Pretty. No, beautiful. The soft
curves. Flawless skin. Cute little button nose. Black eyelashes. Quiet,
“Ana,” Manny whispered. The word rolled off his tongue more lovingly than any he had ever said before. It was warm, for once. Inexplicably, he felt completely comfortable with that name for the first time. The bed was nice. Sheets white against the soft skin of that bare shoulder in front of him. That face in front of his. Dark hair streaking it. Perfect eyebrows relaxed over closed eyes. Those lips. Such a perfect shape, such perfect texture. Then…what was that? Something…shiny…?
A surge like an electric shock hit Emanuel Martinez in the gut. He lurched upright, fingers gripping the mattress on either side of him as if he feared the whole bedroom were about to tip. Only one harsh intake of air was necessary to bring the bitterish taste of alcohol back from his lips to his tongue. The snapping pain that welled up in his head only confirmed what was beginning to come back: last night, the frat house, the party, the drinks.
Like a reflex, Manny raised his arms around himself. Fingers contacted skin, and he flinched at the sensation of his own hands on his shirtless torso. “No. No, no, no, no. What in the world…? What the—” Hand moving to his pounding forehead, Manny narrowed his eyes at the wall across from him. Daylight streaked the wall in parallel lines, printing it with the negated pattern from a set of window blinds. Manny did not have blinds on his dorm room window. He had curtains. Blue curtains. Blue like the sky. Where am I? ran like a bullet through his head before it was whisked away by the warm sensation of breath against his arm.
Blinking quickly in an attempt to clear his vision—yet still somehow hoping he might be dreaming—Manny turned his head slightly to the side, then down. For one second, then two, he stared. There was a person. Manny’s eyes trailed across that bare shoulder, down along an attractive neckline, grazed over tanned arms gathered under the sheet against a concealed chest, then to that face he had woken up looking at. A flawless, beautifully tanned, half-Asian complexion met his gaze: the cutest nose; riveting lips with a shiny silver ring pierced through the middle of the lower one; beautiful, messy, black hair.
A shuddering breath of horror broke from Manny. Fingers slipped into his bedhead hair and tugged wretchedly at the dark roots. The worst had hit. That person lying beside him was a complete stranger. Not a name, not a voice, not even a previous interaction came to Manny’s head. And here they were, sharing a bed in the morning light, both lacking shirts and possibly other articles of clothing.
Manny’s eyes darted about the small bedroom. Unfamiliar objects surrounded him on all sides. A desk, a chair, a computer, a half-open closet spewing clothes and a vacuum cleaner—“This is not happening.”
Manny ducked out of the bed, half-stumbling to his knees in his charge for the pair of blue jeans lying in a heap by the door. He pulled them on hurriedly, then scoured the floor for the accompanying tee-shirt. This, he found on the other side of the bed. Now, for the shoes—
Manny froze, one hand outstretched for the sock that lay beside one of the bed feet. That back. The stranger had not moved or even stirred. Now, at the opposite side from where he had first viewed his bedmate, Manny’s eyes fell on a small, inked bird on the back of that shoulder. It fluttered over the shoulder blade, a rather crumpled rose in its beak. But the detailed little tattoo was not what held Manny’s attention for another succession of locked seconds. That back. The smooth, defined muscles. Toned, soft, almost—masculine?
“This is not happening,” Manny whispered again. Sock clenched in a whitening fist, he cautiously rested one knee on the edge of the bed. Then, carefully leaning forward, he slipped two fingers under the sheet and flicked it back.
The stranger drew in a soft breath, and Manny scuttled quickly back off the bed. The sleeping figure turned over, shifted an arm, then dropped a hand onto the pillow. Dark hair slipped away from a pierced ear. The face turned towards the morning light coming in through the window, muscles in the neckline flexing beautifully. Then, nothing. The eyes did not open. Breathing continued as before.
Manny let out a quiet, pressured breath. A sculpted chest met his eyes. Tight, toned, and flat. A shy six-pack on an hourglass torso. Almond-colored skin. Asymmetrical haircut that passed shoulder-length on one side. This was not Ana. This was not even female. This was the most beautiful boy Manny had ever seen, and worse yet, Manny had never seen him before.
One more sock and two shoes by a bookshelf. Manny did not so much as pause to tie his laces. Sweaty fingers fumbled on the doorknob for a moment before he was out in a hallway, then jogging down a set of stairs. Red plastic cups tumbled over and rolled away at his skittish steps. And then he was downstairs and realizing where he was. The frat house. He had never left last night. Not remembering going home was one thing. Not remembering stumbling drunken into bed with a perfect stranger was entirely different.
There were people awake in the kitchen. Struggling to rein his thoughts together, Manny brushed a hand quickly through his hair as he passed the kitchen entry.
“Yo. Manny! How was it, my man?”
Dishes clacked and some laughter sounded as the sink faucet switched on.
Manny did not even turn. He felt the front door handle under his fingers seconds before he was striding quickly through the door and out into the winter morning beyond. He did not know any of the frat boys. And thank goodness for that. There was only one person Manny had known at the party last night.
Hands moved suddenly to his pockets. A relieved sigh broke from his lips as his fingers found the edge of his phone still safely tucked into one jean pocket, then the wallet with his student ID and keycard to his dorm room in another. Muttering nervously under his breath, he brought the device to life and opened his contacts. A small exclamation symbol at the corner of the screen warned that he only had five percent battery life remaining. It had been a long night.
Israel. So much for “getting connected.” The thought rang with ironic accuracy in Manny’s head, and he blinked it away. None of this ever happened. None of it. Only provided Israel knew nothing of it—whatever it even was—all of it could simply be forgotten. Manny was never, ever going back to the Zeta Phi house ever again. Avoiding any of the associated frat boys should not be too hard on the large campus of the Southern San Diego University.
Ice crackled and chipped underfoot as Manny made his way hurriedly towards Ellis Hall. It was almost nine-thirty. He would miss his first class. But if he did not lose too much time taking a shower and getting his things together, he could make his second one.
He touched the call icon beside Israel’s name and fumbling hands lifted the phone to his face. For several moments, the dialing tone sounded on the other end. Then, “Hi, Manny. What’s up?”
“I—” The flapping shoelaces of one sneaker slipped under the tread of the other. The phone flew out of Manny’s hand and clattered to the icy sidewalk seconds before Manny joined it on all fours. “Sh-Shit! Ugh.”