I get into my class at that moment. As soon as I walk into the philosophy class all eyes are on me. All 15 Philosophy students stare at me.
It doesn't end there. When class ends people are staring at me more.
"How are you feeling?"
I meet up with Jordan at the cafeteria. More people are staring at me. I've never been so stared at in my life.
"I think people know that I turned down Gamma," I state.
That was the only reasons I could think for getting as much attention as I am getting. It's a little weird because before today no one noticed me but today everyone is looking my way. No one really says anything or talks about it but it's clear that things are awkward.
That's when I notice Jordan's face. Jordan has a look of worry on his face. He honestly looks concerned. There has only been one other time Jordan has given me this concerned look. It was the day that we had found out that my brother Ross committed suicide.
Jordan shakes his head, "Damn. You haven't heard then?"
"Shady Shanice was on the radio today. She was discussing you."
I almost laugh at the idea of it. I've heard about Shady Shanice from Jordan a few times. Supposedly it was the college radio and she went around getting dirt on people. Everyone listened to it but I honestly didn't care to. I was never really into gossip. The fact that Shady Shanice was talking about me on her radio station was laughable.
"You sure they got the right Mariano?" I ask, "I know it's not a common name but..."
Jordan cuts me off. He doesn't find this funny.
"She was talking about you...and Gaige."
My mouth drops.
Jordan isn't joking. I turn around and notice the glares of people in a different way now. They knew I was gay! I just don't understand how this could have happened. Gaige and I had been so fucking careful. This whole time we were dating and no one knew about us. All of a sudden now that we broke up someone knew? No only a few people either. The entire school knew that Gaige and I were together.
Jordan puts his hand on my hand. I think my best friend can tell that I'm nervous and I think he feels like he's nervous for me or something.
"I'm not joking," Jordan tells me and takes a deep breath, "We can go to Shady Shanice. Maybe if you pay her off she'll spin the story and say that she got some false information or something before this somehow gets back to your parents. You know how active of an Alumni your dad is."
I bury my head in my hands. What if this did get back to my parents? My entire life would be ruined if they found out. All of a sudden Jordan puts things into perspective. Fuck this school. I wasn't popular anyway.
"Jordan everyone's looking at me," I state.
"Stop freaking out."
"Jordan! I can't yo what the fuck?"
I'm shaking at that moment. All of a sudden I'm thinking about just how religious my mother is. I'm thinking about just how big my dad is on people being masculine. He'd raised all sons. He always assumed that he'd have a lot of grandkids. This would destroy him. My grandfather was so conservative too. My entire life was ruined.
"I'm going to need you to be strong right now...Gaige just walked into the cafeteria."
Gaige usually was at football practice around now. The fact that he skipped practice to come to the cafeteria probably only meant one thing.
Gaige was looking at me.
"I got you," Jordan says.
My best friend gets up at that moment and walks in front of Gaige. I know why. Gaige's face is serious. He is a man on a mission right now and I've never seen him so serious in my life. It honestly is scaring the fuck out of me. Gaige is going to beat my ass. He's going to think that I'm the reason that Shady Shanice knows about us and he's going to wail on me.
I was prepared to get my ass beat at this moment but luckily my best friend is pulling some sort of interference.
"Get out of my way," Gaige tells Jordan.
I'm still sitting at the table. I can hear Gaige breathing heavy. I stare out straight. I'm having a little bit of a panic attack. People are staring at me and they won't quit. They just glare so fucking hard and it has intensified since Gaige has walked into the room. Some people are even standing in their seats to get a better view!
People have literally stopped what they were doing to see what was happening!
If things aren't bad enough I see the Gammas not too far behind. They have just walked in. The entire gang of them is being led by Barry. They don't approach but god knows what's going to happen. Gaige has to notice them here. He has to be willing to throw me under the bus as some boy obsessed with him in order to impress the Gammas. Hell he might beat my ass just to show them how much he doesn't care about me.
I know Gaige. There was nothing Gaige cared about more than his popularity. He was going to embarrass me.
He was going to destroy my life to save face for the Gammas.
"I'm not going to let you hurt him," Jordan says.
"Get the fuck out of my way," Gaige says again, "I'm not going to say it again."
Gaige balls his fist at Jordan. Jordan has never been the fighter. The only reason he is standing there pretending to be now is because he made some stupid promise at my brother's grave to always be there for me. Gaige on the other hand was a fighter. He was a boxer all throughout high school and I'd seen him beat guys' asses on the football field for no other reason but they got in his way. Jordan had to know just looking at Gaige and his muscles that he didn't stand a chance.
I get up out of my seat. If Gaige was going to beat someone's ass I was going to be man enough to fight him back. I wasn't going to hide behind anyone. It was bad enough people knew my sexuality before I wanted them to. I wasn't going to let people think I was some scared gay guy.
I push Jordan aside.
Gaige looks dead in my eyes. The tension is so high. Literally a circle has formed around us. The majority of them were upper classmen ready to see a freshmen get his ass beat. I try to remember how to fight. Back in the day Ross used to play fight with me a lot in an attempt to toughen me up. Honestly I hadn't really been in a fight though.
"I didn't tell anyone," I tell Gaige, "So beat my ass if you want. Do what you got to do Gaige. I didn't tell anyone."
"Beat your ass?"
Gaige looks confused.
"You didn't come here to beat my ass?"
"I would never do that. I love you," Gaige says, "I came here to say that now that everyone knows...I want you back."
He doesn't whisper the words. He says it. With that Gaige leans in and kisses me. He kisses me on my lips in front of everyone. His tongue goes down my throat. His body presses up against mine. All these memories flood back into my mind at that moment of when I first met him and when I first flirted with him. For that moment it seems like I forget where I am. I forget about all the stares or anything like that.
Gaige is wrapping his arms around me so tight that I can feel his heart and it's beating so hard. His heart is beating hard for me.
Today was the best day of his life. Zackery could feel himself smiling. He is back at the frat house. He has prepared beds for two people. Only Caliph and Flip would be pledging this year. This was perfect. Flip had proved his loyalty to him. Flip had sold Gaige out to Shady Shanice. Zackery's plan was working and working even better than expected. Zackery had seen Gaige completely out himself by kissing another guy in the fucking mouth.
Zackery makes it back up the stairs where he sees his frat brothers standing around with some girls. Marilyn is there waiting for him. Tomorrow they would be welcoming in the two pledges but today was the day that Zackery had ruined Gaige. Forever.
"I can't believe he kissed a guy," Cody says.
It's all anyone has been talking about. It's total disbelief that Gaige was gay.
Marilyn raises her eyebrows, "He had no problem fucking me."
"Is that all you ever talk about? The time that Gaige fucked you?" Zackery asks Marilyn.
"It was a long time ago. Besides he's gay. Clearly. Get over it," Marilyn spits back.
Marilyn's girlfriends laugh at that moment. She's annoying. And she clearly isn't loyal. Not like Flip was. Zackery would never date a guy but he knew that he had to get rid of Marilyn at some point. He'd heard she was a hoe. He knew she was so in love with Gaige. It was probably killing her inside that Gaige had turned out to be gay. Now with Gaige out of the way things were going to turn around for Zackery. Once he became Vice President he could have any girl he wanted.
Marilyn would be old news.
"Get the fuck out," Zackery tells her.
Marilyn and her sorority sisters are all shocked. Sure Zackery may have needed a popular girl like Marilyn in his corner before but now that Gaige wasn't there to compete with him he could hold his own light on his own.
"I said get the fuck out," Zackery repeats.
"Wait are you really kicking me out because of some comment I made about Gaige?" she asks honestly confused, "I told you I had sex with him. Everyone knows I had sex with him. There was a tape. You knew that when you got with me."
"That's the point. You're a fucking hoe. And I'm tired of you. So I need you to exit. Immediately."
Zackery walks to the door. His frat brothers laugh. They are amused as hell. Zackery was liking this too. He was going to take his control. First it was vice president and then it would be President. He would rule Felis U one way or another. First thing first was him just cutting out the fat.
Marilyn stands outside of the door with her sorority sisters.
"Do you know who the fuck I am?" Marilyn asks him.
With that he slams the door in front of her face. His brothers are laughing and hollering. Reggie is spitting up all over himself by seeing how Zackery just played her.
"You're a cold dude Z," Reggie states.
Cold. Zackery liked the sound of that. He did what he had to do. He didn't have any real emotions to Marilyn. She was sexy as all hell. Probably one of the prettiest girls in school and when they had gotten together they had been the talk of Felis U. She had played her role but that was old news.
He figured that he probably wanted to wait a little while before dumping Marilyn. This probably wouldn't even make it on Shady Shanice especially with the whole Gaige thing going on. But Gaige's news would destroy him. Not all publicity was good publicity.
Zackery brushes your shoulders off, "Bros before hoes. You know how I do. We cutting people off left and right. There's going to be some changes around this bitch."
He announces it loud and clear. In case anyone was trying to go for that Vice President role he had to let them know not to get too clever. With Gaige gone the role was his.
"What changes you talking about?" Roddy asks.
"You know. The faggot."
The frat brothers look at one another.
"That was kind of harsh," another frat brother named Jerome says.
Zackery is a little confused at what the hell they are even talking about. They'd called boys faggots a million times. Zackery had literally seen Jerome himself beat up a dude who said was trying to flirt with him back in Freshman year. Zackery remembered Jerome calling the dude a faggot. Faggot wasn't some crazy term. They called people faggots literally every day.
Now all of a sudden it's harsh?
"Fuck are you even talking about?" he asks Jerome.
"You can't just go around calling a gay dude a faggot, Z, that is not cool," Reggie states.
A couple of the guys who were just giving him props for kicking Marilyn to the curb were now looking at him funny. Reggie was the biggest ass kisser that Zackery ever met. The fact that he was opening up his dumbass mouth right now and finding a voice blew Zackery's mind. What the fuck was going on here.
"Did he or did he not kiss another dude?" Zackery asks.
"Yeah but I mean this is 2016 yo. Gay marriage is legal and shit now..."
Reggie laughs, "Right. Plus, all the hoes seem to love that shit."
"Less competition! Gaige was getting all the hoes before..."
Reggie and Jerome give each other a pound. Cody and Roddy are laughing as though agreeing with everything they were saying. Zackery felt like he was in the fucking twilight zone right now. What the fuck was going on. These people were defending Gaige?
What the fuck was happening?
Zackery shakes his head. They were idiots. All the Gammas were dumb as fuck. He'd always been the smartest one. Maybe he had to explain to them again how this was embarrassing as fuck. Maybe he had to make it clear to them that there was no way in hell they could be cool with that.
"We can't have a FAG for a frat brother!" Zackery shouts at them.
The Gammas look at each other confused. Sometimes Zackery felt like he was in the twilight zone. He really had to make everything crystal fucking clear. These dudes were just dumb as all fuck. What if they had already started going around school with this shit? What if the Gammas had already started spreading the word that they were cool with Gaige being gay?
That's when the question comes. It comes from James. James was the manliest man in the group. He has more sex with girls then the rest of them combined. He was basically the straightest man that Zackery knew.
James, the man whore, opens his fucking trap and says, "I'm confused. Why can't we have a gay frat brother?"
"Do I have to fucking spell this SHIT out for you DUMBASS!" Zackery gets in his face.
Just at that moment he hears some footsteps. People are walking down. Zackery turns to see Barry and Gaige. They seemed to have been having a talk upstairs. Zackery is so pissed at his other frat brothers that when they get to the bottom of the stairs he is breathing heavily.
"What were you spelling out?" Barry asks.
Zackery looks around the room hoping someone would say something. No one is saying anything. Gaige is still in the fucking frat house. Gaige even sits his ass between Cody and Roddy and gives them pounds. He shakes their fucking hands! They smile at one another when he walks in the room. It's as though this faggot wasn't just out here KISSING another guy. IN PUBLIC!
No way in hell.
"I think we all need to address the elephant in the room," Zackery says.
"What elephant?" Barry asks.
"We need to talk about membership," Zackery starts explaining, "You know...being that Gaige is gay."
There is silence. Gaige squints at Zackery. He must be able to see the animosity at that point but soon there would be nothing he could do. He needed to be kicked out and soon. The fact that Barry hasn't already made the decision to disown Gaige was a little annoying to say the least. The fact that he was even allowed back into the frat house after the stunt he pulled at cafeteria was ridiculous. They should have all grabbed Gaige's stuff, covered it in dog shit and thrown it on the curb. That was the Gamma way.
It's Barry who nods, "You're right. I think it's cool."
"I was just telling Zackery that," James says, "Bitches love the gays. Gaige is going to attract the girls like magnets and we can just swipe them off..."
"You know I still like pussy right?" Gaige asks.
"Oh now you're just being fucking greedy," Barry laughs.
There is laughter in the frat house! Laughter! Zackery is going nuts. He can't believe this shit at this moment. What in all fuck is going on?
"Nah but seriously though that little kiss won me a date with Mariano. He's letting me take him back out. And this time if he gives me a second chance I'm going to be completely truthful with him. I'm going to hold him down. So you guys can have all the chicks you want."
"Well I think we speak for all of us when we say we are happy for you," Barry explains, "You're the last guy I thought was gay but we are all supportive of it."
"So there is going to be no change in membership?" Zackery asks.
"Of course," Barry responds.
Thank god. They could be happy for Gaige all they wanted as far as Zackery was concerned. As long as they were happy for him at a distance. As long as he wasn't a Gamma anymore.
"Well I'd like to step up as Vice president," Zackery states.
"I think that's a great idea," Barry replies.
It was easier than Zackery had thought. Was it really going to be that easy?
Zackery smiles at that moment. He walks over to Gaige. He puts his hand on his shoulder. This was his moment. He was going to rub it in.
"Yo Gaige...sorry shit didn't work out for you. But you've been unplugged."
"Unplugged? The fuck is you talking about?" Gaige asks.
"You've been unplugged. Gamma's the plug and your line has been cut. Thanks for your services but they are no longer needed from some Hershey highway, dick sucking FAGGOT! Let me help you get your things you little bitch!"
The entire room gets quiet.
He isn't the only one laughing. The others are laughing as well. They aren't just laughing with Gaige. They are specifically laughing at Zackery. Zackery couldn't take it. He couldn't take this fucking laughter.
"Oh you didn't hear?" Gaige asks.
"Barry is leaving to study abroad this semester. The reason that you are becoming the Vice President is because I'm becoming the President."
Caliph is sitting in his room at that moment. He looks in his black suitcase. The directions were inside. They were directions on how to make a bomb. The directions also included information on how to get an automatic weapon. His heart races as he reads them. Nadia has brought them with her. She specifically gave him these instructions He was supposed to do the attack before the end of the school year. The details would be up to him. He'd grown up seeing the worst of the worst.
He'd seen firsthand the beheadings, shootings, caged prisoners being burned alive and submerged gradually until they were drowned.
To him violence wasn't some fanaticism. It was a strategy. There were no fence sitters. The Global Jihad was coming and soon it was up to Caliph to cast the first stone.
He was so prepared but for some reason he'd met someone...a friend.
What if he had hurt Mariano when he did the terrorist attack? Mariano was one of the coolest guys he ever met in his life. For some reason he wasn't prepared to meet someone like Mariano. He wasn't prepared to like someone at this college. And for some reason all he could think about was how much he wanted to get to know Mariano more.
Maybe he could keep the terrorist attack a little longer. He could wait till the end of the year. He could take that time to get to know Mariano...
The door opens.
Caliph closes his suitcase at that moment hard.
"Hey buddy, what are you up to?"
Caliph notices that it's Mariano and Jordan. Mariano has a smile on his face. He always smiles. He has the most perfect smile to Caliph. It makes Caliph feel...warm for whatever reason. It's so weird to him but he wouldn't have time to think about how weird it was until later. Right now all Caliph can do is lick his lips so they were wet enough to try to make some sort of awkward smile back. He was never really much a smiler except when he was talking to Mariano.
He puts his lock on the black case and quickly throws it under his bed, "Nothing. Just packing. You know. To move into the frat house tomorrow."
Mariano looks extra nice today. Caliph hadn't seen him changing but for some reason he looked different today. He cleaned up really well. For a moment Caliph thought he looked a whole lot like a Gamma man. It wasn't the laid back Mariano who just wore flip flops, jean shorts and a white T every day. This guy had an expensive looking outfit, a sharp cut and almost seemed to glow.
Caliph couldn't understand why he couldn't take his eyes off of him.
"Do you mind if Jordan uses my computer? He has to do a report and his computer is dying," Mariano states.
"No of course not. Three's company."
"Actually it will just be you two," Mariano states, "I'm going on a date."
Caliph is shocked. Mariano definitely didn't seem the type to go on dates. He gets off his bed. He rubs his head. Caliph is definitely taken back by Mariano doing something like that. Usually Mariano just came in the room watched TV and ate snacks. Caliph would watch him sometimes smiling at how late Mariano would stay up watching cartoons. It didn't bother him. For some reason he just loved waking up to look over and see Mariano watching those cartoons at weird hours of night.
"A date. You haven't done any packing," Caliph replies, "You think it's a good idea especially if we move into the frat house tomorrow?"
"Actually I'm not moving into the frat house," Mariano replies.
More shocking news.
Caliph takes another step forward. Jordan is sitting at the desk and for some reason watching him out of the side of his eyes. Caliph feels awkward but at the same time is panicking a little bit about this news.
"I should have told you," Mariano responds bluntly, "I decided not to pledge. They wouldn't let Jordan in and we really wanted to experience it together."
"I kind of wanted to experience this together too," Caliph states.
He doesn't realize the words come out of his mouth until they do. Caliph had to admit that he had no real interest in the Gammas or anything like that. He just has this urge to be friends with Mariano. When the words leave his mouth he realizes that it sounds...weird. There is an awkward pause after he says it but Mariano smiles.
"That was kind of sweet," Mariano responds.
Sweet? It wasn't normally something a guy would say to another guy. Maybe this was something these Western guys said to one another. Still it felt weird for Caliph. Truthfully all of a sudden he didn't want to do this fraternity thing anymore but at the same time dropping out now would make it look like he was only in it for Mariano. Whether it was the truth or not Caliph just thought it was too weird to really push the issue at least for tonight.
He steps back, realizing Jordan is still giving him a side eye. There is no way in hell he was going to look...weird in front of a stranger. Maybe once he got Mariano alone he would be able to try to convince him to continue joining Gamma regardless of if Jordan got in or not.
"So this girl you going out with, have I met her?" Caliph tries to change the subject.
"Actually. That's something else that I haven't told you," Mariano states before pausing and sighing, "Remember when you asked me about my relationship with Gaige. I sort of...didn't tell the truth..."
Caliph's heart drops.
He's horrified. He doesn't know why this just sends his world completely upside down.
Caliph can't finish the sick thought.
"Gay. I'm gay."
"No you aren't," Caliph explains shaking his head in disbelief, "I know you. You're a good person."
Mariano's smile fades, "I can be a good person and be gay at the same time."
"It's impossible. You're joking. In my society, being gay means death. If a gay didn't die after being hurled off a building, the townspeople stoned him to death. At the executions hundreds of townspeople, including children cheered as if they were at a wedding."
"That's fucking horrible."
"Being gay is what's horrible," Caliph argues, "There is no way you can be evil..."
"Are you fucking serious right now?" Mariano argues, "Me and you have had an amazing experience being roommates so far. We were actually becoming friends but you think I'm evil."'
"We are friends."
"You aren't acting like it. You don't keep calling your fucking friends evil yo."
"No. I know you aren't evil. You aren't understanding me," Caliph explains, "I can help you. This isn't you. You are the only person that's really taken the time to get to know me since I came here. I've gotten to know you too. And I know you are better than that. I can...pray for you!"
"Wow, bearing your true colors I see," Mariano responds to him.
Caliph felt devastated. Mariano was getting offended. He was hoping that Mariano would be grateful that he was lending his support but for some reason Mariano was resisting his help. He didn't understand what was getting lost in translation here. He was doing Mariano a favor by helping him. He actually really liked Mariano. He really wanted to help him with these feelings he had. He wanted to share with Mariano that there were times in his life he had those feelings as well. He wanted to share with Mariano ways that he can combat those feelings and get back on the right track with god. He didn't wish harm on Mariano even now that he knew he had evil thoughts. He just wanted to see if he could help him somehow.
"I like you. I can guide you. This Gaige is the problem," Caliph explains, "He has poisoned your mind. I don't even blame you."
"You should stop while you're ahead," Mariano's friend Jordan chimes in, warning Caliph.
"I know we don't know each other that well but I want to be there for you," Caliph tells Mariano, ignoring Jordan.
Mariano's reaction is cold. Caliph doesn't expect it to be as cold as it is.
"We aren't friends," Mariano responds to Caliph, "We never will be. Stay the fuck away from me."
With that Mariano leaves. Caliph puts his head in his hands. Somehow he has offended Mariano. Maybe he should have said it in a different way. Maybe he should have offered his help in a different way and really pointed to how this guy Gaige was probably the problem. Caliph didn't blame Mariano. Mariano seemed so innocent in his eyes. Gaige was the sinner.
It was the first argument that Caliph had with Mariano. For some reason he is just looking at the door completely shocked that this just happened.
"You should have quit while you were ahead like I told you," Jordan replies.
"I didn't mean to upset him," Caliph says and runs to his phone, "Fuck. Maybe I should apologize to him..."
"I feel like he thinks I'm judging him. That's not the case. I was just trying to be a friend. Back where I'm from a friend helped me when I struggled through things. I figured I could be that for him. But...it came out all wrong."
Caliph had no idea why he was discussing this with Jordan. It wasn't really his thing to discuss things with Jordan.
Jordan shakes his head, "No I think you're right."
Caliph is about to text Mariano when he stops.
"Yes. I know my best friend," Jordan explains to Caliph, "Mariano doesn't want to be gay. It's Gaige. He's a liar. He's a manipulator. He uses people to get what he wants and dumps them. He breaks his promises."
Caliph could see all those things from a guy like Gaige. At first he thought maybe his world view as a little skewed but the fact that Jordan felt the same way was proof that he wasn't misreading things. Jordan knew Mariano more than anyone. That was his best friend. There was no one Mariano trusted more. If Jordan felt this way, then maybe there was something there.
"Guys like Gaige," Caliph starts off, "They lead innocent, good people like Mariano down the wrong path."
"I know. We should do something. You are his new friend and I'm his old. We need to help Mariano..."
Caliph agreed but he already tried and he offended Mariano. He never wanted to do that.
"It's kind of serious...but I have a plan."
Caliph thought about it. For some reason he really couldn't get his mind off of Mariano. Maybe he shouldn't involve himself in anyone else's business and keep his focus but Mariano was different. From the first day he met him he knew that Mariano was different.
And he'd do what he could to help him.
"I'll do whatever it takes."
Jordan smiles, "Good. We need to get rid of Gaige. For good..."
To read the next chapter in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com