CONTENT WARNING: Baby Bird contains elements that readers might find disturbing or reminders of past trauma. Diligence and discretion is recommended.
Melanie Emilia Shanahan,
who preferred to be called Melanie (except by her best friends, who called her “Mel”), was a 19-year old girl with olive skin, oak-brown hair, and a pair of hazel eyes. She was slim and small and was in DECA in high school. There was a photo of her on the family house’s fireplace of when she was in the state championship, wearing an oversized black suit and a pair of plastic-framed glasses. She switched to contacts when she got to college.
She also switched to the other side of Washington state, electing to go to university at Hill Valley College instead of the much closer University of Washington. She didn’t offer her parents a way of explanation beyond the fact that she thought the campus looked nice, but her father drove her all the way there regardless.
When we meet Melanie for our story, she had already gotten close to finishing the first semester of her yet undecided college career. She had also already made a few friends, including her roommate who woke her up one Thursday morning.
“Mel. Mel! It’s eight o’clock, girl.”
Melanie groggily got out of the bed. She wore a thrifted concert t-shirt for The Smiths and a pair of gray sweatpants. Her long brown hair dangled from her face.
“Shit, my phone didn’t go off?” she yawned out, turning towards her roommate. She was African-American, same age as Mel, with a neat set of dreadlocks that weaved into a bun at the back of her hair.
“I think so. I didn’t hear it.” The girl replied. Melanie gave a deep sigh.
“Well, thanks Fifi.”
Fifi smiled. “No prob, girl.”
Melanie went through her standard routine. She put on her makeup, brushed her teeth, and tied her hair up into a high ponytail. She got into something more presentable — a plain camo-green jacket and some skinny jeans — then walked out for her first class of the day.
Melanie was outgoing. She always had been. Her problem was never with talking to people — perhaps with fitting in, but never talking. Beyond Fifi she had become close friends with Rocko, a part-Maui boy in her service organization, and Mary-Ann, a short blonde girl with thick black, rounded glasses that had the same English course.
It was that very English course that she had been running late for. Only a minute or so before the class began she sat in the back with Mary-Ann, who had saved her a seat. Melanie dropped her backpack down to her feet and slumped in the chair.
“Thanks for keeping the spot for me, Ann.”
“Still having problems with your phone alarm?” Mary-Ann asked. Her voice was high pitched, and nasally. But in a good way.
“Yeah. I think I might need a new phone, the whole audio thingy is messed up. It doesn’t even detect my headphones anymore, so I can’t walk to class while drowning out all the other noise.”
Mary-Ann gave a squeaky giggle. “That sounds like a nightmare.”
Melanie shook her head. The professor got up to the podium. “Oh, remind me after class. I have a funny story to tell you, about the weird guy at the cafeteria.”
“Oh, you do?”
The conversation was cut off by the professor beginning his lecture. Mary-Ann, for the most part, diligently took notes on her laptop. Melanie had a notebook that she kept in her lap, and occasionally scribbled down a slide title or two. But her attention was drawn instead to something else: the boys sitting at the lower rows.
Throughout her life so far, Melanie never had a boyfriend. The life event had mostly skipped her by. It didn’t really have anything to do with her personally; while she was somewhat nerdy in high school, she wasn’t unpopular. Rather, she saw herself as better than all of that. That she didn’t need to debase herself to what all the other girls were doing.
But, in the summer between high school and college, her thought process began to change. Part of it was the dawning realization that, if she wanted a life partner, college was likely one of her last chances to get one. More deeply, however, it was the romantic part of her finally being awakened. For the first time in her life, her daydreams consisted of finding her perfect boy, leaning on his arm, and letting the wind flow through her hair.
When class ended, the two girls walked out together into the courtyard.
“So, what did you want to tell me about?”
“You know, the weird guy.”
Mel snapped back to attention. “Oh, yeah! Okay, so, you know how I had the theory about him being homeless? Well, yesterday, I come in for breakfast, and he’s just laying there. His entire body sprawled on one bench, arms crossed, eyes closed. And there’s this group of people… I think I recognize them from the art club… and they’re talking. Anyway, Weird Guy is really clearly upset about the whole thing. He’s like, covering his ears and getting this really pained expression on his face. And all of a sudden he turns to me, and goes — oh, sorry!”
This wasn’t part of the story. Melanie wasn’t looking as she walked and almost got run over by a boy on a bicycle. He waved behind him after she apologized, and rode off.
“And, uh… so he turns to me, and says, ‘Don’t these people know how to be quiet? I’m just trying to sleep, for godssakes!’ And of course, I don’t wanna like… piss him off, or anything, so I just nod and am like, ‘Yeah, yeah!’. Well I think this was a bad move, cause the next thing he does is he gets up, and walks over to them, and starts talking. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but it’s clear the art club kids are just… confused as hell. So they talk a little, back and forth, and eventually Weird Guy heads back to his bench. He gives this biiiiiiig sigh, then lays right back down on his bench and falls asleep.”
Mary-Ann giggled, holding her books close to her chest. “I wish I was at the Nova dorms. Sounds like you guys have all the fun.”
The two waited at the corner of the street for the walk sign to light up. “Yeah, well, living in Nova comes with its ups and downs.” Melanie scratched at her ponytail. “Anyway, I think that solidifies my theory that he’s homeless. Otherwise, why would he be sleeping in the middle of the cafeteria? He could just go back to his dorm.”
“Maybe he lost his keys.”
Melanie spat out a laugh. “I don’t think that’s it, Ann. But I like your way of thinking.”
Mary-Ann smiled. “So, what’s your plans for the rest of today?”
The walk sign turned on, and the two walked the street. “Well, Fifi invited me to that party at Rodan. You’ve been there?”
“You mean Rodan Condos?”
“Yeah, yeah. Where they have all those crazy parties at. She invited me and said a friend of hers is going to be there also. You wanna come, too?”
Ann shook her head. “Sorry, but, um… parties aren’t for me.”
Melanie nodded. “Good on you. You should study, unlike us jerkoffs.”
“Well… I wouldn’t say I do that, either. But I appreciate you inviting me.”
The girls reached a plaza, where they were to go their separate ways. The two said goodbye to one another, and walked on.
Later in the night, Melanie and Fifi got ready in their dorm room. Her roommate walked into the bathroom wearing a tight red dress, as Mel looked at her while applying glitter under her eyes.
“Oh, so it’s that kind of party, huh?” Melanie smiled.
Fifi put her hands on her hips. “I’m just tryna show. You don’t have to dress up if you don’t want to.”
Melanie finished off her glitter, and began to tie up her high ponytail. “I think I’ll keep it simple. Maybe the black sweatshirt, and those short-shorts.”
“Sounds good to me. Wear what you want.”
Fifi drove the two down to the condos. It wasn’t too hard to find out which house was the right one — a few drunk college kids hung around a single complex that lit up with bright rainbow lights and vibrated with rap music.
As the girls got out of the car, they spotted a common friend — a silver-haired Korean girl named Maya. She was flanked by two taller, white boys.
“Oh my gosh, hi Fifi! Hi Mel!”
Melanie outstretched her arms to the girl, and the two hugged. “Hey Maya. You headin’ out?”
“For now, I might be back later. We’re hungry so we’re getting gyros.”
Fifi came round from the other side of the car. “I thought they were ordering pizzas?”
“They were, but I guess the order fell through. Anyway, seeya guys!”
Maya walked off with her entourage. The two girls walked towards the condo. While they did, Fifi muttered under her breath. “Knew I shoulda eaten something before I came.”
For the first fifteen minutes or so of the party, Melanie mostly kept off to the side. She gently nodded her head to the music, sipping from the alcohol from her plastic cup and surveying the crowd of people she barely knew. At some point in all of this, Fifi came around, laughing while a boy followed her closely behind.
“Hey, Mel… this is the guy I wanted you to meet.”
Melanie looked at him. He was a Latino student with fair black hair, neatly cut short. He wore a striped blue polo and beige chinos, which were perhaps out of place for the environment; but he carried himself well and had a bright smile on his face when he greeted Melanie.
“Name’s Calvin,” the boy said. “Nice to meet you.”
Melanie nodded in response. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“He’s a Poly-Sci major too. He’s in my Civil Rights course. He’s also on the board of the Young Democrats.”
“Oh, cool!” Mel replied, trying her best to seem interested.
“But, yeah. I think you two have a lot in common — you should ask him about his favorite band.” She winked over at Melanie. “Anyway, I gotta go see how my other babes are doin’. Catch you two later!”
“Uh…” Melanie reached out towards her friend, but Fifi had walked off before Mel could call out to her. She was stuck with the boy.
“So, what is your favorite band?” Calvin asked after an awkward moment of silence.
“Oh, um, well…” Melanie scratched the back of her head and looked nervously around. “I mean, I like listening to sort of, indie rock bands, kinda in the 80s and 90s… But I mean, like, I don’t know that much about genres and stuff, I just sorta listen to it.”
“That’s fine. I don’t know too much, either.”
“Anyway… I have a lot of favorite bands, but if I had to pick one… and the one Fifi is probably thinking of… I think it would be Heavenly.”
Suddenly, Calvin’s eyes widened. “No way, you listen to Heavenly?”
Melanie looked up. She smiled, and gave a short laugh. “Oh wow, you do too? I didn’t think anyone else really listened to them.”
Calvin nodded. “Yeah, they’re great. I’ve been listening to them for years.”
“Really? I just discovered them last year. Still going through the disco, but yeah. I love them.”
“You know, I saw them in concert when they were performing at the Penberry this summer. Did you go to that?”
Melanie’s face changed. “Huh?”
“Yeah, they performed at the Penberry. The little club downtown. It’s the tour for their new album. You listened to it yet?”
“Wait, I’m sorry… are you thinking of the Amelia Fletcher Heavenly? They haven’t been active for years.”
Calvin’s face suddenly lowered as well. “Oh, uh… no. I’m thinking of the Rick Garvangaris Heavenly. The grunge band.”
Melanie gave a disappointed sigh. “Guess Fifi forgot to ask which one you were thinking of.”
The two stood awkwardly next to one another after that, looking around desperately for a topic of discussion. It was then that Melanie saw him for the first time.
By the kitchen bar was a tall caucasian boy in a loose fitting yellow-patterned dress shirt. He had cropped black hair, and blue jewel-like eyes that glistened under the ceiling lamp he stood under. He carried himself casually, smiling and laughing with the other boys he was with. There was something about that smile that particularly caught Mel’s attention… for a seemingly unending moment she watched him intently, every moment passing, realizing more and more that he may very well be the boy she saw in all her daydreams.
Suddenly she was brought back to life by the boy whose name she had already forgotten.
“So… I don’t know if you have a Snapchat, or something?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. I can add you.”
The two took out their phones. Calvin spoke first.
“My username is uh… calvin.herrera1999.”
Melanie looked up, grinning. “Is that just your name and birth year?”
“Not very creative, are you?”
Calvin smiled. “Yeah, guess not. What’s yours, then?”
The grin on Mel’s face suddenly dissipated. “Um… you wanna just scan my code instead?”
Calvin leaned against the wall, putting his free hand on his hip. “Oh, so you insult my Snap name, but suddenly I ask for yours and you get cold feet?”
“Alright, fine! Fine.” Melanie leaned back, crossing her arms and hiding her mouth under her sweatshirt. “It’s… mellyyelly.”
“Mellyyelly. Listen, I made it back in like, 2013. It’s supposed to be like mellow yellow but since my name is Melanie and I used to go by Melly in like eighth grade I thought it was really clever but now that all that time has passed I don’t think it’s clever anymore in fact I think it’s really embarrassing and so I try not to talk about it and I know I made fun of your name and it wasn’t my intention and I’m sorry that-”
“Woah, woah!” Calvin chuckled as he waved his hand for her to stop. “It’s fine, really. I think it’s cute.”
Melanie stood back up. “You’re just saying that to make me feel better, aren’t you?”
“No, for real, I’m serious.” Calvin inputted some things into the phone, then put it back in his pocket. “Anyway, I added you. Nice to meet you, Mel.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
Calvin went off to talk to a few of his other friends, and Melanie was left once again alone amongst the party. But she didn’t feel so bad. Every few moments, she’d take a small sip from the liquor in her cup, and place her eyes back on that boy in the kitchen.
About an hour later Fifi and Mel left the condo and walked back to the car.
“Hey, you can drive, right?” Fifi asked, her volume a little too loud.
“Oh, yeah. I think I had like, half a drink.”
“Aight, aight, good. Cause honestly, I can barely- whoa!” As the girl went from the sidewalk to the street, she tripped over her heels. Melanie was able to catch her in time, and in response Fifi gave a big laugh. Mel couldn’t help but giggle too. “Well, now you know why you needa drive, Mel.”
As the two drove home, Melanie spoke up. “Hey, Fifi?”
The black college student who was half-asleep in the passenger suddenly came back to life. “H-huh?”
“Did you… did you see that guy at the party? The tall one with the yellow shirt?”
Fifi scratched the side of her head. “You mean… Nathaniel?”
“You know him?”
The girl thought for a moment. “No, not really. But I think he’s the same age as us. Everything I know about the dude I know from Kristy. I can ask her for more info, if you want.”
“Yeah!” Melanie initially reacted, though turned down her excitement as to not betray her intention. “Yeah, that sounds good. Just a little curious about him, is all.”
Fifi turned over to the driver, and smiled. “While we’re on the topic… what’d you think about Calvin?”
“Oh, I thought he seemed like a good guy. Pretty chill.”
“You don’t seem too enthusiastic about it.”
Mel quickly turned to face the passenger, then turned back to face the road, shrugging. “Listen, I’m a free woman. Gotta take in all my options. Make a hasty move, and that’s how you get in trouble.”
Fifi chuckled, and gave a dismissive wave. “Whatever, girl. You do you.”
Yet, despite her claims, something was brewing inside of Melanie. Something she hadn’t felt in a very long time. In fact, something she may have never felt before at all.
The next morning, Melanie met Mary-Ann and Rocko for lunch at the college cafeteria. They sat outside, where there was a slight breeze but beyond that a reasonable temperature. They each had a burger from the grill station. Mary-Ann was the only one who bothered to put lettuce in hers.
“So, how was the party last night?” The girl with the glasses asked.
“Kinda mid,” Melanie reacted casually, crossing her arms behind her and leaning back. “Maybe I should have studied after all. What were you two up to?”
Rocko lowered his head. “Uh… well…”
Mary-Ann, who apparently did not take his hint, answered the question like normal. “Oh, Rocko invited me to a cool club he’s in now. It’s like, a lightsaber club. Basically at night a bunch of people go out to Gingham Field with a bucket full of those lightsaber toys, and just play-fight with them for an hour or so. It’s very therapeutic.”
“W-well, I mean…” Rocko’s cheeks turned red. “I mean, it’s just something dumb to like, do on the weekends, when you don’t have anything better to do, you know.”
Melanie smiled. “Sounds like a lot of fun.”
Mary-Ann took another bite of her burger, when she remembered something. “Oh yeah. Fifi told me you met a guy last night, or something?”
Melanie’s mind immediately went to one place, but quickly she realized her friend was referring to something else.
“Oh, yeah. Calvin. A friend of hers.”
“And how did that go?”
Melanie thought about what to say. “It went well. He’s a nice guy.”
Rocko looked up. “Think you’ll meet him again?”
She shrugged. “Who knows. Maybe.”
Later that night, however, young Shanahan got to learn a bit more about a subject she was much more invested in. She was in the middle of studying for an upcoming Calculus test when Fifi came in through the front door.
“Alright, I’m back with a present,” Fifi announced.
Melanie looked up from her desk. “And what’s that?”
“Well, you know how you asked me to look into that Nathaniel guy for you? I reached out to a couple of friends who I thought might know him. Turns out the dude’s pretty allusive, but I got a full name for you: Nathaniel Barbut. Apparently he’s just a class above us, studies Photography.”
Melanie’s interest piqued. She got up from her desk, a bright smile on her face.
“Thanks Fifi! I appreciate it.”
Her friend smiled back. “Come on, after seeing how he made you act up? I had to do something about it. Too bad things didn’t work out with Calvin, though.”
In the time that Fifi had spoken, Melanie moved to the bed, now on her phone. “Well, I still think Calvin could make a good friend, and… oh, I think I found him! Nbarbut22, on Insta.”
Fifi leaned over her friend’s shoulder. The black hair and blue eyes of the boy in the picture did indeed look familiar. There were a multitude of pictures of him, in locations varying from canyon sunsets to grocery store shopping cart races. Melanie looked at each picture, and seemed to take it in full – each time she scrolled to a new one, she seemed to get more and more excited.
“Look, look! He’s wearing a Cure shirt! I love The Cure!”
Fifi giggled. “Okay, well, maybe he just got it from Goodwill and thought the design looked good.”
“Oh, and here! He’s at Gasterwood park! That’s right where I grew up!”
The black girl took her face away from her friend’s phone screen, stretching out her arms. “Well, I’m happy for ya, Mel. But you really gotta shoot your shot on this one, you feel me?”
Melanie looked up from the phone. “But how do I do it?”
“I got one last detail you might find interesting. The Photography department happens to be in Schraeder Hall, and his ten o’clock composition class happens to end at around the same time your Calc class starts…”
Melanie’s ears perked up. “You mean… we enter and exit Schraeder at the same time?”
Fifi nodded. “That’s your chance.”
Melanie got up from her seat yet again, except this time she launched herself into Fifi’s arms and gave the girl a big hug.
“Thank you, Fifi. This means a lot to me. Really.”
Fifi had a big smile on her face. “Like I said… had to do something for my girl,” she whispered.
Melanie had planned how she would make her first move with Nathaniel for about a week after that, yet when the preordained day came for her to make that move, her nerves started getting the better of her. That morning, once Fifi was out, she stood in front of the mirror in her bathroom and treated it as her rehearsal.
“Hey, my name’s Melanie. What’s yours?”
No. Too flat, no context.
“You know… you kinda look like, Brad Pitt in his 20s. Anyone ever tell you that?”
Nope. Not gonna happen.
“Whoa, hey. Did you fall from heaven? Because you look like an angel.”
“You like Disintegration, right? That’s like, my favorite album, too!”
Wait, how would you even know? He’ll think you’re a stalker. Don’t say that.
“Listen, I just… I saw you, at the party a few weeks ago. And there was something that just… I don’t know, it clicked for me. This feeling, I’ve been looking for, for a long time now. I found it when I was with you. And, I was wondering… if you’d give me a chance, for us to know each other a little bit better.”
Melanie stared into the mirror. Days of thinking and ruminating over finally meeting the man of her dreams, and she was no closer to figuring how she would even start. She took in a deep breath, and some renewed vigor hit her. She’d figure it out. Somehow.
As Melanie headed towards her Calculus class, she ran into someone familiar – Calvin. The boy was leaning against the brick facade of the Schraeder building, looking down at his phone, but as Melanie got closer he put down the phone and smiled at her.
“Oh, hey Melanie.”
Melanie nodded her head. “Hi, Calvin.”
“You know, I was wondering if you wanted to grab some dinner tonight,” Calvin said, though quickly reconsidered his phrasing. “I mean, like, Fifi and I and a few of our mutuals… we were gonna go to that new Orange Pizza downtown. And I don’t know, maybe Fifi already invited you… but, you know… just so you know you’re invited.”
“Oh, um… thanks, but uh… I- I have a date tonight.”
Melanie wasn’t sure why she blurted out those exact words. There were easier (and more truthful) things to say, but for some reason that was the first thing she had thought of. Calvin looked at her, silent, perhaps even a bit dejected, but recovered quickly.
“Oh, alright then. Hope you have fun.”
Melanie nodded. “Hope you have fun, too.”
Calvin walked off, and Melanie checked her phone for the time. It was just about ready for the class to start pouring out.
The second students started going out the doors, a sharp anxiety hit the girl, and a strong force pulled her to just give it up for now and try again another day. But when she saw the boy again – the young man whose image was now cemented in her mind, yet paradoxically forgotten in its physical form – she built the courage to keep going. Without a plan, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and pushed forward.
Literally, in that sense. In a rush she went full speed at him, knocking into him and throwing them both off balance. As the crowd separated themselves from the two, a batch of papers – stashed inside Nathaniel’s binder – flew all over the ground.
“Oh, oh my God!” Melanie feigned. “I’m so sorry! Here, let me, let me help you clean this up.”
Nathaniel looked annoyed at first, but after he got a good look at the girl who had run into him his demeanor seemed to lighten up. “Oh, no, that’s fine. Thank you… thanks,” he repeated, as Melanie handed him the papers one after another.
Melanie took her own good look at the boy. It was the closest she had ever gotten to him at this point, and she picked up on many details she might not have otherwise known. For example, his body smelled strongly of some sort of tobacco – not of cigarettes, something richer, maybe a cologne or something that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. When she brushed against his skin, it was coarse, but not necessarily rough. There was a lot of hair on his forearm, and the hair that was there was soft. It helped balance it all out.
As her eyes turned down she noticed the shirt he was wearing. It was for Night of the Dredges, an old horror movie she had seen a few years ago. She was surprised – none of her background research told her he was a fan of the film. Melanie took her chance.
“Hey, is that a Night of the Dredges shirt?”
Nathaniel looked down at himself, and smiled. “Oh yeah, it is. You know it?”
“Yeah, I saw that movie a few years ago. Really enjoyed it.”
“You seen The Haunting of Abelhouse?”
Melanie’s ears perked up. “Yeah, I have!”
It didn’t take long from there for Melanie to forget all about her math class. Instead, they took a walk together, introducing themselves formally then discussing a wide menagerie of film, music, and other interests that Melanie knew the two shared. While talking, Nathaniel seemed to take the backseat, mostly listening to the excited (and oftentimes frenetic) stories and speeches that came from Melanie’s lips. Overall he was amused, and internally reeled in the good fortune of meeting a girl like this. Melanie thought the same way about him.
“Hey, this is my place,” Nathaniel interrupted the girl, gesturing to a small somewhat dilapidated home off campus that they now reached. He pulled out his phone as he stopped walking. “But we should keep in touch. Do you have a Snap?”
“Oh, um… yeah.. It’s-”
Melanie looked up. “How did you know?”
“You told me your name. Melanie Shanahan, right? I just searched it in People and you’re the first one that came up. Cute username, by the way.”
The girl blushed. “Th-thanks.”
The two added one another, and Nathaniel walked over to the gate, opening it, and waved his hand behind him.
“Well, I’ll see you soon, Melanie.”
Melanie smiled. “Yeah. See you soon.”
The young college student watched her crush walk up the pathway, to his front door, closing it behind him. It was this moment that marked the point where everything in Melanie’s life would change.
The next morning, the girl had breakfast at the dorms with Fifi, Rocko, and Mary-Ann. Dreamily, she told them about her experience from the day before.
“So I look up, and who do I see but the guy I’ve been hounding on about for the past two weeks? And, I mean, he’s just as good-looking in person, if not better. He’s got this cologne on, too… and mind you, he’s just walking out of class. He wore cologne to class, that’s how you know he has style. Anyway, I immediately recognize this as a moment of divine intervention and try to shoot my shot. And, what do you know, he’s interested! We were so engaged in conversation that I walked with him back to his house. I forgot all about class.”
This last sentence perked Mary-Ann’s ears. “Wait, you skipped class? Aren’t you gonna get a zero on the quiz, then?”
Melanie dismissed the comment. “Zero, shmero. I’m not gonna tell my kids the story about how I turned in my homework every day on time. But… I might just tell them about this.”
Fifi smiled, leaning in closer. “So, what’s your gameplan now?”
“I texted him back this morning. Already got a response. I figure I’ll just go back and forth on messages for now.”
Everyone seemed to agree it was a good idea. The group moved on to other topics, and finished their breakfast.
The texting back and forth between Melanie and the boy she now knew well continued. One day she got a heads up that a party would be taking place in the same housing complex that Nathaniel lived in. A few days later, while Melanie was preparing for the event, Fifi stopped to eye her curiously.
“You going out tonight?” Fifi asked. She was dressed in a casual purple sweater and baggy gym shorts, in comparison to Melanie’s strapless red blouse and black mini-skirt.
“Oh, yeah, I am,” Melanie casually mentioned while finishing up her eye makeup. “Sorry, I thought I had told you.”
Fifi seemed a little peeved. “No, you didn’t. What’s it for?”
“Party with Nathaniel and a few of his friends.” Melanie finished and put the makeup back where it belonged. “I don’t think you’d be super interested in coming, anyway.”
Fifi shrugged. “Not like I’m doing anything better this weekend.”
Now that she was done with her preparation, Melanie realized the spot she had put her friend in. She gave Fifi a pitying look.
“I’m sorry, Fi. I just… it’s awkward because, like I said, it’s all Nat’s friends… and I don’t know how they would feel about me plus-oneing this early… but, next time, okay? I promise.”
Fifi, who cooled down a bit, nodded. “It’s no big deal. Lemme know how it goes.”
Melanie walked out the dorms and followed her Google Maps back to the house she had only been to once before. As she approached the front door, she got nervous. She pressed her finger on the doorbell, which gave a sort of muted, cacophonous tone. A few minutes later, the door opened, revealing a tall hispanic boy with long black curly hair.
“Wazzup bitch, welcome to the sh- oh!”
The boy did not realize who he was speaking to until it was too late. While the embarrassment washed over him, Melanie winked.
“Is Nat here?”
The boy turned around, leaning inward to the doorframe. “Yo, Nat – your girl’s here!”
The prospect of being called Nat’s girl excited Melanie, but she kept a calm demeanor as she walked through the door and saw that familiar boy standing in front of her. Wearing his traditional plaid get-up, he smiled at the girl.
“Hey, Mel. Glad you could make it.”
Melanie spent the rest of the party hanging out by Nathaniel’s side. His friends were, almost certainly, not Melanie’s type. They were loud, boisterous, and inappropriate – on several occasions, a few of them made rather sexual comments about women, to which one of them would cough, they would all look at Melanie, and the conversation would be silent for a few moments after. But Melanie was fine with all that – the whole reason she was there was for Nathaniel, who reciprocated the care, keeping her close and at several points wrapping his arm around her.
The party went late into the night. At some point, one of the friends – the same one who had greeted Melanie at the door – stood up.
“Well, I think it’s about time for me to bounce. I’ll seeya guys later.”
“I should probably get going too,” Melanie said, getting up from the couch. As she did, however, Nathaniel grabbed her hand.
“You walked here, right?”
“Uh… yeah. I did.”
“Let me drive you home. It’s way too late to be walking now.”
Melanie did her best to hide her blush. “Oh, really, it’s not that far away-”
“Come on Mel,” Nathaniel said, getting up from the couch and standing close to her. “Let me drive you home.”
In the background, a few of the boys looked at each other and smiled. But Melanie didn’t notice them, instead focusing on the boy in front of her. She nodded.
“Alright then. Let’s go.”
Melanie followed Nathaniel to his car, an old beat up Dodge truck, and they got inside. As Nathaniel put the keys in the ignition, he spoke up again.
“I hope you didn’t mind the guys too much. They’re pretty rowdy, but they’re all good people.”
Melanie smiled, looking out the window. “It’s no big deal. I thought it was funny. Especially when – Iman, was it? – started talking about his ‘anime harem’ thing. That felt so out of left field.”
“Oh, yeah. Iman’s a special case. This is the sort of stuff that happens when you never talk to a female.”
Both of them began to laugh. In those moments, Melanie’s eyes moved back towards the boy, and Nathaniel’s eyes met hers. The two pairs interlocked. Just as quickly, the two caught themselves and quickly looked away.
“Well, looks like we’re already here,” Nathaniel commented, pulling into the dorms. “It’s a short drive, but… y’know.”
“No, I appreciate it! Really.” As Nathaniel parked the car, Melanie took off her seatbelt and opened the passenger door. As she was getting out, however, she turned back one more time towards the boy.
“I’ll see you again, right?”
Nathaniel nodded. “Of course.”
Melanie felt her heart flutter. She smiled, and closed the car door behind her, heading back to her dorm room.
Throughout the rest of the winter semester, Nathaniel and Melanie would be in contact with one another, either through texting, parties, or catching each other in the hallways. It got a point closer near the end of the semester that Melanie had begun to hang out more with Nathaniel and his friends than she did Fifi and the others. To most of them this was just a sign of romance, but one member of the group in particular had their reservations.
“The whole thing’s just sorta weird to me,” Rocko began as he had lunch with the friends. Calvin – who had gotten closer to Fifi and became implemented into the group in the same time frame – sat next to him. “I mean, have any of us even met this guy yet?”
“I’ve seen him come down to the dorm a couple of times,” Fifi was eating a sandwich.
“Yeah, but have you talked to him?”
Melanie’s roommate shrugged. “I dunno, not really. He usually just comes to pick Mel up. I mean, I’m sure I will at some point.”
“I don’t know, I feel like… like she’s gone so often now, and when she is here she doesn’t really talk about it. But I feel like, normally, you would be around your friends and talk about it a lot, you know?”
“It’s just young romance,” Mary-Ann interjected. “They probably just want to be off by themselves. She’ll come back around.”
“I agree with Mary,” Fifi concurred. “I’m keeping an eye on the guy. But there’s nothing he’s done that’s too far out of the ordinary. For a dude, at least.”
It was at this point that Rocko turned over to Calvin. The hispanic boy had so far ignored the conversation, his focus being on the food in front of him.
“Calvin, what’s your take on this whole thing? You know, as the neutral observer.”
Calvin shook his head. “No idea. Don’t know either of them very well.”
Rocko let out a deep sigh. “Alright, fine. Maybe it is young love. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
Mary-Ann let out a little smile. “Don’t worry, Rocko. We’ll find you a girl soon.”
The boy’s cheeks began to blush. “Wh-what does that mean?”
The others all laughed, and continued on with their conversation.
The next day was Saturday, and officially the first day of winter break. As Fifi began to pack up her stuff in the living area, Melanie walked out of her bedroom door, phone in hand and still wearing her pajamas.
“You going home today?” Fifi asked.
Melanie shook her head. “I’m leaving on the train tomorrow night. Got a big end of the semester bash at Delta Phi that I’m going to with Nat.”
Fifi let out a groan. “Delta Phi? Really?”
Melanie sat down on the couch. She smiled, putting her phone off to the side. “Yeah, I know, real group of chuds. But we’re only gonna be there for a little bit. Besides, I have him with me.”
Fifi nodded, and went back to packing her clothes. Suddenly she remembered the conversation from the day before.
“Can I ask… are you two ‘official’ yet?”
Melanie thought for a moment, crossing her legs. “Well, at this point we both know a lot about each other. And I don’t want to speak for him, but… I’m in it for the long run at this point, yeah.”
Fifi smiled. “That’s great to hear, girl!”
“Any reason you asked?”
The girl packing shrugged her shoulders. “We were just talking about it yesterday. You know, out of curiosity.”
Melanie tilted her head. “Oh, you’re gossiping, are you?”
“Of course not. Just an innocent conversation among mutual friends.”
A smirk crossed the young girl with brown hair. “Well, things are going really well. You can send that back to them.”
Fifi got up from packing and stood in front of Melanie, her arms outreached. Melanie got up, and the two girls hugged one another.
“I’ll miss you over the break.”
Melanie smiled, and closed her eyes. “I’ll miss you too, Fi.”
The two released from the hug. “Have fun at your party, aight?”
Fifi finished her packing, and soon after left to go home. Melanie still had a few hours before the party was to start.
Closer to the time in which Nathaniel was meant to pick her up, Melanie got herself ready. She converted her normally straight hair to a wavy pattern with a curling iron, then put on some makeup – not enough to overdo it, but just enough around the eyes and cheeks – and got on a slim red dress which she had gotten from a nearby JC Penney just a few weeks prior. She waited outside the dorm building, in her usual spot, until Nathaniel’s cheap pickup finally showed to pick her up. When she got inside, Nathaniel smiled, and kissed her on the cheek. She smiled back, and reciprocated.
“So, how did your final end up going?” Melanie asked.
“Oh, you know,” Nathaniel started as he looked at oncoming traffic, beginning to drive the truck away. “Bullshit, like they all are. But I probably did okay.”
Finding an opening, the boy finally drove off onto the road. There was silence for a minute or so, before Melanie brought back the conversation.
“So, you excited for the party?”
“Oh, absolutely. Good way to end off the semester. What about you?”
Melanie looked toward the window. “Yeah, I am. Delta Phi sure is rowdy though, aren’t they?”
“True, true. But when it comes to a frat, the greater the rowdiness the more fun the parties are, ya know?”
Melanie smiled. “Guess you’re right.”
The two drove for a little bit longer. Eventually they came to an elegant, old-world mansion with a light blue palette and white accents. There were already a good number of cars parked out front, as well as some loud visitors and even louder music.
“Look at this place,” Nathaniel commented as he looked up at the house, looking for a place to park. “It’s like a slave plantation.”
“Would explain a lot of the rumors.”
Nathaniel broke out into laughter. “Yeah, sure would. Oh! Looks like there’s a spot here.”
The boy parked the car, and the two made their way into the cacophonous house. It was a sight that, mere months before, Melanie would have never even dreamed of being part of – most of the other girls were nearly topless, as already wasted fraternity brothers raced to get a shot with them. Cups of booze lined the tables and counters, with drippings and spills covering the wooden floor. She was pretty sure she saw some throw up too, but decided to ignore it.
Only a few moments after they had walked in, the two saw a familiar curly-haired college student. He smiled as he approached with two drinks, and Nathaniel greeted him.
“Yo, Iman! How are ya, dude?”
“Ready as ever to fuck my life up. You came at a good time – this was supposed to be for Eric, but I guess you’re getting it instead.”
Iman handed Nathaniel the drink. Almost by instinct, the two interlocked their arms, and chugged their respective cups as a sign of greeting. Melanie watched the two like an observer of zoo life.
“So… guess that means I’m driving us home then?” Melanie asked when they were almost finished.
Nathaniel’s eyes widened, as if he had suddenly realized the consequences of his actions. He finished up his drink, and after a brief moment of thinking, a satisfied smile appeared on his face.
“Sounds like a plan, sweetheart. You see, unlike Iman here, I trust women to drive my vehicle. A true gentleman.”
Iman shook his head, and beckoned the two to follow him. “Come on, I’ve already scouted the place out and found where all the fun is. Lemme show you.”
The next three hours were filled with loud music, debauchery, and drinking. Melanie mostly sat around and watched as an awkward audience member, narrowly escaping encounters with various drunk and belligerent partygoers. For the most part she stayed closely by Nathaniel’s wing, following him around whenever she could and making sure he didn’t get in too much trouble. There were a few times, watching Nathaniel laugh, living with his full personality, that Melanie couldn’t help but smile. Despite how troubling the rest of the experience was, these little moments made up for it. She felt like she could do this for a real long time.
At some point, it became clear that Nathaniel was getting a little too wasted, and Melanie urged him to start getting ready to head home. At first Nathaniel was rather annoyed by this idea, but with the help of Iman – who was also getting ready to leave – he eventually succumbed and let her take him away.
Melanie helped the boy up, as he leaned against her shoulder and walked out in a stupor. His breath had an extremely alcoholic undertone, but she didn’t mind this as much as the warmth of him so close to her.
As they finally reached Nathaniel’s truck, the boy suddenly leaned forward and planted a kiss on Melanie’s neck. “Has anyone told you… how gorgeous you are?” Nathaniel asked, somewhat stumbling over his words.
Melanie blushed, trying her best to stifle a smile. “Let’s just get you home safe, alright?”
She placed the boy carefully in the passenger seat, then got in herself and pulled out of the fraternity house. While Melanie drove, Nathaniel continued to look at her, smiling to himself. At one point he reached forward, taking his hand and rubbing Melanie’s bare thigh. Melanie giggled, kicking her leg up to remove the boy’s touch.
“Hey, hands to yourself!” Melanie said playfully.
Nathaniel didn’t say anything in response, but he didn’t touch Melanie again for the rest of the car ride. His eyes moved towards the window, but every so often he would once again take a peek at the girl sitting next to him.
A few minutes later they arrived back at the dorms, and Melanie helped the boy out of the car. As he stumbled he grasped her body for support, and Melanie grasped him back to keep him steady. Eventually, the two made it back to the apartment.
“Okay, I’m gonna get you a glass of water,” the girl spoke aloud, walking over to the fridge. “Go lay down on my bed in the meantime. It’s the door on the right, with the wreath.”
Nathan did as he was told, walking into the room and sitting down on the bed. It was there that, instead of laying down, he stayed waiting for Melanie. She came in a few moments later.
“Here – sip on this, okay?” She motioned the glass towards him. “But don’t chug it. Last thing I need is you barfing all over my stuff the night before I head back home.”
Nathaniel took it, looking down and swirling it in his hand. He then turned his head back up, and smiled.
“Would you like to sit next to me?”
Melanie closed her eyes and sighed, but with a smile on her face. She did as asked.
Nathaniel took a small sip of the glass, then put it on the end table next to the bed. “You know what we haven’t done yet, that I can’t believe?”
Melanie tilted her head. “What?”
Nathaniel took a look into Melanie’s eyes. Despite his current state, he had a rare sense of focus to him.
“Sex. We’ve been at this for months now, and we haven’t had sex once.”
Melanie blushed, and looked away. “You’re… quite forward when you’re drunk, you know that?”
“But you see what I’m saying, right?”
She turned back forward, covering her mouth so that the boy couldn’t see the slight smile on her face, or the red of her cheeks.
“Well… it’s a possibility, that’s for sure. But not tonight. Tonight you’ve got to focus on getting some rest, okay?”
Nathaniel leaned closer to her, placing his hand on the other side of her legs. “But why? Why not tonight?”
Melanie scooted a little bit back in the bed, placing her hand on top of the one that now invaded her personal space. “Because… it’s really not a good idea, okay? I know you’re out of it right now, but… can you trust me on this?”
Nathaniel got closer, however, to the point where he was right next to the young girl’s face. With nowhere else to go, Melanie began to lean back into the bed.
“Come on, Mel. We’ve got to know each other well enough now, haven’t we?”
“I think we have, but-” Melanie pushed at the boy’s chest, giving her some breathing room. “Just, not tonight, okay? Please?”
The push seemed to not do much to the boy. He leaned forward once more, even further, until he was almost fully on top of the girl.
“Nathaniel, seriously,” Melanie said, giving off a nervous laugh as he kissed her on the neck. The boy didn’t respond, but instead pushed her fully down on top of the bed. Melanie began to feel constrained.
Nathaniel’s hands began to move down the red fabric of Melanie’s dress, to her naked legs. With some force, he started to push Melanie’s legs apart. It was at this point that something sparked inside her.
Her scream was piercing. She was breathing heavily now, with sweat beading around her temples and her body beginning to shiver. Nathan had stopped, and suddenly looked back up at her. He was angry.
“You,” he spoke in a stoic, aggravated tone, pointing straight at Melanie’s face. “Do not yell at me like that, you hear me?”
Tears began to well in Melanie Shanahan’s eyes. “Nate…” she whimpered, her voice beginning to break. “Please don’t do this, baby. Please.”
Nathaniel didn’t respond. He continued what he was doing, this time taking care to cover Melanie’s mouth. The girl began to sob as she could feel herself being pushed and pulled about the bed, until finally she felt something enter inside of her.
It was at this point she blacked out.