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The first snow along the Colorado Front Range came a few days before Halloween, as per usual. Alex and Brian had sneaked onto the roof of the dorm, something that Alex had to persuade Brian to do because initially, Brian had whined about the consequences of breaking the rules, being the RA and all. Brian eventually relented and they hustled up the service stairs at warp speed just in case some handyman or student (with an over-developed sense of justice) decided to yell at them.
The flakes were falling thicker and heavier now than earlier that afternoon, landing wet and soppy on the gravel surface of the rooftop. Alex withdrew three small water-balloons from his backpack and passed one to Brian.
“Now, we don’t hit anyone straight-on, right?” Brian said. “Just near people.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” Alex said.
Sometimes, he’s no fun at all.
Brian pinched a couple of buds from a film canister, separated them from the stems, and stuffed them into a metal pipe. Making a windshield with one hand, he ignited the weed with his lighter. “What I love about these metal pipes,” he told Alex as he held in his hit, “is that all the parts are standardized, like Legos. You can buy a bunch and mix and match like an erector set.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Brian said with a smile and offered the pipe to Alex. “Toy my dad had when he was a kid that he gave to me when I was a kid. It’s for building stuff.” Brian exhaled a cone of smoke. “This is the best herb we’ve had in a while.”
“Hells yeah. Smooth.”
“How was your Chem test?”
“Brutal,” Alex said. “I don’t even want to think about it. Probably would have been helpful if I’d actually studied for it, but, you know.”
“Your professor’s Miller, the bald guy with the little John Lennon glasses, right? You been sitting in the front row like I said?”
“Dude, I tried that, but the class is all the way across campus, and I just can’t ever get there early enough. All the Chem-nerds take up the first couple rows.”
“Trust me,” Brian said, “it’s all about participation with that guy. You show up and ask questions and at least pretend that you’re seriously interested in covalent bonds and isotopes, he won’t care what your test scores are, you’ll pass.”
Alex gave the pipe back to Brian. After the two puffs he had taken, he had enough to get the “head change” where his body became looser and his eyelids grew heavy. Right now, instead of discussing Chemistry, what he most wanted to do was launch some balloons at those fools on the sidewalk. He would probably never climb a bell tower with a high-powered assault rifle; he figured this might be as close a thrill as he would experience.
“Have you ever eaten mushrooms?”
“Once, and acid a couple of times,” Brian said. “Why, did you try them?”
“No, but Kenny had some the other day, and I was curious.”
“Well, the thing about acid or shrooms is that you have to be careful. You trip with the wrong people, at the wrong place, and you’re in for a bad time. And sometimes the acid is dirty; makes your head or your back hurt afterwards. I don’t know, Alex, I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“But is it fun?”
“Well, I guess so. I mean, I didn’t find it to be the great mind-expanding thing so many people say it is. I thought it just made me stupid so every idea I had seemed liked this big earth-shattering thing. You’ll end up staring at a coke can for an hour, thinking you’ve discovered the secrets of the universe. And one time I tripped at a show, I lost my friends and ended up with some people I didn’t know, and it made me uncomfortable. I just wanted to go home.”
Alex made a mental note to find Kenny later and ask him if he had any more left. Acid? That’s iffy, but mushrooms, why not? Just like weed, they grow naturally on the earth, so they’re not real drugs or anything like that.
They crept to the edge of the roof, behind a three-foot wall that shielded them from view. Brian launched a balloon towards a small circle of students, but well behind them, and the splash mystified the group. The stopped what they were doing to find the source of the strange sound, but only turned in circles. Alex and Brian peered over the edge to view the confusion below. “Nice,” Alex said. “I would’ve tried to knock over the douchebag in the Abercrombie t-shirt, though. It’s thirty degrees outside, dude. What in the fuck is he thinking?” Brian held out his hand, and Alex filled it with a new water balloon.
“I saw your girl on Pearl Street yesterday.”
“You did?” Brian said.
“She was going into that vintage clothes store by Old Chicago.”
“Oh, yeah, she loves that stuff.”
Alex stumbled over the next question. It had been on his mind for weeks, and now his curiosity bubbled over like a boiling pot and he could not resist. “I was wondering, kinda, what you see in her?”
Brian eyeballed him. The scrutiny made Alex want to course-correct. “I just mean that you’re so mellow, and I don’t know, even, and she’s so all over the place,” Alex said. This explanation was still not quite satisfactory, so he continued: “you’re a smart guy, and she just seems kinda… ditsy. Don’t get me twisted though; I don’t mean anything bad by that.”
“No problem, I know what you mean. She does tend to give off that kind of dumb valley-girl vibe in public, especially when she’s had a few. And she’s different when we’re together alone, you know? She’s not all Drinky the Drunk when it’s just us. I know she can be a little much when she parties, but she also can be a lot more… sincere, I guess, is the right word. Plus, she looks amazing in a bikini. Just wait until summer.”
“I can see your point.” Alex changed the subject. “What’s up with your brother?”
Brian’s expression soured and he gripped the balloon in his hand, causing it to squeak as it poked out between his fingers. “No word, that little jerk. I don’t understand what he’s up to this time. I mean, he used to call me, even if he wasn’t speaking to mom and dad. Been gone for about two months now and no phone calls, no nothing. I’m used to him taking off a lot, but he would always come back home in a few days, out of money and needing a shower and a bed. Mom and dad yell at him for a while, and then everything goes back to normal. They stopped grounding him for anything a long time ago.”
“Are you worried about him? Like, that maybe something happened to him?”
“What do you mean?” Brian said. “Like what? What would have happened to him?”
This line of questioning had led to a thorny path and Alex wished he had not travelled it. “I just mean, you know, I don’t know, dude. He’s been gone for a while, don’t people sometimes have a funeral when a person’s been missing for a certain amount of time?”
Brian stiffened. “He has only been gone a few weeks. It’s not like a terrorist group somewhere is holding him hostage or anything. He’s just out getting high and sleeping on somebody’s couch and doesn’t want to come home yet.”
Alex stood up, in full view. “You’re right; I’m sorry, stupid question.”
“What are you doing?” Brian shout-whispered. “Anybody can see you.”
“Check this out: nothing but net.” Alex lobbed the water balloon over his head like a basketball skyhook shot, and it arced through the air, landing right on top of the Abercrombie-t-shirt-wearing douchebag. The impact knocked his victim to the ground. “Swish,” Alex said.
“Holy crap,” Brian said, pulling Alex back down behind the barrier. “We gotta get the hell out of here.”
Alex sat in his dorm room at his desk, staring at a jumble of words and pictures in the textbook American History from Civil War To Present. Alex was (not) trying (very hard) to be interested in Andrew Carnegie but he was losing the war with focus. He had read the same thick paragraph several times over the last two minutes. Unbearably boring.
To make matters worse, his roommate, the Australian Graham, was lounging on his bed, tossing one of his oddly-shaped Aussie footballs up in the air, and then catching it, and then tossing it again, and then catching it. Over and over and over. The repetitive schwip of that football sliding into hands and then sailing into the air had driven Alex halfway to bonkers.
“Hey mate, how’d you go on your Chem test?” he asked Alex.
Mate was one of Graham’s annoying Australian-isms, or how he said, “how are you going” instead of “how is it going.” Graham’s relentless cheeriness was another character trait that made them clash. Graham emulated the kind of chum that the sharks in Alex’s high school loved to circle. In Alex’s clique, you were either hunter or prey.
“It’s okay, I guess. Grades are going to be posted next week.”
“Yeah, you’ve got Miller, right?” Sounded like “mee-lah” coming out of Graham’s mouth. “I’ve got him for Zoology, but a different proff for our lab, which I thought was weird.”
“Hmm,” Alex mumbled, pretending to concentrate on his textbook. He could not find a way out of this. “I think I might go down to the library to study.”
“Ahh, mate, I’m sorry, I’m distracting you. No worries, you stay here, I’ll go downstairs and see if the caff is still open.”
Alex breathed a sigh of relief after Graham donned his jacket then exited the room. Finally, alone. Alex opened his bottom desk drawer and removed four objects. He placed them across the top of his desk: a lighter, a small pipe, a bag of pot, and cardboard paper towel-holder filled with dryer sheets.
The paper-towel trick he had learned from hippie Kenny down the hall. Smoking weed in the dorm room was a risky activity, even with ultra-lax Brian as the RA. The risk being that from time to time, authority figures besides Brian wandered the halls, and if the building manager or someone else wanted to make an issue of it, Alex would go before J-Board for sure and face possible ejection from the dorms, or even expulsion from school. Opening the window did not guarantee the smoke would leave, and also would let in the frigid night air. The dryer sheets essentially cancelled out the weed smell by making the room laundry fresh. It had worked for him so far.
Alex used his dryer tube to smoke one bowl of weed, and then another, while he listened to the Wu-Tang album that he had played a hundred times, and fantasized about various girls from his classes, girls from parties, and Brian’s luscious girlfriend Heather.