The next day, on campus, I felt different in little ways. I made more eye contact with people. I wanted to be seen. I felt good about the way I was looking after my buddy makeover. When I went to the computer lab, I noticed that Bijan had sent me an email at my school email account. He had wanted to meet me for lunch. He said he would be at Pinks at 11:30. I replied and hoped it wasn’t too late.
Pink’s was a small bar and grill named Pinks in the hopes that the frat kids would think it was a gay bar and would stay away. It was just across the street from Catlett and was a usual hangout for music majors and their friends.
When my morning classes ended, I walked across campus to find him. Though it was hot, he was waiting for me on the front patio. He’d found a shady spot and was sipping a Coke.
“Hey, buddy,” he called to me as I walked around the hedge to the front patio.
“What’s up, Bijan?” I said, taking a seat. “Everything ok?”
“Dude, you look different. What did you do?” he said, gawking.
“Oh, just a few updates.”
“Hardly recognized you. Why the change?”
I leaned in and said, “I’m gonna try to get Laura back.”
“Oh, now I get it. And you think this will help? Was this your idea?” he asked.
“Well, I sort of had some help from some friends.”
“What. I’m not allowed to make new friends?” I said.
“Dude, I don’t care. I have friends, too,” he said, giving his head a quick shake, a little of annoyance on his face.
“Anyway,” I said, “What’s up?”
“Oh, really not much. I just wanted to catch up a little.”
“Anything going on?”
“I got a job,” he said.
“Oh, really? Doing what?”
“It’s an apprenticeship…with James Lord.”
“The movie composer? Dude who did Winds of Glory?”
“Yup,” he said proudly.
“Dude! That’s amazing. When do you start?” I asked.
“That’s the thing. I start in a week, and it’s in L.A.” He leaned back into his chair, an anxious look on his face.
“What about school?”
“I’m putting that on hold for now.”
“Are you sure about this?”
“Yeah, I’ve given it a lot of thought. My parents weren’t too pro on it at first, but they came around. It’s just too good of an opportunity. Ya know?”
“Yeah. Totally,” I said, keeping my eye out for the server.
“Anyway, I just wanted to tell you face-to-face. I’m going to have a little party this Friday, and I’d like you to come. And this is perfect,” he said brightening. “Laura’s gonna be there.”
I took a moment to consider this. This might change things. I’d need a plan. I thought about Zach and my new friends. I wondered what they would say. “Ok, cool. That could be good.”
“If you ask me, I think you should just be honest with her. Tell her you made a mistake and that you want her back.”
“I don’t know. I kind of have this plan, and yeah, I do intend to be honest with her, but it’s gotta be the right time. Like on the Kansas City trip. The choir is headed there soon for the ACDA Convention. “
“And what if it goes south? Then you’re stuck in close surroundings with her for a week. What if you find out that she needs some space? I dunno, man.”
I let out a stressful breath. “I just really want this to work. I think I should play it cool until the trip. Get to know her a little again. Maybe the feelings will start to happen naturally?”
“Yeah, maybe,” he said, sipping his Coke.
Then the waitress came to our table, and we ordered.
“Tell me about what you will be doing for Lord?” I said, changing the subject.
“Well, I’ll be like an assistant at first. Just kind of taking care of him, but he wants me to develop some of the score of a new movie and maybe even write some of the orchestration.”
“That is so cool. And will you get credit?”
“I’m not sure how it works yet. I think it’s pretty common for these guys to get the credit. I’m more like an employee, you know? But it’s a great opportunity, and he’s paying me really well…at least by Oklahoma dollars. L.A. is really expensive, though, but my Dad’s cousin lives there, so I’ll stay with him until I can get on my feet.”
“Hey. I’m really happy for you. Proud of you. You’re going to be a big success, man,” I said.
He smiled and nodded, “Thanks man. That means a lot to me.”
As I was picking up my choir folder for rehearsal the next day, I thought of my lunch with Bijan. Although he and I had been drifting apart for years, I was feeling sad about it. It felt like him leaving finalized something I already knew on some level that Bijan was an acquaintance now. I would see him at the party, but he would be surrounded by other friends whom I barely knew. We had essentially said goodbye, and I really didn’t feel the need to say anymore.
“Hey,” came a familiar voice behind me.
I turned around, and it was Laura. She was wearing a sleeveless silk blouse and tight high-waisted jeans, and I remembered my real purpose in that moment of my life.
“Hey, what’s up,” I said, as nonchalantly as I could.
“There’s something different about you,” she said, cocking her head to one side.
I’d gotten her attention, which is what I was going for, but I wasn’t sure how to respond.
I primped my new shirt self-consciously and said. “I’ve made some changes in my life.”
She smirked and looked me over and said, “Yes, I see that.”
“Hey, so are you going to Bijan’s party?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.
“Oh, yes! Isn’t it exciting! He’s going to be writing music for real movies. In L.A.!”
“Yeah. Crazy, right?”
“Ok. Well, I’ll catch you at the party,” she said cheerfully.
“Yeah. It’s going to be a blast!” I said, overenthusiastically.
She smiled and nodded but looking away and raising her eyebrows, which I interpreted as being a step away from an eye roll–like I was some sort of spastic lunatic.
“Hey, what’s up?” said Zach, joining me as I sat down.
“She pretty much hates me,” I said, slumping in my chair.
“Naw, she doesn’t hate you. I can tell. I’ve got your back on this one. Just play it cool until the bus ride.”
“Ok, but something has come up. My buddy is having a going-away party, and she’s going to be there. What do I do?”
“Dude. Just go and have a good time. Celebrate your friend. That’s what you’re there for. Women love to see a man being a good friend and having fun.”
I shook my head.
“Just trust me on this, James. It’s all gonna work out.”
The afternoon of the party, Zach and I were hanging out at Pink’s. It was Thursday, which traditionally was the night that O.U. Students went out and partied. People were already beginning to congregate and make their plans.
“Zach, why do you care so much about me getting back with Laura?” I asked over a cold Coca Cola which I had spiked with a shot of whiskey from a half-pint in my backpack.
“I don’t know. I guess when I met you, and she walked in? At first, I was like, I wanna get with her, ya know? But then I saw you looking at her and could see you had a whole higher level of appreciation for her. I guess I’ve never really had that with a girl. Maybe I just wanted to be a little bit a part of that.”
I wasn’t used to a friend being so candid with me–so beautifully expressive with me, and it gave me a warm feeling for Zach. We were quickly becoming close friends, and with Bijan leaving, I really needed that.
“No, I get it. I just want you to know how much I appreciate you and your friends,” I said.
“Your friends,” he interjected. “My dogs really like you, man. We need a white dude to round us out a little bit, namsayin?” He laughed his deep open laugh, and it made me smile and laugh along with him.
“Whatever,” I said, shaking my head and smiling.
“Naw, naw, you know what I mean. Have you ever had a black friend?”
I took a moment with this. The truth is, I hadn’t had a black friend since elementary school before I lived in Norman. It’s not that I didn’t want to have a black friend; it just never happened. I was worried that I might sound like some sort of racist, so I said, “Oh, you know, here and there.”
“James, it’s ok if you never had a black friend. I don’t think you’re a racist or anything. You’re cool. Everybody thinks so.”
I might have been cool in high school if it weren’t for the alleged jackoff incident at the school campout, but that really set me back. Laura’s girlfriends tried to convince her not to date me, but she didn’t seem to care; otherwise, I was persona non grata among the socially adept. But college changed all of that. No one knew, and no one cared about that stuff. I was free to be whoever I wanted to be, and yet I wasn’t. I was stuck, trying to find myself, not sure of who I was.
I was in a major for geeks, but I wasn’t a geek. I couldn’t have cared less about comic books and gaming. I didn’t really have any friends in the computer science program. Bijan had been my only real friend, but even that had faded. I was floating in a sea of 25,000 other kids with no one to know who I really was—no one to notice if I didn’t show up. Zach was starting to feel a little like a life preserver for me. As we talked, I began to feel such a deep sense of gratitude for him.
The party was at Bijan’s house near campus. He lived there with a classmate of his, Keith, whom he had met in the School of Music, another composer. I had made a careful study out of not trying too hard with my appearance since it hadn’t really impressed Laura–baggy jeans, flannel shirt unbuttoned with a white t-shirt, and Fila sneakers. I also laid off the hair gel. Being a music major, Zach was invited to the party as well, and he promised to be a wingman for me.
When we arrived, the party was already well underway. Sheryl Crow was blaring on the stereo, and kids were drinking. “If it MAKES you happyyyyyy, It can’t be that baa-aaa-aad,” she sang while everyone else screamed along.
Zach said, “Ah, yes, the cry of the white people.” He laughed, wrapped an arm around me, and squeezed my shoulder. “Let’s find Bijan and say hello. Let him know you’re here for him.”
We looked around for a while; there must have been a hundred kids in his little two-bedroom house, mostly music students. We found him in the kitchen cooking pizza rolls.
He saw us and said, “Dude! You came! You know my roomie, Keith?” He pointed me to Keith, a tall curly-headed ginger who shook my hand and said, “Hey, I’ve heard so much about you. Best friend from way back, right?”
“Yeah. We go way back. Pretty crazy him going off like this, right?”
“Yeah, I know. We’re all so fucking jealous. Most talented dude in the program.”
“Sup, Zach!” said Bijan. “Glad you could make it. Dude, I heard you in the convocation last Spring. That was some pretty sick Mozart. Marriage of Figaro is a work of sheer compositional and lyrical genius. You’re terrific.”
“Thanks, man,” he said with abundant confidence and poise. “Mozart is an important figure for me. He has something to teach us all.”
“Exactly. It’s like he brought music to a new level back in the day, and we’re still seeing the fruits of it today. So much of what I do started with him. Brilliant!” said Bijan glowing.
“Hey, and I never got a chance to tell you that the Shakespeare setting you wrote for the Chamber Ensemble was so eloquent in its simplicity and ingenuity. I thought it was one of the best pieces we sang in the spring concert. Bravo!”
Bijan was beaming, “Thank you, SO MUCH. That was my first legit choral chamber piece. I was really nervous about it. That was so cool of Dr. Baker to have you guys perform it.”
“Yeah, he’s the best,” I said, hoping to get into the conversation.
Zach patted me on the back and said, “Yeah, maybe we’ll bring James to the arts side. He’s killing it in Choir.”
“No kidding?” said Bijan.
“Come on, guys,” I said. “I’m sure they just let me in because they didn’t have enough to fill the choir.”
“Dude,” said Bijan. “All those guys in the University Chorus? Those are mostly kids who couldn’t get into University Choir, and a lot of them are music majors. You have to be seriously good to be in Dr. Baker’s choir.”
I blushed a little. I was both embarrassed by the flattery and swelling with pride over what I hadn’t realized was an accomplishment.
“Listen, guys,” said Bijan. “There’s plenty of food and drinks out there for you. Make yourself at home and have some fun. I’ll be out with some more food soon. Alright? Thanks for coming!”
“Come on, man,” said Zach. “Let’s see wassup.”
We poured drinks and started mingling. I recognized a few faces from Choir, but I didn’t really know anybody. Zach, however, seemed to know everybody. Everywhere we went, he was getting high fives. He introduced me around.
When I went back to refill my drink, Zach stopped me and said, “Go easy on the liquor tonight, you can get crazy with the boys later if you want. You have to be on your game right now. Just pour one and nurse it.”
I poured a Jack and Coke. “Have you seen Laura, yet?” I said, anxiously.
“Naw, we’re gonna chill on that, tonight. If we see her, we see her.”
Then the music changed over from rock to hip hop. Notorious B.I.G. came on with “Big Poppa”, and it seemed to kick up the party a notch. Someone cranked it up the volume, and people began to bump and grind. Before I knew it, Zach was moving hard with a tall blond, and he was pulling her friend toward me. I’d seen her in Choir, she was very attractive, and she smiled when she saw me. Zach leaned into my ear and said, “Be cool, man. Just keep it real.”
I wasn’t much of a dancer, so I just kind of copied what Zach was doing. He kept it simple and let the girl do all the work.
“Throw ya hands in the air, if you’se a true player,” shouted the crowd in unison along with the music.
The girl moved closer, and I got a whiff of her hair. I moved in a little closer, too, and we began to grind a little. I didn’t want to get very far with her. I was worried it might blow my chances with Laura, but Zach gave me the thumbs up and a wink.
When the song was over, Zach grabbed me and pulled me off, saying, “You girls keep it real, we gotta see a man about a thing.” They giggled and conspired as we walked away.
He pulled me to a quieter room, and I said, “What if Laura sees me dancing with another girl. Don’t you think that’s going to screw things up?”
“Trust me, man. She needs to see what she’s been missing. You’re a cool character. The ladies like you, but you’re keeping it under control. You’re not getting sloppy drunk and making out with strangers. No, you’re playing the field and having a good time.”
“Ok, ok. So, have you seen Laura.”
“Yeah, she’s here. She’s with her girlfriend, Jennifer. You didn’t see her, but she definitely saw you.”
“Should we go find her?”
“Like I said, we’re gonna be chill about her tonight. Trust Zach. I’ve got your back. Nurse your drink. Do a little more mingle and grind, and I’m gonna go talk her up a little. She’s gonna ask about you, I promise. It’s all gonna be good.”
We split up, and I got back into the music and the crowd. I was gaining confidence, and another girl approached me to dance.
I said, “What’s up, I’m James.”
She said, “I know,” and she smiled. “You sit behind me in Choir.”
Then she turned around and backed up into me, and we danced. She wanted to be close, and I wanted to see her face, so I turned her around and gave her a big smile and put my arm around her waist. She seemed content to dance with me, and I was starting to lose myself in the music a bit with her. Although I wasn’t drunk, I was beginning to buzz and heat up. The bass was super deep, and I could feel it in my chest as we danced. I was starting to think this girl was into me, and I might have been more into her if I wasn’t trying to get Laura back, and the thought of her pulled me back a little.
When the song was over, she grabbed me by the arm and began pulling me to the other room, but Zach found me just in time, and said to her, “I need my dog for a bit. You take yo fine self back to the dance floor, and we’ll catch you later. Save a dance for me, baby. Alright?”
“Definitely,” she said, and she gave me an eye fuck and went back in.
“Shit, that was getting a little intense,” I said, as we walked away.
“Don’t worry; I got you. You see what happens when you show you know how to have fun? It’s good. Chicks dig you.”
This was a huge confidence boost for me. Zach was making it easier for me. Being around him was bringing out a part of me that I was just getting to know.
He said, “Come on; let’s get some fresh air.”
We snaked through the crowd and out the back door where people were smoking and chatting.
“Did you talk with Laura?”
“Yup. Man, I would be up in her business if I didn’t like you so much.”
“Thanks for giving me a fair shot,” I said in a self-deprecating manner. “Did she ask about me?”
“Sure she did.”
“Well? What did she say.”
“You know. Just the regular stuff.”
“She didn’t ask about me, did she.”
“No worries. I got you. I worked you in. You’re not very far from her mind. She definitely doesn’t hate you. She’s interested in you.”
“Like she wants to know what’s going on with you. Don’t worry; she’s paying attention. And she sees that other girls are paying attention. This is what you want.”
“Should I talk with her. Should I go find her?”
I poured a Coke over some ice and began to reach for the whiskey, and he took the bottle from me.
“If she comes to you, then she comes to you. If not, maybe we’ll just kind of bump into her, ya know? Just casual.” Then he held up the bottle. “No more of this shit, ok?”
“Ok, ok. Got it.”
“You’re doing great, man. Just keep it real and be yourself. You don’t need to impress anyone. You’ve got a lot going on, man. Trust me.”
And about thirty minutes later, we did bump into Laura and Jennifer.
“Hey,” I said to them over the chatter and music. “You look great, Laura. Are you have a good time?”
“Yeah, totally. It’s a great party.”
“Yeah, totally,” I said. “So, Jennifer, I’ve seen you in Choir. Are you a voice major?”
Jennifer was eyeing someone else in the room distractedly.
“She’s a music ed major,” said Laura.
“Ah, ok, cool.”
“How are you enjoying Choir?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah. It’s so awesome. It’s so much better than high school choir. I mean, I know we won state and all, but this is like some next level shit, ya know?”
“Oh, yeah, totally,” she said. “I love the music. The Chihara is really cool, right? I’ll bet we do that for ACDA. Jennifer says they performed it last year, so it’s coming together really quickly.”
“Yeah, it’s really great. I’ll bet you’re right.”
So far, Zach was hanging back, letting me take the lead.
“I’m really impressed that you got in,” she said. “I mean, you’re a really good singer, but you must have really impressed Dr. Baker. He’s really selective with non-majors. You have to be really good.” She was moving closer to me.
“I don’t know. I feel like everyone is better than me.”
“You have just as much right to be there as I do; otherwise, Dr. Baker would not have included you. I’m glad you’re in.”
I took a good look at her and wondered where her heart was at in that moment. Things used to be so easy for us, and now it was like I was just getting to know her again, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing.
Then I felt Zach’s guiding hand on my shoulder, telling me it was time to make an exit.
“Anyway, it was great to see you, Laura. You look great.”
“So do you. I like what you have going on,” she said, pointing me up and down. “Cute.”
Then Zach gave my shoulder a squeeze and said, “Alright, you ladies enjoy yourselves. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He winked, and we turned and left.
After we were clear of them, I said,” Why did you cut me short?”
“That was long enough. Just give her a taste. See if she likes it…and she does,” he said, raising his eyebrows, giving me a smile and a deep chuckle.