Welcome to the first installment of the new weekly column by Gavin Colton, “College Stories.” Enjoy!
Abby didn’t want to go out tonight. She wanted to get her head down for the first week, read ahead for a class or two maybe. But here she is.
She thinks she looks fashionable enough walking into Lynagh’s. It’s the Tuesday before classes start and everyone is out. Her sister Kara texted her earlier saying that the girls were coming over to get ready. Make sure the kitchen is clean, was her request. Abby is happy to oblige her sister of most things.
A cluster of boys line the bar, draining a platter of John Wall shots. Abby recognizes a few of their faces.
Kara leads the way past the boys, who take turns to look at them. At Kara, Abby thinks.
Kara schmoozed the bouncer on the way in. He glanced down at Abby’s ID (a fake that claimed she hailed from Illinois and that she was fifteen pounds lighter—that had been Kara’s idea). He kept one eye on Kara, who placed a hand on his shoulder and asked about how his were kids doing. After a brief examination, he flashed the ID back to Abby and went back full gaze to Kara. Abby pocketed it, thumbed the raised digits that lied about her birthday, and imagined herself fifteen pounds fewer. She’d get there though. She had plans to get into the gym—she’d arranged her schedule around Kara’s so they could go together.
Kara’s Little is with them. Olivia. Abby tolerates Olivia most of the time. But when Olivia gets drunk, Abby feels a particular disdain for the girl, flinging herself at boys who have to crane their necks to hear her. Olivia’s so small, Abby wonders how she survives her drinking at all. Abby and Kara usually end up taking her home when she becomes legless, handed back by a bouncer or bartender who has decided she’s too much trouble.
They sit down by the pool table, squeezed around a high-top with some of Kara’s friends who went ahead in an Uber. Abby likes most of them fine. She likes that they take an interest in her, ask her questions, however feigned their interest might be. Abby thinks they like her because she retired from the sorority after her freshmen year. And because she’s Kara’s sister. That helps with most things on campus. When they get drunk, they tell her how brave she is, leaving like that.
They’re talking about a New Year’s Eve party that they were all at. Abby wasn’t there, so she tunes them out and turns her ear to the music. It’s barely audible over the hum of the bar, but she thinks it might be something Springsteen. She watches Olivia circling the pool table, snatching the cues from the boys, asking for a go.
Abby remembers her own freshman year. The wildness of it. Bare-legged and braced against the cold some mornings, leaving strange houses, where flattened Bud Light cases served as acceptable wallpaper and where there was an art to towering dishes in the sink like a game of reverse Jenga.
There’d usually been a boy. Some who had gone to her high school and now, with a patchy line of facial hair lining their jaws, mustered the courage to make a move. Some she’d been set up with by Kara’s boyfriend Jeff—all had been unremarkable so far. Abby hadn’t cared to remember names of the others. The strangers.
She remembered other things about them instead. The one who had the collection of traffic signs under his bed. The one who kept the canaries. The one who asked if his roommate could join in (Abby left that apartment after thirty-minutes of feeling altogether uninvolved in the experiment). The one who had lasted a minute, maybe two, then asked her to leave, blaming her for the misfire. There’d been the one who could go forever. She went back to him a couple of times. He rolled a good joint and had a cat she enjoyed. On her third visit, Abby grew tired of him, faked an orgasm and left at 4AM. She suggested he pursue a career in porn rather than psychology.
“They’re the same thing,” he’d said.
She still receives texts or Snapchats (never phone calls) with invitations or propositions. She ignores most of them.
She feels her face get warm now, the vodka working through her liver, up into her brain. The music and the chatter of Kara’s friends blend into one raspy hum. She walks to the bathroom. She needs a moment. She has an eight-fifty in the morning and can’t remember where the class is.
In front of the mirror, she examines her face, the puffiness of the skin under her eyes. Kara tidied up her make-up back at the house, blended it in better than Abby could on her own, sharpened the tips of her brows, and plumped her lips with some balm that burned for ten minutes.
It’s quiet at the mirror until two girls come in and ask Abby to take a photo of them. The taller girl props her foot on the sink and holds a bunch of hair away from her head. The other girl acts normal, pops her hip a little and lifts one heel to make her ass look bigger. Abby wants to tell her that she can have the ass she wants if she lives on Taco Bell and Raising Canes for two semesters, just look at mine! But she decides against it and tells them to dip their faces so that they don’t look so chinny.
She steadies the phone in her hand and takes several snaps, changing the angle slightly as she goes. The girls thank her and leave.
Then Abby is back, alone, in the bathroom, the music and drunk chatter drifting under the door. She hears a glass smash, and for a moment thinks she can feel the shattered pieces rain down over her. She locks the cubicle door, sits down on the toilet and tries to breath.