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Moonshadows: Part 3

Posted: 05/12/09 01:27 PM ET

Billy never pledged a fraternity that fall, despite many houses wanting him to do so. Of course, after the Sails and Serpents incident, which went undecided as to whether it should be celebrated or shunned until word spread that Billy didn't plan to pledge, Sigma Nu made his bid a priority. There was talk that in the third and final week of rush they were making deals to lessen the pressure of other houses. As a last resort, Frank and a handful of other upper-classmen even treated Billy to a strip-club on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with house money. But ultimately, their attempts at him disappeared like so many other things into the swirling storm of a freshmen's first quarter, when only sparse figures here and there remain socially in-tact by the semester's close.

There's never a time of so open of eyes, of such enthusiasm for so slippery of ideas, impulses, notions and feelings, dropped and forgotten as easy as a passing breath in the unconscious yet all too strident pace toward the winter. Even such things as love and hate come in fragile moments, as real as ever for their short-lived presence, and disappeared as if never was upon their dismissal. There's an air of innocence in this time which permits sincerity to fade. The bit of it that remains; sprinklings - those here's and there's - by the winter, tend to endure, forged into the stuff of the pathways of the heart to thin and dissolve in the gradual discourse of use and time.

The beauty of the Harding family was subject to this storm, disappearing into it save the occasional, uncertain reappearances in a group of girls in the distance or as a hazy face in a commuting crowd between classes. It was her very sweeping away into the rushing of things that accounted for much of Billy's reasoning for not pledging Sigma Nu. He found, after attending a Pi Phi social with another fraternity wherein she failed to appear, that she had dropped from pledging. When Billy asked about her to a few of the girls there, each time privately, they all seemed bitter, acting as if she never even existed. Surely, if she had remained in the sorority, Billy would've pledged Sigma Nu, strengthening the thread by both their entanglement in the USC Greek System, an inclusive organization of small town quality, almost entirely exempt of relations with anyone outside of it.

Without her, Billy was through with small towns, so he saw no benefit in pledging. Although he had made friends with many of the Sigma Nu men, he had also made many friends elsewhere, and the money he saved in not paying dues came in quite handy.

It could be supposed that he used some of it to buy a new phone. Even then, though, he preferred not to, and sold back a thick philosophy book after typing-out, word for word, all the chapters referred to in the syllabus. He saw the tedious task as one stone to simultaneously cash in on some of his scholarship money, quite comprehensibly learn the required material and, of course, buy a new phone. However, the task took some time, so when he finally approached the cell-phone kiosk in the mall, almost three weeks had passed since he dropped the original phone into the harbor.
They were weeks passed that may have well been seasons after a glowing summer so long before. And by not so much as calling or even texting inside of those seasons, that hopeful thread was now rather like a glare off the window. Not that Billy wasn't aware of the quick weeks; despite all his academic obligations - much more arduous and pressured than most other students - and despite typing out nearly an entire text book as well as being subject to the typical adversities of campus life, he still avidly searched her name and likeness through Myspace, Facebook and whatever other social databases he could find. As subtly as he could manage, he even asked other students if they knew her. All efforts, though, were to no avail, and so he once and for all let Abigail fade into the autumn leaves dancing forever in the innocence of his freshmen year.

As quickly as it had come, both quarters had passed, bringing the semester to a close.

***

Although a fine ski-town, Mammoth was a relatively warm one, so there was a ripeness in the frigid cleanliness in the morning air after one of the first truly cold nights of the season. The sun, low on the horizon of the steep and rigid Sierras, was the dandy-lion yellow brilliance that stairs from the morning at the curvature of Earth's full day with the ambition and pop of a back-up quarterback given a chance. It thawed the mountains from the night subtly, in a way that kept the cold biting from the shadows at the metallic air, thin, free and satisfying.

By this time Billy had returned for winter vacation a success at SC both socially and academically, although the former dug slightly into the latter. He closed the fall with a GPA of 3.6, and speaking frankly to his long time friend Bradley Wolfe on a chair-lift on such a crisp morning, he explained that it wasn't arduousness that prevented him from a "perfect four," but a lack of time.

The two of them were on either side of one of the big quad-lifts heading to the summit, wanting a long run to warm their legs.

"I guess," Billy continued, showing sign of his concentration only through the lingering hinge with which he spoke, for half his face was covered by goggles and his head by a brightly colored beanie with ear flaps. "It's like Ryan and Timothy right? You know how whenever they do something or go somewhere, they call both of us?"

"Yeah," Bradley said, also wearing big goggles and a bright beanie. He and Billy looked so similar, in fact, that they'd be indistinguishable had Bradley's voice not been a bit slower and of an octave higher.

"It's like that multiplied by a hundred. It's like that times a hundred while trying to do five times the amount of work we do in high-school. And the work is pretty tough."

Bradley was a year younger than Billy, in his senior year of high-school. "Harder than Ms. Attwood?"

Billy laughed and replied sarcastically: "A little."

"I wanna go there," Bradley said after a thought.

"It doesn't matter which you go to. I'd bet they're all like that, even the Ivy leagues. I mean, how many students change universities in the middle of getting a degree? There's no one to compare. I mean, I'm not counting CC transfers. It seems to me that they've all just got different price tags."

"Easy for you to say when you're going to school in Orange County," Bradley said, looking away at the pines, sheeted by frost and blanketed by snow, glistening like Macy's Christmas trees all along the borders of the white fairways below.

"It's not Orange County," Billy replied, pinning his poles between the chair and his inside leg and wrapping himself with crossed arms.

"Either way, no college is like they are in Hollywood."

"Hollywood?"

"Hollywood, Orange County, Beverly Hills, LA..."

Billy shrugged. "If you could go that'd be fun."

"I can go."

Billy looked over at Bradley who saw Billy's incredulous eyes looking back at him right through the non-transparent, mirror lens of his goggles.

"What, Billy, I can."

"With all your scholarships?"

"It can't be too steep."

"It is. It's a private school. You should know details like this by now."

Bradley waited, and then made a terribly obvious and abrupt jump in conversation: "I did hear about you up there."

"Did you," Billy said, unworried and disenchanted.

"I heard you jumped off some guy's yacht."

Billy was surprised. "Who told you that?"

"Marcus did. But the whole school knows either way."

"How does the whole school know?"

"You know. I don't know."

"How does Marcus know?"

"He covered a few shifts for Jessie at the Apres Cigar Mountain Lounge earlier this week and said that he overheard some girl talking about you jumping off of a yacht. He said it was because you were hammered-drunk."

"That's ridiculous. The girl said I was drunk?"

"I don't know. That's just what he said."

"That's unfair. That's ridiculous..." Billy paused a moment. "I wasn't drunk at all. I hadn't even drank anything."

"So you did jump off a yacht?"

"It was a fraternity social. A bunch of people jumped off. It wasn't just me."

"Girls?"

"Yes, of course there were girls."

"They hot?"

"Some of them, yeah."

"I'm so going there."

"Who was the girl Marcus talked to?"

"Some chick. I don't know. He said she was popping in all week."

"She still here?"

"Jessie got back to work yesterday, so I don't know."

"You've never been in here in your whole life," Jessie said, leaning bored against the liquor counter behind the bar of the vacant cigar lounge. "And now you've been here drinking by yourself for three straight nights in a row. What, did college turn you into some kind of boozer?"

"I'm drinking soda water, Jessie."

"Same thing. You're in a cigar bar not smoking a cigar and not drinking. All you have to do is ask if you want a drink."

"Water's fine."

Jessie crossed his arms, admiring how young and out of place Billy looked sitting alone in the brass-fit bar. "I don't know who or what it is you're waiting for, but you'd look a hell of a lot cooler if you were drinking scotch when they showed up."

Billy looked at him questioningly, wanting to defend himself for being so obvious. But "Scotch?" is all he asked.

"You wanna try it?"

Billy looked back at the entrance and then at the big, oak mantled fireplace and then back at Jessie with a somewhat embarrassed but quite hopeful gleam and shrugged.

And for five more nights, as a total of three other inconsequential people entered and then exited, Billy sat there alone, shooting back and forth with Jessie, about thirty, who never once queried as to the specifics of why Billy was there. In having nothing to lose, Billy followed the nearly imperceptable scent of hope and chance with all the faith of disenchanted, un-failed youth.

On the lift, though, it was Bradley who was looking for possibilities. "I'm so going to USC."

Billy paused, wondering. "Do it."

"I can get scholarships like you."

Billy's ears were drifting off. "Isn't your deadline - " Billy refrained and changed his tone. "Apply for every single one you can. There's a ton of'em out there," he encouragingly settled, knowing that Bradley was caught up in a kind of vicariousness of the moment, so knew also that to appease him could do no harm. Bradley was absorbing from a dear friend the dazzling newness and excitement of a world totally aside his own and desperately wanted to take part in it then and there, in a sense of such urgency that to jump from the lift, some sixty feet up, to go join-in seemed rational.

"Think about it, Billy. What if we were both going to USC?"

"We might both flunk out," he said, grinning.

"No way. You could take the lead; show me the way. You could keep me in check."

"Sounds great. That's exactly what I want to do."

"You would."

"You know that if you go to SC I'll keep an eye out," Billy assured.

"I'll go talk to Mr. Brown and apply next week."

"You better hurry."

"I know."

"Have you applied anywhere yet?"

"Of course."

"You lying? I feel stupid to ask, but you're over the whole joining the military idea, aren't you?"

"It is stupid to ask. I already got into Nevada."

"In Reno?"

Bradley nodded.

"That's not so bad!"

Billy leaned across the chair and smacked Bradley on the leg as it, along with the other, banged the ski's at their feet together, knocking off the snow crusted over them.

"Bradley, that's great. Why didn't you tell me right away?"

He shrugged again.

"At least one of us'll get to keep skiing."

In the address of something applicable to Bradley's reality, he suddenly changed his tone: "If I go. It's expensive too - out of state. Plus I could go without skiing so much. I wouldn't mind."

"You think that now," Billy warned.

"I spent a winter with my aunt in Texas once. It wasn't so bad."

"Spending a winter overseas is no Texas."

"I already told you I wasn't doing that. If nothing else, I'll stay here a year or something. But I did hear that the Navy's a breeze, and I might get to see more than just the Middle East."

"You'll have to shave your hair off," Billy said as he threw his substitute-fur hood up.

Bradley shrugged.

"You should go out for Nevada's ski team," Billy suggested.

"And race? To hell with that."

"It'd get you some funds."

Bradley, becoming exhausted, shifted the subject. "You gonna ski at Bear this year?"

"Not really. It's something like seventy miles away from campus. Unless I find some people willing to carpool, it's not worth it. I doubt that's gonna happen. The jeep swallows gas."

"That jeep's awesome."

Billy nodded. "But it takes a lot of gas. I'm, like, the only kid I know down there with an SUV."

"I bet."

"They're all almost fascinated by me being from Mammoth."

"Great. Make me even more envious."

Billy ignored the comment. "You know how you and I always wanted to surf? You know, surf well - straight from our doorstep to the water?"

Bradley nodded and filled in for him. " - They all feel the same way about skiing and snowboarding. Probably more-so snowboarding."

"Yes."

They both became quiet for a moment, gently gliding up the last stretch of lift to the creaking of its gradual sway. Bradley knew Billy was thinking, as he had always rather thought to himself than talk on the chair, and so waited patiently for how the thoughts would manifest.

"There was this girl I met." Billy let it ring for a moment before continuing. "I guess her family owns a place here. From what I saw it's probably one of the big cabins on the lower chalet."

"I wouldn't doubt it. They're for no one local."

"Her family owned that yacht I jumped off of. They own a few of them. One of'em could probably buy a good chunk of this mountain. Not really. But, you know."

"Manny wanted to break into one of'em and throw a party one time."

"Ha! When? Was I here?"

"I don't know," Bradley said quickly. "You have been gone for a pretty long time."

"Four months, Bradley? That's not a long time."

"That might be your opinion. But that's all it is, is an opinion. It was a long time here. Four months ago I was fishing. A lot can happen."

"It snowed," Billy said, plain and stern.

"Look how cold you are, Billy. You used to never get cold. I'm unzipped."

Of course, this caused Billy to look down at his torso, hunkered-in under his intertwined arms. In an attempt to be quick yet nonchalant, he opened up, laying his arms along the back of the chair after throwing off his hood. "I'm not cold."

Bradley was confident in, for once, proving a point to Billy so remained quiet, letting the observation set in before saying anything else. Then: "Well it definitely seemed like a long time to me."

Billy thumped forward as if about to start on something but quickly halted, letting out but an inkling of his assuring voice in uncharacteristically unsure refrain before recovering and starting again.

"That's probably why all those giant cabins are sitting there waiting to be broken into by meat-heads like Matty. The rich guys who buy them don't realize how quick time can be, I guess. So they just sit there, waiting."

Bradley was looking off at the pines. Billy crossed his arms again.

"I guess it's either you're bored or you're waiting, but just getting older all together. I mean, I'm looking at you just like I did before I left; cause it all was like snapping your fingers. Just quick. But here you are looking at all these things about me that I don't even notice. I can't even imagine how fast spring'll go by." Billy re-adjusted himself. "I think I'm gonna have to juggle some part-time job this semester," Billy said. "You should enjoy this. Look forward to whatever's next too, but enjoy this. It's your last year to be bored and be okay with it. After that, unless we do something extraordinary or get really lucky - "

"Or both," Bradley interrupted.

"Yeah, or both... guys like us can't really afford to be bored. It's all waiting and working."

Bradley thought about it for a moment before shrugging his shoulders. "That's not a bad thing."

"No, I don't think it is."

The two of them released their poles from beneath their legs and looped them onto each hand. Billy threw his hood back up. "Whatever."

"Nah, I'm not bored," Bradley said. "I just need a change in scenery. So how much longer are you sticking around?"

"Until term. Three weeks. Although there is a game in less than two weeks."

"To hell with the game. Stay and ski. There'll be plenty of games."

"I do miss skiing."

***

The game came during the week-long grace period between the return of the grunt of SC's students and the actual first class of the term. It seemed a time of unrestricted leisure, backed by the security of a semester ahead and the absence it granted of not so much as a bit of obligation until it commenced. The week was like the first of summer only riper, lush to be milked for all the loveliness it harbored in so much shorter a time.

Days were the shortest they would be all year, and now even the freshmen went about them with the certainty they lacked in the longest of them the semester before. Never is a university so socially complete, so enthusiastic, dynamic and versatile as it is in this reunion week. It's the pointy apex of a gradually sloped pyramid.

Pouring inside like water through floodgates, the students covered every inch of pathway, shoulder to shoulder, making it alive in a reverberating slither of crimson and gold through The stadium's grand entrance, backing up like rush hour traffic at the turnstiles deep inside. Banners swam through the air and all sorts of trinkets, foam fingers and megaphones appeared in and out of the roving crowd.
Behind Frank's lead, Billy found himself in the rowdy student section behind the West basket. He hardly even saw the court. The best way to keep track was to listen to the emotional static of the crowd and look up at the massive scoreboard hanging high above the center of the court.

The two of them, as well as two pretty junior girls and Walsh Keaton, a round kid with an infinitely youthful looking face, were quite possibly the only people in the stadium sitting down, concealing from the thousands that they were going round with a large flask the girls had snuck in.

"It's the end of the game that really matters anyway," Frank said. The girls agreed cheerily. They were maintaining the reservation, willingness and smiles of guests, for they had only known Frank for a short while, and they didn't know Billy or Walsh at all. But Frank's massive personality gave them a comforting refuge on one side of him. To the other was Billy, pressing rather close to him by the enveloping force of Keaton, honestly oblivious and smiling. Frank leaned into Billy's ear to tell him that he chose to sit between everyone because it enabled him to get what he called "The most even distribution of vodka..." This, of course, was either crazy or a kind of comedic irreverence found behind Frank's black framed spectacles and shit-eating grin, for wherever he may have sat, he still would've tipped back the flask longest and oftenest. "Here," he said, drawing a little back from Billy's ear. "Start it up."

"Why's it have to be vodka."

"Because we're in LA, mountain-kid."

"I hate this stuff."

"You can drink vodka the night before an exam and not be hung-over. You could never do that with whiskey."

Billy passed the flask to Keaton.

Each time it passed Billy, who would only drink from it every other time, it was dramatically lighter, although once regaining all its weight when one of the girls - Billy couldn't tell whether it was Carrie, he was almost sure of the name, a petite brunette, or the other who's name he'd forgotten - re-loaded it with the remainder of the pint hiding in a purse.

Unlike many people, who for the most part mold into the identical streaming slop of humanity when drinking heavily, Billy's deep-seeded reserve permitted alcohol to belittle him only enough to make him cheerily outspoken. He often humored himself with people who deemed him "a man who could hold his drink," for he wasn't. It was simply the default of his nature. So he found such presumptions ill-thought.

He leaned to Frank but then wished not to exclude Keaton from his comment and so turned his eyes back at him. "You know, I've never played in any kind of basketball game."

"What's that?" Keaton asked.

Billy repeated himself, interrupted halfway through by Frank.

"You're kidding?"

"Seriously."

"Why?" he asked excitedly.

Billy shrugged. "Don't know. Just never did."

"You played other normal sports, though..."

"Yeah."

Keaton leaned in, further squeezing Billy against Frank, who didn't seem to notice. "I was actually pretty good at basketball."

"Could you dunk," Frank asked sarcastically.

"What?"

"Keaton's easy for the coaches," Frank said. "He plays center in every sport. It doesn't matter - he's always the center."

Billy laughed, squeezing his arm behind Keaton and patting his shoulder.

"What did he say," Keaton asked, anticipatorily smiling to whatever funny thing Frank might have said.
"Do you hear the game?" Billy asked Keaton.

"Yeah, of course I do."

"I mean, but do you hear it down on the floor? On the court?"

"Yeah."

Frank began to lean in to what Billy was getting at.

"When I was in high school," he began, glowing as if constantly on the verge of smiling, "the marching band did seasonal concerts. And the last concert they did before I left town, they played a song written by the music teacher. It was called Sports Anthem, and it basically re-created the sounds of all the popular sports games. The basketball one was the best. It literally sounded just like this - " Billy gestured toward the court, which was still hidden behind the thousands of standing bodies. "The crowd sound wasn't so overbearing, but at the end of it they even created that sound, like roaring. Then when they finished you could barely tell the difference between the actual applause and the imitation of it they had just closed with."

"I've never heard of anything like that before," Keaton said. "I would've liked to see it."

Frank concurred, only a little less impressed. "That's cool," he said simply, faintly bouncing his head, thinking about something in a blank stair at the backs before him. "You watch games at bars," he then blurted.

Billy took the comment as if it were a slightly clever, certainly ironic reply to an inexistent remark or complaint from someone about not seeing the game, which brought him to examine Frank for a moment, wondering how he was thinking. When he saw Carrie, the brunette, nudge Frank in the side and whisper in his ear he then thought that the comment was in fact a reply.

When Carrie pulled down from a whisper's distance of Frank's ear, resting her tightly hooked lips shut, she cast a glance across Billy's now almost happy-go-lucky wide eyes, and so Billy began to notice her. She looked vibrant and fresh, as if having just awoke from a good sleep in a rumpled tumult of cloud-like blankets, dove white and abundant in the Sunday shine from the window, her Tuscan-like tanned skin contrasted in place of the blue sky. Her face showed little handicap of makeup, framed like a minimalist's painting by a hairline as undisturbed as the line of ocean and sky on the horizon. There was a casualness about the way the long dark hair was pulled back with a crimson tie, like sporting simplicity.

Frank leaned into her ear, and yet yelled loud enough so that Billy quite easily heard him. Carrie even flinched upon Frank's start.

"He just told us about his high school marching band; about how they were awesome." She nodded, pantomiming, oh. Then she whispered in his ear again. "Yeah," Frank began, unrestrained. "That guy. The crazy ship guy who jumped overboard!"

Now, realizing that it was he who she was focusing on, Billy anticipated her to at some point lean forward and look his way again.

When she did, he locked onto the big green orbs fearlessly, smirking at her until she wavered away and became lost in a candid smile. A moment later, to the chagrin of Frank, she passed down her blackberry for Billy. Having never used such a phone and being a bit drunk, he found himself ridiculous for having such a difficult time punching in his name and number. When he did, he called his own phone so that he'd have hers' before handing it back. Then the roar of the crowd rose with the ascension of an accelerating engine of static sound, as if a crescendo to the energy of her subtle pass and Billy's pleasure to oblige. But as quickly as it rose, the roar fell to the steady, familiar murmur of a crowded stadium idling. The crowd had passed over their hype to the dominant length of the game after some extraordinary play, and sat down with a massive, wave-like synchronization, showing the group of friends the court for the first time since they arrived. But like a short-lived spring, Carrie and Billy's firing-bloomed hearts subdued themselves to the bitter bite of a delayed, freakish ice storm. It dwarfed the previous precipice silently, working privately, interiorly - a clandestine rusted watermark all to Billy's own that would forever leave Carrie second, at best, and the tiny, picturesque dancer in red and gold down on the court in first.

Her incidental emergence into the blissful gathering was to Billy no less than profound. She glowed more beautiful than how he remembered her on the ship - so much so that he nearly shuttered upon the sight of her, gracefully dancing in unison with her teammates, smiling, oblivious to the boy gazing down at her from a few rows up.

Scotty happened to catch Billy's mesmerized gaze. "Hey, man, snap out of it. Stick to what you can have - at the moment at least. You were supposed to get the friend, damnit!"

***

A bit further back in this story - or, better yet, a bit further back into Billy's first year at USC, perhaps the intensity with which he attracted to the dancer wasn't fully properly. There's only so many words with which one can decorate the air and truth of another's moment before running out or running long. Indeed, his moment or, rather, handful of them, did and will rank as some of the most memorable of his life. It should be noted too, that these moments are the boundaries of different universes, for these moments which never slip, that may be gone with the wind to others, even to others closely involved with them, remain within arms reach as if still ripe and new to whom they fall. To them, they become charms on bracelets of the soul.

So when she jumped from the roar into Billy's line of sight, it was a vivid reminder of such a moment, whispering that perhaps it wasn't just that and that it maybe could be.

He was certain there was no denying an instinctive, soul-wrenching draw to her hidden somewhere inside himself. But although the moments were now cemented at the forefront of his heart, he was quite aware of the high wall of time between them and the absence of the so-necessary casualness and ease that which blooms the contemporary relationship. Courtship by a line and a date had become something taboo. So aware of such things, that with the coming of spring, hardly distinguishable apart from the balmy winters of Southern California, he easily gave in to Carrie Cameron.

Since that first game upon his return, half a hundred nights of sharing beds and over a dozen appearances at parties had made them an item. Also since that game, the two of them caught over twenty others (Upon Billy's insistence) at The Coliseum before The Trojans were finally eliminated from the tournament in mid-March, at about which time they sat for breakfast one morning of many in "The Lot," a popular campus commissary.

The night before, Billy had attended a game alone, as he often did when Carrie had other plans, wherein he dove entirely into a completely imaginary yet equally impactful and guilty one-sided affair with an oblivious member of the dance team.

As she was on most mornings, Carrie was cheery.

"Do you remember meeting that Teddy guy?"

At first Billy shook his head as he stirred his steaming tea, but then remembered the name and place. "Teddy Valentine?" He highly emphasized the made-up name. "I remember him."

"You hate him."

He grinned. "I don't really hate anyone."

"You hate him."

Billy lifted his eyes from his tea. "He's sleazy."

"I know. Of course he is - he's a promoter. But he knows a lot of people. And he's nice - even if it's just because he wants to sleep with me he's nice."

"He does."

"Of course he does."

Billy smiled confidently. "A lot of guys do."

"A lot of girls wanna sleep with you."

"Not."

"We've talked about it being bad to lie even if it's to be modest."

"Well how else could I be modest?"

"What is it you call that?" she asked him.

"A Catch-Twenty Two, I guess. Or a conundrum... Or, um... a paradox - "

"Yes! I love that word. No one's truly modest."

Billy sipped his tea.

"He's getting me a job."

"A job?"

She nodded. "Doing bottle service at Cross-Tail."

"In Hollywood."

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"Because." She said it with finality.

"You don't need a job. I need a job maybe."

"Do you realize how much money you make doing bottle service?"

Although he didn't shake his head, he wore the same expression he usually did when doing so.

"A lot. He told me the girls usually make over seven hundred a night. Sometimes, he said, they make more than a thousand."

"You're not even twenty one, though."

Carrie, maintaining her dignity and fairly dependable intelligence with the nonchalant silliness that which she bent her eyes, leaned across the table a bit and lowered her voice. "That's the thing. He's just not putting me on the payroll. It's all tips anyway."

"You should have him get me a job," Billy said, jokingly.

"What," she exclaimed, "You mean after all this hating-on promoters you'd be willing to be one?"

"Of course not," he replied quickly. "As a bartender or something, on the weekends."

Carrie smiled, her face a white freshness and her lips a plain glow. "From what I know it's mostly girls who want to sleep with you. Only a few guys do and Teddy's not one of them. I could ask. But all you'd make good for at a club is a promoter."

"I'm not nice enough."

"You try to be not nice enough."

"And I'm not disgusting."

"I know," she said, thinking, trying to keep the disagreement in the realm of the tight bind of an attractive couple. "Disgusting's kinda hot, though," she said grinning.

It bothered Billy in an indirect sort of way that she was teasing. She would never say to Teddy Valentine anything in regards to her boyfriend. Even when she and Billy met him - at a mansion party somewhere in the Hollywood Hills - she broke from Billy's hand and avoided any allusions or hints to their relationship. Valentine's popularity perplexed Billy. His job was, in theory, to lure attractive girls to whichever club he happened to be promoting. That was it. His task was simple and he was paid rather amply for it. Beyond that, he was sickly skinny; Billy called him "Boney." He was short, wore a faux-hawk of jet black between a receding hairline, like a far-too dramatically arced shield, and was a shade paler than he rightfully should've been. Yet even girls like Carrie stood his company. Yes, it made sense that some girls did, but he didn't understand the reasoning of the ones like Carrie...
Despite wanting to vocalize such things, Billy thought better to compensate with a confident lack of worry or waste of time for the subject. Carrie was too pleasant and lovely in the mornings for a fight. There was nothing that kept her from achieving absolute rest once she shut her eyes. Upon entering Billy's dorm for the first time, he found himself apologizing about his quite plain, rather unaccommodating bed - a twin with two pillows and a comforter. He didn't even have sheets, for being the budgeted eighteen year old young man that he was - once in Target to buy his new bedding he decided sheets unnecessary.

"No worries," she had said, wrapping her arms low around his waist, looking up at him. "I wouldn't doubt it that I could sleep in the middle of a battlefield."

Of course, Billy didn't believe her until the following morning when she was just as she was the handful of times he had seen her eyes open at her Argenta Hall dorm, which she had professionally decorated upon her move in. In the morning's she moved about the covers and then the room with a gentle grace, looking at Billy as though he was something new and rare, in a way that said she wasn't to be touched, but only admired for the fresh aptitude of abyssal darkness in her eyes above her hardly dressed body of the morning.

"It's easy to like someone like Teddy when I'll be making so much money. He's just a middle man between me and great money," she said repetitively, feeling she had touched on a good point - perhaps excuse - with the first line. "I'd be something else if I refused my parents from paying for a few things."

"I don't know them," Billy said, "But I can't imagine them being very happy with you working at some club in Hollywood - no matter how much you're pulling in."

"You say it as if Hollywood's a bad place."

"No, I say it as if a club in Hollywood is a bad place."

"Well they're not."

"They're filled with sleaze-balls like Bobby Valentine." Billy mistook his first name intentionally, uncontrollably submitting to the urge to insult Valentine, and as a result argue, if he must, with Carrie.

Carrie corrected him but was overlapped as he continued.

"Any place like that can't be very good."

"You've only been to a club up there once, Billy," she said, a slight tension straining at the rear of her voice. "You wouldn't even know what they're filled with."

"If you've seen one, you've seen'em all," he said stubbornly, finding his way out of spouting blind-ignorance only with the certainty by which he believed in his stereotype. Then even still, he took a political reproach: "Sure, there's probably a couple exceptions, but only a couple."

"When we were at CoCo-DeVille you seemed to have a great time," she said, wanting him to settle.

"I had a great time with you," he said, deflating her anticipation. "I'd have a good time with you at an In-and-Out. But I wouldn't be caught dead in a place like that otherwise. Didn't you see a difference between us and most the rest of the people there?"

"Now you're being a jerk. You're being pompous."

Billy laughed. "I don't mean to be." He thought to himself for a moment, visibly, as it usually was, so that Carrie knew to wait for what he'd say next, taking a bite of her egg-white omelet.

"It's just that most of those people at those clubs - not just in Hollywood, are so easy. I think most of them are there only because they're boring. They want nothing else, maybe. Or they have nothing else. It's a bunch of guys with money with bottles of alcohol at a bunch of different tables and then a bunch of broke girls trying to drink it. They all wear the same dresses and they all look for the same thing."

"You get all that from having gone to a club there one time?" Carrie asked, incredulously.

Billy shrugged. "I feel like I'm not putting it right."

"What are they looking for, Billy?"

"Things that you don't need," he said. "All I'm trying to say is that there's no reason for a girl like you to be working there. I'm not trying to be that chauvinistic, overbearing guy telling you what to do, but it just seems that if you're going to do something extracurricular - a job or whatever - it should be something - " He searched for the right word - "To be proud of."

She initially felt struck by Billy, but as she lowered her eyes at him suspected that he didn't mean it as an insult, but then she second-thought the notion.

"I mean that," he began, "That job's not good enough for you."

"But it's good enough for you, Billy?"

He was silent, looking a little perplexed, so she refreshed the conversation.

"You seemed serious about wanting a job at a place like that a minute ago..."

He had an answer. He had a precise, logical answer for such a question, but he opted to rather not take her there so substituted a less involved half-fib. "I was being sarcastic about that. I would never in a million years work for that Valentino guy."

"Valentine."

"Sure," he said, taking a bite of her omelet.

"Let's just drop it for good."

"I could live with that. Let's drop the promoter for good."

Although she was turned off by his biases on the matter, she did find logic in Billy's words and somehow felt glad that he saw himself not necessarily above such a crowd, but certainly away from it. For his age - as he was a couple years younger than her - Carrie found Billy's maturity up to par with many of the oldest bachelors she knew. Most college boys, she found, easily settled or agreed with whatever convictions or ideals she, or any other attractive girl for that matter, may have had. But Billy didn't. He was all his own and she leaned on him for it. For any man passionate is at least worth more than a man not, regardless of whatever those passions may be.

Billy reached out across the small table and laid his hand over hers, looking at her. "So what'd you guys end up doing last night?"

Her eyes momentarily lit up, but quickly settled. "Didn't I tell you last night?"

Billy smirked mischievously. "You weren't much for talking last night."

Carrie's head sunk into her shoulders and she blushed, half in part only because she thought she should. "As if, Billy," she said, playfully stretching out the words.

Billy shrugged. "As if."

She rose again. "I did get a little tipsy."

"So what'd you guys do?"

She was quiet for a moment, smug and guilty looking and then, when she finally went to speak, did so looking down into her tea. "The girls and I - "

"You hung out with that Valentine!"

She looked up and shrugged innocently. Billy removed his hand, pushed away his plate and sat back in his chair.

"Really..."

She nodded. "I told you we might go to Hollywood."

"Yeah, but you didn't say with - " He stopped himself, then retracting. "I should've known."

"It's not that big-a-deal. I mean, like, Scooter was there."

"Scooter?"

"Frank." She shrugged again. "He's having everyone call him Scooter now."

"What? Since when? I just talked to him yesterday."

"Well apparently since after you talked to him yesterday."

Billy sat quietly, boiling a bit, so Carrie leaned forward and now opened her hand for Billy to take. He sat stubbornly with his arms crossed, but Carrie, leaning across the table with her arms outstretched, smiled persistently at him.

"You're sulking like a little boy. You're being a baby."

Finally he gave in and reluctantly placed his hand into her's.

"Are you being jealous of Teddy?"

Billy pulled back his hand. "No. Do you really think that? He's the last guy I'd be jealous of."

"I only ask because you don't need to be." She left her hand out.

"I'm not. I just don't like him. I can't believe Frank was with you."

"Yeah, and so was Sydney, Lilly and five other girlfriends. That's the only reason Scoot... Frank... Frank went. I don't think he liked Teddy either. You guys can both hate him now."

Billy replaced his hand, rubbing hers, small and olive toned, with his thumb. "Fine," he said, gently. "We're done talking about it."

She released from his hand abruptly. "Good," she said. "You're too pretty to be bitter."

He grinned. "Bitter?"

She nodded. Billy went to stand.

"Class?"

"Let's go," she said.


Billy stood an easy six inches higher than her as they exited The Lot into the intertwined cement walkways lined in vibrant, clean cut lawns between benches, blooming bundles of roses, high-stretched poplars, even higher palms and countless red-bricked, Romanized colleges. His backpack hung from one shoulder as Carrie hung from the other arm, both of them dressed in the simplified chic of avid students. Her hair was pulled back and Billy's hung to his eyebrows, yet both were the equivalent appearance to the other.

"So you haven't told me yet, Billy."

He looked down at her. "I haven't? What." He asked casually.

"I've been in a tiny bubble for the last twelve or so hours. First I was in Hollywood and then I was with you, in your room, and then The Lot. How was the game last night?"

Billy was taken off-guard a bit, flushing only enough for his own notice of the badgering of the ridiculous guilt of his one sided affair. He half grinned. "It was fun."

"Who won?"

Suddenly his heart jumped and his breath slipped, a reaction to which he responded somewhat shocked. He felt caught. He felt as guilty as ever, and for the first time since the game it occurred to him that he didn't have an answer to Carrie's question. Thinking frantically and feeling damn ridiculous for it, all the while attempting to keep his expression neutral over his delayed response, he stopped. "Oh, damn," he said and began patting his pockets. "Did I leave my phone - " No more than a second passed than did he of course retrieve it from his front pocket, but it was enough time for a multitude of possible answers to reel across his mind.

He was almost sure that the Trojans had played a smaller school, and he had heard that they weren't very good. So, knowing that any answer other than a definitive one would seem sketchy, he came outright that the Trojans had won, but that he had forgot the score. "It was an easy win."

"You and that phone of yours are a terrible match."