Title: Pretty Shade of Grey
Author: Alyn Drasil
Genre: romance/humor/coming-of-age, m/m content
A note for new readers: This story was written over a period of eight years, with a several year hiatus in the middle. So naturally the quality fluctuates pretty wildly, there are lots of continuity errors, and overall it's an extremely rough draft. I'm planning on cleaning it up, editing it heavily, and trying to publish it in some way, and because of that I'm not going to make any updates/changes to the form the story is in here on fictionpress. So if you read this version, please keep in mind this is not a finalized draft nor has it really been edited!
The first five chapters of this story have been TEMPORARILY removed, but parts of them will be available to read early for Patreon donors (you can access that through my profile page, and it only takes a $1 a month donation). I removed these first five completely because they don't fit at all with the rest of the story; the characters are not who I want them to be and I'm just not pleased with the overall quality of something I wrote ten years ago. The rest of the story will remain up until if-/when I attempt to get it published.
This chapter is a completely rewritten version, which I also added at the end of this story. AGAIN, THIS WAS AVAILABLE A WEEK AGO ON MY PATREON, and I have not yet decided if any more of these rewritten chapters will ever be posted to fictionpress. However, they will for sure be available on Patreon. This is because I am really considering trying to get this story published, and I don't want the entire thing publicly available online because of that. This chapter, in fact, is only half of the new first chapter. You can also see that the spelling of Vaan's name has changed.
tl:dr: this is the rewritten first chapter and you'll be able to see more of the early chapters of the story in the future on my Patreon for just $1 a month. As well as other bonus things for other stories!
"So, what happened to you?"
He had to be talking to me; there was nobody else in this musty little room. Well, there was the girl behind the sign-in desk, but she was on the phone. I glanced around anyway, just to make sure nobody else had come in when I hadn't been looking. There was nothing but the couple of plastic chairs next to me, the worn green carpet, and fake potted plant in the corner. A high window let in slants of dusty light from outside, the shadows of plants waving around on the other side of the glass. The counselor's offices were in a basement level of one of the smaller halls on campus. Luckily, there'd been a ramp.
I looked back at the other boy, who was obviously waiting for me to say something. He'd been here since I'd signed in a minute ago, but I'd been trying not to stare at him. At his bright dyed hair or his clothes or all the jewelry he was wearing. He wasn't sitting, just slouching up against the wall near the door, hands in his pockets.
"You mean," I said, carefully, "why am in the counseling office?"
"Naw," he said, and jerked his thumb at me. He had to have at least ten bracelets around his arm, and they all flashed and clinked together. "What happened to get you in that?"
"Car accident." The answer just startled out of me. Nobody'd ever asked me outright like that. Like he was just asking something as regular as my name or my major, things I'd been asked a lot over the whole student orientation week.
The boy made a drawn-in click-hiss noise at one side of his mouth. "You driving?"
"I wasn't even in a car."
"Well shit," the boy said. "That's a bummer."
I laughed; I couldn't help it. Pretty different reaction from the I'm so sorry's and the how terrible's and the but you're so young's I usually got. Or the awkward silences.
"Yeah," I said. "I guess it is."
He tilted his head, and a whole line of metal piercings glinted in his ear. The girl at the desk laughed suddenly, and then her voice went back to the low murmur it'd been this whole time. Then the boy pushed himself off the wall, moved across the room and dropped down in the chair next to me. I'd expected him to smell like cigarette smoke, because the kids who'd looked like him at high school always had, but he didn't. Instead, mildly like greasy fried food and some kind of sharp aftershave or soap. There was a pair of sunglasses nestled down between all the tufts of purple hair on top of his head, and I thought he might be wearing eyeliner. The black and neon-yellow stripes on his shirt reminded me of a bee.
He stuck out his hand to me. Not for a handshake, but just as a fist. One of those bracelets was actually a pair of shiny handcuffs, both ends locked around his wrist. "Vaun," he said. "No g's or h's. Bauer."
"That's a weird middle name you got," I said, and Vaun burst into a huge smile. He was one of those people that looks like they've got more teeth than usual, and their smile takes over most of their face. And it made the metallic loop in his lower lip really stand out.
"Vaun Nogeesorayches Bauer," he said. "I gotta get on making that legit. It's way better than what I actually have."
"I'm Saul," I told him, since I hadn't yet.
"Right on. But dude, you gonna leave me hanging?" He wriggled his fist around pointedly, and I gave in and bumped my hand against his. The couple of rings on his fingers were cool and a little uncomfortable when they knocked into my knuckles.
"You don't shake hands here in California?"
"Naw, it was outlawed back in '97. We only allow the brofist now as the official state greeting. Where you from?"
"Yeah?" Another one of those big shark smiles. "That accent sure isn't."
"It's from South Africa," I said, and Vaun's eyebrows popped up towards his hairline. One of those was pierced too.
"No shit? I was gonna guess English or Australian or something. Africa, that's way cooler. You sound really fuckin' sexy, man, like seriously hot as shit. So that's where you're really from?"
Did he just— "Sort of. Long story. You really ask a lot of questions."
"Well, sure." Vaun laced his fingers together, cracked them outwards. He slid down a little in the chair so his legs stuck out way across the carpet. Every seam in his black pants was outlined in bright red thread, and his clunky boots were untied. "Got nothing else to do and you're interesting, dude. You can tell me to shut up and go away, if you want. I won't be offended."
"No," I said, after one second of considering it. But he was interesting too. And harmless. So far.
"Cool." Vaun flashed another of those easy grins. He shuffled back up a little straighter. "So, Mr. Africa—"
"It's actually pronounced Aiken."
Vaun threw his head back when he laughed. He had a long gawky neck and a big Adam's apple.
"You know what," he said. "You're kinda awesome for a freshman."
"Thanks, I th—wait. How'd you even know that?"
Vaun grinned at me. "You give off the vibes, man. That whole 'oh my god I'm on my own for the first time and it's awesome but I have no idea what I'm doing help me' thing. And," he added, sounding even more amused, "you're wearing the shirt."
I glanced down at myself. I'd actually forgotten I was wearing the orientation t-shirt they'd given out at the start of the week; gold letters printed on maroon with the name of the school and Class of 2009 under that. God. It sounded so far away.
"I give off those vibes. Really," I said. But he'd pretty much summed up the entirety of my last week in one sentence.
Vaun clapped me on the shoulder. "Don't even worry, man, all freshman do it. 'specially if they're undeclared. You undeclared?"
"Actually—" I said, but one of the doors on the right had just opened, and a young woman in a narrow grey skirt and blue blouse stepped out into the cramped little waiting room.
"Whoo," Vaun said under his breath. "Legs."
"Saul Aiken?" the woman said, looking in our direction.
"Me." I raised my hand, and Vaun leaned back from me. He'd actually been resting his elbow on the arm of my chair; I hadn't noticed until just now.
"Come on in," said the woman, who I assumed had to be Dr. Townsend.
"Oh, hey." Vaun kind of reached out as I grabbed the wheels of my chair and shoved myself forward, like he wanted to catch me back. "You, uh—hey, what dorm you live in?"
"Hadley," I said, after a second where I had to remember. I didn't think about the name of it much, just how to find it.
"Yeah? Maybe I'll see you around then."
"Yeah." That'd be nice, but I wasn't going to count on it. If he wasn't a freshman, he probably had a whole group of friends already, and I didn't want to be that one weird kid who started tagging along and nobody knew how to make leave.
Dr. Townsend stepped back into her office to make room for me to roll through the door, then held out her hand once I was inside and the door'd shut behind us. A mild lemony furniture-polish smell immediately replaced the dusty stale smell of the of the waiting room, and the temperature dropped a handful of degrees. The sound of an air conditioner hummed somewhere.
"Hello, Saul, it's nice to meet you." Dr. Townsend had a strong handshake and a long tumble of auburn hair. I really hadn't expected her to be so young.
"Nice to meet you too," I said. Bookcases crammed into almost all the space along the walls of the small office, except the only empty patch where framed degrees had been hung. Another one of those little windows up near the ceiling beamed a solid square of light right onto her desk. Enough of it that Dr. Townsend didn't have any of the lights turned on, and so everything sat in a cozy dimness. It was actually nice. Other offices like this I'd been to, the lights were usually too bright and even and glaring.
"Why don't you take a—head over here," she said, shutting the door after us and gesturing to the squat little couch against the wall. It was a smooth recovery; I had to give her that. I rolled around and get myself wedged into the empty spot at the other end of the couch, while Dr. Townsend sat down on a chair that looked like it'd been pulled out from behind the desk. She crossed her legs neatly at the ankle, and I guess she did have nice ones. But she was going to be my counselor, so I couldn't think about that.
"Now, you can call me Christine, or Dr. Townsend, whichever one you prefer," she said, but she was already firmly Dr. Townsend in my mind. Calling professional people by their first names was something I'd never been able to do. No first names and no looking at their legs.
"Okay," I said. "I'm good with being called Saul."
She had a yellow notepad and a thick folder under it, but she'd set it next to her on the desk. Her hands were folded loosely in her lap, and she'd smiled at my answer. She wasn't anything like the family counselor I'd had with my mom and Mike after the accident-that guy had been kind of stoic, talked very slow and calming like he was afraid we'd all spook and bolt.
"You can probably see I have some of your previous file here," Dr. Townsend said, touched her hand to the yellow legal pad and the full folder under it. Some—it looked like everything. If my parents had sent it, or our family counselor had, I wasn't sure, but I guessed it made sense.
"But we won't start off with anything too prying today," she went on. "We should start out getting comfortable here, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I—sure," I said. "Sounds good."
Dr. Townsend leaned back in her chair, hands back in her lap. "So," she said. "the orientation week is almost over; how had that been? o, how do you like your dorm? Your roommate?"
"Actually, I don't have a roommate."
"Oh?" said Dr. Townsend, and uncrossed and re-crossed her ankles as she leaned over to jot a note on the legal pad.
"My, uh—my parents thought it would be a better idea," I admitted.
"Do you mind that?"
"Not really." I'd actually agreed with the idea. Always having been an only child, plus all the….special needs things...I'd've been a nightmare roommate for someone else to handle. So I had one of the handicapped equipped rooms all to myself on the first floor, even though the dorm had an elevator. It was nice, but...maybe a little isolating. Dr. Townsend nodded, scribbled one more thing on the pad, and then leaned back to give me her full attention.
The rest of our chat really was that—a chat. About my major, about how I thought my parents were dealing with leaving me on my own for the first time and not about how I was, what classes I was looking forward to. Like she'd promised, nothing too prying, and everything comfortable. The note about not having a roommate was the only one she made the entire time. I had a feeling though, that she was actually learning more about me than I thought I was really sharing. At the end of the time she stood up, shook my hand, told me she'd see me next time and wished me luck with my classes, and held the door open for me. It really hadn't felt like an hour.
The cramped outside office was just the same as before, same smell and same girl behind the desk, except now there was another girl hugging a huge handbag against herself in the chair Vaun had been in before. He was nowhere around. There were a couple office doors around here, so I assumed he was in one of them. The girl in the chair ducked her head as I rolled by, dark hair falling over her face. She was so scrunched up on herself and nervous that I wanted to ask her if she was okay, but I didn't think that would help. This was a counselor's office—there were better people for that here.
The door to this half-basement room opened inward, so getting inside had been no real problem, but it was something of a weird dance to get back out again. I managed it, after an awkward minute, and then rolled back into the blazing August sunshine of the late afternoon.
The stairs up to the sidewalk were straight ahead, the ramp to the left. I banked my wheels around and headed up it. Just as I was shoving myself up the last stretch of the ramp—
"Hey, yo! Yo, wheels!"
That had to be for me. I gave myself one last push to clear the top of the ramp, then stopped and waited. Normally I wouldn't have, because that word, but I knew who it had to be, and he wasn't saying it like a nickname he thought was cute.
Vaun careened his way up the ramp after me and thudded to a stop, reaching up to grab those sunglasses and jam them down over his eyes.
"You forget my name?" I said, as he leaned on the rail, huffing a little.
Vaun gave me a sheepish smile. "Yeah, actually. I'm real bad with names."
"Saul," I told him again, and my surname too, even though he'd still probably not remember it. "Aiken."
"Saul, Saul, Saul," he said, more to himself than me. "Don't worry, I'll get it eventually."
Eventually. Interesting choice of words.
"So, Saul, Sauly McSaulerson," Vaun said then, "where you headed?"
"I was just going back to my dorm," I said, waving vaguely back over my shoulder. It was so hot out here I could already feel sweat plastering my shirt to my back and against the plastic of my chair.
"Oh, yeah, that's cool," Vaun said. "Me too."
Then there was an awkward silence, where we just kind of….stood there. Well, he stood and I sat. Were we going to go back together? I wouldn't exactly mind, Vaun was—right, slightly weird—but interesting. A lot of orientation week had been about sticking us all into groups and making us talk to each other, but I hadn't really met anyone that felt like they'd be a friend. I'd get to know people in my major better eventually, but the wheelchair thing put people off, made them awkward and politely evasive. I'd learned that pretty quickly.
Hadn't put Van off. Not at all.
"Which dorm are you in?" I said, grabbing my wheels and angling myself onto the sidewalk that ran along between the large grass lawn and the several pristine white buildings ringing the outside of it. Vaun took that as a cue, and trotted along after me. I felt his hand brush my shoulder as he set it on the right handle on the back of my chair. That was friendly. A little too forward. Like everything else he'd done so far.
"Yours, dude, didn't I say that? Last year I had the one they didn't name yet 'cause nobody's donated enough big buckaroos to get it named after themselves," Vaun said as we went along. I'd heard people call that one just New Hall. "I been in Pradero too, this year I got Hadley."
"You remembered my dorm but not my name?" I said, and Vaun gave me a friendly punch in the shoulder. Another thing people didn't do to me, because of the chair.
"I said wasn't any good at names," he said. "Nothing about dorms. Plus I've had two years to remember 'em."
Two years, so he'd be a junior this year. Not exactly what I expected a junior to be like. In the sun, his hair was an even more radiant purple and every inch of him flashed with some kind of metal. His sunglasses were huge, and completely opaque with a yellow-orange tint over them. For a guy who'd spent at least the last two years in Southern California, he wasn't very tan. Out of curiosity, I lifted my arm under the pretense of scratching my head, so I could see my arm next to his. I had a couple shades on him for sure, and I'd spent a lot of time indoors in the past few years. But my mom had Italian in her blood, so a little of that Mediterranean color got passed to me.
"Are you from here?" I said, as we hit the turn in the sidewalk that'd take us along the front of of the auditorium building, huge white steps and white pillars at the end of the lawn. "California, I mean."
"Mm-hm. Bored and bred."
"Did you say bored?" Or I could've just misheard him.
"Ya might've noticed me and the sun don't get along," Vaun said pointing to the huge sunglasses. "I don't even like the heat, or how we only got two seasons—summer and fall—or even the beach, like, I'm the worst Californian ever invented. I should be deported."
I snorted. "Not sure it works like that, but I'll report you if you want."
"Dude, yes. Send me somewhere where there's snow or somethin', man."
"You don't actually want snow, trust me," I said. "It's pretty and whimsical until you have to live in it."
"It snows in Africa? What? Man, I knew there were rains to bless down there, nothing about fuckin' snow."
"Mostly it snows in Arizona, and I can't believe you just brought up that song." This guy was such a strange whirlwind of a person, who was now singing that song, and I honestly hoped he'd meant it about learning my name eventually. Because he was the first person I'd met here who felt like they could be a friend.