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oat327

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  1. oat327

    Chapter 3

    I wouldn’t say Kevin’s dad beat the shit out of his mom, so much as their fights sometimes got mutually physical—she threw something at him first, after all. But yeah, I included it because it’s really his first scene that’s not completely filtered through Kevin’s POV. He's not a saint; Kevin just sees him that way. And, oh my God, yeah, real talk: it’s so weird meeting people who are substantially younger but still adults. Duncan’s the same age I am now, and I could not at all imagine being with a 21-year-old college junior without feeling ancient. So, naturally, Duncan gets to feel that way too.
  2. oat327

    Chapter 3

    Glad you're liking it. And yes, that line sums everything up pretty well. Kevin's been lucky, in the sense that he's largely avoided legal ramifications for his profession... but he's really spent his life bouncing from one extremely precarious situation to the next, and I think we can all see from a mile away that these are likely to blow up in his face.
  3. oat327

    Chapter 3

    That's Kevin's curse: everyone he's loved has been, for whatever reason, unable to fully reciprocate--from his parents to Becker. And I think he's defensive about that, about not wanting to get hurt again.
  4. oat327

    Chapter 3

    Thanks! Yeah... Kevin's pretty street-smart, mature, charismatic, but he's also been hurt so many times. He's not great at knowing what's best for him.
  5. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 10

    It's tough, right? Becker's big on avoidance and compartmentalization... making a strong declaration of self (as would be required for someone coming out) is deeply terrifying to him, and it's going to be hard for him to get around that. But, like I said, there's a lot of story left--Becker's story isn't just about coming out, either--so I hope you enjoy what's to come!
  6. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 10

    I definitely loved being in a fraternity, but it's not for everyone. (We were a pretty tame one, though we had a reputation for throwing good parties.) I definitely picture my fraternity house when I stage the party scenes in my head though. It'll be fun for Becker to go through, basically, what he did the semester before, except behind the scenes. It's a lot more glamorous when you're a pledge looking in from the outside, than when you're trying to wrangle a bunch of drunk 20-year-olds to participate in a shadowy ritual. But it's fun. Becker's definitely in kind of a dark place at the moment, over Kevin. He goes in a lot of different directions--there's a lot of plot that happens before Kevin even returns, let alone after.
  7. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 10

    Glad you're enjoying it! I'm trying to keep updates as regular as possible--"Against the World" has to come at a slightly faster speed because of where the plots intersect--but, obviously, life intervenes. Becker's journey is interesting, because I've always believed his biggest issues are about self-worth--he's not in the closet because he's scared of being disowned (it's actually pretty clear--probably to him too--that it's not going to markedly change his relationships with anyone) but because he doesn't want to face who he is. But this pain does force him to take stock of a lot of things, at least internally. Kevin's still gone for several more months in this story, but there's still a lot unresolved between him and Becker.
  8. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 10

    So, I started the very first draft of this story about 5 1/2 years ago, and it's just funny to look back on things: I was much closer to Becker's age (and to being back in the closet) back then. I have to dig much deeper to think like a closeted nineteen-year-old now. It's interesting in its own way, but it does force me to stop wanting to drag Becker out of the closet and yell at him, "IT'S NOT THAT BIG A DEAL." But, of course, he's still a kid. It's tough for him, even if it might have cost him Kevin.
  9. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 10

    Glad you're enjoying them! Becker's an interesting character because I think he does have a good heart, and he does care deeply about Kevin, but he's so twisted in his own bullshit, in a lot of ways. But he still has a special place in my heart--he deserves to be happy, even if he's going to try to do everything he can to prevent himself from actually getting there.
  10. oat327

    Sophomore Year - Chapter 10

    I can't really say anything without giving anything away, but it's worth remembering that Kevin's been a pretty stand-up guy, as far as we can tell.
  11. oat327

    Chapter 2

    Glad you're enjoying it! Matt's an interesting character, and Kevin will keep giving us more and more pieces of him (both in the past and present) but he has a much, much larger role in this story than the (few) appearances he's made so far.
  12. oat327

    Chapter 3

    I wake up. Not at the Yé-Yé. Duncan and Sébastien’s. Post-threesome. Sébastien, next to me. Face down on top of the sheets. Perfect, naked bubble butt, stuck up in the air like an invitation. Primordial mounds. From the next room, faint clattering of kitchenware. I get out of bed, pull on my underwear, balled up on the floor next to the bed. Look around for my jeans and t-shirt but the room is too dark for me to easily find them. I give up, wander out towards the sounds. The sun--through the glass doors to the tiny wrought iron balcony. I hadn’t gotten a good look at the apartment night before. Drunk. Went straight to sex. Real people live in this apartment. A century-old Parisian apartment: ornate moldings, a carved marble fireplace. Mid-century furniture. Like a magazine. And bookcases. All along the back wall, built in. Books, and records, knickknacks from around the world. A record player on the table next to the balcony, where the music is coming from--a husky French voice, over a guitar riff. Beyond the little dining room is a swinging door, to the kitchen, propped open. There’s Duncan, at the stove, in teal scrubs and an unzipped University of Chicago Medicine hoodie. Chicago. He flashes me a smile. His pale, unclouded eyes study me from head to toe, lingering on my briefs. I feel conspicuously underdressed. Duncan doesn’t seem to mind, but he doesn’t comment on it either. “Eggs?” “No,” I tell him. “Thanks. I’m not a breakfast person.” “Suit yourself,” he says. He pauses. “Pancakes?” “No, really, I’m fine.” “Coffee, then?” I don’t say anything. Duncan reaches in the cabinet for a mug, and then pours a cup from a silver French press and places it on the counter in my general direction. He turns back to the stove, flips an omelette in the pan. “As much as I enjoy having you in a tight pair of briefs,” he tells me, “I should at least be a good host and offer you something to wear.” I glance down, subtly, at my underwear. Clothes mean staying. I’m not sure how long I’m supposed to linger, in a situation like this. How permanent a fixture I’m supposed to be in the morning. I had only ever spent the night with Becker, in my room. Long after we started dating. Don’t Fucking Do Stupid Shit. “I really should go pretty soon.” He unzips his hoodie, tosses it to me. “I have to be at the hospital in an hour anyway,” he says, glancing up at the clock on the wall. “Someone has to bring those little babies towards the light.” He smiles at me, plates his omelette. “Last chance for an egg. Most important meal of the day.” “I’m really okay with coffee.” I put on the hoodie, zip it up. It smells clean, vaguely like Duncan. It’s warm, soft. I follow him out into the living room and he sits, Indian-style, across from me in a plush leather chair, balances his plate on his teal knee. He takes a bite, nods approvingly. “That’s the one thing I miss about living in the States. The big American breakfasts. We used to go to the IHOP. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, waffles. The full monty.” “IHOP is the one thing you miss about the United States?” He giggles. “And Boystown. Mark and I lived right above Roscoe’s on Halstead for two years. In there constantly--all the bartenders knew us. Have you been to Chicago?” “My grandma’s funeral,” I tell him. “1996, I think--I was nine or ten.” “Oh, Lord, I started university in 1996,” he says. He shudders dramatically. “Do you think we crossed paths? Like, you were some adorable little kid holding your dad's hand and I was some drunken degenerate? I don’t suppose you made it out to the gay bars, aged nine, did you?” “Not so much, no.” I pause. “Mark?” “My ex,” he clarifies. “Before Sébastien. He was a little like you, actually.” “Young?” “Ha ha,” says Duncan, rolling his eyes, those barely-green eyes. “He was very handsome. Is what I meant.” He shook his head. “But we were both young. Three years together, and it never dawned on either of us that he was in law school and couldn’t really work outside the country, and I was foreign and couldn’t really work in the country.” He looks like he’s about to say more on the topic, but doesn’t. He leans back in leather chair, goes back to eating his omelette. “At the end of the day, all we have is the present,” I tell him. “Just this series of moments before the next series of moments.” Duncan looks up at me. “That’s dark.” “It’s empowering, maybe.” “Well,” he says, finally, “wait until you’re my age, and you dedicate a third of your life to the privilege of starting your career.” He smiles at me. “Tell me about this guy you dumped six weeks ago. Mr. New Orleans. Your last 'series of moments.'” Becker fills the room. An unwanted ghost of Christmas Past. Who does not belong in Paris. “Closeted son of a high-ranking Republican politician.” Duncan’s eyes alight with the prospect of gossip. “No! Which one?” “Top secret.” “Oh, you bogan,” he tells me, a thin, inviting smile on his face. “He your first boyfriend?” “Kind of. Officially.” He purses his lips. “Why’d you end it?” I’m thrown by the question. Thrown by the thought of talking about Peter Adam Becker to Duncan Rinehart. “I was coming here,” I tell him. “I don’t like to take people with me…” “To the next series of moments?” he interrupts. “Got it.” He picks his mug off the coffee table, smiles devilishly behind it, and then takes a sip. “Did you love him?” I certainly don’t want to have this conversation. I don’t want him here.” “He’s in the past.” “So that’s a yes,” he says, “and I can tell you’re still hung up on him, but that’s normal.” His tone falls neutral once again. “I really hate to sound like your dad giving you advice or something, but I’m just going to tell you: everyone has a first love. And most people have a second, and then a third, and so on. And you get to remember each of them fondly, or remember each of them angrily, but either way, they become a part of the whole thing. Part of a template of what-to-do and what-not-to-do, to help you find the relationship that lasts. And that’s the thrill, isn’t it? Living?” I don’t know what to say. I can’t imagine looking back twenty years on much of anything. Seeing life unfurled behind me like a giant, endless stretch of carpet. Some guy standing next to me—who on earth would stick around that long, would matter so much to me that I’d want them to stick around? “You don’t sound like my dad,” I tell him. “Damn right, I’m only thirty,” he says. “Was Mark your first love?” Duncan smiles, faintly, with his pale eyes. I know the answer before he says it: “Oh, yeah.” “Do you miss him? Still?” Duncan’s smile falters. Back to his neutrality, but his eyes are sad. His eyes betray the rest of him, declare emotion even if the rest of him won't. “We kept in touch for a couple years,” he tells me. “He died, actually. Last year. Killed himself.” That I was not expecting--the nonchalance, even from Duncan. The detached disinterest in his voice, in his face, even if his eyes are sad eyes. I don’t say anything. I don’t know how to say anything.” “He tested positive for HIV,” Duncan adds, methodically, like he’s giving a medical report to a hospital receptionist. “And he killed himself. I don’t know--sometimes I think, if only we’d stayed together. You know? Even though I knew we couldn’t.” He pauses. “Don’t tell Sébastien that. He doesn’t know Mark and I kept in touch.” He pauses again. “And Mark got it long after we broke up. Just in case that’s what’s on your mind.” I still don’t have the words. I still don’t know what to say. “My dad died,” I tell him, finally. “Six years ago. Esophageal cancer.” Duncan bites his lip. “Fuck, I’m sorry. That’s got to be terrible. You were, what, fourteen, fifteen?” “Fifteen,” I reply. Duncan shakes his head somberly, and I touch the dog tags around my neck--my dad’s dog tags. I don’t even think about it. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make this dark.” “Strangest post-threesome breakfast I’ve ever had,” Duncan says, with a slight smile. “Sébastien usually tracks in some coke-addled club twink.” “Stimulating conversationalists, I’m sure.” “Oh, naturally,” he replies. “We’ll just sit here, quoting poetry to each other. You know, as one does.” “As one does.” “I don’t even like threesomes,” he replies, shaking his head. “Last night excluded, of course.” “Thanks.” I pause. “Why do you do them then?” “Oh, well, Sébastien likes them,” he replies. “I enjoy them too, don’t get me wrong. I just like being in a relationship where one person is enough.” “Do you love Sébastien?” There’s a long pause. Duncan caught off-guard. “We’ve been together three years,” he says, finally. “And I’m very happy that we’re together.” “So that’s a ‘no’ but you'd rather not admit it?” He pauses again, smirks. “It’s not a no. I still remember the first time I saw him. I went to this reception for first-year residents, a couple months after I moved here, and who do they have tending bar. The hottest person in the room. We went home together. Later found out he was dating this brutish thing, forty-something, rich as an Argentine. But I didn’t care. I wanted him and I stole him away.” “Look at you.” “Well, you know Sébastien. You see him from across the room, and you just want to rip off his clothes and have a naughty, right then and there.” He sets his empty plate down on the coffee table. “Well, usually, that’s just a figure of speech.” “Thanks.” He smiles. “Don’t mention it.” He sets his empty plate down on the coffee table, and checks his watch. “9:45. I can drop you off somewhere on my way to work, but if you’re going to the Yé-Yé, it’s only a few blocks—” He points diagonally out the window. “--that way. We’re on Haussmann, left on Drouot, right on La Fayette. Ten minutes, maximum.” Duncan’s French street names are flawless. Of course: he speaks French. I don’t speak anything but English and a few remnants of rudimentary Latin. I’d never be able to understand how people can glide between two languages. “I’ll walk,” I tell him, unzipping the University of Chicago Medicine hoodie. “I should put on clothes.” “Words I wish I could strike from your vocabulary,” he tells me, his voice falling almost to a purr. “‘I should put on clothes.’” I lean over the coffee table, and kiss him. A soft peck, on the lips. Duncan’s caught off-guard, but he smiles at me. “When do I get to see you again?” I ask him. His smile falters. “Oh, I hope I didn’t lead you on, but we don’t do this sort of thing twice with the same guy.” Duncan Rinehart. Bathed in sun from the balcony doors. In his scrubs. Rheumy eyes that still hold my attention, that is still here even the morning after. Even the hunk of egg still on his upper lip. I do not not want to see him again. “Just to talk?” I ask. “I like talking with you.” “I—“ He pauses, his face expressionless. “Yeah. Okay. Maybe.” “Cool,” I tell him. I lean in, and kiss him again, longer, slowly. This time, he kisses back. “Just had to grab one for the road.” “Your fucking mom should’ve let you fucking rot in fucking juvie,” J.C. told me, the moment I walked through the door of his house. “What the fuck did I tell you? ‘Don’t Fucking Do Stupid Shit.’” I closed my eyes. It had been a long day. It was just after three o’clock in the morning. I had to sneak back out of the house after my mom went to bed. Because I had a text from J.C. Nine texts, actually. All a variant of: “If you don’t come to my fucking house the second you’re back, I’m going to slit your fucking throat in your fucking sleep.” J.C. was a poet. A fallen angel. The facts: I had spent the bulk of the night sitting in the police station, waiting for my mom to come and get me. I had stolen a bike. Well, attempted to. A candy apple red Schwinn, locked outside the Moreno Valley Post Office. Like the one my dad got me for my 15th birthday. Which had been stolen the day before. Someone had taken bolt cutters, sliced right through the chain-links on our backyard fence, and carried it off. “No, you need it,” Dad had said. The white bow on the glossy paint. The best gift you can give someone is hope. It was five weeks after he died, the day the bike was stolen. The beginning of December. The desert had just begun to grow cold, at night, in the mornings. I put on my jacket and went outside. My new jacket--an olive bomber from Abercrombie & Fitch. $120. “A business expense,” Matt Barber had assured me, at the mall. There was a hole in the chain-link fence where my bike had been. The only thing going through my head? “No.” On repeat. “No, no, no, no, no.” And that was the moment I started crying. Uncontrolled tears, pouring down my face. A loud cry, a sniffling sob, and I couldn’t help myself. Like a dam of emotion had burst, rushing through a dry river bed. I fell onto my knees, onto the dewy grass. Through my hazy eyes, I looked at the gigantic, gaping, unfillable hole in the chain link fence. Nothing there. Gone. The bike, gone. I want you to have something special. And I sobbed, I didn’t know how long I sobbed, and I never found out if my mom or Nicky ever saw me. If anyone ever saw me. But the wave of emotion crested. Promise me you’ll be strong. And I stood back up, brushed off my wet knees, and went back inside to call a taxi to take me to school. “And that’s another thing,” J.C. told me, pacing around the living room, “don’t fucking order cabs to take you around like you’re Bill-fucking-Gates, okay? First thing anyone’s going to say: hey, maybe the poor kid who suddenly starts tossing money around is up to no good.” “‘Don’t Fucking Do Stupid Shit,’” I repeated. “That’s right, ‘Don’t Fucking Do Stupid Shit,’” he told me. “What the fuck was going through your head? Do you have any idea what’s going to happen if you keep fucking up? I’m going to wind up in fucking jail. And it won’t be for fucking twenty minutes like you just did.” “I’m sorry,” I told him. “I’m sorry. What do you want me to tell you?” “Nothing,” he says, his anger dying off. He hung his head. “Look, Kev. My dad died too. I know it sucks. And I know you were close to him.” He paused, looked at me uncomfortably. “Do you want to talk about it and shit?” “No.” J.C. looked vaguely relieved. “You’ve got to look forward, you know? Be a man and all that shit. Take care of your mom, take care of your brother. I know you’re in the fucking dark right now, but you sell for a few more years, you get your smart ass out of fucking Colton and become a lawyer or a doctor or shit, and you never look back.” Promise me one thing. “I will. I promise.” “I don’t want your fucking word,” he tells me. “This isn’t a fucking gentleman’s handshake. I want you to Stop Fucking Doing Stupid Shit. Or else. You won’t like jail, believe me. And you won’t fucking like going through life with a felony record, either. And your dad’s ghost is gonna come back and fucking haunt both of us if you get arrested again.” Matt Barber cornered me at my locker the next morning after first period. I was bleary-eyed and, despite J.C.’s orders, I had called a taxi to take me to school. Not to my house--to suspicious, and J.C. lived across the street and I knew he’d be watching--but to the Sav-On parking lot, a mile away. Took it to Dante’s Pizza, and walked down the hill, walked onto campus, like I was anyone else, like a kid who actually lived in Moreno Valley. In an Abercrombie jacket. In a low, hushed voice, Matt said, “Dude, what happened yesterday?” I was too tired for any of this shit, to play dumb, to ask him how he knew I’d been arrested. “Family issue.” “Family issue,” he repeated, incredulously. “Harry Kwan saw you carted off in handcuffs outside Wendy’s, and everyone in first period was talking about it. They think you got busted.” He lowered his voice. “Did you get busted?” “No,” I told him. “It’s a long story.” That clearly wasn’t good enough for Matt Barber, arm akimbo. “I tried to steal a bike.” Matt Barber’s eyebrows shot up, disgusted at the ostentatious display of poverty. “Dude, you’re wearing a $120 jacket. You tried to steal a flipping bike?” Logic had not entered the bike equation until long after it happened. Because, yes, the clothes on my back at this precise moment probably cost the same price as a used Schwinn, like the one stolen from our backyard. The one I had tried to steal from outside the Moreno Valley Post Office. No rational explanation. It had not been a rational act. After I discovered the bike stolen, I took a cab to school. Went to class, sold shit by the payphones at Dante’s, nothing out of the ordinary. Matt went home. And I walked back down the hill towards school to contemplate how I’d get home. And there it was. Leaning up against a wrought iron planter outside the Moreno Valley Post Office. My bike. Well. Not my bike. Not the one my dad had bought for me. Glossier, maybe. Shinier. But still: my bike. It’s too much. No, you need it. The next bit was a blur. Really, people in Moreno Valley had to learn to lock their shit up. The wind in my hair. The feel of the pedals on my feet. Tires singing along the grooves of the street. And suddenly, it was five months ago, and I was my dad was saying, “How’d she handle?” Everything was fine. Placid. Normal. In its place. I was okay. Two blocks later, a cop car cornered me in a Wendy’s parking lot. “Well, it’s done,” I said to Matt Barber. “We’re just going to have to move on.” “I’m so disappointed in you,” my mom had said, when we walked out of the police station. “You don’t get to be disappointed in me,” I had told her. “Not with your track record.” “It’s not done,” Matt replied, icily. “People think you got busted.” He punctuated each word. “Do you have any idea what it’s going to take to convince them that you’re not, like, wearing a wire?” It seemed ludicrous to think the police would go through a CSI: Miami-caliber drug bust to snag a white teenager who sold weed to about a half-dozen upper-middle-class high school kids. But for Matt Barber, who had probably never seen cops anywhere but marching in a Fourth of July parade, I could feel the palpable tension in his voice, see it on his face. I was concerned only with the financial aspect. The potential loss of customers. Because I had fourteen dollars in my pocket, no reliable way of getting to and from school, and an overdue electric bill. No, no, no, no, no, no. “Literally, I’m paying you to convince people to buy our product,” I told him. My voice wanted to rise in volume, but I was cognizant that we were in the locker row. I settled on a punctuated rasp. “Seriously. I put my ass on the line every single day, and you have one thing to do and you can’t even fucking even do that. So why am I giving you a cut in the first place?” Matt Barber’s face twisted in sudden anger. Like he was going to strike me. But he didn’t. He slammed his fist against the locker and, without saying another word, turned his back on me. The next time I saw him, at lunch, he was all sunshine, in that chipper kind of Mormon way. Told me that we were meeting Vivian Chung and Brad Graham at Dante’s Pizza, three o’clock. I didn’t know what Matt Barber told them. But he did tell them. And there we were, selling four eighths. One half. In sum. I took another taxi, to the Colton Sav-On, and my mom was waiting for me at the kitchen table when I got home. “Sit,” she commanded. She looked like she had aged a year in the six weeks since my dad died. She had always been pretty; she looked like she aged a year. “I want to talk to you.” I specifically did not want to talk to her. “There’s nothing to talk about,” I tell her. “What’s done is done.” She doesn’t say anything. But I also knew that I didn’t have the strongest moral high-ground at the moment, considering I had been arrested about twenty-four hours ago. I sit. “I want you to know,” my mom told me, a twitch of a smile coming on her face, years suddenly falling off, “that the man whose bike you stole isn’t pressing charges.” That I was not expecting. I know I’m smiling. “Are you serious?” Suddenly, everything. Gotten my life back. No criminal record, no jail, no chaos. No permanent scarlet letter. “I found his number in the phone book,” Mom said, her smile growing. “And I called him. I had him over for coffee, and I just talked to him. About you, and I told him about your dad, and the tough time—” “No.” “And how Dad bought you the bike—” “No!” I gasped. “How could you tell him that?” “He was also an Army guy,” she continued, her smile falling a bit, her voice growing shakier, stuttering, as she continued down this script. “Desert Storm. Like Dad.” I was a blur of emotions, except all of them were anger. And she, she was still trying to smile. Proud, like she had painted the fucking Sistine Chapel, but oh, I was angry. “Why would you bring Dad into this?” I asked, standing up. Her smile evaporated. She aged again. “What?” Her voice had suddenly gone warbly. She hadn’t expected this reaction, and she didn’t quite understand what was happening. “You shouldn’t have brought him into this,” I said. “That’s the last thing he would’ve wanted. To be used like some get-out-of-jail-free card.” Linda’s mouth was agape. “He would’ve done anything he could to keep you out of jail.” “I’d rather be in jail. Then use him like this.” “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “He would’ve done anything to keep you out of jail--and you know what? He would’ve been devastated--devastated--if he got that call from the police department. If he knew I had to go down to the police station in the middle of the night to bail you out of jail. For stealing a bike.” “Don’t pretend like you knew him at all. He hated you with every fiber of his being.” I continued to stand, looking down on her. In silence. For maybe a second, two, three. Her eyes moved, independently of herself, to the clock over the microwave. It was 4:38. It was her newest thing, after spending the week after my father’s death in a stupor: she only drank between 5 and 8, and believe me, she did not start at 5:01. “He’s not here,” she said, her voice attempting to roll back the conversation. “I know you miss him. I miss him too. And the man whose bike you stole lost his father too, and he knows what it’s like to go through—” “I’m not going through anything.” “Yes, you are,” she said, her voice pleading. Her voice cracked: “We can’t go crazy.” Her eyes glanced back at the microwave. Like Duncan, she was betrayed by her eyes. A person was always betrayed by their eyes. “We’ll be fine,” I told her. “We’re going to be fine. I’ve got it under control.” I knew she wanted to ask me where I was getting the money where I could suddenly pay rent, with a stack of twenty dollar bills. I knew she wanted to ask me, but I knew she wouldn’t ask me. Her eyes abandoned me again, for the microwave clock. “We have to stick together,” she told me, without looking at me. “I love you.” I stood up from the table. “Is that it?” “Is what it?” “So you got him to drop the charges,” I told her. “Is that it?” She didn’t say anything. “And I want you home right after school for the next two weeks.” “Fuck off,” I said. And I crossed the kitchen to go back to my room. But then I turned back, threw open the refrigerator door. "It's five o'clock somewhere." We had cut out red construction paper hearts that day. Kindergarten. February 14, 1993. One, two, three hearts. One for Mom, one for Dad, one for Nicky. Traced each of their names in practiced block lettering. “You fucking cunt!” A roar, from the other side of my bedroom door. “What the hell were you thinking?” “Sharon usually does pickup.” The plea. Her voice always sounded so meek when she was pleading, when they were fighting, when she was drunk. They always had to fight when she was drunk and she always had to plead when she was drunk. “She called me and said her battery was dead. What was I supposed to do? Just leave the kids in front of the school? They’re five, Mike.” “So, let me get this entirely straight,” he spat, his voice seething, his anger threatening to boil over with each staccattoed word. “In the warped-fucking-lunatic world of Linda, you actually thought being a good mom meant: Getting in the car shitfaced. Driving to an elementary school with our three-year-old in the backseat. Picking up our five-year-old and someone else’s five-year-old, and driving them home. Drunk as a skunk. That’s you being a good mom?” “I didn’t have any other choice--” “You could have killed them!” He struggled to find the words, maybe. “You lied to me. You said you’d never drink when you were home alone with them. I ought to call the cops right now. Make it so you can never see the boys ever again.” There was a clatter. Something whizzing towards my dad’s head, knocking the lamp to the ground. And a thump. My mom being thrown against the bookcase. I couldn’t see what was going on from behind our closed bedroom door. Somehow, I knew exactly what happened. “Nicky,” I whispered. “Do you want to color?” Nicky looked at the door, then looked at me, gave me a toothy smile and a slight nod. “God forbid you should ever lift a finger to help me at home, you worthless piece of shit asshole!” “Okay, go to the desk,” I told Nicky. “I’ll get you something good.” “Take care of the children. Don’t fucking drink. I bust my ass every single day, and you have two fucking things to do and you can’t even fucking do that.” Nicky tottered over to the desk, climbed up on the chair. And I took a coloring book off the shelf. My favorite coloring book. Power Rangers. “You get a blue crayon,” I told him, glancing back towards the door, as if the chaos could spill over into us at any given moment. “Because I’m the Red Ranger, so you have to be Blue. Okay?” Nicky placidly accepted the blue crayon, and I put the coloring book on the desk, over the three red construction paper hearts, and flipped open to a clean page. “It’s just me and them, all day. You were gone a fucking year-and-a-half, and you’re still never here. I have to do everything. And I can’t get just one fucking moment of peace, ever.” “They fight evil,” I told Nicky, as I started coloring in the Red Ranger. “Like Daddy did in Kuwait.” “No, we absolutely can’t just put this behind us. I don’t love you. I hate you. How could you let this happen? How could anyone be so fucking stupid?” “The Red Ranger’s the leader,” I told Nicky. “But don’t worry: the Blue Ranger’s the second-coolest.” Nicky was very bad at coloring. Couldn’t color in the lines, couldn’t identify the correct characters. A wide abstract on his side of the page. The Black and Pink Rangers drowned in a swirl of blue. “How could you let this happen?” I scolded, softly. “You warped-fucking-lunatic.” Nicky smiled vacantly. I kissed him on the forehead. “Don’t worry, Nicky,” I told him. “It’s only for a little while.” Turned to another fresh page, the figures outlined in black-and-white, staring back up at us. We began to color again. There was nothing for a long time. No sound. And then our door opened, and there was my dad, standing at the door in his fatigues, the rouge of anger only just beginning to drain from his face. He came over, put his hand on my shoulder and kissed me on the forehead. “Power Rangers, huh? Wow!” I looked up at him, smiled, and nodded as proudly as I could. He wouldn’t want to know I had been listening. “I’m the Red Ranger,” I told him. “Nicky’s the Blue.” “That makes sense to me,” he said. “Which one should I be?” He plucked up a yellow crayon. “Can I be Yellow?” I giggled. “Daddy, the Yellow Ranger is the Chinese girl!” He laughed at that. He had a great laugh, a big, bawdy laugh, a celebration. I lived for making him laugh. He pulled a corner of the red construction paper hearts, unearthed the bounty. “Wow, did you make these in school?” “I made one for everyone,” he said. “For you, for Nicky, for Mom.” “You did a great job, bug,” he told me. “But you only need to make one for Mommy. Boys are only supposed to give girls Valentines.” “Oh.” “But I like mine anyway,” he said. “And I know Nicky and your mom are going to love theirs too. I’m going to hang all three on the refrigerator.” Peter Adam Becker wasn’t the kind of guy you’d give a Valentine to, either. Commitment! Romance! Homosexuality! V-Day passed, unremarked upon, the Wednesday before Mardi Gras 2007. Though, to be fair, we weren’t dating then. Not officially. We had hooked up one, two, three times. Just oral, though not by my choice. We had sexted a few times. We had sexted a lot of times. All scattered across two months, which meant quick bouts of passion. long stretches of preoccupation. I hadn’t seen him in about a week. “Well, looks like Operation: Get Our Pledges Laid Over Mardi Gras is coming along nicely,” Brett said, the Sunday before Mardi Gras, when he noticed Eddie Darien sitting with an attractive blonde across Bruff Cafeteria. “Connors, done. Darien, done. Becker, done. Fontenot, done, done, done. Callender, Revis, in progress.” I froze. For a split second, I wondered if they knew something. I wasn’t altogether opposed to that. It would be quick, wouldn’t it, like a band-aid? But clearly, they did not know. “Becker got laid before Baker?” I said, as nonchalantly as I could. “Who owes me five bucks?” Rowen and Tommy Pereira both laughed. As they did. Baker scowled at me for throwing him under the bus. As he did. Tommy’s plastic knife sat on the table between us. I wondered what would happen if I took the knife and plunged it into his hand. But, of course, I wouldn’t do that. That was not my thought. An obsessive-compulsive one. An errant thought from the either that I knew didn’t have to be acted on, wouldn’t be acted on. But what if it did, if I did? I took out my little bottle of hand sanitizer, squirted some into my hands, gave them something innocuous to do. “Well, not laid yet,” Tommy told me. “But they’re going out on a Friday, and everyone knows a Friday date is guaranteed sex. She’s hot too. Jackie Hughes--the one from Veronica’s high school that she brought around to all those Iota Chi parties in the fall? Tri-Gamma pledge?” He looked at me. "You're so OCD that you're washing your hands in the middle of meals now?" I never understood how OCD could become shorthand for cleanliness, a sunny Danny Tanner sort of disorder. OCD was filthy. I rubbed my hands together more theatrically. "Sorry I'm not a slob like you, Tommy." Of course, it was a plastic knife. It would probably break. Chris was ignoring us, still ruminating over the sexcapades of Peter Adam Becker. “See, I told you all, Becker’s just picky when it comes to girls,” he said. “I know he had a thing for Michaela Birdrock. He was holding out for a hot chick, and now he’s got one. Case closed.” Sure, Chris. That was it. “Are you picky too, Baker?” Brett asked him. “Is that your problem?” Chris gave him the finger. “Unfortunately for Baker,” Rowen added, “it’s the girls that are too picky.” That morning, Becker had texted me, “I want to put my lips around your big cock.” I wondered what he had texted Miss Jackie Hughes. And I knew shouldn’t have done it, but I did. I angled my phone away from the group, and typed: "I hear you have a date with some chick?” There was no response for maybe thirty seconds. Then: "It's complicated." "No," I replied. "It's really not.” I thought that was a sufficiently biting way to end it. It’s not that I thought Becker and I were boyfriends. It wasn’t that. It was the thought of him fucking me on the side, while he strung along some poor girl. It was like Jenna. How could you do that to a person? I wouldn’t be complicit this time. I wouldn’t be complicit in destroying some girl because her boyfriend couldn’t be honest that he liked dudes. I had planned a much longer freeze-out of Becker, but I saw him thirty-six hours later. Lundi Gras night. After midnight: officially Mardi Gras Day. I had come off eight hours of my shift at Bistro Napoleon, a server job I worked just long enough each week to sell pot to the rest of the waitstaff. Jamal had gotten me the job. My hookup in New Orleans. Friend of J.C. Friend or relative: J.C. had described Jamal as his cousin, but Jamal was black and J.C. was a very pale Mexican, so I didn’t know how literally to take it. Becker was already drunk when I got to Pat O’Brien’s, cornered me at the patio bar. He snatched my drink away the minute the bartender had given it to me, held it out next to him, and then gave me a disfiguredly drunk smile. “Still mad at me? Am I forgiven yet?” Becker was not the kind of person who saw a lot of consequences. Which made freezing him out punative justice, really. Plus, I was too tired to have this conversation. I really just wanted my drink. “Look, I’m not going to pursue things with that girl,” he told me, his voice falling to a very faint whisper. “I don’t want to be with her. I want to be with you.” “I just served rich people cocktails for the last eight hours,” I told him, paying the bartender. “Can I please have my drink?” “No,” he said. “I need you to forgive me.” Becker was not the kind of person who saw a lot of menial labor, either. I sighed, dramatically. “You’re so high-maintenance. Look, it was really just work. All week. My world does not revolve around you, Peter Adam Becker. It does not. And yes, now I’m just legitimately pissed at you. Because we're having fun with this whole thing, and you're like, 'Oh, maybe I'll date some girl, even though I'm gay.'" When he was drunk, his retreats into himself were even more pronounced. Terrified that, at a crowded bar, someone had overheard me. No one had. There was no one from Tulane within earshot. I was exhausted, in every possible way. And he had stolen my drink. “Okay,” he said, apparently convinced that we were in safe territory. “So let’s pick back up where we left off.” He smiled again, that same drunk smile. “I’ll let you fuck me tonight.” An hour later, horizontal. I grabbed Becker by the calves, pressed his knees to his shoulders, and leaned my dick against his ass crack. The kid was a natural. Wrapping his legs around me like he’d done this a million times before. And yet, clearly very nervous. I moved my lips to his jawline. I burrowed into his neck, and he moaned. "I'm going to fuck you so hard," I whispered, my lips a breath away from his neck. "Take that bottom virginity. Fuck you all night long." "I want you to fuck me," he told me. Confidently. He meant it. Even if he wasn’t sure if he meant it. “Tell me you want me inside you.” "I want you inside me.” I lubed up my dick, and Becker was staring at me, eyes wide. Observing the wildlife. "That much?" I said. "You're going to thank me in about thirty seconds," I told him. Becker’s knees were still on his chest. Afraid to move. His pink asshole, framed by a light dusting of hair. Winking at me. I placed one lubed-up finger against him, and he squirmed. “Man up,” I whispered. And he did. He stopped squirming. He was resolute. Not going to disobey me. Not when I was so close to taking his bottom virginity. I pushed my finger in deeper. Felt his prostate. And Becker knew I felt it, because he let out an involuntary moan. "Yeah," I whispered, as I probed his hole with a second finger. "I knew you'd like it when you got used to it." Becker’s ass clamped down on the second finger. "Too much," he said, severely. "No, too much." I didn’t take it out. "You ever take a really big shit?" "That's the last thing I want to think about right now." "I just mean, your ass can handle something a lot bigger than this." "But that's outbound," he told me, though he seemed to be relaxing--I could feel him relaxing. "This is running counter to the flow of traffic." Becker was always going to make excuses. But I wanted to be in his ass and I wasn’t going to let him explain his way out of this one. So I waited for him to relax again, prodded his prostate, he moaned, grunted, was breathing heavily. "You'll take it like a champ." It took more than a couple tries. No great city was built in a day. And fuck. That virgin hole was the tightest thing I’d ever stuck my dick in. Like a glove. God. Fuck. "You're so tight.” He grunted in pleasure, with the rhythm of my hips. Then, “Fuck me.” And he didn’t have to tell me that twice. When I fucked an ass, I liked to fuck an ass. Use it. Punish it. Becker was in ecstasy. Those eyes: rolled back, glazed over. Lost in a trance, but not lost in his own head; he was lost in me. My hips picked up speed. He was moaning again. He was saying things like, “Fuck me. Fuck me harder.” And I gave him harder. By the end, I was giving him as hard as I could, taking my dick out and ramming it back in, and Becker was squeezing me in close, wrapping his legs tightly around my waist. Like he wanted me as close to him as possible. I leaned down, I kissed him, but I didn’t stop fucking him and he didn’t stop pulling me in, until I was finally about to fall over the edge. “I’m getting close,” I said, but I barely had time to say that, because I felt myself spontaneously erupting in the condom. And Becker was too--suddenly spewing cum across his chest, as if he we were both on a timer. God. So fucking good. I collapsed on his chest, I kissed his cheek. “Good job.” “Yeah, well, I don’t know if this qualifies as ‘I’m going to fuck you all night,’” he told me, with a smile. “Big talk.” “I was really thinking more of your health. You know, I don’t want to crash that tight little asshole of yours on the test drive.” And there were moments when Becker came out of nowhere, lifted the veil on the sexual being that he kept locked away, a princess in a tower: “Fuck me. I can handle you.” “Okay,” says Sébastien, “Never have I ever…” He pauses, looks down at his three outstretched fingers, resting on top of the bar top at Le Manifeste. “Never have I ever had sex with a woman.” Everyone’s eyes go to Nina, who scowls, puts a finger down. “I can’t believe I’m playing with three men and I’m the only person who’s ever had sex with a girl.” “I tried,” Sébastien says. “I tried too,” I tell her. “Dyke,” offers Aaron Ackerman. Nina gives him the finger. “One girl, one time. I went to an all-girl’s Catholic high school. It’s like when you’re in prison and you wind up with another inmate because they’re the only option you have?” “So you’ve been to prison?” Aaron asks. “That’s how you know this?” Nina scowls again. “Never have I ever been arrested. Happy?” Everyone’s gazes fall on me. I lower a finger. I have only known Nina, Aaron, and Sébastien for a week, and somehow we can all already anticipate who’s the likeliest to get knocked out. Though I can’t say I appreciate the expectation that I’m the one most likely to have been arrested. “Story time!” Aaron says to me, clapping his hands together eagerly. “You were in jail?” “I was not in jail,” I reply. “I was arrested. I was never convicted.” Aaron’s clearly enthralled by this. “What you go down for?” “It was a misunderstanding.” Debate whether or not I should tell the stories, and I decide not to. Aaron looks like he’s about to say something further, but I cut him off before he can get any words out. “Never have I ever been to a bar mitzvah.” “Oh, now you’re just being vindictive,” he replies, putting a finger down. “Never have I ever had sex in this bar.” Sébastien looks at me, then back to Aaron. We both put fingers down. “So, Sébastien,” Aaron says, leaning over on the bar with her elbows. “How’s Kevin in the sack?” Nina giggles. I know I look mortified. Sébastien, vaguely amused. “Very enjoyable,” he says, judiciously. “Big?” Aaron asks. Sébastien smiles, looks at me again, back to Aaron. “Yes.” Aaron smirks at me. “So the guidebooks are accurate, then.” “By ‘guidebooks,’ do you happen to mean Ben Farber gossiping about me?” I ask him. “Oh, naturally,” he replies. “Never tell Ben Farber anything.” He looks back to Sébastien, holds out his hands. “So, how big we talking?” “I think Sébastien’s painted a vivid enough picture for you,” I reply. “Sébastien, your turn.” “Oh,” he says. Caught off-guard by the reminder that we were, in fact, playing a game. He pauses. “Never have I ever had sex on a beach.” I only have one finger left. “What if it was just a blowjob?” Aaron smiles. “Put it down, Kev, you know you want to. You’re officially the winner.” “Officially the loser,” Nina corrects. “Sex on the beach, sex in bars: I’d call that aspirational,” Aaron says. “But what do you know, you’re busy perving on Catholic school girls.” Nina gives him the finger again. We’re greeted by a sudden cold breeze--the door to the nearly-empty bar swings open. “Duncan!” Sébastien exclaims, setting down his bar rag. The other three of us spin around on our barstools, and yes: Duncan. Wearing dark blue scrubs underneath a camel hair overcoat, looking utterly exhausted. A whole day of delivering babies, maybe longer than a day. Duncan gives a polite wave as he quickly makes his way over. Leans over the bar, gives Sébastien a peck on the lips. They exchange brief words in French, and then they head into the back room together. “So I’m guessing that’s the famous Duncan,” Aaron says. He has this smile, like he’s going to say more once I confirm that is, in fact, Duncan. I don’t say anything. I pretend I didn’t hear. Aaron goes onto his next line without me anyway: “That’s the guy you’ve mentioned about twenty times in the past week?” I wrinkle my nose. Don’t say anything still. “Well, this has been a scintillating conversation,” Aaron says. “He’s cute. When you break them up and keep him for yourself, make sure you send Sébastien in my direction, yeah?” I glance over to the door to the back room, to make sure Duncan and Sébastien aren’t coming, then back to Aaron. “What are you talking about?” “You’re literally the worst liar I’ve ever seen,” Aaron tells me, rolling his eyes. “I don’t know how you stayed in the closet for twenty-one years.” “I don’t know,” Nina tells him, studying me closely. “I didn’t get the gay vibe right away from Kevin.” “That’s because Kevin’s hot,” Aaron replies. “And everyone’s an optimist. Even you, Neens.” Nina smiles. “Speaking of fucking hot people, Kevin: my friend Ava’s back together with your hot friend Matt. So we’re friend-in-laws again.” God. Run, Ava, run. “Ava, the one that’s coming to visit you for spring break?” Nina nods. I cannot imagine spending an entire week in Paris with Matt Barber’s girlfriend. What on earth would I say to Ava? The same things I had to say to Jenna? “That’s cool,” I tell her, with what I hope is nonchalance. “He’s not really a friend. We just went to high school together.” “I’ll see if he remembers you,” Nina replies. Oh, yeah, his name sounds familiar, Matt Barber would say. As if the rest of me is less so. Matt, who, unlike me, is a very good liar. Duncan and Sébastien emerge from the back room. Sébastien goes back behind the bar to serve the couple at the other end, Duncan comes over to us. “Sébastien had my housekey,” Duncan tells us. “He lost his. As usual.” He catches my eye, gives me a soft and enigmatic smile. ”Hey, you.” “Hey,” I tell him, trying to be just flirty enough. I’m suddenly aware of Aaron and Nina. “Sorry--this is Duncan. Sébastien’s boyfriend. Duncan, this is Nina and Aaron.” “Well, I’ve heard a lot about both of you,” Duncan says. “Nice to put names with the faces.” Aaron gives me a sinister smile, like he’s about to say something incriminating, but he doesn’t. “Very nice to meet you too,” Aaron replies, barely containing his smile. Duncan glances back to Sébastien, then to me. “Well, I’ll make a better impression when I’m not coming off a twenty-four hour shift, believe me,” he replies, neutrally. To me, he adds, “Do I look as exhausted as I feel?” “You look amazing,” I tell him. Aaron’s smile grows, I try not to look at him. “Can you stay for a drink?” Aaron is still staring at me. Duncan glances out towards the street. “My car’s idling. I’m on my way to dinner.” “I’ll walk you out,” I tell him, and he doesn’t protest. I follow him out of Le Manifeste, out to the street. It’s a cold evening--I don’t have my jacket. Cross my arms, as Duncan heads over to a black Audi with its hazards on, parked crookedly in front of a fire hydrant. “So where are you going for dinner?” Duncan turns around, on the edge of the curb. “Neuilly,” he says, his face again neutral. “Suburbs. My mum’s having me over for dinner.” “Oh,” I reply. “What are you doing afterwards?” His face remains expressionless, his eyes alarmed. He takes several seconds to try to anticipate the question. “Reckon I’ll go to sleep, since I’ve been working for the last twenty-four hours.” “Well,” I say, trying to be as delicate as possible. “If you wake up and have some pathological need to grab a drink, feel free to hit me up.” Duncan leans back against his Audi, smirks slightly at me. “I’m still trying to figure out what you want from me.” “Who says I want anything?” Duncan’s pale eyes smile when he does. “You’re twenty-one on temporary assignment,” he tells me. “I hope you don’t take it personally when I tell you that this has gone as far as it can go, and believe me: that’s not easy for me to say, when you look like you do.” I lean in. I kiss him. And he kisses back. For a good few seconds, he kisses me back, his hand up on my arm. Until he breaks it. “This isn’t a good idea,” he whispers to me, his lips still a fraction of an inch from mine, like they might go back in for a second round, but they don’t. He backs away. Leaning further into his car. Still staring at me, his eyes sad eyes again, his face expressionless. “Sébastien can do whatever he wants with Boubou,” I tell him. “Why can’t you do whatever you want with me?” He closes his eyes, shakes his head. And I know I’ve said the wrong thing. “Two wrongs don’t make a right, and we both know that.” “I just know you’re one of the good ones,” I tell him. “There’s something about you and I just--I don’t know. I know I want to see more of you.” “You just want what you can’t have.” “That’s not it,” I tell him. “Call me at the Yé-Yé when you’re back from dinner. Please.” “No,” he says. He maybe amends: “No promises.” I say nothing else. Neither does he. Duncan crosses around the Audi, gets into the driver’s seat, and--with one look to me, and a slight wave--he drives off. I watch him go. Watch his car go to the end of the block, and turn away. And then the street is empty. Duncan, impermanent. “So when’s the wedding?” Aaron asks me, as I sit back down on my barstool. I glance over to Sébastien, who is still chatting with the couple at the end of the bar. “We’re just friends, smartass,” I tell him. “We might grab a drink later.” Aaron wrinkles his nose. “Kevin: you in danger, girl.”
  13. “Oh, God, you’re so fucking tight, Peter,” said Luke Avery, as the head of his cock slowly pressed inside my hole. It was not the lube Kevin used. It was runnier, less viscous. For as slender as Luke was, his hands were strong; his hands grabbed each of my hips, and he slowly started to sink the rest of his dick in. He wasn’t as big as Kevin, but I felt it. “Stop, stop,” I said. “More lube.” Maybe that was what happened when you fell out of the habit of bottoming regularly. Which hadn’t had a chance to happen all semester. When I had Kevin. Luke was a good sport. He pulled the tip of his dick out of my ass. I could only see the headboard, his twin-sized childhood headboard, a dark wooden ship’s wheel hanging over it. I heard the telltale sound of more lube squirting into Luke’s hand. And then I felt the head of his cock resting on my crack. “You ready?” “Yeah,” I told him. “Fuck me.” I groaned slightly, as he slowly slid his dick inside my ass, and he whispered, “Shh, shh, you can’t make noise,” even though no one was home. But even still, I didn’t. And then he was in. All the way in. And I perked my head up, because suddenly he was in, and it felt full, and not the least bit painful. Behind me, Luke began to pump his hips, drill his cock into me. It felt so fucking good, every time he fucked me. It didn’t feel like Kevin. Kevin was more rhythmic, maybe. He had musicality, he was musicality. I wrapped my legs around him, pulling him in tightly. Luke Avery was a jackhammer. Pounding my ass again, again, again, like it was a race against the clock, but you know, he hit my spot every single damn time. He moved his hands up my sweaty back, to my shoulders. And he lifted one of his knees and put his foot on the mattress, to change the angle that he was fucking my ass. And fuck. He went in deeper, deeper, still jackhammering me as fast as he could. I was grunting with each fast stroke. Moaning. Trying not to moan, trying not to make noise, even though we both knew everyone was out for the day. Luke’s breathing grew heavy. “I’m getting close,” he said. Without a word, I started, dutifully, jacking my dick so I could finish too. Kevin lasted longer. Luke’s left hand fell down to my chest, and he pulled me up, so my back was against the front of his torso, and I turned my head to kiss him. He was a good kisser--a deep kisser. And he kept fucking me with his incredible speed. I was getting close too. I could feel the energy building as I furiously stroked, trying to match the pace of Luke’s hammering of my asshole. And then he thrust me down again, and let out a guttural moan, and the fast fucking abruptly ground to a halt, as he came inside the condom, came deep inside my ass. I came too, sprayed a big load all over his childhood headboard, his twin headboard. I felt Luke’s dick slowly pull out of me. And then I turned around to face him. The condom was still on his dick, sparkling in the dim light of his bedroom, the reservoir filled with a considerable load of cum, about the size that he had dumped down my throat on Christmas Eve. His dick wasn’t nearly as big as Kevin’s, but Luke’s body was smaller, thinner, that it protrude out impressively, at attention. His balls hung low. Very low. Much lower than Kevin’s. They were fun to suck, to pop one in your mouth at a time, watch Luke Avery reach uncharted realms of pleasure. Luke pulled the condom off, crumbled it in the palm of his hand, and threw it onto the nightstand. It had been six months since I’d been fucked by a guy wearing a condom. And never, since I’d been fucked by a guy who wasn’t Kevin Malley. “Come here,” he said, but he was the one who moved, wriggled over to me on his knees. And he put one hand on my back, and one hand on my shoulder, and pulled me in for another deep kiss. “Fuck, Peter,” he told me, when he broke the kiss. “Your ass is… shit, you take dick like a champ.” Luke Avery did not have the post-coital eloquence of Kevin Malley. I could imagine Kevin--lounging on the white sheets of his bed, smile that lopsided smile, tell me he loved me. Sing, maybe. Quote St. Thomas Aquinas or Aristotle or his father. It was the first time Luke and I had full-on sex. More than two weeks after we sucked each other off in his parked car, two weeks after Christmas. Though not for lack of effort. For lack of space. We were both at the mercy of two parents and two siblings. Someone always seemed to be home at both of our houses at any given time. My car was in New Orleans. His car, which was really his sister’s car I found out, seemed to be permanently moored at Tysons Galleria as Claire Avery and her friends systematically deployed their Christmas money. And then, today, when lightning struck, two days before I was due to go back to Tulane. A message from Luke Avery, on AIM: “Everyone’s out for the night. What are you up to?” Eight minutes later, I was in their foyer, pawing at the zipper on his jeans as we stumbled up the stairs to his bedroom. He had been worth the wait. It felt like I had respawned with new life, I was so pent-up horny from just jacking myself off every day. Luke kissed me again. “That was unbelievably hot.” And then he slapped me on the shoulder. “I put the jacuzzi on before you got here. It should be heated by now.” It was forty-three degrees outside. It was forty-three degrees outside, snow still on the ground from Christmas, but Luke Avery had the jacuzzi on. “Come on,” he said, grabbing my hand. “It’s great once you get in.” There was a certain kind of intimacy in the way he grabbed my hand. Almost like we had been doing something other than a family-friends-with-benefits sort of booty-call. “I don’t have a swimsuit,” I told him, as he pulled me . Luke giggled, surveying my very naked body. “I think you’re fine just the way you are.” I could feel lube slowly trickling out of my ass. That low-viscosity lube he had used. “Okay,” I told him, as he led me down the stairs. “You’re sure no one’s coming home?” “Mom and Dad are in New York for some banquet,” he replied. “He’s giving a keynote. Coming back on the noon Acela tomorrow. Ryan’s already back at WashU. Claire’s up in Baltimore for a concert, won’t be getting back until after midnight.” He kissed me again, then looked very pleased with himself. “Which gives us, what, four hours of safety? Minimum?” Now that I had already came, I wasn’t exactly planning on spending the entire evening with Luke Avery. He was a nice guy and all, but we had barely ever hung out one-on-one, without the moderating factors of our respective families. And now that I wasn’t horny anymore, the prospect of his company seemed somehow less necessary. But he had grabbed my hand. He looked so excited. I’d never been in a jacuzzi in forty-three-degree weather. I had never been in a jacuzzi naked. I had never been in a jacuzzi with Luke Avery’s pale thigh pressed against me, his hand wandering absently down my leg. And maybe Luke Avery didn’t last as long as Kevin, but he was already gearing up for round two. Or so I gathered, when he moved a hand to my other hip, when he placed his delicate lips just behind my ear and kissed down my jawline. He knew what he was doing. He was whetting my appetite, giving me just teases of what was next to come. Because he then backed off, moving further down the concrete jacuzzi bench so we were no longer touching, and he said, “I love being home.” “I hate it,” I told him. “I can’t wait to get back to New Orleans.” “Well, Evanston’s about twenty-below right now,” he told me. “And I don’t have a cute guy sitting next to me most of the time.” I did. Or I used to. I used to have Kevin sitting next to me. Kevin, in his bed. Kevin, with his lopsided smile and his strong arms and his huge dick, all waiting for me on the other side of the Becker Door. Underneath the water, underneath the bubbles, I could see that Luke’s dick was starting to get hard again. And I had to smile at that, because maybe he couldn’t last as long as Kevin but he sure could recharge in a fraction of the time. He noticed that I saw him getting hard again, and he took that as an invitation to come back over. I didn’t turn him away. Luke Avery wasn’t smolderingly sexy like Kevin Malley--he was toned but thin, he was cute but not hot, his glasses had fogged up from the hot water and the cold air. But there was something that drew me to him. Maybe just proximity. Maybe just horniness. But he wanted me. Which was something Kevin did not. He straddled one of my legs this time. I could feel his hard dick underneath the water, resting against my thigh, and he returned his lips to the little bit of skin behind my ear. “Are you vers?” he asked. “Or just a bottom?” I was vers, at least on paper. Experientially, less so. I had topped exactly twice: once for Brandon from Loyola, and once for Kevin. And I had bottomed exactly a million times: 999,999 times for Kevin, once for Luke. “Yeah, vers, I guess,” I whispered back. He was still kissing down my jawbone. “That wasn’t convincing. What do you want to do for round two?” I hadn’t been anticipating a round two. I had anticipated getting pounded by Luke Avery, and then heading back down the street to my house, happy and fulfilled and ready to return to Tulane on Wednesday. But Luke Avery’s hard dick against my thigh, his legs straddling mine, his lips, the steam. I didn’t have to answer the question; his lips had run out of jawbone. And we were making out, full-on making out, in the Avery family jacuzzi. I ran my hand along his wet back, used my other hand to grip his ass. He had a nice ass--more plump that you’d think, for someone with such a skinny frame. And I pulled him closer to me, his rock hard dick against my quickly-growing one. And he had his hands around my neck, was holding me close, writhing on my lap, and kissing me, hungry. We broke the kiss just long enough to get out of the jacuzzi, to wrap our naked bodies in a pair of towels. And we kept moving through the house, in the general direction of his bedroom, slowly, limbs wrapped around each other, our lips connected. Rolling along walls and through rooms and up the stairs, until we finally got to his room, still intertwined. “How about you fuck me for a little bit,” he whispered, “and then I’ll finish you off.” I didn’t respond directly to that. “Get on your back,” I told him, and he smiled at me, hungrily, and then he lay down on the edge of his twin bed, spread his legs wide in the air to face me. He had a nice ass. A round pink hole, a dusting of light hair. The last time I had topped was forever ago. Drunk. And drunk the time before that. I was not drunk. I reached for a condom, tore it open, and slowly rolled it onto my dick. And then I took a bottle of the slippery, slimy lube--silicone lube. Kevin refused to use silicone lube. “It’ll stain my sheets.” I lubed up my dick. This was so foreign to me. Topping. Had Kevin Malley turned me into a bottom? Or was I out of practice? Everything had been Kevin. All my experiences, all my tastes. Everything, a million times a day, even when I didn’t realize it, were Kevin. I lined my dick up with Luke Avery’s awaiting hole. And I slowly pushed it in, as slowly as I could so I didn’t have to take it out if I put it in too fast. Luke wasn’t saying anything. He was pulling his legs back further, easy access. I sunk myself all the way in. All asshole was tight, wasn’t it. I couldn’t think of a reference sample: I had been too drunk to remember the tightness, the contours of Kevin Malley or Brandon from Loyola. But I had bottomed enough that I had a pretty decent idea of how to get the job done. I bucked my hips, slowly at first, then a little bit faster. And Luke seemed to be enjoying himself, moaning at the right places, right times, rubbing his hand on his chest, eyes slung back in their sockets. I thrust harder into Luke, and the harder I fucked him, the more I could feel the lube in my ass from before, even after the jacuzzi, just beginning to trickle out, knocked loose. Could still feel my hole opened and expecting, and I slowed the pace, leaned over to him and I whispered, “Want to finish me off?” Luke opened his eyes, smiled, gave a nod. And I slowly pulled my dick out of his ass. Luke didn’t move. He was staring up at me, as I pulled off the condom, and threw it onto the floor. “Want to ride it?” he asked. I nodded. “Grab me a condom, will you?” I leaned over to the nightstand, grabbed him a condom and the little bottle of lube. Luke leaned upwards, rolled the condom onto his hard dick, and squired lube into his hand. I put my knees on either side of Luke’s hips, and slowly lowered myself onto his cock. He went in easier this time, practically slid right inside me until I was down to the hilt, felt the light dusting of his pubes against my ass. And he started bucking his hips up into me, his big balls clapping against my ass, jackhammering me again. I had my hands on his chest, pushing myself off of his dick as he thrust into me, letting him jam back up inside me. And it was fucking ecstasy--I didn’t want to admit how incredible it was, how incredible bottoming was, that I wanted his dick inside me, pounding me, every single inch of it. We were both breathing heavily. I could feel a mix of sweat and chlorine water dripping off of me, onto his body, and suddenly it was too much pleasure--he only fucked me for a minute or two before I shot everything I had all over his pale, skinny chest. Tripp was practicing walking backwards down McAlister Drive, which made him obscenely difficult to be seen in public with. “Could you imagine,” he was telling us, as he fended off the weekday lunchtime traffic back towards the Lavin-Bernick Center, “anything more embarrassing than tripping in front of an entire group of prospective students and their parents?” Jordan gave me disdainful eyes. That she could, in fact, think of something more embarrassing at that precise moment. Trump had accepted a job as a tour guide with the Tulane Office of Admissions. Not tour guide, excuse me: “Green Wave Ambassador.” Tripp had corrected us multiple times. He was incredibly proud of his commission. I wasn’t exactly sure if he was getting paid or not, not that Tripp needed any extra spending money, considering the checks he received on the 1st and 15th of every month in a monogrammed Lilly Pulitzer envelope from Miss Julia. There was a girl in a skimpy jean skirt, Ugg boots, and a puff jacket on her BlackBerry with her head down. Both Jordan and I saw her coming. Neither of us took action, and Tripp proceeded to smack directly into her. “Sorry!” Tripp said, quickly, as she fired daggers into his face. Unconcerned, he turned back to us with a smile. “Built in 1940, McAlister Auditorium is the world’s largest self-suspended concrete dome, and New Orleans’s largest regularly-scheduled cinema.” Jordan’s eyes were increasingly dire. “Is it too early to drink?” I asked. It was one o’clock, but it was also a Friday. Gray area, in the life of a Tulane student. “If you start drinking at one, you’re going to be wasted for the party,” Tripp said, “and Erik said we have to be alert to meet freshmen.” I admired Tripp’s dedication to the rules. Erik, who was the new rush chair, had meticulously been planning the events of rush week and had threatened us with unspoken hardship if we didn’t comply. New edicts from On High--the Tulane Office of Greek Life--had insisted that rush week be dry this year. But since the Fraternity Council still got to set the dates, school-sanctioned rush week had been shortened to two days, Wednesday and Thursday. Which meant we had the rest of the week to plan “unofficial events,” rather than be forced to spend seven long nights with sober freshmen. A classic Tulane loophole. At any rate, there was a zero percent chance I would actually meet any freshmen, whether I was alert or intoxicated. The smart money was on me and Chris Baker, who happened to be Iota Chi’s new president for calendar year 2008, retreating into the back corner to survey the chaos going on around us and slowly drinking ourselves into oblivion. Tripp started walking like a normal person by the time we reached the LBC for lunch. We were meeting Erik, who had grabbed us a table, currently occupied by Austin Berkowitz and Logan McClendon. “Oh yeah, rush everywhere, definitely,” he was saying, as nonchalantly bro-ey as possible. All part of his pitch. “I’m not saying Iota Chi’s right for everyone, but you know, sometimes you’re just having a blast somewhere and things click. You know?” Austin and Logan both nodded enthusiastically. They were sparkling like the two poles of attractiveness that they were--Logan, tall and lanky and blonde and Californian, and Austin, more muscular, reddish-brown hair, Jewish, Long Island. They were both gorgeous, but something about knowing that Austin was secretly gay made me think about him more, in that way. “How’s Justine?” Logan asked me. “I chatted with her a little over break, but I haven’t seen her since we got back.” And something about Logan’s relentless pursuit of my sister made me think less about him, in that way. Chatted with her a little over break. I must’ve worn my disapproval of Logan’s insistent courting of my sister too loudly, because Erik swooped in before I had a chance to say anything that could ruin the sale. “I hear Justine’s a lock for Tri-Gamma,” Erik pivoted, refusing to cede any bit of Logan McClendon to me. “We always mix with them--they absolutely love us. Do you know Veronica Tandy?” Logan didn’t appear especially interested in Veronica Tandy, which Erik seemed to realize but still thought it was preferable than letting me hear from Logan about how he wanted to bang my sister. But he was polite; he nodded. “I think I’ve met her before.” “Great girl,” Erik said, still in character, a little too patronizingly. “She’s their new social chair, and all of her guy friends are Iota Chi, so obviously, we’re going to get first crack at all of the elite mixers. Mardi Gras, homecoming, all that stuff.” All of the elite mixers. I refrained from rolling my eyes, only because I knew Erik would kill me. I mentally retracted myself from the conversation, and looked over to Jordan, who was whoring over Austin Berkowitz like Erik was whoring over Logan McClendon. “I mean, what else are you going to do on Wednesdays,” Jordan was saying, in the middle of her own sales pitch. “It’s a free meal. And Hillel’s really a great community. I mean, Tulane’s about thirty percent Jewish but sometimes it feels like so much less, you know?” Tulane absolutely did not feel less than thirty percent Jewish. Tripp, across from me, seemed equally unwilling to enter each conversation. “Guess what?” “What,” I replied. “Marshall, Ted, and Nathan are all coming for Mardi Gras,” he said. “I’m going to need to use your floor.” Tripp’s best friends from high school. Ted was the one that piqued my interest the most, because he was gay. I’d only met the guy once, over a year ago when I did Thanksgiving at Tripp’s house in Pass Christian, Mississippi. We’d all gone out on Marshall’s dad’s boat, and I changed in the same room as Ted--remembered his red briefs, remembered his short little swim trunks. Of course, I didn’t make a move or anything. That would’ve been ridiculous, would’ve outed me to Tripp, to everyone. But I remembered that. I imagined Ted staying on my floor. Patrick off at Annie’s for the night, a few too many drinks, one thing leading to another. Because I was single now, wasn’t I? And that was what single people were allowed to do? Seduce random strangers who happened to be on their bedroom floor? “You can’t ask for a favor by saying ‘guess what’,” I told him. Tripp smiled. “You can have Nathan. He’s the cleanest.” I decided I would not hold Tripp to that commitment when it was time for Mardi Gras--it was an early Mardi Gras; three weeks away--in an effort to snag Ted, but I said, “Fine.” “You should drag one of your friends from back home down,” he said. “Make it a party.” I couldn’t imagine how much more of a party, say, Grant Prendergast or Sarah Bernard would contribute--two people who were almost foreign to me at this point. I’d met them each for lunch, just once, during the four weeks we were back home, and we spent most of the time either reliving moments from high school that seemed dull in the bright lights of college, or telling college stories at each other without context. High school had ended eighteen months ago. That was it? I felt almost bleached of history by this point, like I had woken up from a fugue state with no past and only a present. That I had left Peter behind, that I was Adam now, or Becker, or whatever anyone deigned to call me. Except Kevin. Kevin had not been left in the past. In eighteen months, would he be gone too? Would he be reduced to some vestigial relic? Another line in the table of contents of the Big Book of Becker, after Grant Prendergast and Sarah Bernard and Harrington School Speech and Debate? I wondered about Kevin. Wondered about where he was, wondered if he was kissing someone else under the Eiffel Tower, someone who didn’t mind that he was doing it. No. Kevin had been in Paris for about twenty-four hours. He wouldn’t have had time to meet anyone, let alone whisk him away to the Eiffel Tower. I wondered about Kevin but I had set myself ground rules, some very specific ground rules. I was not, under any circumstances, allowed to actively visit Kevin’s Facebook profile. But incidental contact was allowed: if he appeared in my newsfeed, if he posted on Baker or Veronica or Tommy or anyone’s wall, I could read the post. So far, there hadn’t been incidental contact. Last night, drunkenly, I had gone to his profile--glanced only for a second before exing out of the window, like I had accidentally loaded porn in a library. No updates since he was tagged in Veronica’s “Whatever, the Tandys Invented Chrismakkuh” album, December 27, 2007. “Or not,” Tripp said. “Oh,” I said. “Sorry, I’m just thinking about one of my classes.” “Yeah, Syllabus Week is a real struggle,” he replied, rolling his eyes. Tripp could only be sarcastic for so long before feeling guilty: “But, no, I actually have my first model due on Wednesday--can you believe that?” Tripp talked ad nauseum about his architecture major, but I didn’t retain anything. I didn’t know if making a model by Wednesday was hard work or not, but I trusted Tripp, so I shook my head somberly, in solidarity. We were one semester shy of being halfway through college, and it wasn’t lost on me that Tripp was the only one of my friends who was actually going to be qualified to do something when he left. Maybe I would wind up at law school, as Nonna had commanded. On either side, Logan and Austin, who had already finished their lunch, were getting up. “But yeah, I’ll see you tonight,” Logan was saying, his voice chipper, almost like he was enjoying the attention from Erik Fontenot. I could understand it. Erik was hot--not that I looked at him that way anymore, but he was objectively hot; I’d seen him in a speedo when he was playing water polo. And even though Logan was straight (and also hot), there was a level of asinine that people were willing to forgive if it drooled out of the mouth of someone hot. Imagine if I had said something like “all of the elite mixers.” Austin looked to Jordan. “And I’ll see you Wednesday too.” The marks filed out of the Lavin-Bernick Center. Both Jordan and Erik looked exceptionally pleased with their honeytraps. “I think we’re going to get them,” Erik said, still staring in the direction that they went. “I think we got this.” “We’re not going to get them,” said Tripp. “They’re going Zeta.” “No,” Erik told him. “I have a good feeling. Austin’s not going Zeta. And Logan’s not going to go Zeta is Austin’s going Iota Chi. If Logan goes Iota Chi, we’ve got them both.” “Speaking of Zetas and the McClendons,” said Jordan, “Michaela said Tate’s not pleased you’re going after his brother.” “Hey,” Erik said, throwing up his hands in absolution, “I’m rushing every cool freshman who comes through our doors. Don’t blame the messenger.” I didn’t think that qualified as messenger-blaming, but Jordan didn’t look all that concerned with defying the will of Michaela or Tate. “He’s going to go Zeta,” repeated Tripp. “Meanwhile,” Erik said, ignoring Tripp, still addressing Jordan, “if you think there’s even the slightest chance that Austin is going to sleep with you, make it happen before next Thursday so you can lure him into Iota Chi.” I looked at Jordan, who bristled. I obviously hadn’t, couldn’t, tell anyone what Kevin had told me at Michaela’s birthday party, that Austin Berkowitz was gay, that he had slept with his friend from the marching band. Which, in theory, meant he would not also be sleeping with Jordan Fleischer. “What makes you think I’m trying to sleep with Austin?” she asked Erik. Erik batted his eyes theatrically, and in falsetto, said, “‘You should really come to the Jew Castle this Wednesday.’” “‘Don’t blame the messenger,’” Jordan replied, in her own snippy falsetto. “Seriously. I’m just trying to expand our membership. Like you’re doing. He has zero sexual interest in me, believe me.” Erik was still smiling. “Yeah, well, when you’re making him breakfast, remember: Iota Chi, Iota Chi, Iota Chi.” “I’ve been to D.C. once, on a class trip,” Sachit Chowdry was telling me, at the rush party that night. “I bet it’s awesome growing up there.” I guess I made a face, because Sachit smiled. “Or not.” “Oh, no, it’s fine,” I told him. “I’m just from a suburb, you know? Hamlet, Maryland, is anywhere. My school was in the District though. The Harrington School.” Sachit nodded, bit the edge of his plastic solo cup. “Didn’t someone famous go there?” he said, after a pause. “Chelsea Clinton?” I shook my head. Harrington was notorious about collecting important children, certainly--or, rather, the unimportant children of important parents--but the really famous ones went to Sidwell Friends. I had botched the interview at Sidwell, for kindergarten, when we first moved to D.C. I didn’t know what happened--I was 5--except that I remembered my parents talking about a botched interview and then Philip and I wound up at Harrington. “Oh,” said Sachit. And the conversation settled, like a cloud of dust, between us. I wasn’t good at this rushing thing. Even though I had met Sachit maybe a dozen times, the pressure of rush week--the pressure to be welcoming and outgoing and enticing and interesting--seemed ominous. Normally, at parties like this, I would be surveying the land from the back corner with my key ally, Chris Baker, but Baker was working a double shift at the back bar. Where he could be surrounded by people but, largely, still avoiding contact with them beyond asking, “Beer or vat?” It wasn’t appropriate for Baker to stand around avoiding contact anymore, especially during rush week. He was the exalted president of Iota Chi. There was decorum, an image, the pomp and the circumstance of politics that usually came with our Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Nevada. I would never go into politics. I didn’t have the energy for that sort of thing. The kissing of babies, the kissing of asses. “So,” Sachit finally said, “what’s the bid situation like?” I tried to signal Erik from across the room that I was drowning. Erik was not paying attention; he was eagerly handing a cup of vat to the newly-arrived Logan McClendon. Erik’s crown jewel, if he could get him. “Um,” I told Sachit. “I can’t really say. It’s my first time going through this.” “Well, you went through it last year,” he said. “How long before they start handing them out?” We had already handed out four bids. Or, at least, we were in the process of handing out four bids--Erik kept sneaking over to Chris Baker, and the two of them would grab a rushee and haul him upstairs to one of the bedrooms. And he’d come down maybe two minutes later looking giddy and satisfied, as if they had given him a blowjob rather than a fraternity bid. Though, really, what was the difference at this point. “It’s a process that goes all week,” I told Sachit. “We’re giving them out all the time. We’ll vote on you, and then we’ll give it.” Those were words, not sentences. What was I even saying? We vote, then we give them out. And there was Sachit, being a dutiful freshman, an agreeable aspiring pledge, hanging on my words as if they had some sort of power. “So what do I have to do?” Hell if I knew. I was never good with this kind of socializing, this kind of anonymous group flirtation. Erik and Tripp had both gotten their bids before me. I was the last one, out of the three of us. What I wanted to do was be in the back corner with Chris Baker. How we used to be. Staring at the door. Waiting for Kevin. In hope, in dread, in anger, in lust, in some combination of all of them, maybe. I kept thinking Kevin would walk through the door, that these two months would have been a dream and he’d catch my eye from across the room, and smile at me. And maybe he’d be drunk from The Boot with the band guys, or maybe he’d be high, or sober, or anywhere in between. And maybe Kevin would behave appropriately that night, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d be cuddly, or hostile, or comical, or constrained. I could never identify his moods beforehand. How many times had I stood in this exact spot, in the fraternity house foyer, watching the door and waiting for the moment Kevin opened it? “Just be yourself,” I told Sachit. Because Sachit would, in fact, get a bid by being himself. I had to become a different person entirely, but Sachit could be himself. “Huh,” he said, but he didn’t follow up. “I need a cigarette--do you smoke?” I gave a noncommittal kind of grunt. Erik was actively, quietly breaking up groups that had a poor brother-to-rushee ration, and I didn’t want to be left alone inside and face the chore of having to find another freshman to glom onto, before Erik told me for the fourth time this evening I could talk to Patrick and Tripp on my own damn time. We went out to the back porch. It was a strong party--the backyard, the square patch of concrete maybe twnety feet deep, was mostly full, a line for the backyard bar, even though it was chilly out. I zipped up my fleece. Sachit absently handed me a cigarette, and I took it because I didn’t know how to refuse it. But I smoked weed, and it couldn’t have been that different, could it? He lit his cigarette, and I tried to watch his motions. And when he handed me the lighter, tried to replicate them. I failed the first two times, shook the lighter as if it wasn’t a user error, and then lit it on my third try. It didn’t taste as bad as I’d thought it would. When I was little, I would gag at the thought of cigarette smoke, when we had to pass through a restaurant with a bar at the entrance. But it didn’t taste as bad as I thought it would, and it was oddly calming, just a bit. “Okay, so, be myself,” Sachit said, not willing to let this conversation die. “Then what?” I exhaled a long billow of smoke. I felt sexy doing that; I had to smile just a little. “That’s it. There’s no secret sauce. You’ll get a bid. Believe me.” Almost like he had been summoned by the talk of rush week logistics, Erik appeared behind us. Check-up on me, no doubt, to see if I was bungling a sure-thing. “What are we smoking?” he asked, gingerly. Erik was a drunk smoker. The kind of person who thought it wasn’t smoking if you were drunk and if you only bummed cigarettes, never bought a pack. Sachit handed him one, and Erik lit up. The three of us stood there, smoking. I wasn’t sure if Sachit was going to be as forward about his wanting a bid with Erik. He wasn’t. He said, altogether, nothing on the topic. And that made sense. Erik was imposing, an authority: Keeper of the Bids. No one wanted to seem too desperate. In the face of silence, Erik wrestled control of the conversation. “You know who I just ran into inside? Erica Strout.” “Erica is the girl Erik used to,” I told Sachit, “do.” “We still hook up sometimes,” Erik amended, also for Sachit. “From time to time. She’s a smokeshow, dude. Literally, always game for anything, it’s nuts.” Erik kept glancing at me out of the corner of his eye, as if I was going to say something to screw up this latest pitch—“Look at all the hot girls we get at Iota Chi!” Part of me wanted to, but I didn’t feel up to a drawn-out brawl. I wondered if, last year, Chris Baker and Brett Morton and company had seemed as transparently desperate to attract freshmen. I figured they had, except, like Sachit, I was too consumed with a good impression, too nervous in the face of the social capital they held. Because you didn’t seem to notice the gentle compliments and forced inclusion when you were eighteen and new to the city and thought it was the best thing ever to be befriended by some fun frat guys. I knew more now, I was wiser. Erik kept talking. And I felt myself falling away from the conversation, not physically but in my mind. It was eleven o’clock, and Kevin would be stumbling into Iota Chi, already drunk from happy hour with the band guys, maybe high, unbridled happiness on his face. He’d tackle me in a hug, smile that lopsided smile. “Let’s go home and fuck,” he would whisper to me, his voice heavy with drugs and alcohol. I didn’t want to think about Kevin. I needed a distraction, so I excused myself to the bathroom, left Sachit in custody of Erik, and went to go find Tripp or Patrick. I found them, in custody of Jordan. “Becker, Michaela wanted me to tell you that you can’t give Logan a bid to Iota Chi,” Jordan said, with the enthusiasm of someone in a hostage tape. “She said Tate will kill him if he doesn’t go Zeta.” “Zeta can do what Zeta wants to do,” I replied, cryptically. “Where is Michaela, anyway?” “You just missed her,” Tripp told me. “She kidnapped Logan and took him back to Zeta.” “Justine went with them,” Patrick replied with a smirk. I did not feel like addressing that situation. Meanwhile, Jordan was staring at me, her nose wrinkled in disgust. “You smell awful,” she said. “Thank you.” “No, like cigarettes,” she said. “Did you smoke?” I paused for probably too long, but shook my head. “Sachit and Erik were. Blowing smoke all over.” Jordan did not look entirely convinced, but dropped the topic. “Well, I think Logan wants to go Iota Chi,” said Tripp. “Without Tate pushing him towards Zeta, he’d definitely be here. I can feel it.” “You sounds like Erik,” said Patrick. “But I’d vote for him. If just for the chance we could pull one over on Zeta. I’d give to both him and the roommate.” The roommate, Austin Berkowitz, appeared behind Jordan, with two cups of vat. “Never mind, no more shop talk in front of the R-U-S-H-E-E,” said Patrick. Austin rolled his eyes, handed one of his cups to Jordan. “Too late.” “Drat,” Patrick said, with mock irritation. “Cover is blown. Whatever shall I do.” “We’re just discussing how many people are rushing this year,” Tripp replied. “And the limitless opportunities they’ve presented us with,” Patrick added. Austin smirked. “Well, Logan and I both already got bids to Zeta. I can’t speak for Logan, but ‘the roommate’ isn’t necessarily sold on going there or anywhere.” “Well, always keep your options open,” Patrick told him, with a noncommittal smile. “You never know when the right opportunity comes by. That’s what I always say. I wasn’t sold on Iota Chi until the very end.” Tripp was looking at him, as if he had never heard anything so outrageous. “Really?” Patrick shrugged. “I don’t know. Fraternities. Not really my scene.” “Or so you thought,” Tripp led, his voice specific and measured, his eyes aimed at Austin, “until you joined Iota Chi.” “Sure, sure,” Patrick replied, hastily. “I’m glad I’m in it now, obviously.” Tripp was still glancing very faintly at Austin, to see if this was helping, but Austin had started up an animated conversation with Jordan. They seemed very, what was the word, interested in talking to each other. There was this horrible thought that crossed my head: that Austin, whom Kevin had sworn to me was gay, was leading Jordan on somehow. Like I had done with Jackie Hughes, however briefly, last year. I didn’t like any of this. I didn’t like that he was coming in like this, monopolizing her attention. I especially didn’t like him leading her on. Jordan, of all people, who deserved someone who cared about her. And I could just imagine: Jordan dating Austin, the two of them together. Me knowing this awful, awful secret but not being able to say anything--because what could I say? Kevin told me he had a friend who hooked up with Austin? Actually. I could say that. Because Kevin was out. Because Kevin was not my boyfriend. Because there was no secret anything between me and Kevin Malley that needed protecting, needed to be hidden from public consumption. So I did tell her, maybe five drinks later, once I snagged her alone in the backyard of the Iota Chi house: “I need to tell you something important,” I said, probably too cryptically. Jordan blinked, caught uncharacteristically off-guard and rattled. “Oh,” she said, finally, her voice gone soft. “Okay.” She paused. “I mean, you can tell me anything, you know that.” “Like, I don’t know how to tell you this because you seem to like the guy,” I said, “but I’ve been hearing rumors about Austin and I thought I should tell you. That Austin isn’t, well. He isn’t into women.” Jordan’s face crept into a slightly, knowing smile. “Obviously.” There was an incredibly long pause. As I was caught off-guard too. “What do you mean,” I said, finally, “‘obviously?’” Jordan’s smile had turned to vague irritation. “You really think I don’t already know he’s gay?” “Oh,” I replied. “So you do know that?” “Of course I know that,” Jordan said, rolling her eyes. “Literally, the first story he told me back in December at Michaela’s thing was about a guy he dated in high school. And I mean, I could tell anyway. I’m not an idiot. I can always tell.” There was an indelicate pause. As I internally debated whether she, in fact, could always tell. Because she didn’t seem to be able to when it came to me. “Look,” she continued, “I have every intention of finding myself a nice Jewish boy before I leave Tulane. And it’s not going to be one who’s secretly into guys. Okay?” She was staring at Austin, coming down the steps from the back porch with another beer. “He’s hot though.” I almost agreed. I caught myself. “He’ll make some dude very happy, I’m sure.” We had a round of voting immediately after the party, which seemed like an awful idea because everyone was wasted. “It’s in the by-laws,” Chris Baker called, over protests, as he tottered over to the president’s chair. “Sit the fuck down.” It was amazing how enigmatic the brotherhood looked from the outside. When I was a freshman, and things seemed so stoic and serious and thoughtful. Not so. Just a mound of drunken chaos. Erik, who was by far the most sober person in the room, having been monitoring himself steadily the entire evening, was holding the rush binder, sitting on the arm of the president’s chair. It was our second night of bidding. Which had, thus far, not been going well. If a rushee received five or more “no” votes, he was put under a 24-hour blackball, denied until the next voting session when he could be brought up again. At this point, everyone was getting blackballed, because most of us alternately refused to bother meeting freshmen or vote affirmatively on someone we didn’t know. “Okay, let’s start with Sachit Chowdry,” Erik said, as he waited for us to quiet down, like an angry middle school math teacher. “And I need two people to speak in favor.” There was a general grumble of annoyance. “The faster we get through voting,” Erik said, “the faster you can go home and fuck your girlfriends.” Tommy Pereira’s hand shot up. “Okay, I’ll speak in favor too, then,” Erik said. “Two to speak against.” No hands went up. “For fuck’s sake,” he hissed. “Why is no one meeting freshmen?” He looked at me. “Becker, you do an against.” “But I like the guy,” I said. “Whatever. I only spoke to him a couple times.” “And Weinman, you do the other against,” Erik said. Josh Weinman looked irritated, as he took a dramatic last sip out of his beer, and then crushed the can. He pulled out another one from the open 30-rack on the floor in front of him. He had been more frequently appearing, though more standoffish, since he broke up with his girlfriend a few weeks before. What was there to say about any of these freshmen? It seemed so trivial that we had to go around and discuss their attributes, and I hated thinking that they did this about me at some point. Dissected me. Senator’s son, in favor. Not a terrible guy to be around, in favor. Seems gay, against. Is he gay? Is he fucking Kevin Malley? You know, I’ve heard things. I didn’t want to know what they asked. Or what they answered. “Sachit is awesome,” Tommy said, standing up. “I have a poli sci class with him, and we’ve had lunch a few times. He’s easy to talk to, really chill, consistently brings around really hot girls.” That was generally standard. Chill guy. Easy to talk to. Brings around hot girls. All you needed to receive the gift of fraternal camaraderie. And here I was, last year, thinking there was more that went into this decision-making--that they were silently adjudicating the minor quirks of your personality, finding minute faults you didn’t even know you had. But no: not being a sociopath and having hot female friends seemed to be enough. Becker brings around Michaela Birdrock, for. Becker hasn’t murdered his roommate with an ax, for. “I completely agree,” Erik said. “Most of you have met him, and I think all of The Beards fit in really well with us.” The Beards were Michael Graham, Henry Cowdray, and Sachit Chowdry. Only Michael and Henry had beards, nicely-trimmed brown ones that they both acquired over Christmas break, which made them look vaguely sinister and completely identical. Sachit did not have a beard, but because the three of them were a set--like Erik, Tripp, and I had been last year--Sachit was a de facto member of The Beards. They were, basically, shoe-ins, though only Michael Graham had actually been offered a bid thus far. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to any of it. Erik got his bid first. Then Tripp. Then me. And I thought it was personal. It wasn’t personal. It was dumb luck, catching everyone in a decent mood when they were drunk after a party, avoiding the pitfalls of minutiae that could sink a bid. Erik pointed at Josh Weinman, who stood up to give his against. “Well, Sachit has really great weed connections,” Josh said. “And Malley’s gone this semester, so we’ve all been hurting for a new hookup. Something to think about.” Erik was staring at him, annoyed. “Is that your against?” Josh shrugged. “You should use my new guy,” Rob Winslow offered. “Roland, in the Iberville Projects.” “I’m not getting shot in the head trying to buy weed,” Josh replied. “I just got my life back from the MCATs.” “He delivers, fuck,” Rob said. “It’s 2008.” Rob Winslow’s transformation had been quick but stunning, now that his presidential mantle was relinquished. And apparently this is how he was beforehand, before the stress of the presidency weighed heavily on his mind. I’d only known him as the guy who stayed more-or-less sober at parties, in case cops or angry neighbors stormed the castle. I wasn’t used to him getting drunk and high in the chapter room. “Okay, Becker, give an against,” Erik said. “But I like the guy.” Erik closed his eyes. “Just do it.” “Not a chill guy,” I deadpanned. “Hard to talk to. Ugly girls.” Erik was practically smoldering in an anger. A betrayal from me, of all people, one of his supposed best friends. But then his anger quickly turned to despair. “Oh, come on.” Erik shook his head. He aimed the next part at the ungrateful masses gathered in the Iota Chi chapter room. “You know, I’m trying to get us good-looking, fun pledges who can actually bring around hot girls, and…” He realized he was losing the crowd. “Okay, okay. Whatever. All in favor of Sachit Chowdry?” Most hands in the room went up. Erik counted methodically, pointing at brothers and mouthing numbers to himself. “All against?” Six hands went up. “Okay, blackballed,” he said. “Narrowly. Because some of you are pieces of shit and blackball everyone that we know is going to get a bid by the end of the week anyway. And that’s how we’re going to lose all of our pledges to fucking Gamma Beta Tau, who already gave half these guys bids.” Zack Eckert sheepishly lowered his hand. “Thank you,” Erik said, marking in his binder. “Five against, which means a bid to Sachit Chowdry.” He flipped the page. “Okay, next up: Suneel Chopra.” He held up the picture. “That’s the same person,” said Will Connors. Erik looked at the photo, as if there was a chance he had made mistake, but then he realized what was going on and scowled at Eddie. “Your Shreveport is showing, Connors.” “Look,” Will said, “it’s a fact: if you get more than one of something, you become the X fraternity. Sigma Alpha’s the baseball fraternity. Gamma Beta is the gay fraternity. Zeta’s the date-rape fraternity.” “Zeta has way more than two date-rapists,” said Tommy Pereira. “And way more than two gays in Gamma Beta,” added Ryan Wyatt. “Believe me.” “You need at least three to be the X fraternity,” Rob Winslow told Will. “We’d be at two Indians. Two Indians is incidental. Three Indians is the Indian fraternity.” “I’m just saying,” Will replied. “That’s like half the Indians at Tulane.” Erik grabbed Chris Baker’s gavel, and banged it, and the room fell silent. “I guess we can count ‘casual racism’ as one against,” he said, angrily. “I need one more aganst, and two for.” We gave the nominal arguments. “Chill guy.” “Easy to talk to.” “Brought around that fat chick in September--everyone remember her?” “Oh, God, I thought the floorboards were going to give out.” “What, I can say that, I’m fat too.” “Shut up, Pagliacci.” We voted. “Seven votes against,” said Erik. Flipping the page in the binder, he added, “Blackballed even though you all know he’s going to get a bid before Friday anyway, but whatever.” He paused, to see if any of the againsts lowered their hands; no one did. “Next, Austin Berkowitz.” He held up the picture. “He’s a white guy--y’all’s favorite.” Chris Baker rapped his gavel, warningly. “And Jewish,” added Josh Weinman, cracking open another Bud Light. “The best of the best.” Baker rapped the gavel harder. “Tonight took a turn,” whispered Patrick to me. “He’s a fellow fag,” said Ryan Wyatt. “Just so everyone’s clear. I can’t tell you how I know this, but I know this.” “Did you fuck one of the rushees, Wyatt?” Brett Morton accused. “I did not!” Ryan gasped, looking scandalized. “But there’s not a rule against rushees though, is there? I thought it was only actual pledges I couldn’t fuck.” “Okay,” Erik said, loudly. He looked to Ryan. “Wait, was that a for or an against?” “Definitely a for,” said Ryan Wyatt. “That only brings us to two gays. Which is definitely not enough to become the gay fraternity.” He looked dismissively to Will, then back to Erik. “I could use a fellow rooster among the hens.” Erik thought for a moment, looked absolutely floored by this news, and presumably concerned that he couldn’t, in fact, use Jordan Fleischer to lure Austin and Logan into Iota Chi. “Is he out, or did you just drop a huge piece of gossip that we really shouldn’t know?” “No, no, he’s openly gay,” Ryan replied. “I wouldn’t out some freshman. I’m not a monster.” “I still want to know how you know,” said Morton. “But I feel like you’re going to give me a visual I really don’t want to have.” “He and Malley screwed around,” Ryan replied. “Happy?” Morton gave a dramatic shiver. “I said I didn’t want to picture it.” Kevin and I broke up on December 9. There was precisely a week of the semester left, between December 9 and the time everyone went back home for Christmas. And the logical, non-paranoid ex-boyfriend in me said that was probably when it happened: that after December 9, a few days after, Kevin saw Austin on a site, or saw Austin in Bruff, or saw Austin in The Boot. He remembered him from Michaela’s thing, he made a play for it, etc. Because Kevin was out. Because Kevin could do that sort of thing. Or it happened, say, in the days before December 9. Shortly before we broke up--when Kevin knew it was over, but I was still texting him things like “I love you” and “I want you inside me.” Or it happened in September or October or November, and Kevin was telling me he loved me, telling me he wanted to be with me, and he was telling Austin Berkowitz all of those things too. Would it be crazy to email Kevin, for my own piece of mind? Would he tell me the truth? What did he say: omission is not a lie? “We’ll make it work when I’m in Paris,” he would text, maybe when Austin Berkowitz was in his shower. Maybe when another guy was in his shower. Ben Farber or Landon Marsh or another one of the coterie of Tulane gays that would kill for a night with Kevin Malley. While I was texting “I love you” and “I want you inside me.” “I like Austin,” interrupted Tripp. “You know, the gays always bring around hot girls. And that’s a net positive for everyone.” “How’s Kiandra?” Brett Morton asked. “Trusting,” replied Tripp. “Okay, two against,” said Erik. “Rowen, go.” “He’s going to go Zeta,” Rowen said. “He and Logan McClendon are a lock. We don’t want to give a guy a bid that we know he’s just going to turn down. It makes us look desperate.” “I’d like to give an against,” said Ryan Wyatt. “You just gave a for,” Erik told him. “Well, I just thought of this,” Ryan said. “He’s better looking than I am. What if we’re at a party, and now I have to get all the sloppy seconds?” “Oh, too much information, Wyatt, Jesus,” said Theo Bix. “You were making shadow puppets with your dick at last week’s meeting,” Ryan said. “‘Too much information’ my fucking ass.” “You loved it.” Ryan wrinkled his nose. “I’ve seen bigger.” Chris Baker rapped the gavel again. “Let’s just get through the voting, okay?” Erik said. “You two can suck each other off on your own time.” He looked back to the binder. “Austin Berkowitz. For: gay, but at least he’s the man in the relationship; brings around hot girls. Against: might go Zeta; won’t fuck Wyatt.” “‘Won’t fuck Wyatt’ should be a for, not an against,” said Matt Rowen. “That’s incest.” “We’re not actual brothers, moron,” Wyatt said. Chris Baker pounded the gavel. “Fuck it, both of you.” He looked to Erik. “Call the vote.” There was a rumble of agreement, and we voted on Austin Berkowitz. Ryan Wyatt’s hand stretched as high as it would go. “Fourteen against,” said Erik. “Ouch. Blackball.” “Y’all homophobes,” replied Ryan Wyatt, with a smile, settling back into his beer. And good. Because I suddenly no longer could stomach the thought of Austin Berkowitz. Austin, who had moved in on Jordan, who had moved in on Kevin. Days after we broke up. Hopefully. Hopefully days after we broke up. But who really knew. “We’ll get him later in the week,” Erik said. “Next up: Logan McClendon.” “Going to go Zeta anyway,” Matt Rowen said. “Against.” “Wants to fuck Becker’s hot sister,” added Pagliacci. “For.” “Has already fucked Becker’s hot sister,” Brett Morton corrected. “For, times infinity.” Matt Rowen, who had also hooked up with Justine, had a goofy smile on his face, was about to say something, but then caught my eye, and didn’t. That’s right, Matt Rowen. That’s fucking right. “Chill guy,” said Tommy Pereira. “Easy to talk to. Brings around Becker’s hot sister.” Erik was frantically trying to enter those into the official record, finally gave up, and called the vote. “All for?” Every person except me raised their hand. “All against?” I didn’t dare to raise mine. “Zero against,” Erik said. He glanced at me disapprovingly, but didn’t say anything. “Bid to Logan McClendon.” He paused. “But I’m going to tell a story.” Everyone groaned. “I’m going to tell the story about how we’re so close to getting a great pledge who, no homo, is better-looking than everyone in this room except me and Rowen.” “Amen to that, little bro,” said Rowen. “Good-looking dudes bring hot girls,” he said. “Known fact. And we’re going to lose him to Zeta if we don’t give his roommate a bid. All of the hot girls he could bring. Becker’s sister. Lose them to Zeta. Because we didn’t take the roommate too. A good-looking roommate who’s also going to bring around hot girls, because gay guys always do.” “We do,” Wyatt told the room. “You know I do.” ‘So,” Erik continued, his eyes cast slightly on Chris Baker before looking back at the crowd, “I motion for a revote of Austin Berkowitz.” “You can’t motion for a revote while he’s under a 24-hour blackball,” Chris Baker told Erik. “Second the revote,” Tripp said, quickly. Erik was moving fast, like he was in a car chase and could be stopped by the authorities--in this case, Chris Baker; not the most menacing authority figure--at any moment. “Think about it… taking two big prospects away from Zeta. Hot girls. Lots and lots of hot girls. Anyone against that?” Four hands went up. I didn't dare to be one of them. “Bid to Austin Berkowitz,” said Erik. “Fuck the four of you, I hope some Zeta date-rapes you.” He glanced nervously back to Chris Baker, who looked utterly resigned to the chaos. “Good?’ “It’s like we don’t even have by-laws anymore, but whatever.” “Are we done yet?” Morton asked. “That’s seven rushees,” Erik said. “We have twenty-four left.”
  14. oat327

    Chapter 2

    Thanks. The death scene, in particular, was something I was really dreading because I didn’t want it to come off so schlocky and melodramatic, but I thought this story would’ve missed a major piece of Kevin if it happened off-screen. Luckily, the structure is made up of these little puffs of memory, so I didn’t have to spend too much time on Kevin grieving.
  15. oat327

    Chapter 2

    Basically, yeah. Part of it was me trying to keep the voices and structure different, but in a way that stayed true to the characters. Becker’s very compartmentalized. And his past was a lot of being a bland “good kid” and his concerns are very in-the-moment—how people perceive him or react to him. Memories don’t creep in on him as much, but he’s far more to obsess over a glance or an errant comment. Kevin’s the opposite. He’s so defined by past trauma, and the bad (well-meaning, but bad) advice he’s been given on how to deal with difficult things: namely, flip the page and forget. Kevin’s too sensitive to really do that, so fragments of the past keep popping up. Even as he keeps claiming he’s moved on from them.
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