Part 3

by Kim Pritekel with Alexa Hoffman

For complete disclaimers see part 1.

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com

I stood near the side of the building, feeling like a voyeur as I watched her sitting on the bench, a stack of papers on her lap. I knew Dagny had been grading our tests, and I wondered how I had done. But now some guy was standing there talking with her. I didn't want to interrupt, so I waited.

I grinned as I thought of last night. I had gone to Natalie's bible study for the first time to play my guitar. I hadn't been sure if I'd sing or not. We had been playing at Gotfry's for the last three weekends, but I still wasn't so sure, especially with the choices of music she had given me. A Gospel singer I am not.

I had arrived at the place, the YWCA, set up my guitar and sheet music. There were about a dozen people there. I wasn't sure what to wear, never having set foot in a church-type setting in my life, so I decided on conservative. Jeans, sweatshirt and tennis shoes. It seemed to work out great. Natalie had been beside herself when I had shown up, so proud that she had a "local celebrity singer" as a roommate. It took everything I had to not roll my eyes. I had tried to smile graciously, just wanting to get the hell out of there.

I hated to admit it, but I had really been charmed by the way everyone interacted together, so kind and considerate. I didn't understand it. They had me sing first, then someone read some scriptures, then I sang a song that went along with the message, or something. This morning when Natalie and I had gotten up for class, she had looked and smiled at me like I had performed life-saving surgery on her mother overnight.

Oh, here's my chance. The guy walked away, and Dagny had gone back to grading. I pushed away from the wall, tugging my backpack up a little higher, trying to figure out the best angle. I could ask about my grade, or how she thought the test went. I could see what she thought of the show Friday night. I had seen her there with the same group she was always there with.

I sucked my bottom lip in to chew on it. She looked great today, a knit skirt that reached to just above her knees, sandals, and a sweater. She looked really good in skirts. I shook my head, feeling ridiculous.

I walked out into the late September sun, the air a little chilly. Our overly warm summer was turning to a slightly cooler fall.

"Hey." I stood beside, and slightly behind the TA. She looked up at me, squinting into the sun. I realized I was standing directly in its path, moved to the side. She smiled.

"Hi." She straightened a bit, putting her pen down. "You have impeccable timing. I just graded your test." She indicated the papers on her lap. I smiled. "I must tell you, Chase, you're kicking some serious ass in my class." My former smile turned into a grin that spread from ear to ear.

"Really?" she nodded.

"Yes, ma'am. Sit." She patted the bench next to her. I sat, putting my backpack on the ground at my feet. "You did very well on this." She looked at me with pride shining in her eyes. "You seem to grasp psychological concepts very well. Have you ever thought about going into Psychology?"

"I hadn't really thought about going into anything at all, yet." I said with a sheepish grin. She patted my knee.

"You'll figure it out. So, Friday. You guys were terrific. Your rendition of Melissa Etheridge's 'Keep It Precious' was fantastic."

"You a fan?"

"Of course! Who wouldn't be?" she looked genuinely stunned. I laughed. "How's Mike doing?" I looked at her, shocked right out of words. Quite the change of subject.

"Uh, he's fine. Doing great."

"Good." Dagny went on to tell me about Darrel, her boyfriend of four years that she had broken up with over the summer. They had met at UA, had gotten serious, but then after graduation he had gotten a job in California, and she had wanted to stay in Arizona to finish school. Not interested in anything long distance, she had broken it off.

"That must have been hard." I sympathized. She shrugged, staring off into space.

"The sad thing is it hadn't been as hard as I figured it would." She looked at me. "Sometimes I think I must be pretty cold and heartless. Darrel had put so much of himself into our relationship, really trying to make it work, but in the end, there wasn't enough of me in there to keep it going. Does that make sense?"

"More than you think."

"How long have you and Mike been together? How did you meet?" Dagny put the papers she'd been grading into her bag, turned her body so she was facing me, her arm running along the back of the bench, her fingers near the middle of my neck. I swallowed and cleared my throat.

"We met last year, August, at a party he was having at his place. He rents an apartment off campus with a friend. My friend Carrie knew someone, some friend of his, and there you go."

"Is it serious?" I shook my head.

"No. I know that much. He's really a good guy, and someday he'll get himself together. Right now I think he's a little too involved with having a good time." I looked at Dagny to see if she understood. She was slowly nodding.

"It's a danger of dating in college. I see it everyday." She indicated the tests next to her.

"I think I could easily get sucked up into that again." I eyed the papers, then looked out into the grassy area in front of us.

"Again?" she cocked her head slightly to the side, bringing the arm she had on the bench to rest her cheek on her hand. I nodded, looking at her shyly.

"I nearly got kicked out of high school from it. Got mixed up in the wrong crowds. Carrie and I, together we'd get into so much trouble. Still do." I smiled, so did she.

"But you're learning, right? I mean, life is nothing but a series of lessons. What we chose to learn and take from it is up to us." She began to play with the hair near her temples. "I remember when I was in high school when we'd already moved to Texas. I had a friend there named Kathy. Oh, did we get into trouble." She grinned wickedly at me. "Her parents used to leave often, her father had at least two to three business trips a month. Since her mother didn't work, she'd go with him. Well, we started throwing parties, and kept them pretty low key for the most part, but one time it got out of hand, and Kathy's house was nearly started on fire. It was terrible, and I felt so bad." She shook her head with a small smile. "I think about Kathy now and then. Wonder where she ended up." She looked off into the distance, into the past.

"Why? When did you see her last?"

"The night of that last party. Her parents got home and yanked her out of our school. I heard she was put into a rehab center for teenagers. I don't know if that's true, though. Kathy had a problem with drugs, and I thank god I never got caught up in that mess." She sighed. "Who knows."

"Sounds like my friend, Carrie. I think she's heading for some trouble if she's not careful." Dagny nodded. We continued to talk, covering school, parents, my sister Carla. Dagny was an only child.

I listened to her talk, mesmerized by what she had to say and how she saw things. It was so fascinating. She was only about five or six years older than me, but I couldn't stop looking up to her. I felt so safe around her as if I could do anything. She is what I wanted to be. I wanted to make my parents proud, see me like they see my older sister. I wanted them to see me.

"Um, Chase? Do you have somewhere to go?" Dagny asked after she glanced at her watch. I glanced at mine. Shit. I looked sheepishly up at the teacher.

"I had Ethnic Lit. forty-five minutes ago." Dagny groaned.

"Oh, no. I'm sorry I kept you so long."

"Hey, I stayed. You have nothing to apologize for. Besides, I'm the one who interrupted you."

"Well, I better get going." She grabbed her bag and smiled at me as she stood. "I really need to finish grading these tests." I stood, nodded with my hands buried in the back pockets of my jeans. "So, see you Wednesday?" I smiled.

"Yeah. See you in class." She touched my arm as she walked by me. I watched her go. I didn't want my time with her to end, and I sure as hell didn't want to have to wait until the day after tomorrow to see or talk to her again. I sighed, turned to walk. I wasn't sure where to, but I needed to think.

In the five weeks that I had been in school, and the month that I had known who Dagny was and had begun to get to know her again, I was feeling the confusion of life crashing down on me more and more. Something in my life was off kilter, but I didn't know what it was or where to start to find it.

Last Friday in class we had started to learn about word association. I grabbed my notebook, flopped down on the bed on my stomach, and began to write. I had nothing in mind, just began to spout a bunch of words on the paper, trying to figure out if I could find something in there that was map-like. At first it was difficult, nothing would come, but then I realized I was trying to make it make sense. That was not allowed. I cleared my mind and let my heart speak for me.

I had finished two full pages and wanted to keep going. Instead I stopped, curious to see what my subconscious had come up with. I sat up, my back against the wall and began to read. At first it made no sense, just random words like baseball, orange and Play-Doh. But as I continued on, everything I read made me think of Dagny. I saw her everywhere on the page. Words like strength, green, beautiful, friend, lost and found. I didn't understand. I ripped the pages out, crumbled them up and tossed them across the room.

"Screw it." Idea number two. Grabbing Melo, I sat on the floor and began to play. I closed my eyes and all I saw was a pair of green eyes staring at me. Closing them tighter, I continued to play, finally the picture of Dagny disappeared and my mind was clear.

I played any and everything that I had ever known, fast songs, folk songs, slow songs. I raced my fingers across the neck of the guitar, pushing the notes out for all I was worth. I got lost in it, my entire being surrounded by music, lyrics, chords. My entire body rocked with the rhythm, my eyes still closed, head bobbing with each beat. The volume rose in my head, echoing through me until I was on a stage, thousands of people before me, listening, cheering for me. For me.

I cried out as I jammed my finger into the chord, slicing the skin open on my index finger. I held it up to see that I was bleeding pretty good. Setting Melo aside, I grabbed the First Aid kit and fixed my wound. I looked around, almost shocked to be back in my reality. Night was quickly falling. I decided to watch TV for the rest of the night until bed.

* * *

The semester was flying by, my classes beginning to wrap themselves up. I was excited and proud to be nearly through my first semester of college. In one piece, no less. I had decided that the confusion I had, and all the questions were just not doing me any good, only holding me back. I tried to push it all to the back of my mind.

I tried, anyway.

Carrie and I walked together across campus, both heading for our classes. She was going on and on about the little tryst she'd gotten herself into after the party over the weekend.

"God, Carrie. Please try and be careful?" I looked at her, really worried about her. We didn't see much of each other anymore. She was getting further and further sucked into the life of the party. She and Mike, both.

"Hey, ladies. I can't believe you're up and actually have your eyes open." I look to our left to see Dagny standing with someone, talking. She's smiling at me.

"Ha, ha. Aren't you just the funny one this morning?" I notice the Styrofoam cup she's holding in her hand. "Besides, you're cheating." I point to the coffee. She looks down at it, then grins sheepishly.

"Alright, you busted me." She smiles. "See you in class. Hey, Carrie." She smiled charmingly at my friend. Carrie nearly swooned as she waved. Dagny chuckled, turned back to the person she was talking to.

"Oh, my god." Carrie closed her eyes as continued on. "Fuck me, she is so hot. I can't believe she said hi to me." She looked back over her shoulder at the TA. "She's looking at me, Chase. Check it out." She smiled and turned back to the front. "I wonder if she'd be interested in dinner, or something." As Carrie rambled on I was shocked to feel a pang in my stomach, almost making me feel sick. "What do you think?" I was pulled from my thoughts.

"I don't think she swings that way, Car."

"Hmm. Yeah."

I sat in French class, only a few of us there. As the year had gone on, some of the students had dropped it, so there was only a handful of us, now. Dr. Bordeux sat at his desk, as usual. I was scribbling in my notebook feverishly. The chance meeting with Dagny this morning on the way to class, and the way Carrie had carried on about Dagny being gay, and giving her a chance, it had brought back so many things I had tried to bury over the last few months. I had been pretty successful, but all the hard work had crashed around me, and I felt the burden at my feet.

"Chase?" my head snapped up to see the dapper French teacher staring down at me, his hands behind his back. "Are you okay? You look so down today." He perched himself on the desk beside mine. "Now, I'm not saying that you're usually the picture of sunlight, but you look disturbed." He crossed his arms over his barrel chest. I grinned at his comment.

"I'm okay, Dr. Bordeux. "

"Okay. If you need to talk, I'm here, okay?" I nodded with a smile. As he walked away, I brought out the old notebook again. I had managed to get a couple lines the other day. I read them.

Lessons learned, as days go by,

I test my wings, learn I can fly.

I test my heart, find I can soar,

Everyday you believe in me,

I can do more.

I sighed. Something's got to give. This can't go on forever.

No one was in the classroom yet, so I hurried to my seat in the back and buried my nose in the novel I had brought.

"Long time no see." I raised my head to see concern-filled green eyes looking at me from the desk in front of mine. "How's it going?"

"It's going okay. Just been kind of busy with mid-terms coming up and everything." I grinned. I didn't know what to say to Dagny, or how to explain if she decided to ask. I had only seen her during class and that was it. I didn't usually come in early anymore, and as soon as class was over I bolted for the door. Being around Dagny was confusing me too much. If I just avoided her maybe the issue would go away. I didn't even know if she was part of the problem, but I figured since it started once I figured out who she was.

"Yeah, I understand all about those mid-terms. Not looking forward to those. Not only do I have to deal with my own classes, I have to grade all of yours, too." She smiled, I smiled back with a nod.

"I can imagine." She folded her fingers together, leaning on my desk. She stared down at her hands then back up at me. I know something was going through that mind of hers. I could see a question on the tip of her tongue, but she seemed to decide against asking.

"Listen, Chase, if you need to talk about anything, or are having any problems, you can talk to me, okay?" she looked into my eyes, trying to convey her concern with a look. I nodded.

"Thanks." I smiled, hoping it was believable. Yes, Dagny, I have something wrong! I'm confused. I don't know what's wrong with me. Why does my world seem to be falling off it's axis? Why does your name come up when I think of my problems?

"Okay." She patted my arm, rose to head to the front of the room as students began to arrive.

* * *

I stood on the stage, the lights just know going down in the bar. We had worked out a heavy mix of classic rock and modern music. Mike began, clicking his drumsticks together to the count of three, and the band joined in. Making my way through music from Led Zeppelin, Skid Row, Barenaded Ladies, even a Cyndi Lauper song. The audience, mostly made up of twenty and thirty-somethings appreciated the selections, both able to relate. In short, we had the place rockin'.

We had been performing at the bar for a month and a half, and I had finally gotten o the point where I nearly felt at home up there. The crowds were getting bigger and bigger as word of our band spread through the community and campus. Tonight before we had gone on Greg had asked if we'd be interested in playing on Wednesday nights when it was eighteen and older night. I had told him I'd think about it. I was the only one in the band who really half way gave a shit about school. Mike was edging closer and closer to academic suspension everyday, and he was quickly getting to the point where he didn't really care. I knew it was a matter of time before he just dropped out all together.

I finished the song with one last yell of grievance in Skid Row's 'Eighteen and Life'. My sorrowful last note echoed out through the bar and the place erupted. I stepped back from the mic, a mile-wide smile plastered to my face.

"Thank you! Be back in five." We had started out as openers for more well-known local bands, but now we were the main event. It felt damn good. I skipped down the stairs and headed to the bar. I was craving a huge glass of ice water. Greg was anticipatory, and had one waiting for me. He grinned at me.

"You guys have like tripled my business." He leaned against he bar on his elbow as he looked out at the bar he'd bought from the original owner, Larry Gotfry, last year. He smiled at me again. "You know, there's a few talent shows in the city that happen every summer. I bet you guys could do pretty damn well." He sipped from his own mug of water. I looked at him and shrugged.

"I don't know. I kind of like what we're doing now." He shrugged and walked to help another customer.

"Hey. You did great." I turned to see Mike standing behind me. He smiled. Things between us had become difficult. I felt like I was distancing myself from him, and I know he didn't understand. He was a good guy, but I just didn't feel like I was getting what I needed from him. Had I ever?

"Thanks. You, too. You had a killer solo there." I smiled, leaning back against the bar, staring out at the customers. People waved and smiled at us, I gladly waved back. Part of me wished someone would come up and talk to us so I could get out of this uncomfortable position. I had the distinct feeling that if Mike and I were alone lately he'd ask me questions that I just didn't want to answer. Then I saw her, the distraction I needed. I smiled, and I could hear Mike cursing under his breath.

"Hey, guys. You were fantastic."

"Thanks, Dagny. Great crowd, great place, you know. All that stuff helps." The TA grinned, smacking me lightly on the arm.

"Yeah, right. It helps when the talent kicks ass all on their own." She turned to my boyfriend who was looking pretending to study his watch. "You're pretty great on those things." She indicated the drums on the stage behind us. He smiled.

"Thanks. Excuse me." He hurried between us, heading out to the stage. Dagny followed him with her eyes, then turned back to me, her eyes filled with a question. How could I possibly tell her that she was part of the problem? Mike did not like Dagny, and I really didn't know why. Did he see her as a threat? I didn't understand it.

"He's been having some problems lately." I explained, though my voice was weak, and it sounded lame to my own ears. "So, did you enjoy it?" I leaned back against the bar again, sipped from my glass. Dagny nodded vigorously.

"You guys have gotten so good. I mean, don't get me wrong, you were good from the start, but I have to tell you, Chase, you are superb. The rest of the guys are good, and know what they're doing, but you really reach into here," she put her hand on her chest. "You really have a gift, Chase." I looked down, running my hand down the front of my tank so she wouldn't see the color of my face.

"Thanks." I finally smiled up at her.

"Awe, are you embarrassed? That is too cute." She grinned, patted my arm. Her hand was so warm against my already heated skin. Her comments made me that much more embarrassed and red. "Well, hey, I'll let you go before you turn into a tomato, okay?" she laughed. I nodded, feeling like an idiot. Dagny rubbed my forearm then walked back to her friends. I took a deep breath, my hand going to my arm of its own accord, still able to feel Dagny's fingers there.

I decided I needed to talk about how I was feeling, I needed some feedback to understand the source. Carrie. I had called her up to make sure she was in the dorm, and told her I'd be there after I took a take-home quiz for Ethnic Lit.

The door was already open, the music of Pink pulsing out into the hall. I rolled my eyes, hoping she'd be lucid and sober enough to talk to me. I heard laughing follow the music out, and it was male. I sighed. Shit. Finally reaching the door I peeked in. Carrie and some guy were laying on her bed on their sides facing each other. The guy seemed to be trying to tickle her. I looked around the room, empty and not so empty bottles of liquor everywhere.

"Okay, nooooo," I turned back to the bed to see the guy trying to run his fingers up under her shirt. I don't think that would have been a problem, anyway. That shirt was so tight, nothing could fit underneath, hell her own breasts barely did.

Leaning against the doorframe, I cleared my throat. Carrie looked up, pushing the guy away, nearly off the bed. She smiled big, her red lipstick spread over her teeth and smudged all around her mouth.

"You gotta go now, Robby. My friend Chase needs to talk." My best fried stood from the bed on wobbly legs, straightening her clothes as she did. I saw Robby wince as he stood, then noticed the bulge in his pants. Oh, he's going to be hurting. It took all I had not to laugh at the moron. He glared at me as he left. "Come here." Carrie sat on the bed again, patting it next to her. "What's up, girl?" she grinned.

"You look like a clown." I grabbed a couple of baby wipes she kept on her desk for this purpose, and wiped her mouth. "Stop," I warned as she squirmed against me. I felt like I was wiping the mouth of a two year old. Finally she pushed me away, running the back of her hand across her mouth.

"So talk to me." I sat next to her. Talk. What to say?

"I don't know. I need to talk about Dagny." Carrie grinned, putting her hand to her chest.

"Oh, yes. Please? That woman makes me cream my pants." She shifted on the bed to prove her point. I glared at her.

"That's gross, Car." She laughed wildly.

"Okay. Sorry. Continue." I shook my head, feeling sick to my stomach as I watched my friend. How pathetic. I stood.

"I'll talk to you later, when you're sober." Carrie grabbed my arm, looking up at me with desperate eyes.

"No, please stay, Chase? I'm sorry, please? We just had a few, and we'd already planned it, I'm sorry." I looked at her, trying to decide what to do. I did need to talk. I sat, and Carrie clung to me. "Talk. But," she put up a finger, "First I want to run an idea by you." I looked at her, baffled, but nodded my consent. "Well, I can't get that old babysitter of yours outta my mind, so I'm thinking I'll ask her out to lunch, or maybe dinner. What do ya think? There's no confic, confle, conflict of innerest cause she's not my teacher." I swallowed back the tears in my throat. This was a lost cause, the alcohol she'd drank recently finally taking effect. And how could I talk about Dagny with someone who I sensed really didn't want to hear about it? "Think she'd go?" Carrie slurred out. I looked at her with disgust as my stomach tightened and clenched. I had the picture in my mind of Carrie sitting across the table from Dagny, talking with her, smiling and flirting. I suddenly felt angry, real angry, and real jealous.

I sat up, shocked at the realization. I looked at my friend who was looking at me, confused, and trying to stay awake. I was jealous; not of Dagny, but of Carrie. I didn't like the possibility of Carrie spending time with Dagny when I don't, outside of class. Stunned, I wanted to get out, be alone, chew on this newest bit of information.

I stood, headed for the door.

"Chase? Where you goin'?" Carrie tried to stand, but fell back to the bed. "Don't leave,"

"Sober up, Carrie. You're really starting to fuck your life up." I said with entirely too much venom, but couldn't stop myself. I slammed her door shut, and dug my hands in my pockets as I headed out to my building.

As I walked in the cool night, the stars hidden by the lights of Tucson, I began to think, wondering about life and the life I knew. I had had crushes before, everyone does. Small cutsie little things on people that you wish to be like, look like, or want to be friends with. But I had had a crush on Dagny when I was eight, I recognized that now. So what was this? It felt different.

I sighed, filled with so much sadness. Who was there to talk to about this? My family was out, Mike was out for sure. Carrie hurt me tonight. I needed her, and she let me down. Again. I love her dearly, and she has been my best friend for almost my whole life. But what was she doing with her life? I had a bad feeling in my stomach when it came to her. I'd never turn my back on her, and I hoped she knew that, but I did need some space. I needed to get my life and future in order.

* * *

I couldn't keep the smile from my face as I strummed the guitar, the group of kids sitting on the floor around me smiling and clapping along. Natalie stood next to me reading the words from the scripture in time with the music, almost a biblical rap song. The kids at this bible study were anywhere from nine to thirteen. Natalie and her other theologians had gotten the idea to start a kid study on Thursdays, and she had asked me to participate and supply the music. Yet again, shocked at my agreement, I did it.

The song came to an end and the kids clapped their appreciation. I smiled, resting my hands on Melo as I answered questions about music, guitars and singing. Some of the questions were actually pretty good. Very insightful and well thought out. I laughed with the kids, was amused and amazed at their depth at such young ages, and charmed to no end.

"Okay, my young friends, I'm sorry but I have to go." A chorus of no! rang out, and I nodded sadly. "I have to go study."

"Are you going to go study your bible?" a young girl asked, her big blue eyes so expressive and curious. I smiled.

"Um, well not exactly. I have to go study for a Psychology test."

I left the YWCA feeling so good, good enough that I whistled as I made my way to my car. I put my guitar in the back and whistled my way to the driver's seat. I slid in behind the wheel, grinned out into the night like an idiot, then headed back toward campus.

I walked in the early morning to my French class, lost in my own thoughts when out of the fog I heard my name. I turned to see Carrie running over to me. She finally caught up, out of breath.

"Hey." She said, bending over, hands on her knees.

"Hi." Finally getting herself together, she stood, but could not look me in the eye.

"Listen, um, I'm really sorry about last night. You needed to talk, and I wasn't there for you." She paused, finally looking at me when I said nothing. "To be honest I really don't remember anything, what was said or anything, but um, well, I'd like to try again." I looked at her, listened to her entire speech. I realized about half way through I could smell alcohol on her. It was before eight in the morning, and she had already been drinking.

"Carrie, you have a real problem." I said, crossing my arms over my chest. "How did you get so gone so fast?" she looked at me, confused. I leaned toward her, looking her in the eye. "I can smell Jack Daniels on you." She took a step back, her eyes drifting again. "You're headed for shit, Car. What are you doing?" Her chin lifted, her eyes defiant.

"And to think I came over here to apologize to you and offer my friendship." She looked me up and down, walked away. I watched her go, my heart in my stomach. I didn't know what to do. My shoulders slumped, and I headed to class.

I walked through the door, glad to see it was empty. Dr. Bordeux was sitting at his desk in his usual crisp attire. He smiled at me.

"Bonjour, Chasse."

"Bonjour." I muttered as I walked to my seat. I set my bag down on my desk when I heard the door to the classroom close. I looked over my shoulder to see my professor walking to me, a determined look on his face. He sat on the desk top in front of mine.

"Talk to me, Chase. What's been getting you so down lately." He folded his fingers and waited patiently. At first I just stared at him, not wanting to talk to him about anything. Seeing the expectant look in his eyes, and sometimes it's better to talk to someone who is not involved, least biased way to go. With a sigh I sat in my chair, looked out the window.

"I'm so confused, Dr. Bordeux. Nothing in my life makes sense anymore. My best friend and I are at a crossroads, I don't have a major nor any idea what I want to do, and my parents have put the weight of the world on my shoulders." I glanced up at him. "How's that?" he smiled, sitting back a bit on the desk, nodding.

"Life can certainly be rough sometimes, Chase. This is true. Especially at your age." He rubbed his chin, studying me the entire time. "Sometimes what you need to do in life is sit back, observe what you have. Find our passions in life, Chase. If you live your passions, you will be a much happier person in the long run. As for not having a major as of yet, you really aren't that uncommon. Many, many freshman come to school with no inkling of what they'd like to do. See what your loves in life are. I hear you play a mean guitar at Gotfry's on Friday nights." He winked at me, I grinned. "If that's where your passions lie, then go with it. If you find you love Math and can't get enough of division, go down that path." He put a hand on my shoulder. "Life is full of paths, and each one can teach us a different lesson. It's up to us to use them for our good."

I smiled at my teacher, honored he'd take the time to notice something was wrong with me. I nodded.

"As for your friend. When people come to college it's generally their first time away from home for any long length of time. Granted, I don't know what's happened there, but each person deals with that freedom in his or her own way. Time will pass, and it will also tell if you grow together or apart."

"Thank you, Dr. Bordeux. I'll do my best."

"I know you will. I have every faith in you." He winked again, and scooted off the desk, opened the door, and sat back in his chair, almost looking as he had never spoken a word to me.

* * *

As I sat in class, my revelation from the night before came crashing back to me. I looked at Dagny who sat at her desk grading papers, and I felt myself blush. It's almost when you have a sex dream about someone you know, then the next time you see them it all comes back to you, and you feel guilty though you did nothing wrong.

Taking a deep breath and a lot of swallowing, I walked down the aisle to her desk. When she heard me approach, she lifted her head. As soon as she saw me, she smiled.


"Hi." I looked down at the stack of papers that were in a neat pile right in the center of the desk, and the smaller pile of finished papers to the side. "More grading, huh? You now, if you'd stop assigning stuff you wouldn't have near as much to do." She grinned at me, cocking her head to the side.

"Ha ha. Yeah, that'll happen."

"Just a thought." I smiled, not feeling any of the confidence behind that smile.

"So what's up?" she put her pen down, running a hand through her hair, tucking it behind her ear. She looked beautiful today in a mint-green dress with cap sleeves, and a skirt that reached to just above her knees. She re-crossed her legs as I stumbled through things in my head to say to that question.

"Well, um, my class tonight after this one has been canceled for the day, so I was wondering if, um, well, if you'd like to get a coke or something?" she looked at me, sizing me up.

"Are you okay?" God, was it that apparent? I really needed to learn to hide it better.

"Well, Carrie and I are having problems. I kind of need to talk. You know."

"Yeah, I do. Sure. That sounds good. I didn't get a chance to eat lunch today, so do you mind if I grab something?"

"Oh," I couldn't eat right now if my life depended on it. "Sure." I smiled, feeling like little Ralphie from 'A Christmas Story' when he gives his teacher the fruit basket to give him a good grade on his Christmas essay.

"Great." She smiled, patting my hand. "Sounds good."

The café was bustling around us, people coming in and going out in large groups. Dagny dug into her cheeseburger with an appetite that scared me. God forbid anyone get their fingers in the way. I sipped my Dr Pepper with amusement.

"So, what's the problem? You talk, I'll eat." She drowned a French fry in her ketchup-mayonnaise mixture, and popped it into her mouth. I shrugged, playing with my straw.

"She's going to ruin her life." I said simply. "Last night I went to her dorm to talk about something, and she was loaded, and had some strange guy in there."

Dagny wiped her mouth, shaking her head sadly. "So I'm guessing you didn't really get to talk?"

"No." I said quietly when it hit me what I had gone to talk to Carrie about.

"Anything I can help you with?" I nearly choked on the drink I'd just taken. I coughed, beating my chest to help clear my lungs. "You okay?" she reached across the small table, pounding me on the back. I nodded, red faced and watery eyes.

"I'm okay."

"You sure?" I nodded again.

"And it's just something I need to work out myself. No big deal." I tried to smile, but wasn't very successful. Dagny seemed to take the weakness for choking, which I was glad for. I really didn't need questions.

I felt emotionally exhausted after I'd told my tale. I also felt very sad.

"I guess when I talk about it, and dig a little further in the past I realize that Carrie's had a problem for a while." I shook my head, my hand running through my hair. Dagny nodded, sipping from her chocolate milk shake.

"Hindsight. We don't see what we don't want to; people are famous for it. What would you like to see happen with Carrie?" I looked at her, shaking my head again.

"I'm not sure, to be honest. I just want her to be happy."

"How do you know she's not?" Dagny raised a brow. "I hate to play devil's advocate, but has she said anything about being unhappy? I mean, sure she's not doing what she, quote end quote should be doing, but it seems to be what's her bag right now." I sat back in my chair, not sure what to think or do. I knew that Dagny was right, and Carrie certainly had to live her own life, but how could I watch her fall into the void?

Eventually we moved from the subject of Carrie to that of Mike. I told her how he was letting it all slip away, just like Carrie. When he had started he had been an A student, excelling in the sciences and had dreams of becoming a renowned scientist, the first to discover the cure for cancer. Dagny smiled.

"Sounds like me. When I first started with psychology, I had visions in my head of becoming the first psychologist to find a cure for schizophrenia." She smiled. "You have to love the young and idealistic. As for Mike, he may get back on track, Chase. If you care enough, stick with him." I sighed, setting my fork down, the last piece of my pie on the plate. I looked at it, trying to decide if I wanted it or not.

"That's part of the problem, Dag. I just don't know if it is worth it to me. I feel like I am going in such a different direction than my friends."

"It sounds to me like you're growing. That's important, Chase. You have to grow or you become stagnant." I looked at her, studying her face as she sipped the last of her shake.

"How do you know when you're done?"

"Growing? Oh, you never do. You never stop growing, Chase. You never stop learning. It's a life-long thing. One of the great things about life, actually. I mean, would you really want to get to a point where you stop? Stop learning, stop understanding?" I nodded.

"It's funny. Where I'm at right now, part of me just wishes I were already seventy years old. By that time I would know what I had down with my life, which paths I would have chosen, and I'd know who I was. Now, I feel like such a child." She smiled understanding.

"I understand, Chase. Really I do." I looked at her, my head slightly cocked to the side. She was so together, so with her life.

"Can I be you when I grow up?" she grinned, looking at me like I'd just eaten a bug.

"Why on earth would you want to subject yourself to that?" she took the straw from the paper cup her shake had been in and began to chew on it. I laughed.

* * *

Mike had been quiet on the drive to Doug's house. His motorcycle had broken down again, and I had picked him up. He had sat in the passenger seat, his hands in his lap as he stared out the side window. I glanced over at him off and on, wondering what was going on. I knew he had left school yesterday, his grades so far gone, too hard to bring back up, he had just quit. I wondered if he was bothered by that, or if it was something else.

I pulled into the driveway and turned the car off. Without a word or a look, Mike got out. I watched him through the windshield as he walked up to the open garage door, shaking hands and patting Doug's back. With a sigh, I got out, too.

Rehearsal went well, some new songs being thrown into the bucket. I did not sing well, my mind on too many things, none of which involved music.

"Whoa, whoa. Chase, where the hell were you? You missed your cue." Doug looked at me with narrowed eyes.

"I'm sorry, guys. My mind just left me." I put my hand up to wave off the last song. "Let's try that one again." Albert on keyboards started the intro again to 'The Rose'. I closed my eyes as I heard my cue coming, then softly began to sing. I kept my eyes closed, wanting to see the song in my mind, then my mind's eyes became filled with pictures of Dagny. I saw her sitting across from me, eating, laughing, talking. All the things she did when we went to lunch last Monday. I couldn't get it out of my mind.

Finally rehearsal was over, and for the first time, I was glad. I didn't want to be around people, and definitely not Mike. I pulled up to his apartment building, but he just sat there, staring out into the night, a slight rain falling.

"You okay?" I asked, really just wanting to go home.

"Are you seeing someone?" he asked, not looking at me. I was completely taken aback, not expecting that to come out of his mouth, nor to be accused of it.

"No. Why do you ask that? Where the hell did that come from?" he shrugged.

"You're just so, I don't know, distant, I guess." He looked at me, pain in his eyes. "What's happened to us, Chase?" I sighed and shrugged.

"I don't know, Mike. I really don't."

"We used to have so much fun together. I swear, since you've met up with that psychology bitch, our relationship has turned to shit."

"Stop right there, Mike." My voice lowered to a dangerous level. "Dagny is my friend. She has nothing to do with us."

"No? Then why do I have to hear her fucking name every time we're together? Why is she always at the bar on Friday nights?"

"A lot of college kids are at the bar on Friday nights, so don't even try that shit with me."

"I'm tired of her!" he slammed his fist against the dashboard. "I don't want that bitch around you anymore, you got it?" he looked at me, pointing an accusing finger at me. I looked down at it, then up into his eyes, mine turning cold.

"Don't you dare try to tell me what I can or can't do, Michael. You don't have a prayer." I almost smiled, thinking how proud Natalie would have been. "You're not my father, nor are you my keeper."

"Don't you see, Chase? Since you've met her we've begun to fall apart."

"Have you thought to look at yourself?" he looked at me, stunned. I felt bad as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Mike really didn't have a whole lot to do with it. It was me, the one who decided to have a mid-life crisis in the middle of my Freshman year of college. "I'm sorry, Mike. That was uncalled for. It's not you," I trailed off, looking down at my hands as they played with the steering wheel.

"Are you ah, are you saying you want to break up?" he wouldn't look at me, instead hiding his face from me as he looked down and away.

"I don't know." I said quietly, not really sure. "Is that what you want?" he turned to me, surprising me with the tears in his eyes.

"Don't put this on me, Chase. It's your baby. Either you do or you don't. Pretty simple." I stared at him, seeing the pain in his eyes, the rejection in his body language. Slowly I nodded.

"Yeah, I think so."

Mike nodded, pressing his lips together. He took a deep breath before a small sob escaped him, ripping at my chest.

"Mike," I reached a hand out to his shoulder.

"Don't touch me." He fumbled for the handle to the door, finally finding it, pushing the door open. He hurried out of the car, and out of my life.

Part 4

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