I SLOWLY walked into the West Building of South Denver College. The sun beat down on the back of my neck, and I scuffed my worn-out sneakers along the concrete sidewalk. August in Denver was not what I was expecting. The heat had been making me uncomfortable all day, so I was grateful for the cool blast of air conditioning I felt as I opened the heavy door and stepped into the place that was to be my home for the next four years. Growing up in Alabama, I was no stranger to the heat, but I wasn’t used to the lack of humidity yet, or the idea there wasn’t water nearby. I knew I would have to make some adjustments when I moved to Denver, and I was fairly certain, being just eighteen, that I had no idea yet what some of them would be.
The new-student orientation pamphlet in my hand said I was supposed to be looking for Jestus Hall. My phone beeped while I was roaming the main floor of the West Building, trying to find where that lecture hall was supposed to be. I shifted my messenger bag to my other shoulder to make it easier for me to dig my phone out of my pocket, though I was pretty sure I knew who would be texting me. As I slid my finger across my phone to get to the message, I saw that I was right.
Did you find the right building? Call me. We’re worried.
Sheesh. I’d just called my mom a few hours before when I’d woken up at eight to three texts and a missed call from her.
I’m fine. Will call later. I quickly texted back before shoving the phone into the pocket of my baggy jeans. I hadn’t seen many guys on campus yet to figure out how they dressed here in Colorado. But as I walked along the street by my hotel last night after getting into town, I’d realized not many people wore the kind of baggy, faded, and frayed jeans I practically lived in when I wasn’t swimming.
Someone bumped into me, and I rubbed my shoulder as I watched a guy much taller than me barely notice he’d hit me as he laughed at something the girl beside him said. He put his arm around her waist. I kept looking for the lecture hall, hoping I’d find it before orientation started since attending was mandatory if I was going to start school here in two weeks. I was still trying to find the right place when I saw a clock on the wall that said I had three minutes to get there and find a seat. If I didn’t make it in time, I’d have to pack up the few things I had brought with me that were currently in my hotel room and book a plane trip back to Alabama. I’d go back home to my parents, who’d be only too happy to have me living with them for the next fifty years, or forever too. They’d had a bunch of different meeting times, but I hadn’t been able to go to the others. This was the last one, my final shot.
“Lost freshman! Lost freshman over here!”
I looked around to see who was making fun of me, since I was the only person standing around with a map in my hands looking like an idiot, and my eyes nearly fell out of my skull. The guy was at least six inches taller than me, and that would have been without the insanely high heels he had on. He wore jeans that were cut around his large calves and sparkled with glittery designs, making them almost as bright as the silver sequin top he wore. When I was done staring at his shirt and figured out he was smiling at me, I almost lost my nerve to tell him to screw off and not make fun of me.
“Oh, honey, you look positively sad. Come now, tell Co-Co what’s wrong,” he said, putting an arm around my shoulders and pulling me close. He smelled like vanilla and raspberries.
I’d grown up in a small Bible Belt town where church was the main social gathering for the week, and I’d never met anyone like Co-Co before. But I wasn’t judging him or anything like that, more just amazed by him. I was starstruck before knowing anything about him other than he looked like a freaking sparkly angel on top of my mom’s fake Christmas tree.
“I’m trying to find Jestus Hall and I don’t seem to be able to,” I said when I could actually speak again.
Co-Co pulled down his sunglasses, and I got a look at eyes so green I was sure he was wearing contacts. “Well, honey, that’s because you’re in the Northwest Building and you need to be in the West Building. It’s a good ten-minute walk that way if you go through the building, which I would suggest. It’s too hot out there already for running around in the sun.”
My heart dropped. “Oh no. I’m going to be—” I glanced at the clock and winced. “I’m already late for orientation. Now they’ll never let me in, and I’ll have to go back home and—”
“Shush, you. Come on, I’ll take you. They’ll have to let you in when you’re with me.” Co-Co moved his arm from around my shoulders and started walking, his high heels clacking noisily on the linoleum floor.
I struggled to keep up as my messenger bag bounced against my hip. “They’ll still let me in?” I asked him, amazed at my good luck finding him, or rather, him finding me.
He laughed and gave me a quick nod. “Of course. I’m dating the guy running it, so it’s not like he’ll kick me out. I was actually on my way back there, but that building has the absolute worst vending machines. Not a sweet green tea with lemon in sight. You want something to drink, you come here or go to the cafeteria or the coffee shop. You want crappy cookies and cheap pretzels? Then you’re in luck because those vending machines are everywhere. Now, what’s your name?”
“Trey Porter,” I told him as I quickly moved ahead to open another of the heavy glass doors for him.
Co-Co gave me a smile and stepped through. “A gentleman. I like it. Come on, it’s not too much farther now. Hopefully there will be some good seats left.”
I hadn’t even thought of that. “Yeah. Hope so too.”
My phone beeped again, but this time I didn’t take it out to look at it. I knew who it was as I didn’t really have very many friends, especially not ones who would have been keeping in touch after I’d moved away, even if I’d only been gone less than twenty-four hours.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” Co-Co asked me as we walked along some flower hedges and kept to the shade as much as possible between buildings. There weren’t many people out walking on the campus, which surprised me since class was starting in just two weeks, and I’d thought it would be much busier.
I shook my head. “It’s probably just my mom again. She’s a bit….” I struggled to find a good word to describe her. “Overbearing, maybe?” I shrugged, not sure if that was the right word or not.
Co-Co’s lips pursed. “I had one like that once. You have my sympathies. We’re almost there. Just through those doors up there and then a left.” I hurried to open them again for Co-Co and stepped back, giving him space to go through. He gave me another little smile, and I followed into the building after him. I was a bit ashamed I hadn’t paid closer attention because now that I was in the right place, there were big bright signs everywhere telling freshmen where to go. I felt like a complete idiot for not realizing I was in the wrong building right away since I hadn’t seen any signs.
Co-Co pushed the door open and went into Jestus Hall, where someone was speaking at a podium in front of dozens of people all about my age seated around large round tables. I walked behind Co-Co, not wanting the person at the podium to be mad that I’d been so late. It was a weird thing to be worried about, and I felt bad for hiding behind a complete stranger who had been really nice to me, but I was full of weirdness. Co-Co found a relatively empty table and pulled me along with him until we were both sitting.
The black guy at the podium shared a smile with Co-Co, and I realized it must be his boyfriend. They both looked a few years older than me, which made sense, I guess, since a freshman wouldn’t really be leading the orientation. I froze, though, when Co-Co leaned back in his chair and put an arm around my shoulders. I didn’t want his boyfriend to get the wrong idea or anything, especially since I was straight, but the guy just kept talking, and Co-Co didn’t move his arm. Eventually I relaxed; at least I did until I heard people whispering around me as someone brought me a folder full of information. People were saying I was gay, and I became uncomfortable.
But then the guy at the podium was done talking. I think he’d mentioned a policy or two and something about student housing, which I probably should have listened to because I was still waiting to get approval to live on campus, since they’d given my room to someone with the same last name and first initial as me. But honestly, I’d been pretty distracted by the people around me and feeling like I was already screwing up any chance I had of making friends here by not asking Co-Co to move his arm. I got his arm off me anyway, though, when a minute later Co-Co’s boyfriend joined us at the table. Co-Co got up and gave the guy a big hug and a noisy kiss on his mouth that shut up the people around us.
“Here, Bryce, you sit next to Trey,” Co-Co said, pushing us together as he grabbed an empty chair and pulled it close enough to be able to stretch out and put his feet up on it when he sat down.
“Shush!” someone scolded Co-Co as the chair scraped against the floor. Someone new was talking about degrees and such, and I felt fairly safe tuning them out because I knew what I was going for. Or at least I was pretty sure I did. I was going to be getting a human services degree. It sounded easy.
“Hey. So you’re Trey, I take it,” Bryce said, turning to me and offering his hand.
I nodded and shook his hand. “I am.”
“Trey was lost and looked so sad. You should have seen him, Bryce. Poor little thing. You know I have a soft spot for sad freshmen.” Co-Co spoke up from the other side of Bryce.
I flushed in embarrassment and took my hand back to stuff it into the pocket of my jeans. Bryce chuckled. “Yeah, babe, I know you do. So, Trey, you got any questions about campus, classes, any of that? I’m one of the freshman liaisons this year.”
He said it like there was some pride there. “Is that a big deal?” I asked him.
Bryce shrugged. “Maybe. It looks good on paper, at least, since so few juniors actually get chosen, and I want every edge I can get for my master’s program in a few years.”
“I haven’t even thought that far ahead,” I replied, a bit in awe of him.
Bryce smirked and gave me a nod. “There’s plenty of time for that. So, questions?”
“None yet,” I said, not even sure what questions I should begin to ask him. I’d already gotten lost this morning, so maybe he could help me find someone to tattoo a map to my hand. My mom would freak out for sure if I came back with any sort of tattoo, though.
“Bryce, tell him about the party tonight,” Co-Co nearly demanded in the silence of our little table. Someone sitting with us got up after giving Co-Co a nasty look, which he laughed off.
“I’m not big on parties…,” I hedged, already knowing I’d likely say no to whatever it was.
“I’m not either,” Bryce said quietly. He was paying attention to the speaker, much more so than I was, which was a bad thing because it was my freshman orientation, after all, and I turned to at least look at the guy talking to us all. “But it’s at a sorority and, yeah, there’s lots of sex and a fair bit of drugs too. The music is decent, and if you can stand the stupidity of drunken idiots, it’s sort of the kickoff social event for the semester.”
“Will you both be there?” I found myself asking, even though I was still pretty certain I would not be going at all.
“Of course,” Co-Co said as if it had already been decided.
Bryce shrugged. “Probably. So, you in?”
I had no idea if I was or not.