Brae
by Kieron Connors

 

Chapter 7 

I studied the dark grain of our wooden door for a moment, tracing a finger around the perimeter of one of the panels, before taking a deep breath and going inside.

Skip was sitting at his desk, typing away on his computer, he looked over at me when I entered.

“Hi,” I said tentatively.

“Hi.” He turned his attention back to his computer.

“Can we talk?” I asked.

“Sure you can talk.”

“Skip, I’m really sorry,” I said, sitting down on my bed, focusing on the back of his strawberry blond head. “I know you probably feel like I completely violated your trust and I feel horrible about that. I’ve wanted to tell you so badly, I just didn’t know how. And I was scared. This hasn’t been easy for me to come to terms with. And obviously today is about the worst way all of this could have happened. It sucks. I just hope you realize that I’m still the same person. And nothing has really fundamentally changed in our friendship. I know it probably seems like a betrayal, I just hope you can see things from my perspective. Are you mad?”

Skip turned to face me. “I dunno… no, I’m not mad. I just feel dirty and used,” he said.

His words stung and I felt tears finally springing to my eyes.

“Skip, I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say. I can’t help it. The situation is completely out of my control.”

“I know. I can’t help how I feel though,” he responded.

“Well what can I do to fix this?” I asked, the first tear breaking from my eyes and making its way down my cheek. I swatted it away aggressively.

“Nothing,” Skip said. “You should have told me but there isn’t anything that you really did wrong.”

“So, so where does this leave us?”

He shrugged. “I mean I’m not gunna be mean to ya. I may not agree with what you are, but I also don’t agree with what Drake was doing today.”

“Okay…” I replied, confused.

“I can’t live with you,” he said.

“Oh,” I replied. More fugitive tears escaped my eyes and I bit down hard on my lower lip, gulping down the sobs that threatened to escape.

“Drake and I have decided that we’re going to room together. He’s moving Tate’s stuff out of their room right now. I guess you guys can room together, or figure out what you wanna do. I dunno.” Skip said.

I felt as though I’d been punched in the stomach. I felt demoralized. I felt humiliated. There was no conceivable way for me to describe to Skip what he was putting me through. “All right.” I finally managed to gasp.

“It’s for the best.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because, I can barely look at you,” Skip replied.

“Why would you wanna live with Drake?” I said. “He’s a total douche bag. He has cause you nothing but trouble Skip. I care about you Skip! You have to know that! Why would you want to live with him?”

“Better him than with a — than with you…”

“With a what, Skip? With a fag?”

“Something like that.”

“Fuck, Skip. It’s the 21st century. Who thinks like this anymore?”

“Brae, I’ve made up my mind and nothing you can say is going to change it. Drake is coming in a few minutes to help me move my stuff, you may want to go somewhere else for a while,” Skip said.

“No,” I responded firmly. “This is my room now. I don’t want him in here with my stuff.” Skip looked ready to argue the point, but I snapped at him. “He physically threatened me today! I will not have him coming in here!” Skip nodded his assent.

“Fine,” Skip said, going over to his bed and pull his suitcases out from beneath. I sat and watched him go back and forth between his dresser and the bed a few times, packing his clothes away into the cases. He stripped his sheets off the bed and stuffed them into his hamper.

“Jesus, Skip, has it really come to this?” I said, finally breaking the silence.

“I don’t think Jesus has anything to do with this,” Skip snapped back, grabbing the few books and sparse knickknacks on the shelf above his desk.

“Ahh, yes, God. God, God, God. And you of course have been so stringent in following all of his preachings,” I said. Skip stiffened. “It’s funny how you whip God out when it’s convenient for you to do so,” I replied, shocked to hear the spite in my own voice.

Skip grabbed his two suitcases off the bed and carried them out into the hall. Then he went into the bathroom to collect the rest of his things.

“How can you be so hateful?” I asked, when he re-emerged.

He stopped for a moment and looked at me.

“I don’t hate you Brae. I feel sorry for you.”

“Leave your key,” I responded. He took it out of his pocket and put it on his desk. He picked up the rest of his stuff and headed towards the door.

“See ya Brae,” he said turning to look back at me. I looked away and swallowed another sob. I couldn’t believe how things were unfolding. It was surreal.

“Skip,” I called after him as he went out the door. He looked back at me, expectantly. “I’m always here, if you need a friend or something.”

And then he was gone. And the tears came harder and faster that I would have ever thought possible. I fought for breath as I choked on my own tears and snot. I cried until my stomach ached and my face burned. Until I was so exhausted or oxygen-deprived that I passed into a deep and fitful sleep.

***

A knock at the door roused me about an hour later. I pulled myself out of bed feeling sluggish and groggy, and went to open the door. I was more than a little disappointed to find Tate standing there. As much as I hated to admit it, I was hoping beyond hope that it was Skip and that he had changed his mind.

“Hi,” he said gently.

“Hi,” I replied. We stood awkwardly at the door for a minute. “Umm… come in, I said, moving out of the way to let him in. Skip’s side of the room was obviously stripped bare and I felt a tinge of embarrassment. “I’m sorry about earlier… snapping at you.”

“Oh, it’s okay. It’s been a rough day,” he said. He took a seat on Skip’s desk chair and I took one on mine. “So…” he said.

“So…” I echoed.

“I’m really sorry about everything today,” he said.

“I know. And it isn’t your fault. I’m sorry you had to deal with all that shit from Drake. He is such an asshole.”

“Yeah,” Tate nodded. “This certainly wasn’t how I wanted things to happen.”

“Yeah, me either, not at all.”

“You know you didn’t have to involve yourself today. I’m really glad you did, but you didn’t have to. I think that says a lot about what kind of person you are.”

“I dunno. I think I was blinded by rage more than anything else,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Anyways, I probably owed you anyways,” I said, not wanting the conversation to go the way of hero-worship. “You’ve saved my ass a couple of times.” Tate shrugged. “You’ve also known about me for awhile, haven’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah, I never would have said anything though,” he replied. “We made-out you know-“

“WHAT?!?” I nearly shrieked.

He chuckled. “I’m kidding. Sorry, bad timing I guess. I’m just kinda nervous.”

“Why are you nervous?” I asked.

“Look Brae, things obviously didn’t work out with my roommate. And you’re obviously in the same situation, which I realize is totally my fault-“

“It’s not your fault,” I interrupted. “If he wants to be a bigoted hick, that is his problem, not yours. Or mine, for that matter.”

“Okay, well… I know we don’t know each other very well and I know that I’m probably not your favorite person right now, but…“

“…you want to room together,” I said, completing his thought.

“Yeah…” he said hesitantly. “I understand if you don’t want to. It’s just, it makes sense. And I don’t want to be assigned to a stranger and have to potentially go through all of this all over again.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I said.

“And we’ll have the same schedule and stuff, since we’re both on the team.”

“Yeah.”

He had good points but for some reason it was hard for me to feel particularly enthusiastic about the idea of living with him. I supposed I had conditioned a certain level of mistrust towards him after the party incident, granted, one that was basically unwarranted. Still it was a hard feeling to shake. And beyond that, what did I really know about him? Nothing. I’d never really even had a (sober) conversation with him. He had been completely off my radar. ‘I couldn’t even give a physical description of him right now, if I had to,’ I thought to myself. But wasn’t that part of the college experience? Two weeks ago I hadn’t known Skip at all either. And at least I knew that Tate was going to be accepting of my sexuality, which was more than I could say for the majority of Carrington students. Did I really want to risk it again? It all made sense on paper and yet I also couldn’t deny the fact that I wasn’t fully comfortable having a gay roommate. Was everybody on the team — everybody at Carrington for that matter — going to assume that we were a couple? The last thing I wanted was to evoke further drama with the team, and I had the feeling that the only thing more threatening to a group of immature guys than two gay guys was a gay couple. ‘Every interaction I ever have with Tate will be scrutinized and analyzed and probably chalked up to PDA,’ I thought to myself. ‘Can I really deal with that?’

I looked over at Tate, he was staring dejectedly at the floor, his chin resting on his hand. He seemed to sense my gaze and looked up at me and for the first time I realized how gorgeous he was. It was almost as though I had been determined not to see it before. His piercingly blue eyes, framed by thick black lashes, had a look of deep sadness in them that was a little heartbreaking. His face was boyishly beautiful and yet possessed a rugged quality. His strong and square bone structure contrasted against his soft full lips and straight Greek nose. His mess of curly black hair was stylishly cut and offset his creamy skin beautifully. Everything about how he presented himself was stylish; his clothes were well tailored and fashion conscious. En somme he represented one of the most attractive male specimens I’d ever encountered, a thought that was both thrilling and a little bit unnerving. ‘And on top of that he seems nice,’ I thought to myself. ‘Why don’t you give him a chance? Everything he has said so far makes sense Braeden, you know it’s true. Who are you to be turning down friendship and support right now? Here is somebody who knows what you are going through and is experiencing the exact same thing. You can help each other,’ I told myself.

I silently deliberated for a few more moments before giving in to the voice in my head.

“Okay,” I said at last. He smiled broadly.

“Okay?”

“Okay,” I repeated.

“Great. Well, thank you.” He said. “I really, really appreciate it. You’re a very kind person Braeden.”

“Umm… thanks.”

Now that everything was decided an awkward silence descended upon the room and neither one of us seemed to know how to proceed.

“Well, I guess you’re going to be wanting to move in, huh?” I said at last.

“Yeah,” he said with an awkward laugh.

“Well Skip’s key is on his –- umm — your, desk.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Is there anything else you’re going to need?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“I don’t think I’m going to hang around, if that’s all right. I wanna get out for a little while,” I said.

“Yeah, I understand. I guess I’ll see you a little later then.”

“Sure,” I replied.

Tate took the key off the desk and got up slowly. I grabbed my book of my nightstand and then followed him out of the room.

“Oh, I guess I should have offered to help you move your stuff,” I said.

“Nah, it’s all right. I can handle it. Go and enjoy yourself,” he said.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, totally.”

“All right then, I’ll see you later.”

***

It was odd to walk outside into a beautiful, cloudless day. It seemed oddly discordant with the state of my life in that moment. I had expected something more along the lines of dark hurricane clouds and thunder, but it was all sunshine as I strolled towards the library, the sweet fragrance of tulips hanging in the air. As I was crossing the commons, Lottie called. Carl had filled everyone in on that morning’s events and she wanted to make sure that I was doing okay. She invited me over to talk or just hang out, but I told her I wanted some time to myself and that I would see her for our shift that evening.

The library looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie. With cathedral ceilings, stained glass windows, intricate stone carvings, dark wood detailing, and beautifully patterned marble floors, all conception of place and time seemed to dissolve when entering and it was easy to lose yourself into some alternate reality. And losing myself sounded incredibly appealing. The library was almost entirely deserted and I could hear the echo of each of my steps as I climbed the stairs into the main hall. I made a right and walked down towards the study carrels, passing row after row of antique mahogany tables and chairs and Tiffany study lamps. In the corner I spotted a reading area with comfortable-looking easy chairs and a couple of sofas. I snuggled up into one of the chairs and delved into my book with the light from the stained glass window above painting the page green, then red, and later blue. It felt appropriate like an appropriate spot to spend an afternoon lost in the (equally dour and depressing) world of (Charlotte) Bronte.

***

I went straight from the library to the Gnat and up to the weight room for practice. Colin walked up to me as soon as I walked in. It seemed as though he’d been sitting on one of the benches waiting for me.

“Hey. You wanna spot me?” he asked.

I had a feeling I was going to encounter a lot of coddling over the next few days. I smiled and accepted his offer graciously. Who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth? I was lucky to have good friends that wanted to be sure I was okay. We started our lifting routine in silence and I got the sense that Colin felt a little awkward and was waiting for me to make the first move. I had a feeling he was looking for an indicator was to whether or not we were going to discuss that morning’s events or brush past it.

“So are you excited for this weekend?” I asked as Colin laid down at the bench press.

“Oh… we sort of assumed that the trip was off,” he said.

“What? Why?” I asked, surprised. After everything that had happened I was looking forward to the weekend more than ever. I wanted nothing more than to get away from Carrington and all of the drama for a little while. And I supposed I wanted to clutch my friends a little closer, just to make sure that they were all still there for me.

He shrugged. “You obviously have a lot going on right now. We didn’t necessarily think you’d feel up to playing host.”

“Oh… To be honest I could use a break now more than ever,” I said.

“Really,” he grunted between presses, his face flushed with exertion.

“Yeah, I want nothing more than to get out of here for a little bit. I mean if you guys have already made other plans or something, I understand…”

“No, I don’t think anybody has.”

“Okay, well I’ll talk to Lottie about it later. But I’d still really like to go,” I said.

“I’m game,” Colin said.

Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Timmy walking towards me. I groaned inwardly. The thought of having to discuss that morning’s incident or my sexuality with him was beyond mortifying. The absolute last thing I needed right now was some politically-correct speech about diversity or a heart-to-heart about my “situation.” I understood that he needed to cover Carrington’s ass on the issue, but I still wasn’t prepared to deal with it in this setting. I braced myself for the worst.

“Braeden,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Everything okay?” he gave me a loaded look and I suddenly realized this was my out. He was as reluctant as I was to have this conversation and he was willing to avoid it if I was. It was up to me to bring it up and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do that.

“Yeah, fine,” I replied.

“Good. I took care of getting some paperwork for you guys regarding the room changes,” he said. “Were you the one who switched?”

“No. Skip and Tate swapped,” I replied.

“Okay, never mind then. They are the only ones who need to bother with forms.”

“All right, thanks coach,” I replied.

“Sure. So Jimmy told you I’m thinking of swimming you in the I.M.?” He changed the subject and the crisis was averted.

“Yeah.”

“What do you think?” he asked.

“I think I’m going to need a lot of work. Especially in fly,” I replied.

“I think you’ll surprise yourself,” he said. “You’ve been doing incredibly well Braeden. And you can always get pointers from your roommate,” he said, referencing the fact that Butterfly was Tate’s specialty. I winced a little and he immediately seemed to realize that he had hit a bit of a nerve. “Well, keep on looking good Colin. And Brae, if you ever have a problem or need a chat, you let me know, yeah?”

“Sure,” I said.

***

The rest of practice passed without incident. Being in the older group helped since a lot of them probably weren’t aware of what had occurred or just had the tact and maturity not to bring it up. Eric seemed extra affectionate, giving my head a few more rubs than usual, but otherwise nothing was perceivably different. Lip carried on as usual. I changed into my guard uniform quickly after practice, bypassing the showers altogether. ‘I can always do it later and I don’t need a chance run in with Drake right now,’ I thought to myself.

Lottie was just arriving for our shift when I got back out on deck. Her brown hair was pulled back into a tight French braid, and she had on a white Carrington sweatshirt and her guard shorts.

“Hey,” she said, somewhat solemnly, and gave me a tight hug.

“Hey.”

“How are you doing?”

“I’m fine. It sucks, but whatever. I just want it to be over with.”

“Yeah… well, we can talk about it, or not talk about it, as much as you want,” she said. “I brought you pizza,’ she said, holding up a brown paper bag with grease stains.

“Oh thanks!” I said, accepting the bag. “I haven’t really eaten anything today.”

“I figured you probably hadn’t, and I knew you wouldn’t have time after practice to get yourself anything so I figured it was no big deal for me to pick you up something on the way.”

‘Well I really appreciate it,” I said, sliding a piece of pizza out of the bag and biting in eagerly. “By the way, we’re still on for tomorrow,” I said firmly. “I know you guys weren’t sure, but I need a vacation now more than ever. Do you think Emmie would mind driving though?”

“Oh, are you sure Brae? Seriously, we all understand if you want to postpone, so do not feel like you need to go through with this weekend just for us.”

“No, really, I could not want to be here less right now and I could use some distraction.”

“All right. I’ll be sure everyone is ready to go at 9am tomorrow.”

“So, do you think Emmie can drive? I just feel as though I’m going to be incredibly exhausted come tomorrow morning. I’m already pretty emotionally exhausted,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m sure she’ll be fine with that. How many do we have? Six?”

“Well, no more Skip,” I said. “But I guess I should ask Tate, shouldn’t I?”

“I think it would be a nice gesture.” I groaned. “Brae! He’s so nice! You hafta give him a chance. I know he isn’t Skip, but I think you guys are going to get along really, really well,” Lottie said.

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You know, you guys have a lot more in common than you probably realize. Emmie is going to kill me for telling you this, but she has been determined to set you guys up. She and Nicola really bonded with him this summer in Paris.”

I groaned. “That is just what I need. For everyone to think that Tate and I are going to get together. That would be just about the worst thing that could happen,” I moaned.

“Why do you think that?” Lottie asked, surprise written all over her countenance.

“I just feel like everyone is already going to assume that we’re together or something. I just think, as far as being on the team goes, the only thing worse than being gay would be being part of a gay couple. I mean there goes any hope of being the ‘non-threatening gay guy.’ I just feel like it makes you double the target.”

“I don’t really think people would see it that way. And you can’t live your life for other people. You know your friends are always going to accept you no matter what.”

“Yeah, I know that. But there’s something different about being on a team. I’m forced to interact with these people, like a lot, whether I like it or not. I feel like if I expect them to leave me alone I should do my part not to ruffle any feathers,” I said.

“And never date?!” Lottie said incredulously.

“No, not necessarily. I just don’t necessarily think I need to date somebody on the team.”

“Well whatever, that’s bullshit. If you want to date somebody on the team, whether its Tate or somebody else, that is your prerogative and you should be able to do that.”

“I think Tate and I are probably the only gay guys on the team. You know, statistics and what not… Maybe the some of the divers are.”

“I bet there’s more. I mean there are at least two your year.”

“Yeah I think we’re a statistical anomaly though,” I replied.

“What are you going to tell your parents about everything?” Lottie asked.

“I know, I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Now that I’m officially ‘out’ here, I feel like it’s only a matter of time before my worlds somehow overlap and it comes out. I need to tell them soon. They want to do a weekend at the cottage in a few weeks so I’ll probably tell them then. Now as far as the Skip thing goes, I was thinking I might tell them that Skip’s good friend was having problems with his roommate and had to change and Skip volunteered to swap, being the sweet and selfless boy that my parents believe him to be,” I said.

“Yeah, that sounds like a good way of handling it.”

“Yeah, my parents would totally get involved otherwise and this whole thing would be blown even further out of proportion. Plus it just isn’t the context in which I want them finding out, you know?”

“Yeah… So how do you think they’ll take it?” she asked.

“Fine. Honestly, I know that I’m going to have it so much better than most kids. I mean, they would never disown me or anything like that and they won’t be angry. I don’t know what it is that I’m so scared of. I guess it’s probably their disappointment. I can’t bear the thought of disappointing them. I mean, I’m their only kid, you know? I feel as though they deserve better.”

“Braeden,” Lottie said with a glowing smile, “they couldn’t have done any better than you. Not possible.”

“Thanks,” I replied, a little sheepishly.

“Oh fuck, Greg is coming.” Lottie said, looking over at the door where his office opened up into the pool deck. “He doesn’t usually stay this late on a Friday night. You should probably go man the other stand until he leaves.”

“All right. Well, thanks for the pizza. And the chat. I will see you in a bit,” I replied.

Greg left about 45 minutes later and I walked back around the pool to stand by Lottie’s chair and talk further. I’d had enough of talking about myself and my traumas so I decided to turn the tables on her and do a little interrogating of my own, about her relationship with Carl.

“So, I don’t think anybody could have been happier to find out that I’m gay than Carl, my hero, was. It seems he thought he has some competition for your affections,” I said with a chuckle.

“Oh my god! Are you serious?!” She doubled over on the guard stand with laughter. “Wow you’d think he’d be a little less dense. He has a gay brother you know.”

“Yeah he mentioned that yesterday. He really was great yesterday. He handled the whole thing so well.”

“He has a pretty strong moral compass. He has very firm ideas on right and wrong,” she said, thoughtfully.

“So what’s the problem?”

“What do you mean?” The vexed look on her face indicated that she knew exactly what I meant.

“You seem mighty reluctant to commit to dating this guy, or whatever. I’m just wondering why. He seems really into you and he called you first thing on getting back to Carrington. And, if he’s such a strong moral compass, what exactly do you have to object about?”

“I dunno…” Lottie struggled to find the words. “I think I’m worried that he’s going to get a lot of girls throwing themselves at him this year… I mean that’s a lot of temptation and I just… I just feel like he is going to slip eventually. He will end up slipping and I’m going to be the one who gets fucked over in that situation.”

“Don’t you think that’s a bit of a cynical or pessimistic view?” I coaxed.

“I live with Nicola; it was bound to rub off eventually,” she shot back.

I laughed. “I mean, I think Nicola is great and all of that works for her. But do you really want to be like her?”

“Brae, it was a joke.”

“I know, but I’m just running with the example,” I argued.

“Fine, I guess you’re right…”

Her gaze became vacantly and she stared off thoughtfully for a moment. By reflex, I turned my attention to the pool and took over the scanning duties that she was neglecting. The club team was just finishing up and the children were waddling over to their warm towels and their parents.

Lottie turned and looked at me suddenly. “Did Carl put you up to this?” she asked suspiciously. I laughed.

“No, just my own insatiable curiosity.”

She reached down from the chair and rubbed my head affectionately. “We’ll just see how things play out,” she said. “And I think you should be a little more open minded about Tate. He’s had things pretty rough recently and I’m sure this latest drama isn’t helping things.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you should ask him himself, but I think he’s become a bit of a tabloid darling back in Europe and he isn’t exactly thrilled about it.”

“Really?!” I asked, dubiously. Tate flew under the radar better than almost anyone I knew. He was my roommate and I didn’t even know anything about him!

“Yeah, he started getting a lot of attention this summer around the Olympics and stuff, probably because of who his dad is, and he eventually ended up getting outed.”

“Oh fuck,” I said. As humiliating as my own little coming out saga had been that morning, I couldn’t even fathom going through something like that on the national stage.

“Yeah, I mean his family already knew, but still it was all over the media and they dredged up a lot of stuff about his personal life. A lot of it was untrue, but still, the effects of that kind of garbage are still very real.”

This explained a lot about Tate: his tendency to fly under the radar; his quiet introverted nature; his hesitant and insecure mannerisms; and probably why he didn’t socialize with the other guys on the team. I suddenly felt a lot more compassion for Tate and what he must be going through and resolved to stop blaming him for the Drake incident. After all, he hadn’t asked for any of this, and clearly had been doing his best to avoid a rehashing of his humiliation this summer. I decided that this weekend would be a great opportunity for me to get to know him, as a friend, and to bring him into the fold of our group.

As I walked back to the dorm I reflected further on Tate’s situation and decided that I’d do my best to become a true friend to him, or at least an ally to lend him support in trying times. He had clearly already withstood unbelievable scrutiny with great fortitude and strength of character. If there was something I could do to make his life easier, who was I to deny him that? I felt deeply ashamed of my conduct earlier in the day and vowed I would redeem myself before the evening was up.

The crickets were out in full force that evening, chirping the early evening’s lullaby as the fireflies kept time, waltzing through the twilight sky. I ambled through the Commons towards the Res Square, watching as the rosy sky faded into violet and the shadows of the university’s various towers and pillars stretched longer and longer before dissolving into the evening darkness.

***

I did a double take on walking into the room. I don’t know why I had expected it to look the same as when Skip had lived there only a few short hours ago, but I was truly surprised to see how much Tate had altered it. For starters his bed had probably three times the amount of bedding on it that Skip’s had; he clearly had an over-zealous mother to rival my own. His duvet was some kind of a nautical toile design that one might expect to find in a bed and breakfast. Matching navy curtains hung on the windows surrounding his bed, over the relatively unattractive blackout curtains my mom had bought. A navy rug sat at his bedside. The shelves above his desk were crammed full with framed photos of his family and friends, navy upholstered bins to presumably store supplies, and tons of old and expensive looking leather-bound books (the type my parents kept in our library at home). He seemed to have a penchant for the Russian greats like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bunin and Chekhov. More photographs hung on the wall, precisely and evenly placed with a geometrical eye. An extra fridge sat next to his desk and an extra flat screen TV was slightly visible underneath his bed, next to the clothing bins used to supplement our (fairly ample) closet space. Then again, his father was a famous designer and he was heir a fashion house so I don’t know why I was surprised by the volume of his clothing.

Tate was laying on his bed reading when I walked in. He looked up and gave me a shy smile. It was tentative, uncertain and nervous, and it made me want to try all the harder to be a friend to him, somebody he could count on.

“Hey,” I said, flashing him a winning smile.

“Hi. How was work?” He methodically retrieved his bookmark from the back of his book and slipped it into place before closing the book and placing it down on the bed. He climbed up off his stomach and into a sitting position.

“Same old, same old,” I said, slumping down into my desk chair. “I’ve only been working there a week or so and I’m already bored with it.” Tate laughed. “At least Lottie was working so I was able to chat with her.”

“Oh yeah, she’s really nice,” Tate said, leaning back on his pillow with his back against the wall.

“Yeah. She’s a great friend. I’m really lucky to have found her. And she speaks very highly of you,” I said.

Tate blushed a little and broke eye contact with me. He began idly tracing the intricate designs on his duvet with his finger.

“We’re going to my ski house down state this weekend. We’re leaving after practice tomorrow.”

Tate looked back up at me. His forehead was a little wrinkled and he had disappointment written all over his face. “Oh?”

“Yeah. Obviously, we expect you to come. Can’t desert you here for the weekend. I’m sorry about the short notice.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay. I’m fine here. I don’t want to get in the way.”

“Don’t be ridiculous” I replied. “You won’t be in the way. We all want you to come. And it will be a great chance for you and I to get to know each other better.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, his voice quiet and hesitant.

“I absolutely insist. If you don’t go willingly, Emmie will drag you kicking and screaming,” I said. He smiled.

“Okay, sounds like fun.”

“Yeah, it should be. Plus it will be nice to get away from everything for a couple of days” I said, pulling myself up out of my chair and walking over to my dresser to change into pajama bottoms and a t-shirt.

“Have you eaten dinner?” he asked.

“A little bit,” I said pulling on my ‘Vance Academy Swimming’ shirt. “But I could go for more. Do you want to order a pizza and we can watch a movie later or something?” I asked, climbing onto my bed and lounging on my side, my head propped up on my hand to face him.

Tate looked at me, surprise written all over his face. It seemed as though he was trying to figure out whether or not I was for real. It was sad to think of how starved he had probably been for human kindness as Drake’s roommate. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “That sounds great.”

“I think it will be just what we both need. Pizza solves all of life’s problems.” As I hopped off the bed to grab my phone I caught a whiff of the chlorine smell lingering on my skin. “Fuck,” I groaned.

“What?!” Tate asked, sitting up in concern. The light from his bedside illuminated his face with an almost supernatural glow and his blue eyes shown out like stars.

“I… uh… I forgot…” I suddenly felt inexplicably flustered in his presence. “I haven’t showered. I-I reek of chlorine. I’ll order the pizza and rinse off real quick,” I said.

“Oh, okay.” He settled back into his reclined position with a look of relief on his face.

I quickly placed our order, passed Tate my phone in case the place called back and then went to take my shower. I was a little surprised when my cock immediately jumped to attention as I stripped off my pants. I was all out of sorts. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I couldn’t shake Tate’s face from my mind. ‘It’s just my luck that I’d going from one walking temptation of a roommate, to another,’ I thought. Of course, I knew that what Tate really needed right now was a friend, not a leering, predatory roommate. ‘I’m sure my hormones are all out of whack right now,’ I thought to myself, slipping into the shower stall. I let the pitter patter of water against the glass drown out the thoughts in my head and instead focused on the sensations of the hot stream blasting on my back as I washed the day and its distress away.

I leaned my head back, letting the water beat down on my brow and inhaled the steamy mist rising off of my body. As my right hand slowly found its way up my tense abdominals to my left pec and small, erect nipple, my left hand, by an instinct all its own, came to its comfortable resting place on another very erect organ. As I slowly stroked back and forth, using my thumb to massage small circles around my cock head, my right hand roamed my torso, millions of goosebumps exploding under my own touch. Slowly my hips seemed to find a kind of rhythm, moving in time to the pattering of the shower against the glass door. I pumped harder and harder, my fist gripping my aching arousal snugly, my dick tingling with excitement and feeling both silken soft and powerfully strong against the skin of my hand. My right hand found its way down beneath my balls, to that erogenous spot between my balls and my anus and began applying gentle pressure, causing the neurons in my dick to fire and heightening my arousal. Knowing I should keep it quick, I started bucking my hips harder and rubbing my palm over my glans with each stroke. Down below, my middle finger slipped into my ass and began probing my rectal wall, each touch against the sensitive lining causing shivers to explode up my spine. Finally I could take it no more and I thrust forward, gasping, as rope after rope of thick semen ejaculated from my throbbing arousal, splattering against the wall of the shower. I leaned back for support, breathing heavily and enjoying the warm sensation of my pulse throbbing as blood slowly returned to my head.

***

When I’d finally come down from my orgasm, I rinsed off again and wiped all evidence away before stepping out of the shower to towel off. I picked my pajamas up off the floor and put them back on, then went back into the room. Tate looked up from his book.

“Good shower?”

“Most refreshing,” I said, biting my lip to suppress a smirk. I took a seat on the foot of his bed and looked at him earnestly.

“So. That was a day, wasn’t it? How are you holding up?” I asked. He gave a small shrug.

“I think I should be asking you that question. I mean, this isn’t exactly new to me, I’ve more or less gone through this before,” he said, staring studiously at his duvet, picking at some of the stitchwork.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well I’m out at this point. I may not announce it from the rooftops, but his wasn’t my first outing, nor was it the worst.”

“Well still, that doesn’t mean that you’re immune to this shit. I thought today was pretty damn traumatic. I mean you were physically threatened and more-or-less publically ridiculed. How could you be numb to that?”

“You can train yourself to be numb to a lot of things. Just give it a little time.”

“That’s awful!” I said, wanting to reach out and hug him. Why were all of these tragic cases falling into my lap?

“It’s just the reality of our situation sometimes,” he shrugged. “But seriously, how are you doing? How do you feel? Terrified?”

“Sort of. I don’t know. I think I’m still in shock. I certainly don’t feel liberated. I almost feel that now that everybody knows I need to be even more careful and to check my impulses even more than I did before.” Tate nodded his understanding. “I guess the constant feeling of impending doom is gone.” Tate laughed. “But I’m getting the sense that collegiate athletics is not the ideal atmosphere for a gay man.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that sense as well,” Tate agreed. “What about your family? Do they know yet?”

“No. Not yet.” My stomach suddenly felt like it was twisted up in knots. “I’m going to have to tell my parents the next time I see them. I mean, I wouldn’t want it to get back to them through somebody else, you know?” Tate nodded his understanding. “And I don’t want to do it over the phone. I think it’s something that needs to be done in person.”

“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. It’s such a monumental event. How do you think your parents are going to take it?”

“Fine. I just know it’s going to be a disappointment, I mean I am the only child… And they are great parents and they deserve grandchildren and all that stuff. They deserve better than this.” Tears suddenly found their way to my eyes and I blinked them back furiously. Now it was my turn to studiously examine the handiwork of Tate’s comforter.

“Brae, it really doesn’t change things as much as you might think. I mean you can still get married and have children. I mean granted, you’re going to encounter more obstacles in life, and what parent wants that for their child? But it’s not as though you are delivering some sort of death sentence. You are still going to lead a full life.”

“Yeah, yeah, you’re right. I know my parents will accept me, no matter what. I just like want to be normal for them, I guess. They are seriously the best parents that one could ask for and I feel as though I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. Like this is how I repay them?”

“Brae, you know they aren’t going to look at it that way. You’re smart and caring and courageous and righteous and talented and attractive! I mean, I don’t even know you very well and all of that is evident. What more could they ask for in their son?”

“An interest in vagina,” I replied, like it was the most obviously answer in the world. Tate threw his head back in laughter and it smacked off the wall with a resounding thud.

“Oww!” Tate howled, now doubling over with laughter, his hands rubbing his injured head. His black curls glistened as his fingers ran through them like silk. Finally he composed himself and looked up at me, his eyes glistening and his complexion flushed from laughing. In that moment he looks all of five years old: innocent, jubilant, carefree. It was refreshing and kind of awe-inspiring to see this side of him and I never wanted it to go away. “Seriously though, all our parents really want for us is to be happy. And at least you know who you are and you’re on your way towards that. I mean would they want you to be living a lie?” Tate postulated.

“No… I guess not. How did you parents react when you told them?” I asked.

“Well, I think my parents are an exceptional case. I mean, my dad is a designer so most of his co-workers and friends are gay. He was practically overjoyed. I think he saw it as a sign that was taking interest in the family business. My mom also had no problem with it. She sorta takes it as proof of her artistic merit or something that she produced a gay child. My parents fancy themselves true artists. Elise, my sister, made a big stink about how I’m going to snag hotter guys than she will,” he chuckled. “I’m very lucky to be in a family that’s so accepting; they have helped me so much. I don’t know where I’d be without their support. My life has been really, really complicated recently and I hoped that coming here would change things.”

“It might. You just need to give it some more time. I bet things will change a lot once classes start.”

“Yeah, hopefully. We’ll see…”

“So, is it a big culture shock being over here?” I asked. “I’m sure it’s really different than home.”

“Well, I lived in Connecticut until I was almost seven. And my mom’s whole family is still there, so we usually did extended visits in the summer and stuff. I dunno, it sorta feels like coming home in a way. And at the same time, it couldn’t seem farther from home.”

“Oh, I didn’t realize you were half-American,” I said.

“Yeah. My dad came out here for college, where he met my mom. He started his career in New York, before eventually deciding to move back to Paris and start his label there,” Tate replied. “I mean, in France I’m sort of considered an outsider. Not a full-blown American but there is still a difference. And I always went to international schools and stuff… I dunno… Elise blends in better than I do. She’ll never leave,” he said with a grin.

“Do you guys get along well? I always wondered what it would be like to have a sibling.”

“Yeah, we get along really well. We’re so close in age. She’s only 14 months older than me, and yet I am also very much the baby. She fancies herself my protector. And, we’re total opposites. She is like a cross between Emmie and Nicola. She’s so sharp and she has a really effervescent personality and just a joyful spirit. I think you would really like her.” Tate’s eyes glazed over when he was speaking about his sister and it was clear that she was his hero and he absolutely worshipped her.

“What is she doing now?” I asked. “Is she in school?”

“No, she’s modeling and living in Paris. Our dad sort of forced a little bit of that on both of us, but she has really run with it. She’ll be in New York for fashion week and then will probably come visit for a bit. I can’t wait!” His smile exposed a flawless set of pearly whites and I soon found myself grinning along with him.

“She sounds like a riot,” I said.

“She is certainly a character,” he replied. “She’d like you,” he said softly. “My protector, of sorts. She’d be glad to know I’m in your capable hands… And that you’ve got claws.”

“Yeah well, tit-for-tat. You’ve had my back a few times. I owed you one,” I replied, suddenly finding myself in danger of gushing.

‘Seriously Brae, emotional walls!’ I thought to myself. ‘I should be able to go a day without throwing myself at someone… Although at least I know he’s gay. You’re gettin’ better at this kid.’

“Well consider your debt repaid. I couldn’t believe it when you came hollering through that lynch mob today. The look on your face was ferocious. I’ll never forget it. Drake looked like he was going to wet his pants.” Tate shook his head, savoring the memory.

“Yeah, well, he was probably afraid I was packin’ mace,” I said, bursting into laughter. The clear ring of Tate’s whoops joined my own.

“When I heard that, I just about died. Nicola won my eternal allegiance with that one. I wish I had been there to see it in person.”

“It was certainly the spectacle. Nicola’s flair for the dramatic is pretty much unrivaled… except maybe by Emmie. She’s pretty feisty too. I wouldn’t have liked Drake’s chances if she had been in that locker room today.”

Tate laughed again and his book slipped off the bed, on to the ground. “Whoops,” he said, hopping down to retrieve it.

“What are you reading?” I asked.

Vanity Fair.”

“Oh! Are you taking the course on 19th Century British Lit?” I asked in surprise.

“Uhh… yeah. Are you?”

“Yeah! How funny. I read Wives and Daughters and I’m working on Villette at the moment,” I said, unable to suppress the grin that was now stretching from ear to ear. ‘Stop beaming like an idiot!’ I screamed at myself in my head.

“Oh, you went for the thick ones first,” he laughed. “Very smart. I went for the Thackeray because I struggle with his writing style.”

“What are you studying?” I asked. He rolled his eyes and we both laughed.

“Welllll… this has been quite the dramatic saga in the Vallette household. I’m currently undeclared. My dad is really pushing for business and fashion, but I’m resisting.”

“Okay, well what do you want to do? English? Literature?” I asked, leaning forward, intently.

“I honestly have no idea. I would possibly consider a major in English, but I don’t really want to be a writer or a teacher or anything.”

“There’s a lot more than that that you can do with an English degree.”

“Yeah, I guess it’s a possibility. I’m an admitted bibliophile.”

“There are worse things in this world,” I laughed.

My phone went off, announcing the arrival of our pizza and I went down to the lobby to pick it up.

We spread the box out on Tate’s bed and sat Indian-style on either side of it as we ate. Over our slices, we discussed what movie we wanted to watch. It was a bit of a struggle as we discovered we had profoundly different movie tastes, Tate’s being those of a cultural snob who wouldn’t consider anything that hadn’t been award nominated and mine being more-or-less indiscriminate. That evening I was looking for something with mindless entertainment factor to take my mind off of the day.

We eventually settled on Apollo 13. I packed a weekend bag before we started the movie and then got into bed. Predictably, I nodded off before the movie was even half over. Tate must have too because the television was still on the next morning when our alarm went off.

 

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