Bittersweet Ch. 02by3113©
The state university was cosmopolitan enough to make my local college seem quaint as a backwood's village. There was, for example, a gay student's union and courses on gay literature. If rumor spoke true, there was not only a gay bar in town, but a lesbian coffee house. Had I wanted to creep out of my closet I could have, and I did consider it.
This was a fresh start. I could do things differently this time around. The sticking point was this: would Beef have reacted any differently if I'd told him I was gay the moment we'd met? On the one hand, he probably wouldn't have felt humiliated and betrayed when his girlfriend broke the news, and so probably wouldn't have beaten the shit out of me. But homophobic as he'd seemed, I didn't think that he would have treated me, as Irene had put it, like a human being. Then again, maybe I'd get lucky this time and have a gay roommate. Lucky, yeah. My experience in the alley said there was no guarantee that a fellow homosexual was going to treat me any better.
Maybe I could talk someone into letting me room with lesbian?
In the end, it was a simple lack of courage decided me to stay in closet until and unless I learned that coming out wasn't going to push any red buttons. Just to be on the safe side, I also resolved to keep things cool. This time around I would share a room and nothing more.
The dorms at the university were amazing to my small town eyes. The floors alternated in gender, one all male, the next all female and so on up. This was fine by me. Girls might actually come to my rescue if I got beaten up again. There was also a vast, downstairs lounge next to the cafeteria. It had a ski lodge fireplace, warm wood furniture and a billiard table. Opulent and intimidating compared to the ratty common room that had graced my old dorm
As for the individual rooms, they were painted a sky blue and had two separate beds as well as two built in desks. I breathed a sigh of relief. Far easier to keep from stepping on a roommate's toes that way. Mine was on the second floor. I put on a brave face even though I was quaking inside. I had hoped that I'd be the first one there, but as luck had it my roomie was not only in residence but firmly ensconced.
I stepped in to the sounds of folky music and the delicious aroma of vanilla coffee. There were posters from old folk concerts on one wall. I mean, old. Groups like The Weavers and Odetta. There was a microfridge, a coffee maker, and several jars of candy on a side table.
There was a banjo and an acoustic guitar in the corner, for God's sake!
"Hey, roomie." The young man at the window-side desk turned from a beautiful, new Apple iMac computer, the machine issuing the folky music, and rose to his feet. I lost all breath and my heart stopped cold. He was gorgeous, hair as golden brown as maple syrup and eyes the green of sweet basil. He looked to be an even six feet and far more muscled and healthy than me. The kind of guy who works out regularly, but not obsessively.
The window behind him was steamed from the heat of the room and frosted around the edges. It was snowing outside, after all, but he was dressed in summer shorts and a tee-shirt. I'd learn later that he tended to run hot. The hair on his bare arms and legs shimmered like wisps of caramel.
He had a smile to die for, one of the brightest I'd ever seen.
"Hey," I said, gritting my teeth and girding my loins, as it were, against every hormonal inclination to worship him.
He put the music on pause. "Geoffrey with a 'G,'" he offered me his hand.
I pretended not to see it as I swung my duffle onto the empty bed. "Jace."
"You want some coffee? It's French vanilla."
I remembered what had happened to my coffee cup, smashed to powder by my last roommate. "No thanks." Beef and I used to trade off buying the instant coffee. I figured from now on I'd just rely on paper cups and the cafeteria for my morning brew.
"New here?" Geoff's cheer never flagged.
"Yeah." I struggled out of my coat and scarf. "Just transferred."
"Same here. I'm pre-law with a minor in music."
"Business major," I said, pulling my things out of the duffle. I deposited my meager belongings into some built-in drawers. I paused as I lifted the duffle and realized that it wasn't empty; there, tucked away on one side, was the black and gold afghan. While living with the Norrises I'd sometimes wandered around with it draped over my shoulders. Not because I was cold but because it comforted me. I guess they'd understood. Irene had snuck it into my duffle.
God bless her.
I shook it out across the bed, brushing it down carefully. It carried the pine and sugar cookie smell of the Norrises' home. I suddenly felt a little better, a little safer. Who says adults are too old for security blankets? I'd have to write to them. "Does this place have wireless?" I asked my new roomie.
He was back on his desktop. "Yeah."
I settled on the bed and got to work on my first e-mail. So far, so good.
My new roomie was a puzzle. He practically ignored me when he first arrived. Not in the way some roomies do as if he felt the whole room ought to be his, but as if I were...dangerous. Yeah. As if I were dangerous and he didn't want to attract my attention.
I swear that's how he looked when I first saw him there in the doorway. He had these arresting Goth looks: skin pale, hair blue-black. Teasingly thin. His jeans looked ready to drop right off his narrow hips, which would have been fine with me.
Friends tell me I have no restraint, no caution. If see a fountain on a hot summer's day, I wade into it. If someone calls for help, I come running. And if I see a guy who makes my cock twitch and my palms sweat, I proposition him, on my knees if necessary. This lack of restraint sometimes turns people off and so I've been working on, well, restraining it. I'd sworn, in fact, that I'd take it slow with the new roomie. But damn. I wanted to ask him how he felt about having sex with guys and then find out if he liked having his nipples bitten. I wondered if his fragrance was as dark as his hair and what sounds he'd make if I ran my tongue over his backbone, all the way down to his tight ass.
I leashed in my impulses, but it was hard. My new roommate was as tempting as a cup of bitter black coffee; Add to this his tragic expression, which stirred my over zealous desire to protect and avenge and you could say that I was in love.
He, on the other hand, just stood there, dazed and absorbing my candy jars and posters. I knew without asking that he didn't like my music. No one does. I like the Kingston Trio for Christ's sake. Finally, he turned those dark eyes on me.
I gave him my best smile, the one meant to cloud men's minds and stir their cocks.
His response was a shocker. He looked as if I'd just kicked him in the groin and was going to do it again. And again. I don't think I've ever met anyone who regarded one of my smiles as a deadly weapon.
Okay, so maybe I was reading him wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. I paused my offensive music and offered him my hand along with my name. He returned his, Jace, but he didn't take my hand. It wasn't a snub, his expression was too apprehensive.
Hmmm. Methinks we have a phobic. One of those guys who lives in terror of being touched? Or just afraid of sharing air with a stranger? Poor bastard.
I felt even more sorry for him when I realized the one duffle he'd dragged in was all he had. He was able to stow all his stuff in two small drawers. But his tense shoulders relaxed when he brought out a black afghan patterned with a yellow star and spread it out on the bed.
Was that it, I wondered, a little dismayed. Was that the only bit of himself he was going to put out? My last roomie had covered his side with photos of busty women, neon-colored beanbag pillows and a collection of vintage Hotwheels. Just about everyone living in the dorms had CD's, games, an alarm clock. This guy hadn't any of that. Shit. He made me feel ostentatious and I knew I wasn't that bad.
He asked about wireless and sat down on the bed with a small, white iBook that had seen better days. So much for getting-to-know-you. I gotta say I was disappointed, and worried. We were going to be stuck together in this room for an entire semester. I kinda hoped we'd at least be friends.
He didn't seem like a complete asshole, that at least. And I wasn't about to give up. That wasn't in my nature.
Geoff was damn difficult to resist.
At first, I was able to avoid him simply because when I wasn't working my ass off with class work, I was working it off at a nearby coffee house clearing tables. You might wonder why I always went for busboy jobs. It's because they didn't require any concentration and I didn't need to interact with people, just dirty dishes. I wrote and organized essays and assignments in my head while bussing tables. It made the actual writing a breeze.
Eventually, however, I got so efficient at the schoolwork that I ended up with some free time. As I didn't have any friends and no spare cash to waste, I spent that time in the room composing e-mails or trolling the internet.
That's how Geoff managed to get to me. As he had a desktop computer, he had to be in the room to read his e-mail and do his schoolwork. Thing was, he had a ton of friends and, I gathered, a loving family, all of whom sent him humorous e-mails. He'd sit there at his desk, reading and laughing this brave, contagious laughter. The kind that makes you want to look up and ask "What's so funny?" so you can share in the joke.
That's the first thing that got to me.
When he wasn't charming me with his laughter he was driving me crazy with his folk music. He wouldn't just practice the songs on banjo or guitar, he'd perform them. Like when he'd strum out his rendition of "Uncle John's Band" and dance around. He'd bounce off walls and lean in so close to me that I could see the thick, golden lashes surrounding those green eyes.
"Will you come with me?" he'd sing-songingly demand before spinning away. The worst of it was...he was good. I hated the music, but I couldn't deny his talent. He had a sweet tenor voice and banjo or guitar when those fingers were moving over those stings....
Well, my pulse got a little faster and I had visions of those hands strumming particular portions of my anatomy.
"Why do you want to be a lawyer?" I finally asked him. "I mean," I added coolly as I could, "You seem to like music more."
He plucked at the banjo with one hand while adjusting the music program on his computer with his other. "I've a superhero complex."
"I want to save the world. That's why I like folk music. Folk musicians used to be inspirational voices, the music of protest and change. Now that job belongs to the lawyers, more or less. So it's law for me."
The banjo plucking picked up and grew complex. He started to sing. A love song. A stupid, soppy love song.
"I'll do anything to keep you satisfied—" he promised in that warm, earnest voice.
I alternated between wanting to fall at his feet screaming, "Take me! Take me!" and smashing the damn acoustic instruments over his dreamy head so I wouldn't have to listen to another fucking folk tune.
Not that he was a bad roomie. A little sloppy, but he never let his untidiness fall onto my side. His snores were soft and he always stepped out to take his cellphone calls. What few chores were to be done he did them and he never once asked me to change my habits.
As the weeks went by, he grew more and more clever at getting around my defenses, like when he plied me with food. He'd leave a note on my bed saying that he hadn't been able to finish the pizza he'd ordered up and would I take the remaining slices off his hands? He also kept a seemingly endless supply of dark chocolate gelato in the almost non-existent, microfridge freezer. How the fuck did he know about my weakness for dark chocolate? Whenever he'd take one out he'd hand one to me as well.
I think he wanted to fatten me up.
"It's the dead of winter and you're making us eat ice cream," I finally complained, even as I licked that delectable chocolate off the end of a plastic spoon.
"It's warm enough in here for it."
That's what he was like all the time. I mean all the time. I never saw him lose his warmth or good cheer. I suppose some might have found it wearying, but dark souls like me...we adore such suns. The dead weight inside of us needs that much more power to overcome our freezing inertia.
Of course, I wasn't the only satellite he attracted. He had only to sit down in the lounge and girls would snuggle up next to him. Guys would stop and hang. He welcomed both into his beatific orbit. I had no idea which way he leaned, but it was clear that he could have anyone he wanted, anyone at all. I was half amazed that I never caught him in bed with a naked partner or two or three.
I waited with jealous dread for him to tell me, "Jace, buddy, I'm having someone special over tonight, could you, ah, absent yourself?" That's how Beef had always put it, leaving me to sleep away the night in the common room.
But Geoff never said it, never seemed to have a steady other. He didn't even create a privacy signal with me, like a sock over the doorknob. I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or apprehensive. I'd caught a glimpse of lube and multi-colored condoms in one of his drawers, so I knew he wasn't into celibacy. So what was the deal with him? The uncertainty made me all the more sour to him when we were together.
Problem was, nothing put him off. "Skin cracking?" he asked one morning. We had worked out a pattern by then. The alarm would buzz and I'd be out the door, shower caddie in hand for morning ablutions. Geoff stayed in the room, wrapped in his robe, answering e-mails until I returned. Then he hit the showers. I hadn't yet figured out if he did this out of courtesy, so I wouldn't have to dress in front of him, or because I just took the right amount of time for him to finish that first cup of coffee.
"Yeah," I admitted. The air outside the dorm was winter dry, and inside, thanks to the heating, it was worse. My skin had started to get scaly and itch. "It's getting really bad. Lotion doesn't seem to help." I was a little embarrassed to have him looking at me. Unlike Geoff, I didn't own a robe. I went to the showers in a tee and shorts and came back wrapped in a towel. Usually all Geoff saw of me was a glimpse as I came back and he went out. But he was lingering a bit longer this morning.
"Try this next time." He pulled a bottle of baby oil from his shower basket. I was suddenly aware of his robe, open enough to display the golden hair on his thighs. I wanted to bury my face in that soft hair, smell up close the muskiness emanating from his crotch.
My cock jumped and started to come to attention under the towel. Shit. "Baby oil?" I said disdainfully. I wonder if he saw the panic in my eyes. Did he know that I sometimes jerked off while thinking about him?
"While you're still wet, rub it over yourself then pat dry."
"Like a charm," he promised, tactfully ignoring my erection and the blush that went with it.
I did try it. And it did work. Fucker. I never met anyone so damn considerate. Like when he finally figured out that I never drank the coffee he offered me because I didn't have a coffee mug.
"Here," he said and set a newly purchased black mug of steaming coffee by my hand. "You've got to try this hazelnut." That's all he said. From then on that black mug, filled with fresh coffee was waiting for me when I got back from my shower.
I always rinsed the mug and put it back on Geoff's desk to remind myself that it wasn't my mug. But his overtures didn't stop there.
"A friend burned this mix for me," he said another time. "He wanted me to check it out but it's all punk. I can't listen to it." And he handed it to me.
A friend my ass. I'd seen him buying songs off the internet and burning that CD himself. I took it anyway. I was desperate to escape the folk music.
"Need headphones?" he'd added. "You can take this pair, I don't need them any more."
I took them, but my hands sweated. This was exactly how it had started with Beef. Simple roommate sharing. And would Geoff be smashing that CD underfoot when I finally pushed his red button, whatever that happened to be?
Much as my paranoia insisted it would be wiser to reject or ignore his overtures, I couldn't seem to refuse. It wasn't just that I had it bad for him, it was that I wanted a friend. Desperately. I was like a child accepting candy from a stranger, letting my defenses down as he lured me farther and farther from safety.
I was, I suppose, in the greatest danger of my life.
Getting to know Jace was rather like digging for buried treasure. A lot of work, but oh, the rewards. The more I learned, the more he amazed me. He was good as roommates go, excellent some would say. He never stepped over to my side unless invited, cleaned up after himself, never complained about my habits or snoring, never left his clothes lying about. Then again, he didn't have that many clothes. With patient prying I found out he was a scholarship student. He not only worked to pass his classes, but to maintain that scholarship. On top of this, he also held a part-time job bussing tables.
I mean, Jesus. My family's not rich and I've held the odd summer job, but when I hit eighteen that college fund was waiting for me. Compared to Jace, I was positively privileged.
People say I'm filled with boundless energy, but Jace had boundless diligence. He made me feel like a slacker. I wanted to help, of course, but I knew he wouldn't take charity. So I tried other ways to give him things. Like the music. Contrary to popular belief, I am up on modern music and I've only to get an idea of what a person likes to be able to mix them a pretty good album. Jace liked punk. Which surprised me as I pegged him as Goth. Maybe he wasn't as quiet and restrained as he seemed? I legally downloaded a combo of old punk rarities and new gems and burned him a disk. He was too desperate to escape my folk tunes to refuse.
"How's the music," I asked after seeing him air-drumming with the songs. "Good?"
He shrugged. "S'kay."
Meaning he liked them. Food was another venue I used. I deliberately ordered or brought in more food than I could possibly eat so there's be leftovers. Then I made it seem like he'd be doing me a great favor if he'd eat that other sandwich or finish off the Thai take-out.
I wanted to fatten him up, he was so skinny. Hungry, that was Jace. And not just in the body. His eyes were hungry. Sometimes I'd catch him eyeing me as if he was starving to death. It broke my heart. But any overt attempt to get near him just turned him to ice.
And then there were a few things I did for my own amusement. Like the ice cream. It was a sensual pleasure watching him lick and taste and suck gelato off a plastic spoon. Or like when I flashed the baby oil. Usually I respected his boundaries, including the one that said he wasn't comfortable with either of us being naked. I always showered up while he dressed for that reason. But that morning I just wasn't able to resist. I was pretty smug about the promising reaction the oil got. His erection almost ripped off his towel.
I thought I knew what that response meant. Then I learned a few things that put me in doubt.
"You got siblings?" I asked him one evening.
Jace stiffened up and I knew it must be a sore point. He seemed to have a lot of them. "Younger brother and sister," he answered shortly. "I haven't seen them in a while. You?"