It was the most horrible feeling Manny had ever woken up with: a special kind of helplessness. He could not talk to Ana about it. He didn’t know how without risking the chance of it all coming out wrong. But neither could he admit to himself that what he was feeling was, in fact, actually wrong.
“I’m confused,” Manny blurted to Israel late that afternoon while the two huddled over a table in the library, math textbooks spread out in front of them.
Israel tapped his pencil against his chin, and blue eyes strayed across the homework problem set. “On number 12?”
“No. No, on…” Manny’s voice trailed away, and he didn’t know how to finish. Was it wrong? Did it even matter if it was wrong, if it was over, and Manny would never see him again?
Israel leaned over the table and peered at Manny’s notebook. “Oh. You’re still on 9. 9 is easy. It’s just terminology, pretty much. Is there something in the question you don’t understand?”
“No, it’s not algebra.” Manny blinked at the table, his face drawing into a nervous frown. Those eyes, those beautiful eyes. What had happened to his arms? It had been hard to tell exactly how bad the injury was, but both his forearms appeared to have been bleeding—and bleeding across a pretty wide surface. Scrapes, maybe. He had skinned his arms, perhaps. From a fall? Why had he been washing them in the gutter?
“It’s not algebra?” Israel’s gaze rose questioningly to his friend’s face.
Manny swallowed. “I saw him last night. Angel.”
Israel’s face went blank. “You saw…you saw the guy…your one-night-stand guy?”
“It was completely coincidence.” Manny shrugged, eyes straying across the tabletop. “I happened to see him outside.”
The pencil eraser rose to Israel’s lips. “Did you…talk to him?”
Manny slowly shook his head. “Not really.”
“So you two…just kinda…went your separate ways?” Israel’s face became a quirky look of bewilderment.
Hearing Israel say it added a threat to the words. Manny bit his lip hard. Vision focused on a small spot on the table. “He has…the most beautiful eyes.”
“Huh?” Israel raised an eyebrow.
“I’ve never seen such pretty eyes.” Manny lifted a hand and bit at his fingernails.
“Pretty eyes?” Israel echoed. He was studying Manny’s face like a textbook.
Manny shook his head hopelessly. “I don’t even know what color they were. They could have been any color, you know? They didn’t need to be a color at all. They were just…amazing.”
“Ok…?” Israel’s expression was frozen. Then, slightly stiffly, “So you like him, or what?”
“I’m not gay.” The words came in the form of a harsh reassurance.
Israel let out a long, heavy breath. “Manny. You don’t go on and on about how pretty someone’s eyes are if you don’t like the person.”
“But I’m not gay.” Manny brushed a hand over his shoulder. “Look, just forget I said anything.” He turned back to his homework.
Israel shrugged. “Ok.” But he was still watching his friend when Manny glanced up a few minutes later.
“I don’t like him like that,” Manny told himself two hours later when he was alone in his dorm room. “I just feel bad.” He flopped onto his bed and dropped his arms over his head. “Really bad.” Manny rolled over, letting out a guttural sigh. “Really, really bad.” He shrugged. “And I don’t even know why. He’s not my problem. He’s not my responsibility.”
He must have brown eyes. Even if he was half white, Asian people had strong dominant genes for brown eyes.
“God, why am I thinking about this?” Manny clasped his head in his hands and rolled over onto his stomach, burying his face in his pillow.
How was someone that beautiful?
“He should have let me dress the scrapes on his arms,” Manny mumbled into his pillow. “I’m a med student, damn it, I’ve had first aid classes. They’ll get infected. That’ll be painful as hell.” I should have convinced him. Manny raised his head, slightly bloodshot eyes fixing on his desk for a moment. “I wonder if I could find him again…? Would he go back to that gutter on 12th? No, but he might go back to the frat house…Either way, they know more about him than I do.”
Manny got to his feet. He grabbed his coat and pulled it on. I’m insane, his mind was accusing as he left his dorm room and started for the Zeta Phi house. No, I just feel bad, he silently countered. Not for myself. For him. He needs help.
And he was damn pretty. And Manny could not get him out of his head. Insanity might very well have a strong part to play in the footsteps Manny tracked across campus towards the frat house. But throwing some pride to the cold, night wind seemed a mild price to pay for a little relief.
The blue porch lights were on at the front of the Zeta Phi house. Manny walked straight up to the door and gave it three knocks before quickly stepping back. Hands in his pockets, he glanced at the night around him. For a moment, standing there waiting, his resolve wavered. He didn’t know what he was doing. He hardly even knew why he was doing it. Some kind of domino effect had been set off. Manny could only hope there was a break in the setup somewhere, and the toppling would end before his grades were affected.
Manny could hear people and music on the other side of the door long before the door finally opened. When it did, it was to a blast of rock music and an unfamiliar red-haired boy. But it was only moments before the boy apparently realized who Manny was. “Hi, there. Hey, are you…You must be Israel’s friend, Manny.”
“Manny came back?” someone behind the boy asked, a tone of teasing in his voice.
“Back for seconds?” someone else asked.
Manny shivered but put on a smile. “Is Brice here?”
“Nah, I don’t think so.” The red-haired boy glanced over his shoulder again.
Someone else walked up to the door, a boy with a Nirvana tee-shirt. Manny recognized him as the boy with shoulder-length hair he had seen that night beside the corvette. “Brice went off with Cali and some black guy I’ve never seen before. No idea when they’ll be back. Whatcha want him for?”
“Oh.” Manny shifted slightly, lips parting to say something retractive and dismiss himself from that open doorway.
But someone else spoke first. “You dudes are being downright rude right now. Let the dude inside, offer him a beer, sit him down. Come on, who raised you anyway?”
“Who’s your mama, Jimmy?” someone asked teasingly.
The red-haired boy passed a glare over his shoulder, towards the couch behind him. “Not you, Dawson.” He turned back to Manny. “You should come inside. If Brice didn’t leave with a girl, he probably won’t be gone long.”
Manny hesitated. But then he was shrugging. He might as well wait for Brice. And if, by then, his purpose had evaporated…well, good riddance.
But thirty minutes and a beer later, Manny was staring at a wood-panel wall and thinking about that beautiful boy again. This was where they had met. Something had happened in this very living room that had led to them ending up in bed together. A bedroom upstairs was where Manny had woken up that unfortunate morning.
“Who is Angel?” The words eased out of Manny’s mouth with a substantial element of caution. All the talking in the room abruptly ceased, eight or nine pairs of eyes immediately turning on Manny. Someone turned down the music.
Feeling like spiders were dancing on his spine, Manny shifted in his chair. The silence was neither what Manny had been expecting, nor something he quite knew how to face.
“Angel?” The boy speaking had a grin threatening to break across his face. His eyes moved from one side of the room to the other, then back on Manny. “Isn’t Angel that twink you slept with?”
The boy with the Nirvana shirt lowered his face into his hands and let out a loud smirk.
Manny had to remind himself to breathe. He didn’t know these people. It didn’t matter what they knew about him or what they thought about him. All that mattered was getting what he came for. Brice was apparently not the only one who knew about the beautiful boy. No, it seemed everyone knew. The realization made Manny’s muscles turn to stone. He should have foreseen this. He had seen how all the boys had participated in Brice’s little game that night Ava talked to them. It only made sense. If something happened in a frat house, it was guaranteed to be common knowledge among the frat boys. Damn, why did I drink so much? Why was I so stupid to drink so much!? It was too late. “Yes. But who is he? My friend couldn’t find him on the university email registry.”
There was apparently something hilarious in the two sentences Manny had just said. Several of the boys burst out laughing, the others only barely holding it at a grin. Only one did not seem to find anything funny in Manny’s words. Jimmy, the red-haired boy, drew his arms across his chest and narrowed his eyes at the floor.
“So, you do want seconds?” the Nirvana boy wheezed. He was gripping his torso with laughter, struggling to breathe. “Damn, boy, you are not gonna find that twink on the email registry!”
“So stupid,” someone else laughed.
“You know he’s a slut, right?”
Manny’s eyes darted in the direction of that last comment. “So…he’s not a student?”
“Man, honestly—honest to god.” The Nirvana boy put his hand out into the air like he was taking an oath. “Nobody realized you were that drunk when Cali hooked you up. We thought you knew you were about to fuck a whore, ok?”
“It was fair game. Everyone was wasted, anyway,” someone else provided his opinion.
Manny’s mouth had gone dry. His mind seemed to be functioning in slow motion. A faint smile touched his lips, and he shook his head slightly. “Why would you call him that? He…he’s…loose, or something?”
“My man, he is professionally loose.”
The answer was met with more laughter.
Jimmy let out a disgusted breath. Light eyes flickered about the room with heavy disapproval. “Shut up,” he commanded finally.
“Jimmy, you’re just hot under the collar ‘cause you were away at your parent’s house for the weekend,” the Nivana boy poked. “And ‘cause they fucked in your room while you were gone.” He shot a grin at the red-haired boy, then turned back to Manny. His face took on a look of mock regret. “My man, the twink is fucking hot, but not boyfriend material, I’m afraid. He’s an actual, professional, whore. Brice and Cali picked him up off Lafayette Street the night of the party. If there’s a chance you were too drunk to cover up, you might want to get yourself tested.”
“Shit, I dunno if even half the shitheads who had him that night used a condom,” a guy with a mohawk put in.
Manny made a feeble gesture with his finger. He felt numb, frozen. “You…you guys…”
“Dawson, you know you fucked him too.”
“Did not. That shit is gay as hell.”
“It’s not so gay as hell when you’re drunk as hell. I know you fucked him.” The Nirvana boy rolled his eyes. He made a careless gesture with his hand, turning back to Manny with the bored expression of a museum tour guide who had been in his job too long. “It was like two in the morning when Brice and Cali brought him in. Guests-gone-but-the-party’s-still-going kinda moment. Some of the boys ran train on him. You were in the kitchen or some shit, I dunno. We assumed you knew. Anyway, it was pretty rough on the little twink, so we thought we ought to give him a bed for the night.” He made another careless hand gesture. “Cali put him in Jimmy’s room.”
Jimmy moved suddenly from beside the wall, arms tightening across his chest. “After you fucking drugged him.”
Manny’s eyes lifted to the red-haired boy’s face. His heartbeat had become a weak, painful throbbing. His body felt powerless and immobile.
The Nirvana boy rolled his eyes again. “He wanted some K, alright? I asked him if he wanted it, and he said yes. It’s not like I forced him to take it, and shit is expensive, anyway.”
“It’s fucking rape to drug someone and then have sex with him.” Jimmy’s words were a hiss, a hushed accusation with the force of a sledgehammer.
But his words were brushed off with a dismissive wave of the Nirvana boy’s hand. “Psshh. Dude. How do you even rape a whore? I’m not sure that’s dictionaryily possible. Brice paid the twink in the morning. A deal’s a deal. Let the whore do his business.”
“You guys keep talking about this like you’re proud of it, and I will fucking call the cops on every one of your asses.” Jimmy passed a warning finger around the room before turning and disappearing up the stairs.
“Don’t mind poor virgin Jimmy,” the Nirvana boy laughed.
As if watching the red-haired boy mount those stairs had been necessary to remind Manny that he had legs of his own, Manny got to his feet. “I should go.” He turned towards the door.
“Hey, if you’re looking to go another round, you can find him on Lafayette Street,” the Nirvana boy called after him. “Dunno how much he charges, though.”