There was a stark contrast between the white dress and the look on her face. Ancient artists would love to idealize her in epic works of love and adoration. So long as you didn’t look up and read her expression, she was fit for poetry. She looked like an angel, but that was a complete deception. Maybe that’s what love is.
Still, it was hard to believe I was seeing this girl spit in another person’s face. Very deliberately she drank from the fountain but didn’t swallow. I was too far away to hear what the other girl could have possibly said to merit such a response. She spat and walked away. As she strode past me there was no remorse or shame on her face. Her expression made me embarrassed to expect such.
The other girl, a petite brunette with wet glasses came running over to me. She was flustered and wiping her face. “Hey you, guy.”
“My name’s Shawn,” I said.
“Okay Shawn, did you see that?” she asked.
I admitted that I had by nodding. I didn’t realize she wanted me for a witness. I didn’t even know our college had an honor council, but I was only a freshman. The council of elected students held trials over rare undergraduate disputes like these so the Dean wouldn’t be needlessly bothered, unless the student was found guilty.
It was right before the trial that I learned the fallen angel’s name was Corlina. Marie, the victim, gave an account of what happened and then Corlina made her defense. It was a complete lie.
One of the judges asked her to elaborate.
“You know,” she imitated choking. “The girl surprised me,” she shrugged. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sorry, Ma-rie.” She smiled a sweet smile that was convincing though suspicious.
I was the tie breaker, a witness with no attachment to either person. No reason to lie. Which was why Marie was very surprised when I said, “She definitely looked like… she choked. To me anyway.”
That ended it. Marie glared at me. Corlina smiled at me with a look of satisfaction and conciliation that was somehow very appealing. In fact, the lie never bothered me, especially after I got the call.
It was around ten p.m. when she first spoke directly to me, “It’s Corlina.”
“How did you get my number?”
“You’re listed dummy. Student directory.”
I could visualize her smirking at my expense. I wondered if every smile of hers was always at someone else’s cost.
“Do you want to work on the Geology assignment together?” she asked.
“Are you in my class?”
“Yeah, or so says the roster. I thought your name sounded familiar, so I looked you up and found this remarkable coincidence. I don’t go to class. It’s so large the professor can’t take attendance for so many students. It’s cool so long as I do the work. I thought you’d like to help, since you’ve been so helpful already.”
What else could I say to someone like this?
“Let’s meet now.” It wasn’t a suggestion. It was a command.
Corlina was a very intense person and clearly not forthright. I guess I felt so completely lacking in the attributes dominating her personality that I was drawn like an insect to her glow, doomed to a fiery encounter.
I reasoned that it might work out well for both of us. I could stand to liven up a little and she could tone down… a lot.
The first ten minutes of our meeting I worked while she watched.
“I don’t work well with others,” she explained.
Then she got restless. “Look we already know you’ll do this part. I’ll look up the stuff about trilobites, so why don’t we go somewhere fun?”
“Umm, like where?” I asked sure I would back out of anything she offered.
She smiled condescendingly; the way you do to a child you think said something cute. She said, “I didn’t think you could come up with anything. But don’t worry I take pity on you.”
She never gave me a chance to avoid going. Technically I could have left but I’ve never been good at refusing people. She wouldn’t tell me our destination, but I could have guessed. She brought me to a club called The Bridge or just Bridge because single syllable names were popular then. It was something I would never have dared glance at before. She also wouldn’t let me out of the car until I “loosened up a bit” as she put it.
“You’re dressed like a total prep,” she said, which was true. My high school was the type where most guys wore a tie loose around their neck, a button-up shirt and khaki pants, so that’s what I was wearing. The girls wear sun dresses to the football games, in case you want to dine at Panos or one of the other fine restaurants.
“I should have had you change. Can we lose the tie?”
I did as I was told but added, “You’re dressed up too.” I was already becoming bolder.
“That’s true but there is one big difference, I’m me and you’re not. Trust me you want to do what I say.”
I might have left then but I was still an insect and the club lights were the biggest flame I’d seen yet. Corlina entered the club the way she entered every room with complete confidence and pushed her way to the front often pulling me forward. Being in the club was invigorating. It wasn’t the type of place I’d imagine anyone from my life going and all the curious stares indicated that the clientele felt the same way.
Corlina noticed my noticing and told me to ignore them. She smiled that way that was becoming familiar. She resembled a sylph or how I imagined a siren would look upon entrapping a homesick sailor.
Corlina drew me by the collar so she could talk directly in my ear. “Everyone wants to be you tonight and all the time. That’s what you’ve got to tell yourself when you’re feeling self-conscious. Act like that’s why you think they’re staring and pretty soon they’ll think it’s true too.”
We got to the side of the stage and she started talking with a man there. He greeted her with some sort of elaborate handshake. They both swayed slightly with the music, not quite dancing but giving the impression. I stood still and probably stared.
Eventually he noticed me and said, “What’s with…” a nod in my direction.
I wasn’t even worth the energy of thinking up an epithet.
Corlina shrugged glancing back at me. “He did me a favor, and you know how I hate to be in debt.”
“Right, right,” he looked me up and down, no doubt noting the khaki pants and drawing the conclusion that any favor I rendered must have come in the form of an educational assignment. I certainly didn’t meet her in a club. Satisfied with that conclusion he focused on Corlina again.
“You ready to go up next?”
“Set me up.”
He pulled her onto the stage. The effect it had on me was strange as if she were an anchor cut loose. Once she was gone, I was easily pushed back by the crowd while they pulsed with the rhythm of her voice. The way she moved, and her singing was strong. I wasn’t sure if it was the best voice, I had ever heard but it was the most enthralling of anything I’d ever experienced live. You assumed the way she was singing must be the way the song was meant to be heard.
I told her afterward when the night, actually morning, was winding down and we were sitting backstage. I was drinking something that burned slightly as it went down.
She thanked me for the compliment. Then she added, “You know, sometimes I wonder why I deserve to be so great. I know I don’t.”
I was nodding slowly, drifting into the drink and her voice and the general haziness that floated in the air.
“I’m not trying to be cocky or anything,” she continued. “I know I am sort of …arrogant.” She laughed at her own conclusion. “Not even gonna lie. I’m probably the most arrogant person I know, but at least I have reason to be. And I’m honest enough to admit it. People get all offended or think I’m a poser or something, but I don’t care. I don’t, I really don’t.” She seemed to be passionate about this thought, my languid mood didn’t bother her. I realized later a lot of what she said stuck with me like a fascinating dream.
She continued, “And I hate people who want to hang around me and act like a friend then talk about me like I’m not good enough for them. When really, I’m— I’m probably too good for them.”
I nodded at this although I realized vaguely that I could one day be included in this unfortunate picture.
“Ugh, I think those people suck,” I said.
She laughed. “You know what I like about you?”
I didn’t know she liked anything about me. I shook my head.
“You’re sincerely you. You don’t judge people. I knew that right away. And you can’t handle your liquor,” she said taking away my beautiful drink. It was ok because I would be having more.
Too many nights I would have too many drinks to be healthy over the next few months.
We went to the Bridge or some other spot I had no idea existed every couple of days. Corlina drank or performed or drank and performed and was radiant and sober the next day. I didn’t know how she did it, still I didn’t suspect it would catch up to her any day soon which I considered the whole advantage of doing these things young. Maybe I reached my prime early. I was wrong anyway.
That night I was getting buzzed early. We were at the bar and Corlina was chastising me. I thought she was a little bored because she didn’t do that too often anymore.
“Don’t drink so much, you can’t hold it.” To prove it she took the drink from my hand and downed it before I could make an objection. She winked at me and said, “Good stuff.”
Someone came up to her from behind and spoke close to her ear. The other girl whispered briefly to Corlina or possibly she spoke loudly but because the music was deafening, I couldn’t hear what she said. Corlina didn’t seem to react very strongly to whatever it was, but the girl definitely slipped something into Corlina’s purse and said, “Take care of yourself,” as she left.
Corlina stood and stretched. She didn’t look worried. Corlina never looked worried. She was no longer relaxed.
“Something wrong?” I asked.
She leaned over me. “Nothing’s wrong when we’re together.” I leaned forward to kiss her, my new favorite pastime but she slipped back. “Hey, let’s go backstage.”
I agreed and we went to an empty room backstage.
We had hardly sat down when there was noise from the main club. It was different from the overall sound of the party, but the music continued.
I smiled at Corlina. “Sound’s like the fun is overdone.”
She flinched a smile and looked at the door.
“What, rhyming is not cool anymore?” I asked.
“I’m not sure it ever was cool,” she responded looking back at me. “You can take the boy out of the corn field, but you can’t take the corny out of the boy.”
“So, puns are cool?” asked in mock cynicism.
“I used one, didn’t I?”
Suddenly she stood up, walked over to the door and looked outside. She came back in quickly and commanded, “Get down,” while slamming the door shut and locking it.
I should have listened right away maybe I was lethargic from the drinks or maybe it all happened that fast. I was still thinking the ‘why?’. I was going to ask when the door was forced open and Corlina pushed me to the floor and I heard the shots. Or I heard the shots and she pushed me to the floor. Then the shooter was slammed to ground from behind and I was trying to sit up but Corlina was just sliding away from me not moving as I moved. I tried to help her sit up because she was weak. It felt unreal because I could never associate that word with her before. She was groaning something. I think it hurt to move so I stopped and just held her in my lap while people struggled in the hallway. I told her to hold on, help would come. I knew I should put pressure on the wound, but I couldn’t figure out where the wound was. There was so much blood that I wondered if there could be just one wound. There was so much noise it hurt. The shouts and arguing were still going on. The music was still going; how could the music still play? I tried to tune it all out because Corlina was saying something. I leaned in close so I could hear one of her ever treasured, ever fierce comments: “Damn, why do I love you?”
A completely willing sacrifice, denying it and not understanding it the whole time. Maybe that’s what love is.