It wasn’t long before Harvard read for Writers Club. To my recollection he read in Writers Club twice. This first time, it was a poem.
It was dark, gritty. It gave off a rotting smell, had sour breath. It was a poem that made you feel like being other places, a poem to curl the spine. He read it fast, spitting it out as a curse more than a reading. And when he was done, we needed to air the place out, needed to scrub the walls. We all wanted to brush our teeth. When Harvard finished reading, he shut us down for a while.
I remember being scared to talk about the poem, as if it might hear what we said and hold it against us. I remember feeling the poem in the dark pit of my stomach. It stayed there like a poorly cooked steak, unrelenting, unwilling to go.
It was not evil. Terrible things did not happen in it. There was not any one thing you could point at to say, “This line right here is abhorrent.” It was the piece as a whole, a thing scuttling.
When we were done we piled into the car. We had Katty with us by then, and Jammy, Chanel, and Walleye. Harvard jumped into the driver’s seat and Careful was supposed to climb in beside him. The front seat was hers without question. She was his girl. She was his queen. But this day, she shoved me shotgun and climbed in to whisper at Chanel in the back with the others.
Harvard’s parents had money, and he liked to spend their money. He asked if we were hungry and took us way out of our way to a Subway. He sent Careful in for the food, and she grabbed my wrist and pulled me out with her. Chanel joined us, and Careful went to order for all of us.
Chanel pulled me to the back of the restaurant and grinned at me. She had a conspirator’s smile when she spoke very lightly.
“Harvard and Careful have an open relationship,” she said.
“They share each other with—” I began.
“With others, with me, yes. Harvard has done it a few times, but Careful hasn’t had any reason to,” Chanel said.
“Until now?” I added.
“Indeed,” Chanel said. “What do I tell her?”
“She wants me to—”
“Oh yes, very much.”
“What do I do?” I was a little more than scared. I had no experience with anything like this.
“They have one rule. They have to ask the other if it is okay,” Chanel said. “Should she ask?”
“Do I need to say something to him?” I asked.
“God, no. They have a system in place. You just let her take care of it,” Chanel said. “We don’t want you throwing a match to the whole thing.”
I thought about it for about an hour. We all ate. We laughed and cussed. Walleye told a disturbing joke, and we boiled around each other. Katty just sort of stared at everyone, and we all waited for my signal. When I was ready to go, we would, but not before.
I thought about it for a long time, and I watched Harvard and Careful together. She laughed when he laughed. She looked at him with all the love of a thousand girls admiring one great boy, and I knew they were solid. Nothing could break them. If they strayed from each other’s bed, they would fall right back in with each other again.
I had decided not to, had told myself they had a precious thing I would not tarnish. I told myself I would not tread on ground so sacred.
Then he looked at her. She stood on her tip toes, and he kissed her gently.
Suddenly I was mad for her. I had to have her to live. She was drenched in love, basking in it completely. I was cold and heartbroken. The lover I had was souring and bitter, and when I saw them kiss, I needed to pull close to them, or just her, if even just for the breath of a kiss. I ached for even a shade of that love, would do anything for it.
We went to Harvard’s house and plunged into his basement. More darkness, and a feeling of lonely power. This was a haven to depression. This was a land for resentment. All Harvard’s darkness lived here, all his pain. She took him to his room to talk to him and they were back there for a long time.
He returned without her. He grabbed me by my arm and stared into my eyes. “You can be borrowed by her but she does not belong to you. And if you hurt her, I will rip you into many very small pieces.”
He was big and angry. I was sure he could do it if he wanted to.
Chanel took me by the hand and led me to Harvard’s room. She pushed me in and closed the door behind me.
It was the first time I had ever been in a room alone with Careful, the first time I had seen her without the shine of Harvard on her. I stared at her, trying to find a thing as beautiful as a woman loved, but was not finding it.
“I don’t want to break you two up,” I said. “If this is going to cause any problems, I will—”
“Oh, dear, you can’t break me and Harvard up. We are a great and mighty oak. We are too strong for rules. You will never touch the part of me that I reserve for him.” She chuckled and flopped onto his bed. “I am Harvard’s fiancée. You are just our leader.”
I walked to the foot of his bed and stared down at her. I told myself we were in their bed. I told myself that if I tried really hard, I could make myself believe, for even the briefest of moments, I was Harvard and she was mine.
I climbed into the bed and hovered over her. I stared at her and she looked up at me. She gasped and smiled.
“Oh boy,” she said. “Here we go.”
I kissed her. I kissed the love of another man, and I let myself sink into her. I let myself be him. I took what didn’t belong to me, and it warmed me. I bathed in their light, and it made my darkness bearable. I kissed her for a long time until I needed to feel her body against mine. I took off my shirt and hers. I pressed myself against her, and the soft feel of her body made me cry. She struggled with my belt, and I stopped her hands.
I looked her in the eyes, and she wiped my tears. “I don’t want to go any further,” I said.
“You can take me. I’m yours right now,” Careful whispered.
“I just need your love. I don’t need your sex,” I said.
“I loved you the moment I saw you,” she said.
The words didn’t make sense. She had to have been thinking of him. I brushed the words away and kissed her again. And Careful was mine. For that one night. I held her and talked to her. I kissed her until I forgot how to breathe, and I basked in the light of her love for Harvard. She healed me. I loved her, if only for that one moment.
When I stood to put my shirt back on, she looked at me and licked her lips. “Do you want me to suck you off?” she said.
The revulsion was pure liquid and terrible. “No, not that, that’s not what I want.”
“I’m good, you know,” she said. “As much as he makes me do it, I had better be good at it by now.”
“No,” I said as I fought to get my shirt on. “Maybe next time. Will there be a next time?” I just wanted out. I just wanted to get free of this room, of this girl.
“Oh, doll, there will be a next time.” She grabbed me and kissed me as she headed for the door. She grabbed my hand and slid it across her ass. “Til next time,” she said.
I walked out of that room in shock.
It had begun.