THREE

Lying on my bed staring at the ceiling on either a Sunday in September or a Monday in October, who the hell knows. When the world is full of nothing you can never be too sure of these things. Reflecting on what’s gone on in just a few short weeks back in this town, feels like years, a semester that thus far all I’ve done is spend endless hours and days boozing with Dan and the guys, with the biggest decisions to make are whether or not we should go out to the bar or stay in and watch bootlegged films downloaded from the web and play them on our big screen TV in the chill-room, inviting over sorostitutes or younger underclassmen (underclasswomen, that is) who have yet to learn they’re nothing but a fuck to us (or bitches already DTF who don’t expect to cuddle afterward). I find myself thinking about Sam a lot – a little too much. She was right, though, she got herself into the situation and only she can get her out. Still … after that night I went over Neco’s and hung out for awhile, knowing that he and Rocco (the guy who ran the Emerald, the guy who supposedly held her debt) were friends to some degree – why, I really don’t know – and fished around looking for something I could use. It didn’t take long for Neco to catch on and he let it be known that whatever I was thinking about doing, don’t. “This is his town,” he had said. “As shitty as it is – and yeah, we all know it is – don’t underestimate him. I’m telling you this as a friend Christian. I’d hate to see something happen to you.” I said OK and dropped it, started talking about an album coming out in the spring instead, but I didn’t forget about it – I couldn’t. Whether I liked it or not I made her problem mine and am hell bent on fixing it. It’s not the first thing on my list of shit to do this year but it’s there all the same.

A more pressing matter at hand is how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m quite positive I’m dying. Been feeling weak, looking pale – hell, I hit the tanning salon three times last week and still am white as a ghost – to the point where every time I look in the mirror and see my ghastly paleness I question whether or not I’malready dead, that I’m just a ghost walking this earth because I have yet to accept the truth. Or maybe it’s just biological? An ailment killing me, slowly,painfully. I work up the strength to get out of bed, dragging myself in pajama pants and what was once a white tee shirt, now yellow due to the three days I laid in bed sweating, weak, too weak to move or eat or go to class. I sit down at my desk and power up my laptop and while I wait for it to load smoke a joint I rolled two days ago and then spend the next thirty minutes tinkering around with some story I started God knows when about God knows what that I’ll probably never finish and listen to Dan and Tim playing the guitar across the hall, quietly singing along to the Jack Johnson song they’re strumming until they stop abruptly, and that’s when I hear that faggot roommate of ours, Mark Dreitol, bumming for cigarettes. I smoke more pot and eventually wind up back in bed, listening to Howie Day on my iPod.

These are the days.

This is what occurs.

Nothing.

 

Amy calls for the fifth time this hour and eighth overall for the day, leaving three voicemails despite her knowing how much I despise them as well as a half dozen texts. All have been ignored but this time I quickly answer with a big “Yes Amy?” and then pretend to listen while I watch Fox News. My Bulova reads quarter to one and I order “one more for the road.”

“Where are you?”

“What?”

“I asked where you are Christian.” Stern, annoyed. Happy to hear it.

“I’m busy Amy, what do you want?”

“Busy with what? Sounds like you’re in a bar.”

“Yeah, Amy, I am.” I sip my vodka-tonic and read the headline on the news: “Economy Worse Since The Great Depression, Government Bailouts The Answer?” “I’m finishing lunch at The Corner Bar, I’ve got class in twenty minutes and still need to drop by the office to print out my paper, so excuse me if I’m a little temperamental. Now, if you don’t mind – what is it that you want?”

“Oh my God Christian, you’re impossible.” I hear her sigh followed by a pause and then she asks me to dinner – in not so few words. On the television Neil Cavuto is talking with some hedge fund manager, specifically about the stock market fallout.

“Yeah I don’t know Amy, I’m a little swamped.”

“Right, you’re busy. Mr. Busy Man.”

“Amy, try to use your brain here. It may get a little difficult but try to follow. About a month ago, as we were driving back here, do you recall any … conversation we had? Y’know, like the one where you broke up with me?”

Christian,” she says, dragging her voice down to a sexy pleading whine. Enough to make me nauseous. “Dinner. That’s all I’m asking.”

“Fine,” I relent. “But let’s make it early.”

“Okay, my place – seven?”

“Better make it six, I’ve got an article due in the morning.”

“Okay, seven it is. Ciao.” She clicks off.

    Good God Christian, what the hell did you get yourself into here?

 

After a sociology lecture and forty minutes at the gym spent on cardio and my upper body I drop by Biff’s, partly because it’s on my way but mostly because he just got in some killer weed from Cali, where he’s playing Call of Duty (headset and all) and talking shit to a 12 year old. He tosses a grenade through a window and after the explosion the game ends with a screen displaying Biff’s username at the top. “I’ll be back later. Go ahead and cry to your Mommy,” he says tossing the controller on his way to the fridge.

“So let’s see this bud you’ve been talking up all week.”

“Beer?”

“Yeah, I guess.” He walks back in and hands me a can of Natural Light – referred to as Natty Lights, or if you’re a Greek Fratty’s – and I tap the top before I open it to avoid it blowing up on me.

On the small coffee table is a jewelry case that Biff opens and whew, immediately the sweetest aroma I have ever smelled, a juicy orange-pineapple mixed with some cherry Starburst and the richness of the most exotic marijuana I can ever imagine. There’s an eight-sack in a sandwich bag and I treat it as I would a fine wine, inhaling it, my mouth watering before I could even smoke it. “Wow,” is all I can say – all that needs to be said. “This smells fucking amazing.”

“I told you,” he says. “I told you this shit would rock you.”

“Let’s fire it up,” I say, more excited about the prospect of smoking pot than I have been about anything that comes to recent memory – and it’s a bold statement but I’d be lying if I said sex is in a different category.

“Let’s go blow shit up!” Tim Ruthers, loud and armed, bursts through Biff’s side-door carrying a goddamn assault rifle, wearing military-style cargo pants and long sleeves, fuckin’ boots – everything black – with a smile I’ve only seen him in after bagging an unusually hot chick.

I’m on high alert, heart pounding as if I just did an eight-ball, don’t know what the fuck’s going on. Biff’s rolling a blunt, smiling. Tim looks like a fuckingmercenary. “What the …” I start but don’t know where to go with it.

“Just picked this bad boy up,” Tim says, sliding in between Biff and myself on the couch, holding this giant gun and happier than a pig in shit or a fat kid with cake. So cliché yet oh-so-true. Here’s another: There’s never a dull moment with these guys.

“Where the fuck did you get that?” I ask, still quite bewildered.

“Remember those Russian chicks we took out? Well the one has an uncle that runs guns for the Russian Mob. So they smuggle the shit into the States on ‘pre-approved flights’ for the foreign-exchange students. All over the country, right through Customs and Airport Security. I don’t know, they’ve got it all worked out. Who the hell really knows – all I know is that one …” He snaps his fingers, searching for a name. “Claudia chick. She helped me. Look at this thing. Come on, let’s go shoot shit.”

So we do, all of us, first stopping back at our house after leaving Biff’s because Tim’s car got booted by campus security (again, third time this semester and we’ve still got all of October and November to go) and because Biff’s Land Rover is in the shop following last week’s late-night drunken “accident,” I’m left as the sole person capable of driving and when we get back to 220 and get in my Audi, Dan and Tyler are pulling in and they fill the two vacant seats and then we’re off, heading out of town and over the bridge into Hickville, taking it easy on the 402 that runs alongside the Susquehanna River due to wicked turns and a decreased speed limit of 45 – not to mention the fully automatic, highly illegalmachine gun in the trunk or the blunts being passed back and forth – following the near-deserted road further and further into the countryside only half-joking we’re on our way to take on the Zombie Invasion that in all seriousness may be coming sooner rather than later, and finally we come to a stop and park the car a couple hundred yards away from the wooded area Tim leads us to, taking turns shooting up a batch of stolen pumpkins all the while getting drunk off a bottle of Jack.

 

It’s after seven and I’m at Amy’s, sitting on the couch watching last week’s episode of The Hills, drinking a Miller Lite and waiting for Amy to finish cooking dinner. Skye is upstairs, downstairs, down the hall, in the kitchen, in the living room where I’m sitting, back upstairs slamming doors until she finally comes back down and, screaming crying, has a severe psychotic breakdown and since I’ve already seen last week’s Hill’s I mute the tube and tune into SkyeTV instead.

In the kitchen, about ten feet from where I sit – the two rooms separated solely by a small divider I can see over by moving my seat just a tad – I watch Skye cry, her high-pitched annoyance of a voice elevated to the extreme making it near-impossible to understand what she is saying, but I give it a go anyway: She’s upset because she hasn’t heard from Tim in two days and the last time she did see him he told her he loved her and that he’d call – but of course he hasn’t and now she is freaking the fuck out because he hasn’t answered any of her calls or texts.

“I was just with him two hours ago,” I volunteer. Amy gives me the death stare and Skye puts her face in her hands. More crying and yelling, a little stomp – not unlike what a child would do if his Mommy wouldn’t give him desert. “Security booted his car again for parking in the staff-lot.” I get up and walk to the fridge, passing right by Skye and Amy, and grab another beer.

“Did he say anything about me?” she asks.

“Nah, never,” I say, drinking away. “Well maybe once. Yeah, he said he fucked you and – ”

“Christian!” Amy screams.

“You’re such an asshole Christian!” This time, Skye.

“Go to your shrink and ask for an early refill on your Zoloft … or Prozac, whatever the hell it is that you take.”

“Fuck you.” And off she goes, fleeing to upstairs – for comfort, for sanctuary. Maybe she’ll find some by crying in her pillow.

“Christian,” Amy says and just as the words come out of her mouth, the timer on the oven goes off and she takes out what I think is … meatloaf? I can’t be too sure.

“When did you learn to cook anyway?”

She reassures me she knows what she’s doing and we sit down at the table and eat rock-hard baked potatoes, overcooked green beans and the “meat” in question. We drink a bottle of wine, sit on the couch together and eventually she starts blowing me which in turn leads me to rip her clothes off, starting with her jeans and then begin to eat her out, licking it, sucking it, nibbling on her cunt all while her panties are still on and I tear them and her bra off as she orgasms back to back, tasting it, swallowing her come, moaning and saying “fuck me Christian, fuck me” so I do, on top kissing her as she tears what’s left of our clothes off, grabs my cock, sucks on it for a few seconds before putting it inside her, leaving her to immediately come again, and I’m rock hard pounding her harder and harder until finally, I bust. “I fucking love you Christian,” she says and I turn the TV to Showtime, seeing Dexter’s on so I lie there on the couch,naked, Amy spooning me. The last thing I think before falling asleep is that Amy must be right.

Nobody can be alone anymore.

 

Sunlight creeps in, early – unusually early – and I’m able to sneak out without Amy noticing but my cell’s dead and I didn’t catch the time before I left her place and there’s not a person in sight which tells me it’s nowhere near 8 which is kind of a good thing, I suppose, being that I still have an article to write up before it goes to press this morning and then from nine to one I’ll be stuck in the studio, handling affairs with our student radio station – RBU 99.7 – like I do every Tuesday and Thursday – sometimes on-air but mostly handling affairs on the other side of the glass. Her house isn’t far from campus so I head that way, hoping that when I pass the Student Center Starbuck’s will be open and I can get a rush of caffeine to start what, I’m predicting, will be a long day full of bullshit, but all the lights are off so I sigh and instead walk to the office.

It’s twenty after six when I get in and I immediately head to my desk and fire up the desktop. Sift through some bullshit emails, search Word for the article I’m looking for, spend fifteen minutes rewriting what I already have and another ten to finish it, send it right to the printer, toss it on dickwad’s desk and I’m out the door at 6:52 – eight minutes away from my coffee.

I pass Commons on my right and then take a stroll down Ivy Lane – the brick walkway that starts at Admissions and goes all the way to the other side of campus – enjoying the silence that accompanies me – a silence that will at any given moment disappear beneath the low roar of campus life, students rushing to the top floor of the Student Center to eat breakfast before they start their day, or the type who’ll wake up at the last possible moment and have to run just to make it to their 8 a.m.’s (or even worse, having to stop at the library first because they didn’t finish that paper quite yet) – and as I walk I take notice of my surroundings, amazed by how much has changed since I first came here, a mere four years ago. At the center of the University is the aforementioned Admissions Building (it also serves as the Financial Aid, Registar’s Office, Business Office, etc., in addition to housing the offices of the Dean, President, so on and so forth), the landscape sprawling with a large lawn, a fountain and wishing well (pennies and all), benches, a barbeque pit under a white canopy tent for use in the various events RBU hosts – usually “family day” or orientation activities, or when the Greeks hold their yearly rush events. Not to mentionhuge maple trees that provide shade for those liberal arts majors, the type of students who gather for poetry readings all while contemplating suicide – theDead Poets Society springs to mind. But for all of the changes that have been made (notably the amenities) at the end of the day, none of it really matters. It’s been Rock Bottom U from the start and come May, it’ll be no different. So, really, what’s the fucking point?

As I enter the Student Center a loud, powerful thud erupts and holding the door, half-in half-out, I look past Admissions, eyeing the oldest building on this campus – the library – and the bell tower that sits aside it. The ringing of the bell hums lower and lower until, finally, the minute ends. The door closes behind me and I become Starbucks first customer of the day.

 

Thankfully the Starbucks-Bitch isn’t on, instead the barista is a dude – someone I recognize actually – and when he sees me he smiles and says “What’s going on Christian, how’ve you been?” and since I can’t recall exactly how I know him I say “Not a hell of a lot, just hanging around.” The truth.

“Living it up, aren’t you man?” He reaches over the counter to shake my hand, which I reluctantly do. “You and your boys. Your crew.” At this, I laugh.

“I wouldn’t call us a crew. Last time I checked we’re not out casing banks.”

“Of course not,” he says.

“No, we’re strictly murder-for-hire now,” I joke. “Double-tap in the chest, one in the head. Poof, they’re dead.”

“The Boys of 220 – everybody better watch out!” We both laugh it out, after which he says: “What can I get for you man?”

“Let me get a Grande Café Latte, a couple extra shots of espresso.”

“You got it man. How about I charge it as just a regular Cup of Joe; save yourself a couple bucks.”

“Works for me,” I say, turning around to a group of people heading upstairs to the dining hall. Another group comes this way. The Starbucks-Dude makes my drink. The noise from the espresso machine reminds me of an electric handsaw cutting through thick linoleum, my ears, like always, sensitive to various sounds. For example, the sound of a nail-file gets to me so much that I automatically imagine the file grinding against my teeth – the extent of that particular sensitivity can be brought on by the sight of it alone. Weird, I know, but true nonetheless.

A minute or so goes by before the Starbucks-Dude hands me my drink and I thank him (though I still haven’t an idea as to who he is) and start backing away – him telling me that hopefully he’ll see me out this weekend, and me simply trying to get the hell out of here stat – sipping my coffee, a blue folder tucked under my arm and still in last night’s clothes (faded AE jeans and a black graphic tee under a grey blazer) when I bump into her.

Who her? The one I saw a couple weeks back at The Talion, the most beautiful girl I had ever seen – the girl whose beauty stopped time – even if it was just for a split-second across a crowded club. We had that moment when our eyes locked and the rest of the world was on pause, the girl I never thought I’d see again – the James Blunt song “You’re Beautiful” sums up exactly how I feel about thisgorgeous girl – is now here, in front of me. I somehow manage to lose my footing and nearly stumble into her, the folder falling to the floor. The coffee makes a splat sound as it crashes.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” she says. “I wasn’t paying attention – Please say it didn’t get on you?” Sincerity is what I hear.

“No, not at all, it’s fine. It was my fault, I was walking and turned back –” The contents of my folder lie spread across the floor, along with my latte. People start walking by as I get down on my knees and try to prevent all my shit from getting ruined, and she bends right down with me to help. I look up and our eyes meet again.

Memory serves me correct her eyes were hazel with a bluish tint. Indeed it was from across the room, in-between about fifty people but I remember what I saw – those were details I’d never forget – and what I see now are a pair of golden browns that match her slightly tan, yet oh-so delicate skin tone, eyes that quickly lock me in a trance and we’re within a foot of each other and her smile is enlightening, keeping me engaged with her every move and breath.

“I hope I didn’t just destroy a paper you’re about to turn in,” she says.

“No, I think I’ll be all right. They’re not too important.” We’re both back on our feet, her handing me the rest of my papers.

“Let me buy you another cup of coffee, I feel terrible. It’s just been a crazy morning, I’ve got a huge exam in an hour, and out of all days I woke up to an empty pack of cigarettes and just don’t have the time to go to the store, need to study more.” A mile a minute would be an understatement, I can barely hear the words coming out of her mouth, a fast-talker indeed.

“Don’t worry about it, seriously,” I smile, reaching into my blazer pocket. “Here, these should get you through the morning.” I toss her my pack of smokes.

“I can’t take the rest of your cigarettes.” She’s laughing, I’m laughing, I can’t think of a way this conversation could get any better.

“Eh, don’t worry about it. I’ve got another pack.” A lie.

“You just saved me from a panic-attack, thank you so much.”

“Christian, nice to meet you.” I extend my hand, which she graciously takes and the first thing that runs through my mind is how soft her hands are and I spot a small tattoo on her wrist but can’t make out what it is.

“Stephanie,” she says. “Stephanie with an F.”

Smiling, I say “Well Stefani with an F, how about I buy you a cup of coffee?”

“You buy me a coffee? It was my fault yours is all over the floor!” She laughs, revealing a perfectly white smile. “How about I buy you a coffee instead. I insist.”

“Fine, fine – you don’t need to ask me twice.”

Back in line, behind two people, the Starbucks-Bitch is behind the counter (she must’ve came in while I was charming Stefani – Stefani with an F) taking orders while my new friend, Starbucks—Dude, makes the drinks. Upon his delivery of the person in front of me and Stef, the Starbucks-Bitch stands a foot or so away from us and as I try to order a drink she interrupts me, saying “Umm, don’t you think you should clean your mess.”

Stefani puts up her hand, says “That’s my fault, I’m sorry.”

“Hey, don’t worry, I’ve got it.” My favorite barista.

“Well,” the bitch begins. “Whatdoyouwant?”

“A dark roast, venti. Christian?” Stefani looks at me and I say “yeah, same thing, sounds good,” and after we get our coffees we walk outside together, the morning air crisp, rattling the leaves of the trees as a gust of wind swoops up and around – the first signs of the Fall season – and in it my eyes can’t stay off of her and she smiles and blushes when I call her beautiful, and because she has to leave for the library to cram in a last-minute study I ask what she’s going to be up to this weekend and she says “I’m not sure but Saturday night I might be at The Talion” and I understand exactly what she’s saying and I tell her I’ll see her around, and she says maybe I will.

 

 

FOUR

Cellphones. With them, it all began. The home and office phone just doesn’t cut it anymore. You need one at your side, all the time. Keep it fully charged and whatever you do don’t let it out of your sight. It’s a necessity – your lifeline. Enter Cyberspace, Y2K, The Millenium, AOL and Instant Messenger, LiveJournal and Video-Blogging, Match.com and Craigslist, MySpace and Facebook … the list will only grow from there. Soon everything will merge, link up. Interconnected – the Cloud. Phones, cameras, videos, iPods, tablets, the nook, Kindle – all one. The phone rings and you answer immediately. Then a text message. It could be anybody. Incoming emails, Facebook notifications, Twitter feeds … constant alerts. All so you can stay informed – what’s going on in the world, you know? Now instead of a ring, it’s a song but it’s all the same and you’ll respond anyway. How can you not? It’s what you’ve grown to do. You know nothing else. Nobody can be alone anymore.

 

It’s true that a drug dealer’s phone never stops ringing, even on a beat Wednesday. I met up with Neco earlier tonight at The Glider, played a couple games of pool with him and Dan and went back to his place after Dan got a text from this mystery girl he’s been fucking and bolted from the bar faster than a car from The Fast and the Furious. So here I am, sitting on a bar stool in his kitchen drinking shots of tequila – the one liquor that fucks up my world more than anything – and snorting as much free coke as I can, the combination leading me to a dark place. Neco and I talk about The Dark Knight off and on, in-between phone calls, and listening to Nirvana’s Nevermind on his sound system, and there are two very young-looking kids passed out on his couch – one white, one black – and a trio of, quite possibly, fifteen year old girls lying on the bed down the hall. It’s hot inside despite it being only 50 outside and I’m uncomfortable in my sweater and the Bulova reads quarter after one and I feel like going home so I say “Neco, my man, I’ve got to roll out” but he talks me into staying for just a little while longer before his phone rings again.

“I have to take this,” he says. “Don’t go anywhere, be right back.” He walks down the hall into the bedroom and closes the door behind him. A minute passes, then another. I hear what sounds like choking but in all reality may just be coughing. When I hear it again, I look on the counter for the stereo remote and mute it. The choking (coughing?) continues, with a few seconds of silence in-between gasps. Finally the sound – whatever it may have been – stops and I check the time, counting the seconds, the minutes Neco has been in the bedroom.

“Thirteen,” I say as he walks out, closing the door behind him.

“What?”

“Thirteen. You were in there, on the phone for thirteen minutes. Neco, I need to get going. I’ve got shit to do tomorrow, need some sleep.”

“Oh come on Christian. How about we go grab something to eat?”

Standing, I look at my watch, 1:33 a.m., and say “I don’t know, I’m exhausted. I’ve been drinking since noon, tequila shots …” I trail off and realize I’m looking down at the floor, my mind taking me to places I don’t want to go. It’s a magical and mysterious thing, when you’re drunk and coked out of your mind, the shit you think about when your whole world is spinning in front of you. All the control you have over yourself when you’re sober – a word I never quite got – is gone, rational thinking gets tossed out the window. It’s like sitting passenger while chaos drives next to you. “I’m tired.”

“That’s why God created cocaine,” he says and whatever rational thought I may have had ends right here, taken hostage by the white girl and before we go Neco tells me he needs a minute and he disappears again into the bedroom and this time I’m positive I hear choking followed by what I think is a slap and then “shut the fuck up bitch” and when he comes out of the bedroom he’s rolling up his sleeves, his eyes are pinned and he seems a little hazy but says let’s go, yet before we can we need to call a cab because neither of us can drive in our states, not to mention the fact that my car is across town anyway, so I light a cigarette and when the cab pulls up we get in and Neco tells him to head to the

 

Emerald Club. “Woah, hold up,” I say, feeling almost immediately sober. “Thought we were getting food?”

“It’s two in the morning – nothing in this town is open.”

“I said that literally ten minutes ago. Damnit Neco.”

“Look, I need to make a stop at the Emerald anyway. So how about we go there, I handle my business, we pick up a couple chicks and go back to my place.”

“Fuck all of that,” I say, annoyed – maybe even a little angry.

“Where I go?” the cabby asks. Some low-level piece of shit Muslim. A fucking terrorist for all I know.

“I already told you, the fucking Emerald Club!” Neco yells.

I light up a cigarette and the cabby waves his hands around saying “No smoke, no, no, no smoke,” repeating it over and over. I pretend not to understand him and his fucking Iranian accent – which is basically true anyway – and tell him this is America, get over it. By the time he’s done ranting we’re already there. Neco slips him a ten and I’m barely out the door when the fucker peels away.Jesus Christ, I’m thinking.

Neco knocks on the door and in a quick flash I get a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach (excuse the trite, I couldn’t explain it any other way) that something is wrong, very wrong – anxiety a definite understatement. Fuck, I think. Why did you come here Christian, what the fuck’s wrong with you? It was only a couple days ago that I decided what to do with the whole “Samantha-thing” and whether or not they know it was me who got her out of town (and back in Rehab) I don’t know. Actually it had completely slipped my mind, I had forgotten about the whole thing. Until now – right now. I start pacing and he looks at me and asks what’s up, knocking on the door again. He’s setting me up. For hours he’d been practically feeding me shot after shot, giving me so much free blow that I railed without thinking twice, and then when I said I was going to head out he talked me into staying, into going out for food yet once we were in the cab he told the driver to bring us here and still nothing clicked. I was foolishly naïve to the possibility of danger and now I’m outside the club where, three weeks ago, I stole from. “I can’t just leave,” Samantha had said. “They won’t let me.” Even in my current state of intoxication I remember that night oh-so clear. “Please, I don’t want anything to happen to you. This is my problem.” Yet, I made it mine. Neco goes to knock on the door again but before he can it swings open and I’m on his right, kind of hiding behind the open door and all of a sudden I freeze, everything spinning around me – my ticker set to blow me away, incapable of any action, on pause – and then Neco steps back outside and says “the fuck you doing, come on” and, hesitantly, I go towards the door and there are two small steps I climb, the only thing I see is the guy in front of me: white, tall and thirtysomething in a black suit and a bright blue shirt – I’m guessing six and a half foot for sure, which compared to my meager 5’9 he towers over me – and built (a punch from this guy would most likely be lethal) and all he does is stand there, looking down at me. For how long I’m not sure but the words that come out of his mouth are “you a narc?” and I shake my head, say no and he tells me come on. Despite every thought otherwise, I do.

Once inside I walk with Neco to the bar. The club is empty, obviously closed for the night, only adding to my anxiety. At any time now I expect that big man in the suit to come from behind and choke me to death. My hands are clammy and I no longer feel high from the blow or drunk from the booze and I’m doing my best to keep my composure but don’t know how long I’ll be able to.

“Guys, go ahead and take a seat,” he says coolly with a smile, and for a split second I almost forget my foreseeable death – or get the shit kicked out of me at the very least. “Lori’s still here somewhere. I’ll grab her to get you some drinks.” And then to Neco: “I’ll let him know you’re here.”

“Okay,” Neco says. “Sounds good.” The two of us in barstools less than a foot from each other say nothing. Silence rings throughout. I tense up, feels like a stone grinding against my bones, running from my neck through my back and further down south. “You okay Christian? You’re pale as a ghost.” Yeah, I’m a regular Casper.

Feeling a cold sweat, I say “Yeah, I’m all –” right would’ve been how I finished the sentence, however I’m disrupted by the patter of footsteps and, my breath held, turn to see Lori – the bartender/stripper – walk by us.

“Hi Neco, who’s your friend?” the trailer-trash asks.

“This is –” interrupted by the man in the suit who let us in and calls over, blocking the open office door with his height, and then Neco says “I’ll just be a few minutes, okay? Okay, Lori give him a Crown, maybe that’ll wake him thefuck up.” He crosses the club, walking around a secondary stage recently built and then disappears (poof!) behind the closed door. The man in the suit stands outside it, back to the door facing me. In front of me sits a double of Crown and Lori, the woman who made it, eyes me up. Fresh meat.

“I’ve seen you here before, no?”

“Yeah,” I say a shaky hand running through my hair. “Yes, been here before.”

“Friends with Neco, huh? How you know each other?”

I look at her quizzically – what’s her motive, what’s she doing, what is her modus operandi, and then to myself: what’re my options, what’s the play here? Is there a play? Yes Christian, there is. Bolt to the door and jet the fuck out of dodge. She leans over, elbows down hands on her cheek, inches away, smiling, eyelashes dancing, her eyes a dashing green. I try, yet fail. I can’t read her. Why Christian? Why did you do it? I hope she was worth it. No, I decide, she wasn’t. When I hear the hammer pull back, I’ll know why. I’m sure most don’t have that luxury.

“You got hearing problems?” she asks, her fake smile still plastered on her face.

“No,” I say. “Met him freshman year. We were in the dorms together.”

“Huh.” What the fuck was that ‘huh’? “I see, so what are you doing with him at three in the morning? Don’t answer that.”

“Curiosity killed the cat.” No sooner than the words fly out of my mouth I close my eyes, take a deep swallow, let out my breath and open. No, that didn’t help much either.

 

I don’t know whether it’s been ten minutes or an hour when I hear the door open and the chatter of voices and a small chuckle. Instead of unnerving it’s actually a relief when I hear Neco laugh. It seems the part of me that sensed imminent danger just a short while ago has gave way to a more peaceful, lessstressful state.

“All right, you have a good night. I’ll talk to you soon.” It’s not Neco’s voice and I’m pretty sure it’s not the bouncer either. I look over my shoulder and for the first time see the Oh-So Mysterious Rocco slowly striding through the darkness of the closed club with Neco. They stop about ten feet from where I sit, shaking hands and speaking pleasantries. And then Rocco turns to the big bad bouncer and says “That thing … it’s on.”

That peaceful state I was talking about? Shit. It’s hard to think of anything else. I’m still holding half a glass of Crown when I feel my body go limp. They all take the short walk to the bar. I look and Lori’s gone. At the exact time I stand the main lights behind the bar click … off.

Neco at my right, Rocco and his goon in front of me, staring, my heart palpating, waiting; waiting for a Glock pressed to my temple, the sound of the bullet as it passes through my head exploding upon impact, exiting with half my skull and brain matter – a splash of red messy mush, little itty bits and pieces crashing against the wall behind me, the canvas for the portrait of my death.

And as I await this Rocco lifts up his hand and extends it.

“Nice to meet you Christian.”

Is it?

 

Couple nights later at Amy’s fucking. She’s hornier than usual, tits bouncing up and down, in my face sucking on her nipples as she’s grinding her ass against my dick. Naked, we go from the couch to her room and I’m fucking her from behind and pulling her hair back. She’s so wet and moist that I slip out of her and use my other hand to put it back in. Her headboard slams against the wall over and over again and the bedroom door’s open and from the light that casts in from the hallway I see a shadow looming – Skye, watching us fuck like animals. When Amy yells she’s about to come I thrust harder until I feel it on my cock. I lie back and let her suck me off until I come and then she heads for the shower. Moments later she opens the bathroom door, steam pouring out and looks at me, hair wet and wearing a towel. We stare at each other for a solid minute, and then the towel falls to the floor and we go for another round.

 

The week after Amy and I graduated high school was spent in Ocean City, Maryland – the go-to spot for Senior Week for those of us in the tri-state area – celebrating with friends. Exactly what we were celebrating was beyond me; for four years I slacked off and went through the motions, graduating with a B average which I guess isn’t that bad seeing that I never once studied. Funny, ironic really that the same could be said for how I’ve spent the past four years as well. I didn’t play sports and wasn’t involved in any extra-curricular activities so there wasn’t any scholarship offers for me. Back then Amy was smart and driven and could have easily went pretty much anywhere she wanted, but she chose RBU which was good, I suppose, because it was one of the few colleges I bothered applying to, figuring a small liberal arts school was the ideal place for me. Despite my father’s insistence on going to a state school and getting a business degree, I felt here was the right choice for me – the Creative Writing/English major sounded like the right fit. (Although after my freshman year, I decided to make that my minor and changed my major to the Mass Communications and Journalism degree, realizing that getting a job after graduation would be easier. Not by a lot, mind you, being a writer was, and still is, a sure bet to the unemployment line.) Those few days we spent at the beach with five or six friends, crammed together in a small two-bed motel room, were spent lying in the sun from eight in the morning until it faded away giving birth to the darkness, drinking screwdrivers for breakfast and Long Islands for lunch, every waking moment spent in a drunken haze (much like the years after) wandering around and baking under the sun, constantly shuffling in and out of hotel rooms to houses to morehotel rooms and houses, hopping from party to party, the entire town full of fellow graduates from dozens (hell, maybe hundreds) of other high schools, eighteen year olds running amok, free from parental restriction for the first time in their life. Amy and I fucking each other’s brains out – here, there, everywhere – in between getting high. And shopping – oh, the shopping. Amy and the rest of the girls my friends and I were with would walk the Boardwalk, buying cheaply-made expensive shit, every store the same as the last. On our final night there Amy and the girls went to H2O, an underage club, and me and my friend Tom went to a couple parties. Sometime around 11 I lost him and wound up in a hotel room – a Holiday Inn on the Boardwalk, a big expensive room with a huge bed and a hot tub – with some girl from Rhode Island who had some blow and I had always wanted to try it but never did so I did, and me and this girl – can’t even remember her name and it’s possible I never knew it – ended up fucking. It was the first time I ever cheated on Amy – on anyone for that matter, as Amy was the only serious relationship I was ever in. Afterwards the girl said she was going to shower and pretty much invited me but I didn’t. Instead I laid on the bed, naked, looking at the ceiling. I was coming down from the coke and starting to sober up. The chick still in the shower, I gathered my shit and left. Amy was outside on the balcony when I got back to our room. The room was dark and for the first time in nearly a week all was silent. She was in her panties and wearing one of my button-downs, staring off into the distance, smoking a cigarette. “You don’t smoke,” I said. “Sometimes,” she said quietly, and then I stood next to her, silently watching the wave’s crash some fifty feet ahead of me. It was foggy and the moon barely visible. We stayed like that for a long time, neither of us having to say anything. It was already said and even then, at eighteen, we should have known better but we didn’t. Eventually the sun came up and it was time to go home – where none of it seemed to matter much anymore.

 

 

 

 

FIVE

Wednesday night, maybe Thursday. Smoking a cigarette, listening to Dan and Tim play Weezer on Guitar Hero while Tyler takes shots at faggot Mark Dreitol who claims he slept with Tiffany Moore – a smoking hot Education major that nobody, I can’t stress this enough nobody, has ever slept with, Tim’s consensus is that she is a lesbian (and if Tim Ruthers and all his charm can’t fuck her, nobody can) – and there are some sorority girls (though I prefer sorostitutes) over who sit opposite me on a couch smoking grape-flavored hookah and blabbing about Spencer and Heidi. Déjà vu anyone? We’re in Dan’s room because his is the biggest and somebody bought a beer ball earlier so I’m drinking flat Bud Light out of a Solo cup. I’m a little drunk and had a headache earlier so I popped some Vicodin and they’re in full effect and for the first time in weeks, I’m content. I say “I hear there’s a new Saw movie coming out next week” to nobody in particular but Tyler perks up and says “I know, I can’t wait.”

“How many more of those they gonna make?” One of the girls, name unknown.

“Like seriously,” says another. “Isn’t there like, five of those?”

“I couldn’t watch it,” another says. “That and the one where they’re like backpacking across … I don’t know, Russia or something. Too brutal, totally gross.”

“Hostel,” Tim says tossing the plastic guitar aside and lounging back, his arm around one of the girls. I stop, my mind blank – my thought processes turned off – and then look at the girls. Two very blondes; another dirty blonde. Too much makeup and they all wear the same ugly earrings (the Greek letters for Sigma Epsilon Chi, which ironically spell out ∑EX – seriously what the fuck were they thinking when they founded this sorority?). And you wonder why they’re referred to as sorostitutes? Not one of them has any distinguishing characteristics. I can’t tell one from the other – not by sight, nor by voice. Something is desperately wrong with society. Where it starts and where it stops I have no fucking clue.

“What about them didn’t you like?” Tim asks, twirling the girl’s hair with his right pointer-finger, then untwirls it. He does this repeatedly, all the time – and when he doesn’t have a girl in front of him he’ll do it with his own hair. I have always found it amusing and a little odd.

“It was just … ” the blonde Tim’s fondling begins, “just totally, like … ” she trails off, unable to speak whatever it is she’s thinking, most likely distracted by Tim’s interest in her as she blushes when she looks at him and, I think, probably starting to get a little wet. It won’t be long before she’ll disappear with him, trailing behind him as he – they – stroll up the stairway at the far end of the house, Tim leading her up to his room on the third floor (Tim’s floor all to himself, his bedroom really two rooms that he put together and a conjoining bathroom; I think we could all forget about our security deposits), holding her hand up the narrow and dark – very dark – stairwell, the girl, I imagine, blushing the whole way up and into his arms and on his bed until, finally, they fuck.

“Christian,” Tim says. “Christian.”

“Yeah?” I ask, the narrative leading back to the here and now – reality. “What’s up?”

“Thought we lost you there for a minute.” He smiles, there’s laughter. I’m still a little out of it. “Didn’t you write an article about some of this shit?”

“Yeah, it’s called torture porn.”

“What the hell is torture porn?” One of the girls.

“It’s a fairly new genre. Like Scream revitalized the slasher, masked murderer movies in the ‘90’s, films like Saw and Hostel have done a similar thing for the horror genre. That’s why we now have so many blatant rip-offs and much more blood and … guts, I suppose.”

“Didn’t it get published in Playboy or something?” Dan.

“No,” I say, thinking back a year and half when I wrote the piece. I was sure that it was the one. I thought I finally had written a piece worthy of print; not just another e-zine or, even worse, a fucking blog. “I shopped it around. I thoughtMaxim was going to bite.” They didn’t.

“Love those movies,” Tim says before taking a couple swigs of cheap whiskey. “The decapitations, the eye-gouging, bitches on fire – their tits bouncing and asses shaking. It gives the films credibility, you know?”

“A little skull-fucking never hurt anybody,” Tyler says. Then: “Well, except for said person being skull-fucked.” Laughter followed by him and Tim high-fiving each other.

“You guys are demented,” one of the sorostitutes says.

“Yeah, like totally fucked in the head,” says another.

“Better to be fucked in the head than in the ass,” Tim says.

“True story,” Dan says.

And I couldn’t agree more.

 

I’ve been ignoring Sonny, my asshole editor, for well over a week now, however when I’m in the office typing up an article about the art exhibit tonight that I’m certainly not going to, I hear his annoying fucking voice and sure enough he stops by my desk and then looms over me until I look up and say “what is it?”

“Got a minute?”

“Not really, I’m totally swamped.” A lie.

“What’re you working on?”

“Uh, societal trends …” Even I know that’s total bullshit. Goddamnit Sonny. Motherfucker.

    “Goddamnit Christian,” he says glancing at my screen.

What is it?” I snap, bite my lip.

“You’re writing a review about the exhibit you’re trying to ditch tonight.”

I sigh. “Yeah, I am. Want to know why?” I stand up, very tense and angry, in Sonny’s face. Times like these make me wish I was just a little taller. Sonny’s 6 foot to my 5’9 – fucking prick. “Because after four fucking years I’m sick of these bullshit, petty assignments. We had a deal.”

Heads start turning; Jenny to my left smiles.

“Could we talk about this in my office Christian?” he says in a near-whisper.

“No, here’s fine. We had a motherfucking deal! You stay Editor, I do whatever the fuck I want!” I’m normally not such an angry person but something about this cocksucker has always made my blood boil. Everybody is watching, their eyes fixed on us as if we were in the Octagon, the bell to sound any second now. “None of this horseshit,” I say grabbing the flyer from my desk, crumpling it up into a ball and throw it at him, it bouncing off his forehead and falling to the floor where I stomp on it over and over. I look around the room, all are on their feet most likely trying to stop from cheering.

The crowd goes wild!

Sonny, shamefaced and speechless, walks to his office and before he shuts the door he takes one last look around watching half his staff pretend not to stare, and then he solemnly closes the drapes – something he has never done, open door policy always applied – but not before looking at me one last time. Then the chatter in the office rises and I take my seat and Jenny to my left says “I think you hurt the poor boy’s feelings,” smiling and I laugh a little, feeling a great weight lifted from my shoulders. “I think I’m gonna take a smoke break,” I say and she smiles and says “that sounds like a great idea,” and the two of us leave.

 

Outside laughing and smoking with Jenny. It’s only five but already dark and this Freshman walks to me and asks what it is he should take note of, what and how to report on an art exhibit. “Are you seriously asking me how to cover a simple fucking assignment? Who told you to ask me what to do? Sonny? Tell him to lick my fucking taint.”

“Well he didn’t tell me to ask you, I just thought it’d be a good idea to ask you because you were originally supposed to –”

I cut the stumbling, stuttering Freshman off. “Don’t worry about it. Tell him I’ll do it. Obviously you’re not ready.” And then, to Jenny: “How would you like to escort me tonight?”

 

A plush, lavish red velvety rope approximately thirty feet long leading from the landing down a few steps and then wraps around forming the entrance to RBU’s Fall Semester Art Exhibit featuring artwork by nationally acclaimed painter Mekhi Young and pieces from the University’s top artists. After leaving the office with Jenny we went our separate ways to get all dressed up and pretty looking to attend tonight’s exhibit, get drunk on free booze and hopefully make what could have easily been a boring ass night into something worthwhile on this lovely Thursday night. I picked her up at her place off-campus and then drove the Audi to the parking lot nearest Barney Hall, one of three buildings in the Beranger School of Visual and Performance Arts. I even opened the door for her, what a gentleman I am. There’s a substantial line forming outside, people eager to get their hands on some fancy works of art. Eh, I suppose “hands on” isn’t the right way to put it; they tend not to be happy when you actually touch the works of art. That’s first-hand knowledge. Either way Barney Hall is all lit up, the gallery full of pieces sure to entertain the elite – and when I say “elite” what I’m actually referring to are the alumni snobs and University administrators as well as business men and women from outside the area whose jobs it is to attend exhibits all over the country in an attempt to discover new talent, and since RBU is a school that defines artistry events such as these attract quite a large gathering.

Jenny and I walk up the stairs on the other side of the rope and when we reach the top we’re nearly pushed away by the twat playing bouncer (a student just like me). “Woah, Woah hold up,” he says putting his right hand in front of my face as if he were a traffic cop directing me to STOP, while he waves in a couple with his other hand.

“Campus Media,” I say.

“Oh, why didn’t you say so?” he says, replacing his ignorance with a fake, friendly smile. To Jenny: “And how are you on this fine evening?”

“I’m great, thanks,” Jenny says smiling. He hands us a pair of laminates that say “PRESS” which I clip on the left side of my suit. My suit: a black Brooks Brothers with a very fine pinstripe and a nicely pressed off-white Valentino shirt, the first three buttons undone and no tie. My hair is gelled and slightly parted to the side and I’m wearing my Dolce and Gabbana eyeglasses and Ralph Lauren cologne. Perhaps I’m cocky, but I do know one thing – I look fuckin’ good.

“After you,” I say, holding the door open and smiling at her. She’s beautiful (always was) but this is the first time I’ve seen her all dolled up. Under her coat, she wears a black cocktail dress with matching heels and a designer handbag. Her smile complete – teeth perfect and white – with a plum-colored purple lipstick that stands out against the traditional red and gives off a trendy vibe – a surefire standout among the other women here.

Once we make it past the coatroom we walk with our arms interlocked and come across the first piece: in front is a funky … woman – with four arms and legs crisscrossed together in a X-shape on top of a two-headed … well, woman. A supremely odd visionary must surely be behind this, oh-so … Unique? (You bet) project. I look to the sign next to it – aptly named “The Four-Armed Woman.” Hmm, I think. Four arms sure … but why not “The 2-Headed Woman?” You’d think that … Shut up Christian. Yet still the mind wonders. I’m fixated on the woman, starting from the tippety-top. Only instead of a head, it’s arms. Four of them, two at each side and the more I look at it the more confused I get. There’s no hips or chest, no body where the arms and legs intersect and after what must be several gaping minutes of me staring at this I still haven’t a clue what I’m looking at.

“The Four-Armed Woman,” a voice says. A woman’s voice and when I look to my left where Jenny is, I realize it’s not her. No, it’s a different voice. A familiar voice even. Stefani Queens, where I live and breathe. Stefani Queens, she who appears from out of thin air as if she were a genie. Rub the lamp and out come all your dreams. Stefani Queens, you’re my dream.

 

Her eyes, the first thing I see when I look at her, those most perfect golden browns that sparkle under the light and those luscious lips, her smile full and amazing – that smile holds me in a trance where I’m unable to move or speak, frozen in my tracks; and everybody and everything disappears. It’s just me andher.

“The Four-Armed Woman,” she says again.

“Yes,” I say and with that I’m back to reality, a reality where I’m drooling like a Freshman girl. “Yes, ‘The Four-Armed Woman.’ It’s … it’s quite remarkable.” I nod my head and attempt to hide that I’m a fool for love – for her love.

“Christian,” she says. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Stefani,” and it just hangs there, in the air, until the background returns. People walking and people talking – people who up until now were gone. The world stops when she’s around, everything else –

“Hey, I’m gonna grab a drink and take a look around. ‘Kay?” Jenny gently touches my arm and smiles at Stefani – one of those smiles where her lips tighten and purse together making her face plump; one of those fake-smiles that girls give other girls when they’re jealous – before walking off in the direction of the bar.

“Girlfriend?” she asks.

“No, uh, I guess a coworker?” Definitely more of a question than an answer, confusing myself, mouth dry and my thoughts scattered like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. A lady wearing a wait-staff white tuxedo shirt with brown hair pulled back into a ponytail walks by carrying a tray of champagne glasses. I stop her and take one which I immediately down and put back on the tray while grabbing a fresh one for myself and another which I hand to Stefani. “Sorry, cottonmouth.”

“No worries,” she says smiling. “PRESS?” She points to the laminate clipped on my suit.

“Uh, yeah,” I say and all of a sudden I’m caught in a mindfart, unaware of the conversation at hand and every time I look at her it’s hard not to lose my footing. She is, literally, breathtaking.

“The Man of Few Words.” Still smiling.

My cheeks feel like they’re on fire. I clear my throat again, trying hard not to act like an illiterate freak, all hung up over a pretty girl. “Yeah, I write for The Rag.” I take a sip of the champagne, then add: “I’m also a co-editor.”

“Wow.” She nods her head as if she’s impressed. Is she? “So The Man of Few Words is a writer. I like that.” Me too, I think. “So, tell me Christian what brings you here?”

Okay, another mindfart. “Didn’t we just establish that? Writer?” I point to my laminate.

She laughs, and what an amazing laugh it is. “Well, being a Co-Editor and all, I didn’t think you’d have to cover some boring art exhibit and listen to these snobs asskissing each other.”

“Good point,” I say and I feel a smile of my own. My glasses are foggy so I take them off and rub a handkerchief on the lenses. “Actually I wanted to come. Free booze.” I shrug, put my glasses back on.

“Another good point,” she says and with that we tip our glasses together.

Cheers.

 

Independent, graceful, intelligent and, obviously, beautiful – so unlike any girl I’ve ever been with, a starry-eyed beauty who chose me. After the initial awkwardness I recovered with enough charm and wit to win over a solid hour out of her life as she led me on a tour of the exhibit – as it turned out, she was one of the “hosts” of the gala (as an Arts major she had helped put the whole event together; something very worthwhile, further adding to her list of assets) – and we talked the whole time, drinking glass after glass of champagne, all so merry and grand, and we swapped digits and shortly after I left as Jenny and I were headed to my car she said “You really like her, don’t you?” and of course I lit up with joy and wouldn’t be able to hide it if I wanted to so I said “Yes Jenny, Ireally do,” and that was that.

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