Max's reputation as the campus's ladies' man was well established before fall break. His California tan never seemed to fade, and his teeth were as blindingly white as ever, despite his penchant for dark coffee and cigarettes. And always, always, his eyes captured the light in any room, which gave him a permanent twinkle, as if he was giggling.
Max started seeing somebody around Christmas break. Women on campus were shocked he had made a commitment to anything. Her name was Hannah, a small, bubbly hippie from the East Coast. Her strawberry-blonde hair was always done in loose, messy braids, and she wore flouncy peasant skirts and blouses. She was the tiniest person I had ever seen.
Hannah was a vegan, and so Max became one, too. I had never heard of such a thing.
I consulted Priya.
"Forget him!" she said. She had never liked Max, probably because he had never flirted with her. "You're hot. He's too conceited for his own good to notice. Move on."
I became a vegetarian and joined Hannah's peace group.
"I'm breaking up with Hannah," Max announced to me when leaving our First Year Seminar. It was the last week of class before the exams.
"Your timing is impeccable, as always," I managed, trying not to choke on my soy mocha latte (hold the whip).
He was silent. He was brooding.
He never liked to be contradicted.
"Why?" I broke the silence in the most sympathetic voice I could muster. It was difficult to hide the excitement I was feeling.
"I can't be faithful to her over the summer."
"Seriously. We live on opposite ends of the country. How can I do without sex for three whole months?"
I pondered this. Hannah was completely in love with Max in a sick way. It made me ill to be around them.
"She loves you."
"And I feel the same way, Charlotte!"
"So..." How do you respond to that?
"So I'm just being realistic."
"I think that's code for being an ass."
Max stopped on the paved brick pathway. He looked like a photograph, standing in the oak grove between the art and science buildings. The morning sun was bringing out all of his highlights. I caught my breath in my throat.
His eyes were not twinkling. His gorgeous, deep brown eyes...I lost their sparkle.
"Look," I sputtered, trying to recover our friendship and his eye twinkle. "I'm not trying to be callous. I just don't understand how you can love a person and let them go so easily."
He did not respond.
"And during exam week!" I kept talking to break the awkward silence. We had stopped in the middle of the path. Annoyed coeds tripped around us, muttering about our drama and our rudeness.
"I'm just sayin'."
Max looked at me, coldly. I knew he loved Hannah. But I also knew he was incapable of loving someone deeply enough to establish a true connection. He could live without Hannah. He could live without anybody, as long as there was another woman on the sidelines, waiting for her turn.
"Thanks for understanding," he said coolly.
Max strode off towards the library, a sense of purpose in his step. I had hit a nerve. But I was right.
I was in line at the bookstore buying my textbooks for my new courses the first week of my sophomore year. Max's honeysweet voice startled me. I dropped the entire armful of texts.
Max laughed as I hastily picked them up from the ground. "Let me help you," he said softly, and bent down to hand me my books.
He started reading the titles aloud. "Theoretical Perspectives on International Relations...Advanced Macroeconomic Theory...Advanced Chinese studies...Charlotte, are you crazy?"
I blushed. "I'm going to challenge myself this semester," I sputtered. I felt my scalp turn red. Captain Obvious had struck again.
Max and I stumbled to our feet, and he handed me the books. "Any time to party?" He smiled that gorgeous smile once more.
"I think I can squeeze you in," I murmured. I looked down, busying myself with straightening the stack in my arms.
Max touched my chin, forcing me to look him in the eye. Those eyes... My knees almost buckled. I had forgotten how great of an effect he could have on me.
"Tonight. My place." He leaned in close to my ear.
"Where is your place this year?"
"North End, Suncrest Apartments."
"Um, I don't know..."
Max kissed me softly on the lips.
I backed away, stunned, and into a gaggle of freshmen. Books, pens, notebooks, and tiny people toppled to the ground. I looked around, shocked at what had just transpired.
Max waltzed towards the store's exit. "How was your summer, Char?" he yelled back at me, grinning his thousand-watt smile.
"Fine!" I managed, placing my books to the ground to help those around me. I felt ten dirty looks on my back as I carried on my conversation with a sex god. "Yours?"
I looked up, books in hand, only to see him shake his head, curly locks falling into his eyes. "You have no idea," he chuckled, and left the store.
Lucky, lucky girls.
"Will you just ring the goddamn doorbell?"
Priya glared at me. I had begged her to come to Max's party, and after an hour of pleading and a promise to lend her my favorite necklace, she reluctantly agreed. Now we were standing outside of his apartment door, staring at the knocker.
"Oh my Gawd!" she cried, exasperated. I had frozen, too nervous to knock, too excited to leave. "What are you waiting for?"
And she pounded on the door.
Some guy I knew vaguely from my freshman dorm answered the door, and we walked into the dark apartment. Max, ultimate creator of "atmosphere" that he was, had turned his apartment into a nightclub. He had removed all of his fluorescent bulbs for blacklights, and his living room emitted a weird purple glow. The kitchen lights were dimmed, and I could make out a large trashcan of what could only be jungle juice. The music was blaring, and I could see the typical mass of scantily clad women desperately attempting to "get it on" with Max's gorgeous male friends.
I grabbed a plastic party cup and filled it to the brim with jungle juice. I took a big sip. Holy crap...is there any chaser in this whatsoever? All I could taste was a mix of vodka and rum and triple sec and...
Max emerged from the bodies before me, complete with a Cute Young Thang on his waist.
I took another huge gulp and swallowed hard. I was threatened by this female. All I wanted tonight was Max.
"I see you've found the evening's refreshments..." Max chuckled as he pointed to my cup.
"Did you just put food coloring in the vodka, or is there juice in here, too?" I was only half-joking.
"You're such a lightweight."
I put down my cup, pretending to be indignant at the statement. I motioned to his accessory.
"Who's your friend?"
Max glanced down, as if he had forgotten there was a freshman glued to his toned waistline. "Oh, sorry. Charlotte, this is Katelynn. She's a first year."
Katelynn positively beamed at her introduction, only because Max remembered her name. She stood up so I could "check her out."
Katelynn's outfit can only politely be described as risqué. Her hair was long and blonde, and she had caked her baby-blue eyes with hunks of mascara and eyeliner. Her top looked like a string bikini, as two hot pink triangles covered her perfect breasts. She accentuated her bare stomach with a silver chain. I could make out pink heart-shaped charms that dotted the metal. The chain trailed down to her "skirt," a denim number that was about six inches wide. It was ratty and frayed, most likely purchased that way, and displayed her long, shapely legs. She threw together the look with a pair of beaten-up pink flip-flops, presumably to look "casual."
"I like your outfit," I said, rolling my eyes.
"Oh, this old thing?" Katelynn laughed and looked at Max for approval. He beamed at her, as if he could not have been prouder to locate such a specimen.
Max slapped her ass. "I'll be right back," he said, "go dance and have fun." Katelynn eyed me suspiciously, then apparently decided I provided no threat to "her man," as she pranced off to the living room to dance.
"Are you serious?" I picked up my drink and chugged, needing liquid confidence after such an exchange.
"What?" Max's eyes had followed Katelynn into the living room, and he now swung his head back to look at me. "She's cute!"
"I thought you were in to girls with 'depth.'" Another long sip. The drink was certainly potent, and I had already downed half a cup. I was starting to feel a pleasant buzz.
"I'm in to girls. Period." Max eyed me, his eyes aglow in the dim light.
"Not all girls," I challenged.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I'm the one girl you've never made a pass at."
"Is that so?"
"That's so." Deep gulp. What was I saying?
Max snaked his right arm around my waist and pulled me in close. "That's because you're the one girl I can't have."
"Who said?" I looked into his eyes seriously.
My head inched closer to his. I closed my eyes, hoping, wishing that Max's lips would greet mine.
My prayers went unanswered.
Max tapped my nose, forcing me to open my eyes. I did not want to give him the benefit of denying me. I pranced on my tiptoes, forcing myself at him.
Our lips touched. I kissed Max hard on the lips, with a year's worth of passion behind me. I grabbed his face with two hands. His lips felt surprisingly rough, as if he had gone out into the cold. I puckered my lips against his, and then opened my mouth. I felt him kiss back slightly, timidly. Yes! My whole body was awash with anticipation.
Max pulled away before I could tickle his closed lips with my tongue.
"I can't," he said. He looked sad, disappointed. With himself? With me?
"Is just some fling!" I was near tears. What was so wrong with shy little Charlotte?
Max kissed my forehead. "Enjoy yourself tonight, Char," he said, and then joined the crowd in the living room.
I was livid. How dare Max talk to me like that? I quickly downed the remainder of my drink and refilled the glass to the brim. Feeling completely buzzed, I strode into the living room and found Priya.
"Hey!" she said. She was dancing with the tallest man I had ever seen. His eyes were glued to her nearly-exposed chest, and his hands were planted firmly on her ass.
She was clearly enjoying the party more than I was.
Not one to interrupt a good booty session, I scoped out the rest of the partygoers. I noticed a boy from my Chinese class in the corner. He was staring at me.
I turned around, looking for the object of his affections. I heard him laugh as he walked over to me with a casual confidence.
"Ni hao." He greeted me in Chinese, adorably, and started dancing with me. He was wasted.
"Hey yourself." I could not remember his name, his hometown, his dorm, but he would do for the evening. I downed the remainder of my purple jungle juice and flung my arms around his neck.
He could barely stand, but I danced against him hard, as if I had something to prove. I sashayed and shimmied around his frame, teasing and tantalizing his nerve endings with my body.
"Get low!" cried the rap on the stereo, and I followed instructions dutifully. Grabbing onto the boy's hips, I slowly snaked my body down his torso. His tee shirt was untucked from his pants, and I lifted it, almost imperceptibly. I fluttered my lips against the spot below his belly button. He looked down and gave me a goofy grin.
I popped back to my full height, and he grabbed my ass, squeezing its fullness. "Oh man," he breathed into my ear.
He leaned in to kiss me. I stood on my tippytoes to meet his lips. We embraced. His tongue tickled my lips, searching for my tongue. I opened my mouth to greet him.
He was a great kisser, one of the best I had ever met. We kissed and danced our way through a few songs. He expertly massaged my tongue through his drunken stupor without a hint of excess saliva. His teeth nibbled at my lower lip, and he withdrew his tongue, grabbing my lower lip as he exited my mouth. I took a sharp breath. Chinese Class Boy was turning me on! I felt sexy, daring, and brave.
"What's your name?" I whispered in his ear with the sexiest voice I could muster.
"I'm Andrew," he muttered, groaning with desire.
"Charlotte," I responded, and leaned in to kiss him again.
I saw Max out of the corner of my eye. Katelynn was draped around him, trying to make out. Her skirt had ridden up so far one could almost see the entirety of her ass. But Max was not looking at Katelynn. He was staring -- right at Andrew and me.
"We should take this somewhere more private," I said, and tugged a very willing Andrew out of the apartment.
"I live in this building," Andrew stated, and stumbled me down the hallway.
We walked, arms wrapped around each other tightly, and paused at his doorway.
"Charlotte!" I heard the cry from down the empty corridor.
I turned as Andrew clicked his key into place and swung open his door. Max was standing at his doorway, a look of hurt and confusion on his face. I started towards him, but Andrew grabbed my hand.
I looked up at Andrew. His soft, green eyes were slightly glazed over, but I could see his kindness and desire. I gave him a weak smile.
"Let's go," I said, squeezing his hand. I looked back at Max as I entered Andrew's apartment.
He had already gone back into the party.
The semester passed in a stressful blur of papers and exams and sleepless nights. I had taken on quite a bit more than I could handle, academically speaking, and I barely had time to nap, let alone party or flirt with cute guys.
After Andrew and I slept together early in the semester, we saw each other in class every day. He seemed interested in continuing our naughty extra-curricular activity, but I thought it wise to be "just friends." It was not fair to Andrew that I slept with him solely to make Max jealous.
I hated myself for letting Max have such an effect on me.
He was a womanizer, caring only about his own image and fucking the hottest freshmen on campus. He was suave to a fault, a cool, aloof ladies' man that seemed not to care for anybody. He would date chicks and then break their hearts, without seeming fazed by the process.
Those eyes never lost their twinkle when he looked at me. I liked to think he reserved a secret smile for me, tried to bump in to me whenever he could manage looking nonchalant.
Or maybe it was all in my head.
I was looking extraordinarily unattractive these days, anyways. A lack of sleep did not bode well for my daily outfit choices or looks. I was wearing an inordinate number of T-shirt and sweatpants combinations; I had even forgotten where I had placed my super sexy skinny jeans. I had replaced my XXLash mascara with under eye concealer, but even that did not hide the large, dark bags under my eyes.
And my hair? I wore that curly.
I could not muster the energy required to tackle my stubborn locks into straightness each morning after my shower. Rather than dedicate two hours to lock management, I spent five minutes with a fistful of mousse and walked out the door.
It was tangly and unkempt and...BIG. Huge. My curly-haired self had massive amounts of volume.
And, really, how could Max like something like that?
Max found me, as he usually did on Thursday mornings, grabbing a quick soy mocha latte (lots of whip, please) before rushing off to my Theories course.
"Wait!" he said, panting as I dashed down the brick path of the oak grove. "Why are you running off to class?"
"Because I'm late!" My hair waved in the wind wildly, adding to the mass and volume of my curls. If I did not know any better, I would have thought they were multiplying.
"You're always late. Why can't you just be still with me for a moment?"
That was the oddest thing I had ever heard Max say. I stopped and turned to face him.
"Finally." Max slowed his walk, striding up to me casually. His grin spread over his face. He was looking extra-gorgeous, I noticed.
"I figured something romantic would get your attention."
Alarm bells sounded in my head. Max definitely used the word "romantic." He was hitting on me.
You fool! The boy is messing with you.
I giggled nervously and distracted myself with my latte. "Haha," I managed, weakly. "You got me...what do you want?"
"Come out with me tomorrow."
"I can't," I stammered, "I have a paper and a problem set due Monday, and I have this group thing, and I have to work..."
"No? I have to do all these things, Max, they aren't optional, I need to pass..."
"No." He placed his index finger against my lips. It was warm from his coffee cup, even though the late October air was chill and crisp. I sucked in my breath deeply, feeling instantly warmer from his soft touch.
"Come out with me."
His eyes pled with me. They looked so sappy and were puppy-dog wide. How can you turn those eyes down?
"You've been working so hard this semester. I haven't seen you at any parties, except for the one I held at the beginning of the year. You need to have some fun."
I looked down and fiddled with the lid of my coffee cup. Maybe just once...
Max touched my chin, moving my head upward so we could lock gazes.
"Okay." I smiled. "Call me, tomorrow?"
"Oh, I will," said Max.
I turned to go, already late for class. Max's voice stopped me again.
"Wear your hair just like that," he said, and then he walked fast in the opposite direction.
"You look fine." Priya sounded bored as she watched me pace nervously between our beds in our cramped dorm room.
I looked at myself in the mirror again. I had found my skinny jeans buried in a drawer of clothes I never wear, and I had thrown on a tube top. Black and cotton, it was unassuming, yet sexy. It hugged the curves of my firm breasts, made fuller this past semester from the extra calories I had consumed to keep my body and mind focused through the long nights of my studying. My breasts, thankfully, were the only location I had gained weight.
The top was not tight -- it hugged my breasts, and then casually cascaded down my torso. Its flowy, cotton material swung as I moved, and the asymmetrical hemline flirted with my waist and ass. Its ends were scalloped, curvy...
"Sexy?" I asked, timidly.
"Very." I looked at Priya as she half-heartedly agreed with me. She was filing her nails in her pajamas.
"What's up with you?" I asked.
"It's not fair!" And here came the dramatics.
"What's not fair?" I looked at my watch. Max should be arriving any moment, and instead of primping myself one last time, I found myself caring for my roommate.
"I go out all the time, look hot, prance and parade around, and I'm dateless on a Friday. You don't shower, study all night and day, and don't do your hair, and here you are, asked out by the most desirable bachelor on campus. What is up?"
I smiled, and looked back at the mirror. I did not care if this was a pity date or "the real deal"; Max was coming for me. Not Katelynn, not Hannah, not Priya -- shy little Charlotte.
I heard a knock at the door. Priya squealed and hid behind her bed. She never allowed men to see her in her sheep pajama pants.
I laughed as I opened the door. Max leaned against my doorframe, oozing casual sexiness. His mouth dropped when he saw me.
"Charlotte..." I think I made him speechless.
I turned to Priya. I could see her hair poking out from behind her bed.
"I'll be back later," I said to her cowering frame, and grabbed my shiny black clutch as I waltzed out the door.
"So where are we going?" I asked a stunned Max.
He recovered to his suave, aloof state. Typical Max. "Dancing," he said simply, and put my arm through his as he led me out of the dorms.