Patroclus stood in front of his father, his backpack around his shoulders, his wallet with its pitiful college student budget in his pocket, a large suitcase by his left leg and a small duffel bag sitting on top of it. He bit his lip as his father’s always-disappointed gaze swept critically over him. He had driven him to the train station. That was all he would do.
“Well,” his father said.
Patroclus was silent.
“You’re decided then,” his father said.
His father frowned. “Law would be better for you,” he said. “More respectable than going premed at some small college that no one has heard of. East Locris University would have given you a better future.”
Patroclus just kept his mouth shut and tried to tune his father out. It was the same speech he’d given time and time again, that going into law like him was more respectable than cutting into someone with a scalpel or dissecting corpses or any of that kind of bullshit. Of course, his father was ignoring that surgery saved lives, but don’t even bother bringing that up in front of him. His father didn’t care. The only plus side to his transfer was that he would be about seven states closer to home, but now that he was abandoning law, his father had made it perfectly clear that he didn’t give a fuck how close to home Patroclus was.
Not to mention that when Patroclus told him he was gay last April he didn’t take it very well, either. So it was a wonder, really, that he had agreed to even drive Patroclus to the train station that would take him to Boston and Phthia College, where he was going to study medicine. It was a small college, that was true, with only six thousand students, but for a solely undergrad school, it had one of the best premed programs in the nation.
It was almost a five-hour train ride from New York City to Boston. He would arrive late at night, two full days before students were allowed to move in, but his father had driven him to the train station on the other side of the city in New York City traffic, so he supposed there wasn’t much more he could ask of him.
He became aware that his father had stopped talking, and was looking at him expectantly.
He cleared his throat. “Uh, sorry, I missed that last part.” That was happening with alarming frequency nowadays.
His father sighed and ran a hand over his face, looking utterly exhausted and exasperated. That was also happening with alarming frequency nowadays. “I said goodbye, Patroclus. You need to get going if you don’t want to miss your train.”
Patroclus looked at his watch. Shit. His train was leaving in just over ten minutes, and he still needed to buy his ticket and find the platform.
“Right,” he said. “Yeah. I should go. Um, thanks for the ride, see you in May.”
He wouldn’t be welcome home for the holidays.
Patroclus just managed to get on the train before the doors closed. There weren’t many people on the train, and he found a seat for himself at the end of the cabin. He put his suitcase and duffel in the space overhead and sat down next to the window, debating whether or not he should work on the chemistry summer assignment he needed to finish for the first week of class. Something about pH and molecular structures and Lewis dot diagrams and such; all things that they would be covering during the semester, but Professor…Phoinix, was it? – wanted to assess how much they already knew.
He pulled the packet halfway out of his backpack before he paused.
He’d been working all of last night and the entire morning. He deserved a break. He put it back in his backpack.
He took out his phone instead and put in his earbuds, opening Spotify and scrolling through his playlists, passing by his old high school angst and weird country phase to settle on Troye Sivan. A fellow gay man who happened to make wonderful music that really deserved more attention.
Settling back into the hard seat as the train began to move, he watched the blackness of the underground part of Penn Station roll by and give way to white daylight and towering skyscrapers that made up his city. He hit shuffle play and Troye’s Ease filtered through the clanging of the tracks, the train speeding up until everything outside was little more than a blur unless he made a conscious effort to pick out individual objects.
He leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes, letting the rhythmic rocking of the train lull him. The song ended and Blue came on afterwards, and he turned up the volume until the music drowned out everything else.
He didn’t want to think right now, and the music gave him something to focus on to stop himself from thinking about anything else. He stuck his ticket under the metal strip on the seat in front of him and closed his eyes.
There was nearly five hours of travel in front of him, after all. He might as well get some sleep.
It was dark when Patroclus woke, and train was pulling into Boston’s South Station. He blinked sleep from his eyes and opened his phone to check the time. Ten past nine. He paused the music that had long gone past the end of the playlist and took his earbuds out, stuffing them in his pocket.
He stretched, taking his luggage down from the overhead compartment, narrowly missing hitting himself in the head with the wheel of his suitcase, and getting ready to leave the train when it stopped. While he waited for the train to pull into the station, he called an Uber to take him to the Holiday Inn he would be staying at until campus allowed students to move in.
The train rolled to a stop and he hurried out of the station onto the street corner where, according to the app, a black Honda civic with the license plate SPOCK69 and a blonde woman named Betty would be arriving in two minutes to pick him up.
Betty was a very cheerful woman who wasted no time at all in silence.
“Hello, are you Patroclus?” she asked as she pulled up by the curb, completely mispronouncing his name. Her bright pink lipstick was smeared ever so slightly on the left corner of her lip, giving her smile a lopsided look.
“Yes,” Patroclus said, not bothering to correct her.
“Wonderful!” Betty exclaimed, stopping the car and running around awkwardly in her stilettos to open the trunk before rushing forward and taking Patroclus’s duffel and suitcase, struggling a bit as she lifted them into the back of her car but smiling through it all the same. “I’m so glad to meet you,” she huffed. “I’m assuming you’re traveling here for a while, since you have all this with you?”
“Yes, I –”
“Great!” Betty said cheerfully, not noticing how she had cut him off. “I could give you a tour of the city if you like, free of charge, of course! I just love showing people around, it really is a great city! I’m so glad you decided to come here, of all places! Oh, the river is absolutely beautiful, you must spend some time there and watch all the boats going by!” She had finished loading Patroclus’s things and closed the trunk, scurrying around to get back into the driver’s seat.
Patroclus opened the back door, but she waved him off.
“Oh no, honey, come sit in the front with me! We can talk as I drive you. Where are you headed?”
Very reluctantly, he closed the back door and opened the passenger door, climbing in. “Um, the Holiday Inn near Phthia College, please.”
Betty turned around and stared at him in confusion. “What college?”
Patroclus’s cheeks reddened. “East of Harvard.”
The woman’s expression cleared. “Ah, Harvard! I know that one! And that means I know the Holiday Inn you’re talking about; I’ll get you there in no time at all! I’ll certainly point out some landmarks along the way if you would like.” She put the car into drive and pulled out into the traffic with alarming speed; Patroclus clutched the armrest of the seat. “The river is my favorite, though, it’s just so beautiful! I would strongly suggest you – oh, sorry, I’ve already said that! Silly me; I’m getting old, so you must pardon my memory!”
She laughed, and Patroclus chuckled awkwardly with her.
“So what college did you say you were going to? F-something?”
“Phthia,” Patroclus said.
“Oh, dear me,” Betty sighed, somehow making it sound cheerful and dismayed at the same time, “I’m really losing it with the times. I’ve never heard of the place! Well, I’m sure it’s an absolutely wonderful college and I’m sure you’ll love it there and make lots of friends!” She stopped at a red light, and the relative silence of the engine made her chatter all the more obvious, and even Patroclus, who’d had years of practice tuning out his father during his self-important speeches, was finding it difficult to ignore her.
Betty hit the gas as soon as the light turned green, jolting Patroclus back from his pitiful attempts at tuning her out. “So, my dear, I’m sure you have a girlfriend or someone back at home, looking like you do! She misses you, I’m sure.” Patroclus winced at the heteronormativity, but she didn’t notice and plowed right on. “I remember when I was your age and had a sweetheart, but of course he was the one going to college and I was the one who stayed behind at home. That reminds me, I never asked. Where are you from? Ooh, wait, don’t tell me. You arrived on a train, so it must be pretty close, right? I mean, nothing like California or Florida or anything.”
Patroclus bit back a sigh and wished the bright green Holiday Inn sign would get larger at a much faster rate than it currently was.
“Let me guess, what about New Jersey? No? Well, you don’t have a Jersey accent. Oh, you know New Jersey is called the garden state, right? And they’re so famous for their cranberries, but you know what? When I went down there a few years ago, it was all full of corn! I was like, where are the cranberries? It’s a mystery, I know. Oh, but have you been there? It’s quite beautiful, really, at certain times of year!
“But I’m getting off track, where was I? Oh, right, trying to guess where you’re from! What about Pennsylvania? Not Pennsylvania? Well, that would make sense, I guess, all Pennsylvanians have a certain look to them, if you know what I mean.”
Patroclus didn’t. Betty, as usual, didn’t notice and kept talking. “Oh, what other states are there, Connecticut? New Hampshire? Oh! New York! It’s New York, isn’t it?”
“Yep, you got it,” Patroclus mumbled, and Betty cheered.
He had never been more grateful to arrive at a hotel in his entire life.
Patroclus was given a room on the fifth floor with a view that overlooked a parking lot. He pushed open the door, wrinkling his nose at the typical hotel room smell that wafted out, and flicked on the lights. The room was relatively nice, with one queen size bed taking up the majority of the space and a small TV on the opposite wall above a small desk.
He dropped his backpack on the floor and wheeled his suitcase in just far enough that he would be able to close the door, and then plopped onto the bed and opened his messages.
One text, from his friend Automedon. He was a coxswain on the men’s crew team at Phthia and a childhood friend of Patroclus’s.
A: Hey Pat, text me when you arrive!
It was from three hours ago. Patroclus typed out a quick reply before switching off his phone and rolling over onto his back with a dramatic sigh that he felt could belong in the best of any of Shakespeare’s plays. Maybe he could go into theater and play all the grumpy characters.
His phone buzzed, and he peered over at it.
A: Glad you got there safely! I’m coming up in a few days so lmk if you want me to show you around the place when I get there. Until then, I’m not sure what the food situation is at Holiday is but there are a bunch of places all around the city, and text me if you have any questions!
A: I gtg now though, still haven’t packed yet :P see you soon!
Patroclus sighed again, though more fondly this time. Automedon was always cheerful, if a bit scatterbrained (hence the fact that he hadn’t started packing just two days before he was supposed to move in), and it was nice to know he would have someone from home here.
Two people, in fact. One was Automedon, the other was Briseis. She would be flying in from Chicago in a few days.
As if she knew he was thinking about her, his phone alerted him of another text.
B: Gotten there yet?
Patroclus replied that he had.
B: Great! Seen any cute guys yet? ;)
P: I literally just got to my hotel
P: Yeah. A super talkative blonde lady. I think she’d give you a run for your money
B: Whaaat? That’s impossible xD
P: I’m not kidding, she didn’t shut up once
B: Ok yeah maybe you’re right lmao
B: You should sleep soon, gotta get up early to explore the city right? And lmk if you see any cute guys and I’ll def introduce you!!!
Patroclus rolled his eyes. Briseis and her obsession with getting him laid. Well, he supposed it was better than having a best friend who wanted him to stay a virgin until marriage.
His phone buzzed again.
B: I know you’re rolling your eyes at me, Pat, but this is the year you’re gonna get laid and you’re going to have me to thank for it ;)
P: Yeah right
B: You’ll see. Go sleep now, I’ll talk to you later <3
Patroclus switched off his phone. It wasn’t even that late; not even ten. But despite his several hour-long nap on the train, he was still exhausted. He blamed Betty for sapping his remaining energy with her excessive talking.
With a groan, he pushed himself off the bed and to where his backpack lay discarded by the door, unzipping it and digging through it until he found a sandwich he’d packed away earlier.
It was soggy and kind of pathetic and could barely even be counted as a sandwich, with two small, thin pieces of bread and a single slice of ham, but it was better than going to bed hungry. He unwrapped it and bit into the sad piece of bread, making a face at the mushiness.
Whatever. He’d find a better meal tomorrow.
He finished the sandwich, washed it down with a few gulps of water, and then went bed.
He woke up fairly early the next morning; the clock read just past ten. That left him a good four hours to work on chemistry if he wanted to be back by two in the afternoon for a nap; it was the last few days of summer, after all, and he wanted to take advantage of all the time he had to sleep before classes started and that time inevitably ran out.
The stiff breeze ruffled Patroclus’s hair as he pushed open the doors of the Holiday Inn and turned towards the local Subway he’d seen down the street last night when Betty had driven him, his backpack slung around his shoulders and heavy with his laptop and chemistry assignment.
Considering it was Boston and Phthia College was situated basically in the middle of a bunch of other colleges that would also be starting soon, there were surprisingly few people on the street. He walked by a bookstore, tempted to go in but knowing that if he did, he would just end up reading instead of actually doing chemistry.
The Subway was on the other side of the street; he crossed and pulled open the doors. Cold air-conditioned air rushed into his face, blowing his hair back. He walked up to the counter and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu before turning to find a seat; not a difficult thing to do, since there was only one other person there.
One very attractive person.
He had a face that looked like it was carved out of stone in its symmetry and perfection, brilliant green eyes and curved-bow lips that Patroclus thought, before he caught himself, would be perfect for kissing, his nose thin and straight like an arrow between two high cheekbones. His eyebrows were dark and arched but his mussed-up hair was a brilliant gold, his skin sun-kissed but still a few shades lighter than Patroclus’s. He wore a simple white T-shirt that clung to his broad but lean shoulders and was looking down at his phone, one earbud dangling from his right ear; Patroclus heard the faint sounds of a violin drifting through the air.
Patroclus tore his eyes away and sat down a few tables away, biting into his sandwich – much better than last night’s – and pulling out the chemistry packet from his backpack, flipping to the page he was working on and resolutely not looking at the boy sitting a few yards in front of him.
He read the question he’d left off at; it came in multiple parts and was something about finding the subsequent pH of a solution if a certain amount of certain molarity hydrofluoric acid was added to a specified amount of distilled water.
Basic chemistry, basic math. At least to his brain. He just needed to do some manipulation of the exponents and turn them into logarithms and then solve the equation. Not difficult, just tedious.
With a sigh, he began to work.
Equations flew from the tip of his pencil and he finished the multi-part question with ease, flipping to the next page where the questions were about drawing Lewis dot structures of bonded atoms. More pretty basic chemistry, considering the most complicated molecules he needed to draw consisted of three atoms.
The boy sitting at the other table made a sound, a slight huff of laughter at whatever was on his screen. Patroclus did his very best not to be distracted, and just barely succeeded.
He had no idea who the boy was. He didn’t even know if he was in college, although he looked to be about that age. And even if he was a college student, there was no saying he was at Phthia. For all he knew, he could be a student at Harvard, or MIT, or Boston University, or Northeastern, or Tufts, or one of what felt like a thousand other schools all jammed into the same city. Or maybe he wasn’t even in college; he could be a high school dropout, for all he knew.
Stop it, Patroclus.
Chemistry. He needed to focus on chemistry.
He’d gotten through three pages – and the cute guy was still there – before his phone buzzed. He frowned at the interruption and peered over at his phone. A text from Briseis.
He unlocked the phone to look at the message.
B: What’s up?
Patroclus typed out a reply.
P: Nothing much, doing chem at subway
P: Actually remembered to eat lunch today :P
P: There’s a cute guy here
That last part was a mistake, which he should have known, considering Briseis was so eager for him to let her know when he saw anyone he might fancy in the slightest. Almost immediately, his phone exploded with messages of Briseis demanding to know in capital letters what he looked like and what his name was and, most importantly, if Patroclus was going to do anything about it.
P: I have no idea what his name is, it’s not like I know anyone here
P: He seems busy
(Who knows, maybe he was doing a summer assignment too? On his phone, but whatever)
P: Plus I’m doing chem hw
P: Also I have no idea if he goes to Phthia or not
B: Who cares? Ask for his number or something! This might be your chance to get laid!!
Patroclus snorted. What, someone like him getting laid by someone who looked, quite frankly, like a god? Good one. The dude probably wasn’t even into guys. He typed out a reply conveying those very thoughts and again, almost immediately, received a reply. (Briseis texted faster than anyone he’d ever met.)
B: What do mean, looking like he does?
B: Omg is he hot??? Send me a pic!
Patroclus blanched. Sneaking pictures of hot guys was definitely not what he signed up for, but he really was cute, and maybe, just maybe, she knew who he was? There was no way he would be into Patroclus, of course, but maybe he could Facebook stalk him for a bit and then feel sad about his own love life. Stuff like that was becoming a favorite pastime of his at quite an alarming rate.
He took a deep breath and another bite of his sandwich, pretending to put his phone away but actually lowering it so that only the camera was poking up from behind the table. The cute guy was still using his phone and didn’t seem to notice anything suspicious as Patroclus took a picture and sent it to Briseis. It was a little blurry since he’d taken it as quickly as possible and then lowered his phone to avoid getting caught, but he sent it anyway. He should’ve known better; Briseis was a film major, and sure enough, criticism came quickly.
B: What kind of camera skills are those??? Blurry AF, subject is weirdly to the side of the frame and super small which, in this case, isn’t what you’re going for
B: But based on the poor-quality image you’ve given me, I think I know him but I’m not sure, you’re too far away
Patroclus frowned and grumbled to himself. What was he, paparazzi? But he took another picture, zooming in as far as he could and thanking God that his phone had a good enough camera that he could still get a clear shot by zooming in and wouldn’t have to creepily move closer.
He was just in the process of attaching the file to his text message when he noticed a flash.
A flash. Like…a camera.
He risked a glance upwards to see the cute guy now practically hiding behind his phone and typing furiously. And was that…a blush, reddening his ears?
Patroclus gulped. There was no way. Absolutely no way. He couldn’t have been…
He was making fun of him, that’s what it was. Probably saying something like ‘hey look at this pathetic little nerd sitting here doing homework and sneaking pictures of me while I lounge here like an absolute god’ or something. There was no way he was sneaking pictures of Patroclus for anything good. If he was sneaking pictures of Patroclus at all, of course. Which he probably wasn’t. Patroclus didn’t consider himself interesting enough to warrant attention, good or bad.
So yeah. There was no way this boy was taking pictures of Patroclus. Patroclus wasn’t interesting enough to be noticed, even to be made fun of, which he was usually perfectly content with, but this also meant that there was no way that he could ever have a chance with someone like this, which was significantly less fortunate.
He sent the picture to Briseis anyways.
She responded a few seconds later.
B: I was right, I know him. Worked with him once on a project, he’s in theater. His name’s Achilles, and I’m pretty sure he’s at least not straight.
B: So now that you know his name and that he’s probably into guys, are you going to do anything about it???
Oh, yeah. Definitely. He was going to Facebook stalk him for sure. He looked like one of the typical popular athletic guys at the college, which meant that he would probably have a bunch of pictures online that he could look at until he inevitably felt sad about his own love life. But that wasn’t the point; maybe if Patroclus was brave enough, he could even send him a friend request. Briseis had just confirmed that they went to the same school, after all. It wouldn’t be weird.
He grinned and turned back to his chemistry packet, completely forgetting to respond to Briseis until she texted him again a few minutes later.
B: PATROCLUS!!!!! Where are you????
P: Sorry lol, got distracted
P: I really gotta do chem now though, ttyl
He silenced his phone and put it away, taking another few bites of his sandwich and knowing that Briseis would be absolutely livid that he’d silenced the phone on her, but he really did have to finish his assignment. Across from him, the boy – Achilles – was still on his phone, still texting or doing his summer assignment or whatever he had been doing.
Do your chemistry!
Patroclus picked up his pencil again. Achilles.
He smiled to himself.