When Ray decided to rush Beta Rho Alpha, it was mostly out of protest. His high school buddies didn’t think he had the cajones for Greek life. Ray thought they could go fuck themselves. He chose Beta Rho Alpha because during the freshman activities bazaar on the arts quad the brothers were doing the cha cha slide. There was this tall blond motherfucker in flip flops and board shorts with his BPA t-shirt, shouting at them about being out of sync, and how he was going to make them do the popcorn if they didn’t get it together, and Ray just knew he’d found the right one.
It turned out he rushed the craziest frat on campus. The tall dude was called Iceman, was a hellacious pledgemaster, and disliked everybody on sight. Ray was instantly charmed. When he got a bid, the e-mail he sent to his friends from home might’ve gone like this:
HOWDY, FUCKERS! HOPE YOU’RE ENJOYING YOUR DICK-SNARFING FUTURE IN THAT PUSSY-EXISTENCE YOU CALL LIFE, NEVER KNOWING THE BEAUTY OF THE GREEK WAY! TODAY, I HAVE BEEN MADE A MAN!
He never told them his pledge name was whale anus, that he’d been made to do an elephant walk through central campus with the twelve other pledges, and been forced to serve as the body that his fellow pledges took shots off of, along with a variety of other better left unsaid events. By the time he was a sophomore and living in the house, he’d lost his virginity, dropped acid, been bailed out of jail, worn a diaper and a gas mask in front of the entire campus, and gotten sucked off once in class.
Over all, there were more credits than there were debits.
When Patterson graduated, everybody knew Nate was going to be made the next president. Brad had thought Nate was going to be the president of BPA since the moment they’d met freshman year, during naked mud wrestling in BPA house’s backyard. Nate just had that way about him. Everything sort of fell into place around him.
Brad got back from hockey practice one evening to find Nate lying in bed in the room they’d been sharing for the last three years reading Polybius. “I just found out from Gunny that you made Phi Beta Kappa. He said he never would’ve known if his girlfriend hadn’t also been at inductions.”
Nate looked up from his book and yawned. “Whatever. It’s no big.”
“Sure,” Brad replied, flopping back on his own bed. “I know you sleep, so what is it? Do you do speed?”
Nate was president of a frat, captain of the lightweight crew team, getting perfect grades, and he never seemed to pull his hair out over his work. If Brad didn’t like him so much, he’d kill him.
“I’ll be so glad when season is over,” Brad said, rubbing his eyes.
“Mm,” Nate said, rolling his head on his shoulder to look at him. “Ray’s promised to get us epically fucked up on meth once we don’t have to worry about the drug screenings.”
“Shit, man, I’ll be happy just to take a Sudafed for a cold when season’s done.” He rolled his shoulders and groaned as pain rolled through them.
“What’s up?” Nate asked, propping himself up on his elbow. “You need a back rub?”
Brad paused and turned to look at him. “Yeah, okay.”
He rolled over on to his stomach and Nate settled over his hips. Nate had strong hands, probably from crew. They were rough and busted up, but they were soothing as they shoved Brad’s long-sleeved shirt up and set to work on the knots through his trapezius.
“Jesus, Brad, you’ve got to stop typing on your laptop in bed,” Nate said, working on a particularly bad knot that referred up his neck. Brad just groaned in response.
The door slammed open with a shockingly loud noise. Brad didn’t even bother to look around and after an audible ellipse Ray said, “You guys are so gay.”
“Don’t you fucking knock?” Brad asked, pillowing his head on his arms. Nate never stopped kneading his shoulders.
Ray walked further into the room. “Why, because I might interrupt you jerking each other off? It’s not like I can’t see that everywhere else over the house.”
“What do you want, Ray?” Brad asked finally, Ray’s name turning into a moan at the end as Nate hit another spot of trouble. Nate chuckled and moved to focus all of his attention there, pressing down hard with his thumbs while Brad groaned and pushed his body down into the bed.
Ray watched the entire thing nonplussed. “The Xbox is broken again.”
Nate’s fingers ran down his spine to where his trapezius became his lats. Everything was impossibly ticklish and he jerked and bucked.
“If it’s ticklish, it means it’s too tense,” Nate said, digging deeper. Ray stared at them, waiting for an answer.
“Okay, okay,” Brad said finally. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
Ray left after that, shaking his head. Nate was silent for a moment and then, pushing down over the base of Brad’s spine with the heel of his palms, he said, “You know, we have it in our budget to buy a new one.”
It took Brad a moment to realize that he meant an Xbox and not a new back. He was lethargic and sleepy and his body no longer felt like a cage slowly closing tighter. He could probably fall asleep just like this.
“It’s a matter of pride,” Brad replied, shifting underneath Nate. “Just a little higher up and to the right.”
Nate laughed and complied, thighs tightening around Brad’s hips. It was around then that Brad realized his dick was hard. It was a passing realization quickly lost to sleep.
He woke up an hour later, Ray slamming the door open with a hollered, “What the hell are you doing in here!”
Brad lifted his head and rubbed at his eyes blearily. “What?”
Ray shook his head. “So fucking gay.”
Brad looked down; he was pillowed on Nate’s chest and Nate was fast asleep. He had no idea how they’d even got like that. Brad cracked his neck and rolled out of bed. Nate shifted into the spot he’d vacated.
“Did anybody make dinner?” he asked, stretching his arms up above his head.
“Poke made quesadillas. All the ingredients are out, so if you want more, he says you can make ‘em yourself.” Brad followed Ray out of the room.
Going to drag ball became a tradition Tim’s sophomore year. It was during hell week, second semester. Zeta Theta Psi dressed their pledges up in cheap hooker outfits scouted from the costume loft and wrote on every pledge’s back ‘insert dick here’ with an arrow pointing down at their ass. Zeta had been BPA’s rival for over fifty years, because they were arrogant blue-blooded bastards who did whatever they pleased and then tried to call it class.
Nate got back from whatever class he was taking in how to take over the world and slumped down so forlornly in the living room Tim wondered if somebody had died. “Haven’s freaking out. They’re lobbying to have anybody affiliated with a frat kicked out of leadership positions, just because Zeta were insensitive fuckheads.”
Nate was class president their sophomore year, the hardest working son of a bitch Tim knew. For everybody else, being future leader of the free world was probably a delusion of grandeur; as far as Tim could see that was Nate’s exact trajectory.
His baby face was a distraught mask. A bit like a kicked puppy. “What do we do, Doc? We’ve gotta show them we’re not like Zeta.”
Earlier that day in Risley some kid had handed him a purple halfsheet of paper that he’d shoved into his pants on his way to get lunch. He pulled it out now and flattened it, reading the big bubble letters. “We could go to drag ball.”
Nate stared at him. He stared at him for a long time. Iceman walked in, eating a yogurt, somewhere in all the staring, and asked, “What’s up?”
“Wanna go to drag ball?” Nate asked.
“In…drag?” Brad asked, spoon halfway to his mouth.
“Whatever.” Brad walked out again.
“I guess that’s a yes,” Nate said. “I should see if Patterson thinks it’s a good idea.”
It scored them enormous points with Haven. There was a write up about BPA’s show of solidarity with the LGBT students in the Cornell Daily Sun with a picture of a silk fuchsia clad Rudy pressing a kiss to Pappy’s cheek, foot popped like an old film heroine. Nate got to stay on as sophomore class president, and Encino Man and Zeta Theta Psi looked like even bigger penises. And that was how BPA’s drag ball tradition was born.
Struggling with the zipper on a slinky red dress, Tim wished he’d never opened his mouth. The zipper was stuck in the middle of his back, refusing to budge. The entire thing was a slippery red annoyance. He finally stormed into the hall, past other brothers who were fiddling with Salvation Army bought heels and cheap accessories. He went into Nate’s room without knocking and stopped at the sight in the middle of the room.
Nate was standing, looking up at the ceiling while Marissa, a friend on the woman’s crew team, swiped mascara over his lower lashes. His mouth was a deep plush pink only just this side of red and it matched the lacy lingerie set he was wearing. Brad was lying on his bed, tossing a football up and down.
“What the hell?” Tim said.
Brad snorted with laughter. “He decided to go all out this year.”
Nate gave him a pouty look and then looked back up at the ceiling when Marissa slapped his bare shoulder. The cups of the bra gaped over his pectorals, but the matching panties pulled tight.
“You have ruffles on your ass.” Tim said, slightly scandalized. “And I can see your dick. Perfectly.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? I wasn’t going to tuck it. I’m not trying to give the appearance of an actual woman here. Anyway, is there something you wanted?” He ran his eyes over Tim’s half-zipped dress, letting Marissa dust over his face with a powder brush.
“I can’t get it to…” he turned around and gestured at his back. Brad laughed again and shrugged himself off his bed. He got the zipper the rest of the way up with one efficient yank.
“Why aren’t you dressed yet?” Tim asked. “You are coming?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Brad replied sarcastically. “Marissa bought me a pretty dress and everything.”
“He’s upset because it has bows on it.” Marissa said, finishing up with Nate. Brad let out a beleaguered sigh.
“You bought it at Forever 21. It’s pink.”
“Brad always thought of himself as more of a Katherine Hepburn than a Marilyn Monroe,” Nate said, stepping into a black silk number. Tim noted with some disgust that he got the zipper up by himself.
“Real men wear pink, Brad!” Ray said, appearing in the doorway. “Yowza, LT, I think I’d fuck you.”
Nate shot him a quelling look and Brad said, “Ray thinks that’s a compliment, but I’m informing everybody who might not already know that it is not.”
Nate made a dismissive noise in the back of his throat and held out his arm to Marissa. “Let’s get the rest of this rabble in order.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Brad, put your dress on.”
See, the thing that nobody told them when they were younger was that women went a little crazy for a straight guy in a dress. After the initial success at Drag Ball, they’d taken stock the next day and collectively decided they had to do it again.
This drag ball was no different from the first. Tim made out with three different girls before midnight, one of whom he was pretty sure was a lesbian. Tim loved drag ball. He loved Brad wandering around like a 6’4 cupcake in heels. He loved that women were buying him drinks for once. And also, how hot were chicks wearing ties and suit jackets? That really turned his crank.
Then Captain America from Zeta epically cockblocked him and the night went downhill from there. Christeson ended up going to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. Q-Tip had an epic freak out and was glued to his phone the whole night as if he were expecting news that Christeson had suddenly expired. And Brad was in a terrible mood because Nate had gone home with some hot short-haired alternagirl, while Brad hadn’t even found anybody to make out with.
On the walk back to the house, Ray swayed drunkenly against Brad’s side. “You know, pink is really your color.” He palmed the fabric on Brad’s hip.
Tim snorted. “Well, Brad, it looks like you could always toss Ray’s knees up over his head.”
“You disgust me,” Brad replied, arms crossed over the giant pink bow on his chest. His heels clacked-out a regular beat on the sidewalk. Out of all of them, he was the only one who could walk without tottering.
Nate came home an hour later while they were watching Arrested Development on DVD and pigging out on buffalo wings from Wings Over Ithaca. He swept through the door, carrying his shoes over his shoulder, practically humming.
He plopped down on the sofa beside Brad and said, “I love drag ball.” Tim sucked buffalo sauce off his fingers and watched Brad roll his eyes. Nate didn’t elaborate, but all of his lipstick had been kissed off and there were shallow welts on his shoulders, visible above the plunging back of the dress. Tim shook his head. That could’ve been his night too if fucking Captain America hadn’t come over, going on about how everybody thought he was gay when he came to these things. Tim wanted to go back in time and punch him in the head.
“Pass me the wings, Doc,” Nate ordered, holding a braceleted hand out for the bucket. He smiled and plucked out a drumstick when Tim handed it over.
“You smell like pussy,” Brad said. The expression of disgust on his face was comical.
Nate chuckled. “Ayup, I imagine I do.”
Who knew why pledge names stuck. Nobody called Ray Whale Anus, which could’ve been because it wasn’t something you could say in public. Ray would say that in public, but he obviously had objections to referring to himself as Whale Anus. Walt’s name was Princess Peach and while Evan kinda thought that suited Walt, nobody called him that either. But Poke was Poke, and Nate was the LT to everybody except Brad, and then there was Doc, Manimal, and BK (and really who knew how the fuck Trombley got a bid to join the house, motherfucker must’ve been a legacy). Evan just couldn’t figure out how Christeson was Christeson when he himself was Q-Tip.
“I hate Q-Tip, homes, makes me feel like it’s obvious that I haven’t got none.” With a sigh, he threw himself back on Brad’s bed, which was only allowed because Brad was at practice.
Nate was folding his clothes on his bed. He frowned incredulously in the middle of pressing two sides of a sweater together. “What? I don’t get the connection between a cotton swab and your virginity.”
“Makes me seem all pure and white and shit,” he replied, glaring at the ceiling. “Nate, man, I’m never going to lose it.”
“You’re only 19,” Nate pointed out pragmatically, “Mark Twain didn’t get laid until he was 36.”
Evan sat up straight on Brad’s bed. “That doesn’t make me feel better at all. Also, how do you know that shit?”
“Everybody knows that. It’s common knowledge,” Nate said, stacking a pile of folded polos together.
“He just went around telling people, ‘yo, dude, I just balled my first chick at 36?’”
Nate gave him a nonplussed look. “No, he just didn’t care if everybody knew it took him a while. It doesn’t say anything about you. You just haven’t met the right girl yet.”
Evan shot him a dark look. “You sound like my mom, LT.”
“You have this conversation with your mom?”
Brad pushed through the door at that moment and dropped his gear on the floor at the foot of his bed. He looked at Evan expressionlessly. “Why are you on my bed?”
Evan scrambled off. “Oh, hey, ‘sup, Brad?”
Brad gave him a nod. “So what’s going on with your mom?”
“Nothing’s going on with his mom. Q-Tip’s worried his nom de guerre is the reason he’s still a virgin.” Nate shook his head and went back to folding.
“Ah,” Brad said. He sat down in his desk chair and cracked open his laptop. With his eyes on the screen, he told Evan, “Don’t listen to anything Nate says. He got his first suckjob when he was thirteen.”
“Brad!” Nate replied, face going red.
Evan widened his eyes. “Wait? On the real?”
Nate shook his head again. “No comment.”
“You did,” Evan said, astonished. “Straight up, LT.”
“That doesn’t change anything I said,” Nate replied, gesturing with a blue checked button down. “You’ll have your moment. Don’t stress about it. There are other things in life.”
Brad snorted. Evan looked over at him and couldn’t read the expression on his face. He put his head in his hands. “That’s what you say to a brother you know is going to die a virgin. Shit man, I’m going to die a virgin and that fool Ray’s been hitting it for two years. That’s just not right.”
Nate and Brad shared an exasperated look. Evan left their room feeling worse than he did when he went in. Nate got head at thirteen and he didn’t even try. There was no justice in the world. He should just settle with that.
A week later Nate came into the room Evan shared with Christeson. A tall coltish girl with her hair slung up in a careless pony tail was a few steps behind. She was wearing flip-flops and a loose Bridge School Benefit t-shirt. A wristband was jammed up a forearm that looked strong and capable. Evan stared at her openly, his pencil limp over his problem set. “Stafford,” Nate said carefully, “this is Lisha on crew. She’s taking multivariate calculus and having a hard time. I figured you can help.”
Evan blinked at her and Nate left before he could say anything. Lisha dumped her stuff down next to his desk and stole Christeson’s desk chair. “So I’m fucked.”
He swallowed and said finally, “Uh…why don’t you show me what you’re dealing with.”
And so he didn’t lose it until after two weeks of tutoring for her midterm, three months of dating, and a very nice candle-lit dinner at John Thomas. But Nate was right about not stressing, because when Lisha finally slid down on him in her bedroom on her pale blue sheets, an unfamiliar lipstick that she never wore staining her lips, it was perfect. Absolutely perfect. And she never called him Q-Tip.
Editor-in-chief of the Daily Sun was like the first step to becoming the next great American novelist. Sometimes he thought about it and came to the startling revelation that if he hadn’t become the editor-in-chief, he probably would’ve killed himself. After all, he basically had no life outside the paper. Journalism was a shrinking entity, he had to make whatever impression he could.
He might also have become editor-in-chief so that he wouldn’t have to deal with shit like this.
“Di, explain what this is?” he said, holding up a hacked-out crappy article to Diane Cooper, the features editor. It was one in the morning, they were all exhausted, his coffee was freezing, and they still hadn’t gone to press yet.
She looked at it. “Um, it’s a piece on Brad Colbert, a defenseman on the hockey team.”
“Did you edit this?”
“Then tell me why it reads like a stalkerish love letter.” He looked down at it. “ ‘Standing easily past 6’4 with cornflower blue eyes and a great smile, Brad Colbert, Captain of the hockey team, regularly chows down on milkshakes.’ What the fuck is this? Featured hottie in YM?”
Di shrugged. “We just had all that stuff going on with the administration and the whole thing with women’s volleyball suing the school. It just got a little lost. I mean…it’s not that bad.”
“Really,” Evan replied. “A milkshake-guzzling hockey-playing Viking love god?”
Di shrugged a second time. “I gave it to Tina, the freshman whose article you liked on Ithaca’s water treatment plant, and this is what she came up with.”
Evan threw the article aside. “I’ll tell you what she came up with, a girly hard-on for Colbert. Jesus, we can’t publish this, it’s a complete puff piece.”
“Well fuck it, Evan,” she said and threw up her hands. “If we take everything puffy in there out, the only thing we have left about him is that he and Nate Fick, the president of BPA, are best friends. And he’s adopted. I don’t think Tina mentioned that.”
“I…just—this is completely unbelievable,” he replied and took a bitter sip of his cold latte.
Di sighed. “I could rewrite it…to make it seem less puffy?”
“We don’t have time. It’s one a.m. What are we going to do? Call him up and ask him to do the interview all over again?”
“Are you telling me you were just bitching for the hell of it?”
“No. Possibly.” Evan rubbed at his forehead and then looked up. “Hey! I don’t want this to ever happen again. Bury it somewhere in the sports section. Chop a hundred words from it. I don’t know. Do something.”
When their features photographer came back with a pensive shot of Colbert worrying his lip while waiting in the penalty box during a game, he considered braining himself with his stapler. “It’s been shifted to the sports pages. Just go deal with it,” he said, waving Lilley off.
The next day as he was munching on green beans in Willard Straight a 6’4 shadow darkened his ratty and well-thumbed edition of Sex, Lies, & Cocoa Puffs. A copy of the Daily Sun smacked down on the table in front of him. He looked up to find Colbert glaring at him. “What the hell is this?”
Colbert was on the front page, gnawing on his lip and glowing from the camera flash. “Augh,” Evan said, snapping his book shut. The paper had gone to print completely wrong. Somehow they’d mixed the fucking articles up. How could he have missed this? It wasn’t even the post-season yet. Colbert had no right to be on the front page. It made it look like freshman Tina’s girly hardon extended to the entire paper. They were never going to be taken seriously ever again. “It’s not my fault.”
“The brothers in my fraternity, my teammates, the other CS majors—nobody can stop laughing about how I look like a candidate for the fucking Bachelorette.” He pulled out the chair across from Evan and sat down heavily.
Evan spread his hands before him. “Well, I don’t know, stop impressing mooning freshman girls. I just wanted an article on the fact that Cornell’s made it to the NCAA championships again this year.”
A wiry guy appeared at Brad’s elbow and set down a tray filled with food. “Where in the article is the part where he’s a grumpy irascible bastard who dragged me to Okenshields when the Atrium Café is far superior?” The wiry guy held out a hand across the table. “Ray Person.”
Evan shook it tentatively. He recognized the name from WVBR-FM, Cornell’s radio station. Person DJed for VBR AfterDark and was a complete spazz who’d had to be censored for too much cursing on five separate occasions.
Brad held up a hand. “With your stupid imaginary god as my witness, I told her to leave me alone a verifiable eight times. I don’t know what I could’ve done besides punching her in the head or getting a restraining order.”
And that was how Evan ended up sitting with not just two fratboys, but also four hockey players who happened to be eating in Okenshields and saw Brad while they were scouting out tables. He scored an invite to BPA’s next big thing, a highlighter party (“I mean, but don’t make a big deal out of it, it’s not like you couldn’t have come anyway, we invite the whole campus.” ), and learned how to jailbreak his iPod (“Seriously, Apple’s the next evil empire, what are you doing with this hokey faggoty crap?” “Faggot is a no-no word, Brad, LT will get mad.”) while Ray debated monadology with the center and right wing.
He finally had to leave to make his 1:15 Seminar. As soon as he got outside he called Di. “What the hell happened?” he said furiously.
“I dunno, I’ve spoken to layout.” She sounded tired. “They swear they sent the one with volleyball team duff up to the printers.”
“Argh! There goes my Pulitzer!” People stared at him as he made his way across the arts quad, shouting into his phone.
“What are you even talking about?” she replied. “Look, it’s not a big deal. The article’s getting enormous response. We had to turn off the comments for the web content.”
“There are serious issues in this paper! They were overshadowed by a ginormous Viking love god who wields a hockey stick. We’re going to get slammed with another one of those editorials about how we don’t take reporting seriously here! That we thought a random athlete was more important than the school being sued for millions of dollars.”
“Okay, your first article was about porn,” she replied archly.
He paused, drawing in breath. He let it out in whoosh. “You are never going to let me forget that, are you?”
The night after the Highlighter party Walt woke up splattered with neon paint in Pappy’s closet. He’d had a vague dream about making out with Ray at some point, but he couldn't remember how long he’d been in the closet or how he’d gotten there. He pushed the sliding door open and found Pappy asleep in his bed, draped over his girlfriend. Walt groaned and stumbled to his feet, tripping over a pile of athletic shoes. Pappy let out a snore and rolled over. Walt held his breath and extricated himself carefully from the room.
He wandered down to the kitchen where he found Nate sitting at the table reading the Washington Post and drinking coffee from a chipped Johns Hopkins mug. Brad was fiddling about at the stove in his boxers. He set a pile of deformed pancakes down at Nate’s elbow with a heavy thunk that made Walt’s head pound. They were the only two people he’d come across in the entire house who didn’t look entirely shattered. It wasn’t even fair: Walt distinctly remembered Brad lighting an entire tray of shots on fire and downing them one by one while Nate amusedly looked on with a half full bottle of Bacardi 101 in his hand.
“Morning, Walt,” Nate said, folding his paper. He looked down at the pancakes. “These look awful.”
“You said you wanted pancakes,” Brad replied darkly, gesturing at him with the spatula.
“I meant at Café Dewitt. I had no idea you planned to make them.”
Walt rubbed at his temples and groaned again. “Shut it, marrieds.” He turned around to open the fridge. He was just reaching for a carton of Tropicana orange juice when Brad burst out laughing. He turned around slowly to find Nate with a fist over his mouth, holding back chuckles, while Brad openly heaved with laughter.
“What?” he said, hand still on the juice.
“You have…” Nate cleared his throat, “you uh, have something on your back.”
“What?” Walt cried and tried to look down his bare spine. He could only make out unintelligible writing in a glaring purple even with his head craned around all the way on his neck. “What does it say?” He looked right at Nate.
Nate’s lips twitched. “I got anal warts from Perez Hilton.”
Walt blinked for a moment, mouth open. The door to the fridge slowly drifted closed.
“Ray!” he shouted at the top of his lungs. “Ray!” He left Nate and Brad behind to go charging up the stairs.
Nate maybe should’ve figured out he was in love with Brad on a Thursday their sophomore year when they were smoking hookah. Brad had a little pinched off blunt from someone, not enough for more than a couple of inhales and when Nate reached for it, Brad had bypassed his hand and leaned in, one broad palm splayed over Nate’s knee, and blown the smoke right into his mouth. Nate lit up like a roman candle. He’d gone to put his hand on top of Brad’s, but Brad had moved away and his hand anti-climactically met his own knee. But he didn’t figure it out then. He went two years feeling hollow in his chest sometimes when he looked at Brad and never once realized what it meant.
It hit him square in the face when that stupid newspaper article came out and it was like finally the entire world saw Brad as Nate saw Brad. Obviously there were some missing details, like he could be a prissy bitch when you worked him into it. And he was an ardent free market-loving libertarian. Capitalist with a Capital C. He rooted for the Lakers and he unironically listened to Air Supply and thought Bob Dylan sucked. God in heaven, in anyone else those would’ve been major dick softeners. But, as was the trend where Brad was concerned, they weren't.
Nate had to be up every morning at the ass crack of dawn for rowing. He’d been doing it for so long it wasn’t even difficult anymore. His cell-phone vibrated on the upper corner of his bed at four a.m. He let it buzz for a moment before rolling out of bed. The first year he’d lived with Brad he’d had an old fashioned alarm clock. After two weeks of Brad wandering around like a zombie after going to bed at three a.m. and being woken by Nate’s alarm at four, they’d realized they had to do something different.
The house wasn’t always quiet at this hour. Gunny’s girlfriend was in the library until 3:30 in the morning pretty much every day. She was, after all, the treasurer of PBK, and often times when Nate was making his way out of his room he’d pass her on the stairs, heading for Mike’s. She was a bit of a screamer and if he had trouble scrounging up breakfast and was forced to linger he frequently heard them having sex.
Today, as he pulled a yogurt out of the fridge, he heard the rhythmic creak of the mattress start and her shallow moans pick up tempo a few moments later. Nate rolled his eyes at the ceiling and shut the fridge. He passed through the den on his way out the door. Ray was still up, drinking chocolate milk and playing Halo.
“Hey, LT,” he said, hammering down on the A key and cheering as an entire flood infestation exploded on the large LCD flat screen Patterson had proudly brought back to the house the year before.
“Morning, Ray,” Nate replied, slinging up his gym bag from where he left it. The picture of Brad from the paper was tacked up to the front door with a heart drawn around it in pen—probably Ray’s doing. He pulled the door open with a snort. Usually when he walked to the boathouse he listened to his iPod, but there seemed to be enough noise in his head already.
It was misty out on Cayuga Lake. When he got to the boathouse everybody was still bundled up in their fleeces. Nate looked at them and felt an unreasonable desire to turn around and get right back in his bed. Practice went badly. He was too caught up in his own head. Coach didn’t yell at him, because Nate never had a bad practice, but he could feel his disappointment all the way from the dock. He tried not to let it stress him out, but by the time he was out of the showers and on his way to his first class he felt a little like he’d been in a car accident.
He got a B+ on a paper he thought he did better on. He found himself sitting in a coffee shop with an untouched black coffee staring at the printed document for thirty minutes. He didn’t know why he was freaking out about it, because it wasn’t a bad grade, and he was in grad school already. He was going to Stanford for law school in the fall. Oh God, he was going to Stanford and Brad still hadn’t decided, and he was in love with him. And he’d been in love with him forever, and he was never going to be able to say so. He took a deep breath and massaged at his temples. What was he going to do? He was going to go to class and he was going to do his level best not to think about it. He threw the coffee away without taking a single sip and viciously shoved the paper into his backpack.
He skipped dinner at the house to hit the library. He was getting an A in that class if it killed him. He got two texts from Brad in that time.
where are you? did you forget it’s march madness? the pizza just arrived
Are you okay? about forty-five minutes later. When he left it was full dark out; he’d been so engrossed in reading about the Seleucids he’d totally missed that it had started to rain. His stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten anything other than that yogurt. What are you going to do? He was going to go home, eat some leftovers, and fall into bed. He was going to be normal. He was going to put this behind him.
He got as far as getting home. He was out on the sidewalk in front of the house, the street lit up from the halogens blazing out the house’s kitchen window. The rain was coming down hard enough that his dinky travel umbrella wasn’t much use. He watched Brad walk into the kitchen, completely unaware of his gaze. His brow was furrowed slightly and he bent to pull a bottle of beer out of the fridge. A girl walked in after him and when Brad turned around and saw her, his forehead smoothed out. Nate felt the emptiness keenly. He walked up the steps, and pushed through the front door. Everybody in the house was in the den watching the game on TV. It was easy for Nate to slip upstairs unnoticed. He ditched his stuff and shrugged into his running shoes.
He got back out into the rain without anybody noticing and then he was flying over the pavement, splashing through puddles. It rained hard enough that his shirt thwacked against his chest dully with every step. His hair fell into his eyes, dripping water down past his nose, and his fingers burned with clammy cold. He was at least a mile out from the house now. He finally turned around when his chest started to feel tight and a headache settled over his skull like a cap. Every step back was a labor. When he made it back at last he wanted to collapse right on the steps.
He made it as far as the porch. He stopped on the top step, just under the overhang and braced himself on the porch railing, taking deep breaths. His clothes were completely stuck to his skin. What are you going to do?
“I have never seen you lose it like this,” a voice said out of the darkness. Nate startled even as he recognized it as Brad. “What’s going on?”
Nate swallowed. He tightened his grip on the banister. “I’m in love with you.” He didn’t mean to say it. But it had bounced around in his head the entire run. He looked up at Brad weakly before dropping his gaze again.
“Your lips are blue,” Brad said and Nate’s chin rose, just in time for Brad to pull him in by his sodden shirt and brush a kiss across his mouth. Nate made a sound into his mouth just as Brad pulled away. “Come on,” he said and dragged Nate through the door. Everybody was shouting at the screen as Cornell beat the ever-loving shit out of Temple. Nate paused to see a perfect three-pointer go through the basket, and then Brad was pulling him up the stairs.
He pushed Nate into their room. Nate shivered from the cold, and didn’t fight when Brad yanked the hem of his t-shirt up over his head, throwing it aside. It landed on the floor with a wet squelch. He backed Nate up onto his desk, thrusting books, pencils, the football he was always tossing around onto the floor, and sealed their lips together. He kissed and bit at Nate’s mouth, teeth catching on the full swell and tugging and then letting it go to plunge his tongue back into Nate’s mouth. Nate was still shivering hard, but he wrapped himself around Brad, giving as good as he got.
He pulled back when another violent shiver wracked his body. His breaths came out in shallow puffs. His forehead was pressed to Brad’s, hand braced on his neck—the only thing holding himself upright. When he slid his thumb down he felt Brad’s pulse thumping hard in his throat. And then Brad’s mouth was sliding across his cheek to his ear. Nate tilted his head back, leaning into it. The muscle that ran jaw to shoulder tensed as he swallowed and Brad licked down it, tongue flickering wickedly over his jugular.
“Oh, god, I—” he cut himself off as Brad bit down and pulled their hips together with a utilitarian jerk. A cry issued past his lips as Brad ground himself against the wet nylon of Nate’s running shorts, dragging the material over his dick. His hands flew to the edge of the desk and he arched as Brad brought them together hard. The desk slammed against the wall as Brad thrust against him and Nate held on, muscles spasming with the friction over his dick. Every time the desk hit the wall, Nate found himself wondering perversely about the state of the plaster. It was quick and dirty and not a little painful, and when he came, mouth stretched around a groan, it was with an enormous sense of relief. Brad cursed into his neck, hips flexing two times more before juddering to a halt that told Nate he’d come as well. After a long silent moment filled only with the sound of their breathing, Brad peeled himself away.
Brad said, “shit,” softly and stared down at him. Nate felt a flush blooming over his chest, but he stared back pointedly. He was profoundly uncomfortable in his wet shorts and when Brad stepped away he shoved them down, mopping the mess on his pubes and thighs up before throwing them on top of his shirt.
“Shit,” Brad said again, throat sounding clogged. He was staring at Nate’s not altogether-soft dick. Was that it then? We’re they going to have to pretend it didn’t happen? Because Nate wasn’t sure how he was going to do that.
Nate swallowed hard and went to his dresser, pulling out a pair of clean boxers. He bit his lip and didn’t meet Brad’s eyes. He curled his bare toes into the carpet and said stumblingly, “I shouldn’t have—”
Brad got right back up in his face and said, “Shut up, fuckhead.” He kissed Nate and then dragged his palm over the crotch of Brad's jeans. He was warm, pushing hard against the fabric. “Was that all you got? Because it wasn’t very good.”
Nate thrust him back on Brad’s bed with a growl while Brad laughed.
It was a gloomy gray day when Poke woke up. He groaned and almost considered going back to sleep. If he didn’t have a 10:30 discussion section he probably would’ve. The house was quiet because at this hour even Ray was asleep, and as he poured himself frosted Wheaties and sat down to the assigned readings he hadn’t had time to do last night after watching the Cornell game, all he could hear was the rain.
Nate came down sometime later, in one of Brad’s old ratty In N’ Out hoodies and a pair of shorts, looking bleary eyed. “What’s up,” Poke asked, spooning cereal into his mouth and accidentally getting milk all over his text book.
Nate waved a hand at him. “Practice was canceled.”
“You look like hell,” Poke shook his head. “What time did you get in last night?”
Nate blinked at him. “Sorry?”
“After getting sexiled? Has he ever done that?” He’d been thinking about it and couldn’t remember a single time that Brad had ever brought a girl back to the house. This time though, he had a feeling that Nate was going to want to sanitize his half of the room as well as Brad’s. There had been some crazy stuff going on in Chez Nate and Brad last night.
Nate made a noncommittal noise and sank down to sit at the table. “So tired.”
“It’s a good thing you didn’t come back, dog, because when I went to take a piss at 5:30 they were still going at it.”
Nate snorted and ate a handful of Wheaties right out of the box. “Is your girlfriend still coming to visit this weekend?”
Poke cleared his throat. “Yeah, I think so.”
He stared at Nate’s slightly blank face. He couldn’t recall a time when he’d seen Nate look so wrecked either, not even after their freshman year, when they’d all gotten epically shitfaced and Nate had started tossing shit randomly out of his dorm window, simply because he was bored. He’d even tossed the piece of crap Ikea standing lamp Nate and Brad still had between their desks out the window.
“Can I ask a question, dog?” Poke said.
“Shoot,” Nate replied.
“Do you think marriage is an antiquated custom just for white folks?”
“Dropping bombs in the morning are we?” Nate replied. “No, I don’t know. I think marriage is for people who need something more permanent.”
“See, that’s what I’m thinking,” Poke replied. “I’m just trying to figure out if Anita’s going to see it that way if I ask.”
Nate choked on his wheatie. “You’re going to ask her? To marry you, I mean?”
“You think I’m just wasting your time? Asking stupid questions about getting married? Yes, I’m gonna ask her.”
“Well, I don’t know! I don’t know anything about marriage. I haven’t even been in a committed relationship!”
Poke shot him a dry look.
Nate pointed at him with his spoon. “Brad does not count. You’ve been spending too much time with Ray.” He cleared his throat and dumped his cereal down the sink disposal. “I’m going back to bed, but if you want to ask her, ask her. It’s not like if you don’t ask her, you’ll stop wanting to.”
Poke shrugged. “Thanks for the advice.”
“You should talk to Pappy about this. I’m sure he has some deep thoughts.”
“I did,” Poke told him. “Only one I haven’t asked is the Iceman.”
“Quelle surprise,” Nate replied. “We’ll talk when I’ve had more than two hours of sleep.”
He wandered out of the kitchen, leaving Poke shaking his head at his back. What was Nate going to do when he went off to grad school and didn’t have all of them babysitting him, making sure he ate regular meals, and didn’t kill himself with too much school work and multiple practices?
A good portion of the house activities revolved around food. Pizza, wings, grinders, Rudy trying valiantly to get them to eat fruits and vegetables. Walt brought a deep fryer back from home after Thanksgiving and they were able to make their own cheese fries and mozzarella sticks. Rudy started making noise about running workout sessions. Poke did a lot of cooking for the guys in the house that weren’t on the meal plan. That was fine for him. His mama taught him right, and since a good portion of them thought cheese whizz and beer constitute suitable meal, they clearly needed his help. But that night he was too stressed out about how he was going to ask Anita to marry him that he couldn’t bring himself to cook. Risking Rudy’s wrath, he called up China Palace and ordered what seemed like a couple tons of Chinese food.
There was a 24 marathon on TV that night, so he decamped to the TV and waited as gradually people filtered in with cartons of takeout. Nate knocked him on the shoulder when he saw the look on his face. “Do what you gotta do, and don’t worry about the rest,” he said, popping a piece of sesame chicken into his mouth. Brad showed up later just as Jack Bauer was doing something amazing, freshly showered from practice. He leaned over the back of the couch and intercepted a piece of chicken off of Nate’s chopsticks.
“I swear to god, you are making my masculinity falter just looking at you!” Ray said, pointing at them accusingly with his fork.
Nate shoved his tongue into his cheek and said, “Watch the TV, Ray, you might miss something.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Poke saw Brad straighten up and run a thumb down over the back of Nate’s neck before disappearing. Poke stared for a moment. Okay, that was making his masculinity falter. Suddenly everything slotted into place.
“Where were you last night, LT,” Poke whispered furiously.
Nate turned his head, a bland expression on his face. He chewed on a piece of Bok Choy and shrugged.
“Bitch,” Poke said without heat and elbowed him hard in the gut. Nate laughed. “The iceman doesn’t count, my hispanic ass.”