“SLOANE, why don’t you get us some more sangria? In the kitchen. On the kitchen table. That’s the good stuff.” Micah Springfield winked at me.
“You know, Hank is—” Brian started.
Micah put an arm around Brian’s neck in a casual stranglehold, clapped a hand over his mouth, and patted it lightly, as if he was joking around. “Sloane?” Micah held out his glass to me.
“Uh… sure.” I took his glass, wondering if this was a pledge thing. If I, as a new member of Delta Sigma Phi, and a lowly freshman, was going to be a community gopher for the foreseeable future.
But so far, Micah and the Delts had been amazingly benevolent. When I and four other freshmen rushed, there were no illegal pranks, panty-on-head wearing, belly-crawling through urine, or naked spanking. Which was good, because I would have laughed, ho ho ho, at least at everything except possibly the naked spanking. Then I’d have made a beeline for the exit.
I never thought I’d be the type to rush a frat. In fact, if my parents knew about it, they’d be lecturing me over the phone on peer pressure, the dangers of codependency in closed social structures, and the effects of one’s social group on GPA in a university setting. They were both psychologists, and I, I was their lifelong patient. Nothing in my life went undeconstructed. But when Micah, a TA in one of my classes, latched onto me and gave me the hard sell, I didn’t resist.
Micah Springfield was president of the Delts. He was that guy who was hipper than you could ever hope to be, even if you took master lessons from Bob Dylan and Will Smith. He was genuinely smart but a thousand leagues from being a nerd, good-looking but lazy with it, you know? He had wild curly brown hair down to his shoulders, with these little braids in it, dread-style, and a remarkably unskeevy soul patch. He wore slouchy low-riding jeans, crazy-patterned shirts, and leather sandals most of the time, even in November. He was a senior in environmental science, of course, because that’s what terminally hip people major in. And he had these insightful brown eyes, eyes that looked right into yours and said I’m touching your soul, brother.
Micah was warm. In other words, the opposite of my parents.
Besides, the Delts lived in a cool old mansion, which was so much better than sharing a dumpy dorm room with my perpetually anxious, tums-chewing, pre-med roommate. I was over all the hair-pulling. He pulled his own hair, not mine, but still. I was definitely ready to move into a room in the Delts house that first weekend in November.
And if I’d had some stirrings of attraction to Micah at first, it honestly had nothing to do with my decision. I figured out in the first ten minutes that he was straight, and that was the end of that. Tiny nubbin of interest nipped in the bud, and we were both the better for it.
“Kitchen,” I repeated, looking pointedly at the punch bowl not two feet away.
“Trust me,” Micah insisted, winking at me again.
I sighed and went off to find the frat house kitchen.
* * *
I pushed through a swinging door and saw a refrigerator. I’d found the kitchen. My sense of accomplishment lasted for about two seconds. Then I noticed the guy standing at the sink doing dishes.
The Delts I’d met so far were upscale-looking guys. Even with Micah’s slouchy hippiness, there was a sense of quality about him that shone. And the other frat members, like Brian, tended to polo shirts and button-downs and managed to tread that narrow line between respectable students and nerds. They were more prone to hacky-sack and ultimate Frisbee on the front lawn than video games or football and steroids. It was a zone I felt comfortable in, if not one where I precisely belonged.
But this creature at the sink was something else.
He was a big guy, had to be over six feet and he was broad. He wore old, holey jeans that showcased a perfect, firmly rounded ass. On top, he wore a white tank top and nothing else, which left acres of huge muscles and tattoos exposed. He had a thick buzz cut and a full beard. One bare foot was propped up on the opposing calf as he washed glasses in hot, soapy water.
I clenched the stems of the glasses in my hands so hard it was a miracle they didn’t break. Black began to descend on my vision, and it took me a moment to identify the problem—I wasn’t breathing. Silly me. I gasped in a mouthful of oxygen, and the sound caused Sink Guy to turn his head to look at me.
“Hey.” Sink Guy’s grunt was low and rough like a dog or a bear. He turned around and went back to washing dishes.
I loved a good mystery. In fact, I found it boring how unmysterious life was most of the time. Study the material, get correct answers on tests, get a good grade, eventually get lots of good grades to get a good job. Point A to B to C. And people? Growing up the son of two psychologists, and furthermore being a huge fan of murder mysteries, I had a tendency to analyze people and put them in boxes fairly quickly. For example, the pinch of my mother’s mouth could indicate long-suffering, irritated, or secretly pleased, depending on its exact tension. There’s a look a guy gets in his eye when he’s attracted to you and a different look when he finds out you’re gay and he’s disgusted by that. Most people were open books.
But standing in that kitchen, my head was flooded with a dozen questions.
Who was this guy?
What was he doing in the Delts’s kitchen washing dishes? He didn’t look like a Delt, but he didn’t look like anyone a sane person would hire for catering or cleanup either.
He seemed young, about my age, yet I knew he wasn’t a freshman rushee, because I’d met all of them and we were currently being schmoozed out front in our ‘welcome to the frat’ party.
Why was he barefoot?
If he was a Delt, why was he hiding in the kitchen doing dishes instead of socializing with everyone else?
And why, oh, why did I have an overwhelming urge to run my hands over the plump muscles on those arms, shoulders, and back, when I’d never before in my life been attracted to muscle guys or tattoos? The guys I’d dated had been smart and fairly sophisticated. A guy like this should not move me. But he did, like Mt Vesuvius.
Oh God, was I going to hell? Would I end up living in Texas?
The guy looked over his shoulder at me again. His eyes were dark blue, with what looked like flecks of gold, and he had long, long black lashes. They were soft eyes.
How did a guy who looked like an ex-con have eyes that were that sweet?
“Need something?” he asked me with a slight frown.
Right. Because standing frozen by the kitchen door holding two glasses in a death grip was not weird at all.
I cleared my throat. “Refill.” I spotted the pitcher of sangria on the table and managed to fill up the two glasses. The guy had gone back to ignoring me, gently clinking glasses in the water and being ridiculously noir with the steam from the sink wafting around him like a figure in an old Humphrey Bogart film.
Some snooping was definitely in order. I left Micah’s glass on the table and wandered over to the sink with my sangria.
“Are you a Delt?” I asked, all casual.
He took his hands out of the suds and braced them on the edge of the sink. They were thick hands, flush with veins.
He looked me over critically, and I tried not to betray the fact that I found him incredibly attractive. Playing it cool, I took a sip of my drink.
“Yeah,” he said at last. “I’m Hank. Who are you?”
Oh, God. Oh, no. “Sloane. Greg Sloane.”
“Oh.” His face closed off in a heartbeat. He went back to washing dishes. “Yeah, Micah mentioned you.”
As it happened, I’d heard of Hank too. Hank—the one guy at the fraternity who’d voted against my membership, a fact I shouldn’t know but did because Brian had let it spill. He’d also told me to “never mind Hank. Just stay far away from the guy, and he won’t bother you.” The impression I’d been left with was that bothering me—maybe with his fists—was entirely possible should I accidentally annoy this paragon.
Hank, the one Delt I’d never met but had a vague notion was homophobic and thus hated me on principle.
That’s when I noticed the cross tattooed on his impressive left bicep. Without another word, I picked up Micah’s drink and went back out into the living room. My heart was beating fast, and something like disappointment burned in my stomach.
“Hey,” Micah said. He took his glass and threw his other arm around me. “Come on, I want you to meet Sam Wiser. He’s a junior and in the vet sciences program too.”
“Sure, uh… There was a guy in the kitchen… Hank.”
Micah stopped and looked at me, smiling shyly. “Yeah? What’d you think?”
What’d I think?
“He seemed really… domesticated. You know, for a white supremacist.”
I was being perhaps a wee bit judgmental, but Micah laughed, a big booming laugh that made everyone turn to see what was so funny.
“I guess you know the guy,” I commented, even more perplexed by Micah’s reaction.
“Oh, I know him.” Micah pulled me in by the neck to whisper in my ear. “Hank is my baby brother.”
That night, in my dorm room, I couldn’t sleep. I had boxes shoved up next to my bed, all ready for the move to the Delts’s house, and my hair-pulling roommate was snoring away in the bed nearby.
Maybe I should have been having misgivings, but I wasn’t. I was excited. I couldn’t stop thinking about the move. I couldn’t stop thinking about Hank Springfield.
I finally decided to banish the mental tail-chasing by making a list. I took my iPad from the top of a box and turned it on, thankful it was self-illuminating. I opened the notepad app.
The mystery of H.S.:
1. He’s Micah’s brother — how could they have grown up in the same household and be so different?
2. Eyes too soft for his biker-style tatts
3. Doing dishes at a frat rush party — socially awkward? Lost a bet? Biker dude clean freak?
4. Doesn’t fit the Delta Sigma Phi mold
The list bothered me. Not because I had no answers, but because I had questions at all.
Why did I care about Hank Springfield anyway? He was very possibly a homophobe. It was clear he had something against me personally, which made no sense since I hadn’t met him unless it was just about what I was. If I was smart, I’d put him out of my mind. As my mother would say, ‘not let him own a single moment of my thoughts.’
I would, I promised myself. Soon. He’d just engaged my curiosity was all. Hank was a puzzle piece I had yet to fit. Once I had, I’d lose all interest in him. I was pretty sure.