Chapter 2- Late October
It was late October, the wind was picking up and the buzz about Jonas’ Halloween party was blowing all around campus. It was chilly out, and the fall foliage was breathtaking to watch, how the different hues of yellow and orange littered the ground in its beauty. I tucked my hands into the pockets of my vermillion hoodie, taking a deep breath and allowing the day’s stress to vanish into the warmth of the material, the most worn of all the articles of clothing I owned. There wasn’t much that was special about the hoodie, except that it was given to me by my eldest sister, Liv.
The scattered leaves looked so aesthetic that I resisted the urge to snap a picture for a photo album that would never see the light of day. The afternoon rolled around now and I have had to sit through all three classes of the day and listen to the freshmen sorority girls bitch and rave over Jonas Pierce, the new midfielder on the soccer team that transferred in from Excelsior College this fall. If all it took was for a guy to be athletic and good-looking to be loved-by-all, then maybe I should give it a try.
As annoyed as I was at hearing women that were supposed to embody independence and strength raving about men who probably had trouble keeping their dicks to themselves, I couldn’t blame them for being boy-crazy, all the exaggerated romcoms we watched had to impact us somehow.
Men were lowlifes, although that could just be my anger talking. I mean, I’d only ever been with one guy and I feel like one is enough to make a fair assumption that most of the male population in college was going to be just like him. He was a lowlife, scum of the Earth, a piece of shit... Yup. Definitely, my anger talking.
Then there was Tristen Morgan. Tall, lean, and a nice guy, of course, girls on campus would be falling head over heels for these idiots. From what I’ve heard, he’s a second-year nominated team captain. Turned out, it’s quite rare for a second-year to be nominated for such a position. He was probably only nominated team captain because he was popular but what do I care, as long as they score goals and look pretty I’ll tolerate them.
I liked soccer; it was the cocky and misogynistic men that played the sport I couldn’t stand. I wouldn’t have anything to do with them. Especially after Xavier Sitch, my boyfriend of two years staked me through the heart. Mom warned me about them, boys, I mean but no, I was in love and he wouldn’t ever hurt me.
Spoiler, he hurt me. After being homeschooled all my life, no wonder I was so stupid. I planned my whole life around this relationship: college, marriage, and kids. Though it wasn’t just for him, I guess a part of me didn’t want to stay in Glenwood Springs forever. I wanted to experience the world and meet new people, have adventures beyond my holing up in my bedroom singing in front of the bathroom mirror, pretending I was happy in a small town where everybody knew everybody, going to church, sitting in the pews with mom, dad Maya, the second eldest and wishing to God that my parents would just apologize to Liv so she would come home. Maybe I wouldn’t feel alone if they did.
I groaned and pushed these thoughts away. I wasn’t going to allow them to ruin my day. I headed to the last class of the day, Psychology. I had been looking forward to this all week. Professor, Simms was starting a new topic in Social Psychology: Attraction, Romance and Love. I was intrigued by these things that were concepts, words if you will. I couldn’t possibly have imagined them to be anything but a construct, an illusion but when I saw my parents, it made me want to believe that these concepts weren’t just... well concepts.
As I walked briskly, almost a jog, my mind couldn’t help but be everywhere. The only place I would rather be was in my class preparing to hear all about these outlandish concepts of human attraction and love. Everything about it fascinated me.
If I had one weakness it would be people and everything associated with them. The challenge to communicate, tolerate and even understand them was both terrifying yet something I wanted since I’d never had that but I was cursed. Cursed to be socially challenged for the rest of my life. Pathetic right?
I didn’t have it in me to be not nervous around people. Sometimes, I wonder if maybe I’d gone out with Maya more when I was home if it would have helped me transform into the social butterfly I’d always wished I could be. On the other hand, it was probably for the best. What would her friends say if her little sister kept following her around?
The campus was humming with human life, it’s almost been two months and I still haven’t gotten used to it, the feeling of being scrutinized, watched, and judged. So many people... Around me, shuffled past me, glanced at me. My palms and legs tingled and burned slightly like a thousand tiny ants were running around on my limbs. My palms tinged with sweat, so I took my glasses off, just to unnecessarily clean them, in hopes that I would blend in and not stick out like a sore thumb. I played with a loose thread on the hem of the hoodie to help calm me.
Pretending, with all the force I can muster, that the sweat dripping off my brow isn’t a result of undiagnosed paranoia. Alarms went off in my head. Do I look or not? Would it be rude if I looked? Or does that only apply to staring? I scowled at the internal, but trivial, conflict in my head. Maybe I should get my phone out and pretend I’m more interested in the internet than the gay couple sitting on the bench by the elm tree eating each other’s faces as I walked past. My heart skipped a beat when my eyes betrayed me and look, after obsessing for what felt like hours, although a measly three minutes.
A part of me felt sorry for the couple. They looked very comfortable displaying affection so publicly but I knew they had it hard, being hated and scorned all because of who their heart chose to love. I smiled at the image of the unbothered couple in my head, thinking to myself that this was life and ‘love’ would never last. It always ends.
Every day had been like this, just me freaking out about the possibility of people looking at me. I couldn’t help but feel as if everyone was out to get me. In the back of my head, I knew I wasn’t the centre of the world and no one would notice me... I mean I was hardly anything to notice. I swept my wavy black hair out of my eyes and tucked it behind my ear so I could continue to pretend that was wallpaper was more interesting.
I furrowed my untamed eyebrows when I saw a message from Xavier. The blood drained from my head and my caramel skin grew pale. I swiped it off the screen to avoid blowing a fuse. Who did he think he was? The audacity to text me like we were still together! 'Hey love, can we talk? I’ll see you at Jonas’ party on Friday night,' is what it said. It’s annoying how he has the balls to still text me like this after being exactly seven inches deep inside my sister. It made me sick how he could text me as if nothing happened.
I stuffed my phone into my pocket, not interested in pretending to be normal anymore. My day was officially ruined and now all I could think about was all the ways, I’d like to make Xavier a eunuch.
My phone went off, again and again. I frowned and tried my hardest to ignore him. Then it stopped. A headache came on, so I quickened my pace almost like I was trying to get away from the phone in my pocket. Then my phone rang. I plucked it from my pocket and answered, ready to leave that asswipe to leave me alone. I wasn't going to deal with any of Xavier’s bullshit. Not today. “What do you want?”
“Is that any way to talk to your mother?” My eyes widened and I could’ve hit myself in the head from the embarrassment, my face warmed itself.
“Oh hey mom, sorry about that, I thought it was Maya. We fought yesterday.”
“Over a thousand miles from home and you and your sister still can’t get along?” My mother said more like a question as she chuckled. I heard the loneliness in her voice as if she wished I’d come home.
I giggled, "Checking up on me again? Mom, it hasn't even been two hours yet." She called every day to see how I was doing, or so she said. But I know she was hoping to call and for me to tell her I wanted to come home. "Didn't you say you were trying to get the choir to nail a song for Sunday or have you killed them?"
"Relax, we're just taking five and are you implying, I can't call my own daughter to see how she's doing?!"
I scoffed, "Mom, it's nothing like that I just wished you didn't call me every two hours, I'm not going pull a Houdini and disappear."
"You might as well have, going to Canada to study... Do you know how worried your father and I have been?"
This again... Dad never called. I nodded in reply to her remark, aware that she couldn’t see me.
“How’s Dad?” I asked, genuinely wanting to know, not like every other time that I’ve only ever asked, sarcastically so, because my mom haggled me to call him.
Mom was silent for a bit, and then I heard her sigh, “He misses you, Mac.” I let out a sigh I didn't know I was holding. I didn't know how to reply to that.
Dad wanted me to stay in Colorado and I wanted to go to school abroad. He and mom wanted very different things than I wanted for myself. I wanted my freedom. She changed the subject when she sensed my discomfort. “So how’s Xavier doing?” I panicked a little. “He better be taking care of you.” She said it jokingly, but I knew she meant it.
I took a deep breath, ready to spill the lie I practised plenty, “Of course mom, he always does.” I forced a laugh and gagged internally. My stomach felt uneasy as I remembered my ‘boyfriend’ thrusting his hips into Maya, moaning in sync like tango dancers; I cringed. “I’m actually on my way to meet him before class.” This morning’s breakfast slushed around inside me and I had to keep myself from heaving my guts out right then and there.
I rolled my eyes at the question, I knew she was asking if I had been going to church. It was a commitment I made to myself, of course, I was going to church. "Yes, mom."
"Are you sure?"
"Mom, I missed one Sunday. I'm not going to burst into flames and die."
Floorboards creaked in the background, a faint gruff voice could be heard not too far away. Even though it was faint, I knew it was my father’s voice. We grew still and I said nothing. “That’s great darling. I have to get back. Let Xavier know I said hi. I love you, honey.”
“I will. I love you, Mom.”
The call ended as I walked into the campus building, where I was supposed to have class. Another bullet dodged. I hated lying but I just wasn't ready. I couldn't imagine what they would do if they knew I wasn't in the protection of their perfect little angel Xavier. I needed to prove I could be on my own, that I could survive and not just to my parents but to myself.
I repeat to myself like a chant of some sort. I didn’t know it yet but this checklist I drafted wouldn’t work in such an unpredictable environment with no controlled variables. I should have made my checklist all-inclusive.
No, no one.
I sighed and muttered to myself, “I hope college shit is worth it.”
The sweat on my brow from the heat outside rolled down onto my temple. The air conditioning hit my skin and a chill enveloped my body, neck down. My stomach flipped and my palms sweat even more now. I couldn’t help but feel sick and then this morning’s burrito apologized for what it was about to do next with a burp and in a rush, it followed. I ran to the restroom, and as I bent over the toilet in the stalls, I let out the contents that had been upsetting my stomach. I was surely going to be late for class after this.
Anna was the most gentle and caring roommate in the world... not... gave me her leftover burrito for breakfast since I was running late for class. Anna did her own thing while I lurked in the shadows of our dorm room. She did the bare minimum and I was fine with that. I had never been the most likeable, even my sister had her reservations about me. Why? I couldn’t tell you. I had never had any friends being homeschooled and all so no wonder I hadn’t developed any social skills.
She was a freshman studying Biology, from what I’ve seen she was a party girl, ran with the popular crowd and was smart. I’d never seen her read a book but I could tell. I think a lot of people wanted to be her, not me though. Although I would love to possess her flawless skin and blue eyes, everyone had their issues and I was grateful that mine was as mundane as they were. The typical controlling parents, and sibling rivalry, were normal or at least I hoped it was.
After being hunched over the toilet, I slowly stalked out of the stall. A guy was standing there, hands under the faucet, water running over his hands. I leaned against the wall to gather my bearings. He was tall, a single cross earring hung from his left ear, and his hair was messy and curly but then, my heart dropped. Had I mistakenly entered the men’s room? He grabbed a piece of paper towel and looked at me briefly before looking into the mirror again, unfazed...
“You should tell him, no?” he said, the Canadian accent hot off his tongue and his voice, femininely soft but heavy with dominance. Then he left without another word. I didn’t understand what he meant. Tell him? Who did he mean? I pondered his words as I washed my hands and hurried out of the bathroom.
I was late to class, the anxiety crept down my shoulders and into my gut. If I hadn’t already unloaded the docks, I would have blown chunks outside the lecture hall. I took a deep breath, contemplating going in or hiding out here till the class ended. That would not allow me to present for his lecture. I had never been late to Professor Simms’ class, but surely he wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.
I heaved a hefty sigh and pushed the door open. All heads turned, all eyes on me since the stupid door decided to creak louder than a snack bag in the dead of the night. I walked in and embarrassingly walked up to the front of the class where I regularly sat.
Professor Simms continued, "We spend our lives craving it, searching for it, and talking about it. Its meaning is felt more than it is clearly expressed. It’s called the greatest virtue. What exactly is this?”
A young man with cropped hair and veneer-like teeth, two rows behind me answered, “Love.” I took off my hoodie.
“Ahh, yes. Love. It is as fascinating as it is complex. Particularly, romantic love seems to be a beautiful mystery we find hard to explain.” Professor Simms sat on his desk and pressed a button which changed the projected slide, “Yet psychologists have a lot to say about how and why we fall in love. According to the triangular theory of love developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg, the three components of love are intimacy, passion, and commitment.”
Professor Simms continued and as he spoke, I wrote notes. The class went by in a gif, and I was left with more questions than answers. The students that were probably way less enthusiastic and thankful the class was over filed out, mumbling. I was packing when Professor Simms called to me as he walked up to me, “Mackenzie, is everything alright?” He pulled on his jacket, “You’ve never come to class late before.”
“Yes professor, it was just one of those days you know.” I smiled at him. “About the topic: isn’t love just a bunch of chemical substances that influence behaviour?”
“No,” he looked at me in thought as he scratched his growing beard, “They do play a part in it but that’s not all love is. Psychology explains the concept; however, it’s an experience.” I nodded pretending to understand.
“Thanks, professor,” I grab my bag and head out after waving at him from the door.
I headed back to the dorm deep in thought. I knew what falling in love felt like so was he implying that I truly hadn’t ever been in love? We were young, Xavier and I but I knew for sure that before he cheated I would’ve done almost anything for him. A gust of wind woke me from my thoughts and I mentally rolled my eyes at the fact that I didn’t wear a hoodie today.
To be continued...