Chapter 31: Cocoon - Catfish and the Bottlemen
“What are you doing later?” Sami watched as first years signed up for tours on the clipboard in front of her.
“I have no idea.” I was leaning on the table with my back towards the line, still drinking the coffee I picked up from the refreshment table.
“Are you still down for our tradition?”
“I can’t this year. Ma wants me to try. I am not sure, but I think that includes paying attention during syllabus collection day.”
“How did you do on the SAT and ACT?”
“I cannot remember.” I scratched the side of my nose.
“Liar.” She stared me down.
“Don’t you have a job to do?” I nodded down to her clipboard.
“You abandoned your post a while ago. Now you’re trying to act like a supervisor?”
“All the art parents are gone. I scared away the one that was lingering around for the tour. My time is my own now.”
“Never thought I’d see the day, Man. You actually lied to me. I’m almost proud of you, Kiddo.” She leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms.
I drank more coffee. “I am going to grow my hair out like Geoffrey’s. I was into his flowing mane. I was sold when he put it into a ponytail.”
“I hate you.”
“You can’t. Delia said our auras are compatible -- deep green and deep red. We’re meant to be.” I inhaled and put my hand on my chest. “Our energies were drawn to each other.”
She pushed me. I smirked, settling right back into my seat.
“I like them.” I tipped up my coffee cup to finish the last of it.
“They are a big jump from Angie and Pierce.”
“Get this: they actually like each other. I thought parents having the ability to do that was a myth.” I sat my cup down on the table beside me.
“I lost my drink hook up. Is Gare still serving as yours?”
“No, he’s been busy with the new baby. I knew if I asked him for a favor he’d ask me to babysit the other one and I’m not touching that little monster. Rory stepped up to the plate. I’ve got us covered for the year.”
“If we partner up, we’re totally going to fail the baby project in life skills this semester. I hate kids as much as you do.” She picked up one of her carrot sticks.
“I have two courses of action for that. Option 1: we both group with Morgan. You two pretend to be the couple and I’m the involved sperm donor. Brodsky denying us of that arrangement by saying it is an invalid family situation could result in a civil suit. Option 2: we are paired together. As soon as we are given our robot baby, I override its software and program it to think we are great parents before shutting it off for the week.”
“I’m feeling the second one more. As fun as fighting for the first option would be for us, Morgan would hate to be the center of attention for something like that. Plus, she’d actually make us care of the thing with her.”
“We still need to carry it around with us. I vote we get a baby bjorn, wear it and forget about it.”
“I will probably create a remote. It needs to cry and soil itself occasionally to keep people from catching on. We’ll care for it when we feel like it and rack up good parenting points for the print out.”
“It’s settled.” She bit the head off of a stalk of broccoli.
“I need to pick up supplies tonight to get it done in time. Would you like to go to the hardware store with me?”
“You brought a car down this year?” She looked in my direction.
“I bought an inexpensive used one this summer. I had to put a lot of work in, but served as a nice break from coding.”
“You know I’m always down for getting off campus.”
“We should go to Duos Kitchen afterward.”
“Are you trying to take me on a date?” She handed the clipboard she was in charge of over to the music department tour guide.
“No.” I annexed one of her carrot sticks. “You like their balance bowl and I like their California club. It’s lunch.”
“Just checking. Do you want to invite Nicky?”
“He is on clean up duty. I asked him earlier.”
“You already knew which option I would choose?” She cracked a smile.
“I know you better than you know yourself.”
“We can bail on this. They gave us small jobs for a reason.” She stood up from her seat and put on her satchel. She flipped out her hair from underneath its strap. “Do you have your keys?”
“In my pocket.”
We discarded our waste into the appropriate bins. Sami insisted at that we recycle as much as we could. I showed her the way to my car.
It was a black 2000 Mitsubishi Lancer. Repairing and upgrading a foreign model presented enough challenges to keep my mind occupied. I was pleased with the final results.
“I’m dubbing it the Batmobile. The wing on the back is sweet.” She ran her hand along it.
“I’m surprised your first comment wasn’t related to gas mileage. You’re neglecting your heritage.” I used the remote to unlock the doors.
“I know it’s good. You’d hide it from me otherwise.”
We got into the car. We buckled in. She checked out the interior as I went through my pre-drive checklist. She plugged her phone into my sound system without needing a prompt. I bought the auxiliary cord for her. Her knowledge of that without me needing to tell her was what made our relationship work.
We cruised across town in pursuit of the restaurant and hardware store. Her playlist provided the ambiance. One of her favorite songs came on. It was an indie rock number that we were both fond of; I was, however, caught off guard when she started singing it.
She had perfect pitch. It’s what made her a superb musician. I had watched her play alongside Nick with varying instruments without being told what they were playing. She felt more comfortable behind her instruments, but she was a siren. Her singing voice was distinctive and hypnotic. She was able to hit notes few knew existed. I never understood how someone so small could hit decibels that high and remain in pitch.
I turned down the volume on the stereo system to hear her better. She didn’t notice because her eyes were closed and her head was thrashing. Her attention was mine when the song was over.
“Volume’s down. Why?” She turned it right back up.
“I was more interested in the accompanying vocalist.”
“I sang it at work a lot. Singing is a reflex whenever I hear that song now.”
“No complaints here.” I signaled to turn into the hardware store parking lot.
“Wait.” She halted me when I tried to get out of the car.
She gestured me closer. I moved in and she pressed her lips to mine. I put the bottom of my hand on the base of her neck, my thumb on her jawline as I deepened it. I pulled away at its natural conclusion.
“Good to go.” She ruffled my hair and climbed out of the car.
I picked up a cart at the front of the store. I paused, knowing what would happen next. She climbed inside the main portion of the basket and sat down, facing me.
“Bubblegum?” She popped a small pink square into her mouth.
“How vegan is it?” I rested my elbows on the handle of the cart and guided it down the main aisle.
“I’m chewing it.”
“You know exactly what I’m asking.”
She glared. “It’s Bubbilcious. It’s right behind Bazooka in terms of how mainstream it is.”
She unraveled a piece and tossed it. I caught it in my mouth.
“Did Angie come to campus or did you drive up on your own?” She retied one of her shoelaces.
“She followed me in the van. There was no way I could get my futon here otherwise.” I turned down the electronics aisle.
“Great. I’ll have a place to sleep.”
“We’re still doing that?” I searched for wiring.
“Why wouldn’t we?” She put an earbud into one of her ears, allowing herself to tune into our conversation with the other.
“The whole ‘we’re dating’ thing.” I made quotation marks with my fingers. “It created a connotation.”
“There always was one. We’ve always said screw it. Who cares if our friends think we’re sleeping together? I’m irritated by the actual commentary we get on our relationship.”
There was a large homosexual population at Sella Moora. They believed Sami was lying to herself, pretending to be attracted to the opposite sex to have a better chance of fitting in. They felt bisexuality was a myth, successfully excluding her. Among the heterosexual crowd, guys viewed her as the key to a threesome and girls kept her at arm’s length, fearful she would force herself on them because of Anna’s rumor.
“Screw it. We’re doing beer-a-year.” I read the back of a package.
She blew a bubble, going cross-eyed to watch it expand. She gathered the elastic substance back into her mouth after it popped. “I am further corrupting you. Nicky’s parents might be right.”
I grinned. “It doesn’t take much to spook them. They are thoroughly convinced that I am a serial killer.”
“In their defense, you actually meet a lot of the criteria. And staring at people with dead eyes for laughs is not helping your case.”
“But it is fun. They get so uncomfortable.”
She cackled at the memories. “We’re such assholes.”
“I am content with that. We have a good time.” I put the wiring in the front of the basket and pushed our cart forward.
I bought the supplies I needed for the remote and my chalkboard wall. We ate lunch and returned to campus. My suitemates were still out and about. We went into my bedroom. We left the door open for ventilation, not wanting to be overcome by the paint fumes.
“Did you organize this or did Ange?” She put her satchel on my desk chair.
“I did. She knows I do not like having people in my space. She dropped off my futon. We went to get lunch together. I came back here to unpack and she drove back to Philly.” I opened my bedroom window.
“I am in your room as much as I am in my own.” She put her hair in a high bun.
“Are you posing a question or making an observation?” I went to the closet to retrieve my painting tarp.
“Observation.” She unbuttoned her plaid shirt and removed it, remaining in a tank top.
“You don’t ask questions or demand more from me emotionally. I can deal with it long enough to get through the day, but my room is where I can be at peace.” I situated the plastic in front of the blank wall I intended to paint.
“I get you, Watson.” She punched my shoulder.
I agreed by kissing her. I studied her face when I pulled away. Her navy blue eyes did not give away much, but her twitching lips were stubbornly fighting a smile.
“Easy there, Stretch. Next thing I know, you’re going to be confessing that you think I’m beautiful.”
“That should go without saying.” I looked right at her with an indifferent expression.
She squinted her eyes and scrunched up her face. “You’re getting gross.”
She went to prepare the paint. I caught her smiling to herself, displaying her true feelings when she thought I wasn’t looking. She turned on music. The two of us got to work coating the white wall in black paint. It was still too early to start drinking when we finished. I sat down at my computer and started coding. She took her place on my futon. She put on the reading glasses no one else knew she wore and read the summer reading book she was assigned.
“How did you write the essay if you have not finished the book?”
“Spark Notes. I am only reading it because I heard Mrs. Carter asks oddly specific questions on quizzes.” She turned the page she was on.
She ripped her glasses off and put them back in their case when we heard the front door open.
“Why does it smell like paint in here?” Adam asked.
“Finn painted his room.” Milo answered.
“You are allowed to do that?”
Milo popped his head inside. “It looks really good this year.”
“I splurged and bought blue painter’s tape.” I spiraled around with my arms crossed.
“It paid off. Hey, Sam.” He waved at her.
“Hi. Where’s Iz?” She looked up from her book.
“Your suite. I am about to go there. The others are on their way to dinner.”
Sami snorted. “You think going to awkwardly wait in the living room while they reunite?” She raised an eyebrow at Adam.
“I have to.”
“No, that is what you were told to do. You’re going to drop him off and go to dinner with us. He will not leave their suite. You will pick him up when he texts you, letting you know that they are done. “ I corrected him.
“Iz would be uncomfortable if you lurked. You’re riding with us.” Sami placed a bookmark into her book. “Miles, go get whatever you stopped here to pick up. We’re leaving in five. I’m hungry.”
He rushed across the hall.
“Your wall really does look nice.” Adam pointed to the wall, not knowing what else to say to us.
“That’s been established. We’ve been looking for someone like you.” I remained in my seat as Sami got ready.
He put his hands into his pockets. “Like what?”
“A mechanic. I can do it, but it is a chore. You enjoy it. Your help would free up my time to tackle other elements.”
“Good thinking. He’d really expand our portfolio.”
“What would I be doing exactly?” He looked between the two of us.
“We never know until we’re doing it. You will not be actively involved in what we do; you will simply be supplying the equipment. See yourself as our Alfred.“
“Batman, Robin.” Sami pointed to herself and then to me.
“Am I allowed to say no to projects I do not agree with?”
“Of course. We’re all about consent here.” She put on her satchel.
“I am on board.” He held out his hand.
“Happy to have you, Al.” She shook it once.
She walked past him. “You have less than one minute!” She yelled into Milo’s room.
I switched off my light. All of us were out of the front door by the end of Sami’s countdown. The four of us walked to Hepburn Hall. We dropped off Miles, Sami picked up clothes to wear the next day, and the three of us continued on to the dining hall. Sami and I separated in pursuit of food.
“You have the right idea.” Blake, one of the musicians Sami was sitting with earlier, stood beside me in the buffet line.
“About spaghetti?” I spooned it onto my plate.
“No, --“ He lowered his voice. “Dating Sami. Ignoring her personality, she’s not bad at all. You get the best of both worlds. You get to be with a girl, watch her get with other girls, and potential have more than one. You are living the dream.”
“Hm. It’s a real waste that I don’t fetishize my girlfriend’s sexuality. You made several compelling points.” I moved along in line.
“You better carboload. You will puke if you try to outdrink me.” I met up with Sami after I had filled my plate.
“I can outdrink you, but I won’t today because I don’t feel like it.” She walked past me, knowing I would not be far behind.
We ate dinner and we went back to my suite. We both took showers and changed into the clothes we intended to sleep in. We sat down in front of my bed, eight beers split evenly between the two of us. I turned on my television and gaming console.
“Number one is shotgunned.” She recited. We pierced our cans, brought them to our mouths, and turned them vertically. Beer gushed into our mouths and the race to finish first began.
She burped and threw her hands into the air. I finished, doing the same.
“I’ve still got it.” She wiped her mouth off with the back of her hand.
“Second round, turn it down.” I said my lines. We cracked open two more cans and clinked them together. We took a single sip and started playing video games.
There was a knock on my door.
“Come in!” My eyes remained on the screen.
“Ho—beers for years?” Ryan stopped his question.
“Yes. What can I do for you?” I drank my beer as Sami took over on our gaming mission.
“How did you fair on your English essay? Elle and I are both stuck on the final question.”
“It was fine. If I recall correctly, the final question is: in the afterword, the commentator describes 1984 as ‘a warning’. What do you think the larger issues are?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“There were subtle and overt warnings throughout the book. I am sure Elle has detailed notes. Look at those and compile a list. Think of something within the book that you believe is a worse offense than the ones brought to your attention.”
“Got it. Thanks.” He shut the door behind him.
“You’re the good kind of smart.” Sami opened her third beer.
“What?” I looked over at her.
“You don’t make people feel stupid.” She brought her knees up to her chest.
“I will never brag about my intelligence. I find myself resenting it most of the time.”
“That’s the one thing I don’t understand about you.”
“People expect me to know the answers to things that can only been learned by growing up. It’s a recipe for disappointment.”
“Now I know.” She tilted her beer upward.
We went back to our game. We no longer felt like playing by the time all four beers kicked in. We switched over to cable and settled on a show we both liked.
“You’re great.” She mentioned between sips of water.
I laughed. “What?” I looked over at her.
“Like I like dating you. It’s so easy.”
“I wouldn’t know. This is my first time.”
“You’re my first guy. So, yeah, same boat.” She reached out and poked my face.
“You really are beautiful, Sams.“I swayed in her direction, almost losing my balance, when I reached to push her hair out of her eyes.
“So are you.” She moved in and kissed me.
We french kissed in what felt like slow motion. We were mellow drunk and growing tired.
“I never finished that stupid book.” She kept her arms around my neck and our faces remained close.
“I can explain it at lunch.” I pecked her on the lips.
“You always have my back. I like that.”
We brushed our teeth and went to bed, she on her futon and I in my bed.
We dressed in the same room without discomfort, just as we always did. I packed up my laptop and art supplies as she styled her hair and applied her makeup.
“You ready for this?” She put on her sunglasses.
“Always.” I followed her out of the room.