It's the three of us: Naomi, queen of problem sets and keg stands; Yara, wannabe director, actual drug dealer; and me, future M.D. unless the system breaks me. A third of our freshman class entered in some kind of pre-med track; after four days a week with 7 AM chem or bio from the dullest profs the college could hire, survival of the fittest has whittled it to a fifth of our class.
I'm still hanging in there, but Yara sometimes mentions adding two more to our crew to keep the pre-med proportions right and when she does, there's a good chance Naomi will say something about three-fifths and give me this look.
If we've been drinking it's hilarious like Chappelle's Show, but if we're not it's just sad and awkward, like explaining Key & Peele's magical negro sketch.
I'm about to lose faith in Jessabeth the waitress, but a timely refill of margaritas and bottomless chips and salsa keep her in Naomi's good graces, and Naomi's picking up the tab (with her mom's AmEx).
And oh God, when I think there can't be a more bittersweet moment, when we're laughing till we're crying and refusing to consider how this summer we'll be bound only by FaceTime and Instagram, Naomi slips and mentions Levi.
It's how I imagine a stained glass window would melt in an inferno: searing heat, crackling glass, the vibrant colors pooling together and hardening, a warped lump once beautiful.
Yara's face scrunches up. She's trying not to cry for real this time, and Naomi looks down and we're conspicuously quiet. Jessabeth checks in, but probably because her waitress senses are tingling and she's worried we realized we don't have enough cash to cover three rounds of margaritas and counting.
One of us should say something, break up the mood before we all descend into memories of the great night that turned into a bad morning.
I know I should say something, but I can't.
I remember sickly-sweet vodka, flavors manufactured to market to teen girls. Cake and cotton candy; didn’t even need a chaser.
Bailey was there and I tried to play it cool, tried to make my way over to him gradually. He was all suburban prep: J. Crew closet, lacrosse scholarship, poli sci and econ double major. Such a vanilla choice, but he captivated me with that orthodontia-perfect smile and New England charm.
He offered to make a s'mores shot in my mouth, and when we finally kissed the cigarette smoke on his lips made me taste campfires and cool nights.
We all left and stumbled through the freshman quad, everything in soft focus and blurred to perfection.
Yara and Levi slipped away. I watched them go, her hip pressing into his thigh and his arm around her shoulders, their silhouette illuminated.
Naomi and I made it to the frat house, the bass thumping, a beacon for the wasted. I don't remember much other than Bailey's hands against my hips, furtive kisses tasting less like smoke, more like sweat. I woke up in his bed the next morning, and we didn’t kiss or cuddle.
I don’t even remember my first time.
Maybe I should be more upset about what happened and why we haven't spoken since, but I don't want to think about it, and if you don't think about things they can't make you upset.
I went back to our room, walk of shame mercifully short. Yara was single and heartbroken. Naomi had spilled coffee all over my floor trying to juggle my hot pot and french press.
At least she wasn’t injured, she pointed out. At least I was here, the subtext. And the evidence: Yara’s blotchy cheeks streaked with tears. She shook with sobs and choked it out: how Levi’d confessed he loved her, but thought he was in love with a girl from her film class.
And I couldn’t say why or what happened, because what would I say? Why would I take the comfort Yara needed more than I did?
"I don't want to talk about him," Yara says, dragging a chip around the perimeter of the salsa bowl, and I know how she feels although I can't tell her why.
"I'm sorry,” Naomi replies. “Guys are assholes. Especially that one."
"Where are you working again this summer?" I turn to Yara. She's told me half a dozen times in the last week but her gray eyes light up, eager to think or talk about anything other than Levi, her first real boyfriend. Her first real ex.
"The community theater at my hometown. They're letting me do some of the programming for the youth performance camp," Yara sips on her margarita. "Oh, and my job from last year. It's so much easier to sell pills there, you have no idea."
A month into summer and the three of us have talked less than I thought we would. A text here or there, maybe a Snapchat. No phone calls, no FaceTime, no sound other than the static of friendships on hold. We communicate through pixels.
I try to convince myself that I don't feel abandoned, just neglected when Yara texts me from work. Golden arches leer at me in her photo.
Making bank. 1st brunch on me as thx. xoxoxo.
One day I'll tell her things I remember about that night. How I saw a couple wrapped up in each other, backlit by hazy possibility and walking into the future together. How I wanted that moment, to be so caught in it I didn’t know it was happening, dizzy in love and invincible in ignorance, unaware that anyone could hurt you.
Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Matt Crump