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Hot Off the Press

Ridgemont University Book 1



Meredith Taylor



Copyright © 2016 by Meredith Taylor


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher at the address below.


Meredith Taylor Books

29 Postnet Suite

PO Box X04

Kuils River

Cape Town

South Africa

7479


The characters, locations and events in this book are entirely fictional. Any similarities to actual persons, locations or events is coincidental and unintentional.


Twitter: twitter.com/RidgemontUni

Facebook: facebook.com/ridgemontuniversity

Email: meredithtaylorbooks@gmail.com



Meredith Taylor Books

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Contents



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26







About Ridgemont University





Join the adventures and M/M romantic exploits of the students at Ridgemont University in this exciting new series.

The Ridgemont University novels are wholesome, heartwarming slow-burn true love stories. No adult content. Let the characters and their journeys steal your heart.


Ridgemont University is one of the most prestigious educational institutions in South Africa, with a reputation for academic excellence. It is set in a picturesque, sleepy college town, next to the famous Ridgemont Valley and a fifteen-minute drive from Sandy Shore, where students often laze in the sun and swim in the crystal-clear waters of the many world-class beaches.

The University has highly respected sports teams and cultural groups, and a range of student societies. Many of the academic buildings are more than 100-years-old, and are inspired by both Greek and French architecture. The University Gardens and the local nature reserves also offer magnificent sights for those who love the outdoors.

Once the academic day ends, the town of Ridgemont has a thriving nightlife, and even a healthy gay scene. Most students can find something to keep them stimulated in Ridgemont.



For the latest on Ridgemont University, and to learn more about the guys who are featured in the books, visit meredithtaylorbooks.com.









Chapter 1





It was a blistering summer’s day and, despite the heat, Ridgemont University was alight with excitement. There was a large crowd gathered in the University’s amphitheater waiting anxiously as they chanted: “Harry! Harry!” The regal beauty of the University was the perfect setting for the occasion: tall Grecian columns surrounded the amphitheater; rows of poplars cast shade onto the crowd of more than a thousand students who held signs with slogans such as Take South Africa Forward and Prosperity for All. Harry Baleka, the presidential candidate who was inspiring a revolution amongst many young people in the country, was visiting the University to speak to students about their role in building a stronger country. It was obvious from the sea of sweating but excited faces that he was striking a chord.

Simon Northbrook stood next to the stage fastening the last of the posters which read Baleka for President. He was happy that he was able to be a part of such a historical moment by organizing the rally along with the rest of the staff of the Ridgemont Weekly News. He felt sweat stain the front of his shirt and fanned himself with one of the flyers bearing Mr. Baleka’s face. Despite the unbearable heat and all of the hard work over the past few weeks, he felt nothing but excitement and satisfaction. This was, after all, his baby, and as subeditor of political news at the paper he took the responsibility very seriously. He had made sure that all of the details were meticulously ironed out and that nothing could possibly go wrong. He knew that only if he showed the editor of the paper, Ian Peters, how dedicated and professional he could be under so much pressure, could he be sure that he would be selected as the next editor-in-chief of the Ridgemont Weekly News.

Ian, Simon noticed, was looking impeccable as always, not even seeming to feel the heat as he strode around amongst the other staff of the paper and made sure that all stations were go before Mr. Baleka arrived. Simon always admired the way that Ian seemed so unfazed by any stress or pressure, and could be the consummate leader in any situation. He found himself wanting to emulate Ian, but he knew that he could never be as relaxed; there was too much to do, and every team needed a worker bee like Simon. He was the one who made sure that nothing was forgotten. He sometimes worried that the other staffers at the paper would not respect him after having such a great leader as Ian, but he would cross that bridge when he got to it.

Ian turned to Simon and waved, smiling his big, handsome smile. He had short, brown hair and eyes that were filled with kindness that made everyone feel like they could immediately trust him when he looked at them. Simon saw the way that Ian’s shoulders were pulled back as he approached him; he had a broad, strong chest and the way he carried himself made it seem like even though he demanded respect, he was always ready to give someone a hug if they needed it. His soft, handsome features made him all the more approachable, and the rosy, almost feminine glow on his cheeks gave him just the right touch of vulnerability to take away the sting when he had to reprimand a lazy staff member.

Simon fidgeted with the poster one last time even though he knew that it was already perfect. His face felt flushed and he was suddenly embarrassed that his shirt was wet with sweat when Ian came closer to him. He adjusted his glasses on his nose and pushed his dark curly hair out of his face.

“Simon, we have a problem,” Ian said, his expression suddenly deathly serious. He had a way of giving an intense, penetrative stare when he needed Simon’s help. It filled Simon with a mixture of anxiety and satisfaction because he knew Ian always relied on him in a crisis.

“How can I help, boss?” Simon said with a smile.

Ian bent in closer, and Simon looked up into his handsome face as he spoke: “One of the tape recorders just died while Dennis was interviewing some of the students. He forgot to bring his spare again.”

Typical Dennis. He was the one staffer that Simon had to babysit the most; even though he was a good writer, he was careless and clumsy. Simon bent down and reached for a box of supplies under the stage. He felt Ian’s presence over him, and enjoyed the closeness. He beamed with pride as he held up a spare tape recorder, “Luckily I always come prepared.”

Simon stood up and handed the tape recorder to Ian, suddenly feeling silly for saying this, and worried that he was coming across as arrogant. He shuffled his feet and scratched at his hair.

Ian put his hand on Simon’s shoulder and smiled his usual encouraging smile, “That’s why I always keep you so close. I know you’re always there to have my back. Thanks Northbrook!”

Simon felt the weight of Ian’s large, masculine hand on his shoulder, and felt the comfort which Ian so easily inspired. He was slightly self-conscious about standing next to someone as muscular as Ian, but he had always been the slight and geeky type, and he was comfortable in that role. Ian squeezed his shoulder gently and turned to walk over to Dennis, who had just dropped his notes on the opposite side of the stage and was shuffling to pick them up. Simon shook his head, adjusted his glasses, and decided to get some sound bites from students. He moved into the crowd with his own tape recorder.

A few rows into the crowd Simon spotted his friend Zuko. Zuko was waving excitedly, his big afro, dark skin and colorful African-print shirt clearly visible in the sea of mostly white students. Zuko was doing a movement that was a mixture between a shuffle and a dance as the music blared and the crowd continued to swell. Simon was glad that Zuko was adjusting so well to life at Ridgemont University. Even though it was the best and most prestigious university in the greater Cape Town area, it was still very conservative. Zuko was a year younger than Simon and they had met at high school when they both worked on their school newspaper. Zuko had been openly and outspokenly gay since the tenth grade. Simon admired the way his friend could be himself with seemingly no fear. He wished that he could be so brave…

Suddenly the crowd erupted in cheers. Simon jumped and almost screeched out loud in fright. He immediately felt his palms become sweaty; the moment had arrived. Simon did not even look up to the stage but ran to the sound deck and checked that all of the microphones were responding; even though the sound technician was there, he had to check everything for himself, just to be doubly sure. He looked over at the other newspaper staff members and everyone was in position. He assured himself that everything was going according to plan, and finally turned his gaze to the stage.

Mr. Baleka was there, smiling and waving at the crowd. Even though he was approaching sixty-five-years-old and was mostly bald, he was still very good-looking, with his bright, gleaming eyes inspiring confidence and brimming with intelligence. Mr. Baleka was known for his remarkable presence. It felt almost intimidating. Simon looked on in awe as Mr. Baleka walked towards the microphone at the center of the stage and began to make his speech. Blessed with a deep baritone, his voice boomed over the crowd, but with a quality of kindness that made him seem like a favorite uncle to everyone who met him. He spoke about what he had done over the course of his political career to strengthen the country’s economy and improve the previously ailing education system. He laid out a clear, strategic plan for how he could move his previous successes even further if he were elected president. But mostly, his talk brought across how much of a role the students could have if they worked to help others who were less fortunate - a fitting message for the mostly very privileged students at Ridgemont. Simon was amazed and inspired. He looked over at Ian and saw the same wonder and fire in his expression. Mr. Baleka was someone to watch, for sure, and Simon just tried to remind himself that he needed to be objective when writing the story about the event - helping to organize this rally was already toeing the line as an unbiased journalist.

Simon noticed Ian scuttling towards him through the crowd as soon as the speech had ended, appearing flustered and excited.

“Simon, I know this is short notice and that you weren’t originally assigned to do it, but I want you to do a follow-up interview with Mr. Baleka. I know how much you admire him, and the story you broke about the student housing problem last month was some of the best journalism we’ve had in a long time, so if you can go and ask him the right questions I think that you could write more than just one piece about the event. Get inside of the man for me, tell me who he really is.”

The excitement in Ian’s words made Simon’s thoughts run at a thousand miles a minute. He was flustered; everything had been planned so perfectly and now Ian was throwing this at him as well. He didn’t have any questions prepared. But it would be an incredible honor to interview Mr. Baleka, there was no doubt about that.

“I… I’m not sure Ian. I’d love to do it but I’m not prepared. This isn’t how I usually operate.”

Ian frowned and Simon was worried that he was a bit annoyed: “Listen, Simon, he’s about to leave any minute now and it would be a big missed opportunity for the paper. I’d do it myself but I thought that you could use… I just wanted to make sure that you are ready…”

Simon knew what Ian was talking about: Ian wanted to give him an opportunity to prove that he could take charge under pressure. He felt his stomach sink. He didn’t want to disappoint Ian, and he knew that it would help his chances to be appointed as editor. Ian’s large brown eyes seemed to pierce into Simon with a mixture of hopefulness and pity.

Ian quickly changed his expression into a smile, “Never mind, Northbrook. If you don’t feel ready for it…”

Ian was cut off in the middle of his sentence by a sudden flash of red running between him and Simon. It was the wild red hair of Margeaux Chamberlain, the senior news reporter at the Weekly. Margeaux turned back to Ian quickly after darting past them, saying, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered!” She rushed over to Mr. Baleka and shook his hand. Margeaux was one of the most confident journalists on their team, but she also had a flair for drama, and her ambition was usually extremely annoying. Simon had watched her devour other journalists who were trying to report on stories she wanted to cover. Her work was always top-notch, and other staffers had even suggested that she might be editor someday. She had even said as much to Simon before, obviously taunting him to try and intimidate him. She made his blood boil.

Ian looked over at Margaux and Mr. Baleka, and said, “I guess she beat you to it. Don’t worry about it. You did a great job today organizing this event and you’ll write a great story about student political culture.”

Simon couldn’t help but feel extremely hurt by those words. He could hear Ian’s disappointment through the compliments. But he knew that if he had gone for the interview he might have made a fool of himself. Better to be prepared, he reasoned with himself, than to mess up such an important interview. Margeaux would probably do it well, and he could always proofread her story first to make sure it was all up to scratch. Maybe that would redeem him somewhat in Ian’s eyes? Simon sighed.

Margeaux finished her interview and shook Mr. Baleka’s hand, walking back over to Simon and Ian. She had a radiant, megawatt smile on her face, making her look almost comical with her bright red lipstick and red hair, but her confidence and attractiveness counteracted the excessive makeup she wore. Her top button was always undone to show just enough cleavage.

Simon watched as Ian put his hand on Margeaux’s shoulder, feeling his insides contract in annoyance. “Great job, Margeaux! Great initiative. You’ll have to tell me all about the interview at the staff party tonight.”

Margeaux seemed star struck, her eyes pointed slightly above Ian’s head and her expression dreamy and vague: “That was incredible! He’s such an amazing man. And I got some great questions in. I think this story will be on the front page for sure!”

She giggled and stared at Simon for a bit longer than needed, with a slightly menacing look, and walked away. Ian walked off as well to attend to his duties, leaving Simon with his thoughts. He’d have to pretend to be happy for her at the staff party later that night. And Ian seemed to genuinely like her too, in a way that made Simon very uncomfortable. Maybe there was some way he could show Ian just how manipulative she was.







Chapter 2





Simon stood by silently in the corner, his face dark and brooding. Margeaux had taken advantage of his inaction and pounced on a once-in-a-lifetime story. And it stung. Like hell. Simon looked at his Styrofoam cup filled with Coke Light, and found himself involuntarily judging his co-workers as they chugged back drink after drink with careless abandon. He recalled the last time that he had had a couple of drinks, and instantly recoiled at the memory of losing so much control and being at the mercy of his baser instincts and desires. Not gonna happen again! Especially not when he risked the chance of making a fool of himself in front of him. Simon flapping around on the dance floor, barely being able to stop himself from falling over his two left feet was not the most appealing picture. Despite his foul mood, the left corner of his mouth curled upwards slightly at the thought.

Simon cringed when he saw Dillon, who covered the sports section, putting his hands on the shoulders of Tara, one of the subeditors, as his hips swayed out of tune to the music. Every now and then he awkwardly thrusted himself into her backside ‘accidentally’. Poor Tara seemed to be trying her hardest not to punch him in the gut. Simon smirked at their hapless antics and took another chug of his coke, and then he heard the clink of a fork being tapped lightly against a champagne flute as the music wound down.

Ian was about to make a speech. Simon saw that Ian was a bit wobbly on his feet, and he fought the instinct to rush to his side and make sure he was okay. But he didn’t judge Ian. He could forgive that man anything. Ian silenced the crowd with a gesture that resembled turning the dial of a stereo.

“And now, my hard-working and ever-so-conscientious staffers, my knights seated at this here round table, I present to you, the Guinevere of our castle, Margeaux Chamberlain!”

Simon rolled his eyes, disdain and contempt casting a dark shadow on his face, and his mouth twisted into a sneer. Margeaux, true to form, scurried up to the front of the crowd, literally, to Simon’s disgust, with a pivot, a quickstep, and an elaborate curtsy.

“Margeaux, I don’t know how you did it but, yet again, you proved your invaluable worth to our great team. Getting Harry Baleka to agree to do your interview at such short notice is nothing short of a brilliant job. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank you for your ingenuity, talent, and skill.”

Margeaux positively beamed at this attention and praise. Her smile couldn’t be wider and, to Simon’s irritation, her head was cocked slightly to the left as she shamelessly took in all of Ian’s well-meaning praise. She took to the floor and Simon braced himself.

“Boss, I couldn’t have done it without my subordinates! I have always said that an organization can only succeed as long as people respond well to direction and instructions, and if those you manage have the self-discipline to heed those orders. And clearly my leadership philosophy has borne fruit.” Margeaux let out a loud guffaw, as if her ostensible attempt at humor was anything but meant sincerely, and Simon found himself even more miserable. He didn’t expect her to give him any credit, but being referred to as a subordinate really stung. His eyes darted over to Ian, to see what he was making of her asinine display. Ian laughed uncomfortably, himself clearly taken aback at her audacity, but proceeded to finish what he had started.

“Well Margeaux, with or without anybody else’s help, the office thanks you for such an amazing scoop, and we look forward to much more of your excellent reporting.”

To Simon’s relief, Margeaux’s arrogance wasn’t being received well by the rest of the crowd, with not an eye was left unrolled in the house, as they responded to Ian’s praise with faint applause.

Simon turned to pour himself another drink, and mumbled under his breath, “Jeez, I don’t know what I expected. A bloodthirsty, predatory leopard never changes her spots.”

“What was that, Northbrook?”

Simon heard a voice behind him, and that husky, deep-toned, warm voice belonged to none other than Ian Peters. He felt his knees buckle ever so slightly, but quickly regained his composure, as he shook his head to make sure his hair fell into place. He felt foolish for taking such great care to maintain the good impression he knew Ian had formed of him, but couldn’t help himself. Simon whirled around and did his best to smile nonchalantly.

“Oh, you know, grumpy old me muttering to myself. Writers write, right?”

Simon’s cheeks flushed at the awkwardness of the unintended assonance in his speech. Why do the weirdest things come out of his mouth when he is talking to Ian?

“That sounds about right! I love what a goofball you are, Northbrook.”  Ian laughed generously at Simon’s awkwardness, but Simon felt humiliated nonetheless.

“What are you doing here standing by yourself, whispering sweet nothings to your soft drink? You should be out there having fun, celebrating our success!” Ian slapped Simon’s back as he said this, and Simon almost tripped over his feet. His coke spilled out onto his shirt and he let out a tiny yelp, and frantically reached for a paper napkin to dry himself.

“Aw, crap, Northbrook, I’m so sorry! Here, let me help you out.” Ian grabbed a paper towel from his side of the table next to him and doused off most of the damage from Simon’s chest. Despite himself, Simon felt himself enjoying Ian’s big, powerful, dexterous hands rubbing his body in such an intimate way.

“It’s okay, it’s okay, Ian, please it doesn’t matter.”

Right on cue, like a shark picking up the scent of blood in water, Margeaux swooshed by and hooked her arm into Ian’s.

“Ian, if I am Guinevere, does that make you my Lancelot?”

Margeaux smiled seductively, lowered her eyelids, and raised her one eyebrow. Simon instantly felt his cheeks alight with fury. The only thing Margeaux was more ambitious about than securing the editor position at Ridgemont University Weekly News, was to be Ian’s girlfriend. That was blatantly obvious to even the most casual observer. Even so, Simon couldn’t help but notice that his two-minute long interaction with Ian hadn’t yielded nearly as much fruit as a casual passing remark by Margeaux. With an apologetic shrug at Simon, Ian sauntered off with a gleeful Margeaux by his side, and it took all of Simon’s self-control not to throw the remaining coke in Margeaux’s face.

Simon was comforted by the sound of another familiar voice from behind him: “My honey snookums, my little baby fluffy bear, my gay husband!”  Simon looked over as his roommate Olivia approached him with a smile and wide, open arms. He had invited her as his plus one for the party, and she sometimes wrote an advice column for the Weekly’s online edition so he imaged that she would not be out of place. His sour mood started to lift instantly, and with a sudden rush of joy he leaned over to her and embraced her in a tight hug.

“Oh my, somebody is certainly out to make my day! What has you in such a great mood? Hmmm, is it a certain someone someone?” Olivia winked.

“Ha, I wish! Quite the opposite. You-know-who beat me to the punch.”

“Aww, sweetie, I’m sorry to hear it. I swear, that boy has the thickest skull this side of the equator. Why he doesn’t snatch you up at the first chance is beyond me.”

Simon smiled at her attempt to console him. He could always count on his best friend to lift his spirits. They have been thicker than thieves since high school, and Simon could now only smile at his fear that their friendship wouldn’t last after they graduated. They were closer than ever. It wasn’t for nothing that they listed each other as ‘siblings’ on Facebook!

As Simon broke the hug, he had a good opportunity to give her a once over. She was wearing a flowing, floral print, spaghetti strap dress the color of sunshine, her chestnut hair caressing her shoulders, with light makeup tastefully applied to accentuate her gorgeous, almond shaped eyes and generous full lips. While sometimes grating, Simon never found it surprising that people asked him why he never hooked up with his best friend.

“Sailor, I’ve got just the thing to lift your spirits. Justin and I are planning a boat trip on his parents’ yacht tomorrow afternoon. We’d love it if you could join us.”

Simon considered this, and wondered whether a nice day of relaxing in the sun would outweigh the awkwardness of being a third wheel to Olivia and Justin. Simon’s brow furrowed as he thought of spending his Saturday holed up in the apartment, with his books and assignment notes staring accusingly at him from his desk.

“Liv, you know I’d love to. That is if Justin doesn’t mind?”

“Get out of here! You know Justin loves you. Besides, if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be saying yes to a certain question he’s about to pop in the near future, now would I?” Olivia giggled.

Simon thought of how perfect Olivia and Justin’s relationship was. They had been dating for two years, and he thought of how hard it was for him to come out to Olivia and to dash her hopes of ever being with him. But were it not for carrying out that difficult decision, Olivia would never have met such a fabulous guy as Justin. And me? sighed Simon inwardly. Where’s my Justin?

Simon’s eyes drifted over to Margeaux, who was happily swaying to and fro in tune to the music; her body grinded up against Ian, who didn’t seem to be resisting. Simon gasped as, during one particularly ambitious move, Margeaux’s six-inch heels were unable to support her and she fell backwards like a giraffe on roller skates. But Simon’s scowl returned as Ian caught her before she hit the ground like a ton of bricks, and Ian equally shared in her hoots of laughter and general drunken buffoonery. Margeaux looked up at Ian with an adoring face as she leaned in and whispered in his ear. Simon just about couldn’t believe his eyes when she pinched his butt!  “The sheer audacity!” he seethed. “Ugh, what a schemer.”

“Oh Simon, what’s with the frowny face, sweets?” Olivia asked as she returned from getting herself a drink.

“Same old, same old. Margeaux is pulling out all the stops.” They watched Ian and Margeaux finally regain their footing on the dancefloor.

“That’s it, Simon Northbrook! Time we reprogram those two left feet and let your inner Michael Flatley shine! And this time, I’m not taking no for an answer!”

Olivia dragged a very reluctant Simon by the arm, his every attempt at resisting futile. As disappointed as he was in Margeaux and Ian’s growing intimacy, he couldn’t help but laugh at Olivia: she was slamming her feet down onto the floor, pulling a monkey face, and at the same time doing some very inappropriate gestures. It was a hilarious combination of what not to do on the dance floor. Simon felt grateful for the bond the two of them shared: the many nights staying up over WhatsApp, having pajama parties, gossiping about boys. All of that, of course, changed with the arrival of Justin. Simon was happy that Justin made his best friend so happy, and although he was loathe to admit it, he also felt a little bit jealous. He wondered what the future had in store for their relationship, and whether the idea of such a strong relationship was in the cards for him.

Simon twirled Olivia around, caught her by the waist, and leaned down over her while supporting her back as she raised her leg, and she laughingly looked up at him. Olivia was the only one who could bring out the playful side of Simon, and make him feel slightly less self-conscious. As they got back to their feet, Simon noticed Ian across the room, clearly mouthing something in Simon’s direction. He turned around, but nobody met Ian’s line of sight. Simon frantically faced Ian again, but he was already on his way to the door. Was that just his imagination? Did Ian just try to whisper something to him in secret? Simon felt his cheeks burn hot with the confusion of what the moment had meant. He fanned himself, telling himself he was getting his hopes up over nothing and that he was probably just mistaken.

Simon started to contemplate leaving early before the party became too raucous, and then, right on cue, ever the opportunist, Margeaux drunkenly crawled onto a table, and clumsily managed, by some act of God, to get to her feet.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my humble subordinates... my fellow, my uh…” Margeaux giggled and nearly lost her balance, with an amused Simon struggling to contain his grinning.

“What, I mean, how great was that interview I conducted, huh? Oh, I mean us, I mean that we conducted, of course, my henchmen, my underlings!”

Simon felt his blood boiling to a feverish point, and started to eye the exit. Repeating the same stupid joke? This was low, even for Margeaux. Margeaux, however, had not quite finished, and as she attempted to continue her drunken, slurred speech, her friend Tara strolled over and helped her off the table. Simon looked around to see what had happened to Ian, and was disappointed to notice that he had left. Given Simon’s meticulous, OCD nature, he already knew that he would be agonizing for the entire night over what Ian’s puzzling gesture had meant.

Simon leaned against the nearest wall as Olivia danced next to him. He looked down at his stained shirt, and recalled how Ian gently patted and rubbed his chest in an effort to soak up the moisture. He remembered Ian’s touch: gentle, soothing, yet firm and commanding. Simon sighed. After a few more minutes Olivia called it a night and he watched as the last guests departed, and not that this came as a surprise at all, but he realized that he would be left to clean up the mess. As annoyed as he was, he held his hand to his chest, and a faint smile teased the corners of his lips. His Justin might not be about to pop the question, but maybe there was reason to hold onto hope… right?







Chapter 3





Simon looked around the office at the mess left by his colleagues. The clock in the corner of the office said that it had just passed 2 a.m. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes gently, feeling the exhaustion of a long day in the heat and all of the excitement of seeing Mr. Baleka’s speech. He felt tension in the pit of his stomach; he felt like a failure despite all of the hard work that he had put into the day.

He began to slowly walk around the dimly lit room to pick up some of the paper cups and leftover food and put them in garbage bags. They had luckily not spilled anything because the party had migrated early enough to a local pub. He gave out a loud, animalistic yawn and thought that his bed would be divine, but he knew that he would still have to come into the office the next day to write his article for the paper, and he hated walking into a messy office on the weekend.

Simon began wiping down some of the desks and cleaning away crumbs with a cloth, and noticed on his own desk that his laptop was closed. His brow furrowed; he distinctly remembered leaving it open, as he had begun working on his article just before the party started. He walked over to it and opened it to switch it on. It was opened to a folder that contained all of his latest research for articles he was working on. He felt slightly concerned, but thought that someone might have just mistaken it for their own laptop. Or perhaps he was just overtired from the many days of preparing for the rally on campus. Either way, he resolved to be a bit more careful - it never hurts to be 100% sure!

Simon filled a garbage bag with dirty paper plates and cups and carried it to the dumpster outside. The night was still quite warm, and he realized that he probably needed a shower after all of the excitement of the day. He had the desire to be reckless and take his shirt off in the heat of the night, cleaning the office bare-chested; he often had silly fantasies when he was on his own and he could let his guard down a bit. But he couldn’t be that silly, even when no one was around. As he opened the dumpster lid and put the bag inside, Simon remembered how drunk Ian had gotten and how aggressively Margeaux had flirted with him. He was surprised that Ian would be so casual around his coworkers, but Ian had a way of letting alcohol get the better of him, and just like most of the students at Ridgemont, he indulged a bit too much at parties. Simon shuddered at the memory of Ian hugging the porcelain throne at last year’s Margaret Hille ball, his stomach heaving. Simon, as always, had noticed Ian was missing, and he was sad to find that his first suspicion was correct: Ian was violently ridding himself of the night’s debauchery.

There was, however, something exciting about seeing Ian be so free at the party. It seemed like Ian was never afraid to be himself or have fun. Perhaps it would be better though, Simon thought, if he didn’t do it in professional settings.

Simon walked back inside and felt the fatigue hit him like a heavy blanket on his shoulders. He was happy that he only lived a few blocks away, in a central apartment complex right on campus. Working towards his degree in journalism and spending so much time at the paper was taxing enough; he reasoned that he didn’t need the extra burden of worrying about travel. Besides, it allowed him to stay in the office until 2 a.m.

When he walked back inside and approached the office door, he heard shuffling. His heart started to race. Who could have sneaked into the office in the five minutes that he was outside?

He braced himself as he slowly crept towards the door - the lights had been dimmed and there was a figure moving around slowly. Simon peeked inside and saw a man in a disheveled shirt shuffling through papers at the editor’s section. Without a hint of sound, Simon’s hand deftly reached inside his pocked. Liv often teased him for having Campus Security on speed dial, but now his caution was paying off. Just as he was about to hit the dial button, the clumsy figure awkwardly stumbled around, facing him, and Ian’s happy, drunken, and brilliantly blue eyes fell on him. Simon breathed a sigh of relief.

“Ian! I wasn’t expecting to see you here.” What he wanted to say instead was, you almost gave me a heart attack!

Ian seemed vague and was clearly quite drunk. He gave a squinty smile at Simon and sat down against the desk, “Hey Northbrook. Glad to see my trusty soldier still here. I hope you enjoyed the party?”

“I had a great time, boss.”

Ian had spilled red wine over the front of his shirt, and he looked like a complete disaster, but despite the fact that the gaze he held was a bit unfocused, Ian’s signature twinkle in his eye more than made up for it.

Simon walked over to his own desk and found an old plastic grocery bag in his bottom drawer, where he stashed such items for emergencies like these. Inside, he produced an old flannel shirt. “I keep some supplies here, just in case. Why don’t you take this shirt so that you’re not walking around campus with a red stain?”

He walked over to Ian and offered the shirt with both hands. Ian smiled again, this time with a bit more enthusiasm than before. He clumsily lifted himself to his feet and took the shirt from Simon: “You always have my back, Simon.” Ian rarely called him by his first name. Simon felt a rush of pleasure run down his spine, and despite his self-effacing personality, he beamed from ear to ear at the affirmation and familiarity of Ian’s tone.

Simon gasped as Ian began unbuttoning his stained shirt. Self-consciously, and to his embarrassment, Simon lowered his gaze as Ian removed his shirt exposing his smooth, muscular, broad chest, framed by wide, angular shoulders. His hair, usually so well-kept, was messy, and it made him look rugged and earthy. When Ian had removed his shirt completely, Simon watched his firm, strong body, struggling to keep his lower jaw in place. He lingered on the thought of Ian wearing his shirt.

Ian’s arm awkwardly aimed for the inside of the sleeve and, unfocused and unsteady, he nearly punched Simon in the face in an attempt to get dressed. Simon ducked his head just in time, and in a fit of apologies and giggles, Ian rested his head on Simon’s shoulder, smiling with an adorably naughty glint in his eyes. Simon summoned up the effort of a martial artist skilled in breaking stony surfaces with their bare hands in order not to delicately plant a sweet kiss on Ian’s rosy, lightly stubbled cheeks. Simon shyly returned Ian’s smile.

Ian is such a nice guy, Simon thought. Sure, the drunken antics are a bit of a turn off, but who can resist that chiseled jawline – as if sculpted by Michelangelo himself? Simon finally regained his composure, and he helped to steady Ian and pulled the sleeves over his shoulder. He felt his stomach turn. Simon nervously wondered if Ian could hear his heartbeat, because he could hear it thumping away at a mile a minute. Simon felt lightheaded as Ian’s masculine scent filled his nostrils. He moved away, and felt a sudden impulse to go over and fasten the buttons for Ian, reveling in the opportunity to look after him, but decided that he might be crossing a line. He let Ian finish putting on the shirt, and dragging his feet a little bit dejectedly, he went to the kettle in the corner.

Simon said to Ian, his back turned as he faced the coffee station: “Let me fix you up some coffee in my thermos just for you so that you can be awake when you head home. It’s not safe walking around when you don’t have your head on you. Or maybe you should get a cab.”

Ian laughed louder than was appropriate. Simon found himself frowning slightly in disapproval at another display of inebriation. Nevertheless, he prepared the coffee and went back to his bag to get some aspirin. He handed these to Ian and folded his arms as he waited for Ian to take the tablets.

“I saw you leave without saying goodbye,” Simon let out. He immediately regretted making himself seem vulnerable. Who wants a needy loser like that? He chastised himself for being so blunt. He didn’t know how to follow up the comment, so he just let it hang between them for the few seconds it took Ian to respond.

“Margeaux wanted me to join at Percy’s Pub. I went ahead. I wanted to stick around a bit more, but you seemed like you were having a good conversation with Olivia.”

“Yeah, she follows me around to these parties sometimes. I hope you don’t mind that she attended? I was told plus ones were okay.”

Ian sounded outraged at the comment: “No, of course I don’t mind! You’re one of our star players and everyone else brings someone to these parties. Why would I mind if you bring a girl?”

Simon was confused by Ian’s reaction, but he didn’t want to make the situation more awkward than it already was. “Besides,” Ian added, “someone as charming as you must have girls falling all over themselves to be with you.”

Simon was taken aback. Was this really happening? Almost right on cue, Ian smiled that lazy, effortlessly charming smile, and drunkenly stared at Simon, his hand rising up to meet Simon’s flushed cheeks. Ian lightly brushed the back of his hand on Simon’s cheek, and Simon thought his heart would explode in his chest. Then, Ian immediately turned around, furrowing his brow slightly, and approached his desk.

Ian spoke as he put more files into a folder: “I’ll be heading home soon. The pub wasn’t much fun tonight. I guess my head’s not really in it. But don’t bother cleaning any more. I’ll be in early tomorrow to try and get some of this sorted out.”

Simon swallowed, a dry, heavy lump in his throat. He was flustered by Ian’s sudden openness but was worried that he might be getting the wrong impression. Simon tried to turn the conversation towards work to avoid any further confusion: “Thanks for giving me that break today. I felt stupid for not going for it afterwards. You must’ve been so disappointed that I chickened out like that.”

Ian looked up at Simon, seeming even more sober now. His eyes narrowed, and he looked at Simon intently, his head cocked slightly to the side, as if he were deep in thought: “Don’t be ridiculous. You’re one of our best writers and I threw you a curveball. Don’t worry about it. I’m just concerned that…”

Simon held his breath as Ian paused. Was he about to hear that he wasn’t good enough to be editor of the Ridgemont Weekly?

“I’m worried that your articles are a little bit detached. Like you don’t put enough of yourself in them. You seem too guarded when you write. I wanted to give you the chance to do something spontaneous. I really respect the fact that you are so organized and that you do such a great job of getting things done, but I want you to find your own voice, and to write something that shows me who Simon Northbrook really is. I’d like to see you write something personal, and to put yourself into the articles you write for the paper more.”

Simon was flabbergasted. It sounded unprofessional to make his work personal. What was Ian asking for?

Ian stumbled over his feet and fell towards Simon. Simon caught him, barely managing to support Ian’s large, muscular frame.

“Woah, sorry about that, Simon. I’m feeling a bit lightheaded. Maybe I should just get off my feet for a few minutes and I’ll feel a bit better.” With that, Ian walked towards his desk where he lay down on the floor, as both of his hands cupped his sleepy eyes. Simon frowned and asked: “Should I call you a taxi? Are you sure you don’t need anything else?” He walked over and stood over Ian.

“Nah,” Ian said, smiling coyly. “Just a bit of company would be good. Why don’t you come down here and sit next to me?”

Simon was overwhelmed. He didn’t know if it would be appropriate at all to sit down on the floor next to his drunken boss. Especially not with the way he was feeling! Simon was acutely aware of his body’s desire to be close to Ian, to lie down next to him, and to feel Ian’s closeness warm his heart, his soft embrace enveloping him, the intimacy satisfying a deep need within him. Simon couldn’t help but notice how his shirt burst at the seams as it struggled to contain Ian’s well-developed muscles, and he noticed how the buttons were tautly stretched under the pressure. A small tuft of hair from Ian’s exposed belly was showing as he squirmed on the floor and took his hand away from his face, his eyes dreamy and wistful. Simon’s impulse was to run. All of these temptations proved too much for Simon, and before he changed his mind, he found himself seated next to Ian, looking at him expectantly.

“There you go, Simon,” Ian whispered, smiling more broadly than before. His features were even more striking up close, although his eyes were hardly open from his drunkenness. “It’s nice to have someone so close when I’m feeling like this. Aren’t you a bit drunk too? Don’t you maybe need to lie down as well? There’s space next to me…” Ian put his hand behind the small of Simon’s back and held it there, and Simon’s skin, rippling with goosebumps, felt like it was on fire.

Simon couldn’t believe what was happening. He felt his chest tighten, his breathing becoming sharper, faster. His mind raced and he knew that he would very likely regret staying longer. Simon jumped to his feet, pulling himself away from Ian’s hand. “I have to go, Ian. Sorry. I think I’m feeling… too tired now or something… Sorry.” His speech frantic, Simon averted his gaze, trying hard to avoid the hurt and surprise in Ian’s eyes.

Ian got to his feet, the smile gone from his lips, and told Simon that he would get a taxi. He walked out of the office without his files. Simon was left there reeling. What had he done? Why had he been so frightened of being close to Ian?

Simon sat down at his desk, his shoulders sagging, and he slumped over his desk, resting his head on his arms. He didn’t quite know how to explain what he was feeling. Clearly, the expert services of one Ms. Olivia Smythe were needed. Only his best friend could wade though his muddled thoughts and his silly behavior. Simon turned the lights off as he exited into the hallway, and with Ian’s scent lingering in the air, he left the building.







Chapter 4





The wind blowing in his hair, the sound of seagulls ringing in his ears, and the salty smell of the ocean in his nostrils, Simon and Olivia looked silently, head bowed against head, at the beautiful sunset. He could usually count on Olivia to lift his mood, and agreeing to join Justin and her for a trip on the boat was clearly the right choice. Simon felt his tensed up muscles relax, his mind clearing, and he felt light on his feet. It has been a relaxing day, and his body was clearly thanking him for it.

“Where’s my man with my sex on the beach?” Olivia giggled indulgently, and slyly winked at Simon. Justin had been tasked with bringing them drinks.

“Liv, I’m so glad that you and Justin are doing so well. To think, only about a year ago this time he was still under the impression that I wasn’t really gay but secretly still pining after you.”

Olivia let out a hoot of laughter. “I know, right? And now he is on the committee of Ridgemont Rainbow? I’m so proud of my forward-thinking, social justice warrior husband!” Olivia spontaneously broke out into the song “What a Man”.

Simon burst into a hapless heap of giggles as he watched his best friend’s antics. Only Olivia could succeed in making him forget his worries and set his fun side free.

“There she is! My beautiful girl. A drink for you,” Justin said as he made his long awaited appearance from the bar, and handed her a cocktail with a miniature paper umbrella hanging over the edge as decoration. A rainbow motif, naturally.

Justin gave her a deep smile, bowed down, and kissed her gently on the cheek.

As if struck by a jolt of electricity, Olivia turned to Simon, and almost accusingly asked, “And you? It’s about time we go on double dates, but Mr. Picky here just can’t seem to choose from his ever-so-available and willing contestants!”

Simon blushed a deep crimson red. His sorry excuse for a love life was often the topic of teasing from Olivia and Justin. And while he knew there was no ill intent, it still stung a little bit.

“Aww, you know, Prince Charming must be running late. I think it’s about time my fairy godmother and I have a chat.”

“And who would this mysterious fairy godmother be, if not yours truly? Contestant #1: Trevor, gorgeous deep brown eyes with a killer smile. Verdict: Dismissed. Hair too long. Contestant #2: Migiel, cutest dimples you can find, nicest guy all around. Hey! Points for rhyming!” Olivia giggled at her silly joke, and Simon nodded his head in mock exasperation.

“Verdict: Dismissed. He spoke with his mouth full once. Contestant #3: Zane, a stylish dresser, zingers that will have you laughing for days. Verdict? Dismissed. He smiles too much. I sense a pattern here.”

Simon stared down at the deck, shuffled his feet, and sighed because he knew what was coming next.

“But then there is the one to beat them all. The one who gets a golden star on all fronts. One Ian Peters,” Olivia said dramatically.

Justin, a psychology student, who had a calm, reassuring, and wonderfully supportive nature about him, noticed Simon’s discomfort and tried to come to his rescue. “Alright, ladies and gents, time to get this party started! Too much chatting and too little dancing!”

Simon, as he was wont to do, pretended to take a big gulp of his drink, and silently snuck onto the bottom floor to visit the men’s room.

Justin watched him leave, and noticed that despite Simon’s display of guzzling mouthfuls of alcohol, his glass was still quite full.

“Everything okay in Simonville?” he asked Olivia gently.

“Oh babe, do you have to ask? I feel so bad seeing him pine after Ian Peters all the time. I want to be there for him, but I just don’t know what else I can do short of kidnapping Ian, wrapping him in a bow, and hand delivering him to Simon myself!”

Justin chuckled and, touched by his girlfriend’s concern for her best friend, grabbed her by the waist, and leaned in for a deep, loving kiss.

Simon reemerged from the deck and witnessed the intimate moment shared by Olivia and Justin. Despite his love for his friend, he felt that all-too-familiar stab of loneliness piercing his heart, and he sighed deeply.

“Simon, get over here! This glass of champers isn’t gonna finish itself!” Olivia yelled from across the deck, and Simon sheepishly joined them again.

“We’re so happy to have you with us. And I have no doubt in my mind that soon you’ll be joined by Mr. Right. Maybe even Mr. Peters.” Olivia threw Simon a huge smile, but he felt himself cringing. If there’s one thing he couldn’t stand, it was people pitying him. Despite himself, he returned her grin and told her that he hoped so, too. Olivia’s teasing was usually tolerable, but doing it in front of Justin was still embarrassing for Simon.

“Besides, you need some fun in your life. After hours fun, if you know what I mean,” Olivia said. Simon blushed a deep crimson red and faux punched Olivia in the shoulder, and the two giggled.

“You know, the perfect time to flirt with a handsome, intelligent man is the journalism faculty opening function. I know it might be stuffy, but lots of cute guys from Rainbow will be there.” Simon had been reluctant to go since he wanted to spend the time working on his article about Harry Baleka and to get his studies in order for the year. He thought that the opening function was just an excuse for the Weekly’s staff to get free drinks. Olivia was relentless and said, “I think the four of us will have a lot of fun.”

“Uh, the four of us? What do you mean, Liv?”

“Alistair Simmons! Tall, blonde, with the cutest baby blues you’ve ever seen!”

Simon smiled. That did sound pretty hot. Olivia had served on Ridgemont Rainbow’s committee, the gay student society, a year before as events organizer, and she still had many gay friends. She had been trying to set Simon up with her friends for a while now but, and Simon knew this was pretty sad, it felt like he would be betraying Ian if he went for one of them.

“Zuko will be there, and we need to keep an eye on that sneaky cow Margeaux. Who knows what else she’ll get up to? And besides, you have to play the social game a little bit to advance your writing career. As much as I love reading your work in the Weekly, you’ll need some more contacts in the field to get ahead.”

“Okay, okay, you got me, Liv! I’ll think about it. Jeez.” Simon faked an exasperated sigh and wiped his brow as if exhausted by her.

“You know I’m looking out for my bestie. I want you to be happy, sweets.”

Simon frowned: “You know, now that you mention Zuko, he has been a little bit distant lately. Know if something’s up?”

“Nothing that I know of. I think he’s seeing a cute little redhead twink. He seemed happy the last time I spoke to him.”

“Hmm. It might be my imagination, but I know when something’s up with him, and I’m usually right.”

Just then, Simon’s phone buzzed. His heart skipped a beat when he noticed Ian’s gorgeous face pop up next to a text message.

Hey buddy. Just curious to know if you’re going to the journo opening function?

Simon put his phone back into his pocket. This time, no forced or phony smiles, but a huge grin spread from ear to ear.

“Liv, babe, looks like we have a date.”







Chapter 5





Simon gave his shoes one final wipe down from the cloth he kept in his glove compartment, and gave his reflection in the rearview mirror one last glance. His dark brown hair was smoothly combed in a side parting, not a hair out of place. Simon took pride and care in his appearance, and tonight he had to look his best.

“Jeez, boy beauty, are you done admiring your masterpiece in the mirror? Time to get to the function already!” Olivia yelled from outside of his car, her fist rapping against the passenger door’s window.

Simon grinned, climbed out of the car, and happily hooked his arm into Olivia’s. He entered the town hall, and was greeted by a first-year student, eagerly smiling at him, as she handed him the program for the evening. Simon entered the foyer and admired the formidable statue of Steve Biko, his imposing frame captured in stone as his figure sat in a pose of deep reflection.

The hall didn’t disappoint, and the journalism faculty’s ample cash reserves were proudly put on display, with elaborate floral decorations of white orchids and glittering silver vases lending a tasteful elegance to the evening’s atmosphere. Around fifty attendees were huddled in typically Capetonian cliques, and Simon’s eyes quickly scanned the room, darting to find Ian Peters.

“Hey, do you see Zuko around?” Olivia asked, pulling at his arm.

“What?” Simon was roused from his preoccupied search for Ian.

“Wait, I got this. Let me guess. Ian Peters, right?” Olivia teased, but smiled at him and lightly nudged him in his side with her elbow.

Simon decided to sidestep Olivia’s teasing, as he didn’t feel up to another round of being reminded of what a dismal failure his love life was. Simon was also reminded of Zuko’s absence lately, and he creased his brow.

“He did mention a couple of weeks ago that he would definitely be coming, right? That was your impression as well? I saw him at the rally but he didn’t come and speak to me after.”

“Yep, that’s what I thought as well. Hmmm. Hey, that cutey Jeremy from Rainbow is coming over! Simon, you have to meet him!”

Simon rolled his eyes, but found himself following Olivia’s gaze. Jeremy, a member of Rainbow, the university’s LGBT society, strolled over. Tall, slim, and blonde, Jeremy’s bright, gleaming green eyes glanced over confidently, and he winked at Simon just as he leaned in to hug Olivia. Simon blushed and looked the other way.

“Sweetheart, how have you been? Aren’t you just a picture of gorgeousness?” Olivia gushed. Simon felt a ridiculous twinge of jealousy. He didn’t react well when Olivia was so chummy with other gay guys. He appreciated the special bond that often exists between girls and their gay guy friends, and he found himself at times jealously guarding his territory. Even so, Jeremy was definitely cute. Even Simon had to admit that.

“And so, Mr. Clarke Kent, how have you been?” Jeremy all but batted his eyelashes at Simon, and Simon involuntarily blushed at the attention. Was Jeremy really flirting with him, or was he just imagining things?

“Um, I’ve been fine thank you, how about yourself?” Wow, Simon, what riveting repartee you’re creating here. Simon mentally smacked his head.

“Oh, you know, Lois Lane is patiently awaiting the arrival of her Superman, ready to be whisked off her feet and to be flown into the sunlight.”

Simon did a little bit of a double take, but found himself reluctantly admiring Jeremy’s candor and comfort with approaching a guy. Even he knew that Jeremy was flirting with him, and he was attracted to Jeremy...sort of.

“Well, uh, that’s nice.” It took everything Simon had not to punch himself in the gut. Jeremy raised his eyebrows, and he curled his lips in... what, sympathy? Simon felt himself lowering his eyes involuntarily. Even he was amazed at his poor romantic socializing skills. Don Juan he certainly was not! Jeremy turned to Olivia, who herself was shaking her head subtly, but there was just enough motion that Simon could gather that she was feeling sorry for him.


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