Six Degrees or, Why College is Awesome
© 2009 by Le Meg
Part One: Gudrun Klein
Gudrun didn't like the game. She wasn't a flirt; she didn't waste her time batting her eyes and swaying her hips at the most opportune moments. She didn't play hard to get, she didn't "accidentally" run into guys at places she knew they frequented, and she didn't freak out when more than three days elapsed without a phone call. She tried to leave things on good terms, but even in the worst-case scenarios, she didn't break plates, she didn't leave angry messages, and she didn't get her friends in on any epic revenge plots. She avoided drama like the plague, but refused to avoid the necessary "talks" that a relationship sometimes came to. She thought she was reasonable; she was honest without being brutal, she remained true to her principles without stamping all over his, and did her best to hear what a guy had to say. Her best male friends all agreed that she was a catch, certainly the kind of girl a guy wouldn't need to lie to, wouldn't need to fear on threat of hysterics; she was one of the guys without being de-sexualized. "A rare and dying breed," Eddie had told her.
But all of these qualities – these recommendations – apparently meant total shit to one Clinton Zane. She didn't play the game, but that didn't stop her from getting played.
She amped the workout on her elliptical up, determined to let go of all the anger in the furious way her legs pumped. Asshole, she thought, over and over again. Not even the threat of spring break could've driven her to the gym this fast; only when she was really, overwhelmingly mad did such a miraculous event happen.
And, oh, was she mad.
The first mistake, she knew, was letting herself get so involved with Zane in the first place. No girl should ever get in so deep with a guy who was always referred to by his last name, and never his first. It meant people didn't know him; he either didn't let them in, or wasn't considered human enough to deserve such an intimate acquaintance. Like Hitler.
It was a bad move on her part, she admitted. Hardly even a move; really just a gradual sinking. But she should have been more aware of him inching his way under her skin. There would have been warning signs. The increased smiling, the over-abundance of sex dreams… the way she actually answered all of his calls.
But he wasn't the god he thought he was. She hadn't slept with him; she had that shred of dignity, at least. And lord knows she'd had the chance. The man could kiss, there was no doubt about that. He'd probably kissed handfuls of girls right out of their panties. It would definitely explain the ego.
Eddie materialized in her field of vision then, mopping the sweat off of his forehead. "Wifey, get off the bike before you hurt yourself," he told her. When she only glared in response, he reached over and hit the stop button, effectively ending the program. "Come on, it's smoothie time. They have a special today – I think it's called, 'Bring one scorned woman, get one large smoothie free'."
"Fuck you." Gudrun got off the bike, though, and walked a circle around it before she was assured that her legs could, in fact, handle her weight. Eddie handed her the water bottle and the towel that she'd stored at the base of the bike when she was finished, and she thanked him as they moved out of the machine section of the gym.
"You are going to be in so much pain tomorrow," Eddie prophesized then, and switched gears when they passed one of the classrooms. There was currently a yoga session going on, and the position the girls were twisted in looked a little like something out of the Kama Sutra. His pace slowed a little, and Gudrun rolled her eyes as she took a swig of her water. After a second, he murmured, hypnotized, "I love the gym."
Gudrun kept moving, preferring not to dignify his actions with commentary. The Jamba Juice was always a little crowded, but the smoothies were definitely worth the wait. However, current situation being what it was, Gudrun knew she had very little patience today and made getting in line as soon as possible a top priority. If Eddie ever snapped out of it, she'd give him the locker key so he could go grab their stuff.
It wasn't like they'd even been dating. They hadn't had that talk yet; there were no rules about their relationship, nothing that said he couldn't go elsewhere if he wanted to. Part of her had liked how ambiguous things were – it felt daring, adventurous. Even freeing. She could admit she was the kind of girl who always felt a little trapped once the girlfriend/boyfriend label was clamped on. In that sense, Zane had been an experiment, a new method of casual dating that'd she'd never before attempted.
Then why the hell was she so angry? What about this situation pissed her off so much? He slept with another girl. So what. He'd slept around before her, and no doubt would continue to do so even after Gudrun faded from the picture. But was that it? That maybe, secretly, unconsciously, she'd harbored some stupid, ignorant desire to tame the untamed beast? Put his wild side on a leash (preferably to her bed)?
Was that it? The fact that he'd gone to get some from the first random sorority girl he could find, and not her?
Gudrun scowled at the smoothie menu. Oh, she'd wanted it. There was no use denying that. But it wasn't something she'd given in to, and Zane had given every indication that he didn't mind waiting.
Of course he doesn't mind waiting, she fumed, chewing on her thumbnail. He's got like thirty girls on the side who'd jump into his bed at a moment's notice.
Her thought process wasn't helping her keep the anger at bay, and only seemed to emphasize her original mistake here – getting involved in the first place. Thirty girls! What had she been thinking?
Eddie wandered over, finally, took the locker key, and went to get their things. Her phone rang in the short time while he was away, and with a glance at the name, answered. "Hello darling."
Noah purred, "Lovely Dru. You guys leave yet?"
She rolled her eyes. "Let me guess. You want a Surf Rider."
"Yes please, I love you."
"I know." She hung up soon after, and by then Eddie had returned. As he handed her her pull-over, her keys, and her sunglasses, he asked, "Noah?"
"How does he always know?" Eddie wondered, impressed. "I mean, always. Frankly, I don't think he's human."
Gudrun was due to order next, so she just shrugged and asked, "What do you want? I'll buy."
Eddie pinched her cheeks, something he knew she hated, and cooed, "Why are you so good to us?"
"Because you and Noah are going to take me drinking tonight and I want top shelf," she replied easily, and smiled at the girl working. "I'll have a Caribbean Passion, a Strawberry Surf Rider, and…"
"Mango-a-go-go," Eddie supplied, with enthusiasm.
They exited the gym moments later, and Gudrun went with Eddie back to the guys' place to finalize plans with all of them. Noah agreed readily to the night out – it was Thursday, and there were great whiskey specials at their favorite pub on Thursdays – and promised to get her good and twisted. She chatted with him, Eddie, and the third roommate and partner in crime Ben a little longer before peacing out. There were good hours of sun left to enjoy, and the balcony attached to her apartment was definitely the best way to enjoy them.
The next couple of hours saw her changing into her two-piece, grabbing her history textbook, and lounging in a moderate state of contentedness as she finished her smoothie and soaked up the sun. It was easy to get away from all the rage and frustration in her own life when she read for class, and the lazy heat of the sun didn't hurt, either. When she finished the assigned chapter, she set the book aside, pulled down her sunglasses, and let herself look forward to the night out. The guys always took care of her when they went out, and rarely did she ever come home sober. It was exactly what she needed – good, wholesome fun at the bar with guys who didn't play with her head.
Gudrun eventually dozed – her workout earlier had definitely burned a lot of energy as well as anger – and it was only the screeching sound of metal on concrete that woke her up again. She glanced to the side, expecting to see one of her roommates. Instead, she found Zane.
"What the hell?" She asked. It was the only coherent thought she managed at the moment.
"Good to see you, too," he replied, positioning the other chair next her before settling down in it. He wore his trademark sunglasses, and his hair was a mess like always. Zane had the laidback rockstar look down pat; only Noah came close to the sexy dishevelment Clinton Zane so effortlessly wore.
Gudrun, however, was not exactly in the mood to reflect on his good looks. "Who let you in?" She asked, turning her face back to the sun. There was still a lingering warmth and it would be all too easy to doze again, like a cat napping in the sun.
"Amanda. I called but you didn't answer."
She reached for her phone on the ground and checked it idly; he had called. Her phone was still on silent from class, and it wasn't uncommon of her to forget to turn the sound back on. Today, though, she'd kept it off on purpose. He had a tendency to call her on Thursdays after his classes, and the last thing she'd wanted was to let her anger get the best of her. It was hard to handle the situation, especially since she couldn't even pinpoint why she was mad in the first place. Her pride was wounded, though, that much she did know, and the amused curve of his mouth wasn't helping any.
"My bad," she said, cool as a cucumber, and set her phone down again. "Did you want something?"
His expression didn't change. "This is the fourth time in a row you haven't answered my call."
Gudrun was fairly certain she wasn't ready to talk about the why of that – she didn't even know what it was. But if there was anything Zane relished, it was catching others off-guard. She knew that first hand, and she was prepared to maintain her serene composure at all costs. "A keen observation," she murmured, shifting a little to make herself more comfortable. "What's your point?"
"Are you mad at me?" She could hear the grin in his voice and refused to look at him.
She couldn't, however, lie. It was clear he could see that she was – could probably guess the reason, even. As much as she would like to write him off, one of the reasons she'd been attracted in the first place was because behind his pretty looks and irreverent nature was a real, honest-to-god brain. It did make her situation unfortunate. "Define mad."
Without warning, he leaned forward and tried to kiss her. She turned her head just in time so that his lips only caught the corner of her mouth, but apparently that was just the answer he needed. "You are mad." She didn't answer, and he eventually sat back. His sunglasses were dark but she had the impression that he was still watching her. "I was going to see if you wanted to go to a movie tonight. The one with Clint Eastwood is playing."
That had been another reason. He'd started everything with that. The first time he'd asked her he'd made it clear they were going as friends; that he'd remembered her mentioning a desire to see a certain film, and that his friends weren't usually into those kinds of movies. 'The smart kind' was the phrase that went unsaid by either of them at that point, but they both knew why he was asking – he wanted intellectual stimulation and most of the people he usually hung out with couldn't provide it.
By then she'd already hung out with him twice before, in the company of others, and had been surprised by what she'd found. And she could admit that the idea of being friends with Clinton Zane – movie friends – tickled her. She'd accepted, and it soon became a regular thing. They saw movies together, and got coffee or ice cream after and talked about them.
And then one night, instead of coffee or ice cream, he suggested they go for drinks instead.
Her second mistake, probably. She should have known where his mind was going, but it just hadn't occurred to her that he might want to do a little more than talk about movies. It was an even bigger surprise to find how easy she made the transition. Just like that.
"I'm actually going out with the guys," she told him. "Rain check."
He wasn't fooled. "Can't do that if you won't answer."
"I'll answer." Gudrun glanced at him, her brief eye contact meant to be his assurance.
Apparently that wasn't enough for him, either. "Why don't we just make plans right now while I have you?" He pulled out his iPhone and began tapping the screen. "Tomorrow. Unless of course you have plans to go out with the guys then, too."
The potshot surprised her. She focused on him a little more closely, and saw his mouth tighten with annoyance. It was the first time she'd ever seen him look anything but satisfied, amused. The remark hadn't, apparently, been expected by either of them. Was it just her, or was he actually mad that she didn't return his calls?
Calmly, she replied, "I'm free, as long as you're sure you don't have plans to visit Greek Row tomorrow."
He lowered his iPhone. She almost expected him to snap something else at her, some other stinging retort that would parallel the wit he usually threw at her, but he was silent. He remained so for a few seconds longer before asking casually, "How did you find out?"
This was almost as surprising as the show of annoyance. She thought the answer was pretty obvious – Amanda was rushing. Her roommate was everything a sorority girl should be, and was already at the beck and call of her older sisters. No doubt she'd caught wind of it while at the house and, having an obvious little crush on Zane herself, would circulate it back to Gudrun as soon as possible. He was smart enough to figure out that much. The fact that he seemed pissed that information about his sex life – the activeness of which she knew about before she'd even been properly introduced to him – had gotten back to her was even stranger.
"Amanda told me," she replied evenly, and sat up then, moving her sunglasses to the top of her head. The sun was beginning to set, and without the full warmth of it on her she was beginning to get a little cold in just her bathing suit. Plus, she needed eat a real dinner and get in the shower before the guys came to get her. But at the heart of it, she preferred to cut to the chase. The conversation was already stranger than anticipated, and though she was still decently angry, the fact that he was so apparently unsettled himself tempered the emotion somewhat. "Zane, do you want to see a movie tomorrow or not?"
He was still for a second longer, but began checking his iPhone again, and eventually came up with some times. "How's 8:10?"
"That's fine." She reached for her book and her phone, and the empty Jamba Juice cup, and started for the sliding glass door. "I'll meet you there at 7:45."
Zane followed her in. "I want to pick you up."
Amanda was sitting in the living room watching television, and Gudrun could just see the other girl's ears perk up at that. She threw him a slight look and then started for her bedroom, tossing the empty cup in the wastebasket on the way. "What, so I don't have an escape route handy?"
"So you don't stand me up," he replied, semi-serious. She knew the remark was for Amanda just as much as it was for her and couldn't help but roll her eyes at him over her shoulder. He followed her into her room, and once there shut the door so Amanda could no longer eavesdrop.
"At what point during your acquaintance with me did I ever give you the impression that I would do something like that?" She asked, putting her book on her desk a little more loudly than preferred.
She hated it when he called her that. Not because she didn't like the nickname, but because it suggested a familiarity that they didn't have, and it stung a little. He'd picked it up from her friends, and up until he'd decided that he wanted to make out with her on a regular basis, she'd honestly believed that he might be numbered among them. Now she just wasn't sure about anything.
He'd taken his sunglasses off, revealing unrevealing dark eyes. He might as well have kept the shades on, for all it allowed her to see. "If you want me to stop seeing other people, tell me."
That was unexpected. She became aware for the first time that she was wearing a skimpy two-piece in front of him and fought the urge to cross her arms protectively.
"I did it on purpose, you know." Zane wasn't done. He moved a little farther in and fingered a necklace she had on her dresser absently. "I wasn't sure where you stood, and I knew if I went to that house you'd find out within the week."
She remembered her anger a little more clearly. "You could have asked me."
He glanced at her, almost dispassionately. "It wasn't just for you, either. I needed to know where I stood, too."
Gudrun waited for him to clarify, but after a few seconds she realized he was waiting for her to ask. She didn't take the bait, though, and instead let the anger express itself a little more freely. "I am pissed off: I'm pissed off at you for having sex with a girl 24 hours after rolling away from me; I'm pissed off that you relied on the university gossip chain to get the news back to me instead of just asking me what I wanted in the first place; and I'm pissed off at myself for caring enough to be pissed off in the first place."
He paused before asking, "What do you want, Dru?"
"I want you to get out of my room before I decide to throw something at you," she muttered, irritated to find that her anger was fading, making way for confusion.
Zane's mouth quirked a little at that, but wisely, he followed her advice. "As you wish. I'll pick you up tomorrow at 7:15."
Her eyes followed him out, and only after she'd heard the apartment door close did she realize she was holding her breath. Exhaling, she shut her bedroom door fully closed again and rubbed her head before moving towards the connecting bathroom. She'd learned a lot of things today, but perhaps the most important of these little lessons was this: men who quote The Princess Bride are dangerous to a girl's health, nevermind her sanity.