Ari played with the brown pillow in his lap, sliding his thumb over the tag before giving the zipper a tug. He sighed.
“What do you think?” his therapist, Hannah, a short woman with a mane of black curls, asked.
Ari snapped to attention. “I, uh, I don’t know.” He rubbed the back of his neck. Truth be told, he hadn’t really been paying attention.
“I think it would be good for you,” she said, pointedly,
It took him a minute to mentally track back to what Hannah was talking about, but eventually he called it up. Ari nodded. “Fine. I’ll do it. But I don’t want to.”
“We know that isolating yourself make the thoughts worse. Go out. Make friends. You just might have a good time.”
Mentally, Ari was rolling his eyes. “I hear what you’re saying. I’ll go, I’m just saying I don’t have to like it.”
“You’re right, you don’t.”
“I’m not even out to my parents yet. What’s the point of trying to date?”
“You don’t have to be out to your parents until you’re ready. And as we’ve discussed, new experiences can be healthy. Let me know how it goes.” She stood and went to her appointment book. “When would you like to come back?”
Ari pulled out his phone and made an appointment with her for the following week.
“Have a great time, Ari,” she said as she walked him out. “See you soon.”
Ari plodded back to his dorm, the gray Colorado sky matching his mood. He hated living in the dorms, and felt like practically the only junior doing so, but at least he had Liam. His roommate was great, much to Ari’s relief. He’d had a string of shitty ones, too, especially before being diagnosed. And now that he was getting himself stable—mostly—it was nice to have someone he could trust.
When he made it to their shared room, Ari found Liam sprawled on his bed, reading. His shoulder-length blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and he was wearing flannel, as usual. Liam had slipped out of the room that morning before Ari was conscious, so they hadn’t seen one another all day.
“What up, Lee?” Ari asked as he entered.
Liam rolled onto his back. “Aristotle! How’s it going?” Liam was the only person other than Ari’s parents who could get away with calling him Aristotle without getting their ass kicked. And with a name like his, Ari had plenty of experience in ass kickings, both receiving and giving.
“Good. Just got back from therapy. Apparently I’m going with you tonight.”
Liam sat up suddenly, closing his book. “Hell yeah, you are!”
“So, what do I need to know about this thing?”
Liam grinned, rubbing a hand along the stubble on his square jaw. “Nothing, my man. It’s a party. Wear clothes. Drink beer. Make friends. If you’re lucky, hook up with someone.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it’ll just be crawling with guys to hook up with.”
Liam shrugged. “The Kappas are a pretty open minded frat. They have a few gay brothers. You never know. Plus, there’s always Shane.”
The blush flooded his face almost instantly. Shane. Tall, thin, with tousled dark hair, soft brown eyes, and perpetually tanned skin, Shane definitely was what Ari was looking for. He may have been the subject of a few fantasies, even. When he’d found out Shane was gay, the fantasies intensified, not that Ari would ever actually do anything about it.
Shane and Liam had been in a band together for a couple of years, and Ari had the pleasure of meeting him when he came to collect Liam for practice. Shane had also done homework with Liam a couple of times in the cramped dorm room, and Ari had a habit of excusing himself when they did. He was afraid he’d say something stupid and miserable and embarrass the shit out of himself.
So yeah, Shane.
Ari cleared his throat and licked his dry lips. “Shane’s going to be there?”
“Damn right. The whole band is. Shane, Ellie, even Trick.”
Trick was Liam’s nickname for Patrick, the fourth and newest member of their band. He played … something. Ari wasn’t sure what, exactly, because he’d never bothered going to a show, despite Liam’s repeated invites.
“Trick, too, huh? I didn’t think this would really be his scene.”
Liam laughed. “No, not really, but we managed to pry him away from the art studio for the night.”
“What do you say we play a little before we head out?” Liam held up a video game controller.
Ari glanced at his phone. They had hours before they needed to leave, and it wasn’t like there was much else to do. He’d already unpacked his meager belongings the day before, there was no homework, and his volunteer shifts at the crisis center didn’t start until next week. Spring semester was barely underway.
“Sure.” They’d be able to pass the time blowing up virtual adversaries and hoarding gold. He let himself get lost in the game, not thinking about his stupid therapist or the stupid party or Shane being there. He didn’t want to think about anything, just for a while.
Shane strummed his guitar absentmindedly.
“Shane, get your ass ready,” Ellie called from the bathroom.
He sat the instrument on the dark blue blanket covering his bed and ambled into his tiny apartment bathroom. Ellie’s round face was close to the mirror as she carefully attempted to get what she called ‘the perfect cat-eye.’ He wasn’t entirely sure what the perfect cat-eye looked like, but whatever. He couldn’t believe she hadn’t poked her eye out with that thing yet.
“I am ready. It’s you who’s taking forever.”
Ellie snorted and eyed him in the mirror. “You’re wearing that?”
Shane shrugged. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“Dude, you look like a TA or something. You don’t need a button down to go to a frat party. Go put on a t-shirt. That black one looks good on you.”
“Which black one?”
“The plain black one. V-neck. You wore it the other day.”
“Fine, fine.” Shane headed back into the bedroom, yanking his shirt off over his head. For two years, he’d known Ellie, and for two years, she’d been giving him shit. He rifled through a pile of clothes until he found the aforementioned black v-neck and sniffed it. It smelled clean, so he tugged it on.
Ellie emerged from the bathroom, head held high in triumph. “How’s this look?”
“Um, you’ve got swoopy things?” He gestured towards the corners of his own eyes. “It looks good, El. You know I don’t know shit about makeup.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said, holding up a stick of something in her right hand. “Now come here, let me make you look pretty.”
“Guyliner,” she said, closing in on him.
“What? No.” He swatted her away, but she was relentless.
“Yes. You’ll look hot. Sit.”
He sat, sighing. “Fine.” He had a habit of giving in to Ellie. It was a good thing, really. They’d only known each other since the end of freshman year, but became fast friends bonding over shared interests in music theory class. They had created Young Spades together, and it would be nothing without Ellie’s driving force behind the drums. The band was the sanity-saving force he’d needed and without it, he didn’t know how he would have made it through the past few years, despite Ellie’s militant, unforgiving style when it came to running the band.
“Okay, look up,” she murmured as she approached his eye with the pencil. “Thanks for coming to this thing with me,” she said, placing her free hand on his cheek.
“I think it’ll be good for you, y’know? To get out of the house. No, don’t look away.”
“I get out of the house.” He went to class, gave music lessons to middle schoolers, and was in the band.
“No, you know what I mean. You need to get out more. Be social. Have a life.”
Shane pulled his head away from her hands, eyes narrowed. “I have a life.”
“That’s not what I meant. A social life. Aside from the band. You need to date.”
“And I’m going to find a lot of gay guys at a frat party?” He relinquished control of his head back to her, and she went to work on his other eye.
“Well you’re not going to find any gay guys giving music lessons to children.”
Ellie straightened, appraising her work. “Perfect. You look totally hot. If I didn’t know better, I’d hit on you myself.”
Shane pushed himself off the bed and headed to the bathroom to take a peek. He glanced in the mirror, surprised by how much bigger and more open his eyes looked. And, sure, if asked, he would probably agree that he did look pretty hot. From the other room, Ellie’s phone chirped.
“Okay,” she called out. “It’s eleven. Let’s get going. ”
Ugh. It was so late. Luckily, the semester didn’t start for a few days, so he’d have time to recover, but seriously, who in their right minds went to a party at almost midnight?
“Now don’t rub your eyes or you’ll look like a raccoon, okay?”
Shane nodded and made his way to the bed. He picked up his guitar again and returned it to the case. He tried to mentally brace himself for this party. He wasn’t much of a partier, but he couldn’t convince Ellie otherwise. She was determined to get him out more. She claimed, with this being their senior year, he needed to think about more than just the band and graduating, and had spent the entire fall semester attempting to get him to come to more parties. Finally, he’d caved, so here he was, wearing eyeliner and a black v-neck and wondering whether he’d be better off sleeping so he could get up early and work on the song he’d been writing. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, he figured, so he’d decided to just go with it. Besides, maybe he’d meet someone hot, blow off a little steam, and be more focused when he did get back to writing. After all, it had been a very long time since he’d slept with anyone.
“Ready,” he said.
“Great! Liam’s already there.” Ellie grabbed her phone and tucked it into the pocket of her skintight jeans. She led the way out of Shane’s bedroom, through the living room, and onto the third-floor landing, which he could easily see from his bed with both doors open. He picked up his own phone and followed close behind.