Brae
by Kieron Connors

 

Chapter 8 

Tate and I attracted more than a couple curious stares when we entered the Gnat. Colin and Carl immediately swooped in protectively and dragged me over to stretch with them. It was a little embarrassing to feel as though I was being babysat, but I appreciated the sentiment and I understood that socializing with two popular upperclassmen would go a long way towards being accepted by my teammates. I was relieved when I saw Kenner walkup to Tate and introduce himself. I looked over at them a few times as Jimmy warmed us up and was glad to see that they seemed to be getting on famously. Kenner certainly had a way of engaging those around him; he was quite the dynamic personality. I also couldn’t help but steal a couple quick glances back at Skip, who was stretching out in the back, far corner of the mats. He looked hung over and his eyes were blood shot and sunken behind dark craters.

Timmy finally slackened up on us a bit with the workout and thus my time in the pool was relaxing and almost therapeutic. I felt as though I was in a much better place than I had been the day before. After practice I decided to grab a few minutes in the sauna to loosen up my muscles before the long car ride. I stretched out on my back on one of the benches, enjoying the slight tingling sensation of the heat against my cool skin. The door to the sauna creaked open and I looked up to see who was entering, worried it might be Beau, or worse, Drake. I recognized the relatively compact muscular build (for a swimmer), and shoulder-length, sun-streaked, brown surfer hair, as belonging to another one of the swimmer’s in Timmy’s ‘A Group,’ a backstroker, I was pretty sure. He headed straight towards me and I was suddenly gripped by a wave of panic. ‘Fuck, what if this kid is some psycho gay basher?’ I sat upright and braced myself for a confrontation. If worse came to worst I could always kick him onto the sauna heater. That would be a surefire way to end the argument. Instead he extended a strong, calloused hand, and his hazel eyes locked in on mine.

“Hey. I’m Cash. I wanted to introduce myself since we haven’t really met yet.”

“I’m Braeden,” I answered. His handshake was warm and friendly. “Nice to meet you.” Cash smiled and nodded and continued to stand there awkwardly for a moment, his eyes roving around the deserted sauna, and his thumbs nervously twiddling in circles. “Umm, can I do something for you?” I asked, expectantly.

He jerked, as though startled. “Oh, uh, no. I, uh, I actually just wanted to tell you that uh…”

“Yeah?”

“That, I think you were really brave yesterday to stand up for your friend, the way that you did,” he rambled, his words tumbling out almost on top of each other. It seemed as though he wanted to get them out before his nerves, or his common sense, got the better of him.

“Oh, thanks,” I smiled a little sheepishly and shrugged. “That ended up being a bit more of a scene than I bargained for.”

“Well, I was really impressed and I guess, kinda like, inspired… I, uh, I’m gay too… And I just figured I could probably use a friend like you…” Cash’s voice dropped off and he looked down at the ground, hesitantly, strands of his longish hair, tumbling across his forehead and obstructing his attractive face.

“Oh,” I replied, not quite sure what to answer. “Does anyone else know?” I asked.

He looked back up at me, and ran his hand through his wet hair, brushing it off his face, his muscular arm rippling in the soft light shining in from the sauna’s glass door.

“Yeah,” he replied. “Some of my friends know. Only two, well, now three, guys on the team know. I red-shirted last year cause I had elbow surgery and I wasn’t even in the pool until February, so I don’t know a lot of the guys that well.”

“So, this is basically your first year,” I summed up.

“Basically,” he nodded.

“Well it was good to meet you Cash,” I said, getting up and climbing down the benches. “I hafta go, cause I’m going away for the weekend and we’re leaving soon.” I put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a reassuring smile. “If you ever need to talk, or anything at all, you can always come to me,” I said, looking into his handsome face. His full lips curved into a shy grin. “And we should definitely hang out. I’ll give you my number next time I catch you with clothes on.” I winked at him and then headed out of the sauna, into the showers.

Tate was waiting by my locker when I got there, so I changed quickly and we walked back to our room together.

“So did you get his number?” Tate asked as we crossed the Commons on our way back to Res Square. His grey blue eyes, dazzling in the morning sun, looked at me inquisitively and I couldn’t quite tell if he was teasing me.

“Whose?” I asked.

“Cash’s,” he responded. “You know the hot guy that followed you into the sauna with puppy dog eyes,” Tate continued, his voice tinged with biting cynicism that I wouldn’t have expected from him.

“It wasn’t like that,” I said defensively.

“Uh huh, suuuuuure.” Tate jabbed me with his elbow playfully.

“It wasn’t. I think he just needs a friend right now. And who am I to say no to that?”

“Who indeed?” Tate said with mock gravity.

***

The two of us grabbed bite in the dining hall then went back to our room to get ready to go. I’d packed the night before, but I still wanted to put a cooler together for the road. We still had a bit of time to kill before Emmie was picking us up, so I put a quick birthday call through to my mom. She loved my gifts and was overjoyed that I had remembered to call on the day of my “big trip.” I wrapped the conversation up as quick as possible, avoiding the whole Skip/Tate issue and promised to call as soon as I was back for a long chat.

Lottie called promptly at 9am to let us know that they were outside and Tate and I went down to meet them. The street was already littered with cars bogged down with stuff and disoriented looking parents and students, even though move-in time didn’t start until noon. I could not have been more glad to be getting out before the masses descended. We finally spotted the Range Rover halfway down the block and we hurried over. It seemed Lottie had drawn short straw and was sitting in the back, so I joined her, while Tate and Nicola took the middle, and Emmie and Colin were up front. Everyone was in a jovial mood as we drove out of Carrington and it felt as though we were embarking on a grand adventure.

***

The drive down took about two hours, not including the two bathroom breaks we had to make for the girls.

“I told you guys getting coffee was a mistake,” Colin said shaking his head as we pulled into the second rest stop, a rundown old shack that looked like it had been deserted for about 20 years and housed psycho serial-killers and rodents the side of small dogs.

“I feel as though we’re walking into a horror movie,” I whispered, catching a glimpse of the filthy and toothless attendant eyeing us suspiciously from what I assumed must be the convenience store.

The girls ran around back to use the bathrooms while Colin topped off our tank, figuring it was rude to use the bathroom and not patronize the establishment, at least a little bit. Tate and I waited in the car, figuring all we could accomplish by getting out would be to catch something communicable. Nicola appeared less than a minute after disappearing round back, her arms crossed and her black hair flowing behind her as she beelined straight for the car.

“I can hold it,” she said climbing in besides Tate. “Some things are just not worth it… that reminded me of the bathrooms at Auschwitz… possibly worse,” Nicola said with a shudder. Tate threw his head back with laughter.

“Nicola!” I chastised.

She looked back at me, her blue eyes twinkling with mischief. “Sorry baby, I don’t do PC.”

Emmie and Lottie returned a few minutes later, looking equally repulsed.

“That was an atrocity against modern plumbing,” Lottie said, sliding in next to me.

“One of the worst moments of my life… I will never get that odor out of my sinuses,” Emmie agreed.

“Good riddance to bad bumblefuck bathrooms,” Nicola laughed throatily, slamming the car door shut. And we were off again, with conversation material to last us the last stretch of the trip, as the girls recounted every last reviling detail of their brush with death, or at least a UTI, in that bathroom.

***

We turned into the driveway about a half hour later. The cottage sat about a quarter mile back on the property right on the lake, completely enshrouded from the road by lush forestation.

“Geez! This is windy,” Emmie said, following the violent curves of the road.

“At least it’s paved,” I replied. “It was gravel when we first bought it. My mom used to brace herself for it like a plane crash whenever we drove it,” I laughed.

“I think our mothers would get on great,” Nicola said.

“Yeah, mine too,” Emmie giggled.

Emmie rounded the last bend and the house came into view. It elicited a few gasps from the other members of the car. The “cottage” was a four-story traditional Swiss chalet, with a stone foundation and wood exterior, an angular gabled roof, and balconies jutting out from each floor.

“Wow,” Colin muttered, as Emmie pulled the car up alongside the house and put it into park. “This is the ‘cottage’?”

“Yeah… Told you it was a bit pretentious,” I blushed.

I led the way inside. The foyer was two stories with an intricately carved wooden chandelier as the central focal point of the room. Two curved wooden staircases on either side of the entrance way led to the upper foyer, which overlooked the main hall and opened into the master suite, my bedroom and one of the guest rooms. I hung a left into the den and plopped my bag down on the floor. A massive stone fireplace dominated the room, which was rustically and comfortably furnished with rugged looking wood and leather furniture.

“What do you guys want to do first? Have lunch or something?” I asked.

“No, I think we want the tour,” Lottie responded with a chuckle.

“Yup,” Emmie echoed.

Tate and Colin nodded their assent and Nicola just shrugged.

“Alright, I guess we’ll do a quick walk through then…” I said.

The ground floor was more or less square and consisted of nine rooms in a three by three grid, with the dining room as the center point. The other rooms, going clockwise from the foyer, were the den, the kitchen, the media room, the sunroom, the hot tub and sauna room, the library, and the living room, which took us back into the foyer.

Upstairs, to the left of the upper foyer was the master suite, to the right was my bedroom and a small guest room that had served as a playroom when I was younger. At the rear, were the greenhouse and the staircase to the third floor. The third floor landing opened into three more bedrooms, a study, and the laundry/storage room. Finally, the fourth floor contained the last guest room, the gym, and what my mom liked to call “the reading balcony” at the rear of the house. The balcony overlooked the lake and there were several Adirondack chairs and loungers, all comfortably fitted with matching cushions, making it the ideal place to spend a day lost in a good book.

The biggest guestroom was on the third floor and I figured it would be perfect for Colin and Emmie. It had a luxurious marble bathroom with Jacuzzi tub and a spectacular wrap-around balcony with lake views. I put Lottie in Nicola in the other two third floor guest rooms and Tate in the second floor room next to mine.

***

After I gotten everybody situated, we went back down to the kitchen for a quick lunch. The pantry was well stocked and we all made sandwiches on fresh bread, probably picked up at the local farmer’s market.

“This house is frickin’ unbelievable!” Emmie said as we walked through the dining room into the sunroom to eat lunch.

“Yeah,”Nicola chimed in. “I mean, I guess, in theory, I did know it was going to big since you said it had six bedrooms, still… I was expecting to be roughing it a little more… Not that I am complaining…” she said, stretching out on one of the chaise lounges. Emmie grabbed the lounge next to her and the rest of us sat around the small dining table.

“Can we come here every weekend?” Emmie said, playfully leaning over in my direction and fluttering her eyelashes.

“I think you’re barking up the wrong tree,” Tate snickered.

“Well, I can be one persuasive bitch!” Emmie shot back.

“Yeah, ‘bitch’ being the operative word,” Nicola sniffed. “Speaking of, how is that lovely sister of yours Tate? Still with Jean-Claude?”

“Jean-Marie… I think… He’s out of the picture now regardless. Dad made her get new roommates and it has not been an easy transition.”

“I’ll bet!” Emmie scoffed. “Her closet policies alone are enough to drive anyone insane?”

“What are her closet policies?” Colin asked, looking up from his sandwich.

“Elise claims ownership of every closet in the apartment, and unfettered access those closets whenever she wants, regardless of whose bedroom it is in…” Emmie replied.

“It led to some incredibly awkward ‘morning-after’ situations, if you know what I mean,” Nicola laughed.

“Wait, so where were you guys supposed to keep your clothes?” I asked.

“Well we each had a dresser, but that wasn’t enough… so we resorted to stealing clothing racks from the atelier…” Emmie admitted a little hesitantly.

“Yeah we got the idea over maybe our fourth bottle of wine at dinner with Elise one night, and made her break us into the studio to steal them… And then we rode them home through the streets like skateboards,” Nicola cackled.

“And mine kept tipping over!” Emmie whined, whimpering with laughter.

“My dad was quite amused to visit the apartment one day and find all of these hotel dollies that had been missing from his studio,” Tate smiled. “You know Elise will be in New York for fashion week in a couple of weeks and then she is going to come up to visit. I think she is planning on staying with you guys, although I’d be shocked if she planned on giving you guys more than a day’s notice.”

“Yeah, this is the first I’ve heard of that,” Nicola said.

“Yay! It will be so great to see her again!” Emmie declared. “I know it’s only been like a month, but, we got along with her so well! So much better than with that one over there,” Emmie joked, nodding her head in Lottie’s direction. Lottie rolled her eyes and held her arms up in defeat.

“So are you going to be strutting yourself on the runways this season Tate?” Lottie asked.

“You’re a model?” Colin asked.

“No!” Tate laughed. “Not at all!”

“That is a damn lie!” Emmie yelped.

“It is not!” Tate insisted through his laughter.

“I have seen you model! Cruise collection this summer!”

“Yeah but that was for my dad!”

“So?!” Emmie’s voice was rising steadily as her tone threatened to escalate this point into a heated argument.

“So I am not a model!”

“Working for your dad still counts!”

I suddenly couldn’t even remember why she was so adamant about getting his admission. Was she on a campaign against false modesty? Because this felt as though it was turning into a witch hunt.

“I have never been paid for my services! My dad may force me and Elise to take a spin down the catwalk ever now and again, but there is no compensation. It is pure nepotism!”

“If you inserted ‘pole’ for ‘catwalk’ in that last sentence, think of how fucked up that would be,” Nicola joked.

Emmie ignored Nicola’s antics and continued her tirade. “Maybe so! But you know you could do it if you wanted to! I know for a fact you get other invites! Elise told me!”

“Yeah… But I don’t want to.”

“Okay, I’m starting to miss the entire point of this conversation,” Lottie said, jumping in to place peace-maker. “You know it’s nearly one o’clock and we haven’t opened any bubbly yet… Shall we do some mimosas before heading onto the boat?”

“That sounds like a great idea. I think Emmie and I should make them,” Colin said, jumping up and collecting the empty plates on the table. “Shall we?” he asked, throwing a look in her direction. She reluctantly got up off the chaise and followed him.

“Yikes!” Nicola squeaked when they were out of earshot.

The afternoon recovered well from there. We had a round of mimosas and then packed up some coolers and then headed out on the boat. My parents had picked it up the summer before and at 31’ in length it was considerably longer than our previous boat, which had been a relatively small ski boat. Getting used to the bowrider was an adjustment and it took an embarrassingly fumbley few first minutes for me to get used to the boat’s size. While it was nice that it seated at least a dozen people comfortably, it seemed rather large for a lake that was just over a mile wide and only about 6 miles long. I manned the helm all afternoon while the rest of the group knocked back drinks and took turns tubing and using the water skis. It turned out that Tate and Colin were both quite the expert water skiers and they put the girls to shame with their acrobatics. The lake was really quiet and we only saw two other boats out on the water the whole afternoon.

***

We headed back to the house just after 6pm and Tate fired up the grill. There were 8 hearty-looking steaks in the fridge and an assortment of vegetables that the girls washed and cut up before handing them off to Tate to grill. The rest of us cracked open some beers and got into the hot tub while Tate prepared our dinner. It was nice to relax with what were becoming very good friends and to escape all the drama that Carrington had already inflicted on me in my first two weeks. And when we got back to campus things were going to be totally different. I had gotten used to Carrington’s empty courtyards and corridors, and it somehow augmented its majesty. Now the halls would be overflowing with drunken college kids intoxicated by the sweet taste of freedom.

“You know it’s great that you found us so soon,” Emmie said, taking a sip of champagne (Emmie was the lone holdout when we switched to beer). “You will never have to worry about awkward beginningers.”

“So true,” Lottie concurred.

“Beginningers?” I asked skeptically.

“Beginners are the friends you make your first week or two of college, when you’re so desperate not to be alone and friendless that you’ll make friends with pretty much anyone,” Emmie explained.

“They are usually people on your floor, or that you met at some preschool mixer, or, like, family friends or something,” Lottie continued.

“So you form these highly farcical relationships with people that in reality you will never want to speak to again once the Carrington social hierarchy has put everyone in their proper place,” Nicola finished.

“Nicola!” Emmie gasped, splashing in her direction.

“Whatever. It’s true. Sorry, I’m not sorry.”

“Still, there is such a thing as tact,” Lottie said. “But, basically Nicola is right,” Lottie said, turning towards me. “There are all these people you rushed to make friends with in the beginning and then you wind up finding out that you don’t really have that much in common or you just don’t like each other that much after-all…”

“Hence the dilemma of how to acknowledge them when you see them in public… Because you aren’t really friends, but you were for about two seconds and there probably wasn’t any big falling out so there isn’t any need to be rude. It’s quite a dilemma,” Emmie sighed. “And that sums up awkward beginningers. Anything you’d like to add Colin?”

Colin had been listening to this conversation with a look of amusement written across his face. “No, I think you ladies pretty much covered it. Although, I think people on sports teams might have a bit of a different experience. I mean I mostly socialized with the other swimmers because we’d already been here two weeks, we spent so much time together and we were on the same schedule… and I still mostly hang out with the swimmers.”

“Oh, that’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that,” Lottie said.

“Well regardless, you already have us!” Emmie said with finality.

“Uhh… Okay…” I replied with an awkward smile.

Tate announced that dinner was ready a moment later so we all climbed out of the hot tub and scampered over to the patio. Colin lit a fire in the fire pit and we pulled up chairs around it so we could enjoy its warmth as we ate our dinner and watched the sunset.

“This is heaven” Emmie sighed, curling up into Colin’s lap and resting her head on his shoulder. He stroked her bare arm softly and kissed her forehead from time to time.

“Yeah,” Tate agreed. “So where is the nearest ski mountain?”

“There are two place just ten minutes up the road. We belong to both, although we usually only go to one of them. It’s quieter and the runs are usually better.”

“We should do ski weekends!” Emmie said.

“Yeah, sure,” I replied. “We probably won’t get a chance until after the swim season, but the skiing is usually pretty good into late March.”

“You know, Nicola has never skied before,” Emmie said with a lascivious smirk.

“Nor will I be anytime soon.”

“You’ve never skied before? How is that possible?” Colin asked.

“I’m from Texas. My family prefers to do warm vacations. I don’t know why this is so shocking. We went to Vail once and I spent the whole time at the lodge.”

“You are ridiculous,” Lottie scoffed

We spent close to two hours swapping stories as evening descended on us. Tate, Lottie and Colin tried to out do each other with stories of older sibling brutality. While Tate and Colin were often used as human dolls, Lottie was often used as a human punching bag and proudly showed off scars of her brother’s brutality.

“Even the nannies were afraid of him. My parents were sort of oblivious until one year he power-rangered my face to the pavement the pay before our Christmas picture was supposed to be taken. I literally had skid marks across my forehead and all down the right side of my face. I think my parents finally medicated him after that.”

“Thank godthat didn’t scar,” Emmie said.

“Yeah, I know. My mom took me to a plastic surgeon and we got a special cream. It’s weird because now Mikey couldn’t be more protective of me and we’re pretty close. We’ve talked about it before and he basically said he had a lot of resentment towards me because he already felt starved for our parents’ attention even before I came along, and I guess my presence only exacerbated that situation…”

“How many years apart are you guys?” Tate asked.

“Four years but five grades. He just made the cut off by like a week and I just missed it by one.”

“So he was pretty used to running the show before you came along,” Tate smiled.

“Basically.”

“I actually probably would have committed murder to have my parents less involved in my life,” Nicola said.

“You say that now…” Lottie replied.

“I actually probably would have committed murder to have had a big brother growing up,” Emmie cut in.

“Yeah. Me too!” I said.

“My parents were always worried that I wouldn’t socialize correctly, without a sibling, so I got put into weird playgroups and summer camps and stuff when I was little,” Emmie groaned.

“Me too!” I laughed. “My parents put me in a summer camp in Ireland when I was maybe 11 or 12. The Irish kids hated me. It was an adventure camp so we did different sport and boating things every day and they tortured me. They’d flip over my little sail boat and my parasail… on the day we did kayaking, they surrounded my boat chanting ‘Kill the Yankee!’ and they bailed water into it and sunk it. It was a nightmare!” I shook my head, remembering the two weeks of pure torture that, at the time, I’d felt lucky to survive.

“Kids are so mean,” Lottie said.

“Where the fuck were the adults?” Tate fumed.

“I don’t really remember there being adults… I mean I’m sure there were some…”

“Besides, the whole point of summer camp is to torture the other kids,” Nicola said. “I know at my camp we inflicted body image issues that will probably last a lifetime.

“And to steal other girls’ clothes,” Emmie chimed in. “My shit got stolen every year. And you’d have to steal back or you had nothing to wear!” She laughed.

We traded camp stories until the nearly full moon was high in the cloudless sky, its reflection dancing across the water before us. When our fire finally burned out we decided to head inside to the warmth of the den. At Emmie’s insistence we started playing camp fire games of the endless call-and-return variety that became increasingly difficult the more we drank. The night slowly faded into a blur and before I knew it, Tate was helping me upstairs to bed and tucking me into bed.

“Mmm, thanks,” I said, looking up at him dreamily in the darkness. A small sliver of moonlight peaked through the curtains and lit up one side of his face. He smiled a tentative, almost pained, smile and rubbed my cheek with the backs of his fingers.

“Thanks for inviting me. It really means a lot to me. I can’t even tell you how much.” And with that he was gone and I was lost in sleep.

***

I didn’t manage to drag myself out of bed until after 10am the next morning and I stumbled sleepily downstairs. Lottie and Emmie had pancakes on the griddle and were drinking mimosas in the kitchen with Tate. Tate spotted me first and he flashed me a warm smile, his eyes glistening under his bedraggled mop of black curls. I could help but notice the way that his thin, grey pajamas pants accentuated his tiny hips and the ample curves of his buttocks and the bulge of his quads.

“Good morning!” Emmie’s voice rang out. “Sleep well?”

“Yeah,” I grumbled. “Anything is an improvement on those dorm beds.”

“What do you want in your waffled?” Lottie asked, pouring some batter onto the griddle. Her hair hung loose and she had a fresh, clean glow about her. “Bananas, blueberries or chocolate chips?”

“I’ll actually take mine plain,” I said sauntering over and leaning against the counter next to Tate. His cheeks had a warm rosy glow and the rest of his skin shone like white marble in the morning sunlight.

“Here’s your mimosa,” Emmie beamed at me, her morning voice a little throaty. Her hair was tied on top of her head in a messy bun and she was sporting an oversized ‘Carrington Swimming’ t-shirt over a pair of boxers that she’d rolled up.

“Thanks,” I said, eyeing the bubbling orange liquid a little warily. Tate caught my eye and winked as he casually held up the full glass he’d obviously barely touched. “Are Colin and Nicola still sleeping?” I asked.

“Nicola is, Colin will be down in a few minutes, he’s just taking a shower,” Emmie responded.

“How did everyone sleep last night?” I asked.

“Great,” Lottie said.

“Like a rock,” Tate agreed.

“I guess I’ll go wake Nicola up,” Emmie said. “Otherwise we’ll be waiting around for her all day.”

“There’s no rush,” I shrugged.

“You don’t know Nicola,” Emmie said rolling her eyes. “If we wake her now, we still probably won’t see her for another hour. So, if we want to get out on the boat at all today someone has to suck it up and face her wrath.”

Emmie returned a few minutes later with Colin and the five of us chatted over Lottie’s (delicious) pancakes.

“I can’t believe classes start Wednesday!” Emmie groaned, her head in her hands.

“I can’t believe the swim season starts in a month,” Colin said.

“Me neither,” I said.

“Do you feel ready?” Lottie asked.

“Yeah, I guess. The thought of traveling all the time is pretty exhausting though.”

“It is exhausting,” Colin nodded. “But you’re going to do great. Both of you guys will. They’re the new little all-stars.”

Tate blushed. And looked down as though he was studying the granite countertop.

“Hey, what’s the girlfriend policy on away meets? Can we come?” Emmie asked.

“We?” Lottie asked.

“Yeah. You and me.”

“And how did I get roped into tagging along?”

“Well you and Carl-“

“-Me and Carl, nothing!” Lottie snapped. “If you want to trek around New England with the men’s swim team, that is your business.”

“To be honest none of the guys girlfriends usually go,” Colin said. “We are usually four to a room, sometimes two… and it would be pretty boring anyways.” Emmie looked a little crestfallen. “But I’d love it if you would come to Ivy League Championship or NCAAs.”

“Okay! You know we also really have to get the ball rolling on our spring break plans. I’m think Majorca or the Greek Islands…”

“There is plenty of time to figure that out later,” Lottie said, rolling her eyes.

“Or Prague. I wonder what the weather is like though…”

Nicola surfaced about a half hour later. She skipped the pancakes and went straight for the mimosas.

“I’ll pour that for you,” Tate said, scooting over and grabbing Nicola a clean flute.

“It’s fine, I’ll just take the pitcher,” Nicola said lifting it off the counter and taking a long swig. “Alright,” she said, lowering the jug and wiping her mouth with her sleeve. “The boat… Shall we?”

“Uhhh… Sure…” I said, catching Tate’s eye and cocking an eyebrow.

***

We all went up to change into swimsuits while Lottie packed us a cooler. We spend the rest of the morning skiing and tubing and then anchored in the middle of the lake for lunch. I pulled our water trampoline out of one of the storage holds and hooked it up to the pump. We picnicked on the trampoline and then lounged around to catch the early afternoon sun. Every now and then Emmie would get up and start jumping until Nicola would yell at her to stop. Tate sat on the edge of the trampoline, hanging his legs over the edge into the water. I bounced over and lay down next to him.

“Hey,” he smiled.

“Hi,” I replied, drinking in the sight of his naked torso. “Having fun?”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful here,” Tate said.

“Yeah. It was nice to get away,” I said. “You know, after everything.”

“Yeah, what do you think it’s going to be like when we get back?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I dunno. I just wonder if we’re going to be, like, the gay kids when we get back…”

“Well, we are gay…” I replied, matter-of-factly.

“I know,” he said with a smile. “But is everyone going to know? Are they going to treat us differently?”

“I mean I don’t think we need to go broadcasting it everywhere. I don’t know why people would just assume that we are.”

“You don’t think Drake has notified everyone living within a 100 yard radius of us of how things are hangin’ in 503?” Tate asked ruefully.

“Oh,” I said, taking a moment to think. I hadn’t really thought of that yet; I had been so enjoying our relaxing getaway that the problems of the real world had temporarily slipped away. “Well, I mean, the guys on the team have been pretty accepting so far… Generally…”

“Yeah,” Tate nodded. “That’s true… and, I mean, you’re always going to have your assholes that you just need to deal with.”

“Right. And, really, I don’t know why it would bother anyone else that much. We’re living with each other. We don’t have to share a bathroom with anyone. We’ll be gone a lot of weekends. We may not even interact with these people that much, beginningers and all that crap,” I said with a laugh. Tate chuckled. “And if we’re the token fags, then we’re the token fags… We’ll deal with it. And at least we’ll have each other… And we have great friends here who don’t give a fuck what we are. And we’re great fucking people. So, yeah, I guess I’m really not worried. I mean what do these people really mean to us anyways?”

“We’ll be seeing them for four years,” Tate pointed out.

“Eh, we’re going to run into a lot of people in our time here…. Some that will matter and some that won’t. I think we just have to focus on the people who matter.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m just a little tired being the subject of public inspection and fascination… And ridicule,” he tacked on as an after thought.

“Don’t worry,” I grinned. I’ll protect you,” I laughed, reaching up to jab him in his tautly muscled side. I felt an electric shudder when our skin made contact that sent goosebumps flying down my limbs and all of my body’s energy suddenly seemed to shoot into my groin. I pulled back reflexively. Tate gave me an odd look. ‘Crap. He’s onto me. He isn’t into me,” I thought. ‘Be cool.’ I gave him a playful smile and then rolled off the trampoline into the lake, allowing myself to sink to its murky depths, watching the sunlight slowly disappear, before pushing off the mucky bottom of decaying leaves and heading back towards the surface.

Colin’s face, peering over the edge of the trampoline and painted with concern greeted me as I surfaced. “Geez, you were down there a long time. How deep is it here?”

“Not that deep. Maybe 17 feet. Shall we take the boat for another spin? We haven’t tried the wake board out at all.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Colin grinned.

Nicola and Emmie opted to hang out on the trampoline (with a bottle of wine), while the rest of us tooled around the lake for another couple hours and Colin, Tate and Lottie tried to teach themselves wake boarding tricks. Lottie had the most natural ability which she chalked up to figure skating as a child, and she was able to throw some cool jumps and spins. We headed in to shore around 4pm and I docked the boat and stored away the trampoline while everybody else gathered their stuff to go home. Lottie threw all the dishes in the dishwasher and did a quick sweep of the kitchen while Colin took out our garbage and Tate went around and checked that all the doors and windows were closed. We had a quick snack of peanut butter sandwiches before we got on the road back to Carrington. Colin drove since he hadn’t had anything to drink since that morning. Meanwhile, Nicola and Emmie insisted on finishing off our alcohol supply on the way home, so Lottie and I got peer pressured into having a few more drinks on the ride back, although Tate resisted.

By the time we got back to the dorms at around 7pm, I was pretty buzzed and the weekend was beginning to catch up with me. I navigated up the ten flights of stairs in a daze, disoriented by the dozens of kids and their parents that I stumbled past as we trekked up to our room. The hallway was overflowing with luggage, boxes, and over-excited teenagers.

“Oh fuck,” I muttered, to the shock of a nearby parent, as Tate navigated me through the piles of tripping hazards back to our room.

“Let me get you some water,” Tate said as I immediately flopped face first onto my bed. He retrieved a bottle from the fridge and brought it over to me. “Here,” he said, unscrewing the cap and handing it to me.

I took a sip of the icy cold liquid and sighed with content. “Tate, you’re the best,” I smiled.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Finish that. I’m going to go take a shower,” he replied.

I finished the water bottle and proceeded to pass out.

***

Tate woke me several hours later and suggested that I eat something. We decided to go for a late dinner at the Italian place in town. Although it was past 10pm the place was packed with anxious looking students and exhausted looking parents. The flustered looking hostess told us there would be a 15 minute wait and we went to grab a seat in the entryway when I heard someone call out my name. I turned and saw Carl in a booth at the back of the restaurant, waving.

“Hey, it’s Carl,” I said, grabbing Tate’s arm and nodding in Carl’s direction. “We should go say hi.”

We weaved through the crowded restaurant over to Carl. He was sitting with Donovan and Justin, two senior guys on the team.

“Hey,” Carl said.

“Hey,” Tate and I replied. Justin and Donovan nodded their greetings.

“Do you want to join us? We only just ordered,” Carl said.

I looked at Tate.

“Yeah, sure,” Tate said.

“Thanks,” I replied, sliding into the booth next to Carl.

“So how was your trip?” Carl asked.

“Oh, it was great,” I said. “Very relaxing.” Tate nodded his agreement.

“Where did you guys go?” Justin asked.

“Down state to my ski house.”

“Oh… what do you guys do there?” Donovan asked.

“Well it’s on a lake and we have a boat and stuff, so there’s a lot to do in the summers.”

“Like what?” Donovan asked.

“Uhh… like water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding… we have a water trampoline.”

“Oh, those are really fun!” Carl said. “They had one at the resort we stayed at for spring break last year, remember guys?”

Justin laughed. “Yeah, Donovan puked on it!”

“Not my fault! That fat little British kid kept throwin’ off my bounce! I get motion sick!”

“Okay, so then what were you doing getting on a trampoline?” Justin asked.

Donovan shrugged. “It looked like fun.”

“So, how’s Lottie?” Carl asked.

“You mean since you saw her two days ago?” I teased.

“Uhh… yeah…” Carl said sheepishly.

“Dude you are so whipped!” Donovan hooted.

“He isn’t even getting any!” Justin chortled.

“Hey, enough!” Carl barked.

The waitress came over and took Tate’s and my orders.

Our food arrived shortly there after and the topic of conversation shifted to Timmy’s recent reign of tyranny and everyone’s mutual dislike of Drake.

“You should have seen him last night,” Carl groaned. “He got kicked out of Pints.”

“I think he’s already been banned from like half the bars in Carrington,” Donovan said. “It’s sort of an accomplishment.”

“What’d he do now?” Tate asked, knowingly.

“He punched someone, I think” Carl replied.

“He punched a girl!” Justin exclaimed. “Who the fuck does that?!”

“Are you serious?!” Tate gasped.

“Yeah, my girlfriend knows the girl,” he replied.

“Jesus,” Tate said.

“Apparently she wasn’t having his come-ons so he punched her…”

“Fuck, he is such a douche bag,” Carl said, shaking his head. “Who the fuck does that?!”

“He’s a real prick,” I agreed. “Seriously, he is going to get in real trouble sooner or later. Eventually someone will get seriously hurt or press charges or something…”

“You would have thought that the mace episode with Nicola would have taught him a lesson,” Tate said.

“Timmy will come down on him eventually,” Carl rationalized. “In fact, I’m pretty shocked he hasn’t already. Drake is sucking ass at practice and he was our hottest recruit. I would know, I was supposed to entertain him when he came on his visit last year, but it didn’t end up timing out. I can’t believe that Timmy would let him waste himself like this. He’s on full-ride.”

“Maybe he thinks that by ignoring Drake he’ll get the desired reaction. Drake thrives off attention and I know he isn’t happy that Timmy isn’t giving him the time of day,” Tate suggested.

“Like reverse psychology!” Donovan said.

“Not really…” Justin smirked. “I think it’s like… negative reinforcement.”

“No… it’s negative punishment…” Carl said. “Aren’t you both psyche majors?” he exclaimed in disbelief.

Justin nodded, looking a little embarrassed.

“I’m not anymore. I was last year,” Donovan said. “But I dropped it.”

“What are you majoring in now?” Carl asked.

“I’m undecided.”

“What?!” Carl practically shrieked. “You are a senior!! How are you going to graduate?!”

Donovan shrugged his shoulders and flicked his blond bangs off of his forehead as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

“No. Seriously. Donovan. How are you going to graduate? I don’t understand how you can not have a major declared your senior year…”

“I dunno… general studies?”

“I don’t think that’s a thing…” Justin said.

“No. It definitely isn’t.” Carl said. “Do your parents know? How does this happen? We have academic advisors.”

Donovan shrugged. “I dunno. They’ll figure it out. I’m not concerned…”

“Clearly,” Carl scoffed.

We finished shortly thereafter. Carl invited us to grab a drink with them but Tate and I were feeling tired and begged off.

“You sure? This is one of the biggest going-out nights of the year. All your little freshman pals will be on the prowl,” Carl laughed.

“Yeah… you’ve officially talk me into staying in,” I said.

“Me too,” Tate laughed.

“Suit yourselves. See you boys in the morning,” Carl replied.

“Shall we take bets on the state of Drake in the morning?” Justin joked.

“Or the date of his first arrest,” Donovan suggested.

Tate and I shook our heads in exasperation and then said our goodnights.

***

“That was nice. Felt so normal,” Tate said as we brushed out teeth side by side in the bathroom.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well the gay thing. It wasn’t an issue at all. And it’s not like they didn’t know.”

“Why should it be an issue?”

“I don’t know. It shouldn’t. Obviously, it shouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to be a lot of the time.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right… Yeah, it was nice. And they are nice guys. Donovan is a little bit helpless, but nice.”

“A little bit helpless? Geez, my parents would kill me if I was that lacking in direction!” said Tate.

“I mean mine would too. Or mine would at least step in… I think a lot of people don’t get the kind of support or attention from their parents that we are used to,” I said. “I mean when I think about what Lottie was saying earlier today, it’s pretty sad.” I moved so that Tate could spit into the sink. He stood back up and looked me in the eyes.

“You really are a good person Braeden.” His eyes were locked on mine, almost ferocious in their icy blueness; they reminded me of those of a Siberian husky. “You’re incredibly empathetic and compassionate,” he said reaching up and giving my upper arm an affectionate squeeze and then letting it linger there for a moment. His flesh felt searing hot against mine and I suddenly felt completely breathless.

“Uh, thanks,” I murmured, as though in a trance.

We lingered in that moment for what felt like an eternity. I didn’t want to breathe. I was so taken by Tate’s aura, his very essence. He exuded an other-worldly presence. Looking at him head-on made me feel as though I was staring at the sun. Like I was at risk of being blinded by the light. How had I been so oblivious to the fact that this person had existed under my nose for two weeks?!

Tate inhaled sharply and looked away. “So we have a busy day tomorrow,” he said, looking at the mirror and giving himself a quick grin to make sure his teeth, his perfect teeth, looked alright.

“Umm, yeah… I know,” I stuttered, trying to regain my composure. I felt like I’d just had some kind of religious experience. My pulse was still racing a mile a minute and my heart felt as though it had dropped out of my chest. “I, uhh… I have some kind of an alcohol awareness seminar at 3 tomorrow. I don’t know if we’re supposed to miss practice to go to that.”

“Yeah, Jimmy said we have to go to that. I asked on Friday,” Tate said.

“Oh, okay,” I responded. “I guess I feel a little better about missing my nap then,” I sighed. “We have so many receptions tomorrow!”

Tate chuckled and walked back into the bedroom. He was already asleep when I followed him a couple of minutes later.

***

Practice went all the better the next morning for knowing that we were going to get out of having to come back in the afternoon. It was nice to feel like I didn’t have to save myself for later and I got through the sets quite handily.

“Damn Davenport! You are flying today,” Eric remarked during a quick break.

I shrugged. “It was a relaxing weekend,” I replied.

“I’ll bet!” Lip cut in with a mischievous grin. He nudged me with his elbow. “So, did you get any?” he asked.

“What?!” I choked. Eric shot Lip a hard, disapproving stare that Lip seemed content to completely disregard.

Lip nodded at Tate, two lanes down, chatting on the wall with Justin. “Did you get any? Everyone knows you guys went away together.”

I was stunned. So this was going to be a constant issue.

“Dude, seriously, shut up,” Eric said.

“Nah, I want to know!” Lip protested.

“It’s not like that. We’re just friends,” I insisted.

“Yeah, bullshit!” Lip pronounced.

“Lip. Enough.” Henry’s words seemed to reverberate through the gnat with an ominous power.

I was shocked. Henry had never involved himself in any of our conversations, never mind our squabbles. Lip’s mouth immediately clamped shut and that was the end of it for the moment although I had the uneasy feeling that this was not going to be the last of such episodes. I didn’t understand it. Just because Tate and I were both gay, why did everyone automatically assume that we were together, or at least ‘doing it’? I wasn’t surprised… this sort of thing was pretty much what I had predicted after Friday’s episode. In fact, I felt disappointed in myself. Disappointed that for a moment I had allowed myself to believe that maybe it didn’t have to be like this, that Tate and I could be normal and, a small nagging voice in the back of my head told me, disappointment that there wasn’t some truth to Lip’s accusations.

***

The rest of practice passed uneventfully and afterwards Tate and I hurried back to the dorms to grab a quick bite and to change for the university president’s welcome breakfast. We felt a little weird stuffing out faces before going to a breakfast, but we weren’t sure how many speeches we would have to sit through before we were allowed access to the food and Tate pointed out that portion sizes might be lacking.

The president’s address was held at the university’s performing arts center, which house the largest auditorium on campus. We spotted Cam and Kenner as we entered and the four of us grabbed seats together and made small talk while watching the 1,200 or so members of Carrington’s freshman class filter in. The president’s address was predictable, uninspired, and full of the usual rah-rah stuff that fails to inspire when you’ve been awake since 5am. I nodded off a few times, much to Tate’s amusement, and I was by no means the only one. It looked as though it had been a rough night for a good percentage of Carrington’s “future legacies,” as the president liked to (somewhat nonsensically) refer to us.

The food at the reception afterwards was light, mostly crackers and cookies, though most of our fellow students looked as though they had little interest in eating. The coffee, however, was flying off the buffet tables. Very little mingling seemed to be going on, instead hundreds of tiny little groups had already formed and people seemed to be clinging to each other for dear life. I thought of Emmie’s ‘beginningers’ and suppressed a chuckle. The four of us chatted for awhile, killing time until we had to split up for our next receptions. I spotted Drake, Finch, Brian and Skip across the lobby, hitting the coffee-makers hard. I felt a little tug of sadness seeing Skip as a part of their fold. Already, he looked tired and a little worse for the wear and I genuinely hoped that everything was going alright for him since our… what should I even call it?… Our ‘split’ was the only word that came to mind, but it didn’t seem quite right and I had a feeling Skip would have some objections to it.

Following the president’s welcome we had department assemblies, which we had to split up for, then a lecture on campus safety, where the four of us reunited, then a freshman class picnic with forced mingling, and finally a seminar on alcohol awareness. The four of us grabbed dinner in the dining hall after our last seminar wrapped up and then Tate and I retreated to our room, utterly exhausted. Despite Emmie’s pleas, we resisted going out and decided to do a couple of hours reading for our Brit Lit course and turn in early.

“I feel like we’re an old married couple,” I joked as we got ready for bed, cringing as soon as the words left my lips. Tate, who was digging around in his dresser for a fresh suit for the morning, visibly stiffened, the tendons in his muscular neck tensing. He didn’t look back at me or acknowledge the joke and I shuffled off into the bathroom.

***

The next day was much of the same. We had practice in the morning, followed by an alumni association reception, a study-skills seminar, a sexual-health and rape seminar, and finally an activities fair (with pizza dinner) at the student union.

The student union was considered the sole architectural blight on the Carrington campus. Built in the 1960s after the old student union was damaged in a fire, the student union was a massive and angular travesty of modern architecture. In concrete. There were few windows and most of the common areas in the building were housed in the basement and the sub-basement, with the rest of the building housing the offices of the various student organizations on campus.

The activities fair was held in the basement, a sprawling, but dark, space that resembled a 70s rec. room, housed the largest cafeteria on campus (featuring Carrington’s only chain restaurants), a large eating area, a study/lounge area, and a bookstore. Dark and tacky wood paneling lined the walls, there was virtually no natural light to speak of though one wall did feature English basement type windows, and whoever had been in charge of decoration clearly had a penchant for neon signs. On a campus that was otherwise an architectural gem, the student center was certainly a blight, and many students cited it as an example of the university administrations disregard for the students of Carrington.

We did a cursory walk around to check out the booths. Greg was standing at the booth for the Gnat, recruiting lifeguards and I went over and said hello. I was glad I had decided not to take any shifts that week, I was absolutely exhausted.

“Oh, look there’s a gay-straight alliance,” Kenner said indicating towards a booth a couple of yards away.

I froze for a moment, seized by feelings of terror. I couldn’t say why. I mean, I was officially “out” and had decided I wasn’t going to lie about it anymore. Maybe the idea hadn’t had long enough to sink in but something about the idea of walking up to the gay-straight alliance booth in front of the whole freshman class (who in my spasm of paranoia all suddenly seemed fixated on me) was too much to handle.

Tate seemed to sense my discomfort and put a strong and reassuring hand on my back.

Kenner marched right up to the table. “I belonged to one of these in high school,” he announced cheerfully, picking up a leaflet and signing his name to a roster.

“A little too soon?” Tate asked as we watched Kenner chat amiably with the kids staffing the table.

“I guess so,” I replied, giving a pathetic shrug.

Tate smiled. “You’ll get there eventually. And if you don’t, that’s okay too.”

He gave my shoulder a squeeze and then walked over to Kenner to sign up for the club. I watched in amusement as the mouths of the two guys manning the table dropped in awe as Tate approached. He gave them both a shy smile and then signed up on their sheet.

***

That evening Lottie and Emmie coaxed us into coming out for $1 hamburgers and I resolved to take it easy, remembering my episode the previous week. Colin, Carl, Justin and Donovan all came along, as did Heather, one of the girls’ sorority sisters. Emmie whined about how annoying the freshman had been during their previous two nights out (apparently the irony of the fact that she was one of those “insufferable” freshman just the year before was lost on her), while Nicola whined about the shortage of attractive (straight) guys in the freshman class, and Heather whined about classes starting the following day. Even Justin and Donovan were willing to contribute, with passionate complaints about how hard Timmy had been riding us at practice.

The place was significantly more crowded than it had been the week before; it was packed and Emmie, Lottie and Nicola were clearly in their element. People, mostly guys, kept coming over to say hello to them and they seemed to revel in the attention. It was obvious that they were in their element and it was interesting to see them at work. Heather and Emmie, in particular, became much more animated, their gestures exaggerated, as though they were unconsciously putting on some performance for the bar’s other patrons. Carl also attracted quite a bit of attention and a number of people stopped by to offer their congratulations. By the time we got our food I was sure I had shaken hands with at least fifty people and Tate and I had both gotten a number of appraising looks from some of the girls, as Emmie was quick to point out.

Our burgers were delicious and I limited myself to only one beer, as did Tate and Carl. Justin and Donovan, despite their earlier griping, seemed less concerned about the next morning’s practice and had thrown back at least four beers apiece before finishing their meals. A local jazz band took the stage at 10pm, so we decided to stay for their set, which elicited a number of yawns from Donovan, who was clearly in a rush to get to the next bar, and eye-rolls from Nicola, when they started playing jazz covers of popular pop-songs. The band finished up at around 11pm and Tate and I said our goodbyes as the Emmie and Nicola sparred over whether or not it was too early to go to The Pint, and whether they should go somewhere else first. I winked at Lottie as we left and she shook her head in exasperation. I laughed.

“By the time they make their minds the bars will be shutting down for the night,” Tate said as soon as we were out of earshot.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” I replied.

“They remind me so much of my sister,” Tate said with a faraway smile. “They can be annoying as fuck, tonight especially, but it’s impossible not to love them.”

Both of them? Is Elise bipolar?!” I exclaimed.

Tate giggled. “Yeah, she has facets of both. She’s very like Nicola when she’s with people she’s in public, especially with people she doesn’t know, she’s a tough cookie… but then at home, with me and the people she loves, she’s a lot like Emmie. She’s got a very childlike enthusiasm about her at times. Nobody can wrap you around their finger quite like Elise can. How she talked her way out of college and into getting my dad to pay for her flat is beyond me. He’s paying more on that a year than he is on my tuition!”

“Were you guys close growing up?” I asked.

“Yeah, thick as thieves, as my mom used to say. Elise was always the ringleader and I was more or less her plaything, but I’m a pretty passive person, so it worked… and to be fair, she always had me back and was really sweet with me. She has a very nurturing side and she can be fiercely protective. I had a bit of a lazy eye when I was really little and she used to unleash hell on anyone that gave me shit about it.”

“She sounds great. I always wanted a sibling growing up, more than pretty much anything.”

“You would have been a great big brother. I think you have a bit of Elise’s fierce streak in you. At the very least you have a strong sense of right and wrong. You are a moral compass,” Tate pronounced with mock grandeur, offsetting the sweetness of his words.

“Thanks, Tate,” I said, genuinely touched. “That is really nice of you.” I wanted to touch him or hug him, to squeeze him and never let go. I suddenly felt as though I was burning up with want and desire, I squeezed my arms around myself tightly to suppress the sudden urges racing through my mind.

“Are you cold?” Tate asked, looking at me with concern.

“Uhh, yeah, a little…” I bluffed.

Before I could register what was happening, Tate had wrapped a strong arm around my shoulder and was gently rubbing my upper arms with his hands, trying to warm them up. A hot flush exploded on my chest and began creeping up my neck and into my chin. His touch was electric and burned like fire. I was afraid to speak, even to breathe, to do anything that would make him let go…. His touch felt so right. As though it had been destined or ordained by some higher power. As we continued walking the warm sensation spread to my groin and the front of my shorts was soon bulging with pent up desire. The brush of fabric against my member with each step was almost too much to bear; never had my body felt so sensitized, it was as though it has been awakened by Tate’s touch. My erect nipples rubbed against the knit of my polo, arousing me further, and the hairs on my arms stood on end with each stroke from his fingers. Eventually his hand came to a rest, but his arm was still draped around my shoulder, providing a glorious sensation of weight and warmth and intimacy. My erection throbbed harder with each step and soon I felt the moist warm sensation of pre-cum leaking into my briefs as the head of my aching cock rubbed along the elastic waist band. Each step was one closer to orgasm and I had to fight the urge to close my eyes, loll my head back and moan with shear delight and desire. Neurons were firing every which direction and every sensation from the straining fabric around my groin, to the evening breeze in my hair, and the electric touch of Tate’s arm wrapped around me was heightened. As we crossed Carrington Cross back onto campus, Tate’s hand slipped off my shoulder down my back, his hand slowly tracing down its defined musculature before reaching the slight arch of my lower back where it rested for a moment, tantalizingly close to my ass. That was all I needed to put me over the edge and I erupted shot after silent shot of hot jizz into my briefs. Try as I might to suppress it, a slight gasp escaped my lips and Tate immediately dropped his hand by his side and like that the moment was broken. I suddenly felt empty, foolish and all alone.

I tried to ignore the feeling of cooling cum dripping down my leg as we climbed the stairs up to our room and then laid first claim on the bathroom to clean myself up.

‘This is probably unhealthy,’ I thought to myself, pulling my third tissue out of the box on top of the toilet and wiping up the trail leaking down my leg. ‘You need to get a grip Braeden,’ I thought looking at my flushed complexion in the mirror over the sink. ‘Pull it together, you do not need another Skip situation on your hands.’

When I was finally cleaned up I went back into the room, changed and crawled straight into bed. It was hard to believe that the next morning marked the official beginning of my college career. In some ways it felt as though I’d been at Carrington forever, although it had only been two and a half weeks. It was hard to remember a time when Skip, Lottie, Emmie, and now, Tate, hadn’t existed. It was hard not to feel a little anxious at the prospect of dumping the stresses of schoolwork onto my swim schedule and the growing dilemma that was my attraction to Tate. All I could do was hope that time, patience and diligence would carry me through.

 

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