Hey everyone. RichardAdams here. Really hope you've all liked the progress of the story so far, even though there's only been one chapter. Again, let me know what you think in the comments and/or emailing me. I always read what you have to say and I love responding to what you send me.
No further progress in the publication process of 'Am I...?' I should get a response from an editor in the next 5-7 weeks, so I need to wait. Good thing I have this to work on. Anyway, I hope you like Chapter 2 of 'Could I Be...?'
Orientation week begins and it's a lot of lectures, tours, and papers. Not to mention it's incredibly boring, but it's necessary. I'm still trying hard with the whole gay thing with Josh. I've been using fag and gay since I was 12 years old, so old habits really die hard. But, I think I'm starting to get better at not using them.
Classes have started and I'm starting to get used to the routine. I really want to go pro in baseball, but I promised Mom and Dad I'd get a degree, so I've decided on a finance degree. You can get a job anywhere with a degree like that.
Josh has been practicing with The Cardinal for a few days now, so he often comes back to the room pretty late and usually goes to get something to eat in the dining hall, comes back to work on his assignments, then falls asleep. I don't mind it, but it would be nice if we could talk for a little while. At least we get Josh's guitar to the repair shop (it'll be fixed by next week).
After a long and tiring Friday, I get all my assignments done a little early, so I decide to explore the campus a little bit. I see some sights that I didn't get to see on the tour, but I mostly just enjoy the warm afternoon air and wander aimlessly.
As I walk I start to zone out and Zane drifts back into my head. What is it about him that makes me want to get closer to him? And why do I want to get closer to him in the first place? I think back to that night in the bathroom, when I got hard in the shower when I was thinking about Zane. I got flaccid after a minute, but I've been thinking about it ever since.
I stop walking and look around, trying to find where I am. I see I'm standing in the front of the Imaging Arts and Sciences building. As much as I want to keep walking, something stops me and pulls me toward the building. I walk in the front door and see how much different it is from my finance building.
There's piece after piece of art lining the walls, sculptures everywhere. It's all beautiful. I see a few students walking through the main lobby, all of them fitting the definition of 'hipster' and 'artsy-type.' They take notice of me and give me an odd look. They probably don't see too many jocks in here.
My mind tells me to leave, but my body seems to have a mind of it's own, taking me through the building, passing art pieces, a few students, and a professor or two. I stop in front of a door and look through the glass window. Sitting at a desk, with a sketchpad in front of him, is Zane.
He has a pencil in his hand and is running the graphite tip over the blank surface. He looks so...focused. His eyes aren't leaving the sketchpad and it doesn't even look like he's blinking. I quietly open the door and walk into the room, but Zane doesn't look up. I walk over to his seat and look down at him. "Hey," I say.
Zane jerks his body and the pencil goes flying from his hand. He looks up and sees me standing next to him. "W-When the hell did you get here?" he says, his eyes wide.
"About ten seconds ago," I reply. "I saw you in here and thought I'd say hi."
"Well, hi. You can go now."
Zane gets up from his seat and walks over to his discarded pencil. I look down at the piece of paper and can't believe my eyes. This is...a masterpiece. The sketch is of a setting sun behind large bare mountains, but it looks so realistic. The landscape seems really familiar. "Please don't touch that," Zane says, slipping past me and back into his seat.
"Did you draw that?" I ask.
Zane goes right back to sketching. "It's unbelievable," I say. "I've never seen something hand drawn look so lifelike."
"Thanks, I guess."
Zane cuts the conversation off and keeps drawing. I sigh to myself and grab a chair and take a seat next to him. "Look," I say. "I know we didn't get off to the best start, me storming off in the dining hall and all, but I really am trying to understand gay people a little more. So...I'd like to get to know you more."
The pencil stops moving over the paper and Zane looks over at me. "How do I know you aren't just lying to me?" he asks.
"Why would I lie?"
Zane's grip on his pencil gets tighter and tighter. "Because you jocks are all alike. You get close to the outcast, make it seem like you want to be friends with them and the outcast lets their guard down. They start to trust the jock, only to find out it was all lie so they could humiliate them and make it look like they're a total loser."
I see pain and hate start to fill Zane's face. "Zane..." I try to say.
The pencil in his hand snaps clean in two and Zane looks at me with pure rage in his eyes. "Just leave me the fuck alone. I don't want to know you, because I know you'll just betray me if I get too close to you."
The death glare Zane gives me tells me to leave. I start to get up and I look down at the paper again, trying to remember where I've seen it before, and start to leave. As I'm about to walk out the door, something appears in my mind. I smile and look back at Zane. "That's Palo Duro Canyon State Park, right?" I ask.
Zane looks back at me with incredulous eyes. "Yeah, it is," he says. "How'd you know that?"
"I went there once when I was 9 years old. It was a really beautiful place. You really did a fantastic job with that sketch."
For the first time, I see the corner of Zane's mouth smirk a fraction of an inch. "Thanks."
I smile back and start to leave the room. But I notice my heart's beating twice as fast as it was when I first entered the room. I also feel my face starting to get a bit warm. What's going on...?
I get back to Florence Moore Hall and walk in the front door. As soon as I walk in, I see Charles stepping out of the front office. He sees me and his lined face frowns. "You here to give me more lip, boy?" he asks.
My gaze looks at the carpeted floor, unable to look Charles in the eye. "N-No sir..." I say.
"How's that roommate of yours? You treating him like shit because he's a homosexual?"
"Not anymore, sir. He and I talked it out and I'm trying to grasp the gay thing a little more. I really am trying to understand it, and I think it's working."
Charles gives me a soft, wrinkled smile. "That's good to hear, boy."
"Um...my name's Eric, sir. Eric Swanson."
"I'll keep that in mind, boy."
Charles walks past with a surprising spring in his step, and walks out the door. I continue to the elevator and ride up to the fourth floor and walk to my room. I notice a small sticky note on the door.
'Eric. I'm next door in Leo and Zane's room. Come by if you want. -Josh'
I take my key out of my pocket and start to insert it into the lock, when I stop. I glance over at the room next to mine. Putting my key back in my pocket, I walk over to the door and knock. "It's open," says the other side of the door.
I turn the knob and find Josh and Leo, sitting on Leo's bed, game controllers in both of their hands, large grins on both of their faces. "Fuck you!" yells Leo. "That was a cheap shot!"
"Suck it up!" Josh screams back. "You did the same thing to me two minutes ago." He glances over and sees me. "Hey, Eric. Take a seat anywhere. I'm just kicking Leo's ass in Street Fighter."
I walk over to the desk chair and take a seat and watch Josh and Leo play. With a few more punches, Josh's character punches Leo's and he goes down. Josh pumps his fist in the air and Leo punches Josh in the shoulder. "You're just lucky!" he says.
"Is three wins in a row lucky?" Josh retorts.
"No. You're lucky you're hot."
Josh smiles and gives Leo a small kiss, making me shift uncomfortably, and looks over at me. "Sorry about that," he says. "Leo and I often have video game battles like that."
"Really?" I ask. "I thought most gay guys liked fashion, getting their nails done and skipping down the street." Both Josh and Leo narrow their eyes at me. "Sorry, that was insensitive of me."
"Some gay people do like that kind of stuff," says Leo, "while others prefer to do stuff Josh and I like to do. We like to play video games together, I like fixing my motorcycle and Josh likes playing football. That's just a stereotype that a lot of people have against gay people."
"While you may think we like doing all that stuff," says Josh. "we tend to prefer staying in, ordering some pizza, watching some movies, hanging out with our friends and just having a good time."
Their lifestyle sounds so...normal. I just assumed all gay people were the same: eyeliner on their eyes, always wearing designer clothing, and talking with a lisp. But these guys defy every stereotype I've ever heard. The door suddenly clicks and I see Zane walking into the room, a backpack over his shoulder.
He notices me and Josh sitting in the room. "What're you both doing here?" he asks with a bit of spite in his voice.
"Leo invited me to come over and said it was okay if Eric came over too," says Josh.
"Whatever," Zane quietly responds.
He sets his bag down next to the door and walks over to his bed and takes a seat. I notice his side of the room for the first time. While it's pretty monochromatic, sketches and paintings are lining the wall, each of them as stunning and beautiful as the one before. "The same thing happened to me when I first saw them," says Leo.
"Huh?" I say.
"Zane's drawings. They're insanely captivating and really well done. I stared at them for a solid five minutes before he snapped me out of it."
I see Zane shift in his seat, looking a little uncomfortable with the attention. "Are you here on a scholarship?" I ask him. "Because with talent like that, you could have a full ride here."
"No," he says, his hand clenching. "All the money for tuition and stuff like that I'm getting from loans, so I'll need to pay them back after I'm done with college."
"Loans?" asks Josh. "You're paying for school with nothing but loans? You'll have hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt by the time you're done. Can your parents pay for at least some of the cost?"
Zane's jaw suddenly sets and I can see him grinding his teeth together through his cheeks. "I...I haven't seen my parents in almost six months..."
The room becomes eerily quiet, my gut retching. "Six months?" I ask. "Why?"
"Because when your parents find out their only son is gay, they don't like it and kick him out of his own home. I stayed in a homeless shelter for a little while, going to and from school from there."
His parents kicked him out? My stomach actually starts to hurt from what I'm hearing. "How could anyone kick out their own kid?" I ask.
"It's actually more common than you think," says Josh. "About 40% of homeless teenagers are gay and are homeless because their parents kicked them out." He looks back at Zane, whose face is hardening. "How'd you get here?"
"I bought a bus ticket and rode here from Dallas with only my clothes and art supplies. I've been in Stanford for about four months now and have managed to get some money through part time jobs and selling some of my art pieces. It's given me enough to buy some school supplies and stuff for my room, but I still needed to pay for college.
"So I applied for student loans and got $200,000, enough to pay for four years of college. But I'm going to need to start paying them off when I leave. I haven't said a word to my parents since I left and I don't even think they know where I am."
"Didn't they know you got into Stanford?" asks Leo.
Zane shakes his head, the rings in his ears shaking with him. "I never told them I applied here and got in. They thought I'd go to some in-state school where I probably would've been just as miserable as I was in high school.
"I already had enough credits to graduate early and I was already accepted into Stanford, so I left school a few weeks before graduation, and I left that horrible place I called a home behind without looking back. No one knows where I am, nor do they care if I'm dead or alive..."
"Would you be willing to talk about it?" asks Josh.
Zane shakes his head again. "No. Just thinking about it makes me want to vomit. And I think about it every day."
He shudders involuntarily and I can see a lot of pain in his eyes. Zane's life must've been a living hell for him to be so traumatized that he can't even think of what happened to him without wanting to throw up. "What part time jobs have you had?" I ask.
"I worked in a fast food place for a day before quitting because the manager was a total asshole. Then there was a bookstore that I left after a week because the employees found out I was gay and starting treating me like shit. I now work at a tattoo shop about two blocks from campus and go in there on weekends. I don't tattoo, just sit at the front desk and check people in."
"Well, that should be enjoyable, isn't it?" asks Josh.
"It pays well and the employees and owners are nice, so it's pretty fun. I can get free tattoos sometimes when we're closing up, so that's a perk."
I look at Zane's arms and am still amazed by the amount of ink he has on them. "Was your first tattoo a demon or an angel?" I ask.
Zane looks over at me and raises his left arm and points at his wrist. "This one was my first one. It's a single wing, but it got me hooked. I think the total's up to fifty-one now."
Fifty-one? Talk about commitment. "Aren't they expensive?" Leo asks. "The one on my shoulder cost me about two hundred dollars and it's not too big, but it was worth every penny."
I see Josh smile and kisses the side of Leo's face, but I shrug it off, which is starting to become easier. "They can be expensive depending on the size of the tattoo and the color of the ink used," says Zane. "I have about $12,000 worth of ink on me."
And now every mouth but Zane's is wide open. "$12,000?!" I say. "How the hell did you afford all that? And don't you need to be 18 to get a tattoo without a parent?"
"My parents were rich and I had a guy that worked in a tattoo place back in Dallas. I paid in cash and no one asked how a seven tattoos magically appeared on a 16 year old. My parents were furious, but I didn't give two shits."
"The hair and piercings?" says Josh.
"Is this twenty questions?" Zane asks. "All my piercings are self done with a safety pin and the hair I've kept this way for about nine months now."
"You pushed a needle through your ears and eyebrows?" Leo asks.
"It didn't hurt too much and there wasn't any infection, so I'm okay."
"And I know this seems kind of like a dick question," I say. "But back in that art classroom, you said jocks get close to the outcast just so they could humiliate them. Is that what happened to you?"
For the first time, Zane's face doesn't fill with anger, just...sadness. "Yeah," he says. "I've told all you guys that I was the only openly gay student in my high school?" We all nod. "Well...I was pulled out of the closet rather than me stepping out."
I don't know what that means, so I look at Josh and Leo, who both look incredibly shocked. "Someone outed you?" Leo asks.
Zane nods again. Behind his yellow contacts, I see the sadness building and he actually looks to be on the verge of tears. "So what?" I say. Everyone looks at me, confused. "Are you happy that you're out of the closet?"
"Uh...yeah?" Zane says.
"Then it doesn't matter what other people thought of or will think of you. As long as you're happy with who you are, than other opinions don't matter. The guy that outed you was an asshole and didn't know they lost a really good potential friend."
Where the hell did that come from? I've never said anything like that in my life. But it felt like the right thing to say, and it sure looks like it was the right thing to say. I see Josh and Leo with small smiles on their faces and Zane doesn't look so upset anymore. His façade cracks and a smile appears, revealing pristine, white teeth. "Thanks," he says.
My heart pangs and the same feeling from the bathroom comes back, the feeling that I don't want to leave Zane's side. Why am I feeling this way? The door knocking breaks me free of my daze. "Campus police," says the door. "We could smell weed coming from this room down the hall."
And all eyes in the room are on me. I raise my hands innocently. "Why the hell are you all looking at me?"
Josh rolls his eyes and looks at the door. "Ashton!" he calls. "The door's open!"
There's a laugh and the door opens. Standing in the hallway are at least five huge guys, all of them with food in their arms. "Mind if we come in?" asks a guy with dreadlocks tied into a ponytail (Ashton, I think).
Josh looks at Leo and Zane for an answer, who both shrug. "C'mon in," Josh says. "But I'm sure if you all can fit..."
The guys flood into the room, every one of them gigantic. In their tree trunk arms are pizza, chips, soda, you name it, it's there. I look over at Zane, who seems to be petrified by the supermen walking into the room. "Guys," says Josh, "these are some of my teammates. This is Ashton, Michael, Davis, Ian, Diego, Jordan, Casey, Kelvin, and Nick."
I can't move out of the desk chair, the room's so crowded. Thank God for the unnaturally large room, because we wouldn't be able to breath if the room was a square foot smaller. "What's up, Leo?" Michael says.
"Hey, guys," Leo says, giving each guy a high-five. "Lance not here?"
"Nope," says Ian. "That asshole still moping about being put on the bench."
"Well, he shouldn't have been a complete dick to Rusden back in May, then maybe he'd be playing with us against UCLA this Sunday," says Michael.
"Who's Lance?" I ask.
"He's a teammate of ours," says Josh. "Back in May when Leo and I first met the team, he and a few other guys didn't like the fact I was gay."
I see Jordan, Kelvin, Casey, and Nick look at the floor. "We're still sorry about that, Rusden," says Kelvin.
"Don't worry about it," Josh replies. "These four apologized afterword, but Lance kind of freaked out. But Leo stepped in and gave Lance the ass beating of a lifetime."
"And now that I'm a sixth degree black belt and won the Junior California Kickboxing Championship," says Leo, "I'll be able to kick his ass even harder if he tries anything again."
I'm pretty sure I heard that right, because every head in the room is completely blank, expect for Josh, who just pulls Leo even closer to him. Ashton looks over at me. "What's up, man?"
"Not much," I say. "Name's Eric. I'm a baseball player, a pitcher."
"I figured that," says Jordan. "You have a pitcher's body. Nice to meet you."
The guys break open all the food and begin hungrily devouring it. While eating, the guys all take notice of Zane's artwork and compliment him immensely on how amazing it is, along with the tattoos and piercings. He thanks them all, but he still seems a little uncomfortable with the amount of jocks in the room.
As everyone's eating, I see Zane get up from his bed and walk to the door. "Where you headed, Zane?" Leo asks.
"Um...I'm going to the bathroom for a minute..." he says.
He quickly opens and exits out the door, leaving the guys confused. "Is he okay?" asks Casey.
"I just think he's uncomfortable with the situation," says Josh.
"What situation?" asks Nick.
"The number of jocks in the room," says Leo. "Zane has a bit of history with jocks that isn't all too pretty, so he doesn't like jocks very much."
The guys shrug it off and go back to eating, but I feel a bit weird, like I need to go out and talk to Zane. My body starts moving before I even know what I'm doing. "I'll be right back," I say. "I need to go plug my phone in."
I step over the various body parts scattered on the floor and get to the door and make it to the hallway. I go straight for the bathroom and when I get to the sinks, I see Zane hunched over one of the sinks, splashing water into his face. "You okay?" I ask.
He looks over at me and goes right back to staring at the sink. "I guess..."
I walk over to his side and look down at him. "Are you sure about that?"
Zane lets out a few breaths. "No. I don't think I am..."
"Why? Is it because of the guys back in the room? They're all really nice and really seem to like you and your art."
"And that's exactly why I'm standing in the bathroom with you."
"What do you mean?"
Zane looks up at me, his face still wet from splashing his face. "Because they're the polar opposite of the jocks I knew back in Texas. The guys there were horrible, insulted me at every chance they could get, and wanted to humiliate me no matter where or when. Those guys? They're...great...
"They don't care that I'm gay, they like my artwork, they think my tattoos and piercings are cool, they're...nice."
I smile at him. "Not all jocks are like the fuckers you had to see everyday in Dallas," I say. "A lot of them are like those guys: down to earth and caring."
"But what about you? A week ago, the mere thought of a gay person made you cringe. Now you're talking to one like it's nothing."
I shrug a bit. "People can change, and people do change. I'm still adjusting to you, Josh, and Leo being gay, but...it isn't so bad anymore. Josh and Leo are both nice and I think you're an incredibly talented guy."
A warm filling starts filling my chest and quickly starts radiating throughout my body. Just because I complimented Zane? "Thanks," he says. "I'm...really not used to getting compliments about my artwork. Not even my parents cared about what I loved to do."
"You know what? Your parents can go fuck themselves. It's their own damn fault for not seeing that their only child has a gift and they let him go."
The feeling starts getting hotter and hotter and I feel my face turning a little red. Why do I feel so embarrassed when I'm saying nice things to Zane? I've never felt this way before. "Um...look," Zane says. "I want to apologize to you."
"What for?" I ask.
"For what happened earlier in the art room, when I was sketching. I treated you like you were one of my bullies and said some pretty mean shit. I'm sorry."
Before I know it, I'm hugging Zane. And it feels...amazing. "It's nothing," I say. "I probably would've done the same thing had our roles been switched."
Suddenly, I feel two arms on my back and Zane presses me closer to him, making me suck in a breath. I can feel Zane's heart beating against my lower chest and it perfectly matches my own. I've never had this happen to me before, so why is it happening with Zane, who's gay while I'm straight?
Panic starts to set in and I end the hug. "Um...by the way," I say, trying to change the subject, "do...you wear colored contacts? Your eyes are always yellow."
"Oh yeah," Zane replies. "I wear them because I was made fun of the way my eyes look a lot as a kid, so I wear colored contacts."
"You were made fun of because of your eye color? That has got to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. You can't control what color your eyes are. You were born that way."
"Yeah well, my eyes are a little different."
Zane turns toward the mirror in front of the sink and presses his middle and index finger to his irises. They both come back with a yellow contact on the tip of each finger. Zane sighs to himself and turns and looks back at me, his eyes closed. "Please don't see me as a freak because of this."
He slowly opens his eyes and what I see mesmerizes me. His left eye is the brightest blue I have ever seen, while his right eye is almost black it's so dark. When I look into each eye, I get two completely different feelings. The blue eye makes me feel safe and secure, like I'm with a friend. The black eye gives me a sense of mystery, like I want to know more about this person.
I stare into both irises, captivated. "Wow..." I say. "You're ashamed of these?"
"What do you mean?" he asks.
"They're so...unique. This is the first time I've seen something like this. It's really...amazing."
Zane blinks and smiles. "You're the first person to compliment me on my real eye colors. That really means a lot to me."
Zane looks down at his fingers, where his contacts sit. He puts his hand underneath the faucet and turns on the water, and watches as his contacts wash down the drain. "What're you doing?" I ask.
He looks back at me, still smiling. "You're right. I shouldn't be ashamed of something I can't change. So, I'm done with my contacts and want to live like I am. It's the same with being gay."
"Back in Texas, my bullies made me feel like my sexuality was something I should be ashamed of and that I was less of a person because of it. But...I'm starting to see that they were wrong. Me being gay is something I should embrace and be proud of. I...kind of owe that realization to you, Eric."
I smile down at Zane. "That's the first time since we've met that you've called me by my first name."
Zane suddenly blushes. "U-Um...I guess it is..."
I give Zane a slap on the shoulder, making him jump a bit. "C'mon," I say. "The guys are probably wondering what's taking us so long." Zane and I walk out of the bathroom and are about to walk back into his and Leo's room. "Oh, I'll meet you in there. I need to go charge my phone."
Zane walks back into his room and I get back into my room and shut the door behind me, pressing my back to it and sink to the floor. My heart's beating a mile a minute and my face must be bright red. I want my heart to stop beating so fast and I want the sweat on my forehead to stop breaking out.
But there's only one thing I don't want to stop: the images of Zane that keep appearing in my mind: Zane's tattoos, his piercings, his eyes, his smile, I want to see more of it. I want more of...Zane. What's happening to me...? Could I be...? No...no I can't be. I'm not...