Authors: Elle Kennedy
I shake her off, because enough is enough. “Get up and leave,” I tell the startled punk.
He’s yelling out angry curses as he climbs to his feet.
Because the restrooms are right around the corner about ten feet away, it doesn’t take long for his shouts of outrage to draw an audience. A group of screeching sorority sisters hurry over, followed by other curious bystanders.
Suddenly more voices fill the corridor.
“Pres! Bro, you alright?”
Two of his friends break through the crowd. They puff up their chests beside him, flanking their champion because if they get chased out of here in front of all these people, it’s going to be a long year of drinking alone at home.
“The hell’s your problem, man?” the groper spits out, glaring daggers at me.
“No problem anymore,” I reply, crossing my arms. “Just taking out the trash.”
“You smell that, Preston?” his buddy says to Richie Rich with a goading grin. “Something sure stinks in here.”
“Was that a dumpster outside or your trailer?” the other mocks.
“Please, take two steps closer and say that again,” I encourage them because, whatever, I’m bored and these dudes’ faces are begging to get smashed.
I assess my chances. It’s three on one, and they aren’t scrawny—each of them around six feet tall, about my size. They could be half a water polo team sponsored by Brooks Brothers. But me, I actually
work for a living, and these muscles aren’t for show. So I like my odds.
“Coop, stop.” Steph pushes me to the side to stand between us. “Forget it. I got this now. Go back to the bar.”
,” Preston taunts. Then, to his buddies, “No piece of townie ass is worth this much trouble.”
I look at Steph and shrug. Rich prick should have walked away when I gave him the chance.
While he’s still laughing, so smug in his superiority, I reach out, grab a fistful of his Ralph Lauren and drive my fist straight into his face.
He staggers, falling into his friends, who push him at me. Bloody, he lunges like a creature in the third act of a horror film, swinging at me, smearing blood. We crash into the screaming sorority girls until we’re against a wall. The old payphone that hasn’t operated in fifteen years digs into my back, which gives Preston a chance to land a lucky punch to my jaw. Then I spin us around, pin him against the drywall. I’m about to smash his damn face in when Joe, the owner, along with Daryl and Lenny, hold me back and drag me away.
“You stupid townie trash,” he gurgles at me. “You have any idea how dead you are?”
“Enough!” Joe shouts. The grizzled Vietnam vet with a gray hippie beard and ponytail points a fat finger at Preston. “Get on out of here. There’s no fighting in my bar.”
“I want this psycho fired,” Preston orders.
“Kiss my ass.”
“Coop, shut it,” Joe says. He lets Lenny and Daryl release me. “I’m docking your pay for this.”
“It wasn’t Coop’s fault,” Steph tells our boss. “This guy was all over me. Then he followed me to the supply closet and trapped me in the hallway. Cooper was trying to kick him out.”
“Do you know who my father is?” Squeezing his leaking nose
shut, Preston seethes. “His bank owns half the buildings on this filthy boardwalk. One word from me and your life gets real complicated.”
Joe’s lips tighten.
“Your employee put his hands on me,” Preston continues angrily. “I don’t know how you run this rathole, but if this happened anywhere else, the person who assaulted a customer would no longer be employed.” The smirk on his face actually makes my fists tingle. I want to strangle him with my bare hands. “So either you handle this, or I pick up the phone and call my father to do it for you. I know it’s late, but don’t you worry, he’ll be awake. He’s a night owl.” The smirk deepens. “That’s how he made all his billions.”
There’s a long beat of silence.
Then Joe lets out a sigh, turning to me.
“You can’t be serious,” I say in amazement.
Joe and I go back a ways. My brother and I used to barback here in the summers during high school. We helped him rebuild after two hurricanes. I took his daughter to homecoming, for chrissake.
Looking resigned, he runs a hand over his beard.
“Joe. Seriously, man. You’re gonna let one of them tell you how to run your bar?”
“I’m sorry,” Joe finally says. He shakes his head. “I have to think about my business. My family. You went too far this time, Coop. Take what I owe you for the night out of the register. I’ll have a check for you in the morning.”
Satisfied with himself, Richie Rich sneers at me. “See, townie? That’s how the real world works.” He tosses a bloody wad of cash at Steph and spits out a thick clump of blood and mucus. “Here. Clean this place up, sweetheart.”
“This isn’t over,” I warn Preston as he and his friends saunter away.
“It was over before it began,” he calls snidely over his shoulder. “You’re the only one who didn’t know that.”
Staring at Joe, I see the defeat in his eyes. He doesn’t have the strength or desire to fight these battles anymore. That’s how they get us. By inches. Breaking us down until we’re too tired to hold on any longer. Then they pry our land, our businesses, our dignity from our dying hands.
“You know,” I tell Joe, picking up the cash and smacking it in his hand. “Every time one of us gives in to one of them, we make it a little easier for them to screw us the next time.”
Except … no. Fuck the “next time.” These people are never getting a next time from me.
Since leaving my parents’ house in Charleston this morning, I’ve had an itch in the back of my skull, and it only keeps growing more insistent, telling me to turn around. Take off. Run away. Join the proverbial circus and
against the dying of my gap year.
Now, as my taxi drives through the tunnel of bur oaks to Tally Hall on the Garnet College campus, a pure cold panic has set in.
This is really happening.
Beyond the green lawn and lines of cars, swarming freshmen and their parents cart boxes into the redbrick building stretching four stories into the clear blue sky. White trim frames the rows of windows and the roof, a distinct characteristic of one of the five original buildings on the historic campus.
“I’ll be right back to grab those boxes,” I tell my driver. I sling my duffel over my shoulder, and set my rolling suitcase on the ground. “Just want to make sure I’m in the right place.”
“No prob. Take your time.” He’s unruffled, probably because my parents paid him a huge flat fee to play chauffeur for the day.
As I walk under the massive iron lantern that hangs from the beam above the front doors, I feel like a captured fugitive returning after a year on the lam. It was too good to last. How am I supposed
to go back to homework and pop quizzes? My life dictated by TAs and syllabi when I’ve been my own boss for the last twelve months.
A mother stops me on the stairs to ask if I’m the dorm’s resident advisor. Awesome. I feel ancient. A fresh wave of temptation to turn on my heels and split simmers in my gut, but I force myself to ignore it.
I slog up to the fourth floor where the rooms are a little bigger, a little nicer, for those parents willing to leverage the GDP of a small island nation. According to the email on my phone, I’m in room 402.
Inside, a small living room and kitchenette divide the two bedrooms on either side. The room on the left contains an empty bed with a matching wooden desk and dresser. To the right, through the wide-open door, a blonde in a pair of cutoffs and no shirt bounces and sways while putting clothes on hangers.
“Hello?” I say, trying to get her attention. I drop my bags on the floor. “Hi?”
Still she doesn’t hear me. Tentative, I walk up and tap her on the shoulder. She jumps out of her sandals and slaps a hand over her mouth to muffle a yelp.
“Ooh, girl, you got me!” she says in a thick Southern accent. Breathing hard, she pulls the wireless earbuds from her ears and shoves them in her pocket. “’Bout peed my pants.”
Her boobs are right there in all their bare glory, and she’s making no effort to shield herself. I try to look her in the eyes but that proves awkward, so I divert my attention toward the windows.
“Sorry to barge in. I didn’t expect …”
to find my roommate engaged in the first act of an amateur porno
She shrugs, smiling. “Don’t sweat it.”
“I can, uh, come back in a few minutes, if … ?”
“Naw, you’re fine,” she assures me.
I can’t help but glance at her standing with her hands on her
hips, pointing the high-beams at me. “Was there a nudist box on the housing form I checked by accident?”
She laughs, then finally reaches for a tank top. “I like to cleanse the energy of a place. A house ain’t a home till you spent time in it naked, right?”
“The blinds are open,” I point out.
“No tan lines,” she answers with a wink. “I’m Bonnie May Beauchamp. Guess we’re roomies.”
She smooshes me in a tight hug. Ordinarily I’d consider this a grievous assault on my personal boundaries. But, for some reason, I can’t find it in me to be put off by this girl. Maybe she’s a witch. Hypnotizing me with her witch tits. Still, I get a good vibe from her.
She has soft, round features and big, brown eyes. A bright white grin that’s equally non-threatening to women and approachable to men. Everyone’s little sister. But with boobs.
“Where’s all your stuff?” she asks upon releasing me.
“My boyfriend’s coming by later with most of it. I have a few things in the car downstairs. The driver’s waiting on me.”
“I’ll help you bring it up.”
There isn’t much, only a couple boxes, but I appreciate the offer and the company. We grab the boxes and toss them in the room, then wander the halls for a bit, checking out the neighborhood.
“You from South Carolina?” Bonnie asks.
“I’m from Georgia. Daddy wanted me to go to Georgia State, but my momma went to Garnet, so they made a bet on the outcome of a football game and here I am.”
Down on the third floor, there’s a dude walking around with a backpack cooler of frosé who tries to offer us each a cup in exchange for our phone numbers. His arms, chest, and back are covered in
scribbled black permanent marker, with most of the numbers missing a digit or two. Certainly all of them fake.
We pass on the offer and grin to ourselves, leaving him in our wake.
“Did you transfer from somewhere?” Bonnie says as we continue our way through the bazaar of micro communities. “I mean, don’t take this the wrong way or nothin’, but you don’t look like a freshman.”
I knew this would happen. I feel like the camp counselor. Two years older than my peers, on account of my gap year and the fact that I started kindergarten a year late, when my parents decided to extend a Mediterranean sailing trip rather than get me home in time for school.
“I took a gap year. Made a deal with my parents that I’d go to whatever school they chose if they let me work on my business first.” Though if it were up to me, I’d have skipped this chapter of the coming-of-age story completely.
“You got your own business already?” Bonnie demands, wide-eyed. “I spent all summer watchin’
reruns and partyin’ at the lake.”
“I built a website and an app,” I admit. “I mean, it’s nothing major. Not like I founded Tesla or anything.”
“What kind of app?”
“It’s a site where people post funny or embarrassing boyfriend stories. It started as a joke for some of my friends from high school, but then it sort of blew up. Last year, I launched another site for people to post about their girlfriends.”
What began as me and a blog had ballooned in the past year to include hiring an ad manager, site moderators, and a marketing team. I have payroll and taxes and seven figures in my business checking account. And somewhere on top of all that, I’m supposed
to worry about essays and midterms? A deal’s a deal, and I’m as good as my word, but this whole college thing seems pointless.
“Oh my God, I know that site.” Bonnie smacks my arm excitedly. Girl’s got steel rods for fingers. “
! Holy shit. My girls and I probably spent more time readin’ those senior year than doin’ our homework. What’s the one? ’Bout the boyfriend who got food poisoning after a date and the girl’s dad was drivin’ them home and the guy got massive diarrhea in the backseat!”
She doubles over in absolute hysterics. I crack a smile because I remember that post well. It got over three hundred thousand clicks, thousands of comments, and double the ad revenue of any other post that month.
“Wow,” she says, once she’s regained her composure. “You really make money off those things?”
“Yeah, from hosting ads. They do pretty well.” I shrug modestly.
“That’s so cool.” Bonnie pouts. “I’m jealous. I got no idea what I’m doin’ here, Mac. Can I call you Mac or do you prefer Mackenzie? Mackenzie sounds
“Mac’s fine,” I assure her, trying not to laugh.
“After high school, college is a thing I’m supposed to do, y’know? ’Cept heck if I got any idea what I’m supposed to major in or what I’m gonna do when I grow up.”
“People always say college is where you go to find yourself.”
“I thought that was Panama City.”
I snicker. I really like this girl.
About an hour later, my boyfriend shows up with the rest of my boxes. It’s been weeks since we’ve seen each other. I had a stupid amount of work to do on the business before I could hand it over to my new full-time staff, so I couldn’t take the time off to visit Preston.
This is the longest we’ve been apart since the summer his family went on vacation to Lake Como.
I had proposed the idea of getting an apartment together off campus, but Preston had roundly scoffed at that. Why slum it in subpar housing when he’s got a pool, a personal chef, and a maid at home? I didn’t have a good answer that didn’t sound condescending. If independence from our parents isn’t its own motivation to move in together, I don’t know what to say.
Independence has been my sole motivation since high school. Living with my family was like sinking in a pit of quicksand—one that would’ve swallowed me whole if I hadn’t yanked out my own hair to fashion a rope and pull myself out. I wasn’t built to be kept. Maybe that’s why, when the boyfriend I haven’t seen in over a month enters the room with the first load of boxes, I’m not overwhelmed with loin-deep longing or that sudden rush of excitement after time spent apart.
Not that I didn’t miss him or that I’m not happy he’s here. It’s just … I can remember crushes I had in middle school where the time between seeing them at lunch and sixth period felt like an eternity that tore at my little, pubescent heart. I’ve grown up, I suppose. Preston and I are comfortable. Steady. Practically an old married couple.
There’s a lot to be said for steady.
“Hey, babe.” A little sweaty from four flights of stairs, Pres wraps me in a tight hug and kisses me on the forehead. “Missed you. You look great.”
“So do you.” Attraction certainly isn’t the problem; Preston’s about as picture-perfect handsome as it gets. He’s tall, with a slim but athletic build. Gorgeous blue eyes that seem impossibly bright when the sun catches them. A classic angular face that collects attention everywhere he goes. He’s gotten a haircut since the last time I saw him, his blond hair a little long on top but cut close on the sides.
It’s then that he turns his head slightly and I notice his face marked by bruises around his nose and right eye.
“What happened to you?” I ask in alarm.
“Oh, yeah.” He touches his eye and shrugs. “Guys and I were playing basketball the other day and I took a ball to the face. No biggie.”
“You sure? That looks like it hurt.” It’s nasty, honestly, like a burnt, runny egg on the side of his face.
“I’m good. Oh, before I forget. I got you this.”
He reaches into the back pocket of his khakis and pulls out a plastic card. The words
are written across it.
I accept the gift card. “Oh, thanks, babe. Is this for the coffee place on campus?”
He nods earnestly. “Figured it was the most fitting ‘welcome to college’ gift for a coffee fiend like you. I loaded a couple grand on it, so you’re all set.”
At the kitchenette, an eavesdropping Bonnie gasps. “A couple
?” she squawks.
Okay, two thousand dollars’ worth of coffee is a bit extreme, but one of the things I love about Pres is how thoughtful he is. Driving three hours to my parents’ house to pick up my stuff on his own, then all the way back to campus, and he does it with a smile. He doesn’t complain or make me out to be a burden. He does it to be nice.
There’s a lot to be said for nice.
I glance at my roommate. “Bonnie, this is my boyfriend, Preston. Pres, this is Bonnie.”
“Nice to meet you,” he says with a genuine smile. “I’m going to grab the rest of Mac’s boxes, then how about I take you both out for lunch?”
“I’m in,” Bonnie replies. “I’m starved.”
“That’d be great,” I tell him. “Thank you.”
Once he’s gone, Bonnie gives me a silly grin and a thumbs-up. “Nice job. How long you been together?”
“Four years.” I follow her into the shared bathroom so we can fix
our hair and get ready for lunch. “We went to the same prep school. I was a sophomore, he was a senior.”
I’ve known Preston since we were kids, although we weren’t exactly friends growing up, given the age difference. I’d see him around the country club when my parents dragged me out with them, at holiday gatherings, fundraisers, and whatnot. When I started school at Spencer Hill, he was nice enough to acknowledge me in the halls and say hi to me at parties—helping me gain some of the clout I needed to survive and thrive in the shark-infested waters of a prep school.
“You must be relieved to finally get to college with him. If that were me, I’da been outta my mind wonderin’ what he was gettin’ up to out here on his own.”
“It’s not that way with us,” I say, brushing out my hair. “Preston’s not the cheating type. He’s big on family and the plan, you know?”
It’s never sounded weird until Bonnie looks at me in the mirror with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, our parents have been friends for years, so after we’d been dating a while, it was sort of understood that eventually we were going to graduate, get married, all that. You know, the plan.”
She stares at me, her face crinkled. “And you’re … okay with that plan?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
That’s damn near verbatim how my parents ended up together. And their parents. I know it sounds only a couple steps away from an old-world arranged marriage thing, and to be honest, I suspect Preston got talked into taking me out that first time. He was the upperclassman. I was the awkward sophomore who still hadn’t mastered a flat iron. But whether or not it was initially suggested to Pres by his parents, neither of us felt like we were being forced to date. We genuinely enjoyed each other’s company, and still do.
“If that was me, I’d be pretty bummed that my whole life was planned before I even started my first day of college. It’s like gettin’ the movie spoiled when I’m standin’ in line for popcorn.” Bonnie shrugs, dabbing on some lip gloss. “But, hey, long as you’re happy, right?”