by Jessica Knoll
Smithson seemed smaller than I remembered it. I could walk the perimeter of the campus in fifteen minutes, yet I'd always driven when I was a student there. Probably because I was usually hungover, and when I'm hungover, I don't like seeing people, and I certainly don't like people seeing me.
Bart, my father's lawyer, paused at the door to my hotel room. "You sure you don't want to grab some dinner?" he asked me.
There was no reason for Bart to be there. I wasn't in any trouble, for once. There had been a big bust a few months ago—two former students had been charged for their involvement in a drug ring that spanned six counties and targeted several high schools and colleges, including Smithson. The authorities had seized eight pounds of marijuana, 23 grams of cocaine, and 11 grams of ecstasy. They had hit the motherload—someone in narcotics was about to have a wild weekend. Campbell once told me how they used to hoard the loot—either to use themselves or to sell—and how the chief just looked the other way. Everyone is dirty when you know your actions have no consequences.
Of course, everyone knows there's no way in hell these kids were the kingpins. But they weren't rolling on whoever was—better off in jail then dead, I'm sure they were thinking. Dumb enough to get caught, but smart enough to know to keep their mouths shut.
And that's where Campbell and I came in. We had both been summoned as character witnesses—only I was testifying for the defense, and Campbell for the prosecution. I had gone to school with these two bozos, been romantically involved with one for a very short while. Apparently, there was security footage of me in a car with them, on a night they did a "drop." I was meant to testify to their demeanor—were they nervous? Scared? If yes, I guess it was supposed to prove that they were under orders from someone else, pawns in a larger scheme, and not acting alone.
Campbell, on the other hand, had brought these guys in one night after attempting to pull them over for speeding. Instead of slowing down, playing it cool, I guess these two idiots had attempted to flee him, and in the process chucked what looked like a small package out the window. The cops went back and retraced the area, cased the woods, but they never found whatever it had been, and ultimately, couldn't charge them with anything. Everyone knew it was a bag of drugs they had tossed, and the prosecution was hoping to prove that if these two geniuses were arrogant enough to try outrun a cop, that they were bold enough to run their own drug ring.
So, like I said, for once I had done nothing wrong. Though this had to be awkward as hell for Campbell, a former drug dealer himself. And the very thought of Smithson gets my father's panties all in a twist. He'd insisted on accompanying me, and I'd insisted he not, so, our compromise: Bart would chaperon me.
Alone in my hotel room, my old stomping grounds, I couldn't relax. I unpacked, hung my silk blouses and black slacks, my "court" clothes. The goal was to look like an upstanding citizen, a contributing member of society. Not that I really cared what happened to those two blasts from my past, but, like my father, this place unnerved me. There was so much history here, so much of it ugly and dark, and I couldn't help but feel like I was being set up, crazy and paranoid as it sounded. A wave of panic engulfed me, and I had to sit down and put my head between my knees. I'd started having panic attacks, recently. I was even seeing a therapist, twice a week. I didn't have nearly enough rich bitch problems to warrant two sessions a week, but the pathetic truth is that I was just bored and lonely. I had a million friends and a dreamboat fiancé, and yet I had never been lonelier in my life.
I wondered where Campbell was. Where he was staying. He could certainly afford a room at Geneva on the Lake now, but maybe he had opted to crash with friends or family. He said he hardly spoke to his mom anymore, but maybe they had reconciled since I'd last spoken to him about her.
My panic attack subsided, and I picked my head up off my lap. I was suddenly desperate for a drink. I picked up the phone on the nightstand and waited a few beats before the concierge picked up, asked me what they could do for me that evening. A cab, I said, you could call me a cab.
Campbell was sitting at the townie bar, his big body hunched over his shitty drink. The stool next to him was angled, ever so slightly, as though he had pulled it out, had been waiting for me.
"You sure you want to do this?" he asked as I sat down next to him.
I went for his drink, and he didn't stop me. The bad whiskey scorched my throat, and a slow burn crept along my skin, starting at the nape of my neck, spreading all down my spine. He hadn't even touched me yet and I felt. So. Good.
"Are you sure you do?" I asked. "To your best friend, Peter?"
Campbell turned to look at me. The hardness in his face was gone. He looked shockingly young, and something else I'd never seen before—scared. Maybe he felt it too, like there was a catch to this whole thing, like we were being set up somehow. "I would do anything. To anyone," he said, "to be with you."
One time, when I was a little girl, Thayer, my brother, was teaching me to ride a bike in Central Park. A jogger had cut in my path, and I lost control, and one of the handlebars gutted me on my way down to the pavement. It had knocked the wind out of me, and I'd lain there, just staring up at the trees, unable to move or do anything but sit there with the pain. It hurt that much.
I never even learned how to ride a bike because of that. I was too terrified of that sensation, of how much it hurt to not be able to breathe. I thought I never wanted to feel that way again.
And yet here I was, my chest constricting, as Campbell took my hand and led me out of the bar. The pain was exquisite.