Love doesn’t come with a syllabus.
Kelly Davidson has waited forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he realizes finding Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.
Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his fear that love was never meant to last.
Somewhere in the middle of freshman orientation at Hope University, Kelly Davidson began to doubt.
His parents had left around noon after hugging him and making him promise to call as often as he could. They’d had a nice lunch at the pizza place across the street, and they’d said their goodbyes on the shores of Lake Sharon. Kelly was pretty sure on the way to orientation a seriously cute guy—Kelly assumed he was an upperclassman, but he wasn’t yet sure how to tell—had been checking out his ass.
Except now that he was finally in the campus auditorium listening to the dean of students talk about the wonders of Hope, Kelly could barely sit still, he was so full of panic. His happy bubble of utopia had burst sometime during the small group orientation circles, and the day which had begun with an Ashman and Menken soundtrack now played the theme from Jaws. Worst of all, Kelly couldn’t point to anything specific to account for his sudden desire to run for home and dive right back into his closet.
A bump on his arm made him turn to his left, where his orientation leader beamed at him while the dean droned on in carefully modulated tones. Amy flashed her rainbow ring that went with her rainbow hair extensions and her bright green shirt that read It’s Okay With Me. She leaned over to whisper in Kelly’s ear. “Some of us from the GSA are going to Opie’s for pizza and root beer after. Want to come along?”
Kelly paused, unsure of what to do. Hadn’t he dreamed of joining a Gay-Straight Alliance since he was fourteen? Wasn’t that exactly why he was here, to hook up with groups such as that?
He had, yes, but his orientation leader had given him the creeps the second they met. After outing him in front of the group—apparently his orientation was listed on her clipboard—she’d latched on to Kelly’s arm and carried on about how they could boyfriend shop together. Her enthusiasm and rainbow regalia deepened Kelly’s sense of foreboding instead of reassuring him.
Yes, he should go, but man he really didn’t want to.
“I think I need to head back to my room and get some things settled. Thanks, though.”
The dean finished speaking, and the audience clapped politely as they rose and dispersed. The orientation leader stayed at Kelly’s side and pouted. “Aw, come on. You gotta eat, right? Double cheese pizza and root beer float tempt you?”
“I’m allergic to dairy.” And eggs, and almonds, and dust mites, and ragweed, and cats, and dogs, and down, and mold. He picked up his backpack and eyed an escape route. “See you around.” Before she could trap him again, he bolted.
Kelly didn’t run out of the auditorium, but he huddled underneath the slim weight of his orientation-literature-filled backpack, frowning as he tried to shake off the interaction. His thumb brushed the woven rainbow bracelet his sister had given him that morning as they’d left the hotel room to move him into his dorm. Was it a mistake to wear this? Was it too soon? Should he take it off? It’s not as if Lisa would know he’d removed her gift. How many other people had his gayness marked down on their clipboards?
He frowned to himself as he angled toward the exit doors, so caught up in his own thoughts that when someone put a hand on his arm, he jumped. A girl with long blonde hair sticking out from a maroon knit beret kept hold of Kelly’s arm and pointed to the floor. “Sorry, but you were about to walk right across the Zodiac.”
Her tone seemed to hint this sentence should be self-explanatory, which only further confused Kelly. “What?”
“They didn’t tell you in orientation? Usually they at least cover it as an amusing myth.” She pointed to a mosaic in the floor, brass-plated symbols that looked vaguely astrological. “Don’t walk over the Zodiac, or you’ll fail your next test. I know, it sounds stupid now. But as one who has done it and paid the price, I can’t let you start college that way in good conscience.”
“Okay.” Kelly wasn’t sure what else to say to that. “Thanks?”
Grinning wryly, the girl held out her hand. “Rose Manchester, sophomore. Nice to meet you.”
Kelly took her hand somewhat hesitantly. “Kelly Davidson. Freshman. Though you seem to know what year I am already.”
Rose shrugged. “It’s a small school. Anybody you don’t know at this time of year is either a freshman or a transfer.”
“I don’t look like a transfer, I take it?”
“Well, you’re wearing your high school class ring, which most transfers don’t.”
Kelly tucked his thumb over his right ring finger. “Is that uncool or something?”
She laughed. “I wouldn’t know. I’m kind of a geek.”
He did a quick inventory of Rose’s accessories—no rainbow necklace and no class ring. She did have a curious-looking necklace: a black cord bearing a heavy metal circle that read ERASE HATE. Jewelry seemed a safe conversation—it was working so far. “I like your necklace.”
Touching it, Rose smiled, and her gaze fell briefly to Kelly’s left wrist. “Thanks.”
Kelly had to fight not to cover his bracelet, and as they stood there not speaking, he felt a weird kinship with Rose. She reminded him of his sister both in looks and her ability to hold graceful silence. He found himself wanting to talk to her, to capture her as a friend, but he had no idea how to do it.
He went with the necklace. “Is that the NOH8 campaign?”
She shook her head. “Matthew Shepard.”
“Oh.” Kelly swallowed a cool because obviously Matthew Shepard’s plight was not.
“Normally I don’t advertise,” Rose went on, “but a friend gave this to me, and it reminds me of her.”
Advertise. Kelly thought of Amy and tucked the bracelet higher, vowing to cut it off the second he got to his room. Then he realized what Rose had said. Wait, did that mean…? Could he ask?
Rose smiled. “I think I officially fall as a Q right now, but yes, I’m gay.”
“Questioning.” Rose shifted her backpack higher. “Somewhere between lesbian and bi at the moment, but honestly, I have no idea. I only know I don’t fit the standard heterosexual mold.” She lifted a knowing eyebrow. “You’re just now out, right?”
He tried to laugh. “How can you tell?”
“Because you look as if you expect people to come out of the bushes and start screaming gay at you before they pelt you with stones. It’s okay. We’ve all been there. Some days I still am, I think. I’m sure you’ve heard the spiels, but you really can relax for the most part at Hope. Just stay out of Porterhouse, and you’ll be fine.”
Kelly went still. “Porter? You’re talking about the dorm called Porter?” When she nodded, his gut clenched. “That’s where my room is.”
Rose’s smile died. “Ah. Well, I hope you have a good roommate.”
He tried not to panic. “I don’t have one. I have allergies, so they gave me a single for the air conditioner.”
“That’s good—no roommate, I mean. It’s almost all jocks there, and I hate to stereotype, but…well, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” She said it in the way people say they hope things will be fine when they’re sure they won’t be. Fishing in her pocket, Rose pulled out a smartphone. “Here—give me your number, and I’ll text you later to be sure you’re okay. I’m across the way in Sandman, and if nothing else, I can flash my tits at them while you run.”
Kelly laughed, but his fingers shook as he entered himself into Rose’s contacts. How, after all his careful planning, had he ended up in the one bad dorm? He wanted to ask questions, lots of them, and he wanted to beg Rose not to leave him, to let him live under her bed. He might have tried if he’d thought he could survive the dust bunnies.
She took back her phone and winked. “It’s going to be fine, Kelly Davidson. I’m a little bit psychic sometimes, and I’m telling you, everything is going to be all right.”
God but he hoped so. “Thanks.”
“Anyway. Sorry for jumping you, but seriously, that Zodiac curse is murder.” Stepping back, she waved. “See you around.”
“Bye.” Kelly watched her head into the union before continuing on his way.
He put off returning to his dorm as long as possible. There was a dinner in the commons for the freshmen, or so Dean Stevens had assured them during her speech, but Kelly didn’t go. He wasn’t hungry, and he still felt overwhelmed and off kilter.
He wandered the union instead, buying a salad in the deli and turning red when he had to ask them to make a new one without cheese and egg, even though he’d told them he was allergic. He couldn’t bring himself to ask for new dressing, though, so he’d thrown the packet away and eaten it dry. As he choked it down, he tried to tell himself there wasn’t anything to worry about, that living in a jock dorm all by himself would be fine.
His self-pep talks weren’t working very well.
During the orientation speech, the dean of students had gone on and on about Hope’s impressive legacy, about their sterling academic reputation and their notoriety for strong social unity. “We are all a family at Hope,” she told the freshmen, beaming at them with slightly crooked teeth. “You are all about to take this journey together, and over the next four years you will make friends that will last a lifetime. Many of you will meet your life partners here. Many of you will send your children here. Hope is your home now. We, the rest of your family, can’t wait to see what you do.”
Her words kept ringing in Kelly’s head as he gave up on the salad and wove through the campus pathways toward his dorm. The dean hadn’t said anything different than they touted in their literature and on their website. Back when he’d applied, Kelly had taken comfort in those words, but now all he could think about was what Rose had said about Porter. What if that was only the start of things nobody had bothered to tell him?
Probably he was tired and homesick. Probably he should go back to his room, heat up one of the single-serve vegan meals he knew his mom had snuck into the fridge, and go to bed.
After pushing the ancient key code to get into the dorm door—who exactly that was keeping out was anybody’s guess—Kelly went up the stairs to the fourth floor, trying not to fixate on the smell. He’d been in the other dorms during his tour, but not Porter, and now he knew why: it smelled like feet. It smelled as if five hundred pairs of feet and that many jockstraps marinated in tubs of sweat. As he’d moved in, Kelly’s mother had fretted about mold and gone on and on about his allergies, double-checking his air filter about thirty times. Kelly had told her it wasn’t a big deal, but he did worry, a little. He worried too about all the loud, burly guys he could hear bellowing down the hallways, wondering how he was supposed to shower with them when they knew he was gay.
How ridiculous was he, thinking being at a liberal university that promised they were all family was protection.
By the time he got to his floor, Kelly was an anxious mess. He kept his head down as he beelined for his door, key already in his hand. He could feel the stares of his floor mates, could hear the whispers, but his heart pounded too loudly inside his ears for him to make out their taunts. He didn’t know how to handle being ostracized. This had never been his life. How had this happened?
How was he supposed to live like this?
Kelly pushed panic aside because it was starting to make his airways constrict. No. No asthma attacks now. He’d get inside, lock the door, and curl up in his bed until he felt better.
Except when he got to his door, it was already open.
Just a little, cracked a few inches, but it was open all the same, and the light was on inside. Someone broke in, Kelly thought, feeling sick and violated, and then he heard a voice coming from inside. He pushed open the door, key tight in his hand, heart pushing up at the top of his throat.
An upperclassman who looked like Flynn Rider from Tangled put down his cellphone, turned to face Kelly and smiled as he stuck out his free hand. “Hi. I’m Walter Lucas, your roommate.”