When Jack ended up at college in a small town in the middle of the Iowa cornfields, September 1981, he figured it would at least be better than being home. He had no idea how his life would change, in that time and place.
Sean was a townie, on the opposite side of the town-and-gown divide, but attraction knows no boundaries. And when personal tragedy brought them together, it was the beginning of something extraordinary.
This story was written for the Goodreads M/M Romance Group Hot Summer Days event. It is a free download.
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Publisher: Independently Published
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Coming of Age, Coming Out / Closeted, Enemies to Lovers, Find Love and Come Out, Hurt / Comfort, Out for You
Word Count: 15300
Languages Available: English
Sometimes when you live with one man for more than half your life, you stop really seeing him. Not stop loving him. That center-of-my-heart, need-him-to-breathe kind of love doesn’t go away. But really paying attention gets submerged in the stupid details of day to day life. You pass each other in the hallway and say “I forgot to shop and the last bottle of shampoo is empty” or“I tripped on the damned broken step you were going to fix”. The little stuff.
And falling asleep you might roll away from his arms, because it’s hot and you have the AC on low to save a few bucks. Even pausing to kiss the back of his neck at the breakfast table becomes automatic, until a few minutes later you can’t recall if you remembered to do it today. Except that you always do. Some days are like that. Some weeks are like that.
And I’ve been coasting along that way for a while, not really seeing. Until Sean looks up at me this morning from his bowl of Captain Crunch, and holy Christ, his eyes are still that same clear, vivid blue. The taste of salt sweat from his neck is suddenly right there on my lips. And he smiles at me, just like he did the day we finally got it right. And I remember...
When I landed in college in 1981, I thought I was hot shit. Free at last, free at last, thank...well, thank the scholarship committee and my ex-girlfriend Susan who helped write my application essay, I was free at last. My parents had even expressed their gratitude for my snagging a completely free ride by giving me an old car. So I rolled into town in my own wheels, with the windows down and The Pretenders on the radio.
When my friend Troy heard where I was going to school he said “Bumfuck, Iowa? Jesus, Jack, you’re going to be bored out of your skull.” But then Troy’s folks had money, and he was headed to Northwestern. I had to take what I could get. As I drove slowly into town on that warm September afternoon, I was afraid he was going to turn out to be all too right.
There wasn’t a whole lot to the town of Carterville. The main drag started with a McDonald’s, a diner, a sleazy-looking bar, and a sprawling lumberyard. For a few blocks there were other small stores and offices, a couple of three-story apartments, and even two traffic lights. Then the downtown dwindled again to two junky-looking antique stores, a movie theater that needed about six coats of paint and some light-bulbs, and a grocery store with the unpromising name of Piggly Wiggly. There was a bigcute pig’s face on the sign, grinning happily with a butcher’s hat on its head. Like it was thrilled to cut up its porcine brothers and sisters into chops for the good people of Carterville. It was so, sooo hicksville.
The houses I could see were mostly light-colored clapboard affairs, some bigger, some smaller, with gabled roofs. Here and there I noticed fancy gingerbread trim in contrasting colors. Blue trim on a pale yellow house, red on blue, maroon on beige. Like some colorblind paint salesman had come through and given everybody a deal they couldn’t refuse. “It’s just four years,” I reminded myself, momentarily giving up my efforts to sing in Chrissie Hynde’s range. “And Des Moines is only two hours back down the road.” And then I was out of town and back among the cornfields.
Lots of cornfields, with stalks turning brown in the warm air. The cobs seemed to still be on the plants, browning too. Which confused me, because surely you should pick the corn before it did that? I’d puzzled over that off and on the last few hours, leaving civilization behind, as the radio struggled to pull in decent stations. As Elvis Costello vanished off the radar, as Michael Jackson and Springsteen gave way to REO Speedwagon and Grand Funk Railroad, and all through the half-hour stretch when the only music I could pull in had cowboys and tractors in it, those exact same fields rolled by. But what did I know? I was a city kid. Corn cobs in Pittsburgh came piled in bins at the supermarket, not growing higher than my head. All I could tell was Iowa had a lot of really tall, flat, brown, dusty, dry, really boring corn.
On the college station I had finally located on my radio dial, King Crimson gave way to the Grateful Dead. I was singing along to “Pride of Cucamonga” when the college itself came into view. And oh yeah, that was more like it. Stone buildings like someone took a chunk of Olde England and set it down amid the cornfields. A freaking bell tower, and tall trees, and a pair of iron gates on the drive. I could do this. I thought that this gracious assembly of buildings (gracious to me then, because I didn’t know pretentious when it bit me in the ass) couldn’t possibly contrast more with the dreary little town I just drove through. I didn’t know how prophetic that was.
The dorm turned out to be an ugly brick building back behind the main campus. I’d shared a room all my life with my big brother, until he joined up, so having a roommate didn’t bother me. And although I was five-eleven, my feet didn’t stick out the end of the bed the way my roomie Gordon’s size thirteen clodhoppers did. So life was good and I settled in easily. I was looking forward to doing some partying and getting drunk and maybe finding out what the grass I’d been too scared to smoke around home was like. And maybe getting laid.
Susan and I never got that far. She wasn’t ready when we started dating back in ninth grade. Well, neither of us were. And then by the time she said she was, we’d become more like sister and brother and it felt...wrong. So we’d stayed good friends and did stuff together, and I took her to the prom. But I know she went off to college with a pack of birth control pills in her purse and her eyes on the prize. And I figured I’d do the same, but with condoms.
However somehow, although I became a connoisseur of the finest weed and learned to tell whiskey from tequila (yeah, I was that ignorant), the sex never came my way. I studied my schoolwork enough to get by, partied hard with a growing circle of friends and acquaintances, and watched the mating dance going on around me. I just never found the right one. The college girls seemed too knowing, too sophisticated. I figured they would take one look at my virginal fumbling and laugh till they cried.
And the town girls...it was risky to think about that.I learned that early on. There was a bitter cold antagonism between town and gown, between the residents of that little hick settlement on the prairie and the young men and women who swept into it on a Friday night with their cars and their cash and their entitlement. The students spent money. The townies needed money. And that was probably the most they had in common.
The bar on Main Street served the college students and staff. So did most of the other places along the drag. But get two blocks off Main, and you’d better be fifth-generation Cartervillian if you wanted to escape unscathed on a drunken Friday night. And the girls were strictly off limits. At least where their brothers and boyfriends could see you.
I can’t regret that hostility, you know, despite a couple of fights I got caught up in and the night my roomie, Gordon, had to scoop me up with his Camaro as I ran away from an angry high-school footballer. Because town-and-gown brought me Sean…COLLAPSE