home‎ > ‎

Furry by Geddy Gibson (this story is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license)

 
    I had it halfway in when her cell phone went off. She stopped the panting noises she had been making.
    “Don’t even think about it.”

    “I have t—“

    “Are you crazy?”

    The nauseating ringtone continued. The kind of rap cheerleaders like. I felt myself slackening.

    “But Kyra is supposed to…This is about her wedding. The dresses!”

    I pulled out, sat on the edge of the bed. I stayed there for a few seconds, listening to how different her voice sounded jabbering about wedding crap. The husky whisper from a couple of minutes ago suddenly seemed fake.

     Her eyes stayed on me while I slipped into my jeans, pulled on a t-shirt. She yakked away about dress colors. Barely seemed like she was seeing me.

     “Yeah…y—hold on. Where are you going?”

     I finished buttoning my barn jacket, limply gestured toward the door with my thumb. I held her gaze, not smiling.

    Missy frowned, got back into the conversation. She barely looked naked, sitting there. I left.

    I only headed across the street to the park in front of her apartment building, though. I knew she could find me there. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into a whole thing. I just felt…tired.

     The bench in front of the big live oak was empty. I brushed off a Burger King fries box and sat down. I leaned way back and looked almost straight up. That way I couldn’t see much else. Just the blue.

     Couple of seconds later I heard a rustling in the live oak. I looked at the tree. Followed the huge trunk up, up, and out along one of its mazes of branches. I spotted one of those bowl-like places where two big branches split at a curve. I imagined climbing up there, lying in it. Looking at the sky from up there. Nobody’d even see me for hours.

     I felt the anger about Missy welling up again, and looked back down. Ever since Kyra’d asked her to be a bridesmaid, I’d had this sense of a pattern. It was like I could see what she thought of me. Of us.

     For some reason I thought about what Hardy Kittridge would say to me. I smiled.

     “You fucking fag! What are you doing just sitting out here in the park? A Saturday afternoon. What, are you gonna cry? Man, FUCK that bitch! Why aren’t you at a bar right now? Go watch a game, look for a new piece of ass… Something!”

     H.K. How long had it been since I had talked to him? Maybe two years, now? Did he even call me after that one year Upsilon Upsilon Zeta reunion?

     Something across the way caught my eye. There was Missy, coming out of the building, looking at me from across the street. I kept my head turned toward the tree so she wouldn’t be sure whether I’d seen her.

     She started heading across the street. I could tell she was slightly annoyed at having to come find me. Unbelievable. She totally thought she had this all wrapped up. That she was in charge. It oozed from her every movement. I could tell she had it all mapped out for us. We were the blue and pink pegs in the little white plastic car, in that game. What was it? “The Game of Life?” Was the name that stupid?

     Missy sat next to me on the bench. I didn’t look at her. There were rules here for maintaining a modicum of dignity, after all. Had to let her know she was supposed to seem sorry first. But I knew how it would play out, anyway. She’d want to settle the dispute quickly, then talk about going out to a dinner I would pay for.

     “I’m sorry. It’s just…Kyra just has us all so…”

     “Listen, no, I understand…I uh…”

     My voice sounded strange. I wasn’t sure why I had interrupted her. She waited.

     “Did I, uh…I never told you about…Wayne Blesser, did I?”

▪▪▪

     Freshman orientation week at college I was kicking myself for not studying vocabulary. My buddies Sal and Dave had studied every Saturday morning for a month before we took the SAT. They’d invited me, but I’d laughed it off. Called ’em nerds. So here I was at the big fucking state U, knowing nobody. They were both up at Chessmore, probably boning rich girls already, while I was wandering around this small city of a school, wondering what planet I had landed on.

     Never felt so alone. The girls all seemed to walk around in packs. You’d go up and try to talk to one of them, and they’d all start laughing, making rude remarks. Or just keep walking. I might as well have been moping around stooped under a forty pound book bag, like all the other loner nerds I kept seeing.

     Finding The Den was like stumbling into an oasis. Later it seemed totally gay, this alcohol free, on-campus place where underclassmen hung out getting fat on pizza. But that first week…what a relief. The pool tables gave us an opening to chat with strangers, meet some people. It was a way to at least seem like I was part of a crowd.

     So, by the end of that orientation week, when the first official dormitory party was scheduled, I had already been avoiding the dormitory. Instead I’d hung out a couple of evenings with some of guys I’d met at The Den. We hung out at their dorm, playing video games. Besides, my R.A., Donnie Brautigan, was a dick. He’d already confiscated the George Foreman grill my mom gave me for my dorm room. And now he was spreading the word that this lame get-to-know-you party was “absolutely mandatory.”

     So, night of the “party,” we were all sitting there in the dorm common area, some on the floor, some on the cheap couches. Brautigan was blabbering on about how the friends you make in college last a lifetime, and the people you live with the first year you never forget. And there she was. Somehow I’d never seen her before. Ariel Shoup. Fucking Hotness Incarnate. I let my eyes crawl over her long tanned legs and bare midriff. It felt as if my bones were melting, ’cept for the most important one, of course. And she caught me looking, but I didn’t care. Neither did she. She had these green eyes, and when I looked into them, I remember thinking that I could never lie to them. Or some such eighteen-year-old horseshit.

     Brautigan started drawing names from a hat. He was pairing us off for a textbook icebreaking exercise. We were supposed to stare at each other without talking, then come up with a profile of the other person. We’d describe the profile to the group, and the other person would reveal how right or wrong we were. I was looking at Ariel’s tits again when I heard Brautigan call my name.

     “Bill Davison, and…”

     He reached into the bucket for another name. I stared at Ariel. She smiled at me again.

     Let it be her. Let it be her. Let it be her.

     “Wayne Blesser.”

     I saw a head sort of bob up and down in a far corner of the rec room. Guy could’ve been Brett Favre and I would have been disappointed. But, worse, he was this mousey, skinny little guy. Pasty white from being indoors all the time. Obvious loser. He was smiling at me when he walked over, and actually looked excited. Jesus.

     I tried not to look too bored with the process. I kind of scribbled on my notepad, looking up at him now and then with feigned interest. But I kept glancing over at Ariel. She was sitting across from some lucky bastard, who, unfortunately, was not a zit-covered lardass. She was blushing and giggling, maintaining far too much eye contact.

     By the time it was our turn, I’d already checked out, wishing I was back at The Den. Better yet, back in Ariel’s dorm room between her legs. I stood up and cleared my throat, glancing at my “notes.”

     “This is, uh, Wayne Blesser. I’d say he’s probably from the city. Maybe lived with just his mom. Um…stays in a lot, I guess. Plays video…no, um…comic books. Collects ’em. And, uh…”

     Wayne was looking at me expectantly with a light smile. He had his head turned slightly and was sort of looking at me with one eye, holding it open wide.

     “I, he, uh…seems like an okay guy, I guess.”

     I sat down quickly. Ariel was smiling at me, looking pleased. Brautigan glared at me. Wayne stood up.

     “Thank you, Bill. You were actually right about a couple of things. I am from the city, where my mother and I reside. And you were close about comic books, but it’s actually Manga I collect. It’s a Japanese form of graphic novel?”

     Wayne looked around the room for signs of recognition. Everyone just sat there looking bored, eating pizza.

     “Um, anyway…And I am also part of a movement…or online community, actually. I am what is called a Furry. We, Furries that is, we take seriously the continuum between humans and animals. Man is not actually that far removed from his mammalian origins, you know.”

     A couple of eyes widened in the crowd. I tried not to look at Ariel. I slowly slid lower in my seat.

     “So, a lot of the manga I collect—and create myself, mind you—it features anthropomorphic mammalian characters. And, well, as for myself, I believe that I actually manifest the Squirrel Spirit. I believe I was put here, in part, to help man and squirrel come to share our urban spaces more, um, equitably.”

     I felt myself turning red. An okay guy.

     The room suddenly became engulfed in wave after wave of laughter. Even Brautigan caught the bug. Ariel too. The party ended soon after.

▪▪▪

      Naturally, I tried to avoid interacting with Wayne after that. He’d pass me in the halls for a while with that expectant look on his face. I’d just look away, sometimes frowning, sometimes just acting like I was caught up in a conversation with the person I was with.

     But I couldn’t avoid him completely. We were both in the same section of a required course for freshmen: Personal Growth and Development. Some horrible mixture of horseshit Oprah concepts, like “Wellness,” along with a bit of sex ed stuff and anti-drug propaganda.

    At first he hadn’t stood out too much in class. His mannerisms were probably more distracting to me than anyone, since I was the only other student in the class from our dorm. I’d notice him making these jerky, furtive movements, like a squirrel. When the TA ever called on him, his head would pop up to attention, and he’d look at her from the side with that big eye. And he always had a snack bag of nuts with him in class. I’d try not to snicker while he sat there nibbling with both hands, the hulls plinking onto his desk intermittently.

     I could tell that the TA, some talentless Allied Health grad student, began to think that Wayne was weird. Probably too weird. But she had enough to worry about trying to keep up morale and attendance in a nearly fail-proof mandatory Health course.

     And Wayne mostly faded into the background for me, too, as the semester got rolling—especially once I met Hardy Kittridge. H.K. happened to be playing pool alone down at The Den late one Thursday night. I was wearing an ACDC t-shirt and jeans, and I walked up to the table. He glanced at my torso while carefully lining up his shot.

     “Awesome shirt, man. I love that ironic 80’s revival stuff.”

    I tried not to look embarrassed. It was actually a t-shirt my older sister got for me when I was twelve. She’d taken me along with her and her older friends to the concert. Even let me have a toke or two so I wouldn’t rat on her about the pot.

     “Thanks, dude. Play ya for a slice of pepperoni?”

     As it turned out, Hardy—H.K., as he asked people to call him—was waiting for his older brother to pick him up. H.K.’s older brother was a junior, and a pledge of the Upsilon Upsilon Zeta fraternity. “Upzees,” as they were known. H.K. was just a freshman, like me. His older brother and some fellow frat guys were supposed to be headed out to a sports bar to catch some big game on the big screens. They’d said maybe H.K. could tag along.

     H.K. and I started hitting it off pretty well, just shooting the shit and playing pool, waiting for his ride. Looking back, it was probably because he was insecure about whether his brother would show up. Otherwise, I doubt he would have given me the time of day. But he actually asked if I wanted to come with them—that is, if, y’know, his brother said it was okay.

     “Well…I actually have a test in the morning,” I said, “and it’s already…” I looked at my watch.

     H.K. started laughing.

     “Dude, dude, listen…we gotcha covered. What’s the test over, anyway? What’s the course, I mean?”

     I told him. H.K. filled me in on the system his brother’s fraternity used to get the brothers through their classes with minimal effort. They had file cabinets full of tests, notes, term papers, and whatever else. It stretched back a couple of decades. They had a schedule for going to class, too, for taking notes and picking up assignments. It was like being a designated driver. You only had to go a couple of times a month, but you had to be sober and take meticulous notes that the others could use to pass.

     H.K.’s brother didn’t actually show up that night, but H.K. and I hung out almost until morning, trading stories. Well, mostly me listening to his. We shared pulls out of a flask he kept hidden in his dorm room. I got, like, a D on that test the next day. But H.K. and I were officially buds.

     I learned that H.K. spent most of his time dicking around the Upzee house. Being a freshman in his first month at school, he had not yet been invited to pledge, of course. But it was obvious that he was a shoe-in. They were already using him for grunt work, making him help with their cheating—or Academic Management System (AMS) as they called it. “Paying his dues,” they said. They wanted him to sweat it just a bit, not just assume he’d be allowed to pledge.

     First time it dawned on me that maybe I had a shot, too, was when H.K. pulled me in to help with one of his AMS “chores.” We were in the library, mid-afternoon, doing what the brothers called “Cruising the Gooks.” H.K. was familiar with the textbooks the brothers were using in tough courses like PChem, Microbio, Stats, Calc III…He’d wander the study areas looking for certain types of people who were using those same books. Asians, Indians, the kind of people who spent their afternoons holed up in the library day after day. So he’d spot one, and then he’d hang out in the same area pretending to read. He’d wait for the student to take a break, go to the bathroom, whatever. They were at the library so much they felt at home, so they’d leave their stuff on the study table. This gave H.K. just enough time, usually, to run a page of homework exercises over to the bank of photocopiers positioned near the study areas. He was whispering his explanation of all this to me as we roamed the stacks that first afternoon.

     “So what happens if you don’t get the stuff back to the table before they return?” I asked him.

     “Well, I try not to steal their crap, if possible. Not ’cause I give a shit, just, I mean, obviously we don’t want them to have a reason not to leave their stuff sitting there when they get up.”

     He nodded toward a Korean girl hunched over a huge Intro Physics book. I watched him stare at her blankly for a moment, waiting for him to continue.

     “But even if we do steal it, there is zero risk of suspicion about us. I mean look at this chick. Look at all of ‘em. They are in here every day, same faces every day. But they are all grinding away alone. They are all cutthroat competitive. One of them fails, its just one less competitor for the others to worry about. Here, lemme show you.”

     I glanced back toward where the Korean girl had been. She’d gotten up and was walking toward the restrooms. H.K. casually walked to her table and swept a stack of papers under his arm. He started toward the copiers, then paused. He looked to make sure she was still walking, then whispered back toward me.

     Grab the book!”

    Wha—? Why?

    He glowered at me and gestured impatiently. I looked around quickly and saw that all noses were still firmly in books. I grabbed the heavy Physics book and followed H.K.. He speed-walked past the copiers and headed down a side hallway. I finally caught up with him in a different section of books.

     “What the fuck, man? Aren’t you going to copy the notes?”

     He gave me this wicked grin and pumped his eyebrows up and down. I watched him slip the notes into his shoulder bag. Then he held out his hand.

     “Gimme the book.”

     “What are you gonna do with it?”

     He snatched it from me, and walked to one of the tall metal book racks. Grinning, he placed the book high on one of the shelves, among several other giant tomes. I realized it was even less likely to be noticed here than in the garbage. I thought about how expensive those books were. How it would probably cost more to replace it than that Korean girl could afford on her stipend.

     “C’mon, man. That’s not cool. Let’s at least put it by the stairs so she can find it.”

     His grin collapsed. He stood staring at me for what seemed like a long time. My chest felt cold inside.

     “You fuckin’ kidding me?”

     I couldn’t hold his gaze. I looked down.

     “C’mon faggot,” he said. “Let’s go find some more notes. If you aren’t gonna pussy out on me, that is.”

▪▪▪

     As it turned out, both H.K. and I made it into Upsilon Upsilon Zeta. And it was sweet. Sweeter than I had imagined, actually. Hardly ever going to class. Having people beg us for an invite to a closed party. Letting the public pay for all the booze we could drink. All we had to do was stand out at the intersections near the college on Saturday mornings. We’d collect money in buckets, asking for donations for childhood leukemia, or some other bleeding heart cause.

     And I started getting laid just about every weekend. There were always parties at the house. Freshman girls would show up, get way too drunk. They wanted to be part of it all, so we could treat them like dirt. They’d trade just about anything to be on Frat Row, to maybe score an invite for the next big bash. That, and to quell the dread of being back at the dorm at some circle jerk pizza party with their R.A. Half of me hoped Ariel Shoup would show up at one of these parties, but the other half of me was glad I never saw her—that maybe she wouldn’t cheapen herself for this sort of thing.

       I guess it was some time around Thanksgiving that H.K. saw Wayne Blesser—for the first time I know of, anyway. He, a few other brothers, and I were walking back from the basketball courts down near the Sociology trailers. We’d played outside because it wasn’t very cold for November. So we were cutting across the Humanities quadrangle toward frat row. All the sudden H.K. stopped dead still.

     “Holy fuck,” he said, almost in a whisper.

     We followed his gaze. There was Wayne, out in one of the grassy areas, near a large elm. He was surrounded by about twenty to thirty squirrels. Wayne was on all fours, doing his best squirrel impression. He moved in a punctuated hop/crawl. He’d stop every few feet, sit on his back legs. He’d crouch there still and staring for a moment, then toss out a handful of nuts that sent the real squirrels into frenzied retrieval mode.

     Suddenly H.K. and the brothers started guffawing. I joined in quickly, praying that Wayne wouldn’t show any recognition or, God forbid, use my name. One of the brothers, gasping, said he thought he’d heard about this guy, this squirrel guy in the quad, but he hadn’t believed it. We stood there laughing for a moment as Wayne sat bolt upright, staring at us sideways.

    “What a basket case,” I said, sighing. “C’mon, let’s get back and order a pizza. Do they, uh, make one with nuts on it?”

     One of the other frat brothers sniggered at this, started walking toward me.

     “Hold up, hold up,” H.K. said, the back of his forearm across my chest.

     “Nah, H.K., let’s just leave h—”

     “Hey, homo!” H.K. boomed.

     Wayne kept still, but it looked like he flinched a bit.

     “What the fuck do you think you’re doing out here?!”

     “What is this shit?” yelled one of the others. He and H.K stepped onto the grass, started moving toward Wayne. Several of the squirrels sat up with quick jerks and looked toward them.

     “What, are you planning on molesting these squirrels?!” yelled H.K.

     “Yeah,” said another frat brother. “Get out of here, ya FURVERT!”

     There was a black walnut tree near us, and some of its big green fruits, nearly as big as tennis balls, were on the ground. H.K. picked one up and whipped it at Wayne. It nearly hit one of the squirrels. Wayne’s face became a mask of anger and fear. The other frat brothers started throwing the black walnuts, too. I, of course, had to join in. The squirrels immediately began scrambling for the elm behind Wayne.

    The missiles connected several painful times. Wayne scrambled to his feet, trying to figure out what to do. Wayne dashed for the tree where the squirrels had already moved to safety. He began trying to shinny up the large tree. We stood in a semi-circle about ten feet from the tree, laughing and throwing as hard as we could. He didn’t get very far before he started sliding back down.

     For someone with a squirrel’s soul, I thought, hurling walnuts, you can’t climb for shit.

     We stood there pelting him with the black walnut fruit for a good three minutes. Wayne had slid all the way down. He sat there whimpering with his ass on the dirt, his arms and legs draped around the elm. The squirrels barked at us from the branches above.

▪▪▪

     I noticed that Wayne never showed up in Personal Growth and Development after that. I even looked around for him during the final. Probably passed the class anyway, though, since it was such a joke. I didn’t see him anymore around the dorm either. So as the semester ended and the nearly month long winter break began, I pretty much forgot about Wayne Blesser again.

     Before I knew it, it was mid-January, and second semester classes were beginning. Even frat guys had to show up for the first couple of classes. That was when they still took attendance, and you could get dropped from the class if you didn’t at least show up to say “Here!”

    So, I was sitting there in Personality, Growth, and Development II—it was a year long freshman course. Sitting there at nine a.m. with my eyes closed, trying to catch a couple extra minutes of rest before class. Everybody else around me was chattering away about Christmas, but I’d put in too many late nights over break playing World of Warcraft with H.K. and some of the other brothers. All the sudden, this hush came over the room. I slowly opened my eyes.

     There he was, Wayne Blesser, walking into the room. He was wearing what seemed to be a homemade squirrel suit. It was gray terrycloth, I think, and had a hood with little rounded ears on it. The zipper ran up the front. Tail was huge, bushy. It must have had a long bent wire running through it, because it stood up and held that jaunty, squirrel tail curlicue.

     Wayne’s body seemed electrified, and his eyes stared straight over everyone’s heads without making eye contact. His eyes were dark all around, almost like smears of mascara. He somehow seemed to feed off of the stares while simultaneously being oblivious to them.

     Word of this got around the school quickly. There was a lot of stupid, irrational speculation. A few girls stopped coming to PGD II. There was talk among some of the sorority chicks about whether Wayne might “do something crazy.”

     Naturally the gossip made it to the Upzee house, too. After the quad incident, I had “casually” mentioned that I thought maybe Wayne was in my dorm. That way it wouldn’t seem like I was trying to hide anything if someone found out. When H.K. heard about the squirrel costume, it was like he had found his mission for the semester—or at least the month. He and some of the brothers started planning something. They weren’t sure what yet, but it came up that I would need to get involved, since I was perfectly positioned, “what with being in his dormitory, an’ all.”

     A week or so later they had me doing surveillance. I had protested that I never much saw the guy come out of his room. But they sent me home from the frat house a few nights in a row. Told me to look into his patterns. My roommate had been out those same nights, too, the bastard, camping out in his older girlfriend’s off-campus apartment. I was stuck in dorm room hell, playing my Game Boy and jerking off—when I wasn’t peering out every time I heard someone in the hall, that is.

     I didn’t spot him at all the first couple of nights. I knew he was there, though, because the Chinese food flyers and stuff like that would disappear from his doorknob. Next night I waited him out. It was around two a.m. that I heard the squeak of a door in the hall.

     I opened my door really slowly, so it wouldn’t creak. Then I crept down the hall, listening. I could hear whispering and some weird wheezing sound coming from the rec room. Wayne crying? The kitchen was this side of the rec room and looked out over the rec room via a bar. The light was out in the kitchen, so I crouched and duck-walked into it.

     Slowly I stood up, back by the pantry, out of the lamplight. I took a breath. There he was, fucking Wayne, sitting there on a sofa in his squirrel suit. He had a bowl of nuts on his lap. In his left hand was a plush squirrel toy. He would take a nut for himself, act like he was feeding one to the squirrel. He’d squeeze the toy, and it emitted this low, plaintive squeal.

     “Wayne, dude…You really need think about toning this shit down.”

     He froze. He sat bolt upright. His head was turned to the side, with that one big eye looking toward the darkness of the kitchen. I moved into the light so that he could see who it was, thinking maybe he still saw me as a possible ally.

     He looked at me and started to frown. For an instant he looked more human. A flash of pain maybe. But then he looked at me straight on, both eyes. He started trying to do that barking noise that squirrels do. He couldn’t quite pull it off, but he was fully committed, staring at me deadpan. This, in the dead of night. I got this feeling of pins and needles all over my body. After a moment of this, I managed to break my own tension by allowing myself to chuckle at his lame attempts to do the squirrel bark. Pretty soon I was really laughing. He only put up with this for a few seconds, then got up and ran back to his room. I stood there shaking my head for a minute, staring at the nuts scattered on the couch.

▪▪▪

     The next Thursday night it was going down. I was lying in bed around 2 a.m., listening to my roommate snore. Thirty minutes prior I had snuck down the hall to tape a big piece of paper across the R.A.’s door. That way, if he started to come out, someone in the hall could hear the tearing paper, and Brautigan would be delayed dealing with the hanging mess of paper and tape. Fortunately the roomie had stayed asleep, so no there’d be no questions from that end.

     Suddenly I heard it. This long scream filling the hallway. At first even I thought it might be a fire drill. I heard the roomie jerk into a sitting position. I sat up too, so it wouldn’t seem weird. Then I heard the doors start opening in the hall. Heard Brautigan cursing and tearing at the paper.

     The screaming continued, long, piercing. The roommate got up, ran out into the hall. I stood up, trying and to decide how convincingly I could act surprised if I went out there. But the roommate reappeared at the door. He looked at me, his eyes wide, and partially shut the door behind him.

     “Somebody put a gunny sack full of dead squirrels outside of Blesser’s dorm room,” he said.

     We stared at each other for a beat, expressionless. The door clicked shut behind him. As if that were the cue, we both started laughing uncontrollably.

     The screams kept up for another half hour until the ambulance showed up.

▪▪▪

     We heard that Wayne was only kept in for observation one night. Some psyche ward doctor with bigger fish to fry sent him back to the dorm with some self help pamphlets and a scrip. Paxil, maybe Xanax? I never heard why he wasn’t sent home to his mom.

     Anyway, within a couple weeks Brautigan found him in his room, dead. He’d hung himself with a bathrobe tie. Pissed and shit himself in his squirrel getup, from what I heard.

     There was some hullaballoo on campus after that, of course. Somebody with a big fucking mouth got suspicions going about one of the Upzee brothers being involved. Before long the guy got kicked out of school because of the .22 rifle he kept in his room. The one they had used to kill all the squirrels. None of the rest of us got officially fingered.

     Things were tougher for all the frats for a while there. There were the crackdowns on underage drinking. Some of the parents pulled their kids out of the Greek organizations. Police would show up at the parties, enforcing obscure noise and curfew ordinances that nobody had seemed to care about before.

     But after Spring Break, things started getting back to normal. Like with anything, people’s commitment to The Cause died down.  Something that seemed worth kicking a kid out of school in his senior year one month ago quickly faded into the background noise of term papers and graduation plans.

     For me, though, things never went back to the way they were. I still hung out with H.K. and the boys, but there was a kind of distance. Always seemed like there was something we were trying not to talk about. It was as if we were trying too hard to look like we were having a good time with each other. I just couldn’t hack going to the house every night anymore. I put in my time doing AMS, of course, and picked up notes and stuff at the house after class. But pretty soon I was only there for the major parties on weekends. Sophomore year I decided to live off campus instead of getting a room at the Upzee house.

     Worst of it though? It had nothing to do with H.K.’s friendship slowly fading away. For me, the worst of it happened near the end of freshman year one Thursday night at the dorm.

     I spotted Ariel Shoup sitting in the common area, reading a book for class. It was warm out, even for late spring, and she was in a very short pair of shorts. I looked at those long legs and knew I was finally going to ask her out.

    “Ariel, right?”

    She looked up at me. Her face naturally preferred a smile, but I could see it start to fade when she recognized me. My confidence started to nosedive.

     “I-I’m, uh, Bill Davison.”

     She was looking at my t-shirt. An Upzee t-shirt. I saw the hurt in her eyes, saw her quickly cover it with conscious anger and disgust.

     “Fuck off, you jerk.”

     I did.

▪▪▪

     After I finished telling her about it, Missy sat there looking at me with this very obvious look of horror. Part of it was probably real, part was what she thought she was supposed to feel. The latter part was what I was counting on.

     “What?”

     “What do you mean, ‘what?’”

     “You don’t believe me? I swear, there really was this guy at school…”

     “You’re a murderer. You guys murdered that kid. As good as murdered him.”

     “Now, c’mon, you don’t actually…”

     “Nearly all of ya got off scot free. And what’s worse, you don’t even seem the least bit fazed by any of it. All you seem to care about is whether some girl…Whatever.”

     Inside I fought the desire to smile. Decided it was time for a touch of bluster.

     “How the fuck do you know what I feel? And you didn’t even know the guy. He was just a sicko and…”

     Missy stood up.

     “YOU are the one who’s SICK! You’re a psycho! Killing a bunch of squirrels and driving a guy to SUICIDE?! How’s that okay, Bill?! On what fucking planet is that OKAY?!”

     I sat there with my mouth open. Grinning inside, feeling like I had fueled it just right.

     “I’m not sure I feel comfortable about you coming over here anymore—“

     “Missy—“

     “NO! I think we need to, I need to think this through. Take a few days off…”    

     She started to walk away. I thought about throwing out some desperate insult to lock it, but decided she was angry enough. Failure to call for the next few days would seal the deal. Maybe even be seen at “our” bar talking to some chick, for good measure.

     I watched her ass wiggle away in her tight shorts. The whole visual image suddenly seemed like it broke away from my eyes. Like I was watching it on a screen or from inside someone else’s skull.

     Utterly alone again.

     My chest suddenly felt tight. I settled back against the back of the bench. I took a deep breath. I forced a smile and looked up at the live oak again. A couple of squirrels chased each other in a helix around the huge trunk.

     I fished a bag of walnuts out of my barn jacket. I sat there munching on them, watching the game of chase on the tree.

Comments