In the last installment, Elisabeth had to decide whether or not to tell her roommate Kat that Geoff, the R.A. Kat had just slept with, was actually making overtures to Elisabeth as well. You voted for her to... tell Kat about Geoff.
Kat is reloading Geoff’s blog for roughly the bajillionth time when I finally speak.
“You were right about me and Geoff.”
She whips her head around. “You slept with him. I fucking knew it.”
“Me? No.” I say that last word several times, but she’s not listening. Her head is slung between her knees. Her breath comes fast and shallow. “Kat, don’t be ridiculous, I haven’t even kissed him. I just meant that I think there might have been something, maybe, between us, you know, that I thought... Shit. Are you OK?”
She breathes deep and flicks back her hair. Tears shimmer in her eyes.
“I just don’t think he’s trustworthy,” I say, but she says nothing. “I’m not trying to hurt you,” I say, but she says nothing. “It’s...the whole point is, I don’t want you to get hurt.”
She smiles sarcastically and flicks away a tear that has dripped from the rim of her eye.
“I don’t like him,” I say, “if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“That isn’t what I was thinking,” she says.
“OK.” I stand, useless, in the middle of the room. I find a loose thread on the sleeve of my shirt and start tugging. “What were you thinking?”
She looks away. “I was just thinking what a dumbass I was to actually think he was writing about me.” She runs a hand through her wild, tangled hair.
“I don’t know who he’s writing about on—”
“Well neither do I.” She buries her head in her hands. “Fuck.”
“Are you mad at me?” I ask, finally.
“No, Elisabeth,” she says. Her tone is severe. “I’m mad at me.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” This is what my mother asks me whenever I cry. Usually it makes me insane.
“You know what I want? You know what I really want?”
I shake my head.
“I want you to leave me alone.”
I walk down to the Mr. Gatti’s on the corner, order a large Diet Coke and a medium cheese pizza, and eat the whole damn thing.
Project FAITH is a nonprofit owned by an old married couple who retired from teaching five years ago. The place is an old, drab office building tricked out with rows of cribs and beeping machines. When I get there for my Feminism and Sociology class volunteer hour, Ariel’s already inside, talking to the nurses.
“Hey, you made it,” says Ariel, reaching out her hand.
I shoot her a look. “Did you think I wouldn’t?”
She laughs. “No, it was just a greeting. I’m sorry. Good to see you.”
Jo is the head nurse, a burly woman who smells of cigarettes. She takes us on a tour of the place, scoops up one crying baby and holds him to her chest, where he nestles into her large breasts. “I know what you’re thinking,” she says, walking to the sink. “We’ve had a lot of volunteer students here and they all think the same thing. That these kids are gonna be freaks of some kind. Frankensteins, limbless monsters.” She cackles at that.
“I never thought that,” says Ariel.
“No, me neither,” I lie.
“We have those cases, but most of them are like Charlie here,” she says, moving the baby with one hand into a basin next to the sink. He has tufts of black curly hair and a big round belly button. He kicks his legs and smacks his lips. “He has a few kinks in his system, but he’ll grow up all right.” Charlie starts to cry, and Jo puts a hand on his chest to settle him. “You guys ever bathed one of these stinkers?”
“Sure,” says Ariel, playing with his tiny toes.
I nod, which is mostly true. I’ve bathed children before. They were six and seven and not exactly crack babies, but it’s close, right?
“Good. Then he’s all yours,” she says to Ariel.
A bolt of panic flashes across Ariel’s face. “OK, is that...it?”
But before she can finish, Jo has scooped up another baby. “I need you in the kitchen,” she tells me. “The groceries need to be unpacked. “ Hmph. Some task.
I spend the next 30 minutes negotiating crates of Gerber jars, economy-size boxes of Wet Wipes, and bales of diapers. The place is like a science experiment, everything bearing meticulous labels. It’s impossible to navigate, a bit of a labyrinth, really, but I soon learn where everything is.
Ariel bursts in, a lumpy white splat dribbling down the front of her shirt. “Where are the paper towels?!” she asks, a look of disgust on her face.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I forget.”
The next morning a terrible tragedy occurs: I can no longer fit into my jeans. Well, I can technically fit into them, but I probably shouldn’t. A few weeks ago I noticed they seemed tight, but assumed it was because I put them in the dryer. And after that I began leaving them in the dryer for a very long time, mostly so I could maintain that excuse. But now my zipper has spoken. This is a sad day for me.
I guess I haven’t said, but I have weight problems. Maybe all the Diet Coke and pizzas have been a hint. I’m not fat, but I’m not exactly thin. I gave up my dreams of thin years ago, along with my hopes of marrying Nick Carter and my compulsion to become ambidextrous. My shape falls squarely upon a spectrum that starts with cute and ends with chubby. Brad said it never bothered him, but I know he was lying. When we were making out, there are certain parts of my body he would never touch, almost like he was afraid to feel the truth of it.
I’m not complaining. I know there are people with much bigger problems—well, the crack babies, for instance. Except there are also people like Ariel, who are tall and luminous and sexy, and it’s so incredibly unfair—so incredibly, incredibly—that it makes me want to rip out her goddamn hair.
So anyway, I haven’t been eating that great. With all the drama in my life, who could deny me the joys of a few bean and cheese burritos? But now the only clothes I feel comfortable in are pajamas. Also, it’s not even noon, and I’m so, so hungry.
I throw on an oversized T-shirt, find the skirt with the loosest waistband and head to the cafeteria. Even if Ariel and Brad are dry-humping in the next booth, I need to start eating the food my parents have already bought. I wish Kat weren’t avoiding me these days. I could use company right about now.
“Elisabeth! Over here!” It’s Chad from down the hall, wearing a Ramones T-shirt and sitting with a few other guys. He scooches over in the booth to make room.
“You don’t mind?” I ask, but the truth is that I mind. I don’t want to eat with Chad. I don’t want to meet new people. I am depressed and sad and I want to eat a thousand bean and cheese burritos in my bed. Instead, I have Chad and a garden salad. Blech.
“I haven’t seen you in here before,” he says, shaking a bottle of ketchup so hard it comes out in a messy splurt.
“The cafeteria is a bit awkward for me.” I add, with a whisper, “My ex.”
“Bummer, man,” he says. “You just broke up?”
“Right before school started. He’s dating a gorgeous girl named after a Shakespearean character. It was a little rough for a while.”
“I can imagine,” he says, nodding. “I guess it’s happening to a lot of women these days. You know, Reese, Jennifer, Denise.”
When I realize he’s not joking, I nod. “That’s true,” I say.
“Is that all you’re having?” asks Chad, as he picks up the first of his two cheeseburgers.
“Diet,” I say, popping a cherry tomato in my mouth.
“Man, why is it that hot girls are always going on diets?” he asks, his ears reddening slightly after he says it.
I don’t know what to say to that, so I say nothing.
“What I mean is you don’t need to be dieting,” he says. He affects a British accent. “Well, as you wish.”
“What movie is that from?” I ask, stabbing a spear of iceberg lettuce.
“You know, I don’t just quote movies all the time. I have my own thoughts.”
Now it’s my turn to blush. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
He laughs. “Just kidding. It’s The Princess Bride.”
My mother has been calling me all day. Constant calls, five during my Reality Television class (Mark Burnett quiz: 85! Yes!). She never leaves messages and until she does, I am not picking up. You know why? Because I don’t have to! And because once you get on the phone with my mother, it’s impossible to get off! “Have you heard about so-and-so?” “What do you think of this new diet I’m on?” “Does this blouse match that skirt? “ I don’t know, Mom, I’m on the phone.
Kat and India are on the front steps of the dorm, smoking. I stop when I first see them, hoping to avoid any confrontation, but then Kat motions me over.
“All of Geoff’s prospects in one place,” says Kat, as I sit beside her. She scratches my back lightly. It feels really nice.
“Kat and I have been talking,” says India, raising one narrow eyebrow.
“Geoff apparently has quite a fabled fourth-floor past,” says Kat, blowing a smoke ring.
“Oh, yes. It is legend. You should talk to the girl in 413. And by the way, he puts that shit on his blog every year, hoping every girl on the hall thinks it’s her.”
Of course he does. That vegan bastard.
“We’re going to a bar tonight,” says Kat. “You are, too.” It’s nice to be in her good graces again, like a little more sunshine hitting my face.
“It’s a place I know,” says India, standing up and brushing off the back of her cut-offs. “Kind of a frat place, but very hot. They never card, either.”
“Elisabeth doesn’t drink anything but Diet Coke,” says Kat.
“So says you,” I tell her. I consider mentioning the rum I stole from her but decide against it.
“Ooooh,” says Kat, clapping her hands together. “Now I really wanna go. Let’s get the good girl drunk! Can we? Can we?”
A red Honda pulls up alongside the curb. “Sasha’s here. Let’s motor.”
The phone rings again. Mom.
“Jesus Christ, my mother has called six times today!” I say, staring at the cursed numbers.
“Is anything wrong?” asks India.
I shrug. “She hasn’t left any messages.”
“Maybe you should pick up,” says India, looking so concerned that suddenly it strikes panic in me.
“Call her tomorrow. Let’s go,” says Kat, tugging on my arm impatiently.
But now I’m starting to wonder. The truth is my mother never calls this often. Once or twice, yes, but six times in an hour? But if I answer, she’ll probably want to talk for hours.
Kat taps her foot. “We’re leaving. Are you in or are you out?”
I stare at the phone and then at Kat, already halfway down the steps.
“Turn that thing off and let’s go,” says Kat. “What’s the worst it could be? “
Knowing my mom, it could be bad.
Should Elisabeth go to the bar with her friends and call her mom later or pick up the phone and possibly have to pass up her night out?