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 37 A Pretty Good Weekend
On Friday Bryce began his day with a workout and conversation with Curtis. "You know," Curtis said, "we have a party this evening for the first time since that disaster right after fall break. Not only that, but it's the only one we'll have until the end-of-semester party we always schedule between the last class and the beginning of final exams. I wonder how many people noticed the calendar. Two weeks from now, we'll all be gone for the Thanksgiving holidays."
"You're right," Bryce figured. "I hadn't thought about that. I guess this is not a good semester for SAT."
"As a matter of fact, two of our pledges have bowed out. Too much controversy and not enough partying. I'm sorry to see them go, but I can sort of sympathize. I suppose I should thank you and Damon for sticking it out. If everyone left, my reputation as Pledge Master would be shit. There would go my ambitions to be president next year."
"Oh, you have ambitions, do you?" Bryce teased.
"Well, yeah. I would kind of like to wind up my college career as president of the fraternity," Curtis admitted.
"And a married man. How's that going?" Bryce asked.
"Great! Maddy is feeling a lot better, you know. You'll see, at the party this evening. She's been really responding to the counseling she's getting from Dr. Craycroft. I went with her last time, and I can tell she's doing much better. She still holds her parents responsible for Bobby's suicide, of course, but she's no longer obsessed with it. We're moving on. The wedding is pretty definitely on for June," Curtis exulted.
"That's great, Curtis. I'm happy for you both," Bryce told his friend. Now if I can just get myself straightened out, everything will be fine, he thought.
In French class, they were spending a last day on Voltaire. Bryce was clearly persona non grata among the devotees in the class, but that was not much different than the whole semester had been. He listened to Dr. Anjot expound on Voltaire's Dictionnaire philosophique, a work of his later years when he was living at Ferny, on the Swiss border. Voltaire seems to have thought he was in danger of arrest, and liked the ability to slip across the border at any time. There is no evidence that anyone in a position of authority seriously considered arresting him, but it made him feel more important to think so.
The Dictionnaire philosophique of 1764 apparently summed up Voltaire's thought on many topics. It was arranged by articles, much like a modern encyclopedia. Under the heading "Destiny" Voltaire wrote: "it no more depends on us to have much merit and great talent, than to have a good head of hair and beautiful hands .... I necessarily have the urge to write this, and you necessarily have the itch to condemn me. Both of us are equally fools, equally the toys of destiny .... You ask me what will become of freedom? I do not understand you."
Well, Bryce decided, Voltaire at last faced the consequences of his own philosophy. Everything is determined by ineluctable laws of nature, over which humans have no control. We humans are merely playthings in an impersonal universe. Nothing we do matters. That seems to be a more honest appraisal than the earlier Voltaire, who preached the deterministic universe, and still called for action to right the wrongs of society. If all is determined, then the so-called evils are also determined. There is no such thing as freedom. There are no such things as good and evil. Bryce considered this, and decided that if he became convinced it was true, he would kill himself. Fortunately, he was not convinced. Thanks to his Catholic theology, he believed in free will, and a loving God who allowed us some degree of freedom, which gave humans some dignity. When faith is lost, so much else goes with it.
This consideration allowed Bryce to get through Dr. Greeley's Psychology class. In his notes, he put a good many things in quotation marks, so he could remember to quote them back if needed on the final exam, rather than give his own interpretation. After all, he wanted a good grade, even if he could not agree with the interpretation dished out by the instructor.
Later that day, Dr. Dickinson discussed the succession issue, as William and Mary had no children. It was suggested by detractors that William was homosexual, but the evidence, to say the least, was inconclusive. In 1701 Parliament passed the Act of Settlement to settle the matter of the succession to the throne. Basically, it recognized the Princess Anne, sister of Queen Mary and younger daughter of King James II, as next in line, and after her Sophie of Hanover, youngest daughter of Frederick of the Palatinate and Princess Elizabeth of England, daughter of King James I, who was the wife of Ernest Augustus of Hanover. Thereafter, the throne was to pass by hereditary succession, provided the heir was a Protestant. Catholics were specifically excluded, as the closest heir by pure hereditary right was clearly the son of the late King James II, James Francis Edward Stuart, called the "Old Pretender." These rules of succession remain in force today, so that a convert to Catholicism or one who marries a Catholic automatically forfeits his or her standing in the line of succession. Thus, in 1978 when Prince Michael of Kent married a Catholic, he forfeited his place in the line of succession.
It was because of the Act of Settlement that the German Hanoverians came to the throne, but that would be Bryce's class next semester. They still had Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, to cover.
Sigma Alpha Tau made a special effort to make this party one to remember. The leaders wanted to leave the general student body with the conviction that SAT knew how to throw a party. Thus, the pledges were all put on strict orders to be available to serve the needs of the brothers and their guests. They were not to bring dates, and not to disappear, but to be in evidence, and available as needed. The party was advertised all over campus, with special focus on the University Center and other student hangouts. In addition to making certain that there was plenty of food and drink, SAT engaged a live band, made up of students from the School of Music. Caroline Koehler was not among them, as this group played currently popular styles and tunes, whereas Caroline was much more classical. Bryce and Damon, along with the other pledges, turned out a full hour before the doors were opened in order to make certain that everything was prepared for the party. This evening, Bryce was assigned door duty, i.e., he was to sit at the door and check student IDs, and collect money from non-member male students. Male non-students were to be turned away. All females over the age of eighteen were to be admitted free. Theoretically, all non-members were supposed to pay the twenty dollar admission charge, but there were always more males than females, and it was a long-standing tradition to waive the fee for females, whether students or not. One thing Bryce did have to beware of, however, was clearly underage females. From time to time, high school students, and even middle school students, had been known to try to crash the parties on campus. That could potentially get the fraternity in a great deal of trouble, so his responsibilities were meaningful. While Bryce was sitting at the door all evening, Damon would be kept busy serving food. He was to carry a tray of comestibles around the rooms, then retire to the kitchen for replenishment and do it all over again.
Both before the party and several times during it Bryce had the opportunity to speak with Maddy Moore. She, Curtis, Keith, and Damon from time to time brought him something to eat and drink as he manned his post by the door. As Curtis had suggested that morning, she seemed in much better spirits than earlier in the semester. How much of that was due to the counseling by Dr. Craycroft and how much to the loyal support from Curtis was anyone's guess, but Bryce was convinced that without Curtis the recovery, if it happened at all, would have taken much longer. In that context, he considered Damon's recovery from the assault on him. Maybe, just maybe, he really was important in the whole life of his boyfriend, not just his sex life. Why couldn't he get over these self-doubts? The arrival of another party at the door drove him back to the present, but the doubts lingered.
The party did not break up until sometime around three in the morning, and then the pledges had to stay on to clean up the mess. Fortunately, this was not a Saturday morning when trash pick-up was scheduled. However, in the afternoon there would be a soccer game. It was well past the last date for varsity soccer, but the intramurals continued as long as the semester and the weather permitted. With Mack Campbell no longer a member, much less captain of the team, there was some disorder and confusion in the ranks. A senior named Justin Barczak was chosen to be Mack's replacement as captain. He was a good player, and got along with everyone, but he was not quite as good as Mack on the playing field. Not accustomed to lead, he tended to focus on his own playing, and neglected to coordinate the team effort. Oh well, it was near the end of the season, and they did not do all that poorly, even though they lost by 7 to 5.
Damon did not play that afternoon. He was still recovering from some of his bruises, and so was excused by Barczak from participating. He loyally turned out and cheered on Sigma Alpha Tau, and was as disappointed as any player over the loss. That was really appreciated by the other brothers and pledges, and noted by both DuBois Kennedy and Curtis Manning. There was no doubt in Bryce's mind that Damon was very serious about wanting to join SAT. Another non-participant was Keith Henderson, Bryce's big brother. He, too, loyally showed up to support the team, but did not play. He told Bryce afterwards that he had played as a pledge because all pledges were supposed to, but he was so bad no one wanted him to continue once his pledging period was over.
After the game, despite their loss, the men gathered at the fraternity house and celebrated. After all, the purpose of the intramural matches was not so much to win as to build team spirit ... and to have a reason to celebrate, of course. Bryce, in his soccer outfit, sweaty and dirty, made a striking contrast to Keith, who was looking not only clean but very preppy. Despite this, the two stood and talked amiably together after the game. Bryce could not imagine having that kind of relationship with Mack Campbell, even if Mack would have looked (and smelled) a lot more like him at this time. A short distance away, an equally dirty DuBois was carrying on a lively conversation with an equally clean Damon. Even as he spoke with Keith, Bryce considered that there was a lot more to life, and to reality, than surface appearances.
On Sunday morning, Bryce went alone to Mass at St. Boniface. As usual, he encountered the Sandovals in the parking lot a few minutes before the service was scheduled to begin. For the second Sunday in a row, Mike was accompanied by David Simpson. The two seemed very comfortable together, so their relationship was evidently going well. Bryce could not resist teasing Mike a bit when he learned that David had been feted at La Rincon Latina.
"Are you sure David's not just interested in Mexican food?" he suggested.
"His tastes are more wide-spread than that," Mike rejoined. "In fact, I can tell you for certain that he loves a high protein diet."
When Mike's meaning hit Bryce, he turned scarlet. Mike and David were already ahead of him, entering the church, but Mike looked back and laughed at Bryce's discomfiture. The tables had been turned.
That morning the choir was in excellent form on this penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year. The order of worship handed out by the ushers called this the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bryce hated the designation "ordinary time." It made more than half the Sundays of the year sound so pedestrian, so blah, so ... well, so ordinary. At least, some of them had more descriptive designations, such as Good Shepherd Sunday, or Transfiguration Sunday, or, next week, Christ the King Sunday, generally based on the Gospel reading for that day. The Gospel today was one of those readings about the predictions of the end of the world, mixed up with predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem, which everyone found so confusing. This Sunday, the sermon was given by Deacon Murphy, who was a more forceful speaker than Deacon Jeffers, and whose grammar and sentence structure made more sense than did Father Payne's, but whose ideas were banal and non-challenging. He gave a series of comments about being prepared, and not knowing when the end may come, which were unobjectionable, but hardly stimulating.
Perhaps with a sense of the ironic, the choir master chose to accompany the offertory collection with selections from Karl Orff's Carmina Burana, specifically the well known introductory piece, "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi," which had even been used in a beer commercial. It certainly seemed to fit the lugubrious mood of the liturgy, and few in the congregation knew what the Latin words meant anyway. Bryce looked startled when the music began, and Mike got a sly grin on his face, but most of the congregation seemed unaware of the inappropriateness of the piece to liturgical celebration. After Mass, Bryce asked Mike whether the choir did things like that often. Mike replied that there was a surprise delivered from time to time. Part of the surprise was one never knew when one was coming. So far, as far as Mike could discern, neither Father Payne nor anyone else who might take offense had noticed the surprises. David mentioned that the music reminded him of a movie score. "Wasn't there a movie called Damon?" he asked.
"Hey, watch it!" Bryce objected. "Damon is my boyfriend. You're thinking of the movie The Omen, a 1976 movie starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, with a boy Antichrist named Damien, not Damon. They did a remake in 2006, but, despite better technical work, it's not as good in my opinion. In any case, Damon and Damien are two different people, and believe me they are not the same thing."
"Sorry," David apologized. "I didn't mean anything."
"I know," Bryce backed off, "but I had to correct you right away before this thing got out of hand. Something else. Even though they might sound similar, the music in the original movie is not Karl Orff. It's an original soundtrack by a guy named Jerry Goldsmith."
On the way back to campus, however, Bryce chuckled to himself, anticipating Damon's reaction when he related David's mix-up to him.
Damon laughed. "Not the first time that mix-up happened. In fact, I got quite a kick out of some of the reactions when I told some kids I was the guy in the movie, but in a different incarnation." Then, more soberly, he added, "I think my mom was trying to name me Damien, but just couldn't spell. She sure called me the devil's spawn often enough."
After lunch, which they took in a small off-campus restaurant, Bryce and Damon retired to their rooms to put in a couple of hours on class assignments. While he was working, Bryce received his weekly phone call from his mother. She insisted on speaking with Damon, to make certain he was doing all right. Bryce went across to his partner's room.
"It's Mom," he said, holding out his cell. "But if you and she start any more nonsense, I'm taking my phone back."
Damon chuckled, then proceeded to have a very pleasant talk with Martha Winslow. When he began to laud Bryce's prowess on the soccer field, however, Bryce followed through on his threat, sneaking up behind Damon and snatching the phone from his hands. A tussle followed, with Damon and Bryce grappling for the instrument. Finally, Bryce was able to get to his room and shut Damon out.
Into the phone he said, "Mom, I'll only give the phone back to Damon if you promise no more talk about me, okay?"
Sighing, Martha said, "You really haven't changed since you and Bobby Wheeler used to fight over the video game controls."
"Mom! That was ten years ago! And this is nothing like that!" Bryce protested.
"To use a word I've heard coming from you, 'whatever!' Give me back to Damon. I'll behave," Martha promised.
Damon, meanwhile, had been pounding on the door and shouting. Bryce had been holding the door closed with his body while talking to his mother. Now, he simply stepped aside. Damon, finding the door unexpectedly yielding, crashed into the room, landing on the floor. Bryce calmly handed him the cell.
"Here. Mom says she'll behave."
Damon took the phone. "Mrs. Winslow, you have an extremely violent son. How did he get that way?" Whatever answer Martha gave, it caused Damon to nod in agreement and snicker as he moved back to his own room.
When he finally recovered his phone, Bryce asked his mother what progress had been made with his father and brother.
"Well, Dear, I don't want to rush things. You know your father can be very set in his ways, and Chip takes after him. I thought it would be best if they came to know Damon first, before we introduce ... ahem ... that other matter."
"You mean before telling them I'm gay," Bryce interpreted.
"Well, yes, Dear. Better to go slow and let them get accustomed to Damon before going there, though I have discussed Mrs. Thruston's son with your father."
"Mrs. Thruston's son? You mean Chad?" Bryce asked, remembering a thin young man some five or six years older than he.
"Yes, that's the one. He's doing very well in law school. Much better than Chip, actually."
"Are you telling me Chad Thruston is gay?" Bryce asked.
"Yes, Dear. Everyone knows that," Martha responded.
"I didn't," Bryce replied, more to himself than to his mother. He decided Martha knew what she was doing, so he left it at that.
Later that afternoon, Bryce and Damon drove to DeShawn's apartment building to provide transportation to the soup kitchen. When they arrived, DeShawn was standing on the sidewalk in his new jacket, with the boy Malcolm alongside him. As they opened the door for him to squeeze in past Damon, DeShawn asked, "Can Malcolm come with us. He'll help watch the car."
"Sure, come on, Malcolm," Damon invited.
The other boy crawled in. The two boys chatted amicably on the way to the shelter house. Bryce looked totally confused. When they arrived, DeShawn asked, "Can we go in, just for a minute, so I can tell the Deacon about Malcolm?"
"Sure, go ahead," Bryce said. Leaning against his Mustang, Bryce said, "What happened? I thought DeShawn and Malcolm were sworn enemies."
Damon chuckled. "Maybe friendly enemies. Fortunately, most quarrels at that age don't last. Come to think of it, we'd all be better off if we took a lesson from a couple of eight year olds."
"You've got a point there," Bryce agreed.
DeShawn and Malcolm returned.
"I'm glad to see you boys getting along these days," Bryce ventured.
"Sure. We're best friends," DeShawn said, acting as though nothing could be more obvious.
Giving up on that, Bryce asked, "How do you want to handle this? With two of you, the car will be doubly safe. I'm thinking it's kind of chilly out here, so maybe you'd like to take turns, and each of you come in to have your supper while the other watches."
"Yeah! That'll be great," DeShawn decided. "I get to go first, since I was here before Malcolm."
"No, I should go first," Malcolm said, "since I'm the guest, and I'm older than you."
"Two weeks!" DeShawn said disgustedly, making it plain this was not the first time Malcolm had used that argument. They began to tussle.
"Whoa. Wait up there," Bryce insisted. "With you two knocking about like that, you could damage my car. Then I'd have to skin you alive."
Both boys giggled and rolled their eyes at that.
"You work it out peacefully, no fighting, or else there won't be any car watching next week," Bryce threatened. That got their attention. "When you've worked it out, whoever is first can come in at five o'clock, then the other at five thirty, okay?"
"Okay," DeShawn said.
"Yes, sir," Malcolm agreed.
DeShawn and Damon walked towards the soup kitchen. Damon draped his arm over Bryce's shoulder. "My peacemaker," he grinned.
It worked. At five, Malcolm presented himself. He was given a full plate and something to drink, which he consumed greedily. Asked how they finally decided who went first, he shrugged his shoulders, and said, "The best man won."
A half hour later, DeShawn replaced Malcolm. Damon asked him in confidence, "How come you let Malcolm come first?"
"His mom's out of work. He don't get to eat regular, like, so he was hungrier than me," the eight year old replied.
Damon hugged him.
When it was time to go, and both boys were in the car on their way back, DeShawn asked, "Bryce, do you have two tens? One for me and one for Malcolm?"
"Nope, I'm afraid not," Bryce said as he pulled up in front of the apartment building. "You'll have to make do with these." He handed each a twenty.
The boys looked at each other, then at Bryce. "Thanks, man. You're something. You're cool," Malcolm said.
"See you next week," Bryce replied.
At Pat's Tavern that evening, Bryce told Damon that if he mentioned this to his mother, he would never let him speak to her again. Damon laughed diabolically. Bryce sighed, then decided Damon needed to be punished, so for the next hour he insisted on talking about American history, and why Damon should feel part of it. Damon eventually had glazed over eyes, and not from the beer he was drinking.
"Are you paying attention?" Bryce demanded.
"Nope," Damon honestly responded.
"Okay, I'll stop. But consider this one last point. Are we Americans a nation, a people, or just a bunch of individuals who happen to live in the same place? If we're a people, we have to have something in common. Obviously, it's not race, since Americans come in all colors and ethnicities. I say we're Americans if we share a common set of values, and those values are found in the principles proclaimed by the founding fathers. Note, I said principles. I know we didn't always practice them. Like sharing and looking out for each other. That makes DeShawn a good American in my book."