by Karen Gsteiger

Donald had reached the conclusion that he hung around "too many fucking girls." Too many fucking girls and men who might as well be girls. He was not very good at keeping in touch with many of his college friends (Olivia and Tonia being notable exceptions), and his missed his former housemates, Paul, Anton and Wes, keenly at times. With them, one could drink heavily without being anxiously shushed or condescendingly escorted into a cab. Hours were spent drinking and playing Madden and Samurai Showdown and watching the latest splatter flicks (which were so beloved by Anton that he wrote a senior thesis on whatever socioeconomic or geopolitical issues he read into them although Donald could not remember if this thesis was ever completed or how it was received by the comparative lit faculty). Olivia had once told Donald that she didn't understand "guy friendships." "You talk to them maybe four times a year now; you don't really know what makes them tick. You would always just sit around and drink and get worked up about your stupid video games for like five hours before you all passed out." Donald could not deny any of these accusations; Olivia had concisely and accurately described his personal vision of heaven.

However, the girls were the ones who took the time and effort to draw him out, and it was the girls and the men they wore like accessories who dominated his attention these days. All their intrigues and petty grudges and angst--Donald mostly found it amusing, but it was all rather exhausting sometimes, especially when he found himself in the center of it.

Olivia had finally cornered him--well, they were lunching together, anyway--and he knew exactly what topic she most wanted to address. He would have much rather quietly lived down the incident, rather than having Olivia dispense a garbled, exaggerated version of his account to everyone he knew. But she had that gleam in her eye, the one that charmed and troubled him so because he knew he had no choice but to do exactly what she wanted. She had a power that he couldn't explain, especially since he did not consider himself to be in love with her. He was not enflamed with lust, nor did he yearn for domestic bliss with her. He just had an innate desire to make her happy. Or placate her. He couldn't decide which.

She had had that gleam in her eye that one time in her dorm room. He mentally referred to it, generically, as a "hook up." Normally, he detested that term, but he had no other way to describe it. It certainly wasn't anything as overdramatic or overly mature as "lovemaking" nor was it as callous as "a fuck." It was just fun. Olivia was a fun girl. They both admitted that they had blundered, but it wasn't some terrible, destructive, regrettable mistake--more like, "Ha, ha--whoops!" Truth be told, Donald wouldn't have minded erring in that manner on a regular basis, but it was his understanding that girls weren't generally into that sort of thing. They both had their eye on other people, they moved on, and they only ever reminded each other of the experience with conspiratorial smiles.

"Soooooooooo..." she began after a little superfluous introductory chit-chat when it appeared that they would not be interrupted by their waitress for some time, "I heard there was a bit of a...scuffle at my birthday?"

"Oh, that," Donald sighed with a slight eyeroll. "Yeah, Harrison and I kind of got into it that night. Nothing big, though. Hmmmm...was that before or after you were puking in the parking lot?" he reflected pointedly.

Olivia shifted in her seat uncomfortably. "Afterwards," she grimly replied.

"Wow, look at that, someone else was misbehaving that night too! Funny, I'm always the one everyone says gets crazy drunk all the time, but at least I kept the contents of my stomach to myself that night..."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah...at least I didn't punch anyone out."

"No one got 'punched out,' and you and all your little..." he struggled here for a fitting term, "gossip hens know it," Donald concluded with a little more sarcastic aggression than he intended to convey.

"Fine, you didn't punch anyone out." Olivia conceded.

"Okay, are you going to let me tell this story?"

"I'm all ears," Olivia cooed.

"Okay, so you were wasted, and you left, and the party was still going strong, but I was just in a bad mood, I guess, because everyone was pissing me off in one way or another..."

"Like how?"

"Oh, I don't know, in the way that pretty much everyone pisses me off all the time..." Donald paused for a moment, struggling to find an example with which Olivia could sympathize. "Like Tonia doing her thing where she's the expert on absolutely every topic, and she's always got an opinion on everything, and then everyone has to sit around and listen to her opinions all night. You could start a conversation about particle accelerators, and you know damn well that Tonia doesn't know shit about shit, but then she'll start up with, 'Well, I think...'" Here, Donald's impersonation of her voice was as ruthless as ever, and Olivia found herself laughing in spite of herself.

"Okay, okay, we all know about that. What else?" she asked, egging him on.

"Or the way that Cara is conveniently Christian."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, she drinks just as much as I do, and she'll smoke the occasional joint, which gets less and less attractive the further you get away from your freshman year of college, and she's probably slept with more people than the two of us together, but all of a sudden, you'll be having a conversation with her, and she'll get all Christian and easily offended just to make you look like an asshole."

Olivia, who had once been on the other side of a "putting the Christ back in Christmas" debate with Cara, nodded. "Debbie?" she asked, with a wry smile.

"Oh, Christ. Miss 'I'm going to use $5 words when I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, just to confuse the matter'..." Donald emitted a derisive snort of a laugh, "I'll give her my 'epistemology,' all right..."


"Mr. 'I'm going to steer every conversation so that we wind up talking about how much money I make doing my job that no one understands or can succinctly summarize'..."

"Wow, you are full of bile today. Amal?"

Donald paused, biting his lower lip. "Oh, I don't really have a beef with her. She's really quiet all the time. Besides, she left with you."

"Me?" Olivia asked in a quieter voice with a hint of a smile.

"What, you think I'm freaking crazy? You're perfect just the way you are."

Olivia smiled fully now and looked more relaxed. "Okay, so what happened with Harrison?"

"Well, we wound up playing pool, and you know I suck at pool anyway. Well, I suck even more when I'm a little drunk, so he starts up this shit about me being a drunk redneck, which I thought was kind of weird, seeing as he and I aren't really friends anyway, and we keep playing, and he's just not letting up with the trailer trash stereotype shit, and he obviously thought he was being hilarious, and I didn't, actually--well, you know my family issues--but I thought to myself Hey, I'm drunk, and he's probably drunk, so no big deal. So I was just kind of playing along, and I said, 'Hey, ass-hat, I could pass any sobriety test right now.' Then I was just kinda being stupid, trying to stand on one leg while finishing off my drink. So I stumbled forward and spilled my drink all down the front of his shirt, and he gets all pissy about it, like I just ruined his prom dress or something. He kept saying, 'Dude, that was an $80 shirt!' And I kept saying, 'Oh, it will be fine. I'll pay the dry cleaning bill.' Then he starts going off about how I supposedly always act like I'm at some kind of frat party, and I told him he sounded like a second grader with his white trash jokes. That's when he got all huffy and stormed off, and I'm sorry, but I'm not going to chase him down like he's my girlfriend or something. I mean, I feel bad if I ruined his shirt, and I'll pay for whatever has to be done to it or a new one, but frankly, I'm not convinced he didn't have it coming."

"That's it?" Olivia asked.

"Well, yeah. What, it's not soap opera-y enough for you?" Donald mocked.

"No, it's just...I was hoping for something a little more...monumental. This just sounds like the sort of thing that you and Harrison can fix up with a couple of grunts and some Rolling Rock and never speaking of it again..."

"Not if you girls have anything to do with it. But can we please at least adjourn this session of the Harrison fan club?"

"Oh, for the millionth time, I've never..."

"Because I think that there are aspects of his character that are problematic..."

"Okay, Debbie," Olivia sarcastically replied. She picked up the check and wouldn't let Donald have anything to do with it. Donald secretly liked that about her.