NORMAL COLLEGE THINGS
1. Hook up with a jock.
2. Make New friends.
3. Go to a party (and actually stay more than half an hour).
4. Do something Wild.
5. Lose my virginity.
They’re things I associate with college, even though they’re out of my own personal wheelhouse. And they’re all far enough out of my comfort zone to function as the kind of catalyst I’m seeking in my little experiment.
I reconsider the list for a moment, feeling simultaneously stupid, naive, terrified, and thrilled. It might be silly, but I love this kind of thing. I can’t magically make myself a different person. I can’t force myself to be better with emotions or at talking to people. I can’t snap my fingers and become normal, but I can observe normal people and follow their behaviors. I can check items off a list. Figures that the only way social life would become interesting to me is by making it an experiment.
And even though I’m not expecting any major life changes like Dylan experienced, who knows, maybe with a little practice, things will start to come more easily to me. It wouldn’t hurt for me to be a little more comfortable outside of a classroom. It’s kind of like the age-old debate between nature and nurture. Just because I’m not predisposed to be like everyone else doesn’t mean I can’t become that way as a result of my environment.
And then in the future, when my family or my friends or anyone tries to urge me to be different, to focus less on my career, to be normal—I’ll know with certainty what that kind of life feels like, and I’ll know it’s not for me. And I can be done questioning myself once and for all.
With that thought in mind, I jot down a few more tasks for my list. Then I pull over my laptop from where it sits on the coffee table and open it up. With my pulse beating at a frenzied staccato, I type into Google:
College Bucket List.
Then I dive into my research, pen at the ready to add to my list.
Nell’s To-Do List
• Normal College Thing #3: Go to a party (and actually stay more than half an hour).
Just shy of a week later, I tug at my horrendously short skirt for the seventeenth time (maybe eighteenth . . . I can’t be trusted to count when I’m this nervous).
“I don’t see why I can’t wear jeans and a regular shirt,” I grumble. Clothes have never really been my forte. Give me jeans and a plain V-neck tee any day.
Dylan doesn’t look away from the bathroom mirror, where she’s brushing another coat of mascara onto her already too-pretty eyes.
“We’re going to a Halloween party. Trust me, you’ll feel more awkward if you’re not dressed up. When we get there, you’ll see. This is no big deal.”
I don’t look down at the white button-up shirt that’s gaping open over my boobs. I’ve looked at the awful naughty-schoolgirl costume enough times to imprint the thing on my memory.
“If this costume weren’t so . . . so . . .”
“Sexy?” she prompts.
“Well, that’s what you get for buying a costume the day before Halloween. Everything is picked over by then. You didn’t want to go as Jasmine and have your stomach showing, so this is what you got. Besides, it kind of fits you.”
I gesture to the button over my chest that’s threatening to pop with any sudden movement. “It does not kind of fit me.”
“I mean, the schoolgirl vibe. It’s like the amplified version of you. That’s perfect for Halloween.”
“There is absolutely no universe where the amplified version of me would not be wearing yoga pants and glasses.”
“Fine. It’s the bold and wild version of you. Nothing wrong with trying bold and wild for a change.”
I groan and throw myself down on the toilet seat beside her. “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I should go to this party after all. All those people, and costumes, and decorations. I think Halloween is way too overwhelming for my first foray into the college party scene.”
Dylan tosses her mascara into her makeup bag and faces me, her look now complete. She manages to appear both classy and sexy in a homemade Statue of Liberty costume. Only Dylan could make Lady Liberty look hot.
“Just take a deep breath, Nell. This isn’t nearly as scary as you’re making it out to be in your head. I promise.”
“Maybe not for you. But the idea of being in some frat house with a bunch of people I don’t know—”
She cuts me off. “We’re not going to one of the frat parties. Everyone has been avoiding that scene since . . . well, it doesn’t matter. The group decided it would be better to have something smaller, more manageable. It’s at Silas’s house. And it’s only people they know and trust. You’ll be fine. I know it.”
Apparently “people they know and trust” translates into about thirty people on the lawn, fifteen on the porch, and more people than I can count on the inside. Dylan’s hand is wrapped tight around my elbow as we step through the entryway to Silas’s house. She’s on her tiptoes, searching for him, and all I can think about is making a break for it and getting out of there as soon as possible.
I’m so concentrated on keeping my short skirt down and the too-tight white shirt buttoned up that I don’t even realize she’s found her boyfriend until she lets go of my arm. At the loss of her touch, I look up, panicked. Silas is dressed as a fireman, and he drops his helmet to circle his arms around Dylan. His fist clutches at the material on the back of her dress, just above her bottom, and I immediately look away, only to lock eyes with the one person I want to see even less than a very public display of affection.