“Excuse me,” apologized a young woman as she rose from one of the love seats in the dorm lobby and approached me. “Are you Dorian Gale?”
I replied skeptically, “Yes, I am. Who are you?”
She extended her hand to me. “I’m Darlene Foster.” Her blue eyes lit up as she smiled warmly at me. “I’m a reporter with the campus newspaper. I’ve been assigned to do an article on you.” She continued to smile as she quickly added, “That is if you’re willing to speak to me.”
If I weren’t gay, I would probably jump at the opportunity to talk to Darlene. She had a natural beauty that I found appealing. She was small and petite like me. Her brown hair was longer than mine, and it cascading down her back. She didn’t need make-up to enhance her beautiful features. There also didn’t seem to be anything pretentious about her.
“I don’t,” I replied as I attempted to walk around her, but she stepped in front of me. “Please, Dorian,” she begged. “This means a lot to me. It’s my big break for a good story. I’m tired of writing articles on how college students can improve their study habits.” She batted her eyes and asked, “Please?”
“Look, Darlene,” I stated, “I really don’t have anything to tell you.” I walked away, but she continued to walk beside me.
“Are you serious?” she asked excitedly. “Your father is running for vice president!”
“My father is running,” I replied sharply. “Why don’t you go interview him?”
Darlene continued to walk beside me as I made my way to the Campus Pride meeting. Jade, Seth and Sydney were already there. “Come on, Dorian,” she pleaded as she walked quickly to keep up with my pace. “I’ve done some background on you, and you’re an interesting person.”
I stopped, looked at her and laughed. “Me? Interesting?”
“Sure,” she replied. “Your daddy is richer than the state government, but you’re working as a food preparer at Panera Bread. Why?”
I turned and walked away. “I don’t think that is any of your business.”
“No,” she remarked as she ran up beside me, “But I think a lot of people would find it interesting.”
“People need to get a life,” I replied sharply.
She looked directly into my eyes. “And you’re gay.”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” I said as I hurried away.
“Please, Dorian,” she pleaded as she grabbed my arm to stop me. “This is a great story. I promise I’ll only write what you want me to.” I smiled when she batted her eyes at me again.
“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” I giggled. “It may work on your boyfriend, but not me.”
I was surprised when she replied, “Or girlfriend, if I had one.” She smiled shyly. “That’s why I want to do the story. You could be an inspiration to a lot of gay men and women.”
I laughed, “Me? An inspiration?”
“Sure,” she insisted. “Your father is anti-gay, but you still volunteered to be the treasurer of Campus Pride.”
“I didn’t exactly volunteer,” I remarked. “My friends forced me to do it.”
“But it’s still a great story,” she replied.
“Look, Darlene,” I said. “You seem like a really nice person. I’d like to do the story, but I can’t.”
I started to say that it would hurt my father’s campaign, but I caught myself. I stared into Darlene’s pleading face. “You’ll only write what I want?”
She smiled and crossed her heart. “Promise.”
She giggled excitedly and squeezed my arm when I told her, “Okay.”
She reached into her book bag and pulled out a digital camera. “Is it all right if I take a few pictures? You won’t even know I’m around.”
I hesitated a minute before agreeing. I knew that what I was agreeing to could be dangerous. Leo had warned me to keep a low profile. However, even I knew that eventually someone from the media would want to interview me for a story. Since Darlene had admitted that she was a lesbian, then I felt I could trust her to do a story that would reflect positively on my involvement with Campus Pride. Another journalist might try to angle the story to make it appear that I was doing it to damage my father’s reputation.
“I’m on my way to a Campus Pride meeting now,” I informed her.
“I know,” she replied. “That’s why I was waiting for you in the lobby. When I went over to the meeting room and didn’t see you, I hoped you would still be at the dorm.”
I giggled, “You’re good.”
She wrapped her arm around mine as we walked. “We’re going to win a Pulitzer Prize for this article.”
“Or get beat up by a bunch of gay bashers,” I responded worriedly.
Everyone eyed us suspiciously when I entered with Darlene’s arm still wrapped around mine. I introduced her to my friends. When I informed them she was a reporter for the school newspaper, Jade grabbed my arm and pulled me aside.
“Do you think this is a good idea?” As usual, Jade was being the protective mother hen.
After explaining to her my reasons for agreeing to do an interview, she appeared more susceptible to the idea. “How do you know you can trust her to keep her word?”
I grinned and replied, “She’s one of us.”
“Really?” Jade said as she looked back at Darlene.
I giggled and said, “Put your tongue back in your mouth. You already have a girlfriend.”
“No,” she insisted, “It’s not that. Amanda is a fantastic basketball player. I wonder if she’d do a sports article on her?”
“Doesn’t hurt to ask,” I replied as I grabbed Jade’s arm and led her back to the group. Everyone was talking to Darlene and telling amusing stories about me. Seth even told her how Leo had supplied me with bloody marys at the restaurant. I found it surprising that she didn’t take any notes. Perhaps, she found me boring, or else she had a good memory.
Jade was relating a story about Carlton picking me up in the limousine when Cameron approached. “Can I speak to you, Dorian?”
“Sure,” I replied. “What do you want?”
He looked at the group and then back at me. “Can we speak alone?”
“No,” I insisted. “These are my friends. They know everything that’s happened, so I’m not afraid of them hearing anything.”
He suspiciously eyed Darlene. “What about her? I know everyone else.” When I told him she was a reporter for the school newspaper, he politely asked her to leave.
“No,” I replied as I reached out and grabbed her arm. “She’s going to find out about this anyway, so she might as well hear it now.” Darlene gave me a surprised look. “I trust her,” I added.
Cameron sighed, studied me for a second and said, “Your decision.” We gathered closely around him as he informed us about Travis and Raleigh. He again repeated that they were under academic watch, and if I wanted anything more done to them, then I’d have to file criminal charges against them for sexual assault and hazing. He said it would be hard to prove it was a hate crime because most people would merely see it as a prank since they hadn’t physically harmed me or threatened to hurt me.
When he was finished, I told him I had serious reservations about filing criminal charges. Even though I knew I should, I still felt that my life was getting better. I wanted to put the incident as far behind me as I could. Cameron said he understood, and he assured me that if I changed my mind, then he would work to see that justice was done.
After he walked off, I turned to Darlene. “Well, I guess I’ve given you a lot to write about.”
“Look, Dorian,” she assured me. “I told you when we met earlier, I’ll only write what you want me to. If you want me to include this, then I will. If not, then I won’t.”
Jade threw her arm around Darlene’s shoulder and said, “I like this girl.”
“Hey,” Amanda spoke excitedly as she batted Jade’s arm off Darlene. “You’re mine. Don’t forget it.” When Jade leaned over and kissed her, Darlene’s eyes widened. She laughed and then looked around the room.
“Then I’ll have to find my own girlfriend.” I laughed hilariously at the astonished look on Amanda’s face.
Just then, Scooter entered the room. I grasped Darlene’s hand and pulled her away. “Come on,” I said. “I want to introduce you to someone.”
Noah began his usual pacing around the room asking people to have a seat in the circle of chairs placed in the center of the room. More people were beginning to attend, so a second row was added. Since Seth and I were officers, seats had been reserved for our group. Darlene and Scooter sat directly behind me. I found it amusing that they seemed to actually be enjoying each other’s company. With all the tattoos on her body, I wouldn’t think she would be the kind of girl Darlene would find interesting.
Cameron called the meeting to order, and he discussed some of the upcoming activities. When he asked for volunteers for an ‘Outcoming Dance,’ Noah instantly volunteered. I was surprised when Darlene and Scooter also volunteered. Darlene leaned forward and tried to persuade me to join them, but I refused. My life was already becoming hectic. I didn’t need something else to burden me.
There was a hush in the room when Cameron announced that a serious incident had occurred on campus a few days earlier. “A gay student was violently attacked on his way back to his dorm from the library late Sunday night.” There was a collective gasp from those seated around the circle. “As of this afternoon, his condition is still critical. He suffered a severe concussion when three attackers beat him in his head with their fists while he lay on the ground.” Sydney covered her face and began crying as Seth placed his arm around her.
Cameron started pounding his fist on the podium before him. “We’ve got to do something about these senseless assaults on the gay students here on campus. This is the fifth one this year.” He looked over at me. “Just last week, Dorian was humiliated in his dorm by two guys who thought they were having fun.” My face reddened as everyone looked at me.
I watched Cameron when he walked around the podium and started pacing before us. “And what is the university’s response to all of this?” He waited for an answer that didn’t come. “Nothing! Not a damn thing!” People started talking among themselves. It was obvious that everyone in the room was upset. I know I was. However, I was more upset with myself for not doing more to Travis and Raleigh. I felt a degree of guilt for the student’s assault. Perhaps, if I had spoken up, then his tragedy could have been prevented.
Finally, someone shouted out what most of us had been wondering, “Who was the student?”
“He’s a freshman over at Newcombe Hall,” stated Cameron. “His name is Wes Hayes.” Everyone looked over when Jade shrieked and grabbed my arm.
“Oh, my God!” I shouted.
“Dorian,” cried Jade, “Are you okay?” Seth and Sydney looked worriedly at me. Other than Jade, I don’t think I had ever mentioned meeting Wes my first week on campus.
Darlene leaned forward and asked me, “What’s going on?” Just then, Cameron knelt in front of me and asked me if I was all right.
“Yes,” I said as I took a couple of deep breaths. “I was just surprised, is all.” I had only met Wes once, and we had shared a brief kiss. I didn’t know why I had become so upset when Cameron announced that he was the student who had been assaulted.
“I’m fine,” I assured everyone. I could tell by the look on Seth’s face that he didn’t believe me. I looked worriedly at Cameron and asked, “Will Wes be okay?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I hope so.”
“Here!” Jade thrust a bottle of water at me. “Drink this.” My hands trembled as I took it and raised it to my lips. Everyone was looking at me for an explanation. Other than my small circle of friends, I rarely talked to anyone. I knew Sydney and Seth were waiting for an explanation why I had become so upset.
After assuring him I was all right, Cameron made his way back to the front. Once everyone had given him their attention, he said, “I want to form a committee to address the bullshit that is going on at this campus against gay students.” As I looked around the room, it appeared that almost everyone had raised their hand. When Jade glanced over at me, I timidly raised mine.
Cameron seemed astonished by the response. “We only need about twelve students on the committee,” he said. He looked at Seth and me. “I think our officers should be on the committee, if they agree.” When Seth nodded his head in agreement, so did I. He then asked if any students had been the victim of sexual harassment or bullying. About six raised their hands. It didn’t surprise me that Noah had been a victim. However, it did surprise me when Darlene raised her hand. All agreed to volunteer.
I became worried when he asked, “Does anyone have experience in organizing a protest movement?” Two girls stood and announced they had.
One grabbed the hand of the other and said, “We led a protest march at our high school last year when the superintendent refused to let us attend the prom together.” She smiled and kissed her friend. “After half the student body and some parents joined us, he changed his mind.” Some students started to applaud.
“Great,” remarked Cameron. They kissed again and agreed to volunteer when Cameron asked them if they would. He then announced that the meeting was adjourned. However, he asked that those who had volunteered to join the committee remain behind.
“Damn,” muttered Jade as everyone began to stand. “I really want on that committee. We need to fight these fuckers.”
Seth laughed and stated, “That’s why Cameron didn’t choose you. You can’t fight violence with violence.”
“Where in the rule book does it say that?”
Seth stammered a few seconds before saying, “Um, it’s in the Bible.”
“Bullshit,” muttered Jade as she grabbed Sydney’s arm and pulled her away. “It says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” She childishly stuck out her tongue and said, “We’ll be at Burger King when you get done.”
When I sat down, I quickly counted fourteen people. Cameron pulled up a chair and straddled it. He then began to discuss his plans to organize a peaceful march to protest the violence against gay students on campus.”
Noah asked, “Will they let us march?”
“I believe so,” replied Cameron. “As long as we get permission to have it.”
Another student asked, “Who gives permission.”
“Dr. Avery,” replied Cameron.
“Fat chance that will happen then,” remarked Seth. When Cameron asked why he was so skeptical, he explained how Dr. Avery had monitored my activities for several weeks.
“He seems supportive of Campus Pride,” responded Cameron. Everyone looked at Darlene when she burst out laughing.
“Avery is a homophobic dickhead,” she said. “I wanted to write a story about gay life here on campus, and he told my editor he didn’t want a story like that in the school newspaper.”
“Fucker,” someone muttered behind me.
“Okay,” urged Cameron. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I want us to meet this weekend sometime and we’ll plan how to go about doing this peacefully. We’ll need to come up with a date and time, and then I’ll go to him with our plans.”
“How about the twelve of never,” sarcastically remarked the person behind me.
“Joseph,” said Cameron sharply as he looked behind me. He was speaking to a tall, redheaded young man with a scruffy beard. At first glance no one would even suspect he was gay. After a closer look, I noticed a rainbow tattoo on his arm. Under it were the words, “If you don’t like it, blow me.”
I turned and gave Seth a worried look. If Joseph had anything to do with organizing our protest, I was afraid it might become violent. He didn’t seem like the kind of person who would back down if someone got in this face and said something offensive.
Before dismissing us, Cameron asked if we could meet again on Saturday morning. He said he thought by then he could meet with Dr. Avery to see if he had any objections to a peaceful protest. As Cameron was packing up his things and putting them inside a book bag, I stepped up beside him. He turned when he noticed me.
“Is Wes really going to be all right?” I asked.
Cameron shook his head. “I visited him at the hospital yesterday and talked to his mother,” he answered. “She said the doctors are hopeful he’ll fully recover.” He eyed me curiously when I let out a sigh of relief. “Are you friends with him?” Seth was standing beside me and listening attentively.
“I wouldn’t say I was a friend,” I replied. “We met once.”
Cameron finished putting things in his book bag and threw it over his shoulder. “Listen, Dorian,” he said. “I’m going to the University Hospital tomorrow evening to visit him. Would you like to go with me?”
“I...I don’t think so,” I stammered nervously. “I hardly know him. Besides, I have to work tomorrow night.”
“Do you work Thursday night?” I shook my head. “Good, we’ll go then.”
I told him, “I really don’t think he’ll remember me. We only met once.”
Cameron grabbed my arm and led me to the door. “Well, I would like some company.” He turned and said as he exited the door, “I’ll pick you up at six.” He left before I could say anything more.
Seth asked, “How do you know this Wes guy? You and Jade seemed really upset when Cameron mentioned he had been hurt.” I explained to him how we had met at the café. I didn’t tell him about Wes kissing me later.
“If Cameron doesn’t mind,” he said, “maybe Sydney and I will go to the hospital with you. It may help if he knows people care what happened.” I was going to tell him I wasn’t going, but it would only make him suspicious. Besides, maybe Wes had forgotten about kissing me. He did say he had a boyfriend back home.
As we were leaving, I invited Darlene to join us, but she said she had something else to do. I knew what her something to do was when we left the room and Scooter was waiting against the wall for her. They turned, waved goodbye and strolled down the hall together.
On the way to Burger King, I shared my worries about the protest with Seth. “What if it gets out of hand?”
“It’s a peaceful protest,” he assured me. “We just want to bring attention to all the shit that’s been going on.” He stopped and looked down at me. “If anyone should be there, it should be you. Look what Raleigh and Travis did to you.”
I told him, “I think I’m going to the police in the morning and file charges against them.” Ever since hearing what had happened to Wes, I knew it was something I should have done earlier. Allowing them to walk away with only a smack on the back of the hand wasn’t teaching them a lesson.
“Good,” replied Seth as he put his arm around my shoulder. “You probably should have done it when it happened.” I nodded my head. “But it’s not too late to do it now.”
“I hope not,” I replied as we arrived at Burger King.
Seth and I got our order, and then we joined the girls at a booth. They had almost finished eating when we sat down. They were interested in what Cameron had said, and we explained how he was going to Dr. Avery to get permission for a march.
As we talked, Darlene and Scooter walked through the door. After they ordered, Jade motioned for them to join us.
I giggled and asked Darlene, “I thought you had something to do?”
Scooter gave me an evil grin and replied, “Some things you can’t do on an empty stomach.” She laughed when my faced reddened.
Jade poked me in my side and remarked, “He’d never know.” Everyone laughed louder as my face turned a bright red.
We continued talking about the upcoming march. It seemed that everyone was excited about it but me. I wasn’t worried how things would affect my father’s campaign. However, I was sure I would get another visit from Leo when Dr. Avery informed my father of our plans. I was afraid he would use his influence to prevent us from marching.
I was also worried that things were happening too quickly to me. In just a few short weeks, my world was changing rapidly. Before, my life had been practically non-existent. I lived a solitary life with no friends. Now, I was surrounded by a number of close friends whom I didn’t want to disappoint. I couldn’t let them down.
However, things were moving at a faster pace than I could handle. I had never been allowed to make my own decisions. Everything was provided for me. Now I was attending classes and making good grades. So far, I was able to do it on my own. Dr. Avery had offered to provide me with tutors if I needed them, but I wasn’t having difficulty in any class. I was also working. Even though it was a minimum wage job, it still provided me with a sense of independence. I was trying to adjust to my new sense of freedom.
I had also made the decision to press charges against Travis and Raleigh. I knew this could present me with additional stress since I would have to explain what happened to me, and then perhaps testify against them later.
The march could also present problems. I’m sure I would have to defy my father in order to participate. He would try to prevent me from marching. If the media found out, then he would have to address it publicly. He would do anything to prevent that from happening. He might even try to insist that I return home where he could lock me away from public scrutiny until after the election. If he attempted to do that, then I was prepared to run away.
And then there was Wes. We met only once, but we shared a moment that I thought about often. I had never been able to come up with a reasonable explanation as to why we kissed that night. It was so spontaneous, but it meant so much to me. I often wondered if he felt the same thing. Now he was lying injured in a hospital bed, and that was almost an unbearable thought. And what if he doesn’t remember me? What if it meant absolutely nothing to him? Perhaps, he did it as a playful gesture, and it meant nothing more. I would be humiliated in front of my friends if I visited him and he asked who I was.
“Did you hear what I said?” I blinked my eyes and looked over at Darlene. She rolled her eyes and said, “You didn’t, did you?”
I looked over at Jade when she exclaimed, “I think it’s a wonderful idea.”
Darlene rolled her eyes again when I asked, “What?”
“I want to write a story about what happened to you in the dorm,” she explained. “It will be a lead-in story for the protest march.”
I gave her a blank expression as Sydney and Jade expressed their approval.