Days as a Freshman: 100
Mood: Total crap
“Here. I got the last piece.” Justin set a giant piece of chocolate cake in front of me and walked over to his own seat. “We’ll share. How ‘bout that?”
“This is huge!” I poked a fork into the inches of frosting.
“Please don’t tell me you’re one of those girls.” Justin sat down and leaned across our small corner café table, scooping up a piece with his own fork. “You don’t look like one of those girls who doesn’t eat stuff because she’s all caught up with being fat or whatever.” He shoved the piece into his mouth, “how can you not enjoy something like this?”
Poking the cake again, I stopped myself from admitting that sometimes I was very close to being one of those girls. I wasn’t fat, but I wasn’t thin either, and consuming a giant piece of chocolate cake at 11:30pm on a Monday was not how I usually did things.
But it also wasn’t usual for me to be caught up in a school-wide scandal, or sit inches away from a tall, attractive guy who liked to smile at me.
So I took a bite.
“There you go! Knew you had it in you!” Justin went in for another piece and playfully stabbed at my fork. “It’s awesome, isn’t it?”
“I had no idea they had food like this in the café…”
“Guess our tuition is going somewhere.” Justin leaned back in his seat, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and unscrewing the cap to his water bottle. He took a long, loud drink and set the bottle back on the table. “Okay. Cake Mission accomplished. Now about the other thing…”
I swallowed a block of icing before it could choke me.
“That fight…” Justin ran his hand over his mouth, massing his jaw as he spoke. “It was totally fucked up, Grace. Wish you and your friends hadn’t seen it.”
“We didn’t mean to…I mean…” I sat back in my own seat, suddenly feeling very awkward. “Stacey told us something was going on in the lounge, but not who was there or anything. We just saw the end…”
“Eh…” Justin was still massaging his face, as if just remembering the incident stressed him out. “There was a lot more to it than that. But that’s whatever right now. What’s important,” his hand dropped from his jaw and he leaned forward, his dark brown eyes searching mine, “is what you told Dean Carlon when you went to her office.”
I dropped my gaze, not knowing where to look.
“She called us all in. I know she probably saw you too…” I could feel him staring at me, feel his eyes willing mine to look up again, “it’s a free country, kid. You can say whatever you want, I just want to know how the meeting went down.”
“I didn’t tell her much.” I cleared my throat, pushing my fading voice out of my mouth. “I didn’t know much. Why do you…why do you care?”
I looked up, biting the inside of my lip, promising myself that nothing; dark brown eyes, cute smile, friendly face, was going to pull me down into this mess any father than I already was.
“I’m not trying to give you the 5th degree.” Justin was still leaning forward, still focusing on my face. “And I’m not trying to be an asshole, even though it probably sounds that way. I just…this whole stupid thing…it’s getting way out of hand and the more people talk, the bigger it gets.”
“Why were those guys saying those things to Sasha?” My fingers pulled on the sleeve of my shirt. Steady. Push ahead. Stand your ground.
“Because they’re dicks. Because they think they know the whole story.” Justin’s jaw clenched. “They don’t.”
“It’s probably not helping things that you guys are being some damn illusive.”
“It’s a group thing.” Finally sitting back in his chair, it was Justin’s turn to look away. “The truth is more complicated than black and white.”
“Justin,” his name felt funny on my tongue. “I don’t even really know Sasha, okay? We’re sort of friends, but that’s all. I don’t want to be involved in this. The whole thing is vague and weird and I don’t like it.”
“I know.” Justin sighed. “I know. I feel like an asshole bringing you here and pulling information out of you.” He looked back at me. “And you’re right. You shouldn’t be involved in this. Some of the guys just wanted to cover all the bases but…” He picked up his fork again and spun it in his hands, “screw that. Let’s stop talking about it. For now and forever.”
His mouth went up in an attempted smile. Neither of us seemed to buy it.
“I just…if someone’s hiding something, something bad, I don’t want to be a part of—”
“You’re right.” Justin cut me off. “I don’t want you to be a part of it either. You’re too sweet of a person to be caught up in this sh*t.”
Despite my nerves, my face flushed.
“Here’s the thing,” Justin continued, “I think the best thing for everyone would be for you to not hang around Sasha that much anymore.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but Justin kept talking. “It’s not like you were dating or anything, but a few guys saw you two around a lot…” His voice trailed off.
“So should I stay away from Sasha because people will talk, or because there’s something I don’t know?”
Justin’s mouth tightened. His eyes wanted to say something, but his lips were set against it.
“I think you should stay away from Sasha. That’s all I can say right now.”
The ambiguity of his words was enough to push me up from the table. Nothing anyone said about this whole mess was ever clear. Things were always being left out. I was sick of it.
“Fine. Whatever.” I grabbed my jacket and yanked it onto my arms. “Whatever you say.”
“Just stop.” I pulled my hat over my hair and pushed my chair into the table. “I’ll stay away from Sasha, I’ll stay away from your stupid house, and I won’t breathe a word about anything to anyone.”
His pained expression, and my gut reaction to apologize, frustrated me even more.
“I don’t even know you, Justin.” The words came out harsh. “And you don’t know me. It’s probably best we keep it that way. For everyone’s sake.”
I turned around and started walking, heading for the glass café doors and squeezing my hands into fists, willing myself to not look back.
You’re free from everything now, my head tried to convince me. You just cut your ties to this giant mess. It had to be done.
But as I walked outside, almost tripping in my rush to get out of the Student Center, I wondered if pulling myself out was really the right thing to do.
Someone needed to figure out what had happened that night. Someone needed to figure out why no headway was being made. Someone needed to do something besides make vague references to hazy incidents.
I just wasn’t sure if I wanted that someone to be me.