Chapter 5: Only When the Rush Kicks In
“Did you really decline a frat party?” I hear Christian’s voice through the line.
“Is it that big of a deal that you’re calling me this late?” I press my phone against my shoulder, piling up my papers and tucking them away. Getting anything done now is pointless. It’s late and I’m distracted.
“You declined Gemma,” he says. ”Gemma."
Pulling myself up into a stretch, I yawn, hoping it shows my lack of interest in attending a frat party. “That I did.”
“I’m hoping you won’t decline me.”
I laugh quietly. “What makes you so special?”
“Well, I’m not flirting with you just to get you to come. I would, but I don’t want to copy Gemma’s tactics.”
Inch by inch and rapidly, the anxiety that’s always meekly homed inside my chest increases, extending out and prickling my skin as if I’ve tripped and fallen onto a million drawing pins. My heart beats erratically for the small moment of silence between Christian’s words and his laugh that follows. I wipe my clammy palms on my trousers.
“I’m kidding, bro. Your silence is concerning. Indirect and direct gay jokes are the new black in the frat house. I think it’s because there’s a bunch of hunks under one roof and Dom’s one hundred per cent sure someone is gay so he’s always joking to see who gets pissed off the most, which low-key proves they’re gay. It’s sort of funny - Dom, I mean. He’s such a homophobe, it’s pathetic. Anyway, so will you? Come to the party?”
I take in his words. Why would I want to go to a place where gay jokes are the free source of entertainment? “No. Why do you want me to come anyway?”
“Tommy,” he scoffs in disbelief, “Very few dorm people get invited to these frat parties. Usually, we just invite our partnering sorority or other sororities and frats we’re cool with. Don’t be an ass. This will be good for your social status, okay? I know Gemma would want me to tell you that. Just come. It starts at eight. Properly starts at eleven.”
Cracking the window open, I take a deep breath of the fresh air that flows in. I’ve done it again - conversed too much. I should have ended the call right after I said ‘no’.
“Just come for a bit. You don’t have to get your hands on any alcohol in order to get in, I’ll allow you that.” He won’t stop until I agree. “Don’t make Gemma upset. She’s one of my good friends.” Why should I be guilty? “I’ll buy you coffee for a month straight? Deal?” he tries one last time, successfully coaxing me. I’m a sucker for coffee.
“You better hold up your end,” I say, ending the call before I rile myself right the hell up speaking to him any further.
Attending the frat party would provide the perfect opportunity to lather myself with girls to look excessively straight in comparison to how straight I appear now. I just don’t think I’m ready for that. If I’m not with my family, I’d rather be alone. Head down, earbuds in, I’ll be fine.
The next morning I open the door to the same latte I ordered at the cafe. I look around but Christian is long gone, and the budding guilt I feel is prominent. I decided last night after the call that I’d take the free coffee today and not show up at the party tonight, but as crabby as I tend to get, Mum and Dad raised me better than to ignore a kind gesture. I did agree to the free coffee, but I got caught up in the heat of the ‘getting free coffee’ moment.
Christian doesn’t end up being at the philosophy lecture or class. I don’t doubt he’s with the rest of the frat boys getting everything ready for the night, and it’s relieving. I can’t help but feel like Christian’s onto something...onto me, so the more I stay away from him, the better.
I waste away the rest of the afternoon, pensively staring out the window and unhealthily pondering about it until Aiden is barging into the room.
“Drinking time, buddy.” He drags me away from the window. I don’t think he gets that I don’t like people touching me.
“I’m gonna pass.” I slip his hand off my shoulder. “Who gave you an invite? I thought you don’t like frats?”
“I like free alcohol.” He waits for me to move and throw on a clean set of clothes or something but I don’t. “Suit yourself.” He wriggles on a fresh top, grabbing his keys and phone. “Later, bro.”
Slouching down in the chair at the desk, I sigh. I’ve come here to get away from high school, but it’s starting to feel like all those years are on repeat. Hiding out and avoiding parties because homophobic people who act nice when they’re not drunk are reckless and shitty when they are drunk.
It drained me in high school; being cautious, being quiet, being isolated. Summer revived me, but college is going to bury me alive if I do it all wrong.
A party will be a good thing. Gemma will be a good thing. Both of them short-term, at least. And if it all goes wrong, long-term, I’ll have to consecrate the rest of my time in college to damage control.
“Thought you were gonna ditch,” Christian hands me a cup. I’d get judged so hard if I tell him I usually don’t like to drink. This entire night is going to consist of me acting. I may as well take influence from Aiden, as much as that makes me cringe, and act like I love alcohol and girls, so I take the cup with no issue.
“The thought crossed my mind.” I look around at all the mess inside mirroring the mess outside. “How d’you get the lawn littered already?”
“What do you mean ‘already’?” He leads me into the main room. I find myself elbowing a few bodies out of my way. “Do you want to hang with me and the guys or pick your own crowd?”
“‘Pick my own crowd’. Everyone’s the same, dumbass. Drunk if not tipsy.” I resist the urge to roll my eyes.
“‘Dumbass’? I’m somewhat offended. I wouldn’t be taking philosophy if I was a dumbass. You’re the dumbass, dumbass. You know what I mean when I say ‘or pick your own crowd’.”
Impeccably timed, my eyes lock on Gemma’s through all the people. She’s the ideal answer. God knows I wouldn’t have been able to find her in this crowd if I used her name as a response whilst having no clue where she is.
“Thought you seemed uninterested,” Christian comments.
“Thought she’s part of the reason why I’m here?” I fire back.
He smiles. “Go on then, Cannonball.”
“What happened to spending more time with me to define I’m worthy?”
“You take philosophy to study the general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, values, mind, etcetera. That takes brains, hence you’re smart, therefore you’re worthy.”
I hum before downing the contents of the cup in my hand - I need it. I clench my eyes shut. The last thing I downed was whiskey, its burn weakened with coke, at the eighteen plus family gathering held this summer where alcohol was a must. In the cup I just downed, there was a good few shots of plain vodka.
“That doesn’t define my worthiness, and I’m conflicted over whether you think I’m a dumbass or smart.”
“Both,” he clamps his hand down on my shoulder. I take it as my cue to go for it.
Bodies feel like cactuses, elbows as spines stabbing me as I make my way through the crowd. The temperature bumps up a considerable amount. This time my clammy hands aren’t because of Christian, but because of Gemma. My intentions don’t match hers, neither does my heart.
She knows, I know, that the music isn’t enough to get me to move, just to get me to her. She hands me the cup in her hand and waits for me to finish it. Her arms would drape around my neck but she knows I need more alcohol and doesn’t question why.
One cup of drink turns into a number I don’t recall. Songs blur into a string of words and digital sounds. I can’t tell when one ends and another starts. Only when the rush kicks in is when I find my fingers entangled in her strands of hair, her body pressed against mine.
I feel someone staring at me. Christian. My eyes lock on his. In the moment, everything appears as crystal clear as it does hazy.
I don’t like this.
Christian sees every part of it. How I pull back from Gemma, how I brush her grasp off my wrist and distance myself. How I grab the nearest full cup with high hopes that one more will make me feel any bit better. How I disappear upstairs because I need to get away.
How I’m turned off.