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 comments are welcome on my e-mail at email@example.com.
Bryce, Chapter 31 - The End of October
At the special session of the history study group, one of the first topics of conversation was the attack on Damon. Bryce shared what he knew, including the news that the three suspects had been arrested. He was pleased when Jack Datillo told the others that Damon was one of the most enthusiastic pledges he had seen in years, and he certainly got his vote when it was time to admit pledges to membership near the end of the semester. A member of the group, Ashley Potts, said she was a member of the same sorority as Sheila, whose last name was Officer. Although it was her family name, Sheila was intimidated by the officer from campus security. She wanted to visit Damon, and express her concern, but was afraid. Bryce assured the entire group that, while Damon was pretty banged up, there was nothing to fear, from him or from campus security. He would welcome visitors, but call ahead. The doctor said he needed sleep more than anything else, so it would not be a good idea to just drop in. He gave out Damon's cell number, and noted that almost everyone took it down.
That taken care of, the group got down to business. The second examination was coming up in two days, and they all wanted to be prepared. Despite his freshman status, Bryce seemed to have a greater command of the material than anyone else, so they appreciated his being there under the circumstances. He explained that he had been interested in this phase of history for a long time, and had even communicated with Dr. Dickinson while he was still in high school. For most of the others, this was just another course, but for Bryce it was what he really enjoyed. He was able to clear up a number of problems for some of the other students. Derek Walker, the student who complained about his grade on the first exam, was still having difficulty with the religious issues involved during the reign of King James II, and, in fact, during the entire seventeenth century. After some talk, Bryce decided that the core of Derek's problem was his background. He belonged to a fundamentalist sect, which insisted they were the only real Christians, and everyone else was Catholic, or Baptist, or Methodist, or whatever, but not Christian. He was also convinced that such things as bishops and sacraments were Roman peculiarities, or what he called "papist superstitions." Hence, it confused Derek completely when Anglican bishops refused to cooperate with a Catholic King, or when Dr. Dickinson spoke of "other Christian groups" when discussing James' Declaration of Indulgence. It proved impossible to make Derek understand, so the group decided he simply had to memorize the facts without trying to make sense of them from his perspective.
For the rest of the group, the conflicts among ideas proved interesting. Limited monarchy and the supremacy of Parliament in the political realm was balanced against the domination of society by the wealthy in the social and economic sphere. Could the King suspend the working of the laws passed by Parliament? Should Parliament use its right to vote taxes to impose its religious agenda on the nation? Who did Parliament actually represent, and who did the King represent? And there were the ambitions and personalities involved. Was Shaftsbury a patriot or a bigot? Was the policy of Charles II truly advantageous to the general public, or merely moves in his support for divine right monarchy? What about the turmoil in Ireland? Was it just to legitimize the land confiscations carried out under Cromwell? All this fascinated Bryce, and made him forget everything else for much of that Monday evening.
Returning to Clay Hall mentally refreshed, Bryce greeted Damon and DuBois, whom he found watching a movie on his computer. The movie was Driving Miss Daisy, with Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. That movie, dating to 1989, illustrated not only the role of prejudice in American society, but also the changes wrought over the lengthy twenty-year period covered by the film. When it was over, the three men had a long discussion about the issues raised. Damon admitted to having been prejudiced against Jews, saying it was a common opinion in the projects, as Jews were seen as exploiting blacks in local stores. The same opinion was held of Koreans, for the same reasons. But, he was beginning to see that lumping people into categories like that was simply not fair. DuBois, whose experiences were more mainstream than Damon's, forced him to admit that there were some pretty despicable black people, like those he told Bryce about who cut off the balls of a gay black teen. All three decided that each person should be accepted or not based on his individual good or bad characteristics, not on any group to which he might belong.
This led Bryce to introduce religious prejudices into the conversation. With the mixed background of his own family, and the changes in the Catholic Church during the past half century, Bryce thought he was free of religious biases, but under questioning admitted he did not have very positive feelings about fundamentalists, whether Christian, Moslem, or any other kind. This, he claimed, was because fundamentalism was basically irrational, refusing to even consider any idea which seemed to threaten the arbitrary criterion that group had set up as their god. Then, they discussed whether one could be a fundamentalist anti-religious person. Some of the comments of some students and professors in class, at the fraternity, at the dorm, and in casual conversations convinced them that there could be as much prejudice among secularists and atheists as among religious groups, even if the god in question was having no god.
They were surprised when, checking the computer screen, Bryce noticed that it was past midnight. DuBois left, but Damon and Bryce had another matter to settle. Since being brought back to the dorm at lunch time, Damon had been ensconced in Bryce's bed so he could make use of Bryce's computer. Both agreed that it would not be good, given Damon's damaged condition, for them to attempt to sleep together, as much as they would both like it. Damon spoke of getting back to his bed, but Bryce insisted that he should not be moving around, but should stay put. He would sleep on the floor next to the bed. Damon refused this option. "I do not need a faithful dog at my feet," he insisted. Finally, Bryce agreed to sleep in Damon's bed, and Damon agreed to stay where he was.
Tuesday unrolled without a hitch. Mike presented the results of his researches in the Milton class. Bryce explained to Damon's English teacher why he was not in class. At lunch time, he brought something to the dorm for Damon, only to find that Sheila had preceded him, and was taking very good care of the injured party. Damon also related that he had received calls from several SAT brothers, and Deacon Jeffers had come by during the morning, and spent a half hour talking with him, telling humorous stories about DeShawn. After lunch, Bryce first contacted Damon's PE instructor, then told Caroline about Damon as she put him through a tough karate workout. Although she had a rehearsal immediately after karate, Caroline insisted that she would bring dinner to the afflicted one later. She showed up at Clay Hall with a basket laden with enticing comestibles, enough for all three of them. She commiserated over every bruise and scratch Damon had suffered. As he prepared to leave for his meeting with Keith Henderson, Bryce told Damon not to get too used to that kind of coddling, as it would not last once Caroline left. "Tough love, that's what you need. Work through the pain!" Damon threw a pillow at him.
At the Sigma Alpha Tau house, Bryce met with Keith and went over his progress. He had essentially fulfilled most of the requirements for pledges, such as memorizing the fraternity song and motto. Now it was mainly a matter of fulfilling his on-going responsibilities, such as maintaining his academic standing, meeting with others for such civic projects as the highway clean-up and the soup kitchen, and fulfilling his duties at the house. Bryce and Keith discussed at length the attack on Damon, and the case against Bick and Mack. "Thank goodness we expelled them before this happened. The good sense of the brothers is shown and the honor of the fraternity vindicated," Keith declared. "Yeah," Bryce temporized, "but you admitted them in the first place."
When the business meeting was about to get underway, Bryce took his place among the pledges on call. Curtis, whose job entailed checking on which pledges were present, asked, "Weren't you here last week?"
"Yeah, but I was substituting for Matt, who was in the infirmary," Bryce replied.
"Well, Matt is here this week paying you back," Curtis informed him, indicating the recovered pledge.
"Okay, this week I'm substituting for Damon, who is laid up in the dorm after his attack," Bryce countered.
Curtis sighed. "Not really necessary, Bryce. I think we all know Damon has a valid excuse for missing. But if you want to stay and try to listen in, be my guest."
"As if we could hear anything, unless you guys intend to shout again," Bryce joked.
He settled in, and spent some time explaining to the other pledges what had happened to Damon, and the evidence against Bick and Mack as far as he knew it. About a half hour into the meeting, the Sergeant-at-Arms opened the door and asked for Bryce. He was led to the front of the room, and asked by Tom Blankenship to relate to the brothers what he knew about the attack on Damon, so he replayed the story he had been reciting to the pledges. Before he could be dismissed, DuBois jumped to his feet and moved that the fraternity extend its "apologies and concern" to Damon Watson for the attack on him, adding that if they had not admitted known homophobes and racists like Bick and Mack this would not have happened. The motion was seconded by Keith, and, without further discussion, adopted unanimously. With a grin, Tom told Bryce, "You are excused from further pledge duty tonight. Deliver this message to Damon on behalf of SAT."
With an even bigger grin, Bryce replied, "Yes, sir," and left the room, headed back to Clay Hall.
Back at the dorm, Bryce found Damon still being entertained by Caroline Koehler. However, Damon and Caroline were having trouble with some other visitors. Both Robert Blanton and Josh Young were in the room when Bryce arrived, and voices were raised. Blanton was insisting that the attack on Damon was a racist crime, demanding that Damon join with the BSO in protesting the racist atmosphere at the University which encouraged such attacks. At the same time, Young insisted that the attack was a crime against gays, and Damon should join with the GLBT Club to protest the homophobic atmosphere at the University. When Bryce arrived, the two were loudly arguing with each other, completely ignoring both Damon and Caroline. Young accused Blanton, the BSO, and his fraternity of being homophobic, while Blanton accused Young and the GLBT Club of being racist. Both accused Sigma Alpha Tau of being both homophobic and racist. If they could have cooperated, perhaps something could have been worked out as far as a representation to the University administration about the need for a strong statement about prejudice and upholding the anti-discrimination policy, but the prospect of those two agreeing on anything positive was minuscule.
Bryce demanded attention after listening to the cacophony for a few minutes. When Blanton and Young finally shut up, he announced the unanimous vote of the fraternity to Damon, who grinned broadly despite his injuries. When the two contestants seemed ready to resume battle, Bryce shooed both of them out into the corridor and locked the door.
"Good job," Damon proclaimed. "I have been trying to get rid of those two for what seems like ages."
"I'm sorry I let them in," Caroline admitted, "but I had no idea they would try to use Damon as just an excuse to further their own agendas. I thought they came to commiserate with him." She giggled. "I'm glad you didn't have to use karate against them, Bryce. I don't think you're ready for that yet."
Bryce rolled his eyes. "I get no respect," he complained, to the laughter of Damon and Caroline.
After Caroline left, Bryce enquired into Damon's sexual needs, offering to "take care of necessity" orally if he wished.
"Boyfriend, I appreciate the offer, but, to tell the truth, I'd rather wait until I can really enjoy it without flinching every time you hug me," Damon responded.
"Not getting too desperate, then?" Bryce kidded.
"Seriously, I can go a few days without an orgasm. I know last week it did not seem like it, because we were at each other every chance we got, but that was pleasure, not necessity. To while away my time while you're in class and stuff, I've read some of the stories on the net, and I always laugh about those guys who are miserable if they cannot shoot off at least once or twice every day. I put that in the same category as all the guys with twelve inch schlongs."
Bryce laughed, and just held his partner's hand as they talked about the fraternity and classes.
On Wednesday morning, after again sleeping in Damon's bed, Bryce set out for the gym. He met Curtis there, and reported on Damon. They discussed the fact that, as yet, the University administration had made no comment on the attack, or the arrest of the three culprits.
"Way I hear it," Curtis reported, "The VP for Student Affairs was putting pressure on Tom to have the fraternity readmit Bick and Mack as late as Sunday afternoon. Bick's old man unloaded a cool half mil on the University, and they're scared shitless he'll take it back or something."
"Half a million dollars! Wow, they must be really well off," Bryce reacted.
"I guess. Insurance, I think. Probably something shady. Wasn't there a big insurance scandal a few years back, with several big honchos paid enormous sums to step down? Maybe he was part of that."
"They say it takes all kinds," Bryce mused, "but I can think of a few kinds we could do without."
"Can you take back a donation like that?" Bryce wondered.
"Well, I think the way it works is you promise or pledge so much, and the University announces it as though they had the entire amount as a kind of come-on to get others to shell out, but in reality the donor pays so much per year. Better for his tax write-offs. So, I'm guessing old man Lomax has not paid his entire pledge as yet. Or, maybe they're just hoping for more to come," Curtis explained.
"Will I be wise and cynical when I get to be a junior, too," Bryce teased as they sat in the hot tub.
Curtis dunked him.
Bryce stopped by to collect some breakfast for himself and Damon, then returned to the room. To his immense surprise, Damon was awake. Not only awake, but out of bed, looking at himself in a mirror. As Bryce came in, Damon said, "I look like cat vomit."
Bryce burst out laughing, almost losing control of the food he was carrying. "I admit I have seen you in better shape, but why cat vomit?" he asked.
Damon was grinning at the effect his comment had on his boyfriend. "It just popped out that way," he insisted. "No special reason. But I do look pretty bad."
"Bruises always look like ... like ... like cat vomit," Bryce laughed, "before they get better. I'm truly surprised to see you awake I think this is a first in our entire relationship," he added somewhat more calmly.
"I spent most of the last three days in bed. Even us professional sleepers get a little bored on occasion," Damon responded.
As they ate, Bryce asked, "Anything I can do to make the day pass more quickly?"
Damon grinned. "Don't talk with your mouth full. Your mama wouldn't approve."
"Ooooh, no fair! You can make all kinds of remarks like that, and I can't sock you the way you deserve," Bryce replied.
"You less evolved types will just have to restrain your Neanderthal tendencies," Damon kidded him.
"Geesh, you need to get out. Being cooped up in here just provides an opportunity for cruel and unusual comments like that to germinate in your brain," Bryce complained.
"Yeah, I agree. With the getting out part, anyway. This evening, I am going out for supper, no matter how shitty I look."
"Shouldn't that be vomit-y?"
Damon threw a pillow at him.
Bryce departed for his French class. Professor Anjot was lecturing on Jean Racine, who was the epitome of French seventeenth century classicism. Racine wrote his first important play in 1664, La Thébaïde, and went on over the next decade and a half to produce an impressive corpus of work, but, after his masterpiece, Phèdre, in 1677, moved by his uneasy Jansenist conscience, he renounced the stage, which was considered sinful by some, and accepted a post in the government of King Louis XIV. Bryce noted that Louis XIV was the more successful cousin of Kings Charles II and James II of England, so this kind of fit into what he was studying in his other courses. Like Milton in England, Racine in France was attracted to what might, in a generic sense, be called puritan values. Jansenists, he learned, were more or less French Calvinists who did not leave the Catholic Church, but were just as obsessed with predestination and the inability of humans to help themselves as were the Huguenots, who were Calvinists who did leave the Church.
To illustrate his points, Dr. Anjot quoted several passages from Racine's plays. In La Thébaïde, for example, Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus, laments:
This is the justice of the mighty gods:
They lead us to the edge of the abyss;
They make us sin, but do not pardon us.
Similarly, in his last great play, Phèdre, the heroine finds herself obsessed with a lust for her step-son Hippolytus. Her premeditated incest is all the more horrible because it is never committed, but lives and grows within her, absorbing her whole soul. She cries in desperation:
In vain my hand burned incense on the altars;
Even when my lips invoked the goddess's name,
I adored Hippolytus. ...
Racine had the practice of writing prefaces to his plays to guide the reader through his intentions. In the preface to Phèdre he wrote: Phaedra is neither entirely guilty nor entirely innocent: she is involved by her destiny, and by the anger of the gods, in an unlawful passion, at which she is the first to be horrified. She makes every effort to surmount it, ... [but] her crime is a punishment of the gods rather than an urge flowing from her own will. "It is this inner struggle between passion and duty," Professor Anjot informed the class, "this struggle lost from the outset against the decrees of fate, and the delineation of character which the struggle brings out, which make Racine worthy, as Lytton Strachey wrote, 'to walk beside Sophocles in the highest places of eternity.'"
Professor Anjot summed up, "Just as in Pascal's Pensées, so also in Racine's tragedies the emphasis on the helplessness of humans in the face of fate or predestination leads to an examination of extreme alternatives, which ultimately cancel each other out. To Pascal and to Racine, this leads to a realization of the human's complete dependence on God, but in the more secular-minded eighteenth century which follows, this same process of mutual cancellation of propositions will lead to the skepticism and atheism of a Voltaire."
This class gave Bryce much to think about. Father Miller had spoken of free will, but there is also the matter of predestination, or determinism. Bryce would have to ask him about that when next they met. He certainly was aware, from his own experience, of the limits of human ability, and the power of circumstances, or, if one preferred, "the anger of the gods."
The History exam was as difficult as everyone expected, but Bryce felt he had done an adequate job. He understood the questions, and had enough information at his fingertips to respond to them intelligently. He was also careful to keep his personal feelings reined in, and try to present the facts and let them speak for themselves. He knew, of course, from the discussions at their study group, that different individuals would bring their own past experiences and assumptions to bear in interpreting the facts.
On that Wednesday evening, Damon insisted on making his way to the University Center for his meal, rather than having it brought to him. He needed to get out. Several people from the fraternity and from his classes stopped by the table to speak, to ask what happened if they had not already heard, and to wish him well. Sheila joined them for dinner, and accompanied Damon back to the dorm as Bryce went off to his Milton study group. Later that evening, Damon insisted on sleeping in his own bed for the first time since the previous Friday.
The week hobbled to a close with no Hallowe'en party at Sigma Alpha Tau. Damon urged Bryce to attend the party at Mike's fraternity, but in the end they stayed in and watched a couple of horror movies on DVD. Earlier that week, inspired by the amount of time Damon had spent watching movies, Bryce purchased and installed a new 24" monitor, which made the experience more exciting. On Saturday, which was actually Hallowe'en, Bryce turned out to police the highway leading to the airport along with other SATs. This was the first time the area had been cleaned in three weeks, because of homecoming the previous Saturday, so there was more trash than usual. Damon, of course, was excused from this obligation.
Back at the house after the clean-up, Bryce was talking to his mentor, Keith Henderson. "Where do you go to Mass?"
"At the Newman Center," Keith responded. "It's the most convenient place."
"I tried that the first weekend I was here. I couldn't stand the totally casual atmosphere and aura of disrespect I found," Bryce asserted.
"I generally take in the early Mass. Less talk and noise. I'm assuming you went to the 11:00, you lazy bastard."
"Right. Eight o'clock was just too much for a Sunday morning. Now I go to St. Boniface. I like the liturgy, but the sermons leave something to be desired," Bryce reported.
"I've heard of St. Boniface. Real conservative. Mainly old fogies," Keith hazarded.
"Not really. I mean, yes, the liturgy is conservative, and the pastor is a Neanderthal, but the music is great, and the congregation is really quite mixed, not just old people," Bryce defended his choice. "Why not come with me on Sunday and see for yourself?"
"Okay, I will. What time do you leave?"
"About twenty before eleven," Bryce replied.
That afternoon there was a home game, but the team was hopelessly outclassed. No one expected them to win, so interest in attending was low. Bryce suggested that DuBois might have reason to exempt Damon from attending, as being jostled by crowds would not be good for him in his still fragile state. DuBois immediately seconded that, and told Bryce that Damon was not even to think about attending. Then Keith further suggested that Damon might need the support of his neighbor and fellow pledge during the day, so Bryce was likewise excused from attendance at the game. In fact, both men spent the time catching up on school work.
That evening, Bryce and Damon loaded up on popcorn and drinks, and nestled in for another orgy of horror films. Still, it was kind of a low key holiday, made positive only by the close interaction between the two men, who were learning a great deal about each other as they negotiated around Damon's recovery. The absence of sex that week was not a hardship, as it was replaced by a deeper feeling of love between the two. Not that either wanted to abandon sex. As Damon made plain, as soon as he was free of injuries, he was prepared to return to the tussle.