The man who has been more of a dad to me than my biological father is dead.
He rescued me from the streets six years ago—a runaway teenage boy, escaping a family who thought I was an abomination.
Now what do I do? I have no one.
My life might look great from the outside. I’m in college. I have my own apartment. I have lots of friends.
But I’m dying on the inside.
I feel so alone. Lost. Hopeless.
I’m not the kind of person to wallow in self-pity. I need a distraction.
The guy moving into Unit A may be just what I need to take my mind off of losing my dad.
The Marine in Unit A Mockingbird Place
© 2015 Kris Cook
Having been awake all night, I step out of the shower. The rally doesn’t start until noon, but I need something, anything that can distract me from thinking about what happened with Adam. Giving him space is what Martha and Sarah think I should do, so I decide to let a single day pass. But if I don’t hear from him by tomorrow, I will make the first move to fix things between us. And besides, Adam still needs help setting up his apartment before his mother arrives, and I want to be that help.
I finish getting ready, and take one last look at my hair before leaving my apartment. I park my car in the student parking lot.
The university I attend has a large green space in the middle of campus. Mature trees line the sidewalks that are sparsely filled with students going to and from their classes and dormitories. In the fall the grounds will be teeming with students.
I look at the time on my cell. 8:21am. I have over three and a half hours to kill before the rally. Where to go? The library? No. I didn’t need to go over my speech any more, since I’ve spent several early morning hours already working on it. I am ready. So I decide to get a bite of breakfast in the cafeteria.
When I walk inside, I see Adam at a table filling out some paperwork. I freeze in place. I am in a quandary whether to approach him or not, whether to follow Martha and Sarah’s advice or not, whether to tamp down my desire to sit down next to him to say how sorry I am—or not.
Adam looks at me. Did he feel me staring at him? Before I can step back to the entrance to leave, he waves me over. I feel my shoulders relax as relief rolls through me. At least he is willing to talk to me again. I take cautious steps in his direction. Gone are his jeans and T-shirt and facial hair. He is clean-shaven, wearing black slacks and a white dress shirt and blue tie. Casual or dress up, with whiskers or without, Adam is the epitome of masculine beauty.
“Have a seat, Oliver.”
I do, waiting for him to lay into me again about seeing his prosthetic legs. “Would you mind if I put your name down as a reference on this application? They’re asking for a student or professor’s name. You’re the only one I know.” He looks at me with those damn gorgeous doe eyes. “I have the option to leave it blank if you don’t want me to.”
“Please. Use my name. I’ll be happy to be your reference.” Your friend. Your boyfriend. Whatever.
“Thanks, buddy.” He smiles and then goes back to filling out the paperwork.
I have the strongest urge to bring up what happened last night to try to clear the air. But hearing Martha and Sarah’s words of advice replay in my head, I keep my mouth shut. If he isn’t ready to talk about it, then I certainly am not going to mention it. I will give him whatever space and time he needs. At least he isn’t asking me to leave.
“Done.” He stands. “Wish me luck.”
“Sure. For what?”
“That I can get a job in the cafeteria. Are you in a hurry?”
“I don’t have to be anywhere until noon.”
“Good. Let me turn this in and maybe I could trouble you with that tour around campus you offered me.”
I am so glad he’s asking for my help. “I’ll be happy to show you some shortcuts.”
“You’re a lifesaver. My sense of direction is shot. I wish you could have seen the look on my face when I walked into the women’s locker room by mistake earlier. Why the door was unlocked I have no clue, but I could feel my cheeks burning when the girls started giggling and running for cover. I turned and walked out as fast I could, buddy.”
“You really do need my help. It took me a whole semester to figure out how to get around this place. But I’m surprised that you walked into the women’s locker room. Isn’t a good sense of direction necessary on the battlefield?” Oh shit. Why did I bring that up?
“It’s easy on the battlefield. You just have to know where the bullets are coming from.” He smiles, which makes me feel better. “I’m starving, how about you?”
“Breakfast is on me.” He hands me a twenty-dollar bill. “The lady in charge asked me to fill this out today but won’t be able to interview me until next week. Let me turn this application in and you order us some breakfast. Then we’ll go on the tour. I’ll be right back.”
He walks away. His limp is gone. No one in the cafeteria has a clue that he is missing a leg but me. And it certainly doesn’t bother me, not one bit. I don’t know how he lost his leg, but obviously he hasn’t quite accepted it yet. He mentioned a friend was supposed to help him initially, but the guy never showed. Did Adam have any help packing and loading before driving to Mockingbird Place? He didn’t seem overly tired that night, but he is a strong guy. A former-Marine. I guess he’s not limping because he got some rest after unloading his things into Malcolm’s old place. No, Adam’s place. Unit A is Adam’s.
I go and order two sausage egg cheese biscuits and orange juices for us. When I get back to our table, he is already there.
Adam looks up at me. “Breakfast is served?”
I place the tray on the table. “Yes, sir.” I can’t resist and salute Adam, instantly worrying I might be overstepping again. Thus far he’s been very closed mouth about his military service. But he returns the salute with a devilish grin, easing my concerns.
We eat our breakfast, talking about everything except the main issue on my mind.
“I bet you’re glad our complex has a pool,” he says. “It’s going to be very hot according the weatherman for the next several days.”
“You like to swim?”
He shrugs. “I used to.”
I brace myself, thinking we might be getting close to opening Pandora’s box about what happened.
But as usual, Adam changes the subject. “Oliver, how about you show me the buildings where my classes are going to be first?”
He hands me his schedule, and I realize the lid on the infamous box is not only shut tight, it is also locked with no sign of the key in sight. What is it going to take for Adam to explain his sudden and over-the-top reaction to me learning he lost his leg? And will I ever learn if he is gay or straight?
As we leave the cafeteria, he asks, “Do you know the guy who lives in Unit D? Long black hair. Blue eyes. Good looking. He invited me to a party tonight at his and his roommate’s place.”
“That’s Trace. I’m going, too. In fact the whole complex should be there. It’ll give you another change to get to know everyone.”
“The ones who helped us move my things were very nice, though the MMA fighter is a bit intense.”
“Tony’s that way, but I believe he’s really a good guy underneath all that darkness.”
“I wasn’t sure I would go, but now that I know you’re going I will.”
We had so much drama last night, and today he’s acting like it never happened. Now, he says he only is going to the party if I’m going. Damn. He confuses me so much. I sense now is not the time to confront him with what I’m feeling. But if not now, when? “I’m glad you’re going, too.”
We walk around campus, and I point out the iconic spots.
“That’s Dallas Hall, the oldest building on campus.”
“It’s quite grand. I like the dome.”
When we got to the building that had the last class on his list, he turns to me.
Buddy. There’s that word again. But better to be called that than nothing. I did say I would settle for friendship, but can I really? The more time I spend with him the more my feelings get mixed up.
“No trouble, Adam. I enjoyed hanging out.”
“Me, too. I would have been completely lost on my first day of classes if it hadn’t been for you and your fantastic tour.” He sighs. “I better get back to looking for a job.”
“Do you plan on working the entire time you’re in school?”
“Yeah. With the financial aid I’m getting I don’t have to work, but I want to. It will give me extra spending money and will keep me busy.”
I have a feeling that he likes keeping busy so he doesn’t have to face bigger issues inside him. “You don’t seem like you would be happy working in food service to me. Have you thought about doing something else?”
“I know the guy who heads the campus police department, Chief Torres. He told me the other day he has two openings. I bet he’d love to hire you, especially with your military background.”
“Right.” Adam shakes his head. “A one-legged Marine would make such a great police officer.”
I am nervous to push him, but have to try. At least he’s mentioning his service—and missing leg. It’s a start. “Adam, I saw you unload that truck and move all those boxes and furniture into your place. You’re strong and capable. You would definitely be an asset to Torres’s department.”
“You really think so?” My cell rings. “I know so.”
I answer the call. “Oliver, where are you?” Candy’s voice sounds frantic.
“I’m at the engineering building.”
“That’s clear across campus. You’re supposed to speak in two minutes.”
“Oh crap. The time got away from me. I’ll run. Stall if you have to.”
“Sorry, Adam, but I have to go. I’ve got a speech to give.”
“I’d like to hear it.”
“Then follow me.”