Chapter 1

Circa 2005

Andrew felt relief when he kicked open the door to the dorm room where he would spend a year traversing the stage from twenty-years old to twenty-one. Mostly he felt relief that California, specifically Lincoln, lay over two thousand, five hundred miles away. Each summer he spent with his deeply conservative, fairly devout Christian family drove him close to insanity. However, Andrew internalized it since lashing out at his family, especially after he came out to them, would only result in the loss of his schooling and future. Thus, Vanderhurst felt like home to him. The friends he made there felt more like family. Andrew sighed in contentment as he surveyed the battered oak-paneled walls that would be his home until the following spring.

Vanderhurst College, a small, liberal school that often got overshadowed by its more prestigious siblings along the northern track of Massachusetts, routinely boasted a student body of just over seventeen hundred heads between the undergraduates and the graduates. Although the admission standards tended to be strict, the return rate of the students hovered near ninety-seven percent. The college focused on academic achievement regardless of the personal background of the students. Hence, the fairly diverse population of the school sitting on several hundred acres south of Haverhill fed into the liberal traditions of the institution founded by the ridiculously wealthy abolitionist Vanderhurst family. It quietly stood at the forefront of social movements prior to the Civil War. The college accepted blacks and women long before it became fashionable, and offered all but free higher education to Native Americans. Moreover, the student body remained mostly accepting of small gay and lesbian population.

Andrew faced the main window staring out at the campus. It seemed lifted from a by-gone era and dropped down into modern times. Tapestries made of ivy draped the red brick buildings, some of which sported conical spires sheeted in tin painted orange, and tall, arched windows filled the walls. Walkways, usually carved by student feet, crisscrossed the green spaces via gray paving stones. Andrew recalled the last new building got erected sometime in the late nineteen-sixties and the students affectionately named it The Atrocity. It served the engineering, math, and science majors, but it clashed horribly with the otherwise Victorian architecture of the college. American elm, chestnut, maple, and oak trees, all carefully tended, littered the grounds and exploded with color during the fall. The young man staring at the grounds inhaled and deeply sighed.

"Welcome home," Andrew said to himself.

Vanderhurst did feel like home. He sometimes compared himself to a certain boy wizard and liked to imagine the college as the famed wizarding school. However, Andrew remained well grounded, often from the stress of his family life and the occasional person who took a dim view of the gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual students on campus. Although Andrew came out to his roommate and some of his closer friends, he remained largely closeted for fear how his parents might react should he become too out. They treated his sexuality like a disease, and he grew up in an environment that hosted homophobic and racist views despite protests to the contrary. As a result, Andrew often felt like an outsider within his childhood home and among his blood family. It served as part of the reason why he applied at Vanderhurst and ultimately selected it: it put a continent between him and his family.

"Wonder when Juan gets in? Wish I didn't burn up all my texts."

Almost from the very day they met, Andrew Carmichael and Wilson Juan Diego Ainsworth became fast friends. An administration computer program selected them to be roommates based on criteria none could explain or let alone understand, but it worked in their case. Despite his somewhat pretentious sounding name, the young man with dark hair, dark eyes, and deep olive complexion inherited from his mother only answered to his middle name and that he shortened to simply Juan. Juan came with an enormous personality that automatically assumed everyone liked him regardless of evidence to the contrary. He lived and loved in big, out-sized gestures. For over a month Juan unsuccessfully tried to get Andrew to date the young women he wooed on a constant basis until Andrew finally confessed his sexuality. Without missing a single beat, Juan switched tracks and tried to set up his roommate with men he suspected of being gay. One needed to accept the steady flow of awkward or embarrassing situations Juan would create that came with the friendship. Andrew positively loved Juan.

"He doesn't like morning sunlight, so..." Andrew said and hummed as he calculated the eastward direction and selected the sturdy wood-frame bed that would normally be exposed to the sun.

Hours passed while Andrew hauled up the last of his boxes, filled his side of the room with various knickknacks, plastered posters on walls, both made and unmade his bed, and created a basic clutter that made the space feel homey. He also took the time to greet classmates he either knew or recognized as he wandered the halls of his new dormitory. The campus contained enough boarding space for all students to live on the grounds, although some chose to live off-campus in Haverhill, Bradford, or the area known as Groveland. Andrew preferred to live on campus even in the face of two years worth of prodding by Juan to consider finding an apartment in Groveland. Andrew resisted all attempts. He grew fond living on the grounds of Vanderhurst. He proved his love of dormitory life by leaving the door open so anyone could pop in if they wished, a common practice by a wide majority of the upper class-persons.

The sun rested on the edge of the horizon when he heard a familiar voice calling out his name. Andrew continued to lay in bed and tried to act nonchalant even though the voice filled him with anticipation and excitement. His name started to ring through the hall, other people shouted at the person making the racket, but the owner of the voice did not desist until he reached the dorm room, stood in the entry, and tossed in a suitcase and duffel bag.

"Drew, why the fuck didn't you answer me?" Juan shouted at him and sounded perturbed.

Andrew lazily craned his head over, stared at the young man, and replied: "I honestly didn't hear you. How are you doing, Juan?"

His friend narrowed his dark eyes that glittered with both intelligence and mischief. Andrew calmly met the suspicious stare. Silence rocketed back and forth between them.

"You're fucking with me, right?"

"Oh, sure, there's that, but how how are you?"

"Asshole," Juan blurted.

It broke the dam. Andrew jumped up from his bed. He trotted toward Juan who threw open his arms. He did the same. The two friends met and roughly hugged one another. Although they talked on the telephone at least once a week over the course of the summer, Andrew missed his best friend in a terrible way that made him moody and sullen for over three months.

"Damn, I missed you, Drew," Juan said while all but squeezing the air out of the Californian native.

"Yeah, missed you, too, Juan," Andrew answered and returned the embrace with equal force.

Juan never cared what anyone thought when he showed affection to Andrew, and Andrew reveled in the attention. The hug persisted for joyfully long time. When Juan released him, he held Andrew and arms length to study him.

"You look thin," Andrew's friend complained. "Folks get on you all summer?"

Andrew rocked his head back and forth to indicate one summer passed pretty much in the same manner as the others.

Juan rolled his eyes, but then said: "I know this is early, but you're coming to my house for Thanksgiving this year… and Sarah, too, if we can talk her into it."

"Dude, you know what my parents will say..."

"And that's why my dad is going to call them and tell them like it is. Have you ever known anyone my dad couldn't convince?"

Andrew shook his head.

"Trust me: it's a done deal, Drew," the half-Honduran young man stated while patting him on the left cheek. "

A smile spread across the lighter-skinned young man. Even the simple thought he could escape flying back to California to spend three dreadful days with his family brought him a sense of tremendous relief. He privately thought his parents would relent fairly easily since it would spare them the uncomfortable visit as well. Andrew accepted it as a forgone conclusion he would spend Thanksgiving in Manhattan. He hoped Sara would cave in and join them.

The two friends then spent the next hour hauling up Juan's belongings from his car, a treasured piece of equipment, and then unpacking the boxes. Juan babbled on about his family and all they did during summer. Andrew also learned Juan worked on his internship, something he failed to do since finding a cooperative engineering firm in Lincoln proved next to impossible. He already sent out feelers to companies in Sacramento and received a couple of positive responses. When Juan tried to press him for details regarding his summer, Andrew tried to demure and say it he spent three boring months on the west coast.

"Bullshit," Juan persisted as he flopped down on his freshly made bed. "They treated you like crap again, didn't they?"

Andrew shrugged and ran a hand through his fine, light brown hair.

"Christ, don't tell me your grandma prayed over you all summer?"

"Only a few times. I kept my bedroom door locked," Andrew admitted.

"Man, you have got to get out of that place as soon as you can. Drew, it's gonna fucking kill you if you go back there after you graduate. If you don't agree to talk to my dad…"

"Juan, it isn't that simple, and you know it."

"Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. You're pulling down good grades and if you keep going the way you have been, you could work for any firm in New York. Guaranteed!"

His friend all but shouted the last word. Andrew shrugged again. One would be hard pressed to realized Juan came from a wealthy background. His parents paid his full tuition, including board and meals, without breaking a sweat. Hence, Juan got to dress in a slovenly manner a practiced eye could tell cost a pretty penny. Andrew, conversely, reeked middle class of an almost nineteen-fifties variety. His clothes, cleaned and pressed, did not boast a prestigious heritage. At the moment, however, one set of very dark eyes bore in to a medium brown set.

"If you don't promise me you'll bring it up to my dad, I'll bring it up for you… and I'll tell him you were afraid," Juan threatened.

"Dude, don't lie to him..."

"And you know what he'll do to you if he thinks you're afraid of him!"

Andrew met Mr. Ainsworth on many occasions, spent the odd weekend in their Manhattan apartment, and saw the exact source of Juan's personality. Mrs. Ainsworth tended to be shy and she seemed nervous when first meeting people. It made sense. Mr. Ainsworth divorced his first wife, agreed to an abusive and ugly settlement, and then married the woman who cleaned house for the first Mrs. Ainsworth for six years. Jessica Ainsworth, Andrew came to learn, treated Carmela Reyes like a third-class citizen or even lower when she thought she could get away with it. Over the time the young Ms. Reyes worked for the Ainsworths, Franklin Ainsworth got to witness the real personality of his first wife. He also got to see Carmela Reyes as a caring and strong woman who worked hard to gain her independence and make a life for herself in the United States. Franklin gradually fell in love with Carmela, who at first seemed stunned by the affections, but then began to return them. Although Mr. Ainsworth paid a hefty price in alimony, he said every moment spent with Carmela and three children she provided him made every penny worth it.

"You done this to me three times, Juan, and I'm not sitting through another 'Young man, speaking your mind and standing up for yourself is the only way you'll get ahead' speech!"

Juan cackled his wild laugh, and it confirmed his intent to carry out the threat. Since Juan generally got settled into his half the dorm room, Andrew flopped down on his bed and faced his friend. The two grinned at each other like schoolchildren who got caught in the act. Only the presence of Sarah Larin could make the moment more perfect for the young man from California.

"Okay, now it's time for the truth," Juan warned Andrew, and the tone of his voice promised mischief. "So, did you finally get lucky this summer?"

"Christ, Juan, you're not even here for two hours and you go pervy on me!" Andrew protested.

"Dry summer, huh?"

"Shut up."

Juan slowly shook his head back and forth while making a sad sound in the back of his throat.

"Well, you're wrong," Andrew grunted.

"Am I?"

"Yes. I, ah, went out one night and, well, met a guy from high school who came out in college, and… why the fuck am I telling you this? It's none of your business!"

"My young padawan, of course it's my business. You are young in the force and its ways not yet do you know," Juan replied while slowly devolving into an imitation of a certain toad-like creature.

"You do realize there are other, better science fiction movies out there? Besides, the latest trilogy sucked," Andrew said in a disappointed manner.

Juan clutched his hand to his heart and dropped back on his bed as though Andrew just shot him.

"Deny it all you want, but those were bad."

"Lured by the dark side you have been."

"No, I got lured by a sense of discrimination as to what makes a good movie. Darth Maul? Maul? Come on! You've got to admit that's awful," Andrew stated his case.

"Ah, it's for kids," Juan countered.

"Retarded ones… maybe."

With that the two friends started to snicker, and then began to laugh at one another. On the second day they shared a room as freshman, the argument over the Star Wars films began. Andrew, as a structural and mechanical engineering major referred to them as space opera and not science fiction, to which Juan agreed and said it gave the films heart. For two years they refined their arguments, but each remained entrenched in his own personal position. While they laughed, they lobbed insults at one another regarding the films in question.

"Really? Star Wars again? You guys are so lame," said Chantil Evans, one of their classmates and sometimes cohort in questionable deeds when Sarah refused to play along, as she walked into the room. Dressed in tight jeans, loose fitting blouse, and open-toed shoes with high heels, she appeared older than her years for reasons Andrew could never quite define.

He looked up at the young woman with skin as dark as real ebony. Chantil drifted into cultural anthropology during their first two years at Vanderhurst, and she routinely assessed Andrew and Juan as though they turned into artifacts from a by-gone, possibly pre-ice age, era. She walked in, nudged Andrew with a leg, and took a seat on his bed.

"How they hell do you guys manage to make a room look lived when we just got here?" She complained and gazed around the room.

"We know what we like," Juan said and waggled his thick but expressive eyebrows at her.

"You are such a pig, Ainsworth," the young woman mumbled.

"How would you know? You turn me down every time."

It took an incredible act of will for Andrew to keep from laughing. Andrew learned early on the depths of Juan's heterosexuality. Sometimes at night Andrew would get awoken by his roommate's rather lewd and often loud dreams. Juan did more than talk in his sleep, and it became a chore to ignore what happened on the other side of the room deep in the night. It eventually turned Andrew into an early bird riser.

"Either one of you figure out your junior research yet?" Chantil asked, sidestepping what certainly would turn into another failed attempt of Juan's to court the woman.

Vanderhurst held onto an ancient tradition meant to mold the minds of scholars. Through the freshman and sophomore years, students took numerous literature and composition classes. In their junior year, each student needed to select a research subject somehow related to the school and then complete the research and write at least a fifteen page, sourced report. The college, moreover, held onto every paper ever written and kept an extensive database detailing what got researched in the previous years. The last month of their sophomore year found the whole of the class struggling to find a topic not already researched into oblivion.

"The legends of Chasson Pond," Juan straightaway answered. "Lot of weird shit has gone around that place."

"Like the swimming and crew teams?" Chantil rebuffed and the bed frame squeaked when she leaned back onto her elbows. "What's so weird about that?"

"Some people say that small forest on the north end is haunted."

Andrew rolled his eyes. The rumor persisted despite a complete lack of evidence. Seniors typically tried to terrify the freshman in the first few weeks of the school year with otherworldly tales of Chasson Pond.

"And how is that a research paper?" The only female in the room gruffly inquired.

Juan rolled and sat up. He scanned the faces of the two watching him. Andrew saw the transition take place. Juan's keen mind visibly snapped into gear.

"First, no one's ever covered it in a research paper, so I'll get points for originality. Second, it'll deal with a different historical context regarding the school. Third, it won't just be a happy-happy, joy-joy piece of shit paper anyone could toss off in a couple of hours. I'm gonna do real research and find out if there's anything to the myths about Chasson."

Andrew watched as Chantil slowly turned her eyes on him, and he could not tell what she thought. He tried to shrug, although leaning on his right arm made it difficult. She sighed.

"You do know if he pulls it off he's gonna make the rest of us look stupid?" She commented.

"I'm doing mine on the history of the bricks in the original campus buildings. Kind of works into my major as well," Andrew stated.

"Bricks?" Chantil burbled.

"I tried to talk him out of it last term, but he won't give it up," Juan rejoined and sounded disappointed.

"It's not dumb or boring," Andrew challenged. "A brick tells you when a building got constructed, where the materials came from, how they were produced, when they got made, and – you may not believe – the relationship between the college and cities it contracted with to get supplies."

"Wake me up when he's done," their friend said to Juan.

"Too late: I'm already asleep."

"Fuck off," Andrew grumbled, and then fixed his gaze on Chantil. "What's your research project?"

"The historical role of woman and minorities as educators at Vanderhurst. Ever notice how the staff looks a little bleached out?"

"Vanderhurst considers itself progressive," Juan intoned.

"Difference between perception and reality. I plan on reviewing every yearbook and annual ever produced on campus. The pictures will tell the story once I get through cataloging the details."

Andrew gazed as Juan, and Juan gazed at Andrew. The both nodded their heads. Andrew believe Chantil struck on a novel idea and great way to fill space in a paper.

Juan flopped backward on his bad and growled: "God, I hate you sometimes, Chantil."

"Not my fault you chose a ridiculous topic," she calmly

"Could be cool if he finds some real evidence of any occurrence or a dark history surrounding the pond," Andrew tried to champion his best friend.

"Whose side are you on?" Chantil demanded, but smiled.

"You don't have to live with him when he feels pressured."

"Ah, excuse me, but how many times did the RAs get on him for blasting music at one in the morning during finals last year?"

"He lost his earbuds."

"That ain't no excuse for keeping everyone awake with that shit he was listening to!" Chantil charged.

"Liquid funk is the wave of the future. You'll thank me when people think your hip ten years from now," Juan retaliated without lifting his head.

"There's something wrong with you people from New York."

Andrew snorted at the completely disdainful delivery of the statement.

"Being at the forefront of culture is no easy task," Juan playfully volleyed.

"Oh, I do not have time for this shit," Chantil said and stood. "You guys ordering out tonight? If you do, get me some bread sticks and ranch dressing."

"What the hell is it with you folks from the Midwest and ranch dressing? I swear you'd drink it from a glass if you thought you could get away with it," Juan commented in mock churlishness.

"What you don't see is none of you're business."

Andrew burst out laughing at the implication. He even heard Juan chuckle. Seconds later he felt something nudge against his leg. He looked up.

"You finally get laid this summer?" Chantil bluntly inquired.

Andrew felt his face blush while Juan exploded into laughter.

"I ask 'cause I don't want to hear all year long how you is lonely and no one understands what you go through… and how hard it is to find the right kind of man. Drew, I just ain't gonna have time for that bitchy whining this year," his friend informed him in a manner so dry is crackled.

Juan covered his face with a pillow, but his raucous outburst barely got muffled.

"Ah, gee, thanks, Chantil. Like I don't hear enough of that shit from laughing boy over there," Drew acidly returned.

"Oh, I feel his pain, honey. Can't imagine what he hears when none of us is around. Whew, I'd probably cut my own ears off after a while."

Despite the deeply insulting nature of the statements, Andrew caught the sympathizing glimmer in her round facial features. She nudged him again with her leg.

"Seriously, you've got to get out there more. You do know there's a gay bar in Haverhill? What you want isn't just gonna fall in your lap or come walking through the walls. You need to put yourself out there, Drew. No one can see you if you just hide in your room all the time," she advised with a tremendous amount of warmth.

"I know, but..."

"Jesus, Drew, screw the buts!" Juan hollered.

A few seconds passed before all three people in the room broke into hysterics at Juan's unintended pun. Andrew curled into a ball as he convulsed with laughter. Chantil landed with a graceless thud on his bed. Juan kicked his legs in the air while wrapping his arms around his midriff. The trio lost all control.

"Oh, god, I'm gonna puke," Andrew managed to hiccup out the words.

"Me, too… me, too," Chantil panted.

Juan answered by slipping into a silent form of laughter when the body cannot get enough oxygen. In the back of Andrew's mind, he knew his friends laughed with him and not at him. Chantil inquired into his relationship status, albeit in a surly manner, out of concern for him. They knew the previous years he suffered from bouts of depression due to loneliness, feeling alone, because he could not find the wherewithal to engage with the gay community on campus. Shadows of his family loomed over him warning him not to make a spectacle out of himself solely for personal pleasure. He could feel the condemnation over his physical wants across an entire continent. Andrew sobered first from the laughing fit as the various through rifled through his mind.

"Yeah," he heaved out the word and sucked in a huge lungful of air. "Got to make a stand."

Juan's laughter abruptly died and he said: "For fuck's sake, Drew, don't let them control you here, too. I know that's the reason why you picked a school on this coast!"

Andrew nodded at the well-established fact.

"Got to quit hearing them voices, Drew. If you listen, you'll lose yourself," Chantil cautioned.

He heard it all before, yet he could still feel the grip his family held on his mind. Since the day he came out, he got told repeatedly that what people thought of him also reflected on his parents and siblings. They put enormous pressure on him to maintain a low profile and to deny his sexuality if ever directly confronted about it. Andrew's brother and sisters often made snide remarks that he acted too feminine without providing any proof. The comments and lectures wormed into his brain over time and always reminded him on how to act and behave. Andrew shook his head.

"I know. I know," he mechanically intoned. "I know I gotta keep 'em out."

He saw sadness ripple across Chantil's face and anger suffuse his roommate's features.

"You're staying here for spring break, too," Juan hotly informed him. "You ain't going back there 'til summer… and that's only if my dad can't get you an internship someplace in the city. If he can do that, you won't be going to California for a long while."

Andrew's throat grew tight. Within hours of their reunion his best friend and another close friend sought to make his life better. It proved both their compassion and loyalty. Often in the past he wondered what strange glitch in the computer program paired him with Wilson Juan Diego Ainsworth. They seemed such an unlikely duo to get along as roommates. Sometimes he wondered exactly what he did for Juan in return, but memories of pulling all-night study sessions with his friend came to mind. He could also curb some of Juan's worst appetites and impulses. The second and permanent Mrs. Ainsworth often complimented Andrew on his ability to steer Juan into more productive avenues. The woman appeared perpetually grateful.

"I don't get why they're so hateful toward you, Drew, but… you're safe here. You know that, right?" Chantil inquired in a similar fashion to the missing Sarah.

He nodded.

"Now you know what you've got to do this year," she continued.

He looked up at the dark face and held back the tears of gratitude that wanted to spill from his eyes.

"First, the pig over there will figure out a way to keep you on the east coast."

"Hey! I didn't even hit on you yet, so now I get a freebie!" Juan blurted.

"In you're dreams, Poncho," Chantil coolly rejoined, but focused on Andrew again. "Second, we get you out of your dorm room and some place where you can actually see people."

"They say the Riverside is a great bar for dancing, and plus there are lots of chicks there," Juan added.

"Juan, some lesbian is going to beat you to death with a bar stool, and I swear I'll just stand there and laugh."

"I'll protect you," Andrew said while leaning over to look past Chantil.

"Thanks, bud!"

"And then I'll get to write a paper on how idiotic men get themselves killed for acting like… men," Chantil cut into their male bonding. "Drew, thought you had more common sense than that."

"Got to back up my brother," he replied.

"You are so fucking white sometimes," she answered with a laugh.

Andrew thumped his chest twice with a hand, opened it and formed a W with the fingers, and then said: "West coast solid, baby!"

Chantil groaned, and Juan chuckled.

"Alright. I still got unpacking to do, but wanted to see where you two were hiding. Let me know when Sarah gets in..."

"Tomorrow, I think," Andrew interjected. "I ran out of texts last week."

"Is that why you weren't answering mine?" Juan inquired, and Andrew immediately bobbed his head.

"Whenever, but let her know I'm in three-twelve with LeShondra," she informed them, and Andrew committed the room number to memory. "We'll pick it up later."

Chantil held a hand up in farewell. Andrew responded in kind. Juan simply watched her walk out of the room through the open door. Ten seconds passed before Juan sat up again.

"She's right, Drew. You've got to get out of the dorm room this year, and I've got to help you find a way to stay on this side of America."

"I dunno," Andrew warily responded. "You know my good grades come from actually studying. It's not like I just sit in my room and mope."

Juan threw him a long sideways glance at the statement.

"Not all the time at least."

His friend shook his head and said: "Well, whatever time you do spend in the room not studying has got to be used for something else. I got really worried about you at the end of last term.

"Why?" Andrew grumped.

"'Cause I knew how much you didn't want to go back to California. I saw it our freshman year, and it looked worse last year. What happened between freshman and sophomore years, Drew?"

Andrew looked at and then past his friend. He could not find a way to describe the constant assault against him when at home. From the outside it would only appear as though his family members only lightly teased him in the manner families do, but private comments – the ones out of earshot of everyone save Andrew – hurt the worst. His father called him a complete disappointment for being gay. His mother said it shamed the family. His brother relentlessly assumed Andrew to be effeminate and weak. His sisters, younger than him, just went along with the rest of the family. The worst came at the hands of paternal grandparents who would barely sit in the same room with him and never, ever directly spoke to him. To add further insult to the injury, his mother constantly informed the church pastor about Andrew's supposed sinful ways, and the pastor continuously tried to get Andrew into private sessions. It only took one for him to realize he would never meet with the preacher of his church again.

"Dude! Where are you?" Juan's voice loudly interrupted Andrew's troubling memories.

"It wasn't good, Juan, but… if I don't go back during the summer, there's a chance my folks might cut off monetary support," he quietly attested. "I mean, it's not like they want me to be there, but I guess they just want to tell me how wrong my life is every chance they get. If I got to New York, it'll deny them that… and it'll piss them off."

"Aren't you on a scholarship?"

"Partial. It covers thirty percent. The rest is in loans from my dad…"

"Your dad is loan sharking you? What the fuck?" Exclaimed the young man sitting on the other side of the relatively small room.

"He says I won't appreciate my education unless I take responsibility for the cost of it," Andrew laid out one of the reasons his father used.

"Wait, wait, wait… wait a second," Juan said at a rapid pace and held up his hands as if to stop traffic. "This is coming for the guy who inherited parts of two farms… what grows there?"

"Fucking walnuts and almonds..."

"Fucking nuts is right, and this guy has the nerve to say you won't appreciate your education even though he never had to pay back his inheritance? Drew, your family sucks royally!"

Andrew tilted his head to the side and did not respond. Deep inside he wanted, craved, his family's acceptance and love. He loved them, Andrew knew, and he did not know how to stop. His mind began to focus on the unfairness of it, as Juan pointed out, and the fact he could not find a way to change the situation aside from denying a large part of himself never dissipated. Andrew found himself trapped between two impossible options.

He and Juan talked for a while longer. Slowly his friend managed to turn the mood lighter by hinting at some of the high-jinks he planned for the year. Andrew could almost hear the role he would play in the nascent schemes. Time and again Juan vowed Andrew would spend all the major school breaks in New York, but Andrew knew for certain he would be required to show in Lincoln, California, for the winter holidays. Juan's father might be able to convince his parents to let him stay for Thanksgiving and spring break, but Christmas would be spent on the west coast. What buoyed Andrew's spirits the most came in the form of the resolute and steadfast nature of Juan's friendship. Andrew clung to it.

When Juan went to bed, or rather just fell asleep on his bed, Andrew stayed up thinking. He tried to read a book, but his mind would not settle and kept focusing on his plight at home. Questions aplenty arose, but answers remained out of reach. His family did not want him to be gay, except he could do nothing about it besides denying his very existence. It seemed those supposedly closest to him could not accept the reality of his life and the fact he could not change. Andrew rose from his bed and went to stand before the tall window separating the two desk and shelving unit combinations built into the wall.

On the other side of the glass a velvety darkness filled the sky. Stars dotted the heavens, played peek-a-boo behind clouds, and vied for attention against a half-full moon. The campus looked serene. Lights did not shine from the instructional buildings since classes would not begin for another forty-two hours. The walkways crisscrossed the common grounds like petrified snakes. At the west edge of the campus tall hedges formed a barrier between the campus proper and a boggy patch of land surrounding Chasson Pond. Andrew smirked when he thought of the number of freshmen who got conned into believing a shortcut lay on the other side of the hedges only to emerge dripping wet and covered in muck. He himself nearly fell for the trick except he got to witness a fellow student crawl out from the other side looking miserable. He stared at the row of greenery thinking back to that day two years in the past.

Movement caught Andrew's eyes.

A lone figure smoothly walked along. The light of the moon and stars turned all color into shades of gray and black. As Andrew watched, something about the scene appeared odd to him. He kept his eyes focused on the person trying to sort out what puzzled him. It took half a minute of gazing while the figure receded to realize what bothered Andrew: it looked as though the individual wore a winter jacket. Andrew could not make out specific details, but he concluded that someone on a very warm August evening wore a heavy coat. It defied logic. When the person passed behind the dark form of Merced Hall, Andrew stood pondering the rationale.

"Maybe it's someone trying to lose weight through sweating?" He whispered at the now disappeared person.

Whether because of the oddity of someone donning a winter coat or because he grew tired of thinking, Andrew gave up trying to solve the problems with his family. If Mr. Ainsworth could provide an excuse to remain on the east coast for Thanksgiving, it would give Andrew three and half months of freedom. He turned, looked at his roommate, and silently mouthed his thanks. Never in his life did he expect to find a friend like Juan, or Sarah for that matter, who would care so little about his sexuality as to make a joke of it. Furthermore, Juan's family never made an issue of it either. Thus, Andrew inhaled and allowed himself a reprieve from his brooding. He went to his bed, lay down, and started to read.

Instead, Andrew fell asleep.

In the night he began to dream of arguments between people. Andrew heard the voices of his family, and also heard many others he did not recognize. Faces with angry visages flashed back and forth. A loud clamor that he only offered embarrassment and disgrace to everyone around him dominated the arguments. He inexplicably got called a failure. Andrew felt put upon and castigated for uncontrollable reasons and unreasonable expectations. He tried to argue in return. A wave of hot hatred seemed to blow against him, and Andrew recoiled from it. Like a wind caused by a conflagration, it whirled around and drove him to seek somewhere cool to hide. In his dream he found an empty spot crusted over with frost. He sat and wept. Somehow he became unmoored from life and cried out in distress. Andrew flailed against terrible feelings.

"Drew! Drew! Jesus, wake up, dude!" A familiar voice called to him.

Andrew felt the world around him shake as if in a tumult. His eyes flickered open. He expected to see snow for some reason, but only found the face of his trusted friend. The cacophony in his head died down. The arguing became indistinct and evaporated. The faces with hateful expressions vanished. Andrew glanced around with his heart racing and his mind whirling. Gradually it dawned on him he simply experienced and overly vivid dream. He look at Juan again.

"Man, I don't know what was going on in your head, but it didn't sound too good," Juan reassuringly told him. "Woke me out of a dead sleep."

"People… arguing… yelling at each other, me… someone," Andrew stuttered as the recollections faded even further away. He scratched his head. "So weird."

"Must've been. You okay now?"

"I think so. Can't really remember much of it… except the cold part."

"I thought I had freaky dreams," Juan mumbled.

"No, you have dreams about freaking… loud ones," Andrew countered.

Juan grinned, and Andrew returned it. He felt calmer in the presence of the young man. Whatever troubled his dreams seemed far away and forgotten. Juan stood and looked down at him.

"Everything good now?" He inquired.

Andrew nodded.

"So, ah, is this going to be a new thing for you: all this yelling and fighting in your sleep?"

"Shit, I hope not."

His friend eyed him for a moment. Then he turned and walked to his bed. Along the way he divested himself of shoes, socks, pants, and his shirt. Thus clad only in his underwear, Juan crawled into his bed and slid under the blanket. Andrew marveled anew at how comfortable the young man felt in his presence, enough so as to all but strip bare without a single hesitation. In fact, Andrew thought, Juan never shied away from that either. He could not begin to estimate the number of times he saw the tan complexioned young man parading naked through their dorm room for one reason or another. Although he physically assessed Juan at one point early on, Andrew long since stop feeling any sexual attraction toward his friend. He chalked it up to the brotherly emotions he felt.

"Why cold?" Andrew whispered to himself as he reached over and turned off the lamp on his night stand.

He laid his head back on the pillow and tried to conjure up the images from the dream, but it amounted grasping at smoke. Only small fragments remained, and those lacked clarity. Angry faces and loud voices dominated, but no real context. Andrew gave up trying to piece the dream together. He closed his eyes. When he heard nothing, he allowed the tension to escape from his body. Sleep slowly drifted over him.

© 2018 D. O'Shae