Hot Off the
University Book 1
Copyright © 2016 by
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characters, locations and events in this book are entirely fictional.
Any similarities to actual persons, locations or events is
coincidental and unintentional.
adventures and M/M romantic exploits of the students at Ridgemont
University in this exciting new series.
Ridgemont University novels are wholesome, heartwarming slow-burn
true love stories. No adult content. Let the characters and their
journeys steal your heart.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
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…
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
Ian scuttling towards him through the crowd as soon as the speech had
ended, appearing flustered and excited.
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.”
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.
not sure Ian. I’d love to do it but I’m not prepared. This isn’t
how I usually operate.”
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…”
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!”
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
know, grumpy old me muttering to myself. Writers write, right?”
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?
about right! I love what a goofball you are, Northbrook.” Ian
laughed generously at Simon’s awkwardness, but Simon felt
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
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.”
what’s with the frowny face, sweets?” Olivia asked as she
returned from getting herself a drink.
same old. Margeaux is pulling out all the stops.” They watched Ian
and Margeaux finally regain their footing on the dancefloor.
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!”
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.
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.
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
gentlemen, my humble subordinates... my fellow, my uh…” Margeaux
giggled and nearly lost her balance, with an amused Simon struggling
to contain his grinning.
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
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?
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
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.
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%
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.
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.
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?
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
wasn’t expecting to see you here.” What he wanted to say instead
was, you almost gave me a heart attack!
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.”
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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
“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.
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.”
follows me around to these parties sometimes. I hope you don’t mind
that she attended? I was told plus ones were okay.”
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?”
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.”
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.”
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?
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.”
flabbergasted. It sounded unprofessional to make his work personal.
What was Ian asking for?
over his feet and fell towards Simon. Simon caught him, barely
managing to support Ian’s large, muscular frame.
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.
said, smiling coyly. “Just a bit of company would be good. Why
don’t you come down here and sit next to me?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
my man with my sex on the beach?” Olivia giggled indulgently, and
slyly winked at Simon. Justin had been tasked with bringing them
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”.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
know, Prince Charming must be running late. I think it’s about time
my fairy godmother and I have a chat.”
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.
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.”
down at the deck, shuffled his feet, and sighed because he knew what
was coming next.
there is the one to beat them all. The one who gets a golden star on
all fronts. One Ian Peters,” Olivia said dramatically.
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.
him leave, and noticed that despite Simon’s display of guzzling
mouthfuls of alcohol, his glass was still quite full.
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!”
chuckled and, touched by his girlfriend’s concern for her best
friend, grabbed her by the waist, and leaned in for a deep, loving
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
over here! This glass of champers isn’t gonna finish itself!”
Olivia yelled from across the deck, and Simon sheepishly joined them
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.
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.
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.”
four of us? What do you mean, Liv?”
Simmons! Tall, blonde, with the cutest baby blues you’ve ever
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.
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.”
you got me, Liv! I’ll think about it. Jeez.” Simon faked an
exasperated sigh and wiped his brow as if exhausted by her.
I’m looking out for my bestie. I want you to be happy, sweets.”
“You know, now that you mention Zuko, he has been a little bit
distant lately. Know if something’s up?”
that I know of. I think he’s seeing a cute little redhead twink. He
seemed happy the last time I spoke to him.”
might be my imagination, but I know when something’s up with him,
and I’m usually right.”
Simon’s phone buzzed. His heart skipped a beat when he noticed
Ian’s gorgeous face pop up next to a text message.
Just curious to know if you’re going to the journo opening
Simon put his
phone back into his pocket. This time, no forced or phony smiles, but
a huge grin spread from ear to ear.
looks like we have a date.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
what I thought as well. Hmmm. Hey, that cutey Jeremy from Rainbow is
coming over! Simon, you have
to meet him!”
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.
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
“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?
been fine thank you, how about yourself?” Wow,
Simon, what riveting repartee you’re creating here.
Simon mentally smacked his head.
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
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.