I was so scared of what might happen to me if I actually got to the point of drunkenness that the beginning of the night passed in perfect clarity. I took minute sips of beer, inwardly wincing each time. Brian could only put up with Camilla and I for a few more minutes; after that, he quickly abandoned us for Nora’s company. Camilla and I stood nervously in the corner.
“I feel like we’re going to get in trouble or something. Are you having fun?” Camilla asked me, furtively looking around before taking a big gulp of her drink.
“I know! Awkward that I’ve never done anything like this before.” Camilla and I were, apparently, both inexperienced when it came to the kinds of socially-acceptable fun typically found in a college party setting.
We heard a cheer erupt from another room, and we curiously wandered over to see what was happening. A large ping pong table was set up; numerous cups were scattered around the floor or lay strewn around the sides of the table, and teams of two stood on either end of the table. I had heard of this, I think, in that previously-mentioned stereotype. Beer pong. Hello, college.
The team on the opposite end of the table both had ping pong balls in their hands, and they were staring at their opponents’ one remaining cup with pinpointed focus. The girl pushed her ball into the air, splaying her fingers as if to waft it in the right direction. She missed by roughly a foot, prompting a laugh from her opponents and a light shove from her partner. Her partner edged towards the middle of the table, then backed up a step. Without taking his eyes off the cup, he launched the ball lightly into the air; his feather-light motion seemed at odds with the intensity of his stare. The moment of elation that crossed the boy’s face when the ball sank into the cup was simultaneously absurd and oddly appropriate.
"Fuck! Alright,” groaned one of the boys on the losing team, glancing around and catching sight of Camilla and I. “You guys next?”
Camilla and I looked at each other in a moment of mild panic, both muttering incomprehensibly in noncommittal denial.
“Have you ever played pong before? What year are you guys?” Apparently freshman naiveté is something that’s hard to hide. We both shook our heads in answer to the first question, and ignored the second.
The boy ushered Camilla over to the other side of the table, while his partner gestured me to the nearest side. I watched as the boy surreptitiously placed his hand on the small of Camilla’s waist, ever-so-subtly establishing that touch was okay. I glanced dubiously at my partner. He was attractive, or would have been had he not been sweating profusely. He was tall, about six foot, with disheveled auburn hair and dark eyes. He was obviously less than sober, and he took a moment to focus before extending his hand.
“I’m Will. You’ve never played pong?”
I reached out and shook his hand; it felt like an odd formality, in the context of our present situation. “I’m Amy. And no. I didn’t really do the whole drinking thing until tonight, actually.”
“No way! So we’re corrupting you. Welcome to college. Are you any good with hand-eye coordination?”
I thought for a moment. I had played tennis throughout my life, so there was probably something there. But I have a severe tendency towards self-deprecation, so I said, “Probably not.” Will looked slightly crestfallen. “But I’ve been known to dominate at ping pong, so maybe there’s some hope.”
Will grinned. “We got this. There are a bunch of rules, but for now just get the ball in the cup. That’s all I actually care about.” He handed me a ball.
Across the table, Camilla’s partner was conspicuously maintaining his arm’s position around her waist under the cover of explaining the rules of the game. Camilla, despite her Catholic-school background, didn’t seem to object. She was giggling and leaning in towards him, enraptured by the apparent allure she had over this drunken semi-stranger.
That’s when I felt Will’s hand lightly graze my own waist. I glanced over at him, expecting an apology or a look of discomfort. Instead, he smiled and nodded towards Camilla and her momentary paramour. “Ready?” He tipped his arm back and lightly launched the ball into the air, where it curved in a graceful arc before flying off the rim of a cup on the opposite end of the table.
“Fuck! Bad start. Okay, Amy, don’t miss.” I smiled nervously at him, internally berating myself for appearing so weak on the outside.
“Don’t hate me if I miss.” I launched the ball into the air. It followed a similar path, but arced sharply down at the last minute and disappeared into a cup.
“Whoa! Skills!” Will cheered. I turned toward him, expecting something as benign as a high five, but instead was swept off my feet into a bear hug. Drunken human contact, it turns out, is wildly aggressive and overtly familiar.
Camilla winced at me from across the table, feigning irritation as she picked up the cup where the ball had fallen. Smiling at her partner, she tipped back the cup and downed the beer in a few sips. She made it look effortless, but I knew she’d practically had to turn off her taste buds to do it. Then it was her turn to throw.
The rest of the game became a blur. I shot, I missed, I scored, we won, but not before I had to drink multiple cups of bitter, frothy beer. At some point, it occurred to me that this was not an entirely sanitary operation; we were throwing scum-covered ping pong balls, with our germy hands, into cups of dubious origin. The cups themselves could have been roofied or, for those of us with a more extensive imagination and a past littered with the conniving minds of the antagonists of historical fiction, poisoned. But we played nonetheless, and I sank comfortably into what I could only assume was a state of tipsiness. Will’s hand no longer felt so foreign as it slipped itself around my waist and wandered southward.
“Will, Alec, you guys gotta get out. They busted two forty-one and I guess they’re out to get everyone tonight,” yelled a tall, skinny boy, poking his head around the corner and gesturing at Camilla and my partners. The boys nodded and moved to get their phones and wallets.
Camilla and I grinned surreptitiously at each other, each thinking the same thing. We had no prior experience, but we both thought we knew what came next. We would all walk home together, and the boys would insist on seeing us to our respective doorways. You know, to ensure that we made it home safely. You can’t be too careful; life’s tough on the mean streets of elite private college residence halls. Upon reaching the doorway, we’d pause and turn to each other. There would be a small moment, not quite awkward but not entirely comfortable. Then, without knowing exactly how it happened, but wanting it to happen all the same, there would be a light kiss that translated as passion and hesitancy all at the same time. And then he’d smile, promise a follow up, and walk away down the hall. He’d glance back one more time, you’d smile at each other, and then go to sleep and anticipate a text the next day. That’s what should happen. That’s what we’re told will happen.
That’s almost, but not quite, what happened. We made it all the way to the part when Will insisted on following me to my door. I even got as far as unlocking it. And then, just as the little pause was supposed to take place, he looked at me and said, “I would kiss you right now, but I have a girlfriend. She doesn’t go here. You’re really cool, though. Coolest freshman I’ve met. You’re my favorite freshman!”
As if that makes up for it, asshole.