In honor of Halloween, a short excerpt from my novel American Fraternity Man (with some never-bef0re-seen “deleted” material that had been left on the cutting room floor, but which I’ve recovered for this extra-special blog posting), in which the narrator (Charles Washington) enters his ex-girlfriend’s sorority house on the evening of Halloween. Ever seen a sorority house on Halloween? It is indeed an experience. Here you go:
A girl named Elizabeth Safron answers the door, recognizes me, puts hand to mouth. “Oh my God, Charles.” She’s wearing a bright orange t-shirt with a black screen-printed jack-o-lantern face smiling wide and gap-toothed, the shirt three sizes too large and sweeping down over her black leggings like it’s a skirt. “What are you doing here?”
“Hoping Jenn was home,” I say.
“Well,” Elizabeth says. She closes her eyes, likely searching her mind for an alibi, somewhere Jenn can be instead of right here, but she wasn’t prepared for this.
“Can I come in?” I peek my head through the doorway. There are plastic pumpkins lining the hallway, each stuffed with Lemonheads and snack-sized Snickers, each pumpkin painted with the letters of a different fraternity. Beyond the hallway is the living room, and from this angle it’s all hair spilled across couch cushions, legs on arm rests, flashes of denim and cardigan.
“Um. Sure,” Elizabeth says, but I’m already inside, not even waiting for her to walk me to the living room and the couches and the TV and the girls.
I know this house almost as well as my own, remember when the wallpaper was stripped away and the walls were re-painted lavender, remember when the plantation shutters were installed in the new cafeteria. I remember each couch, the way they feel when you’re the only man on them surrounded by a dozen sorority girls. I remember evenings after date nights, watching Eight-Legged Freaks or Scream 3, and I remember the drunk girls who would walk into the house late-night, coming home from the bar with boys they didn’t know, douche-bags who’d plop onto the couches and make comments like, “This is what a sorority house looks like?” and “What’s it gonna take to get some three-some action, eh?”, the other girls on the couches going nervous until I said, “He tries to get past the stairwell, I’ll tackle him,” and then the relief. Charles to keep us safe. Charles the good boyfriend. Charles the Protector. I remember the boxes of Cap’n Crunch that seemed to appear magically whenever the girls sat down and turned on the TV, conjured from hiding spots behind the couches, Goldfish too, and Oreos, the accompanying “I’m such a fat-ass” remarks while girls stuffed face with Crunch bars. Other comments, too: “Ahh, these panties give me such a freakin’ wedgie!” and “Oh my God, Dana is passed out naked on her bed upstairs! Can someone go wake her up or something?” Days when they forgot a boy was present, days when I was transplanted into the sorority world, followed by nights when Jenn faced the same at the NKE house: dozens of dudes watching Monday Night Football and throwing Doritos at one another and farting and wrestling one another in the grass of the backyard, comments like “I’m soooo gonna fuck that Ashley girl. Oh, shit. Forgot you were sitting there, Jenn.”
The living room—the long sweeping couches, the HDTV mounted to the wall but still surrounded by a massive and unnecessary espresso-colored entertainment center, shelves and cabinet lined with stuffed animals and framed photos. This feels more like home than anywhere I’ve been in the last six months.
When I turn the corner and enter the frame, there are only three girls seated before me, and all three gasp.
“Charles,” Jenn says. She might be the last to see me, to register that it is me, as she was looking down at her cell phone and typing out a text. Her hair is shorter, so light that it’s damn-near platinum, bangs falling over her black headband and slashing down her forehead like icicles. “What…what are you doing here?” she asks.
“In town for the day,” I say. “Not glad to see me?” I force a sheepish shrug, my posture and face suddenly like the Monopoly Man when forced to pay his poor tax.
The other girls are still staring with the same faces they’d have if someone came into the house and told them that Florida had split from the continent and was now drifting on a collision course with Cuba. Ten minutes before, they were thinking of Halloween parties. Spread out on the empty cushions are the bits and pieces of half-costumes, a tall pair of clear heels, a Hooters shirt, a pair of bunny ears. Ten minutes before, they were timing the exact moment they’d need to leave the living room and head upstairs to start getting ready for the night’s parties, cramming their tight bodies into fishnets and long white gloves and three inches of glittery top or bottom. They were thinking, “How will I be able to walk across campus in these stripper heels?” and “Can I even sit down in the short leather skirt of this Sexy Cop outfit?” They were thinking, “Why do guys get to dress up as whatever they want, but I’ve got dress like a slut?” They were also thinking, “Is my costume slutty enough?” And then: Charles Washington appeared.