They nagged a bit, made me write out the first few pages while I was still trying to finish No Souvenirs, but that's not why it's so different. For starters, the characters are much younger, twenty-one and twenty-two, though since they have such train wrecks as back stories, life has aged them. And because of their respective train wrecks, they have really weird ways of looking at the world.
So here. It doesn't have a title, and this may not be the right place to start the story, but for anyone who wants to know, this is what is eating my brain. And at a hell of a clip, too.
John Andrews' first experience with public education was as a twenty-one year old freshman at the University of Albany. In his first class of 500, give or take the people standing, a girl passed out, two other girls made out and a drug deal went down two rows behind him. By the end of the week, John had learned that college was a lot like training camp. Less weight training, still lots of bad food.
In that week, seventeen different flyers for parties, clubs, and political rallies came flying under his dorm room door. Each of them went up on the otherwise empty bulletin board in his room, except the one from the Disabled Students’ Association, which had been hand-delivered. The guy with the hearing aid had been the only one who'd even noticed—or at least said anything about John's cane. That flyer in eye-hemorrhage inducing orange went immediately into the trash.
John didn't need it, or the Disabled Students' Association or the handicapped room the university had given him—though having no roommate and a private bathroom was a plus. John wasn't exactly disabled. He didn't always need the cane—unless he made a quick move and lost his balance, but it didn't happen all the time anymore. He just couldn't drive. Or watch a tennis match. Or look out of a second story window.
Or ever get on a dive platform again.
One of the flyers he’d saved was for a get-to-know-you meeting for some environmental club. Everyone wanted to save the planet. Maybe that was something he could do. Life: Plan B had to start somewhere.
Four-fifty-six Madison Place was somewhere downtown and it took him two buses and a walk down a couple of dark blocks to get there. John had discovered walking was easier in the dark. No contending with the blurs from bright light, less noise. And even if he did stagger, fewer people were around to see him trip over apparently thick air. Now that he was on the right street, it wasn't hard to tell which house it was. Lights on, music blaring bright enough on its own, and the added confirmation in the form of a young man puking off the front porch. Getting to know the members of the environmental club apparently required large amounts of alcohol.
John propped his cane up behind some definitely non-recycled trash on the porch and went inside, remembering just in time not to shake his head in disgust. He didn't have a problem if people wanted to play beer pong and call it a club meeting. He just thought that if they were going to call themselves Students for a Greener Tomorrow they might use non-plastic cups and recycle their empties.
He hadn’t needed any pills today. No headaches. No heaving. He could probably have a beer. It wasn’t as if he was driving. And hey, at least the cups were green.
John negotiated his way to the keg. He’d been to his fare share of parties, all over the world. The Germans were always had something going on in their dorm at any event, and if they didn't the Brits did. The Brazilians threw a two-week long celebration during the Pan American Games, though John's memory of it was a little fuzzy because he'd gotten knocked down to silver by two freaking tenths of a point and had decided that it was a good time to experience being spectacularly drunk. The resulting hangover had been the benchmark worst experience of his life—until he found out how bad things could really suck. He found a wall to lean on and watched the beer pong game.
John was aware of the look for a full minute before he began the slow process of turning to see who was aiming it at the side of his head. He hoped it wasn’t someone trying to remember where they knew him from. It usually turned out to be from the cereal box. He’d already suffered through five tearful--on their part--encounters with girls who thought it was so very tragic and how could he bear it and what was he going to do with himself now.
John wished he knew the answer to that last one.
He turned, and sometimes it didn’t matter how slowly he did it. Something clicked over in his brain and the world burst into glittering confetti and kaleidoscopes—two things he’d never enjoy again. Nausea set his stomach on the spin cycle and pain sparkled silver and white through his head. The flashes of color slowed, settled into refracted light. Almost like a bad 3D effect, bending the edges of whatever he tried to focus on.
And in this case it was a guy’s face. The pain faded and took the nausea with it, which John thought was only fair since they always came as a each other's date. But the weird scattered crystal effect kept going on for a full minute, white with red and black streaks, as John tried to focus on the guy's face.
Red lips, dark for a guy, but the color didn't look artificial, more like he bit them a lot. Hair a warm brown, almost shaved on the sides and spiky on top. His eyes—now that the broken glass effect had faded, John could finally see his eyes—or maybe this was another weird thing from the fall and whatever it had done to John's head, because those dark eyes looked back at him like John had every answer in the world. Like John was Jesus and a Gold Medal and the guy holding a check for a million dollar-endorsement all at once.
John's hands got cold. And then the dark gaze dropped to make a long slow trip back up John's body, pausing for a long stare at John's crotch where the even the loose fit of his Dockers couldn't hide what that attention was doing to John's dick.
The guy noticed all right. His tongue swept over his full bottom lip. A sauna-heat rushed over John's body, pricking his skin even as it melted his bones. Jeez. Was it really this easy? After all that sneaking around and crap with Roald on tour, here you could just have a guy check you out at a party and that was it?
John might not have a lot of experience, but he knew what this was. Cruising. He’d even seen the 1976 movie with Al Pacino. It hadn’t worked out too well for the characters in that movie, but it wasn’t 1976 anymore.
So. In the middle of this party with straight couples slobbering on each other and people half-passed out on the beer pong cups the one gay guy had found him. And it hadn't even taken a flyer from whatever gay student organization they had here.
No, John didn’t have a lot of experience but he had seen a lot of movies, though not as many of the kind that would help him out in this situation as he'd like. He hooked his thumbs in his pockets so that his fingers framed his dick and met the look in the other guy’s dark eyes. He smiled and walked up to John, steps nowhere near as steady as his gaze.
“Wanna get out of here?”
John would have nodded, but that would have gotten the whole kaleidoscope going again, so he blinked. Apparently that was good enough because the guy knocked back whatever was left in his cup—which didn't smell like beer—and tossed the cup away.
No way was John getting into a car with this guy. Sexy lips, eyes and seriously ripped arms or not. His life might suck right now, but he wasn't ready to become a drunk driving statistic.
"I don't have a car."
John thought of the long bus ride back to his dorm. "I live on campus, uptown."
The other guy hooked his finger through the belt loop on John's khakis and pulled him close enough that their hips touched. The guy's breath hit John's cheek, warm, almost enough to burn with the fumes from whatever had been in that cup. "I'm right around the block. Okay with you?"
A hot guy's hand was a few inches from John's very happy dick, and his lips were even closer to John's ear. Like any second he'd be kissing him and yes, it was okay with him. This guy wasn't Roald and apparently didn't give a shit if anyone else knew he was gay. And since no one was handing out endorsements for brain-damaged former gold medalists, neither did John.
Belatedly, John realized the guy was waiting for an answer. "Umm, yeah."
"So let's go."