“Are you sure you’re going to be okay, Dorian?” My mother hugged me for about the hundredth time. Only this time it was tighter than the others because we were standing outside the dorm as she and Dad were getting ready to leave.
“I’ll be all right,” I assured her as I turned and looked back at the towering structure behind me. I didn’t want to admit it, and I had been hiding it rather well, but I was actually scared. However, I would never let her or Dad know.
Suddenly, Dad spoke in his authoritative voice. “This is a new beginning.” He eyed me carefully as I began to shrink under his condescending glare. I had never lived up to his expectations, and I doubt if I would this time. “You only get one chance. Fail it, and you’ll be flipping hamburgers at McDonalds for the rest of your life.” Good Old Dad. The paragon of a supportive father.
“I won’t let you down, Father,” I replied nervously as he gave me a final scrutinizing glance. He made a guttural sound before getting into the driver’s seat of his black Lexus. When my mother reached out to hug me, he hollered out, “Get in the car, Sarah!” She quickly kissed me on my cheek before turning to get in. I stood and watched them drive slowly away. I laughed when a blue SUV started to back out of a parking space and brake only inches from my father’s car. I couldn’t quite make out what he was saying, but he was yelling some kind of profanity at the driver. Yeah, my Dad. A paragon all right.
I looked around at the cars, vans and trucks. The street signs clearly said ‘no parking,’ but it was move-in day. Parking signs went ignored when it came to finding a closer place to park so you didn’t have to haul boxes several blocks. My parents had made sure we arrived early enough to avoid the congestion. At least that’s what Dad said. I think he just wanted to get rid of me sooner. Mom and I did most of the carrying and lifting while he sat in his car and talked on the telephone.
I looked up at the building before me. Home, at least for a year. Freshmen were required to live in a dorm their first year. If I did well and could find a job, then I planned to move into an apartment my sophomore year. I had already looked into suitable housing. But for now, I had to make the best of dorm life. A life I wasn’t looking forward to experiencing.
Just as I headed up the sidewalk to the main entrance, a young man ran into me from behind. “Watch out, Asshole!” he shouted. He was taller and much larger than I was, or I might have said something to him. Instead, I muttered, “Fuck you,” and made my way into the building and to the elevator.
The dorm contained six floors, and I was on the fourth. Luckily, my room was on the end, so I had two windows. Unfortunately, Dad had me reserve a double room rather than a single, which I preferred. It wasn’t a matter of money. I think he just wanted my first year to be as uncomfortable as possible for me. He knew I was a loner, and I didn’t like to socialize with others. I think he delighted in knowing I would have to share my life with a total stranger for a year. I guess, however, it would be better than sharing my life with him.
My father and I never got along. I guess we may have when I was young, but as I grew older, he had a disdain for me that I could never figure out. Well, okay. I guess I am lying to myself. I guess I figured out he actually hated my existence when I was about twelve. It was about that time that he knew I would never be the man he expected me to be. Of course, finding me naked in bed with another boy didn’t help that image at all.
So at twelve, I was more or less excommunicated from his life. No amount of “I’m sorry,” or living my life as a celibate monk could alter his feelings for me. He never mistreated me or abused me. He mentally tortured me by not recognizing my being for the past seven years. We avoided each other, and our lives rarely crossed. He may have seen my starting afresh here as a new beginning. To me, it was the end of living in hell.
I stopped suddenly as I made my way down the narrow hall to my room. My door was opened, and I remembered Mom asking me before we left if I had locked it. As I cautiously approached, I could hear people talking. One was a woman, so I assumed that my roommate had finally arrived. I stood at the doorway as four strangers turned and stared at me. One looked to be about my age. He was trying to shove a large duffle bag into a small closet. He turned to see me. His smile quickly turned to a scowl.
“You must be Dorian?” asked his mother as she approached me and shook my hand. His father tentatively offered me his hand. “I’m Roger Slade,” he announced. “Travis’s father.” I turned to look at the boy standing to my right.
I guess boy isn’t the right word. Unlike me, he had all the appearances of a man. He was about 6’2” and of average build. His hair was short and he had a scruffy beard. He looked like one of a million young men who grow up in a rural area. My guess was he probably played football in high school and dated a cheerleader. Not the head cheerleader, because he didn’t look handsome enough to hold that distinction.
“Travis Slade,” he said abruptly as he quickly shook my hand before picking up another box and placing it in the already cluttered closet. And I was right- a football was laying atop the upper shelf.
“Fuck!” he spat out when he couldn’t jam the box into the narrow space. His little sister started to giggle. He turned and stood towering over me. “You got any room in your closet?” Without waiting for permission, he walked over and opened my closet door. Unlike him, I had packed very little. Living alone in my bedroom for seven years, I had very few possessions. The laptop computer on my desk was my lifeline to the world.
“I’m going to use your top shelf,” he remarked as he placed the box on it. He then turned and asked, “Okay?” There was little I could say as his mother, father and sister looked on. His sister kept looking at me and giggling as his mother attempted to quiet her. Mr. Slade kept staring at me with the scrutinizing glance similar to my father’s. He knew, I could tell it. And like Travis, he was probably wondering if they should visit the admissions office and ask for a room transfer.
I knew it would be a problem when I enrolled and I was assigned a double room. No boy would want to share a room with me. I am gay, and I guess I look gay. At least I have been told that for about the past five years. Most of the remarks have been from my father. I don’t dress like a girl, and I don’t feel like a girl, but I am rather effeminate looking. Not the limp wrist, screaming I am gay type of effeminate. However, I am pretty for a boy. My mother says I was a pretty baby, and as I grew older, I still look pretty. Not handsome- pretty. I have tried everything I can to be less effeminate, but nothing can change the way I look.
I have a small, petite body with long black hair and brown eyes. At nineteen, I still look like a boy entering puberty. I am only 5’6” and weigh 115 pounds. Add to that a flawless complexion and long eyelashes and you have Dorian Gale. Even my name sounds effeminate.
My father has always hated the way I look. He wanted a boy like Travis- tall, strong and rugged looking. If he were here right now, I am sure he would be comparing the two of us, just like Travis’s father is doing. His mother just smiles, probably thinking that I look like her young daughter. I would if my hair was blonde instead of black.
Mr. Slade looked at his watched and announced, “It’s getting late. We’d better head for home.” He patted Travis on his back, “You sure you’ve got everything out of the car?”
“Yep, Pops,” replied Travis as he followed his father from the room.
Mrs. Slade extended her hand again to me. “It was nice meeting you, Dorian.” She left as her daughter looked at me one last time and giggled. I walked over to the window and looked down as they stood by their car talking. Occasionally, Travis would look toward the building, but I didn’t think he could see me. I was certain they were talking about me.
I went to my closet and removed clean bedding from a box. I had planned to take the bed furthest from the door. I had even placed some clothes on it to claim squatter’s rights, but Travis had removed them and placed them on the other bed. His bed was already made, probably by his mother. I thought of removing the cover and sheets, but decided it wasn’t worth it. Travis already didn’t like me. No need to make him even more upset.
It was going to be a long year.
I had hoped that my freshman year would be different from my former life at home. However, such thoughts were mere fancy. Who was I trying to kid? High school had been hell. Most students considered me a freak. Boys avoided me because they thought that by simply talking to me would cast a suspicion of guilt by association. What was even more bizarre was that not once in four years did I even remotely show an interest in any boy. I carefully guarded my sexuality. And I think because of that, they thought that not only was I gay, but it became rumored my junior year that I was androgynous.
The first time I heard the word, I had to look it up in the dictionary. I think it was then that I truly accepted that I was gay. Even though I had been called pretty my whole life, not once did I question the fact that I was male. My characteristics were effeminate, but I didn’t feel like a girl. In fact, nothing about the way I perceived myself was ever considered feminine. I did, however, know that I was attracted to boys. Although other than a brief experimentation with Kal, the boy my father found me naked in bed with, I had never acted again upon my sexual feelings. However, that never stopped the rumors and sexual innuendos that were tossed around with frequency my four years of high school.
Now it appeared that my new start was being jeopardized as well. My first encounter at the university was met with the same prejudgments. My hopes for finding a roommate who might understand me were just pipe dreams leading now to disappointment.
I quickly made my bed and then sat down at one of the two desks in the room. Since Travis had claimed the bed he wanted, then I felt it was only right that I should select the desk I wanted. I took the one nearest the window. At least I could look out onto the campus grounds instead of staring at a stark, white wall. I took out the box containing my laptop and other school items. I placed them on top so Travis couldn’t come in and claim his right to the best desk. When I finished, I walked over and sat in the hard plastic chair in the corner of the room. I took out my manual for freshmen and began reading the schedule for the next few days. It was now Saturday afternoon. There was to be a mandatory freshman orientation on Monday. Then we registered for classes on Tuesday morning. We were assigned times according to our surnames, so I was to register at 9:30 in the morning. The rest of the day would be spent purchasing books and supplies for my selected classes.
I had not yet declared a major, although I was considering sociology. I thought I might be interested in pursuing a career as a guidance counselor in a school. Since I had received absolutely no support in high school, I wanted to help other students like me who might need someone to talk to other than class schedules or graduation requirements. However, I wasn’t sure that a school would ever hire someone like me. For that reason, I was leaving my options opened.
I must have fallen asleep because I jumped when the door suddenly opened and Travis came running in. He didn’t even speak as he opened his closet door and grabbed his football. He slightly nodded as he slammed the door behind him. I walked over and looked out the window. A few minutes later, he emerged from the building with five other guys. They tossed the ball to each other as they ran down the sidewalk.
I looked at the alarm clock on my desk. It was a little after four. I had only been in school for about five hours and I was already bored. Nothing had changed. However, I was used to sitting in my room for hours watching television or surfing around on the internet. Loneliness is a bitch.
I stood and started to undress. One of the things I’d worried about was sharing the communal restrooms on the floor. I had checked it out as soon as I got here. There was one located on the corner of each floor. We would be sharing it with three other rooms. It would be eight guys, unless some of the other rooms were singles. Since I hadn’t seen anyone else arrive, I wasn’t sure how many there would be. Nevertheless, I needed to come up with a schedule because I didn’t want to shower with the other guys. Most people like to shower either in the morning when they get out of bed or later at night. Therefore, if I showered in the afternoon, I should be able to avoid the others.
When I was naked, I looked at my lithe body in the mirror. I could never understand why I had never developed. Dad had a tall, towering figure. Mom was about my height, but she was rather stocky. I had seen pictures of her when she was a little, and she always appeared bigger than most girls. Mom told me I had been born two months premature so that may have been the reason. She said she almost died when I was born. I guess I had somehow been twisted up inside her and my umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck. They had to take me out quickly or I might have died. She was afraid to have any more children because of what happened, so that is why I am an only child. I have always wondered if she regretted having me after what she went through.
With a towel wrapped around me, I crept slowly toward the bathroom. I listened to make sure no one else was in the shower before I entered. There is no privacy in the shower area. It is one large open room with four showerheads. I guess they figured that guys living in a dorm wouldn’t be modest. Thankfully, the toilets did have doors, so at least I could take a shit without someone being able to see me.
I showered quickly before anyone entered. Just as I was leaving, another boy came in and walked over to the urinal. He looked a lot like Travis- tall, sturdily built with short light brown hair. Our dorm is coed, so he stopped suddenly because I think he thought he had entered the women’s bathroom by mistake. I guess when he noticed my flat chest, he realized I was a boy. He didn’t speak, but he kept turning to look at me. I hurried from the room before he said anything to me.
After dressing, I looked through the material to see where I might be able to find something to eat. I was hungry because I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. According to the information, there was a small dining hall on the first floor of most dorms. There were also other dining areas scattered around campus. Most were cafes and fast food shops since most students probably ate and ran. Dad had purchased me a dining card, so I didn’t have to worry about paying for my meals. Since I didn’t eat much, he didn’t have to worry about me overcharging.
After examining my choices, I decided to go to a café that served Asian food. I grabbed my laptop since it said there was WiFi service available. I wanted to do some more research on class registration for Monday morning. I walked to the elevator, and I had to wait about ten minutes before one of the three finally appeared. Since students were moving in, most of the elevators were put on hold somewhere. I looked around for the nearest stairway in case I would need to use it in the future.
When the door opened, a boy was holding his mother and crying. It was a funny sight. She was shorter than me, and he must have been over six feet tall. She kept trying to assure him that he would be okay at school and he would soon make new friends. He kept muttering that he was scared. The elevator stopped on the third floor and a girl got on. She gave me a puzzled look as she pressed up against me. When he started sobbing loudly, I looked at her and rolled my eyes. She had to turn her back away from them so they couldn’t see her giggle.
“That was weird,” she commented as we started walking away from the elevator.
“Yeah,” I replied as I turned to watch him desperately holding his parents. “I hope he’ll be all right.”
“Momma’s boy,” she said as she started to laugh. “A week here and he’ll forget who his parents are anymore.” She turned to me and smiled. “I’m Sydney Newcombe.” She extended her hand for me to shake. “You a freshie, too?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Just got here this morning.” I returned her smile. She seemed extremely friendly. There was nothing particularly striking about her. She was just rather plain like most of the people I had encountered. She was taller than me by about two inches, and she must have outweighed me by 30 pounds. Her hair was a mousy brown, and her eyes were blue. She appeared to me like someone’s older sister.
“I was going to go get something to eat,” she commented with a smile. “Want to join me?”
“Sure,” I replied. “I was on my way to the Golden Chopsticks.”
“Oh,” she cooed. “I love Asian food.” She grabbed my arm and we began walking down the sidewalk. I wasn’t sure yet how college operates. I’d read stories on the internet about wild parties and casual sex among students. I was beginning to worry that Sydney might be considering me as her first sexual experience on campus.
When we got to the restaurant, it seemed to be a popular dining place because it was already crowded with students and parents. We were told we would have at least a 20-minute wait before we could be seated. Sydney asked me if I would rather go somewhere else, but I told her it would probably take us twenty minutes to walk somewhere else, so we might as well wait.
We didn’t say much as we stood in the crowded foyer of the restaurant. Occasionally, I would catch someone staring at me. Boys would look, but then turn their head quickly when I noticed them. Girls would stare, smile slightly and glance at Sydney. They were probably wondering why I was with her.
It was over thirty minutes before we were escorted to a booth. I guess it was worth the wait because many people were being seated in the middle of the dining area at a long row of tables. It didn’t provide much privacy, and Sydney and I couldn’t have engaged in a conversation. After being seated for five minutes, though, I think I would have much preferred sitting there. As soon as we ordered, Sydney began an awkward ‘getting to know you’ conversation.
Like me, she was nineteen and had just graduated in May from a school eighty miles away. Her parents wanted her to attend a community college, but she wanted to get a degree in nursing. She came from what seemed a typical family. Besides her father and mother, she was the older sister to three brothers and a sister. At least I guessed that one right. She laughed and said that attending college would be like a vacation since she would no longer have to look after her younger siblings.
“I love them and all,” she laughed, “but two of my brothers are twins, Donnie and Lonnie. They’re five. If I hadn’t come here, they might never have reached six.” Just then, the waitress brought our meal to the table. I had ordered chicken fried rice and a spring roll. Sydney had ordered moo goo gai pan. It tasted as good as it looked.
Sydney looked across the table at me and said, “Now you.”
“Now me, what?”
“I told you all about me,” she smiled. “Now you. I don’t even know your name.”
“I’m Dorian Gale,” I replied. “Not much else to tell you.”
“Dorian Gale,” she repeated. “What a pretty name. It sounds almost poetic.” She laughed when I rolled my eyes. She took a bite of her meal and then said, “Go on. Tell me more about Dorian Gale.”
When I told her where I was from and the high school I attended, her eyes lit up. “Isn’t that kind of like an exclusive school? I heard there are strict requirements for getting in.”
My face began to flush. The school had a reputation for being a snobbish school. Only the children of extremely wealthy parents usually were admitted. I took a bite of my spring roll and hoped that she would forget what I had said. But she didn’t.
“Wait a minute,” she said excitedly. “Gale? As in Senator Jonathan Gale?” She sat back and stared at me.
That is the reason my father views me with so much contempt. I was not a trophy son he could drag out every six years on the campaign trail. In fact, on his website, I am not even mentioned. There is a picture of him and Mom, but I am not included. One of Dad’s big campaign issues is protecting the sanctity of marriage. Marriage to him is between a man and a woman. Even though he never commented on it, many of his constituents also considered him anti-gay rights. So how could he explain having a gay son, especially a gay son who looked effeminate? So he hid me away from public view. He enrolled me in a private school so the media wouldn’t have access to me. I guess now that I was nineteen, he could dismiss me as the prodigal son who left home to never return. It would be perfect for his image.
“So?” I looked over at Sydney who was waiting anxiously for me to answer. “Are you Senator Gale’s son? I didn’t think he had any children.”
“He doesn’t,” I snapped back angrily. We ate in silence the rest of the meal. I could tell that Sydney felt uncomfortable because she’d upset me. By the time we finished eating, I was beginning to regret treating a new friend harshly. Sydney could become a good friend if I would only let her into my life. However, that was something I had rarely done before.
Over Sydney’s objections, I paid for the meal. She insisted that we pay separately, but I wanted to make up to her for my rude behavior. As we left the restaurant and headed back to the dorm, she reached down and held my hand. Instinctively, I pulled it away. Again, I felt she might be considering me as boyfriend material.
She started giggling and grabbed my hand again, only this time grasping it tighter. “Don’t worry, Dorian. I’m not trying to hit on you. I know you’re gay.”
I quickly released her hand and stepped back. “What?”
“I know you’re gay.” She reached out and took my hand as we walked away. “You checked out every guy in the restaurant as we ate. Not once did you look at a girl.” I looked at her and started to say something, but she just laughed harder.
“And besides,” she remarked laughingly. “My little brother, Andrew, is gay.”
“Your brother’s gay?” I asked surprisingly. “How old is he?”
Sydney replied, “Thirteen.”
“Thirteen!” I said excitedly. “He’s thirteen and already out?”
“Not really out yet,” she informed me. “He’s only told me and a couple of other people.”
“Your parents don’t know?”
“I don’t think so,” she responded. “They may suspect, I’m not sure.”
“So it doesn’t bother you he’s gay?”
She looked at me and smiled, “Why should it? He’s my little brother and I love him.”
I didn’t reply to what she had said. I just walked comfortably beside her as we held hands all the way back to the dorm. I escorted her to her room on the third floor. She said boys were allowed in the lounge area, but they could not go back into the girl’s living quarters. We made plans to meet at 8:30 in the morning to go to breakfast. After a quick kiss on the cheek, I headed upstairs to my room.
When I arrived, I was surprised to see a pair of underwear hanging from the door handle. I had no idea who had hung them there. I took them off and tossed them in a trash container a few feet away. I then got out my key and opened the door.
I stopped suddenly when I saw Travis having sex with a girl in his bed. He looked over at me and shouted, “Get the fuck out!”
I hurried from the room. I knew what the underwear on the door meant. I guess it was Travis’s code for me not to enter. When I stepped outside, the wind was beginning to whirl about. Leaves were flying from the trees, and a light drizzle was falling on my face.
As I wandered down the quiet sidewalk, it suddenly began to rain. I found refuge under a tall maple tree. Tears started to mingle with the raindrops on my face.