IAA #5: Flashbacks usually don’t work

Indie Author Answers, Episode 5!!!

 

Continuing the critique of The Problematic Virtue:

4: Alex

 

Alex and Brian exited the dorm, and walked towards the Hill for a real meal. After half a week of grease-laden cafeteria food, Alex knew he would not want to make eating it a daily occurrence. He wanted to avoid the legendary Freshman Fifteen, if possible.

The sun had set behind the Flatirons, lighting the clouds in hues of pink and orange. Lately the evenings had grown colder, signaling the impending arrival of autumn. Winter would soon follow, and that meant snowboard season. Keystone’s terrain park and fresh powder days at Breckenridge were among Alex’s principal reasons for living. He tried to guess if Brian skied or snowboarded. It had not come up yet, but the distinction between the two spoke volumes about a person.

“You wanna catch a movie tonight?” Alex said.

“I can’t, I have to go down to Denver later to do some stuff.”

“You want me to go with you?”

“No,” Brian said. “It’s best if you don’t.”

“Oh, um, okay.” Alex examined Brian’s face for an explanation but found nothing. Brian only button the bottom two buttons of his open flannel shirt, himself apparently feeling the coolness of the night air. “What’s up with the flannel?”

Brian looked down at the plaid shirt and white t-shirt combo. “I don’t know what you mean. It’s a shirt.”

“Grunge ended about five years ago, dude.”

Brian laughed. “I guess I just like it. I sometimes forget that I attach meaning to empty things. When you got a thing that works, you know…”

“Alright,” Alex said. “I can buy that. Kinda goes with your hippie hair.”

Brian touched his ponytail. “Don’t knock it. The ladies love it.”

“Hey, are you a senior?” Alex said.

“Well,” Brian said. “If I bust my ass, I can be done in a year or so, but at this point, I’m not sure. I usually end up dropping a class each semester, which just prolongs everything. I always sign up for fifteen hours but end up with twelve. I guess you could say I’m on a five year plan.”

Alex did not understand, because college degrees were supposed to take four years. That was what he had always heard. He wanted to ask Brian more about this, but feared exposing his ignorance, so he changed the topic. “I’m kinda surprised how small a lot of the classrooms are. I guess I thought from movies that the classes were like those giant stadium rooms where the professor is a little dot down at the bottom.”

“No doubt,” Brian said, “I’ve had a couple of those kinds of classes, but normally, it’s just like high school with crappy little desks and an ancient chalkboard at the front.”

“Do you know where Health Sciences is? I have an eight o’clock there tomorrow.”

Brian motioned back towards the dorm. “Sure, if you take a left from Chey-Ho, three buildings down and across the green. It’s the big brown one. Easy to spot; it’s the only stone building in the middle of a bunch of brick ones.”

“You know, the Masons built all these buildings,” Alex said. “I read about it online. There’s tons of information about it, if you know where to go. They’re in deep with the CU board-of-whatever that runs things here.”

“The who?” Brian said.

For the first time, something Alex knew that Brian did not. “The Freemasons. The Illuminati. The people who are really running our government and all the newspapers and stuff. They have their little fingers in everything, making us think that they don’t. Cause and effect shit.”

A mosquito landed on Alex’s forearm, and he swatted it with the palm of his hand. Brian frowned at the squish mark on Alex’s arm. Brian did not seem to have anything to add, so Alex switched gears again. “I guess I need a map or something.”

“You can actually get one at the U. But a little tip: next semester, don’t take any eights. Sleep in a little.”

“It’s just what my advisor picked. He told me since I’m not ready to declare, that I need to take this gen-ed and that gen-ed. I was like, whatever.”

“Did you like your advisor?”

Alex thought about it. “He’s just some old bald dude. He was alright, I guess. He’s one of those guys who winks a lot.”

“That’s kinda creepy.”

“I know, right? But I met with him for about ten minutes, and he barely looked at me. ‘Sign this, sign that’, stamp the thing and then send me on my way.”

Brian acknowledged this with a stoic nod. “That guy is way more powerful than you realize because he has complete control over your college career. Everything you do at this school is dependent on his little signature on a piece of paper. Get to know him. Don’t be just a number to that guy.”

Alex took it all in, realizing that he knew little about college life. Exciting, but also overwhelming. He had no older brothers to supply him these details and his father never told him much of anything about higher learning.

Brian stopped walking, considering something. Alex paused with him, waiting in anticipation. Brian wagged a finger. “This is important,” he said. “Know the drop date for each one of your classes. Mark it on a calendar. Don’t forget. If you don’t think you can handle a class, drop it. A ‘W’ is way better than failing. Your GPA is everything and it stays with you forever.”

Alex tried to appear unaffected, as if Brian’s lessons were common knowledge. He imitated Brian’s stoic nod.

“Drop dates,” Brian said again. “Seriously.”

“You got a girlfriend?” Alex said.

Brian chewed on the statement as they approached the crosswalk. Brian pressed the button and they waited. “I do, but it’s kinda complicated.”

“I see. That’s not any of my business.”

“Oh, no, it’s not like that. It’s just… we’ve been off and on for a couple years… pretty much since freshman year. Sometimes we are, sometimes we’re not; it gets a little confusing. We had a thing last year when I thought we were on, and she thought we were off, and she hooked up with a guy from my floor.”

“She cheats on you. That sucks, dude.”

“Well, like I said, it’s complicated. We were pretty much together all summer, since we both stayed here for summer classes. You should see how this place thins out from June to August. I like it better in the summertime. But anyway, things have been pretty good since the summer.”

“I had a girlfriend in Denver,” Alex said. “But she went off to Stanford, and we were going to do the whole long-distance thing, but a couple days before she left, I was at this party, and I got shit-faced drunk and kissed her best friend. Big fight in front of everybody. That was that with her.”

“That’s a bummer. My girl’s pretty chill, for the most part. There was this one time, I was at a party up in Lefthand canyon, and a bunch of people there were eating beans…”

“Beans?”

“Ecstasy, you ever tried it?”

Alex shook his head.

“It’s pretty heavy. I don’t mess with the hard stuff, usually. Anyway, I wasn’t rolling, but a bunch of them were, and stuff happens, you know? I hooked up with these two sorority girls, and I wasn’t even actually going after them, but Ecstasy makes people do some crazy stuff. Of course, Heather found out about it. And to make it worse, she knew them, and, naturally, these two were… I don’t know, her archenemies or some girl-stuff like that. She took it all personally and I had a hard time fixing that one.”

Did he just say what I thought he said?

Brian continued: “I mean, looking back on it, I made a mistake, and if I could undo it, I would. I’m not like some big player or anything; I had never done anything like that before. But what’s done is–”

“Wait, did you say girls,” Alex interrupted, “as in more than one of them? At the same time?”

“Well, like I said, they were eating beans…”

Alex, still confused, did not see what Ecstasy had to do with a threesome. “But…”

Brian laughed and slapped Alex on the back. “Welcome to college, kid.”

 

***

 

Alex sat on the step of the dorm; smoking (for the first time) a clove cigarette and watching people go about their college lives. The clove tasted like incense, and he found it gross but smoked the brown stick anyway. The campus seemed so vibrant, even at night. People walked along the paths, to and from evening classes, to and from dorms. The sights and sounds reminded him of summer camps he had attended as a kid… so strange to live in the place where you also go to school, like a commune. Just one of the many oddities of newfound college life of Alex’s first week.

Three days before, saying goodbye to his parents, his mother’s lip had begun to quiver, and her eyes shone like glass as they filled up with tears. Alex checked his peripheral vision to see if anyone nearby was watching. He wanted to tell her to relax, Highlands Ranch was just a half hour from Boulder and that he would see her all the time. But he knew that would be a lie; he imagined he would come home to do laundry and maybe an occasional meal when he needed to ask for money, but he relished the idea of being free of living under their roof and their rules. So close to independence that he could almost taste it. Besides, he was angry with them for forgetting to bring his favorite bed sheets.

As Alex watched his parents’ shiny black Lexus SUV leaving the parking lot, for the first time in his life, he experienced a new kind of freedom. Strange, but so full of promise. He wanted to crack open a beer and invite the first hot girl in proximity back up to his dorm room. Then it occurred to him that he had no idea where to get beer. That presented a serious challenge. He even lacked a car for beer runs since he had totaled the last one. Buddying up to Brian would probably help with that problem, as Brian was almost twenty-one.

Alex spent a few minutes observing a group of two guys and a girl, kicking a hacky sack back and forth between them. The girl had dreadlocks, an earth-toned ankle-length dress and hemp choker necklace. Hippies had never been his type. However, since he had not had sex in several weeks, he was enjoying the girl’s breasts– unencumbered by a bra– as they bounced with each kick of the hacky sack. He might have to try dating a hippie… college being about new experiences, and all.

Along one of the concrete paths came Brian, racing toward the dorm, his cellphone against his ear. “Miguel,” he said into the phone, “please call me when you get this. We need to talk about what just happened. I need to know that you’re okay.”

Seeming not to notice Alex, Brian hurried up the steps. Alex reached out and grabbed Brian’s ankle before he could pass. “Hey dude,” Alex said, “did you not see me here?”

Brian lowered the phone, and stared at Alex. Brian’s vast brown eyes radiated distress and he looked lost, like a man waking up in a strange bed. A bead of sweat cascaded then dripped from Brian’s forehead onto his cheek.

“Are you okay?” Alex said.

“I don’t… I can’t… I’m sorry, Alex, I can’t do this right now.”

“You can’t do what? What’s going on?”

“I can’t talk about it right now.” Brian turned and went into the building, leaving Alex with no answers. Alex watched the door close, then turned his eyes away from this most recent oddity, and back to the bouncy-breasted hippie.

 

 

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