I was about to make the only 'B' I'd gotten since coming to college. The fall semester was damned near over, and I still was not over the distraction in 'Broadcast News Writing' that sat a chair up and one over from my own seat.
The distraction was not the person's fault. Not at all. Usually the sort of distraction I'm referring to is along the lines of a girl wearing a much-too-low-cut blouse every class hoping to get the next highest grade by the two points she's showing off to the prof. No, this was not that sort of thing. This person was doing nothing but coming to class and sitting there several rows from the front taking notes.
Besides, it was a guy.
No, what was distracting me today was the same thing that had distracted me every day since the tall attractive green-eyed boy had sauntered into the classroom and taken that very seat on the first day of class. It was not his brown hair or anything about his sharp features that was bothering me. What was distracting me was the fact that Robert Howell was an amputee. I had no idea how high up his left leg was missing, but I knew it was above his knee. I could tell by the shape of the mechanical device that sometimes would be outlined by the cloth of his trousers that he was missing his real one. I had mused about the possible site of his limb loss for a long time, (that being one of the reasons for the upcoming 'B'!) and had decided that he must have quite a bit of his thigh still remaining. He seemed to have no trouble at all managing on his artificial leg. A slight limp and that was it.
Actually, he had at least two artificial limbs that I had been able to identify. The one he wore most often was one of those with the plastic covering that looks more or less like skin until you take a close look at it. I still remember wondering why his gait was a little stiff the first day of class. It wasn't until he turned around to look at me when I asked Professor Cunningham a question that I realized the leg was false. I saw the oval void where the upper and lower sections of the thing were hinged together outlined through the thin tan summer slacks he was wearing. I almost forgot my question, but if he noticed my stare, he didn't say anything about it. A few weeks later I would be totally fascinated by his other prosthesis; the one that had no cosmetic cover. It was just a yellowish tinted metal tube that disappeared down into a sock that peeked out of his left sneaker. The knee for that one was a rather angular metal frame. I had again been able to gather that much by the outline.
As the old man droned on and on from the front of the room, I flipped back a few pages in my notebook. I had made some fanciful sketches of what I thought Robert's leg might look like over the past weeks. I wondered if I would ever get the chance to find out. I'd never seen him come to class in shorts, but then this was the first course I had ever seen him in. I'm a junior, so he must be a transfer. He doesn't look like an idiot freshman, at least. He doesn't speak like one either! He's a sharp guy.
"So, what principles of libel can we draw from 'Absence of Malice'?" the professor was asking. He broke my train of thought by adding: "Mr. Collins?"
I had to think a couple of seconds and rewind my brain to retrieve what the question had been. I let the pages of my notebook flip back to the current lecture page. "Um... well... You can get by printing something that's not true under some circumstances!"
Darin Cunningham's eyes rolled to the ceiling before returning to stare daggers at me. "Quite so, Mr. Collins. I believe we all got that point from even a casual view of the film. I've spent two class periods letting you watch it in the hopes you got a little more out of it than that! Please, Mr. Collins, don't disappoint me! Please tell me you learned more than 'You can get by printing something that's not true under some circumstances!'"
"Well, uh..." Robert Howell had swiveled around in his seat. He had a mischievous grin on his face as he watched me. He was enjoying the old man's game of cat and mouse. I finally got my thoughts together. "Truth is still considered the best defense against libel. However, if you are making fair comment on a public figure you can't be sued as long as you both make efforts to verify the truth of the allegation, and as long as it can't be shown that you did it trying to ruin the person's reputation."
The professor gently patted one palm with the fingers of his other hand. "Thank you, Mr. Collins. Very Good. Now, class..."
He was nattering off about something else. I leaned back, satisfied to be out from under the gun. It was only then that I saw Robert give me a thumbs up before he turned back to face the rest of the lecture.
"You hit the old man between the eyes with that one!" he said as he slapped me on the back walking out of class.
"Hey, it was the point of the film. Easy to get."
"You into movies?" he asked.
"Sure. It's probably what I spend more money on than anything else."
"Me to." He paused. "You got anything goin' tonight? I haven't seen 'The Cell' and some of the guys on the floor are saying it's pretty good."
"Haven't seen it either, but sure, Robert. I've got a car. What time you want me to pick you up?"
"How about 6:45ish? And it's Bobby... please! Only my grandmother and the profs around this place call me 'Robert'!"
I laughed. "Understand. My gram is the only one who still calls me 'Terrence'. It's 'Terry' to everyone who knows me!"
"You got it!"
"Where?" I asked.
"Where do I pick you up? Where do you stay here?"
"Oh." He laughed. It was a musical laugh. "Deacon Hall. I'll be waiting out front."
"6:45 it is. See ya then."
I don't know why the upcoming evening excited me so much. You'd have thought that I'd gotten a date with some girl or something! I mean, it was just a couple of guys getting together to get out of the dorm and hang! Still, I was pleased to find out that Bobby was interesting to talk with. It was the first conversation I'd had with him all semester.
When I pulled my Camry up in front of Deacon Hall that evening, Bobby Howell was there all right. He was sitting on the next to bottom step of the short flight that lead up to the building level dressed to the nines! Like, I mean, this dood looked sharp!
"Was afraid I'd missed you," he said easily as he slipped into the passenger side of the car. He used his left hand to help his artificial leg into the car so casually and so easily that most people would have missed the gesture.
"Naw, I was just running a little late," I returned, then added, "Wow! You sure look great! I feel like I need to go back to the dorm and change so I don't look like your poor relation."
He smiled at me. It was a friendly, open smile. "No you don't. You'll have to overlook me on that one. It's kind of a fetish I've got."
"Hey, you look great! Don't mind me!"
He just smiled and I put the car in gear.
The movie was okay. I say okay because somehow I had the feeling that I'd seen all of this before somewhere. It had elements of 'The Matrix' and a couple of other shows I'd seen in the past couple of years. I don't know. Something was not quite satisfying with it.
Bobby looked at his watch as we left the theater. "Have you eaten, Terry?" he asked.
"Naw. Like I said, I was running late."
"Me neither. Why don't we stop by Bonanza and get something. I haven't had a real meal in weeks!"
"Sounds like a plan," I returned, starting the engine.
The idea of some real food after weeks of cafeteria crap was appealing. We both ordered the four ounce dinner steaks with bakers and salad. While we were waiting for the food, the conversation turned to the movie.
"I don't think Jennifer Lopez was a very good choice for the therapist," Bobby asserted. "Of course, I'm not a big J-Lo fan any way, so that may be it."
"Me neither," I answered. "I was thinking while we were walking out that there was something in that thing that didn't ring true. I think it was her. She just doesn't have the screen presence to make me believe the character."
"The little boy was really a cutie," Bobby added. "I hated that he had to die in the end."
"I saw that one coming a mile away," I answered.
"Well, I suspected it. I just hoped I was wrong."
The waitress brought our food.
"Where are you from?" I asked him. "Your accent sure isn't Texas."
"California," he said easily, then added, "fer sure, fer sure." We both giggled. "How about you?"
"Dallas born and bred."
"Got to get there before I graduate," he said casually.
"It's a good town," I said without much enthusiasm.
"You got any brothers and sisters?"
"Naw," I answered, "I'm it. I guess my parents figured after me they didn't want any more kids!" I raised an eyebrow. "How about you?"
"One little brother. Six. He can be a nuisance, but I can't help but love the kid." He paused. "I guess that's why I was worrying about the little boy in the movie. He reminds me of Kevie a little."
The small talk continued throughout the meal. The longer I talked to Bobby the more surprised I was how much we thought alike and how similar our tastes were. There was a really warm glow down in my chest. After three years at the university, I had finally clicked with someone who might turn out to be a real friend, as opposed to the string of casual acquaintances that had marked the previous five semesters. Even the girls I had met had seemed shallow by comparison to this dood. I wondered how I was stacking up in his evaluation; wondered if he was interested in being friends. He seemed to be a captivating companion and I hoped he felt the same way about me. It didn't take me long to find out!
Being the first week of December, it was both dark and cold by the time I pulled into a parking space in front of Deacon Hall. I didn't stop the motor because I assumed Bobby was simply going to hop out leaving me to make the two minute drive over to Hook Hall where I stayed.
"It's been a great evening, Terry," he said turning slightly towards me in the seat. He cut his eyes to the dorm. "Can you come up for a while? I've got some great movies on tape. We could check one of them out and talk some more."
"Naw," I returned. "I've got an eight o'clock in the morning. I better get to sleep."
Bobby's left hand was across the back of the bench seat. He stroked my shoulder lightly with his forefinger. "Come on, Terry, just for a little while."
Part of my mind wondered why he was making the physical contact that I was interpreting as flirting. "Hey, man, another time. I really got to go."
Bobby sighed. "Okay," he said with a small smile, then he added, "Thank you for a wonderful evening. I hope there'll be a lot more of them."
With that he leaned over and before I could respond he had pressed his lips to mine in a gentle kiss! When I didn't return it, he pulled back, a slightly hurt expression on his face. All I could say was "Uh..."
"Sorry," he said. I could see him blush even in the low light from the street lamps. "I guess I shouldn't have done that." He cut a look over at me. "It's just that you're so awesome," he added.
Without waiting for me to answer, he opened the car door and was out. He stuck his head back in the door and softly said 'Sorry' before he gently closed the door and made his way to the dorm, head down.
Part of me was sitting there in a total state of shock. I'd never had another guy kiss me before. I felt of my lips with my index and middle fingers, savoring what it had been like. Damn! I've just had a gay date and I didn't realize it until this very moment! What did I want to do? How did I really feel about this turn to the night?
Part of me was sitting there frightened to death. Looking back, I know that it was the part of me that wanted to tear the car door open and run to catch Bobby and kiss him back!
The frightened part won out. I finally got the presence of mind back to drive to my dorm. For once I was pleased that the university had undertaken a massive building program in the sixties that had resulted in an over-supply of on-campus housing in the new millennium! The lack of a room mate that I had decried on those evenings when there was no one to do anything with now spared me from having to talk with someone about events that I needed to think about. Privately.
I lay there in my bed, spinning the entire day back like a video tape. The part of that evening that perplexed me was the hard-on that kept recurring whenever I would get to the part where Bobby had leaned over and kissed me. God, it had been a wonderful kiss! He obviously knew how! There was just enough pressure to make the caress seem intimate, but he hadn't tongued me or anything. It was... God! What was the word I was looking for? It had been... yes! Romantic!
God Damn It! What was I laying here thinking? Romantic? Bobby is a guy already! He's obviously a gay guy. So what's with me here? Why didn't I bust him in the mouth for doing that to me? Twice I started to call him on the phone right then and there and cuss his faggot ass out! But I didn't.
I had not hit him on the spot and I was not calling him now because what he had done had not made me mad. I didn't like where this was leading. It scared the living hell out of me. I finally got up and padded to the connected half bath that was part of all the rooms. Maybe it was the hard-on that was clouding my thoughts. I got rid of it there in the bath, but it didn't settle my mind any. When the time came and I was shooting the biggest load I could ever remember I realized that the mental images I had were of Bobby's artificial leg outlined thought his slacks there in the car and the pressure of his lips against mine.
**********My eight o'clock the next morning dragged by like catsup dripping from a newly opened bottle. Somehow the mental battle I had waged all night was not over. Managerial Econ was the farthermost thing from my mind.
At 9:05 I felt the hard wooden surface of Bobby Howell's door beneath my knuckles as I knocked three times on it. It was not an angry knock, or even a frightened one. I simply wanted to talk to this boy who had so consumed my thoughts all through the night.
He opened the door after a few seconds, and I didn't know how to read the expression on his face. It was something between hurt and hope and disdain.
"Can I come in?" I asked.
"Sure," he said neutrally, opening the door wider so I could pass.
"Did I get you up?"
"No. I'm dressed. Sit down," he offered, gesturing to one of the plastic seats that are university issue for the dorm rooms.
Neither of us said anything for a long moment. Then we both began to speak at one. The words were the same from both our lips: "I'm sorry about last night..."
We both laughed. I suppose that was a good sign. I raised my hand, asking him to let me go first.
"I guess I really freaked on you," I said. "I've never had a gay friend, and you really blew my mind when you, you know..."
Bobby's mouth fell open. "Oops." was all he said for a moment. He finally licked his lips and continued. "I'm really sorry about that, Terry." He looked at his left leg then back at me. "This is going to sound really strange, and I'm really sorry about it, but I actually thought you were gay too."
My eyes widened. I didn't know what to say at first. "Do I look gay or something?" I finally asked.
"No," Bobby answered with a sad smile. "It's more of a feeling. We have this sort of a sixth sense about it... some people call it 'gaydar'. I don't know, I've thought you've been putting out some sort of vibe toward me in class. I've thought so for several weeks. But man, hey! I'm really sorry! I didn't mean to freak you out or come on like a mad rapist or anything last night. I mean, we're not like that. Gay guys don't want to bother anyone!"
I said nothing. I didn't know quite what to say.
Bobby continued. "You know what's really funny?"
"Even after I got back to the room here last night, I didn't connect it up that you were straight!"
"Really." He knocked on the plastic of his false leg through the cloth of his pants. "I thought it was this. I really thought that you just didn't want to make it with a gimp."
The guilt swept over me like a tidal wave. "Believe me, that wasn't it," I began.
"I know that now," he smiled. "But it sure made for a long night last night." He tapped on the leg again. "I guess I really do get tired of feeling like damaged goods."
I still was not sure of what I wanted to say. I was pleased when Bobby spoke again.
"So, can we still be friends? I really did have a good time with you last night, Terry. Can you put that fact that I like guys aside? You're the most interesting person I've met since coming here. I don't want to lose that."
"Me neither," I heard myself say. "I was thinking the same thing about you over dinner last night."
The boy across from me almost beamed.
I looked at my watch. "Well, I guess I better be getting a bite of breakfast before my ten o'clocker. You want some?"
Bobby grabbed his jacket preparatory to following me out the door. I'm still trying to decide what happened; what it was that snapped in my mind. I may never know exactly what made me do it, all I know is, I did it. At the door, instead of opening it, I turned the dead bolt lock to the horizontal position and turned back toward Bobby Howell. My arms opened and then closed around his shoulders.
I still remember the kiss. He was as surprised when I kissed him as I had been the night before when he kissed me. The difference was, where I had frozen at his touch, he melted to mine. He put his own arms around my neck and began to return the gentle kiss I had offered with just enough passion to tell me that he was pleased and wanted more of me. I must have kissed him for at least a minute before I finally released and we stepped apart slightly.
"Straight, eh?" he said, an eyebrow cocked, and a mischievous smile on his lips.
I licked my lips sensuously without intending to. "You, uh, have to understand Bobby..." I stammered.
He giggled almost sadly. "I know. It's tough coming out. Even to yourself."
"Admitting that you're gay."
I looked at him, again not knowing what to say. Finally the words formed. "Do you think I'm queer?"
I wondered why he laughed. As quickly as the giggle came it was suppressed. "That's a line from one of my favorite films," he said. "I'll give you the same answer that the boy in the film got: It doesn't matter what I think." He took my hand and gently kissed it. "It only matters what you think," and then he added, "and what you want to do about it."
"I've never felt like this before," I said. I was actually shaking.
"Come over here," he whispered, leading me to the side of his bed. "Let's get to know each other a little better," he said, "then you can decide how you feel and sort it out."
I followed and sat next to him on the unmade single bed. I was seated to his right and it felt so good and so natural when he slipped his arms around my torso and our lips met in another kiss. Bobby was a good kisser! Very gently, and without being pushy or boorish he roughed my lips with the tip of his tongue. I hadn't known how I was going to respond to the more intimate contact, but it didn't scare me. What scared me was the erection that sprang unbidden at the contact. If felt so good to have that warm glow down in my groin. Somehow, it didn't seem as perplexing as it had the night before. I understood that the warm mouth that was kissing and caressing my lips was communicating real passion, and my body was simply responding in kind.
When he broke the kiss Bobby asked: "I'd really like to open your shirt and touch your chest. Is it okay?"
It was so cool! He spoke the words just the same way that a semester before I had whispered to Chandra Duncan when I had asked if I could feel of her breasts. She, of course, had slapped my face. I didn't do that to Bobby. Instead, I began, as fast as my fingers would go, undoing the front of my shirt.
Bobby's hand caught my own. "There's no hurry," he said quietly. "Here. Let me. I'd like to do this."
I knew he was going slowly just to arouse me more. I knew it, and I let him do it. I could feel the heat radiating from my own skin. It took him almost a minute to undo all of the buttons and slip the shirt down my arms, one at the time. By contrast, he didn't make much of a show out of pulling my white tee shirt over my head.
"Cool!" he said.
"Your tits are cool," he answered.
I looked down at the nipples that adorned my chest. I work out some, so I've got good definition, but what he was referring to was, indeed, the boldly colored buds that top each of my pecs. As a child I had been teased about them by some of the other boys when I would go swimming. They had claimed that they looked like they belonged on a girl. In a way, I suppose they do. They're not as large as a female's would be, but they are darkly colored and slightly puffy. I finally bit my lip and looked at Bobby. "Too much like a girl's?"
"I wouldn't know," he said slyly. "Never tried any."
We both laughed. He dropped his lips to my left pec and began to caress me with his lips and tongue. The attention started in the center over my heart and worked in a spiral around the slight rise of the breast, working toward the nipple at the center. I knew he was going to wind up there and give me a suckling kiss. I couldn't wait for it! I pulled his head to the center and pressed him close!"
God! Was I that much of a girl? No! I'm a guy! But...
Bobby broke that kiss and sat back up, beginning to remove his own shirt. I didn't stop him. Actually, I wanted to see what he looked like under those sharp clothes he always wore. I wasn't disappointed.
"My turn to say 'Wow,'" I told him. "Your arms are awesome!"
He smiled crookedly and made a muscle. "When you have to use crutches to get around a lot of the time it does build up the arms," he said.
We necked and petted for ten or fifteen minutes before he started running his index finger back and forth over the top of my belt buckle. "I bet you don't look like a girl down here," he whispered.
"Why don't you find out?" I heard myself say. I was outside of myself, watching, like this was happening to someone else.
He undid my belt and released the snap. The zipper made a long slow grinding noise as he gently slipped it to the bottom of its track. I raised my hips as he slipped the jeans off me. The bulge under my briefs was plain to see. Bobby gently placed his hand over it.
"No," he whispered in my ear as he kissed my neck, "you don't look like a girl down there."
I stroked my cheek against his. "Shut up," I whispered. "And help me get these clothes off of you!"
"Are you sure?" he asked, pulling back.
"Sure of what?"
"Sure you're ready for what's under these clothes?"
"Look," I said, my embarrassment almost killing me, "this is really hard for me, Bobby. I've never done this with a guy before. I don't know what to do or how to do it but I know I want to cuddle up with you and just see how wonderful I know you're going to feel. Please. Don't make this harder for me. I'm..."
"Okay, okay," he whispered soothingly, stroking my hair. He smiled. "And that wasn't what I meant." He tapped his artificial leg. "I meant, are you prepared to see me without my false leg? It's not a pretty sight."
"I just want to be with you," I returned.
For a moment I thought I was seeing some sort of tug of war inside Bobby's head. Whatever it was, apparently I won. He nodded to himself and stood up. I watched as he removed his trousers and tossed them over the back of a chair. He sat back down and hit some sort of a switch on the prosthetic leg. It slipped away from him, and he laid it gently on the floor next to the bed. Another device that I didn't get a good look at followed it to the floor. He stood back up, balancing on his single foot.
"You just as well get a look at this, Terry," he began. "I know you knew I'm missing a leg, but sometimes it's a shock to see it in the flesh the first time."
I looked at the figure before me. The right leg was far more heavily muscled than I would have suspected, but again, it was the only one he had. It was doing all of the work, so it made sense that it would be well formed.
The left leg sticking out from his briefs was about ten inches long. He waved it back and forth slightly as I looked on. I wasn't sure if the movement was part of what he had to do to keep his balance, or if he was doing it to put on a show for me. I would see that it was tapered, being about half the diameter at the end that it was at the top where it joined his body. There was a light pink scar that ran across the end, one side of it going down into a sort of small valley that made a dimple of the outside of the stump.
"How'd you lose it?" I asked softly.
Bobby giggled. "You sounded almost exactly like Kevin when he asked," he told me. "Kevie came into my room one night when he was about four. I had already taken the leg off and was laying on my bed reading. He said: "Bobby? Why do you have just a nubbie instead of a real leg?"
"What'd you tell him?"
"Same thing I'm going to tell you. When I was five I was riding in the car with my mother. A guy ran a stop sign and plowed into the left side of the car. I was in the back seat. The door got bashed completely in and it crushed my leg. I remember screaming and passing out. The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital hooked up to a bunch of tubes and stuff and a big wad of bandages where my left leg used to be. They took it off less than thirty minutes after I got to the emergency room."
"I'm sorry, man," I began. "That's a tough break."
"It's only tough because people make it tough," he said simply. "I get around okay. I have several artificial legs, and I can walk with no problem. I just need for everyone to stop feeling sorry for me."
I reached out and took his hand. "I promise not to feel sorry for you," I told him, tugging him down next to me. Then I added, "And your leg's not ugly. I gotta tell you, my hard just got harder when you slipped that leg off!"
Bobby giggled. "Not only is the boy gay, but he's a dev, too!"
"Never mind," the young man said as he snuggled next to me. "We've got a lot of getting to know each other to do. There'll be time for me to show you a whole bunch of things." His eyes sparkled. "Including a really wicked peg leg that I wear sometimes just around the room!"
His hand reached inside my briefs and touched the passion there. My own hand lightly caressed the rounded end of his stump. There was no complaint.
"Straight, eh?" he whispered again, his voice teasing me unmercifully.
"Shut up!" I whispered back. "Shut up and kiss me."