by Peter DiFatta
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It is 1995 in North Carolina and Taylor Hanes is struggling to escape his small-minded dying textile town. He finds his ticket out by being awarded a full-ride Pluck Gay and Lesbian Equality Scholarship to a state university. Problem is, he isn’t gay. He lied on the application. Suddenly, he is shocked with hometown discrimination, but worse yet, he awakens the wrath of the long dead scholarship’s benefactor.
The hauntings continue into college and Taylor along with a group of friends investigate why the benefactor, Bernard Pembroke, is an unsettled spirit. The narrative takes the reader back to 1927, the pinnacle of the Jazz age, when Pembroke was in college. He is a stammering socially inept sophomore who develops a symbiotic relationship with a freshman named Damien.
Damien is a highly optimistic, musically talented, energetic fellow who opens up the world to Pembroke and leads him to embrace his own homosexuality. But suddenly, Damien goes missing. What happened and is this why Pembroke’s spirit is still unsettled? Taylor and his friends resolve to find out.
"Just think, guys, in four or five years," Trad said while gesturing to Ben and Gordon, "you guys will be graduating from college, and me and . . ." He paused a moment, looking for a reaction from Taylor, who seemed to have a buzzed-out smile, and then continued, "and Taylor will still be here, holding this godforsaken town together."
Taylor smiled, the alcohol having totally relaxed him. He decided this moment was too good to pass up and he would tell all of them about his scholarship. He quickly glanced around the crowded, noisy bar and said, "Not so fast. I've . . . I've got an announcement to make. You all need to raise your bottle for a toast to me."
"Why, what's happened?" Gordon asked.
"Well, today, . . ." Taylor felt himself trembling, his mind spinning. I shouldn't tell them . . . It's too late . . . I can't not tell them now. So he continued, "this very day, I signed papers that gave me a . . ." He paused momentarily for dramatic effect. "Da, da, da, da . . . a full scholarship to Carolina!"
The table was quiet for a few seconds. Then Gordon said, "Yeah, right."
"No, it's true," Taylor shot back.
"Really?" Ben asked.
"Yep!" Taylor replied, nodding his head.
Suddenly, after a slight pause, there was a round of high-fives and whoops as they all congratulated him. Trad appeared happy too and participated in the jubilation, but Taylor noticed a little concern in Trad's face and tried to downplay any more excitement.
"Look, it's no big deal. It will make things so much easier for my mom and dad."
"Was this a need-based scholarship?" Gordon asked.
"No, it wasn't need-based . . . although I really needed it."
Gordon continued, "Well, I know it wasn't an athletic scholarship or based on academics."
"No, it's what they call an endowed scholarship."
"Hey, I know they don't give it for that," Ben quipped. They all laughed. "Besides, you wouldn't qualify." They laughed some more.
As the laughter died, Trad and Ben looked at him with dazed interest while Gordon stared intently, all expecting an explanation to follow.
Taylor spoke. "Apparently, this rich dude set up this trust for this full scholarship that they give every year. The money just sits there accumulating interest for these scholarships."
"Wow!" Ben and Trad exclaimed.
"Yeah! It even pays for books and housing, and I have a monthly spending allowance."
"No way," Ben replied.
"How do I apply?" Gordon asked.
"You have to be a minority," Taylor snapped.
"A minority?" Gordon questioned.
There was a small pause while Taylor gathered his thoughts. Lowering his voice, he spoke. "Look, guys. I . . . I, uh, pulled a fast one."
"What? You told them you were black and they believed you?" Ben quipped.
"No, no," Taylor replied while laughing. "I . . . I got this scholarship where I have to work toward . . . for further acceptance and rights for gays and lesbians."
"You got a gay scholarship?" Trad asked.
"Did you have to blow someone?" Ben asked.
"I didn't know you were gay," Gordon commented. "Are you?"
"Look, no, no. You got to promise to keep this quiet."
"I do remember," Gordon continued while chuckling, "that camping trip when we were in the Scouts."
Just as Ben said, "Will you be my date tonight?" a girl delivering the pizza arrived at the table. The conversation quickly turned toward splitting up the bill and tip. As soon as she left, it started back.
"Are you going to have to display a rainbow flag in your dorm room?" Gordon asked.
"Does Christine know about this?" Trad asked.
"Hold on. Hold on," Taylor responded, slightly annoyed at the jokes. "Let me out; I gotta take a leak. Then I'll answer all your questions."
As he was moving away, Ben shouted, "If you take too long and your knees are wet when you come back, we'll know what's been happening." They all howled.
Taylor rushed back to the table and leaned into them with a pointed finger. "Look, guys. I hate fags as much as the rest of you!"
They continued laughing as Taylor swung around and headed for the restroom. He turned a corner and proceeded down a long, poorly lit hallway. Just before he reached the restroom door, a man dressed in a leather coat and flat-brimmed leather hat materialized before him. The man grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him against the wall, raising him several inches off the floor with his clenched fist under Taylor's chin.
"So, you hate fags, and just t-today, you signed a d-document that you would support the furtherance of g-gay equality." There was a pause as the man stared menacingly into Taylor's face. His eyes were dark and moist with anger. Taylor stared back in shock. The man's ice-cold fist was cutting into his throat, and Taylor feared for his life. Then the man added, "You're pathetic!" He let Taylor slide down, released him, turned, and disappeared into vapor.