Brae
by Kieron Connors

 

Chapter 2 

I was virtually comatose as I drove with my parents to the airport the next morning. Even at 5:30am, they were both impeccably put together. We rode most of the way in silence and our few attempts at striking up a conversation were tepid at best. It took awhile, but at some point, despite my groggy, half-conscious state, I registered that this was as monumental a change for my parents as it was for me. I had essentially served as the center of their universe for the last eighteen years and now they were about to leave me in a relatively foreign place to fend for myself and make my own way. If anything this had to be a lot scarier for them than it was for me. I smiled to myself and reached my arms up to the front seats to squeeze the shoulders of both my parents.

“I love you. Both of you,” I choked through a smile, feeling tears rushing into my eyes. My mom’s hand reached up to squeeze mine and she looked back at me with a teary smile on her face.

“We love you too Braeden. And we’re so proud of you really. This is just going to take some getting used to. You’re going to have to excuse me if I call you a little excessively the next few weeks,” she said with a chuckle.

“You’re officially pardoned…in advance,” I smiled.

“And you’ll have to put up with me too. I’m going to try to get out here on business as often as I can so that I can check up on you,” said my dad. “And we’ll be up for a lot of your meets,” he continued, more for my mother’s comfort than mine.

I caught his eye in the rearview mirror and shot him a grin. He reached up and squeezed my hand on his shoulder. Despite the smile plastered across my face I felt a sudden twinge. My mind suddenly flashed to Skip and the obviously estranged relationship he had with his own parents. And yet, what if my parents knew the truth about me? If they knew I was gay would they be having as difficult a time letting me go, or would they be drop kicking me out the door? I let my hands slide off their shoulders and slumped back into my seat.

When we got to the airport I helped my parents unload their luggage and then embraced them on the sidewalk. My dad’s strong arms wrapped around me felt so safe.

“We love you and if you need anything you just call us. Anytime,” he said, holding me back for a second, looking me over and smiling before passing me off to say my goodbyes to my mother.

“You’re going to be fine sweetheart,” she said embracing me. “You can call us anytime and you have a great roommate that I’m sure you can talk to anytime. Your father and I just love Skip,” she continued. I felt my dad’s strong hand rest on my shoulder, giving it a firm squeeze. “And we want you to let us know if he needs anything. I don’t know what his situation with his parents is, but if you ever think he needs something, you just let us know Brae,” my mom said as she released me. I felt tears rushing to my eyes.

“Thanks guys, I love you both. A lot.”

“Ok, we need to get checked in. We’ll call you tonight Brae.”

“Love you!” my mom called over her shoulder as my dad led her into the terminal. I got back into the car and started back towards campus.

***

I caught a quick nap before Skip woke up. We then headed down to the dining hall for breakfast. We were lucky enough to live in the only dorm on campus with an open dining hall until school actually started in two weeks. There were only a dozen or so other students in the dining hall. Skip and I found a secluded table by a large stretch of windows overlooking the magnificent lake that bordered one side of the campus and began picking at our food. Neither one of us had much of an appetite, as we were both extremely anxious and excited for the team meeting that afternoon.

“You sad to see your parents go this morning?” Skip asked.

“Yeah, sorta, but I knew it had to happen. I think it was kinda harder for them actually. It’s not like they’ve got other kids at home to distract them. But they’ll visit a lot and stuff, I guess.”

“Yeah that’s true…” Skip trailed off, letting our conversation fizzle out. We were both so nervously anticipating meeting the rest of the freshmen team that we weren’t even able to maintain a pretense of conversation. Yet, there was also something comfortable about our silence, tense and adrenaline-charged as it was. I liked that fact that our friendship was already at a level where we were content to just be. The need to constantly impress or entertain, or just flat out fill the silence, was gone. Somehow this understanding silence felt just as, if not more, intimate than any of the conversations we’d had so far.

After we’d finished staring at our food and pushing it around our plates, Skip and I decided to stroll around campus to kill time until our meeting. I’d already walked around the campus numerous times on tours and with my parents after first arriving, but I was shocked to hear that Skip hadn’t seen the campus at all yet. He hadn’t even visited before applying.

“I just decided I’d go to the best ranked school that offered me a full ride,” Skip said self-consciously. “I didn’t really have the option of visiting schools. There was too much to do around the farm, and I don’t think my parents would have let me anyways.”

“Well, then let me be your guide,” I quipped. Skip flashed me a smile and I commenced my Carrington tour to the best of my limited knowledge. The campus consisted of four main greens, which essentially separated it into four large squares. The “Res Square” contained all the dormitories and Greek houses, while the two west greens, called “North Square” and “South Square” housed the educational buildings, and the “Commons” had the library, student union, athletic centers and other general common areas. The ornate and almost ominous pinnacles, vaulted archways, and buttresses of the college’s gothic revival architecture seemed to demand deference and decorum from its students while promising a sort of mystical escape into an alternate, higher reality.

Skip took it all in with wide-eyed awe. His eyes glazed over with awe a few times when I pointed out some of the campus’ more notable architectural highlights. He was completely overwhelmed, stupefied into near silence. I walked him through the main library with its vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows.

“Geez, I feel like we’re in Harry Potter or something,” he whispered. I chuckled.

“You don’t have to whisper, this isn’t a quiet area. And there isn’t anybody else here,” I said, peering down the seemingly endless row of empty library carrels and ornately carved bookshelves. “I’ve never read those books,” I added.

“Me either,” Skip replied. “They seem kinda kiddish. I just saw the movie trailer one time, an’ it looked exactly like this.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty spectacular.” I paused. “We’re very lucky.” I looked over at Skip and he flashed me a quick forced smile, and then looked away. A dreary silence settled over for us for a few seconds, somehow magnified by the majestic stone library around us. I searched my mind furiously for something to lighten the mood, feeling guilty for hitting a nerve.

“I guess we should get going to the meeting now, huh?” he offered, his sunny disposition back in place.

“Yeah, probably. I’m really excited for you to see the Natatorium. The pool and facilities are obviously top of the line, but the main structure is all original. It’s phenomenal.”

“Natatorium?!” Skip chuckled, “why can’t we just call it what it is? A pool.” He grinned cheekily at me. “You highfalutin’ Yankees.” We both chuckled.

We crossed the Commons and headed into the athletic center, which despite the age of the building was a top-of-the-line facility.

“Come on, I wanna show you the pool before we head over to the meeting.” I grabbed Skip firmly by the wrist and pulling him off towards the natatorium at the back of the facility. I felt an electric jolt as I grabbed him. His arm was strong. I could feel his firm muscles and tendons moving beneath his soft skin and its light layer of fuzz. He didn’t try to extricate his arm, so I held firm and led him towards the pool.

The natatorium was truly breathtaking and is one of the main reasons why I chose Carrington college. If you’re going to spend 4 hours a day in a pool, it may as well be an attractive one and this one was breath-taking. The structure was like a solarium with the high vaulted glass ceiling supported by a framework of ornately detailed wooden beams. Apparently all the glass meant that the pool actually became unbearably warm, especially in the summer, and many of the swimmers complained about the greenhouse effect of the structure, but the visual effect was truly incredible.

“Holy mother…” Skip muttered.

“Isn’t this insane?!” I almost giggled, enthusiastically.

“Yeah. Literally insane. It’s gunna be hot as balls in here all the time. Plus we’re probably gunna get sunburned. We may as well be swimmin’ outdoors.”

I laughed. “My mom said the same thing. Skin cancer is possibly her biggest paranoia. She asked the coaches about it and apparently the glass in the ceiling is all specially treated to be UVA resistant or something like that. I dunno… whatever they said appeased her. I thought it might be a deal-breaker for her though.”

“Eh, she just cares about you is all,” Skip said, his voice trailing as he wandered down the pool deck. I hung back, kicking myself for hitting yet another nerve. I scanned the facility, the pool Olympic-sized (obviously) and in short course set up. There were maybe a half dozen people swimming laps and the lifeguard on duty was paying dutiful attention… to her nails. I smiled to myself, knowing just how boring her job could get and decided to go over and razz her a bit.

She didn’t notice me as I approached her chair, but instead remained completely engrossed in her cuticles.

“Lifeguard! Help! Help! I’m choking!” I feigned sarcastically when I got close to her. She slowly turned her head towards me, unimpressed, with a knowing look on her face. I was immediately struck by how beautiful she was. She had thick light brown hair that reached about halfway down her back, flawless porcelain-like skin, impossibly large blue eyes, and small delicate features. She was tall and thin, but graceful with an innate elegance about her.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you to never cry wolf?” she chastised me.

My breath literally caught, I was so taken with her. I know that sounds odd coming from a gay guy, but I can still appreciate female beauty and there was something about her that immediately made me want to impress her.

“Uhh- well, yeah, but, you know, just wanted to make sure you were on top of things,” I stammered.

“Oh, please. Scuba Steve over there has enough flotation aids to raise the Titanic,” she said gesturing to a somewhat hunch-backed old man in a full body wetsuit, flippers, a water-jogging belt, nose-plug and with two pullbuoys pulled on like water-wings, awkwardly paddling down his lane. “Black Lung in lane eight is about two laps away from having another emphysema attack. Mr. Incredible in lane 11 is super-human, probably immortal, and Troll Bitch down at the end would never do us the favor of drowning. And if she did, I wouldn’t necessarily feel obligated to assist.”

I chuckled and cast a glance down the pool at her cast of characters. “An interesting group, huh?” I offered.

“I know them like my own hand.” She cast a smile down at me, and extended a hand down to me. I reached out and she shook my hand firmly. Her skin was cool and smooth and her shake was firm but also delicate. She had an aura of supreme confidence about her. “I’m Charlotte. Everyone calls me Lottie though,” she said.

I grinned up at her. “I’m Braeden, I usually go by Brae though.”

“Are you a freshman?”

“Yeah…” I said almost apologetically, looking down and studying the elaborately patterned tile floor.

“Are you a swimmer?” she asked, relatively unfazed.

“Yeah, breaststroker. Are you? A swimmer, I mean.” I still couldn’t shake my awkwardness.

“No, no. I mean I swam growing up, country club leagues and stuff, but I just lifeguard now. My brother actually swam here, like five years ago though.”

“Oh cool. Where are you from?” I asked.

“New York,” she replied. “By the way, your friend looks sorta lost,” she said, casting a glance at Skip who seemed to be scouring the bleachers for me.

“I’m from New York too!” I exclaimed, almost too enthusiastically, thrilled that we’d found something to talk about. “Skip! I’m over here!” I called across the pool to him. He looked around, puzzled for a moment, then spotted me and started to walk over. “Where in NY are you from?” I asked.

“Upper West Side. I’m a Grainger girl,” she answered.

“I’m Upper East. Vance. So glad I’m outta there.”

She giggled. “Tell me about it. It’s so nice to encounter real people at this school. So are you going to lifeguard here?”

“I dunno. I hadn’t really thought about taking a job. Do many of the swimmers lifeguard?”

“No, I don’t think any of them do right now actually. There’s sort of an odd divide between the guards and the swimmers. They never really acknowledge us. But you should definitely work here. It’d be really fun.” Her smile was brilliant, hypnotizing even, and I had a feeling I was powerless to refuse.

“I’ll think about it. I guess it might be nice to have some pocket change.”

Lottie scoffed. “You don’t do this job for the money. It’s like possibly below minimum wage; the pay is ridiculously bad.”

“Then why do you work here?” I asked, confused.

“Oh, well, I joined last year because a lot of Kappa Kappa Thetas work here and that was the sorority I wanted for rush. And now, I dunno, I just like it. Being a lifeguard at Carrington has a social element to it. We all socialize a lot and we’re known for being kind of a wild bunch. It would be a good way for you to make some friends outside of the swim team, which I have a feeling you’ll probably want to do.”

I cast her an odd glance at that remark. Was she on to me? “I will definitely think about it,” I said, as Skip approached. I introduced them quickly and was surprised that Skip seemed a little withdrawn and lacked his usual sparkle.

***

“You and Lottie really hit it off,” Skip said almost menacingly as we headed over to the varsity locker room for our first team meeting.

“Oh, uhh, well she seems really nice,” I said, caught off-guard by his tone. Was it almost a little bit possessive? Could Skip be jealous? A million thoughts and questions about Skip’s sexuality rushed through my head again, but I shut them out immediately. I attempted to segue onto a different subject. “I think I might get a job lifeguarding here.”

“Why? ‘Cause of her? Don’t you think you’re going to spend enough time here with swimmin’ an’ all that? You’ll be sick of it.”

“Oh, I hadn’t really thought of that. She said it’s a good way to meet people outside of the swim team though. Apparently the guards are a very social group.” I said, not sure why I suddenly felt I had to justify myself to Skip. His brow was heavily furled, and his bright, sunny demeanor from the day before was totally clouded over. “Are you ok?” I asked.

Skip offered up a grunt as a response and I let the conversation rest, not looking to provoke anymore of his hostility. I couldn’t get over the change in Skip’s demeanor and hoped this wasn’t a preview of what his behavior was going to be like all year. I’m not one to put up with having to walk on egg shells all the time and I had a feeling that if he kept this up there was going to be some kind of a blow-up in store.

The varsity locker room had a sort of conference area off of the coaches’ office and there were already four or five guys sitting in there around a long table. I recognized most of them from various state, regional or national meets and nods were exchanged all around when we entered. Skip immediately abandoned me to go chat with someone he knew from high school swimming.

‘Well that’s just fine. Thanks a lot Skip,’ I thought as I settled into an empty chair and waited for things to get started.

“Hey you’re Braeden right?” said a warm friendly voice to my right.

“Yeah.” I replied, turning to see a vaguely familiar face smiling back at me.

“I’m Cameron. Cameron Colt. I swam in one of your prelim heats at trials this summer.” He extended a friendly hand and I shook it. He was lanky and on the thin side, but his handshake was firm and self-assured. He had messy black hair, green eyes and an elfish face that gave him a friendly and inviting look.

“Hey, yeah I remember you,” I fibbed. “It’s good to see you again. How was the rest of your summer?” We made small talk as the rest of the group trickled in. There were ten of us altogether and the nervous excitement boiling under the awkward hushed conversations made it feel as though the room could explode at any moment. I was painfully conscious of the fact that most of the guys in the room were covertly sizing me up as one of the hot-shit recruits, and that only added to my anxiety. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the coaches Timmy and Jimmy entered. While Timmy was technically the head coach and Jimmy was his assistant, they were old buddies from the Australian national team and they shared the coaching duties alike. They were a breath of fresh air compared to the other schools I visited, and quite frankly they were breathtaking. They were both in their early thirties with powerhouse muscular builds, impossibly deep tans, rusty colored hair and boyish faces. They could easily have been mistaken for brothers, although Timmy had a few inches of height on Jimmy. Jimmy’s nose had a bit of a leftward tilt to it, probably from a break at some point, that gave him a rather rugged and distinguished appearance. Timmy was more of the strong and silent type of personality and it was Jimmy’s outgoing and humorous nature that had made the biggest impression on me when I visited as a recruit. They both had accents that were practically physically arousing.

They introduced themselves and explained that Timmy would primarily be training the sprinters and Jimmy would be coaching the distance and middle-distance swimmers. They explained the practice schedule of morning and afternoon workouts, as well as the weight training rotation schedule. We had about two months until our first meet, which apparently they found to be insufficient time to get us into prime shape. They promised us hell for the next few months until we acclimated to their workouts. I was used to a pretty rigorous training schedule, especially since I’d essentially devoted my entire summer to preparing for Olympic trials, but I hadn’t been in a pool for almost a week at that point and I knew I was already falling out of shape. The first week or so was probably going to be an ungodly bitch. Timmy then had all of us go around and introduce ourselves. I hate awkward forced introductions and name game activities, but I had a feeling I’d be forced into doing a lot of them over the next few weeks. I volunteered to go first since a lot of the other guys seemed nervous and were reluctant to volunteer. As I stood up to say my piece, I could feel everyone’s eyes piercing into me. I did my best to stand up straight and project a confident persona. I could already feel the weight of everybody’s expectations and I hoped that this feeling wasn’t a burden I was going to have to carry around my four years at Carrington.

“Hi, I’m Braeden. Everyone just calls me Brae though. I’m from New York. I swim breast. 100 and 200. And I’m a Communications Studies and Business double major.” I looked at the faces around me trying to appraise what the general reaction was. It seemed like most of the guys were awkwardly trying to avoid eye contact and alternated quick and furtive glances between me and their shoes. Skip was beaming a positively radiant smile at me, his white teeth practically glowing, and I quickly shuffled back down into my seat feeling weak at the knees.

Skip got up to speak next, and I felt his strong hand grip my shoulder as he stood up. He gave it a light squeeze before he started speaking. “Hey y’all, I’m Skip. I’m from Kentucky. I’m gunna be studyin’ Agricultural Management — that’s like farming an’ shit, for all you dumb jocks. Oh! An’ I swim distance.” Skip’s voice was firm and friendly and he seemed to be playing up his ‘country-boy’ qualities to win people over. Judging from the smiling faces all around, it was working.

Cameron went next, then a few other boys who honestly blended together in my mind. There was just too much to take in and I’m not generally gifted with remembering names. Drake Brewer certainly made an impression as a dumb brute of a human being, and while his physically imposing presence didn’t bother me much, I could tell that a lot of the other freshmen were intimidated by him.

By the time the seventh and eighth guys were taking their turns I’d pretty much lost interest and given up all hope of remembering people’s names and I just hoped that my disinterest wasn’t too obvious. My mind kept flashing back over the last two days with Skip, his amazing body, his dazzling smile, his warmth, and the possibility of a future for the two of us. Every time I glanced over at him, I found that his eyes met mine and goosebumps would send a tremor of shivers up my body. I was so engrossed, so consumed, by thoughts of Skip that it was as though nobody else in the room existed. He and I were suspended in time. At some point I noticed somebody quietly coming into the meeting late, the French boy probably. Later the two freshmen divers joined us and gave their own introductions but all of this just floated by my periphery, barely even consciously acknowledged.

Timmy finally called the meeting to a close, suggesting that while he was sure we all wanted to get better acquainted that evening, we should all bear in mind that we were expected at six the following morning. I got up expecting to leave right away, but Skip seemed anxious to mingle with the other guys and immediately latched onto some of the guys sitting near us. Cameron seemed determined to catch my attention again and I politely smiled at him and then pretended to be totally engrossed in my cellphone. He seemed like the over-eager and clingy type of friend. Quite frankly I’m not a patient or a kind enough person to put up with that for very long, so it’s generally better to nip it in the bud before it develops.

I scrolled back and forth through my empty inbox, feeling increasingly self-conscious, hoping that Skip would want to leave soon, preferably immediately. It’s not that I’m an anti-social or aloof person by any means, but the machismo bravado that tends to arise out of this type of group isn’t something I’d ever really been comfortable with. I guess I’d always known on some level that I wasn’t actually ‘one of the boys,’ in the typical, hetero sense. I generally prefered to get to know people on an individual level as people are usually acting a certain role in group settings. The perfect example of which was Drake Brewer who was boisterously trying to recruit guys for a bar crawl that evening. His obnoxious, rough and tumble manner only added to my desire to leave as soon as possible and I noticed that a number of the guys slipped out of the room almost as soon as the meeting was over. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Drake was heading in my direction. I looked around desperately for some kind of diversion and considered leaving altogether before he reached me.

“Yo, Davenport.” His voice boomed in a commanding tone that sounded ready to reprimand me for my desire to leave.

“Hi Drake,” I replied calmly, taking in his impressive form. He was around 6’6” with a stocky build that gave an almost looming quality to his presence. He had black hair and dark eyes framed against a rather sinister face. His face was scruffy and his bulging forearms were coated in black wiry hair. I was incredibly conscious of the fact that he was looking down on me as we spoke.

“You comin’ out tonight?”

I almost snorted at the irony of that statement. “Yeah, probably, we’ll see.” I offered noncommittally, knowing that a flat out refusal wouldn’t ever fly. I just wanted him off my back as soon as possible and so I was willing to play games with the dim-witted hulk.

“I expect to see you there Davenport. No excuses. Don’t pussy out on me.” It was all I could do not to roll my eyes.

“Where, Drake? You expect to see me where?” I asked, no longer making any kind of an effort to disguise my annoyance and he seemed a little taken aback.

“Uhh…” he stammered for a moment, grasping for an idea. His brow furrowed, his dark and bushy eyebrows casting a shadow over his eyes. “Uhh… Meet here at nine and we’ll go from there,” he grunted.

“Ok, I’ll probably see you then.” I lied through my teeth. “By the way, great job at trials this summer,” I added, as saccharinely as possible, knowing that he’d practically thrown a tantrum of disappointment over his times.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, throwing me a suspicious look before moving on to his next victim. I feigned another few minutes of intense interest in the contents of my cell phone before Jimmy interrupted everyone with an announcement.

“Everybody listen up! I forgot to mention that pool here is looking for new guards. Especially for the few weeks before school starts and they get their regular staff back. If you want information about lifeguarding you should talk to Greg Tigley on your way out. Just remember that you can’t during hours where we have practice, and we’ll be gone a lot of weekends once the season gets going.” I ran over to grab him before he left.

“Hey coach!” I said, grabbing his arm, just as he went for the door.

“Hey Brae,” he said with a wide, jovial grin. “How are you doing?”

“Good, settling in. Ready to get started.” His smile widened at that. “I was just wondering where I would find Mr. Tigley’s office.”

He looked at me, surprise etched all over his face. “You’re looking for a job lifeguarding?”

“Yeah, I want something to do besides swimming. And I’ve heard its fun.”

“That might be true, but it means that you’re sure going to be spending a lot of time in this facility,” he said, giving me a concerned look. I suddenly wondered if he truly “forgot” to mention the lifeguarding jobs before about half of the new swimmers had left.

“Well, I think I wanna at least try it out a bit, see how it goes. Where did you say his office was?”

“It’s down the hallway to the left of the main entrance. It’s the second to last door on the right side.”

“Thanks!” I grinned in response, ready to head down to his office immediately. Jimmy grabbed my arm as I headed out.

“Just take it easy Brae. College is supposed to be fun,” he said making a devilish face at me. “Don’t push yourself too hard.”

“Thanks coach. I won’t,” I replied, wondering why he seemed so set against the idea of my lifeguarding. I remembered Lottie saying that the swimmers didn’t generally work at the pool. ‘Maybe it’s cause half these guys seem dumb as rocks and don’t need further distractions to keep them from their schoolwork’ I thought to myself, as Drake’s visage floated through my mind. Determined, I headed down to Mr. Tigley’s office.

I found his office easily but there was no answer when I rapped on his door. A woman in the office across the hall said that he had probably gone out to lunch, so I wrote him a note saying that I was interested in a lifeguarding position and providing him with my contact information. I decided to check the pool to see if Lottie was still working. Somebody else was on the chair, so I assumed that her shift must have ended. I decided to head back to the dorm.

***

Skip wasn’t back yet when I got back to our room, so I decided to give my mom a call and check in. She was anxious to hear all about the meeting and the other guys on the team.

“So do you think you’re going to make a lot of friends on the team?”

“I’m sure mom. We all are going to be spending so much time together, I think its kinda inevitable.”

“Anybody in particular that seems nice? Or that you know?”

“I don’t know mom. I only met the other freshmen today and it wasn’t like we had much time to socialize. I recognized a few kids though.”

“And do you like the coaches? Do you think they’re going to be good?”

“Mom!” my exasperation was beginning to creep into my voice. “You met the coaches! You know they’re nice. You know I like them.”

“I know, I know. I just wondered if your feelings had changed at all now that you’re there. It’s a big adjustment.”

“I know. I’ll be fine though.”

“I know you will. Your dad and I are very proud of you.”

“Thanks mom.”

“Oh, I went through the course directory for you last night! I left it in your car. I highlighted a few of the classes that you may want to take this quarter.”

“Thanks mom. I will check it out. I have to meet with my academic advisor Thursday to go over all that stuff.”

“Don’t forget to get it out of your car. I meant to mention it to you this morning.”

I smiled to myself. “Alright, mom. I’ll go get it right now.” I grabbed my keys and headed out towards the student lot and retrieved the directory while she continued to pester me with questions. The afternoon sun had transformed the parking lot into a stifling pit of misery, suffocating heat rising off of the asphalt and blinding beams of light reflecting off the glossy ocean of cars. It was a relief to get back to the temperature-controlled safety of my room.

We chatted a little longer about her plans for the upcoming week. She had a pretty busy schedule of events and parties leading up to Labor Day and I felt relieved that she had a little distraction to cushion the blow of sending her only child off to college.

Skip got back just as I was wrapping up the call. He collapsed on the bed in exaggerated exhaustion.

“We didn’t even swim today! How are you going to survive when we’ve got two-a-days?” I jokingly chided him. He groaned.

“Was that your mom?”

“Yup.”

“She missin’ your butt already?”

“Yup.”

Skip smiled softly, there was an tint of sadness on his face.

“I think I might go for a swim. I haven’t been in the pool for a week, so I feel like I should warm up a bit before tomorrow. You wanna come with me?” I asked.

Skip smirked. “I think I’ll enjoy my last day of vacation.”

“Okay. Have you eaten yet?”

Skip looked at me a little guiltily. “Yeah, I went with a few of the guys from the team. I looked for you before we left.”

I was stung by a pang of jealousy but I quickly suppressed it. After all, I had no right to feel possessive towards Skip. He was just my roommate and yet he already felt like so much more.

“Oh, cool… who did you go to lunch with?” I asked. Hoping that my enthusiasm didn’t sound too forced.

“Cameron Colt, Kenner Grey and Reed something-or-other. They’re all really nice.”

I felt a little relieved at that. ‘At least it wasn’t fucking Drake Brewer,’ I thought to myself. “Oh yeah, I talked to Cameron for a little while today. He seemed really nice,” I said.

“Yeah. He and Kenner are roommates. Reed got stuck with one of the divers.”

“Cool.”

I grabbed myself a few energy bars to wolf down before I went for my workout. I paged through the directory as I munched on them. My mom had diligently marked off the classes that I would inevitably be required to take as well as a few film and 19th century literature ones that she new would pique my interest.

“What’s that?” Skip asked.

“It’s the course directory for this quarter. My mom went through and marked all the stuff I should take.”

“Oh, gee, I hadn’t even begun to think about classes an’ stuff yet,” Skip said, concern ringing in his voice.

“You have time. Plus we meet with our academic advisors on Thursday remember?”

“Yeah, that’s when I get my laptop.”

“Oh nice. Yeah, well, the advisors will make sure you’re on the right track. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Oh.”

“We should think about taking a class together,” I offered tentatively, suddenly nervous at what I would do if Skip rebuked me. A broad smiled plastered itself across his face.

“Yeah! That would be great!” he chirped enthusiastically, jumping off his bed and coming to look over my shoulder at the directory. We paged through it together for a few minutes and realized that his agricultural management major and my business one had a lot of overlapping prerequisites.

“Well at least we’ll have those econ and finance classes together. And that film class on Hitchcock looks pretty cool. I like his movies a lot,” Skip said.

“Me too!” I said, thrilled at having found another thing that Skip and I had in common. “I think my favorite is probably Rear Window.”

“I really like Charade,” Skip said.

“Oh that’s not Hi–“ I caught myself. “I uhh… I haven’t seen that one.” I said, not wanting to disrupt the easy flow of our conversation.

“Oh it’s great!” Skip bubbled for five minutes about the (non-Hitchcock) film that I had actually seen a number of times and quite enjoyed. ‘Same basic genre. And Cary Grant’s in it. He’s not that far off.’ I thought to myself.

I finally pulled myself away. “Okay, well, I should get going for that swim. You can look through the directory as long as you want. Also do you want me to turn my laptop on so you can use it?” I asked.

“Nah, s’alright. I’m going to grab some Z’s. Do you wanna grab dinner together when you get back?”

“Yeah! Of course!” I beamed. I quickly threw together a swim bag for myself and headed back to the natatorium, practically skipping as I went.

***

I decided to use the varsity locker room even though I hadn’t been assigned a locker yet. It was deserted when I entered so I quickly changed and threw my stuff into an empty locker and headed out on deck. A half dozen older-looking patrons were steadily working through their sets, I figured they might be some kind of adult team. Otherwise the pool was pretty empty, and the lifeguard looked as though he was bored senseless. There was an area with mats by the diving well, so I headed down there to stretch myself out before I started my workout.

My muscles felt unusually tight as I worked at them and I suddenly became aware of just how wracked with tension I was. ‘Calm down Brae. It’s just college,’ I told myself. ‘Everyone does it.’ But suddenly I felt acutely aware of all the pressure I was under. On top of that, I couldn’t shake Skip’s face from my mind. I couldn’t believe how quickly and how intensely I had fallen for him. Something told me I was being unrealistic, that I was jumping to conclusions and that I needed to take steps to protect myself. And yet, there had been signals? Hadn’t there? I walked over to the pool, shaking out my limbs, hoping my problems would shake off with them. ‘You’re becoming a lunatic Braeden,’ I thought to myself as I pulled on my goggles. I took a deep breath and dove in.

The cool crush of the water immediately enveloped me. My problems seemed to slide right off of me and I felt weightless. It was like coming home. For roughly two hours it was just me and the water and nothing else seemed to exist. It was the ultimate escape. I went for a long but relatively easy workout, hoping to build up my stamina for the coming weeks. By the time I finished my muscles burned and my lungs felt like they were on fire, yet I felt more solidly in control of body and mind.

I pulled myself out of the pool and made my way to the locker room. It was almost 5pm so I resolved to take a quick shower and then get back to Skip for dinner as quick as I could. I shampooed my hair leisurely, relishing the slight ache of a fulfilling workout. My mind still felt totally clear and I was enjoying feeling like I had regained my sanity, if only for a little while. I was suddenly startled by a voice behind me.

“Hey, Braeden right?”

I jumped, slipping and almost losing my balance in the process. “Fuck!” I practically yelled, turning to face the mystery voice. “You scared the shit out of me!”

“Sorry,” came the insincere reply of the guy standing in front of me. He was tall, standing two or three inches above me, with long but very muscular limbs. His chestnut brown hair was conservatively cut and parted to the left, his piercing blue eyes were set off by an impossibly deep tan and a splattering of freckles across his button nose. Even in a Speedo he looked preppy. And pretentious. “I’m Beau Vanderbilt,” he said, extending a hand.

“Hi,” I said, rinsing the shampoo off my hand under the spray of the faucet and offering it too him. He shook it firmly, too firmly, it was clearly a competition and he was over eager. “I’m Braeden Davenport.”

“I know. We’ve been to some of the same parties in the Hamptons. I’m from Bronxville. I went to Carver Academy.”

Alarm bells instantly went off in my head. What did he want from me? Was he just another social climber or something more dangerous? I was going to have to watch myself around this one. The last thing I needed was him running back to New York and telling everyone about the Davenport’s little gay boy.

“Oh. I don’t ever remember meeting you,” I said, forsaking the conditioner and wrapping up my shower as quickly as I could.

“We’ve never been formally introduced. But I just wanted to come over and say ‘hello.’ If you have any questions about anything or if you need help with anything, I’d be more than happy to help you out.”

‘Yup, definitely a brown noser.’ I snapped the shower handle to ‘off’ and grabbed my towel from its hook. “Thanks,” I said, making a beeline for the lockers. To my aggravation, he followed.

“So you’re a breaststroker right?” he asked.

“Yeah. I’m assuming you’re on the team?” I asked, my breeding not allowing me to completely ignore him. “What do you swim?”

“Yeah I’m a freestyler. Sprint. I don’t expect to swim that much though with Carl and now Drake Brewer. I’m sort of a reserve.”

Carl Franke was Carrington Swimming’s golden boy, a senior, who had medaled twice in this past summer’s Olympics. It was rumored that the university had gone to extreme lengths to keep him eligible for collegiate swimming this year.

“I haven’t met Carl yet,” I replied.

“I don’t think he’s going to show up until school actually starts in another two weeks.”

“Oh.”

“He’s on his press tour. Most of the upperclassmen should be here by next Monday. Some of us are back already though.”

“So I gathered,” I said, pulling on my shorts. He clearly wasn’t going anywhere. “Aren’t you going for a swim?” I asked indicating towards him swimsuit.

“Yeah, just delaying the inevitable as long as I can,” he replied with a sly smile.

“What year are you?” I asked.

“Sophomore,” he replied.

‘Oh great. So I’ve got three years with this fool. Joy,’ I thought to myself. I pulled my shirt over my head and quickly stuffed my suit into my bag. “Ok, well it was nice to meet you Beau. Have a good swim,” I said.

“Do you want to leave your bag in my locker? No sense in you carrying to back to your dorm. Timmy will probably give out lockers tomorrow.”

“Uhh, no thanks. I can carry it. Bye!” I pushed past him and out of the locker room. “Creep,” I muttered under my breath. I stalked through the lobby towards the main exit, when I thought to try stopping by Mr. Tigley’s office again. I changed course towards the administrative hallway and his office.

He was in his office as I peeked around the corner and then rapped on the door frame.

“Yes?” He looked up from his desk. He looked like he was in his early 40’s, slightly paunchy, with his dark hair closely cropped to cover the fact that it was receding.

“Hi. I’m Braeden Davenport. I left a note for you earlier. I’m one of the new swimmers and I’m interested in a lifeguarding job,” I said, glancing at the disheveled office around me. It looked like a bomb had gone off as paper seemed to be bursting out of every nook, cranny and orifice.

“Oh, right, your note is around here somewhere,” he said, rifling through the papers on his desk. He shrugged and gave me a resigned smile. “Take a seat,” he said as he stood to shake my hand over the desk. I took one of the two seats opposite him. “So you’re a varsity swimmer?”

“Yeah. They said you guys were looking for more guards.”

“Right. And I’m assuming your certifications are all up to date and stuff?”

“Yeah. They are.”

“Okay, great. I’m going to need photocopies of those, and your license and your student ID.” He rifled through his drawer for a moment and pulled out some packets and handed them to me. “Here is your manual and your tax forms.”

“Okay. I don’t have a student ID yet. I’m not sure when I’m getting it.”

“All right, well we can hold off on that for now. This week’s guard schedule is taped to my door. There are still a bunch of shifts left open if you want to sign up for some. We usually have a set schedule but most of the summer guards have gone back to school already and we obviously don’t have our full school year staff back yet , so it’s free sign up. Take what shifts you like.”

“Great,” I said, suddenly feeling a little overwhelmed.

“Well let me walk you around the facility, show you the ins and outs and how things work.”

“Great.”

Mr. Tigley spent nearly an hour walking me through the facility. As cluttered as his office was, he managed to walk me through my orientation in a clear and precise manner, so that by the end I felt a lot more comfortable. We made our way back to his office and he dug me out a few shirts and lifeguard shorts. I signed up for a few shifts, starting on Wednesday, most of them with Lottie. It was obvious that the hours I was going to be able to work would be pretty limited because of my practice schedule and weekend meets. I thanked Mr. Tigley and then headed back towards the dorm.

***

Skip was sitting at my laptop when I got back.

“Hey!” He smiled at me warmly. “I got Facebook!”

I laughed. “That’s great. Sorry it took me so long, I got held up. I got a job though, I’m going to be lifeguarding.”

“Oh, I guess I should probably find a job too, huh?” Skip said.

“If you want. It might be a good way to make friends outside of the team.”

“Yeah. That’s a good point.”

“So you ready to grab dinner?” I asked.

“Sure, I’m starved!”

“Okay, great, let me just check my email while you have the laptop on,” I said.

There was an email from my dad asking about how my day went and another from my mom wishing me luck for my first practice and urging me to get a good night’s sleep. I was also surprised to find that I had a Facebook message from Lottie. I hastily opened it.

Hey Brae- It was great meeting you today! My roommates and I are having some people over tonight and I thought you might want to stop by. I think you’d really like them and it might be a good way for you to meet people from outside the team. Feel free to bring your roommate. Stop by anytime after 10, we’re at 12 Carrington Cross #1802. Hope to see you later! ~Lottie

A smile crept over my face and I couldn’t help feeling pleased with myself for having already made a friend, and such an attractive one at that.

“Okay, I’m ready to go,” I said, shutting down the laptop. “Do you wanna go to the dining hall or somewhere in town?”

“Dining hall is fine,” Skip replied. I wondered if he was worried about money. I didn’t know if he had any type of allowance or anything. I wanted to offer to pay for him, but I wasn’t sure how to go about offering so I plastered a smile on my face and agreed to eat in the dining hall.

The dining hall was mostly empty. “It’s going to be weird when there are actually people around!” Skip remarked. “It’s only been two days but I’m kinda getting used to livin’ in the ghost town.”

“See anybody we know?” I asked after we’d grabbed our food and were surveying the room for a place to seat.

“Nope. Let’s just grab our own table.”

“Okay, cool.”

We picked a table by the windows and settled in for a leisurely meal.

“So how was your swim?” Skip asked.

“Refreshing. It always feels good to get back in the water after I’ve taken a bit of a break.”

“I know what you mean. Swimming is such a huge part of my life. There was one time, when I was in middle school, that they had to do retiling and repairs on the pool at the YMCA and I couldn’t swim for over a month. I felt totally lost.”

“How long have you been swimming for?”

“Long as I can remember. My mom used to work at the YMCA, before my dad expanded the farm, and she used to bring me to daycare there. I guess I was two or three. What about you?”

“I joined my country club swim team when I was four. I don’t think I took lessons before that. I think I just learned from my parents and hanging around the club with the other kids. I always ran with an older crowd at the club and peer pressure is a powerful thing. I was always trying to keep up,” I said.

“Aren’t we all?” Skip said, a little mournfully.

“So have you checked in at home yet?” I asked, cautiously.

“Nah, they know I’m here. They’d have heard somethin’ otherwise.”

“Oh…” An uneasy silence loomed around the table. “Uhh… do you miss your siblings? I bet they’re all missing you a lot”

Skip looked at me a little ruefully. “Yeah I dunno about that…” His voice trailed off and he looked a little choked up. “Yeah. I miss ‘em a lot.”

“Is everything all right Skip?” I gently probed. “We can talk about it if you want.

He forced a bright smile, though tears glistened in his emerald eyes. “Yup, jus’ a lil’ homesick I guess. Hadn’t realized it ‘til now.”

I decided to change the subject. “So that girl I met today, Lottie, she invited us to a party at her apartment tonight. I think I’m going to go. You wanna come? Might be a nice alternative to Drake’s bar crawl of douche baggery.”

Skip chuckled. “You like this Lottie girl, huh?”

“What?! No!” I wasn’t quite sure why Skip’s assertion surprised and almost offended me as much as it did. Maybe we weren’t on the same wavelength after all. “She just seems nice and she’s from New York too.”

“Uh huhhh.” Skip smiled cheekily. He wasn’t convinced.

“So you wanna go?”

“Nah, I think I’m going to turn in early. I never did get that nap today.”

“You didn’t?”

“Nope. Facebook is so goddamn addictive. Plus I spent some more time going through the course book. I found a class about plants I think I might take. It’s mostly identification an’ anatomy and stuff.”

I groaned. “That sounds miserable. I would rather drown in my own urine than take that.”

Skip choked with laughter, coughing a half-chewed piece of his burger back onto his plate.

“You’re a bit of a sick fuck, Davenport.” He shot me a big smile and I laughed.

We chatted for a little while about the meeting that morning and our predictions for the upcoming season. Skip couldn’t believe that he was going to be training with Carl Franke, one of his idols, or “swimming gods” as he put it. After we finished we headed back up to the room. Skip seeming much more light-spirited, and left me riddled with questions about Skip’s family situation.

“You want to watch a movie or something?” I asked when we got back to the room.

“Sure. What have you got?”

“A bunch of stuff,” I said, retrieving my binder of DVDs off of one of the shelves above my desk. “Take your pick. I’m down for anything right now.”

Skip began to thumb through the pages of sleeves with enthusiasm. “Wow! We have really similar taste in movies!” he exclaimed, looking up at me with a bright smile.

“Really? Great minds…”

“The Goonies?!” Skip practically shrieked. “I think we have a winner.”

“Oh great, that’s one of my all time favorites,” I replied smiling. Skip’s enthusiasm radiated it out of his golden face. It was contagious.

We lounged next to each other on Skip’s bed since it had the better angle for the TV. We put a pretty solid dent into the junk food that my mother had stocked the room with and laughed uproariously at the juvenile humor of the movie. ‘This is so simple and so right,’ I thought to myself, looking over at Skip. Our close proximity had my mind and body kicking into high gear and I was constantly on the edge of full arousal. Skip seemed oblivious and very comfortable with our nearness. He leaned against me at once point and I thought I might combust from some odd mixture of happiness and sexual frustration.

“Such a classic,” Skip said as the movie wrapped up.

“Absolutely,” I agreed. We leisurely stretched out our limbs and smiled at each other.

“I could get used to this,” Skip drawled lazily. “Gosh my stomach feels like it is rotting from the inside out. I can’t believe we ate all this crap!” Skip said, assessing the damage. He grabbed the empty chip and cookie containers and threw them out.

“So are you sure you don’t want to come out tonight?” I asked hopefully as I pulled a pair of jeans and a fresh polo out of my dresser and looked them over appraisingly. “We don’t have to stay too long. I’ll leave whenever you want to.”

“Nah. Sometime soon maybe. I wanna be in top form for tomorrow though.”

“Okay. We should probably set our alarms for tomorrow. Does 5:30 sound okay?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Okay why don’t you set yours for 5:30 and I’ll set mine for 5:35, just in case we don’t wake up to the first alarm.”

“Sure. I’m pretty used to getting up at the ass crack of dawn city boy, but may as well play it safe.”

I changed quickly and gave myself a once over in the mirror.

“You look sharp kid,” Skip said.

“Thanks,” I muttered, a blush finding its way to my cheeks. “Okay well I guess I’d better get going. I’ll see you later.”

“Have fun.”

“Thanks.”

***

Lottie’s apartment was on Carrington Cross which was the main street of our small campus town. If I had been at all worried about finding her building, I needn’t have been. The sleek, modern, mini high-rise towered about the otherwise quaint buildings of the town of Carrington. I remembered my father pointing it out on our first visit and mentioning that it had been a controversial project and that many university students had protested to prevent it from getting building approval. I surveyed the towering glass structure from a distance. It was by no means an eyesore. In fact it was quite an elegant-looking structure, but it was definitely at odds with the rest of the landscape. The doorman had the door open as I approached and I nodded at him as I passed. I checked in at the security desk and was surprised to find that there was a guest list for the party. The security guard verified my I.D. and then directed me towards the elevators. The marble lobby had vaulted ceilings and a mirrored water wall flanked the elevators.

I took the elevator up to the 18th floor. ‘Their lake views must be spectacular,’ I thought to myself as the elevator made its ascent. The building had 20 stories, but Lottie would later explain to me that the top floor housed the communal areas like the gym, spa, pool, and party room. The 19th floor penthouse belonged to the building’s owner and developer, so Lottie and her roommates were essentially on the top floor. Their floor only had two apartments and the door of theirs was just off of the elevator, chatter emanating from behind it. I sauntered strode over and rang the bell. A stunning red head answered he door.

“Braden!” she exclaimed.

“Umm… yeah, hey,” I said, thrown by her familiarity.

“I’m Emmie! Lottie’s roommate. We Facebook stalked you earlier, sorry, didn’t mean to freak you out. Come on in,” she said, leading me into the entryway. A long narrow hallway opened into the kitchen, with the living area beyond. The apartment was industrial loft-styled with hardwood floors and high ceilings that exposed the piping and air vents. Emmie led me into the granite and stainless steel kitchen.

“Help yourself to whatever you want,” she said indicating the selection of beer, wine and hard alcohol on the kitchen island.

“Thanks!” I said, grabbing myself a red Solo cup and looking over my options.

“There’s jungle juice in the living room.” She gave me a coy smile that made me a little uncomfortable. She was dressed in short jean cut-offs and a revealing white blouse. The bangles on her wrist jingled as she absentmindedly twisted a lock of her long, somewhat wild and disheveled rust-colored red hair around her finger. Her large golden-green eyes were cloaked under thick dark lashes that gave them an almost feline look. A splattering of freckles across her fine features and sun-kissed limbs completed her carefree/bohemian appearance.

“Jungle juice sounds great.” I said, still drinking in the sight of her. ‘Does everyone at this school look like a freaking movie star?’ I wondered to myself.

“Okay and we’ll find Lottie for you.”

Emmie led me into the living room where roughly two dozen people were already gathered. The large space was minimally furnished with two black leather and chrome couches and chairs, an entertainment center and a beer pong table comprising most of the furnishings. The external walls were entirely glass and provided spectacular views of Carrington’s campus and the lake beyond. Emmie led me over to the coffee table and ladled me out a cup of jungle juice, after making me take a few squirts out of a turkey baster. Her vivaciousness was infective and she effortlessly engaged those around her.

“Look who I found!” she said as she led me over to Lottie who was chatting with a few friends by the windows.

“Brae! I’m so glad you could make it!” Lottie exclaimed warmly, kissing me affectionately on the cheek and resting a supportive hand on my shoulder. “I see you’ve met Emmie.”

“Yes, she’s been a most gracious hostess. Brought me straight to the liquid refreshments,” I said, holding up my Solo cup.

“Careful with that jungle juice. Nicola made it, so it’s lethally potent,” she said nudging the striking woman next to her. Another glamazon.

“It’s not a party if you can remember it tomorrow. I’m Nicola, the third roommate,” her breathy and seductive voice announced. Her violet eyes locked on mine.

“Hey… Braeden,” I said awkwardly, still taking her in. Her features were chiseled perfection — lusciously plump limps; high check bones, delicately curved nose, large eyes framed by impossibly curly lashes. Her long limbs were elegantly bronzed, and her figure-hugging, black strapless dress revealed a curvaceous figure that most Sports Illustrated models would kill for. Her long black hair hung silky and straight down her back. “You guys are all so tan!” I exclaimed.

“There’s a pool on the roof. We lay out a lot. And we’ve all been guarding the last few weeks.”

“Oh. Cool.”

“So are all three of you sophomores?” I asked.

“Yup!” Emmie chirped.

“How do you all know each other?”

“Well, Nicola and I were roommates last year and we interned together this summer,” Emmie said.

“Oh cool. Where did you intern this summer?”

“With Giles Vallette. He’s a very famous designer. Nicola’s mom knows him and got us internships in his atelier. We’re both studying fashion. It was AMAZING!”

“Oh, my mom is a big fan of his,” I said, recalling the fuss my mother had made at a charity ball the year before when someone spilled red wine on the vintage “Vallette original!!!” that she had strolled the catwalk in during her model days.

“And Lottie and I have known each other forever, plus she lived down the hall from us last year.”

“Oh are you from New York also then?” I asked.

“No, I’m from L.A., but our dads are old college friends. Carrington actually, so we’ve vacationed together throughout the years.”

“And now we’re all in Kappa,” Lottie finished.

“The be-all, end-all,” Emmie giggled and I chuckled.

“What did you do this summer?” I asked Lottie.

“I took classes here. I dropped Macroeconomics last winter, but I need it for my business major, so I retook it this summer.”

“Oh I’m studying business also! And communications,” I said.

“Oh Television and Film is my second major,” she replied, “that overlaps with communications a lot. So how did your meeting go today?” Lottie asked.

Nicola had turned her attention back to the guy standing next to her and seemed to have checked out of the conversation.

“It was fine. Pretty much what I expected. A lot of ‘don’t fuck up’ and all that crap.”

“Are you excited for the season to get started?” Lottie asked.

“Yeah. I think it’s going to be a really good season. We’ve got a really solid team. A number of the guys were at Olympic Trials this summer and they all seemed pretty friendly when they heard I was coming to Carrington.”

“Did you meet Carl Franke?!” Emmie asked enthusiastically.

“No, we swim really different events. And he was usually busy with the media and stuff.”

“Lottie dated him last year. He’s such a sweetheart!” Emmie gushed.

“We didn’t date, we just went out a few times,” she cut in. “But he’s a really nice guy.”

“Oh please, he was basically your boyfriend. Do you have a boyfriend Brae?” Emmie asked cheerily.

It took me a second to be sure that I had heard her right and then I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, the air literally knocked out of me. I froze up in shock. Tears sprang to my eyes as panic over took me and I could feel my face going beet red.

“Wh-wh-what?!” I stuttered too stunned to manage anything more sensible. My fight-or-flight responses kicked in and I started nervously looking around for an exit, sweat now beading on my brow.

Thoughts rushed through my brain. What was going on? Was this some kind of set up? A conspiracy to out and embarrass me? I felt like light-headed and like I might vomit.

Lottie grabbed my arm firmly and whisked me into the nearest door. It was a bedroom, with a large white wooden canopy bed. Lottie sat me down on the bed and placed an arm around me, softly rubbing my back. I was still too shocked to think clearly and felt like I might still burst into tears.

“I’m really sorry about that Braeden. She didn’t mean to upset you, I promise. Emmie is just a little impulsive.”

“H-h-how did you know?” I finally managed.

“I dunno. I just kinda sensed it. I guess growing up in New York demands that you develop good gaydar. It’s not like you’re obviously gay or anything at all.”

“Oh.”

“I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions though. And I shouldn’t have said anything to Emmie.”

“No, it’s all right. I guess it’s good to have it out there in the open. People were going to find out anyways.”

“I’m sure it’s a bit of a relief.”

I nodded. “Yeah… I actually was sorta nervous one of you guys were going to hit on me or something,” I said with a smile.

“Well, you are the most attractive guy to step onto this campus like, ever, so nobody could blame us. But yeah, the second I saw you I knew there was no way you were going to be straight. I’m just not that lucky.”

I laughed a little in spite of myself.

“I’m guessing nobody else knows about this?”

I shook my head to indicate no, then stopped. “Well, Rhett, my Hampton’s neighbor.”

“Is Rhett your boyfriend?” she asked.

“No, we’ve just fooled around a little bit.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Are you okay to talk about this? We can talk about something else if you want,” she said, concern written all over her face.

I took her hand and squeezed it and gave her the best smile I could manage.

“No, it’s good to finally talk about it with someone other than myself. I’ve felt like I’ve been going crazy. Especially the last few days.”

“I can’t even imagine. Well you know we can talk about things whenever you want. And Emmie is over the moon at the prospect of having a new gay best friend to dote on. She’s really a kind soul.”

“I can tell.”

“I’m sure she’s really beating herself up right now.”

As if on cue, there was a tentative knock on the door and a distraught-looking Emmie poked her head in.

“Can I come in?” she asked tentatively. “I come bearing jungle juice,” she said, holding up three red Solo cups.

Lottie looked at me expectantly.

“Yeah, sure, come in,” I said.

Emmie shuffled over and took a seat next to me, distributing the cups.

“Thanks,” I said, taking a large swig.

“Brae, I’m so, so sorry!” she pleaded. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me! I can’t believe I could have been so insensitive.”

I smiled at her. “Don’t worry about it. It’s the truth anyways. And you saved me having to explain it myself.”

“Still, it’s unforgiveable. Outing someone is just about the worst thing a person can do. It’s despicable.”

“Emmie, I could have denied it. You didn’t really ‘out’ me.”

“Brae, it looked like it was all you could do to keep from fainting. Do you really think you could have denied it?!”

“Faint or puke,” Lottie chimed in.

“You’ll never know how close I came to both,” I laughed. “Really Emmie, you’re forgiven. And the air is cleared. I just hope I didn’t make too much of a scene. People are going to think I’m a freak!” I groaned aloud. “This is so embarrassing.”

“Don’t worry. Only a few people nearby noticed and I told them you were having a weird reaction to the jungle juice.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“It was the least I could do.”

I took a look at the room around me. The furniture was all white wood, classic Americana style. There were pink frills everywhere and the shelves were crammed with girly knick knacks and tons and tons of photos.

“I take it this is your room Emmie?”

“How’d you know?”

“It suits you. Plus the little red-haired girl in all the pictures gives you away.”

Emmie giggled. “Yeah my parents took a lot of pictures. It’s the only child thing.”

“I hear ya,” I echoed. “This jungle juice is really delicious,” I said downing the rest of the cup.

“Yeah, careful there, it’s also pretty potent,” Lottie warned.

“Really? I don’t taste anything.”

“Everclear. It is silent and deadly.”

“So how do you like the dorms?” Emmie cut in.

“They’re okay. My parents pretty much pimped out my dorm room, so it’s pretty comfortable. I can’t really complain. I have air conditioning and everything.”

Emmie began pumping me for details about my parents and my life in New York, while Lottie looked one with an amused expression on her face. Emmie utterly shocked me by knowing who my mother was.

“Your mother is Brigitte Astor?!” She squealed.

“Well, Brigitte Davenport now, but yeah…”

“She modeled for Vallette!”

“I know.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t mention that before!” she half scolded me.

“It’s not like she’s famous, I didn’t think you would know who she was.”

“Of course I would know! I went through all of Valette’s collections back to 1981 in his archives this summer.”

“So how is it going with the roommate? He seemed like a real prick,” Lottie asked, changing the subject. She flashed me a knowing smile and I could tell that she had sensed my discomfort and was swooping in to rescue me.

“He’s great. I don’t know why he was so weird with you earlier. I think he might have been nervous about the meeting or something.”

“He was extremely gruff,” she replied.

“I know, it was really odd. He’s usually incredibly sweet and friendly. I promise he’s a good guy, I lo–“ I caught myself, “–like him a lot.”

“Oh my god! You love him!” Emmie squealed. I felt another blush rising in my cheeks. Lottie immediately intervened.

“Down, Emmie. Leave Brae alone. You are not going to be playing matchmaker.”

I smiled awkwardly. “I don’t even know if he’s gay. I’m really jumping to conclusions. I can’t believe I let that slip.”

“It’s okay. Emmie and I won’t say anything.”

“Thanks.”

“So, is he hot? What’s he look like?” Emmie leaned against me and put her chin on my shoulder. It felt good. I couldn’t believe that I felt comfortable discussing these things with two people I’d only just met. Perhaps I was so desperate to unload myself of my problems that I was willing to take advantage of the first willing ears, but somehow I felt like we had stumbled upon the beginning of some kind of a deeper friendship.

“Well he’s tall, with strawberry blond hair–“

“Ooh a ginger like me!” Emmie interrupted. We laughed.

“He’s got green eyes, and his face is really cute, sorta childish, and it’s freckled. He’s pretty lean but really muscular.”

“He’s a hunk. Especially by Carrington standards,” Lottie added.

“What about the goods?! Have you seen them yet?” I choked back a laugh and Lottie immediately jumped to my defense.

“Emmie! Enough of that.”

The door suddenly opened and Nicola stuck her head in. Her guy friends were still behind her.

“Emmie, you and I are up for pong. And can I remind you ladies that we are hosting a party? People are starting to wonder where you are. You feeling better Brae?”

“Yeah.” I smiled a little sheepishly.

“Good, come on out here and dance with me,” she said, wagging a seductive finger at me.

The three of us got up and headed back into the party. Emmie and Nicola went over to take their turn at the pong table while Lottie and I went to refill our cups.

“Did I tell you I took a job at the pool?” I asked.

“No!! Oh great! We’re going to have such a good time working together!” Lottie beamed.

“Tigley seems nice, if a little scatterbrained.”

“He’s great,” she laughed. “An old softie. Cheers to ‘The Gnat’!” She giggled.

“The what?”

“’The Gnat.’ Like natatorium. It’s what we all call it.”

“I like it. ‘The Gnat.’ Okay, well cheers to ‘The Gnat!’ Bottoms up!” I said.

Now feeling infinitely more comfortable, the rest of the night passed quickly. Lottie and I pounded back the jungle juice, Nicola forced me to take shots out of her belly button, and Emmie dragged me into the open area they were using as a dance floor. The faces and music and alcohol all blended into a blur and the next thing I knew I was being shaken awake as an alarm blared in my ear.

***

“Rise and shine sleeping beauty!” Skip chirped.

“Noooo,” I groaned. “It can’t be time already.”

“Oh but it is.”

“How long have I been home for?” I asked, a little embarrassed that the previous night had obviously gotten much more out of control than I had bargained for.

“About two hours.”

“Fuck,” I said pulling myself to my feed. My head felt groggy and it was a struggle to keep my eyes open. “Water.”

Skip dutifully retrieved me a bottle from the fridge and watched in amusement as I gulped it down in one long swig.

“More.”

Skip handed me another bottle and I polished it off as I grabbed my swim bag and stuffed in a fresh suit.

“How you feeling? You were really, really out of it last night.”

Panic seized me. Had I said anything revealing to Skip? Did he know? I decided to play it cool.

“Okay. I don’t really get hangovers. I just get sort of out of it. I’m definitely not going to have a good workout though. Let’s get some toast from the dining hall on our way out,” I said.

“You don’t get hangovers?!” Skip exclaimed in offended disbelief.

“Not really…”

“You are like the genetic lottery. Beauty, brains, swimming prodigy, and alcohol immunity?! You’re like some kind of body snatcher.”

“Yeah, I’m not really going to be able to do humor right now Skip. I am so tired I could fall asleep standing up. Good one though.”

On our way out of the building Skip ran into the dining hall and grabbed some fruit for himself and two pieces of toast for me, while I dozed against the wall outside.

“How you doin’?” he asked, handing me the toast.

“I can’t figure out if I’m still drunk.” I mumbled.

We walked silently towards the Commons and the aquatic center, munching on our breakfasts. I staggered slightly a few times, but Skip usually managed to grab me by a shirt sleeve and set me right. I gave him an embarrassed smile.

“Thanks.”

“Yeah well, I’m sure you’ll end up having to return the favor sooner or later.” He looked at me reassuringly.

***

We walked into ‘The Gnat,’ as I managed to remember Lottie had called it. I relayed the joke to Skip who gave a hearty chuckle. We walked over to the mats and joined the handful of guys that were already there stretching. Skip and I grabbed a corner and I laid down, feeling a little unbalanced. Next thing I knew Skip was nudging me awake. I looked around a little nervous, but nobody seemed to have noticed that I nodded off, or perhaps it just wasn’t that out of the ordinary. Aside from the freshmen there seemed to be about a dozen older swimmers including Beau Vanderbilt, who had turned up for practice. Timmy and Jimmy were approaching.

Timmy announced that he would be taking the returning swimmers and that Jimmy would be breaking in the freshmen for the first few weeks until he was sure we were up to speed. The sun was now beating down into the Gnat, launching an aggressive offensive on my senses. ‘I do not want to be here,’ I thought to myself as I walked over to the lanes. I spotted Emmie sitting on the far lifeguard chair, looking chipper and perky, with a large Starbucks coffee resting on her lap. She waved enthusiastically when she caught my gaze. I gave a small wave back.

“Ey! Master Davenport. You’re on my time. You can make love to yer girlfriend later!” Jimmy announced, his tone an odd mixture of malice and mirth.

“Uhh, sorry,” I mumbled.

“Who’s your girl Davvy?” A gruff voice whispered from behind me, and I felt a strong hand grip my shoulder tightly. I turned to face Drake Brewer who looked a little worse for the wear, the smell of alcohol seeping out of his pores. “She looks juicy. You tap that yet?” I shrugged him off.

As fate would have it, Jimmy assigned Drake, me, and another equally wretched soul (who I deduced from overhearing a few of their squabbles at the wall was Drake’s roommate) to the same lane. I focused on the workout and didn’t engage with either of them. Jimmy worked us hard and I was thankful for my vigorous training schedule that summer had conditioned me to a point that I could get through it even while feeling under the weather.

***

“Looking sluggish Davvy,” Drake baited as we got out of the pool. I blew by him and retrieved my towel.

“Gentlemen, and I use that term loosely, we’re going to be assigning lockers now for the new guys, so follow me,” Jimmy announced.

Jimmy led us into the varsity locker room and towards the second aisle of lockers. Each side had a dozen full-length lockers with a knee-high wooden bench running down the middle of the aisle. Most of the lockers looked empty.

“Help yerselves to whatevers available, then check in with me and I’ll give you your lock.”

The guys descended upon the lockers, vying for whatever they might consider a coveted location. Drake had asserted ownership over one corner of the aisle and was drafting followers to join him. That was all the help I needed in locating my “coveted location.” I chose a secluded area on the opposite end of the aisle that seemed to have escaped everybody else’s notice. I was pleased when Skip wandered over and picked a locker two down from me.

“May as well buffer if we can so we’re not on top of each other,” he said. “I don’t think anyone is going to take this locker.” He indicated to the one between us.

“Jimmy, this is me. 211.” I announced as he strolled by. He marked me off on his clipboard and handed me a lock and combination slip.

“You gunna shower?” Skip asked.

“I’m too tired,” I groaned.

“You should at least take a rinse, you don’t want to smell like chlorine all afternoon. Even if you are just going to nap.”

“Ugh fine.”

“Great! Can I borrow your shampoo?” Skip flashed me a cheeky smile.

“Fine,” I said, digging the bottle out of my bag and handing it to him.

I trailed Skip to the showers and picked a shower head well away from Drake and his lackeys. Most of the guys were still wearing their suits, not that I was worried about springing a boner or anything. Years of locker rooms had trained my brain into completely desexualizing what could be an unbearably erotic experience. Skip took a glob of shampoo and then passed me the bottle. I started to lather up.

“Hey Braeden.” I turned to find Beau Vanderbilt standing behind me.

“Oh, hey,” I said, hearing the tinge of annoyance in my voice.

“Can I borrow some shampoo?”

“Yeah, fine,” I said, picking the bottle up off the ground and handing it to him. “Have you met Skip? Skip this is Beau.”

“Good to meetcha,” Skip grinned wide and shook Beau’s hand firmly.

“Uh, yeah, you too.” Beau smiled back awkwardly. “Good workout?” he asked.

“Damn I am exhausted! I can’t believe we have to be back here in a few hours to do this again!” Skip exclaimed.

Beau looked expectantly at me but I didn’t say anything and I began rubbing down my body with the shampoo suds. “You’ll get used to it,” he finally replied. “And you’ll probably nap a lot the first few weeks.”

“I can’t imagine having to do this and classes!” said Skip.

“You’ll get it done. The academic advisors will be on your backs.” Brae seemed perturbed that I wasn’t engaging him.

Another guy approached our group and I recognized him as Drake’s roommate. I decided to use to moment of distraction to extricate myself from the group and try to escape before Beau could catch up with me. “Hey guys,” he said.

“Well I’m off,” I announced casually while Skip and Beau greeted the newcomer. I quickly slipped away.

“Brae wait!” Beau called after me. “I’m having some friends over tonight for drinks–“

“Yeah, I’m going to hafta take a pass. I had a rough one last night,” I said turning quickly and walking away. I threw on my shorts and tee shirt and exited the locker room as quickly as I could. I waited in the lobby for Skip to come out, hoping I wouldn’t have to suffer another Beau encounter. Skip emerged a couple of minutes later with Cameron Colt and a tall, lanky dirty blond I recognized as Cameron’s roommate, Kenner.

“Hey!” I greeted them. “Sorry about bailing so quickly in there Skip. That Beau guy really bothers me.”

“Well he didn’t seem to have the time of day for me,” Skip laughed. “Do you know Cameron and Kenner?”

“Yeah,” I answered. I extended my hand to Kenner. “We haven’t met formally yet but I remember you from yesterday.”

“Hey,” he said with a smile. He had dark brown eyes, a large and slightly crooked nose, and a light, but not horrible, sprinkling of acne on his chin and forehead. His over-eager awkwardness gave him a certain charm.

“Are you going home to sleep?” Skip asked. “Brae had a bit of a rough night last night,” he added as an aside to Kenner and Cameron.

“Yeah, I can’t believe I’m still functioning. What’s your plan?”

“I think I’ll join you in a little bit, but I’m going to grab lunch with Cam and Kenner first.”

“Okay, I’ll see you later then.”

“Do you want me to bring you anything back?”

“Nah, I’m good, I’ll probably grab something on the way to afternoon practice. Have fun guys. Nice to meet you Kenner.”

I strolled back to our room, stripped off my shirt, and all but collapsed into bed, unconscious before my head even hit the pillow.

***

I was roused a little later by the chirping of my cell phone from beside my bed. I groaned and grabbed it, checking the caller ID. Mom. ‘Probably calling to ask me how practice went,’ I thought to myself. I pushed ignore. ‘I’ll call her tonight after I’m done for the day.’ As I settled back into bed, I became aware of the warm feeling of arousal and almost by reflex, my hand found its way to the growing erection in my briefs. ‘Fuck it,’ I thought to myself, ‘Skip is out. Might as well take the opportunity when it presents itself.’ I hiked down the front of my briefs, exposing my throbbing shaft and began to slowly tease it to its full length. Images of Skip floated through my consciousness: his smiling face; his ample ass gleaming wet; his green eyes sparkling with mischief; his sizeable cock hanging soft. My breathing became more labored and my hips began to buck as I imagine myself parting his cheeks and licking up the perspiration and then tentatively turning him around to take the head of his member into my mouth. My dick began leaking profusely and I couldn’t help letting out urgent moans between ragged breaths. I could feel my orgasm building and my need became more and more urgent until finally I arched up into the ultimate release with a loud groan, just as the door to the room swung open.

I bolted upright grabbing the edge of the duvet and folding it over myself. The instant mortification was so extreme I wanted to melt into oblivion there and then. My face didn’t go red. ‘Guess my blood is busy elsewhere,’ I thought, suddenly remembering to yank my hand away from my erection. Skip stood in the doorway looking a little stunned. An awkward silence descended on the room as we just stared at each other. I finally endeavored to break it.

“Uhh… hi…. Couldn’t sleep.” I gave him a small smile and he seemed to relax a little bit, shutting the door behind him and then throwing his keys on his desk. He stripped his shirt off, revealing his ripped abdomen, completely taut.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom,” he said leadingly. “Why don’t you set an alarm for 2:30?” he said as he sauntered into the bathroom.

‘Well, Skip seemed significantly less horrified than I expected. He didn’t even cover his eyes. In fact he just sort of stared. I guess Skip and I have reached a certain comfort level threshold.’ I thought to myself, wondering how far I could get away with pushing it in the future. I grabbed some tissues off the nightstand to clean myself up and I pulled my briefs back up. After setting an alarm on my cell phone to wake us up, I nestled back into my covers and fell into a comfortable and restful sleep.

***

Skip didn’t mention anything about the incident when we got up for afternoon practice and I certainly wasn’t going to broach the subject. We changed for practice and then headed out of the dorm, stopping at the dining hall for a snack on the way.

“You wanna catch a movie or somethin’ tonight?” Skip asked between bites of his apple as we high-tailed it to the Gnat.

“Yeah, sure. What movie were you thinking?”

“There’s a new Bond film out.”

“Oh, I saw that. It’s pretty good. I would see it again.”

“Oh, no, we can see something else. What about that new horror movie?”

“The one with Chad Michael Murray?”

“Yeah and Paris Hilton! And Elisha Cuthbert.”

My heart sunk a little bit. “Right. Yeah, I’m game. Let’s do it.”

“Awesome! I’m so glad to have a scary movie buddy. None of my friends at home were really into them.”

“Yeah, mine either.”

“I guess it’s lucky we found each other.”

“Sure is.”

***

Afternoon practice was a lot less grueling than morning practice had been. Most of our time in the weight room was spent on orientation and individual workout plans, and we only swam for about a half hour after. That said, I was still exhausted and looking forward to spending a quiet night alone with Skip. Or so I thought.

“Hey, do you guys wanna grab dinner with us? We are probably going to do a movie after,” Skip asked Cameron and Kenner as we headed into the showers.

The four of us clustered around one of the shower towers, passing my bottle of shampoo around.

“Yeah, that sounds fun!!” Cameron said eagerly.

“I’m down for that,” agreed Kenner. “Where were you guys going to eat?”

“Just the dining hall,” Skip said.

“Oh. Don’t you want to try a place in town?” Kenner asked.

“I think the dining hall is probably easiest,” Skip said a little tensely.

I wondered if Skip was worried about money and felt a twinge of sympathy for him. I would have been more than happy to spot him for the meal, but I had a feeling he was too proud to accept such a gesture. I decided to be supportive and back him up.

“Dorm food is probably easier. Plus it’s buffet, so we won’t have to wait to be served and stuff. I’m starving.” I groaned a little dramatically. Skip gave me a quirky look.

“Okay,” Cameron agreed. “Well I think we’re both going to want to change before dinner so why don’t we meet you in the dining hall in like… twenty minutes?”

“Perfect,” Skip agreed.

Kenner and Cameron wandered back to their lockers as Skip and I finished up at the shower heads. Out of the corner of my eye I caught Drake snapping his wet towel at some of his buddies. I rolled my eyes. Skip caught my glance and put a hand on my shoulder.

“You know not everyone can be as mature as you are Brae. Thanks for that back there.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know what I mean. I’m going to get a job soon. I just want to talk to the academic advisor first. Hopefully I won’t be this strapped for cash for too much longer.”

“I would have spotted you, you know.”

“I know. And I think you know why I can’t let you do that.”

“Yeah, I get it. If you change your mind though…”

“Thanks.”

I sensed someone approaching from behind and turned to see Drake’s roommate, the French kid, again. We had shared a lane with Drake during the afternoon practice as well. I was hoping this wasn’t going to be a permanent arrangement, as I could only take so much more of Drake before I inevitably snapped. The roommate was quiet and bore Drake’s abuse in silence. He was tall, taller than me, with a curly black hair and pale skin. I had not made any effort to engage with him, figuring it was in my best interest to separate myself from all things Drake.

“Hey Skip, hey Brae!”

“Hey Tate!” Skip said familiarly. Did they know each other?

Tate turned to me with a look of concern on his face. “How are you feeling today Brae?”

“Uhh… fine… why?” I asked, confused. Had he noticed that I was looking off this morning?

“You were really drunk last night. I’m surprised you’re functioning at all today. I was shocked to see you this morning.”

“Yeah! The kid doesn’t get hangovers! Ain’t he just the luckiest?!” Skip interjected.

“Wait?! You were there last night?!” I asked in a panic. ‘Does he know?’ I thought to myself, suddenly feeling almost paralyzed. ‘Did he tell? Will he tell?’ I looked around warily to see if anyone else was looking at me oddly.

“Tate brought you home last night. Don’t you remember?”

“He did?!” I all but shrieked.

“Yeah, don’t you remember?” Tate asked.

“Uhh… no. I didn’t even know you were there.”

“Oh.” Tate seemed almost disappointed. “Nicola and Emmie interned with my dad this summer. They offered to introduce me to people. And I offered to bring you back to the dorms.”

“Oh. So you brought me home,” I said, still trying to process exactly what had happened to me the night before and to gauge whether or not he knew about my little coming out episode. I was definitely going to have to have a chat with Lottie and Emmie.

“Yeah. Well, we stopped at the gas station on the way so you could puke and I got you a Gatorade and some water.”

“Oh. Well, thanks a lot.” I said. “I really appreciate it. And I’m sorry you had to deal with me like that. I owe you one.”

“It’s okay. Don’t worry, I had fun.”

“Yeah… right…”

“No, I’m serious. I had a good time. You were pretty funny and very apologetic through the whole thing.”

“Well, again, I’m really sorry. And thank you,” I said, hoping to exit the conversation as soon as humanly possible and to avoid Tate as much as humanly possible in the future.

“Hey, we’re doing dinner and a movie tonight with some of the guys. Do you want to join us?” Skip asked, to my horror. I still wasn’t sure exactly what Tate knew about me and I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of letting him stick around to find out. What if he were to say something to Skip?!

Tate looked at me and seemed to sense my discomfort, which immediately made me feel like absolute shit. “Thanks but, I can’t tonight,” he replied.

“Ya sure?” Skip asked.

“Yeah. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” Tate headed off towards the sauna and Skip turned to me.

“We’d better hurry. We don’t want to keep Kenner and Cam waiting. I can’t believe you don’t remember last night.”

“Yeah,” I said, as we headed back to our lockers, “I guess I didn’t think to ask you about what happened since you weren’t there. I blacked out pretty early I think.”

“That Tate is a good kid. Lonely I think. He don’t seem to be meshin’ all that well with the other guys.”

“Well I certainly pity him for having Drake as a roommate,” I said, pulling on a pair of shorts. Skip chuckled.

I echoed his with a half-hearted laugh of my own. I actually felt sort of ill. A gnawing uneasiness had wormed its way into my stomach and settled there. What did this Tate kid know? Could I trust him? Had he told Drake anything? I couldn’t shake the feeling that I hadn’t heard the last of Tate Vallette.

 

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