The first day of winter quarter was full of long lines: to pick up my schedule, to pay my tuition and fees, and to buy my books. In the process, I wrote two large checks, wiping out most of the money my parents had wired to my account.
That evening, I got together with Trip, Luke, and Jeff. Jeff was giving Luke a hard time, because it seemed like the Cajun had returned to school with half a grocery store.
“Mais, y’all,” he said, “I need this stuff.”
“Okay, okay,” Jeff said, “I can understand the Mr. Coffee—”
Luke was always complaining about the weak coffee.
“—but hot sauce, spices, and vegetables?”
“I told you,” Luke explained patiently, “if y’all used spices up here, I wouldn’t need to bring any of this stuff. But no one outside of Louisiana seems to’ve heard of basic ingredients like cayenne, garlic, or paprika. And don’t even get me started on The Holy Trinity.”
“The Holy Trinity? What the fuck is that?”
“Mais, bell peppers, onions, and celery.”
“But you can get those here,” Jeff argued. “Why bring ’em back with you?”
Trip and I merely grinned at each other and ignored the escalating banter. “What’re you up to tomorrow?” he asked me instead.
“I think I’m gonna join the Flying Club,” I said. “And probably the Snow Skiing Club. Why? What’re you up to?”
“I think I’ll go with you to check out the clubs,” he said. “And I wanted to sign us up for intramural basketball. You still up for it?”
“Have we got a fifth guy?”
He shook his head. “But we’ll find one. Don’t worry.”
After Luke and Jeff stopped arguing about produce, we spent the rest of the night listening to a couple of new albums that Trip had gotten for Christmas (the Police, “Ghost in the Machine,” and Joan Jett, “I Love Rock n’ Roll”).
The next day Trip and I headed down to the University Center, where the extracurricular organizations all had tables set up. Once there, we marveled at the sheer number of activities: student government, the campus newspaper, professional organizations, academic fraternities and sororities, sports clubs, recreational clubs, and more.
When we passed the sports clubs, I made a startling discovery: the Wrestling Club. Even though UT Knoxville didn’t have an official NCAA wrestling program, they had the next best thing: a semi-official team, complete with matches against other wrestling clubs within the Southeastern Conference.
Trip ended up joining the Wrestling and Snow Skiing Clubs with me. He’d never done either before, but he was a natural athlete, willing to try anything. As planned, we also signed up for intramural basketball. (Trip even listed our unknown fifth player as Pistol Pete, “just to make people nervous,” he said.)
At the Flying Club table, I signed up for instrument ground school. Earl Walker, the instructor from my checkride, taught the class. Even better, club members got a discount on course fees and books.
By the time we left the UC, I had shelled out more than a hundred dollars. I’d also added quite a bit to my already full schedule.
The Snow Skiing Club met on the first Monday of each month, but had regularly scheduled weekend trips to Ober Gatlinburg, the local ski resort. They also had a big trip planned to Colorado over Spring Break, although I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go (my bank account was pretty anemic).
The Wrestling Club had practice every afternoon, from four to six o’clock. Since the club wasn’t the same as a varsity team, the practices were optional, but I planned to attend as many as I could. Matches were held on Saturdays, and were a mixture of home and away.
The intramural basketball schedule was a work in progress, since it depended upon the number of teams that signed up. But we were guaranteed to play at least one game a week, although the coordinator said it would more likely be two.
My ground school class met every Wednesday night, from seven to nine o’clock (in one of the rooms at the UC). The Flying Club itself had meetings every other Thursday, at seven o’clock.
On top of all that, I wanted to take advantage of Susan’s gift of flying time. I planned to fly on the weekends, but I’d have to book my time well in advance, since those were the busiest days for both instructors and rental aircraft.
My personal life was equally busy. Kendall’s roommates’ class schedules weren’t as obliging as the previous quarter, but we’d be able to get together in the middle of the day on Tuesdays, at least for a couple of hours. And we planned to eat breakfast together every day, of course.
Last but not least, I had to find time for Gina. While Kendall’s schedule more or less matched mine, Gina’s was once again very different. We had tried to synchronize them, but without much luck: my classes were mostly in the morning, while hers were mid- and late-day. I was determined to find a way to make it work, though.
When I called Gina that evening, I told her about all my extracurricular activities. Her sorority took up a lot of her time, but she was also planning to volunteer at the UT hospital.
“I think the biggest problem with our relationship,” she said, “is that we haven’t consciously made time for each other. That’s one of the reasons I gave you the Ultimate Boyfriend card. I mean, in high school, it was easy, ’cause we saw each other all the time. But now….”
“Maybe we can have a ‘date night’ or something. You know, a special night where we’ve got a standing date. What do you think about that?”
“Sounds good to me. But when?”
“Sorority mixers are usually on Wednesday or Saturday, so how about Thursday or Friday nights?”
“Friday would be better, but I’ve got wrestling practice till six,” I said.
“And after that?”
“I guess I’m all yours,” I said.
The first day of classes was hectic. I tried to act nonchalant—the very picture of a veteran college student—but inside, I was as nervous as I’d been on my first day at UT.
After breakfast Trip and I headed to the A&A building; our eight o’clock class was Architecture 102. The professor’s name was E. Stanford Littleton, although he didn’t tell us what the “E” stood for. I thought it was pretentious, but he seemed like a no-nonsense professor. When he dismissed us, Trip and I headed upstairs for our next class.
Professor Joska strode into the room precisely at nine o’clock, and we grew quiet. My entire project team from the previous quarter had signed up for the same section, and we were sitting together. Gracie Fisher and her team were in our class as well.
“Welcome to Architecture 172, Design II,” Joska said, writing the section number on the blackboard. “I am Laszlo Joska,” he added, pronouncing his name with the usual soft sibilance. “If you’re not supposed to be here, please be kind enough to leave quietly.” Then he turned and regarded us with a steely gaze.
One student sheepishly gathered his books. “Sorry,” he said.
“A wise man,” Professor Joska commented as the guy left the room. Then he turned to the rest of us. “Anyone else? Can I convince any of you to drop this class? No? Okay, I’ll sign Drop/Add slips now.”
To my surprise, a student actually got up with a slip for Joska to sign, meaning that he was joining the class at the last minute.
“He must not know Joska,” I stage-whispered to Trip.
“Yes, Mr. Hughes,” Joska said as he signed the slip, “like a spider with a fly, my plan is to catch unsuspecting young architecture students and suck the life out of them.”
I felt a flush creeping up my cheeks: I’d meant for the people around me to overhear, not Joska himself.
Joska handed the slip back to the new student and gestured for him to return to his desk. Then he looked at me, his eyes hard.
I set my jaw, prepared for a scathing remark, but I didn’t shy away from his gaze.
He held my eyes for a half-dozen long heartbeats. Suddenly, he smiled benignly. “I trust you had a relaxing Christmas break,” he said.
Was he mocking me? “Yes, sir,” I answered, my emotions tightly controlled.
“Good,” he said. “I hope you’re rested and refreshed—”
I felt my eyes narrow in uncertainty.
“—so I can drive you until you wonder why you ever wanted to become an architect.” He turned to the class as a whole. “As Mr. Hughes is just beginning to understand, architecture is a serious business for serious people. I’m not your mother and I’m not your priest. Nor am I here to make you like me.”
The rest of his speech was much the same as the one from the previous quarter. Just when I thought I could safely zone out, however, he launched into something new.
“Most of you have survived your first quarter as architecture students,” he said, “which puts you head and shoulders above ninety-five percent of the student body. But from this point onward, things become more difficult. You are no longer novices, and I expect you to avoid the same mistakes you made last quarter. Hopefully, some of you will impress me with the gravity of your new mistakes, but I will be pitiless regarding things you should already know.”
Most of us looked around nervously.
“Now,” Joska continued, “I see that Mr. Whitman and Miss Fisher had the foresight to keep their project teams intact.”
For a moment, I panicked, thinking he might break us up.
“Since they went to so much trouble, I plan to reward their efforts. Two of the cornerstones of architecture are planning and execution,” Joska continued. “To that end, Mr. Whitman and Miss Fisher will each receive five extra credit points on every project this quarter.”
A collective gasp went up from the class. Those five points could easily mean the difference between passing and failing a project.
“Let that be a lesson to each of you,” Joska added. “Your progress toward a degree in architecture should be like a building design itself—the classes are part of a greater whole, and they build upon each other. Those of you who plan ahead will be rewarded, while those of you who do not will find that your efforts often fall short of success.”
At that point, he went through the process of selecting team leaders and assigning the remaining students to project teams. It was almost painful to watch, and I was glad I didn’t have to go through it again. When he was done, he looked at his watch.
“And now,” he said, “for the only time this quarter, class is dismissed early.”
We gathered our books and stood.
“Mr. Whitman, Miss Fisher,” Joska called out above the din, “please see me for a few moments on your way out.”
“I’ll wait for you,” I said to Trip, who nodded. Five minutes later, he joined me on the balcony above the atrium. “What’d he have to say?” I asked.
“You know those five extra points?”
“We’re gonna need ’em.”
“Joska basically told us that we’re guaranteed to get the points,” he said, “but that he expects us to work harder than anyone else in the class to earn ’em. In other words, he’s gonna grade us harder… just because.”
“That sucks, man.”
“Actually, it’s brilliant.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“No. Think about it,” he said. “He told the rest of the class that he rewards ‘planning and execution,’ but he told us that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.”
“TANSTAAFL,” I said.
“So why is that brilliant?”
“With one stroke, he’s teaching two different lessons,” Trip said.
“You sound like you’re actually starting to like him.”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I definitely respect him.”
“No, you’re just too focused on hating him,” he said. “Sure, he’s hard, but he’s fair. And yeah, he picks on you, but the sooner you figure out that it’s not personal, the better. He’s trying to toughen you up. I mean, think about it for a sec… When he made that comment about the spider and the fly, what did you do?”
I shrugged. “Nothing. But what’s that have to do with anything?”
“How would you have reacted a couple of months ago?”
Once again, I shrugged.
To my surprise, Trip laughed. “You’d’ve burst a blood vessel in anger.”
I denied it, but privately admitted that he was probably right.
“Trust me, you’d’ve been steamed. But now… what happened? Nothing, that’s what. You just took it in stride and kept your cool. I’m telling you, Joska’s brilliant.”
“Jeez,” I muttered, “five lousy extra credit points and you’re suddenly the guy’s biggest fan.”
“No,” Trip said, “I just recognize talent and ability when I see it.” Then he laughed good-naturedly and clapped me on the shoulder. “Why d’you think I hang around with you?”
I grinned abashedly.
“Besides,” he continued, “I don’t have to like Joska to see what he’s doing to us. That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
“No fucking kidding.”
“Come on,” Trip said, still chuckling. “You’ll see what I’m talking about sooner or later. Now, where’re you headed to next?”
“Calculus,” I said. “Ayers.”
“I’ve got Accounting, in Glocker. I’ll walk with you, my proud, stubborn friend.”
“I’m not stubborn.”
“You are too.”
I started to deny it again, but Trip’s laugh disarmed me.
“See what I mean?” he asked rhetorically.
“Who asked you anyway?”
My two remaining classes were full of the usual first-day stuff.
Intermediate Calculus was taught by a fidgety, dark-skinned Indian named Prakash Vajpayee. He was a graduate student, and his English was so heavily accented that I didn’t understand half of what he said.
After lunch I headed to Architecture 122, Drawing II. Professor Ledbetter welcomed us and went over the syllabus. Since it was a two-credit-hour class, it only met on Monday and Wednesday. After class, he even pulled me aside and said he was looking forward to working with me. Flattered and a little embarrassed, I thanked him. Then I headed down to Studio 6, where I hoped to catch Siobhan (and Wren, I silently admitted).
“Oh, hello, Paul,” Siobhan said, her brogue cheery.
“Hi, Siobhan. I was just checking to see what the schedule is for modeling.”
She motioned me into her office, where she picked up a calendar. “Today and Friday are just orientation; I’ll be introducing the students to the syllabus, as well as the tools and media. So you and Wren aren’t scheduled until next week.”
“You wouldn’t be interested in modeling for another class, would you? We had higher than expected enrollment for my Life Drawing class, so they added another section. And now,” she shrugged, “I find myself without models. The class is Tuesday-Thursday at 9:15AM. The pay isn’t much, but you already know that. It’ll double the amount you’re already making, though.”
The previous quarter I had a surplus from my birthday and graduation money. But that was all gone, and I owed my parents four hundred dollars on top of that. They were still giving me spending money—they expected me to repay the four hundred from my summer work—but the extra money from modeling would come in handy. “Sure,” I said immediately. “Who’s the female model? Wren?”
Siobhan frowned. “I talked to her earlier today, and she’s got a class conflict. Do you know anyone? Didn’t your girlfriend mention something about wanting to model?”
“Yeah, she did,” I said, already considering the possibilities.
“Do you two want to do it together?”
“Sure! Sign us up.”
“Shouldn’t you talk to her first?”
“Um, yeah, probably,” I said sheepishly. “But definitely sign me up. And pencil her in. I’ll talk to her tonight and we’ll let you know tomorrow. Okay?”
She nodded. “Have her stop by my studio. I’ll need to get a model release from her.” At that point, she glanced toward the larger studio.
I took the cue and headed for the door.
Once in the main studio, I looked for Wren. Instead, I spotted Christy. She saw me at the same time and smiled warmly. Siobhan and I headed toward her simultaneously. When I pulled up short, the auburn-haired professor grinned at me and gestured for me to go ahead.
I felt my face heating, but headed for the petite blonde nonetheless.
“Happy New Year,” she said.
“Happy New Year. How was Hawaii?”
“Great! I love it there,” she said. “Unfortunately, my brother’s going back to a squadron, so he’s moving to San Diego. Well, it’s good for him, so not ‘unfortunately,’ but I won’t get to visit him in Hawaii anymore. So it’s unfortunate for me.”
“That’s too bad,” I said.
“Oh, I’ll survive.”
“Now, this is… Harry… right? He’s a Lieutenant….”
“Lieutenant Commander,” she said.
“And he’s the one who flies F-4s?”
“Right, but his new squadron flies F-14s, so he’s going to training first.”
“Okay, so who flies A-4s?” I asked. “That’s… Danny?”
“Mmm hmm. But he’s in the Marine Corps. He lives in North Carolina,” she added. “Cherry Point.”
“Oh, so he’s not that far away.”
“It’s far enough for anyone who doesn’t have a car,” she said.
“Maybe I’ll fly you there some time.”
She blushed. Shyly: “I’d like that.”
“Okay, so, what about the others?” I asked after a moment. “James…? And… Rich?”
“Mmm hmm. James flies helicopters—Navy—and he’s in Jacksonville. Rich is in the Navy too, but he’s in Coronado.”
“Oh… um… where’s that?”
“San Diego,” she said, smiling quizzically. “I thought you used to live there.”
“Well, not really. I was born there, but I only lived there for about two months.” At her curious look, I continued. “My mom was visiting her brother and went into labor a month early. After I was born, she lived with my Uncle Hank… until I was old enough to travel, I mean.”
“Oh. Then where’d she go?”
“Back to Gainesville, Florida. My grandparents drove to California to pick us up. I don’t remember it, though. I was only two months old.”
She smiled at my joke.
“Anyway, that’s why I didn’t know that Coronado was near San Diego. But… back to your brother. What’s he fly?”
“Oh, Rich doesn’t fly. He’s… um… he’s a frogman… he does underwater demolition and… um… other stuff.”
“Wow, cool.” Then I chuckled. At her questioning look, I explained. “I thought I had a hard time keeping up with just one sister. And you’ve got four brothers to keep track of.”
Her eyes tightened. Before I could say anything, she forced a smile and asked, “So, how was your ski trip?”
“Good,” I said, a little perplexed at the sudden change in subject. “Really good. We had a lot of fun.”
“I’ve never skied there.”
“You know how to ski?”
“Of course,” she said. “We went to Hokkaido or Nagano all the time when we lived in Japan. And then in San Diego, we’d fly up to Squaw Valley. I started skiing when I was eight or nine, I guess. My brother used to….” She didn’t continue. “I’m sorry,” she said at last. “What was I saying?”
“Your brother used to…?”
She smiled wistfully, but didn’t answer. “I… I’d better get to my seat. Siobhan’s probably waiting for me.”
Siobhan was talking to some other students, and the bell to begin class hadn’t rung yet. I didn’t know what had happened to Christy’s brother—or even which one—but her mood had obviously changed, and I didn’t want to make things worse by prying.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said.
With that, I watched her walk to her seat and simply sit there, lost in thought. Then she wiped her cheeks and glanced up. When she saw me, she smiled, but her eyes were sad.
Trip and I went to our first wrestling practice that afternoon. The club had actually been meeting since school began in the fall, so we were late-comers. The faculty advisor, Larry Travis, was the coach. He was also the strength and conditioning coach for the football team. Not surprisingly, he advocated wrestling as a way for his football players to stay in condition during the off-season.
I had a low opinion of football players as wrestlers. In high school, we had our fair share of cocky football players who tried out for the wrestling team, convinced that they’d show us how tough they were (compared to us, that is). After all, they said, they’d been through spring training, summer workouts, and an entire football season.
Invariably, they wheezed their way through the first week’s wrestling workouts and told us that we could quit going hard on them, that we’d made our point. I always loved the expressions on their faces when we told them that Coach had been going easy on us, since we were all soft from the off-season.
After that, most football players quietly went away, bound for the arms of cheerleaders and the sycophants who adored them simply because they were football players. I was always impressed with the guys who did stick around, but they were few and far between.
Consequently, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about wrestling for a man who was also a football coach. It was a petty prejudice, but it was born of experience.
Not surprisingly, my preconceptions took a beating that day.
Coach Travis was anything but the stereotypical football coach. I later learned that he’d been an All-American football player at Michigan. As if that weren’t impressive enough, he’d been an All-American wrestler as well. The University of Michigan was no slouch in either department.
Unfortunately, he’d injured his knee his senior year, and had to give up a promising career playing professional football. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying the sports he loved.
When he found out I was the Georgia state runner-up in the 185-pound weight class, I expected him to immediately treat me as one of his stars. Instead, I was in for a rude awakening.
“You look pretty scrawny for a 185-pounder,” he said.
“Actually, I’m down to about 170 now.”
“And why weren’t you in the Club last quarter?” he asked, brushing off my excuse. “Do you want to wrestle or not?”
“I want to wrestle,” I assured him. “I’ve kept up my workouts and everything. I just didn’t know there was a Wrestling Club.”
“That’s no excuse. If you really wanted to wrestle, you would’ve found us. Anyway, you’re here now. At least you haven’t gone totally soft, although you look like you’re trying to make weight for a class ten pounds lighter than you need to be. And you,” he said, turning to Trip, “what’s your story?”
“I’m here with him,” he said, nodding to me.
“Have you ever wrestled before?”
Trip shook his head.
“Well, at least you don’t have any bad habits to break. And you look like the right type. Did you play football in high school?”
“One year, when I was a freshman, and five years before that. But I played baseball and basketball all through high school.”
“Good man… well-rounded. Too bad you didn’t stick with football though.”
“Our first-string varsity quarterback got a full scholarship to Alabama,” Trip said. “I was good, but he was better. A lot better. Riding the bench isn’t my idea of a good time, so I concentrated on baseball and basketball.”
“How’d you do?”
“Our baseball team was state champion,” he said. “Twice. I was captain both years.”
Coach Travis’s eyebrows shot up. “And in basketball?”
“We did okay. Not as good as baseball, but we always had a winning season.”
“Good man. So, whaddya weigh? About 185?”
“About that,” Trip said.
“All right,” Coach Travis said. Then he looked at me. “You work out with Will and the 177-pounders. I don’t want you to get some harebrained idea to get down to 167 pounds. With your build, you need to bulk up. And you,” he added, to Trip, “you work out with the 190-pounders. Lonnie over there’ll get you started.”
With that, I got a taste of what the high school football players went through. My ad hoc workouts were nothing compared to a regimented wrestling workout. I also learned that my wrestling skills had dulled. Considerably. The number-one 177-pound wrestler, Will Treadway, worked me all over the mat. I managed one take-down, but he quickly reversed on me.
I did get a good look at the gym ceiling for the better part of two hours, though.
I didn’t particularly enjoy the view.
“That was fun,” Trip said as we walked back to the dorm. “Lonnie was showing me single-leg takedowns.”
“I can see why you like it,” he added. “All the other sports I’ve played have been team sports. And it’s a lot more physical than I thought it’d be. I think I’m going to like it, though.” He was excited by his new experiences, and talked about wrestling until we reached North Carrick. “But now we really need to talk about basketball,” he said as we walked down the fourth floor hallway.
We entered my suite and I unlocked my door. Trip followed and leaned against the sink while I tossed my things on the bed.
“We still need a fifth guy,” he said, “and I don’t know who we should ask.”
“Hey, Loverboy,” T.J. said from the doorway. Then he glanced at Trip. “Hey, Super Jock.”
“Hey, T.J.,” Trip said, unfazed by the nickname. “What’s up?”
“Nothin’. What’re you looking for a fifth guy for?”
“Intramural basketball. Why? Do you play?”
I was trying to surreptitiously give Trip the “wave off” sign, but he wasn’t paying attention.
“Yeah,” T.J. said. “Shooting point guard.”
“Are you any good?” Trip asked.
“I’m better’n Loverboy, here. I’ve seen him play. But if y’all need a fifth player, I could do it. Who else is on the team?”
“My roommate, Luke, and one of the guys from the other side of the suite, Jeff.”
“The Ragin’ Cajun and Four-eyes, huh?”
“Just kidding,” T.J. said. “Yeah, I’ll be your fifth player. Whaddya think, Loverboy, you want me on your team? Maybe I’ll show you a thing or two.”
The last thing I wanted was to deal with T.J. on a regular basis, but when I saw Trip’s hopeful expression, my protest died unspoken. “Yeah, all right,” I said at last, although I mentally kicked myself for doing it.
“Cool,” Trip said. To T.J.: “Welcome to the team.”
“Thanks. When do y’all wanna practice?”
After talking for a few minutes, T.J. headed back to his side of the suite.
“Hey, I’m gonna get cleaned up for dinner,” Trip said. “Remember, we’re supposed to meet Abby and Kendall at seven.”
A moment later the outer door closed behind him and I headed for the shower. As I walked past T.J.’s half-open door, I shook my head in disbelief. Once again, I was stuck on an intramural team with him and his attitude.
“There ain’t no justice,” I muttered to myself.
After dinner we went back to Kendall’s apartment. When Trip and Abby settled on the couch, I pulled Kendall toward her bedroom. Once there, I shut the door and told her about the modeling opportunity. She jumped at the chance, since we’d get to do it together.
“I kinda figured you’d want to,” I said. “But Siobhan said I should probably talk to you before I just signed you up for it.”
“Of course. I can sign myself up.”
I tried not to let my mild annoyance show. “Okay, then you need to stop by her studio tomorrow. She needs you to sign a model release.”
“This is going to be so much fun,” Kendall said. Then she turned pensive.
“What about my pubic hair?”
“Oh, shit… I hadn’t thought about that.”
“I don’t wanna stop shaving, but….”
“Maybe you can just wear bikini bottoms,” I suggested. “You know, like Susan does at camp.”
“Do you think that’d be okay?”
“I guess so,” I said. “I mean, Wren wore ’em last quarter whenever she was on her period. So I guess it’d be okay if you wore ’em all the time. Don’t you think?”
“It should be okay,” she said, still less than confident.
“It’ll be okay. I mean, Siobhan said she needed the model, and the class isn’t about drawing beautiful pussy lips.”
“It’s about drawing the human figure. And trust me, you’ve got one helluva figure. So I’m sure they’ll love to draw it. Now, speaking of which,” I said, “I think we’ve got a few minutes before Trip and Abby will miss us. So, do you mind if I inspect the aforementioned figure? Purely for informational purposes, of course.”
“Purely for informational purposes,” she echoed, her eyes dancing with laughter.
“So, what’s going on with you and Abby?” I asked Trip as we walked back to Carrick.
“Nothing,” he said nonchalantly. Too nonchalantly.
“I thought you weren’t interested.”
“I wasn’t,” he said.
He smiled guiltily.
“She’s a sweet girl.”
“Oh, no argument,” I said.
“And I’ve gotta start dating again… sooner or later.”
I glanced at him sidelong.
Instead of answering, I simply grinned.
At that, I shoved him and broke into a run, singing: “Trip and Abby, sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!”
With his longer legs, he quickly caught up to me and tackled me. Fortunately, he directed us to a patch of grass, instead of asphalt.
“We weren’t kissing in a tree,” he said, feigning anger.
“Oh, then where were you?” I asked, rolling upright.
“We were on the couch.”
I arched an eyebrow.
“While you and Kendall were in her room,” he elaborated.
“So you’re serious?” I asked, suddenly straight-faced.
He contemplated his shoelaces. After a moment he nodded.
“She is a really sweet girl,” I said.
“Oh, you’ve got no idea,” he said earnestly. “She’s warm, and caring, and funny, and smart, and….” Then he grinned sheepishly. “I’ve got it bad, don’t I?”
I nodded, returning his grin. “What are you gonna say to your other girlfriend?”
“What other girlfriend? I’m not like you, remember?”
“You know, Rosy Palm….” With that, I jumped to my feet and took off running again.
“You gotta quit trying to run away,” Trip said, catching me easily.
We pounded to a stop in the Carrick breezeway, both of us winded and grinning like idiots.
“And for your information,” he said, “we haven’t done it yet.”
He inclined his head, conceding the point.
“But she’s cute,” I said.
“And it’s been a while since she had a boyfriend.”
“So I guess that means….”
“What?” he asked, once he realized that I wasn’t going to finish my thought.
“I guess that means she’s got a lot of pent-up, ahem, energy.”
“Her and me both, my friend. Her and me both.”
Thursday morning, Trip and I met Kendall and Abby for breakfast. The girls didn’t have eight o’clock classes, but they wanted to spend time with us. Kendall spotted Christy and Wren at another table, and invited them to join us.
Trip and Abby seemed oblivious to everyone else at the table, so Kendall, Wren, and I did most of the talking (Christy was sketching, her eyes darting between us and her sketchpad). After breakfast, Kendall kissed me goodbye and headed back to her apartment. Abby, doe-eyed, walked with Trip to his English class.
“So, I guess it’s just us,” I said to Christy and Wren. “Bunny, Beautiful, and Mysterious.” Then I glanced sidelong at Wren. “Or should I call you—” Sexy, I finished mentally.
“Don’t… you… dare,” she said.
Grinning, Christy silently looked a question at her friend.
“He’s being impossible,” Wren said, without elaborating.
I simply flashed her a smug grin and shouldered my backpack.
Our Art History professor was an attractive woman named Eugénie Bertrand—Dr. Eugénie Bertrand. Her English sounded distinctly British, with a slight French accent, and her enthusiasm was a welcome change from the previous quarter’s Professor Dubois.
After class, Wren headed to her Journalism class, so I walked with Christy to Siobhan’s studio.
“Wren was telling me about her trip with you and Kendall,” Christy said. “That was very nice of you to give her a ride.”
I arched an eyebrow, wondering how much Wren had told her roommate.
“Wren’s usually so high-strung that guys’re always falling all over themselves to do whatever she wants. After meeting Kendall, I can understand why you’re immune to her antics.”
Not quite immune, I thought ruefully.
“She’s very nice,” Christy said. “She wants to be a doctor, right? A psychiatrist? I think she’ll make a good one. I don’t know why, but there’s something about her that… I dunno… there’s just something about her,” she finished with a shrug. “And she’s very pretty. But you already knew that. I’d like to sketch her sometime. Maybe the two of you together. If you don’t mind, that is.”
“No, not at all.”
“Siobhan said you’re going to model for her extra Life Drawing class.”
“Maybe I’ll sit in on that sometime. If Kendall doesn’t mind.”
“I don’t think she will,” I said, suddenly warming to the prospect of Christy seeing Kendall nude.
“I’d like that. She’s very statuesque. And you two look good together, although I never pictured you with someone as tall as her.”
“Seriously, why not?”
“Forget I said anything,” she said. “You two look good together, and you obviously love each other.”
“I’d better get inside,” she said, nodding toward Siobhan’s studio. “Bye.”
As I watched her walk away, I silently wondered why every conversation with her left me with more questions than when I began.
My last class of the day was American Literature, at 1:40, with Professor Feller. I’m almost ashamed to say that I deliberately selected one of her sections. My class load was difficult enough without the added stress of a hidebound English professor, so I went for the easy A.
Professor Feller passed out the syllabus and then talked—gushingly—about the reading list. It sounded interesting, but I knew I’d probably have to give up my personal reading to get it all done.
After class I headed back to my room to relax before wrestling practice.
Practice itself wasn’t as grueling as the day before, but it wasn’t easy, either. Once again, I got my ass handed to me on the mat, but I managed to surprise Will a couple of times. He wasn’t in danger of losing his number one spot—yet—but at least I gave him a bit of a challenge.
Friday morning’s classes breezed past. Even Professor Joska’s sardonic comments failed to rile me. Calculus, however, was another matter entirely. Two students arrived late, making a commotion; they needed Professor Vajpayee to sign their Drop/Add slips. As they turned to take seats, I felt my expression harden.
Rod and Neil, I muttered silently. Fucking great.
When Rod met my eyes, he looked surprised for a moment. Then he sneered. Not surprisingly, he jostled my arm on the way to a desk at the back of the room.
A couple of times during class, I heard the two Pikes whispering to each other and then chuckling. It took every ounce of willpower I possessed not to turn around and see if they were talking about me. When class was finally over, I gathered my things and stood.
“Hey, fag,” Rod said from behind me.
I ignored him.
“I said, ‘hey, fag,’” he repeated.
“I don’t think the fag can talk,” Neil said.
“Fuck you,” I said. When I turned and stared them down, they both stopped in their tracks. I snorted contemptuously and headed for the door.
“Where’re you goin’?” Rod asked, sing-song taunting. “You don’t wanna talk to us, fag?”
“Dude,” I said, “learn an original insult. You keep saying ‘fag’ and someone’s bound to think you’re looking for a date.”
He flipped me the bird.
“Oh, yeah, that’s creative… dickhead.”
“Ooooh, ‘dickhead,’” he said. “How ‘original.’”
“Okay, how about ‘buttfucker’?”
His expression turned ugly, but then he forced a laugh. “Yeah, I’m a buttfucker all right. I buttfucked your girlfriend.”
I started to snarl, but then caught myself. “Whatever,” I said, affecting nonchalance.
“Oh, didn’t Gina tell you? Regan invited us up to her cabin in Vermont. Me and Neil and a couple of other guys. We had a real good time, especially with your girlfriend.”
I stopped, but refused to meet his eyes.
“Yeah,” Neil added, “she loves takin’ it up the ass, doesn’t she, Rod?”
“Oh, yeah,” Rod said, “but she really got off when I let her suck the Ram Rod. God, that girl loves the taste of jizz.”
I clenched my jaw, rooted to the spot. I wanted to leave, to get away from them, but I couldn’t. Rod had managed to say the one thing that would keep me listening.
“Yeah, she’s a major cocksucker,” Neil said, as if he were having a casual conversation with his friend. “And that dark little pussy of hers is a real treat, huh.”
“Oh, yeah. But I really love watching her dyke out with Regan and Margot.”
“Yeah, that’s cool,” Neil said.
“You know, I think she might like chicks more than guys, though. I mean, she could be a dyke, you know?”
“Man, fuck you,” I said at last.
“Oh, didn’t she tell you?” Rod taunted. “Maybe she’s just waiting for the right time to break it to you, buddy.”
I wanted to break his face, but I restrained myself, clenching my fists with pent-up rage. Then I took a deep breath and told myself that he was full of shit. Finally, I forced a humorless smile and flipped him the bird.
When I left, their laughter echoed in my ears.
Will Treadway didn’t know what hit him that afternoon. I made up for a lack of practice with sheer anger-fueled energy.
“Man, what the fuck’s the matter with you?” he asked after I nearly ripped off his arms with an illegal full nelson.
“Hughes!” Coach Travis yelled before I had a chance to reply. “Gimme twenty laps around the gym. And if you pull that shit again, I don’t care if you’re NCAA champion, you’re off the team.”
Fuck you too, I mentally snapped, but I got up and started running laps. Trip caught my eye and silently asked what was going on.
I shook off his question and kept running.
Unfortunately, that gave me time to think.
I tried to convince myself that Rod had been lying, that Gina would never have sex with him. But how did he know so many details about her? What if she had fucked him? What if she’d been drunk, and he took advantage of her?
Had Gina seemed nervous when she got home from Vermont? She said she was sore, but was she sore from skiing, or fucking? And how did Rod know that Gina liked the taste of come? Or anal sex? Regan had probably told him, but what if…?
Would Regan invite Rod and friends to Vermont? In a heartbeat, I mentally answered. She liked to be the center of attention. And with Hayley along… Hayley was a bad influence all around.
But why hadn’t Gina told me about the guys? Had she known beforehand? Would she lie about it if she had? She’d never lied to me before, but… Rod must’ve been lying. It was just like him, especially if he thought he could exact revenge for the humiliation of the intramural football playoffs.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t shake the feeling that his words had the ring of truth.
As I ran my laps, I went back and forth: Gina had lied; no, Rod had lied. I trusted Gina. She was my girlfriend; she’d never lie to me.
“She’d lie to me about this,” I muttered. She knew how much I disliked Rod. So if she had fucked him, she’d never tell me.
Worse, when I started thinking about sex outside our relationship, I couldn’t escape my own guilt about Felicia.
My guilt fueled my anger. My anger fueled my suspicion. And my suspicion fueled my guilt. It was a vicious cycle, and I was getting more and more worked up by the minute.
When wrestling practice was over, Trip caught up with me as I stalked out of the gym.
“Dude, what’s the matter?” he asked.
“Yeah, right,” he said. “Seriously, what’s eating you?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“You’re not going to start that shit again, are you?”
“Just leave me alone.”
“Fine. Whatever. But let me know when you figure out what friends are for.”
“What’s the matter with you?” Gina asked when I met her in her lobby for our date night.
“You look upset.”
“I’m not,” I lied. Then, “Look, let’s just go eat dinner. What do you feel like?”
“How about Italian?”
At the restaurant, I studied Gina intently. She caught me a few times, and asked what was wrong, but I played it off each time. I went through a thousand questions in my mind, most of them dark.
Had she fucked Rod? Had she just sucked him off? Had she done it willingly? Or was she basically raped?
When I thought about rape, my mind turned to Kendall, and to Big Mistake Guy. He was a Pike. And with Hayley involved in both incidents, I had a sick, angry knot in the pit of my stomach. Hayley was bad news: sex, booze, and drugs.
At that, I studied Gina even more intently, looking for signs of cocaine (as if I’d know what to look for!). If Hayley had given Kendall cocaine, she’d probably done the same to Gina. And Gina wasn’t nearly as self-disciplined as Kendall.
“What’s the matter?” Gina finally asked, setting down her fork with an angry clink.
“Then why do you keep staring at me?”
“I’m not staring at you.”
“You are too.”
“Sorry,” I said tersely. “I didn’t know it was against the rules to look at my girlfriend. I’ll try to do better next time.” Then I stuck a fork in my spaghetti and started twirling petulantly.
With that, a tense, fragile silence settled over us. Unfortunately, silence was my worst enemy, since it gave me time to think. We made it back to Gina’s dorm room before my anger finally boiled over.
“Was Rod in Vermont?” I demanded.
“What?” She tried to look innocent, but her eyes gave her away.
“I said, ‘was Rod in Vermont?’ That’s a pretty simple question, isn’t it?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Just answer the question,” I said.
“Don’t snap at me.”
“He was, wasn’t he?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Was he there or not?” I ground out.
“Why’re you interrogating me?”
“Was… he… there… or… not?!”
“Yeah, okay, he was there.”
“Who else was there?”
“You know who else was there: Regan, Margot, Jess, Hayley—”
“Which other guys were there?” I asked testily.
“What difference does it make?”
“Then why won’t you tell me?”
“Fine. It was Rod, Neil, Tommy, John, and Rusty,” she said.
I didn’t know who Tommy, John, or Rusty were, but I knew all too well who Rod and Neil were.
“There, now you know,” Gina said. “Are you happy?”
“Why were they there? Why didn’t you tell me? What were you doing with them?”
“What was I— What do you mean ‘what was I doing with them?’”
“Which part of that don’t you understand?” I asked sarcastically.
“For your information,” she said, “I wasn’t doing anything with them.”
“Sure you weren’t. Then how come Rod knows you like the taste of come?”
“Like the taste of— What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“Just answer the question,” I snapped.
“Regan probably told him. How should I know? But if you think—”
“Did you fuck him?”
“Did I what?!” she shrieked. “No way! God, no.” Finally, her expression turned hard. “Is that what this is about? You think I screwed Rod?!”
“Well, did you?”
“I already said I didn’t. I didn’t screw anyone in Vermont. And if you think I’m going to screw you tonight, then you’re sorely mistaken.”
“I wouldn’t want sloppy seconds anyhow!”
With that, I stormed out, slamming the door behind me. A detached part of my mind realized that I shouldn’t be roaming around South Carrick unescorted, but I didn’t care. Woe be to the RA who confronted me about it. Fortunately, no one stopped me as I rode the elevator down to the lobby and then stormed toward North Carrick.
When I got to my room, Billy took one look at me and silently gathered his books. As the door shut behind him, I snatched my weights from under the bed. Without even taking off my date clothes, I started doing curls, my eyes vacant as I stared at the mirror.
Gina and I didn’t talk to each other for six days. I’d like to say that I was too busy to care, but that wasn’t the case.
Oh, I was busy, all right, but I thought about Gina almost constantly.
I felt guilty for getting angry with her. If I loved her, then I should trust her. But I just couldn’t come to grips with her not telling me that Rod had been in Vermont.
I tried to look at things from her perspective: if she didn’t do anything with him, and she knew it would only make me angry to know that he’d been there, why should she stir up trouble by telling me?
I even rationalized that my situation with Felicia was the same. What happened with Felicia had been a one-time thing, a night of weakness on my part. If it wasn’t going to happen again, and it would only make Gina and Kendall angry to know about it, why would I cause problems by telling them?
Unfortunately, I was doing a lot of rationalizing. Worse, I was probably ascribing some of my guilt to Gina. In other words, since I hadn’t told her about having sex with Felicia, then she was obviously hiding her sex with Rod.
I honestly didn’t know who was telling the truth: Gina or Rod. I wanted to believe Gina. I really wanted to believe Gina. But the seeds of doubt festered until I couldn’t think about anything else.
My life continued, however, whether I wanted to stop and think things through or not.
On Saturday, I took my first instrument lesson with Earl, a two-hour flight to Kentucky and back, most of it “under the hood” (using a hat with a blinder-like shield on it, so I had to focus on the instruments). On final at Island Home Airport, I was brooding about Gina instead of paying close attention to my glide path, so I had to do a power-on approach and “drag in” my landing. Earl didn’t say anything, but I could sense his disapproval.
I spent most of Sunday with Jeff, who taught me the ins and outs of my computer and its word processing program. I immediately recognized its potential to revolutionize the way I wrote research papers, but I couldn’t even enjoy the discovery, since my thoughts invariably returned to Gina.
Christy and Wren joined us for breakfast on Monday, but even that didn’t raise my spirits. Later that day, I came within a hair’s breadth of beating Rod to a bloody pulp. He laughed when I mastered my emotions and walked away, but I don’t think he realized how much danger he’d been in.
In Siobhan’s Figuring the Body class, she introduced Wren and me to a new crop of students. In addition to Christy, I recognized an attractive brunette who’d been in the Life Drawing class. I didn’t recognize any of the others, but I didn’t give most of them a second glance.
Wren and I took off our robes and Siobhan had us pose together, almost touching. Wren tried to get a rise out of me—literally and figuratively—but I was too preoccupied. While we were getting dressed in Siobhan’s office, Wren tried to tease me some more, but I brusquely told her that I had to get to wrestling practice.
On Tuesday, Kendall had her first day of modeling (she would have a week by herself and then I’d have a similar week). I met her afterward, and she eagerly told me all about it. She was excited, so we headed back to her apartment.
Since it was Tuesday, her roommates were all in class. One thing led to another and we began having sex, but when I started fucking her from behind, my mind drifted. I angrily shook off thoughts of Gina only to realize that I was slamming into Kendall. Worse, she was crying out in pain each time I rammed into her.
In shock, I sat back on my haunches, my erection pointing at the ceiling as I panted in horrified silence. Without explanation, I stood and headed for the bathroom. Kendall followed.
I eventually calmed down, but only after a lot of crying on Kendall’s part (not to mention a lot of soothing on my part, since I had to convince her that I wasn’t angry with her). At her urging, I related the bare details of why I was so upset. To my utter relief, she didn’t make a single disparaging remark about Gina. Instead, she hugged me tight and told me how much she loved me.
At that point, we took a shower and then made love. I went out of my way to be gentle and considerate. Afterward, we lay entangled in her sheets, panting from the force of our orgasms.
“Maybe we can get together with Gina,” Kendall said, softly.
“I should be able to tell if she’s lying or not.”
I shook my head. “She’s telling the truth,” I said, trying to convince myself. “Rod’s the one who’s lying.”
“How do you know?”
“I know Gina,” I said. “She’d never do something like that. Sure, she’s wild and all, but she’s faithful.”
“But didn’t she have sex with Regan? And Margot? And who knows who else?”
“Yeah, but they’re girls,” I said, as if that explained everything. “Gina wouldn’t have sex with a guy… not without asking me first.”
“Are you sure?”
“Believe it or not, I am,” I said, my voice barely wavering. “I know Gina. I can still see the look on her face when I asked her if she fucked Rod. I can tell when she’s trying to hide something, and she was completely blindsided when I asked her about Rod.”
“But still, you can’t be sure.”
“I’m sure,” I said, although I hadn’t managed to convince myself—not entirely.
Kendall took a breath, as if to speak, but fell silent instead.
In the ensuing silence, my thoughts turned back to Gina, and I tried to convince myself that what I’d said had been true.
“Are you okay?” Christy tentatively asked.
We were walking from the A&A building toward the dorms. Wren had headed off to her Journalism class, so we were alone.
“I’m fine,” I lied. “Why?”
“You seem preoccupied. And… upset.”
“I’m not,” I said stiffly.
We walked for a minute in silence before she spoke up. “Paul? We’re friends, right?”
“Then… can I show you something?”
We stopped and she pulled out her sketchpad. She flipped it open but then held it against her chest, looking pensive. Finally, she mastered her uncertainty and looked up at me.
“I normally don’t show these to people, but… I like drawing faces,” she said in a rush. “They’re hard to draw, since they’ve got so many muscles, but that’s why I like them. They’re even harder than hands. Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Whenever I need to think, I draw. It’s ‘me’ time, if that makes sense. I draw people with interesting expressions, or people who don’t know I’m watching, or… people I… um… people I like. You know, like… friends.”
“They’re just sketches, but they’re my way of relaxing. Some people read, some people do crosswords, some people listen to music. I draw. I guess you could say that I’m a people-watcher, too, since that’s where I get my inspiration. It’s almost like meditation, if that makes sense.”
“Yeah, I guess it does.”
“So I see a lot. People don’t realize how much you can tell about them from their expression and posture, but— Sorry,” she said, blushing. “When I get nervous, I chatter. My mom said that’s why she gave me my first sketchpad, to keep me quiet, but you probably don’t wanna hear about that. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, last weekend. Um… I don’t wanna be nosey or anything, but….”
“Something happened to you last weekend, didn’t it? And you’re still upset, so… well… I guess I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”
“What do you mean ‘something happened to me last weekend’?”
“Oh dear, I knew I wouldn’t say it right. Here, I’ll show you.”
To my surprise, her sketchpad was full—several pages, at least—of drawings of me. They were mostly of my face, as she’d said, but there were others where I was doing things: eating breakfast with Kendall, sitting in Art History class, and walking back from wrestling practice.
“This was Friday morning,” she said, pointing to a sketch of me teasing Kendall. I was straight-faced, but my eyes danced with laughter. “And this,” she continued, turning the page, “was Monday morning.” I looked brooding and tense. “This was Tuesday in Art History class.” Me looking upset. “And this was yesterday,” she said, blushing as she pointed to a nude sketch of me as I posed for class. Not surprisingly, I looked angry. “I drew this last night, from memory,” she explained diffidently. “Now do you see why I don’t show these to many people?”
I nodded, my own cheeks heating.
“Anyway, that’s why I asked if you were okay. Something happened to you this weekend, and I wanted… well… I don’t know what I wanted. I guess I wanted to tell you that you can always talk to me.”
“Thanks,” I said. On a whim, I decided to tell her. “Um… I got in a fight with… one of my best friends.”
“I could tell. Don’t ask me how, though. I just have this sense about people. And I thought it had to do with a girl. But it couldn’t’ve been Kendall, because she looked concerned for you, not about something between you. So then I thought it might’ve been Wren. She’s so high-strung. I mean, she sometimes does dumb things without realizing the consequences. But she told me she hadn’t said two words to you since Monday. So then I started wondering what could’ve hap— I’m doing it again,” she said, blushing apologetically.
She took a deep breath. “I’m supposed to be listening to you, and I’m doing all the talking. Maybe my mom was right to give me a pencil and paper. Anyway, let’s start over.” With that, she composed herself and silently invited me to speak.
I told her an edited version of the story—in short, that I thought Gina had done something behind my back.
To my surprise, Christy looked at me for a moment, as if peering into my thoughts.
“What?” I finally asked.
“I’m sorry,” she said, shaking off her hesitation. “You were telling me that you and Gina had a fight.”
“Yeah,” I said heavily. “I said some things that I really regret, but… well… I guess I’m still not convinced that she didn’t… um… do what I thought she did.”
“This guy who told you about… what you thought she did…,” Christy said, using my circumlocution. “Rod, right?”
“You’re not really friends with him?”
My hard expression was answer enough.
“Right, I already knew that. Anyway, if you don’t like this Rod guy, and he doesn’t like you, why should you take his word over Gina’s? After all, he’s got every reason to lie to you.”
“That’s what I keep telling myself,” I said. “I mean, I know it here”—I tapped my chest—“but I keep over-analyzing it, and I can’t help but wonder….”
“Do you trust Gina?”
“Then why don’t you trust her now? I mean, how long have you known her?”
“Since we were thirteen.”
“And you’ve know Rod for a couple of months?”
“More or less.”
“Then don’t be silly.”
I felt my eyebrows shoot up involuntarily.
“Sorry. I guess I’m too blunt sometimes. Another reason why my mom encourages me to draw; I’m a lot subtler with my hands. Anyway, that’s beside the point. You need to trust Gina. If she’s really your best friend, then you need to give her the benefit of the doubt. If she says she didn’t do… whatever… then you need to take her word for it. Has she ever lied to you before?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Then why would she start now?”
“So call her. Apologize. And tell her you’re sorry you didn’t call sooner.” Then, almost to herself, “I knew I should’ve said something sooner.” She looked into my eyes but then glanced away bashfully. “I just… I guess I had to work up the nerve to ask you. And… I didn’t want to do it around Wren. I knew you were really upset, and she’d just tease you before she realized that this was serious.”
“Thanks,” I said, genuinely grateful.
“Anyway,” she continued, “I knew it wasn’t between you and Kendall, or you and Wren, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on. And I was worried.”
“Well, now you know,” I said.
She nodded. “So… are you going to call Gina?”
“Good. ’Cause I’m sure she’s just as unhappy as you are.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Then don’t throw away your… friendship… because you were too proud—or too embarrassed—to call her and apologize.”
That night, I heeded Christy’s advice.
“Hi,” I said when Gina answered the phone.
We both paused, the silence deafening.
“Look, I’m sorry I—” “Paul, I swear, nothing—”
“Me first,” I finally said. Then I took a deep breath. “Look, I’m sorry I got angry. And I’m sorry I doubted you.”
“Paul, I swear, nothing happened in Vermont.”
“I know,” I said, with more conviction than I truly felt, Christy’s pep-talk notwithstanding.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the guys, but I didn’t know they were gonna be there until they showed up. Hayley and Regan invited them at the last minute, and—”
“You don’t have to explain,” I said.
“You’ve got to believe me, Paul… nothing happened.”
“I believe you.”
“You don’t sound like you do.”
She knows me too well, I thought. “I do. You’re my girlfriend. I love you, and I trust you. If something really did happen, you would’ve told me. So I’m sorry I doubted you.”
For a long moment we were silent.
“What made you think I had sex with Rod?” she finally asked.
“He’s in my Calculus class,” I explained, “and we sort of got into it last Friday.”
“Did he tell you we had sex?” she asked, incredulous. “Ha!”
“He came on to me, but I turned him down flat.”
“Yeah,” she said. “He even tried to get in the shower with me. But after that, I remembered to lock the bathroom door. I mean, he’s a total jerk. He thinks that just because he’s got a big dick, he’s God’s gift to women or something. I don’t know why Regan puts up with him. Well, I know why, but… I mean… um… anyway, Jess and I partied with everyone, but when things got really wild, we usually just watched.”
I knew I liked Jessica for a reason. “So you and Jess didn’t do anything with the guys?”
Something in her tone tickled the back of my brain, though. “Did you and Jess… I mean… um… did you two…?”
“It’s okay if you did,” I said. “You know how I feel about you and other girls.”
“Yeah,” Gina said, her voice soft. “We maybe fooled around a little.”
“You said you don’t care about other girls, remember?”
“But I didn’t do a thing with the guys. You’ve got to believe me. Ugh! Rusty’s okay, but still….”
“I believe you,” I said.
“So you’re not angry about Jess?”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” I said. “So what did happen with you and Jess?” I could almost hear her blushing. “Tell me,” I said, faux-stern.
“Jess’s boyfriend is a Beta, and he’s kinda straitlaced. They’re pretty serious, but he doesn’t want to have sex until they’re married. And he doesn’t want her to have any… um… you know… toys, either. He thinks they’re disgusting. What does he know, right? Well, needless to say, Jess doesn’t like the no-sex thing, but she’s in love with this guy, so…. Anyway, since I had Rocky with me, I offered to….”
Luckily, Billy was at an audition for a new play, so I had the room to myself. Since Gina was alone as well, she described the first time she and Jessica fooled around. I extracted my erection and started playing with myself. Mid-stroke, however, I realized that I was missing a golden opportunity.
“What’re you doing right now?” I asked, interrupting Gina’s description.
“I’m telling you about Jess,” she said, perplexed. “Weren’t you paying attention?”
“Of course I was paying attention. But do you know what else I was doing?”
“I bet I can guess.”
“Mmm hmm,” I said. “And do you think I’d be doing that if my roommate were here?”
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Meet me in the lobby?”
“I’ll be there in five minutes,” I said.
“Why so long?”
I laughed. “It’s gonna take me that long to stuff my hard-on back into my pants!”
“You seem like you’re in a better mood,” Trip said as we walked to class the next morning.
“Yeah, Gina and I had a big talk last night.”
“Is that what you were so upset about? Gina?”
“Things still haven’t improved, have they?” It was an accusation, not a question.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You want to have your cake and eat it too; you want both girls. But you still haven’t done anything to fix the situation.”
“That’s not what this was about,” I said. Then I told him a condensed version of the Vermont story, as well as Rod’s accusations.
“Holy shit. Do you think she really did anything with Rod?” Trip asked.
I shook my head vehemently. Probably a little too vehemently.
He recognized my uncertainty and whistled softly. “Boy, no wonder you were upset.”
“But you need to decide whether you believe her or not. If you trust her, then you need to act like it. Even I can tell that you’re not sure, and Gina probably knows you a helluva lot better than I do. But you still need to do something if you want to fix things with her and Kendall.”
“That doesn’t have anything to do with this,” I countered.
“Things’re getting better between the girls.”
“Ha! Are things really getting better? Or have you just convinced yourself that they might? For instance, I never see the three of you together anymore. And at breakfast, I can’t remember the last time I heard you mention Gina.”
“So? That’s ’cause Christy and Wren are there.”
“That’s only been in the past week.”
“Well, Abby’s there too, and—”
“Bullshit,” he said flatly. “Do you honestly think Abby doesn’t know what’s going on? She’s been Kendall’s roommate for years. C’mon, dude… she’s probably known about the three of you longer than I have.”
I tried not to recoil in alarm. “Do you really think Abby knows?”
“She knows,” he said. “She hasn’t said anything to me—she’s not like that—but I can tell. Trust me.”
“But how do you know? You can’t be sure. I mean—”
He cut me off with a gesture. “Dude… she knows. Take my word for it.”
I looked at him askance.
“You know,” he mused, “you’re the most stubborn person I know. And for all your experience with women, you sometimes miss the most obvious things. But it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. The point I was trying to make is that you’re living two separate lives: one with Kendall, and one with Gina.”
I scowled. “What? Do you and Abby sit around discussing us or something?”
“Well, duh! Of course we do. Kendall is Abby’s best friend, and you’re my best friend. And even though I don’t know Gina very well, she seems like a nice girl, and she deserves better than this. Kendall deserves better. Hell, my friend, you deserve better. You may be happy now, but it’s the calm before the storm. You sulked for a week about your fight with Gina. A week!
“And Kendall was walking on eggshells around you the whole time.” he continued. “Abby was worried sick, and you had me pretty worried too. Hell, even T.J. could see how upset you were.”
I stopped walking, shocked.
Trip nodded. “Why do you think he hasn’t been giving you shit during basketball practice? Yeah, he’s a smartass, but he’s not so bad once you get to know him.”
“You don’t know him as well as I do.”
“Maybe not, but your judgment is pretty questionable when your emotions are involved.” At that, he held up a placating hand to cut off my reply. “There’s nothing wrong with that, dude… as long as you realize it. I mean, you think Joska hates you, but you can’t see how much he pushes you to succeed.
“You think T.J. hates you,” he continued, “but he’s been pretty nice to you for the past week. Is that the sign of a guy who doesn’t like you? You don’t like Joska or T.J., so you think they don’t like you either. You see your emotions in their behavior.” He paused for a moment, letting his words sink in. “Your judgment’s a problem with Kendall and Gina, too.”
“How?” I asked, my brow beetled suspiciously.
“You love them, so you want to think that things are working, but they’re not. I’m telling you, things’re headed for disaster. And you’re not doing shit about it. I know you’re probably gonna get angry with me, but that’s tough shit. Somebody needs to tell you the truth, since you won’t admit it yourself. And if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to call myself your friend. Friends don’t tell you what you want to hear, they tell you what you need to hear.”
“So you think you’re my friend?!”
“I know I’m your friend. I know it like I knew I was in love the first time I saw Lori.”
“And look how right you were about that!”
He abruptly stopped walking.
I immediately felt guilty and turned to face him. “Look,” I said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Maybe I was wrong about you after all.”
At the thought of not having Trip as a friend—my best friend—my stomach knotted. “No,” I said apologetically, “you’re not. At least I hope you’re not.” After a long pause, I continued. “Maybe you’re telling me what I need to hear, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“You wouldn’t be human if you did,” he said simply. “Look, maybe I don’t have all the answers, but I can see this train wreck from a mile away. And I’ve told you before, you’re not going to solve any of your problems by sitting on your ass.”
“I’m not exactly sitting on my ass.”
“Then what have you done to fix your relationship? Besides hope, I mean.”
“You may not like the truth,” Trip said softly, “but that doesn’t make it any less true. Look, dude, I’m just trying to tell you what I see. What Abby sees, too. Yeah, we’ve talked about it, because we care about you and Kendall. And Gina too, I guess. But you’re the center of this messed-up love triangle, and you’re the only one who can fix it… or change it. But you can’t keep doing nothing.”
I sighed heavily.
“Man, if you don’t do something, you’re only hurting everyone involved.”
“But I can’t make that choice.”
“Indecision is a choice, but it’s hardly a good one. Things might be fine… now. But what about the next time something happens between you and Gina? Or you and Kendall, for that matter? And you said the girls used to get along great, they even… you know… did it with each other. But what happens if they get in a fight? Not a silent-treatment fight… a real screaming match. What then? How long will you sulk? I’m serious, dude. You can’t keep doing nothing.”
“I know,” I said, so softly that I almost didn’t hear my own words.
“And while I’m giving you shit,” he said, starting toward the A&A building once again, “you gotta start eating right. It’s really bugging Kendall. She worries about you. Besides, I think she’s right. You don’t eat enough and you exercise too much. Hell, I eat twice as much as you, and I’ve lost five pounds since we started working out.”
“Listen,” I said, emotionally drained, “lemme deal with one crisis at a time. Okay?”
“Fair enough,” he said. Then he leaned close, as an aside, “Although I think the next crisis is the fact that we’re fifteen minutes late for class.”
I looked at my watch in shock.
“Hey, man,” he said, smiling as he clapped me on the shoulder, “some things are more important than class.”
When Professor Vajpayee faced the class, I could usually tell what he was saying. But when he wrote on the chalkboard while he lectured, his speech became almost incomprehensible. I was struggling to take notes when something hit me in the back of the head.
I looked down at the crumpled wad of paper and then shook my head at Rod and Neil’s juvenile antics. I thought about turning and flipping them the bird, but decided not to give them the satisfaction. So I started taking notes again, concentrating on Professor Vajpayee’s almost-English.
Another crumpled piece of paper hit me and then a few minutes later, a third. At that, I deliberately turned, my temper flaring. Neil smirked. Rod simply raised his eyebrows in challenge.
The bell to end class rang before I could say anything. As the other students filed out of the room, I stood and blocked the aisle, cutting off Rod and Neil. When the two Pikes looked at me defiantly, I forced a smile (even though I was boiling inside).
“Listen, guys, let’s let bygones be bygones,” I said. Then I extended my hand. “Okay?”
They sneered at me.
“No hard feelings?” I said again, trying to appear as genuine as possible, my hand still outstretched.
“Shake his hand,” Rod said to Neil, laughing arrogantly.
When Neil tentatively took my hand, I half-growled and pulled him close, my grip tightening.
He grimaced in pain and bit back a yelp.
“Don’t fuck with me, frat boy,” I hissed, my hand inexorably crushing his.
“Hey!” Rod cried.
Since Neil was incapacitated with pain, I flashed Rod a withering glare. “And the same goes for you, buttfucker. I’m tired of putting up with your shit. If you fuck with me, you’ll regret it. Are we clear?”
Neil sagged to his knees, but I didn’t relent.
“I said, ‘are we clear,’ mister?!”
Neil gasped in pain.
Rod’s eyes darted to his friend and then back to me. One look at my murderous expression convinced him not to take a swing at me. “Let go of him!” he said instead.
“Are… we… clear?” Out of spite, I ground Neil’s hand.
Rod glared at me, mute with fury.
At that point, I realized that he wasn’t going to back down, no matter how much I hurt his friend, so I looked at Neil and repeated my question.
“We’re clear!” he cried, his voice thready with pain. “We’re clear. Okay?”
I released him and he crumpled to the floor, clutching his right hand.
“I mean it,” I said to Rod. “Don’t fuck with me.”
“Fuck you, asshole.”
I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him close. He tried to fend me off, but I was far too strong. I thrust my face into his and—
“What’s going on in here?!”
Rod and I didn’t separate, but we both looked toward the voice. An older man, a professor, stood in the doorway.
With a mutual glare, Rod and I let go of each other.
“I said, ‘what’s going on in here?’”
“Nothing,” Rod said immediately, abiding by the universal “no snitching” code among guys.
“Yeah,” I said, “my friend just dropped his books.”
In truth, Neil had dropped his books when I started crushing his hand.
“We were just helping him pick them up,” Rod added. With that, he reached down to suit action to words. When he stood, he flashed me a venomous look.
I returned it with sanguine malice.
“I guess we’d better get going now,” I said to him.
He helped Neil to his feet.
Once in the hall, we all felt the professor’s eyes upon us.
“If you ever pull that shit again,” Rod hissed, “I’ll fucking kill you.”
“Try it, Rod,” I whispered through a rictus smile, “and I’ll break every bone in your body.”
Behind us, the professor was still staring at our retreating backs.
With that, I turned and headed down the stairs. At the landing I glanced back and saw Rod gently examining his friend’s hand.
I didn’t think I’d broken it, but I savagely decided that Neil deserved it if I had.
“What happened with you and Rod?” Gina practically shouted when I called her after wrestling practice. It was date night, and I was looking forward to seeing her. At the sound of her voice, however, something within me hardened.
“What do you mean?” I asked, affecting nonchalance.
“Rod says you jumped Neil and broke his hand. And now he’s talking about coming over to your room with a bunch of Pikes to beat you up.”
“What happened? You didn’t jump Neil, did you?”
“No,” I said, unwilling to give more detail. Gina hated it when I reacted with violence, and she’d only scold me if I told her what happened.
“Then how did he break his hand?” she asked, her tone full of suspicion.
“He broke his hand?” I asked disingenuously.
“Two metacarpals. He’s wearing a splint.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”
“You are not. What happened?”
I didn’t reply.
“Paul Hughes,” she said, “what did you do?”
“What time do you wanna go to dinner?” I asked.
“Answer my question.”
“I need to shower first. So… pick you up at seven?”
“Okay, that sounds great,” I said. “I’ll see you in the lobby at seven.” With that, I hung up.
Gina was waiting for me at seven o’clock, but she was not happy.
“What did you do, Paul?” she asked, her dark eyes glittering angrily.
“Nothing more than he deserved.”
“Paul, you broke his hand.”
“That’s not the point.”
I stared at her, surly and impassive.
“Are you ready to go to dinner?”
“So that’s it? You’re not going to tell me?”
“I was thinking Chinese,” I said. “Or maybe pizza. What do you think?”
“Paul, this is serious. Initiation Week starts tomorrow, and if Rod wants me blackballed, he can do it.”
“Yeah, Chinese sounds good.”
“Are you listening to me?”
I nodded. “But I don’t wanna talk about it. I want to go to dinner.”
“So that’s the way you’re going to be?! Fine!”
Dinner was tense. Gina was angry about my altercation with Rod and Neil, and more so about my steadfast refusal to discuss it.
In retrospect, I think I was angry with Gina as well. I still didn’t fully believe her about the Vermont trip, and I guess I was being a jerk on purpose. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it at the time. Gina realized it all too well. When we got back to the dorm, she headed for South Carrick without so much as saying goodnight.
“Don’t you want to come up?” I asked, nodding toward my side of the building. I don’t know what I expected, but I thought she was being rude by simply walking away.
Before she could answer, the doors from North Carrick flew open with a clatter.
“There he is!”
I whirled to find myself facing a group of Pikes, led by Rod. Neil straggled through the door behind them. As Gina had said, he was wearing a splint.
Under the stark glow of the breezeway lights, I glared at Rod. Since he was backed by his fraternity brothers, he didn’t retreat from my withering expression.
“What do you want, Rod?” I finally asked.
“Yeah, I heard that about you,” I mocked. “You like fucking guys in the ass. Or is it the other way around?”
Beside me, Gina stiffened. “What are you doing here, Rod?” she asked.
“This doesn’t have anything to do with you, Gina,” he said. “We’re gonna kick his ass.”
“All five of you?” I taunted. “So you’re too much of a pussy to fight me by yourself?”
“I don’t need them to kick your ass, faggot.”
“Then why’d you bring ’em?”
“To make sure you fight fair,” he said. “I told ’em how you jumped Neil outta nowhere.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it.”
“Hey, Loverboy, what’s going on?”
I tried to hide my surprise as T.J. stepped up beside me. A half-second later, someone moved Gina aside and I felt Glen’s presence where she’d been.
“What’s going on, T.J.?” a girl asked, from somewhere behind us.
“We’ll be with you in a sec, babe,” T.J. said. Then he turned back to Rod. “So, Richie Rich, are you lost? Slumming with us poor folk? Or were you and your boyfriends just out for an evening stroll?”
The Pikes collectively glared.
“Yeah, Rod,” I jeered, “what the fuck were you and your boyfriends gonna do?”
“Cool it,” Glen said quietly.
My blood coursed with adrenaline, but I reluctantly admitted that Glen was right. What did I think I was going to do, start a brawl with five Pikes?
As the tableau drew out, people were beginning to stare, drawn by the confrontation. We were sure to draw the attention of a passing RA sooner or later.
As if on cue, the doors to North Carrick swung open behind Rod and his gang. Wade, the Hall Director, strode into view.
“What’s going on here?” he asked. Then he caught sight of me. When he looked at Rod and the Pikes, he frowned. “Do you live here?”
“Do we look like dorm fags?” one of them said derisively. “C’mon, Rod, let’s get outta here. These assholes aren’t worth our time.”
“I’ll show you who’s worth your time, rich boy,” T.J. snapped. Before he could move, Wade stepped between the two groups.
I put my hand in front of T.J., blocking his path. (Some part of my brain still had a grip on rational thought.)
“Okay, gentlemen,” Wade said, “the party’s over. Everyone, go home.”
Rod and the Pikes didn’t move.
“Or I could call the Campus Police,” Wade added. “I’m sure they’ll be kind enough to escort you off the premises.”
“C’mon, Rod, let’s get outta here,” Neil said from the back of the group. “Fuck him anyway. And fuck Gina too, the slut.”
At that, I saw red, and launched myself across the gap between our two groups. To my utter surprise, I stopped abruptly, choking on my shirt as Glen’s massive fist gripped my collar, holding me back.
“We don’t want no trouble,” he said to the group at large. Then, to Neil: “But one more crack from you, and I’ll teach you some manners myself.”
Neil visibly wilted.
I straightened and took a half-step back to ease the pressure on my windpipe.
After another tense moment, Wade repeated his demand for the Pikes to leave.
“This isn’t over,” Rod said, glaring at me.
“Yes, it is,” Wade said. “If I see you near my dorm again tonight, I’m calling the Campus Police.”
“Fuck you, man,” Rod said, sneering. “I own the Campus Police.” Wade didn’t reply, and Rod eventually turned to his fraternity brothers. “C’mon. Let’s get the fuck outta here.”
As they walked to their cars, Wade turned to me. “I’m not going to ask what that was about,” he said, “but you should know better, Paul. And that goes for you too, T.J.”
I simply stood there, mute.
T.J. bristled, but didn’t say anything.
Then Wade thanked Glen with a slight nod.
Glen inclined his head, taciturn as ever.
“All right then, I’ll let you gentlemen go back to your dates,” Wade said, including the girls with a glance. Then, his expression stern, he made eye contact with T.J. and me in turn. “I trust this business is over?”
“It’s over,” Glen rumbled, the voice of finality.
After a strained moment, T.J. and I nodded. With that, Wade headed into the dorm.
Gina came up to me as two girls moved toward T.J. and Glen.
“What was that about?” one of them asked T.J.
“Just some rich boys who shouldn’t’ve messed with us, babe,” he said. “Ain’t that right, Loverboy?”
I stared at him for a moment, a little dazed by the sudden release of tension.
“Man, what the fuck?” he groused when I didn’t reply. Then he shook his head in annoyance and headed for the dorm with his date in tow. Before he opened the door, I called his name, and he turned.
“Um… thanks, man,” I said.
He gazed at me for a moment and then nodded, almost reluctantly.
Without saying another word, he entered the building.
Gina silently hugged me.
I suppressed a tremor from the after-effects of the adrenaline.
“Don’t ever scare me like that,” she whispered, tears flowing. When she finally looked up, she closed her eyes and lifted her chin for a kiss.
I bent my head and brought my lips to hers.
She returned the kiss with a lot more passion than I expected. Then she practically dragged me toward South Carrick. Upstairs, she didn’t waste time with preliminaries. She simply kissed me—hard—and started pulling off my clothes. Our sex was fast and intense; I didn’t even break a sweat until after my orgasm.
With a bit of jockeying in the single bed, I rolled to my back and Gina hugged herself to my side, both of us breathing hard.
“I thought you were angry with me,” I said.
“I am. You were a real jerk at dinner. But I’m also scared about what Rod’ll do.”
“I’m not,” I said. “What can he do to me?”
“Maybe you’re not worried about yourself,” Gina said, “but what about me? You can’t stop him from blackballing me. I mean, I’m still a pledge, at least until next Saturday. After ‘I’ week, I’ll be a full sister. And then it’ll be almost impossible for Rod to do anything. But until then….” She sighed in disgust. “Anyway, that’s not the point. I’m still worried about what he’ll do. You don’t understand, Paul, he’s like a spoiled child. He’s had money all his life, and no one’s ever said no to him.”
“I’ll say no to him. Hard.”
“And that’s what I’m worried about. You can’t solve every problem with violence.”
“I know,” I said reluctantly.
“And if he blackballs me now, I’ll never get into Chi O. And I’ll have wasted an entire quarter. I’ll also lose all my friends. I mean, who am I supposed to hang out with? Faith? Ha! Kendall? Not likely.” Then her mood changed. “She still doesn’t wanna have anything to do with me, does she?”
“It’s not that….”
“Then what is it?”
“Did you tell her that I wanted to get together with her? With you two?”
My guilty silence was answer enough.
“Paul?! Can’t you see what this is doing to us?”
“I know,” I said softly, weakly.
“Then do something about it. Talk to her. If she won’t listen, then….”
“Then what?” I asked hotly. “Break up with her?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But that’s what you meant.”
“I did not! Don’t put words in my mouth.”
“The words were in your brain before I put ’em in your mouth,” I said.
“No they weren’t!”
“Listen,” I said, sitting up suddenly, “I’m not going to break up with Kendall, and that’s final.” Then, angrily, I started gathering my clothes.
“I didn’t say to break up with her. I just meant—”
“You might not’ve said it, but you were thinking it!”
“I was not! You don’t know what I was thinking.”
“Whatever,” I said caustically. “I gotta go.”
“So that’s it? You’re just leaving?”
With that, I left, my shirt still unbuttoned and un-tucked. Once again, a corner of my brain realized that I was unescorted in the female dorm, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t about to break up with Kendall—the very thought left a knot in my stomach—no matter how much Gina wanted me to.
When I got back to my room, I flung the door open. Before I could close it, T.J. called to me from his side of the suite. Then he appeared in his door. From the sound of things, he and Glen were partying with their dates.
“We sure showed them, huh, Loverboy?” he said, exuberant.
“T.J., I’m really not in the mood.”
“Man, what the fuck is your problem?”
“You, T.J.,” I said, lashing out. “You’re my problem.”
Before he could rush me, Glen grabbed him from behind and easily wrestled him back into their room.
I heard T.J. cursing at me from within.
A moment later Glen appeared in the foyer and then deliberately shut his door behind him.
“He was just trying to be nice to you,” the big man said. “Why’d you have to go and be a jerk?”
I bit back a hot reply.
Glen waited silently.
“Look,” I said, my emotions beginning to cool, “I’m sorry. I’ve had a rough night, okay?”
Glen nodded. “But you’d better figure out who your friends are.” Then, in a rare burst of conversation, he continued. “And those guys tonight, those Pikes, they could cause you a lot of trouble. Your Chi O friend, too. You shouldn’t mess with ’em. And you definitely shouldn’t provoke ’em.”
“So… what?” I asked semi-rhetorically. “Should I let ’em do whatever they want? Should I turn the other cheek? I’m not a pussy.”
He looked at me for a long, hard moment, as if considering his next words carefully. “Do you think I’m a pussy?”
“Do you think I’m a pussy?”
“No, of course not.”
“But I turn the other cheek. Whenever I can, that is. Does that make me a pussy?”
“No, Glen, but that’s not what I—”
“I know what you meant,” he said, cutting me off, “but you’re wrong. I’m not a pussy, but what good does it do to provoke them?”
I set my jaw, but didn’t answer, because I knew he was right.
“Self-discipline is more important than settling a score. That Pike will never stop. For everything you do to him, he’ll do something worse in return. Guys like him don’t have self-discipline, and they’re weak. So why do you wanna be like him?” He regarded me levelly for a moment before his usual quiet nature reasserted itself. After a meaningful look, he returned to his room.
Back in my own room, I changed into a pair of workout shorts. Then I dragged out my barbell.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Glen’s words out of my mind. I didn’t want to be like the Pikes, but I couldn’t escape the conclusion that by taunting them, I’d done just that.
I could delude myself by saying that Rod had deserved it (not to mention Neil), but was that really true? And what good had it done? I got the satisfaction of goading them, but that would probably cause trouble in the long run. Worse still, it might cause trouble for Gina.
At the thought of Gina, I went back over the past week in my mind. I wanted to trust her about the Vermont trip, but a tiny part of me still wondered if Rod might have been telling the truth.
Doubt is an insidious thing. Once planted, the seeds grow in silence, unseen. If I didn’t deal with my doubts about Gina’s fidelity, they’d consume me and poison our relationship. They already were poisoning our relationship.
My own guilt over Felicia didn’t help, either. Kendall would call it a defense mechanism: when I felt guilty, I got angry. I felt guilty about my night with Felicia, so I went on the offensive. In the repetitive calm of my workout, I realized what I was doing. But that didn’t make it any easier to change my behavior in the heat of the moment.
Maybe Glen had been right after all. Maybe I didn’t have as much self-discipline as I thought. I didn’t like admitting it, but I was too honest with myself not to.
Polonius, I cursed silently.
As I switched to doing shoulder presses, my thoughts turned to my conversation with Trip (which seemed like a lifetime before, but had only been that morning).
He was right, I did need to fix things.
Or I need to change them, I mused sullenly.
When I thought about breaking up with either girlfriend, I faltered and almost dropped the heavy barbell. But if I couldn’t get Kendall and Gina to talk to each other, things would only get worse, and I’d have to make a choice.
Decision and action are two different things, though. If I did choose, would I have the courage to actually break up with one of the girls?
That question weighed on me almost as much as the choice itself.