The Tight End by Raleigh Ruebins

1

Logan

I lay back on my bed, propping a pillow up behind me as I flipped to the next page in History of the Kingdom. I was pretty sure I was the only person on campus doing this tonight, but it was one of the best history textbooks, for one of my favorite classes. I’d been waiting to take Advanced History of the British Empire for four years now, and the textbook was just getting to the good part.

Everybody else was out at a party or club tonight, either with somebody they loved or trying to find somebody to love. My senior year of college had just begun, and fall festivities were already in full swing.

But all I’d done tonight was jerk off alone and crack open a book.

In other words, my usual Friday night.

I slid a finger between the pages of the textbook as I shut it, looking over at the expanse of empty bed beside me. Before the school year began, I’d resolved that this year, I would be bolder. I knew I couldn’t hide behind books, perfect grades, and mountains of homework forever.

Would tonight really have been any better if I had a hot guy here, keeping the other side of the bed warm as I paged through my book?

Okay, yes. Definitely.

But it was easier to be alone.

Every time I was around somebody attractive, it was like my verbal brain functioning shut down. It had happened just earlier today, when I’d seen a cute guy sit down next to me in the cafe with a book about Ancient Rome.

He’s hot. Go talk to him.

But don’t talk too much about ancient history like you always do.

You’d just bug him.

He’s probably just trying to get a history requirement over with and move along.

No. More. Hopeless. Crushes.

Sitting here with a big mug of hazelnut cocoa on the table next to me and a heavy, glossy book in my hands should have felt amazing. It used to be my favorite thing, curling up with a good read, unbothered by anyone else. I’d always been able to put my feelings into a box, stuffing that box somewhere deep and far away. Loneliness was something I could deal with later.

But the touch of my own hand was losing its luster. Even when I walked by couples holding hands on the street, the ache in my heart wasn’t so easy to ignore.

I tried to shove the loneliness back into its place, same as I always had. But the box was starting to crack open. It was straining. Set to blow like a ticking time bomb.

Something had to change. But I was still at square one.

Maybe some people are just meant to live their whole lives alone. And maybe I was one of them.

The sound of footsteps and the front door swinging open broke my focus about an hour later. I’d gotten lost in the story of Alfred the Great again, sinking into stories from history instead of thinking about my own life. The door slammed shut and two muffled voices came down the hall. My bedroom door was closed, but I could still hear the sound of deep, drunken laughter floating in from the front of the apartment.

My new housemate was here.

Brody Bryant.

His name sounded like a gay porn star name to me, but I guess it made sense for one of Kansas Midwest University’s hottest football stars, too. Football was king here at KMU, even though I’d never paid two seconds of attention to it. I’d grown up in a house with two professors for parents, and since my mom and dad both taught here at KMU, I’d stayed in my little academic bubble forever. But most people at this school lived for football. The games were always packed, and students all over campus sported the white, green, and gold jerseys all of the time.

Now one of the KMU Wolves was going to be living in the same apartment with me.

My landlord had called to let me know that Brody had signed the lease and picked up the keys earlier today. I had been in my usual spot out at the library. I hadn’t even met Brody face-to-face yet, even though we’d emailed and texted a few times this week before he decided to sign the lease.

I pulled out my phone, navigating to my texts with Danielle.

>>Logan: He’s here. Tell me again why you had to abandon me?

>>Danielle: Your new roomie?

>>Logan: Yup. He sounds… drunk.

>>Danielle: I didn’t abandon you. I just really, really wanted to live with Henry.

>>Logan: I know. And I’m happy for you, promise. I just have to live with a football player now.

>>Danielle: LOL. You’ll do okay, Logan. It’s just a roommate. How bad could it be?

Danielle was a history major like me. She was a nerd, too, and for years, she’d been my best friend. My only friend, basically. Danielle was the one person who I could totally be myself around, never worrying for a second that she would judge me.

She also knew how bad things had been for me back in high school. Since college, I’d been able to keep to myself pretty easily, but back in high school I’d been mocked and teased endlessly by the popular guys. Mostly athletes. That was part of the reason I would have greatly preferred to share this apartment with Dani instead of some football player this year.

But then she had to go and get a boyfriend.

And decide to live with him instead of me.

I wanted to see her happy, don’t get me wrong. But now I was stuck with some random guy for my senior year. A random football player. In one of his “getting to know you” emails, he’d told me he was a tight end for the KMU Wolves.

Can’t wait to meet you, bro!” he’d ended the message.

He even sounded like a jock in his emails.

I had no idea what a tight end was, and I had about as much interest in football as I did watching paint dry. All I hoped was that I could be civil and distant from him, and we could get through our senior year of college peacefully and quickly.

I jumped as I heard a crashing sound coming from the kitchen. It was followed by more laughter, and then someone giving someone else a very stern shhh. I heard the sound of a door closing again, from further inside the house. Our apartment was actually the second floor of an old Colonial-style house, just blocks away from campus, that had been turned into a few separate student apartments years ago. It had old hardwood floors and not much in the way of soundproofing.

I slipped a bookmark into History of the Kingdom and set it down on the table.

>>Logan: I’ll be fine. But I gotta go make sure my kitchen is still in one piece. Talk to you later, Dani.

>>Danielle: Good luck. And I better see you tomorrow!

I put on my glasses before heading out of the room. My vision wasn’t bad enough that I always needed my glasses, but right now, I wanted to be as sharp as possible. I walked out into the hall, glancing over into the living room. Everything looked normal—the couch was empty, the TV was off, and the bookshelves were all in place. There was nobody in the kitchen, but I immediately noticed what had caused the crash. One of the big metal pots that was hanging above the stove was now resting on the table, the handle completely detached from the base.

There was a little post-it note nearby that said “sorry! I’ll replace it tomorrow,” written in a disheveled scrawl.

I bit my lip, grabbing a pen from the little mug at the edge of the shelving unit nearby.

It’s ok!” I wrote below his words.

More laughter came from the second bedroom. Clearly, my new roomie was having a drunken hookup. Exactly the kind of thing a popular football player and senior in college should have been doing on a Friday night.

But as I was walking back to my room, I heard the second bedroom door swing open again.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” a voice came from down the hall.

I froze in place in the living room, suddenly feeling like an intruder in my own apartment.

“That’s not why you brought me home?” the voice came again. I realized it was a guy’s voice, not a girl’s. Brody’s visitor apparently wasn’t happy.

“I mean, it’s not what I had in mind for tonight—” Brody replied, his voice deep and kind. I could tell he was trying to speak calmly and avoid a fight, but the other guy was already pissed.

“Wow,” the guy said back to him. “You’ll fuck anybody on the planet other than me? Guess the rumors about you aren’t so true, after all.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say I’d fuck anybody on the planet, though I guess it’s true that I enjoy sex. Really, really enjoy it—”

After more muffled sounds, footsteps pounded down the hallway. “All right. Whatever. I’m done with fuckboys. Done with players. Done with you. I’m out of here,” the voice came again. A thin blond guy emerged from the end of the hallway and headed toward the front door. He walked out without seeing me, slamming the door behind him.

I heard a loud, frustrated groan from the second bedroom—Brody’s bedroom, now—and a moment later, he came out, scrubbing his palms over his face as he walked into the living room.

Lumberedout into the living room, more like.

Good lord, the guy was big.

“Oh!” he said, his deep baritone voice full of surprise as he saw me. “You’re here?”

Damn.

You certainly didn’t have to wonder if he was a football player.

The guy was at least six-foot-two worth of muscle and heft, tan skin, and a mop of chestnut brown hair. His biceps looked like they were straining against the white T-shirt he had on, stretching it for all it was worth. Below his shorts were thighs and calves so sculpted that I felt like I was looking at some sort of Olympic athlete.

Some molten mixture of panic and curiosity filled my chest, heating me from the inside. Brody’s presence wasn’t quite intimidating, exactly, but it made me feel… smaller.

I cleared my throat, reaching up to fiddle with my glasses for no reason.

“I’m here,” I said. “I live here. I mean, I’m your roommate. Housemate, I guess, is the better term? I’m... Logan.”

Damn. Already fumbling my words.

“I’m Brody. And I’m so sorry,” he said, stepping forward to reach out a big mitt of a hand to shake mine. His eyes were the same color as his hair—that luminous chestnut brown, underneath rows of dark, thick lashes.

Yeah. He definitely wasn’t intimidating in a scary sort of way. Not with eyes as gentle and beautiful as those.

But talking to him definitely felt more difficult than any exam I’d ever taken. I always got tongue-tied around traditionally hot guys, and Brody ticked just about every box on the really fucking hot jock checklist. I could immediately see how he was a playboy—with looks like his, he could get anybody he wanted in bed.

“I didn’t realize you were home,” he said. “I tried to knock on your door twice earlier today. Was going to introduce myself, but when there was no answer, I figured you were out.”

“I was out,” I said. “Earlier, at least. I was in the library. But I got back about an hour ago.”

“Christ, so you heard all of that,” he said, grimacing as he nodded toward his bedroom door. “Jeez. I feel awful. Lance can be a little dramatic.”

I assumed Lance was the blond guy who’d just left the house.

“Was everything okay?” I asked.

Brody waved a hand. “Oh, yeah. It’s chill. He just thought I brought him home for a hookup, which I didn’t have in mind. We went to the First Week Festival tonight. You didn’t go?”

“First Week Festival?” I asked. “Oh, that was tonight?”

A lopsided smile appeared on Brody’s face, one corner of his mouth quirking up to reveal a dimple. “Damn, you’re adorable, aren’t you?” he said.

My heart rate shot up, slamming in my chest like a jackhammer.

I cleared my throat. “I just thought the festival was next week—” I started, unsure how in the hell to respond to a guy like Brody calling me ‘adorable.’ Nobody ever called me that. Especially not casually. Brody had said it like it was nothing, all while looking at me with that dimpled grin.

My cheeks were hot, and I was sure he could see it. I’d always hated how easily I blushed.

“You didn’t know it was tonight?” Brody asked, friendly, moving the conversation along like butter. “It’s always the first Friday of the year. It was all over the website and in the KMU Daily.”

“I haven’t read the Daily since freshman year,” I said. “I probably should, but…”

“But you’re too busy reading other stuff?” Brody asked, nodding toward one of my bookcases in the living room. The bookcase was one of four separate ones in the room, all of which were overflowing, the shelves straining under the weight of my mountain of books.

“Sort of,” I said. I was hoping he couldn’t see past my open bedroom door to the two other bookcases in there, chock full of even more books.

“You’re a history major?” Brody asked, his eyes scanning over my many rows of history books like they were foreign relics.

“History and comparative literature double major,” I said. “Did I mention that in my text messages?”

“I see,” he said. “And no, the landlord told me. He mentioned you won the National Excellence Scholarship award last year.”

I nodded. Brody leaned against the wall as he looked back at me, crossing one leg over the other, revealing new groups of muscles that I hadn’t even seen before.

He looked so damn strong, even when he was just standing casually in our small living room. I couldn’t imagine how he might look when he was actually working out, or sprinting his way across a football field.

“My brother made me try for that scholarship,” Brody said. “Even though I told him there was no way. Turns out the National Excellence Scholarship board doesn’t like awarding football players with 2.9 GPAs.”

There was something pained in his voice as he described it. He clearly wasn’t proud of his grades, and it stirred something sympathetic in me. Almost like I had an urge to give him a hug, even though I barely knew him.

Usually I wanted to run far away from new people. Something about Brody was having the opposite effect on me, though. Something about him drew me in, actually.

It felt… different.

“Yeah, they’re pretty tough. I didn’t think I’d get it either,” I told him.

It was partially a lie. I knew I’d had a good chance at winning, and now that I had, I was able to go to school completely free for my senior year.

“Damn, bro,” Brody said, making no attempt to hide the fact that he was sizing me up. His eyes traveled along my body as he watched me, and I felt equal parts nervous as hell and confused about why he was paying me this much attention at all. Right now, getting called “bro” didn’t feel as silly as it usually would to me. It sounded natural coming from somebody like him. Maybe it was because I could see in his eyes that he was really impressed that I’d won the scholarship.

“I just got lucky, I guess,” I said, looking down at the ground before meeting his eyes again. “With the scholarship, I mean.”

His gaze was still steadfast. Clearly, Brody did not get flustered by eye contact like I did, because it still felt like he was staring into my damn soul, the way he looked at me. “You’re obviously a really smart person,” he said.

How many times was he going to make me blush? “Sure. I mean, I guess,” I said. People had been calling me smart for my whole life, but really, I just loved reading, I loved history, and school was my happy place.

And for my whole life, that fact had made me feel so painfully different from everybody else.

By now, I’d just come to accept it.

Logan Martinson, only good at school and nothing else. Always different, always awkward. Shove the loneliness into the box. Put the box somewhere far, far away.

Brody cleared his throat, standing up straight again before walking into the doorframe that led to the hallway. He put both arms up above him, hanging on the frame like he was about to do pull-ups.

It was almost obscene how good it made his arms look, the taut curves of his triceps on full display.

Did he just always act like this, unaware of how perfect his body was? Or was he doing it on purpose, in some dominant display, like he was trying to show me exactly how strong he was?

I put the thought out of my mind.

Just because football players targeted you for being different in high school doesn’t mean Brody is doing that now.

He’s just stretching his arms.

Chill. Out.

“Well, it’s still early,” Brody said, the kindness in his voice letting me relax a little. “You got any plans to go out tonight?”

“God, no,” I said instinctively, a little too quickly.

A big smile spread over Brody’s face, his dimples showing up again. “You sound like somebody just offered you rotten food or something.”

I ran a hand through my hair, trying not to get distracted by his dimples. “I mean, I’m just not in the mood. I’m not much of a partier.”

“Me either,” he said, waving a hand through the air.

I found that hard to believe. “Really?”

Brody glanced to one side. “Okay, yeah, that was a lie,” he admitted. “I do go to parties most weekends. I like meeting people. I like having a good time. But sometimes parties can be… a little much.”

“What do you mean?”

He looked down at the floor, letting out a long breath of air. “A lot of gossip and drama can come from being at too many parties. And I’m definitely getting sick of that.”

I’d stayed so far out of the world of college gossip for my whole time here at KMU that I’d barely remembered it existed. Dani sometimes told me stuff that she’d seen on online gossip forums, but I never knew any of the people involved or really cared at all.

I was glad to be far, far away from that stuff. There were benefits to being alone most of the time, no matter how isolating it could be.

“Last time Dani dragged me out to a party I ended up stuck on a couch, directly in between two people who were making out,” I said. “They didn’t even ask me to move. One of them smelled like a car air freshener.”

Brody puffed out a laugh. “Sounds like fun,” he said. “And I think you might be talking about Dan Brennerton. It’s fuckin’ weird how much his clothes always smell like a car dealership.”

“It was definitely a weird night,” I said.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to it,” Brody told me. “Sorry again about the commotion. Won’t happen again, unless we’re the ones throwing the party.”

I snorted. The idea of ever throwing a party in my own house was unfathomable.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m sorry that blond guy didn’t realize you were straight.”

Brody glanced up at me, his head cocking slightly to one side.

“Huh?” he said.

“The guy you brought home,” I said. “You said he was looking for a hookup, but that you didn’t want one.”

Realization slowly spread over Brody’s face, his stupidly beautiful eyes going a little wider. “Oh, you… you really don’t follow the school paper, do you?”

I blinked at him. “No. Why?”

He bit his bottom lip, holding back a smile that had mischief behind it. “Of course not. But if you did follow the paper, or the website, or any of the stupid KMU blogs, you’d know that I’m definitely not straight.”

I was frozen in place. I blinked once at him. Then twice.

He held out a finger. “Here, hang on a sec,” he said as he disappeared back into his room.

Brody wasn’t straight?

A star football player at KMU?

Had I somehow fallen asleep while reading and I was now having some sort of fantasy-land, bizarro-world, upside-down dream?

Where the hell did I put it?” I heard Brody muttering to himself as the sound of shuffling and clunking all over came from the room.

A minute later Brody appeared again in front of me, pushing a copy of the KMU Daily into my hands.

“Here,” he said. “This is last week’s paper. That’ll give you a better idea than I could. I’m going to head to bed, but it’s good to finally meet you, roomie.”

He gave me a small squeeze on the shoulder before heading back around to the hall.

I looked at the headline on the front page of the paper.

Wolves’ Tight End Brody Bryant Continues on LGBT Advocacy Path Despite Donor Pushback.

The small blurb beneath was even more descriptive. “I’m proud to be gay, and I’ll never be ashamed of who I am,” Bryant said Thursday, making more waves after conservative alumni cut ties with the Wolves team. Last season, Bryant shocked fans as he played multiple games with a small pride flag affixed to the back of his uniform. Bryant is widely known as the first openly gay member of the team.

“We support Brody in all he does,” Wolves quarterback Vance Shaw said after last year’s season. The Wolves’ regular fall schedule begins again this Saturday.