Chapter One – Insta-hate
A new beginning. It was, after all, what he wanted after all that wallowing in self-deprecation, and it had to be here, at Sunny Hill, away from all the drama. Jonathan sighed as he arranged his toiletries in an orderly fashion on the bathroom shelf. He was more than thankful for the small suite designed to accommodate him and another student, which was a far cry from the dorm doubles and communal bathrooms that were the norm.
Not that before coming here, he had lived in such a place. Before, he had been someone, but like for any other ‘someone’ having to atone for past mistakes, getting down from his high horse and accepting to share living space with another human being were part of the deal.
He frowned as he pushed the toothbrush stand to align perfectly with his shaving cream. “Get used to it,” he addressed his mirror reflection.
Indulging in more self-pity over his current situation was cut short by the front door opening and closing. It could only be his roommate, and while Jonathan would rather go through nail-pulling medieval tortures than face the nightmare that this person had to be, given his luck of late, he needed to face the music sooner rather than later.
He walked out of the bathroom, all the while trying hard to school his face into a neutral expression. Silently, he prayed that his partner wasn’t some jock, but since those usually shared their notoriously loud fraternity houses, the chances were slim.
Talking about small mercies. Jonathan’s eyes fell on a young man, or better said, on a giant backpack that practically obscured its owner almost entirely from view. Not a jock, obviously. His roommate appeared to be small-framed.
He cleared his throat discreetly, which prompted the stranger, who must not have heard him moving about, to turn abruptly and lose his balance. For a moment or two, his arms flailed comically. Fortunately for him, the bed was right behind him, so he landed on a soft spot.
Jonathan hurried to help the hapless young man. “Oh, I’m so terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you all right?”
He offered him a hand, and the stranger took it. A large grin lit up his face. He was nerdy, but in a cute way, Jonathan noticed right away and proceeded to chastise himself inwardly for judging a person by his looks. However, he couldn’t deny that his roommate didn’t look at all like he could pose a threat. Bright brown eyes twinkled at him from under a mop of chestnut hair.
“Uber fine,” the young man replied. “Do you think you could help me get out of this?” He pointed at his huge backpack.
“Of course.” Jonathan hurried to unbuckle the monstrous thing and aid his roommate out of his predicament.
Finally released from his contraption, the guy pushed back the strands hanging over his eyes and offered his hand. “I’m Ray.”
Jonathan shook his hand curtly. “Glad to meet you, Ray. I’m Jonathan. Jonathan Hamilton.”
“Oh, we’re doing full names.” Ray beamed at him. “Ray Franklin.”
Jonathan could barely keep from smiling back. And he had promised himself that he would be more guarded regarding new acquaintances. It was because of his lack of awareness that he had landed in this situation, being forced to change schools before the junior year.
Another promise he had made to himself was to make sure there was no room for any misunderstandings. “I don’t want to sound too forward,” he began quickly, to avoid any stalling rooted in his lack of trust in humanity in general, “but I need to let you know something from the start.”
Ray was dressed in a striped shirt and kakis that both seemed a bit too large for his frame. He shifted his weight from one foot to another. Therefore, he looked fairly harmless. “Sure.”
Jonathan took one deep breath. “I’m gay. I hope that’s not going to be a problem, but if it is, I believe --”
“No problem.” Ray stopped him right away and shot another dazzling smile at him. He leaned toward Jonathan and threw him a conspiratorial look. “To tell you the truth, I only last year came out as straight, so.” He let the words hanging and wiggled his eyebrows.
Jonathan’s lips twitched in amusement. As miserable as he had felt only minutes ago, it seemed as if Ray had just walked through the door with the last remnants of the summer sun.
“Ah, so do I gather that a lot of people simply assume that you’re gay?” he asked.
Ray let out a heartfelt sigh and rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t believe it. You can imagine what it does to my dating game. Girls only want me to be their gay-best-friend-for-now.”
“I had no idea that was a thing.”
“Apparently, yes. Trust me, I accidentally became well-versed in everything gay because of all those misunderstandings. I even watched reruns of Queer as Folk with attempted girlfriend number three.”
“That must have been quite the experience,” Jonathan said, not really knowing how to offer comfort for something like that.
Ray grinned. “Yeah. By season four, she still hadn’t realized I was actually into her.”
“What happened by season five, then?”
“She thought she must have corrupted me somehow and confessed that she didn’t want to turn me straight. At that point, I almost wanted to go along with it and tell her that she was the best conversion therapy ever so she should assume responsibility.”
“But you didn’t.”
“No. I told her the truth. She was really surprised. And we remained friends. Sort of. Let’s just say that I had to finish watching season five by myself.”
Jonathan could feel his cheeks hurting from grinning too much. Whatever Ray had, it was highly infectious. Two minutes the guy was in, and he had made him forget all his worries.
“Well, Ray, I promise I’m not going to torture you with gay-themed shows from fifteen years ago.”
Ray plunked on the bed. “No worries. I actually enjoyed it. But man, this year, I really need to get my dating game in shape. I just transferred here, and I hope that girls will see more in me than just a gay--”
“—best-friend-for-now,” Jonathan completed the sentence. A slow frown made its way up to his forehead. “Then I suppose you won’t want to hang around with me much.” He hadn’t wanted to be so blunt, but directness was just one of those curses he couldn’t shake off if they were the death of him.
“Nonsense!” Ray bounced on his bed, checking the springs. “That’s one more reason to hang out together, besides that you look like a swell guy, and I think we’re going to get along just fine.”
Jonathan had no idea what to say. It was challenging to fight against the warm feeling spreading through his chest. “I do?” he asked hesitantly. “Look like a swell guy, I mean.”
Ray nodded enthusiastically. “You totally do. And you’ll be the perfect wingman. Here is what we’re going to do. Girls will surely want to know about you because you’re so handsome. They will approach me,” he pointed at himself, “because they will think I can help them get with you. And then,” he made a convincing circle through the air with his index finger, “we will drop the bomb on them.”
“The bomb?” Jonathan asked, slightly confused.
“Yes. We will tell them that one of us is gay, and the other is straight, and have them guess. The loser has to go out with me. Score!” He threw one victorious punch in the air.
“That’s quite the plan,” Jonathan agreed. “So, you’re saying that I’m not looking gay?” He was genuinely interested in the answer.
Ray gave him a long and thoughtful once-over. “You do have perfect fashion sense, in a preppy way. But that’s like the only gay thing I can say about you. And when I say gay, I mean fabulous. I suppose people don’t think broad-shouldered, tall, and handsome guys like you are necessarily gay. But,” he pointed again at himself, “lanky, awkward, and nerdy, somehow equals gay in their book.”
“I don’t think you’ve met enough people just yet,” Jonathan offered a smidge of comfort. “Thank you for considering me handsome. If it’s any consolation, you don’t look gay to me. Although it does worry me a little that I don’t look gay to you. I’d rather not have people make wrong assumptions.”
“I don’t label people,” Ray said with another big smile. “So, now that you told your bestie your biggest secret, what’s your dating game?”
Bestie? Jonathan couldn’t remember when that had been established, but since Ray seemed so incredibly happy with the prospect, he couldn’t reject him outright. “I just transferred, like you, so I haven’t yet thought of it.” Not entirely true, but he could unveil his plans later to his nosy roommate if, indeed, they got along well.
“Cool. At least that means that I won’t be the only odd man out. We’ll be the new guys. Maybe even start a band. The New Guys.” Ray made a semi-circle with a sweep of the hand as if he could already see that name up in lights.
“Unfortunately, I’m not in the least adept at playing a musical instrument, and if you heard me sing, you would wish you just developed enough earwax to block the horrendous sounds leaving my throat.”
Ray laughed whole-heartedly. “That makes two of us. Anyway, do you have a boyfriend?”
Jonathan shook his head quickly. “No.”
Ray clapped in glee. “That’s great. We will look together for love this year. I mean, if you’re into love. If you’re into hookups --”
Jonathan shook his head. Hookup was a dreaded word and forever would be in his dictionary. “No, not at all.”
One hookup gone bad had been enough to destroy his reputation and life as he had known it up to that point. His parents didn’t need another shock of that proportion. Only thinking of it made Jonathan feel his cheeks on fire.
“Ah, I dream of a nice girl who won’t mind getting my V card,” Ray said with an exaggerated sigh.
“V card?” Jonathan asked. Did people talk like that?
Ray offered him a sympathetic look. “Too much info? I’m afraid your bestie is not the kind to keep secrets. Also, it’s great that we have two bedrooms. You will hate me soon enough for my sloppy ways.”
Jonathan smiled. “How bad can it be?”
Ray patted his huge backpack. “My entirely life is in here. And not in a particular order if you catch my drift.”
“I see. I’ll let you unpack. I placed my toiletries on the left part of the shelf in the bathroom, but if you prefer it, I can move them.”
Ray waved. “Don’t worry. Hey, Jonathan,” he called after him as he started to walk away. “We’ll have a great junior year. It’s a promise.”
Jonathan smiled at his roommate again. At least, that was out of the way. Of course, he would have to curb Ray’s enthusiasm regarding having some common dating game. Unlike before, when he had made the mistake of thinking with what lay right under his belt, this time, if the opportunity arose, he would go for the safe option.
Which meant, of course, someone who was out and proud and not asking for oral sex on the down-low while pretending to be heterosexual in all the other dealings of his life. Yes, Jonathan had had enough of that to last him three lifetimes, not one.