Bryce just stood there for several minutes after Damon left. He did not know how to react to his neighbor. There were powerful feelings surging within him that he did not want to face, but knew he had to deal with, and Damon touched on so many of them. Did Damon have any idea what he was doing? Bryce was uncertain.
Okay, let's be rational about this. Calm and orderly. None of this is Damon's fault. If there is fault, it's entirely my own. This is why I had to get away, isn't it? This is why I need to be in a position where I can examine myself, where I can really think about where I'm going. If I can't do that at home, and I can't do it here, then I can't do it anywhere, and I am one screwed up bastard.
It started years ago. It's insidious. It creeps up on one. Twelve years old, and taking peeks at the other guys when changing at the club swimming pool. Fourteen years old, and getting hard at swim meets. Sixteen and discovering my first gay web site. That was a real shocker. It was finding that I got hard looking at two guys doing each other that led to the hard drugs. One hard leads to another. Okay, this is not funny. Escapism? Sure it was. I needed to escape from that realization. I couldn't handle it. It just could not be true.
It would ruin my entire life. Blot it out! Don't think about it! Escape!
Escaping can be dangerous. I remember Dr. Stovall shaking his head when I finally went to him about having those blood tests. That was after I woke up to the mess I was in. I had to prove I was as masculine as anybody. I was fucking every cunt I could entice into my bed. Or anywhere else. It was like I had to prove I was male.
"It's a damn good thing you came to see me, Bryce." the doctor had said. "Somebody should have told you about safe sex." Well, of course somebody had. Starting with sex ed in the sixth grade.
But I had to be macho. Alpha male. God! Some of the girls I fucked were really sleazy, now that I look back on it. I don't remember much else about them, but they sure as hell were not the types to take home to Mother. I wonder what they were escaping from.
I can't be queer! I can't! It would ruin everything. Can you imagine what Granddad Winslow would say? If my joke about the Mayflower travel agent ticked him off, he would really go ballistic over something like this. 'Besmirching the family escutcheon.' Isn't that the phrase? He was upset enough about Dad becoming Catholic. Still not over it. "Not the Winslow way, Son." And he was really ticked when Cousin Lowell married his secretary. "A woman of no family." And Dad? Would he care? He's pissed enough already that I want to study history, and maybe be a teacher. "How can you make a decent living that way?" I don't think Dad would give a fuck about being gay, but he sure would throw a tantrum about something that would affect the market value of the Winslows. And being queer would decrease my market value for sure. It might even have a spillover effect on his business affairs. Can't have that. Then there's Chip. Good ole Sterling Morton Winslow Jr. He's not one to let something like that get by without making the most of it. Chip is okay in his own way, I guess. He is my brother. But he's so much a part of the consensus that I don't think he ever had an independent thought in his life. I know what he would think. I heard him and his buddies going on about queers only a month or so ago. Peer pressure? Not with Chip. No pressure at all. He automatically goes with the crowd without the least pressure being involved. And Nan? Dear Nan. Probably my best chance of finding acceptance there. Nan has a big heart, and is more adventuresome than Chip. More like some of those colonial ancestors. Oh sure, she was a cheerleader and was in beauty contests up until she got into high school, but that was Mom's doing, not hers. Nan has brains as well as a heart. Maybe .... But, what the hell! No way I can be queer! Even if Nan could accept it, no way!
Mom. My silly, over-protective, smothering ... what other adjectives can I come up with? Doesn't matter. Mom is the love of my life. Sounds perverted, but God knows I don't mean it that way. Mom is always there. Always loving. Always protecting. The guide. The lode-star. The solid, reliable foundation. There is no way I could ever do anything that would seriously hurt Mom. Even when I was using, I managed to hide it from her. Even spaced out, I never let her see me like that. How could I tell her I'm queer?
Queer! That's it. Different. Odd. Peculiar. Bizarre. An anomaly. An aberration. An abnormality.
Just think of Kyle Logan. The only homo I know. I sure as hell don't want to be like him. Kyle is small, with no physical attraction I can see. Thin shoulders. No chest. Spindly legs and arms. Sharp nose. A damn walking skeleton. Walking? Prancing is more like it. Mincing! Yeah, that's the word. He always looks like he's sneaking up on someone. Sickly complexion. Even in summer he looks like a ghost. Remember the time he showed up at the club pool? Looked like a dead fish. And don't even suggest talking to him. His voice puts me off before he even gets a single sentence out. High pitched, like someone is squeezing his balls. Can that be natural? He must be putting us on. But it's not just the voice. It's what he says. Always over the top. Always exaggerated. Always too much. Never calm and orderly. Who was it Chip said he was copying? May somebody? Old time film star. Oh, yeah. Mae West. I never saw Mae West in a movie, but she must have been something else if she was anything like Kyle. No, if being gay means being queer like Kyle, there is no way I can be gay.
But, what about those urges? I don't want them. I don't invite them. I don't go looking for them. They sneak up on me. Like Kyle. They take me by surprise. Everything is going along just fine, then, all of a sudden, I'm getting a boner from looking at some guy. How weird is that? Already in just two days I've had those feelings about Damon and Curtis. Can't I be around a decent looking guy without going all ... queer?
Curtis has a girlfriend. That's what I need. But it never seems to work out. I've had girlfriends. Never had any trouble getting one. It's keeping one that's the problem. Somehow, it never seems right. Girls are fine. I like girls. Shit, I've fucked enough of them! ... Oh, come on, Bryce! You know damn well a lot of that had nothing to do with liking them. You were trying to prove something. You were trying to prove you weren't .... No! Don't go there! I just need to find the right girl.
If Curtis knew what you were thinking back there in that hot tub, you'd never get into that fraternity of his. Fraternity guys are like Dad, or Chip, or Granddad, aren't they? I mean, they're normal men. They don't let queers into fraternities. Fraternities are an important part of the college experience, aren't they? Make friends for life. No one in a fraternity would want someone like Kyle as a friend for life. Fraternity guys are decent, ordinary, normal guys.
Normal? What's normal? Damon says my family is not normal. Is his? God, I hope not. But he has a point. Lots of kids, even Catholic kids, have parents who are divorced and remarried. A dad you see every other weekend? Is that normal? A mom who is so busy making a name for herself in some career or another that she has no idea what's going down in your life? There's even Uncle Arthur and Aunt Evelyn. Dad's brother and his second wife. Both of them married before, both divorced. Three kids. Yours, Mine, and Ours. Family joke. But they're in the country club, and they go to their church, and nobody seems to think they're all that out of line. Maybe Damon is on to something. And the movie stars. Always changing partners, and never bothering to get married before having kids. Well, as Mom says, nobody decent is a movie star to begin with. Exhibitionists! But there are the Bergers. Mr. Berger was married before, and they say his first wife is still alive, although nobody has ever seen her. Every Sunday, there's the family in church. Five kids. All the kids go to communion, but the parents never do. I remember asking Mom about that. She just said it was private, don't ask. How are you supposed to know what's normal? Nobody seems to be normal any more. Now I'm sounding like Granddad. Better quit while I'm still sane.
Better get some sleep. Got that Milton class at nine-thirty in the morning. Don't want to get off to a bad start with the instructor.
Bryce began to prepare for bed. He methodically placed everything he would need in the morning on his desk next to his computer. Fairly light schedule tomorrow. Just English from nine-thirty to eleven, then Biology lab after lunch. I'll see Damon in that lab class at one-thirty. I wonder what he's doing for lunch.
Stripped to his underwear, Bryce entered the bathroom to brush his teeth and relieve himself before bed. As he did, Damon stepped out of the shower. God, that man is beautiful. All over. "Oh, sorry. Didn't know you were in here," Bryce mumbled.
"Hey, no problem! Plenty of room. I'm just about finished here anyway."
Damon just stood there, drying off, stark naked. There are those feelings again. Damn! Bryce approached the sink, preparing his toothbrush and paste for use. He tried not to look at Damon in the mirror.
"You're in that Biology Lab with me tomorrow afternoon, right?" Damon asked.
"Right," Bryce replied through a foamy mouth.
"What'cha got in the morning?"
"Oh, yeah. Your Advanced Placement English class. Damn freak. Well, I've got English, too, but since I'm a lowly poor boy from the projects, the best I could do was sign up for the literature survey," Damon said, with a twist to his voice which made Bryce wonder.
"Not envious, are we?"
"Damn straight!" Damon responded, as he flicked Bryce's ass with his towel.
Damon just laughed as he left the room.
After finishing his preparations, Bryce returned to his own room. He checked his e-mail, and responded to a message from his mother. Then he climbed into bed and turned off the light. But he did not sleep. His brain was too full of worry, his heart was overflowing with competing emotions. He tossed about, getting totally tangled in his sheets.
What about God? Didn't Father Flannigan say God hated homosexuals. It says in the Bible that homosexuals are an abomination before the Lord. ... I don't like Father Flannigan much. He's such a bossy guy, it's a real pain to have to work with him. But Dad likes him. Says he's solid on keeping social order, and on illegal immigrants. What if he's right?
Bryce tried to block out the disturbing thoughts. He tossed and turned some more. He tried thinking of other things. For a while, he was able to distract himself by replaying the state championship soccer match, but then he had flashes of the guys in the showers afterwards.
After a couple of hours of tossing about, he was still torn. If Father Flannigan is right, and if I really am gay, then I'll go to hell. But that's not right. Didn't Father Quinlan at school tell us you couldn't go to hell by accident? You've got to reject God. ... Wasn't there something about accepting gays? Not really. Yeah, homosexual orientation is not a choice, but it's still unnatural and inherently disordered. Some acceptance! But how can something that is not a choice be rejecting God? Shit! I don't know fuck about anything.
About six in the morning, Bryce gave up the battle. He simply was not going to get any sleep this night. He sat up. Still three and a half hours before that first class. My stomach is tied in knots. Can't turn up in class like this. What can I do? He paced back and forth. He looked out the window at the first streaks of dawn.Gym! Work out the kinks.
Bryce dressed in his gym clothes again, and set out across campus. He arrived just as the facility was opening for the day. This time, he remembered the locker room, just in case Bick showed up, although he did not see Bick as a morning person. Bryce threw himself into his work-out, raising a sweat, and straining such that his mind went blank, registering only what to do next, and counting how many times. About thirty minutes later, Curtis arrived.
"Hey. I see you learned about using the facilities first thing."
"Yeah. I need this. I'm really stressed about the first day of classes and all," Bryce replied.
"Don't let it get to you. You'll do fine," Curtis attempted to reassure him.
"Hope so. Can't take any chances."
"Here, let me spot you. Can't have you pulling a muscle or something."
After about an hour, the two were ready to call it quits. Bryce had been frantic – too much, and Curtis had done his best to calm him down. By quarter to eight, at least some of it had rubbed off. Showers and hot tub next.
"Don't forget the party tomorrow night," Curtis reminded Bryce as they sat in the swirling waters.
"No way! I'm looking forward to that. Oh, and I passed the invitation on to Damon," Bryce reported.
"Next door neighbor in the dorm. Nice guy. Uh, he is black. How will that go down with Bick, or anybody else?"
"No problem with most of the guys. Like I said, Bick is not really a force to be reckoned with. I'm not real sure about him. I wouldn't be surprised if Bick made some shitty remarks just because he's obnoxious, but nothing really serious. He makes shitty remarks about everyone, as you know. As Pledge Master, I'd like to see this guy come out if he's any good. We only have three black brothers right now, and one of them is scheduled to graduate this year. It doesn't look good if we're too lily white."
"I don't think Damon would take to being a quota," Bryce conjectured.
"He wouldn't be. Not any more than you would be because we need a soccer player. Ask our black brothers. But we do have high standards as far as grades and the like. What's his SAT?"
"Don't know, but he says he's on an academic scholarship."
"Well, hope it works out. Bring him to the party in any case," Curtis insisted.
After some time in the sauna, they split, and Bryce returned to his dorm room. He prepared himself for the day. Then, remembering that Damon also had a class that morning, and not hearing anything from the neighboring room, Bryce decided to investigate. He knocked on the door, but received no response. Cautiously, he pushed the door open. The room was dim, with the blinds pulled. In the light from the bathroom, Bryce saw Damon sprawled out on his bed, much like the previous morning. Checking his wristwatch, he decided to 'help' his neighbor.
Bryce essayed into the room, raised the blinds, then turned to the bed. Damon had sheets in some kind of star burst pattern, all orange and red and yellow. How could anyone get to sleep in that? Damon was still beautiful, totally nude, on his stomach on top of the sheets, with the top sheet almost entirely on the floor. Looks like he did some tossing about as well. Bryce approached the bed. He shook Damon's shoulder.
"Hey! Wake up! You've got class!"
"No. Come on. Get up and have some breakfast," Bryce insisted.
Then, all of a sudden, Damon turned over. Bryce got a flash of an erect cock only moments before he was grabbed in a head lock and pushed face down into the bed.
"Hey! What the ...."
His words were cut off by a hand on his head, smashing him into the mattress. For a moment, his senses were overwhelmed with the smell of masculine body odor, followed by fright that he could not breathe. Then Damon let up.
"Sorry. I don't react well to someone waking me up in the morning," Damon apologized.
"Geesh, tell me about it," Bryce replied, feeling his nose to make sure it was still on straight. "I was just trying to make sure you got to your class on time. You told me yesterday you sometimes slept in."
"Yeah. Sorry. Defensive reaction learned at home. At what used to be my home," Damon clarified. "Told you I was tough."
Massaging his neck, Bryce chuckled, "I believe you. You're stronger than you look. I though I was in the hands of some sort of Incredible Hulk."
Damon was standing right in front of Bryce, his morning wood still pointing directly at his neighbor. Bryce tried not to look, but could not help himself. Damon was very well endowed, clearly bigger than Bryce. Damon grasped his cock between his finger and thumb and shook it.
"I've got to go take care of this. Wait around for a few, and I'll go to breakfast with you. You can stay here or in your room," Damon said.
"Now that you're awake, I'll leave," Bryce said. "If I stay here, I might be blinded by all the color," he joked, looking over all the bright colors scattered about his friend's room.
Damon laughed. "Suit yourself. Better than being put to sleep by a dull, lifeless decor like in the room of somebody I could name."
All this was not doing much to help the problems which had kept Bryce awake all night. Damon was as attractive as ever, and the view of his hard tool certainly did not help. Still, Bryce thought he had done his good deed for the day in awakening Damon, even if it did nothing to put to rest his own demons.
Not long after, Bryce and Damon made their way across campus to the student center and breakfast. Seated, Damon admitted, "I'm glad you woke me. I set an alarm, but I've been known to ignore an alarm."
"I'll bet!" Bryce replied forcefully, massaging his neck. "Either that, or destroyed it entirely."
Damon laughed. "Yeah, I've been known to do that, too. How would you like the job of waking me up in the morning?"
"Like hell! You nearly killed me," Bryce replied.
"Come on. I can't afford to screw up this scholarship, and if I'm late for class, that's not a good sign," Damon entreated.
"Maybe. Provided I can do it at a safe distance," Bryce capitulated.
"I don't care how you do it. Just make sure I'm up in time for all my classes in the morning. Seriously. I'll owe you big time, man."
"Okay, okay. No big deal. I'll play alarm clock. I actually went to the gym before I woke you this morning. Should I get you up for that, too?"
"That would constitute cruel and unusual punishment," Damon insisted. "Just get me up in time for class."
"Okay. But from now on, I do it at a distance. I don't especially like being mauled first thing in the morning," Bryce agreed.
After a simple breakfast of cereal and coffee, the two men made their way to the building which housed the English Department, the Stuart-Warren Building. They entered, passing the dedication to Jesse Stuart and Robert Penn Warren, then parted, each going to his own class.