College stories sig

"College Stories" is a weekly column by MFA student Gavin Colton. Read last week's installment here.

3.

Abby bums a cigarette from the burly bouncer. He’s gotten quite drunk since she flashed her ID an hour ago. He hands her a box of matches too, says to keep them. She imagines him a decent dad. Loving, if absent.

She leans against the window, feels the cold glass against her back, imagines herself falling through it.

The line has spilled out into to parking lot. Groups cluster in their respective cliques, whispy puffs of silver smoke rising every couple of minutes. Abby notices one girl on her own, clutching her elbows. Abby drags on her cigarette. She notices the bouncer watching her through the glass, does her best to avoid looking back at him.

She doesn’t mind looking at the girl, cold there in the parking lot. She'd give her a jacket if she had one. The girl pulls a tiny bottle of whiskey from the backside of her waistband, tosses the cap, and downs it in a couple of seconds, her face twisting a little when she takes her first breath again. Abby’s never seen her before, she’s sure of it. The girl hasn’t noticed Abby looking. She looks anxious, nipping at her nails now, lifting her elbow in the air.

Abby feels the glass drum on her back. Two boys trying to say something through the window. One of them lifts his shirt and presses his stomach to the glass. Abby looks down at her cigarette, reduced down to a nub now. She glances back down the line, a group of people have cut and joined their friends near the front of the line.

The burly bouncer opens the door.

“One in one out, people.”

The girl’s face is lit up now by her phone screen. She’s thumping a text into it. Abby walks over to her. She has to get her feet under herself when she gets upright again off the window.

She doesn’t get along with many girls, never has. Her mom told her once that college was when you find your bridesmaids.

The girl picks her face up from her phone when Abby gets closer, pulls the screen away from view, back into her pocket.

What?” she says.

For a moment, Abby’s not sure why she’s there, in front of this girl.

“Come with me.” Abby says. She takes her by the hand for a couple of steps until she’s sure the girl will follow. She grabs her hand again when they pass the bouncer, nodding at him as they pass into the buzz of the bar again. The freshmen at the jukebox have had their way and Billie Eilish is playing. She elbows past people, tugging at the girl’s hand.

The boy from Sociology class is in front her again, a hand on her shoulder.

“What about that drink?” He says, his teeth dangling out of his mouth, pupils shrunk.

Abby stops, looks back at the girl attached to the end of her hand. She leans in and asks her for her name.

“Collins,” the girl roars back. Abby hears her well over the sound of the bar.

Collins?”

“Yeah.”

Abby registers the oddness of it. She goes back to Collins’ ear.

“What do you want?” she points to the bar.

“Whiskey Coke.”

Abby turns back to the boy. He’s swaying in spot, his gaze fixes nowhere at all. She squeezes his wrist. “Whiskey Coke.”

He comes alive and slinks through a seam to the bar. He glances back at Abby. She holds up two fingers and mouths the number at him. She thinks he registers it.

“Are you okay?” Abby says. The jukebox fades out. She pulls away from Collins’ ear, gets a look at her face, splattered in freckles, she notices now.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re welcome by the way.”

Collins doesn’t say anything at first. Then, “Yeah, thanks. You didn’t have to do that.”

“What are you doing here? On your own?”

“Money.”

He’s back with the drinks. Abby takes them both, hands one to Collins.

“Money?” Abby says. The next song bursts around the bar. She’s back in Collins’ ear.

Collins pushes past her and Abby follows her to the end of the bar and into the toilet. Collins closes the door behind Abby and holds her foot against the corner.

Collins is back in her phone now, texting.

“What are you doing?” Abby asks. She feels her head clear now, sharpen. Collins comes into focus in the fluorescent lights.

“Think you can do me a favor?” Collins says. Someone is trying to push their way into the toilet. Collins leans her weight into door to hold it. “Think you can drive?”

“Sure,” Abby says. She feels a buzz come back now. Something fizzes in her chest. She drinks the whiskey Coke and it falls into her stomach in a cold ball.

“There’s a green Chevy Malibu parked across the street. Follow me out of here in one minute and go get it started. I’ll meet you there.” Abby takes the single car key, only a Chuck Taylor keychain attached.

Abby doesn’t think to ask anything before Collins is gone out the door and a line of girls flood the toilet again.

She sees Kara and her friends by the pool table still. Jeff has arrived too. There’s some commotion, but she doesn’t stop to say goodbye. Kara will only stop her.

She pats the bouncer on the shoulder as she leaves, hoping he’ll remember her next time. He’s twisted drunk now, lolling on his stool.

“Kara’s sister right?” he says.

He moves to hug her, but an alarm sounds from the back of the bar, where the men’s room is.

“Shit,” he says. He barrels through the crowd of people, spilling drinks from hands.

Abby picks out the green Malibu across the street. From the side of Big Daddy Liquor, Collins comes running. She takes off after her, across the street, not checking for oncoming traffic.

“I told you to be ready,” Collins says.

Abby gets in the driver’s seat and unlocks the passenger side for Collins.

“Ok go,” Collins says.

“Where?” Abby feels her breath again, leaving her and not coming back.

“Anywhere. Go!”

She rips the car into drive and pops the car down off the curb. She watches the light turn from green to yellow, then to red before the car squeals around the corner, down toward the Kroger. Collins is back on her phone.

“What’s going on?” Abby says finally.

“Just drive.”

Disclaimer: All characters and events in these stories are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.