The elevator made a ding noise as it lit up the number six. Preston Plimpton pushed a few other students aside, with his nose up in the air, as he exited the elevator. He walked to room 601 without glancing in anyone else’s direction, opened up his door, saw that his roommate’s laptop and backpack were gone, and stripped naked in five seconds. It was Blair’s nineteenth birthday and he couldn’t be late for the surprise party. They met in the second grade during recess, when she spit her gum in his hair. He had been in love with her ever since, and she had no idea.
He flung open his dresser drawer and tossed clothes on his floor until he found the Burberry Polo that his mother had given him last Christmas. He put it on, checked out his muscles in the mirror, and then moved for the top drawer. He needed a pair of underwear that made his ass and package look good for the off chance that his Blair dreams may come true, and ones that didn’t have skid marks from the nights he got so drunk that he couldn’t make it to the bathroom. He vowed never to go to Vida again. Their table toppers had horrible after affects. He grabbed a pair of AG jeans that he never wore, ripped off the $255 price tag, and then got dressed faster than he had gotten undressed. He needed one last look in the mirror before he headed out and used his last few seconds of preparation to run his fingers through his blond locks. He searched his other pair of pants for his Blackberry and wallet and darted out the door at exactly eight o’clock.
The elevator door was about to close but he reached his hand out and caught the door before it shut. Five faces stared at him without saying a word. He walked to the back left corner and folded his arms across his chest. He listened to three girls giggle and talk about some boy named Potter who hooked up with some girl named Lilly. Then Preston’s eyes shifted to a skinny guy who was dressed in all black and talking on his Nokia. A woman’s voice on the other end was screaming about a history class. Preston wasn’t interested in this kid. But he was interested in the girl that stood in the back right corner of the elevator. It was the girl everyone called “The Freak.” She was dressed in green corduroy pants and a white t-shirt. She had no eyebrows. Preston thought she looked like she just stepped out of a psych ward. He also thought her nickname fit. The elevator made the usual ding noise and lit up the number one.
Preston walked through the courtyard and up the hill towards the subway. The six train would take him almost directly to Nerve, the destination of Blair’s birthday. He checked his Blackberry as he jogged down the subway stairs. No missed calls, no BBM alerts, and no text messages. It was about ten minutes after eight as Preston swiped his subway card and went through the turnstile as quickly as possible. He started thinking about Blair as he waited for the train. He hadn’t seen her since the first week of classes, which was now almost two months ago. He missed her face. Actually, he forgot what she looked like, even though he ‘Facebook stalked’ her on a daily basis. He always thought Blair was too beautiful in person and that pictures never captured her true essence. He admitted that to his friend Jonny once; the only person on the planet besides himself who knew about the Blair addiction. Jonny laughed at him and told him to “grow some balls.”
Preston’s daydreams about Blair were interrupted as the train leaving on the opposite track blew wind at everyone waiting for the six. Preston smirked as he saw an old lady’s dress fly up in the air. He thought he was sick for thinking it was funny until he saw a few other kids laughing about it too. He figured he wasn’t the only one with a sick sense of humor out tonight.
The six train approached the track and was gone within seconds. Preston’s thoughts were back to Blair as he sat on the subway between a homeless woman and a man muttering profanities to himself. He would usually stare at people like this in disgust, but he was too busy planning the night out in his mind. He carefully thought out conversations he would have with Blair. He daydreamed about kissing her on the cheek and wishing her a happy birthday. He knew for a fact her hair would smell like daffodils and he didn’t care that his knowledge of this was completely creepy. He put kissing her cheek and smelling her hair on mental replay until they approached the Canal Street stop.
Preston heard his name being called and looked up to see Jane Fleetwick, a girl he went to high school with. She was one of those girls that went to his high school on scholarship. He knew she would strike up a conversation though, because he couldn’t remember her ever shutting up.
“Oh, hey Jane,” he said as he checked his Blackberry for missed calls or messages.
“How are you? I haven’t seen you since graduation!”
“I’m doing good. College is crazy,” he said.
“Oh yeah! I totally agree with you on that one. My mom couldn’t afford for me to dorm at NYU so I got an internship and an apartment over that restaurant, Malcolm Shanghai. You ever been?” she asked while looking at him directly in the eyes.
“Nope. Never,” Preston replied as he avoided her stare and started a game of Brick Breaker.
“Oh! Well you should go sometime. They make dumplings filled with soup. They really are the best,” she said as she shifted in her seat.
He didn’t respond to her last comment and it seemed like she got the message because she started a conversation with the homeless woman. He glared at her and she shrugged back. Finally the train made its second stop at Canal Street. Preston made it off the train so fast that Jane didn’t even get to say goodbye. He waited about four minutes and got on the M train. He thought about how he was only minutes away from seeing Blair. He wanted to smell and touch her long brown hair that curled at the bottoms but he knew he couldn’t. He ignored everyone and everything around him and put the cheek-kissing visual back on mental replay.
The M train finally stopped at the Delancey St. Station. Preston was somehow the first off the train, despite the amount of people. He checked the time on his Blackberry, which informed him that it was a little after eight thirty. He made a mad dash to Ludlow Street but stopped short at the corner. Preston forgot to leave his real IDs back in his dorm room. He took out his Pace ID card, his license, and his various credit cards, and shoved them in his shoe. He wasn’t Preston Plimpton tonight. He was Victor Stark.
* * *
Annie Kolker was walking at a fast pace, but when she saw Preston stop short she had to walk backwards a few steps to avoid bumping into him. She ducked inside the storefront nearest to her and waited for him to continue walking. He seemed to be taking his shoe off but she didn’t know why. She wished she were walking with him to Nerve, holding his hand.
Annie had her eye on Preston since move-in day, but she knew that almost everyone at school called her “The Freak” and Preston would never pay attention to her. Annie had Trichotillomania and spent almost every night compulsively pulling out her eyebrow hair. She figured Preston wouldn’t even so much as glance in her direction so since that day, Annie followed Preston wherever she could. She would wait in the common room for him to come out of his dorm room and then casually pick up her books and follow along. She spent hours in the cafeteria, not even eating, but watching his every move. She felt a pit in her stomach every time she looked at Preston’s blond hair or almond-shaped blue eyes. She thought she was in love. With someone she never spoke to.
After a few weeks Annie began to memorize Preston’s class, eating and library schedule. And, every day, she would follow him. Her own grades were slipping because she was so caught up with Preston that she couldn’t think about her own schoolwork. Preston was her main subject this semester. ‘Screw math’ was her new mentality.
There was one thing that really bothered her about Preston, though. Every time he would go to the library with his laptop, he would stare at pictures of a brunette instead of studying. Annie thought the girl he spent his time admiring looked like Theresa, Barbie’s best friend, only with three thousand dollar pumps. She knew she could never measure up to the brunette; another reason why she kept quiet and never spoke a word to him. Instead, Annie sat behind him on a daily basis, glaring over her cubicle to get a glimpse of the back of his head.
One thing Annie never did was follow Preston at night, when he went out with his friends. She didn’t have a fake ID and she knew that even if she did, she would never get in. But this night was different. She overheard Preston talking the week before about a surprise party at Nerve. When Annie heard this phone conversation she ran to her room, and seeing that her roommate was still in class, began to dance. Her Uncle Reid owned Nerve, and she knew she would have no problem getting in, ID or no ID.
Preston started walking again and Annie was finally able to leave the stoop where she took cover. She waited until he was inside for five minutes before she walked up to the bouncer.
“Hey, Annie!” the bouncer, Levi, shouted over the music.
“Hey, Levi. What’s going on in there tonight?”
“Some rich ass family rented out the third floor for their pride and joy’s birthday.”
Annie smirked and walked inside. As she made her way up to the third floor, she walked by a few drunken kids who were talking about how dumb the bouncer was to believe they were twenty-one. She rolled her eyes and kept walking. Annie’s favorite part about Nerve was that it was dark enough for people not to notice her. She knew no one was giving her dirty looks, because no one could see that she had no eyebrows. No one saw her six-year-old corduroy pants that she wore every day either.
Annie slipped behind the bar on the third floor. The bartenders knew her there, and didn’t say anything when she did this. She watched Preston across the room as he whispered to his friends. Everyone on the third floor was whispering. Apparently, the birthday girl was arriving shortly. Annie fixed herself a raspberry and vodka and waited for the party to begin.
She sat for fifteen minutes and stared at Preston’s pink lips. She was envisioning jumping on top of the bar and declaring her love for him when the brunette walked in. The entire third floor yelled, “Surprise!” But the girl couldn’t walk a straight line towards her guests. Instead she tripped over her six-inch heels. Annie clenched her jaw as she saw Preston catch the brunette from falling. Preston didn’t let go of the girl; he was too busy staring into her eyes like she was a gift from God. The girl didn’t resist, and instead stared back into Preston’s eyes and smiled. The two of them began talking but Annie couldn’t understand what they were saying, she was too far away. She didn’t like what she was witnessing. She felt like she was going to throw up, and it wasn’t from the raspberry and vodka. Annie took one last look at Preston’s smiling face and made a run for it. She felt the shoelace on her Sketcher untie. She tripped over the shoelace before she could stop running and began to fall down the stairs. She tried to grab the wall next to her, it was only a few inches away, but she missed and kept tumbling down. She felt someone grab her white t-shirt and pull her to a stop. She looked up.
“Hey, are you alright?” said a boy dressed in all black. She thought he looked like he just came back from murdering someone. He had black eyeliner on. His Nokia had fallen on the floor in his attempt to stop her from falling any farther. Annie glared at the phone but didn’t pick it up for him.
“Yeah. Fine,” she replied without looking up into his eyes.
“Can I buy you a drink? Maybe that will make you feel…”
“No you freak show,” she said as she cut him off.
Annie walked away from the boy dressed in all black and out the front door of the bar. She quickly walked to the corner, with her back to Levi, so he couldn’t ask any questions. When she got to the corner she started running. She was bumping into people on the streets but she didn’t apologize. She ran until she reached Canal Street. She bent at the waist and held onto her stomach, taking deep breaths. She thought about Preston and how she wanted to be laying in bed with him, cuddling and talking about their future together. But her thoughts of Preston were interrupted by a man’s voice.
“Where you runnin’ to girl,” a man sitting on a stoop of a closed Subway asked her. He had no pants on. He wore a winter jacket that had dirt stains. Annie wondered what color it used to be. She didn’t care. She wanted a friend to talk to. She didn’t have any of those.
“Away from my problems,” she replied, turning towards the man.
“Jesus girl! Where yo eyebrows at?”
“Where yo pants at?” she asked him, a smile beginning to curve on her mouth.
“Fair enough,” he replied, as he looked at her with wide-eyes and nodded his head.
Annie took off her six year old green corduroy pants and tossed them on the man’s lap. He smiled as he stood up, showing all of his yellow teeth, put the pants on, and sat back down. She thought they looked better on him. Annie sat down next to him and for the first time all night, she didn’t give a damn where Preston Plimpton was.