The English Year - 18. Fresh Air
"You keep saying let's be friends. Let's prove it for once."
I woke up the next morning with the sense that everyone would be talking about Lee and me. I was paranoid, worried, and ashamed.
But in a sense, I felt better. There was a relief that came with fucking Lee that at the time was hard for me to explain. I think I had pent up so much frustration for Mike and Pete that getting it out all over Lee’s face took a weight off of me.
Whatever the reason, there was a spring in my step when I went downstairs for pre-tailgate cocktails.
The seniors had carted over champagne and orange juice, and our house mother was making pancakes in the kitchen and bringing them up in batches to the library. A couple of girls, mostly Pi Phis, lingered around, starting early in yesterday’s clothes.
My paranoia that people somehow knew I’d stuck it to Lee the next morning evaporated as soon as I stepped into the conversation that was raging in the library.
“She straight up got fingered on the dance floor,” one of the sophomores was saying as I walked to the table and poured myself a glass of champagne. I didn’t even bother putting any juice in it.
“Wait, what?” I grogged, rubbing my eyes and taking a seat next to Newby. The guys in my class were either still fast asleep or at the gym for a pre-football game workout.
“Okay, Corbin. Get this. You know Melanie Chu, right?”
“The chubby Asian girl,” I said, eating a strawberry.
“Did you see her at all last night?”
“I saw her dancing with that kid in my class that bit Tom’s ex-girlfriend’s nipple off our freshman year,” I answered truthfully, trying to connect the dots.
“I knew that was that kid!” Tom, a senior from New York said loudly, taking his hat off and throwing it on the banister that he was sitting on. “That kid is disgusting.”
“You’re the one that dated a girl with one nipple,” I reminded Tom. He flashed me a glare, but I turned to Newby to finish the story.
“Well apparently several people saw him slip a finger in last night.”
For a second, I had a brief memory of seeing Melanie Chu pressed up against the wall by nipple-biter. At first I thought they were just two people doing Late Night well, but come to find out that he was giving her a two fingered discount right there in our basement.
The guys continued to laugh and trash that girl as I bemoaned her reputation. It wasn’t like she had very many options going in to rush to begin with, but something like that could get someone balled from even the less picky houses. I made a mental note to put my money on her falling through during Srat Draft in January.
As the morning party moved from the library to outside, I wondered where Lee had sketched off to so early that morning. And then I saw him outside, helping set up the fallen volleyball net.
He looked good. He looked showered and cleaned, in khaki shorts and a yellow button down shirt. He hardly walked like he’d just pulled a seven inch cock out of his ass, and for that I commended him.
I nodded at him through my sunglasses and he shot me a quick wave.
“What just happened?” Hutch asked me. I turned to see him standing over me and holding a Pabst Blue Ribbon in one hand and an orange wedge in the other.
“Pabst in the morning? What is this, a trailer park?”
“Don’t change the subject,” Hutch said, talking to me as if we hadn’t had a huge fight the day before.
“What subject?” I asked, just as Roberto, Brian, and Austin all came outside, dressed ready to play volleyball on the lawn.
“What was that that I just saw?”
“You’d have to tell me,” I quipped politely, narrowing my eyes behind my sunglasses.
“What are you two homos talking about?” Austin asked, taking Hutch’s Blue Moon out of his hand and drinking it as if it were his own.
“Did no one else just see that?”
“See what, little man?” Brian asked, expressing all of our frustration with Hutch’s inability to complete a thought.
“He just waved at you,” Hutch explained.
“Who waved at who?” I asked, not sure exactly what he was talking about.
“Whom, I think,” Brian interjected.
“Lee. Lee just waved up here. At you, Corbin.”
“I didn’t see Lee wave at anyone,” I said, swallowing. I had seen the wave, and I knew it was directed at me. “Maybe he was waving at you.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Why do we care?” Roberto asked, taking a seat next to me and pulling his knees up to his muscular chest.
“It’s just odd, is all,” Hutch said. “Last night you were ready to kill the kid.”
“I was ready to ball the kid,” I corrected. “There’s a long way from balling someone to murdering someone.”
“And yet he’s over there waving at you like the two of you…” Hutch trailed, refusing to let it go. I could see his pea-sized little brain connecting the dots, and I decided I needed to offer an explanation as to why Lee and I were looking at each other again, and not ignoring each other’s presence.
“You know what, we did talk last night,” I said as if I had suddenly remembered. I kept my eyes down the hill where Lee had just put the net up and was slowly walking up the walk to the door. “He came by my room looking for you, Hutch.”
“Yeah. He said you were gonna let him crash on your couch but that you’d sexiled him. Which is really rude, by the way.”
“Oh yeah,” Hutch remembered. “Shit, because he broke up with Steph Doleman yesterday.”
“Oh, see. I didn’t even know that. I told him to find a place downstairs, and I have no idea where he ended up crashing.”
And then, as if my life was made up of a series of awkward moments, Lee made his way to the porch, patted me on the shoulder, and said: “Hey, Corb. Thanks for letting me crash on your couch last night.”
I kept my eyes peeled forward, refusing to look at any of the guys surrounding me. I ran my tongue over my top row of teeth. Lee walked into the house, presumably to find the volleyball that we kept in the library. I pursed my bottom lip and embraced myself for it.
“So… do we get an explanation as to why your hands are literally sticky and red?” Brian asked.
“Oh, shut up, Brian,” I smacked. “I’m the one who coined the phrase ‘You’ve been caught sticky handed’.”
I looked around and the guys were all looking at me, waiting for me to explain.
“Okay, I lied. He slept on my couch.”
“Why’d you lie?”
“Because it was easier than explaining the truth. And because I know what you assholes are going to say,” I defended.
“You slept with him,” Austin said as if he were reading a fact off an encyclopedia.
“And there it is.”
“Did you?” Hutch asked. I rolled my eyes.
“What do you think?” I asked softly.
“What? You warned me against sleeping with any more freshmen. So I recycled one.”
Roberto let out a big laugh. Brian sighed, but was hardly surprised. Austin shook his head, and Hutch turned away as if he couldn’t even look at me.
“Frankly, I’m surprised you didn’t hear anything, Hutch. We were banging against that wall.”
“Okay, way too much information,” Austin said.
“I’m getting a drink,” Roberto added, standing up and walking inside with his best friend behind him.
“I thought your headphones had come out while you were watching porn,” Hutch hissed, turning back to me.
“And the guys in the porno just happened to be named Corbin and Lee.”
“From what I heard, they could have been named Bitch and Sir,” he said. I tilted my head and glared at him through my sunglasses. I shrugged my shoulder and took another sip from my champagne.
I wasn’t going to apologize for fucking Lee, not to them and not to myself. Sure I wished that it would have remained a secret, but at the end of the day, my pledge brothers knew me almost as well as I knew myself.
It was that morning, while alternating cups of champagne and rounds of volleyball, that I did some major soul searching, and I came to the following conclusion.
The reason why fucking Lee had been so good the night before was because it reestablished the power I was used to exerting. On a campus like OD, a guy like me was nothing without control over his contemporaries. I wasn’t a jock, and I wasn’t the best looking guy on campus. I wasn’t a member of the Big 4 or president of any important clubs. All I had was influence, and although I was still wielding my influence across campus, I had lost that edge in my love life.
I was obsessed with a Brit like a puppy to a master. I had lost complete control of that situation, and every time I told myself I was done with him, I fell back even harder and harder.
I had completely taken my eye off the prize with Mike. He was supposed to be the easy one, and yet there he was twisting me around and making me feel things I didn’t need to be feeling.
And then Lee came along. Poor, slutty, confused Lee with his legs spread wide and pinned to the ceiling, and I saw an opportunity to gain my power back. And I took it.
And so while I could acknowledge that using him was wrong, I didn’t think it was the worst thing I could have done, not given the circumstances.
Still, my brothers saw things differently, especially Hutch, and he made a point of reminding me just how filthy I was as we walked home after the football game to play games and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon on our front lawn.
“You will never accuse Lee of being sketchy again,” Hutch said.
“Excuse me?” I asked, turning to him and looking down through my sunglasses.
“Yesterday, you said you didn’t trust the kid. And then you fucked him.”
“I’m a little unclear what one has to do with the other,” I replied.
“I’m just saying. You have no leg to stand on on this one. He used you to get into the house, and now you’ve used him for your own little sexual revenge. As far as I’m concerned, you’re even.”
“We’re far from even, one,” I said, watching my attitude so that it didn’t get away from me. “What he did was calculated and wrong. What I did was reactionary and wrong. Two very different kinds of wrong. Second of all, you have no say whatsoever on what I choose to do with a recruit. If I want to fuck his brains out, I will. If I want to ball him like he stole something, I will do that too. And you can’t stop me.”
“You’re being a hypocrite.”
“And you’re being annoying.” I took a deep breath to center myself before I continued. “Look, if bid ball were to happen today, I wouldn’t ball him, okay?”
Hutch looked up at me and nodded.
The rest of the day passed by in a blur of day drinking with little to no consequence. I kept thinking something awkward would happen in regards to Lee, but it never did. He did his part, playing games with the brothers and charming his way into our frat.
At one point, I did wonder why he needed to screw people into doing what he wanted. He was charming and cute and people generally liked him. If he were that way all the time, he wouldn’t have needed me to get him in to Chi Beta. But he’d played his hand early, and he’d played all the wrong cards.
It wasn’t until I was showering that night in preparation for our Rockstars and Rehabbers mixer that I felt like calling Pete. I didn’t necessarily feel guilty about the night before, but part of me felt bad. If he’d made his move, if he’d given me a reason not to talk to Mike like I’d asked for a dozen times, he wouldn’t have seen that kiss because there wouldn’t have been a kiss.
Pete liked to think that I was unpredictable, that I was a slut and that I was out there giving it up to every guy when he wasn’t looking. What he didn’t realize is that, even if I had given it up to Mike and Lee, at the end of the day, I would have given them up for him. I couldn’t say that about the other two.
And so I did call him. After my shower, but before I put on any clothes.
“Hey,” I said when he answered, enjoying the naughty feeling of talking to him while I was as naked as a jaybird.
“Hey,” he replied, not sounding too enthusiastic to talk to me. It was almost as if someone had made him pick up the phone.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I don’t know. There’s a hall crawl at Phi Psi.”
“You don’t want to go to that,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. I pulled a black t-shirt out of my drawer and threw it over my head.
“It should be pretty fun,” he answered shortly.
“Okay, well. We’re having a hall crawl here too, if you want to come.”
“I think maybe I’ll just go to Phi Psi,” was all he said. I swallowed. I knew exactly what he was doing, and I was determined not to react.
“Are you going to come to Late Night?” I asked.
“I hadn’t thought that far,” he answered. I was suddenly done with the conversation.
“Okay, well, have a good night.” I hung up the phone without waiting for a response. My patience was thin, and if he wanted to ice me, he could. But I’d laid my cards out there, and he was still holding on to his like he had the fucking Queen of Spades in his deck.
I pushed him out of my mind with a beer as I walked around the house, making sure everything was perfect for the mixer.
Our KD mixers were legendary in their scope of shittiness. I made sure that there was more booze than they knew what to do with. I always made sure the theme was kicking and the decorations were on point. That year, I’d gotten together with my friend Hilary and we’d come up with a Rockstars and Rehabbers theme (she initially suggested Rabies and Babies, in which everyone could either dress up as a rabid animal or a toddler… I vetoed).
Because you never really knew how many KDs would actually show up, I confined the party to the upstairs game room, which was stocked with a tequila shot bar, a gin bucket, a vodka bucket, two beer coolers filled with forties, Sparks out the ass, and a drink called Pink Panty Droppers that was pure grain, lemonade, and beer.
If no one went to the health center that night, I would have been surprised.
Decorations were kept simple. I’d bought about a dozen posters of musicians from Walmart and hung them from the back door up to the upstairs landing. There was a table on the landing filled with sorted M&M’s, candy bars, a pyramid of sugar free Red Bull, and small dime bags filled with powdered sugar. I had written up a fake band rider on poster board that was too absurd for words. And then there was the clincher.
While Newby and I were setting up that afternoon, we’d decided that it would be amazing to put powdered sugar on every surface in little lines. We lined the heater boxes, any tables, sinks, the floor, the banister. We found a few little mirrors in the attic and put them everywhere we could with powdered sugar on them. If the cops somehow raided our house that night, they’d be very excited about their bust, and then they’d be very disappointed, and then they’d crash from the sugar high.
It didn’t take long for the mixer to get underway. Once Hilary and her band of ridiculous friends arrived, my anxiety about another mixer subsided and I was able to start having fun. I remember gathering a group of about twenty-five brothers and girls, one dressed as cracked out Whitney Houston, and organizing a game of Chandeliers with Pink Panty Droppers.
It didn’t take long for all of us to get drunk.
It only took a little bit longer for everyone to get blackout.
Somewhere between wasted and stumble drunk, I went downstairs to fetch more ice for cocktails. The mixer had been raging for about two hours, and everyone had sort of broken up into smaller drinking groups inside brothers’ rooms. I remember seeing my Kappa friend Riley come in with some of her friends to visit the Chi Beta she’d been screwing since our mixer and thinking that some sort of West Side Story riot was about to ensue. Alas, nothing happened, except we ran out of ice.
On my way back upstairs, I ran into none other than Nick Persons in the Great Hall. He was coming from the basement, it was clear, and had stopped to check his phone.
“Hi there, Mr. Persons,” I said loudly, almost teetering up the last step.
“Hey, Corbin Crowley,” he smiled. The way he said my name made me smile like a school girl with a crush. He elongated the vowels and put a Winny the Pooh sounding ‘shh’ sound at the end, as if he had a hole in his two front teeth.
“I was just about to text you.”
“Oh, really? What are you even doing here? Crashing our mixer?”
“I was downstairs talking to Swayze about some mixes.”
“Did he burn you any CD’s?”
“I could only be so lucky,” he said.
“I could be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky in love…” I sang. Nick smiled. I knew I was drunk and probably embarrassing myself, but I didn’t care. Nick was a breath of fresh air, and in my current state of boy-claustrophobia, fresh air was always welcome.
“It’s almost midnight, and you’re very sober,” I observed.
“That I am,” he replied. “Would you be obliged?”
“For you, my friend? Of course,” I said. “Follow me.”
I started walking up the stairs with Nick in tow. He made a wise crack about me carrying ice and nothing else.
“It could be vodka ice,” I joked.
“Vodka doesn’t freeze, silly,” he replied. I turned around and gave him a fake glare. There was something about a guy calling me silly that drove me crazy. Instead of taking Nick to the game room or to Hutch’s bedroom where brothers would stare at him and girls would ogle him, I decided to take him straight to my room where we could talk and hang out uninterrupted.
“I thought there was a party going on,” he said, clearly observing my plan.
“You need to catch up before you join society,” I explained. “The people that party here will eat a sober guy like you alive.”
That surely wouldn’t have been the reason why anyone at OD would have wanted to eat Nick Persons up. It was the cool attitude, laid back demeanor, and effortless appearance that would have done it. Nick had classic Greek-style features set against hair that had grown into a classic frat flip and the perfect six-foot frame. His eyes were a dark green that popped against his dark olive complexion. Nick was mesmerizing, and the perfect face to jolt me out of my current state.
“I wouldn’t let them,” he smiled. I poured Nick a Solo cup filled with gin from a bottle I’d managed to swipe after making the gin bucket, backed with a splash of Sprite.
“What is this?” he asked. I turned to see Nick sitting on my couch and petting a resting Mister. “You have a cat?”
“I sure do,” I said. I walked over and handed him the cup.
“Oh gosh, this is awesome. What’s its name?”
“Yep,” I said. Nick looked up and cocked an eyebrow at me, indicating that he knew exactly why I’d given my cat that name.
“So this is where the boys come to play with your Mister?” he joked, laughing at his own pun.
“Not always,” I said. He picked up my cat with both hands and brought her paw up to his nose. I watched him excite her out of her nap. At first, she flailed around wondering who this strange new creature was, but as Nick and I shot the shit, he and my cat became good pals.
“Speaking of the boys,” I said after an awkward pause. “How are your brothers?”
“Dorian and Phinny? They’re good. They’re both coming up for Parent’s Weekend next week.”
“Oh, awesome. I’ll have to run in to them.”
“So that you can make out with Dorian again?” he asked, looking up from my cat for half a second.
“Oh, please. Is that the story now?”
“That’s what he told us all.”
“No, it was hardly a makeout,” I defended. Dorian was Nick’s older brother. They shared the same good looks, but if possible, Dorian was even more laid back than Nick, most likely due to the fact that he was blazed every time I saw him.
“Then what happened?”
“Straight from the horse’s mouth, here’s the story. It was at Buffalo Creek.”
“That’s what he said, yeah.”
Buffalo Creek was a huge hippy music festival that drew people from all across the eastern seaboard. It was an orgy of folk music, drugs, alcohol, and literal orgies for four days. My sophomore year, a girl had nearly passed out in her own vomit before a Buena Vista townie rolled her over and woke her up. I was passed out on the couch across from her, barely aware of the entire thing.
“So we’re sitting there starving to death and these two girls had a bunch of hot dogs for some reason.”
“Okay. That collaborates so far.”
“I wish I could remember why they had so many hotdogs,” I spaced. “Anyway. We’re sitting there and they have these hot dogs wrapped in foil and your brother is the one that asked what two guys needed to do in order to get a hotdog. And the girl said that she’d give us each a hot dog if we kissed on the lips, and Dorian said, I swear to God, he goes: ‘how about two for tongue.’”
“I kid you not. Hand to god, those were his words.”
“And they agreed?”
“For sure. That’s how we got two hotdogs each. And the kiss was only like twelve seconds long.”
“I counted. I wanted it to end,” I smiled. Nick gave me a knowing look.
“Of course you did,” he joked. “You’re probably not the first guy Dori’s kissed, so.”
“Don’t make me feel so cheap,” I joked. All I could think while talking to Nick was that I’d kissed the wrong brother.
As I poured Nick and myself a second cocktail, and as our chemistry and vibe continued to grow, I couldn’t help but think that I’d wasted half a semester on two guys that weren’t even in the picture anymore. How could I have spent so much time looking at Pete and Mike with such myopic vision that I was missing all that OD had to offer.
It was almost like Nick showing up that night was a reminder that I didn’t need to be obsessed with one guy all year. There were plenty of fish in the sea to fry, and I was having a gin cocktail with one of them.
That realization, all of that goodwill to get over Pete and Mike lasted all of an hour. At just after one a.m., Nick and I finished our drinks and went downstairs to see if Late Night had begun raging. In the hour since I’d run in to Nick, the Great Hall had drastically turned around. The room was full of people mingling, drinking, talking loudly, singing, hollering, and falling over. There was Natty Light everywhere you turned, and the who’s who of Old Dominion were all gathered at my party.
If The Great Hall was packed, I could only imagine what the basement dance floor looked like. I didn’t make it that far, however.
“Hey!” I said, when I spotted Pete talking to Amanda and Sacha against one of the walls in the Great Hall. Amanda looked up at me and waved. Sacha motioned for me to go over. Pete looked in my direction for a second and then turned back to what he was looking at before.
“Hey,” I repeated, taking a step towards them. Pete turned around towards me again and nodded.
“Are you ignoring me?” I asked.
“Of course not,” he replied.
“Oh. Because it sort of feels like when I say hi and you don’t say anything, you’re ignoring me.”
“It’d be rude of me to ignore you in your own home,” he said politely. I could tell by the squint in his eye that he was tipsy, if not drunk as well.
“It really would,” I replied. And then I had a flashback of talking to Nick and it feeling so effortless. I remembered my own feelings that I had wasted my semester on this guy, and that it was time to breathe in some fresh air for a while.
I shook my head.
“You know what, never mind,” I said softly. I turned to walk downstairs, when I felt a strong hand on my shoulder.
“Okay, okay. Sorry for giving you a hard time. And sorry for running off last night,” he said. The girls had gone back to whatever conversation they were having before. It was just Pete and me in the middle of a big crowded room, and I realized I might never be able to breathe in fresh air again.
“Are you really sorry or are you just saying that so that you can come up and play with my cat?”
“I do love that cat,” he half-smiled. I involuntarily made a face betraying how much I wished I could be over him. I wanted to. I needed to. I needed more nights like the one I’d had up to that point… before I ran into him. I needed less complications, and my biggest one was standing right before me.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, reading my face like a picture book.
“Nothing,” I shook my head, pulling my beer to my face.
“What’s wrong?” he insisted.
“You don’t need to know,” I said firmly.
“Maybe I can help.” He raised his shoulders and arched one eyebrow. Or not, I thought.
“This is out of your depth, my friend,” he said.
“Oh, come on killer. You keep saying let’s be friends. Let’s prove it for once.”
“Promise?” I asked skeptically. He nodded.
“Okay,” I agreed. “Follow me.”
I led Pete out the back door to the back landing. I decided to test him. We’d been circling around our ability to be friends for a couple of weeks, and we’d both failed. I had been unable to separate my feelings, and he had been unable to curb his jealousy. Together, we were a hopeless match.
But I wanted fresh air, and I wouldn’t be able to get it until Pete and I really were filed away. And so I continued the process, regardless of how much I knew it would hurt. Pete had asked me what was wrong, and I honestly had a million places I could have started. I decided to test him with the one subject I thought would push him away the fastest, just to test his resolve.
“So you know I had that conversation with Vmee Mike last night, right?”
“You say conversation, but I didn’t see very much talking,” he replied.
“You promised,” I scolded.
“So, I think before that kiss you walked into, that I ended things with him.”
“Really?” he asked in a way that confused me. His voice inflected as if he was interested in what I’d just said, but there was a hint of something else. Concern, maybe. It sounded almost as if Pete felt bad for me, not as if he saw a window of opportunity, but as if he was actually invested in what I was feeling.
I squinted my eyes at the new thought, and decided to press on.
“Yeah. I told him that I wanted to take a few steps back.”
“But you like him,” Pete said, shifting his weight and continuing to surprise me with sensitivity. “And I’m willing to bet that he likes you.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It wasn’t so much about us liking each other. It was about how we were showing it, I guess.”
“What do you mean?”
And that’s when it happened. That’s when I looked at Pete and talked to him, not like the crush I was trying to convince to like me. It wasn’t like he was the dream boy I was trying to coerce into kissing me. He wasn’t the unattainable Brit anymore. He was Peter, my good British friend, and I was talking through one of my several problems with him.
“I liked him a lot, but I always knew what the boundary of that relationship was. We weren’t ever going to go out together, or hold hands together, which was fine. And for a while I thought that we were never going to sleep together, and that I was just going to be his buddy, his Old Dominion pal that he could count on for a blow job when things got rough,” I explained effortlessly. Pete’s face didn’t drop once. He didn’t cringe once, and I could tell he was trying to be on my side, regardless of the subject matter.
“And then last week, things started to change. He got affectionate and he brought what little relationship we had out from closed doors and out in to the open, and he… we…”
“You slept with him?”
“Yeah,” I said slowly. I waited for a reaction. I think there was a moment’s hesitation in Pete’s eyes, as if he had to collect himself, but he did well. He stayed around. He didn’t storm off, sulking, moping, and questioning everything. This is where I wanted to be with Pete. This was fresh air.
“And that clouded things up.”
“And now you don’t know where you stand with him?”
“Seems to be a theme these days,” I said with just a hint of snark. He shrugged. “It’s just that I know that I was starting to slip past that barrier.”
“If he had sex with you, wasn’t he slipping too?”
“But for him, it was a calculated slip. He knew what he was doing. He knew he was showing me off, and buttering me up, and putting it in. He was controlling the pace of the slip. I fell hardcore, and he wasn’t there to catch me. And so I told him to back it up and give me time to figure out where we were again.”
“Sounds like you made the right call,” Pete said softly. Honestly. Earnestly. And yet there was something behind it. Something small. Something I told myself I was making up because of those lingering feelings.
It sounded like he was glad. There was a relief in his voice, and it was only there for a second.
I bit my bottom lip, shifted my weight, and told Pete that I hope I had made the right call.
“What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I decided to take my test to the next level, and see just how far Pete and I had come in our friendship. “I feel like I’ve been dealing with all of these boy issues for so long, that I just need a break. From everyone.”
My tone was unmistakable. There was Mike and there was Lee. And then there was Pete. And I knew that he knew he was included in that list of boys with issues. And I could tell by the way his chiseled face softened that he understood how much he had affected me in that first two months of school. He got it, I could clearly see.
And I knew he could tell that this time, I was serious. This time I was cutting it out. This time, I was going to slow down and do things right.
And that was my intention.
“What do you mean, take a break?” he asked, leaning on the handrail of the landing. I looked him deep in his eyes.
“I don’t remember the last time that I didn’t have some sort of a crush on someone. I don’t remember the last night that I went out without an agenda. I don’t remember what it’s like to have no expectations, no…”
“No feelings for somebody,” I finished, boring straight in to him. He would have had to be a moron not to know that I was freeing myself from him; I was taking a break from him. I was breaking up, essentially, from him.
I watched Pete’s neck expand and contract as he swallowed back what he wanted to say.
“All this over you and Mike?” he asked, softly. He wasn’t talking about Mike at all.
“There are multiple reasons,” I said as honestly as I could. He nodded.
“It’s just love is… it’s… everything is complicated,” I struggled.
He chuckled. “What?”
“Nothing,” he said with a smile.
“What?” I repeated, louder.
“No, it’s just, you remind me so much of that girl in Moulin Rouge right now,” he said. I squinted my eyes.
“Nicole Kidman?” I asked, confused why he was referencing one of the gayest movies of all time.
“Yeah. When she’s talking about how stupid love is, and how she’s done with it, and Ewan McGregor keeps saying that love is splendid.”
“A many splendored thing,” I smiled.
“Love lift us up where we belong,” Pete sang. I shook my head.
“Please don’t start that again,” I said slowly in my best Nicole Kidman ambiguous accent impersonation. And then it happened. I hadn’t expected my break from boys to be easy. Hell, I half expected it to be impossible. But I thought that I could live with my new philosophy for at least one night before I fell right back into the clutches of this British man. I thought maybe I could live free of the drama and pain of not having him for one single night before he drew me back in.
And then he drew me back in.
“All you need is love,” he sang. “All you need is love. All you need is lo-ove.”
“Love is just a game,” I countered.
“I was made for loving you baby, you were made for loving me.” Pete looked me in the eyes and didn’t break eye contact for a second. A tornado could have swept us up, and we still would have been staring in to each other’s souls.
“The only way of loving me baby, is to pay a lovely fee.”
“Just one night; just one night.”
“There’s no way, ‘cause you can’t pay,” I sang, my falsetto ringing in just the right places.
“In the name of love; one night in the name of love,” Pete sang, his voice growing louder and stronger with each line. He flung his arms in the air as if he really believed we were standing in a giant elephant hotel room instead of right outside my fraternity house in mid-October, while people walked past us to get inside of a major party.
Since Pete was so determined to commit to the song, I did my part to match his enthusiasm.
“You crazy fool. I won’t give in to you.” I put my hand on Pete’s chest.
“Stop.” He grabbed my hand as I tried to pull it away from his chest. He kept it there, and for a second I thought he was telling me to stop in real life. Forget where I was five minutes before. Forget the resolve I’d thought I had. This kid was going to make it impossible for me to move forward. He was going to make it impossible for me to breathe.
I wanted nothing more than for him to pull me in by the hand and kiss me. And for a second, I thought he might.
“Don’t leave me this way,” he continued. “I can’t survive. Oh baby, don’t leave me this way.”
“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs,” I sang in my higher register, not noticing that the song’s words were a direct reflection of my life.
“I look around me and I see it isn’t so.”
“Some people just want to fill the world with silly love songs.”
“And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know… cause here I go, again!” His voice rang out into the night sky. I’m sure the couple walking past our house to get to sketch alley and home to fuck thought that the two drunk guys singing show tunes off the side of a house were absolutely insane. But in that moment, belting it out with Pete, everything felt right.
I was surprised that I still remembered every word to that song. I was even more surprised that straight Pete knew them just as well as I did. And then I remembered that nothing was ever straight with Pete.
“Love lift us up where we belong. Oh, were eagles fly, over mountains high!” Pete spread his arms up as high as they could go.
“Love makes us act like we are fools. Throw our lives away, for one passing day.”
“We could be heroes! Just for one day.”
“You… you will be mean.” I poked him with my index finger.
“No I won’t,” he shook his head and smiled at me.
“And I… I’ll drink all the time.” I rolled my eyes, aware of how ironic that line was.
“We could be lovers!”
“We can’t do that.”
“We could be lovers… and that’s a fact.” Pete put both hands on my shoulders, and swayed us both back and forth.
“Though nothing… could keep us together…”
“We could steal time, just for one day.” And then we came together and sang together. The harmony was off. Our voices were flat. We probably sounded as drunk as we were. But we connected, right then, in the same way those two connected in the movie.
“We could be heroes! Forever, and ever. We could heroes, forever and ever. We could be heroes! Just because I….”
“Will always love you.”
“I… can’t help loving you.”
“How wonderful life is,” Pete whispered, getting an inch away from my face, his smile glued to his. “When you’re in… love.”
I started laughing. I couldn’t help but shake my head at how absurd that whole exchange had been. I’d pulled Pete outside to tell him I was done with him, done with boys in general, done with love altogether.
And true to his fashion, Pete turned it around. He made me believe, yet again, that he might actually like me. For a split second, after singing to each other, looking into each other’s eyes and into each other’s souls, I thought maybe he’d satiate me with a kiss.
But he didn’t. And that’s why I was forced to let him go.
Without saying anything else, I walked back into the house, with Pete in tow, and lost myself in the rest of the party. The memory of that moment, the buildup and the eventual letdown, rang in my mind for the rest of the night, as I drank beer after beer, trying to forget.
And forget I did. I woke up the next morning with the hangover to prove that I’d forgotten it all. I crawled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. The house was brightly lit, indicating that I’d slept well in to the afternoon. I tried to brush my teeth and almost gagged on my toothbrush. I gave up, and instead ended up drinking water out of the sink until I started to feel alive again.
I forced myself to take a shower before I loaded my back pack and walked downstairs.
“Hey there, bud,” Austin greeted me as I walked past the Chi Beta library. He was sitting at the conference table with work spread out before him, clearly doing homework. I looked at my cell phone and realized that it was nearly three, and I was just getting started.
“How are you feeling this morning?” he asked.
“Like death, warmed over,” I replied.
“Of course you do, maricon,” I heard Roberto say. I took another step in to the library and saw the Argentine sitting on one of the couches in the corner, his computer on his lap and a book on the arm rest. “You were such a mess last night.”
“I don’t remember anything,” I confessed.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I came inside after me and Pete sang on the back porch and then I went downstairs and got a beer.”
“Do you remember guarding the door downstairs?”
I shook my head. I vaguely remembered being downstairs, but I don’t remember any sort of guard duty. I usually got out of working during parties by throwing a fit that I planned the party to begin with.
“You were standing there with Pete, and y’all had been talking about something intense, I don’t know,” Austin said, looking up from his book and turning to face me in his seat. “And you were standing with him, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you projectile vomited onto the floor.”
“Oh god,” I said, holding my head.
“It was disgusting,” Roberto said, barely looking up from his laptop.
“Y’all are lying to me.”
“I wish I was,” Austin said. I tried as hard as possible to conjure up the memories, but I couldn’t. I wondered what Pete had thought, seeing me vomit like that.
“What happened?” I asked after second and a breath.
“He took you upstairs. Apparently, he stayed with you for a little while, probably held your hair back while you threw up, and then we all put you to sleep even though you insisted that you were fine to go back downstairs.”
“What time was this?”
“About two-thirty,” Roberto said shortly. That meant I had lasted about an hour after Pete and my sing-a-long before I fell apart.
“You kept telling him that he was such a good friend and that you were going to try and be a good friend. It was really weird,” Austin said. He turned back to his work, an indication that the story was over.
“Well, thanks for taking care of me, guys,” I said as I left the library.
I was filled with embarrassment as I walked from the house to the library. I couldn’t get over what they’d said happened. How could I have let myself get that drunk? Why in the world did I keep drinking after all I’d had at the mixer? I should have stayed at the great place I was in when Pete and I were talking, instead of pounding back beers and turning into a hot mess.
I set up shop on the top floor of the library, where I could escape the passersby better than the main level. I didn’t want anyone to walk by and see my shame.
Instead of doing work right away, I eased into academic mode by writing my column. I spent most of the article dissecting different kinds of friendships, and reaching the conclusion that in order to truly love someone, you had to be friends with them. Friendship was the cornerstone of the best relationships, and without it, you wouldn’t survive. As a nod to Pete, I mentioned that true friends are always there to hold your hair when you throw up from the mouth.
I ended the article with a feature I often included in my columns called a Blind Item to generate buzz and interest. They were usually racy, a little inappropriate, and about something I’d witnessed or heard about over the course of that week.
And to the girl and guy that were posted up on the wall at Late Night on Friday, please keep all appendages and digits to yourselves next time. Making out on the dance floor is one thing, but it should go without saying that fingering someone on a dance floor is unacceptable behavior. Sweetie, allowing yourself to be fingered is even worse. I’ve done a lot of ridiculous things on frat basements, some this very weekend. But to take it to that level, well… it’s just disgusting and classless. As we print this, I’m having a sign mounted above our bar that reads: Keep Fingers and Toes Out of Vaginas Until You Get Home. Quite frankly, I’m a little disappointed that it’s even come to this, but you have been warned. And for the love of God, please wash your hands when you’re done next time. Both of you.
I sent the article out to Alexandra and went about my studying.
I got the news the next day. The email came from Professor Brown at about eight in the morning, and I read it at the kiosk before my first class.
To Corbin: Can you stop by my office this afternoon? Any time before two and four will work fine. If that’s not possible, let me know when you have a few minutes to talk either today or tomorrow.
I read the message over about thirty times before I closed the email and walked to the arts building for my directing class.
At two, after trying in vain to take a nap, I got redressed, grabbed my bag, and walked back to campus. I walked slowly, trying not to get to Brown’s office right at two.
When I got to the School of Business building, Brown’s door was open, but she was talking to another one of the younger professors. He was standing just inside her doorway. I stopped just outside the doorway, in view of Brown to see me.
“Hey, Hoover, I have a student waiting for me. I’ll come by in a few minutes.”
“Sure thing, Amanda,” Professor Hoover said, walking out of Brown’s office. He nodded at me as he passed, and I slipped in. I was nervous about our meeting. I took a deep breath as I sat down.
“Hey, Corbin, thanks for stopping by this afternoon.”
“No problem,” I said, having a seat and wondering why she needed to see me. “Is everything okay?”
“Well, yes, everything is fine.”
“Okay, great,” I replied awkwardly, still unsure what I was even doing there.
“So the reason I wanted to see you today is because I just finished the roster for The Ad Class,” she began. My eyes got wide, and I forced myself to swallow so that my mouth couldn’t go any drier than it already was.
“Okay,” I nodded.
“And I had your name on the list of creative,” she continued. I let out a breath. “The reason I wanted to talk to you, however, is because I’m sort of torn. I loved your application. I love what you’ve contributed in class so far, and you are my advisee, so I know you very well, and I know you’ll be an amazing addition to the creative team.”
Her words were really sweet and amazing, but I could feel the ‘but’ coming just around the corner.
“The thing about it is, this year’s team is becoming stacked with potential leaders. There’s people like you who I know would do well this year and really enjoy the class and get a lot out of it, but I have to wonder if you wouldn’t have a bigger impact on the overall program if you waited until next year.”
The blow hit me across the head. I felt like I was being fired. I knew that wasn’t how Brown meant it, but at the end of the day, it was how I felt. Why couldn’t I have been a rockstar on the team that year? Was it really that full of talented future advertisers that there was no room for me?
“It happens every year where I see a couple of people that I’d like to save for the following year, and you’re one of them. And let me tell you, the reason I think that for you is because I think with a year of experience in this kind of thing, you could be creative director next year, or head of planning even.”
I nodded, forcing every muscle in my face to keep from betraying how I truly felt.
“So I just wanted to talk to you and see if you’d prefer that option. Of course, with such a strong application, if you want to be in the class this year, I’d let you in in a heartbeat, but I don’t think you’d get the best experience out of it. Like I said, my advice to you would be to wait it out.”
“Um,” I started. It was Brown’s biggest pet peeve of a word, but I couldn’t help saying it. “I guess if you think it’d be better all-around for me to wait another year, then yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I can’t say I’m not disappointed though.”
“And really, Corbin, you shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you if you weren’t one of the top candidates. I just don’t want there to be any dispute about your leadership potential when I put the class together next year.”
I could hear what she was saying, and I sort of appreciated it. Basically, she was giving me a golden ticket for the following year, and with that I had the chance to have an even bigger impact on the campaign than I would that year.
I spent another twenty minutes talking to Brown about my decision, all but soliciting a guarantee from her that I’d be a big shot the following year. As I was getting ready to leave, I asked her if there was anyone in the class that I would know.
“Oh, a ton of your friends are going to be on next year’s team. I’m holding Colton for next year, and your friend Hilary.”
She swiveled around to her computer, and I assumed she was going to pull up the document with the final list on it.
“You’ve already talked to them?”
“They’re coming by this afternoon just like you,” she replied casually. “And for this year, let’s see. Your friend Helen is in the creative team. She’s just amazing, and a lot like you, I have to say. In fact, that’s why I thought about you as one of the ones to hold over. There’s her, there’s your friend Hannah Kate. You know Anastacia, right?”
I worked really closely with Staci on The Fancy Ball Committee. I nodded.
“She’s the CEO this year. Your friend Alexandria is on here,” Brown continued. I was sort of surprised. I wasn’t even aware that Alex had applied. I sort of had to bite my lip on that one.
“And then you’re friends with the British guy, right? I think I’ve seen you two at lunch together.”
“He’s on the creative team. A couple of others you might know.” She trailed off. Pete had made it. Pete had made it on to the creative team, and I hadn’t. I couldn’t help but feel as if he had stolen my spot in the class.
I held it together until I left the office, but I couldn’t help but feel betrayed by the whole thing. I’m the one who had told him to apply. I was the one who had encouraged him to even do it. And yet there he was, sitting in a seat that was supposed to be mine.
To Pete: Congratulations.
To Corbin: For what?
To Pete: Ad Class.
To Corbin: You already know? When did you get the email?
To Pete: Just talked to Brown. The email is coming out in the morning. Congrats.
To Corbin: Did you make it?
To Pete: No.
I tried my best not to resent Pete. It wasn’t his fault that I hadn’t made it. And truthfully, I was flattered that Brown had thought about me for the next year, instead. It felt like she was putting an investment in me, and I really did appreciate that.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I think by the time I digested the news later that night, I was even more disappointed that Pete and I hadn’t made it together.
I swallowed my frustration long enough to get most of my work done, however, I was in no mood to go to Monday Night Football that night. Instead, I stayed in and caught up on some of my English class reading.
The next day, I woke up bright and early to distribute the paper before my class. The release schedule had fallen in to place where articles were due on Saturday and Sunday, printed on Monday, and released on Tuesday. It was slightly different than how we’d done it the year before, with a weekend release, but according to Alexandria, it was better to put out the paper on a school day when everyone was on campus.
And so I did.
I expected there to be a reaction to the blind item I’d left at the bottom of my article. I knew people would find it hilarious and ballsy that I had called out the two-fingered offenders.
I got the first text message right after my ten o’clock class.
To Corbin: Wow. I think you crossed the line on this one. Who’s the girl? She’s officially balled.
I replied to Amanda that I couldn’t tell her any names, but if she asked around, I was sure she could find out who the offender was.
The guys at lunch all thought the story was hilarious. No one could believe that I’d actually put that in the paper, but I had done risky things like that before. I brushed it off.
I kept getting kudos for ballsy and edgy journalism all day, and I felt really good about my article. It was my most widely talked about blind item since I’d outed the affair a pair of teachers were having.
Not everyone was impressed, however, and I received my first piece of hate mail that evening as I did my work in the commons.
Dear Corbin, it read. While I normally find your column to be insightful, poignant, and fun, what I read today was simply disgusting. I would have hoped you were above writing about a young lady in such a vulgar and inappropriate way. Calling her the names that you did, going into such gross detail about the act, I don’t know if I’ll be able to look at your writing the same again. All this is to say that the girl you wrote about is a student on my hall, and when I saw her at lunch today, I could tell that she took your words as more than just a thoughtless piece of journalistic fluff. She was in tears. Literal tears, Mr. Crowley, and for that you should feel ashamed. As her dorm counselor, I feel the need to make you aware of the affect that your words above many others. I hoped you would have used that influence for good, and not to make a young lady cry. I think you owe her a sincere and strong apology.
She then went on to address the editor, who’d she’d CCed on the email, and asked her how she could have allowed such a piece to run.
I read the email a couple of times, fuming with each passing sentence. Janet, the dorm counselor who had sent it, was relentless in her critique, and that bothered me. What bothered me even more was the attack on my character. I wasn’t the one who had let myself get fingered in a room full of dancing co-eds, and yet I was the one who was mindless and should have felt ashamed?
I didn’t think so.
I wrote Janet back simply saying that I wasn’t aware her student had cried at lunch, and that I felt bad for that. I went on to say that I didn’t feel bad for writing what I’d written and that given the same situation, I would have released that article again. I told her that I had seen the offense with my own two eyes and that what I witnessed was way more offensive than anything I could have written, no matter what the detail. I also told her that I acknowledged her concern for her student, but that I wouldn’t be issuing any sort of apology. Finally, I extended the same invitation I did to anyone who disagreed with my column: for her to visit me in my commons office if she had anything further she would have liked to discuss.
I thought I was done with the situation until about nine o’clock that night. I looked up from my laptop, still mildly annoyed by the email, only to see Janet approaching my table.
Janet was tall, beautiful dark skinned, and generally quite beautiful. She played on the basketball team, and her good friend Grace was actually my lab partner in Chemistry class that year.
“Hey Corbin, can I sit down?” she asked, towering over me. I swallowed, licked my lips, and motioned to the chair across from me.
“Hi,” I said coldly.
“Hi. I just wanted to come by and talk to you about my email and your article.”
“Listen, you know I love The Signature. I think it’s hilarious. But come on. What you wrote today was completely out of line.”
“How so, Janet?” I asked, folding my arms, and leaning back in my seat.
“You told the whole school about Melanie Chu, and that was inappropriate,” she whispered, shaking her head the whole time.
“How so, Janet?” I repeated, holding my stance. She was the one that disagreed with me, so she was the one who could make her point.
“I don’t find what I wrote to be inappropriate. I didn’t tell the school anything that wasn’t already being talked about in several corners. That girl made her bed, and unfortunately for her, she used a frat basement instead of it.” I could feel my cheeks getting hot as I defended my actions.
“Yeah, I get that she made a mistake, but that’s what it was. She didn’t need you to attack her for it.”
“I didn’t attack her!” I caught myself before my voice rose too high. “I didn’t attack her. I didn’t even say her name in the article, and believe it or not, I haven’t told a single person her identity, and I don’t plan to. The fact that she cried after reading the paper is the only reason anyone would have for linking her to the blind item.”
“Let’s be real,” Janet said.
“You wanted her to get embarrassed. You wanted to cause a big old controversy with this whole thing.”
“I really didn’t.”
“I’ve read your stuff. You live on this kind of a story, and its usually fun and games. But this time someone got hurt.”
“And I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that she cried.”
“But you aren’t sorry that you made her cry.”
“Janet, I really don’t think that I did,” I replied stubbornly. I hadn’t made her cry. She had made herself cry, and that wasn’t my problem.
“What would you have done if it was you? If you had woken up and read that article in front of all your friends, and you realized it was about you?”
“I would have put the article down and pretended it wasn’t.”
Janet shook her head.
“You owe her an apology,” she said sternly.
“I don’t believe that I do.”
“Okay,” she said, relenting, just like that. It sort of through me. I expected her to insist and yell and try to use her position as a dorm counselor to muscle an apology out of me. But she didn’t. Instead, she stood up and told me to have a great afternoon.
I continued to get text messages and emails about the story. Only about one in ten people that reached out to me had an issue with anything I’d written. One of my friends Facebook messaged me saying that he was sure I was getting a lot of heat over the article, but that it was literally one of the funniest things he’d read out of The Founder in years.
And then I got it. The email that stopped me dead in my tracks for the night. It was impossible for me to go back to work after I read it, and so I didn’t even try. I packed up with a heavy heart, walked home, and went straight to bed.
Mr. Crowley, the email read. I think we need to have a conversation tomorrow morning in my office, and I think you know exactly what about. Have a good night. Dean Watkins.
Thanks for your patience with this chapter folks! I hope it was worth the wait. Let me know what you thought in the reviews below or in the forum! As usual, comments, questions, and reviews are always appreciated.
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