Welcome to all my new and returning readers! This is a sequel to my story, The Lighthouse, but it stands alone. Stuart is written to be a little bit of a jerk, so I apologize if anything he says/thinks offends anyone.
The sound of a door slamming in the hall woke Stuart with a start. His room was brighter than usual, too bright, and he fumbled on his nightstand for his phone. He squinted at the screen. The numbers gradually swam into focus.9:26…then, as he watched, the minute hand switched over to 9:27.
"Shit, shit, shit," he cursed, jumping out of bed.
He threw jeans and a shirt on and frantically stuffed a notebook and pens into his backpack. Class started in two minutes and he was going to be so late. The walk to campus usually took 15 minutes. Taking it at a near run cut it down to only about 7. Still, at that point he was far from on time. When he arrived outside the door he could hear Professor Flanagan droning on about US Legal History inside.
The class was an introductory requirement for all pre-law students at Berkeley, so over 300 students were enrolled. Stuart fervently hoped he would be able to slip into the back of the room without being noticed. It was just his luck that the hinges were rusty so the door squeaked obnoxiously as it swung open. Several students turned around to glare at him. Professor Flanagan noticeably faltered, but mercifully didn't call Stuart out.
"Your final paper will be due on Dec. 4th and it will make up 60% of your grade. The remaining 40% will be determined by your midterm grade, which, to remind you, is due a month from today. Your paper topics are also due before class next week."
Shit, Stuart thought again. He had been waiting for guidance on this assignment since the first day of class and he couldn't believe he had managed to miss when it finally happened.
Professor Flanagan cleared his throat and flipped over the sheet of paper on his podium. Stuart knew from experience that for the rest of the class the man would just read off his notes. There would be no pictures, no class discussion; just straight lecture, on and on. The professor was obviously very intelligent but he knew nothing about college students. "And now we turn to the Sherman Antitrust Act and the decline of monopolies…"
Stuart was already nodding off in his seat. There had been so many late nights at the library this week, and he was exhausted. He would need to get coffee before his US politics class and then, crap, he would have to skip lunch after that class so he could go back home and get clothes for lacrosse practice. Why hadn't he set a second alarm? He felt so stupid. In high school, his mom never let him oversleep. She always made sure he was awake by 6:30am so he would have time to eat and shower.
The guy sitting next to him was really chubby, wearing an oversize hoodie and a backwards baseball cap. When class was over, Stuart slid over, moving so that his backpack and his body blocked the guy's exit out of the aisle.
"Yo," he said. "So what's the deal with this project?"
"Why don't you ask the Professor?" the guy shot back, clearly annoyed at being held up.
Seriously? Like he had anywhere better to be.
"I'm sure he's busy," Stuart answered coolly.
The guy's eyes flicked to the other end of the aisle, but students were still filing out on that side as well.
"Fine," he said. "We have to write a 15-20 page paper making an argument for a case that wasn't used when deliberating in court. You can use precedent, economics, the environment, whatever. Topics are due next week and a source list is due the week before the midterm."
"Great," Stuart groaned. "That sounds like a ton of work."
The guy didn't seem inclined to sympathize with him. "Maybe if you lay off the weekday drinking you won't have such a hard time."
Stuart's hand clenched. He took a deep breath and moved out of the way to let the guy leave. "Thanks for the tip. Maybe you should lay off the Cheetos while I work on that."
At lunch he literally ran home to grab his gym bag and then he had another class, Calculus, before lacrosse practice. September was rapidly approaching but it still felt like peak summer outside. The air was hot—sickeningly hot—but luckily not humid. Coach Duncan always made them run splits to open practice, so Stuart was dripping sweat in less than 5 minutes. The club lacrosse team didn't have the funding or the TV time that the varsity team had, but they still played against schools across the country, and they took those games very seriously.
After splits they paired off to toss the ball back and forth. As usual, Macon Jarrett and Wilson Reddington—the only two people he knew prior to joining the team, both from High School—partnered up with each other, leaving him to find someone else. They had all joined the team together and had been excited when none of them were cut. Macon and Wilson were rarely apart from each other as it was, so Stuart couldn't imagine if one had made it and the other hadn't.
There were twenty or so guys on the team and Stuart was still learning names. One of the seniors jogged up to him. "Wanna go?"
"Sure," Stuart said.
Passing drills were always relaxing. He loved having the stick in his hands, listening to the ball whistling back and forth, catching in his net.
"I'm Stuart," he called over.
"I'm Peter. You're pretty good for a freshman."
Stuart grinned. "Thanks."
He had been working his ass off because his goal for the season was to get pulled up to varsity. It happened occasionally, especially when there were a lot of injuries, and he thought he was good enough. His brother Tate had been on the varsity soccer team at Berkeley and Stuart had frequently driven up with his parents for weekend matches. He wanted to give them a reason to drive up for him as well.
Ten minutes later they switched to running drills and it finally hit Stuart that all he'd eaten so far that day was a granola bar and a banana. His cheeks felt flushed and his stomach kept turning over.
"Are you alright?" Macon asked him the first time they stopped for water. "You don't look so good, maybe you should head home for the day."
"I'm fine," Stuart lied. "Just a little hot."
He gulped water down from the cooler set out for the team. One hour, he thought. One more hour and he then he could shower and eat. Until then, he had to suck it up. No one ever got pulled up by skipping practice.
Macon frowned, looking concerned, but the whistle blew for them to return to the field before he could say anything else. Stuart hadn't gotten along with either Macon or Wilson in high school—he had always hated how being around them made him feel excluded, like he wasn't good enough to share in their inside jokes and special fishing trips. Over time though, he had gotten over it and he was pretty good friends with Macon now, he thought.
Wilson wasn't Stuart's biggest fan. He tolerated Stuart when the three of them met up, but he still seemed bitter about the fight they got into in their senior year when Stuart punched Macon and all of them got kicked out of the Regional Championships. Stuart didn't plan on apologizing any time soon, either. He considered watching the team lose from the bench that day punishment enough.
Even Wilson was shooting him concerned looks by the end of practice, though. There were four separate occasions on which Stuart seriously contemplated just sitting down in the grass while everyone else ran around him. His head was splitting open. Every time he launched a shot at the goal or set a block for another player, it felt like torture.
He made it, though. The whistle finally blew three times a few minutes past five and he collapsed to the ground in relief.
"Do you guys want to come to the dining hall with me for dinner?" he asked Macon and Wilson as they sat next to him to slip out of their cleats into flip flops.
Macon shifted, looking uncomfortable. "I think we're just going to order some Chinese to our room, sorry."
Stuart pasted on a fake smile. "Sure, no problem. I'll see you both on Friday, then."
He was constantly reminded that the two of them had switched their assignments so that they could room together. At least he didn't have to share a room with anyone. His room was big and awesome and close to campus and he could keep it as clean as he wanted. If it was sometimes a little quiet, well, it was worth it.
Ignoring how gross he had to be, he went to the dining hall without showering, where he proceeded to clean three plates. First, he downed a burger and fries, then pasta with cream sauce, and then he topped it all off with meatloaf and mashed potatoes. He washed it all down with several glasses of Coke to try and get some caffeine flowing in his system. None of it was particularly satisfying, but he was already used to his food tasting like cardboard by now so he just dumped hot sauce on top whenever possible and tried not to think about how many days left over it might all be.
Once he had showered and changed into clean clothes, he started to feel like he could function normally again. His bed taunted him as he packed for the library—a nap would be great right now—but he ignored the thought and locked the door behind him. There were three main libraries on campus, but Stuart preferred Moffitt Library, because it had 5 floors and was open until 2am most nights, except weekends. Stuart had about 70 pages of reading between his law and politics classes, a problem set for Econ 101, Microeconomics, and he needed to start figuring out this project. Finding some books to flip through for the topic seemed like the easiest place to start.
Stuart made a beeline for the reference desk upon walking in. The librarian working behind the counter was a few inches taller than him but much skinnier. He was wearing skin tight jeans, a vest with a handkerchief sticking out of it and slightly rounded glasses. It was a struggle for Stuart not to roll his eyes. He would never understand the ridiculous hipster scene at Berkeley.
"Hey," Stuart said, stepping up to the counter. "I need help finding a book."
There was an enormous textbook open in front of the librarian and he finished highlighting a sentence underneath a picture of a tree before looking up from the page.
"Did you check the catalogue?" he asked in a bored voice.
Stuart had honestly completely forgotten there was a catalogue he could check on his own.
"I prefer to get personal help when I don't know where to start," he said instead of admitting that.
He received a harder, but still bored, stare for his trouble. "I'm sure you're used to having pledges to do work for you, but I'm busy."
Stuart was confused for a few seconds—had this guy tried to rush with him or something?—before he realized that he was wearing one of his Sig Ep t-shirts. It said DRINK LIKE A SAILOR, SWEAR LIKE A FISH, BID DAY 2012 with a picture of a Marlin holding a corona underneath a row of palm trees. He thought it was a clever spin on the logo for a popular sunglasses company.
"I'm a pledge," he protested. "I'm usually the one doing all the work. And don't you get paid to help people find books?"
"My job isn't to write assignments for people, which is what all you brothers seem to think."
Stuart could feel his valuable time ticking away and he sincerely eventually wanted to be able to go to bed before the sun rose, so he decided to forgo this argument.
"Fine," he bit out. "I'll check the catalogue."
It took several key works, but he eventually found an American law primer that was shorter and clearer than the heavy books required for his class. He figured he'd flip through and find an interesting case to work with. On the way back to the table he'd commandeered, book in hand, he shot the reference table a gloating look, attempting to convey that he was a perfectly capable student who didn't need to mooch off anyone.
The next night, Stuart met with three of his fraternity brothers in a group study room to go over the answers to the Econ problem set. Stuart had been up until 1am the night before in order to finish it, but his brothers didn't seem to be taking it as seriously. They were goofing off, watching music videos, throwing paper, and making a list of songs to play at a pregame that weekend. He sighed. At this rate, their meeting could take hours and he had so much more to do. It was clearly going to be another late night. They had to fulfill mandatory study hours for the frat, too, so he couldn't just leave.
No sooner had he gotten everyone back on track when the pizzas Cooper ordered arrived, throwing the meeting back into disorder. Their room was a complete disaster with greasy boxes and napkins all over the place, and balls of paper on the floor, and he was sure that people outside the room could probably hear them. Stuart was glancing through the glass window to check if anyone seemed to be giving them frustrated looks when he caught the very angry glare of the same librarian who had been so rude to him the night before. He had on another ridiculous outfit—an oxford with a ruler thin tie hanging down. Stuart smirked and held up a slice of pizza in a mock salute.
His group slowly made their way through all of the problems and Stuart actually corrected a few mistakes he hadn't realized he'd made. Three more times, though, he found himself the recipient of that glare. When they were finally finished his brothers spilled out of the room, laughing and talking loudly. Stuart paused in the doorway, looking guiltily at the wreckage they had left behind in their wake. The library closed in two hours. He contemplated staying to clean up, but he still had to read two summaries for his marketing class and a chapter for Psych. Walking quickly, he shut the door and moved down to a lower level before anyone could say anything to him. The library had to have janitors, right?
Stuart rarely got any mail that wasn't fliers for local take out restaurants so he was pleasantly surprised when he opened his box on Friday to find a creamy white envelope addressed to him in a neat cursive script. When he tore it open his excitement faded a little.
Ms. Bree Kagan
Mr. Tate Vonner
Request the pleasure of your company at their union.
May 20th, 2013
Veritas Winery, Sonoma, CA
With how hectic his life had been recently he had almost forgotten that his brother Tate was getting married. Tate had met Bree right after graduating from Berkeley when he moved out to Houston to practice law. Two years after they started dating he had proposed on a sunset cruise in the Cayman Islands. Things always seemed to go perfectly for Tate.
As if on cue, his phone rang.
"Hey mom," he answered, closing his mailbox while she greeted him. "Yeah, I actually just got it."
"You'll be able to come right?" she asked. "That should be after finals."
"I mean hopefully I'll have a summer job as a paralegal by then, but I'm sure if I do, they'll let me take off to come to this."
"Do you think you'll bring a date?"
Stuart groaned. "Mommm, that's so far from now, I have no idea."
"Haven't you met anyone special though?" she asked hopefully.
Stuart had no desire to tell his mom about the couple of drunken makeouts he'd had after fraternity parties so far this semester. "I have to run to class," he said instead, tucking away his invitation. "I'll call you later, okay?"
"Before 10 pm this time," she chided.
"That was one time! I'll call after dinner."
"Okay, I love you," his mom said.
"Love you too," Stuart echoed, hanging up the phone.
Stuart thought he'd decided on a case, but he wanted to read the full text before he officially chose his topic. Careful to use the course catalogue this time, he looked up US Supreme Court Cases of the 21stCentury, Volume II and wrote down the call number JKL247.23 on a scrap sheet of paper. The book was clearly marked as AVAILABLE in the system, but when he found the shelf it was supposed to be on, it was conspicuously absent.
He double checked the call number online and searched the shelves around the section with no luck. As he made his way back to the reference desk he found himself hoping that the discourteous librarian had off for the night. Not only was he working, though, but he had reinforcements with him in the form of a shorter Asian girl who appeared to be helping him scan books back into the system. Although the guy hadn't seen him yet, Stuart could hear their conversation.
The librarian was saying, "We really need more recycling bins in here; that one by the door isn't cutting it and I'm going to punch someone if I see one more student throwing paper in a garbage can."
"Maybe one of those frat douches from yesterday," he added thoughtfully.
Stuart knew with complete certainly that he was one of those 'frat douches' so he took immense pleasure in suggesting, "Maybe by the printers, at least, for when things don't come out right."
The librarian noticeably jumped and the girl helping him smiled at Stuart.
"That's a great idea," she complimented Stuart.
"Yeah," the guy standing next to her said sarcastically. He actually had on a somewhat reasonable outfit today, although Stuart was convinced that he was wearing a girl's shirt, the V of the collar dipped so low. I'll get right on that after I put trashcans in the group study rooms… oh wait, they already have trash cans."
"There was a trashcan in that room?" Stuart asked, playing mock innocent. "I must have missed that, sorry."
The librarian obviously didn't believe him but let it drop. "So why are you bothering me today?" he demanded curtly.
"Add," the girl scolded, hitting him in the arm. "You're going to get in trouble for manners again."
Stuart looked at her puzzled by the strange nickname, but he decided he must have misheard and answered the question. "I need help finding a book."
Seeing the librarian start to open his mouth he quickly added, "A book that's listed as available online but not on the shelf."
"Oh so you finally learned how to use the catalogue?"
"Yes," Stuart said irritably. "But it didn't help me and I really need this book."
"It could literally be anywhere in the entire library, there's nothing I can do."
Stuart's chest constricted painfully. He knew he had a few more days to figure this out, but he had a lacrosse scrimmage on Sunday afternoon and rush events both tonight and tomorrow night. It would help so much if he could cross this off before he left for the Sig Ep house.
"Look," he pleaded. "You're scanning books back in now, right? Can you at least check there?"
"No," the librarian said immediately.
"What's it called?" the girl asked.
Stuart smiled widely at her and listed the title. "Thank you so much."
"There's a 0% chance you find it Marie," V neck shirt guy told her, not bothering to help.
She barely made it through ten books before she emerged triumphantly waving an enormous book. Stuart took pleasure in watching the guy's nostrils flare as if he had smelled something terrible.
"Great!" Stuart said. "Thanks Marie. I'm glad someone is actually helpful when people need it."
He was still chuckling to himself a little while he stood at a separate counter to check out the book.
Their pledging event for the evening was a trivia game, which initially started out as fun. The older brothers divided them into three teams and they warmed up with some pop culture and sports questions.
THIS AUTHOR INVENTED SABERMETRICS AND REVOLUTIONALIZED BASEBALL (BILL JAMES)
Stuart got that one right, but stumbled on THIS STYLE OF ENGLISH ARCHITECTURE IS ALSO A SONG BY THE POPULAR BAND VAMPIRE WEEKEND (MANSARD ROOF)
Stuart was having a blast, sipping a beer and helping heckle the other teams when they got questions wrong that his team got right, when the fraternity president walked into the room and everyone went silent.
"It's time to change the game," Wesson Knicely announced and clapped his hands. Juniors and seniors began streaming in the door, all of them carrying dining hall trays loaded down with shot glasses. "From now on, if your team gets a question wrong, which includes not guessing, you will all do a shot."
The first question in this new round was: IN WHAT YEAR WAS SIG EP FOUNDED, AND WHERE?
Stuart swallowed, his throat suddenly feeling dry. He rapidly lost track of how many shots he had taken. They had all been given a book on Sig Ep's history, but it was evident that few of them had gotten around to reading it.
He came to the next morning at 7am with his cheek pressed to the grimy floor of the fraternity kitchen, no shirt, and only one shoe on. His head was pounding out of his skull. It was entirely possible that he would never be able to taste anything good in his mouth again.
Stuart eventually found his shoe but not his shirt. The walk back took four times longer than usual. Every few steps he had to stop and take deep breaths, his hands on his knees. Halfway to his dorm he stepped into a convenience store—where, miraculously, they ignored the fact that he was scarcely dressed—and bought a gallon of Gatorade and a pack of Saltines. Back at his room, he chugged half the Gatorade and face planted on his bed. Almost immediately, he was back asleep again.
Five hours later he woke up again, desperately needing to pee. This time, he showered, brushed his teeth and then went back to sleep.
By 4pm he was able to leave the dorm without fearing death. His stomach still felt unsettled so he just had a bowl of cereal in the dining hall. Stuart was on the way to the library for the night when his phone beeped from his pocket.
YOU HAVE ONE HOUR TO REPORT TO THE HOUSE- IT'S CLEANING TIME
Two requirements of pledging were that their phones be on at all times and that they obey any commands handed down to them. Stuart sighed, turning to go the opposite direction.
Three hours later he finally made it to the library. His hands felt itchy from all of the bleach and his pants were stained at the knee after kneeling on the dirty tile floor of the kitchen to scrub up the sludge caked on there from endless rounds of spilled drinks.
He was finally making headway on his project topic, though. In the law primer he had stumbled upon a controversial case called US v Morrison where the Supreme Court struck down the right of the federal government to regulate violence against women. The federal government had used an economic argument in the proceedings, which Stuart didn't understand. He thought he could make a decent argument by relying on the Equal Protection Clause—saying that women deserved to feel as safe as men while moving around in society. To make the argument, though, he was going to have to sort through all the previous major cases involving the Dormant Commerce Clause and all of the cases involving the Equal Protection Clause. He sighed heavily again. It was going to be a long semester.
At least all that could wait; he had his topic ready to go for next week and then a few weeks to get that research sorted out. Once he had typed up a neat summary of his decision for his professor, he moved on to the hundred pages of reading he had, also due for US Legal History for next week.
He was stifling a yawn and marking a page with a Post It Note when he heard footsteps approaching. The sound startled him and he suddenly realized that it had been extremely quiet on the first floor around him for a while now.
Glancing up, he noticed the librarian headed toward him, looking tired. Tonight, he was wearing a soft gray sweater. The library AC was always turned on far too cold. Stuart usually found himself shivering when he was only wearing a t-shirt while studying.
The librarian's steps stuttered as he noticed Stuart. "None of the parties going on tonight were good enough for you?"
Stuart's stomach churned at the thought of partying, but he didn't want to talk about what a nerd he was that he was studying on a Saturday night either. "I drank enough last night to last for the whole weekend," he bragged.
The librarian pulled a sour face. "Good for you. We close in 15 minutes, so you probably want to start packing up soon. I don't want to stay any later than I have to."
Was it really almost midnight? Stuart checked his phone, startled to see 11:46 flashing on the screen.
"Oh," he said. "Yeah, I'll head out in a few minutes."
The librarian lingered next to his table, not trusting Stuart to leave in a timely enough fashion. His hovering had the opposite effect of what was intended because it only encouraged Stuart to take the most time possible packing up. While he very slowly tucked away notebooks, curiosity overcame him and he asked, "Why do people call you Add? That's a pretty strange nickname."
"It's short for Addison; most of my friends call me that because it's easier to say," The lib—Addison folded his arms over his chest as he said this, staring Stuart down.
"You don't have to stand there and watch me," Stuart told him.
"What's your name?" Addison asked, instead of leaving.
Addison's lips curved into a wry smile. "Thanks, now I know who to report if you destroy another study room."
"What, 'frat douche' wasn't descriptive enough?" Stuart asked, sarcastically.
Addison huffed an involuntary laugh. "Surprisingly, no. I guess there are too many of you guys around here for just one to stand out." He turned on his heel in satisfaction as Stuart zipped his bag shut. "You know the way out."
Stuart nodded, then made his way home to crash for the night.