A bead of sweat dripped from Kieran Sawyer’s hairline down his cheek as he slid into a desk near the back of his chemistry classroom and opened his spiral-bound notebook to the first blank page. His eyes flew to the large clock on the wall behind the lectern, and he tried to catch his breath in relief. He still had thirty seconds before Professor Ulman stepped into the room to begin the lesson.
The professor was a punctual man and expected his students to be the same. Even though it was only the second week of college, he had drummed into the heads of every single student that they were to be in their seats and ready to take notes as soon as class began. Losing track of time, Kieran had suddenly realized he was in danger of arriving late and had hoofed it on a dead run from the English building a quarter mile away.
Kieran had just begun his junior year at Barratt University, and he was still getting used to it. A transfer student, he’d spent his first four terms at a community college near his home in northern California and now, installed in academic life at the opposite end of the state, it all was so different and unsettling. Sharing a dorm room with a stranger, trying to make friends on campus where he didn’t know a soul and even the basics of using a college-issued meal plan card to buy food was vastly different from what he was used to. He was a little homesick.
Mr. Ulman, short and mildly pot-bellied, appeared in the front of the lecture hall sporting a bad comb-over of gray hair and wearing navy trousers that strained to fit. With his usual perfunctory “Attention class”, he asked the students to pass forward their homework assignments from the week before. Kieran handed his six-page essay on Photochemical and Catalytic Safety in the Laboratory. Every chem class he’d ever taken began with lectures on the dangers of mixing chemicals and how to safeguard against accidents.
The professor was gathering up the reports from the front of each row when a loud voice preceded the arrival of a latecomer. Like everyone else, Kieran turned his head towards the back door in time to see a tall, lanky student his age saunter through with a rolling gait as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
The newcomer’s vivid steel-gray eyes set off by fringed lashes and highly arched brows seemed to miss nothing. His rugged face was beautifully chiseled with a perfectly straight nose and square jaw that not even his careless smile could soften. Golden streaks highlighted the boy’s russet-colored hair which was messily curled to the nape of his neck, and his flawless skin was deeply bronzed. His looks gave off more than a hint of time spent outdoors… or the languid lifestyle flaunting the best that money could buy. Flashing white teeth, expensive hair, a faultless tan and designer clothes. Kieran instantly knew this boy was a local.
“Mr.…” the professor sang out, looking annoyed.
“Fielding,” the student supplied insouciantly, now moving to an empty back seat five rows to the left of Kieran. “Brant Fielding.” His voice was deep and made the name sound like something from a 007 spy film.
“Ah, Mr. Fielding, you are aware that you’re late for class and have interrupted my instruction.”
Brant shrugged. “All it looked like you were doing was collecting our essays.” He opened a binder and pulled out a sheaf of papers which he passed up the row. “Here’s mine.”
Professor sighed, shaking his head. “Please be more prompt, Mr. Fielding. I explained my policy on tardy students the first day of the semester, and I expect you to follow it.”
“Yes sir.” Brant didn’t seem a bit chastened; in fact, he looked over at Kieran with a smile and winked.
Kieran felt his face warm in a blush, and he sat bolt upright so the students between them blocked his view of the redhead. What was that wink about? Did he somehow suspect Kieran was gay? He was not used to being flirted with, even if the guy was friendly and attractive. This Mr. Fielding was smoldering with raw sex appeal, and that made him off-limits and dangerous.
For the rest of the hour and a half Kieran had trouble keeping his mind on the lecture. He went over every detail in his head he could bring up about Brant Fielding which was precious little in this short amount of time. He knew there was no way the other man could be attracted to him. They were total strangers; they shared only the one subject twice a week and had never even spoken to each other. Until today, he didn’t even know the handsome student’s name, and he was positive they had no friends in common. Given that Brant looked like the living embodiment of an A&F or GQ ad, Kieran was certain his tastes in lifestyle didn’t run towards living in the dorms either.
Kieran was, in his own eyes, more or less average. A nobody. The only child of a couple who had met late in life and were now in their mid-sixties, his father was retired military and his mother worked as a lunch lady at the same elementary school he’d attended as a boy. His childhood had been happy enough, and he knew his parents loved and supported him. Not even his announcement at age fifteen that he was gay had thrown them much. Kieran wasn’t exactly shy… timid would be a better description, and he wasn’t close to the four or five friends he’d made since his arrival nor were they the kind to push him socially to do more than he was comfortable with. He didn’t fall into any category of nerd, but he went beyond blending into the background, he was the background.
Sure he got good grades in school, but he wasn’t aware of his own intelligence or his talent as an artist which was why he dabbled instead of making it his major. He was a good listener, and when he let his guard down he had a lightning-quick wit and a quirky sense of humor, none of which he thought made him special. He was an enigma, unknown to even his best friends at home because he kept his secret self apart from what he let the world in to see, rarely sharing his deepest thoughts or ideas. Lord knows, trusting people in that extent wasn’t safe, not by a long shot, not if trust meant betrayal.
Here he was in this unfamiliar environment, hoping to god he could get through his studies before he had a nervous breakdown and trying to figure out how the upper-level student division worked on the fly. Transitions were often difficult for him, but being away from home for the first time was the biggest in his life now that he had been transplanted to one of the largest metropolitan communities in the USA. Sunny skies, sandy beaches and the wealth of southern Orange County at his fingertips.
Well, the first two were true, although the last was totally out of his reach. Not that he begrudged the business titans their right to make money hand over fist if they were ambitious and insightful. What he resented was their rich kids who treated Barratt University like their own personal playground. Students like Brant Fielding who waltzed in late to class with a smile and a wink, thinking it was his right to cause a disturbance.
Said spoiled pariah, Brant Fielding, leaned back as far as he could in his desk so he could study the blonde he’d winked at earlier. To be honest, it wasn’t a very good angle, but at least Brant was able to size the boy up without him noticing his stare. Hmm, he thought to himself, he’s rather cute. He’d never noticed him in past semesters, so maybe he was new to Barratt. Shy too, given the way his face had turned pink when their eyes connected.
Judging by the stiffness in his posture and how much room the student took up in the seat, Brant speculated that he was perhaps six or so inches shorter than his own six-foot-three frame. He had a slender body that didn’t look as if it held one ounce of fat, and he deemed that the other boy had participated in some kind of sports in high school and maybe still did. He also had the prettiest blue-green eyes he’d ever seen on a man. Round with pale brows and lashes that were nearly invisible against his golden, sun-kissed skin. Baby-faced with pouty lips, a dusting of freckles across his cheeks and a dimple on both sides of his smile. Captivating.
All were positives as far as Brant was concerned. So was the way the boy dressed— shabby flip flops, a pair of khaki cargo shorts that were probably from Wal-Mart but did a fantastic job showing off his lightly-furred calves and a baggy tan t-shirt with the slogan, Bacon Makes Everything Better stylized in brown and white. Brant distractedly tugged on the leather bracelet he wore on his right wrist, giving thought to the new university student and the option of them becoming friends. Maybe this kid was the one.
Ninety minutes later Brant left the classroom in a cheerful mood. He headed for the large expanse of green lawn down the hill close to the Student Union Building, taking advantage of the lovely late-summer day. Here he hoped to meet up with his usual crew: John and his cousin, Dirk, Dirk’s girlfriend, Chelsea, who happened to be besties with Nicole and her brother, Patrick. All of them were life-long mates who had been raised together since preschool. They grew up in the same exclusive community on the coast where their parents were business associates and country club members, and they enjoyed the pampering only the wealthiest could afford. These collegians had been hell-raisers all through high school and, for the most part, they hadn’t matured much since.
“What’s up?” Patrick greeted Brant. He could feel his nervous energy and slapped his palm before fist-bumping him. He was a rather plain college senior an inch shorter than his friend with buzz-cut light brown hair and eyes the color of coffee, two creams. He was pledged to a jock fraternity as a baseball player on the Barratt team with an abrupt sense of humor and enthusiasm that occasionally got carried away but, aside from his sister, Brant couldn’t ask for anyone more loyal.
“I think I’ve located my first playmate of the year,” Brant exclaimed with a grin. “He’s in my chem class and completely edible.”
Nicole took a giant slurp from her large Jamba Juice Caribbean Passion smoothie before commenting.
“Did you catch a name? What’s his story?”
Brant shrugged. “I don’t know yet, but I’ll try to find out on Wednesday. He’s perfect so it shouldn’t be difficult.”
“Gay or straight?” Patrick smirked. The rest of the group laughed.
John, a beefy football player for the Barratt Barracudas, stroked his trimmed goatee and leered. “Not that it matters, eh, Brant? And by perfect, I assume you mean cute, small and helpless.”
Accepting the half-box of McDonald’s french fries from him, Brant settled down to tell them about Kieran. Being late for class and the confrontation with the teacher, followed by his wink. “He was blushing just from that.”
Chelsea Sproule, wearing a wrap-around translucent top over a black tank top and pair of denim shorts, gave the hazy appearance of dragging herself away from her daydreams to join the conversation. She was fairly tall for a girl: five-foot-eight and skinny as a rail with shoulder-length frizzy auburn hair and hazel doe eyes.
“Brant, are you sure you want to victimize another teenager?” she asked doubtfully. “I would think that after all this time, you would grow out of the need to control people and the game would stop being fun.”
From all around came cries of “shut up, Chelsea.”
She fell silent with a hurt scowl on her face. Not that she disliked Brant; on the contrary she found him very hot and thought it was such a shame that he was gay. All the pretty ones were. But she was sensitive, and Brant’s game seemed cruel to her. For thirteen years she had been best friends with Nicole whose opinion mattered to her a lot and, for four, the girlfriend of Dirk who was even dearer. He now spoke up.
“Chelsea, he isn’t hurting anyone. Not really.”
Regarding her man, Chelsea’s eyes flashed and she crossed her arms over her very small breasts. “That is debatable, Dirk. How can you possibly say that befriending some poor kid, seducing him and then abandoning him flat doesn’t hurt? How would you like to be one of Brant’s playmates?”
“We wouldn’t,” John asserted in place of his cousin. “But that’s why we make the rules of the game and don’t participate.”
“Besides,” Brant added in his typical nonchalant fashion, “there are benefits for him. If he’s straight he finds out he isn’t as hetero as he thought, and no matter what happens, he gets to spend time with Moi. That means the advantage of my money, my prestige and my awesome sexual prowess while we’re together.”
“Until you get bored,” Chelsea grumbled sarcastically, rolling her eyes. He stuck out his tongue at her.
“Awesome sexual prowess, my ass,” Patrick mocked. “You just want him for you latest fuck-toy.”
“You denied your ass to my awesome sexual prowess when I wanted it three years ago,” Brant pointed out, flipping him off with both hands in jest. “So that takes your opinion off the table.”
“Don’t deny the man his due,” Dirk advised Patrick with a knowing snigger, cupping his crotch. “Satisfaction guaranteed and the ability to get it up repeatedly, not to mention cumming five times…”
“Ewww.” Nicole turned away in disgust. She might be devoted to Brant but she didn’t like this game any more than Chelsea did. It was a classic example of strong preying on the weak.
“Holy shit, Dirk, you sound as if you have personal experience,” Patrick chortled, making the guys all laugh again.
“Leave Dirk alone.” Chelsea glared at Patrick, taking note of her boyfriend’s crimson flush.
Patrick grinned at her to show he was just kidding, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. He wished he could go back in time to three years before when Brant hit him up. At the time he had been confronted with a deep sense of sexual confusion, but now he was willing to admit he might be bisexual and would happily take what his friend offered. Not that anyone else knew…
“Nah, it’s just rumor,” John announced, dispelling the tension. “But a good one, based on solid fact. Ask any of his past playmates, at least those who don’t completely despise him.”
“What do we do next?” Chelsea asked, getting them back on track and stifling a yawn. This time of day she was always tired, and she had a scheduled biology lab next that she wasn’t sure she’d stay awake through.
“In two days I should at least learn his name,” Brant said. “Then we devise plans to become his friend and take it from there. I hope I earn a new personal best.”
John chuckled. “Are we taking bets on how many days it takes you from the time you show first interest in him until he’s lured into your bed? Or is that too gauche?”
“It’s part of the fun, my man,” Dirk crowed, throwing out a number. The rest of the students instantly took him up on the bet, and the game was on.
Kieran had barely enough time to grab a turkey sandwich from the Kampus Kart, a small café on wheels that set up shop every afternoon on the central lawn for three hours, before heading off to his next class. This was followed by an hour in the language lab listening to Spanish pronunciation tapes for his next-day assignment, and it was nearly four o’clock by the time he returned to his dorm.
He didn’t give another thought to the winking rich boy in his chemistry lecture.
Padding down the hallway towards his room, his ears were assailed by the heavy bass sounds of his roommate’s stereo system playing his usual goth-metal tunes with the volume on ear-splitting. With a quick intake of breath, Kieran was suddenly faced by two very irate male students who yanked their door open and spilled into his path.
“Tell your punk-ass roomie to keep his goddamned stereo turned down or use fucking ear buds so we don’t have to listen to his shitty music,” one tall boy demanded, glaring at him.
The twenty-year-old put his hands up defensively and stepped back. “Okay, I’ll talk to him.” Easing around them and leaving their verbal abuse behind, Kieran continued down the corridor to his room shaking his head in frustration because he knew talking would do no good. It was bad enough to be disliked for himself, but half of Fraley Hall hated him for how dorm mate acted, not realizing Trevor took advice from nobody, particularly Kieran whom he regarded as a joke.
Sliding his key in the lock, Kieran hesitated before walking into battle. He had to agree with the other residents of Fraley Hall about Trevor. This close to his room, the blasting music was giving him a headache, and he’d only been inside for a couple of minutes. Everyone’s schedule on campus was different; he had his own unhappy experiences trying to study or sleep through the noise. It was just his rotten luck that he was assigned to share a dorm with a man who was a close friend of the RA, resident advisor, in charge of overseeing order and making sure the students obeyed rules and respected each other. Everyone but Trevor, that is.
“Hey Trevor, can you please turn the music down?” Kieran yelled, struggling to push the door open two seconds before he realized that something must be on the floor in the way and holding it closed. He shoved harder, barely squeezing through the small opening.
His roommate was on top of his bed with his eyes closed, and his massive frame made the bed look miniscule. Asleep? What the hell! How could anybody sleep through the pounding beat of Stream of Passion’s Darker Days album even if their lead singer and violinist, Marcela Bovio, did have a beautiful voice? Kieran had slowly gotten used to the melodic riffs of the Dutch band, but he preferred their music at a less painful decibel level.
Stepping over discarded textbooks, piles of food containers and dirty clothes strewn across the floor, Kieran reached Trevor’s expensive music system and lowered the sound. Trevor’s muddy brown eyes popped open and with a speed that seemed unnatural for such a large man, he was off his bed.
“What the fuck, dickwad. How many times have I told you to keep your fucking hands off my stuff?” The sophomore with the black hair hanging past his shoulder blades towered over him belligerently.
It was an old argument. The truth was, Trevor had taken an instant dislike to Kieran the moment they set eyes on each other. He’d sized him up as a person who could be easily pushed around, and Kieran had done nothing in the two weeks they’d lived together to change his mind. The two men kept their distance; well, at least Kieran tried to keep his, but Trevor’s had a way of spreading across the room into his personal space.
Kieran knew better than to touch bigger man’s ‘stuff’. In fact, even though Trevor sounded like a broken record on the subject, Kieran didn’t want to handle anything belonging to him. Most of it was broken and torn from misuse, and who knew what kinds of germs grew in the rank recesses? Not to mention the kinky porn that could gross out the most jaded. The only thing he ever lay a finger on was the volume control knob of the stereo when the other dorm residents bitched or he was desperate to hear himself think.
“For god’s sake, Trevor,” he huffed in irritation. “The whole dorm is up in arms and blaming me because you won’t keep the damned music turned down.”
Trevor laughed as if it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. “Like they think you’re going to do anything?”
“I’m just saying…”
“They’re going to have to suck it up,” Trevor reminded him, cranking up the stereo to loud once more. “I have the RA’s permission to play my music as loud as I want.”
“There are people higher than the RA,” Kieran muttered mostly to himself, knowing it was useless to speak his mind. No good would come of antagonizing him.
Fuck, Trevor was such an asshole. Except when he went to his girlfriend’s he was always in the room, and Kieran sometimes wondered if he was even enrolled in any classes. He had never seen him crack open a textbook or do homework. It was like he was a hermit and his entire life revolved around his loud music, sex, fast food and drinking beer, which was illegal in the dorms, with some sleep thrown in. Kieran had not dared share anything about his life, particularly the fact that he was gay, because he didn’t want the menacing man holding anything else over his head.
Kieran used the toe of his shoe to slowly shove Trevor’s belongings and garbage from his side of the floor to the other until he’d cleared a swath to his desk so he could set down his messenger bag. A greasy pizza box still a third full of a combo pizza from one of campus shops sat on his chair, and underneath it, Kieran could see a corner of his European history term paper peeking out. When he withdrew the report, it was spotted with grease too.
Kieran saw red but realized getting angry wouldn’t solve anything. Idly he wondered if there was a copy shop on the grounds still open where he could make a replacement copy of the assignment. Even more remotely, he mulled over the idea of putting himself on a housing list to get a new roommate. He definitely couldn’t afford a single dorm or moving out into the community into an off-campus apartment, but the stress of living with a slob like Trevor was going to play havoc on his nerves. In the meantime, maybe he should buy a rake.
His cell phone chimed, and the caller ID said it was his friend, Joel, asking about dinner plans. Ignoring the mess for now, he grabbed up his bag again and made sure his zip drive containing the report was inside. With a last despairing glance at his filthy dorm room, Kieran dashed out the door.
Two days later, he was back in chemistry class. As usual, Kieran was slightly early. His attention was fixed on the long table in the front of the hall where test tubes and beakers containing different colorful liquids were arranged, along with a Bunsen burner and Petri dishes. He was trying to determine what experiment they would be shown and was startled when a thick binder was dropped on the desk next to him. Gathering his composure and looking sideways, Kieran saw the boy who had winked at him on Monday. At least he was on time.
Brant nodded at him, his eyes the dark gray of storm clouds. He smiled. No wink. No real greeting either. Giving a quick nod towards the front of the classroom, he asked, “What does Professor Ulman have planned for today?”
“Get us started on experimenting, I guess,” Kieran answered quietly. He went completely still for several seconds until he realized he had zoned out and was staring, but there was something captivating about his classmate. It was disconcerting how well the taller boy’s jeans hugged his thighs. They had to be designer label and most likely this single outfit, although casual, cost more than Kieran’s entire wardrobe. All in all, he was quite well turned out as only a man who had grown up around the best in life could be.
“Brant Fielding,” the redhead announced, amused at the perusal and putting out his fist to bump. “And you are…”
“Kieran Sawyer,” Kieran answered, brushing his knuckles with his own.
“Nice to meet you, Kieran.” Brant was on the verge of making a remark about the catalytic compounds when their teacher appeared and class began. Nor did he have a chance to talk to him afterwards. The lecture hall emptied out quickly, and a clumsy, rotund student at the back of Brant’s aisle dropped his cell phone, wasting his impatient time trying to retrieve it from under a desk. By the time he found his way to the door, Kieran had disappeared.
At least he had a name.
That evening Patrick, John and Dirk met at Brant’s upscale, waterfront condominium. The uniformed parking lot guard recognized their Audi, Beamer and Porsche, respectively, and immediately let them pass. So what if the lot was supposed to be for residents only. They were Brant Fielding’ friends and he lived in the biggest unit in the building. Taking the elevator to the fifteenth floor and pressing the buzzer, they were nearly blinded when the door opened. Peach-hued sunsine bounced in through the rtched floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Newport Harbor and filled every inch with bright light.
Brant quickly brought out bottles of Shiner Bock beer, their favorite microbrew, and they got down to business. Dirk, the one with the hardcore hacking skills, set up his state-of-the-art laptop equipped with all the necessary tools to get into the university system and locate Kieran in the database. The information proved quite enlightening.
“This is awesome, Brant,” he announced in glee, his fingers flying over the keys. “Kieran might be your best playmate choice yet since you seduced that cute little midget, Tyler, in the fall of our senior year.
“Tyler Dominick?” Patrick guffawed, slapping Brant on the back. “The twink who dyed blue and green streaks into his hair after you dumped him. What a ponce! Remember when the Larchmont Prep vice-principal had to threaten to expel him before he cut it all off to get rid of them?”
“Yeah, but he had the cutest bubble butt,” Brant agreed, nostalgically recalling sinking his dick between those sweet, round cheeks. “He was memorable, to say the least.”
“Here are the deets,” John called out, huddling over his cousin’s shoulder. “Kieran David Sawyer is from Santa Rosa. Let’s see… an only child, blue-collar parents make less than $35,000 a year. Shit, big guy, he had a 4.48 GPA at Carillo High School and straight A's at his community school, which puts him way out of your league intellectually. Kieran could have gone to a four-year uni out of high school but chose not to. He participated in swimming in the backstroke and butterfly and received a full-ride scholarship here at Barratt… for grades, not sports. Several grants too.”
“That’s the past, so what’s in the present?” Patrick came around to the other side and hunkered down, staring at the screen. “Is he living on or off-campus?”
“He’s in Fraley Hall,” John recited, “and look at this. His roommate, some caveman named Trevor Spade, already has a noise complaint lodged against him that went over his RA’s authority.” He turned and looked at Brant. “I’ll make a copy of his class schedule for you. He’s majoring in chemical engineering.”
“Thanks,” Brant smiled appreciatively, raising his bottle. “What about clubs and activities?”
There was a lull in conversation as Dirk scrolled down and scanned the page. His face broke into a huge grin. “You lucky dawg, Brant. He’s involved in the campus LGBTQ organization. He’s gay.”
“Brant has nearly faultless gaydar, I’ll give him that,” praised John.
“When is their next activity?” Patrick asked, already thinking ahead.
Dirk brought up a new screen. “Saturday afternoon, they’re having an activism meeting at one o’clock…”
“…Which I will be attending,” Brant promised.
The president of the LGBTQ club droned on and on, and Brant had to fight to stay awake. He’d arrived early but dodged the club’s leadership without difficulty, not wanting to actually become involved. He was here for show only. He didn’t need the security of the organization or anything they had to offer, really.
Brant was a power unto himself.
Once he grew beyond boyhood and the boogieman stage that went with it, there was only one time in his life he really knew fear, and that was the night he’d come out to his family. Despite their wealth, Brant’s parents were salt of the earth types and exuded warmth, acceptance and charity. They had raised their children, him and two younger siblings, boy and girl, to show respect to all people, a message that Brant didn’t learn as well as they hoped. So it should have been no surprise to him that his mother and father embraced his homosexuality, saying that all they wanted was for him to be happy and at peace with himself.
At Larchmont Preparatory High School, he had been king. Student council president, basketball captain, a good but not outstanding student… resident gay slut. He had the charisma to pull it off, surrounding himself with rich friends like himself and discovering money could buy a lot of things besides material possessions. He had begun the game in his junior year out of boredom and moved through a surprisingly respectable number of gay and not-previously-gay students by graduation. He came, he saw, he conquered with impunity.
Brant was determined that Kieran would be his, and he refused to take no for an answer. Nobody told him no.
Held up by more complaints over his dorm mate, Kieran had arrived late at the gathering and speedily located a seat in the back. The activism meeting was nearly over by the time he noticed Brant. What was he doing here? Kieran didn’t think Brant was one for these kinds of pursuits, not that he was all that surprised by the revelation that he was gay. Even though it was supposed to be a joke, the playful wink flashed in class was a partial giveaway. Despite the distance he was determined to keep it made him feel better to know they had this in common.
Brant caught up with Kieran by the door and walked out with him. “Do you want to get something to eat?”
Kieran blushed so hard his scalp turned red. It was a simple invitation, and yet he inexplicably believed there was more behind it than sharing a meal as an opening to becoming friends. Something was just off, and Kieran felt his sixth sense kicking in telling him to steer clear of the rich kid. In his experience a person like Brant meant trouble.
“No, but thanks anyway. I have to spend the evening reading an assignment and studying for a test on Monday.”
Brant almost frowned in irritation before catching himself. He wasn’t going to push Kieran. “Maybe some other time,” he suggested pleasantly and walked away.
Kieran stared after him. He had not expected him to give up so willingly. Shrugging, he made his way back to his dorm and a night of stuffing cotton balls in his ears so he could focus on his assignments.
Brant didn’t let Kieran’s refusal put him off. He started arriving on time for every chemistry lecture, taking up permanent seating next to Kieran, no matter what part of the hall he chose to sit. Every Monday and Wednesday of the following two weeks he invited him out. To share sandwiches between classes, to attend the cinema to see any film Kieran chose, or to eat dinner at the expensive seafood bistro all the food critics were wild about. Kieran turned down each request.
“Please stop asking,” he finally begged the taller boy, nevertheless admiring the way the noon sun made his red hair shine in the backlight. “You seem like a nice guy but I don’t have time to date.”
Two of Kieran’s friends, Carlos and Ryan, watched the exchange from ten feet away; the sorrowful shake of his head and a swiftly-extinguished flash of irritated heat zipping through Brant’s eyes after he turned away. They began to move off, and Carlos permitted himself a look backwards in time to see Brant gazing at them speculatively.
“What was that about?” Ryan asked as they ambled in the direction of the cafeteria where they planned on meeting up with Joel and his girlfriend, Amanda. Kieran had met the four as part of a study group the first week of university, one thing led to another and his new friends had found out he was gay.
“He’s in my chemistry class,” Kieran replied with a self-conscious shrug. “He keeps asking me out.”
He was just about to begin the short version of meeting Brant in class when two unknown boys placed themselves in their path and grabbed Carlos by the arm, hauling him back up the sidewalk. “C’mon homey, that hot girl in your Visual Basic class is sitting with her friends in the library. Now’s your chance to talk to her.”
Carlos flashed a huge grin. “What can I say, my duty calls. See ya later, guys.”
Kieran and Ryan laughed and kept walking to the café where they met up with their other two friends. They had just sat down with their trays of food when Ryan reminded him that he was going to reveal how Brant kept bugging him for dates.
“It started with this stupid wink the second week of school.” And he was off with his story.
“What’s his name?” Amanda asked and shook her cap of silky black curls out of her green eyes. She was a short senior who had spent all of her post-secondary education at Barratt University and prided herself on recognizing many of the students by name. Besides, curiosity was getting the best of her.
“Brant Fielding.” Kieran shivered unexpectedly. “I mean, he’s hot and all, but there’s something about him…”
“That’s skeevy?” Joel supplied with a groan, drenching his chicken nuggets in honey-mustard sauce. “If you want to go out with someone who is guaranteed to break your heart, Brant Fielding is the one for it.”
“He certainly has the rep,” Ryan agreed, his pale blue eyes narrowing. “Spoiled rich boy privilege combined with a cold, heartless, unaccountability. If you’re smart, you’ll stay away from him.”
“That was my plan,” Kieran confirmed.
A couple more weeks went by. Kieran mused that Brant must have finally decided he was serious about not wanting him to invite him out because he stopped asking. They still sat next to each other in chemistry, but Brant was nothing more than friendly and occasionally flirtatious. He commented on the desert-dry subject matter or made odd jokes about Professor Ulman under his breath but it was just private between the two boys. In all other ways he stopped trying to be the class clown.
Oddly enough, now that Brant didn’t pursue him anymore, Kieran started to pay more attention to him. He fully realized that he was a player and it was a relief not to have to fend off his invitations. Maybe it was a case of feeling perverse over what had been offered and rejected, but in noticing the other boy he found him fascinating. He enjoyed watching the sunshine that poured in through the skylights playing over his russet waves and the way his muscles bunched and flexed under his shirt when he moved. He was so tall that he dwarfed the desks and was forever squirming to get comfortable but he never complained.
Kieran's friend, Carlos, was passing through the cafeteria patio when he heard his name. Holding up momentarily, he didn't at first recognize the gray-eyed man hailing him. Brant had to get within five yards before a vague disquiet reminded him he’d seen him before. What did Kieran’s would-be date want with him?
Brant introduced himself and got straight to the point without mincing words. “How would you like to make some easy money?”
Carlos narrowed his eyes. “That depends on what I have to do for it. I don’t do nothing with any illegal shit.”
“Nothing illegal,” Brant confirmed with a knowing laugh. “Maybe a bit questionable considering that you're Kieran Sawyer’s friend, but give me a chance to explain myself before you turn me down.”
Carlos nodded after a brief pause, and Brant continued, hoping that he hadn’t heard anything negative about him. At least he was giving him the benefit of the doubt by listening.
“I saw you with Kieran a couple weeks ago. You probably know we’re in the same chemistry class. I want to invite him out but he’s so shy. Every time I ask he makes excuses. So I was wondering if you would mind helping me.”
In spite of himself, Carlos wanted to hear more. There was no talk about the making money part yet but he figured it was coming as soon as he showed interest. The man looked like he was rolling in it. “Okay, so what do I have to do?”
“I want to ask Kieran to one of the on-campus mixers. Just as a friend for now,” Brant hastened to add. “So I was thinking if you suggested it he might go, but if I ask he definitely won’t. Once he arrives I would have a chance to speak to him outside of class and see where it goes.”
Carlos, who hadn’t been around when his friends were talking negative about Brant and therefore didn’t know the type of person he was, silently considered the proposition. There was still no direct money offer, but he knew the other boy was being cagey. And what was the harm anyway? All he was doing was something he’d probably do without the payoff incentive. In the long run, it was up to Kieran whether he spoke to Brant or not.
“What’s in it for me?”
Brant hid a wicked grin, pleased by how easy Carlos was to persuade. Money did it every time. “Fifty dollars to ask him and an additional one hundred if you convince him to go.”
Carlos pursed his lips in thinking about the very generous bribe. “How will you know I even talk to him about it?”
“I don’t,” Brant said with a smirk. “Call me stupid but I trust that if I give you the fifty you will ask him.”
And the fifty dollars would probably be no skin off the rich boy’s nose, Carlos thought. “Make it a hundred now and a hundred fifty later, and I’ll do it.”
Now it was Brant’s turn to reflect. “You have a deal.” He whipped his wallet out to flash a wad of money to hand him a crisp one hundred dollar bill.
Carlos almost groaned out loud at the sight of all those greenbacks, now realizing he should have held out for more. Well, not being overly greedy might pay off more in the long run because he could see there was plenty more to be had if Kieran agreed to attend the mixer. As long as he never found out about the bribe, that is. Carlos listened carefully as Brant gave him the details about the upcoming party and vowed to make sure Kieran went.
So it was that two days later Carlos approached Kieran and asked if he was attending the next house party being thrown on Saturday night as a get-together to bring the students together on campus.
“I’m not much into the party scene,” Kieran answered, wondering why his friend was bringing it up. He hadn’t known Carlos even liked these campus revelries where liquor would flow freely and it seemed as if the only purpose was to find a sex partner for the night. Kieran had no intention of even trying.
“You always say that,” Carlos remonstrated firmly and feigning more concern than he actually felt. “There’s more to life than studying, Kieran. Besides, how are you going to meet anybody except your nasty roommate if you’re always holed up in your dorm? I’ll even pick you up and make sure you get home.”
Carlos had a point, he supposed. A very good point. Kieran, if he was honest with himself, was tired of being alone. But why the sudden interest in his social life unless he was just trying to be a good friend.
“Alright,” he finally agreed. “Text me the details of the mixer and I’ll go.”
Within fifteen minutes of stepping foot into the large mansion on the tony end of town, Kieran knew he was out of his league. All week he had been bothered by the change in Carlos’ attitude about the debauchment angle of the mixer and why he, himself, agreed to show up to the point that he nearly canceled several times. He had dressed carefully, mindful that many of the mixers were hosted by some of the more wealthy students, and he didn’t want to make a fool of himself. Now he wished he’d stayed home.
He was immediately presented with the legitimate proof that he should have listened to the guidance of his conscience. First of all, the house was huge, and he knew he’d be getting lost somewhere inside before the evening was out. It belonged to the Ferris family which was a big name at the university— the building housing the drama classrooms and theater was named after them.
The party hosts, Patrick and Nicole, were brother and sister and attended Barratt too, naturally. They looked like twins with their tan and brown coloring— olive complexion, cinnamon-shaded eyes and long light brown hair streaked with blonde— Nicole nearly identical to her older brother’s, but she was almost a foot shorter and, by far, much softer and prettier. They had given him a shrewd look when he felt compelled to introduce himself to them and seemed nice enough. Nicole had told him to make himself at home, handing him a beer.
That was another problem. Kieran didn’t drink. He was still underage at twenty, but age was clearly not a deterrent for many of the attendees. He estimated there were over a hundred students milling about the house and grounds in various stages of inebriation without a care. He’d seen several couples stumble up the stairs towards the bedrooms, and he didn’t need to have it spelled out to him what was going on behind closed doors.
Aside from Carlos who disappeared soon after their arrival, he didn’t recognize anybody other than a few coeds from two classes, and they were hardly friends. He felt like an unattractive wallflower and wondered if he should locate Carlos and tell him he’d find his own way home. He was turning around to start searching for him when someone bumped into him and jostled his arm, spilling his beer all over him.
“Pardon me,” came a mid-range voice from a large man who had reached out the keep him from falling. Kieran looked up to see a student around his age with a neatly-trimmed goatee who clearly looked like a football player and another man behind him that could be his brother. What was the thing with siblings around here?
“Are you alright?” The other man asked, grabbing napkins to help sop up the beer that was dripping from his elbow and splattered all over his shirt.
Kieran nodded sheepishly, transferring the now-almost empty bottle of Bock to the other hand. “Yeah, sorry to be such a bother and in the way.”
“No, it’s not your fault, it’s mine,” the first one said. “I am so sorry to be the cause of such a mess. Let’s go into the kitchen and help you get cleaned up, shall we?”
Kieran followed the two men through the house into a kitchen and adjoining breakfast room that was almost as big as his parents’ entire house. Filled with windows looking out over a lovely manicured lawn and garden and fitted with the latest in restaurant-quality appliances, it was bustling with workers in black and white. They were obviously hired for the day to keep the platters of high-end foodstuffs full, the bar pumping out the beer and cocktails and the party rolling. Four waiters standing by the sink quickly moved out of the trio’s way as they approached.
“I’m John Copeland,” the larger man said with a contagious smile, “and this is my cousin, Dirk. We’re friends of Pat and Nicole who are hosting this party.”
Okay, they were cousins, not siblings. John’s hair was lighter, and his eyes were a paler blue but the family resemblance was strong.
Dirk was eying his beer-splotched shirt with dismay. “Let me check with Patrick and see if he has a shirt you can change into. You can’t wear that stained, wet mess for the rest of the night.”
“Please,” Kieran retorted, beginning to get embarrassed by the fuss. “You don’t have to go through all that trouble. I was just getting ready to leave anyways. I mean, your friends are lovely people, but I’m not used to all this…”
He looked helplessly around at the obvious conspicuous consumption. “I’d really just rather go home, if you don’t mind. I only came to please a friend.”
Dirk thought quickly. Brant would be furious if Kieran left. It was time to sink in the hooks.
“Nicole would be so upset if she heard you say that. That’s Nicole Ferris, I mean; she and her brother are such nice people and would want you to be at ease. Let us make it up to you. Just stay a little while and we’ll introduce you around. Maybe you will find someone you recognize.”
Kieran allowed himself to be persuaded and Dirk fetched him a replacement shirt. It was a buttery soft, pale blue polo that fit him like a second skin and probably cost a fortune. As they left the kitchen, John passed a cup of punch into his hand.
“You don’t look much like a beer-drinker. Try this. I think you’ll like it.”
Kieran took a small sip of the orangy concoction and found it cold, fruity and refreshing. He didn’t know it, but that was the nice thing about some of the new infused spirits, especially where price was no object. Mixed right, you could barely taste the alcohol.
Two hours later, John and Dirk had kept their word. Nicole and Patrick turned out to be lovely people (and not twins) who welcomed him warmly to their home and asked more than once if he was enjoying himself. They listened with both courtesy and a bit of humor to the cousins’ rendition of the beer spill. Patrick even admired the shirt on Kieran, saying it looked better on him and suggested he keep it.
They had introduced him to so many people at the party Kieran couldn’t possibly remember everyone. Hell, he was having a difficult time remembering who he was. He was floating in a haze of good will, smiling widely as fellow students gave him their names, class status and majors as if it was name, rank and serial number. He laughed at jokes and relaxed into the party atmosphere.
Across the room, Brant grinned. The ploy he and his friends had come up with— spilling Kieran’s beer all over him and forcing him to meet John and Dirk, had worked beautifully. Kieran looked like he was getting happily trashed, and it was time to move in. He winked at Nicole over the young man’s head and walked their way.
Making like he just arrived, Brant stood at the edge of the group of his friends. Patrick glanced up at him at exactly the right moment in the middle of a story he was telling and pasted a shocked look on his face. “Brant, what the hell, man, you’re here. I can’t believe you made it. I thought you had other plans.”
“I did,” Brant grinned, letting his eyes roam the circle. “I got out of them. You know you two give the best parties. This is a tradition.”
His light glance located Kieran, and he smiled at him as if amazed. “I didn’t know you were friends with Nicole and Pat,” he said enthusiastically. “Now I’m doubly glad I decided to show up.”
Kieran blushed bright pink. Based on the greetings of the others, Brant seemed to be telling the truth about his sudden appearance, but there was something not quite genuine. Or was he reading too much into it and acting overly suspicious? Maybe he should stop expecting the worst and just enjoy the punch and camaraderie they were offering.
“I’m not friends,” he tried to explain. “Oh, that doesn’t sound nice, does it! I wasn’t friends,” he corrected, slurring his words slightly, “but then these two…” he hiked his thumb at Dirk and John, “had to spill my beer all over me like I wasn’t clean enough already and needed a shower or something, and here I am. Good punch.”
His aqua eyes were dilated with the booze in his system and sparkling like the Caribbean seas they must have come from, and Brant felt his breath hitch and his dick twitching in his jeans. Kieran had absolutely no idea how attractive he was what with that curtain of blonde hair that looked like silk, those luscious lips and the cutest pert ass in the county. His timid humbleness added that little bit of luster so lacking in the more brittle beauties Brant was used to cavorting around with.
The group laughed, honestly intrigued by him. They recognized his quality as much as Brant did. Nicole even had the grace to feel a little bad about what they proposed to do.
An hour later Kieran was having problems focusing on the party scene around him. He felt himself lucky that the Ferris siblings and Copeland cousins seemed to like him because one of them was attached to him at all times. And that Brant Fielding, he acted like a more standup guy than Kieran had originally expected. Several others had tried to hit on him through the evening, and Brant had been protective of him and sent them packing. Now Kieran just wanted to lie down and go to sleep.
Brant was signaling Dirk and Patrick frantically with his eyes, and they took several paces away out of Kieran’s hearing. “He’s drunk,” Kieran protested in a low voice. “I didn’t want him drunk.”
Dirk shrugged, chagrined because this was not their intent. “I’m sorry, dude. We didn’t know he was going to be such a lightweight. All he had was a few sips of his original beer and three glasses of punch. I don’t even think he’s started on the third one. Maybe he’s drinking on an empty stomach.”
“Fuck it,” Brant swore, looking back at his swaying chemistry partner. “He’s no fun like this. I want him awake and screaming for me, not comatose.”
Patrick’s cheeks turned a little pink at the vaguely sexual reference. “Okay, try this, Brant. Be the good guy who makes sure he gets back to his dorm in one piece without being molested or hurting himself. That way, he doesn’t think you’re taking advantage of him and maybe he’ll let you ask him out again.”
Brant’s expression brightened and he clapped him on the back. “Good thinking, Pat. It’s worth a try.”
He marched up to Kieran and stood there staring in his face as if he was trying to decide something of portent. “Kieran,” he announced with a gentle smirk. “You’re drunk.”
“No, I’m not. I don’t get drunk. I don’t drink.”
Brant put his arm out to steady the man. “Well, Kieran, I hate to tell you this but you have been drinking, and you are drunk. I should probably get you home before you fall down.”
Kieran looked down at the cup of fruity punch in his hand and back up at Brant in adorable confusion. “I am? But this tastes good.” He defiantly took another sip.
Brant had to smile at that. The poor kid didn’t even know there was alcohol in the punch. How innocent could he get? And yet, his cute astonishment beat the jaded men he was used to seducing by a mile.
He removed the cup from Kieran’s hand, noting his flushed cheeks, and set it on the table. “Yes, it’s good but it’s also alcoholic and you, my friend, have had too much. Are we feeling a little dizzy maybe? A bit too warm? That’s from the alcohol. Now let me be your friend and take you back to your dorm.”
Kieran nodded without another word. Brant showing such caring for him warmed his heart more than the punch had, and he wondered if his first impression about him might have been wrong. In truth, he was beginning to feel more than a little dizzy. How silly of him to not taste the liqueurs in the drink.
Brant, who knew Kieran hadn’t driven, asked about keys all the same and was told of the friend who had invited him. He sent John off to ‘find Carlos’ and inform him of the situation. In John’s pocket were three crisp fifty-dollar bills to be given to Carlos as his reward for successfully talking Kieran into going.
Brant gently took charge of Kieran and led him out to his vintage ’68 Shelby Mustang GT 350. He had decided to swap his usual Merc out with this classic vehicle, knowing his new-model Benz SLS AMG in black would have thoroughly intimidated the boy. Now was the time to focus on how similar they were, not how different.
Kieran’s eyes lit up as soon as he saw the gleaming automobile, red with the low racing stripes along the sides. His gaze traveled everywhere on the sporty vehicle, checking for original equipment. “Cool,” he pronounced in awe. He loved old roadsters and this one was beautifully maintained.
“Thanks. It was a birthday present from my grandparents when I turned twenty,” Brant said and then wanted to slap himself for pointing out the money factor again. But Kieran didn’t seem to notice; he just kept looking at the pony car with appreciative eyes. Brant considered how nice it was to have someone acknowledge the honest but understated compliment from someone who looked like he actually knew what he was talking about.
“Here, climb in.” He held the passenger door open for him to fall into before going around to his own side and turning the ignition. They both grinned as the engine began to purr.
“Does it still have the original Windsor?”
“The 4.9 liter 302 four-barrel? Yeah.”
“Sweet,” Kieran praised, running his hands over the seat. “You’ve taken good care of her.”
They rode in silence for a few minutes before Brant turned back to him. “Fraley Hall, right?” he asked innocently. “I think that’s what I heard you say. You’re in Fraley.”
Kieran nodded, having no idea when the subject of dorms came up or even if it did. He didn’t care anyway. His stomach was beginning to feel a little queasy. How ridiculous he felt to get this wasted in front of Brant and his friends. They were really nice people and the last thing he wanted to do was make a fool of himself by passing out or, worse, throwing up.
Brant glanced nervously at Kieran. This was not the way the evening was supposed to progress. A drink or two was relaxing and helped lower inhibitions, and he had hoped to maneuver the man alone into a corner at the Ferris home to nibble on his ear a little or just crowd him until the heat rose between them. To make Kieran think that he liked him and there could be something between them. Suggest they find a quieter, more suitable locale and drive him back to his place. Kieran should be suitably impressed with his posh high-rise and maybe even feel honored that he’d been chosen over everyone else. To sip some wine and eat a few snacks already prepared for the evening as he took it to the next step with kisses and removing clothing until they fell into bed together to fuck the night away.
But no, not tonight. Kieran was pale and sweating on the seat beside him, trying to pretend he wasn’t feeling sick. Brant had long since given up trying to make small talk and wondered if it was possible to get alcohol poisoning off two La Tizanas. His friends were going to pay for it if Kieran started puking everywhere. They were supposed to be watching out for this sort of thing. The last thing Brant wanted was to have to get his ‘Stang detailed to erase the smell of vomit.
They arrived at Fraley Hall none the worse for wear even if Kieran looked a little green. “Are you okay, man?” Brant asked when he nearly fell over climbing out of the low seat. Despite his desire to trick him into believing that he was a nice guy worth going out with, he was glad they were back at the dorm so he could discharge his duty.
“I’ll live,” Kieran replied and squared his shoulders in a move that had him letting a neighboring car support him. “Let’s get this over with.”
Brant scrunched up his face in confusion and trotted alongside the other man as he resolutely made his way towards the nondescript building and through the front door. “Get over what?”
Brant’s head was on a swivel as he stepped inside a tiny foyer with a couch that several girls were sitting on as they conversed loudly. The multi-tan carpeting was efficiency grade and worn and the walls were scarred from residents knocking into them with bulky items. He followed Kieran who turned down the four foot wide hallway filled with more students spilling out of rooms and blocking their passage. One man smacked Kieran in the back of the head with a growl of “Do something about your fucking roomie, Sawyer,” and almost sent him tumbling to the floor. There was a cloying scents of sweat, cigarette smoke and disinfectant. The pounding of pervasive bass and drums grew progressively louder with each step. The dorm was positively prehistoric.
Kieran had tottered about three-quarters of the way down the corridor and stopped in front a battered door. Brant noticed the loudest thumping in the entire hall was coming from behind it; loud enough to make the walls around them vibrate. Oh my god, is this what the student had to cope with in order to have a roof over his head, Brant wondered morosely. He watched as Kieran found a way to tug the key out of his pocket despite his unsteady stance and insert it into the lock. He put a determined frown on his face and turned the knob.
They were met with a wall of musty darkness, the odors of Trevor’s leftover food like something died under there. Even over the blaring music Brant could hear shouted curses and a girl screaming.
“Get the fuck out of here, asshole,” came from a bed in one corner. “Go find somewhere else to sleep. My girl is here for the night.”
Brant reached around and flipped the light switch, bathing the room in brightness. The side of the room that the bellowing was coming from was wall-to-wall trash overlaid with articles of clothing. The reek was wafting up from that direction too. The other side of the room with a pristine bed and empty desk top was a huge contrast, although food wrappers and other trash were beginning to make their way over the invisible dividing line.
On the occupied bed under a food-soiled, hastily rearranged quilt was a huge lump from which the back of a shaggy head extended. The enraged voice was still giving orders, and a small, dirty foot indicated that part of the lump was female. She was screaming abuse at Kieran too. “Get out, get out.”
“You can’t make him leave,” Brant warned. “This is his dorm.”
Trevor looked over the top of the quilt at the unfamiliar voice. “What’s it to you, asshole? Who the fuck are you?”
“A friend of Kieran’s. You need to make her leave so he can go to bed.”
A harsh laugh greeted his ears. “She ain’t going anywhere. Get the fuck out, both of you.”
Kieran was hovering weakly against the door frame, sickly pale and his eyes too bright in his face. “I’ll go sleep in my car,” he moaned. “It isn’t worth arguing over.”
Brant was appalled. “This is your dorm, Kieran. He doesn’t have the right to make you leave.”
From the bed: “Right, take it up with the RA if you can find him.”
Brant raised his eyebrows. “The RA is a friend of Trevor’s,” Kieran explained hollowly. “He’s right; he won’t do anything.” He sagged down the wall until his head was resting on his knees.
This was wrong on so many levels, Brant thought, but Kieran was already giving up, recognizing it as a lost cause. He would know his own roommate best, but the idea that he would have to spend the night huddled in the back of his car when he was drunk seemed obscene. Brant was not going to let it happen. There was only one solution and that was taking him back to his own place. Brant stepped over the mess with a sick grimace on his face and went to the closet, pulling jeans and a clean shirt off hangers.
“Come on,” he said, taking Kieran by the upper arm and dragging him up to his feet. “Come with me.”
Back out to the Mustang they moved, with Kieran barely able to hold himself up now. Brant had to put his arm around his waist and half drag, half carry him, inviting curious stares from the other students. While the kid didn’t look quite as barf-sick as he had, it was clear the alcohol was still working its way through his system. Before they were even away from the Barratt campus, Kieran put his head against the window and closed his eyes. His entire body drooped, and Brant was sure he had passed out.
“Shit and shit,” he cursed.
Through town, over the freeway and into the tonier district, Brant thought about the new set of circumstances. Okay, Kieran was coming home with him for the night. Brant would play nice guy and not hit on him in his drunken state. Just put him to bed and let him sleep it off. Revise plans in the morning depending on how Kieran acted. Whatever it took, he was not going to scare his little playmate away.
The security guard opened the gate to let him into the lot, eying the boy in the passenger seat. Brant rolled down his window. “My friend had too much to drink. Do you suppose you could help me get him up to my apartment?”
“Yes sir,” he said, knowing Brant would give him a nice tip. He’d been witness to the Fielding boy’s shenanigans for months and it was no never mind to him. He wasn’t paid to get into his shit.
Between the two of them, they maneuvered Kieran’s unconscious self into the elevator and up to the fifteenth floor. The guard’s eyes just about popped out over the extravagance of his apartment and, as expected, he received two fifties for his efforts. He left Kieran on the couch and Brant running for blankets and a pillow.
Brant removed Kieran’s socks and shoes but decided to leave the rest of his clothing on. It wasn’t like the shorter boy wouldn’t sleep well in his shirt and pants, and he certainly couldn’t complain about being molested in the morning if he awoke dressed. Just to be on the safe side he found a bucket in the broom closet and laid a towel against the upholstery under his face. He didn’t want to make him feel bad but…
Brant headed for his bedroom, feeling odd that he was retiring so early. This was not the way he hoped to spend the night, alone in his bed, but the benefits would show up at a later date. He was pretty sure that Kieran would trust him now.
“Goodnight,” he called backwards as he trudged to his room. “Sleep well.”
(To be continued…)