Authors: Amanda Lance
When I looked back at the stage, it looked like the stage hands were wrapping everything up and Melinda and her drama geek friends were getting a pep talk or something from a professor.
Melinda waved down to me from the stage and mouthed, “five minutes,” before disappearing. I nodded back and waited to see what the rest of the evening would have in store for me.
We made a brief stop at the dorm so Melinda could change and I could ditch my bag. Since it was the end of the week, and all but night classes were over, people walked in groups or alone, rowdy and ready to let loose. To their credit, campus security patrolled around in medium-sized carts, discouraging tailgating and making their presence known. I watched everything as Melinda and I walked down to a house rented at the end of the block just off campus. Luckily for me, she easily carried the conversation and the occasional nod or comment satisfied her.
The building was small, appearing abandoned from the outside with open fencing and tangled weeds blossoming through semi-broken windows that were still barred enough for mild safety. The store-front advertised computer repairs though the displays were clearly out of date and the store hours barely readable. Melinda quickly informed me that the owner lost his sight and now only rented the rooms upstairs, though they too, were barely livable.
We walked through the path cleared between outdated hard-drives and bundles of tangled wires. Small mountains of blank CDs leaned against a wall and rusted out file cabinets. Other than an air freshener on the wall, the small breezeway was a disaster.
“It’s a security system,” Melinda explained when she caught me staring.
“Cora’s boyfriend offered to get rid of everything when they moved in, but then everybody realized campus police technically didn’t cover this street. Kenzie thought they should get a guard dog, but Violet is allergic…anyway, they figure if they keep a bunch of junk against the windows they’ll hear anyone who tries to break in from there.”
I nodded. “That’s actually a pretty good idea.”
“I know, right? That and Cora’s boyfriend spends the night once in awhile—”
I smiled politely, only reminded of how safe I felt when Charlie was around. Though it might have been demeaning, it had been my experience, that instinctively females felt safe with a guy around. I always thought it was because of what we had been through together that I trusted Charlie to protect me, but maybe other girls were hardwired the same way.
Melinda took two steps up the stairs and shouted through the music, “Are we ready or what?”
There was giggling and then a high-pitched response, “Or what!”
“And you think I take
.” Melinda rolled her eyes before charging her way up. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to follow her or not, but I didn’t want to be alone anymore than I had to be in the dusty foyer of the store.
Despite the mess downstairs, the hallway above was relatively clean. The only thing blocking its way was a large refrigerator, as I quickly figured out both rooms were much too small to accommodate it. There were doors on both ends of the hall, each with fading numbers on them. Melinda knocked on one, though it seemed pointless since she immediately went ahead and let herself in.
The entire apartment consisted of a single room with what looked like a separate but adjoining bathroom. It was clean, though small, and as the petite girl at the sink began fiddling with the pipes, they made a terrible sound that made me jump.
Melinda put her hand on my shoulder. “You okay?”
I swallowed and nodded.
She turned her attention back to her friends. “God, you guys take forever.”
“Well, if mirror hog over there would hurry up, maybe we could get a move on!”
I looked over my shoulder and sure enough, one of Melinda’s friends with a streak of pink in her hair gaped at herself in the mirror.
“Hey,” she said to herself, “I need it more than you do.”
The girls she introduced me to were of course prettier than me, and reminded me of Elise in the sense that Violet put on eyeliner flawlessly in the apartment lobby without a mirror and left-handed, even though she was obviously right-handed. I couldn’t tell if her hair was naturally straight or if she spent hours with a straightener somewhere, killing and fraying the copper ends until her tresses were as direct as the rest of her.
“Hi, you’re Addie, right? Mel’s weirdo roommate?”
Mirror hog’s mouth fell open and she extended her leg to kick. “Geez, Vi, blab much?”
“Uh, nope, actually. She has it right there. My Dad wanted ‘weirdo’ to be my middle name but Mom opted for Marie instead.”
“Hey, that’s my middle name, too.” The new presence startled me slightly, probably because I didn’t have time to analyze it. In class it was always different. I was the first one there, I’d watch people coming in and out of the room; study them without them knowing it. But when people snuck up on me from behind I never liked it. Maybe it had something to do with not socializing in school, but I had noticed I was more prone to it after being attacked on the
. I shook slightly; it seemed there were some things that even Charlie couldn’t protect me from.
“Damn, I’m sorry.” She laughed, but not really. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
I counted to thirty and then I was calm again. “No problem,” I lied.
She laughed and drank from a water bottle, though water was obviously not in the bottle. “I’m Cora, by the way. You’re coming out with us tonight, right?”
“Cool.” She shrugged. “The more the merrier.”
Melinda, Violet, Kenzie, and Cora mostly talked amongst themselves while we walked to some fraternity house a few blocks away. Every now and then I’d nod or try to include something I thought was clever, but mostly I remained quiet and kept to myself. And though I wondered exactly where we were going, it became obvious when we came to the cobblestone house with the booming music and bubble machine sitting on the patio. Honestly, I was just glad that the party didn’t look as crowded as I imagined. There was the sultry smell of smoke in the air and a couple of bottles laying on the dead grass. I thought I saw a used contraceptive in the bushes, but other than that, the outside of the house didn’t even look like it belonged to students. Melinda mentioned something about the fraternity itself, but I faded in and out, my mind a potential million miles away with Charlie.
While Melinda, Cora, Kenzie, and Violet easily disappeared, I constantly kept reminding myself to uncross my arms so my anxiety wouldn’t be so obvious. The music bouncing from the speakers was crude and I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to match the video game on one of the larger televisions or if it was just music. I stared at the TV for a few seconds before the graphics hurt my eyes, so I walked away.
Cora offered me her water bottle and though I was reluctant, I eventually took a swig, not feeling pressured but desperate to encompass the spontaneity I felt going on around me. She smiled in approval, even when I gagged at the taste, and I laughed along with her. Though I imagined I looked ridiculous, it didn’t bother me.
We stood in line at the keg where she patiently tried to explain to me the rules of beer pong. And though I listened with interest, I’ll admit the party was taking a new turn for me. I watched while some came and went, led each other upstairs, and drank from bottles, all without the slightest regard for themselves or each other and with the same casualness as checking-out a library book. As if they messed up they could pay a fine and take it all back, wipe the slate clean, and start all over.
The more I watched, the more it occurred to me that I had a less and less likely chance of ever having any moments like these. And this epiphany made me inexplicably sad. But logically I knew it was idiotic. After all, these people all had their problems. Though they seemed happy and carefree, they had their worries and cares…the thing of it was however, that mine and theirs would not, and could not, ever be compared on the same scale. Mine were by no means more important or dramatic, only unique. And though everyone there was about my age, and I even recognized a face or two from my classes, I felt far from them, like there was this foggy distance between us. Did any of them feel it too? They may not have known who I was or what I had been through (just like I didn’t know anything about them) but I was transparent among them and terrified of giving anything away. As usual, I wished for Charlie, but he was nowhere around.
That by itself scared me. Though consciously I knew I didn’t need him, I very much wanted him with me. Would it always be like this? I didn’t care about parties or any of those other social niceties, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a prediction of the future. Would I always have to watch over my shoulder and expect the worst? I thought I could handle it now, but what about the future? How could I ever be a complete and independent person if he was always something I lusted for?
I studied them for awhile longer before I could hardly stand it. Though I knew there were no more buses to Healdsburg tonight, maybe I could take a taxi. I had attempted to socialize for long enough, hadn’t I? Would Elise still be awake with Tyler or would calling her only disrupt the little sleep she already got? Maybe I would be treated with a text from Charlie, something simple like an X or an O letting me know he was still okay. I wandered away from Cora just enough to put some space between us, though she was preoccupied with other friends so as not to notice. I wanted to lean against the wall, but a dark, sticky substance there made me change my mind. I stumbled back, tripping over a couple making out in the center of the room. I apologized and moved forward.
Was I dependent, wanting to be with Charlie constantly, or was I just lucky to love him that much? Shouldn’t I be enjoying something like this? Partying? Wasn’t that normal? I’d be eighteen in a matter of weeks, and it seemed like if I hadn’t even begun to grow out of this awkward phase of my life, then perhaps, I never would.
But I wasn’t always so ill at ease. I was comfortable on the sea; in dirty clothes playing poker and picking locks, I had been happy there. And I was happy shooting guns in the woods and looking through art books late at night, watching Charlie sketch when I should have been studying. Not exactly typical, but then again at least I knew what made me happy,
made me happy. So I counted to ten before giving in, reaching into my pocket for my phone, but feeling emptiness instead.
I wasn’t sure how long Melinda had been standing next to me, but when I became aware of her, my arms flailed out, almost causing her to drop her red plastic cup.
She laughed. “It’s okay. What are you swearing about?”
“Oh, I forgot my phone.”
She nodded “I hate when that happens.”
I sighed. “Yeah.”
Cora bounced up to us, dancing, with her hair slight skewed. “Hey, ladies.”
I waved back, but other than tapping my feet, I didn’t know how to dance.
Melinda and Cora whispered something to each other before Cora tried talking to me. “You’re from New Jersey?”
They looked at one another and I realized the question was an opening to a conversation.
“You’re a long way from home.”
And that was the point, wasn’t it? Not to be
from my family, but to be as close to Charlie as possible. Why did I get the sudden feeling that if people knew that, it would sound pathetic? Desperate even?
“Hey.” Again, Melinda placed her hand on my shoulder, and I appreciated the friendly gesture more than I could say. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Uh, yeah, but um, I think I’m just going to go. I don’t feel so great all of a sudden.”
Melinda laughed. “Phone withdrawals?”
“Something like that.”
“You probably shouldn’t walk home by yourself,” Cora added
I laughed, thinking of all the dangers I had faced in the last year. I was hardly afraid of the short distance between there and my dorm room. “Thanks,” I said. “But I’ll be okay.”
She glanced over her shoulder and bit the rim of her cup. “Well, uh, just hold on. I’ll get my friend Greg to walk with you.”
“Really,” I insisted, then suddenly thinking of Ben Walden, laughed at myself. “I doubt the bogey man is here, but even if he was, campus police couldn’t stop him on their best day, anyway.”
Her face contorted, but then she laughed, snorted really. “Oh man, Mel was right, you are weird.”
I smiled as relief ran through me. Why would I say something so stupid?
“I’ll walk out with you at least,” Mel declared. “This place is crowded.”
“Oh, I’ll go, too,” Cora said. “That way
can come back and I can get some air.”
The three of us walked out together, laughing at some kid getting sick in the bushes and his friends recording it on their phones. We walked straight to the end of the sidewalk when a question came to me.
“Cora, that uh, window security system?”
She giggled. “Yeah?”