library to see if I could find any of them there. I managed to find several of them, but I only checked out two. I figured that was all I could reasonably read in the next few weeks between homework and a social life. Plus, the other class members would need some books too.
By the time I left the library, it was just about lunch time, so I headed for the cafeteria. The lunch special was chicken strips and fries, so I helped myself and looked for a table. I spotted Roy eating alone off to one side and decided to join him. He looked up and smiled as I approached.
“Hey, Jake,” he greeted me.
“I didn’t know if we’d still be friends today.
“Why wouldn’t we be?”
“I thought maybe you were just being nice last night because I hit Foster for you.”
I managed not to laugh. “No, that’s not the only reason we’re friends.”
We ate in silence for a few minutes before Roy suddenly grunted. “Hey, isn’t that your boy?” he asked.
I looked up in time to see Kody dropping his tray off at a trash can and practically running from the cafeteria. “What was that about?” I wondered aloud.
“I dunno. He saw us and took off,” Roy noted.
I sighed. So that’s the story, huh? He’s avoiding me. “He’s probably embarrassed about the other night,” I said.
He shrugged. “Why should he be embarrassed? He got a couple good shots in before Foster clobbered him. As little as he is, he shouldn’t be embarrassed that he went down with one punch.”
“There’s more to it than that, but I really can’t go into it.”
He gave me a grin. “Oh. Gay stuff.”
I laughed. “Yeah, gay stuff.”
We finished eating and Roy left for his next class. I sat at the table for a few more minutes wondering what to do about Kody. He’d given me the perfect reason not to pursue him. I could walk away now and no one could ever blame me. I would never have to tell him about my past.
Presented with this out, however, I found I didn’t want it. With a sudden, surprising clarity, I realized I wanted to be with Kody. I wanted to hold him in my arms and feel his lips against mine again. My breathing quickened just thinking about it. The idea of telling him about my past still terrified me, but I knew now that I couldn’t just let him walk away. I was going to pursue him. If he wanted to tell me to get lost, that’s what he’d have to do, but he’d have to tell me to my face.
Decision made, I left for my next class with a bounce in my step and a smile on my face. The chase was on.