Chapter Eight

Into The Dorm

"I still can't believe that you're moving in here when you own a house," said Brian as he helped me carry box after box up from the trailer I was pulling with my car. It was full to overflowing with boxes. My back seat was full of boxes. I was starting to wonder where my room mate would put his things once mine were all moved in.

"I told you," I said, lugging a box up to the third floor behind him. "Fresh start."

"I hear you," he replied. "That's kind of why I'm here this year instead of in Chicago."

"But I thought you said that you were here at Rhaven last year," I huffed as we tackled the stairs.

"Well yeah," he said. "That's right. I just don't really want to be in school in Chicago with everything that happened."

"What exactly happened?" I asked.

"I'll tell you about it soon," he replied as we finally made it to my door. "I want to wait until Ian is with us."

The elevator was out of order and there was no one in the RA's room so we lugged over eighty boxes up three flights of stairs. It took us until well after noon to get it all up there and I was contemplating putting it all away when Brian suggested that we take a break for lunch. My stomach growled in agreement with him and we both laughed. I locked the door and followed him down the stairs. We walked across the street to a place called The Campus Diner.

"What time does Ian get here?" I asked as we sat at a table near the back.

"He should be getting here any time now," replied Brian.

A waitress came over and took our orders and then we were alone again. We talked about nothing in particular and we didn't mention Nick Andrews. For that I was thankful. I'd told Brian what had happened. Not knowing Nick or any of my friends any better than he knew me made it difficult for him to see how strange and crazy it was for Nick to kiss me. He understood that I'd always believed Nick to be straight and that Nick had always said he was so I was shocked that he'd kissed me. There just wasn't much Brian could say about it.

The other person who would be going to school with me that I could talk to was Leo. He knew Nick pretty well but he was straight and I got the distinct impression that he wasn't exactly cool with homosexuality. I think he was just happy to have a friend. Either way it wouldn't have been the right thing to do. I couldn't discuss it with him. That left Jeremy. Jeremy would still be in Storyville taking classes at the community college and taking care of his brother. But Jeremy had his hands full there. I had no business telling him things about a boy he considered to be his brother. No there really wasn't anyone I could talk to about Nick. I missed Ben.

"So you have all of your stuff moved into the dorm?" Brian asked once the food was served.

"Yeah," I replied. "Got the new computer this morning so that was a good thing."

"I saw the box on your bed," he said. "Any word on your room mate?"

"Nope," I replied, thinking that I'd have to hear something soon. Classes were set to start on Monday.

"I'm sure he's probably moving in right now," he said. "He'll probably be strange and quiet."

"God no!" I gasped "I don't want him to be quiet and moody. I at least want to be able to get along with him."

"Well I'm sure you will," he said quickly. "College is a place where most people set aside their petty differences and start acting more like adults."

"You sound just like an advertisement for the dorms," I laughed.

"Really," he chuckled, trying to get himself under control. "I'm sure the two of you will get along just fine, Tommy."

"I'm not really all that worried about it," I said truthfully. "If we don't get along I'll just deal with it."

"Come on," he said, looking at me as he cocked his head to the side. "I've read the interviews, Tommy. I know that you can handle anyone."

I nearly choked on my burger when he mentioned the interviews. I couldn't believe I'd sat for any of those interviews. Who did I think I was? Getting stoned by a congregation didn't make me a celebrity. I'd told myself at the time that the interviews could help someone who was in a bad place but who was I kidding? Those interviews only made sure that everyone I ever met would already know something about me. Could I live with that?

"Why the dark look?" he asked when I hadn't said anything for a few minutes. "Those interviews were great, Tommy. To be honest I don't know how I'd have gotten through any of that. What you did was awesome."

"Awesome?" I asked, cocking my own head this time. "Brian, someone bombed our lockers. We never found out who that was. That person is still out there probably biding their time and laying plans for their next assassination attempt."

"Assassination?" he chocked. "Tommy, no one is going to try to hurt you at Storyville University. You'll have plenty of friends to watch your back."

"I had plenty of friends to watch my back in high school too," I pointed out. "All of this happened with those friends around. What's to stop anyone from trying to pick me off in college?"

"How dramatic," he laughed. "Calm down, Tommy. I'm sure that whoever it was that bombed your locker in high school is probably either already in jail for doing something else or too scared to even confront you now."

We paid the check and headed back to the dorm. Brian went to his room to wait for Ian. I still didn't know how they'd managed to make sure that they were room mates. I had to put my stuff away and meet my own room mate. I just hoped he wasn't a bible thumping Baptist. I'd had quite enough of those in my time. I knew it was too much to ask that he be gay and friendly so I decided to settle for friendly.

I hung up most of my clothes in the closet on the left side of the room and made sure that I only put anything in the bottom three drawers of the six drawer chest that stood next to the door. I stored my computer under the bed for the moment until I decided what to do about the solitary desk that stood against the windowed wall between the two beds. I was just getting into the third box of stuff when my room mate walked through the door. He was carrying a huge suitcase and computer notebook case. He grinned at me as he came in.

"Hey," he said. "I'm Greg."

"Tommy," I replied, smiling at him.

He was tall with broad shoulders and a flat stomach. His sandy hair was cut short and parted to the left. His amber brown eyes sparkled with excitement as he stood there. He was dressed in a sleeveless t-shirt and tan cargo shorts. On his feet were a pair of worn deck shoes. He just kept smiling at me.

"I chose this bed over here," I said, pointing to the bed with all of my boxes stacked on it. "We can switch if you want."

"No, that's fine," he replied, coming the rest of the way into the room and putting his suitcase on the other bed. "You just look very familiar."

"I get that a lot," I lied, thinking that I knew where he thought he'd seen me before. I wanted to avoid it as long as possible.

"So where are you from?" he asked as he sat down his notebook case.

"Right here in Storyville," I said, spreading my arms wide. "Decided that living at home wasn't such a good idea."

"Wow," he said. "I'd have loved to stay home but I drove all the way down here from Detroit."

"Long commute," I laughed. He laughed with me. I decided that Greg would be all right.

"These rooms even have bathrooms," he said with a whistle as he opened the door at the end of his bed. "Hey there's a shower in here!"

"Yeah, welcome to Storyville University," I laughed.

For the next few hours I put my stuff away as he put his away. He helped me put my shelves on the wall over my bed and then I started to put my books on the shelves as he looked at the desk. That one desk thing was going to hurt us. I could see that. We both had notebooks so that wouldn't be a problem. However if we ever decided to write anything at the same time we were in for it. I decided we'd deal and went back to putting my books on the shelves.

I didn't see Brian for the rest of the day. I imagined that Ian had arrived and the pair were having a night in. Greg and I talked about high school while we ate sub sandwiches from the deli across the street. I learned that he was the youngest of four boys. All of his brothers played football. Greg had played for a while but didn't love the game as much as his siblings. His father was a detective in Detroit and his mother was a preschool teacher. He talked about Christmas parties with his large family and how small portions could be with six people not counting visiting relatives at the table.

"There were always tons of presents from Mom and Dad," he said with a grin as he caught a piece of falling lettuce with his napkin. "Of course with the one gift deal from each of the relatives we made out like bandits."

"Sounds like it," I said with a sad smile. All his talk about family holidays only reminded me that most of my family was gone now. I had Brian now but he would likely want to spend his holidays with Ian's family.

"One time," he chuckled, "my oldest brother, Danny, got it in his head that it would be so cool if we dressed our greyhound as Rudolph. He coated the dog's nose with Mom's brand new tube of red lipstick and pranced the dog around the living room. When Mom found out what it was on the dog's nose, Danny got his hide warmed up but good!"

"My mother used to hide little gifts in the tree," I said, returning to those years in my head and basking in her excited smile as she watched me on the hunt. "She'd let me begin my hunt for those little gifts on Christmas Eve. If I hadn't found them by New Year's Day then the tree came down and she'd stack the little boxes away and give them to me later. We always had warm pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream on that night. Mom would stack the little boxes in the center of the table and after pie we'd tear into them."

"That sounds great," he said with a huge smile. "I thought you said you had a brother though. You talk like it was just you and your mom at Christmas."

"It was," I said, sitting up straighter in the bed. "I didn't meet Brian until this summer."

"I think you're going to have to explain this to me," he said with a laugh. "I'm confused."

"My mother was my father's second wife," I explained. "I'd seen a picture of Brian when I was a kid but we never met until this summer."

"That's crazy," he said. "I couldn't imagine life without my brothers."

"Well I'm hoping that Brian and I get that close soon," I said, looking around at the empty food boxes on the bed.

"Well maybe you will," he said. "You did say that he goes to this school right?"

"Yeah," I laughed. "He helped me carry my stuff up from my car earlier and then we had lunch. He went to his room afterward to wait for his . . . Ian."

"His Ian?" laughed Greg. "What's that like his boyfriend or something?"

I'd slipped on that one. Talking to Greg had seemed so comfortable that I almost outed my brother. In fact I think I actually did. I didn't know what to say to that I was worried that he'd be some kind of bigot and call my brother a freak. If he did that then what would he say when he found out that I was gay?

"Look," he said, "don't get so nervous, Tommy. My older brother is gay. I'm cool with it."

"Good," I replied. "I didn't want to have to fight and argue with you already."

"You too?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Yeah," I replied. "I'm gay all right."

"Wait a minute!" he gasped. I could see the wheels turning in his head as he put something together. "I know where I've seen you before! Marty, my brother, came home one day last year with this magazine in his hand. He wouldn't shut up about it until everyone at the table read the article. Your picture was . . ."

"You read the article about Reverend Hartman and his congregation," I said slowly. This is what I'd been dreading.

"Yeah!" he said. "Did they really try to stone you to death?"

And that began the talk of the night. I told him all about what had happened to Steve and I when we tangled with the good Reverend. I explained that Leo Hartman was the one who tried to warn us about it and that seemed to blow Greg's mind. He said that he couldn't believe that someone who'd been raised in that environment had tried to warn us. I explained that Leo and I were never really friends until recently and even told him about Leo's attitude and how he tried to get us in trouble every chance he got.

"And you're friends?"

"Yeah, we're friends," I replied. "Leo had a messed up life and he was reacting to it. Now he's better and we're friends."

"So when do I get to meet Steve?" he asked. "The articles talked about him but he never gave an interview."

"Steve and I are not friends anymore," I replied, looking away. "All of that was just too much for our relationship to survive."

"That sucks," he said quietly. "Sorry to hear that."

"Thanks," I replied, but that really ended our discussion.

For the rest of the night I studied the material that the syllabus for my computer class called for. As I studied I noticed that the college computer courses were a lot different than the ones I'd taken in high school. There was a lot more to cover and what I was studying was a lot more advanced than what I was used to. I didn't think I would have any difficulty with the material or the actual assignments but it was sure different. I finished up around nine and decided to call it a night. Greg wanted to go out and have fun but I was actually tired.

The next morning I was up at five and Greg was just sitting up in his bed when I came out of the bathroom after my shower. He asked what I was doing up so early and I told him that I always got up that early to either work out or run. When I mentioned running he perked up. He asked that I give him ten minutes to shower and get ready and then he'd join me on my run.

We ran all over campus. In all it was at least ten miles and I was happy to see that Greg kept up with me very well. We were both breathing a bit harder when we returned to take turns in the bathroom for another shower. We were laughing and talking so fast that I barely noticed the note on the door when we got to the room. Greg took it down and read it before handing it to me. It was from Brian. Evidently he'd come looking for me while I was on my run. He asked that I meet up with him and Ian for lunch. I invited Greg to come along. Brian and Ian were waiting for us at The Campus Diner and we quickly joined them at their table. I introduced Greg and then we gave the waitress our drink order.

"So you're the roommate," said Brian as the waitress walked away. "You know Tommy was worried sick that you'd be some bible thumping redneck."

"Oh really?" Greg asked, cocking an eyebrow at me.

"No not really," I said, kicking Brian under the table. He had the gall to wince and call out.

"Well I do go to Church now and then," said Greg. "But we're no bible thumping family. I don't even own a bible."

"And your neck doesn't seem to be red either," said Ian, helping Brian out with a devilish grin on his face.

"Well you should have seen it in May," laughed Greg. "I usually burn before I tan and the sun was nothing if not brutal last Spring."

"Can we stop talking about Greg's neck?" I asked, trying to suppress my own laughter as the others at the table snickered.

"Sure," said Greg. "There are a lot of other parts of me that . . ."

"Uh, I don't think you want to get into that discussion with a table of homosexuals," said Brian. Then I did laugh.

Lunch went over without a hitch. Greg Epkar was a hit with my brother and Ian. When we got back to our room Leo was waiting at the door. I quickly introduced Greg to Leo and then invited Leo into the room. He was so excited about his own roommate that he only gave Greg a nod. He bounced into the room and collapsed on my bed.

"His name is Thad Johnson and he's an ass from hell!" Leo said of his room mate. "He's a football player from Missouri and he's read all of the articles about my grandfather and you."

"Ouch," I said, wincing. "So he thinks you're gay?"

"No," said Leo, shaking his head. "He knows I'm not gay. He said he's gay and he doesn't like homophobic assholes or something like that. Tommy, I don't think I can live with this guy!"

I almost laughed at that. In the end I told Leo that I would invite him and his roommate over to the house for a cook out that I hadn't planned until that very moment. I'd have to call the house and make sure that Gage and Andy were up for it. Then Greg was asking about my pool while Leo continued to look distraught. I chuckled to myself. My life at Storyville University was off to a strange start.

Storyville 3