I woke up around noon shouting, “Vodka!” I was in a cold sweat and smelled like a distillery. I looked around me at the vaguely familiar walls, saw that I was inside a virtually destroyed sleeping bag (it looked like someone had taken a knife to the thing during the night) and, further, that I was in the room alone. The rest of the—intact—sleeping bags were vacant and the bed was made up. The door was closed. At my feet were the two empty mason jars, on their sides.
It was a good thirty seconds of lucidity before the massive headache hit me, and I clamped my hands to the sides of my head and groaned. After a few minutes, I got used to the feeling—as used to intense, throbbing pain as one can get, at any rate—and got out of the sleeping bag. I stood, stumbled, saw a note on the floor, picked it up and found that the headache made it completely impossible to read.
I pulled on my jeans and opened the door. The others were sitting around the table—The Student leaned against the wall—and drank what smelled like the best damn coffee in the world. “Raurgh,” I said.
The Drunkard turned. “Ah,” he said. “There he is.”
Lena, wearing white pajamas, turned and said, “Well hello, loverman.”
This pierced through the headache. I’d never been called that in my life. Not even in irony. It just wasn’t the sort of moniker people attached to me. “What—” I asked. That took a lot more effort than I’d hoped, and I groaned, took a breath, and started again. “What did you just call me?”
“Woah,” said The Student. “You don’t remember anything?”
My face contorted into expressions I can only describe as utter confusion—mixed with a supreme yearning to know what I did the previous night. I think—and it’s very hard to remember what your face is doing of its own accord—my left eyelid shut halfway and my eyebrow rose up a few inches. “No. What’d I do?”
The Student grinned, rose the cup to his mouth. “Oh, nothing. Hee hee.” He drank.
I spun and turned on The Traveler. I pointed at him.
He shrugged, grinning.
“Fuck all of you.”
“Oh,” said The Drunkard. “That’s slightly inaccurate.”
Now it was time to turn to Lena. “Did we…?” If so, that might have been bad. I hadn’t bought condoms since I was eighteen. Some might call it dangerous—I, knowing full well my habits, knew that I wouldn’t need them, so I called it fiscally sound.
She shrugged, raised her eyebrows, and sipped from her mug.
“This just isn’t fair. Not one Goddamn bit, guys.”
Dee walked in, windbreaker over a pink shirt and black jeans, and said, “Hey there, loverman.”
“Damn it!” I shouted.
“Er,” she responded.
“Right,” said The Traveler. “Shall we go?”
“Go where?” I asked.
“Christ, you didn’t have that much to drink.”
“Oh, wow. Now that you mention that, all of my memories come flooding back. Where are we going?”
I tilted my head to the side. “We’re going back to Canterbury?” There was another university in Canterbury called Canterbury Christ Church. It was—by reputation—a haven for unique individuals with unique ideas and habits. I remember, about a month before we went to Oxford, The Student took me to meet a friend of his from when he was here before. We met in a pub on the High Street that catered to metalheads and Goths, and The Student and I were supremely out of place. We met his friend, who was with some people whose faces seemed to be made of metal rings, things escalated, and I was told that “if [my] Jew ass knew what was good for [me], [I] should leave.” So, I did. Steered clear of that place—and CCC, where those guys were apparently from. (I got an apology from The Student’s friend. Really, the incident is a testament to my ability to conjure up hatred from peopl. Anyway.)
“No,” said The Traveler.
“You serious?” asked The Student.
The headache started throbbing harder. “Look, I need you guys to pretend that I’m much dumber than I actually am. I don’t have the capacity to make logical conclusions right now, okay?”
“Christ Church College,” said The Traveler, “is the epitome of Old-World education—at least in England. It’s kind of like a massive fraternity in that, in order to be admitted to the college and allowed to live there, you need a juicy bank account.”
I must have had a blank look on my face, because he followed it up with:
“Also, it’s where they filmed bits of Harry Potter.”
Ignoring this—I didn’t feel one way or another about the books or the movies—I got my stuff ready and leaned against the wall.
The others gathered their stuff together, put away their dishes, and said bye to Lena—who was staying behind to do some coursework—and we filed behind Dee like ducklings. We got back in the car—Dee up front with The Traveler to give directions to a car park near the college—and I was in the back with The Student and The Drunkard. The Student was crushed in the middle, while The Drunkard spread himself out.
I turned to The Student—who was glaring ahead with an expression of absolute, unmasked displeasure—and said, “So, how’s the girl?”
He beamed. “Oh, she’s great. Fuckin’ great, man. You know, I’m really glad it worked out that I kept getting shot down at the beginning of the semester. It all worked out pretty well. Makes you think that, maybe, just maybe, the Chassids might not be completely insane when it comes to their philosophies on—”
“—Yeah, that’s great,” I said. “What did I do last night?”
“Really bothering you, isn’t it?”
“And you had no interest in how things are going with Rebecca and I, did you?”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
“Hmm,” he said. He scratched the beard that was slowly starting to appear. “Too bad, then. Seems I can’t remember what happened last night.”
“Oh come on,” I said.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Oh, get the fuck out. Drunkard,” I said, leaning forward. “What did I do last night?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
If Dee hadn’t been in the seat in front of me, I would have punched it with all the fury of… a man suffering from a blackout and trying desperately to remember the occurrences of the previous night. “You will pay for this, Drunkard! Do you hear? By all that is holy in the world, you shall pay for your transgressions this day!”
The Drunkard threw back his head and laughed. “Right. I can’t wait to read about what you have to say about me in that blog of yours.”
“How is the blog going?” The Traveler asked.
We turned a corner into the central part of the city—the part of Oxford that I thought of as “The Older Part with the Cool Buildings”—and immediately stopped due to a massive traffic jam. “Pretty well,” I said. We moved an inch and The Traveler, displaying his Americanness, laid on his horn, leaned out the window, and shouted that we were trying to drive here.
“That’s good,” he said, after bringing his head back into the car.
“Yep,” I responded. “Up to two followers, now.”
“Oh,” said The Drunkard. “A whole two! Tell me: out of those two, how many are your parents?”
“One,” I whispered.
“Aw, sweet,” he said. He leaned back, took a flask out of his jacket, and sipped.
“Drunkard,” said The Traveler, moving us up another couple of inches, “how’d you find the flasks?”
“Your mother,” responded The Drunkard.
I looked out the window. It was another nice day. Clear blue sky—one of the ten legitimately clear blue skies I’d seen so far this semester—with a nice, non-biting breeze. People were out on the sidewalks, walking through the gardens of the town, and here we were, sitting in a car inching along one of England’s stupidly tiny roads. (This, I thought, was why Europeans are in better shape than Americans: They’ll do anything they can to avoid driving.)
“Drunkard,” The Student said, “why are you giving The Narrator shit about the blog?”
“Pah, I’m just fuckin with him.”
“He doesn’t know that.”
“What?” I said, turning to The Student. I did know it—kind of. But, damn it, I was not to be made into an overly-sensitive nebbish Jew in the presence of a gorgeous woman. I glanced at the rear-view mirror and saw her grinning. “Fuck off, this is what we do. Right, buddy ole pal of mine?” I reached over The Student and punched The Drunkard on his shoulder.
“You do that again and I’ll curb stomp you.”
I swallowed the fear—my brother forced me to watch that scene from American History X twenty times one night when I was little—and said, “Yeah, yeah, says you. I’ll break your still.”
“What,” said The Drunkard, his voice dropping what sounded like eight octaves and reaching into the realm of the demonic. “What did you just say?”
“Kids,” The Traveler said. “We’re almost there. Refrain from killing each other in the presence of our lovely tour guide, please.”
“Mmhmm,” said Dee. “If you don’t, I’ll take all of you to a nice bagel place right across the street from the college.”
“Bagels!” the three of us shouted in unison. There were times like these when I thought, just for a moment, just in a passing fancy, that we were the same person, just split up in some arbitrary manner, but these moments passed.
“I’ll ignore the still comment,” said The Drunkard. He took another sip from his flask. “But that’s only because the halo around your head is a pleasant shade of blue.”