Yeah, I love this guy. Love that look on his face. And this morning, I totally used him as my inspiration for Nico in the following excerpt. No, not exactly the same physically, but it’s the size of him, the way he stands, and, most importantly, that face, the look on his face. What he wants, what he demands, so clear in in his eyes… Yeah. Just like Rocky, I’d be lost too…
“The Rocky Project” was just the thing to justify a group of smart, savvy students in their decision to skip homework in favor of something really important. Sam, Jet, Rick, and a helpful (and not so helpful) legion of others began their evenings at Sam and Rick’s house by getting really baked. Only then were they ready to battle over a whiteboard, on which they prioritized the “must see” items that would bring Rocky into the 21st century.
Some had made the cut with little argument. All Simpsons episodes with Itchy and Scratchy. The original Star Wars movies. (There was considerable debate about including “Revenge of the Sith,” with Tom Stoppard’s veiled anti-Bush dialogue, but it hadn’t made the cut yet.) “Friends” had not made the cut, but “Seinfeld” had.
Rocky was watching the first “Die Hard” movie on his laptop one night when his roommate came crashing in, more than half drunk.
“Little dude,” Harry slurred. Despite his irritation, Rocky was proud that at least he knew this was what Otto the Bus Driver called Bart Simpson.
“Get on outta here, gonna party, man.” He belched, then gagged a little on the bile that came up with it. “Fuck, need ‘nother beer.” He opened his minifridge, which contained nothing but what he claimed to need.
Rocky shut his laptop, as the loud voices in the hall got closer. Harry managed to punch a button on his stereo that filled the room with rap music. His bros, all as rich and white as he was, piled into the room, dancing righteously to the beat, so down with the gangstas.
“Little dude’s just on his way out,” Harry shouted. “Not man enough for this party.”
Rocky wouldn’t have been here at all, if the library had been open. It was Saturday night, though, and even the library staff had a life. He stuffed the laptop into the bag and got ready to leave for Sam and Jet’s place.
That was when Harry grabbed him from behind, bending him over and grabbing his shoulders while fake humping him – or not so fake, depending on what you believe about the sexuality of guys who enjoy watching other guys put things in their butt, allegedly in the name of “hazing” but really, come on.
“Yeah!” One of the other bros shouted, “smack that ass!”
Rocky tried to get out of Harry’s grip, but he was too strong. He looked up with undisguised loathing at all of them, until he met a pair of eyes.
One of them wasn’t dancing, was just standing there. A Solo cup in hand, just drinking and…watching. He was tall, six foot four, and built. Not oversized, or overinflated, but lean, his arms chiseled and vascular. He had a head of dark curly hair that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Greek god, a hefty five o’clock shadow and a mischievous smile. And something in his dark brown eyes glittered at the sight of Rocky bent over like that.
Rocky couldn’t look away. Suddenly he knew what he wanted. He wanted to be bent over, like this, but with that man’s hands on him. He wanted to be taken by a giant, a god, a hero.
“Hey, let him go,” the young man said in a deep rich easy voice. “He’s not gay like you, Harry.” And he smiled and winked at Rocky.
Who died a little inside when he did. That was more than he could take, more than he could resist. His beauty, his brazen blazing animal sexuality, maybe, maybe he could have resisted that with the thought that he was just another fucking fratboy toolbag. But that wink. That knowing wink that laughed with him, not at him…that he couldn’t resist.
“Fuck you man!” Harry said, reflexively flying off of Rocky at the idea that he was actually gay and not just, you know, playin’. “Fuck you, Nico.”
Nico, Rocky thought. Of course. It was Nico Paulus, the quarterback. Nico the bad boy, who was always in the news, caught on a cell phone camera the night before a big game in a hot tub full of strippers, penalized yet again for “unsportsmanlike conduct” for his taunting of other team’s defenses, detained for DUI by a stupid rookie cop who didn’t know who he was and then quickly released for “lack of evidence.” Nico, who got away with all of it because he was un-fucking-believably talented.
Rocky grabbed his bag and fled. Nico was in the doorway, partially blocking it. Rocky wanted to keep his eyes down, to take advantage of being nine inches shorter than Nico, but it wasn’t to be. Nico didn’t move, and Rocky had to brush past him to leave. Had to go out sideways, his chest against Nico’s torso, the…oh fuck the heat of him. He felt his erection growing in his pants, pushed his hips back so Nico couldn’t feel it as he passed.
He looked up for just a second. Nico was looking down. The look on his face had changed. It was dark, terrible, wonderful. It was a threat and a promise.
Rocky didn’t know what his own face looked like until he saw the recognition on Nico’s, pleased that, as always, his power had triumphed. Then Rocky knew that his desire had been as plain as an upturned card.
“See you around, little dude,” Nico promised him in a low husky voice.
Rocky opened his mouth to say something but couldn’t. He ran.
Outside it was cool, he knew it was cool because he’d broken out in a sweat upstairs, and it was chilling his skin.
He had a fever. Had to be the flu. Why else would he be half sick to his stomach, shivering, breathing so hard? Shaking like a leaf, every hormone in his body waking up from their long slumber, hijacking his brain completely.
“Nico,” he whispered. No more gods on posters, no more gods on screens, that had taken the place of the invisible God he’d been raised to worship, the God in whom he’d lost his faith long ago.
Now, finally, he had a flesh and blood god he could touch. And worship, with his own flesh. Nico, who he instantly knew would take and never give. Who would accept that worship as his due, as he accepted it from everyone else in the world.
Yes, gods like that demanded sacrifices. Rocky saw himself on his bed, a bed that became an altar, to Nico. He saw himself on his back, his throat exposed, ready for Nico’s mouth to tear at it, if he was so lucky. He saw his legs up in the air, spread wide, ready for his god to stab him, again and again, to fill him with his might.
He bent over and threw up, no uncommon occurrence on a college campus on a Saturday night, so none of the few passers-by paid him much mind, thinking they knew the cause.
Yes, he was sick after all, sick with lust, sick with all the fear and excitement of an eighteen year old virgin who suddenly realizes he’s just found exactly what he’s always wanted.
No, he told himself. He was teasing you, tormenting you. Testing his powers. He could have any girl on campus, and off, and he had. What would he need with you?
He shuddered, trying to come back to himself, trying to acknowledge the truth of that. It had all been a game, a joke. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t stop thinking, Nico, Nico…
I’m her, Rocky laughed at himself in the campus bookstore. I’m that spooky girl with the secret shrine in her closet to the pop star she’ll never meet, the pop star she’s bound to marry.
He tried to keep a sense of humor about it, anyway. Tried not to be batshit crazy about his obsession with Nico. But. Still. When you were standing at the magazine rack, and a copy of Sports Illustrated with Nico Paulus on the cover was freighted with more erotic power than every pornographic magazine ever all put together, well.
He jumped when Sam grabbed the magazine out of his hand. “When did you become a sports fan, anyway?” He raised an eyebrow when he saw the cover – a black background, and Nico standing there, his majestic head in a stern, half turned pose like a Roman emperor, wearing his jersey but not his pads, a football in one hand like a scepter. The lighting was from the side, chiaroscuro exaggerating the perfect chiseling of his features.
“Oh, that’s when you became a sports fan, huh?” Sam laughed.
Rocky flushed, and took the magazine back. “Just looking, that’s all.” He almost put it back on the rack, knowing damn well he’d just be back later that day for it. Then three girls grabbed their own copies, and he knew that it would be sold out if he didn’t take it now.
Sam shrugged. “Whatever floats your boat, man.”
This was the closest he’d gotten to Nico again in the two weeks since their first encounter. He’d started hanging around their dorm room a lot more, hoping that Nico would arrive in Harry’s trail again. But no go. Nico was busy now, the football season reaching its climax and UGA in the running for the national championship. When Rocky found out that football players had a curfew, he kicked himself for exposing himself unnecessarily to so much of Harry’s company.
Finals came around and with them, a sinking sense that he’d never see Nico again. He tried to buck himself up by reminding himself that in the spring, Nico would be done with football, and ready to party, right? Ready to hang with his buddies, like Harry…
“Good news, little dude,” Harry said one day, grinning ear to ear. “You’ll have a new roomie next semester.”
“I…I will?” The earth opened beneath him, he knew it had, because he was falling, dizzy, flailing.
“Oh,” Harry said, checking out his hair in the mirror, “I know you’re gonna miss me. But they got me fixed in the system, it’s off campus living for me from now on. I’m sure they’ll put you with another skin flute player,” he laughed, putting his hat on and defeating whatever purpose he’d had in playing with his hair.
Then he was gone. And so was every hope Rocky had so steadfastly nurtured. Thirty thousand people on this campus, a whole world, and Nico Paulus lived on another continent. Only Harry had linked them, and now that bridge was gone forever.
He couldn’t help it. He reached under his bed and pulled out his sketchbook. Page after page of Nico. Nico suited up and practicing, Nico as Rocky imagined he looked in nothing but a towel, Nico in his pose from the cover of SI…and of course, Nico with a Solo cup in hand, standing in his doorway, looking at him like that.
The way he never would again.
Rocky had never been depressed before. Had never stopped drawing and playing guitar and just…withdrawn. He went to class and took his exams and came back to his room and got in bed and turned his face to the wall.
Sam and Jet were concerned. Tried to get him up and out, to no avail.
“Come on man, tell us what’s wrong,” Sam pleaded.
“It’s nothing. I’m just tired. I’m just resting, that’s all.”
Sam saw Rocky’s sketchbook, open on his desk. He looked at it, turned a page or two. He looked at Jet. Jet looked at him. Neither of them knew what to say. They were young, but old enough to know that telling someone to “snap out of” an unrequited love wasn’t going to fly.
So they made a call.
Rocky didn’t recognize the 212 area code on his phone. But when it kept ringing, no matter how many times he ignored it, he finally answered it.
“Fine way to treat your best friend,” Korey said.
“Hey,” Rocky said, surprised to hear Korey’s voice. They emailed, they texted a little (texting was still a matter of punching number keys repeatedly to get letters), but it had been months since he’d heard Korey’s voice.
Korey had made it out, too, had got on a bus to New York City the day Rocky went to UGA. He’d landed on his feet, quickly snagging a barista job and a place to live in Brooklyn. From what he’d told Rocky, there was a booming new music scene there and Korey had quickly become a big part of it. He was a talented musician, sure, but yeah, being Barrett Springfield’s son opened a lot of doors.
“So I heard from your buddies, man. That you’re down. Way down.”
“Yeah.” There was no lying to Korey.
“You going home for Christmas?”
“No. Hell, no. I’m staying with Jet and Sam, I guess.” He hadn’t really thought it out. He could have gone back to Marietta and stayed with Faith, who would have loved to have him, but he didn’t want to go. He was at that point in his youth where you swear you’ll never, ever go back to that shitty town you just escaped, part of it rage and part of it fear, as if just visiting might be enough to re-ensnare you.
Campus housing would be closed up over the winter break, so he’d have to leave, have to go somewhere. And he wasn’t the only person with a dysfunctional family – neither Sam nor Jet would be going “home” either, so he supposed they’d all spend it together.
“Oh,” Korey said lightly, “they didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“You’re all coming here for winter break. To Brooklyn. To New York Mother Fucking City.”
“What?” Rocky sat up in bed. “I can’t afford…”
“You can afford a bus ticket. And we’ve got a giant space with lots of room for visitors. It’s cold and it’s scary and it’s full of bugs. And it’s fucking awesome. You’ll live on coffee and stolen day old pastry like the rest of us. But dude. You are going to hear some fucking music you wouldn’t believe. And you and me and your new buddies are going to make some fucking music nobody is going to believe. Now. Get your ass out of that bed and brush your teeth and pack your guitar and prepare to meet your destiny.”
Rocky smiled for the first time in weeks. “Yeah. Okay. Yeah.”