Undecided, page 18
“Why was the door locked? There’s someone in that stall, man.”
“Is there? I hadn’t noticed.”
“You probably freaked him out!”
The accusation fades as Crosbie hustles him away. I count to twenty and hurry out of the men’s room, lucky not to encounter anyone coming in. The show lasts another half hour and though Crosbie’s sitting with the track team in row two, we’re so swamped with last minute food and drink orders that we don’t get another chance to talk.
The open mic wraps up at ten-thirty and once everybody’s gone, it takes another forty-five minutes for us to get the shop restored. We refold a hundred folding chairs, mop a thousand muddy footprints from the floor, and drag tables and art displays back into place. Celestia sits in the corner reading a book, and Marcela’s only slightly more helpful as she works with one hand while texting constantly with the other.
“We’re going out,” she announces at one point.
Everyone looks at her. “You’re all welcome,” she says after a second, but points to me. “But you’re definitely coming.”
“Marvin’s.” She names the popular nearby pub. “That’s where Kellan and the other track guys are, celebrating Crosbie’s big night. He wants us to join them.”
She’s obviously expecting me to turn her down, and though I’m tired, I really want to see Crosbie. I’ll just be mindful of keeping my clothes on, enforcing a two-drink maximum, and steering clear of any camera phones so Dean Ripley doesn’t wind up with a digital track record of tonight’s festivities to show my dad.
“Sure,” I say with a shrug that’s far more casual than I feel. “I can come for a bit.” As soon as I agree my phone buzzes with a text from Kellan bearing the same instructions.
Be there soon, I type back.
He responds with a smiley face, and fifteen minutes later he’s beaming at me in person and pressing a bottle of beer into my hand. “We’re going to party, Nora!” he sings. “And it’s going to be so fun!”
I glance around at the sea of blue and orange Burnham athletics jackets. The crowd is so thick I can barely tell them apart, never mind find Crosbie in the throng.
“Is he here?” Kellan whispers, dipping his head so his lips brush my ear. “Who is it? You can tell me.” He looks at the bartender, a guy in his late twenties with five facial piercings. “That guy? Interesting.”
“Wrong,” I reply. “As always.”
“I’ll figure it out soon enough.”
His attention is stolen by something over my shoulder, and I don’t need to look to know it’s Marcela. She’s stripped off the sweater she wore at the shop to reveal a sheer black camisole with lace trim and twisted her bleached hair into a sloppy bun on top of her head. Add a fresh coat of red lipstick and she looks like every guy’s fantasy of a naughty librarian.
Nate’s fantasy, in particular, never mind the fact that his date is also blond and has an actual book in her hand. He looks agitated as he watches Kellan and Marcela hug and kiss chastely on the lips, though to be honest, the gesture looks more like estranged cousins coming together at a funeral. For two people I know to have fairly extensive sexual track records, their libidos really don’t seem to be very much in sync.
“Hey,” comes a breathless voice from over my shoulder.
I turn around to see Crosbie holding two bottles of the beer we’d had on Halloween. He’s unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a tight wife beater underneath, and I want so badly to run my hands under that shirt, feel the contrast of smooth warm skin and hard muscle and know that it’s mine to explore. But I can’t.
“Hey.” I return the smile even as his falters when he sees the beer in my hand. “Kellan,” I explain. “He just gave it to me.”
“Crosbie!” Two guys from the track team approach, arms slung around each other’s shoulders. “We figured it out, the way you tore that card in half and then repaired it.” A dramatic pause. “You had another card somewhere.”
Crosbie shakes his head. “A good magician never reveals his secrets.”
The guys nod in unison, though they’re obviously disappointed. “Right, man. You have a code. That’s cool.”
The pair leaves, but before Crosbie and I can speak, Marcela and Kellan take their place. “Let’s dance!” Marcela exclaims, bouncing on her toes to eye the writhing dance floor that makes up half the pub.
“C’mon!” Kellan grips Crosbie’s wrist. “You remember Miss Maryland from Halloween? She’s here and she still wants to meet you. Don’t blow this!”
Crosbie shoots me a helpless look before Kellan steals both bottles of beer and sticks them in my free hand. “For safe keeping!” he shouts, then the trio disappears into the crowd.
I watch them go, chastising myself for feeling disappointed. I’m the one who wants to keep Crosbie and me a secret. I’m the one making it so we can’t hold each other’s hands and drag each other onto the dance floor. I’m also the one standing here alone, feeling like an idiot.
“I’ve heard of double fisting,” says a voice from over my shoulder, “but triple fisting? I guess you’re on a mission.”
I glance up to see Max—the Walking Douche—grinning down at me. He’s already got a drink of his own and I hold up my three. “Think you can keep up?”
He laughs. “With you? I’m not sure.”
“Were you at the coffee shop? I didn’t see you.”
“I was,” he says. “It was great. I didn’t know you worked there.”
“Yeah, a few nights a week. I—”
The song changes to something fast and popular, and everyone cheers, crowding onto the floor. “Come on,” Max says, clinking one of my bottles with his. “Drink up and let’s dance.”
What am I going to do? Insist on lingering on the perimeter and safeguarding the drinks? “Sounds good,” I say. I down half a bottle, then stick the trio on a nearby table and let Max lead me onto the dance floor. It’s been far too long since I’ve just let go, and it’s fun. It’s not hard to gravitate toward the track team since half of them are still wearing their jackets, and soon we’re part of a big, writhing circle of bodies, all moving to the same up tempo beat.
I didn’t have anything to change into so I’m still in my skinny jeans and long-sleeve top from work. I feel sweat beading along my nape and gathering in the small of my back, but I don’t stop, not when one song turns into two which turns into five. Because even though Max is beside me, his hand occasionally grazing my hip or my shoulder, it’s Crosbie I’m watching, and he’s watching me. On the opposite side of the circle, Miss Maryland doing her best to steal his focus, he’s dancing too. This is as near as we can get, thanks to my whole secretiveness kick, the reasons for which I’m having a lot of trouble remembering at the moment. Because he looks so hot, six feet away, his eyes searing me all over, stopping on parts of my body that so desperately want to feel more than his gaze.
But this is as close as we come for the rest of the night, just two casual acquaintances in a group that gradually dwindles until it’s one o’clock and time for last call. Soon the four of us—Kellan, Crosbie, Marcela and I—are huddled on the sidewalk, shivering in the cold as Kellan confirms that everybody’s okay to drive.
Crosbie looks at me in frustration, but there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. Kellan and I live together—it would be weird if I insisted on getting a ride with someone else. We all hug goodnight, and Crosbie squeezes my hip harder than necessary, a promise or a warning or something in between. I shoot him an apologetic look he returns with a look of his own, one that clearly says, “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
But if I invite him over I’m breaking my promise to Kellan, and if I go to the frat house I’m a Crosbabe. There’s a clear lesser-of-two-evils option here, but I’m not ready to pick it.
“Bye, guys.” Kellan and I wave and trudge down the slippery sidewalk to his car, parked a block over.
“Do you want me to drive
“Nah,” he says. “I’m good. I didn’t have anything.”
I look up at him in surprise, belatedly realizing I never saw him drink anything other than water the whole night. “Why not?”
He shrugs, leaving his shoulders hunched up to ward against the cold. “Just not in the mood.”
I think about his strangely asexual relationship with Marcela. Just how many things is he not “in the mood” for? I wonder but don’t dare ask, not sure what I’d do with the answer.
Ten minutes later we’re back in our apartment, still shivering as we head into our separate rooms to get ready for bed. I’m finally tucked in and reaching up to turn off the light when my phone buzzes. Even as I reach for it, I know who it is. What I can’t predict is what he’ll say.
I tap the message and stare at the three little words that fill the screen.
I miss you.
The next afternoon I return home from the library, shivering from the below freezing weather outside. Kellan’s normally never around at this hour, so it’s a surprise to find him lying on the couch with a damp face cloth covering his eyes, a notebook clutched to his chest. If you picture a male model trying to look both stressed and reflective and doing a terrible job of both, Kellan is exactly that guy. Except he’s utterly sincere.
I unwind my thick wool scarf and hang it and my jacket on the back of one of the dining chairs before dropping my backpack and heading into the living room.
“Hey,” I say softly. “Are you sick?”
He’s completely still for a moment, then slowly shakes his head.
“Are you…pondering something?”
His lips quirk and he shakes his head again. He doesn’t move much, but I notice his fingers tightening their grip on the notebook as though there’s any reason I might be tempted to steal it.
“Do you want to be left alone?”
A longer pause, then another head shake. Eventually he reaches up to remove the cloth. His eyes are slightly red, otherwise he looks fine, as always.
I perch on the edge of the coffee table. “What’s going on?”
He inhales heavily and tries to meet my eye but can’t, so instead focuses on the ceiling. “Have you ever…” He trails off, inhales again, and reattempts. “Have you ever thought about your life and realized you were just really stupid?”
I flash back to the whole of last year. “Yes.”
He looks surprised. “Really?”
“Yeah. Why do you think I’m spending all this time at the library? Studying my ass off? Choosing to spend Friday night at home instead of out with friends?”
“I thought you didn’t have any friends.”
I punch his knee. “Ass.”
He grins and slowly sits up. “I just thought you were a bookworm. Not that that’s a bad thing,” he’s quick to add. “That’s why I asked you to move in. So your good behavior would rub off on me.” He winces briefly, then tries to hide it.
“And did it?” I ask. “Are you failing a class? Is that what this is about?” I nod at the notebook and he clenches it more tightly.
“Were you happy?”
“When? Last year?” I shrug. “Yeah. I had a good time.”
But he’s shaking his head. “No, this year. When you were ‘being good.’ Before you met this mystery guy. Were you happy not…doing things?”
I feel like a contestant on one of those game shows where you have to match up the pictures to slowly reveal a riddle underneath. I’m turning over panels but none of the clues are making sense. Not sleeping with Marcela. Not drinking last night. Protecting that notebook. Still, I play along and furrow my brow, recalling the Crosbie-free days between moving in and Halloween night. “I was happy,” I answer, trying to be honest. “But I was also bored.”
He swallows and nods, like he’s trying to convince himself. “There are worse things, right? Than being bored?”
“Of course there are. Kellan, what’s going on?”
He groans and runs a hand through his hair. “Nora, I fucked up.”
“Is it your grades?”
I rack my brain. “Problems with the track team?”
“Kellan, I’m really not—”
“Don’t judge me,” he interrupts. “Please.” He looks so legitimately panicked that I start to panic. Kellan’s living the college dream: every girl wants him, every guy wants to be him. If something’s wrong in his world, we’re all screwed.
“I won’t,” I promise, hoping it’s true.
“I have…” He takes a deep breath. “I mean, I don’t have, but I did have… I had…gonorrhea.” He looks like he’s about to pass out.
“You have an STI?” I echo, startled.
“Had,” he’s quick to clarify. “I started feeling weird so I went to the doctor and got some antibiotics and now it’s gone. I had it. Now I don’t.” His eyes are so wide, his words so rushed, he could easily be talking about a government conspiracy while wearing a tin foil hat.
Slowly more puzzle pieces turn over, the unexpected mystery becoming clear. “That’s why you and Marcela aren’t…”
He waves a hand vaguely, as though that’s only part of the issue. “Eh.”
“And why you didn’t drink last night?”
“Does Crosbie know?”
He pinches his brow. “No. At first I was embarrassed and then he was so anxious about the open mic night that I didn’t want to add to his problems.”
“So what’s the notebook for?”
He sighs and stares at it. “It’s a list.”
“Of?” I’m wondering how many STIs he may have had.
“Girls,” he answers, putting an end to that theory. “The doctor said symptoms normally show up within a few weeks, but sometimes they can take months. And since I’ve had a few…partners, I don’t know where or when I got it. I’m supposed to contact every girl I’ve been with and let them know they need to get tested.”
I think about the very lengthy lists on the bathroom walls in the Student Union building. “That’s awkward.”
He turns the notebook around so I can see. The list is two columns long and there are approximately fifty names. And four blank spaces.
Now I’m the one who needs a hot compress.
“A few months,” I say, trying to sound casual. “You’ve been with all those girls since September?”
“I’m going back to January,” he says soberly. “Just to be on the safe side.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little excessive?” I’m desperately trying not to sound, well, desperate. Because even though we’d used a condom during our poorly thought-out closet session, my name—or rather, my blank space—is on that list. I’m pretty sure I don’t have anything, but I’m most definitely feverish. And nauseous. What are the symptoms of gonorrhea?
I blink and realize he’s said my name a few times.
“Sorry.” I shake my head. “I’m just…glad you’re okay.”
“Me too. Though I’m going to have a lot of awkward phone calls to make. And some intense Facebook stalking. I mean, I don’t even remember a lot of these girls. That’s terrible, isn’t it?”
Speaking from experience, it certainly is. Until it works in your favor. I squint at the list and realize some of the entries aren’t names at all, but notes. Kitchen at Beta Theta Pi house party. Pool at community center. Redhead from science lab.
Kellan rubs his hands over his face and stares at me beseechingly. “When the doctor asked how many girls I’d been with and I took a minute to count, he gave me a look.”
“Yeah. A disapproving look.” He gives me just such a look now, as an example. It’s mostly funny
“He was shaming me!”
I try not to laugh. I mean, he’s free to do whatever and whomever he pleases, but that list isn’t exactly bolstering his self-righteous case at the moment. Instead of responding I slump onto the floor, wrapping my arms around my bent legs. I’m feeling too many things right now. I’m surprised Kellan confided in me; not surprised he caught something over the course of fifty-plus random hookups. I’m worried I might have something; relieved he’ll never be able to figure out I’m one of those blank spaces. Nervous he might try to figure it out; confident he never will.
“I’m glad you told me,” I say, when I realize he’s waiting for me to say something. “And you have nothing to be ashamed of.” I’m not a great actress and it takes everything I have to utter those words with a straight face. “If there’s anything I can do to help, just let me know.”
“Don’t tell anyone,” he says quickly. “That’s the only thing. I’m going to work on figuring out how to find these girls, then…it’ll be over.”
“Over,” I repeat. “Excellent.” I don’t point out that somehow, over the course of fifty-plus notifications, the likelihood of this secret slipping out grows exponentially.
The confession seems to have lifted a serious weight from his shoulders because he finally grins at me, a big, unburdened smile. “Thanks, Nora,” he says. “I’m glad you’re here. Too bad we didn’t meet sooner, huh? Maybe then I wouldn’t be in this mess.”
* * *
I normally work on Tuesday afternoons, but I have an archaeology paper due on Friday so I’d booked the day off to give myself time to prepare. Instead of heading straight home after my morning class, however, I bike over to the student health center for a hastily-made appointment. Even though I know that the odds of having an STI are slim—I’ve been with six guys and always used condoms—I’m still shaking when I pee in a cup and hand it to a nurse who promises to call with the results in a few days.
By the time I get home I’m only slightly calmer than I was, and the last thing I want to find is Kellan and Crosbie huddled at the dining table poring over Kellan’s sex-partner notebook. Fuck. Another thing I shouldn’t really worry about, but most definitely will. Because with the exception of a positive test result, the last thing I want is for Crosbie to help Kellan cross names off his long list of sexcapades, knowing that mine is supposed to be on there.
Other author's books:
- Team PlayerUndeclared (Burnham College #2)The Good Fight (Time Served Book 3)
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