by Gray Malek
It was an innocent Halloween party, and in my defense, I never wanted to go in the first place. I would have been perfectly content with catching up on Gossip Girl. My roommate, Jen, had other ideas. She practically dragged me out of bed on a Thursday night.
Like most people, I have obligations. While others struggle with a complicated job, a challenging major, or an exhaustive internship, I hold up the supporting stakes to my relationship.
I know it sounds weird.
When I was a little girl, my mother told me there was only one way to live: with goals in mind. “For you, baby girl, I have the big three. Can you tell me what they are?” she would say to me before bed. Dutifully, I would rattle them off. “The job, the look, and the man.” By this of course, I meant my career, my appearance, and my boyfriend. Eight-year-old me didn’t understand the gravity of what my mother was telling me, but growing up she reinforced the idea that there was only one way to achieve what you want: you have to relentlessly pursue them. “But that’s not all, Claire, once you have what you want, you have to fight hard as hell to keep it.”
Maybe fighting for it is all my mother did. She had my two older brothers, me, her non-profit charity organization, and my not-so-faithful father on her hands and she spent unquantifiable amounts of time and energy to keep an iron fist around it all.
As for me, I had it easy for the most part. I was born fortunate enough with a nice complexion, picturesque golden curls, and curves where they were supposed to be. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, and was good enough at school to breeze through my child development major while working on my teaching degree. My real haul, though, was him.
I wasn’t thinking about Jackson when I went to that party. Okay, that’s not true. He texted me right before hand.
“Hey, what’re u up to :) “ said his text. I don’t know why I couldn’t tell him about the party. Maybe I didn’t want him feeling bad because he was constantly complaining about how his course-load kept him from having any social life… or maybe it was that he would always cap those complaints with “But I don’t need a social life because I have you.” He acted like 1400 miles apart wasn’t nearly enough to let him forget about me. I always said the same, ignoring the guilt at the pit of my stomach. His absence was… inconvenient at times.
“Getting ready for a night with the girls!” I replied, hoping to come off cheerfully. He understood this was code for I’ll be too busy to talk to you tonight.
My costume was Jen’s idea. “You can’t go wrong with a black catsuit, Claire. Show off your assets a little,” she said with a wink. She got me into one of hers (why she had a supply, I don’t know), and drew on kitten whiskers with her eyeliner. To finish the look, she pulled out a pair of stilettos from her closet. “The purr-fect finishing touch,” she said as I rolled my eyes. Jen shimmied into a lime green catsuit herself and pulled her dark hair into a neon orange scrunchie to complete her 80’s look.
“Come on, Claire-bear, we look hot,” she said, admiring herself in the vanity mirror in our bathroom. I snuck a look at my own reflection. I had to admit, I looked pretty good.
The party was a few minutes walk from our apartment, and we could hear and smell it before we saw it. It was being hosted in the chapter house of a frat that my sorority made a point not to associate with, so I felt slightly apprehensive at the entrance. The entire street reeked of whiskey, and bass speakers magnified EDM so loudly that my feet felt the vibrations on the ground. A hulky blonde in golf shorts and a fake knife impaled into his side let us through without much fuss.
The place was packed with drunk costumed college kids, and I felt myself panic a little. I hadn’t partied much because I was afraid pictures were going to pop up on Facebook and incriminate me. That would cause a whole set of complications.
“You look tense, Claire-bear,” Jen said loud enough for me to hear over the eardrum-shattering speakers, “I’ll go get us some drinks.”
That was the last I saw of her for the rest of the night.
I killed some time making my way through the party, stopping and chatting with any familiars. I told myself it was merely networking, no big deal. An hour later, I found myself people watching with a red Solo cup in my hand. The panic had subsided, and I had made my peace with this party. I watched a couple fight in the midst of the crowd. The girl, in a tight tube top and bunny ears threw her drink on her boyfriend in a hockey uniform. The bunny and the hockey player, I smiled to myself. Briefly, I wondered if she loved him.
“I default to people-watching at these things too,” a familiar voice said, low and gravelly. Startled, I nearly dropped my drink. I turned my head toward the voice to see Will Hunter. He sat next to me in Intro to Literary Analysis. I only knew his name because of the number of times I stare down at his paper, a common tactic I use to keep myself from staring at him. Will was tall and lean and had near shoulder length blonde hair that was somehow always perfectly tousled. He always wore flannel and a t-shirt with a 90s rock band on it. Where I sat was the perfect angle to look over and glance at his sharp jaw covered in slight stubble.
Not that I noticed.
“Will,” I said, trying to sound anything other than completely panicked. His mouth curled into a slight smile.
“You know my name.”
“I’m very observant,” I replied sharply. The reverberating music sounded like a dull backdrop to me now. I was more concerned about my rapid heartbeat.
“Observe that I’m trying to figure out yours without sounding like a dick.” His face didn’t flinch. I tried to gauge his expression, but it was unreadable.
“Claire,” I said slowly.
“Claire,” he repeated, as if he was feeling the syllables in his mouth, “You look like a Claire.” I felt my stomach drop.
“Yeah? What makes you say that?” God, was I flirting? I must’ve been because in response, Will’s mouth stretched into a wide grin. I tried not staring at his dimples, but ended up looking for too long at his deep blue eyes.
“Claire sounds like a strong, solid name… like someone who knows what she wants.”
“Oh, and you know that about me?” You have a boyfriend, I reminded myself.
“I have been sitting next to you in Lit Analysis,” he said, “Maybe doing some analysis of my own.” My breath was caught in my throat. Will was obviously flirting with me, and I was trying to ignore everything about him, starting from his scruff to his ridiculously intoxicating cologne.
“I’m sorry,” he added, “That was kind of a gross line.”
“It’s not the worst I’ve heard,” I said cooly. I probably had unread messages from Jackson sitting on my phone, but that was the last place my mind was.
“It’s kind of loud down here,” Will said.
“I have a boyfriend,” I told him.
“Do you want to go upstairs?” I don’t know if he’d ignored what I said or simply couldn’t hear me, but he smiled again, showcasing his dimples and suddenly my feet were following orders that were not explicitly mine. I tracked up the stairs in my stilettos with one hand firmly planted in Will’s.
He led me into a room that wasn’t his, so I wondered how he looked so comfortable. He sat on the bed and looked at me warmly. I felt my gut wrench with indecision.
Jackson and I first met when we were kids. Our moms worked the same charity auction and we began having play dates from the age of eight.
My legs shook as I walked toward Will, and when I was close enough he reached out and took my arm and gently pulled me to him. I took a shaky breath and his cologne made me almost dizzy with exhilaration.
Jackson was brilliant at everything. He had a talent for sports, school, and charming adults. He told me football and physics were very similar. All my friends said I would be a total idiot not to go for him.
Will’s right hand rested right between my jaw and neck like a puzzle piece as he kissed me. Fireworks went off in my head...or chest. I couldn’t tell.
When my mother found out about Jackson, she was ecstatic. “Hold on to him,” she told me, “He comes from a good family, and is going places.” When I wanted to break things off our senior year, Mom wouldn’t speak to me for two weeks. She told me I was ruining everything. She told me I was going to have to settle for some loser and be miserable for the rest of my life.
“Let me take this off,” Will whispered, groping around the catsuit. I kicked my heels off, and let go of his shoulders to fiddle around with the zipper on the side. When I got it free, Will unzipped it with enthusiasm and peeled the top off of me. He paused halfway and exhaled in awe. I felt self-conscious for a moment, until I saw the fervor in his eyes as he continued to pull the suit off. I silently thanked my past self for changing into a nicer set of underwear than the hello kitty briefs and sports bra I’d been wearing before.
Jackson and I stopped sleeping together long before we went off to college. By then it was too late; we were both tangled in obligation to break things off. He was loyal as ever, promising me his physical distance wouldn’t be an obstacle for us. He didn’t have to say that my emotional distance was obstacle enough. My mother encouraged me to visit him often to “remind him what he’s got waiting for him back home.” I obliged, because I am a girl with obligations.
I shuddered as I felt one of Will’s hands slide up from my waist and explore. His mouth was on my neck. We were entangled in something else entirely. I felt his hard-on from under his jeans. He began to uncup, but I held his hand firmly where it was. Instead I unzipped his pants. I felt him shudder, and then he pushed me off of him and into a recline on the bed. I waited for him to pull his pants down.
Jackson and I spent every holiday together. Our parents made sure of that. Every moment was a photo opportunity. Every candid shot was a testament to our undying love. Christmas dinners were the pinnacle of talking about how Claire and Jackson were the most blessed of couples. Our mothers had the timeline planned out. We would both graduate in three years, and then he would propose to me. “Remember the three most important thing, sugar,” my mom said to me before I went to go visit him for my spring break while my friends were spending a week on South Padre Island, “The job, the look, the man.”
He wasn’t gentle like I was used to. He fucked me like he was desperate to have me before I vanished into thin air. I gasped in pleasure and pain within alternating thrusts. I hated myself for wanting this.
“Claire, I know things haven’t been as perfect, and God knows our parents are not helping,” Jackson had said to me merely weeks ago when I visited him for Fall Formal, “But I love you. I really do. I want to make you happy.” I stroked his cheek and kissed his forehead. “You do make me happy.” I thought if I repeated it to myself enough, it would become the truth.
“Fuck,” Will panted, lowering himself down and burying his head in my neck. He was still in me, but going slowly and deliberately.
“Don’t stop,” I gasped, “I’m so close.” He flashed me a manic smile, and reverted back into desperate, end-of-the-world-fuck-out-your-brains thrusts.
“Oh, God,” I moaned as I felt the tingling warmth spread from between my legs outwards. Will pinned back my arms and kissed me firmly on the mouth. He rocked slightly back and forth until I felt him finish.
“Christ,” he exhaled before collapsing on top of me.
“Hey, girl!” Jen exclaimed, draped on someone’s shoulder, “Been having fun?” I gave her a tight smile, and glanced quickly to see Will slip out the back door. I know it was cold of me to tell him I needed some space after we fucked, but the lack of conviction in his goodbye before his departure stung a little.
“It’s time to go home,” I said, trying to remain neutral.
“Okay, you head out, I’ll be right behind you.” I know she wasn’t going to be following me. I knew that roommate protocol meant I was supposed to wait for her, but I had violated so many obligations tonight, what was one more?
I headed back to my apartment with my catsuit zipped up halfway and my heels dangling from one hand. I took my phone out of the small pocket on my thigh and saw that I had six unread text messages from Jackson, the first of which read “Hope ur having a good time, I miss u.”
I choked back a sob.
Gray Malek is an aspiring cognitive scientist/lifestyle blogger attending university in Texas. In her spare time she listens to podcasts, writes, and concocts absurd conspiracy theories about celebrity breakups. When she isn't listening to the 2005 Pride & Prejudice soundtrack on repeat, she can be found trying to integrate the phrase "cursed Egyptian amulet" into everyday conversation. Unfortunately, at this time, she is not related to Rami Malek.
You can reach her at her blog at galacticwit.tk