This story is fiction. The city of Clifton, and the University of Clifton, exist only in my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. These stories have as their main character a sexually active gay college student. If this is offensive to you, or if it is illegal in your area, or if you are under age, please leave now.
This story involves a search for personal acceptance, worth, and meaning. There is a religious element in these stories. If you don't like that, maybe now is a good time to leave.
My stories develop slowly. If you're in a hurry, this is probably not for you.
Thanks to Colin for editing.
Constructive criticism is welcome on my e-mail at email@example.com.
At last, he was on his own. Bryce lay back on the bed in the motel room he had rented for the night, and considered his situation. Even at the last minute, it had been a chore to get away. He had intended to leave at dawn, as he knew a long drive awaited him, but his mother had insisted on "a good, hot breakfast." Then, there had been all the checking, and the leave taking. Did you pack underwear? (of all things!) Did you remember to include our home number on your cell phone? (it's only been there for the last four years, Mom) Write or call every day. (not likely) Don't be a spendthrift. (sure, Dad) Don't forget we love you. (love you too, Mom) And back to square one: why did you have to choose a school so far away? After all that, it was nearly nine o'clock before he pulled out of the drive at his home in a major city on the Great Plains, and took off for his new location. As a result, he arrived on campus too late to check into the dormitory that evening, so he would have to wait until morning to complete the process. Now, he was in a motel a few blocks from campus, exhausted from the long drive, but entirely on his own.
That, in fact, had been the main reason he chose a school more than seven hundred miles from home. He loved his parents, but he felt smothered, hemmed in, restricted. There were things he needed to work out for himself. Important things. And as long as he was at home, there was no chance of dealing with them in a way which he felt would be satisfactory. Of course, he could not tell his parents that. His "official" reason for attending the University of Clifton was the presence here of a professor whose work he greatly admired, and under whom he wanted to study. That part was true. Dr. John Alcott Dickinson, Professor of History at the University of Clifton, recipient of many accolades from the historical profession and even from the general public, was someone Bryce greatly admired. His books and articles on the Tudor, Stuart, and Hanoverian periods of British history had been sucked up by Bryce since he first encountered one as a freshman in high school writing his first term paper. Professor Dickinson had even condescended to exchange e-mails with Bryce on one or two questions he had about statements in his books. Yes, that much was real. But the more important reason for leaving home was what has so often been called "finding oneself," or, as Bryce put it to himself, "answering a few vital questions."
James Bryce Winslow was eighteen years old. Like George M. Cohan's Yankee Doodle Dandy, he was born on the fourth of July, and had celebrated his official coming of age nearly a month and a half previously. As a small child, Bryce was convinced that the fireworks and parade were celebrating his birthday. This gave him a feeling that he was truly someone special, a sentiment encouraged by his parents. Now, he had a feeling he was definitely special, or at least different, but was not at all certain that was a good thing.
He was named James for his paternal grandfather, James Wentworth Winslow, the patriarch of the clan, and a man intensely proud to be descended from Mayflower ancestors. Bryce had heard the story many times. James Chilton and his wife Susannah were passengers on the Mayflower on that epic voyage in 1620, arriving off the coast of New England on 9 November after a voyage of 64 days. Not the best time to arrive in New England. They must have had a lousy travel agent, Bryce said sarcastically. For that he received a royal reprimand from his grandfather. Mary Chilton, daughter of James and Susannah, who was reputedly the first Pilgrim woman to step ashore on Plymouth Rock, sounded more like someone whose genes Bryce could be proud of. Alive! Full of life! Well, more so than her parents, anyway, as both James and Susannah seem to have died almost immediately after landing. James Chilton was a signer of the Mayflower Compact, and a member of Capt. Miles Standish's Company. At Plymouth in 1624 Mary Chilton married John Winslow, scion of an armigerous family of Worcestershire, England. John's brothers Edward and Gilbert had also been signers of the Mayflower Compact, and older brother Edward became Governor of Plymouth Colony. John came a bit later, and with his family moved to Boston after his brother's death in 1655. Mary was the only Mayflower passenger to remove from Plymouth to Boston. John died there in 1674, and Mary did so in 1679, their graves being located near the center of the Old King's Chapel Cemetery in Boston, marked with the Winslow coat of arms. Thanks to grandfather James Wentworth Winslow, Bryce was a member of the Mayflower Society. Bryce was also aware that Rev. Samuel Winslow had been a noted Puritan divine during the eighteenth century, leaving behind a collection of sermons which he found soporific. During the Civil War, General Edward Francis Winslow was a noted commander in the Union Army, Colonel of the 4th Regiment of Iowa Volunteer Cavalry, promoted to Brevet Brigadier General on 12 December 1864. Oh, yes, Bryce knew the paternal family history.
But he was named Bryce for his mother's family, which was of old Virginia stock, related to even older and more prestigious Virginia stock. His mother was Martha Bryce, but his maternal grandmother was an Armistead and his great-grandmother was a Digges. The Armisteads were a family descended from an extremely interesting woman named Martha Burwell Armistead who, according to contemporary accounts, "aroused such passion in Governor Francis Nicholson that his behavior resulted in his recall" in 1705. Governor Nicholson was a strong supporter of the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 and of William of Orange. He was instrumental in removing the capitol of Virginia from Jamestown to Middle Plantation, which he renamed Williamsburg, and founding the College of William & Mary. Bryce was not sure exactly what excited the Governor, but Martha, too, sounded like an ancestor whom he would like to have known. Thanks to his mother's influence, Bryce was also a member of First Families of Virginia. The Virginia ancestry also yielded Colonel George Armistead, who defended Fort McHenry against the British in 1814, while Francis Scott Key was writing "The Star Spangled Banner," and his nephew, General Lewis A. Armistead of the Confederate States of America, who died at Gettysburg. Whenever the Winslows and the Armisteads got together, there were spirited discussions about the relative abilities of the two officers during the "recent unpleasantness," following upon the equally vivacious discourses on the relative significance of the settlement of Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620). It was no wonder he felt torn. Despite that, Bryce was very grateful to be called by his mother's maiden name as he loved his mother intensely, even though he found her smothering on occasion.
The family was what was euphemistically called comfortably well off. There had been land speculators and railroad tycoons in the nineteenth century, of whom Bryce was considerably less enamored than his earlier progenitors. There were stock market speculators and what he considered war profiteers in the first half of the twentieth century, who earned even less respect from their descendant. The period since World War II, however, had produced rather dull, respectable businessmen, whose chief characteristic seemed to be an uncanny ability constantly to increase the family assets, despite the ups and down of the economy. In fact, the Winslows were among the leading families, financially as well as socially, of their Great Plains community. Bryce had learned some time ago to keep his opinions about the more recent family history to himself if he wanted to get along with his relatives. Because of this history, he never lacked creature comforts if they could be bought. Even as he left home, the family was generous. He was signed up for a single room in a new dormitory, with an attached bath shared only with the room next door. His tuition and fees were all paid for the semester, and he was promised a generous monthly living allowance, in addition to his already hefty bank account back home. Thanks to his mother's influence, Bryce always dressed well, wearing top of the line items which contributed to his well-dressed image, and did look very good on him. He had several suitcases, some hang-ups, and more coming by UPS. On his sixteenth birthday, Bryce had been presented with a gold Mustang GT Premium, with a black double stripe running from bumper to bumper. His father had been surprised at his restraint, expecting (and being willing to provide) a more expensive vehicle. However, Bryce had seen a similar car, and fallen in love with the way it looked. This was the transportation which had carried him from the Great Plains to Clifton, now stationed in the motel parking lot, and which would remain his primary mode of getting from one place to another (other than his own legs) for the entire space of his college years. He loved that vehicle like no other possession, and would not readily part from it. A scratch or dent would cause him physical pain.
Bryce was now, at 18, in excellent physical shape. He had been playing soccer since he was old enough to walk, and had been swimming almost as long. In high school, he had been on the team for both sports, which helped him maintain a nicely developed body. That body now weighed about 145 pounds of solid muscle, and, although Bryce did not intend to go out for any varsity sport, he did intend to keep himself in good shape. One of the things he regretted about arriving too late to get settled was the fact that he had hoped to visit the University gym that evening, working out the kinks acquired from many hours of driving. His motel did not feature a fitness center. Behind what he had developed over the years lay good genes, a product of selective marriages among partners with considerable matrimonial leeway over many centuries. He was well proportioned, blond, blue-eyed, just short of six foot tall - a veritable poster child for the elite of Northern European ancestry.
Unexpectedly, the immediate Winslow family was Catholic. The Winslows had been Congregational since landing on Plymouth Rock, eschewing the temptations to wander into Unitarianism with Emerson and the Transcendentalists, or into the Episcopal Church with later generations. Grandfather was disgusted that they now called themselves the United Church of Christ, but he remained a member of the congregation in which he had been reared. The Armisteads had been equally stoutly Episcopalian ever since they ceased being Church of England with the Revolution. But, some time in the 1970s, Bryce's maternal grandparents became highly upset with the Episcopal Church over the case of Bishop John Shelby Spong, who essentially denied the divinity of Jesus but was not censured by the General Convention. As a result, they left that denomination and joined the Catholic Church.
Like many converts, the Bryces studied the teachings and practice of the Church minutely, so they probably knew more than many cradle Catholics. Growing up in this atmosphere, Bryce's mother, Martha, became very devout, observing carefully many traditional devotions which were no longer popular with rank and file Catholics, such as regular recitation of the rosary, Eucharistic Adoration, observance of First Fridays, novenas to Our Lady, and the like, and was an avid supporter of the Right to Life movement.
When Sterling Morton Winslow became seriously interested in Martha while they were both in college at Princeton, she informed him that there was no future to their relationship, as she would never marry anyone who was not Catholic. Sterling was so convinced that Martha was the right wife for him that he joined the Catholic Church. As far as Bryce knew, his father's love for his mother was the one uncalculated passion of his life.
In a more cynical mood, Bryce sometimes felt that his father must have consulted the statistics, and decided that belonging to a denomination with 22% of the population in his native town had better marketing potential than belonging to one with only four and a half percent of the population back home. He had seldom seen religion play a role in his father's decision making, although he dutifully attended church with Martha, and never spoke out against the hierarchy. However, Bryce had overheard a conversation between his father and a recruiter for the Knights of Columbus on one occasion, when Sterling asked what the payoff was for membership, saying he preferred belonging to the Rotary Club.
As a consequence of these mixed signals from his parents, Bryce was equivocal about his religious commitment. He had never questioned being Catholic, and would never disappoint his mother by leaving the Church, but he tended to think of her various devotions as excessive, and to reserve judgment when it came to following the Church leadership in his private life. Like most guys his age, he tended to take his lead from his peers. At the Catholic high school he had attended, there were a variety of opinions, ranging from those who completely rejected Catholicism and any other religion, to those who marched in pro-Life parades and observed many of the same devotional practices as his mother. Most, however, were Catholic without being noticeably outside the American mainstream as far as their opinions on specific issues and their personal actions were concerned. Bryce tended to fall into this category.
As a child of privilege, Bryce had been exposed to most of the temptations facing American youth at the beginning of the twenty-first century. He smoked his first joint as a freshman in high school, and used moderately for a while. However, in his junior year, as he became increasingly disturbed by personal issues, his use increased, and he began to try other drugs. With plenty of spending money and few checks on its use, he had access to most of what was available to teenagers. His drug use got to be a problem, causing a decided dip in his academic performance and some irresponsible social behavior. This situation came to a head one morning during the summer between his junior and senior years in high school. He woke up feeling totally wasted, not knowing where he was or what he had been doing. He remembered meeting some of his fellow users the evening before, but there were about twelve hours missing from his memory. That badly frightened Bryce. He did not like the sense of alienation, of being buffeted about by forces over which he had no control. He eventually collected himself, discovered where he was, and found his way home, of course, but he resolved to never be in that position again. From that episode on, he steered clear of heavy drugs, and gradually weaned himself even from pot. It took him a good three months before he was able to eliminate drug use entirely. Bryce was grateful that he had not gone so far that he was seriously addicted.
One result of this development was a shift in the cast of characters in his social life. The guys with whom he had been using were deaf to his attempts to convince them that their continued use was dangerous. Even some of the less heavy users decided that he was a wet blanket or a spoil-sport when he refused to indulge. By the time his senior year was seriously under way, Bryce had been written off by a good part of his former social companions. When he considered this, it hurt him to be rejected like this. He even considered that the only reason he had been accepted by some of these good-time friends was because he could pay for the rest of the group, and when he stopped paying, he was no longer welcome. Despite these emotional wounds, Bryce persisted in his chosen way. He could be a very determined young man once he made up his mind on a specific course of action.
Another of the temptations facing youth, not only American, and not only at the beginning of the twenty-first century, was sex. Except for a brief period when his drug use got out of hand, Bryce had a pleasant, out-going personality. He was easy to talk to, and had a welcoming smile. He was generally polite and thoughtful, considerate of the feelings of those with whom he socialized. His classic good looks made him attractive to the opposite sex from the time he arrived in high school, and even before, and his personality assured him of continued success in the dating game. Bryce never lacked a date for a dance, a movie, a party. He had his pick of some of the prettiest, most desirable females in his school, and utilized this opportunity to date a considerable selection of them during his high school career.
At age fifteen, Bryce lost his virginity. The girl was a member of the same social group to which he belonged. When he found out that she was telling her friends about it, he began boasting to his peers about his conquest, in typical adolescent fashion. He never admitted to anyone, least of all to himself, that he was disappointed that sex was not all he had expected it to be. He and his girlfriend experimented quite a bit, with the result that Bryce acquired some expertise in the mechanics of sex. He always managed to bring his girl off more frequently than he came himself. This definitely was appreciated by the girl, and related to her friends, but Bryce was left with a nagging feeling that something was wrong. If not exactly 'wrong,' then at least not quite the way it was supposed to be. Maybe it was the girl. Maybe they were simply not intended for each other. So, gently, he broke it off, and took up with another girl. She proved just as willing, and just as grateful for his consideration, but no more satisfying. After that, Bryce began to date a variety of girls, not making any kind of commitment to any of them. He joked to his peers that he did not wish to deprive any of the girls of the benefits of his society. He was able to carry out this program without alienating his dates, even those with whom he had sex. He was one of those individuals who could deliver unwelcome news without creating an enemy. During the period when he was using heavily, he engaged in sex with some pretty questionable partners. After coming to his senses, he had himself checked out by the family doctor, and was very relieved to find that he had escaped infection with a sexually transmitted disease. By his senior year, Bryce was known as a player. He would date a different girl for each event, and have sex with most of them, but he had no special girlfriend, and made no special commitments. The truth was, he never felt quite comfortable having sex with any of the girls he had known. There was the immediate physical gratification, of course. It was better than wanking himself. But somehow it did not satisfy him. He felt like something was missing. He was not sure what that something was. He had his suspicions as to what that something was, but he was not ready to admit it, to himself, or to anyone else. This insistent suspicion was the cause of considerable anguish, and at the core of those matters Bryce felt he had to get away from home to work out for himself.
After a restless night, caused by an uncomfortable bed, anxiety about the morrow, and being over-tired from his trip, Bryce rose fairly early on a Tuesday morning, checked out of the motel, and made his way back to campus. There, he was able to check in with the housing people and get his room key. He had been assigned a room well in advance, of course, so there was no question about where he was going to be staying. He unloaded his car, making many trips from the parking lot to his dorm room on the third floor. The heaviest and most awkward trips involved his computer, as he had a new instrument, with the latest software and the largest screen he could fit into his car. Well, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but it was a bitch to move and install by himself. Then there were his clothes. He quickly filled his closet and the drawers of the chest in his room. On his wall, rather than the latest rock group, he had a large portrait of Mozart. It took him all morning to even arrive at a modicum of satisfaction with his arrangements. Once that plateau had been reached, Bryce took a break. With a sigh, he flopped down on his bed, hands behind his head, and regarded his realm. It felt good to have this space which was his alone. A private space. A place where he could allow himself the luxury of examining himself, and really deciding who James Bryce Winslow was, and where he was going from here.
As Bryce lay considering these matters, there came a knocking on his door. Slightly annoyed at being disturbed in his reveries, he reluctantly made his way to the door and opened it. There was no one there. Thinking it was a prank, Bryce became even more annoyed. He did not want to get off on the wrong foot with the other guys who would be his neighbors in the dorm, but he did not appreciate this kind of mindless practical joke. Then there came a knocking from behind him. Not the door to his room, but the door to the bathroom. Backing up, he somewhat self-consciously opened the door, and was faced with the most beautiful black man he had ever seen.