“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.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chapter 16: Stalked!

Have You Seen This Man?
“You have a note,” Cedrick told Ben as they passed one another in front of the dorm on the following Wednesday. “I left it on your bed.”
“A note?”
“Some bloke came by asking for you and left a note.”
“Did he say what his name was?  What did he look like?”  Ben envisioned a handsome stranger inquiring about him.  Maybe it was Jeremy.  Jeremy wasn't a stranger, but the thought of Jeremy coming to look for him made Ben’s stomach leap.  Still, that probably wasn’t the case.
 “He had a beard and was wearing a hat.  It’s deadly out today and he had a fuckin’ hat on,” Cedrick said. “Looked at me like he wanted to eat me.”
Oh no. 
The note was lying on the bed, just as Cedrick had told him it would be:

It’s Edgar from up in Hillside.  There are a lot more Ben’s in Northeast than I thought there would be. Was wondering if you wanted to get together sometime?  Call me at 5-6745.

Ben was on the phone to Dave within two minutes
“He knocked on every fucking door in the entire residential area looking for me,” Ben told him. “Can you imagine?” 
“Aren’t you flattered?” Dave asked. “I mean, you were hoping to meet somebody and they’re throwing themselves at you in the second week.”
“Ha.  I’d be flattered if he was hot,” Ben said. “This is creepy.  I don’t care if I sound like an asshole.”
“Well, you’ve been talking about meeting a guy for years now, so here’s your chance.” Dave said. 
 “Ha ha.  I don’t want to be mean to the guy, but I’m just not interested,” Ben said. “I’ll hide in my room.”
 “That’s a mature reaction,” Dave said. “Come on, you’re saying you wouldn’t want to …”
 “All right,” Dave said. “But what if this ends up being the only opportunity you get?”
“I’ll take the chance,” Ben said.

Stormy Weather
Todd arrived home from class to find the lamp broken in two, lying on the floor.  Darin was sitting at his own desk, still in his bathrobe.
“Sorry about that,” Darin said. “I knocked it over by accident this morning.” 
The lamp had been set back on the desk.  There was no way Darin could have accidentally knocked it down.  And why was Darin still in his bathrobe? It was five o’clock. He must have spent another day blowing off classes.  Darin had dropped or rescheduled classes so that he wouldn’t have to get up before ten, but he still managed to miss several.  Some days, Todd had come home after lunch and Darin would still be asleep. 
“Could you maybe reimburse me for it?” Todd asked. “And clean it up?”
Darin snorted. “Yeah, like I have any money. You said it was cheap, you can get a new one.” Darin picked up a cigarette.  He’d started smoking not long after meeting Maria, and now the stink of Marlboro’s never left the room.  Some nights Maria and Darin would sit and smoke for hours, despite Todd asking them not to smoke in the room.  Todd found Maria hilarious at first but after a while, she got on his nerves.  She laughed too loud, blew her smoke around, and complained about everything.  It got old quick. 
Maria’s boyfriend Cedrick sometimes joined them, but he wasn't bad.  He just sat there quietly while Maria held court; Todd was surprised that Cedrick could put up with Maria. On the nights would Todd would come in late from studying and find them all gathered on his side of the room as  Darin’s side of the room was a mess and nearly uninhabitable.   Cedrick was the only one who was ever apologetic. 
Todd started studying at the Blue Book Café in the Campus Center to escape from the evening antics.  He told Darin he didn’t want anybody sitting on his bed. 
“You need to loosen up,” Darin said.
“No, you need to learn that two people live here,” Todd said before going off to brush his teeth. 
Min the RA had been no help. Min said there were no rooms available and nobody wanted to switch.  Todd and Darin were stuck together for the semester and that was that.
Thanks for nothing, Min. 
Todd and Darin had stopped fooling around, which was fine because Darin no longer turned him on; he’d had to fantasize about Craig the last few times they’d had sex.  Darin had appeared one day with a new guy; a tall, good looking dirty blond with tan skin and hazel eyes named Lars who looked confused as to what he was doing there. Nevertheless, now Lars was there nearly every night of the week.  Todd was relieved that Darin had found somebody new to play with, but was also a little jealous because Lars was hot.  He had no idea what Lars saw in Darin.  Darin who had just broken his lamp.
“Come on, it was a lamp,” Darin said.  “You can’t have been that attached to it.  This isn’t ‘A Christmas Story.’” 
Todd opened the window.  The glass was smudged with fingerprints; something he'd have to clean later.  Darin made a mess out of everything.
“Close it.  It’s too cold out,” Darin said.
“It’s nearly 70 today,” Todd said.  “It’s been like this for a week.”
“Well, it’s too cold when you open the windows in the morning.  I always have to get up and shut them.”
Maybe if you ever bothered going to class, you wouldn’t be cold because you wouldn’t be here. 
Darin made no move to pick up the lamp, so Todd waited a while until Darin left for dinner and then cleaned it up himself.  Then he made Darin’s bed and cleaned the window.  The room finally appeared somewhat decent.
“Where’s stone face tonight?” Maria asked, interrupting her story about living in The Bronx.
“Who cares,” Darin said. “He’s my roommate, not my friend.”
“That’s too bad,” Maria said. “Roommates suck.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t be here all the time,” Lars said, speaking up for the first time all evening. “It is partly his room. I don’t have a roommate, and neither does Maria.”
“No way,” Maria said. “Todd has to learn to share.  I’ll bet he’s an only child.”  So was she, but this wasn't about her.
“I don’t want to talk about Todd, or his lamp or anything else,” Darin said. “New subject, please.”

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