Everyone seemed very friendly, but I could tell that they were preoccupied for the most part. Many of the guys had family in tow and just wanted to get settled so they could leave. My next-door neighbor introduced himself as Erik - making sure that I knew it was spelled with a 'k' and not a 'c'. He was about 6 feet tall, muscular build, stunning brown eyes, and a really cute short brown haircut. He reminded me of Joey from the TV show 'Friends'.
Erik looked really tired and I could tell that he just wanted to have his family leave. From what I could tell, his mom, dad, and younger sister all came with him to see him off. His sister's name was Caroline, and she cornered me after I had introduced myself to Erik's mom and dad. I had made my polite excuses to leave so that Erik could get settled. He told me to stop by later, and asked me to help him set up his room. I could tell that he was looking to make some friends too.
I wandered down the stairs thinking that I'd explore a little of the campus. Caroline caught up to me at the bottom of the stairs and asked where I was going.
"I thought I'd check out some of the campus and stay out of everyone's way." I said
"Oh, I was hoping that you'd stick by Evans Hall (the name of my dorm)." Caroline said. "My brother Erik is busy upstairs and I have nothing to do."
"OK, I can hang here for a few minutes", I said. "So, where are you from", I inquired, trying to make conversation and learn maybe a little more about her cute brother.
We chatted for about 30 minutes. In that time, I learned that they were from Chicago and had driven all night so that they could get here early this morning. Erik was the older of the two. Caroline was only one year younger and was hoping to come to our school next year. She seemed really sweet, and it was more than obvious that she was making nice with me. I could tell that she was one of those girls that would be back for her last year of High School all excited that she was friends with her brother Erik's college friends.
Caroline was dressed in a black miniskirt and light blue sweater. You could tell she was trying to be all 'collegiate'. Certainly not attire for an all night car trip with mom, dad, and her older brother. 'Tragic' was the first word that came to mind. I just hoped that Erik was not as high maintenance. Starting school was stressful enough and I was really looking forward to making a few friends that I could really just be myself with. Not that I really knew what that 'self' really consisted of yet.
I was getting bored with Caroline and really wanted to go find something else to do, but there was little chance of making polite escape. She talked so incessantly. No wonder Erik wanted to go away to school. My salvation arrived shortly thereafter when I saw Erik and his family emerge from the building.
"There you are! We've been looking all over the dorm for you." Caroline's mother said. Caroline just rolled her eyes.
"Oh mother.... I'm just getting aquatinted with Erik's new neighbor Scott."
"Well, it's time for us to be going. We have a long drive back to Illinois ahead of us, and Erik has to get settled." Said his mother.
It was Erik's turn to roll his eyes. I gave him a knowing glance, and made my exit from his family. On my way back inside, I told Erik to stop by if he needed some help getting settled. He said that he would.
So much for exploring the campus I thought. Then again, I'd seen it all during the tour before I applied. I guess I was just looking for something to do. Maybe I was expecting more. OK, Scott stop. It's only Friday morning, and the day has just started...
Derek was the only other person from my High School that was attending school here. I had known him since grade school, but we've hardly spoken in the last few years. I guess now that we were past High School we'd have even less in common. I threw my head back into my pillow and cursed myself.
Derek was not gay, and he was really not much of a friend anymore. I had to let go of that fantasy. After all I was just starting college, and I wanted my life to get off to a new start. I had to let go of my thoughts for him and what they represented. Maybe that nap was a good idea after all. I lie down on the bed and fell fast asleep. ***** The dream started pretty much the same as it always did. I was sitting in the last row of the bleachers. The gym was not really all that large, but sitting in the back still afforded me a good view of the competition while offering enough privacy so that nobody would take notice of me.
The competition was about half over and Derek had still not taken the floor. He was up next, and I could see his father pacing in the designated coach's area. The coach's area was simply an area roped off for the teams to store their gear and get last minute pointers. The temporary ropes that outlined the area were just like the ones at any bank or movie theater - used to queue people into a specific area. A seemingly simple barrier, but to Derek's father they might as well have been a 10 foot tall concrete barricade.
Derek's father was also his coach. He was the gym teacher at our High School, and his only claim to fame was being on the US Olympics Gymnastics team many years before. I don't really know the entire story, but I do know that his father didn't do very well. His knowledge of gymnastics was far superior to that of his athletic skills. Years back he convinced the school board to institute a gymnastics program at our school.
It was Derek's turn finally. I fidgeted a little bit and leaned forward to get a better view of Derek's performance. My butt was falling asleep on the hard bleacher anyway. I was really not all that interested in gymnastics. I was just there to watch Derek. I was always there to watch Derek. I went to every home competition and all of the away ones that were not too far. I always stayed in the background though.
He looked simply magnificent as always. Derek was a small man, but he was quite the hunk. He only stood 5'5" but weighed in at 155 pounds - all muscle. I knew his stats from the competition's program. Not that I needed to read it though. I had every inch of his body memorized. He had short dark brown hair - closely shaved, and very soft blue eyes. My favorite event of his was the rings. It was his signature event.
Derek was able to hold himself in an iron cross for longer than any high school athlete in the country. Sports Illustrated did a short blurb about him once. It was amazing to watch when he did it. The muscles in his back, arms, and neck bulged. His face strained and turned red from the exertion.
For those of you not familiar with gymnastics, the iron cross is a feat of strength. It is done from a pair of rings suspended from the ceiling of the gymnasium. There is quite a bit of acrobatic 'other stuff' that each competitor does while performing his routine on the rings. The iron cross is usually done before the dismount. It is when the athlete lowers himself so that each arm is pointed directly away from the body, toes pointed down, and face looking forward. No movement is allowed while holding the position. The body forms the shape of a cross - hence the name. It takes an incredible amount of strength to hold that position. Derek usually held the position for about 10 or 12 seconds - about 5 or 6 times longer than necessary. It always impressed the judges and won the favor of the crowd.
Derek took the competition floor and signaled to the judges that he was ready. His first event today was the pommel horse. He chalked up his hands and mounted the horse. I wish he were home mounting me instead... Anyway, he started his routine and began spinning his way around the horse. He had just started the flare when his left foot struck the edge of the horse. The rest of his body was moving so fast that there was little he could do to recover from the error. His body tumbled through the air and it came to a rest on the mat.
Normally the mat would have been sufficient to cushion the fall. But his landing was far from normal. Derek had come crashing down on his head and I watched in horror as his neck twisted in a sickening fashion. He lay there in a crumpled heap of muscle and sweat. Derek didn't move. It appeared that he had snapped his neck and brought his life to quick and bitter end.
I awoke with a start. Not again I thought. This dream has to stop. How many times do I have to relive Derek's accident? We haven't really been friends for the past four years. Why should I care? "Because you're in love with him stupid. You've always been in love with him." Shut up I said to no one in particular. I didn't need my conscious talking to me about the obvious either. College was supposed to be a new start for me. I needed to find a way to leave the past and all of its pain behind me. I got up and grabbed my helmet and jacket and went out for some air. Making new friends in Evan's Hall could wait a few hours. I jumped on my Honda and went in search of some curvy back roads. It was autumn in New England and the air was chilly. The colors of the leaves were at their peak, and I was happy to take in the scenery.
My mom hated that I had the motorcycle at school. She tried to convince me to leave it home in the garage - saying that it would be winter soon and that I would not be able to ride. I told her that I'd ride it home before the snow flies. I'm glad that I won that argument. Riding was a release for me - one of the few. It was something that I could do alone.
As kids we did everything together. Sure, there were other kids that we played with, but we never did anything apart if we could help it. We liked to do the same things, and we could always tell what the other was thinking. In many ways we were like twin brothers.
Every summer we used to camp out in the woods behind his house and tell ghost stories till we fell asleep. We'd swim in Derek's pool when it was hot. A few times we skinny-dipped late at night when we were supposed to be sleeping in the tent. I'm not sure how that started. If memory serves, it was some sort of dare. We only did it a few times, but it was enough for me to mentally remember each part of his body. Even as kids, Derek was always real muscular. He started gymnastics very young, and all that time in the gym really paid off.
As we grew older, Derek spent more and more time in the gym practicing his routines. I understood, and I was genuinely proud of him. He was really getting very good, and there was talk that he could make the Olympic team if he kept progressing as he had.
To make a long story short, Derek was an only child. He was also his father's pride and joy. He loved him and wanted for Derek to get the medal that he was never able to win for himself. Before long, it became pretty clear that his father saw nothing but gold. That elusive medal hung before his eyes and he drove Derek very hard. I guess he wanted his son to achieve what had remained out of reach for himself.
Derek spent countless hours in the gym due to all of his practices. We grew apart solely due to the lack of time we could spend together. This was especially hard on me since Derek had been my one real friend. We did everything together as kids, and now that we were becoming young men, I felt rather alone. I began longing for his friendship and his companionship.
When High School started, we were mainly just acquaintances. We shared very few classes together given the size of the new High School. A year ago, our school district restructured itself and combined all of the smaller and dilapidated High Schools into one larger one. We had been used to classes with only 20 or so other kids. The new school packed us all in and classes of 100 were not all that uncommon.
I guess that's where my feelings of isolation, and hatred of crowds began. Girls always surrounded Derek. I'm not surprised either. Like I said, he was really cute. He was very popular and quickly became part of the in-crowd. His training gave him almost no time for after school activities so most of his socialization was at school. The crowd of people that surrounded him really bugged me though. You could tell that the girls just wanted to be seen with him, and the guys admired and idolized his national 'jock gymnast' reputation.
Derek's accident happened during our senior year. He lived through the fall, but in many ways a larger part of him died that day. The ambulance had rushed him to the hospital after working on him at the scene for an hour. Derek had broken two bones in his neck, dislocated his shoulder, and suffered a severe concussion. He was in a coma for almost three weeks. The press report said that his two broken neck vertebrae were not that serious. The fractures were more hairline cracks than anything. What was of more concern was the nerve damage in his spinal cord.
Derek was paralyzed.
He came back to school about a month later - in a wheel chair. Everyone swarmed around him and dotted on him. He looked so sad though. I'm not sure if it was that he was paralyzed or that he lost his chances at ever going to the Olympics. His father was crushed, and I'm sure Derek felt responsible for bringing his dad's sole purpose for living to an abrupt close.
Derek seemed to sink into a former image of what he had been, and after a few weeks the crowds no longer followed him around school. Rather sad that the stigma of a kid in a wheelchair was so strong. Goes to show you how fickle people can be.
I tried to talk to him many times, but for the most part Derek just wanted to be alone. My heart went out to him, and I didn't know what to say or do.
Derek was not the only one who was suffering either. I was also struggling with being a gay youth in a backwards town. I knew that I was gay pretty much since Middle School began. I also knew that the object of my affection was still Derek. The few friends I did have were not close enough to come out to. I found myself silently waiting for the school year to end.
I was looking forward to working for the summer and getting ready for college. I was thankful for the new start that school would bring me. Maybe I was trying to run away from this town, but mainly I felt I was running to something. I started working out, and saw some positive results start to happen in my body. I felt good about who I was and the fact that I was in control of my own life - for the first time.
Things were not perfect though. I still had nightmares about Derek's accident. I longed for him in my dreams, but at least the yearning for him stopped in waking life. Derek had been replaced by other activities, and new discoveries about what life had ahead for me. I had started to come out of my shell and was truly happy about the future.
Towards the end of our Senior Year, I heard through the grapevine that Derek was going to be attending the same university as me. I was both elated and sad at the same time. I was really looking forward to leaving all of this behind, but part of me was happy that I'd still be able to see him.
The good news is that Derek had gotten out of his wheelchair. The swelling on his spinal cord went away and he regained feeling to his entire body. It took a few months, but by the end of the year, he had taught himself to walk again. The doctors were amazed at his recovery, but attributed it to his superb health and muscle tone at the time of the accident. Through many hours of tutoring, he was able to graduate with all of us. When he walked across the stage with his cane, the student body stood and cheered.
I saw him at the gym a few times over the summer. He was back to lifting weights and he was able to run on the treadmill - the only difference is that instead of swinging his arms as people do when they run, Derek had to hold onto the machine for balance. It was a pretty minor limitation by all accounts. The casual observer would never have known he came so close to a life in a wheelchair.
I walked over to him one day as he was finishing his run on the treadmill. He was doing his after run cool-down, so I knew that he'd be done in a minute or so. I didn't want to disturb him, so I waited behind him until he stopped. He bent over to grab his towel but the treadmill was still moving slightly. He started to topple over and I jumped to grab his arm and steady him. I made a quick observation that the muscles in his arm were much smaller than they used to be. They must have atrophied. Muscularly, he was a fraction of what he had been. He still looked great though.
"Scott!" he cried. "What are you doing here?" Pause... "It's, uh, good to see you."
"I'm sorry Derek, I didn't mean to scare you like that, and it's just that, well you were falling."
"I do that a lot Scott, several times a day actually. The doctors say that I should use my cane all of the time until I fully retrain myself to, well uh, get back to normal. I just feel really stupid using a cane here at the gym."
"Well you look terrific!" I said. Immediately regretting how enthusiastically I had said that. I didn't want Derek to misinterpret my meaning. That's not exactly something a guy says to another guy.
"Well Scott, I have to go. I have a physical therapy appointment to go to downstairs." The gym had a full staff of sports medical and physical therapy professionals.
"What do you just call the exercise session that you put yourself through?" I asked puzzled.
"Oh, that. I work out for two hours a day here, and then head downstairs for an hour of stretching and neck exercises with someone helping me. The doctors mandate the therapy as part of my recovery. I don't mind so much, the staff is really nice to me, and I'll do anything to keep myself out of that damned chair."
"OK, I won't keep you. It was good seeing you again."
"You too Scott, it has been a long time..."
I turned to walk away and I thought I caught a wisp of a tear in his eye. I looked back over my shoulder and he was drying the sweat off his neck with his towel. It was probably just a bead of sweat in his eye. "What else could it be? Don't do this to yourself Scott, you've moved beyond this." The voice inside was right.
I went to the shower and found a stall that was empty and quickly showered and left. I hated locker rooms. I've always had a hard time keeping my dick from getting hard when I saw a good looking man - and this gym was full of them. The last thing I needed was to be beaten to a pulp my some jock because I got hard at the wrong time...
A few more new arrivals had moved into the dorm since I had left for my ride. I said hello to them as I walked down the hall. It wasn't until I got back to my room that I noticed what I looked like. I still had my heavy riding boots, and thick black leather jacket on. With my helmet tucked under my arm, and my short spiky haircut, I looked a little bit more like a rebel than I wanted to. So much for first impressions... The last thing I wanted was for the guys to think of me as the dorm's bad boy or something. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
I quickly changed into a pair of jeans, sneakers, and a white Bill-a-Bong t-shirt. I walked next door to see if Erik was still there. His door was open a crack, so I knocked lightly. "Whoa!" I heard, and then something crashed on the floor. The door swung open.
"You scared the crap out of me Scott!" Erik said, then flashed me a grin revealing the most adorable dimples I have ever seen.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you, but I didn't want to come in unannounced."
"That's OK dude, you just startled me. I was standing just behind the door trying to hang this poster. When you knocked, it was just right next to my ear."
He was hanging a poster of his favorite band LIVE. He had apparently dropped the tape dispenser to the floor in the process. I bent over and picked it up.
"Why don't I hand you some pieces of tape, and you hang the poster."
"Kewl. Hey, do like Live? I saw them over the summer and got this poster. They were great."
"I like them too. My favorite song of theirs is Lightning Crashes."
"Yeah, that's a great song."
"Much of their music is a bit harsh for me, I tend to like their mellower stuff."
We spent the next hour or so talking about music, families, current events etc. I found out that Erik was majoring in corporate finance but he hoped one day to work for an investment firm and do mutual fund investment research. I looked at him as he spoke like he was from another planet.
"What are you staring at?"
"Oh, sorry.... I guess I am just a little bit amazed at your major."
"Why, is there something wrong with finance?" Erik looked at me with like I'd just kicked a puppy or something. Maybe he was looking for a little approval too. I filed that away for future thought.
"I'm sorry. It's just that you seem to know exactly what you want to do for a career. I mean, most guys would just say that they wanted to major in finance. You've gone way beyond that and told me what you want to be 10 or 20 years from now."
"Is there something wrong with that?"
"No, not al all Erik, don't get me wrong. I think that it's great that you know what you want. I'm still undecided about what I want to do. Hell, all I've decided is that I want to pursue something in Science. Maybe Earth Science or something like that."
"You're not telling me that you're one of those leftist tree huggers are you!"
I sat there on the edge of his bed with a stunned look on my face. "Ah, no... What gave you that idea?" I wasn't sure what to think.
Just then, Erik started to laugh. It was one of those belly laughs that take a while to build into their full momentum. After a moment, Erik's face was bright red and I thought that he might piss his pants from laughing so hard.
"Dude, I'm SO sorry! I shouldn't be making fun of you like that. I don't care if you are a tree hugger or not. I just couldn't help but laugh. You should have seen the look on your face when I said that. I really should be more sensitive - I mean we just met, and I don't want to scare you away."
He sat next to me on the bed and smiled - flashing those dimples at me again.
"It's OK... Don't get me wrong, I like trees but you'll never seem me chained to one." Erik looked a little bit more relaxed as I made a joke about his comment. "Can't say as I expect much from a finance weenie. The sort of Earth science that I was talking about deals more with petroleum and natural resources."
"Hey, who you calling weenie?" With that, Erik jumped on top of me and wrestled me onto his bed. He tried to muss up my hair only to realize that it was too short to make a difference. So he then moved on towards tickling me. I was really laughing hard.
"OK, Uncle!" I managed to squeak out between laughs. That wasn't getting him to slow his assault any. "If you don't stop, I'm going to piss my pants all over your bed."
Erik stopped immediately. "Gross! You wouldn't dare." He said.
"You are so gullible Erik", I said as I jumped up off his bed and fled towards the hallway.
"I'll show you who's gullible!" He was hot on my heels as I ran next door to my room.
I tried to close the door behind me but Erik was just too quick. Part of me was having fun at the boyish banter that we were sporting between us. It helped diffuse some of the seriousness that seemed to surround going to college and growing up. The other reason that I fled the room was because I was sprouting a major woodie from that tickling session with Erik. He was a big guy, and really cute too. It had been many years since I had wrestled with Derek, and I was no longer a kid. Having a 6-foot tall full on hottie touching me like that instantly aroused something in me.
"Dude, you're too slow!" He said as he eased inside the door as I was trying to close it.
I jumped on my bed and curled up in the fetal position to prevent him from tickling me anymore, and to hide me erection.
"Scott, don't worry, I won't tickle you anymore"
"You're sure?" I asked with a hint on distrust. He started to laugh a bit more and then quieted down. He looked around and saw my helmet and bike gear. "Dude, is that your CBR parked out in the lot?"
"Yeah! I just got it this summer. It's a kick ass ride."
"Wow, you'll have to take me for a ride sometime. I love motorcycles. I used to ride dirt bikes as a kid, but I broke my arm on one when another rider cut me off. I wiped out and broke my arm and my mom took the bike away and sold it on me saying that it was too dangerous and that I'd never ride again as long as I lived under her roof. Blaa Blah...."
We talked about bikes and other things for the next hour or so. Erik asked me if he could use my computer sometime to E-mail his friends back home. Of course I didn't care. My brother Paul gave the computer to me about a year ago. His architecture firm was upgrading all of their systems and they were selling off the older equipment to employees at a major discount. Anything that they didn't sell off was to be donated to charity. The computer was old and was suitable for little else besides word processing, E-mail, and surfing the web. It was perfect for me though, and I didn't mind sharing it.
"Scott, I don't know about you, but I'm starving!"
"Sure, let's go brave the cafeteria and see what they have for lunch. We have to start eating their slop sometime, and I guess now is a good a time as any."
We locked our doors and headed down the steps towards the lobby. We were just heading out the front door when Erik stopped in his tracks. "Hey, Scott... There's a little guy over their trying to unload his car and he's got a cane. Looks like he's got his hands full. Maybe we should go help him out."
I stood there for a moment in shock. Before Erik even stopped talking I saw that he was pointing towards Derek. I recognized his car right away. As we walked over to help him out, I couldn't help but curse to myself. There were four freshmen dorms at this school. How come Derek was assigned to mine?
Derek had not seen us approaching his car. He was apparently focused on how he was going to get an exceedingly large box out of his trunk and manage his cane at the same time.
"Hey guy, do you need a hand?" Erik said as we approached the car.
Derek was a bit startled and dropped the box back into the trunk. He quickly spun around and his jaw dropped wide open. "Scott! Uh, what are you doing here?"
"You two know each other?" Erik asked - his face scrunching into a puzzled look.
"Erik, this is Derek Mathews - we went to High School together. Derek, this is my new neighbor in the dorms, Erik."
"Nice to meet you Erik" Derek said although he never took his eyes off me. "Scott, you never said that you were going to school here..."
"I didn't know you were coming here either." Of course, I did know based on what I had heard at school before graduation. I just hoped that our school would be large enough to not have our paths cross right away. I was looking forward to having some time to make new friends and get settled in before I had to deal with Derek being at the same school.
"Derek, let's give you a hand. Isn't that great Scott? Now you got two friends in Evan's Hall and it's still just the first day of school."
"Yeah, imagine my luck..."