The door to Rocky's dorm room burst open and Eugene slid inside.
"Come one in," Rocky said.
Eugene replied, "Bite me."
"You look like you're about to kill somebody."
He fell onto Rocky's plaid loveseat after tossing his luggage to the floor. "I just might."
"Did you have a nice vacation?"
He folded his arms. "Vacation was lovely. Couldn't have been better."
Rocky put his hand to his face. "Okay. Then it must have been the trip back."
"You want to hear about my trip? I'll tell you about my trip. I get on the plane--and I hate planes--but that's okay, because I have Loud Annoying Mom and Her Incredible Screaming Babies to keep me entertained. They never let up. They were crying in shifts.
"After that I'm accosted by the deranged magazine person. Here I am, just flipping through a magazine when she comes running up to me shrieking, 'What do you think you're doing?' I try to tell her I was just looking, but she wouldn't let me. 'You were just damaging a perfectly good magazine! If everybody else was just looking, nobody would buy and I would be poor and living on the streets of this godforsaken town! Get out of here, you freeloader'
"I decided I'd better leave the store.
"Then Glen picks me up. This was fun. As usual he would just not shut-up! And when I try to tune him out, he says, 'I can't have children.'"
Rocky snapped his fingers. "Oh, darn. You know, I guess this means there really is a God."
Eugene finally smiled. "All I can say is. 'Bummer.'
"Then he says to me, 'You didn't ask why.'
"I didn't want to know why. He has an unfortunate syndrome that makes him sterile, and he grew breasts."
"It gets better. He turns to me and says, 'Wanna see the scars where I got my breasts reduced?' I told him no, but he lifted up his shirt anyway. He was driving!"
"At least it's over."
"That's what you think," Eugene said. "I still have to drop my bags off in my room, and that means I have to go through the lobby, and that means I have to face the hot chocolate lady. I don't think I'm up to that."
"Eugene," Rocky said slowly, "you're hyperventilating again, and you're giving me a headache. Who the hell's the hot chocolate lady?"
"Some insane..." he searched his sleep deprived brain for the perfect word and came up with, "...thing in the lobby who offers hot chocolate to everybody who walks by every time they walk by. I don't understand her. But first, I'll probably run into Glen because he hangs out across the hall."
"In the Alex room?"
Eugene slouched and nodded. "I don't know who got the idea to put two freshmen named Alex in the same room, but it was the wrong idea. They're like the same person. It's really creepy."
"Tell you what, Eugene. Go to your room, say hi to your roommate, and have a cigarette. You need to chill out."
"I can't have a cigarette. I quit last week."
"Great," Rocky sighed. "Well pull the stick out of your ass before you go to Craig's get together tonight."
"Craig invited a few friends to his room to get plowed. Kind of a bachelor party for the night before the new semester."
"Craig's the R.A."
"The Resident Assistant, Rocky. He's supposed to make sure that kind of thing doesn't happen around here."
"Call it a special dorm activity," Rocky grinned.
"I don't like parties, Rocky. You know that."
"Come on. Randall will be there. I think his girlfriend is coming over to visit him."
Eugene moaned, "Not Molly, too."
"Rocky. She hates me." He worked up the energy for his next tirade. "I haven't done anything to her, but she insists on insulting me for no apparent reason. Normally her going out of her way to crush my ego is flattering, but I'm not in the mood. I have a headache."
Rocky's fingers caressed his temples. "Fine. Don't go. You're not going to enjoy yourself anyway."
"Randall lives right next door to me, and is room is always open. She'll see me anyway."
"Deal with it or shut the hell up. If you're going to see her anyway, you may as well just go to the party. If Molly's a problem, I'll talk to Randall. I might even Talk Lisa into going. You know, they say a couple of beers helps break down those darned inhibitions."
"I'll think about it," Eugene said, forcing himself to stand. "A little lust never hurt anyone. Must dash. It's been surreal." He picked up his bags and entered the hallway.
As soon as he closed the door behind him, he heard the second to last person he wanted to hear call his name do so.
Eugene replied through gritted teeth and a curled lip. "What do you want, Glen?"
Glen recoiled in mock terror then waved him into the room across the hall. "You have to see what Alex found."
"This had better be good."
He followed Glen into the room and saluted a man lying on the bottom half of a bunk bed. "Alex," he said. Alex waved back. Eugene repeated the word "Alex" and a man in front of a computer nodded in greeting.
The Alex on the bed asked, "Do you know Lisa Green?"
"We chat a little. Why do you ask?"
"But you would know her if you saw her," the Alex in front of the computer said.
"Of course he would," Glen added. "He has the hots for her."
"Is this true?" the Alex on the bed asked.
"If it is," the Alex in front of the computer said, "you may not be up for the favor we're about to ask."
"I don't like the way this conversation is going, gentlemen."
The Alex behind the computer clicked his mouse a few times and a cluster of fuzzy pictures showed up. He clicked it again until all but one disappeared. With one last click, the remaining image filled the screen. The woman in the photo wearing a one-piece bathing suit looked remarkably like Lisa Green. She was showing off the same toothy smile for which Eugene felt many a week knee. That's not all she was showing off.
She wore her one-piece bathing suit dangling from her wrist.
Eugene blinked. "Thank God for the Internet."
"Told you it was good," said Glen.
The Alex on the bed asked, "Is that Lisa?"
"It certainly appears to be her."
"Do us a favor and check it out," the Alex in front of the computer said.
"He sure will," Glen snickered.
"Shut-up!" Eugene and both Alexes yelled.
Glen pouted for a second and left the room. Eugene turned back to the men named Alex. "I can't do it, gentlemen. I'm too attracted to her to jeopardize it over a case of mistaken identity."
The Alex on the bed shrugged. "Suit yourself."
"But your schoolboy crush is over," added the Alex in front of the computer. "You will never look at her the same again."
Eugene politely closed the door between himself and them, then shook his head in disbelief.* * *
"Hot chocolate?" the lady offered.
"No thanks." He continued creeping towards his room, which was only two doors from the other side of the lobby.
Just before he safely got there, the door to Randall's room opened slowly. Eugene stopped and his eyes widened in terror.
A pair of jeans containing a pair of woman's legs emerged.
His lips mouthed a very bad word.
The rest of her came into view.
He turned and tiptoed away, making as little noise as possible while carrying three pieces of luggage made of fabric as loud as corduroy. He felt like he was doing well until he heard a small nagging voice say, "Hot chocolate?"
This made him jump roughly six inches.
The lady repeated, "Hot chocolate?"
"No!" he hissed. This called for a change of plans. This time he would make a mad dash and duck into the restroom before Molly's voice could reach him. If he was lucky, he could outrun the sound waves themselves.
"Good evening, Sunshine," Molly said behind him. Eugene paused and cocked his head towards the voice which confirmed, "Yeah, I'm talking to you." He reluctantly turned to watch the figure walking towards him, a figure with the confidence of a predator.
"Hot chocolate?" the lady said to the figure, who shook her head.
Molly stepped up to him and folded her arms in front of her chest, at which Eugene tried very hard not to look. She was staring down at something, so he followed her gaze to his bags. She remarked, "I hope you didn't fold your clothes too carefully. That frumpy look is so hard to accomplish."
Eugene wondered where his usually witty repertoire went when he replied, "I don't wear frumpy clothes."
"Right." She pantomimed a phone and tossed in an English accent. "Jeeves, throw in a couple of Armanis and make sure the jeans are pressed before you pack them. Thank you so much."
"You're mocking me."
Molly smiled, turned around and left, waving away a cocoa offer. Eugene waited for her to go into Randall's room before he continued walking in that direction.
He said nothing.* * *
That evening two roommates stood in the dorm lobby like a pair at a crossroads. One of them noted, "That lady's still here."
Eugene, much more relaxed at this point despite the fact that he was in the lobby, turned to his roommate and sighed, "Yep. Are you sure you're not coming?"
"I'm not even breathing hard," Mateo replied. "Also, I'm not going to Craig's party. I've got class tomorrow and hangovers are a bad way to start."
"Good call." Eugene snapped his fingers into a gun to punctuate. "Y'know, Randall's going to be there."
Mateo raised and eyebrow, then lowered it. "Tempting...but I can't. But if he's wearing those jeans that really...well, describe them in rich detail."
"Will do, good buddy." Eugene saluted Mateo as he walked to the door.
"Thank you!" Mateo smiled, took the cocoa and waved to his roommate, adding, "I really love those jeans."
Eugene nodded and began his trek into inebriation.
He stopped, looked at her, and said, "Sure."
On the way to Craig's room he took a sip out of the Styrofoam cup she gave him and his eyes widened. "Damn. This is really good."
He arrived at the door and entered slowly to see Lisa lying on the bed with a plush cat above her head, saying, "Man, if this was a real cat, I'd run away. It's totally scary."
He looked a little more closely at her body, then averted his gaze to his male friends. "I'm glad to see you started without me."
"We didn't start without you, Eugene," Rocky slurred and giggled at his alliteration. Still tittering, he threw a beer at Eugene and nearly hit Craig.
"Cheers," Eugene gestured and choked down his beer.* * *
When the alarm went off the next morning, Eugene thought it sounded like a banshee coming to claim him. Or at least he wished it was a banshee. That way he'd be out of his misery.
His brain had become tired of his skull and was trying to burst out, which would account for the pain and dizziness. His teeth wanted to escape as well, probably to get away from the odor that surrounded them.
He rolled out of bed and fell a foot and a half to the floor. Rather than get to his feet, he crawled to his nightstand and pounded at the clock until it no longer wailed at him. The idea of remaining on the floor in the fetal position and sucking his thumb for a very long time appealed to him, but it was the first day of classes, and he had no intention of irritating the teachers.
He felt around for his keys and stumbled blindly outside. The water fountain seemed like a great place to start. The water filled his mouth, calming the volcanic gasses which accumulated there without his permission while he slept. He swallowed it and repeated the same procedure a few times, but his throat was still dry. At least the temperature in his mouth was lower. Next up was getting rid of the stench.
Realizing he didn't have his toothbrush, he lumbered back to the door and got the key into the lock on the third try. It took him a minute to coordinate turning the knob and pushing, but when he did, he was inside.
"Good morning, Sunshine," Molly said from a bed remarkably like his.
"Sorry," he mumbled to Molly and the roommate who looked remarkably like Mateo. "Wrong room." He closed the door and proceeded to the one right next to it. Getting the key in the lock, he noticed it wasn't as compliant as the one he thought was his room.
Suddenly the absurdity of the situation dissolved into harsh reality, summarized in widened eyes and two words Eugene said to himself. "Fuck me!"
He dashed down the hall, through the lobby and towards the emergency exit--this could definitely be classified as an emergency--but ducked first into Rocky's room. Rocky was on the floor five feet from his bed with a blanket that covered his head and nothing else. As usual, Rocky's roommate was nowhere to be seen. Eugene shook him maniacally until he was conscious.
"What the hell do you want?" he shouted.
The shockwaves of Rocky's voice knocked Eugene off his feet. They looked at each other for a moment, then agreed via bloodshot stares to compose themselves before speaking again. Eugene went first. "He much did I drink last night?"
"And a flask of whiskey. I have a whole new respect for you, Eugene."
"How much did Molly drink?"
"I'm not sure, but she did stay a bit after Randall left."
"Could you do me a favor and stand over there. Your breath smells like a colostomy bag."
The remark yanked the emergency brake on Eugene's train of thought. "What's that?"
"It's a bag where you keep your feces, Eugene," he snapped.
The pattern on Rocky's loveseat distorted into a strange, three-dimensional image so Eugene staggered over to it and sat down. "I can't believe there's a term for that. I can't believe you know it."
"It's a Pre-Med thing. Man, you look like hell. How's your head?"
"It'd be fine if someone would stop hitting it with a mallet. I've got a problem."
"So do I. Why did you ask about Molly?"
"That's my problem, Rocky. She's lying on my bed, naked."
"You got laid?"
"I don't remember. Probably my first time, and I don't even know what happened." Rocky tossed him a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Eugene tossed them back. "I quit."
"That's right." Rocky shrugged and had one, being careful not to cough. "Then at least use some mouthwash before you go back to your room."
"I can't go back there. The situation's bad enough without me running off like this. But I have class in twenty minutes and I sure as hell am not going in my underwear."
"Sounds like you're screwed."
"Thanks for the support, Rocky."
"Where was Mateo when this happened?"
"He was there when I woke up. I've got it! They went to the party together, had sex on my bed, and I was so drunk I didn't notice her there."
"Eugene, Mateo's gay."
"I know that! Can't I rationalize in peace?" He stood up so he could throw himself hopelessly onto the loveseat. Where the hell was that damned banshee now that he really needed it?* * *
Wearing some of Rocky's clothes, Eugene slumped in an empty desk in his philosophy class twenty-five minutes later, noticing that the instructor was more tardy than he was.
"Hi Eugene," said the person next to him. "I'm looking forward to having class with you. You always lead the best discussions."
He slowly turned to confirm it was indeed Lisa's voice he heard. His eyes widened as he remembered the computer image. That led him to think of naked women in general, a subject which narrowed down to the one in his bed less than forty-five minutes before. "Oh, no."
Lisa leaned forward in concern. "Is something wrong?"
He could clearly see down her low-cut blouse. "I'm okay," he whimpered and covered his eyes.
He uncovered them a moment later to watch the professor stroll to the lectern. He was a stocky man who dressed entirely in black and glared at all of the students before him. He spoke in a low voice. "Good morning, pupils. I want you to check your schedules. If it doesn't say 'The Ancient Philosophers of Life with Dr. David Mortenoir,' you should leave and find out where you're really supposed to be."
A few insecure students checked their schedules, but everyone remained.
"In this class we'll be reading texts by Heroclitus, Aristotle, Parmenides, and Plato. Please keep in mind that if anything they wrote contradicts anything I say, they are wrong. We're going to start out light, so for class tomorrow I want you to read the first half of The Republic. Any questions before I move onto the introduction?"
Eugene let out a helpless, yet strangely barbaric yawp shortly before his head landed on a notebook he had borrowed from Rocky. Dr. Mortenoir looked directly at him. "Excuse me sir, but were you momentarily possessed with the spirit of Walt Whitman?"
"More likely the darker half of Jack Daniel's. I can't seem to recall."
"Hangovers will not be tolerated, young man. However, it appears that one student is ready to speak of the dangers of the alter-ego. Go ahead."* * *
"Always cost a pair of hose
"Faces pressed together rose
"Arms around each other's back
"You know that I like to, Jack...," Kim Gordon's voice declared rhythmically in the back of his head. "J.C." by Sonic Youth had always been one of his favorite songs, but the sexually slanted lyrics delivered rather urgently disturbed him now.
He paced around in front of the library looking at his watch every third step. It was definitely time to face Mateo, but he was more than willing to battle a complete stranger he knew only by his first name to put it off a little while longer.
A show with Chuck Taylor's name all over it struck the concrete that covered the steps in front of Eugene. He looked at the person wearing it.
A young man with a cardigan sweater and a small duffle bag walked towards him until there were only a few feet between them. The man wore a button that read, "Get your fresh air out of my face, can't you see I'm smoking?"
Their eyes locked.
Sean nodded. "Eugene?"
Eugene lowered his head, rolled it around, and stared threateningly into Sean's eyes. "Let's play."
Suddenly and fluidly, Sean threw his bag to the ground and tore it open, reaching inside. Simultaneously, Eugene ducked to a crouch. Sean pointed his two fists at his opponent.
Eugene said, "Right."
Sean opened that hand to reveal a black chess pawn. They arranged their pieces and began their game.
For a man with a hangover and a major moral dilemma, he put up a very good fight, but his defenses were soon worn down.
He was in the midst of a crucial move when a male voice said, "Good afternoon, Sunshine." Eugene responded by yelping, dropping the chessman and falling backwards. Mateo looked down at him and asked, "Where the hell did you run off to?"
"In your underwear?!"
"Excuse me," Sean said, "but we're in the middle of something."
"He forfeits," Mateo snapped and dragged his roommate out of earshot. "I appreciate the gesture, but it's going to take more than waking up to a naked woman to make me change my sexual orientation."
"What happened last night, Eugene?"
"I was hoping you could tell me."
"You were that drunk?"
"I thought you didn't drink."
"So did I."
"Great. All I know is that you two were really quiet, because there was no one in the room when I went to bed."
"I thought you were a light sleeper."
"So did I."
They were both silent for a few moments. Finally Eugene said, "This is great. I'm so sorry. I panicked. If that was my first time, Mateo, I don't know if I can live with myself. I didn't want it to be like that."
"I'll try to understand, I really will. But you have to talk to Molly, she's the only one who knows."
"Unless she was that drunk, too."
"Then you're screwed."
"So I've been told."* * *
Mateo and Eugene entered their room and sat on their respective beds. The overhead smoke alarm beeped. Eugene frowned at it and began searching his nightstand for a copy of The Republic.
The smoke alarm overhead beeped again and Mateo asked, "What now?"
Eugene opened his book and replied, "I think we should become Gothic Highwaymen. That way we can rob from the rich and go bowling on Thursdays."
Mateo rubbed his temples. "Aren't you going to talk to Molly?"
"I can't. I abandoned her in a strange room this morning after allegedly losing my virginity to her so she could face first you, then her boyfriend." The smoke alarm beeped. He glared at it. "I feel like a jerk anyway, and she's leaving tonight to start her new semester. If things went to hell for her like I think, I probably won't see her again."
"How very chivalrous of you."
The smoke alarm beeped in agreement.
"I didn't want this to happen, Mateo, but the only place to find her is in Randall's room, and he probably wants to kill me anyway. I'm just not up to facing it. I have a headache."
"A headache? You won't be able to get on with your life until you do, and I am not going to sit here and listen to you whine about it for the next four months."
"Look, I'm just going to bury myself in my homework and it will go away. I'll deal with it when I'm ready."
"You said yourself she probably won't be back again."
Eugene raised his voice. "I'm not talking to her, okay?"
Without missing a beat, he added, "How long has that damned thing been doing that?"
Mateo frowned and pointed to the smoke alarm. "That?"
Eugene picked up his book and read it until another beep came. "What should we do?"
"You should talk to Molly. I'll be here to support you when you get back."
"I meant about the alarm."
Mateo pondered for a moment. "We could always ask the school to fix it. This is a dorm."
"It'll take forever."
"Why don't you fix it, Eugene?"
"Why am I the expert on smoke detectors, Mateo?"
"Your stereo is over fifteen years old and it still plays CDs. You're a natural at electronics."
Eugene rolled his eyes and jumped off the bed. "Fine." He stood on a chair and started to dissect the alarm. Using his pocketknife, he probed the insides and triumphantly removed the battery.
He growled and looked again. "I've got it. I don't know how to stop it from making noise, but I can shut it off. If we have a fire, we're both in trouble."
"It's your diversion, Eugene."
"I'm doing this for the both of us."
Mateo didn't reply.
Eugene grabbed the small plug in the detector and pulled lightly. It didn't give. He bared his teeth and yanked. It still wouldn't budge. He placed his fingers for a better grip. Then for some reason, he thought his forearms had just awakened from being crushed. Just as he was about to guess why that was, something invisible violently shook his arms and kicked him in the chest. He fell to the floor and said some bad words.
Mateo peered over the bed. "Well, didja fix it?"
The alarm beeped in reply.
"I need a cigarette," Eugene said from the floor.
"You quit. I'm leaving before you really hurt yourself. Want me to call the maintenance department?"
Eugene shook his head.
He waved him off.
Two beeps later he found the energy to move to his bed and pick up The Republic. The smoke detector didn't need to beep to get his attention. For five long seconds a pang of guilt and responsibility clutched his stomach and twisted. He ignored it and stood on the chair.
Reviewing the wiring for an easier way to disarm it, he said to himself, "Who needs self respect anyway?"
He let it beep one more time, then broke out in song.
"I have almost none for me
"Take out the T-C-P
He paused only to squint in anticipation as he ripped out a plug. "Socket to me."
"Who do you think you are," someone behind him asked, "Luciano 'The Tool Man' Pavorati?"
Eugene turned to see who it was and fell off his chair.
"Good evening, Sunshine," Molly growled. "You have a lot of explaining to do."
"I know I do. I need to ask you..."
"I want to ask you a question first, like where the hell were you this morning?"
"In your underwear! What about me? Do you think I like waking up with some guy staring at me? Mind you, he was gay, but I didn't know that until after he woke up. It was embarrassing. Do you have any clue how I felt? Why did you leave? After all that happened you have the nerve to leave me to figure it out on my own. I just had sex with a man who was not my long time boyfriend, and frankly, I can't recall why I chose to do it..."
She finally stopped after Eugene had delivered a crescendo of about fifteen "Mollys" while she spoke. When it was quiet, he said in a low, but deliberate voice, "How much do you recall from last night?"
"Everything else." While he considered exactly what this meant, she added, "I know you had a lot, but..."
"Molly, I had two beers..."
"That's not much."
"...and a flask of whiskey. I don't remember a damned thing."
She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it.
"Molly, I was a virgin for twenty years for a reason, and to lose that because I'm an irresponsible drinker is rough. And to top it off, I can't recall a moment of it. I understand your problem, but I was a little confused this morning when I woke up and saw a close friend's girlfriend lying naked on my bed this morning. I'm sorry but I panicked. I don't even know you. All I know is that Randall loves you and that you insist on insulting me every time you can."
"Wasn't it obvious? I thought you were cute. That's my way of flirting with someone who comes across as bright."
"You have a boyfriend."
"I wasn't expecting to sleep with you, but last night you were clever, confident and charming. I stayed at the party because you had shown a bit of interest in me and my judgment was a little impaired."
"I was coming onto you?"
"Isn't it obvious the way you get flustered by my meaningless insults?"
"No," he said. "You don't know me. When I'm sober, I'm shy, insecure, and terribly awkward when people accost me for no reason. Maybe you should get to know the real me better."
"Maybe, but it's a little late for that. It took me all day to convince Randy I passed out drunk in Craig's room. And getting Craig to go for it without saying why wasn't easy, either. This ruined my whole vacation, and I don't think Randy buys my story." She leaned against the door frame and put her palm to her forehead. "I want you and him to stay friends, and most of all I want him and me to stay together. I don't know how this will turn out."
He collapsed on the chair behind him. "I'm really sorry. I got scared."
"I'm sorry, too. It's time for me to go home." She walked out the door. "Fuck you for doing this to me. Thank you for doing this to me. I don't know anything anymore."
He closed the door behind her and didn't move for five minutes. In the back of his head, Sonic youth played "J.C." again.
"...This wasn't how it's supposed to be* * *
"Clear blue eyes, just as dry.
"The wind is busy, blowing dizzy
"Your dreams are shot like a star
"Exploding in your mind somewhere
"Doing something on a dare..."
One Thursday three months later, he exhaled and slid against the wall. He glanced at his watch and bit his lower lip.
Behind him a bell dinged. "Stir-fry! Pick it up!"
"Thanks, Al." Eugene scooped up the plate and ran his hands through his damp hair. Two more hours. You only have two more hours of being nice to people. Remember, it'll be over soon." The time didn't pass any more quickly.
After relaxing his shoulders and practicing his smile, he strode over to a table and placed the stir-fry in front of a cheerful old lady. "Hot off the griddle!"
She squinted at his name-tag. "'Eugene.' What a nice name for such a polite young man."
It was the third time that evening she'd discovered his name. He braced himself to reveal the origins of his name again when a grizzled, flannel-clad man appeared in the doorway.
He marched over and recited, "Welcome to May's Café. Will anyone be joining you this evening?"
"Do you see anyone else?"
"You are so right." He pulled one menu out of the slot. "Smoking or non-smoking?"
"Smoking," the man barked. "What does it look like?"
"It looks like smoking to me." He led the man to a table.
"I want a booth! What's wrong with you?"
Eugene picked an excuse out of a list he had for situations like this. "Not enough sleep, sir." They walked to a booth. "May I get you something to drink?"
Eugene's face fell.
"What's wrong? You don't carry beer?"
"Well why not?"
"No liquor license, sir."
"Well you should."
"Tell me about it. Employees get free drinks."
"Are you being smart with me?"
"Absolutely not, sir. Dumb as a post."
"Well stay that way and get me some coffee--none of that decaf crap either--and a steak. Rare."
"Oh, God." Eugene lifted a finger. "One moment, sir." He backed up until he was within earshot of the kitchen. "Al, could I possibly get a rare steak?"
"Well why not?"
"Well you should!"
"Tell me about it. It would make my job easier."
Eugene returned to the table, where the man vibrated out of wrath. "No rare steaks," Eugene said calmly. The man turned and stared at him. "It's the Department of Health, not me."
The man's leathery fist slammed into the table. Both his silverware and his waiter jumped in fear. The man stormed out of the restaurant, grumbling about the lousy service.
Eugene called after him, "Come again!" The door, which was constructed not to slam, slammed. He looked at his watch. "One hour and fifty-two minutes," he said and noticed Molly out of the corner of his eye.
His head whipped around and he saw for sure that it wasn't really Molly, but rather a woman who vaguely resembled her from behind.
For the first time in over ten weeks, he felt serious remorse over what he'd done.* * *
After his hour and fifty-two minutes were up, he drove to the dorm to find Mateo attempting to woo an attractive visitor. He grabbed a book, promised an hour of privacy, and headed over to Rocky's room.
His door was open and he could hear him say quite passionately, "...I just couldn't change the channel! And there he was, just swimming laps while the pool slowly emptied. The pool wasn't even empty by the time gave up."
Eugene peeked his head in the door. "How long was this?"
"An hour and a half."
"You watched this for ninety minutes?"
"I thought there might be some point. I had to figure out what was going on."
"Hi Eugene," said the other person in the room. It was Lisa.
"Did I do something wrong?" she asked. "I never see you anymore."
"Sorry. I've been really busy."
"Take some time off and call me sometime. I've missed you." She stood and stretched, twisting the fabric of her T-shirt to the contours of her body. "I need to go to bed."
Eugene blinked and worked his way into the room after she left. He took her place on Rocky's plaid loveseat.
"What do you mean you have no time for Lisa, Eugene? Has her charm worn off on you?"
He sighed. "Absolutely not. I just found out something about her that may or may not be true, and it's kind of weirded me out."
"Ask her about it."
"This would be way too awkward. Trust me."
"You have to knock this shit off, Eugene. After what happened with Randall's ex, you can't afford to be wishy-washy."
"Oh, God. Why did you have to bring that up? I haven't thought about for two and a half months, and I just saw someone who looked just like her."
"I don't know, Rocky. I really feel bad about the whole thing. I kind of want to talk to Molly again, to see if she's doing okay, and wish her well. It was my fault they broke up."
"It wasn't all your fault. She did lie to him. And he never knew you were involved."
"But if it wasn't for me..."
"It's old news. Don't worry about it. If it would help, talk to Craig. I hear she's been keeping in touch with him."
Eugene sat back in his chair. "I'll think about it," he said. "So what channel was that swimming pool thing on?"* * *
The hour wasn't quite up when he left Rocky's room, so he headed to the study room near Craig's. He has two options from there: he could ask for Molly's phone number or he could read for his English class. Noting the peace and quiet, he reached into his jacket pocket and extracted the lesser of the two evils.
Having made it through most of the book, he stopped at a passage that made him want to scream in confusion. "'Love means never having to say you're sorry?' What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Over his own shrieking, he didn't hear the other person enter the room. "Whatcha readin'?" Glen asked.
Eugene felt like administering a look of death, but instead kept his face in the paperback. "Love Story. It's a nauseatingly bad book."
"Then why are you reading it?"
He focused on the first word he saw, which happened to be goddamn. "It's for a class."
"Oh. What's it about?"
Goddamn. Goddamn. "A couple of demons who enjoy hacking people to pieces and clubbing them to death with their own limbs because they ask dumb questions."
Glen frowned. "Love Story's a weird name for a horror novel."
Goddamn. He nodded and gritted his teeth.
Glen was silent for a moment before he added, "Did you ever find out about Lisa Green?"
His eyes slowly left the now-forgotten word so they could glare at him. "No! "
"Alex figured as much. He's graduating in two weeks so he's willing to offer you a deal. He just found Rocky's real name while searching through school records. He'll give it to you if you find out about her."
"I really don't care. Just leave me the hell alone."
Glen's grin drooped and he exited the lounge.
Eugene sighed and put his fingers to his eyes.* * *
The next Professor Richards danced giddily back and forth, somehow not tripping on her flowing skirt. "Wasn't that a great book? It makes me cry every time I read it. And that line--'Love means never having to say you're sorry'--isn't it just beautiful? And it means so much..." Craig and Eugene looked at each other helplessly. She continued, "...Now we're going to watch the movie, which is better. Bring out your hankies! Since this is a two-hour class, we'll be able to catch the whole thing. Any questions before we start?"
Eugene really wanted to ask her if she's tried decaf, but held his tongue. After a totally unnecessary ego clash with Dr. Mortenoir only one week before, he decided to keep his snide remarks to himself.
Not long into the movie, when they decided Ally McGraw could not act, Craig whispered, "I haven't seen you for a while. What's been going on?"
"Rocky didn't tell you?"
"Of course he told me. I just wanted to know if you were up to it. I think it would be a good idea to get her permission before giving out her number, but I can call her after class and get an answer by dinnertime."
Eugene breathed deeply. "No, I'm not up to it, but I have to do this. I really need to talk to her."
"Why? There wasn't good blood between you at all when you left, and I have no idea why."
"She's your friend, and if she hasn't told you yet there's probably a good reason."
"I've just been thinking a lot about her lately. We have a strange bond, her and I."
Craig nodded, "One of those feelings. I'll call her."
They turned and watched more of the blur of matching plaids and earth tones to get a few laughs. Towards the end of the movie, Eugene's histamines attacked him. Every part of him wanted to sneeze, but the sensation just built up until he had watery eyes and a runny nose. When the lights came up again, there was a loud "hornking" noise from the front of the class and Dr. Richards looked at the audience through tears.
Those eyes rested on Eugene and the tissue he was trying casually to put to his face. She pointed and sobbed, "It's good to know there is at least one sensitive male in the audience." Everybody turned to him.
"I wasn't crying! It was just allergies!"
"You can still weep and be a man," she said and hugged him. This time, Eugene really did cry.* * *
Mateo sat on his bed reading The National Enquirer when Eugene returned to his room.
He grinned. "How'd it go with that guy last night? You weren't here when I got back."
"Not cool. He was actually a feminine but straight bohemian who was looking for a gay person to impress his friends with."
"I went out with him and it took me all night to figure it out."
"What happened to your gay-dar?"
"I though you had it." He stood up, stretched, and announced, "I'm going to take a dump. Want me to describe it when I get back?"
Eugene's eyes widened in terror. "No!"
When he was gone, Eugene shook his head then noticed the light on their answering machine blinking. "Check the damned messages, Mateo." He reached over, pushed the button, and began looking in the refrigerator for food.
"Eugene, this is Craig. I just talked to Molly. She has put it all behind her and has completely forgiven you. She says that you were both going through a really tough time that day, and she holds no grudges. She wants to move on. She told me not to give you her number. Sorry, dude. You have my number if you need to talk."
He sat on his bed. Even though he hadn't listened to Sonic Youth in a long time, he could hear "J.C." as if it were in the stereo.
"If you could see as far as sin* * *
"Don't you know the shape I'm in
"You're walking through my heart once more
"Don't forget to close the door."
He hunched over a book and stayed there for some time before Mateo returned.
"What are you reading?"
Eugene looked up. "Heroclitus."
"I had a friend who had that once. The swelling wouldn't go down for weeks."
He put the book down. "Actually he's a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who's famous for saying you can't step into the same river twice."
"Because by the time you removed your foot and put it back in, the water is entirely different."
"What if you ran downstream?"
Eugene sighed. "Even if you run fast enough, you're on a different bank."
Mateo thought for a moment, then said, "What if you fall into the river and lose a dollar bill to the current? Would you try to get it?"
"Would you get it?"
"What if it was moving faster than you could run? Would you still chase it?"
Eugene picked his book up. "I'd write it off as a lost buck."
"Wrong. You never let anything go."
"Yes I do."
Mateo leaned closer to him. "You'd chase it all the way to hell."
"That's not true."
Mateo put his palm between his face and Eugene's. "Talk to the hand. You know I'm right."
"Let it go."
Eugene made a gurgling noise and stormed out the door.* * *
Mateo found his roommate sitting on a bench outside the dorm. He joined him and said, "Sorry, Eugene. I heard the message."
He snapped, "You make it sound so easy, but it's not."
"Why is that?"
"You're the one in the philosophy class."
"That makes it more difficult. You can classify and explain the world, but you can't figure anything out about yourself. I just don't get it."
"Is it any easier digging men?"
"I don't even know why I wanted to talk to her so much. Was it for absolution? Am I genuinely curious as to how she's doing? Maybe I haven't forgiven her yet. I don't understand it."
"It's been nearly three months, and I'm not ready for it to be over."
"Do you really?"
"Yeah." Eugene slouched a little and said to his roommate, "Thanks."
Mateo put his arm around his friend. "Done for now?"
"For now. But I'm still not ready to let it go."
"Give it a shot?"
"I know one thing that'll help."
"Cool. But first let's go get a corn dog."* * *
The door to Rocky's dorm room burst open and Eugene slid inside.
"Come on in," Rocky said.
"Lisa," he said to the person on the plaid loveseat. "Your roommate told me you might be here."
Rocky waved. "Hello Eugene. Nice to see you."
"Take a hike, Rocky."
"This is my room."
Rocky did as he was told while utilizing as much melodrama as possible.
Eugene turned back to the plaid loveseat. "You were right, Lisa. I have been avoiding you."
"Mind if I ask why?"
"This is kind of awkward."
"What is it?"
He looked at her, then at the pattern on the loveseat, then back at her. It was the plaid he spoke to when he finally said, "I think I might have seen nude pictures of someone who looks exactly like you and my uncertainty as to the identity of the person...is...fuck it."
Lisa laughed. "Seriously, what's the problem?"
"There's no I could make this up. Let me show you." Somehow he lunged forward and took her hand while listing to himself every possible way she might interpret the gesture. Rather than let her go and apologize, he led her to the room across the hall. One of the men named Alex answered his knock, then froze in shock.
"Alex," he said. "Show her."
The Alex behind the computer shrugged and quickly produced the image in question.
Lisa frowned for a moment. "That's not me. The face is close, but the body's all wrong."
The Alex at the door said, "Prove it."
"What?" asked Lisa and Eugene. She stormed out of the room.
He followed her. "I'm so sorry. I thought it looked like you."
"I can see the resemblance. Why didn't you just ask?"
"It was a weird situation. You don't just go up to an acquaintance and ask her if she posed nude for the Internet. Not if you have a crush on her." His eyelids moved in different directions and he stopped breathing. For the first time in his life, he truly emphasized with any deer who ever stared into any headlights at any point in history.
"That makes a lot of sense now."
He continued not breathing.
"Look, I have to go study. We can talk about this later."
"Are we cool?"
"We'll talk about this later."
When she was out of sight, his knees buckled and he turned to a nearby wall for support. Then he recalled something and opened the door to the room he just left.
"Alex," he said. "I believe you owe me something."* * *
Eugene knocked on a door.
Rocky opened it and smiled. "Hey, Eugene."
Eugene said, "How's it going, Byron?"