“You’re gonna puke,” said Jim.
“I’m not gonna puke,” said Lauren.
“It’s best to just accept it. Puking is the best thing ever when you’re drunk.”
“I have a phobia about puking.”
“That’s a strange phobia to have.”
“Every time I puke, I start crying.”
“You’re not gonna cry though, because it’s gonna be amazing. I’m gonna hold your hair. Shit’s gonna be so cash.”
Lauren chuckled and writhed drunkenly on the red leather couch. “Jim, you’re so funny,” she said. “Why are you so funny?”
“It’s because I watch so much Seinfeld.” Jim took a drag off of his bottle of Fireball and placed it back into his drinking kit. Jim called his backpack his “drinking kit.” He kept all of the essentials in there. Namely, his usual half-gallon of cheap spiced rum, the bulk of a twenty-four pack of cheap diet, caffeine-free cola, and his big yellow cup. In the front pocket he kept condoms and a deck of cards, just in case. Tonight, these items were joined by a twelve-pack of PBR and a fifth of Fireball.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Jim. “We’ll hold off on puking for now. You just lemme know if it’s gonna happen and we will make it happen. How does that sound?”
“All right,” said Lauren.
“I remember the first time I puked from drinking,” said Jim, as he started to make himself another rum and coke. “Kind of a funny story. I was watching a movie with my brother and his buddy, and my brother and I were drinking this gnarly shit called Yukon Jack. My brother had spent half his paycheck on a big ol’ bottle of the stuff. Half-gal, I think. I was feeling pretty amazing after a couple of glasses of this stuff. Mind you, I was more manly back then, so I was drinking this stuff straight on ice, in a proper whiskey glass. And this was no pussy stuff, either. This stuff was like a hundred proof, maybe a hundred-fifty. I don’t really remember. Anyway, I get five or six glasses deep on this stuff, and I feel a distinct churning in my stomach. So, I retreat to the bathroom, and puke my fucking brains out. And that was it. I spent the rest of the night on the bathroom floor, with my crappy old slider phone calling everyone in my contact list. I remember specifically, I called my friend Caitlin. She told everyone about it the next week at school and we had a good laugh about it. Man, I was hung-over for days…”
Lauren sat up and said, eyes closed, “Jim, will you hold my hand?”
“Yeah, of course.” He took her hand and gently stroked the skin between her thumb and pointer finger. He was suddenly self-conscious about the state of his thumbs. Perhaps they were too rough. He hadn’t used any lotion or anything for quite some time. He took solace in the fact that he had washed off the black exes on the back of his hands earlier, and thus washed the rest of his hands as well. Take it easy, he thought. It’s just a hand.
A month earlier, Jim sat on the ground with Daisy. Jim called Daisy his “lady friend” when he spoke to his other friends because he wasn’t sure how to convey what she was to him.
He felt that it wasn’t appropriate to just call her Daisy, as they had no idea who she was. She wasn’t his girlfriend; she had turned him down when he had drunkenly confessed his feelings to her weeks before. Yet, she wasn’t what he would call a friend, either; he still felt that there was a chance to make something there. Maybe she would come around after she got over her previous boyfriend’s death, or maybe he just needed to find somebody else and move on. In any case, Jim liked to spend time with Daisy, and that night they were celebrating their friend Karen’s birthday.
Jim and Daisy were both dumping beer into a bucket that already had most of a half-gallon of Vodka in it. For Karen’s birthday, they had promised to prepare “pink-panty-droppers.” When they finished dumping the twelve-pack of beer into the bucket, they added in two containers of pink lemonade concentrate, and stirred everything together. Jim tasted the concoction and told Daisy that it needed more vodka. When they found an acceptable blend, they dumped a bag of ice into the bucket, and went down to meet Karen and her friend Sarah for dinner.
By the time they sat down for their meal, Jim was already feeling woozy from searching for the right amount of vodka for the pink-panty-droppers. Jim had recently lost some weight and started taking a new medication. These changes had severely affected his tolerance for alcohol.
When they finished eating, Daisy, Sarah, and Karen went back to Karen’s room where Sarah and Karen’s other friends had a surprise party planned for Karen. Jim went back to his room to retrieve his drinking kit. He called Daisy as soon as he had done so, but he went immediately to voice-mail. He would have normally assumed the worst, but the alcohol calmed his nerves. He went to the lobby of his residence hall where he met his friend Carl, who had been playing guitar and singing with some of Jim’s other friends.
“What are you up to tonight, Jim?” said Carl, as Jim picked up Carl’s guitar and began to pluck pensively.
“My friend Karen’s birthday party,” said Jim.
“Who’s Karen? Where do you meet all these girls?” Jim had a bit of a reputation for being frequently surrounded by a pack of young women.
“Oh, here and there,” said Jim.
“You’re quite the lady’s man,” said Carl. “I wish I could meet just one girl.”
“It ain’t easy bein’ cheesy,” said Jim, trying to appear as though he knew some sort of secret about meeting women. “Sometimes, you just get lucky.”
In reality, Jim had pretty bad luck when it came to girls. He had never had any issues meeting them, but he had always struggled at converting any of them into anything more than a friend.
Jim’s phone began vibrating and he saw that it was Daisy. He picked up the phone and she explained to him that they were attempting to wait quietly in a darkened room for Karen’s surprise party when he had called. She told him that everyone was going to return to her room and enjoy some pink-panty-droppers and he agreed to meet them there.
When Jim reached Daisy’s room on the seventh floor of her residence hall, it was full of Karen’s friends. Everyone was milling around, enjoying the pink-panty-droppers and Jim wanted to be in on the action. He filled glass after glass with it and downed it as quickly as possible, and then he and Karen ate some gummy worms that had been soaking in vodka for a few hours. When some of Karen’s friends couldn’t finish their drinks, he took them off of their hands and sucked them down gracelessly. By the time the group decided to delve into the cool February evening, Jim was as drunk as he had ever been. The last thing that he remembered was leaving Daisy’s room.
The next morning, Jim awoke to his alarm clock. He was still quite drunk, but he had places to be. He was applying to be an R.A. for the next year and he had a group interview that morning. He quickly showered and dressed in the sweater-vest that he had just recently started fitting into. As he was leaving, he noticed a note on the poster that hung on the outside of his door. It read, “Dear Jim, I think you are fantastic and excellent. Lauren.” Next to it was an adorable cartoon drawing of a dog.
That evening at dinner, Jim went to sit by himself in the dining hall, but he heard somebody call his name. He looked behind him and saw a young girl with wavy hair and striking green eyes.
“Do you wanna come sit with us?” she asked, gesturing towards a chair that was next to her. He was not sure who she was or how she knew him, and he quickly tried to place her face, but failed. He scanned the people that she was sitting with and did not recognize any of them either.
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said, sensing his hesitation. But then he figured out where he probably knew her from.
“No, no, I’m coming,” he said. He grabbed his coat and his plate of food and took the seat next to her. “Did I meet you guys last night?”
She chuckled. “Yeah, don’t you remember?”
“I don’t remember anything past the time I left Daisy’s room.”
“We were there, too.”
“Oh. Well, I guess I forgot more than I realized.”
She laughed. “I guess so.” She went around and reintroduced him to everybody around the table. When she finished, she said, “And I’m Lauren.”
“You left a note on my door,” said Jim.
“Yeah, I guess I do that.”
“That was a kick-ass dog you drew, by the way. I’m impressed.”
“You’re pretty lucky. Not just anyone gets the dog.”
“Well, I’m better than most people, so it makes sense.”
She laughed. “And modest, too. How about that?”
“You know it,” he said, asking himself, Who is this girl and why am I only just meeting her now?
Jim and Lauren were sitting on the couches in the lobby of the Kappa Chi fraternity. People were moving in and out of the entry way constantly, and the bulk of the party was taking place in the derelict basement, which Jim had decided to avoid. He had been told more than once that everybody was supposed to be going downstairs and avoiding gathering in the lobby, but he paid no heed. He was happy being close to the exit.
Karen came up the stairs. “How’re you guys doing?” she asked.
“Karen! I’m so glad you’re here. Jim’s taking such good care of me,” said Lauren.
“It’s true,” said Jim.
“Thanks so much for taking care of her,” said Karen.
“No prob,” said Jim. “It’s my pleasure. We’re having a great time, aren’t we, Lauren?”
“Mmhmm,” said Lauren, eyes still closed.
“How are you guys doing down there?” Jim said.
“We’re having fun. We just kicked some ass at beer pong, and now we’re dancing,” said Karen. Jim knew that she loved to dance.
“Keep it up,” said Jim. “Make us proud.” Jim was about to tell her to go back downstairs and stop worrying when he remembered something. “Did you talk to Daisy?”
“Yeah,” said Karen, an air of sadness around here.
“Where did she get off to?”
“She’s in bed. She saw a memorial poster for that guy she used to date, and she got really sad and went home.”
“Right on. As long as she’s all right,” Jim was concerned about Daisy. It was her birthday that night, and he had wanted to make it a good celebration for her. Unfortunately, it appeared as though that time had passed. His new mission was to keep Lauren safe, and perhaps win her heart in the process, but he was hesitant to make a move because of her drunken state. Karen returned downstairs to jump back into the throng of revelry, and Jim continued to stroke Lauren’s hand, content to be her protector for the time being.
Jim was beginning to nurse his rum and coke when he heard a girl’s voice call from the top of the stairs: “John, where are you?”
A young man in a blue jacket looked up the stairs and began in that direction.
“Go to her, John!” Lauren called out, blindly. John turned back and looked at Lauren sprawled out on the couch.
He approached Jim and Lauren and asked, “Is she all right?”
“I’m fine,” Lauren said. “Jim is taking such good care of me.”
“That’s right,” said Jim. “Was that a beautiful voice I heard calling for you up the stairs?”
“She wants the D!” said Lauren.
“Yeah, man. It sounds like she wants the D,” said Jim. “You’d better get up there and give it to her.”
“You think so?” said John. “I’m not so sure.”
“Nah, man. You’re good. Go make it happen,” said Jim.
“What’re your guys’ names?” said John.
“I’m Lauren, and this is Jim,” said Lauren, pointing them out.
“I’m John,” he said, shaking Jim’s hand.
“Nice to meet you, man. You’d better go fuck that girl,” said Jim.
“I don’t know. I don’t think she likes me.”
“Why not? Sounds like she wants the D.”
“I don’t know if I can give it to her,” he said. “I have a bad track record with this stuff.”
“You and everyone else. Don’t worry about it, dude. Just go make it happen. You don’t have to fuck her if you don’t want to. You can dance with her or something.”
“I doubt she’d want to dance with me.”
“Not with that attitude.”
John chuckled. “Yeah, you’re probably right. You know what I think? I think you guys make a cute couple.”
“We’re not a couple,” said Lauren, laughing.
“You guys look like it. Anyway, I’d better get up there. You guys let me know if you need anything, all right?”
“Sure thing, buddy,” said Jim. “Good luck up there.”
“Give her the D!” called Lauren, as John ascended the stairs. Lauren started laughing and pulled her hand away from Jim’s. “That tickles!” she said.
Damn these thumbs! He glared at his thumb, and then looked over at Lauren.
“You know, Sarah really likes you.” Sarah, whom Jim had no romantic interest in. He did know about it, actually. Daisy had told him about it earlier in the week.
“Is that so? That’s…something,” Jim said. But Lauren wasn’t listening; John was coming back down the stairs saying, “I’m back!”
John approached Lauren confidently, took her hand, and said, “You know, she may not want to dance, but I was thinking maybe you’d wanna dance?”
Lauren rubbed his hand affectionately, but said, “I’m supposed to stay with Jim.”
“Yeah, I’ve been put in charge of her destiny. Sorry, man,” said Jim. John looked over at Jim and Jim stared him back, dead in the eyes. It appeared that John got the message because he dropped Lauren’s hand, and said, “All right. Well, let me know if you guys need anything. I live here, so just come knock on my door. I’m the designated sober guy tonight.”
“Thanks, man,” said Jim. “You’re a gentleman and a scholar.”
As soon as John departed, Jim and Lauren’s group came up the stairs and gathered around the couches. Jim hopped over to the seat next to Lauren. “There, that frees that up for you guys,” said Jim, pleased that he could claim that spot..
“I was gonna sit there, Jim,” said Lauren’s friend, Holly.
“I’m gonna see if I can put this table back together, actually,” said Jim. He had noticed earlier that one of the legs was falling apart on the coffee table.
“Whatever,” said Holly.
Jim gave up on fixing the table after deciding that for the moment it was beyond repair. As a temporary solution, he propped it up with his foot. Lauren, who had regained a bit of her sobriety, was speaking to a passerby about joining a sorority, and the rest of the group was trying to decide where they wanted to take their evening. Jim sipped his drink for a few moments, wishing that he could just get his alone time with Lauren. At some point, Karen decided that she needed a drink.
“Where is my bag?” she asked, looking around the room.
“Your bag? It’s over here,” said Jim.
“Oh, thanks, Jim,” she said and she began to crawl over the coffee table to get to it, crushing Jim’s ankle in the process. Karen saw that the table was unsteady, and climbed off of it, opting for another route towards her bag. Jim suffered in silence. He took a second and then examined the damage, and was relieved to find that it had only caused a relatively minor gash across the bone on his ankle. He had had much more severe injuries in worse places. He fought back the pain with his rum and coke and soon lost track of what was going on around him. The world swirled a bit, and then everybody decided to go upstairs.
Jim stumbled up, and after taking a pee, he decided to take a seat across from the bathroom. Lauren sat beside him, and Holly loomed above them, while the rest of the group traveled out onto the balcony.
Fuckin’ hell, thought Jim, as he glanced at Lauren. He was too drunk to make anything happen with her now. Holly left in order to make Lauren a peanut butter sandwich, and Lauren decided that she wanted to write a note on John’s door. She went off to find some paper, and as soon as she turned a corner, John appeared at the top of the stairs and approached Jim.
“Hey, man. Are you guys doing all right?” John said.
“Dandy,” said Jim.
“Cool. Here I brought you guys some water.” He handed Jim a gallon of water. “Are you guys sober enough to get home okay? No driving?”
“Yeah, we’re cool.”
“All right, dude. Have a good night.”
“Yeah, you too.” John disappeared, and Lauren reappeared.
“I need a pen, do you have a pen?” she said.
“Yeah, I’ve got a pen,” said Jim. He gave it to her and watched as she wrote John a note and pinned it to his door.
And then the group decided that it was time to leave. Jim told everyone to hold up a second while he went and found Daisy’s roommate. He stumbled through the crowd in the basement briefly before finding her on the way back up the stairs.
“We’re gonna go. Are you good?” said Jim.
“Yeah, I’m good,” she said.
“Cool. You’ve got my number right?” She nodded. “If any shit goes down, call me up and I will come back down here with my baseball bat and personally bust up the motherfuckers that are responsible, got it?” She nodded. “Cool.” And then he gathered the group, and they left.
Lauren immediately dashed off into the night, and the majority of the group took off after her. Jim hung back and took Karen aside.
“Karen, I need your help.”
“What’s up?” she said.
“Let me tell you a really shitty story. Once upon a time, Jim existed. Jim had feelings for a girl named Daisy. But Daisy got a boyfriend, so Jim was doomed. But then Jim developed feelings for a girl named Lauren.”
“You like Lauren?” This was quite the revelation for Karen, who was Lauren’s roommate. “You know Sarah likes you, right?”
“You didn’t let me finish. Where was I? Right, so, Jim developed feelings for a girl named Lauren. But Lauren’s friend Sarah liked Jim, and there was this ridiculous love triangle thing forming, and it was stupid, and my whole fucking life is a goddamn sitcom, Karen.”
Jim paused and looked up the street to see that his group had intercepted Lauren.
“You’ve gotta help me,” he said. “You’ve gotta mysteriously benefact me. I need you to subliminally implant the notion into Lauren that I am amazing while toning it down with Sarah. Do you think you can pull that off?”
“I’ll see what I can do, Jim.”
“Cool.” He pulled his bottle of Fireball out of his drinking kit and took a swig. “Fuckin’ hell,” he said.
As they marched on, somebody received word that there was another party in one of the residence halls on campus and everybody decided that they wanted to go. At this point, Jim was helping Karen walk, since she was quite drunk. He was not much better off himself, but with effort from the both of them, they cascaded their way down the street. Jim looked down at his ankle and saw that his sock was becoming saturated in blood. He couldn’t really feel anything other than a distinct tingling that was present in all of his extremities, so he didn’t worry about it too much.
“You know, you crushed my ankle earlier,” he said.
“I did?” said Karen.
“Little bit. No worries, though. Just thought you ought to know.”
They made for the other side of campus, and had issues entering the building because nobody in their group lived there. Lauren, who had sobered up considerably at this point, was able to call one of the people at the party so that they could be let in.
Jim was not fond of going to strange dorms for parties. Though he had been drinking for years, he was still underage, and now, mere months away from his twenty-first birthday, he felt he had to be more cautious than ever. He always had visions of one of the people he was partying with doing something stupid and causing the whole operation to be shut down, resulting in his untimely incarceration. But, for the sake of carrying on in Lauren’s presence, he said nothing.
They entered the unusually large dorm room, and gathered around a hookah that was sitting in the middle. Everybody was taking hits but Jim, who valued his singing voice too much. Somebody put on an Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song and Jim sang along to the tune with everybody else who knew the words. Soon after, there was a loud knock at the door, and a voice said, “R.A.s! Open up, please!” One of the guys that lived in the room stood up and stepped out to speak to the R.A. It was likely, Jim figured, that everyone in the room was underage, and using a hookah inside of the building was highly against the rules. They all sat in anticipation for a minute or two, until the guy that lived in the room came back in. He told them that they had only received a noise complaint, and that they could carry on, but they would have to keep it down.
Jim immediately grew uncomfortable and insisted that they leave. They had gotten lucky once, but in his time he had learned to not press these things. Some decided to stay, but Lauren and Karen decided to go, along with a couple others. The walk to Lauren and Karen’s room was uneventful, but Jim noticed that his ankle was bleeding more and some of the pain was creeping through his alcoholic veil. He took a shot of Fireball.
When they reached the room, Jim took a seat on Lauren’s bed, again content that he had found a place that would be near her. Lauren took a seat next to him and reached out and began to massage his head. The massage felt as nice as Jim had ever remembered anything feeling. Then, Lauren got up and announced that she had received a text and had to go get Charlie. She exited the room and returned not long thereafter with Charlie, a lanky, brown-haired fellow. Lauren lay down in her bed as Jim poured himself an unusually alcoholic rum and coke. Charlie stood awkwardly in the middle of the room.
“Here, man. You can make yourself a rum and coke if you want,” said Jim, and he offered him his bottle and a can of cola.
“Cool,” said Charlie, simply taking the bottle of rum, and taking a drag off of it.
Charlie did not return Jim’s bottle, and he stumbled over to Lauren’s side and took her hand. Jim drank heavily for a few minutes, trying to appear as though he was not concerned.
“Lauren,” said Charlie, “do you mind if I cuddle with you?”
“All right,” she said.
Lauren allowed Charlie into her bed next to her, and Jim decided that he had had enough of this evening.
“Well,” he said, “’bout time I hit the road, I think.” He jumped down off of Lauren’s bed and felt pain shoot up his leg. He let out a yelp, and spilled his drink in the middle of the floor. He looked down at his ankle and saw that his entire sock was now soaked with blood, and he knew that he needed to get some kind of bandage on it, but he also knew that he had to leave. He looked desperately at Karen, who provided him with some paper towels and helped him clean up the mess.
“Is your ankle all right?” she asked. She took a look at it and gasped. “Jeez, Jim we should really bandage that up; it doesn’t look too good.”
“No, it’s fine, Karen. Don’t worry about it,” he said.
“No, seriously. We really need to do something about it.”
“No, Karen, I really need to go.” Jim looked at her with pain in his eyes. He hoped that she would see that it was not pain from his ankle, but pain from what was transpiring in Lauren’s bed. She glanced up at Lauren and Charlie, and looked back at him, seeming to understand.
“Okay, Jim,” she said. “Promise me you’ll take care of it, though.”
“Yeah, of course,” he said. He stood up and grabbed his drinking kit and realized that Charlie still had his bottle of rum. He turned around and grabbed the bottle out of Charlie’s hands recklessly, causing Charlie to look at him angrily.
“Sorry, dude. I’ve got to book it,” he said, and then he turned and walked out the door.
He stumbled into the lobby of his hall, not caring if his R.A.s could smell the alcohol on him. He found his buddy, Carl, in the lobby speaking to some of Jim’s other neighbors. Carl had been playing his guitar, and Jim found it leaning against the wall. He took it up, and sat down away from everyone, and played sorrowful improvisations for the whole room to hear.
“How did it go tonight, Jim?” Carl called across the room.
“I think the thing that makes me the most angry in all the world,” said Jim, “are those motherfuckers that see you with a girl and think that it’s okay to infringe on your fuckin’ scene and start cramping your style. The next time one of those assholes thinks that it’s okay to pull that bullshit, I swear I’m gonna choke the fuck out of them. I mean, where do they get off?” But even as Jim spoke, he knew that he would probably never act on his anger. “Ah, fuck,” he said, feeling defeated. “I probably cramp other’s guys’ styles all the time. I’ve got no room to talk.”
Carl listened, but Jim did not really think that he heard what was being said.
“Fuck it, dude,” he said, continuing to pull blue notes from Carl’s guitar, “I guess sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you get your ass kicked.”
Not long after, Jim went to bed, and when he woke up in the morning, he had little recollection of the evening. He did remember Karen crushing his ankle with the coffee table, and he knew that he would forever have a scar across his ankle to remind him of that evening. He also remembered that things did not quite work out with Lauren. He felt the throbbing pain of rejection deep in his stomach, and it was more prevalent than the pain in his ankle. But along with those feelings was the recognition that he had always made out one way or the other. Just as Lauren had come along to steal his attention away from Daisy, and just as Daisy had come along to wrest his heart away from Jane, he knew that someday, somebody else would come along, and someday, it would stick. The more Jim lived his life, the more he found the things that he was looking for, and he was glad to be carving his own path along the divine ride of his existence.
(From May 2013)