The campus was abuzz the following morning about the raid. As Seth, Sydney, Jade, Amanda and I ate in the dining area of a nearby dorm, we could hear others discussing what had occurred. I think most were concerned because they also had contraband items in their room. I overheard one guy asking his friend if he could keep his stash in his apartment.
“I still can’t believe it,” remarked Sydney.
Jade commented, “If you ask me, they let them get away too long with shit. Avery should have stepped in when Dorian was first tormented by those assholes.” She looked at me and frowned.
“I still can’t figure out why he did it,” remarked Seth. He looked over at me. “From what you said, he was trying to avoid anything that would make the school look bad. I bet this will be in the news.”
Jade suggested, “He probably thought a raid wouldn’t reflect as badly on the university as a criminal investigation into his cover-up of a sexual assault.”
“True,” agreed Amanda.
Jade looked at me and asked, “What do you think?” I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “I don’t know.”
I had assumed that Leo had ordered the raid after talking to me. However, I didn’t tell the others because I hadn’t discussed with them my conversation with him in the restaurant. Besides, I was embarrassed because it would appear that my father was involved in trying to solve my problems for me. They would only become angry and try to talk me into pressing charges. Now that Travis and Raleigh were expelled, I didn’t see any reason for continuing criminal action. To me, justice had been served. Right now, I was more concerned with Wes’s health than what had happened to me.
Just then, Darlene came up to the table holding a mug of coffee. She looked at me and asked, “Mind if I sit down?” She sat down before I even had a chance to reply. “Well, I guess Avery blew my story all to hell last night,” she said disappointedly.
Seth asked, “Why?”
“I was going to begin my article by discussing what happened to Dorian,” she replied. She looked at me and frowned. “I got a call just minutes ago from my editor. He said he got orders from a higher up that the incident isn’t to be mentioned in the paper.”
Jade spat, “We all know who that higher up is.”
Sydney asked worriedly, “What about the march? Is Avery going to prevent it too?”
“He didn’t say,” she replied. “I guess Cameron will have more news tomorrow when we meet.” She looked at Seth and me. “Are you still attending?”
Seth looked at me and said, “Yeah, we’ll be there.”
As we ate, Seth mentioned Wes’s reaction to my presence the night before. Naturally, Jade read more into it than there probably was. By the time we had finished eating, I think she was preparing a wedding guest list for us.
For the first time since my arrival, I found my classes boring. In fact, I almost fell asleep in my math class. At one point, the professor stood beside my chair to make sure I was paying attention. I think before yesterday, I had found refuge from my life by attending classes and burying myself in the library for hours. It was a way for me to escape the reality of my life.
Now, I couldn’t wait until classes were over so I could go to the hospital to visit Wes. However, I couldn’t decide if it was to visit him or his mother. I immediately liked Mrs. Hayes. I saw in her everything a mother should be, unlike my own mother. I was in awe of the love she had for her son. Watching her eyes tear up when she would talk about him only made me realize just how much I had missed from my own parents. I recalled that night backstage with my mother as my father delivered his speech. Tears I thought she had shed for me were only tears of remorse for herself. Mrs. Hayes’s tears were those of immeasurable love.
* * * * * * * *
Wes’s mother jumped from her chair when I arrived and quickly embraced me. The day before I had lightly placed my arms around her. This time I returned her hug with the same affection. She looked over at Wes and smiled. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Surprisingly, Wes was propped up on a pillow. He looked much stronger than he had the day before. “Hi,” he said as he waved timidly at me. I walked over, took his hand and gently squeezed it.
“You look better today,” I remarked with a smile as I turned to his mother. “I think you gave your mother quite a scare.” When I squeezed his hand, he gripped mine firmly.
“I guess I’ve been kind of out of it for a few days,” he replied. “I really don’t remember too much.”
His mother stepped up to the side of the bed and brushed her hand across Wes’s head. She was careful to avoid the area that was still heavily wrapped with gauze. “That’s not important now,” she said. “What’s important is that you’re getting better.” She turned and sat down in her chair. She pointed to another across the room and told me to sit it beside hers so we could talk.
I spent an enjoyable two hours with Wes and his mother. When Cameron had dropped me off at the hospital, I asked him if he could return in a half hour to get me. When I later told Mrs. Hayes my plans, she insisted that I call Cameron and tell him not to come. She said she would drive me back to the dorm after visiting hours were over.
I learned a lot about Wes and his mother. Like me, he was an only child. His father had been a colonel in Iraq, and he was killed when his vehicle drove over a roadside bomb. Wes was eight when he died. Since he was away on assignment during most of Wes’s childhood, he didn’t get to know him very well. However, he did manage to spend most of his time on leave teaching Wes to play baseball and taking him on frequent visits to nearby theme parks. When his father was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, his mother gave it to Wes.
“For several years he slept with it,” she said. She looked over tearfully at him, “I bet you still do.”
“Mother!” he squealed as his face reddened. “You’re embarrassing me.”
She got up and kissed him gently. “Showing how much you loved your father is nothing to be ashamed about.” I had to fight back my own tears.
It surprised me when she related how her husband’s death brought her and Wes closer. I would have imagined something like that would have destroyed a family. However, she said that they turned to each other for support. As a result, they shared a bond that I had never witnessed between a child and parent. I know it was nothing like I shared with mine.
She broke down when she said, “I would walk over hot coals for my son.” Wes started crying and held out his hand for his mother. She walked over and gently embraced him. A second later, she looked at me and held out her hand. I walked over, and she held me tightly in her arms. I wasn’t sure if I was overwrought with their love, or the realization of what I had missed my entire life. Instinctively, I think Mrs. Hayes knew it was the latter.
Neither of them asked questions about my life; and I was enjoying the evening so much, and I didn’t want to spoil it by talking about my father. Wes asked me a couple of common questions, like how I enjoyed high school and what were my favorite subjects. He laughed when he asked me if I participated in any sports, and I looked down at my thin body and asked, “What do you think? Do I look like a basketball or football player?”
He quickly scanned my body and said, “You could have run track.”
His mother was taking a sip of coffee, and she almost spit it onto the floor when I giggled and said, “The only time I run is when I have diarrhea.” We continued to talk until the bell from the hall indicated that visiting hours were over.
Mrs. Hayes rose, kissed Wes on his forehead and announced, “I have to go to the bathroom before we leave.” She turned to me. “Would you stay with Wes until I get back?” She then abruptly left the room.
I felt awkward because it was the first time Wes and I had been left alone. He looked at me as if he was expecting me to say something. Finally, I walked over to the side of the bed. “I’ll come see you tomorrow, if you want.”
He looked up and smiled. “Of course I want you to come.” His eyes widened when he realized what he had said. “Visit,” he laughed. “I want you to visit.”
I looked down at him and giggled, “I liked your first suggestion.” He roared with laughter when my face reddened.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he took my hand and squeezed it. “Thanks for being here,” he said. “I’ve thought a lot about you.”
“Me, too,” I replied as I continued to hold his hand. “I was really upset when I heard what happened to you.” I started to say something else, but he gripped my hand and pulled me towards him. He closed his eyes as I leaned in and kissed him gently on his lips.
“Thanks,” he said tearfully afterwards. “I’ve wanted you to do that since you came into the room today.” I leaned forward and kissed him again.
“Me, too,” I smiled as I brushed my hand gently against his cheek.
Just then, the door opened and his mother came into the room. I tried to pull my hand away, but Wes held it tightly. She looked down and smiled. “Are you ready to go, Dorian?”
“Yes,” I said as I leaned down and kissed Wes on the forehead. I thought it might be too embarrassing to kiss him on his lips. Even though his mother knew Wes was gay, it still might be hard for her to accept any overt display of affection.
On the way to the dorm, I asked Mrs. Hayes if Wes had mentioned who beat him. In the back of my mind, I was afraid it might have been Travis, Raleigh or some of the other guys on the floor.
“They jumped him from behind,” she said. “He didn’t get a look at their faces. He thinks they noticed him when he was studying in the library, and then they followed him out. He hadn’t gotten very far when they attacked him. The campus police have investigated, but they don’t have much to go on. There were a lot of students in the library Sunday night.” I knew instantly it wasn’t Travis or Raleigh. I doubt if they even knew where the library was. I’m sure, though, they knew where every liquor store was located.
I managed to sleep late on Saturday. Sleeping in is something I didn’t do very often. I’m a light sleeper, and I wake up around six every morning. I’m usually showered and dressed before Seth climbs out of bed around eight-thirty. I don’t have to worry about shaving. I have a trace of a mustache. Other than that, however, I have little body hair. I always avoided showering in school because boys would tease me when they noticed my hairless body.
I was still lying in bed when Seth emerged from the bedroom. I hadn’t been asleep. I had spent the last hour thinking about Wes. It seemed strange that we appeared to have developed a bond so quickly. I always thought that it took months, if not years, to feel love for someone. I hadn’t felt it that first night we met. However, since the night before when he opened his eyes and muttered my name, I knew something special happened. And I know it is not something that I am imagining or hoping to be true. I can see it in his mother’s eyes. She knows, too. In two days, I already feel like I’m sharing a part of their lives that has been reserved only for me. For the first time in my life, I felt wanted.
Seth walked out in his boxers and stretched lazily. “Are you going to the meeting this afternoon?”
“What meeting?” I asked as I sat up in bed and ran my eyes over his body. I didn’t feel anything sexual for him. It was just something I enjoyed doing since I knew he didn’t mind.
He looked down and gave me an exasperated look. “The one with Cameron. Don’t tell me you forgot?”
“No,” I replied as I got out of bed. My erection was pressed tightly against my briefs. Seth glanced down, but he didn’t make a comment about morning wood like he often does. “I’ve just been spending a lot of time at the hospital, that’s all.”
Seth poured us a glass of orange juice and sat down at the kitchen table. He asked, “You like him, don’t you?”
I sat down and replied, “I think so.”
He laughed, raised an eyebrow and asked, “Think so?”
“Okay,” I giggled. “I like him a lot.”
“I can tell,” he smiled. “You’ve seemed really happy the past couple of days.”
I gripped his arm tightly and pleaded, “You won’t tell Jade, will you?”
He gave me a puzzled look. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “This is just something I want to do myself. I don’t want her playing matchmaker.”
He leaned back and laughed. “She does go a little bit over the top.”
“Yeah,” I giggled. “Way over the top.”
We spent the next fifteen minutes discussing Wes. I told him about his mother and the death of his father. I also opened up and told him how I was feeling about Wes. “Do you think people can fall in love this quick?”
“Sure,” he replied. “I knew Sydney was the girl for me the first night we met.”
“Really?” I asked. “So do you think, that like, you might get married someday?”
I smiled when his face reddened. “Yeah,” he said. “But don’t tell her. Okay?” I nodded my head. He reached out and gripped my arm. “And when we do, I want you to be my best man, okay?”
“Okay,” I replied cheerfully.
He started giggling. “Don’t get all excited. I only want you to be my best man so you can ask your father if we can use his cool limo.”
“Fucker,” I laughed as I attempted to hit him. He jumped, fell out of his seat and landed on the floor. “Serves you right,” I giggled as I got up and went into the bathroom to take a shower.
Seth was gone when I came out. Since I didn’t have to be at the Student Union until two for the meeting, I decided I would play video games. Growing up alone in my bedroom, it was one of the only enjoyments I had in life. I also had a Wii game console which I bought myself as a Christmas present last year. However, I left that at home because I assumed I would never have time to play it.
I’d been playing a new game that I had purchased before leaving home, when someone knocked on the door. When I opened it, Darlene entered. “Hey,” she said as she walked over to my computer. “Cool,” she exclaimed as she saw the game on the monitor. She sat down and started playing. I was amazed that she was so good. For some reason, I always assumed that playing video games was something guys did.
“You’re good,” I remarked as I stood behind her and watched.
“I have three younger brothers,” she said as she continued to play. “I have to be good.” She played a few more minutes before stopping. She reached down and fumbled around inside a large canvass bag she had brought. “Voila!” She laughed as she held up a notebook. “Are you ready?”
“Your interview, Silly,” she said. “You didn’t forget, did you?”
“No,” I replied. However, I had forgotten that I told her to interview me before we went to the meeting. “Of course I didn’t forget.” I walked across the room and sat down on the sofa bed. I looked over and said, “Fire away.”
“Silly,” she giggled as she sat down beside me. She opened her notebook, clicked her pen and then asked, “If you could change places with your father, would you?”
“What!” I shrieked. “What kind of a question is that?”
“A sensible one,” she replied. “You’re the son of one of the richest men in America. He’s also running for the second most powerful position in the world. If you could, would you change places with him?”
“No!” I said emphatically.
Darlene raised an eyebrow and asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yes,” I replied as I stood and started pacing around the room. “I’m sure.”
“Look, Dorian,” she said as she rose and stood before me. “I haven’t known you very long, but I’ve known you long enough to know that your whole life has been molded as your father wanted.” I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. “If I’m going to write an honest article about you, then I need to talk to the real Dorian, not the one who has been created out of political clay.”
I sat down on the sofa, buried my head in my hands and moaned softly, “I hate him.”
“Good,” she said as she sat down closely beside me. “Tell me why you hate him so much.”
I went on a rant. My mouth exploded with every expletive I could think of. I was transformed back to my childhood- a lonely childhood. I became once again that little boy locked up in his room waiting for a father to come home to play ball or to take me to an amusement park. But that time never came. Instead, I was provided with everything a child could ever want or even dream about. But the one thing I needed most couldn’t be bought. Not even my father’s wealth could take the place of the thing I needed most- his love.
Thirty minutes later, I was exhausted. I had cried out all the tears of so many years. Darlene just sat patiently and listened. She had earlier placed the notebook and pen on the floor, and she held my hand as I opened my soul to her. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps she had asked that one question I had asked myself for so many years. Did I really want to grow up and live my life in my father’s image? Did I want to become like him?
“No!” I stood and looked tearfully down at Darlene. “I don’t want to be my father.”
“Good,” she replied as she reached down and took her notebook, opened it and reached for the pen. “Let me interview the real Dorian Gale.”
“What about everything I just said?” I asked.
She smiled and patted the side of the bed. “I couldn’t interview you as long as you were worried that anything you said might be judged by your father. I could have written that article without even speaking to you. I had to dig deeper. I wanted to interview the real you, not the son of a senator and vice presidential candidate.”
We spent the next hour talking about anything and everything. Darlene made me realize things about myself that I had never even considered. I was attending college, and I still hadn’t given any thought to what degree I wanted to pursue. I had briefly considered business and economics when in high school. However, I knew that was because I was sure that someday my father might convince me to take over the business he had created.
“So what do you want to do with your life?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I want to do something where I can help people.”
“Maybe you can be a politician like your father,” she suggested. I started laughing uproariously. She waited until I was finished before continuing. “I’m serious, Dorian. Except for being a shitty father, hasn’t he been a good politician?” She took my hand in hers. “Think about it. If you weren’t his son, would you think he was a bad person?”
I pulled my hand away, stood and looked angrily down at her. “Are you taking his side? Do you actually believe he’s a good man?”
She stood before me. “A good man, no. A good politician, yes.” When I turned to walk away, she grabbed my arm. “When I knew that I was going to do this interview, I did a lot of research on your father. He’s done a lot for our state. He’s fought for funding for schools and libraries. He co-authored a bill in the Senate that helped small businesses get low-interest loans. Look at our school. He’s provided grants and loans worth millions of dollars. I even read that they are building a new economics building in two years with money he earmarked. Dr. Avery wants to name the new building, the Jonathan Gale School of Economics.”
“What?” I wasn’t aware of anything Darlene was telling me.
“You’ve spent so much time hating him,” she said as she took my hands in hers, “that you never got to know him.”
“I don’t know,” I replied as I sat back down on the bed. I was beginning to realize that Darlene was probably right. I had spent so much of my life hating him that I had blocked out any attempt to understanding who he really was. He was a horrible father, but was he really a horrible man? At the moment, I had no answer to that question.
Darlene sat down beside me. “I’m sorry if I upset you today. I could say I didn’t mean to, but I did. You’ve lived your life so much dealing with the past, you can’t really see the future.” She took my hand and held it tightly. “You can’t change what happened. You survived it, and it made you stronger.” She gave me a puzzled look when I started laughing.
“Stronger?” I laughed again. “I’m small and effeminate. I have about as much self-confidence as a bug in a spider’s web. I’m...” Darlene put her finger gently against my lips.
“That’s the old Dorian,” she said. “You left him behind in your bedroom when you left. The new Dorian is independent and confident. He has dreams and aspirations. You just spent a half hour telling me what you wanted out of life. You explained how you felt when you got your first job and tore up your credit card, which by the way, I think was a stupid thing to do.” She started giggling. “I only wish I could have an unlimited account.”
“You make me sound like someone I don’t even know,” I responded sadly.
She placed her hand over my chest. “You do know him, Dorian. He’s in here. He’s a wonderful young man with dreams. He’s alive and in love.”
I gave her a puzzled look. “In love?”
“Yes,” she said as she squeezed my hand. “In love. I could feel it whenever you talked about Wes.” She reached over and hugged me tightly. “I only wish I could find someone like you to love me.” When she pulled away, her eyes were wet with tears.
We talked a little while longer until I looked at my watch. “We’d better be going,” I said. It was a little past noon, and the Cameron said the meeting would start at two. It was going to be a busy day. I wanted to stop by the hospital to see Wes before going to work at six. Since it was Saturday, Jill probably wouldn’t close until after one in the morning. “You want to grab a bite to eat before we go to the meeting?” She agreed, and we left the dorm with her arm wrapped around mine.
“Where do you want to eat?” I asked as we strolled down the major street where Panera Bread and all the other major restaurants were located.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” replied Darlene. Suddenly, she stopped and looked at my hair. She grabbed my hand and pulled me into a nearby hair salon.
“What are we doing in here?” I asked as I looked around at all the women staring at us. A young lady stopped styling another woman’s hair, walked over and asked Darlene if she had an appointment.
“No,” she said as she pulled me toward the stylist. “Do you think you can cut his hair?”
I stepped back and shouted, “What!” I looked in a nearby mirror. “I’m not getting my hair cut. I’ve worn it like this since I was ten.”
Darlene pulled me aside as everyone watched. In a low voice she whispered, “Look, Dorian. We just spent two hours talking about a new you.” She reached up and gently pulled back the hair that was flowing over my ears. “A new you means a new look.”
“How much do you think needs cut?”
An hour later I was walking out of the salon with a new look. I almost started crying when my dark hair fell onto the floor. When she was done, the stylist slowly turned me until I was looking at myself in the mirror. A stranger was reflecting back.
“You look wonderful!” Darlene shrieked as I continued to stare at myself. “Oh, my God, Dorian. You look like a different person.” And I did. Even though my features could still be described as pretty, I didn’t look as feminine as before.
As we stood at the counter, the stylist said, “That will be $65.” I quickly looked over at Darlene.
“I don’t think I have that,” I said nervously as I reached for my wallet. Darlene swatted my hand.
“My treat,” she said as she pulled a credit card from her small purse. “This was my idea, so I should pay for it.”
“I’ll pay you back when I get my check next week,” I said. Since I was working only three days a week, I wasn’t sure I would have the money. It would probably be two weeks before I could repay her.
“No, you won’t,” she remarked sharply as we left the salon and started heading toward the student union. Since it was almost two, we ran into a nearby McDonald’s for a quick sandwich. I had enough money to pay for both our meals.
We arrived ten minutes late to the meeting. When we entered, everyone turned to look at us. I giggled when I heard Seth let out a loud, “Holy Shit!”