What's Good, a short story about love today
It was the first of November when Charlotte formally met Zach, and she remembers the date because it was the very reason she was in Walgreens at all. Halloween candy was on sale, and she dragged her roommate, Emily, to accompany her as an extra set of hands to carry back half priced bags of Twix and the like.
The fluorescent lights of the store contrasted with the stark darkness of a Wisconsin night, in what was beginning to resemble winter, was uncomfortable and unsettling, but did not keep Charlotte and Emily from spending an extended amount of time in the candy aisle.
And after curating a hand selected collection of all the orange candies Walgreens had to offer, the two girls, dressed lazily in sweatpants and beanies, as they had come from the library, stood in the back of the line to check out.
Ahead of the girls was a tall lanky boy with dark hair cut short, seen only out of the sides of his maroon hoodie, embroidered with his fraternity letters. He turned back to see what the commotion was– two moderately short girls holding what was a mere mountain of candy. He looked at Charlotte in particular. The two made eye contact for what bordered on too long, but not uncomfortable for either. He flashed her a sly smile, as if she were familiar, though she was sure they had never shared a conversation, or even an extended glance as they just had.
Charlotte smiled back, politely and perhaps with a hint of flirtation. She was slightly embarrassed to be seen with such a purely unreasonable amount of chocolate and gummy worms, but nevertheless flaunted a bright smile for an instant. And when he turned back around, she leaned towards Emily and explained, “I think he is in my psych class.”
Finally approaching the register, Charlotte dropped the armful of candy on the counter so it sprawled out clumsily. Her and the cashier exchanged a small string of jokes about the absurd amount of sugar she was about to consume while she fumbled around in her wallet. She felt the boys eyes on her as she thumbed through the bills, placing a few in the cashiers hand.
Zach, who was then to Charlotte just a nameless fraternity boy she suspected to be in one of her classes, finished first at the cashier to her right. As he crossed behind her in what was a narrow pathway to the door, he stopped subtly for a moment and pressed up behind her. Concealed under the bulk of his winter coat, unknowing to the very public audience that occupied Walgreens on this Wednesday night, he grabbed her butt and then ran his hand over her hip before quickly turning the corner, swinging open the door and greeting the brutal cold.
Charlotte scrunched her face up and turned only quick enough to see his maroon hood bounce into the night. With her brow furrowed in an emotion that lay on the border of astonishment and anger, Emily was soon by her side, with a mouthful or M&Ms to beg the question, “What?”
And as the two exited the Walgreens, Charlotte launched into the story of the nameless boy squeezing her ass. She spoke with such vigor and erratic hand motions she hardly noticed the cold. Emily nodded sympathetically to her left, while absentmindedly breaking into a bag of Reese's.
“I can’t wait to bring this up in my Women’s studies class,” Charlotte concluded as the pair scanned their key cards into the dorm.
Charlotte dumped herself onto her bed and lit a candle. Her brow was still furrowed, perhaps permanently, as she tried to recall the boy’s face. Green eyes. Dark brows. Defined features with a small crescent of scruff lining his chin. The worst part, she thought, is that she thought he was cute, almost attractive, even. Even worse, she was almost flattered. With no makeup, sporting loose fitting sweatpants and her brother’s old lacrosse sweatshirt, this boy still expressed a strange type of interest, even if it was an unwarranted grabbing of her ass in Walgreens on a Wednesday night. She polished off a few Reeses before drifting to sleep.
The next day, Charlotte caught up at lunch with two of her close male friends. She sat across from them, Alec and Owen, as the three shared their excitement for Thanksgiving break among other light hearted topics. At the end of the meal, Charlotte plucked a handful of M&Ms from her bag.
“What? Still hungry?” Alec joked.
“You know I’m always stocked up,” Charlotte replied, popping the candies into her mouth.
And without thinking, she began to tell her Walgreens tale to her friends. And when she finished, she sat back expecting confused nods of compassion or even questions of the struggles of womanhood. She would find neither.
Alec broke the silence with a low hum of skeptical confusion, holding out the note until Owen spoke up.
“That didn’t happen.”
“What?” Charlotte retorted, the word basically erupting from her mouth.
“Are you sure that’s what he–like– meant by it?” Alec posed, somehow sounding worse, reasoning with her as if she were a small, confused child. Or just clinically insane.
Charlotte stuttered in perplexity, circling the words she thought would put her friends in their place. She settled with, “Why would I make something like that up?”
All three knew the answer was, “for attention,” but the boys were smart enough to know not to answer rhetorical questions.
“No, you’re right,” Owen said. And after two inelegant apologies, Charlotte whipped her bag around and onto her shoulders before stomping out of the restaurant.
It was on Thursday nights Charlotte would work to forget herself– who sits in back of the class and eats dinner quietly in the library– and instead embody the persona of a more brazen, perhaps older girl, clad in a tight tank top and jeans that hung low on her hips.
After about five of her friends had gathered in her and Emily’s room, the girls rotated between sips of Titos and lemonade before applying any final swipes of mascara and filing– some stumbling– out of the door.
The November air was sharply cool but the girls were warm from their buzz and the excitement of the oncoming night. They walked briskly to the fraternity house, to which one of them had received an invitation via a boy she had been sporadically having sex with.
The house was overwhelmingly warm and humid. A sea of bodies filled the basement, sweaty and tightly packed. Handles of flavored vodka were being passed around the room, glistening with cool condensation and glowing alien-like beneath the colorful lights.
The girls smiled at each-other, as this was a familiar scene, something they now, as sophomores, knew how to navigate confidently.
It was somewhat of a dance: a close conversation with a boy so he would bring you a drink, followed by a quick acceptance and exit to retreat back to the pack. Repeat.
About an hour in, even through her drunk fog, Charlotte made out the green eyes and dark features of a then nameless Walgreens boy. She pointed him out to her friends, of whom, in the 24 hour window, were now all familiar with some version of the story. They nodded in angry approval, handed Charlotte a handle for a final confidence swig and saw her off.
As she pushed her way through the puzzle of sweaty bodies, she realized she had no idea what to say to Walgreens boy. Would she lecture him on assault, or simply greet him with a swift slap across the cheek. Possibilities for confrontation were simply endless.
She tapped his shoulder, this time not wrapped in his maroon hoodie. He spun around, almost falling, revealing his matched intoxication.
Charlotte opened her mouth, about to unleash the wrath of her womanly empowerment, calling upon the fallopian goddesses and all who stood for and by equality, but Zach beat her to it.
“Hey!” he shouted over the numbingly loud music. “You’re in my psych class aren’t you? I’m Zach. Let me get you a drink, one second.”
Charlotte stood, frozen, as he fetched her drink, stunned by his quick obedience. She began to confuse his behavior with chivalry.
When he returned, she was disappointed to find out he was absolutely charming. They dove into conversation quickly, exchanging witty jokes and charged banter. Looking into his green eyes, Charlotte corrected her former self, he was indeed attractive.
The flow of the conversation was interrupted when he licked his lips and offered: “Do you wanna go upstairs to cool down? It’s pretty sweaty down here.”
Forgetting the reason she had approached Zach in the first place– she now knew his name– she answered with a smile and a “Sure!”
The climbed the stairs together, his hand softly on her lower back, not quite pushing her, but something close to. They entered his room, which was truthfully, cooler than the basement. Charlotte could still hear the muffled noise from downstairs, which made her feel safer, as she was not entirely alone with this boy she knew only very little about.
Zach was a scrappy boy from Long Island who loved his mother and hated his father. He wore the same navy sweatpants and white Chucks all through high school and smoked under the bleachers during his free period. He went to Synagogue when his grandparents were in town but other than that, lacked a moral compass. Above all, Zach had never been held accountable for anything in his measly nineteen year old life.
Charlotte knew none of this. From their brief conversation, she knew he had a big dog named Lion, he played club lacrosse, was in the business school, and some other things that she forgot because at this point Charlotte was drunk.
Before approaching the bed, where Zach sat expectedly, Charlotte walked a slow loop around his room, inspecting his pictures, books and other assorted belonging that seemed to be throw around in no order at all. Above the bed hung a large American flag, but instead of the classic red, white and blue coloring, it was an understated black and white. Charlotte briefly questioned whether this was some political statement or simply an aesthetic choice, but did not have much time to consider it before she was thrown onto the bed.
Zach kissed her as if they had known each other for far longer than their twenty minute conversation. Charlotte felt liked, maybe even loved, and wanted. He pulled her in close and ran his hand over her hip and then her butt. She twitched, remembering their true first meeting.
A wave of discomfort blanketed her body and she began to consider her escape routes. What would happen if she simply pulled away and declared she was so longer interested. The energy required to stop now was far more than the energy required to merely finish what she had started. She did not know if that entailed sex or not.
As these ideas swirled in her head, she felt something else on her head. Zach’s hand had departed from her hip and now begun to push her downwards in a far less gentle manner than the way he spoke quietly to her, or leaned in like she mattered.
He unbuttoned his pants in a way that can only be described as the absolute opposite of graceful. Charlotte winced in repulsion.
She rotated between self pity and self hatred before abruptly choking down Zach’s semen. She then stood up, and walked out the door, leaving it cracked open so Zach’s awkward naked body was visible to those mingling outside.
Fleeing down the stairs, the scenario replayed in her head, except Charlotte watched herself, as if she were a third party. She watched herself get pushed down. She watched herself allow herself to get pushed down. She couldn’t decide which.
Identifying her friends, she declared she wanted to go, and without question, as their buzz was beginning to fade, the girls departed from the house and made their way back to the dorms.
Charlotte was silent on the walk back, accepting the piercing cold as punishment. None of the girls noticed.
Finally crawling in to bed, Charlotte took a final look at her phone. There was a text from Zach. She did not even remember giving him her number.
Yo. What’s good?
Charlotte was filled with a sick panic. What’s good? As in why the fuck did you walk out on me like that? As in what the hell is wrong with you? Yo, with a period. As in he was mad. As in she did something wrong.
Or what’s good as in how are you? As in a casual start to a conversation as if their interaction that completed less than an hour ago was totally normal, and he was looking to continue some kind of relationship here.
Had fun tn. Wanna come over? With a smiley emoticon that made Charlotte’s stomach turn.
She thought for a while, staring up at the ceiling. She fumbled around her night stand, popped a Reeses into her mouth and began to type the message that would end everything for once and for all.
sorry.. who is this?
He never texted her again.
Months later, Charlotte caught a glimpse of the green eyes in the library. She sat in the corner with one of her friends, and at the sight of Zach, ducked into her laptop.
“What?” Her friend asked, “Who are you hiding from?”
“I hooked up with that boy once,” Charlotte whispered, wincing as her friend turned around in a manner that was far from discrete.
He was talking to another girl, leaning in with interest as he had done to her that night. Charlotte was caught off guard with the ping of jealousy she felt in her stomach.
“Oh I remember that night! What happened,” her friend asked, distracted.