by Christopher S. Bell

Some of us met at orientation, but there wasn’t much of a bond. We just did what we were supposed to that night; listening to everyone ramble about high school, the music they liked, or how wasted they got after prom. We all had summer jobs, and friends going to better schools, only a few staying home to figure their lives out. Their futures were already apparent in the chiseled faces of our co-workers and distant cousins.

In the fall, there was more immediacy to everything; voices clashing across classrooms, but lacking authenticity. We rarely added to the noise, figuring it better to read the material on our own. A Saturday could then disintegrate in the dorms, marathoning 90’s sitcoms and caffeinated sugar.

Austin finally proposed the idea in October; all of us listening to his brief albeit uninformed description before googling it. Straight-edge didn’t necessarily mean “no fun” or a life full of limitations. It was at everyone’s discretion. We were a solid crew that clearly didn’t fit; not one joining a Greek organization or championing some political candidate. We weren’t necessarily believers in Jesus, but still respected him for setting out to change people’s minds. There wasn’t much desire to get wasted anyway, all of us above lowering ourselves for the sake of a crowd.

Weekends and nights then blended together; ideas exchanged with a somewhat disparaging eye cast at our contemporaries. They needed the unsatisfactory crawl of a hangover, the artificial comfort from a one-night stand. We had each other, and that meant so much more. When our parents called, we were honest; their subsequent reactions well worth the price of admission.

After Christmas break, Austin and Ruby went vegan, sharing videos in their spare time. Meals at the dining hall became few and far between, only certain parties regularly-available. The winter meant we could still hide, but most decided against trudging through the snow to watch bad horror movies like a sixth grade sleepover.

Jenn was the first to break, heading out into the night with her roommate and no expectations. She later told the story with such enthusiasm that all of us couldn’t help but wonder if we were doing the right thing. It was just a get-together off-campus with some like-minded individuals. Jenn spoke out, but also smoked grass to impress a boy. His name was Patrick, and soon we only saw them together, ranting about new-age concepts and The Grateful Dead. We humored them, but couldn’t help but talk about how different everything felt when they showed up all red-eyed.

Brad was next, trying to be secretive when all of us could smell the liquor on his lips. He said we should experience every dip in the road, coping by whatever means necessary. We weren’t surprised when he fell in with his crew; Brad always the loudest during competition-based activity. Some of us still said hello, but with finals vastly approaching, it felt like a waste of breath.

Ruby and Austin started having sex in the spring, but justified their actions as love. We stomached their PDA, but sensed something was off. They enjoyed flaunting their smiles in front of us; likely exploring any number of positions on the same mattress we once sat and played Nintendo. Henry started eating meat again after that, while summer hit all of us harder than expected. It wasn’t just separation, but rather the sting of old high school friends returning home with far better stories. Our shitty little towns full of rednecks were suddenly of no concern, even if we were stuck serving them until the closing bell.

By the next fall, the dream had all but ended despite a good month of rehashing familiar ground. Ruby ditched Austin and was often seen with Brad around campus, wearing their favorite jerseys on game day. This forced Austin and Henry into a stupor, the two soon experimenting with whatever they could get their hands on, including each other. Jenn attempted to reconnect if only to boast, suddenly the progressive math major with two gay friends.

The rest of us fell by the waste side, attempting to find our place in basement punk or the rambunctious spin of forced intellectualism. Our tolerances eventually rose and leveled off with the rest of our peers as sophomore and junior years dissolved into the ether. We discussed career paths with our advisors during regularly-scheduled office hours and settled for unflattering jobs in various cities and dead-ends if only to pay off our loans. Looking back, there would always be a fondness for that time when sobriety felt right, but even now, it’s still easier to suppress these unbalanced emotions with just the right amount of intoxicated indifference.
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Christopher S. Bell is a writer and a musician. His fiction has recently appeared in Spillwords, Midway Journal, The Fiction Pool and Nymphs, among others.

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