Part 6 of The Story

Photo by SJ . on Unsplash

I packed a bag slowly. Jenny was already gone and having my own room again was nice. Randy stuck his head in to say goodbye, but I didn’t have the strength to have a conversation with anybody just then. I got undressed and put on a comfy pair of leggings and a sweatshirt. The weather had finally turned last week and it was now so cold outside I would need a hat and a scarf. I didn’t bother packing anything nice, I could always borrow something from Brooke if Mom made us dress up which she was sometimes prone to do. I just grabbed a pair of jeans for the weekend, a t-shirt and my laptop bag  and got ready to walk to the train. 

Outside of my room the hallways were silent. It seemed as if everyone who was leaving was gone already, the only people still here from out of town who couldn’t make it back for the holiday. Randy said they were having their own meal in the lounge, the RA’s who were staying chosen to cook the turkey and everyone else chipping in for side dishes. It sounded fun and if I hadn’t had family on the other side of the bridge I might have considered it but as it was I was excited as hell to get back and see everyone. I barely got to speak to Brooke so I had no idea how it was going in Queens, and traveling there had been out of the question. I had asked a bunch of times the first month of classes she made some excuse how it wasn’t ready and her roommates didn’t want guests until the apartment was set up. I got the feeling she didn’t really want me over and I wanted to question her about it but with school work and then all the hanging out with Jenny I was doing I just didn’t have the time. Now was the perfect opportunity to question Brooke on her distance. 

The walk to the train was cold, the wind blowing my hat off my head so that I had to run and catch it before it fell into the dirty gutter. I tucked the ends of my scarf inside my jacket so they wouldn’t whip everywhere and pulled my hat more firmly over my curls. The strands were everywhere, in my eyes, in my mouth, so I tucked them underneath my collar and made it to the train feeling like the three block walk closer resembled the trek up a mountain. The train was empty when I got on, and it was a fast ride into Brooklyn where I transferred to a bus and made it home in good time. 

Mom and Dad were already there, and since they took the day off from work they couldn’t drive me back. But they were both waiting for me when I walked through the door, the sweet smell of sweet potato pie baking in the oven the overwhelming scent. I sniffed in deeply the aroma of cinnamon while Mom walked into the front room. 

“Parker!,” she called joyfully, opening up her arms. I gave her a big hug. “Sorry we couldn’t pick you up today, did you have a good train ride.”

“It was fine mom,” I said muffled into her shirt. “I’ve missed you.”

“We’ve missed you too honey,” she said back, gripping me tightly. “Come see what I’ve prepared though. Are you hungry, do you want to eat something? Have you been making food there?”

“I’m actually starving,” I said honestly, my stomach giving a big rumble just then. I hadn’t eaten anything today except for my normal breakfast of cereal, having skipped lunch to get ready to come back home. “But I’m not sure if I should bother eating or save my appetite for tonight.” No matter how many people we had over Mom always made enough for leftovers for a week. I was looking forward to her cooking and I wanted to keep an empty stomach for everything. She led me into the kitchen. There was already a table full of things made, green beans, mashed potatoes, a pumpkin pie. The smell was coming from a sweet potato dish that was my favorite that was coming out of the oven in a couple of minutes. The turkey still needed two hours but from experience I knew as soon as it was ready we would all sit down to eat. 

“Parker!,” Dad said happily. “Welcome back kiddo.” I ran to him and gave him a hug. He was walking down the stairs looking tired. “I was just napping,” he told me secretly. “Saving my energy to digest all this food.”

“Henry,” Mom called. “I need your help, I told you, can you run to the store and pick up that list I sent you?”

“Sure Honey, I’m going. Want to come Parker?”

“I actually really want to shower.” A shower fully stocked with all the amenities of home. That sounded wonderful. “Is Brooke back yet?”

“Not yet, she’s on her way. She should be here soon.” Dad left and I went upstairs to my room thinking quickly of how to answer the questions that were sure to come. I didn’t want to tell them I was failing school. They would be so disappointed. They were so excited when I got in after working so hard in high school and having no social life. Not that that was by choice. Now that I had more popularity I was realizing that the choices I had made throughout all of my life might have just been based on a deep seated shyness I possessed that once shook off no longer prevented me from going out and partying. I still knew I didn’t want to fail out of college. If I left I wanted it to be my choice, and so far I wasn’t ready to leave yet. So I would just lie through my teeth and tell them how well I was doing and redirect it to Brooke. Hopefully the distraction when they asked her questions would prevent her from noticing what was going on with me. She was always so perceptive to what was going on in my mind but I knew she wouldn’t be happy with my decision. 

When I got out of the shower I heard Brooke in her room. I made to knock but heard her on the phone and left it until after I changed. 

Mom was in her room and came out to tell me it was a fancy occasion and to put on a dress. Apparently Aunt Stacey was coming, and she would be horrified if I wasn’t looking my best. I rolled my eyes but it was nothing new and decided that now would be a good time to go bother Brooke. 

There was a low murmering going on behind the closed door which was almost never closed as far as I could remember, and I knocked quickly, turning the knob to come in. But it was locked. I jiggled it again, confused. Brooke never locked her door. 

“Brooke?,” I called. The muttering stopped immediately. There was a pause. 

“Hey Parker,” Brooke called. “Do you need something?”

“Um, I wanted to know if I could borrow a dress for tonight? Mom said we have to look nice, Aunt Stacey is coming and I kind of didn’t bring any clothes back from college.” Why was I explaining myself from behind the closed door? “Are you OK Brooke? Can you open the door?”

“I’m fine, hold on!” there was the sound of footsteps and the key in the lock and then the door was open. I threw my arms around her but got a halfhearted pat on the back in response. 

“You’re being weird,” I said stepping back. “Who were you talking to before?”

“I wasn’t talking to anyone,” Brooke shot back quickly. “I was just organizing some things. I’m fine, I’m just a little tired, I was out late last night.” She put a bright smile on and I decided to let it go. “So how’s college going little sis? You making everyone proud? Is it hard? Getting good grades?”

I shrugged, trying to look modest. “Oh, you know. It’s alright. I work hard. I’ve become pretty good friends with Jenny. We’re together basically every night.”

Partying but I wasn’t going to say that part. I looked around the room searching for something to ask. “So how is the apartment? You guys finally get everything you need? It has been, like, almost three months.”

“Yeah, everything in order, finally. I’m not home a lot, I’ve been picking up a lot of shifts at the bakery that’s a couple of blocks away from me. I have experience so they hired me pretty fast, but they won’t let make bake anything on my own yet. They say they still need to train me.” She said this all very quickly as if it was rehearsed. I decided to just choose a dress and be done with it. I wanted to have time to do my makeup to impress everyone with what I learned. Hopefully they wouldn’t ask how I had so much time for learning makeup what with all the studying and going to class I should have been doing….

I walked over to her closet and was stretching my hand to open the door when Brooke suddenly said angrily, “Excuse me? What are you doing?”

Shocked, my heart beating fast at the sudden outburst, I turned to her huffily. “You said I could borrow something to wear right?”

“I actually don’t think I did,” she said back nastily. 

“Well, can I?”

“Fine,” she said, waving her hand as if she didn’t care. “Go ahead.” She looked at me intensely as I opened the door and took my pick, choosing a black swing dress with lace sleeves. I had some purple tights in my drawer that would look pretty cool with this, and I just wanted to get away from Brooke until she took a nap or something. She was cranky. 

“Ok, thank you,” I said shortly and turned to walk out. Behind me Brooke gave a sigh of relief and closed the door practically on my back.

I stalked to my room even though no one was watching me and there was no one to perform for. I just didn’t know why she was acting like such a jerk. We hadn’t seen each other in forever, didn’t she miss me? Maybe she was just tired. I decided to not say anything and wait for her to come around. 

Back in my room I continued getting ready, putting a generous amount of mousse in my hair and scrunching it up like Jenny taught me, and then blow drying it slightly so it wouldn’t have that crunchy look and texture. I applied some light mascara and a deep red lipstick and then examined myself critically in the mirror. I wondered if people were going to be weirded out by my changed look? I had always been a huge tomboy, not caring at all about my appearance, but a couple of months of fun with a roommate that fancied herself a makeup artist and voila! I changed. I was still me, I just put a little more effort occasionally into my look. There was nothing wrong with that. 

I decided against shoes. I wasn’t going to walk around in heels for god’s sake. 

Mom called up to me as I pursed my lips at my phone, taking a selfie for my instagram later, just like Jenny taught me.

“Parker! Can you come downstairs when you’re done please and set the table?”

That was always my job at these fancy dinner events. I tossed my hair over my shoulder, glad that it was keeping its form, and sped down the stairs. I swung around the banister into the kitchen. 

“Sure Mom! Fancy china and all? Only Aunt Stacey is coming?”

Mom’s head was in the oven, busy checking the turkey to make sure it was coming out fine. “Yeah, and her boyfriend,” she said brightly, unfolding herself to face me. Her eyes took on an open wide expression. “Parker! You look beautiful! Look at you, all grown up!”

I spun around for her benefit. “Thanks! My roommate finally taught me how to tame my hair and a little bit of makeup advice. You like?” I threw her a kissy face. “I got this at sephora as a sample.”

“Oh, you’re so grown up! Three months away from home and you’re someone else entirely! A woman! Wait until Dad sees!”

“Wait until Dad sees what?,” Dad called from downstairs. Apparently he had heard his name even over the sound of the football game he was watching. 

“Parker is coming, Henry!”

I made my way downstairs, feeling foolish that I felt so good. It was just a new look, right? Evidently that wasn’t true. 

Dad nodded appreciatively. “You look more beautiful every time I see you kiddo.”

I went to give him a hug and then made my way back upstairs to set the table for six. 

There were fancy chargers with the nice china that we had along with glasses and freshly polished silverware. I set a bottle of wine in the center of the table and finished off with the new linen napkins Mom bought going in a roll on the center of each plate. Aunt Stacey was on her way over and Mom said she would be only a couple of more minutes when I finished. Brooke was still in her room, and I was itching for someone to call her down. I had yet to see a change in attitude. I had yet to see her at all. She would have to make it down for turkey though. She loved turkey, and she loved dressing up. Only when Aunt Stacey rang the doorbell did I hear footsteps on the stairs and Brooke coming down wearing an overly large sweater dress that on her looked chic and effortless. Her short hair had grown a little longer and was curling lightly, making a reach towards her shoulders. She smiled at Aunt Stacey and was first to hug her even though I had been sitting in the living room, waiting. 

“Brooke! You look beautiful as always. I love your hair. Very in.” She turned to me. “Parker! Wow, you are not the same little girl I saw just a year ago. Little college star now, aren’t we?”

Aunt Stacey was Mom’s little sister, younger than her by ten years and therefore pretty close in age to both Brooke and I. She was extremely tan, as she made her way around the world writing stories for her travel blog. She had a different man every time she came around, and promised that she would never settle. She was a pretty cool aunt to say the least, but she still sometimes liked to act much older than us even though she must have been in her low thirties. Brooke and her were closer when she was younger. Aunt Stacey used to come over all the time to babysit her, and then me as well. But time passed and as I got older, and Brooke and I grew closer, Aunt Stacey stopped coming and found this dream of travel. Sometimes I thought that she only wanted to be a part of the family, one of the kids, but since she couldn’t she traveled as far as possible to get away. We saw her on holidays, though, and for me that was enough. It was as if she resented me ever so slightly for taking away her first and favorite niece from her. None of this was ever mentioned out loud of course. It was all hushed up, family politics. Every family has them. 

Brooke gave me a look and motioned me to the kitchen. I followed her in, hoping now there would be an explanation.

“I’m sorry Parker for before. I’m just exhausted and wired and I hadn’t taken my meds….” her excuses rolled on but I was just focused on one thing she said. Brooke took meds. Nothing serious, but she had ADHD and she took ritalin to focus. If I could get my hands on some of that it would be perfect. I could focus and study whenever I wanted and stop with all the things I let distract me. I could pass Professor Ping’s class, as well as all the others I’m sure I was failing but none of the teachers were nice enough to warn me of. I needed to get my hands on some of her pills. Not a lot, not enough that she would notice, but enough for me to pass the semester. 

“Hug?” Brooke finished. I caught basically nothing of what she had said but entered her proffered hands and squeezed her back. 

We walked back into the living room, Brooke whispering into my ear, “And by the way, you look amazing. Keep that dress, you wear it better.”

I stood up straighter, feeling confident with the compliment. 

If you’re wondering why I didn’t ask for help, or how I could steal medication from the person I looked up to most in the world, I really have no answer. I still think about what would have happened if I had just asked Brooke to have it, but at the time I was too embarrassed. I didn’t want her to know how hard school was, how I was barely even trying anymore, and how I was almost failing out. I didn’t want her to know any of that. I just wanted to impress her when I graduated and became something of myself, or when I got a good mark on a paper. She didn’t need to know about how hard it was for me. 

She only needed to be proud. 

The meal started off fine with Aunt Stacey’s boy toy who was called James delighting us all in some very racy stories involving our aunt. I was feeling a little disgruntled at the fact that Mom wouldn’t let me drink wine even though she let me all the time. But in front of guests she was strict on this. Not until I was twenty one. There was always an image we had to maintain. Everyone else was drinking though and I felt very frustrated. I managed between bringing out the dishes to take a few healthy swallows of the wine Mom used to cook with (read: to drink while she cooked) and felt better with the alcohol swirling around my veins. 

They stayed for a while after the meal, Dad falling asleep on the couch and Mom and Stacey gossiping right next to him. I could see James getting bored but avoided entertaining him by offering to bring everything back into the kitchen. Brooke got saddled with babysitting duties.

That night, after Aunt Stacey had said her goodbyes and we were all just slightly drunk and ready for bed, after Mom had piled all the dishes next to think sink begging tiredness and claiming she would do it tomorrow, after everything was quiet and the only that that could be heard in the house was the sound of the ticking clock, I crept to Brooke’s room. I pressed my ear gently against the keyhole to make sure she was breathing evenly. I didn’t know where she kept them so I would need time to search through her room and find any medicine containers. I also wasn’t sure how much she had left. If she was due for a refill soon then I was screwed. I couldn’t take any if it would be too obvious. I didn’t want her to find out about this ever. And if there was a full container of them then hopefully me grabbing a couple wouldn’t make her suspicious. I doubt she counted them out daily to make sure there was a certain amount. 

A deep and heavy rhythmic breathing was coming out from behind the door. I breathed a sigh of relief. Ok, she was sleeping, hopefully heavily enough that she wouldn’t hear me creeping around. I slowly turned the knob and pushed the door open. 

Except it wouldn’t budge. I jiggled it gently and tried again but the door stayed put. My tired brain put two and two together and I realized that the door was locked. 

What the heck? Why would Brooke lock the door? Ever since we were young Mom and Dad had ingrained in us to never lock the door when we went to bed. It was dangerous, if there was a fire and we needed to leave the house quickly then they wanted to know that they could get in and wake us up. It used to scare us so much that when we were kids that we would sleep with our doors wide open and only stopped when we became teenagers and realized it was silly. So why was Brooke locking her door?

I debated going to get a bobby pin and trying to unlock it from the outside, but it would make too much noise as I fiddled around and I nixed the idea. I still had the rest of the weekend to try to steal some, it was only Thursday night. I told myself that I would try again tomorrow. I went back to my room and got under the covers, falling asleep instantaneously. Crime was exhausting work. 

The next day the opportunity came quicker than expected. Brooke said she had an errand to run for the apartment, they wanted her to check out some furniture store. She didn’t offer me to tag along and I didn’t ask. This would be a great time to go check her room. I could be as loud as I wanted and take my time. Her bedroom window looked out onto the street and I would get plenty of warning of when she returned home. Not that I thought it would take me that long to find what I was looking for. Mom and Dad were at the office so I really had the whole place to myself. 

“Bye Parker,” Brooke called to me while bundling herself up in many layers in order to walk out of the front door. Overnight it had snowed a tiny flurry and while it didn’t stick at all her front windshield was covered in white flakes. She had to spend time scraping it off before she could drive anywhere. 

“Bye Brooke!,” I called back, urging her on. I wasn’t going to go into her room before she pulled out of her parking spot, and even then I would wait a couple of minutes to make sure she wasn’t turning back because she forgot something. I’ve seen the movies. I’d rather not get caught with my pants down. 

She used a brush to get all the snow out of the way and finally she was out. I finished my coffee in silence, savoring the peace that was denied me while living in a dorm in the middle of New York City. Finally I deemed it safe enough and climbed the stairs to her bedroom. I found myself tiptoeing and laughed at myself scornfully. Her door was closed again and I was nervous it would be locked again as well. I turned the doorknob and felt the catch give and the door slowly creak open. Perfect. I knew I could jiggle the lock and open it myself but I didn’t want to take any time away from the search in case this furniture store escapade turned out to be quicker than I thought. 

Her room was tidy as usual, her clothes from last night lying neatly over the back of her desk chair. Her carry on suitcase she had brought home for the weekend was tucked in the corner, empty except for some socks and underwear. That was unfortunate since I had expected them to be there. A terrifying thought came to me just then. What if she had them on her right at that moment? What if she carried them in her purse all the time? I lost my will to keep checking and half heartedly moved around some papers on her desk. Underneath them all was a page full of doodles, and I admired them all. Brooke could draw quite well, even when she wasn’t trying and was whiling away the time, and I saw tiny little fairies and with wings dancing across the page. I put the papers back on top and stacked them back to the position that they were in. 

I opened up all her drawers but most were empty. She had moved out, after all. Most of her belongings now resided over in her apartment that I had yet to see. Her toiletry bag was hanging over the closet door and I almost brushed it aside when I saw the notorious bottle in one of the pockets. I opened the zipper and took it out, checking the label to make sure it was what I needed. Across the top it said Methylphenidate, prescribed to Palmer, Brooke. For a second my heart sank but then the smart girl in me did a quick Google search and found out that that was the scientific name. The bottle was clear and through it I could see loads of pills all tumbling around in there, urging to be taken. I eyes them critically. How many could I get away with taking? 

And then I immediately felt bad. Brooke actually needed this medication. It was hard for her to focus and while she was no longer in school anymore that was now presented as an issue while she was working. Even sometimes when she wrote songs she would pop one. I didn’t want to deny her her productivity. How much did I really need? I brought up my final schedule and saw which days I had them. If I took only a couple before my math one and my science one I should be fine. I would just have to work extra hard on my other two but those were the ones I was doing slightly better in. They came easier to me. I decided I would take five, since that was the maximum amount that could be taken without being obvious. I shook them out and closed the bottle up again, giving it another look. It didn’t seem as if anything was different. I should be able to get away with it. I placed the bottle back where I found it and hooked the toiletry bag back over the closet door. I walked quickly out of the room, closing the door behind me, my heart beating very fast. I felt relieved that I had gotten them but also a bit sad that that was what I had to resort to in order to pass college. I vowed to myself that I would do better next semester. And never ever would this come to Brooke’s attention. 

Brooke came back twenty minutes later and found me lounging downstairs watching TV. It was lunch time and she offered to take me somewhere to eat but I declined. I could barely look her in the eyes, much less spend time sitting across from her at a table with just the two of us. She shrugged and climbed back up the stairs, and I heard pots banging around in the kitchen. She was making pasta, I was sure of it. Pasta with cheese and her homemade tomato sauce. My mouth watered but my stomach flipped over itself with nerves. I knew that if she would take a good look at my face she would know instantaneously what I had done. 

I sat downstairs for as long as I possibly could, my eyes staring unfocused at whatever was on the screen. Eventually the aroma of her sauce starting wafting its way down towards me and my stomach gave a rumble. 

“Parker! Pasta!,” Brooke’s voice calling down to me. Even though I hadn’t said I wanted any she made extra. 

I debated calling up that I didn’t want any but just gave it up. I came into the kitchen and sat down across from her, putting some pasta in a bowl and spooning some sauce over it. She passed me the cheese and I sprinkled some on top. I avoided her gaze. 

“Everything all right?”

“M’fine,” I mumbled over my food. “Tired.”

Sleepiness. The best excuse for everything. 

“Yeah, me too.” Oh no, now she was trying to get into a conversation with me. I looked down at my bowl. The pasta turned unappetizing and my stomach tied itself in knots. I was in danger of spilling my guts to my closest friend, my confident, if I didn’t abort this conversation, and soon. 

“I’m actually not so hungry anymore, I’m going to my room to take a nap.”

I saw her face had a hurt expression on it, I was sure she didn’t understand what was happening but I walked away anyways, the only thing I could do. 

Safe in my room I lay down on my bed and thought about my decisions that had brought me here to this moment. I felt alone, so I went out to parties. And then it became too hard for me to balance that and keep up with my classes. But why did I feel so alone? Couldn’t I find people in the school I could hang out with who were also good students? I vowed to study hard but also to stop being friends with Jenny when I got back. She was a bad influence. She made me into this person I hated. 

Part 5 of The Story

Photo by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

My first month of college went generally the same way. I would get up early and go downstairs to drink my coffee. I realized that if I was going to be buying coffee everyday it would add up and I invested in my own jar and used the hot water urn they had in the lounge. Breakfast consisted of some cereal of which the boxes stayed in my room and milk that I kept in the communal fridge. I wrote my name on the carton, hoping nobody would steal it, and every day I was pleasantly surprised to see that the bottle was still there, just as full as I had left it yesterday. 

Classes were every day at different times and wednesday was the only morning that I didn’t have to wake up early. I woke at the same time regardless, on the schedule I had inadvertently created for myself. Mom and Dad came to visit as they had promised but could only stay for a short while before needing to get back to work. I managed to show them my room and we grabbed some lunch before they hailed a cab and hightailed it back to their office. It was fine though, I was much too busy studying. I video chatted Brooke a couple of times and she seemed to be fine. The roommate situation had worked out and she said they were all nice and responsible so far and it wasn’t so bad sharing a room. 

Jenny would halfheartedly try to get me to go to parties that for some reason were every single night and I wondered again how these people were planning on making it through the semester. It seemed as if she was always surrounded by rowdy students who just wanted to make noise.

One night after finishing a paper due the next day and finally drifting off to sleep, Jenny crashed in through the door. I sat up immediately. She was sobbing her heart out, her hair a mess, her shoes missing from her feet. She collapsed onto her bed with her head in her pillow and I listened to her crying for a moment, at a loss of what to do. Finally I inched out of my bed slowly and made my way to her side. 

“Jenny?,” I whispered uncertainly. “Are you ok?”

“Oh I’m just rainbows and sunshine,” she said, her muffled voice coming through just enough for me to hear it dripping with sarcasm. That was unlike Jenny. She might be a partier but she was always smiling and bouncy, ready for anything. 

I tried again. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

She sat up abruptly and I scooted back, realizing how close I was. She sniffed and wiped her eyes with a dainty little finger. It did nothing to help the river of mascara running down her face. 

“I just can’t, Parker. I just can’t.”

“Can’t what,” I asked, not unkindly.

“I can’t do this! Ugh, boys are the worst!”

Ok, boy trouble. Not such a big deal, she was probably just being overly dramatic. I wouldn’t dare say that to her though. 

“He roofied my drink!”

Ok, that wasn’t just boy trouble. That was bad. 

“Or well, I think he roofied my drink.” Ok, was Jenny now just messing with me? I couldn’t hold back the next big yawn that came upon me and, noticing, Jenny shot up in defense.

“Think I’m lying do you? Yeah? Why would I lie about something like that? I swear, I was drinking and I started feeling dizzy and out of it and Simon almost led me away probably to rape me or something and oh gawd it was horrible.”

“How did you get away?,” I said, trying to console her and also keep her talking. I wanted to get the full story but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it when I did.

“Maddy was standing there as well and she distracted him for a moment while I made my way back here. She realized I was drugged!”

Maddy was perhaps the ditziest girl I had ever met. She couldn’t see anything beyond the next mirrored surface, and I was sure she wouldn’t notice a desperate girl’s plight. Then again, I barely knew her. These were just assumptions I had accumulated from having her live a couple of rooms down and always hogging whatever shower she was using. We didn’t really run in the same circles. 

I nodded slowly as Jenny finished speaking. “So what do you want to do?” I said, trying to be practical. “Do you want to report him?”

She gave a big hiccup and took a big shuddering breath. “No. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” She smiled a brilliant smile and then turned over and went to sleep. I was left feeling stupid, crouching next to her bed and waiting on my crying roommate. 

The next morning Jenny pretended as if nothing had happened. She woke up late, and me with her, and we got dressed if not in uncomfortable silence than a silence nonetheless. I left the room before her but she made it out soon after me and we waited for the elevators together. 

“Listen, Parker?,” Jenny said, when it was just us going down. “I’d rather not tell anyone about what happened last night, ok?”

I shoved down a questioning response to that. It was her life. “Ok, sure,” I replied, nodding quickly. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Great, want to grab breakfast?”

This was hard for me to turn down but I really wasn’t in the mood to go out and I had some notes I wanted to review. I said as much and Jenny shrugged trying not to look put out and went on her way. I sat down slowly on a picnic bench outside and pulled my sweatshirt around me. We were already having chilly days outside, ones which required you to have warmer layers on hand. Soon it would be boot weather, a season I loved. 

A figure came out, braving the weather to sit next to me. 

“Hey Parker,” Randy nodded to me as he brought out his laptop. “How you doing?”

I drank my coffee and read over my english notes, really not in the mood. I had to become familiar with the prose we had been assigned. 

“Fine,” I replied shortly, hoping he would go away. Sometimes I felt like Randy was everywhere. 

“Can I help you with anything?”

“No, it’s alright.”

He shrugged and went back to his laptop, his fingers flying over the keyboard. I got up after a couple of minutes, claiming I needed to make my way to class and realizing too late that he shared the next one with me. 

It was fine though, he was busy coding or doing whatever nerds did. 

The day went by smoothly, until I made it back to my room that evening. Jenny was in there again, and this time she had brought backup. 

“Listen Parker you just have to come to this party,” Jenny insisted. “You study every night, you hand in everything on time, you do everything that you’re supposed to do. You’re allowed to have a little fun you know.”

Her friend nodded enthusiastically next to her. I couldn’t place her face. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

“I’m Tasha.” She was almost a clone of Jenny, with the whole tall southern girl down pat complete with cowboy boots with spurs. “I’m here visiting.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I felt slightly attacked. I didn’t do parties. I studied and kept to myself and got good grades by working hard. Lately it was taking a toll though. Brooke wasn’t available all the time to talk and I was getting lonely. 

I thought for too short before I decided that this night I would go. They weren’t giving me a choice!

Or at least that was what I would tell myself tomorrow. 

Jenny and my new friend Tasha wouldn’t let me go in my normal jeans and t-shirt ensemble. They gave my closet the once over, and almost settled on the coral dress when Jenny decided she had something better in her closet. 

I looked at myself in the mirror after a whirlwind of activity was done on me and I felt like I had just taken part in the makeover scene of a romcom. There had been lots of yelling on all of our parts and some people banged on our door to quiet down but when I caught a glimpse of what I looked like all was forgiven. They had managed to take my long curly hair and turn it into a sexy mane that flowed down my back. I wore one of Jenny’s dresses that must have been so short on her it showed butt crack because on me it came about mid thigh. It was loose but sat well on me and Jenny refused to let me get away with sandals, insisting I try on one of her heels. It all came together in a way that screamed, I woke up this way, and yet also, please notice me please, aren’t I beautiful?

I was sticking to the first scream. 

The party was in another residence hall in their lounge and we all walked over together, the cold night air hitting me immediately as we opened the front door. 

“Should I run back and get a sweater?,” I deliberated. 

“No, definitely not, you’ll ruin the whole aesthetic of the dress!,” Tasha exclaimed, looking horrified. I had learned in the brief time we spent together that Tasha wanted to study fashion. She was two years younger than Jenny and I and was currently working at a fashion magazine part time during her Junior year of High School. I was impressed. It was nice seeing people that knew what they wanted to do with their lives and actually pushing to accomplish it. She was so young but already so passionate, it was a breath of fresh air to be around her. But that didn’t mean she hadn’t severely gotten on my nerves during the couple of hours we had been around each other tonight. 

“Um, I think I’m going to go grab a sweater,” I responded hotly. Jenny grabbed my arm. “Let’s just go, I’m tellin’ you, you won’t need one once we’re there.”

I grumbled to myself but let the duo pull me down the block. I wasn’t usually out this late because I was going to sleep early and staying in my room studying but New York City was wonderful at night. All the dirtiness of the day and the loud honking and pedestrians was given away to bright lights and what could only be called quiet, comparatively. Obviously it would never be an oasis of silence but there was a certain calmness in the air, not a lot of cars on the street, and the people that were walking around had a bright eye wonder about the place. We weren’t near Times Square so we were free of that unrestrained partying that takes place there and I felt like I could walk around all night, reveling in my solitude. 

Jenny tugged on my arm. We were at the building where the party was taking place, and I shook my head out of my reverie. 

“Ready to party,” she said playfully, quirking an eyebrow up and jutting out a hip, ready to get her picture taken. She snapped one of the three of us, making that kiss face that women of this generation tend to do and uploaded it to whatever social media sites she was on. 

Tasha looked excited and I figured this was the first party she had ever been to, being so young and all. Heck, this was the first party I had ever been to as well and I was older and already graduated high school. I decided that was going to be a piece of information I would keep to myself and shook my luxurious hair back from my shoulders and walked inside. 

All the ceiling lights were off in the lounge, the only illumination coming from a couple of disco light machines set up strategically around the room. The place was packed, wall to wall bodies all dancing to the surround sound stereo system. No DJ, and I wondered if that was only a movie thing or if just this party didn’t contain one. I was nervous before but nowI realized that I was essentially invisible. The darkness and sheer amount of people took care of that and I edged my way around the room, realizing that I already lost Jenny and Tasha. I looked around wildly, then shrugged, continuing my search for a drink. I was wondering halfheartedly if they had alcohol here even though this was definitely open to people under twenty one when I saw a table stacked high with those telltale red solo cups and what could only be described as a giant bucket. I inched my way through the swarm of bodies and gave a sniff. Yep, that was beer alright. I poured myself a generous cup and looked around as I drank it, sticking close to the walls of the room. I didn’t recognize anyone but that could have been because it was dark. The music felt good in my body, my heart beating to its rhythm and I found my head bopping along to the song, hips swinging from side to side. Before I realized what was happening I had drank three cups of beer and that was when Jenny found me. 

“Dance with me Parker,” she shrieked over the noise of the room and the bass. I let her pull me in, my cup falling to the wayside. Before I knew it, I was dancing along with everyone else, letting the alcohol speak for me using my hair as another limb. I was screaming along with everyone, and singing my heart out and I when I fell into bed back at the dorm I couldn’t remember how I got back but I fell asleep instantaneously, still yelling happily in my head.

It was my first real college experience, the ones I had expected from the movies and TV shows. And that included the massive hangover the next morning.

I woke up groggy, squinting in the bright light that was streaming into the room. It wasn’t always this bright, was it? My eyelids felt sticky and my head was beating with the tempo of a rock song. There was an insistent beeping noise as well and I realized that my alarm was going off for a solid five minutes without me being aware of it. 

On the other side of the room I heard two groans and two sets of pillows were thrown across the room in the general direction of my bed. They come up short but I turned the alarm off to appease them. What time was it? Did I usually wake up this early?

My head fell back into bed heavily and I was in immense danger of falling back asleep if my eyes closed. I let them flutter shut and the next time I checked my phone it was an hour later and I was going to be late for class. 

I jumped out of bed and threw on a big sweater, putting on a generous dose of deodorant. With no time to shower I couldn’t be walking through the halls smelling like.. Well, like the floor of the party I was at last night. I grabbed some mouthwash and my laptop bag and made my way to the steps, running down as fast as I could and out the building to my early morning-who-the-heck-picked-this math class. I was smoothing my hair into a high bun to make myself somewhat presentable as I slipped into class, seconds before Professor Ping walked through the door. She gave me a glare, not one to accept tardiness at all, but I pretended not to notice and slunk to the back. 

Once there I allowed my heart to slow down to its regular beat ever so slightly and brought my laptop out, ready to listen. From the front row Randy turned to give me a thumbs up.

But Professor Ping had other plans. 

“Notebook, computers away. Just a little pop quiz to make sure you were all listening on Tuesday.”

A collective groan from the class but she pretended not to hear. My heart immediately went back to beating wildly and I rubbed my sweaty palms on my leggings. 

I hadn’t studied the new material at all last night, having been led wildly astray by my party roommate and her friend. I wasn’t ready for this quiz and I felt as if somehow Professor Ping knew that and was out to destroy me. I brushed that off as foolishness based on lack of sleep but the fact remained that I was going to epically fail whatever she handed out. 

Sure enough, I knew nothing of the ten question quiz. Some of it was familiar as I sat in the class only two days ago but I couldn’t remember how to do it or which formulas applied. 

My head felt heavy and I cupped it in my palms feeling like this was the start of the landslide. I went to go hand in a blank answer sheet and avoided her eyes, making my way slowly back to my seat. 

The class passed in a blur as I was in no state to pay attention and when she dismissed us I didn’t notice until someone asked to pass by me and I noticed most of the class had already headed out. I blinked the sleep from my eyes and wondered if I should go nap again. 

I walked slowly back to my room the laptop bag sitting heavily on my shoulder. 

Jenny was up by the time I got back, and Tasha was gone. She explained that she had a plane to catch and was surprisingly bubbly for someone who had done just as much partying as me last night, if not significantly more. 

“How are you so awake,” I complained, falling onto my unmade bed and snuggling up with my pillow. “My head feels like someone is in there building a house.”

“Is this your first time drinking?,” Jenny asked sympathetically. 

I debated lying and just couldn’t right then. “Well, yeah.”

“Oh, no, did you drink any water last night?” Jenny proceeded to explain all the ways that one could avoid having a hangover the next day. Drink water, know when to stop, throw up if you can’t, and in the morning have a coffee with a generous helping of cayenne pepper. That last bit sounded so gross but she swore it worked and offered to go make me one. I declined, deciding that it had passed for now and I would probably be fine. 

“Next time you’ll do better,” Jenny reassured me and that made me sit up in bed. I gave her a look. 

“Next time? I’m never partying again. I failed a quiz today because of the party last night!”

“Oh, honey,” she said laughing. “That’s what they all say.”

I didn’t like the way she lumped me with all the other plebes, but she did have a point. I would probably go to a party again. It was fun, and I felt like I was part of the college scene and had friends, something I had wanted since I sent in my application. 

“Next time it’ll be better,” I conceded reluctantly.

The next time happened just that weekend. Friday afternoon Jenny informed me that there was another party and this one was going to be nothing like the other one. Jenny babbled non stop about how she had heard that there was going to be a DJ there this time, one who went to our school and was studying medicine but was surprisingly good at beats. That sounded exciting, I had never heard a live DJ before and I was feeling in the mood to dance. Last time it was so much fun, cloaking myself in the amount of people and the sense of anonymity that it gave. Brooke called me as I was pulling on another one of Jenny’s dresses, this one a tight bodycon number that I was hoping didn’t make me look like a fifteen year old with no boobs. 

“Hey,” I chirped into the phone. “I’m just getting ready to go to a party. What’s up?”

“Oh, a party?” Brooke’s voice sounded quiet and distant and I checked my connection. 

“Hey I can’t really hear you, there’s bad service. Am I seeing you Thanksgiving?”

“Yeah, I’ll.. home..” Words got clicked out as the static overwhelmed the phone line. 

“I’ll call you later, I can’t really hear anything. Love you, bye!”

I hung up and threw the phone on the bed and pulled on my shoes. Jenny was sitting in front of her mirror as usual, pursing her lips critically.

“Looks ok?,” she asked, tilting her head to the side. I gave her a glance. 

“You look great.” She did look great, Jenny could pull off anything, but that lipstick color was especially bold and made her lips look plump and beautiful. 

“Do you want as well?,” she said eagerly. 

I shook my head ruefully. “I’m good. Let’s go! I want to dance!”

I all but skipped to the party, trying not to show how excited I was to go to another one of these events. 

The party was in full swing by the time we got there, the DJ doing his thing on a makeshift stage in the back of the room. He was actually not bad as I felt my whole body ready to start breaking dancing on the floor. 

There were less people dancing though and I decided to drink before I got in the middle of everyone. 

“Remember,” Jenny warned me. “Drink water and if you feel like you need to throw up don’t stop it.”

“Ok,” I nodded. “Let’s just go get some beer.”

The infamous red solo cups were on the same looking table, the same style bucket holding the same tasting beer as two nights ago. Before long I was drunk, screaming the words of ‘Baby got back’ with Jenny right beside me.

The night was another blur of dancing, meeting people, dancing with them, and beer. I threw up twice but kept going. This time I could remember walking back to my dorm room, getting undressed, and sliding between the covers. Jenny was back as well and as I drifted off to sleep I wondered, Is this who I am now?

Saturday morning was silent, with most people out for the weekend. Jenny and I were becoming fast friends, her bubbly spirit even more nice with all the hanging out we had been doing lately. 

Thanksgiving was coming up and Jenny was telling me how her Pa was going to be flying her back home for the weekend, her ticket already booked. She was looking forward to the heat, New York was too cold for her, and I nodded while barely paying attention. We were in the almost empty cafeteria, with just one other student sitting in the corner, eating lunch bought from the vending machines. I had some cheese flavored pretzels and Jenny ate a granola bar. It was three in the afternoon and I couldn’t stop the swirl of thoughts taking over my mind. I had turned into a college party girl, seemingly overnight, and it felt strange. Like I didn’t know who I was anymore. But then again I hadn’t really known who I was before this either. That was why I decided to go to college in the first place. Brooke didn’t need to since she knew who she was since she was five and told my parents in no uncertain terms that she was going to be a singer and make her own clothing line and she had kept to that promise through the years. But I had been lost, and the dancing and letting go, and most of all getting drunk was the most present I had ever been. 

“…you doing?,” Jenny asked. I glanced at her and realized I had just been asked a question. 

“Hmmm,” I said quickly, hoping she would repeat what she said. 

“I said what are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

“Oh, I’ll be home. I’m kind of exiled from the house until then. I’ve never been on my own before and everyone said it was important to stay away until then and learn how to be by myself and stop relying on my family.”

Jenny nodded sagely. “I hear that. My younger brother is the same way. When I was his age I had a job and was buying my own clothes but he just sits upstairs playing video games and having no social life.”

“Maybe it’s a younger sibling thing?,” I offered. Jenny shrugged. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised. Good for you though. So it’s just you and that girl who came and helped you with your things the first day, or you have more?”

“Just us,” I replied, surprised that she remembered. 

“Hey girls.” We looked up to see none other than Randy standing near our table. Apparently he was the one sitting slouched in the corner in front of a laptop. “Either one of you staying in Thanksgiving?”

I shook my head but Jenny rolled her eyes at me without saying anything to him. It was kind of rude but I ignored it. She was fun to hang out with and Randy was… well, a nerd. Randy waited a beat before heading out, and I pretended his expression didn’t look hurt. 

Jenny and I got pretty chummy that day, spending most of our time in the cafeteria eating vending machine snacks and talking about our lives back home. By the time Monday came around I had done no studying to speak of and the two papers I was supposed to hand in were barely started let alone completed. I asked for an extension but was denied and I was informed that that was going to be a major dock in my grade. 

I knew I should care but I didn’t. I figured I would study hard for finals coming up after Thanksgiving. It would be fine. 

We had a couple of more parties that week. Jenny and I were becoming quite the duo. I came out of my shell a bit, exploring my dancing side and on occasion singing into the mic for everyone to hear. I had to be pretty drunk for that though. But the beer flowed freely, especially for us. Jenny always lent me one of her cute dresses and I became confident in the look I had cultured, even showing up to class on occasion with heels. People started calling out to me on the way to class. Not a lot of people, but enough. I felt like a Somebody. 

And then it was time to leave for Thanksgiving weekend. Brooke wasn’t around to pick me up and I was only bringing an overnight bag anyways so I didn’t mind taking the train. It was annoying to drive to the city unless you really needed to because the traffic was a nightmare and there wasn’t any parking anywhere that wasn’t super expensive. 

Before the mini vacation started all of the Professors assigned us reading material, threatening pop quizzes and so much homework before Christmas came and the semester was over. I was now so behind I could barely see where I needed to go to catch up. There was a reason I studied every single day, struggling to keep my face above the water. College was hard, and if you didn’t fight against the current you would inevitably drift with no way to get back to where you were. 

Professor Ping actual called me over after the last class got out. 

“Ms. Palmer,” she said abruptly in her no nonsense tone. We never had a reason to talk face to face before and up close I could see how old she really was, the years of teaching indoors in the pollution taking its toll on her face. 

I waited politely and then realized she wanted to make sure she had my attention. 

“Um, yes?,” I said hurriedly, smiling what I hoped was an innocent smile. I anticipated a beratement for missing that quiz again, and I prayed it wasn’t that. I showed up late just as everyone was handing in their papers. I knew she noticed me but I kept quiet and made my way to the back which was becoming my new favorite seat. No quiz was handed in on my part but it’s not like I would have known anything anyways. The fact that I didn’t even care was just another list on the things that should worry me but didn’t. 

“Failure of my class will result in expulsion from NYU.” I sucked in a breath between my teeth as she continued. “And you will be failing my class at the rate you’re going. As a warning to you I’m letting you know that if you don’t get at least an eighty five on the final you will not pass my course.” No mincing of words there. I nodded rapidly trying to think of something to say but she was already turning around to go to her office, without a backwards glance. “Have a nice Thanksgiving!,” I called out to her but she turned the corner and was out of sight. I turned myself to go back, ready to crack down. I needed to, I wasn’t ready to leave NYU. Everyone would be so disappointed in me, and I’d feel like a failure. I walked slowly back to the dorm, fear weighing me down like falling rocks in my stomach.