The small placard to the right of the dorm room door read “Barclay, B.” Heydn was in the right place; this was the room assigned to him, and the summer campus was almost empty, but he knocked anyway because that’s how he’d been raised. After a count of ten, he knocked again. After another few seconds, the door opened with a jerk that telegraphed the occupant’s irritation as clearly as the scowling face.
“What do you want?”
Heydn smiled broadly, his default response. “Hey. I’m Heydn Case. I’m supposed to be stayin’ here.” Heydn held up a piece of paper that was ignored. “Maybe I’m in the wrong place?”
It certainly seemed possible. Though the sign on this handsome brownstone building marked it as the senior boys’ dormitory, the slight figure in the doorway was not so easily labeled. Long lank hair clung like black seaweed, partially obscuring androgynous features, and the baggy dark clothes gave precious few clues as to what was underneath.
Heydn’s nervousness grew and his smile widened to a grin that he feared made him look like the bumpkin he was. “You’re Barclay, right?”
“School hasn’t started yet and anyway I’m not supposed to have a roommate.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but this is where they told me to go at the office.”
“And you always go where you’re told to?”
“If I say yes, are you gonna tell me to go to hell?”
“As it so happens…yeah. Those would have been my next words. Shit! They told me I wouldn’t have to room with anyone, those frelling ’nads.”
“What do you suggest we do about this?”
“I’ll have to…” Blue paused. “None of your business, but I guess I can’t leave you in the hall until tomorrow morning. Well, what are you waiting for? Drag your crap in here.”
Heydn snatched up his bags and hurried in, kicking the door closed behind him. “Where do I sleep?” he asked.
“If it isn’t immediately obvious which bed is mine, you take the one on the left side…for tonight.”
“Plannin’ on switchin’ bunks?”
“Is that what passes for humor where you’re from? I meant that you’ll only be here for one night.”
“That would sure explain why you haven’t bothered to introduce yourself.”
The grouch finally looked Heydn in the face; his eyes were as dark as the kohl that outlined them. “My name’s Brooke Barclay,” he said. ”If you ever call me that, I’ll curse you and I mean it. If you have to call me anything, you can call me Blue.”
“As in blue balls?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Blue sighed. “Next time I’ll be sure and give you a frame of reference that you can relate to. Now I’m going back to what I was doing before I was interrupted.”
“Whoa. I didn’t expect the welcome wagon, but I didn’t expect the welcome tank, either.”
“Expectation is the bitch mother of disappointment.”
Heydn blinked. “I’m startin’ to see your point. Why would I want a room with anybody that looks like a sixteen-year-old girl and talks like a snooty professor?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?”
“Am I bein’ graded?”
“Every day of your life.” Blue turned to the desk beside the right-hand bed and sat down in front of his laptop.
Heydn watched the other young man for a few seconds before he carried his bags to his bunk and pulled out a few items. “Bathroom?” he inquired.
Blue didn’t look away from the screen. “It’s the only door at this end of the hall. We share with this side of the floor. That’s six other guys once school starts.”
“Uh-huh. So what’s the man-to-toilet ratio?”
Ignored, Heydn took his towel and toothbrush down the hall. The bathroom was large, with four stalls, four sinks, four showers, and one long urinal. It smelled of damp overlaid with the cloying perfume of scented piss cakes. Oddly comforting, it was the odor of every communal bathroom he’d ever been in. Even the mirrors over the sinks were the same, unframed and flecked with tiny specks of shaving cream, toothpaste, and God knows what else. Despite a recent haircut, Heydn himself looked just the same as he always had as he grimaced at his reflection: ordinary dark blond hair, standard blue eyes, the kind of features people generally meant when they used the term “all-American boy.” He was nothing special in his estimation and so far, it seemed like the world agreed with him—especially his new roommate.
Heydn always hoped it would be different when his mom’s job took the two of them somewhere new, but it never was. He was always roundly ignored by the popular kids at school who could smell his lack of money, and he wasn’t quite weird enough for the outsiders, or geeky enough for the nerds, and he wasn’t a stoner; he just didn’t quite fit in anywhere. Resolving to go to sleep as soon as he got back to the room, Heydn finished up and turned off the lights.
Blue didn’t acknowledge Heydn’s return, but Heydn was caught by the glimpse he got of Blue’s monitor. “Hey! That’s ‘Demon Armageddon’!”
“Yes, it is. My, what a big grasp of the obvious you have.”
“Man, I love that movie. Have you seen it before?”
Blue deigned to shoot a withering glance over his shoulder.
“Dumb question, I reckon,” Heydn said. “Oh, hey, I love this part comin’ up.”
“Of course you do. Everyone loves wing-burst.” Blue referred to the scene where the Demon of the Red Desert revealed his true nature and enormous bat wings sprouted from his back in a sequence both gory and majestic.
“It’s an amazin’ blend of computer graphics, models, and prosthetic makeup. Still holds up after almost seven years.”
“Are you some kind of techno-geek?”
“It’s just an opinion. Forget I said anything.”
“What did you think of ‘Demon Resurrection’?” Blue asked as Heydn walked to the other side of the room.
“The title is ‘Demon Regeneration’,” Heydn replied. “Did I pass your little test?”
Blue snorted. “You’ve barely finished writing your name at the top.”
“But I can write my name. That must count for somethin’.”
Blue fought it, but he couldn’t keep his sneer from dissolving into a grudging smile. “So you’re not a troglodyte like ninety-nine percent of the inmates. I must have a medal around somewhere.”
“That’s okay. I’ll settle for you treatin’ me civil. I got nothin’ against Goths, but I’d appreciate it if you’d cut me some slack with the attitude.”
“I’m not a Goth, and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop categorizing me.”
“Dude, you’re dressed in black. Your hair is black, and you’re wearin’ some kind a vampire makeup. If you don’t want people to think you’re a Goth, you might wanna change one of those things.”
“As if I care what people think.”
“Okay. I get it. You are what you are, and if folks don’t like it, that’s their problem.”
“Wow,” Blue said in a monotone. “You really do understand me. I’m going to try harder to make friends, and I’m going to stop and smell the roses. How can I ever thank you for showing me the world from a different perspective?”
Heydn chuckled. “What a wiseass; I’m impressed.”
“Yeah? Welcome to the world’s smallest fan club.”
Heydn’s gaze went to the monitor. “Hey, check it out. Blood Maelstrom’s first appearance on screen.”
Both young men gave their attention to the screen and the next half-hour passed in near silence as they shared a common passion for the Amer-Asian blend of the sword-and-sorcery genre. Heydn’s admiration was more for the artistic achievement, while Blue’s had a strong streak of wish fulfillment running through it. However, both agreed that the “Rising Demon” series was killer and most definitely the best of the breed. When they discovered that they both loathed the anime series “Princess Demon Rose-Pink,” there was no denying that a bond was forming. Blue resisted, trying to maintain his lone-wolf pose, but he couldn’t deny how nice the camaraderie felt. Heydn was just happy to be making a friend so quickly.
Blue and Heydn spent most of the next day holed up in their room watching videos. Heydn was duly impressed with Blue’s collection and shared his own small but distinguished library, brought back from his mom’s frequent trips to Asia. They found they had more in common than they would have thought at first. At one in the morning, they were still awake, watching a compilation and polishing off the pizza they’d ordered for dinner several hours earlier. Though Blue rarely touched alcohol, he accepted the beer Heydn offered—his fourth, if anyone was counting. Both young men were very relaxed, leaning back on pillows piled against the side of Blue’s bed, legs stretched out toward the laptop on the floor in front of them, enjoying the classic scenes strung seamlessly together and set to kick-ass music.
“Uh, hang on a second,” Blue slurred as one sequence ended and another began. “You might not want to see this one. The guy that put it together is kind of…out there, you know? I only know him from the ’Net. He’s a wizard with graphics and noise, but I don’t interact with him anymore. Like I said; he’s out there.”
“Hold on! What is this? Hentai porn?”
“Um, sort of. Are you familiar with the term yaoi?”
“Yowie? Is that the boy-love one? I might’ve heard of it.”
“Spare me the sarcastic tone. I’ll skip ahead.”
“That’s okay; let it run. I’m not scared.”
“You sure? It starts with the big-boob Hentai chicks, but that’s supposed to be ironic, or something. It switches from cheesy nudes to…” Blue paused as a close-up of a very well-drawn cartoon penis penetrating a very well-drawn cartoon anus appeared on screen. “To some rather hard-core man-on-man action.”
“You like this stuff?”
“I told you; someone sent me this.”