Roland Visits the University
by Pertinax Carrus
[If you have not read the previous short story, “Roland Finds a Friend,” it would be advisable to do so.]
Things had been going pretty well for Roland Lyle and his new boyfriend John Luke Lansing since their coming out. If their teammates on the lacrosse squad at Clifton Prep did not exactly support them all the way, at least they were not overtly hostile, and some made it clear they did not care whether the two were gay or not, only whether they were good on the playing field and team players. This both Roland and John Luke certainly were. They completed their winter season at the top of their division, and went into the spring season feeling good.
Of course, Buck Lomax and Ed Cuttlesworth did all they could to create a hostile environment in the school. They could not directly attack the two, as Prep had a strict code of conduct which included pretty stringent non-discrimination clauses. Along with race, creed, ethnicity, and various handicaps, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was forbidden. That did not prevent Buck and his cronies from engaging in a whispering campaign, so there were furtive looks and knowing titterings as Roland or John Luke walked the corridors. There were hostile notes stuck in their lockers, muttered comments when passing in the corridors, and other sneaky actions, but nothing they could prove against any specific individual.
The school seemed divided. There were the partisans of Roland and John Luke, who were by no means solely the gay community or those in the Gay-Straight Alliance. But there were also the supporters of Buck Lomax and Ed Cuttlesworth. Most of the kids did not seem to take sides, forming the neutral non-aligned bloc, kind of wondering what was going on. Because of the non-discrimination policy, the pro-Lomax group could not do anything openly, and so the petty, under-handed harassment continued, but because nothing specific could be pinned on an individual, the supporters of the gay pair could do nothing either. When the lacrosse team came in first in their division despite the absence of Buck and Ed, the pro-Lomax partisans were depressed for a week or so. Lomax and Cuttlesworth switched their athletic activity to the ice hockey team, but they were not good enough to be first string, and so missed the luster of being campus heroes. Still, they sat at their table in the lunch room, and Roland and his friend sat at
another. A kind of cold war prevailed.
On the personal level, Roland was still living with his grandparents, Dolph and Tillie (officially Adolphus and Matilda) Lyle. In February, Dolph’s mother, the 93 year old, vinegary tongued, Ambrosina Cuttlesworth Lyle, died after a fall. It was from Ambrosina that Roland’s father, Gus, and his brother, Brian, inherited their waspish dispositions and insufferable pretensions. As the elder son, Dolph inherited the family home in the Victorian neighborhood where the Lyles held sway for over a century. This neighborhood, called Mansfield Park after a park at its center (and ultimately after the Jane Austen novel), dated to the period from the late 1870s to before World War I. It had at that time been the premiere neighborhood of Clifton, but after World War II, with the flight to the suburbs and everyone wanting their own McMansion in its pitiful square of grass, the old neighborhood degenerated, with only a few of the old families holding on, like Ambrosina Lyle. Most of the other homes had been broken up into rental units or turned into offices for lawyers and governmental agencies. Dolph and Tillie talked it over carefully. They really did not want the family home to be sold, nor did they want to subject it to the indignity of being cut up into apartments. Therefore, they contacted a reputable contractor, had the house thoroughly inspected and brought up to par with respect to city codes and normal twenty-first century luxuries, such as showers, air conditioning, and internet access, and moved in just before Easter. The Lyles decided they did not really need a pool in the back yard, nor did they need acres of lawn. They belonged to the Country Club, after all, which had an excellent pool, and no one in the Lyle family was all that fond of mowing the lawn. Of course, Roland moved with them. He liked the idea, as now he was living only a couple of blocks from John Luke and the Lansing family. The Lansings had bought in the neighborhood because of the solid construction, large rooms, and depressed real estate values. They got a lot for less.
In addition to lacrosse, Roland joined his cousin Amy at the stables. He and Amy revived their interest in equestrian competition, which they had allowed to lapse, with Amy actually doing better than Roland. He said it was because he could not devote all his time to it, like Amy did, because of his commitments to the lacrosse team. She gave him that look, and laughed smugly. The spring lacrosse season was underway, but when he was not on the playing field, Roland might be found on horseback. Grandpa Lyle owned three saddlebred horses, which were stabled on a horse farm about an hour’s drive from town, where there was also a riding academy. There were also excellent trails through wooded countryside and along country lanes. Roland insisted that John Luke learn how to ride, something his partner had never attempted before this. It became one more thing they had in common.
Roland was the better scholar when it came to the humanities and social studies, whereas John Luke shone in science and math classes. They helped each other, and their grades in all classes improved during the spring. Roland exhibited his expertise by entering the essay contest sponsored by the local chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, of which he, along with all the other males in his family over the age of 18, was a member. Perhaps feeling that he was a forgotten one, or at least an outsider, he put real emotion into his essay, entitled “The Forgotten Signers of the Declaration of Independence.” He researched each of the fifty-six men who eventually signed that historic document, only about a dozen or so of whom were recognized by even college students. The award winning musical 1776, which was staged around the adoption of the Declaration, featured only twenty members of the Continental Congress, one of whom, John Dickinson, refused to sign. Perhaps the reduction was necessitated by dramatic requirements that the stage not be too crowded, but what about all those other men who put their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on the line by also placing their signatures on the document? Roland wanted to know what happened to men like Carter Braxton, Abraham Clark, Thomas Lynch, or the ubiquitous Smith, James Smith of Pennsylvania, that is. His essay was so compelling that it won the chapter contest in February and the state contest in March, and was forwarded to the National Committee for consideration. Such little successes helped ease the pain of the daily insults from the Lomax crowd.
The situation at school came to a head on a Wednesday in late March. As usual, the two antagonistic groups were at separate tables in the lunch room. As Roland exited the cafeteria line, he looked around and saw John Luke, Amy, and several other friends already seated at a table across the room. He paid no attention to Buck and his friends at another table on his path to his chosen destination. Just as Roland was passing that table, however, Buck pushed his chair back into Roland’s path, causing him to jerk his tray and spill his drink all over his food.
“What the hell are you doing?” Roland angrily called out.
“What’s the matter, fudge packer? Lost your reflexes?” Buck sneered, making limp-wristed gestures.
Roland returned for fresh food, then passed on to his destination by a different route. However, about twenty minutes later, Buck picked up his tray and headed to the disposal area, which took him past the place where Roland was sitting. Seeing a chance for pay-back, Roland prepared for action. As Buck approached, he looked over his shoulder to Ed Cuttlesworth, and said, “Whew! It smells like there’s a rotten faggot around here somewhere.”
No sooner had he completed his sentence than he went flying. Roland shot out his foot, and Buck tripped over it, completely unprepared, and went sprawling to the floor, his tray and its contents scattered in all directions.
“What’s the matter, Ice Castles? Lost your reflexes?” Roland mimicked, referring to Buck’s new activity with the ice hockey team.
Buck hopped up to respond, his face flushed and his fists ready to strike. Buck had lost
his cool. “You damned queer cock sucker, I’m going to shove your fucking cock down your fucking throat!” he yelled.
Lomax did not notice Coach Griffin, the head coach of the football team, one of the proctors that day in the lunch room, who had been attracted by the crash. The coach came up right behind him as he was spewing forth his vituperation. The first Buck knew of it was when a hand was placed on the boy’s shoulder.
“That’s enough of that,” the coach stated forcefully.
Lomax jerked away and actually began to swing at whomever had placed his hand on him, until he realized it was Coach Griffin. “Um, sorry Coach. I didn’t know it was you.”
“Never mind that. I just heard you using abusive language about another student. Surely you’re aware of school policy about that.”
“Well, uh, I, uh, well ....”
“I think we need to speak with Coach Peake about this situation. You are on the ice hockey team at present, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir. But this don’t have nothing to do with ice hockey,” Buck nervously mumbled.
“Perhaps we ought to have a word with your English teacher as well. But you’re mistaken. It does have something to do with ice hockey. I believe there is a school policy about those who are guilty of violating the rights of others playing on Prep teams.”
“Hey, you can’t get me kicked off the team! They need me! Just because I faced up to this little cocksucker while everyone else is ducking and hiding is no reason to report me to Coach Peake,” Buck shouted.
“Mr. Lomax, I believe you just violated school policy again in my presence,” Coach Griffin sternly warned him.
“What! Why are you sticking up for these queers? Come on, Coach, you can’t be serious! I won’t let that little fudge packer get me in trouble!”
“Mr. Lomax! You are entirely out of line! Report to the Principal’s office immediately!”
“No! You can’t do this to me! I’ll ....”
Buck attempted in his rage to attack Coach Griffin, but other, more level headed students held him back. Griffin walked past, and went directly to the Principal’s office to report the incident, or rather series of incidents. Within minutes, school security and the Principal himself were scurrying after Buck Lomax, as the loudspeaker ordered him to report in immediately. Buck realized he had gone too far in threatening a faculty member, and tried to evade punishment by apologizing, saying his anger got the better of him. That did not help his case. With Coach Peake also present, Buck was suspended from school for a week, and was suspended from all extracurricular activities, including ice hockey, for the remainder of this, his senior year. In the excitement, the matter of spilled cokes and tripping got lost.
Buck left, murmuring that his father would get him off. To the credit of the school administration, despite the blustering of Terry Lomax, Buck’s father, the week’s suspension from school and the exclusion from extracurricular activities was enforced.
Even though the ringleader of those harassing Roland and John Luke had been punished, his supporters found that just another reason to harass the boys. There were a number of incidents in the halls and in the cafeteria, but nothing could be proven, as no faculty member happened to witness these events. Roland and John Luke knew it was the pro-Lomax crowd who were behind these incidents, but they could not prove it, and were not sure they would go to the authorities even if they could. As much as they wanted the harassment to stop, they did not want to be seen as wimps or tattle-tales by their peers.
Of course, the harassment by the Lomax crowd was not the only thing on the minds of Roland and John Luke in the spring of their senior year in high school. Where would they be next year? Both boys had good scores on the ACT and SAT exams, and both had outstanding records on the lacrosse team, so they were hoping for invitations from good schools where they could continue to be teammates. They definitely wanted to continue at the same school.
Roland was not interested in working at his family’s Cadillac dealership, however, and felt bad about that, as he owed so much to his grandparents after being thrown out by his father. Still, he thought he would make a good lawyer. Maybe he was watching too many courtroom dramas on television, but that really appealed to him. John Luke laughingly referred to him as Perry Mason (from the courtroom mysteries by Erle Stanley Garner that Roland loved to read). His interest in history would also be indulged, as history was one of the usual undergraduate majors for pre-law students, he understood. John Luke, on the other hand, wanted to continue his scientific interests by majoring in civil engineering. He thought it would be really exciting to help plan buildings, highways, and urban centers of all sorts, and even be able to help preserve some of the historic neighborhoods like the one where he and Roland now lived. He got called Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and engineer for the Statue of Liberty, among other things) when Roland was feeling complimentary, or Bob the Builder when he was in a playful mood.
Over dinner one evening, Roland decided it was only fair to talk to his grandfather about his ambitions. After all, he was living with his grandparents, and could expect no support from his parents.
“Grandpa, I’ve been thinking about college,” he began.
“Good. Good. You know I expect you, and your cousins too, to attend college. You’ll never get ahead in today’s world otherwise,” Dolph Lyle responded.
“I, uh ... well, I was thinking ... well ...” Roland floundered.
“Come on boy, spit it out!” Dolph enjoined.
“I don’t want to major in business,” Roland blurted out.
Dolph looked at him as though he had two heads. “Whatever made you think you had to major in business?”
“Well, I ... I just ... the dealership ... and you’ve been so good to me,” Roland inarticulately mumbled.
Dolph sat back and gave his grandson a hard look. “Roland, I don’t like this at all. It seems to me you’re regarding me as some kind of puppet master who wants everyone to fall into whatever little role I’ve picked out for you. Do you really think so little of me? You’ve been living here for a couple of months now, and you don’t know me any better than that. I am disappointed.”
Roland burst into tears. “Oh, Grandpa, I’m sorry! I wasn’t thinking straight. It’s just, before, you know, my dad always said I was to go into the dealership, like him, and like Brian. And I know how much it means to you, and ... oh, I’m sorry!” Roland rushed around the table and buried himself in his grandfather’s arms.
Dolph comforted his grandson, holding him close. “Roland, the dealership has been good to me. It’s provided your grandmother and me with a good life, and I love the interactions with customers, but if that’s not what you want, by all means, choose something else. Your father and brother are not the only Lyles, you know. Your Uncle Jeff and your cousin Beau seem to like the business well enough, so that’s all taken care of. You go ahead and do your own thing. What is it you think you would like to do?”
Looking up gratefully into his grandfather’s face, Roland said, “Thanks, Grandpa. You have always been so good to me, even when I screw up. I should have known better. It’s just that, sometimes, it’s hard to get over all the things my folks pounded into me over the years.”
“I get the feeling ‘pounded’ is the right word, too,” Tillie said, making her first contribution to this conversation. “Sometimes I wonder whether your father wasn’t substituted for my real baby at the hospital or something. If it weren’t for your late great-grandmother Ambrosina I might actually believe that.”
Roland laughed at that. “Yeah. Sometimes it seems there are two families trying to pass themselves off as Lyles around here.”
“But you haven’t answered my question, Roland,” Dolph reminded him. “What is it you would like to do with your life?”
“I think I’d like to be a lawyer, Grandpa. I’m fascinated with how the law works, and I kind of think I might be able to help some people that way, too,” Roland confessed. “And, I could be an undergraduate major in history, and you know how much I like history.”
“That seems like a completely satisfactory career. I don’t know why you though I might object,” Dolph said.
“Oh, of course you do!” Tillie interjected. “That older son of ours wants his boys to be little carbon copies of himself. It’s a shame Brian is following in that mold. One of Gus is quite enough.”
Much encouraged by the support of his grandparents, Roland shared his experiences with John Luke. The two eagerly scrutinized the responses which arrived from the various schools to which they had applied. In every case, they were accepted, but that was not enough. They wanted to be at the same school, and they wanted to play lacrosse together. In addition, John Luke definitely needed financial assistance of some sort, and Roland wanted something as well. He knew his grandparents would pay his way, but they had already been so good to him, he did not want to be a greater burden than necessary. One possibility was right at hand. The University of Clifton was not Ivy League, nor one of the top research universities, but it was a respectable institution, with good programs in history and engineering, and a graduate School of Law. It was the alma mater of both Dolph and Tillie Lyle, as well as the undergraduate school of Uncle Jeff, and the current school of Roland’s cousin Beau. Not only that, but it had a lacrosse team which was decent, winning more games than it lost, and the coach, Robert Fort, had expressed an interest in both Roland and John Luke.
The weekend after the blow-up in the cafeteria, Roland approached his cousin Beau, who was a student at Clifton. Beau was Ambrose Beauchamp Lyle on his birth certificate, son of Jeff and Linda Lyle and older brother of Amy. He was a freshman at the University, majoring in business, and seemed quite content to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather in the car dealership. But Roland knew he was not as stuffy as that sounded. Beau had always been a friend, and had completely supported Roland when he came out to the family. Unconsciously copying Roland’s statement when he was first asked about John Luke, Beau said it only left more girls for him. So, Roland did not hesitate to consult his cousin about conditions on the U of C campus. In particular, he wanted to know how he and John Luke would be received.
Beau knit his brow and studied before answering. “Mixed,” he finally declared. “Things are a lot more accepting than they used to be, from all I hear, but there will always be a few assholes who want to show off their biases. From what I hear, there are more of them among the athletes than among the general student body. Seems athletes need to asset their masculinity or something. But, well, is that any different than at Prep?”
“Not really,” Roland admitted. “I guess I was hoping university students would be more enlightened. But now-a-days anyway, John Luke and I are accepted, even if not with open arms, because the other guys on the team know we’re good.”
“The guys on the University team won’t know you’re good. You’ll have to prove it. Not fair, maybe, but that’s life. Who was it? Jimmy Carter, I think, who made the trite observation that life is not fair. But you’ll find lots of support, too.”
“What kind of support?” Roland asked.
Beau thought. “There are a couple of guys I want you to meet. Guys in my fraternity.”
“You’ll see,” Beau mysteriously replied. “Think you and John Luke can spare a few hours sometime soon?”
“I guess,” Roland cautiously agreed. He was not sure about committing himself to something Beau might cook up without knowing what it was beforehand.
He left his schedule of practices with his cousin, and departed to discuss what he had learned, or not learned, from Beau. John Luke was intrigued as well. If U of C worked out, it would definitely be a help to his family, as he could live at home. After all, the Mansfield Park neighborhood was within walking distance of the University campus.
A few days later, Beau called Roland and asked him to gather John Luke and meet him at the Sigma Alpha Tau house on campus at seven-thirty that evening. Roland and John Luke accordingly showed up after first consulting a campus map to determine where that specific fraternity house was located. They were hesitant to just walk in, and so were standing on the pavement in front of the house, not certain what to do next, when Beau appeared.
Beau chuckled. “You guys look as lost as I must have been back in August. Come on. No one will eat you. ... or maybe that’s not something I should say to my queer cousin and his partner.”
Roland turned on Beau. “If you weren’t my cousin, and if I didn’t know you were just making stupid jokes, I would turn around and leave right now.”
“Cool it, little Cuz. You’ll need a thicker skin than that if you’re going to survive, and I don’t mean just on campus. Most folks are not PC, you know. My brothers here at SAT will accept you, but they’re not going to give over ribbing you, and they’re not going to kowtow to the politically correct speech czars. Grow up!”
“Kind of sounds familiar,” John Luke commented. “Just like Prep. There’s the official policy, and then there’s what guys actually say.”
“Can you accept that?” Beau asked Roland.
“No, but I can live with it,” Roland replied.
“Let’s go in,” Beau said. “There are a couple of guys I want you to meet. One’s the Pledge Master this year, who kind of shepherded us through last semester. Then, there are a couple of brothers who joined when I did last semester.”
“Okay. But I still don’t know what you’re up to,” Roland replied.
The three men walked into the Sigma Alpha Tau house, where they encountered Curtis Manning.
“Curtis, this is my cousin Roland, and his partner John Luke, who I told you about,” Beau announced as he pushed Roland forward.
Geesh! Nothing like being outed at first encounter, Roland thought, as he turned an interesting shade of red. But Curtis seemed totally unfazed by the introduction, extending his hand in greeting.
“Hi. Beau tells me you may be coming to U of C in the fall. Nothing like getting an early peek at conditions. I’m the Pledge Master this year. Of course, there’ll be someone different next year, but I can answer any questions about the fraternity, and at least some about the University. We’re real glad to have Beau as one of our brothers, so if he recommends you, I guess you’d fit in here at SAT as well.”
Taking the bull by the horns, Roland said as he shook Curtis’ hand, “Since my loud-mouthed cousin outed me first thing, I guess I need to ask about how gays are accepted.”
Curtis grinned. “Beau told me you and John Luke were gay partners before you ever set foot in the sacred halls of Sigma Alpha Tau. If you weren’t welcome, you wouldn’t be here. We had some problems with that last semester, but I think it’s behind us now. [see my novel Bryce.] There were a couple of gay pledges, and one or two brothers objected and tried to make waves, but they’re no longer with us. When it came to a vote, the brothers voted overwhelmingly to support the pledges, not the guys who objected. We’re not totally accepting, maybe, but we’re not Neanderthals either.”
“That sounds encouraging,” Roland admitted.
At that point, two other men walked up. Beau introduced them as first year men who went through pledging with him last semester. “This is Bryce Winslow, and this is his partner Damon Watson.”
At that, Roland’s head jerked around in surprise.
Beau laughed. “Yeah, you didn’t think I’d neglect getting the queer perspective on things, did you?”
Bryce punched Beau. “One day some really irate gay is going to punch you out,” he told Beau.
“I can’t help it. You guys are so much fun when you react so predictably when I punch your buttons,” Beau laughed.
“I’ll visit you in the hospital,” Bryce replied. “So, this is your cousin Roland, and his partner John Luke, right?”
“Yeah,” Roland replied, “and I’m glad to see someone who can put my cousin in his place. He means well, but he’s not too bright,” he added as he shook hands with Bryce and Damon.
“You guys are members of this fraternity?” John Luke asked.
“Right. Thanks to Curtis, and to the basic decency of the brothers, we made it through last semester,” Bryce said, shaking John Luke’s hand. “I hear you two are ace athletes in some sport I know nothing about.”
John Luke laughed. “Lacrosse is not one of the leading headline grabbers, but we love it. Roland and I are on the team at Prep here in Clifton, and are thinking of coming here in the fall.”
“If you do, I hope you’ll consider pledging Sigma Alpha Tau,” Curtis said. “Right now, we’re a little shy on athletes, so we’ll be glad to have you.”
“That’s because some of the athletes we had were horses’ asses,” Bryce said.
“True, but not all, and we do like to be representative of the best in every category on campus,” Curtis responded.
“And there’s Wayne,” Damon added. Then he had to explain that Wayne was a football player who had been enlightened by Bryce the previous semester.
“Seriously,” Bryce said, “It’s not perfect, but as far as I can tell, no place is. This is a good school, and a good fraternity. You guys would be as welcome here as anywhere. I should know. They accepted me and Damon.”
“That’s Damon and I,” Damon corrected.
“No, actually it should be Damon and me. Both of us being the objects of the sentence,” Bryce corrected the correction.
“Are you turning me into a sex object, pedant?” the handsome black brother returned.
“Your started it,” Bryce said, and the two scuffled in a friendly manner until Curtis told them to behave. “That’s not the behavior to impress our visitors,” he protested.
“Actually, it looks pretty good to me,” John Luke said. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see gays acting like normal people, and being accepted as such. Until last year, I was in a small and very narrow minded community, and could never even think about having this conversation where everyone knows I’m gay.”
“And I got tossed out by my folks when I admitted to being gay,” Roland said. “Fortunately, my grandparents, and other family members, like Beau, here, were more accepting, so I’m doing okay.”
“You’ll run into some harassment, but it’s no different than what I get for being Catholic,” Bryce said.
“Or what I get for being black,” Damon added.
“I guess some people are always going to be against anyone different than they are,” Roland conceded.
“So, besides checking out how gays are accepted, what are you guys looking for in a place to come next year?” Curtis asked.
“Well, we want to be together,” Roland began.
“Naturally,” Bryce agreed.
“And we want to play lacrosse,” John Luke added.
“Can’t help you much there,” Damon said.
“But Coach Fort has a reputation for being fair. I had him for a PE class a couple of years ago. I don’t think he’ll be a problem,” Curtis contributed.
“And we do need to pay attention to our majors.” Roland said.
“What are you going for?” Bryce asked.
“I’m thinking of law, with a history undergraduate major,” Roland said.
“And I’m interested in civil engineering,” John Luke said.
“That’s my major,” Curtis said. “Come over here, and let’s talk.” So Curtis and John Luke moved to one side to discuss the civil engineering program.
“I’m in history,” Bryce said. “I’m particularly interested in Early Modern British history, and I’m studying with Professor Dickinson. He’s the faculty sponsor of Sigma Alpha Tau as well.”
“I was thinking more of American History,” Roland said.
“Colonial,” Bryce teased. “But the History Department here is pretty solid. You’ll like most of the faculty. I’ve met a few outside my specialty, and have no qualms recommending any of them. If you can, try to get Professor Howard as your advisor. I’ve met him at a couple of departmental events, and he has a great reputation.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind,” Roland responded.
Damon and Beau looked at each other. “Looks like we’re the odd men out,” Damon responded.
“Yep, looks like it. How about a beer?” Beau asked.
“Suits me,” Damon responded.
[Thanks to Colin for editing.]