Chapter Nine


Our first week of school was nothing too complicated for me. Leo, Brian and I had a lot of the same classes. Our majors were the same so we decided that we'd study together. The only class that Gregg and I shared was English 101. We also shared that class with Thad Johnson. The football player from Missouri was tall and muscular. His blond hair was shaved into a flat top and his blue eyes looked hard and almost cold. His face split into a huge grin when he saw me though. He almost made a spectacle but thankfully Gregg stopped him. Thad told me that I was like a celebrity where he came from. He said that all of the gay boys at his high school knew my name and face and they'd be so jealous when they heard that he'd met me. To be honest he made me slightly uncomfortable. When the class ended and Leo met me as we were leaving Thad looked at me like I was crazy.

"You hang out with this guy?" Thad asked with wide eyes.

"Yeah," I said flatly. "Leo's my friend. Isn't he your roommate?"

"Well yeah but . . ."

"Well then you guys should be pretty good friends by now," I said, cutting him off. "I mean you've been sharing a room for a week now."

"But . . ."

"Oh did he tell you that you're invited to my house for a cook out this Saturday?" I asked, cutting him off again.

"No . . ."

"Well you are," I said, cutting him off for the third time. "Bring your trunks. We'll swim."

With that I walked off with Leo to our computer class leaving Thad to stare at us with his mouth hanging open. We connected with Brian and Gregg outside the computer lab and I told them all about Thad being in my English class and what had happened at the end of class when Leo showed up. Gregg thought it was hilarious. We were all still laughing as we entered the class and sat at our stations. Gregg was still standing at the door as if he didn't care that he didn't have another class for at least an hour.

I didn't see Tyler until Friday evening when I finally went back to work at DH3. Unfortunately he was there with Steve so I ignored them when I came in and went straight to the back room to put on my apron and clock in. Dean was back there doing paperwork when I came in. He smiled at me as I came in the door.

"So how's school so far?" he asked, turning off his computer.

"Nothing too big to worry about there," I said. "I seem to have a confused fan though. He's kind of strange."

"What do you mean?" he asked, and I found myself telling him all about Leo's dilemma with Thad and Thad's apparent idol complex where I was concerned. We were both laughing as we went back out to the counter.

"That's funny," he said. "Listen could you work Sunday? I need to be home for David and the boys if it's possible."

"Sure," I said. "Just not Saturday. I'm having a cook out to celebrate surviving the first week of school. Why don't you come?"

"I'll see what David says," he replied. "If we can get Jamie or Drake to babysit we should be able to get there for a while."

David was Dean's lover. I'd met him a hand full of times since I'd started working at the coffee house. They had infant triplet boys that were awesome and cute. I didn't know the story of how this came about but I didn't think it was a good idea to ask too many questions. From what I knew of Jamie, Drake and Dean they didn't do well with personal questions of any kind.

"Hey Tommy," said Tyler as he came up to the counter. I didn't see Steve anywhere. "Let me explain about Steve."

"You don't have to explain anything," I said. "It isn't like I can tell you who to be friends with."

"That's just it," he said, sitting down on a stool in front of me. "We were assigned to each other in one of my classes. I think he's a real jerk most of the time. He said he had to be somewhere when you came in."

"I'm sure he did," I said a little louder than I'd intended.

"What is it between you two?" Tyler asked. I didn't really want to answer that question but avoidance would have gotten me nowhere.

"We hate each other," I said, reaching for the dirty coffee mugs to keep myself busy.

"Why?" he asked as I started to wash the mugs.

"It's complicated," I replied. "Look, could we not talk about Steve Sutton?"

"Sure," he said with a smile. "We could talk about anything else you want."

I thought about what I'd like to talk about with him. I didn't really know what to say. I felt guilty for not telling him the truth about me and Steve. I really didn't like the fact that I was hiding that I'm gay. Hiding wasn't my style anymore. I'd told Gregg as quickly as I could. Hell I'd told half the people in my classes that I was gay when they'd asked. But Tyler hadn't exactly asked that question. I mean he'd asked what was going on between me and Steve but that wasn't the same. Of course I knew it was the same thing as asking if I was gay. I just had to tell him somehow.

"Listen," I said quickly. "I'm having a cook out at the house this Saturday. Now the last time I invited you to a party you didn't make it. I'd really like it if you came to this one."

"At your house?" he asked.

"Yeah," I replied. "We'll all be there around eleven."

"Then I'll see you on Saturday," he said with a smile before he walked away from the counter and out the front doors.

That was it. There'd be no way he wouldn't know I was gay if he showed up at that cook out. I almost panicked when I thought of it that way. Then I thought that if I was ever going to find the balls to tell him that I was gay this would be the best way to do it. So I put it out of my mind and got back to work. We were pretty busy that day and lots of the college crowd came through the doors. Drake came in about an hour after I arrived to help me out and I was so happy that he came.

"Tables are all full," he said as he came back with a tray full of empty glasses.

"Yeah, the counter just emptied about a minute ago," I said as four more people came in. I'd been watching to make sure that Loren wasn't among the groups that came through the door and so far he hadn't. However TK was among this crowd. I sighed when he looked at me and shook my head.

"Bad blood between you and that one?" Drake asked, noticing everything as always.

"You could say that," I replied. "The thing is I don't know why."

"You don't know him?"

"Only well enough to tell you that he's trouble," I replied. "He and his friend, Loren, were the ones who . . ."

"Oh," he said, cutting me off. "Dean told me about those two. You want me to tell him to get out?"

"Let's just see if he starts any trouble," I said after only a second of thought.

"Sure thing," he said. "I better get over there and get their order."

"Later," I said as more people came to the counter.

This went on for what seemed like forever and then I saw TK's group getting up to leave. Drake came back up with their empty mugs and his tip. He smiled at me as he got another round of coffees for another table. TK hadn't said a word out of line it seemed. I sighed with relief and went back to waiting on my customers. Before I even knew it my shift was over and Drake was thanking me for my service. He was always doing things like that and making me laugh.

I got back to the dorm just as Gregg was coming in and he held his nose when I came in the door. I laughed at him for a few minutes before throwing my hands up and grabbing something to sleep in. Then I headed in and got in the shower. Once I was clean and smelling good again Gregg decided to have one of our talks.

"Ran in to Steve Sutton tonight," he said. "That boy is hurting bad."

"Oh?" I said, plopping down on my bed and reaching for my English text.

"No studying until we talk about this, Tommy," he said. "Every time I say something you don't like you bury your nose in a book. Now listen."

"Ok, fine," I sighed, putting the book aside. "What's got Steve Sutton's heart aching now?"

"You," he replied and I gawked at him like he was crazy.

"Now tell me why I'm supposed to care," I said coldly. "Steve Sutton broke my heart and made it next to impossible for me to live. So why in Hell should I give a good God damn about any of this?"

"OK," he said through a sigh. "I get it. You're still hurt. I don't know this guy that well but he was talking to anyone who would listen about how much he loves you and how stupid he was to do what he did. Tommy, what exactly did he do?"

I didn't want to talk about Steve Sutton but Gregg had that look on his face that told me that he wouldn't rest until he knew the whole story. I wanted to punch that look right off his face. I couldn't believe any of it was happening. Steve Sutton didn't have the right to be hurt by what he'd done to me. He didn't have the right to love me anymore. I was finally getting to the point where thinking of him didn't rip my heart out and tear it to shreds before my eyes and he was pulling this shit?

"I'll tell you what he did," I said through clenched teeth. "We went through the most horrifying experience together. We survived it and he couldn't handle it. He left one day without a word. Since then any time we see each other we fight. I hate him with all of my heart, Gregg. I don't give a fuck if he's hurting. You tell him that now he knows how it felt."

"I'd say that's more than hurt talking there, Tommy," he said slowly, watching me closely. "I'd say that was pure unbridled hatred."

"Well then you'd be right," I hissed, grabbing my English text and opening it to no certain page.

Gregg let it go after that and after a while I actually did get some studying done. I amazed myself at how easy it was to just put Steve out of my mind and focus on English. I hated English more than any other subject but I studied until my eyes hurt. I studied it so much that I was sure that I'd pass the exam with flying colors. I'd never thrown myself into studying English that hard since right after my mother died. I didn't say another word to Gregg that night. I waited until after he'd showered and come back to his bed before I went and stepped under the hot spray. I went to bed that night without saying another word at all.

The next morning I was up and out of there before Gregg even woke up. I headed to the grocery store with Brian and Ian to get last minute things for the cook out before heading over to the house. I was sure to bring along all of my laundry and though I was a little embarrassed about my behavior from the previous night and avoiding Gregg, I brought along his laundry as well. Andy thanked me profusely. I assured him that this would most likely become a weekly event; the laundry, not the cook out. Andy just shook his head and sighed. I'm the one who washed and dried both my own and Gregg's clothes. Andy didn't have to lift a finger.

We were setting up everything when Gregg arrived with Leo. Gregg avoided me for about twenty minutes and then I cornered him in the dining room. He refused to look at me for a few minutes and I had to wonder if maybe he thought less of me because of my anger and hatred for Steve. It didn't seem fair that he'd be put out by me when Steve was the one who had walked out. Steve was the one who had quit and left me to pick up the pieces. How else was I supposed to feel about him?

"Tommy," he said quietly after we stood there for a few minutes in silence with me looking at him while he looked at the floor. "I'm sorry."

That floored me. I'd been prepared to apologize to him for my own anger. Here he was apologizing to me for whatever reason. I didn't know what to think of that. I knew I had to choose my words very carefully but now I wasn't sure as to why I had to be careful at all. Just what was it that he felt he needed to apologize for?

"What are you sorry for?" I asked. "Gregg, I'm the one who flipped out on you. I'm sorry for that. I truly am. I just can't talk about Steve Sutton and keep a clear head just yet. You were right, Gregg. I am still hurt by what he did to me. You were right about me being angry and hating him for it. Gregg, he nearly destroyed me when he left. But that has nothing to do with you and I'm sorry for giving you the silent treatment."

"So you're not mad at me then?" he asked with a confused look on his face.

"Mad at you?" I gasped. "No I'm not mad at you. I was ashamed of myself, Gregg. I shouldn't have acted that way."

"Believe me you have every right to feel the way you feel," he said. "If I'd gone through what the two of you went through only to be abandoned I'd feel pretty much the same way if not worse."

"So we're not mad at each other," I said, turning slightly away. "That's good. Now can we get this place set up?"

"Sure," he said, and then we were both laughing.

After that it was just putting loads of laundry into the washer and dryer and making potato salad while Brian made cole slaw. Andy would man the grill and there was plenty of meat for the grill. Corn on the cob was boiling on the stove in the kitchen while Ian worked on baked beans. The food would be ready in plenty of time. The others would be arriving soon as well. The cook out was about to begin. I was just putting the last load of laundry into the dryer when I heard Thad Johnson's voice outside.

"Sure I recognize you!" he was saying to Andy. "You're the guy in the admission office. I saw you checking me out."

"I assure you that he was not checking you out," came the voice of Gage. I decided it was time for me to be outside. I turned on the dryer and headed out the side door.

"Thad," I said as I came off the side porch and onto the deck. "Glad you could make it."

"Tommy," he said, grinning from ear to ear again. "This guy . . ."

"Is a dear friend of mine," I cut him off. It seemed that I was always cutting him off. "I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't upset him or his lover."

"Oh they're together," he said, raising his eyebrows.

"Yes they're together," I replied. "Now if you would help Leo move that table . . ."

"He's here?" he gasped, brows raising higher.

"Thad if you're going to be rude to all of my friends maybe you should leave," I said.

It was clear that this guy was socially retarded and I knew that Jeremy and Thomas would be showing up soon. If he made even one crack about Thomas I'd probably have to kill him. I felt very sorry for Leo having to room with this guy. I wondered what his teammates thought of him. I didn't know many on the football team other than Phillip. He and Dustin would be showing up some time along with Keith and his date, whoever that would be. I could never keep up with Keith's "friends". They never seemed to be around long.

"I wasn't going to be rude to Leo," he said. "I owe him an apology. The boy hasn't been staying in our room all week long so I haven't really talked to him."

"Really?" I asked, cocking my head to the left and looking at him hard.

"Yeah," he said with another of his huge grins. "Swear."

"Well now's your chance," I said, seeing Leo coming up behind him. "He's coming this way now."

"Tommy, we forgot to bring the plates," Leo said as he got to us. He stopped short when Thad turned around.

"I'll go and get some in a little bit," I said before Thad could say anything.

"Oh," said Leo, looking from me to Thad and back. "Uh, Gregg said he'd drive me if . . ."

"Don't sweat it, Leo," said Thad. "I'll drive you. I'll even pay for the plates. How many do we need?"

"Ok," said Leo slowly. He had that worried look in his eyes again and I thought about telling Thad not to bother. Then the two of them walked off toward the front yard and I was left staring after them. I just hoped that Thad wouldn't be a jerk. If he upset Leo I didn't know what I'd do to him.

"What's got you looking like you want to rip someone's head off?" Gregg asked as he walked up to me.

"Thad and Leo," I said, nodding at the pair as they walked off. Thad was putting his arm across Leo's shoulders. I couldn't help noticing that Thad was at least a head taller than Leo.

"Is this a bad thing?" Gregg asked. "If it is I could always stop them."

"I think we'll just let this one play out and see what happens," I replied.

"If you're sure," he said slowly, still watching Thad and Leo.

"I'm sure," I said, turning around. "Let's make sure Andy isn't burning the food."

That was the end of that. Gregg went off to help Andy while I went inside to check on Brian and Ian. They were in the kitchen watching the food on the stove and having a grand time of it. They were giggling like idiots when I came into the house. Before I could say anything to them the front door opened and Jeremy and Thomas came into the house. Thomas was wearing his favorite Storyville High t-shirt and I noticed that he was carrying his sketch book. Thomas was an awesome artist in spite of being a victim of Down's Syndrome.

"Hey, Tommy," said Jeremy as he came in.

"Hi there guys," I said with a huge smile.

Everyone began to arrive just as Thad and Leo returned with the plates. They were laughing so I decided not to even ask how it went. Dustin and Phillip showed up right behind them and I was shocked to see David and Dean pull up behind Dustin's truck. We all hit the back yard just as Brian brought the food from the kitchen out to the deck. Everyone grabbed plates and sat around the long table talking and eating. Dustin told me that he and Phillip were thinking of moving again so I offered them the apartment over the garage. He said he'd get back to me on that later.

Thomas showed me his artwork and I was surprised when Thad came over to look. He was very patient and caring with Thomas and he even made sure to point out the different colors in the art and compliment him on his work. He didn't touch him or even come close enough for Thomas to think he'd invaded his personal space. Later Thad told me that he had a cousin with autism. That explained how he knew what to do with Thomas. There were sides to Thad Johnson that I would just have to get to know.

Tyler showed up just as everyone was getting finished with their food. He informed me that he'd found a job and had to start that morning. He apologized for being late and I made him a plate. I didn't get to spend much time with him at first. We were all talking while he was eating. Thad was talking about the magazine's interview with me and I saw that Tyler was paying close attention to what he was saying. It was obvious from what Thad was talking about that Tyler should now know that I'm gay. I didn't look over at him after that was out. I just answered Thad's questions for a while until one by one my friends decided to head to the pool.

Tyler got up to put his plate in the waste can before coming over to sit next to me. I'd been watching Thomas draw in his sketchbook while he tried to explain to me that he would color each part of the sketch later when he and Jeremy went back to Mike's. They were still living there even after Mike and Sharon's divorce. Tyler watched us for a moment until Thomas grew aggravated with his drawing and got up and went to the pool side to get Jeremy's attention.

"His drawings are great," Tyler said, breaking the silence between us.

"Yeah they are," I agreed. "He gets aggravated from time to time with his limitations. I guess I would get aggravated myself."

"Oh I know I would," said Tyler.

"So you know about me now," I said, deciding to just get it over with.

"That you're gay?" he asked. I nodded. "I already knew that, Tommy. I read the same magazine interviews as Thad."

"But I thought that you didn't know," I said with a smile stretching across my face.

"I just figured out that you didn't know that I'm gay," he said, blowing my mind.

Storyville 3