Undecided, p.7

Undecided, page 7

 

Undecided
 



Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode


  But I haven’t been drunk since the night I got arrested, and I haven’t had sex since then either, which puts me firmly at the four-month mark of my sexual hiatus and I have to say…I miss it. Especially when every time I see Kellan he’s shirtless or sweaty or eating or playing video games—whatever the guy does, it’s sexy. What’s worse, of course, is knowing that every time I close my eyes, the guy I picture leaning in to kiss me isn’t Kellan at all.

  I know I’m lonely. And with the exception of Nate, who’s among the legions of men lusting after Marcela, Crosbie’s the only guy I’ve really talked to or hung out with in eons. And as weird as it is, I’ve kind of missed him this past week. I’d gotten used to coming home from work and finding him camped out on the couch, eyes glazed as he blows up cars and robs banks with Kellan, tearing his gaze away long enough to spare a smile, switching that intense focus from the TV to me, just for a second. Which is all it takes to kick my hormones into gear and wish he’d do so much more.

  The moans are increasing, mostly from the female half of the equation, and they’re muffled now, like he’s covering her mouth. Nate and I are tucked back in the corner near the balcony, so unless they’d scoped out the floor or spotted us from the ground level, they have every reason to think they’re alone.

  Nate scribbles something on a piece of paper. Ten bucks says it’s Kellan and a blonde.

  That’s kind of like putting your money on Meryl Streep being nominated for an Oscar.

  He writes again. Go look.

  I swallow a laugh. No. Two emphatic underlines.

  Chicken.

  I’m boring now, remember?

  I certainly do. Zzz.

  I kick him under the table and he yelps.

  I dare you, he writes. Triple double dog dare you.

  “How old are you?” I hiss.

  He leans in. “Not a hundred and five like you’ve been acting.”

  I recoil, offended. “I have not—”

  “You’re killing yourself. If you’re not going to do anything fun, the least you can do is spy on the people who are and report back to me.”

  “I think you have some kind of once-removed voyeur fetish.”

  He grins. “Guilty.”

  But I really don’t need any more prompting. You can’t get arrested for accidentally noticing a couple getting it on in the library. It’ll only take a minute, my grades won’t suffer. No phone calls to my parents, the Dean, or the police. What’s the harm?

  Plus I’m so bored.

  I inch back my chair and stand, my sneakers making no sound on the worn old carpet. The moans increase as I approach the aisle stuffed with books on capitalism, and I glance over my shoulder at Nate. He gives me the thumbs up as I turn one aisle before the lovebirds and crouch as I creep along. Halfway down I spot two pairs of legs—one in denim, one barely covered by a miniskirt—and I ease closer, their heavy breathing more than masking any noise my approach might make. Hell, I could topple over a shelf and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t interrupt the makeout.

  I’m about twenty books away when the female half of the equation moans, “Oh, Crosbie.”

  His low chuckle, the one I’ve been missing all week, is immediately, terribly, unwelcome. My skin prickles with nauseating goose bumps and I feel a strange, achy clench in my chest.

  “I got you,” he murmurs.

  Any fleeting hope I’d held that it was a different Crosbie shatters. It’s him.

  And it’s certainly his reputation.

  Somehow, when I thought it was Kellan, I didn’t really care what I’d find.

  But this hurts.

  Instead of wisely returning to my table and telling Nate we have to go, I retrace my steps to the end of the aisle, snatch a book off the shelf, and take a breath before turning into the occupied aisle as though searching for an interesting book on capitalism.

  And there they are.

  Ten feet away, grinding against the shelf, his hips pinning hers to the row of books I’m never going to touch. They’re fully clothed, at least, only their lips involved in the encounter, and even though they look like they’re glued together, Crosbie jerks away the second he spots me.

  His partner in library crime looks dazed and confused until she follows his gaze to discover the problem, and even though I knew what I’d find before I rounded that corner, I still hear myself stammer a pretty convincing, “Sorry, I didn’t know—” before I race back to the table where Nate waits.

  “Pay up,” he says, holding out his hand.

  “Joke’s on you,” I say, trying to act like I find the whole thing amusing and not appallingly, horribly painful. “It wasn’t Kellan.”

  “It was too.”

  “It wasn’t. I swear.”

  He frowns as he realizes I’m jamming my books in my bag like there’s a fire and they’re the only thing I need to rescue.

  “What are you—”

  “I just remembered I have to do something,” I lie, utterly unconvincing.

  “Nora, what—” His eyes focus on something over my shoulder and I know that Crosbie and his Crosbabe have fixed their clothing and emerged from the aisle.

  “Don’t,” I say tightly, when the look on his face changes from confusion to concern. “Don’t say anything.”

  “Nora, I—”

  “Please.” I think I might cry. And it’s so stupid—I don’t care about Crosbie, I don’t want to care about Crosbie, and I never thought he cared about me.

  I grab my bag and stride toward the stairs at the far end of the floor, my route keeping me parallel to Crosbie and his friend. But their pace is no match for mine and I reach the top of the stairs just in time to hear her demand to know why they can’t take the elevator.

  I jog down the stairs and maneuver my way through the main level and out the front doors to my bike, locked up in the rack on the sidewalk. My fingers tremble as I fumble for the combination, and the tumblers align just as I hear the front doors open and Crosbie’s date’s shrill inquiry about why they have to walk so fast.

  I sling my leg over the seat and don’t look back as I pedal home as fast as I can. The sidewalk is damp and edged in the first fallen leaves of the season, but not even the welcome signs of fall improve my mood.

  I know I’m being stupid.

  Just like I knew streaking down Main Street was a bad idea.

  Just like I knew blowing off Art History—five weeks in a row—was not smart.

  How I knew partying the night before my Linguistics midterm was a mistake.

  I know things are bad for me, but I do them anyway. And letting those stray shoots of feelings for Crosbie stay when I should have gotten down on my hands and knees and torn them up before they could take root—that was a mistake.

  And I am done making mistakes.

  I usually chain my bike to the handrail, but tonight I drag it up the front steps and ditch it in the foyer of our apartment. I stomp upstairs but there’s no one to impress with my bad mood because Kellan’s not home—as usual. I turn off all the lights to make it look like I’m not home, either, like I have plenty of interesting places to be while some people are getting off in the library.

  I flop onto my bed and stare at the dark ceiling. My heart is pounding and my temples are damp with sweat.

  I mean, what the fuck.

  * * *

  “Sorry about last night.”

  I glance up at Nate as I tie on my apron in the kitchen at Beans. “It’s no big deal.”

  Marcela’s there too, not pretending not to eavesdrop. Not pretending Nate didn’t fill her in on the whole humiliating debacle.

  “I tried calling you a couple of times—you didn’t pick up.”

  “I was listening to the French lessons.” Technically true, but my phone was on my milk crate nightstand and I heard it vibrate, I just refused to look at the display. Just as I heard a tentative knock at the front door but didn’t dare get up to answer. I didn’t know what I’d say if it were Crosbie, and if it wasn
t him, that would have somehow been worse. So I did what I always do: I chose one end of the spectrum and I stayed there. Confront my demons or ignore them? Hello, denial. I’m Nora.

  “I thought you had a thing for Kellan,” Marcela remarks. She sticks a tray of muffins in the convection oven, a wave of heat wafting over me as I walk toward the swinging door to the shop.

  “Me too,” I say.

  They follow me out front, and I sigh when there’s just one customer in the shop, an old man who always comes to browse the artwork but never buys anything.

  “I was just surprised,” I say. “That’s all. I barely know Crosbie. I’m worried things might be awkward at home. He’s there all the time.”

  Nate and Marcela share a look.

  “What?”

  “He came here last night,” Marcela says.

  I grow very still. “What?”

  “Around nine. He came in asking for you. He looked stressed.”

  I take a breath. “He was probably trying to find Kellan.”

  “I don’t think so.”

  “Well, maybe he just wanted another brownie.”

  “He didn’t flirt with me at all.”

  “Huh.” That is weird. Though it’s hardly placating to know that after he dropped off his date he came looking for me, his second choice. It doesn’t mean anything, and I can’t let it. I’m barely a month into my new life and despite my best efforts, I’m failing. Again.

  And I really can’t afford to. It’s not like I come from nothing. My parents worked hard, saved their money, and instilled in me the importance of doing the same. And I did—all through high school. I never got into trouble, never rebelled, never so much as dyed my hair. And it’s not like I had dreams of robbing banks or getting a dozen tattoos, I just wanted to have fun last year. Just for a little bit, I wanted to let loose.

  Nate clears his throat and wanders over to chat up the old man, and for a second Marcela and I just stand side-by-side at the counter and watch. She uses one fingernail, painted black, to pick at a sticker someone stuck on the counter, and I don’t know what to do. This is where I want to be, even though I shouldn’t.

  Story of my life.

  “I’m sorry you got arrested,” she says eventually, watching the corners of the sticker peel up. “And I’m sorry I didn’t say anything.”

  I keep watching her fingernail. “It’s not your fault.”

  “Well, it was my idea.”

  “Okay, so it was mostly your fault.”

  She laughs a little. “And if I made you fail your classes last year, I’m sorry for that too. I know you have a scholarship and you need to keep your grades up.”

  I glance at her. I’m terrible at confrontation, if last night’s events weren’t proof enough. “You didn’t make me fail. I failed all by myself. I was just embarrassed.”

  “Do you really never go out anymore?”

  “Never.”

  “Where’d you stay the night of Kellan’s birthday?”

  I sigh. “Don’t laugh.”

  “Did you hide in the closet and spy?”

  I smile. “No. I stayed in Crosbie’s room at the frat house.”

  Her mouth opens.

  “He wasn’t there,” I say hastily. “He stayed at my place.” I assume he did, anyway. Perhaps he’d been in the library all night.

  “Do you like him?”

  I shrug. “I thought I did. A little bit. But…no. I can’t. I need to focus on getting my grades up and staying out of trouble.”

  “Last year was fun.”

  “It was awesome.”

  “And this year has been terrible. I hang out with Nate, like, all the time.”

  “Outside of work?”

  “Yes. He makes me go to vegan restaurants and buy candles and watch foreign films. He’s a hipster stereotype and it’s killing me.”

  “He’s in love with you.”

  “It doesn’t change anything.”

  I watch Nate show the old man the newest set of nesting dolls. We all know the guy’s never going to buy anything; he comes in three days a week and doesn’t order so much as a coffee. But still Nate holds out hope.

  “What do I do?” I ask. Marcela has stopped picking at the sticker and now I take over. I’ve been dying to ask her that very question all month, and now I feel like I can barely breathe as I wait for her answer.

  “You just get on with your life,” she says, eyes on Nate. “And you forget all about the other person.”

  “Sounds simple.”

  Her red lips curve. “Nate,” she calls. “We’re closing shop early. Lock it up.”

  Nate looks surprised but doesn’t argue, and fifteen minutes later we’re out the door, the three of us bundled up against a chilly fall wind as we hustle down the street in the direction of the bank and the nearest bar. Marcela and I stand guard as Nate drops off the small deposit, then we dart across the street into Marvin’s, a crowded pub that’s popular with Burnham’s older students.

  The music is muted, the air is warm, and everyone’s wearing cords and cardigans. In her silver sequined top, black tights, and thigh-high white pleather boots, Marcela makes a statement. As usual, all eyes are on her as she picks her way through the crowd and finds us a tall table in the corner. Nate heads up to the bar to grab a round of shots, and I take a deep breath. I know I shouldn’t be here, but I miss this. Not the alcohol, but the atmosphere. The people. Not being home alone by myself. Again.

  Nate returns a few minutes later with six shot glasses precariously clustered in his hand and Marcela helps arrange them on the table. “What are you going to drink?” she asks, blinking at him, deadpan.

  He makes a face and she grins and I do too, then we all take a glass. “What are we toasting?” Nate asks. “The end of the Cold War?”

  “Yeah,” Marcela says. “And bygones being bygones, and fuck Crosbie Lucas.”

  Nate shrugs, not fully comprehending, but gamely echoes, “Fuck Crosbie Lucas.”

  I didn’t think I’d laugh again for a long time, but I’m laughing when I say, “Fuck Crosbie Lucas,” and we all toast to it.

  * * *

  It’s shortly after midnight when I stumble in the front door. The stumbling has more to do with the fact that my legs and fingers are numb from the bike ride home than the alcohol. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I’m a little bit drunk, but nothing crazy. Not out of control.

  “Middle ground drunk,” Marcela called it, when I lamented my inability to hang out in the center of the spectrum. “You will only be middle ground drunk this evening, I will see to it.”

  She did a pretty good job. We’d laughed and danced and flirted and made up, and it’s a surprise and a relief to learn that she missed me too. Actually, it’s an enormous relief, even if hanging out with Marcela did involve ditching work early and drinking on a school night. But what the hell—I had fun. Finally.

  Kellan and Crosbie are watching something on TV when I come up the stairs, and I spot the DVD box for the first season of Arrested Development sitting on the dining table as I enter. I squint at the screen and recognize the familiar characters, and when I look at Kellan he’s got the same “I don’t get it” look Marcela had when I made her watch it.

  “Steve Holt,” I say.

  Kellan scratches his chin and glances over at me. “Who?”

  I can practically feel Crosbie’s stare, but I refuse to make eye contact as I head into the kitchen and pour myself a glass of water. I’m a bit woozy and I brace myself against the counter as I drink.

  “Are you drunk?” Kellan calls, muting the show. It sounds like he’s trying not to laugh.

  “Just a little bit,” I reply. “I’ll be okay.”

  “Where were you?”

  “Marvin’s. Near work.”

  “With who?”

  “With whom,” I correct, putting my glass in the sink and heading for my room. “And that’s none of your business.”

  He raises an eyebrow. “I might like drunk Nora
.”

  “You did,” I say, without meaning to. “Good night.” I enter my bedroom and close the door.

  When I first realized Kellan didn’t remember our hookup, I was mortified. But now I think I was just naïve. My “relationships” last year were fleeting and shallow, and because I was only doing it to convince myself I was somebody exciting, I wasn’t even remotely invested in them, emotionally. The longest one lasted a month, and that’s just because it was the guy who took my virginity during frosh week and we felt obligated to keep seeing each other.

  Kellan is the crush everybody has. Crosbie is the sidekick.

  He’s the Nora to Kellan’s Marcela.

  He’s the one you forget.

  chapter seven

  I have a ten o’clock class on Thursday mornings, so I sleep in until nine then stumble bleary-eyed out of my room to hunt down some frozen waffles for breakfast. It’s chilly in the apartment and I shift from foot to foot as I shiver in my sweatshirt and shorts waiting for the toaster to finish its job.

  “Hey.”

  I jolt and turn around to find Kellan on the living room floor, dressed in his running clothes and touching his toes. “What are you doing here?” I never see Kellan in the mornings and I’ve kind of gotten used to having the place to myself. He’s either sleeping in—or sleeping out—when I leave for class, and this is unusual.

  “Group run,” he says, switching legs. “In ten minutes.”

  I glance out the window. The sun is up, glinting off the yellowing leaves of the trees that line the street. It’s already shaping up to be a much better day than yesterday. In fact, now that I’ve made the decision to forget Crosbie Lucas, everything is looking up.

  “Have fun,” I say, stacking the waffles on a plate, dousing them in syrup, and preparing to retreat to my room. I know Kellan’s running group slowly picks up members as they begin their route, and Crosbie normally comes inside when they reach our place. My new plan does not involve seeing Crosbie nine hours after the plan went into effect.

  “Hey,” Kellan says, standing and cracking his back.

  I pause at the door to my room, waffle halfway to my mouth. “What’s up?”

 

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll