The Misadventures of a Life Less Lived (Clayton Gerrard)
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College junior Doug has built his entire collegiate experience around having a cool life, a status he maintains by keeping his bookish tendencies and crush on “nerdy” Eliza a secret from his popular fraternity and cheerleader girlfriend. But when he wakes one morning to discover that the life he’d kept in the fraternity fridge (because where else would one store a chill life?) has spoiled, panic ensues. As a high-ranking member of a popular fraternity, having no life is social suicide. He’ll be ostracized, forgotten, and maybe even kicked out of the frat.
Desperate to remedy his lifeless status before anyone notices, Doug embarks upon a mission to replace his ruined life with a similar one. But finding a new life isn’t quite as simple as going to the store. And Doug quickly discovers that if he wants another life, he’s going to have to earn one by running a gauntlet of humbling, and often humiliating, life lessons. Though resistant, he may yet learn that his deceptions have never served him and have only helped enforce the biggest lie of all—the one he’s told himself.
A snarky, often ridiculous satirical examination of what makes a fulfilled life, The Misadventures of a Life Less Lived is a quirky, thought-provoking debut full of clever metaphors and literary allusions.
Out September 12, 2017
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Read The First Chapter
Doug awoke one morning to discover his life had spoiled. He, like any other college junior, kept his life properly chill by sealing it in a non-disclosed Tupperware, and stuffing it into the dankest, most terrifying depths of his fraternity’s community fridge. Marginally hungover, in the near-noon aftermath of a wild rave, Doug traipsed his way through the obstacles of passed-out bodies and beer pong amenities to the kitchen. Therein he discovered someone, perhaps in search of a cold beverage, perhaps a snack, perhaps out of sheer malice, had emptied half the contents of the fridge onto the kitchen floor. And this is where he discovered, after stumbling over a pile of lunchmeat, his life.
Doug picked up the container of his life and shook it gently. The sickening slosh was not encouraging. Sour smells emanated from his social scene, and green and brown fuzz had formed all along his mental and emotional maturity. There was little to be salvaged. He considered slicing away the bad parts, like carving mold from a brick of cheese, but the pungent odor convinced him it would be a waste of time.
“Who did this?” he demanded of the kitchen appliances—a wasted interrogation because not a one of them had ever heard of personification.
Doug clung to the remains of his life like a virgin sorority girl to her Amaretto Sour, convinced a roofie might infiltrate it undetected. He knew it wasn’t that much of a life to begin with, but it was his. The only life he had. The only one he knew. Now that it was over, he offered it a silent prayer of further destruction and fed it to the disposal. He found no solace in the subsequent grind as the remnants of his life were torn to shreds.
When he clicked off the disposal, an ominous silence filled the kitchen, and Doug gazed into the space of the countertop for a good twenty-three seconds not thinking about anything in particular. Sadly, he would never realize that these blessed moments of inner silence would combine to make the best two hours, six minutes, and fifty-eight seconds of his life, spoiled or not.
With a shake of his head, Doug crept back into consciousness. Now what? he unwittingly asked himself (one of the two most pointless questions that have disguised themselves as serious inquiries for all of human history, the other being “Are you okay?”).
His slight hangover demanded attention, and he promptly forgot his own question.
Despite the early hour, Doug pulled open the refrigerator for a beer, but why he assumed there would be any alcohol remaining within a twenty-mile radius of last night’s rave, not even the author can explain. Doug stared into the vast emptiness of the frat house fridge. A sliced, but withered, lemon, half a bottle of ketchup, and a TGI Fridays container with a gnawed rib bone, do not make a substitute for life.
FML, he thought, and then corrected, non-L.
The shock began to fade away, and Doug took full control of his mental faculties to reconstruct the previous night’s events. Who could have done this? He tried to recall all of the people he might have upset in the past day that would have had access to the party, the fridge, and, ultimately, his life.
He had woken the day prior, at the early hour of 1:00 p.m., to a grammatically-fouled text from his girlfriend, Sarah: We need too talk.
Four words that any man would cringe to hear from his significant other. For Doug it had been even more cringeworthy because of the improper use of too, but ever since Doug had ridiculed her for using digits when she meant words, it seemed Sarah went out of her way to aggravate him in every grammatical way possible. Although their relationship was founded on the sound principle of social status—he dated her because she was a cheerleader, and she dated him because he was old enough to provide booze in a pinch—their communication was abysmal. Doug decided to avoid Sarah’s need for conversation for as long as possible, because it would be too aggravating. I’m sorry, honey, he thought to himself in an imaginary conversation with Sarah as he deleted her text. I never got your text. See?
After appropriately dealing with Sarah, Doug read a bit of A Game of Thrones, fully ignoring the stack of books required for his Modernist Literature course. After reading, he dashed downstairs to help with preparations for that night’s party.
“Where you been?” Dion asked of him as soon as Doug walked into the room. Dion was one of those men with 90 percent of his body mass above his waist due to sheer leg negligence at the gym.
“Yeah,” piped in Sean, his scrawny partner-in-crime who made the expression “hatchet-faced” seem bulbous. “Where you been at?”
“Where have I been?” Doug corrected him by masking it as a clarification of proper listening skills, and followed up by stammering, “I overslept.” Then he mentally kicked himself for not coming up with something these guys would appreciate, like FaceTime sex with Sarah.
“You lazy douche-bandit,” Dion yelled at him.
Yesterday’s scene froze in his mind. Whoa, Doug thought. Could it have been Dion that ruined his life? The 240-pound ox was certainly mean-spirited enough, but Doug thought he lacked ingenuity. Rather, Dion would have just bashed in Doug’s face and called them square. Similarly, Doug discounted Sean because the kid rarely did anything unless Dion put him up to it. Sean was a freshman, after all. Besides, the brutes had already exacted their revenge by forcing Doug to accompany Brian to pick up the party necessities.
Nobody liked Brian. He was what the in-crowd typically referred to as a Topper—he’d done everything you’d done, only better. The irony of this cannot be fully appreciated unless you envision a white kid in oversized jeans turning his hat sideways and grabbing his crotch. The only reason the house tolerated Brian was because he was third-generation frat brat, and his father tended to dole out lots of money to Brian and subsequently Brian’s “friends.” Brian’s popularity always skyrocketed on parents’ weekend.
And so Doug had found himself trapped in the bucket seat of a tricked-out Honda Civic. The spoiler of which (along with the deep, ear-quaking rumble of a muffler that muffled nothing) suggested speed, while the mid-price range, high safety standard, and four cylinders suggested who-do-you-think-you’re-kidding. Doug squirmed as he listened to Brian brag about a recent threesome which, depending on what time you tuned into the conversation, magically morphed in and out of a foursome.
“So then me and this girl—”
“This girl and I,” Doug corrected.
“—went down on this other girl, and she was screaming real loud—”
“Really loud,” Doug offered.
“—that we were worried this one chick’s parents was—”
“—about to overhear. ’Cause they was—”
“Were . . . never mind.”
“—sleeping in the room above us, right?”
“Sure,” Doug said, grateful his attention was pulled away from the rapidly rising pile of crap by a message on his phone. When he had seen it was from Sarah, his gratitude diminished appreciatively.
U must have alot fewer brains then u go on bout cuz avoiding me aint gonna fix it!
Maybe she had been right about Doug’s quantity of gray matter because he responded: You, a lot, less, than, you, about, because, is not, going to.
Hold up, Doug resurfaced from his reverie. For a mad moment, he thought he had irked Brian by texting in the middle of his story, so the Topper emptied the fridge in retaliation. Then again, Doug thought (using “then” properly as others might benefit from doing themselves), Brian never flagged in his storytelling, meaning that he never noticed.
So if it wasn’t Dion, and it wasn’t Brian, that only left . . . Dr. Mordhorst?
After Doug and Brian had returned with the required goods, Doug made his excuses to avoid another harrowing tale of girls-sleep-with-me-because-my-dad-is-rich exploits, and scurried to his room to check his email. Apparently, Doug had spaced on yet another meeting with his advisor. To be honest, Doug hadn’t entirely forgotten the appointment; he conveniently decided to oversleep as an excuse to reschedule without having to tell an outright lie.
It wasn’t as though he feared Dr. Mordhorst. Instead, Doug was of the belief that college students should be able to choose their own advisors, not be assigned them. In which case, he would have chosen someone a bit less severe, maybe a touch less neurotic, and certainly only half as insane. If being a specialist in modernist literature wasn’t bad enough, Dr. Mordhorst was one of those kooky individuals who insisted that reality wasn’t real, and believed that stream-of-conscious lecturing was the only way to get students to listen. Although they might in fact listen, it also ensured “What the hell was that?” would be the prime conversation starter as they flooded the halls after class. It also guaranteed the attendance policy would be stretched to its utmost limits. Besides, Dr. Mordhorst had a framed, four-foot photo of Adelson’s Checker Shadow Illusion on his wall. The thing was an insult to the senses. A large cylinder stands in solitude on a checkered board, and the illustration insists that a light-colored square under the cylinder’s shadow is the exact same hue as a dark square in the light. Every time Doug visited his advisor’s office, Dr. Mordhorst would tell him to stare at the checkerboard and describe what he saw. Frankly, although Doug never mentioned it, he only saw an obsession with irrelevance.
Still, he hardly thought the doctor would have slipped into the frat house last night to ruin his life. Besides, a man in tweed with patched elbows and wispy white hair that splayed in all directions would probably have been noticed—even despite the excessive levels of intoxication. The response from Dr. Mordhorst had plopped into Doug’s inbox and insisted Doug see him the day after tomorrow, no exceptions, which would actually be . . .
“Tomorrow,” Doug sighed as he stared into the vortex of the disposal where his life had just passed.
Poor Doug, a C-average college student whose time reading and getting trashed had been infrequently punctuated with his studies, now had nothing. (Yes, the irony was lost on him, but don’t worry, he’s only a C-average student, and he’s got the rest of this book to figure it out.) The situation stumped him; he didn’t know what to do. It did occur to him that although he no longer had a life, at least he was still alive. It seemed poor comfort, but it was something. And if he was still alive, he still had commitments. Commitments meant he had things to do. It suddenly struck him that if he kept busy enough, he could remain blessedly ignorant of his now lifeless life. Maybe he would attend classes after all.
Although Doug knew he had a meeting with his advisor the next day, a two-week hiatus from classes (give or take) tends to leave one baffled as to the actual day. He hastened to the kitchen calendar to discover the day. But Doug, trying to decipher the grid of February, realized that unless one already knows the date, a calendar is of little help. He cast about in his hazy memory for the date. He tried to remember what yesterday was and what tomorrow should be, but failed to provide himself with an answer that sounded correct. He reasoned, C-averagely as he could, that if he’d had a meeting with his advisor yesterday, then today could not be Sunday or Monday. Also, since there was a meeting tomorrow, the day could not be Friday or Saturday. It was Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Doug thrilled to know that, lifeless, he could still use his cognitive ability to its utmost potential. He felt confident that midterms were next week, meaning it wasn’t February at all. Doug changed the calendar thinking that would somehow reveal the day. It did not. If it was Tuesday or Thursday, Doug would have to hightail it to Modern Literature. If it was Wednesday, he had a leisurely hour before Scandinavian History of Art and Culture. And that’s how Doug deduced it was Wednesday.
A shuffle of noise from the hall roused all of the alarms in Doug’s head. The last thing he needed was for a fellow Greek to witness him without a life. They were the college social elite after all, and those without a life were not allowed to fraternize. If one of them became aware of Doug’s lifeless presence (even sycophantic little freshmen like Sean), Doug would be eternally ostracized, ridiculed, humiliated, tarred and feathered, drawn and quartered, or worse—forced to read creative nonfiction for the rest of his life.
“No,” Doug breathed in terror.
The sounds in the hall drew closer. As much as Doug cringed at the cliché, he froze like a deer in the headlights. Then again, how do you know that the deer isn’t in command of the situation, trying to stop the car by sheer force of will? You don’t know, do you? Well, that’s exactly what Doug was doing. Only the force of his will wasn’t slowing the approaching steps by any discernable margin. They did, however, turn. Doug heard the faint click of the bathroom door closing and breathed a sigh of relief. He had to get out of there before the entire fraternity started rising.
Back in his room, Doug scavenged the floor for his Wednesday wardrobe. He slipped into a pair of jeans, axed his armpits (with Axe body spray, not a literal axe—he may have lost his life, but he wasn’t suicidal), and threw on his house letters T-shirt before realizing that made about as much sense as lingering in the kitchen. Instead, he threw on a plain, black T-shirt, grabbed his smartphone, and then dashed down the stairs. He emerged from his fraternity into the brilliant sunlight of cold early March, and immediately retreated for his sunglasses and a hoodie. Doug was still a bit hungover, as you may recall. He also took a moment to splash some water on his face and run his fingers through his hair. Fully groomed and Ray-Ban-spectacled, he graced the stoop of his frat house, glanced up and down the college street, took a deep breath of campus air, and panicked.
He lived on Greek Row after all. Clusters of architectural atrocities housed hordes of the very people he found it prudent to avoid at all costs. The atmosphere of the street required even transients to possess either a wealthy family, an eight or higher on the sex appeal scale, or an active and exciting life. Doug’s family was of the blue-collar variety, and he only rang in at a seven on his best days. Also, now that he was lifeless, he feared the worst. The Greeks thrilled at honing in on the lifeless like hyenas to a carcass, savagely stripping them of their pride, dignity, self-worth, and even friends. In fact, two such female elite, dressed as though they’d stepped right out of a Cosmo ad, bobbed past on the sidewalk. The sorority girls sensed a nearby disturbance in the social order, and began pawing and sniffing the air.
Doug leapt off the stoop into the shrubbery and scurried on knees and elbows through the dirt. Branches scratched his face, and he probably swallowed a bug or two, but when he heard the feral snarl of Greeks on the prowl, he knew it was worth it. An alarm sounded, notifying all that an Unacceptable was in the vicinity.
That was fast, Doug begrudged as he popped out of the shrubbery at the back corner of the house. He rolled to his feet and veered toward the neighboring fence. A netless volleyball post lay on the grass. Doug vaguely recalled one of his frat brothers wearing the net to a theme party (yes, sadly, nothing but net). Trying not to recall the visuals, Doug snatched the pole and vaulted himself with relative ease toward the wooden fence. He would have made it if he had been smart enough to lift his legs.
Doug’s toes caught on the pickets, and he flopped, head down, to perform a full body slam on the back side of the fence. He hung by his toes for a moment before crumpling in a heap. Splinters pricked him through his shirt, busted sunglasses clung precariously to his nose, and pride, the most fragile of accessories, packed the last of its belongings and bid Doug good-bye.
Doug could hear droves of Greeks gathering in the street in front of his frat house, demanding justice. Doug demanded an escape route. He rose and hobbled his way across the backyard of the sorority. This particular sorority had recently decided they were Greener-Than-Thou (they weren’t a very popular sorority), and had taken to hanging their laundry on jagged and haphazard lines crisscrossing the yard rather than waste energy drying them like normal people. Doug danced his way through their clothing, wondering how certain items were meant to go on, let alone what they were meant to cover.
The Greek mob roared, and Doug could hear them rushing toward the fence he had just cleared. Fearing for his life (his literal one), Doug opted for the shortest path to the opposite fence, and ran directly through the clothes, collecting several skimpy undergarments across his face and torso, but he was not dismayed. They smelled refreshingly of ocean breeze and lavender, and if one is having a bad day, one should inhale several deep breaths of pleasing smells, it does wonders for perspective. Besides, Doug prided himself on his ingenuity, maybe I can use the clothes as a disguise.
Attaining the next fence, Doug managed to pull himself over it and sprint madly across the next yard. Unfortunately, he tumbled headlong into a pool. Luckily, Doug was a good swimmer. Regrettably, the pool had been drained last October. In utter pain, Doug still managed to get across the pool, out of it, and over the next fence before the trailing masses could disentangle themselves from the clotheslines in the previous yard.
Once firmly grounded past the last fence, Doug took a moment to get his bearings. He stood on a wooded hill that didn’t resemble any part of campus he had ever seen before. Fortunately, he had a wide view below him. From there he spotted his Mecca; down the hill, across a series of soccer fields, stood the campus’s central library. It was a refuge where one could request asylum from the rage of frat boys and the churlishness of sorority girls because entering the building resulted in an instant deduction of popularity points. Five minutes later, Doug found himself safely inside—for the time being, anyway.
Within the relative safety of the library, Doug looked at his phone and discovered it was Thursday which, in hindsight, made a lot more sense. Unfortunately, he was already fifteen minutes late for Dr. Mordhorst’s rambling lecture on Mrs. Dalloway. Being that late would result in an absence anyway, so Doug decided, Oh darn, I’m missing out.
He realized he had the opportunity to figure out where his life had gone wrong, and what to do about it. Except he already knew where it had gone wrong, and was clueless as to what to do about it. So he sat, and he worried. His worry didn’t last long because he became distracted by the campus monitor. As any full-blooded American knows, fretting over things which are beyond our control comes second only to watching television. So Doug watched the monitor loop through the weather, updates on campus events, which lunch specials happened on which days of the week at which quad, until he felt a general sense of calm. The monitor went on to suggest that if one was suffering from lack of motivation, fear of not fitting in, depression, et cetera, one would do well to visit a counselor. Doug momentarily considered it, but being told to take deep breaths and just be himself was not going to get him his life back.
Instead, he decided to search online for answers. He walked to the computer lab and logged into a workstation. As he sat, he received several looks of disgust from nearby girls. It was too late to go unnoticed, so Doug plodded on and searched for “solutions for a lifeless life.” The search engine immediately directed him to The Watchtower. He tried “where do I go if I fail at life,” and got Mormon.org. After noticing another scuzzy look from a girl whose nose ring even quivered at the sight of him, Doug tried “people think I’m strange,” and was taken to the Church of Scientology.
This isn’t working, he criticized the search engine. He changed tactics and searched for what to do after losing all his popularity. The result came back with three awe inspiring words: Get over it.
But Doug was not over it. No, he was decidedly under it and presently squashed. The groan that escaped his lips earned him several more strange looks. A blonde chick, dressed in workout clothes with matching head band but with a body suggesting rare gym attendance, rolled her eyes and muttered, “Creeper.” That’s when Doug discovered a pair of polka-dot panties still clinging to his chest from his foray through the sorority yard. He logged off and threw the panties in the nearest trash.
“Doug?” said a familiar, but unpleasantly whimpering voice. Doug turned around to spot Laurence, a braced and bespectacled freshman whose complexion is best left undescribed. “Hi.”
Laurence was in Doug’s Scandinavian History of Art and Culture class, and was one of those too smart to stay in high school, and so had enrolled full-time in college while simultaneously studying for his driver’s exam. In fact, the two of them had been assigned as a team to present on Peer Gynt. Under normal circumstances, Doug would not have associated with Laurence outside of coursework, but since Doug no longer had a life, he didn’t see the harm. Besides, maybe Laurence could help.
“Oh. Hey, Laurence,” Doug said, doing a good job of sounding indifferent. He might as well keep up appearances; anybody could be listening.
“Terrence,” Laurence corrected.
“Oh, right. Terrence.” All the better for the image, Doug thought, subtly scanning the crowd for eavesdroppers.
“You okay?” Terrence asked, and Doug felt the question reach inside of him and tug on something deep and disturbing.
Wow, he thought, what a question. He mulled it over for a moment. An overwhelming urge to take his frustrations out on the poor, pimple-pocked pubescent seized Doug. He wanted to regale Terrence with the anecdote of his miserable morning, and unleash his frustrations in a fit of rage against the kid. A full five years older than Terrence, Doug felt he had every right to make Terrence cry and beg for mercy. Images of Molotovs and cherry bombs paraded in Doug’s mind. He imagined Terrence’s head exploding like one of his long-overdue pimples, the kid tumbling to his knees in pain and humiliation, infernos, earthquakes, the entire planet quaking at Doug’s wrath.
“Yeah,” he eventually said, “I’m okay.”
“Oh, good. It’s just . . .” Terrence hesitated, causing Doug to glimpse into his eyes (an action which induced mild vertigo due to their magnification behind his massive lenses). “You look a little lifeless this morning,” he concluded.
Doug wept. It should be noted that real men don’t cry. They weep. Massive, wet tears were wept by Doug. He wept, mainly for the loss of his life, but he also managed to shed a tear for the passive voice of the previous sentence. He would have fallen to his knees in consternation if the action hadn’t struck him as melodramatic. I might still do it, he consoled himself, if people weren’t watching. Instead, Doug cupped his face in his hands and wept.
“It’s okay,” Terrence informed him. “Midterms are hard.”
Weeping gave way to bawling. It wasn’t enough that his life had come to a sickening end. He also had exams next week. “It’s . . . not . . . that,” Doug blubbered, although it now partially was. “I have no life.”
“Oh, dude. Is that all?” Terrence asked. “I’ve never had a life, and look at me: happy as a dwarf at a mutton-eating contest.”
“But you don’t have any friends.”
“Yes, I do.”
“You do?” Doug blurted, barely able to keep the incredulity out of his voice.
“Sure I do. You can still have friends without a life.”
This was a revelation to our dear Doug. He had never heard of such a ridiculous concept, but his story certainly wasn’t one of naturalism. The illogic of having no life and yet maintaining his friendships didn’t seem to matter. It worked for Terrence. Doug’s heart rejoiced, but only a moment before his face fell.
“What?” Terrence asked.
Doug desperately cast about in his mind for friends. He couldn’t think of one. There were his frat brothers, of course, but he never felt particularly close to any of them even when he had a life. Making friends was not one of Doug’s talents. He had nobody and told Terrence as much.
“What about your girlfriend?”
“You mean Sarah?” Doug scoffed.
The history channel in Doug’s mind (specializing in all-Doug-all-the-time, and, let’s face it, was pretty much the only channel that Doug’s cable company provided) tuned into last night’s party. The thundering bass had shuddered against Doug’s ears so that if any other instrument, or even vocals, existed in the song, he couldn’t have heard them. Unfortunately, the music had not been loud enough because he could still hear Sarah. As the room had thumped, and college kids bumped (or even humped), Sarah jumped all over his case.
“. . . and what’s the deal with not returning my texts? You do not disrespect me like that . . .”
Doug checked out of her tirade to check out the only thing that mattered to an egocentric frat boy in sore need of some life lessons. Sarah’s body was a tight, lean package at the perfect range where with heels she was not too tall, and without, not too short; her luscious skin tone hovered somewhere between an unfiltered honey and wet sand, suggesting less about her ethnicity than it did her love of bronzer; her perfect blonde hair and rich blue eyes were an artist’s finishing touches on a face that suggested sex whether you liked it wild or gentle; her pristine French manicure might have hinted at a delicate femininity if she hadn’t been violently chopping the air as Hamlet’s poor players to emphasize each of Doug’s poor qualities; and, to top it all off, she wore Daisy Dukes and a tube top despite the early spring weather. Not for the first time, Doug had found it difficult to focus on Sarah’s words.
As if her looks weren’t enough to make every male creature despise themselves, Sarah was the kind of sorority girl who associated prestige in alphabetical association with Greek orthography. And she was at the top. In other words, with her initiation into the Alpha Beta Gamma glamour girls, the tilt of her head had ratcheted back five notches.
Each erratic gesture of her hand sliced Doug’s pride shorter and shorter. Unwilling to hear much among the loud music and his drunken stupor, he still caught every L-E-S-S-suffixed word: worthless, hopeless, futureless, prospectless, jobless, penniless, and humorless pretty much summed up Sarah’s estimation of him.
“And . . .” she paused in order to finish her harangue with a wicked blow, “. . . you’re an English major.”
“Ouch,” Doug muttered, his head well entrenched between his shoulders, “don’t hold back, okay?”
Sarah raised her hands in a gesture of hopelessness. “The only thing you have going for you, Doug, is you’re an eight.”
“I’m an eight?” Doug guffawed with delight. “I thought I was only a seven.”
“Well, now you’re a seven,” she declared. “You only had an extra point because you didn’t know you had it.”
“You did that on purpose.”
She did, and then terminated their relationship. She hadn’t done it outright, although you’d have to be an even bigger fool than Doug not to see the big picture. No, she merely suggested they see other people, but the exact tense was lost in the thunder of the bass. He settled for future perfective since past tense was far too painful to dwell on at the moment.
After his emasculation, Doug had put his “seven” and upperclassman fraternity status to good use. He sought out the nearest make-out whore, a Rho Rho Rho (your boat) Amazon named Becky whose soaring height and ready-to-twine legs created an experience akin to a python group hug. The revenge of the act had satisfied if the act itself didn’t. Kissing Becky was like dipping his face into a bowl of warm, cigarette-flavored Jell-O; Doug carried on all the same, but the moment he had stuck his hand under her shirt she excused herself and never came back. She might have, Doug tormented himself, if I were still an eight.
Doug returned from his flashback to find Terrence offering him a consoling hand on the shoulder. “It’s okay, Doug.” It took a moment for Doug to realize Terrence was referring to his breakup and not his spelunking foray into the nicotine-riddled depths of Becky. For, in the time Doug had wandered the misery of his recent memory, he had blurted out, “She dumped me.”
Terrence continued to offer solace. “Women are inconceivable creatures. My girlfriend broke up with me because I don’t cosplay as much as she does. My buddy’s dumped him for the opposite reason. You just never know.”
Doug momentarily forgot his personal woe. “You had a girlfriend?”
“Oh,” Doug said, at a complete loss for words. “That’s nice. I’ll bet she was pretty . . . neat.”
“She was. But it’s for the best, Doug. In your case too.”
“You know what you do now?”
“What?” Doug hazarded to ask, fearing the suggestion would be to take up cosplay.
“Ask out Eliza,” Terrence whispered conspiratorially.
The rampaging animal heart in Doug’s chest pounded against his rib cage twice then stopped completely. Eliza Whitney happened to be the girl who Doug had to remind himself to breathe around. She wasn’t exactly his type: she had a colony of freckles, never did more to her frazzled, coppery hair than snarl it into a ponytail, dressed frumpily, and wasn’t afraid to invoke the Prime Directive in public (aside from quoting other notoriously geeky pop culture). However, she did manage to inexplicably tie his tongue in knots. He couldn’t even manage to string “hel” and “lo” together to save his life when she was nearby.
“Who?” Doug asked, hoping Terrence hadn’t noticed his hesitation.
“Come on. I’ve seen you two talking together. There’s definitely something there.”
“I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Terrence looked at him askance but thankfully yielded the point. “I should be heading to class. Chin up, buddy. It’s for the best.”
Terrence adjusted his backpack (its seams bursting from overload) and wandered off. Doug watched him go and marveled at his capacity for optimism. He decided it must be because Terrence had friends. Doug was going to have to find himself some of those, and preferably of the non-discerning type. Only, he didn’t know where to start. He pulled out his smartphone and scanned his contacts. He only came up with three names he could possibly call friends, and one of them was Sarah.
What the hell, he told himself and texted all three the following message: I have no life, and am in sore need of friends. Please advise.
Sarah immediately responded: Oh? Did u surface long enuf from Becky Ro-Ro 2 figure THAT out???
The message shocked Doug. Sarah wasn’t normally one for active verbs, and the appropriateness of this particular choice left him goggling at his phone.
He responded: The swim was nice, thanks. Who’d you hook up with?
To which she kindly replied: FU! Doug presumed she meant Frank Usselman. Frank, after all, led the college football team in running yards.
Doug pressed his advantage: Look, something terrible happened last night. It’s nothing to do with us. I just need to talk. Can I come over?
Immediately after sending, Doug regretted the message; he frequently failed at the may/can dichotomy.
His phone remained silent. Sarah never took this much time to respond to any text. Her texting habit had gone unchecked for so long, her hand and cell had formed a permanent bond. Doug fretted for an agonizing twenty seconds before the response came: Fine.
Doug started a happy dance in the middle of the computer lab. He stopped short, however, not because of the odd looks he received (he was getting rather used to those), but because he realized he didn’t know what to say to Sarah. If he admitted his life was ruined, the news would make it through every Greek social circle at Mach 10. Besides, what sort of advice might she have to offer? He knew full well consolation was out of the question. He might have been able to use his recent loss to his advantage and attain pity sex, but not after Rho-ing down the Becky stream. All the same, he had asked to see Sarah, and she had said yes. It would be absurd not to go now. Besides, it finally gave him something to do, and, for the first time since losing his life, Doug felt vaguely hopeful.
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