Brae
by Kieron Connors

 

Chapter 3 

We finished dressing and then jogged over to the dining hall. Cam and Kenner were waiting for us when we got there. We were all starving after the day’s exertions and we heaped our trays high. We settled into a table by the window overlooking the green. The sun was just beginning its descent, casting a brilliant pink hue into the sky and causing flecks of orange and red light to dance off the square’s central fountain. We exchanged few words as we set about inhaling our food. It was only after we’d started on our second helping of desert that we fell into steady conversation.

Kenner had a bag of ice taped to his shoulder which he’d had surgery on in February. The rigorous morning workout had caused it to flare up and he was concerned about how his shoulder was going to survive the season.

“I guess I’m going to have to ease into full workouts more slowly than I expected. I really pushed it too much today,” he said.

“Do Timmy and Jimmy know about your injury?” I asked.

“Yeah, of course. I was really scared last winter when I had to let them know about it. I thought Carrington might rescind their offer, but they didn’t. Jimmy was really understanding today and told me to only do what I was ready for. Obviously I overdid it.”

“Felt like you had something to prove today?” Cam asked.

“Yeah, a little bit. Well, a lot. That clearly backfired,” Kenner said with a rueful smile.

“Ehh, you’ll be shipshape in no time,” Skip said lightheartedly.

“I hope so. I think I might have to bail on the movie tonight though. Trainers are on call until 9pm, so I think I’m going to stop in after dinner and get everything checked out,” said Kenner.

“Aww, bummer. You still gunna come Cam?” Skip asked.

“I think I might pass. Horror movies aren’t my favorite,” Cam said.

“We could see somethin’ else,” Skip offered.

Cam’s face crinkled in to a charismatic smile that made him look even more elfin. “Nah, you guy go have fun. I’m beat. Some other time. I want to call my brother tonight anyways.”

“Oh crap! I still have to call my mom back!” I cringed. “I’ll do that on the way to the movie, I guess.”

I was cut off by loud whoops from the courtyard. A group of guys led by (who else?) Drake, stumbled through the courtyard making a loud spectacle of themselves and harassing the odd pedestrian that they passed. I checked my watch.

“8:15. They wasted no time. Starting early,” I said sarcastically.

“My brother said most of the athletes here party pretty early since they have to be up so early,” Kenner said as he stared out the window, a perturbed look on his face.

“You have a brother who goes here?” I asked.

“Yeah, he’s a junior. He’s not on any teams, but there’s a lot of football guys in his fraternity. Just wait until fraternity rush gets started. They’ll make Drake look like child’s play.”

“I can’t wait,” I groaned over a series of crashes from outside. Drake and his friends had started chucking their empty beer bottles against the ledge around the fountain and tossing them into it.

“It’s already started. All the best houses have guys scoping us out and even recruiting.”

“Really?” Cam asked. “But most students won’t be here for another two weeks.”

“Yeah, but the student athletes end up making up a pretty high percentage of the guys who go Greek, and most of the freshmen athletes are here now,” said Kenner.

I was only half listening, my mind was still focused on what was transpiring outside. Drake and another guy I recognized as Finch from the team had climbed up onto the fountain and were continuing their drunken revelry.

“Where is campus security?” I wondered aloud.

“Are you guys going to go Greek?” Kenner asked.

“Hadn’t really thought about it. Sure. Maybe. Why not?” Skip said contemplatively. “Are you?”

“Yeah, I’ll probably end up joining my brother’s frat. Cam thinks he might too. What about you Brae?”

“No, I don’t think so. There’s a lot of dues and stuff and I don’t think most of the events would appeal to me. Seems like kind of a waste,” I said.

“Oh. You hafta pay to be in them?” Disappointment was written all over Skip’s face.

“Yeah, dues can get very expensive. The frats at Carrington are known for throwing really extravagant and expensive parties.”

Across the courtyard I noticed three campus police officers making their way towards the fountain. Drake and his friends were scurrying down and making their break for it, their progress significantly hampered by their intoxication.

“Finally!!” I exclaimed. “Thank god nobody was being mugged, I wouldn’t like their chances. The response rate is a joke. It’s not a big campus!”

“Wonder if they’ll get away,” Skip said. The four of us watched the proceedings with rapt attention from the safety of our table. Despite their inebriation, Drake’s friend had the benefit of athletic prowess over the three middle-aged and rather portly security guards and were able to make an easy getaway. Although Finch had a bit of a close call when he stumbled over a bench, he managed to avoid being apprehended. I found it telling when neither Drake, nor his buddies, went back to help their fallen comrade.

“Well, quite the evening of entertainment!” Skip said.

“I’ll say. Well I’d better get going if I’m going to get to the trainers before they leave for the night,” said Kenner.

“Yeah and our movie starts at 7:55, so we had probably better get a move on,” I said.

I called my mom on the way to the theatre and gave her a brief run down of how practice went and promised to call her the following day to have a more thorough chat.

“My parents say hello,” I said as I pocketed my cell phone.

Skip smiled. “They’re really, really great.”

“Yeah they are,” I said as we strolled down Carrington Cross towards the small movie theatre. The lights of its large art-deco style marquee danced in distance and bounced haphazardly off of the glass surface of Lottie’s building. “See that tall building over there?” I asked, pointing at the Carrington skyscraper.

“The one giving us the light show?” Skip snickered.

I laughed. “Yeah, that one.”

“God how annoying must it be to live in those lower floor apartments. That marquee is like a seizure waiting to happen,” said Skip.

“I’m sure they have blinds or something. Anyways, that’s Lottie’s building.”

“Ahh, the site of your infamous debauchery.”

“The very spot.”

***

Skip and I bought our tickets but passed on snacks because we’d more or less just engorged ourselves in the dining hall. The theatre had a charming old Hollywood feel to it, with ornate gilding on the walls, fancy chandeliers, plush red carpeting and luxuriously upholstered chairs. The small theatre had only four screens and a small snack bar, which reminded me of some of the arts cinemas we had back in New York. The lobby was mostly empty aside from a few elderly people and our theatre was completely empty when we first walked in. We found seats and settled down for the movie.

“Ooh, comfy,” Skip said, wiggling himself deeper into his seat.

“This theatre is incredible. And so well kept! I can’t believe it’s managed to survive in this condition with college kids like Drake running around. I wonder if it has landmark status?”

“The plaque in the lobby said it’s university supported, they do student film premieres here. Carrington probably pumps a lot of money into this baby.”

“Oh, I missed that. So I have my first lifeguarding shift tomorrow,” I said, changing the subject. I still couldn’t figure out why Skip seemed so put off by my getting a job at the pool.

“Oh really? What time?” Skip replied, sounding much more receptive than I had expected.

“9am. So pretty much right after we finish morning practice.”

“So I guess you’ll be wanting a good night’s sleep tonight.”

“Yeah, no four hour naps for me tomorrow.”

“I really need to get a job. Especially if I want to join a frat. Maybe I’ll get one at the pool too.”

“That could be fun. We could get shifts together!” I replied a little too enthusiastically for my own pride. ‘I can’t believe how much this boy is betting to me!’ I thought to myself. “So… you’re thinking about joining a frat?”

“Dunno, maybe. I guess I’d hafta see if I can swing it. Might be a good way to meet people, y’know?”

“Yeah. Lifeguarding could be good for that too!” I said hopefully. Skip didn’t immediately respond. “Or whatever job you end up getting.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

The previews started and we switched our attention to the movie, letting the conversation drop. The movie was entertaining and managed not to let the gore factor escalate into overkill, which I’ve noticed is becoming a common trend. It was even a somewhat thought-provoking film if you wanted to really read into it.

“You know, for a movie with Paris Hilton, that really wasn’t bad. It certainly surpassed my expectations,” I said as Skip and I exited the theatre, trailing a particularly amorous couple that looked around our age and a group of high schoolers who definitely didn’t look old enough to be in an R-rated movie. I cringed as a piece of popcorn got wedged between my toes. And Skip laughed.

“Maybe you could get a job sweeping up in here,” I joked. “This is the last time I ever wear flip-flops to this theatre.”

“Do you think they would give me free movie passes?” Skip asked earnestly.

I groaned. “There is butter in between my toes!!!” As we walked out into the lobby I stopped and grabbed a napkin from the refreshment stand and set about wiping off my toes. Skip walked over the ticket window to talk to the usher. He came back a moment later proudly brandishing a job application.

“Oh. You were serious about working here?” I asked.

“Dunno. Maybe. I should explore my options. Plus I’d get free movie tickets!”

“That would be cool. I hope that as your roommate I would reap the benefits of that,” I said, nudging him playfully with my elbow.

“We shall see,” he said with mock haughtiness. “You ready to go? I’ve never seen such a fuss over a little butter.”

“Whatever. My flip-flop wasn’t going to stay on. My toes were too lubricated!”

“Right, okay, crybaby,” Skip teased.

“Hey, you’d better watch it, I know where you live.”

“Bring it. I have six siblings. I’ve seen it all. You are outmatched on this one.”

“I bet it was really fun growing up with so many siblings. I always wanted a brother or sister,” I said, shifting gears. Skip hadn’t opened up much about his family and I was curious about what his situation with them was. Something seemed off. As far as I knew, he hadn’t even checked in with anyone from home the last three days. “Are you the oldest?”

“Seven kids in a three-bedroom house has its moments, believe me, but all in all it was fun. I’m the second oldest. I have an older sister. We’re Irish twins.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, she’s January and I’m November. We were always in the same grade growing up and thick as thieves. Quite the tyrants with the younger ones,” Skip said with a wistful smile.

“Where is she going to college?” I asked.

“She isn’t.” Skip paused, seemingly reluctant to continue. “She’s, uhh, she’s actually gettin’ married in a few weeks.”

“She’s what?! But she’s our age!”

“Seems kinda hick doesn’t it?” Skip said with an uncomfortable chuckle.

“So are you going back for the wedding?” I asked.

“Probably not.”

“What?! How can you not go to your own sister’s wedding? I mean it sounded like you guys were close.”

“There’s a lot of reasons. Besides we have a meet that weekend.”

“Skip, I’m sure you’d be allowed to miss the meet for your sisters wedding.” I bit my lip nervously for a moment. “Is it about money? Because you could have saved up enough from your job by then–“

“–No it’s not about money,” Skip snapped, cutting me off. “It is complicated and I don’t really wanna talk about it.”

“Okay.” I gave in reluctantly. “You know you can talk to me though. About anything. If you need someone to talk to,” I said, hoping that I wasn’t sounding too obvious.

“Okay.”

We walked the rest of the way home in silence. Our conversation had not cleared up any of my questions. In fact, my curiosity had only been stoked further. I was now convinced that Skip was hiding something and that something had happened to put a strain between him and his family. ‘Could he be gay?’ I wondered for about the billionth time since meeting him. ‘Am I being naïve and overly optimistic? Have I read too many stories on the internet?’ I was determined to get to the bottom of whatever was troubling Skip.

Things were tense when we got back to the room and we both quickly got ready for bed without any further discussion. I felt bad about pushing Skip, but at the same time my brain was racing with unending speculations about what Skip was hiding from me. It didn’t take long for my exhaustion to overwhelm me.

***

I woke on my own at 5:10 and stretched leisurely. My hand automatically seemed to find its way to the morning wood tenting my briefs. ‘I can sleep for 20 more minutes,’ I told myself, yet somehow I found my hand continuing to massage the head of my aching cock. I looked over at Skip nervously and any reservations I had immediately went out the window. He was sprawled on his back with his face turned towards me. Relaxed in sleep, his features looked angelic and his mess of rust-colored hair looked charmingly disheveled, I gulped in awe. Even more enticing was the image of Skip’s body, on full display thanks to his kicked-off sheet. His body was leanly muscular, with perfectly proportioned biceps, defined pectorals that housed his small perky nipples, and deep rivulets between his incredibly-defined abdominal muscles. But the true masterpiece was Skip’s cock, obviously erect and tenting his briefs so as to expose his light brown pubic hair. This was simply too much stimulation to take. I began stroking, drinking in as much of the sight before me as I could and slathering my precum over the head of my cock as lubricant. I was transfixed on Skip’s glorious image, truly hypnotized, when his voice suddenly broke through my fog of lust.

“I can hear you,” Skip said almost playfully.

I bolted upright and looked over at him in terror as I tried to stuff my arousal back into my briefs. Skip’s eyes were still closed. ‘Maybe he didn’t see me looking at him. Please, please, don’t let him have seen me looking at him. Fuck!’

“Fuck! I’m sorry. I uh… uh…”

“Though I was asleep?” He asked, cracking one eye open and looking at me.

“Yeah,” I said quietly. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Especially after he had just caught me the day before. “You probably think I’m some kind of a masturbation addict,” I said ruefully. Skip laughed.

“A little.”

I hung my head.

“Brae, I’m joking. What teenage boy doesn’t masturbate everyday? Look, we may as well get used to it and we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about it.”

“Umm… okay.” I was still in shock from being caught.

“So why don’t we take care of these right now?” He said nodding towards the massive bulge in his briefs.

He gave me a randy smile. My stomach dropped. Was this really happening? Was this some kind of a come-on? Or was he on to me and trying to smoke me out? I sat there in stunned silence, unable to formulate a coherent thought and unable to tear my eyes away from Skip’s face, with his eyes especially green in the early morning sunlight.

“Look it’s not like we both haven’t seen a penis before.”

I just gulped.

“There’s no shame in it,” Skip said as he pulled back the elastic of his briefs and his cock snapped against his belly.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. His boner must have stretched a solid nine inches. It was like something out of a magazine. I gasped as he began stroking his thick shaft, teasing his fingers along its muscular urethra, the cobwebs of veins bulging under the pale velvety skin and finally up to the large pink head that was oozing viscous precum. He looked over at me with a cheeky grin that was utterly flummoxing. I gulped.

“Get to it roomie.”

‘Brae, this is better than any fantasy you ever could have concocted! Go for it! Do it!’ I told myself, finding that my limbs were less sold on the idea that my brain was. I couldn’t seem to fill myself to move. Skip moaned and leaned his head back, his eyes squeezed shut in ecstasy and suddenly my body started responding.

I tugged my briefs back down and began pumping my own erection, still incredulous at what was happening. I watched in awe as Skip’s hips began to thrust up from the tangled mass of sheets on his bed, his shining pale glutes flexing under the exertion. I couldn’t drag my eyes away from Skip’s taut body, the look of bliss on his beautiful face, or the gentle curve of his incredible cock. A warm tingling sensation began building deep in my groin and I pumped harder, doing my best to stimulate the sensitive region under my cock head. As my orgasm rose through me, I bucked my hips, thrust my head back and with a groan unleashed half a dozen ropes of thick cum over my chin, neck, chest, and abs. The sensation was so intense it took me nearly a minute to regain my full senses, as it felt like neurons were still firing off in my brain.

Finally, I heard a chuckle from Skip’s side of the room and looked over at him. He’d gotten up and was toweling himself off with his briefs. The sight of his naked backside caused another jolt in my spent cock.

“Dude, you are a mess,” he laughed. “Great way to start the morning. But you better get up and clean yourself up. I’m guessing you don’t want anyone to see you like that.”

“Uh, no,” I said, suddenly feeling a little exposed although Skip and I had just shared something pretty intimate. It was going to take me a while to process everything that had just happened. I checked the clock: 5:27. I grabbed some tissues and dabbed up the remnants of our morning’s exertions.

“Don’t forget you have work today,” Skip said as I got up and started packing my swim bag.

“Oh, right. Thanks,” I said, genuinely glad for the reminder. It was going to take some time for me to start thinking clearly again. I grabbed my guard suit and shirt and stuffed them in my bag.

“Ready,” I announced after pulling on shorts and a tee.

“Let’s go, kiddo!” Skip said with an exaggerated twang and a toothy grin. I was glad to see that his moodiness from the night before seemed totally forgotten. I followed him out the door to practice.

***

It’s amazing the difference a good night’s sleep can make. I breezed through the workout without too much difficulty and Jimmy seemed pleased with my progress from the day before. Not surprisingly, Drake seemed surly and sluggish and Tate seemed to be getting the brunt of his wrath. I felt bad for him, but was wary of voicing my sympathy, lest Drake should take us as allies and turn his rage on me. The tension in our lane was practically suffocating and I couldn’t help but hope that things would be changed up soon. I gave Tate a few sympathetic smiles when I was sure Drake wouldn’t see, feeling a little guilty that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do more to back him up after he’d obviously gone so out of his way to help me the other night.

I showered quickly after practice and found that I still had 45 minutes before the start of my shift. I debated going to the dining hall to grab a proper breakfast, but the prospect of grabbing a nap on the mats was too tempting. I set an alarm on my phone and then crashed on one of the plusher mats by the dry-land training boards. While my swim had calmed me down substantially, my mind was spinning with images from that morning’s occurrences with Skip.

My phone rang a few minutes before I’d set the alarm to go off. I checked the screen and didn’t recognize the number. I flipped it open hesitantly.

“Hello?”

“Brae! Hey! It’s Emmie.”

“Oh, hey! What’s up?”

“Did Lottie tell you I’m working for her today?” she asked.

“Oh, uhh, no, she didn’t. Everything okay?”

“Yup, her mom just flew her down to NY for the day to do some shopping.”

“Oh,” I said with a smile, more than a little amused.

“Anyways, I’m about to make a Starbucks stop, so I thought I’d see if you wanted me to pick something up for you.”

“Oh, wow, thanks, that’s so nice.”

“No biggie.”

“Umm, I guess if you could get me a tea that would be great.”

“Sure, what kind?”

“Black, two sugars, no milk.”

“Two sugars, no milk, got it. Anything to eat?”

I suddenly felt pretty hungry. “Umm, if they have bagels, one with jam would be nice. And a croissant.”

“You got it. See you in a few. Don’t freak if I’m a few minutes late.”

“Okay, thanks a lot Emmie.”

I relieved the guards before me a few minutes early. They both looked comatose and were grateful for the early reprieve. Emmie arrived on time, chattering away on her cell phone. She flashed me a bright smile from across the deck. Her long red hair was pulled loosely back into a sloppy pony tail. She’d cut the collar of her guard shirt so that it hung loosely off of one shoulder, and her tiny red shorts were by no means the regulation ones we’d been provided. She wrapped up her conversation just before she got to the chair.

“Lottie says ‘hello,’” Emmie chirped cheerfully as she handed me my tea and a small paper bag. “I told her she has to bring me presents! I can sit while you eat,” she said with a bright smile.

“Thanks,” I said, climbing down from the lifeguard chair and handing her the rescue tube. “What do I owe you?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, climbing up into the lifeguard chair, pulling a pair of sunglasses out of her tote and putting them on.

“Emmie, you hafta let me pay you back.”

“It’s really not a big deal. Besides I still feel guilty for outing you the other night. Consider it penitence.”

“Fine. As long as I’m allowed to reciprocate at some point.”

“Sure, babe.”

I dug into the bagel eagerly. I was going to need to start bringing food to these morning shifts, I was a lot hungrier than I had realized.

“So, how’s lover boy?” Emmie asked, with a glint in her eye.

“Well, I’ve seen the goods, as you put it the other night…”

“WHAT?!” Emmie squealed, practically jumping out of the chair. “What happened?!”

I nodded towards the pool. “Umm, shouldn’t you at least pretend to be watching the pool?”

She waved my comment away as inconsequential.

I ran through the story of what had occurred that morning and my feelings that Skip was hiding some kind of secret.

“I mean he hasn’t spoken to his family since he got here. And he isn’t even going back for his sister’s wedding. There is definitely something up with them,” I said as I peeled off a deliciously buttery layer of my croissant.

“He is definitely gay! He’s gotta be.”

“Ugh, I just don’t know,” I groaned.

“Brae, straight guys just don’t do that.”

“I think sometimes they might… I dunno. It was just jacking off. And it’s not like he was looking at me, he had his eyes closed.”

“You think he had his eyes closed. Maybe he was just pretending to.”

“I mean, maybe he’s just so comfortable in his own straightness that jacking off with a buddy is no big deal to him. I mean he’s right, there’s no sense in us tiptoeing around each other all year when we both know what’s going on.”

Emmie scoffed. “I am by no means the authority on boys, but that seems really implausible. I just don’t think guys would do that. Especially super macho athlete types.”

“Skip isn’t like that though. He’s really sweet and mature.”

“That’s just another indicator in my opinion. Besides, you said there’s something odd about his relationship with his family that he isn’t telling you. It all fits together.”

“I guess, I dunno…” I said polishing off the last of my croissant. I got up and threw my garbage away. “Okay, I guess I’ll go sit in the other chair,” I announced. “See you in a bit.”

She laughed. “Brae, there’s seven people here. And Greg doesn’t ever come in before 11. We don’t have to sit in both chairs. You can hang out here and chat with me.”

“Umm…” I was unsure if it was a good idea for me to slack off on my very first shift, plus it felt like I was disregarding everything I’d learned in guard training.

“It’s no big deal. Here,” she said, handing me the rescue tube, “you can sit and look responsible and I’ll stand. This chair sticks to my butt anyways.” She lithely climbed down from the chair.

“Okay…” I said uneasily.

“Oh! The girls and I are doing a beach day tomorrow. Wanna join us?” She asked brightly.

“I’d love to, but I have practice.”

“Yeah, we know. We’re planning on leave at 9am and being back around 2:30. Nicola will only go for prime sun hours,” she said, rolling her eyes.

“Oh great. I’d love to come.”

“And you can ask Skip,” Emmie said winking at me. “I am sooo anxious to meet him and size him up for myself.”

“I’ll ask him. It would be fun if he came. What beach are we going to?”

“It’s a lake like 20 minutes from here.”

“How do we get there?”

“Drive. We’re still trying to figure out the car situ, since Nicola’s car is a two-seater and my car hasn’t arrived from L.A. yet. Lottie doesn’t drive. We may just rent one for the day.”

“I have a car. I don’t mind driving,” I said.

“Really?! Oh that would be perfect!” Emmie gushed. “It would seat all of us?”

“It seats seven.”

“Wonderful. I didn’t think freshmen were allowed to have cars.”

“I think my dad pulled some strings. He and my mom want me to be able to drive down to our ski house to see them on the odd weekend.”

“Ooh that sounds so fun!”

“Yeah, I’ll have to have you guys down sometime. It’ll be great.”

Emmie laughed. “Wait until you see me on skis! Besides me parents’ better efforts I have just never gotten the hang of it. It is quite the spectacle.”

“I can’t wait.”

Emmie and I chatted amicably for the rest of her shift. She told me about growing up in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs. Her dad was a big studio executive and her mother was a former sitcom actress. She had plenty of stories about going to school with the fucked-up children of the Hollywood elite. She and Nicola were studying fashion and Emmie wanted to be a stylist or creative director for a major fashion magazine some day. She was debating whether or not pick up a second major in journalism, but the program at Carrington was known for a broadcast-, rather than print-, focused program. She had a million and one things to say about her summer internship in Paris and it sounded like it had been a truly incredible experience. She and Nicola had lived with Vallette’s daughter, Elise, in a gorgeous apartment in the pricey 6th arrondissement. They’d hobnobbed with the Parisian elite, their closets had benefitted exponentially, and Emmie had even enjoyed a summer dalliance with the son of the British ambassador. We finalized our plans for the beach trip the following day as our shift ended and then went our separate ways.

It was only after I got back to the dorm that I remembered that I’d wanted to ask her about exactly what had happened the other night and, more importantly, whether or not Tate had been party to my coming out. She seemed to know his family pretty well so she should be a fairly sound judge of whether or not I could trust him not to out me and essentially throw me at the mercy of Drake and the rest of the team. “Oh well, I’ll ask her tomorrow I guess,” I muttered as I climbed the stairs up to the room.

***

The room was empty when I got back so I decided to quickly check my email and then catch a nap before afternoon practice.

“I feel like all I do nowadays is sleep,” I groaned to myself. “I hope this isn’t prophetic of my college life. I really hope I adjust to this.”

Skip came in, waking me up, a few minutes after two.

“Oh, uhh, sorry if I woke ya.”

“It’s okay,” I smiled. “At least you didn’t catch me with my pants down again.”

Skip grimaced slightly. “Yeah…”

“I was about to get up anyways, I wanted to grab a bite before practice. Do you wanna join me?”

“I just ate with some of the guys. I’m okay,” Skip said a little guiltily.

“Oh, okay then…” I hoped my disappointment wasn’t too apparent. “Oh! Any interest in going to the beach tomorrow?”

“But we have practice.”

“Yeah, I know, we’re leaving after morning practice and we’ll be back by afternoon.”

“We?”

“Lottie and her friends. They invited you along though.”

“How nice of them to condescend,” Skip said with biting sarcasm. I was taken aback.

“Skip it isn’t like that.”

“You might want to think about socializing more with the team Brae. You’re becoming an outcast.”

“What are you talking about? It’s only been three days. Most of the team isn’t even here yet. And I don’t think I’m missing anything by avoiding Drake and his crowd.”

I didn’t know where Skip’s sudden anger was coming from. Did this have something to do with what happened between us this morning? Was he feeling guilty and trying to distance himself from me? I quickly repacked my swim bag with a fresh suit and towel and decided to change the subject.

“I left my laptop on in case you wanna use it. I’m gunna go grab some food.”

Skip didn’t respond.

“Okay, bye,” I said awkwardly, edging out of the room.

‘That was SO bizarre,’ I almost said aloud as I headed towards the stairwell. ‘Is he bipolar? Or entrenched in some seriously deep denial? I wonder how much his family has fucked him up.’ I was surprised at how easily Skip’s words rolled off my back. Somehow I knew, or at least believed, that Skip couldn’t actually mean what he was saying.

I grabbed some food from the dining hall and munched on it as I headed to the Gnat. I ran into Cam and Kenner on the way and gave them a cheerful greeting. ‘May as well prove Skip wrong,’ I thought to myself.

“Hey guys! How’s the shoulder feeling Kenner?” I asked.

“Okay. Still a little stiff. I’m going to have to go easy on the weight training for a while.”

“That sounds like a good idea. You guys end up doing anything fun last night?”

“Nope, Kenner iced and we both went to bed early,” said Cam.

“How was the movie?” Kenner asked

“It was good. Very entertaining.”

Conversation lulled for a moment and I racked my brain for some other topic of conversation. In reality, I didn’t know that much about Kenner or Cam, but asking them to talk about themselves felt awkward.

“So how was lunch with Skip? Did you guys just go to the dining hall?” I asked.

“We didn’t have lunch with Skip. We ate at that Italian place in town,” Cam said, giving me a confused look.

“It was sooooo good!” echoed Kenner.

“Oh I thought he said he ate with you guys.”

“Nope,” Cam replied.

“I think he got cornered into eating with Drake and Finch and those guys,” Kenner said. My eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“Ohh…” Skip’s comments suddenly made a little more sense. I was startled and a little disappointed. I decide to change the subject before they could detect my displeasure. “That Italian place is so good. I ate their with my parents. I just wish they did takeout. This town is seriously lacking a pizza place.”

“They do, do takeout!” Kenner said, triumphantly pulling a menu out of the side pocket of his bag. I laughed.

“Looks like they’ve found quite a fan,” I smiled.

“It is all I’ve heard about for the last hour,” Cam said, rolling his eyes.

For the rest of our walk we compared our meals and our favorite pizza places from home (Cam was from Rhode Island and Kenner from upstate New York, I discovered over the course of our conversation).

***

We were starting with dry land so I went straight out on deck when I’d finished changing. Skip wasn’t there yet, so I grabbed a spot on the mats and began stretching, exchanging pleasantries with a few of the guys around me. Drake strutted in a few minutes later and I couldn’t help watching him suspiciously out of the corner of my eye. How did he attract such a steady group of followers? Didn’t people see what a douchebag he was? Were they simply afraid of him? I didn’t understand the power he wielded over his little band of followers. He was obviously one of the most egocentric people I’d ever met. There was no way that a friendship with him could ever be fulfilling, unless people perceived they were getting some sort of a status boost from hanging with him.

While I pondered the enigma that was Drake Brewer, Skip entered and, to my utter shock, selected a spot on the mats by Drake and his friend. My surprise must have read on my face because Drake looked over at me and gave me a gloating smile of triumph. I averted my eyes back to the mats.

Timmy ran the dry land practice and it was interesting to experience his coaching style. Though he was more reticent than Jimmy, he was much less patient and had no tolerance for slacking. He respected work ethic above all else and I got the sense that he was the type of coach that I could thrive under. Timmy pushed us hard but I felt a sense of accomplishment after finishing. I partnered with a nice kid from Florida named Colin for some of the exercises. He was a senior, swam distance events and was going to be rooming with Carl Franke and some of the other upperclassmen in an off campus house. He was studying engineering and religion, so I was thankful that he kept offering up fresh topics of conversation since my knowledge of both these subjects was non-existent. He loved Stephen King novels (a shared obsession), the SciFi channel (not a shared obsession), was an avid tennis player, and recommended his favorite Mexican restaurant and coffee house in town. Although I sensed that we didn’t have enough in common to ever be great friends, I was touched that he seemed so willing to socialize with an underclassmen and to make me feel at ease.

We only swam for about 45 minutes and it was more of a cooldown than a full-blown workout. I said hello to Tate, which garnered me a sneer from Drake. I ignored him, not feeling like provoking any further interaction with him. After practice I headed quickly into the showers, hoping to finish before Drake and most of the other guys descended. I noticed Beau eyeing me up as I rinsed off and groaned inwardly when he approached me.

“Hey Brae.”

“Hey.”

“How was your practice?”

“Fine.” My tone was a little shorter than I’d intended and I felt a little bad, but I hoped he would get the message and leave me alone.

“You seem to be adjusting to the practices already.”

“Yeah.”

“A lot of the other guys are struggling.”

“Yeah, they’re not so bad.”

“So, how are your parents?” he asked, with an odd tone of familiarity. I wanted to ask him why the hell he wanted to know, or felt entitled to know, but I refrained.

“They’re fine.”

“Oh good. So…” He paused. “I saw you walking around with Emmie Heron earlier.”

“Yeah…” Now I was really curious. Where was he going with this? He seemed to be all over the place.

“Is she dating anyone,” he asked pointedly. This was too classic. He thought that Emmie and I were a couple. He was scoping me out as competition.

“Why do you want to know?”

“Just curious. We’re old family friends. We winter together in Vail.”

“Then I think you can ask her that yourself,” I said, wanting to mention that ‘winter’ was a noun, not a verb, and smack him for his snobbery. Instead I snapped the cap closed on my shampoo and wandered away to my locker.

***

Back in the room I switched the TV on and checked my emails. Emmie had sent out a few finalizing our plans for the next day and Lottie and Nicola had responded to thank me for volunteering to drive. I sent one back saying that Skip most likely would not be joining us, and teasing them with my discovery of Emmie’s secret admirer. Skip came in just as I was flopping onto the bed to watch TV.

“Hey,” I said, as he entered. He went straight into the bathroom and shut the door. He emerged a few minutes later and laid down on his bed.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Nothing.”

“Have you eaten yet?”

“No.”

“Do you want to go get something in a little while?”

“’Kay.”

This was beginning to feel like my conversation with Beau, but reversed.

“Are you mad at me or something?”

“No.”

“Okay… Do you wanna play Wii?” I asked, hopefully.

Skip seemed to think about this for a moment. “Sure.”

“Tennis?”

Skip gave some kind of an incomprehensible grunt. I took it as a ‘yes.’

We played rather vigorously for close to half an hour before I suggested that we head down to the dining hall and grab dinner. We grabbed a table after filling our trays. We ate in silence for awhile and I became increasingly annoyed at Skip’s sullenness. I may as well have gone to dinner by myself. I at least could have gone somewhere where they served halfway decent food.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” I finally asked.

Skip looked irritated. “Yeah.”

“I feel like you’re annoyed with me or something.” I wanted to ask him if it was about what happened this morning, but I was nervous that it might set him off. Skip didn’t reply. I decided to change the subject. “I’m going to call my mom tonight, I owe her a long chat. I can go somewhere else though if you’d be annoyed.”

“It’s okay. I’m goin’ out.”

Well that was progress. Multiple words.

“Oh? Where are you going?”

“Out.”

“Yes, you said that.” No response. “With whom?”

“Some guys from the team.” Drake.

“Oh cool,” I said, discouraged. Something was definitely going on but I wasn’t going to get anywhere by continuing to probe him. “So… you sure you don’t want to come to the beach tomorrow? I think it’ll be really fun.”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay.”

More silence. I walked over to the frozen yogurt machine and served myself a large cup. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cam joining our table. ‘Thank god. Maybe this will lighten things up a bit,’ I thought to myself. I doused some rainbow sprinkles onto my yogurt and then returned to our table.

“Hey Cam!” I said cheerfully. “Where is Kenner?”

“Hey. He’s with the trainer, getting iced.”

“Oh, is he really sore again today?”

“I don’t think it’s as bad. Anyways, he wanted to order pizza tonight. He’s fixated on that place. I mean it was great, but I didn’t feel like doing it twice in one day, so I came to grab a bite.” He dug into his quesadilla.

“He was really excited about that place,” I said. “You remember Skip, it’s the place we went with my parents.”

“Oh, yeah. It was really, really good.”

“So do you have your meeting with the academic counselor tomorrow Cam?” I asked.

“Yeah, I think we all have them tomorrow.”

“Have you thought about what classes you’re going to take yet?”

“Not really. I don’t think I have much choice though. Pre-med has a lot of sequences so I don’t know if I get any choice at all.”

“Bummer,” was Skip’s paltry offering to the conversation. Still, his tone seemed less hostile than it had before.

“You get your laptop tomorrow, right Skip? Excited?” I asked.

“Oh cool,” Cam piped in. “Do you know what kind it is?”

“Not exactly. They let you pick Apple or PC, and I chose Apple. But I don’t know exactly what model or anything.”

“Nice choice. I am a Mac man myself,” Cam smiled, his nose crinkling and his eyes squinting. Cam continued to grow on me, he was a really genuine person.

“Yeah, that’s what we had at my high school so…” Skip said.

“Are you going to ask about jobs also?” I asked.

“Oh I wanna get a job at the library. I heard the people are kinda weird, but you can get a lot of work done there,” Cameron cut in.

“Oh, that sounds good. Yeah, I gotta ask about that. Brae’s lifeguarding at the pool,” Skip said.

“Yeah, I really like it so far. I’ve only worked one shift though.”

“I feel like that might be a little O.D. on the pool time for me,” Cam said with a chuckle. “I already kinda feel like I live there.”

“Know watcha mean,” Skip said. He seemed to be returning to his normal, friendly self.

“So what are you guys up to tonight?”

Skip didn’t reply.

“I think I’m going watch a movie, or play some Wii. Oh, and I owe my mom a phone call.”

“You have a Wii?! Awesome!”

His enthusiasm was childlike and quite charming. “Yeah. You can come by and play if you want. Kenner too.”

“Really?!”

“Yeah, sure. I’m going to call my mom in a few minutes. But if you guys want to drop by in like an hour, hour and a half, we can play.”

“Awesome! What floor are you guys on?”

“Five. We’re in 503. I’m pretty sure we’re the only people on the floor as yet.”

“Not anymore. I saw a new guy moving in this morning after practice,” Skip said.

“Oh really? What’s his name?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“Oh.” I would have expected Skip to extend a friendly greeting and even to volunteer his assistance in moving in the newbie. “Maybe we can invite him to play Wii with us,” I said to Cameron. “I’m sure he doesn’t know anybody yet. Skip, you’ll have to point out his room on the way up.”

Cam agreed to come up to our room in an hour or so and Skip and I went back up to our room. He pointed out the new kid’s room on the way and I knocked, but nobody answered. I figured he was probably doing stuff with his parents.

Skip threw on a pair of jeans and headed out pretty much as soon as we got back to our room.

“Have fun!” I called after him.

I made the call to my mom. I gave her (and my dad after her) the full rundown on how the first few practices went and assured them that Carrington’s coaches were a good fit for me. My mom wanted to hear all about the friends I was making, so I told her about Cam and Kenner, and Lottie, Emmie and Nicola. She told me I could have everyone down to the ski house whenever I wanted. She pestered me with questions about Skip and, knowing she’d sniff me out if I totally lied, I said he seemed stressed and crabby because he was struggling to get used to the workouts and seemed generally overwhelmed. I promised her I’d do what I could to be supportive. She wanted to talk about classes again before I registered with the academic advisor the next day. Before signing off we made a tentative date to get together for a weekend at the ski house in early October, just before the start of the swim season. I promised to give her another call sometime this weekend then said goodnight.

Cam and Kenner arrived twenty minutes later. Our odd number made things a little bit awkward, and I even ran down to see if the new kid was back and wanted to join us (he wasn’t), but we managed to make do. I was more than happy to sit out more than my fair share because their enthusiasm was so infectious. They both had sharp, sarcastic senses of humor — Kenner’s was a little self deprecating — and they played off each other really well. Cameron delighted in imitating Timmy’s Australian accent and barking out gruff commands. Looking at them you would have thought they’d known each other for years, the way they already had a shtick they put on for others. Cam’s girlfriend called at one point and he went out into the hall to take her call, so I got a little more playing time.

“She has him so whipped,” Kenner said rolling his eyes as Cam ran out of the room. “She’s called at least five times a day since we got here. I am telling you, no good can come of long distance relationships.”

“Have they been dating long?”

“Less than a year. She’s just way hotter than him. It’s unnatural. It’s thrown off the whole power structure of their relationship,” he said with a devilish glint in his eye.

“Where does she go to school?”

“She’s hoping to go here. She has another year of high school left. If she doesn’t get in here, Cam says he thinks they’ll probably break up.”

“What about you?” I asked. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

“Me?” Kenner said with a laugh. “I’m not blind, Brae.”

“Uhh…” I felt flustered, unsure what to say.

“Don’t worry I’m not fishing for compliments. I know that I need to come into my own a little bit more, or win an Olympic medal, before I can realistically expect to find a girlfriend. At least a halfway attractive one.”

“I do think you’re selling yourself short.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah… so do you have a girlfriend?” he asked.

“Uhh… no.” My voice sounded strangely awkward.

“Boyfriend?” He looked at me pointedly.

My jaw went slack with shock and felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach again. Why did this keep happening? I was too flustered to respond immediately.

“I’m pretty perceptive. And I have a gay brother,” he said, taking my silence as affirmation. “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t ever say anything. Cam has no idea.”

I was less seized by panic than I had been the other night. I supposed that I was getting more used to the idea of my sexuality being public knowledge. I also sensed that Kenner was somebody I could trust.

“Thanks.”

“So who else knows?”

“Just you and a few girlfriends,” I said.

“Yeah. Skip has no idea I’m sure,” Kenner replied. “It’s not obvious at all, I just noticed that you seemed a little reserved, like you were being careful to hold something of yourself back. And you seem kind of self-reflective. It reminded me of Reid, my brother.”

“The one that goes here?”

“No, that’s Jake. Reid is 22. He lives in Brooklyn and works in finance.”

“Oh, cool,” I said, not sure what else I was supposed to say. Was I supposed to ask more questions? Or feel some kind of immediate gay kinship with Kenner’s brother? I was still processing the fact that Kenner had figured me out.

“So, boyfriend?” Kenner asked.

“No.”

“Well, you’ll get one when you want one. I have no doubts about that.” Kenner put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and gave me a caring smile. “If you ever need someone to talk to, I don’t mind. Reid has used and abused me for years.”

Cam came back in with a sheepish smile and Kenner cracked an imaginary whip in his direction.

“Do you guys want snacks or something to drink?

“Oh god, don’t get him started,” Cameron said. “Kenner’s from one of those all soy, flax, and unpalatable mush households, and he has been insatiable since we got here.”

“Who knew preservatives good be so good?” he asked, leering lustily at the Oreos and Pringles I proffered.

The rest of the evening passed pleasantly. We put another significant dent in the snack stockpile and had quite a sugar buzz going by the time they left a couple of hours later. Kenner gave my shoulder an affectionate squeeze and winked at me on his way out.

“You have my digits Davvy. Hit me up anytime,” he said with a smile. I smiled in return. It was impossible not to.

***

As I got ready for bed my mind replayed my conversation with Kenner. It was obvious to me that he was a good person and that he would be a good and trustworthy ally. I also reflected on how much easier it was to come out to him and talk to him than it had been my first time with Emmie and Lottie. I could only hope that it would continue to get easier and that everyone would take the news in such a mature manner. Would Skip take it that well? Would he be happy or even relieved? My head was still reeling from our activities that morning and his bizarre, but possibly understandable, reaction. I just hoped that irreparable damage hadn’t been done to our friendship and that Skip would continue to feel as though he could be himself around me. I would hate for him to feel as though he has to censor his true self.

I threw together a beach bag for the following day, packing it with board shorts, extra towels and snacks. I spotted my iPod on the desk and I threw that in as well with a pair of sunglasses.

I turned up the A.C. (I liked sleeping in the cold) before sliding into bed. Cracks of bluish light from the courtyard slipped into the room between the blackout curtains, making odd geometric patterns on the rich wood cabinetry on the far wall of our room. It was strange how comfortable I already felt here. Sleep overcame me quickly but gently.

***

Shortly after 4am I was awakened by retching and coughing sounds. I looked around our room expecting to see Skip (hopefully) curled over a garbage can, or perhaps laying in his bed, but he wasn’t there. The light in the bathroom was off but I got up and checked anyway. No Skip. I turned on the lights just to be sure I hadn’t missed him huddling in some corner. The retching noise came again and I realized that it was coming from outside the room. I opened the door to find Skip passed out just outside our door, lying in a pool of his own bile, his keys laying in his limp hand.

‘Oh great,’ I muttered to myself, inwardly thanking fate that Skip had at least managed to pass out on his side and avoided choking on his own vomit. I picked him up and half carried, half dragged him into the bathroom. Vomit was crusted over the left side of his face, extending up into his hair and down to the shoulder of his shirt; it smelled like vodka. My inner lifeguard kicked in and I realized that I needed to check his vitals. His pulse felt okay but his breathing seemed a little shallow. I decided I should probably try to get him awake if possible and work on getting him to eat and drink something.

“Skip,” I said, shaking him gently. Nothing. “Skip!” I said again, louder and giving him a firmer shake. Nothing. “SKIP!!” I was yelling now, and beginning to get a little panicky.

I didn’t want to slap him, so I decided to pull him into the shower. I tugged off his vomit-soaked shirt and checked his pockets for his wallet and phone before turning on a cold stream of water. Skip didn’t immediately regain consciousness and I became worried that I was going to have to call for paramedics. Then he sputtered and slowly, groggily managed to open his eyes. He coughed, then hunched over and vomited again on his legs.

‘Oh fuck, this is a disaster,’ I thought, as I rubbed his back until he finished vomiting. I left the shower running to keep him awake and to hopefully get the vomit to drain out of the shower. I ran into our room and grabbed a bottle of water and brought it back for Skip. I shut off the shower, and sat on the ledge next to him.

“Skip.” Nothing. “Skip, look at me.” Skip made a slight effort to raise his head and then gave up. “Skip, look at me!” He raised his head this time and there was some incoherent mumbling. “I need you to drink this,” I said, uncapping the water bottle and putting it to his lips. He managed to take a few furtive sips. He was starting to shiver so I decided I should try and move him out of the shower if possible.

“Okay, Skip, let’s get you out of here now,” I said grabbing him under the armpits and hoisting him up. He seemed a little more with it, and helped pull himself out of the shower so he wasn’t pure dead weight. “Okay let’s get these pants off you,” I said, trying to hold him up with one hand, while pulling down the saturated jeans with the other. He was shivering more furiously. When I finally got them down to his knees I sat him on the toilet. He was swaying slightly and his head kept rolling back. I grabbed a towel off the rack and wrapped it around him, then went back to pulling his pants the rest of the way off. I grabbed another towel and tried to rub his legs warm. It seemed to be working and he seemed a little more with it, squinting oddly at me. ‘I wonder how many of me he is seeing right now,’ I thought, smirking at his disorientation.

“Skip, let’s finish this bottle of water and then we’ll get you onto your bed okay?” I said, grabbing the bottle off of the counter and putting it back towards his lips. He drank it more readily now. “Can you stand up?” I asked after he finished the water. Skip mumbled something incoherent, then grabbed my arms and tried to pull himself up with limited success. I eventually had to grab one of his arms and throw it over my shoulder in order to get him into our room. I slowly hobbled him over to his bed and sat him down, grabbing the trash bin on the way just in case he decided to have another little episode.

“Okay…” I said grabbing another bottle of water from the fridge and taking a mental inventory of what foodstuffs we had in the room. “Ahh… bread!” I thought aloud as I remembered that my mom had bought a loaf and put it in the fridge on Sunday. I pulled it out, giving it a quick glance over for telltale blue or green splotches. Still good. I pulled out two slices and sat back down besides Skip. He was awake now, but not alert, his eyes looked vacant and sort of glazed.

“Skip, let’s eat some bread now, okay?” More mumbling. I handed Skip the bread and he started to absent mindedly munch on it. “Do you want some more water?” I asked after he’d finished his first piece of bread. He nodded yes. I handed him another water bottle and he took a few sips before handing it back to me. “Okay eat some more bread,” I said as I went over to his dresser and dug out some sweat pants. I walked back to his bed, turning off the A.C. on my way over. “Let’s get these on you. Warm you up a bit,” I said, forcing his feet through the legs of the sweats. Skip helped me tug them up over his hips. I handed Skip the water bottle again after he finished his second piece of bread. It was now close to 5am. ‘God, how is he ever going to make it to practice today?’

I went into the bathroom and dug some aspirin out of one of the two oversized bottles my mom had put in our medicine cabinet. ‘Well at least my mom had realistic expectations for the types of trouble we’d be getting into.’ I brought the pills back into Skip and handed them to him. “Take these,” I said. Skip stared at them quizzically for a moment, then downed the pills with another chug of water from the bottle. Skip leaned his head back against the wall, shut his eyes and groaned.

“I’m sorry,” he said, barely above a whisper. His voice cracked and sounded raspy.

“It’s okay,” I said, sitting on the bed and putting a friendly hand on his shoulder.

“No. I feel like a fucking idiot.”

“It happens to all of us eventually Skip. How drunk do you feel right now?”

“Not very.”

“Do you think you can go to practice today?”

Skip moaned as though in pain. “How long?”

“It’s in an hour.”

“Fuuuuuuck.”

“I can try and make up some excuse for you.”

“No. I hafta go. I hafta.”

“Alright. Do you want to eat some more bread maybe then? And you might want to shower again… Use soap.” I grabbed Skip another two pieces of bread. The room was beginning to smell a little ripe and I remembered the mess that Skip had left outside. I handed Skip the bread and a fresh bottle of water and then opened the windows.

“I’m going to go clean up outside. You yell if you need anything. I can help you shower in a few minutes if you want.”

I used an extra towel to clean up Skip’s vomit. It was a pretty liquid consistency and it seeped right through the towel. “Ugh gross. This is foul,” I muttered, gagging at the stench of the bile.

“I’m sorry!” Skip groaned. I looked up to see him watching me from the doorway. His eyes looked teary. “I’m a bad, bad person.”

“No Skip, you’re not,” I said, picking up the towel and looking at it contemplatively for a moment. “I think I’m just going to throw this out,” I decided, after eyeing a garbage can well down the hallway.

“Yes, I am. Dad was right about me. Everyone was. I am an abomination!”

“No you’re not Skip,” I said absent-mindedly. “I’ll be right back.” I ran the towel down to the end of the hallway and tossed it into the garbage bag. I took a step or two away and then, reconsidering, went back and tied the top of the bag into a knot. ‘No need to stink up the hall. And nobody is here to use this anyways,’ I thought.

Skip was still standing in the doorway when I got back. He looked a wreck and he’d obviously been crying. ‘Guess he’s an emotional drunk. Good to know,’ I thought, packing that away into my mental inventory. I squeezed passed him into the room and grabbed an antiseptic spray and some Febreeze. I squeezed back past Skip into the hallway and began to spray the dark spot on the carpet with the antiseptic spray.

“I feel like we probably need baking soda or carpet shampoo. But hopefully this will keep us from suffocating in the meantime. We can buy that stuff tomorrow,” I said.

Skip groaned again. “I’m a bad, bad person. I am evil.” He slumped down against the wall and started crying.

‘Christ, this is just what I need right now.’ “Skip, you are not evil, you are not bad, you are not an abomination,” I cooed at him, rubbing him comfortingly with one hand, while Febreezing the carpet with the other.

“I am, I am!!”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because I’m bad!!”

“You’re not bad. You’re a good person Skip. Why would you think that?”

“Because I am a sinful badder.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.” This was going nowhere. A doorway opened down the hall and a curious head popped out.

“Hi…” I said awkwardly, giving a crooked smile. “I’m really sorry. We’re taking it inside. Sorry!”

“Okay. Good night.” The door shut.

“That was odd. Okay let’s get you inside.” I turned my attention back to Skip. With a helping hand he was able to pull himself up and teeter back into the room. His intoxication level seemed all over the place, a few minutes ago he hadn’t seemed that drunk, and now he was a sobbing mess. I led Skip back to his bed and tucked him in. He was still crying and mumbling to himself. My curiosity was boiling over. I wanted answers, but was I the kind of person who could take advantage of his vulnerable state to get them. I wavered for a few moments, then bit my lip in determination.

“Skip?”

“Y-y-yes?” he stuttered out between broken sobs.

“What’s wrong? Why do you think you are bad?”

“I-I-I, I’m an abom-abomination…”

“Why do you think that?”

“Becauuuuuse!” he moaned.

“Because, why?”

“Becauuuuuse!” he moaned again.

‘Oh Christ,’ I thought to myself. ‘Should I just say it? Put it out there? Is he even going to remember this?’

“Skip why are you an abomination?”

No response.

“Is it because… is it because you’re gay Skip?”

‘Great. I am taking advantage of an emotionally disturbed drunk person. What kind of roommate am I?’

Skip seemed confused by my question at first. “G-g-gaaaaay?” He managed to simultaneously stutter and slur. “I’m not gay! I wish! I’m a killer!”

I sat upright, not sure if I’d heard it correctly.

“You’re a what?!” I nearly shrieked, hysteria trickling into my voice.

“A k-k-killer,” he moaned.

“Skip, look at me,” I said grabbing his face and staring into it intensely. “Stop fucking around. What are you talking about?”

“M-m-m-my g-g-girlfriend, Holly, an’ me, we, we, we, got.”

“You got what?”

“We got pr-pregnant,” he cried.

I saw where this was going. “Did you take her to get an abortion, Skip?” I asked.

He nodded ruefully.

“Then what?”

“They know! Evvvveryone knows!” he wailed.

“Your parents?”

He nodded. “Everyone.”

He was crying harder now and I felt guilty for inflicting this meltdown on him. I still couldn’t gauge just how drunk Skip was. Maybe he legitimately wanted to get this off his chest. Either way, my heart went out to him. I wrapped my arms around him and held his head to my chest while he cried. So, Skip wasn’t gay. At least that wasn’t the secret. “Maybe he still is?” I wondered to myself hopefully, knowing I was being naïve. I knew abortion wasn’t big in the Bible belt and I couldn’t imagine the ostracization and abuse Skip must have endured when people found out about him helping Holly.

We sat there awhile, I rocked him gently and whispered reassuring things to him. He calmed down after awhile and became almost trance like. Eventually, I realized it was 5:45am, and I needed to get going.

“Skip, you need to get some sleep. I’m going to tell them that you’re sick and can’t come.”

“Nooo,” he groaned. “They’ll fire me.”

“They won’t fire you. There is nothing you can do Skip, you’re in no shape for practice. I’ll try and take care of it for you. Go to sleep,” I said, extricating myself from him and laying him down. By the time I’d gotten dressed and grabbed my gym bag, he was asleep. I made sure he was sleeping on his side, put a garbage bin next to the bed and put some water on his nightstand. I went in to the bathroom and grabbed two more aspirin and put them down next to the water. I looked down at Skip’s splotchy, tear-stained face, now sleeping peacefully. I ruffled his fine hair affectionately and then headed out for practice, jogging most of the way to get there on time.

 

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