Dante Mathers has forced himself to go out with girls in the past and he does it again when he's approached by the beautiful Serena one day on campus, desperate to prove to himself that he's "normal." But when he loses a drinking contest and is dared to go to the next campus LGBTQ meeting by his best friend, he’s not sure how to handle it. Sure, he could blow it off, but something nagging at the back of his mind compels him to go anyway. After all, his secret first crush was a boy in high school. But is he really forcing himself to go, or is he finally starting to be honest with himself? No need to overthink this, Dante tells himself. It'll be get in, get out. No need to talk to anyone. Easy, right?
Then he meets Sven. Sexy, toned, wearing a leather jacket with spiked up bleach-blond hair, Sven's bad-boy flare sticks out on campus and catches Dante's eye. But there's more to Sven than his punkish looks, and Dante's about to find out all the sultry little details.
Eight years later
She was the most stunning woman I’d ever seen, with skin as white and smooth as a fresh blanket of snow and hair that reminded me of rivers made of the finest silk. Deep, dark rivers the color of a raven’s wings.
She carried herself, a proud lioness—the most regal of the pride, the leader of the hunts on the African plain and the one the other females all revered for her strength and grace. An air of majesty radiated from her from where she sat on the stone edge of the fountain in the campus square. Poise practically oozed from her when she crossed her legs and brushed straight her dress.
It was a rich plum purple, her dress. She was wearing a matching shrug with a maize-colored shirt underneath—very classy. Silver hoops dangled from her ears, catching the sunlight and sparkling when she ran her hand through her hair. She had large shoulders for a girl, but it didn’t make her look odd. It suited her in a strange way.
I’d never seen her on campus before. New enrollee? I wanted to ask, but for some reason I found her entirely unapproachable. Maybe it was because I couldn’t see her eyes—covered by sunglasses—so I wasn’t sure what kind of mood she was in today. With my luck she was having her monthly gift, and the last thing she wanted was to be approached by some strange guy and asked a bunch of small-talk questions.
What would I talk with her about in depth anyway? Sure, I found her pretty, but what could a gem like her and a plain guy like me have in common?
In my pocket, my phone beeped twice. Shit, I was going to be late for a meeting if I didn’t hurry. I looked up to find the coal-haired woman, but she’d disappeared from her seat at the fountain. I shrugged, not too crestfallen. I’d lost my chance, but let’s face it—I wouldn’t have taken it.
I started off toward the student union. My phone beeped again, and I stopped dead in my tracks. I suddenly remembered exactly where I was going, and a cold sweat beaded the back of my neck. Maybe I should have approached that girl, because between talking with her and going to this meeting, I wasn’t sure which was scarier.
“I’m Mandy, and I’m bi.”
“My name’s Cole, and I identify as gay.”
“Terry, and if you can’t tell I’m gay, you need your brain checked, okay?”
The people in the room chuckled, and then everybody’s gaze fell on me.
“Uh…” I coughed. My throat felt like it was filled with sand, and I struggled with my next words, “I’m Dante.” That’s it, just Dante. Now move along…
Fortunately, when he realized I wasn’t going to say any more, the man next to me piped up with his introduction.
I whistled a sigh of relief. When I got out of this frigging trust circle, I was going to wring Greg’s scrawny neck!
I felt like a huge asshole sitting in this circle of ten people in a secluded underground room of the student union. They were here because they wanted to share with other people like them, to hang out and not be judged. Well, I wasn’t judging by any means, but the only reason I’d found my way to this LGBTQ meeting was because I’d lost a bet and my friend was still immature enough to find this kind of thing amusing.
The guy next to me nudged me in the shoulder, and I nearly flew ten feet out of my chair. I looked around the room. Introductions seemed to be over, and now everyone was just talking.
“You’re a fourth year, right?” he asked. His voice was smooth and rich. It reminded me of syrup, or tree sap.
“Fifth.” I swallowed. “I’m only finishing up electives this semester. I already have a job in my field.”
“Ah, must be nice.” He threw back his head over the edge of his chair and sighed. “In this little town it’s hard to find an internship close to home. I’ve been going through hell trying.” He grinned. “What’d you study?”
“Ah, that explains it. There are so many old folks and people who work with their backs around here. You’ll be in business for a long while yet. Or did you have plans to leave town?”
Part of me wondered if this was the kind of small talk I’d thought about making with that girl before. This guy was a hell of a lot better at it than I would’ve been. But whatever his motives, I didn’t mind. Greg was the only close friend I had on campus, and he hated talking about school life and work. The change of topic from girls and clubbing was refreshing.
“Nah, not leaving.” I shook my head. “Born and raised here in the country and no plan on leaving. I stick to my roots.”
He nodded. “I feel the same.” He held out his hand to me. “James.”
“Dante.” I took his hand warmly.
“So…” James leaned back in his chair and gestured at the whole of the room. “I haven’t seen you at one of these before.”
“Hey, it’s cool if you don’t wanna talk about it. Just making an observation. This place is so no pressure.”