Colby Barnett was a Delta Kap, and by the Fall of your Senior year, his signature crazy printed aloha shirts had become so reliable as party fixtures that you had taken to greet-hugging him in your insipidly sochie way at the first sight of an errant palm tree. This practice was just one of several somatic symptoms of your unconscious need to demonstrate just how much you belonged wherever you were, and at Delta Kap, Colby was the easiest target. Though you hardly knew Colby, and in spite of the fact that he likely couldn’t stand you, Colby tolerated you because he was a nice guy. And if he despised you, at least he never let on, and was always willing to shepherd you through the masses of drunken humanity who crowded the floors of his frat house on weekend nights, making you feel special, if only temporarily, and if only in the service of a desire to get himself closer to Tanya.
Colby and Tanya could not be said to have a relationship in the most traditional sense of the word, but what they shared was certainly closer to intimacy than anything you had seen Tanya engage since she had put that hex on Matt during Sophomore year. It was clear that Tanya was amused by Colby and his goofy, affably drug-addicted ways: perhaps their common thread was that of being oddballs among a mass of privileged children growing up in coastal resort towns–she from Monte Carlo and he from Laguna–a gap of tens of thousands of miles that was bridged inch by inch, late at night, after everyone else had gone home.
You didn’t ask questions. You liked Colby, but your enjoyment of the stories Tanya would come back with from her evenings with Colby were appealing only for the way that they made you feel like you were in on the joke, in the proximity of some kind of greatness, even if it was a shallow and absurd, beer-soaked greatness of the type that only is convincing when one is under 25. It really didn’t take that much to impress you then, and everything this group of boys did seemed to have some kind of special appeal for you, a cool, love-the-skin-you’re-in-ness that eluded you. And if it was only through the stories of others that you could reach into this, that was how it would have to be.
One of these stories involved the ceiling above Colby’s lofted bed in his frat house, a wall that was soft with years of neglect and abuse. The surface was porous enough, in fact, for Colby to impale it with a dozen white paper lollipop sticks of the sort with which Tootsie Pops made; Colby had apparently arranged the sticks in a haphazard pattern directly above his pillow. Tanya, confused by this odd practice of confectionary stick disposal, asked him why he would want candy sticks stuck into his ceiling, since it seemed like a strange choice of medium and location for before-bed self-soothing art. Colby explained that the sticks in fact had a useful purpose there–that, rather than being an artful display of trash, they functioned together as his “early warning system,” and had saved him from bumping his head countless times. It was a strange solution, and raised more questions than it answered, since the size of the loft might be adjusted to account for a low ceiling, but it was a uniquely Colby solution, and like him, it was heartwarming in its functional brilliance and simplicity.
There was to be a winter formal, and as usual you had nobody of note to take. Tanya would not be going to the formal, though she was still officially a part of the sorority, because she had vampire theories to test out. You were unsure of when or why the thought of taking Colby occurred to you, and perhaps it had never been the greatest of ideas, even if you would be attending the formal only as friends and drinking buddies, and even if Tanya and Colby had not seen each other in months. Still, there was a slight feeling that a code had been violated, and perhaps that night with Colby was the beginning of the end for you and Tanya, when she started to view you with a suspicion that only articulated itself in an exaggerated worry about Colby seeing the Lover’s Lane sign.
After you had assured Tanya that there would be no opportunity to see the Lovers Lane sign, since Colby would not–WOULD NOT–be accompanying you home, under any circumstances, you thought that perhaps then she could trust you. But you should have known that the breach of trust was still there, even before she demonstrated how little she trusted you by scaling the third story outside of Kingscote Gardens from the window of the apartment you still shared with her to the window of Cate and Linda’s apartment, in a grand show of not-caring, shortly after Colby arrived with his friend to pick you and Linda up for the formal. The pretense for the stunt was the need for something from Linda and Cate’s kitchen, and the desire to not walk into the apartment through the front door, where Colby et al. might see her without her makeup. But really, was scaling the side of the building the solution? When Colby learned of this, hearing Linda banging around with something by the bedroom window and the faint sound of Tanya’s voice, he chuckled and shook his head, in a she’s-crazy-but-that’s-why-we-love-her kind of way. And though it worried you, you had to agree, she was crazy, and that was why you loved her, and perhaps climbing on the outside of the building was a solution in the same manner of the lollipop sticks, and maybe that was what gave it its charm.
The formal itself was uneventful, and though the night itself was enjoyable it was not remarkable after Tanya’s stunt except for later, when you and Colby stopped by another party, at another fraternity where neither of you knew many people, and where you were dead set on mischief. Together, you went around the house looking for things to destroy, in the mood for mayhem, and perhaps united in your worry for Tanya, until Colby spied the fire extinguisher. Together, you pulled it from the wall, you in your long black dress, and he in his ultra casual suit, and when he sprayed the fire extinguisher down the back hallway you remembered being shocked by how much smoke it created. All of a sudden it was a serious prank, and though it would be hilariously funny when you both stumbled out of the party and went your separate ways, done with the night, for that moment it was almost frightening the way the smoke cleared the crowds from the hallway, and confusing that nobody seemed to understand that it was you who set the alarms off.