We climb into Cameron's car and I buckle up, sinking into the seat and letting out a soft sigh.
“You good?” he asks, side-eyeing me as he turns the key in the ignition.
“Yeah,” I nod. “That was just… a lot. I don’t know any of those people.”
“Well, yeah,” Cameron says knowingly. “I don’t know why you would. A lot of them have already graduated or are seniors this year.”
I guess that puts it in perspective how popular Cameron really is. ALL the freshmen know who he is. All the sophomores, too. The other people we were eating with are probably good artists, but they still fade into the framework of the student body. They don’t stick out at all.
“Who was that girl I was sitting next to?” I decide to ask. “She was kind of rude.”
“That’s Lydia,” he scoffs. “She’s a film student who graduated last year. She’s a serious bitch.”
That’s one way to put it. She’s definitely not someone I ever want to see again. She made me feel even more out of place than I already did.
“Well, why do you hang out with her?” I ask.
He just gives a careless shrug, not offering up much of a reason.
“We all have friends who are assholes.”
“I don’t,” I say. “I don’t have any friends.”
He laughs. “Stop exaggerating.”
“I’m not,” I tell him.
“Jesus Christ, kid. Well, you’re hanging with me, so you can’t say that anymore.”
“Is that why you brought me here?”
“Yeah, thought it would be nice for you to get out,” he says simply. “You don’t seem to do much of anything.”
“I don’t,” I confess. “Just homework.”
“Yeaaah,” Cameron drawls. “Art school has that effect on some people.”
“It’s hard to do everything on a deadline,” I glance out the window, trying not to think too hard about the painting that I should have been doing this evening instead of going out to eat.
“You’ll adjust. It was hard for me at first too.”
Somehow, I doubt that. Cameron seems like he has everything figured out.
“Are your parents artists too?” I wonder aloud.
“No,” he frowns. “My dad’s a lawyer and my mom’s a psychologist.”
“Oh wow,” I mumble, impressed.
“It sucks,” Cameron goes on to say. “They didn’t want me to study art. Even now it’s completely obvious they wish I had gone to law school or some shit.”
I don’t know what that would feel like. My parents never cared. I think they always believed I’d amount to nothing… and maybe I will. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just wasting time and money going to school. Maybe my parents will be right. I know they wanted me to stay home, but it was all for the wrong reasons. I needed air and I wasn’t getting any stuck in that house.
“Sometimes my parents come to my shows, though…” Cameron adds. “So, I will give them credit for that much.”
“Well, that’s nice of them,” I say. “It’s nice they at least support you doing what you like.”
He nods and then asks, “So, what about your parents?”
I shrug. “They weren’t very supportive.”
“No.” I pause and look at him. “Why do you want to know?”
“I’m interested,” he says simply.
I don’t get what he means by that.
“You’re interested?” I repeat.
“Yeah. I’m sure there’s more to you than meets the eye. I don’t really know anything about you, though. So, how about you tell me something good.”
“Like what?” I ask, unsure what he could possibly want.
“Tell me about being a kid, your family, life before university? Fuck, you tell me!” he says with a snort.
“My childhood was… I don’t know.”
“You don’t know? What the hell do you mean you don’t know? You were there for it.”
“I just don’t know,” I reiterate.
I don’t feel like I was there for it half of the time. I was always so stuck in my own head that there were times when I barely realized what was happening around me.
“All right…” Cameron says slowly. “What about your parents, then?”
“I told you they weren’t supportive.”
“Because they’re shitty.”
He gives me a quick glance before returning his attention to the road.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat.
“They just were… I don’t know. I don’t really want to talk about this.”
“Why?” he immediately asks. “Did they do something fucked up?”
“I don’t know you well enough to talk about this,” I explain. I'm trying not to make him mad but I’m starting to feel panicked.
“Well, you’re going to get to know me. That’s why we’re hanging out.”
“No,” I reiterate firmly.
He gives me a dull look that makes me nervous, but he doesn’t push for anything past that.
“Okay, fine,” he says instead, finally giving up.
Great. Now everything’s awkward. I love this feeling.
I stare down at my hands. “I’m sorry,” I mumble. “I’m bad at this.”
“You are,” he replies with a chuckle. “It’s fine though. You’ll get better at it.”
We’ll see. I’ve been like this my whole life and so far I’m not convinced anything will change.
“By the way,” Cameron continues. “There’s a party I’m going to this weekend. I wanted to see if you wanted to tag along. It’d be good for you to make more connections.”
“Uh,” I fumble over my words, kind of taken aback by the offer. I can’t believe he’s still so invested in me. I made such a fool out of myself tonight.
“Come on,” he coaxes. “Avery will be there too and she’s antisocial as hell so you’ll have someone to talk to.”
"Okay," I say, mostly so he’ll drop it.
Cameron looks satisfied. I haven't really been to any parties since moving. I tend to avoid that sort of scene. It intimidates me. I should probably actually listen to what Cameron’s saying though. He’s been through all of this before and knows a lot more than I do about how the world works it seems.
Connections are important, right? Right now, I have none.
"You will have fun," Cameron insists. "We'll get a few drinks in yah and you'll be good to go."
“I’m not 21,” I remind him.
I have a fake ID, but I don’t like to use it unless I have to.
“I know,” he quirks an eyebrow. “I’ll bring some liquor for you. Have a preference?”
“Um, rum?” I answer, but it comes out more like a question. “Some gins or non-wheat vodka work too. They’re gluten-free so they’re safe for me to have.”
Cameron makes a face. “You’re really serious about that, huh? I didn’t even know alcohol had gluten in it.”
“Whiskey and bourbon and vodka sometimes do,” I explain, ignoring his first comment. “Beer always does. Some people are sensitive to gin, but I’m not.”
“Well, I knew about the beer,” he grumbles indignantly.
“Sorry,” I apologize, feeling like a huge inconvenience. “You don’t have to get me anything. Really.”
“No, I’m going to,” Cameron insists. “Rum, gin, or vodka. Got it.”
“Thanks,” I tell him quietly.
“Are you a big drinker?”
“Not much these days,” I admit. “I mean, I haven’t been drunk since leaving California. I used to wait outside the liquor store and coax people into buying me shit. I always knew what kind of guy to target. I also had some older...acquaintances.”
Cameron cracks up. “Ha! Wouldn’t have expected any of that from you. Who were these older acquaintances?”
“Just… people. People I met online, people who knew my parents. There was this one guy who was friends with my dad. I think he just felt sorry for me, so he’d buy me alcohol… and other shit.”
Cameron gives me a weird look. “Didn’t your parents get mad?”
“No,” I say. “It’s not like they knew where I was getting it. As long as I wasn’t getting drunk in the house, it was fine. If I got drunk in the house, my dad would just assume I stole his liquor.”
I made that mistake once. Only once. He beat the crap out of me. So, I learned not to do that again. I don’t like to think about it. I don’t like to think about any of the things he did.
“Guess that makes sense,” Cameron muses. “My parents would’ve flipped their lids if I came home trashed as a teenager.”
“They were pretty tough on me,” he goes on to say. “Always giving me shit about getting good grades and turning stuff in on time. Up until high school, my mom would actually email my teachers every week to make sure I had all my homework done and if I didn’t, she wouldn’t let me go out. Can you believe that? She’s such a control freak. It drove me fucking crazy but it’s probably why I was prepared for college as much as I hate to admit that.”
“Probably,” I agree, trying to imagine how my work habits would have turned out if my parents rode my ass like that.
“It’s also why I got so good at lying,” he adds with a laugh.
I make a face.
“Did you have to lie a lot?”
“All the time,” Cameron tells me, still chuckling. “About everything. Where I was, what I was doing…literally everything.”
“Wow. I can’t really imagine what that would be like.”
“It was pretty annoying.”
He might find it annoying, but I can’t help but feel a little jealous. I never had to lie to my parents about things like that because they didn’t care. My mom was stupid and my dad was scary and I hate them both. I think I do, at least. Sometimes I don’t know. It’s hard to hate the people who raised you, no matter how much they sucked at doing it.
Finally, we get back to the dorms and Cameron pulls into the parking lot by my building.
“Thanks for inviting me out,” I say sheepishly as I gather my things up from down by my feet.
“Don’t sweat it,” he puts his car in park, not bothering to turn it off.
I open the door and start to get out, but as I do Cameron adds, “Don’t forget about the party. I’ll text you the details.”
“I won’t,” I reassure him. I don’t know how I could possibly forget. It’s not like I have anything else filling my time.
“All right, perfect,” he nods. “Good chat.”
“See you later,” I say, closing the door.
He drives away and I trudge up to the building, fishing my keycard out of my pocket and swiping in. Once I’m inside, I stamp the snow off my shoes and rub my hands together. It’s so fucking cold out there. I’ll probably never get used to it.
I change out of my jeans and exchange them for a pair of sweatpants, but I keep everything else on. It’s too cold not to sleep in layers, socks included. The floors turn to ice in the morning.
I glance at the clock. It’s not even ten yet, but I’m tired, probably because I spent the night around people and that takes a lot out of me. Being around Cameron makes me feel so self-conscious like I need to be careful about what I say and do. I felt bad for pushing him away, but I can’t talk to him about these things. Not yet.
I stifle a yawn with the back of my hand.
Damn, I really am tired.