Just one of the guys, p.13
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       Just One of the Guys, p.13

           Kristan Higgins
 
Page 13

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  He pauses. “Uh…that’s not…No. That’s okay. ”

  “Hello, Trevor, honey!” Mom bustles up and kisses her favorite child on the cheek. “Don’t tell me you’re looking for a girlfriend? Chastity, you must know someone—”

  “Trevor needed coffee, Mom,” I explain hastily, desperate to change the subject. “He’s only here for coffee. And half and half. Trev! Did the Yankees win?”

  Trevor is grinning, whether at me or my mom or us both is hard to tell. “The game wasn’t over when I left. But it was eight-zip, so I felt pretty comfortable going. They’re looking great this year. ”

  “Please, God, another Pennant. ” I relax a little, back on familiar turf.

  “From your lips to God’s ears,” he says. “Gotta go, girls. See you soon. Bye, Mom. ” He kisses my mother, smiles at me and takes off.

  At the end of the aisle, another woman stops him, and I turn away so I won’t have to see them standing there together.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  WHEN HIGH SCHOOL ENDED, I couldn’t wait to go off to college. Home had become boring—Jack was married, Lucky was married, Mark was full of himself and Matt was, well, Matt was actually okay, though off at the fire academy fulfilling his destiny. Trevor, too, was away, but at college. I was so bored at home, so tired of the same old classmates, so dismissive of my hometown. I was dying to go somewhere where no one would know me, where I could make my own mark, to be something other than an O’Neill of the O’Neills—Mike’s daughter, Betty’s daughter, MikenBetty’s daughter, Jack’s sister, Lucky’s sister, Mark’s sister, Matt’s sister, the O’Neill sister, the O’Neill girl. I couldn’t wait to be just Chastity O’Neill. No expectations, no legacy, just me and the new college friends I’d make and all those cool professors and fascinating classes. Binghamton University was waiting for me.

  Oh, and Trevor. Didn’t I mention that? Right. Trevor happened to go to Binghamton University, too. Just a happy coincidence, I told myself. Definitely not the reason I’d applied there. He was a junior; he liked it; he was a great family friend, so that was a nice bonus, someone to share rides with. That was all. You betcha.

  When we arrived at the beautiful campus, I tried to hide my excitement as Mom morosely made my bed and my father glumly inspected the fire exits and sprinklers. I chatted with other girls on my hall, lugged in the tiny fridge that bore the dents and scratches of three of my four brothers, hung up my Dave Matthews poster on my side of the room.

  An hour after we arrived, Trevor popped in to welcome me to college.

  “Hey, Chas,” he said, grinning, gorgeous, those hot-fudge eyes causing warm things to happen to me south of the border.

  “Trevor!” my mother barked. “You’ll look after her, won’t you?”

  “Sure, Mom,” he said, slinging his arm around me. I tried not to blush.

  “No drinking,” my father growled, angry at the fact that his baby girl dared to leave home (or, for that matter, leave infancy). “No drugs, no idiot boys. You hear the fire alarm, you get the hell out of this goddamn building, you understand?”

  “Yes, Dad. Thanks. ”

  We walked around campus, bought the requisite sweatshirts at the bookstore, admired the big shade trees and lush flower beds. When they could stall no more, my parents trudged toward the parking lot, Trevor and me trailing behind.

  “I’ll miss you,” I said. A clamp seemed to circle my throat, and panic zipped up my legs.

  My father stared at the ground. “Be good,” he muttered.

  I burst into tears. So did Mom. Dad, too. We fell into each other’s arms, sobbing. “Have fun. ” Dad choked.

  “Study hard. ” Mom hiccupped.

  “I love you, Mom,” I squeaked. “I love you, Daddy. I’ll miss you so much. ”

  “Okay, okay,” Trevor said, good-naturedly pulling us apart. “She’ll be fine. We’ll come home soon. Come on, Chas, let me get you drunk. ”

  “You think you’re funny?” my dad asked, wiping his eyes. “You’re not funny. No drinking, Chastity. ”

  “And no unprotected sex!” Mom added, buckling herself into the seat, then blowing her nose.

  “No sex at all!” Dad yelled. “And no drugs of any kind, young lady. ” He got into the car and pointed at me. “No drinking, drugs or sex. You understand me? I will personally kill you if I hear anything different. Love you. Call us tonight. ”

  As they drove off, it started to dawn on me just how alone I was about to be.

  “So, Chas,” Trevor said, “you okay? I have some stuff to do, but I could hang out for a while. ”

  “I’m fine,” I said, wanting very much for him to hang out for a while but being too much of a tough cookie to actually ask.

  “Good girl. Want to have dinner one night?”

  “Sure,” I said, still gazing in the direction of my parents’ car.

  “Great. I’m in the directory. Give me a ring. ” He gave me a quick, perfunctory hug, then loped away. I watched as four girls surged toward him. He stopped, chatted, continued, turning to wave at me as he rounded the corner of the building.

  Sure, I’d been dying to get away from the irritating, know-it-all attitude of Mark. From Jack and Lucky’s constant stream of advice and input. I couldn’t wait to go to class, read, write papers, do labs, make friends, have a boyfriend.

  But it was surprisingly hard.

  I began to realize how much being the O’Neill girl defined me. Here, no one knew why I ate so quickly, showered faster than a Marine, swore with such color and energy. I found out rather quickly that most college boys don’t want to be instantly pinned during a friendly little wrestling match, outscored three to one in a basketball game or thrashed during a pool match.

  Likewise, it was harder than I’d imagined to make friends with girls. Elaina and I had been best friends for eons already, that kind of tight-knit, unbreachable bond that kept other friends at a distance. Who needed friends when you had a best friend forever, four brothers, their wives and girlfriends, and Trevor? These girly-girls in their capri pants and tiny canvas shoes, their hair-tossing and flirting, were exotic and mysterious to me. On some level, I wanted to be like them; on the other hand, I knew it was impossible for me, five foot eleven and three-quarters, one hundred and fifty-seven pounds with the legendary O’Neill shoulders, to fit in with the cashmere sweater-set clique.

  It was lonely.

  At least until crew tryouts, that is. Thanks to Lucky’s tutelage, I aced the first round. Coach put me on the exclusive four, which meant I had three instant best friends, all of whom happened to be upperclassmen and who quite admired those O’Neill shoulders. Suddenly, I belonged somewhere based on my own accomplishments. I was judged only for myself, not what my brothers had or had not done. It felt fantastic. I had finally come into my own.

  I was meant to row. No tiny little shiny-haired girls on crew, no sir. Every day, we prided ourselves on being tireless, strong, ruthless, relentless. Burning muscles and sweat-drenched T-shirts were our status symbols. We ate together, studied together, hung out in each other’s rooms.

  At the Head of the Charles Regatta in October, the Binghamton women’s four creamed the competition, gliding four lengths in front of the second-place crew, soundly beating everyone who mattered: Harvard and Yale and Penn. Even freakin’ Oxford! We were euphoric. Each of us had been perfect, in sync, our every molecule focused on the row—a study in strength, concentration and unity. Such a victory! Binghamton had never placed so high at such a prestigious event, and we found ourselves local celebrities and campus heroes upon return.

  To honor the occasion, the entire women’s crew team was invited for dinner at the dean’s home. It was a posh evening—I even wore a skirt and eye shadow, my teammates assuring me that I did not look like I was a drag queen. Dinner at the dean’s! It was a huge honor. We were all nervous, especially me. I was the only underc
lassman on the winning crew, the only first-year on varsity, and yes, a lot of fuss had been made about me. So when Becca, a senior, offered me a vodka and tonic before the big dinner, I accepted. Then I asked for another. Never having had vodka before, not having eaten anything all day due to said nerves, well, let’s just say I relaxed quite a bit.

  And then it happened. It was one of those stupid and fairly common moves many college students make. Drinking, I was just now learning, seemed to lower my inhibitions and loosen the old tongue, but I was doing okay, being rather charming, in fact, or so I thought. When the dean herself asked me—me!—how it felt to have captured first place, beating some of the best crews in the world, what I imagined was a charming and droll answer fell out of my mouth.

  “Well, Dean, those candyass Ivy Leaguers should have been drowned at birth by their parents, seeing that they row like spaghetti-armed third graders! I mean, come on! Did you see those weakling rich kid Harvard anorexics?”

  I waited for the roar of laughter from my teammates. None came. Glancing around the dean’s posh living room, I noted that my classmates were…uh-oh…frozen in horror.

  I had forgotten—oh, so briefly and so critically—that not only had Dean Strothers attended Harvard, but she had rowed while at school. Furthermore, she had a daughter, at Harvard incidentally, who also rowed. Who happened to be on the very crew we so soundly defeated.

  I spent the rest of the evening burning in Dean Strothers’s hate-filled glare, trying not to move, trying to melt into the background, which is rather hard to do, since no one wanted to stand closer than four feet. Our celebratory dinner was ruined, the dean was pissed, Coach horrified and my teammates embarrassed. I wanted to crawl into the river and drown.

  When dinner finally ended, some four years after it had begun, I slunk across campus to my dorm. It was Thursday night, and tomorrow there were no classes as part of the Columbus Day break. My crewmates and I had planned to storm the campus center and continue our celebration, but there was no way I was going to do that now. Chances were that I’d be the main topic of discussion, and all I wanted was to be alone.

  My roommate had gone home for the long weekend, thank God, and I flopped on my bed and cried, torn up that I’d been so thoughtless, so tactless, so stupid, stupid, stupid. I couldn’t get anything right. I was a bull in a china shop. I had no social graces. I would never ever drink again. I’d finally found friends and now they hated me. I was a blight on the sport. I didn’t deserve to row ever again. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

  When a knock came on the door an hour later, I didn’t bother getting up, still sniveling in self-disgust.

  “Chastity, honey, it’s me,” said a voice. Trevor.

  I hadn’t seen much of him since I’d started six weeks earlier, and when I did, he was always surrounded by friends, usually of the female variety, though he was popular with both sexes. He’d wave, come over for a quick chat, pat me on the shoulder and off he’d go, back to the cool kids, to the fabulous upperclassmen, to the throngs of women who seemed to orbit around him.

  I’d hoped that we would hang out at college, walk across the beautiful campus, have dinner as he’d promised. In my eighteen-year-old mind, our longtime friendship would blossom into something more—a deep and abiding love—and we would soon marry and live happily ever after.

  However, it was all too apparent that this would not be the case. Trevor was too enmeshed to seek me out on more than a cursory basis, fulfilling his promise to my parents. It hurt, seeing him so close, so happy, so unattainable.

  I told myself I didn’t care. I had crew. I had my own friends. Once crew was over, I would probably even have time for a boyfriend. So Trevor didn’t matter. That’s what I told myself.

  But when I saw him standing in my doorway, frowning at the sight of my gloopy mascara and wobbly mouth, I threw myself into his arms and sobbed with renewed gusto. “Stupid…vodka…dean…candyass…stupid…Harvard,” I bawled, and somehow Trevor strung the story together. He’d already heard several versions, hence his visit to my room. He led me to my bed and sat down, pulling me next to him as I sniveled and blew.
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