I was desperate for a girlfriend. I was twenty-one-years old. I was back from Vietnam and discharged from the army. I moved out of my parents’ suburban home into an efficiency in the city. My parents did not want me to go. I couldn’t explain to them how I needed a place of my own, a life of my own. It would have hurt them. The world they lived in, I did not live in any longer. I would never live in it again. I enrolled in a university in the city and joined a fraternity.
One Friday evening in early December, after hours of study in the library, I went to a party at the fraternity house. A long, improvised bar was set up in the big front room. A fraternity brother played records on the stereo system. The music was Motown, not psychedelic. I didn’t want to take a trip in my mind. I didn’t like being alone. A few couples danced in a roped off area.
Drinking my beer from a plastic cup, I stood with my back to the bar to see who was there. The SDs were present and that always made me happy. The initials stood for Sisters of Delta. They were dedicated to partying with our fraternity.
Several Delts and SDs were putting down some nice moves on the dance floor when I saw Bruce off to the side pointing a finger in this guy’s face. Larry stood behind Bruce. They were fraternity brothers. A few SDs and Delts sat at our reserved tables where I’d left my books, notebooks and fatigue jacket. I’d kept my Delta jacket on.
I didn’t know the new guy. He must have been a guest. He slapped Bruce’s finger away and that would have been it if several Delts hadn’t grabbed Bruce, Larry and this new guy. We didn’t need trouble. We didn’t need the university coming around.
After several beers, I was starting to enjoy the throbbing feel of the party when Bruce said to me, “Let’s school him.”
“This is our party, our house.”
“Let it be.”
We were standing at the bar. Larry was on my left.
“There you go again,” Bruce said, “punking out of a fight.”
Bruce downed his shot and pushed away. He bumped several people. They looked at him. One of the bartenders refilled my cup.
“What’s with you?” Larry said.
“Did this bonehead steal some money?”
“He was hitting on Karen.”
Karen Daniels dated the president of our fraternity.
“Karen’s cool,” I said. “She’s not helpless.”
I’d joined the fraternity to meet girls. Everyone knew Larry. He was a great dancer and could always get dates. Bruce thought he was a tough guy. I would’ve loved to have seen him in-country.
Larry stood a few feet away. Three honeys stood in a semi-circle in front of him. They looked up into his face and laughed delightedly at something he said. One looked at me and smiled, then looked away. A moment later she did it again. She looked up a third time and beckoned me over.
Before I could start over, Bruce pushed in beside me. I wanted to smooth things over with him.
“Let’s do a shot,” I said.
“You can’t buy me nothin’.”
“He’s just a guest.”
“Serious?” he said.
“Real?” he said. “Why don’t you make me real?”
“Go on,” he said. “Make me real.” Then he said, “Baby killer.”
“Cool it!” Larry squeezed between us.
Bruce was shouting at me. Larry got Bruce headed toward the door. I finished my beer, crumbled up the plastic cup and tossed it into the trash bag of a large trash can behind the bar. Karen Daniels came up and asked me to dance.
“I don’t feel like dancing.”
“Pretty please with kisses on it?”
She took my left hand and led me through the crowd. The dance floor was crowded. People were having a good time. The bass line of the song made you swing your hips. We had to dance close together in the crush.
“You know how he is,” she said.
“He called me a baby killer.”
“What does he know?”
“Is that what everyone here thinks? That we’re all freaked out baby killers?”
“What do they know? What do any of them know? It’s no fun dating the president of the Delts, either. It’s no fun partying every night.”
I leaned back and gave her a long, good look. She smelled of lilac. The warmth rose from her body. Most of the girls were wearing minis. Karen was wearing one, too.
“I know,” she said. “It’s too short.”
“Rick says all my minis are too short. Who needs it?”
Later, I sat alone at our reserved tables. Larry came over and sat down.
“Where’s Bruce?” I asked him.
“Gary’s,” he said. “All the new SDs are there.”
“I’m sick of him.”
“No harm done.”
“I don’t want to be around him or people like him. Understand what I’m saying? Not anymore. Not any damn more. Life’s too fucking short.”
“What the hell are you so fired up about? Let it slide. One of the new SDs wants to meet you. She thinks you’re hot. I said I’d bring you.”
The party was going on all around us. I sat a moment with the party going on all around us. I stood up, took off my Delta jacket and put it on the back of a chair. I put on my fatigue jacket. I slowly gathered my books and notebooks.
Larry said, “He’s your Delta brother.”
Outside, it was night. A heavy snow was falling. At least an inch had fallen already. The small commercial district was lit up for the holiday season. As I walked through the falling snow, people hurried past me. Most of them carried packages.
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