Jubilation and expectation for the college career before me was… short lived. After a week of the college life, I was appalled by my reality.
“What’d you expect?” said my roommate, Margo. “This is college.”
I stared at her, wide eyed.
I don’t know? Human decency? Lingering consciences?
But the more I experienced the humans that made up the student body, the more I realized college is breeding grounds for inhumanity and idiocy. The faster I accepted it, the faster I could avoid it and find my place in it.
“You’re just being dramatic because you’re a goodie two shoes,” Margo defended herself and her kind. I gawked at her, trying to suppress an eye roll. “You’re too good a person for the college life. Sorry to break it to you, but the rest of the world is like me.”
I stared at Margo, digesting the insanity of her words, then squealed in frustration and spread myself out on my bed to stare at the ceiling.
“No,” I whimpered, “you’re all really great. Just making questionable decisions.”
For one straight week, as I was trying to figure out how to do the academic piece of the college life right, the floor of our dorm was alight with activity. Maybe it was the thrill of the new school year, freshmen in tow and sororities open for the choosing, but I was forced to practice self-control over my eyes and face on a level far too advanced for mere mortals like me. Sometimes my face strained itself for such long periods of time, Margo wondered whether it would ever return to its normal state. Though I knew the commotion was likely to calm after the first few weeks, and with it the dramatics I borrowed from Nathaniel, as I stared at the ceiling, all I wanted to do was vent.
“Yesterday I watched this guy crying while straddling a furry green pillow in the common area.”
“Yeah,” said Margo, “he was probably high.”
I sat up abruptly in bed.
“Oh yeah?” I said to her sarcastically. “You don’t think it was just a part of his nighttime regimen?”
“It probably is,” said Margo.
Another exasperated cry left me as I threw myself back into bed and grabbed for my phone on the nightstand, opening up my text messages.
Me: Dying, people are so weird
Ana: How weird
Me: Hugging a fuzzy pillow while crying weird
Ana: Sounds like Nathaniel’s home planet
Me: Better not be
Nathaniel: HIGHly unlikely that college hasn’t been more DOPE than HIGH school
Me: But accurate
In an effort to avoid classifying myself under that very category, I made exceptional efforts to evade Alex. Ever since he outed me for trash can dodging him, I was sure to coolly and casually ignore him in passing every time he came into view. Either I was amazing at it, or he didn’t notice me at all.
Whatever the case, I went about the first couple of weeks of my first semester of college mostly alone, except for Pillow Guy, who became especially attached to me after I helped him get to his room safely, both nights he experienced meltdowns.
“Am I pretty?” he asked me on the third night, his arm wrapped around my neck and much of the weight on his lean frame pushed against me as we trekked to his room across campus.
I looked up into his dark dilated pupils at the question, the list of nights that he needed my assistance, growing. Why he found himself in our common area all the time was a mystery to me.
“Yes?” I answered his question.
He sniffled, “I knew I could count on you.”
I held him up as he swooped, and we finally made it to his room where I dropped him off with his roommate. His roommate was grateful and offered me a roll as a thank you. Eyes widened, I compelled my brain to come up with a response as quickly as it could.
“I’m,” I started, “a little worn from bringing Silas this entire way,” I squeaked an excuse at his roommate, “so I’ll pass in case I fall asleep on my way back?”
His roommate looked at me awkwardly, and I, at him at his ability to discern my words as strange still even in his state, but he nodded at me and waved me off. I turned around to leave, sighing in relief, and made for my dorm.
As I walked the beautifully lit campus, life still apparent around me, I recognized a figure in the distance. Of everyone I met in the first three weeks of school, Elliot Harris was easily the best human being on campus—a third year biology student, gearing up to enter the med program, who hosted the Greener on this Side club, was one of the school’s top swimmers, and played the cello as a hobby. I learned he was the last of his mother’s six children. She was a refugee from the islands, and his father locked up. He was there on scholarship from what was likely a beautiful college essay about what was likely a difficult life.
Though I could hardly see him through the shadows and surrounded by friends under a lone lamppost, it didn’t matter because his appearance I committed to memory a few days into the school year. Standing at a height of six feet with soft black curls perfectly tamed on the top of his head, deep lids above hazel almond eyes, a caramel complexion, the shoulders of a swimmer, impeccable style, and light dimples in his cheeks, among the crowd, he was the standout. I had no business knowing him, or knowing of him, but he was hard to miss when he was always floating around the science department and we served as tutors in the tutoring center together. He tutored science, and me, English.
I watched him as inconspicuously as possible for the first couple of weeks, but towards the end of the second, we were forced to interact.
“Hey,” said Elliot, sliding into a seat at the table where I sat in the tutoring center, “I have a synthetic paper to plot and multiple essays to write this semester, and they say you’re the person to see.” He smiled at the end of his greeting, his dimples sinking into his cheeks, and I couldn’t find my voice for a moment
“For twelve dollars an hour, that’s me,” I finally greeted him.
His smile deepened, his head tilting slightly, like he was amused by my response.
“Here’s what I’ll do,” he said, “I’ll give you my twelve dollars an hour if you can help me work some writing magic this year.”
“And I’ll give you mine if you can get me through my first few bio classes,” I smiled in return.
“Have you been stalking me?” he asked me suddenly.
“What?” I sputtered, caught off guard. “I… you… I… you’re… I always see you in the science building,” I managed, and added rapidly, “and you tutor science, right?”
“I was only kidding,” he said, but finished with, “but it’s nice to know I have a fan.”
I didn’t have a response to his obvious outing of my conspicuous behavior, my face flushing with heat.
Thankfully, he spared me and said, “I’m Elliot,” extending a hand in my direction.
I looked at it and reached for it, introducing myself as well.
“So I guess we have a deal then, Reagan.” My name on his lips made me swallow in nervous anticipation. I wanted to hide it a little better than the fact that I had been studying him for weeks, but I probably did it equally as well. He finished with, “You help me survive writing, and I’ll help you survive the bio track.”
My hand remained enveloped in his, and that was all I could think about as I watched Elliot under the lamppost.
“Which one’s your favorite?” said a voice from behind me.
I whirled around to match the familiar voice with the familiar face.
“The hipster nerd? Porky video gamer? I like the tall one,” said Alex, parking himself next to me. “Tall, exotic, broad shoulders.”
“He’s smart and kind too,” I shot at Alex, rolling my eyes at him and turning back to look at Elliot and his group.
“Oh,” said Alex, amused, “now I know.”
“Will I survive?” I muttered quietly to the air.
My head snapped to deliver Alex a look of annoyance.
“I’m trying to have a moment here.”
He only scoffed, looking in the direction of the lamppost.
“None of it is actually as glamorous as it seems.”
“Huh?” my face scrunched at his words, but I didn’t have a chance to ask for further elaboration because his girlfriend showed up by his side at that moment.
“Here, babe,” she said, handing him her designer bag. “Can you carry this for me?”
I watched as Alex accepted it, and this time, I scoffed quietly in amusement. Alex’s eyes told me he caught it, but he chose not to say anything.
“Sam, this is Rae,” he introduced his girlfriend to me. “Rae, this is Samantha.”
It didn’t seem like a hand shaking or hugging moment, so I smiled and waved instead.
“Hey,” she returned my greeting. “You’re the neighbor, right?”
I felt slighted by the comment, but I suppose that was the most accurate description of my relationship with Alex.
“You’re the girlfriend, right?” I asked in return.
I kept from looking at Alex, because surely he knew I was planting my feet to strike if I needed to, and all I could think was that perhaps Nathaniel was on to something in his summer observations of Samantha, and not regarding her appearance.
“I sure am,” she answered, unfazed by my return question, planting her feet as well.
I smiled, pleasantly caught off guard by her response.
“Nice to meet you,” I greeted her genuinely. I liked her. There was a fire about her I appreciated. “I’ll let you two be,” I said to them, giving them a tilt of my head and smiling before turning to leave. Even though I saw Alex move in the corner of my eye, like he wanted to say something, I left before I could confirm it.
If I had known the conversations between us could be so casual, even normal, I never would’ve used trash cans to dodge them throughout the summer. The built up anxiety over speaking to Alex, after months of silence from him, overshadowed reason and logic. With a girlfriend added to the equation, I couldn’t bring myself to utter a word to him, even though we were only ever yards away from each other, during the summer and continued on to campus. After my interaction with Alex and Samantha, however, it seemed possible to settle into the college life, and life, finally, which was timely as the end of the first month of the semester neared.
In the third week of school, I found myself nestled in the corner of my dorm room, studying fervently for three different exams and writing two separate papers. Apparently high school teachers and college professors were united in their efforts to torture students, making life as difficult for them as humanly possible. Due dates and exams were scheduled within days, even hours of each other. At one point, I made a bed of my desk and a desk of my bed, trying to keep from failing my first critical assignments.
“Okay,” Margo interrupted my studies, Friday night. “You are coming with me to the party.”
I looked up at her, half dead, and opened my mouth to counter.
“Nope,” she interrupted me. “Look at you, even your brain is operating too slowly for your fast tongue to shoot some smart comment at me.”
I stared at her at a loss for words because I realized it was true.
“Wear this,” she said, throwing a strapless black dress at me and a matching leather jacket.
“I’m still conscious enough to avoid your harlot wardrobe.”
“You’re dramatic,” Margo shot at me, not offended in the least.
“I know,” I half-cried, throwing both hands into my hair to massage my head. “Seriously, I have issues.”
When we arrived at the party on the other side of campus, I felt out of place in my white cropped top t-shirt, high waisted olive jogger pants, and heavy black and white striped cardigan on top of a pair of casual sneakers. Enter Grandma. No one seemed to care, though, since the vast majority of them were already on their fourth round of drinks. I moved about the living room of the sorority house, booming with music, uncomfortably next to Margo, who was gliding across the room and through conversations like she had been studying it for years. I lost her an hour into the party and wandered around aimlessly until I was jolted to life when Alex made eye contact with me a few yards away. I wanted to pretend I didn’t see him, but because that would’ve planted me firmly into that dumb category I’d been avoiding for a month, I didn’t look away.
“Like the blackest sheep in a sea of white,” Alex greeted me.
I wished the music was louder to drown out his irritating voice.
“It’s been a month, and you’ve only now stepped out into the world?” he continued.
“There isn’t much out here,” I responded, taking a step forward to make room for a line of girls and the drinks in their hands, passing behind me.
When I turned back around, Alex was only inches in front of me. I looked up to catch his eyes and the smile of amusement on his face. I suppose Elliot Harris wasn’t the only standout on campus. I tried to suppress it, but I gulped at our proximity.
“Survive the night, will you,” a light laugh escaped him as he began to walk off, knowing well I was completely out of my element.
I reached out to grab him, a reflex I didn’t know I had, no thoughts driving my actions. At the tug of his arm, he turned around to look at me, and then at the hand rested on his bicep. My eyes trailed his to where my hand held the crook of his arm, and in sudden awareness of the contact, I pulled my hand away. I took a step back from him and brought my eyes to the ground, remembering the last time we shared a moment of intimate contact. I shuffled awkwardly where I stood, aware that his eyes were on me, but refused to look up. Several excruciating seconds passed between us before his voice broke the silence.
“Yes?” he asked me softly.
I looked up at him at the simple question I managed to hear, even with the music blaring and commotion around us.
“Uhm,” I said before tearing my eyes away again in discomfort. “I… just… uh…” I stuttered before looking up once more to catch his eyes, quietly anticipating the finish of my sentence. His calm, strangely enough, allowed me to summon some clarity and the words struggling to leave me.
“Be careful,” I finally said to him.
His gaze lingered on me for a few quiet seconds before a smile appeared on his face.
“Worry about yourself,” he said to me. “I’ve learned how to dodge whatever perilous obstacles stand in my way too.” My eyes flickered at the familiar words I directed towards him on our first encounter on campus at the start of the school year.
He didn’t wait for a response from me, though, disappearing into the crowd and reappearing across the room at the side of his girlfriend. I watched him wrap his arm around Samantha’s waist as she leaned in to kiss him.
Have you learned? I wondered.
It wasn’t so long ago when Alexander Everett returned home in the spring of his freshman year from a drug overdose that almost took his life. It wasn’t so long ago when I held his near lifeless body in my arms from a second overdose that almost claimed his life permanently.
My body jerked forward suddenly, and I stirred to look at the person on my arm.
“I feel like throwing up,” Margo whined, linking her arm with mine and steering my focus off of Alex. “Take me home.”
I held her up as she rested her head on my shoulder and sighed at the sight of her state.
“How much did you drink?”
“Er lot,” she slurred.
Shaking my head, I steadied her on my arm. When I looked up to find Alex across the room, he and his girlfriend were gone, and hopefully done for the night.
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