Walking Into Clouds

by Rick Beck

Chapter 7

Frat Boys

There was a Saturday morning rugby match near my house. If the Panthers weren't playing, I went to see if I might play in a pickup game with one of the college teams. The players were closer to my age and if I met enough people, a couple of them had to be gay. It was a long shot but a guy's got to do what a guy's got to do, and so I played rugby each Saturday.

I'd attempted to make inroads with the college teams more than once. They often played each other and if there weren't enough guys out of bed on a Saturday morning, I made myself available. So far I'd earned some bumps and bruises but I wasn't invited to do more than sacrifice my body for them.

By nine the following Saturday, I was involved in a game and thoughts of my night in town were lost for the time being. I didn't feel all that close to making one special friend I could hang out with. Today I wanted to play rugby.

I fought off the desire to go into town. This need grew stronger in the days after each visit to the forbidden zone. It would be where I finally found that nice boy, but I wasn't letting my need become an obsession that ruled my life. I was in no rush. I could take my time.

After meeting Teddy and locating the gay section in the southwest corner of the forbidden zone, I had a lot to think about. My sexual urges were stronger than ever but there was a lot more to be considered than sex.

Having responsibility to people like me, my people, didn't occur to me before. The struggle for civil rights went on without my participation. When I thought of civil rights, I immediately thought of black people still working to overcome discrimination.

How could any gay person look into the mirror and not see himself as part of the struggle for equal rights? When rights were denied anyone, it was connect to gay rights, LGBTQ rights. It was our fight no matter who was in a fight for equal rights.

With the Civil War a hundred and fifty years in our past, I could see how elusive civil rights could be. I needed to read more about civil rights, women's rights, and LGBTQ rights if I planned to be informed. I now was aware that gay marriage didn't simply come about by virtue of the good will of men.

Failure to offer full rights to every citizen meant something less than democracy and freedom for some of us. As a jock in school, we stood on top of the food chain. Thoughts of being less than equal to my fellow students didn't occur to me. Now, while I struggled to come out, I realized my privileged status no longer existed.

I belonged to a minority that was denied its full civil rights.

It was a cool morning. I wore a thermal shirt under my Panther's rugby shirt. They were the only shirts I had that gave me enough room to give me the mobility I wanted, but the thermal shirt had me roasting in no time.

The thermal shirt came off the first time I came off the field. It was soaked in sweat. As I was making my uniform change, a boy came walking toward where I stood separating the wet shirt from my Panther's rugby shirt. He watched like he never saw anything like it. I gave him my biggest smile.

He was tall, thin, and not hard to look at. He looked at my body.

I made sure to hold the rugby shirt so the Panther's logo would impress anyone watching. Around the area, the Panthers were well known and being on the team gave me extra status among rugby enthusiasts. It was a step up from searching for pickup games but my playing time was limited as I learned the fine points of rugby play.

When I looked at his face, he smiled. He was taller but way thinner than most rugby players. He'd have trouble holding his own in a scrum. Most players were bulkier than me. I was small compared to the two hundred pounders on the Panthers.

Regular players purposely bulked up so they could muscle their way to dominance in a scrum. At a hundred and sixty-five pounds, I wasn't keen on the idea of adding bulk to my frame. I was muscular and I held my own against the two hundred pounders, but I was way faster, not to mention way younger.

"Nice day," the boy said. "A bit chilly but spring is in the air."

"Yeah," I said as he looked me over.

I looked him over and he had no bulk at all. When the whistle blew, I was waved back on the field, returning the boy's smile before doing it, leaving my admirer behind.

He was maybe a year or two older than me.

When I got back to my team, I looked back to see if my new friend was still there. He was. He smiled again. I doubted he'd be there once the game was over.

The whistle blew and the match was on again. I enjoyed the muscle to muscle clashes. It was the kind of contact that soccer and lacrosse didn't provide me. I could always depend on getting a run for my money in rugby. Lose focus for a second, and you'd pay for it. The slightest bend or backward move brought on an onslaught of challengers. Pushing, shoving, and trampling followed if you dared to go down. It was a posture I did my best to avoid.

The smell of the sweat, man musk, and different ointments for aching muscles created a fragrance all its own. You got big whiffs as your lungs hungered for air and breathed it in by the gulp.

Play slowed to allow for liberal substitutions. I stood in the middle of the field looking at the sideline. He was still there and he was still smiling. I raised my hand and ran off the field. I'd earned a break and I knelt on the sideline near where the smiling boy stood, hoping his interest wasn't a product of my over active imagination.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him strolling my way.

"You're built for rugby," the boy said. "I'm too tall. Too slender, but I'm trying to gain weight. You probably can't tell."

I gave him the once over twice. He was wearing spandex shorts that left nothing to the imagination. If he wanted an opinion, I needed something to go on.

"Yeah?" I said.

His eyes took on a curious sparkle as he watched my eyes. Then our eyes came together. His were interesting. I liked his smile.

My smile grew. He wasn't cute. He was handsome in a delicate sort of way.

"I'm Phillip Granger. Friends call me Grange," he said, offering me his hand as he stood beside me.

"I'm Clete," I said, trying not to blush.

He was a typical college boy. The ones I knew were polished and sure of themselves. Most came with perfect teeth and ready smiles. Their uniforms were top dollar with their fraternity's letters emblazoned on the front of their athletic jersey. I didn't know which fraternity was which, but Grange didn't ask me if I knew his house. He did seem interested in knowing me.

Other boys wore random items of clothing that indicated they didn't care how they looked. While I learned that frat houses got together to field a team, the pickup players were always needed to offer them enough manpower to get through the game.

Grange was wearing the black spandex, which weren't recommended because of how easy it was to spot and slap an opponents balls. Grange had a the target outlined in those shorts, but I didn't see him come onto the field. I didn't know if he played rugby or was an observer of the game.

I was sweating again a few minutes after play resumed. The sun was high and the game would end around noon. I usually went from the pitch to Hitchcock's Market, where I stocked shelves and stored that morning's deliveries. My body odor wouldn't offend anyone if I stayed in the back, but I had antiperspirant and cologne in my gym bag. I also kept an ample supply of recommended ointments if I was left limping for a few days after a match. The combination of smells hid any offensive odor I might be giving off.

I was replaced after another five minutes of play. Grange was still standing in the same spot and I ran toward him.

"You don't play in those, do you?" I asked. "You may as well put a target over your sweet spot, 'Hit me here.'"

We were talking about his revealing spandex shorts. It wasn't usually a place I'd go, but Grange was the one wearing the shorts that were too revealing.

"Yeah, jocks pinch the hell out of my cock. I have a cloth jock, but I left it in my room on campus. No, I usually wear shorts over the spandex, but I left those in my gym bag after the last game. Reek to the high heavens. I couldn't put them on, so I'll take my chances in these," he said, cupping his balls and rearranging his junk while I watched.

Grange wasn't bashful and after handling himself he let the spandex go and they slapped back against his body.

"Yeah," I said. "Wouldn't want to get those hens eggs broken."

"Ouch!" he said. "We're talking about my balls, are we?"

"Hard to miss those suckers. You know someone is going to spot them and he's going to lay you out with one quick slap. You're really vulnerable in those tights. A mean player could do some serious damage if you're playing without protection."

"You don't look mean," he said coyly. "We have more guys than we need today. I won't play unless we sustain a lot of injuries. Most guys wouldn't want to have a conversation about my balls. You're different."

"It's what makes the world go around," I said.

"I do attract attention like this. I've always liked attention and I don't get to play that often. I'm just another pretty face."

"You won't get to play at all if you keep standing by the opposing team," I said.

"I was going to get a drink, when I saw you. Want to go get a drink? You look thirsty," he said. "You look... really thirsty."

His bare calf now pressed against my bare thigh. The day had gotten a lot warmer.

The whistles blew. Boys charged on and off the pitch. The coach signaled me to get back in the game.

"Duty calls. Got to go," I said, dashing onto the field.

I looked back at Grange. He was looking at me.

While I thought our conversation was a little strange, I liked Grange. He was forward and he was interested in me. I wasn't sure what to do about it.

I didn't know much but Grange was coming on to me. I hoped I'd be seeing more of him, but it had to be before the game ended and we went back to our lives.

A firm slap to the side of my head woke me up. It was time to get my head back in the game, and I lost sight of Grange.

While the match played out, I received a sharp elbow to a spot just below my sternum. It stood me up, right before my buckling knees deposited me flat on my back. I ended up staring into the azure blue sky with wispy white clouds floating past, while I tried to remember how to breathe.

For a few minutes I was disconnected from the world.

Half dragged and half carried off the pitch, I ended up on the sideline in between the benches of the opposing teams. I was left there for whatever attention I required. I struggled to breath.

"You OK, Thomas?" the assistant coach asked, looking at me from where he stood over me.

"I'll watch him for you," Grange said, waltzing over to me.

"Good deal," the coach said, heading back down the sideline.

"You look a little pale," Grange said. "Eat something that didn't sit well with you?"

"Yeah, an elbow. You're like the proverbial bad penny," I squeaked, holding up my shirt to see if the elbow left a bruise.

"How's that?" he asked.

"You keep turning up," I said in a croak. "Man that smarts."

He laughed.

I caught my breath with a gasp. I let my head drop onto the cool grass and I practiced taking deeper and deeper gulps of air.

If Grange wasn't coming onto me, he gave a good impression of a guy who wanted to get to know me better. There wasn't anything about Grange I didn't like.

I wasn't the only one to notice. A few people walking on the sidelines took a glance at Grange's goods as they passed. I pictured myself in spandex shorts and the thought embarrassed me. Showing off what I had never crossed my mind. Grange didn't mind showing off. To each his own.

Breathing became easier but my mind wasn't on the match.

"Most guys don't pay attention to my antics," Grange said. "Are you gay? You keep looking at me like you're smitten. Do you always look at boys that way or am I a special case?"

This wasn't the place where I thought I might meet the boy of my dreams but Grange was obviously interested in me. A straight guy wouldn't talk that way or dress like that, would he?

The last place I figured I would be discussing my sexuality was on the sidelines at a rugby match. Grange's approach called for me to be as direct as he was. I was as interested in knowing him better as he was interested in knowing me and it didn't matter where we were.

"Yes, I'm gay," I said, after making sure no one else could hear me saying it. "Are you?"

The answer was obvious. I needed to hear him say it. This would make us even and we could consider meeting later.

"Me? No," he said. "I like blow jobs and gay guys give great head if you want to know the truth. Advertising my stuff shows me who's interested in the goods. Would you like to suck my cock, Clete? I think you would. I'd like that."

At first I was horrified. I'd given up my most guarded secret, and he'd as good as walked on me. Then I thought about Teddy. I could hear his words of wisdom. If Grange was straight, I was the man in the moon. No one strutted his stuff to see who might nibble on it.

I could say that I was kidding and I wanted to see what he'd say if I said what I said, but I was gay. I'd said it and I wouldn't take it back. Whatever Grange was after, I was willing to play along.

What did I have to lose?

"It's in the eyes. You had that look right off," he said.

"Dream on, Grange. You're skinny, you use way too much of whatever you use to plaster down your hair, and your butt is too big for your body. Did you know that? Otherwise, you're OK, I was looking because most guys don't show off their stuff at rugby games. Like I said, you're OK, but I won't loose any sleep if we don't get together," I said to see what his reaction might be.

I could be just as direct as he was.

I wouldn't feed his already large ego. I wasn't hard to look at and I didn't need to accept his offer. Being attracted to Grange didn't mean I couldn't live without him. If he wanted to play, I could do that, but if he was looking to feed his ego, I'd pass.

His ass was really his best feature but I wouldn't tell him that. Grange was hot but he was a little too confident for his own good.

"Too bad. The Sigma house is having a party for its athletes tonight. You'd fit right in but I would want to get something for inviting you. The athletes are all studs. Right up your alley I bet. They're easy after a few beers. You'd fit right in at Sigma. We have plenty of athletic types hanging about."

"More bait," I said, standing up once I was able.

"We're just talking a keg party now."

"You drive a hard bargain," I said. "Let me think about it. I'll let you know before I leave. I've always wondered what it would be like going to college."

Life got weirder the longer I lived. I'd spent weeks looking for a way to make a connection with gay guys my age. Then one walks up to me on the sidelines of a rugby match. I would play this by ear. I had a hunch that Grange was as gay as I was, but maybe not. It would require a bit of investigation but I wouldn't give up on him yet.

I was learning that the world didn't work the way I learned it worked. I was learning to expect the unexpected and to roll with the punches. I still wanted to know more about Grange.

He'd walked up to me and as often as I came to the sidelines, he came over to me. That indicated an interest beyond merely waving his bait to see who might bite. I saw no future in playing games, but Grange was worth a closer look.

Following Grange's instructions, I parked the Silverado a half block from the frat house entrance. It was as close as I could find a parking space.

The entrance was well lit. Loud music poured from inside. People sat on the front steps and others were coming and going from the front doorway. I walked in through a wide entryway. I looked over the thirty or forty people gathered in the open area beyond there.

Granger was in a scrum of mixed company. There was loud talking, laughter, as each person was involved in a conversation I couldn't hear. I stood to one side, waiting. Granger was the only one I knew and he was the reason I was there.

It was no doubt a party atmosphere. I recognized a party when I saw one. I didn't think I needed to know more than that to feel comfortable. Most of the people there were around my age. They looked surprisingly normal for college kids.

A tall, basketball tall, fellow thrust a plastic cup of beer at me.

"Oh, there's beer," I said. "Thanks."

"It's a keg party, dude. Of course there's beer," he said. "I'm James. Do I know you?"

"Of course," I said. "I'm Clete. Grange's friend. You remember me."

"Hell, Grange invites half the people who come to these things. Boys a magnet for those not of the fraternity culture."

"That's me," I said happily. "I'm not of the culture but I like a cold beer after a rugby match. Here's to you, James."

I drank up and I found the beer totally refreshing. I hoped there was more.

"Rugby? Rough sport," James said, looking me over more closely. "We have a team but that's where you met Grange. This is mostly an athlete's house. We have some brainiacs. It's the only way the brain dead athletes stay in school. Where do you go to school, dude?"

"Don't. Working man. I play rugby for the Panthers. It's a small local club," I said. "I play for college teams at pickup matches."

"I know the Panthers. Not much about sports around here that we don't check out," James said. "You seem OK. Why aren't you in school? You're practically one of us. With a beer in your hand, no one will know the difference."

"I spent twelve years in classrooms. I haven't figured out what I want to do yet, James. I can't play rugby as my career, unless I want to starve, but I don't know I have much to offer a society that values money above all else. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about money. I'll need a better motivator than that to do something for the rest of my life. I plan to do something I like doing when I do do it."

"Interesting," Grange said. "I figured you for a junior college type boy. I saw your truck. You don't come from a lot of money, which is OK too. I'm on a basketball scholarship. I came from Detroit and if there's money there, they hid it from me," James said.

I laughed.

"I played soccer and lacrosse in high school. I could have played for any one of a half dozen colleges between here and the Atlantic. Didn't appeal to me. I have a truck that gets me where I'm going. As long as it keeps doing that, why buy something that will cost me a lot of money? It's four wheels and they turn. I'm not planning on taking it to any car shows. If I go to college later on, my truck's paid for."

"Good thing," Grange said. "You don't care about appearances?"

"It appears to be just fine with me," I said.

I held up my empty plastic cup.

"You met James and you found the beer," Grange said. "I'd say you are doing pretty well without me. Keg's in the corner. Help yourself."

"I came because you invited me. James was kind enough to bring me a beer but we don't know each other. Go get me another beer. You do me this favor and I'll forever be in your debt."

"An offer I can't refuse," Grange answered, going toward the keg.

Grange returned and handed me another ice cold beer.

"I hoped you watched where I went," Grange said, handing me the beer. "Service is not my strong point but now that you're in my debt..., we'll need to see how you repay favors."

"I don't want to see where this is heading," James said.

"I know things about you I don't know about anyone else here. Do I need to remind you? I'm glad you got out of the spandex."

"No, no. I'm known to be eccentric enough. I don't need you to verbalize my out of the house conduct."

"You, eccentric?" James said, turning to walk away.

"Thanks, James," I said.

"Be careful, Clete. There's chum in the water," James said with an evil chuckle.

"James!" Grange said.

"Don't worry. I won't tell Tooty-Anne. My mouth is sealed," James said, shaking his head as he left the scene.

"Tooty-Anne," I said.

"No one for you to worry about. Cathy is off with her girlfriends. They stay over one or the other's house on weekends. Go to man bars. Shop when they aren't sleeping. Run up daddy's American Express cards."

I'd come this far and I liked Grange in a nasty kind of way. He wasn't a guy I'd want to depend on for anything. I sensed there was more to Grange than he let on. He was way too smooth. I was a gay guy and he knew way too much about how gay men reacted to him.

"Beer's cold. You don't know how refreshing it is. I don't drink that much but this is good. The first one was better," I said.

"Keg beer beats hell out of the crap in the cans. On a typical party night we empty two kegs. Maybe thirty or forty people helping. If its a big party, we'll see a hundred people come through. We can go through four or five kegs. Our house has the best parties."

"Who do I pay for the beer?" I asked. "I like to pay my way."

"Me. I make all collections from my guests, but the house buys the kegs. We chip in to the keg fund. Drop our change in to a jug every day. Twelve of us live here. There's always money for beer."

I slipped a five dollar bill in his pocket.

"Honey, I'm not that cheap if you aim to pay for it," Grange said.

"No, I suspect not, but I like to pay my way. The money is for the beer," I said.

"If you aren't going to continue your education, you might want to hold onto your money. You're going to need it and my guests don't pay for beer," he said.

"I'll be just fine. You think the only way you make money is by letting mommy and daddy pay for you to go to college?"

"They pay. I do all the work," Grange said.

"Do you know what a licensed plumber makes, a pipe fitter, a steel worker?"

"Heavens no. Habits of the proletariat isn't my bag," he said.

"Try to take a shit without the people being on the job and you're going to be up to your ass in shit," I said. "Or should I say poop? Wouldn't want to offend your proper ears, but moving money around isn't a job. It's how the rich take money from the poor. At day's end, derivative traders need to take a poop too. See how fast I learn?"

"How'd we get to talking about... poop," Grange said.

"I was going to ask you the same question," I said.

Laughter sprung up from several people who were apparently listening to our conversation.

"I knew you were full of it, Grange, but I've never heard you talk about it," one guy said.

"Come on up stairs. I'll show you my room."

"He has some wonderful etchings," James said.

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