This story is fiction. The city of Clifton, and the University of Clifton, exist only in my imagination. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. These stories have as their main character a sexually active gay college student. If this is offensive to you, or if it is illegal in your area, or if you are under age, please leave now.
This story involves a search for personal acceptance, worth, and meaning. There is a religious element in these stories. If you don't like that, maybe now is a good time to leave.
My stories develop slowly. If you're in a hurry, this is probably not for you.
Thanks to Colin for editing.
Constructive criticism is welcome on my e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryce, Chapter 25 - Small Improvements
After a pretty dismal Saturday morning and afternoon, Bryce was looking forward to spending some time that evening just relaxing with his friends. Before he could do that, however, a small incident took place, which showed him that things could get better, even if only by small increments. He was returning alone to the dorm after dinner, as Damon needed to visit the library in connection with his English term paper. As Bryce arrived at the top of the stairs on his floor, he happened to meet Wayne Diebold, the guy whose homophobic remarks had resulted in Bryce baiting him a couple of weeks ago. They exchanged greetings, but, as Bryce moved towards his room, Wayne stopped him with an unexpected request.
"Hey, Bryce, can I ask you something?"
"Um, sure. What's on your mind, Wayne?"
"You remember, back on Labor Day, we were watching the Cubs game, right?"
"As I recall, you left before the game really began, but yeah, I remember," Bryce corrected him, wondering where this was leading.
"Well, anyway, some of the guys started to say things, like ... well, like maybe I was ... you know ... that way." Wayne was very red in the face, and more inarticulate than usual.
Bryce took pity on him. "You mean some of the guys kind of teased you about being gay, right?"
"Yeah, well, except, I'm not! I'm really not! But ever since then, the guys keep it up. All the time I get these comments about, you know ...."
"No, Wayne, I'm afraid I don't know. I haven't heard any of what you're talking about. What do the guys say?"
"Like, how's my boyfriend, or maybe something about sucking cock, or about not bending over in the shower when I'm there. It's driving me crazy! Do you really think I'm queer?"
Bryce decided this was an opportunity to do a little teaching. "Wayne, I do not think you're gay. And I'll tell the guys to ease off, if you want. But I want you to think about something. If you really were gay, how would you like it if guys talked to you like that all the time. You just now used the word 'queer.' Most gay guys think that's an insult. Gay guys prefer being called gay."
"Um, ah, sorry. I mean, I never really thought about it. I don't know anybody who's, uh, gay," Wayne naively said.
"I'll bet you do, you just don't know they're gay, because the way you talk, they think if you knew, you might beat them up or something. Just by percentages alone, it's most likely you know some gay guys. Some people say one out of every ten guys is gay. So, Wayne, how many people live in this dorm?"
"Uh, I don't know, exactly. Maybe, let's see, five floors, and what? Twenty rooms on each floor?"
"Twenty four, actually, except on the first floor because of the lobby area and offices, only twenty-two," Bryce responded. As Wayne struggled with the arithmetic, Bryce came to the rescue. "That's a hundred and eighteen single rooms. So, if one out of every ten guys is gay, that would mean there are probably eleven or twelve gays in this dorm."
"Geez!" Wayne said, looking around as though he expected to see someone with GAY in big letters on his forehead walking down the corridor.
"What sport do you play, Wayne?" Bryce continued.
"Football. I'm on the team, didn't you know?"
"As a matter of fact, I did know. I've been to all the home games, and I saw you out on the field a few times. Now, how many guys are there on the team?"
"Um, I think it's eighty two."
"So, what are the odds there are a few gays on the football team, Wayne?"
"No way! Qu... uh, gays don't play sports!"
"Sure they do. It's just that most of the other athletes are homophobic, just like you," Bryce said, poking him in the chest. "You know what homophobic means?"
"I guess it means I hate homos," Wayne attempted.
"That's another word gays don't like, Wayne. And, actually, homophobic means you're afraid of gays, or homosexuals. Is that why jocks go around spouting off about queers and cocksuckers and the like? Are you really afraid gays will beat you at something, or maybe that you really are 'like that'?"
"You just think about it, Wayne. And think about those gays guys on the team who have to keep quiet so they don't get insulted or beat up all the time. Nobody wants to be insulted, Wayne, and nobody wants to get beat up. So, if you were gay, and on the team, would you tell anybody?"
"No way! Uh, you really think there's, like, somebody gay on the football team?"
"I'd be real surprised if there were not, but unless he decides to tell you, you'll never know who. No matter what you think, Wayne, you can't tell a gay person by looking at him," Bryce insisted.
"But, what about those guys who sort of prance around, and wear make-up, and ...? Oh, shit! I don't know!"
"Wayne, those people are a small part of the gay community. They're kind of exaggerated. Most gay people are not like that. The only difference between you and a gay guy is that the gay guy likes sex with other guys."
"But, that's gross!"
"You think it's gross because, number one, you're not gay, and number two, you've been programmed to think that people different from you are gross. Now, for the past month, the guys in the dorm here have been making fun of you about being gay. How do you like being different, and the one being made fun of?"
"Right. So, how about not making fun of guys who are different from you. Like real gays, Wayne? How about that?" Bryce drove his point home.
"Okay. I see. It could be somebody on the team, or ... or somebody there in the lounge," Wayne said, as though a light bulb had come on in his head.
"Even somebody you really like, Wayne. Somebody who likes the same teams you do, and the same sports you do. Somebody who's fun to be around. Just somebody who is a little different," Bryce instructed.
"Okay. That makes sense. I'll try to clean up my act. But you'll talk to the guys about hassling me, won't you. It's really getting to me. Besides, I'm afraid somebody on the team will hear, and then ...."
"Then you'll get the same treatment as a real gay person. Not very pleasant, Wayne."
"No," Wayne said, sobered. He was thinking that through, slowly.
"So, who is it who's always teasing you?" Bryce asked.
"Well, just a few guys, really," Wayne admitted, and named three.
"I'll talk to them," Bryce promised.
Wayne went off to his room, hopeful that Bryce could help to bring his torment to an end. Bryce entered the lounge, and found two of the three guys Wayne had mentioned, along with four others. He decided to act immediately.
"Hey guys!" he announced. "Can I have your attention for a couple of minutes. We have a little problem here on the floor, and I think we can take care of it right away."
The six guys looked up, interested in what Bryce had to say. "What's up?" one asked.
"I just talked to Wayne. He's having a pretty rough time, guys. You remember back on Labor Day there was that incident when he was going on about queers and the like, and I started to rib him?"
There were nods and a few grins from the audience.
"Well, it seems it's gotten out of hand. Wayne says some guys are still on his case about that. Now, we all know Wayne's not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but he doesn't deserve to be harassed all term, guys. Enough is enough, okay? It was funny when it happened, but it's time to put it to rest. Since I started it, I guess I'll be the first to say I won't be teasing him about that any more. I think he's learned a lesson."
"You think so? He was pretty crude, and still uses language that would get bleeped on prime time TV," one guy stated.
"So, who doesn't?" Bryce said. "It was insulting language. No question. But I just talked to him about that, and I think it's finally dawning on him that the kind of language he's used to is really insulting to some people. Wayne tends to think in clichés, but he can learn. So, how about it? Let up on him, okay?"
"If you say so, Bryce. Frankly, I didn't realize it was bothering him so much," one of the guys identified as one of the tormentors admitted.
"Okay by me," the other added.
"Thanks, guys. If Wayne uses offensive language, just remind him, okay?"
"You got it."
Bryce proceeded on to his room, feeling terribly virtuous.
Later that Saturday, as he did several evenings each week, he met Damon and other friends at Pat's Tavern for conversation and relaxation. In addition to Damon, they were joined this evening by DuBois, Curtis, and, unexpectedly, Keith. The other four were seated at a table when Keith came in, looking around for someplace to sit. On a Saturday evening, the place was crowded. It was DuBois who first noticed him.
"Hey, isn't that your new mentor, Bryce?"
Bryce twisted around to scrutinize the entrance. "Yep, that's Keith. Somehow, I didn't expect to see him here."
"It's not often he comes," Curtis said, rising from his seat and hailing the newcomer. Keith looked relieved to have someone he knew invite him to join them. As he approached, Curtis teased him, "You're welcome to join us, if you don't mind socializing with your pledge."
"Seeing as how the Pledge Master beat me to it, I guess it's not a major violation of protocol," Keith joked back. "And," he added, "if I'm not mistaken, DuBois is Damon's mentor as well."
"Right on," DuBois stated, giving Keith five.
"Let me get a beer, and I'll be right back," Keith said.
After he left, Bryce asked Curtis, "Should I have offered to get Keith's beer?"
"You didn't get mine, did you? Just play it by ear, but generally in a situation like this just be an ordinary guy. Remember, Keith is not Mack."
"For which we are all eternally grateful," Damon chanted.
"Amen," DuBois intoned his response.
"Where did you learn to chant like that, Damon?" Curtis asked.
"I went to Bryce's church a couple of times. They do really weird things there, like burning incense and having everyone shake hands. Plus, there are statues and pictures all over the place," Damon explained.
"I'm Catholic," Bryce explained.
"Like Damon said, weird," Curtis teased.
Bryce punched him on the shoulder. By that time, Keith was back, fortified with his beer. He settled in, between Bryce and Curtis.
"Don't see you here often," Curtis commented.
"No, not often. But from time to time I just feel the need to get out among the proletariat and see how the other ninety-five percent lives," Keith teased.
All the others made razzing noises at that. At which Keith grinned. He sure was not Mack. For the remainder of the evening, the five guys enjoyed a relaxed time of good fellowship, with no strains or stresses. That's what weekends are for.
On Sunday morning, Bryce did not even consider inviting Damon to accompany him to St. Boniface. If he had the rotation figured out correctly, this would be another Father Payne sermon, and he definitely did not want to chance that. When he arrived in the parking lot, Bryce encountered the Sandoval family, who tended to arrive about the same time he did, approximately ten minutes before Mass began.
After initial greetings, Bryce asked, "Would you guys mind if I sat with you this morning?"
"Not at all. We'd be delighted," Isobel Sandoval replied.
"Why the chumminess?" Mike somewhat suspiciously asked.
"Well, if I've figured out the rotation system, this is another Father Payne sermon day, so if he gets obnoxious, I want company when I walk out," Bryce explained.
Mike laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Strength in numbers. Glad to have you."
As usual, everything was almost perfect, except the sermon. At least, this Sunday it was merely contorted and opaque, rather than insulting, however, so there was no stampede for the door.
After Mass, Mrs. Sandoval asked about Nan.
"She's back at her school, and doing very well. I think she runs the place," Bryce joked. "She commented several times on how much she enjoyed La Rincon Latina and meeting all of you again last Sunday."
"You be sure to tell her we asked after her," Mrs. Sandoval insisted.
After his midday meal, Bryce again spent some time working on his term papers, and preparing for the next Biology quiz. There was no let-up as far as the academic demands on his time and attention were concerned. He had a very pleasant chat with his mother during their weekly phone conversation. Then, later that afternoon, he and Damon went for their usual service at the soup kitchen, where they encountered DeShawn once again. He was excited this Sunday, wanting to know ahead of time whether Bryce would give him a ride home afterward. Bryce assured him that would be no trouble. Deacon Jeffers welcomed them, and things went along much as expected. When things closed down, about seven o'clock, DeShawn was found standing sentry beside Bryce's Mustang. Naturally, Bryce followed through with a ride back to his place. As they approached the apartment building where DeShawn lived, he asked Bryce to go slow. Then, just before they arrived, he waved to another boy on the sidewalk.
"What was that all about?" Bryce asked.
"That's Malcolm. He thinks he knows everything. He didn't believe I got a ride home in a brand new Mustang," DeShawn said with a satisfied grin.
"I don't want to burst your bubble, DeShawn, but this car is more than two years old," Bryce cautioned the boy.
"No way! It looks shiny and new, with no dents or anything," DeShawn protested.
"That's because I take good care of it. But it's an '06 model," Bryce told him.
"Well, Malcolm won't know," DeShawn proclaimed, as he exited the car, grinning from ear to ear. He loped across the street to his building, paused, then gave the boy Malcolm the finger before running inside.
"Kids!" Bryce exclaimed.
The rest of the evening Bryce and Damon decided to spend with just the two of them, rather than go to Pat's or seek out their acquaintances in the dorm lounge. Damon came over to Bryce's room, where they watched a couple of movies on his computer screen. In response to an earlier question from Damon about Lourdes, Bryce first put in a copy of the 1943 film adaptation of Franz Werfel's The Song of Bernadette. This film had seen the screen debut of Jennifer Jones, who went home with an Oscar, and the movie itself won several academy awards. This was a favorite of Bryce's mother, and so he had seen it a number of times. When it came to an end, there was the saying he had remembered while trying to explain things to Damon on Tuesday evening, only slightly different: 'For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary: for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.'
There was a brief discussion after the film, but Damon obviously felt uncomfortable discussing Bryce's religious outlook, so they moved on. For their second movie of the evening, they chose another oldie, the screen adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck. Damon was reading this classic work for his English class, but had never seen the movie version. Bryce explained that it had won all kinds of awards, and had been around since 1962. After viewing the film, the two discussed it for some time, with Damon being impressed that something like that was written by a white woman from Alabama, and that it was such a favorite. Gently, Bryce suggested that his experiences of life in the Chicago projects had not prepared him for the changes in race relations which had taken place in most of America.
"You mean I'm thinking in stereotypes, like that Josh guy," Damon concluded.
"I didn't want to put it that way, but yeah," Bryce agreed, at the same time attacking him and shoving him onto the bed. The two men horsed around for several minutes. Bryce happened to end up on top of Damon, looking directly into his face. Damon was laughing at their horseplay. Seized by emotion, Bryce leaned in and kissed his partner.
"It's time I gave you a lesson in loving," he proclaimed.
"Is that anything like the lessons in applied dissipation I've been giving you?" Damon teased.
"No," Bryce said, "it only looks the same."
By the end of the evening, Damon was ready to agree. That night, the two slept in the same bed for the first time, even though it was not intended for two. It was definitely not the first time that had happened in the history of Clay Hall.
The next morning, Bryce woke at his usual hour of six. He experienced a few kinks from sharing his bed with Damon, but definitely liked waking to the warm feel of his lover next to him. This was considerably better than being alone. Bryce felt a warm rush as he considered that the rest of his life might be like this. He dared not wake Damon, so he slipped out of bed, and quietly prepared to make his way to the gym.
On his way, Bryce had another inspiration. When Curtis showed up, as usual about fifteen minutes after Bryce, Bryce immediately apologized. "I should have thought of this last week, but so much was happening, what with mid-terms, and Mack, and everything, my brain was not functioning properly. Anyway, I want you and Maddy to let me take you out to La Rincon Latina again to celebrate your engagement."
"You don't need to do that," Curtis protested, but clearly liked the idea.
"I know I don't need to, but I want to. You've been a really good friend to me, Curtis, and I appreciate it. And Maddy is great in the Milton class and the study group, too. When would be a good time?"
"Well, not tomorrow, that's for sure. It's building up to be quite a meeting at the house. Is this one of your nights on call?"
"No," Bryce replied. "Damon and I are on next week."
"Well, you and Maddy have that study group on Wednesday, so how about Thursday?"
"Sorry, but my history study group meets on Thursdays," Bryce responded.
"This is getting complicated. How about we just leave it open for now? I'll tell Maddy about the invitation, though. I'm sure she'll appreciate it," Curtis suggested.
"We can't put it off too long," Bryce kidded, "you'll be married before we celebrate your engagement."
After working out and the sauna, Bryce returned to his dorm room to find Damon still fast asleep. Bryce studied him for several minutes before doing anything. He just liked looking at Damon. Theirs might be a weird relationship, but it was one he definitely wanted to continue, and grow closer with each passing day. Despite these romantic feelings, Bryce cautiously filled his water pistol, and employed it from a safe distance to arouse his partner.
"Aaarrrgghh!" Damon protested. "Shit!"
"Time to rise and shine," Bryce gleefully announced, squirting Damon once more.
"One of these days I'm going to find that damn watergun and smash it to pieces," the aroused bear announced.
"Then you'll be late for all your classes, flunk out of school, and have to go back and live in the projects," Bryce sketched out his future.
Damon glared at him. "Shit!" he repeated. Then he finally got up and made it to the bathroom to begin his morning preparations.
Bryce dressed and gathered his materials for his morning classes. The shower was turned off in the bathroom. Suddenly, Damon stuck his head through the door.
"We slept together last night!"
"Sure did," Bryce grinned. "See what you miss by sleeping away your mornings."
"You missed seeing me in bed with you when you awoke."
"It would be nice seeing you without your water pistol first thing in the morning," Damon commented, and ducked back to get dressed.