As Bryce was preparing for the party, he pulled out his shirts, trying to decide which one to wear. His eye was caught by some familiar lettering across the chest of a red tee. Grinning, he picked up the shirt, and quietly made his way through the bathroom, where Damon was in the shower, to the adjoining room, where he deposited it on Damon's mussed bed. Returning to his own room, Bryce picked up an almost identical shirt in blue and put it on. He was brushing his hair when he heard the shout from the next room, followed by his neighbor bursting through the door.
"Where the hell did this come from?" Damon demanded, holding up the shirt. It was the only bit of clothing about his person, which Bryce could not fail to notice.
"I kind of thought it might go with this one," Bryce said, turning around and revealing his own Aeropostale shirt.
Damon stopped, mouth agape, then burst out laughing. "You win!" he exclaimed, pulling on the shirt.
Fifteen minutes later, the two were approaching the Sigma Alpha Tau house, which was lit up. They watched as a couple, male and female, approached the door. A hefty doorman, who must have been a linebacker for the football team, announced, "Twenty dollars for non-member guys with student ID, girls free." The male pulled out a wallet and paid, then the couple entered.
"Shit!" Damon said, "I don't have my wallet."
"I'll cover you," Bryce said, then added, "this time." He had a feeling that Damon would resent anything that smacked of patronage.
"I'll pay you back," Damon insisted, confirming Bryce's instinct.
As they approached the door Bryce handed Damon a twenty, they both showed their IDs, paid, and entered. Inside, there were already lots of people milling about, most of them with a beer or coke in hand. There was music on an intercom. Bryce thought he saw Bick heading up the stairs with a female. A guy who looked kind of familiar came up to them. "Hi. You look lost."
"I guess we are," Bryce admitted. "We heard about the party from Curtis, but I don't seem him about anywhere."
"Oh, he's in the next room. By the way, weren't you in Dr. Dickinson's class this afternoon?"
"Yeah. I'm Bryce Winslow, and this is Damon Watson. I thought you looked kind of familiar, but I couldn't place you."
"I'm Jack Dattilo. Nice to meet you. You, too, Damon."
"Is Dr. Dickinson here?"
"Geez no! Faculty sponsors only attend the business meetings. If they came to the parties, they might feel they had to step in or else report something," Jack laughed. "With a question like that, you must be a freshman."
"Afraid so," Bryce said, blushing.
"We all were once. You'll grow out of it. What are you doing in History 355?"
"He's a fucking genius who skipped all the basic classes," Damon answered for Bryce, causing, him to blush again.
"Not really," Bryce insisted. "Just had some AP courses."
"Good for you," Jack said. "Come on. I'll show you where Curtis is. Or, at least, where he was the last time I saw him."
Jack led the other two into a large room which had been cleared of most furniture. The music was louder here, and some couples were dancing. Pausing a moment in the doorway, Jack then charged across the room, having located Curtis talking to a blonde.
"I brought you your guests," Jack said, indicating Bryce and Damon. He then disappeared.
"Hey! Glad you could make it," Curtis greeted them. "You must be Damon," he said taking the other man's hand. "Bryce has mentioned you a couple of times. I'm Curtis Manning. Oh, and this is Maddy Moore," he said, introducing the girl.
"Hey, great to meet you. Looks like a great party," Damon said.
"Make yourself at home. Have fun," Curtis invited them.
Bryce, meanwhile, had been gawking at the girl. She was the same girl who had been staring at him in the Milton class the previous morning. She seemed to be as uneasy about that as he, as neither of them said anything, and avoided eye contact. Curtis had been pointing out something to Damon, but now he noticed the awkward silence between Bryce and Maddy. He looked at one, then the other.
"Have you two met before?"
"Um, yeah. We're both in the Milton class," Bryce managed.
"Yeah," Maddy agreed. "I kind of thought you looked like somebody I knew when I first saw you."
"Oh, is that it?"
"Is what it?" Curtis wanted to know.
"I thought Maddy was staring at me in class, but it was just a case of mistaken identity," Bryce said, now wanting to get the situation behind him quickly.
Curtis looked at both of them, then shrugged his shoulders. "You guys like a beer?"
"Sure," Damon answered.
"Through there. Keg on the back porch," Curtis said, pointing.
Bryce and Damon made their way towards the indicated door. As they did, Damon asked, "What's with you and the girl?"
"You and the girl. Come clean."
"It's not me. She was giving me some really strange looks. I can't describe it. I have an odd feeling about her," Bryce insisted.
"Yeah, right," Damon expressed doubt that this was the whole story, but decided not to pursue it.
They grabbed a couple of plastic cups, and filled up at the keg, then returned to the large room. Curtis and Maddy had moved on, but before long the newcomers found themselves talking to a couple of girls, and then, beers finished, dancing for a while. They became separated in the crowd, which got thicker as the evening wore on. About an hour later, Bryce heard someone say, "Hey, how's Milton coming along?" He turned around, another beer in his hand by this time, and met Mike Sandoval.
"Hi, Mike," he said, extending his free hand. "Are you an SAT, too?"
"Naw. Just came for the party. I belong to another fraternity. I suppose I should be ferreting out enemy secrets," he laughed.
"I'm not in anything yet, so I'm just here for the party, too."
About that time Damon reappeared. "Where have you been?" he demanded.
"Pretty much right here, except when I've been dancing," Bryce said. "You're the one who disappeared."
"Oh, yeah," he said, looking confused, leading Bryce to suspect Damon had been downing beers at a faster rate than he.
"Damon, this is Mike Sandoval. He's in one of my classes. Mike, Damon Watson is my neighbor in the dorm," Bryce performed the introductions.
They shook. "I knew a guy named Sandoval back in Chicago," Damon said. "Meanest son-of-a-bitch in town. But he taught me some Spanish."
Mike laughed. "No connection of mine. I'm from right here in Clifton. So, you speak some Spanish, do you?"
"Yeah," Damon said, then launched into Spanish.
He and Mike exchanged several sentences, leaving Bryce out of it. When Mike noticed this, he said something in Spanish to Bryce.
"No idea what you said," Bryce replied. "My other language is French."
"Oh, sorry," Mike said, switching back to English.
"Told you I picked up the lingo," Damon said.
"Well, if I were you, I'd be careful about using some of that in any class," Mike said.
"You sound like some kind of gang member. It would be like ..." he paused, searching for a good analogy, "... like talking to someone in English who was speaking hip hop."
"Oh. That bad?" Damon asked, looking dejected.
"Yeah. I mean, come on. You tossed puta in there three or four times, and that's like calling somebody a whore. And I'd be real careful about calling some guy mariposa."
"What's that mean?" Bryce asked, grinning at Damon's discomfort.
"Well, literally it means 'butterfly,' but it would be like calling somebody a fairy in English. It's slang for a gay guy," Mike explained. "Not very complimentary slang."
"Shit! I can't escape the projects!" Damon said morosely.
"Hey, don't get all down about it. You were holding your own. You just need some help with pronunciation and vocabulary," Mike said. "Like I told our friend here yesterday, I'm all for upholding the Hispanic heritage. We were here before these Anglos anyway. If you want, I'll be glad to give you a few pointers, but not now. Now we party!"
"I'll take you up on that," Damon said, hope restored.
The three visitors got separated again. Bryce found himself dancing with several very attractive females. A couple of them made it pretty clear they were available for more than dancing. He began wondering whether he should ask one of them back to his dorm room. Maybe that special somebody was right there in the room, that somebody who would solve all his problems. He caught sight of Damon, also dancing with an attractive blonde, and winked at him. I'll bet some of those rooms on the next floor get some use before the night is over, Bryce thought. Despite these intriguing thoughts, however, he did nothing, not quite sure of himself. Not long after, Bryce was approached by Maddy, who was slightly wobbly. She insisted that he dance with her, so he led her out to the middle of the room, and danced for two slow dances, while she held him close and mumbled fragments of sentences he could not quite decipher. All of a sudden, she grabbed his hand and said, "Come with me." She led him up a staircase to the next floor, to a room with the number seven on the door. Pushing the door open, she led him inside. It was someone's bedroom. Bryce was becoming very uncomfortable. He did not want to take advantage of a semi-drunken woman, and besides, she was Curtis' girl. Maddy plopped down on the bed, pulling him down next to her.
"You look just like him," Maddy said obscurely.
"Like who?" Bryce asked nervously.
"My brother. You look just like him. See!" She produced a photograph from the wallet in her jeans.
Bryce studied the picture. He did not think he looked all that much like the fellow shown there. Sure, he was also blond and blue eyed, but so were lots of people. This guy looked haunted. His eyes looked troubled. Bryce hoped he did not look that way. He handed the photo back to Maddy.
"Just like him," she repeated. Then she broke into tears. "And now he's gone!" She wailed, so that Bryce was afraid a passer-by might think he was hurting her. Maddy continued to sob as she looked at the picture.
"Um, ah, what happened?" Bryce asked.
"They killed him! My fucking parents killed him!"
"Oh, come on!" Bryce expressed disbelief.
"Same thing!" Maddy wailed. "Bobby was gay. I knew that. But he was the nicest, most caring person you could every meet. Never hurt anyone."
"So, what happened to him?" Bryce asked again, increasingly uncomfortable. This was definitely not turning out the way he first envisioned.
"He thought our fucking parents meant it when they said he could trust them. He was feeling really depressed about his boyfriend moving away, and about having to hide who he was. The 'rents noticed that. Said, 'Tell us. No matter what it is, we're here for you.' He believed them. He told them about being gay, and about Gary moving away. Did they sympathize? No fucking way! Yelled and screamed at him. 'Disgracing the family! Going to hell! Won't be able to hold our heads up in the neighborhood!' Then they gave him the final ultimatum. 'Either you give up this disgusting queer stuff, or you get out of our lives!' Can you believe it?"
"They really threatened to kick him out?" Bryce wondered.
"Sure did. Nice upstanding Christian people that they are, they told him to deny who he was, or else he would no longer be their son," Maddy wailed through a veil of tears.
"That's pretty shitty," Bryce agreed. "Where is he now?"
"Dead! Don't you understand? They killed him! Next morning he was found hanging in his room! That was his way out of their lives. My sweet, loving brother is dead!"
Maddy was extremely distraught, pounding on Bryce's chest, tears streaming down her cheeks. He was frightened. He did not know how to handle this situation. Then, she threw herself down on the bed, still sobbing violently. "Wait here," Bryce said. He fled the room in a panic as quickly as he could, returning to the ground floor and looking frantically for Curtis. He located him talking to some other guys. Bryce interrupted rudely, grabbing Curtis and pulling him aside.
"Maddy is upstairs in room seven. She's kind of hysterical. You'd better see to her."
Curtis paused only a moment, and gave Bryce a hard look. Then he turned and practically ran up the stairs.
Bryce went out on the back porch and drew a tall beer for himself.
He retreated to a side room, where he tried to gain control of his emotions. Maddy's story touched him in so many ways. She had made it personal by saying he looked like her dead brother. In what way? What was it about him that reminded her of her brother? Then, the story was heart-rending in itself. How could parents do something like that? The poor guy must have been totally devastated to hang himself. His own parents, after promising to help, turned on him like that. But Bryce knew he had handled the situation badly. He wasn't sure what he should have done, but he flubbed it entirely, running off and getting Curtis to clean up the mess. His only excuse was that he was frightened. Yes. Really, deep down, scared. What if he came out and his parents treated him the same way? Came out? Oh, shit! Does this mean I'm gay? No! I can't be! I could never stand it if my folks disowned me like that. I can't be!
Bryce noticed that his cup was empty, and immediately went out for a refill. He sat, and brooded, and drank, for some time, going over and over in his head his disastrous encounter with Maddy and his efforts to deny that it had any relevance to his own situation. He ignored the fact that if there were no connection, he should not be worrying about it. After a while, he noticed someone standing by his chair. It was Mike.
"I came looking for you because your friend needs some help getting home. But I'm not sure you're in much better shape than he is," Mike said.
"I'm fine. Just not feeling like a party anymore," Bryce insisted, but when he tried to stand, he needed help to prevent him from stumbling. "Just been sitting too long," he insisted. He took a deep breath, shook his head, decided that was a bad idea, then said, "Where's Damon?"
"This way," Mike said, cautiously leading him.
They found Damon in another room lying on a couch, singing to himself in what might be Spanish.
Taking another deep breath, Bryce pulled himself together. "Come on, Damon. Time to go home."
"No! I'm never going back there!" Damon insisted. "This little mariposa has got to get away. If I go back there, they'll find out, and my life will be shit."
"Back to the dorm, Damon," Bryce said, pulling him up.
"Yeah. To the dorm. Safe in the dorm," Damian said.
"You need help in getting him back?" Mike offered.
"I think I'm okay now. I'll take care of him," Bryce insisted.
"Okay. Be careful crossing the street. ... No, wait. I'm coming with you that far at least," Mike decided.
With Bryce on one side, slightly unsteady, and Mike on the other, they got Damon out of the SAT house. As they arrived on the pavement in front, Curtis appeared after taking Maddy home.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Damon needs to get back to the dorm," Bryce said.
"Go ahead. I want to talk to you later," Curtis said, with a hardness in his voice Bryce had not experienced before.
Mike helped steer the other two across the street and pointed them towards Clay Hall. With no more streets to cross, he figured they were pretty safe, so he returned to the party. Bryce moved Damon along. The going was slow, as Damon did not seem to have very good command of his legs.
"Who was that?" Damon asked.
"No. The other guy?"
"Oh, yeah. Nice guy. Talked to me about joining his fraternity. He wants me to join his fraternity," Damon iterated.
"Yeah, me too. I guess. Not so sure now," Bryce said.
"It would really crush Aerpostale's balls if I got into that fraternity. Crush his balls. Man, I'd love that. Prick! Fucking hot air bag!"
Damon began to giggle and had to stop walking. He very nearly collapsed on the ground. There was a bench along the walkway. Damon plopped down on it, and Bryce could not get him to move, so he sat next to him.
"Do you know what it costs to join that fucking fraternity?" Damon asked.
"Haven't checked it out yet," Bryce returned. "After my screw up with Maddy, it probably won't matter anyway."
Damon was not listening. "I don't have any extra money. I can't join that fraternity, no matter how much they want me. Everything costs money. How can I get out of the projects when every step away costs money? Why does everything have to cost money?" Damon began to pound on Bryce's chest. "Tell me! Why does everything have to cost money? Why can't I get out of the projects?" Damon actually began to cry.
There he was again. For the second time that night Bryce found himself faced with someone crying and pounding on him. He looked around. There was no one else in sight. I can do this. This one is no problem. I won't screw up again, he told himself. "Come on, Damon. Let's get back to the dorm. Sleep it off. Tomorrow is Saturday. Sleep as late as you want. Come on." He tugged at Damon, and got him off the bench with some difficulty. Still on unsteady legs, they began to move towards the dorm.
"I'm different," Damon mumbled. "I'm not like the other guys in the projects. I can't stay there. If they find out, they'll kill me."
"You're not going back to the projects, Damon. You'll do fine in school," Bryce tried to reassure him.
"Yeah. Never going back," Damon agreed.
Eventually, they made their way to the third floor of Clay Hall. Half supporting Damon, Bryce let himself into his room. Then he steered Damon through his room, through the bathroom, and into his own room. Flipping on a light, Bryce pushed Damon onto his bed, then began to remove his friend's clothing. He pulled off Damon's shoes and jeans, but when he tried to remove the shirt, Damon fought back.
"No. It's mine now. I'm Aeropostale now."
Bryce laughed. "Okay, keep it. See you in the morning."
"No. Gotta piss."
Damon cocked his head to one side, considering. "No, just piss."
With a sigh, Bryce helped Damon to his feet again, and steered him back towards the bathroom. He led him to the toilet, then was unsure what to do next.
"Gotta piss," Damon insisted.
Bryce took a deep breath, then propped Damon against the wall. He then pulled his neighbor's briefs down. Damon began to piss, but his hands were supporting him against the wall. He was missing the bowl. Bryce grabbed Damon's cock, and pointed it towards the commode bowl.
"Aaaaaaahhhh," Damon sighed. "Can't buy beer. Only rent it."
Then he began to slide down the wall. Frantically, Bryce used his free hand to support the other guy, while still directing his stream into the bowl. At last, Damon ceased to piss. Bryce manipulated him so he could pull his briefs back up. Otherwise, he could not walk. Then, he led Damon back to his bed, got him settled, and turned out the light. As he was about to leave, Damon said, "Come here."
Bryce leaned down towards the other man. Damon's arm came up, looped around his neck, and pulled him closer. "Thanks," Damon said, and kissed Bryce on the lips. He then collapsed.
Shaken, Bryce returned to the bathroom, where he cleaned up the mess, then took a cold shower.