spirits: (me)

DISCLAIMERS

The works contained herein contain adult themes. If you are upset by harsh language, drug and alcohol abuse, sex, or untreated psychological disorders, then this is not the work for you. If you are upset by these things and you take a look anyway, please don’t complain to me if you don’t like what you see.

The circumstances contained therein are vaguely autobiographical, and the characters even more vaguely so. Many names, especially surnames, I made up on the fly, pulling them out of the ether—the ether being my long-term memory. There is rarely, if ever, a correlation between a name contained herein and the character. If you find it offensive, please let me know in the nicest way possible, and I’ll fix it.

Any parental characters contained herein are not, I repeat not representative of my parents, so please don’t ask me about it.

...also...

May. 19th, 2026 12:00 am
spirits: (me)

(Note: Read either by scrolling down or clicking through the links, beginning HERE)

Part One

May. 19th, 2024 12:00 pm
spirits: (Default)



As Eugene dry-heaved in the airplane lavatory, he meditated silently, searching his brain for three details of his current situation that could be considered positive. His mother had taught him this ritual when he was younger, and after years of practice, it became almost a reflex. Today challenged him, however, because the toilet had been violated by previous occupant, who had evidently suffered from a very different kind of gastrointestinal distress.

The smell alone had made the vomiting come faster, so that was one good thing. Another was that his stomach was now empty, so he would soon be able to return to his seat. The third occurred to him as he unfolded his tall, bulky frame as much as he could to face the mirror; he was only twenty years old, not forty, so he could fit into this tiny room without suffering permanent damage.

He wiped away some tears and slipped a round-framed pair of glasses onto his face. The plane lurched as it began its descent, but because of Eugene's size, there wasn't enough room for him to bounce around too much and injure himself. "See?" he told himself. "It's good."

He left the lavatory and began lurching back down the aisle. The babies who had been screaming since takeoff had yet to quit, but they were babies, so that was allowed. The parents who scolded them, making them scream louder, were only concerned, so that, too, was allowed. Sure, the entire flight back to school after a long, peaceful Christmas break had been an arms race of noise, but the flight was almost over, and soon he would be back among his friends.

It was a new year. He would take better notes. He would be more alert. He would not go to parties on school nights. He would stop thinking about sex--he would try, anyway. His fourth semester would go well, and that alone was worth all this.

As he sat down, his eyes fell on the businesswoman in the seat in front of him, securing her luggage in the overhead bin, just out of reach. Despite his wooziness, he braced himself to stand and help her, but he stopped when he noticed her leopard-print thong underwear. His hip twitched, forcing him to back down and cover his lap with a complimentary pillow. Uncontrollable daydreams of tearing that off of her with his teeth swam through his brain, clashing with the only things he understood about sex, which he'd learned from movies. He knew only of mood lighting and gentle disrobing, and not the little details like moist convulsions, bodily fluids, or the perils of gravity.

Luckily for him, his concentration was shattered by a swift kick to the back of his seat. The sensation wasn't a new one for him. He'd first noticed this ten-year-old boy at the gate, and he was antsy even then. Now, after hours of his mother trying to placate him with a total of three twenty-ounce bottles of soft drinks, the boy had gone into some kind of shock, wherein the only thing keeping his brain from reaching critical mass and bursting was a steady, babbling stream of consciousness pouring from his mouth as if it were some kind of emergency release valve. Sure, Eugene's own head ached from the constant whiplash, but he couldn't blame the kid for feeling this way. Boredom was a terrible thing for a developing mind to endure, and sixty ounces was a lot of caffeine and sugar.

Besides, they were now beginning their long descent, which was something Eugene always enjoyed witnessing. The clouds below appeared to be made of the same shag carpeting he'd remembered from back home. The plane bore east, as if to ram into the sun, and by doing so, it made dawn come that much more quickly. It seeped over the clouds like multicolored ink, dying indigo clouds violet, then red, then orange, then yellow, and then ivory.

Around him, passengers napped, read magazines, or watched a talk show on television monitors throughout the plane. "This only happens twice a day," Eugene wanted to announce, "and you never see it from this angle! There's nothing on that screen that's more important than this!" Eugene, however, was a coward, and so he kept his opinions to himself.

The plane landed, prompting the ten-year-old to stop kicking. This respite confused Eugene, who had forgotten what comfort felt like. Before he could find out, the boy started ramming the seat with his head, rocking them both even harder than before. Eugene felt sorry for him, and hoped he didn't injure himself when they stopped taxiing across the runway. When they did, the boy resumed using his feet, quitting a few moments after the "Fasten Seatbelt" signs were turned off.

Eugene had been on enough flights to know not to stand. His being far back in the economy class section meant that his freedom was still about fifteen minutes away, and getting to his feet would only trap him in an awkward, bent-over position and make his time in the lavatory seem like an afternoon in a hammock.

The conservatively dressed woman with the leopard-print underwear reached for her luggage again, and from this angle, it became clear that her bra matched her thong. Eugene put the pillow back over his lap. His salvation came in the form of the transvestite in the seat in front of him reaching for her own luggage. A glimpse of her own set of animal-print underwear revealed that she was pre-operative, and that made it safe for Eugene to stand.

He slow-marched off the plane and headed for the luggage carousel, where he'd meet his ride; someone for whom Eugene could spare not a single positive thought. He waited for a half an hour, during which his ten-year-old traveling companion slammed into his leg.

"Watch where you're going!" scolded his mother.

"It's okay," Eugene said.

"I was talking to you," she replied. "Can't you see he's right there?"

Eugene gritted his teeth and muttered to himself, "It was a long flight. She's entitled to be a little grouchy." His trust in his own judgment, though, was beginning to wane.

Finally his brown duffle bag showed itself, and he reached for it the instant it got close.

The mother's voice shrieked again, this time from behind him. "What are you doing?"

"I'm just," he tried to say.

"You're just trying to steal my luggage!"

"I'm not," Eugene protested.

"Just because you want a brown duffle bag doesn't mean you can just take it from other people! Why would you do that?" the shrieking woman demanded.

"I," he tried to reply.

"Do you want me to call security?"

"No."

She snatched the bag from his trembling hands. "Why? Do you have something to hide?" She glanced at the label, then got a better look, then frowned. "Are you Eugene?"

"Yes."

"Then this is yours."

"Thank you?"

She and her son huffed off, leaving him alone with his brown duffle bag; but not for long. A cold hand clamped down on his shoulder.

"Ready to go, Gino?" Glen asked. He did not let go of Eugene's shoulder as he used his free hand to excavate a shiny booger from his nostril.

"Sure," Eugene sighed.

"Want me to hold your luggage?"

"No."

"Good."

They took the long walk to Glen's car. The recycled air of the jet had strained and swollen Eugene's sensitive sinuses; but the stale, polluted air of the parking garage made them want to explode. He survived the walk, but only barely.

After starting the car and navigating the garage, Glen announced, "I hope you don't mind, but I don't talk a lot while driving. I'm hard of hearing, you know."

"I know," Eugene told him. He only knew Glen because they lived on the same floor in their dorm, but he had already been told four times about Glen's hearing aid. All four times were by Glen himself.

"Speak up!" he snapped.

"I know!" Eugene repeated.

"No need to shout."

"Sorry," Eugene said and dug his literature assignment from his backpack.

"No problem."

Eugene found his page.

Glen asked, "Did you catch the game?"

"I was on vacation."

"So was I, but I caught the game." A few moments later, Glen asked, "Want to hear about it?"

Eugene indicated his literature assignment. "Actually," he said.

"Well, okay," Glen went on, then proceeded to describe the minutia of every play in the game that was so important to him.

When Eugene was sure he was done, he picked up his book again, and had found the place on the page where he had left off when Glen asked, "Whatcha readin'?"

Eugene told him.

"Is it good?"

"Actually, it's really not."

"Then why are you reading it?"

Eugene focused on the first word he saw on the page, which just happened to be goddamn.

"It's for a class."

"Oh. What's it about?"

Goddamn. Goddamn. Eugene replied with his own piece of fiction. "It's about one guy who gets a ride from the airport with another guy he barely knows, then the first guy cuts the second guy's arms off and beats him to death with them because he keeps asking questions when he's trying to read."

Glen frowned. "So it's a horror novel?"

Goddamn. He nodded and gritted his teeth.

"Sounds like a cool class."

Eugene returned his attention to the novel that had absolutely nothing to do with severed limbs.

Glen asked, "You know I can't have children?"

Eugene's eyes slowly left the now-forgotten word. "No?"

"It's true!"

Eugene's first thought was that this proved conclusively that there was a god. His second thought was that this was a horrible thought to have. His third thought was that his first thought was pretty funny, regardless. His fourth thought was the one he vocalized: "What?"

"You didn't ask why."

Eugene didn't want to know why.

Still, Glen continued, "I have a syndrome or something that means I can't have children." He added, "It also gives me a learning disability, a hearing disability, and a woman's breasts."

Eugene tried to think of an appropriate response to this confession, but there was none.

Glen, it turned out, needed no encouragement. "Wanna see the scars where I had my breasts reduced?"


To be continued...

Part Two

May. 19th, 2024 11:55 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



"Hot chocolate?" the enormous retiree asked Eugene and Glen as they entered the lobby of their dormitory. She wore a sweatshirt that said "Princess," but Eugene thought that might not be accurate. He spent a few moments wondering why somebody he'd never seen before would be standing there, offering him cocoa. He considered for a moment asking Glen for help understanding this, but he thought better of it. Judging by his history with Glen, nothing useful would come out of such an inquiry.

She asked again, "Hot chocolate?"

Glen bristled. "So you're saying I'm gay?"

The hot-chocolate lady didn't know how to reply to that.

Eugene took the opportunity to creep toward his room. He nearly made it, too, but his way was suddenly blocked by the opening of a door between him and freedom.

"Oh, no," he whispered to himself.

A denim-clad leg emerged from the doorway. The leg didn't belong to his R.A., Craig, but rather, to his R.A.'s terrifying, visiting-from-out-of-town girlfriend, Molly Case.

If Eugene was the type of person who used bad words, he would have used one now. He turned away from the potential sanctity of his own room and headed back through the lobby, trying to make as little noise as possible. This was particularly challenging because his duffel bag, backpack, and pants were made of 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?"

This called for a change of plans. This time, he would make a mad dash out of the building 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 whispered, "Fudge."

Her voice confirmed, "Yeah, I'm talking to you." He reluctantly turned to watch Molly pad her way toward him with the confidence of a predator.

"Hot chocolate?" the lady said to the predator, 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 duffle bag.

"How do you do it?" she asked him.

"What?" he asked her, having not the slightest clue what it might be.

"Pack your clothes like that," she replied, "and still keep them so stiff-looking?"

"I don't wear stiff-looking clothes."

"Do you have a whole closet full of identical, pressed pants, or do you always wear the same pair?"

"I have different pants!" he protested.

She rolled her eyes. "It's true."

"What's true?"

"You really do have no personality."

Something in Eugene broke. "Why do you treat me like this?"

"I don't know, sunshine," Molly replied. "Something about you just pisses me off."

Molly smiled, turned around, and strolled back to Craig's room, fattened by her latest kill.

"Hot chocolate?"

He said nothing.

Glen sidled up to him. "I think she wants me," he said, after a moment of silence.

"What?" Eugene asked, because he was positive that Glen, at no point in his entire life, would ever tell him that someone like Molly Case would find someone like him attractive.

"She might have heard that I'm shooting blanks," Glen added.

Now that Eugene thought about it, telling people that someone like Molly Case was attracted to someone like him was exactly the kind of thing Glen would do.

Glen showed no sign of slowing down. "Chicks dig that. They don't have to worry about getting knocked up when I bang them."

"Ever heard of gonorrhea?" Eugene asked before he could stop himself.

"Isn't that one of those gay, foreign poems people always talk about?"

Eugene stared at Glen for a full minute, looking for any sign that this might be a clever, deadpan joke. When he found no such sign, he sighed, "Yes."

"Whatever, Gino," Glen stated. "Hey, you have to check something out."

"Can I at least go to my room and drop these bags off?"

"This is serious! It's Alex's last semester, and he needs you to see something."

"Which Alex?" Eugene asked. This question wasn't as strange as it might seem, because the only two people Eugene knew named Alex were roommates on his floor.

"The senior."

"They're both seniors."

"Come on, man, Alex is desperate!"

"Fine," Eugene agreed, because it was easier than arguing.

"Hot chocolate?" the hot chocolate lady asked.

"Fuck you, cow!" Glen growled.

The horrified and deeply hurt look on her face prompted Eugene to take a cup. "Thank you," he apologized. He took a sip, then almost dropped the Styrofoam in shock. It was really good hot chocolate.

He followed Glen into up the stairs and into a room that could have belonged to a socially awkward twelve-year-old boy. Eugene waved to twenty-two-year-old version of that boy, who was lying on the bottom half of a bunk bed. "Alex," he said. Alex waved back. Eugene repeated the word "Alex" to another twenty-two-year-old version of that boy, who was sitting in front of a computer. Alex nodded in greeting.

The Alex on the bed asked, "Do you know Lisa Green?"

Eugene didn't believe there was such a thing as a dumb question, but if he did, this would be one. Most of the people at this school knew Lisa Green, and even more than that respected her. Legend had it that no man could physically stand up to her, and that no one, man or woman, could outthink her. "Doesn't everybody?"

The Alex in front of the computer said, "Yes, but don't you know her a little better than anybody?"

Better than most, he admitted to himself. She was an alpha wolf, and Eugene, along with his two best friends, Rocky and Mateo, followed her around like a pack of puppies. The best part was that she let them.

"Of course he would," Glen snorted. "He has the hots for her."

"Is this true?" the Alex on the bed asked.

It was. He wasn't exactly alone in this, though. A whole lot of people would gladly perform feats of pain, arrogance, and grandeur just to get her to size them up. Eugene himself wouldn't, but that was because he was a coward.

"If it is," the Alex in front of the computer said, "you might not be up to the favor we're about to ask."

"Is someone going to tell me what this is all about?"

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, and this was bad.

It was bad because the woman in the picture who looked remarkably like Lisa Green was wearing her one-piece bathing suit dangling around her ankle.

"Told you it was good," said Glen.

"That's not her," Eugene snapped.

"Are you sure?" asked the Alex on the bed.

The Alex at the computer clarified, "Have you even seen her naked?"

Eugene swallowed all he'd just consumed. "You want me to check this out?"

"You sure will," Glen snickered. "Check it out, I mean."

"Shut-up!" Eugene and both Alexes yelled.

Glen pouted for a second, and then left the room, saying, "Fuck you guys anyway!"

Eugene turned back to the guys named Alex. "Are you serious?"

The Alex on the bed shrugged. "You're in her social circle."

"You have to know," added the Alex at the computer.

"She would rip off my arms with her bare hands and beat me to death with them if I ever took something like this to her."

"No, she wouldn't," said the Alex on the bed.

The Alex in front of the computer agreed. "She'd need at least a hacksaw or something."

Eugene announced, "I'm leaving."

"You can't unsee this," warned the Alex on the bed.

Eugene tried to regain his hold on reality, which was difficult, considering the circumstances. "What does that even mean?" he asked.

"You schoolboy crush is over," the Alex in front of the computer replied. "You will never look at her the same again."

"Goodbye," Eugene told them.

"We'll tell you Rocky Bristol's real name," the Alex on the bed blurted out desperately.

"Rocky Bristol is his real name," Eugene replied.

"You are so naive. According to his transcripts," the Alex in front of the computer said, "Rocky is his middle name."

He reminded them, "I'm not asking her."

"You will," one of the Alexes said.

"Goodbye, Alex," Eugene told him. He said to the one at the computer, "Alex."

He told Eugene, "I'll keep Rocky's transcripts in a special folder."

"Just in case," the other Alex added.

Eugene left the room.


To be continued...

Part Three

May. 19th, 2024 11:50 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



Eugene burst into his room and was finally glad to see someone, and that was his roommate, Mateo, who was leaning on a dresser on his own side of the room.

Even to the most casual visitor, it was clear which side of the room belonged to Mateo. His walls were decorated with flamboyant posters of album covers and films from the golden age of cinema, all lined up symmetrically, with their subjects facing the center of the room. Eugene's side was tidy, but more subdued. It was currently occupied by a large man with the same bodily proportions as a Rottweiler wearing a baseball cap. "What's going on, Rocky?" Eugene asked the Rottweiler.

"Not much," Rocky--if that was indeed his real name--replied. "Coming to the party tonight?"

"That's it?" Eugene asked. "No 'Hello, Eugene, how was your trip home?'"

"Guessing by your response, chorizo," Mateo said, calling Eugene a sausage for no apparent reason, "it was no good."

"You guessed right," he confirmed.

"You didn't answer my question," Rocky pointed out.

"I don't know," Eugene said to him, "I have class tomorrow."

"Relax, honey," Mateo said, "we all do."

"Are you going?" Eugene asked him.

"Hell, no! I have class tomorrow." He added, "I also have a sister in town."

"You do?" Eugene asked, grateful that things were looking up. Eugene didn't have siblings of his own. "Where is she?"

"Right behind you, bro," Karen Fernandez told him as she locked her arms around his chest and arms, making him immobile. That wasn't so easy to do, given that Eugene was big and tall, and Karen was not.

There were no words to describe how relaxed he suddenly became upon hearing her voice and feeling her arms. He didn't have a real sister, so he imagined that this is what it felt like. He turned around so he could give her a proper hug.

"Cómo estás?" he asked her.

"Surprise," she whispered into his ear.

He released her and sighed, "I shouldn't be surprised to see you. You're Molly's ride." She was more than just Molly's ride--she was her roommate and best friend.

"Cariño," she whispered, "is the mean lady picking on you again?"

"She's so scary," he squeaked as she sat him down on Mateo's bed.

She proceeded to stroke his hair. "I know, cariño, I know."

"How can you stand to be in a car with her, or even live with her?"

"Baby," she cooed, "I know that's your way of asking me why she doesn't like you, but I don't know that."

"I know why," he told her. "Something about me pisses her off."

"Oh, baby," she sighed, then rested his head on her lap.

Rocky pouted. "Something about me pisses her off, too."

"Yeah," Karen smirked, "it pisses her off that you're a pendejo."

"That's good," Rocky asked, "right? Like one of those sexy Latin lovers you hear about all the time?"

"What did I say about you hitting on my sister, Rocky?" Mateo asked in return.

"I wasn't..."

"Yes, you were," Mateo told him. "Out."

"Hey," Karen said, "bro."

"This has nothing to do with you, Karen," Mateo replied.

"You're joking, right?"

"Forget it," Rocky concluded, getting to his feet. "I have to carry the keg anyway." As an afterthought, he added, "You going to the party, Eugene?"

"I said I have class tomorrow," he replied.

"You don't drink, anyway," Karen added.

"You really should, you know," Mateo interjected. "Drink, that is."

Eugene sighed.

"Is Cardigan Boy invited?" Mateo asked.

"Everyone's invited," Rocky said.

Eugene was even more puzzled than before. "Who?"

Mateo filled him in. "He's this guy who started showing up everywhere. Nobody knows who he is, because he never talks to anyone."

"Apparently he has a nice ass," Karen added.

"He does," Mateo swooned. "He's skinny and Asian and pale and kind of tragic. Like a character from those mangas I hide under my bed."

"You mean yaoi?" Rocky asked. Then he clarified, "I heard that's what they're called."

"Does Craig know about this?" Eugene asked.

"That Cardigan Boy has a nice ass?" Mateo asked. "I hope so; they live in the same dorm."

"I meant the keg," Eugene replied, exasperated.

"The whole dorm's invited," Rocky said from the doorway. "And we're keeping the keg in his room."

"Craig's the R.A."

"So?"

"It's a dry campus."

"So?

Eugene defined the term to the best of his abilities: "The Resident Advisor."

"I thought the A meant assistant," Mateo muttered.

Karen said, "I thought it stood for authoritarian."

"It doesn't matter what it stands for," Eugene insisted, "he's the Hall Monitor. The Head Boy."

"'Head boy?'" Mateo giggled. "Craig's been holding out."

Rocky shrugged. "It's his keg."

"Forget it," Eugene finally decided. "Molly will be there."

"So will Lisa."

"Then definitely forget it."

Mateo said, "I thought you liked Lisa, chorizo."

"Who's Lisa?" asked Karen.

"You met her," her brother replied. "Tomboy."

Karen smirked. "Her?" Her smirk blossomed into a full-scale grin when she turned to Eugene. "Oh, she's cute!"

"Fine," Eugene muttered. "I'll go."

In sing-song again, Karen announced, "Cariño's got a sweetie!"


To be continued...

Part Four

May. 19th, 2024 11:45 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



Cardigan Boy lived up to his namesake. The threadbare, cable-knit sweater that drooped over his lean body had probably been white once, but no longer. And just as Mateo had described, he stood in a corner, alone, sipping on a dark liquid in a clear, plastic cup.

Beer in hand, Eugene moseyed over to him. "What are you drinking?"

Cardigan Boy studied Eugene, then the cup in his hand, and then Eugene again. "Root beer?" he replied hesitantly.

Eugene pointed at his own cup. "Real beer," he said. "My friend, Rocky, wouldn't let me onto the floor without me drinking one. It's not that bad."

"Nice friend," Cardigan Boy said with a shrug.

"Eugene," Eugene told him.

"Sean," Cardigan Boy replied.

"What's in the purse?" Eugene asked, referring to the messenger bag slung over his shoulder.

"It's called a satchel," Sean told him.

"Sorry," Eugene stuttered, "what's in the satchel?"

"Chessboard," Sean replied.

"You play?"

Sean didn't react to the question. Instead, he answered, quite matter-of-factly, "No, Eugene, I just carry it around because it's magical."

He assumed that meant Sean really did play, so he recommended, "Tomorrow?"

"Noon?" Sean replied.

"Library?" Eugene clarified.

"Groovy," Sean agreed.

"Bathroom," Eugene added, then drifted into the crowd. It carried him to a bed, where Lisa Green lay, all by herself, smoking and holding a plush cat over her head, saying, "Man, if this was a real cat, I'd run away. It's totally scary."

She always wore the same type of raglan jersey, with sleeves a different color, cut in such a way that it drew one's eyes to her breasts. She never seemed to noticed them herself, and it was her inattention that always made Eugene pay attention.

He had been paying attention for quite some time when she snapped her fingers. "Hello?" she said.

That shattered his trance, but by then it was too late.

She sat up and told him, "I'd break you, little man."

He froze. She was absolutely right. What was worse was that he'd wanted to be broken by her since the moment they'd met.

Terror gripped him tighter as she wrapped her fingers around his chin and cheeks and forced him to stare into her bloodshot eyes. "Kid, are you plastered?"

"No, no, no."

"Then what's the problem?"

"This is a tobacco-free dorm?"

"This ain't tobacco."

"Wait," he stammered, "is that...?"

She asked earnestly, "Does this bother you?"

"Well..."

"No problem." She grinned and extinguished the joint by dipping it in his beer, licking the formerly lit end, then putting it in her pocket.

"Um," he said.

"Are you sure you're not high?"

"No!"

"Contact high?"

"What's that?"

She pinched his cheek. "You are so cute." Then she spun him around and patted him on the ass. "Now go get me a beer. Get yourself a fresh one, too."

He wandered in a fugue over to the keg, but his path was blocked by Molly. "Good evening, sunshine," she said.

"Oh, fudge," he whispered.

"What is it with you and chocolate?" she asked.

"I just need to get some beer."

"Oh, for the fertility goddess over there."

"What?"

"Your friend with the tomboy act. You know, she makes friends with guys so she can fuck them."

"What?"

"I think she's insecure."

"Who? Her?"

"How old are you, sunshine?"

"Twenty."

"How do you stay so naive?"

"I don't even know what you're talking about."

"I know," she sighed. "It would be cute if it wasn't so sad."

Molly drifted off, leaving Eugene with only the severed limbs of his ego. "Ow," he said as he filled two plastic cups.

"Is she fucking with you?" Lisa asked from behind him.

He didn't respond. Instead, he passed her the beer and tried not to think about what she'd look like naked. He wasn't entirely successful.

Lisa sipped her beer and added, "Because I could totally take her."


To be continued...

Part Five

May. 19th, 2024 11:40 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



The next morning, the banshee came to claim his soul and plunge it deep into the bowels of hell. It turned out to be his alarm clock, but the feeling in his own bowels was indeed reminiscent of Satan's real estate.

His first attempt to move was thwarted when he discovered that his brain had been flipped over and didn't fit into his skull anymore. Gravity took the initiative and rolled him off the bed and onto the floor. A fierce struggle ensued, with Eugene attempting, with great effort, to regain control of his limbs. His hands moved of their own accord and pounded on the clock until it stopped shouting.

He wanted desperately to rest his chin upon the end table where his hands were. His bones, however, had dissolved into cartilage. He flowed back to the floor, where he tried to come up with a "Plan B." It would be a lot easier if the invisible man would stop whacking him in the temple with a ball-peen hammer. He could also smell his own breath. This was bad. If he didn't know any better, he could have sworn that a rodent had defecated, then died and decomposed in his mouth. Actually, he really didn't know any better. The last thing he remembered was Lisa and Rocky pouring shots down his throat.

His hands again acted above and beyond the call of duty and retrieved his keys from the same end table before dragging the rest of him out the door. He made it to his feet and halfway to the bathroom before his teeth began pulling and shoving each other in a desperate bid to flee his swampy gums.

He turned back for the door, his keys at the ready. His motor functions had yet to reboot themselves, so he could only manage a sloppy thrust in the direction of the doorknob. Finally, his perseverance paid off, and the key slid into the lock. That was the hard part. The next part was turning the knob and pushing, which was even easier than he had expected.

"Good morning, sunshine," a very naked Molly Case said from a bed that looked remarkably like his.

"Sorry," he mumbled to Molly and to the roommate on the other bed, who happened to exactly like Mateo. "Wrong room."

He slammed the door and shuffled over to the next lock. It took a few sloppy thrusts, but he eventually got the key inside the lock again. The knob, however, wasn't as compliant as the one he thought was his room.

His brain righted itself and noted such irrefutable facts as the doorknob, and led him to one conclusion: "Oh, fuck, that was my room!"

He fled quietly toward the emergency exit, for this was, indeed, an emergency. Suddenly, his bare, humid feet left carpet and skittered across linoleum as he fled through the lobby and headed for Rocky's room. The lobby itself was sparsely populated by students wiping the remains of last night's party from their eyes. They wouldn't, and didn't, notice a large boy running past them in his underwear.

"Rocky," Eugene announced through the door, "please open up."

"Why?" Rocky replied.

"We need to talk. About last night."

"Can this wait?"

"I'm in my underpants."

The door opened immediately. "Does this have to do with last night?"

"Can I come in?" Eugene begged.

"Are you trying to seduce me?"

Eugene glanced at the crowd's attention in the lobby, which was pointed in his direction and growing exponentially with time. "Do you want me to?"

"Fuck no!"

"Then can I come in?"

"Fine," he said and opened the door; "but do me a favor and stand over there. Your breath smells like a colostomy bag."

The remark stopped Eugene in his tracks. "What's that?"

"It's a bag where you keep your feces," Rocky snapped.

Eugene sat down on Rocky's plaid loveseat. The pattern rippled and became three-dimensional. He decided to concentrate on the asymmetrical, unidentifiable stains on the carpet. "I can't believe there's a word for that. I can't believe you know it."

"It's a Pre-Med thing. Man, you look like hell. Did you forget your keys?"

"I have them right here. I can't go back to my room."

"Why not?"

"Molly's there."

"You mean Mateo."

"No, I mean Molly," Eugene replied. "And she's naked."

Rocky had to think about the first half of that statement for a full minute. He used another full minute to think about the second half. "Does Craig know?"

"You think he'd notice if Molly wasn't in his room?"

Rocky considered all of the angles. "Maybe they broke up! Did she tell you that she and Craig broke up?"

"If she did, I don't remember."

"Really?"

"I don't remember anything."

"That's a shame. You were charming. I would have fucked you."

"I'm glad you didn't."

"Don't jump to conclusions, Eugene," Rocky said. "You do say you don't remember anything."

"I would have remembered that."

"It was a big night for you."

"How much did I drink last night?" Eugene asked, trying to regain some control of the conversation.

"Two and a half beers."

"I remember shots."

"There were a few of those. You're handling this pretty well, considering."

"How many?"

"At least twelve," Rocky replied.

"And I'm still alive?"

"And in your underwear. You didn't escape intact."

"I have class in fifteen minutes.

"Sounds like you're screwed."

"Thanks for the support, Rocky." Where the hell was that damned banshee now that he really needed it?


To be continued...

Part Six

May. 19th, 2024 11:35 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



"Easy there, kid," said a voice from the deep recesses of the Burning Bush.

Eugene squinted into the shrubbery. The Burning Bush was the name given to the hedge that surrounded the liberal-arts building, and it had been adopted by the number of smokers--tobacco or otherwise--who had attended college here since the counterculture had infected these groves of academia many decades ago. As a close friend to several tobacco users, he knew it well, and he knew which dead patches were used as a lookout. He ducked and peeked into these windows, but no one was inside. He said, "Um."

"You look like hell," the same voice announced from behind him.

He yelped and spun around. The voice belonged to Lisa. Her denim jacket blended into her jeans, forming a weatherproof suit of armor. It didn't hide her figure, though, and he found himself speculating about the kind of swimwear she favored, and how she might choose to wear it. The subject of female nudity rippled through his sludge-filled mind, reminding him of the nude female he'd seen in own his bed just a few minutes ago. He groaned.

"You probably feel like hell, too," Lisa said. When he didn't add anything, she asked, "Why are you dressed like a roadie?"

"Rocky."

"That explains everything." She patted his chest. "You're a big guy, but he's filled out in different parts." She looked over her shoulder, then leaned closer to his ear to whisper, "He's got a pencil-dick, though."

"What?" Eugene asked. He wanted to react to the revelation that Lisa had seen Rocky's penis, but he was too busy wondering what Molly would tell people about his penis.

"Don't tell him I said anything," she added.

"Oh, I won't."

"Where you headed?"

"Philosophy."

"Mortenoir?"

He nodded.

"You're late."

"I know."

She grinned. "Come on, I'll walk you there." She crushed the ember of her cigarette against the side of the building. "Having you in class with me is gonna rock."

Eugene plopped down in a desk without his books or even supplies, noting that the professor was tardier than they were.

"Don't sweat it," she told him when she noticed how ill-equipped he was. "You can borrow my notes." That's when she peeled off her jacket, arching her back to free it from her shoulders.

Eugene groaned, "Oh, no."

Lisa leaned forward in concern. "Something wrong?"

"I'm okay," he whimpered, covering his eyes.

He uncovered them a moment later to watch the professor stroll into the room. The stocky, black-clad, aptly named Dr. Mortenoir stopped near the entrance, glared at all of the undergraduates before him, and said absolutely nothing. A clock somewhere just out of sight shrank the room a little more with each tick. The sounds of discomfort were amplified, be they the rustle of double-checked schedules, the settling of fabric, the clearing of nervous throats, and the creaking of tightening muscles. For three solid minutes, Dr. Mortenoir seemingly peered into the souls of all of his students, unimpressed. With a sneer he stepped up to the podium and shuffled through a stack of notes. Then, without any sort of warning, his palms slammed into the lectern, a smile exploded over his face, and he bellowed, "It's great to be alive!"

Eugene's startled bones tried to flee. Unfortunately the rest of his body, weighed down by a dozen shots it still hadn't processed, didn't agree. The result was searing pain that gathered in his shoulders, then spread over his neck and ribs. Wide-eyed, he turned to Lisa, who was giggling.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, "but warning you about that wouldn't have helped."

After giving everyone a moment to adjust to this new, unexpected paradigm of a professor who enjoyed messing with his class, Dr. Mortenoir paced the room, lowering the volume, but not enthusiasm, of his voice. "Good morning, pupils, I'm Dr. David Mortenoir, but if you call me Dr. Mortenoir, I won't know you're talking to me because I'll be too busy looking around for my mom. Call me Dave. You're supposed to be here for 'The Ancient Philosophers of Life,' so if you're not, you should leave and find out where you are supposed to be."

A few insecure students checked their schedules, but everyone remained.

"In this class we will be reading texts by Heroclitus, Aristotle, Parmenides, and Plato. Please keep in mind that if anything they write contradicts anything I say, they are wrong."

Eugene again turned to Lisa, who shrugged.

"I'm only kidding. They've got thousands of years on me, so they probably know better. But it is philosophy, so in reality, they are wrong. And so am I. We're going to start out light, so for class tomorrow, I want you to read the first half of The Republic. I'm actually not kidding this time. Any questions so far?"

Eugene let out a helpless yelp, shortly before his head landed on the bare desk.

"Trust me," Lisa whispered. "It does get easier."

"Hangovers or philosophy?"

"Hangovers," she replied. "Philosophy only gets worse."


To be continued...

Part Seven

May. 19th, 2024 11:30 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



By noon, the weather on campus mirrored the weather in Eugene's head. The morning fog had lifted, and the sun began to warm his skin, loosening up the muscles in his neck and shoulders. Despite his headache, he could finally think clearly. This did nothing, however, to lessen his moral burden.

It never should have gotten to this point. He should have gone right back to his room, apologized for the confusion, and arranged a time for Molly and himself to discuss the situation and reach some sort of conclusion that could lessen the spiritual damages of their ill-advised decision. That's what his father had always taught him to do.

Actually, that wasn't entirely accurate. His father had never warned him about this kind of thing. How could he? While he understood that college allowed for mild, underage drinking, he never could have anticipated the combination of Rocky Bristol, Lisa Green, Molly Case, and a dozen shots of an unidentified liquor. And if he had, he would have recommended that his son not keep an appointment he'd made with a strange, aloof boy who might or might not even show up. He would have told Eugene to use the time instead to resolve matters with Molly.

On the other hand, leaving would only create another stain on his already spotty moral record, so he resolved to leave the library at exactly 12:05 p.m.

Sean showed up at 12:03.

More relieved by this than he expected to be, Eugene led him to a fancy, cast-iron table and told him, "I didn't think you'd make it."

"I said I would," Sean replied, sitting down and reaching into his satchel. He pulled out two closed fists and pointed them at his opponent.

Eugene pointed to the one on the right. "People say a lot of things at parties."

"I don't," Sean said and opened his hand. The pawn inside was black.

As Sean set up the pieces on the board, Eugene told him, "My roommate thinks you're callipygian."

After a long silence while he finished assembling the chessmen, Sean moved his king's knight and mumbled, "Your roommate's a smart-ass."

Chuckling more out of discomfort than out of amusement at the remark, Eugene moved a pawn. "I'm not sure how he could see that through your sweater."

"I'm a dancer at the Pole Position, that male strip club at the edge of town," Sean replied. He moved his knight again, sweeping Eugene's pawn off the board.

Eugene moved another pawn to threaten that aggressive knight. He said, "I didn't know there was a male strip club here."

Sean looked up at Eugene for a moment, saying nothing as he moved one of his bishops just a little to cover the knight.

Eugene, unable to interpret anything but contempt from that look, captured the knight with his pawn, concluding that the sacrifice was worth it. When Sean inevitably zipped his bishop across the board to take the pawn, Eugene couldn't help but notice gauze wrapped professionally around his forearm. Sean's hand reacted instantly, whipping backward and covering itself with the sweater.

Eugene pretended not to see the bandages, disguising his reaction by moving a pawn to threaten the bishop, but just before his finger left the piece on the board, he paused. Sean's disdain, which he'd originally thought was aimed at him, was actually aimed inward--it wasn't even disdain as much as it was disappointment. This was one sad young man, who had cut his wrists in a shameful manner and didn't trust himself enough to drink.

The revelation of the complications in Sean's soul also came with the revelation that he was likely more complicated in many ways. Eugene returned the pawn to its original position and looked more closely. The sacrifice of that knight wasn't as pointless as it had initially appeared. Sean had been drilling a hole directly to his king and positioning his heavier hitters for an early checkmate.

With a strategic and threatening move with his own knight, Eugene told Sean he wasn't having any of that.

Sean's eyebrows perked up, delighted. Eugene had initially been relieved that Sean had kept him away from comeuppance at the hands of Molly, but now that relief swelled into something more substantial. Helping this boy find something to like about life, or something to like about himself, might provide the absolution Eugene so desperately wanted to help him get through the day. The clouds in Eugene's mind began to part, and he felt good for the first time since he woke up.

And then a voice said, "Good afternoon, sunshine."

Eugene responded by yelping, jumping out of his chair, and assuming a defensive stance he had learned in a tae kwon do class over ten years ago. He wasn't sure why he did the last bit. It certainly didn't provoke the desired response, which was fear.

Instead, it sent Mateo into a hysterical laughing fit that took several long, awkward minutes to pass. Eventually he caught his breath, wiped the tears from his eyes, and launched into the tirade he'd been shuttling around all morning. "Where the hell have you been?"

"Class."

"In your underwear? There's no class in that."

"I borrowed some clothes from Rocky."

"No," Mateo clarified, "I meant that there's no class in what you did this morning."

"I got scared!"

"You and me and Molly both!"

"Um," interjected Sean.

Mateo whipped around so he could bite the head off of the speaker and return his fury to the man who really deserved it. When he saw who it was, though, the pitch of his voice fell an octave. "Hello..."

"Hello?" Sean replied cautiously.

Eugene cleared his throat. "Mateo, this is Sean."

Mateo bowed his head dashingly.

"Sean, this is Mateo."

Sean waved cautiously from his hip.

"My roommate," Eugene added.

A tiny little smile appeared for one tiny little second over a tiny little corner of Sean's face. "I've heard a lot about you," he said.

Mateo giggled. "Nothing bad, I hope."

"You have a remarkable vocabulary," he replied.

"Sean," Eugene said.

He scooped up the chess pieces and dropped them into his bag with a sigh. "I understand."

"No, wait!" Eugene insisted. "I really want to do this again."

Sean tossed the satchel over his shoulder, which was drooping, but not from the bag. "Yeah," he said, "I know."

"Tomorrow," Eugene blurted out. "Noon. This table."

Another smile, larger and longer this time, appeared on Sean's face. "Tomorrow."

When he was completely out of earshot, Mateo asked, "So you told him a lot about me?"

"I said you thought he was callipygian."

"You told him I thought he was a pigeon from California?" Mateo's eyes bugged out. "Have you gone completely insane?"

Eugene shook his head. "It means 'having a shapely buttocks.'"

"Oh." His face relaxed back to normal for a moment before he frowned. "I can't believe there's a word for that."

"There's a word for a bag where you keep your feces, too."

"Don't change the subject, Eugene."

"I didn't change the subject," he replied, "you changed the subject."

"Well don't let me change the subject, Eugene."

He sighed and braced himself.

"I appreciate the gesture," Mateo said, "but it's going to take more than waking up to a naked woman to make me straight."

"That's not..."

"I know."

"Mateo..."

"What happened last night, Eugene?"

"I was hoping you could tell me."

"You were that drunk?"

Eugene nodded.

"I thought you didn't ever get that drunk."

"So did I."

"Especially on a school night!"

"I know!" He reminded him, "Rocky and Lisa were there."

Mateo rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine, I'll give you that."

"I just want to know what happened."

"You could have stuck around and asked Molly."

"It's a little late for that," Eugene sighed.

"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. Given all of this information, Eugene cobbled together as much of a storyline together as he could. He turned to Mateo for more answers. "Silence during sex isn't good, is it?"

His roommate shook his head. "Not even a little bit, Romeo."

"At least I don't remember that part."

To be continued...

Part Nine

May. 19th, 2024 11:25 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



Three months later, Eugene glanced at his watch, ran his hands through his damp hair, and bit his lower lip. "Fudge," he said. He was positive he could smell cigarette smoke drifting out of the kitchen. It wasn't the first time, and since the kitchen at this particular franchise family restaurant employed only one cook at this hour, it had to be Al.

Unfortunately for the state health code, Al was a damned fast cook, and utterly indispensable during this unusually busy night. "Ugh," Eugene said.

"Stir-fry!" Al announced, ringing his "order-up" bell with a little too much enthusiasm.

Eugene had two options. As acting manager, he could take action against Al for smoking in the kitchen. On the other hand, he could exercise authoritarian discretion and let it go.

"Deep-fried bacon and potato with salsa con queso!" Al and his bell announced.

With another hour and forty-seven minutes until May's Café closed, Eugene made his decision and picked up the plates. He dropped the stir-fry off on a table occupied by a cheerful pile of wrinkles wearing a pink jogging suit.

She squinted at his nametag. "'Eugene,'" she read, " 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 it again when the spherical man at another table waved at him. "I have to give one of my other customers this hot plate, ma'am," he apologized. "I'll be by to visit when I can."

"Thanks, Gino!" the spherical man said.

"Not a problem, sir," Eugene lied, pretending he loved it when people called him Gino.

"I don't mean to be a pain," he said, "but I did ask for a refill of diet soda."

"Why bother?" Eugene wanted to ask, but in reality, he said, "I'll have it for you in just one second."

On his way over to the drink fountain, a businesswoman snapped her fingers. "Could you get me the check," she demanded. "Right now?"

Eugene reversed his course and headed for the cash register.

"Hey, Gino," the spherical man shouted while waving his soda glass.

"I'll get to it in a minute, sir."

Eugene totaled the woman's tab, and the rowdy family from a distant booth paraded over to the counter with the subtlety of a drunken marching band. The parents were not much more behaved than their kids, who left a trail of crackers and ripped-up sugar packets in their wake.

"How much do we owe you?" the mother snarled as her daughter knocked over a potted plant on purpose.

Eugene quickly totaled their bill from memory and handed it over.

"Why you charge for refills?" she asked.

"We charge refills on juice and milk," he explained.

"Why'd you forget to charge for all the pop?"

"Soft-drink refills are free."

The father finally spoke after spitting tobacco juice into the leaves of the potted plant that was still standing. "But not juice?" His sleeveless T-shirt showed off some major muscle groups, and his clenched overbite showed off an overwhelming lack of perspective.

Eugene chose not to stare him down. He wouldn't have, anyway, because the father's son had just collided with his leg at full speed.

"I ain't payin' for no refills!" The Semper Fi tattoo on his forearm bulged.

"And you won't have to," Eugene assured him when the pain faded. He exercised more authoritarian discretion and totaled the bill again.

The mother was satisfied, so the father was satisfied. They still didn't leave a tip.

"Hey, Gino!"

Eugene called after the family, "Come again!"

He was about to head straight for the soda fountain when the businesswoman appeared at the cash register. "Can I speak to the manager?"

"The manager's not here right now," Eugene sighed. "I'm acting as manager."

She exhaled impatiently. "My food tasted like cigarettes. I used to smoke, you know, and now I quit, and I shouldn't be smelling it in my food. Your manager needs to do something."

"He will be advised," Eugene replied.

"Where's your busboy?" she continued. "My dishes weren't bussed the whole time I was here."

"We don't have a busboy this time of night."

"What about the cook?"

"He's been cooking."

"Are you getting smart with me?"

"No, ma'am," he said without missing a beat. "I'm as dumb as a post."

"You don't have enough people working."

"I know."

"Why don't you hire more people?" she asked.

"I don't have that authority."

"I can see why."

There was no genteel reply to that, so he ran her credit card. The machine denied it. "No!" he begged of it.

"What's the problem?"

"Your card was declined."

"That can't be right."

"I'll run it again." Eugene did as he promised, but the result was the same.

"Maybe your machine is broken," she offered.

"The machine's been working fine all day."

She bristled. "Are you calling me a liar?"

"No, ma'am," he told her. "I need another form of payment."

The gods must have blessed him, because the second card was approved. She signed the slip and headed out the door without another word. She didn't leave a tip, either.

"Hey, Gino!"

Eugene focused his eyes solely on the drink machine, and he headed right for it. When he returned to the table, however, the spherical man asked, "Can I get that to go?"

"Sure," Eugene sighed.

"And can I have my check?"

"Sure..."

Somehow, he got the wax-paper cup and the bill to the spherical man without further interruption. "Anything else I can get you?" he asked reluctantly.

"Just cash me out," the spherical man replied, slapping a credit card onto the table. "I'm gettin' drastic with the plastic! If you could get that back to me really quick, I'd appreciate it. I've got a thing to get to."

On his way back to the register, he looked at his watch. Then, with one hour and forty-three minutes left until May's Café closed, he noticed Molly Case out of the corner of his eye.

His head whipped around and he saw for sure that it really wasn't Molly, but rather a woman who vaguely resembled her from behind. He stopped in his tracks and stared off into space. It had finally occurred to him what he had done.

"Hey, Gino!" the spherical man shouted.


To be continued...

Part Eight

May. 19th, 2024 11:25 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



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 his copy of The Republic.

The smoke alarm overhead beeped again, and Mateo asked, "What now?"

Eugene opened his book and replied, "I read."

Mateo rubbed his temples with the tips of his fingers. "Molly?"

"I can't," he said. "Besides, if things went to hell for her like I think they did, I probably won't see her again."

"You are such a gentleman."

The smoke alarm beeped in agreement.

"What do you expect me to do?" Eugene asked.

"I don't know, Mateo replied. "Maybe admit you did something wrong?"

"I have!"

"To her."

"Oh."

"Beep," said the smoke alarm.

"I was drunker then I've ever been in my life."

"How sober do you think she was?"

"More sober than me."

"Beep," conceded the smoke alarm.

"How can you just assume that?"

Eugene thought about it and then concluded, "She's older than I am."

The smoke alarm replied, "Beep!"

Mateo asked, "Are you fucking stupid?"

"I had three beers," Eugene told him.

"That's nothing."

"And at least twelve shots."

"Beep?" the smoke alarm exclaimed.

"And you're still alive?"

"See?"

Mateo gritted his teeth. He'd be damned if he let Eugene's half-assed logic defeat him.

The smoke alarm egged him on. "Beep!"

"What if Molly had twenty-one?"

Eugene replied, "She's had more practice."

"Do you know that for sure?"

"I'm really wound tight," Eugene reminded him.

"Beep," conceded the alarm.

"Did you watch her throughout the entire party?"

Eugene didn't have a response.

"Beep!" the smoke alarm prodded.

Mateo pressed on. "How could you do that with Lisa grabbing your ass all night?"

"How do you know about that?"

"Rocky."

"Beep," the smoke alarm confirmed.

Eugene grinned, with a distant look in his eyes. "That was pretty distracting."

"Then maybe Molly's not as much to blame as you're insinuating."

"Beep," the smoke alarm said indignantly.

"She took advantage of a drunk person who's not her boyfriend," Eugene growled. "I'm the victim here."

There was a long silence, which the smoke alarm punctuated. "Beep."

Pity and clarity slapped Mateo in the face at the same time. "You really don't get where I'm coming from, do you?"

"Beep," the alarm replied.

"How long has that damned thing been doing that?"

Mateo frowned and pointed to the smoke alarm. "That?"

"Yes, that."

"Since noon."

"Beep," the smoke alarm agreed.

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 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."

"Beep," the smoke alarm objected.

"It'll take forever."

"Why don't you fix it, Eugene?"

"Why am I the expert on smoke detectors, Mateo?"

"Because you're good at kind of stuff."

Eugene rolled his eyes and jumped off the bed. "Fine." He stood on a chair and started to dissect the alarm. Using his Swiss Army knife, he probed the insides and triumphantly removed the battery.

"Beep," the smoke alarm told him.

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."

If a smoke alarm had eyes to roll, it would have. "Beep," it said.

"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 fallen asleep. 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, "Fudge."

Mateo peered over the bed. "Well, did you fix it?"

"Beep," the smoke alarm replied.

"Fudge," Eugene repeated.

"I'm leaving before you really hurt yourself," Mateo told him.

Eugene waved him off.

The alarm beeped twice before Eugene found the energy to get back onto the chair. He wasn't up there very long when he found the appropriate wire to yank. He waited, just in case the alarm had anything to add. "And that," Eugene told it after a few moments of blessed silence, "is how to end an argument."

"Good evening, sunshine," said a voice from behind him. This time, it wasn't Mateo. That's why Eugene lost his balance again and fell off the chair.

"Where were you?" Molly asked him as he lay sprawled on the floor.

"Class?" he groaned, getting to his feet.

"In your underwear?"

"I freaked out."

"You freaked out?" she seethed. "I wake up in bed with a guy who's not my boyfriend and you're the one who's freaked out?"

"We can both be freaked out, you know."

She shook her head. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."

"This is really bad for me, too, you know."

"You gave up your moral high ground the instant you left me naked and alone with a total stranger."

"That's Karen's brother," he assured her as he struggled to his feet. "He's gay."

"I don't care if it was Karen herself! Why did you do this to me?"

"To you?" he cried. "I was a virgin."

This shook her enough that she had to take a seat on Mateo's bed. "Are you sure? You seemed like you knew what you were doing."

"I did?"

"Well, you were sloppy," she admitted, "but you were drunk."

"Do you have any idea how drunk I was?" he asked her.

"Why does that matter?"

"Do you have any idea how drunk I was?" he repeated.

"I know you had some beer."

"I had at least twelve shots."

"Oh." She thought about it. "And you're still alive?"

"I don't remember anything."

"Great."

"I don't even know why you slept with me," he said. "You hate me."

"I don't hate you," she told him. "I was just teasing you."

"You call that teasing?"

"I play hard."

"I don't get it."

"You're never going to," she replied.

They didn't say anything to each other for a long time until Eugene asked, "What did you tell Craig?"

"I haven't talked to him yet," she sighed. "And I don't know what I'm going to say when I do. I won't say anything about you, though."

"Why not?"

"Because he's your R.A. and your friend, and this is all fucked up enough as it is."

"Thank you?" he stammered.

"Don't thank me," she growled.

"What am I supposed to say?"

"Don't say anything, okay?"

She got to her feet. "I'm leaving. I won't be coming back. I fucked up. I wish I could say it was worth it."

He wanted to tell her how sorry he was, but she was gone. He closed the door, and just like that, it was over.

To be continued...

Part Ten

May. 19th, 2024 11:20 am
spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



After one hour and fifty-three minutes, Eugene ushered the last customer out of May's Café and locked the door. It took another eighty-seven minutes to clean the place up for the morning shift, and another twelve to drive back to the dorms. He opened the door to his room to find a vividly flashing television screen.

Without looking up, Mateo asked through a mouth full of popcorn, "How was work?"

Eugene grunted.

"That good?"

Eugene reached into his closet, grabbed a towel and his shower caddy, and lumbered out the door toward the bathroom. Even the hot water couldn't rinse Molly from his mind. Instead of returning to his room, he changed back into his work clothes, slung the towel over his shoulder, and took the stairs to the basement study lounge.

It was empty, and he couldn't decide whether this was good or bad. He didn't feel like talking to anyone, but on the other hand, being alone meant being alone with his thoughts.

Why wouldn't this feeling go away? Why, after all this time, did she still haunt him? He knew why: she forced him to ask a question he still couldn't answer. Was he really a terrible person? Did a lifetime of good deeds and generosity all just go away because of one stupid, scared decision? Was that moment a test that he'd failed? Was he tainted?

He had to talk to her. He had to tell her how sorry he was. But he had no idea how to reach her. Lucky for him, the one person who knew was also the one person besides his mother who would always love him, no matter what he did. He flipped open his cell phone and made the call.

"Hello?" came the sleepy voice on the other end.

"It's Eugene."

"You never call me, cariño," Karen said. "What time is it?"

"Late."

"Is everything okay?" she asked.

"No," he replied, "it's not."

"What's wrong? Is Mateo all right?"

"Mateo's fine," he assured her. "I need your help with something.

"For you, bro, anything."

Her voice calmed his nerves just a little. He should have just called her right away instead of fretting about it. Everything was going to be okay. "It's about Molly."

"Molly?" she clarified. "My Molly?"

"Yes."

"She still won't tell me why she doesn't like you, cariño."

"I know why she doesn't like me," he told her. "And it's not what you think."

"Why don't you tell me what I think, and I'll tell you if you're even close."

Eugene breathed. "She, uh..."

"Spit it out, cariño."

"She was flirting with me."

"I can tell you right now that I was not thinking that."

"No," he said, "I didn't mean that that was what you were thinking."

"Wait," she laughed. "You're telling me that you think she was flirting with you by teasing you?"

"Yes."

"You're cute and all, baby, but that's a bit far-fetched. Who told you that? Rocky?"

"She did."

"What?" Karen squeaked. "Why would she tell you that? When would she tell you that? She hasn't been to your campus since she and Craig broke up."

Eugene had been expecting to hear that bit of news, but it still surprised him a little. "They broke up? When?"

"Around New Year's."

"Oh."

"Cariño," she said slowly, "what aren't you telling me?"

"Promise you won't hate me?"

"Why do I get the feeling," she replied, "that you're going to tell me..."

"I slept with Molly!" he blurted.

"Oh." A minute passed and she added. "Oh." Another minute passed, and she concluded, "Que joda?"

"I know, I know, I know!"

"But I thought you were a virgin!"

"Not anymore."

"Que joda?" she shouted again.

He decided to wait for her to speak.

She asked, "Did she break up with Craig before or after this?"

"Because of."

"Why is this the first time I'm hearing about this?"

"Because I'm ashamed of it."

"You better be," she growled.

"I know."

"You know?" she added. "You know? I thought you were better than that! You're my other big bro! And you were supposed to be sweet and honest and sensitive and not go fucking somebody else's girlfriend!"

"I," he tried to say.

"And Craig is your friend! Does he know?"

"I don't think so."

"That's really nice. Wonderful." He couldn't hear her, but he was sure that the next words she spoke came through gritted teeth. "You really are just another guy, aren't you?"

That was the last thing he ever wanted to hear her say. "Karen, I'm sorry."

"Tell me everything," she demanded. "Everything."

He started with the drink he fetched for Lisa and kept going, even though he didn't want to, past the point of discovery the next morning, concluding with Molly's last words to him in his room that afternoon. When he finished, he waited for her to digest everything she'd heard.

She asked finally, "At least twelve shots?"

"Yeah."

"And you're not dead?"

"Not yet."

"That doesn't excuse what you did the next morning," she told him.

"I know."

"You both fucked up big time that night, Eugene," she said, "but at least you could have had the decency to face up to it."

"That's why I'm calling."

"It's not me you have to face up to."

"I called," he said, "because I need to talk to Molly. I don't know how to reach her."

"It's been over three months. Why do you think she'd want to talk to you?"

"I don't know."

"She has no reason to ever talk to you again," Karen told him, "you know that?"

"Yeah."

"And neither do I."

Eugene choked.

"Did you hear me?"

"I did," he replied.

"I can't just go giving out her number to every pendejo that wants it."

"Okay."

"I'm gonna ask her if she'll let you have it."

"Okay."

"And if I get it for you, you are gonna call it right away, and you are gonna apologize for being a cabrón, and you are gonna do anything she tells you to, even if it means confessing to Craig."

"What?"

"Did I stutter?"

"No."

"Swear to me," she demanded.

"I do."

She hung up without another word.

He stared into space for a while. He didn't think it was possible, but he actually felt worse about this than he ever had. Karen was one of the most important people in his world, and now she'd never look at him the same way again. Maybe he really was just like the rest of them.

He went to bed, but he didn't sleep much. When he did, he dreamed the same dream, over and over. He was still in May's Café, and when the woman turned around, it really was Molly. She would leave without saying a word. Lisa would follow her out the door, because clearly he didn't know how to treat women. Rocky would follow Lisa because she had her pinkie wrapped around his little pencil dick. Mateo would leave because he'd put some thought into it over the past few months, and he realized that Eugene was actually a cabrón. Craig would leave, but not before punching Eugene in the stomach. And as he doubled over in pain, he'd look up to see Karen, who only paused on her way out the door to give him a look that hurt him hundreds of times more than that punch. And finally, Al would leave because he had better things to do, leaving Eugene to clean the place up by himself.

Needless to say, Eugene didn't feel particularly rested when he got up to go to class the next day.

To be continued...

spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



An afternoon a couple of days later, Eugene hunched over a book and stayed there for some time before Mateo returned.

"What are you reading?"

Eugene looked up. "Heroclitus."

"I knew somebody who had that once. The swelling wouldn't go down for weeks."

"He's a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher," Eugene told him with a grin.

Mateo threw himself comfortably onto his bed. "What did he philosophize about?"

"Well," he replied, "his most famous saying is that you can't step into the same river twice."

"That's bullshit."

"No, it's not."

"Yes, it is. The river's not going..." Mateo's face lit up with revelation. "So by the time you remove your foot and put it back in, the water is entirely different."

"Clever, right?"

"What if you ran downstream?" Mateo asked.

"Even if you run fast enough, you're on a different bank."

Mateo thought about all of this for a moment, and then said, "What if you fall into the river and lose a dollar bill to the current? Would you try to get it?"

"What?"

"Would you get it?"

"Of course I would."

"Even for just a dollar?"

"My grandfather always told me a buck's a buck."

"When your grandfather was your age, a buck probably bought a car," Mateo muttered. "Still, what if it was moving faster than you could run? Would you still chase it?"

Eugene just shrugged. "I guess I'd have write it off as a lost buck."

"Wrong."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean you never let anything go."

Eugene closed his book. "What is this about, Mateo?"

"Karen called me."

"Why?"

"You know why," Mateo replied.

"Why would she call you about that?"

"Because she's still really angry with you."

"What," Eugene asked, "what did she say?"

"She said Molly doesn't want to talk to you again, ever. That it's time for you both to forget everything."

"I can't do that."

"I told you something like this would happen," Mateo said.

Eugene shook his head. "No," he said, "not like this." He jumped out of bed and headed for the door, trying to outrun the way this news made him feel. His ears burned, and blinking could only keep the tears at bay for so long. He needed a destination soon; campus was only so large. That's when he stopped, finally aware of his surroundings. He had an idea, and that was all he had right now. This idea led him back inside the building he had just left and straight to a door he'd never been to before.

Sean answered his knock, stunned momentarily by the light outside his room. When he finally regained his vision, the identity of the visitor also stunned him.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

"I didn't know who else to talk to," Eugene replied.

"That's fine and all," Sean said, "but nobody knows where I live. I've made a point of that."

"I'm going to be an R.A. next year," Eugene told him. "I know where everybody lives now."

Sean sighed. "I guess if it has to be somebody..."

"Can I come in?"

"Absolutely not."

"Why not?"

"I have boundaries."

"Please, Sean," Eugene whispered, "I think I'm having a breakdown or something. I can't be seen like this."

"I am kind of an expert on breakdowns." After a moment of thought, Sean concluded, "Then we'll go to the Burning Bush. It's Saturday, no one will be there, and if I don't have a cigarette right fucking now, I'm going to put my head through a wall."

"Okay?"

"Come on." Sean pulled on his sweater and led Eugene outside.

Behind the shrubbery, Eugene reached the end of his sordid, convoluted epic, and Sean crushed a third cigarette under the heel of his canvas tennis shoe. "That is," he told Eugene, "by far, the most interesting story anyone has ever told me without the influence of alcohol."

"I did mention that I did over twelve shots, right?"

"Yes, you did," Sean replied, "and I am amazed that you're still alive."

"I get that a lot."

"And trust me, that is not the dumbest thing someone has done when they were drunk."

"I'm not talking about that," Eugene insisted. "I'm talking about the next morning. That's when I really fudged everything up."

"Three things:" Sean began; "First, don't use fudge as a verb in front of me again. It's just embarrassing for both of us."

"Um," Eugene replied.

"Second, if you really did drink two beers and over a dozen shots, you were still drunk in the morning."

"Still..."

Sean continued, "And third, what else were you going to do?"

"I could have stayed and talked to them."

"Why?"

"It was the right thing to do?"

"Probably," Sean agreed, "but I can tell you something: I have been stone-cold sober since Christmas, and if I woke up to somebody in my bed that I didn't put there, I'd run like fuck, too."

"Wait a minute," Eugene said, "how would you black out without alcohol?"

"Semantics," Sean replied. "Look, what I'm trying to say is that you made a decision based on the circumstances you were given. In retrospect, it was the wrong decision, but it was a decision, and you made it."

"What can I do to fix it?"

"With your faux-sister, or with the girl in question?"

"Both."

"Well," Sean said, "I am by no means an expert in human behavior, but I expect that your faux-sister will forgive you. If she knows you as well as you say she does, she'll remember that you really are the good guy you've always been, and that you're as entitled to mistakes as the rest of us."

"And Molly?"

"You can't fix it."

Eugene shook his head. "That's not good enough. I need to talk to her."

"Why?"

"Maybe I want her to forgive me. Maybe I want to forgive her. Maybe I just want some kind of explanation."

"She doesn't owe you anything," Sean told him.

"It's not fair."

Sean shrugged.

"What do I do now?"

"What do you want to do?"

"I want to put it all behind me."

"It is all behind you," Sean replied. "Maybe you should stop looking at it."

Eugene glanced at Sean's scarred wrists, which were momentarily visible when he lit another cigarette. He asked, "Is that what you do?"

Sean replied, "The only thing I have to look forward to is what's in front of me."

"Huh," Eugene said.

"Huh, indeed."

To be continued...

spirits: (Default)

Previously, on "Clear Spirits"

And now:



Eugene spent the rest of the afternoon chewing on every word Sean had spoken. He finally swallowed them, and it became clear to him in an instant that he wasn't the only person who'd made a big mistake that day. Molly had also messed up her own life, and she, too, had to live with it.

As far as Karen was concerned, there was nothing he could do or say that would make her forgive him faster--or even at all. If she never spoke to him again, he'd had two years to marinate himself in her friendship, and he was a much better person for it. No decision from any of them could change that.

Since Mateo and Rocky didn't seem to judge him at all, that just left him with the future, which was looking pretty bright. There was, however, one loose end.

Her name was Lisa, and she was watching him stammer away in front of her. She asked, "You gonna turn over a thought there, kid, or do I have to jump you?"

"Do what?"

"Not that, you pervert," she laughed. "I mean a jumpstart. You know, like a car?"

"I, uh..."

"Tell me the truth: are you stoned?"

"No," he said. "I just..."

She leaned on a nearby wall and hooked one of her thumbs through a belt loop on her jeans. "Keep goin'..."

"You know what," he said, lunging forward and grabbing her elbow, "I need to show you."

She shook him free and followed, but with her considerably shorter legs, it took a lot of work on her part. She gasped for air. "Are you gonna tell me what's going on?"

"Nope!" he replied.

"Tell me again why I'm following you?"

"Trust me," he told her.

She couldn't argue with that logic, but she did ask, "Can I get baked, first? Something tells me I might need it."

"Absolutely not."

Lisa stopped in her tracks. So did he. She grinned, sighed, and continued on; so did he. She muttered, "I must be fucking crazy, going along with this shit."

"Trust me," he implored again.

"I do," she assured him. "That's what's so fucking crazy."

This time, it was Eugene who stopped in his tracks. So did she. He grinned, sighed, and continued on; so did she. He muttered, "Thanks."

"Don't mentioned it."

He opened the door to his dormitory for her.

She told him, "Serious. You mention this to anyone, I break you in half."

"I'm taking you to someone who can explain everything."

"Somebody better." She paused a moment to size him up and concluded, "Something happened to you, kid. It's cute."

Eugene hoped the grin on his face wasn't as goofy as he thought it was. He knocked on the door, and one of the guys named Alex answered it. "Um," Alex said.

Lisa pushed her way past the Alex at the door and pounced on the one at the computer.

She spun Alex's desk chair, with him still in it, and asked, "Is this the one that's going to clear this up?"

Eugene smirked. "You got it, boss."

"Don't call me boss," she ordered him. "That makes you my peon, and that ain't right."

"Serf Eugene," snickered the Alex swiveling on the desk chair.

Lisa halted the spin and narrowed her eyes at him with violent impatience. Alex would normally have fixated on her breasts, but this time, he took the hint. She asked him, "Are you high?"

"No!" he squeaked indignantly.

"Well, you're not very funny."

"Sorry?"

Lisa shouted at a self-satisfied Eugene, "What are we here for again?"

"Pictures."

"You heard the man," she said to the Alex in the chair. "Pictures."

"This isn't what," the Alex at the door tried to say.

Eugene interrupted, "This is better than what."

Lisa saw the picture in question, and her eyes widened. She cocked her head, then gritted her teeth in a way that could have been a grin or a growl. "You think this is me."

"I don't," said Eugene.

"Same body type," said the Alex at the door.

"Same facial features," said the Alex at the computer.

"You guys jerk off thinking this was me?" she asked them.

There was no reply.

"You guys would be awfully disappointed," she muttered.

"I wouldn't," Eugene almost said, but he stopped himself just in time.

Her finger brushed the image's hip, tracing a line to the small patch of hair near the model's very, very private parts. "I have a tattoo here."

"Prove it," said the Alex in the chair.

She didn't speak. She just spun his chair again, this time knocking him to the floor.

"Maybe?" stammered the Alex who was still standing. He stopped when her inquisitive stare bored holes into his eyes. He continued anyway. "Maybe you got the tattoo after you took this picture?"

"Does that look like any fourteen-year-old girl you've ever seen?"

"That's just a rumor my old roommate started," the Alex on the floor shouted. "They were all over eighteen!"

"Um," Eugene said.

Lisa tried to form words, but couldn't.

The Alex at the door changed the subject. "You got a tattoo when you were fourteen?"

"Prison," she replied, giving Eugene a look that said she was just kidding. "Are we done here?"

The Alex on the floor got back into the chair. "Yeah?"

"I wasn't talking to you."

"Yeah?" tried the Alex at the door.

"You, either."

"Yeah," said Eugene.

She stormed out of the room.

"Yeah," Eugene said to the two guys named Alex, who both demanded an explanation with their stares.

In the hallway, she grabbed a fistful of his shirt and pinned him against the wall. "That all?" she asked.

"Yeah."

She shook her head. "Funny thing is, I don't think it is."

"What else is there?"

"You tell me."

He turned his head to avert his gaze, but she just grabbed his cheeks and brought it right back.

"I'm not gonna make this easy for you," she said.

"I'm not sure I know what you mean," he squeaked.

"We both know that's not true."

"I..." he began. All he wanted to do was lean forward just a little and kiss her, but that couldn't be what she was expecting, could it? Why would she want that? He was just a big, dumb twenty-year-old boy from Idaho, and she was Lisa Green. He wasn't exactly her caliber.

"You...?" she prodded him.

"I just think..." He stopped because he had to ask himself, what was her caliber? She wasn't a goddess. She was just a person. Maybe she was wondering what a big, dumb, twenty-year-old boy would want in a short, tomboyish, twenty-year-old girl like her.

"You just think what?"

Sean had said that the only thing to look forward to was what was in front of him. Whatever happened next was his decision, and Eugene would own that decision for the rest of his life.

"I can wait here all goddamn day, that's what it takes."

He decided to kiss her gently. She kissed him back, not nearly as gently. Her fingers gripped his hair and dragged him closer to her. Her nails ran down his neck, until they stopped at his shoulders and dug in. His eyes shot open in surprise.

After what could have been hours, she pulled away and laughed. "Sorry about that," she whispered. "Been waiting for that for a while now, and I got a little carried away."

"Um."

"Here's the thing, kid," she added. "I have a lot on my plate tonight, but if you stop by my place tomorrow afternoon, we can talk about this some more."

She strutted down the hall, leaving Eugene with his decision.

After giving himself a few moments to catch his breath and hopefully stop blushing, he knocked again on Alex's door. When one of them answered, he told him, "I believe you owe me something."

One hundred and twelve seconds later, he appeared outside Rocky's room. Rocky opened his door. "Hey, Eugene."

Eugene replied, "How's it going, Byron?"


The End

spirits: (Default)

Eugene pushed through the airless mass of hugging families in Gate B-12 and bolted directly towards the men's room. For the next five minutes the room emitted the sound of retching and frustrated choking noises. Because of this, people stared into the door-less opening but didn't dare go inside. Even the airport personnel were a little fearful. Finally a thin figure weighed down by carry-on luggage bigger than he was emerged and calmly strolled away. An apparently possessed roll of toiled paper followed in his wake.

Feeling much better, he decided to pay a visit to the gift shop just past the security area. A magazine with a picture of P.J. Harvey on the cover beckoned him. He obeyed its whims and began to flip through it.

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?" a nasty voice demanded.

"I was just..." Eugene stammered.

"YOU WERE JUST DAMAGING A PERFECTLY GOOD MAGAZINE!" the woman behind the counter snapped.

"...just looking..." he tried to add.

"AND IF EVERYONE ELSE WAS JUST LOOKING, NOBODY WOULD BUY AND I WOULD BE POOR AND LIVING ON THE STREETS OF THIS GODFORSAKEN TOWN! ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE A PURCHASE?"

"Um...no."

"THEN JUST GO! GET OUT OF HERE YOU FREELOADER!"

"Sorry..."

"JUST GO!"

He decided he'd better leave the store. He took his time walking to the baggage claim area. His flight had arrived early, which was an inconvenience for him, being that his ride wasn't planning on meeting him for another five or ten minutes.

It wasn't inconvenient enough, however, because the first thing he saw as the escalator lowered him downstairs was his companion for the next three hours.

"Took you long enough," the rotund figure said, then lifted a suitcase to eye level. "I even grabbed your bag for you."

"Glen," Eugene said, "that's not my bag."

Glen swore and ran back to the carousel. Eugene found his and waited.

And waited.

As usual, his luggage was the last to pass by. Sighing, he picked it up and found glen apologizing to a very cross man in a red flannel suit jacket about why his luggage was stolen.

Eugene decided to use this opening to have a cigarette. Using broad hand gestures, he explained to Glen where he was going. Glen nodded and Eugene stumbled through a revolving door. He removed one of the little cylinders from its identical friends and kissed it.

"I've missed you so much," he whispered and put it to his lips. Just before he found his Zippo, Glen burst outside.

"Don't do that," he protested, "I'm parked in the garage!"

Eugene whimpered and put the cigarette back. Glen spoke--seemingly without breathing--all the way to the car, all through the packing of the bags, and all the way to the toll booth, where Eugene found himself donating three dollars for parking.

Hoping the contribution would earn him some peace and quiet, Eugene reached into his jacket pocket and extracted something truly awful, but--at the moment--the lesser of two evils.

"Watcha readin'?" Glen asked.

Eugene felt like administering a look of death, but instead kept his face in the book and replied, "Love Story. It's a nauseatingly bad book."

"Then why are you reading it?"

Eugene focused on the first word he saw, which--ironically enough--happened to be goddamn, when he answered, "It's for a class." Anticipating the next question, he continued, "We got an assignment early so we could begin class more quickly."

"Oh. What's it about?"

Goddamn. Goddamn. "A couple of demons who enjoy hacking people to pieces with their own limbs because they ask dumb questions."

"Love Story's a weird name for a horror novel," Glen frowned. Goddamn. Eugene nodded and gritted his teeth. Glen was silent for a moment before he added, "You know I can't have children."

Eugene's eyes slowly left the now-forgotten word so they could stare at Glen.


* * *

The door to Ben's room burst open and Eugene threw his luggage to the floor.

"Come one in," Ben remarked.

Eugene lit a cigarette and said, "Bite me."

"Judas Priest! You look like you're about to kill someone."

The nicotine buzz hit him and he fell on the bed, "I just might."

"Bad day?"

"GRRRRRMMMPH! I get on the plane--I hate planes--having forgotten to pack batteries for my walk-man, 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--don't ask.

"Then Glen picks me up. This was fun. He would not shut-up! And when I try to tune him out, he says, 'I can't have children.'"

Ben snapped his fingers, "Oh darn. You know, I guess this means there really is a God."

"I would have thought that if my mind wasn't completely numb by that point at that point. All I can say is, 'Bummer.'

"Then he says to me, 'You didn't ask why.'

"I didn't want to know why. I say to him, 'I have a feeling you're going to tell me why.' He proceeds to tell me about a syndrome he has that makes him a little deaf--hence his inability to take a hint--he has a slight learning deficiency--a slight learning deficiency--woman's breasts, and a ninety-nine percent chance of not having children. So--according to him--he can 'boff' any woman he wanted whenever he wanted."

Ben could only laugh at this point. He knew Glen and his utter lack of charisma. Eugene continued, "Then he 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! We could have been killed. And either way, I'm going to therapy for a long time."

"At least it's over," Ben offered.

"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, and I don't think I'm up to that, and then Molly might be around, and--"

"Slow down," Ben interrupted, "You're hyperventilating again, and you're giving me a headache. Who the hell's the 'hot chocolate lady'?"

"Some insane chick in the lobby who offers hot chocolate to everyone who walks by."

"It's not even that cold out."

"I know it's not that cold out! But there she stands...and in you walk...and there she goes, 'HOT CHOCOLATE? HOT CHOCOLATE?' She will die."

For clarification's sake, Ben decided to redirect the tirade, "Who's Molly?"

"I've told you about her. She's Randall's girlfriend," Eugene looked at Ben, who still had no clue. "The one who hates me for no apparent reason. Normally her going out of her way to slam me is flattering, but I'm not in the mood. I have a headache."

"Eugene," Ben sighed, "Go to your room, say hi to Mateo, and pull the stick out of your ass so you're not bitchy when you come to my party later."

"Party?" Eugene raised his eyebrows.

"I've invited a few friends of mine to the room to get plowed. Kind of a bachelor party for the night before the new semester."

"Ben, you're the R.A."

"So?"

"The Resident Assistant, Ben" Eugene reiterated. "You are supposed to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen around here."

"Call it a special dorm activity, Eugene," he grinned.

"I don't drink, Ben. It has to do with an addictive personality."

"Come on. Rocky and Jim and Danny will be there. I might even talk Shannon into it. You know, a couple of beers helps to break down those darned inhibitions."

"I'll think about it," Eugene said, picking up his bags. "A little lust never hurt anyone. Must dash. It's been surreal." He closed the door behind him.


* * *

"Hot Chocolate?" The lady offered.

"No thanks." He continued through the lobby, trying to make it without being seen by anyone.

Just before he safely reached the other side, the door to Randall's room opened slowly. Eugene stopped and his eyes widened in terror.

A pair of jeans with a small pair of woman's legs emerged.

His lips mouthed a very bad word.

The rest of her came into view.

He turned and crept 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 when 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 a familiar cat-like disdain for humanity--him in particular--could reach him. If he was lucky, he could outrun the sound waves themselves.

"Good evening, 'Sunshine,'" the disdain said. 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, which Eugene tried very hard not to look at. 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 responded, "I don't wear frumpy clothes."

"Right," she replied, then 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," Eugene stammered.

Molly turned around, smiled and left, waving away a cocoa offer. Eugene waited for her to go into Randall's room before he continued walking in that direction.

"Hot chocolate?"

He just glared.


* * *

The two gentlemen stood in the lobby like a pair at a crossroads. One of them noted, "That lady's still here?"

Eugene, much more relaxed at this point regardless of 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 answered. "Also, I'm not coming to Ben's party. I've got class tomorrow and hangovers are a bad way to start."

"Good call," Eugene replied, snapping his fingers into a gun to punctuate, adding, "Y'know, Jim's going to be there."

Mateo raised an eyebrow, then lowered it. "Tempting...but I can't. But if he's wearing those jeans that really...well, just give me a call at Phil's."

"Can do, good buddy," Eugene saluted Mateo as he walked out the door.

"Hot chocolate?"

"Thank you!" He smiled, took the cocoa and waved to his roommate, adding, "I really love those jeans."

Eugene smiled and began his trek to inebriation.

"Hot chocolate?"

"Yes," he sobbed, "I know..."

The lady was terribly confused and ended up letting a couple of students slip by after that remark. Eugene was laughing all the way to Ben's room. He entered slowly and saw Jim lying on the bed with a plush cat above his head, saying, "Man, if this was a real cat, I'd run away. It's totally scary."

"I'm glad to see you guys started without me," Eugene grinned.

"We didn't start without you, Eugene," Rocky slurred and giggled at the pseudo-alliteration in his last sentence. Still tittering, he threw a beer at Eugene and nailed Ben. There wasn't a dry eye in the house from he hysterics.

"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, too, probably to get away from the odor that surrounded them.

He rolled out of his bed and fell a yard to the floor. Rather than get to his feet, he crawled to the night stand 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 and he swallowed it. He repeated this procedure a lot, 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 into the lock, he noticed that 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 six words Eugene said to himself, "That was my room. Fuck me!"

He dashed down the hall and into Rocky's room. Rocky was on the floor five feet from his bed with a blanket that covered his head and nothing else. Rocky's roommate was nowhere to be seen. Eugene shook him maniacally until he was conscious.

"WHAT?" he asked.

"How much did I drink last night, Rocky?" Eugene demanded.

"Two beers," Rocky replied.

"Two beers?!"

"And a pint of vodka. I have a whole new respect for you, Eugene."

"How much did Molly drink?"

"Molly wasn't even at the party."

"What the...?"

"Could you do me a favor and stand over there. Your breath smells like a colostomy bag."

Caught a little off guard by the remark, Eugene asked, "What's that?"

"It's a bag where you keep your feces, Eugene," Rocky snapped. While Eugene moved slowly to the couch on the other side of the room, Rocky mentioned, "You look like crap. 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'd you ask about Molly?"

"That's my problem, Rocky. She's lying in my bed, naked."

"You got laid?"

"I don't remember," Eugene whimpered. "Probably my first time, and I don't even know what happened." Rocky tossed him a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Knowing it wasn't going to help his hangover, he had one and added, "I can't go back there. But I have class in twenty minutes and I sure as hell am not going in my underwear."

"You're screwed, dude."

"Thanks for the support, Rocky."

"Where was Mateo when this happened?"

"He was in there when I woke up. I've got it! They went to a party together, had sex on my bed, and I was so drunk I didn't notice her there."

"Eugene," Rocky sighed, "Mateo's gay."

"I know that! Can't I rationalize in peace?" he said and threw himself hopelessly onto the couch. Where the hell was that damned banshee now that he really needed it?


* * *

Wearing some of Rocky's clothes, Eugene slumped in his chair to watch the professor stroll to the lectern. He was a tall and stocky man, dressed entirely in black who glared at all of the students before him. He spoke in a low voice when he announced, "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. After confirming this, the man continued, "In this class we will be reading texts by Heroclitus, Aristotle, Parmenides, and Plato. Please keep in mind that if anything they write 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 the borrowed notebook. Dr. Mortenoir looked at him and asked, "Excuse me, sir, but were you momentarily possessed with the spirit of Walt Whitman?"

"No sir," he replied. "More likely the darker half of Jack Daniels. 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."


* * *

Professor Wunder danced giddily back and forth, exclaiming in an English accent, "Wasn't that a great book? It makes me cry every time I read it. And that line--'Loves means never having to say you're sorry'--isn't it beautiful? And it means so much..." in response, Ben 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 that incident with Dr. Jordan Roberts in his history class only twenty minutes ago, he decided to keep his opinions to himself.

Not long into the movie, when it became clear that Ally McGraw could not act, Ben whispered, "What are you doing after class?"

Eugene frowned, "Rocky didn't tell you?"

"Of course he told me. I just wanted to know if you were up to it. You can talk to them today, or you can keep putting it off until they come to you. Either way, you're screwed."

"No, I'm not up to it," Eugene sighed, "but I have to confront Mateo today. He does live in my room."

"And Molly?"

"I'm going to put that off as long as possible. Even before Mateo, though, I have to face that Sean guy."

"Oh," Ben nodded, "that. Good luck." They watched more of the blur of matching plaids and earth tones to get a few laughs.

This problem took a back seat towards the end when an allergy attack started. Every part of him wanted to sneeze, but the sensation just built up until he had watery eyes and a runny nose--all "ahs" and no "choo." When the lights came up again, there was a loud "hornking" noise from the front of class and Dr. Wunder looked at the audience through tears.

Those eyes rested on Eugene and the tissue he was trying to casually 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 Eugene on that remark.

He protested, "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.


* * *

"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 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 she delivered rather urgently disturbed him now.


He paced in front of the library with a cigarette in hand, remembering every once in a while to take a drag off of it. It was definitely time to face Mateo, but he was willing to comply with a complete stranger named Sean to put it off just a little longer.

A show with Chuck Taylor's name all over it struck the concrete that covered the steps below Eugene. He looked at the person wearing it.

A young man with a cardigan sweater and a small attaché case walked towards him until there were only a few feet between them.

Their eyes locked.

"Sean?"

Sean nodded. "Eugene?"

Eugene lowered his head rolled it around, and started threateningly into Sean's eyes. "Let's play."

Suddenly and fluidly, Sean threw his case to the ground and popped it open, reaching inside. Simultaneously, Eugene ducked to a crouch and tossed away his cigarette. Sean pointed his fists at his opponent.

"Right," Eugene answered. 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, Eugene put up a good fight, but his defenses were soon worn down.

He was in the middle 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?"

"Class," Eugene answered.

"In you're underwear?!"

"Excuse me," Sean chimed in, but we're in the middle of something."

"He forfeits, Mateo snapped and dragged his roommate out of earshot, adding, "I appreciate the gesture, but it's going to take more than waking up to a naked woman to me change my sexual preference."

"That's not..." he protested.

"I know, but I had a feeling you were going to be doing a lot of stammering, and someone had to hold up the sarcastic end of the conversation."

"Mateo..."

"What happened last night, Eugene?"

"I was hoping you could tell me."

"You were that drunk?" Mateo asked. Eugene nodded. "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 quiet 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 emphasize. I really do. 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."


* * *

Knock knock...

"WHAT?!"

"I need to speak to Molly," Eugene shouted timidly.

The door opened and a hand grabbed him by the throat and pulled him inside.

"You have got a lot of explaining to do," Molly growled.

"I know I do, I need to ask you--"

"I want to ask you a question," she interrupted, "like, where the hell were you this morning?"

"Class..." he stammered.

"In you're underwear?!" This conversation had sort of a déjà vu feeling to it for Eugene, but he let it pass as she ranted, "What about me? Do you think I like waking up naked 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--"

She finally stopped after Eugene had delivered a crescendo of about fifteen "Mollys" while she spoke. When it was quiet, he said in a slow, but deliberate voice, "How much did you drink last night?"

"Nothing, why?"

Eugene was completely floored by this answer. While he considered what this meant, she added, "I know you had a little, but--"

"Molly, I had two beers and a bottle of vodka. I don't remember a damned thing."

It was Molly's turn to be floored. Eugene continued, "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 when I left the room this morning."

Molly paused, then said, "I wouldn't worry about that virginity thing. For two beers and a bottle of vodka, you have amazing restraint. Besides, did you think I was that easy?"

"I don't even know you."

"Neither did I, but when I ran into you, you were clever, confident and charming. It wasn't hard for you to talk to me into a little bit of fooling around."

"You don't know me. When I'm sober, I'm shy, insecure, and terribly awkward when people insult me for no reason. Maybe you should get to know the real me better."

"Maybe."

They were quiet for a while, not looking at each other and pondering the situation. Finally Molly broke the silence. "So who has to apologize to whom?"

He shrugged. "I was told love meant never having to say you're--"

She slugged him.

When he finally regained his composure she told him, "You asked for that."

"Yes I did."

"You want to forget the incident?"

"Last night won't be that difficult for me, but I will do my best to put this morning behind me."

She finally looked him in the eyes, "Enemies?"

He shook her hand and agreed, "Enemies."

As he opened the door, she called after him, "Try to say something witty when I rip on you next."

"Will do," he closed the door quietly and massaged his jaw. "That went over too smoothly," he whispered to himself. "I'm beginning to think I'm some sort of fictional character."

As he neared the exit, he saw Shannon, who said, "Hi, Eugene." He saluted and she offered, "Do you want to come to my room and see my new fish?"

It wasn't her fish that he was interested in, but he said, "Sure."

The day wasn't a total loss.

spirits: (Default)

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."

"What?"

"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."

"Get together?"

"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."

"So?"

"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."

"You've met?"

"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."

"It is."

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.

"Hot chocolate?"

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.

"Hot chocolate?"

"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.

"Hot chocolate?"

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?"

"Two beers."

"Two beers?!"

"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."

"What the..."

"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?"

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?"

"Class."

"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."

"That's not..."

"I know."

"Mateo..."

"What happened last night, Eugene?"

"I was hoping you could tell me."

"You were that drunk?"

Eugene nodded.

"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."

Beep!

"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?"

Beep!

Without missing a beat, he added, "How long has that damned thing been doing that?"

Mateo frowned and pointed to the smoke alarm. "That?"

"Yes, that."

"Since noon."

Beep!

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."

Beep!

"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.

Beep!

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."

Beep!

"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.

"Nine-eleven?"

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.

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T

"I have almost none for me

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T

"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?"

"Class?"

"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?"

"Yep."

"Why?"

"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?"

"Beer."

Eugene's face fell.

"What's wrong? You don't carry beer?"

"No, sir."

"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?"

"No, sir."

"Well why not?"

"Health code."

"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.

"Uh, hi."

"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."

"Sorry."

"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."

"Right."

"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."

"Drop it?"

"For now."

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."

"Yikes."

"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!"

"Suit yourself."

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."

"Why not?"

"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?"

"What?"

"Would you get it?"

"Of course."

"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."

"You're not."

"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."

"I know."

"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."

"I know."

"Is it any easier digging men?"

"Nope."

"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."

"I know."

"It's been nearly three months, and I'm not ready for it to be over."

"I know."

"Do you really?"

"Nope."

"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."

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?"

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