Chapter 4: Shocking, Isn't It?
"Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you."
- Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Premier
Like many singletons, I absolutely despised Valentine's Day. Watching couples strolling around hand in hand giving each other ooey-gooey grins made me want to poke my eyes out with a rusty spork. It wasn't exactly that I was jealous that they had something I didn't. It was more that once upon a time I did have something like that and it was taken away from me.
Bitter? Me? Nah.
I may not have joined in on everyone else's anticipation when the sappy holiday approached, but I did my best to hide that fact from my more romantic friends. I even listened patiently while Carrie went on and on about her upcoming romantic endeavors during discussion section the Thursday before the big day.
"… and the whole night, he followed me around like a little lost puppy before he finally asked me out," she gushed. "It was the cutest thing in the world."
"That's really great, Carrie," Asher commented from his seat on the other side of the petite blonde. "He sounds like a nice guy."
She nodded vehemently. "A cute, sweet, slightly nerdy engineer? Totally my type."
I just smiled and nodded, trying to be supportive. Carrie seemed really excited about her date and I didn't want to bum her out with my cynicism.
"What about you, Riley?" she suddenly inquired. "Any plans for V-Day?"
"Uh…" I deadpanned, not expecting to be asked such a question. "Well, I have a date…"
And, technically, I did. Lev and I had agreed that if we were both single, we could take each other to things where people usually brought dates. We figured it would make us feel less depressed and lonely. For Valentine's Day, we were planning on dressing up in our fanciest clothes, ordering pizza, and then watching a marathon of ridiculous, totally unromantic movies.
Asher stiffened. "You have a date?"
He merely grunted, turning away and staring at the notes Kate was writing on the blackboard.
I raised an eyebrow. Was he actually jealous?I decided that couldn't be the case, since I'd been being as bitchy to him as possible for the past few weeks.
He's probably pissed that I rejected him and then accepted some other guy, I figured. I briefly considered telling him that Lev was just a friend but then thought better of it. Watching him brood was just too much fun.
I sat back and enjoyed Asher's grouchiness for the rest of the period. He was usually relatively collected, and it was pleasing to know that I could get under his skin.
"Don't forget to read Waltz's article 'The Stability of a Bipolar World' for next week," Kate reminded us as class ended. "It's extremely important for understanding realist theory."
"Score!" Carrie whispered excitedly. "I love Waltz! He's a genius."
"Nerd," I teased her.
She beamed. "Proud of it."
As I picked up my bag and turned to head out the door, I felt a hand clasp my arm. Confused, I spun around only to find myself looking into the face of a rather annoyed Texan.
"What do you want, Asher?" I asked, the words coming out perhaps a bit more rudely than I had intended.
His brown eyes flashed with apparent ire. "Can I talk to you outside?"
He might as well not have bothered asking, as he began pulling me out of the classroom before I even had a chance to answer him. Sighing, I let him lead me into the hallway.
Ignoring the many students rushing by on their way to their next classes, Asher dragged me into a small alcove and stared at me silently with his arms crossed over his chest.
After a minute or so, I began to shift uneasily under his smoldering gaze.
Seemingly unaffected by my discomfort, he kept on glaring.
Finally, when I could no longer stand the tension, I decided to break the silence. "You brought me out here to talk. So talk."
"I'm really annoyed at you," he stated simply.
I snorted. "Thank you, Captain Obvious."
His eyes narrowed. "Do you have any idea how shitty you just made me feel?"
Assuming that the question was rhetorical, I kept quiet.
"I go out of my way to apologize for what happened last November and try to make it up to you, and you reject me flat out. Fine. I can live with that. Maybe you have commitment issues or you're batting for the other team and that one night was a fluke."
I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me off.
"I don't know. It's none of my business. But is it really necessary for you to rub it in my face that you have a date right after you rejected me?"
"I did not rub it in your face," I snapped. "Carrie asked me a question and I answered her honestly. It's not my fault if your ego is that absurdly fragile. Moreover, I have the right to date anyone I want without having to deal with you being a little bitch about it. Now if you'll excuse me, I have classes to attend."
With that, I stomped away, leaving a speechless Asher in my wake. About halfway down the hall, I whirled around and fixed him with a glare.
"And, for the record, just because a girl rejects you does not mean she's a lesbian! Not that there's anything wrong with that," I assured some random passersby who had stopped to watch the argument unfold with thinly-veiled curiosity.
Satisfied that I had made my point, I marched off to my next class.
"Why, my dear Miss Quinlan, you look absolutely ravishing."
I grinned at my date. "Why thank you, Mr. Ganelin. You look quite stunning yourself."
And he did. For our fake Valentine's Day rendezvous, Lev and I had both dressed to the nines, he in a tux and I in my high school prom dress.
He offered me his arm. "Shall we?"
"We shall." I linked my arm with his and we daintily strolled into the living room where our ever-so-fancy mushroom pizza was waiting.
"Oh, what a lovely meal!" I commented with faux wonder. "It looks positively gourmet."
"It ought to be for the fourteen bucks I paid for it."
I patted Lev on the arm. "You spoil me rotten, Mr. Big Spender."
Plopping down on the couch, we dug into our meal.
"So," I began around bites of my first slice. "Did you actually try to ask anyone out this year?"
"Nah. You know you're the only girl for me, Riley." He gave me a cheesy wink to emphasize the point. "How about you? Blow off any suitors?"
"Nope, but I did get bitched out by a guy I rejected in January."
"That guy you fucked?"
I scowled. "I didn't fuck him, Lev."
"Did you 'make love' to him?" he amended, assuming my problem had been with his vulgarity.
"Sleep with him?"
"Get laid? Do the nasty? The horizontal tango? The mattress mambo? Play 'hide the salami'?"
I glared at him.
"I'm almost out of sex euphemisms, Riles."
"Good. None of them apply."
He raised an eyebrow. "You mean you didn't polish his flagpole?"
"No!" I shouted. "There was no penis-vagina interaction! Just because Clara said I hooked up with a guy doesn't mean I had sex with him!"
Lev held up his hands in an attempt to fend off my tirade. "Okay, okay. Chill."
There was a moment of silence while I calmed down.
"So how far did you get?"
I shot Lev a nasty look, but he only burst into laughter.
"I'm just kidding, Riles. So, you said he bitched you out?"
"Yeah," I replied. "He got all pissy because I said I had a date for Valentine's Day and it was 'too soon' after I rejected him or some shit like that. I think I bruised his ego."
"Did you tell him it isn't really a date date?"
I grinned, an evil little twinkle in my grey eyes. "Nope. It was too much fun pissing him off."
Lev beamed. "Hooray for being obnoxious!"
I gave him a high five. "We should totally start a club."
He nodded. "For sure. There are more urgent matters to take care of right now, though."
I cocked my head to the side, curious. "Such as?"
"Booze and stupid movies." So saying, he pulled out a couple of beers and handed one to me.
I took it from him gratefully. "Thanks. Which movie should we start with?"
We gazed at one another and contemplated for a moment before simultaneously deciding.
Lev grinned as I pulled the film from our surprisingly large collection and popped it into the DVD player. "I like the way you think. Want to make a drinking game out of it?"
"Sure," I replied. "Rules?"
He tapped his finger to his chin thoughtfully. "Drink for sexual tension. Drink for boobs. Drink for every time you want to punch Dean Wormer in the face. Drink every time someone says 'toga' or 'fuck.' Drink whenever Bluto drinks."
"That's pretty much the entire movie," I pointed out.
"So? I don't have class until noon and your 10:10 was cancelled, so it's not like we have to be anywhere. It's a holiday!" he insisted. "Let's go nuts!"
And we did. Five hours, three movies, and more beers than I cared to count later, we were hammered.
"What the fuck are you guys doing?" Tom demanded, coming downstairs to investigate our raucous laughter.
"Heeeeeey Tom!" I greeted him. "We're wicked drunk, man."
"Haha, wicked," Lev tittered. "Yer from Mass-uh-chew-setts."
"Fuck yeah I am," I proudly affirmed. "'Cause I'm wicked fuckin' awesome. Woohoooooo!"
"Yer team suuuuucks."
"No, yer team suuuuucks!"
Having determined that Lev and I weren't about to destroy the house and cost everyone their security deposits, Tom rolled his eyes amusedly at our antics and went back to his homework.
"Byyyyyyye, Tommy!" I shouted after him.
"Later, 'gator!" Lev chimed in before whirling back around to face me. "Duuuude. We totally gotta go get some bagels. Like right now."
"Mmmm, bagels," was my oh-so-intelligent response.
With that, we peeled ourselves off of the couch, pulled our coats over our swanky clothes, and staggered out the front door.
Drunken stumbles to the bagel café for a 2 AM fix were practically a rite of passage at Cornell. There was simply something about being inebriated that made round pieces of bread smothered in cream cheese, salsa, and Monterey jack extraordinarily appealing. Drawn by the promise of doughy goodness to come, Lev and I stumbled up the hill, stopping only to drunkenly shove one another into the occasional bush.
When we finally reached Collegetown Bagels (also known as CTB, since a five syllable name was apparently too hard for Ivy League students to handle), Lev immediately got into line. I, on the other hand, was somewhat distracted from my mission when I happened to see an all-too-familiar face across the café.
"Shit," I cursed, ducking behind a table (and its rather confused occupants).
I couldn't let Asher see me. It would completely and utterly destroy any standing I had in our ongoing feud if he found out that I wasn't on some big, romantic Valentine's Day date but was instead drunk and hanging around a bagel joint with my roommate. Losing my dignity would give him the upper hand, and I absolutely would not let that happen.
Too bad it wasn't really up to me.
"RILEY!" Lev bellowed. "WHAT KINDA BAGEL DO YA WANT?"
I froze, hoping that if I didn't answer, he'd give up and just order whatever he thought looked good.
No such luck. From my hiding place, I saw Lev scanning the café for any sign of me. When his eyes finally met mine, I tried to frantically motion for him to be quiet, but to no avail.
"RILEY! WHY'RE YA UNDER A TABLE?"
Mortified, I stood up and shuffled over to where my idiotic friend was standing.
"I was hiding, dipshit," I hissed, giving him the evil eye.
Comprehension dawned on Lev's face and he at least had the decency to look guilty. "Oh. Oops."
"All dressed up with nowhere to go, Riley Quinlan?"
I stiffened at the familiar voice before turning around to fix its owner with a glare.
"Maybe I'm just classy like that."
Asher smirked. "Hiding under a table in CTB at 2 AM in a prom dress? Now that's the pinnacle of class."
I scowled at him, unable to form a retort of sufficient caliber in my inebriated state. "Yeah, well… shuddup!"
He raised an eyebrow. "Drunk, too. Very ladylike."
Although it was undoubtedly meant as an insult to me rather than a slight against my gender, his comment roused the ire of my inner feminist.
"Listen here, buddy," I began, poking an accusing finger into his chest. "You don' get to tell me what's 'ladylike.' I'm the fuckin' lady, so I getta decide what 'ladies' do. And this lady says yer a chauvinist pig n' you suck!"
Far from instilling the fear of my mighty wrath into Asher, my tirade seemed merely to amuse him. The corner of his mouth quirked upward and his brown eyes twinkled in a manner that suggested he was about to deliver a low blow.
"Aren't you supposed to be on a date? Or did you kick this one out of your bed as well?"
I desperately wracked my brain for an equally hurtful comment. "I only kicked you out 'cause you sucked."
"If I recall correctly, you liked it when I sucked."
A blush crept across my cheeks at the memory of his infuriatingly talented lips on my breasts. "You sucked at sex," I clarified.
He opened his mouth to reply but suddenly stopped when he caught sight of Lev, who had been watching the argument and doubling over with silent laughter.
Asher grinned. "I see you brought Mr. Russian Mobster. Zdravstvuyte, Sergei. Kak dela?"
That shut Lev up. He stared at Asher, blue eyes clouded over with confusion.
I immediately rushed to my friend's defense. "Dude, you totally knew that he's not a Russian. Yer an asshat, but yer not stuuupid. Quit fuckin' with him. Don' be a dick."
Asher's chocolate eyes twinkled. "I think I'm entitled to be a little bit dickish. Is he your date?"
"Yeah," Lev piped up, trying to save what was left of my dignity by sliding a possessive arm around my shoulders. "I'm her date n' if you don' stop bein' a douchebag, I'll… fuck you up n' stuff."
I buried my face in the palm of my hand. Lev Ganelin was about as threatening as a pile of kittens.
As I had expected, Asher clearly wasn't buying Lev's "tough guy" act. Before we could embarrass ourselves any further, I pulled my "date" up to the café counter.
"Let's just order our bagels n' go, 'kay?"
We got our food as quickly as we could, Asher watching us with mild interest. He apparently couldn't resist mocking us one last time, however. As Lev and I headed for the door, bagels in hand, I heard Asher's deep voice call after us, clear as a bell.
"Say hi to Putin for me."
The rest of the week passed without incident. I was running a fever on Thursday, so I didn't go to my discussion section and, consequently, didn't have to face Asher. Carrie brought me her notes for the period and commented with amusement that the class had been unnervingly quiet without me.
"Do I really talk that much?" I asked.
"It's not that," she replied. "It's just that we've all kind of gotten used to you and Asher bickering all the time. It was weird not to have that. He seemed kind of bummed out, too."
That comment certainly gave me food for thought for the next few days. By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around, though, I was too busy with my International Trade and Finance problem set to give a shit about Asher's mood swings.
"How do you calculate the effective tariff rate again?"
Fulfilling his role as my econ problem set buddy, Nate leaned over my kitchen table and scribbled the equation in the margin of my notebook.
We made a good team, I noted. I was a visual thinker and did well with the graphs while Nate seemed to be more numbers-oriented and was a whiz at solving equations. We had been working for three hours and I was quite honestly starting to get sick of it. Thankfully, we were on the last problem.
"Done!" I crowed triumphantly, slamming my pencil down as I finished.
Nate gave me a high five. "Oh yeah! Eat it, tariff-rate quotas!"
Almost in response to Nate's comment, my stomach growled. It was about six in the evening and time for our house to start preparing our weekly "family" meal.
Sure enough, Lev chose that moment to wander into the kitchen and loudly announce, "I'm fucking starving."
"Ditto," I agreed before turning to Nate. "Do you want to stay for dinner? We're going to start cooking it pretty soon."
He beamed. "Sure! I never turn down free food. Thanks for inviting me."
Once the remainder of my household had joined us, we began cutting up the vegetables that Clara and I had bought at Wegmans the day before. Nate, trying to be helpful, grabbed a tomato and began to dice it.
"So what's on the menu?" he asked.
"Persian poached eggs and Syrian tomato salad," I replied, crushing some garlic with the side of a large knife.
"Ah," he chuckled. "It's a themed dinner."
Tom gave our guest a confused look. "What theme?"
Nate grinned. "Countries currently on the CIA's shit list."
Everyone chuckled appreciatively at the joke.
Well, everyone except for Lev, who pouted. "I don't get it."
"You know," Nate tried to explain. "Because of Iran's nuclear program and Syria –"
"Forget it, Nate," Clara interrupted. "Lev never has any clue what's going on in the world. He's off in his own little Chem-E universe."
"Allow me to demonstrate," Charlie offered. "Lev, what do you think about the health care bill?"
"What health care bill?"
Charlie nodded. "I rest my case."
Nate's face bore a look halfway between shock and amusement. "Wow. That's some intense obliviousness. Are you sure he wasn't out of the country last summer?"
"Positive," I replied.
Nate shook his head in bewilderment, apparently not quite sure how anyone could have missed the issue that had been headlining the news for almost a year.
"You should probably read up on this stuff, Lev," Clara commented, reaching for an onion.
"I can cut that up," Charlie offered, stilling her hand with his. "It'll hurt your eyes."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Are you sure it won't hurt yours, too?"
"I'll be fine," he assured her.
Shrugging, she handed him the onion, which he began to slice.
"So, Nate," Tom ventured, looking up from the cucumber he'd been peeling. "You're in Riley's econ class?"
"Yup," Nate amicably replied. "We do problem sets together."
"And you're a sophomore?"
"Slingerlands, near Albany."
Tom opened his mouth as though he wanted to ask another question, but I shot him a look.
"Knock it off!" I hissed, sensing that the conversation was about to turn into some sort of interrogation about my friend's intentions. Tom was more or less the overprotective brother I'd never had.
"Yeah, Tom," Lev chimed in. "There's no need for the third degree. We all know that Riley's going to get married and have lots of babies with that Asher guy, anyway."
I threw a piece of garlic at my so-called friend. He laughed as it landed in his hair.
Nate's eyes twinkled mischievously. "Asher's my roommate, you know."
That got everyone's attention.
"Seriously?" Clara gasped. "Details. Now."
"We want the 411 on this guy!" Lev demanded.
"Charlie, are you crying?" I asked, desperately trying to change the subject.
"Nope," he insisted, wiping furiously at what I was sure were onion-induced tears. "I'm fine. I want to hear about that guy you had a thing with."
Nate chuckled. "What do you want to know?"
"What's he like?" Charlie queried.
"Where's he from?" Tom asked.
"Does he have a big penis?" Lev inquired.
Clara smacked him upside the head.
"Well," Nate chortled. "I've never taken a good look at his junk, but I can tell you pretty much everything else."
"Spill," Clara ordered.
I groaned, resting my head on the kitchen table and resigning myself to an evening full of Asher stories.
"So, what he's like…" Nate began. "His life here is pretty much the band. He's always running off to practice and he goes on almost all of the away trips. I have a sneaking suspicion that he likes pep band more than marching band, but I think it's because his favorite sport is hockey."
"Why, what a coincidence!" Lev chirped, nudging me and grinning like an imp. "Our dear friend Riley's favorite sport is hockey, too!"
"Shut up, Lev," I grumbled.
Tom gazed at Nate thoughtfully. "What instrument does he play?"
"Drums. He's really good, too. Sometimes, if he thinks no one's home, he'll get a bunch of our pots and pans together and practice on them with chopsticks."
I could have sworn I heard a squeal come from Clara, who undoubtedly found Asher's antics extremely endearing.
"He does have friends outside the band, though," Nate went on. "Actually, no one in our apartment is in it with him. I think Asher wanted a place that was separate from all of the 'band drama' he's always talking about."
"Band drama?" Lev echoed skeptically. "How much trouble can a bunch of band geeks get into?"
"You'd be surprised," Charlie replied. His younger sister played the clarinet in her high school marching band back in Illinois, and judging by the look on his face, I suspected he'd heard some rather incriminating stories.
Tom repeated his question from earlier. "Where's he from?"
"Some town in Texas called Lake Jackson, I think," Nate answered.
Lev's eyes lit up. "Texas? Does he say 'y'all' and ride a horse around while shooting pistols in the air and shouting 'yeehaw'?"
Clara gave him a withering look. "Oh yeah, because everyone from Texas acts exactly like Yosemite Sam."
Nate let out a hearty guffaw, as though the mere thought of Asher behaving in such a manner was beyond absurd (which it probably was). "I don't think Asher even knows how to hold a gun. You'd have a better chance of getting him to dance down College Avenue in a hot pink tutu than getting him to shoot something."
Lev grinned. "Challenge accepted."
I rolled my eyes, knowing that Lev would forget about the "challenge" within five minutes.
"So he doesn't really fit any of the Texas stereotypes," Charlie observed.
Nate shook his head. "Not really. He does sometimes say 'y'all,' though, and he has the whole 'southern gentleman' thing going on."
"Southern gentleman my ass," I muttered.
"He really does!" Nate insisted. "We've been over this before, Riley. He's actually a great guy. Being around you just brings out his inner douchebag."
"She tends to have that effect on people," Clara concurred, grinning at me.
I scowled at her. "Fuck you."
"Love you, too," she replied, completely unfazed by my ire.
"Don't worry, Riley," Nate quipped brightly. "I'm sure he'll come around eventually and realize that he's really madly in love with you."
I snorted. "Yeah, sure. That'll happen. And Lenin's corpse will hop out of its casket and do the moonwalk across Red Square."
"Technology, Riles," Charlie teased. "You never know. They might find a way to bring dead communists back to life."
"Fine," I conceded. "When they reanimate Vladimir Lenin and he busts out the cheesy dance moves, I'll go make sweet, sweet love to Asher Ives."
Those, I was sure, were two things that were never, ever going to happen.
A/N: Another chapter for you, my dears. Thank you so much to everyone who's stuck with me for so long. I'm getting back into a rhythm of writing, so expect fairly regular updates from now on. I also want to note that the spelling errors during the scene where Riley and Lev are drunk were completely intentional. I was trying to capture the essence of what inebriated people sound like. As I said after the first chapter, I'm not trying to condone getting wasted; it just happens to be a part of college life for many people and, as such, will naturally find its way into a story set on a college campus.
Just as a reminder, SKoW nominations are still going on. The judges are looking for more entries, so if you know of any stories that you think deserve consideration, nominate them!
Finally, I just wanted to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by the recent tragedy in Colorado. If you are at all inclined to do so, I hope you'll pray for them as well.