Danny begins a correspondence with a secret admirer who turns out to be his roommate, Kirk. Eventually they embark on an emotional and sexual relationship so intense that Danny considers not going on tour. Then a phone call from Kirk changes everything. Believing Kirk never loved him, Danny leaves to take Europe by storm. Six years later, he learns the truth….
DANNY tapped his pen on the textbook for the tenth time that night. He was trying to focus on studying, but it was hard when Kirk kept leaping in front of him to ask how he looked.
This time Kirk wore overalls with a ribbed white shirt underneath. “How do I look?”
“Fine,” Danny said without looking up.
“You didn’t even look.”
Danny glanced at him. Kirk wore a Phillies cap backward and gave a sweeping bow that reminded Danny once again that his roommate was a drama student. “It covers up your hair.”
“So is that a yes or a no?”
Danny sighed. “You look fine. She’s going to like you no matter what you wear.”
Kirk turned on his heel and went back to his side of the room. Out of the corner of his eye, Danny saw him tug and shimmy into new clothes.
In truth, Danny figured Kirk wearing a hat was a good thing. He’d twisted his hair into dreadlocks that hung in his eyes, and it had started to look weird.
Kirk leapt back in front of him wearing the same shirt but a different pair of jeans. He also smelled of Danny’s cologne. “Now?”
Danny’s hand dropped from his forehead to the desk. “You. Look. Fine.”
“Okay,” Kirk said in a chipper voice and returned to his corner.
Danny leaned back in his chair and stretched, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror. Their room, like all the dorm rooms, was small—a white square with two beds, two desks, and a closet for them to share. When he and Kirk moved in, they’d rearranged the furniture to make it look like they had more than one room. Kirk had moved his desk so it faced the window, turning the corner into a little office. Danny turned his desk so the back of it faced his bed and the mirror on the wall was directly to the left of him. A few times he’d dozed off while studying and woke up to his own reflection and scared the shit out of himself.
As far as Danny was concerned, though, the room was temporary. Six months ago, he’d joined a new band called the Blue Boys. Entrepreneur Herb Winston had created the singing group and told them the 1990s would be the era of the boy band. “And we’re three years into the 90s,” he said. “It’s your time, boys.”
Since then, any time Danny didn’t spend studying or sitting in lecture halls or attending church, he spent at Winston’s warehouse with choreographers and vocal coaches. Three days a week, they worked until the hour hand rounded the top of the clock and one day turned into another. They were heading to Germany in two months for a summer-long junket to garner fan support and European label interest. After twenty years of singing and dancing in churches and community halls, Danny dreamed of Germany almost as often as he dreamed about sex.
“Is Johnny coming over?” Kirk asked.
“Tell him to get you out of here. You’ve been glued to that desk all week.”
Danny tried to pick up where he’d left off reading, but nothing on the page looked familiar anymore. He started at the top and read the first paragraph before Kirk leaped in front of him again. “How do I look?”
Danny looked at him. Same jeans, black shirt. Oh. Kirk looked good in black. “You look great, Kirk. I mean it.”
“Okay. I’m out of here.”
A sliver of noise spilled in from the hallway when Kirk left. Danny watched the door creep closed and lock automatically when it shut.
Okay. Finally alone.
He pulled his textbook back to reveal a sheet of loose-leaf paper underneath. He had one word written so far. “Guy.” It was the only word he knew he wanted to use. “Male” sounded so formal. “Guy” sounded like someone’s friend.
He drew an arrow in front of “guy” and wrote “single.” Single. That sounded a little desperate, didn’t it? There were a lot of ads that didn’t have “single” in them. But “guy” seemed to need a modifier.
Danny chewed on the end of his pen. A what guy? How had people described him? He’d heard “cute” a few times, but he wasn’t egotistical enough to write that. Besides, he wasn’t sure he agreed with them. Kirk always called him “nice.” Nice guy. What did a nice guy entail? A nice guy was nice to people. A nice guy helped out his friends. That was it. Nice.
Danny scribbled out “single” and wrote “nice.” There. Now that he knew how to describe himself, the battle was half over. Although he didn’t know what he was looking for, exactly. Just somebody to change clothes for, maybe. Or, on a deeper level, someone to kiss.
Oh, who was he kidding? Sex wouldn’t be bad either. Although Danny was selective about who could touch his body. Maybe it was the devout Catholic in him. He’d had sex with two people in total, both of them female. His only guy-on-guy experience came at a party six months earlier, when some astute and very cute pre-med student groped him a little in the corner of a room.
Johnny showed up about an hour later. Danny let him in, and Johnny flopped down on Danny’s bed, crossing his legs. “Did you write it?”
Danny nibbled the pen. “Sort of.”
“Well, let’s hear it.”
Danny took a deep breath. “Nice guy, new to….” He dropped the paper. “I can’t read this out loud.”
“Give it here, then.” Johnny reached over and snatched the paper off the desk. “‘Nice guy, new to scene, seeks another nice guy for friendship, possibly more.’ That’s so boring.”
“Well, I don’t know what to say. This was a stupid idea. I’m only doing it because you told me to.”
Johnny motioned with his hand. “Give me that pen.”
Danny grabbed a black pen off his desk and flipped it to Johnny. “This is a stupid idea,” he repeated.
Johnny put the paper on his knee and scribbled over what Danny wrote. “Danny, if you don’t get laid, you’re going to drive me nuts.”
Danny chewed at his thumbnail, watching Johnny’s brow furrow as he wrote something under Danny’s old message. Johnny studied it as if in deep thought before he handed it back.
Danny squinted at Johnny’s handwriting. “‘Barely legal stud with a hot body and killer voice seeks built, well-hung guy for long talks and hot times’? Johnny, I can’t put that in.”
Johnny shrugged. “Why not?”
“Because… because first of all, that’s too many words. And I’m not saying ‘hot body’.”
“But it’s true,” Johnny replied. “You need some way to put the body thing in there.”
“But that sounds… full of myself.”
“Then say you’re into working out,” Johnny said. “You need to sell yourself in this, man. Here, give it back.”
Danny handed him the paper, looking everywhere but at Johnny. “This is a stupid idea.”
“Just shut up for a minute.” Johnny’s brow furrowed as he went to work, crossing out some words and scribbling in new ones. “Okay. ‘Nice university guy into music and working out seeks same for….’ What are you looking for?”
“I don’t know,” Danny mumbled.
“Whatever you’re looking for, it can’t take long. We’re leaving for Europe soon. Why don’t we put ‘friendship’? You want sex, but that’ll happen regardless.”
Danny waved his hand. “Whatever.”
Johnny sounded out the word as he wrote it. “Frrriendship. There we go. You’re all set. Although I don’t see why you don’t get one of those voice mailboxes. No one’s going to take the time to actually write you a letter.”
Danny shrugged at his text book. “Because I can’t talk on the phone. That would be too weird. And someone might recognize my voice. You’re, like, the only one who knows about this.”
“Whatever,” Johnny said, folding the paper neatly in half and setting it back on the desk. “Are we gonna get out of here or what?”
“I think I’m just going to—”
Johnny stood up and tugged Danny’s shirtsleeve hard enough to pull him out of the chair. “The fuck you are. Come on.”
DANNY spent Saturday night in boxer shorts and a worn T-shirt, circling the room doing dance moves. Kirk cowered at his desk in the corner, his eyes still baggy from the night before, flipping through study notes for his performing arts course. Danny wore headphones so he wouldn’t make noise, but he couldn’t help mouthing the words to the songs.
“‘Come on, girl, and I’ll show you some things’,” he whispered. Over to the TV. Back to the bed. Step, two, three. Turn.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kirk shuffle a little, looking like he was trying to ignore him.
And then the music picked up again. Damn, this was a good song. Danny’s bare feet slid across the carpet easily, and he couldn’t help but throw a couple of his own moves into the mix.
Then the next song started. “‘I’m gonna dance the night away with you….’”
Kirk’s voice cut through the music. “Danny.”
Danny flipped off his headphones, looking over to see Kirk staring at him, still bent over the notebook in front of him. “Yeah?”
The tone of Kirk’s voice told Danny it wasn’t the first time he’d tried to get Danny’s attention. “Could you just cut that out for a while?”
“Okay. Sorry.” Danny looked down at his Walkman for a minute, not really wanting to turn it off, but he hit the stop button and sat down on the bed. “How was your date?”
“Okay,” Kirk said, looking down at his notebook. “Kind of boring. What did you do?”
“Not much. Johnny took me to some party and then I came home.”
And agonized over the personal ad some more. And thought about how crazy he was. And then masturbated.
Kirk dropped his pen on the desk. “I have to shower. I feel gross.” He slid the chair out and stood up, stripping off his shirt and throwing it on his bed. “Is Mama Davis coming tomorrow?”
“Yeah. She’s bringing cookies.”
“I love Mama D.,” Kirk said. Danny watched him grab his clothes and towel and cross the room. Kirk’s shoulders were a little sunburned. He must have gone to the beach this week while Danny was in the middle of his study marathon.
Danny heard the door shut behind Kirk as he left for the floor’s communal shower, and he glanced at the clock. He knew from past experience that he had ten minutes. If he held the right image in his head—called on the right fantasy—that was more than enough time.
He lay back on the bed and looked at the ceiling, trying to decide on a fantasy, but suddenly changed his mind. He rolled out of bed, grabbed his toothbrush and shaving kit, and tucked his key in his pocket before heading after Kirk.
The bathroom was big and linoleum-covered, like a changing room. It was empty except for Kirk in the last stall. The sound of rushing water echoed off the walls.
Kirk poked his head out. “Danny.”
“Yeah?” Danny said.
Danny stepped a little closer. “I’m here.”
“A little closer.”
Danny’s heart did a slow somersault. He took another timid step. “What?”
Suddenly water flew in his direction from Kirk’s cupped hands, soaking his face and hair and the front of his shirt. Kirk cackled.
Danny wiped his face with the tail of his shirt. “You’re an idiot,” he said, but he couldn’t help but laugh. Then he looked around for a way to retaliate. Water wouldn’t work. There was nothing else to throw that would do any damage. Then inspiration hit and he grabbed Kirk’s clothes.
Kirk poked his head out again, his eyes wide. “Don’t.”
Danny grinned at him and inched in the direction of the door. When he was in safe running distance, he bolted out of the bathroom, swinging the door shut behind him. He giggled to himself as he ran down the hallway and into his room for a dry shirt. It was a tied game.
“NICE guy, brown/brown, into music and working out, seeks same for friendship, maybe more. Let’s see what happens.”
That text finally went in the campus rag, under the “other” category. There was “males seeking females,” “females seeking males” and “other.” Danny walked home with the paper under his arm, afraid to open it in public, feeling very much like an “other.” He rushed into his room in time to find Kirk arranging his hair in the mirror.
“Hey,” Kirk said without looking over. When he finally did, he pointed to the paper. “Oh, can I see that for a second?”
Danny inched toward his desk, watching the floor. “Why?”
“Because they have movie listings.”
Danny sat down, paper tucked firmly under his arm, and stared at his desk. “You’re going to a movie?”
“I was thinking about it.”
Kirk walked over and reached for the paper. Danny instinctively pulled away. “What, do I have to arm wrestle you for it?” Kirk asked. “Give me the damn paper. I just need it for a second.”
Danny realized he was being weird and unfolded it, holding it out reluctantly. Kirk raised an eyebrow and sat down on Danny’s bed. “You are such a weirdo,” Kirk mumbled, flipping to the movie section.
Danny watched like a mother cat when someone pets her kittens. This was it. Kirk was going to flip to the back, recognize the ad, and know without a doubt that Danny was an “other.” But Kirk closed the newspaper and handed it back. “There you go. Still in one piece.” Then Kirk sauntered back to the mirror to check his hair again.
Danny let himself breathe. He was dying to check the ad, but he had to wait until Kirk left. He watched Kirk stroll around the room, searching for his keys and doing a once-over for anything else he didn’t want to leave behind. He stopped suddenly and faced Danny. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” Danny smiled big. “Why do you ask?”
“You’re just acting like… like you’re all nerves or something.”
“I’m cool,” Danny said. “I mean it. Really.”
“Ooookay.” Kirk tucked his keys in his pocket and headed for the door. “Later.”
The door closed slowly and finally locked. Okay, Danny thought. Show time.
He scrambled through the pages until he reached the back and found it. “Other.” The ad had turned out great. No hideous typos like “Nice gay” or “seeks sane for friendship.” At the end, it listed Johnny’s post office box.
He picked up the phone and dialed Johnny’s number as fast as his fingers would allow. Johnny answered with his typical “Yo.”
“It’s in,” Danny said. “It’s there. So start checking your box.”
“Thank God,” Johnny called out to whatever room he was in. “He’s going to get laid.”
“Who’s there?” Danny asked, a little panicked.
“No one. No worries. Coming to practice tonight?”
“Yeah. See you then.”
Danny hung up the phone and faced the mirror. He’d always hoped that when he got older he would be a little less goofy-looking. Maybe his smile would be the size of a normal person’s, and his nose would get smaller, and he would actually look older than twelve. But when he looked in the mirror, the same things still bugged him.
“Other,” he told his reflection.