“Whoa!” Seth exclaimed as he walked up to me. “Would you look at you!” He circled around me as I became embarrassed because everyone had stopped talking and was staring at me. “Where did my old Dorian go?”
Darlene started giggling as she gripped my arm tighter. “See, I told you.”
“I...I got my hair cut,” I stammered.
“I see,” remarked Seth. “You look good. I like it.”
I looked up and met his eyes. “You do?” If there was anyone whose judgment I trusted, it was Seth’s.
“Yes,” he smiled. He looked over at Darlene. “I bet this was your idea, wasn’t it?” She grinned and nodded her head. Cameron made a comment about how much he liked my new look, and then he asked everyone to give him their attention. I was still embarrassed because I had disrupted his meeting.
He looked at Darlene and me. “As I told everyone before you got here, Dr. Avery has agreed to allow us to assemble peacefully.”
I asked, “What’s that mean?”
“It means we can’t hold a fucking march,” spat Joseph, the red-haired guy with the rainbow tattoo on his arm who had sat behind me at the Campus Pride meeting last week.
Cameron glared at him before continuing. “He has agreed to let us assemble inside the Student Union. He says we can hand out flyers, but he doesn’t want us to march or hold any kind of demonstration.”
Joseph asked sarcastically, “What good will that do? Handing out a fucking sheet of paper won’t let people know what’s happening around here. Most students will just throw it in the trash can as they walk out the building.”
Many of the students began to agree with Joseph. Cameron seemed to be losing the argument. Someone grumbled, “I don’t understand why we can’t march. It makes people more aware of the problem.”
“That’s just it,” replied Cameron. “I don’t think Dr. Avery wants the attention.”
“Fuck him,” spat Joseph angrily. “If he doesn’t approve, we’ll do it anyway.”
Cameron looked at the group worriedly. “He’ll never approve. If we plan a march, then he’ll cancel the entire event.”
Joseph stood up and asked, “Who is with me? I say we march. Fuck Avery!” Eight members of the committee raised their hands. Darlene raised her hand; however, Seth and I didn’t.
Joseph looked over at Cameron and asked, “When did Avery say we can pass out the flyers?”
“Tuesday night,” he replied. “I told him we would do that instead of having our regular meeting.
Joseph nodded and said, “Fine. Tell him that’s what we’ll do.”
Cameron looked worried. “What are you planning to do, Joseph?”
“Me?” Joseph replied innocently. “Nothing. I’m just going to pass out your flyers.” He looked around at the group. “Right?” Several members smiled and nodded their heads.
Cameron reluctantly said he would meet with Dr. Avery again and tell him we had agreed to his conditions. It was obvious he didn’t trust Joseph. We spent the next half hour drafting the wording for the flyer. Since Darlene was a journalist, she was able to come up with something very precise and informative. It was basically a generic plea for students to show acceptance for diversity on campus. Even I thought it sounded meaningless. If someone would hand me the flyer, I certainly would dump it in the nearest trash can.
When the meeting ended, Cameron, Darlene and a couple other members of the committee hurried from the room as the rest of us lingered about and talked. Joseph walked over, closed the door and asked us to join him.
“Listen, guys,” he said. “This handing out a piece of shitty paper is worthless. I say we march. It’s the only way to draw attention to the problem.” Most of the members agreed with him. I looked worriedly over at Seth. “Cameron can do his thing, but I say we do ours. Who is with me?” Again, everyone but Seth and I agreed.
“If you’re with me,” he said, “then meet me tonight at six in the Student Union coffee shop. We’ll plan our own strategy.” After fisting a few members, he pulled his book bag over his shoulder and walked out. The others left trailing behind him. It appeared that they were eager to form a march.
“I’m worried,” I said as Seth and I left the room.
Seth looked over, shook his head and replied, “Me, too.”
Sydney and Jade were sitting on the steps of the Student Union when we left. Jade’s eyes widened when she saw me. “Oh, Jesus!” she said loudly. “Is that you, Dorian?” They ran up and embraced me.
“You look great!” Sydney exclaimed as she reached up and touched my hair.
Jade asked, “What made you do it.”
I laughed and said, “It was Darlene’s idea.” I touched my hair lightly and asked, “So you like it?” After watching my long, dark locks fall from my head as the stylist cut it, I was worried that I had made a big mistake. However, the approval of my friends assured me I hadn’t.
Jade and Sydney replied excitedly, “We love it!”
They spent several more minutes telling me how more ‘mature’ I looked. Jade thought it made me look like I was nineteen, rather than like a young teen. Sydney finally asked about the meeting. Seth filled her in on what Cameron had said. He also told her about the worries he and I had about Joseph’s insistence on having a march.
“I like the idea,” commented Jade. She grabbed my arm and asked, “You’re going to do it, aren’t you?”
“I doubt it,” I replied. Even though I wasn’t worried how it would affect my father’s campaign, I still didn’t want another visit from Leo.
Seth’s stomach growled, and he announced he was hungry. “Let’s go get something to eat.”
“I can’t,” I said. When he asked me why I couldn’t, I informed him, “I have something else to do.”
Jade grinned and said, “Would that something else be a certain someone in the hospital?” They laughed when my face reddened.
“Leave him alone, Jade,” admonished Seth. “He’s in love.” His eyes widened as soon as the words left his mouth. He knew he had made a mistake by violating a trust from our earlier conversation. He looked at me sympathetically and said, “I’m sorry, Dorian.”
Naturally, Jade immediately pounced on his comment. “Really?” she asked as she raised an eyebrow.
“I’m not in love,” I insisted. “We’re friends, that’s all.” I glanced disappointedly at Seth. He gave me an apologetic smile.
Jade grabbed me by my arm and started to lead my away. “Well, I’m going with you.”
I pushed her hand from my arm. “No,” I replied sternly. “I don’t want you to go.” At first, she appeared hurt; then I saw a twinkle in her eye.
“I see,” she grinned. “No problemo.” She then asked Seth and Sydney where they wanted to eat. After a brief argument, they settled on McDonalds, Seth’s favorite dining experience.
Jade kissed me on the cheek as they prepared to leave. “I’m happy for you, Dorian,” she whispered in my ear.
When I arrived at Wes’s room, he wasn’t there. Neither was his mother. Fearing the worst, I rushed out to the nurses’ station. “Can you tell me where Wes Hayes is?” I asked worriedly.
A young nurse standing nearby with a clipboard in her hand approached me. “Are you Dorian?”
“Yes,” I replied. I was holding my breath in case she told me something had happened to Wes.
She smiled and lightly touched my arm. “Don’t look so worried,” she said. “He was taken about thirty minutes ago upstairs for his physical therapy session.”
I let out a sigh, “So he’s okay?”
“Yes,” she replied warmly. “He told me to tell you to meet him there if he hadn’t come down when you arrived.”
“Where is he?”
She pointed down the hall. “Take the elevator to the fifth floor. Then follow the signs to the physical therapy room.” I thanked her and hurried down the hallway toward the elevator.
I had to follow signs down several long hallways to finally reach the room where Wes was. When I approached the receptionist’s desk, she asked me if I was there for an appointment. “No,” I replied. “I’m here to see Wes Hayes. His nurse told me I could find him here.” She asked me to have a seat while she picked up the phone and dialed a number.
Five minutes later, a man in his mid-thirties dressed in hospital scrubs walked out into the waiting area and called out my name. I got up and approached him.
He asked, “Are you Dorian?” I told him I was, and he asked me to follow him. We walked down another long hallway until we came to a large exercise room. I followed him over to a treadmill where Wes was slowly walking. He was dressed in a light blue athletic outfit. I was surprised he wasn’t wearing a thin hospital gown. He smiled broadly when he saw me.
“Hey,” he said cheerfully. “I was hoping you would come.” He looked at my hair and said, “I like it! It makes you look...um...”
“Older?” I asked.
He glanced at his therapist and said softly, “I was going to say cuter.” If the therapist heard, he didn’t react.
I watched as Wes continued to walk slowly on the treadmill. Finally, he looked over at his therapist and exclaimed angrily, “Maybe you can talk Jack into letting me off this damn thing.”
Jack folded his arms, laughed and said, “You’ve been lying in a hospital bed for five days. You have to build up the strength in your legs.”
Wes protested like a child. “I’ve been on this machine for twenty minutes. Can’t you cut me a break? I’m tired,” he whined.
Jack walked over and turned the treadmill off. “All right,” he said. “But I want you to walk back to your room.” He looked over at me. “Do you think you can help him?” He eyed me skeptically as if he didn’t think I was big enough to catch Wes in case he started to fall. However, I think he heard Wes say he thought I was cute, so he probably assumed I was his boyfriend.
I walked over and gripped Wes’s arm tightly. “I can handle it.”
“Fine,” replied Jack. “I’ll be right behind you if you need help.”
Wes wobbled slightly as we walked down the hall toward the elevator. I put my arm around his waist to steady him. Since he was much taller than me, I had to raise my arm to hold him.
“I like this,” he whispered as we walked with our bodies pressed tightly together.
I wrapped my arm tighter around him and giggled, “Me, too.”
As we stood before the elevator, he looked over deviously. “We need to get rid of Jack.”
“Let me take care of it,” I replied. Just as the door opened, I dropped my cell phone to the ground, making sure it fell several feet away.
Jack exclaimed, “I’ll get it.” When he bent down, I helped Wes inside the elevator, just as the door closed.
When the elevator started to descend, Wes said, “I hope you don’t intend to take advantage of me in my weakened state.”
I replied nervously, “Not unless you want me too.”
He stepped up to me, leaned over and said, “I want you to.” I closed my eyes when he kissed me. We continued to kiss until the elevator came to a stop on the second floor. I laughed when the door opened, and I noticed a very obvious bulge in the front of his pants.
He quickly rearranged his erection and defensively stated, “You go a week without jerking off, and you’ll get a hard on too.” I continued to laugh as I put my arm around his waist and held him tightly as we walked back to his room. Just before we got there, Jack came jogging down the hall.
“Here,” he said as he handed me my phone. “You should have held the elevator for me.”
“We tried,” Wes stated innocently, “but it closed before we had a chance to stop it.” Jack turned and jogged back down the hallway.
Mrs. Hayes was sitting in a chair when we entered the room. I started to lead Wes to his hospital bed, but he said he’d rather sit on a hard sofa that was located against a wall next to his bed. When we sat down, Wes scooted nearer to me.
His mother asked, “How was your therapy session?”
Wes reached down and rubbed his thigh. “Okay, I guess. Jack worked me too hard, though.” He looked at me and smiled, “He let Dorian help me back to the room.”
His mother smiled appreciatively and remarked, “I think Dorian is more therapy than anything that Jack can do for you.”
Wes reached over and squeezed my leg. “I agree,” he said with a smile.
We sat and talked about Wes returning to school soon. His doctor didn’t think that his injuries would interfere with him resuming classes. Mrs. Hayes also tried to get him to recall what had happened, but he said he couldn’t remember anything. He had been hit from behind, knocked to the ground and shielded his face from being kicked. As a result, he didn’t get a good look at his attackers. He told the police that there may have been three guys involved, but he wasn’t sure.
After about an hour, there was a knock on the door, and Jade peeked inside. “Can I come in?”
Mrs. Hayes rose and hugged her. “Of course, Dear,” she said. “You were here the other day, weren’t you?”
Jade looked over, and I frowned. I knew she came to see if she could play the role of matchmaker. Little did she know, I didn’t need her help. “Yes, Ma’am,” she replied politely. She looked at Wes and asked him how he was feeling.
“Fine,” he responded, “But I’m sorry, I don’t remember you.”
“You’re lucky,” I remarked snidely. Jade looked at me and smiled.
“Just for that,” she said as she showed me a folded newspaper, “I’m not going to show you this.”
“What?” I asked as I stood and approached her. I figured she had another article from the National Enquirer.
She hid the paper behind her back. “Say please,” she said playfully.
Wes laughed when I said, “I know what I want to say.” I held out my hand and she placed the paper into it.
“This is an advanced copy,” she said. “Darlene said the paper won’t be distributed to the students until Monday, so don’t show it to anyone.”
She handed a paper to Wes and his mother. Wes looked up and asked surprisingly, “This is you!” He glared at his mother and stated angrily, “Just when did you plan to tell me?” Jade glanced at me. I didn’t know why Wes was becoming angry after seeing the article. I knew we had never talked about my father; however, I was surprised by Wes’s irate reaction.
His mother walked over to him and gripped his arm. “Why are you so upset?”
Wes hollered, “Upset?” He looked angrily at me. “Why shouldn’t I be upset? You should have told me who you are.”
“It didn’t occur to us,” his mother said. Wes looked down at her hand on his arm, and then he quickly pulled away.
“I’m tired,” announced Wes. “I want to rest.” He glared at us and exclaimed angrily, “I just want everyone to leave.”
Jade took my arm and pulled me from the room. “Come on, Dorian.”
As we were leaving, I heard Wes yell, “You too, Mother!”
Jade and I waited down the hallway for Mrs. Hayes to come out of the room. When she did, she was crying. She approached me and said, “I’m so sorry, Dorian. I don’t know what came over him.”
Jade looked tearfully at me and apologized for bringing the article into the room. “I didn’t know you hadn’t told him who you were. I assumed he knew.”
His mother continued to cry. “It didn’t even occur to me. He was doing so well, and that is all I could think about.”
I was so confused, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Wes and I had been getting along so well. We were becoming closer with every visit. I couldn’t understand why he was so upset after reading the article in the school newspaper.
“I should have known,” muttered Mrs. Hayes as she wiped tears away from her eyes with a tissue. “He’s so insecure when it comes to boys.”
Jade gave her a puzzled look and asked, “What do you mean?” Mrs. Hayes explained how he would tell interested men that he had a boyfriend so he wouldn’t get hurt.
She looked at me and said, “He probably thinks he’s not good enough for someone like you.”
“That’s stupid,” I remarked. “I’m falling in love...um...I mean I really like Wes a lot.”
“I know you do, Dear,” replied Mrs. Hayes as she kissed me on my cheek. “Let me try and talk to him. Okay?” I nodded my head. Jade walked up, took me by my arm and led me away.
Jade listened to me talk about Wes all the way back to the dorm. I think even she was surprised that I had fallen so quickly for him. She encouraged me to keep my spirits up. If Wes cared for me as I did him, then it would only be a matter of time before he would realize it didn’t matter who I was.
“What if he doesn’t want to see me again?” I asked as tears filled my eyes.
Jade smiled sympathetically and wiped a tear from my face. “For some reason, I don’t think you’ll let that happen.” She held me when I burst into tears.
Since I had to work in a few hours, I went back to my room and slept the rest of the afternoon. I considered calling in sick, but I was afraid that since I had just started on the job, Jill might get upset and fire me. She had tolerated the media, but leaving her short of staff on a busy Saturday night would be pushing her patience.
At least working kept my mind off Wes. I still couldn’t understand why he reacted so angrily when he discovered who I was. Maybe he was insecure, but I thought that I had given him enough assurance that I really liked him. I hated to think that I would lose him before our relationship even began.
The restaurant became a zoo after midnight. Since it was a home football game against one of the biggest rivals, Jill told us to be prepared when the game ended. People stood in line outside the entrance waiting to order food. I heard someone say that all the restaurants were equally crowded. It was two-thirty before Jill finally locked the doors.
It was almost four before I made it back to my room. I didn’t even bother to undress. I had never felt so tired in my life. Around three, I began to question whether it was worth it to tear up my credit card and try to declare my independence. Attending school and trying to work was becoming more than I could handle. I was getting little sleep, and I stayed tired most of the day. Even though I was exhausted when I dropped onto the sofa, I didn’t get much sleep. I kept seeing the image of Wes’s angry face when he realized who I was. I think he thought I had deceived him, but I hadn’t. I just assumed it really didn’t matter who I was. At least, if he cared for me, it shouldn’t.
I got out of bed before seven and made of cup of instant coffee. I never drank coffee at home. The maid always had a glass of orange juice sitting at the kitchen table for me each morning. Now, however, I couldn’t start the day without a mug of hot coffee.
As I sipped my coffee, I decided to read the article Darlene had written about me. It was really quite good. As I read, it seemed like I was reading about someone else’s life, not mine. Surprisingly, she didn’t focus on my relationship with my father. In the third paragraph, she briefly mentioned that he was a vice presidential candidate. The article focused more on a young gay student’s struggle to find his way in life. She related the problems I had growing up, and how I was trying to break out of the shell I was in. She discussed my involvement in Campus Pride, which then led into the upcoming march. I was surprised she had mentioned the march, since as far as I knew, Dr. Avery had made it clear that we were only to pass out flyers in the Student Union on Tuesday night.
After reading the article, I determined that it contained nothing that Leo or my father would find objectionable. Leo had already stated that they weren’t going to hide my sexual orientation from the general public. In fact, he thought that me being gay could help my father’s campaign. I was still adamant, however, that I wouldn’t be used as a pawn to gain gay votes.
I was also waiting on an angry call from Leo. The reporter from Time had called me about the interview he set up. I was working when my phone rang, and I quickly told him I couldn’t do it. He insisted that Leo had told him I would, but I hung up on him. After reading Darlene’s article, I hoped that perhaps Leo could use it instead. It wouldn’t get the circulation a Time article would, but it was well written, and it gave a better portrayal of me than any professional reporter could do.
After finishing my coffee and eating a stale doughnut that Seth had left on the counter two days earlier, I grabbed my laptop and headed to the library. Since it was early on a Sunday, few students would be there. I could complete some homework assignments for the upcoming week.
I had been studying for about two hours in a remote area on the third floor when I noticed someone approaching. It was Joseph, the redheaded guy from Campus Pride. He sat down opposite me at the table.
“You’re a hard little fucker to track down,” he said with a smile. I became tense because Joseph’s appearance frightened me. His red hair was disheveled, and his sparse red beard was scraggly. The tattoo on his arm also worried me that he might become violent if he was challenged.
“I...I was studying,” I replied nervously.
“What?” He grabbed my English 101 book and looked at it. “I had this shit two years ago when I was a freshman. You don’t have old man Faulkner, do you?”
“No,” I stammered. He was staring intently into my face, which made me even more nervous. “I have Swanson.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Her,” I said.
He looked around the library to make sure no one was around before he leaned toward me. “Listen, Dorian,” he said softly. “I need your help?”
“Yeah.” He looked around the library again before continuing. “We’re going to march Tuesday night, and I’d like you to join us.”
“I thought Avery said we couldn’t.”
“Fuck Avery,” he spat. “There’s a lot of shit going on around the country. Look at all the kids who are committing suicide because they can’t deal with the shit homophobic fuckers are laying on them.” His face was stern, and it was obvious he felt very strongly about his views. Suddenly, tears welled up in his eyes. “Just last year, my best friend in high school put a fucking pistol to his head and shot his fucking brains out.” More tears began to appear. “Man, they fucking ragged on him all through school. I tried to talk to him, tell him it would get better, but he wouldn’t listen to me.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied as I wiped tears from my eyes. I was moved by his emotion.
He sat quietly for a minute while he regained his composure. “I gotta do this, Dorian. I gotta do it for Brad and everyone else who is suffering. I know a march ain’t much, but at least I feel like I’m doing something.” He sat back and stared pleadingly at me.
I finally asked, “Why me, though?”
He leaned forward and stared into my eyes. “Cause you got cred, Bro. You’re a somebody. If you join us, then maybe it can make a difference.” He sat back and laughed. “Hell, I saw you on the cover of the National Enquirer last week.” He laughed and asked, “What the fuck are you working at a place like Panera Bread? If my old man was your old man, I’d be eating steak and getting laid every night.”
“It’s not what I want,” I replied angrily.
“I know, Bro,” he said softly. “That’s why we need you. You’re not establishment.”
“I appreciate you asking, and all, but...”
He reached over and gripped my arm. “Kids are dying, Dorian. People are getting the shit beat out of them just because they are gay. How can you possibly say no? You can make a difference.”
For the first time in my life, I saw a purpose and a direction. I had never been one to take a stand. But as I sat across from the red head who possessed more passion in the past few minutes than I’d ever felt in my life, I thought of Wes lying in his hospital bed with his head wrapped in gauze from a senseless beating as he walked back to his dorm from the very place I was now seated.
A feeling of anger surged through me as I looked into the expectant eyes of Joseph as he awaited a reply.