Derek awoke with the memory of Scott’s lips against his. He ran his fingers over his lips and smiled. In just a few days, he would be back on the same campus as Scott, and his body had been sending him very pleasurable reminders of their time together just a few months ago, as if he needed the reminders. Scott had not only soothed Derek’s body, he had soothed his mind and they had grown close in the short time they were together. Derek knew that he would be able to pick up where they had left off and start the semester as friends, and perhaps more.
He wasn’t sure how much physical intimacy to expect from Scott, however. Although Scott had willingly seduced him and they had made love – Derek’s first time and an incredible experience all around – Scott did have a boyfriend to deal with. The boyfriend had been out of the picture last spring during the prospective student weekend when Scott and Derek had gotten together, but he would be a problem this fall. Derek’s smile faded, but his fingers continued to stroke his lips, remembering Scott’s kisses. Scott was so incredibly sweet. Derek would do anything to get him away from his boyfriend so he could have the man all to himself.
Derek sat up and looked around at his room. Most of his belongings were packed for the trip to Portland, but he still had a few things out for his last days in Spokane. It was only a six-hour drive and his mom had promised to bring him anything he forgot, but he didn’t want to inconvenience her. Plus, he didn’t want her intruding on his first independent adventure.
The prospective student weekend had been an invigorating experience for him. Always before, his mother had hovered over him, watching like a hawk to make sure everything went perfectly for him. If he came in second place in a science fair, she would bully the judge into changing his ruling. If he ran home with a split lip, she would find the boys who did it and make sure they paid the price for beating up her son. Derek didn’t know how or why she was so influential, although he suspected it was because of his absent father, Peter Ashton, the head of the Tarragon council.
He and his mother lived in a community of Tarragon graduates on the south hill of Spokane, Washington and Ashton’s word was law. As Ashton’s son, Derek was considered a privileged child even though he had never really known the man. Ashton didn’t leave the campus and Derek hadn’t met him until the prospective student weekend, but the other mothers all said he looked just like the man and after seeing Ashton in person, Derek knew it was quite a compliment. Still, he would have preferred to be in one of the other families, with a father who lived with his family and took care of his children. There were plenty of ball games where his mother looked all alone sitting in the stands without a husband at her side, alone among the couples cheering for their children. She missed Ashton, too, and although she frequently had boyfriends, none ever lasted more than a month or two.
Derek began putting some of his remaining items into boxes. He didn’t know what his mom would do once he was gone. She got misty-eyed whenever he talked about leaving, and kept mentioning how he would only be six hours away. He hoped she would be able to find her own life, because as much as he loved her, he didn’t want her intruding on his new life on campus. He had big plans, after all: he wanted to seduce Scott and make him realize that they belonged together.
And perhaps most importantly, he wanted to earn the respect of his father. He had never had the chance to be with his father before, but soon he would be near his father all the time, living and working and playing on the same campus, and Derek would not let it go to waste. He would find a way to impress Ashton, no matter what the cost. He would show Ashton that he had grown into a fine young man, a young man worthy of his attention. He still remembered with pride how Ashton had fingered the medals on his chest at the prospective students’ fair on the last day after Derek and Scott had won so many competitions. Ashton had been impressed then, and he would be again. But his mother would only get in the way.
Derek sighed. He didn’t resent his mother, but he sometimes wondered if she were the reason Ashton stayed away. He wondered what would have happened if she had chosen to live closer to the campus so that Ashton could have visited regularly. He wondered if there were some reason Ashton never spoke to his mother or even tried to communicate with her until he let her know about the prospective student weekend. She had mentioned once that Ashton had other children by other women, and Derek wondered if Ashton took part in their lives or if he was equally absent in all of them. He would feel better if Ashton neglected all of his kids, even though that was a horrible thing to hope. But it would mean that Derek wasn’t being singled out for the isolation, and above all else Derek feared that he might have done something wrong to make his father never want to see him or speak to him. He had no memories of Ashton, but what if, as a child, he had done something to his father and Ashton had decided to cut all ties to Derek and his mother? What if their abandonment was Derek’s fault?
He shook his head sharply. These were not good thoughts to be having. They were distracting him from the happy thoughts of Scott that had awoken him and had kept him pleasantly awake at night. He heard footsteps outside his door, then a knock. He groaned and called for his mother to come in. Thoughts of Scott would have to wait even longer.
“How are you doing?” his mother asked, coming in and sitting on his bed, looking around at the boxes.
He was dressed only in his boxers but he supposed as his mother she didn’t care much what he was wearing. He, however, was embarrassed and pulled a shirt on.
“I’m ready to go. I can’t believe we don’t leave until tomorrow.”
“Is there anything you want to do before we go? Any friends you have to say goodbye to, or places you want to go? You won’t be back for a long time.”
Derek shook his head. It was true, though. Freshmen weren’t allowed to go home their entire first year, not even for winter break. It was a strange rule, but then again, there were lots of strange things about Tarragon Academy. There were lots of strange things about Tarragon society in general and he had learned not to ask questions. Now that he was going to school, however, he knew that his questions would finally be answered. Graduates of the college all seemed to share a secret that bound them together, and Derek was determined to find out what that secret was.
But as for friends to see or places to go, he didn’t have any. Although he was good at socializing and pretending to be a socialite, in reality it was a defense mechanism from the years and years of bullying he had endured. Most of the bullying stemmed from the fact that he was Ashton’s son, and everyone viewed him as special. Being special in any school was sure to single you out for bullies, and it was especially true in Tarragon society. He had been beaten up more times than he could count and when his mother took care of the situation for him, the bullying became worse. By high school, the physical bullying had all but stopped, but it was replaced by verbal abuse. No one would speak to him except to make fun of him or gossip about him, and vicious rumors were started that made even his paltry few friends turn against him.
By the end of his senior year he didn’t have a single person that he could genuinely call a friend, but he had learned to navigate their world. He had learned to smile and turn the other cheek, and then gossip behind their backs as revenge. His new abilities gave him many pseudo-friends, but none that he truly trusted. He was looking forward to Tarragon Academy as a place to finally meet people who wouldn’t judge him based on his father, or his past mistakes, or the fact that he was gay. He wanted people who could truly see him and appreciate him, and befriend him. Scott had done it; Scott had even seen his vicious side and still become his friend, so perhaps others at the academy would do the same.
“Are you sure there’s nothing in Spokane you want to do?” his mother asked again, almost desperately.
Derek could tell that she wanted him to say yes, as if by wanting something in Spokane he would be validating her decision to live here all these years. But there was nothing for him here aside from her and the house he grew up in. Maybe he could go downtown to the mall, but he didn’t want to shop or see a movie, and maybe they could go out to dinner, but the Mexican restaurant they normally frequented had new owners and the food had gone downhill even as the prices had gone up. And that was about it. He didn’t have friends, so he couldn’t hang out with them. It was just him, his mom, and their home. That was his world right now, and he was itching to expand it.
“I’ll just be online,” he said.
He had joined a group of students who would be starting at Tarragon Academy in the fall and had already formed what might be the beginnings of some friendships there. Even though the internet was tightly controlled on campus, it was free now and a lot of students were taking advantage of it to get to know each other, especially their roommates. Derek hadn’t heard yet who his roommate would be; his dorm was last in roommate selection. He likely wouldn’t find out until he arrived, but he didn’t mind surprises. He was used to faking his way around people thanks to his years being bullied, and he could fake it a few more months if he needed until he could change room assignments. He wished he could room with Scott but he knew freshmen were housed separately from upperclassmen. Freshmen did everything separately, it seemed. It was going to take some effort to meet up with Scott, but Derek would figure it out.
“Honey,” his mom said. “I know you’ve had a rough couple of years.”
Derek forced a smile. She didn’t know or understand how bad he had it. She had dealt with the physical abuse, but he had never told her about the psychological torture the students had put him through. She had no idea what she was talking about.
“But things will get better at college, and maybe you’ll look back at high school and be able to remember the good times.”
As if there were good times, he thought. He couldn’t remember a single happy memory from high school, aside from his memories of finally getting home each day and being able to escape that place each summer.
“I’m looking forward to college,” he said. “It’s going to be different.”
“Just remember that it will be some of the same kids,” his mom said in a worried voice. “But you don’t have to worry about that. The school is small, and everyone takes care of each other.”
Derek’s heart sank slightly. He knew that some of his enemies were coming with him, but he tried not to think about it. The worst kids weren’t coming, luckily. They hadn’t been accepted into the prestigious academy, despite the protests of their parents. Some of those parents had been almost hysterical about their children’s rejections, as if the kids would die if they didn’t get in. But prestigious or not, it was just a college and there were plenty of others, even though families from the Tarragon society tended to only apply to Tarragon Academy. Derek often thought the school should expand, since there was clearly a need for a larger school, but apparently class size had remained the same for centuries even though every child in Tarragon society worldwide was raised to believe that they would attend the school.
“I can take care of myself, mom,” he said.
“I know. I wish you didn’t have to.”
“I need to,” he said. “It’s part of growing up.”
She sniffed, and he realized she was about to cry. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her into a hug.
“I’m sorry,” he said, unsure if he said something wrong but knowing an apology never hurt.
“No, I’m sorry,” she said, tears leaking from her eyes. “I’ve spent so much time protecting you, I’ve never let you live. And now you’ll be on your own, facing the test on your own, and I don’t know what I would do without you.”
“What test? And I’m only going to be six hours away,” he said. Then, regretfully, he added, “If you need to visit me, you can, you know. Anytime.”
She pulled him tighter and began to cry in earnest, as if she were giving him away forever. He let her cry, puzzled and a little frightened. Did she think he was going to die? He shivered and a sense of foreboding swept over him. What if he went to the college and instead of impressing Ashton, he disappointed Ashton and his attempt cost him his life? No, he would never let that happen. As much as he wanted Ashton’s approval, he valued his life too much. He would never pull a stunt like that. Yet the feeling of foreboding remained, long after his mother apologized and left him to find a handkerchief, even after he finished packing and began moving things to the car so they could get an early start the next day. For the first time, Derek realized his life could end. But it couldn’t, not yet. He still had so many things to do.