“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.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Chapter 12: Meeting of the Minds

The Nicotine Creed
Maria felt as though she was being watched.  She stayed put on the bench by the campus pond and looked around for anybody she might know until she spotted the guy lying on the grass a few yards away.  
He nodded at her. 
She nodded back. 
He stood up and came toward her.  Maria reached into her purse and fingered her pepper spray.  The guy appeared harmless, after all he was smiling, but you never know.
“I’m sorry,” the stranger said. “But I’m desperate.  Do you have an extra smoke?” He had a British accent.
Maria took her hand off the spray. “Sure.”  Since when have I become the campus supplier?
He didn’t look to be the Clove type, so she handed him the last American Spirit she found at the bottom of her bag.  This guy was definitely hotter than the majority of guys on campus, especially those from the eastern part of the state with their harsh accents. 
“Thanks so much,” the guy said a minute later, exhaling. “I was suffering withdrawal.  I’m low on cash until next week”
“I always carry an emergency pack on me,” Maria said. 
“Good idea, the simplest things never occur to me,” he said.  He held out his free hand. “I’m Cedrick, and what’s the name of my savior?”
“Maria,” she said.
“Maria,” Cedrick repeated. “Perfect.”
“Why perfect?”
Cedrick grinned. “It just is.”

Don’t I Know You?
Ben was lost, which was something of a relief.  If he couldn’t find this Diversity Center, he couldn’t go to the movie, but he could still tell Dave that he’d at least tried.   I can go back to my room, Ben thought, I could just go back to my room and not go and maybe I’ll go to something else later on.  I don’t know if I can do this …
Ryan Gibson frowned as he approached the  Dickinson residential area.  What had Sabra been thinking putting the Center office way out here? This was where all the freshman and jocks wanted to live.  As a result it was crowded, noisy, chaotic (there was a rumor that a cow had once been forced to the top floor of one of the towers and then thrown off the balcony) and the site of a few homophobic incidents over the years.  Just the other night, Tobe had recounted the story about a bottle of cranberry juice being thrown at him from a high-rise window during the short time he lived there.  Tobe’s hair had been his fire engine red at the time.  He moved out to a new residential area a week later.
And here it was, only the first week of school, and one of the big Dickinson guys was staring at him as Ryan walked by.  Ryan cursed himself for making the trek out here to see a movie that he and just about every other member of the UGLBA had seen ten times.  Ryan glared back at the guy and continued walking.
Then he heard the footsteps coming up behind him.
Why did I wear my “Gay Power” t-shirt, what was I trying to prove?
“Hey!” the guy called.
Ryan turned around. “Excuse me?”
 “You’re going to Crane House, right?”  the guy asked.
Ryan realized who it was.  This wasn’t a jock out to flatten him; it was the guy who’d come up to the UGLBA table on the concourse. 
Son of a gun.  Macon Brigham had been right. 
“Hi,” the guy said. “I’ve been wandering for ten minutes trying to find the office.”
“This way,” Ryan said, leading him across a small parking lot to a set back alcove where the office was almost hidden except for one unmistakable feature. 
The front door was painted lavender.  

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