Reid pulled on his scuffed-up Doc Martens, grabbed a hoodie off the hook by the door, and stepped out into the hall. He locked the door, yanked the hoodie on and thudded down the stairs. The guy in 2B yelled, “Keep it down!” Reid yelled back, “Fuck you!” and smacked open the door to the street. He strode long and careless toward the college campus, feeling his pockets for cigarettes, a lighter. He stopped at the corner of Daniel and University to light up, blew out a lungful of smoke, and headed down University.
He cut in front of Alumni Relations and fixed his eyes on the Hastings Auditorium. Ever-present tortured thoughts looped around his head and he sped up as if to get ahead of them. He passed the auditorium, went back behind it toward the path around the reservoir. He kicked open the gate to the path and the thoughts went full out, spinning off questions like mud off a wheel: If you, by default, trusted someone else to choose every step of your way, and you failed, fell flat on your face, can you ever trust them or yourself, and what does that make you now? Who the fuck are you if you don’t know who you are? What does that missing knowledge make you? Nothing? Nobody?
Reid raked his hair back with his fingers and bent into the spinning, his lips working it soundlessly. If I’m nothing, then who is it that leaves a ratty apartment every day to wash dishes at the Paris Café? Who is it that delivers pizzas in the wee, weekend hours to the punks and losers and drunks? If I’m nothing, what then, is that reflection in the bathroom mirror in the morning, in others’ eyes looking, beholding, and beholding what, looking at whom, a ghost? Yes. A ghost. That haunts the walkways around the Mitchell Law School telling himself he still goes there, that he never flunked out, he still goes there, and he’s fucking brilliant. He’s still pulling off the old man’s dream, yes, that’s right. Two more years, a list of hoops to jump through for bar admission and then it’s his name next to the old man’s in the lobby of the shiny Triton Tower.
A racket up ahead on the path stopped the thoughts spinning, forced Reid’s eyes up from his beat boots, toward the noise, toward some hoots and hollers, some bullshitting going on. He saw five hulking guys he recognized from a Theories of Justice class he’d taken. These guys were the most obnoxious assholes at Mitchell, each of them from big money and a long line of book smarts, their destinies in the bag. They were all over one of the picnic tables near the water, clowning around, passing around a bottle, talking about chicks they’d like to do, and yelling at people passing by.
Reid shrugged his hoodie forward a bit and toughened up his stride. He knew they’d unload on him when he passed by. He thought about turning around and going back, but one of them had already zeroed in on him, smacked the shoulder of his buddy next to him, and yelled out, “Yo! There’s that retarded pussy from last year!” They all shut up, leaned into each other, and just burned holes in him with their wiseass eyes.
Reid acted unfazed, nodded at them, said, “How you doin’,” and kept on going. After he’d barely passed them, they busted out laughing and howling. But that was it. They went back to clowning and talking tough, deciding whether or not to pound a teacher that’d had the audacity to give one of them an A-. Reid pitied the schmuck that hit them just right for a little brutality. Dusk was giving it up to night fast and they were getting louder, cruder and more physical with each darkening second. It was just one of those inevitable things.
Inevitable. Like being a retarded pussy. Really, now! What is a person supposed to do with shit like that? What? You lie to yourself to survive, is what. You write lost poems, hoping you’ll find something in the rhythmic flow, the pattern of words that jot and tittle in the middle and down the sides of the paper. And you walk the same path around the reservoir every goddamn night hoping something changes because there are variables, things in the environment that change even if you seem not to. And there’s a law of averages that says one of those combinations of variables will do it for you, will jog, tap, slap, pound, shake something loose in your head. It could happen. And that’s the only faith that you have.
That was it. The thoughts were spent and his head was as quiet as it got. He lit a cigarette, looked up to enjoy the evening and he noticed a blonde chick with a backpack up ahead, coming toward him on the path. Not good. It’d be full dark in a few minutes and if those jerks were still drinking like fish back there, they’d mess with her for sure, maybe hurt her. But shit, who was he? He was just another stranger that probably wouldn’t look any more trustworthy to her than those scumbags.
When the blonde chick got close, she smiled at him and said, “Hi!” He nodded as she passed by. She was pretty. And young. Probably a freshman. Reid kept going until he couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t let her walk into that mess. He wheeled around and ran back to catch up to her. “Hold up!” he shouted at her. She stopped and turned to face him, at once warm and somewhat apprehensive. “Yes?” she asked him. Reid stopped several feet back from her, didn’t want to make her more nervous than she probably already was.
He couldn’t take it, the easy steadiness of her gaze. He cast his eyes down and said to her, “Ah, I know I’m just another Joe to you…” and he stopped. He had to look at her or he’d come off seeming even more stupid than he felt. He met her eyes and said, “Listen. I’m a junior here. There are some guys I know back there drinking and messing with people. They’re not nice guys. And I’m afraid they might hurt you. I think you should turn around, go back the way you came. I’ll walk with you if you like. Not that you should trust me…”
The blonde looked surprised and pleased. “Well, thank you so much. I’d really appreciate that,” she said. She held out her hand. “I’m Ginny, by the way.”
Reid was taken aback by her receptiveness and it took him a few seconds to act, to find words. He shook her hand. “I’m Reid,” he said, and offered a slight, nervous smile.
“My dorm’s like ten minutes back this way,” Ginny said. “I can give you a ride back to your dorm if you like.”
Reid was further put off. He’d only wanted to make her comfortable enough to see her to safety, finish his walk and get home. But if he acted weird about this whole thing now, he’d surely scare her, so he mustered enthusiasm. “Sure! That’d be great!”
As they walked, Ginny did most of the talking about professors and courses while Reid did his best to remember names and what the junior law courses were so he could interject content that would keep his lie sounding true. When Ginny started to talk about a theatrical event coming up at Mitchell, Reid was reminded of an event he’d read about in The Daily Local News last week that had sparked his interest, and he jumped at the chance to contribute something that hadn’t already been talked about.
“Speaking of events,” he said, grinning at her, “what’d you think of Tristan Thorogood’s talk at Hastings last night? I was pissed I had to miss it. Couldn’t get off work. But my roommate said it rocked!”
Ginny looked over at Reid, all pleased with himself, and she smiled and laughed. “Yeah,” she said.
He looked away from Ginny, bewildered. He’d expected more from her on that one. Thorogood made the state’s top 100 trial lawyers list this year. Reid didn’t get it. But oh well. This charade was almost over. They’d gotten to Ginny’s dorm parking lot and he followed her to her car. They jumped in and headed out onto the main drag toward the main campus entrance.
On the way, Ginny talked about her family, growing up, and how she’d always dreamed of practicing law, how she’d known that’s what she wanted to do since the age of twelve. Reid rolled his eyes. Before she had a chance to ask him about his non-existent dreams he said to her, “Hey Ginny, just drop me off at the 7-11 right up here before you turn onto University, if you would. I need to get some smokes and stuff.”
“Are you sure?” Ginny sounded disappointed.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Reid said. “My dorm’s just up a little way from here.”
“Well, alright,” Ginny said as she pulled into the 7-11 parking lot. “Thanks for saving me! Maybe I’ll see you around,” she said and winked at him.
The wink pushed him over the edge and he went off on her. “I can’t believe you, Ginny! You walk to campus on a path around a reservoir at dusk knowing that you’ve got to walk back in the pitch black. You trusted me, a stranger, walked with me and let me into your car just because I go to your school and know the same people and places! But it’s all been a lie. I flunked out of Mitchell midway into my second year. I’m a failure! A loser! And I could have done you real harm! You shouldn’t trust people so!”
Ginny looked at him, hurt. She said softly, “I didn’t trust you because I believed you were a student, Reid. I trusted you because I saw something in your eyes and heard something in your voice. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re a student or not.”
Reid looked away. He didn’t buy it. It was just more naïve drivel. He looked back over at Ginny, stared through her and said coolly, “Well, at least you’re safe now. Please. Drive yourself everywhere. Park where it’s safe. Don’t trust anyone.” And with that, he got out of the car and slammed the door.
“Geezus,” he mumbled and went into the store.
Ginny just sat there for a minute stunned and hurt and annoyed. She’d been nothing but real and truthful with him. Couldn’t he see that? What was his deal? On any other night, she might have gone after him to at least try to smooth things out. She hated parting with people on bad terms. But she had to go or she’d be late. She drove off shaking her head. It was just one of those sad things.
Reid watched her from inside the store as he grabbed stuff off the shelves, stuff he didn’t even need. His emotions were a churning mix of anger, frustration, and sadness, oddly. And his thoughts began to ball up again and loop and spin questions. Why had he gotten so riled up over this seemingly small thing? How could this girl be so stupid? Did she even learn a lesson from this? God, he hoped so. At least he’d unloaded his lie himself and she didn’t discover it midway into this whole thing and freak out.
He shook his head and walked up to the counter to pay for his stuff. “And a carton of Camel Filters, too, please,” he said to the cash register guy. He rapped his fingers nervously on the counter while he waited for the guy to ring his stuff up. He looked around at the barrage of signage: Slurpees, lottery tickets, X-Men, Monster Energy. Too much. He looked over at the glut of newspaper racks by the windows and a picture of Tristan Thorogood on a Daily Local News teaser caught his eye.
He paid for his stuff and went over to check it out. “Top 100 Talk at Mitchell Postponed,” it said. He flipped to the article and scanned it. “…Thorogood’s talk, scheduled for yesterday, Apr. 8, at 7:30pm, in Hastings Auditorium, was postponed due to conflicting engagements, and a new date has not yet been set…” Reid looked up, stared out the window, trancelike. The paper dropped from his hands. He knew then that she had trusted him in spite of himself and the thing she saw in his eye, maybe he now understood also. Because he felt something, too, and it was wet and warm as it rolled down his cheek.
Thanks again, N ; )
Missalister’s “Law of averages,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#160 – Follow” Click here for more on prompt #160 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.