A NEW shimmery violet eye shadow, highlighted with a dusty gray, covered my eyelids. I cocked my head from side to side, watching my reflection in the mirror as the stream of light from the desk lamp caused the new makeup to sparkle. It was bold, daring, and in my opinion, totally kick-ass cool. With a steady, practiced hand, I added a heavy line of smoky eyeliner around each eye in a winged pattern. Thick penciled-in eyebrows with a high arch, a dab of blush to each cheek, and a light layer of gloss over my plum-lined lips completed the look. Damn, I looked good!
I looked over to see my best friend Bo leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest. “What? Too much?” I ran my fingers through my purple-streaked blond hair, fluffing it, giving it a little more height.
“Uh, yeah, you could say that.” Bo rolled his eyes. “We’re going to a frat party, not a rave.”
“Same diff,” I said. Bunch of posturing men, drinking and flexing their muscles as they chased after one conquest or another. The only difference was that at a frat house, the beer would be free and the dance floor for shit. Turning away from an exasperated Bo—I knew that expression on his face well—I grabbed the can of hairspray from the makeshift vanity and gave my hair another couple of blasts of the extra sticky hold. Once I was satisfied every hair was in perfect place and would be able to withstand forty-mile-an-hour wind gusts, I set the can down and turned back to face Bo.
Bo waved a hand in my direction. “And what the hell are you wearing?”
I looked down at my attire and shrugged. Torn and frayed jeans hung low on my lean hips, held in place by a black belt with silver studs. Heavy-soled black lace-up knee boots were hidden behind faded denim so only the black matte leather of the toe was visible. A vintage black Rolling Stones T-shirt, with the classic lips and protruding tongue displayed on the front, completed my ensemble. I hadn’t even added any of the numerous leather and silver bracelets I normally wore on each wrist, no collar or any other jewelry except the diamond stud in my right ear. If anything, I was underdressed.
“What do you mean?” I arched one perfectly penciled brow at him. “Not macho enough?”
Bo threw his head back and laughed. “You look like a punch-drunk drag queen.”
“Fuck off!” I mumbled, but laughed along with him. Punch-drunk drag queen. Whatever!
Stifling my giggles, I ran a critical eye down Bo’s slim body. Boot-cut, dark-wash denim jeans, white, dollar-store tennis shoes, faded blue-and-white-striped polo shirt. One word came to mind: boring and cheap.. Okay, that was two words, but both were accurate. “Better than the thrifty-geek look you’re going for.”
When Bo and I stood side by side, our differences were glaringly obvious, like night and day. He’s the conservative one, while I’ve always had a flair for theatrics and love being the center of attention. No one was surprised when I decided to attend the University of Michigan as a theater major—what had surprised some was that I’d dragged Bo along with me. Bo and I were not only roommates but had been best friends since junior high. They say opposites attract and in this case, the saying was certainly true.
Bo’s real name is Bogart Humphrey, a cruel joke his parents played on him at birth and I promised to keep that secret since I was thirteen, under threat of having my head and eyebrows shaved while I slept. I never told anyone Bo’s real name, as even seven years later, baldness was still a very real possibility.
Bo is tall, a good five inches taller than my own five foot eight inches. He has mousy-brown hair always cut short and parted on the side, wire-rimmed glasses, and had a penchant for shopping at Goodwill for the most dull, nondescript clothing he could find. While I loved makeup, fashion, Broadway, dancing, and visiting art museums, Bo loved math, studied business, and was most comfortable hiding behind me in public—despite our size difference. He was happiest either watching Star Trek reruns or hanging out at conventions with his fellow Trek fans. However, no matter the differences, we’d grown up virtually inseparable since Bo moved into the house next door to mine. We were both only children, the only two boys around the same age in our neighborhood, and for some odd reason, we just worked as friends. One of the most interesting dynamics of our relationship was, as flippant and flamboyant as I was, he accepted me. We didn’t always like the same things, but we took turns and kept score on whose turn it was to pick the entertainment, be it club or restaurant.
While I was always speaking my mind, often times without the assistance of a filter between brain and mouth, Bo tended to be more reserved and quiet, at least until someone disrespected someone he cared about. He’d go from the shy, nerdy guy to the puffed-up protector whenever anyone threw a derogatory slur my way. Bo was raised to be a truly great person, and I loved him unconditionally. I knew he felt the same, but that didn’t mean I didn’t like to tease the shit out of him whenever the opportunity arose.
Bo didn’t say anything else about my appearance, knowing it was a fruitless effort to try to get me to conform to the ideology of normalcy. Normal—whatever that meant—was mundane, and if there is one thing Daniel Anderson Marshal is not, it is boring. I refused to dress like the masses in an effort to “fit in.” Sure, I took some ribbing for it, a few nasty insults tossed my way here and there when I walked by, even had some old guy ask me if I was a boy or girl. I answered by cupping the bulge in my pink skinny jeans and asking, “Would you like me to show you?” Did I also mention that I was a major smartass at times? I loved the shock and wow factor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone that old move away so fast or turn so red. No matter what reaction I got, I’d still rather be an individual dressing the way I want, than a sheep that follows the rest of the crowd.
To prove this point, I grabbed my new white, waist-length coat with black fur trim around the hood and slipped it on. Yes, I’d bought it in the junior girls’ section and I fucking loved it. All soft and snuggly. Loved the way the fur felt around my face when I put up the hood. I’m a very tactile, as well as visual, guy.
“Okay, now I’m ready.”
“Don’t forget your Hello Kitty purse,” Bo said, brushing past me to grab his simple tan golf jacket from the back of his desk chair.
“Tsk, tsk,” I chastised. “How many times do I have to tell you, the Hello Kitty purse matches the pink fur boots, not the black gothic punk boots?” I pushed out my hip and placed a hand on it. “Jeez, Bo, can’t you even remember that fashion simplicity? Oh. My. God! Bag must match the footwear,” I told him overly dramatically and then stomped my foot to complete the effect. “Always.”
Bo suddenly stopped with his coat midway up his arms, eyes wide. “You don’t actually have one, do you?”
I just rolled my eyes at him as I stepped out of our dorm room. No, I didn’t have a Hello Kitty anything—the yellow boyshorts with the black outline of a popular kitty doesn’t count, since I’d never actually worn them, they were a gift—or a pair of pink fur boots, I considered going on a little shopping trip, just to drive Bo crazy, but there was no way I was wearing kitty anything. Bo complained about my antics sometimes, but I knew he liked them. I kept him from living a slow, painfully humdrum existence. Secretly I think he lived vicariously through me.
I SET my boot on the first step leading up to the frat house and my nerves made themselves known by the jittery feeling in my stomach. I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders for the shit storm about to be unleashed. I hated frat parties. Add me to a cesspool of alcohol, combine a few alpha jocks, and stir in a little macho bullshit, and it’s a recipe for disaster. However, Bo was pining after some chick who would be there, and since he’d also grudgingly attended the ballet with me, I owed him.
Stopping on the top step, hand on the doorknob, I looked over my shoulder at Bo. “She better be worth it,” I warned, then cocked my head and gave him another onceover. I sighed exaggeratedly. “And take off that butt-ass-ugly grandpa coat or you’ll never get the chance to find out if she is or not.”
Ignoring the incoherent grumbling from Bo, I opened the door and stepped inside. I was hit with a thick cloud of smoke, my eyes instantly began to water, and the stench of cigarettes, alcohol and pot hung cloyingly in the air. It made me nauseated, and I wrinkled my nose in disgust. My pulse pounded along with the loud music blasting from crap speakers. I use the word music lightly here, since I had no idea what song was playing—the distortion made it nothing more than a thumping bass of noise.
“You owe me,” I mouthed to Bo.
Bo nodded, shucked out of his coat, and hurried past me, disappearing into the throng of partygoers, no doubt on the hunt for his love interest. After walking over in temperatures in the thirties, the room felt stuffy, and I removed my own coat and tucked it under my arm. Might as well find a drink and a quiet corner. I sighed and hoped Bo would either hook up with his honey and I’d be able to sneak out before too long, or better yet, Bo would discover she wasn’t here and wasn’t coming and we could get the hell out of Dodge.
Many of the classier fraternity houses around campus, like the Greek houses, tended to be turn-of-the-century homes, eloquent with nice furnishings and stone fireplaces. Even the low-key frat houses were nice, reflecting the type of people who comprise the fraternity. I was beginning to suspect this place wasn’t even a fraternity, but rather a big party house. There were no insignias hung on the dingy gray walls; the furniture was mismatched and torn. Hell, even the Deltas in Animal House had fucking insignias. This place was just a big, nasty stinkfest. I’d seen boarded up and abandoned houses that looked better than this. The only difference was this dump had electricity.
As I made my way farther into the room, one guy openly sneered at me while another looked at me with a confused expression. Some of the females stared with the same questioning look minus the sneer, others pointed and giggled, and still others examined me with obvious interest. I ignored them all. My only concern at that point was finding the keg, having a beer, and trying to figure out how long I had to stay before I’d fulfilled my obligation to Bo.
I covered my nose with the back of my hand as I moved into the dining room. Unbelievably, the stench was worse in here. The worn and matted carpet hadn’t seen a broom or a vacuum in years. The peeling wallpaper was filthy; a nasty yellow film covered it. The odor of stale beer, sweat, and what I suspected was the sour smell of vomit was strong enough to overpower the nasty stink of smoke. From the twenty-plus people crowding around the beer pong table, it was a popular hangout, despite the disgusting conditions. I couldn’t help but think, How the fuck can you people stand this? But I didn’t ponder it long. Nausea made the saliva pool in my mouth, and I lengthened my steps. I had to get out of there before I ended up adding to the upchuck smell. Bo’s lust interest may have had a good reason to be there, but I still planned to kill Bo for making me come.
I forced my way past the crowd. Just as I made it into the kitchen and spotted the holy grail of beer—the keg—a tickling sensation started at the base of my neck. The hairs there were literally standing straight up as I was hit with the overwhelming feeling I was being watched, but when I scanned the room around me, I didn’t see anyone staring at me.
To my right, there was a girl sitting on the kitchen counter with a dude standing between her spread legs as he devoured her mouth while his hands pawed at her ample breasts. They were really going at it, humping against each other, eyes closed, and moaning. I seriously doubted they were aware of anyone in the room with them, so intent on each other. There was no one to my left, and the view out the window showed a large crowd of people on the back deck. I leaned closer to the scum-covered pane, straining to catch a glimpse of someone looking in my direction, but no one was. Shaking off the uneasy feeling, I rubbed at the back of my neck. I figured it was just the smell finally getting to me. My stomach was still queasy and I felt dizzy. I grabbed a cup from the middle of the stack and filled it with foamy brew.
I took a sip, crazily thrilled that it was cold, turned, and froze. I mean, I just fucking froze with that Solo cup against my lips, breath stuck in my throat when I met bloodshot, steel-gray eyes.
Leaning against the wall in between the dining and kitchen areas, arms across his chest, was a broad, muscular guy, staring at me intently. There wasn’t anything extraordinary about the man. I mean, he was good-looking, in that typical all-American jock way, but I’d seen better. He had dark brown hair cut short, and at least two days’ growth of stubble on his square jaw and chin, giving him a rugged look. There also wasn’t anything remarkable about the way he was dressed—a blue U of M sweatshirt and faded jeans—but his gaze? It was as if he wasn’t just looking at me, but inside me. As if he could see past the flash, the flesh, and right into the very center of who I was, where I hid my secrets, desires, kinks, all of it. Don’t ask me how or why I felt that way just from the look in his eyes, but I did and it freaked me the fuck out.
A shudder ran through me and it was enough to break the spell I seemed to be under and pry my eyes from his. I lowered my cup slowly, a slight tremble in my hand. The stranger didn’t say a word, just continued to stare. Although I had lowered my eyes, I could still feel his on me, in me. Totally off-kilter, I gave him a tight smile. “Nice party,” I said without looking up. I turned on my heels and hurried out the back door in search of Bo.
I found him sitting on a log in front of a small fire burning in a rock-lined pit. “Way to ditch me, bastard,” I complained as I took a seat next to him.
“Sorry about that,” Bo muttered, then more enthusiastically said, “This is Katie,” as he pointed to a cute red-haired girl next to him. “Katie Lenard, this is my best friend, Danny Marshal.”
I reached across Bo and extended my hand. “Hi, Katie. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Although there was a moonless and starless dark sky above, the fire gave off enough light to see Katie’s pale skin flush dark. She accepted my offered hand and shook it. “I’ve heard a lot about you as well. Nice to finally meet you.”
The tone of her voice was meek and matched her size, but for a tiny thing she sure had a firm handshake. She also had a wide, beautiful smile and the flush of her skin highlighted the spattering of freckles across her button nose. She was cute, not flashy, but rather reserved in her barn coat, blue-and-gold scarf, and jeans. I could see why she appealed to Bo. She was quietly beautiful, if that made sense.
The cool fall wind blowing against my back caused me to shiver and I slipped on my coat. “All of it true, I’m sure.” I shot Bo a look that said, “You better have told her how great I am.” He just smiled.
“So you’re a theater major? I love the theater. I would never have the nerve to actually get on a stage, but I love going to watch. I envy you that.” Her hands moved wildly as she spoke. “Oh, that is the cutest coat I’ve ever seen. Where did you get it? And your makeup is beautiful, I mean like, just wow! Your eyeliner is amazing.”
Jesus, girl, breathe!
I looked to Bo for some help, but he just continued to smile.
“And your hair, man, I wish I had the confidence to do something that bold. I always plan to get something fun when I go to the beauty shop, but I always chicken out at the last minute. It must take a long time to style it like that. Do you do it yourself?”
Katie’s eyes went wide, her face turning a bright shade of red, when Bo chuckled. “Oh God, I’m so sorry. I tend to ramble when I’m nervous.” She covered her face with both hands.
“It’s okay,” I said easily. “Hey, at least you didn’t ask if I wanted to be your BFF and invite me over for a pajama party.” It annoyed the hell out of me when chicks asked me that. Unfortunately, I’d been asked more than once. Like they think just because I could apply makeup and had a thing for really cool hairstyles, it’s enough for them to want me as a best friend. People like that who base their friendships on such superficial crap are morons. My usual response to dipshits like that was “Wouldn’t you rather have a puppy to dress up and show off?” But I knew Katie hadn’t meant anything; in fact, she was rather complimentary. I did have “the cutest coat ever,” and I was “just wow.”
She dropped her hands quickly, an appalled expression on her face. “I would never—”
“Katie, he’s kidding,” Bo assured her. “Although”—he quirked a brow at me—“I think he might be a little disappointed that you didn’t want to have a PJ party with him.”
“Shut up,” I grumbled, the smile lessening the harsh words, and bumped Bo’s shoulder.
I was a little nervous at the thought of asking Katie a question, afraid it would send her off on another long-winded chatter, but I didn’t want to be rude and I wanted a distraction from the eerie feeling that was still gripping me from the encounter in the kitchen. I set my beer on the ground and zipped up my jacket, before grabbing my cup once again and taking a long pull. “So, Katie. How did you meet this lug?” I nodded toward Bo. “Are you a business major also?”
She looked relieved for the subject change. “Hotel and Restaurant Management. We sit next to each other in ECON class.”
Over the next half hour, I sipped on that beer and added a nod and a “yeah” where it seemed appropriate, as Bo and Katie talked about their shared class and professor. But I really didn’t care what Professor Steward said or assigned and was only half listening. To be honest, I was bored out of my fucking mind and I figured by the time I finished the now warm brew, I’d have put in a long enough of an appearance to be considered even with Bo for the ballet.
Focusing on the yellow and orange flames as they danced and shot sparks of light upward, I took another sip from my cup and jerked, spilling the remainder of the beer down my front when someone sat next to me, hitting my arm.
“What the hell, you clumsy shit?” I sputtered, wiping the spilled brew from my jacket. I looked over, and for the second time that night, I did a great imitation of a snowman and froze. Sitting next to me, glaring, sat the stranger I’d encountered earlier, and he didn’t look as if his mood had improved.
“You bothering my sister?” The man’s breath stunk with the stench of alcohol and his words were slightly slurred.
“Lance!” Katie yelled, coming to her feet, the angry tone of her voice grabbing my attention. She placed her hands on her hips, eyes blazing when they landed on her brother.
Brother? Just fucking great!
“No one is bothering me. Now. Go. Away!”
I looked back to—are you kidding me?—her brother, only to discover he seemed to be completely ignoring his sister, intently focused on me.
After a long, awkward moment of silence, where the big jock brother burrowed those gray eyes into me with what appeared to be contempt, he asked, “Do you suck dick?”
For what felt like moments but was probably mere seconds, everyone went quiet, frozen, whether in shock, outrage, or confusion as each processed Lance’s crude words.
“Lance!” Katie screamed again with outrage, breaking the silence.
Okay, I hadn’t seen that one coming, or maybe I did. I get a lot of people making assumptions about me. I guess I could have just responded, “I do, in fact, and quite enjoy it, thank you very much. Do you?” But I was feeling particularly evil considering the way he’d affected me, and let’s just say I don’t like being unbalanced, shocked, or left speechless, and Lance—really? Her goddamn brother?—had done all three.
“Why? Does my breath smell like dick?”
The jock asshole just stared, his menacing expression turning to confusion.
Bo’s hand landed on my forearm. Ignoring Bo’s touch and Katie’s continuing rant at her brother, I held Lance’s gaze. He continued to stare at me without a word, as if he were waiting for me to actually tell him whether or not I did. Each second of silence just stoked my irritation and, I admit, gave me time to throw off the shock and come up with a witty retort.
I cupped my mouth with one hand and inhaled deeply, as if I were attempting to smell my breath. “I thought she tasted funny. That cheating bitch! I’ll kill her!” I jumped to my feet and stomped away. Let him try to figure out what the hell that meant. Although the dumbass was probably too stupid.
Whatever. I was out of there.
I kept walking. God, I hate assholes. What I despise even more than assholes are dipshits who think just because someone is gay, they can ask them anything they want. Be as crude as they want when asking about their sex life. Well fuck that. You never hear anyone ask a checkout girl or their kid’s teacher if they suck dick or take it up the ass. Why the hell people think it’s okay to ask a gay dude is beyond me, and honestly, beyond fucking rude.
“C’mon, Danny, wait up,” Bo pleaded.
I stopped and waited. This wasn’t Bo’s fault.
“He’s drunk and he’s an asshole. Ignore him, man.” Bo looked back toward the fire and smiled. “From the way Katie is handing him his ass right now, he won’t be bugging us any more tonight. Come back to the fire.”
I followed his gaze to see Katie’s mouth going a mile a minute and one of her fingers stabbing into Lance’s chest. “Pffft. As if I’d let a douchebag like that run me off.” I rolled my eyes. “You know me better than that.”
“So you’ll stay?”
“Not a fucking chance. If I have to watch you and Katie making goo-goo eyes at each other for one more minute, I’ll gouge my eyes out. I’m going to head back to the dorm.”
Bo looked a little distraught, looking back and forth between Katie and me. Finally his shoulders slumped. “Just let me tell Katie I’m leaving and I’ll walk back with ya.”
One thing about Bo is he’s loyal as hell. He’d be cranky if I agreed, but he’d come with me, blaming himself because I’d gotten upset. Then he’d sit and pout the rest of the night. Yeah, like I wanted to deal with that shit. “Nah, I’m just going to crash anyway. I’m sure you’ll have way more fun here. She’s a feisty one, that Katie.”
Bo briefly glanced back in Katie’s direction and smiled. “That she is. You sure?”
“Geeze, papa bear, it’s no big deal. I was looking for an excuse to bail.” I gave him a shove. “Go on, I’ll see you later.”
I cut through the side yard to the sidewalk and headed back toward the dorm. Katie’s brother was a total asshole, plain and simple, and kind of creepy with the way he’d seem so fixated on me. The guy’s eyes were just—I shuddered and it had nothing to do with the cold. The way Lance had looked at me, the way I’d felt, really did a number on me, and I wrapped my coat tighter around myself. I’m pretty good at reading what people were thinking and feeling, but Lance, I just couldn’t quite get a read on him. I mean, I’d seen what I thought was disgust, his crass words only intensifying that feeling. I could have sworn it was lust, but I just couldn’t be sure, and it bugged me.
By the time I made it back to my room, I’d decided the guy was nothing more than a major jerk without a sliver of manners in that big jock body, but at least meeting Lance hadn’t been completely a bad thing. He’d given me an excuse to get out of frat party hell. I’d made up for the ballet, and now it was my turn to pick. A smile curled my lips when I remembered the flyer I’d gotten for an upcoming drag show.
Bo would so totally hate it.
Bo didn’t return to the dorm room after the party, but I hadn’t expected him to. He’d texted that he and Katie were going to hang with some of Katie’s friends and pull an all-nighter. That was fine with me. I was in a shit mood, restless, and I didn’t want to hear all the “Katie is so hot, Katie is so awesome, Katie did this, Katie did that.” I was happy for Bo, really I was, but Christ, a person could only hear so much about Katie before he fucking lost it.
After showering and scrubbing my face, I crawled into bed, hugged a pillow to my chest, and tried concentrating on the soothing mood music playing through the CD player. It was designed to relax: rushing water, the wind rustling through the trees, birds singing, and melodic pan flutes. It normally worked, but not this time. I tried to focus on the sounds around me, taking slow even breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. But the harder I tried to relax, the more tense I became.
The thought of the way Lance had looked at me—I’d convinced myself I had in fact seen lust—caused my body to hum. It was creepy and intense. The glint of danger in those gray pools—so, so dangerous—both frightened and excited the hell out of me.
I didn’t sleep a wink, just tossed, turned, and tried to get Lance out of my head. But when dawn broke, I was still edgy, my thoughts all jumbled. I spent the entire Saturday trying to stay focused on my lines while in rehearsal for an upcoming production, but the rest of the time, I was pacing the tiny dorm room like a caged animal. I was exhausted, yet too wound up to rest. It was maddening. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was about Lance that consumed my thoughts.