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Subject: English Year Chapter 22 **Standard disclaimer applies. This is based on actual events, although names, places, and descriptions have changed to protect the identities of the living. Don’t read if you shouldn’t because you’re under 18 or live in a backwards area. I appreciate any and all feedback, so please email me at ail. Enjoy the story! I caught Pete’s door with my forearm and propelled it back towards him. “Excuse you?” I asked, my voice sharp and raw. I couldn’t believe he was pushing me out, physically and emotionally. Not after what I’d gone through that day, agonizing over a decision that had taken me months to make, deciding to take a step that until that afternoon, I had been too afraid to take. He wasn’t going to push me out. Not without a fight. “How dare you?” he whispered, his voice ragged and deep. “How dare you waltz into my room and tell me all of that stuff about love and need and meanwhile you’re fucking some soldier down the street. And lying about it, to boot.” “How dare I?” I retorted, my face a mixture of surprise and abject anger. “Are you serious right now? What good would telling you have done? Would you have tried to stop me from going? No, you wouldn’t have.” “I wouldn’t have.” “I have given you every opportunity, time and time again, to stop me-” “-I am not your keeper, Corbin, you do what you want.” “-And what has that gotten me besides a flirt and a mind fuck?” “-Screw whoever you want, Corbin, but don’t come here and tell me how you supposedly feel about me.” “What the fuck are you afraid of? That you might feel something back?” I was yelling at this point, and I couldn’t control the breaks in my voice. “Peter, I have moved this relationship forward, every step of the way, while you have let every single one of your insecurities stop us from making any progress.” “Oh, give me a break. You’ve lost no time over me.” “If that’s what you want to think, then you go right ahead,” I spat at him. “You’re a coward.” “And you’re a bloody liar.” “You think I go to him because I love him?” I asked, my face red and my voice high. “I go to him, Pete, because I love you. I’m in love with a brick wall. I’m in love with a Coldstream Guard, and you will never know how excruciating that is. I’m sorry if my kiss freaked you out tonight, but you kissed me back, and you will have to live with that, no matter how many times you tell me, and yourself, and everyone on this campus that you aren’t gay.” I looked at him, unsure what to say next. I was, for the second time that night, staring Pete in the eye and at a loss for words. Only, that time, there was no kiss to follow. Instead, I cut him deeper than I intended, but it was the only way in that moment that I knew how to get my point across. “I pity you, Pete.” “Piss off.” “I hope that one day you grow out of this phase that you’re in and find out who you truly are. I feel like then, and only then, you’ll be able to receive the love that people are offering you.” I started to walk away. I could tell by the look on his face that Pete wasn’t ready to face what I had just told him. But it was true; it was how I felt. He was hiding deep in his self-inflicted closet, and for what? Even if he was the world’s straightest man, that kiss had meant something. He had pulled me in, and he had kissed me back. And for him to deny that, and to find the first excuse he could to run away… I felt sorry for him. And it wasn’t until I was safely back in my room, tucked away in my bed, and crying tears into my pillow, that I started to feel sorry for myself as well. I had never cried over a boy. Ever. I was always the guy who was stronger than feelings, bigger than heartbreak. Before that night, rejection rolled off my back. There were plenty of fish in the sea, I’d always thought. On to the next one. But before that night, I’d never been in love. I realized that night the reason Pete’s scolding had hit me so hard was because I liked him so much. I had never cried over a boy because none of the other boys had ever been worth crying over. Pete was. When I woke up the next morning, I had dried tears crystallized on my face. I woke up natural, took a shower, got dressed, and packed my backpack. My plan was to go back into hiding at the library while people’s parents took off, and avoid being seen until absolutely necessary. It was a great plan that was thwarted as soon as I crossed from the back landing, down into the Great Hall, where most of my pledge class was gathered, kicking around a soccer ball, and presumably waiting on someone. “Where the fuck have you been, mi maricon?” Roberto started in on me. I avoided his gaze, not wanting to betray my mood by my bloodshot eyes. “Around,” my was voice flat, unanimated. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Austin was next, taking the ball that Roberto had kicked towards him, and shuffling it in his feet. “You look like you’ve been up all night. No one’s seen you the past two nights.” “Nothing is wrong,” I turned towards the back door, and within a second, I felt the soccer ball peg me in the back. “We just want to know what’s bothering you, maricon,” Roberto said when I turned around slowly. I didn’t even have the energy to give anyone a bitchy look. Instead, I kicked the ball back towards Brian and made to leave again. “Okay, now I’m scared. You hit him with a ball, and he didn’t yell at you. This is big. Corbin, what’s the matter?” I heard Brian stand and walk towards me. I turned around and pinned him right in the chest with my finger before he got any closer. “What’s the matter? You all want to know what the fuck is the matter? Where the fuck should I start? Let’s see. On Friday, I went on what any normal person would classify as a date with the cadet, only when we were fucking that night, I accidently said Pete’s name instead of his. He proceeded to dump me like a bad habit, and told me to tell Pete how I felt about him before anything else could go on between us. So then what did I wisely do? I took that sage advice from a bona fide jarhead with a GPA lower than the price of gasoline, and told Pete how I felt. Only, I didn’t say how I felt. I kissed him under the stairwell in the music building right before the chorus concert. And for all of you motherfuckers who thought this entire thing was in my head, guess the fuck what? He kissed me back. Only after he kissed me back, he didn’t say anything except “We should go back…” Back where? I have no fucking clue; I’m still trying to figure it out.” I had taken a few steps towards the group, and my voice was rising. I could feel my face tremble as I told them about my weekend, and my eyes were barely containing the flood of salt water lodged behind the levy that was my last shred of dignity. I didn’t want to cry in front of my brothers, but halfway through that speech, I was certain not crying was not an option. “Corbin-” Hutch tried to say. I tore on. “That’s not even the fucking end,” I turned toward Hutch and hurled my voice at him. “After the chorus concert, Pete was absolutely nowhere to be found. And while I was standing there thinking `what a jackass; he could have said something about that kiss, anything’ I decided it would be a good fucking idea to go to his room and confront him about it. So that’s what I did. Smart right? And when I get there, when I finally find the words to say to Pete, when I finally tell him that I need him, and love him, and that I can’t control myself when I’m around him, he slams the door in my face. Why? Because he found out, somehow, that I had lied to him about seeing the vmee the night before. The same vmee who had walked out on me because I was in love with Pete. So, what’s wrong with me, guys? What the fuck is bothering me? Take your fucking pick. My life is falling apart faster than Britney Spears’ at a beauty salon, and while I’d love to throw myself a pity fucking party, guest list one, I can’t because I have to go to the library and figure out how to destroy Melanie Chu before I get suspended from school!” At this point, I had full on tears streaming down my face. Bullet sized, scalding, salt licked tears, running down my freshly washed face. The pitfalls of tempering your emotions your entire life is that when something finally breaks you, when that flood gates is finally open, there’s no stopping the tidal wave of feelings that come pouring out. I remember crumbling to the ground with my hands over my face and hearing all of my pledge brothers talking to me at once. “Let’s get him out of here,” I heard Roberto’s voice. “We need to go to brunch.” Hutch said. “Cancel soccer, someone call Battlefield and make a reservation.” Austin took a step towards me. “Will they take a reservation for brunch on a Sunday?” Roberto set the soccer ball down and grabbed my arm. He and Brian both pulled me up. “I’ve got my shoes and my keys, let’s go.” Hutch said. “Do you think if we call they can have mimosas ready for us at the table?” was Brian’s question. “Holy fucking shit, I’ve never seen him cry. This is major.” Austin whispered as we walked into the back parking lot and piled into Hutch’s Xtera. I was embarrassed and mortified having shown that level of emotion in front of guys that I was so good about keeping it together in front of, but since Pete had dressed me down the night before, I had been a ticking time bomb that had finally burst. It wasn’t until my second round of mimosas at the only brunch restaurant in Clifton Hill that served minors so long as the credit card was valid and the tip was high, that I finally gained my composure and talked through my weekend like a rational adult with my pledge brothers. “You know what just gets me about this whole thing?” I said, buttering my toast and stuffing my face with unadulterated carbs and fat. “Is that he kissed me back, you know? If he had just pulled away or gone cold, or limp, I would feel better about this whole thing. But there was hope, for just a second, and then it disappeared.” “Maybe he kissed you back to be polite,” Austin offered, cutting into his French toast and putting his fork to his face. “No. It was the real deal. You can’t fake something like that,” I answered slowly. I squinted, thinking for a second that maybe it was a polite kiss. Kind of like when someone puts a hand towards you, you instinctively shake it, no matter what. But this was so far passed a handshake kiss. There was no faking that, no pretending. He’d let down his wall like Jericho, only to pull it right back up. “You know what I don’t get,” I asked a few minutes later, after we’d circled around the kiss that either was or wasn’t. “I don’t get how he even found out in the first place. Like, I only told you two,” I pointed at Hutch and Brian. “That I was going to VMI. How did Pete find out?” I looked around and no one had any ideas. “I don’t think he knew Saturday afternoon, because he wasn’t acting weird or anything. We went to TexVA together, got dressed together, and everything was fine. But when did he have time to find out after the chorus concert? And who told him?” I wasn’t accusing either of the guys of anything. For all I knew, Pete could have walked by my room on Friday night and heard Mike and I inside. It was a long shot, but it was possible. But then why would he have gone through the motions of having fun with me all day Saturday if he could probably still smell Mike on me from Friday? No, he had to have found out on Saturday. But how? “I didn’t tell anyone,” Hutch said defensively. “And I only told these two,” Brian replied with his eyes pointed firmly at Roberto and Austin. “I didn’t say anything, either,” Austin said quickly. “Me either,” Roberto was last, amusing me with how he said mezitli escort either with a hard I instead of a hard E. I scanned the table, not thinking that the culprit was any of those guys, but possibly someone they might have slipped it to. “Did any of you tell Amanda?” “No,” was the resounding chorus after I asked. Brian did confess to telling his girlfriend Catherine, but after thinking for a second, I decided the degrees of separation where too much for it to have circled back to Pete. “Give me your iPhone,” I said to Austin, whose new gadget was the latest device of any of ours. It was a back-to-school present from his parents, and it was the only phone at the table with fast enough 3G to get on Facebook. “What are you doing?” Austin asked, handing it over. “Don’t drain my battery.” “I’m logging into Facebook.” I took his phone, slid the screen and immediately tried to navigate to the Facebook app. “I can’t do this,” I told him, handing the device back and letting him do it for me. “What do you want to do?” “Find Mike Loggerman.” We waited for a minute while Austin scrolled around on his phone. “Okay. Mike Loggerman, VMI. He’s right here. What am I looking for?” “Did he post anything yesterday about me? About us hanging out?” Austin looked for a second. “No,” he said. “His last post was from last Tuesday about a ripping wrestling practice.” I took a breath. Even if Pete had somehow suspected that I was with Mike and had stalked his Facebook, nothing on there had incriminated us. The last thing I thought about was that Pete had simply guessed it, confronted me about it, and used my lack of a denial to confirm his suspicions. “But he was visibly upset when you knocked, right?” Brian reasoned. “If it was only a hunch before you got there, he wouldn’t have been so pissed off about it until he knew for sure.” Brian was right. Pete wasn’t amused from the second he opened the door. He knew, he definitely knew. The only question remaining was how. I was eager to find out who had spilled the beans because after my brunch pick-me-up, I was eager to channel my anger at someone other than Pete and, more importantly, myself. If I could just find someone to blame, someone to pin my downfall on, I would feel better. “It was me,” Austin finally confessed after we’d been through every scenario. “I’m sorry, Corbin, buddy, but it was me. And it was an accident.” Austin was sitting straight across from me. I looked at Hutch next to him who lowered his eyes at what must have been my fiery gaze. “And the look is back,” Hutch mumbled. “He’s healed.” “What do you mean it was you? What do you mean it was an accident?” “I was just making a joke, really. He came in after the chorus concert, I guess, and we were all shooting the shit in the Great Hall. And he asked if anyone had seen you, and I made a joke about the vmee,” Austin explained. “What did you say exactly?” I gritted through my teeth. “I said, `Nobody has seen him since he went to VMI last night, but I hope he can still walk straight.'” It took me a second to connect every one of the many dots. That would do it, I thought. That would send Pete walking back the other way, for sure. In that brief moment after Austin stopped talking, I felt everything go still. And then it all broke loose. I grabbed my butter knife from next to me, and lunged towards Austin. I wasn’t going to stab him, I’m sure. I just wanted to make a dramatic play at how angry I was. Still, Roberto and Brian weren’t going to let me get close enough. They pulled me back down to my seat from either side. Brian slammed my knife arm down on the table, rattling the waters. “What the fuck?” Hutch shouted. “You’re going to stab me?” Austin asked in disbelief. “You told him I was at VMI on Friday?!” I shouted, my voice shrill and my face red. “You’re going to stab me?” “This is why they don’t give gays knives in Argentina,” Roberto joked. I glared at him, tried to raise my right hand with the knife in it, but Brian quickly stopped me. “Calm down, dude,” Hutch said. I looked at him, and realized he had coward to the corner of the booth. I put my hand down and Brian and Roberto finally let go of their strong arm restraints. I took in a deep breath. And then it hit me. Pete had come to my house. After the concert, which meant after the kiss, he’d come to find me. He had gone to Chi Beta to see if I was there, presumably to talk about what had happened. What had he wanted to say? There was one of two reasons he could have been stopping last night. The first was that he felt bad about how he left the kiss, and wanted to apologize for running out after my emotional outpour. The second options was that he wanted to come and say thank you, but no thank you. A polite decline, as I saw it. The other option was that he was coming over to kiss me some more. Maybe he had enjoyed himself. Maybe he had needed the time to sort out what that kiss meant, and he was coming over to tell me that he felt the same way. I needed to know what he wanted when he came over, but I feared, in that moment, I’d never know exactly what was in his kiss. “So what now, Corbin?” Austin asked after I’d calmed down and stopped trying to stab my best friends. I had spent the last silent minute thinking about what to do. “I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I just wait for him to get over the Mike betrayal and see what he wanted to talk about last night.” “Do you think he will get over it?” Roberto asked, leaning back and taking a deep, overstuffed breath. “Of course he will,” I replied. “He’s got to.” “I don’t know,” Austin chimed in. He was the last of us to be broken up with, so I wasn’t surprised that he was about to get pessimistic on me. “I don’t know if I would be able to get over it just like that. I would want an apology.” “An apology? For what?” I asked, defensively. “For screwing the one person that he feels threatened by.” “It’s not like I cheated on him,” I reasoned. “You can’t cheat on someone you aren’t with.” “Yeah, but you like him, and you screwed Mike anyway. That doesn’t instill much confidence, you’ve got to admit.” Hutch was right, but I was stubborn. I knew I had done wrong by lying to Pete, but I still didn’t think I had done anything wrong by sleeping with Mike. “I’ll apologize for lying,” I said after a second of contemplating what they were telling me. I pulled out my phone, and dialed Pete’s number. It rang once, and then went to voicemail. “He’s screening me,” I said, putting my phone down. “Give him some time, and then apologize,” Brian advised. Roberto chimed in after him. “You gays are always trying to rush things.” I smiled for the first time that morning, and couldn’t have been more grateful to my pledge class for catching me when I was truly spiraling towards rock bottom. My game face was back on, and although Pete’s feelings still lingered in the back of my mind, I had things I needed to do. I stood up from the table. “Where are you going?” “Oh, I thought we were done here,” I said, my voice back to normal along with my demeanor. “You haven’t settled your check,” Brian said. “Oh. That’s right. Austin, you’ve got my bill, seeing as to this whole brunch is your fault to begin with.” “Seriously?” Austin said as I pulled my chair out, and grabbed my backpack. “Thank you,” I smiled at him. “I have a long day of planning Melanie Chu’s demise ahead of me. Thanks for brunch, bitches.” Battlefield was just over a mile from campus, down a long hill through historic Clifton. It was a serene walk, one that I needed in order to clear my head. I had to concentrate hard on not dwelling on Pete as I walked back towards campus and to the library. I needed to focus on my impending deadline of solving my Melanie Chu problem. On my way to the library, I decided that I would go ahead and put the pieces of my plan in action, and then hope and pray that those pieces fit together into something I could use. I knew that I had something with the KEWL angle, and so I called Meghan and asked her for her roommate Katy’s number. “Hey Katy,” I said breezily, taking a deep breath. “This is Corbin Crowley.” “Hey! Yeah, Meghan just texted me that you might call.” “Sweet. Hey listen, I was wondering if you and the KEWL crew had made any decisions on new member applications.” “Responses went out last Wednesday,” Katy replied in her high pitched voice. She was one of the odder girls in the Theta sorority, and I assumed the only way that her prickly voice and bad perm had gotten in was through some kind of legacy clause. “Oh, great,” I said, keeping my voice breezy and deciding to switch angles. If decisions had already gone out, I couldn’t threaten Melanie Chu with being rejected. “Do you mind telling me if Melanie Chu got in, by chance?” “Melanie Chu? The one who got fingered? Yeah, she was a shoe-in until then,” Katy snickered. I smiled to myself, not feeling bad one bit that her actions had already had an adverse action across campus. “Oh, okay. Listen, Katy. I need a huge favor from you, and I need you to hear me out. I need you let Melanie Chu into KEWL.” “What?” Katy asked, her voice jumping up even higher. “There’s no way. She got cut unanimously and no one ever gets cut unanimously. Her reputation precedes her.” “And normally, I’d be right with you on that wagon, but I’ve had the chance to talk to her since that event, and she’s truly changed. She’s learned a lot from what happened.” “Really? Weren’t you the one calling her out in the paper?” I could tell Katy wasn’t buying what I was selling just yet, and so I decided to up my pitch. “I was, and when I saw what I saw, I was the first one to say let’s give this girl transfer papers and rid this school of the blemish once and for all. But she’s proven to me, as well as to Dean Watson, that she’s determined to change her image around. I happen to know that getting into KEWL was part of her image rehab plan, and I think she deserves another chance. Just tell me that you’ll reopen her application with the other officers and think about it.” “Corbin, that’s asking for a lot. We don’t want to be known as the club that lets girls like that in,” Katy protested. I decided now was the time to pull out my big guns. I knew convincing Katy wouldn’t be easy. KEWL was one of those self-important campus groups that prided themselves on being unnecessarily selective. “How much money did you get out of the EC last year?” “Four grand,” she responded. The school’s Executive Council doled out endowment funds to every registered campus organization. While the council was made up of mostly red-blooded male students who had never once paid for their own lunch, I had my ways back channeling resources from them that I wasn’t necessarily proud of. Last year, after some mild extortion of Bret Mueler, a junior Kappa Sig who I happened to know was sleeping with a professor’s seventeen year old daughter, I managed to get double the money that the Fancy Dress Ball committee was normally allotted. I had Bret justify the increase to the rest of the council by reasons of inflation. “I can get you six,” I said without skipping a beat. “Okay,” Katy said, drawing out the word as if she was wondering what else I could bring to the table. “I can also secure you some funding from the Dean’s office,” I promised, not sure how I would pull that off, but the details I could deal with later. “Can you get Dean Watson to speak at one of our brown bag lunches?” “Done.” “And can you get Chi Beta to co-sponsor one of our Women in Power events?” I thought about that. Chi Beta was always looking for philanthropy hours. I would need to clear it with Able, the Philanthropy chair, but he was in my pozcu escort pledge class and a total dud, so getting him to sign on was a no-brainer. “Done.” “Six grand, a strong endorsement from the Dean’s office, Dean Watson as keynote at a BBL, and Chi Beta on the letterhead of our next event. Just to let in Melanie Chu?” “That’s right,” I replied. “What are you planning here, Corbin? What’s the angle?” “There is no angle.” “I’m not going to come out looking like a jackass for this, am I?” “Of course not,” I replied. This time it was my voice’s turn to jump an octave. I tried my best to sound sincere. I really didn’t know what the reputation of KEWL would be after they let in the campus’ most notorious ingénue, but I couldn’t worry about the fallout on their end. I had my bargaining chip, and with that, I had my plan. When I got to the library, I went straight into putting my plan to paper. I was going to give Melanie Chu two choices, and hope that she chose the one that included letting me off the hook, in exchange for the alternative, which was completely and utterly destroying her. I spent the rest of the afternoon researching ammunition, going as far as messaging her high school best friend and pretending to be a sorority recruiter who was trying to uncover any skeletons in potential new member’s closets. The information I got from a simple Facebook stalk and impersonation bait and switch was gold, and I had more than enough to threaten her with. Once all the pieces were in play, I emailed both Melanie Chu and the Dean Watson requesting an eleven o’clock meeting with them the next morning. After that was all taken care of, I finally set out to write my column for the week. I threw out any ideas I had of remaining subtle about my subject matter that week and decided to dive in and discuss the anatomy of a kiss. I spent 350 words going through the different kinds of kisses. The plutonic kiss. The kiss on the cheek. The late night, dance floor make out. And the good morning, I love you kiss. And then I ended with my opinions on the first kiss. First kisses were supposed to tell you everything you needed to know about a relationship. They were supposed to open the door to possibilities… the future. A first kiss was, arguably, the only kind of kiss that mattered. When I was done with that, I packed up my things, went home, and went to bed. I woke up the next morning, ate a balanced breakfast, took a hot shower, and got dressed in my best jeans, a crisp white Oxford shirt, tucked in, and my black leather lace ups. I wanted to look as professional as I felt. I walked to the computer lab, printed out the two documents I had worked on the night before, and then sauntered to the dean’s corridor for my eleven o’clock meeting. I arrived at eleven sharp, wanting Melanie Chu to already be there when I arrived. I didn’t want to risk small talk with the Dean, so I waited until the last possible minute to knock on her door. “Come in,” Dean Watson said, her voice low and gravelly. She was seated at her desk when I entered and Melanie was in one of the two chairs opposite the high-backed leather chair that the Dean occupied. “Good morning, ladies,” I smiled pleasantly as I closed the door and crossed the room. Dean Watson put her glasses on top of her head, stood to shake my hand, and then offered a seat. I sat next to Melanie, across from Dawn, and pulled out two folders. “First, thank you both for agreeing to this meeting on such short notice. I’m sure you’re very busy, Dean, and Melanie, planning a suspension hearing must be time consuming as well.” “We’re eager to get to the point,” the Dean was not amused by my buildup. I felt like I was in a judge’s chambers, and from all of the Law well let’s just say that it will take a very long time for you to earn that back as well.” “Dean-” “I have nothing else to say,” Dean Watson dismissed me. “Dean-” I started. I wasn’t sure how I was going to finish that particular sentence. An adult telling you that she’s disappointed is pretty much the worst thing anyone can hear. And then for her to say that I’d lost her respect… there was no coming back from that. “You can go, Mr. Crowley.” And that dismissal was final. I swallowed hard, collected my things, and slowly walked out of her office. I couldn’t dwell on the minor defeat from the Dean however, when I was ecstatic at successfully getting them to pull the suspension hearing. Without that looming over my head, I finally had the chance to focus on other things. With my head held high, I decided that I would try calling Pete again. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say, but I did want to take back the harsh words I’d had for him on Saturday night. Mostly, I just wanted to talk to him. I wanted to know what I could do to keep him from getting so jealous of Mike and me. I wanted to ask him what he wanted from me, and I wanted him to tell me that he simply wanted me. I thought about all of those things as I clicked open my phone, scrolled to his name, dialed his number, and waited. I didn’t have to wait long. After one ring, my phone clicked, and the stock woman’s voice said “You have reached the voice mail box of… Peter Davis… to leave a message for… Peter Davis… please stay on the line and wait for the tone.” I didn’t. I didn’t wait for the tone. I knew what it meant to get voice mailed after one ring. It meant that they’d seen your name and clicked reject on their end. It was worse than someone letting it go to voicemail after the standard six rings. It meant they didn’t even want to feel you buzzing in their pocket anymore. Why was he still so mad at me? I get that I lied to him, but I’d tried to make amends. I had gone to his apartment and I had told him how I felt. Didn’t that count for anything? Instead of dwelling on it, I called Amanda and asked what she was up to. “I’m at srat lunch,” she said. I looked at my phone. It was almost noon. “Can I come over?” “Sure,” she said. Instead of walking through the freshmen quad back to Chi Beta, I took a right and crossed Sorority Bridge to the five houses on the other side, and walked right into Pi Beta Phi. I didn’t bother getting a plate when I walked into srat lunch. Instead, I just sat across from Amanda, Sacha, and Kelly, and poured myself a cup of sweet tea from the pitcher in the middle. “Hey,” I sidled. “To what do we owe this pleasure?” Amanda asked. I couldn’t tell where the attitude in her voice was coming from, but I decided to skip passed it and ask the question I really wanted answered. “Hey, have you talked to Pete recently?” “I have,” Amanda said tensely. “Have you seen him?” “I have.” “Where is he?” “Why don’t you call him and find out?” she said, her voice laced with some sort of attitude I still couldn’t uncover. Had I done something to her? Or was she mad at me by proxy? “I have called him, and he won’t answer my calls.” “Maybe he doesn’t want you to know where he is then.” “Can you tell me?” “I could, but I won’t. If he doesn’t want you to know, then I need to respect that.” And that was it. That was the brick wall. I didn’t know what parts of the story he’d told her, but clearly I was the bad guy in his version. Sure, I’d fucked Mike and lied to him about it. But what about all that I had endured from Pete’s end? What about the constant roller coaster ride that was our relationship? The yoyo that were his emotions? What about all that he’d put me through? How dare he use his jealousy to victimize me! How dare he use his insecurities to turn my friends against me! “Whose friend are you, Amanda?” I asked, my voice even and direct. There was no pretense in my question, only pure, unadulterated inquisition. I really wanted to know. “What?” “In this back and forth with me and Pete. Whose friend are you, exactly?” “Corbin, you’ve always been one of my closest friends,” she said, leaning back in her chair and folding her arms defensively. She wasn’t backing down from my assault, but she wasn’t going to return my attack and fuel my fire either. Amanda knew me, and she knew how to handle me. “But?” “But nothing. You’ve always been one of my closest friends.” “Then why do I get the feeling that you’re on Pete’s side in all of this?” “In all of what?” “He didn’t tell you about this weekend?” “He told me that y’all fought. He said that he wasn’t speaking to you, and he wasn’t sure how long it would be until he was speaking to you. He said that he wasn’t sure if he could trust you, and that was it. I didn’t ask him what you did to him, precisely because you’ve always been one of my closest friends and I don’t want to take sides in all of this. So I repeat, if you want to know where Pete is, and you want to know what Pete is up to, don’t ask me. Call him, and find out for yourself.” I sighed again. Shut down, I thought. What good was she to me if she wasn’t going to spy on the English side and tell me what he was doing, thinking, feeling? She was my Benedict Arnold, and she had utterly failed me. I knew that blowing up at her would only make me look like more of a jackass. “You’re right,” I said. “I’m sorry I questioned you. I will go and find Pete and find out for myself why he isn’t talking to me.” “You do that, Corbs,” she said, sitting up and leaning forward. I could tell she knew more than she was letting on, but again, I knew that she was keeping what she knew close to her chest because she understood how I worked more than anyone on campus. She knew that if she gave me an inch, I would try and bully a mile out of her. And so I left sorority lunch with nothing more than I’d gone in with. My initial instinct was to give up on Pete. Fuck him, I thought. I’d poured my heart out, he’d stomped on it, and it was time for me to move on. I think a younger, lesser version of myself would have ended it right then, and waited on him to call me, ask me back, and even then, I would have made him earn it. But I couldn’t do that. Not after I’d come this far. Sure Pete was mad at me, sure I’d fucked up by lying to him, but I’d also come so far as to tell him exactly how I felt. I couldn’t go back on that. And so as I walked home, I tried him one more time. I dialed, one ring, and again, I got his voicemail. I managed to push the snubbing of Corbin Crowley by Pete Davis out of my head that afternoon and evening by focusing on homework and then going to Monday Night Football at our off campus house, where I got to show off some more Raven’s knowledge with the collective brotherhood and our few remaining recruits. Tuesday was much of the same, consciously not thinking about Pete and instead going through the motions of schoolwork. The big Halloween party was on Wednesday and I knew I needed to be ahead of my work by then, as it was one of the biggest events of the school year. Every year, Kappa Hill rented a tent and hired DJ Swayze to play until the last costumed coeds fell out. The paper did a Best Costume award, and everyone who was anyone pregamed at one of the six houses on Kappa Hill before decking out down at the tent and raging. Luckily, this year, Halloween was followed by Reading Days, where we didn’t have class on Thursday or Friday. It was designed as a chance for students to catch up on work before November Scramble began… the countdown to Thanksgiving and then quickly followed by Finals. So that night, I spent my night immersed in English essays and Politics responses, with Pete only a shadow in the back of my mind. Still, the fight in me was there, and I decided to give him a late night call. Surely he was studying somewhere, and maybe he’d cooled down enough to finally answer my call. And again, I was sorely disappointed. This escort bayan time I didn’t just toss my phone away and give up. Instead, I pulled on a pair of fitted grey sweats and an old worn-in Abercrombie hoodie. With determination to make him talk to me, I walked down to his suite, knocked, and waited. “Hey,” I said as the door opened, not waiting to see that it wasn’t Pete who’d answered it. Instead it was Adam, dressed in J. Crew’s shortest hemline shorts, and a seasonally inappropriate tank top. You’d think the California boy would be the first to bundle up at the cooling Virginia weather, but no. “Hey,” he responded, surprised to see me. “I thought you were Jackson.” I raised an eyebrow. Two horndog gays like Jackson and Adam meeting up late on a Tuesday night could only mean one of two things. “He’s helping me with psych homework,” he replied quickly, sensing my look of disapproval at the blatant frat-cest. “Okay, I’ll be quick. Where’s your roommate?” “I haven’t seen him much this week,” Adam replied dutifully. I wondered if Pete told him to tell me that. “Is he here?” “Nope.” “Do you know where he is?” “I have no clue.” “Would you call him for me?” Adam looked at me with a squint, the side of his mouth raised inquisitively. I knew he was trying to figure out why I couldn’t call him myself. “I left my phone at the house,” I explained, lying and hoping he couldn’t see the Razr sized bulge in my pocket. “Okay,” Adam said. “Hang on.” He stepped into his room and returned in a second holding his phone, and clicking one of his contacts. I heard the phone ring, proof again that Pete was icing me by rejected my phone calls. And then I heard Pete’s voice muffled on the other line. “Yeah. Say, where are you? Oh, really? For the weekend? Wow. Okay. No worries. I’ll tell him that you’ll be back Sunday. Oh, no? Really? What happened? He did what? Oh, that’s a hella shitty thing to do. Okay, yeah. I will tell him exactly that.” Adam hung up, looked at me, and without losing a breath said, “Pete says to shove off. And to stop calling him.” “Seriously?” I exhaled, exasperated at trying so hard to make amends with someone that clearly did not want to be amended. This was frustrating, and it was bullshit. Sure, I’d fucked up, but without the opportunity to apologize, how was I supposed to make things right? “Did he tell you where he was?” “He did.” “And?” I was getting annoyed. “He’s in DC for the weekend, visiting that tall friend of his.” Of course he was. He’d fled to DC for reading days, most likely because he knew that I would try my best to make things right. I gritted my teeth. “Did he tell you what I did to piss him off?” I asked, curious how the straight boy was framing his intense anger for me without giving himself away. It would have been a clear tell if he’d told his friends that I had fucked another guy behind his back and that’s why he was mad. So what exactly was the story? “He said that you lied to him about something that a friend wouldn’t lie about, and that he was reevaluating how much he could trust you.” Normally, I found Adam’s straightforward valley uptalk to be charming and endearing, but this time, on that night, I found it to be infuriating. Walking home, I wondered if I shouldn’t give up. I wondered if I shouldn’t just call Mike back, explain that I’d followed his advice and that he had won out over the Brit. I was clearly getting nowhere with Pete, and I had no ideas of how I could turn the tide. Or even if I wanted to turn it. What was the point? I asked myself as I strolled through the cool fall night, back to the frat house. What would be the point of sacrificing something that was growing with Mike for something that was broken with Pete? Even if he did forgive me, and even if we went back to being friends, did that kiss even mean anything anymore? Had that moment expired? I decided that the moment hadn’t expired, and wouldn’t expire, until I made the decision that it had. Sure I had Mike on the backburner, and he was content being there until I figured things out. But I couldn’t turn the heat off of Pete until I was sure I didn’t want to go back there. I knew that once I moved on, once I crossed him out of my heart, there was no going back. And no matter how hard he tried to ice me, the memory of that kiss made it impossible for me to do that just yet. And so, late that night, I made one more effort. Sure he could deny a phone call, but a text he would have to read. And so I spent an hour going back and forth about what to write him in order to make things right with him. Some versions were long and winding apologies for something I still didn’t feel sorry about, but knew I needed to apologize for. Some were an attempt at humor, with inside jokes that would surely soften his ice cold heart. And some were straight forward, simple apologies. At the end of the day, I decided to keep it simple. I took a picture of Mister and me with the caption “We miss you. I’m sorry,” and sent it to Pete. I got undressed, climbed into bed, and waited for a response. I must have dozed off, because the vibration of my phone startled me. I picked it up, and saw on the screen that it was a response from Pete. I smiled, sat up in bed, and took a deep breath. Like I had done, Pete had sent me a picture. It was a photo taken with his left hand of his and Dakota’s profiles, leaning into each other, and kissing. From that still photo, I couldn’t tell how intense the kiss was. It could have been a simple platonic thing. She was smiling, almost as if he had asked her to pose that way just to show me. But the caption underneath, the words that he’d used to describe that image were what killed me. To Corbin: I won’t lie to you about who I’m fucking. Goodnight. Goodbye. I felt a tear roll down my face as I sat there and tortured myself with the image of the two of them, and the words he’d used to cut me so deep. I thought about deleting it. I even started to a couple different times, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I studied the image with a focus that wouldn’t wane. It was like watching a train wreck. Every time I clicked out of it, or tried not to look at it, or blinked for a second, I found myself staring right back at it. And reading his words. I won’t lie to you about who I’m fucking. Goodnight. Goodbye. After a solid hour of killing myself with that sentence and that photo, I decided it was time to put it to bed. The kiss that I had put so much stock into had expired. It was over for Pete, and so it needed to be over for me. There was nothing I could do, and that realization needed to be my sleep aid that night. But it wasn’t. I tossed and turned in bed, wondering when exactly my longing after Pete had gone wrong. When was the moment, the second, that it had gone from being a hopeful romance to a dead end crush. Full stop. When had I lost it? More importantly, when had I lost him? When had my relationship with Pete gone from being something that gave me hope every single day, to being nothing more than the memory of a kiss? I retraced our relationship that night, every event, every conversation that I could remember, and I asked myself how I had managed to fuck it up. And then I had a thought that would change the course of that English year. I decided that Pete drew his line in the sand. He was out to hurt me, and he had done so in a very painful and evil way. He had decided to knock me down on purpose, knowing what that picture and those words would do to me. I decided that I could take it, or I could hurt him back. I spent a few minutes deciding which path to take, which direction to turn, which Corbin to unleash. And in the middle of that night, right before Halloween, I decided that nice Corbin had gone to bed, and that Big Bad Wolf Corbin would wake up. If Pete thought that he could hurt me, he had another thing coming his way, and I was prepared to live down to his expectations. Pete would be back, I thought. And eventually, he’d want our friendship back, if nothing else. He could get whatever it was that he needed from Dakota, but his life was in Clifton, and he would have to return here and face what he’d done to me. With no regard to the time, I picked up my phone and made the call I should have made on Saturday before I foolishly threw myself at an insecure closet case that was unable to receive love if Cupid himself had slapped him across the forehead. I called Mike. “Hey. Hey babe. What time is it?” he whispered, disoriented. “I don’t know. Sorry, I woke you up,” I whispered back, even though I was alone in my bedroom. “I can call back tomorrow.” “Well, I’m already awake now,” I could hear Mike jumping off his bed and walking into his bathroom. It was so still on his end that I heard the click of the light switch. “What do you need? Are you okay?” “I’m fine. Everything is fine. I just wanted to talk to you.” “It’s about time,” he said. “That’s the last time I tell you to go after a boy. I’ve been regretting that for four days.” “I’m sorry, killer,” I said. “I’ve just been trying to figure things out.” “I understand.” There was an awkward silence in which I had no idea what to say. What do you say to the guy that’s about to get picked second and knows it? “And… what did you decide?” “Mike, I don’t want you to feel like a backup choice.” “Don’t say anything else, Corbin,” Mike sighed, knowing that I had de facto chosen him. I swallowed, telling myself that I wasn’t only doing it to hurt Pete. Mike had made his case, and in any given situation, it was a strong enough case, regardless of my spite towards the boy that wasn’t. “Mike…” “Just say that it’s me, and we’ll move on.” “It’s you,” I whispered with a smile. “Okay,” he replied simply, clinically, as if we’d just shook hands and decided on it. “Okay then.” “What now?” “I guess we just keep doing what we’ve been doing. Only you say my name when I’m making you cum and not some other guy’s name,” Mike said. I could tell he was smiling. “Deal.” “Corbin, can I say one thing without freaking you out?” “Sure.” “I don’t want you to say anything after I get done saying this. And I don’t want you to freak out or think too much about it, but the last couple days I’ve realized that I like you… a lot. And not just from what we do, but from how you make me feel. And the idea of losing that… I still can’t give you what it is that you want or need, and I’m not even saying that we can go steady or any of that… but Corbin, I love you. A little. Kinda. I don’t know.” The words shook my entire core. My stomach began to hurt, and a new lump of guilt formed in my throat. That call had been made out of the worst kind of revenge towards someone, and here it was, turning into an admission of love I didn’t see coming from 7.1 miles away. I had no clue what to do. I didn’t even know what to say. I had already promised not to freak out, and so I didn’t. I took a deep breath, and once again reminded myself that my feelings for Mike were indeed real. They had been real long before the Brit and they would remain real long after. It wasn’t about why I’d called. It was about what was happening after. “Mike.” “You don’t have to say anything,” he said softly. “I just want you to know. We don’t even need to talk about it.” “Mike.” “I guess I’ll let you go, and we’ll plan on hanging out soon, yeah?” “Mike, I love you too. A little. Kinda… I don’t know.” The words came out with no filter, no hesitation, and no vacillation. They were the words that I meant at that moment, for that moment, and so I said them. And after I said them, I hung up, laid back down and I smiled. Pete could run away to DC and kiss all the girls he wanted. I had a boy that loved me, and for that round of our year long game, that meant that I was winning. *Thanks for reading and following along. We’re getting into some extremely personal territory, so I appreciate all of your patience and feedback. As always, all feedback is appreciated and can be sent to ail

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