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An Autumn BY LUKE WALKER “Everything which we now call culture, education, civilization—all this will at some stage have to appear before the infallible judge, Dionysus.” -Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy “I'll take you where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn either way.” -WOLF PARADE “My iPhone is totally broken,” Jessica is telling me. I am sitting with her and her boyfriend Allen outside the student union, drinking iced coffee and watching people. I am smoking a cigarette even though I'm supposed to be cutting back. Allen is hungover but not too badly, and he doesn't have tennis practice today so he's in a good mood. We bought two grams of coke last night but only did a little. “I, like, dropped it last night,” Jessica goes on. “Off the balcony." “Did you get insurance?” Allen asks. “Maybe you can get a new one. The new one is cool.” "My dad will probably just buy me another one," Jessica says. "But is the new version, like, better?" "YEAH," HE SAYS. "IT IS." "OKAY." “Give me some of that, Walt,” Allen says. I hand him the smoldering cigarette and he takes a long drag. He closes his eyes, leans back, hands it back to me. “I should be writing my lab report.” “Don't do it,” Jessica says. “We're going to go out to dinner. We're going to get sushi. Aren't we, Walt?” I NOD, RAISE MY EYEBROWS. I AM A JUNIOR AND JESSICA AND ALLEN ARE SENIORS. I AM IN LOVE WITH JESSICA BUT SHOULDN'T BE. “Fine,” Allen is saying. “I can just get my tutor to do it. He'll do it, won't he?” “He should for what you're paying him,” Jessica says. I LOOK AT MY BLACKBERRY. I HAVE SIXTEEN NEW MESSAGES AND ONE MISSED CALL. IT IS FIVE-THIRTY IN THE AFTERNOON. “WHEN DO YOU WANT TO GET DINNER?” I ASK. “I'M STARVING,” JESSICA SAYS. “I could eat,” says Allen. “Let's go at, like, six.” JESSICA NODS AND WE ALL SIT IN SILENCE FOR AWHILE, WATCHING THE STUDENTS GO BACK AND FORTH ALONG THE PLAZA BEFORE THE STUDENT UNION. I DON'T WANT TO RESPOND TO MY TEXT MESSAGES AND E-MAILS AND MISSED CALLS. I TAKE OFF MY RAY-BANS AND LOOK UP AT THE SKY. THE SUN IS LOW ENOUGH THAT I DON'T NEED TO SQUINT AND, ALTHOUGH IT IS STILL WARM, PART OF ME KNOWS THAT SUMMER IS OVER AND FALL IS STARTING. THE LEAVES ON THE TREES ARE STILL GREEN, BUT YOU CAN TELL. BY SEPTEMBER YOU CAN TELL THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE AGAIN. ERICA AND JOHN END UP COMING WITH US TO THE SUSHI RESTAURANT. I KNOW ERICA BUT NOT JOHN. I DON'T THINK THEY ARE DATING. THEY LAUGH TO EACH OTHER AS THEY WALK TOWARD US IN THE PARKING LOT. JESSICA INTRODUCES US. ERICA SMILES AT ME. Inside it is dark and cool. The maitre 'd sits us quickly. I sit down between John and Allen. “YOU'RE A SENIOR?” JOHN ASKS ME. “JUNIOR.” “OH. ME TOO.” “COOL.” The waitress comes and we order beer and Allen also gets sake. Erica asks me how my classes are and I tell her they're okay. She starts talking about this history class she is taking, about her pre-med requirements. She tells me about her philosophy double-major. John says something boring about applying to medical schools and it makes me too anxious. The drinks come. Allen drinks his sake and puts HIS HAND ON JESSICA'S LEG AND THEY TALK TO EACH OTHER ABOUT HIS UPCOMING TENNIS ROAD TRIP. I watch them in silence. The restaurant is quiet at this hour and the waitress stops by and chats with us for awhile. She tells us she is a graduate student in the English Department. I order a second beer and start to feel okay. I look at Jessica, who is blonde- haired with blue eyes and a few freckles. She looks a lot like Lindsey. Usually I try not to think about that. She smiles at me. “YOU SEEM HAPPY,” SHE TELLS ME. “I AM,” I SAY. “I'M GLAD. BETTER THAN LAST FALL?" Allen laughs at this and I don't answer her. AFTER DINNER I DRIVE ALLEN AND JESSICA TO THEIR APARTMENT IN MY FATHER'S RANGE Rover. Allen takes the small plastic bag out of his pocket and asks if I want to come in. "Don't be a pussy, Walt," he says. I'M LOOKING AT HIM, AND AT JESSICA WHO IS HALFWAY UP THE STAIRS BUT HAS STOPPED TO TURN BACK AND SEEMS DELICATE AND PALE IN THE LAMPLIGHT. THE SUN HAS SET AND THE STARS ARE OUT AND THE AIR AROUND MY CAR IS WARM, SCENTED SOMEHOW WITH FLOWERS. THERE IS A DECISION TO BE MADE, I KNOW THIS, AND PART OF ME WANTS TO DRIVE AWAY AND JUST GO HOME BUT MOSTLY I DON'T WANT TO BE ALONE AND THIS REALIZATION MAKES ME SO NERVOUS THAT I'M SUDDENLY GETTING OUT OF THE CAR AND ALLEN IS SMILING AND JESSICA IS TURNING AWAY, GOING BACK UP THE STAIRS, DIGGING FOR THE KEYS IN HER PURSE. INSIDE JESSICA FLOPS ONTO THE COUCH AND TURNS ON THE TELEVISION. ALLEN AND I SIT DOWN IN TWO BIG CHAIRS. I TAKE IN THE ROOM. ALLEN'S CLASH POSTERS ARE ON THE WALL, HIS BOOKS ON THE SHELVES, AND THE ONLY THING LEFT THAT'S MINE IS A BOX OF WINTER CLOTHES IN THE FOYER THAT I NEED TO TAKE BACK TO THE DORMITORY. Allen puts some of the coke on the coffee table's glassy surface and we do it with a piece of plastic straw that Jessica finds in her purse. It's the same as last night and it's not bad. The rush comes quickly, familiar, and I'm feeling the drip starting and thinking, I do not give a shit about anything. We sit back and talk about nothing while staring at the TV. Jessica and Allen start making out. After awhile I leave, taking my box of clothes. Inside my father's Range Rover the clock says 12:25 AM and on the road back to campus the Carolina pines are tall and dark like the ghosts of lost things. The next day I am walking to class with Lisa, who is back from studying abroad in London. I was in Rome for the first half of the summer but we never made any effort to see each other which, at the time, seemed fine but now makes me feel bad. “DID YOU MISS ME?” LISA IS ASKING. “Of course I missed you. I told you I missed you.” “I know,” she says. “I just like asking you.” I LAUGH. “I DIDN'T DO THE HOMEWORK FOR TODAY,” I TELL HER. “NEITHER DID I.” SHE SMILES UP AT ME. WE WALK CLOSE TOGETHER THROUGH THE HIGH ARCHES OF THE MAIN CAMPUS, ALONG THE FLAGSTONES AND WINDING PATHS. EVERYTHING IS GREEN AND FRESH-SCENTED. PEOPLE WALK BY, LONE STUDENTS HURRYING, COUPLES HOLDING HANDS, FRIENDS LAUGHING WITH EACH OTHER. I WANT TO SMOKE A CIGARETTE BUT IT'S NOT AN URGENT NEED SO I TELL MYSELF TO WAIT. IN SPITE OF THE COKE I MANAGED TO FALL ASLEEP LAST NIGHT BEFORE THREE AND I'M FEELING SURPRISINGLY FUNCTIONAL. “HOW ARE YOU?” LISA ASKS ME. “I'm feeling good,” I tell her. “Really, I am.” “Don't freak out again,” she says. “What's that supposed to mean?” I ask. Lisa shrugs. LISA WAS GOING OUT WITH BRENT DURING THE SUMMER, IN LONDON, BUT I HEARD THEY BROKE UP. I HAVEN'T ASKED HER ABOUT IT. BRENT IS ON THE BASEBALL TEAM. SOMETIMES I BUY ADDERALL FROM HIM BUT IT'S XR, WHICH ISN'T AS GOOD, AND ANYWAY I HAVEN'T SEEN HIM SINCE THE SPRING. JESSICA CALLS ME ON A WEDNESDAY AND ASKS IF I WANT TO COME OVER TO THE APARTMENT. I AM DONE WITH CLASSES AND BORED SO I DRIVE OVER. THE ASHTRAY IN MY CAR IS SORT OF FULL AND I THINK ABOUT EMPTYING IT BUT DON'T. JESSICA AND ALLEN ARE LIVING FOR THE SEMESTER IN THE APARTMENT I SHARED WITH THEM AT THE END OF THE SUMMER. THE PASSCODE FROM THE SUMMER STILL WORKS AND THE GATE OPENS. I PARK AND WALK UP THE STAIRS, KNOCK ON THE DOOR. THERE IS NO ANSWER. I TRY THE HANDLE AND IT OPENS. Inside the apartment is dark and cool, the shades drawn. Everything is clean. I SEE JESSICA'S PURSE AND A FEW SCHOOL PAPERS ON THE COUCH. “I'M OUT ON THE PORCH,” JESSICA CALLS. “Hey,” I say. I go outside. She is sitting in a big chair, facing the trees. I sit down in the other chair. “How's it going?” “PRETTY GOOD,” JESSICA SAYS. “SLEPT IN AND DIDN'T GO TO ANY CLASSES TODAY.” “ME TOO,” I SAY. “Yeah,” she says. "Back to normal." I smell marijuana and as I'm noticing this Jessica brings her right hand up to her mouth, holding a joint between two long fingers, and smokes some. She holds it in then exhales. “You want some?” she asks, her voice thick with smoke. “Okay,” I say, taking the joint and smoking a little. I give it back to her. “I HAVEN'T SMOKED MUCH LATELY,” I TELL HER. SHE SMILES. “TOO BAD. I JUST BOUGHT A BUNCH MORE TODAY, IF YOU'RE INTERESTED.” “YEAH?” “I'll sell you some.” “I MIGHT BUY A LITTLE.” “OKAY. WHEN YOU LEAVE.” WE SIT FOR AWHILE AND SHARE THE JOINT AND LOOK OUT AT THE TREES. THE APARTMENT IS AT THE BACK OF THE COMPLEX AND THERE IS NOBODY TO NOTICE THE POT. WE TALK ABOUT FOOTBALL, ABOUT CLASSES, ABOUT ALLEN. SHE SAYS HE WENT TO A MATCH IN VIRGINIA. HE IS COMING BACK ON FRIDAY. “I'm sorry about this summer,” she tells me. “It's fine,” I say. “THAT'S NICE OF YOU. BUT I WAS BAD. I HAVE...PROBLEMS, I THINK.” SHE FINISHES THE JOINT AND STUBS IT OUT IN AN ASHTRAY. “IT'S FINE, REALLY," I SAY. “I NEVER TOLD ALLEN.” “I GUESS THAT'S FOR THE BEST.” She nods and doesn't say anything else. “It was only twice,” she says finally. I do not respond. After a few minutes she tells me she needs to start doing her homework and I buy a little pot from her then leave. I SIT IN MY CAR FOR AWHILE BEFORE PULLING OUT OF THE APARTMENT COMPLEX, LOOKING AT THE PLASTIC BAG OF POT, SEEING THE SMALL WHITE CRYSTALS STUCK TO THE GREENNESS, KNOWING THE POT IS GOOD, WONDERING. Two nights later and I'm driving to a party at the Sigma Nu fraternity house with James and Pete for no reason except that Pete says his ex-girlfriend is going to be there and he wants to "see if she got fat over the summer." We take James' father's Lexus LX 470 AND I'M IN THE BACK SMOKING CIGARETTES ALMOST CONSTANTLY BECAUSE THERE'S NOTHING ELSE TO DO AND NOBODY IS TALKING. PETE TAKES A PULL FROM A FIFTH OF SVEDKA AS WE DRIVE THROUGH A YELLOW LIGHT AND HE TURNS AROUND, HIS EYES BRIGHT. "YOU WANNA GET FUCKED UP, WALT?" HE ASKS. I NOD AND HE HANDS ME THE FIFTH AND I DRINK FROM IT, THE ALCOHOL COLD AND BITING, THEN WARMING. PETE TAKES THE BOTTLE BACK. HE IS WEARING A PINK POLO SHIRT AND WHITE SHORTS WITH RAINBOW SANDALS. HE IS FROM STOWE, VERMONT AND I THINK HIS FATHER IS A CFO OR SOMETHING BUT I CAN'T REMEMBER. GANGSTER RAP IS PLAYING ON THE SATELLITE RADIO. THE LAWN OF THE SIGMA NU HOUSE IS PACKED WITH UNDERGRADUATES AND BASS NOTES ARE THROBBING FROM SPEAKERS SET UP ON THE PORCH. JAMES PARKS THE LEXUS ACROSS THE STREET AND SHUTS IT OFF. WE GET OUT AND THE NIGHT AIR IS WARM AND ALIVE, THICK WITH THE STENCH OF MAGNOLIA TREES AND WARM DIRT. SOMEWHERE A GIRL SHRIEKS AND PEOPLE LAUGH. A BOTTLE SHATTERS ON THE SIDEWALK. "Give me some of that," James says as we walk up to the house. Pete passes him the Svedka and James drinks. A couple fraternity guys are playing Beer Pong on the lawn with their shirts off. A big banner is hung over the front door. "Fuck School 2K9" is scrawled on it in spray paint. "YO, PETE!" SOMEONE CALLS. PETE TURNS AND A FRAT GUY IN A BASKETBALL JERSEY AND Wayfarers gives him a hug. "What the fuck is up?" he yells. "Nothing," Pete says. "Is Michaela here?" THE GUY LAUGHS. "SURE SHE'S HERE. IS SHE STILL FUCKING BEN CARSON?" PETE LOOKS AT HIM BLANKLY. "WHO'S BEN CARSON?" HE ASKS. "Are you serious?" the guy says. "Ben Carson. Whatever. Let's go inside." HE STARTS WALKING UP THE STAIRS. SOMEONE HAS WRITTEN FUCK NIGGERS ON HIS NECK IN RED PERMANENT MARKER. THE THREE OF US FOLLOW HIM INTO THE FRATERNITY HOUSE. INSIDE IT'S TOO HOT AND BROKENCYDE'S "GET CRUNK" IS HOWLING FROM TEN SPEAKERS SET UP AROUND THE MAIN ROOM. THE PLACE IS PACKED WITH PEOPLE. PETE DISAPPEARS WITH THE FRAT GUY UPSTAIRS. JAMES RAISES HIS EYEBROWS AT ME THEN HEADS TOWARD THE KEG. I FOLLOW HIM AND WE GRAB RED PLASTIC CUPS AND FILL THEM UP. "THIS BLOWS," JAMES SAYS, GULPING BEER AND SURVEYING THE ROOM. "IT'S TOO EARLY IN THE YEAR FOR GOOD PARTIES." I nod and drink my beer too quickly, then refill the cup. A drunk girl in just her bra bumps into me and laughs when beer spills over her chest. "Watch it, fucker," she slurs. "WENDY?" JAMES ASKS. She turns to him and smiles. "Hey, James." "What have you been up to?" James asks. He hands her his beer and starts pouring another for himself. "I haven't seen you in, like, forever." WENDY SHRUGS. "NOTHING. INTERNSHIPS. TRACK PRACTICE." "AWESOME," JAMES SAYS. "Totally!" Wendy says. "So what'd you do this summer?" James asks her. "I was in South Africa. You?" "Europe." FOR AWHILE THE THREE OF US JUST STAND AROUND AND WATCH THE PARTY AS IT STARTS TO BLUR. WENDY DRINKS HALF HER BEER IN ONE GULP AND THROWS THE CUP ON THE FLOOR. THEN SHE WAVES TO SOMEONE ACROSS THE ROOM AND STARTS WALKING AWAY. JAMES SETS DOWN HIS CUP AND STARTS FOLLOWING. HE LOOKS BACK AT ME ONCE, SHRUGGING, AND THAT'S WHEN I TURN AWAY AND START LOOKING FOR ADDERALL BUT I CAN'T FIND ANY AND I END UP DRIVING HOME WITH DAN AT TWO IN THE MORNING AFTER I FIND HIM SMOKING POT ALONE ON AN UPSTAIRS BALCONY. The next afternoon Kelly and Christine ask me to have a picnic in the gardens with them. We go over in the early evening and it is still very bright outside. The light grows golden as we set up the blanket and take out the sandwiches, a bottle of wine. Shadows lengthen across the broad lawn. Some townies are playing near the fountain, two adults watching maybe four or five children. They laugh and the sound of their laughter mixes with the splashing of the fountain and carries over to us across the green grass. I lie on my back and chew some of the sandwich. Christine passes me the bottle of wine and I take a long pull. WE TALK ABOUT OUR SUMMERS. KELLY WAS ABROAD IN AUSTRALIA. CHRISTINE WAS WORKING ON RESEARCH AT DUNHAM. SHE LIVED IN APARTMENT WITH CHAD, HER BOYFRIEND, BUT THEY BROKE UP HALFWAY THROUGH THE SUMMER AND SHE NEEDED TO FIND A NEW PLACE. SHE LIGHTS A CIGARETTE AS SHE TELLS US THIS. I TELL THEM ABOUT ROME, ABOUT RESEARCH. NOT ABOUT JESSICA. KELLY TELLS US SHE THINKS WE HAVE ALL DRIFTED APART SINCE FRESHMAN YEAR. CHRISTINE SAYS PROBABLY AND I NOD MY HEAD. WE ARE ALL FROM THE MIDWEST. WE WERE ALL IN THE SAME DORMITORY FRESHMAN YEAR. “Do you think this will be a good year?” Kelly asks. “I mean, it's a few weeks in but I feel like it's still summer.” “I THINK IT WILL BE PRETTY GOOD,” CHRISTINE SAYS. “I'M SO EXCITED TO TAKE MY LSAT." "AREN'T YOU GOING TO TAKE THE MCAT, WALT?" "Yes," I say. "YOU NEED TO DO IT SOON, DON'T YOU?" "I GUESS." Kelly lies back on the grass, stretching. “You need to find a girlfriend, Walt.” “I do?” “Totally,” she says. “Doesn't Walt need to find a girlfriend, Chrissie?” “He does. You aren't gay, are you?” “WALT'S NOT GAY. WALT'S JUST A MAN WHORE.” Christine shrugs. “Lots of people are man whores right before they turn gay. That's what I heard. That's what happened to Holly's ex-boyfriend, isn't it?” Kelly gasps. “It is. That was a long time ago though. Like, freshman year.” “Yeah, it was,” Christine says. “I'm not gay,” I tell them. "WELL THEN WHY DIDN'T YOU HAVE SEX WITH MINA LAST SPRING?" CHRISTINE ASKS. I LOOK AT HER. "BECAUSE I WAS...HAVING MENTAL PROBLEMS," I TELL HER. "Well that shouldn't matter," Christine says, and laughs. WE FINISH THE WINE AND THE SANDWICHES AND BY THEN THE FIREFLIES ARE BEGINNING TO COME OUT. KELLY STARTS HUMMING THE MELODY TO “FIREFLIES” BY OWL CITY. THAT SONG WAS BIG THIS SUMMER. “GOOD CALL ON THE WINE,” CHRISTINE TELLS KELLY. “THANKS. CAN I HAVE A CIGARETTE?” CHRISTINE HANDS HER ONE, LIGHTS IT. SHE GIVES ME A LOOK AND I NOD AND TAKE ONE AND LIGHT IT FROM KELLY'S. THE THREE OF US SMOKE IN THE SUNSET LIGHT AND THERE'S SOMETHING FAKE, AFFECTED ABOUT THE WHOLE THING THAT DEPRESSES ME. “THINGS ARE GOING TO GET BUSY PRETTY SOON,” KELLY SAYS. “YOU GUYS HAVE TO KEEP IN TOUCH.” “I'M SURE WE'LL SEE EACH OTHER AROUND,” CHRISTINE SAYS. “WE ALL LIVE ON CAMPUS. HOW HARD CAN IT BE?” "Not hard," Kelly answers. "As long as Walt doesn't freak out again." The partying picks up as September goes on. Allen has tennis practice or tennis matches and afterward he calls me and takes me to frats or bars or just to people's apartments where the shelves are lined with bottles and there is usually some marijuana or a little cocaine to do. Most of the time Allen is not with Jessica. Usually I see Tiffany or Carly or Kelly out, pretty drunk, but so am I, and we talk. Catch up. THERE IS A BIG PARTY AT TOM'S FRATERNITY ONE THURSDAY NIGHT AND ALLEN CONVINCES ME TO GO. JESSICA IS NOT THERE AND ALLEN GETS DRUNK WITH ME AND SOME GUYS ON THE LACROSSE TEAM AND TOM AND SAUL. TOM'S FRATERNITY HOUSE IS BIG AND OLD AND SMELLS OF STALE BEER. PRETTY GIRLS, MOSTLY SOPHOMORES AND FRESHMAN, ARE EVERYWHERE. LOUD MUSIC BLARES FROM SPEAKERS SET UP IN THE LIVING ROOM AND ON THE LAWN. WE START DRINKING OUTSIDE, where a Beer Pong table is set up in the backyard, but move inside when it starts to drizzle. I see a girl in line for the bathroom who looks just like Lindsey and I start to feel funny so I go outside and smoke a cigarette. ALLEN GETS LOST HALFWAY THROUGH THE NIGHT BUT I SEE HIM MAKING OUT WITH SOMEONE IN A BACK BEDROOM WHEN I GO TO THE GARAGE WITH SAUL TO GET MORE BEER. LATER BRIAN CALLS ME AND HE TELLS ME SOME PEOPLE ARE GOING OUT TO THE BARS SO I TELL HIM TO COME PICK ME UP AND HE DOES AND THAT IS THE THIRD THURSDAY NIGHT OF SEPTEMBER. MY FATHER, A SURGEON, TELLS ME HE IS LEAVING TO GO ON A MEDICAL MISSION TO RURAL CHINA FOR MOST OF OCTOBER. HE ASKS ME IF I WANT TO GO ALONG BUT I TELL HIM I HAVE TO STUDY, WHICH IS SORT OF TRUE. HE TELLS ME I AM MISSING OUT. I TELL HIM I'M SORRY. HE SAYS IT'S OKAY AND ASKS ME IF I WANT TO SPEAK TO MY MOTHER. HE SAYS SHE IS VISITING FOR THE WEEKEND, SEEING MY SISTER. I SAY FINE. My mother asks if I have signed up for an MCAT prep class and I tell her I am going to do it soon. She says she loves me. I tell her I love her too then hang up and feel very far away. It is six in the evening on a Wednesday. Wednesday Night Drinking Club is happening at Erwin and I promised Matt I would go with him. He lives at Erwin but he is out to dinner with someone named Tony and he says he will pick me up. I DON'T WANT TO GET DRUNK, OR HIGH, BUT FEEL OBLIGATED TO BECAUSE MATT IS A GOOD FRIEND AND I HAVE NOT SEEN HIM IN A FEW WEEKS. Matt picks me up in his father's BMW X5 and asks me what I have been doing with myself. “JUST...HANGING OUT. READING. SOME WORK.” “Sounds gay,” he says, laughing. “Don't study too hard.” “I'm not. I'm really not.” HE LOOKS AT ME, UNSMILING. “YOU SURE? I DON'T WANT YOU TURNING INTO ONE OF THOSE ASIANS. ONE OF THOSE JAPANESE.” I laugh a little. “I think they're mostly Chinese at this school.” “Yeah, man. Don't go all Chinese on me. You want to get drunk or what?” “Definitely,” I tell him, but really I'm not so sure. He turns up the stereo in his car. He has HED PE's new CD in and it's on the first track, “Foreplay.” Lots of drunk girls at Wednesday Night Drinking Club. Some beefy football players wandering around, two feet taller than everyone else and glaring. Matt leads me to the back where I see Jack and a couple other girls. Tom is there too but he's making out in the corner with someone I can't see. The music is loud and there is a lot of beer AND NOBODY KNOWS WHO ANYBODY ELSE IS, REALLY. A BIG FLAT-PANEL TV IS ON ONE WALL WITH A MOVIE PLAYING. JACK GETS ME A BEER FROM THE FRIDGE BUT MATT IS POURING ME A SCREWDRIVER TOO SO I TAKE BOTH OF THEM. “POUR HALF THE BEER INTO THE SCREWDRIVER,” ONE OF THE GIRLS WITH JACK TELLS ME. I DO IT AND TASTE IT AND IT'S NOT BAD. THE ROOM IS THICK WITH SMOKE BUT IT'S MOSTLY FROM CIGARETTES. “WHAT'S YOUR NAME?” ONE OF THE GIRLS ASKS ME. “I'M WALT,” I SAY. “WALT THOMPSON. YOU?” “EMILY. ARE YOU A FRESHMAN TOO?” “No, I'm a junior.” “NICE. WHERE DO YOU LIVE?” “Um, on campus.” “NICE. I LIVE ON CAMPUS TOO.” “GREAT.” She turns around and taps another girl, taller, on the shoulder. The other girl turns around and smiles. “This is Walt. Walt, this is Samantha.” WE SHAKE HANDS AND SAMANTHA ASKS ME IF I WANT ANOTHER SCREWDRIVER. I NOD AND SHE MAKES TWO AND HANDS ONE TO ME. I LEAN AGAINST THE COUNTER AND WE TALK FOR AWHILE. SAMANTHA IS A SOPHOMORE. I TAKE OUT A CIGARETTE, OFFER THEM THE PACK. EMILY SHAKES HER HEAD AND SAYS, “EW. GROSS.” SAMANTHA TAKES ONE AND I LIGHT IT FOR HER. “I have some Ritalin,” Emily offers. THREE HOURS LATER AND I AM BACK ON CAMPUS IN SAMANTHA'S DORM ROOM, IN HER BED. I AM LICKING HER NECK WHILE SHE CLAWS AT MY BACK, HER DRESS STILL ON, MY SHIRT OFF. EVERYTHING IS A BLUR AND I REALIZE I HAVEN'T DONE ANYTHING LIKE THIS SINCE SPRING SEMESTER. SHE MOANS AND WRAPS HER LEGS AROUND MINE AND MOVES HER HANDS DOWN TO MY BELT, WORKING IT OFF AND UNZIPPING MY FLY. “I want you,” she says. I DON'T SAY ANYTHING, JUST KEEP KISSING HER. “DO YOU HAVE ANY CONDOMS?” SHE ASKS ME. I SHAKE MY HEAD. "Whatever," she gasps. SHE OPENS HER MOUTH TO SPEAK BUT THEN I AM INSIDE HER AND SHE THROWS HER HEAD BACK, MOANING. SHE STARTS TO MOVE HER HIPS AGAINST ME, HARD. SHE KEEPS MOANING. MY BACK IS SLICK WITH SWEAT. “I'm coming, oh God, I'm coming,” she says. A shudder runs through her, so powerful I can feel it through my fingers, and then she collapses against me, whimpering. I pull out then fall back onto the mattress next to her. I'm still drunk and the room is spinning. I wonder absently if she has any more Adderall left. “DO YOU WANT ME TO DO ANYTHING TO YOU?” SHE ASKS ME AFTER WE BOTH STOP PANTING. “I DON'T KNOW,” I SAY. She kisses me and laughs, smiling, then reaches down. I put a hand on her head, run my fingers through her hair. She goes slowly, sloppily, too drunk to be any good. I try to concentrate but start to feel terrible. I stare down my chest at her, watching. Then someone tries to open the door and the lock clicks loudly. Samantha leaps off the bed. “Fuck!” she yells. “Wait!” She goes to the door and locks it, leans against it. I SIT UP AND LOOK AT HER. “IT'S MY ROOMMATE,” SHE SAYS. “I THOUGHT SHE WAS SPENDING THE NIGHT AT HER BOYFRIEND'S. SHIT.” I pull my pants on, laughing a little. “It's okay. Where's my shirt?” SHE SAYS SHE DOESN'T KNOW. SHE IS PANICKING. I TELL HER TO CALM DOWN. I TELL HER THIS HAPPENS A LOT. THEN SHE STUMBLES TOWARD HER DESK AND BENDS OVER AND STARTS THROWING UP INTO A TRASHCAN. IN THE END WE CAN'T FIND MY SHIRT AND SAMANTHA THROWS UP AGAIN AND I LEAVE TOPLESS, NODDING AT HER ROOMMATE WHO IS STANDING IN THE HALL IN JEANS AND A BLACK NORTH FACE JACKET, HER BACKPACK ON. I GRIN. SHE SNEERS BACK. I WALK BACK TO MY ROOM AND AM GLAD THE QUAD IS EMPTY. IN MY ROOM I SMOKE A CIGARETTE, THINKING. I CONSIDER JACKING OFF BUT DON'T FEEL LIKE IT. I LOOK AT MY BLACKBERRY AFTER GETTING INTO BED AND SEE THAT JESSICA HAS CALLED ME TWICE. THEN I PASS OUT. BUT I DREAM ABOUT LINDSEY AND WAKE UP BEFORE DAWN AND CANNOT FALL BACK TO SLEEP. THERE ARE A COUPLE XANAX IN MY BACKPACK FROM JIM'S HOUSE, I REMEMBER, SO I TAKE ONE AND THEN I'M FINE AND I DECIDE TO DO SOME HOMEWORK. SOMEHOW THINGS STILL FEEL NORMAL. MOST OF MY CLASSES THAT SEMESTER ARE EASY AND I SKIP THEM SOME DAYS WHEN WE WANT TO DRIVE OUT TO THE QUARRY AND PRETEND IT'S STILL SUMMER. I GO WITH LISA AND BRIAN AND SOMETIMES PAUL. WE DRIVE MY RANGE OR PAUL'S NAVIGATOR AND PARK IT AT THE HEAD OF THE TRAIL, THEN WALK THE MILE UP TO THE QUARRY CLIFFS. IT'S A HOT DAY AND THE TRAIL IS DUSTY, SUN- DAPPLED BENEATH BRANCHES OF GREEN LEAVES. I STAND ON THE CLIFF NEAR THE BIG PINES IN MY SWIMSUIT AND WATCH BRIAN AND PAUL LEAP SCREAMING OFF THE EDGE AND THEN I FOLLOW THEM, MY FEET POUNDING THE HOT EARTH. MY HEART BEATS IN MY EARS AND THEN I AM FALLING IN SUNLIT SILENCE. WHEN THE WATER RUSHES UP TO MEET ME EVERYTHING GOES DARK AND IT IS COLD AND RUSHING IN MY EARS, MY NOSTRILS, AND WHEN I COME UP SPUTTERING THE SKY IS VERY BLUE AND THE SUN SPARKLES IN MY EYES AND I smile and laugh. Paul tells me it was a good jump. Lisa jumps too and we float around IN THE WATER AND TALK. WHEN THE LIGHT GROWS GOLDEN AND OUR TOES SHRIVEL UP WE CLIMB OUT, CLAMBERING UP THE SLICK BOULDERS TO THE CLIFF TOP, AND HIKE BACK TO THE CAR. SUMMER ENDS SLOWLY IN NORTH CAROLINA. BUT IT STILL ENDS. I GO THE LIBRARY WITH MINA ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT. I DON'T KNOW WHY. SHE CALLS ME AND ASKS ME TO KEEP HER COMPANY AND THERE'S NOTHING BETTER TO DO. WE SIT AT AN EMPTY TABLE IN THE LOWER BASEMENT OF HIGGINS. WE ARE READING FOR THE GENETICS CLASS WE ARE BOTH ENROLLED IN. “YOU'RE BEING STUDIOUS, WALT,” MINA TELLS ME. SHE IS MORE THAN HALFWAY THROUGH OUR SECOND BOOK AND I HAVE BARELY STARTED THE FIRST. “Am I?” I ask. “Am I really?” MINA SHRUGS. “DON'T TELL ME YOU'RE TURNING OVER A NEW LEAF. IT'S TOO LATE FOR YOU. YOU'VE COME SO FAR.” I laugh but quietly because there are other people studying around us. “Maybe I'm just interested in the subject.” “Maybe,” she says, smiling. “What? I can't study?” “You must have had a good summer,” Mina says. “You're so tan and you seem happy.” “Maybe I did.” WE READ IN SILENCE FOR AWHILE. I WATCH WHILE MINA PICKS UP HER HIGHLIGHTER AND, AT INTERVALS, MARKS HER BOOK. WE TAKE A BREAK AFTER ANOTHER HALF HOUR AND GO GET COFFEE FROM THE LIBRARY CAFE. In line, Mina asks me when I'm going to take the MCAT. “I don't know,” I tell her. “YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY TAKE IT SOMETIME THIS YEAR. THAT'S THE BEST TIME TO TAKE IT IF YOU'RE PLANNING ON APPLYING TO MEDICAL SCHOOL DURING YOUR SENIOR YEAR.” “I know that.” “I TOOK A PREP COURSE THIS SUMMER AND IT HELPED A LOT,” MINA SAYS. SHE SHUFFLES FORWARD AS THE LINE MOVES. “I'M SCHEDULED TO TAKE THE MCAT NEXT WEEK.” “REALLY?” I'M STARTING TO FEEL EMPTY INSIDE. “Yeah,” says Mina. “Did you take a prep course? They're actually sort of fun.” “Fun?” I ask. “No, I didn't.” “OH, OKAY. WELL IT'S SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT.” MINA MOVES UP TO THE COUNTER AND ORDERS. THEN SHE TURNS BACK TO ME. “SORRY, I DON'T MEAN TO BORE YOU. I DON'T MEAN TO TALK ABOUT THAT SO MUCH.” “YOU DON'T TALK ABOUT IT...SO MUCH,” I SAY. SHE LAUGHS. “IT'S JUST IMPORTANT TO KEEP ON TOP OF THE MEDICAL SCHOOL APPLICATION PROCESS. AMSA RECOMMENDS THAT ALL COLLEGE PRE-MEDS TAKE AT LEAST ONE DAY PER WEEK TO FOCUS ON THEIR APPLICATION, OR MCAT STUDYING, OR ON MAKING CONNECTIONS WITH PROFESSORS WHO CAN WRITE YOU REFERENCE LETTERS.” “YEAH?” “IT'S VERY IMPORTANT TO CREATE MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR PROFESSORS. THAT'S HOW GOOD REFERENCE LETTERS GET WRITTEN.” “Oh,” I say. I STEP UP TO THE COUNTER AND ORDER A LATTE. “HOW MUCH LATER DO YOU WANT TO STUDY?” MINA ASKS ME. “I don't know. Maybe an hour.” “Just an hour?” “HOW LONG WERE YOU...GOING TO STUDY? “I'LL PROBABLY BE HERE UNTIL MIDNIGHT, MAYBE LATER. I WANT TO REVIEW SOME NOTES FOR ANOTHER CLASS. MAYBE START WORK ON AN ESSAY I GOT ASSIGNED.” “Okay,” I say. I GO WITH TOM AND LISA TO A FRATERNITY PARTY ON FRIDAY AT A HOUSE I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO PARTIALLY BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO DO AND PARTIALLY BECAUSE IT LOOKS COOL IF YOU GO TO PARTIES. LISA DOESN'T WANT TO GO. SHE IS ON HER BED READING WHEN TOM AND I KNOCK ON HER DOOR. BUT TOM JUMPS ON HER BED UNTIL SHE STARTS LAUGHING AND THEN HE STARTS TICKLING HER. I WATCH THIS FROM THE DOORWAY. LISA GETS OFF THE BED AND TELLS US SHE NEEDS A FEW MINUTES TO GET READY. WE LEAVE FOR THE PARTY AT TEN P.M. I am tired before we get to the party. Tom knows somebody named Mac who lives in the house and while he asks for him at the door I stand back with Lisa. I survey the yard. People are milling about, some drinking from red plastic cups, others talking on their phones or checking their messages. It is cold and most everybody is wearing long pants and jackets. I put my hands in my pockets. There are still leaves on the trees but most of them have changed from bright autumn colors to deeper, darker hues. The house is big and Victorian, like all the fraternity houses at Dunham, and by the time we get inside there is a line behind us. TOM IS TALKING LOUDLY TO MAC, WHO IS DRUNK, AND THE HOUSE SMELLS LIKE MARIJUANA. I LOOK AT LISA AND SHE LOOKS BORED. WE GO INSIDE ANYWAY AND DRINK BEER WHILE STANDING AROUND THE FOYER. MOVE INTO THE KITCHEN, SAME SCENE. I WONDER WHY I CAME. “WHY DID WE COME TO THIS?” LISA ASKS. “I don't know,” I tell her. “Because there's nothing else to do?” “Yeah,” she says. WE WALK AROUND AND I KEEP DRINKING BEER TO STAVE OFF THE FATIGUE AND BOREDOM. LISA IS DRINKING TOO BUT NOT AS MUCH AS ME. AT SOME POINT TOM GETS LOST AND LISA AND I GO OUT TO THE BACKYARD. A LONG-HAIRED KID IS ROLLING JOINTS AND HE GIVES ME ONE. I LIGHT IT AND LISA SHARES IT WITH ME WHILE WE TALK ABOUT NOTHING. “DO YOU WANT TO GO BACK?” SHE ASKS ME. “I DON'T CARE,” I TELL HER. Some ugly fraternity guys come outside and start talking to Lisa. It's clear that SHE KNOWS THEM. I WONDER IF SHE HAS HAD SEX WITH ANY OF THEM AND THE THOUGHT MAKES ME FEEL DEPRESSED. THEY ASK IF WE WANT TO PLAY DEATH RING. LISA GIVES ME A LOOK AND I GIVE HER A LOOK. THEN WE FOLLOW THEM INSIDE AND UPSTAIRS. “What's your name, bro?” one of the guys asks me. “Walt,” I tell him. “SWEET. I'M GRANT. YOU IN A FRAT?” “NO.” “TOO BAD, MAN. TOO BAD.” At the top of the stairs we turn left and go into a big common room with couches and a flat-panel TV showing reruns of a medical drama. A few other people are sitting on the couches. One guy is smoking a joint. A girl is passed out in a big chair. We sit around a coffee table, myself, Lisa, and the three guys. They bring beer and cups and quarters. The satellite TV is turned to an all-music channel. The music is turned up. Lisa smiles at me. WALKING BACK SOMETIME AFTER THREE. I AM TOO DRUNK, A LITTLE COKED UP, AND LISA IS STUMBLING, LEANING AGAINST ME. WE WEAVE BETWEEN THE SIDEWALK AND THE DESERTED STREET. IT IS COLD NOW AND I ZIP UP MY JACKET. WE WALK THROUGH LONG STRETCHES OF DARKNESS BETWEEN THE FAINT POOLS OF LIGHT CAST BY THE STREET LAMPS. “I'M DRUNK,” LISA SAYS. “YEAH YOU ARE,” I TELL HER. “What do you...want to do now?” she slurs. “Go back?” I ask. “OKAY,” SHE SAYS. AND THEN SHE TURNS AWAY FROM ME AND VOMITS INTO A BUSH. I STOP AND WAIT FOR HER BUT SHE KEEPS VOMITING, LOUDLY. I PUT MY HAND ON HER BACK, RUB IT AWKWARDLY. SHE RETCHES AGAIN, GAGGING, THEN STOPS. SHE HAS HER HANDS ON HER KNEES AND IS PANTING. “Are you okay?” I ask her. SHE NODS, HER FACE TURNED AWAY FROM ME. THEN I WATCH AS HER LEGS BUCKLE AND SHE COLLAPSES ONTO THE GRASS BESIDE THE SIDEWALK. WHEN I TRY TO PICK HER UP SHE THROWS UP ON MY ARMS, ON HER JACKET. IT IS ANOTHER HOUR BEFORE WE GET BACK TO THE DORMITORY AND I'M OUT OF XANAX, EVEN OUT OF NYQUIL, SO I'M UP UNTIL DAWN DOING NOTHING. The weeks go on. I go to Shooters and make out with Kelly once or twice but I find out from Chris that she has a boyfriend at Johns Hopkins. Tiffany takes me as a date to one of her sorority functions and she gets too drunk and throws up on some guy who is on the track team and I have to drive her home early. I get dinner with Lisa and she tells me Brent is gay now and dating someone named Carlos who lives in Portugal, which sounds funny but isn't. I borrow notes from Allen for my chemistry class and and don't do too badly on the first exam. Lisa and I go to class together. I smoke most of the pot Jessica sold me but do not see Jessica again, except drunk at parties where I worry that she is going to tell Allen about last summer. She doesn't. Allen takes a freshman girl home with him one night when Jessica goes to visit her friend at Columbia for the weekend. I don't see him do this but Rebecca tells me she saw it happen. JIM IS SETTING UP A MEETING WITH HIS DEALER VIA FACEBOOK. I AM SITTING ON HIS COUCH DRINKING MY FOURTH BEER OF THE NIGHT AND STARING AT A BASKETBALL GAME ON JIM'S FLAT-PANEL PLASMA. "How much shit do you want?" Jim asks. I turn to look at him but he is staring at the computer screen. "I don't care,” I say. “I only have like two-hundred dollars on me." "Well we're not getting it tonight so we don't have to pay now. Let's just get two grams. I don't even know if Brad can hook us up with that much." "Fine," I say. I refocus my attention on the basketball game. I FINISH MY BEER AND GET UP AND GET ANOTHER ONE AND ONE FOR JIM. JIM IS SMOKING A CIGARETTE. THE GAME REACHES HALFTIME. JIM SAYS BRAD IS NOT RESPONDING SO HE TURNS OFF HIS COMPUTER AND WE WATCH THE REST OF THE GAME TOGETHER. AT SOME POINT IT STARTS TO RAIN OUTSIDE AND THERE IS A DEAFENING PEAL OF THUNDER. THE LIGHTS FLICKER AND THE TV SPUTTERS. JIM LOOKS AROUND AND THEN CHECKS THE TIME ON HIS IPHONE. I LOOK OVER AND SEE THAT IT'S ALMOST ELEVEN. “DO YOU WANT TO GO OUT?” JIM ASKS ME. I SHRUG. “WHY?” “I want to find Brad.” “In a hurry?” “DON'T YOU WANT TO GET HIGH?” I nod. “Yeah,” I say. “Whatever.” OUT AT OLIVER'S BAR, AROUND ONE, THE STORM GONE, JIM LOOKING AROUND ANXIOUSLY FOR Brad. Brad is a second-year graduate student, Jim told me on the drive over, and Jim SAYS HE KNOWS HE WILL BE AT OLIVER'S TONIGHT. I DO NOT ASK JIM TO EXPLAIN. I AM REASONABLY DRUNK. A CIGARETTE TAKES THE EDGE OFF AND I FOLLOW JIM AS HE WANDERS AROUND LOOKING FOR THE DEALER. I KNOW ALMOST NOBODY AT THE BAR, WHICH, FOR ONCE, I AM GRATEFUL FOR. I SEE JIM TALKING TO A SHORT, MEXICAN-LOOKING GUY NEAR THE BATHROOMS. THEY SHAKE HANDS. THE short guy puts something in Jim's jacket pocket. I do not walk over. Finish my drink. SOON JIM COMES UP TO ME AND TAPS ME ON THE SHOULDER AND TELLS ME WE CAN GO. In the car Jim turns the ignition and messes with the radio. “Do you want to do some now?” he asks. “I guess,” I say, and Jim turns the radio up and takes out the bag and digs into it with a credit card. I watch him intently as he bends down and snorts the clumps of white powder. Then he lifts his head, sniffing, and I take out my credit card and do some. It's only okay. WE LISTEN TO THE RADIO AND DRIVE BACK TO CAMPUS. I SPEND MOST OF THE NEXT NIGHT IN THE BATHROOM THROWING UP BECAUSE I DRANK SO MUCH VODKA AND SMOKED TOO MUCH MARIJUANA WITH JIM AND MATT. I STARE AT THE VOMIT IN THE TOILET, MY GUTS EMPTIED. I ALMOST PASS OUT ON THE TOILET BUT MANAGE TO MAKE IT BACK TO MY ROOM WHERE I FALL INTO A DRUNKEN SLEEP FOR NEARLY TWELVE HOURS. WHEN I WAKE UP I HAVE A LOT OF MISSED CALLS AND NEW TEXT MESSAGES BUT I DELETE THEM ALL. WHEN NOTHING HAPPENS I GET UP AND SHOWER AND GET BREAKFAST BY MYSELF. I SMOKE A CIGARETTE AND DRINK A LARGE LATTE WHICH I BUY AT THE STUDENT UNION AND START TO FEEL OKAY. I THINK ABOUT CALLING LISA BUT DECIDE NOT TO. I READ A BOOK OUTSIDE ON THE QUADRANGLE. THERE ARE NOT MANY MORE WARM DAYS LEFT, I KNOW. SUNDAY NIGHT AND I WANT TO FIND JESSICA, TO HANG OUT WITH HER, BUT I HEAR FROM SARAH THAT SHE'S GOING TO A SORORITY FUNCTION WITH TED, WHO I BARELY KNOW. SARAH SAYS IT'S JUST DRUNK BOWLING BUT I FEEL WEIRD ABOUT IT FOR NO REAL REASON. TOM AND CHRIS ASK ME TO GO WITH THEM TO A FREESTYLE RAP CONCERT THAT SIG CHI IS HOSTING. WE PREGAME IN TOM'S ROOM WITH GIN AND TONICS WHILE LISTENING TO TAYLOR SWIFT. A COUPLE GIRLS STOP BY, INCLUDING TIFFANY AND CARLY, BUT WE DON'T TALK MUCH AND ONLY TOM, CHRIS, AND MYSELF END UP GOING TO THE CONCERT. THE CONCERT IS BEHIND THE MAIN QUAD IN A BIG GRASSY FIELD THAT SLOPES UP TO THE DUNHAM FOREST. IT'S ALREADY HALFWAY OVER BY THE TIME WE ARRIVE. THERE'S A PRETTY BIG GROUP IN FRONT OF A SMALL STAGE, LIT UP BY FLASHING COLORED LIGHTS. MOSTLY UNDERGRADUATES. A FEW TOWNIES. I RECOGNIZE THE GUY RAPPING. I THINK HE'S A JUNIOR BUT CAN'T REMEMBER HIS NAME. Tom and Chris push forward into the crowd, trying to get closer. I stand back. The guy on the stage, white, is wearing an oversized letter jacket and a big baseball hat, the brim cocked sideways. He is singing about girls and cars and drinking. I start looking around the crowd for people I know. Most everybody seems really into the song, jumping up and down and waving their arms and screaming. I wonder if something is wrong with me. A couple fat guys, definitely townies, pass around a blunt. They look tired, bloated. They are wearing greasy t-shirts and baseball caps. Their flesh sort of jiggles as they bob up and down to the throbbing bass. Suddenly one of them looks over and catches me staring. I look away. “YOU CAN'T STOP ME NOW,” THE GUY ON STAGE RAPS. “I'M GOING STRAIGHT TO THE FINISH / CHEAP WHISKEY GOOD POT AND A WHOLE TON OF WOMEN.” “WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT, PUNK?” ONE OF THE TOWNIES SAYS. I don't turn around, just keep looking at the stage. Now there is dark fog spilling from the wings, blanketing the speakers and the DJ. It curls around the feet of the guy in the letter jacket. His name comes to me then—Derek Forrester. I may have had a class WITH HIM. NOW THE CROWD IS SCREAMING, ROARING, PUSHING FORWARD AGAINST THE STAGE. SOMEONE BUMPS INTO ME FROM BEHIND AND I STUMBLE. “Break it down break it down break it down / Ladies put your drinks in the AIR!” “Yeah, fuck you too, college boy,” one of the townies says. I glance over to see if they're walking toward me but it actually looks like they're leaving. I feel cold and hollow. The song ends and the crowd cheers. People are spraying beer in the air, throwing cans. Part of me registers that it is Sunday night. Drops of liquid spray across my face and I blink, startled. THERE IS A BIG SEMIFORMAL FOR MATT'S FRATERNITY ON THE NIGHT OF THE TWENTY-FIRST. MATT TELLS ME I NEED TO GO, THAT IT'S GOING TO BE THE BEST TIME EVER. FOR SOME REASON I BELIEVE HIM AND HE TELLS ME HE CAN SET ME UP WITH A DATE. I SAY SURE. GRATEFUL FOR SOMETHING TO DO, I SPEND MOST OF THAT FRIDAY IRONING MY SHIRTS AND TIES, MAKING SURE MY GOOD DARK SUIT IS CLEAN. I FINALLY DECIDE ON A SHIRT AND TIE—BOTH FROM POLO, THE SUIT A CHARCOAL PINSTRIPE FROM J. CREW—AND I TEXT MATT ASKING WHAT TIME I SHOULD BE READY. HE TEXTS BACK SIX O'CLOCK. IT'S FIVE NOW. I WANDER INTO THE COMMON ROOM AND STARE BLANKLY AT THE TV WITH THE OTHER GUYS SITTING THERE. LISA IS IN THE COMMON ROOM, TOO, DOING HOMEWORK AT A TABLE. I WALK OVER. “HEY, WALT,” SHE SAYS, NOT LOOKING UP. “HOW'S IT GOING?” I ASK. SHE GRUNTS. “I HAVE A LOT OF WORK TO DO.” “DOING ANYTHING TONIGHT?” “Maybe. I got really drunk last night so I don't know. This is due on Monday.” Nick lifts his head from the sofa where he is lying. “Get drunk tonight, Lisa. It's fucking Friday. Come on.” LISA SMILES BUT DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING. I LOOK AT NICK. HE HAS GOTTEN FATTER SINCE LAST YEAR, HAS STARTED WEARING A BEARD. HE IS LESS OF A FRIEND THAN AN ACQUAINTANCE, AN IRRITANT. I THINK HE TOLD ME ONE NIGHT, DRUNK, THAT HE WANTS TO FUCK LISA. I CAN'T BE SURE. I SIT DOWN ON A COUCH. “IS ANYBODY ELSE GOING TO THE SEMI-FORMAL?” “FUCK THAT,” SAYS NICK. “I WOULD RATHER SLIT MY NUTSACK OPEN.” Wes snorts. “That sounds painful.” “It is,” Nick insists. “Why are you going?” I SHRUG. “I DON'T KNOW,” I SAY, KNOWING IT'S ACTUALLY THE TRUTH. “We're going out to Oliver's, if you want to bail on Matt,” Wes says. “Tiffany and CARLY ARE MEETING US THERE. BRINGING SOME SOROSTITUTES.” “HOT SOROSTITUTES,” NICK SAYS. I nod but I'm starting to feel slightly sick to my stomach so I stand up and walk out. Lisa is too busy working to notice. I wonder idly who my date will be but decide it doesn't matter. Matt is taking Sarah, I think. Maybe Jacki. I haven't seen Jacki in two weeks. I GO BACK TO MY ROOM AND DECIDE TO GET DRESSED EARLY BECAUSE THERE ISN'T ANYTHING TO DO. I TAKE A SHOWER AND TOWEL-DRY MY HAIR, LETTING IT FULLY DRY WHILE I DRESS. MY SUIT FITS WELL. MY PARENTS PURCHASED IT FOR ME FOR AN INTERNSHIP INTERVIEW IN THE SPRING AND I'VE ONLY WORN IT MAYBE TWICE. GETTING DRESSED TAKES MAYBE THIRTY MINUTES, BUT BY THAT TIME MY BLACKBERRY HAS STARTED BUZZING WITH TEXTS FROM MATT SO I WALK DOWN TO HIS ROOM. HE IS DRINKING SCOTCH, ALREADY DRESSED. JACKI IS THERE, DRESSED UP WITH HER HAIR CURLED. THERE IS A TALL GIRL NEXT TO HER. MATT INTRODUCES HER AS MY DATE, STEPHANIE. SHE IS PRETTY, SLIGHT. IT'S CLEAR SHE HAS ALREADY BEEN DRINKING. WE HUG AND SHE KISSES ME ON THE CHEEK. “More drinks before we leave?” Matt offers. “Oh God yes,” says Jacki. THE DANCE IS AT A MEDIOCRE HOTEL DOWNTOWN. THE FOUR OF US TAKE A TAXI. AS SOON AS WE WALK IN MATT STARTS TALKING TO HIS FRATERNITY FRIENDS. STEPHANIE LIGHTS A CIGARETTE OUTSIDE OF THE TAXI AND KEEPS SMOKING IT INSIDE THE HOTEL LOBBY. THERE IS A BIG BAR WITH SURLY-LOOKING BARTENDERS WATCHING THE COLLEGE KIDS STUMBLING AROUND AND YELLING AT EACH OTHER. STEPHANIE IS A SENIOR AND SHE IS APPLYING TO MEDICAL SCHOOL NEXT FALL. TAKING A YEAR OFF. SHE TELLS ME SHE IS FROM NEW JERSEY. EVERYONE AT THIS COLLEGE IS FROM NEW JERSEY, SHE SAYS. ALL HER HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS ARE HERE AND SHE SAYS IT FEELS CLAUSTROPHOBIC. SHE SAYS HER PARENTS ARE DIVORCED AND THAT SHE USED TO BE BULIMIC AND SHE BROKE UP WITH HER HIGH SCHOOL BOYFRIEND ONLY LAST YEAR, AFTER DATING HIM FOR SEVEN YEARS. SHE TELLS ME ALL THIS WHILE SMOKING CIGARETTE AFTER CIGARETTE. SHE IS SMOKING MARLBORO LIGHTS. “YOU SMOKE?” SHE ASKS WHEN I TAKE OUT MY PACK OF BENSON AND HEDGES. “YEAH, BUT I'M NOT SURE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE SMOKING IN HERE.” “WHO CARES?” SHE SAYS. “FUCK THIS PLACE.” I laugh and she holds out her cigarette and lights mine and we stand by the bar and smoke and watch. I tell her about myself. I think about telling her about Lindsey but decide not to. “I HATE BEING PRE-MED,” I ADMIT. “I FUCKING HATE IT.” “I do too,” she says. “I might not go to medical school. Even if I get in.” A SHORT, JEWISH-LOOKING GUY COMES UP AND STARTS TALKING TO STEPHANIE. I LITERALLY TOWER OVER HIM. SHE INTRODUCES ME. HIS NAME IS ADAM AND HE IS A SOPHOMORE. AFTER HE LEAVES STEPHANIE TELLS ME HIS FATHER IS THE CFO OF GENERAL MOTORS AND THAT LAST SPRING HE ASKED HER TO GO ON VACATION WITH HIM IN THE CARIBBEAN FOR THE SUMMER. I LAUGH BUT THIS DEPRESSES ME. “Have you ever done heroin?” Stephanie asks me. I shake my head. “You?” “ONCE,” SHE SAYS, FLATLY. “I SMOKED IT. IT MADE ME THROW UP BUT IT ALSO FELT REALLY GOOD.” I NOD. “Don't try it,” she tells me. “I doubt I will. I don't know anybody who does it.” “You'd be surprised,” Stephanie says. MUCH LATER WE ARE BOTH DRUNK ON BAD GIN FROM THE BAR. MY TIE IS LOOSENED AND SOME OF STEPHANIE'S HAIR HAS FALLEN FROM HER BUN AND IS SPLAYED ACROSS HER FACE. JIM IS TALKING TO ME ABOUT SOMETHING BUT I CANNOT HEAR HIM OVER THE MUSIC. WE HAVE MOVED into the central ballroom and it is dark. Strobe lights flash across our faces. Stephanie has taken off her heels and is now more than a foot shorter than me. “WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?” JIM IS ASKING. “WHAT?” I ASK. “I can't hear you!” Stephanie says. “WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE WEED?” JIM ASKS “I didn't do any weed,” I say. “Oh,” says Jim. “Why?” “WE HAVE TO GO,” STEPHANIE SAYS. “OK,” JIM SAYS. HE FADES AWAY INTO THE CROWD, ALREADY FINDING SOMEONE ELSE TO TALK TO. I FINISH MY DRINK. STEPHANIE TAKES MY HAND AND WE WANDER AWAY FROM THE SPEAKERS. Memories from the last summer with Lindsey. The look of the sunset from the speedboat, lying on my back and feeling the warm deck beneath me, feeling the evening wind ruffling my hair over the gunwales of the boat. Trying to be happy and forgetting that all last night Lindsey cried and told me she couldn't stop thinking about the future and that she couldn't handle being away from me for one day, one hour, one minute. Not anymore. Toward the end of it all. “It's going to be okay, right?” she asked. A nod and nothing else because I didn't know the answer to that question. “I love you,” she said. “I love you too.” Finishing my beer and crushing the can, opening another one. The redness of the sky over the stilling water while I tried to forget. Watching sunsets. “DO YOU WANT TO DANCE?” STEPHANIE ASKS. “Sure,” I say, and we move to the dance floor. I'm noticing for the first time Stephanie's green dress, the way it sparkles and fits her body, but it fails to move me. We sway on the dance floor to a slow song, neither of us drunk enough. My arms are around her hips and her fingers are laced behind his neck. I realize that I know her vaguely, from somewhere. A class, maybe? A laboratory? It gets hard to tell after awhile. The song changes, faster now, rap. Stephanie smiles and turns around, her back to me. She keeps dancing. She looks up at me and says something. “What?” I yell back through the music. “I said, you’re in my chemistry class.” “Yeah, I know!” I lie, screaming it. WE DANCE FOR AWHILE MORE. A FEW SONGS GO BY. I SEE MATT AT THE EDGE OF THE DANCE FLOOR, MAKING OUT WITH HIS DATE. HE HAS ONE ARM AROUND HER, A DRINK IN HIS OTHER HAND HELD ABOVE HIS HEAD. STEPHANIE SAYS SOMETHING ELSE THAT I DON'T HEAR. “HUH?” “I SAID, DO YOU WANT TO TAKE A BREAK?” “SURE.” She takes his hand and leads me out into the hallway. The noise of the dance floor fades. I lean against the wall and loosen my collar. I wipe some sweat from my BROW. STEPHANIE LEANS AGAINST ME, LOOKING UP AT ME. SHE SLIDES HER ARMS AROUND MY BACK. I LOOK DOWN AT HER. “So Walt,” she says. “I think you’re very cute.” I smile in spite my himself. “Thanks.” And then she is on her tiptoes, her face up against mine, her mouth opening. I let her come closer, and then we are kissing and her tongue is in his mouth. I can smell vodka and it's clear she is drunker than I thought. Stephanie bites my lip and puts her hand up his shirt, untucking it. We stay like that, making out, for awhile. Then she pulls back for breath and her hands go to my belt, fumbling with it. She looks up at me and smiles expectantly. “Uh...Stephanie?” “I FUCKING WANT YOU, WALT. I WANT YOU RIGHT HERE.” I LOOK AROUND. THE HALLWAY IS DESERTED. MUSIC FILTERS IN QUIETLY FROM THE DANCE FLOOR. I CAN SEE THE STROBE LIGHTS FLASHING THROUGH THE WINDOWS. Stephanie has undone my belt by now and she has her hands down my pants. She starts massaging my cock. She looks up at me, still grinning drunkenly, her face sweaty. Her lipstick is smeared and somehow this is important. I'm too drunk or something and feeling depressed. Stephanie looks sort of like Lindsey, too, and that makes it worse. I push her away. “WALT, WHAT?” “I HAVE TO GO,” I SAY. And I leave her standing there. I GO THROUGH THE DANCE FLOOR TO GET OUTSIDE. MATT SEES ME AND YELLS SOMETHING AT ME BUT I IGNORE HIM. THE ENTRYWAY IS AS LOUD AND CROWDED AS THE DANCE FLOOR, SAVE FOR A CORNER WHERE SOMEBODY HAS THROWN UP AND THAT PEOPLE ARE AVOIDING. FOR A SECOND I STARE AT THE WALL AND LOOK AT THE VOMIT SPLATTERED THERE. THE ORANGEISH SPEW IS JUST BEGINNING TO TRICKLE TO THE CARPET, POOLING ON THE BASEBOARD. THE FAMILIAR, NAUSEATING ODOR TICKLES MY NOSTRILS AND I KNOW I HAVE TO GO OUTSIDE OR I'LL THROW UP. JACKI COMES OUT OF THE BATHROOM BY THE DOOR AND SEES ME. “WALT?” SHE ASKS. “WHAT'S UP?” I push my way through the crowd in their formal gowns and suits. A guy and girl with their tongues down one another’s throats part briefly and I get outside beneath the night sky and the trees and the quiet lamplit parking lot. Stumbling, I move away from the door. The music fades. JACKI IS STILL STANDING AT THE DOOR, SHOUTING AT ME. “WHERE'S STEPHANIE?” SHE YELLS. IGNORING HER, I WALK DRUNKENLY ACROSS THE PARKING LOT AND FIND MY FATHER’S RANGE Rover parked in front of the gates and get inside. I grope for the keys and stick them in the ignition and sit back as the big car roars to life. In front of me the asphalt is lit up in harsh relief by the twin headlamps. For a second I think about Stephanie and feel guilty. Then I drive off. On Friday Jessica calls and she tells me she misses the summer. She tells me she's smoking too much and bored at her apartment. She tells me she misses Allen. “WHY DO YOU MISS ALLEN?” I ASK. “OH, I DON'T KNOW.” “Did he have a tennis match again?” “A weekend tournament in Georgia.” “Oh.” I AM OUTSIDE THE LIBRARY, WEARING A WOOL COAT AND STANDING UNDER THE ARCHES BY THE MAIN DOORS. IT IS EARLY OCTOBER. SOMEONE I DO NOT RECOGNIZE NODS HELLO TO ME ON HIS WAY INSIDE AND I NOD BACK. “DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS FOR THE NIGHT?” I ASK JESSICA. “I was wondering if you would want to come over and have dinner.” I hesitate for too long and she says, “Walt?” “THAT SOUNDS REALLY GOOD,” I TELL HER. “OH YEAH?” SHE ASKS, AND I CAN TELL FROM HER VOICE THAT SHE IS SMILING. “WHAT TIME DO YOU WANT TO COME OVER?” “Eight?” “See you then,” she says and then hangs up. I stare at my Blackberry for awhile, her Facebook picture displayed by the blinking call timer, Allen's muscular arm draped around her. I AM WALKING UP THE STAIRS TO JESSICA'S APARTMENT. I RING THE DOORBELL. I HEAR FOOTSTEPS AND THEN IT OPENS. JESSICA IS WEARING A SKIRT AND A DUNHAM UNIVERSITY T-SHIRT. SHE HAS A BLOW-DRYER IN ONE HAND, HER HAIR STILL DAMP. SHE SMILES WIDELY AND GESTURES ME INSIDE. “HEY!” SHE SAYS, HUGGING ME WITH HER FREE HAND. “DID YOU GET TALLER?” “I DON'T THINK SO...” She laughs. “I guess I'm just used to Allen. He's only like, six-feet or something.” I smile and follow her into the kitchen. She tells me I can make us drinks. I GRAB A COUPLE OF BEERS FROM THE FRIDGE. “WHEN IS ALLEN GETTING BACK?” I ASK. “What?” Jessica yells. She has gone into the bathroom and the blow-dryer is on. “Never mind,” I say. WHEN SHE COMES OUT OF THE BATHROOM HER HAIR IS DRY, SWEPT HALF OVER HER FACE. SHE HAS PUT ON A LITTLE MAKE-UP. SHE WALKS OVER AND HUGS ME. I PUT MY ARMS AROUND HER AND SHE LOOKS UP AT ME. THEN SHE SMILES AND PULLS AWAY. SHE TELLS ME WE'RE HAVING PASTA FOR DINNER. “I'M PUTTING YOU TO WORK,” SHE TELLS ME. “CAN YOU CHOP UP THE PEPPERS IN THE REFRIGERATOR?” “Sure,” I say. WHILE I STAND OVER THE CUTTING BOARD I GLANCE BACK AT HER AND CATCH HER LOOKING AT ME. SHE WINKS AT ME AND SIPS HER BEER. “What do you want to do tonight?” she asks. “Anything,” I tell her. LATER THAT NIGHT, AFTER THE WINE WITH DINNER AT HER APARTMENT AND THE DRINKS AT THE JOYCE AND THE TRIP TO SHOOTERS WHERE WE DANCED FOR ALMOST AN HOUR UNTIL WE BOTH STARTED SEEING TOO MANY PEOPLE WE KNEW,. WE ARE BOTH DRUNK BACK AT HER APARTMENT. IT IS RAINING AND I SHAKE OUT HER UMBRELLA AND LEAVE IT IN THE FOYER. I SMELL LIKE WET DOG AND CIGARETTE SMOKE BUT SHE TAKES OFF MY COAT AND HUGS ME CLOSE. “I MISSED THIS,” SHE SAYS, BURYING HER FACE IN MY CHEST. “ME TOO,” I SAY. WE TAKE OFF OUR COATS AND SHE TURNS ON A LAMP. I GO TO THE COUCH AND SIT DOWN. I DO NOT FEEL DRUNK ENOUGH FOR WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. JESSICA SITS NEXT TO ME. SHE TURNS, FACING ME. SHE PUTS HER HAND ON MY THIGH. “I'M SORRY ABOUT THE SUMMER,” SHE SAYS. “I REALLY AM.” “It's okay,” I say, not sure if it really is. I can smell the vodka on her breath but don't care. SHE MOVES CLOSER TO ME, HER EYES BRIGHT. I PUSH A LOCK OF BLONDE HAIR AWAY FROM HER FACE. SHE REMINDS ME TOO MUCH OF LINDSEY. I REACH OUT AND WRAP MY HANDS AROUND HER FOREARMS. HER SKIN IS CHILLY AND DAMP FROM THE RAIN. WE HESITATE FOR A HEARTBEAT AND THEN SHE SLIDES HER ARMS AROUND MY NECK AND WE ARE KISSING. She moans softly, her mouth opening. Our tongues touch. She bites my lip, gently at first then harder. Still kissing me, she lifts her legs and straddles me. “God, Walt,” she whispers. OUTSIDE THE RAIN COMES DOWN. I wake up early but Jessica is already awake, sitting up next to me in bed. The television is on and she is watching it with the volume turned down. Her hair is tousled and she is wearing only a large T-shirt. She looks perfect. I recognize the shirt as one of Allen's. I've seen him wearing it at the gym. “HELLO YOU,” JESSICA SAYS. “Hey,” I say. “Have you been up long?” “NOT TOO LONG,” SHE SAYS. “MAYBE THIRTY MINUTES. I READ MY BOOK FOR AWHILE. HOW ARE YOU FEELING?” “I FEEL GOOD. WHAT ABOUT YOU?” She shrugs. “Pretty good. Do you need me to drive you back?” “I guess so. Do I need to leave now?” “NO,” SHE SAYS. “Okay.” I want to kiss her, to reach over and hold her, but it feels wrong for some reason. Unwanted. JESSICA TURNS BACK TO THE TELEVISION. I DON'T KNOW THE SHOW SHE IS WATCHING. AS I lie there and watch, still tired, Jessica laughs at parts I don't find funny. Later I groan and get out bed. I am naked but I don't bother looking for my boxers. I go to the kitchen, pour a glass of orange juice and drink all of it. I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand and take in the living room, quiet, still dark. Two glasses and a half-full bottle of scotch on the coffee table. Our coats on the sofa. I think ABOUT ALLEN. PLAYING TENNIS. WINNING MATCHES OR LOSING THEM. GOING OUT FOR DRINKS WITH THE OTHER GUYS ON THE TEAM. I WONDER IF HE CALLS JESSICA WHILE HE IS GONE. A WAVE OF FATIGUE HITS ME. I go out to the porch and light a cigarette. While I smoke the sky lightens further and I watch the lamps in the parking lot go off. The cigarette tastes stale and acrid. The smoke stings my eyes. When I go back inside Jessica is still in bed watching television. I LOOK AT HER, SEE HER STARING GLASSILY AT THE TELEVISION. BLUE FLASHES FROM THE FLAT-PANEL SCREEN PLAY ON HER FACE AND I'M THINKING, THIS IS SO FUCKED. FINALLY SHE LOOKS UP AND SEES ME. SHE TILTS HER HEAD. BEHIND HER BED IS A MIRROR AND I CATCH MY REFLECTION. TOO SKINNY, THE EYES DARK. MY HAIR IS A MESS AND I'M STILL NAKED. "I HAD A GOOD TIME LAST NIGHT," JESSICA SAYS, SMILING. Taking the speedboat out on the lake for the last time that year with Lindsey. It is late th morning and we need to drive home that afternoon because it is August 15 and high school is starting tomorrow. But we live in the same neighborhood and we're in all the same classes so the only thing to be sad about is saying goodbye to the speedboat and the lake. I drive the boat and we listen to The Cure while Lindsey sits in the front, facing backward. The wind whips her hair about her face, across her sunglasses. She smiles at me and although we can't hear each other over the wind and the waves and the engine it is clear to both of us that we don't need to speak. Some ducks are in our path and as the boat roars toward them they take off around us. Nobody else is out on the lake. I make a few sharp turns, kicking up water, splashing Lindsey a little. She laughs and brushes the droplets off. “Just Like Heaven” is playing and the moment is almost too perfect. I open the throttle up and we accelerate toward the dock by my lake house. Lindsey turns around to watch the water speeding by. The sun is sparkling in the water, the sky is pure blue, the air smells of pine and summer. On the dock is Mike's dog, a fat Welsh Corgi, wagging his tailless bottom and panting. After I dock Lindsey leaps off the boat and hugs the dog, laughing as it licks her face. I look toward the house and Mike is waving us on, yelling that the cars are packed, heralding another summer come and gone. I remember these things only sometimes, only when I let myself. And sometimes when I think like that, about those things, the remembering is so clear and so real that it stops my heart and I have to close my eyes but it doesn't help. The pain comes anyway, like it's been waiting, gathering strength, and it is cold at first but rapidly warming, and I promise myself that I won't remember anything ever again if it feels like this. WE GO OUT TO DINNER AGAIN THE NEXT NIGHT. SATURDAY. I ASK JESSICA TOO EAGERLY IF THIS IS A GOOD IDEA. “IS WHAT A GOOD IDEA?” SHE SAYS. “THE TWO OF US.” She looks at me. “You don't have to say it like that.” “Okay,” I say. She is wearing a light yellow sundress, probably from J. Crew, and I realize she is beautiful enough to do whatever she wants. I suddenly hate myself very much and want to get out. I stand up. “I think I need to go,” I tell her. “DON'T BE SO MELODRAMATIC,” SHE SAYS, LOOKING AT ME THROUGH HER WAYFARER SUNGLASSES WHICH SHE HAS YET TO TAKE OFF, EVEN THOUGH IT'S DARK IN THE RESTAURANT. “WE DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING YOU DON'T WANT TO DO.” I HAVE A VISION OF MYSELF DRIVING HOME, THE RADIO ON. I OPEN THE DOOR TO MY DARK DORM. SPEND THE NIGHT ALONE READING, MAYBE GOING TO THE BARS WITH MATT AND CHRIS AND THEN EITHER GOING TO BED ALONE OR FINDING SOME GIRL I DON'T KNOW AND HAVING SEX WITH HER AND THEN NEVER SEEING OR TALKING TO HER AGAIN AND I REALIZE I WOULD RATHER BE WITH JESSICA THAN ALONE. I SIT BACK DOWN. “Good boy,” Jessica says. The waiter arrives and we order drinks. I look around the restaurant. I don't see anybody I know. I wonder if that is good OR BAD. “What do you think you're going to order?” Jessica asks me, idly. “I'm not...sure,” I say. “The grouper sounds good. I hear they get it shipped in from the coast every day.” I NOD, NOT THINKING ABOUT THE FOOD. I WANT A CIGARETTE. OUR DRINKS COME, A GLASS OF WHITE WINE FOR HER AND A BEER FOR ME. I DRINK GREEDILY FROM THE GLASS WHILE JESSICA ORDERS THE GROUPER. I TELL THE WAITER I WILL HAVE THE SAME AND THEN HE LEAVES. “How was your day?” I ask her. “IT WAS GOOD,” SHE SAYS. “NOT AS GOOD AS THIS MORNING, THOUGH.” SHE SMILES shyly. I look at her face in the dimness. Candlelight plays on our glasses. The restaurant is busy around us. I smile back. I start to feel okay. “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO TONIGHT?” SHE IS ASKING ME. I SHAKE MY HEAD. “ANYTHING.” “We can see where the evening takes us,” she says softly. She lifts her wine glass with one delicate hand and sips from it. She sets it down and, carefully, brushes a strand of hair from her forehead. We finish our drinks before the food arrives and order new ones. When the food comes it is delicious and we talk quietly while eating. After our plates are cleared away Jessica excuses herself to go smoke a cigarette, tells me to order dessert. I think about joining her but stay at the table and watch her walk through the crowd, her dress perfect, her body perfect. I think about Lindsey and feel a little sick but the sensation passes. We do not talk on the drive home to her apartment in my car. UNDRESSING HER IN THE DARKNESS OF HER BEDROOM. THE ONLY LIGHT COMES FROM THE WINDOW, FROM THE PARKING LOT. SHE RAISES HER ARMS AND I SLIDE HER DRESS UP AND OFF. I BEND FORWARD AND KISS HER BETWEEN HER BREASTS, THE SKIN SOFT AND WARM. SHE GASPS A LITTLE AND PUTS HER ARMS AROUND ME. HER TOUCH IS LIGHT, FRAGILE. I TAKE OFF HER BRA AND PULL HER TOWARD THE BED. “I THINK I'M IN LOVE WITH YOU,” I TELL HER. I SEE HER SMILE IN THE MOONLIGHT. “THAT'S SWEET,” SHE TELLS ME. SHE BENDS DOWN AND KISSES ME. I CARESS HER BREASTS. A PAINFUL ERECTION PRESSES AGAINST MY JEANS. JESSICA SLIDES ONE HAND DOWNWARD AND SQUEEZES. “I think I've been in love with you since summer.” “Yeah?” she says, still kissing me. I kick my jeans off. I slide my hand beneath her panties. She moans, drops her head so she's kissing my neck. “I want you so bad,” she whispers. “I've wanted this for so long.” She grips me with one hand, stroking. “WHAT HAPPENED TO US?” I ASK HER. “SHH,” SHE SAYS. I think about the summer. I think about her smile, her laugh. I think about endless hours by the pool, endless sunsets. Holding her hand. Getting high. Getting drunk. Making her dinner. Cigarette butts in an old Coke can. Allen always gone, not an issue. I think about how I lay awake at night when he was home, knowing they were together in the next room. And how it didn't bother me at first. Too much alcohol that summer. Everywhere. Then I am inside of her and then she is moving on top of me and then I stop thinking. Later the next day Matt asks me where I've been and I tell him I've been seeing this girl. He asks me what her name is and I say Betsy for no reason. “Holly who?” he asks. “Uh...Jenkins,” I say. HE SHAKES HIS HEAD. “BETSY JENKINS? ARE WE IN MAD MEN?" “FUCK OFF, MATT.” He laughs and opens his second beer of the afternoon. “Fine. I am so hungover. I can't move.” “Good,” I say. “I DID WAY TOO MUCH COCAINE LAST NIGHT," MATT TELLS ME. "SHIT.” I don't say anything to this because it's clear he just wants a reaction. We are sitting outside on a big bench outside the dormitory. Matt is wearing dark sunglasses. Today is the first warm day at Dunham in several weeks. The sun is out and the sky is blue. It is the middle of October. Nobody is playing games on the quad. The rain has soaked the ground and the grass is still soggy. Someone in the dormitory has his window open and is playing loud country music from two speakers set on the sill. I feel vaguely nauseated. Vertiginous. I check my Blackberry for the tenth time. No messages, no missed calls. Matt is lighting a cigarette so I have one too. Matt smokes only Parliament Lights and I find this comforting for a reason I cannot explain. Later Lindsey would drive us home, either to my house or hers, and if her parents weren't home we would sneak up to her room and take a shower. On the best days we would make love in the shower and then again on her bed, unwrapping our bath towels and lying across them so we wouldn't soak the comforter. Then Lindsey would stand up, naked and tanned and glowing, and turn on her radio and we would lie on the floor and read magazines or just talk until we knew her parents were about to come home. Then she would drive me home and we would do it all again the next day. I remember the way she looked with her hair wet and slicked back from her forehead, her face pale and clean. Mostly the way her eyes looked. But usually I try to forget. I spend most of Monday thinking about the weekend with Jessica and staring at my Facebook profile, perusing the seventy-eight new photographs of me that have been “posted” since last week. There are now six-hundred thirty-nine pictures of me on Facebook. Almost all of them have been added by friends. Only a dozen or so, from a trip my family took to Greece, were added by myself. Almost all of the new ones are of me in various stages of intoxication, my arm around an equally wasted-looking Jessica. I look at the blurry, boring pictures and read the comments and suddenly a wave of total nausea sweeps over me and I have to close MY COMPUTER—I ACTUALLY SLAM THE LAPTOP CLOSED SO HARD THE DESK SHAKES—AND I LEAVE MY ROOM AND GET OUTSIDE THE DORMITORY INTO THE CRISP, CLEAN AUTUMN AIR AND DECIDE ON A WHIM TO CALL MY FATHER FOR THE FIRST TIME IN WEEKS BUT THERE IS ONLY THE ANSWERING MACHINE BECAUSE I HAVE FORGOTTEN THAT HE IS SPENDING THE WEEK IN CHICAGO WITH MY STEP-MOTHERS. I decide to call Jessica on Monday night. I have not seen or talked to her since SUNDAY MORNING. THIS FEELS LIKE A LONG TIME. SHE PICKS UP ON THE FOURTH RING. “HELLO?” “HEY, JESSICA.” “Walt?” “Can I see you tonight?” SHE IS SILENT FOR AWHILE. THEN, “UM, ALLEN IS HERE.” “Oh,” I say. Pause. “I, uh, don't have to spend the night or anything.” A longer pause. “It's not a good idea, Walt.” “What about what we talked about?” I ask. I hear Jessica sigh. “When?” “JESSICA...” “I can't, Walt. Not tonight. I'll talk to you later.” Then she hangs up and I am alone. “Do you want to try to get in on this?” Jack is asking from my doorway. I am reading a book on my bed. I STARE FOR A SECOND, PURSING MY LIPS. “I THINK SO,” I SAY. “WHO ARE YOU BUYING IT FROM?” “Some bartender at Oliver's Pub. I think Wallace knows him.” “Wallace?” “Friend of Dan's. Don't worry about it. Can I come in?” I NOD AND JACK COMES IN, SITS DOWN AT MY DESK. HE STARTS LOOKING THROUGH MY STUFF, TURNING OVER BOOKS AND PICKING UP STACKS OF PAPERS. HE PICKS UP THE KINDLE MY FATHER SENT ME AND SPINS IT AROUND IN HIS HANDS. I SET DOWN MY BOOK AND LOOK AT HIM. “How much are you buying?” I ask. “Couple grams. It won't be very expensive.” “THAT'S FINE. JUST GET IT AND THEN TALK TO ME. I DON'T WANT TO BE INVOLVED.” JACK LAUGHS. HE FLIPS THE KINDLE ON, THEN OFF. GETS BORED AND SETS IT DOWN. “YOU'RE SUCH A PUSSY, WALT. IT'S JUST COCAINE.” “EXCEPT WHEN IT'S NOT." Jack frowns. “That was an...aberration.” “Whatever, man.” JACK PICKS UP MY IPOD. IT'S ATTACHED TO THE SPEAKERS AND HE TURNS THEM ON TOO. HE STARTS PLAYING SOME SONG BY BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. “THE RIVER.” I ASK HIM TO TURN IT UP AND HE DOES. FOR AWHILE WE JUST SIT THERE, STARING AT SEPARATE WALLS, LISTENING. “This is good shit,” Jack tells me. “Yeah,” I say. “It is.” “So...a gram for you?” “Sure.” “THANKS, MAN. YOU CAN PAY ME LATER. I KNOW YOU'RE GOOD FOR IT.” THEN HE STANDS UP AND LEAVES. AFTERWARD I CALL JESSICA BUT SHE DOESN'T PICK UP. That year I go to New York City with Matt and Dan for Fall Break. We stay in the apartment of one of Dan's friend's who goes to Columbia. I've been to New York a lot BUT MATT HASN'T SO WE END UP SPENDING ONE WHOLE DAY WANDERING AROUND THE MUSEUMS. AT NIGHT DAN'S FRIEND TAKES US TO SOME BORING CLUBS AND I GET VERY DRUNK. AS THE TAXI DRIVES US BACK UPTOWN, THROUGH TIMES SQUARE, I LOOK OUT THE WINDOW AT THE BRIGHT LIGHTS. THE TAXI PASSES INTO A DARKER STREET AND THEN I CAN SEE MY REFLECTION IN THE GLASS, HAIR MESSED UP, EYES BRIGHT. THERE IS SOME STUBBLE ON MY FACE AND I LOOK SAD. MATT AND DAN ARE PASSED OUT NEXT TO ME. DAN'S FRIEND IS TALKING TO THE CAB DRIVER ABOUT MARIJUANA HASH IN THE FRONT SEAT. SOMEHOW I CANNOT STOP STARING AT MY REFLECTION, HATING IT, WONDERING WHY I HATE IT, AND WHEN WE GET BACK TO THE APARTMENT I FALL ASLEEP ON THE COUCH AND SLEEP FOR TWELVE HOURS. WHEN I WAKE UP THE OTHER THREE ARE STILL ASLEEP. I GO INTO THE KITCHEN AND EAT SOME CEREAL WITH SOY MILK, THEN BRUSH MY TEETH AND LOOK OUT THE WINDOW AT THE CITY. WE DO NOTHING ALL DAY THEN GO OUT AGAIN AT NIGHT. MATT THROWS UP AT SOME BAR ON TH 14 STREET AND WE ALL LAUGH ABOUT IT AND DAN'S FRIEND FROM COLUMBIA ENDS UP MEETING SOME SLUTTY NYU GIRL AND GOING TO HER PLACE. HE GIVES DAN THE KEYS TO THE APARTMENT AND WE TAKE THE SUBWAY BACK UPTOWN BECAUSE IT IS STILL EARLY AND WE ARE ALL TOO TIRED AND STILL HUNGOVER. THE NEXT DAY WE PACK AND GO OUT TO LUNCH AND DAN'S FRIEND DOESN'T COME BACK TO THE APARTMENT AND THEN IT IS TIME TO GO HOME. That is Fall Break. WEDNESDAY EVENING. I DECIDE NOT TO GO OUT BECAUSE I'VE BEEN LOOKING AT THE NEW PHOTOS OF ME ON FACEBOOK TOO MUCH AND I FEEL UGLY. I WORRY ABOUT GOING PREMATURELY BALD AND I SPEND THREE HOURS AFTER DINNER STARING AT MYSELF IN THE MIRROR ATTACHED TO MY CLOSET DOOR, LOOKING FROM NUMEROUS ANGLES AND IN NUMEROUS TYPES OF LIGHTING, TRYING TO FIGURE OUT IF MY HAIRLINE IS RECEDING. A LONE HAIR FALLS ONTO MY HAND AND SUDDENLY I AM ON THE VERGE OF TOTAL PANIC. I TEAR MYSELF AWAY FROM THE MIRROR AND LIE ON MY BED. I LOOK UP AT THE CEILING. MY PALMS ARE SWEATY AND MY HEART IS RACING. EVENTUALLY THE ANXIETY FADES, LEAVING BEHIND IT A BLACK RESIDUE OF DEPRESSION, HOLLOW AND CLINGING. AT NINE-THIRTY I TURN OFF THE LIGHT BUT DON'T SLEEP. AT ANOTHER PARTY, THIS ONE IN THE DUNHAM GARDENS ON CAMPUS. THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY IS HOSTING IT, I READ IN THE CAMPUS NEWSPAPER. IT'S COLD OUTSIDE BUT THERE ARE BIG SPACE HEATERS SET UP UNDER THE WHITE PAVILIONS AND, SURPRISINGLY, THERE ARE STILL SOME YELLOW AND RED FLOWERS LEFT ALIVE. A LIVE BAND PLAYS FOLK MUSIC. PEOPLE STAND AROUND AND DRINK FREE WINE AND BEER FROM CLEAR PLASTIC CUPS. Everybody is dressed up. Most of the guys are wearing navy blazers and khaki pants. The girls wear dark dresses. Allen called to ask me to go with him and Jessica. I told him I would meet him there. Now the three of us are standing near the bar. We have been talking about Allen's tennis tournament. Allen and I finish our third beer of the night and he goes back for more. I look at Jessica but don't say anything. “How's it going?” she asks me. She is wearing a slim fitting blue dress and nothing else. She looks cold. “It's fine,” I say. I don't want to talk about anything. I want her to bring it up. “Did you have a good week?” “PRETTY MUCH. WHEN DID ALLEN GET BACK FROM TENNIS?” “MONDAY MORNING.” She looks around the pavilion, not looking for anybody. I stare down at her cleavage. Allen comes back with the beers. He hands one to me. “Have you seen Chris?” he asks me. I shake my head. “I THOUGHT I SAW HIM EARLIER,” JESSICA SAYS. “HE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET ME SOME POT,” ALLEN SAYS. “DAMN.” “I HAVE SOME,” JESSICA SAYS. “YOU KNOW THAT.” “Yeah,” Allen says. “I guess.” “Well why don't you just have some of mine?” “Because I want...my own?” Jessica rolls her eyes and gives me a look but I just stare back at her. I see some people, drunk, friends of Allen's, approaching. I think they are on the tennis team. When the first one gets to us he throws his arm around Allen and yells and Allen spills his drink and I stand back. Later I walk outside the pavilion and ask someone I don't know for a cigarette. He gives it to me and we smoke in silence on a small patch of grass, watching the people at the party. I am in bed with Tiffany later that night. Actually I am sitting on the edge of the bed in my boxers. Tiffany is lying down, naked and looking at me reproachfully, the covers wrapped around her waist. “Am I...doing it wrong?” she asks. “I don't think so,” I say. SHE CROSSES HER ARMS, COVERING HER PERFECT BREASTS. “WELL, SOMETHING IS WRONG,” SHE SAYS. “Not with you,” I say. I feel very cold inside, very dead. “OBVIOUSLY,” SHE SAYS, ROLLING HER EYES. SHE PULLS THE COVERS UP TO HER CHIN AND ROLLS OVER ONTO HER SIDE, AWAY FROM ME. “WHAT'S THE DEAL?” “I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT,” I SAY. AND THEN I GET DRESSED AND LEAVE. IT IS THREE IN THE AFTERNOON ON A TUESDAY. LEAVING HER ROOM, I LIGHT A CIGARETTE AND, STILL FEELING HOLLOW, DISCONNECTED, I REALIZE IT WILL PROBABLY BE JUST A FEW DAYS BEFORE TIFFANY TELLS THE REST OF THE CAMPUS THAT I CAN'T GET IT UP. I am moved to go to the library because it seems like everyone is there this week and I don't want to feel left out. When I realize this is the reason I am going I start to feel like crying but don't. I finish putting my books in my backpack and go to the library. I spend two hours looking at Twitter. Jessica and Allen stop by. Gordon is with them. Allen tells me that he and Jessica are working on their law school applications. Jessica says they want to try to go to the same school. I nod. “I don't know why they want to go to law school,” Gordon says. “Why do you want to go to law school?” I ask them. ALLEN SHRUGS. JESSICA SHRUGS. “GET PAID,” SHE SAYS. “BE RESPECTED.” “YEAH,” I SAY. “I mean, you should just go to medical school,” Gordon says. “That's what I'm doing.” “YOU MEAN IF YOU GET IN,” ALLEN SAYS. JESSICA SIGHS. “OF COURSE HE'S GOING TO GET IN,” SHE SAYS. “WE'RE ALL GOING TO GET IN SOMEWHERE. EVEN IF WE HAVE TO GO TO, LIKE, OHIO STATE OR SOMETHING.” “What are you going to do next year?” Gordon asks me. “I'm a junior,” I tell him. “OH,” HE SAYS. “WELL, WHAT ARE YOU DOING THIS SUMMER?” I look at him. “I'm going to be doing research at a lab in Chicago. I worked there two summers ago. Co-authored three papers.” Gordon raises his eyebrows. “That's so cool, man,” he says. “I guess,” I say. “YOU GUESS?” “IT'S COOL,” I TELL HIM. “Maybe you'll get a lead authorship this time. I got a lead authorship at the HARKNESS LAB LAST SUMMER. IT WAS A BIG DEAL.” “MAYBE I WILL,” I TELL HIM. “KEEP GETTING PAID, MAN. KEEP GETTING PAID.” “WHAT?” I SAY. Gordon nods. “Cool, man. I've got to go. Peace. See you Allen. Jessica.” THEY SAY GOODBYE AND THEN HE LEAVES. ALLEN AND JESSICA STAND AROUND THE TABLE WHERE I'M WORKING. ALLEN SHIFTS HIS WEIGHT FROM ONE FOOT TO ANOTHER. “YOU WANT TO GET SOME DRINKS TONIGHT? I NEED TO GET WASTED.” “Please come, Walt,” Jessica asks. “I can't,” I tell them. “Why not?” Allen asks. “I'm...applying for something.” “What is it?” “AN, UM, APPLICATION” I TELL HIM. “When's it due? You can do it later. Come out tonight. It's my senior year.” I LEAN BACK IN MY CHAIR. “LET ME SEE HOW MUCH WORK I GET DONE ON IT. I'LL CALL YOU AFTER DINNER, OKAY?” “Sweet,” Allen says. He slaps me on my back. “Don't be a pussy. Okay, we're out.” They wave goodbye and leave. I watch them walk out the door, hand in hand, then close my computer and start putting my things in my backpack. I do not call them after dinner but when I see them next, a few days later, both of them have forgotten about it. I WALKED AROUND CAMPUS EARLY IN THE MORNING ONE DAY IN THE SPRING OF MY FRESHMAN YEAR. I REMEMBER HOW IT FELT COMING OFF COCAINE AND VODKA AND WEED ALL AT THE SAME TIME, FOR THE FIRST TIME, SMOKING A CIGARETTE AND WONDERING IF I WAS GOING TO FEEL THIS BAD FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I WATCHED THE SUN BURN THE MIST OFF THE GRASS AND SAW THE MORNING SUNLIGHT TWINKLING BEHIND THE HIGH SPIRES OF THE CHAPEL. THE SKY WAS PINK AND PURPLE, SLOWLY BLEEDING TO BLUE. I THOUGHT ABOUT HER. LINDSEY ALWAYS LIKED TO WATCH THE SUNRISES. SHE WOULD WAKE ME UP TOO EARLY AT THE LAKE, ESPECIALLY DURING THAT LAST SUMMER, AND MAKE ME WALK OUT ALONG THE LONG DOCK WITH HER. SHE WOULD PUT HER ARM AROUND ME AND WE WOULD STAND AND LOOK OUT ACROSS THE STILL WATER. THE WORLD WAS UTTERLY SILENT AND, IN THE FLEETING MOMENT AFTER THE DOCK LIGHTS WENT OFF BUT BEFORE THE SUN ROSE, YOU COULD IMAGINE YOU were standing in a different time. Before the rise of man, maybe. Something. And when the sun came up, streaking the clouds, and the geese took off squawking and honking across the pines, Lindsey would look at me and tell me she loved me. I stood there in front of the chapel at dawn and thought about all that but the day grew hot and my head was pounding and I heard someone coming along the path. Suddenly the whole thing seemed contrived and fake. I felt very naïve. What happens is a kid named Gary, a sophomore, Asian, tries to kill himself and ends up just putting himself in a coma. A lot of people know him but I don't. The Gazette runs a big front-page story on it which a lot of people find distasteful. Apparently Gary bought a shotgun from a store downtown, waited the two weeks, then brought it back to his dormitory and put it in his mouth and pulled the trigger. But he was stupid about it, and the angle of the barrel was too shallow and it just blew out the back of his throat. Dunham University, The Gazette noted, has an award-winning EMS service and when the girl next door called 911 they got him to the hospital and had him stabilized WITHIN AN HOUR. HE ENDED UP ON LIFE-SUPPORT IN WHAT THE DOCTORS WERE CALLING “A TERMINAL COMA.” TWENTY YEARS OLD. THE STORY SPREADS AROUND CAMPUS AND I HEAR DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF IT FROM TWENTY- THREE DIFFERENT PEOPLE. THERE IS A LOT OF CREEPILY EXCITED GOSSIP AND I HEAR MORE THAN ONE PERSON USE THE TERM “SCHADENFREUDE.” I TELL JESSICA THIS AND SHE ASKS “WHAT'S SCHADENFREUDE?” I TELL HER TO FORGET IT. Gary's suicide attempt occurs within a week of the first big cold front of the year, brought in by a massive rainstorm that causes flooding and road closures. It also occurs within two weeks of a big campus-wide shooting/suicide at a public university in the Northeast that leaves fifty-four dead. The end result is that nobody really talks to anybody about anything else. Classes get canceled for three days in a row. The e-mails sent by the provost tell us it is because of the rainstorms but nobody is really sure why they are canceled. JIM PRINTS UP THE WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE FOR THE TERM “SUICIDE” AND STAPLES THE PRINTOUTS TO HIS DOOR. PEOPLE FIND THIS PRETTY FUNNY BUT THE RA TELLS HIM TO TAKE IT DOWN. JIM TELLS HER TO FUCK OFF AND THERE IS ALMOST A FIGHT BUT IT DOESN'T HAPPEN AND JIM TAKES DOWN THE PRINTOUT ANYWAY AFTER ANOTHER FEW DAYS. THE DUNHAM STUDENT GOVERNMENT HOLDS A CANDLELIGHT VIGIL FOR GARY ON THE MAIN QUADRANGLE, IN FRONT OF THE CHAPEL. THE GAZETTE SAYS THE “EVENT” WILL START AT NINE. I WALK BY THE DESIGNATED AREA ON MY WAY BACK FROM THE LIBRARY BUT IT IS DARK AND DRIZZLING AND I DON'T SEE ANYBODY THERE. I TURN THE COLLAR OF MY COAT UP AND HURRY BACK TO THE DORMITORY. A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE IN THE COMMON ROOM WATCHING THE BASKETBALL GAME. CHRIS IS SMOKING A CIGARETTE IN THE FOYER. HE SAYS IT IS TOO COLD TO GO OUTSIDE TO SMOKE. I WANDER INTO THE COMMON ROOM AND LOOK AT THE TV. A FEW GIRLS ARE CHEERING. MOST OF THE PEOPLE WATCHING ARE JUST SITTING ON THE COUCHES, LOOKING TIRED AND DRUNK. A POSTER ON THE WALL ADVERTISES THE UNIVERSITY A CAPELLA BAND. “WALT,” SOMEONE SAYS. I LOOK OVER AND IT'S CARLY, SITTING BY HERSELF ON A COUCH, LOOKING HIGH AND OUT OF IT. “Hey.” “SIT DOWN, YOU CREEPER.” I do and Carly hands me a beer and tells me to drink up. “I have...homework,” I TELL HER. “OH DON'T BE SUCH A WHINER,” SHE SAYS. “YOU'RE TOO CUTE TO DO HOMEWORK.” “THANKS,” I SAY, NOT REALLY MEANING IT. BUT I TAKE THE BEER AND CRACK IT OPEN anyway. I TURN MY HEAD TOWARD THE BIG TV BUT THERE ARE COMMERCIALS ON NOW. A MIDDLE- AGED MAN IS SCREAMING AT THE SCREEN, TELLING PEOPLE ABOUT A SPECIAL FOR DEEP-DISH PIZZAS AT A PLACE CALLED “FAT WILLY'S.” SOMEHOW EVERYBODY IS STILL WATCHING, NOT SPEAKING TO EACH OTHER. I DRINK THE BEER QUICKLY AND ASK FOR ANOTHER ONE. CARLY GIVES IT TO ME. “I MISS YOU, WALT,” SHE SAYS, LEANING HER HEAD ON MY SHOULDER. “WHY?” I ASK. “Because you have a nice penis.” “I do?” “YOU DO.” SOMEONE SITS DOWN NEXT TO ME AND CARLY GLANCES AT HIM. SHE TAKES HER HEAD OFF MY SHOULDER AND SIPS HER BEER. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING TONIGHT?” SHE ASKS ME. “I don't know.” “A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE GOING OUT TO SHOOTERS IF YOU WANT TO COME. THERE'S A BIG TRI DELT THING GOING ON. IT'S GOING TO BE INCREDIBLE.” “I'LL THINK ABOUT IT.” “Please, Walt. I never see you around. Ever. Please?” “Maybe.” “I'll be your date.” I STAND UP THEN, LEAVING MY BEER ON THE TABLE. I TELL HER I NEED TO GO TAKE A NAP, WHICH IS TRUE. SHE SAYS SHE CAN COME WITH ME IF I WANT BUT I WALK AWAY AND SHE TURNS BACK TO THE TV, WHERE THE GAME HAS COME ON AGAIN. ON MY WAY UPSTAIRS I PASS THE FIRST FLOOR BATHROOM AND I HEAR SOMEBODY VOMITING. AT THE STAIRS I LOOK BACK AND WENDY COMES OUT, WIPING HER MOUTH. SHE MAKES EYE CONTACT WITH ME BUT I FEEL NO GUILT, NO SHAME, AND JUST STARE BACK AT HER. HER EYES ARE RED, TOO BRIGHT. EVENTUALLY SHE STOPS LOOKING AT ME AND GOES BACK TO THE COMMON ROOM. “LET'S GO DUNHAM!” SHE CHEERS AS SHE ENTERS. I GO UPSTAIRS TO MY HALLWAY. EVERYTHING LOOKS TOO YELLOW. I GO TO MY ROOM AND GET IN BED AND FALL ASLEEP AND DON'T WAKE UP UNTIL THE MORNING. WHEN I LOOK AT MY BLACKBERRY THERE ARE FIVE MISSED CALLS FROM CARLY AND THREE FROM HER FRIEND, VICTORIA. I DELETE THEM ALL WITHOUT LISTENING TO THEM, THEN GO TO THE GYM AND RUN FIVE MILES. Tonight we are going to find Brad, Jim's dealer, because he has not contacted Jim in three days and Jim is worried that he is dead although it really just seems that Jim is withdrawing from drugs and getting paranoid and depressed. WE PICK UP BURGERS AT COOK-OUT AND THEN WORK OUR WAY TOWARD BRAD'S HOUSE. JIM DRIVES. I PUT MY FEET ON THE DASH OF HIS FATHER'S AUDI, TOUCHING MY HAIR AND MUMBLING THE WORDS TO JAY-Z'S “DIRT OFF YOUR SHOULDER” WHICH HAS JUST COME ON THE SATELLITE RADIO. WE DO NOT TALK BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING TO TALK ABOUT. JIM IS A GOOD FRIEND. THERE IS A PARTY AT BRAD'S AND THE FIRST FLOOR OF THE BIG VICTORIAN HOUSE IS FILLED WITH SOPHOMORES BUT NEITHER BRAD NOR HIS ROOMMATES ARE IN SIGHT. JIM IS DRINKING FROM A RED PLASTIC CUP GIVEN TO HIM BY A CUTE GIRL WHO ALSO OFFERS ME ONE. I ACCEPT, LIGHTING A CIGARETTE BEFORE SHE HANDS ME THE GLASS. I LOOK AT THE GIRLS. I THINK ABOUT FINDING A GIRL, TALKING TO HER, FAKING CONFIDENCE, GETTING HER DRUNK, FINDING A CONDOM, FINDING A ROOM, LEAVING IN THE MORNING. IT SORT OF DISGUSTS ME BUT NOT REALLY. I FOLLOW JIM AROUND THE PARTY AS HE ASKS PEOPLE IF THEY KNOW BRAD. WE STAY FOR AWHILE AND DRINK TOO MUCH. JIM DOESN'T FIND BRAD. AFTER AWHILE WE STOP SEARCHING AND STAND BY THE FIREPLACE, LISTENING TO THE MUSIC AND SURVEYING THE PARTY. I AM DRUNK. “I find the expectant passivity of most women to be truly obnoxious,” Jim is saying, leaning over so I can hear him. “TOTALLY,” I SAY. “I mean, it's pretty clear that all these girls want is to be thrown on the bed and fucked,” Jim continues. “Maybe it's some sort of self-esteem thing. Or a dominance thing.” I nod. “SO, I GUESS I GET THAT,” JIM SAYS. “BUT SOMETIMES I WANT TO BE THROWN ON THE BED AND FUCKED. SOMETIMES I NEED TO BE EMOTIONALLY DOMINATED.” I look at him. He looks back at me, then bursts out laughing. He finishes his drink and tossing his cup on the floor. “Whatever, Walt. You're such a fucking prude. This party blows. Let's go.” As we're leaving, some frat-looking guy holds the door open for us. Jim leans toward him and grabs his shoulder with one hand. “I am in no condition,” Jim tells him, “to dominate anybody. Physically or emotionally. I'm sorry if that's weird or unorthodox to you.” “Nice,” the guy says, holding his hand up for a high-five, which Jim gives him. IN HAWAII WITH MY FAMILY A LONG TIME AGO. BEFORE THE DIVORCE AND THE XANAX. I LEAVE MY BLACKBERRY AT HOME AND I LEAVE MY COMPUTER AT HOME AND NOBODY, NONE OF MY FRIENDS, KNOW WHERE I AM. MY FATHER, MY MOTHER, MY SISTER, AND MYSELF GET TWO ROOMS AT A BIG RESORT IN WAILEA. THERE IS THE SUN-BLEACHED WRECKAGE OF AN OLD PLANE ON THE BEACH. THE WATER IS ALMOST TRANSPARENT BLUE AND THE AIR SEEMS PURER, RICHER, THAN THE AIR BACK HOME. I WAKE UP EARLY MOST DAYS AND GO OUT TO THE BEACH AND JUST SIT IN THE WHITE SAND, READING OR STARING OUT AT THE WATER. WHEN I GET BORED I DIVE INTO THE WAVES AND SWIM OUT TO THE ROCKY PROMONTORY WHERE KIDS ARE CLIMBING UP THE LOW WET GRANITE CLIFFS AND LEAPING, SHRIEKING WITH DELIGHT, INTO THE WATER. One day we go for a walk in a big national park. Waterfalls gurgle and tall palms wave in a warm breeze. It is early and only a few other people are out walking around. We are all wearing our swimsuits under our clothes and at the top of a big hill there is a cool, clear pool with fish in it. The pool is fed by a big waterfall. I wade in and the water is cold and crisp and alive. I lie back and float and stare up at the blue sky and the puffy white clouds wafting overhead. My father is laughing with my mother, taking pictures while sitting on a big rock. Somehow I have never seen him this happy. My mother looks very beautiful. I swim around for awhile and then get out, dry off. I lie in the sun and when it is finally time to go back I stand at the lip of the cold pool for a long time, just staring into it. Lisa has two friends visiting from Amherst. We are sitting in her room watching a movie but nobody is paying attention to it. Her friend Kip is wearing khaki pants and a Rolling Stones T-shirt that looks old, authentic. He is tall and has long, dark hair. Her other friend, Dani, is wearing jeans and a white Polo shirt. She has glasses and her hair is tied back in a ponytail. We're sharing a bottle of wine, taking pulls from the bottle. Dani and Kip are both English majors, Lisa tells me. “We should hang out more,” Lisa is telling me. “Why don't I ever see you around?” “I don't know. I've been doing a lot of stuff with Allen and Matt on the weekends.” LISA SHAKES HER HEAD. “BAD INFLUENCES, WALT. BAD INFLUENCES.” “I LIKE BAD INFLUENCES,” KIP CHIMES IN. DANI SIPS HER WINE. SHE HAS VERY LARGE EYES. “How's Jessica?” Lisa asks. “I haven't seen her in awhile.” “Neither have I,” I tell her. SHE RAISES HER EYEBROWS. “SHE'S NOT WITH ALLEN?” “NO, SHE IS. HE JUST DOESN'T PARTY WITH HER.” “Oh,” Lisa says. “I see.” “Stop talking about people I don't know,” Kip says, but he says it jokingly and we all laugh. THE WALLS OF LISA'S DORM ARE COVERED IN POSTERS, SOME FROM OLD CONCERTS, SOME OF FAMOUS ATHLETES. A BIG FRAMED AND SIGNED POSTER OF THE X HANGS OVER HER BED. I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHO THE X ARE BUT LISA'S LACK OF INTEREST IN ARTISTS LIKE THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS OR BOB MARLEY OR BOB DYLAN IS REFRESHING. WE LIVE IN AN OLD DORM, KETTLER HALL, AND THERE ARE PIPES COMING OUT OF THE CEILING BY LISA'S DOOR. THE CROSS-PANED WINDOW JUTS OUT FROM THE ROOF, OVERHUNG BY WOODEN EAVES. FOUR STORIES BELOW ARE THE WALKWAYS AND LAMPS OF THE QUAD. IT IS RAINING AGAIN. “I'm so sick of Amherst,” Dani says. “I'm so fucking sick of all the people there.” “They are a bunch of pricks,” Kip agrees. LISA POURS HERSELF MORE WINE. “I'D TELL YOU TO STAY HERE BUT...” SHE LOOKS AT ME. “EVERYONE SUCKS HERE, TOO,” I SAY. “EVERYONE AT AMHERST IS JUST SO...ARTSY,” DANI SAYS. “HAVE YOU EVER TRIED TO BE FRIENDS WITH SOMEONE WHO IS LEGITIMATELY EXCITED ABOUT GOING TO LAW SCHOOL?” LISA ASKS. “HAVE YOU?” Dani shakes her head. “Nobody wants to go to law school at Amherst. Well. Maybe the Asians.” I laugh at that for no reason. “Asians,” I say. “Just stay here for a week,” Lisa says, drinking. “Stay here for a week and try to be friends with someone whose life ambition is to be a management consultant.” KIP SMACKS HIS HAND AGAINST HIS FOREHEAD. “FUCKING KILL ME NOW,” HE SAYS. “THEY'RE NOT...THAT BAD,” I SAY. “Oh really?” Lisa asks. “THEY KNOW HOW TO...PARTY?” I DON'T KNOW IF THIS IS THE RIGHT THING TO SAY. LISA ROLLS HER EYES. “YOU KNOW HOW TO PARTY,” SHE SAYS. Kip laughs. “Yeah he does. You know how to party, don't you, Walt? Are we going to party tonight?” Dani smiles. “Take us to a party, Walt.” “Really?” I ask. “THERE'S NOTHING ELSE TO DO,” LISA SAYS. SHE GETS UP AND COMES OVER TO ME, GIVES ME A HUG. “PLEASE, WALT? DO IT FOR ME?” “I think there's something going on at KA tonight,” I say. “Jeff might be going. I COULD CALL HIM.” “That sounds good!” says Dani. “I haven't been to a frat party since, like, freshman year.” Lisa stands up. “If we're going,” she says. “I guess I should get ready.” “You don't need to get ready,” I say. Their enthusiasm is baffling but I am starting to feel bored and I am thinking about smoking cigarettes. There would be worse things to do tonight than going to a KA party. Maybe. I am never going to see Dani or Kip again in my life, and I'm probably not going to see Lisa again for another few weeks, and if we all get fucked up tonight and act stupid it's not going to mean anything. WE FINISH THE WINE AND LEAVE. I WONDER IF DANI AND KIP ARE FUCKING. IN A BATHROOM AT THE KA FRATERNITY HOUSE. I AM STARING AT MY REFLECTION, TOUCHING MY HAIR AND MY CHEEKS AND MY LIPS OBSESSIVELY. THE BATHROOM SMELLS OF OLD URINE AND I HAVE JUST SMOKED TOO MUCH CHEAP MARIJUANA. I LIGHT A CIGARETTE AND SMOKE IT, NOT TAKING it out of my mouth to exhale, still touching my face. The mirror is cracked and splintered with what looks like dried blood etched along the broken glass. The bathroom is wallpapered in centerfolds from Playboy and Hustler. Someone has written Fuck NIGGERS ABOVE THE TOILET IN THICK RED PERMANENT MARKER. I SPLASH SOME WATER ON MY FACE THEN LEAVE. “Walt! Walt!” someone yells as soon as I exit the bathroom. It's Nathan. His face is bright red. I walk over to him. “WHAT THE FUCK IS UP?” NATHAN ASKS. HE GIVES ME A HIGH FIVE. “UH, JUST HANGING OUT,” I TELL HIM. “Fuck right you are,” he says. “Who are you here with?” “Lisa,” I say. “Some of her friends.” “DON'T KNOW HER,” NATHAN SAYS. “OKAY, I'M GOING TO GO GET SOME SHOTS. DO YOU WANT SOME?” “Okay,” I say. WE WALK INTO THE KITCHEN AND DO THREE SHOTS OF CANADIAN CLUB APIECE. I DON'T KNOW WHY THERE IS CANADIAN CLUB HERE. I SEE DANI BY THE WINDOW, TALKING TO A BASKETBALL PLAYER. KIP IS PLAYING BEER PONG NEARBY. NATHAN SEES SOMEONE ELSE HE KNOWS AND DISAPPEARS. “HEART OF A CHAMPION” BY NELLY IS BLASTING FROM SPEAKERS IN THE MAIN ROOM. I PUT OUT MY CIGARETTE IN AN EMPTY PLASTIC CUP SITTING ON THE COUNTER. Someone taps me on the shoulder. It is Lisa. “Hey,” she says. “Hello,” I say. “How are you holding up?” “I'M GETTING DRUNK,” SHE SAYS. “I HOPE DANI AND KIP ARE HAVING A GOOD TIME.” “DID YOU FIND SOME INVESTMENT BANKERS FOR HER TO TALK TO? SOME PRE-LAWS?” Lisa laughs, putting her had on my shoulder. “Everybody in KA is an investment banker.” “I MIGHT GO BACK EARLY,” I TELL HER. “AWW.” “I'm exhausted. It's Tuesday. I'm going to be an alcoholic.” “Everyone's an alcoholic in college,” Lisa says. “Except you.” “Except me.” I look around and see that Dani has started making out with the basketball player. Kip sees this but keeps playing Beer Pong so I assume they aren't dating or anything. Pot smoke starts blowing in from another room. Lisa coughs and waves her hand in front of her face. “Kip told me that everyone here is so crazy compared to Amherst,” she says. “SO CRAZY?” “Like, we party so much more.” “That's cool,” I say. “Is it?” Lisa asks. “I'm going to get another drink. Do you want anything?” I shake my head. “I just did, like, three shots.” “Okay,” Lisa says. “Well, I'll miss you if you leave. You should stay.” She wanders away toward the keg, leaving me alone in the middle of the party. I watch her go. Lisa is a good girl. I think about what it would be like to kiss her. I wonder if she is seeing anybody. I wonder if she hooks up. For some reason I do not want her to. Then Brian walks up to me from nowhere and asks if I want a Xanax and I look back at Lisa once more then tell him sure and he gives me the small pill and I wash it down with another shot of whiskey and that is Tuesday night. JIM IS DRIVING ME TO AN APARTMENT COMPLEX OFF NINTH STREET. THE APARTMENTS ARE IN THE CONVERTED SHELL OF AN OLD TOBACCO WAREHOUSE. JIM GETS OUT OF THE CAR AND, HURRIEDLY, RUNS TO THE MAIN DOOR. HE BUZZES NUMBER FIFTY-FOUR AND AFTER A MOMENT HE BUZZES IT again and yells, “Nathan!” into the speaker. “YO,” SOMEONE SAYS ON THE OTHER END. THE DOOR CLICKS AND JIM GOES IN. “I THINK I HATE PEOPLE WHO SAY 'YO,'” JIM TELLS ME ON THE WAY UP. “Me too,” I say. “But that's a pretty negative attitude.” “Uh-huh,” Jim says. Upstairs, Nathan's place is big and fratty and boring. Beer posters are stuck on the walls, advertising beer brands from Amsterdam or Paris. There is a well-stocked bar against one wall near a big flat-panel TV with an X-Box, PS3, and GameCube below it. A Chicago city flag is above the mantle. Nathan is short and dumpy, dressed in LaCoste and drinking scotch with ice. Trying to look cool. He gestures for us to sit in a pair of ragged leather sofas. Two other guys are drinking Busch Lite and playing video games on the TV. They nod to us without looking away from the screen. Nathan gets us beers from the bar and, handing them over, sits down across from us. “Scoot over, niggers,”he says to the other guys. He has to shove them hard before they move. “DON'T SAY NIGGER,” ONE OF THE OTHER GUYS SAYS. THE SECOND ONE GIGGLES FOR TOO LONG AND I REALIZE, BELATEDLY, THAT THEY ARE BOTH INCREDIBLY HIGH. “Have you seen Brad?” Jim asks. “FUCK NO,” NATHAN SAYS, DRINKING. “HE HASN'T BEEN HERE IN LIKE, I DON'T KNOW, WEEKS, PROBABLY.” “WELL, HE HAS MY...DRUGS,” JIM SAYS. HE SOUNDS CASUAL BUT HE IS CLENCHING AND UNCLENCHING HIS FISTS, HIS LEGS BOUNCING UP AND DOWN. “I think you should ask Brad's roommates,” Nathan tells Jim. I finish my beer and take a Busch Lite from the case on the table. It is warm but I crack it open and sip from it anyway. “We were just there the other night,” Jim tells him. I nod. Nathan looks at me drinking the beer. Nathan and I do not know each other. I also don't know the two guys playing X-Box. I don't care. “There was some big party there,” Jim says. “Really busy. But we looked around and couldn't find anybody we knew.” Nathan nods. “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON, NATHAN?” NATHAN EXHALES AND GLANCES AT THE OTHER GUYS. HE TAKES A SIP FROM HIS SCOTCH, THEN SETS IT DOWN ON THE COFFEE TABLE, THE WHOLE MOTION COMING ACROSS AS INCREDIBLY AFFECTED AND PRETENTIOUS. HE LEANS FORWARD AND LOOKS AT JIM, THEN ME, THEN BACK AT JIM. “BRAD WENT TO...REHAB,” HE SAYS FINALLY. ONE OF THE GUYS PLAYING X-BOX GIGGLES AGAIN. “YEAH, REHAB. WHAT A NIGGER.” JIM GROANS AND VISIBLY DEFLATES. HE CRADLES HIS HEAD IN HIS HANDS. “HE WENT TO rehab? Rehab? Oh what the fuck...” NATHAN SHRUGS. “APPARENTLY HIS PARENTS FOUND A BUNCH OF SHIT IN HIS LUGGAGE WHEN HE WENT HOME FOR FALL BREAK.” “No shit,” Jim says. WE ARE SILENT FOR AWHILE. THE ONLY NOISE IS THE GUNFIRE AND SCREAMING COMING FROM THE TELEVISION. I FINISH MY BEER BUT DECIDE NOT TO HAVE A THIRD JUST YET. Jim stands up, looking anxious. “Brad would never go to rehab. He wouldn't let his parents send him to rehab.” NATHAN LOOKS UP AT JIM, BEMUSED. “OH YEAH?” “YEAH.” “Uh...he was pretty fucked up the last time I checked,” Nathan says. And I know he is right. “OKAY,” JIM SAYS. “OKAY.” “Fuck that faggot,” Nathan says. “He had it coming to him. He was so fucked up the last time I saw him.” Jim laughs nervously. “So you said.” “So you guys want to do some shots?” Nathan asks. OUTSIDE JIM SEEMS LESS ANXIOUS BUT NOW ALSO GENUINELY DESPONDENT. “DO YOU BELIEVE HIM?” HE ASKS ME AS WE GET IN THE CAR. “Sure,” I say. “I guess.” “THE PROSPECT OF SPENDING THE REST OF THE SEMESTER WITHOUT ANY DRUGS IS COMPLETELY OVERWHELMING,” JIM SAYS. “I'M SURE YOU'LL FIND SOME....SOMEWHERE,” I SAY. “I DON'T KNOW,” SAYS JIM. “GOD DAMN IT.” We sit in the Audi in silence, our faces bathed in the pale glow of the dashboard. “Kiss Me Thru The Phone” by Soulja Boy Tell Em is playing attenuated on Jim's Sirius- XM satellite radio. I pull out my BlackBerry and start checking my emails. “I PROBABLY SHOULDN'T DRIVE HOME,” JIM SAYS. “WELL I'M DRUNK,” I SAY. “Okay,” he says. Then he turns the ignition fully and the Audi purrs to life and we get onto Ninth Street and drive the three miles back to campus. Last spring. I remember sitting out on the lawn with Allen, watching a band playing on a small stage. It is the first real day of spring at Dunham. The grass is a bright, pristine green and we sit on it with our shoes off, letting the cool blades rustle against our skin. The sky is a bright and clear, almost supernatural blue. I lie back, sunglasses on, my arms behind my head. Allen's hair is long and he has grown a beard because he said he always wanted to see how it would look. It's the off-season so he can do it. His beard is patchy in places but most of the girls who matter have said they like it. AROUND US ARE PEOPLE WE KNOW BUT DON'T SAY HELLO TO. THEY ARE SMOKING CIGARETTES OR DRINKING BEER. GIRLS WALK BY IN SUNDRESSES AND WHITE BIKINIS. THE AIR SMELLS FRAGRANT, ALMOST EXOTIC. FLOWERS ARE BLOOMING NEAR THE WALKWAYS. ALLEN'S NEW GIRLFRIEND, JESSICA, ARRIVES. ALLEN INTRODUCES US. SHE SMILES, ALREADY A LITTLE TAN, HER EYES BLUE LIKE THE SKY. I SHAKE HER HAND AND THE SKIN IS SOFT AND COOL. BELOW US ON THE STAGE, HOWIE DAY HAS STARTED PLAYING. PEOPLE CLAP POLITELY. A FEW CHEERS. HE PLAYS “PERFECT TIME OF DAY,” WHICH I AM NOT EXPECTING, AND IT IS A SONG THAT LINDSEY AND I USED TO LISTEN TO AND FOR A SECOND SOMETHING WELLS UP IN ME AND I SEE ALLEN WITH JESSICA, WHO SORT OF LOOKS LIKE LINDSEY, AND EVERYTHING FADES INTO SILENCE. HOWIE DAY KEEPS SINGING BUT I CAN'T HEAR HIM. ALLEN'S MOUTH OPENS AND HE SAYS SOMETHING TO JESSICA AND SHE SITS DOWN NEXT TO HIM, HIS ARM AROUND HER. A KID IN THE FRONT ROW STANDS UP TO SHOTGUN A BEER. HOWIE DAY'S DRUMMER SPINS HIS STICKS AROUND HIS FINGERS. I GASP, CHOKING ON SOMETHING I HAVE PUSHED AWAY AND LOST IN THE SPINNING YEARS SINCE THAT FINAL DAY AND WHEN IT FINALLY STOPS I HAVE TO TAKE OFF MY SUNGLASSES AND STARE UP INTO THE BRILLIANT SKY FOR A LONG TIME JUST TO CALM DOWN. I REMEMBER OTHER THINGS FROM THAT SPRING BUT WHEN I TRY TO THINK ABOUT THEM THE MEMORIES SEEM FADED, ALREADY MONOCHROME AND MUTED. LIKE IT HAPPENED TO SOMEONE ELSE. MOST OF THE TIME I TRY NOT TO REMEMBER ANYTHING AT ALL. I AM STANDING OUTSIDE MY ROOM IN THE HALLWAY, SMOKING A CIGARETTE ALTHOUGH IT'S NOT ALLOWED INSIDE AND TALKING TO EMILY AND LISA. EMILY IS TALL AND BLOND AND EMACIATED. SHE IS DRESSED FOR THE GYM IN TIGHT SHORTS AND A DUNHAM UNIVERSITY TEE-SHIRT. LISA LOOKS LIKE SHE JUST WOKE UP AND IS DRINKING A REGULAR-CALORIE COKE. SHE IS DARKER AND SHORTER THAN EMILY. THERE ARE CIRCLES UNDER HER EYES. Lisa says she is taking a break from writing an essay. I am not doing anything. It is eleven in the morning and I do not know what day of the week it is. Last night I lost my Blackberry. “How far are you going to run today?” Lisa is asking Emily. “I don't know,” Emily says, although by her tone I'm pretty sure she knows exactly how far she is going to run today, down to the inch, and how long it will take her and how long her warm-up and cool-down exercises are going to take. EMILY FIDDLES WITH HER IPOD AND CONTINUES. “I RAN FOUR MILES YESTERDAY, SO I MIGHT DO FIVE OR SIX TODAY? HOPEFULLY SEVEN-MINUTES PER, PLUS COOL-DOWN. DOES THAT SOUND LIKE TOO MUCH, WALT?” “That sounds really rad,” I tell her. “Totally rad.” “Yeah,” says Emily, brightening, genuinely excited now. “Coach wants us to get in at least forty miles this week and I really want to do fifty but I have this big organic chemistry test coming up.” “OUCH,” LISA SAYS. “SERIOUSLY,” EMILY SAYS, HER VOICE SPEEDING UP FURTHER. “I HAVE TO GET AT LEAST A 93 ON IT BECAUSE I GOT AN 88 ON THE LAST ONE AND I NEED A 90 IN THE CLASS TO GET AN A. THE TESTS ARE WEIGHTED REALLY WEIRD TOO, SO I HAD TO SPEND ALL NIGHT CALCULATING THAT!” “Uh huh?” Lisa says. “That's tough.” She sips her Coke and gives me another look and I feel giddy, almost on the verge of laughter. EMILY NODS. “SO I NEED TO STUDY MOST OF TONIGHT FOR THAT. PLUS WE HAVE A TRACK MEET THIS WEEKEND AND MY RESEARCH INTERNSHIP IS FINISHING UP SO I NEED TO MAKE A PRESENTATION SUMMING UP MY EXPERIENCES IN DR. PARKER'S LAB.” SHE SHIFTS HER IPOD TO HER OTHER HAND AND STARTS DOING QUADRICEP STRETCHES THERE IN THE HALLWAY. I EXHALE SMOKE, TRYING NOT TO BLOW IT IN HER FACE. “ANYWAY, I GOTTA GO. IT'S GOING TO BE A REALLY BUSY NIGHT. HEY, LISA, CALL ME ABOUT DINNER TOMORROW! WALT, YOU SHOULDN'T SMOKE.” I SMILE AND NOD. WE SAY GOODBYE AND THEN SHE IS GONE, JOGGING LIGHTLY DOWN THE HALLWAY AND OUT THE DOOR. THE DOOR SLAMS AND LISA AND I ARE ALONE IN THE HALLWAY. “She is completely anorexic,” Lisa says. “I guess, I say.” “All I ever see her eat is raw vegetables. And she only drinks water and tea. All day. Every day.” “MAYBE SHE'S A VEGAN.” “ANOREXIC.” I don't say anything. I remember the time I caught Emily throwing up in the men's bathroom, last spring when we were sophomores. “DO YOU WANT TO HANG OUT?” LISA ASKS. I say sure and stub my cigarette out on the door frame, then toss it into the HALLWAY TRASHCAN NEAR THE BATHROOMS. “AS LONG AS YOU DON'T WANT TO GO TO THE GYM,” I TELL HER. Lisa laughs. “No, I was thinking more like a movie or something. But maybe you should go to the gym, Walt. You're too skinny.” “I'M TOO SKINNY?” I ASK. “LOOK AT YOU.” LISA GRINS. “I'M NOT THAT SKINNY. YOU SHOULD WORK OUT MORE. GET JACKED AND TAN.” “I'M A LITTLE TAN,” I ARGUE. “AND ANYWAY, I PLAYED BASKETBALL IN HIGH SCHOOL. I'VE got muscles.” “You did?” she asks. “I thought you were this druggy, emo kid.” “No, I played varsity basketball for four years. I was a good kid. Otherwise I PROBABLY WOULDN'T HAVE GOTTEN INTO DUNHAM.” “Varisty?” she asks. I nod and wonder if athletic guys turn her on. “It sucked, though,” I tell her. Lisa finishes her Coke and tosses it into the trashcan. “Why did it suck?” I run my hand through my hair, lean back against the wall. “I don't know. The workouts were hard...the people sucked?” I say it like a question. “Yeah, I don't know. The people sucked.” “WELL YOU SHOULD HAVE STUCK WITH IT. MAYBE YOU COULD HAVE PLAYED FOR DUNHAM. GOTTEN A SCHOLARSHIP.” “YEAH RIGHT,” I SAY, LAUGHING. “WELL, MAYBE YOU COULD HAVE PLAYED ON THE CLUB TEAM.” “FUCK THE CLUB TEAM.” “I'M JUST SAYING, WALT,” LISA SAYS. “I didn't need a scholarship, Lisa,” I say. “And I definitely have better things to do with my time than play on the stupid club team. Those guys, Lisa? The club basketball team?” LISA LAUGHS AGAIN, QUIETLY. “I'M JUST KIDDING AROUND, WALT. YOU NEED TO LIGHTEN up. Anyway, I would probably hate you if you were on the basketball team here. I doubt we'd even know each other.” “PROBABLY NOT,” I SAY. She looks up at me then, eyes bright. She takes a strand of her dark hair in her hand and twirls it around one finger. “That would be so sad,” she says. “Yeah?” I say lamely. “I guess. Do you want to get some food?” “Sure! I'm starving.” OUTSIDE IT IS COLD AND WINDY. I PULL MY COAT TIGHT AROUND ME. THE SKY IS A SLATE OF GRAY CLOUDS. IT IS EARLY NOVEMBER. ON THE WAY TO THE DINING HALL LISA LEANS INTO ME AND RESTS HER HEAD ON MY ARM. I PRETEND NOT TO NOTICE. “DO YOU THINK EMILY IS ANOREXIC?” I ASK MATT. “I don't know,” he says. Then: “She's not so bad anyway. I get all my Xanax from Emily.” “WHY DOES SHE HAVE XANAX?” I ASK MATT. He looks at me blankly. “Why does anybody have Xanax?” he asks. DAN, JIM, AND BRIAN ARE ALREADY IN THE COMMON ROOM WHEN I ENTER. THEY ARE WATCHING FOOTBALL ON THE FLAT-PANEL TV WITH SOME SHOW CALLED “DANIEL TOSH” ON THE SMALLER TV IN THE CORNER. ALL THREE OF THEM ALSO HAVE THEIR LAPTOPS OUT. I WALK UP BEHIND THE COUCHES AND CHECK THE SCORE ON THE GAME. LOOKING DOWN, I SEE DAN HAS PORNOGRAPHY AND SOME SORT OF SPREADSHEET DISPLAYED SIMULTANEOUSLY ON HIS LAPTOP. HE IS TYPING FURIOUSLY WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCREEN, ADDING DATA TO THE SPREADSHEET. LOW MOANS COME FROM THE SPEAKERS BUT NOBODY SEEMS TO NOTICE. Jim is writing an essay on Dutch imperialism while watching a music video on YouTube. Brian is lying down on the other couch and I watch as he sorts through the online coverage of the football game while reviewing “e-flashcards” with Chinese vocabulary on them. Rap music filters from his laptop's speakers too loudly. While I watch he closes the sports website and brings up Facebook, then some sort of essay. “What's up?” I say. “WHAT'S UP,” JIM MURMURS. THE OTHER TWO DON'T RESPOND, BUT AFTER MAYBE A MINUTE BRIAN TURNS AROUND AND SAYS, “HEY, MAN.” “ARE YOU GOING OUT TONIGHT?” JIM ASKS. “I don't know,” I say, sitting down in an empty chair. “Is something happening?” Nobody answers for awhile. I cross my legs and watch TV, check my BlackBerry. I have twenty-one new messages and two missed calls. AFTER AWHILE, JIM TELLS ME THAT IT'S “DRINK FOR DUNHAM” NIGHT AND THAT A LOT OF BARS ARE HAVING DRINK SPECIALS FOR STUDENTS. HE SAYS EVERYBODY IS GOING. I TELL HIM I MIGHT GO. I SIT BACK THEN AND TRY TO WATCH MORE OF THE GAME BUT CAN'T CONCENTRATE. I KEEP SEEING BRIAN AND DAN OUT OF THE CORNER OF MY EYE, PLUGGED INTO THEIR COMPUTERS, FINGERS RATTLING ON THEIR KEYBOARDS. THE NOISE IS DISTRACTING. JIM PICKS UP HIS PHONE AND CALLS SOMEONE NAMED “MCGEE,” AND I LOOK OVER AT DAN AND WATCH AS HIS EYES LITERALLY BEGIN TWITCHING SPASTICALLY WHILE HE STARES AT HIS LAPTOP SCREEN. I REMEMBER HOW SOMEBODY ONCE TOLD ME THAT DAN WAS DIAGNOSED WITH ADHD DURING HIS FRESHMAN YEAR AND ENDED UP BEING PRESCRIBED SIXTY MILLIGRAMS OF ADDERALL PER DAY AND I START TO FEEL VERY COLD AND VERY EMPTY. JIM SAYS “ALL RIGHT, BRO,” INTO THE PHONE AND THEN HANGS UP AND WHEN HE ASKS ME AGAIN IF I WANT TO GO OUT I TELL HIM NO AND LEAVE THE ROOM, SHAKEN. I GO TO MY CLASSES. I SEE MATT SOME NIGHTS. WE GO OUT FOR DRINKS AT THE WASHINGTON INN. SOMETIMES HE IS GONE AND THEN I MEET UP WITH JESSICA AND ALLEN AND WE SIT BY THE POOL AT THE APARTMENT AND READ BOOKS AND TALK ABOUT THE SUMMER BUT NEVER ABOUT ALL OF THAT. I GO FOR RUNS AT THE GYM OR IN THE DUNHAM FOREST. LISA COMES TO THE LIBRARY WITH ME TO DO HOMEWORK. WE SIT BY EACH OTHER, FACING THE TWO EMPTY CHAIRS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TABLE. WE TAKE NOTES ON OUR PHILOSOPHY READING. One day I eat lunch with Lisa who has just had a meeting with her thesis advisor and is depressed. I tell her not to worry about it. She asks for a cigarette and I give her one and she lights it skillfully. “What's the big deal anyway?” I ask her. “I just want to do well on it,” she says. “How's your thesis going?” “I'm not sure.” “Well science theses are different, aren't they?” “I NEVER WORK ON MINE. MY ADVISOR DOESN'T REALLY CARE.” She takes a drag from the cigarette and exhales. She squints. “I just need to do a lot more writing before next week. Dr. Harris wants fifty new pages.” “Jesus. I've never written fifty pages on anything in my life.” SHE SMILES, TILTS HER HEAD. “WELL, IT'S JUST ME TALKING ABOUT HENRY JAMES OUT OF MY ASS.” I LAUGH QUIETLY. “SOUNDS OKAY TO ME. I'D PAY TO SEE THAT.” “YOU CAN READ IT.” “I'd like that,” I say. We are sitting outside at one of the small eateries on the main campus. It is late morning and cloudy outside but warm. We are both wearing black North Face jackets. I have to do two chemistry labs tonight but probably won't. Lisa looks very pretty and very pale, her brown eyes searching the flagstone paths for people she knows, people who look interesting. I WANT TO TELL HER NOT TO CARE ABOUT HER THESIS, TO BLOW IT OFF, BUT SOMETHING ABOUT HER TOPIC, THE WAY SHE TALKS ABOUT IT, MAKES ME THINK IT'S NOT A WASTE OF TIME LIKE ALL THE CLASSES I'VE BEEN TAKING. “I've never read any Henry James,” I tell her. SHE RAISES HER EYEBROWS. “REALLY? HE'S PRETTY GOOD. YOU SHOULD READ SOME OF HIS SHORTER STUFF. MAYBE THE TURN OF THE SCREW. THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY IS A GOOD PLACE TO START, TOO.” I nod. She passes the cigarette to me and I smoke it. We sit and watch the people wandering by. Then a cold wind picks up and it starts to rain and I have to go to class AND WE SAY GOODBYE. A few nights later I call Lisa to see if she wants to watch a movie with me, or go get food, or do anything at all sober, but she doesn't pick up and her roommate tells me SHE IS ON A DATE WHICH MAKES ME SORT OF DEPRESSED. I END UP GETTING DRINKS AT THE WASHINGTON INN WITH MELANIE AND REBECCA. THEY GET PRETTY DRUNK BUT I FEEL MOSTLY SOBER BECAUSE I STAND UP MAYBE SEVEN TIMES WHILE WE ARE AT THE BAR TO GO OUTSIDE AND SMOKE. Later I am driving them to McDonald's in my father's Chevy Range Rover. They make me pick up Sarah who, Rebecca tells me, spent all summer studying abroad in Paris. She is drunk when we pick her up and she spends most of the ride talking about how there are no McDonald's in France (there are, I know that from experience, but she doesn't stop talking long enough for me to tell her) and how, even if there were, “the French people” don't feel the need to drive fifty miles in an SUV to wait in line for cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Apparently in France you could “walk to anywhere or TAKE LA MÉTRO” AND THE “FRENCH LIFESTYLE” WAS REALLY MUCH HEALTHIER AND MORE NATURAL THAN THE “AMERICAN LIFESTYLE” AND THE LANGUAGE WAS SO BEAUTIFUL, SO MUCH MORE INTELLIGENT AND SENSITIVE THAN ENGLISH. MELANIE AGREES WITH EVERYTHING SARAH SAYS, TELLING HER HOW MUCH SHE WANTS TO GO TO FRANCE. IN THE DRIVE-THROUGH LINE AT MCDONALD'S BEHIND TWO BIG HUMMERS AND A LAND CRUISER, SARAH STARTS TALKING ABOUT THE “QUIET PEACEFULNESS” OF PARIS AT SUNSET AND I FINALLY LOSE IT, TURNING AROUND IN MY SEAT AND ALMOST YELLING. “I was there too,” I say. “I was in Rome all summer. I was studying abroad in FUCKING ROME.” “Oh really?” Sarah asks. “How was it?” “It was fine,” I say. “WHY DIDN'T YOU PUT ANY PICTURES ON FACEBOOK?” SHE ASKS ME. “ARE YOU SURE YOU WENT TO ROME?” “Yeah, why didn't you put any pictures on Facebook?” Melanie inquires. I don't say anything, just stare at them. “Did you write an article for The Gazette?” Sarah asks. “Wasn't Mac on the Rome program? He wrote that lovely series of articles for The Gazette about how life- changing Rome was, about how the study abroad experience was so great for him.” “NO...” I SAY. “I JUST WENT TO ROME, AND IT WAS NICE, AND THEN I CAME BACK. AND I didn't...feel the need to share everything with everyone.” NOW THE THREE GIRLS ARE QUIET. THEY LOOK AT ME, A LITTLE OFFENDED. CARS BEHIND US HAVE STARTED TO HONK. I TURN AROUND AND PULL FORWARD. WHILE I PAY AT THE WINDOW SARAH LEANS FORWARD AND, HER BREATH THICK AND SOUR WITH ALCOHOL, TELLS ME, “IT'S OKAY, WALT. I'M SURE YOU'LL GET TO SEE PARIS SOMEDAY.” “I DID SEE PARIS,” I SAY, BUT SHE DOESN'T HEAR ME AND THEN I HAVE TO TAKE ALL OUR BURGERS AND FRIES FROM THE ATTENDANT AND I SPILL KETCHUP ON MY NEW JEANS AND I REALLY, HONESTLY, JUST WANT TO GO HOME. Matt gets to the dining hall last that Monday. We are all eating dinner. The rest of us have our food already. Gordon is sitting across from me. He shovels forkfuls of mashed sweet potatoes and honey-roasted chicken into his mouth. I pick at my food, drinking my Coke while Patrick talks endlessly about the new consulting internship he JUST GOT FOR NEXT SUMMER. HE IS STILL WEARING A DARK SUIT. PROBABLY FROM ANOTHER INTERVIEW HE HAD EARLIER. PATRICK HAS LOTS OF INTERVIEWS. “WHAT EXACTLY DOES THIS INTERNSHIP INVOLVE?” TOM IS ASKING. “MICHAELS AND COMPANY FOCUSES PRIMARILY ON BRANDING AND MARKET-SHARE REINVENTION,” PATRICK SAYS, SMILING HAPPILY. “IT'S A VERY PRESTIGIOUS FIRM. I CAN'T SAY SPECIFICALLY WHAT I'LL BE DOING BECAUSE I WON'T KNOW WHAT CLIENTS OR CASES I'LL BE ASSIGNED TO UNTIL I GET THERE. BUT THEY OFTEN HAVE A NUMBER OF INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS GOING ON. I KNOW THAT.” “OKAY,” SAYS TOM. “AND WHEN DO YOU LEAVE?” PATRICK NODS, CHEWING. HE HOLDS UP A FINGER, SIGNALING TOM TO WAIT. HE SWALLOWS. “PROBABLY RIGHT AFTER FINALS,” HE SAYS FINALLY. “And you'll be there all summer?” “YES. UNLESS I HAVE TO TRAVEL FOR BUSINESS, WHICH IS QUITE LIKELY. THE INTERN LAST YEAR...ERIC WALLACE, DO YOU KNOW HIM?” “Yeah.” “He apparently got to go to London for two weeks to help set up a client's new advertising campaign. It was a big deal.” “SOUNDS LIKE IT,” TOM SAYS. Matt is sitting to my left. He sat down without any food. His eyes are red, bloodshot. “That sounds fucking excruciating, Patrick,” he says slowly. Patrick turns to look at him, takes a drink from a plastic bottle of Diet Coke. “It won't be excruciating when I get paid. Or when I get a job offer with Michaels and Company right out of college. Eighty-five thousand a year, plus bonus.” “HOLY FUCK,” MATT SAYS. “NOBODY CARES.” “Are you high again? Or drunk?” Patrick asks. “Don't you do anything? Ever?” “HEY,” MATT SAYS. “I'M NOT JUST HIGH. AND I'D RATHER BE HIGH THAN A BULLSHIT FUCKING CONSULTANT AND HAVE TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE LIKE YOU ALL DAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.” Patrick turns red. “What?” “YOU'RE SUCH A FUCKING PRICK, PATRICK,” MATT SAYS, HIS WORDS SLURRED. “YOU'RE GODDAMN INSUFFERABLE AND YOU HAVE NO PERSONALITY AND THE VERY FACT THAT MICHAELS AND COMPANY OFFERED SOMEBODY LIKE YOU A SUMMER INTERNSHIP MEANS I WOULD NEVER EVER WANT TO WORK THERE, NOT FOR ONE DAY.” HE COUGHS AND IT THICK AND MUCKY. A SMOKER'S COUGH. “ASS.” PATRICK TENSES, STILL RED IN THE FACE. “I HAVE NO PERSONALITY? I'M SORRY I DON'T HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF DRINKING AND BAKING ALL MY SCHOLARSHIP MONEY AWAY.” “Fuck you, Patrick. Why are you wearing a suit to the dining hall?” PATRICK LOOKS DOWN AT HIMSELF, AS IF NOTICING THE SUIT FOR THE FIRST TIME. “BECAUSE I just had my...Dunham Student Government meeting.” MATT LAUGHS. “WHAT? YOU WEAR SUITS TO STUDENT GOVERNMENT?” “YES,” SAYS PATRICK. “THE OFFICERS DO.” “I just had my Dunham Student Government meeting,” Matt mimics in a high, whiny voice. Tom laughs and I have to stifle my own laughter. “You bore the shit out of me, Patrick,” Matt says. “You really do.” “WELL YOU'RE AN ALCOHOLIC,” PATRICK SAYS. “YOU REALLY ARE.” MATT STANDS UP FROM THE TABLE THEN. “FUCK OFF, PATRICK. YOU MAKE ME WANT TO GOUGE MY EYEBALLS OUT.” HE KNOCKS PATRICK'S DIET COKE BOTTLE ONTO THE FLOOR WHERE IT FIZZES ONTO THE MARBLE STONES. “I'M OUT, NIGGERS,” HE SAYS TO THE REST OF US. THEN, STUMBLING, HE WALKS AWAY. For a moment the table is silent. Gordon laughs but it sounds fake. “I thought you guys were friends,” Tom says. Patrick shakes his head. “I think he's just upset that he didn't get his research grant renewed for the summer.” “MAYBE,” TOM SAYS. “I DON'T KNOW.” “WHATEVER,” SAYS PATRICK. “HIS LOSS.” HE PULLS OUT HIS IPHONE AND STARTS TAPPING THE SCREEN. “GUYS, HEY GUYS, YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS NEW YOUTUBE VIDEO. IT. IS. HILARIOUS. THIS FAT GIRL TRIES TO SING ALONG TO MILEY CYRUS AND THEN HER CHAIR BREAKS AND...OH MY GOD, JUST WATCH IT. FORGET MATT.” PATRICK TURNS THE SCREEN OF HIS IPHONE AROUND FOR US TO SEE, AND EVERYBODY SITS AND WATCHES THE VIDEO, LAUGHING NOW UNTIL TEARS START TO RUN DOWN THEIR FACES WHILE BEYOND THE DINING HALL'S HIGH, GOTHIC WINDOWS THE SUN BEGINS TO SET AND THE CLOUDS IGNITE THEN FADE FROM RED-GOLD TO DEEP PURPLE. SOMEHOW I THINK I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO NOTICES. Thursday night in late October and I'm standing at my window again, watching the sky darken and slowly cloud over while the lamps in the quadrangle come alive. Big fat drops of acidic rain (they warned us about it on the news) begin to splatter against the high windows of my dorm room. I think about lakes in Indiana and about happier evenings with Lindsey. I think about studying for the SATs and applying to colleges, applying to Dunham, about the ultimate wastage of all things good and how rotten people are when their pride is on the line and standing there watching the rain falling it feels, for a fleeting moment, very profound and significant. But then my BlackBerry buzzes and it is Allen telling me to COME TO HIS FRAT'S PARTY AN HOUR EARLY BECAUSE THEY'RE DOING A POWER HOUR PRE-GAME WITH Jager-Bombs. Then I realize nobody cares and why should I? It's not cool to give a shit. I get to the party too late to pre-game. At Allen's frat I wade through the herds of human cattle to a back room where Allen has his arm around Jessica. He has his shirt off and Jessica is kissing him lightly on his chest. A few other guys are there, drinking and taking turns smoking a joint. I have a hit and stand back, talk idly with Allen and Jessica. He's been back from Brown for a week or two now and I know better than to make any sort of real eye contact with Jessica. Allen hands me a beer. WE STAND AROUND AND TALK ABOUT NOTHING. JESSICA LOOKS BORED. “WHAT'S WRONG?” ALLEN ASKS ME. “DRINK THE FUCK UP.” “OKAY,” I SAY. I CHUG MY BEER AND ONE OF THE FRAT GUYS CHEERS AND HANDS ME ANOTHER. In another room I find Brian, who tells me he is pissed off because Matt drives a 2008 LINCOLN NAVIGATOR, WHILE BRIAN STILL HAS THE 2003 MODEL HIS FATHER GAVE HIM. I TELL HIM TO SHUT UP. BRIAN LOOKS AT ME WEIRDLY THEN LAUGHS AND DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING. WE GO UPSTAIRS WHERE IT'S QUIET AND WATCH SPORTSCENTER ON ESPN FOR TWO HOURS, DRINKING FROM A FIFTH OF WHISKEY BRIAN TOOK FROM DOWNSTAIRS. Brian asks if I want to go out to some bars because he is “horny” and wants to “find some townie ass.” I say fine but Brian makes no move to get up and halfway through SportsCenter's Top 10 he throws up. Staring at the pile of his vomit, I realize I have learned nothing in three years at this college even though U.S. News and World Report ranked it as the fifth best school in the nation the year I applied, and anyone can TELL YOU THAT THE U.S. NEWS' TOP COLLEGES RANKING SYSTEM IS BY FAR THE MOST ACCURATE, PRESTIGIOUS, AND UNBIASED RANKING SYSTEM OUT THERE. “GOD DAMMIT,” BRIAN SAYS. “I'M GOING DOWNSTAIRS. YOU COMING?” “THAT'S OKAY,” I SAY. I PASS OUT ON THE COUCH AND WHEN I WAKE UP IT IS DARK AND THE HOUSE IS QUIET AND I drive home without checking the time. LINDSEY IN THE MORNING, AT MY PARENTS' HOUSE ON A WEEKEND THAT THEY'RE OUT OF TOWN. MY SISTER HAS A TRACK MEET. THE SUN IS POURING THROUGH THE BIG WINDOWS IN MY ROOM AND DOWNSTAIRS MY DOG IS BARKING TO BE LET OUTSIDE. I CHECK THE TIME ON MY CELL PHONE AND IT IS NINE-THIRTY IN THE MORNING. LINDSEY STIRS, YAWNING. SHE SNUGGLES CLOSE TO ME. HER SKIN IS WARM AND SOFT AGAINST MINE. I LIE ON MY BACK AND LOOK UP AT THE CEILING. MY DOG BARKS AGAIN. “GOOD MORNING,” LINDSEY SAYS, HER EYES OPENING. SHE RAISES UP ON ONE ELBOW AND LOOKS AT ME. SHE KISSES ME LONG AND SLOW. “HEY, YOU,” I SAY. I KISS HER BACK. SHE WRAPS HER ARMS AROUND ME AND SQUEEZES. “THIS IS SO AMAZING,” SHE SAYS. “MY PARENTS WOULD KILL ME IF THEY FOUND OUT.” “MINE TOO,” I SAY. WE LIE THERE IN SILENCE FOR AWHILE. LINDSEY'S HAND CREEPS DOWN, UNDER THE COVERS. TOUCHES ME. I AM ALREADY HARD, BUT I LAUGH AND PUSH HER AWAY. “TOO SLEEPY,” I SAY. LINDSEY SMILES AND KISSES ME AGAIN. “DO YOU WANT TO GO GET BREAKFAST?” SHE ASKS. I NOD. “OR WE COULD COOK FOOD HERE.” “LET'S GO OUT,” SHE SAYS. My dog barks again so I groan and get out of bed. Lindsey watches me dress with wide eyes. “I love you,” she says. “I love you too,” I say. We are both seventeen. David asks me if I hooked up with Samantha last night and if I “splooged in her face.” I do not know who Samantha is, and when I don't reply he starts telling me about this “fucking hilarious College Humor video” where a man drinks five beers and four shots of vodka in thirty seconds, then snorts a tablespoon of cinnamon and starts throwing up all over the camera. “You can literally see the barf splattering on the lens,” David tells me, and the level of actual, genuine excitement in his voice is enough that I tell him I need to go to the bathroom, then leave the dorm and walk to the parking lot where I sit in my car for an hour listening to Top 40 songs on Sirius-XM. I kept my Sirius-XM subscription because Patrick told me that it is vastly preferable to analog radio. Satellite has a wide variety of music and often features lesser-known artists. It also has no commercials. Allen has a party at his apartment and I am invited. A lot of athletes are there, a lot of guys from the football team. Most of Jessica's sorority comes too. By the time I get to the apartment it is loud and packed and when I find Allen he tells me the police have already stopped by once but he can't do anything about the crowd so fuck it, right? I NOD AND HE HANDS ME A GLASS OF PUNCH AND TELLS ME THERE'S COCAINE AND POT IN THE BACK room. I react to this news on a visceral, deeply atavistic level, and in spite of myself I feel my mood lifting. An excited tension fills me and it's no longer a question whether I will get drunk and do drugs tonight but when I will get drunk and how many drugs will be consumed. I see Tom and Chris and Dan and I also see Tiffany and Sarah and Victoria. Pot smoke fills the room. Wiz Khalifa's “Say Yeah” is playing on Allen's big stereo. Bass notes throb. The flat-panel TV is dark, switched off for the party. I WANDER SEDATELY THROUGH THE CROWD. I SEE MITCH AND BRIAN HANGING OUT ON THE PORCH BY A KEG. WE TALK FOR AWHILE, DRINK BEER. CIGARETTES ARE SMOKED. BRIAN HAS BIG DARK CIRCLES UNDER HIS EYES AND MITCH LOOKS NOTICEABLY THINNER SINCE I LAST SAW HIM. A S I'M THINKING THIS, THOUGH, MITCH SAYS “YOU LOOK PALE, WALT,” AND I FEEL SCARED SO I STOP LOOKING DIRECTLY AT EITHER OF THEM. I DRINK MY BEER QUICKLY AND GET ANOTHER ONE. AFTER AWHILE TIFFANY COMES OUT, LOOKING GOOD IN A SHORT SKIRT. WE TALK. SHE ASKS ABOUT MY CLASSES AND I ASK HER ABOUT HERS. SHE ASKS ME WHAT I DID FOR FALL BREAK. I TELL HER I WENT TO NEW YORK. SHE TELLS ME SHE WAS THERE TOO. THE FOUR OF US MOVE INTO THE KITCHEN WHERE BOTTLES ARE OUT ON THE COUNTER. WE DO SEVERAL SHOTS OF VODKA, ONE OF GIN. I FEEL LIKE THROWING UP BUT IT PASSES AND THEN I START TO FEEL GOOD. I FOLLOW BRIAN INTO THE BACK ROOM. A FEW FOOTBALL PLAYERS ARE HUDDLED AROUND A TABLE WITH THE COKE AND MIRRORS ON IT. JESSICA IS THERE TOO. A FOOTBALL PLAYER HAS HIS ARM AROUND HER. I feel nervous because I haven't done cocaine in awhile, maybe three weeks. Mitch says he doesn't want any. Tiffany says she has never tried it. We do some and when I lift my head up from the mirror I feel the familiar rush, knowing this is good, knowing I am good, feeling the drip starting. My nose goes numb. TIFFANY DOES A BIG LINE. SNIFFS. “SHIT,” SHE SAYS. ONE OF THE FOOTBALL PLAYERS LAUGHS, SMACKS HER ASS. SHE GIGGLES SO HE PUTS HIS HAND BACK, MASSAGING HER BUTTOCKS SLOWLY. SHE SITS DOWN ON HIS LAP. I CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE ROOM. MITCH IS STANDING AWKWARDLY BY THE DOOR AND THIS IRRITATES ME. BRIAN IS DOING MORE OF THE COCAINE. JESSICA LOOKS LIKE SHE IS ABOUT TO START KISSING THE FOOTBALL PLAYER. I WONDER WHERE ALLEN IS. I do a little more of the cocaine but don't want to draw attention to myself and I leave after one more line. I feel alert, clear. Back in the main room there are more people now. I see Allen drinking beer on the porch. I have another shot in the kitchen with someone I don't know and then sit down on one of the couches facing the TV. Someone has switched it on to the basketball game and I sit and watch. A girl I might have a class with sits down next to me, puts her hand on my thigh. I talk to her about Lindsey and what happened to her. This sort of freaks her out but she doesn't leave. We start talking about the basketball game instead. I LOOK UP WHEN ALLEN COMES INSIDE. HE GOES TO THE BACK BEDROOM WITH SOMEONE ELSE, MAYBE TED. I FORGET HIS NAME BUT HE LOOKS FAMILIAR. ALLEN LOOKS REALLY OUT OF IT. THEY WALK INSIDE AND CLOSE THE DOOR BEHIND THEM. I CAN'T HEAR ANYTHING OVER THE ROAR OF THE PARTY SO I TURN MY ATTENTION BACK TO THE BASKETBALL GAME. “I said, do you like Dunham?” the girl is asking me. “Like it?” I say. “DO YOU LIKE IT?” “I don't not like it,” I tell her. Then I laugh. She laughs too, but awkwardly. “What do you like about it?” I MAKE A FACE. “I LIKE EVERYTHING. MOSTLY I LIKE THE PEOPLE.” “THAT'S SO SWEET,” SHE SAYS. “I LIKE THE PUBLIC POLICY DEPARTMENT. THERE ARE A LOT OF REALLY GOOD FACULTY. THEY ARE SO INTERESTED IN HELPING UNDERGRADUATES.” “Oh really?” I ask. “How so?” SHE PAUSES, THINKING. “I DON'T KNOW. INTERNSHIPS. GRANT APPLICATIONS. GRADUATE SCHOOL.” “Sounds helpful,” I say. “WHAT?” SHE SAYS, LEANING CLOSER. “Sounds terrific!” I say. I put down my drink and give her two thumbs up. “Okay!” she says. “I'm going to go back to my friends! Do you want to come?” “No thanks,” I tell her. “You're cute.” She gives me a peck on the cheek then stands up and walks away, swaying a little. Now I'm alone on the couch, the party a blur around me. I check my Blackberry. It is past midnight. I see Jessica come out of the room with Allen, their arms around each other. They go into the kitchen and start making out with each other. I watch this for awhile, morbidly curious, then get up and go back out to the porch. Mitch is out there with a couple girls and they seem pretty cute. We start talking and Mitch asks me how I'm feeling and I give him the finger. He smiles. I light a cigarette and I remember how good a cigarette goes with cocaine. Mitch introduces the girls as Christine and Madison. Peter comes out to the porch too and starts talking to the girls. I lean back against the railing and look out at the night sky and the dark parking lot. I exhale gray smoke and watch it curl into the air. Christine asks me about my classes and wants to know what year I am. I tell her but don't ask her anything. “DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY DRUGS?” PETER ASKS. I SHAKE MY HEAD. “I have some pot,” Madison says. She pats her back pocket. “Do you have papers?” Peter asks. SHE NODS. PETER SITS DOWN ON A CHAIR AND SHE HANDS HIM A PLASTIC BAG AND SOME PAPERS. “THANKS,” HE SAYS, AND STARTS ROLLING TWO JOINTS. MITCH STARTS MAKING OUT WITH CHRISTINE. ALL OF THIS HAPPENS WHILE I'M STILL SMOKING THE CIGARETTE, LEANING AGAINST THE RAILING. THEN THE GIRL FROM THE COUCH COMES OUTSIDE AND SHE PUTS HER ARMS AROUND ME AND BEFORE I KNOW IT I HAVE THROWN AWAY THE CIGARETTE AND THE TWO OF US ARE KISSING. LATER WE ALL SHARE THE JOINTS THEN GO INSIDE AND HAVE MORE SHOTS AND THE PARTY IS SOMETHING ALIVE AND SEPARATE FROM ITSELF AND THE GIRL FROM THE COUCH TAKES ME INTO ANOTHER BEDROOM AND LOCKS THE DOOR. THE NIGHT FADES TO BLACK. Sunday night in the middle of November and it's almost like I am alone on campus. Everyone is either asleep or doing homework because midterms are coming up. I should be doing some studying for my Faust midterm but I am coming off alcohol and cannot stop my hands from shaking or my mind from racing into bizarre, paranoid thoughts about Lindsey, Lisa, and Jessica. I have been drunk every night for almost a week for no reason with Allen and it is all I can do to sit at my desk and take small sips FROM A BOTTLE OF CUTTY SARK I BOUGHT YESTERDAY, ANTICIPATING WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS AND KNOWING I WOULD NEED SOMETHING TO STOP THE SHAKES. Jessica is still with Allen and I do not think she will be leaving him, but I keep thinking of her straddling me on her couch murmuring, “I want you, Walt,” and although my heart is racing and the shadows on the wall are beginning to fill me with horrible dread, to the point that I want to scream, I don't think I can name a single thing I regret save for the fact that there, tonight, alone, every feeling left in my body has gone utterly numb. And then I realize I regret everything. The phone rings, mercifully, and it is Allen asking if I want to come over and hang out with him and Jessica. I can't help but say sure, as long as he picks me up. He says okay. I STAND UP AND DROP MY OVERCOAT TWICE BEFORE PUTTING IT ON, MY ENTIRE ARM SHAKING. I WONDER IF THIS IS ROCK-BOTTOM. Today in the common room we are high and watching a mournful news update filled with oil spills and plane crashes and war clips. A video of a soldier dressed in desert fatigues and wearing large, bulbous goggles that make him look like an alien is firing his weapon into a crowd. The video is shown on repeat while two bald men explain from a studio in New York that what appear to be women and children are in fact “embedded insurgents.” Later there are images of bloody, charred corpses being stacked on as sidewalk while a gasoline truck, ruptured and smoldering, lies on its side in the background. “Man, fuck those sand niggers,” Matt says. “They can't do anything right.” He takes a hit from his new bong and winces, then exhales. “Shit.” DAN LAUGHS AND SAYS, “RIGHT ON. NIGGERS.” “WHY ARE WE EVEN WASTING OUR TIME OVER THERE?” TOM ASKS. “I JUST DO NOT UNDERSTAND.” “NOBODY DOES, MAN,” DAN SAYS WISELY. “NOBODY DOES.” I THINK ABOUT FALLING ASLEEP ON THE COUCH AND, AIDED BY THE WEED, EVENTUALLY DO. THE NEXT DAY I AM LYING ON MY BED, STARING AT MY POSTER OF ROY LICHTENSTEIN'S WHAM! ON THE WALL, WHICH I BOUGHT WHILE IN OXFORD, TRYING TO DECIDE IF I SHOULD CALL JESSICA. ALLEN IS OUT OF TOWN AGAIN. SHE PICKS UP ON THE THIRD RING AND SAYS, “HEY, WALT.” “HEY, JESSICA,” I SAY. “HOW ARE YOU?” “I'm good. What, um, are you doing?” “JUST DOING SOME HOMEWORK.” JESSICA SOUNDS OUT OF IT BUT I THINK THAT IS JUST HOW SHE IS. THERE IS ALSO A GOOD CHANCE THAT SHE IS VERY HUNGOVER. WE ARE SILENT ON THE LINE FOR AWHILE. I CHECK MY FINGERNAILS SAND NOTICE THAT THEY ARE TOO LONG AND A COUPLE OF THEM BITTEN OFF. NICOTINE STAINS. “DO YOU WANT TO...GET DINNER TONIGHT?” I ASK TOO SUDDENLY. SILENCE, THEN JESSICA SAYS, “UMMM.” I WAIT. “Okay,” she says. “NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING,” I SAY, FEELING AWKWARD. “No, I want to,” Jessica says. “I'm totally bored.” She says it like she is ACCEPTING AN APOLOGY FROM ME, OR DOING ME A FAVOR, AND A WAVE OF HOT RESENTMENT RISES IN ME. “Listen, forget it,” I tell her. “I'm sorry I asked.” “Umm...okay,” she says. “But I'd go if you wanted.” I groan and take the phone away from my hear, rub my hand over my face. “Okay, fine,” I say, returning the phone to my ear. “Where do you want to go?” “I DON'T CARE, YOU PICK.” “WATTS?” “Okay, sounds good. Come pick me up at seven.” “Seven-thirty?” “SEVEN IS BETTER.” “FINE.” I HANG UP THE PHONE AND AM LEFT ALONE IN MY ROOM, WONDERING. At dinner we sit in a dark booth near the kitchen, a candle on the table between us. Its flickering flame illuminates in stark relief the framed black-and-white photos on the wall. Jessica is subdued. I order a bottle of wine and wave the waiter away when he waits for me to taste it. I WANT TO TALK TO JESSICA BUT HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW. SHE COMPLAINS ABOUT HER MOLECULAR BIOLOGY CLASS AND WE TRADE GOSSIP POINTLESSLY WHILE PICKING AT OUR APPETIZERS. I START TO GET DEPRESSED. I THINK ABOUT ALLEN, ABOUT THE SUMMER. I want to talk about the last time we were together, to acknowledge it, to attach something to it. But by the time I finish my first glass of the wine, listening to Jessica go on about her new summer internship, that urge has faded and I'm willing to wait to see if she brings up whatever lies between us. I keep seeing her, wrecked out of her mind on alcohol and dope, riding me to a screaming orgasm while telling me she loves me. That was a long time ago now. September. Before that, twice in August. By the time I finish my third glass the whole thing, the very fact that I have asked her out to dinner at all, seems stupidly naïve and clingy and, even worse, completely irrelevant. We sit and finish dinner, still talking about nothing but doing it skillfully, with the practiced ease of two Dunham upperclassmen used to talking about nothing all day, every day, with everyone. I know enough about the way these things go to mostly keep my mouth shut when she starts talking about Allen. I pay the check and we leave and I drive us drunk back to campus. Jessica says goodnight and goes inside while I smoke a cigarette. Then I drive home and do not see Jessica for a month. Brian takes me to Shooters for their weekly “Sex and Beer Pong” night and we wade through a mob made up mostly of freshman, frat boys, and townies to the back where Patrick and Jack are hanging out in a booth. “FUCK. THIS. PLACE,” BRIAN SAYS, SLIDING INTO THE BOOTH. I CAN BARELY HEAR HIM OVER THE MUSIC AND THE INSANE SCREAMING OF THE CROWD. STROBE LIGHTS FLASH AND SPIN MULTICOLORED AROUND US. SOMEONE NAMED “L'IL WAYNE” IS SINGING ABOUT LOLLIPOPS. JACK IS smoking a cigarette and I gesture for one. He hands me the pack and his lighter. I take one, light it, inhale, feel better. “WHY ARE WE HERE?” BRIAN CONTINUES. “To get laid,” Patrick says. He is wearing a navy blazer with brass buttons and charcoal slacks. “Don't you want to get laid?” he asks Brian. “Not by any of these girls,” Brian says. “And not if I have to compete with these frat stars.” PATRICK LEERS AT HIM. “THEN WHY ARE YOU HERE?” “UH, BECAUSE THERE'S NOTHING ELSE TO DO?” “Except watch Gladiator for the fiftieth time and get high,” Jack says. “Yeah,” Brian says. “I am so sick of doing that.” “You need to man the fuck up and get laid,” Patrick tells Brian, acting confident for once, but I can tell he is really drunk and is not going to be doing anything tonight except maybe throwing up in his bed and calling his ex-girlfriend. The song changes to something faster, newer, and I sit back and watch as the crowd absolutely loses it. A guy on the dance floor, pretty clearly gay, literally shrieks, waving his arms in the air. I finish my cigarette and just stare. JACK TAPS ME ON THE SHOULDER. “IS THAT LISA OVER THERE?” HE ASKS. I FOLLOW HIS GAZE AND IT IS LISA, LOOKING VERY GOOD IN A SHORT BLACK DRESS, HER FACE GLISTENING A LITTLE WITH SWEAT, JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF HAIR STUCK DAMPLY TO HER FOREHEAD. SHE IS DANCING WITH SOME GUY I DON'T RECOGNIZE. TALL AND BLOND. AS I WATCH THE GUY BENDS TOWARD HER A LITTLE AND THEY START MAKING OUT HEAVILY, HIS HANDS GRIPPING HER BUTT. “I think that is Lisa,” Jack says. “WHAT A SLUT,” PATRICK SAYS, GIGGLING. “Don't say slut,” Brian says, in a high, effeminate voice. “It's so HETERONORMATIVE.” I stand up. “I'm getting drunk,” I announce. “Does anybody want anything?” They all order something elaborate and I go to the bar and order eight shots of VODKA AND HAVE THEM BROUGHT TO THE BOOTH AND THAT'S HOW THURSDAY EVENING STARTS. I DECIDE TO ACTUALLY TRY TO STUDY ONE NIGHT, WHICH THIS TIME JUST INVOLVES GOING OVER THE NOTES FOR MY CHEMISTRY CLASS AND ANSWERING SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT REACTION RATES. Still, I find it impossible to concentrate. My notes are on my computer and so I keep checking Facebook and MySpace and my e-mail and the news and CollegeHumor for no reason at all until, three hours later, I give up. Outside the library it is cold and I smoke three cigarettes then walk back to the dorm, feeling dumb and hazy and very useless. I SPEND ALL NIGHT PLAYING VIDEO GAMES WITH JACK AND CHRIS AND TAKE MY CHEMISTRY QUIZ THE NEXT DAY AND DO OKAY ON IT. ON THE WAY BACK ACROSS THE QUAD FROM THE CHEMISTRY DEPARTMENT I LOOK UP AT THE CHAPEL AND WONDER BRIEFLY WHAT I CAME TO DUNHAM FOR. AND THEN I REMEMBER THAT I DON'T EVEN CARE. Because there is nothing better to do I go to the gym to work out with Paul, who I USUALLY NEVER HANG OUT WITH. PAUL SPENDS THE WALK OVER TO THE GYM TALKING ON HIS PHONE to someone about how he has recently gotten into something called “free bouldering” and how he ordered new equipment for a climbing trip to Asheville, but it didn't come so he and his “climbing buddies” from Yale who came down had to rent some “gnarly stuff” which really was a bummer. HE HANGS UP THE PHONE AND APOLOGIZES. “It's fine,” I say. “Sounds like a bad time.” “IT WAS, DUDE,” PAUL SAYS. “BUT WE FOUND SOME REALLY SICK ROUTES ON A CLIFF IN PISGAH. YOU KNOW PISGAH?” I SHAKE MY HEAD. “IT'S A FOREST, I THINK?” “Oh, it's so beautiful, man. It's so beautiful. It's like another world. I get up there with my climbing buddies, in the fresh air, and just let go, man. It's great. You should come with us sometime man. Sometimes we just meditate.” “Sorry,” I say, realizing too late that it doesn't make any sense to say that. PAUL LOOKS AT ME STRANGELY AND THEN WE GET TO THE GYM. HE NODS TO THE WOMAN WORKING AT THE FRONT DESK. SHE WAVES TO HIM. AT THE JUICE BAR PAUL GETS SOMETHING CALLED A “PRE-WORKOUT ENERGY MIXER” AND SIPS FROM IT WHILE WE STRETCH. PAUL TELLS ME ABOUT THE ABDOMINAL EXERCISES HE HAS BEEN DOING. “IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE CUTS, YOU'RE NOTHING,” HE TELLS ME. “IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CUTS, MAN.” “The cuts?” I ask. “What are...the cuts?” “Are you serious?” Paul says. “The cuts. Dude, you gotta know about the cuts.” He lifts up his Nike workout shirt, exposing well-tanned abs and their complementary obliques, which rise in twin ridges from his Jockey boxer-briefs. Paul points at them WITH HIS FREE HAND. “THE CUTS, MAN. I WORK ON THEM, LIKE, EVERY OTHER DAY. CHICKS DIG THEM. HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW ABOUT THE CUTS?” “I'm, um, a chemistry major,” I tell him, unable to think of any other explanation. “Whatever,” Paul says. “So you take the medicine ball and hold it over your HEAD, KEEP YOUR FEET LOCKED ON THE BAR, AND JUST BEND BACK AND FORTH AS FAR AS YOU CAN. IT'S EASY.” “And it gives you good cuts?” I ask him. Paul nods enthusiastically. “Oh yeah. It will completely shock your cuts. Like, juice them.” “Nice,” I say. I look around the gym at everyone on the machines—mostly frat guys and sorority girls. All the guys are the same height with the same haircut and all the girls are really skinny and blond. I finish stretching and head over to a bicep-curling machine—a Nautilus—and turn on my MP3 player and start working out. I see myself in the mirror, skinny, bags under my eyes, dark hair. I wonder if I should stop smoking or something. I wonder about why I stopped playing basketball. There is a small rip in my shirt that I can barely see at first. But as I look closer it seems to get bigger and I find myself getting upset because this is a nice workout shirt. It says Dunham University on it and I bought it at the student store at the beginning of this year. It is white, too, which I like and is a color that looks good on me. As I'm thinking this I also see a stain from tomato sauce or maybe blood on the collar of the shirt and this depresses me. I look up, back to my face and try to see if my hairline is receding, which I think it might be. But the lighting is bad and I haven't showered today, which can make your hair look thin. Tendrils of panic start to grip me. I cannot stop staring at my reflection. The song on my MP3 player starts to skip but I don't notice.. SOMEONE TAPS ME ON THE SHOULDER. I LOOK UP AT THE FACE OF A FRAT GUY, DARK-HARIED, BLUE-EYED. “HEY, YOU GONNA USE THAT MACHINE OR JUST STARE AT YOURSELF?” “Sorry,” I say. “Just finishing.” I stand up. He grunts and sits down and immediately starts going into a set of reps. FEELING BAD, WORSE THAN I HAVE FELT IN AWHILE, I TELL PAUL I'M GOING TO GO RUN ON THE TREADMILL. “BUT IT'S NOT A CARDIO DAY,” HE SAYS. I IGNORE HIM AND LEAVE THE WORKOUT ROOM, THEN THE GYM. Tom tells me he is being “ironic” one night and takes me to go drink at The Cheesecake Factory. We end up getting drunk on bad Long Island Iced Teas and have to take a cab home. The cab driver is foreign and he runs a redlight. We get pulled over and Tom throws up right in front of the cop but it turns out it's only the campus security so we get off easy and drive home but don't pay the cab driver. IN MY DREAM I AM SITTING BY THE POOL WITH JESSICA. IT IS LATE SUMMER IN NORTH CAROLINA AND HOT. SHE IS TELLING ME ABOUT HER SUMMER SESSION CLASSES, ABOUT HOW HARD THE LABORATORY IS. WE ARE READING BAD NOVELS WE GOT FROM THE CAMPUS LIBRARY. I CLOSE MY EYES AND WHEN I OPEN THEM JESSICA HAS TURNED INTO LISA. SHE IS STANDING BY THE POOL, HER HAIR LIT UP BY THE LOWERING SUN. SHE IS WEARING A PALE PINK SWIMSUIT AND SHE IS LOOKING AT ME IN A WAY I HAVE NEVER SEEN HER LOOK AT ME. SHE IS BEAUTIFUL AND I WANT HER. I WANT HER BECAUSE SHE TURNS ME ON AND BECAUSE SHE MAKES ME HAPPY LIKE NOBODY HAS MADE ME HAPPY SINCE LINDSEY. “Walt,” she says. I take off my sunglasses and look at her. “Walt.” “I love you,” I tell her. She shakes her head, smiling, the same year as me but much wiser. “No you don't. You don't love anybody.” I lean forward and make to get up but suddenly the sun goes behind a cloud and the pool goes eclipse-dark. A shadow moves across Lisa's face and suddenly she is Lindsey, standing there by the pool, no longer smiling. I shout but it is too late, and Lindsey jumps into the pool and is gone. Jack comes into my room with his backpack on. “I got more shit,” he tells me. I perk up, turn away from my laptop where I've spent the last hour staring at FACEBOOK INSTEAD OF WORKING ON MY PHILOSOPHY PAPER. “YEAH?” I SAY. “HELL YEAH,” HE SAYS. “I GOT SOME GOOD SHIT.” HE PUTS DOWN HIS BACKPACK AND STARTS RUMMAGING THROUGH IT. JACK IS WEARING BLUE JEANS AND A FLANNEL SHIRT, BRIGHTLY COLORED. HIS HAIR IS SLICKED BACK, SUNGLASSES ON HIS FOREHEAD. HE PULLS OUT A BIG PLASTIC BAG WITH A LOT OF GREEN BUDS IN IT. “JIM TRIED A LITTLE LAST NIGHT. HE SAID IT'S PRETTY AMAZING.” I stand up and walk over, take the bag. “How much is mine?” JACK SHRUGS. “I DON'T EVEN CARE, DUDE. JUST PAY ME LIKE A HUNDRED AND TAKE HALF. I'M JUST GLAD WE GOT A HOLD OF IT.” “Sure thing,” I say, reaching for my wallet. I give him five twenties. There are still six twenties left in my wallet. “THANKS,” SAYS JACK, POCKETING THE MONEY. WE MOVE TO MY DESK AND JACK TAKES OUT ANOTHER PLASTIC BAG AND DIVIDES THE WEED PRETTY EVENLY. I WATCH HIM WORK, MY ARMS CROSSED. “I've got some other stuff, too,” Jack says. “Yeah?' HE NODS AND, TURNING HIS ATTENTION FROM THE BAGS OF POTS, UNZIPS HIS BACKPACK AND TAKES OUT A SMALL BAGGIE FILLED WITH WHITE POWDER. “IT'S GOOD,” HE TELLS ME. I nod. “DO YOU WANT SOME?” “MAYBE.” “You never buy that much cocaine,” Jack says. “I guess not,” I tell him. “Why?” I shake my head. “I don't know. It's a little scary.” “Yeah, but you like it.” “I DO.” Jack opens the bag and holds it open. He nods. I lick my finger and rub it around in the coke, then rub my finger on my gums. They go numb fast. “Nice,” I say. “SO YOU WANT SOME?” JACK ASKS. “NOT NOW,” I TELL HIM. “It's cool,” he says. He puts away the small bag and seals up the two bags of pot. He hands one to me, puts the other in his backpack. Zips it up. I thank him. “ALL RIGHT, CATCH YOU LATER,” JACK SAYS. “Later,” I say. When he leaves I take the bag and put it in the top drawer of my desk, then go back to checking Facebook. I knock on Jim's door sometime the next week, looking for Adderall, and I have to knock for a few minutes before he answers. When he does I stare at him and my mouth falls open a little because he is very pale and sweating and even though it has only been five days since I last saw him he looks thiner. There are dark bags under his eyes. Behind him his dorm room is dark—he has the blinds pulled and some sort of blanket pinned up over the blinds. “JIM?” I SAY. “What's up?” he says. “I'm sort of...busy.” “Can I come in?” I ask. JIM LOOKS AT ME, HIS EYES BLANK. “WHAT?” “CAN I COME IN?” Jim sighs. “Fine,” he says. HE BACKS AWAY AND I COME INTO THE ROOM AND HE COLLAPSES ONTO A COUCH NEAR THE DOOR AFTER CLOSING IT. “I'M SO FUCKING SORRY.” “What?” “I'M SO FUCKING SORRY. I DIDN'T MEAN FOR IT TO BE LIKE THIS AND I'M SO FUCKING SORRY.” “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I ASK HIM. He mumbles something but trails off, not looking at me. I am still standing and I don't move to sit down. I don't say anything else. Reaching down, I turn on a desk lamp. Jim winces. “Do you have any Adderall?” Jim doesn't answer. I GRAB HIM BY THE SHOULDER. “WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM?” I ASK. “I guess I'm really...a bad person,” Jim says. And then he starts crying. I haven't been in Jim's room in awhile and now I look around, wondering what to say to him. Trying to buy time. All of the dorm rooms are messes, but Jim's is something else. Jim's is apocalyptic. There are books and papers strewn everywhere and his flat- panel TV is crooked on the wall with something splattered al over it. Empty beer and wine bottles litter the floor and the bookshelves and there are a few half-full bottles of scotch—Dewar's and J&B—one his nightstand. The whole room reeks of marijuana and cigarettes. His sheets, mostly pulled off the bed, the bare mattress exposed in places, are stained with what looks like blood or ketchup. I see one open bag of cocaine. Maybe two. Jim stops crying then and just gasps raggedly, choking, trying not to start crying again. “What did you do?” I ask him. JIM LOOKS UP AT ME, HIS EYES WIDE AND SCARED. “I GUESS...I GUESS I DID...” “WHAT?” “I guess I did a lot of drugs,” Jim says. He moans again. “I guess I did a lot of bad drugs. I tried to smoke them but that didn't work after awhile for some reason so I put it in the needle like Brad said to do.” “GOD,” I SAY, AND NOW I'M SEEING FOR THE FIRST TIME THE MATCHES AND THE SPOONS ON JIM'S DESK BY HIS CALCULUS TEXTBOOKS, AND I'M SEEING THE RUBBER TUBING NEXT TO HIM ON THE COUCH. “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT SHIT? DO PEOPLE DO THAT SHIT?” “Of course they do that,” Jim says, sounding like he is going to cry again. “I'm so fucking sorry, Walt. I can't do this anymore.” “I think you're in withdrawal,” I say stupidly. “NO SHIT I'M IN WITHDRAWAL,” JIM TELLS ME. “NO SHIT. WHERE THE FUCK IS BRAD?” A GREAT SHUDDERING SOB WRACKS HIS BODY AND THEN HE IS SILENT AND I DON'T WANT TO SAY ANYTHING, CAN'T THINK OF ANYTHING TO SAY. “I'm trying to come off it,” he says. “It takes awhile.” “I think you need to get help.” I back away from him, frightened for the first time. As I turn to go Jim moves forward, very quickly, and grabs my wrist. The blanket falls away from his arm and, spinning back toward him, I see the holes and track marks and something cold grips my stomach. Jim looks up at me and his jaw is clenched and in the light of the lamp his face is drawn and tired. “Why didn't you help me?” he asks. “Why didn't you take care of me?” I TRY TO PULL AWAY BUT HE IS HOLDING ME TIGHTLY. “WHY DIDN'T YOU TAKE CARE OF ME?” he asks again. “I...DIDN'T THINK...IT WAS THIS BAD,” I MANAGE TO TELL HIM, LOST, FLAILING. “I DIDN'T KNOW YOU WERE GETTING UP TO STUFF LIKE THIS.” “Well what did you think I was doing? Eating tic-tacs?” “I just thought you were doing cocaine. Maybe some Adderall.” “Fuck, Walt. That was so freshman year.” He sobs again. “Well, I'm sorry.” “Melissa is a fucking bitch,” he says. “She has no soul and I love her but she has no soul.” “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I ASK “I'm in love with Melissa,” Jim moans. “I'm in love with her. But she has no soul.” “Who the fuck is Melissa?” I manage to pull my wrist from Jim's grasp and I step back, massaging it with my other hand. I am suddenly not thinking very straight and the room is too dark and it of stinks of piss and smoke and stale beer and Jim's face is skeletal and slicked with sweat and I hear myself say, “You're fucking insane, man.” Jim shudders and looks through me. “If I'm insane then you're definitely insane, Walter. You fucking faggot.” Now I have backed up to the door, one hand on the handle. “I think you need to get some help,” I tell him. “WHAT?” “I'm going now.” “WHY DIDN'T YOU CARE ABOUT ME WALT? WHY DIDN'T YOU LOOK OUT FOR ME?” I LOOK AT HIM, HUDDLED IN HIS DIRTY BLANKETS, PROBABLY DRUNK OR SOMETHING, CLEARLY FUCKED OUT OF HIS MIND. “BECAUSE IT'S TOO HARD TO CARE,” I SAY, LESS TO HIM THAN TO MYSELF. “IT'S TOO FUCKING HARD TO CARE ABOUT ANYONE.” THOUGHTS OF LINDSEY COME UNBIDDEN TO MY MIND, SEEMINGLY AT RANDOM. SOME DAYS ARE WORSE THAN OTHERS. I MISS WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO BE IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE WHO LOVED YOU BACK. I MISS WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO BE COMPLETE IN THAT WAY. I MISS BEING ABLE TO SEE HER, ALWAYS, TO KNOW I COULD ALWAYS FIND HER THAT SUMMER, ASLEEP IN THE HAMMOCK OR SWIMMING IN THE LAKE OR AT HER PARENTS' HOUSE WHERE WE WOULD HAVE TO SNEAK DOWN TO THE BASEMENT TO KISS AND HOLD EACH OTHER AND MAYBE GO TOO FAR. I MISS TALKING TO HER ABOUT THE WORLD. AND THIS THOUGHT MAKES ME REALIZE I MISS BEING AROUND PEOPLE I COULD TALK TO AT ALL, INSTEAD OF JUST DRIFTING FROM PARTY TO PARTY, FROM STILL-DRUNK MORNINGS TO HUNGOVER AFTERNOONS, FROM CLASSES TO SUMMER INTERNSHIPS, FROM GRANT APPLICATIONS TO RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS. THE ONLY THING WORTH TALKING ABOUT IS BASKETBALL OR HOW POLITICALLY INCORRECT IT IS TO USE THE TERM “FAGGOT” AND THE ONLY TIME YOU TALK ABOUT ANYTHING MORE IS WHEN YOU'RE DRUNK AND NOBODY LISTENS OR CARES ANYWAY. WATCHING THE DAYS DRIFT INTO WEEKS IN A GOTHIC WONDERLAND WHERE THE TREES TOUCH THE HIGH ARCHES ON THE QUADRANGLES AND SLOWLY GO FROM GREEN TO GOLD TO DEAD AND THE RAINS COME EARLY AND STAY ALL WINTER. JIM LEAVES FOR HOME HALFWAY THROUGH NOVEMBER. I FIND THIS OUT FROM DAN WHILE WE'RE EATING PIZZA IN THE COMMON ROOM AND DRINKING BUSCH LITE WHILE WATCHING SPORTSCENTER ON ESPN. WE ARE BOTH HUNGOVER BUT NOT TOO BADLY BECAUSE WE DRANK 4- LOKO LAST NIGHT AND THE CAFFEINE HELPS CUT THE EFFECT OF THE ALCOHOL. I DON'T FEEL SAD OR EVEN GUILTY. ALL I CAN THINK ABOUT FOR SOME REASON IS JESSICA HAVING SEX WITH ALLEN ALL LAST SUMMER WHILE I THOUGHT THAT JESSICA WAS IN LOVE WITH ME AND HOW JESSICA WOULD COME DOWN TO WHERE I WAS SITTING BY THE POOL, THE NORTH CAROLINA SUN STILL HOT AND BRIGHT IN THE LATE AFTERNOON. HOW JESSICA AND I WOULD SIT AND TALK AND KISS AND SMOKE ENDLESS CIGARETTES AND STARE INTO THE SHIMMERING ULTRAMARINE OF THE POOL. AND HOW AT THE END OF ALL THAT JESSICA WENT BACK TO ALLEN AND SUMMER FADED, I GUESS, AND THE END OF SOMETHING GOOD ALWAYS FEELS THE SAME. That night Carly is moaning and gasping on top of me in the throes of what I'm pretty sure is her second orgasm in thirty minutes. She's telling me she loves me and she wants me and she needs me but there is this cold blackness still clawing around inside of me and although I haven't had sex with Carly in nearly six months and I am drunk and high on cocaine I can't stop thinking about Lisa and Jim and Jessica. I realize something is horribly wrong, broken in my life and that I cannot remember the last time I was happy or even just content. I want to scream, to cry out, to tell everyone how fake and lonely it all is and how empty I am. Life isn't worth living without love, even a fucked up junkie undergraduate knows that apparently. If I can't have love I don't want anything at all but even as I'm thinking this and believing it I know it is impossibly naïve and we're all fucked and we've come too far to go back and as I'm thinking this I start coming, my entire groin spasming suddenly and throbbing in a massive, inexorable orgasm that grips my entire body and lances down my cock and through my balls and up my spine. As my entire world blows apart I hear Carly's gasp from the raw force of my ejaculation and THEN EVERYTHING STARTS DRAINING AWAY IN A FLOOD OF ENDORPHINS. BUT BEFORE I PASS OUT I LOOK UP BEYOND CARLY'S SWEAT-SHEENED FOREHEAD TO THE CEILING AND I UNDERSTAND FINALLY THAT GOD HAS DIED. It is a brisk November morning and I'm walking to the coffee shop with Dan. We've just pulled an all-nighter, fucked up on Adderall, trying to cram for a chemistry midterm that I don't care if I fail. “You see Katie over there?” Dan asks me. “Jack's girlfriend?” I try to follow Dan's pointing finger but the quad is crowded today and I can't see who he is talking about. I shake my head. “Come on, man,” Dan says, grabbing me, spinning me a little. “Katie Zhang. Jack's girlfriend.” “JACK'S GIRLFRIEND?” I ASK LAMELY, ALTHOUGH NOW I DO SEE A SMALL ASIAN GIRL ALONG DAN'S LINE OF SIGHT. SHE IS WEARING A PINK POLO SHIRT AND AVIATORS, HOLDING A VINEYARD VINES TOTE AND TALKING ON HER PHONE. “Yeah,” Dan says. “I was at this party one weekend, off East, and she was getting, like, gangbanged in a room upstairs.” I look at him. He nods. “I went up to the bathroom and heard all these noises coming from this other room. So after I pissed I went in and she was naked on the bed. There were these dudes around her, two of them. Taylor was in the corner filming it and jerking himself off.” “SERIOUSLY? ARE YOU SURE IT WAS HER?” “Completely. She has this weird mole on her face. Trust me.” “I DO TRUST YOU,” I SAY, UNSURE. “Anyway, one of the guys was totally naked, doing her, really thrusting. The other had his boxers pulled down and was kneeling on the bed. Katie had her mouth around his dick and he wasn't totally hard but he was getting there. “Taylor saw me and I could tell he was totally, totally out of it. He asked me if I wanted to join in. I said fuck no and got out. But, I have to be honest, I sort of wanted to stay.” “TOO MUCH FOR YOU?” I ASK HIM. “I JUST HATE ASIANS,” DAN SAYS, STRAIGHT-FACED. “EVER SINCE GRACE CHEATED ON ME I CAN'T EVEN LOOK AT THOSE SQUINTY-EYED BITCHES. I REALLY DON'T THINK THEY HAVE SOULS. THEY'RE JUST...INCREDIBLY HORNY. AND MATERIALISTIC.” DAN LAUGHS AND LIGHTS A CIGARETTE. “FUCKING SLOPES, MAN,” HE SAYS. I don't say anything, just look across the quad at the girl in the pink polo shirt. I think about Jack sitting in the booth at Shooters, smoking a cigarette and pointing out Lisa to me.. I wonder if he knows. THERE IS NOTHING TO DO ON WEEKENDS IN THE LATE FALL BECAUSE IT GETS COLD AND RAINS CONSTANTLY. THE GROUND SLOWLY TURNS TO CURDLED MUD, SO THICK IT RIPS PEOPLE'S BOOTS OFF. CARS GET STUCK IN IT. PEOPLE STAY INSIDE AND DRINK, SMOKE POT, FUCK. THE UNCOOL KIDS PLAY VIDEO GAMES OR WATCH MOVIES. ALMOST NOBODY STUDIES. STUDYING IS AN AFTERTHOUGHT AT DUNHAM, A PUNCTUATION MARK, A NECESSARY EVIL BEST DONE QUICKLY OR NOT AT ALL, PREFERABLY AFTER INSUFLATING A LARGE AMOUNT OF ADDERALL OR COCAINE. I am in Patrick's room, zoned out but technically sober. I have not been able to sleep for nearly forty-eight hours now, except for yesterday when I passed out for the entirety of my Logic class. “WHAT A WASTE,” PATRICK IS SAYING. WE ARE STANDING BY THE WINDOW WATCHING PEOPLE PLAYING AN AFTERNOON GAME OF BEER PONG. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” I ASK HIM. “Just...all of this,” Patrick says, gesturing with the red plastic cup he is holding. “I don't know.” “THE WEATHER SUCKS,” I SAY BY WAY OF AN ANSWER. ZACH IS DRUNK ALREADY AND HE KNOCKS OVER A FULL PITCHER OF BEER WITH HIS ELBOW WHILE WE WATCH. “FUCK THIS,” PATRICK SAYS. I START TO WONDER HOW DRUNK HE IS BUT BEFORE CAN I ASK HIM HE WALKS OVER TO WHERE ZACH IS STANDING. ZACH IS LAUGHING WITH SOME FRESHMAN GIRLS WHO HAVE COME OVER, THE SPILLED BEER FORGOTTEN. PATRICK PICKS UP THE PITCHER AND SETS IT ON THE TABLE. “YOU SPILLED MY BEER, ZACH,” HE SAYS QUIETLY. ZACH DOESN'T HEAR HIM, DOESN'T EVEN TURN HIM AROUND. THEN PATRICK GRABS ZACH BY THE SHOULDERS AND SPINS HIM AROUND. “I SAID YOU SPILLED MY FUCKING BEER,” HE SAYS LOUDLY. THE FRESHMAN GIRLS STOP LAUGHING AND LOOK AT PATRICK. ONE OF THEM GIGGLES, THEN THEY ARE SILENT. “Hey, man, mellow out,” Zach says, looking glassy. “What's the big deal?” And then Patrick punches Zach in the face. From across the room I hear the CRUNCH AS HIS FIST BUSTS THROUGH ZACH'S NOSE AND SOME BLOOD SPRAYS OUT AND ZACH GOES DOWN. HE SMASHES INTO A BOOKSHELF AND THEN SLUMPS, SITTING, TO THE GROUND. “I'm so fucking sick of watching you waste everything,” Patrick says. By now his face is red and everyone in the room is watching. Nobody is talking anymore. Timbaland's “The Way I Are” is coming from the stereo. “I AM SO TIRED,” PATRICK CONTINUES, “OF WATCHING ALL OF YOU WASTE YOURSELVES AWAY.” HE SLAMS THE PITCHER ON THE TABLE THEN, SO HARD IT SENDS EMPTY PLASTIC CUPS AND BEER CANS CRASHING TO THE FLOOR. “I'M OUT.” He starts going for the door and nobody gets in his way. A girl starts crying. “Fuck all of you,” Patrick says. Then he leaves the room, slamming the door. For a second the room is quiet but then the noise picks back up. People start talking again. A guy bends down to check on Zach. Blood is pouring from his nose and his eyes are glassy but he waves off the guy and tries to stand up. Finally he grabs the guy's arm and gets to his feet. He wipes an arm across his nose. “Will someone turn up the damn music?” he says. PEOPLE ARE MILLING ABOUT NOW, STUMBLING INTO EACH OTHER. MURMURING. A COUPLE PEOPLE LEAVE. SOMEONE ELSE TRIES TO GET TO THE DOOR BUT BUMPS INTO THE BEER PONG TABLE AND KNOCKS IT OVER. MORE BEER CANS AND CUPS FALL ON THE FLOOR. “Will somebody please turn up the fucking music?” Zach yells. “Walt, turn up the music!” I LOOK AT HIM, AT THE REST OF THE PEOPLE IN THE ROOM, AT THE KIDS STILL WAITING TO PLAY ANOTHER GAME OF BEER PONG. THEN I REACH FOR THE STEREO AND TURN THE VOLUME UP TO ELEVEN, BECAUSE THAT'S THE EASIEST THING TO DO. Lisa calls me late at night and asks if I'm awake. I tell her I am and she asks if I want to come to her room and watch a movie. I say okay. “Bring a blanket,” she tells me. LATER WE ARE ALONE IN HER ROOM SITTING UNDER A BLANKET ON HER COUCH. WE ARE WATCHING LOST IN TRANSLATION AND LISA'S LEGS ARE TOUCHING MINE. THEY ARE WARM AND SOFT AND WHEN I PUT MY HAND ON HER LEG SHE DOESN'T MOVE IT AWAY. A FEW MINUTES LATER SHE YAWNS AND LEANS HER HEAD AGAINST MY SHOULDER. WE DON'T SAY ANYTHING. BOTH OF US FALL ASLEEP BEFORE THE MOVIE ENDS AND FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A LONG TIME I SLEEP DREAMLESSLY. THROUGH THE NIGHT. THE LAST THING I REALLY REMEMBER FROM WEDNESDAY NIGHT WAS JAMES SCREAMING AT GORDON TO GET OFF THE TABLE, GET OFF THE FUCKING TABLE YOU FUCKER! AND THEN LAUGHING MANIACALLY WITH EVERYBODY ELSE WHEN HE SLIPPED ON A PUDDLE OF BEER AND WENT FACE FIRST INTO THE FLOOR. HE STAYED DOWN AND I SAW SOME BLOOD COMING FROM HIS NOSE AND THAT JUST MADE IT FUNNIER. AT SOME POINT I LOOKED OVER AT LISA AND SAW HER STANDING IN THE CORNER, MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN EVER, JUST SORT OF STARING AT EVERYBODY AND EVERYTHING THAT WAS GOING ON AND THEN MY LAUGHTER TURNED INTO THIS WEIRD FITFUL SOBBING AND I WENT OUT INTO THE HALL AND VOMITED MASSIVELY ONTO THE WALL. I RETCHED UNTIL NOTHING BUT GREEN-YELLOW BILE CAME UP AND THEN JUST SORT OF STOOD THERE, BRACING MYSELF AGAINST THE WALL WITH ONE ARM, WATCHING THE SLIPPERY, PUNGENT CONTENTS OF MY STOMACH DRIPPING TO THE FLOOR. I LOOKED AT MY BLACKBERRY AND SAW THAT IT WAS 2:38 IN THE MORNING. I WANDERED DOWNSTAIRS TO MY ROOM AND PASSED OUT BECAUSE I HAVE A BIG INTERVIEW IN THE MORNING. THAT IS WEDNESDAY NIGHT, NOVEMBER TWENTY-FOURTH. In a class called “Science, Technology, and Society” I listen to some sophomore give a presentation on the value of technological innovation in the field of social entrepreneuring. It starts out okay but halfway through he goes into a show-and-tell about his summer internship at an NGO in Washington, D.C., which is more or less a list of names of the famous, powerful people he met, accompanied by pictures of him shaking hands with them. I check my Blackberry, read my messages. Most of them are drunk texts and e-mails sent to me from the previous night. I am wearing blue chinos FROM J. CREW AND A GRAY T-SHIRT FROM BANANA REPUBLIC. MY BLACK NORTH FACE JACKET IS ON THE FLOOR, NEXT TO A JACKET THAT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE IT WHOSE OWNER IS SITTING IN FRONT OF ME. “THE BEST PART ABOUT INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY,” THE SOPHOMORE IS SAYING, “IS THAT IT IS AN EXCELLENT GLOBAL EQUALIZER. IF WE CAN ALLOW PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD, REGARDLESS OF THEIR INCOME LEVELS, TO ACCESS GLOBAL DATABANKS OF INFORMATION, THEN THE IMPLICATIONS ARE INCREDIBLE. AGAIN, I REFER TO MY INITIAL ALGORITHM: INITIATIVE, INFRASTRUCTURE, IMPLEMENTATION. I PROVED IN WASHINGTON WITH THE GHANA PROJECT THAT BASIC CONCEPTS TRULY CAN BECOME TECHNOLOGICAL REALITIES.” WITH THAT THE PRESENTATION ENDS. PEOPLE APPLAUD POLITELY. THE GIRL NEXT TO ME IS ASLEEP. OUR PROFESSOR ASKS IF THERE ARE ANY QUESTIONS. NOBODY HAS ANY. THEN A GUY IN A BACKWARD BASEBALL CAP RAISES HIS HAND. “UH, WHAT IF THE INTERNET IS, LIKE, A BAD THING?” HE ASKS. People laugh nervously. The professor dismisses us and I stand up slowly, joining the crowd headed to the exits. In Matt's room I see orange prescription bottles lining his desk and ask him if they're new. He nods and says he was prescribed Prozac a couple weeks ago by his psychiatrist at the Student Counseling Services. “I DIDN'T KNOW YOU WERE DEPRESSED,” I TELL HIM. “I didn't know either,” he says. “My parents made me go.” “Do they work?” I ask him. “I GUESS,” HE SAYS. “THEY MAKE ME GET DRUNK A LOT QUICKER. WHICH IS COOL.” “YEAH,” I SAY. “COOL.” “Jim wants me to try to get them to prescribe me some Adderall IR.” “Okay,” I say, sitting down on his bed. MATT IS PLAYING CALL OF DUTY ON HIS FLAT-PANEL TV. HE LOOKS PALE, A LITTLE THIN, HAS A BLANKET OVER HIS SHOULDERS. I TAKE ANOTHER BLANKET AND THROW IT OVER MINE. THE LIGHTS ARE OFF. WE BOTH STARE AT THE SCREEN. SCREAMS AND AUTOMATIC GUNFIRE ECHO OFF THE WALLS OF THE SMALL ROOM. “Don't tell anybody about the Prozac,” Matt says after awhile. “I won't,” I tell him. “Lots of people take antidepressants,” he informs me. I nod. On the screen, Matt's character gets blown up by a rocket-propelled grenade. He curses and hands me the controller. I hate video games for some reason but it's better than being alone tonight and I press a few buttons and pick up a machine gun and move around, gunning down terrorists. The video game has a lot of blood in it. When my CHARACTER GETS SHOT IT SPLATTERS ON THE SCREEN, DRIPPING DOWN TO THE BOTTOM. MATT LAUGHS WHEN I STAB SOMEONE IN THE BACK. In the darkness of the last July night before my sophomore year of high school I drove to her house in the rain. The lights on the dashboard of my dad’s blue Chevy Tahoe were pale green except for the radio’s which were red. The wipers swished on the windshield but did not do any good because it was raining so hard. The roads were empty and I accelerated through her neighborhood. It was one long street and the homes were far apart, each with a lantern and a mailbox at the end of the long driveways. I pulled in to her driveway and shut off the headlights. I let the car idle. I took out my phone and called her. She picked up halfway through the first ring. “Hey,” she whispered. “Hey,” I said. “Should I ring the doorbell?” “No, no. I’ll come through the garage. Meet me there?” “Okay, see you.” Dashboard had finished singing and the commercials had come on. I shut off the car and stepped out into the rain. I had not brought an umbrella. Her house had four garage doors, and then a small door. I walked toward it and it opened as I came. She was standing there and looking, I thought, very beautiful. “Hey, Lindsey,” I said, stepping inside the garage. “Hey, Walt.” We hugged but lightly because my jacket was slick with rain. “You have to be quiet because my dad’s asleep and he’s on call.” “Okay.” SHE GRINNED AND SORT OF SKIPPED THROUGH THE GARAGE. THE LIGHTS WERE ON AND IT SMELLED WARM AND MUSTY. LIKE CUT GRASS AND GASOLINE. A LOT LIKE MY GARAGE. LIKE EVERY SUBURBAN GARAGE IN THE CITY. SHE TURNED OFF THE GARAGE LIGHTS AND I FOLLOWED HER INTO THE KITCHEN. SHE CLOSED THE DOOR CAREFULLY AND I TOOK OFF MY SHOES. I HUNG MY JACKET ON A PEG WITH AS LITTLE RUSTLING AS I COULD. IT WAS VERY WARM AND WELL-LIT AND QUIET INSIDE. “YOU SURE YOUR DAD’S ASLEEP?” “YEAH,” SHE SAID. IN THE BASEMENT WAS THE BIG HOME THEATER AND ANOTHER, SMALLER KITCHEN WITH A BAR. THERE WAS A POOL TABLE AND A LOT OF OAK SHELVES AND THINGS FILLED WITH BOOKS. SOME TRAVEL POSTERS AND PICTURES AND DIPLOMAS. IT WAS VERY COZY. I GUESS IT HAD GOTTEN EMPTIER SINCE HER MOTHER HAD MOVED OUT. MAYBE A LITTLE. I GUESS MOST OF THE BOOKS WERE HER FATHER’S. I SAT DOWN ON ONE OF THE BIG LEATHER COUCHES. SHE GOT A COKE AND SAT DOWN NEXT TO ME. I FOUND THE REMOTE AND TURNED THE TV ON. “I’M SORRY ABOUT THE OTHER NIGHT,” I SAID. SHE LOOKED AT ME AND TOOK A SIP OF HER DRINK. SHE TUCKED A STRAND OF DARK HAIR BEHIND HER LEFT EAR. “WHY?” I LOOKED AT THE TV. SOME INFOMERCIAL WAS ON SO I SWITCHED IT TO TNT WHERE THE LAKERS GAME WAS ENDING. “I’M JUST…I DON’T KNOW,” I SAID. “DO YOU THINK IT WAS A MISTAKE?” SHE ASKED. “I DON'T KNOW.” Then she put down her drink and looked up at me and she smiled at me and said she wasn't sorry at all and then I bent toward her a bit and she raised her head up and we were kissing. And that was the beginning. Chris keeps texting me and asking me if I want to buy Adderall from him. Chris is technically Mina's friend but I have been seeing a lot of him at party's. I don't think Mina knows how into drugs he is. They went to the same high school together in Cleveland. I text him back in the middle of my philosophy class and tell him I will meet him by the student union at five. He texts back okay. After class I pull my coat tight around me and walk quickly because it is very cold. The light is going quickly. Chris is waiting outside the student union. He is wearing khaki pants and fur-lined boots and a Burberry trench coat. We shake hands. “How've you been?” Jim asks. “SAME OLD,” I SAY. I DO NOT FEEL LIKE MAKING SMALL TALK. “HOW'S MINA?” “She's fine.” “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BUY?” “SOMETHING. I GUESS SOME ADDERALL.” “IR OR XR?” “IR.” Jim takes out some pills and gives me five and I give him fifty dollars. “Sweet, dude,” he says. “SWEET,” I SAY. “See you tonight at the party?” “Maybe,” I say. “SAY HI TO MINA FOR ME.” “SURE.” With that Chris nods to me and walks away, going around the student union toward the parking lot. I turn the other way and go back to the dormitory. I feel better, more confident. I think about when and how to do the Adderall. I WAKE UP AT NINE WITH A WEIRD HANGOVER—HEADACHE, DEPRESSION, LETHARGIC—AND LOOKED UP AT THE CEILING. I HAVE AN INTERVIEW WITH A BETHESDA RESEARCH COMPANY AT TEN. I TOOK THE ADDERALL AT AROUND TEN WITH THE INTENTION OF REVIEWING THE INTERVIEW MATERIAL BUT THEN STARTED DRINKING AND BLACKED OUT. “Fucking goddamn,” I say to nobody in particular. I roll out of bed and go to the closet and see that I somehow had the foresight to lay out my suit the night before. I grab my shower stuff and go to the bathroom down the hall. Nobody is up yet and the MORNING LIGHT IS POURING THROUGH THE WINDOWS BY THE STUDY ALCOVE. IN THE SHOWER IT TAKES THE WATER A LONG TIME TO HEAT UP. I TRY TO RUN THROUGH THE DAY'S PLANS BUT CAN'T FOCUS. THE THOUGHT OF THE COMING DAY MOVES ME TO NAUSEA AND I WORRY THAT I MIGHT THROW UP AGAIN. BUT THE NAUSEA FADES AND I STEP INTO THE NOW HOT water. I have to do this interview and then I have to go to my chemistry class. After that, lunch with my academic advisor. I told Paul I would go to the gym with him again. WHEN I STEP OUT OF THE SHOWER I SEE BRIAN AT THE COUNTER TAKING HIS MORNING DOSE OF LEXAPRO. JACK HARPER IS AT ANOTHER SINK BRUSHING HIS TEETH. HE LOOKS GOOD, BUT I KNOW HE SHAVES HIS CHEST. “What’s up, Walter,” he says. “Good night last night.” “Sure.” “I THINK TIFFANY FUCKED MATT,” HE CONCLUDES AS THE DOOR CLOSES. THEN I AM IN THE HALL AND WALKING BACK TO MY ROOM. TIFFANY PROBABLY DID FUCK MATT, I REALIZE ABSENTLY, VACANTLY. I BRIEFLY ENVISION HER STRADDLING HIM, SWEAT GLISTENING BETWEEN HER BREASTS IN THE MOONLIGHT, MATT’S FACE BELOW HER, FLUSHED WITH ALCOHOL AND COCAINE, PUMPING STRENUOUSLY. I SEE TIFFANY’S BACK ARCHING AS SHE COMES AND I SEE THE WET SLICKNESS OF HER LABIA, SEE IT COVERING MATT’S COCK AND FOR A SECOND I FORGET WHERE I AM AND WHAT I AM DOING. In my room I dry my hair completely and run my hand through it, swiping the bangs sideways across my forehead. I turn on my TV and watch the news while I dress. There’s some story on about a lacrosse player from a rival university who murdered his girlfriend, slamming her head into the wall repeatedly until she hemorrhaged and died. I LOOK GOOD IN MY SUIT—CHARCOAL PINSTRIPE ITALIAN WOOL BY J. CREW, WITH A DARK BLUE-AND-WHITE POLO TIE—AND BECAUSE IT’S ONLY 9:30 I DECIDE TO GET SOME BREAKFAST. I GRAB A PEN AND MY NOTEBOOK AND LEAVE THE DORM. IT IS VERY COLD OUTSIDE AND THE SKY ABOVE THE CAMPUS’S GOTHIC SPIRES IS DARK WITH CLOUDS. I WANT A CIGARETTE BUT DECIDE THAT I SHOULDN'T HAVE ONE YET. THE INTERVIEWER MIGHT BE A HEALTH FREAK AND SMELL THE SMOKE ON ME AND BE PREJUDICED. I walk up the stairs from Langham Quad to the main campus. The trees are dead, leafless. Other students, some in suits like me, others just wearing hoodies and jeans, stream by. There is no contrast between the dark sky and the gothic buildings and the bare trees. It is depressing. I breathe deep from the chilly air and feel its coldness on my nose, on my eyes. OUTSIDE THE CONFERENCE ROOM IN THE STUDENT UNION. I HAVE A FEW MINUTES TO SIT AND WORRY IDLY AND THEN A MAN WITH SLICKED-BACK BLOND HAIR AND MOVIE-STAR BLUE EYES COMES OUT AND CALLS MY NAME. I STAND UP, SMILING, SHAKE HIS HAND. “James McCormick. How are you, Walter?” he asks. “I’m great,” I say. “You?” “Can’t complain,” he says, grinning wryly. In the conference room—stark lighting, big empty table—he gestures to a chair and as I sit down I realize that as much as everybody tells me how good a BioTechnika internship could be and how happy it would make my father, I do not care. Outside, done with the interview, I realize that the only thing I want in the entire world is to go back to sleep. EVERYBODY BACK AT THE DORM IS HUDDLED AROUND THE TELEVISION WATCHING CAN YOU DO THE MATH? AND I STARE BLANKLY AT THE TELEVISION WHERE A LARGE BLACK WOMAN IS SCREAMING IN ECSTASY WHILE THE HOST PRESENTS HER WITH A BRIEFCASE APPARENTLY FULL OF $25,000. I STARE AT HER JIGGLING, STRETCH-MARKED BICEPS FOR A MOMENT BEFORE THE WHOLE SITUATION, THE FAT LADY AND THE CASE OF MONEY AND THE MEMORY OF THE INTERVIEWER'S PERFECT HAIR, MAKES ME BLACKLY DEPRESSED AND I GO TO MY ROOM. I CLOSE THE DOOR AND SIT ON MY BED AND STARE AT THE WALL, FIGHTING BACK THE TEARS COMING UNBIDDEN TO MY EYES. I open the refrigerator and pull out a bottle of Stella Artois and drink from it, trying to chase back the hangover. I drink two-thirds of the bottle in one long pull and then set it down and wipe my mouth. I TRY TO CALM DOWN, FEELING THE BEER COURSE ITS WAY THROUGH ME, RELAXING MY MUSCLES AND MY MIND. I TRY TO THINK ABOUT LINDSEY BUT NOTHING COMES AND SO I GO BACK OUTSIDE TO THE COMMON AREA AND SIT DOWN BETWEEN JACK AND TOM AND WATCH THE REST OF CAN YOU DO THE MATH? “Jack,” Tom is saying. “What?” “I can’t fucking stand this show.” “SO WHY ARE YOU WATCHING IT?” JACK ASKS. TOM DOESN'T ANSWER. WE KEEP WATCHING. “JACK,” TOM SAYS AGAIN. “I CAN’T FUCKING STAND THIS SHOW.” “SO WHY ARE YOU WATCHING IT? SHUT THE FUCK UP, TOM.” Tom does, and then the room erupts in cheers as a balding man, also fat, picks the million-dollar case. By the time the show ends it’s time for lunch and I make my way to Richards Hall where the faculty dining club is. I’ve changed out of my suit and having had some coffee and a multivitamin I’m beginning to feel almost normal. Richards is located in Grave Quad just behind the chapel. I pass a group of Asian tourists gawking at the chapel, TAKING PICTURES OF IT. INSIDE THE DINING CLUB I’M SITTING WITH MY ADVISOR, A TALL LESBIAN NAMED DR. CELINE HANOVER, AT A TABLE THAT IS TOO BIG FOR US. DR. HANOVER IS TALKING ABOUT THE “LONG-AWAITED FEMINIST REVISIONISM OF W.H. AUDEN” AND SOMEHOW INTERMINGLING THAT WITH COMMENTS ABOUT THE STUDENT GOVERNMENT’S RECENT EFFORTS TO DO SOMETHING CALLED “CAMPUS CULTURE REVITALIZATION.” I drink three Diet Cokes with lunch and when it’s over we stand and Dr. Hanover gives me an awkward, overly intimate hug which makes her small breasts press into my ribcage. She tells me she’s looking forward to reading the next draft of my thesis and I promise her I’m hard at work on it. It’s started to rain outside and as I notice this I also realize that I don't have my umbrella with me. Later that same day I fall asleep for two hours in my dorm room, still in my clothes. I have a dream. In it there is a big bonfire I am watching all my friends, Jack and Chris and Matt and Jim and everyone else, throwing things into the flames. They have big stacks of books and papers and broken televisions and iPods and video games. Liquor bottles and packs of cigarettes and there is even a big car, an Acura MDX, which everyone gathers around and tips over into the fire. Soon there is nothing left to burn and we all stand back and watch the sparking flames fly up into the starry night sky. Ashes and embers whirl in the hot, flame-fanned wind. THEN JACK TURNS TOWARD ME. HIS FACE IS CAKED IN SOOT, HIS HAIR LIMP AND SWEAT- SOAKED, BUT AS HE LOOKS AT ME HE BREAKS INTO A SMILE. I WAKE UP SWEATY AND HOLLOW-FEELING. I am warming up again in the gym with Paul. We make small talk about college basketball and investment banking and how to write a good resume. I ask Paul if he knows anything about antidepressants and he looks at me weirdly. Then he says his sister is on Prozac. I ask him to get me some and he tells me his sister is at UCLA. Paul has amazing hair but I recently found out from Erica, his ex-girlfriend, that he’s been taking Propecia since he was eighteen and when I found out this simple fact it filled me with such complete emptiness that I didn’t leave my dorm room for three days. I’m worried about developing a receding hairline because it runs in my family, but my parents refuse to pay for medication, claiming I’m “too young” and it’s all just a symptom of “generalized anxiety” which I need to take care of. I THINK ABOUT PREMATURE HAIR LOSS AND ALL OF ITS LONG-REACHING IMPLICATIONS WHILE GOING THROUGH A 5K RUN AROUND THE TRACK. NOVEMBER BLEEDS INTO DECEMBER. IT’S NEARLY MIDNIGHT AND I’M STUCK IN WALL-TO- WALL HUMAN TRAFFIC IN THE FOYER OF 221 WILSON AVENUE, A MASSIVE SIG NU FRATERNITY HOUSE WITH A MOOSE HEAD OVER THE DOOR AND I’M SIX DRINKS IN—FOUR BEERS BACK AT THE DORM WITH CRAIG AND MATT AND TWO SCOTCHES AT THE HARD BAR ON THE WAY HERE (WE MADE THE TAXI STOP AND WAIT FOR US WHILE WE DRANK). I’M STARTING TO FEEL GOOD. I see Tiffany, tall and blonde, standing by the fireplace in the next room, looking bored and talking to a lacrosse player in a practice jersey, sunglasses, and Nantucket reds. I hold my beer over my head and try to make my way over. Fragments of conversation reach my ears as I push aside girls in tight dresses and boys dressed in Vineyard Vines shirts. “…still drunk this morning…” “SHE LET HIM COME ON HER FACE, SERIOUSLY, WHAT DOES…” “…BACK FROM CABO WITH MY FAMILY…” “James was being a massive douchebag….” FINALLY I’M WITHIN SHOUTING DISTANCE OF THE MANTELPIECE—A BIG PICTURE OF SOME PREPPED-OUT ALUM OVER IT, LOTS OF WEIRD MEMORABILIA ON THE OAK CASEMENT—AND TIFFANY SEES ME. SHE WAVES. “WALT!” SHE SCREAMS. “WALT!” “HEY!” I SHOUT BACK. I GET CLOSER. WHEN I'M NEXT TO HER WE HUG. TIFFANY ASKS ME SOMETHING BUT SHE'S A LOT SHORTER THAN ME AND IT'S HARD TO HEAR. “WHAT?” I SAY. She stands on her tiptoes. “Never mind! You’re so tall. How tall are you, anyway?” “What? Oh. Six-four.” TIFFANY GRABS MY COLLAR. “LEAN THE FUCK DOWN!” “OKAY!” NOW I’M STANDING AWKWARDLY, MY ARM RESTING ON THE MANTEL, MY HEAD TURNED AND MY EAR ALMOST SHOVED INTO TIFFANY’S MOUTH. IT’S STILL HARD TO HEAR HER OVER THE ROAR OF THE CROWD AND THE SPEAKERS BOOMING OUT JAY-Z’S BIG PIMPIN’. “Who’d you come with?” Tiffany screams. “Fucking Craig and Matt.” “Jesus! Why? They’re so lame!” “They're...okay. “Craig is a faggot! Okay! See you!” SHE TURNS BACK TO THE JOCK, WHO IS LOOKING SORT OF IRATE AND I REALIZE THAT ALTHOUGH HE’S JACKED HE’S SEVERAL INCHES SHORTER THAN ME AND MAYBE TO HIM I AM THE INTIMIDATING MALE FIGURE. MAYBE HE’S NOT EVEN ON THE LACROSSE TEAM. I TAP TIFFANY ON THE SHOULDER. SHE TURNS AROUND. “WHO'S THIS?” I ASK. “HEY, ASSHOLE, GET OUT OF HERE,” THE LACROSSE GUY YELLS, SLURRING. I look at him. “Why?” Tiffany looks at me, suddenly uncertain. “I said fuck off, you fucking faggot.” He moves a little closer and, for emphasis, throws his beer cup on the floor where it splatters all over my pants and rolls away through the crowd. The guy looks like he’s going to fight me but then Tiffany grabs him and slaps him. “You're being a fucking asshole,” she says. “Do you want me to fuck you or not?” THE GUY LAUGHS, TURNING HIS GAZE DOWN TO TIFFANY. “I WANT YOU TO FUCK ME,” HE SAYS DRUNKENLY. TIFFANY LOOKS AT ME, PLEADING. “I'LL SEE YOU AROUND, WALT. SORRY ABOUT HIM.” I NOD. SHE TURNS BACK TO THE LACROSSE GUY AND THEY START MAKING OUT. I look around and see a group of people lighting up on a big leather couch, although it’s pretty clear they’re smoking pot. What I really want, for some reason, is a cigarette. I push my way into the kitchen where it’s quieter and pull out my pack, take a cigarette, and light up. Some Jewish-looking kid, short, big nose, a little ugly, asks me for one and I hold the pack out then light his for him. We lean against the refrigerator and make small talk. He turns out to be a junior like me, from Pittsburgh. Chemistry major, pre-med. His obvious passion for his studies—he launches, uninvited, into a discussion of his summer activities doing research at NIH—makes me hate him a little, but I hold it in check because he’s smoking with me and otherwise seems reasonable. MY ATTENTION WANDERS AS HE ELABORATES ON THE “VERSATILE NATURE OF TOPOISOMERASE” AND I SPY A BOTTLE OF BOMBAY SAPPHIRE ON THE COUNTER, OPENED BUT PRETTY FULL. I TAKE A SOLO CUP FROM A STACK ON THE STOVE AND FILL IT HALFWAY WITH THE GIN. I NOD AND GESTURE FOR THE JEW TO CONTINUE TALKING WHILE I RUMMAGE IN THE FRIDGE FOR A MIXER. THERE’S NOTHING BUT SOME LIME JUICE SO I SQUIRT THAT IN. FEELING GOOD, I MAKE ANOTHER DRINK AND HAND IT TO HIM. I TAKE A SIP OF THE DRINK AND IT'S VERY STRONG. I SHIVER A LITTLE FROM THE RAW PUNCH OF THE ALCOHOL, THEN TAKE A DEEP DRAG ON THE CIGARETTE. “I HAVE SOME GOOD CONNECTIONS AT BIOTECHNIKA?” THE JEWISH GUY SAYS, HOLDING HIS GIN BUT NOT DRINKING FROM IT. “WE CAN NETWORK. LET ME GIVE YOU MY PHONE NUMBER.” “I need to go,” I tell him, and wander off through the kitchen. There’s a group of Indian girls near the kitchen’s other door, all in black dresses and looking horny and erotic but I ignore them. I feel tired and bored and depressed. I finish the cigarette and flick it to the hardwood floor in the hallway, then crush it with my foot. I go upstairs. I WONDER WHERE MATT AND CRAIG ARE AND THEN REALIZE I DON’T CARE. I DRINK MORE OF THE GIN AND TRY TO RELAX. I finish my drink too soon and set the cup on the banister at the top of the stairs, where there is another milling throng of undergraduates, all screaming at each other. There are more speakers up here. I can hear Eminem’s Superman blending with the downstairs music, which has changed to a rap song I don't recognize. The entire world starts to seem eminently manageable. I ease myself fully into the slipstream of the party and almost glide, pushed from behind, drawn from the front, into the closest room where a big Dunham Class of 2010 banner is hung from the rafters and all the lamps have been covered in red tissue paper. Someone grabs my ass but I don’t turn around to see who it is. I’m not even looking for people to talk to anymore, enjoying being alone in the crowd, listening to the inane, slurred conversations around me and trying to find something more to drink. There’s a makeshift bar in the room and a sweaty frat guy is handing out cups of warm beer and I grab one and head over to the window. It’s only a few minutes—the song changes once—before a tall, skinny girl in trendy glasses comes up to me. She says her name is Jenny and I tell her my name is Walt and ten minutes later she is locking the door behind us in an empty bedroom down the hall. I draw her toward me and kiss her fully. She responds, her hands running up inside my shirt and when she opens her lips our tongues touch and she draws me down onto the bed. AN HOUR LATER AND I’M IN JUST MY CALVIN KLEIN BOXER BRIEFS, SMOKING A CIGARETTE AND LOOKING UP AT THE HIGH CEILING, SWEAT GLISTENING ON MY CHEST WHICH I’VE RECENTLY STOPPED SHAVING BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO ACCEPT MYSELF FULLY AND BE INDIVIDUALLY BEAUTIFUL. JENNY IS CURLED UP NEXT TO ME, HER HEAD ON MY SHOULDER, ONE LEG OVER MINE. I OFFER HER the cigarette and she takes a drag, the whole action feeling incredibly scripted, dictated by ten thousand movies and cheap novels published before my birth, but also very natural. “CHRIST, WALT,” SHE SAYS. “YOU WENT A LONG TIME. AFTER YOU GOT IT UP.” I LAUGH. “IT'S THE BOOZE.” WE LIE IN SILENCE AND LISTEN TO THE BASS THROBBING UP THROUGH THE FLOORBOARDS AND THE MUFFLED CHAOS IN THE HALLWAY OUTSIDE. PEOPLE PERIODICALLY TRY THE DOORKNOB OR KNOCK ON THE DOOR, BUT THEY ALWAYS GIVE UP. “I WONDER WHOSE ROOM THIS IS,” I SAY. Jenny looks up at me, rubbing a hand on my chest. “It’s my boyfriend's room, cutie,” she says, laughing. “Calm down.” I LAUGH TOO. “OH, OKAY, THEN.” WE LIE IN SILENCE FOR AWHILE AND THEN I STAND UP AND PULL ON MY CLOTHES. I LOOK IN THE MIRROR AND RUN A HAND THROUGH MY HAIR AND MOP A LITTLE OF THE SWEAT OFF MY CHEST WITH MY SHIRT BEFORE THROWING IT ON. JENNY IS STILL LYING ON THE BED, NAKED, BREASTS BARE, MORE OR LESS DRUNK, LOOKING UP AT ME EXPECTANTLY. I DON’T KNOW WHAT SHE WANTS ME TO SAY AND I consider getting back in bed and holding her close and telling her I don’t give a shit about anything else I just want to spend the night here and then, maybe, be together in the morning and turn all this insanity around and make something real in my life for once. BUT THEN SHE SAYS, “SEE YOU, WALT,” AND IT’S CLEAR WE BOTH UNDERSTAND AND I DON’T HAVE TO WORRY. I NOD AND SMILE AND THEN OPEN THE DOOR AND WALK OUT INTO THE ROAR OF THE PARTY. I check my BlackBerry. It’s 2:25. I’m not nearly as drunk as I need to be and a tingling, post-coital sadness is settling on me, pushing me closer to exhaustion. I’m also feeling paranoid that people know what I just did, although that’s completely unfounded AND I CHALK IT UP TO INHALING SOME OF THE POT SMOKE THAT’S NOW UBIQUITOUS EVEN UPSTAIRS. I HAVE CLASS IN THE MORNING AND, FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, IT’S TIME TO GO HOME. THERE’S A ROW OF TAXIS OUTSIDE AND I GET IN ONE WITH SOME STRANGERS AND I’M THE LAST ONE TO BE DROPPED OFF BUT THEY GIVE ME MONEY TO PAY FOR THE TAXI, BUT I POCKET THE CASH AND USE MY PARENTS’ credit card so it’s okay. I’m up at ten and drinking orange juice in bed, washing down three aspirin I took upon waking. The sunlight is coming throw the big bay windows and Matt is asleep on my futon for some reason. I have a good dorm—it’s big and spacious with hardwood floors, an old fireplace that nobody uses but looks cool, and a bookshelf. There are only a few books besides my textbooks. I’ve been reading American Psycho which Allen told me was “restorative and affirming.” The battered copy he lent me is splayed on my nightstsand. Class is Shakespeare at 11:15. “What we’re looking at here,” the professor says, pointing at his inane scribbling on the blackboard, “is a decidedly secular re-envisioning of the battle scenes in Henry V. Why is this so novel? Why is this so important?” IT’S NOT IMPORTANT, ANYBODY CAN SEE THAT, AND I KEPT SPACING OUT AND THINKING ABOUT TIFFANY HAVING SEX WITH MATT. I DON’T KNOW WHY I'M THINKING ABOUT THIS BECAUSE IT HAPPENED SEVERAL WEEKS AGO. I WONDER IF SHE HAD SEX WITH THE LACROSSE PLAYER AT THE PARTY. THE PROFESSOR STOPS LECTURING FIFTEEN MINUTES EARLY TO FOCUS ON “COURSE LOGISTICS.” STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE USING THE ONLINE APPLICATION WHITEBOARD TO “EFFECTIVELY INTEGRATE OUR COLLECTIVE LEARNING EXPERIENCES,” BUT I HAVE FORGOTTEN THE PASSWORD TO THE WEBSITE AND THE PROFESSOR INFORMS ME AFTER CLASS THAT I AM LOSING PARTICIPATION POINTS FOR NOT UPLOADING “BLOG POSTS” EVERY WEEK. When he takes off his glasses and asks me if everything is okay I tell him my dog just died. But everyone is staring at me and when I touch my cheeks my hands come away wet with tears. I GET BRIAN'S BEER AND GO TO THE TABLE. I TRY NOT TO LOOK AT JACK AND KATIE WHO ARE TALKING AT THE FAR END OF THE TABLE. SHE FLASHES ME A SMILE AND I GRIN BACK. “Hi, Katie.” “Hey, you.” “MUCH HOMEWORK TONIGHT?” “NAH.” “Me neither.” I take a big gulp of beer. Brian sips his. He told me that he can't drink as much since he started taking antidepressants. Around us, the other students in the bar murmur and laugh and gesture. Glasses clink. Nick strikes a match and lights a clove cigarette. Fragrant smoke curls toward the ceiling. “I WISH YOU WOULDN’T DO THAT,” SAYS A GIRL BEHIND US. “I'M SORRY,” NICK SAYS. “AND YOU ARE?” “Melissa Ethridge. And you're Nick Jeffries. What's it to you? Can you please put that out?” NICK GRINS SARDONICALLY. “I’LL JUST HAVE THIS ONE.” I THINK I AM ACTUALLY GOING TO FAIL ORGANIC CHEMISTRY THIS SEMESTER. I DRINK MORE OF MY BEER. “REMEMBER WHEN THAT ASIAN KID KILLED HIMSELF?” BRIAN SAYS. “WHAT ABOUT IT?” JACK ASKS. Brian's face is blank. He looks confused for a second, then blinks. “I don't know,” he says. “I don't know.” “I KNEW HIM A LITTLE,” KATIE SAYS. “HE WAS SO WEIRD. HE JUST STAYED IN HIS ROOM ALL THE TIME. SMELLED FUNNY. I THINK HE WAS, LIKE, ACTUALLY FROM CHINA.” Brian laughs. “China,” he says. IMAGES OF KATIE BEING FUCKED BY TWO GUYS COME UNBIDDEN TO MY MIND. TAYLOR IN THE CORNER WITH A VIDEO CAMERA. I WONDER IF THE VIDEO EXISTS. I EXCUSE MYSELF AND GO OUTSIDE INTO THE DRIZZLE. I TAKE OUT A PACK OF CIGARETTES AND LIGHT ONE. THE NICOTINE RUSHES INTO ME, CALMING AND CLARIFYING. IT IS SILENT OUTSIDE FOR A LONG WHILE EXCEPT FOR THE TELLTALE DRIBBLE OF RAIN ON THE BAR’S ROOF. ACROSS THE STREET THE BUILDINGS ARE EMPTY AND DARK. AN OLD CAR WITH THREE black guys in it splashes by in the street. It makes a lonely sound. I toss the cigarette into a puddle and go back inside the steamy bar. SOMETIME IN LATE NOVEMBER MITCH TELLS ME ABOUT A BUNCH OF GUYS ON THE SWIM TEAM WHO WERE ARRESTED FOR UNDERAGE DRINKING AFTER THEY HAD A PARTY OFF-CAMPUS THAT GOT BUSTED BY THE POLICE. MITCH SAYS ONE OF THE STRIPPERS CALLED THE POLICE AFTER SOME OF THE SWIMMERS GOT VIOLENT. HE TELLS ME THE STRIPPER WAS BLACK, A “STRAIGHT NIGGER,” AND HER “stripper name” was Diamond Sparklez. Nobody knows if she is going to press assault charges. Mitch tells me people are saying that nothing has changed since the lacrosse case a few years ago. A FEW DAYS LATER THE CASE GETS DISCUSSED ON THE LOCAL NEWS WHICH COMES ON AFTER THE BASKETBALL GAME AND I WATCH WHILE THEY SHOW FOOTAGE OF PROTESTORS LINING THE SIDEWALKS JUST OUTSIDE THE DUNHAM CAMPUS. IT'S FAMILIAR AND DEPRESSING FOR EVERYONE AND BRIAN TURNS OFF THE TV. “Fucking townies,” Brian says. “FUCKING TOWNIES,” DAN AGREES. “THEY SHOULD HAVE SHOVED A POLE UP THAT BITCH'S ASS LIKE THE LACROSSE TEAM DID. THAT WOULD TEACH HER A LESSON.” “I FORGOT ABOUT THAT,” BRIAN SAYS, HIS FACE LIGHTING UP. “THAT WAS FUCKING HILARIOUS.” “Well, there goes our shot at winning any swimming titles this year,” Patrick says. Brian groans. “Who gives a shit about swimming titles?” “Seriously, Patrick,” Dan says. “I don't know,” Patrick says. “Have a little pride in your university, guys.” Dan laughs at this, loudly. He keeps laughing and Dan joins in. When they don't stop Patrick stands up and leaves the room. MY FAMILY GOES AWAY TO FIJI FOR THE LAST WEEK OF NOVEMBER. I COULD HAVE GONE BUT I DO NOT KNOW IF I CAN MISS ANY MORE CHEMISTRY CLASSES AND STILL PASS. THE FACT THAT I STILL CARE ABOUT PASSING CLASSES SURPRISES ME. I ALSO REALIZE, WITH ONLY A LITTLE BIT OF DISCONCERTMENT, THAT MOSTLY I AM JUST TOO TIRED AND BORED TO GO TO FIJI. IT IS ALSO DIFFICULT- to-impossible to smoke cigarettes around my mother, and I am smoking enough now that I would probably have to deal with some serious withdrawal symptoms if I cut it out completely. So I do not go to Fiji. I pass the time skipping my chemistry classes and chain-smoking in my bed with the door locked. For fun, I tell Matt and Lisa that I actually am going to Fiji and then spend two weeks avoiding them and sneaking into the tanning salons on Eight Street. Toward the end of this period I crash my BMW 3-series into a tree while driving home drunk from McDonald’s. It’s not a bad crash though and I pull off the bumper and leave it by the side of the road then drive home. MY FATHER TOOK ME TO INDIA ON ONE OF HIS MEDICAL MISSIONS, ONCE IN HIGH SCHOOL. HE SAID I WAS SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME PLAYING VIDEO GAMES AND WATCHING TV AND THAT I WAS GETTING DEPRESSED AND TOO SKINNY. INDIA WAS HOT AND LOUD AND CROWDED, EXCEPT FOR THE SMALL VILLAGE WE TRAVELED TO WHICH WAS HOT BUT QUIET AND PEACEFUL AND SURROUNDED ON ALL SIDES BY HIGH FORESTED HILLS. THERE I WATCHED, SEATING IN SECONDHAND SCRUBS IN A GRIMY OR, WHILE MY FATHER OPERATED ON CLEF LIPS AND HIS COLLEAGUES WORKED ON RETINAL DETACHMENTS OR CATARACTS. AND I WATCHED AS THE CHILDREN CROWDED AROUND ONE DOCTOR'S SHINY GREEN PEUGEOT SEDAN WHICH E DROVE IN FROM THE CITY AND I WATCHED HOW THEY GREEDILY DEVOURED THE MCDONALD'S HE HAD BROUGHT FOR THEM FROM MUMBAI AND, AFTERWARD, HOW REVERENTLY THEY RAN THEIR HANDS OVER THE CAR'S WAXED EXTERIOR, ALTHOUGH IT WAS ALREADY DUSTY AND NOT REALLY THAT NEW. I WATCHED HOW DELIGHTED THEY WERE WHEN HE TURNED ON THE RADIO AND THEY HEARD THE POUNDING BASS OF THE LATEST RAP SONGS FROM AMERICA COMING IN FROM A RADIO STATION. SOME OF THE DOCTORS HAD EVEN BROUGHT COMPUTERS WITH SATELLITE INTERNET CONNECTIONS AND THEY STOOD BACK PROUDLY AS THE CHILDREN ACCESSED THE INTERNET FOR THE first time in their lives. By the end of the week they were Googling all sorts of things and I would stop by the main mission tent and watch the people, young and old, staring fixedly at the computers, eyes bright and intelligent. Toward the end of the trip one teenage girl came up to me, holding a laptop stretched to the end of its power cable. On the screen was a model for Gucci, tall and eerily blond and very thin and the teenage girl told me, “I'm not pretty like her.” Back in my room at the village's only hotel I found my cigarettes at the bottom of my suitcase and although I had gone nearly the entire trip without smoking I lit one and inhaled deeply, then lay back on the bed as the world swam before me. I am watching leaves fall in the college gardens with nobody around. The torrential rains have stopped but everybody is still inside. The dormitory is steamy and foul-smelling. Most everybody is drunk or becoming drunk. I wonder what Lisa is doing. I think about calling her but decide not to. Eventually I stand up and walk slowly down one of the garden paths. Most of the flowers are dead or dying. The leaves still on the trees look rotten and too dark, their color fading. The South has great weather, I remember Mike’s mom telling me before I left. You’ll love it. But now there is only this rain and mud everywhere and as I walk deeper into the gardens I see a dead squirrel next to the path, its head nearly ripped off, black eyeballs bulging from their sockets. I stare at it for awhile but it fails to move me. “Give me some Adderall,” I'm saying. Justin is sitting at his desk, staring blankly at his laptop. “Higher Than The Stars” by The Pains of Being Pure At Heart is playing on his speakers. It didn’t look like he is doing anything. He is spacing out. “I don’t have any,” he says without looking at me. I LAUGH. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I HAVE A HUGE ORGANIC CHEMISTRY TEST TOMORROW. IT’S LIKE HALF MY GRADE. GIVE ME SOME ADDERALL.” Justin still doesn't look at me. He clicks his mouse once and keeps staring at the screen. He shakes his head. “Don’t have any.” I LOOK AT HIM. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN? HOW DO YOU NOT HAVE ANY?” I TAKE OUT MY WALLET AND PULL OUT A BUNCH OF TWENTIES. I THROW THEM ON HIS DESK. “I’LL PAY YOU. I ALWAYS PAY YOU. I NEED THEM. GIVE ME YOUR FUCKING ADDERALL, JUSTIN.” JUSTIN TURNS TOWARD ME FOR THE FIRST TIME. “THERE ISN’T ANY. I HAVEN’T REFILLED MY PRESCRIPTION AND THE PHARMACY IS CLOSED. I THINK I NEED TO GO TO THE DOCTOR TO GET IT RENEWED, ANYWAY. I DON’T HAVE ANY RIGHT NOW. LEAVE ME ALONE.” That is when I began to feel the first real pangs of panic. I feel vertiginous, staring into the gulf of the night ahead, a night of studying without any amphetamines. “What the fuck…” I say. “Do you have anything? Anything I can buy?” It is a stupid question. I know he doesn't. Justin is a library rat with mild ADHD, overmedicated by overprotective parents. “No.” Justin goes back to staring at his computer screen. He is playing some game with penguins and balloons. “Quit bothering me,” he says. I PICK UP THE BILLS ON HIS DESK AND STUFF THEM IN MY POCKET, THEN BACK SLOWLY OUT of the room. The anxiety is full-blown now, coming at me hard and fast. There is a sharp pain in the bottom of my chest and I suddenly feel like I can't breathe. I lean against the wall and rub my hands over my face, pulling at the skin, compressing my eyeballs. “SHIT, SHIT, SHIT,” I SAY. “I CANNOT NOT STUDY IF I DO NOT HAVE THAT ADDERALL.” JUSTIN LOOKS AT ME AND ROLLS HIS EYES. “GET OVER IT, WALT.” I STUMBLE DOWN THE DORMITORY HALLWAY AND THEN DOWNSTAIRS AND OUTSIDE. IT IS COLD AND GRAY. THE TREES NEAR THE QUAD ARCHWAY STILL HAVE A FEW BROWN LEAVES ON THEM FOR SOME REASON. I LIGHT A CIGARETTE AND STARED BACK AT KETTLER HALL. I FEEL SICK. I LIGHT ANOTHER CIGARETTE WITH THE BURNING STUB OF THE FIRST ONE AND THEN TOSS THE SMOLDERING BUTT TO THE GROUND. IT HISSES AND GOES OUT IN THE WET MULCH. THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO DO BUT GO BACK INSIDE AND START STUDYING. ALONE IN MY ROOM IT IS EASIER TO FOCUS. SOMEONE KNOCKS AT MY DOOR BUT IT IS LOCKED AND I DON'T ANSWER. THEY KNOCK AGAIN THEN GO AWAY. FOR MAYBE AN HOUR I STUDY WITH FOCUS AND CLARITY. IT FEELS MANAGEABLE. I FEEL CONFIDENT. THEN ALLEN CALLS. I END UP SPENDING THE WHOLE NIGHT JUST VOMITING IN THE BATHROOM BECAUSE I HAD CONSUMED SO MUCH VODKA AND SCOTCH WHILE WATCHING TELEVISION WITH ALLEN AND PETER AND JAMES. I WANT TO BLAME THE VOMITING ON FOOD POISONING BUT I HADN’T BEEN EATING VERY MUCH LATELY. THE RICE KRISPIE TREATS I DEVOURED AT 4 AM LAST NIGHT (THE ONLY THING I’D EATEN IN ALMOST TWENTY-FOUR HOURS) DID NOT GIVE ME A STOMACH VIRUS. I HUG THE TOILET AND JUST SORT OF STARE AT THE TILE WALL BEHIND THE FLUSHING MECHANISM, FUCKED OUT OF MY MIND ON BAD WEED AND BAD ALCOHOL AND TOO MANY CIGARETTES AND WONDERING WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING TO ME WHEN DID I GET SO MESSED UP AND THEN I JUST START LAUGHING, LAUGHING THROUGH THE VOMIT WHICH WAS STILL COMING AT INTERVALS AND SPLASHING WETLY INTO THE TOILET. I laugh until the tears come and I have to wipe my eyes on my shirt sleeve which then gets smeared with vomit and I keep laughing until I pass out. When I wake up it is morning and I feel reasonably sober. I shower and shave and try to put some s order to my thoughts. There is a half-empty bottle of gin next to my bed, which points toward an alcohol blackout last night. I do not remember doing any drugs besides chain-smoking a pack of Marlboro Reds, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t do any. My chemistry books is open on my desk. I feel sort of hazy and more panicky than usual, more paranoid about the blackout, which could mean cocaine was used but I doubt it. My hangovers have been getting worse and worse lately, becoming day-long bouts with malaise and depression and anxiety, and if I really drank all that gin on top of everything else I had at the bars, then I’m probably just feeling that. I FUMBLE FOR MY CLOTHES AND THROW ON JEANS AND A FLANNEL SHIRT AND STARE AT MYSELF IN THE MIRROR LONG ENOUGH TO FIX MY HAIR AND THEN I GO OUTSIDE INTO THE HALLWAY. IT IS QUIET AND IT IS SORT OF EARLY. I REALIZE VAGUELY THAT I’M STILL DRUNK. THE HARDWOOD FLOOR IS COLD AND CHILLY GRAY AUTUMN LIGHT IS COMING THROUGH THE WINDOWS AT THE END OF THE HALL. On a whim I peek into Matt's room and he is sprawled naked on his bed on his chest, arms wrapped around his pillow. Two girls flank him, one naked and lying face up with a blanket curling around her abdomen, not covering anything. The girl has only her bra on and is lying on her stomach. Her ass looks nice. I realize the hangover has made me very horny and I have to suppress an urge to enter the room and run my hands over their bodies, their labia, their asses. I briefly fantasize about waking them up and having SOME SORT OF BIZARRE HUNG-OVER, SLEEP-HAZED ORGY WITH THEM. THE THOUGHT AT ONCE TERRIFIES ME AND EXCITES ME AND AT ONCE A DEBILITATINGLY MASSIVE ERECTION IS THROBBING AGAINST THE THIN CLOTH OF MY J. CREW BOXERS. I SOMEHOW OBTAIN MORE ADDERALL FROM BEN. NOW, AS THE THIN NOVEMBER SUN BEGINS TO PEER THROUGH MY WINDOW, I TAKE TWO 15 MG PILLS AND OPEN UP MY ORGANIC CHEMISTRY TEXTBOOK. THE EXAM IS IN TWO HOURS. THE WORDS ARE SORT OF A BLUR BEFORE ME BUT WITH EFFORT I FOCUS AND BEGIN TO READ. I think about medical school applications. The application deadline for the MCAT prep course has long since passed but I have not told my father. He would be upset, as would my mother. I think about my own need for validation, for acceptance. The void in my life that medical school is supposed to fill. I THINK ABOUT THESE THINGS AS I STUDY ORGANIC CHEMISTRY IN MY ROOM. WHEN I LOOK UP FROM THE TEXTBOOK IT IS ALREADY NOON AND I HAVE TO HURRY TO THE CHEMISTRY DEPARTMENT, WHERE I SIT DOWN IN THE LECTURE HALL FIVE MINUTES LATE. THE PROFESSOR LOOKS AT ME AND ASKS MY NAME. THEN, RELUCTANTLY, HE HANDS ME A TEST. I TAKE IT AND FINISH TOO QUICKLY BUT WHEN THE GRADES COME OUT A WEEK LATER I GET A B-MINUS AND FEEL OKAY. I call Mina while drinking my second bottle of beer of the evening and I think of her hot, tight body while I wait for her to pick up her phone. We’ve been having a lot of sex with each other lately but I never seem to find time to see her during the daylight. It’s sort of annoying and obnoxious because I think that on some level we could be good together, as an actual couple maybe, and that maybe some part of me needs that stability, craves it like I crave the stability of medical school matriculation, and that she can give me something I need emotionally. THESE FEELINGS SUBSIDE AS I TAKE BIG SIPS FROM MY BEER. THEN SHE PICKS UP THE PHONE. Much later and we are in Mina's room with just the desk lamp on. She smiles at me and moves to the bed, her back to it. I’m still drunk but rapidly sobering and I go to her. I slide my hands up her shirt, feeling the soft curves of her, and then she tugs at my shirt and I lift my hands over my head and she pulls it off. We fall into bed and by now she has on only her thong and I’m naked, our clothes on the floor except for her black bra which is slung over one of the bed posts. She kisses me long and slow. “I want you,” she slurs. I kiss her back and then roll over, my mouth on her breasts, her stomach, moving slowly downward. I pull off her thong and spread her legs and then she is moaning, hands clamped on my hair, and I’m inside her with my tongue. Warm wetness slides down my chin and drips on the sheets. After awhile I raise my head up and inhale deeply and then, moving up, slide into her fully. She locks her legs around me and moves with me, her breath coming in hoarse gasps, her forehead sweaty in the lamplight. She comes all at once, moaning and twisting beneath me. When she goes limp I pull out of her and, very sober now, collapse into bed next to her. I stare up at the ceiling while Sarah tries to give me a blowjob. Mina is really not good at it and nothing happens. I start thinking about the other week and all the Nyquil we drank together tonight and I feel vaguely ill. I remember Patrick talking about Mina giving him head one night after they studied together. I'M GOING LIMP AS I THINK THIS. MINA LOOKS UP AND ASKS ME IF SHE IS DOING ANYTHING WRONG. “Patrick is a fucking asshole,” I say. “And I’m not going to get hard.” SO THEN SHE STOPS TRYING AND I GET UP AND PULL MY PANTS ON AND LEAVE. IT IS 4:31 IN THE MORNING. I BEGIN TO HAVE VIVID DREAMS ABOUT LINDSEY, ABOUT THE SUMMER AFTER HIGH SCHOOL ENDED WHEN WE SPENT ALMOST EVERY DAY TOGETHER. USUALLY IN THESE DREAMS I AM STANDING ON THE DOCK OF OUR LAKE HOUSE. IT IS SUNSET. LINDSEY IS BESIDE ME AND WE’RE BOTH WRAPPED IN OUR TOWELS, HAIR STILL DAMP FROM THE LAKE. WE STAND TOGETHER AND WATCH THE SUN BURN ITSELF INTO THE HORIZON BEYOND THE TALL PINES AND SYCAMORES. IN THESE DREAMS I CAN SMELL THE AIR, THE SWEET SCENT OF THE PURE WATER AND THE SUMMER AND ALL THE HAPPINESS I STILL HAD BACK THEN. In these dreams I turn to Lindsey and I see fear in her eyes and I open my mouth to say something but then she is gone. And I am alone then, on a rickety dock in the middle of black water, in the darkness beyond the sunset and before the moonrise. I wake up and my heart is pounding and I can feel trickles of sweat on my back and forehead. I can almost feel the chill of the water and the warmth of the sun and the gentle wind that would dry you if you lay long enough on the wooden planks of the dock. LINDSEY'S LAUGHTER ECHOES IN MY EARS. ON THOSE DAYS IT IS VERY HARD TO TURN BACK THE COVERS AND GET OUT OF BED. The next day, in the afternoon, I am in bed with Ashley who is tall and blonde and beyond boring. She wants to have sex but I’m not into it and we end up smoking cigarettes and talking about all the stuff we hate about Dunham. The process is oddly cathartic and although I sense her annoyance at my lack of sexual interest, I realize we might have been able to be friends if we had met at a different time and place. This thought is heartening and I leave her room two hours later feeling less hollow than BEFORE. THE FEELING LASTS FOR MAYBE TWO HOURS. ON WEDNESDAY HOLLY SENDS ME A LONG E-MAIL TELLING ME SHE IS “SO SORRY ABOUT THE OTHER NIGHT” AND HOW SHE FEELS BAD FOR “FORCING ME” TO “GO FARTHER THAN I WANTED.” SHE SAYS SHE WANTS TO MAKE IT UP TO ME. SHE SAYS SHE HAS BEEN FEELING REALLY AWFUL SINCE SHE BROKE UP WITH HER BOYFRIEND FROM STATE AND THAT SHE HAS BEEN MAKING A LOT OF BAD DECISIONS ABOUT A LOT OF THINGS. I READ THE E-MAIL TWICE BUT I CAN'T REMEMBER WHAT SHE IS TALKING ABOUT. I DON'T EVEN REMEMBER SEEING HOLLY SINCE SEPTEMBER, OR MAYBE BEFORE THAT. I CLOSE THE E-MAIL AND I THINK I'M GOING TO CRY. THERE IS AN EMPTY BOTTLE OF JACK DANIEL'S IN MY TRASH THAT I'M JUST SEEING NOW AND THAT I DON'T REMEMBER FINISHING. THERE ARE OTHER E-MAILS IN MY INBOX, MOST FROM PROFESSORS ABOUT LATE HOMEWORK AND ONE FROM MY THESIS ADVISOR TITLED “PLEASE REDO.” I CLOSE MY LAPTOP AND GO OUTSIDE INTO THE HALLWAY. IT IS DAMP AND CHILLY INSIDE the dormitory. Some Indian kids down the hall are getting drunk and listening to Bollywood music. Other than that, all the doors are closed. One of the ceiling lights is off. Another one, farther down, is flickering. Something smells of old vomit but I don't see any stains on the floor or the walls. I FIND LISA'S ROOM AND KNOCK ON THE DOOR BUT THERE IS NO ANSWER. I OPEN IT SLOWLY AND SEE HER SLEEPING IN HER BED. SHE YAWNS AND LOOKS UP, EYES BLEARY. “WALT?” SHE ASKS DROWSILY. “HEY,” I SAY. I slip off my shoes and come in. She doesn't say anything when I crawl into bed with her, slide my arm around her. I push my face into her hair and breathe deep. “YOU CAN SLEEP HERE IF YOU WANT,” SHE SAYS, HALF-ASLEEP. “OKAY,” I SAY. AND I DO. I AM KNOCKING ON LISA'S DOOR LATE THE NEXT DAY. I DON'T KNOW WHY. “COME IN,” SHE CALLS FROM BEHIND THE DOOR. I open the door and look in. “Hey, Walt,” she says. “Hey, Lisa. What's up?” “Just doing some homework. It's boring.” She is wearing a pale yellow Polo shirt and white capris. She has her glasses on. “DO YOU WANT TO WATCH A MOVIE OR SOMETHING?” I ASK HER. Lisa looks up from her homework for the first time. “Why?” she asks. “Uh, I don't know.” “I shouldn't, Walt,” she says. “What? Why not?” “I have a boyfriend,” Lisa tells me. “You have a...boyfriend.” “I MET HIM THIS SUMMER IN PARIS. HE GOES TO PRINCETON. HE'S A SOPHOMORE AND HE'S VERY SWEET.” I LOOK AT HER, THEN PAST HER TOWARD THE POSTERS ON THE WALL, TO THE BIG X POSTER. IT LOOKS BIGGER THAN NORMAL, MORE CONTRASTIVE TO THE REST OF THE ROOM. “SINCE WHEN?” I ASK. “SINCE AWHILE AGO,” LISA SAYS. “WHAT? WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME?” Lisa rolls her eyes. “I don't know,” she says. “I didn't think it was that important. I never thought you'd be interested in something like that.” “So you don't want to watch a movie with me? We watch movies all the time.” I say this smoothly enough but my heart is suddenly beating very fast and I know where this is going because, somehow, I have already been here. “It's not a good idea, Walt,” Lisa says. “Is it...because of the other night?” I ask. “I don't know,” Lisa says. She chews her lower lip. “Maybe.” I just stare at her. “Oh, come on.” “I NEED TO GO TO THE GYM NOW, WALT. I NEED TO CHANGE.” “LISA, IT'S ELEVEN AT NIGHT.” “I NEED TO GO, WALT,” SHE SAYS. “I'M SORRY.” “FINE,” I SAY. “WHATEVER. I'M SORRY TOO. YOU WERE RIGHT THOUGH. WE DON'T HANG OUT ENOUGH.” She gives me a look. “I guess. I don't know. You're sort of a mess, Walt.” I BLINK. “I'M A WHAT?” “You're, like, with a different girl every night. I don't know what I mean to you at all. This isn't going anywhere. I'm sorry about the other night.” “You said that already,” I say. “Goodbye, Walt,” she says. “Okay. Goodbye.” I BACK AWAY, STILL WATCHING HER, AND THEN SHE CLOSES THE DOOR. Lisa calls me two days later and tells me she is going to be leaving early for winter break, that her family is going to Europe on a cruise and she has to miss the last week of classes. She says she feels bad and that we should meet up before she leaves. I say okay. After she hangs up I go across the hallway and knock on her door but she doesn't answer, is not there. Emily walks out of her room while I am still in the hallway. “Looking for Lisa?” she asks me. “I guess,” I say. “I think she went to the library,” Emily says. “She has a big history final coming up.” “Thanks,” I say. “No problem!” Emily says, emptily cheerful. She jogs off down the hallway. I WONDER IF SHE IS ON ANY SORT OF MEDICATION. BESIDES XANAX. I WALK OUTSIDE AND LOOK AT THE LEAFLESS TREES AND THE TALL GOTHIC BUILDINGS, THE FLAGSTONE PATHS. I LIGHT A CIGARETTE AND SMOKE IT DOWN TO THE BUTT, THEN LIGHT ANOTHER ONE. I SORT OF WANT A DRINK BUT THE FEELING, THE URGE, SCARES ME AND I DECIDE TO START WALKING. Other students pass by me, most looking like they're on their way to class or a meeting. Some athletes in practice gear jog by me. A few of them were doing drugs at a party I went to the other night. One of them nods to me. He is tall and dark and looks sort of like Allen but less skinny. I wonder if they are tennis players, decide not. Decide I don't care. ALONE WITH JESSICA AT AN OVERPRICED OFF-CAMPUS RESTAURANT. IT IS RAINING AGAIN AND MY WOOL COAT IS SOAKED ON THE WALK FROM THE CAR TO THE RESTAURANT. JESSICA INVITED ME HERE. WHEN I SEE HER SITTING ALONE AT A SMALL TABLE NEAR THE FRONT, I WONDER WHY I CAME. I SIT DOWN. SHE IS DRINKING HOT TEA. THE WAITER DOES NOT COME BACK TO SEE WHAT I WANT. “I BROKE UP WITH ALLEN,” JESSICA TELLS ME. I take off my coat and lean back in my chair. “Why?” I ask. I don't really care though. I am, in fact, completely uninterested. A bad hangover is clawing at me, making me jittery. “HE WAS CHEATING ON ME,” JESSICA SAYS. “I FOUND OUT FROM TED.” I SHAKE MY HEAD. NOW THE WAITER ARRIVES AND I ORDER COFFEE, SOME TOAST. I'M VERY TIRED SUDDENLY. NAUSEATED. “DID YOU KNOW HE WAS CHEATING ON ME?” JESSICA ASKS. SHE SIPS HER TEA. HER EYES ARE DAMP, HER CHEEKS RED. I CAN'T TELL IF IT'S FROM THE RAIN. “No,” I tell her. “I didn't know.” JESSICA WIPES HER EYES WITH A NAPKIN. “WHAT SHOULD I DO?” SHE ASKS. “DON'T DO...ANYTHING,” I SAY. The coffee and toast arrive quickly. The coffee smells good and I want to drink it but it's too hot and it burns my tongue. I put down the mug and look at the toast, not wanting it. JESSICA IS CRYING NOW. A COUPLE WAITERS LOOK OVER AT HER. “CAN YOU COME BACK TO MY PLACE WITH ME?” JESSICA ASKS. “JUST FOR A LITTLE?” “No, Jessica,” I say. NOW SHE LOOKS UP AT ME, REAL SURPRISE ON HER FACE. “WHAT?” “I DON'T WANT TO.” “Fine,” she says, sobbing now. “Fine. What is your problem?” “I don't know,” I say. “I guess I have...anxiety issues.” “PLEASE COME BACK WITH ME?” SHE ASKS AGAIN. “WHAT ABOUT ALLEN? IS HE GOING TO COME OVER?” “I DON'T THINK SO.” “Fine.” I LEAVE A TWENTY ON THE TABLE, NOT CARING IF IT'S TOO MUCH, AND WE STAND UP AND GO OUT TO HER BLACK AUDI. IT IS WEDNESDAY AND THE APARTMENT IS A MESS FROM A PARTY LAST NIGHT THAT ALLEN INVITED ME TO. I DIDN'T ATTEND BECAUSE I NEEDED TO CATCH UP ON MY LAB REPORTS FOR CHEMISTRY. I DIDN'T ACTUALLY DO ANY OF THEM, THOUGH—JUST SCRIBBLED NUMBERS AND SENTENCE FRAGMENTS OVER THE GRIDDED LAB PAPER. THEN I WATCHED HOUSE RERUNS UNTIL FOUR IN THE MORNING WITH PRIYA, WHO WAS IN TOWN FOR SOME REASON AND WANTED TO SEE ME. WE MADE out a little but she didn't want to do anything else, which I was okay with, so we fell asleep and when I woke up she was gone. “I'M SORRY IT'S SUCH A MESS,” JESSICA SAYS. SHE TAKES ME INTO THE BACK BEDROOM WHERE THERE IS AN ELABORATE-LOOKING BONG ON THE NIGHTSTAND, NEXT TO A LIBRARY BOOK AND A HALF-FULL BOTTLE OF VODKA. ALLEN'S TV IS GONE, I NOTICE. SO ARE HIS ECONOMICS TEXTBOOKS. Jessica, a bored look on her face, pulls me toward the bed. She takes off my shirt and I take off my pants. She unzips her jeans and I pull them down. I take off her shirt but leave her bra on. Her stomach is toned and tight. It looks like she has been going to A TANNING SALON BECAUSE THERE'S NO OTHER WAY SHE COULD BE THIS BRONZED IN LATE NOVEMBER. I KISS HER BUT SHE'S NOT INTO IT SO I SLIDE MY HAND DOWN AND FIND THAT SHE'S ALREADY VERY WET. WE START HAVING SEX AND SHE COMES QUICKLY, LOUDLY. SHE ASKS IF I NEED TO COME AND I TELL HER NO. SHE SAGS ONTO THE PILLOWS, LIGHTS A CIGARETTE. I LIE NEXT TO HER AND WATCH THE SMOKE DRIFT UPWARD UNTIL IT IS DISPERSED BY THE SLOW-SPINNING CEILING FAN. BY THE TIME SHE FINISHES HER CIGARETTE AND TURNS AWAY FROM ME, STILL NAKED EXCEPT FOR HER BRA, I HAVE FALLEN INTO A FITFUL SLEEP. IN MY DREAM I AM DRIVING ALONE IN MY FATHER'S 1967 MINI COOPER DOWN A DESERTED INDIANA COUNTRY ROAD. HIGH FRONDS OF GOLDEN CORN STALKS SWAY ON EACH SIDE OF THE ROAD, THE SUNLIGHT GLINTING OFF THEM. THE SKY IS HIGH AND AZURE AND THE DAY IS WARM BUT NOT HOT. IT SMELLS LIKE INDIANA, LIKE FRESH-MOWN GRASS AND CLEAN DIRT AND COOL WIND COMING IN OFF THE GREAT PLAINS. I SHIFT INTO FIFTH AND SPEED UP. THE CORN BLURS AROUND ME. THE RADIO IS TURNED ON BUT NO SOUND IS COMING OUT. ALL I CAN HEAR IS THE WIND IN MY EARS AND THE GROWL OF THE ENGINE AND THE SLOW STEADY MURMUR OF THE TIRES ON THE PAVEMENT. I pass a red barn next to a small white house. Horses are grazing out front and a dog barks as I drive by. I am headed north, I know, to Michigan and the lake house. I am headed north although I know nobody is there. I drive through an abandoned pastoral land, a Midwest I deserted for no real reason, fleeing toward a flat black horizon which never fully materializes.. I stand at the window, naked except for my J. Crew boxer shorts, and watch the light fade and the lamps that line the quadrangle begin to glow. It is another Wednesday night and already my email and my Blackberry are filling with messages about the evening's plans. For a fleeting moment I am filled with a cataclysmic melancholy, a depression so hard and inexorable that my legs start to shake and I have to sit down on THE FUTON. I REACH HURRIEDLY INTO THE TOP DRAWER OF MY DESK AND FIND MY CIGARETTES. I LOOK AROUND FOR THE LIGHTER, CAN'T FIND IT, GRAB THE BOOK OF MATCHES BY THE CANDLES. LIGHT A CIGARETTE AND INHALE. I SQUINT MY EYES SHUT AND MASSAGE THEM WITH MY FREE HAND. I THINK ABOUT JESSICA FOR A MOMENT AND HOW SHE IS NOTHING LIKE LINDSEY BUT UNDENIABLY gorgeous. I think about last summer when the two of us would lie by the pool waiting for Allen to get back from practice and we would get high in the changing room and how her body looked when she got out of the bright water. I think about sex and romance and the difference, if there is any, between the two. It starts to rain outside and thick drops splatter on the window, streaking it and blurring the lamplight. I look at myself in the mirror, and for a moment my hairline looks concerning but I realize it's just the lighting and a wave of pure, almost spiritual relief WASHES OVER ME. I DRESS HURRIEDLY IN KHAKIS, TOM'S, AND A GINGHAM SHIRT THEN THROW ON MY WOOL OVERCOAT AND THEN I LEAVE. THERE IS A PARTY AT MITCH'S FRATERNITY. A WEEK LATER AND I’M STARING AT MYSELF IN THE MIRROR, EVALUATING MY APPEARANCE. THE SHINED SHOES AND KHAKIS ARE OKAY-LOOKING, AND MY POLO SHIRT—WHITE, BLUE HORSE—IS CRISP, WITH THE TOP TWO BUTTONS UNDONE. SUITABLY CASUAL. THE NAVY BLAZER IS RALPH LAUREN AND HAS A FEW PERMISSIBLE WRINKLES IN IT. MY FACE, JUST SHAVED, IS SMOOTH AND I GUESS PASSABLE. MY HAIR IS CUT SHORT FOR ONCE AND I DON'T HATE IT. I THINK MY HAIRLINE HAS CHANGED SLIGHTLY, PROBABLY DUE MORE TO GENETICS THAN TO THE AMOUNT OF ALCOHOL AND CIGARETTES I’VE CONSUMED IN THE PAST FEW YEARS. I COULD ALSO BE IMAGINING IT. THE ANXIETY HAS BEEN BAD LATELY AND THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH XANAX GOING AROUND THE CAMPUS. WE’RE ALL GOING OUT TO THE WINTER FORMAL AND MY DATE, KELLY, IS SITTING ON THE FUTON TALKING ON HER IPHONE. SHE’S TALL AND BLONDE AND I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT HER. SHE’S BORING TO TALK TO AND MISERABLE, I FOUND OUT LAST SEMESTER, IN BED. “Are you ready, baby?” I ask her. “HOLD THE FUCK ON,” SHE SAYS, PUTTING A HAND ON THE IPHONE'S SPEAKER. “SERIOUSLY.” THEN SHE TURNS BACK TO THE PHONE. “ONE SECOND,” SHE SAYS. BACK TO ME. “YOU'RE TAKING LIKE NINE YEARS TO GET READY, WALT. AREN'T THEY SUPPOSED TO BE PICKING US UP, LIKE, NOW?” “I'm done,” I say. “Let's go.” I run a final hand through my hair and grab my wallet and phone off the shelf and tell her to put away the phone. She pouts but does it. She gets up and gives me a kiss and I grab her ass. She giggles. I want to throw up. EVERYBODY IS OUT IN THE HALL AND THEY ALL LOOK STUPID AND AWKWARD IN THEIR DRESS CLOTHES. MOST OF THE GUYS ARE WEARING DARK SUITS. THE GIRLS ALL LOOK GOOD THOUGH. MOST of them have on strapless dresses and I can see most of their tits. Beth is here, which is awkward, because I've been trying to get with her and she keeps refusing. She is going to the dance with Nick. We’re pounding beers and bad wine in someone's dorm and someone is passing around a fifth of vodka, but by the time we walk out the door I’m still feeling sober. I smoke a cigarette on the way to the gardens, which is where the formal is, and Kelly says she wishes I wouldn’t do that. I tell her to go fuck herself and she laughs. “Shit, how far is this place?” I hear Nick ask Jack. JACK IS TOO DRUNK TO ANSWER. HE JUST LAUGHS AND SLAPS NICK ON THE BACK AND STUMBLES AHEAD, TREADING ON HIS PANTS THAT ARE TOO LONG FOR HIM. I CHECK THE TIME. IT’S ONLY 11:00. I WON'T BE ABLE TO LEAVE WITHOUT MAKING A SCENE UNTIL AT LEAST TWO. MAYBE THREE. Chris comes up behind me. “Walt,” he says. “Walt!” “What?” “DUDE I’M GOING TO FUCK ERICA IN THE ASS TONIGHT. SHE WANTS IT. IT’S GOING TO happen.” “YEAH? WHERE IS SHE NOW?” “SHE'S GOING TO THE DANCE WITH JEFF. BUT AFTER WE GET THERE, ANYTHING GOES.” “YOU THINK?” “Shut up,” he tells me. “It's going to happen.” Then he gives me a glazed look and meanders on. Kelly is babbling something in my ear and I’m making the necessary affirmative grunts and appreciative snorts to keep her happy. We’re coming up on the gardens, and I see Matt making out with someone at the gates. ONCE WE GET TO THE PAVILION IN THE GARDENS, I FIND THE BAR AND QUICKLY DRINK TWO SHOTS OF VODKA INTO ME. I START TO FEEL BETTER. GORDON SIDLES UP TO ME. HE’S SHORTER THAN ME. “What’s up?” he asks. “Nothing,” I say. “You?” But he doesn’t hear me over the drunken laughter and shouts and the pounding rap music. He just smiles. “I just fucked Kristy in the bathroom!” he screams. “BUT...IT'S ONLY ELEVEN,” I TELL HIM. “Okay!” he says. He holds his hand up for a high five and I give him one. He slaps my palm so hard it hurts, then wanders off into the writhing pit of people on the dance floor. KELLY IS TALKING TO HER FRIENDS BUT NOW SHE TURNS TO ME. SHE GIVES ME A KISS ON THE CHEEK. “Let’s dance,” she says. Before I can protest she grabs my hand and forces her way onto the dance floor with me in tow. We dance to a few songs. Kelly seems to be getting more drunk, but I’m sweaty and venting all the alcohol out of my body. I tell her I need to go to the bathroom and head back to the bar. I take a double gin and tonic outside and light a cigarette. It’s cool and dark outside and the lights and sounds of the dance come to me in mute, impotent waves. I take a drag and the world blurs pleasantly. I have done this enough that I see the entire night playing out before me. I drink until I black out and perhaps vomit or pass out completely. Somehow I get home with Kelly and manage to awkwardly finger her, then tell her I am too drunk to fuck and fall asleep. Then I leave early in the morning before she wakes up. FINISHING THE CIGARETTE, I REFLECT ON THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE. IT'S DEPRESSING BUT SOMEHOW STILL ALLURING. BEHIND ME, BACK INSIDE, I HEAR THE SONG CHANGE OVER. PEOPLE ARE SHOUTING AND SCREAMING. SOMEONE LAUGHS. FOR NOW, NOBODY ELSE IS OUTSIDE. IT IS SILENT AND COLD. I BUTTON MY BLAZER AND SPIT ON THE GROUND. Then I go back inside and for the next three hours the world descends into a red- tinted blur. Then it goes black. THE SUMMER AFTER HIGH SCHOOL ENDED WAS LONG AND SUN-DRENCHED AND DRUNK AND ETERNAL. TOWARD THE END, AS LATE JULY BURNED OUT INTO EARLY AND THEN MIDDLE AUGUST, THE FOUR OF US WERE SPENDING ALMOST EVERY DAY UP AT THE LAKE. I WOULD WAKE UP LATE MOST DAYS AND STUMBLE DOWN THE OLD OAK STAIRS AND THROUGH THE LIVING ROOM WITH ITS GREAT FIREPLACE TO THE KITCHEN, WHERE THERE WOULD ALWAYS BE LEFTOVERS FROM WHATEVER KELSEY AND MIKE HAD MADE FOR BREAKFAST. THEN I WOULD STAND AT THE WINDOW AND LOOK OUT PAST THE PORCH AND THE TREES AND THE LONG, SLOPING GREEN GRASS TO WHERE THE DOCK SHOT OUT INTO THE BRILLIANT SPARKLING SAPPHIRE WATER. I WOULD STAND THERE AND DRINK ORANGE JUICE, WATCH LINDSEY READING ON THE DOCK, HER HAIR DARK AND BRIGHT IN THE SUNLIGHT, DROPS OF WATER STILL ON HER SWIMSUIT AND TAN STOMACH. THERE WOULD BE RAY-BANS SLUNG HIGH ON HER FOREHEAD, AND I WOULD KNOW THEN THAT I WAS HAPPY AND IN LOVE. THEN I WOULD GO OUTSIDE WHERE MIKE AND KELSEY WERE LYING IN THE HAMMOCK OR PLAYING CROQUET AND WE WOULD JUST DO NOTHING ALL DAY LONG, EVERY DAY. A LAKE IN UPPER INDIANA IN THE SUMMER. I COME OUT OF THE BLACK AND WE’RE IN CHRIS CARLIN’S ROOM AND FROM THE FEELING IN THE BACK OF MY NOSE AND THE WHITE ON THE TABLE I KNOW I JUST DID A FAIRLY SUBSTANTIAL LINE OF COCAINE. THE FIRST FEW TENDRILS OF DAWN ARE COMING THROUGH THE WINDOW AND THERE ARE FIVE GUYS AND THREE GIRLS GATHERED IN A CIRCLE. ONE OF THE GIRLS IS BENDING OVER THE TABLE AND TAKING A LINE. I LEAN BACK IN MY CHAIR AND LET THE COCAINE GO TO WORK. I FUMBLE FOR MY PHONE AND FLIP IT OPEN. FOUR MISSED CALLS AND FIVE TEXT MESSAGES AND IT SAYS IT’S 5:55 IN the morning. Jesus God. I tune out the idiot giggles and chatter and take stock of the situation. I pat my pockets. I still have my keys and wallet. My blazer is still on, but it’s covered in what looks like a liter of dried Bloody Mary. My tie is wadded up and stuffed in the breast pocket and my shirt is completely open. I follow the lipstick smears on my chest down to my waistband, where I find my belt undone, my pants unbuttoned, and my fly half- zipped. I make a flailing attempt to fix the damage but only manage to collapse back ONTO THE COUCH. The hall is empty and silent, save for the muted murmurings still coming from behind Chris’ closed door. I walk to the stairs and, on a whim, sniff the index and middle fingers of my right hand. They smell pungent and vaguely sweet. I have clearly outdone myself tonight. Somehow I manage to return to my room. I sleep for twelve hours. I wake up in my own bed the next morning and feel like hell. Everything is silent and empty for a brief instant, and then memories begin to trickle into my mind. I definitely threw up—the stains on my Van Heusen tell me that much. I seem to remember giving Karen the finger and licking Beth’s face and telling Krista that she had nice breasts. I may have made Greg mad, as well. There was a high-five with Joe somewhere after the FLIPPING-OFF-OF-THE-GIRLFRIEND AND BEFORE THE PUKING IN THE BUSHES. THAT IS ALL I REMEMBER. IT IS TIME TO SHOWER AND GET MY CLOTHES AND SOBER UP. “YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU MEAN TO ME,” SHE SAID, DRINKING A BEER WHILE I PUT THE COVER ON THE BOAT FOR THE NIGHT. THE AIR SMELLED LIKE RAIN AND DARK CLOUDS WERE BILLOWING OVER THE HIGH PINES ACROSS THE LAKE. I WAS PERCHED ON THE BOAT'S ENGINE CASING AND NOT LOOKING AT HER. “I DO KNOW,” I SAID. “YOU'RE THE ONLY ONE I COULD POSSIBLY WANT.” “I LOVE YOU,” SHE SAID. “I LOVE YOU TOO.” SHE WAS SILENT THEN FOR AWHILE. THE ONLY SOUNDS WERE THE WATER LAPPING AGAINST THE BOAT, DULL AND INSISTENT, AND THE FAINT SOUND OF WIND WHIPPING UP OVER THE PINES, PUSHING THE DARK CLOUDS FARTHER OVER THE LAKE. WHEN SHE SPOKE HER VOICE WAS LOW, PLAINTIVE. “THEN WHY DON'T YOU COME TO SCHOOL WITH ME?” I BUTTONED ANOTHER PART OF THE BOAT COVER DOWN. “I CAN'T,” I SAID. “WHY?” SHE ASKED. I LOOKED BACK AT HER, HEARD THE CRACKING IN HER VOICE. I FINISHED BUTTONING THE COVER AND JUMPED DOWN TO THE DOCK. “WE TALKED ABOUT THIS,” I SAID. “I KNOW. I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT AGAIN.” SHE FINISHED HER BEER AND LOOKED AROUN FOR SOMEWHERE TO PUT IT. FINALLY SHE BENT DOWN AND SET IT ON THE DOCK. THUNDER GROWLED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE DISTANCE. THE LIGHT WAS GOING FAST. “WHY ARE YOU RUNNING AWAY FROM ME?” LINDSEY SAID. “WHY CAN'T WE BE TOGETHER?” Matt is laughing but it is a laugh I have never heard before. His laugh is high- pitched, cackling. A cocaine laugh. He is outside in the student parking lot kicking in the sideview mirrors of his BMW X5. We are standing around, some of us smoking cigarettes. Matt's booted foot connects with one of the mirrors, a solid hit. It makes a resounding crack and shards of glass and plastic go flying off across the parking lot, bouncing on the asphalt and the hoods of the other luxury cars sitting around. “Fuck you, niggers!” Matt screams. “Fuck the police!” He laughs again. Brian is doubled up next to me, almost in tears he is laughing so hard. Matt runs over to the other side. He jumps and kicks but misses and goes SPRAWLING ON THE PAVEMENT. HE BELLOWS AND THEN TAKES HIS FIST AND SMASHES IT INTO THE OTHER SIDEVIEW MIRROR. THE MIRROR ACTUALLY BREAKS OFF AND HANGS LIMPLY AGAINST THE CAR, SCRATCHING THE PAINT. IT DANGLES FROM A FEW FRAYED WIRES. “FUCK MY CAR!” MATT SCREAMS TO NOBODY. TOM DRAINS THE LAST OF A FIFTH OF JIM BEAM AND TOSSES IT TO MATT. MATT GRABS IT BY THE NECK AND SHATTERS IT ON THE HOOD OF THE SUV. JIM TOLD ME, ON THE WAY TO THE PARKING LOT, THAT MATT'S PARENTS TOLD HIM AHEAD OF TIME THAT HE WAS GETTING A NEW CAR FOR CHRISTMAS, MAYBE A MASERATI, BECAUSE THE INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL INSURANCE COMPANY HIS FATHER OWNS JUST BOUGHT ITS BIGGEST COMPETITOR. “THEY TOLD HIM HE COULD JUST SELL THE OLD CAR OR GIVE IT TO A FRIEND,” JIM TELLS ME. “MAYBE WE'LL JUST DEMOLISH IT AT TAILGATE TOMORROW.” NOW MATT AND ANOTHER GUY ARE CLIMBING ONTO THE HOOD OF THE CAR, STOMPING ON IT. MATT MAKES HIS WAY TO THE ROOF AND JUMPS UP AND DOWN. THE METAL CAVES IN. SOMEONE WHO LOOKS LIKE DAN BUT ISN'T CRAWLS THROUGH THE SIDE WINDSHIELD AND STARTS HONKING THE HORN. “GET SOME!” MATT SCREAMS TO THE NIGHT SKY. “GET SOME!” It is Friday night and tomorrow is Saturday and it will be the last tailgate of the season. Jim tells me that nobody has ever trashed a car this expensive at a Dunham tailgate. Usually it is old Saabs and beat-up Volvos. This fact crushes me and I have to step back, light another cigarette, avert my eyes. The sky is beginning to get light. A few other kids, fresh off their Friday binges, still drunk and high, come stumbling into the tailgate parking lot dressed in tights and hunting vests and pirate hats. One kid has a boombox with him, blasting rap music. They set down their cases of beer and watch the destruction of Matt's car. Already, as I watch, another group of undergraduates is coming down the wooded hill on the other side of the parking lot. THE HORN KEEPS GOING OFF AND I WATCH WHILE BRIAN STARTS TRYING TO KICK IN THE WINDSHIELD, JUST STOMPING ON IT AND GIGGLING. THE SKY STARTS TO GROW LIGHT IN THE EAST. I LIGHT ANOTHER CIGARETTE AND SMOKE IT TOO QUICKLY. DAN TAKES SOMETHING FROM HIS COAT POCKET, A SMALL VIAL, AND STARTS TAPPING OUT LINES OF WHITE POWDER ON THE HOOD OF THE X5. THEN HE TAPS ANOTHER GUY ON THE SHOULDER AND THE TWO OF THEM BEND DOWN, FINGERS TO THEIR NOSES, DO THE LINES. BRIAN FINALLY SMASHES IN THE WINDSHIELD AND IT FALLS INTO THE FRONT SEAT IN A SOLID, HALF-SPLINTERED MASS. A REAR TAILLIGHT IS SHATTERED. “IS THIS FOR REAL?” A KID NEXT TO ME, SKINNY AND RED-HAIRED, PROBABLY A FRESHMAN, asks. I nod and tell him that it's real. I WENT OVER TO HER THEN AND PUT MY HANDS ON HER HIPS, HER BODY WARM AND ALIVE AND FAMILIAR. SO WONDERFULLY, PERFECTLY FAMILIAR. LINDSEY LOOKED UP AT ME, HER EYES WET. “I'M NOT RUNNING AWAY,” I SAID. “I JUST NEED TO...GO SOMEWHERE. DUNHAM IS A GOOD SCHOOL. THEIR PRE-MED PROGRAM IS...” “I KNOW,” LINDSEY SAID. SHE MOVED CLOSER, RESTING HER HEAD ON MY CHEST. “IS THAT SO IMPORTANT THOUGH? I KNOW IT'S A GOOD SCHOOL. IU IS A GOOD SCHOOL TOO.” “I DON'T WANT TO GO TO IU,” I SAID. “I MEAN...I WANT TO BECAUSE YOU'RE THERE.” “I KNOW IT'S BETTER THAN IU. I KNOW IT'S A LOT BETTER. I DON'T CARE.” “WE CAN VISIT ALL THE TIME. IT'S ONE PLANE RIDE AWAY.” “AND A TWO-HOUR DRIVE TO THE AIRPORT,” LINDSEY SAYS. SHE TAKES A DEEP BREATH, HER CHEST RISING IN THE WIND. “I JUST WANT YOU. I JUST WANT US. THAT'S MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE, ISN'T IT?” SHE PUT HER ARMS AROUND ME AND STARTED CRYING. “I KNOW IT IS.” “THEN COME BE WITH ME. I DON'T WANT TO FLY AND DRIVE TO SEE YOU EVERY FEW MONTHS.” “THAT'S NOTHING.” “I'M SORRY I...DIDN'T GET INTO DUNHAM,” LINDSEY SOBBED. “NO,” I SAY. THUNDER BOOMED AGAIN, VERY LOUD THIS TIME, AND IT STARTED TO RAIN. THE SKY WAS BLACK, THE ONLY LIGHT NOW COMING FROM THE LAKEHOUSE. LINDSEY HELD ME TIGHTER. “I NEED TO GO,” SHE SAID. “You what?” th “I need to go. It's August 12 and I need to go.” I looked down at her. “It's August 12th?” Now Lindsey was really crying and although the rain was picking up and the thunder th coming louder I could hear everything she said. “Yes, Walt. It's August 10 and I have to drive down to school tomorrow and I'm sorry if you haven't noticed. I don't think any of us have noticed. You've been...drinking a lot.” She turned her head into my chest and started crying again, crying and kissing my chest. “I haven't been drinking that much,” I said, knowing she was right, that it had gotten sort of bad with Mike in the past couple of weeks because I didn't want to look at the calendar. “I love you so much, Walt,” Lindsey said. “We're perfect together and you make me so happy and I'm so lonely without you. I don't think anything is more important than us, the two of us together, but I know a lot of people don't think that way and maybe you don't either. That's okay though.” “I don't think anything else is more important. We're going to be together. It's just college.” “We had three amazing years together and now it's time for me to go. I love you so much. I love you so much.” “Shit, Lindsey,” I said. I pushed wet hair back from her forehead. “It's not going to be like this, it's not going to be that bad.” “I CAN'T DO THIS, I CAN'T LOVE YOU AND ONLY SEE YOU ONCE A MONTH. IT'S GOING TO KILL ME.” “YOU DON'T KNOW THAT.” NOT NOW, I KEPT THINKING. NOT NOW, NOT LIKE THIS. BUT LINDSEY WAS CRYING AND THE STORM WAS LASHING THE DOCK, THE RAINDROPS PAINFUL NOW AND THE LIGHTNING TOO LOUD AND CLOSE TO BE IGNORED AND LINDSEY STOOD ON HER TIPTOES AND PULLED ME DOWN TO HER AND WE WERE KISSING IN THE RAIN ON THE DOCK, HER LIPS WARM AND EVERYTHING THERE WAS IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. I FELT VERY FULL AND VERY HOLLOW AT THE SAME TIME. THEN SHE BROKE AWAY. “GOODBYE, WALT,” SHE SAID. AND THEN I KNEW THAT HER CAR WAS ALL PACKED, AND THAT SHE JUST NEEDED TO GO INSIDE AND DRY OFF, CHANGE CLOTHES AND SHE WAS READY TO GO. I KNEW MIKE AND KELSEY WERE STANDING AT THE KITCHEN WINDOW PRETENDING NOT TO WATCH US AND THAT SOMEWHERE BETWEEN THE FOURTH AND FIFTH GIN AND TONIC I HAD DRANK TODAY I HAD MISSED ALL THE SIGNS, ALL THE PREPARATIONS. SO I STOOD ON THAT DOCK, DRUNK AND STUPID, AND WATCHED HER LEAVE THROUGH A CURTAIN OF SUMMER RAIN. THERE WASN'T ANYTHING TO SAY. I ALWAYS THOUGHT SHE WOULD CALL. TAILGATE BEFORE THE LAST HOME FOOTBALL GAME OF MY JUNIOR YEAR AND I'M LEANING AGAINST ALLEN'S BMW X5 WATCHING HIM AND DAN RAIL MASSIVE LINES OF ADDERALL OFF THE POLISHED HOOD WHICH RELFECTS IN IT THE HIGH, BLUE AUTUMN SKY AND THE BIG CAROLINA PINES WHICH LINE THE PARKING LOT. TI'S “WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT THAT” IS ROARING FROM FOUR ENORMOUS SPEAKERS SOME LACROSSE PLAYESR HAVE SET UP NEXT TO US. THE SONG BLENDS WITH THE MUSIC COMING FROM OTHER SPEAKERS SET UP BY OTHER GROUPS ACROSS THE PARKING LOT, AND ALL OF THAT NOISE RUSHES INTO THE ROAR OF THE CROWD, THE SHOUTS AND SCREAMS OF DRUNK STUEDENTS AND THE SOUND OF BEER CANGS BEING RIPPED OPEN AND THROWN, STOMPED ON, TO THE PAVEMENT. We've had a lot to drink since waking up at eight this morning and I'm starting to forget who I am or what I'm doing it here and it feels very good. “Have some drugs, man,” allen says. “I'M OKAY,” I SAY, SMILING, DRUNK, AND ALLEN SLAPS ME ON THE BACK AND CALLS ME A PUSSY BUT I KNOW IT'S JUST HIS WAY OF TELLING ME HE LOVES ME. Dunham is playing State today. We are the favorites to win it and while I was drinking with Steve last night he told me that, if we won, we will be conference champions. I feel heartened by this notion. I FOLLOW ALLEN AND DAN TO ANOTHER PART OF THE LOT WHERE SOME VERY CUTE SORORITY GIRLS CHALLENGE US TO BEER PONG. I STAND BACK AND LET ALLEN AND DAN HAVE THE FIRST GAME. ALLEN PLAYS WELL BUT DAN IS INCREDIBLY HIGH ON THE BROWNIES HE ATE UPON WAKING, AND AS I LAUGH WITH EVERYONE AT HIS FLAILING THROWS MY GAZE LIFTS UP BEYOND THE PRETTY FACES, UP ABOVE THE TREES, AND I SEE BEYOND THEM THE HIGH GOTHIC SPIRES OF DUNHAM UNIVERSITY ETCHED PROUDLY AGAINST THE WINDLESS BLUE SKY. And I'm suddenly adrift, detached from the party whirling around me, thinking about the center of all things and the nameless future and how really it's all for nothing this way, how there will always be some sort of final emptiness for me, for everyone, and THAT IT TRULY IS TOO FUCKING HARD TO CARE. JIM IS GONE AND BRAD, WHO I NEVER EVEN MET, IS GONE, AND LINDSEY IS GONE. I FEEL STRANGELY EUPHORIC, TRIUMPHANTLY DRUNK, AND I KNOW I WILL COMPLETE MY MAJOR AND FINISH MY INTERNSHIP THIS SUMMER, AND THAT MY PROFESSORS WILL WRITE ME THE RECOMMENDATIONS I NEED AND THAT LATER, MUCH LATER, I WILL GET A DIPLOMA, MAYBE MAGNA CUM LAUDE, MAYBE NOT, AND ALL THE WORLD WILL BE OPEN AND THE POINT IS NOT TO THINK ABOUT IT. THE POINT IS NOT TO THINK ABOUT IT. ALLEN HITS THE WINNING BEER PONG CUP AND THE GIRLS ERUPT WITH CHEERS. I TAKE A FINAL DRAG FROM MY CIGARETTE AND STOMP IT OUT. SOMEBODY, PROBABLY MATT, GRABS MY HEAD, tilting it back and I see the beer pitcher and then he is pouring the beer down my throat. It is cold and fresh and good and I know finally, completely, that this is not just a party but a baptism and that I am one of them. The wind was howling and ripping leaves and twigs from the sycamores by the time I stumbled soaking wet into the house. I was wearing only my bathing suit and I walked past Mike and Kesley who were eating pizza in front of the TV and I went upstairs and took a very long, very hot shower and thought about crying but was too drunk and numb so I just masturbated, violently, but couldn't come so I got out of the shower and dried off and lay in bed. I went downstairs and ate pizza and watched TV with Mike and Kelsey. They talked to me and I felt better. We all thought it wasn't over, that Lindsey would call. Things would get back on track. Sitting there watching Jeopardy and drinking Coke I believed them. “It's really coming down outside,” Mike said. IT IS THE LAST FRIDAY OF THE SEMESTER AND MATT AND BRIAN AND DAN AND MYSELF ARE ON OUR WAY TO THE LAST BIG PARTY OF THE SEMESTER. IT'S A FREEZING EARLY DECEMBER NIGHT. A FEW SNOW FLURRIES, RARE FOR THIS TIME OF YEAR, ARE WHIRLING IN THE ICY BREEZE. THE FOUR OF US ARE WEARING DARK WOOL COATS, THE COLLARS UPTURNED, AND SCARVES. I AM SMOKING A CIGARETTE AND SO IS BRIAN. DAN TELLS US THEY'RE BAD FOR US BUT HE'S FUCKED UP ON CODEINE AND NYQUIL AND STUMBLING. MORE THAN ONCE MATT HAS TO GRAB HIM BY THE COLLAR TO HOLD HIM UPRIGHT. We have just gotten off the campus bus and are making our way to Broad Street where the party is being held in the biggest fraternity house at Dunham—Delta Sig. Almost every guy in Delta Sig is an athlete and they are legends around campus for having more ex-lacrosse players and expelled athletes than any other fraternity at Dunham. All of the indicted lacrosse players from 2006 were in Delta Sig. As we walk I tilt my head back, exhaling smoke and frosty breath. I stare up at the gnarled, bare tree branches and beyond them to the crystal-clear winter sky, pitch black and cloudy. There is no moon. “Where the fuck is this house?” Matt is asking. “I thought you said you'd been here before, Brian.” “I have, Matt. Shut the fuck up.” WE TURN A CORNER AND THEN WE START TO HEAR THE NOISE. I CHECK MY BLACKBERRY AND SEE THAT IT'S ONLY 10:30. BASS NOTES REVERBERATE THROUGH THE STILL AIR AND OUR FOOTSTEPS QUICKEN. WE SEE PEOPLE SPILLING OUT ONTO THE STREET, SOME ALREADY STUMBLING. A CAR BACKS OUT OF A DRIVEWAY UP AHEAD, TURNS AROUND IN THE STREET AND PEELS OFF INTO THE NIGHT. “That's it,” Brian says. I flick my cigarette to the curb as we turn into the house. There are big colored lights strung up over the broad lawn and maybe five black SUVs parked in the circle driveway. A fountain, drained, is covered in red paint sits in front of the main walkway. A guy has climbed it and is trying to push away the other two guys trying to reach its top. Beyond the walkway is a sprawling Gothic mansion. Arched windows, two cylindrical towers, dark-shingled roof. Above the double-doors is a big banner that reads “Welcome to the Nine Circles of Hell Party 2K9.” “I HAVEN'T BEEN TO THIS PLACE IN, LIKE, A YEAR,” MATT SAYS. “ME NEITHER,” SAYS DAN. “You're missing out,” Brian tells them. He throws his cigarette onto the lawn and steps on it, already taking out another one. Allen is already there and I see him standing on the porch smoking a joint. He waves to me and I raise my hand and start walking over. A guy I recognize, I think his name is Richard, is standing next to him sharing the joint. “Absolute Power” by Tech Nine (spelled N9ne on his albums) is blasting from speakers I can't see. Strobelights flare from a third floor window. I make my way through a lawn covered in crushed beer cans. I step over a football player making out with two Asian girls on the staircase and then get up to the porch. Allen shakes my hand and hands me the joint. I take a hit. It is strong. “How's it going?” Allen says without exhaling. A little smoke rolls off his tongue. “Fine,” I tell him. “When are you going home for break?” “DAY AFTER TOMORROW,” ALLEN TELLS ME. “YOU?” “Next week. Late final.” “Sucks.” WE FINISH THE JOINT. “YOU SHOULD SEE THIS FUCKING PLACE,” ALLEN SAYS. “THEY HAVE SO MUCH FUCKING BLOW. IT'S LIKE A SNOWSTORM IN THERE.” THE DOORS OPEN WHILE ALLEN IS SAYING THAT AND A GUY AND A GIRL, THE GUY SHIRTLESS AND THE GIRL WITH ONE OF HER BREASTS EXPOSED UNDER A RIPPED TANKTOP, COME LAUGHING OUT AND RUN DOWN THE STEPS. THE BIG DOORS STAYS OPEN AND INSIDE I SEE A CRUSH OF PEOPLE WRITHING TOGETHER. A DJ STAND BY THE FIREPLACE. SOMEONE IS DOING A BEER BONG. “Cool,” I say. “SO WHAT'S NEW WITH YOU?” ALLEN SAYS. “Nothing. Lisa went home for winter break early.” “Yeah?” Allen says. “Said she was going on some big trip with her family.” Allen shakes his head. He puts his hands in his pockets. “You need to fuck that chick, Walt.” “What?” “YOU NEED TO FUCK LISA. YOU'RE SO GAY AROUND HER. YOU NEED TO MAKE A MOVE.” “I GUESS SO.” “YEAH YOU GUESS SO,” ALLEN SAYS. HE SURVEYS THE PEOPLE ON THE LAWN IDLY. THE GUY ON TOP OF THE FOUNTAIN YELLS AS HE GETS PUSHED OFF. HE FALLS ONTO THE GRASS, HARD. “YOU NEED TO JUST GET HER DRUNK AND FUCK THE SHIT OUT OF HER.” “I guess I should,” I say, uncertain. “SERIOUSLY, WALT. YOU ARE GAY IF YOU DON'T FUCK HER.” “MAYBE IN THE SPRING,” I TELL HIM. “DO IT OR I'LL KILL YOU,” ALLEN SAYS. “NOW ARE WE GOING TO GET FUCKED UP OR WHAT?” “LEAD THE WAY.” I LOOK AROUND FOR MATT, BRIAN, AND DAN. THEY'RE TALKING TO SOME GIRLS ON THE LAWN. I CAN'T CATCH THEIR EYES. THE SONG INSIDE CHANGES TO “PSYCHOSOCIAL” BY SLIPKNOT. I DO NOT THINK I HAVE EVER HEARD SOMEONE PLAY SLIPKNOT AT A FRATERNITY PARTY. ALLEN OPENS THE DOOR AND HIS COAT OPENS EXPOSING A DARK SUIT WITH A RED TIE THAT I'VE NEVER SEEN HIM WEAR. HE BECKONS ME ONWARD. THEN I WALK INSIDE AND HE CLOSES THE DOOR. WE GOT THE CALL AT NINE AND WHEN WE STEP OUT OF MIKE'S EXPLORER HER CAR WAS STILL BURNING, THE FLAMES LICKING UP AGAINST THE DRIVING RAIN. THE CAR IS TWISTED AROUND AND COLLAPSED ACROSS THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. NOT FAR FROM IT IS A HUMMER H2, BLACK, OFF THE ROAD AND ROLLED ONTO ITS ROOF AT THE BOTTOM OF A LOW HILL. I GET OUT OF MIKE'S CAR FIRST AND STARTED WALKING TOWARD THE FLASHING LIGHTS. IT WAS POURING RAIN SO HARD THAT THE DROPLETS STRUNG BUT I DID NOT NOTICE AND I REMEMBER WALKING VERY SLOWLY. I KNEW SHE WAS DEAD BY THE UNHURRIED WAY THE PARAMEDICS WERE WAITING BESIDE THE CAR, WATCHING TWO FIREMEN AS THEY PRIED OPEN THE CRUSHED DOOR. DOWN THE HILL THEY WERE BRINGING UP A STRETCHER WITH A BLANKET-SHROUDED BODY ON IT. THE BLANKET WAS SOAKED THROUGH WITH RAIN AND DARK BLOOD. I DIDN'T KNOW HOW LONG I JUST STOOD THERE, A SKINNY KIND IN RAINBOW SANDALS, KHAKI SHORTS AND A FLORAL-PATTERNED SHIRT MY MOTHER HAD BOUGHT FOR ME IN HAWAII. THE RAIN WAS LESSENING WHEN THEY FINALLY PULLED LINDSEY FROM HER CAR. LATER I WAS TOLD THAT SHE HAD PROBABLY “DIED ON IMPACT” WHEN HER FACE WENT THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD, SHATTERING IT. A POLICEMAN TOLD ME SHE WAS DEAD AND HE PUT HIS HAND ON MY SHOULDER BUT I didn't notice it or try to push him away. At some point I registered Kelsey sobbing and Mike on his knees, staring and muttering “Oh my God oh my God oh my God” and a paramedic nearby on the phone with what had to be Lindsey's mother judging by the faint screaming I could hear coming out of the earpiece even through the rain. Later there was talk of an unworn seatbelt and “post-mortem blood alcohol content testing” but nobody really cared. It simply did not matter. Nothing mattered. Inside and the main room is impossibly loud. A girl, sweaty and almost naked, brushes past me. I look at the crowd dancing in air thick with pot and cigarette smoke. There is another smell, another smoke, more acrid. “LET'S LOSE THESE COATS,” ALLEN SAYS. HE TAKES HIS OFF AND TOSSES IT ONTO A COUCH. I HESITATE THEN DO THE SAME. A GUY COMES UP TO ALLEN AND BUMPS FISTS WITH HIM. HE IS BIG, TALLER THAN ME, AND WELL-MUSCLED. HE IS WEARING A LACROSSE JERSEY THAT IS TOO SHORT AND A BACKWARD BASEBALL HAT. “YOU WANT TO SMOKE?” HE ASKS ALLEN. “FUCK YES,” ALLEN SAYS. “YOU WANT TO SMOKE, WALT?” HE ASKS ME. “SMOKE WHAT?” “CRACK.” “UH,” I SAY. Allen smiles wryly. “Pussy. We'll be upstairs if you need any more babysitting.” The other guy laughs too. “Remember,” Allen says. “Get them drunk and fuck them. It's that easy. They fucking want it, nigger.” “OKAY,” I SAY. I WATCH THEM LEAVE. A GIRL I KNOW COMES UP TO ME AND STARTS TALKING TO ME. SHE HAS JUST BEEN DANCING AND HER HAIR IS PLASTERED TO HER FOREHEAD. HER SHIRT IS DRENCHED AND THROUGH THE WET CLOTH I CAN SEE HER BREASTS, TAUT. “Dance with me, Walt,” she slurs. “Fucking. Dance with me.” I let her lead me onto the dance floor and she turns around and puts her hands around my neck and starts grinding her crotch into mine. People bump into me and someone belches in my face and I see two girls making out with each other and a couple, a black guy and an Asian girl, having sex on a couch by the DJ. The black guy is on his back and the Asian girl, almost completely naked, is on top of him. Her breasts bounce up and down as she rides him. THE GIRL I'M DANCING WITH CLOSES HER EYES AND THRASHES HER HEAD AROUND TO THE MUSIC. I REALIZE ABSENTLY THAT I AM NOT DRUNK ENOUGH FOR ANY OF THIS. THE GIRL STARTS YANKING AT MY HAIR AND PULLS MY FACE TOWARD HERS AND STICKS HER TONGUE IN MY MOUTH. WHEN I TRY TO CLOSE MY MOUTH SHE STARTS LICKING MY FACE. SHE REACHES DOWN WITH ONE HAND AND STARTS MASSAGING MY COCK THROUGH MY JEANS. THE SONG CHANGES TO SOMETHING BY RAMMSTEIN. “You wanna fuck?” she whispers up to me. “Hold on,” I say. I pull her off of me and she says. “Hey!” and I shoulder my way off of the dance floor. There are other rooms on the first floor but I decide to go upstairs. Another banner is hung above the stairs, proclaiming “This Way To The Second Circle.” I WONDER WHO ELSE IS HERE WHO I KNOW AND WHILE I'M THINKING THIS I SEE CHRIS STUMBLING DOWN THE STAIRCASE, VOMIT ALL OVER HIS SHIRT. IT LOOKS LIKE HE IS CRYING BUT IT MIGHT JUST BE SWEAT. IT IS VERY, VERY HOT IN THE HOUSE. CHRIS LOOKS AT ME BUT DOESN'T RECOGNIZE ME AND KEEPS BARRELING DOWN THE STAIRS. AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS IS A LONG HALLWAY AND A FEW DOORS. THE FIRST DOOR SAYS “THIRD CIRCLE” ON IT AND INSIDE IS ANOTHER BAR AND MORE SPEAKERS PLAYING A DIFFERENT SONG AND A TON OF PEOPLE. I see Kelly and Carly on the couch with two guys. One of the guys has his left hand up Carly's skirt and her eyes are closed in pleasure. I watch as she contorts, her torso bending forward then backward, her mouth open in a moan. Kelly is making out with the guy next to her. The guy is wearing only his boxers and I can see a massive hardon outlined against the plaid fabric. Matt is at the bar with Tom and a couple girls. I see them doing shots. I walk over to them. The marijuana is very strong and everything is moving slowly. I wonder if I should do some cocaine to take the edge off. I wonder where all the cocaine is that Allen mentioned. Derek, who I just now notice, is also at the bar and he hands me two shots of something clear. I drink them both and Derek smiles at me. “Jesus,” he says. “Nice one, Walt.” “THANKS?” I ASK HIM. “IT'S EVERCLEAR,” HE TELLS ME. “IT'S 190 PROOF.” “SWEET.” I stumble out of the room and down the hallway. Red light spills out from another door labeled “The Seven Deadly Sins” and it is here that I find Allen and Tiffany and Gordon, who I have not seen in weeks, bent over the cocaine. I don't see the guy Allen talked to downstairs. ALLEN LIFTS HIS HEAD AND RAISES HIS EYEBROWS. I RAISE MINE BACK. I SIT DOWN NEXT TO A GIRL I DON'T KNOW AND DO TWO LINES RAPIDLY. IT IS VERY GOOD COCAINE AND THE FACT THAT I KNOW THIS WORRIES ME BUT NOT ENOUGH TO STOP ME FROM DOING A THIRD LINE. GORDON IS SAYING SOMETHING TO ME BUT I CAN'T HEAR HIM OVER THE MUSIC AND WHEN I LOOK AT HIM HIS FACE IS IMPOSSIBLY SWEATY, HIS PUPILS PINPRICKS IN HIS BRIGHT GREEN EYES. BLACK HAIR IS STUCK WETLY TO HIS GLISTENING FOREHEAD. “I said you look fucked up Walt,” Gordon screams into my ear. “Thanks,” I tell him. “You too.” “Have you been up to the roof?” Gordon screams. “I shake my head.” “YOU GOTTA GO UP TO THE FUCKING ROOF!” Allen stands up then and he has loosened his dark red tie. His jacket is still but somehow he doesn't look very sweaty. There is a large tear down his white shirt, visible when he raises his arms to hug me. I hug him back awkwardly. “Senior year, motherfucker,” he tells me. “Come on.” WE LEAVE THE ROOM AND TIFFANY FOLLOWS SILENTLY. ALLEN LEADS US PAST A COUPLE OTHER DOORS TO A BACK STAIRCASE. IT IS NARROW AND DARK. SOMEONE HAS VOMITED ON THE FIRST STEP AND ALLEN STEPS DIRECTLY INTO THE VOMIT, SPLATTERING IT ON THE WALLS AND HIS SHOE AND HIS PANTS. PEOPLE HAVE SCRAWLED THINGS ON THE WALLS BUT WE TAKE THE STAIRS TWO AT A TIME AND THE ONLY WRITING I CAN READ IS IN BLACK PERMANENT MARKER AND IT SAYS “I DRANK ERICA'S blood. All of it.” and then we are beyond the stairwell and entering a small hallway on the third floor. There is only one door and Allen leads us into it. A bunch of people are sitting around on couches beneath a hanging light, passed out beneath shelves of athletic trophies and posters of naked women. One girl has some rubber tubing around her elbow and a needle in her lap, the syringe etched with blood. She has vomited on herself. She looks me in the eye and I cannot hold her gaze. A guy, naked, is lying on the floor. “Eat my pussy,” a girl on the far couch says. “I love it when you eat my pussy.” I think she is saying this to me but then I see a girl crouched before her, shrouded in darkness. The girl laps at the other girl's crotch, moaning. Tiffany laughs nervously behind me. Allen opens another door and now he's going up a smaller set of stairs and I feel the cold night air rushing down. I follow him, my vision blurry, and then I see the starry night sky and the spires of the house's two towers and then we are out on the roof, surrounded by other people. TIFFANY CLOSES THE DOOR BEHIND US. I LIGHT A CIGARETTE. THERE ARE MAYBE TWENTY PEOPLE ON THE ROOF. EVERYONE IS CLUSTERED AROUND A CENTRAL OBJECT, A HUGE INFLATABLE POOL. WE GET CLOSER AND A BURLY GUY STEPS AWAY AND I SEE IT IS FILLED WITH JELLY, MAYBE KY. A GUY AND A GIRL ARE WRESTLING IN THE POOL, BOTH NAKED. THE GIRL'S BREASTS ARE COATED IN THE JELLY AND THEY BOUNCE UP AND DOWN WITH EACH OF HER STEPS. THE GUY'S COCK SWINGS, LONG AND HEAVY, BETWEEN HIS LEGS. THE CROWD ROARS. Allen passes me a bottle of Jack Daniel's, its label half-ripped off, the neck slippery with KY. I put it to my mouth anyway and drink deeply. I watch while Allen straightens his tie and steps closer to the pool. The guy has the girl on her back now and she is raking his shoulders with her fingernails, drawing blood. “Fuck that bitch up!” someone screams. “Fuck her up!” PEOPLE LAUGH AND SOMEONE THROWS A BEER CAN INTO THE POOL. THE GUY AND THE GIRL IN THE POOL BOTH SUBMERGE FOR A SECOND, THEN COME UP. THE GIRL CHOKES. THE GUY LAUGHS. “RAPE THAT SLUT!” THE GUY NEXT TO ME YELLS. “RAPE HER, JACKSON!” The girl keeps choking and so the guy grabs her by the neck and forces her head under the KY. She kicks her legs, bucking wildly, but he holds on. He keeps laughing. People cheer. The girl comes up once more, gagging, and the guy pushes her down. Another girl, naked except for her panties, small breasts, stumbles into the pool. She has a bottle of vodka in her other hand and she starts kicking the guy in the head. “Get off, asshole!” she yells. “You're gonna kill her!” “FUCK OFF, BITCH!” SOMEONE YELLS. “Fuck you, Ben,” the other girl screams. She keeps kicking the guy in the KY in the head but he doesn't move, just keeps laughing. Now I'm watching the pinned girl's legs slowing down. She kicks a few times more and then her legs go limp. People keep cheering. More beer cans are thrown. “YOU'RE KILLING HER,” THE GIRL WITH THE VODKA SHRIEKS. A guy wades into the pool now, fully clothed. “Yo, yo Jackson. Get off.” Laughter. “JACKSON. GET THE FUCK OFF HER.” HE GRABS THE NAKED GUY AND, PULLING HARD, THROWS HIM OFF THE GIRL. THE GIRL DOESN'T MOVE. “OH SHIT,” THE OTHER GIRL SAYS, LOOKING DOWN. “OH SHIT. OH SHIT. OH SHIT.” The guy he's calling Jackson is lying on his back, his head resting on the lip of the pool, panting. People start to cluster around. Some of the cheering stops. Allen pushes closer. I stand up on my tiptoes. “Oh fuck,” the guy in the pool says. He pulls the girl out of the KY and starts slapping her face. He pushes his fingers into her mouth and starts yanking out big wads of lubricant. Next to me Tiffany is crying. I SEE ALLEN STEPPING FORWARD, PUSHING PEOPLE AWAY. “LET ME SEE,” HE SAYS. “LET ME FUCKING SEE!” THE WIND PICKS UP AND I LOOK AT MY BLACKBERRY AND IT IS SOMEHOW PAST TWO IN THE MORNING. THE STARS IN THE SKY SEEM BRIGHTER, HARDER THAN EARLIER. I'M JACKED ON THE COCAINE BUT ALSO INCREDIBLY DRUNK AND AS I STAGGER BACKWARD I HEAR SOMEONE YELL, “WE GOTTA GET OUT OF HERE. LET'S GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE.” THAT IS ALL I NEED TO HEAR AND I TURN AROUND AND FIND THE DOOR AND STAGGER DOWN THE STAIRS, ALMOST FALLING INTO THE ROOM BELOW AND THEN SOMEHOW I MAKE MY WAY DOWN AND THROUGH THE MOB ON THE SECOND FLOOR THEN DOWN THE BIG STAIRCASE AND OUT THE DOUBLE DOORS AND WHEN I GET OUT PAST THE FOUNTAIN, PAST THE BLACK SUVS AND THE EMPTY BEER CASES AND CIGARETTE BUTTS, I GET ON BROAD STREET AND START RUNNING. AFTER LINDSEY DIED I JUST SORT OF WANDERED AROUND MY PARENTS' BIG SUBURBAN HOUSE FOR A COUPLE WEEKS. I DIDN'T EVEN FEEL LIKE GETTING DRUNK, ALTHOUGH I COULD HAVE BECAUSE MY FATHER KEPT A WELL-STOCKED WINE CELLAR IN A BASEMENT ROOM. FRESHMAN ORIENTATION AT DUNHAM WAS STARTING SOON BUT I HADN'T EVEN PACKED A BAG. I WENT TO THE FUNERAL WITH MY FAMILY AND WE SAW MIKE AND KELSEY THERE. I HAD NEVER FELT GUILTY BEFORE IN MY LIFE AND I DIDN'T FEEL GUILTY THEN, NOT REALLY. I MOSTLY FELT HOLLOW. I don't remember Lindsey's parents coming up to me, hugging me, telling me how sorry they were. I don't remember my mother crying on my father's shoulder. I don't remember getting high with Mike afterward behind the church. These were all things I heard about later, from my sister or from Kelsey. These were all things I heard about later. The next day I sleep in until three in the afternoon. Classes have finished for the semester. I lie in my bed and stare at the ceiling. I wonder what happened to Matt, to Brian, to Allen. I scroll through the list of contacts on my Blackberry. It tells me I have 537 now. I recognize some names and don't recognize most. I think about calling Matt, or maybe even Lisa, but it doesn't seem worth the effort right now. I take out a frozen pizza from my refrigerator and heat it up in the microwave I have in my room, taking pulls from a bottle of Minervois I find in the back of my closet. I GO TO MY LAPTOP AND HALFHEARTEDLY PERUSE FACEBOOK AND GMAIL. ALL OF MY FRIENDS HAVE UPDATED THEIR STATUSES WITH THINGS LIKE “CAN'T WAIT TO GO TO TAHITI WITH THE FAMILY!” OR “PACKING UP TO LEAVE DUNHAM!” AND THIS COMPELS ME TO TYPE OUT “EXCITED FOR WINTER VACATION!” ON FACEBOOK. THE VERY ACT OF DOING THIS MAKES ME SO VISCERALLY depressed about everything that I drink the rest of the wine too quickly, taking big gulps and not caring that it is spilling down my chin, splattering the counter and my shirt. Finally sign off of Facebook and go to the futon. I prop the laptop up and rent a movie from NetFlix and watch it but fall asleep after ten minutes and my pizza gets cold so I throw it out when I wake up. I WENT UP TO THE LAKE HOUSE ONCE MORE THAT SUMMER. IT WAS THE DAY BEFORE MY PLANE TO DUNHAM. MIKE AND KELSEY WERE GONE. I WENT UP BECAUSE SUDDENLY, SOMEHOW I HAD FINISHED ALL MY PACKING AND MY PARENTS TOLD ME THEY WERE NOT GOING TO GO UP TO THE LAKE ANYMORE THIS YEAR. THEY WANTED ME TO CLOSE IT FOR THE FALL, FOR THE WINTER. SO I WENT UP AND IT WAS RAINING ON THE HIGHWAY AND IT WAS RAINING WHEN I PULLED INTO THE DRIVEWAY AND SHUT OFF THE CAR AND WENT IN BY THE SIDE DOOR. I WASN'T EXPECTING TO FIND LINDSEY'S SWIMMING SUIT LAID OUT ON ONE OF THE LOUNGES IN THE SCREENED-IN PORCH. WHEN I PICKED IT UP SOMETHING WENT OUT OF ME, ALL AT ONCE, AND AFTER THAT EVERYTHING WAS DARK. IT WAS SUNSET ON THE LAKE AND I COULD HEAR THE WAVES LAPPING AGAINST THE DOCK, AS THEY HAD DONE SINCE I WAS A CHILD, BUT THERE WAS NO JOY IN THE SOUND OR THE SUNSET ANYMORE. THERE WAS NO JOY WHEN I PUT THE WINTER TARPS OVER THE SPEEDBOAT. COBWEBS WERE COLLECTING IN THE BOATHOUSE BUT I DIDN'T CLEAR THEM OUT WITH A BROOM LIKE MY MOTHER HAD SHOWED ME THAT FIRST SUMMER SO LONG AGO. I FINISHED WORKING ON THE BOAT AND I CLOSED ALL THE WINDOWS AND LOCKED THE DOORS AND DIDN'T REALLY GIVE A SHIT ABOUT ANY OF IT BECAUSE MY PARENTS COULD ALWAYS COME BACK AND CHECK ON THE LAKE HOUSE IF THEY WANTED TO. IF SOMETHING WENT WRONG. WHEN I PULLED OUT OF THE DRIVEWAY IN MY FATHER'S BMW 5-SERIES OUR LAKE HOUSE HAD JUST BECOME A BUILDING, AN ABSTRACT CONSTRUCT, SOMETHING APART FROM MYSELF. LINDSEY'S SWIMSUIT LAY ON THE DOCK WHERE I DROPPED IT, UNABLE TO THINK ABOUT HER ANYMORE. After that everything sped up. I watched the film spin and tear and wash out and I couldn't get it into focus anymore. Later I go out in the rain and start my Range Rover. I want to go out to the grocery store to buy some shampoo and toothpaste to take on break with me. For awhile I IDLE IN THE STUDENT PARKING LOT, FLICKING THROUGH THE RADIO STATIONS WHILE I WAIT FOR THE CAR TO WARM UP. THERE IS NOTHING GOOD ON ANY OF MY TWELVE SIRIUS-XM PRESETS SO I TURN IT off. I drive slowly out of the parking lot and off campus because it has begun to rain very hard. The clouds are dark, ominous, and it is thundering. Most of the leaves have fallen off the trees and campus looks empty, desolate. A lot of students have already left for winter vacation. I drive by the chapel, by my freshman year dormitory, then through the forest that surrounds campus. I drive by the apartments where I stayed last summer with Allen and Jessica. For no reason I slow down. I find myself pulling into the apartments. The security gate is closed but I lower my window, rain spattering inside the car. The KEYCODE FROM LAST SUMMER STILL WORKS AND THE GATE SLIDES OPEN. I DRIVE IN AND PARK BY THE POOL. I THINK ABOUT SUMMERS HERE, WHEN THE TREES ARE IN BLOOM AND THE GRASS IS GREEN AND THE SUN SETS AT NINE-THIRTY EVERY NIGHT. The pool has been drained and I realize it has been a long time since I sat by the pool with Allen and Jessica. Something sad rises up in me. I push it down and turn on the radio and drive out of the apartment complex. “FUCK YOU,” I SAY TO NOBODY. “FUCK YOU, FUCKER.” I PUNCH THE STEERING WHEEL AND THE HORN BLOWS. THE RAIN STILL COMES DOWN. NOBODY IS ON THE ROAD TO BE STARTLED BY THE HORN. I DRIVE TO THE GROCERY AND WANDER THROUGH THE AISLES WITH A BASKET. WHEN I GO TO CHECKOUT THE GIRL BEHIND THE COUNTER LOOKS AT ME FUNNY AND I REALIZE THAT I HAVE TRIED TO LEAVE WITHOUT BUYING ANYTHING. The few remaining people in the dorm have a party in the common room that night. Steve and Allen and Chris and Dan and Tom have all left for break. There are a few guys I know hanging out, a few people I don't know. I don't bother introducing myself to them. We play Beer Pong, play Kings. We get drunk. I get more drunk than others. “I'm so alone,” I find myself telling Matt sometime after midnight. We are both drunk. There is nothing to take the edge off except cigarettes. I am drinking Grey Goose mixed with Snapple from the vending machines. Matt is drinking straight gin. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ALONE?” MATT ASKS ME, LOOKING BLACKED-OUT. “Just...alone. There is no continuity.” I wonder how much of this conversation the two of us are going to remember in the morning. Then I realize I don't care. I am slurring my words. “Continuity,” Matt repeats somberly. He swirls the gin in his glass, staring gauzily ahead toward the blank flat-panel TV. “BETWEEN PEOPLE. THERE IS NO CONTINUITY BETWEEN...PEOPLE.” “I SEE.” "I CRAVE COMMUNICATION," I TELL HIM, LAUGHING. “We could...Skype each other?” Matt asks, uncertain. “I'm going skiing with my family, then I have to be home with my sister.” Matt nods. “Oh," he says. "Does that make you... sad?" He takes another drink. “I don't know.” “WELL, I'LL SEE YOU IN THE SPRING?” “UH HUH.” MATT TAKES ANOTHER DRINK. I DO TOO. “THEN THAT'S COOL." “YEAH. WHATEVER. I'M SURE I'LL SEE YOU." People have started to leave the party. “I'm not going to see Jessica ever again,” I blurt out. “So?” “SO WHAT IF I WANT TO SEE HER? WHAT IF I'M IN LOVE WITH HER? WHAT ABOUT THAT?” “YOU COULD SKYPE WITH HER. BUT ISN'T SHE STILL WITH ALLEN ANYWAY?” I sit back in my chair, suddenly bored by the whole conversation. “Skype is not the same. Skype is almost worse. And yes, she is dating Allen.” “Look,” Matt says, finishing his drink and putting it down. His eyes are red and bleary. Then he shakes his head and looks directly at me. “Fucking forget about it. Why would you be in love with Jessica anyway? She's a bitch, Walt. She's addicted to drugs." “I just don't want to miss anybody,” I tell him, regretting it almost immediately but barreling onward anyway. “I hate missing anybody." Matt looks at me strangely. “But nobody's worth missing." "Lindsey is," I tell him. "Lindsey goes to Yale," Matt says. "God, you're so weird sometimes, Walt. I can't deal with you, sometimes. I can't...deal." And then he passes out. I SIT BACK AND WATCH THE REST OF THE PEOPLE FILTER OUT OF THE ROOM UNTIL I AM ALONE AND DRUNK IN THE COMMON ROOM. I CHECK THE TIME ON MY BLACKBERRY. I NEED TO BE AT THE AIRPORT IN FOUR HOURS. Don't think about it. Don't think about the people you miss. It's too hard to care about anybody. I meet my parents and sister in Jackson Hole for the first week of winter break that year. I get off the plane exhausted, a wreck, needing a cigarette but stubbornly refusing to take out my pack and light one. I still can't smoke around my family. I breathe in the chilly mountain air instead. Snow is everywhere. My family is waiting for me at baggage claim and my father puts my suitcase into the rented Suburban and we drive to our condo at the mountain base. My sister tells me about how her tennis team won the city championship and how our high school is being renovated so she has to take some of her classes in the middle school across the road. MY STEP-MOTHER ASKS ME ABOUT COLLEGE. I TELL HER IT'S OKAY. MY FATHER ASKS ABOUT MY CLASSES AND I TRY TO SOUND EXCITED ABOUT THEM AND THEY START ASKING ME ABOUT WHEN I'LL be applying to medical school and we talk about that while my sister looks out the window and the Suburban purrs up the steepening road. The headlights illuminate whirling snow flurries and the dark pines beyond them at the edge of the road. The first day of five weeks of vacation. MOST OF THE WEEK AT JACKSON HOLE I SPEND IN A STUPOR, NOT EVEN SKIING MUCH. I GET ON THE GONDOLA IN THE MORNING WITH MY FAMILY, THEN TELL THEM I WILL MEET THEM FOR LUNCH BUT JUST SKI BACK DOWN TO THE CONDO. I SIT IN THE HOT TUB FOR HOURS AT A TIME, STARING UP AT THE MOUNTAINS AND LETTING THE SNOW SETTLE ON MY HAIR AND WATCHING STEAM RISE SLOWLY IN SLOW CURLING WISPS FROM THE WATER SURFACE. I HAVE SOME BOOKS WITH ME AND AT NIGHT I SIT AND READ BY THE BIG FIREPLACE, THE REST OF MY FAMILY ASLEEP, HAPPILY EXHAUSTED FROM A DAY OF SKIING. I GET HALFWAY THROUGH SOME BORING BESTSELLER THAT MATT TOLD ME TO READ BUT FIND IT SO DULL AND EARNEST AND HAPPY THAT I HAVE TO THROW IT OUT, LITERALLY STANDING UP ONE NIGHT AND TOSSING IT INTO THE TRASHCAN. EVENTUALLY I TAKE OUT MY BATTERED COPY OF ISLANDS IN THE STREAM AND START TO READ IT FOR THE FIFTH TIME, SAVORINGLY. Halfway through the week I drive into town, find a liquor store and buy a fifth of Bombay Sapphire which for some reason I can't quite explain reminds me of freshman year. I also buy a bunch of lime juice. I drink most of it in the hot tub while my family is asleep or skiing. One night I pass out in the hot tub for nearly an hour. When I come to it takes every last reserve of will power in my body to stumble out of the water, vomit in THE SNOW, COVER THE VOMIT WITH MORE SNOW, THEN CRAWL INTO BED. I HIDE THE FIFTH AND MY EMPTY GLASS UNDER THE COVERS. ONE NIGHT MY FATHER TAKES ME OUT TO DINNER AT ONE OF THE MORE EXPENSIVE RESTAURANTS NEAR THE MAIN LODGE. WE DRINK WATER WITH DINNER AND AS I PICK AT MY STEAK HE ASKS ME HOW IT'S GOING WITH THE PSYCHIATRIST I'VE STARTED SEEING TOWARD THE END OF THE SEMESTER. I TELL HIM IT'S GOING WELL AND THAT DR. FOSTER WANTS ME TO TRY GOING ON SOME SORT OF SSRI AND MY FATHER, A SURGEON, KNOWS THE TERM AND NODS SAGELY AND I REALIZE THAT ALTHOUGH LOVE MAY EXIST BETWEEN US IN SOME ABSTRACT WAY, WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT EACH OTHER. THE THOUGHT FILLS ME WITH A PANICKY, ASPHYXIATING FEELING AND I GRAB FOR MY WATER GLASS, CHUGGING THE ICY WATER UNTIL THE FEELING SUBSIDES. I chew my steak and my father eats his salmon with wild rice and the conversation wanders, unforced, to other topics. My father mentions a new ski run he found, a black diamond called Spitfire. He talks about the moguls and the fresh powder and how great it is, how I should try it. I want to cry. ON THE LAST NIGHT BEFORE WE LEAVE, I AM LYING AWAKE IN MY ROOM, FINISHING ISLANDS IN THE STREAM AND I OVERHEAR MY PARENTS TALKING. MY MOM IS SAYING SOMETHING ABOUT MY SISTER, ABOUT HOW SHE THINKS SHE IS ANOREXIC, OR MAYBE EVEN BULIMIC. I HEAR SOMETHING ABOUT MISSED PERIODS AND OBSESSIVE TENDENCIES AND PERFECTIONISM. MY FATHER REPLIES BUT HIS VOICE IS LOW AND SONOROUS, SORT OF BLITHE, BUT I CAN'T MAKE OUT THE ACTUAL WORDS. WHEN MY STEP-MOTHER STARTS TO SPEAK AGAIN, HER VOICE MORE ANXIOUS NOW, I THINK I CAN HEAR MY OWN NAME SPOKEN AND THEN I PUT THE BOOK DOWN AND REACH FOR MY EAR PLUGS. I ROLL OVER AND PULL THE COVERS UP. DEPRESSION SETTLES ON ME, WARM AND FAMILIAR. I TRY TO SLEEP BUT IT DOESN'T COME. AT THE END OF THE WEEK MY PARENTS LEAVE FOR A MEDICAL CONFERENCE IN SAN FRANCISCO. I TAKE MY SISTER HOME TO INDIANA BECAUSE MY PARENTS WANT SOME TIME ALONE. My sister and I don't speak much on the plane ride. A chilliness settles on me from the moment the 737 breaks through the gray clouds above Indianapolis and I can see the entire city stretching out before me looking flat and bleak and snowbound. It takes too long to find our Ford Expedition in the long-term parking lot and my sister starts complaining about the cold. When I turn to look at her she looks thin and fragile in the harsh yellow glare of the parking lot lamps, her nose already red and running. THE CAR STARTS ON THE SECOND TRY BUT IT TAKES WHILE BEFORE THE HEATER WARMS UP. OUR BREATH FROSTS AGAINST THE WINDOWS. WHEN I PULL OUT OF THE AIRPORT PARKING LOT, THE HIGHWAYS ARE EMPTY BUT CLEARED OF SNOW. A SLOW WIND BLOWS FLURRIES ACROSS THE PAVEMENT IN THIN, TWISTING SHAPES. THE STREETS OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD ARE SILENT AND OUR HOUSE LOOKS VERY BIG AND VERY ARK, SET FAR BACK FROM THE ROAD IN A COPSE OF PINE TREES. ONLY ONE LIGHT IS ON IN AN UPSTAIRS BATHROOM. THE ROOF IS CAKED WITH SNOW, THE DRIVEWAY UNSHOVELED. Inside it is warm but dark and more empty than I remember it being in August, the last time I saw my home. My sister, unspeaking, leaves her bags in the coat room and goes upstairs to her room. I hear her close her door and lock it. I think about not being home in four months. I think about what that means. I WANDER THROUGH THE BIG KITCHEN AND LOOK INTO THE SUNKEN LIVING ROOM IT TS GIANT FLAT-PANEL TV AND TALL PICTURE WINDOWS. THE DECK OUTSIDE IS EMPTY, THE HOTTUBE COVERED UP AND PROBABLY DRAINED. MY PARENTS NEVER USE IT. I STAND AT THE WINDOW FOR AWHILE LOOKING OUT AT THE SLOPING, WOODED YARD, THEN TURN ON SOME LAMPS AND LUG MY SUITCASE UP THE STAIRS TO MY ROOM. INSIDE I CLOSE THE DOOR AND TURN ON ALL THE LIGHTS AND THE TV, PUT IT ON ESPN. MY ROOM HAS A BALCONY AND ALTHOUGH ITS FREEZING OUTSIDE I OPEN THE GLASS DOOR AND GO OUT AND SMOKE A CIGARETTE, QUICKLY, THEN COME BACK INSIDE. I LIE SIDEWAYS ON MY BED AND STARE EMPTILY AT THE TV BUT THERE ARE ONLY COMMERCIALS ON. Night falls fast in the winter. There is no sunset because the sun is hidden by the snow clouds. Soon it is pitch-black outside and I have to draw all the blinds in my room and turn the volume on the TV way up to keep from getting too scared. I LIE ON MY BED AND LOOK AT THE BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN POSTER ON THE WALL THAT MY PARENTS GOT ME FOR CHRISTMAS A LONG TIME AGO. I TAKE OUT MY PHONE AND THINK ABOUT TEXTING MIKE, BUT THEN I REMEMBER HE TOLD ME HE WAS SPENDING CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK WITH KELSEY. I FEEL JEALOUS A LITTLE, ENVIOUS. MOSTLY SAD. My parents aren't returning from San Francisco until Christmas Eve. My sister knocks on my door and tells me she is going to go see “Shrek 2” with her friends. I hear her clump down the stairs. I hear the door slam. The garage door opens and her car—my father's old BMW 3-series—starts and backs out. Then the garage door closes and everything is silent and I am alone.
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