Strip-poker summer

In honor of Nanowrimo, (or perhaps to keep myself from cheating and using old material) I am publishing some short stories I wrote in college. Let me repeat: I wrote in college. Apologies in advance.

I still remember the first time I ever pondered the concept of a one night stand.  April called to tell me how she’d been dealing with her recent breakup with Matt.

“I hooked up with one of his fraternity brothers last night,” she said. “Have you ever had someone pin you to a wall and start making out with you? You gotta try it.” I wondered what Matt would say if he knew. “But anyway, Sallie, what are you doing for lunch?”

  —————–

I met Matt first, before he turned preppy. Freshman year, first week of classes, I was walking along the sidewalk when I saw him. He had long blonde hair pulled back in a low ponytail and the hint of a strawberry blonde goatee framing his face. He wore an untucked t-shirt and Birkenstocks. He said hello and my eyes followed him until he was out of sight. Even with that first sighting, I had nearly forgotten my boyfriend Jake, who at that point was mere comfort-an aid in the transition between high school and college.

Later on the lawn by the lake, I saw Matt talking with a girl I knew from high school. “Hey Liz,” I said as I walked up to them, looking at him the whole time. “Oh hey, I’m Sallie.”

“Matt,” he said. I made conversation with Liz until she had to go to class, leaving Matt and I alone.  I looked at him, and he said, “So, you want to go get something to eat?”

  —————–

Later that night I picked a fight with my roommate and went for a walk, ending up at Matt’s dorm room. “I just had a fight with my roommate,” I whined. “I have nowhere else to go.”

We sat in his room and drank Jack Daniels out of the bottle and then roamed the hallways. I got hot and changed into one of his tie-dyed T-shirts. College was even better than I imagined.

I called my roommate and made amends, and Matt and I decided to walk back to my dorm.

I was walking along a brick wall behind Public Safety, holding Matt’s shoulder for support as he walked beside me. I listened attentively while he told me he had this plan to come to college and get a girlfriend.

He stopped suddenly, faced me, and looked me up and down. I was red-faced and tipsy, wearing jean shorts and his T-shirt. “You’re really cute,” he said. “Too bad you have a boyfriend.” I agreed silently, and he laughed like he had just made a joke.

When I got back to my room I had four voice mails from Jake. The last one was louder than the rest. “Where the hell are you at 2:30 in the morning?”

  —————–

Two weeks later I met April. She was an English major who came over to help Matt with his math homework. He found out later she was horrible at math, and she found out he was only pretending to be confused. She had long brown hair and a big smile, and she and I took to each other immediately. When they started dating, Matt and I instantly converted our exclusive friendship to a series of double dates.

One night the four of us were drinking Boone’s Farm in Matt’s room, playing poker and blackjack. It wasn’t long before April passed out on Matt’s bed, leaving Matt, Jake, and me.

“Let’s play strip poker,” Matt said, and locked eyes with me. When I pulled mine away, I saw Jake looking at my quizzically.

“Won’t April be mad?” I said.

“Let’s ask her.” Matt crawled to his bed and leaned over her. “April, am I allowed to play strip poker with Jake and Sallie?”

She murmured something indecipherable in Italian, which she was studying. “I think that means yes,” Matt said, and crawled back to the circle.

I never took off any clothes that game. Jake kept slipping me his cards so that, combined with mine, I was getting straights and four-of-a-kinds and royal flushes.

I asked him later why he helped me. “Because I didn’t want him to see you naked.”

  —————–

First semester, sophomore year, April and I sat in the cafeteria. “Do you think it’s bad to have a boyfriend and still be interested in other guys?” I asked between bites of lima beans and mashed potatoes with no gravy.

“I dunno, but I do it all the time so it must be normal if we both do,” she said and then closed her lips seductively over her straw for the benefit of the soccer players sitting a few feet away. She let her Hawaiian Punch stain her lips and tongue, and then licked her teeth slowly.

“Good, then I guess I’m not doing anything wrong.”

  —————–

Two weeks later I broke up with Jake. After dating for years, it was as much of a surprise to me as it was to anybody. I just looked in my mirror that morning and decided I’d look better unattached.  I dropped the news that evening as we were getting ready to go to a party. He took it hard. I cried for his sake and then cursed myself after he left because now I’d have to redo my makeup before going out.

When people asked why I dumped him, I replied simply, “I just knew it wasn’t meant to be.” The truth is I was bored.

It took April three more months, but she came to the same conclusion about her relationship as I had about mine.

 —————–

After her breakup we relished in our new freedom by going to our first fraternity party as single women. It also happened to be the same fraternity Matt had just pledged.

We watched Thelma and Louise while we got ready to go out and drank Tropical Freezes in the bathroom as she curled my hair. We then stuffed about ten cans of Budweiser in my bookbag and walked a mile and half to the fraternity house.

All the guys suddenly looked more desirable. I walked around the room, making eye contact with the hottest ones and tugging at my shirt to make its neckline lower. I made conversation with people I’d barely noticed in the past, being sure to drop the hint that I was newly single.

An hour after we got there April saw Matt in the corner kissing a blonde. I didn’t notice the blonde so much as I noticed Matt’s hair. Once pulled back into a long ponytail, it was now cropped short and parted on the side with gel. I thought it made his ears stick out more. His shoes were different too. Instead of ratty sandals, he was wearing close-toed loafers. Stifling a laugh, I turned to point the shoes out to her, but saw her face crumple. “Come on,” I said, pulling her by the arm. “Let’s go home.”

We crossed the street to her sorority house to find a ride. While waiting for one of the girls to pack up her books and take us back to campus, Matt showed up. “Sallie, do you mind if I talk to April alone for a minute?”

They were gone for a long time. When April returned, she’d been crying. “Let’s go,” she said, and I looked forward to finding my bed.

  —————–

I asked her why she was hurt by the fact that he was kissing another girl. “You’re the one that broke up with him,” I reminded her.

“You say that like it’s so simple. You wouldn’t be saying that if you saw Jake kissing another girl.”

“Yes I would. I don’t care about him anymore.”

“Not at all?”

“Not that way, anyway.”

 We were sitting in her dorm room studying for a geology test. She had a throw blanket pinned to her wall that had a Monet painting stitched to it, and a picture of her and Matt on her desk. He’d gained weight since that picture was taken, and I noticed he still had his ponytail then.

She asked me what I was thinking about. “Nothing,” I said. I leaned back on her roommate’s bed and closed my eyes. I thought about the night I’d met Matt, and wondered where I’d be now if I’d let him kiss me then.

  —————–

A week later she told me about her one night stand. The fraternity brother’s name was John and he was hot. I envied her.

  —————–

“So what are you doing over the summer?” April asked.

“I dunno, going home I guess.” It was the end of our sophomore year, and I had gone home the summer before. I just figured I’d do the same again.

“Come live with me.”

“What? In Florida?” Our school was in South Carolina, a good ten hours away from where her parents lived. My parent’s house was 30 minutes away.

“Hell, I’m not going home,” she said. “There’s this huge house down the street with six bedrooms, and I’m going to move there for the summer. Come live there with me.”

“Just me and you?”

“Yeah, and about six other girls. Come on, it’ll be fun. What else are you gonna do?”

I told her I’d think about it, but I really thought I’d just go home. Two weeks later I was moving stuff into our new room and meeting our new housemates.

  —————–

Our room was upstairs, with one window facing the street and another leading to the fire escape. I found it funny that a two-story house had a fire escape. It wasn’t long before I found out how handy those rickety steps outside our window would actually become for us – for sneaking people in and out and for climbing in when no one had a key. I had a permanent bruise on the back of my thigh that summer from hoisting myself over the windowsill.

The first time I got the pleasure of crawling through the window my clothes were soaking wet. After a long day of moving, we walked to the local bar (it took us 30 minutes counting a bathroom stop.) We were the only ones there besides the bartender, the D.J. and two guys in their mid-40s sharing a pitcher at the bar. We ignored them and went straight the dance floor. Four of the other girls that were living in the house were with us, as well as two guys that lived down the street, and April and me. We danced instead of talked, sharing our feelings of excitement that summer was here and we were on our own.

We walked home through campus because April thought it might be shorter. We walked past the school’s fountain without much notice, or so I thought I thought until April grabbed my arm and pulled me backward. She grinned devilishly and her eyes gleamed. “Let’s go swimming,” she said. We half-walked, half-skipped towards the fountain and jumped in, splashing each other and laughing. 

One of the guys, Luke, jumped in the fountain with us. April and I ganged up against him, dunking and tickling him simultaneously. We grabbed his baseball cap and played keepaway with it. Our already thin shirts were dripping wet and hanging loose, and my cold nipples were at attention as I held the hat behind my back. He put his arms around my waist, pressed his body against mine, and breathed on my neck. “You got my hat?” he asked me roughly.

I pulled the hat slowly from behind my back until my arm was around his waist and the hat was behind him. With the hat I motioned for April to come closer.  As she swam up behind him, I gave her the hat. “No, but she does,” I said and pushed him backward into her arms. She started kissing his neck. I slithered out of the fountain and ran home.

The next morning I woke up to an awful stench. It only took me a minute before I realized the smell came from my clothes from the night before, in a wet ball at the foot of my bed. Apparently cigarettes and untreated moldy fountain water don’t mix.

  —————–

The list was Jessica’s idea. It was probably the worst invention of the summer. Jessica lived in the room across the hall from April and me, and she was obsessed with kissing.

“Let’s see who can kiss the largest amount of guys this summer,” she said one evening while we were trying to figure out how to light a charcoal grill.

“No,” I said. “That’s insane.”

“Why? It’ll be fun. We can write it down, make a list. And besides, I’m winning already because I kissed Rick last night.”

I looked at April and smiled. She held a finger to her lips and grinned back. I shook my head and went inside to get some plates. When I came back, the charcoal had been dumped on top of the grill rack, and it was on fire. “You guys!” I yelled. “The charcoal goes under the grill rack, not on top!”

“Oh.” Jessica shrugged.

  —————–

It was the first time I’d ever been to the fraternity house when a party wasn’t going on. The guys were playing cards on their front porch when I pulled up in front of my house, and they called for me over. I walked over, hoping to see Matt, but he wasn’t anywhere to be found. I saw John, however, April’s partner in her infamous one night stand. He was sitting in a recliner that looked like it had been rescued from the dumpster. He had a cigarette behind his ears and he was shuffling cards on an ottoman that didn’t match the chair.

“I pride myself on not having any sort of accent at all,” he was saying.

“Why?” I asked. I made no move to cover my slight Southern accent.

He looked up from his cards. His eyes were bright blue. “Because people with accents sound uneducated,” he said.

I crossed my arms. “You think?”

“Yes, I do,” he said. “Think about it. Southern and Northern accents both sound uneducated. I have neither.”

“What about foreign accents?” I asked.

“Oh, well, I’m not talking about those.” I wanted to tell him that he didn’t need an accent in order to sound uneducated, but I couldn’t stop looking at his eyes.

We played cards until people started to clear out, then John suggested we find some 80s music. “I have some in my car,” I said. He walked with me and picked out Blondie. When we go back inside, everyone else had disappeared. He put the CD in.

We danced in the foyer. I danced close to him then far away. He seemed to be enjoying it. I could tell because it only took about half a song before he grabbed me by the arms and shoved me up against the wall below the stairwell. He put my arms over my head and held both my wrists with one hand, and leaned in to kiss me. He ran his other hand up and down my side. I had a slight feeling of déjà vu, but I ignored it. I kissed him back fiercely, and then wrestled my hands free and led him into the living room. Once there, I shoved him over the arm of the couch and held him down. He smiled and pulled me closer.

After declining to spend the night with him he walked me home. He had his arm around me until we stepped outside and saw one of his fraternity brothers, Brad, talking with a girl. “Sorry, but I have to act like we’re just friends. Brad’s been after my girlfriend ever since freshman year, and he would love to tell her about something like this.” Girlfriend?

  —————–

April wasn’t home when I got to my room. The next morning when she reappeared wearing last night’s clothes, I filled her in on the details of my night. “Oh my God,” she said. “That’s exactly what he did to me!”

“How original,” I said. “He probably only knows that one move.”

She laughed. “Hey, Sallie, that’s your first random hookup!”

“Yep. But speaking of random hookups and not coming home, where were you last night?”

She avoided my eyes and stopped giggling. “I stayed in Matt’s room,” she said. “Sallie, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I don’t know either,” I said.

  —————–

“I think you and Matt would make a cute couple.” April and I ate beef burritos and sat Indian-style on the living room floor. When she said that I coughed so hard the hot sauce burned my nose.

“Um, that’s nice,” I said carefully. “But I don’t.”

“Oh, come on. You can’t tell me you’ve never thought about it.”

“Yes I can. I’ve never thought about it.” I hid my face with a huge cup of milk and started gulping.

“Have you ever kissed him?”

I fought the urge to spit my milk back out. Swallow, I told myself. Just swallow. “Of course not,” I finally said. “What makes you ask that?”

“Just wanted to know.” She took a huge bite out of her soft tortilla shell. I looked down at my food. I wasn’t hungry anymore.

“April, you’re one of my best friends. I tell you if I kiss anybody. Don’t you think I would tell you if I kissed Matt?”

“Sure, yeah.” She took a swig of iced tea. “I just wanted to tell you, if you ever want to go for him, don’t think I’ll stand in your way. Okay?”

 —————–

I sat up and looked at the clock. 2:30 a.m. I had been asleep for a few hours, had turned in early because I was going to visit my parents in the morning. A loud crash had woken me, however, and here I was, sitting half slumped over in my bed, squinting at the clock. I heard giggling coming from the bathroom.

“Hand me the shaving cream,” It was April.

“Why?” Jessica said.

“Because I have to shave my bikini line.”

“Oh, good idea. Lemme use your razor when you’re done.”

I sighed and lay back down. I was nearly asleep when our bedroom door opened. April tiptoed in, wearing cotton underwear and a tank top. She grabbed a different pair of panties- this one was satiny with ruffles and red hearts. She changed, then darted back out.

Later I dimly heard her come in through the fire escape but didn’t make much note of it. Somewhere between the middle-of-the-night and dawn, I woke again. This time it was by the sound of the bedroom door slamming open. The room was empty, but the bathroom fan had just come on. I threw the sheet off to check, but was disoriented and had to sit still for a moment.

April and I had made it a habit to sleep in bras and panties due to a broken air conditioner. We always had the windows open and a single thin sheet. Now, with my sheet off, goose bumps covered my body and I put my knees to my chest, shivering.

Then April stumbled back into the room and headed straight for my bed. She was crying and shaking, and when she fell against me, I saw that she was ice cold and sweating. I grabbed her around the waist when she started slipping off the bed onto the floor, and hoisted her onto my bed.

“What’s wrong? April, what’s wrong?”

She said nothing, just continued crying. “Are you sick? Do you need anything?”

She slipped out of my grip and made herself comfortable lying on my bed, and after watching her worriedly for a moment or two, I lay beside her. She curled into a ball, her back against me, and we slept the rest of the night.

  —————–

The next morning I quietly slipped out of bed, leaving her alone to rest. I spent the afternoon at my parents, and when I returned she was sitting on the couch watching television. “What happened last night?” she asked as soon as I walked in the door. “How did I end up in your bed?”

I put my hand on her forehead. It felt normal. “Are you okay? You don’t remember getting up in the middle of the night?”

“No, not at all. What happened?”

“I think you got sick.”

“Oh! Come upstairs.” She half ran, half skipped to our bedroom, and I followed. Once inside, she slammed the door and locked it. “You are not going to believe what I did last night!”

She began telling me about her evening. She and Jessica decided to hang out across the street at the fraternity house, and when they got there they found only two of the guys were home: Chris and Brad. The four of them were drinking beer and playing cards, then someone suggested they play a round of strip poker. The girls agreed but faked a reason to come home first, and once they got there they were on a mission to find cute underwear and shave bikini lines. I told April I had witnessed that escapade. She giggled, continued.

“Well, I was ready long before Jessica, so I told her I would meet her there. When I got there, Brad and Chris suggested we play a quick round of truth or dare. I was all for it, and before you know it, the three of us were all over each other making out.

“Sallie, I’ve never made out with two guys at once before. It was so incredible. You have to try it. And Jessica took so long getting back, that we had plenty of time to finish and get ourselves back to normal so she never even knew.”

  —————–

April went out for drinks with Brad that night, and Jessica and I were left alone at the house trying to figure out what to do with our evening. “Call across the street,” I suggested.

She looked embarrassed. “No, you call.” She didn’t know I knew about her strip-poker game.

“Fine.” I dialed the number, and Matt answered on the first ring. I asked him to come over, and he agreed without a pause. He was over within five minutes, toting three beers.

“This is all I had in my refrigerator,” he said. “So I guess we’ll have to make do.”

“Oh, I have liquor,” Jessica said, and went to get it.

“How are you?” I asked as he touched my face. He smiled, but his eyes didn’t smile. He said he was fine, and I pretended to believe him.

Jessica came back with a bottle of Goldschlagger. “Anyone up for a shot contest?” I asked, and they were game.

I’m not sure how many shots we had, but we were feeling the liquor pretty hard by the time April came home. She came in with Neal, smiling, but the smile faded. “What are you guys doing?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“What do you think I mean? Are you drunk?”

Jessica started giggling. Matt elbowed her. “Stop Matt!” she shrieked. “I’m ticklish!”

April’s face hardened. “Come on Brad,” she said. “Let’s go up to my room.”  She stopped to drop her purse in the middle of the hallway, then stomped up the stairs, making sure we heard every step.

I stared at the porch door she had just come from, which was still partway open, and tried to recall if she’d ever been angry with me. In the two years we’d known each other, I couldn’t remember even a single petty argument. I started to go upstairs, but Matt grabbed my arm. “Don’t go after her.”

“I’m not. I’m going to shut the door.” I locked it.

“Sallie, come over here for a minute,” Matt said. I walked over and sat on the ottoman across from his easy chair. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “Let me tell you about April.”

I started to turn away but he had one of my knees jammed in between his. “You know what I’m talking about, Sallie,” he said. “You know that she manipulates people to get her way.”

“She does not.”

“You just haven’t seen it firsthand yet. I have, and the best thing you can do is ignore her.” He grabbed both of my hands. “Trust me.”

We sat in silence for a moment. Jessica finally stood up and grabbed the bottle. “Come on Matt,” she said. “Let’s go to your house.”

The three of us walked across the street and resettled in Matt’s bedroom. The shots we had taken earlier were starting to have an effect, and it wasn’t long before we piled into Matt’s twin bed and fell asleep. I purposely put myself between Matt and Jessica and slept with my arms around Matt. Sometime during the night I heard Jessica get up and move across the room to the loveseat, but I thought nothing of it and fell back asleep.

The next time I woke it was because a bright light was in my face. I squinted past the light and saw April, standing in her pajamas, holding a flashlight up to my face. When the light went away, I opened my eyes and watched her walk over to Jessica and shine the light on her.

Jessica didn’t move, so April started shaking her. “What the hell?” Jessica said and slowly sat up. Her curly hair made a shadow on the back wall. “April, what the hell are you doing?”

“Trying to find out if they”-she pointed the flashlight at us-“are hooking up.”

“What? No,” Jessica lay back down. “Get a grip, April.”

April pulled the pillow out from underneath Jessica’s head. “What are they doing in bed together then?”

Jessica looked furious. She reached over, grabbed her pillow back, and put it behind her. She then wrestled the flashlight out of April’s hand, turned it off, and took the batteries out and threw them across the room. They rolled underneath Matt’s bed.

“Now chill out, April,” she said. “If you want to know the truth, we all fell asleep together. I got uncomfortable and moved. That’s it. Now, I’m going back to sleep.” I couldn’t see April’s face in the dark, but her lavender pajamas glowed in the streetlamp coming through the window.  She turned and started walking toward me and I shut my eyes, and a moment later I heard the door shut. Eventually I fell back asleep.

The next morning I woke to Matt’s snores. I looked over my shoulder and saw that Jessica was gone. I decided I didn’t want to face April yet so I snuggled into Matt’s side instead. He stirred then opened his eyes and smiled at me. “Morning,” he said.

I sighed. “I don’t want to go home. Not after last night.”

“So stay with me,” he said groggily. “Wait- last night- oh, when April got mad?”

“Yeah.”

“You can’t let that get to you. Besides, half of that was probably a show for Brad, anyway.”

“No, I’m talking about after that. In here.”

“In here? In my bedroom? What exactly are we talking about?”

“You didn’t hear her come in? Oh you missed it.” I filled him in. When I finished, he was sitting straight up and staring at me wide-eyed.

“You’re serious? She really did that?”

“I wouldn’t make that up.”

I waited for him to continue his lecture from the night before about April and her temper tantrums. I figured he’d start right where he left off, pointing out all her faults. Instead, he looked past me and said, “I bet she’s really upset right now.”

  —————–

I waited until he went to take a shower before I left. I didn’t even tell him I was leaving. He said he’d be out in a minute and I said okay then jetted as soon as I heard running water. Right before I left, however, I got on my knees and searched under the bed for April’s batteries. I only found one of them.

She was watching television in the family room when I got home. I said hello, then continued upstairs as if nothing had happened. It took her about five minutes, but she finally came to our room. “Aren’t you even going to tell me why you did it?” she broke the silence after standing in the doorway with her arms across her chest.

“Did what? April, are you insane? I did nothing with your precious Matt. And you, of all people, should know that.” I kicked my flip-flops into the closet.

“What do you expect me to think when I see you all wrapped around him like that in his bed? What do you think it looks like?”

“I think it looks like two people who have been friends for a long time falling asleep together. I think it looks like nothing. Why? What do you think it looks like?” I took my shirt off. It smelled like his room.

“I just think that as my friend you should understand that I’m not over Matt and I don’t want you to sleep with him. Beside him, with him, whatever you were doing, I don’t like it.”

I dropped any hesitancy I had. “April, come off it. You are over him. You just want him to not be over you.”

“That’s not true!”

“If you still loved him, you wouldn’t be fucking around with all his fraternity brothers.” I put on a clean T-shirt and left the house.

Once outside, I realized I had no place to go. I glanced up at Matt’s window and saw that his curtains were open, but the thought of going over there made my stomach turn. So I went for a walk. When I returned, she was gone.

  —————–

And so it was, most of the time, when I was around, she wasn’t. When we did run into each other, we were polite but chilly.

It didn’t surprise me when she came in one night and announced she had a job as a waitress at a local restaurant.

“They have me working the breakfast shift and the dinner shift,” she said. “But I don’t care because it will give me something fun to do.”

She began leaving the house before the sun came up. I would hear her moving around the room at 5 a.m., but always quickly and quietly she was gone.

By the time I dragged myself out of bed after noon, she was usually on the couch, napping. She had to be back at work by 4:30 for the dinner shift. She would wake from her nap with just enough time to grab lunch before leaving again. She was grumpy, tired. I found it was better to stay out of her way.

Still, as I watched her scarfing down a messy sandwich or leftover pizza, I admired her. She would sit, elbows on knees, trying to keep mustard off of her khaki-colored work shorts, with couch lines on her face and rumpled hair and a light sweaty smell of sleep that tended to linger on the couch after she’d gone.

  —————–

I was having a crisis. Laundry had been neglected this week, I had a date tonight, and the only clean underwear left were ugly cotton, otherwise known by Jessica as “period panties.”

The guy’s name was Joe and I had met him at a bar two nights before. He seemed sweet at first, but I challenged him to a game of pool and we started feeding each other drinks. After that he was exciting, asking me what I was going to do for him since I lost the pool game. We made out in the hallway beside the bathrooms, and as I wrapped my leg around him the hem of my skirt rose up almost to my hipline, exposing my bright blue bikini cuts.

Now I was going over to his place to watch a movie, and even my nicest pair of cotton panties had a slightly worn out elastic waistline. I didn’t have time to do laundry. I thought of not wearing any, but the pants I had chosen were slightly itchy. I noticed April’s dresser drawer standing partway open and thought, No, I couldn’t. But even as I thought it I was rummaging thorough her drawer, looking for a pair that would match the red baby-tee I had chosen. And then I saw the red and white hearts she had worn the night she played strip poker. The night before our fight.

I tried to shut the drawer, but a folded up piece of notebook paper caught my eye. I picked it up, and read, “Guys I’ve kissed this summer,” followed by a numerical listing of 36 guys. Most of their names I recognized, and about half of them belonged to Matt’s fraternity.

  —————–

I knew things would come to a head. I just didn’t know how. I figured I’d be the one to apologize to her. And eventually, she would accept.

The end of the summer bash was at Matt’s. His housemates had been planning it for weeks. Liquor and kegs were bought, grass was mowed, and the volleyball net was brought out of the shed. The night of the party all the girls from the house went together except for April. She was working late and would come later, she said.

I only recognized about half of the people talking in groups or standing around the keg. I allowed Jessica to introduce me to people. She seemed to know almost everyone. I saw Matt as soon as we walked into the house, but he was talking to someone-a girl-I didn’t recognize. After socializing some, I excused myself to find him. He was still on the couch, but the girl was gone. He was holding a beer and looking out the window at the people sprawled across the lawn. He seemed oblivious to the movement going on around him- the drunk people making their way to the bathroom, or the living room with loud rap music coming from it.

I sat down beside him. He looked at me but said nothing. I let my hand touch his, then laced our fingers together. Neither of us spoke.

This was the way we were when April found us. She stopped right in front of the couch and looked like she wanted to say something but didn’t have the words. I tried to jerk my hand away, but Matt held it tightly. She leaned towards me, and set her eyes about two inches from mine. “You bitch,” she whispered, and slapped my cheek, hard. Then she left.

Matt jumped up and went after her. I sat for a moment, touching my cheek, wondering if she’d left a mark. I imagined five red fingerprints scalding my face, curving around my hairline. My cheek throbbed, and my eyes burned.

Outside, she was trying to leave the same handprint on Matt. He was ready for her, though, and grabbed her wrist and twisted it against her hip. A crowd had formed around them. She screamed something unintelligible to him. I saw Brad standing nearby, and Chris, and Jessica and the other house girls. Even John was there, behind Chris, looking on.

Then Matt’s voice was heard above the party noises and the music inside. “Slut. You’ve fucked all the guys here. No one has any respect for you. Piece of meat. Don’t let yourself think otherwise. You’re not that good.” He dropped her wrist and parted through the crowd, bumping my shoulder on his way past. She turned and ran across the street into our house.

I stayed outside simply because I had nowhere else to go. Later, I went home and slept on the couch. April’s couch. The next morning I woke to her sitting beside me. “I’m sorry I slapped you,” she said as soon as my eyes opened. “But I just can’t handle you dating him.” She started crying. “He’s a monster, I’m sure you know that now after what he did to me last night.”

“Don’t come to me for sympathy,” I said.

  —————–

That afternoon, shortly after lunch, April asked that all the housemates come to the living room for a meeting. “I’ve decided not to go back to school this semester,” she said. She explained that she was moving back to Florida to be with her family, and she was going to join the Air Force later in the year. She was leaving in the morning. “So,” she said. “I guess I have a lot of packing to do.”

She was met with dead silence.  I looked out the window and tried to pretend I hadn’t even heard what she’d said. Finally Jessica broke the ice. “But April, why?”

“My family really misses me,” she said. “They feel like I’m not as happy here as I could be. They think I’d be much happier up north.”

I didn’t say a word during her announcement. That evening, I went upstairs where she was packing her part of our room. Boxes were everywhere, and most of her pictures had disappeared from the walls. “I’ll miss you,” I said. She didn’t answer, didn’t even look up from the box she was taping together. In my pocket was the battery from her flashlight that I’d found under Matt’s bed. I handed it to her.

She looked up then. “What’s that for?” she said.

“Never mind.”

 —————–

A few days after she left, Matt wanted to see me. To explain things, he said. I had been busy packing and had also been avoiding him since the party.

His room looked the same. I sat down carefully on the edge of the bed, and he sat next to me. “Are you going to stay at the house this semester?” he asked.

“No. I’ve decided to move into my own apartment, on the other side of campus.” He asked why, and I shrugged. “It’s time for something different.”

“I wanted to explain to you why I was so mean to April.” I looked away. “Please, Sallie, please don’t be mad at me. All of her friends are so angry with me, and I can accept that- I can live with that- all except you. I can’t stand the thought of you hating me over this.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I didn’t. “You just don’t know what it’s like to be burned by her, Sallie. She’d been hurting me for so long. Finally, she’s not going to anymore.”

He was slouched over when I turned toward him, hands linked in his lap. I wondered if that was the way our hands had looked the night she’d slapped me. “You didn’t have to do it in front of everyone,” I said, “In fact, you didn’t have to do it at all.”

I stood up, and on impulse I dropped to my knees and lifted the bedskirt. Nothing but dust mites. “What are you looking for?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s not there, not anymore.”

This story was written somewhere around the turn of the century.