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This story kind of took me by surprise. It has a life of its own. It's completely different from anything I've written before. It is romance-based and also a college story of first love. It is absolutely separate from anything else I've written here so if you like my previous stories thematically, just know this story has nothing in common with the rest of my work. I have almost the entire thing already written. I'm just editing now. I'm working on the last two chapters. Part 1 Northern California Not San Francisco, winter 1998 My name is Pete and this is my story about how I started to live a new life because my old one was really painful, and sometimes you have so much pain in your life, you need to walk away from it and just forget all of it ever existed. I was a freshman in college and walking through the chill night air, my breath turning to fog, when I heard Dane sobbing. He sat there in a T-shirt, on a damn cold night, sobbing and shivering. It was the strangest sight. Here was a behemoth of a man, a muscular giant of a man, the man I idolized, and he was unable to stop crying. I wanted to immediately walk over and give him my jacket, but I knew that was stupid because my jacket would never fit him. I didn’t know what to do at first. I wanted to go over and hold him, but I’m unable to do that with people. Especially big people. Big guy people that look like Dane, with their enormous melon-arms and ash blond crew cuts. His rugged, masculine, awe-inspiring face that could be in a commercial, a perfect face that I could see in a suit behind a Senator’s desk someday, or a sales company executive position, or the football uniform that he wore on the field. And he was alone. And he shouldn’t be alone. I stood there, between two dorm buildings. He was sitting on the steps to his dorm. I walked over to him, and I didn’t really plan on it. What I wanted to do was keep walking because I tend to hide from people. I run away from them. I’ve done it all my life out of necessity in order to stay alive. But I was sick of the old me. I was sick of feeling like the old me. “Dane?” He looked up at me. He wasn’t startled. He had noticed me walking across the dew-covered green. The fog was so thick you could see it obscuring the dorms at the far ends of the long rectangular quad. “Hey.” I kept my voice low. “You shouldn’t be out here with a T-shirt on. You wanna go inside? Or, if not, I can go run and get you a blanket because dude, you are gonna freeze to death.” “It’s okay.” He sniffed. “Leave me alone.” I hesitated. “I’m not supposed to do that.” That just came to me. Things happen like that with me. “Huh?” “Remember all that stuff I told you?” “Oh,” he said emptily. Something was very wrong here. “They’re telling me to bring you inside. So. Yeah.” I felt awkward but I knew he was going to get sick if he stayed outside too much longer. “I don’t want you to get sick. And you will.” “Okay.” He said quietly. He got up, as if he was unsure where he was and walked into his dorm room and I was right behind him, for some reason. I immediately asked him if he had any tea. He didn’t answer me so I opened a few cupboards and found some and got a pot of water boiling. Dane was sitting on the couch, his hands clasped, tears silently falling down his face, drying as he stared at nothing. His roommate Pat was there. Pat was a short Jewish guy, with a curly black mat of hair. Thin as a reed. Confident, though. Really confident. And mature. He was a good guy. Pat walked out cautiously from his room to check out what was happening. It was late, so he whispered even though there was no one else in their apartment because the walls between your dorm room and the next were always going to be thin. “Hey.” Pat crossed his arms and leaned against the wall, staring at me. “Was he outside like this?” “Yeah,” I whispered back. I walked past him to gently open Dane’s door. I turned on the light and found a big warm brown jacket with fleece lining, something that dwarfed me, and brought it out. He opened his arms mechanically and shrugged it on and then he leaned over sideways and said, after a while, “My father died.” And then I didn’t know what to say. Dane was the biggest, strongest man I’d ever met. He was on the football team. He was everything I wasn’t: big, strong, powerful, brave, sexy, self-assured, calm. I was shy, lonely, self-isolating, sheltered, an emotional trainwreck, only recently out, and I was more attracted to him than anyone I’d ever known. It should have been me crying in the middle of the night freezing my ass off. It threw me. This couldn’t be happening. But it was, and it was happening to this man who I avoided rather than lust after him, because I was gay but incredibly realistic about my prospects with him. And I didn’t want to do that to myself, lust after someone I couldn’t have. It hurt too much to love, to love too much, to love someone who didn’t think about you that way. But I should back up at this point, because it’s kind of important to tell you about how we met. Part 2 Beginning of fall semester, 1998 I met a lot of people when I got to uni. I wasn’t used to people. I was the only one who had brought literally everything I owned, because before that I was in foster care. What I owned filled one suitcase. I had been with a couple who were tolerant at first until they began to suspect I might be gay. The high voice, the lack of coordination and ability to play sports, the enthusiasm I showed over bodybuilding magazines that I hid under my mattress that the wife found. I tried to tell them I just was really excited about the idea of getting bigger in a gym. That didn’t work because they confronted me. They wouldn't let me leave unless I told them the truth. I hate it when people do that. Ask me to tell the truth. It’s so wrong. Then they sent me back. So that was that. I had tried to train myself not to feel anything. The thing that sucked was I liked them. I was afraid they wouldn’t like me and my worst fear had come true. That happened to me a lot. All my worst fears had already come true. But here’s the thing. When all your worst fears come true, there’s nothing left to be afraid of. Not even death. I never felt sorry for myself over any of it. And I’d been through such hell. But for whatever reason, I was alive, and I couldn’t mess up a single class or I wouldn’t graduate from college. So that occupied like 90% of my thoughts most of the time because I ran off of stress. It kept me alive. And that was the thing I was hoping would normalize me somehow, going to college. I remember thinking how I wanted to be a normal person. “So, Pete, tell me about yourself.” This was the thing my Residential Advisor Michael had said to me as he wanted to interview me for a newsletter that he was putting together. He was also new to the school and he had asked me to help him out. He was putting together a newsletter for the dorms. He was friendly and intelligent and for whatever reason he was interested in me. I had no idea why. He had come over to my shared dorm on a Friday night but there was no room in my bedroom because it was very cramped and two of my roommates were having fun in the living room talking loudly. He asked my third roommate Jay if we could use his room for the interview. Each bedroom was made for two people but his was much bigger than the one for me and Jeff. This is important because Jay was just ignoring us and working on something or other on his computer. Or looking at porn, maybe. I didn’t know but he was nice to me, so I supported him in his efforts to look at boobs and tried to join in and act like him and all my other roommates when they checked out hot women on TV. But I was flummoxed. What could I say about myself? “I don’t know what to say. Um. Hmm. I like to read a lot. I like to read science fiction and fantasy. A lot. Big epics. I’m reading Dan Simmons books right now. He’s really good.” “Why don’t you tell me about your family? Who’s in your family?” “I don’t have any family. They’re all dead.” Boy, can I kill the vibe. It never failed. My reality was a downer. I didn’t always realize that, though. I said it in a chipper way, like I was in a job interview and just trying to pretend I was really happy to be there. I had retrained my brain, you see. Act like them. Act like them and they will think you’re one of them. His face had changed so quickly. He looked at me, this handsome, middle-aged religion major with glasses and a squarish chin. Thinning, prematurely gray blond hair cut neat and short. Not like my mess of a bird’s nest of brown hair that just went in all directions. I had a tendency back then to compare myself to everyone unfavorably, in case you hadn’t guessed. “When did they die?” Cue look of concern. No need for concern. I’m fine. “Well, my father committed suicide because he was a war veteran when I was a baby and my mother died of cancer when I was 13. My grandmother, I lived with her for a while until she got dementia. She just died but I hadn’t seen her in years. She didn’t know who I was anymore. So it’s okay. So I went to live in foster care but they kick you out when you’re 18. So I emancipated myself. I’m actually 17 but I graduated high school at 16 so I could come here. So, I’m on my own!” I finished with a shrug and a smile. He adjusted his glasses and seemed lost in thought for a brief second before coming back to me. “Pete. Um. Wow. That’s really powerful.” At this point, Jay left the room silently and closed the door behind him. “Huh?” “I think, maybe, it’s a bad idea to do an article about you. I think…what I’d like to do instead is just talk to you. I think you need it.” “Oh. Sorry.” “No! Don’t be sorry. Look, you’re…incredible.” “No one thinks that. No one ever thinks that.” “Well, I think that, and I’m someone. And, I’d really appreciate it if you could tell me more.” No one had ever really been interested in me before. It was a new feeling. “I don’t know what to say. I just want to be normal. And uh. I’m the only one here who doesn’t have parents. So that’s not normal. Everyone else does have them. They all have families. It’s weird. It makes me feel…like I’m not one of them. Like they can’t relate to me and I can’t relate to them. So I just...” “Have you thought about getting counseling?” “You mean like, how to get a job?” “Nnnnno. I mean, as in psychological.” Oh God. He thinks there’s something wrong with me, I thought. I immediately felt his shock resonating through me. I felt disgust for myself. I felt his pity for me and I hated it. “Oh. I didn’t know I needed that. I just thought that if I came here I could be like everyone else.” Easy peasy. Problem solved. No trauma here, folks. I’m just fine and dandy. One day, I would be one of those happy people bouncing up and down on the beach on MTV’s Spring Break. I would meet Carson Daly and tell him I thought he was really hot. I would watch hot college guys throw water balloons at each other on stage. I would live the dream. “I think it takes a really special person to admit those things and to have survived through those things.” I was trying to look away from Michael so I couldn’t see his face. I avoided eye contact kind of a lot back then. “I’m not special. I don’t think that’s true.” Maybe in an X-Files sense. I was special but not in ways I could tell anyone about, ever. “Maybe you’re more special than you think.” You have no idea. That’s why I don’t want to be special. I don’t want to be different. You have to understand, this was 1998. Intersectional wasn’t a thing I’d ever heard of and all I wanted was to be a straight white male instead of a gay white male because it was the best possible thing I could be. So I was pretending to be one and it was going swimmingly so far. I didn’t have any problems so long as I kept my mouth shut and made everyone believe me. I was going to be normal. “I don’t know,” I said. “So, do you mind if I ask you, what was your childhood like?” Michael asked me. My mind reeled. I said the first thing that came to my mind. “It was pretty bad. I grew up homeless. I just wanted to die a lot. I was hungry a lot. I was hungry living with my stepfather, too.” Why was I telling him all this?? “You had a stepfather.” Oh goddamnit. “Yeah. But, I didn’t live with him for too much longer after my mother died. He liked to push me into things. Walls. The floor. His fist. He liked to break things. Break me. He uh. I didn’t like living with him. So I told someone. Then I went to live with my grandmother. But…she didn’t understand how old I was. And she kept thinking I was five or she would confuse me with my mother and she would just start screaming at me to give her the drugs and I would just cry and tell her I didn’t do drugs. And then she stopped eating. She told me she was going to starve herself to death so I called the cops and they came and took her away and she was just, screaming. I visited her in the home one time. She started screaming at me that I was a…she used bad words. It was bad. She kept getting me confused with other people. She didn’t like me anymore. So, I couldn’t go back. I lived with this nice couple for a while and I really wanted them to like me but in the back of my mind I knew it probably wouldn’t last. So it hurt less, I think, when they said I wasn’t good enough to live there. I mean, they didn’t say that. They said, “we think you’ll be a lot happier living somewhere else.”” “Why did they say that?” He was genuinely horrified now. I hadn’t even told him the really bad stuff. “They found some magazines. I bought.” “Porn?” “No! I would never! They had clothes on. But, they just didn’t like them. I wasn’t good enough. For them. But it’s fine.” “Pete, are you gay?” He whispered. Oh God. I started crying at that point. I felt so stupid. I put my hands over my head. Stupid, stupid, stupid! “You can’t say anything! I finally tricked everyone this time! I can be normal!” We stood up at the same time. He came over to me slowly, and hugged me, carefully. “You are. You are normal.” “I just want to be what everyone wants me to be,” I mumbled. “I’ve been so careful. And then you saw it. I should have lied. I shouldn’t have told you that. I fucked up. Fuck.” He sighed. “Okay. Would you like to take a walk? Get some coffee?” I nodded. “I think that would be a good idea." I nodded again. "Go to the bathroom and wash up. I’ll wait for you outside in the hallway.” So I did and we went over to a local café. We sat there in the student lounge café. It was pleasant. We talked a little bit. Our talk had a bit more levity to it. I’m clever when I want to be. He told me so. He wasn’t coming onto me or anything. I wondered if he was gay. He seemed like he might be but I’d never made a gay friend before. But I liked him. I liked Michael. He was nice to me. And we talked. And that’s when I saw Dane. Dane would change my life forever, by the way. Dane was huge. Bigger than life. His muscles were so big I thought I would have a heart attack. I was already so stupidly emotional that night and now here I was, lusting and drooling automatically after an enormous jock that dwarfed me and my pathetic 5’8” 145 frame. I remember Michael introduced us. I remember going into this autopilot mode. I looked up at him and he said something in his deep voice and I just wanted him to hold me but that would have been entirely inappropriate and I would have been a terrible person if I’d just reached out and grabbed those big…huge…unbelievable muscles of his. I only came up to his chest. There was just so much more of him. He had to be one of the tallest guys on campus easily. I thought he was 6'4". It would turn out he was actually 6’6” and still growing. “Hi!” I kept saying over and over again. My mind broke and I couldn’t think straight. I think I said hi like four times before Michael realized I was short circuiting and Dane was looking at me weird so Michael excused us because we were having a chat. That was my first time meeting Dane. It was the night I finally told someone I was gay. Michael was nice to me and told me where I could go to get counseling. And I did so the following Monday. I signed up dutifully. Because if I wasn’t normal I was going to get someone to make me normal. To coax me into normality. Or maybe I could just teach myself to be normal through some kind of self help book. “Your Guide to Being Normal and Not a Muscle Fetishist Lusting After Giant Jocks” On second thought, fuck that book that I just made up in my head. Part 3 I stood in front of my roommates: Jeff, Jay, and Mike S. Jeff was usually not there because he was usually off having sex with someone. Jodi and Ames where also there. Jodi was who Jeff was usually fucking and Ames lived down the hall. It was short for Amy but everyone just called her Ames. Amy kind of looked like Renee Zellwegger before she got plastic surgery, only she had this larger than life voice and laugh, like a stand up comedian. Jodi looked sort of like Monica from Friends only her black hair was shorter than Courtney Cox’s. But both of them were pretty. Jeff had long hair back then. Like, really long, running halfway down his back, and he wore a short beard. Jeff was a big hippy for the most part. Very easy going. Mike S. had big buck teeth and unkept hair. He couldn't dress for shit and was actually trying to be a stand-up comedian. Jay was the silent type. The cool, compact, guitar-playing lothario of the group. He was the best looking out of the three of them. Mike S. was not really attractive to me. He didn’t take very good care of himself and was already getting fat. But Jay had this classic look to him. Very neatly groomed, hair clipped nice and short, a smooth rich voice. On the small side, though. He was 5’7” and on the thin side but he was deeply in love with a girl that he wrong songs for, and then he would write songs when she dumped him, and then he would find a new girl to write songs for, and then he would write songs when she dumped him. It kind of went on like that all year. These were the only people in my life. I didn’t have anyone else to come out to. They were watching TV and for some reason I’d gotten up. I’d been going to counseling for a few weeks and learned that the goal wasn’t for my counselor to “fix” me like I was an old pipe. I thought it would be easy, but it turns out I actually had to do all of the work and dig deep and not pretend I was someone else because apparently that would not make me happy. “I um. I have…I have something to tell you guys. And um. Um. It’s kind of important.” Jodi grabbed the remote and muted the TV. I think she knew as soon as I was there what I was going to say. “I’m…kind of…not straight.” I’ve just been pretending to be. Sorry about that! “So, you’re gay?” “Well that is the option that’s left, so yes. Is that…um…is that…okay…with you?” “Pete, I’m bisexual,” Amy told me, matter-of-factly. “Oh,” I said, rather in shock. “I did not know that.” “Wait, WHAT?” Mike S. said. “Are you sure?” “Yeah. I’m gay. It um. It just sort of happened. You know.” “Pete,” said Jeff the hippy. “We love you. You know that, right?” “You guys owe me ten bucks each.” Jay said, coolly. “Jay! Shut UP.” Jodi told him. “I’m just kidding. I didn’t know. But we thought you might be.” “Really?” “But you know, fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. You know what I’m sayin’?” “I think so,” I said. I kept picturing gay birds and fish fucking each other or trying to. Fish don’t really fuck. I pictured gay fish throwing their sperm at each other during mating season, swimming between the sea-grass. I pictured Don Knotts exclaiming “I don’t want to have sex with a Ladyfish!” in his obnoxious fish voice from The Incredible Mr. Limpet. I’m just letting you know, dear reader, I used to watch a lot of old movies and I didn’t have any humans to raise me so TV had to take over for that. “Do you think that birds can be gay or..” “Probably,” Jay said. “Anyway, it’s cool.” Amy got up and hugged me. I’d never really hung out with her much but she was really very sweet. “It’s fine. We love you.” “I didn’t know that. I thought…” “Does your family know?” Jodi asked. “I don’t really have a family. I was in foster care. The couple I was with sent me back, though. They didn’t order a gay and I think they got Asian takeout after me.” “Well you should have gotten higher SAT scores!” Mike S. the comedian said. “Yeah, I know.” “Don’t you have a grandmother?” Jodi asked. “I did, but she died. She kind of lost her mind. I told her once when I came to visit but she sort of yelled at me that I was a communist faggot and the Soviets had gotten to me.” Mike S. started belly laughing. “Oh my God, that is SO terrible, but you HAVE to let me use that in my routine.” “Yeah, why not?” “So I’m just curious. When we were watching MTV, and you were checking out hot girls with us, you were not actually attracted to them.” Jay said. “No, not at all.” “Are you attracted to the guys?” “Yes, very much.” “Okay, then. Well, that takes care of that.” Jay grabbed his guitar. “I have to go meet Charlene. If you want to bring a guy over, it’s cool.” “Thanks. Thank you. Thanks.” “No prob,” Jay said, and went to find a girl to sing to. “Pete? Do you want to watch TV with us?” Jeff asked. “Yeah. That’d be cool.” Jodi and Amy smiled. They had a new gay friend. “We are gonna have so much fun checking out guys together,” Jodi said. She put her hand on my knee. “Maybe eventually? It’s a little bit soon for that.” “So who do you think is hot?” Amy asked. “NOT ME, PLEASE.” Mike S. said. “Definitely not you.” I affirmed. “Hey! That’s probably for the best.” He giggled. “Yeah, no you’re like family. That would be gross.” “I also think it would be gross to have sex with you. Good. We’re on the same page here.” “Yeah, I would rather my tongue fall out than actually kiss you.” I told him. “I would literally rather be kicked in the head by a gay figure skater spinning around on an ice rink than have sex with you.” He countered. “I would literally rather stick my hands up an elephant’s asshole and clean out its shit out with a giant enema and then clean out the shit bits with a giant Q-tip than have sex with YOU.” I shot back. At this point, everyone was laughing and there was no more tension. Everyone except Jay, who was out fucking some girl named Charlene. I had never had sex before, but I had heard good things about it.