by Nina Fosati
Isolated in the arid drylands, elders in Kendra’s tribe warned of the dangers ahead. They spoke of forebears who, lured by the seductive sounds and hues, lost themselves. “Daughter of our heart,” they warned, “Beware. If you must explore, stay true. Return to us whole. Inviolate. Unsullied. Or you will be shunned. Forever banned from the land of sun and warmth.”
Kendra accepted the risk. She longed to walk along the ocean’s edge. To let the salt spray tickle her face as the sea breeze played with her hair and clothing. She kissed her family goodbye and left for college, assuring them she’d return with the summer winds.
Kendra unlocked her dorm room, then dumped her duffle bags on a slender mattress. She peeked through the blinds at the wall of window and brick beyond, inhaled a deep breath. Exhaled. She was a freshman, away from the desert for the first time.
Her roommate was a junior. An army brat who claimed she’d lived in Germany, Texas and Guam. Her bohemian clothes and scrim of long bushy hair set her apart. The other girls in the suite would glance up from their cell phones as Lauren passed. Their eyes narrowed and their noses flared in her wake.
Kendra was amazed at Lauren’s self-confidence. Each weekend she danced from guy to guy like a flutterby sampling flowers. She never looked back, was never remorseful. Her roommate chuckled as she pulled a tightly rolled joint out of an Altoid’s tin. “Kendra, it’s easy. Share a little dope, a drink. All it takes is a nudge in the right direction.” At this she rose to her knees, placed a firm hand on Kendra’s thigh, then arching an appraising eye, she carefully placed the doobie in Kendra’s mouth. “A knowing smile that makes your intent clear and they’ll cave.”
She held that pose for a moment maintaining an intense stare before falling limply back onto her bed laughing. “You’ll love all the different sizes and shapes guys come in.” She wiggled her aquamarine toenails. “One day you’ll be a Love ’em and Leave ’em Gurl too.” She sighed as she curled into a ball. “Thoughtful how Rockingham packs so many delicious guys in one place.”
Saturday night Kendra made a snack run to the basement bodega. Her supply of Swedish Fish refreshed, her hand trailed along the wall as she ambled back to her room. Men were never far away. Four rooms, eight beds available 24/7. Does proximity influence behavior? Is that why some women flowed through the dorms like water? Rumor had it Lauren was one of them, that she’d had sex with most every male in the vicinity. It wasn’t true of course. Kendra’s roommate had been selective, but she did love the melding. Maybe some of Lauren’s willingness was starting to rub off on her.
Kendra slowed as she approached the lounge. She could hear Zach Berkman complaining. He jumped on the furniture, his hands clenched into fists. “I’m so tired of that sumbitch. It happens too (bounce) damn (bounce) often. I want to go to bed, not hang out here waiting for him and some stupid bimbo to finish screwing. You hear me, you asshole? (bounce) Sick. Of. It.”
Kendra avoided eye contact as she passed by. His roommate Doug was an idiot, but Zach was a jerk. They deserved each other. It was simple enough to leave an afghan and a book in the window well if your roommate might want the room for a while. When she got back, the doorknob was bare. Lauren would wander back home sometime before morning.
It was a typical Friday night; smoking in someone’s room, then traipsing downstairs to the kegger, where they chugged beer and threw back Jägerbombs. Gary was shy with bright pink acne flaring on his nose and cheeks. His blond hair fell in straight bangs down his forehead. He maintained he was a virgin and intended to stay one until he got married.
Kendra staggered a bit as she danced around Gary. His resolve irritated her. What made him think he was so damn superior? When she put her arms around his neck and tried to kiss him, he grasped her wrists and pushed them down to her sides. He gave a shrug and said, “I have to be true to myself.”
“Dang, Virgin Boy,” Kendra snickered, “True to yourself, eh? Who do you think you—”
Doug grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him. “Hey! Don’t be like that.” He weaved his hands into her hair and planted a sloppy open-mouthed kiss on her. “Alright?”
Her eyes opened wide, but then she twisted ahold of his hoodie and responded. Doug wrapped his arms around her back and cupped her bottom. She ran her tongue up his neck and whispered, “Take me to your room.”
He stretched his head higher. “Slow down, Baby. Slow down.” Kendra pressed closer. She hummed and nibbled little biting kisses down his neck. “Okay. Okay, you win.” Doug pushed her towards the stairs.
In his room, he shrugged off his hoodie and let it fall to the floor. Then he peeled off his t-shirt and kicked his shoes towards a dresser. They lay down on his bed and he quickly removed her jeans. He growled as he nuzzled his way down her torso. His roommate’s high, whiny voice rose and fell as he prowled down the hallway. Doug lifted his head to listen.
The door opened. The hallway light illuminated the room with a slant and Zach exploded. He told them to hurry up and finish fucking so he could have his room back. The door slammed as he left.
Doug lay on top of her. He nibbled on her earlobe for a bit then pushed himself off. “It’s no good; I can’t get my head back into it.” He rooted around on the floor for his clothing, and tossed Kendra’s pants at her. She dressed and left; on the verge of tears as she teetered down the hall.
In the background, she could hear Zach jumping on the couch in the lounge. “Run away, bitch. Yeah, hide yo’ face. Everyone knows what kind of skank you are. Both you and your roommate! Nasty bitches. Yeah, you better run.”
Kendra and Lauren were hanging out, lounging on their beds, high and lackadaisical, watching folks pass by their open door. Doug poked his head in, with a wink and a thumbs up exclaimed, “Whatcha gonna do with all that junk?” then slapped the doorjamb as he moved on.
Lauren rotated onto her stomach and smirked. She twirled her hair around her fingers. “He’s a weirdo, but I’d hit that.”
Kendra bolted upright, her eyes darted to the hallway. She rose, closed the door, and turned to face Lauren. “I already have. Well actually, no. He went down on me, but his roommate came in.” Her arms behind her, she gripped the knob. “Please don’t tell anyone, Lauren. It’s too embarrassing.”
“Look at you!” Lauren whooped and rose to give her a quick hug. “Don’t get mad. He and I did the dirrty deed too.” Then with an impish grin, she admitted, “You didn’t miss anything. He’s much more talented using his mouth than his dick.” Then she laughed, “He’s a good little Fuck Face.”
The name stuck. It made Kendra feel a little better each time she said it.
A group of guys focused on the large-screen TV in Meyer Lounge. The Pistons and the Bucks were in game three of a First Round Playoff match. There were bags of microwave popcorn, chips, assorted dips and salsas scattered about, as well as cans of beer and boxes of pizza. Kendra quietly sat down on the edge of the group, fascinated by the masculine comradery.
The laughter and poking began in a far corner of the room and spread like a wave. Grinning at their cell phones, guys started texting furiously. Her phone made a rapid series of R2D2 toodles, which were largely drowned out by the hoots and laughter surrounding her. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and saw a Twitter alert. Someone had posed the question, “How messed up do you need to be to screw @LeaLeLauren?” #LaurenTheSlut
Horrified, Kendra started to rise, but stopped transfixed as replies began to pour in. Some guys admitted it didn’t take much other than opportunity and overture; one even admitted she wasn’t so bad, and he had enjoyed several encounters. As the tweet hit the room, the admission elicited catcalls and counter-claims of the need for sodden drunkenness.
Leave now, Kendra.
Lauren stormed into the lounge. In a swirling frenzy of tears, she screamed that they were a bunch of pricks. She threw bags of popcorn at people, kicked coffee tables over, grabbed at cell phones, managed to hit the wall with a couple of them.
Kendra watched as Lauren boiled over. She pulled her hair, stomped her feet, shrieked at how loathsome they were. Her shoulders heaving, Lauren stood in the middle of the carnage. She stared bloody rage at Kendra, who sat open mouthed. The glowing cell phone in her hand forgotten.
One of the guys got up and enfolded Lauren in his arms. He cradled her, his face visible over her shoulder. He gently rocked her until she calmed down, then he led her away, his arm protectively encircling her waist. Everyone watched them in silence, for a moment it held. Then as one, they stood, avoiding eye contact as they scattered.
Kendra lay in bed trying to sleep. It was finals week. In a few days, she was supposed to head back to her parent’s home. The ocean currents were treacherous. Yet, having experienced its vastness, she wondered if she could bear to return to the desert.
Drunk off his ass, she heard Doug stagger into the lounge and howl for Lauren. Kendra thumbed on her phone. It was close to 2 am. He stumbled down the hallway and thumped on their door. “Lauren, come out. Lauren, please be nice to me. You haven’t been nice to me in a long time.”
Inside the room, Kendra listened to his repeated pleas until she couldn’t bear it any longer. She threw open the door and hissed. “Look Fuck Face, she’s gone! She packed her things and left.” Stepping nose to nose with him, she pointed to the lounge and yelled, “Go! Leave! Now!” then slammed the door in his face.
“Lauren?” He continued his drunken search. “Lauren where are you?”
Calling herself an idiot, Kendra tugged on her bathrobe and reopened the door. Doug had lumbered back to the lounge. She could see him pooled in a miserable lump on the couch, still moaning.
She padded down the hall and stood hands on hips. “You’re making a fool of yourself. Go back to your room.”
“Kendra?” He blearily looked up then tried to grab her hand. “Why aren’t you being nice to me?”
“Nice to you? You haven’t said one word to me since—” She shut her mouth with a snap. She wouldn’t discuss it with him. Not like this. Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath she started over, “Doug, it’s late. People need to sleep. Lauren’s gone and I don’t know where she is. It’s time for you to go to bed.”
She turned and trod to her room. In the doorway, Kendra looked back. Doug sat on the couch, head in hands, rocking back and forth. He heaved himself off the couch. Cried for Lauren one last time, then staggered away, a man adrift on the swirling currents.
He was alone, like Kendra. They’d been sundered by an ocean. Softly closing the door behind her, she accepted she’d never see the drylands again.
Nina Fosati’s “End of Summer at Potts Harbor” was recently nominated by L’Éphémère Review for Best of the Net. She also recently received her first Pushcart nomination via Persephone’s Daughters for “Lessons Learned.” Fosati is a 65-year-old disabled neurodivergent. Follow her daily art posts on Twitter @NinaFosati and see her website for links to her work www.NinaFosati.com