Homework on the first day of college—how wrong is that? I sat at my desk that night writing a paper for Philosophy. I was undecided about this class. My first assignment seemed a little daffy. The professor, a frumpy middle-aged woman with thinning hair and a lazy eye, gave us three lines that sounded like the beginning of a bad joke:
“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”
“I don’t believe there is, sir.”
“I’m sorry, but I know there is.”
Our assignment was to explain what the diner means when he says, “I know there is” and then explain the difference between belief and knowledge. It was about as exciting as it sounded. I’d gotten a huge cup of coffee from the cafeteria at dinner which I’d been nursing ever since, warming it in the microwave when it cooled off. The caffeine was the only thing keeping me from slipping into a coma.
When I heard a key in the lock, I welcomed the distraction even if it meant dealing with Foster. I was relieved to see Roy poke his head around the corner. He smiled when he saw me.
“I was hoping you’d be here,” he said. “Are you busy?”
“I’m working on a Philosophy paper, but I could use a break. What’s up?”
He came into the room and dropped onto Foster’s bed. “Kody has the next two days off.”
“Um...okay. How exactly do you know that?”
“He told me.”
“He...told you? Did he just walk up to you and volunteer that information?”
“I asked him.”
“You asked him? Why?”
“I was trying to find out for you.”
“For me? But...you...I...” I sputtered. “You didn’t tell him that did you?”
He shook his head. “‘Course not.”
I sighed with relief. “So what does knowing his work schedule do for me anyway?”
He looked at me as if I was missing the obvious. It must have been a treat for him to be on that side of the look for a change. “He won’t be at the coffee shop so you’ll have to look for him at home.”
“How do you know I want to look for him?” I asked a tad defensively.
He rolled his eyes. “Why are you pretending you don’t like him?”
“And I’m too dumb to understand?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“But it’s what you mean.”
“No, it isn’t. Okay, I’ll try to explain, but I don’t really understand it completely myself. I’ve never had any problem finding dates, but Kody is different. I really like him. He’s sweet and innocent.”
“And I’m not.”
“Sweet and innocent.”
“You’re really nice. You’re nice to me and you helped Kody when Foster punched him.”
“That’s not the same thing. Look, Roy, I did some really horrible stuff when I was younger—stuff that I don’t necessarily want people here to know about, especially Kody.”
“Then don’t tell him.”
“That’s just it. I don’t want to lie to him either.”
“It’s not lying if you don’t say anything about it.”
“It’s lying by omission.”
He frowned. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I can’t understand this.”
I sighed. “I’d be lying simply by not telling the truth. I don’t want to start a relationship with someone based on a lie.”
“So tell him the truth.”
“What if he can’t stand the truth and decides he doesn’t want to see me any more?”
He shrugged. “What if he doesn’t care? Maybe he’ll just like you for you, and not what you did before.”
I blinked. Was that wisdom flowing from the tongue of my massive friend?
“I think you should call him,” he said.
“I don’t have his number.”
He frowned. “Can you get it?”
“I wouldn’t know how.”
“I’ll get it for you.”
“No! That’s okay, Roy. Besides, what would I say if I did call him?”
He shrugged again. “You could ask him out or something.”
“I guess I could just say I’m checking in to see how he is. I haven’t seen him since the party.”
Roy brightened up. “That’s a good idea.”
“But how do I get his number?”
“I dunno. You could ask someone.”
“But who?” I thought a moment and a possibility occurred to me. “Hang on, I have an idea. I’ll be right back.”
I ran down to the first floor. Erin was on duty tonight so that meant she’d be in the lobby sitting at her shabby little desk, probably watching TV. Sure enough, that’s where I found her.
“I need a favor,” I said.
“Yes, you can have my kidney,” she said without looking away from the TV.
“Great. I appreciate it. Now, do you think you can get a phone number for me?”
She glanced over at me. “Would this be the phone number of a certain coffee shop clerk?”
I grinned. “Got it on the first guess.”
“What dorm is he in?”
“He lives off campus.”
She frowned. “Sorry. That’s outside my jurisdiction. You’ll have to lobby a higher court.”
“Oh come on, Erin.”
“No, really. I can’t get the numbers of people off campus. The office would have it, but they won’t give it to me without a good reason.”
“What would be a good reason?”
“I don’t know, Jake. It’s never come up.”
“Don’t you know anyone in the office?”
She thought a minute. “Maybe. Let me call my friend Diana. She might be able to help me.” She picked up the phone and dialed. She asked for Diana then quickly explained what she needed. They talked for a few seconds, then she put her hand over the mouthpiece and turned to me. “She’ll help. What’s his name?”
“Kody...Shit! I don’t know his last name!”
Erin rolled her eyes. “Never mind, Diana.”
“No wait!” I said. “I have another idea. Ask her to look up Nick Pederson. That’s his neighbor.”
“You know his neighbor’s full name but not his? What kind of stalker are you?”
Erin relayed the name and waited a few seconds before jotting down a number on a notepad. “Thanks, Diana. I owe you.” She hung up, ripped off the sheet of paper, and handed it to me. “There you go. You owe me.”
I gave her a big hug and ran back up to my room.
“Did you get it?” Roy asked.
“Not exactly, but hang on.” I picked up the phone and dialed the number Erin had given me. It rang twice and then Nick answered.
“Hey, Nick. This is Jake.”
“Hey, Jake. What’s up?”
It occurred to me that I couldn’t very well just ask for Kody’s phone number and hang up. I’d better at least attempt to make conversation. “Not much. How about you?”
“Not much here, either. Just finishing up some school work.”
“Bummer. I know what you mean. I’m swamped already and it’s only the first day.” He laughed. “So how’d the party go after I left?”
“Well, it was certainly less entertaining without Foster and Kody there.”
“Yeah, uh, I was calling about Kody actually.”
“I was, um, just wondering if you have Kody’s phone number. I wanted to check in on him since I haven’t seen him since the party.”
I thought heard a chuckle, but I wasn’t sure. “Yeah, hang on. I think I might have it around here somewhere. I’m pretty sure the landlord made some sort of phone tree in case of emergencies. Ah, here it is. Kody Kingsley.” He rattled off the phone number, which I scribbled on the same sheet of paper as Nick’s number.
“Thanks, Nick.” We said goodbye and I hung up, then quickly dialed Kody’s number before I could lose my nerve.
It only rang once before I heard him pick up. “Charlie, why don’t you wait until I get home to make fun of me, you asshole?” he screamed into the phone. I jerked the phone away from my ear. Apparently, I’d caught him at a bad time. I was trying to think of something say when the phone suddenly slammed down in my ear. I hung up.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Roy asked.
“I think it was a bad time.”
“You should call back later.”
“Maybe I will,” I said, but doubting I would. I tucked the numbers away in the desk drawer. I wondered who Charlie was. Could he be a boyfriend? Maybe they were having a fight. I shook my head. There was no point speculating. “I guess I’ll get back to work on that paper,” I told Roy.
He nodded. “Okay, Jake. I’ll leave you alone. Good night.”
He ruffled my hair, making me feel like I was five again, then let himself out. I turned back to my paper. What was the difference between knowing and believing? I believed I was falling for Kody, but I didn’t know if he even liked me.
The next few days were spent settling into my new routine, figuring out my classes, and trying to catch up to Kody. The kid really should consider signing up for the CIA. He would make a great spy with his uncanny ability to give me the slip. I even tried knocking on his door a few more times, but either I never caught him home or he just didn’t answer the door. Since he had a few days off, I couldn’t even corner him at work—not until Thursday anyway.
First thing Thursday morning, I headed down to The Morning Rush for my daily caffeine fix. I ran into Roy as I came out of my dorm and he decided to accompany me. As we entered the coffee shop, I saw the now familiar view of Kody’s backside slipping out the door.
“This is getting ridiculous,” I sighed.
“What is?” Roy asked.
“He’s avoiding me. Every time he sees me he takes off running. Maybe it’s time I just face the fact that he doesn’t want anything to do with me.”
“He’s embarrassed,” someone said. I looked up to find Marla coming through the door.
“Huh?” I responded wittily.
“Kody. He’s embarrassed about the other night. That’s why he’s avoiding you.”
I was surprised that Kody had confided in her, and even more surprised that she would tell me this. “Oh.”
“Look,” she said, leaning across the counter on one elbow. “I’ve been watching you two and it’s starting to drive me crazy. I’ve seen the way you look at him and it’s obvious to everybody but Kody that you’re crazy about him. I think this whole cat and mouse game is starting to get to him, so why don’t you just go out there and talk to him?”
“I...Are you sure?”
Marla rolled her eyes and grinned. “Yes. Go on out the back door. You’ve been behind the counter before and Max isn’t around to catch you this time.”
Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do this. If I confronted him, something would have to happen between us. Either he’d reject me flat out, or we’d take a step towards each other. If it was the latter, then I’d have to make a decision about what to tell him about my past.
When I didn’t move right away, Roy gave me a not-so-gentle push towards the counter. I stumbled forward a few steps and glared back at him. He responded with a huge gap-toothed grin. He’d gotten me started though, and now that I was moving, I was able to keep going. I slid past Marla, who gave me an encouraging smile, and went through the door. It opened into a small office area, which in turn had a door that led into the back alley behind the coffee shop. I opened that door to find Kody sitting on the ground, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head buried in his arms.
His head snapped up and his eyes grew huge. He scrambled to his feet, and for a second I thought he was going to run away.
“Kody, wait! I just want to talk to you. Stop avoiding me!”
He stood still, but eyed me warily. I had the feeling that he’d still take off at the slightest provocation. “How’d you get back here?” he asked.
“Marla told me to come talk to you.”
He shot a murderous glance in the direction of the door.
“She also said that you were embarrassed about the other night.”
“Oh, for God’s sake! I’ll never tell her anything again!”
“Actually, I’m glad she did. I was about to give up on trying to talk to you. You’ve been avoiding me all week. I thought maybe you just didn’t like me.”
He looked down as two spots of red began to grow on his cheeks.
“Hey, you have no reason to be embarrassed.”
“Oh, right. I only got drunk, acted like an idiot, started a fight with a much bigger guy, got knocked out, then pulled you into...” He broke off as his face burst into a full blaze of red.
I shrugged. “It happens to everybody.”
He gave a derisive snort. “Right.”
“Okay, well, maybe not the exact same thing, but everybody who has ever gotten drunk has embarrassed themselves at one point or another. It comes with the territory. I could tell you some real horror stories, trust me. That’s the whole reason I don’t drink anymore.”
He looked at me skeptically. “I can’t believe you’ve ever done anything stupid.”
If you only knew, I thought as I looked away with shame. “You don’t know me very well, Kody. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, things I deeply regret now—things that make what you did look like nothing.”
He had a curious expression on his face now. “Like what?”
I gulped. I’d set myself up for that. I searched for a fairly innocuous anecdote. “Okay, um, one time I hit on this guy at a club. He shot me down, and a few days later, on the first day of school, I found out he was one of my teachers.”
Kody’s mouth dropped open, then a giggle escaped. I was encouraged, so I tried another one.
“Another time, I was at a party at someone’s house and managed to lock myself in the bathroom. They had to take the doorknob off to get me out.”
He laughed out loud.
“Once I was so drunk, I climbed up on top of a coffee table and did a striptease. Someone stole all my clothes and I had to wear a blanket home.”
Kody was leaning against the wall laughing by now. “Okay, you win,” he giggled. “No wonder you stopped drinking.”
I smiled, but my thoughts turned dark all of a sudden as I thought about the real reason I’d gone into rehab. Waking up after an almost fatal overdose with a gun in your hand and a dead body on the bed is enough to scare anybody sober.
Kody noticed the change in my expression. “What?”
I shook my head and pasted the smile back on. “It’s nothing. Will you quit running away from me now?”
He nodded and gave me a shy smile, and my heart beat a little faster. I suddenly felt self-conscious and awkward.
I glanced down at my watch. “I’d, uh, better hurry up and get my coffee if I’m going to get to class on time.”
Kody nodded and indicated the door. “After you.”
We were the center of attention as we came back into the coffee shop. Roy and Marla were watching us with curious expressions.
“Everything okay?” Marla asked.
“Yes, Ms. Busybody, everything is okay,” Kody replied with an affectionate grin.
Marla grinned back. “Good. Now get back to work. If you think I’m going to pick up your slack all day you’ve got another think coming.” She turned to me. “And you had better get out from behind the counter before Max decides to pop in. It might be her day off, but she can’t stay away from this place.”
I quickly scuttled out from behind the counter and placed my order. Kody fixed it for me and handed it over with a smile. I smiled back and congratulated myself on breaking the ice between us—with Marla’s help and a little push from Roy, of course.
“So, did you ask him out?” Roy asked as we left the shop.
I spun around to make sure the door was shut and Kody hadn’t heard. It was, but he was watching us from behind the counter. He gave a little wave, and I waved back.
“No, I didn’t ask him out.”
“It wasn’t the right time. I just cleared the air between us so he’ll stop avoiding me.”
“You were scared.”
I shrugged. “That too.”
I only have two morning classes on Friday, so I used the afternoon to catch up on some assignments. You can only stay in your room for so long, though. I got fidgety by mid-afternoon and gave up trying to read the boring Philosophy text book. I went down to see what Erin was doing. I ran into Roy in the hall.
“Hey, Jake,” he said.
“Hey, Roy. What’s up?”
“Not much. I have a class soon but I wanted to ask you something.”
“There’s a block party at the park tonight. I wanted to see if you wanted to go with me. Some band is playing, and I thought it sounded like fun.”
I fluttered my eyelashes at him. “Why Roy, are you asking me on a date?”
“I...huh? No!” He looked very flustered. “I’m not gay. I just...”
“It’s okay, Roy,” I interrupted with a laugh. “I was just kidding. What time?” Not that it mattered—I didn’t have any plans anyway.
He told me the details and we made plans to meet and walk over together.
He left to go to his last class, and I went to find Erin. I hung out with her and Carlos until she had to go on duty. I invited Carlos to go to the block party, but he begged off saying he wanted to keep Erin company. I went up to my room and found it empty. Foster was spending less and less time in the room since his girlfriend had arrived. I still hadn’t met her yet, but I liked her already—just for keeping Foster out of my hair. Since I had the room to myself, I decided to get ready early so I wouldn’t have to dress in front of Roy again. I pulled out a pair of low-rise jeans and chose a blue short-sleeved shirt that laced up at the neck. I tend to wear a lot of blue because I’ve been told it brings out my eyes. Ah, vanity, thy name is gay boy... I giggled as it occurred to me that I was getting dressed up to go out with Roy. “Always look your best” was a creed I lived by. You never know who you’ll run into.
Once I was ready, I read some more of my Philosophy book until Roy knocked on the door. He let himself in as I stood up.
“You look nice,” he told me. I still wasn’t used to receiving compliments on my appearance from this behemoth.
“Um, thanks Roy. You, uh...look good too.” Actually, he did look good—for him anyway. He was wearing a polo shirt that stretched tight across his massive chest showing off his considerable muscles, and a pair of khakis. “Maybe you’ll meet a girl at the concert.”
He grinned. “Ya think?”
“Never know. Stranger things have happened. You could meet a nice Viking girl or an Amazon woman.”
His brow furrowed with confusion. “Huh?”
I patted him on the arm. “Never mind. Should we head for the park?”
Since I didn’t have the slightest clue where the park was, I let Roy lead. He seemed to know his way around pretty well. The walk there didn’t take too long, and I could hear music before it actually came into sight. When I did get my first glimpse of the area, I was surprised by the size of the crowd. It was a huge turnout considering I hadn’t even heard about this shindig until Roy told me. The majority of the people I saw were college age, but many from the neighboring communities had shown up as well.
We waded into the masses, edging our way towards the stage area. The band hadn’t taken the stage yet. The music I’d heard was just being pumped through the system. After Roy, who was busy scanning the crowd as if he were looking for someone, almost ran over the third vertically-challenged person, I caught his arm and dragged him to a stop.
“Are you expecting someone?” I asked him.
“Huh? Um, no.”
I raised an eyebrow. Roy was a lousy liar. “Do you have something up your sleeve?”
He looked at me blankly, and I decided I was giving him way too much credit. He turned towards the stage and laughed suddenly.
“Look, Jake. You’re famous!”
I followed his pointing finger to see a banner stretched across the back of the stage. Written on in two foot tall red letters was my name. “That must be the name of the band,” I mused.
Roy pushed his way toward the stage with renewed vigor, leaving me to endure the disgruntled frowns of the people he bumped out of his way as I scrambled along in his wake.
We found a spot to his liking just as the band members took the stage. The band was made up of three dark-haired guys and a petite blonde woman. The woman took the lead microphone while the guys settled in with their instruments.
“Hey everybody!” the girl yelled. She received a tepid response from the crowd. “Come on! You can do better than that! Make us feel welcome!” The crowd responded a little more enthusiastically. “We’re Jake and we’re gonna have fun tonight, right?” The crowd cheered. “Right?” The cheering grew a little louder. “Come on! Let me hear you! Right?” A roar rose up from the crowd, and she finally seemed appeased. “Strawberry Letter 23!” she screamed and the crowd roared again as they broke into a funky beat and she began to sing.
“Hey, they’re pretty good!” I said with a little surprise. I don’t know what I had been expecting but it wasn’t this. When that song ended they launched into a much more mellow song.
“That song was a big hit for us a couple years ago,” she said as it ended. “It’s called ‘Cowboy’. Let’s rock out a little now.”
They did a couple faster numbers, then eased into a slow, funky song that caught my attention. The words made me think of Kody so strongly I felt tears well up in my eyes.
I was lost in the music when I felt a hand on my arm. I turned to find myself looking into Kody’s beautiful dove-grey eyes.