In the eight years I knew him, at church and later at the Christian college we attended together, I saw him really, out-of-control mad only once.
A guy named Christian in our dorm—blond, tan, muscular, and smooth, a cherry birthmark on the snow-white right buttock we could see in the showers, but positioned just so that Christian may never have known it was there—for some reason, Len took an instant dislike to him.
The guy looked like he was from Sweden or somewhere, but his name was English, Christian Lee Morrison, according to the college annual: about as Anglo-Saxon as can be. From Richmond.
What about him riled Len up I’ll never know. Even early in the fall semester, when the guys on our floor lined up against the hallway walls for evening prayer meeting, before lights-out, I would sometimes catch Len shooting the guy fleeting, askance, yet fierce scowls. On other occasions, even when the banter was friendly, I could sense Len bristle every time Christian spoke.
Maybe it was that he called himself “Christian,” and not something chummier like “Chris” or “Lee.” Just that? Maybe. Len was the sort to keep his reasons simple, bare-boned, hardly reasons at all, more like animal reflexes.
It occurred to me, too, that Len might be jealous.
But why? Nobody was more popular than Len, son of a well-known (in our circles) pastor of a Florida church with one of the ten largest Sunday schools in America.
Len, who made the girls sigh and the boys laugh, could have nothing to fear from Christian, who kept to himself, took his future goals and athletics serious, passed every course he took with a B, never sought the spotlight, and rarely took it.
Christian was handsome—beautiful even—his clear skin looked like you could see down into it, like a gemstone—but his unassuming nature tended to diminish the impact of his beauty, almost by intention.
He wore black Bakelite glasses even on the soccer field—some of the girls called him “Clark Kent,” in spite of his radiant white-blond hair and honey tan, mostly because the black intramural uniform nicely showed off his biceps, forearms, and thighs. Only in the showers did the glasses come off.
I had ample opportunity to observe him. We took almost all the same classes together our freshmen year. He tended to sit towards the back of the class, near the door, never speaking up or showing off, and vanishing almost as soon as the lecture ended.
I knew that Len bore Christian a grudging respect on top of his irrational hostility, because once one of the fellows in our bible study group called Morrison a fairy, and Len shot the guy a stern look and said matter-of-factly, “I wouldn’t want to have to fight him.”
But there was a fight, and it happened about two weeks after Christmas break.
Ten or twelve of us were in the locker room following P.E. Len was snapping his towel at the combination locks, making a racket—bragging about the accuracy of his aim. Christian, two other guys, and I were in the shower.
Len, still dripping from having just showered, with just a thin towel wrapped around his waist, shouted out to us: “Hey, girls, lookee this.” He tossed a bar of soap in the air and snapped it with his towel, and it propelled into the showers, landing against my heel.
“Hey, watch it,” I said. I was laughing when I said it.
Len wound the towel up tight and thwacked it against my lower back. The sound echoed. I jumped and bumped against Christian.
Christian looked up at Len and said, “Leave him alone.”
Len looked like he had been slapped.
“Leave him alone. You could hurt him.”
I started to say something then, to explain that this was just the kind of buddies Len and I were, horse-playing, all in fun, when suddenly Len whipped the towel against my ear. It stung like hell.
Before I could even feel the pain, though, Christian charged into Len, knocking him on his ass and sliding him across the tiles. The back of Len’s head thudded against the wall. The two other guys jumped out of the shower area, but everybody congregated at the doorway to watch.
I didn’t move. Christian stood, in a shoulder-wide stance, dead center, over the drain. For lack of a better word, he looked magnificent.
Len pulled himself up. The towel around his waist was soaked, but secure. Water drops navigated the hair on his chest and stomach, like marbles in a pinball. His eyes shot lightning bolts, the scar across his nose flushed, but a smirk played over his lips.
He put up his fists, and Christian put up his.
At first they just circled each other, their jabs connecting midway between their bodies, knuckle to knuckle. But then Christian caught Len in a headlock and began to spin him in circles.
His feet hydroplaning on the slick floor, Len landed five or six roundhouse punches to Christian’s back and chest.
Len pulled loose, but no sooner than he did, Christian caught him in an arm-twist. Len howled.
Christian kept his balance, feet apart, his cock and balls wobbling minimally, with a sort of Olympian decorum, even. Then he wrapped his right leg around Len’s left leg and brought them both down with a thud, a splash, and the squish of skin on skin.
They slid a couple of feet, fists and heels flailing.
The guys in the locker room were cheering Len on. “Kill him,” they shouted.
I crouched in the corner, to stay out of the way, and to hide my semi-hard-on.
Len drove his fist into Christian’s nose, and blood spurted out. It swirled in the water and vanished into the drain, like Psycho.
Christian grabbed Len by the neck and flipped him over on his back. Brought his flexed calves across his face, then planted the soles of his feet on Len’s forehead and jaw, yanked his arm up between his glistening thighs, gripping Len’s twisted wrist, again, right above his cock.
Len’s legs struggled for traction on the wet floor. The spray of one shower nozzle hitting him square in the face. He gasped and spat. Christian sat with his back straight, biceps flexed, arms bent like a statue of Anubis, blood darkening his upper lip.
The guys outside were screaming instructions to Len, all of them infeasible under the circumstances.
Christian let go and pushed himself away from Len. Wiped the blood off his nose. Thought the technical pin had put an end to the fight.
Another guy might have faced that he had been outfought, not Len. He sprang to his feet, unsteadily on the tile, and crouched like a wrestler.
His and Christian’s bodies collided and collapsed. It was like a clap of thunder. Len’s towel shook loose and fell to the floor. They grappled belly to belly and chest to chest. Len’s face rigid in a vicious, leering mask. Christian’s face oddly docile—through the whole fight he looked like he was solving difficult math problems in his head. Their bodies rolled under the steady downpour of the showers. Their slippery skin reflecting the overhead lights in flashes.
Len straddled Christian’s waist and drove wild punches into his face and shoulders. His only attack plan seemed to be to make Christian bleed more. Christian bucked and managed to catch Len in another headlock. Len planted the palm of his right hand against Christian’s face and pushed, one leg wrapped around Christian’s waist, his heel resting right under his opponent’s navel. I could see Len’s face turning bright red.
The two were wound tight into each other. The water cooled, and both men’s nipples turned small and hard. They breathed through the diaphragm; their bellies’ rhythmic heaving was the only movement for maybe forty seconds.
I inched my way to the doorway, close to the cheering guys, who ignored me.
For a couple of minutes, Len and Christian shuddered against each other like a couple of dogs that have caught each other by the throat. Banging their bones against each other and the hard tile had worn them out. Pink slap marks began to surface on their taut skin, as well as a round purple bruise on Len’s upper thigh.
Christian stopped the fight. Once again shoving Len’s body away from him with his powerful legs. He rose to his feet and pushed his way through the line of guys, none of whom had rooted for him. Still his back was straight, his face serious, his tan body nobly naked. He cleaned his nose with a cotton handkerchief out of his locker.
Not wanting to embarrass Len by staring—or daring to offer words of comfort, everybody turned away and resumed getting dressed alongside Christian. Nobody said anything.
Breathing heavily through his nose, Len got up on his feet. He walked past me without even looking at me—but I could feel the rage. It hit me like an icy wave. He grabbed his street clothes and found a corner bench where he could dress alone, his back to the rest of us.
Christian left first. Then gradually everybody else left, except for Len and me.
A long, awkward silence.
Even after I was fully dressed, I lagged behind, sat on a bench, staring down at the floor between my shoes. I could detect Len’s movements out of the corner of my eye. Eventually, he moved towards me, stood in front of me, glaring down at me.
“Look at me,” he said.
“I said Look at me.”
I turned my eyes up to his.
His steady gaze pinned me there where I sat.
“Stay away from me for a while,” he said.
“Why.” I could hear the whine in my voice.
“I don’t want to see you, so stay away.”
He left me alone in the locker room.