One by one, I ripped the bottles and cans out of their boxes, hurling them at the walls of my brother’s house. They smashed and sprayed everywhere, ruining everything. When I finished, I stopped, breathing heavily, looking around at the mess I had just created. Tears spilling from my eyes in a torrent, my body convulsing with violent sobs, I struck at match, and let it fall. The house exploded, and I could feel myself being thrown through the air from the intensity of the blast, my body burning. The fiery scenery turned black as my eyes closed, bringing me to the end of my life…
Jerking awake, I realized I was sweating, and by the looks passersby were giving me, I guessed I’d been screaming, too. It wouldn’t be the first time. Luke bangs on my wall in the middle of the night telling me to shut up all the time.
I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but…I really did want to stop the vicious cycle my life had taken on. In the beginning, sure, it had been fun…but I didn’t want to party anymore. I didn’t want to sleep with a different person every night. I didn’t want to hate myself. Not anymore. But I did.
I laid there until the sky got dark. Marveling at the stars, I released my troubles to the sky, putting them out to the universe, hoping someone up there would hear.
Suddenly, I heard footsteps approaching me. Someone lay down next to me, and I peered over, seeing that it was a girl.
“I see I’m not the only person who likes to lie outside and gaze up at the stars.” She smiled, the park lamp giving a bronze glow to her dark skin. The girl looked Cherokee. Her eyes were a dark chocolate and her hair was darker still, but not quite black. It was very long, twisted into a loose side-braid. Gorgeous was an understatement. It wasn’t really that she was anymore beautiful than any other girl who really tried, but that’s the thing—she hadn’t. She wasn’t wearing any make-up. This girl was indisputably the definition of natural beauty.
Regaining my composure, I replied, “You do this often?”
“Aren’t you ever afraid that you’re going to get abducted or something?”
The girl shrugged, “I trust that God will protect me.”
She laughed, “Well…I haven’t been abducted so far.”
“So you just naturally think it’s never gonna happen?”
Narrowing her eyes, the girl smirked. “You ask a lot of questions.”
Just for good measure, I responded, “Do I?”
Her smile warmed me, but the internal flame was extinguished as I continued to look at her.
This girl deserved so much more than me.
We lay there silent for awhile, and all I wanted to do was tell her, You don’t want to be here with me. I’m not worth it. Just walk away now, and don’t waste your time.
As if she’d been holding a mic to my brain, she said, “You know what I hate more than anything? When people feel they have no worth. Everyone was made by God, and made for a purpose. Like the stars…some are brighter than others, but they are all there for a reason, and they are all beautiful…” She sighed, a smile in her voice. “Whether a star be for naming after someone you care about, or proof for someone who isn’t sure that God is there, or to wish on…”
I turned to see that she was now staring at me, and I felt scrutinized. “I-I’ve never heard it put that way before.” I stammered.
Her dark eyes sparkled. “I like to think I see the world differently than most.”
“I think you’re well on your way…in a good way, of course.”
Taking out her phone, she said, “Thank you…hey, I hate to cut this conversation short, but I have to go. I have to work tomorrow.”
“Oh…” I tried to hide the disappointment in my voice. “See you later?”
“Guess we’ll find out.” With that, she disappeared into the night.
Getting up lazily, I walk back to my car, feeling suddenly lost without my usual hat; I took my current one off. As I climbed in, he looked at his phone. It was nearly eleven o’clock. My buddy’s college was having a frat party that was so loud that I could hear it even though the college was nearly five blocks away.
I knew where I was headed.
* * *
When I walked up to the door of the frat, someone slapped a hand on my chest.
“Where do you think you’re going?” The kid said.
“Hey, dude, chill, its Joel.” Another kid came up behind him.
Squinting, he realized that the kid was in fact correct, and raised his hand for a high-five. “Joel, buddy, haven’t seen you around in like forever. Almost don’t recognize you without your hat.”
This was one of my popular partying stops; I’d been partying here since my friend, Drew from high school started going. I smiled and shrugged, “Hey, I gotta make my rounds. Drew out tonight?”
“’Course, man, ‘course.”
“You guys mind if I invite a lady?” Behind my back, my fingers were crossed.
“Man, is she!”
The two guys high-fived each other and one of them said, “Well, hit her up!”
Flipping open my phone with shaking fingers, I dialed Brooke’s number; I’d never actually been the one to do the inviting before, so I was a little anxious.
“Hey. Hi. Um. What’s up Brooke?”
She sounded down. “You—um—out tonight?”
“No…I don’t know if I’m going to do anything tonight…My parents just announced that they’re getting a divorce, and…I don’t know, I’m just not feeling up to it.” I could hear that she was on the verge of tears and already a few drinks down.
Her being upset gave me confidence; it made me feel like she needed a guy to be there for her right now, to hold her, and I wanted to be that guy. “Then maybe you should come out. The worst thing to do when you’re upset is be alone. Come on, it’ll be fun.”
There was a pause, and then Brooke answered, “…Ok. Where are you?”
“At Drew’s frat.”
“Okay, I’ll be right over.”
“You okay to drive?”
“Ya…I should be fine.”
I closed his phone, smiling to myself. That was what Brooke did to me.
The two guys had gone back inside, so I was out front by myself. Wow, how pathetic is that that I’d been going to this frat for months and I didn’t even know those guys’ names, especially when they knew mine?
* * *
Brooke looked positively amazing when she arrived. Granted, she was wearing a camisole and sweatpants, and her hair was twisted into a messy bun on top of her head, but she was still beautiful to me. She waved, then cracked open the beer can in her hand and took a swig.
The two guys were just coming back outside for a smoke. “Dude, dude!” one kid whispered to the other, rubbing his hands together hungrily.
When Brooke reached the door, he wooed, “Hey, girl, how come I’ve never seen you around here before? I thought I knew all the pretty ones.” He licked his lips a little and very clearly checked her out.
“Surprise.” Brooke answered, amused by his cheesy player show. “Hey, Joelar Bear.”
I melted when her lips touched my cheek, as I did every time, ignoring her corny nickname. As she hooked her arm with mine, I gestured toward the door, “Shall we?”
The other guy asked her as they entered the party, “Maybe we can hang later?”
The look she gave him was the same sexy, devious one she gave me when we were ‘hanging’ out at parties. It made me so jealous that my head started hammering.
“Sounds like something to consider.” She shrugged nonchalantly, and bit her lip to add just a little touch of hotness. I tugged on her arm, and made her walk with me, away from guys whose names I no longer felt bad about not knowing. I had wanted to get Brooke out and into her element, into a better mood, but that included only me, not other dudes.
As many times as I had told myself that I wasn’t going to get attached to Brooke—that whatever we did together was just a good time, nothing more—I had to admit I’d become fond of her, and whatever guy gave her attention…well… needless to say, I felt compelled to pound them until they were puking up blood.
We walked straight through the frat building, out to the back porch.
“So…” I tapped on the top of the beer can that I’d acquired on the way, and then opened it. “Your parents...”
Her eyes began to well up with tears immediately, but she took a deep breath, and blinked her eyes to stop them. “I came here to get away from my problems, not discuss them.”
“Fair enough…You know where they stash some of the hard stuff?” I asked, smirking.
Brooke cracked a smile. “Do tell.”
Careful to make sure no one was looking, I slid over to a big plant pot beside the door, and dug into the soil, pulling out two small bottles. “Take your pick.”
* * *
My coordination and common sense were pretty much gone, and my impulses were telling me what I wanted, so I went for it. It was a big thing for me, because I was never the initiator. “Brooke, kiss me.”
Giggling, Brooke grabbed the back of my neck, and pulled me to her. “Mmm… you’re hot when you take charge.”
“Mhm.” Next thing I knew, we were stumbling into someone’s dorm room.
When we finished, Brooke didn’t even pause to cuddle. Clambering off the bed, she shrugged into her shirt, and slid on her jeans, completely forgetting, I noticed, about her undergarments.
“Brooke.” I blurted, as she turned to leave, saying nothing. “Does any of this actually mean anything?”
She picked up her coat and answered, “What are you talking about?”
“This…Us…Doing this.” Swallowing hard, I admitted, “I like you, Brooke.”
“Yeah.” Impatiently, she nodded, “I know. I like you, too.” I could tell she was irritated, edging towards the door.
“No, no, like I really…really…like you.” I stumbled to my feet, and put my hand on her cheek and then ran it through her hair clumsily. “I want to—I want to be with you.”
Brooke smacked my hand away. “Whoa. Wait…wait, wait, wait…like commitment?”
I gazed at her, completely love-drunk in every sense of the word. “Yeah…like commitment.”
“Joel…” she shook her head, laughing bitterly, “Joel, this is all fun and stuff…but that’s all it is. I…I don’t do the whole…whole commitment thing.”
I noticed that she said it with bitterness. “Never mind. Never mind. It was a dumb idea.”
She answered, “I think you’re taking this a little too seriously.”
“But-but—Brooke…you make me happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“Joel, this should stop.” She snatched up her beer from the bedside table and chugged the rest of it. “I don’t wanna hurt you.”
“So, what? That’s it then?”
“What’s it then?”
Waving my arms in some unidentifiable gesture, I spat, “You just…have sex with me and that’s it?”
She crossed her arms, and shifted her wait to one hip. “Joel, it’s the same exact thing you do with so many other girls.”
“Now you sound like a toddler.”
“No, you sound like a toddler!”
“You know what, you’re drunk, I don’t have time for this.”
“No, you’re drunk!”
Rolling her eyes, she replied, “That’s it, I’m out of here.”
“Brooke, no, please, Brooke, it’s different.”
“How? What did you do with me tonight?”
“What do you do with all those other girls?”
I mumbled something inaudible under my breath.
Smirking to herself, clearly enjoying this, she said, “I’m sorry, what?”
“Have sex!” I yelled.
She paused for a moment, letting me simmer, and then answered, “Exactly. Same thing I do with tons of other guys. Why do you have to complicate that?”
It was like a slap in the face, and I reached up to touch my cheek.
“Brooke—I want to be with you!” The tears were coming now.
“Shut up!” Her empty beer came hurtling at my head. “Just stop it!”
I could hear her sobbing as she slammed the door behind her. Numbly, I touched the spot on his head where the beer can had hit, and then just sat there, downing the rest of the beers that Brooke and I had found under the bed. After a few, I leaned over the side of the bed, threw up a few times, then picked up where he left off.
Brooke made me happier than anyone had in awhile, and now that I’d burned that bridge, I wouldn’t even be able to party with her anymore. At this point, I didn’t even really care if I was with her…as long as he could hang out with her, and watch her smile and listen to her laugh…but all of that was gone now, and I was all alone at this party.
My thoughts drifted momentarily to that girl—that Indian girl—in the park…how she talked so gently, her voice filled with a delicate intelligence….how the lamplight touched her skin…
Who was I kidding?
A little while later, when I was plastered beyond belief, two people stumbled in. When they saw me, they stopped, and chuckled deviously.
“Hey,” one of them—a guy—greeted, “you’re hot…You up for anything?”
I couldn’t find it in me to form words; I just sat there at the head of the bed, my head lolling against the wall, staring at the blurs, hardly able to keep my eyes open.
And then the lights went out.