There I was, moving into the dorms at Franklin U, and not into the shared party house I’d lived in my freshman year. Last year had been all about football and afterparties, not schoolwork. Which was why my grades tanked, and why I was one failed class away from being kicked off the team.
Why I needed to live on campus, and find myself a tutor.
Actually, now that I thought about it… that was a really good idea.
And yes, there I was, equal parts excited and dreading to see who my new roommate would be… Until Cobey Green’s smiling face appeared at the door. A huge football player, loved by everyone, gorgeous, rich, and out of the closet.
Everything I was not.
It didn’t help that he was genuinely a really nice guy. It didn’t help that I could make him laugh, and we could talk so easily, and it certainly didn’t help that we started having private tutorials which ended up way more private than I’d ever dared imagine.
I’d ranked top of my class in every subject since the first grade yet there I was falling stupidly in love with him.
This was going to be a hell of a year. And one very steep learning curve for both of us.
“You’ll thank us one day,” Mom said.
I was in the backseat of the car, having flashbacks of when I was thirteen and my parents had enrolled me in a summer camp for mathletes instead of football. Only this time, they were moving me back to college, but not back to the fun house where I’d spent my first year. Oh no. They were moving me into the dorm. Why?
Because I was failing school.
I didn’t thank them when I was thirteen, and I wasn’t thanking them now.
Sure, they meant well. But come on! I was a nineteen-year-old guy on the college football team. My education was secondary to my social life. Well, and to my football life, so make that thirdary . . . if that’s even a word.
And therein lay the problem. Or so my father had said. School needed to be a priority.
So yeah, a great start to the new school year.
I was trying not to be mad about it. While I wasn’t thanking them, I could see their point.
“And who knows,” Dad said brightly, eyeing me in the rearview mirror as he drove. “Your new roommate might be nice. A good influence, perhaps.”
Did I just hear him correctly?
“I’m sorry, my new room-what?”
“Your new roommate.” Dad shot Mom a panicked look. “You didn’t tell him?”
If Dad looked panicked, Mom looked stricken. “Didn’t you?”
“Didn’t tell me what?” It came out as a yell-squawk. I leaned forward through their front seats so I could try to see their faces. “A roommate?”
“All the single rooms were taken,” Dad offered.
I slumped back in my seat. They gotta be fucking kidding me.
But no, they weren’t.
“It won’t hurt to make friends outside of your football buddies,” Mom added. “Broaden your circle a bit. Broaden your horizons.”
And when we get to the horizon, we can just keep on driving. Right off the fucking edge.
“I’d rather not broaden anything, just so you know,” I mumbled. “I like my football buddies just fine.”
They droned on about how it won’t be so bad, and it could even be great, and how it will mean more study time. Thankfully Dad realized now was not the time to lecture me again on my priorities and last year’s poor grades, because all I could think about was who I was going to have to live with.
What if they were a slob? What if they left their crap all over the floor?
“What if they don’t do laundry and our entire room stinks like a gym bag?”
Dad snorted. “You mean, like your gym bag?”
Mom turned to give me that look. You know that sorry-patronizing-grimace look that moms can do. “It’s highly unlikely it could be worse than what you lived in last year, darling. And anyway, maybe your new roommate will be a quiet, clean, and considerate person.” Then she mumbled under her breath, “Unlike whom you lived with last year.”
“The guys I lived with last year were just fine,” I grumbled. “They’re my friends. My teammates. And what if this roommate person is super weird? Like crazy-weird.”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Dad said. “And if they’re not, if you really can’t live with them, then you can see about changing rooms. Just give it a couple of weeks. Who knows . . .” He gave me a hopeful glance in the rearview mirror. “They could turn out to be someone great.”
Now, I was normally an optimistic guy, always trying to look on the bright side. But this semester was going to blow.
* * *
My new roommate was Cobey Green.
Cobey freaking Green.
He, of course, had no idea who I was. Which probably wasn’t surprising, let’s be real. Everyone at Franklin U knew who Cobey Green was. He was the incredibly popular, six-foot-three linebacker for the Kings, totally gorgeous, with a killer trademark grin. If that hadn’t been enough to annoy my cynical little heart, I’d never heard anyone say a bad word about him.
“Hey, man,” he’d said, carrying a box in. I’d opened the door, saw him holding said box with the aforementioned killer grin, and I’d stood there like an idiot. “Name’s Cobey. Your new roomie.”
It took a second for my brain to function. “Oh, sure.” I stood aside. “Come in. I, uh . . . I moved in already and put my stuff on the left.”
Cobey put the box on his bed. “I’m cool with whatever,” he said, still wearing that ridiculously stunning grin. “Oh, this is my mom and dad. Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“I’m Vincent Brandt.”
There was a forty-year-old dad version of Cobey, clearly where he got his height from. And a woman, from whom he’d very obviously inherited his smile.
“Hi, Vincent,” his mom said. She had a huge bag of bedding. “I’m Sheree, and this is Chris.”
I gave Cobey’s parents a smile and a nod. “Nice to meet you.”
The room was small enough as it was—with two single beds, two desks, two closets—but now with three tall people all looking at me, it was kinda crowded. And I was never good with parents.
“I’ll, uh, I’ll let you get settled in,” I said, shoving my hands in my jean’s pockets.
“Oh, we didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Sheree said. “You can stay. This is your room.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s not that.” I gave them my best smile and pointed to the door. “I have to go see about a . . . tutor program thing. In the tutoring center . . . it’s in the library.”
“Oh, a tutor program.” Chris’s eyes lit up and he gave Cobey an excited nod. “See, son? Vincent here’s in the tutor program too. There’s no shame in needing a tutor.”
Cobey was clearly horrified, and he hissed, “Dad!”
That was my cue to leave.
“Nice to meet you,” I said again, edging my way around them toward the door. “Oh, Cobey, you might not want to open the blind. It fell down before.”
He gave me an apologetic smile, and after giving him a nod, I bailed. I did have to go to the library to see about the tutor program; that wasn’t a lie. And the room was too small for four people anyway. Giving them the space to get settled and organized without me sitting on my bed like an awkward lump, getting even more awkward questions from Cobey’s parents . . .
In the tutoring center, I found Rafe behind an armful of books. “Hey, Vincent,” he said warmly. “Glad to see you back, man.”
Rafael was a junior English major, and we’d been friends since my first day there. I didn’t have many friends. Like maybe three I could name. We didn’t hang out often, or at all, really, but we were friends enough to strike up a conversation. Like now.
I took half his burden of books. “Hey. Yeah, it’s good to be back. How was your summer?”
“Not bad. Time with the fam, and earned some money helping my dad. How about you?”
“Yeah, much the same,” I lied, on both counts, and quickly changed the subject. “Just met my new roommate.”
“Oh? Who is it?”
Rafe put the books down and gave me a smile. “Oh, he’s a nice guy.”
That was the consensus. Absolutely everyone at Franklin U knew him and liked him. I wasn’t sure why that annoyed me.
I just didn’t hold people who coasted in high regard. The type of people who had everything come easy: money, social life, sports. And Cobey was the epitome of that. Superstar football player, tall, gorgeous, rich, friends with everyone, had loving parents.
He was also out and proud.
He was literally every single thing I wished I was . . . but wasn’t.
Was that his fault? No. Was any of his good fortune his fault? Also no.
Was I being an ass with my generalizing, broad-sweeping, stereotypical assumptions?
“Yeah, I’m sure he’s great,” I added. “He’s gotta be better than the guy I roomed with last year.”
Rafe chuckled. “We can only hope.” I helped him sort through the books in a comfortable silence for a while. “Please tell me you’re here to sign up for the tutor program?”
“Oh, yeah. That’s what I came in here for.”
“You mean you didn’t come in just to see me?”
I rolled my eyes, but he did make me smile. “Oh, sure. That too.”
See? I sucked at the whole friend thing.
“We’re having a bit of a welcome back party this weekend.” Rafe handed me the clipboard. “You should come.”
I took the clipboard, my introverted heart panicking at the mention of a social outing. “Oh.”
He laughed. “The look on your face . . .”
“No, I could come,” I tried, regretting it as soon as I’d said it. “Who else will be there?”
He looked at me, obviously deciding not to laugh when he realized I was trying to be serious. “Just the usual crew. It’s just a small thing. You know how we are.”
I nodded. I did know. They were good people. My kind of people: quiet and studious.
I filled out the tutoring information, and we chatted a while. I liked Rafe. He was chill and nothing fazed him much.
But I couldn’t put off going back to my room forever.
Cobey was alone in our room when I got back. “Oh, hey,” I said. “Your folks gone already?”
“Yeah, they had to go back home,” he replied and nodded to the window. “Dad fixed the blinds.”
I sat on my bed, trying not to let things get awkward. “So is, uh, is home far?”
Great job, Vincent. Don’t make it awkward by asking a straight-up personal question.
“Nah,” he said effortlessly. “San Diego. What about you?”
“Ah, sweet. This is your hometown.”
Not far enough for me.
“My parents just wanted to make sure I moved in okay,” he added. “I was in Mundell last year and my grades tanked.” He sighed. “It’s a catch-22. My grades were shit because of football. You know, games, training, the social side of it. It takes up so much of my time and studying isn’t a real priority for me. But if I don’t maintain at least a 2.0 GPA, I can’t play football. It’s part of my scholarship deal. I just scraped through. Coach was pissed, but my parents went kinda nuclear. And here I am. In the dorm.”
Plenty of guys maintained a football and school ratio, and they managed just fine. I didn’t doubt it wasn’t a difficult seesaw of commitment, but I had to wonder if there was more to Cobey’s story.
“It’s not so bad here in the dorm,” I said. “Not as much fun as the Mundell house, I bet. But that’s probably the point.”
“That’s exactly the point. Apparently.” His grin was something special, and it was easy to see why people liked him.
He’d put up some posters and pictures on his side of the room above his bed. There was a vintage Coca-Cola poster that was kinda cool, and there were some group photos, team photos, all smiling faces. There was a poster of Post Malone wearing a dress and a poster of Jesus . . . no, Mary . . . no, wait. “Is that Adam Driver?”
Cobey burst out laughing. “Yep. It’s funny as fuck.” Then he stopped, his eyes quickly finding mine. “Uh, if you don’t like it, I can take it down. I didn’t mean to offend you, or anyone. Shit. Sorry.”
I snorted. “No. I’m not offended. It is kinda funny.” Then I nodded to a small rectangular flag stuck with the photos. “Is that the bi flag?”
His gaze shot to mine. “Do you have a problem with that?”
“Oh, no. Absolutely not,” I replied quickly, trying not to panic. The last thing I needed was for him not to like me just two minutes into the year. “No problem. Actually, I kinda like it. That you . . .”
Shut up, Vincent.
Just shut up.
“That I’m what?”
I wanted to die. I certainly didn’t want to answer, but his stare was drilling into me. It made my mouth dry. “That you’re, you know, out and proud.”
“Oh.” He was clearly relieved, but then I could almost hear the penny drop. He stared. “Oh.”
Panic struck me. “No, it’s not like that,” I said. Except it was. “I’m not . . . I’m not . . .”
He tilted his head. Patient. Curious. “You’re not what?”
“Out,” I blurted. “I’m not out.”
Way to go, Vincent. Announce that to a complete stranger. Something you’ve never told anyone, and you just blurt it out to Cobey freaking Green. Of all the people. One of the most popular sophomore guys at college.
Way to fucking go.