The Bet

A ladies man is perhaps not a phrase to be taken lightly.  I have known my share of people who, for one reason or another, have been able to connect with whoever they want to, whenever they want to, trading on sexual energy that way an average person will trade on kisses, already looking to dump whoever they’re with for whatever new conquest might come along while the other guy is still just hoping for his date to turn into something more.

It’s clear from the minute that Tom Wilson walks into our dorm room, throwing his stuff down on the empty bed and putting his hand out that he’s one of those guys.  He’s testosterone walking on two legs.  We’ve already talked a bit, exchanged a couple of letters, after learning we would be roommates.  Now he’s walked in and any pre-conceived notion I might have had about him is gone in an instant.  He clearly didn’t spend high school just hoping to get a glimpse of a female breast; his virginity was probably gone before his sixteenth birthday.  It’s clear that if I want to score with someone this year my best bet might be to hang around and catch those who fall away.

But then it all changes when we go down the common room and meet everyone else in the hall.  These are who my next four years will be about, living with these people, going to classes.  I see the redhead, good God, I think everyone is staring at her red hair, a little curly, the perfect body in the Coronado High Swim Team t-shirt and the khaki shorts that show off beautiful inches of perfectly tanned legs,, well down below her shoulders and every pair of male eyes seem riveted on her.  Except for mine.  Well, mostly except for mine, because her legs are amazing.  But I’m already looking towards the back, the girl sitting by the fan, letting the cool air wash over her, maybe not yet used to this kind of heat, the curly dark hair, the soft little voice and what sounds like a Boston accent.  Then the Orientation leader gets up on the table and grabs out attention by announcing at a volume I can’t imagine “I’m Paul and I’m in charge because I’m the loudest.”

This gets what I assume was the desired laugh, but we’re also all listening to him now.  He insists that we go around the room, we all say our name, what city we come from and our favorite movie as a way to get to know each other.  Paul starts with the dark haired beauty in the corner and he seems to have his own eyes on her, but he’s also already told us he has a girlfriend, so I’m not too worried about it.  I listen to her answer: “Kate, Nashua, New Hampshire, The Princess Bride.”  That, I think, is all the information I need.


“Hey.  Kate.”

She turns at the sound of her name, her hair not turning quite as fast, following after like a slow-motion shot from a romantic comedy and there is a smile already on her lips before I can say a word and there and then it’s complete and there is such a thing as love at first sight because this has to be love because there can’t be any other word to describe it.  Nothing else even comes close.

“Yes?  Kevin?”  She says the words slowly, punctuating them separately, letting the words slide off her the tongue with the New England accent I’ve never heard outside of a television before.

“I was just wondering . . .” but then I stop.  I don’t have anything to say.  I’ve been around a little, I’ve dated before, but I don’t have a damn clue what to say.  I don’t even know what I want to do.

“Yes?” she says, softly again, her drawl sliding along the edge of the words.

“Like to talk a walk?”

She hesitates for a second, but it is not the hesitation of making a decision, for the decision has been made already.  There is a gleam in her eye that I can think can be seen in mine as well.  I caught it as soon I saw the smile.

“Sure.”

We start to walk down the hall when we see Tom coming towards us, one of the other girls from our hall already attached to his arm.  He smiles at me.

“Hey, room.  What’s up?”

“Uh, Tom, this is Kate.”

“Nice to meet you,” she says and this time the accent is not so noticeable, hidden in the back of the words and I give her an inquisitive look but she just smiles.

“Kevin, Kate, this is Danielle.”

“Dani,” she says, and now the introductions have been made.  Tom reacts quicker than the rest of us.

“Well, now that we’ve all met each other . . .”

I look at Tom.  He winks.  I smile and Kate and I continue on.  I take one look back to see where Tom is headed, what the plan is.  I swear I’m not checking out Dani’s ass.  Really.  You gotta believe me.


At one in the morning I finally make my way back to our room.  The whole evening with Kate has been like something out of a book, a movie, a poem, a song, a fairy tale, I suppose, because none of it seems real, that two people from different ends of the country, from places so unlike each other, could find each other in just one night.  Talking, walking, some kisses out on a swingset in a small little park across a field from the high school, not so different from my first dates in high school, but never such a connection before, never such a feeling that this was someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

When I return, Tom is alone, drinking a beer, which I suppose is impressive enough, that he’s already got someone to buy for him or he’s got a decent fake id.  I wonder how long he was with Dani.  He’s a ladies man, I can tell that much, every picture on the wall is him with someone different.  Maybe he’s just not that quick or maybe Dani is an exception rather than the rule.

 

Dani is the exception.  We’ve gotten through just a week of classes and he’s already known as The Flirt, complete with capital letters.  The next time I come back late from being with Kate, he’s not alone.  He’s moved on to Sarah.

Sarah, Kate’s roommate, makes me nervous and not nervous in that good, Kate kind of way that brings goose bumps and romantic notions.  Sarah knows what she wants.  What she wants is a guy.  Kate’s notion is that Sarah could potentially go for any of several guys.  She knows that Sarah is hot for Paul (“she likes arrogant men and that whole ‘I’m in charge’ thing totally turned her on”) but Paul currently has a girlfriend.  She’s pretty sure Sarah would go for Kyle but she thinks Kyle might be more interested in Jenn (“the way they kept getting infuriated at Paul during his game seemed like some advanced form of flirting”).  That leaves Tom and Jim as the most likely candidates.  Kate seemed to be pushing Sarah in this direction, the nice idea of roommates dating each other.  And so, for right now, it looks like it’s Tom.  They’re kind of right for each other anyway, the walking bombs of sexual energy destined to explode on contact.

Every breath you take.  Every move you make.  Every bond you break.  Every step you take.  I’ll be watching you.

I stop upon entering the room.  I could hear the music coming down the hall, but wasn’t quite sure it was coming from my room.  I’ve opened the door to say something to Tom but I see Tom and Sarah sprawled out all over Tom’s bed, making out and I forget what I was planning to say.  My eyes stray upwards and catch sight of Sarah’s breasts and I realize two depressing facts; not just that Tom has gotten farther in just a few hours than I’ve gotten in a couple of weeks but that I’ve seen my girlfriend’s roommate’s breasts before I’ve seen my girlfriend’s.  It’s all too depressing and weird to contemplate so I slip back out and let the door slide shut softly so he can continue to whatever body part he has planned.  I’m about three feet down the hall before I stop and start laughing, almost hysterically at all the possibilities, of the two rooms almost becoming one, of finding great privacy with one couple in one room and one in the other and just over the fact of them finding each other so fast, when they’re clearly the most oversexed on the floor.

My enthusiasm for the situation, my hopes for the two of them and the possibilities they entail and the dreams I have set up for what is to come next are dashed within two weeks.  Tom moves on.  Or Sarah moves on.

Kate and I are still together, still moving slowly, still watching the two of them lap us with each other and then with new choices, Sarah heading straight for Jim’s bed apparently and Tom managing to sets his hook in Carolyn, a girl from the floor below ours.  Kate and I watch in amusement but also with some sadness because we’ve found each other and it would be nice if our roommates could do the same.


Oh can’t you see.  You belong to me.  How my poor heart aches.  With every step you take.

Three couples are about all that can fit in a Santiago Oaks dorm room, at least if they’re trying to dance. So it’s good that I refuse to dance because Tom and Carolyn are already dancing and Sean and Rachel have decided to join them.  There would be room enough for Kate and I because both the couples seem to be melded onto each other but I keep shaking my head as Tom motions for us to join him.  Tom steps away from Carolyn for a minute and leans in towards me.

“Do you need lessons about how to use a great song to score?” he asks me.

“I am not dancing with Kate to this song.”

“It’s one of the all-time great songs in history, Kev.”

“Have you ever listened to the lyrics, dipshit?”

“I know.  It’s not really a romantic song.  But chicks never notice.  They just let the bass bring them in and they think of it as romantic.  They enjoy the idea that someone’s watching every breath they take.”

“I don’t dance to stalker songs.”

“Will you dance if I put on something else?”

“If it’s a song that really is romantic, then yeah, I’ll give it a go.”

“Okay, then.  Grab your girl, grab her ass and learn to slow dance,” he says as he changes the discs.  Then a song comes on that really can be slow danced to.

I want somebody to share.  Share the rest of my life.  Share my innermost thoughts.  Know my intimate details.

I take Kate by the hand and slide her out into the middle of our room, press myself close to her and kiss her softly on the ear.  I feel her shiver and feel her smile.  I look over, see Tom and Carolyn, see Sean and Rachel and everything seems so right, seems like it actually belongs and I let the words and the music and the beat and everything else take me away.

She will listen to me.  When I want so speak about the world we live in and life in general.  Though my views may be wrong.  They may be even perverted.  She’ll hear me out and won’t easily be converted to my way of thinking.  In fact she’ll often disagree.  But at the end of it all, she will understand me.

Later, I am tucking her into bed, placing the pillow beneath her hair, letting her head fall back into ecstasy and our smiles feel better than anything that has yet to pass.

“Do you want to hear a bedtime story?”

“Okay,” she says, softly, her New England accent that only comes out at night, only truly comes out for me.

“Once upon a time,” I begin.

“So this isn’t a post-modern fairy tale.”

“No, this is more of a traditional Hans Christian Grimm fairy tale.”

“Oh good, my favorite German-Danish fairy tale amalgamation,” she replies with a smile and I realize what I’ve said.  I also realize that most Grimm fairy tales are really pretty, well, grim.

“Um, well, maybe just the kind of fairy tale you tell someone at night with a happy ending.”

“That sounds okay.”

“Once upon a time,” I start, “there was a young man and his name was Tom.”

“It sounds okay.  I’ll try to stay awake.”

“Thank you.  Your confidence is overwhelming,” I say in a Peter Falk impersonation and she is pleased to see I get the reference.  “He had a young girl.  Her name was Carolyn.”

“He ‘had’ a young girl?  Is this a dirty story?” she says, smiling again and crinkling up her nose a little.

“Would you like a bedtime story or would you like a spanking?”

“Now I’m not sure.  The spanking sounds like it could be fun.”

“Behave yourself, miss.”

“Okay.”

“Both Tom and Carolyn were a little lonely.  Tom had just broken up with a girl.  Carolyn was from a smalltown in Nevada and wasn’t used to college yet.  They both were lonely and looking to wipe away that loneliness by being with each other.”

“Oh.  So what happened then?”

“One night, with a little help from their friend, Prince Kevin.”

“Ooh.  Was he a handsome price?”

“I don’t know.  Was he a handsome prince?”

“As handsome as I can imagine.  Was he lonely?”

“No, for he had the love of the very beautiful Princess Kate,” I say and her smile takes me over and it takes me a minute to remember where I was going with the story.  “With help from Prince Kevin and the Princess Kate, they come together and they manage to erase their loneliness.”

“With a song?”

I can’t help but laugh.

“Yes, with a song.  A lyrically appropriate song at that.”

“And did everyone live happily ever after?”

“See, this is a different kind of fairy tale.  They don’t get an ending.  There are no endings.  The ending is the way we live our lives and discover the fairy tales everyday.”

“That sounds enough like a happy ending for me.”

“Good.”

I lean down and kiss her softly.  I stand and turn out the lights.  We stare at each other through the darkness, the light of the September moon floating in through the window.  I close the door softly when I leave.


I come around the corner and Carolyn crashes into me.  I take a step back but she doesn’t even look up, doesn’t try to do anything about the tears in her eyes, the tension in her body.

“Carolyn, what’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?  Your roommate is an asshole, Kevin.  I hope you know that.”

“What happened?”

“What happened?  Go look in your room.  Get an idea of what kind of person you live with,” she says and I look towards my room and see Tom coming out.

“Hey, Carolyn, wait . . .”

“Fuck you, Tom.”

“Carolyn . . .”

“You stay the fuck away from me, Tom,” she says as she walks off.  I look at Tom.  Without saying a word, I walk past him and look in the doorway.  I see Kim, a Sophomore from down the hall, sitting on the bed, pulling her shirt back on.  She looks up at me, a careless smile resting on her lips.

“Take a picture, Lane.  It’ll last longer.”

But I’m already turning back to look at Tom.

“Don’t say anything, Kevin.  I’m not in the mood to listen to it.”

“You couldn’t wait?  You’re so into starting something new you didn’t bother to break up first?”  But he doesn’t say anything to that, just stands and stares away, at Kim, at the walls, at any point in the room except me.  “What happened?  I thought you and Carolyn . . .”

“What?” he interrupts and now he is looking straight at me.  “You thought we were what, a fairy tale?  She was a lay, Kevin.  She was a smalltown girl who wanted some big city action.  Then she got boring.  Not everyone is like you and Kate.”

“Maybe she’s right.  Maybe you are an asshole.”

“Grow up, Kevin,” comes the spiteful, condescending voice from the other side of the room.  I turn and walk across the room.  There’s less than a few inches between us and maybe she is a year older than me, maybe she does know a lot more than me about the way that life works, the way every piece fits together, each in its ordered place, but this is my place, my home and no one speaks to me like this, because I know enough about my own life to know things will work in my home.

“You.  Finish getting dressed.  Then get out.”

“Hey, it’s his . . .”

“My room.  My rules.  Tom knows that and he’s okay with it.  So you want to spend another minute in here, then you listen and you listen now.  Get out.  And don’t come back until you’ve heard it’s okay with me.”

She looks at Tom, clearly wants support, but I may not know so much about sex or relationships or even love and I may be young for my class but I know he’s on my side and I have him under my control on this.

“Better do what he says.”


I’m just back from the dining hall and walking into the common room to see if we’re watching Monday Night Football when I notice that several of the regulars are all crowded over by the window in the corner.  The only one paying attention to the game is Paul.

“It’s totally a ‘c’ cup, Paul,” Jim says from the window.  It occurs to me from the angle that he and the others are standing that they would have a good view directly into my dorm room.

“And I’m telling you, that I’ve seen Amy Cooper without a shirt on and she’s a ‘b’ cup at most,” Paul replies, then yells “Good Christ, Oilers!  Did the Bills break you in that playoff game last year?  Try covering Andre Reed.”

“You sure she couldn’t have gone up over the summer?”

“She’s way too skinny.  Not Wilson’s type at all.  Don’t understand why he’s going for her.”

“Are you guys watching my room?” I ask.  The guys at the window all turn to look at me.  Then they immediately ignore me and turn back to the window.  “Do you guys do this all the time?”

“Well, we don’t do it when you’re in there,” Jim replies.  “What would be the point?”

“But Tom provides some good action,” says someone else that I barely even know.

“Not if he’s banging Amy Cooper he isn’t,” Paul says, not moving his eyes from the game, even though it’s gone to a commercial.

“He’s with Amy Cooper?” I ask.  “I thought he was dating Kim.”

“Apparently not,” says Sean, who I’m a little surprised to see involved in this.

“And I think using the word ‘dating’ when it comes to your roommate is a bit of a stretch,” Paul adds.

“I’m telling you, she’s got nice breasts,” Jim says.

“I’m telling you, she really doesn’t,” Paul replies.

“How did you end up with her, anyway?  She’s not exactly your type either.”

“A bad night with Xian lead to a lot of drinking and a drunken roll with Cooper.  Turned out she had the hots for me.”

“Why?” comes the snarky response from every guy in the room, including me.

“Probably for the same reason she’s giving Tom a toss.  She likes arrogant men.”

“Well, then you might be in luck with Sarah,” say Sean.  “I hear she likes arrogant men.”

“Sarah’s with me, jackass,” Jim replies.

“Does Tom know you watch him?” I ask.  This just gets me a bunch of dumb looks.

“I’ll tell you this,” Paul says, as I sit down next to him to watch the game, trying not to think about what is going on in my room.  “I don’t know if your roommate knows that we watch him.  But I’m pretty sure that Kim knew.  And she certainly seemed to be all up for it.”

“Are all the chicks here messed up?” I ask, a rhetorical question intended to end the conversation.  But Paul turns and looks at me.

“Not yours.  You got the good one,” he says.  I frown a little, but word is that he’s just gotten hooked up with Laura, so I don’t think too much on it and settle back instead to watch the Bills beat the holy hell out of the Oilers.


Amy Cooper might like arrogant men but not enough that she’s willing to put up with Tom for very long.  I miss most of it, including any sight of her breasts or lack thereof, just like I missed most of his time with Kim.  I have Kate and I’m quickly becoming best friends with Sean and the four of us often find ways to be anywhere else but in the dorm.  We comb the town, especially loving the little used book store, we head out to Mountain Lake, we cruise down to Sacramento and we even go up to Tahoe one day.  Then, one night as I come back to the room, I can hear the song playing before I even reach the door.

Since you’ve been gone I’ve been lost without a trace.  I dream at night I can only see your face.  I look around but it’s you I can’t replace.  I feel so cold and I long for your embrace.  I keep crying baby, baby, please.

I smile when I see Michelle.  She’s the only person I know I would even consider trading Kate for.  She doesn’t have Rachel’s looks.  She doesn’t have Jenn’s brains.  But she is a complete package.  She’s quiet, shy, smart, introspective.  Shadows fall on the wall when the sun sets on the horizon and some fall out into the sun and some slip away into the shadows.  Michelle is a shadow, hiding from the warmth of the sun, but always there, always something worth running to, always worthwhile to look to, a place where you can be kept cool, out of the heat and the light of the world.

This also makes me hesitant.  Michelle is my friend.  With the possible exception of Sarah, the same can not really be said about anyone else that Tom has hooked up with.  I see her in his arms, cheek to cheek with him while Sting plucking at his base comes from the stereo.  I don’t want him to fuck her up.  I just want her to be happy.  And I’m not at all certain that Tom provides a good chance for that.

 

“You slept with her?”

“Yes.”

“Slept with her?”

“How many time are you gonna ask me this?”

“We’re actually talking sex.  Not just sleeping.  Sex.”

“Intercourse, Kevin.  Sex.  Making love.  Fucking.  Whatever you want to call it.  There are a thousand ways of saying it.  And at least twenty or thirty ways to do it if that book Sean has is right.”

“Well, crap.  Tom you better be careful now.”

“Why careful now?”

“Well you slept with her.”

“I’ve slept with lots of girls.”

“Really?”

“Are you sure you’re from LA, Kev?  Because some days you sound like you’re from some town stuck in 1950.”

“How many have you slept with?”

“Since school started or ever?”

“Actually, I don’t want to know.  Just be careful.  Don’t screw this up.”

“How do you mean?” he asks, but he’s looking at his computer, working on a history paper and his question makes me uneasy.

“How do I mean?  Come on, Tom.  I mean it’s one thing if you break up, like with Sarah.  But don’t do to Michelle what you did to Carolyn.  She deserves better than that.”

“She deserves better than me.  Isn’t that what you’re trying to say?”

“I am your friend, Tom.  You know that’s not what I’m trying to say.”

“No.  You’re right.  She does deserve better than me.  It’s like that Springsteen song that Kyle was singing the other night.”

“Which one?”

“That one with the line ‘you deserve better than this girl, don’t you know it’s true.  Do you need someone to prove it to you.’  It made me really uneasy, like he was singing it at me.”

“He might very well have been.  He’s real close with her.”

“Great, so she’s got two white knights watching out for her.”

“Is there a reason you won’t look at me?” I ask.  So he turns around and it’s like I can tell, right then.  “You did it already, didn’t you?”

“Kevin, please . . .”

“You bastard.  You slept with her and you’ve already got someone next picked out, don’t you?  You already sleeping with somebody else?”  The lack of an answer tells me all I need to know.  “Can you not stick it out with anyone?  What are you, the world’s biggest slut?  Man, people go on about how easy Sarah is but she’s got nothing on you.”

“Kevin, please, don’t . . .”

“What do you expect me to say?  You know she’s my friend.  What did she say?”

“She doesn’t know yet.”

“She what?”

“I haven’t told Michelle.”

“Jesus Christ, Tom!”

“Hey, don’t fucking shout it all over campus.  I’m trying to figure out what to do.”

“You’re such a piece of crap.”

“Go easy on me, man.  I’m not you.  What do you want me to do?  You rather I be like Bruce, such a pathetic little puppy dog, hanging around Jessie, hoping for free hand-outs?  Or maybe I should be like Paul, fucking around with someone and then keeping her around because he can’t bring himself to let it go when he knows he doesn’t want her?  You can’t tell me he really cares about Laura.  Would you rather I dick around with Michelle just to stay together?  I don’t deal well with breaking up.  So I move on.  It makes it easier.”

“You’re broken inside.”

“I might be.”

“So who is it this time?”

“Heather Grafton.”

“The chick from our Spanish class?”

“We were studying together.  It just sort of happened.”

“Twenty bucks say you and her don’t make it to Thanksgiving.”

“What?”

“Oh, I’m serious.”

“Thanks for having faith in me, man.”

“How about fifty bucks?”

“Now you’re just being an asshole.”

“Fifty bucks says you can’t do it.  Fifty bucks that you can’t stop yourself from sleeping around.”

“All right, then.  Fifty bucks.  But you’re gonna lose it, Kevin.  I actually clicked with Heather, a way I never clicked with Michelle.”

“Never last.  You can’t do it.”

“Where are you going?”

“Oh, I’m gonna go tell Michelle, since you seem to be too much of a coward.”

“Kevin . . .”

“I’m not gonna let her dangle.  Perhaps you don’t grasp that she is one of my closest friends.”

“I’ll go talk to her.”

“Then go do it, damn it.”


Rachel pulls into the parking lot of the Denny’s that’s just off Lincoln Highway.  Kate and I are sitting in the backseat and I notice a classic black Mustang parked three spots over.

“Isn’t that Kyle’s car?” I ask.  Rachel looks over and nods.

“Maybe he’s got a date?” she suggests and curiosity immediately springs up.  Kyle has spent much of the year so far studying and the only person he has seemed to have any interest in is Jenn but they aren’t a couple as far as any of us know.  Denny’s would be a crap place for a date but it’s the only place open when you want to get some dessert at one in the morning and so it becomes the default place for any Oaks student by this time of night.

“False alarm,” Sean says when we walk towards a table and motions his head towards Bruce and Jessica sitting at a table, eating apple pie.  Since Bruce is Kyle’s roommate, it’s likely that he borrowed the car.  Rachel waves to her roommate and the four of us sit and order some dessert and coffee.

“So, did you say that Jim and Paul have traded off on Sarah and Laura?” Rachel asks, incredulous.  It does seem hard to believe, but if there were any roommates liable to simply trade their girlfriends, Paul and Jim would be it.  It’s strange that Paul, as a Sophomore would even have a Freshman as a roommate but apparently he couldn’t find anyone he wanted to room with, so he decided to try his luck.  It seems to have worked out as the two are perfectly compatible, even to the extent of romantic partners.

“It’s certainly what it sounded like,” Sean says.

“I told you, Sarah likes arrogant men,” Kate says.  You would think as Sarah is her roommate, she would know who Sarah is dating, but I suppose since she’s still just headed off to the same room for the night, it can be hard to tell.

“Well, it’s really no stranger than that table behind us,” Sean says.

“What do you mean?” Rachel asks, a little defensive perhaps, since Jessica is her roommate.

“I mean, Bruce is a good guy.  But he’s so badly hung up on Jess and she just kind of strings him along.  I mean, what’s the deal with that?”  Sean is still talking and I’m trying to get his attention to get him to stop but he just keeps plowing through and Kate just sighs.  “Really, what’s the damn point?  She should just sleep with him or something.  Give him some sort of real sign that she cares.  I mean, what does she really see in him anyway?”

“Open mouth, insert foot,” Kate says, softly.  Sean looks puzzled but it’s about to hit him.

“He’s an intellectual, unlike you,” Jessica says from right behind Sean.  Sean, to his credit, at least winces.

“I suspect you’re not welcome in our room tonight, dear,” Rachel says.

“Yeah, that would be about right,” Jessica adds.  Sean turns to look at her and looks like he’s about to try and dig himself out the hole but he stops when he sees the look in her eyes.  Bruce walks over in the middle of this, putting his wallet away.  He looks at the tension at the table and frowns.

“I suspect I have missed something.”

“Yeah,” Jessica says.  “You missed me thanking you for taking me out to dessert.”  And when she says that she turns, and crap, the kiss is really impressive.  It’s clear there’s a lot of tongue in it and that Bruce is not even remotely prepared for this, but he recovers well and moves right into it and the four of us sit there and stare.

“Well, you’re welcome,” he says when the kiss ends.  “See you guys later,” he says and they head towards the door, the four of us continuing to watch him.

“Well, that’s one mystery dealt with,” Sean says once they are clearly out of earshot.

“Implying there’s another?” Kate asks.”

“Oh, hell yeah.  Your roommate,” he says, pointing his finger at me right as our coffee and pie arrives.

“He’s a douchebag and a slut,” Rachel says once the waitress has left.  “What’s the mystery?”

“The mystery is how he could cheat on Michelle with Heather fucking Grafton.  That’s like saying, nah, I’ll pass on the banana split with hot fudge and whipped cream so I can have a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream.”

“That seems a bit of an overestimation of Michelle,” Rachel says.

“And a bit harsh on Heather,” Kate adds.

I don’t add anything on to either of these ideas.  I think Sean has pretty much hit it head-on but I’m not about to say that in front of Kate.  I’ve never really made clear how much Michelle means to me and I’m not anxious to at the moment.  So I take the conversation in a different direction.

“I bet him,” I say.

“You bet him what?” Kate asks.

“That he couldn’t stay with Heather until Thanksgiving.  That he would stray.”

“How much did you bet?” Sean asks.

“Fifty bucks.”

“You’re totally paying for dessert after you win that bet.”

“You really think he can’t stick with one girl?” Kate asks, not so much defending Tom as her general kindness and optimistic view on human nature rising to the surface.

“I’ll tell you what,” Sean says.  “If Kevin loses that bet, I’ll cover half the money.”


The clues make for a nice trail to follow.  The first clue is the blood, stemming from the broken glass by the mirror in the bathroom.  Next comes the second clue, the music, the voice of Robert Smith at a deafening volume.  Besides, it’s not too hard to follow clues when you know where they lead anyway.

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you.  That I almost believe that they’re real.  I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you.  That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel.

I stand in the doorway, looking at him.  He’s sitting there by the stereo, staring at the blood dripping from his hand.  I don’t know what the two of them were fighting about, but it clearly got epic if he decided to end it by putting his hand through a mirror.  Granted, it’s my room and my roommate, but I’m the only one in the hall who’s apparently brave enough to even get close to him.

“You know, listening to depressing songs when you’re depressed just tends to make things worse.”

“I know.”

“Whatcha doin?”

“Listening to your CD.  Hope you don’t mind.”

“Right now the whole floor is listening to my CD.  How about we turn it down?”

He reaches over with his good hand and the volume drops to a reasonable level.

“You want to tell me what happened?”

“I want to be alone.”

“Go talk to her.”

He doesn’t respond.  I walk over to him.  I don’t bother with yelling.  It doesn’t serve a purpose here and there’s been yelling enough.  I lean over and talk, lowering my voice as I speak in his ear.

“You have a good thing here, Tom.  You didn’t want to be Paul and Laura or Bruce and Jessie.  You’re not.  You have a chance for something real with Heather.  So take that chance.”

“It won’t be you and Kate.”

“You don’t have to be me and Kate.  You just have to be you.  If you’re happy, it makes everything worth it.  And if you’re not happy, then to hell with it, go find what makes you happy.  It’s the only currency in this world worth anything.”

I don’t know why I’m trying so hard when I’m convinced it’s gonna fail anyway.  I don’t even know what their stupid fight was about.  I just know that he’s my friend and someone out there must make him happy and if it really is Heather then I want him to stay with her.

 

I’m coming back with some gauze for his hand but when I turn the corner I see that the crowd that was hiding before has come out now.  It’s lead by Ryan Patrick, who is one of those smalltown Christian hypocrites who feel that they know what is best for everyone in life.

“You’re pathetic, Tom.  You should be thrown off the floor.”

“Fuck off, Ryan.”

“Don’t say that to me.  It’s vulgar.”

“I’ll say whatever the fuck I want, you fucking prick!” Tom yells.  This is not good.  It could have been good for Tom to be yelled at a little bit, but not by this self-righteous ass.  I’m no fan of religious moralizing, this insane belief that whatever he does is right because he read it in a book, no matter who was supposed to have written it.

“People only use words like that when they don’t have the vocabulary to come up with a better response.”

“Are you saying I’m stupid?  Are you saying I’m fucking stupid?”

Tom is moving closer, screaming and this could get really bad.  Tom isn’t much taller than me and he’s much skinnier and if he tries throwing a punch he’s going to get slaughtered.

“Tom,” I say, trying to cut in.  Unfortunately, Ryan is too invested in his preaching.

“You have anger issues and relationship issues, Tom.  Maybe after you learn to control your penis then we can start work on your lack of a college-appropriate vocabulary.”

“Who I fuck is none of your business.”

“You live on our floor, your actions make a statement about all of us.”

“Oh, that’s ridiculous,” I say.

“It’s bad for the floor, Kevin,” he says, finally acknowledging my presence.  “And you’re enabling his behavior.  There are a lot of people who think he should move off campus.”

And he’s not kidding because there are a lot of people standing around and they don’t all seem to find Ryan’s ideas as stupid as I do.

“Who appointed you the fucking conscience of the floor?” Tom says, his volume only decreased marginally.

“I did.  I’m tired of you thinking that woman are like . . .” but he doesn’t finish because I take a step, so I’m directly between them.

“That’s enough, Ryan.  Come on, Tom.  Let’s go for a walk.”

I shove Tom towards the door, perhaps harder than I should but all of this is really making me nervous.  This is not my kind of thing and I am out of my depth.  Paul, the dumbass, the one time I really need him, appears to be nowhere in sight.  Even Kyle, who is good at diffusing crap like this, is nowhere to be seen.

“I’m not done yet, Kevin,” Ryan says, putting his hand on my shoulder and gripping.  This sets me off and though I am short, I am strong enough.  I turn and throw both my hands upon his shoulders and then slam him into the wall.  I hear the collective gasp from everyone standing around.

“Don’t you think that you can put your hands on me.  You think Tom has broken the college’s code of conduct, then you report it to Student Life.  They’ll make him pay for the mirror and he might be on probation.  But that’s for them to say.  Your self-righteous judgments mean nothing to me.”

I let him go and before anyone can do more than stare I have grabbed Tom and gotten him out the door.

 

“God, Kevin, I don’t know what to do.”

“I already told you.  You go talk to her.”

“I never meant to hurt Michelle, you know.”

“I know.  Michelle probably knows that too.”

“She’s a better person than I am.”

“Yes.  She is.”

“I know she’s a better friend to you than I am.”

“Also true.”

“Why do I keep doing that?  Why am I so broken?”

“I was kind of hoping you would know the answer to that, Tom.  I was planning on asking you later.”

“You’re still mad at me.”

“Frustrated.  Breaking the mirror was really stupid.”

“Just getting out my frustration.”

“You could try masturbation.”

“It makes me feel dirty,” he says and I have to stop because suddenly I’m laughing so hard I can’t even stand upright.  He waits while I get it out of my system but it takes a while.  Finally I’m able to get it under control.  I feel like I should say something but he has a question for me first.

“Why’d you stick up for me?”

“You’re my roommate.  You’re my friend.  I don’t walk away from friends, not when they need someone.  Plus, you’re a stick.  He would have kicked the crap out of you.”

He nods and we keep walking.  He stops when he realizes where I’ve been leading him.  We’re standing outside Taylor Hall.

“Oh,” he says.  “I suppose you want me to go talk to Heather.”

“Oh,” I say.  “Does she live in this dorm?”

He gives me a look that tells me that I am not fooling him for a second.

“Look,” I say, “I can crash in Kate’s room tonight.  We’re going camping up at Tahoe tomorrow.  You’ve got the room.  Take some time.  Talk to her.  It’s up to you.

“Are you trying to lose your bet?” he asks.

“Like I said, dude, you’re my friend.  Your happiness is worth more than fifty bucks.”


Every move you make.  Every step you take.

“Crap,” I say as I get close enough to the room to hear the music.  I’m exhausted, since it rained on us and Kate, Sean, Rachel and I spent most of the weekend crammed into our tent.  It’s only been two days, but all sorts of things can happen in two days and I can hear the song and I know how he uses that song.

“Seriously, dude?” I whisper to myself, slowly opening the door, not knowing what I’m going to find.  I see Tom dancing, just like the night, a couple of months ago now, when he had Carolyn in his arms and I had Kate in mine.  And he’s dancing with Heather.

I stand in amazement, not sure what to do, what to say.  I put my bag down, softly and move around the room without disturbing them.  Her eyes are closed and I don’t even think she knows I’m there.  Tom opens his eyes and catch mine.

I’ll be watching you.

I reach into my pocket.  I pull out my wallet.  I pull out the money and show it to him.  He smiles.  I smile.  I place the cash on the desk and walk to the door.  I take one last look back before heading out.  I turn off the lights, let the sunset shine in and shut the door.

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