I opened my eyes, not moving as I took in the light bleeding through the slats in my window shade. I had heard of what happened in the aftermath of a night of drinking, and I wasn’t sure that I was quite ready to experience that level of torture. I didn’t move another muscle, only my eyes. I glanced down at my covers, which were twisted awkwardly around my legs; I habitually sleep in a modified fetal position, but for some reason my body was splayed diagonally across the tiny Twin XL bed. The taste of something bitter and foreign was stuck to the roof of my mouth. Oh, right. Beer.
Gradually, slowly, I raised my head from the pillow, expecting a hammer to come out of nowhere and knock me back down into painful oblivion. To my surprise, no such phenomenon occurred. Instead, as I tentatively swung my legs over the side of the bed, I received only a slight rush of dizziness and a frightening glimpse of myself in the full-length mirror. I never knew my hair could orchestrate itself to make me look quite that insane.
A second rush hit me as I stood up, but it quickly gave way to steadied normalcy. I felt shockingly good; I was pretty sure that last night’s foray into the twin worlds of alcohol and disappointment would result in an epic hangover, but apparently I’d escaped unscathed. I wondered how Camilla was doing. I opened my door a crack and looked down that hall; at that exact moment, I caught a glimpse of her pong partner, Alec, disappearing around a corner into the stairwell. I grinned to myself. At least one of us hadn’t ended on a down-note.
I tiptoed down the hall to Camilla’s room. Jesse, my neighbor from across the hall, opened his door as I passed.
“Fun night?” He asked, raising his eyebrows at my crazy-person hair.
“The funnest.” I replied, smiling guiltily and continuing my trek down the hall.
I knocked on Camilla’s door. No answer. I reached for my phone to text her, but just as I was about to type out a message her door opened. If my hair made me look crazy, Camilla’s whole appearance suggested that she had just recently escaped from a horror movie. Specifically, one in which she was chased through a jungle by a knife-wielding psychopath.
“Amy. Oh my God,” Camilla groaned, opening up the door a little wider to let me in.
Her room was a disaster. Clothing was scattered everywhere, and it looked like a hoard of rodents had invaded the food bin under her bed. Camilla herself looked disheveled, to put it mildly; her hair clung to her forehead and cheeks, and the skin under her eyes had melted into a tired, purplish color. She was dressed in a sports bra and oversized basketball shorts. I watched as she attempted to hop up onto her raised bed three times before finally giving up and sitting on her roommate’s side.
“Ollie didn’t come home last night, and she’s at practice this morning, thank goodness,” Camilla stared at the floor, massaging her temples. Apparently we weren’t all lucky enough to miss the hangover bus.
“So what happened? Did you and that guy…you know?” I asked, giggling despite myself.
Camilla clapped a hand to her forehead, laughing derisively and closing her eyes. “Amy, it was ridiculous. I was definitely drunk, he was definitely more drunk. He kept telling me how we didn’t have to do anything and he just wanted to cuddle. Which is what we did, but I’m pretty sure he’s the world’s worst kisser. Do I have a hickey?” Camilla gestured to her neck.
There was a misshapen brownish mark, but it was small. “Just a little one,” I laughed, grabbing a hand mirror off the desk and showing her. “So you just, what, made out? I saw him leaving.”
“Just made out. Honestly, I don’t remember that much of it. So drunk, definitely. He was nice though, and he didn’t push me to do anything I didn’t want to do. He kept being like ‘you’re so beautiful’,” Camilla blushed, inwardly delighted with the compliment.
I smiled, jealousy coursing through me. Stupid Will.
“What about you? Did you and Will have fun?” Camilla grinned up at me, obviously expecting a similar story.
“Ugh. No. It was so stupid. We got to the door and I thought he was going to kiss me, and then he tells me he has a girlfriend. What the fuck, right?” On the inside, I was not nearly so blasé about the whole encounter as I was making myself sound.
“What an idiot! That’s so lame. Whatever. Want to go to brunch?” Camilla hopped up from her roommate’s bed, then immediately sat down again, clutching her forehead once more.
“Definitely. We should probably both clean up a little, though,” I said, laughing and gesturing to indicate both of our appearances.
“Right. Shower, change, meet here in twenty?” I nodded, then took off back down the hall. My own roommate, Leanne, had been gone when I woke up, but I returned to find her reading on her bed in our room. She nodded when I walked in.
“Morning. What were you up to last night? I didn’t even hear you come in.”
“Camilla and I went to a party at a house on Main Street. It wasn’t a big deal, we walked back with a couple of upperclassmen.” God, I sounded like a college stereotype.
“Huh. Was it fun? You look like you had…fun.” Her judgment was palpable.
“It was, but now I feel like shit. And I look ridiculous. Camilla and I are going to go to brunch in a bit if you want to join,” I said, feeling the need to reach out. We were all still new at this point, after all.
“I’ll pass, but thanks. Have fun!” Leanne nose-dived back into her book. I headed for the shower.
After my shower, I changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt and headed back to Camilla’s room. I ran into Jesse en route.
“You guys going to brunch? Can I come? I’m starving,” Jesse eased into step with me before I had the chance to agree, and we walked amiably to Camilla’s room.
The three of us tramped down the back steps of the residence hall and emerged onto the large paved walkway that connected all of the first-year dorms. It was early yet for a Sunday, but there were several students milling about the walkway or sitting with friends on the expertly-manicured quad spaces. We wandered down that path, idly recapping last night’s events. Jesse had attended a small party hosted by some fraternity; he referred to his presence as “dirty rushing”, a practice which seemed to indicate a pre-screening for underclassmen before the Greek life festivities began in the spring.
We were approaching the auditorium building, which flanked the back door of the student center. On the far side, I saw a tall, lean boy sitting on the railing of the stairs and smoking a cigarette. He was alone, staring at nothing in particular and apparently unaware of our approach. I hated smokers.
“Jake! Hey, man,” yelled Jesse, waving vaguely at the figure of the boy.
Jake turned, holding his cigarette loosely by his mouth with his left hand. He lifted his hand in a gesture of greeting, seemingly unaware of Camilla and I as we stopped across the path from him.
“Jesse. How was the rest of your night?” Jake continued to avoid eye contact with either of us, instead focusing his blue eyes on Jesse.
“Good, man, it was good. I really liked the brothers. What are you up to?” Jesse had an easy, friendly way about him that made this two-way conversation seem normal, despite the presence of two other people.
“A capella auditions. I can’t sing for shit, but they called me back for a second one.” Jake brought the cigarette to his mouth. I winced inwardly.
“Nice, man, congrats. We’re on our way to brunch. I’ll see you later,” Jesse turned toward the student center, and we fell back in step with him.
Nothing momentous had happened. The only thing I knew about Jake was that he was a smoker, and that, allegedly, he could not sing for shit and yet had somehow been called back to sing for a singing group. I’m all for self-deprecation, but that just seemed like fishing for compliments. I should have disliked him on instinct. Instead, I found myself thinking about his oxymoronic vacant, focused eyes. He oozed charisma. That brief, innocuous little non-interaction should have passed into forgetfulness; instead, it became one of the most fateful days of my next four years.