“COME on in,” the professor said. Bobby Bielecki walked into the familiar office and closed the door behind him. Gregory Hansen sat behind his desk, framed by mounds of papers and books, the shelves above him filled with pots, clay models, bronzes, and even glass, a collection from his thirty years as a professor of fine art. “What can I help you with today?” he asked.
“I need to make sure I have everything set so I can graduate after next term,” Bobby said, opening his messenger bag and locating the paper he needed. “Here’s my expected schedule.”
The handsome, older man took the paper and studied it carefully before pulling out a drawer and fishing in his files. “Let’s run through the requirements.” Pulling out the degree checklist, he began clicking keys on his computer and adding grades beside the classes. “This is easy. If I ever forgot how to write an A, you’d be in trouble.”
Bobby smiled as the man continued working. He wasn’t a straight-A student, mainly because of the general education requirements, but he was a very good student. He smiled to himself as he thought of all those evenings spent with Kenny around the kitchen table, Sean helping them with their homework when they couldn’t help each other.
Professor Hansen finished with the computer and began filling in classes from Bobby’s expected schedule for next semester. “It looks like you’ve got all the classes covered. Have you thought about your senior project?” he asked, handing Bobby the completed check sheet for his reference.
“I’ve tried, but nothing really comes to mind.”
The professor sat back in his chair. “You’ve got a few months before it’s due, but you should start thinking about it.”
“I know. I just haven’t been very inspired lately. Is there such a thing as artist’s block?” Bobby tried to smile, but he’d been feeling this way for a while, and he hated it. Everything was a struggle. “I’ve tried wandering the city, experiencing different things.” The professor looked down his nose, a very concerned look on his face. “I haven’t tried anything stupid,” Bobby said as he rolled his eyes, but after some of the things he’d seen the last few years, he understood the professor’s reaction.
“Inspiration can sometimes be fickle and fleeting, and at other times, a bounty of riches so fruitful you can’t work fast enough to capture it all.”
“I know. There was a time when I could pick up my sketchbook, and my hands would draw on their own. I didn’t need to think. It would just happen. Now, I sit for hours sometimes and nothing comes.”
“Let me ask you a question,” the professor said, leaning forward. “When was the last time you felt like that? When things came to you easily and freely.”
“It’s hard to remember.” Bobby sighed. “It’s been a while.” Quite a while, if I were being honest.
“That seems to fit with what I’ve been hearing from your professors. They all say you’re very talented, bordering on greatness, but there’s something lacking.” Hansen leaned forward again. “As artists, we have to put ourselves into our art; give it everything we have. I think you may be holding back some part of you. What are you afraid of? What is it you’re holding back?”
“I wish I knew. There are times when I can really feel something, but then it fades. I know this has to come from me, and what you’re telling me isn’t a surprise. I just can’t figure it out.”
Professor Hansen smiled a broad smile that lit his entire face. “I think you’re looking in the wrong place, using the wrong method.” Bobby sat forward, listening intently. “The answer isn’t in your mind—it’s in your emotions. You’re trying to figure your way down a path where you need to feel your way. Let your emotions guide you. Find out what makes you feel strongly and then follow it.”
“Thank you.” Bobby got up to leave. He could see another student outside the frosted glass door.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Professor Hansen said. “When you do find what unlocks the emotional well inside, hold onto it for dear life and don’t let go, no matter what.”
“I won’t, professor. Thank you.” Bobby opened the door and walked into the hallway and down to the elevators, passing a number of students who either said hello or waved. It seemed a number of students were doing the same thing he was. Taking the elevator to the first floor, he walked across the polished tile floor toward the exit, slipping on his coat before stepping outside. The cold wind right off Lake Michigan easily cut through to his skin, and he hurried along the sidewalk to the residence hall.
He was chilled to the bone in the ten minutes he was outside—thank God it wasn’t snowing yet. He made a quick stop to get his mail and then called for the elevator, riding it to the top floor.
When he opened the door to his room, he heard, “How’d it go?” Raphael—his real name, poor boy—sat at Bobby’s drafting table, working on an assignment for class. Their room was the epitome of what an art student’s dorm room should look like: a drafting table in one corner, an easel in another. At one time, there had even been a potter’s wheel in there, and before that, an antique printing press Tyler had found for Bobby to use on a project.
“Just as I expected. I have all the classes I need, and my advisor urged me to start thinking about my senior project.” Bobby flopped down on the small sofa, picking up his sketchpad and doodling a drawing of Raphael before dropping the pad on the table.
“Still feeling blocked?” Raphael asked.
“I guess. He suggested I’m looking in the wrong place.”
Raphael put down his pencils and stepped from behind the table, sitting next to him on the sofa. “Maybe he’s right and maybe you’re just feeling unsettled and nervous for some reason. I know a good cure for that.” Raphael smirked as he ran his hand up Bobby’s leg and then quickly dashed across the room as a pillow came flying at his head.
“Tease!” Bobby shouted. He began laughing as his roommate picked up the pillow and heaved it back at him.
“Slut!” The pillow flew back across the room, hitting Raphael’s hip.
“Ballgazer!” Bobby called, as Raphael’s throw caught him square in the chest.
“Cum-dumpster!” Bobby was laughing too hard to throw the pillow back, and Raphael lifted his arms in triumph. “I won. It took three years, but I won!” Bobby thought he was going to do a Snoopy dance right there in the middle of the room.
He and Raphael had met when Sean and Sam first dropped Bobby off. When they walked in the room, Raphael’s eyes had bugged as Bobby introduced himself and his two dads. As soon as Sam and Sean left, the questioning began. “Are you gay? Was it way cool to have two dads?” Bobby had answered the questions, firing back some of his own, and they were immediately friends.
They’d shared a room for more than three years and a bed for about six months during sophomore year. Most people would think the affair, or “affair-ette,” as Raphael referred to it, would have ended their friendship, but it didn’t. They both realized at about the same time that it wouldn’t work. Bobby went back to sleeping in his own bed, and that was that. It did have one side effect that neither of them talked about: they never brought other guys back to their room. It was just one of those unwritten, unspoken rules they both understood.
Not that there’d been a parade of men for either of them. They’d both had brief flings, but no one captured their attention. That is, until lately. Raphael had been seeing a man a few years older than he was, and they really seemed to be hitting it off. Bobby wasn’t sure if he liked this guy, but Raph seemed to be happy, so he didn’t say anything.
“Did Simon invite you to spend the term break with him?” Bobby asked.
Raphael beamed. “He did. But my folks would have a fit, so I’m spending a few days with them and the rest of the time with Simon. He said he’d take me to New York for a few days.”
“Sounds like fun.” He tried to keep his expression happy, but he couldn’t help being suspicious. Simon always made these grandiose plans that either got canceled or changed to something else.
The phone interrupted their conversation. Raph answered it and then handed it to Bobby. “It’s your dad.”
“Hey, Dad, what’s up?”
“Are you coming home during the term break?” His dad sounded so excited.
“Absolutely. I’m looking forward to spending some time with you and Sam. Why?” His inquiry was met by silence, which meant that something was definitely up, and Sean was feeling guilty for some reason.
“Well, Sam got one of those weeks off, and I was hoping you’d agree to work in the store for me.”
Shit, Bobby hated it when Sean sounded guilty for asking something simple. He had always put Bobby and Kenny first. “Of course. Are you guys going away?” Bobby replied hopefully. He couldn’t remember them ever going on a real vacation together.
“Sam’s been looking into booking a week in the Caribbean, and I was hoping….”
Bobby felt his smile deep down. “Tell Sam to book it. I’ll work in the store while you’re gone. No sweat.” Then a thought occurred to him. “When’s Kenny’s break?”
“I think it’s the same week. I’ll call and see if he can help too.” Sean sounded so happy.
Manning the store for a week was the least Bobby could do. Part of him really wanted to see Kenny—the secret part that still hoped—and part of him was nervous about the reception he’d get. Over the last few years, their relationship had grown cooler and more distant. They saw each other only occasionally, and Bobby knew that it was as much his fault as Kenny’s. Even during the summer, Bobby had internships and Kenny often stayed in school or went to summer programs with police departments. Bobby focused his attention back on his dad and they talked a little longer before hanging up.
“Going home?” Raphael asked, sitting back behind the drafting table, hard at work again.
“Yup.” This time Bobby had a huge smile on his face. Maybe going home would give him the inspiration he needed. There was a part of him that still hoped he’d win the struggle for Kenny’s heart.
KENNY hung up the phone, a smile on his face. “What’s got you so happy?” his roommate asked, barely looking up from cleaning his gun. It was one of his favorite pastimes—he did it daily. When he’d first met Zach a few years earlier, his first thought was that the guy was the human incarnation of Tackleberry from the Police Academy movies that Sean loved. Once he got to know him, Kenny realized that his first impression was right on. The man was a gun fanatic. Even though he’d never seen it, Kenny swore the man slept with a gun under his pillow.
“That was my dad. He asked if I was going home for break. It seems they want me to help in the wine store while they’re on vacation.”
“Bummer.” Zach dragged the word out into a sigh. “Weren’t you and Clay planning to go to one of those water hotels in the Dells that week?”
Shit! In his happiness for Sean and Sam, Kenny had completely forgotten. “I’ll have to call and cancel. Sean and Sam are going on their first vacation alone that I can remember, and I’m going to help them.”
“Will your faggy brother be there?” He never looked up from his gun cleaning. Kenny thanked God that Zach had agreed that all ammunition be kept in a locked box. After all, the man cleaned his gun right there in their room. At least Kenny knew it wasn’t loaded.
“I’m gay too, Zach, and I don’t appreciate that type of language.” He turned to stare at his roommate, who actually looked up from his cleaning.
“But you’re cool—he’s so femmy.” He said it without malice, like he was just stating a fact.
Kenny walked over to the sofa and pulled the gun out of Zach’s hand, setting it on the table. “I’ll say this once and only once.” He leaned forward putting his face in Zach’s. “Bobby was abandoned by his mother, spent months in foster homes, and lived on the streets, all before he was fifteen. That femmy man has been through hell and saw me through the hell of my father’s death.” He moved his face close enough to smell Zach’s bad breath. “He’s seen things that would curl your butch machismo hair.”
Zach raised his hand in surrender. “Okay, dude, I give. You hardly ever talk about him, so I thought you didn’t really like him. Is Bobby going to be there?”
Kenny stepped back and picked up the gun from the table, handing it back to Zach. “Yes, he is.” The reason he didn’t talk about Bobby wasn’t because he didn’t like him, but because talking about him made him remember the fun they used to have and how strained their relationship was now. Kenny actually found himself looking forward to seeing him again, especially since he was going to get to spend an entire week alone with him. When he’d first left for college, he’d missed Bobby terribly. It took him about three months before he realized that Bobby was his first love, but by then they were hundreds of miles and two universities apart.
That first Christmas he’d been a fool and kicked Bobby away when he’d tried to sleep with him. Kenny was sure he’d done the right thing, but he knew he’d been way too abrupt and harsh. Bobby had done what he’d asked, but the next morning, he couldn’t look him in the eye, and right after New Year’s, Bobby left and went back to school early.
Kenny had regretted that ever since, and Bobby hadn’t attempted to get close again. Kenny knew he’d hurt their friendship, and he’d hurt the one person he loved and who loved him. Since then, they’d seen each other, but they’d kept their mental and emotional distance.
A knock interrupted his thoughts and he opened the door. Kenny’s current boyfriend Clay breezed into the room. “I just made the reservations for the Dells.” He leaned in and kissed Kenny softly before resuming his speech. “It’s going to be so great.” His deep voice resonated through the room.
Kenny tried to interject, “Clay,” but Clay barely paused to breathe. “The place I found has huge water slides, and I got us a whirlpool tub.”
“Clay.” Kenny said it a little louder and more forcefully. He must have heard him this time because he finally paused in his recitation. “Sean called, and he needs me at home that week. He and Sam are going on vacation, and they asked if I could help watch the store while they were gone.”
“Can’t Bobby do it?” Clay looked so disappointed that Kenny paused for a second, trying to figure out if there was a way he could do both. He was a sucker for those eyes and that hurt look.
“He’ll be there too.”
As soon as the words were out of Kenny’s mouth, he could see a change come over Clay. His eyes hardened, and the lips that looked so cute a second ago nearly disappeared. “So that’s the way it is?”
Kenny squinted. “What are you talking about?”
Clay looked mad enough to spit nails. “What am I talking about? Jesus, you really don’t know do you?” He shook his head. “You’re really sick, you know that?” Clay turned to Zach, “You better be careful, sleeping in the same room with him every night.” To his credit Zach just waved Clay off, but Kenny was riveted, wondering what Clay was driving at. “At night when we’re sleeping together—”
Zach put his hands over his ears and began to recite, “Too much information, too much information.”
Clay looked at Kenny, ignoring Zach completely, “In the middle of the night, you moan and whimper Bobby’s name like he’s your lover.”
Kenny was appalled. He had absolutely no idea his inner thoughts were escaping while he slept. He never remembered his dreams, but he must have been dreaming about Bobby. “I had no idea.”
Clay turned and walked to the door. “Don’t worry about the reservations. I’m sure I can find someone to go with me—someone who’ll call out for me in his sleep.” With those parting words, he stepped out into the hall, slamming the door behind him.
“Is he gone?” Zach asked. “Can I put my hands down?” Kenny nodded and Zach went back to his gun. “Did you just break up?” Kenny nodded again. “That’s too bad.” Zach put the gun away. “Wanna go to State Street for dinner? You could probably use a drink, and I could use a chance to meet some ladies.” He actually bobbed his head slightly, like he was being really cool.
Kenny felt terrible and hurt. He’d really liked Clay, and even though they’d only been going out for about six weeks, he was going to miss him. Clay was fun and a little wild, something Kenny was not. His goal was to follow in his dad’s footsteps and become a police officer in the Milwaukee Police Department, and he knew he had to have a spotless record to be considered. That meant staying away from many of the temptations of college life, not that he minded too much.
“Yeah, let’s go. I could use an evening out, and I’d like to look for something for Sam and Sean.”
“Okay.” They grabbed their coats and left the tiny apartment, walking toward downtown. “Who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky tonight and meet the woman who’ll turn you straight.” Zach started laughing as he pulled the door closed behind them.
Kenny chuckled. “And maybe you’ll get lucky and meet the man who’ll turn you gay.” Kenny began laughing harder as Zach started to cough hard, doubling over in shock. He just couldn’t help himself. The expression on Zach’s face was enough for Kenny to know that Zach would never, ever try that joke again. “Come on, let’s go.” Patting Zach on the back, “Breathe, ya big redneck, breathe.” Zach finally stopped coughing and they continued down the stairs.