Photo by Naíra Teixeira Dias
The blaring music is only background noise to my mumbled senses. Effie slaps a card down on the cheap plastic table N.Y.U. has inside every dorm room’s kitchen.
Effie says some number and the four of us (Effie, Eleanor, Duke, and I) have to take a drink.
It seems like for every card Duke and I have to take a drink.
“But that’s the point of ‘Kings’ André,” Effie screams.
I didn’t expect my Thursday night to turn out like this.
I was supposed to go to Writing Fiction from six to nine p.m. and then come back to my dorm, pop a sleeping pill, and watch Bob’s Burgers until I passed out. The usual. But then someone had asked Joseph, the instructor of our twelve person writing class, if it was okay if we drunk champagne during class. That it was a writerly thing to do. And besides, it was finals week. Joseph said he didn’t care. Joseph is cool like that (I mean, he threatened a student who’s only turned in ten out of forty assignments with a B+). The only three people in our class who are actually over twenty-one left and came back with cups, two bottles of champagne, orange juice, pepsi, and whiskey. I realized I was Drunk André when two hours into class I pronounced “workshop” as “warshop” while critiquing Duke’s story. Everyone became hysterical with the giggles.
The relationships you form in writing workshop classes are unique. You get to read the words of your classmates’ hearts, their bottled up memories, their fantasies and then you all sit around and tear apart the words they spent hours agonizing over. You feel like you intimately know the authors of these stories when really you don’t. All I really know about Duke is that, just like me, he is from Texas. We had awkwardly talked about this on the first day of class when Duke had sat next to me, laughing too much at my awkward jokes and staring at me with his icicle blue eyes in a peculiar, unnerving way. But if you were to ask me to describe Duke I would say: a quiet storm. He writes poetic stories lush with dazzling words, where most of the action occurs inside the the middle-aged suburban characters’ minds. And when it’s his turn to critique a story he’ll always stare off into the distance and talk real nice and slow, like a dripping faucet, and you can watch him search for the most phantasmagoric words to pour his heart into.
“You have such a great look,” Duke had said to me. Five of us had hung around after Joseph gave up on teaching our drunken class. We had been trading Instagrams and talking about taking selfies. Everyone went quiet when Duke said this to me. “Your face is so unique,” he went on slowly. “It’s like a masterpiece. You should really model.”
I smiled and awkwardly laughed. “Thanks. You should too.”
This was the first time Duke and I had talked to each other since the first day of class. Up until then I had just been eye-fucking him out of the corner of my eye, trying to figure out if he was gay or not. Just a couple minutes before this, another girl in our class, Susannah, had asked Duke if he was straight. I looked down at the table when Duke told her he was bi so that he couldn’t see the happiness on my face.
I’ve resigned myself to simply appreciating Duke’s beauty. I know I’m not his type. He is super attractive and I can tell from the fact that he eats Cliff bars every class that he is rich. He probably wants someone who is super attractive and rich too. Not some tall, skinny black guy with a squeaky voice who likes to shake his ass to Beyoncé. I know I don’t. Just like me and every other gay guy in this world he probably wants a masculine, toned, young white guy who wears American Apparel.
This time it’s the girls turn to drink. Eleanor’s roommate, a gay guy, struts out of his bedroom and goes to the fridge.
Duke mumbles something.
“What?” I ask now, leaning into Duke. “Are you into him?”
Duke’s eyebrows furrow down in confusion and his eyes widen with apology. He places his hand on my shoulder.
“No,” Duke whines, dragging the word out like a highway. “I like you.”
My mouth drops and I look over to Effie and Eleanor, who are unapologetically staring at Duke and I. Eleanor’s roommate slowly strides back into his room while munching on chips, unbeknownst of the beautiful moment he has just produced.
Duke stares at me stone faced, waiting for my reaction.
I smile hard so that my dimples come out of hiding. “I like you too,” I whine back with a head nod. Duke exhales, smiles, and nods back.
Duke and I pick our cards back up. I clear my throat. “Okay, so what was the card?” I ask Effie with an impenetrable grin on my face.
“Jack,” Effie says, raising her right eyebrow with a smirk. “You guys drink.”
Duke and I sigh before chugging our drinks back.
I hope I responded okay.
Just a month ago I was bullying myself into telling a guy I liked him for the very first time in my life. So I hope I gave Duke the reaction I would have killed to get from Thomas.
Thomas and I had been friends for four months. I had written stories about him. Stories Duke, Effie, and Eleanor had read and critiqued in our class. When I told him I liked him Thomas had told me he was too busy focusing on himself to focus on someone else. After he said that, he left, stopped talking to me, and I cried from disappointment.
But here someone was telling me the thing my self-confidence has wanted to hear for years and all I could do was nod my head.
I look over at Duke, who is tapping his foot four times per second and sporadically bobbing his head offbeat to the music.
I do like him too.
His cheekbones are sharp enough to cut through my heart, his hair is the same color as the wheat fields in Texas, and, his voice is a dream.
Duke catches me staring at him. I smirk and show off my left dimple. Duke smirks back and then looks down at the the poster-board white table.
I decide to show Duke that I like him too.
I grab the back of his head and he turns around to face me. I lean in to him and he meets me halfway. We kiss and slide our tongues into each other’s warm mouths. It’s my first time making out with someone so I don’t know what I’m supposed to do but so far it seems like you just play sword fight with your soft, slippery tongues, and, I don’t know, I like it. Eleanor and Effie sit in silence as they watch Duke and I make out. I don’t feel embarrassed.
We do this for a while until I slowly pull away.
“Do you guys wanna keep playing or are we interrupting?” Effie asks, pouting her pink lips. She’s enjoying this. When we stopped at Mamagyro’s on the way back to the dorm I asked Effie to help me get with Duke. She called him over to our part of the counter and asked him to pull out his plastic jug of vodka and take shots with us. She winked at me when Duke threw his head back and guzzled.
“Come on, let’s play,” I say to Effie. Now I’m the one tapping my foot and jamming offbeat to the music.
While we’re playing I slide my hand on to Duke’s lap under the table and we hold hands. Not even a minute later I’m leaning into Duke again because I can’t believe what just happened happened so I need it to happen again.
While Duke and I make out Effie yells out, “So , Eleanor, tells me what’s going on with your life.”
Eleanor plays along, “Nothing. How about you?” I should feel bad because just an hour ago Eleanor was telling me how into Duke she was, which would explain why she gave me dagger eyes that one day I stole Duke’s seat next to her, but I don’t.
I laugh into Duke’s mouth. I pull away and we’re both gasping for air.
I whisper into Duke’s ear, “Do you want to go to my room?”
“Okay, one sec.”
While Duke and I rub each other’s laps I say to Effie and Eleanor, “So we’re going to call it a night-”
“Oh really?” Effie asks, raising her eyebrows.
“Yeah,” I keep on, trying my hardest not to burst out into laughter. I stand up quick and get over the fact that Effie and Eleanor can see my boner. I grab Duke’s hand and speed walk to the door. Duke trips as he struggles to keep up. He throws his hand up to Effie and Eleanor once.
“We had fun. Bye!” I yell as the door slams shut behind me.
I hear Eleanor and Effie cackle.
“You think they know?” Duke asks me.
“Oh yeah, they totally know. But I don’t care.” I shrug.
I press the elevator button and while we’re waiting Duke pins me to the wall and attacks me with his affection. And when the doors open up and we see no one’s inside we waltz our way into the elevator without ever breaking away from each other.
The next morning I wake up feeling like P. Diddy.
Duke’s naked body is wrapped around mine like a rose, my hand resting inside the beginning of his back’s golden arch.
I stare at Duke as he slowly peels open his eyes and smiles at me.
“Hey,” he croaks.
We do what we did a few hours ago again, this time sober, and when we’re through Duke lays on top of me and places his head on my chest, closes his eyes, and listens to my heartbeat.
“I wanted this to happen since I first saw you,” Duke says to me. I stare at my white ceiling and try to process all the amazing that has happened in the past twelve hours.
I ask him what Luke plans for the summer are. I leave to go back to Dallas, Texas (a four hour drive from San Antonio, where Duke lives) in four days.
“Just relax I think,” he says, the words coming out like a light drizzle. I’m excited for open fields, and sun, and sweat. I need to take some time to center myself again. Y’know? How about you?”
I say “sames” because I can’t think of anything nearly as beautiful to say.
After a beautiful eternity Duke perks his head up and tells me he has to go.
“I’m glad this happened. I really really like you,” Duke tells me before he walks out the door.
I cover my smile with my hand. I don’t want him to see it if he’s bullshitting me.
“I really like you too,” I say back, hoping that this isn’t typical after-sex charades. This is my first time playing this game so I wouldn’t know.
A few minutes after I hear the front door close Duke FaceBook messages me:
Duke: Had fun last night.
Hope you did too
*and this morning haha
What’s your number ?
Me: I did haha
You took my pants by mistake I think haha
Duke: Hahaha I did lol . Chilling in your snug pants now 😛 We can trade off next class. Not suspicious at all haha
It’s our last class and I’m nervous. For some reason a couple hours after he left I texted Duke asking him if he wanted to hang out again. He never responded.
I just want to give him his black pants back and go back home to Texas.
It doesn’t help that my story is getting workshopped today so when it’s Duke turn to critique me I’m going have to try my hardest not to fidget around or smile at my paper. I don’t know if Effie and Eleanor told everyone what happened so I’m not sure if I should be covering my face up with shame.
I had to get my backpack from Eleanor’s room after Duke left. “So how was it,” she asked me as she peeled open her front door. We cracked up with laughter. “I’m not mad,” she said to me when I apologized for cock-blocking her. “I’m happy someone got to enjoy him.” I laughed and quickly left because I still felt like a slut.
And when I walked into class Effie smirked at me and asked me how Duke and I’s night went. I just shrugged and cheesed and clicked my pen a bunch of times underneath the table.
When Duke walks into class late he throws me a quick head nod and smile.
I smile back for a millisecond.
Our class goes crazy with yelling out the thirty stories we’ve read this semester and having the class comedian, Maeve, write them on the board. Joseph is having us vote on which one was our favorite. My critique went all right. Neither Duke and I acted weird. When Duke told me he liked the voice of my gay main character I just nodded my head. While Maeve jokes about how none of the titles we’re yelling at her sound familiar because she didn’t read any of them, Duke walks over to my side of the long table our class sits at. He reaches inside of his leather satchel.
“You wanna do this now?” I squeal.
He laughs and hands me back my black pants. “Your belt is holding my pants up so I’ll give it to you at the end of class.”
“Cool cool,” I say in mock-casualness.
Luckily the whole class doesn’t stop yelling story titles at the top of their lungs and turn around to face us and yell out “SLUTS!”
When class is over Duke walks over to me. “Hey, do you have my pants?” he says smiling down at me. He lifts his shirt up and takes off my belt.
“By the way,” he asks. “Where’d you get this belt from. It’s really nice.”
I nod my head towards Maeve, our classmate who’s watching all of this occur. She’s cracking up.
“Wal-Mart,” I say, rolling my eyes at Maeve’s laughter.
“Wow,” Maeve says, taking turns looking at Duke and I with a smile in her eyes.
But Duke doesn’t care. He walks away with a confident stride and a smile on his face.
When Duke is walking out of class I watch him to see if he is going to say good bye to me.
“Hey,” I yell out when he grabs the door handle. “Bye.”
He stops. “Bye,” he says leaning on the door with a smile. “Message me on FaceBook sometime over the summer okay?”
I nod, lost inside Duke’s wheat field colored hair. “For sure.”