The Bad Project

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Chapter 15. It’s Drinking Time/Crystal

Crystal wondered if she had done the right thing to tell Marianne she had to go to the party where she was going to do the Drinking Bad. Marianne said it was no problem, she’d get them both IDs. Crystal had said, “I’d feel like I was staked out on a fucking anthill if I wasn’t there to back you up in case something goes wrong.” But should she go? She could get caught using a fake ID and that would get her in trouble big time. She told herself she had agreed to the Bad Project and had to support her roommate now that she was going to do something seriously bad.

In her view, the most likely thing to go wrong would be getting violently sick. She thought over whether to warn Marianne, and decided that she’d just tell her to take it easy and not drink too much. Marianne was going to overdo it some time, and maybe it would be safer to have her go ahead and get sick when Crystal was there to bail her out and bring her home safely.

So Marianne had gotten her a fake ID and even paid the $150 for it. Crystal hated that but she couldn’t really afford to argue about it. Her family was middle class, but this private college was expensive, and her scholarship didn’t quite meet all the costs. Her brother teased her about that, saying, “Well if I could get a full ride at CalTech, how come you couldn’t wring out Carson?” Crystal knew that her brother had a better looking record than she did, academically, but he had such a blind spot for everything except math and engineering that she often felt smarter than him. So she just smiled and let the jibes ride. But that added to her desire to get this Forcher Award, mostly to help her dad, but also to silence Jason for once.

Liu Chang, the brother of Marianne’s Asian American mentor, had been able to get the IDs. Marianne said he told her, “Don’t ask,” when she tried to find out where he got them. But Sharon had told Marianne that Liu made most of his spending money selling these IDs for a white friend in Monterey Park who made them. He had to borrow their real IDs for a day and they had to give him passport photos in color, which they had made down in North Hollywood.

Their real IDs came back with the fake ones. The fakes were high tech, reproducing both the look of the card and its magnetic patterning so that it would work when swiped through a card reader. Going without an ID for a day was a little problem, because you had to have an ID to get into the dining halls, but they had stockpiled cereal and milk, fruit, and snacks in their room to eat during the day it took to get them back.

“The dance is in the new Osborne Party Bar in the basement of the student center, so we’ll be the first to see it,” Marianne said. “I got tickets for us. They have a band from LA, just local but Liu thinks it’s good anyway.”

Crystal tried hard to get Marianne to take money for her ticket to the dance, but she wouldn’t. After she left for class, Crystal tucked the money under Marianne’s underwear in the top drawer, not wanting to start depending on Marianne financially. She felt that the ID was fair because she was going to back up Marianne and get her home safely, but the party itself she would enjoy too, so she had to pay for it. She had just been hired to do a part time job in the photography workshop and she’d work more hours if need be to make up the difference.

When the night came, both girls dressed carefully. The dresses hung on hangers on the doors, on display. They’d polished up their high heeled shoes, and they sat ready in the middle of the floor. Jewelry boxes were open and ready. Marianne’s makeup box was out from under her bed and trays from it were scattered over her desk and bed. “You have to let me make you up,” Marianne commanded.

“No, I don’t wear makeup.”

“No problem about normally, but for this party, you must.” Marianne pushed her down on her desk chair and went to work, using cosmetics, brushes, compacts of colored dots, a small dish of water, a huge puff of sponge, and three soft cloths of different colors. Crystal hated herself for giving in. She wasn’t the makeup type and it was annoying to appear fake. But when Marianne was done, she looked in the mirror at…Nefertiti, queen of the Nile. The eyes were just like those her high school friend had shown her on Nefertiti’s mask.

“Now, all you need is to have your hair and nails done. But there’s no time, so I’ll let you off this time!”

“Thanks, I guess.” Crystal still had mixed feelings, but the makeup was very attractive, she couldn’t deny it. She put on a short, silver dress and silver stiletto heels.

“All you need is an asp or two,” Marianne said. She had put on her new red organza dress and black strap sandals with a gold line along the heels. “Damn, these things are hella hard to balance in!” The two women teetered across the campus to the student center and down the stairs to the party room.

“Well, looky here!” A big crowd of men was hanging around the door looking the women over as they arrived. They very obviously approved of the two who had just come in, whistling and stamping their feet. The big room had a retro spinning ball showering the guests with flashing lights. Bars were set up on both sides of the room. A DJ was in a corner, on a small stage, playing with his sound equipment. A few chairs were scattered along the walls, and there were three small tables with chairs. At one of them sat a couple of professors, sipping martinis.

“Let me take you over to get drink,” a fairly tall Chinese man with his hair in peaks and points said, bending down next to Marianne. Crystal thought she’d sit down and watch, but her makeup was too good. She was surrounded with men in no time. They wanted to know where she was from, what she was taking, how she liked Carson. She recognized one from gospel choir, Bronnie Elder. He had a way of looking at her in choir when someone made a joke that she liked. But he was looking at her differently now.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” Bronnie asked her.

“Yes, gospel choir!”

“Hush. We mustn’t think of that here. Might be inhibited.” He smiled a wicked smile, and she smiled back. They started talking about themselves and drifted over to the drinks. Crystal saw that Marianne had what looked like a Mai Tai, and she had polished off about half of it. If she was inexperienced, she’d be sick soon at that rate, Crystal thought. She and Bronnie took tall bottles of Corona beer, beaded with water droplets. The cool liquid felt good going down. The band had started to set up, but some sort of Muzac was pinging away in the background.

“Do you dance?” Bronnie asked.

“A mite. How ’bout you?”

“Yep, I do love it. Gotta have rhythm.” They looked at each other and smiled. Everyone in gospel choir had to have rhythm, for sure. But not everyone could dance. They would check each other out later. Maybe he would burn her, but not if she could help it. They chatted about families and home, high school, and his first year at Carson. Bronnie was a sophomore, and he said he had a sophomore slump. Except for gospel choir, nothing was any fun this year, for him. She thought that was silly and said so, and they sparred gently, not wanting to put out the glow.

The band started, very loud, and they had been sitting right by a huge speaker so they had to move. It was time to dance. As they passed Marianne getting up to dance with the boy she’d been talking with, Crystal heard her call him Liu, so he was the brother of her mentor. Not too dangerous, Crystal hoped, although his expertise with fake cards might argue otherwise.

She and Bronnie danced, and found that they enjoyed dancing together. After a while, they felt hot and decided to sit down and have another beer. Crystal noticed that Marianne had another full glass of red stuff now. She sounded very loud, compared to her usual self, and her cheeks glowed pink as she laughed and joked with Liu and his friends.

Bronnie said, “That your roommate you keep looking at?”

“Yes, am I being that obvious? She’s not used to drinking. I’m a little worried about her.”

“She does look like she’s up, I’d say. But not badly.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I want to keep an eye on her, though.” Crystal watched Marianne dance with Liu, then go over to the bar again. Marianne started talking to BeTuck Ma, a Hawaiian student she and Crystal knew from Biology. She seemed a lot louder than usual.

“Let’s dance,” said Bronnie. “You know, I can help you get her home later if you need me to.”

Crystal smiled at him and thought how lucky she was to have met him here, instead of just having to sit and monitor Marianne from the corner.

“You look just like Nefertiti,” he said. “I can’t believe it.”

“Only with eye makeup, I don’t look that way usually.”

“I don’t know, I think you do.”

They got up and started to dance again. Earlier, each one had tried to get the other caught in a misstep, but neither had been able to do it, so now they just relaxed and enjoyed the rhythm. Occasionally, she saw Marianne dancing with Liu or talking with him. Time passed, more time than Crystal thought, about two hours. A chaperone tapped her shoulder, interrupting her groove. She jumped, then turned to find out what she wanted.

“You Crystal? We got a girl in the women’s room, all she can say is “Bad, help Crystal bad, help me Crystal.”

“Oh, no, that’s my roommate. I got to go help her.” She looked helplessly at Bronnie, and he motioned for her to go ahead. She rushed along next to the chaperone, with her black jeans and her whistle on its lanyard around her neck. They pushed open the Women’s Room door and found two women trying to help Marianne, who was sprawled on the floor. She had barfed on her red organza, all down the front, and one of the women was trying to clean it off with a wet paper towel. She looked up when the door opened and asked, ’Is this Crystal?”

“Yes, I’m Crystal. I’m her roommate. Why is she on the floor?”

“Crystal, Crystal, Crystal, why so many Crystal?”

Marianne was obviously very drunk. The wiping one said, “She tripped on her heels and fell down and then she didn’t want to get up because she said the room was spinning around. I think she’s seeing double or maybe triple.” Crystal recognized the other one helping Marianne as a TA from Biology, one of the older students who helped them with the problem sets, named Claire.

“Claire, I need to get her out and then I think Bronnie and I can walk her back to our room,” she said.

The two on either side of Marianne boosted her to a sitting position. It was lucky she was so tiny; she was easy to lift. Then, the chaperone helped them to stand her up and walk her out of the Women’s Room. Bronnie was waiting outside, leaning on the wall. He whistled when he saw how bad she was, and shook his head, but he and Crystal went on either side of her and got her arms over their shoulders, with some help from the others. They started off for the dorm.

“Little bit of nothing, isn’t she? Is the dress ruined?”

“Yeah, probably is. This kind of material doesn’t tolerate water much. We’ll try to get it cleaned though.”

“You going to be okay with her once we get her back?”

“I think so. Many’s the time when I had to sneak my bro, Jason, into the house after Grandma was asleep, let him puke his guts out, and get him to bed. I’ve been through this before.”

“I’m sorry you have, but I guess you know what to do. Here, I’ve written down my cell number in case you need something, just call me up. Really.” Bronnie squeezed Crystal’s hand while they walked along, and put the number into her tiny silver purse with his free hand. He smiled at her. Crystal wanted to read some deeper meaning into that smile, but she had enjoyed dancing with someone before and been let down. She didn’t want to get her hopes up. Still, she had to admit she liked him a lot, not just the fun and the dancing, but the help and the offer of even more help. A dependable man, what a good feeling!

“Don’t get hooked, you don’t know what he’s thinking—he might be happy as a clam to get out of this with no hugging and kissing,” she told herself.

They put Marianne down in a chair while Crystal covered her silk bed with two layers of sheets and got a plastic vase from the closet to put by her in case she had to throw up more. Only too likely, Crystal thought. She put a soft white throw over Marianne and went to the door with Bronnie.

He kissed her, but she tried not to get too excited about it. It was routine for some guys, she knew that. But not so routine for her. She wasn’t used to kissing for more than one reason. Smart girls had it hard at her high school. But this was Carson. Everyone was smart here. Her worst reason was a dark secret, and being at Carson wasn’t going to solve that problem. She shoved those thoughts down deep and forgot them. But she didn’t stop daydreaming about the kiss.

Crystal smiled to herself as she sat in a chair near Marianne’s bed, wrapped in a quilt her Grandma had made her. Marianne might need watching for a while, she thought. Sure enough, she started moaning that the room was spinning around. Jason had been able to control that feeling by putting his hand on the wall, so she took Marianne’s hand and guided it to the wall next to her bed. She calmed down and seemed to snooze.

All through the night, Marianne slept for a while, then moaned and groaned and let go of the wall. She barfed once, but not very much. Crystal thought she’d probably thrown up most of the Mai Tais in the Women’s Room. She wondered what had happened to Liu, who had probably been with Marianne when she hit the wall. He’d been a chicken, though, not like Bronnie. Not a person of good character. She smiled to herself again, and dozed off to have good dreams that she didn’t remember when she woke up.

The next morning, Marianne woke up early and was full of energy.

“No, drink a lot of water and don’t go out. You’re gonna be really sick in a few minutes,” Crystal told her.

“No way! I feel great. Not sick.” Marianne started doing some yoga stretches and got her crumpled dress off. She looked at it in shock. “I must have thrown up at that party,” she said.

“Yes, and once after you got back here too, but not very much,” Crystal told her. “You were really dizzy, thought the room was spinning around you. You’re gonna have a big old hangover before too long. Keep drinking water, and you could take an aspirin too.”


“Here, have a couple of mine.”

Marianne looked doubtful, but she took two aspirins with what Crystal considered nowhere near enough water. In about a half an hour, she got dark circles under her eyes and her mouth drooped. ’I feel terrible. Must be getting sick.”

“Not at all, you’ve just got a hangover. You’ll be fine by twelve to fourteen hours after the last drink you took, but you’ll feel bad until then. You may even get dizzy again. Best to pretend you have the flu, but it’ll be over by lunch time.”

“Okay. I’m going to get in bed now.”

“Good idea, I think I will too. Didn’t get much sleep last night.”

The girls slept until 3 PM and got up looking wan, but not feeling sick.

“Let’s talk about it tomorrow, you aren’t in any shape to think today,” Crystal told her. “I have to go to the lab for my biology problem session anyway. I’ll see you later.” Marianne yawned and opened her Philosophy book; she was lying on her bed with it, looking disinterested, when Crystal left.

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