Roommates

I

Goldright Dormitory was named after Jefferson Goldright, a famous film director who battled depression and alcoholism. When he was thirty, Goldright hung himself in the closet of a seedy motel in Chicago, the last person to see him alive a woman who remained anonymous in press reports. Goldright’s will bequeathed all he had to his alma mater, purportedly the last place he felt happy. The university used his money to build a new dormitory, and begrudgingly named it after him despite concerns over his demons. At first state of the art, as the years passed Goldright Dormitory became less favorable and as such was designated freshman housing.

When Estragon started school, Goldright Dormitory was the oldest building on campus. Jefferson Goldright’s work was dated, his peak muddled somewhere between Roe V Wade and ‘don’t aid AIDS.’ Estragon hardly knew who Goldright was. His mother had commented on it, when she saw his orientation packet, but otherwise he was a passing name, a slight familiarity in the back of his mind.

The dorm was old, but sturdy. There was no elevator so he had to climb the stairs to the third floor. The rooms were staggered: odd numbers for girls and even numbers for boys. 306 was right in the middle of the hall, Estragon’s stomach squirmed when he saw the door ajar.

The room was empty though. It was sparsely decorated, the light from the window a cold gray color. Estragon watched white particles of dust glide on the still air. The room amounted to one set of bunk beds, two desks and two chairs against the window, one dresser, and one closet. Denied the traditional childhood experience, Estragon felt a thrill of excitement when he saw the bunk beds. He went immediately to swing his suitcase onto the top bunk, quelling the juvenile urge to clamber to the top and declare himself king. He took a step toward the ladder but the door burst open with a violent crack, the brass doorknob sung its displeasure.

“Hey man, would you pay forty dollars for two grams?”

A boy stood in the doorway, skin washed ivory in the pallid sunlight. His jaw was sharp and his hair knotted in loose curls, his eyebrows were dark arches over a pair of vivid red sunglasses.

Sunglasses indoors, Estragon immediately felt cautious. “Excuse me?” The boy held up a clear bag of white powder, Estragon’s heart leapt.

“I made the deal with this girl in the lobby, seems like a decent price but I can’t know for sure, you know?”

The powder dusted against the inside of the bag, Estragon’s eyes went immediately to the open door.

“I – we haven’t really been introduced. My name’s Estragon,” Estragon stuck his arm out and the boy nodded somewhat absently.

“Oh, I’m Brad.” He mumbled, and crossed to the beds. Bradley Wake, that was the name on Estragon’s orientation paper. This was his roommate? Brad pushed Estragon’s suitcase off the top bunk and Estragon fidgeted, wondering if he should say something.

“Wait,” Brad spoke first, and turned to stare at Estragon. “Your name is Estrogen?”

Estragon felt the tension flow out of his body. He could handle this kid, Brad was no different from anyone back home. Estragon had learned how to deal with people like this.

“No,” He said patiently, stomach crawling at each wide gesture Brad made. “My name’s Estragon, it’s from my parent’s favorite play.” He considered explaining Waiting for Godot and how unique and brilliant Beckett was, but then brushed the thought off – he doubted this kid would care.

“That’s absurd.” Brad mumbled, Estragon blinked. Had Brad said that on purpose? Estragon couldn’t see Brad’s eyes so he didn’t know, but maybe Brad had studied Beckett in high school. Brad deadpanned and Estragon felt frustration squirm in his stomach, maybe he was wrong. Maybe Brad was too clever, maybe …

Maybe Estragon was sorely overthinking this, he thought as Brad hoisted himself onto the top bunk. The powder shuddered inside its bag. Brad kicked his shoes onto the floor and Estragon mustered his voice again.

“Hey, listen. I was here first and had my stuff on the bed – could you not move it around?”

“Just put it on the desk,” Brad grumbled, stretching out to lay down. “We’ll figure it out later.”

“But –” Estragon stopped, the last thing he wanted was to start whining. “I was here first, that’s my bed!”

Brad stared at him. “Then why am I laying down on your bed?” Brad grinned, his tongue stuck through his teeth and a cold leech wriggled into Estragon’s gut. Maybe he was wrong about college, and this wouldn’t be any different.

“Look,” Estragon took a deep breath and tried to collect his thoughts. “I don’t want to be that guy but if we need to draw a line in the sand, we will.” Even saying it, the words felt sour in his mouth. He had read about roommates who tried to divide the room in half and he knew it didn’t work. Yet, he could already imagine this kid’s stuff erupting over the bedroom, Brad claiming the space and edging Estragon out of the room and out of his life.

But Estragon didn’t need to worry about Brad’s answer, Brad sat up on the bed and opened the bag in his hand. Estragon’s voice pitched and he flushed with embarrassment, “You can definitely not be using drugs in our room!”

Brad finally stopped and stared at him, “Man, what are you talking about?” He sneered, “Fine, be like that.” He laughed and jumped off the bed. He landed on the floor with a fluid thud and marched past Estragon. “I’ll find someone else to talk to.” Brad declared, and he slammed the door shut behind him.

Estragon stood in the eerie quiet of the dorm room. The noon light outside washed the room a sickly yellow color, it flickered on the white walls at the same rapid pace as his heart.

Do not let this get to you, Estragon ordered, bending down to pick his suitcase up. He righted the bag but didn’t try to claim the top bunk again. Instead he took a deep breath and touched his pulse, do not let him get to you. Don’t let this happen again.

II

Lizzy Sullivan was living in Goldright Dormitory, room 307, on eastern campus at Whitethorn Academy of the Arts. Her roommate, Riley Preston, had already arrived when Lizzy did, but she wasn’t in the room. Riley’s things were unpacked; she had taken the initiative to claim the bottom bunk which Lizzy was okay with.

Lizzy neatly unpacked her things and then sat down with her book. The back of her mind danced wondering what Riley was like. Maybe she watched Grey’s Anatomy too, hopefully they were the same size so they could share clothes.

“Hey, I just ripped off the kid in the room next to us! He gave me forty dollars for two grams of protein powder!” Lizzy looked up, the girl who stood in the doorway waved her cash like a trophy. She grinned at Lizzy, a confident smile and a short stature and plain attire.

Lizzy’s smile split over her face as soon as she saw Riley, this was going to be great. “Oh my god, no whey!” She gasped, leaping to her feet. Riley’s smile faded and her brow drew tight, Lizzy didn’t let herself worry about it. She plunged ahead. “Get it? Like Whey protein powder!” She giggled, “Hi, my name’s Lizzy!” Lizzy stuck her arm out straight and beamed, just like mom told her to do. Smile and open up and they’ll like you.

Riley’s jaw worked uncertainly, as if struggling to find what to say. “Uhh … my name’s Riley, it’s nice to meet you too -” Riley shook Lizzy’s hand gingerly.

Lizzy squealed and grabbed Riley’s arm, who lurched on her feet. “Oh my god!” Lizzy giggled, “My cousin’s best friend’s sister’s son’s name is Riley! Isn’t that funny- because he’s a boy and you’re a girl!”

Riley looked so stunned that Lizzy’s smile dropped. Had she done something wrong? She must have said the wrong thing. What, though? Riley was a girl … wasn’t she? Oh god, what if this was some kind of complicated situation like with Caitlyn Jenner. Ugh, roommates for two minutes and Lizzy had already messed up, how very like her. Not sure what to do, and with Riley still quiet and apprehensive, Lizzy bumbled on. “I mean- you are a girl … right?”

“Uh – yeah, I’m a girl.” Riley swallowed, her brow was tight like she was concentrating hard on trying to work something out. “So, what’s your major? What brings you to Whitethorn?” Lizzy decided she liked Riley, she knew how to make polite conversation just like her.

“I’m majoring in musical theatre!” Lizzy beamed. “I’m going to be a star!” She struck a pose for emphasis, because it would make her passion and excitement clear.

Riley took a tentative step toward the door, Lizzy felt her heart plummet. “Okay, you know, good luck with that.” Riley laughed and made a vague gesture into the hallway. “I’m gonna go call my boyfriend so, I’ll see you later.”

Riley turned away so fast that Lizzy barely had the opportunity to answer. She felt a cold wake of fear squeezing her stomach. What if Riley didn’t like her? What if Riley thought she was stupid or helpless? Or, what if Riley just didn’t care? If that was it, then Lizzy couldn’t let her see how much this hurt. She couldn’t come across as small or weak or fragile. She had to act just as calm and collected as Riley did, she had to prove that this didn’t bother her.

“Okay bye!” She called, she kept her voice light and strong, but she sensed it was too late. Her eyes didn’t waver, she stood her ground. She determined that no matter what happened, Riley’s judgments weren’t going to get under her skin.

III

Someone left their watch on the sink. Brad stood quietly in the men’s bathroom and watched the big hand click to 4:32 in the morning. He felt like maybe he should go to sleep but he felt too wired.

His first college party.

Well, his first college party as a college student. His brain still felt fuzzy from the alcohol but most of it had worn off, he could walk straight and his joints didn’t feel as loose. He had a class at nine, he thought maybe it wasn’t worth it to sleep. His eyes traced up the mirror, someone had scratched into the wall: Whitethorn Academy of the Farts. The carving wasn’t deep; they hadn’t used a knife. A pen, maybe.

Brad’s eyes fell back to his reflection, his spindly frame under his clothes. He wondered if the protein or steroids would help him to fill out soon, did that girl have more? Their neighbor, Riley. Her tongue was a little sharp but she seemed to give a fair price.

Well, Brad thought she did. He didn’t know. Brad had come here thinking there couldn’t be someone with less know-how than him.

Except maybe Estragon. That idiot tried to play nice too often, Brad had learned a long time ago that submission just didn’t work. That didn’t work in the arts. Brad understood that if he was going to matter here, then he couldn’t waste time trying to make compromises with his roommate.

And, he needed to gain weight. Brad looked at the watch again which said it was 4:40. He left the bathroom, the walls cloudy yellow under the emergency lights. The light in 306 was out, Estragon had probably foregone any parties tonight and gone straight to bed. Brad loitered in the open doorway to 307, glancing in at the pale white light from Riley’s lamp. The room was empty, and he thought that was stupid. The girls should have locked it. He hadn’t met Riley’s roommate yet, but she looked like Estragon. Flighty, silly, not strong enough to make it.

The sign on the girl’s door said in plain green marker: Riley. And then below that was an extravagant explosion of star stickers and pink pen which claimed: and Lizzy. Brad went down the hall, the stairs were quiet and someone was dozing in Goldright’s lobby.

There was a group of kids huddled just outside the dorm. It was that way at most of the dorms around campus, late at night a group would collect outside after RAs had gone to bed.

“Ceramics,” Someone said as Brad approached them, “But I went to a prep school, we did lots of visual stuff.”

Brad caught a brief flash of fire and smiled. He walked closer, the tart scent in the air calmed his gait.

“Hey!” Someone called, Brad stopped short. The kid raised the joint, the question open. Brad nodded and the circle opened up, his fingers shook over the joint, he hadn’t smoked all summer. He let the smoke fill his lungs and nearly choked, but shook the fit off. He breathed out gently and passed it to his right.

“I’m Sean,” One of them said.

“Brad,”

Sean took his hit and nodded. “We were talking majors,”

“Undeclared,” Brad said, and someone laughed.

“You came to an arts university undeclared?” They asked, “You know this isn’t liberal arts, yeah?”

“Leave him, Lee.” Sean snapped. “As if any of us can talk majoring in arts. We’re all gonna be homeless and broke.”

“And in debt,” Someone else added and they laughed. Brad smiled and to his left they flicked the joint onto the ground.

Sean was already rolling another one, fingers long as they worked intricately like piecing together a puzzle. In the silence and eager eyes that watched him, Sean laughed. “Did you know Whitethorn is one of the most drug heavy campuses in America?”

“Between drama kids, writers, and artists I’m not surprised.” A girl said and Brad started, peering into the night air. That was Riley, standing next to Sean. He should have recognized her, she was so much shorter than everyone else.

“You use.” Brad blurted out. Riley’s eyes went to his and she shrugged.

“So?”

“Well, you deal too, don’t you?” Sean’s lighter flared unsuccessfully.

Riley shrugged, “Yeah, I mean, if I have something I won’t use.”

Sean said something to Riley and she laughed, Brad tried to catch her eye but she didn’t look at him. He took the joint and decided he could talk to Riley in the morning, right now it was enough to know his neighbor was willing to relax when they needed to. He would need that, since his roommate was such a prick.

IV

Riley read a lot when she wasn’t working. And lately she had been reading a lot of Neil Gaiman. Contemporary fantasy was something fresh and new, combining swords with subways and city walls with magic. When Lizzy introduced her to Grayson, she was reading Stardust.

Grayson lived down the hall, right next to the stairs so he complained he was kept up all hours of the night. Riley shook his hand cautiously, wary of any boy with white hair who smelled like coconut.

“He’s in three of my classes,” Lizzy giggled, hanging on Grayson’s arm like a doll. “He’s really talented, he did a really amazing Artaud style piece.”

“Cool,” Riley said, “I prefer oppression over cruelty, myself.” Grayson laughed and his voice sounded too high and kind.

“Boal and Artaud don’t need to be mutually exclusive,” Grayson said. Riley chewed her lip and looked at his scarf which was gray silk with white dots and felt very irritated by him. “You know theorists?” Grayson asked, sitting down at Lizzy’s desk and pulling her into his lap. Lizzy watched Grayson’s face eagerly and Riley wondered if it was her eyeliner he was wearing.

“I study design, so it helps.” Riley said and tried to turn back to her book. Grayson seemed content with that and absorbed himself in Lizzy, which was just short of sloppy. Riley started to close her book, thinking of going to the café down the street but someone knocked cautiously in their doorway.

Lizzy and Grayson broke away from one another and Riley sat up on the bed. It was Brad’s roommate. Estragon, the kid whose parents liked Beckett. Riley thought they probably liked Beckett a little too much, but that was neither here nor there.

“Hi guys,” Estragon fidgeted in the doorway. He wore a pink shirt and tight jeans and Riley thought that he and Grayson would be perfect for one another. Except Estragon wasn’t in the drama department, he was studying some obscure form of visual art. Riley looked at Grayson and bit back her smile as his eyes traced Estragon’s figure.

Lizzy was, expectedly, oblivious.

“Hi Estragon!” Lizzy beamed and scrambled off Grayson’s lap, skipping to the door. “How’s it going? Where’s Brad?”

Estragon scoffed and crossed his arms, Riley was struck with the thought that Brad would have had a very similar reaction. “Hell if I know, probably stoned somewhere.”  Riley thought about telling him that Brad wasn’t apt to get stoned off what she gave him, but thought he probably didn’t care. Estragon kept talking, as if eager to move off the subject of Brad. “Anyway, I wondered if you girls … and Grayson, wanted to grab a bite to eat.”

No, Riley thought immediately. She didn’t want to get a bite to eat with her ditzy roommate and her boyfriend who clearly had a thing for the guy who invited them out in the first place

“That is so sweet, Estragon!” Lizzy beamed that same bright smile that she turned on everyone she saw. “We’d love to go! I know a splendid Italian Bistro near Bed Bath and Beyond!” Riley didn’t know what it was about impromptu lunch dates that made people think Italian bistro but it all felt so college town. She wondered how well she could weasel out of this while Grayson adjusted himself so he could see Estragon’s ass.

Riley’s phone began to ring and she thought she could never have been happier to see the Caller ID. “That’s my boyfriend!” She gasped, jumping up and grabbing the phone. She leaped down from the bed and lurched on her feet, scrambling to get out of the room before these three idiots became stifling, “Sorry Estragon, maybe next time!”

“She has a boyfriend?”

“I think he’s from high school.”

Riley swiped and lifted the phone to her ear, “Hey!” She grinned, “I’m so glad you called!”

“Yeah?” Bryce’s voice sounded broken up over the phone, something was clamoring in his background. Or, it could’ve been a lousy signal in the stairwell. “Mind if I come up next weekend?”

“I’d love it!” Riley burst out the front door and the sunshine and the bright green oaks seemed to shudder in welcome. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too, babe.” Bryce was silent for a moment, Riley breathless.

“What’s going on there?” She asked.

“Nothing, just burning out the weekend.” He laughed then, “Waiting to see you.” Riley giggled and heat flushed in her stomach. Her frustrations with Lizzy and the idiots at this school began to dissipate. Soon Bryce would be here, and she wouldn’t need to deal with them, at least for a while. At least for the weekend.

V

Estragon learned not to talk to Brad. Every time they spoke their words ended in scathing insults and mounting frustration. They had an unspoken agreement regarding the room and most of the time ended up seeing each other only at night. Estragon would roll over and pretend to be asleep when Brad left for his nighttime jaunts.

Brad seemed out of control. Half the time Estragon saw him he was swallowing a pill or waving a bag of powder. Riley had assured Estragon that what she gave Brad was just discounted protein powder and steroids. She admitted to sharing weed with him, but she said that while she and Estragon were sharing a joint so Estragon couldn’t complain about it. Estragon asked if she had anything harder. She said she used to get ecstasy for parties but didn’t have access anymore.

Estragon liked Riley and Lizzy pretty well. They were both theatre majors so they didn’t make fun of his name, Riley seemed to think it was clever. Lizzy didn’t have a mean bone in her body and she spent half her life spinning around their room singing show tunes. Riley was quieter, she would lean back at her desk and sketch stages and set designs, circle lighting cues and mark up scripts for sound. Riley’s sketches were neat and light, Estragon liked watching her draw because he found a link in his own major in visual arts.

“Why didn’t you major in art?” He asked.

“Theatre Design is a more stable career,” Riley answered.

“Well, so is architecture.” He blurted out. Riley stared at him and Estragon fumbled to try and explain what he meant, that her drawing skills could just as easily work out in architecture, but he had blown the conversation. Riley was packing up her things to go to class.

Estragon liked the girls well enough because they didn’t make fun of him. Grayson, Lizzy’s boyfriend, was nice too. Whenever Lizzy and Riley were together they seemed especially frosty but that seemed to be Riley with a lot of people.

Estragon’s classes were small and quiet, so he got most of his social time back at the dorm. He went to parties sometimes, he hung out with theatre kids who thought his name was ‘dope’. Mostly he did whatever he could to not see Brad.

VI

Riley wasn’t big on decoration, so Lizzy had taken it upon herself to make their squished dorm room more inviting. She put up fairy lights and glow in the dark stars and added stickers to their names on the door. She organized Riley’s books by color and posted encouraging quotes on their walls. Riley never said anything about the room which Lizzy took to be approval.

The only opinion Riley did have on the room was when Lizzy started to talk about separating the bunkbeds. Riley said, without looking up from her book, “No, leave them.” So that was that.

Riley just didn’t own very much, so Lizzy’s things began to gradually overtake the room. It became a bit of a problem when Lizzy started to lose things, and subsequently would have to go through Riley’s drawers, but Riley remained as quiet as ever.

They spent a lot of their time together quietly. They would both read, or Riley would sketch, or Grayson would come over and Riley would try to leave them to each other.

Lizzy couldn’t figure out Riley, because she just didn’t seem to care. About anything. She put in mediocre work in school, she spent a lot of time trying to call her boyfriend, and Lizzy wasn’t dumb. She knew Riley provided drugs to some of the kids on campus, their neighbor included. Lizzy had heard that people used drugs to feel more acutely, or to numb the world around them. It was irritating, because Riley hadn’t even given Whitethorn a chance. She had come messed up and was determined to stay that way.

Lizzy hated that.  It didn’t feel like anyone else around her could put aside their past, but wasn’t that the whole point of college?

Lizzy didn’t talk about any of this with. Riley. She stayed quiet, and hurt in silence.

VII

Brad was sick. In Sean’s suite on the other side of campus, he emptied his guts into the toilet while Sean padded his door with towels and filled the room with the thick scent of weed.

“Have you asked Riley if they’re safe?” Sean asked.

“They’re fine,” Brad grunted, and heaved again.

“Man, I’ve heard of some nasty side effects. But not getting sick,” Sean said.

Brad started to answer but his stomach burned and his abs contracted and he leaned over again. He raised his head spluttering and Sean stood in the doorway to the bathroom, the stench in the room made his head spin.

“Maybe you should go back to your dorm,” Sean said, “Lay down.”

“Maybe.” Brad agreed. He didn’t want to. He had a Psych paper due and an art history presentation to complete. He hated gen ed classes, they felt so useless. As arbitrary as his high school courses. His advisor, Mr. Park, said that if he declared a major he would be able to take more interesting classes. Brad would reply with speculations of transferring schools. Mr. Park said that didn’t seem like something Brad wanted to do.

Then Mr. Park would pull out Brad’s application portfolio and Brad would lie and say he had to go.

“Come on, man. Go home, we can catch up tomorrow.” Sean said. Brad nodded and pulled himself away from the toilet. Sean gave him a glass of water but it was lukewarm and everything in the apartment had come to taste bitter and dense.

Sean helped him into his jacket and opened the door for him. Then Brad was left, pale and shaking, to stumble back across campus. He wavered on the sidewalk and found that the brown grass and empty trees depressed him. Autumn had come too quickly, and lacking a sense of beauty. There were no bright red leaves to talk about, painting the sky gold. Just black blades stabbing a strange blue sky.

Brad’s throat tasted sour and sore, he decided to ask Riley about the steroids. About whether they could be making him sick. He stepped into Goldright and plodded to the third floor.

Riley and Lizzy’s door was open. Most of the hall was quiet and Brad went straight for the girl’s room. He came up short when he saw Estragon and instinct started to make him turn away. But then he took in Lizzy, fluttering anxiously near the door, and Riley with an expectedly hard expression. Estragon was withdrawing his hand from the grip of a tall boy next to Riley.

“Hi, Brad!” Lizzy acted too excited when she saw him, more excited than she usually was. “This is Riley’s boyfriend Bryce, from high school.” Lizzy made a huge gesture that flew wide so her hand hit the wall and she winced in pain but didn’t say anything else, just pulled her hand back sharply.

Bryce.

Brad had heard about this kid. He looked older than them, by at least a couple years. He was tall already but next to Riley he towered. His jaw was square and his cheekbones wide, eyes thin and dim. His smile was weirdly cheerful, and didn’t reach far past his lips.

He stepped forward, one arm always around Riley’s shoulders, and held his arm out to Brad. “Nice to meet you, man. I’m Bryce.”

“Yeah, nice to meet you. I’m in the room next door.”

“His roommate?” Bryce’s eyes went to Estragon and Brad swallowed. The last thing he wanted was to be associated with Estragon.

“Yeah, luck of the draw, you know?”

Bryce smirked, Estragon seemed oblivious to the slight. “I get that.” Bryce laughed.

“Where are you studying?”

“Southeast Tech, I’m getting my M. Eng.”

“You’re in a grad program?” Brad looked at Riley, who looked utterly comfortable in Bryce’s arms. For a moment, he thought that it was okay, but then his eyes went to Lizzy who was chewing her lip and he knew something was off. Bryce didn’t answer Brad so he moved on, “SeTs a great school. How far is it?”

“An hour, ninety minutes. Not bad.” Brad nodded and swallowed. He was starting to feel nauseous again. Bryce took Riley’s hand and started toward the door, Brad lurched to get out of the way. “We’re gonna head out for the night, we’ll be back late.” Bryce said to the room, but he didn’t address anyone in particular.

Riley’s eyes went to Lizzy, “Could you maybe spend the night at Angela’s?” Riley asked.

Lizzy jumped and nodded, “Yeah – I already made plans.” Brad had never seen Lizzy look genuinely scared. But he couldn’t tell if she was scared for Riley, or just intimidated by the asshole Riley was dating. Brad could understand being intimidated, Bryce was twice his size. Brad wondered where Riley got her steroids and now he had an idea.

“Thanks!” Riley grinned.

Lizzy blurted out, “Wait!” And everyone became very quiet. “Where are you eating?” Lizzy asked with an overly optimistic smile.

“Who cares so long as it’s not the school cafeteria?” Riley asked.

Bryce chuckled, “Yeah, I think you’re taking freshmen fifteen with a little too much liberty, we’ll work on that.” Bryce’s hand moved to touch Riley lower on her back and Estragon looked away. Brad almost started to smile because he knew Riley would never let someone get away with a comment like this. Riley would tear this kid apart, no matter who he was. Brad almost felt excited for it, to see someone like this knocked down a peg.

Instead, Riley blushed. She looked down at the floor and mumbled, “Yeah, definitely.” And then Bryce waved goodbye and they were both gone. Brad watched the doorway quietly, trying to process exactly what happened.

“I looked him up,” Lizzy said, crossing to open her laptop. “Look at this,” She moved aside and Estragon and Brad both bent over the screen. There was Bryce, in a dozen photos with other girls, smoke filled basements, waving powder and ecstasy.

This guy is getting his masters in engineering?” Estragon asked.

“He’s four years older than us,” Lizzy added. “I think Riley’s making a mistake.”

“What – it’s not like he’s gonna hurt her more than he already has.” Brad scoffed. “Riley can find these photos as easily as you can. She’s kidding herself, she’ll grow out of it.”

“Just like you’ll grow out of it?” Lizzy asked, and Brad remembered he was sweaty and gaunt.

“It’s different.” Brad grunted.

“Maybe,” Estragon scoffed. Brad spun on him,

“You shut up!” Brad snarled, wrapping his hand into a fist. “You’re no better than me or Riley! You’re just as fucked in the head!”

“Brad!” Lizzy whined, her voice pitched brightly.

“I can’t stay here!” Brad groaned, clawing his hands through his hair. “I need to get out of here.” He pushed Estragon aside and stormed out of the room, but he didn’t make it down the hall before he fell to his knees. He put his hand flat on the wall and heaved.

“Brad?”

Brad shook his head and tried to climb to his feet as Estragon ran toward him. “Leave me alone!” He gasped.

“Brad-”

“Leave me alone!”

“No!”

“Leave it!” Brad twisted when Estragon’s hand touched his shoulder and he shoved him away. Estragon stumbled and hit the wall, but he didn’t advance again. Brad turned away and this time went for the stairs. No one came after him, so he sat down in the stairwell and leaned over, shaking, clutching his burning side.

VIII

Bryce took Riley to a bar and flirted with the waitress. They ate burgers but Riley only ate half of hers and then went to the bathroom and threw up. She hadn’t done this in months and something about purging again made her feel gross. But when she came back out Bryce had moved over to the lounge and he let her sit on his lap. He let his nails trace up her back and whispered in her ear that he was proud of her.

“I love you Preston, you’re incredible.” He murmured against her neck and Riley clutched his shoulders. She tried to remind herself that he had told half a dozen other girls this in the past few months. She knew he had, she had seen him do it for years.

There was something wonderful about her arrangement with Bryce, Riley thought. Friends with benefits, in a sense. But she still got to say she had a boyfriend, and he would sweet talk her and buy her things. Mostly, Riley thought, it at least gave them both the illusion of love.

Illusion of love. A physical infatuation.

That’s what Riley told herself she could have with Bryce. So, she wasn’t allowed to be upset when he commented on her weight, after all what was the point of a physical relationship if they weren’t physically attractive?

When Riley met Bryce, it was at a party in ninth grade. She had seen him once or twice, a senior. He helped the theatre department with their lighting rigs. He would kiss her in the catwalk and stay late when she was building sets. At the party, he did far more than kiss her, she was too breathless to ever tell him to stop. That week in school he asked her to come over and she said no. He said he knew how to make it less painful and so at his house over the weekend he gave her whiskey.

Initially, she was upset. When she found out about the other girls in Bryce’s life. But he explained to her that it was about pleasure, she couldn’t actually expect him to date a freshman. Riley agreed uncertainly and he said thanks for understanding and that night did something wonderful to her body after filling her with half a bottle of wine.

He went to college and things didn’t change, their meetings were just less frequent. They weren’t dating exactly but they also weren’t not dating. They met when they could, he would bring the alcohol and all she needed to bring was herself and they could both be happy. “You’re happy, right?” He would ask her, “You make me so happy, Riley Preston.”

Riley was usually too drunk to answer, trying to relax so he would hurt less inside her. He always said it hurt because she didn’t relax enough.

Riley told Bryce when she went to college that she wanted him to stay with her. He smiled and told her he was so happy she said that. He didn’t spin her around or kiss her or anything, that’s what her friend’s boyfriend did when they decided to go long distance. Bryce just ground himself against her hips and said he appreciated it.

When they went back to the dorm, Riley joked that she wouldn’t be surprised if Lizzy had forgotten to leave for the night. But the room was empty, and Riley felt a twinge of dismay for a moment. Bryce complained about college beds but then he was on top of her and Riley was ordering her tense muscles to relax, relax, relax.

IX

Estragon escorted Lizzy to Angela’s dorm and then went back to Goldright. He did some work for school and went to bed early. He was worried about Brad, not just about their fight or his attitude but because Brad had looked so ill. It must be the steroids, Estragon thought, they weren’t reacting well. Brad was swallowing pills and eating himself sick, but he didn’t seem to get whatever results he was looking for.

Estragon thought about Brad’s lean form and jutting bones. The weight in Riley’s hips and waist. Thinking of Riley made him remember Bryce, and as Estragon started to fall asleep he wondered if he ought to talk to Lizzy about it, he wondered if there was a way to help Riley and Brad be healthy. No matter how insufferable Brad might be.

Bryce was in his dreams. Bryce was that type of person, someone who filled the room. Not like Brad, who’s sheer personality made up for his small figure. Bryce was just height and muscle, an overwhelming voice and eyes that locked you in place.

But it wasn’t just his dreams. Something hit the wall from the other side and started to pull Estragon from sleep. He could only just make it out in the silence but it was Bryce and Riley, coming back for the night. Their bed up against the same wall, Estragon could hear them in the other room.

Oh-w, slow down, Bryce –”

“Shut up a sec, I’ll get you in a minute.”

“Just a minute, let me –”

Shut up, Riley!”

“Sorry,”

“Just … be good, okay? I’ll get you later.”

Estragon thought he would be sick. He rolled away from the wall and their voices faded. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. It was one in the morning, Estragon didn’t know where Brad had gotten to. He hoped he was okay. At least, he hoped Brad wasn’t dead.

That would be problematic.

Estragon climbed out of bed and went to his desk. He glanced once at Brad’s desk but shook off the notion, instead unpacking his own kit. No sooner had he laid his pens out than the door slammed open and Estragon nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned around to look at Brad who glowered at him.

In the silence between them, Brad went to his desk and put a gentle hand on his side, wincing.

“It’s your liver.” Estragon said. Brad didn’t answer, just rifled through his desk. He pulled out a huge ream of papers and tossed them aside, finally finding a bottle of Advil. “Steroids can hurt your liver.” Estragon added while Brad knocked back his pill, whether it was actually Advil Estragon didn’t know. He thought it probably was, if Brad’s strained expression and clenched jaw were an indication of his pain. “If you need help, you can tell me. I don’t have to like you to take you to the hospital.”

“I’ll be fine, man!” Brad snapped, “Let it go!”

“You could be dying!” Estragon erupted. “I mean – you’re probably not but they aren’t even working! Protein supplements and steroids aren’t going to help you, they’re killing you! Look at yourself!”

“You stay out of my life!” Brad spun around and stepped forward. “I told you earlier to leave me alone!”

“If not for me then do it for yourself!” Estragon pleaded, “I don’t want to find my roommate dead on the bathroom floor in the morning!”

“You don’t get to say shit about being my roommate!” Brad growled. “You don’t get to be close to me! You’re a messed up freak with a weird name and no life – I mean even here you’re weird! Who the fuck majors in glassblowing?”

Estragon clenched his teeth, “Schools not a part of this man, but even then! At least I’m pursuing something! You’re too scared to even pick a major! You’re wasting your parent’s money on drugs and classes you don’t care about! And all because you’re scared!”

“I’m not scared!” Brad snarled.

“No?” Estragon stepped closer to him, which he thought might be a mistake. But he thought if he was going to calm Brad then he had to do his. He reached across the desk and grabbed a handful of paper. “What about this?” Estragon lifted his hand and brandished the ream, Brad’s eyes dilated. “This is your poetry, this is what got you into Whitethorn but you won’t major in it because you know it makes you vulnerable and you’re scared to-”

Brad’s fist swung in a wide arc and Estragon dropped to the floor. Brad didn’t hit him, Estragon heard his fist whistle past his head. From his crouched position Estragon thrust his head forward and butted Brad in the stomach. Brad made an oof sound and his fingers scrabbled over Estragon’s back, seeking purchase. Estragon pulled back and Brad swung at him again. Estragon caught his arm and they grappled there for a moment, struggling to gain the advantage. Brad took his other hand and this time he hit Estragon in the cheek. Estragon lifted his leg into Brad’s ribcage, trying to get high enough in his side to hit his liver. It must have worked because Brad let go abruptly. Estragon shoved him and he fell back on the bed. Estragon flung the papers down, breathing hard, and they scattered across the floor. Then he held his hands up and retreated toward the door.

“You don’t want me worrying about you?” Estragon laughed, “Fine, take care of yourself.” Estragon left the door open behind him. The last he saw of Brad he was still sprawled on the bed, clutching his side, hoarse and searching for breath.

X

Lizzy heard the bed crack and Estragon and Brad shouting. Then she saw Estragon storm out of their room and stalk down the hall in the opposite direction. She thought about calling out to him but didn’t, instead she paced silently to their open doorway.

Brad was lying on Estragon’s bed, a hand hovering over his ribs. Lizzy swallowed and stepped inside. Papers lined the floor. Brad was still struggling to breathe and Lizzy bent down to pick up one of the pages. There were some things crossed out, the script was a neat, tight cursive.

I wake up to the sound of bells.

An angel peeks from underneath her blanket.

I mirror its dragging rise,

Straighten my crumpled wings. 

I brush my hair, smooth it down,

Forgetting about the angel,

In her golden coat.

I walk – talk,

And once in a while an invisible wing,

Will slice across my back –

Shivers on bare bone.

“This is amazing,” Lizzy said softly, Brad gulped and stared at her, tears sparking on the edges of his eyes. “This is amazing, Brad. I didn’t know you could write like this.”

Brad shook his head, “Don’t bother with it,” he croaked. “That one’s old.”

“Is this what your portfolio was?” She asked, gesturing to the papers. “To come to Whitethorn? The arts portfolio you submit?”

Brad sat up and looked at his feet which swung on the end of the bed. He didn’t say anything but eventually nodded. Lizzy knelt and picked up another paper, this one was shorter, the page crisp. When her hand ran over the ink she found it soft and wet, written with a fountain pen. He had written this recently.

Admire when you come here, the lips of kiss and swell, the pitted peach hollowness of empty words and swollen secrets.

The rancid aftertaste of all those unsaid thoughts that died on your tongue and made your throat a graveyard.

Analyze the way that strangers are not so strangers, the recognition of similar left cheek dimples, and gapped front teeth, and smiles strewn across city blocks that make them double take around every corner.

Savor the looks cast during battles in the kitchen, where seeds that grew to uproot entire relationships were sewn.

Grasp the enormity of experience and bathe in it, scrub the raw moments into your skin, all the matted hair, and crooked smiles, and sweaty palms.

Admire when you come here, the lips of kiss and swell.

“Why aren’t you studying poetry?” Lizzy asked. Brad’s breath had calmed and he shook his head.

“I can’t – I can’t show that stuff to another person.” Brad said, “An admissions officer is one thing, but if I have to – to own up to it. It’s different.” Lizzy almost reached for another poem, but instead she let the two she was holding fall to the floor.

“Brad, I know putting your work out there is scary but we’ve all done it – we all took that step.”

“It’s different!” Brad bristled. “My poetry – I’m not acting out someone else’s story or taking on someone’s character. I’m – my poetry is -”

Brad’s voice broke and Lizzy stepped forward, ducking under the canopy to sit next to him. “It’s part of you,” Lizzy said, “I get that.”

Brad shook his head. Lizzy watched a bead of sweat slide down his temple and knew he must be in pain. She wondered if Estragon had hit him. “It’s more than that Lizzy. What if I put it out there –”

“Brad,” Lizzy interrupted him and he stopped abruptly. His eyes were wild and scared. “Every kid at this school put themselves out there. And every artist gets rejected at some point. You can’t expect everyone to like your work, but this –” Lizzy gestured to the poetry strewn on the floor, “This is incredible work. This is reality and insecurity in metaphor. This is work the world needs to see.”

Brad shook his head, “It’s not.” He said.

“Of course it is.” Lizzy stood up and picked up a paper that had fluttered next to the leg of the desk chair. She smoothed it out and began to read. At first her voice was soft and a protest started on Brad’s lips but she held her hand up to silence him.

There was a little girl wearing a sundress stained with purple popsicle, her sandals had ladybugs on the straps and she kept arranging fallen leaves to look like butterflies.

There was a billboard that sprouted from the ground like a great beast and proclaimed “THIS IS REAL,”

I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t.

There was sound but I forgot what it was because I never really knew, only that it was very loud and made me jump when I heard it.

There was a boy with a voice like new leather and a taste for bad timing, three thousand miles between us and more moments than I could ever count.

There was a heart and it taught me to understand the metronome in my chest, and it said,

 “Happiness Depends Upon Ourselves”

When Lizzy was done, Brad put his head in his hands. Lizzy read the poem again silently. Then she said, “Aristotle said that.”

Brad looked up at her and said, “You know that?”

Lizzy nodded, “When I was in high school I did a paper about Aristotle’s elements of theatre.”

“Oh,”

“Brad, you wrote it down right here. Happiness depends upon ourselves. You can’t keep hiding behind an undeclared major, you’re not even enjoying yourself. You need to pick yourself up, you need to put in the work and …” Lizzy hesitated and said, “You need to learn to love yourself.”

Brad scoffed and turned away. “I’m serious!” Lizzy pressed, “You hate yourself so much that you’re destroying yourself, and I get that Brad! I get it!” Lizzy stepped forward but Brad didn’t look at her. She put a hand out, she didn’t know what she intended to do but finally just grasped his arm. “I hate myself too, sometimes.” Brad sneered. “You need to learn to respect yourself before anyone else will respect you.” Lizzy whispered. “You have to be strong enough to stand for yourself when no one else will.” Brad didn’t say anything. Lizzy gently placed the poem down on the bed.

“Brad,” Lizzy whispered in the ensuing silence and the darkness out the window swaddled them. “If nothing else, let me take you to the hospital.”

Brad, pale and ragged, eyes vacant, limbs shaking, nodded.

XI

It took them two and a half hours before anyone came to talk to them in the ER. By then the sun was rising, the nurse insisted Brad get in a wheelchair and they took him and Lizzy to an examination room. Brad tried to say he had the flu but Lizzy started to talk over him,

“He uses anabolic steroids.” The doctor didn’t have any particular reaction to this but asked for a urine sample and declared that Brad had drug-induced hepatitis.

“Is there a treatment?” Brad asked, wasn’t hepatitis permanent or something?

“Yes, stop taking anabolic steroids.” The doctor said plainly. The way she said it irritated Brad. They gave him painkillers and cautioned Lizzy not to let him overdo it. They also gave him a condescending list of the side-effects of drug use with the optimistic slogan at the bottom: Say no to drugs!

It looked like something Lizzy would make.

Lizzy parked back on campus and for a while they both sat silently in the car. Brad reflected that the last time he had been in a car like this, it was in high school. He’d been in the backseat with Sadie Jordans after prom.

That felt like a lifetime ago. A weird lifetime of stereotypes and classic high school experiences. Until he took his clothes off and Sadie poked his ribs and his scrawny legs and laughed at him.

Lizzy sipped on a cup of coffee she had gotten at the hospital that she complained tasted gross. After a while she said, “What are you gonna do about your poetry?”

“I don’t know,” Brad said.

“And the steroids?”

“I don’t know.”

Lizzy didn’t push him. She just said, “I think you should stop using the drugs, and declare your major in poetry.”

“Thanks for the input.” Brad said. But neither of them got out of the car.

Lizzy said, “I mean it. Your poetry is incredible.” She looked at him and for a moment Brad imagined kissing her. Climbing into the backseat and trying everything again with someone who understood.

Then the moment passed, and Lizzy opened her door blasting them with cold air. Brad scrambled to get out of the car and they walked side by side back to Goldright. He didn’t try to hold her hand or kiss her cheek, he didn’t want that right now. He just wanted someone who said exactly what she had said.

I get it, now let me take you to the hospital.

And right now he didn’t want any more than that. Brad let their silence be enough.

XII

Riley woke up when dawn was leaking through the window and Bryce was pressing against her again. She let him finish and then climbed out of bed and changed. Bryce pulled on the same jeans and shirt he wore the day before.

“I miss having you close by,” Bryce said in her ear, wrapping his arms around her waist. The way he did it locked Riley’s arms by her side, so she couldn’t move.

“Me too,” Riley said quietly. For half a second she felt safe in his arms, but then he stepped away and the moment was gone. “I’ll walk you to your car,” She said, reluctant to see him go. Bryce nodded and they left the room together. Outside, the sun was rising on a cold yellow morning and the air smelled like snow. They walked right past Lizzy and Brad who both looked haggard and worn, like they’d been up all night. Riley sort of made eye contact with them but then got distracted by Bryce,

“Sucks you have to be in school with all these loser art kids,” Bryce said.

“Yeah,” Riley agreed softly.

“I mean, are any of them normal?” He scoffed, “It’s like they’re made of anxiety, inside jokes, and pot.” Riley didn’t say how accurate that assessment was. Bryce didn’t wait for her answer.

“Alright hey, I’ll see you in a month? At Christmas?”

“Yeah,” Riley nodded and let Bryce kiss her rough and heavy and wet. Then he went to the parking lot and climbed into his car, a red clunker that sputtered. He didn’t look back at her as he left and Riley walked back to the dorm thinking she should have brought a jacket. Lizzy was waiting for her in the lobby.

“Hi, Riley!” Lizzy hurried forward when she saw Riley and smiled unconvincingly. “How was your night?”

“Nice,” Riley said cautiously, “What about you? I saw you with Brad, did you two …?”

“No,” Lizzy laughed. “We just … I took him to the hospital.” Riley sort of started and looked at her.

“Oh,”

“He has hepatitis.”

Hepatitis?”

“From the steroids.”

Riley turned away and scuffed her feet on the floor. Lizzy made a vague motion with her hands.

“I wanted to ask … if you would stop selling to him.”

Riley ought to say no, but she had seen herself that the drugs weren’t working. They were just making Brad sick. “Yeah, uh, sure.”

“And, um, how was Bryce?”

“Fine, good.”

Lizzy fidgeted and Riley squinted at the doors.

“Do you love him … Bryce, I mean?” Lizzy asked.

Riley thought about it for a moment. She wanted to say no because she felt she was supposed to say no. If the nature of their relationship was physical, incremental, then she ought to say no. But Riley didn’t date other people so she said, “yes.”

No sooner had she said it than Lizzy blurted out, “I think you should break up with him.”

Riley stared at Lizzy who bit her lip and stubbornly held her ground. “I don’t think he’s good for you,”

“How would you know?” Riley sneered.

“I – he’s a lot older than you and I think -”

“That doesn’t matter,” Riley turned away, heading for the stairwell.

“I think you’re going to get hurt,” Lizzy said, “Going on like this. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

Riley shook her head and didn’t answer, she took the stairs two at a time.

XIII

Estragon came back to the dorm in the late morning. He figured that would have given Brad enough time to cool down. He entered in the bustle of kids heading off for eleven AM classes and thought it a strange contrast to the charged tension in the air last night.

He found Brad asleep on the top bunk, his poetry organized on top of the desk. Estragon looked at his still form, deep in sleep, and felt anger fill his stomach. This kid was so – so arrogant. Too shy to show his feelings, too insecure to take care of himself. And yet, harsh enough to claim ownership of the room, to pull off this twisted, broken exterior. The longer Estragon looked at Brad the angrier he became. When Brad snorted awake and started to sit up and looked at him Estragon had half determined to finish last night’s fight.

Brad’s legs hung off the bed and he folded his hands. He looked at the floor and then, just as Estragon determined to yell, Brad said, “Sorry.”

Estragon hesitated. Brad didn’t say anything else. He just kept not looking at him. Estragon waited a moment and then said, “You know, I came here to get away from people like you?” Brad’s eyes stayed glued to the ground, “People who threw punches first and talked second? You know every day back home people made fun of my name and my passion for art and I came to this school just to get away from that! Do you know how shitty it feels to have your only friend be your family?”

Estragon stopped himself and tried to gather his thoughts. He didn’t want to start crying, he wanted to hold his ground and finally speak for once in his life and have someone listen to him.

Brad said, “I know, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry I made fun of your name, and I’m sorry I mocked your major. I was an ass, Estragon. I want to make things better.”

“What if it’s too late?” Estragon yelled, “You’re just like everyone else and I don’t need to put up with it anymore! I’m gonna move out.”

“No!” Brad gasped and squeezed his eyes shut. “Don’t – please. Give me a chance, Estragon, let me make this up to you!”

Estragon looked at Brad whose eyes were dark and pleading. He wore a crisp white shirt that glowed in the morning light.

“I know I hurt you!” Brad pressed, jumping off the bed. He came toward Estragon somewhat wildly, tension pulsing in his expression. “Just give me a chance, man. Just, an hour! Why don’t we go to lunch?”

Estragon didn’t look at Brad’s face, at his sharp jaw and wide cheekbones. He shuffled his feet and said, “Okay, fine. One hour.”

Brad grinned and gestured to the door. “Perfect! Let’s get KFC!”

Estragon almost didn’t say anything. But then he figured this was Brad’s attempt at them getting along so he confessed, “I don’t like KFC.”

Brad sighed.

XIV

Lizzy went to the cafeteria with Riley for lunch. Riley didn’t ask her to but she didn’t get mad when Lizzy trailed after her either. They passed Brad and Estragon on their way off campus but the boys didn’t acknowledge them, probably because Riley looked so angry.

They ate in silence and then, as soon as Riley had swallowed her last bite she shoved her chair back and walked away. Lizzy hurried after her and stopped when Riley ducked into the bathroom. Lizzy hesitated but then went inside.

There was no one else in the bathroom. One stall was locked and inside Lizzy could hear Riley puking. Lizzy took a deep breath and said.

“It’s gonna be okay.”

Riley heaved again and Lizzy stepped closer to the stall door. She hoped no one would come in. “This isn’t good for you.” Lizzy hesitated, “He’s not good for you.”

Lizzy heard Riley panting and a tart scent filled the bathroom. Emboldened by the fact that Riley had stopped, Lizzy continued: “He doesn’t care about you as much as you care about him.”

“You don’t know that!” Riley snapped, her voice muffled. Lizzy could imagine Riley holding the edge of her shirt to her mouth, wondered if the toilet paper dispenser was empty.

“Riley, he’ll never care about you the same way.” Lizzy said.

“He’s the only thing I have!”

Riley was crying now, deep sobs reverberated against the tile. Lizzy said, “That’s not true. You have … you have me, and Brad and Estragon.”

“Great!” Riley coughed, “Loser arts kids, lucky me.” Even after she said it Lizzy knew those weren’t Riley’s words. They were Bryce’s, his influence poisoning her mind and destroying her body, cutting her down so he could build her back up in all the wrong ways.

“Riley!” Lizzy let her voice raise, frustrated at her roommate’s refusal to listen.

“Lizzy!” Riley shot back, “Just leave me alone, take care of yourself! We don’t need to be friends; we can just be roommates!”

Lizzy was quiet for a moment. Riley had just opened the door for her to walk away, to absolve herself of any guilt in Riley’s state. For their future to be just, yeah she’s my roommate –pretty messed up if you ask me. Brad’s rushed excuse, luck of the draw.

“Riley, open the door.”

Riley’s voice shook, “I can’t.”

“Please, open the door.”

Lizzy heard shuffling on the other side and then silence. Then Riley said, “I can’t not be with him, Lizzy.”

“But-”

“What if I can’t do it? What if I can’t get over him? What if I have to live the rest of my life wanting him?”

Lizzy shifted her weight and said, “You have to take that chance.”

Riley spluttered and a high-pitched kind of whine came through the stall door. Lizzy waited, hardly daring to breathe. She had to make this okay, she wasn’t going to lose Riley when there was every opportunity to save her.

The door opened then, and Riley stood in front of Lizzy. Eyes puffy and hands shaking, face sheeted with sweat.

“If you … if you ever need someone.” Lizzy started but then didn’t know how to finish. Riley nodded and stepped out of the bathroom stall. She crossed to the sink to wash her hands. Lizzy watched her wipe water across her face and said. “He’s missing out.”

Riley laughed and Lizzy hurried forward, “I’m serious. You can’t force him to love you, or care about you in the same way. You lost someone who didn’t care, and he’s lost someone who cared the most.”

Riley laughed harder and this time it was a happy sound and there were tears in her eyes. “Do you spend your whole day looking at Tumblr quotes, Lizzy?”

Lizzy followed Riley out of the bathroom, “No, I also watch makeup tutorials on Instagram.”

 XV

We sat in that room for hours and like so many before us spilled everything inside ourselves until I swore I was stills of myself running down the walls. All chardonnay haze and weighted breaths and fluorescent lights illuminating the bags under your halfway there eyes.

That’s how they always were, halfway there. Never wholly mine to keep, except for in the moments filled with bedsheets and flushed palms and your fingertips molding my flesh into something you could harden with heat and keep on the shelf.

Burning me so you could contain me. Light a fire and watch me melt into myself so you wouldn’t have to deal with broken edges.

And I loved that you saw art in everything you touched, I just didn’t know that becoming your muse would leave me dancing alone in a room to a song we’d once composed together.

I woke up in the morning wrapped in you, your dependable breathing; I didn’t move for thirty minutes because you were so vulnerable. For once you’d let all your walls come falling down and I was free to observe the streak of sunlight in the hairs that framed your face, and the hills of your cheeks.

We were all bedroom eyes, and heady confessions, and loud voices in echoing rooms, but all I ever wanted was thirty more minutes in a quiet place with you.

These winters in youth with you will be remembered even in the depths of our summer sun and your cerulean sunrise in autumn.

-Bradley Wake, Whitethorn Academy literary magazine Jan. 2018

XVI

It was snowing when they sent Brad out to get lunch. He drew the short straw in rock, paper, scissors and grumbled the whole way out of Goldright. Riley and Lizzy lounged in the room, swapping papers back and forth.

“This is amazing, Riley!” Lizzy gawked at Riley’s costume sketch.

“I can’t make it myself, but one of the girls in my class can,” Riley explained.

“I love it!” Lizzy squealed, “Wait, can I check the lighting cues again?” Riley dug around for her script and passed it. From the bottom bunk Estragon moaned quietly.

Riley laughed, “He’s coming soon,”

“Not fast enough,” Estragon grumbled, “I haven’t eaten since last night.”

“I feel like that’s your fault.” Riley mumbled.

A moment later the door burst open and Brad stumbled inside, balancing a precarious stack of boxes in his arms. “Okay!” Brad grinned at them, “I got the food!” Estragon almost tackled Brad in his haste. Brad lurched and managed to throw a box at Riley.

Riley tore open the box and tried not to be disappointed by the white rice inside. “Brad, could you give me some actual food?”

“Yeah, if Estragon would –” Brad grunted and Lizzy cheered when she caught a box of noodles. Estragon finally settled back with his chicken and Brad collapsed into the desk chair, glaring at his roommate. “We’re not gonna run out of food, man.”

“I don’t know,” Riley said behind a mouthful of noodles. “Lizzy eats enough for three people.”

“Umm, I’m not the one who had an eating disorder that literally included binging.” Lizzy giggled.

“Fine,” Riley smirked, “You let Brad sneak off all the food to try and gain weight.”

“Riley – you’re blowing my cover!” Brad whined and Lizzy fell into giggles.

“You two are so hopeless!” She laughed.

“Arts students, hopeless?” Riley asked, “Could’ve fooled me.”

Estragon perked up from the bed, he crouched around his food like a predator determined to protect it. “Speak for yourself,” Estragon chuckled, “The arts kids I meet are always really happy.”

“That’s because they’re stoned,” Brad cut in.

“Come on, Brad.” Riley laughed, “We both walked away from that. And? Are you happy?”

Brad thought about it for a moment and then said, “Yes, I’m happy. You know, now that the hepatitis is cleared up – my doctor was such a bitch.”

“She was trying to get you off illegal drugs, what did you expect her to do?” Estragon grumbled.

“I mean, she could’ve shared a blunt or something – ya know?”

When they laughed, Riley felt a deep warmth in her chest, one that cut to the edges of her fingertips and the crown of her head. When she first felt it she used to compare it to what Bryce could do, but it didn’t take long to realize how different this was. This was innocent, this was unadulterated and real.

“So, what next?” Brad asked, eying Estragon. “What do we do, now that we are happy?”

Estragon smiled and looked down. Riley wondered if Brad was just teasing Estragon at forcing him to read Beckett, or if he really wanted an answer.

Silence absorbed them. The blizzard made the windowpane shudder, the frigid air and grey clouds outside turned campus white.

The End

-Grace T, February 2017

Poem 1: “Lemon Angel” by Jule Schretzmeir (modified with permission)

Poem 2: “Admire” by Peri Brimley

Poem 3: Untitled by Peri Brimley (modified with permission)

Poem 4: “Mo(u)rning” by Peri Brimley (modified with permission)