“What the hell.”  I stood in the common room doorway.  Dan was playing Bond against Jon on the Nintendo 64.

            “Are you serious?” Dan laughed.

            “What?  What happened?” Jon said.

            I just nodded.

            “Get out of town!  When?”  Dan urged.

            “When what?” Jon demanded.

            “Dunno.  Friday?”  I shrugged.


            “Just here, no going out.”  I said.  “I’m not drinking as much either.”

            “Ohhhh!”  Jon said, realization dawning.

            “We can just party in the dorm.  I’ll get together some stuff.” Dan agreed.  “And I’ll tell the girls.”

            “Whatever.”  I said nonchalantly.

            “Wicked.”  Jon said.

            I laughed and let them handle the details.  It was their thing, after all.  I was just trying to pretend to fit in.  It was easier to just go with the flow and let events take me where they would.

            Friday arrived quickly with that attitude, my days not mattering.  We drank rum and Coke or ginger ale, and other concoctions.  I didn’t pay much attention, just drinking enough to get a buzz and feel light-headed.  I found that this was enough to get me loose enough to laugh with people.  The group was spread out, wandering between Dan and Evan’s rooms on our end, and then the common room, and then Mandy’s room past the kitchen.

            I was hanging out in Dan’s room listening to his newest club music mix.  He was a lot more intoxicated than me, as I was stretching my drinks out.  I didn’t want a repeat of the previous week.  I was a little surprised to find him this drunk this early.  Teri was sitting on his lap, trying to entice him to come with her to visit another room, but he didn’t want to move.  Eventually she gave up and headed to visit a friend, promising to be back later.  I stepped out into the hall with her for a moment.

            “What’s up with Danny boy?”

            “He’s depressed.  His dad called today, and he never reacts well to that.”

            “Any idea why?”

            “Not really.”  She shrugged.  “Everybody had some issues with their parents.  I’ve yet to meet Dan’s, but who knows?”

            I went back in, leaning against the wall.

            “You okay buddy?  You’re not having as much fun as I thought you would.”

            Dan grunted, shrugging his shoulders and drinking another cup.  I poured him another from the collection on his big windowsill.

            We sat in silence for a while.  Dan drank some more.  Just when I was ready to leave, he spoke up.

            “My dad’s an asshole.”

            “Really?” I said gently.

            “I hate him.  Especially since all of us pretend we have a nice happy family.”

            “But you’re not?”

            Dan shrugged.  “What’s to be happy about?  We all pretend nothing happened and we all know it did, so who cares, right?”

            It was hard to follow.  Dan was slurred from the alcohol, and jumping around what he was talking about, almost as if he was talking more to himself than anyone else.  I certainly had yet to grasp the narrative.  He swigged his drink, slumping even further in his chair.  Dan was one of the biggest men I had ever known, and he suddenly looked very small.

            “This is so fucked up.” He said quietly.

            “Dan, did you take something?”

            “What haven’t I taken?” He murmured quietly.  “Acid, ‘shrooms, weed, all that shit.  All so I can try to forget when he touched me…”

            I gulped, wondering if he was talking about what I thought he was talking about.  I felt sick to my stomach.  “Dan, what are you talking about?”

            Blearily, he looked at me.  “Hey, E!  Ethan’s here.”  He looked around as if to tell someone.  “Ethan’s my friend.  I cheat on Teri, hide in the closet with Melody and I treated you like shit in school, and you still forgive me.”

            “Of course, Dan.  That’s what friends do.  And Christians.”  I said calmly, trying not to react to what he’d just told me.

            “Yeah, you and Evan and church.  What is it they say?  Confession is good for the soul?  I’m sorry for what I did.  That’s my confession.”

            He spoke like his tongue was too big for his mouth, slumped in his chair.

            “Hey, Dan, it’s okay.  I forgive you for leaving me in the snow.”

            “Snow?  I’m trying to say I’m sorry that I hurt my little brother the way my dad hurt me.  How shitty is that?  I think it’s worse, because I know how it feels to be trapped, and used…”

            I bit back bile, trying not to vomit.  Suddenly Dan’s room was too small, too cold.  I didn’t want to be here.  He was sobbing in his chair, too drunk and possibly high to really think straight.

            But he needed to hear it.

            “Dan, it’s okay.  I forgive you.  Shit happens, you know?  We cope the best we can.  I think God understands that even if some people never learn.”

            Dan looked at me with genuine gratitude in his eyes, and I wondered if he was more sober than I gave him credit for.  I withdrew, needing suddenly to be elsewhere.

            I stumbled down the hall, trying to clear my head, checking in on rooms where other students were partying.  Eventually I found some of our crew in Mandy’s room.

            I flopped on Mandy’s bed, watching a movie on her television.  Her roommate Kelly was in a chair, laughing at the comedy.  Erin and another girl were on Kelly’s bed.  I was too blurry to focus on what they were watching.  I rolled my head to stare behind me instead, watching the doorway upside down.  Mandy appeared and laughed at me.

            She bounced on the bed.  “Shove over!” Mandy pushed me playfully, making me move out of the middle to give her room.  She settled in to watch the movie, poking me in the ribs or the armpit every once in awhile to see if I was alive.

            “Ethan, how is it you’re still single?”

            “Huh?”  I said, quite articulate.

            “I mean this girl is like seventy percent school…” Mandy giggled.  “I meant, the school is seventy percent girls, or something.  Why are you still single?”

            “Are you asking him out?”  Kelly teased.  “Because the movie’s not over.”

            “I can’t ask him out, my boyfriend would kill me!” Mandy threw a pillow at her friend.  “I’m just curious.”

            “I’m just not looking.”  I said. 

            “You’re breaking a lot of hearts.”  Mandy said.  I laughed.

            “Yeah, because I’ve got girls breaking down my door.”

            “You will.”  Kelly said.  “You’re coming out of your shell lately.  We were worried.  A girlfriend would do you good.”

            “Ethan!”  Evan said from the doorway.  “We’re running to the snack shop for grub.  You coming?”

            I rolled off the bed and lurched over to the door.

            “Let me grab my coat.”  I said, glad of the interruption.  I didn’t want to talk about dating, or about how depressed I was, even though I was pretending to be fine.

            I headed down to my room.  I grabbed my wallet from my desk and then stopped, staring at the note.

            “Why not?”  I dialled my phone, playing with my keys as it rang.

            “About time you called.”  A feminine voice answered.  It rippled with amusement.

            “Uh, hello?”  I said brilliantly, marvelling at my conversation abilities tonight.  “I’m really not sure I have the right number.”

            “Do you often call wrong numbers at eleven at night?”

            “Um, no?”

            “You don’t need to worry.  You have the right number.”  I could tell by her voice that she was smiling.  “I gave it to you at the pub after all.”

            “How did you know it was me?”

            “Only a select few have this number.  And I have call display.”

            That was the most obvious way.  I felt like a clod.

            “Sorry.  I guess I’m just nervous about this.  I’m not really sure I have any idea who you are, and I’m embarrassed about it.”

            “Oh, you’ll recognize me, I’m sure.  You’re coming out next Friday, aren’t you?”

            “Where?” I asked.

            “I’ll give you directions.  You can even bring your friends if you like.”

            I listened carefully and wrote down what she said with the pen on my desk, using the back of her note.  I hung up and sat down on my bed.

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