Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Return to Winthrop St. - Part 9

Atwood couldn’t go back to his dormitory; couldn’t go back inside his room. He walked back to campus and wandered around for about an hour before deciding he would go to his fraternity house. He guessed somebody would be awake. Somebody was always awake. Even if no one was he knew where the key was hidden and would let himself in. The refrigerator wouldn’t care who was awake or asleep, it would freely divulge its contents of beer to anyone who opened its door. Atwood knew that’s what he needed, a cold beer in a welcoming place. A place where there was no essence of nightmare lurking in every shadowy corner. The fraternity house was a place of laughter and brotherhood and friendship. He would be safe there.

Alternating between pools of streetlight and shadow he wove his way to the Delta Sigma Phi house. Three of his fraternity brothers were awake when he arrived. They weren’t only awake, they were sitting around drinking. He was a welcomed addition to their circle jerk of alcohol consumption and shit talk.

Before long the beer began to take its toll on him. He had a good buzz going and had already decided subconsciously that he was skipping class the next day. Pete, Steve, and Ronnie, his comrades in too many beers and too many laughs, had peeled away one by one until Atwood was the lone drinker left to his thoughts and phone on the couch in the Delta Sig living room.

Atwood: I wish I could kiss you right now.

Kinlin: What?

Atwood: I wish I could feel your arms around me. 

Kinlin: Atwood!

Atwood: I know it’s stupid but I wish I could kiss you right now.

Kinlin: It’s not stupid, but it’s not what I want and it’s not going to happen.

Atwood: Don’t be mad.

Kinlin: I’m not mad. I’m glad you’re talking to me.

Atwood: I’m not really talking to you.

Kinlin: Yes, you are. These are your words.

Atwood: I’ve been drinking. I shouldn’t have texted. I’m being stupid.

Kinlin: It’s okay. I’m glad you did.

Atwood: really?

Kinlin: Yes. I’m glad you did.

Atwood: Don’t be mad that I want to make out with you. I’m so lonely. 

Kinlin: I’m not mad. We can’t do that again. You know it. I’m sorry you’re lonely.

Atwood: It’s my own fault. You didn’t do it. I gotta go.

Kinlin: Don’t go.

Atwood looked at his phone. He didn’t respond. He put the phone on vibrate. He was sitting on the couch looking at the thread of conversation between himself and Kinlin. He started to sob. Beer and loneliness can do that to a man. He couldn’t stop himself. What was happening? How could he be this person? He had his act relatively together back in high school. His best friend lived across the street from him. They were inseparable. Everyone knew that where Kinlin was, Atwood couldn’t be far behind. 

And then it dawned on him. He had had feelings for Kinlin. He hadn’t realized it because Kinlin had always been there. He took him for granted. They were always together. Atwood would rather hang out with Kinlin than any girl or other person for that matter. The beer and the text messages and the realization swirled in his mind like a twister, like the water spout from his nightmare. His lids were heavy and he allowed himself to succumb to the darkness of sleep.

The next morning it was Ronnie who shook him awake.

“Atwood.” Ronnie gently shook Atwood’s shoulder.

He tried again.

“Atwood.” This time he shook with more force. He saw the muscles in Atwood’s face begin to twitch and waken. Slowly Atwood opened his eyes.

“Hey, buddy,” Ronnie said sitting down on the beer can littered coffee table that fronted the couch.

“Ronnie?” Atwood replied. “Where am I?”

“You’re on the couch in the living room of the frat house.”

“What time is it?”

“A little after 9am.”

Atwood groaned.

“Do you have a class?” Ronnie asked, more to be asking than out of real concern.

“Yeah, but I’m not going.”

“That’s cool, man,” Ronnie replied. “Listen, why don’t you head into the bathroom and wash your face then go try and get some more sleep in your dorm.” 

Atwood look at Ronnie like he might look at his mother telling him he should be sure to wipe his butt after taking a dump. Ronnie picked up on the look.

“Some of the guys took advantage of you being passed out on the sofa.”

Atwood didn’t know what that meant, but his eyes widened to reveal his blood shot whites.

“Don’t worry. They just wrote on your face. I don’t think it’s permanent marker. Just scrub it with some soap and water.” Ronnie stood. “I got a class in a few. Gotta head out. It was cool hanging with you last night, Atwood.” He started toward the door. “Who’s Kinlin? He’s sent you a bunch a texts.”

Atwood grabbed his phone from the coffee table. He breathed a sigh of relief that it was still there and that it was locked so the texts couldn’t be read. Now to the bathroom to assess the creative prowess of his fraternity brothers on his face.

Once locked inside the privacy of the bathroom he made the choice to read Kinlin’s texts before looking at his face.

Kinlin: Are you okay?
Kinlin: Atwood?
Kinlin: Atwood, I’m worried about you.
Kinlin: Are you okay?
Kinlin: Please let me know you’re okay.

Five text messages and three missed calls. He hadn’t been this popular with Kinlin since before he’d arrived in California. 

Now for his face. They had done the clichéd Hitler mustache on his upper lip. They had also written, “I kiss boys” on his forehead and “cock” on the right side of his mouth with “sucker” written on the left. Someone had gone so far as to draw an arrow from his chin to his bottom lip. He felt the heat redden his marked face as he watched the color change under the words. He didn’t think any of his fraternity brothers knew of his sexual exploits and wasn’t sure that many of them would even care, but he knew and seeing those words on his face was deeply embarrassing to him. He knew that the guys were just being guys and picking on him as a new brother, but his knowledge of his own truth clouded the comedy of the situation. 

Atwood scrubbed his face raw erasing all traces that the words, and other markings, had ever been there. When he exited the bathroom the house was quiet and seemed empty. He slipped out and began the walk back to his dormitory.

©Michael Rohrer 2013