When I arrived for my shift Wednesday night, two news trucks were parked in front. One said CNN on the side, and the other was a local news channel. Two reporters rushed towards me when they recognized me.
“I’m a reporter from CNN,” announced a tall woman wearing a blue dress. From behind her, a cameraman had a camera pointed directly into my face.
“Dorian,” shouted a man to her side. I was becoming embarrassed because a crowd was beginning to form. “Why are you working at Panera Bread?”
“Excuse me,” I pleaded as I tried to force my way past them.
“Does your father approve of you working here?” The female reported asked as she pushed a microphone nearer to my face.
I pulled open the door and rushed inside. Jill immediately blocked it with her foot as she fought to lock it. The reporters were still shouting questions as I hurried behind the counter.
“What is going on?” I asked as everyone gathered around me. Scooter held up a copy of the National Enquirer. There was a picture of me behind the counter. Underneath it in bold letters was written, “Is this Senator Gale’s Economic Recovery Plan?” In smaller print it said, “His son works minimum wage job.” I knew immediately it was the picture Jerry had taken last week.
“Fuck,” I hissed as I grabbed the paper and looked closer at the picture on the front page. I looked over when the reporters started banging on the door. They were hollering to be allowed to come inside the restaurant.
Jill said, “Dorian, I need to see you in my office.” I knew by the look on her face that she was going to ask me to go home. I plopped down in a chair and waited for her to say, “You’re fired.” Instead, she sat on the edge of her desk and asked, “How do you want to handle this?”
“What?” I asked as I gave her a puzzled look. “You’re not going to fire me?”
“Why should I?” she asked. “You’re a good worker, and you’ve done nothing wrong.” She did frown at me. “You could have told me, though, your father is Senator Gale.”
I hung my head and muttered, “Sorry. I just didn’t think it was important. I was applying for the job, not him.”
“Okay,” she laughed. “You’re forgiven. Now tell me how we’re going to handle this?”
I stood and looked directly into her eyes. “How about business as usual?”
She smiled and said, “I was hoping you’d say that.” When I turned to leave, she patted me on my butt. “Now go to work, Mister. And remember,” she started to laugh, “less mayonnaise on the turkey sandwiches.”
I turned and saluted her, “Yes, Sir!” I jumped away when she tried to playfully hit me.
I stood beside Scooter behind the counter as Jill went to the door. I nodded when she looked over at me. She turned and unlocked the door. Four reporters and their cameramen rushed to the counter.
I asked politely, “What will you have?”
They insisted on asking me questions about why I was working a minimum wage job when my father was running for vice president, but I refused to answer. Jill asked them politely to step aside so that regular customers could order. When they didn’t, she threatened to call the campus police. Before she could pick up the phone, two officers strolled into the restaurant. After a brief conversation with Jill, they announced that anyone associated with the media was to leave or face arrest for trespassing.
As the night progressed, I became somewhat of a celebrity. As customers came into the restaurant, they asked why the media was surrounding the building. When they were informed, they would turn and stare at me. Two female students even asked for my autograph, which I politely refused.
Shortly before midnight, I called Seth and explained what was happening. I asked if he could come and protect me from reporters as I left. Fifteen minutes later, he arrived. With him were Brian and two huge, burly guys who looked like defensive linesmen for the football team.
Jill told me I could leave early in hopes that the media would leave and allow the other workers to close up. As we left the restaurant, Seth pulled me into his body and threw his arm around my head to cover my face. He and the others rushed me to Brian’s car as reporters trailed behind us. Seth pushed me into the back seat while he got in beside me. One of the large guys squeezed into the seat on my other side. Once safely inside, Brian raced from the scene before reporters had time to follow us back to the dorm.
“Holy Shit!” Seth shouted as we sped away. “When you said you were in trouble, I didn’t know it was going to be a fucking zoo.”
I spat, “It’s all Jerry’s fault.” Seth’s face grew red with anger when I told him about the picture he obviously sold to the National Enquirer.
“Wait until I see him again,” warned Seth. “I told him to leave you alone. He should have listened.”
“It was going to happen anyway,” I sighed. “Sooner or later they would have found out.”
“But that asshole didn’t have to profit from it,” angrily replied Seth.
Brian parked the car; and as we got out, Seth pointed to a campus police car parked nearby with two officers inside. When they noticed me get out of Brian’s car, they exited the cruiser and waited for me to safely enter the building.
“I can’t believe it,” I said excitedly after Seth and I were safely in our room. “You wouldn’t believe how crazy it was tonight.” I then related how the press had been waiting for me when I went to work, and then how the police ordered the media to leave the restaurant.
Seth looked worriedly at me. “Are you going to be able to handle the attention?”
I grinned and replied, “Yeah, I think so. After a while, I did my job and forgot they were waiting outside for me.” He was worried that I might have to deal with the media more now that I had appeared in two magazines.
“Don’t worry, Seth,” I insisted. “I watched my father for years deal with them. Right now, I’m a new story. In a week, they’ll forget about me and move on to something else.”
“I hope so,” he replied. He got up and went to his bedroom while I removed my clothes and took a quick shower before dropping into bed and falling asleep.
In the morning, we left to join the girls downstairs for breakfast. We had made plans the day before to go to the student dining area before attending our classes. I got upset with Seth when I discovered that he had already called Sydney and told her what happened the night before. She had told Jade and Amanda. All three of them gave me a hug and asked me if I was all right.
“Listen, gang,” I said as they stood around me. “We all knew from the beginning that something like this would happen when my father was nominated for vice president.” They shook their heads in agreement. “There is nothing I can do about it, but I want to protect your privacy. If you don’t want to hang around me until after the election, then I’ll understand.”
Everyone laughed when Seth responded, “That’s the biggest bunch of bullshit I’ve ever heard. Do you think for a minute we would abandon our best friend when he needs us the most?” Tears filled my eyes when we had a group hug in the middle of the lobby.
As we were leaving, we noticed a poster duct taped to the door. It read, “Only student residents permitted in the building. Members of the media and other unauthorized visitors will be arrested for trespassing.” It looked like it may have been hastily written by Brian.
Students stared at us when we entered the dining area and made our way to the lunch line. I heard one student exclaim, “There he is!” as she held up a National Enquirer. Seth instinctively moved beside me and pressed his body protectively against mine.
After getting our breakfast, we made our way to a table in the back. Students stared at me as I walked down the aisle. I could tell by their reactions that they considered me somewhat of a celebrity. I was waiting for someone to approach and ask me for my autograph again.
After sitting down, Seth looked worriedly at me. “You really need a body guard,” he said. “I can’t be with you all the time.”
“I’ll be fine,” I assured him. “I don’t think anyone wants to hurt me. They just look at me like I’m some kind of a freak.”
Jade grabbed my hand. “Well, for now you’re not going to classes by yourself. Sydney and I will be with you at all times.”
I smiled and said, “Yes, Mother.” She playfully slapped me on my arm.
As we ate, Jade asked me if I still intended to go to the hospital with Brian later. “I don’t think so,” I replied.
I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know.” I didn’t want to admit that I was afraid he wouldn’t recognize me. I was just beginning to build self-confidence. Having the first guy who ever kissed me forget about it would definitely deflate my spirit.
Sydney exclaimed as she grasped Seth’s hand, “We’re going. This Wes guy may just need to know that people care about him.” Jade stared intensely at me until I couldn’t take it any longer.
“Okay,” I muttered. “I’ll go.”
Jade clapped her hands. “Goodie. I’ll go, too.”
I knew why Jade wanted to go. I could see it in her eyes. She had gone into her matchmaker mode again. Only Jade would be optimistic enough to believe that someone in critical condition might be interested in finding a date.
Sydney looked at her watch. “It’s getting late. We’d better get to biology.” She looked at me and asked, “Are you ready for the test?”
I shouted, “Shit!” Several people looked over at our table. “I forgot that was today.”
“I told you,” warned Jade. “You can’t work and go to school.”
“I can do it,” I assured her. “I just forgot about one test. I hope I can remember most of the material. We spent a lot of time studying in the library on Sunday.”
“Well, if you have to,” Jade grinned, “Cheat.”
“And get caught, and then expelled?”
She laughed and replied, “They won’t do anything to you. You’re the Senator’s son.”
“Fuck you, Jade,” I huffed as I walked away from the table. Jade hurried up beside me.
“I was just kidding,” she said.
“I know,” I replied. “It’s just that it’s true.” Jade wrapped her arm around mine as we headed out of the dining room.
Sydney and Jade wouldn’t let me out of their sight the entire day. They even stood outside the men’s restroom and waited for me to come out. I guess word had spread quickly about the National Enquirer picture because students who had never noticed me stared when I entered the classroom. Even my biology teacher spoke to me, which she had never done before.
I’m not sure how I did on the test. I knew most of the answers from my study session with Jade. However, it was difficult to concentrate with so much going on. I was very worried about visiting Wes. I mean, he wasn’t really anything more than an acquaintance, or at least I tried to convince myself of that. However, you never forget your first real kiss, no matter how innocent it may have been at the time.
“Shit,” I hissed as I stopped when we were about a block away from the dorm. The others looked to see what had upset me.
“Damn,” remarked Seth. “Isn’t that that Leo guy’s car?” Leo must have been watching for me because he exited the car and stood beside the door. I couldn’t make out what kind of a mood he was in. I was sure it wasn’t good.
As we neared his car, he simply pointed for me to get in the passenger seat. He didn’t have a driver like the last time. Seth leaned toward me and whispered, “Kick ass.” I smiled nervously and climbed into Leo’s car.
As we drove off, Leo looked at me, but he didn’t say anything. I was afraid to speak, so we drove in silence until we reached the Italian restaurant we had visited the last time he came to the school. We walked into the building silently, and like before, he handed the maitre de a twenty-dollar bill and asked for a table where we wouldn’t be disturbed.
Leo ordered a light meal, and he asked me if I wanted anything. I was hungry, but I was too nervous to eat. He ordered a scotch and water, and he only ordered me a Coke. Since he didn’t order me a Bloody Mary like the last time, then I assumed his visit was official.
“Did my father send you?” I asked after the waiter walked away.
He looked over and replied, “Yes.” I waited for him to say more, but he didn’t. He simply stared at me.
Finally, I asked, “He wants me to come home, doesn’t he?”
The waiter approached and placed our drinks on the table. Leo immediately downed his. He called the waiter back and asked for another. He gave him a puzzled look, nodded and walked away.
He looked across the table and exclaimed, “Goddamn it, Dorian.” Since he said it rather loudly, I looked around quickly to see if anyone could hear our conversation. He leaned forward and spoke more softly. “I like you, Dorian, I really do. I thought we had an agreement that you’d keep a low profile.”
“I didn’t do anything,” I insisted. “Honest.”
He reached into his briefcase and tossed the National Enquirer in front of me. “This isn’t doing anything?” I stared at my image on the cover. “You want to explain this to me?”
“I needed a job,” I replied.
He sat back and laughed. “Needed a job? Your father has enough money to support a thousand sons. What made you think you needed a job?”
“That’s just it, Leo,” I replied. “It’s his money, not mine.”
I jumped when he slammed his hand on the table. He pointed at the picture on the paper. “What in the hell is going on inside your head? First you run out on us at the convention.”
“But...” He interrupted me before I could explain.
“I had several events I wanted you to attend,” he continued angrily. “I wanted to introduce you properly to the American public.” He picked up the paper and tossed it down. “Not like this.”
“I’m sorry,” I tried to explain, “but no one even knew I was at the convention.”
He looked over angrily and shook his head. “It’s politics, Dorian. You should know that by now. Every movement is scrutinized by the media and by those who haven’t yet made up their minds who they are going to vote for. We’re sorry your feelings were hurt.” His last statement had an air of sarcasm, and I was beginning to get upset.
“I don’t care,” I answered defiantly.
He looked at me angrily and said, “I know you don’t.” I lowered my head as he continued to stare angrily at me. The waiter brought his plate to the table, set it before him and walked away. Leo looked over and asked, “You sure you don’t want anything to eat?”
“No, Sir,” I replied. We sat quietly as he ate his plate of spaghetti and meatballs. He also finished his second drink, held up his glass to the waiter for another. I was beginning to worry that he may become too drunk to drive me back to the dorm.
When he had eaten most of his meal, he wiped his mouth with his napkin and looked over at me. He began to speak in a softer tone, “Believe it or not, I was young once,” he smiled. “I was sixteen when I went through my rebellious streak.”
“I’m not going...” He interrupted me again.
He started to laugh. “I let my hair grow long and smoked a lot of weed back then.” I gave him a surprised look. It was hard to believe the man sitting across from me in a blue suit, starched white shirt and striped red tie would get high.
“I’m not smoking marijuana,” I assured him.
He laughed and replied, “I know you’re not, Dorian. My point is, every young man goes through a phase where he feels he has to rebel in order to become a man.”
“It’s not a phase,” I insisted. “I just want to be me.”
He asked jokingly, “Can’t you be you on November Seventh?” I stared into his face and shook my head.
“You said my father wants me to come home?”
Leo frowned. “He does.”
“So you’re here to take me back?” I was getting ready to get up from the table and leave.
“No.” I gave him a puzzled look.
He looked at me and said, “I told you the last time we talked you could trust me.” I nodded my head. “I’m going to try and find a way to deal with this. I’m not sure I can, but I’ll try.” He stared into my face. “Can I trust you to cooperate with me?”
“I don’t know if I can promise you that.”
I then told him about my decision to file criminal charges against Travis and Raleigh. I also told him about Darlene and the article she was going to do for the university newspaper. He listened attentively and shook his head several times. I could tell he didn’t like the things I was telling him.
When I told him about the march Campus Pride was planning to address the sexual harassment issues at school, he leaned forward and shouted, “What! You can’t do that!”
“I’m only going to march,” I replied. “I have to.”
He sat back, stared at me and muttered, “Jesus, Dorian. You’re really fucking things up for the campaign.”
“I don’t mean to,” I insisted. “These are things I have to do.”
He stared at me, nodded his head and replied, “I know. If I were you, I’d do the same thing.” He shook his head sadly, “But does it have to be right now? We’re only four months away from the election.”
“So do you want me to go home?” I asked. I then added, “You know I won’t. I’ll run away first.”
“I thought you’d say that,” he replied sadly. “I can see the papers now. Senator Jonathan Gale’s gay son runs away from college when his father insists he come home because of all the embarrassing shit that threatens to derail his campaign.”
“Is it really all that bad?” I could see where it could be a problem, but I couldn’t see it having that much effect on the campaign.
Leo leaned forward, “I’m afraid it is that bad. You wouldn’t reconsider everything you’ve just told me you plan to do?” I frowned and shook my head. I was determined to file charges against the two brutes who embarrassed me in the dorm, and I was going to participate in the march- for Wes.
“So what is next?” I asked. “I don’t want to hurt my father’s campaign, but these are things I feel I have to do.”
Leo sadly shook his head. “I know. I could sit here and threaten you, but that would get us nowhere. You’d run away and it would only cause more problems than we have now.” I nodded my head. “When is the march?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Cameron is still working on a date.” He asked me if I had Cameron’s number, and I told him I did. I hesitated giving it to him, but I figured it would only take a phone call for him to find it anyway.
“One of the things we have to do is put a positive spin on this.” I gave him a puzzled look. I could see his mind racing as he looked over at me. “Socially concerned student. Gay activist.”
“Homophobic father,” I replied sarcastically.
He laughed and said, “If Cheney could change, then I’m sure the Senator can. Besides, this might fly with Caswell. I told you his brother is gay, and he’s been trying to find a way to draw in more gay voters. It’s going to be a close race, and we need every vote we can get.”
“I’m only going to participate in the march,” I replied. “I don’t want to be a gay activist.”
“If Caswell likes my idea,” he replied, “It may be too late for that now.”
“What do you mean?” He pointed to the National Enquirer.
“You are news right now,” he said. “Since we can’t stop it, then we might as well make the best of this. I have a friend over at Time who owes me a favor. I’m going to have him contact you and do a story.” He sat back and stared at me. “Gay rights. We could just pull this off.”
I shouted, “I can’t do this, Leo!”
“It’s this, or run away,” he stated emphatically. “I know you didn’t set any of this in motion, but we’ve got to control the story. Can I depend on you?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Good,” he exclaimed as he rose from the table. “I’ll call my guy over at Time and he’ll probably want to set up an interview soon.”
“But, Leo...” I started to protest.
He threw his arm around my shoulder as we walked out of the restaurant. “We might just be able to pull this off.”
Since it was after six o’clock when we left the restaurant, I asked Leo if he would drop me off at University Hospital. I knew Seth and the others had already left with Cameron. Of course, he wanted to know why, so I told him I was visiting a friend. He jokingly asked me if this was something else that would get me into more trouble.
“I don’t think so,” I replied without thinking. I should have just said it wouldn’t.
He looked over, “What do you mean, you don’t think so?”
“I’m visiting someone who got beaten up the other day by some guys,” I informed him.
Leo asked, “And I take it he’s gay?”
“And would this have anything to do with the march you’re planning?”
“A little,” I confessed. Cameron had said the march would address violence toward gay and lesbian students, so Wes would be one of those for whom we’d be marching.
When we pulled up in front of the hospital, Leo turned to me and said, “Dorian, you know I support you one hundred percent?” I nodded my head. “However, I’m also your father’s campaign manager and his best friend for over twenty years.”
I frowned and replied, “Somehow I think there is going to be a ‘but’ coming.”
“There is,” he said. “If I have to make a choice between supporting your father or you, you know I’m going to have to side with him.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I know.” I opened the door and headed toward the hospital entrance. I didn’t even bother to look back to see if he had driven away.