She was the most stunning woman I’d ever seen, with skin as white and smooth as a fresh blanket of snow and hair that reminded me of rivers made of the finest silk. Deep, dark rivers the color of a raven’s wings.
She carried herself like a proud lioness—the most regal of the pride, the leader of the hunts on the African plain and the one the other females all revered for her strength and grace. An air of majesty radiated from her as she sat on the stone edge of the fountain in the campus square. Poise practically oozed from her when she crossed her legs and brushed straight her dress.
It was a rich plum purple, her dress. She was wearing a matching shrug with a maize-colored shirt underneath—very classy looking. Silver hoops dangled from her ears, catching the sunlight and sparkling when she ran her hand through her hair. She had large shoulders for a girl, but it didn’t make her look odd. It suited her in a strange way.
I’d never seen her on campus before. New enrollee? I wanted to ask, but for some reason I found her entirely unapproachable. Maybe it was because I couldn’t see her eyes—covered by sunglasses—so I wasn’t sure what kind of mood she was in today. With my luck she was having her monthly gift, and the last thing she wanted was to be approached by some strange guy and asked a bunch of small-talk questions.
What would I talk with her about in depth anyway? Sure I found her pretty, but what could a gem like her and a plain guy like me have in common?
In my pocket, my phone beeped twice. Shit, I was going to be late for a meeting if I didn’t hurry. I looked up to find the coal-haired woman, but she’d disappeared from her seat at the fountain. I shrugged, not too crestfallen. I’d lost my chance, but let’s face it—I wouldn’t have taken it.
I started off toward the student union. My phone beeped again, and I stopped dead in my tracks. I suddenly remembered exactly where I was going, and a cold sweat formed on the back of my neck. Maybe I should have approached that girl, because between talking with her and going to this meeting, I wasn’t sure which was scarier.
* * * * *
“I’m Mandy, and I’m bi.”
“My name’s Cole, and I identify as gay.”
“Terry, and if you can’t tell I’m gay, you need your brain checked, okay?”
The people in the room chuckled, and then everybody’s gaze fell on me.
“Uh…” I coughed. My throat felt like it was filled with sand, and I struggled with my next words, “I’m Dante.” That’s it, just Dante. Now move along…
Fortunately, when he realized I wasn’t going to say any more, the man next to me piped up with his introduction.
I whistled a sigh of relief. When I got out of this frigging trust circle, I was going to wring Greg’s scrawny neck!
I felt like a huge asshole sitting in this circle of ten people in a secluded underground room of the student union. They were here because they wanted to share with other people like them, to hang out and not be judged. Well, I wasn’t judging by any means, but the only reason I’d found my way to this LGBTQ meeting was because I’d lost a bet and my friend was still immature enough to find this kind of thing amusing.
The guy next to me nudged me in the shoulder, and I nearly flew ten feet out of my chair. I looked around the room. Introductions seemed to be over, and now everyone was just talking.
“You’re a fourth year, right?” he asked. His voice was smooth and rich. It reminded me of syrup, or tree sap.
“Fifth.” I swallowed. “I’m only finishing up electives this semester. I already have a job in my field.”
“Ah, must be nice.” He threw back his head over the edge of his chair and sighed. “In this little town it’s hard to find an internship close to home. I’ve been going through hell trying.” He grinned. “What’d you study?”
“Ah, that explains it. There are so many old folks and people who work with their backs around here. You’ll be in business for a long while yet. Or did you have plans to leave town?”
Part of me wondered if this was the kind of small talk I’d thought about making with that girl before. This guy was a hell of a lot better at it than I would’ve been. But whatever his motives, I didn’t mind. Greg was the only close friend I had on campus, and he hated talking about school life and work. The change of topic from girls and clubbing was refreshing.
“Nah, not leaving.” I shook my head. “Born and raised here in the country and no plan to leave. I stick to my roots.”
He nodded. “I feel the same.” He held out his hand to me. “James.”
“Dante.” I took his hand warmly.
“So…” James leaned back in his chair and gestured at the whole of the room. “I haven’t seen you at one of these before.”
“Hey, it’s cool if you don’t wanna talk about it. Just making an observation. No pressure.”
It certainly didn’t feel like no pressure to me, but maybe it was the overwhelming guilt that made my stomach ache like it was tangled in knots. I wasn’t going to lie—I’d been curious in the past, but nothing ever came of it. Then again, I’d never had a girlfriend either, which was why Greg had thought this would be so hilarious. I found men and women attractive in their own way, but that hardly made me gay or bisexual. Damn, if Greg knew how much stress this was really causing me inside, he’d probably look at me like I’d grown another head.
“Terry over there…” James set a hand on my shoulder and pointed to the guy who’d introduced himself earlier. “Biggest flamer in the whole damn school, and proud of it. You’ll see him at every drag show, and he’ll probably win. Sets the rest of the competition on edge, I tell ya.” He chuckled and pointed to another guy sitting three seats to my left. “The guy with the lumberjack beard is Carl. He’s quiet, not too wild. You two would probably get along.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
James laughed. “Because you’re new, and I can tell you’re the shy type. Just put yourself out there. Nobody here bites…” He winked. “Often. Ah, I just noticed Seven is missing. Bummer. Not surprised, though. He’s a shy guy, too. He’d be the perfect one for you to talk to. Better than me.”
“Seven?” What kind of a name was that?
“Ha-ha, I know. Weird name, right? His name’s actually Sven. They accidentally added the extra E on his campus ID card his first year, friggin’ idiots. He’s been Seven ever since. Cute guy. Pretty platinum-blond hair. I’d kill to have skin as smooth and clear as his.”
I tried not to put too much interest in James’s words as he prattled on about Sven, or Seven. But even though I felt uncomfortable, the last thing I wanted to seem was rude. This guy had put himself out there to make me feel better, even though I didn’t deserve it. I couldn’t just ignore him because he wanted to talk about…other dudes.
So with as much of a polite smile as I could muster, I asked, “Is Seven your boyfriend?”
James’s eyes widened. “Seven? Hell no!” He slapped me hard on the back and doubled over laughing.
I stared at him in complete confusion, and I knew it was showing on my face. What the hell was so funny? I glanced around. No one else was listening to us, so I couldn’t tell if there was some joke I’d missed or what.
“Sorry, sorry.” James straightened. “Dunno why I found that so funny. Nah, Seven and I have just been friends since high school. Seven isn’t even gay as far as I know. He cleans up around the student union for extra cash. Lots of clubs meet down here, so he’s here a lot picking up cups that miss the trash and junk like that. He told me he was scheduled for cleaning today. Must still be in another wing.” He sighed, almost like he was disappointed by Seven’s absence.
“I see…” I paused and looked around the room again, trying not to attract anyone’s attention. “So, um,” I mumbled to James. “Is this all that happens here? People just split off into their groups and talk?”
“Nah. We have these meetings twice a semester for people who, you know, need a place to go. New people, like you.” James smiled warmly. “Sometimes we have movie night, or game night, or just get together to hang out at clubs or on campus. I can give you the campus Facebook page if you want to know when events are scheduled?”
“No, that’s okay.”
“Come on. Get yourself out there, newbie. You got a phone?”
“Hey!” He practically fondled all of me to get my cell phone, which was unfortunately tucked into my back pocket. He got to it though, much to my dismay. I shuddered as he slid his hand down against my ass and slipped the phone from my pocket.
He started it up and opened a blank note. “There.” He typed a URL onto the note page, saved it, and pressed the phone into my palm. “Show up to something sometime, will ya? Even Seven comes to movie nights once in a while, and getting him out of his house is like pulling teeth.”
There was no way in good conscience I could go to any of those events. I was there on a stupid dare. Thank God my phone beeped at that moment.
“Sorry, I’ve got class.” I snatched my backpack up from where I’d set it on the floor next to my chair.
“Oh, okay. Have a good one, Dante.” James smiled and waved as I bolted out of the room. “Come to an event!”
It was a shame I couldn’t. Really it was. James was one of the nicest guys I’d met on campus. Not that I’d put myself out there to many people. James was right—I was a shy guy. I thought of that pretty girl again and sighed. I looked back at the meeting room door. Too bad. I could use more friends like James.