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A True Gentleman

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Cambridge, Massachusetts
Harvard University
Spring Semester

Dom strode across the frosty lawn, breathing on his fingertips in his cut-off gloves, still cold from washing off the charcoal of his morning drawing class. On the steps of the building stood Elijah, who was sucking on a Parliament, and Orlando, who wasn’t, though the air was cold and moist enough even in the morning sun to make his breath look like smoke as they waited to meet Dom before HAA 129.

“Boys,” Dom grinned as he strode up, meeting Orli’s half high five, half handshake. “Lij, good to see you’ve rejoined the land of the living. I even got up early and made pancakes and you couldn’t be bothered.”

“Sorry, Dom, your pancakes are great, but you know my heart and soul belongs to Starbucks,” Lij held up a steaming cup in his hand.

“Oh man, look, here he comes,” said Orlando, poking Dom eagerly. He followed Orlando’s gaze and easily found the subject of much amusement throughout this last year shuffling up the frozen sidewalk.

Billy Boyd was Prof Mort’s TA and one of the biggest geeks around, which was saying a lot. Today it was the usual khakis with a button down shirt and an Argyll sweater vest over top, though this one was a new and particularly ugly color combination. He also wore a tattered, tweedy sort of blazer, which went everywhere with him, apparently the only jacket he had. He squinted in the morning light behind wire-framed glasses that perpetually slid down his nose, and he carried a briefcase and a rucksack that was strapped to both shoulders. If he slipped it would have flipped his little frame like a beetle, so full of books as it looked to be. He hunched forward to accommodate its weight, and minced his steps on the slippery concrete in his hush puppies, looking a bit like a turtle in an ice rink.

“Hey Boyd, alright?” Orlando called out, grinning like a maniac. Billy steadfastly ignored the greeting. He’d learned by now that Orlando never really meant well. “I can’t wait to get into it again, mate! Sometimes a dead guy in the bath is just a dead guy in the bath!”

Elijah hitched his jeans up high, sucked his lower lip in, hunched under his own backpack and teetered along the sidewalk in imitation, making a group of girls nearby splutter into giggles.

“Loving the vest, Bills, so classy,” Dom called.

Billy took a half-step toward them as if he meant to shut them up, but his foot landed on a patch of ice and he went down with a crash and a clatter.

“Oh!” Elijah hooted, both fists thrust up in the air, “He shoots he scores!”

“Nine point five, man,” Orlando laughed, “That was classic.”

If the undergrads milling about in front of the building weren’t already giggling, they were all laughing now. Billy rose to his knees, looking at the skinned heel of his left hand, cheeks flushed with more than cold and glaring daggers at the three of them. His briefcase had skidded along the icy ground, and as he climbed awkwardly to his feet, Dom darted forward to pick it up.

“Sorry,” he grinned, handing it back.

“Yeah, sure you are,” Billy spat, snatching the case and starting slowly up the stairs without looking back.

“So polite, Dommie,” Elijah bowed genteelly with a flourish of his hand as Dom strode back to them.

“Hey, I live by the creed, don’t you know,” Dom preened, putting a hand on his heart, over the SAE frat emblem on his tee. “A true gentleman, that’s me.”

“Yeah, right,” Orlando said, still sniggering as he watched Billy disappear through the doors, “Jesus, he is such a wanker.”

Boyd was predictably absent when they entered the classroom, though his bag and briefcase were piled on the desk by the wall where he typically sat during the class. They found Professor Mortensen setting up the slide projector, eyeing them from beneath his brows and returning students’ greetings with his usual stoic nod as the class filed in.

“Hey, Mort,” Dom called, flopping into his usual desk a row behind Billy’s. “They say you’re doing poetry readings at the Lizard on Wednesday.”

Mortensen shifted the finicky old slide carousel back and forth. “That’s what they say.”

“Is it going to be all Leaves of Grass, or will you go more for the Kerouac angle?”

“I am my own beast,” Mort answered, raising a brow.

“Maybe the boys and I ought to come and heckle,” Dom sprawled in his chair lazily. “It wouldn’t be a soapbox without a dissenter or three.”

“Maybe you should try a little spoken word yourself, Dom. Although I don’t know that you’ll have the time,” Mort eyed him pointedly.

“As long as you’re not as bad as fucking Shatner,” Elijah muttered.

Dom liked to think he was on good terms with Professor Mortensen. He’d been his advisor for the past three and a half years, and they got along well. He loved to get the professor to laugh, his whole face changed shape with he did, but today Mort was not taking the bait. In fact, the look Dom was getting from him suggested he was toeing some sort of line, so he let it go with a smirk and a shrug.

It was a good five minutes into the period when Billy finally emerged, his khakis still blotchily sodden and dabbing his hand with a slightly bloody wad of paper towels as he crossed to the podium. Half the class openly sniggered along with Orlando and Elijah, while the other half had the grace to look at least a little sorry for him.

“Right,” Billy said, tugging a tail of his shirt out of his trousers to clean his glasses before tucking it back in. “If someone could hit the lights, we’ll get this over with.”

No one moved for a moment, until Dom got up to numerous titters of laughter and did as Billy asked.

“Such a gent, Dom,” Orlando stage-whispered.

Billy was not a particularly good lecturer. He knew the material as well as any professor, though he’d been around it long enough to have his own opinions and didn’t readily enjoy debate or disagreement the way Mortensen did, hence the standing argument with Orlando on The Death of Marat from last semester. Dom had silently sided with Billy on that one, given the known history of the subject, and he suspected Orlando knew better as well, but that particular lecture they’d had so much fun twisting Billy in knots that neither wanted to concede the point.

Still, it could not be clearer that Billy did not enjoy leading the class. He was uncomfortable in front of people and hid behind the podium, in the dark with the slides turning as often as possible. He kept his eyes on the art and didn’t engage the students, and on occasions when debate was struck up during his hour he became even more flustered than usual. Dom often wondered why Mort made him do it at least every other week since it seemed so unlikely that Boyd wanted to teach as a career. It was fairly well known among the Arts program that Billy was a PhD candidate and on the verge of starting his dissertation, but just a few months ago, he’d disappeared from campus entirely with six weeks left in the fall semester, even though he’d been that close to finishing his coursework. Now he was back and apparently still taking classes, looking as frazzled and overwhelmed and annoyed to be here as he ever did.

Today was no different from Boyd’s typical lectures. Elijah took center stage this time, complaining that only someone completely anal retentive would take pointillism to the level Seurat did, while Billy maintained that anyone who could see the world like a dot matrix print in the nineteenth century was light years beyond his era. Orlando was more than happy to run with Elijah and point out that a couple of centuries didn’t quite add up to a light year, just to get Billy more and more irate by the minute.

Dom sat this one out, doodling on his notebook, figuring Billy didn’t really need the triple assault after this morning. He was subtly favoring his left ankle, the one that had twisted out from under him when Dom had mocked his vest, and he couldn’t help but feel a little guilty for it. Toward the end of the slide reel, he got bored and made a beeline for the toilet, spending several minutes faffing about until close to the end of the period. When he returned, the lights were up and Billy was back at his desk, rummaging through his enormous rucksack and doing his damnedest to ignore everyone else in the room.

He inadvertently bumped Billy’s briefcase as he passed, which fell to the floor and sprung open, scattering papers everywhere. He really hadn’t meant to, but he could barely contain his glee at the outrage on Boyd’s face. “Ah shite, mate, wouldn’t have figured you for a clumsy git. Let me help you with that.”

Orlando snorted trying to hold in his laughter, while Elijah just guffawed loudly. The bell rang and the rest of the room rose into movement.

“Wait!” Mortensen held up a commanding hand to stop them, “Remember to read chapters eleven through fourteen on Fauvism, Orphism, and Surrealism and their respective influence on the Modern Movement. I want five hundred words on the discussion questions at end of each chapter in my box by Thursday.” The room collectively groaned as he continued, “If you have any questions on whether or not this is really necessary, consult your syllabus or ask Mr. Boyd before you waste my office hours trying to repair your grade after the fact. Mr. Monaghan! If I could have moment of your undoubtedly valuable time.”

“Aw, you know I’d give you more than a moment, Professor,” Dom announced to much laughter, pushing a crumpled pile of Billy’s papers back at him and swaggering to the front, wondering if he was going to get berated for blowing off the last bit of the lecture as he waved off Orlando and Elijah not to wait up.

The professor waited for the room to clear out, sitting on the edge of the desk and looking at Dom pointedly. “That would be surprising, considering you’ve managed to miss your last two advising appointments.”

“I know, but things just come up, and I’ve just–” Dom glanced away, at Billy, who was still trying to put his briefcase in order.

“Things?” Mortensen raised his brows.

“Well, the one right after Christmas, I was at the Winter Pride Rally with the GSA. And this last time I was on the crew doing the mural in the Lamont Library hall. We only just finished, have you seen it?”

Mortensen nodded, “Extracurricular work is fine, but you know your course work shouldn’t come second to more enjoyable activities.”

“Well, the GSA isn’t always fun, you know, it takes a lot of work to organize those rallies. Plus I’m treasurer even though I’m shite at Maths. Silly for an architecture student, eh? I’ve just had all kinds of things going on this last month.”

“Really,” Mort rubbed at his goatee, “From what I’ve heard, the Delta Gamma Winter Wet T-Shirt Contest was certainly important.”

“Now, I was only brought into that as an impartial judge,” Dom pointed out very seriously, “There was a tie.”

Mort raised his eyebrows, “And the mass birthday bar crawl for Mr. Wood and Mr. Bloom I’ve heard so much talk of in the halls? I hear the projectile vomiting was breathtaking.”

Dom’s mouth turned up and he tried to hide it by looking at the floor.

“You haven’t turned in any work for this class since the semester began. You haven’t turned in any writing assignments for Blanchett’s class. You asked for an extension on your paper for Noble, and that extension has since passed. And I’m told you didn’t turn up for a make-up test for McKellen, after missing the first because you were in… was it the Hamptons? The semester’s hardly begun and you needed a weekend away?”

“I…” Dom tried.

“I haven’t heard from Serkis or Otto, but I’m willing to bet you haven’t turned in work for them either. You’re dangerously close to taking zeros in more than half your courses for the semester already, in both your concentrations. I don’t think I need to tell you what that will mean for graduation.”

Dom brought his eyes back to the professor’s, looking for empty threat, a joke, but finding none looking back in Mort’s piercing eyes. Billy finally got his briefcase snapped closed and turned to repacking his rucksack.

“You’re sharp, Dom. Your work is well above average when you do it,” Professor Mortensen told him. “I know it’s not lack of comprehension or even interest. You don’t come this close to graduating at an Ivy League school only to give up now. What is it, then?”

“I dunno, I’m just… distracted, I guess. Senioritis,” he tried a winning grin.

The professor studied him thoughtfully. “How about this. We’ll set you up with a study mate. Bill here’s got all my extra work on his plate, on top of finishing his courses.” Billy’s head shot up at this, while Mortensen continued, “How about the two of you meet up a few times a week and help each other out?”

Boyd piped up loud and fast, “Professor, all due respect, I really don’t think–”

“He hates me, sir,” Dom interrupted, smile fading. “I wouldn’t want to cause Mr. Boyd any more grief than I already do.”

Billy finally managed to pull his things together and heaved his heavy rucksack over one shoulder, clutching his bursting case to his chest with both hands. He’d carefully schooled his features to be impassive as he approached them, “I can manage, Professor. I really do better studying on my own.”

“You’re two weeks behind on grading and I still need those references copied out for tomorrow,” Mortensen said, his features softening when Billy’s jaw clenched, reminded of another thing on a long list. “Look, spend a few hours together crunching your assignments a couple times a week, and then the two of you can tackle my shit work. I’m sure Dom can run the copy machine. Keep each other on task. It might get Dom’s head glued back on straight to read some of his friends’ work anyway.”

“Nah, I’m afraid my head’s stuck on crooked for sure, Prof,” Dom grinned wryly.

Billy kept his gaze on the professor, some silent conversation playing out between them before he gave a relenting sigh, turning hard eyes on Dom, “I’m in Lamont from three to six, Mondays and Thursdays. Study Room Eight on the third floor,” He turned to leave, his briefcase knocking against his khakis.

“Be there or be square?” Dom fired off, and Billy hesitated a second, shaking his head as he left.

“Right,” Dom nodded after him, glancing back to Mort and shifting his feet, “I don’t suppose this is optional, eh?”

Mortensen shrugged. “That’s up to you, you know that. But you’re on thin ice with most of your professors, including me. You need to arrange with each of them a time frame of when they will accept your late work for a grade. Mine is a week, by the way.”

Dom’s smile dropped off entirely, “A week? But all the others probably will be, and that’s insane.”

“Then I suggest you make the most of your time with Billy. Put other activities on hold, if you have to. If you want to graduate from this university alongside your friends, this is the way it is. Now,” Mort’s voice was firm, “I want to see you during my office hours tomorrow afternoon. Make time. We’ll talk about how you’re going to catch up enough to salvage your GPA.”

Dom winced. His father wouldn’t be pleased about that. “I’ve got Photography at four tomorrow, but I might be able to come before then.”

Mort’s eyes penetrated until Dom tried again. “I’ll be there at three-thirty?”

The professor nodded and gestured to the door, and Dom shuffled off to shoulder his bag with a sigh.

“Dom,” Mort called as he went through the door, and Dom poked his head back in.

“I will hear if you don’t show at Lamont, I’m sure.”

“And I’m sure you’ll hear if I do,” Dom winked as he left the classroom.

 

When Dom stumbled into the flat that evening he was met by Elijah, sat at the table with his homework spread out across it, while Orlando and his girlfriend were flipping channels on one of the two large sofas set before their flat screen TV. He went straight to the kitchen to dig in the fridge for something to drink.

True to his word, he’d gone to the library and studied with Billy that afternoon. When he’d got down to it, pulled out the syllabi for all his courses and discovered just how much he had to make up for in the past month, as well as keeping up with the rest from now on, it sank in exactly how far he’d slacked off. He had two long papers and at least five shorter ones, hundreds of pages to read and discuss in writing, worksheets and take home tests, not to mention various visual assignments for figure drawing, photography, and design. And since Billy had barely even acknowledged his presence, he’d worked the full three hours in Study Room Eight until Billy had looked at his watch, packed up his things and left without so much as a goodbye.

Dom twisted off the top of his beer and took a gulp, going upstairs to dump his things in his room. He’d be probably studying with Boyd twice a week for the whole semester to catch back up. There were a dozen things he could easily set to work on in the quiet of his room, but after three hours of near silence, he needed something else. Grabbing his sketchpad, his pencil kit and the beer, he headed back down the stairs to the main room.

“You.” He pointed over the back of the sofa at Orlando. “What are you doing?”

Orlando sprawled, throwing an arm around Juliette, “At the moment? Not a thing, mate. Vegging.”

Dom nodded, “Right. Get your arse up then. Strip.”

“Aw, man, now? Jules is here.”

Dom shrugged, “She can watch, doesn’t bother me.” He hopped up onto the pool table and settled indian-style, unrolling his pencil kit and flipping to a clean page in his sketchpad. “Get naked and up against the window, man, assume the position before the sun goes down and the whole of Boston gets an eyeful. Besides, it’ll be like foreplay.”

Orlando looked to Juliette in a fervent plea to get him out of this, but she didn’t buy it. “Go on,” she urged. “I always thought you’d be good for a floor show.”

Dom winked at her and waited. “Orli, come on, man. Mort gave me a spanking about how much I’ve fucked off this last month, and I have, so be a mate and get naked. It’s for a grade if it makes you feel better.”

“Is that why he held you up this morning?”

“Yeah,” Dom answered, pulling a few charcoal sticks from their plastic wrap, “He’s making me study with Boyd to catch up.”

Orlando’s eyes widened. “Are you serious?”

“I just spent three hours watching him flit back and forth like a mosquito between about sixty-five books and that ancient laptop of his. So come on, Orli, give me something more stimulating to look at.”

Orlando laughed widely, “Shit, stuck with that fucking twat for three hours, Mort must really have it in for you.”

“Aw, I don’t think Billy’s that bad,” Juliette cut in, “He’s just a little…”

“Just a little bit of a weed?” Orlando grumbled as he stood up and pulled his sweatshirt over his head. “Turn the bloody heat up, at least, or my balls will crawl up under the covers like last time.”

“I’m not drawing your nads, man, it’s your arse I’m interested in.” Dom threw a grin at Juliette, who had come around to watch as he took an exacto to the tip of his charcoal sticks.

“I want to know how many times we have to do this before you can recreate my arse from memory,” Orlando complained, dropping his jeans and scratching said arse before planting his hands on the big window pane overlooking the city from their loft. “Wasn’t last semester enough?”

“There is never enough arse, Orli,” Dom leered.

“I did not need to hear any of that, you guys, fucking seriously,” Elijah said from the table, dropping his pen and gathering up his crap to take to the privacy of his room, his cheeks flaring up pink at the sight of Orlando in the buff.

Dom laughed, dragging his eyes over the figure in front of him, tossed his hair out of his eyes and started sketching.