After my high school boyfriend broke up with me the first semester, I was single for most of my freshman year of college. I made a lot of new friends in my dorm, but Nick and I would hang out when his girlfriend left town for the weekend. We also all hung out, the three of us, often, and she and I ran together for a while, but I was never entirely comfortable with them. I’d known him longer (since elementary school) and knew him better. I tried to downplay and hide it; I genuinely wanted their relationship to succeed, but, when she was gone, so was the inhibition.
One Friday after she left town, Nick and I were invited to a house party off campus by a high school friend. I finished a chemistry mid-term that evening. Uncharacteristically, I felt really good about it; it was a rare night when I let go of everything I could have done better that day, what I should do tomorrow, and allowed myself to feel I might deserve happiness too. Our friend with the invite was still getting ready when I finished the test, so Nick and I went to her dorm to wait. I was in my clothes from the day: jeans, a V-neck, Keds. My pant size was the smallest it’d ever been after getting mono the summer before. We waited for possibly hours in her dorm hall. We talked until we ran out of subjects. We did wall sits; I think he won. We braced against each other, back to back, and tried to climb up the wall. Our friend took a picture: Nick and I suspended in the air, faces blurred with laughter, arms intertwined. I made it my profile picture, considering his girlfriend’s feelings after the fact. But I wasn’t a threat, she knew that; he was my person, but he was her boyfriend. He’d chosen her; he didn’t want me.
Our friend was finally dressed, in a tight black dress with a zipper down the front and heels. I should have foreseen this, but I didn’t really care. I felt free, I felt present, I had little interest in meeting new people. Me, in the jeans? Yes, I’m obviously unavailable, thanks. Nick and I played beer pong and ran the table. We beat one couple so swiftly we offered a rematch out of sympathy; they nodded in admiration. In this room of mostly strangers, I looked around and saw the assumption the winning team was a couple. We corrected them when asked, but this outward manifestation of our chemistry was awkward.
I eventually got sick. I called my friends and waited in the front yard where I could be alone. The only sober person to drive was a friend’s friend still in high school, there for a college visit. (“Nice to meet you, Kyle. Appreciate the lift.”) My friends told me I looked like the Little Mermaid when they pulled up: my legs tucked under me on a rock with my hair falling across my face as leaned over to vomit. Nick wasn’t there to hold my hair, but he left with us. I appreciated his lack of concern, being treated the same as a male friend. As my girlfriends carried me into the dorm, I watched Nick walk away towards his plans to smoke with someone I didn’t know; he wasn’t ready for the night to be over.
He called the next day to see how I was. At 19, I’d never had a hangover. ‘Let’s get lunch then,’ he said.
‘I think I’m going to break up with Maggie.’
‘What? Why? … Nick, she’s smart, hot, sweet. What’s the problem?’
‘There’s someone else.’
A hard swallow of water.
‘I’ve met someone else.’
‘Nick, you’ve been together for almost a year. What person are you ready to throw that away for?’
‘It’s not just any other person. It’s last night, at that party…’
A stone hit my chest.
‘…doing my own thing without having to worry about her. It’s more everyone else I could be meeting…I think I want that more than I want her.’
‘Dang, you’re dumber than I thought.’
‘Come on, it’s our freshman year of college. It’s a time for change, Kenz!’
‘Arguably, yes. This is exactly the time we should be fucking up.’
‘Damn it, Nick, I was starting to be friends with her.’
‘That’s on you.’
‘Are you going to do it when she gets back?’
‘Yes, come on, I’m not going to send her a breakup text after a year.’
‘What else is on your fuck up agenda?’
‘So, you’re in support?’
‘Does it matter?’
‘It probably wouldn’t change the agenda, but it would matter.’
‘There’s another house party tonight, the lacrosse team. Ty is going.’
‘That sounds like too many bros for me.’
‘Come on, Kenz. Do you have other plans?’
No, I didn’t.
‘If I get stuck in a single conversation about some dude’s summer vacation I give no shits about, I will officially be having a bad time.’
‘Come on…you need to meet new people and forget about Alex.’
‘Thanks, bring up my ex, that really makes me want to get out there.’
‘You know it’ll be fun.’
If Nick and I were together, it probably would be.
‘Do you think your brother could get us some alcohol for pregaming?’
‘Oh, the real reason you want me to come reveals itself.’
‘Bro, you know it’s not like that.’
I send a text.
‘I’ll let you know. Any requests?’
‘Bud Light Lime. It’s good, you have to try it.’
‘Wanna study for a little until then?’
Years later, Nick would break my heart, in a way that made me hope I would never feel again. I got a 93 on the chemistry test.