Brae
by Kieron Connors

 

Chapter 4 

I was a minute or two late when I made it out on deck. Jimmy was leading the guys through some stretches while Timmy looked on. Drake, Finch and their crew of friends all looked a little worse for the wear, but none so bad as Skip had looked. A flash of anger overcame me as I thought about how they’d left him to take care of himself. It was obvious they didn’t really care about him. I approached Timmy, figuring I probably needed to go to the top dog.

“Hey coach.”

“Mr. Davenport…” He glanced down at his watch. “Another rough morning?”

I flushed, embarrassed. I hadn’t realized that he had noticed my indisposition the other morning. “Uhh, yes. Well, no. Not me. I learned that lesson and now I guess it’s Skip’s turn… He isn’t going to be able to make it this morning.”

“I see…Well I suppose I’ll be having a little conversation with Mr. Henderson this afternoon.”

“Yeah, I’d say he already feels really awful about it. This is one lesson he is learning the hard way.” Timmy seemed surprise that I was voicing an opinion. I hoped my back talk wasn’t going to get me into trouble, but at the same time, I was concerned that after Skip’s emotional breakdown this morning, further stress might just be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“Well I think it’s my job, as his coach, to drill it in a little harder,” Timmy said firmly. I was surprised at his tone, he didn’t seem like a petty man, yet it was clear this was threatening to become personal and I didn’t want Skip to suffer further at my hands.

“Well, I think it’s fairly beneficial to all that Skip is learning this lesson now, as opposed to mid-season, when it might have actually been detrimental. And I’m sure you’ll find him extraordinarily penitent this afternoon. But of course you know best coach,” I said, flashing him a smile and then turning to join the others on the mats.

“Braeden you are with me today,” Timmy announced after we’d finished stretching and were getting ready to get in the water. I caught some appreciative glances from some of the other freshmen, a thumbs up from Kenner, and a scathing look of hatred from Drake. I gulped. Overjoyed as I was to be leaving my lane with Drake, I couldn’t help feeling that this didn’t bode well.

Colin clapped a supportive hand on my shoulder as we headed over to Timmy. I was assigned to a lane with our two other breaststrokers. I recognized both of them from Olympic Trials, and had actually bettered both of them. Eric Worth was a junior from Texas, an inch or two shorter than me, but with a much more powerful build. He had closely cropped light brown hair and hazel eyes that looked golden in the early morning light of the Gnat. His features were rugged and masculine, and he had a captivating (and large) smile. Henry Powers was a more intimidating specimen. A senior from the Midwest, he was impossibly tall with a lean muscular build. His blond hair seemed to have permanent bed head and looked like it had been shorn with hedge clippers. His face was a little gaunt and was dominated by his large dark eyes, which often reminded me of black holes. He also sported an unusually thick beard for someone our age I hopped in beside the two of them.

“Heya Davvy, welcome to the big leagues,” Eric said, flashing his trademark grin. I noticed he had a slight gap between his two front teeth. “You mind if I call you Davvy? Or do you like Brae better?”

“Whichever is fine.”

“I was really impressed with your swims this summer,” he said, in reference to the trials.

“Oh, thanks,” I said. Behind me, Henry pushed off the wall and launched aggressively into the workout.

“Don’t mind him. He’s a nice guy, he’s just kinda shy. It takes him awhile to warm up to people,” Eric smiled again, reassuringly.

“If you say so!”

The workout was a punishing one and I had no doubt that I was meant to feel the brunt of it. Luckily months of intense conditioning had me in prime shape and I was able to push through the workout without struggling too much. Eric and I chatted intermittently throughout the workout. He was from Houston, the youngest of four boys, sang in an a capella group, and was studying American history and English. He had a serious girlfriend of nearly two years who was on the diving team.

Henry eventually displayed interest in comparing times and pullout techniques. I couldn’t have been less interested, but figured this might be his way of being hospitable and friendly, and I was the newbie in his lane, so I talked shop with him sporadically through the last 20 minutes of the workout. He seemed a nice enough guy, but probably didn’t have much of a life outside swimming.

“Davenport, you can tell your friend I expect to see him here a 2:00pm today, in my office,” Timmy barked at me as I climbed out of the pool.

“Okay, coach.” I grabbed my water bottle and headed with Eric into the showers.

“Your roommate in trouble?” Eric asked, easing his powerful body into the steaming spray of the shower. “Geez, it’s hot,” he said with a shudder.

“Yeah. He had a little bit too much fun last night. I hope Timmy won’t be too hard on him. I mean, at least he is learning his lesson early in the season.”

“Timmy likes us to think he’s a hard ass.” Eric used the suds from his shampoo to scrub down his body. “He’s generally a pretty reasonable guy though. He’ll probably scare the shit outta your friend though.”

“That’s pretty much how I pegged him,” I said, working my hair into a lather.

Cam and Kenner came up to hear how my first practice under Timmy went and I introduced them to Eric, who was as friendly and full of advice for them as he was with me. I wanted to get back to check on Skip before I left for the beach, so I left the three of them chatting in the showers and went to change.

“So Davvy where’s your little boyfriend today?” came a taunting voice from behind me. Drake.

I ignored the jibe. “He’s busy this morning Drake. But thanks for taking such great care of him last night. You’re a real friend!” I said facetiously.

I slammed my locker shut and grabbed my bag. Drake seemed confused by my response.

“I think you should stay away from my roommate Drake.” I turned to talk out of the locker room.

“Maybe he’s tired of being your little charity project, Davvy.” Drake sneered. “Have to buy your friends?”

I stiffened. Had Drake been feeding Skip shit like this? It could potentially explain some of his weirdness, now that the gay guilt factor had been ruled out. My nails dug into my palms as I clenched my fists and the tendons in my neck tightened with anger. I took a deep breath and walked out. I wasn’t going to engage in his childish games. He wasn’t worth it.

***

The sun was out in full force as I headed back towards the Res Square. It was going to be a perfect beach day. I enjoyed the cool shade of the cloisters lining the courtyards, running my finger tips across the smooth stone of column after column.

The room was still dark when I walked in and Skip was snoring slightly. I changed into the board shirts and tank top I’d picked out the night before and double checked the contents of my beach bag. I quietly grabbed a few waters out of our fridge, and packed them into the bag. I brought one over to Skip and sat on the corner of his bed. I noticed that the water and aspirin I’d left him had not been touched.

“Skip.” I gently shook his shoulder. He stirred and groaned slightly as he picked up his head and looked at me through squinted eyes. “How are you feeling?”

“I think I’m on my death bed.”

“If you think this is bad, just wait until your meeting with Timmy later. He wants to see you in his office today at 2pm.”

“Fuck!” Skip moaned.

“I don’t think it’ll be too terrible. He already took a lot of his frustration out on me when I suggested that you had definitely learned your lesson and that he should go easy on you.”

“Sorry. I suck.”

“You don’t suck Skip. We’ve all been here, more or less… although I cannot believe you were left out in the hallway.”

“Don’t remind me.”

“Anyways, I’m still going to the beach. You should probably drink some more and have some more aspirin now.”

“Alright.” Skip turned and sat up. Dark circles ringed his blood shot eyes, his lips look chapped, his face a little bloated, and his hair greasy and wild. I handed him the pills which he downed along with the bottle of water.

“Do you want another?” I asked. “Or some more bread or something?”

“Yeah, okay.”

I grabbed Skip another bottle of water and a slice of bread and brought them over to him.

“I can smell the alcohol coming out of your pores,” I said with a laugh. Skip certainly smelled ripe. “Okay, let me set you an alarm. Is 1:30 okay?”

“Yeah, fine.”

“I really wouldn’t worry too much about this meeting with Timmy. I don’t think it will be too bad.”

“Okay.”

“Anything else you want before I leave?” I asked, looking appraisingly at Skip and around the room.

“No. Thanks.” Skip smiled at me feebly, then winced.

“Get some rest. I’ll see you later.”

***

I called Lottie as I pulled into the circular drive and up under the glass canopy in the front of her building. The girls were down a few minutes later.

Lottie, sporting large red aviators with leather detailing climbed into the front seat. Emmie and Nicola argued on the sidewalk outside.

“Hey!” Lottie said brightly.

“Morning,” I replied. “What’s going on with them?” I asked, nodding towards Lottie’s roommates.

“Nicola had a visitor last night,” Lottie said with a smirk. “And Emmie just found out that Nicola left him in the apartment. She wants her to go kick him out.”

“Oh. It’s kind of weird that she would leave him in there alone…”

“Yeah, whatever, we know who he is, so like, if anything went missing it’d be easy to track him down…” she replied.

“I guess. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving him unsupervised. What if he went through your stuff?” I asked, my mind flashing to the files of gay material that I had hidden away on my hard drive.

She shrugged. Emmie climbed into the back a moment later. Nicola had turned and was stomping back into the lobby.

“Hey Brae!” Emmie said cheerfully. “It’s going to be a few minutes. Nicola has to run in and take care of something.”

“I heard.”

“She is ridiculous sometimes!” Emmie rolled her eyes. “But I love her.”

“How was practice this morning?” Lottie asked.

“It was pretty rough actually. I got moved up under the head coach and he laid into me pretty hard.”

“Oh we saw your roommate last night! Lottie pointed him out to me,” Emmie said.

“Really?” I looked over at Lottie and raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah he was with a group of huge douche bags!” Emmie said.

“He looked extremely out of it,” Lottie added.

“We were about to go over and offer to take him home, but then the whole group of them got kicked out of the bar,” Emmie said. “They were being really obnoxious.”

“Skip, much less so than the other guys though,” said Lottie.

“Yeah, he looked really uncomfortable.”

“Well, I had quite the night taking care of him,” I said.

As we waited for Nicola, I filled them in on the events that had transpired the night before. They were both shocked and disgusted that Drake could basically leave Skip for dead the way that he had and were extremely sympathetic about the whole situation.

“I mean we all have those nightmarish ‘my roommate’ stories, but this one is pretty bad,” said Lottie.

“I can’t believe you cleaned up all of his puke!” Emmie squealed.

“It was one of the most foul things I’ve ever had to do in my life. Some kid down the hall woke up because Skip was having his meltdown, and poked his head out. Total judgment.”

“Whatever, it happens. You’re a nice person, Brae. Nicer than I would be in that situation,” Lottie said.

“Clearly a lot more tolerant than me too,” Emmie giggled as Nicola emerged from the building again, dressed in a Missoni patterned bikini with just jean shorts to cover, dragging a frazzled and disheveled looking man behind her. She left him at the door without so much as a wave or a word and stalked over the car, leaving him looking bewildered.

“Hi Braeden,” she purred as she climbed into the back.

“Everybody ready to go?” I asked. I got an eager nod from Emmie, upon which I put the car into gear and eased out of the drive.

“Go left,” directed Lottie, the designated navigator.

We made our way out of Carrington and onto the freeway.

“So, I guess this means that he isn’t gay after all,” Lottie said.

“Yeah…” I replied, hoping I didn’t sound too mournful. “Getting a girl pregnant pretty much rules that out.”

“He might be! Maybe he was just too afraid to admit it before! You shouldn’t give up on love!” came Emmie’s voice from the backseat.

“Who are we talking about?” Nicola asked.

“Skip.” Emmie replied.

“Brae’s roommate,” Lottie continued.

“Oh, the firecrotch.”

I laughed. “Actually he’s more of a strawberry blond than a red head. And the carpet doesn’t quite match the drapes.”

“Oh really?” Nicola asked, intrigued.

I filled Nicola in on the latest Skip developments, apparently Emmie had already debriefed both Lottie and Nicola about my interesting morning with him the day before.

“Yeah,” Nicola said, upon conclusion of my story, “don’t listen to Emmie. He is definitely straight.”

“I can’t believe his family would, like, disown him because his girlfriend got an abortion!” Emmie said.

“Have you ever been to the bible belt Emmie?” Lottie asked.

“Dallas, to visit Nicola.”

“I do not live in the bible belt! Dallas is one of the most liberal cities in Texas!” Nicola snapped.

“That had to have been so hard for him. I mean who knows how he felt about the whole thing, and then his parents and his family cast him out?” Lottie said.

“I mean, I don’t know if they cast him out, per se, he didn’t say that, but things definitely seem very strained. I mean, he isn’t going back for his sister’s wedding!”

“That is sosad,” Emmie said.

“People are bigoted idiots,” said Nicola.

Emmie sighed. “Yeah…”

“So Brae, are you in mourning of your fictional relationship?” Nicola asked wryly.

“Nicola!” Emmie snapped. I laughed.

“No, she’s right. I totally got ahead of myself on this one. And I knew I was doing it too. I definitely got what I deserved. Emotional walls going up right now.”

“I mean, there were some signs… I wouldn’t beat up on yourself too much,” Lottie chimed in.

“Yeah!” said Emmie.

“Plus you had Emmie the cheerleader here, pumping you up with false hope,” Nicola said, giving Emmie a playful nudge.

“Oh, so, tell us about Emmie’s secret admirer!” Lottie said excitedly from the front seat.

“Oh yeah! Tell us!” Emmie said.

“Okay. Well there is this guy on the swim team who has sorta been pestering me. He’s been really overly friendly and I basically pegged him for the social climber type and have been trying to avoid him. So anyways, yesterday he came up and started asking me questions about Emmie and how I knew her, he actually thought that we might be dating! I didn’t give him any information, I just told him he should talk to you.”

“Weird…” Lottie muttered.

“He is actually extremely hot. He’s from Bronxville. He just kind of rubs me as sort of snobbish and self centered.”

“Oh my god! Emmie! It’s Beau Vanderbilt, it’s got to be!” Lottie exclaimed. “It’s Beau, isn’t it Brae?”

I was startled. “Yeah, uhh, you know him?” Emmie and Lottie groaned. Nicola snickered.

“Emmie and Beau were set up for a sorority event last year,” Nicola explained. “Like you, she found him insufferably obnoxious.”

“That is understatement of the century. First he tried to pretend like we were old friends from Vail and was telling people that we ‘wintered together.’ As if. And he tried to demand a table and bottle service at a crush party!!” Emmie groaned, massaging her temples.

“What’s a crush party?”

Lottie explained. “It’s different than a formal or a date party because all the girls in the house get to invite 2 to 3 people, and they submit their choices to the social chairs. A general invite on behalf of Kappa goes out, so the people who were invited don’t know who asked them, unless you decide to tell them. So you can safely ask a crush without them knowing it was you…”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, although, usually we actually invite friends… Crush parties tend to have more of a group dynamic, as opposed to a date one,” Emmie said. “And we usually rent out a club or a bar for the venue.”

Nicola picked up the story. “But your first crush party as a freshman, just after rush, you get set up by your sisters. And Emmie got set up for this crush party with Beau.”

“It was a disaster,” Emmie sighed dramatically.

“Well, he didn’t seem to think so… After that we noticed that he started to kind of awkwardly hover around us whenever we were out. And he always seemed to be trying to sniff out invitations to Kappa events. He’s definitely odd…” Nicola said.

“I sympathize,” I said, making a turn as Lottie instructed. “But I don’t know what he wants with me. He was bothering me before I even knew you Emmie.”

“He was probably assigned to recruit you for his frat,” Lottie said matter-of-factly. “Make a right here. Then follow this road for like a half mile.” I pulled onto a narrow and winding road, surrounded by dense forestry on both sides.

“What frat? How do they know about me already?”

“Facebook. They have a list of guys they want to aggressively recruit by the middle of the summer. We do the same thing in Kappa. You are like their wet dream, Beau was probably assigned to you because of this swimming connection and he lives pretty close to you,” Lottie says.

“Oh. That’s pretty creepy. What frat is it?”

“Alpha Delta,” Lottie replied.

“Are they good?”

“Alpha Delta and Zeta Upsilon are considered the best. The Alphas are the status frat. It’s repulsive,” Nicola replied. “Everyone called Zeta Upsilon “Zoo” because it’s Z-U and, frankly, it’s a fit description of their house. They are chill guys, but there is a bit of a stoner reputation… but they’re known for putting on great events.”

“The Alphas are preppy, old-money, New England types and the Zetas are kinda surfer bum-ish. Pull in here.” Emmie indicated to a slight clearing in the trees where tire marks were indented in the grass. A small lake was visible through the trees, glittering in the morning sun.

We all grabbed our stuff and climbed out of the car. We passed through a line of trees, then out onto a strip of pebbly sand that stretched about 50 yards along the south side of the lake. The lake was completely enclosed by forest, the reflections of shrubbery giving the water a greenish hue. I kicked off my flip flops as I stepped onto the beach, relishing the feeling of the hot sand between my toes. 25 yards out from the beach, a heron posed on a little wooden raft, floating on old barrels. I leaned my head back, savoring the feeling of the sun’s heat on my face.

“This is incredible. How did you guys ever find out about this place? It seems totally untouched.”

“Carl Franke brought me here last year,” Lottie replied. “I told the girls about it and we used it a lot last spring, we sorta made it into our spot. Nobody from Carrington really knows about it. Carl has a lake house near here, so I don’t think he’s all that anxious for people to find out about it. It would be a shame if it was overrun by college kids.”

“Yeah, definitely,” I agreed.

***

We spread our towels out on the beach, then, after some intense deliberation, decided that lying out on the raft would provide optimal sun exposure. The four of us swam leisurely out to the raft. The girls were all strong swimmers and Lottie in particular had a very fluid stroke that made her look as though she floated on top of the water. I remembered her saying that her brother had been a swimmer for Carrington and she clearly also had a great aptitude for the sport. Emmie made a big deal about not wanting to lie directly on the raft, so she swam out with her towel over her head. She smiled triumphantly when we got out there and found that the raft was covered with bird poop. We tried rinsing it off, but the sun seemed to have fused into the grain of the wood. Eventually Lottie, Nicola and I gave in and swam back in to get our towels.

Finally arranged on our towels, we chatted leisurely and enjoyed the sun’s increasing strength as it climbed into the sky. The slight rocking of the raft gave me a pleasant light headed feeling, and made me feel weightless. Occasionally one of us would find the heat too much and would slip into the water to cool off before reclaiming our spot on the raft. I lay between Lottie and Emmie, Nicola was on Emmie’s far side. Conversation lulled for awhile and I soon I felt myself drifting casually in and out of consciousness, exhausted from the morning’s trials.

“So Nicola, how was last night?” Emmie chirped, breaking the silence.

I opened my eyes and squinted up at the sky, surprised to see how high the sun was. We must have been laying out for close to two hours already. My skin didn’t show any signs or getting red but I decided I should probably flip over onto my stomach just to be safe.

“It was pretty good. I’d give him a 6. Maybe a 7. The oral was painfully bad, too drooly and for awhile I thought he might be trying to blow razz berries on my cooter…”

Emmie and Lottie both groaned their disgust.

“But he had a really great dick and was a pretty tremendous fuck. I came three times. There was a reason I wanted to leave him in that bedroom this morning.”

Emmie groaned again. “It’s not a dorm room Nicola. You cannot get away with that this year! I am not comfortable with guys being left alone in our apartment! Especially guys that we don’t really know all that well. It would be a whole ’nother story if you were actually dating him.”

“Yeah that isn’t going to happen. I’d rather attempt conversation with Helen Keller than with him again. I do think he has 3 or 4 more lays in him though before I’m tired of him. His dick is just perfect. It’s not to long, maybe 7 or 7.5 inches, but pretty thick.” She brought the tip of her index finger to the tip of her thumb to estimate the approximate girth. Emmie smiled and nodded approvingly, Lottie seemed minimally interested in the conversation.

I took all this in, in silence, surprised by Nicola’s blunt and explicit manner of speaking. I hadn’t known her more than a few days yet she didn’t seem to have any reservations about putting it all out there in front of me. On the other hand, I appreciated that they all felt comfortable enough to speak this openly with each other and that there wasn’t any fear of judgment or rapprochement.

“I want a boyfriend!” Emmie whined.

“Emmie, you had a boyfriend all of two weeks ago!” Lottie chuckled.

“Exactly, it’s hard to go from sex regularly to nothing!”

“Emmie doesn’t ever hookup,” Lottie said, for my benefit.

“What about Beau Vanderbilt?” Nicola teased. “Wait, did you sleep with him?”

“No!!”

“Well you could.”

“Then she would never be rid of him!” Lottie chimed in. “You give a person like Beau an in and good luck! He is like a parasite!”

“He is hot,” Nicola countered.

“Still not worth it,” Lottie said.

“Brae?” Emmie asked. “Do you have an opinion?”

“Well…,” I said, surprised that Emmie was soliciting my opinion. “He’s definitely hot, but I think I have to side with Lottie. He’s pretty intolerable and I don’t think you can rely on him to be discrete. I could very easily see him using you as his calling card…”

“-to climb the social ladder. Totally.” Lottie finished.

“When does Carl get back, Lottie?” Emmie asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him in awhile.”

“I heard he won’t be back until classes start, so like another week and a half,” I chipped in. “At least that’s the word at the pool.”

“Is that going to continue?” Emmie asked.

“I doubt it.”

“But that was the best sex ever!” Nicola said, sitting up.

“Yeah. It was. But he probably has Olympic groupies now and I do not want a piece of whatever he is probably carrying now.”

“Eww!” Emmie cried.

“I hadn’t though of that,” Nicola said, reflectively. “That is a really good point.”

“Yeah. I’m content to say I tapped that back in the day and keep my lady parts clean,” Lottie joked.

“So Brae, any new prospects now that the Skipper is out of the running?” Nicola asked.

“No. The swim team isn’t exactly ripe pickings. And I guess I’ve learned my lesson the hard way about running after straight boys.”

“Have you ever had a boyfriend?” Nicola asked.

“No. There was this kid that I guess I was kind of hooking up with for awhile, but we didn’t take it very far.”

Lottie smiled. “Hampton’s boy?”

“Yeah. Rhett.”

“Ooh, great name! I’m really into that!” Emmie said.

“His last name is Gable. His mom has a bizarre Gone With the Wind obsession. She’s a soap actress and kinda eccentric.”

“OMG! Grace Gable from Passion Point?!” Emmie yelled.

“Yeah.”

“I LOVE HER!! I cannot believe you know her!”

“She lives next door to me in the Hamptons.”

“That is so cool! Ginger Heart, that’s the character she plays, is my favorite! Oh my god! I cannot believe you know her!”

“We got that Emmie. Head between your knees babe,” Nicola said, amusement painted all over her face. “So how did things start between you and Rhett?”

“Well, like I said we’re neighbors, so we’ve basically grown up playing together in the summers and stuff…”

“Wait! What does he look like? I need to picture him,” Emmie interrupted.

“Sorta like me, actually…” I laughed. “People in town used to mistake us for brothers. He’s blond, his hair is a little lighter than mine, so are his eyes, they’re a really pale blue, sorta icy. His face is really handsome, thin but chiseled, sort of like an Abercrombie model.”

“Mmm, he sounds yummy,” Emmie giggled.

“Get to the good stuff!” Nicola exclaimed, sounding a bit exasperated.

“Okay, well, we used to play manhunt with a few of the other kids who lived around us.”

“What’s that?” Lottie asked.

“It’s basically hide and go seek tag, with teams. We’d play outside at night on my property and Rhett’s. Rhett and I always insisted on being on the same team, and we used to go looking for new hiding spots together during the day.”

“Cheaters!” Lottie quipped.

“We were not cheaters, we were just well prepared… Anyways, we found this great spot, it was a hollow bush in his yard that was right up against the wall between our properties. It was pretty tight but you could fit two people in it. So we were hiding in there one night, we were both just in boardshorts, and I was kind of pressed up against the wall and he was sort of spooned up into me, and all of a sudden I just felt extremely conscious of how close we were.”

“And you got wood?” Nicola asked.

“Yeah… And of course I was mortified, because it was more or less pressed against his ass… so I’m more or less dying… I mean, like, sweating with panic and then he reached around and grabbed it.” I said, remembering the smooth feeling of his back pressed against me and the rough wall behind me, the soft and tentative way his fingers enclosed around my member, the sound of our ragged breathing as he slowly stroked me, and the hopeful and terrified look in his eyes as he rolled around to face me. “Then he turned around and started kissing me and all of a sudden we were grabbing and groping each other in this bush, making out like crazy…”

“And then?” Emmie asked eagerly.

“And then we were caught actually.”

“Caught?!” Lottie exclaimed.

“In the game. It was too dark I think for Scott, the guy who found us, to figure out exactly what was going on,” I said, remembering the feeling of panic Rhett and I had experienced when we first heard Scott approaching and our joint mortification at having to trudge out of our hiding spot to the designated jail, erections at full mast. We had stood on the porch of my pool house (the designated jail area) whispering out relief to each other that nobody seemed to have noticed our delicate state in the bushes. “So, after that we started hooking up pretty regularly. This happened the summer after my junior year, his sophomore year, and it carried on this summer, although I wasn’t in the Hamptons much because of my training schedule.”

“So, how was the sex?” Nicola asked lasciviously.

“We haven’t had sex.”

“What?”

“No sex.”

“Oral counts, “Emmie said matter-of-factly.

“No oral.”

“What so you’ve survived up until now on mutual masturbation and some heavy petting?” Nicola asked, incredulous.

“Uhh, yeah.”

“Is that a joke?!”

“Nicola, back off,” Lottie said.

“No, it’s okay. He wanted to do more, but I didn’t. I knew I wasn’t in love with him…” Nicola snorted. “And, honestly, I was afraid. Not just of doing it, but of the ramifications of doing it, and of what would happen if he told someone or if it ever came out somehow. Or what would happen if he came out as gay… I thought that would potentially incriminate me, so I never wanted to get too close to him. I guess I always figured that I could just explain away what had happened between us if I had to. I thought that the fact we hadn’t gone further proved something, well, I knew it didn’t, I mean I knew I was gay, but I thought it might prove something to others…If that makes sense.”

Lottie put a reassuring hand on mine. “That makes total sense. And I’m so glad that you’re comfortable to talk about this stuff now, even if it is just with us.”

“Oh! I’ve been sniffed out again!”

Lottie raised an eyebrow.

“My friend Kenner, from the team, he confronted me about it. Well not really confronted, but he gave me the opportunity to come out to him and I did. He has a gay brother, so I feel like he has an idea of what I’m going through. It was really great to talk to him and I’m relieved to feel like I have an ally on the team now.”

“Brae, I’m sure you have more allies on the team than you are even aware of,” Lottie said.

“Yeah, I don’t know about that… I still don’t know what Skip’s going to do when he finds out. But, anyways, it’s good to have someone else who knows. And Kenner is a really great guy, he is so sharp and funny, and he really has his priorities straight.

“Any possibility there?” Emmie asked.

“With Kenner? No he is definitely 100% straight.”

“Great! Because he sounds wonderful! You need to introduce me!” she laughed.

“I don’t know if he’s your style Emmie… he isn’t exactly a looker.”

“Braden Davenport! Are you insinuating that I’m superficial?!”

“No?! You?!” Nicola scoffed sarcastically.

I was flustered. “No, uhh, I just, I just meant that you could do better, because you’re, well, gorgeous.”

“Oh,” she perked up. “Forgiven.”

“Emmie actually has a bit of a weakness for the sensitive nerd type… When she decides to venture away from the worldly male models,” Lottie said with a wink.

“I can introduce you, if you want,” I said.

“No, it’s okay, I would never date anyone younger than me,” Emmie replied. “But you keep your eyes open for me. There must be another promising guy on that team of yours.”

“Actually do you know a guy named Colin? He’s living with Carl Franke this year. He’s a senior.”

“No!”

“I think I do,” Lottie chimed in. “I think Carl has introduced us. He like doesn’t go out though.”

“Yeah, he majors in engineering, so I wouldn’t be that surprised… But he is so friendly, he has a great sense of humor, a bit of that nerd factor that you apparently love, and he is gorgeous!”

“Which one is he? I’m sure I’ve noticed him at the pool!”

“Emmie, when is the last time you actually looked at the pool during one of your shifts?” Nicola asked.

“I always watch during swim meets and water polo tournaments. Eye candy.”

“She dresses up for them,” Lottie said.

“Whatever, I pride myself on looking my best!” I laughed. “So what does he look like?”

“He’s tall, obviously, he has dark brown hair, it’s wavy but short and pretty preppy. He has blue eyes, really pretty lips, and a cute dimple right on the tip of his nose.”

“Hey, don’t go getting any about my boyfriend!” Emmie said with a laugh. “He sounds beautiful. You hafta point him out to me. I’m working tomorrow morning.”

“Okay,” I said cheerfully, enjoying playing matchmaker.

“You guys want to head in for some lunch?” Lottie asked.

“Yeah, I’m starving!” Nicola said jumping up to her feet. She poked her taught and impossibly tiny abdomen. “I don’t think I’ve gotten any color,” she groaned.

“I’m sure you have,” Emmie said whilst climbing to her feet.

***

The group of swam in and lunched on the assortment of snack food that we’d brought, talking idly about predictions for the year. I told them about my meeting with my academic advisor that afternoon and they seemed to approve of the classes that I was thinking of taking. In fact, Nicola was already registered for the British literature course that I wanted to take, and Emmie and Lottie said they would look into the Hitchcock course. Emmie was dead set on us having a class together.

After lunch we played around with a beach ball that Lottie had brought along and then headed back out to the raft to catch some more rays. Nicola started talking about her horses. She was on the club equestrian team and had competed at a fairly high level in high school. She had a horse, Lisey, a black thoroughbred filly, at school with her in stables just outside Carrington, as well as a number of other horses at home in Dallas. While Nicola had a tendency to come off as a little abrasive when dealing with her peers, her sensitive nature came out when she spoke about Lisey and her other horses, and I was surprised to see this other side of her. Eventually it was time to pack it in. We gathered up our stuff and packed back into the car.

***

Back in Carrington, I dropped the girls off at their apartment and then headed towards the student lot. It was just after 2:30pm when I got back to the dorm, so I decided to drop by the dining hall to grab a snack, before heading back to the room. Skip wasn’t there when I got back, which I took as a good sign. I hoped that he had been on time to his meeting with Timmy. ‘Oh crap! And his meeting with the academic advisor!’ I thought, kicking myself for not having reminded him. Not that it was my responsibility, still, I felt protective of Skip, especially now that I had a better idea of what he was going through.

***

I jogged over to the Gnat, changed quickly, then headed out on deck. Skip was already warming up on the mats so I went over and grabbed a spot by him.

“So how did it go?”

“Fine. How was the beach?”

“Fine? How fine? Are you being reprimanded or punished?”

“No, just a warning. And I think he’s going to have Jimmy ride me pretty hard today.”

“Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me. Oh! Did you make it to your meeting with your advisor this afternoon? I totally forgot about that. I’m sorry I didn’t remind you.”

“Yeah. I made it.”

“Oh good. So you’re all registered and everything? How’s the new computer?”

“Yeah. I haven’t turned it on yet. I left the box in Timmy’s office.”

“Were you able to get all the classes you wanted?”

“No, there weren’t any openings in the Hitchcock class. I’m taking one about plants instead.”

“Oh, damn, I guess I’m going to need to find a new fourth class then.”

“Yeah, guess so.”

“So… are you going to be around tonight? I feel like we should probably talk…” I said, awkwardly.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be going out again for awhile” Skip chuckled. “Hey Drake!”

Drake swaggered over with a smug smile on his face. “Hey Skipper, so I’m allowed to talk to you again?” I cringed. This was not going to go well.

“What?” Confusion was etched all over Skip’s face.

“Uhh, Skip, look it’s a long story,” I said, trying to stifle the sparks before I had a conflagration on my hands.

“Your roomie here told me to stay away from you.”

“You did WHAT?!”

“Look, Skip, I’m sorry, I was upset-“

“Who the hell do you think you are? You are not my parent. You don’t get to dictate my life!” Skip’s voice was rising and we were getting curious glances from some of the other guys around us.

“Well Davvy?” Drake gave me a malicious smirk.

You do not get to call me Davvy. And you need to butt the fuck out!” I snapped.

Drake reacted as though ducking a punch. He was clearly aware of the audience and was playing this encounter up for show. I did not want to be part of his performance.

“Woah! Temper!” Drake exclaimed melodramatically.

“Look, we can discuss this later,” I said to Skip. “I don’t feel like hashing this out in front of everybody.”

“What’s the matter Davvy? Scared?” Drake taunted.

I ignored him. “We’ll talk later,” I said to Skip.

“Woah, you don’t own him. Free will, right Skippy?”

“Drake stop giving him the wind up, you are so fucking manipulative,” I snapped.

Drake snorted. Skip looked torn and uncomfortable.

“I spent two hours cleaning up your vomit last night and endured the wrath of Timmy for you. There is no free will. You will be there.” With that, I got up and stalked away from them, grabbing a spot on the mat next to Colin.

“Roommate drama?” he said.

“Yeah. I’m trying to rise above.”

“That Drake kid is a royal douche bag.”

“Thank you!”

“But there really isn’t anything you can say to get your friend to realize that. He’ll figure it out on his own soon enough.”

“Yeah, if he doesn’t die of alcohol poisoning before then… I found him passed out in the hallway last night, in a puddle of his own vomit.”

“Eww!” Colin’s face cringed in disgust.

“He’s lucky he didn’t choke on his own puke,” I said.

“He’ll get it together. He’s a good kid.”

“Yeah.”

Jimmy ran us through some stretches, then brought us up to the weight room. Colin and I spotted for each other, and the more time I spent with him, the more I thought he and Emmie would make a really good couple. There was something solid and reassuring about Colin. He was the serious sort and yet he had a great sense of humor and a good perspective on life. Conversation still felt a little bit forced, but there was more there than I’d initially thought. Colin really did have the potential to be a good friend.

We traded more personal information between sets. Colin was from just outside Orlando, near Rollins College, where his father was a professor of civil engineering. He was the youngest of four kids (and the only boy), all of whom had attended Carrington, and his mother had died of skin cancer when he was six. That was around the time he’d gotten into swimming, his dad wanted him to have something to keep his mind off of everything else that was going on. His father had never remarried, but, thanks to his sisters, he’s never felt as though there was a lack of feminine influence in his life. Colin was planning to go for his masters in mechanical engineering and was hoping to do it at Carrington, or Rollins if he couldn’t get in here. He eventually wanted to work in consulting and to live in Manhattan, where two of his sisters had already settled. Family was important to him and he wanted to be close to his niece and two nephews as they grew up. We ended up discussing New York real estate and neighborhoods. He was interested in living somewhere in Brooklyn, possibly The Edge, and I did my best to dissuade him from subjecting himself to such an irritating commute. He made no mention of a girlfriend, but I was afraid to just assume that he was single.

As we wrapped up our time in the weight room and started back for the pool I decided to bite the bullet and ask him.

“So do you have a girlfriend right now?”

“No. I don’t really have a lot of free time. And to be honest, between swimming and engineering I kind of have a hard time getting out and meeting people.”

“That’s understandable. I’m sure your work load is pretty ridiculous.”

“Yeah, this year should be better but the last few have been rough. Carl has tried to fix me up a few times, but nothing has really clicked.”

“I get it.”

“Plus, I’ve always felt like my priority was school. My dad is spending a lot of money. And I’m here to do a job.”

“That’s true. But all work and no play does not a well rounded person make.”

Colin laughed. “I take it you’ve got a set-up in mind for me.”

I smirked. “How perceptive of you. I have a possibility in the works. Are you receptive to that?”

“Yeah, of course. You gotta put yourself out there. And I trust you are a man of discerning taste.”

I flashed him a smile. “I try to be,” I said, putting on my goggles and jumping into the crisp and refreshing pool. Eric jumped in beside me a second later.

“I hate when we first get in, and the top of the pool is like 20 degrees warmer from the sunlight,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m swimming in pee.” We laughed.

“It gets all stirred up by the time we’ve done a lap,” I said.

“It’s still gross!” Eric grinned. Henry jumped in beside us and immediately started off down the pool.

“Look, he’s stirred it all up for you. Get going,” I said with a laugh.

***

The workout was light and pretty relaxed and Timmy seemed to have calmed down from that morning. I was proud at having been the first freshmen promoted to Timmy’s practice group. I rushed out of the facility after practice, not bothering to shower, so that I could get to my advising meeting on time.

The advising offices were in South Square, so I hustled over there, but still ended up being a few minutes late because it took me a while to navigate the maze of offices and corridors. My advisor, Ms. Baker, was an enthusiastic woman in her late 20’s, who seemed dedicated to helping students identify and pursue their passions. She was extremely impressed that I not only had my majors selected, but that I also had picked out the classes I needed/wanted in advance. This Hitchcock class was full so she put me on the wait list and we decided on a public speaking course that would count towards my communications studies major. She gave me her card and told me to contact her with any questions I had. I felt optimistic about my academic future as I left her office.

Cameron was waiting in the hallway as I exited Ms. Baker’s office. He looked up from his seat on the bench and smiled broadly. “Hey Braeden!”

“Hey Cam! How’s it going?”

“Good. Congrats on getting moved up today.”

“Oh,” I felt a blush rising to my cheeks. “Thanks. I think Timmy just wanted to teach me a lesson after all that Skip stuff.”

“Buddy, you earned it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” he said, getting up and clapping a hand on my shoulder.

“Thanks Cam. Anyways, I think she’s ready for you. Good luck.”

“How bad is it?” he asked, with mock terror on his face.

Taking a cue from his play book, I faked a traumatized shudder. “There are no words,” I muttered dramatically. He laughed. “See ya later Cam!”

“Bye.”

As I strolled back to the dorm, I mentally prepped myself for my conversation with Skip. Now that I understood some of the stresses he was under his behavior made more sense, yet I was confused and hurt as to why he would choose Drake over me. A nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach told me that I was the creator and perpetuator of the ‘him or me’ situation. Maybe we could just all be friends? I let myself into the dorm and climbed up the stairs to our room. The second I stepped onto the floor I heard noise emanating from our room and I groaned inwardly.

***

Skip, Drake, Finch, and another boy from the team, Brian, were playing Wii when I let myself into the room. I was seething. It felt like a violation having Drake in my personal space, using my things. I was glad my computer had been off, because I wouldn’t have put it past him to go through it.

“Hey,” I said, avoiding looking at any of them. I could still feel Drake’s triumphant glare burning into my back. I went to the dresser and grabbed a change of clothes. “I’m going to shower,” I announced. “We’re talking when I’m finished. And we will be talking about Holly, so you may want your friends to go.”

I felt guilty for resorting to blackmail, but Skip wasn’t playing fair either. Bringing Drake to our room had been a dirty tactic. I took a long shower, allowing the hot water to soothe my tired muscles. God I was exhausted. I remembered halfway through that I probably should have cleaned the shower with bleach or something after Skip’s episode the night before. I toweled off and dressed inside the bathroom then emerged back into the room. Drake, Finch and Brian had left and Skip was lying on his bed.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hey,” he said guiltily. “Sorry, Drake just kinda invited himself over, I couldn’t get rid of him. He obviously was hoping to rile ‘ya up.”

“Well, mission accomplished. Do you want to order a pizza or something?”

“Sure.”

I looked up the number for the Italian place in town and quickly phoned in an order.

“Half an hour,” I said hanging up the phone. I walked over to Skip and took a seat on the end of his bed. “Okay. So what’s going on?” I asked,

“I dunno,” he replied sheepishly, pulling his gaze away from mine.

“Look Skip, I value your friendship. Two days ago we were the best of friends and now it kind of seems like something is off. I know you have a lot going on right now, but I just don’t get it.”

Skip didn’t reply.

“Look, I don’t want to tell you who to be friends with,” I said recalling Skip’s outburst at practice. He seemed to recall it also and he blushed slightly.

“Yeah, uhh, sorry bout that. I guess I over reacted a bit. Drake’s just said some things that kinda, I dunno, confused me, a bit.”

“Yeah, I sort of gathered that,” I said. “He clearly has it in for me for whatever reason, but, more importantly, I don’t think he has your best interests at heart.”

Skip was quiet. He looked self reflective and a little confused. I began to get frustrated that he wasn’t grasping how toxic a person Drake was. I wanted to grab him and scream at him, but I tried to maintain a calm and rational facade.

“Skip, you could have died last night. I found you outside in the hall lying in a puddle of your own vomit, puking. You’re lucky you didn’t choke!! I could literally kill Drake when I think that he fucking left you like that… I spent two hours cleaning you up and trying to get food and water into you.”

“It was that bad?”

“Yeah. I almost called an ambulance. I couldn’t wake you up so I had to carry you to the bathroom and put you in the shower. And then you puked again, all over yourself. After that I was able to get food and water into you, but I kept you awake for like two hours just in case. You really scared me.”

Skip groaned. “I’m really sorry you had to deal with me like that.”

“Its fine, I’m just glad you’re okay. I just think that you should know that Drake isn’t someone that genuinely cares about you.”

“Yeah.”

“And whatever he may have said to you about me Skip, I really do care about you a lot. And I’m not trying to buy your affections or your friendship. I don’t think that I own you or anything like that.”

“Yeah, I guess I knew that. Just somethin’ about the way Drake said that stuff made it seem possible. Or, at least… at least, it made it seem like other people might think that. That I was leeching off you or somethin’.”

“Skip, nobody thinks that. Drake is just totally playing mind games.”

“You make him sound sociopathic,” Skip said with a smirk.

“Look, I don’t want you to think that I’m telling you not to be friends with him. That is your prerogative. And this isn’t an either-or situation, and I’m sorry if I made it seem that way. You can be friends with both of us. I just hope that you would take anything that he might say about me with a grain of salt, seeing as he clearly has it in for me. And I also just hope that you would take steps to protect yourself… I can’t get over last night and how badly things might have turned out.”

“Yeah. I appreciate that. And I’m sorry about how I’ve been acting.”

“I understand and I know that you’re under a lot of stress and stuff…” I paused, nervously for a moment and then tentatively continued. “Umm, you told me about Holly, and, uhh, everything… last night.”

Skip shifted uncomfortably and began playing with the draw string on his mesh shorts. “Oh. I did?”

“Yeah. Can we talk about that a little bit?”

“Do we hafta?” his voice was almost a whisper and there were tears in his eyes.

“I think we’d better. You were pretty upset about it last night.”

“Yeah, it was just about a year ago,” Skip said. “At the time I didn’t want to admit how much it affected me. But it did. I mean, I know it was the right decision, but it still hurts, ya know? An’ I guess I feel like admitting that sorta proves everyone else right and suggests that I think it was a mistake.”

“Skip, you’re one of the most caring people I’ve ever met, it’s only natural that you would be affected by this. Anybody would.”

“Yeah, it’s just, after everything I went through with it, everything I lost, an’ suffered, an’ just how hard I defended Holly an’ myself, it’s like I never really admitted to myself how hard it was.”

“Yeah. Have you talked to anyone else about this? Do you and Holly still talk?”

“Nah. Her parents sent her away to a reform school after it happened. She’s in college now, which is what she wanted, an’ what she deserved, I’m really happy for her.”

“You could always get in touch with her now.”

“Yeah, I dunno what difference it would make.”

“It might help you to talk about how you’re feeling. Release some of your grief and your anger. Help you move on with your life.

“It’s hard to believe I could have a 6-month-old baby right now. I could be a dad. Thank god I’m not! But, I wanna be eventually, and, I dunno, it just hurts…” Skip said, tears were beginning to roll down his cheeks. “I guess now that I’m here, an’ I’m not fighting off my family everyday, it’s started to sink in for me.”

“Yeah, I understand what you’re saying and I think that the way you’re feeling is really natural. You’ve experienced a loss and you haven’t really grieved. Have you thought about speaking to someone about this? You know the university has free counseling services that you could use.”

“A shrink?” Skip asked, wiping his nose on his sleeve.

“Well, I think they are just counselors, not psychiatrists. But they might be able to help you talk out your pain and frustration and learn how to channel those emotions positively.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I mean, I am always here for you and I will listen to you anytime you want, but I’m just worried that I’m not always going to know the right thing to say-“

“-You always seem to know the right things to say,” Skip smiled through his tears, and reached his hand out to grasp mine on the bed. “Thanks Brae. I’ve been such a mess. I’m glad I told you.”

“I’m glad you told me also. I had a feeling you were holding something back from me, and I obviously felt like there was something odd with your family situation, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. How did your parents find out about it?”

“Somebody saw us going into the clinic, even though the place we went wasn’t even in our county, and they called Holly’s parents and then Holly’s mom called my mom, and suddenly it seemed like everybody knew about it, and then Holly was just gone. The kids at school were pretty terrible to me also, I was really excited to have a completely fresh slate when I got here.”

“And none of your siblings stuck up for you?”

“No, I mean, Scotty, Mary and Nate are all too young to really know what’s going on, they just know that I’m ‘evil.’ And the rest of them, Sarah, Tommy, and Karen, well… it just goes against how we were raised. They don’t agree with it. They all pretty much think that it is unforgiveable.”

“How did you live at home through all of this?”

“Well, I basically moved into the loft in one of our barns. I grabbed my meals when I could take them and didn’t eat with the family. I generally just tried to avoid everyone. Swimming kept me pretty busy and my dad still expected me to do farm work. It was pretty miserable, but I got through it.”

“It just sucks that you grew up somewhere where there is so little understanding about the issue. In New York, as terrible as this is to say, it would have kinda been a non-issue.”

“It’s just hard. And there is just so much going on right now with leaving home and starting college. And then I have Drake, and whoever, putting stuff in my head and it’s all a little much.”

“Yeah. I think it would really help you to talk to someone that can give you more constructive advice than I can.”

“Yeah, I’ll look into that. I don’t love the idea of it, but I guess you do what ya gotta do…”

My phone rang, interrupting our conversation.

“Oh, I think it’s the pizza. I probably have to go down and meet them.”

I ran down to the front and got the pizza. Sensing that Skip could use a break, I steered conversation towards more light hearted topics while we ate. Skip was a lot more forthcoming about his family and was willing to talk about of a lot of his funny stories from growing up on the farm. Things returned to a sort of normalcy and I was glad that we felt comfortable around each other again. After dinner we played Wii for awhile, then Skip wanted to set up his new laptop, so I left him to that and decided to do some pleasure reading while I still had the time. Skip was ready for bed around 8:30pm, exhausted from the previous evening. I read a little longer then decided I may as well turn in for an early night.

***

I thought over Skip’s situation as I lay in bed, awaiting sleep. It was clear that he was in a lot of pain, more than he probably even realized. I couldn’t believe how his family had just turned on him and honestly it made me a little nervous about how my parents might react when they eventually found out about me. I wanted to think that my parents were more worldly and open-minded, but one can never really know how anyone is going to react. It broke my heart to think that Skip had been carrying this burden alone for so long with nobody to talk to, I could certainly sympathize with a lot of those feelings. I wanted nothing more than to climb into bed with him and to hold him in my arms and tell him that everything was going to be okay, which of course was indicative of a whole other set of problems.

Now that I knew that there would never be anything between Skip and me, how did I divorce myself from the feelings that I had for him? I was realistic enough to know that the world doesn’t work like erotic fiction and that Skip wasn’t going to reach a magical epiphany and decide to change his orientation for me. I wasn’t going to pine away for the straight guy. The whole incident was painful and a little embarrassing and I couldn’t believe that I’d let it happen, in spite of my better judgment. I’d known I was being rash with my emotions and, as much as I told myself I was being careful, the truth was I’d quickly fallen head over heels for Skip. Now I had to deal with the consequences of my mistake. As I fell asleep, I resolved not to be so foolhardy in the future and to focus on my swimming rather than fictional romances that were clearly fabricated by my imagination.

 

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