“On Todd Salazar’s first day of college, while his belongings were still in neatly labeled boxes on the dorm room floor, he had sex with his new roommate Darin.”

From the first line of the first page of Semesters, a loopy, original novel about gay life at a large New England state university during the early ‘90s, it's clear that the people populating this novel certainly are more interesting that those saintly, asexual members of the class of 10 percent portrayed in heterosexual college novels. Set against an era when gay marriage is a pipe dream and being “out” is still a precarious choice, the students of Semesters feel safe enough in their campus microcosm to be Here and Queer—so get used to it! They have sex, do drugs, have sex again, make all the wrong decisions, wage war against their conservative enemies, bum cigarettes, have more sex, all the while struggling with questions universal to young Americans. The writing is breezy and the drama generous. You'll encounter scandalous revelations, parties out of bounds, back stabbing, and an unforgettable, topsy-turvy final confrontation. Has it been mentioned that there is sex? Lots of it!

The protagonists are three gay men: BEN BRISTOL, the transfer student looking for sex or love, whichever comes first, TODD SALAZAR, the freshman who already has quite the track record but is looking for new conquests, and DARIN BURKETT, Todd’s whiny and underhanded first semester roommate, the self-appointed perpetual victim.

Ben Bristol is the heart of the novel. After two years of living closeted at home and attending a local community college to save money, Ben has high expectations for his junior year. But despite having a hot, straight British roommate who has a habit of walking around in his underwear, Ben’s only affections are from a fedora-wearing Trekker named EDGAR whom he met during orientation. Undeterred, Ben joins the University Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance (UGLBA), writes a column for a newsletter, and falls hard for a guy who barely knows he exists—and that’s only in the first month of school. We follow the uninitiated Ben as he discovers the thrill of off-campus parties, drinks bad sangria and goes to the UGLBA-sponsored dances. Finally an active member of a gay community is Ben happy? And what if his quest for love ends with Ben in the arms of somebody he’d never expected?

Among Ben’s new college friends are: JULIA, a fellow member of the UGLBA whose claims of bisexuality are suspect; JEREMY and ARTURO, who are at a crisis point in their relationship, which Arturo relieves by hitting on other men in front of Jeremy, oblivious to Jeremy’s growing attraction to a sexy TA; TOBE, the self-appointed DJ who plays music nobody requests and refuses to wear weight-appropriate clothing; and TERRI, the beleaguered leader of the UGLBA who discovers her ex-girlfriend is in an abusive relationship and finds herself thrust into a brutal life or death situation.

Countering Ben’s cautious and naive romantic tendencies, Todd Salazar is all magnetic sexual appeal. Todd can’t help but oblige the men who line up the moment he steps on campus in September. In addition to sleeping with his roommate, Darin, Todd seduces super-senior RICHARD, who already has a boyfriend. No matter. After Richard, there’s KIRK, a golden boy from California, who has his own apartment. But Todd is carrying a dark secret about a taboo relationship he had over the summer. There’s a problem with secrets, though ... they have a funny way of being exposed at just the wrong times.

And then there’s Darin Burkett, a weaselly freshman from the suburbs of Boston not thrilled to be stuck in a provincial western Massachusetts state school. The relationship between roommates Darin and Todd, at first full of passion, quickly dissolves as Darin’s inconsiderate habits drive anal retentive Todd crazy; Darin doesn’t make his bed, breaks Todd’s lamp [gasp!], smokes in the dorm room, and has people in at all hours, notably MARIA, the cynical fellow UGLBA member who lives down the hall. Together, Darin and Maria bring their own half-baked brand of stoner politics to a campus that Darin feels is too complacent. Eventually Darin takes up with the mysterious revolutionary and begins a prank campaign against the Young Conservatives Club. Darin also manages to acquire a boyfriend, the sexy LARS, a former swim team member with a great tan line who doesn’t seem to know why he's dating Darin. Tensions between Darin and Todd explode into a nasty fist fight which ends the first semester with a bang and sets the tone for an even larger confrontation just before Spring Break, the ramifications of which send shock waves through the campus.

So take a study break, wring out your wet Speedo and grab a cup of coffee and peanut butter chocolate chip cookie at the Blue Book Café. Semesters demonstrates how much fun college can be when you’re not attending class.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chapter 7: Welcome to the UGLBA

The University Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance (UGLBA) Welcomes You
“Thanks for deciding to come back," Ryan Gibson said. “Did you fall in?”
Macon Brigham looked at Ryan blankly for a moment. “What?”
“You said you were going to the bathroom,” Ryan said.
“I did,” Macon said. “And now I’m back.”
“You were gone for an hour and a half,” Ryan said.
“I was?” Macon asked.  He was quiet for a moment. “I wonder where I went.”
“Never mind,” Ryan said. Thank god this shift is over in an hour.
It wasn't entirely Macon’s fault.  Macon had been in a terrible car accident several years back and had suffered damage to his short-term memory.  That was terrible, and Ryan did feel for him.  The annoying thing was that Macon constantly volunteered for things, like sitting at the UGLBA welcome table, and would forget what he was doing halfway through the shift.  Even Terri Friedmann, UGLBA steering-committee head and probably the most tolerant person in the group, had lost her patience with Macon.
Despite Macon not being Ryan’s company of choice, it was good to have another person alongside him.  Ryan didn’t enjoy being alone among all the other student groups with all the gay, lesbian, bisexual, whatever literature on the table.  Not that his fears were founded; Ryan had been at the UGLBA - the “b” for bisexual had just been added the previous Fall- table on the Campus Center Concourse since nine a.m. and aside from double takes, mainly by parents, nobody had stopped by the table either to harass or inquire.  Nobody.   Some people in the UGLBA argued against having the table at all, as most students who did end up in the group found their own way to the office in the Student Union rather than from the welcome table, but Terri insisted the table be out at the start of every semester.
Macon was singing to himself under his breath.  Ryan ignored him and picked at his calluses when a skinny, auburn-haired woman walked up.
“Oh, this is won-der-ful,” she said. “If you guys looked any more enthused, I’d order a coffin.” She held out her hand. “Hello, Ryan darling.”
Ryan took her hand.  “Hey, Julia.” 
Julia Wood.  Some people in the UGLBA thought Julia was hysterical; others couldn’t stand her. Ryan was somewhere in-between.
Macon smiled weakly up at Julia.  Today was one of his bad days:  he didn’t recognize her.
Julia leaned over and straightened out the brochures. “Can’t you fags even keep things organized?” she admonished. “Any fresh meat this year?”
“Nobody,” Ryan said. “What’d you expect?”
“We need more of a hook,” Julia said. “Go-go dancers …something. Maybe I’ll just stand here and wave them over.”  She picked up on the fliers printed on pine green paper. “But not with these.  These are pathetic.  The ski club has more enticing literature”
“Student Affairs nixed Tobe’s fliers as being too racy, and he was so pissed that he refused to make a new one,” Ryan said. “Terri had to make these in a jam with the paper on hand.”
 “Well gee; I wonder why Tobe’s design of a guy giving another guy head was rejected.”  Julia crumpled the flier up and tossed it over her shoulder.  It fell in front of a set of parents. 
“Litterbug,” Ryan said. “You couldn’t see anything on the flier. It was all implied.  Student Affairs is a bunch of sex-negative prudes.” 
“Don’t repeat everything Tobe tells you,” Julia said.  The former Toby Beals, film major extraordinaire who had yet to make even a short, insisted that his name be spelled with an ‘e’ after he saw “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” yet had managed to convince only Ryan that it had always been spelled that way.  “What do you think about the fliers, Macon?”
“Exactly.”  Julia looked around. “For fabulous trendsetters, we are way uninviting. Drab colors.  Unimaginatively presented. Good god, these are even worse.”  She reached for a pamphlet with Newsletter for the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Community in a bold, dark font. “Did some queen hooked to a morphine drip on his deathbed design this?” 
“Ouch,” Ryan said. “Not funny.”
“I didn’t say he had AIDS.  People do die of other things,” Julia said. “Sabra needs somebody to spiffy up this newsletter.” She took a handful of the ugly green fliers and shoved them into her purse. “Well boys, I’d love to chat all day but I’ve got things to do.  Keep up the good work.”
Ryan wanted to leave with Julia, but abandoning Macon at the table wasn’t a good idea.  Instead, he went back to his calluses. 
A big guy glanced at the banner as he walked by, then backed up.  He looked like either a football player or a frat boy.  He studied the literature on the table. “When do you have meetings?” the guy asked, looking at Macon.  Macon didn’t say anything.
Ryan jumped in. “Usually whenever we have a meeting we post it over there by the elevators.”  The guy looked over at the elevator bank as if expecting to see something. “Often it’s every Friday.” 
“Cool,” the guy said.  He picked up one of the ugly fliers and a newsletter. “I can take these, right?” he asked.  He looked nervous.
Ryan nodded. “Take what you want.  We have plenty.”
The guy shoved them in his back pocket. “Thanks,” he said. “Thanks so much.”
 “No problem,” Ryan said.  The guy backed up a few feet, then turned around and melted back into the crowd.
“Wow,” Macon said.
“Frat initiation joke,” Ryan said. “I hate those guys.” Now they’d have to be on alert for a bunch of assholes crashing their events as some hazing ritual.  Ryan considered suggesting they change their meeting dates.
“We’ll see him again,” Macon said.  He sounded lucid for the first time that day.

Chapter 6: Floor Meeting

Floor Meeting
Darin and Todd attended their first floor meeting in the common lounge their first morning.  The meeting for new students had originally been scheduled the evening before, which made more sense but Min, the resident assistant had canceled due to “personal reasons.”  The returning students were noisily moving back into their rooms.
 “Where are the designated smoking areas this year?” a girl asked.  She’d joined late, and had been frowning at Min the entire time. She obviously wasn’t a freshman.
“First, third, fifth and seventh floor lounges,” Min said.
“Bullshit,” she said. Her hair was in a short, dark bob and she looked like somebody Todd knew but he couldn’t place it. “So we have to travel down to those floors if we want to smoke?”
“I’m afraid so,” Min said. “That’s the decision of housing.”
“Bullshit,” she said again. “This is worse than Hillel.” 
“You can’t punish everybody just because you want to smoke, Maria,” a small, mousy woman with big hair said. “Some of us deserve smoke-free areas.”
 “Whatever, Krista,” Maria said, pulling out a cigarette and lighting up. “I can smoke now, can’t I? Or will I get written up?”
Darin nudged Todd and grinned.
From the cool way Darin had acted last night when Todd came back after dinner with his folks, Todd figured that sex with Darin had been a one-time thing. But when Todd had been getting ready for bed, Darin walked over and started kissing his neck. It went on from there.  Todd fell asleep with Darin lying on top of him.  When Todd woke up around four a.m. to pee, Darin had moved over to his own bed. 
Todd looked at his watch.  His parents would be back at the room soon to take him to breakfast before they left. 
The gathered students were zoning out.  Min was trying to build up the area they were living in: Hillside, was built in the late 60s, and in Min’s opinion, it was the best place to live on campus.  The dorms weren’t as big as the high rises across campus, but were better equipped than most. 
But, Todd thought, they’re still ugly.  Todd and his parents had gone driving through the area last night and had passed the Alden College campus across town.  Todd was envious of the Alden Campus.   The buildings were nicer, the students better dressed and the Alden town green was at the foot of the campus.  It would have been nice to attend a prettier college, even if there were probably fewer gay guys. 
Todd was fascinated by Min’s biceps, which bulged out of his t-shirt.  After the meeting, Todd mentioned Min’s body but Darin shrugged and said, “I’m not into Asian guys.”
“More for me then.”
“Yeah, go ahead,” Darin said. “I’m heading out.”
“Are you ever going to unpack?”  Todd had put all his things away last night, but Darin had shoved his own boxes into a corner.
“Maybe later,” Darin said.  “See ya.”  He left his bed unmade as well.
If Darin didn’t make his bed tomorrow, then Todd would. He’d leave it unmade for the present.  There was no point in coming across as anal the first full day.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chapter 5: He and She

There weren’t many people left on the floor from last semester, but he swore he could hear everybody whispering when he walked to his room carrying his boxes.  He had to carry them one by one because his fat aunt Rose was waiting in the car and couldn’t walk up the five front steps. 
“It’s the crazy one,” he imagined them saying. “Is he going to freak out on us again?”
No, I’m not.  I’m completely healed. 
But that was a lie.  He did feel better.  Somewhat.  But there were times when he’d still wake up at night and tremble, feeling that the walls were closing in on him.   His mother was a nurse, but even she couldn’t do anything for him.  She came and got him last April after the Resident Director had called, informing her that he’d been locked in his room for three days after some students found him crying in the shower.  He only grew worse after he went home.  He didn’t leave his bedroom for two weeks and his mother had to request that he be withdrawn for the remainder of the semester.  That was good, as he didn’t want to go back right away; it was too humiliating to face anybody.  He hoped they’d forget over the summer.
The medicine helped, and he neither suffered weight gain or loss of sexual appetite, for all the good that did him.  After a long summer, the doctor said it was fine if he went back to school.  He and his mother were both relieved.  So here he was, starting to feel paranoid as soon as he walked through the door of the dorm.
Aunt Rose sat in her car, door open so she could stretch her legs.  Her left pant leg was hitched up and he could see the blue veins against her pale white skin. 
“You all set?” Rose asked, falsely cheery.  She always had an undertone of concern in her voice.  It was possible he scared her.  Aunt Rose and her five happy, healthy kids, who felt bad for her sister’s one crazy child. Yay for normal.
“I’m fine, I have my own room this year,” he said. “Medical reasons.”
Rose’s face twitched. “Um hmm,” she said. “Well, that’s good.  You know, I think Jordan lived in one of these dorms.”
“Did she?” he asked.
“She might have,” Rose said. “I should get going.  I’ll tell your mom everything went well.  She loves you, we all do.”
“I know,” he said. “I’m okay.  I start practice soon.  That’ll keep me occupied.”
There were silent for a moment.
“Okay,” Rose said. “I’m going to go before traffic gets ridiculous.” She blew him a kiss, then pulled her car door shut.  It closed with a clang.
He watched Rose drive off.  If anything, the semester would be better than spending time in the house, having everybody treat him as though he was going to break.  It had to be better.

A dish shattered in the other room, smashed into who knows how many pieces.  The force of it hitting the wall was enough to shake the apartment.  She closed her eyes. 
What now, what now?
A face peered around the doorframe, red and crinkled: “crepe-paper face” she had taken to calling that look.
“You didn’t buy any milk?”
“I forgot, but there was a little bit left in the carton,” she answered. 
“Which I just spilled on the floor because somebody, some dumb ass left the spout open.”  The entire figure was in the doorway now, the doorway that led to the front door and out of the apartment.
“I’ll get some right now,” she said, starting to get up.
“Forget it, I’ll go.” A hand on her chest shoved her back into her seat.  Rougher than usual, this shove hurt. “You’ll just fuck that up too.”  The slow retreat of the heavy footsteps as they walked out of the room.
“I’m sorry,” she called out.
“No, you’re not sorry, you’re just a loser.”
She waited a few more minutes for the door to slam shut, and then sat back, rubbing her wrist where it had been grabbed and twisted last night until she thought it was going to break.  She looked around at the messy apartment.
It was hardly a life.

Chapter 4: Ben's Big Move

Ben Bristol: Man on the Move
When Ben Bristol told his coworker Janine that he’d be transferring into the U State University in the Fall, her face turned red.  “You can do better than that place,” Janine said.  “Don’t waste your life.” 
Like you, Janine?  It wasn't an especially nice thought, but Ben was tired of people acting as though he’d made a bad decision about school.
Everybody had their own horror story to tell about the University, but the ones Ben remembered the most were the ones his co-workers at the SavMart told him one afternoon in the break room.  Ben was only part-time and looked forward to quitting once school began.  He didn’t want to be trapped listening to people during his fifteen minute break but Janine was full-time, had an entire hour for lunch and didn’t care.  Barbara, a seventy-year-old cashier whom nobody much liked, eavesdropped. 
Janine had a tight perm that always looked wet, and wore eye shadow that never came off.  Her feet were propped up on the table and a lit cigarette dangled from her right hand. 
“A friend of my husband’s friend went to State,” Janine said. “And he and his parents were still unpacking their car his first day and people were standing by the library.  There was a student leaning out the window, about to jump and the people on the ground were shouting and encouraging him.”  
“So, did he jump?” Ben asked, humoring her. He had heard a similar story several times before, but one version of the story had the incident taking place at Berkeley and the jumper was rescued at the last minute. Another story had it occurring at Oberlin where a man and his girlfriend, hippies the both of them, had leapt in a suicide pact. Janine’s story was suspect in that there weren’t any dorms located near the library, none that Ben remembered from the orientation in July.  How could the parents have been unpacking the car right at that spot?
 “Are you kidding?” Janine asked.  “It was 1973; the guy was probably on every drug out there.  He jumped and fell right onto the concrete.  That was all I ever needed to hear about the school; that place is nuts. I sure wouldn’t let my kid go there with all the freaks.” 
Janine’s daughter Bess also worked at the store in the Photo department. Bess was a high-school dropout and spent most of her free time smoking pot and riding around with her long-haired, heavy metal boyfriend whom Janine always complained about.  Ben doubted Janine had much to worry about Bess going to any college but he didn’t tell her that.
Barbara put her coffee cup down.  She left a bright red lipstick trace around the rim.
“Remember Joy, who worked in house wares for about ten years?” she asked.
Neither Janine nor Ben did.
“Her daughter Lucy used to come in here with her, cute girl. Joy came in here a while back, and she tells me that Lucy went to school up there,” Barbara leaned forward. “And she turned into one of them dykes.”
 “Lucy the lezzie,” Janine said.  She and Barbara chuckled.
“Yeah,” Barbara said.  Her laughter turned into a coughing fit.  Ben and Janine waited for her to finish.  “It’s a shame.  Joy was so upset.”
“So what happened to Lucy?” Ben asked.
“Joy doesn't know, they don’t talk. Lucy’s probably still there with all the other queers,” Barbara said.  She pointed at Ben with a long, red fingernail. “You should go to school somewhere else, not with those people.”
Ben was glad to escape from the break room, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Joy and her daughter Lucy for the rest of the day.   The reactions of Janine and Barbara had been typical: when people found out what school Ben was transferring into, very few had wished him luck and a few openly expressed disappointment.  People had been nicer when they found out Ben had enrolled in a community college after high school.
High school had not inspired Ben to try and better his life. Knowing he was gay early on didn’t help.  He went to school, did his homework and graduated right in the middle of his class. During his junior year of high school, he joined a Catholic Youth Group at the urging of his parents who wanted him to get out of the house.  After a few years of Thursday night prayer meetings, weekend retreats and everybody pretending they were the better Christian, Ben quit the group.  He figured somebody else would be suckered into joining and go through the motions, but he was done.  The one positive thing that came out of the youth group was his friendship with Dave, who lived in the next town.  Dave was the first person Ben ever came out to, and Dave had handled it in stride. 
The Fall after high school, Dave and Ben both attended the same community college; Dave for financial reasons, Ben because he had no idea if he wanted to go to college in the first place.  After a dull start, Ben found himself warming up to the school and the next three semesters went by quickly. He earned a 4.0 his final semester and graduated with his Associates degree.  With the ease that comes from transferring from one state school to another, Dave and Ben were both accepted into the University for the following Fall.  It was only half an hour from Springfield, but Ben was finally getting out of the house.
Moving day was on a hot Sunday in late August.  Ben hadn’t been gone from his house for twenty minutes when he found himself in a large traffic jam on the highway.  All the cars trying to get off on Exit 19, the university turnoff, had backed up for miles.  Ben had been playing Bonnie Raitt in his tape player the whole trip but midway through “Three Time Loser” the sound grew warbly; the cassette was melting or the tape player was dying.  It didn’t matter if the tape player broke.  The car was only his for one more afternoon and was being handed down to his younger brother the moment Ben had moved his belongings into the dorm.   The a/c in the car had died long ago – another reason Ben wouldn’t miss the vehicle - and rolling down the window barely helped. At the rate the cars were crawling, stirring up a breeze was impossible. 
Ben ejected the tape and turned on the radio to the oldies station.  “Love is Blue,” was playing.  Ben settled back in his seat and watched the line of cars in front of him stretching around a curve until they disappeared behind a hill, the humidity tinting everything orange. 
Ben had expected to be nervous, but he was calm.  His excitement at going away to school hadn’t wavered despite the deadly dull July orientation for transfer students which had consisted of nearly twenty four hours of dull lectures,  (the University had been founded as an agricultural college, expanded into a state school, had a nearly 150 year history yet *ahem* barely anybody of note had graduated from it)  signing up for classes that weren't guaranteed, taking a walking tour in 90 degree weather up and down hills and sleeping in a stifling room on a lumpy mattress.
The one moment during orientation that interested him was when two guys walked by, one of them for being the only black guy he saw on campus, was saying, “…said you can get laid in five minutes here.”
 That’s what Ben was hoping.  He’d worked outside all summer and was in better shape than he’d been in a while, plus he was tall enough to carry any excess pounds.  He may not have been hot, but he looked okay enough to maybe get laid within his first five weeks.  Ben was, to his chagrin, a virgin.  If he’d ever had the opportunity to lose it, he would have happily surrendered, but his life so far had been an endless succession of crushes on straight guys.   The only other guy at orientation who definitely was gay was Edgar, and he was not the guy with whom Ben wanted to lose his virginity.
Edgar stood out with his thick beard and curly hair. He wore long sleeves, despite the heat, and had a small Star Trek insignia pin next to a pink triangle button on his shirt.  He looked fifteen years older than everybody else. 
Edgar noticed Ben staring at his lapel.
“You know what that means?” he asked Ben, indicating the triangle pin.
“Yeah,” Ben said. “Totally, it’s cool.” 
Edgar grinned. 
The next day, they found themselves sitting next to one another (by chance? Ben thought not) at the housing selection conference.   Edgar had reached over and nudged him.
“Would you want to room together?”  This was exactly what Ben hadn’t wanted.  No, no roommates who were Star Trek fiends, not even if they were gay. No thank you. 
“I’m trying to room with my friend in Northeast,” Ben had lied.  Dave was committed to being roommates with his fellow Eagle Scout Zack. “But thanks so much.” 
Edgar nodded his head and went back to his sheet.   Throughout the rest of the day, Ben felt Edgar staring at him whenever he was around.  He looked forward to having orientation be over so he could get away.  There also existed the fear that somehow he would be assigned Edgar as a roommate; transfer students didn’t get the luxury of learning who their roommate would be.  But that was dumb.  It was such a big school that Ben figured he’d probably never see Edgar again.
The cars on the road sped up, then slowed down again.  Ben glanced over to the vehicle next to his. A guy around his age was sitting in the back seat behind people Ben assumed were his parents.  Maybe that was him, the guy.  He didn’t necessarily look gay, but who could tell these things.  Barbara and Janine certainly couldn’t tell about him.
Once Ben arrived on campus, it was easy to park and unload.   Ben was living in the nicest part of the campus and the only one that looked traditionally New England.  There were eight brick buildings tastefully arranged around a sloping, grassy quad with a sand volleyball court.   It was more attractive than the high rise dormitories on the other end of campus that resembled housing projects.
“Last name is Bristol, first name Ben,” Ben told the short-haired woman in the dorm office handing out keys.  She squinted at the list, looking for his name.
“You’re here early,” she said. “Older students won’t be coming until tomorrow.”
“I’m a transfer student, it said to come today …” he started to explain but the woman waved him off. 
A student handed him his key. “214. Hampden, across the parking lot.”
Ben took his key and walked out.  214. Hampden Hall.  No matter how he tried, he couldn’t get out of Hampden County.  The door to his room was slightly ajar, so Ben pushed it open all the way.
“Jesus,” he said.  His new roommate- or the man he assumed was his roommate- was sitting on a bed in boxer shorts and a t-shirt and smoking.  Ben was annoyed once he got over his initial relief that his roommate wasn’t Edgar; he’d requested a non-smoker and this guy looked as though he’d recently smoked through a pack, judging from the overflowing ashtray.   The other bed –stripped bare - was covered with shopping bags and books.
The smoker stood and stubbed out the cigarette.  “Ben? I’m Cedrick.  Nice to meet you.”
He had a British accent.  It was coarse, Ben thought. 
And sexy.
“Sorry about the mess, I wasn’t expecting you to be here yet.”
An open box of crackers sat on the desk, leaking Ritz’s.  Next to it lay a worn copy of Playboy, a jar of a tar-like glop labeled “Marmite” and a knife still slick with jam.
This was getting off to a wonderful start.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chapter 3: Keeping It in the Family

Keeping It in the Family
Todd lay on the bed for a while after Darin left, only getting up to open the window and let in the late summer air. His parents may not notice anything when they came back to the room, (did his folks even remember what cum smelled like?) but he didn’t want to risk it.  He caught a glance of himself in the mirror on the wall.  Thin but a great build, good-sized dick, and decent nipples. 
He was much cuter than Darin. 
Darin’s excuse of checking out the campus had been lame. Todd knew he was probably checking out the guys.  Good luck. The chances of getting laid once on their first day had been remote enough, but twice?  It didn’t matter to Todd if Darin got lucky again; they were only roommates.  If they never had sex again, Todd would be fine.  If the situation did come up, Todd wouldn’t turn it down.  At least not until something better came along.
Todd had sensed Darin hadn’t believed his claim of not having any prior experience. There hadn’t been any “jack-off buddy” in his neighborhood; that was an invention Todd got from the few gay porn magazines he’d managed to read.  Todd hadn’t wanted to reveal too much to this new roommate who was still a stranger and who definitely wouldn’t understand what had happened this past summer.  Maybe if he and Darin ended up being friends, he’d tell him about Craig.  But even before Craig, there had been Don.
Todd had known he liked other boys since he was young.  He’d pore over his mother’s Sears catalog looking at the men’s underwear section, and whenever a daytime talk show would feature male strippers -which happened every other month- he’d fake an illness to stay home from school.  Nobody ever connected his absences to the fact that men in g-strings were on “Donahue.”  Todd didn’t have a girlfriend; he didn’t see the point of getting into a situation that promised to only get messy.  He never once considered telling anybody what he was feeling; hearing his friends talk about AIDS as the “fag disease” kept him silent.
When Todd entered high school in the Fall of 1987, he found himself attracted to men his own age for the first time.  The boys had bloomed from the gawky people they’d been in middle school, and Todd kept his head down in the showers after gym class.  Getting a boner while naked among your classmates was not a way to evade detection. 
Despite all the newly handsome boys running around, the one guy whom Todd became infatuated with- an infatuation that, unlike a few crushes, had never faded - was his best friend, Ronaldo “Don” DeOliveira. 
Todd and Don had been friends since fifth grade when Don moved to town and ended up sitting next to Todd in homeroom.  Don’s parents were Portuguese immigrants.  Somehow, that made Don a pariah with most of the other kids. Todd had Portuguese blood, though he didn’t speak the language nor did his parents, but their heritage and love of the X-Men had bound the two boys together. Todd liked Don’s dark hair and dark brown, almost black, eyes as well as his quiet demeanor. 
As they grew older and Don filled out, he started playing baseball and his status as an outsider was rescinded.  Don would periodically vanish from Todd’s life whenever he’d start dating a girl, but that only lasted a few months at a time.  When Don was off with the new girl, Todd watched a lot of TV.   Then Don and the girl would break up, he and Todd would hang out again for a time, Don would meet a new girl and the cycle renewed itself.  Don never asked Todd why he never dated, even though girls were always asking if Todd was available.
One evening during their senior year, Don dropped by Todd’s house unexpectedly.  Don had been dating a girl named Michelle for the past month, but she was away for the long Columbus Day weekend and Don was bored.  The two friends sat on Todd’s bed and watched “Night of the Living Dead” on the local PBS station.  Don fell asleep halfway through and Todd stared at Don’s prone body. 
Don’s athleticism had made him muscular whereas Todd considered himself annoyingly slight.   Todd grew hard as he watched Don’s chest go up and down.  The bottom of Don’s t-shirt was pulled up over his flat, tan stomach.  Knowing from dozens of sleepovers over the years that Don was a heavy sleeper, Todd reached over and gently grabbed the waistband of Don’s shorts.
Don didn’t move.
Slowly, Todd took his other hand and pulled Don’s shorts down to his knees. Don wasn’t wearing any underwear and he looked beautiful lying on the bed with his shorts down around his knees, his t-shirt hiked up to chest, displaying a glory trail down to his pubic hair.   Don’s penis wasn’t all that big, Todd was happy to see that his was quite a bit larger.  He at least had that over on Don.
Afraid that any more exploration would awaken him, Todd pulled Don’s pants back to where they’d been, then went into the bathroom at the end of the hallway and beat off.  Don woke up some time after midnight and went home.  The next night Don came by again. If he knew what had happened, he didn’t acknowledge anything.  Michelle came back from her trip at the end of the weekend; Don went back to her and the pattern of sporadically seeing one another continued.  Todd didn’t try anything with Don again.
Todd graduated from high school in June, and was glad to see it come to an end.  The summer was long and dull until in August, the day after Todd and Darin had first talked on the phone after receiving their roommate assignments in the mail, Todd’s cousin Craig came for a two-week visit.
Craig was five years older than Todd and the family line was tangled enough that Todd could never tell if they were third cousins or second, or once-removed.  Soon after Craig had been born, his parents moved out of state and the families only saw one another once a year at reunions.   Craig had stopped joining his family regularly on the visits when he was in high school and it had been over four years since Todd had last seen him.  Craig had recently graduated from Cornell and was visiting from Buffalo, where he got a job after graduation. The moment Craig had walked into the house, Todd’s stomach fell.  Craig was gorgeous. He was tan, with hair and eyes not as dark as Don’s but just as nice. 
Craig went over to Todd first thing. “Dammit, I still picture you as a little kid, but you’re an adult,” Craig exclaimed, and then he hugged him.  Todd turned red.
“You two look alike,” Todd’s mother helpfully added.
That night when Todd masturbated, he thought about Craig.
And so the week went. Todd tried to stay out of Craig’s way, which was relatively easy for Craig came and went.  He took day trips into Boston or the Cape, and preferred to stay in the dining room with Todd’s parents after dinner and talk while Todd left the table. 
When in bed, Todd would hear Craig moving about in the guest room next to his and he imagined Craig changing out of his clothes.   One morning, Craig didn’t come home until three a.m.  Todd was dying to know where he’d been.
“Are you scared of me?” Craig asked one afternoon as they were sitting in the kitchen.  “You’ve barely talked the whole time I’ve been here.”
His mother was doing the dishes at the sink. “Todd’s always been shy,” she said. “Just like I was.  Just like you were.”
“I was never shy!” Craig said. “Never.”  He nudged Todd and grinned.
 After that, Todd tried to be more relaxed around Craig but he found he had nothing to say.  Their conversation was mainly limited to Todd’s upcoming move to school. 
Early in the second week of Craig’s stay, Todd’s parents went to Tanglewood with friends for the evening and invited Craig along.  Craig had refused, saying that he was tired and preferred to stay home.  The thought of being alone in the house with Craig made Todd nervous, and since his parents had taken the car, he went out for a long bike ride.  He stopped at Don’s but Don was out, so Todd traveled up and down the streets in town until bats were fluttering over head.  When he returned home, he heard splashing and went out to the back patio, not turning on the light.  Craig was swimming in the pool.
Craig gave a start when he saw Todd standing there. “Jesus, you scared me.”
Despite the darkness, Todd could still see the outline of his cousin’s body in the water. Craig was swimming naked.  “This isn’t too weird, is it?” Craig asked.
Todd shook his head. “No, I’ve done it myself a few times,” which was true.  The house was set far back enough on its lot for there to be no interference from the neighbors, with woods in the back and high fences on either side.
Craig glided over to where Todd was standing and picked up a beer can at the side of the pool.  He held it up to Todd. “Sip?  You drink?” 
Todd took a swig.  It burned going down.  He and Don had sometimes stolen beer from Don’s fridge, but Todd never liked the taste.
“Did you want to come in?  I’ll get out if you’re uncomfortable.”  Craig started to climb out; his arms were lean and muscled.
“No, it’s okay,” Todd said. “I don’t mind.  I’ll come in, though.” 
He was sure Craig could see his legs shaking.  He took off his shirt, pants, shoes and socks and started to get into the pool. What am I doing?
“Boxers?” Craig exclaimed. “C’mon, you’re among family.” 
Todd stood back up and slipped off his boxers, keeping his back turned so Craig couldn’t see his erection.  He lowered himself into the water and swam to the far end.
“Feels great, doesn’t it?” Craig asked.
The water was warm, and not much of a relief from the August humidity, but he nodded anyway. “Oh, yeah.”
Craig swam up to him. “I love swimming at night, but only in pools.  I never got over seeing ‘Jaws’ when I was seven.” He rested his arm on the edge. “It’s been a nice visit.”
“Yeah?” Todd knew that was a stupid response before he said it. 
Craig was quiet for a moment, and Todd thought he’d blown it. “Come over here, Todd,” Craig said quietly.  Todd drifted over to him.
Craig put his hands on either side of Todd’s face and stared at him.  Todd didn’t try to pull back.
 “You’re so cute,” Craig said. He tilted his head forward and lightly kissed Todd on the lips, and then drew back, waiting to Todd’s reaction.
Todd only had a moment to be surprised before he then stunned himself by kissing Craig back. Craig tasted like beer, but it didn’t matter. Todd felt Craig’s hand move down his leg to the inner thigh and he massaged the spot under Todd’s balls.  Nothing felt wrong about it.  They climbed out of the pool together.  Craig sat down on the padded chaise lounge, and pulled Todd down on top of him.  They spent the next three hours exploring every inch of one another’s body.
That was how it began. For the rest of Craig’s visit, they were together every night.  The night before he was to leave, Craig came into Todd’s room while he was sleeping and got into his bed.  Todd woke up when he felt the mattress sag and let Craig relieve him of his shorts. He silently praised the architect who put the master bedroom downstairs at the opposite end of the house. Craig lifted Todd’s legs gently and put his tongue on Todd’s balls, going lower and lower until Todd almost exploded. Todd hadn’t ever experienced anything that amazing. 
Craig kissed his way up Todd’s body, bringing him to climax by the time he’d reached the space under Todd’s chest.  Todd was still hard after he came.  Craig kissed him on the mouth, and then they had sex, real sex with Craig penetrating Todd initially with his fingers, then with his dick – Todd noted but never questioned why Craig had a condom and lube at the ready - as Todd lay back and took it.  
Early in the morning, before Craig snuck back into the guestroom, Todd said, “I love you.” 
Craig kissed him on the forehead. “I love you too.” 
That was their last chance to be alone.  When it came time to see Craig off at the train station, Todd felt sick to his stomach.  Craig sensed it and smiled, hugging Todd chastely in front of his folks, but whispered “Love ya” in Todd’s ear. Then he was on his way back to Buffalo.  Craig called a few times after that but their conversations were polite and discreet.  No point in letting the folks overhear anything. 
The remains of the summer dragged.  The only thing left to look forward to was school.    Don came over to say goodbye before he left for Trinity in Hartford.  They watched TV for a while and Todd realized he didn’t have anything to say to Don.  Their parting was subdued and less painful than Craig’s had been.
 Now at school for less than one day, Todd had slept with his roommate.  When he and Darin were tumbling around on the bed, Todd felt like he was betraying Craig. But that was ridiculous.  Craig was in Buffalo, and if he wanted Todd so badly, he knew where to find him.  Plus, if Darin was any indication, there would be more willing guys on campus, maybe even one to make him forget about Craig.  Craig was just something that happened and would never happen again, Todd kept telling himself. The guy was family - even if distant- and that was wrong, wasn’t it?
He had yet to believe it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chapter Two: Summer of '91

Summer of ‘91
After the hookup with Todd, Darin Burkett walked aimlessly around campus, stopping to watch the cute incoming students unload their belongings.   Parents were lurking everywhere. Hopefully he’d avoid seeing Todd’s parents when they came back.  He didn't want to have to smile and put on an act again.  Once was enough.
Todd’s mother had an expensive hairstyle and walked around the room exclaiming, “Isn’t this nice?” though it was clear she didn’t think much of the place.  Todd’s father looked annoyed the entire time; he didn’t say much as he helped bring the boxes into the room.  He looked like an older version of Todd only with a bad mustache.  Todd’s folks had barely been gone fifteen minutes- off to check into their motel-when the boys hooked up.
A motel.  Was Todd going to be a momma’s boy who always needed her around? Darin’s mother and stepfather’s visit had lasted less than thirty minutes. They’d pulled up to the dorm and unloaded Darin’s few belongings.  His mother complained about the slow elevators and slipped Darin a twenty as she was leaving.  Truth be told, that was exactly how Darin had wanted the move to go. The money was an unexpected bonus.   He wasn’t planning on moving back home next summer so he’d take what he could from his mother now.   The sour look on her face as she dipped into her purse made it that much sweeter.  She could afford to part with her money, but she acted as though it was a huge deal.
Darin’s mother had also been more honest than Todd’s about the campus.  She took one look and then shook her head.  “This place is a dump.”   She was right.  The more Darin saw of the State University campus, the more he realized how ugly the school was.  Definitely not stately, with no ivy to be found. Unless it was poison.  That’s what you get for going to a place you don’t check out beforehand.  Some areas of the school resembled a low rent Harvard Yard.  Other regions had ugly modern buildings thrown down with no continuity.  The library was a twenty-story brick structure stuck in the middle of the campus, rumored to be sinking a quarter inch a year by the weight of the books.  Another architectural atrocity was the campus center, which resembled a waffle standing on its side. 
Thinking about waffles made Darin hungry.  He had the money but didn’t know where he could get food that night as the cafeterias wouldn’t open until morning.  Maybe he should have accepted the dinner invite, but no.  Todd was cute, but that wasn't enough reason to go to dinner with a person he barely knew and his parents while having to answer questions about himself all evening. 
Wanna hear a good one, folks? Your son blew me while you were out.
Darin knew that Todd had lied earlier: he could tell it hadn’t been the first time Todd had a cock in his mouth.  Not that the prior experience had made him a master.  There had been too many teeth to describe Todd as anything more than adequate. 
But in fairness, Todd hadn’t been the only one distorting the truth.   Darin’s ex William had been almost twenty years older than he: thirty-seven. They also hadn’t met at a youth group, but on the Back Bay MBTA platform where William had been cruising him one weeknight. They ended up fooling around in a nearby public bathroom stall. That wasn’t so sexy, but it had been fun.  After that, Darin started hooking up with William a few times a week.  Darin started making up more and more excuses as to why he was going out so often, and knew his mother believed none of them. What was she going to do, lock him up?  Darin liked to imagine the look on his mother’s face if she found out he was seeing a guy only seven years younger than she.
Not that William was such a horror.  He didn’t dress especially well and was ten pounds overweight but he had a decent job at a bank; the job allowed William to always pay for meals.  The paunch was canceled out by the fact that William was skilled in bed, and had a large dick.  For several weeks over the summer, things had proceeded well.  The two of them spent time in the South End, and then in William’s small third floor apartment on Tremont Street which he shared with an MIT grad student who was never there.
 The relationship ended one night at Club Café.  Darin, drunk and staggering, had left William on the dance floor and gone to the bathroom. When he came back to the bar, William was making out with another young guy in a banquette while a dance remix of “Right Here, Right Now” was playing over the speakers.  Darin ordered several more drinks, stuck William with the tab and never called him again.
His mother would smirk when she’d come upon Darin watching TV and ask why he’d stopped going out so much.  He’d give her the finger behind her back.
Fuck William.  That was over.  William was still in Boston, still wearing his boring clothes and still pushing forty. Most people on campus were Darin’s age. If he could get laid regularly - he’d gotten off to a good beginning - it would be worth it to be away from a big city, away from his family, and the boring, cramped suburbs even if it meant attending school in this backwoods area. 
Time to start anew.
Almost as soon as he completed his last thought, Darin was overcome with loneliness.  He revised his opinion of William for the second time in as many minutes.  Maybe it had been a mistake to let William go so easily.  If the loneliness persisted, he’d give William a call one day and see if anything could be done to salvage the relationship.  It would enable him to get off campus as often as possible.   
Classes began in two days, and Darin had no idea how to kill the time until then.  If Todd was willing, maybe they’d fool around again. 
It was something to do.

Chapter One: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

School’s in.  They’re out.

Section of a letter published in the Daily Centaur (_________ State University), March 1992:

These are the members of the University Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance: perpetual victims who set out to battle homophobia wherever they think they find it.  They see themselves as noble, but these same people didn’t hesitate to take advantage of society’s homophobia to punish me.  And it worked.

I have no money.  I have no home.  And this is all because of the people whom I once thought were my friends.  I’d like to think they feel shame or guilt, but I have hung out with these people for the better part of a school year and the truth is that they feel nothing.

Needless to say, all hell broke loose.

FALL 1991
The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
On Todd Salazar’s first day of college, while his belongings were still in neatly labeled boxes on the dorm room floor, he had sex with his new roommate Darin.
The freshmen had been alone together for less than an hour before they decided to skip any dancing around the subject of their sexuality. Todd had Darin pegged the moment they shook hands; it didn’t take much longer for Darin to get the hint.  Then came the awkward fumbling and unzipping on the thin-on-one-end-lumpy-on-the-other mattress.  Todd came on Darin’s narrow chest, Darin on the mattress. Todd decided then to claim the other bed as his.
Darin sat up first and put his glasses. Time to go exploring.  He’d never laid eyes on the campus until that day, having faked an excuse to get out of freshman orientation. 
“Well,” Darin said. “Welcome to college.” 
Todd, who was starting to nod off, smiled. “You know, I wondered if you were gay when we talked on the phone last month …” he said.
Darin shrugged. “You were right,” he said. “You get a gold star.”
“I guess I should start unpacking,” Todd said.
Todd had drawn the shade soon after Darin grabbed his crotch; the sunlight coming through barely illuminated the room.  He watched Darin lean over to look for his underwear where and noted that his roommate’s back was studded with moles.  Darin wasn’t the type Todd was usually attracted to – too skinny and pale - but Darin had been willing and horny. And there. 
 “So, have you done that before?” Darin asked. 
Todd propped himself up on one elbow and, feeling self conscious in his nakedness, crossed his left leg over his thigh. 
“There was a guy in my neighborhood I jacked off with a few times,” Todd said.  “He always wanted to do more but I wouldn’t let him.  What about you?”
“I’ve had boyfriends.  I dated a guy this past summer:  William,” Darin said.  “We met in Boston, at the youth group. Did you ever go to that?” 
Todd shook his head. “I never went into Boston on a regular basis.  I wish I had.  Are you guys still together?”
“Nope.”  Darin didn’t look up from the floor. “Your folks are coming back later?”
“Yeah, after they check into their motel,” Todd answered. “They said you’re welcome to come to dinner. We’re going to try and find a place in town to eat.”
 “No, it’s all right,” Darin said. “I’m going to stay and check things out.”  He stood and zipped up his cheap jeans.  “Tell your folks it was nice to meet them and give them my regrets.”
Todd nodded. “Sure.”
“Are you coming back to the room tonight or staying with them?” Darin asked.
“Coming back.  But they’ll be back in the morning before they leave,” Todd patted Darin’s butt. “Have fun.”
“I will,” Darin said, glad to get out of the dark, cluttered room.