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The tall, blond boy sitting alone in his off-campus apartment was now too skinny for football. The freshman year at MIT had been grueling. Everyone here was special, far more special than Nathan Ingram, Texan big fish in a small pond no more. The stress and depression from realizing that he wasn’t the best at so many things combined with a severe case of homesickness had decimated Nathan’s stocky frame. He wasn’t used to such harsh winters, his own dismal cooking, or the fact that no one seemed to even speak English properly.
The first time someone had called him J.R. had been utterly humiliating. Southern charm was looked on as a sign of inbreeding and stupidity. Nathan for the first time in his life was the outsider in a group of geeks, brainiacs, and nerds. Sure, the girls flocked to him but that just made the other guys hate him more.
To top it all off with a massive cherry was the fact that Nathan got a C on his latest exam. He couldn't lose the scholarship not after nearly coming to blows with his father about his choice of schools and need for a job. Nathan wanted to cut his own path to success. He didn't see college as simply a formality before marrying a debutant and taking over the family business. He wanted to be his own man, dammit. Unfortunately his own man was failing a required course.
Nathan was raised from his misery by the sounds of his roommate Harold coming home. The other boy was all knees and elbows below the neck. Above though? Harold Wren was a huge nose, assessing eyes, twisted lip, and a massive brain that rivaled the Commodore PET. Harold wasn’t just MIT’s superstar, he was perhaps the most mature, sensible, and intelligent student in the entire legacy of the school. He wasn’t just a computer geek, a math savant, no Harold excelled at literature, history, and even the Glee Club, He was everything Nathan wasn’t. He was perfect.
The only catch was of course that Harold was also humble to an absurd degree. Harold, having spent hours tutoring Nathan would turn around and purposely score lower grades on tests and assignments. Nathan only got a C because Harold had helped him the night before. If Nathan had asked earlier he would have been making an A.
Yet, Harold wouldn’t let anyone know how bright he was. He was the opposite of Nathan. Nathan was brash, boisterous, and bold, telling everyone how great he was at everything. Harold was the real deal and refused to even be paid for his services. He only asked that Nathan not talk about Harold’s help. Harold was better at everything including humility.
It made Nathan feel small, useless. Here he was feeling sorry for himself because he wasn’t being fawned over and Harold stood there deserving of praise but deciding to hide instead. Nathan wasn’t sure why Harold did it. Curiosity about that was there for Nathan, but Harold seemed to get upset if anyone pried. Nathan had decided to repay Harold’s kindness by protecting him from spying eyes. Nathan went everywhere he could with Harold, keeping people distracted while Harold worked on his side projects. Honestly, if any of the professor ever saw what Harold worked on every night they would be screaming to help publish the findings of their heretofore B minus student.
For Harold, MIT was a means to an end. Harold planned to learn more and use the facility to create his life's work. Nathan bet that Harold didn't even care if he graduated. Nathan on the other hand, needed this degree to validate himself.
That was another thing about Harold that made Nathan feel like a heel: Harold did not need anyone's approval. Harold knew his own worth, his genius and that was enough for him.
Nathan needed approval, validation, and positive reinforcement. All this meant that Harold was the stronger person hands down. That strength drew Nathan like a magnet. The taller boy tried desperately to insinuate himself into Harold's life. Harold was like the source of all heat and energy. Days when Nathan had to be apart from Harold were cold and bleak. Nathan would stay up at night listening to Harold's breathing.
It had only been recently that Nathan understood what that pull meant. Nathan remembered it vividly. Harold's hair was in his face, sweat covering him from the heat of the soldering iron. Harold's entire focus on the motherboard he was assembling. Nathan wasn’t even a blip on Harold's screen. The gleaming eyes were bright with inspiration. The satisfaction as Harold's imagination took form in a real concrete structure right under his hands turned Harold's face into a shining beacon. Nathan had never seen anything so beautiful in his short life. No woman had ever sent the flush throughout his body like this. No woman had ever made Nathan so hard so fast. The shock of arousal was dizzying. Nathan was not only horny for his roommate but he was pretty damn sure he was in love with his best friend as well.
That realization had caused Nathan to bolt. He avoided Harold as much as he could which was why he hadn’t asked for a study session until the last minute. Once again, Nathan came up lacking when in comparison to Harold. Harold drew women’s attention like honey to a fly and yet Harold never got tongue tied or faltered. Harold could have had any one of a hundred girls any night of the week. Yet, Harold just shrugged and went off to his lab alone. Harold never spent the night away from their rooms. Harold never slept anywhere, but in his own bed or in his lab. Nathan had made sure of it. Yeah, in hindsight following your best friend around to make sure he wasn’t sleeping with anyone should have clued Nathan in that he had more than friendship in mind. However, at the time Nathan justified it as protecting Harold's privacy. How could he have been so blind?
Now... now Nathan just felt nothing, but despair. What could he possible offer Harold? Harold was so out of Nathan’s league that it was embarrassing. Looking down at the C in his hand, Nathan felt like leaving MIT. Maybe marrying Olivia like his parent’s wanted. Nathan couldn’t have Harold so what was the point?
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