Subject: English Year- Chapter 15 **Standard disclaimer applies. This is based on actual events, although names, places, and descriptions have changed to protect the identities of the living. Don’t read if you shouldn’t because you’re under 18 or live in a backwards area. I appreciate any and all feedback, so please email me at jwolf24450@. Enjoy the story! As always PLEASE keep Nifty free by donating to the website! Even small go donations go a long way. I would have loved to have skipped dinner and the cocktail party, but I knew that wasn’t an option. It was Homecoming, I was the social chair, and I had obligations. “I need a shower,” I told Roberto, scouting away from him. “The cocktail party is gonna start soon.” “Are you still going to that? No one’ll blame you for sitting it out.” “Of course I’m going,” I answered breezily. I reassured Roberto that I was fine, poured myself a vodka and tonic, and took a long hot shower. Instead of getting dressed in my room, I took my suit and walked over to Austin’s room. He was already in slacks and a shirt. “Hey, what’s up buddy?” he asked me as if I was made of glass. “Nothing. Tell `Berto to come in here,” I said. Austin grabbed his phone, and minute later, `Berto walked in, already wearing his pants and carrying his shirt and tie. “So what was that whole display about earlier?” Austin asked. I saw Roberto shoot him a look. “It’s fine,” I assured. “It was about Pete getting uber jealous of Mike, but being too much of a pussy to say or do anything about it. That’s what it was about.” I was still pretty upset over it, and the fact that I had God knows how much alcohol coursing through my veins didn’t make the situation any better. “If he’s jealous of you and Mike, why doesn’t he say something? He knows you’d pick him, right?” “Oh he knows,” I said with just a moment’s hesitation. I hadn’t thought about it until Austin brought it up. If I had to choose, given everything I knew, who would I pick? Before today, the answer would have been simple. A no-brainer in Pete’s favor. But seeing just how afraid Pete was of himself, of letting himself go, I didn’t know if I could deal with that. To be fair, Mike and I had our issues, and they were very real issues. A relationship with him would only be half of a relationship, and not a great one to begin with. I’d be his dirty little military secret for my entire life. But every once in a while, he’d do something amazing like bring his rats over to my house during physical training, and I would swoon like a schoolgirl. But at least he’d be willing to go out on that limb. It wasn’t the most difficult thing in the world for him to tell me where we stood. Even in our dysfunction, there was an honesty about us. A fairness. A realism. With Pete, I would constantly wonder what was being left unsaid. I would guess and interpret, but I’d never be confident that I knew exactly what he was thinking. I may have wanted Pete more as a person, but only if I got the real honest Pete. The scared pussy I saw downstairs earlier could pack his bags for all I cared. We finished getting dressed, drank a rum and coke with a little lime, and made our way downstairs. I was at the cocktail party for ten minutes before I got called downstairs by the house mom. In our dining room was the university catering staff, sent over by Vera, and led by Marquita, a mammie if I’d ever seen one. She was an amazing cook, and one of the nicest women running around Old Dominion. But she didn’t give a discount just because I adored her, and so before we started doing anything, I settled our account with a check. “Y’all can go ahead and set up on the front landing. We’ll do the dinner buffet style like we talked about, and then maybe we go ahead and plate the salads now.” “That’s perfect honey,” Marquita told me. “I brought ramekins so that we can set the dressing right on the table.” I stuck around to see if there was anything else I could do, but there wasn’t. Marquita and her team, with the help of our house mom, who enjoyed putting shit like that together, had the whole thing taken care of. As I walked up the stairs, back to the cocktail party, I texted Amanda to ask where she was. To Corbin: I’m on my way. To Amanda: Cool, see you in a second. To Corbin: I’m with Pete. I looked at my phone for a second and swallowed hard. Why had she felt the need to tell me that? Clearly the two of them had spoken after Pete had stormed back to his room for the afternoon, putting a cloud over what was previously a lovely party. I wondered what in the hell they had talked about. What had she said about me? What had Pete been able to tell her that he couldn’t say to me? I went straight to the bar at the cocktail party and had the older lady pour me a strong Long Island Iced Tea that tasted more like propane and Lemon Pledge than a drink suitable for human consumption. “Hey there,” I heard just as I was reaching out to grab my drink. I turned to see Amanda standing behind me, taking her coat off and revealing a beautiful purple dress underneath. “Hey,” I said. I leaned in and gave her a side hug and kiss on the cheek. “Where’s your partner in crime?” “Pete?” she asked. I nodded. She nodded her head to the far corner of the library where Pete was greeting Sacha and my good friend Kelly. It was as if he’d gravitated to the furthest corner from where I was. We were like two magnets with the same charge, and he was repelling me to opposite ends of our confined space. “I took pity on him,” Amanda explained her text. “Tamia is still with her Sigma Chi.” “Did he tell you about…” I started. “Yeah,” she finished, pursing her lips. “What was with you calling him out like that on the lawn?” “Oh please,” I replied, wondering when I’d become the caller-outer. The bartender handed Amanda her drink and we walked towards one of the big windows on the south side of the room. “He was acting like a baby back bitch over the Mike thing.” “Which I’m still confused about, by the way.” “What’s confusing about it?” I asked, tilting my face and taking a sip. “I don’t know, I just don’t get that guy,” she said. “He feeds you all this crap about you being the only guy he’d ever do anything with, and how he’s actually straight, and the two of you are just a thing. But then he shows up with that whole routine and it’s like he really likes you. And for what?” “Honestly, I don’t know why Mike did that either,” I replied. “But it was hot for what it was. And it felt good to have a guy show an interest.” I’m not sure if she realized she did it at the time or not, but as I spoke about Mike showing an interest, Amanda turned her gaze and looked back at Pete. He was still across the room from where we were. When she returned her gaze to me, I noticed an empathy in her eyes that wasn’t there before. I immediately had a moment of irrational anger. She was my friend. She had been my friend since I’d stepped foot on campus. She had no business taking his side, even if it was with just a look. She needed to be on my side. She needed to understand that he was stubborn, and a coward, and completely unfair to me. And that’s when the meltdown began. “You know what, if you’re so worried about that guy across the room, why don’t you just go over there,” I said, my voice razor sharp and holding nothing back. Luckily the room was buzzing enough from the chatter that no one besides Amanda heard my dig. “Excuse me?” “It’s more than clear that you’re on his side in this.” “What side?” Amanda asked, genuinely sounding like she didn’t know what I was talking about. “When I called Pete on his crap, you called me a bitch. When we both left the lawn party, you went to check on him. You haven’t been able to look away from him for more than a minute since you got here. If you’re so worried about him, why not go over there and be his date for the night.” “You know what, you are being a bitch,” she said, her voice a loud, harsh whisper, that cut straight to the lump in my throat. “And that guy over there has no one. He’s in a completely different country, and he has no one here to vent to when the guy he considers to be his best friend here is being a complete and total jackass.” “I’m the jackass?” I said, my voice louder than it was before. I noticed a senior and his date look over my way, and I made a conscious effort to return to my inside voice. “He stormed off as soon as Mike showed up, and for what? Why? He’s given me nothing but the run around for five weeks, Mandy, and I’m done with it.” “You say you’re done with it, and yet here you are yelling at me over it. Doesn’t sound done to me, Corbin Patrick Crowley,” she retorted. “Do I still like him? Sure. But am I going to go through every day this year trying my hardest to get with him, just so that he can tell me that he’s not gay every time I get too close? Fuck that!” I said. I took a side-step to get around Amanda, but she stepped in front of me. “No, you don’t get to do that with me,” she whispered. We were starting to make a scene, at least to the people directly around us. “You don’t get to deflect, and do your whole bitchy defense, coping mechanism with me. I know it’s hard for you on this campus to find a guy. And I know that Pete seems like he’d be perfect on paper. And I know that you like him, Corbin. I get that. But put yourself in his shoes for one second and ask yourself if you would bet on you. If you were him, and you were friends with you, would you risk it all not knowing if you were going to run off with some cadet the next chance you got?” “That’s not fair,” I breathed. Amanda didn’t respond, but simply said everything she needed to with a look and a tilt of the head. I took in a deep breath. I was still pissed off at what Amanda had said and how she’d taken his side, but I understood everything she was saying in her round about way. And she was right. I was Pete’s friend. That much had been established. And I was a loose cannon. Since I’d known him, there had been Lee and the Vmee, both in the time frame where my feelings for him had grown. If he did like me as more than a friend, why would he give up the relationship we already had for something he didn’t know if we could even have? Especially because he didn’t have anyone besides Amanda to fall back on. It made perfect sense, but it did little to ease my frustration. “Look, I just… I want resolution. I can do the friend thing, I really can, but he has to do his part too. He can’t freak out every time I talk to a boy. If he’s not gonna milk the cow, then he can’t brand the cattle.” “Did you really just use cattle branding as a metaphor?” “I think I did, yes,” I replied with a smile. “Just cut the kid some slack,” she told me. “I’ve already told him that he’s leading you on, and that it isn’t fair if he doesn’t plan on doing anything.” “You told him that?” “Yeah, after I chased him down this afternoon,” she answered. I thought about it for a second. If they’d had that talk, that meant that Pete knew exactly how I felt. No more conjecture. No more guessing. My friend, as good a source if ever there was one, had laid it out there for me. He knew I liked him. And yet he was clear across the room. I didn’t say anything to Amanda, but instead told her I needed to make the rounds. I was still frustrated at my situation, but I understood what Amanda was saying to me. Pete needed me as a friend more than he needed me as a lover, and that could have been the source of his hesitation. Still it wasn’t fair to me that I couldn’t move on without him sulking in the corner. And if he knew how I felt, why was he as far away from me as he could get? In that moment, with my BAC towering well above the legal limit, I rationalized that Pete was across the room because he didn’t like me. It made perfect sense. If he liked me, his conversation with Amanda would have been a kick in the ass to get his shit together. Her laying it out there in a way I had been too craven and stubborn to do should have sent him towards me. And if he liked me, it would have. So there I was, with a boy I liked across the room talking to everyone but me. And then dinner was served. I wish I could paint just how awkward the seating arrangement at dinner was. As soon as Dom announced it, Amanda and I went to sit with Hutch and Hayley. Pete sat down on the other side of Amanda, still having spoken no words to me up to that point. On the other side of Pete were Brian and Catherine. Sacha rounded out the eight. That in and of itself wouldn’t have been a problem. It was the fact that Pete wasn’t talking to me that made me feel uncomfortable. Dom released tables to go through the buffet line after a short toast and a traditional Chi Beta song, that I had the honor and privilege of leading. Once we were all back at the table and seated, Sacha asked what the patriot display had been in our front lawn earlier. “What was that hole VMI thing about, anyway, Corbin?” she asked, forking her pot roast and potatoes. “It was nothing,” I said breezily, mezitli escort trying to down play it. I caught myself looking over at Pete. “It was fucking loud, that’s what it was,” Hutch said. “I could hear it all the way up in my room.” “So could I,” Hayley added. Hutch gave her a look, and Amanda choked on her chuckle. “It must have been something,” Sacha persisted. I looked up at her and smiled politely. “It really was nothing,” I reiterated. “I’m sorry, what are we talking about?” Brian asked. He had been the grill master at Catherine’s cookout that afternoon. “It was so incredible, Brian,” Sacha explained. “This VMI cadet brought all of his freshmen running through Clifton Hill. And they’d redone one of those… what are they called?” “Jody calls,” I explained. “Yeah, one of those so that it was about Corbin. It was really cool,” she said. “Sounds awesome,” Catherine said. “Brian, why don’t you ever do romantic things?” Again, I found myself stealing a look at Pete. “Guys, honestly, Mike was just playing a prank on me. It was nothing serious,” I said, trying desperately to downplay everything and hide my embarrassment. “Mike did this?” Brian asked, surprised enough to put his fork down. Brian, as my roommate sophomore year, had been around for more of my Mike drama than anyone else. He really was at ground zero when this whole thing took shape. “Yes,” I said, deciding that downplaying it was only making people more interested in it. It’s like when someone tries to hide their lunch, and everyone is all the more curious what the fuck they’re eating. “He just wanted to do something nice because he couldn’t hang out with me this afternoon.” “Sounds like quite the gesture,” Brian said. This time it was Pete who put his fork down, not dramatically, but loudly enough for me to notice. Amanda noticed too, and I caught her shooting him a look. “Are you seeing him tonight?” Hutch asked. “He’s supposed to come over later,” I said. “So yeah, I guess we’ll go out if he can get out of Lexington.” “You never know with Mike,” Brian reminded me. He was right. Mike had been quite the flake in the past, but nothing he’d done recently suggested that he wouldn’t follow through this time. It was then that I saw my opening to truly downplay the entire thing. I couldn’t make the Brit forget all of the Mike hoopla, but I could acquiesce to him by minimizing my excitement about it. “You know what guys, I’m not holding my breath too long for it,” I said with a shoulder shrug. “If he shows tonight, he shows. Either way, it’ll be a great night.” “To a great night,” Hutch said, raising his glass. The entire table joined in on a toast. Twenty minutes and one course later, I excused myself from the table. And Pete still hadn’t said anything to me. At first I thought maybe he’d lost his voice in the short amount of time since I’d seen him, but that was clearly not the case. He found voice enough to answer Sacha and Hayley’s questions about England and studying abroad and applying for Professor Brown’s intensive and being in chorus. He wasn’t mute, so it wasn’t that. He was clearly upset with me, and acting like a baby back bitch about it. To his credit, I made no attempt to speak to him either. I didn’t feel the need to. I wasn’t the one who’d had the temper tantrum. I wasn’t the one who’d stormed away. I wasn’t the one dealing with some sort of inner demon that was plaguing me and keeping me from committing to a guy I showed interest in, and who was clearly interested in me. I wasn’t the one balancing on the precipice, dangerously close to falling. I was far from dangerously close. I was in a VMI safety zone. As I helped clear the Great Hall after dinner, I decided that I needed to do something to show Pete that I was capable of friendship. I wasn’t sure that I really was, but Amanda was totally correct. I needed to be Pete’s friend. He deserved that out of me, in spite of everything. If I faked it, maybe one day I’d make it. But there was nothing I could do that night. And quite frankly, I knew if I tried to talk to him then, it would only turn into another blowout, so maybe it was best that he kept his distance. We all settled up in the game room after the downstairs was cleared and Late Night was ready. “Where’s your soldier?” Roberto asked me when I’d changed into jeans and a chambray shirt. He was setting up the beer pong table. “Austin and I want a rematch.” “He’s not coming until nine,” I replied, grabbing a beer and taking a seat. “And Corbin isn’t coming until nine fifteen,” Austin joked. I flipped him off. I took out my phone, realized it was after eight and decided to send Mike a message. To Vmee Mike: Hey. We’re just chilling. Come over whenever. To Corbin: On my way. He sent his reply almost immediately, as if he was waiting for the heads up. I had planned to ditch to the country as soon as he got there. With the mixed bag of freshmen and dates and men from the old country, I decided that maybe it was best if Mike and I kept it casual somewhere else. There was a huge party that would be raging at the Poles later, and I could have easily pre-gamed with a few Kappas before it got going. But the gauntlet had been thrown and I had to accept the challenge. I told Roberto that Mike was on his way, and he said that we were next up on the list. Mike did show up about fifteen minutes later, just in time for us to get on the table after Roberto and Austin dismantled Hutch and Brian. He changed into my clothes, we set up, and got the game underway. The match itself wasn’t eventful. Our magic from the night before carried over and we beat Austin and Roberto in overtime, after acing our last cup in redemption. It wasn’t the match that was dramatic. It was the looks from across the room. Glaring at me from on the couch, it felt like Pete was throwing daggers directly through me. The shrapnel itself would have been enough to pierce Mike as well. Add to that the whispers that he was conducting with Amanda and Kelly. I almost wanted to lose so that we’d have a reason to bail. But we won. And we kept on winning. Six in a row, to be exact, and we didn’t get bumped from the table until well after ten o’clock. “We’re going to the country,” I announced after six games of beer pong I didn’t need sent beer coursing through my already liquor soaked veins. “So are we,” Kelly announced right back. “We should hitch our ride to y’alls wagon. How are you getting out there?” It took me a second to grasp who Kelly and her `we’ were, but after a second’s thought, I realized her `we’ probably included Pete, as he’d been hanging out with those girls all night long. With only a moment’s hesitation behind me, I answered. “Our wagon is full,” I said with a shrug and a side smile. “Sorry.” Without saying anything else, I led Mike out of the room and quickly down the hall to my bedroom. I called Newby as I was putting on shoes. “Do you need a shot?” I asked Mike. He nodded. I pointed to the fridge. “Hey Newby, can you give me and Mike a ride out to the country?” “For sure. I’m taking Kelly and some of her friends here in a second. Want to ride with them?” “No,” I answered. “Take us first.” Mike motioned, asking if I wanted to shoot some vodka with him. I shook my head. “They already called me.” “But I’m a brother. And I’m your friend. And I love you…” “Okay, okay. Come downstairs right now… I’ll tell Kelly it’ll be a minute.” Without even saying thanks or bye to Newby, I hung up the phone, pulled Mike’s arm and led him downstairs. “Why the great escape?” Newby asked as he pulled Mike and me out of the driveway and to the bypass that led to the Pole Houses. “No reason,” I smiled. I was thrilled that we’d gotten to the country first, but I was more thrilled that we had managed to beat Kelly and Pete. I had plans to re-befriend the guy, but those plans didn’t start that night. I was still annoyed with him that night, on so many levels, and that wasn’t going to go away simply because Amanda wished it would. By the time we got to Pole Three, the party was raging near the bonfire. It was a crisp early October day, and everyone was eager to soak up the last bits of autumn before November reared its cold and ugly head. Mike and I beelined for the beer keg, even though I didn’t need any more alcohol. It was mostly for him to get a cup, loosen up, and enjoy the party. It didn’t take long for Mike Loggerman to start winning people over. There was a threshold with him where he was incredibly funny and charming, right before he got loud and obnoxious. I was determined to enjoy every second of his funny and charming. “There y’all are!” I heard a girl’s voice shout behind me. I turned to see the entire posse coming down the hill. Pete, Sacha, Kelly, Amanda, and a rightfully disheveled Tamia all approached. “Nice escape,” Amanda whispered in my ear with a smirk. I asked if everyone knew Mike, and he did a round of hugs and smiles to the ladies. I watched like a hawk when he got to Pete. They’d been in the same room together for more than an hour, and they were about to exchange their first words to one another. I thought my heart was about to stop. There was no greater torture than what I felt in that moment. The CIA could have had a field day monitoring my EKG levels. I would have told them anything about anything to stop what was about to happen. “You’re Corbin’s cadet,” Pete said. I could tell he was forcing himself to be cordial. It was a very British thing to do, with the half-smile, eclipsed by a look of pure animosity in the eyes. “Corbin’s cadet? It certainly has a ring to it, doesn’t it?” Mike asked, turning to me and grinning. “But unfortunately I still belong to the Virginia Military Institute.” “Must be a tough share, Corbin,” Pete said, uttering his first full sentence towards me since Lawngate 2008. “I manage,” I cheeked. “Well it seems Corbin has mentioned me to you, but I have no clue who you are,” Mike said. At this point, the girls had formed a semi-circle around the two guys. I’m sure they knew that the bulls were sizing each other up, and I was the sad little prize waiting to see who would win. I was proud of Mike’s response. Of course he knew who the Brit was. We’d talked about him on that first night. But I couldn’t help but grin as I saw some of my bitchiness rub off. It was probably engrained in the clothes. “I’m Pete,” the Brit grinned. “Nice to meet you, Pete,” Mike said. “Beer? I haven’t had a drink from it yet.” “I’ll get my own,” Pete replied. Mike shrugged and took a swig of his Solo cup. We watched as Pete and the girls walked around the fire to the keg to pour some beers. “That guy? Really? I’m way cuter than he is,” Mike said when they were out of earshot. “Of course you are, babe,” I replied, putting my arm around his waist and leading him closer to the fire. Mike put his hand on my head and ruffled through my hair. From anyone else, that would have made me mad. From Mike, it felt right. The group made their way back to where we were, and luckily, Amanda was able to moderate the awkwardness of the situation. For the most part, the two guys stayed on opposite ends of the circle. Mike fielded questions from Sacha about his friends at the Institute. Her desperation to snag a Vmee reeked stronger than her Juicy Couture perfume. I didn’t bother listening to what Tamia and Pete were talking about. I wasn’t ready to reclaim his friendship just yet, especially if he was determined to stay bitchy with Mike. At one point, however, the three of us came together at the keg: Mike, Pete and I. Pete almost snatched the tap when it became available and I shot him a look of disapproval. He saw me, leaned over, and filled my cup up first. “So how do you and Corbin know each other?” Pete asked, probably feeling sufficiently scolded. “We met, it was really random, actually,” Mike said. “Do you even remember the night we met, Corb?” Mike nonchalantly draped his arm around my shoulder and I swear I saw Pete’s face flush. It was almost as if he was trying to push Mike in the fire, and yet there Mike was giving him one reason after another to do just that. “Not so much, no.” “My friends and I had snuck into their Late Night party and were dancing with a bunch of Founder girls when a couple of Corbin’s brothers asked us to leave. I don’t know how Corbin got involved, `cuz we were really just packing it up and being on our way, but here this little kid comes screaming at us, cussing us out, basically being a douchebag over a nonviolent situation.” “I was wasted,” I smiled, looking from Mike to Pete. “Like, I threw up right after that whole exchange.” “I’m sure you did. So there I was in the fray, and I had to talk my friends down from beating him up. He finally let us leave out the front door, and I told him, I said `you’re not gonna remember this in the morning, are you?’ and he said to me, `I’ll remember what I want, bitch.’ And that made me laugh for some reason. I thought this kid was the pozcu escort coolest after that. So I took a pen from my cap and wrote my AIM on his forearm and said if he remembered anything, he could IM me to apologize.” “I told you that gangsters don’t apologize, remember that?” I laughed. “It was the most surreal thing. I mean, I’d been kicked out of those parties before. But never by a kid who literally would have been squashed by half the wrestling team.” “Well, I might have liked it a little,” I smiled. “You might have liked a lot, killer,” Mike said. I saw Pete’s pupils grow wide when he heard the word. I swallowed. “So I woke up the morning with this random IM thing on my arm, and I called my friend Calvin who I’d been hanging out with the night before and asked him what it was all about. He told me some Vmee had put it on my arm, and I looked up the name on Facebook, stalked it, and IMed him.” “The rest is history, I guess,” Mike finished. “We talked for a while, became friends. This kid was obsessed with me after he stalked my Facebook.” “I was no such thing.” “Are you kidding me? You asked if my abs were real.” “A valid question,” I shouted back over the crowd. Mike smiled and shook his head. “You know they’re real now,” he said. And in true Mike fashion, he lifted his shirt and showed me. “Yeah, yeah.” I pretended to be bored by them. “Seen `em once, seen `em a thousand times.” “Wanna feel?” he asked, turning towards Pete. I hate to admit it, but I’d almost forgotten the Brit was there to begin with. “I’ll pass. Maybe next time. I’m going to go find the girls.” Pete handed Mike the tap and retreated. I swallowed a bit of guilt from making Pete feel bad, but what was I supposed to do? Mike was there, Pete had asked. It wasn’t my fault that he’d gotten caught up in the chemistry that was as hot as that bonfire. And the chemistry continued for the rest of the night. Being around Mike was fun. He was a fun guy. Being around him was easy, and for that reason, I preferred it. Still, I felt myself thinking about Pete, pulling towards him, wondering what he’d thought about the whole thing. And then there came the same goodbye that there always was with Mike the Cadet. We were back in my room, Late Night was raging on downstairs, Mike was back in uniform, and the fairy godmother’s clock was minutes away from striking two a.m. “Spend the night,” I said like I always did. “I had a great time this weekend,” Mike said with a grin. I pulled him close and tucked the front of his shirt into his perfectly tailored pants. “Any lower and you’re going to get a feel, killer,” he smiled at me. “That’s the plan,” I replied. “Hey,” he said. I looked up to meet his eyes. “I wish I could stay, okay?” “I know.” I didn’t want him to feel bad that he couldn’t. I got it, but that didn’t mean that I liked it. For once, I wanted to spend the night. One time, I wanted to wake up with Mike there. But in that reality, that was impossible. But he could tell from my tone that I was disappointed. I wasn’t doing a good job of hiding my disappointment in the slightest. I lowered my eyes, and continued tucking his shirt in, all the way around. “Will you feel better if I do this?” and then he did it. He leaned down and kissed me. At first it was just lips. His were thin, but soft. Warm. Very warm. It had been too long since I’d kissed someone. It had been since before summer since I’d kissed someone I liked. It took me by surprise, and for a second, I was tense. I finally relaxed into it, just as Mike was bringing his hands up and grasping me just below the shoulder. And that’s when his lips parted and his tongue slowly etched its way past my lips and into my mouth. It was one of those slow kisses, I remember. It was a movie ending kiss. A real deal kiss. An upside down, standing in the rain, in front of the Eiffel Tower kind of kiss. And just as I was leaning into it, getting ready to let myself go completely, Mike pulled away. I breathed in, getting a whiff of him as he stepped back. I opened my eyes slowly to see him standing there, smiling at me. “I feel a little better, yeah,” I smiled. “Good,” he laughed. “God, I don’t even know what that was.” “That, sir, was you jumping my bones,” I joked, leading him out of the room. “It’s usually the other way around, I was so confused,” he said. “Sure.” “You know you’re one of a kind, right, Corb?” he said as we walked down the stairs. “That’s what you tell me.” “I’m serious. I’m not… I hate to say I’m not gay after I just let you kiss me,” he smiled. I shook my head with a grin. “But I’m serious. I’m not. And you… you disarm me. It’s crazy.” “And you like it,” I said, continuing to walk down the stairs. “I wouldn’t keep coming back if I didn’t,” he said. I led him out the front, passed the two seniors who were guarding the door and only letting brothers out. “I’ll call you about next week.” I nodded, and watched him walk away. That time, there was no Brit when I walked back into the house. There were no surprises. No one asking me to come downstairs and dance. There were only a few hundred strangers blocking my way, and I pushed through them to get back up to my room. I had a crisis of character that night. I still felt pretty guilty about the whole Brit thing, and although my understanding of what Amanda had said after their talk was fine on the cerebral level, emotionally, I still thought it was a bunch of bullshit. On one hand, I was the one with the issue. I was the one who was falling in love with a guy who didn’t, for whatever reason, want to love me back. That was my problem. But then there was Pete’s problem. He was the one who was falling for me, but was keeping himself from acting on it to protect a month-long friendship. Could he have done without me as a friend? If everything had gone completely wrong, and we couldn’t even stand to look at each other after we hooked up, could he go on for an entire year without me in his life? He’d gone twenty-one, I decided. What was another 365 days? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that wasn’t how it worked. Pete was the kind of guy who friended and friended hard. And mine was the kind of friendship that must have hit him in a remarkable place. We were inseparable from the get-go. It was like we’d known each other for years. And in those early weeks, he had no idea that I was lusting after him. To him, he was getting a great friend. And I was the one who had turned the screw, and that’s why Amanda was so sure it was my problem to deal with. As I finally dozed off, I decided that having Pete as a friend was better than not. Plus, there was at least another week of commitment to a VMI cadet who was falling for me in his own way. A cadet who I loved spending time with. A cadet who didn’t realize that he disarmed me as much as I disarmed him. A cadet who was the only person so far with the power to make the Brit go out of my mind, my body, and my heart. A cadet who couldn’t spend the night. Luckily, the week I had lined up in front of me left little time for compare and contrast. On Monday, I was divided into my group for our big marketing class project. While talking to Professor Brown after class, she told me to check the business school website for information on the Advertising Class application. “I look forward to seeing your application at the end of the week,” she said warmly. My project group consisted of none other than Emily Watts, and her good friends Meredith and Shannon, all Kappas and myself. Our product was the struggling and stagnant Robitussin, and one look at the dossier Brown provided us, and I knew it was going to be one boring final project. I had interviews for the Fancy Ball committee the next two days, and sat in as Alexandria and her fellow co-chair Lilly asked impressionable freshmen questions about why they deserved to be on the committee. When they left the interview room, we’d dissect. They would talk about the qualities each applicant possessed for the committee while I jotted notes about which girls would make good Kappas or KDs. I also spent several man hours planning the Chi Beta Believe It weekend with Dom and the officers. Starting Wednesday, we met nightly to hammer out details. I’d booked bands, DJ Swayze, a production company to help with staging and decorations. There were things that needed to be cut from the budget, and Austin was on hand with a pair of scissors and an iron fist. And then there was school work. I had to completely read Daisy Miller that week. Chemistry finally moved passed what I’d learned in high school, and so I had to pay attention and study string theory and other bullshit I had no clue about. The fall choral concert was around the corner, and rehearsals were a pain in my ass. In a word, I was stressed. Still, I found time to concoct a plan to get Pete onto the crew team. When I woke up on Sunday, I had decided that getting Pete on the team, if I could, would be a great way to prove that I was capable of carrying a friendship with him, despite everything we’d been through. It was my peace offering, my white flag, my olive branch. I kicked my plan off by having dinner with Crystal Velasquez on Sunday. Crystal was a groupie whose Chi Beta boyfriend had graduated the year before. She was now a senior, and still practically lived at our house. She attended every function, was a huge part of our rush strategy, and had helped pull in several members of my class. She was also the rowing team coxswain. “How’s Jeff liking Nebraska?” I asked, sitting across from Crystal at the co-op. I’d texted her and asked her to meet me since I hadn’t hung out with her in a while. She was more than happy to walk across campus to oblige me. “It’s good. He loves it,” she answered with a smile. We small talked for a while, until I decided we’d caught up enough for me to get to the point of my visit. “You’re on the rowing team, right?” I asked her after a short lull in the conversation. “Mmhmm,” she nodded, bringing her quesadilla up to her lips. “I was wondering if there are any spots opening up next term,” I asked. “Like is anyone going abroad or anything?” “I think Zane Mitchell is studying abroad,” she said, putting her food down and wiping her mouth. Crystal was a tiny girl with a big voice, and she probably ate as much as any of the guys on the crew team. “Do you know how y’all are replacing him?” “He has a little brother, a freshman,” she replied. “I think James Dick wants to replace Zane with Zach.” I made a mental note of the name Zach Mitchell, and continued to small talk with Crystal until we’d successfully made it around the bush. I didn’t need to be out on Wednesday night. I had so much work to get done, I really ought to have stayed home. But I didn’t, because I was on a mission. I somehow convinced Newby and Roberto to come out with me, and after cramming some shots into our systems, we got Austin to drive us to the country for a mid-week pick-me-up. The guys were there to talk to girls and drink from a tepid keg. I was there to track down Zach Mitchell. The party itself wasn’t one of the bigger Wednesday ragers. With school five and a half-weeks in, people were starting to settle into a more balanced routine, which unfortunately didn’t include going out every single night. I made it across the three houses that were partying on Windy Hill, and finally spotted the younger Mitchell brother at Upwind, standing on the porch and waiting for the keg. I had done my due diligent Facebook stalking, and new exactly who I was looking for. He was tall, straddling the line between lanky and muscular, and he had beach blond locks that hung loosely across his face. I noticed right away that a Phi Kap I was acquainted with was doling out the beer, and I pushed my way up the steps to the keg. “Hey Bruce,” I greeted loudly, bypassing at least four freshmen boys who’d been waiting. I put my cup out and Bruce filled it for me. We had the standard `how’s it going?’ greeting until my cup was full. Then I motioned for him to fill up Zach’s cup next. “Thanks man,” Zach said to me a second later when he walked into Upwind and I was standing at the other side of the door. “I could have held out for a beer for another hour.” “Yeah,” I smiled at him. “Sometimes it’s about who you know.” The inside of Upwind was an utter disaster. The place was crowded and dirty. The entire floor creaked with every dance movement. There was a couch that I’m sure needed to be burned right by the speakers, and several co-eds were dancing right on top of it as if it was center stage at Bonaroo. “This is a shithole,” I shouted over the music coming out of an iPod in the corner. “Wanna go back outside?” “Sure.” Zach followed me straight to the back, where there was a veranda that took up the entire back wall of the house. It was full of people, but not as crowded. From one end, you could see the fire behind Midway, and from the other, you could see all of the country. escort bayan On a clear day, I’m sure you could have seen all the way back to Clifton Hill proper. “You’re a freshman, right?” I asked once we were outside and could actually hear each other talk. “Yeah.” “Related to Zane Mitchell?” “He’s my older brother.” “The resemblance…” “Yeah, we get twins quite a bit.” “I can see why,” I said, my tone falling just below flirtatious. This wasn’t what this conversation was about, although on any given night, I would have flirted it up with the younger brother of a very attractive Phi Delt. “You know my brother?” he asked. “Not well… in passing. He’s on the crew team with some of my friends.” “Ah, nice,” Zach replied. “I’m trying to get on the crew team. Well, actually, Zane is trying to get me on the team.” “You should do it,” I said. “They’re solid guys. And pretty good, from what I’ve seen.” “Yeah? I don’t want to follow too close in my brother’s footsteps, you know?” “Oh, I gotcha. Carve your own path, kind of thing?” I played breezy so well, someone should have given me a Tony. “Exactly.” “I get that. Besides, you plan on rushing right?” “Yeah.” “So it might not be a good idea to join the team right away, what with pledgeship starting in January,” I said casually, looking out into the country night. “That’s a good point.” “What house?” “Phi Delt hopefully. Being a legacy and all. If not then maybe Sigma Chi.” “Trust me, dude, you’ll have your pick of whatever,” I assured. “But either one of those is gonna be a pretty tough pledgeship. If I were you, I’d keep a pretty open plate.” “You think so?” “I know so. The rowing team will always be there next year, and if they’re recruiting you now, you’ll have no trouble getting on.” I knew the seed had been planted. There was no way a budding freshman would take that warning and not highly consider it. However, I needed assurance that he wouldn’t take his brother’s spot on the team, and so I had to dig a little deeper. “Gosh, I remember half the guys on my hall pledged Phi Delt freshman year. They hardly had a minute to sleep, let alone do anything else. I remember one guy got kicked off the basketball team because he missed too many practices.” “Holy shit,” the freshman said. Mission accomplished. We spent the better half of an hour going over pledgeship horror stories before I excused myself, found my boys, and convinced them I was tired and needed to go back to campus. I’d taken care of the hurdle. All that was left was getting James Dick to see Pete as a suitable alternative. For that, I had to pull out a couple of lies. “Hey, James,” I greeted as I entered the recreation faculty advisor’s office on the first floor of the commons. “Hey, Mr. Crowley. This is a surprise. Have a seat.” “I hope you’re not too busy,” I said, taking a seat across the desk from him. “Not at all. Nothing that can’t be put off a few minutes. What’s up?” “Well, James, I was mulling around some feature ideas for the paper, and I thought maybe I’d write about your rowing team,” I said with a twinkle and a smile. I had no plans to write anything in the Founder about anyone’s rowing team, but it was the easiest way to get an audience with James Dick that wouldn’t be awkward or suspicious. “Oh, wow,” he said. “First of all, do you call it a rowing team, or a crew team? I’m a little unclear.” “Here we call it crew, but it’s the same, really,” James replied. I nodded and pretended to write that down. “Anyway, I’ve already interviewed a couple of the guys on your team, and they’re really excited about the upcoming season.” “Yeah, it’s gonna be great actually. We have a meet at Yale and another at Cornell in the spring. And then proceeds from our regatta gala this year are going to fund a spring trip to Oxford next year.” I pretended to listen as if I gave two shits about the team. He went on to explain how they weren’t really funded well by the university because it was a club sport and not a varsity sport, and yet somehow the guys on the team were allowed to letter. And then I made the mistake of asking where there money came from, and that led to another brouhaha about donors and galas and auctions and all things I pretended to write down. “Anyway, James, thanks so much for talking to me. Oh,” I pretended to remember something. “I have one last thing. I was talking to Zane Mitchell and he was saying that he was leaving the team at the end of the term to go abroad, which I found interesting because he’s your captain. Any thoughts on that?” “Yeah, we’re actually really excited to welcome his younger brother to the crew,” James replied. “Zach?” “Yah. They call them the Mitchell twins, even though one is four years older.” “Ah, gotcha,” I said. And then I pretended to have an epiphany. “Wait, is Zach really four years younger? That makes him a freshman?” “It does.” “Hmm…” I made a face. “What?” “Oh, nothing. I just… seems like a lot to put on the shoulders of a freshman,” I said casually, packing up the legal pad I’d brought in. it was filled with nothing but doodles and not one single solitary quote or thought. “What do you mean?” “Well I mean, talking to the guys, crew seems like quite the commitment. Training in the morning and the evening, before dawn… I just wonder how he’ll be able to handle that if he’s thinking about pledgeship next term. And if his brother is a Phi Delt, he’s probably going Big Four, let’s be honest?” It was one of those things that you could bring up at OD simply because most of the students did end up pledging. In a way, the school revolved around the tradition, and it wasn’t an unheard of consideration to make. In fact, up until a few years back, freshmen core classes were never scheduled before nine during winter semester as to avoid having any freshmen have to make an eight a.m. class. “I mean, I’m just shooting off the hip here. I’m sure he’ll be able to handle it. He seems like a pretty tough guy.” “It might be something I should bring up to him, though,” James said, chewing the back of his pen. “You make a solid point.” “I mean, I just know how intense those eight weeks can be, you know. I’d definitely ask him how committed he plans to be to crew. No use bringing the whole team down. And besides, if he’s that solid of a rower, he’ll have three more years to do it, no?” “Yeah, of course. Which doesn’t help me with Zane stepping down this year, though,” James said. He swiveled in his chair slightly towards his computer, and I could see the wheels in his head spinning. I knew I had him on the bait to at least talk to Zach Mitchell, and after my talk with Zach, I knew exactly how their talk would go. I still had one more seed to plant, and luckily for me, James asked the question before I was forced to push it. “You wouldn’t happen to know anyone who rows crew, would you?” James asked, as if I’d told him that Santa doesn’t exist. “Not really,” I replied. “I mean, I know Crystal, your coxswain. Actually, you know what? I do know a guy who’s an exchange student from Oxford. Crew’s big there, right?” “Yeah, it definitely is,” James said, swiveling back towards me. “It’s a long shot, but it might be worth asking him. And he knows a few of the international students, so maybe if he doesn’t row, he can tell you someone who does.” “Oh, that’s perfect Mr. Crowley,” James said, feeding right into my hands. I gave him Pete’s information, thanked him again for the interview, and left his office. I took a deep breath, and continued with the rest of my Thursday. Later that night, as I was studying in the first floor commons, I was surprised by a smiling Pete, who I had only seen in passing and at chorus that entire week. We were still on very limited speaking terms, and I watched him as he approached my table, waiting to see if he planned to stop. “Hey,” he said, his eyes squinted and his eyebrow raised. “What’s up?” I asked nonchalantly. “I just got an email and it has your stamp written all over it,” he said. “I didn’t send you an email.” “It wasn’t from you. It was from the faculty sponsor of the rowing team. He wants me to come erg with the crew captain tomorrow morning.” He was still smirking at me. I controlled my face from giving away too much, or anything at all. “I’m not sure what erging is,” I replied. “Have a seat.” “It’s practice, basically. He wants me to come practice with the team. See if I’d be a good replacement for a senior they’re losing this year.” “That sounds awesome,” I replied with a smile. “Congratulations.” “Why do I get the feeling you had something to do with it?” “Because I might have,” I answered cheekily, leaning forward. Pete bore into me with his gaze. I missed those eyes. I could have gotten lost in those eyes. And even after not seeing them for almost a week, I was drowning once again in those eyes. I shook it off, thought about Mike, and sat back in my seat. “I thought you were mad at me…” he said softly. “What can I say? I couldn’t resist the sight of you in spandex and a pinnie,” I said with wide eyes. Pete shook his head slightly, but let out a smirk. “Seriously though. We’re friends. I was just helping a friend.” “Look, Corbin, I…” “We don’t have to do this,” I interrupted. “We really don’t.” “Are you sure?” “We’re friends, right?” “I hope so.” “Well then that’s that,” I said, stopping him before I was forced to listen to another explanation on his sexuality, and what it was or wasn’t. I stopped him before I had to listen to that bull, all the while pretending our chemistry was nowhere to be found. “I’ll be sure to model my spandex and pinnie for you at some point,” he smiled. “If I make the team.” “You better,” I replied, realizing we were verging on flirting once again. “I still have to erg my way on,” he said. “Still no clue what you’re saying.” He laughed out loud. And as if nothing had ever happened the weekend before, Pete and I spent an effortless two hours talking and not studying before he proceeded to the library. “We should get dinner tomorrow. Pregame a little,” he said. “I’d like that,” I replied. “Text me.” “You’ll answer?” “I’ll answer, douche,” I replied with a laugh. I watched Pete walk away, and took a deep breath when he was finally gone. It was the first I’d breathed fully in over two hours. I had done it. I had been a friend that a friend needed, if only for a short period of time. There was nothing snide about it, nothing sexual for the most part. We were just two good friends, and that was it. Still, there was a chemistry about us that itched just under my skin. No matter how hard I tried to curb it, Pete was still in me, affecting me. He made me want him in ways I hadn’t wanted anyone ever, and he did so as effortlessly as anyone could. But after putting Homecoming weekend behind us, I realized it was my problem to deal with. What had just happened, that friendship, was something I couldn’t lose. And so I’d have to protect it. The next morning, I went to my class as usual. On my way back from campus, I stopped by Professor Brown’s office and dropped off my Advertising Intensive application packet. I was done for the day, ready to nap until I got the call from Pete to go to dinner. I walked home, and went straight up to my bedroom. I was in my room for a solid minute, undressing and putting my bag away before I noticed it. Laying on my bed was a dark blue t-shirt, size medium, with the words Founder’s Crew in block letters. A smile crept on my face as I walked towards it. Next to the shirt was a note that simply read: Thanks, Friend. I looked at the shirt, picked up and turned it around. On the back was the crew’s motto. To err is human. To erg is divine. I held the shirt close to me like a kid receiving exactly what he’d always wanted for Christmas. It was everything. It was the kind of thank you gesture that makes someone gush all over inside. It was proof that chivalry wasn’t dead. And it was just enough to keep me baited on Pete’s hook. I folded the shirt down, and as I did, I wondered just how capable I was of doing it. How capable was I of letting my feeling go and committing to being nothing more than Pete’s friend? How capable was I of taking a gesture like he’d just done and not reading too much into it. Thanks, Friend. It was silly, but I put the shirt on immediately. Right then and there. The flies on my wall probably thought I was crazy, but then again they were probably used to my crazy. The shirt fit me like a glove and I almost vowed never to take it off. I was crazy. It was nothing. It was actually a small gesture that amounted to nothing. And yet it had been the highlight of my day. As I stood there wondering just how far my willpower would take me, I was shot back to reality. My phone vibrated in my pocket. I took it out and looked at the screen. It was the only respite I’d managed to find in a sea of feelings for a British man. I sighed with relief at the one distraction that could make Pete go away, at least for the moment. “Hey, Mike,” I answered cheerfully. And then I spent the next forty minutes talking on the phone to the guy I liked while wearing the shirt of the man I loved. Thank you so much for reading. As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated. You can send your thoughts and comments ail.

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