Vern Schillinger eyed the young men filing into his apartment on the first floor with a small smile. Not a bad crop of freshmen, he acknowledged, as the RAs directed them to find a spot on the floor. He started a bit at Simon Adebisi - that's right, the nigger from Africa, he thought, struggling to hide his disgust. Their eyes met, and Vern knew that Adebisi sensed what he was feeling. This kid was the perfect example of why whites needed to stay on their toes - he'd try to take over the world if you didn't keep him in his place. Dismissing the African with a glance, Vern turned his attention to the others filing into the room.
And right behind Adebisi, came the person he'd been waiting for. Someone whose appearance made Vern's heart stop, and when it started up again, beat twice as fast. So this was Tobias Beecher, he thought, turning his back to the group quickly, shuffling through some papers to hide his reaction.
The son of his old friend Harrison Beecher. Here, in his dorm. Under his control. And if Vern wasn't mistaken, Harrison Beecher didn't have any idea that his son had just come under the notice (and, if Vern had anything to say about it, the control) of his old enemy Vern Schillinger. Pretty little fucker, he thought, glancing surreptitiously at the boy again , almost as pretty as a girl with that milky white skin and the dirty blond hair. And then there was the slightly frowning, pouting mouth.
Yeah, this was going to be a fun year. Vern cracked a grin as he turned to face his audience.
"All right ladies, sit down and shut up."
Let the games begin.
The room quieted instantly as the deep baritone of the Rector rose above the soft murmur of conversation. Heads snapped around to watch Vern as he moved to close the door, shutting in the new freshmen with the man who would rule their dorm, and their lives, for the next year. The few boys not already sitting dropped where they stood, and Vern let the silence drag on for a moment longer than was comfortable as he pinned each student with a look.
"I'm the House Manager, or as I prefer, the Rector, of Milton J. Oswald House. Or as we like to call it, Oz. My name's Vern Schillinger. That's a soft "g". Remember it."
Vern enjoyed watching the boys assembled at his feet stiffen as they realized this wasn't going to be the tea party they expected. Yeah, well, welcome to the real world, you pansies, he thought, looking down at the list of names in his hands. Mommy and Daddy can't hold your hand forever. "I'm going to take roll. Whenever I call these meetings, I expect you to be here. I don't care if you have a paper due or you're sick or you've got practice, or whatever. I don't call these meetings on a whim. You WILL be here. Or you will answer to me."
Vern flashed a small grimace, masquerading as a grin, as he started going through the names. "Simon Adebisi." Butchering the name on purpose. "Tobias Beecher - nice name, Tobias." He focused a quick glance at Harrison's son, enjoying the flush that colored the pretty cheeks at the insult and the attention. This may be easier than I hoped. Continuing through the rest of the names. The Jew-boy from Russia, the Mick on scholarship from Boston. Losers, most of them, Vern thought as he finished reading the names. The tall Nordic boy, Metzger, from the second floor. Now, HE might have some promise. Putting the list down, he fashioned his features into a stern mask and looked up at the still, silent men in front of him.
"My job as Rector of Oz is to provide a safe and studious environment for you young ladies. No parties without prior permission. No alcohol or drugs in your room. No loud music - especially that rap shit. No overnight guests without prior permission from your RA. No smoking in your room. No rough housing in the hallways. Quiet hours start at 9:00 p.m. and anyone caught breaking quiet hours - or any other rules - will be my own personal slave for a day.
"This is a strict dorm - not like some of the co-ops on campus. If you don't like it, leave. I am the king of this castle, and you girls are just visiting. Keep your rooms neat, your hallways quiet and we'll get along just fine.
"I have several resident assistants, or RAs. Tim McManus is one. And this is Sean Murphy, RA for the 3rd Floor. The 2nd Floor is covered by my Assistant Rector, Chris Keller. He's busy helping get the upper classmen moved in so you'll have to meet him later.
"And I'm responsible for the first floor. There are only two rooms down here - mine and the room for the freshman who pisses me off the most. Right now that extra room is empty."
A slightly malevolent grin broke the harsh planes of Vern's face as he looked right at Toby, holding his gaze long enough to make the younger man start to flush again. Maintaining eye contact with Harrison's son, he continued: "If you can't follow the rules, before I kick you out, I'll bring you down here with me, to keep a better eye on you and help you see the error of your ways. Let me tell you, you do not want that. So follow the rules, and we'll do just fine."
"Any questions?" He swept the stunned audience with a quick glare. "No? Good. We're done. Just remember, I'm not your daddy or your mommy, so please, don't come to me with your cry-baby problems. That's what I pay the RAs for; use them. Now out." Vern moved to the door, sweeping it open and smiling largely as he waited for the students to file out.
There was a moment of silence as the freshmen remained frozen on the floor, before McManus clapped his hands and broke the spell. "Let's go guys, you heard the Rector."
The students filed out quietly, the silence broken only by the sounds of feet shuffling out the door, and Vern took time to shake every student's hand on their way, squeezing just a little too hard, smiling just a little to much, staring just a little too long.
Scaring the shit out of each and every one of them. But it was one boy in particular that had Vern's complete attention, even while he intimidated the others. Tobias Beecher.
Vern worked the exiting students so that the last man to leave was Toby. As he took Toby's hand, an shock of electric current ran between them and he felt the boy start. Softening his mouth into a genuine smile, Vern revealed even white teeth and an almost pleasant expression appeared in the bright blue eyes. "Tobias. That's an interesting name. I bet they call you Toby, huh?" Turning on the charm, he kept hold of Toby's hand, relaxing his grip and then squeezing it again slightly.
Toby couldn't break away from the arresting gaze or the physical connection to Vern. He didn't even want to analyze the powerful pull that seemed to draw him to Vern; hadn't he just been mocking him during the meeting? But now the compact blond man seemed to be offering his friendship - when he had made it clear during the meeting that he didn't have much patience for any of them.
That's right, Beecher, Vern thought. Keep you a little off balance, unsure of yourself. Not sure if I'm your friend or your enemy. Well I'm neither, sweetpea. I'm your worst nightmare.
"Um, yeah, usually people call me Toby. Only my grandma calls me Tobias. It was her father's name." Babbling, but unable to stop himself, Toby laughed nervously.
"Well, then that's what we'll call you, Toby." Again, a hint of friendship in the deep voice, and another genuine smile, lit up Vern's face, highlighting the blond man's craggy handsomeness. Still holding Toby's hand, Vern pulled him in a little closer, and turned to murmur in his ear, "I have to be a hard ass so no one thinks they can get away with shit. But I usually take one or two students under my wing, and I think you and I might get along just fine. So don't hesitate to come to me if you have any problems."
Toby felt the soft words almost as much as he heard them, the warmth of Vern's breath causing a shiver to run up his back. The whispered confidence thrilled him, and scared him, and he had to struggle to keep from pulling away from the Rector.
Watching Toby, reading the emotions trip across his face, Vern brushed his thumb lightly along the outside of Toby's hand. The small caress was so quick and soft that Toby wasn't sure it had even happened, except for the trail of fire he felt and the way his heart leapt. What the fuck? He thought to himself, but before he knew what was happening, Vern had turned him toward the door and ushered him out into the hallway. Finally dropping his hand, Vern patted Toby on the back as he pushed the shell-shocked young man toward the stairwell.
"See you at the party," the Rector called back from the doorway and then the door shut, leaving Toby standing motionless in the hall. Shaking his head at what he thought he heard the man add as the door was closing. He must have misheard him. He couldn't have called me "cupcake." Could he?
Confused and stunned by the strange encounter, and his reaction to the other man, Toby drifted upstairs to his room, and fell on the bed, where he rubbed the back of his right hand and tried to sort out what had just happened. He dropped into a light sleep where he dreamed of a balding blond man with arms of steel and eyes the same blue as the Caribbean, until he felt someone shaking him.
"You are moaning, Beecher. Wake up."
Toby snapped awake instantly, his heart in his throat as he struggled to control a scream at the unexpected sight of the bald, ebony-skinned man bending over him. Just managing to choke off the sound, he ran his hands over his face, digging his fists into his eyes as he remembered what he had been dreaming about. "What time is it?"
"It is seven; time for the party. You were really moaning - I thought I heard you say "she", too. What were you dreaming about?"
"I can't remember," Toby lied, as memories of the light brush of a thumb across his hand and the strange dreams swirled in his head. "Give me two minutes and then we can head down together."
"Fine by me, boss," Adebisi said. He watched the pale man splash water on his face, taking in the tight tension of the muscles in his back as he changed shirts and put on a pair of chinos, before slipping bare feet into penny loafers. That boy was spooked by something, he thought, but what?
Despite the Rector's admonition about drinking, there was plenty of beer at the party, as well as a heady punch prepared by Sean that he called "Irish Tea". Within minutes of arriving, Toby and Simon got drinks and moved to where Nik and Ryan were standing swapping stories about their pasts with a couple of other freshmen.
"What about you, Beecher? Where did you go to school?"
Beecher took a gulp of his drink as he considered how to answer the question. "Well, I graduated from Choate." Not a lie, but not the whole truth either, he thought. Maybe I won't have to get into my sordid past - really start things new.
"No kidding, so did Karl!"
Oh, fuck, thought Toby. Karl who? Would he know about Toby's problems? Stalling for time, he took another long drink of punch. Just then, he spotted a tall blond head above the rest in the crowd. Karl Metzger. The obnoxious jock had made Beecher's life hell all last year - teasing him about his remedial studies, his failures as a student, his father's influence. Metzger wasn't exactly a brain trust, but he somehow had seen through Beecher instantly, and he never failed to get under Toby's skin.
Toby was thrown by the sudden presence of his enemy from high school, and his next words slipped out without thinking. "Yeah, I know Karl. He was in the class behind me." Realizing his mistake as soon as he said it, he watched puzzlement dawn on the faces before him. "Um, I took a year off because of some family issues. Things with my dad. Then I spent some of last year getting back up to speed at Choate."
Rushing to stop the questions, he turned the conversation back to Karl in desperation. "I knew Karl, but we weren't friends. He's a jock, I was more of the study-group variety." The other men smiled at that; they were also not really jocks, although Ryan was a runner. "Karl was a big star for the basketball team. I wonder if he's playing here?" Toby said, determined to steer the conversation away from himself.
"Yeah," O'Reily said. "I think he's going to be a starter as a freshman. I read about him in the Boston papers when he signed. We might actually have a fighting chance at a decent team this year. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could beat Princeton?"
With that, the conversation easily turned to sports, and Toby was able to relax a bit. They discussed their favorite pro teams, and learned that Simon had never played basketball. Sure they could teach him. With his height and grace, they assured Adebisi, he would be a natural. A promise to play two-on-two was made.
Toby half-heartedly participated in the discussion, but his mind was racing, thinking about how he was going to handle Karl Metzger. Shit, why can't anything ever go right for me? Why does everything bad always happen to me? Trying to dull the self-disgust and pain, he took a long pull from his cup, savoring the strong taste of the whisky. His brain began to reel from the spirits, and he found that he didn't care so much about what might happen with Karl. Toby welcomed the familiar dulling of his senses, the release from his worries, and downed the last of the drink. Excusing himself, he headed back to the front of the room to get another.
Just as Toby refilled his plastic cup, grinning slightly at the way the room was starting to tilt, he felt someone come up behind him and heard a familiar voice say, "Fucking little Tobias Beecher. I cannot *believe* this school admitted you. What did that cost your daddy?" Without turning, he knew who it was.
Toby took a deep breath, and turned slowly to face the blond giant. "Well, if it isn't Karl the Master Metzger," he managed to sneer. The alcohol emboldened him in ways he had never felt before, the buzz in his brain drowning out his instinct for self-preservation and his usual mute acceptance of the taunting. "I guess Harvard must really want to win a basketball game if you're here. You certainly aren't here on an academic scholarship. Right, big guy?" A mocking snigger broke from Toby's slightly pursed lips as he stared challengingly up at Karl.
Karl's cold blue eyes narrowed at the insolence in Toby's voice and the strange, almost mad giggle. This didn't sound like the sniveling little weasel he had pushed around for two years at Choate. Karl was like all bullies and he didn't know how to handle someone who stood up to him. "Humph. Well, at least I earned my way here, Beecher. Didn't have to buy it. Fucking daddy's boy." With the ineffectual words, Karl moved away, disconcerted by the attitude from the smaller man. When did he grow a backbone? Metzger thought, resolving to steer clear of Beecher. For now.
Beecher couldn't believe it. He'd finally stood up to someone and he hadn't gotten beaten into a bloody pulp. Karl had actually walked away, his lame comeback proof that Toby had thrown him off balance. Toby's heart pounded and he relished the feeling of power he felt rushing through his body. His eyes swept the room and he downed the drink in one long gulp, feeling the burn of the powerful alcohol all the way down his throat. He refilled his cup again, turning to rejoin his friends. Toby was energized, empowered in a way that he had never felt before.
And yet he was more vulnerable than he had ever been. Because the combination of false bravado and Murph's Irish Tea made him even more easy pickings for the man who watched the whole exchange from the corner of the room. Vern Schillinger had seen all he needed to see.
This is going to be so easy, Vern thought, his eyes narrowing as he took in the swagger in Beecher's step as he returned to his little group of friends. Like taking candy from a baby. With that thought, he allowed his carefully maintained mask to slip into a small smile and began to work his way over to where Beecher was standing.
Someone watching might have thought that Vern was stalking Beecher, the way a big cat stalks its prey. And they would not have been wrong.
END PART 3
To be Continued