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The Chicken Man

 Paula Sophia Schonauer
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 Paula Sophia Schonauer
The Chicken Man
by Paula Sophia Schonauer  FollowFollow
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Paula Sophia Schonauer likes to ride motorcycles, trying to find Zen on the back roads of Oklahoma. She almost made it once, but a curve threw...read more her off balance.
More work by Paula Sophia Schonauer:
The Chicken Man
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I’M RUNNING. It’s only the second week of May, and already, the heat is getting oppressive. It’s supposed to be ninety by noon and climbing. The weather forecast said we might break a record today. I’m wearing nothing but my running shoes, a pair of low-cut socks and red athletic shorts, yet I feel like the heat has fallen on me like a wet blanket. I shouldn’t have gotten drunk last night, should have got a better night’s sleep. I should have done a lot of things different. I’m thinking, maybe I shouldn’t have joined a fraternity.

Running up Caddo Hill, the steepest hill in Weatherford, Oklahoma, and my lungs are burning, sweat pouring down my face, stinging my eyes. The air is uncharacteristically calm, and for the first time in a long time I get off my pace, start dragging my feet. I can hear the souls of my shoes sticking to the asphalt, and I’m thinking about walking the last mile of my planned course when I see a white and pink Suzuki Samurai cresting the hill. I recognize the driver, Holly Holcomb.

I’m surprised when Holly slows down, edging her Samurai toward my side of the road. She has some music playing real loud, Under Pressure by that guy from Queen and David Bowie.

“You look hot,” she says.

She’s doesn’t sound turned on, just concerned. I stop running and walk toward her, grateful for the excuse to rest. I get a stitch of pain in my right side and want to lean forward, hands on my knees, but I don’t want to appear weak. Instead, I put my hands behind my head and arch backwards, flexing my abdominal muscles, showing off my trim waist. I stop a few feet from the Samurai when I get a whiff of my overwhelming odor.

“You sure do run a lot,” Holly says.

“Yep,” I reply. I’m trying to suppress my labored breathing. “I run… ev-ry day.”
Holly smiles. She has clean, even teeth, bright white. Her lips are full but not thick, perfect. I like the way she pulls her hair back into a bushy ponytail and the way she ties a blue scarf in a knot, like Madonna. She’s wearing a tank top with thin, white shoulder straps plunging toward her breasts. She turns toward me, her right breast nudging the steering wheel.

“You want some water?”

I can only nod. She tosses me a bottle of cold water she gets from a cooler in her back seat. I open the bottle and drink gratefully.

“I really admire your commitment,” Holly says. “What you did last night took some courage.”

Yeah, last night, I’m thinking. Shit, last night…

I was getting ready for work when Mick and Jimmy got back from Juarez. They left last Tuesday afternoon just after finishing their final exams, bragging about going on a road trip to blow off some steam, to get laid. The guys had gathered on the expansive front porch of the Phi Delta Phi House, a large two-story house with red bricks and white trim a block south of campus. They greeted our prodigal brothers with a twelve pack of Schafer’s beer. God, Schafer’s beer, the guys must be low on money to be drinking that cheap shit.

Mick reclined against a brick column on the porch, opened a can of beer and drank deep, grimaced. “This shit’s warm,” he said, but he took another drink, anyway. Mick wasn’t the kind to waste beer, no matter how bad it was.

He was a handsome guy, perfect hair, dark eyes, and suave. I didn’t understand why he went looking for whores down in Juarez when he could get almost any girl he wanted here on campus.

Jimmy laughed, nudged Mick with his elbow. “This guy is my hero. He’s a machine.” Jimmy was Mick’s little brother, his obnoxious protégé, but he wasn’t as good looking, not bad really, just ordinary with light brown hair, a thin face and an average build.

“Shut up,” Mick said.

“My friend, my brother, Mick - he screwed three women in one hour, went and had a couple of cerveses, and screwed two more.”

Mick laughed.

“And the next night he went and did the same, ten women in one weekend. Like I said, he’s a machine.”

The guys laughed, a mixture of oos and ahs, impressed and disbelieving. Someone said, “Bullshit.” I think it was Rodney.

Mick shrugged it off, guzzled some more beer. He tossed me a can. “You’re not drinking. What’s your problem?”

I set the can of beer on the rail of bricks surrounding the porch. “Can’t,” I said. “I’m on my way to work.”

I thought that would’ve been obvious since I was wearing my Kentucky Fried Chicken uniform: brown pants and beige shirt, a dorky brown visor with a red KFC emblazoned on the bill.

Mick smiled, crunched the already empty can of beer in his right hand. “Good, then you’ll be bringing home some dinner.”

I nodded. “I hope so. Depends on what’s left over.”

“C’mon, Chicken Man, you can make some extra, take care of your brothers, right?”

Yeah, Chicken Man – the stupid nickname my fraternity brothers gave me during initiation because I shared my take-home leftovers with them. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll do what I can.”

Jimmy continued bragging about their adventure south of the border. “Then we went to a live sex show, watched this donkey and this girl… God, its dick had to be this long.” He held his hands about two feet apart.

I didn’t want to hear the rest, so I tied to hustle past the guys without further comment. Jimmy grabbed my arm and made me stand fast.

“Listen up,” he announced. “I’m nominating our esteemed brother, Mick, for the Back in the Saddle Again Award.”

The guys clapped their hands, enthusiastic hoots and hollers.

The Back in the Saddle Again award was given to the fraternity member who had the most adventurous or the most numerous sexual exploits in a given academic year. Mick had already won the award two times, and judging by his exploits in Juarez, he was angling for an unprecedented third year in a row.

Mick stood up, took a bow and kind of limped toward the front door of the house. He grabbed his crotch and winced. “When I get back, I’ll tell y’all about the bitch who gave me the clap.”

Rodney drove me to work. He has a 1969 Chevy Chevelle, red with black racing stripes. It’s jacked up in the back and has chrome wheels, big tires with white letters. The engine sounded ferocious, no purring there, more like a long predatory growl.

We share a bedroom in the back of the house. He sleeps in a king size waterbed while I have a twin bed stuck halfway into a closet, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. I set up my stereo on some shelves in there, and when Rodney brings a girl into the room, I put on some headphones and listen to music so I don’t have to hear their moans and groans while they’re having sex. Rodney’s also my fraternity big brother, one of my closest friends. He’s a pharmacy student and a basketball player, an all American guy complete with a boyish, freckled face. He’s always telling me I need to get laid.

“The guys are worried,” he said. “They’re starting to wonder about you.”

“What?” I ask, but I think I already know the answer.

“They’re talking. They think you might be gay.”

I didn’t respond. Anger churned inside me, the injustice of it all. How could they worry about me being gay when they think what Mick did to that pledge last fall was just all in fun? Mick had a drinking contest with a pledge downstairs in basement of our house. We called it the titty room because we had a big painting of at least a dozen bare-breasted, Romanesque women down there. It also served as a room where we had our initiation rites. Anyway, Mick had convinced this pledge to give him a blowjob, told him it was a rite of passage, and the poor drunken guy fell for it. After that, the pledge was labeled a fag and didn’t make it into the fraternity, but everyone thought Mick was still cool. It didn’t make sense to me.

Rodney stopped at the red light at Main and Custer. Weatherford was one of the largest towns in Western Oklahoma, but it felt small to me. I had been raised in Oklahoma City, was used to going miles and miles before coming to the edge of civilization. I stared south along Custer, past the Tautfest Furniture and Appliance gallery, past some warehouses and barns out into the wide expanse of wheat starting to turn gold, almost ready for the harvest. I wanted to be running out there, feeling the wind, smelling the wheat, hearing nothing but my breathing and the rhythmic pounding of my feet on asphalt. It was the closest thing to bliss for me.

“Hey, Jeff, you okay?”

I nodded. The light turned green and Rodney swung a left going east on Main through downtown Weatherford, past several motel complexes, The Taco Factory, Hardees and Wal-Mart.

“Rodney, I need to tell you something.”

His eyes got big, and he had an uncertain smile on his face. Rodney was a handsome guy, probably the most handsome guy in the fraternity with smoldering brown eyes and light brown hair. He had an air of class, of dignity and discipline. He often wore slacks, seersucker shirts and a sport jacket. Some of the guys liked to call him Otter after that character in the movie Animal House. His father was a colonel in the field artillery down in Ft. Sill, and Rodney had been raised a military brat, had attended boarding schools. He was smart and cultured, so I thought I could trust him with my secret.

“When I was in high school,” I began, hesitantly. “I made a promise to stay celibate until I got married.”

Rodney exhaled forcefully. I hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath. “That’s it?” he said jubilantly. “That’s your big secret?”

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“No shit, wow. I thought you were going to tell me you were gay. Man, what a trip.”

We were at the intersection of Main and Washington. Going east from there was the onramp to I-40 heading back to Oklahoma City. The Kentucky Fried Chicken was near the exit ramp just north of the intersection, a good location that brought lots of road business. We stayed pretty busy.

“So, you’re a virgin.” Rodney said. His eyes got big again. “Wow, how do you do it?”

“I run a lot,” I admitted.

Rodney nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, you do. Holy shit, you could run all day.” Then he kind of frowned. “Why’d you join a fraternity then?” He asked this like he was accusing me of something.

“For the brotherhood, the comradery,” I said. Those were the official reasons to join a fraternity, I knew, but they were really the reasons I joined. I loved hanging out with the guys, playing Hacky Sack out in front of the house, playing a pickup game of tag football, the meeting rituals, the initiation rites. I was hoping my membership in a fraternity would benefit me all my life, to be part of a brotherhood of men who had a common bond.

Rodney laughed. “Bullshit. That’s what you’re supposed to say. You’re not a pledge anymore, Jeff.”

“It’s true.”

“Man, I feel sorry for you. I’ll bet you masturbate all the time.”

I shook my head.

“Well, fuck me,” Rodney mused. Then he turned toward me. “Well, not literally, I mean. Just kidding you know.”

“I’m not gay.”

“I know. I know. Just celibate.”

“Until marriage.”

“Yeah, right.”

My boss, Bob, is a guy who quit high school, started working at a KFC, worked his way up to manager, then got a loan and bought a franchise. He’s pretty well off, drives a nice car, one of those brand new Nissan Pathfinders, but he’s not much to look at, pudgy and balding with a ridiculous mustache thick enough to be a hair brush. He thinks I ought to be one mean motor scooter when it comes to girls, and I guess I could be, but I made a promise.

The evening shift was pretty slow, and Bob kept hanging around the kitchen, talking to me, cracking jokes.

“There’s this guy,” he said. “He goes to a whore house, and all the hookers laugh at him because he has the word ‘Shorty’ tattooed on his dick. The madam takes pity on him, offers a free ride and takes him to her boudoir where they have a romping good time. Afterwards, she looks worn out, a complete mess. When the other hookers ask what happened she replies, “When I got that guy hard his tattoo said, ‘Shorty’s Bar and Grill Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

Bob laughed like crazy, his belly shaking, drool clinging to his mustache. I got the joke, but it didn’t seem funny to me, so I faked a laugh to avoid offending my boss. I don’t think he bought it, though, and he looked at me like I was some kind of freak in a freak show.

“What’s the matter, Jeff, too raunchy for you? Too dirty for your virgin ears?”

When he said the word virgin, I bit my lip. I didn’t want to say something stupid. I needed that job. I wasn’t rich. I didn’t have a car. I was going to school on a drama scholarship, and though that paid for my tuition and books, it didn’t pay for room and board and other living expenses. Plus, though Bob gave me a lot of shit about women and sex, he was a pretty cooperative boss, altering my hours to accommodate me when I got a part in a university play. He even came to my plays, sometimes.

“I liked the joke,” I said.

Bob frowned. “Are you sure you’re not queer? Not that there’s anything wrong with that you know.” He raised his right hand to show sincerity. “Some of my best friends are gay.”

I thought, yeah right, and I walked over to the Original Recipe preparation table. I was starting to run low on flour, had enough for another batch of chicken, maybe. What was left had a lot of doughy clumps. I started sifting the flour, glad to have something to do. When I finished sifting the flour, I took the screen from the bottom of the table and dumped the clumps into a trash can. Bob came up behind me, grabbed my ass. I jumped. I might have spun around, hit him in the face with an elbow, but my hands were full. I managed not to drop the sifter, but I slipped in a pool of grease, stumbled backward. Bob caught me, held me a little too long.

“I knew you’d fall for me someday,” he said.

I went rigid, excited yet mortified. What the hell was this all about? My mind raged with conflicting emotions, gratified by Bob’s touch yet horrified about what it could mean. I twisted away from him and went back to the freezer. I stood there in the cold for a long time, letting it wash over me. I even jogged in place for awhile, pretending I was running through an arctic night, my feet crunching on the tundra. It calmed me down. Then I grabbed a couple bags of chicken, walked back to the kitchen, dumped them into the tub of flour and started breading the various pieces: wings, legs, thighs and breasts. I arranged them on the fry basket making sure they were spaced far enough apart to keep the breading from fusing the pieces together while they cooked. After that I placed the fry basket into the deep vat of cooking grease, shut the lid on the pressure cooker and set the timer for fifteen minutes.

Bob had returned to the front counter, was waiting on a young woman who had ordered a two piece dinner and a Coke. She had long blond hair, wore glasses – not the kind that detract from a woman’s looks, but the kind that accentuate her intelligence, enhance her mystery. I recognized her. She and I had a class together last fall, Sociology with Dr. Wright.

There was still a lot of chicken in the warmer, a big glass rectangle with heating lamps. We probably already had more than we needed to get through the next hour of business. After Bob finished waiting on the young woman, he came back to the kitchen again, laughing like nothing had happened between us.

“Boy, that chick was a fox,” he said, showing his age. “I’d fuck her in a heartbeat.”

I washed my hands in the sink along the back wall of the kitchen, started to fill the sink with hot water, getting prepared for the closing cleanup. I sprinkled some detergent in the water, watched the bubbles grow and grow, mounting higher and higher. I could see my face reflected in some of the larger bubbles, a myriad of images, perspectives and distortions, all of them me. Then I wondered which one of them was the real me.

The pressure cooker started to whistle, expelling steam like a tea pot.

“Did you just put down another basket of Original?” Bob asked, agitated.

I turned around, faced him.

“We’re closing in forty-five minutes. We don’t need any more chicken.”
I didn’t say anything, didn’t move.

“You’re wasting my product, Jeff, do you realize that?”

I turned back toward the bubbles intending to disburse them, immerse them into the water, eradicating their insect-like compound images. I didn’t want to see life refracted into a thousand different pieces. I wanted simplicity, to feel unified, to blend into the plain gray matter of society, to live in harmony, in community.

Bob walked up behind me, and I felt my shoulders tighten with tension, my buttocks flex with anticipation. My hands balled up into fists, and I stood on my toes ready to pivot, ready to deck the bastard if he touched me again.

“I’m sorry,” Bob said. “Can’t you tell when I’m just fucking around?”

I relaxed, but not much. When I turned around, I had my hands up like a boxer ready to flinch, duck and counterpunch. Bob looked sincere. His mustache twisted with concern. Maybe I was being too serious, I thought. Maybe he was just fucking around.

“Don’t do that again,” I said.

Bob nodded. He understood. His jocularity drained from his composure, and he kind of slumped in defeat. “You’re not going to say anything about this to anyone, are you?”

I shook my head. “Not unless you do.”

He looked relieved, smiled. “Feed your brothers tonight, have a banquet on me,” he said magnanimously.

When Rodney and I got back to the Phi Delta Phi house, the guys were assembled on the porch, waiting. They watched me get out of the car, and just to fuck with them, I walked up to the porch empty handed. They slumped with disappointment. Jimmy grabbed some change from his pocket and started counting. Mick took a couple of bills out of his wallet and tossed them on one of the square concrete platforms atop a pillar of bricks on either side of the stairs leading up to the porch. The other guys started rummaging through their pockets also.

“Pizza? Taco Factory?” Mick said.

Then Rodney walked up with two full bags of food: enough chicken for three buckets, corn on the cob, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, even a couple of chicken fried steak patties. It was the biggest bounty I had brought home to date, and my bunch of brothers cheered. I was the man of the hour. Everyone patted my back. Mick even gave me a hug, and he held me, clenched tight in his arms, squeezing the air out of my lungs.

“Thanks bro,” he said. He pulled out a couple more bills. Jimmy, Rodney and the other guys did likewise, and they tallied up almost $70 dollars.

“Beer run,” Jimmy said, excited. “We’re going to party tonight!”

I went back to my room, got undressed and jumped into the shower ready to wash the filth from my body, all the grease, soap scum and sweat. I lingered in the shower, watched the water swirl down the drain, a little frightened by the tiny vortex at my feet. I’d always been scared of whirlpools, afraid to be sucked down a path I couldn’t control. Though the bathtub drain was a little disconcerting to me, I knew it was harmless, too small to affect me, so I stared at it with morbid fascination, imagining what it might be like to be sucked into a black hole in outer space, a place so dense it even attracts light.

Rodney knocked on the door. “Dude, what’s taking you so long? Some of the Gaputaters are here.” We called the Gamma Lambda Pi girls Gaputaters. I don’t know why. It seemed like some sort of sexual joke, but I never understood it.

The water had started to lose its warmth, and I shivered as it suddenly turned into a cold burst.

“Have you been masturbating?” Rodney teased. “It’s all right. It’s a natural thing to do, especially for a guy like you.”

“Fuck you,” I said.

“Man, I’ve been thinking. You must have some wild wet dreams.”

He was right. I did have a lot of wet dreams, but they weren’t explicit. I often dreamt about floating in a bunch of clouds, warm and moist, cradled in them. Then I’d be seized by a powerful surge of pleasure, rushing into the heights of heaven. I could see stars sometimes, and they were like a connect-the-dots puzzle forming a crude outline of a face. I didn’t know if the face was supposed to be God or what, a man or a woman, just a face. I imagined Rodney would be disappointed if I told him about my dreams.

When I finished getting dressed and combing my hair, I went out of my room, through the kitchen and into the dining room. There was already a party going full blast. Some had turned on the television in the living room and had put on a video of Animal House. It was near the beginning of the movie when Flounder and Pinto were getting their nicknames. I’m so glad we didn’t do that. It’s not that none of us acquired nicknames, hell they called me the chicken man, but it wasn’t so formalized. I’d hate to have a name forced on me like that. It was bad enough having to live with a name your parents gave you. There was some music playing on the porch. It was the new Van Halen album, the one all the DJ’s were calling Van Hagar since Sammy Hagar joined the group. I liked the new sound, especially that song Dreams. It spoke to me.

Everyone was eating chicken and drinking beer. One of the bags of food had been torn open and splayed across the dining room table, and people were eating Roman style with their fingers, grabbing anything edible. They were also playing a raucous game of Quarters, the game where you try bounce a quarter off the table into a glass of beer so the person next to you has to chug it. We often got drunk pretty fast playing that game. I was happy to be home, happy to have pleased my friends. This party wouldn’t have happened without me, I realized. We weren’t like a lot of fraternities in some of the big state schools or the Ivey League universities. We weren’t rich. We were just a bunch of guys pooling our resources trying to make it through college. I really liked that aspect of fraternity life, the mutual investment. I was happy to have done my part.

When I walked out on the porch, there was another drinking game going on. Mick and Jimmy had managed to get a whole keg of beer, and there it sat, iced down in a big trashcan, Rodney pumping air into the container to keep it pouring. He filled a glass for me, a big cup with a naked woman on it complete with 3D contours. We called it the titty-glass, and it always went to the man of the hour. I was the man of the hour. When he handed it to me I noticed the contours of the woman were placed on the glass to facilitate someone’s grip.

“Chug it! Chug it!” the crowd of young men and women chanted. I lifted the glass to my lips and started drinking. The beer ran down my throat, but it was too foamy, and it kind of rested there like a log jam. I coughed and sputtered, leaned forward. At that point, the titty-glass slipped from my hand and shattered on the concrete floor of the porch. The guys grew silent, but the Gaputaters kept talking, laughing.

“Dude!” Rodney shouted. “You broke the titty-glass.”

Everyone got quiet. Rodney’s face was red, and he stared at me. But after a moment, he relaxed, laughed it off. “Just a fucking glass,” he said. “A pretty cool glass you completely destroyed, but just a fucking glass.” He told everyone that his dad got it for him in Germany, that it was meant to be some kind of fraternal heirloom. “Yeah, so you destroyed some of our heritage. But it’s just a fucking glass, dude.”

I couldn’t tell if Rodney was really pissed or just on his way to getting really drunk. Probably a little of both. He filled another cup, one of those big red plastic party cups. “Now, we’re going to play a little game.”

He explained the rules. “This game’s called Never Never,” he said. “We pass around the cup, and we ask the person holding the cup a question. That person can either chug the cup down or answer the question. If everyone believes him or her, then that person can pass the cup, if not then that person has to drink it anyway.” He stared at me on the last part.

I started to walk away, but Rodney rushed to my side. “Come on, man. Play the game, little brother.” He ushered me to the big concrete square at the top of the steps, urged me to sit down.

I felt trapped. If I refused to play, then everyone would think I had something to hide, and with all the talk questioning my sexuality, everyone would assume it’s true. But if I played and got asked the right questions, then they might figure me out. Shit, I thought, suddenly realizing that fraternity life has a dark side, a side that I had ignored for two years, a side I had been able to skip away from, until now. I wanted to go running, to streak down Caddo Hill, keep running north out past Highway 58, trekking across the country out past Thomas, toward Enid, further and further until I passed the Kansas state line, until I was out of the country hauling ass through Canada, approaching the Arctic Circle.

Rodney filled a pitcher of beer, took a pint of Jack Daniels and dumped it in, then he handed the pitcher to Holly, one of the Gamma Lambda Pi girls, a classy woman who was above the tag, Gaputater. She was my big sis, not that we were close or anything. I had hardly spoken to her since our ritual exchange party two years before, but because of this I felt a degree of comradery with, hoped she’d be a friend during this perilous game. I looked at the other faces in the crowd. Mick was there, and so was Jimmy, and they eyeballed me, smirking. They weren’t going to be friendly, I realized. The other women in the group just sat there, glancing at each other, lips pursed, concentrating. Holly smiled, patted me on the shoulder.

“Loosen up, sport,” she said. “It’s just a game.”

Rodney opened the line of questioning. “Are you a virgin?”

Holly didn’t hesitate. “Yes,” she said.

I glanced around at the faces in the group. The women nodded. Jimmy seemed perplexed, but Mick looked skeptical.

“Bullshit!” he said.

“I am too a virgin,” Holly retorted. She somehow sat up straighter, flipped her long light brown hair and checked the button at the top of her white blouse.

Even Rodney seemed convinced. The crowd nodded. Holly passed the pitcher to me.

Everyone edged closer.

Rodney asked the question. “Are you a virgin?”
Some laughter riffled through the crowd, but it sounded amused not malicious, not yet.

I raised the pitcher to my lips, started to chug it down. The crowd started their chant, “Chug it! Chug it!”

“You’re an animal,” Mick said.

“A mutant,” Jimmy added.

I got down to the last few ounces. The beer and whiskey brew boiled in my gut, and I started feeling light headed, already well on my way to being drunk.

Mick grabbed the pitcher from my hands. “Fill it up,” he said.

Rodney filled the pitcher, added some more whiskey, too. He handed the pitcher back to Mick. “Are you a virgin?” he asked, barely able to contain his laughter.

“Yes,” Mick said.

The whole crowd groaned with disbelief, and Mick chugged the pitcher, watching me the whole time. He stood up, nudged Rodney away from the keg and filled the pitcher, again, then he handed it back to me.

“Are you gay?” he asked.

I felt the tug of that black hole. Here it was, the vortex, I thought. I was spinning down the drain, my head dizzy, my gut churning. I was going to be sick. I started to stand up so I could turn around and lean over the side of the porch to vomit, but Mick intercepted me, made me stay in place. He moved close, almost nose to nose, so close that his features were indiscernible.

“Answer the question,” Mick said.

“No,” I vomited, literally. I regurgitated some of the beer I had just drank, just a little bit, but Mick was so close to me, some of it spattered his face. He grabbed my shoulders, shook me, refusing to move. I thought he was going to push me backwards, and I imagined my head thudding against the concrete, splitting open like a melon. I didn’t mind though. This was the perfect time to die.

Rodney tugged Mick away from me. “Give him some air, man.”

There, I thought, my friend has returned. But then he too said, “Answer the question, man.”

“No, I’m not gay. Goddamn it, I’m not gay.”

The crowd hesitated. The girls looked at each other. Holly stared at me. Jimmy snickered. Mick and Rodney whispered to each other. Nobody challenged me. They just waited.

“I’m a virgin. I made a promise when I was in high school to stay celibate until I got married. I did it at church, and I’m trying to keep that promise.”

The crowd remained silent, hesitating.

I got up to leave, but then Holly said, “I believe him.”

After that the rest of the Gaputaters and the guys all nodded. I stood up, handed the pitcher of beer to Jimmy and went back to my room, retreated to my bed in the closet, turned on my stereo. I started listening to my favorite Pink Floyd album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. I loved that song Learning to Fly, and I imagined myself soaring through the clouds, cradled in the mist.

I heard the slam of my door, the thud of two or three footsteps and the sound of someone collapsing on Rodney’s waterbed. The wave of impact tsunamied against the headboard and vibrated the wall. I thought it was Rodney, but when I looked up I saw a young woman, one of the Gaputaters standing on the mattress, stripping off her clothes.

“Wake up, Jeffrey,” she shouted. “I’ve come to your rescue.”

It was Kelly Wadley, the Gaputater we called the hose beast. She’d slept with every one of the brothers, except me, and now here she was, drunk, naked and horny bearing down on me like an eagle plunging toward its prey. I knew it was another test, and I knew that if I didn’t do it with her I’d be laughed out of the fraternity, labeled a fag. I sat up, took off my earphones and watched her awkward striptease. She pulled off her panties and thrust her vagina at me.

“See this?” she said. “This is pussy.”

I imagined the guys standing outside my door snickering at me, listening to see what I was going to do. I got up, staggered across the room, opened the door ready to tell them all to fuck off, but nobody was there. Voices trailed back to me from the front of the house, but they weren’t conspiratorial, just regular, lively party talk. I also heard music and the roar of the engine in Rodney’s car, the squeal of tires on concrete. I imagined he had left the party to get some more beer. I closed the door, locked it, determined to do what I had to do to get the guys off my back.

Kelly was about to unfasten her bra when she lost balance, fell backward and bumped her head on the headboard. The thud resonated throughout the room. I rushed to her side to see if she was all right, but she was unconscious. Afraid she might have been knocked out I started to leave the room to look for help, prepared to call for an ambulance or something, but then I heard her snore, realized she had merely passed out.

I watched her for quite some time. She really was a beautiful girl. I liked the way her chin sloped gently toward her neck, the shape of her cheeks. She had short blond hair, uneven bangs, a kind of punk rock style. She had a generous bosom, not too large though, and wide but not fat hips, very womanly. I noticed her toes had nail polish and little stickers on them, the faces of Looney Tunes characters: Bugs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck.

If I had considered having sex with her while she was passed out, seeing the faces of those cartoon characters ruined it. She seemed like a child suddenly, helpless and vulnerable, and I couldn’t violate that. I covered her nakedness, and I went back to my closet, turned on my music and dreamed through the Dogs of War.

When I woke up, Kelly was still asleep. She hadn’t moved. The house was silent, and the sky outside was beginning to blush a new day. I felt the slosh of nausea in my stomach and went to the bathroom, but once I got there nothing happened. I drank some water, felt better and decided to go for a run.

On my way out of the house I heard someone walking upstairs. Our house had one of those old fashioned staircases, the kind that shoots straight up toward the second floor, banisters on both sides. The banisters curved up onto the second floor creating a balcony of sorts behind which was five doors. I saw Holly backing out of the door to Mick’s room. I retreated to the kitchen and hid behind the refrigerator that jutted out from the entrance, too big to fit snugly in the small space designed for iceboxes of yesteryear. I listened while Holly descended the stairs trying to be quiet, but in her efforts at stealth she managed to make more noise than if she just clomped on down the steps like normal. I watched her walk out the door, and I waited awhile before moving again, pissed as hell at Mick who had bragged about having caught a venereal disease down in Juarez and still had the nerve to sleep with someone.

I bend over at the waist, trying to stretch my quadriceps. I’m pretty flexible, so I can palm the ground.

“Wow,” Holly says. “You’re pretty limber.” Her tone of voice is surprisingly seductive.

“Thanks,” I say, still catching my breath, a little dizzy from the night before, dehydrated. I’m thinking about walking back to the house, that is, unless Holly offers to give me a ride.

“Did you enjoy the party last night?” I ask, trying to think of a way to tell her I saw her leaving the house earlier this morning and from there warn her about Mick’s disease.

Holly blushes, smiles to herself like she’s got some kind of big secret, and I’m pretty sure I know what it is. “Oh, it was an interesting evening. I’ll say that.”

“Yeah, it sure was.”

I’m still stinging with embarrassment for all that went down, but I’m not afraid of Holly. Actually, I feel kind of superior to her.

“I had never seen you get drunk before,” she says, teasing. “I like you better sober.”

Standing in the sun, my sweat is starting to dry, and I’m beginning to feel overheated, exposed, like I could wither and die right there. I burp, and almost vomit, the taste of warm, stale beer at the back of my throat. I turn around and spit, then I feel unsteady on my feet, wavering in place.

“You don’t look well,” Holly says. “Do you need a ride?”

For some reason, I feel like I have to tell her before I accept her offer, like it would be some kind of bait and switch to let her take me home and then tell her she might have slept with a guy who has some kind of sexually transmitted disease. I lean against her Suzuki Samurai.

“Holly, I need to tell you something,” I say.

She smiles at me, all warm and presumptuous. “It’s okay, it doesn’t matter to me. I still think you’re a great person.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, about you’re being gay. It doesn’t matter.”

Now, I’m starting to get pissed. “I’m not gay, goddamn it.”

Holly’s eyes get big. Her lips form an O of surprise. She shifts her Samurai back into drive. The vehicle makes a little lurch forward, but she doesn’t drive away.

“I know what you did last night, Holly. You slept with Mick, and there’s something you need to know…”

Before I can tell her about Mick having VD she drives away, tires spitting gravel and liquidized tar. I almost fall down, but I maintain my balance. I pour the rest of the water Holly gave me on my head, and I start jogging, hoping the water will invigorate me. By the time I get back to the house, I’m almost delirious. I run to the bathroom, strip off my clothes and jump into the shower. I turn on the water, letting it cascade all over my body, filling my hands so I can drink over and over again. I don’t dawdle like I usually do. I don’t watch the drain. I just turn the water to the coldest setting I can get, wishing it would get colder, ice cold, numbing me.

By the time I get back to my room, Kelly is gone, but in her rush to leave I see she left her underwear on the floor, a pretty pair of silky, red panties. I get a stapler from Rodney’s desk, and I staple the panties above the doorway of my closeted enclosure, in plain sight, so everyone can see.

Also by Paula Sophia Schonauer

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