Alex - Chapter 13 

 

 

 

As I stormed out of the Dairy Queen that day, the last thing I heard was my dad mumbling that he had turned out just like his own father. I thought it was just a lame excuse to get me off his back – to shovel blame off to someone else. But after I had time to think about it, I started to see that maybe it was true. He hardly ever talked much with his dad. We sometimes went to visit grandma and grandpa Harper on holidays, or when some other special event took place, but when we were all in the house together, he and grandpa didn’t say much to each other. Even though they only lived eight hours away from us, I only remember grandpa visiting at our home once in my entire life.

 

The flight from Philadelphia to L.A. is a long flight under normal circumstances. I remember the flight after our discussion as being the longest eight hours of my life. I had nothing to do but sit and stew about what had happened, and about what dad had said. He had seemed upset sad, when I left the DQ, not upset angry. At first I thought it was because he had been called out on his delinquent fathering, but the more I thought about it on that flight, the more I realized how truly sad he had seemed – sad, maybe, that life hadn’t turned out differently for him than it had. That’s when I decided to make the phone call to him as soon as my plane landed.

 

 

 

“Dad?”

 

“Alex. I didn’t expect to hear from you so soon. Is something wrong?”

 

“Yeah,” I told him. “I need to apologize for the way I treated you and Donna.”

 

Dad didn’t say a word.

 

“You still there,” I asked thinking maybe my call was dropped.

 

“Yeah, son, I’m still here. I was just thinking. I’m sorry Alex. I know I haven’t been the dad you deserved. I wish I could live that part of my life over. Even with Daryl, there are things I wish I would have done differently. Now he’s gone, Alex. You’re all I have left. I want to try and make up for lost time if you can forgive me. After you left last night, I felt like my whole world had fallen apart. What you said to me made me stop and fear that one of the things in my life that was most important to me, had just walked out of it – maybe forever.”

 

Now I was silent until dad’s voice, asking if I was still there, broke me out of my stupor.

 

“Yeah, I’m still here, dad. It’s just that I don’t know what this means. We can’t start over.”

 

“We can’t start over, son, but we can at least start.”

 

For the first time ever, dad and I talked about our lives. He actually asked me what I was studying, and how I was doing in school before saying goodbye. Here comes my bag again, I thought as I watched it approach me to the umpteenth time. It seemed weird that we had talked for over an hour. I grabbed my bag off the turnstile and headed for the bus depot.

 

 

 

I arrived at school just before the deadline expired for dorm check-ins.

 

My new roommate was sitting on his bed when I arrived, strumming a guitar, singing something that sounded vaguely familiar. I recognized him immediately from one of my classes.

 

“Ben,” I greeted him, as I slung my bag on the open bed.

 

“Alex, I just found out this morning you were gonna be my new roomie. I heard you were on probation. Maybe we can both manage decent GPAs if we help each other out a little.”

 

From what I could tell, Ben seemed to be a straight shooter. I seldom saw him at any parties, and in fact he had even turned up at one of our campus bible studies last semester.

 

“So, you have any rules in your room?”

 

“Not my room, I just live here. I kinda like to lie low most of the time. You play any video games?”

 

I had a sweet feeling about this semester. Maybe I’d finally be able to put my past behind me and concentrate on the things I really wanted to get good at – that being, raising my GPA so I could keep my scholarship, and being involved at church without feeling a load of guilt on my shoulders for living a double life.

 

I put my things away while he connected his X-Box to my TV set. I was just getting into a game with Ben when my cell rang. It was dad.

 

“Mind if I take this?” I asked Ben.

 

He hit pause, and I answered.

 

“Hey, Alex. Just callin’ to see if you got into your room okay.” I couldn’t believe the difference that I was seeing in dad already. We talked for another half hour, laughing and joking in a way that we had never done before. Before he hung up, dad told me that Donna was pressing him to make a commitment to the Lord.

 

“Alex, I’m scared of doing it. I mean I’ve never been the best person when it comes to living right. I’m just not sure religion is for me. Did it really change you when you became a Christian? Because, I don’t want to just go through the motions, and put on airs for people if I’m not really living the way they think I should.”

 

I assured him that, according to my experience, some things had, and other’s hadn’t changed a lot for me – but that it seemed that my perspective of how those things that hadn’t changed a whole lot had changed.

 

“For instance,” I told him, “When I told Phil that I had confronted you about what mom told me about you, he could hardly believe I had done it. He said I always used to be scared of that sort of thing, but now it seems like I have more courage to try stuff – like I’m not so afraid of failing.” I told him that I felt like I still had a long way to go in that department, but at least I was changing. I admitted to him I still thought about guys sometimes; that some of those things didn’t seem to go away completely, But I also told him that I had a determination inside me to not let that desire force me into doing things that I didn’t feel the Lord wanted for me.

 

“Dad, I think you should do it. When I was questioning whether it was the right thing for me to do, Phil told me that I’ll never know if things can change for me unless I try something different. Then he told me to ask God to take over, and if nothing happens, then I haven’t lost anything.”

 

“I’ll think about that, son. Thanks bud. And Alex?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Well, I just want to tell you that you mean the world to me.”

 

I guess he was trying to tell me he loved me without actually saying it. It’s funny how different those words sounded from three-thousand miles away than they did two weeks ago when he actually said the words, and there was only a thousand miles between us.

 

“Dad?”

 

“Yeah, Alex?”

 

“I hope you and Donna are happy together – I mean really happy. She’s a pretty cool lady.”

 

“Thanks son, that means a lot to me. I’ll be sure to tell her.”

 

 

 

My first day back, Phoenix stopped by my room to say hi. Judging from the hungry look in his eyes, I think he had hoped that maybe we would continue what we had been doing before break.

 

“Phoenix. I… I can’t.”

 

I couldn’t bring myself to look into his eyes, knowing how easily it would have been to go back on the promise I had made to God not to do it. When I didn’t look at him, he must have figured it really was over between us. I just stood there and listened as he softly apologized once more, as if he had taken advantage of me without my approval.

 

“Phoenix,” I finally told him in exasperation, “Don’t you think I could have locked the door to my room if I hadn’t wanted to do it?”

 

“I know, but it’s like we stopped being friends after we started doing that. I always felt so guilty after I left your room.”

 

“Look, I know what most people think about being gay, and being Christian – that you can’t be both, but I’m not sure. I mean I felt guilty too, but maybe we were just reacting that way because we hadn’t decided to build a committed relationship with each other first.”

 

“Yeah, maybe. Anyway, you know that guy who comes to our bible study that has all the metal in his face?”

 

“Shawn?”

 

“Yeah. Well, I think he’s kinda been hittin’ on me, and I was wondering what you thought of him. “He’s kind of cute under all the piercings… I’ve kinda had my eye on him ever since I started coming to the club.”

 

“He’s kind of quiet. I don’t know… I guess if you’ve got feelings for him, go for it.”

 

“You wouldn’t mind?”

 

It seemed kind of a strange question, so I asked him what he meant.

 

“Well I guess I was kind of hoping that maybe you thought we might have a future together, ‘cause, well… Actually you’d be my first choice.”

 

After all the confusion and turmoil I had gone through last semester, and given that I absolutely had to pull up my GPA, I had no trouble telling Phoenix that that just wasn’t what I was looking for right now. “Sorry, man. But I still want to be your friend, okay?”

 

We hugged briefly before he left.

 

 

 

The next time I saw Phoenix was at our bible club meeting, a week later. He was sitting next to Shawn, and once when I looked over, they were holding pinkies. I wondered what Zeke, who was leading the bible study, would say if he could’ve seen their hands. I caught Phoenix’s eye, and grinned. I was happy for him, I guess, but I was also a little jealous of Shawn.

 

Even though my new roommate, Ben, said he was a Christian, I couldn’t convince him to join me at the bible study. Beth Ann was there though. I couldn’t get over how much she seemed to have changed. I mean before, all the guys stared at her because she was a hot babe. Now she just looked, well… pretty. She kind of lost the hard edge that she always seemed to carry with her.

 

After the bible study, she asked if I wanted to have a latte with her. She never once pulled her top out, hoping to get me to take a look.

 

Ben saw us at the café, and came over to join us. That’s when we came up with the ultimate study game plan – the three of us would meet after every class to discuss what we had heard, and compare notes with each other.

 

 

 

When we had gotten back to our room, Ben started blathering.

 

“Oh my god, Alex, I had no idea you knew Beth Ann Caruthers. Is she still like a wild woman in bed?”

 

“What?” I asked, stunned at his assertion.

 

“Is she still easy? …or do you have to beg her for it?”

 

“Ah… well, we never really…”

 

“Are you kidding me? Dude, what are you waiting for?”

 

“Look,” I leveled with him, “I’m just not into that right now. She’s a great note taker, and asked me if I wanted to take a look at her notes, that’s all. She helped me at least pass last semester.”

 

“Are you sure that’s all she wanted you to take a look at?”

 

I thought back to all the times she had hit on me as we studied, and how I had played stupid with her. “I don’t know. She was just helping me out. She knew I was struggling in class, and she was acing it.”

 

“Ah-huh.” A huge grin spread across Ben’s face. “I remember one of the first parties I went to on campus, freshman year. She and her friend got themselves really messed up and started comin’ on to a group of us. I was like her fourth or fifth guy that night. She was always draggin’ guys to the bedroom at those parties. Wow! What a bod.”

 

“I sort of don’t think she’s like that anymore. I mean she like goes to the same bible club that I go to. She doesn’t seem like that kind of person to me.”

 

“You won’t know ‘till you try. Besides, if you’re worried about your girlfriend back east, what happens on campus…”

 

“I know,” I interrupted, “…stays on campus,” we said in unison.

 

“I don’t know. My dad got my mom pregnant with me when they were in college,” I began to explain, hoping that I could avoid the real reason for me not letting Beth Ann get me to her dorm. “Grandpa Cresswell used to always say ‘the apples don’t fall far from the tree,’ so I guess I kind of want to prove him wrong, and there’s only one sure way to avoid what dad and mom went through. They got divorced my junior year of high school. My dad even told me they only stayed together because of us kids.”

 

Ben shook his head from side to side, as if to let me know that I was a basket case.

 

“She’s probably on the pill, dude.”

 

“I’m good,” I told him before changing the subject to college basketball.

 

 

 

Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, Beth Ann, Ben, and I would get together and study. Ben seemed a bit miffed at Beth Ann’s conservative clothes, and behavior. I’m sure he was beginning to think he had gotten her mixed up with some other girl, because one day he came right out and asked her.

 

“Beth Ann. Did you like party a lot your freshman year? I mean… well I kind of remember a girl who was always the life of the party, and I was thinking it was you.”

 

“Not me,” she coyly replied. “I kind of remember a girl on campus last year who looked a lot like me. I heard she met with her fate last semester, and passed into eternity.”

 

Ben looked confused at what Beth Ann said, but managed to apologize for his apparent faux pas.

 

By the way Beth Ann was looking at me, I figured she had been that girl, but took the bible literally when it said that you become a new creation when you give your life to God.

 

The more often we met to study, the more I grew to like Beth Ann. I’m not saying that I thought she was girlfriend material, because I still had no interest in girls that way. I just mean, she was a really neat person. I guess it didn’t hurt any that she had stopped trying to get me to her dorm room every time we got together.

 

She did flirt with me though. At least as far as I could tell, that was what she was doing when I’d catch her staring at me. That’s when she’d get red in the face and bat her eyelids. I totally froze up when she did that. I was on the verge of telling her that I was gay one day before mid-terms, just so she’d know she was wasting her time on me, but Ben got us going on a conversation about Nietzsche, and she stopped doing that thing to me with her eyes, so I let it drop.