Quick point of clarification- this library is built on a hill, so you enter at the top (the fifth floor) and then work your way down to the bottom from there. That should help this chapter make a little more sense. Thanks for reading and commenting as always!
At lacrosse practice on Monday they ran twice as many sprints as they had the week before. In a short break between two sets, Coach Duncan looked at them all— doubled over and wheezing for breath—and announced: "If you can't handle this now, you may want to reconsider your position on the team. I'm going to increase this distance every week. Lacrosse is a game of sprints. I want you all to be able to run for a full game without getting out of breath."
Stuart couldn't imagine having to run any further. He was taking in deep, gasping breaths and there was a stitch in his side that sharpened each time his lungs constricted. Their drills were getting harder too; they were learning fake plays and setting up numerous blocks in patterns around the goal. It had never been this complicated in high school. During a particularly complex demonstration, he looked over to Macon for clarification, but Macon just frowned, seeming as lost as Stuart felt.
At least the weather had slowly gotten nicer. The thick heat of the summer was gone now, leaving pleasant temperatures for them to practice in. When they peeled off to pass back and forth, Stuart looked around for his now regular partner, Peter. Peter was nowhere to be seen, however, which was strange, because he hadn't been around last practice either.
"From now on, we're going to have at least one team of three for these drills," Coach yelled to the players. "Peter Lewis was pulled up to varsity after one of the starters transferred to Syracuse."
Hope and disappointment warred in Stuart's chest. He was jealous that Peter had been tapped instead of him, but he knew for certain that it was possible now. Maybe someone else on the varsity team would break a leg or tear an ACL. He didn't want anyone to get hurt, though…
Realizing that he had been standing alone for too long, lost in thought, he jogged over to Macon and Wilson and they formed a triangle for the passing drill.
Stuart tossed the ball about 10 yards over to Macon.
"That's pretty exciting for Peter," he called out to both of them, trying to make conversation.
"I guess," Wilson replied, catching a pass from Macon. "He's going to have so much more work now. They have practice every day of the week and for an hour longer. I think they travel more once the season starts, too. I couldn't imagine trying to balance that with school."
"I think it would be worth it," Stuart argued, receiving the ball again. "It's so much more prestigious."
Wilson shrugged, letting his stick drop to the ground for a moment. "I'd rather have a life."
Good, Stuart thought. One less person to be competing against.
Monday night, the hazing challenge ended and Stuart finally got to shower. It was glorious. He had passed the last check-in with flying colors—Trent leaned in to smell him, noticeably gagged, and then waved him out of the house to go home. By the time Stuart was finished washing up, he had gone through almost an entire bar of soap and had washed his hair three separate times.
It took hours on Tuesday for the sheer pleasure of being clean to wear off. In class, people sitting near him no longer shot him dirty looks, he could sit closer to the front where it was easier to focus, and he didn't feel rude staying in the dining hall to eat instead of taking out a to-go box.
To cap off his good day, they didn't have practice on Tuesdays, so he was able to be at the library by 1pm. He'd be able to get to bed at a reasonable time, rather than the crack of dawn. His mom and dad were driving down for Parent's weekend the weekend after next, so he was struggling to get ahead before they arrived. His lit review was due next week, he had a Calculus test coming up and he needed to write a response paper for his US Politics class.
He had just gotten comfortable at his favorite library table—the one with the most light from the windows— when he was distracted by a flurry of noise and movement over by the reference desk.
"What?" he heard Addison gasp, loudly.
There was another cluster of conversation between him and two of the girls who worked on cataloging books. Then, Addison pulled out a CLOSED sign, placed it on top of his desk and stormed over to Stuart.
"How could you?" Addison demanded, as soon as he was close enough.
Stuart looked around at his desk. There were just a few books and a cup of coffee scattered around him; nothing too messy.
"What did I do?" he asked, confused.
"Your fraternity's little prank isn't funny. Those fish are going to die!"
Staring blankly at him, Stuart said: "I honestly have no idea what you're talking about."
"There are goldfish in every single bathroom in the library! Elizabeth told me she saw a bunch of fraternity brothers doing it."
"You know there are eight different fraternities on campus, right?" Stuart asked. "Besides I don't see the big deal—goldfish cost what, 50 cents?"
Addison spluttered at him. "Just because they're cheap doesn't mean they deserve to die—there are dozens in the library!"
"Okay," Stuart conceded. "Sorry about the prank but it wasn't Sig Ep; I would know."
Addison crossed his arms over his chest, considering Stuart. "What are you doing right now?"
"Trying to read," Stuart answered, pointing out the obvious stack of books sitting in front of him.
"Well you're going to take a break and help me," Addison told him. "I can't cover all the bathrooms myself."
"No way," Stuart argued. "I need to finish this lit review. Ask those girls you were talking to."
"All the library staff can't be off at the same time. I need help and you owe me for that room I checked out for you last weekend."
"Are you serious?"
Addison just stared him down. He reminded Stuart a little of Mrs. Richards, the terrifying librarian at his elementary school who used to get mad at him for talking too loudly and running around the shelves. The sharp cut blazer he was wearing only emphasized his stern look.
"Fine" Stuart caved. "What do you want me to do?"
"I can go down to the first and second floor if you can get the fourth and fifth. Then, whoever gets to the third floor first can do that."
"And I'm just getting the fish out?"
"With what?" Stuart asked, pulling a face.
"Think of something," Addison ordered. "And quickly, this conversation has already taken too long."
He turned on his heel and stalked back to the reference desk, grabbing a Nalgene before heading over to the stairs. The last thing Stuart wanted to do was put his hand in a toilet or touch a fish. It was so unfair that he finally got to shower and he had to spend his day messing around in toilets.
The coffee cup Stuart had was more than half full and he wasn't about to pour it out. Sighing heavily he walked back over to the coffee stand. The girl working the machines had short blonde hair and a nose ring. She didn't seem to remember seeing Stuart earlier, even though it had only been about thirty minutes since he last ordered. "What can I get for you?"
"Can I have a cup for water?" Stuart asked. Then, realizing that he could use one to scoop and one to hold fish, he corrected: "Actually two."
"That will be fifty cents," she responded.
"It's two cups," Stuart protested. "Are you kidding me?"
She shrugged, looked unconcerned with the ludicrousness of what she was asking. "It's official school policy. Students bring their own containers for water or they pay."
With sudden clarity, Stuart remembered the Nalgene bottle in Addison's hands. This just had to be another of his stupid ideas. More bike racks or printers were one thing, but charging students... that was bullshit.
"Do you take student charge?" he asked around gritted teeth.
She held out a hand expectantly, and he passed his charge card over.
Holding two cups, he made his way over to the 5th/main floor's men's bathroom. It was a small bathroom—there was only one stall tucked away in the back corner after a row of urinals. Thirty minutes or so had to have passed since the prank, though, so he wasn't expecting to find anything.
Using his foot, he gingerly opened the door to the stall. To his surprise, he saw a flash of gold against the white porcelain of the toilet. Stepping in closer he could clearly see a fish swimming a slow circle around the bowl. He reached in, careful not to let his fingers touch the water, and scooped it out. For a moment he watched it hover in the cup in his hand—its scales kept shimmering in the sunlight streaming through the glazed bathroom window.
Back on the main floor, he crossed over to the other side of the building where the girl's room was. Just short of the door, he was struck by the realization that he couldn't actually just walk in.
Oh well, Stuart thought, redirecting to the stairs. It wasn't like Addison would know if Stuart skipped all the girl's rooms. Besides, Stuart couldn't care less what Addison thought of him. He had one foot on a step, though, when he caught another glimpse of the fish in his water cup. Sighing, he turned around.
He scanned the floor for a girl he recognized. It was a sheer stroke of luck that he spotted Trent's girlfriend, Crosby, curled up in an armchair reading.
"Hey Crosby," he greeted her. "Sorry to interrupt."
She was far too nice for Trent, he thought as she looked up and smiled, asking: "Stuart, hey, how are you?"
One of Stuart's very first pledging duties had been to bring her flowers from Trent in front of her entire 500 person English class, so that had broken the ice between them fairly quickly.
"Good," he said. "Could I ask a quick favor?"
"Sure, what it is?"
He explained the situation and she took the two cups into the bathroom. Less than a minute later, she came back out, shaking her head in disappointment. All at once it hit him just how much he'd gotten his hopes up that she would find something.
"Thanks anyway," he told her, walking her back to her seat. "Say hi to Trent for me."
He still felt ridiculously hopeful as he opened the door to the fourth floor men's room. Immediately after, his stomach lurched so dramatically that he almost gagged. There was a goldfish out directly on the grate of a urinal; its cold, dead eyes stared up at him. The toilet in the only stall in the room was empty too.
The floor was quiet enough that he decided to just duck into the girl's bathroom, and try to get it over with as quickly as possible. The first stall was empty, but he smiled to see another streak of gold in the second.
As he bent over to scoop it up; however the door to the bathroom swung open.
"What the hell?" a girl's voice asked.
Stuart jerked, almost splashing the cup with the fish.
"I'm really sorry," he said. "I'm just helping the library clean up from a prank earlier, I'll be just a second."
"Get out," she shrieked.
"Whoa," he held up his hands, turning to face her. "It's not a big deal."
"Right now or I'll report you."
Stuart took one last look at the fish and met her angry gaze once again. "Sorry, I'm leaving."
He backed out of the room, but he wasn't fast enough to miss the unmistakable sound of both toilets flushing, one after the other. The urge to punch something was overwhelming.
Coming out of the door from the stairs to the third floor, Stuart scanned the aisles around him, looking for the bathrooms. If Addison hadn't already gotten to this floor, this would be his last chance to redeem himself. Unlike the upper floors which had tables set out almost everywhere for students to read and write, this floor primarily consisted of rows and rows of bookshelves. He wasn't sure where to go from here.
"Stuart," Addison called out from behind him. "Over here."
He whirled around to see Addison, who was holding his Nalgene in his left hand and grinning exuberantly. Stuart could see several fish swimming around inside, even through the thick yellow plastic of the bottle. The lower floors of the library weren't as heavily trafficked as the main floors, so it looked like he'd had far better luck than Stuart in getting to the fish on time. Stuart made his way over to him.
"Hey," Stuart greeted him, grinning back. This had actually been sort of fun. "Have you done this floor yet?"
"Yeah, so it looks like we're all done."
"Sweet," Stuart said. His smile fading a little, he added: "I was only able to get this one, sorry."
Addison shrugged, but couldn't quite hide his disappointment. "That's alright, it's not your fault some jerk-off did this. We did the best we could."
Stuart's fingers felt slippery from the condensation on the cup he was holding, and he shifted it to his other hand so that he could wipe his palm on his shirt.
"What are you going to do with the fish now?" he asked.
"I'll probably buy a tank and keep them in my room. They shouldn't be too hard to take care of."
"Squirtle, what's up my man?" Someone yelled from across the floor.
Addison noticeably winced at the noise. Stuart turned around to see one of his fraternity brothers, Moe White. He waved in place of yelling back. Instead of continuing on to wherever he had been going, however, Moe made his way over to them.
"What are you doing?" Moe asked curiously, once he was close enough to make out the cup in Stuart's hand.
Stuart could feel himself flushing. He was way too embarrassed to admit that he just chased after fish for an hour so he pasted on a triumphant grin and bragged: "Lax team prank, pretty sweet right?"
The look on Addison's face turned murderous.
Moe raised at eyebrow."With this guy?"
"I got busted," Stuart sighed. "The staff here doesn't know how to have any fun."
"You're a dick," Addison announced, just before he stormed away, leaving Stuart with Moe.
Up until Addison left, Stuart had been planning to give back the last fish. Now, he was left still clutching the cup, wondering what to do.
Picking up on his confusion, Moe asked: "Want me to go with you to finish the last bit of your prank? I'm sure we could find somewhere cool."
Panic spiked through Stuart. "Oh, thanks, but I have somewhere else in mind. Somewhere not in the library."
He was going to have to go home for the day and put the cup in his room. Then, maybe Trent would let him borrow his car for the afternoon to run to the store. Stuart would have to make up an excuse—maybe he could say he needed more body wash, since Trent would probably buy that…
"Okay, well I'll see you tomorrow at the Sig Ep meeting," Moe said, cutting into his thoughts. "I should get back to my study group."
"Yeah, have a good one," Stuart replied, absentmindedly. He was already pulling out his phone to make a call.
After a week of Addison pointedly not meeting his eye in the library or coming over to speak with him, Stuart got bored and decided to seek him out. One of the books he had chosen for his research paper ended up being a flop. On Thursday of that week he pulled it from the stack on the dresser in his room and brought it back to the library to return it.
As Stuart approached, he could hear Addison having an animated conversation with one of his coworkers, whose name Stuart was positive he had been given before, but couldn't actually remember.
"Think about how great it would be," Addison rhapsodized. "Students could grow their own fruits and vegetables and then we could donate any extras to the local homeless shelter."
The shorter, Asian girl standing next to him laughed. "And what, are you single-handedly going to weed and fertilize the plants?"
Addison just barreled on, caught up in his own ideas. "I could form a club, divide shifts. Members would get first dibs."
"Maybe that could work," his coworker said, dubiously.
Just then, Addison looked up and noticed Stuart for the first time. "What do you want?"
The girl shot Addison a warning glare, which he ignored. Stuart smiled charmingly at both of them, holding up the textbook. "I wanted to return this."
"Oh, so now that you need something you can be seen with me?"
"It had nothing to do with you," Stuart told him, rolling his eyes. "I just didn't want to be seen going out of my way to rescue goldfish."
Addison huffed even more indignantly at that. Then, he pointed to the main entrance of the library. "The drop box is over there."
"Fine," Stuart retorted, right before he headed over to the box. "Sorry I gave up studying for an hour and a half to help you. You're welcome for that by the way."
He was in a sore mood for most of the rest of the day and it was only exacerbated in the Sig Ep meeting that night. Peyton, the hazing coordinated looked positively gleeful as he dragged a large cardboard box out into the living room.
"I'm going to count down from three," Peyton announced. "Then you'll all have 30 seconds to choose an outfit from this box. Pick too slowly and I'll find something for you."
"What are these for?" someone sitting behind Stuart asked.
Peyton just shouted "Three, two, one, GO!"
Stuart was sitting pretty close to the box and he jumped up instinctively, reaching in. When he pulled his hand out he was holding a massive hideous tie die shirt—all clashing colors and messy patterns. He was contemplating trying to switch it out, but at least two of his brothers were holding dresses so he chose to be safe and hold on.
"Okay," Peyton said, grinning, once the fray had subsided. "Put those on."
While they obeyed, he continued. "For the remainder of tomorrow and the weekend, you will wear these whenever you are in public. You can't take them off until Sunday's chapter meeting."
Stuart grimaced, looking down at his chest. He was lucky, though. There were several Hawaiian shirts, a sweater with kittens on it, a few more dresses he hadn't noticed before, and a Backstreet Boys concert tee all spread throughout the room. Everything was at least a size XXL.
Peyton kept talking. "That's not all we have for you, either."
On cue, all of their big brothers streamed in through the door. Once Stuart figured out what Trent was holding, he felt his heart sink. Well fuck. No wonder Trent had been so easygoing about letting Stuart use his car—he had probably known what was coming tonight, and had wanted to make it up to him.
Addison definitely didn't ignore him when he walked into the library the next day—far from it. He was staring off into space from the reference table, looking antsy when Stuart ducked inside the library, trying to hide his face from view. His efforts weren't successful. Addison's face contorted wildly before he doubled over, holding his stomach, he was laughing so hard.
Heat rushed to Stuart's face. His whole day had been horribly embarrassing, but this seemed worse somehow. He reached up to scrub a hand through his hair, forgetting—not for the first time today— that his head was a mess of bald patches. One of his fingers hit skin, another touched a clump of hair, and he grimaced. Then, to make matters worse, Addison stood up from the desk and headed towards him, presumably to mock him further.
Stuart slammed his backpack down on an open table. "I thought you were ignoring me."
"No, no," Addison wheezed. "This is too great, you just made my day."
"Good for you," Stuart groused.
"You look like an idiot—your hair looks like it got in a fight with a lawn mower and lost and that shirt, just wow, this is wonderful."
Stuart slid into a chair and crossed his arms over his chest, like a petulant child.
"Wow, you're really creative," he deadpanned. "That's nothing I haven't heard from about 100 people already today."
"Oh fine," Addison replied, mimicking Stuart the day before. "I'll leave you alone. I don't want you to end up crying if you don't get enough work done."
Stuart was already tugging his Econ and Law textbooks out of his backpack. "Yes, go away."
At least while he was reading he could forget about how stupid he looked. Before, his hair had been pretty long—falling in a swoop across his forehead—and he had kept it that way for years now. It was the way all the professional lacrosse players wore it. Now, even after he was allowed to shave it, he was going to have a buzz cut and he was going to look awful. He immersed himself in a Supreme Court case, trying to keep his mind off all of the people staring at him.
His eyes slid open to darkness and Stuart jerked before realizing it was only because he'd thrown an arm over his face.
Someone had a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, Stuart."
A page was stuck to his cheek. Stuart peeled it off and sat up, rubbing his eyes. Addison was staring at him, a funny expression on his face. "We're about to close."
"Oh, sorry." Stuart said, around a yawn, while he fumbled for his stuff. He hadn't gotten very far in his reading, judging by the page the book was open to. He'd probably have to read more back in his room to stay on track.
"You need to sleep more," Addison told him. "I thought it was bad the first time this happened, but this is getting ridiculous.
Stuart brushed him off. "Pledging just went late last night. They got really into the designs on our heads."
"How long are you going to have to put up with all this crap?"
"I'll get initiated in February," Stuart explained, zipping up his backpack and rising to his feet. "Then I can rage for the rest of the spring—just go to all the keggers and date functions."
"Sounds awesome," Addison agreed sarcastically.
He followed Stuart out of the library, catching the last couple of light switches by the door and locking up.
"Are you one of those weirdos who never drinks?" Stuart asked. "Do you like go home on weekends and play Checkers for fun?"
Addison's face scrunched up like he'd just eaten a sour lemon. "You don't have to go to some messy, crowded frat party to have fun. I go to concerts downtown or to my friend's apartments where I can have beer that isn't Natty Light."
The answer threw Stuart off. He'd halfway expected Addison to say, Yes, I got to bed at 9pm when I don't have to work.
"I've been meaning to go to a concert downtown," he admitted. "I just need to borrow a license from one of my brothers."
Addison huffed a laugh. "Oh man, I do not miss those days before I turned 21."
They were standing by the bike racks and Stuart waited while Addison bent over to unlock a dirty, scratched up green bike.
In an attempt to put off the long walk back to his dorm for as long as possible, Stuart asked: "So will I see a community garden around campus any time soon?"
"Ugh, who knows? Hopefully, but I need to figure out if there is even a demand for it."
"I don't think any freshmen would really be interested," Stuart warned him. "We don't have kitchens."
Addison snapped his fingers. "Oh, I should talk to dining halls. That's a good idea."
"Uh, thanks," Stuart said. He felt the beginnings of another yawn. "I'm going to head back to my room, have a good night."
"Go to bed," Addison ordered. "Don't read anymore."
"No can do," Stuart replied, but he didn't feel as grim about it anymore.