Brian Goes To College
by Nick Brady
Copyright © 2015-2016 by Nick Brady, all rights reserved.
It turned out to be a good ball game once Brian got around to watching it. The Drillers won, 3 to 2. Louisa's friends were a nice bunch and Brian enjoyed it a lot. They got hot dogs and cold soda, and had a good old-fashioned evening at the ball park. They said their goodbyes and started home.
"Well, how was it?" Louisa asked pointedly.
"It was a pretty good game," Brian replied, "we won."
"I mean, how did you like Lanny once you got to know him better?"
"I knew what you meant. I thought he was fine. I liked him really."
"You'll like him better the more you know him. He's that sort of person."
"I have to admit you're right. I found myself wanting to see him again."
"See, I told you so," Louisa smiled. "You just have to trust me about these things."
"Maybe you're right. But I'm still a little unsure about asking him out. He sure didn't give off any vibes. Not that my gaydar is all that good."
"Oh, Brian. Can't you just be friends with the guy?"
Brian thought for a minute, "Right. Why do I always see everything as either or?"
"That's because you haven't learned to trust your own instincts. I don't know what Lanny wants to do – neither do you. Just relax and be willing to be friends with him. Lanny's not the sort of person to pounce on you."
Brian sighed. "I don't know why this is so hard for me. Where do I go from here?"
"Listen, we get together all the time. They see you and I as a couple just like they see Lanny and Melissa. How about if we get together at my house next weekend and you can see him again?" Would you be comfortable with that?"
"Sure, I guess so. Are you sure Melissa is OK with this? I mean, how does she see Lanny?
"I know Melissa very well. I have known all these people for a long time. She sees Lanny as a good friend but is aware that he isn't into a big romance with her. She will be fine with you and him being better friends. More than fine really. We have talked about this."
"I still feel like you and Melissa are trying to set us up."
"Well, what if we are? Lanny and Melissa are friends, not lovers. She knows that Lanny is kind of lonely. She wants him to be happy just like I want you to be happy. Don't be so cynical. That's what friends do for friends."
Brian shook his head. "I guess I'll just have to trust you Louisa. I've never had friends like that."
"Well, you do now," Louisa smiled. "I'll call you, OK?"
She leaned over and gave Brian a kiss on the cheek. "Don't worry about this. I have you covered." She smiled and jumped out of the car with a little wave.
The now familiar routine of the week started to roll by. Brian picked Gunder up for school, they went to lunch, then played some tennis and had a quick swim before Brian dropped him off at his house and returned home. The new wrinkle on the week was the assignment of a short story of about 500 words. It was to be fiction although might have some basis in fact.
Brian wrestled with the twins for a bit, ate dinner with the family then retired to his room to think about what he might write. He could hardly write about his travels as he had been to very few places outside of the area he grew up in. Experiences from his childhood were largely depressing and he didn't feel like sorting through that. A romance was out of the question. What adventures had he had? Not many that he could recall. But this was fiction, so the experiences did not have to be his own.
What did he know enough about to make the fantasy believable? Maybe some experience from scouting. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine something interesting. He relaxed and began to daydream.
He visualized himself and a friend hiking over a sparse hilly terrain. He could see himself with shorts and backpack. His friend was a little smaller, slender with dark brown hair. Handsome, but not in an ordinary way.
They had been hiking for some time and were tired. He was the one with some experience, and had led his friend out for a long hike. The friend was not used to hiking and had stumbled several times but without complaint.
He could see the detail of the hillsides covered with sharp rocks and sparse vegetation. It had started out fair and warm but a cool breeze was beginning to blow harder, and dark clouds appeared to the west. It was going to rain and he had lost his sense of direction. He felt ashamed, but his friend trusted him and followed him doggedly. Brian would need to be his savior if trouble came.
The wind began to blow hard and a flash of lightening appeared close by. He could smell ozone and wet earth as heavy rain began to pour. A rush of fear come over him as he looked around in all directions. His friend was not afraid but smiled gently and followed on.
They came to a sharp drop in the terrain and looked down to see a cliff face below them. Perhaps there was shelter there. The way down was steep but not impassable. He found a series of footholds and they began to make their way downwards. Now his friend showed some concern and followed cautiously. He took his friend's hand and slowly they worked their way down the rocks made slippery by the heavy rain. They found a narrow ledge that cut back into the hillside and looked as if it might provide some shelter.
He eased his friend inside then turned to remove his pack. When he did so, the pack shifted and threw him off balance. He could feel himself falling backwards still holding his friend's hand. The grip tightened and his backward momentum was briefly halted before his feet gave way and he fell onto the narrow ledge, his hips and legs dangling over empty air. Still his smaller friend held tight and threw himself back to prevent him from falling.
His legs thrashed wildly, looking for some foothold. His friend braced himself and pulled hard on the hand which connected them. He slowly worked his way back onto the ledge and into the arms of his friend. They embraced for a moment. He was thankful for his safety. His friend was relieved to find him safe.
They lay side by side and looked out at the rain which now poured past them, feeling the spray as it passed, but safe inside their narrow space. He turned to see his friend's smiling face. "You saved me." he said gratefully. His friend only smiled and still he gripped his hand.
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun, and the sky lightened. Peering over the ledge a path appeared where none was seen before. Still hand in hand they made their way down the steep incline to a place of safety. The fallen pack was retrieved and they made their way across a meadow now lit by sunlight. The savior had been saved.
Brian stretched and thought about his daydream, realizing that the friend in the dream was Lanny. Could this be a story? He opened his laptop and began to write, giving the characters names, introducing some casual dialog between them and adding details to make a better image of the place. It might be a little corny, Brian thought, but it might be worth a try. He went through it several times then printed out two copies.
Leaning back, he wondered how it was that Lanny's image was so much in his mind. Louisa was planning to have the little group of friends at her home next weekend and Brian was eager to see him again. How did he feel about Lanny? He wanted to be with him, to talk with him some more. Was he attracted to him? Yes, but the attraction was not really sexual, although he found him very nice to look at. It was more the anticipation of his company, warm and friendly, yet reserved. Maybe Louisa knew more about what Brian wanted than he did. Maybe she was right.
He slipped the papers in the pack he kept for school and went out to join his family. The only real family he had ever known.
The next day he picked up Gunder and they went to class.
"Have you written a story for today?" Gunder asked.
"Yes, but I don't know if it will pass muster," Brian told him. "I've never tried to write a story before."
"Oh, I have written many stories," Gunder said. "I think Dr. Brown will like my story. I have a talent for such things."
Brian admired Gunder's confidence but felt little for himself. They handed in their paper and were dismayed to find that their next assignment was to write a poem. There was some discussion, and then they were dismissed.
The week went by and there was more tennis followed by a swim. His time with Gunder was pleasant enough but the tension was gone. Brian was relieved and thought ahead to Louisa's party.
When Saturday came he found himself excited at the prospect of being with his friends. They really were his friends, he realized. A small group of people that cared about each other, not in some romantic way, but casual and accepting. That felt so good, so right. He dressed in jeans and a dark blue T-shirt. Looking in the mirror, he liked the way he looked. Perhaps his self-image was improving.
Louisa greeted him at the door, "Hey Brian, you look nice," she said.
"Thanks. You always look terrific."
"Come in, you're the last to arrive. I was afraid you weren't coming."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Brian smiled.
Inside were Keith and Francine, Lanny and Melissa, all lounging around the living room engaged in friendly chatter. They looked up when he joined them, greeting him warmly. Lanny saw him and smiled.
He found a seat and began to enjoy the company of these people. Louisa was right, they were a nice group, and he felt a part of it. There were snacks to nibble on and soft drinks on the bar. No one was drinking anything with alcohol which Brian noticed with relief. If he had inherited nothing else from his drunken parents, it was a distaste for all things alcoholic. He joined the casual conversation and soon found himself sitting next to Lanny.
"Hey, nice to see you again," Brian said.
"Nice to see you too," Lanny replied. "How was your week? Did you do any writing for your composition class?"
Brian shrugged, "The assignment for this week was to write a short story. I wrote one but I haven't turned it in yet. I'm afraid we are to do a poem next."
"How did it go, I mean the story? Was it difficult or did it come fairly easily?"
"It was sort of a daydream really. It reminded me of some sappy story out of Boy's Life magazine. I may not get a good mark on it."
"It might not be as bad as you think," Lanny smiled, "sometimes we're our own worst critic."
"We'll see I guess. You told me you like to write. What kind of thing do you like to do?"
Lanny laughed, "I'm working on the great American novel, like most would-be writers."
"I kind of struggled with this. How do you go about making up a story?"
Lanny leaned back thoughtfully. "I usually think about some situation that I have experienced or read about, and then fictionalize the event. Sort of let my mind wander and imagine what might have happened I suppose. It depends on what sort of story I'm trying to come up with."
"Is it a struggle for you?"
"Sometimes it is, but sometimes it just pours itself out. I think the important thing is to create interesting characters. Once those individuals are clear in your mind, they almost tell the story for you."
Brian nodded, "Have you published anything?"
Lanny laughed, "No, just in the school journal. I haven't had to courage to submit anything to a literary magazine or anything like that."
"Fear of rejection I guess. If you read about established authors, they all talk about the stack of rejection letters they got when they first started. Maybe the key is to just be stubborn enough to keep after it."
"So are you going to keep after it? I mean, are you really serious about being a writer?"
"I might be. The problem is that writing from my own experience is pretty self-limiting. I don't have that many interesting experiences. That's why I want to travel more, see more things, you know?"
"What about poetry? You said you have done that. Is that really different than writing fiction or a story?"
"Well, yes it is. Poetry has so many forms, but I think what distinguishes poetry from prose is its compactness. Poetry is more about choosing the right words, and creating images in the mind of the reader. At least that's my understanding. I don't really claim to be a poet," Lanny laughed."
Brian nodded, "That's interesting. To tell the truth, I'm finding this writing class more interesting than I thought it would be. Not that I plan to be a writer but I'm kind of enjoying it."
"You never know," Lanny said. "At this point in your life you have lots of options, right?"
"What are you guys talking about?" Louisa interrupted, "You sound like you're doing a writer's workshop over there."
Brian laughed, "Maybe we are. I need all the help I can get if I'm going to get through my English comp class."
"Well you're talking to the right person then. Lanny has written some nice things. You should see his poetry."
"I would like to. Do you have anything I could read?" Brian asked.
Lanny looked almost embarrassed, "Now Louisa, you know I'm not that good. I just dabble at it."
"Could I see something you have written?" Brian repeated.
"Are you serious? I guess I could show you if you promise not to laugh."
"Only if it's supposed to be funny," Brian said.
"Well maybe, I might share some things. But you will have to do the same."
"But I've never written anything."
"What about the story you wrote for your class? Could you show me that?"
"I guess. But it's pretty dumb."
"Maybe, maybe not. Not many people create a masterpiece the first time out. If nothing else it would be a good thing to keep to compare with the things you write later, to see how your writing improves over time."
Brian laughed, "Is this an 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' kind of thing?"
"OK, I guess we could do that," Lanny smiled. "I don't have anything with me of course, but we could get together later if you really want."
"I would like that. What are you doing next week?" Brian asked.
"I have a summer job to save up money for my trip, but I'm free later in the afternoon. How about we catch something to eat Monday night. We could do it then. I mean if you're serious."
"Sure, I would like that. Where shall we meet?"
Lanny thought a moment. "How about the Village Inn on Harvard. It's usually quiet there and they don't care if you sit and talk."
"OK, I'll see you there. About six?"
They had a plan.
The rest of the evening was spent in friendly chatter. There was no agenda here, just the opportunity to enjoy each other's company – a very congenial evening with friends.
After church Brian called Louisa and found that her family had other plans for the afternoon – no tennis today. He decided to take a little drive and drove south on Riverside until it became a country road that led him down to the small town of Haskell. He drove through open farmland planted with wheat and soy beans. Some was pasture land with cattle grazing. There was a peacefulness about this bucolic scene that left him with a quiet feeling. He looped around up to Muskogee then back to Tulsa. The weather was good and he felt able to breathe better.
Once back home he found that Marco had taken the twins to the park to play at tennis and Marty was taking a nap. It was quiet, so he went into his room to think about his conversation with Lanny, and about the poem he was to write. Images – Lanny said that poetry was about images. He laid back and tried to let his mind free up, think about images. His mind wandered over his afternoon drive and he began to write down whatever came to mind. Then he remembered what Lanny had said about characters. Were there characters in poems? Of course there were, but he didn't want to make a long story about it. Maybe it would be best to use nice language but keep it simple.
He pecked away at his laptop until he had several pages of scraps of ideas. Then he read back through them and discarded what looked expendable, tightening it up and trying to make it compact. Finally he thought he had something that might pass for a poem, but it didn't rhyme at all. He tried to think how to make it rhyme, then remembered Dr. Brown's brief discussion of the various forms for poetry. Bending this into something fancy seemed too complicated for him. Maybe this would pass for free-verse. He hoped so. He tweaked it until he either finished it or just gave up, he wasn't sure which, but he printed off two copies and slid them into his pack. This would have to do.
Monday passed as usual although Gunder declined their usual tennis game, saying he had other plans. Brian wondered if his new friends might be willing to provide him with transportation in the future. Oh well, that was not really a problem. He came home early and worked with Sam and Ben on some merit badge work. They would be leaving for scout camp soon and would be that much closer to achieving Life Scout. He was proud of them for staying with this.
He excused himself from dinner to go meet Lanny. He had not said much about him to the family, preferring to keep that to himself for now. He wanted to see where this new friendship was going. This was something of a new experience and for now, rather private. For one thing, it was free of anxiety and he felt no concern about it. He would talk to Marco later when he was ready. He folded some papers and slipped them into his pocket.
He arrived at the Village Inn just at six and found Lanny waiting for him, greeting him with a smile. He realized that this was the first time that they would be alone together and he felt a sort of pleasant anticipation.
"Hi Lanny. You beat me here."
"I got here sooner than I expected and thought I would find us a booth."
They ordered sandwiches and began to talk.
"Did you bring something for me to look at?" Lanny asked.
"Well yes, a few things. I don't know what you will think of them."
Brian took the papers from his pocket and exchanged them with those of his friend. "I guess it's the moment of truth."
They sat quietly and read. "Oh, this is kind of fun. I like your story," Lanny said.
"Just a minute. I am still reading yours," Brian told him, and read the rest of Lanny's story.
It was about a boy who was growing marijuana in a shed behind his house. His father discovered it and was angry, but the boy began to explain how much money they could make from his project and the father began to think it over.
"This is great. I wish I could write something like this," he told Lanny.
"Do you like it? It's pretty simple."
"Yes, but the people are so clear. I felt like they were real."
"Thanks, I like yours too. There is a lot of adventure in this, and you made me see the barren terrain. I like that the person who seemed like the weaker of the two ended up being the stronger in a way."
"But the way it was written seemed clumsy when I looked it over. I wasn't sure I should hand it in."
"No, it's OK. If this is a first attempt, it's really not bad at all."
"You think so?" Brian smiled.
"Yes, really. I think you will get a good grade on this unless the professor is too picky. He might have some helpful suggestions for you."
"Do you? I mean, have helpful suggestions?"
"I'm not a critic," Lanny smiled. "I just know that I liked it. But what about the poem?
"OK, let's read those now," and he looked at Lanny's poem and read it aloud.
When summer's burning heat at last is over,
and autumn rains again refresh the earth.
There is a burst of life which like a nova
hurls out the light that precedes icy death.
The wind boils leaves in heaven's flashing cauldron
an endless stream of color swirls and falls,
and reveals Seurat's dappled vision,
a patchwork quilt that flows and covers all.
That which spring began and summer nurtured,
at autumn's end must safe be stored inside.
With winter's cold the cycle's finally ended.
Tender life digs deep, flies south, or dies.
At last comes winter's quiet time which brings
all life's return in resurrection spring.
"Wow, that sounds like Shakespeare," Brian exclaimed.
"Hardly, although it is supposed to be a sonnet," Lanny blushed.
"Sorry, but what's a sonnet?" Brian wondered.
Lanny laughed, "It one of a zillion different forms that poetry can take. It has a particular number of lines and a certain rhyme scheme. Like over and Nova, earth and death – well they are not exact rhymes although some of them are, like fall and all. They have the same sounds in them anyway," he shrugged, "It's not all that good, but I was kind of experimenting."
"Well I like it a lot," Brian told him. "Maybe you shouldn't even read mine."
"No, let's see what you have here," and he took a breath and read Brian's attempt.
Here in this field of ripened wheatI hold you close to meFor as long as breath will allow.
In this vast emptiness filled with lifeWe are filled with love for each otherFloating here in this ocean.
Where warm wind moves in wavesAcross fecund heads of grainWe start anew our lives together.
Separated no moreWe are bound to each other Like root to ground, like seed to earth.
Springing up to growAnd blossomAnd bear fruit.
"Oh Brian, this is beautiful."
"Really?" Brian tried not to sound as surprised as he felt.
"Really. What is this about?"
"Well, I was driving past a wheat field and it just kind of came to me," he tried to explain.
"Yes, the setting is very clear, but who are the lovers?"
"Um, nobody really, just two people I guess."
Lanny looked at him and smiled, "I think this is better than you think it is. Certainly a fine first attempt. Are you sure you've never tried to write poetry before?"
Brian laughed, "I promise, why?"
"Well you should keep at it. Have you read much poetry?"
"Just what we were assigned in high school English class. And Dr. Brown had some things for us to read. My dad has a couple of anthologies. I did like a lot of what I've read so far."
"You need to read more poetry. You should read William Stafford. This almost reminds me of something of his. It has a deceptive simplicity about it."
"Really? Come on, you're just saying that to make me feel better."
"No, I wouldn't do that. If it stunk I would probably say so. I can be pretty blunt," Lanny admitted.
"Gee, thanks. Maybe I should take this a little more seriously."
Lanny laughed loudly enough to make a couple of people turn to see what was so funny. "I think maybe you should. Do you have anything else?"
"No, that's about it, Brian smiled, "but I appreciate the encouragement."
Lanny leaned back and smiled, "I really like talking with you. I hope we can be friends."
Brian returned his smile. "I think maybe we already are."
They turned their attention to the sandwiches which had been served but ignored while they talked with each other. When they finished their meal, they got up to leave and paid separately. As they walked outside, Lanny said quietly, "I hope we can do this again Brian. I've really enjoyed this."
"Me too, more than I can remember. Uh, do you play tennis?'
Lanny laughed, "No, why?"
"Oh, I just wondered. I play sometimes and I thought it would give us an excuse to get together."
"Do we need an excuse to talk? If you get tired of talking maybe we could take a walk together. That's my primary form of exercise."
"Sure, I would like that. Walking and talking sort of go together anyway."
"Yeah, I guess they do," Lanny paused, "like when?"
"I'm always out of class by four o'clock, where would you like to meet?"
"I like to walk on the Rivertrail. It's a nice place. Would you like to meet there tomorrow at four-thirty? We could meet at 41st street. That's not far from here and I'm free by then."
They stood awkwardly for a moment then shook hands. "So, I'll see you tomorrow, Brian said.
Lanny smiled and nodded then they went their separate ways.
It wasn't late. Brian went home and sat on the sofa with Sam and Ben and watched some mindless television. He excused himself after the news and weather and went in to shower and go to bed. His mind was filled with thoughts of his new friend Lanny.
Here was a real friend, one who shared some interests and treated him with respect. While Brian was not thinking about sex, Lanny was a very nice looking guy and Louisa's assurance that they were compatible ran through his head. What if she was right? What if this was the guy he was hoping for? He wasn't sure about that. Lanny had given no hint that he was interested in anything more than friendship and good conversation. But wasn't that the right way for a relationship to start? At least it seemed right to Brian.
He felt at peace with himself and fell asleep with a smile on his face.
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